Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: reviews (page 1 of 2)

In the Kettle, the Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I’ve been enjoying Hannah Stephenson’s blog, The Storialist, for several years. She posts a poem every day, usually inspired by someone else’s artwork. They’re quite good, amazing really, when you consider she does this every weekday. So I was happy to read her collection In the Kettle, the Shriek (Gold Wake Press, 2013).

These poems are full of warmth, wit, and so many questions. I really like the way she asks questions in her work. I found myself stopping in my tracks, sometimes doubling back after a few pages as I realized my thoughts weren’t keeping up with my reading. Go slow, with this book. Too fast and you’ll miss something. I suppose many books are like that, but In the Kettle, the Shriek rewards that doubling back.

Many of the poems seem to throw a bunch of vivid images and intriguing ideas out there, and I wonder what will stick, where is this going, and then I think, who cares, I’m enjoying the ride. But at the end, the poet often manages to both tie it all together and reveal something new in a single line that is often a question. This is the genius of the work, I think, and what I found so compelling, so interesting.

This is a very positive book. There is darkness, death, panic, extinction, in these pages, but there is light too. A gentle reminder that things will often work out if we are strong, if we are brave. I was especially struck by “Pressing Ghosts,” in which the speaker shares her own fears that her work is unremarkable and dull (it isn’t!) and concludes with:

Even so, I keep creating, I am capable.
I will calmly allow its heaviness
and stand when it goes. It will.

Strong work here, and I look forward to rereading In the Kettle, the Shriek one day. In the meantime, I will keep reading Hannah’s work at The Storialist.

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Weaving a New Eden Cover Image

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Deep roots fascinate me. My siblings and I grew up following the whims of the US Navy. Being of a place, deeply rooted, is foreign to me. As far as I know not many branches of my family have generations-long roots to any particular place either. We’ve always felt a little bit like tumbleweeds.

So books like Sherry Chandler’s beautiful Weaving a New Eden (Wind Publications, 2011) really interest me. I’ve known Sherry online for a while now, and I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading her fine book, but I do think books tend to come up in my pile when they are supposed to and this one came up when I needed some inspiration, and, boy, did it deliver.

The poems tell the tales of the women who settled Kentucky, Sherry’s home state, from Rebecca Boone to Sherry’s own family members whose stories are so movingly told in a section called “The Grandmother Acrostics.” (By the way I’ve never seen acrostics so well done).

There follows a long sequence of poems about Rebecca Boone, famed frontiersman Daniel’s wife, that had me going back to Wikipedia to read some of the history behind the poems, but I always found Rebecca’s voice as written by Sherry more compelling than anything I’ve ever read about Daniel. There’s something in Sherry’s work that honors more than celebrates or mythologizes these people and so while Daniel Boone seems as mythic as ever, Rebecca is real, and her sacrifices, her losses, hurt.

Weaving a New Eden is an exploration of place as told by and for the women who built it. Beginning with a meditation on personal loss and carrying through a fragmentary poetic history of the settling of Kentucky and circling back again to “The North Yard,” a sonnet crown, in which Sherry writes eloquently of the cycles of life and death in her own settled yard, often with a scientific understanding of the world that would have been alien to the frontierswomen we met earlier in the book.

This is a wonderful, beautiful, book, worth taking your time with. It took me two weeks to read because I kept going back, rereading, and then letting the poems rest in my mind for awhile before moving on. I look forward to her next book. In the meantime, I will enjoy her twitter feed, rich with her micropoetry.

Baobab Girl by NS

There was a beautiful sunset, the kind we get in Texas, all sky and cumulus clouds outside the window of animal emergency a few Fridays ago. Once again Joey and I were back for fluids to cope with an episode of bloody diarrhea. While there, I read NS’s Baobab Girl, a short collection I downloaded a long time ago before I got a Kindle and last Friday, I finally read it.

Stunning.

NS’s Dark and Like a Web is one of my favorite short collections, and this one didn’t disappoint either. Baobab Girl takes the reader all over the world through experience, myth and legend. The language is pure delight: fresh and often startling. Lines like “Ivar’s silver eyes / are moon-lure, his voice / honey of ash sap” have played in my head for days as has the imagery and story told in “Under the Yew.” These 12 poems are to be savored and at some point reread.

Great poetry transports us, and this collection certainly did that. As I finished the last poem, the vet came into the room to tell me Joey would be fine. I was startled. I had almost forgotten I was in the EC with a sick pup and night falling all around.

Leap by Heather Grace Stewart

After reading Where the Butterflies Go, I was interested to read more of Heather Grace Stewart’s poetry and so next up was Leap, a shorter collection than Butterflies and interesting for the way it moves between the real and online worlds. There are a number of poems in which the author seems to be wrestling with what it means to live in such a socially interconnected time, but as with her other collection my favorites are the poems inspired by parenting since that’s the focus of my life right now. It’s good to read poems that capture parenting and the way it changes marriage with such insight, wisdom, humor and well, yes, grace. A good read all around especially “Autumn Will,” “Beautiful Chaos,” and “Valley.” I look forward to reading her third collection Carry On Dancing, which is coming up soon in my reading pile.

Where the Butterflies Go by Heather Grace Stewart

I just finished reading Canadian poet Heather Grace Stewart’s collection Where the Butterflies Go. The book is divided into three sections: Pain, Growth and Family and it was the last that resonated most with me. Equal parts meditation, celebration and reflection on family life, marriage and parenting, the poems here are full of keen observation of relationships and the small details that make each family unique and special to its members. My world now is so full of learning this whole parenting business, I found myself frequently smiling and nodding along as I read. I especially enjoyed the way Stewart’s book moves between poems that recollect the transition from childhood to adulthood and others that celebrate childhood innocence through the eyes of a wise mother who knows that innocence is fleeting. Beautiful work.

Dark and Like a Web by NS

Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine (Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress, 2011) by NS and edited by Beth Adams has been following me around in my bag and on my phone for several months now. There is a lot of weight in this short collection of 15 poems, and it may not be too much to say I love this book.

NS traces a spiritual path that resonates with me for its recognition of the longing for what is often right in front of us, though unnoticed and forgotten in the action and busyness of life. We wind up seeking something that’s really never very far at all. NS doesn’t attempt to directly define the divine and I like that too. There are more questions than answers here creating an openness and space for the reader to enter and follow along on a shared journey.

In her introduction, NS writes of being sick for silence and stillness which is where I was when I picked the book up last year.

my days are flocks of starlings
wheeling dark waves
of loud chatter

—”my days are flocks of starlings”

A year ago, I found myself “sick for silence” and set out to get back into my habit of walking and writing small stones, a kind of active meditation or prayer, if you will. Those starlings (well, they’d be grackles down here) can get out of hand… loud and noisy nuisance birds, flying in all directions, crapping on everything. With all that going on, it’s easy to forget to be awed by nature, the trees dropping leaves, the birds on their great journeys, even those starlings. To lose this is to close off an important path toward the divine, to stick with the poet’s usage, which I rather like.

home
because my breath ends
in silver plainchant
and woven silence
in you

—”the names of my breath”

There are other journeys too of course, those not marked by miles. The one called parenthood that we’re on now spirals, at this point anyway, deeper into home. My son who has the past week discovered consonants and repeats them endlessly, delightedly, as if singing the most wonderful song seems to me a gift… something so undeserved and precious as to make us wonder how we didn’t know he was missing during the years before he came. He sings his babbling song, we sing back, he responds with laughter and raspberries.

your step is like a small flame
and a song unfurling

—”antiphony in the hills”

NS’s language and imagery—landscapes that evoke the widest vistas and the narrowest paths—are vibrant. This is a book that takes the reader on 15 journeys, each longer and deeper than the relatively brief poems that contain them. The journeys, of course, are one journey leading back to wholeness.

when I have readied myself

I rise whole from the pool at sunrise
and step into you as onto a straight road

—”when you come to me in the dark of night”

Oddly, or maybe not, this book speaks to me most of the end of journeys in which we may have experienced something of what exists behind nature, community, communion, and silence that can’t really be described or explained. It’s not nothing. It’s not imaginary. And in opening ourselves to it, we can find the recognition, warmth, healing and mystery that fill us up with an awe and wonder the way a woodpecker’s rhythm in the trees, a scorpion’s path along the road, the touch of a loved one or a baby’s laughter do.

In this book I’m reminded of the importance of finally coming home. Whatever that might mean to any given reader.

Tender Mercies by mark Stratton

I’ve been carrying mark Stratton’s Tender Mercies (The Pancake Truck Press, 2011) around in my bag for a few months. Mainly it was so I wouldn’t forget to write something about it, but it’s taken me this long. The old blog has fallen down the priority list somewhat these days, but periodically I get the book out, read a few random poems and then stick it back in my bag. Now it’s started to feel like a friend tagging along from place to place offering snapshots and images from dreams and nightmares. It’s a friend who doesn’t explain himself but the conversation is good and usually interesting.

The Cowboy rides
through lead guitar dynamics
a single stream of time
signature changes

–from “Tender Mercy #28D”

That’s the sense I get from Tender Mercies, a collection that began as a series mark posted to his blog about a year ago or so. Sense is a funny thing too, because it doesn’t always make sense to me. I don’t always get what mark’s getting at, but the ride, the language, is a pleasure, and sometimes a line or two finds a place in my mind, takes root and won’t leave me alone. So the book goes back in the bag and I carry it around some more, sometimes forgetting it’s there only to be happily surprised again.

I misplaced my words

I kept them in the lee
Of a tow sail

They went well with
Collard greens
Or a glass of milk.

–from “Tender Mercy #17b”

Earlier this year, mark asked me for feedback on the manuscript and a blurb. I offered those, but I kind of wish I’d had the year to do it. Maybe the blurb would have been better, at any rate. I say that simply because after nearly a year of hanging out with these poems at hospitals, the dentist’s offices, school, who knows where else one finds a few moments to read, I just like them more and more the better I get to know them. I still see a lot of poems about connection and disconnection, love and loss, though, but they get funnier or sharper or wiser with time and rereading. Sometimes more mysterious too. I think good poetry should be like that.

Toxic rains fall not
from only the heavens.
Domestic gods and
Dusting share the blame.

–from “Tender Mercy #14”

In addition to Tender Mercies, mark has just released a limited edition chapbook called Postmarks. There’s also an interesting interview with mark at Jessie Carty’s blog. mark blogs at AGGASPLETCH.

Thinking about Blameless Mouth by Jessica Fox-Wilson

There is want and there is need and the two are so easily confused, especially when we can’t appreciate what we have. In fact, our economic system depends on a seeming willful confusion of want and need. This is what Jessica Fox-Wilson explores in her debut collection, Blameless Mouth.

But wait there’s more. I have dresses

for jobs you don’t work, furniture for rooms you can’t
afford, cars for streets you don’t live on. Try this on
for size. Clothe yourself in the better things of life.”

–from “Magazine Says: You’ve Worked Hard”

Do I need that shiny new Thing or do I want it? The need and the want each create their own hunger, though fulfilling the hunger for our needs keeps us alive while fulfilling that insatiable hunger for our wants… well, that only feeds a growing emptiness that can never be satisfied just as a few fast food cheeseburgers can make us hungry for even more. And more and more and more. Maybe want isn’t a greasy burger; rather, it’s nicotine, and it can kill.

His eyes glowed, from want

of things”

–from “Snapshot of Our Father: Swap Meet”

I’ve been trying for years to want less, to be happy with what I have and want mostly what I need or what I will really use. I have learned not to need the latest greatest biggest best and fastest hunk of plastic that will only end up swirling around in the middle of the ocean one day anyway. This is a hard thing to learn, and it’s something I’m still working on. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for girls who at such a young age begin receiving cultural messages designed to create monstrous and unlikely-to-be-fulfilled wants that feel like such desperate needs.

I am a girl
but not a live nude girl
I study my body, a mass
of white, unformed dough,
hiding my future shape.
I want so much
to be like them, laughing
despite the cold bars.
I whisper to them,
how do I start?
They giggle, Girl,
it’s only a matter of time.

–from “Live Nude Girl”

How many girls are growing up thinking they’ll be Disney princesses? Boys can grow up pretending to be cowboys, and it’s possible for them to do that (though Willie & Waylon advise against it) but aside from Grace Kelly, startlingly few American girls grow up to be princesses. (I know, a shock, right?). We are all taught from an early age to be consumers, to want and need and fulfill those needs for ourselves and others while learning that what we have is insignificant, unworthy, not enough, out of fashion or obsolete.

“I know nothing I can buy
will ever fill me.

I am satisfied

only with the possibility
of all the endless products
waiting
just beyond my reach.”

–from “Living Next to an All-Night Grocery Store”

What if no one wanted any Thing? Could our country even survive the implications of that? I don’t know what would happen. Are book stores closing because I can’t convince myself that I need more books, because I have more than enough? Need and want aren’t as entirely separable as I might like. By reducing our wants, do we make it harder for others and ultimately ourselves then to fulfill our needs? I don’t know that I like this train of thought, but good books pose tough questions, which Blameless Mouth does exceedingly well.

“The same small red fox darts across lawns, scavenges for
food. Her starved stomach tightens. Can she survive, unfilled,

staring into dark windows? Can the fox see her full
reflection, mirrored on concave skies, gray and unfilled?”

— from ”Ten Miles West From Here, 4:42 AM”

In an old episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye sits down at the bar and says he needs a drink after a long day in the O.R. Everyone looks at him and he pauses and then gets up to leave. He says that he’ll come back when he wants the drink. The beginning of overcoming his alcoholism is that awareness of the difference between need and want. I suspect it’s the beginning of healing for many people. Blameless Mouth provides a moment to think and a path for examining our needs and wants, perhaps outlining the way toward a healthy reconciliation of the two.

Separating need from want and having is not easy, but this is what Blameless Mouth does remarkably well. All the more impressive because Fox-Wilson self-published (which I really admire) this brave collection that allows reader and poet to “teeter together, on the knife’s edge of having and wanting.” Teetering… I like that. A good book should make the reader teeter a little, I think.

This book was really good, enlightening even, and yet it creates another paradox of sorts because you’ll need to ask yourself if you need this book. Or do you want it?  Whatever your answer to that may be, I can say that I am very glad I have it, and I think you will be too. You can purchase it at LuLu.

You can read the full text of some of the Blameless Mouth poems at Jessica Fox-Wilson’s blog, Everything Feeds Process. Be sure to check out the videopoem for “Echolalia” while you’re there. Others have written more about the book, so please go visit them as well:

Unthinkable Skies by Juliet Wilson

Juliet Wilson’s chapbook Unthinkable Skies (Calder Wood Press, 2010) sat atop the to-read stack for a long time, but I regularly picked it up and flipped to a random poem whenever I passed or when I had a spare moment or two. I don’t know why I read it this way except that after a while, I started to like the slow process of reading one poem and then putting the book down, letting the poem settle into me as I watched the dogs eat their dinner.

When I finally decided to sit down and read Unthinkable Skies all the way through, the poems I’d already read were waiting like recent acquaintances alongside the ones I had missed and the whole thing just got better and better as I progressed back and forth between the new and the familiar. Maybe that’s an odd way to read a book, but I rather enjoyed it and somehow the individual poems resonated more since this helped prevent their getting lost in the whole of a collection.

And what poems these are. Wilson displays a deep love for the natural world tinged with mourning for what has passed (“Passenger Pigeon”) though she manages this without resorting to hopelessness. Throughout, she writes eloquently about her concern not just for the loss of wild places and creatures, but how that impacts us humans, an idea powerfully described in “Lost Dances of the Cranes” in which she imagines future city dwellers watching old video and marveling at “the wonders the world once held.” It was hard not to see the great construction cranes that have dominated Austin’s skyline the past few years.

These poems are full of birds too, but one bird has been with me since I first read “Domesticated” a few weeks ago:  a pet goose, bound to earth by habit and domestication, wondering at the sound of wild geese flying overhead during migration:

Flightless and petted, you enjoy comforts
of home and hearth,

[…]

Winter air fills with honking
geese in joyful formation
high in unthinkable sky.

[…]

Later you puzzle over dreams
of endless blue and the steady beat of wings.

I feel for that goose. For my dogs that once were wolves. For all of us who every now and again might wish we could go back to swinging through the trees with our most distant ancestors. This isn’t to say that being civilized and having our modern human culture doesn’t have its perks (the internet, electric guitars), but with it we’ve disconnected from the natural world and Unthinkable Skies does a wonderful job exploring that disconnection and suggesting possibilities for reconnection.

Finally, these poems are full of space and silence. Space for a reader to enter into Wilson’s richly described world, to sit with her on a beach listening to shorebirds turn stones or reflect on the emptiness of a field after the birds have migrated. With that space, comes a reverent silence perfectly balanced between notes of mourning and wonder, a wonder that fills me as a reader with hope.  Unthinkable Skies reminds us that this Earth and all its creatures—even us apes—is beautiful and holy and in trampling it, we lose some deep and important part of ourselves.

Juliet Wilson blogs at Crafty Green Poet and Over Forty Shades, and she edits the wonderful online journal Bolts of Silk (where a few of my poems have appeared). You can buy Unthinkable Skies from Calder Wood Press. It’s a lovely little book and to my great surprise and delight it arrived here from Scotland only three days after I ordered it.

Here’s a video by Alastair Cook of Juliet reading her poem “Adrift” (h/t Moving Poems where I found the video).

Adrift from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

Odes to Tools

There’s something enchanting about old tools. Not power tools, but rather the ones that require maybe a little sweat, a little swearing and more than a little skill to use. They’re the ones that live in sheds or hang in garages like old mysteries gathering dust and perhaps a little dulled but still so useful to the hand that knows how to wield them.

These tools are relics of a time when people still made things and made them well. In some cases, these tools made things and kept the world running before I was born. Made things I’ll never see and yet when I look at them and sometimes play with them (because that’s all I really know how to do) I imagine a world in which we didn’t throw things out the moment they broke.

My first hammer

There’s solidity to those old tools hanging around and still ready despite the shiny power tools that can do a job faster but will themselves be recycled long before they’ll ever be passed on. These are the tools I was given as a kid and the ones I inherited from my grandfather and my dad who I’ve assisted (because that’s all I’m good for when it comes to carpentry) on a few projects.

Dave Bonta’s new chapbook Odes to Tools (Phoenicia, 2010) has gotten me looking at and appreciating these old tools in my garage all over again. The poems originally appeared on Dave’s blog Via Negativa (you can still read them there) but in book form they become like the tools themselves, somehow sturdier in their stately analog elegance.

My favorite in the collection is the ode to one of my favorite tools, the coping saw, a tool I’ve used, misused and loved longer than most others. (What a glorious day it was when I learned I could replace that rusty old blade!) In Dave’s writing, this most space-hogging and least dense of tools becomes a jumping off point for examining ideas bigger than the tool itself, and the coping saw’s sturdy flexibility becomes a near-Taoist metaphor for the strength found in yielding, a certain wisdom in emptiness. From “Ode to a Coping Saw”:

Perhaps because it is flexible
& maneuverable

[…]

or because it encompasses
so much empty space

somehow
it copes.

It’s a fine collection, well worth multiple readings, and like the tools it celebrates, I suspect it will never stop working no matter how long it may sit on the shelf between reads.

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