Monday, October 9, 2023

CSPS Poetry Letter No. 3, Autumn 2023, Part I - Reviews of Books by Kolodji&Kitakubo, Turco, and Sheibli&Pieczka

Photo by Iga Supernak


n time for the fall harvest—a crop of great poems and three book reviews. [...] The three book reviews present Distance by Deborah P Kolodji and Mariko Kitakubo (reviewed by William Scott Galasso), Shimmer: An Ekphrastic Poetry Collection by Paulette Demers Turco, reviewed by Michael Escoubas, who also reviewed Gathering Sunlight by Silvia Scheibli & Patty Dickson Pieczka. Our illustrators are photographers Beverly M. Collins (whom we know as a poet often published in the California Quarterly and elsewhere), and Iga Supernak, both based in the Los Angeles area. 

Maja Trochimczyk, CSPS President


Distance. Tan-ku Sequences and Sets by Mariko Kitakubo and Deborah P. Kolodji, Shabda Press, Duarte, CA 2023, 93 pp.$18.00 U.S (softcover), print 2023932505, ISBN:978-1-7377113-6-0 

Deborah P. Kolodji is the longtime Moderator of the Southern California Haiku Study Group, a member of the board of directors for Haiku North America, and the inaugural recipient of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association’s Presidents’ Lifetime Service Award. In addition, her highway of sleeping towns haiku poetry collection was awarded a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award from The Haiku Foundation.  Mariko Kitakubo of Tokyo, is renowned for seven tanka collections, three of which are bilingual Cicada Forest, On This Same Star, and 2016’s Indigo. Needless to say, given their combined literary pedigree, their collaborative work Distance sets a high bar concerning one’s expectations. 

Fortunately, Distance, subtitled Tan-Ku Sequences and Sets (for tanka and haiku), not only meets but exceeds these lofty expectations. These longtime friends, one might suggest (twin daughters of different mothers) have esteemed one another’s work for years. Each sharing their work and experiencing travels back and forth from the U.S and Japan between 2007-2019. 

Then the pandemic struck and most conversation frequently expressed in verse (haiku by Deborah and tanka by Mariko), became their modus operandi. The first of seven sections, we hold virtual hands illustrates how these gifted poets formulated their dialogue. One would text, the other would respond and bridging the time and distance between them literally and figuratively. They did more than cope with different time zones, they excelled in creating unexpected connections. 

The still waters of their call and response formula regardless of the specific subject matter inform each other and grow with each reading. Each of the seven sections is distinct in focus, yet they achieve synchronicity when considered as a whole. Here are some samples of their sets and sequences. I’ve chosen shorter pieces (primarily the sets) as examples due to limitations of space. However, the reward of reading the sequences contained this work is equal in terms of consistent quality.

Photo by Deborah P Kolodji

This piece is from the initial section, we hold virtual hands:

                                    Connecting Souls

                                    there is 

                                    an invisible thread

                                    between us…

                                    quietness of

                                    the pearl oyster

                                    closing my eyes

                                    I see your face

                                    Vermeer’s earring

And this from the second section the eternal wind focused on Deborah’s battling illness:


                                     wind will bring 

                                     the summer storm

                                     my garden

                                     bordered by living

                                     cadmium yellow

                                     wild mustard

                                     growing out of control

                                     clinical trail 

 And section three presents us with a classical Japanese reference:

                                      Forest Bathing

                                      uphill path

                                      I slow down to breathe

                                      the pine scent

                                      she perches

                                      at the edge of                                                        

                                      my straw hat

                                      a butterfly’s siesta

                                      in emerald breeze

Each section gives us a deep sense nature’s healing power and inherent beauty, a part of Gaia’s treasured gift to us, her children. Hence, reminding us of our own responsibility as stewards of the earth. Here are two more samples that conjure two very different strands of the emotional spectrum the first derives from traces of us, the second from the section entitled my words drift.

Photo by Deborah P Kolodji

                                       End of the Tunnel             

                                       no one knows…

                                       I escaped from 

                                       his violence 

                                       silent night

                                       holy night

                                       no more scarves

                                       to hide the bruises

                                       New Year’s resolution

In contrast with the celebratory…

                                       9th Inning

                                       losing streak

                                       the crack of his bat

                                       hits a foul ball

                                       every motion

                                       stops and restarts


                                       we catch our breath

                                       Gyakuten Sayonara!

The final line means “coming from behind,” a “goodbye,” a homer with the bases loaded that give a team the lead. 

Photo by Deborah P Kolodji

Finally, I would be remiss not to include a sequence, from as the road bends: 

                   First Blanket


                   pale cloud face

                   the dignity

                   before perfection

                   chestnut moon

                  waiting, waiting

                  the slow rise

                  of the sun     



                  what do you


                  smiles for the sky

                  newborn baby

                  first blanket

                  your face peeking out

                  from its folds                                                                                                                                                       

This collection Distance is full of quiet beauty and a wide range of subject matter comes Highly Recommended.

~ Book review by William Scott Galasso,

 author of Saffron Skies



Shimmer: An Ekphrastic Poetry Collection by Paulette Demers Turco. 24 Poems ~ 25 art images ~ 81 pages.  Kelsay Books. ISBN: 978-1-63980-317-0.    ISBN: 978-1-63980-333-0

Shimmer, by Paulette Demers Turco, excels on two fronts: First, it is a superb work of art; second, and perhaps more importantly, it is a work of the poet’s heart. Turco’s professional resume  includes a career in both clinical and academic optometry. Her  life has been about vision, about helping people see the world with clarity. I have no idea whether Turco associates her career endeavors with her art. What stands out to me is Paulette Turco’s visual sense with both brush and pen. My goal in this review is to juxtapose both the “art” and the “heart” accomplished in Paulette Turco’s latest collection.
Design — The book is organized into six sections: I. Waves, II. Wishes, III. Flight IV. Flow, V. Beacons, and VI. Home. These economical section headings add to the charm and simplicity
 of design. Each heading contains between three and five poems. The book stays within its prescribed lanes. That is, both design and content are like a well-trained athlete: no fat or flab, just energy and precision.
Nuances in Forms — Most of Turco’s poems rhyme. This is a  maturated skill. I found the music of her rhymed sequences delightful to the ear. Even her non-rhyming poems resonate with internal rhymes together with excellent end-line decisions; all strong compositions. Shimmers features four triolets, numerous sonnets and even a double-sonnet. Her free verse poems remind me of Emily Dickinson’s style, particularly in her use of the em dash.

Heart and Art Juxtaposed — I lead with Shimmering Plum Island Dawn, the collection’s title poem. It is one of several triolets which the poet judiciously places within the whole. Triolets feature prescribed line-repetitions and rhyme-schemes. These spare poems pack a creative punch while leaving room for expansive sounds and visual effects. I felt “time” melting as if I were present as the tide came in, castles disappearing. Is the poet’s heart conveying a subtle life-lesson?                                                         

Shimmer, Acrylic on Canvas

Shimmering Plum Island Dawn

Sunrays shimmer in the air,
Time melts as foam-topped waves crash down
on sparkling sand as on a dare.
Sunrays shimmer in the air.
At high tide, castles disappear.
My child’s towel becomes a gown.
Sunrays shimmer in the air.
Time melts as foam-topped waves crash down.

In section II, the poet turns her attention to family. I sense her heart in these poems which feature a young girl’s aspirations for ballet. Visually challenged, the youth must cope with whether to wear eyeglasses on stage. Two graphite drawings of a ballerina’s feet combine perfectly with sonnets that chronicle her inner conflict.

In the same section, the artist draws February Lilies, a combination which offers valuable insights about Turco’s artistic process:
Sepia ink on Bristol paper

February Lilies

Lilies in a vase,
lit with morning light
through a mullioned window,
beside drawing paper
with pen and ink supplies

to try—one stroke, then more,
strong and gentle, curved.
Accentuations, shadows
extend across a sheet
of thick white Bristol paper.

After a quiet hour,
lines transform to stems,
leaves, alabaster
blossoms, vase, translucence—
fragrant scent of spring.

Section III. Flight, features color photographs of sand dunes, ice-glazed holly berries glistening red, waiting for, “cedar waxwings / flitting in, / grasping orbs, / crisp and sweet, / sharing in pairs, / beak to beak.” You won’t want to miss the other lovely images and poems in this section.

Those who love lighthouses will delight in an entire section devoted to them. Orange Sky on Charlevoix is among my favorites:

Orange Sky on Charlevoix

She never could imagine this Great Lake,
illuminated by the setting sun,
bright as a centenarian’s birthday cake—
candles all aflame. This day’s not done.
This lighthouse, water surface, cloud-filled sky,
capture this slant of light for moments here—
before the lighthouse beam will blink its eye,
as if afloat, for mariners to veer
their ships around threats hidden by the night.
For now, the miracle of waves of light
meanders through the surfaces she’ll view
without him—pleased to be among the few
to capture this collage of orange red.
It will not last, nor change what lies ahead.

 The term “Ekphrastic” derives its meaning from a Greek root meaning “Description.” However, there is more to it than mere description. At her best, the ekphrastic poet pours her heart into description. After the Lightning Storm speaks volumes:

After the Lightning Storm

Thunder shakes the air, the ground, the oaks,
as bulging, smoke-gray clouds spew giant glops
that soak the withered garden-yellow sundrops,
while jagged light from cloud to cloud now stokes

fear among some families. We help coax
some to shelter with their beach bags. Shops,
though closed, are havens till the lightning stops,
the gusting northeast wind abates. Like strokes

of brush, the late day rays are swept through mist,
lightning clouds that fill a brightened sky
with purples, pinks, and apricot, and gold,
while tall oaks appear as silhouettes
in filigree—surreal to the eye—
a bold celestial canvas to behold.

I close my review, as the author does, with her acrylic 
on canvas creation: Dusk in Marblehead Harbor. 
The curtain falls ever-so-gently with this excerpt 
from Turco’s sonnet, “On the Edge of Light,”:

The harbor surface holds the rim of day,
Reflected in each ripple, every ray
Remaining in an iridescent sky,
Dimming as a gull or term coasts by.



Excelling in both brush and pen, in art and in heart, Shimmer: An Ekphrastic Poetry Collection 
shines with excellence.

                                                                             ~ Reviewed by Michael Escoubas


Gathering Sunlight by Silvia Scheibli & Patty Dickson Pieczka  104 Pages ~ The Bitter Oleander Press ~ ISBN: 978-1-7346535-7-1 To Order: or

In Gathering Sunlight, two poets from divergent backgrounds and contrasting styles, combine their skills. The result is an engaging and wise collection which sheds fresh light on the human condition. The book is all about the hard work of “gathering.” Scheibli and Pieczka, have something to say. 
They are realists. Their poems face life with all its challenges, failures, and sufferings. Poetry is a sanctuary of sorts. Poetry can and should be enjoyed for its magic show of language. However, I hasten to point out that poetry, for Scheibli and Pieczka, is also useful. My goal in this review is to share the harvest Gathering Sunlight has had in my life. 

Backgrounds — Among the standout features of Gathering Sunlight are interviews with each poet by the publisher The Bitter Oleander Press, (BOP). Digesting these educational interviews prior to reading  the poems increased my enjoyment. From the interview I learned about Scheibli’s love for tropical areas of Mexico and Ecuador. I learned that she is an avid “birder” having compiled a listing of over 500 exotic birds during her intercontinental travels. I learned about a real-life mystical figure named “Chakira,” whose influence permeates much of Scheibli’s work.

Patty Dickson Pieczka’s interview with BOP is no less interesting and brings out both similarities and differences between the two artists. “Beyond These Poems There Be Dragons,” introduces Pieczka’s superb contributions to Gathering Sunlight. I was fascinated by her response to why she chose those particular words. Additionally, Pieczka like Scheibli, is a woman of the earth. She spends time in Shawnee National Forest near her native southern Illinois home. She avers, “Nature has always been important to my sanity and spirituality and is often woven throughout my poetry.”

My favorite part of the interviews is when each poet discusses her unique views on the writing process. I found their practical insights helpful.

 Diamond Net, Photo by Iga Supernak

Poems by Silvia Scheibli. Part I—Duende poems

Chakira, tell me once again

Oh, tell me how the moon
opened your eyes and showed you
a change in consciousness

How you wished that every coyote
should have a black-tipped tail

How the oriole’s hood
was dark until you changed it
to reflect indigo sunlight

Nothing appears natural now—
Now you dream the raven in silver.

How do you dream only in silver, Chakira?

Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca has described the duende form “as a force not a labour, a struggle, not a thought.” Further via Lorca, duende is “an upsurging, inside, from the soles of the feet.” The duende, new to this reviewer, allows the muse to basically take over and drive the poem. One more example:

Seascape in Blue, Photo by Iga Supernak

My friend, Chakira, gave me her chisme  
“Listen,” she said.

Pelicans glide on wings
as straight as paddle-boards.

Aero-dynamic frigates ascend
immense, azure skies.

Supplicant, boat-tailed grackles
seek verdant, queen palms.

Caffeinated kiskadees
exclaim an immanent sunrise.

You need to visit Nayarit—
opaline goblet of barefaced dreams—
more often.

             Editor’s note: “Chisme” is Mexican slang for gossip.

Such is the mystical nature of much of Scheibli’s work, utilizing as it does, tropical surroundings, feathery creatures and an innate capacity for dream. In all, twenty-five poems comprise this section with titles that drew me in: “Ode to Iguanas in Nayrit,” “Jaguar Crossing,” “Under the Palapa,” and “Song of the Orange-fronted Parakeet.”

Photo by Iga Supernak

Part II—Ecuador Poems

Without a doubt Silvia Scheibli loves the people of Ecuador. This hospitable land with its “lush corn fields & many-colored roses, / ruby bromeliads & golden bananaquits, / scent of cocoa & coffee plantations” holds a large fragment of her heart. Six poems comprise this section. “Echos on the Road to Babahoyo,” reveals the poet’s heart for the land and its people:

Geese & dozens of jungle chickens
scratch endlessly on hillsides
of banana trees.

Escaped sugar cane & emerald mist
engulf abandoned houses.

Bromeliads perch on telephone wires
like mourning doves.

With partially opened wings
black vultures cast a shadow
over yellow hibiscus.

Delicate roof ferns
volcanic rock & golden bamboo
fade into midnight
with our café
con alma socialista.

Poems by Patty Dickson Pieczka: Beyond These Poems There Be Dragons

Like a child, I’m captivated by dragons. Pieczka “Had Me From Hello,” with her title poem which I share in full:

Drifting on an ocean’s
silk and shells, sea-foam
lacing pearls along the shore,

I follow a dream back
to its home in the dark,
unlace the night
to find forgotten things:

half-vanished thoughts, time
curled within my roots,
words melted by a long-ago sun.

I drift to the ceiling
to watch you sleep.
Your dream breaks
over shoal-bound rocks,

shaking loose a school
of silver fears
and familiar strangers

who sail angel-winged ships,
read the 16 points
of a wind rose to navigate
through the moon’s veil

and ghosts of fog
to the farthest edge
of the subconscious.

 Unity by Iga Supernak
I found, within the dreamy cadences of alternating tercets and quatrains, challenges to my conventional ways of thinking. Did I note above that poetry should have an element of practicality? Gently, the poet prods me to probe life “to the farthest edges / of my subconscious.”
Pieczka’s poems are preceded by a quote from Dante Aleghieri: Nature is the art of God. With that as a baseline, the poet skillfully weaves nature and human spirituality into a seamless and coherent whole. Her practical mind gifts readers with down-to-earth titles: “Misplaced” is about her father’s question which indicates that he does not know his own daughter. He asks, Who I am? With a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s, this poem speaks to me where I live.
A distinctive feature of Pieczka’s work is the “linked poem.” These poems utilize the last line in the previous poem as a springboard to the following poem. This formulation, as far as I know, is unique to Pieczka. At least, this reviewer has not encountered it before. There are a total of four linked poems in the collection; each superbly conceived and written.

Pieczka’s final poem, “At Horseshoe Lake,” shows both the mind and heart of a poet at the height of her craft:

I pull sunlight from your hair
to make our shadows pour
into the cypress swamp,
where rivulets spill back
to the time we met.

Tupelo leaves brush the colors
left by secrets barely whispered—
words beyond flight
and dream, strung to
neither root nor bone,
words tumbling in shapes
never recognized before.

We unbutton the hours
until day and night
meet briefly at the horizon;
they kiss, still making
each other blush
after so many years.

Gathering Sunlight, taken as a whole, is poetry that satisfies this reviewer’s mind and his soul. Scheibli and Pieczka have created a triumph of the imagination.

~ Reviewed by Michael Escoubas 


To Capture the Dawn, Photo by Iga Supernak

No comments:

Post a Comment