Monday, January 04, 2010

Two New Reviews: How to photograph the heart by Christine-Klocek-Kim and Voyager by Dawnell Harrison

How to photograph the heart
by Christine Klocek-Lim
The Lives You Touch Publications
P.O. Box 276
Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania 19437
Copyright 2009 by Christine Klocek-Lim

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

You remember how the lens squeezed
unimportant details into stillness:
the essential trail of rain down glass,
the plummet of autumn-dead leaves,
your grandfather’s last blink when
the breath moved on.
Your startled hands compressed
the shutter when you realized: this is it
this is the last movement he will take
away from the silent fall of morphine,
beyond the soft gasp of the nurse,
past the sick, slow thud of your heart
moving in the luminous silence.

This is the title poem of How to photograph the heart
Christine Klocek-Lim’s fine chapbook which includes
some language one cannot help but admire. Here are
some samplings (read the chapbook to find them):

** Hollow stalks of grass bend over the wet
dirt like sabotaged fences.

** The soft retreat of chlorophyll asks useless questions

** Now the moon hangs like wisdom

** how once seen, a red moon lingers
with a cinnamon tingle.

** You mention blood, but the phone’s static
insistence swallows our conversation.

Okay, maybe you don’t find these a refreshing as I do,
but they are lines I repeated visually and verbally as I
read them.

Ms. Klocek-Lim’s poetry can be disconcerting in that one
does not always know to whom, or about whom, she is writing.
However, one can cruise through this book and enjoy it, savor
its frequent pleasures and learn a few things about writing poetry
along the way.


by Dawnell Harrison
Adastra Press
Easthampton MA
Copyright © 2009 by Dawnell Harrison
IBSN10: 0-9822495-3-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-9822495-3-6
Softbound, 22 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Dawnell Harrison’s first book of poetry, Voyager has a rich and unusual history. In its book announcement, Adastra Press says the poems in Voyager are, “...homages and inspirations from Bette Davis’s movie Now Voyager and from the life of Sylvia Plath...” But it goes deeper than that. The movie is based on a book by Olive Higgins Prouty, the title coming from Walt Whitman’s couplet in Leaves of Grass (Signet Classics, 150th Anniversary Edition, foreword by Billy Collins) entitled The Untold Want
"The untold want by life and land ne'er granted,
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find."
Prouty also wrote Stella Dallas, which in the 1940s and 1950s was a very popular radio soap opera. Prouty, who had what in the early 1900s was called a nervous breakdown, spent time in a sanatorium and used her experiences, particularly in Now Voyager.

Dawnell Harrison has captured the flavor of both the film version of Prouty’s novel and of Sylvia Plath, who also had her mental breakdown. Both Prouty and Plath attended Smith College which makes a direct connection to Adastra Press in Easthampton, MA.

Harrison is a native of the State of Washington and lives in Idaho, that is about we learn about her, except that she is a graduate of the University of Washington. Her poetry, however, is ambitious. Writing poems inspired by fiction based on actual mental illness, as well as what one knows about Plath can be not only difficult, but cumbersome.

Harrison, however, seems to have an easy flow to her poetry that permits her to swing between her two subjects with ease and incisiveness. For example some lines from, The World Has Gone Mad:

The world has gone mad.
My only solace, like a sea creature
living its existence in a salty, safe shell,
is to imagine swimming
amongst them as a mermaid in
silky blues and greens

In Little Schizophrenic Girl, there are more lines about madness:

We love our little schizophrenic girl,
talking to cats
and we think they understand her.
They are always meowing back,
so we just assume,
disquieting as it seems.

And finally, a few lines from the final poem in the chapbook, Games and Sparrows:

Today I am counting
sparrows and one
landed on my
back doorstep eaves.
Darting his head around
looking for predators.
Even he is playing
for his life.

What I like about Harrison’s poetry is her 21st century take of 20th century writing, her ability strike at the heart of issues, like an Aztec priest cutting out a heart. Shorty Shorts and Oh Voyager are two that make their point economically and effectively and are two of my personal favorites. Some of the poems in this chapbook have final lines that could be deleted, making those poems stronger, but the poems are still worth a reading, as is the whole book in which Ms. Harrison has taken on two difficult subjects and succeeded.