Friday, April 25, 2014

Earth between Worlds in Irene Koronas’ new book of poems turtle grass


Earth between Worlds in Irene Koronas’ new book of poems turtle grass           

article by Michael Todd Steffen

To see, absorb and relate the gift and charm of things so ordinary they often go neglected is one of the most fruitful deeds of poetry, from Homer’s descriptions of the mindful labor of domestic servants to William Carlos Williams’ magnification of a red wheelbarrow or a bowl of plums.
Grass is basic stuff enough. Yet to early Americans, the vast grassy spaces of the continent symbolized endless promise and abundance, and the title Walt Whitman chose for his life’s work, Leaves of Grass, certainly endeared him to the nation’s imagination and hopes.
To take up the theme of this herbaceous grace of earth is so less evident today, and thanks are due to Irene Koronas for the many reminders about that grace she has taken pains to bring us in her new book turtle grass (ISBN 978-1-304-90182-8, Muddy River Books, Brookline, MA).
In some cases, when used intuitively, fact can be as powerful as devised symbol to convey the scope of things. Koronas uses this register of dates, numbers, scientific terms and descriptions to open our eyes to grass as a world plant, which we today mostly think of for its use and pleasure in lawns and golf courses.

            only the sunflower and orchid families
            are larger than the grass family, with 10,000
            species and 650 to 900 genera. the grass
            family has more individual plants
            and wider environmental range than
            any other family. grass reaches the limits,
            in polar regions and on mountaintops, grass
            endures extreme cold, heat, and drought. grass
            dominates various landscapes worldwide.
            they are the most successful seed bearing plants
            with single seed leaves, it is the most beneficial plant
            for humankind, providing nutritional grains
and livestock forage, and prevents soil erosion… (p. 7)

It’s important to know Koronas is a visual and multi-media artist, in the habit of appropriating materials and making them original in their composition (i.e., the use of anaphora to make the word “grass” become almost incantatory in the passage above). The early 20th-century artists relished in exaggerating their crafty theft of raw materials and in exposing the structural nature of their work. The transparent walls and ducts of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Picasso’s figures seemingly unfinished, left in rudimentary, geometrical shapes, the poems of Pound and Eliot strewn with fragments of world literature: these were intellectual challenges to the romantic notion of vacuum-tight, self-produced originality. Koronas, with the classicists and collagists, is also arguing that artistic talent has as much to do with the inheritance, gathering and selecting (editing) of ideas and images through our interest and concern in the work of others as it bears on our world. Her subject tends toward history and ecology. The pieces in turtle grass where it seems likely the poet is borrowing materials are upheld by the pertinence and transparency of this use, maintaining Koronas’ integrity, and in the unique way she arranges the materials. The compressed social history in the opening poem, american lawns, subtly and playfully parodies a magazine or e-zine topical article, quietly ignoring Whitman’s intention for the blur of our regard toward natural spaces, especially as “lawns,” in the sweep of time:

            first americans to use lawns in 1755
            mimicking english landscape styles
            thomas jefferson being
            first to attempt lawning his estate

            new england creates common areas
            grass space lined to transcendental

            economic boom after the revolution, 1865,
            patriots place monuments on common ground

            grassy tributes to english lawns  
            is all they want. Forget the tea tax…

                        …and children run on grassy space

            for vegetable gardens and floral arrangements
            imbue parlors, wall paper blue and white motif

            lawns are developed plans, magazine articles
            instructions, manicure lawns, lawn museums…                (p. 3)
The promise of abundant settlement and harvest has turned into decorative social-class leisure.

In the title poem our attention is directed toward another type of grass

            submerged under water

—the forage of sea turtles. “anchored in thick roots/the plant stabilizes ocean floor/a fruit bearer” we are informed of the essential role played by this grass. Within the presentation of materials in this poem, insets of more personal lines about Koronas’ visits to see family in Florida create a very different effect. When factual – geological, demographical – material gets disrupted by personal reflections, what is conveyed is how minutely an individual’s life and reflections weigh within the compass of the wide world to which scientific knowledge applies. A sense almost of hopelessness weighs on this poem. Significantly the line “when I can I fly” occurs twice, perhaps intimating awareness of personal bearing on the increasingly fragile oceanic ecosystem.

Mindfully delayed to the middle pages of the book are some very touching, very personal poems, elegies for a young family member, Joy Eleni Meyer, recently deceased, and endearments to Koronas’ aging mother. As in former collections, turtle grass demonstrates the poet’s ease of articulation, so essential to poetry, of the poignant, rebuffed yet joyful union between our world and the world beyond ours. The range of her expression marvels, from the human declarations of grief this side—

            Joy left her breath on her mother’s
            cheek. on her lips sweet night kisses
            all the good days and her bright eyes…   (p. 28)

—to some hauntingly taciturn, objective gestures like the haiku body petrified:

            the white stone
            in her pocket
            rubbed smooth               (p.33)

The lines are exemplary of restraint with language denoting craft. Poetry, to render its subject in words, must show more than it tells, reveal rather than explain. Some contemporary poets practice this elusive approach to the zero degree, in a triumph of failure to say anything at all. Koronas has the sensibility to allow the silence of words to leave us with very specific feelings. Elsewhere, her expressions struggle out of the inspirational gridlock into some comments that really need to be spoken and heard. Traditionally, the turtle is a symbol of patience and longevity (or the eternal). Giving us the geological history of grass, as a guardian sheath of the earth, the book’s title, turtle grass, in two words bespeaks the mind-spinning potential of life without end on this planet, an unhurried life and the sustainable resource of its environment. Sad to say that Adam, the earth’s guardian, has a radically different nature from the turtle’s:

            saint petersburg, florida

            built for their use, turtles
            dry on small floating sun dock

            rustling reeds trace fractures on rock
            soft bread pieces left to feed
            underwater presence

            if we imagine how people
            torture turtles, eat animals
            boiling hot water for lobsters

            how can we expect compassion             (p. 46)

Vintage is vintage. “It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce,” as William Butler Yeats’s poem “Lapis Lazuli” tells us. While readers familiar with Koronas will delight in the expected standards and interesting technical innovations of this new book, turtle grass is sure to win the curiosity of new readers and lead them to the pleasures and insights of her earlier collections.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Caught in the Grate: A Review of Loren Kleinman’s The Dark Cave Between My Ribs

Caught in the Grate: A Review of Loren Kleinman’s The Dark Cave Between My Ribs

Reviewed by Kimberly Pavlovich

Loren Kleinman’s poetry collection The Dark Cave Between My Ribs is rightfully named. Dark and deeply personal, Kleinman’s poems tear the skin and expose the beating heart underneath. Exploring themes such as loss, alcoholism, rape, suicide, and love, her poems are fragments of a life that seem to question the very word life. What does it mean to live after experiencing loss? What does it mean to live while feeling dead on the inside? Is it possible to start again? A quiet desperation is apparent in Kleinman’s poems. There is a sense of waiting for one’s life to get better, to pick up the pieces and feel like a whole person again. Kleinman writes with a powerful simplicity that lingers with the reader afterward.

The poem “I Wanted to Be the Echo of the World” captures the essence of the collection: Kleinman skillfully reveals the emotional and physical vulnerability of not only the speaker, but the inherent vulnerability of being human. The speaker has been raped, which built a barrier between her and her intimate partner. The poem begins, “I break in the porcelain of your hands.” The speaker feels physically broken, but also emotionally shattered. She wants to say something, but is not able to (“I wanted to tell you / that I’ve been raped”), she feels hopeless (“The walls never come up / because they are gone”), and longs for the past (“I miss being a kid / playing in the backyard”). She ends with the thought-provoking line, “In your hands, / I’m the porcelain echo,” bringing the reader full circle. This last line also stands on its own, exemplifying Kleinman’s writing style. Her effective use of short stanzas is a common thread throughout many of the poems in the collection. This technique allows each stanza or line to stand on its own as a strong, individual glimpse of a story, causing the reader to pause and reflect.

In two different poems in The Dark Cave Between My Ribs Kleinman effectively writes of loss. One short stanza that stood out in “Three Days After Your Death” was, “Your face was rotting beneath the water. / You were incomplete, / a snapshot of life caught in the grate, / a spark.” Kleinman’s image of being “caught in the grate” captures the in-between quality one feels after a loved one has passed; one can see the person is dead but there’s a barrier, as if he/she is just out of reach. Another line, this one from “You Remember Your Mother’s Suicide,” reads “You can hear her shaking / the puddles on the sidewalk / with her loud laugh.” Kleinman’s use of images makes the loss come to life. Her technique of second person perspective allows the reader to put him/herself in the same position as the speaker. The reader, too, can hear the mother laugh and many may relate to the experience described. This happy memory triggers grief for the speaker and as a result the reader can feel what the speaker does.

While multiple poems address the same theme successfully, others blend together -- the same ideas expressed the same way using less vibrant language and leaning toward clich├ęs. For example, the theme of lost love occurs throughout, rendering it predictable. For instance, within “Dumb Drunk Love Poem,” the drunk speaker hopes her lover will take her back and asks, “Where do I go now, love? / How do I come back from lost love?” In the poem “Fragments of Love,” the Kleinman writes,

Wondering again,
about love,

the fragments it leaves behind:

coffee cups,

In “Last Night I Had a Crazy Dream about You,” Kleinman depicts a dream the speaker had about her lover and writes, “I wanted you so much / and I couldn’t have you.” These poems felt flat and repetitive. More concrete details would make the ideas and emotions expressed leap off the page. For example, the lines, “coffee cups, / books, / pictures” do not create vivid pictures or meaningful context. One poem in which Kleinman more skillfully writes of lost love is “We Are Not Who We Thought We’d Be.” Kleinman captures the speaker’s disappointment when love does not meet her expectations, lamenting, “We still don’t hope / the other would fill the spaces / between our fingers.” It is in these sorts of distinctive lines where Kleinman’s voice comes through the strongest, making her collection worthwhile especially for those seeking a companion for their process of coping with tragedy.

***Kimberly Pavlovich is an English major at Endicott College. She edits and writes for the Endicott Review and hopes to pursue a career in the publishing field.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Poet Nicole Terez Dutton Visits Endicott College


Nicole Terez Dutton (Center)

By Emily Pineau

 “Poetry consists of who you are, where you come from, and what your concerns are,” Nicole Terez Dutton explains at her reading at Endicott College.  Dutton’s environment has always played a significant role in her writing.  As she was growing up, she lived in an area that made her feel uncomfortable because of the segregation she faced as an African American.  Though, fortunately, Dutton was able to find refuge in the one thing that she felt she could really excel at―poetry.  It seems as though Dutton uses poetry not only as a means to live her life to her full potential, but also as a way to be connected to the world around her.  Dutton’s way of approaching life is not only something I can identify with, but it is also the key to what makes her poetry extremely accessible, natural, and real.

            Before Dutton read she said, “Nothing I write is practically autobiographical, but you would be able to trace it back to home.”  This comment made me think about how all poems connect back to some universal truth and bring us somewhere, even if it isn’t the same place for everyone.  Even though Dutton’s idea of home may not be our idea of home, we are still thinking of a place that we belong.  Some of Dutton’s main themes consist of mentorship, traveling, and music, which are all things that connect people.

            In Dutton’s poem, “Woman, I am Falling,” there is a sense of tension between the mentor in the poem and the one who is looking up to the mentor.  It seems as though time is running out, and that this relationship cannot last.  Dutton writes, “I was dire with circumstance.”  This particular line is filled with urgency and it throws me into the core of the poem’s heartbreak.  This poem really captures what it feels like to depend so much on someone’s guidance and how it feels to become to attached to a mentor.  A mentor can make a person feel like his or her ideas matter and that he or she has a place in life.  So, when it is time to move on, and life’s circumstances are pushing the mentor away, it feels like the ground is being ripped out from underneath the one who has been learning from the mentor.  It almost like somewhere along the line a sense of denial develops.  It becomes forgotten that eventually the two people will have to go their separate ways.  The line in this poem that affects me the most is when Dutton says, “Lasting is not everything.”  So often with friendships and with romance, people try to make relationships last as long as possible.  Naturally, people dread endings, and do not want to let others go.  I can relate to this concept because I always find myself getting attached to people, and being terrified that they will leave me or that we will slowly lose touch.  But when Dutton writes, “Lasting is not everything,” this really makes me think about how much I am missing out on every time I focus on when or how a relationship will end.  Sometimes the connections we have with people are permanent, even if life rips us apart. Maybe people have to go their separate ways to realize the pull between them.

            “But we must be going always,” Dutton writes in her poem, “Tourists Part Two”.  This poem captures what it is like to be a tourist in a place that you aren’t familiar with and to step outside your comfort zone.  Since Dutton has traveled a lot, she knows what it feels like to quickly go from one place to another.  This feeling of constant movement not only applies to traveling, but it can also be related to life changes and when someone goes from one step to another.  In general, we are constantly on the move and go as fast as we can in order to get somewhere else.  If we move too fast though, we will miss the people around us and not fully appreciate where we came from and where we are going.  When Dutton writes, “There are some people we are born missing,” this really speaks to me.  I feel like when all of us are going to all different places, and are constantly looking for things to do, there are moments where we stop and think that something or someone is missing.  And sometimes this feeling is so deeply rooted that we do not remember a time when we did not feel this way.  We try to imagine who this person is, where they are, and how they would fit into our lives.  Maybe this person is from a past life, somewhere on the other side of the world, or just in our imagination.  Either way there still is this feeling that we travel with, and we try to move as far and fast as we can so it can’t catch up with us.

            In Dutton’s poem, “Vertical Hold,” there is anxiety about getting back to family in time.  The way that the words flow in this poem, and the way that Dutton reads it make it sound like music, which is also true of many of her poems.  My favorite line is when Dutton says, “harmonies loop and reel,” because I feel like I can actually see the sound.  It is clear that Dutton pays close attention to how certain words sound together, especially in this poem.  Dutton also writes, “Their mouths stitch themselves around the question, ‘when’?”  This image of mouths being stitched around something gives this poem a painful feeling, which is very affective in this case.  When someone is trying to get back to his or her family it can be very painful and stressful.  Dutton successfully captures raw emotion in this poem, and in all of her poems.

     “The thing about traveling is you don’t have everything you think you need in order to be okay,” Dutton explained after she was  asked how traveling has influenced her writing.  Since traveling forces you to survive on bare essentials it makes to realize new things about yourself.  For me, this concept reminds me of the act of writing itself.  Sometimes when I am writing a story, a poem, an article, or anything at all I feel like I am not prepared enough to fully articulate exactly what I want to say.  I often find myself reading countless examples, writing notes, and attempting to put together outlines in order to make sure I get it just right.  In this way writing is like traveling.   One needs to realize that you don’t need to have all of these extra things in order to be okay.  In fact, when we write, everything we need is already there.  Just like Dutton has shown us, “Poetry consists of who you are, where you come from, and what your concerns are.”  By understanding this, we have to power to travel farther than we ever imagined.

Emily Pineau is an English major at Endicott College and the author of  the poetry collection: NO Need to Speak ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series)