Sunday, April 24, 2011

IN THE SUMMER OF CANCER, Poems by John Sokol

Review of IN THE SUMMER OF CANCER, Poems by John Sokol, Endymion Press, 8446 Melrose Place, Los Angeles, CA 90069, 98 pages, hardcover, dated 2003, $19.95
(Cover painting, “Charon Sleeps”, 1990, also by the author.)

Review by Barbara Bialick

As Nature grows in layers, so grow the images and metaphor in John Sokol’s book THE SUMMER OF CANCER, which reflects back to 1984 when his love, Shelly, died of breast cancer. Painful as this was to him, he coats his book’s sadness in well-crafted, erudite lines from Greek mythology, eastern philosophy, natural detail, even math, before he can finally state so poignantly in the last poem of the book: “This Poem is Just Like All of Us”…that he is ”afraid of dying alone,/in nobody’s lap, in nobody’s arms.”

One of my favorite poems, “Robert Frost’s Books, Rupton, Vermont, 1980” (for Shelly 1940-1984) takes place when the couple came across Robert Frost’s house in the Vermont woods, surrounded by hunters, and go inside, and contemplate making love in the sacred poetry structure still apparently holding some of the poet’s original books and mattress coils. At the end of the poem, he risks having “Robert Frost turn over/in his grave than not pay homage to you in yours:/I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and you and I--/We took the one less traveled by,/And, in the end, that never made a difference.”

Another powerful poem is his “Letter to a Sister I Don’t Have.” “Maybe your name is Lila, or Sarah./Maybe we live very far apart. Maybe/we haven’t seen each other in ages/…After/everyone else has left, we’ll listen to/Waltzing Matilda, and the waiters will wait/for the juke-box to break our farewell hearts…”

This is Sokol’s first full-length book and it is a good one. The author, a poet, fiction writer and painter, lives in Akron, Ohio. He has published poetry in such fine publications as “Antigonish Review”, “The Berkeley Poetry Review”, “The New York Quarterly” and so on. Here are some lines from his poem, “Old Soul”: “Had you been a/Buddhist, at Wat Po—where turtles/are revered as human souls,/making their way through one/of many lives—you might have/known the slow road to Nirvana/could ditch you here, where you/drag the bottom of a watery/world, and make do in the mud,/with your mutable soul.”

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