Monday, September 01, 2014


REVIEW OF SEA-LEVEL NERVE (BOOK ONE), PROSE POEMS BY JAMES GRABILL, Wordcraft of Oregon, LLC, publisher, La Grande, OR 97850, 2014

Review by Barbara Bialick

This an environmentally emotional book of 94 pages of prose poems.  At first, the poems rolled along like a wheel of time that spoke of the wearing down of Nature in our industrial disaster.  However, I soon could not stand to read one lumbering poem after another…until I had my own a-ha moment… The poems are listed in alphabetical order according to title!

Therein lies the San Andreas Fault line of the whole book. You don’t just list your poems in alphabetical order…  You have to place the poems in juxtaposition to each other in terms of sound, picture, topic, theme and so on.

Fortunately for me, the reviewer and you, the reader, the author made one other very helpful alphabetical list—the impressive array of literary magazines that each published one or two of his better titles.  I went right for some of the magazines that I felt usually had good taste and picked out some lines for you in an un-alphabetical manner:

From Wilderness House Literary Review, “In the Santuary of our Midwest Wisdom Religion”:  “Dark-red ancestral robes in the stained-glass sanctuary…close to the professor with his Bach hair the wind blew as he walked in rehearsing/He’s half sitting, half standing, playing four parts of the hymn on the organ at once, opening pipe-tornado tremolo…”

From Pemmican Online, “Exposure”:  “A few moments and his temperature had become 400 mm of mercury still cooling after his birth, his voice floating with studs as when the windy Great Lakes Bay had become eutrophic, when all the perch died on the sand.”

From Salamander, “The Idea of Throwing Tires”:  “Oil grease slips around the axle that turns within industry, as Junior hauls ass on the tow motor, wild/from breathing in downtown Toledo where little exists in 1967 but trouble at worked…”

From “The Bitter Oleander”, “Night Fog”:  “Walking through the body of fog we’re being lifted to an ancient place where angels disappear and only night would wait longer than fog for final lightening fires at the end of forests to turn back into rock, or the voiceless hands holding back this stretch of time.”

James Grabell, the author, has been publishing poetry in the U.S. and internationally since the early 1970s. He earned an MFA from Colorado State University, where he also taught writing.  He also taught at the Oregon Writers’ Workshop, at Clackamas and Portland Community College, among other places. He also has long experience writing on environmental topics.  He has published seven books of poems, two books of essays, and two poetry chapbooks. He is a long-time resident of Portland, Oregon.

******The reviewer, Barbara Bialick has published two poetry chapbooks from Ibbetson Street Press, TIME LEAVES and NEVER RETURNS


  1. Juxtaposition to sound, one way to organize a book, there are other ways. I am not clear from this piece whether it is the subject matter, the poem themselves, or structural issues that made the reviewer called these lumbering poems.

  2. Anonymous7:41 PM

    Actually the selection of prose poems does have an order that progresses, but not in a linear way. It's more a mix of themes, motifs, processes, and arguments that lead forward and back, that interconnect in multiple ways... don't know what to make of the word choice "lumbering"--a complaint, I guess, about complexity of some of the sentence structure? In many of the pieces, the idea is that each new paragraph leaps to a new perspective. Overall, there are maybe seven or eight types of prose poems, and the focus continually shifts from outer to inner to outer, questioning the paradigms associated (not only with this issue)... I think of the book like along symphony that refuses to treat the planet as if everything were okay, as if summer is still summer and winter still winter, as if "normal" is still "normal"... but I don't think the pieces simply dwell in difficulties... could lumber on about what's behind the book-- good energy to you, JG