Page uses his poetic verse to create a cowboy legend.
— Read on poets.media/a-universe-within-verse
Page uses his poetic verse to create a cowboy legend.
— Read on poets.media/a-universe-within-verse
Exploring Instruments of the True Measure with Laura Da’ – UAPress
— Read on uapress.arizona.edu/2018/09/exploring-instruments-of-the-true-measure-with-laura-da
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By Louise Glück
Quarterback Chapbook Series
Sarabande Books. $8.95. 20 pages.
Reviewed by Stephen Page
Autumn After the Fall
While I as reading Louise Glück’s chapbook “October”, I noted a theme that threaded throughout the poem–aftermath. October has always been a special month for me. A time of change. A time of clarity. It begins with the autumnal colors in full show and ends with the trees bare and sometimes a first snowfall. I remember October well when I was growing up. It was a month of crystal cognizance. The air smelled of damp earth and drying leaves. Each breath I took cleared my mind and brought in focus my sense of being with the world. I felt good. But, there was also this lurking feeling of finality. Another year had passed. Summer was over. I often asked myself, had I done what I wanted to do this past year, or was I in the same place is was last year? Had I accomplished what I needed to accomplish? Most often, I had mixed feelings, yeses and no’s, a sort of sweet melancholy–sad that the year was over but happy that another year was about to begin. I had another year to do what I wanted to do. Yes, as a child, the New Year was always in October, not in January. It was an end, and a beginning. Winter was on the way and, yes, it would be cold. There would be snow. But, snow to me meant snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels, snow-caves cut out in the banks on the side of the road that the snowplows piled up, and of course, snow days—those special breaks from school. Winter represents death to many people, but it meant fun and rest for me. Trees, plants, grass–they weren’t dead, they were just resting, sleeping late, waiting to wake up in spring and flourish in summer. After winter, there was spring and summer vacations, baseball, girls.
Life on earth is measured in seasons and renews itself yearly. For Glück, as I think it is for most North–Hemispherians, October is a sad month, but one that also has hope.
Part I of “October” goes like this:
It is winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted
didn’t the nether end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters
wasn’t my body
rescued wasn’t it safe
didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury
terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted—
I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t the vines climb down the south wall
I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground
I can no longer care
what sounds it makes
when I was silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can’ change what it is—
didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted
didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,
the vines, were they harvested?
Something obviously traumatic has passed here. A scar has formed, terror has happened, something was planted but is no longer there (and I think it is more than just plants in the garden) for the “wind whistled over the bare ground.” The narrator was devastated by an occurrence, so much so she was “silenced.” Most notable is the poem’s form—short lines, long sentences—making the poem appear tall.
The entire poem continues like that–short lines, tall poem. And the there is a horrible sensation of after-violation sliding down the poem:
Violence has changed me . . . (repeated twice in part II)
everything that was taken away . . .
you can’t touch my body now.
It has changed once, it has hardened . . .
My body has grown cold . . .
balm after violence . . .
Tell me I am living,
I won’t believe you.
Death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me . . .
the light has changed . . .
you will not be spared . . .
the unspeakable//has entered them . . .
I strained, I suffered . . .
So much has changed . . .
Yes, something has happened, and I don’t just think it is the harvest. Because of the form of the poem, and some of Glück’s references, it seems something very tall has come down, or collapsed. Something that was once there no longer is:
They eye gets used to disappearances . . .
Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
Become the cold stars.
Glück might be talking about an object, a tall structure (or structures, if you notice the plural is used in the relation between the words “disappearances” and “become”), or she might be talking about ideals (as she refers to often in part IV). She might be talking about both. Whatever the case, she uses the barren-field association of the month of October as representation of something monumental that no longer exists on the horizon. A careful reader will note that October obviously comes after September, and that two monumental somethings fell once in the month of September. Glück does spy a kind of hope though, as she leaves the poem on a positive note
my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?
This Review first published in: Gently Read Literature
Read the review on the Issuu site: Gently Read Literature Issuu and turn to page 18.
By Jim Daniels
The University of Wisconsin Press
Reviewed by Stephen Page
Reading Places/Everyone will take you back home. You will drive through your old neighborhood where you grew up, shop at K-Mart, visit a pallet factory where you once worked, eat lunch in the break room, take a drive around the shop on a Hi-Lo, guzzle a six-pack with your friends out back in a vacant lot. O.K. Not everyone was born in Detroit, but most people have held at least one blue-collar job in their life. The poems in this collection set in the 1970’s and 80’s—and for that reason they are dated, but they read as though they have become timeless. The characters are menial laborers, factory workers, union-job holders, burger flippers. Daniels captures the entrapment felt by the middle class dupe, the working-class hero, the minimum wage worker, the assembly line jockey—almost anyone who has worked for a weekly paycheck.
“My Father Worked Late” depicts a Detroit working person’s dilemma, that is, each day could bring feast or famine, overtime or lay-off. A household earner usually had to work two jobs or overtime to pay the bills. It is stressful and tiring:
Some nights when he wasn’t too tired
he took off his shirt
and sat in the middle of the floor.
We wrestled, trying to pin
back his arms, sitting on his chest
digging our heads into the yellow stains
under the arms of his t-shirt…………..
he sat up, cradling us both in headlocks
in the closest thing to an embrace
that I remember……..
Other nights he looked right through us
mechanically eating his late dinner
yelling at anything that moved.
Some mornings we woke to find him
asleep on the couch, his foreman’s tie twisted
into words we couldn’t spell.
We ate our cereal as carefully as communion
Until our mother shook him ready for another day.
This poem shows the acceptable behavior of that time between a father and the rest of the family. The man was usually, but not always, the sole breadwinner of the family. His role was to make money, not provide love. There was not much demonstration of affection between a father and his children. The father in this poem is probably no longer intimate with his wife either, for he sleeps “sometimes” on the couch. This detached behavior is too much to handle for this father, and his days often end in depressive stupors and irate snapping at his family.
A number of the working men’s wives work, but only at minimum wage jobs:
Some of the wives work now
behind counters at McDonald’s
marking clothes at K-Mart
pulling in minimum wage
grocery money for another week.
And most of them do it only after the husbands have been laid off:
Up and down the streets
men mow their lawns
do yard work
many try to grow vegetables.
From the title of the poem, “Hard Times in the Motor City,” it is obvious that this is not just Saturday lawn work, nor a reflection of nurturing natures. It is men without jobs. They keep busy by working in their yards. Many men turn to drink as an outlet:
In the bar
Steve talks about
The afternoon movie….
He says he’ll dig ditches
or clean shitholes
all he wants is a job.
He’s got a wife, two kids,
He looks me hard in the eye:
“a man can always afford a drink.”
Of course, the irony being that turning to alcohol can result in procrastination and justification of spending money needed to pay for family food. It’s a downward spiral. Work less, drink more, squander money. Drink more, squander money, work less.
How does having no job affect behavior ? In “No Job”:
He pulls out
all the bushes in his yard
swinging a shovel at the roots.
He chases away the paperboy.
Television smashed in the driveway.
His wife hides from the neighbors.
No, no, no jobs:
He throws his knife in the air.
Frustration, frustration, frustration. Of course it does not help that most workers are not college educated, and cannot move out of their world. Most had only three choices when they finished high school, go to work for one of the Big Three:
High school, toking behind auto shop
parking lot sticky in the heat.
Ford, Chevy (GM), Chrysler—
where you gonna work?
The second section of the book is attention-grabbing because Daniels turns to second-person point-of-view, a technique not always easy to pull off. Daniels does it well, and brings the reader into the world of the working-class stiff. Digger, the main character of the section, becomes the man we all love to hate. He is obnoxious, crude, rude, and rough around the edges—but with second-person as his ally, we the readers readily empathize with him.
In Diggers’ first poem, he is in a traffic jam on his way to work, worried whether he is going to make it on time or not. It is not until we get to the line: “Maybe you’ll be late for work after all” that you realize he is kind of hoping he will be late. He is a man going to a job he hates, but he is going anyway. I am reminded of walking to school, hoping there would be an accident or some natural catastrophe that would make me late, for no other reason than to be late. However, I knew if I were late, I would be in trouble, so I kept walking, conforming to the rules but at the same time, wanting to break them.
In “ Diggers Thanksgiving” we have a man whose parents are senile, probably at too young an age, and Digger thinks:
You think of putting them in a home.
You remember as a child
pulling the wings off flies:
so delicious, so delicious.
What can you do? How does anybody justify doing something unpleasant? Become apathetic? Hardened?
What does a person do when they feel trapped in their lives? How do he or she think? Probably, something like this:
The sky darkens into night
while you shovel and lift
the wet thinning snow…..
you bend down again
for the heart attack
you know will kill you.
Digger experiences the feast/famine predicament too:
You drink beer after beer
on your porch staring
at your sun-scorched lawn
on our first weekend off
in two months.
Your neighbor’s lawn mowers growl
at you from all directions
If it don’t grow
Then I don’t have to cut it,
You think, but lift yourself
at last out of the broken rungs
of your chair and move
toward the side of the house…
you unweave the hose tangled
from the girls’ water fight
like it’s a rope on a ship—
you are in a late movies you saw last week—
you are on the ocean and this rope
anchors you down.
Suddenly the hose unkinks
and squirts you in the face.
It’s not salt water,
You stand in the driveway
watering the lawn, garden
the side of the house
holding the limp hose,
pissing on everything.
Digger is working overtime. His first weekend off in two months and what does he have to do? Take care of his lawn, that status symbol lying in front of his house that shows everyone in the neighborhood who he is, how he conforms to the norm. He must maintain your lawn. It is expected. Most effective about this poem is Daniels’ choice of words at particular times. The “mowers growl” shows how Digger feels they are nagging him to get to his lawn work. Then, “ holding the limp hose,” reveals Digger’s feeling of impotence. Finally, “pissing on everything.” tells how digger still can remain defiant in his thoughts.
In part three of the collection we go back to the first person. “Short Order Cook,” one of the best of the collection, is a wonderful poem about the pride and ambitions of the minimum-wage worker. But in the next poem, the cook reveals his feelings of helplessness:
“I don’t need to be smart
to work here.”
The grease sticks to my skin
A slimy reminder
Of what my future holds.
Places/Everyone is an exceptional first book. Daniels’ voice is young, but not immature—it resonates with the authority of one who has worked many jobs and seen many places. Daniels’ language is simple, but that renders the personae in the poems. Digger, the main character, portrays the typical working-class Joe—the internal rebel and the external conformist, the one who gets up early to go to work everyday even when he feels the job is not what he should be doing—and that reveals the main theme of the book—conformity. You will enjoy Daniels’ depictions of Motor City life, and even if you were not born in Detroit, you will feel ethos because this book reaches out to Everyperson everywhere who has worked at least one honest job.
Look over Cati Porter’s website: http://catiporter.com
By Stephen Page
Cati Porter’s Seven Floors Up is about wifehood, womanhood, and most expressively, adulthood. Porter reveals in varied forms of verse the roles of a contemporary married mother.
The narrator of the poems has a husband, two children, a cancer-ridden dog, a mother, a stepmother, a mother in law, and a couple of people in her extended family who are terminally ill. She often reflects on how she got to where she is, and in her everyday occurrences she inadvertently divulges to the reader that being an adult means accepting responsibility and not showing that you are falling apart inside. Protecting her children from every day scrapes and falls is big on her list of things to do. To keep her life from getting heavy, she often looks for and finds the humorous things in her life.
This is a well-written book containing a good combination…
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Mortal by Ivy Alvarez
Reviewed by Stephen Page
Demeter is the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture and fecundity. She is often depicted in artwork as carrying corn, shafts of wheat, or the horn of Cornucopia (or a combination). She governs harvestable food for the people and plant life for the earth. The myth goes something like this, depending which version of the myth you read: Demeter bears a daughter named Persephone. When Persephone is a young maiden, Hades, the Greek god of the underworld spies her picking flowers in a field of Narcissi. She is humming to herself and roaming about the field without parental supervision. Hades bursts up from the ground and snatches Persephone, descends back to the underworld with her in his arms, and declares her his wife. Demeter, not knowing what happened to her daughter or where she is, searches the face of the earth for ten days with a torch in her hand. Her search is futile, and she is depressed. During those ten days, her wandering and depression result in negligence of the world’s crops, which wither. On the tenth day, she discovers that it was Hades who abducted her daughter, and that Zeus, the ruler of the gods, had some hand in the plan. Demeter is irate at Zeus, so she lets the crops and the rest of the world’s plant life die; and she promises never to restore fecundity to the earth until her daughter is returned to her. The people on the earth suffer famine, so they no longer pay homage to Zeus. Zeus, an egoist and a clever barterer, strikes a deal between Hades and Demeter-part of the year Persephone will live on earth with Demeter, and part of the year she will reside underground with Hades as his wife (where she is crowned Goddess of the Underworld). Demeter agrees to the deal, but secretly swears that during the months her daughter is underground, the world’s crops and plant life will wither and die; and during the months Persephone is on the earth, the crops and florae will flourish. This myth is ancient Greek reasoning for the seasons.
Ivy Alvarez is obviously well read in Greek mythology. In order to know the Demeter and Persephone myth well, one must know many of the other Greek myths. In Mortal, Alvarez updates the Demeter and Persephone myth in a series of poems. A story unfolds between a contemporary daughter and her mother, who are named Dee and Seph. Alvarez refers to the myth numerous times in the poems, but she takes the liberty of revising the myth in many ways. One of those ways is to have Dee abducted by Hades. As Alvarez’s story progresses throughout the series of poems, Dee and Seph age, and a major theme of the collection links with the title of the book.
In “a memory of corn” the crops that Demeter governs, the seasons, and the underworld are mentioned:
A sky blue with hysteria, roses blowsy and promiscuous, bees fat-bottomed and buzzing-it is a shaking, baking summer. Dee and Seph eat by the reservoir, the firepit coals sing to the meats roasting above them, which hiss and spit at them. Mother and daughter take a corncob each… the corns’ niblets darken in the heat…
In the poem before that one, Seph is born-via cesarean section-and the tale is told from Dee’s point of view:
they had to unzip me
to let the cat
out of the bag
blood bathed my belly
and baby Seph
I stopped counting stitches
forgave the marring
of my clean envelope…
Soon into the collection, we find the traditional Greek myth reversed:
The abduction of Demeter
This time it is Demeter Hades wants. He
drags her through the garden, throws her to
the ground. It opens like a mouth. Grains scatter
from her hand…
…the wet earth swallows…
Disappears. Persephone falls silent, the
garden grows cold…
Alvarez so aptly implements assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme into her poems, they are unnoticeable-yet they add musicality to the poetry. Alvarez’s poetic ear is likely innate. Alvarez writes the poems from various viewpoints, which allows the reader an objective omniscience. The wonderful thing about this collection is that even if you are not familiar with Greek mythology, you can appreciate the book for its high-quality poetry, and the story for its narrative arc.
A Web site for Mortal can be found at www.ivyalvarez.com. The book can be purchased from Amazon.com.
Reviewed by Stephen Page
As I am browsing around a bookstore, I pick up Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, because another writer recommended the book to me. It is simplistically written. It is geared for high-school or freshmen-college students (but, I am sure that is Oliver’s intent). The first couple of chapters are short and low-attention spanning, but by chapter 7 they expand and deepen. There are some important points made in the book, even in the first six chapters:
Everyone knows that poets are born and not made in school. This is also true of painters, sculptors, musicians., something that is essential can’t be taught; it can only be given, or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious . . . still, painters, sculptors (poets) and musicians require a lively acquaintance with the history of their particular field and with past as well as current theories and…
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