Saturday, February 02, 2013

Except For That by Rachel Goldstein

Copyright 2013 © by Rachel Goldstein

Cervena Barva Press

Somerville, Massachusetts

Softbound, 33 pages, $8

ISBN: 978-0-9883713-1-6

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

From her bio on the back cover we learn that Rachel Goldstein is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She was born in Germany in 1946 in a displaced person’s hospital. At the age of two she moved to La Paz, Bolivia with her parents. Five years later, her family emigrated to Montreal, Canada where she completed her education.

I once sat on the Board of Trustees of the Zamir Chorale of Boston with Ms. Goldstein and never knew this information. However, I was impressed enough with her poetry to publish one of her poems in my online journal, Muddy River Poetry Review.

In this volume of poetry, which lives up to my high regard for work, Goldstein presents her parents’ story. Many of the poems, are sparse, direct and harsh. They reveal truths that some still deny, but cannot be denied when you read realities from survivors and their children. In House of Mercy we encounter the realism of dead children.

Children burn. We go on

without them – ashes, ashes.

The neighbors hack and sing:

Kill and clean

til your work

is done. Soon

the roaches

will be gone

A blue sky cobbles sorrow.

A boy tucks into a nun’s

old habit, keeps his heart

from freezing in the House

of Mercy. There is no mercy.

Certainly during World War II Jews under nazi rule knew no mercy. They died in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belson, Treblinka and other camps. She also writes about places wiped out, people murdered.

First Cousins, Once Removed

Yankush, Leah, Salek! See them

dancing beside the river. Here

the flour mill was once enough

for them. The willow still stand

faithful in leafy gowns.

Do not throw off their green

voices, the circle of voices ringing

in Shreniava.* There is nothing

here. Everything they know is here.

*my grandparents’ summer gather

place for all the young cousins

In another poem she writes For an Extra Piece of Bread, a recurrent theme in Holocaust poetry because a slice of bread – or even a piece of a slice – was a very valuable commodity, sometimes even keeping someone alive for a day or two, or if lucky longer.

For an Extra Piece of Bread

The prisoners were asked to name

the twelve sons of Jacob. One man

tried and tried, was beaten to the ground.

The commandant’s wife came by.

All prisoners were ordered

to look away. My father did not.

He saw how she stood, legs apart,

ten little fox heads, open mouthed,

dead, smothering her breasts.

Some of these poems are before the war, some during and others post World War II yet each poem is poignant, piercing and a valuable contribution to the still growing oeuvre of Holocaust literature. I found this volume of poetry a superb addition to my collection of Jewish and Holocaust poetics. I think every reader will find this volume both accessible

and valuable to own.


Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams

Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Cranberry Island Series by Donald Wellman

Reviewed by Pam Rosenblatt

Donald Wellman’s The Cranberry Island Series was published by Dos Madres Press in December 2012. Like his Prolog Pages (Ahadada, 2009) , Wellman has written another book that sometimes offers a challenge to read and understand. That’s probably because Wellman is working with literal translations, or transliterations.
The Cranberry Island Series has essays that are not reads that you can simply sit down, turn the pages, and figure out what this author is writing about. To read The Cranberry Island Series is to have the book in one hand and a dictionary/thesaurus in the other. Or, more practically, you can utilize internet access.
                In this book, Wellman writes in a multitude of genres: essay, poetry, translation, autobiography, family history, and more. A most intriguing piece is “A Poetics of Transcription” in which Wellman discusses Charles Olson’s Maximus. Wellman writes, “I am seeking to go beyond projective verse and approach a practice that is more nearly my own…” In this essay, Wellman analyzes how Olson takes prose and puts it into poetry without changing any of the words. It’s called:


                                  comes generally
                                              under the

…a process that occurs in moving from prose to verse as in the
many examples that are to be found in Maximus.

Wellman does nice work translating The Seafarer from Old English(ll 1-65a) into modern English. He writes in a lyrical, steadily moving style that is easy for the reader to read and comprehend. Perhaps this is because Wellman is being true to his writing style:

I want to speak the truth, to tell
about my travels and the hardships
which I have endured, the feelings
in my breast when I heard the keel
groan, terrible heaving of the sea
Nights I had to keep a close watch
clinging to the prow when the boat
plunged, seas breaking over ledges
Chains of ice, held me fast by the
legs, iron fetters of frost Sorrow
sighing hot in the heart like fire
I fought hunger and mind sea weary
from watchfulness. You who have it
all so easy on land don’t know how
poorly I fared on the cruel winter
sea, loneliness, longing for close
friends  Rime, icicles in my beard
Hail-scur flew  I heard naught but
hammering seas   Gannets sang to me
The ducks played games to amuse me….

Wellman’s poetry is clear, original and captures the reader’s attention, as seen in “Memorial Day”

No one  took my photo when I wore the uniform
In those days we did not wear it in the streets.

Instead we dressed like the kids back home
and sang, “Lay lady, lay across my big brass bed.”

Everything was bigger then and the smell of wax
and shoe polish mixed with acrid tobacco

and made us unhappy to be men at all
but I had a child, a golden tender boy for whom

the sparkle of a ring on a chain meant incandescent joy
and his mother nursed him in the forests of Oregon

where we lived for a time under a translucent tent
and fished in the Three Sisters with a Cherokee

named Joe. The blue glacial waters turned flesh
to ghost white radiance and the war continued.

The journey through the pages of The Cranberry Island Series is not a lazy one. It keeps your mind active, and the book is quite a memorable read.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Diverting Angels by Deborah Diemont

Diverting Angels
by Deborah Diemont
Copyright 2012 by Dos Madres Press inc.
Dos Madres Press
Loveland OH 45140
Softbound, 43 pages, no price
ISBN 978-1-933675-75-6

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

For those of us who live in New England Deborah Diemont seems a candidate to replace “Wrong Way Corrigan.” She spends winters in Syracuse NY, with its lake effect snow and summers in Mexico. So being bi-lingual, one would expect the poems in Diverting Angels to be in English and Spanish. However, it is all English, which is a benefit to many of us.

The books is one of sonnets, broken into different construction: 14 lines, the standard sonnet, 4-4-6, 4-4-4-2, 4-4-3-3 and of course 8-6.

These are fascinating poems telling stories about people places, things that keep you into each one through the fourteen lines. Take for example Housemate a bittersweet, humorous verse in which we learn that furniture and jealousy make a bad combination:

The walls loomed a metallic oyster gray.
The lamps, Tiffany roses upside-down
bloomed to themselves. Stray artifacts broke ground
in dusty corners where the baby played.

For less than half the rent – the room in back –
I shared the lap dance of another’s life,
cast iron rusted with soap, a hobbled bike,
a garden overgrown with Grickle-grass

Perhaps we’d be friends now if I hadn’t paired
my shaky antique chairs with missing screws
and her deco table, showing too much wear
before I stained with my mug. Nor stared,
discreetly, at her new boyfriend’s tattoo,
a butterfly that straws fermented air.

Ms. Diemont has intriguing titles such as A Modest Blindness, Mountain and Spine, Face Book, The Last Time I Read People, The Poet in Victoria’s Secret™, Photos in Newsweek. All the poems live up to my expectations. They provide insight into a poet whose views ultimately coordinate with life, all types of people and of course, the reader.

In Mountain and Spine

I like the mountain, I adore your spine,
the way you stand as if pulled by a string
toward the sky, palms turned out by your hips.
And how you steeple, arch, curve down to dive.
How emptiness exacts a transformation –
dog-to-cat, child-to-warrior, a tree
where right foot meets the left thigh easily.
Your toes dig in like roots, and your frustration
powers down, with knees and chest and chin
against the floor. I like best when you clasp
your hands in prayer, right at the end, akin
to someone who believes. Roll up your mat –
crave nicotine, pour coffee. We’re aligned,
my tree, my mountain. I adore your spine.

If find her poems compelling in that they don’t go where I expect them to go, like Grandmother, which begins one way and end another is typical of Diemont’s verse.
In To Dye Or Henna a whole lifetime passes in fourteen lines, an explanation of a woman’s thoughts and her history.

This is a book of poetry I savored and which I believe you will as well.

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Earlier Lives: Poems By Sara Dailey

Dos Madres Press

ISBN: 978-1-933675-86-2

79 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Can writing poetry console? Can it deliver solace in the face of unbearable grief? Perhaps more to the point—can poetry do or accomplish anything that aids ordinary people in coping with the human condition? I think so. Apparently, so does Sara Dailey. Her book of poems, Earlier Lives, looks at anguish in an angular, near scientific way that includes sharp observations and a hygienic reductionism. Together Dailey’s collection of poems deals with the traumatic loss of her younger brother in a motorcycle accident, made more intense by her broken family history and the subsequent closeness of their sibling relationship. Throughout the book the poet studies the various facets of her overwhelming sorrow and that very act seems to engender a useful catharsis. Indeed, Dailey lords over her tempestuous territory with absolute control and the reader gets to see this commanding poet define a very difficult subject.

“Listen and I will fill your ears with truth,” says Dailey in her opening and introductory poem, Globe Artichoke. She lets her readers know that they are in for a rough, not a smooth experience. The tipped spikes and leathery scales need to be worked through and the density needs to be thinned out. The poet continues,

…What you desire of me, sparse

in proportion to what you will discard.

Ardishauk, ground thorn, artichoke:

Like a throat full of accordions

in a sommelier’s nightmare,

Come taste my heart.

Dailey’s persona, in the poem Dressing for Funerals, studies her every move, watches her dress appropriately for sorrow. She says,

But it is always sorrow

that moves you from speech.

In the mirror, your face, sepulcher,

practices humanity,

feels skin soft over bones,

the racketing click as jawbone clenches

and teeth tier into caged smile, mouth a cave

Aristotle would never see

his way out of.

Black linen slides over hips,

sways in rhythm with the body’s rocking,

how it shoulders sobs

like cliffs being crested by waves…

A Recognition of Being Left Behind is another poem which makes good use of a mirror. The poet sees her brother’s features in her own face and describes the phenomenon thusly,

When you became no more than my haunt,

ash bits boxed on the mantelpiece,

I sometimes felt the bathroom mirror

was my enemy, showing skin pale like

paper or oak brown eyes, a crooked smile

no longer shared

by anyone. You startle in my heart

like blood welling up, brother.

Who’s to know my secrets now?

The poem entitled Mary to All Her Painters insists the reader confront the reality of death (like the poet confronted her younger brother corpse). It’s never pretty when you’re caressing your dead son. In this case the material feel of the dead Redeemer is a carcass of meat or a formless octopus. Mary additionally admonishes her painters on the state of her being. She complains,

I’m never dirty in these paintings,

despite how far I might have walked,

and the flush you see is faith

not the red of too much weeping.

None of these paintings show

how the hard stones of ovaries

shrank to the dead pits of plums

or how I turned my face away.

In the title poem, An Earlier Life, Dailey’s persona relates her engagement with life before her brother’s death and after it. She once lived with risk and joy and lighthearted love. No more. The poet says,

…Not this life.

Here it isn’t like riding a bicycle.

You must relearn the falling,

the getting up after,

even the willingness to try.

And she does try. The Poet turns scientist and like Gregor Mendel she reads the microcosm of nature and sees her brother’s genes inside herself. She meditates on this in the poem, Gregor Mendel’s Peas on the Anniversary of my Brother’s Death. Following this train of thought to its logical conclusion, she comes up with an interesting question. Dailey asks,

When my blood at last spills,

or my body gives in to entropy

and finally rests, brother

will you still be there

in the strands of me, in DNA

like threads in the loom

of some cosmic weaver

leaving each breath

a silver shimmer?

Dailey composes a good number of Mendel poems for this collection. Her persona seems soothed by the sureness of scientific research that connects humans into families. Mendel becomes a surrogate for God. Not only does he breed animals, manage bees, and grow peas with desirable traits, but he offers a hope for coexistence between Daileyand her longed-for brother. The poet in her poem entitled Mendel, Age 27, Breeds Mice in His Room at the Abbey explains,

Because I wanted to believe in something with ease,

without doubt, your name was a prayer on my lips, words

sung into the air like a hymn. I was grown up far too young.

Unavailable mother. You know, the old story where child

sees parent as fallible, learns to trip lies off their tongue

because it is kinder than truth. I spent summers in the wild

overgrowth of weeds with skinned knees while she cried

behind a locked door we learned not to open. I created plaits

of clover and dandelions, found beauty by making it. When my brother died

years later I dreamt of your mice and plants, Mendel, wondered about traits

he would have passed on, the heritage of heredity…

In poem after poem the author portrays herself in as vestigial. Dailey expands on this concept in a poem entitled, That you are gone is but a fact. She says,

…like tailbones, a crude appendix

formed, structure without function, left behind.

Of loss, recall that even elephants grieve—

The need to touch the bones will make them pause,

Interpret, rage through huts like nettled wind.

As I read through this heartbreaking book of first rate artistry it occurred to me that the poems were working on yet another level. There is a tradition in Ireland and the Scottish highlands called keening. A group of professional mourners are contracted by the bereaved to formalize the grieving process. Each performer has a poetic purpose and together they lament and wail as a chorus. The effect of this sometimes disturbing performance can reduce the inconsolable to merely a singular sadness or even an acceptance.These poems do that. They are the keeners. They work magnificently for the reader. I hope they also deliver comfort tothis deserving poet.