This is the second part of the Poetry Letter No. 2 of 2023, the first part contained Monthly Contest Winners for 2022, and is found here: https://www.californiastatepoetrysociety.com/2023/06/poetry-letter-no-2-2023-part-i-poems.html. The poems were illustrated with paintings by Janusz Maszkiewicz, of Vienna Woods Gallery in Los Angeles. For book reviews, we have lots of artwork, but for the sake of consistency, one paintings by Maszkiewicz is here to start the post.
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS DESERT FLOW BY HART & CALDERA
Desert Flow. Art by Adrián Caldera. Poetry by Charlotte Hart. 78 works of abstract digital art & 78 poems in English ~ 78 poems in Spanish. Published by Cloud Hands Press US price $30, ISBN: 978-0-9861649-0-6. To order: https://www.cloudhandspress.com
Cloud Hands Press has outdone itself with its latest gem. Desert Flow is a collaborative project featuring creations by abstract digital artist Adrián Caldera paired with poems by Charlotte Hart. Although, a student of ekphrastic poetry, I was unprepared for the challenge presented to my sensibilities by Caldera and Hart. My goal, in this review, is to capture some of their synergy as each artist’s work bears the footprint of the other. Theirs is a conversation in art and poetry which flows like a desert in bloom from hearts nourished by love.
Charlotte Hart’s introduction and Ethan Plaut’s foreword helped me understand the genesis and development of Desert Flow. Seemingly, by chance, (I don’t believe in chance, by the way) Hart saw a Caldera digital creation on Twitter in the spring of 2018. Her unsolicited response to Caldera’s work began a long exchange of art and poetry. They have never met and, so far as I can tell, have no plans to meet. Caldera resides in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Hart lives in Chicago, Illinois.
Caldera’s rich colorations within his near-genius abstract creations moved Hart, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. In her words, Looking at his beautiful colors and widely varying shapes gave me a door into my inner life. Let’s discover together some of the delights on the other side of the door.
Can’t Wall the Sky
This sunlight moment
takes me with great speed
over long distances,
very gently, very kindly,
to the house we have built.
A four-dimensional hypercube home
that casts a
the endless parameters
of our lives:
the splendor of all
no moment small
in the slow smile
of our days
in this world
of change and commotion,
we are secure
I’m moved by the way Hart takes shades of sun, couples them with lines suggesting distance, movement and dimension, then merging with some of life’s most important heart-feelings.
I Thought It Was You
My heart leapt out of my chest
and beat furiously in the air.
I touched the tarnished silver tube
holding the rolled prayer.
I opened the door and went in.
No, you were not.
sensation of yearning
for my treasure
delirium of my disbelief!
Your colors and shapes flew
burnished red, rue and indigo
from the bare branches of my mind.
Your brazen spirit
burst meteor bright tonight
then left me alone.
Hart’s testimony (see my opening) to Caldera’s art opening a door to my inner life, comes to life in this poem. How precisely a work of art breathes life into the human spirit is best left to the individual to know and explain. Perhaps this is what Wallace Stevens once referred to as the “Angel of reality.” What Stevens meant was the ability of poetry to lay bare the poet’s “brazen spirit.” To bring forth variegated colors of life and their latent emotions . . . emotions that “beat furiously in the air.”
Unseen as currents
in the air and sea,
See the seeds and spores
floating in wind,
and the iridescent plankton
illuminating the shore?
Every word we said,
every kiss and tear
flow hidden, fresh,
Hart’s poetic style flows from deep within. As demonstrated by “My Love Will Live Forever,” hers is a poetry that is disarmingly simple on the surface. Don’t let this fool you. Each word belongs. Each word is irreplaceable. Poetic devices such as sibilance, alliteration, and thoughtful endline decisions are consistent hallmarks. Rhymes are occasional and usually interlinear. Her cadences are rhythmical and delight the ear with the musicality of words.
The Will of the River
goes in its golden flow.
You know it’s
The currents carry you,
You are the boatman
anything can show.
This poem captures, for me, some of the essence of the relationship between Caldera’s abstract digital art and Hart’s poetic responses. Within the poet’s contemplations of the art, I sense her love of color, love of energy within the paintings themselves, which resemble dormant desert blooms, already present, but needing water from the poet’s pen to bring them forth.
Just as the river has a will of its own, Caldera and Hart’s, Desert Flow blooms with synergy, once we allow, as did Charlotte Hart, his beautiful colors and widely varying shapes to open the door to our inner lives.
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS HAYLEY AND THE HOT FLASHES BY J.J. FERRER
Hayley and the Hot Flashes by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer. 294 pages. Small Town Girl Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-7378411-5-9 To Order: https://bookshop.org/p/books/hayley-and-the-hot-flashes-jayne-jaudon-ferrer/18537319?ean=9781737841159
“You are, frankly, my only reason for living, Miss Swift.” This line stopped me cold. Already, held hostage by characters wearing such monikers as “Bubba,” “Tipsy,” “C.J.” “Rhett,” and “Suzette,” I had to find out more.
But wait . . . let’s back up for a moment. Hayley and the Hot Flashes, by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer (think actor and entertainer, Jose Ferrer, no relation) is her first full length novel. This delightfully entertaining work will give readers the answer, not only to the above-noted quote, (the whys and wherefores), but will even offer some wise advice about living life to the full.
First off, put yourself in Hayley Swift’s place. Once on top of the entertainment world and the country music charts, she’s now facing twin challenges of advancing age and professional irrelevance. No one wants her. No one needs her. Her career, her life, needs a jump start. What could former superstar Hayley Swift do to recover her past iconic life?
Ferrer is a down-to-earth writer. She writes about real life. Who among us has not lived in Hayley’s shoes? (Adjusted, of course, to individual circumstances). Who among has not stood with Hayley, at Robert Frost’s crossroads in “The Road Not Taken”? That fateful junction, where . . .
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth . . .
Indeed, at this point, Hayley feels like the name of her former band, Road Kill. It seems that somewhere in the distant past, Nashville talent scouts offered Hayley a contract. First crossroad: Hayley signed and left her four backup singers (”The Girls Next Door,” soon to be, the “Hot Flashes”) behind. Later, Hayley is heard to say, “Isn’t it funny? When I worked here, (at a small-time ice cream shop, the Dairy Dip) all I could think about was leaving. Then when I left, for a long time, all I could think about was coming back. I guess we never value our treasures till we lose them, do we?” Second crossroad: What do we do in life, when it is time to deal with the past and move on? The inner conflicts the Flashes go through is worth the price of the book. At last, however, they decide to reprise their group, go on the road and “swim with the big dogs.”
As Jaudon develops her story, she chronicles with gentle adroitness, the humanity of each major character. Flaws surface, memories of rejection must be dealt with. Meg Norris, a talented backup singer, recalls being blamed by her parents for consequences that happened, “in a blaze of hormones in the back seat of Ty Dorris’ vintage T-Bird.” Instead of supporting Meg at this critical life-juncture, a crossroads of sorts, her parents’ parting words were, “You stupid little slut! That boy was gonna start at fullback for Ole Miss!” Now, some thirty-five years later, Meg must make a life-changing choice.
Over the landscape of time, this out-of-practice quintet of talent learn how to take risks. They hit the road in the rugged environs of country music, where popular acceptance is everything. Audiences must “like” you, moguls of the entertainment industry must see you as a “saleable” product; If DJs don’t “spin” your records, you don’t stand a chance of success. All of these are big “ifs” for the newly rejuvenated Hayley and the Hot Flashes.
This story is captivating. Jaudon’s characters are people you may know. They may be you! With that said, Jaudon is a skilled storyteller. She surprises . . . the moment I thought I had the next thing pegged; I was delighted to be wrong.
Third crossroad: Ask the right questions of life. Your reviewer posed the following question at the top: What could former superstar Hayley Swift do to recover her past iconic life?
But was this the right question? Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, has written a novel worth reading. It is funny. It is hard to put down. It has something to offer. In the end, the questions it poses and answers will make you stop and think.
NINA MILLER REVIEWS JOEL SAVISHINSKY’S OUR ACHING BONES, OUR BREAKING HEARTS: POEMS ON AGING
49 pages, $14.00, published by The Poetry Box (Portland, OR). ISBN 978-1-956285-33-8. https://thepoetrybox.com/bookstore/bones-hearts
As someone who worked in a hospice for many years, and who is now in her mid 80’s, I was especially moved by Joel Savishinsky’s book of poetry, Our Aching Bones, Our Breaking Hearts. This is a courageous collection about a subject many of us avoid: our own frailty and mortality. Savishinsky writes with remarkable poetic skill about the wide array of losses we experience as we grow old, including aspects of our own functioning like memory and aching joints. In “Waking Up at 77” he notes
“ . . . as soon as you change position,
something will hurt, and you don’t
want to know what that something
is today. Curiosity has become
very discrete, and sleep the rarest
Savishinsky captures the loneliness of those who live on when their peers have died and they have moved into care facilities. He also touches, with painful honesty, on his own history, as in “Maybe the Traffic Cop Calling Never Left Me.” The impact of Covid in “Viral Load” is both a personal tragedy as well as a powerful political statement.
“The virus has done to us
what we have done
unto others, separated
children and parents,
spouses and lovers, put
families and friends, barely
beyond words, across the borders,
sometimes seen or heard but
never touched, their skin the home
of our final hunger.”
But these are not only solemn poems. Savishinsky has a wonderful sense of wit, as in the poem “Ambush.” After noting how a variety of plants, trees and bushes had distracted him during his attempts at mindfulness and concentration, he ends by confessing to the reader: “But I admit I am a very bad Buddhist, so I will stop / here and spare us both that business about the lotus.” Many of his poems deserve to be read out loud, because he has clearly paid careful attention to the sound of words, as in “The Carpenter Bee” and “The Raker’s Progress.” And while I find it difficult to pick my favorite poem in this collection, I think “Cherry Tree at Midnight” touches me most deeply, in its tender description of a long marriage:
“Now it does not immediately register whether
the startled cry he hears from a deep dream was
his or hers. It has been so long they have shared
the same fears, the same bed, swapped phantoms as
a common endowment, making this legacy a currency
with which to buy time, mortgage a future, pay for
the lost rhymes and reasons of a doubled past.”
Our Aching B ones, Our Breaking Hearts is a wonderful collection, and I hope there will be more coming soon from this fine poet.
Nina Miller, a founder and director of both a crisis center and a community
hospice, is the author of the novel The Mother of Invention.
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS CRYSTAL FIRE BY TROCHIMCZYK & TALWAR
Crystal Fire: Poems of Joy and Wisdom, Editor: Maja Trochimczyk, Art by Ambika Talwar. 144 poems ~ 14 paintings ~ 188 pages, Moonrise Press, October 2022, . Poems by: Elżbieta Czajkowska, Joe DeCenzo, Mary Elliott, Jeff Graham, Marlene Hitt, Frederick Livingston, Alice Pero, Allegra Silberstein, Jane Stuart, Ambika Talwar, Bory Thach, & the editor. ISBN 978-1-945938-58-0 (color paperback) ISBN 978-1-945938-57-3 (color hardcover) ISBN 978-1-945938-59-7 (eBook) https://moonrisepress.com/crystal-fire-anthology.html
The Sublime Senses
Until the heart stops
Until the mind stills;
Until the senses
take their leave
such dreams they weave …
I chose this poem by Ella Czajkowska, as the perfect lead-in to my review of Maja Trochimczyk’s stunning new anthology Crystal Fire: Poems of Joy and Wisdom. In two succinct quatrains Ella’s poem captures my emotions. While defining abstract terms such as Joy and Wisdom is like trying to nail jello to a wall, key words such as “desires” and “aspires” speak to me. I desire Joy; I aspire to Wisdom. Both words are beyond my reach. Stanza two, hints that I must take a pause and allow the subtleties of the imagination to inform me. Through the superb efforts of 12 talented poets (8 women, 4 men) fresh light has been shed upon your reviewer’s quest. More on this later.
The book is illustrated by the multi-talented Ambika Talwar. One of her works precedes each featured poet’s contribution. I mentioned earlier that growing in Joy and Wisdom requires slowing down, taking a pause. Ambika’s paintings play a key role … they whisper Joy. Here is an example entitled “Quiet Rainfall”
As I reflected on Ambika’s painting, paired with Marlene Hitt’s poems, something struck me: Painters and poets share similar concerns, namely, bringing Nature’s message of beauty and spirituality alive in people’s hearts. Da Vinci said it, Poets paint pictures with words; artists write poetry without words. Her poem, “Words from the Garden,” gives me a sense of “Quiet Rainfall,” here’s an excerpt:
Rose and Petunia, Lantana and Sage …
A passing breeze lifts my hair as I sit pondering
the beauty of the life that surrounds me.
Bushes with plain simple leafy life
display themselves and I speak their names,
Savor the sounds my lips make …
Hitt’s inflections and phrasings surround me with a sense of raindrops assuming (but not imposing) their rightful place in the world and even in human life. Could life be about that? Could it be that Joy and Wisdom have something to do with such perceptions? The poet's sensuous phrasings continue,
… Xylosma, Sweet Jessamine, Plumbago Blue
and Bougainvillea Magenta, Oleander, Fuschia,
bright yellow Palo Verde, iron wooded and thorny,
Wisteria surrounding it all to make me feel safe.
While Trochimczyk’s goal, as editor, is not an ideal coordination between paintings and poems, the paintings do set a mindfulness tone as readers step into each section. Frederick Livingston’s “Rainbows Dreaming,” brought me up short with a touch of Wisdom I had not considered before. I have italicized his Wisdom lines. The poem was inspired by Snoqualmie Pass, in Washington state.
Now I know
the blankness of snow
is only rainbows dreaming,
teaming with streaks of red paintbrush
little lanterns of columbine
tiger lilies prowl the scree slope
yellow asters multiply the sun
the hungry green of spring leaves
purple-blue lupine flooding the valley.
Who would ever know
these slopes were covered in snow
one mere moon ago?
What else have I not seen
and called “empty” in my ignorance?
What dreams within me may erupt
from thawing soil,
simply waiting for ripe moments
to answer the generosity of sunlight?
Before launching into the poems themselves, I was blessed by Maja Trochimczyk’s two and one-half page preface. This personally revealing summary of her motivations for giving birth to Crystal Fire is indispensable reading. In it she explains her use of "Crystal," and "Fire," in the title. Don't pass over this enlightened writing. I also appreciated reading the extended biographies of each poet at the end of the volume. Each contributor offers a unique take on the subject matter, thus adding a touch of virtuosity to the whole. In an age of vitriolic talk, of political and moral uncertainty, amid the dark clouds of Covid-19, Crystal Fire draws back the curtain on Love, Joy and yes, Wisdom.
As art and poetry work together, I’ve come to an ever-deeper appreciation of Wallace Stevens’ very practical saying, “Poetry [and painting] is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.” I can’t help thinking that Maja Trochimczyk, Ambika Talwar, and the talented contributors to Crystal Fire, would agree.
reprinted from Quill & Parchment, April 2023
The Poetry Letter (Online ISSN 2836-9394; Print ISSN 2836-9408) is a quarterly electronic publication, issued by the California State Poetry Society. Edited by Maja Trochimczyk since 2020 by Margaret Saine earlier. The Poetry Letter is emailed and posted on the CSPS website, CaliforniaStatePoetrySociety.org. Sections of the Poetry Letter are also posted separately on the CSPS Blog, CaliforniaStatePoetrySociety.com – all poems in one post, all book reviews in another.