Seven Floors Up by Cati Porter

Look over Cati Porter’s website: http://catiporter.com

North of Oxford

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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

#Persephone #Demeter #Hades #Zeus #Narcissi #myth #poetry #bookReview #GreekMythology howjournal.com/mortal-by-ivy-…
twitter: @SmpageSteve

@IvyAlvarez

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
thighs
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…
…Demeter
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.

Book Review by Garrett Dennert on Orson’s Pubishing – A Ranch Bordering the Salty River by Stephen Page

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

North of Oxford

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Reviewed by Stephen Page

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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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Review copies

Stephen has a limited # of review copies for literary magazines, newspapers,reading clubs, and book-bloggers. Inquire in post comments or in Comments Page. Note your website, please.

#bookReviewCopies #bookClubs #readingClubs #literaryMagazines #literaryZines #bookReviewers #bookBloggers #newsPapers #cultureSections #artsSections #editors

She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo

She Had Some Horses

by Jay Harjo

Thunder’s Mouth Press

Reviewed by Stephen Page


Friday afternoon. I take a taxi to the Buenos Aires Airpark. On my flight to Uruguay I read She Had Some Horses, by Jay Harjo. The poems seem somehow familiar, something . . . I am trying to put my finger on it . . . yes . . . they remind me of poems I have read in workshops at university—there is nothing technically wrong with them, but there is nothing outstanding about them either. They evoke some imagery, but little emotion. My friend meets me at the airport and drives me to his home. That evening, after eating grilled lamb on a patio in back of his house, I gaze over what he calls a “backyard”, which is a hundred acres of rolling land surrounded by barbwire fence with a small herd of horses that graze on the grass. Once in a while one of the horses will take off running, and two or three will follow its lead, running, jumping in the air, kicking their hooves about, neighing like they are laughing, manes and tails flowing. Running about, it seems, just to run about—to have fun—to be happy to be alive. I note how gracefully horses move. How proud they stand when they stick their heads up from grazing to look about. That night, I read the book again. I begin to notice a subtle tugging from the poems, an evasive yet imperative beckoning. The next morning, I read the book a third time. The poems stun me. Each one dazzles me, has my full attention—like the way I notice a woman is beautiful and interesting in a way I did not on a first meeting with her, but upon a second and third encounter, moves me, enters me, will not leave me. One of the better poems in the book is ‘The Woman Hanging From the Thirteenth Floor Window’:

 

She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor

 window. Her hands are pressed white against the

 concrete molding of the tenement building. She

 hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago.

 with a swirl of birds over her head. They could

 be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her . . .

The woman hanging from the 13th floor window

 on the east side of Chicago is not alone.

 She is a woman of children, of the baby, Carlos,

 and of Margaret, and of Jimmy who is the oldest.

 She is her mother’s daughter and her father’s son.

 She is several pieces between the two husbands

 she has had. She is all the women of the apartment

 building who stand watching her, watching themselves. . .

She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window

 on the Indian side of town. Her belly is soft from

 her children’s births, her worn Levi’s swing down below

 her waist, and then her feet, and then her heart.

 She is dangling.

The woman hanging from the 13th floor hears voices.

 They come to her in the night when the lights have gone

 dim. Sometimes they are little cats mewing and scratching

 at the door, sometimes they are her grandmother’s voice,

 and sometimes they are gigantic men of light whispering

 to her to get up, to get up, to get up. That’s when she wants

 to have another child to hold onto in the night, to be able to fall back into dreams.

And the woman hanging from the 13th floor window

 hears other voices. Some of them scream out from below

 for her to jump, they would push her over. Others cry softly

 from the sidewalks, pull their children up like flowers and gather

 them into their arms. They would help her, like themselves.

But she is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window,

 and she knows she is hanging by her own fingers, her

 own skin, her own thread of indecision . . .

The woman hangs from the thirteenth floor window crying for

 the lost beauty of her own life. She sees the

 sun falling west over the gray plane of Chicago.

 She think she remembers listening to her own life

 break loose, as she falls from the 13th floor

 window on the east side of Chicago, or as she

 climbs back up to claim herself again.

The image of the woman hanging by her fingertips on the window ledge is vivid. She is depicted metaphorically as EveryIndianWoman, but she could just as easily be EveryWoman, the poem is written that well. Every reader feels empathy with The Women, as do the spectators on the street below. Thusly, EveryOne is up on the ledge with The Woman, right beside her, or as her. The poem begins tragically but ends victoriously. There is hope to escape the fall from the ledge in the sense of self-reclamation. After all, hasn’t everyone been hanging from a ledge at least once in his or her life—at least some sort of a metaphoric ledge?
The rest of the poems are just as vivid as they are emotional.

As Published on Fox Chase Review 

(now North of Oxford)

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com




Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her seven books of poetry, which includes such well-known titles as How We Became Human- New and Selected Poems, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses have garnered many awards. These include the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas; and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. For A Girl Becoming, a young adult/coming of age book, was released in 2009 and is Harjo’s most recent publication.
Read more about Joy Harjo here: http://joyharjo.com/

#joyHarjo #SheHadSomeHorses

The Philosopher Savant

North of Oxford

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Review by Stephen Page

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In the first poem of the book the narrator, as a young boy, skips church and wanders the countryside, discovering new truths, learning he is able to think for himself, coming to his own conclusions about himself and the world, and finding out he is not bound by non-secular dogma. This is where the Philosopher Savant comes into being.

The book follows the remembrances, dreams, fears, evaluation, assessments, and vision of the Philosopher Savant. He is an average person, a father, a householder with a job—but he has a vagrant soul and the fugue vision of a shaman.

Larson writes in the veins of Whitman and Shakespeare. Some of his poems read as contemporized sonnets, and they have as much genius entwined as Shakespeare’s.  While reading the poems, I had a feeling of transcending my self, a oneness with the “all”. The thesis of…

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Rookery By Traci Brimhall (in honor of International Women’s Day)

Rookery by Traci Brimhall

rookery2Series: Crab Orchard Series in Poetry

Paperback: 96 pages

Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press (October 21, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0809329972

ISBN-13: 978-0809329977

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Review by: Stephen Page

 I was exiting Saint Stephen’s Basilica (a name I am particularly fond of) in Budapest, when, in middle of the church square overlooking the Danube River, I noticed a giant of a man, at least two meters high, dressed in Medieval Knight’s garb complete with a shiny armor breastplate engraved with a Tural.  His head was helmetless, and his hair was long and braided to the middle of his back.  His facial features were not unkind, but his expression was stoic and he looked like he had been in a few brawls in his lifetime. On his extended right arm, roosting on a leather sleeve, was an enormous eagle (which I know now to be a White-tailed Eagle, a species that can attain in maturity15 pounds in weight, 92 inches in length, and 92 inches in wingspan. This bird looked like it was all that and more).  The man turned to us and smiled, not quite an evil smile but more of a condescending smile, and seeming to single me out from the small group I was in (my wife, a couple who were our best friends, and the female tour guide) he began approaching me with determined strides.  Now, granted, this is a vacation I was on, and I was in a tourist-thriving city, and the man was wearing tourist-attraction clothing and had an eagle (by God) on his arm, but if I were in Detroit and were coming out of a restaurant at night and this same man, minus the eagle of course, was wearing a black leather jacket and a knit cap, I might have thought that this was going to be one of those situations where I would have to push my wife and friends behind me and tell one of them to call the police.  Seriously though, he just wanted to know if I would like to take pictures of myself with the eagle, for a small (ha, ha) fee of course.  My wife was trembling next to me and grasping my arm like she wanted to cut off its circulation.  I thought the idea was cool.  He slipped the leather sleeve over my forearm and set the eagle atop it, and my wife and friends began snapping photos of us with a backdrop of the Hungarian Parliament Building.   Pictures to send home to Mom.  I smiled and felt macho with this huge entity of nature on my appendage.  Yes, I was a man, a strong man, and I had this bird symbolic of strength on my arm.  I was one with the eagle.  Our souls were entwined.  It was an extension of me.  Then I looked at the eagle’s claws, which wrapped all the way around my forearm (which is pretty healthy in girth, if I do say so myself), and I thought about what eagles for do with those claws.  They kill things and rip them to shreds.  White-tailed Eagles eat mostly sea fish and cormorants, but depending on the season and how hungry they are, they will eat anything from rabbits to pigeons, snakes, and the hatchlings of other birds. They’ll even eat lambs if they are hungry enough.  From the strength with which the bird gripped my arm and the size and sharpness of its talons, I could imagine this raptor, this element of destruction and death, flying into a tree filled with pigeons, its talons slashing and ripping, zeroing in on the fattest of the rookery, gripping and crushing the life out of the bird, bones cracking, blood splattering, feathers flying, and in the same motion, beating its enormous wings, lifting itself up and out of the tree, its gory prize dangling below, headed off to a cliff kilometers away, to share the freshly-killed meal with its hatchlings, the scent of blood and innards driving the chicks into a feeding frenzy.
            In Rookery, Traci Brimhall’s first collection of verse, the narrator is, metaphorically speaking, a pigeon, and all of her lovers and male figures in her life are eagles.  Brimhall brings to the reading world piercing language and empathic characters.  Her poems rip and tear out your guts.  They feed your intellect.  They stimulate your senses.  To the poetry world, Ms. Brimhall is brought in on wings, as if by a Tural.

Traci BrimhallTraci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), winner of the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award.  Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere.  She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow.

Find Rookery on Amazon.

Listen to an interview with Ms. Brimhall on Late Night Library.
Read an interview with Ms. Brimhall on How a Poem Happens.
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stephen-page-iiStephen Page is the Author of The Timbre of Sand and Still Dandellions. He holds a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. Stephen writes in a telephone pole-view room in Argentina, that is, when he is not teaching English for bus fare or constructing an elaborate Hot Wheels track around his writing desk. You can find him on the web at this link: htttp://stephenmpage.wordpress.com/author/smpages/

 

The Wine-Dark House by Rustin Larson

A Collection of Reflection

The Wine-Dark House by Rustin Larson

Blue Light Press. 101 Pages. $15.95

Reviewed by Stephen Page

 

Rustin Larson’s The Wine-Dark House is ampleWine-DarkHouseBig with poems. There is certainly sufficient poetry to fill an afternoon of reading. The speaker in the poems is on a quest, a search for something: tranquility in life, redemption for deeds done, or existential meaning—possibly that spiritual plane some people call nirvana.

When a person is pondering the past, memories do not usually appear in consciousness in a linear fashion, beginning from the first memory as a child, ensued by every subsequent memory up to the present. Rather, memories customarily come to mind non-sequentially. When an event or thought triggers a memory in a person, that person remembers something that happened last year, then something that happened as a teenager, followed by something that happened as a child, and then something that happened yesterday. Psychologically, this recollection process is known as associative memory. Similarly, Larson structures the book to follow the way the narrator is remembering events. The poems jump around in time. One poem is about an adult-relationship breakup, and the next poem is about a childhood incident. The entire collection is bound together by association.

Each poem in Larson’s book is packed with as much detail as a short story. The narrator often alludes to literary works, famous as well as infamous people, easily identifiable locations on the globe, and renowned historical events that either relate to the poems thematically, or place the memories in history for the reader. The poems do not adhere to any one form, but rather, they take form as their contents require. Larson’s writing style is multifarious.

The book is a good, long read. Every line in every poem makes a reader want to slow down and absorb every word. The experience is poly-sensuous, given Larson’s superb poetics. Larson is successful in that he writes outstanding poetry. Period.

Subscript: In The Wine-Dark House, Larson writes poems that demonstrate how memory works. The scenes are the narrator’s memories, but none-the-less, the situations are universal enough that a reader will access and empathize. The book is worth reading, if only for the rich language and the complete story each poem tells.

 

 

Pandora’s Box

Lucky Girl, a memoir by Mei-Ling Hopgood, as reviewed by S. M. Page: 

Lucky Girl

Reviewed by Stephen Page

For the Herald
 
Mei Ling Hopgood was born in Taiwan, abandoned immediately by her birth parents, adopted as a seven-month-old by a white North American couple, and raised in an opportune-rich, predominately white, middle-class suburb of Detroit, Michigan. She was “a little spoiled” by her adoptive parents, but lovingly so, and she was taught that she could be whatever she aspired to be if she simply applied herself. As she was growing up, she often felt a little “different” than people in her surroundings, but she was never shut out from social circles or discouraged to go after and achieve any of her goals. Sometime during her 23rd year, after she graduated university and was well on her way to a successful career in journalism, she received a phone call that connected her to her birth family. Whence, this lucky girl’s story begins and proceeds on quests for her familial and cultural roots, her full identity as an Asian US citizen, and the reasons why she was put up for adoption. 

Hopgood’s memoir, Lucky Girl, is compelling enough that the reader is hooked into the book during the first scene in the prologue and completely drawn into the story by the middle of chapter one. Hopgood’s attractive personality and friendly voice permit the reader to idolize her and empathize with her. Early in the book, Hopgood deploys non-intrusive switchings of narrator viewpoint, so that by chapter three, it is clear that this story is not only Hopgood’s, but also her birth family’s, her adoptive family’s, and her adoption facilitator’s.

Like any great journalist, Hopgood is non-judgmental when giving the initial facts of a story. She shows situations, scribes letters, and repeats conversations, allowing the reader to judge who is good and who is bad. If she is hard on anybody, she is hard on herself, often self-effacingly revealing her own faults. As the story progresses she becomes more opinionated, but then, so does the reader.

What initiates as a search for her past, becomes for Hopgood, an opening of Pandora’s box. Demons are released, and in the process, nerve endings are exposed, blanketed emotions are uncovered, and closeted secrets dragged into the light.

Hopgood writes wonderfully well. She tells a grand tale. Her writing style is earthy, cultured, and polite. The book is, for the reader, an education in mores, socialization, and the resiliency of the human soul. Whatever crisis befalls the narrator, whatever ugly secret she unearths, whatever tragedies happen to her families’ members, the book remains a spiritually uplifting read.