Monday, June 29, 2009

Anezka Ceska by Jaromir Horec, Three Islands by Micah Ling /// Reviews by Zvi Sesling.

Anezka Ceska

by Jaromir Horec

Translated into the English

by Jana Moravkova Kiely as Agnes of Bohemia

Cervena Barva Press

Somerville, Massachusetts

Softbound, 54 pages with an Introduction, Endnotes and Postlude

ISBN: 978-0-578-02262-8

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Eastern European poets have fascinated me for two reasons: the quality of their poetry

and their creative use of language. It is a shame that few of these poets have made their

mark on American poetry either by being read widely or by their lack of influence on

American poets. Two of my favorites are Wislawa Szymborska and Charles Simic. The

former a Nobel Prize winner as was Czeslaw Milosz. This leads us to Jaromir Horec, a Czech poet of considerable talent and Jana Moravkova Kiely whose translations of Horec

bring not only Horec’s poetry to life but the subject of his verse: Anezka Ceska (Ann of Bohemia).

Anezka lived in the Czech nation during the 13th Century, a princess, an abbess and builder of a hospital for the poor. It took more than 700 years before she was canonized.

Horec’s poetry and Kiely’s translation resurrect her, with lines like this from Gentleness Nestled in Her

Gentleness nestled in her

it came to her

at dawn

in silence

over dew

The poems also relate the travails of the Czechs seven centuries ago as in the lines from Mother of Seven Sorrows

Countless times has the land

heard its streams and torrents moan

as swords of intruders washed their blood in them

and forces of darkness broke encampments on the

midnight shores

Linden trees glowing with honey even towering oaks

countless times burned to the roots and wells

blocked with human bodies polluted the soil

There are many fascinating poems about the hero of this book, about light and

dark times of the period with Anezka at the center of it all.

This is a book about a woman hero, life, religion, bravery and destiny. It is a book

with an introduction that places a perspective on what the poetry is about. The

endnotes are taken from historical sources and explain some of the poems, while

the postlude expands on these notes. A biography of Horec is also vital in understanding the author and the poetry.

One personal note: the translations of Czech (and many Eastern European languages) can often be difficult and Kiely’s translations might be criticized in some places, but they are tense, lively, colorful and sensitive, all reflecting the deep religiousness of the subject, the author and the translator.

You don’t have to be Czech, Eastern European, Catholic or even religious to enjoy this

book not only for its poetry, but its history. And Cervena Barva Press should be commended for bringing it to American readers.

Three Islands

by Micah Ling


Buffalo, NY

Copyright © 2009 by Micah Ling

ISBN: 978-1-934513-18-7

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Everyone once in a while a poet comes along who successfully achieves a new and difficult approach to poetry. Micah Ling is such a poet. Her first full length collection is a three-in-one special. Each section of her book Three Islands could be a separate chapbook, and in fact, the final section of the book "Amelia Earhart" was a chapbook entitled Thoughts on Myself (Finishing Line Press, 2009).

So, what’s new? Many poets have spoken in the voice of other people, something I have not particularly enjoyed. But Ling puts Robert Stroud, Fletcher Christian and

Earhart together, hence the islands: Stroud’s was Alcatraz, Christian’s Pitcairn and Earhart on the island where she crashed her plane. Three islands, three prisons: Stroud in Alcatraz for his murderous ways. Christian on an island from which he couldn’t leave because of mutiny. Earhart alone on a deserted island waiting to be rescued.

That these three sections of the book work is a testament not only to Ling’s talent as a poet, but her ability to match such seemingly disparate people in a poetic tour-de-force. Her poetry is strong, her voice clear and her interpretation of these individuals fresh.

You would think after seeing Bird Man of Alcatraz, reading Mutiny on the Bounty, or seeing any of its three cinematic versions or after all the documentaries and biographies of Amelia Earhart there would be nothing new. You’d be wrong. Ling puts Stroud’s thought process into perspective as the lines of the chilling opening poem show:

“Alcatraz Island, 1945: D Block 41”

This birdhouse is barren country,

worse than Alaska,

no sky to escape to,

no hope of gravy trapped by potatoes.

I’d kill again for a decent meal.

Just outside this ghost town

there’s a world that never strays

from comfort, never rises to the heat

of sauteed and sticky, never cools

to chatter or frost. I need more

than a mother now.

I need to be fed.

This stark language, this cold view of life, this self-centered need and the 16 other poems in this section are what makes Micah Ling’s work compelling.

In the section on Fletcher Christian, Ms. Ling conjures these thoughts in the first stanza of “November 22, 1789”:

There’s something about the sound of truth:

cracks of thunder, lashes to skin.

Tiny hairs rise and fall again. Truth

has its own mind

These are words I recognize, perhaps you too: we’ve all heard the cracks of thunder Christian has heard. We have all felt the lashes to skin, even if not administered by a whip. And truth truly has its own mind. These are descriptions that excite, stimulate inspire others to write poetry.

All three poems have people who long for freedom, for a return to civilization, to sanity, to associate with “normal” people, to live again, for they are all doomed to their own island, their physical and mental prisons.

As Ling has Earhart saying:

I fill Noonan’s bottles

with secrets, cork them

with seaweed, and send them away

to find other stone faces,

and assure them,

not crazy.

Talking to no one is better than quiet.

And reading to myself is better than not reading. This book is highly recommended.

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