Grasshopper: The Poetry of M.A. Griffiths Review

M. A. Griffiths
Grasshopper:  The Poetry of M. A. Griffiths
Arrowhead Press, 2011
ISBN:  1-904852-28-5
Pages:  352
Reviewed by:  Marybeth Rua-Larsen

As poets, very few of us impact the world of poetry in a long-lasting and significant way. We write our poems, revise them, maybe workshop them with poet-friends or on online poetry boards, and if we research current journals and markets carefully, we may even be fortunate enough to publish them in respectable journals and raise a glass of champagne or oatmeal stout in celebration. But the next day, it’s another poet getting published in a better journal with more fanfare, and our work and effort fade into the distance. Most of the time. So, when dozens of poets around the globe admire and respect a poet’s work so much they spend countless hours finding, collecting and cataloguing her poems from various online sites and then publishing them in an extensive collection after her untimely death, we know this is a poet who made a significant impact. Very few poets command this kind of respect, and the resulting book of poems, Grasshopper:  The Poetry of M A Griffiths, proves the full range of Maz’s talent and accomplishments.

I did not know Maz personally, but I certainly knew her by reputation when she frequented the poetry boards at Eratosphere where I began workshopping my own poems in 2007. It quickly became clear that if you could catch Maz’s eye with one of your poems and prompt her to comment, it was a coup, even if she found the poem lacking. She was clear-eyed and succinct in her criticism, almost always on-target with her advice, and if you followed it, your poem would improve. I was lucky enough to attract her attention only once, and when she noted that my poem had improved significantly with revision, I had a smile on my face for days. This poet’s approval, even though she was essentially a stranger, meant that much, and when I had the opportunity to read and study her work in this posthumous collection, much of it previously unpublished, I was eager to learn from her example.

In some ways, this is an unwieldy book. Unlike most books of poetry these days, which organize the poems into manageable sections and group them by theme or narrative flow, these poems are presented in alphabetical order, all 300-plus of them. There is little context provided, other than Alan Wickes’ informative introduction, and the poems are undated and include few notes, which occasionally make it difficult to pin down the historical context. There were moments when I wished the book had been organized by theme or some other structure, but given the fact that Maz was a private person and many of her personal notes and drafts had been lost in various computer crashes over the years, other ways of organizing would not have been possible or accurate. After reading the book, I understood why the editors made this choice, and truth be told, I learned much from this arrangement, which allowed me to group poems by theme organically rather than be influenced by someone else’s interpretation.

With a book this size and considering that every poem Maz was known to have written is included, several key themes emerge, including elegies to pets and animals in the wild, poems on the process of writing and commentary on poets and scholars, poems about illness and aging, poems about God and spirituality, and poems about the effects and consequences of war. One of the most varied and compelling themes, however, centers on women and sexuality. In his thoughtful introduction, Alan Wickes states that there’s conflicting evidence on whether or not Maz was a feminist.  I find that her poems overwhelmingly confirm her as a feminist. Yes, Maz criticized women, and she sometimes criticized feminists in particular, such as in this sonnet, “The Women’s Circle,” included here in its entirety:

Faith takes the chair, and switches off her phone,
“First, gifts for our poor sisters overseas:
Joy has donated three warm wraps, and Joan,
a book entitled, Women:  Off Your Knees!”
Amanda checks her hair, Sue clears her plate
and Caitlin thrums her throat to signal hush:
‘Anent last month’s pornography debate
I’ll show a tape to illustrate this trash.’

Faith views the tilting pricks and shaven groins,
tuts with the others at the sordid scene,
the squalid pumping of the actors’ loins.
Stern-faced she watches like a widowed queen
and feels with pique, as personal affront,
the creeping liquefaction of her cunt.

The criticism here, though, is for a particular kind of feminist, one who is judgmental and holier-than-thou, for whom any kind of pornography is automatically a “sordid scene” and “squalid.” Maz’s poems imagine women capable of being more and doing more, and some poems nudge women in the direction of asking questions about their own behavior, such as in the sonnet, “Ding Dong Bell,” where a cat watches and offers commentary on how its owner cleans the house for company:

Great Bast, today she pulled out all the stops,
all faff and fussle to impress her friends;
the bedrooms were a whirl of cloths and mops,
much bathroom bleach sploshed all around the bends,”

The owner continues to “Hoover” and make the furniture “gleam,” while the cat watches in disgust and eventually pees on the rug just as the guests arrive, suggesting that its owner has much better uses for her time and energy than impressing her friends with a clean house and an elaborate meal.

Maz is often at her best when offering her insights couched in wit and sly humor, but she can also take a much more serious tone, such as in the prose poem “Traditions,” which explores the horrific effects of cliterodectomies, a form of female genital mutilation performed on young girls in some African cultures:

 Outside was a big dusty black car, and waiting inside were Nurse Hani, the midwifeand some other women.  They drove me to a place I did not know.  They stripped me and held me down and Nurse did it with a razor blade.  I screamed and screamed with pain till the screaming nearly made me sick, but they did not stop.

It is the women in the poem – the mother, the grandmother and the nurse – who conspire and ensure young Amele, the speaker, has the procedure. They secretly go against Amele’s father, who said, “No, I will not agree to it.” In this instance, it is not men enforcing and perpetuating this cultural tradition but the women themselves, believing that abandoning the tradition will result in disgrace and that Amele will lose her opportunity for marriage. Through her critique of the women in these poems, Maz encourages women to make different choices, choices that empower, and suggests that we have power over our own destinies if we choose to exercise it.

There are, of course, poems that focus on the suffering of women at the hands of men, such as in the historically accurate sonnet “Constanza Carved,” in which the sculptor Bernini suffers no consequence for having his former lover’s face slashed:  “Did God forgive the razor that you sent/to slice her perfect, faithless face to shreds.”  Despite the harshness of this example, Maz casts a wider net as a feminist. Numerous poems challenge the status quo by presenting, through history and myth, women who are powerful or make choices that allow them to live more meaningful lives, such as in the free verse poem “Emily abandons her breasts.” The subject of the poem, Emily, is an 18th or 19th century young woman who chooses to bind her breasts and live as a man:

Emily feared she would be rolled up
like bills in a man’s pocket
amongst the must and fust
and fingered things.

Emily chooses to take control of her own life rather than have her options limited by others. Maz also portrays women who wield power successfully, such as in the sonnet “Hippolyta on a Field of Linen.” In mythology, Hippolyta was an Amazon queen descended from Ares, and the poem depicts her sexual conquest of a warrior-lover. Sex is equated with battle, and it is a battle Hippolyta wins:

He sighs, he yields – this skirmish ends to soon –
and he sleeps like one slain, force spent for now,
but I’ll engage a battle royal by noon.
They say an army marches on its belly – how
I plan to feast! The world and its alarms

One last notable theme, more subtle than some of the others, is that of transformation. A few poems, such as “Sally’s Song,” portray a character’s inability to transform or become all that she is capable of because of circumstance. Here, young Sally is forced to turn to prostitution:

Your Ma is dead, your Pa’s a sot.
Feel in your stocking for what you’ve got.
Your petticoats hide such tight young meat
so sell it while it’s hot and sweet.
Another tickle, and God willing,
another trout, another shilling.

More often, however, transformation is portrayed in the spiritual sense or the ability to open the heart and the mind.  In the poem “The Silkie,” for example, Mhaire, the subject of the poem, is tired of her life and housework and chooses the life of a Silkie at sea:

At night, on a sheet of sand,
her muscles liquefy.
Silver fishes shoal her bowels.
The ocean shakes its creamy mane,
rises on strong green knees
and carries her away.

Mhaire opens herself up to dreaming, to the power of transformation, and as “Sky in the Pie” suggests, we must cut ourselves open to the “rush of dark thrushes,” to all possibilities.

Sky in the Pie

Two sure cuts open the crust
And release a rush of dark thrushes
With golden beaks, heralding an arc of stars
borne on a rainbow.  The spectrum flexes
like muscle, then settles in a single depth
of colour, blue as the powered lapis
on a manuscript page in a rich book
of hours, blue as a dunnock’s egg, blue
as distance.  Take your spoon before
it elopes with the knife, and taste.
The clouds melt on your tongue
and sweeten your throat.  You can chant
this day across the meadows, and call the lost flocks
home. The sheep and the chestnut cows. The dappled deer
and wild black horses. The wolves and small quick foxes.
All the lost beasts of your kingdom.
Call them home.

Maz’s death was a huge loss to the writing community. Her sonnets, especially, are remembered and quoted often, and there are seventy-seven included in the book. She was much more than a sonneteer, however, and these are skillful poems, poems with heart, poems that believe we can be much more than we are, if only we choose to be.  “Take your spoon…and taste.”

 

Margaret Griffiths (1947-2009) was born and raised in London and lived for some time in Bracknell then later moved to Poole. Rather than seek publication through traditional channels, she was content to share her work with fellow poets on various Internet forums. On the rare occasions she submitted work for publication, it was typically to online venues. Also known by the Internet pseudonyms “Grasshopper” and “Maz”, she began posting her poetry online in 2001. During the mid-2000s she worked from home, running a small Internet-based business, and edited the Poetry Worm, a monthly periodical distributed by email.
In 2008, her “Opening a Jar of Dead Sea Mud” won Eratosphere’s annual Sonnet Bake-off, and was praised by Richard Wilbur. Later that year she was a Guest Poet on the Academy of American Poets website, where she was hailed as “one of the up-and-coming poets of our time”. She suffered for years from a stomach ailment which eventually proved fatal in July 2009. Almost immediately after her death was announced on Eratosphere, poets from all over the English-speaking world, from London, Derby, Scotland, Wales, Queensland, New South Wales, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, Missouri, Maryland, California and Texas collected her work for this publication.

12: Sonnets for the Zodiac by John Gosslee Review

John Gosslee
12: Sonnets for the Zodiac
French translation by Elizabeth D. Watson and a Spanish translation by Jose M. Guerrero
Gival Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1928589587
Pages: 108

Reviewed By: Quincy Lehr

John Gosslee’s debut collection, 12, comes in a rather large package. Twelve sonnets, after all, are a bit slim for a chapbook, much less a full-lengther, so the collection, which has one sonnet for each sign of the zodiac, has a fair number of doodads, both visual (calendars for each sign), and were that not enough, translations of the poems into French and Spanish, never mind that Gival Press is Virginia-based and presumably has limited reach in Cartagena and Lyons. One almost suspects that the doo-dads were put there so that the book would catch the eye of editors, to make it “different” and thus “interesting.”

The discerning reader may have intuited a certain curl of the lip in the above.  When one strips away the doo-dads and translations, we have twelve sonnets. About the zodiac. But hey, sonnet collections are in, with an off-the-top-of-my-head list of recent titles including Ernest Hilbert’s Sixty Sonnets, Julie Kane’s Jazz Funeral, Kim Bridgford’s In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records, William Baer’s “Borges” and Other Sonnets and “Bocage” and Other Sonnets, and others. So it’s trendy. On the other hand, though, while the quality of these books is by no means even, the best of them set the bar for sonnets quite high indeed.

For all the bells, whistles, calendars, and sonnets en francais, the sonnets in this book are… underwhelming. In the Taurus poem, “Bulls Always Charge,” we get these lines:

……….I know what is here and what has commenced
……… The divine past cannot be dispensed!

The latter line recalls in its tenor not so much Shakespeare or Sidney as it does Skeletor from The Masters of the Universe.  Gosslee’s tone and indeed imagery at times hit a bathetic level, as in his Aries poem, “The Ram’s Baa”:

………Musicians drum on its kindred’s skin torn
………By a sacrifice o’er a mortal duel.

O’er really? The poem describes a ram being sacrificed in Conan the Barbarian-like detail (original film version, 1982)—do we especially need the archaism, which elevates the tone unto risibility?

Metrically, too, the poems’ lines tend have the ten syllables connected with the traditional iambic pentameter meter, but Gosslee seems to interpret meter syllabically, resulting in periodic rhythmic constipation. Perhaps Gosslee is attempting to play it loose. Perhaps, though, he simply doesn’t have meter down yet. One cannot say with any certainty, but I would suspect the latter, with the excuse given as the former. Certainly, the collection strives, not entirely successfully, to meet rather robust requirements such as those of the Petrarchian sonnet with its ABBAABBA rhyme scheme in the octet. However, here, too, Gosslee is frequently less than sure-footed, and we get too many runs shoehorned not entirely successfully into the formal requirements of the given sonnet form. Take this example, from “Lady Justice” (the Libra poem):

……….You, bestow desires or passions deplete,
……….And decide from the start, but are discreet,
……….Allowing judgments to change through action—
……….By disavowing outside distraction.
……….The scales are above any that compete;

The inversion of “passions deplete” is, in a contemporary poem, maddening and a bit distracting, while the long sentence seems less subtle and complex than gaseous, as if coming up for breath at regular intervals for the end rhymes that punctuate generally awkward phrasing.

This is a remarkably bloated book, a lot of rigmarole for a series of less than surefooted, rather slight poems built on an idea that seems more of a workshop exercise than a grand conceit. Many of its missteps—the convoluted phrasing, the overwrought imagery, the needless or lazy archaisms—are a beginner’s missteps, and it is quite possible that Gosslee will outgrow them. Far less forgivable is Gival Press’s decision to publish this premature debut collection. Youthful maladroitness can be a phase. A book is far more permanent. Let’s hope that Gosslee’s next shows greater thought, craft, and depth.

John Gosslee was poet-in-residence for Attitude: The Dancers’ Magazine from 2008 through 2011. His first book “12″ was published by Gival Press
in French, Spanish and English. He is the Editor of Fjords Review and enjoys riding his motorcycle throughout the United States.

Ephemeron by T.R. Hummer Review

Louisiana State University Press
ISBN: 9780807139875
Pages: 88
Reviewed by: Amy Glynn Greacen

THE FALLACY FALLACY –

Well… as Robert Hass famously put it:

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.

In T.R. Hummer’s tenth collection of poems, Ephemeron, “loss” doesn’t quite get the job done. All the new thinking is about obliteration. This is a book about death, about human ephemerality. (Is “ephemerality” a word? It should be, but I seem to remember getting knocked around by an eleventh-grade English teacher for using it. Whatever. It was a top-notch school and another teacher still told me flat out that “surfeit” wasn’t a word and docked me points on a paper. So I am planting the flag for ephemerality if there isn’t already one, because there’s no other good way to adjectivize this word, and you have to if you’re going to talk about this book.)

But I digress. Hummer’s poems are concerned with the stark inevitabilities of life: two cells into it we are already pulp waiting to happen. It’s riddled with images of shrapnel, decomposition, disease, surgery, abandonment. This book is about the indifferent cruelty – and occasionally, felicity – of the gods and of biology. There are poems about war, about killing and dying, about things that are burnt black, shot off, and all kinds of screwed up.

But then again, not exactly. To say that would cast them as bleak, depressing – and they aren’t. Stark, yes. Tough? Yes. But there’s humor in this voice, a sense of irony and slyness and – well, love for the entropic crap-storm that is our brief flicker on this brief flicker of a planet. This is a mind that sees horror and humor, beauty and cruelty, without needing to polarize them. They coexist, each playing in its own time signature and following its own rules. Hummer’s a jazz buff, as anyone knows who has read his previous book, The Infinity Sessions, so it makes sense that he is drawn to syncopation, to blue notes, to abrupt changes in tempo, to modulation.

The word “ephemera” has such connotations of airiness and windblown-ness that it feels a little weird to say this, but to me, the presiding spirit of this collection is plate tectonics. These are poems of friction: subtle but constant friction with occasional major earthquakes. Lines rub against lines, prose rubs against verse, ideas rub against ideas. Titles tug on the content that follows them. The primary throughline of this collection is an interplay between big, authoritative, conceptual stuff and small, fleeting, personal, intimate stuff. The titles are all big and bad and block-capitalized, words like “SYSTEM,” “ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN,” “SCHEMATIC,” “THEORY” – you get the drift. A few lines from THEORY:

…The form is expansive but non-totalizing.
……….It will not admit essences or transcendence.
It has no state, but is inclusive of gases, rage, plutocracy.
……….It is supercooled and volatile. In the shadow of a broken
Column, lovers lean into one another. They have already
……….Entered the second circle. By twilight, no one
Will remember the other life, its fragile music, its perfume.

See what I mean? Even the lines, alternately capitalized and indented, suggest a subduction zone, a faultline, a shifting ground. Gigantic ideas, then a telescoping to a single, anonymous “pair of lovers” who are somehow no one and everyone. And disappear.

Formally, Hummer is a bit of a trickster. Subtle and acutely aware. He’s the kind of poet who can make a staunch self-professed formal-poetry hater swallow two pages of terza rima without even realizing they’re doing it, the way you stick the dog’s medicine in a piece of meat. (There’s even a villanelle that doesn’t make you wince one little bit: the thing turns and if you aren’t at least smiling admiringly there is something wrong with you.) Yet these are also poems that flirt with prose. In some cases it’s more than flirting; they buy prose a couple of drinks and take it back to their place. There are interstitial series of prose epigrams. Many of the rest of the poems are the kind that make you scratch your head and try to remember how you define the difference. If you’re the kind of poetry reader who wants to be all hot and heavy with metaphor at all times – T.R. Hummer is not your man. His imagery is direct, and his vocabulary often a deliciously bone-dry combination of vernacular, conversational phrases and words out of biology and physics textbooks (another friction). The effect of this almost arid directness is that when he dos wax figurative it provokes a little surge of – what? Pleasure? Recognition? I don’t know, it’s (oh, say it) ephemeral.

Something also has to be said about the recurrence of invented rhetorical fallacies through the first section of the book. FALLACY OF COMPOSITION has time arrowing backward, erasing “the wreckage of history” on both universal and personal scale. FALLACY OF ACCIDENT insists on a “deep etymology” that connects disconnected things. BALD MAN FALLACY describes a sniper resting his gun sight on members of an oblivious family of women and children working and playing, the mother inaudibly singing in a language he doesn’t understand anyway. (“If you shoot them one by one, you will never kill them all.”) Reading them sequentially, I found myself thinking of pathetic fallacy, intentional fallacy, other rhetorical constructs that echo against these titles. It struck me that perhaps the fallacy was fallacy; that there’s something going on here that has to do with a wearing down of rhetoric – the fallacy fallacy, if you will.

In ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN he writes:

The failing kidney is a portal—the leaky
……….heart valve, the clot, the lesion in the brain:
All doors unlocking themselves. Likewise
……….outside the body: the razorblade,
The bottle of barbiturates, the utility pole
……….beside the curve in the icy highway,
The rifle over the mantelpiece (it must
……….go off).

This matter-of-fact cataloguing of accident waiting to happen is typical of what Hummer does in this collection: destruction awaits, either inside you or outside. The sword of Damocles hangs over each of us and somehow it all makes sense. It makes sense in its consonances (say it aloud and hear the “L” sound in failing, portal, valve, unlocking, likewise, razorblade – at which point it shifts to the B, plosive P’s I-give-up voiceless cousin; body, blade, bottle, barbiturates, beside). It makes sense in its enjambments (right down to the twist on Chekhov’s gun – not “it must go off” for the sake of drama so much as “it must go off” because that is the nature of the universe). It’s just… inevitable.

And all of this follows a first poem, the poem from which the book takes its title, in which the speaker finds himself “fifty and pregnant,” and refuses “to be ashamed of his joy.” Joy in this poem is not unalloyed (nothing is, in this book: beauty rises from bleakness and vice versa, over and over), but it’s there and it’s determined to live. The poem is addressed to the unborn child, whom he calls “zygote,” a term at once distancing and intimate, with a combination of world-weary been-there-done-that and wonder and – well, a sort of challenge: I dare you to become a person. In this moment the ephemeron is the thing too rudimentary to even be called “embryo,” (he rejects “child”). But the speaker of the poem knows perfectly well what’s coming: ephemera made solid, made real, made permanent. “…my sleeping wife is growing / a consciousness” even as he experiences a hyperawareness of his own mortality:

…the old gods’ abstract hearts contract.
……….I smell them gather above me like ravens, wheeling
Over the promise my body makes. Black-
……….hearted godhood has left them hungry.
But it is they who assemble, in the amniotic sac,
……….bits of star-grit, skeins of DNA, the holy chemistry
Of existence. What can I do but leave them to it, even
……….knowing what I know? My spiritual autobiography
Is a shambles-in-progress, my unfinished Confessions
……….a creaking stylized fiction from a distant century—
It reads like a pirated version of a bad translation
……….of a novel the young Balzac wrote, then threw away.
No god forgives such things. The gods have taste.
……….Smelling an uncouth sulfur in the aura of the coming day,
The Supreme Will wrinkles the Great Face.
……….The Gaze averts, and here’s our chance. A space
Opens—ambiguous territory, zygote. Translucent. Our place.

Is this the IT MUST GO OFF FALLACY? Nothing in Hummer’s poems is single-minded or unalloyed. Some give you a peek at the cards they’re holding while others maintain a basaltic poker face. But nothing in them is simple. A catalogue of human disaster is preluded by a beautiful ode to an unborn child, and it’s typical Hummer in its refusal to bow to sentimentality (bravo, hon) but it also refuses to bow to the destruction, decay and dismemberment that pervade the rest of the book. The speaker insists upon his moment of happiness, on momentarily defying the gods he sees as circling vultures, the details that “gather ominously;” the speaker’s own catalogue of failures pales, for the moment, beside the enormity of creating a life. Ambiguous territory, indeed. And without it?

But as beautiful an opener as “EPHEMERON” is, the blue ribbon in the “Damn I Wish I’d Thought of That” category, at least for this reader, is a pair of poems in the first section. The first is titled “EVERYTHING IN THE PAST IS A PARTICLE;” the second, “EVERYTHING IN THE FUTURE IS A WAVE.” The two pieces, for me at least, show off what is strongest in much of Hummer’s work: the combination of colloquial and technical or erudite language, the attentiveness to double-meanings and correlating sounds, the footsure enjambments, and the combination of something boldly and hugely universal with something tiny and personal and –yup – ephemeral. Even the two titles, juxtaposed, are poetry, light turned into time, which seems to collect in the space between them. Past participle. Wave of the future. Of course! Here we are, shedding light, which of course is both things at once, on the fixed solidity of the past and the unfixable, uncharitable future. The first poem is static, a particle of memory, a child pitching a passionate tantrum at a third birthday party (“crushed” is how he describes her). Hummer paints it as a sort of hotel room to be revisited at will, suspended, inanimate almost – and tiny. Personal. Intimate. Fleeting. The second poem makes you paddle out to a place that’s far beyond your depth, the undifferentiated terror of a future where anything can happen, and there’s a spooky repetition of the phrase “crushed child” which by now has a second, horrid resonance. In each, the illuminating ray points at inevitability. Something did happen, and something will happen. It’s elegant as hell.

What I find beautiful about Hummer’s best poems is the way his voice becomes drier, harder, more matter-of-fact as the emotional stakes of the poem rise. These poems are tough, and I mean tough as nails. They brook no argument (save the occasional fallacy) and they aren’t taking prisoners. They’re authoritative and questioning, mysterious and earthy, personal and impersonal at the same time. He has a talent for ambiguity (and the middle section, titled “EITHER / OR” tips its hand to this) and for friction. If any of these poems were two sticks they’d be a campfire by the last line.

T. R. Hummer is the author of nine books of poetry, including The Infinity Sessions and Bluegrass Wasteland: Selected Poems. He has been editor of Kenyon Review, New England Review, Georgia Review and Pop Minute. A native of Mississippi and longtime devotee and practitioner of jazz, he lives in Phoenix, where he teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

Elevators by Rena Rosenwasser Review

Rena Rosenwasser
Elevators

Kelsey Street Press
ISBN: 978-0932716750
Pages: 72
Reviewed by: Sabrina Dalla Valle

 

TRANSCENDENCE THROUGH COLOR AND PERSPECTIVE

“What rules govern the traveler with only rudimentary knowledge of [the landscape]?” asks Rena Rosenwasser. Her latest book, Elevators, is a poetic expedition through cultural strata marked by traces of initiation into the “Netherworld.” These poems guide us across Umbria and the Egyptian desert to observe frescoes restored in churches and buried in dark tombs; they leave us “ululating” with an exotic lover, and finally send us on our way up a glass platform above an abstract image of Manhattan. This playful mixed-genre portfolio of deeply sensitive thoughts and impressions is organized as an eclectic collection of paintings we might find hung loosely in the poet’s study. Rosenwasser has so thoroughly examined and dialogued with the details of these images that they become a self-styled lens of art appreciation theory through which she observes her psyche’s own hieroglyphic signatures (found in the dream panorama), the slipperiness of gendered persona, and the nature of sexual desire. Echoing in the foreground of this collection is the rhythmic beat of a “sifter” sifting tangible material from experience, historical memory, and myth through a “sieve” to concretize a unified understanding of a torn self. In the background is an Eleusinian aura emanating from a primordial void where we discover the themes of dislocation and absence. And somewhere in between, there is a message.

Harkening to Heraclitus’ philosophy of non dualism–the path up and down are one and the same– the poet tells us how Egyptian frescoes reveal the multi–dimensionality of travel: “The Pharaoh Hatshepsut/ she fishes and fowls with gods./In the fresco/wears crowns of Upper and/Lower Egypt/Her envoys on a trading mission to Punt/carry gifts, baboons, panthers, incense/ Float/Up the Nile/back and down.” This reference to Eleusinian mysteries of initiation through katabasis and anabasis is our map to steer by. It is an old story repeated again and again under different forms through our strata. The daughter is abducted into the underworld by her father for part of the year and lifted to the light by the mother for the rest of the year.

As if fastidiously primed with the staunch wisdom of Ernst Gombrich’s Story of Art, Rosenwasser explores how to measure the unmeasurable in this vital tension between darkness and light: “…medieval men built towers so they could get a better view of the darkness coming toward them.” For if we indeed meet such a boundary between absence and presence, something new arises, and that is color.  So to transcend this fundamental duality, the poet leans on a schooled acumen of color theory and rules of perspective. The categories of a visual grammar–vanishing point, horizon, convergence, receding lines, hue, saturation, density, tone, texture, and intensity–imbue her poetic and psychic constructions with a vocabulary that reveals something new within the rules of her text.

We are shown that color is more than adornment. Like numbers and syntax, there is an order. What’s more, color follows the laws of physics and participates in our daily experience of increasing disassociation: “Expansion of the universe […] concerned a shift towards the red: the wavelength of light was increasing as space enlarged and thus objects were moving farther and farther apart.” The poet uses this example to show an inherent contiguity between color, perspective, perception and corporality that she wields in her striving for a hermaphrodite identity in a world where everything is a threatened woven tissue of “threads.”

In her poem, “Real Mummies Wait Out the Hours,” Rosenwasser explores the provenance of the color mommia brown: “COLOR: Mommia was used by European painters to make shadows on canvas….Mummy brown made from the ancients themselves…out of gummy liquor that exuded from embalmed flesh.” And here our poet raises the stakes; our bodies are the source of our shadow, even in artistic representation. But we are not fixed in this shadow. We can make distinctions in our self-awareness, and one point of focus is sexuality: “slide across screens of sexual suitability.” By providing “distinct details” and “intricacy,” we can tell a specific story separate from all other stories, and ground it in its own legitimacy. The multiple screens insinuate this identity as “Indefinitely Positioned: the mutable self.” Such an idiosyncratic repositioning carries one forth into full Technicolor of personal expression as motion picture.

There are, however, slices in the film; Rosenwasser’s narrative is also disruptive. The plot shifts like a snake because, “Time is a snake/ Scarab red.” Take for example her treatment of the goddess Nut, depicting a new sequence within another disrupted structure in the representation of the mythical female principle traditionally associated with fertile earth. Here the primal mother creates the starry world, and the male principle offers his body to create earth. In this mythology, the woman’s body conflates Day and Night, “each evening Nut swallows the sun/ her stretched arms and elongated legs/light travels through her body/in cut caverns/blue black sky/flesh-toned stars […]” Inscribed in this amniotic cocoon of her galactic body are all the volumes of the Netherworlds. The stars are text, and their light is like milk suckled by the many lesser gods who come to nourish themselves from the celestial mother. Light is transformed into language.

The poet’s disruption is purposeful; neither art nor the representation of the body can stand up to time. We restore the painting to resist time; can we also restore the text and image of the body? The poet questions the possibility of eidetic recall to extend life eternally. The fact that memory of the original design eludes us is problematic. “Perhaps it is already lost, and what she thinks she sees is long since gone. […] She has this need to know. What is there and what is not there?”

Rosenwasser looks through cracks and spaces that make structure breaks within the text, fresco, landscape, even within the body. The relationship between texture and text is challenged by unraveling threads of perception:

A switch of

                         positions,                                how
unstable

is
a metaphor of                  Raw skin

was
the woman                   in the screening

Being
a man                         An open ended

Chain                                      Displaced.

meaning
inside me […].”

Once we start restoring our own identity, stretching the unraveled threads anew across the great divide that frames our loom, the poet asks if we have any other choice but to stitch what was torn, create “Frankenstein’s Daughters”? These tears run deep; they structure the dream panorama, characterized explicitly by disruption of sequence, and hence the thread of causality. “The dreamer dreaming interrupts the fluid body’ sense […] I never find myself eating anything/real when dreaming.” For this poet, new patterns and shapes are not found in the dream. They are found in activities of distinction, somewhat like that of an archeologist: “The displaced location will have its sifter and its sieve.” Rosenwasser sorts through, separates and recombines material from the dark crack to transcend her own inner duality. The quality of her perception acts as a third presence. “Although there are two of us I am halted by the thoughts of threes. I make three marks […]. Is there a key somewhere that has eluded me?”

Her poetic awareness fulfills the missing element in whatever duality she travels through, like a spirit of judgment that solves for ‘x’ in the algebraic operation. The etymology of this Arabic word, al jabr, referring to a reunion of broken bones, announces the role of the external calculator–to balance and restore the broken body. Such is Rosenwasser’s ambitious and poetic mission: to find the restorer’s vantage point. “Triptychs contain these painted threads. A spiritual realm instead of a landscape.”

This unique, active poetics of perception can be described in the words of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as “the powers of difference that draw together and assemble.” The fact that the poet steps into the stream of duality in full awareness leads her to become a conduit for that precise tension which through her act of witnessing, transports us to a newly inspired fresco of energetic fulfillment. The witness is the eye of color and perspective, the third piece in the primal tension, the restorer.

How can we trust this poet’s special authority to dissolve common dualistic boundaries with the eyes of an art critic?

“Uncontrollable emanations occur where sacrifices are made. If the alter opens and only two of the three parts are visible. The desire for the invisible other appears to leak when least expected.”

We must trust in her desires and in her poetic sensitivity to apprehend the spontaneous moment.

This desire for the invisible cultivates the poet’s sensitivity for meaning. And this is where we, as readers, find resolution to the problem of temporality, to the inevitable unraveling of matter that must be restored. Desire at all levels is a conflating energy, the poet writes of an affair she is having with an ‘exotic woman’: “There is gravity to the lightness in my body.”  She is fluid in the moment of sexuality: “Under her texture I wander like a spindle. Her tongue ululating inside my surface. I’m thrown before sound’s arrival into soundlessness.” And this is the space of the eternal.

Like the abstraction of Piet Mondrian’s grid-based paintings that spare no margins, linear perspective in this narrative is no less compelling. The final poem “Elevators” assures us that we can also find philosophical verity in the architectural design of current twenty-first century urban existence. Taking a lift up the elevator affects our perspective; we become witness to a vast concrete and steel fresco established by sets of horizontal and vertical lines coming alive through movement and dissolve. Our platform rises with “industrial urgency.” Perspective pushes the convergence lines ever flatter until the vanishing point itself disappears. We are the modern neophytes journeying between skyscraper and subway; we conflate the separation of space: “Floors/fabric of the infinite.” The poet is taking us, at the same time, beyond the horizon of our own organization of knowledge. “What was it, she thought, if the field of the painting moved outward into a horizonless space?”

Rosenwasser’s innovative documentation of her own Eleusinian journey addresses an ontological crisis in post-modern poetry, and by poetic design recovers the lost structures of layered representation from the vestiges of an incomplete knowledge.  Her text challenges the grammatical function of syntax and leads us to more disassociating energies of its broken form to show us the cracks where we might unearth our psychic artifacts. The theoretical, interdisciplinary design of this work is provocative, taking the hybrid text yet one step further.

Rena Rosenwasser
grew up in New York City where she cultivated her passion for literature and the visual arts. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 1971, she moved to California to pursue graduate studies at Mills College, Oakland, where she earned her MA in literature in 1976. In 1974 she settled in Berkeley, where she co-founded Kelsey Street Press and subsequently served as its longtime director. Initially the press’s mission was simply to publish women writers, who were marginalized by small and mainstream publishers. As poets took up the challenge of feminism and the language poets, the press placed more emphasis on innovative writing practices. Between 1987 and 2006, Rosenwasser initiated and produced a series of collaborations between poets and visual artists that established Kelsey Street as the longest lived independent publisher of literature for women.

Rosenwasser’s poetry publications include Elevators (Kelsey Street Press, 2011) Dittany (Taking flight) (Mayacamas Press, 1993);  Unplace.Place (Leave Books, 1992); and three collaborations with artist Kate Delos: Isle (Kelsey Street Press, 1992); Aviary (Limestone Press, 1988); and Simulacra (Kelsey Street Press, 1986). Her first volume of poetry, Desert Flats, was published by Kelsey Street Press in 1979.

Currently a board member of Small Press Distribution, Rosenwasser has also served on the Literary Panel for the California Arts Council

Circe by Nicelle Davis Review

Nicelle Davis
Circe

Lowbrow Press 2011
ISBN: 978-0982955345
Pages: 104
Reviewed by Kelli Allen

What happens to myth when it is given a modern literary treatment? Is the romance of the arcane lost when a coat of current vernacular and diction is thrust, thick and bold over narrative, the essence of which is in our collective consciousness? To read Nicelle’s Davis’s debut poetry collection, Circe, is to ask this question after absorbing the peculiar language of her poems. The collection takes its reader through seven “books,” each detailing a modern-day Circe’s reflection on herself and her real and imagined histories. Davis does not allow her Circe to function as goddess. Rather she strips Circe to a woman whose magic is irrevocably lost, and ultimately the longing for what has been taken guides every word of the collection.

How we metabolize our grief is the central theme of each of the books. We are shown how Circe, the Sirens, Penelope, and Odysseus each manipulate language to spell a recipe for surviving through passion experienced, coveted, dispelled, and stolen.

Book I serves as an extremely brief explanation of the impetus for retelling Circe’s story. The poet shows herself in this section alone, and remains apart from the narrative action throughout the remainder of the text. While Davis does not write “Once upon a time” in this first section, the sensation of beginning an old, warm, and dusty tale from childhood is apparent.

Book II offers the reader an opportunity to watch Circe as she examines not only her present circumstances, but also how her past entanglements have colored her self-perception. We meet Circe as she is beginning to understand her own shades of madness and is resigning herself to whatever truth may be visible within the strangeness. We agree to accompany the poet through memory and into Circe’s experience with the line: “Will we heal?” from “A Doctor Comes to Call on Circe.” The question echoes in every one of Davis’s poems, with proffered answers as bizarre and melancholy as the illustrations by Cheryl Gross, which follow each “book.” The one answer which resonates the solitary hopeful note in the poems comes through in “Visions of Return from the Crystal Ball of Circe’s Glass Eye:” “There was/ song. That much is true.”

There are moments in the poems where language falls a bit flat and images seem forced: “I drop my basket and bolt for home- crying/ like a baby’s bottle in a footless pig’s mouth.” There is risk of preciousness in tackling sorrow when the character of import has leapt from the Odyssey. Both “Love Letter for Circe” and “Lottery Tickets” feel almost gimmicky—as though the poet is stretching too far beyond myth toward cleverness unearned. The luminescent moment in Book II, which compensates for weaker pieces preceding it, is the lovely poem “Circe Swallows Her Glass Eye.” In these lines Davis delivers a self-reflexive assertion about narrative and recognition: “Setting is the lie; there is no physical ocean/ keeping others from finding me.” We are allowed to assume the pursuit is both for poet and Circe. Indeed, all fiction, all narrative, is merely truth wrapped in swirls of misinformation and false memory. Our duty is in the choosing of these illusionary truths.

Book III begins with the lovely epistolary “Dear Odysseus,” which is an aching, open portrayal of loneliness in the wake of a lover’s refusal to reciprocate desire. Circe’s longing is painfully naked and Davis casts her as deserving of empathy, despite her apparent leaning toward ugly bitterness. There is pleading in this poem, which gives us the first real taste of Circe’s peripheral humanity.

The longer poems in the collection speak with more authority than their brief, and often postscriptory, sisters. The narrative weave of the books is often frayed by the small poems peppered in and around the larger narrative threads. They fit oddly between Circe’s moments of inner dialogue. Perhaps this slightly schizophrenic ordering and presentation is intentional as a linguistic mirror for Circe’s path through her loose and swirling psyche.

The concrete, or “shape” poems, are affective as visual representation of certain quasi-universal actions within the construct of the original myth, but do not present the most interesting or engaging language. They feel, as many of the shorter poems, rather artfully contrived. “The Sad Siren” is the most intriguing of these shaped pieces as it is accompanied by charmingly grotesque drawings of the same name. The conversations between the sirens could have been condensed into a longer-form poem to avoid some of the “over-cooked” residue of the short pieces in this section.

Books IV, V, and VI offer the most stunning poems in the collection. When Davis writes elements of myth into her own more casual and modern mode of description, we are given little moments of wisdom that ring of magic otherwise missing from this retelling. In “The recipe for Sirens,” Davis offers a gorgeous meditation on man’s inherent narcissism: “If they beg for mercy-/ try to be patient-/ most can’t see you have already given them/ what they ask for.” Again, we see Davis at her self-reflexive best here. This is followed closely by “Uses for a Witch’s Eye- 1.a. Jaw Stoppers” wherein the notion of seeing is discussed as the gaze is turned toward self: “Tell yourself/ it’s just an eye- you have two- and vision/ happens regardless.” In book V “The Body Is Two Doors” serves as a mother’s lament. This is perhaps Davis’s most tender poem while also being her most emotionally violent. Along with “Sing into Empty until it Shines,” Circe is given a space through which to express the thorough evisceration of female grief. While the language in these poems sighs, the lines resist overt brutality and instead sing through a palette of regret. “Connecting Cords” is the only anaphora in the collection and it allows Circe’s “I” to receive immediate and unmasked attention.

The parallel worlds in which Circe experiences womanhood through, and as, Penelope are the most complex situations in the collection. In “Circe Wakes as Herself after Being Penelope” motherhood is examined from a long side-ways glace both within and without. Here, we see Circe as clearly falling further into delusion, while in the same instance expressing the most harrowing moments of clarity. Her longing is laid bare and the reader cannot help but look slightly away just as Circe must.

The postscript of the collection invites the reader to begin again, much as a traditional fairy tale story asserts that every ending is the natural loop of opportunity to return to the point of beginning. Davis asks us more than to simply re-read the text, though that is certainly a delightful option. Her assertion in closing the collection with such a brief and direct postscript is to push her reader into the realm of myth—that which instructs us most in myth and fairy story is the message between the layers of language and narrative. All good stories invite revisiting, and Circe is no exception.

Originally from Utah, Nicelle Davis now resides in Lancaster, California, with her son J.J. She has taught poetry at Youth for Positive Change, an organization that promotes success for youth in secondary schools, and with Volunteers
of America in their Homeless Youth Center. She currently teaches at Antelope Valley College. Her
poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Beloit Poetry Journal, ML Press,
The New York Quarterly, Offending Adam, PANK, SLAB Magazine, Two Review, and
others. Her book, Becoming Judas, is scheduled to be released from Red Hen Press
in 2013. You can read her e-chapbooks at Gold Wake Press and Whale Sound. She
runs a free online poetry workshop at The Bees’ Knees Blog and is an assistant
poetry editor for Connotation Press. She is currently working on four different
collections of poetry and on ways to channel her many interests into large
paper-mache yard ornaments. She is grateful for the time your eyes took to read
this bio.

Fleshlight Review: Is It The Ultimate Male Sex Toy?

Usually I stick to books and technology but today I thought I would review my latest purchase: the Fleshlight.

First, what is a Fleshlight you ask?

It is a male sex toy / pleasure product that feels like a real vagina / pussy when penetrated. It’s made with a trademarked Super-Skin material that the makers say is the Key to “simulating the feel of real sex” and the feel of real skin. It comes in a case that looks like a giant flashlight that’s fitted with an air control system that allows you to configure the “right” ammount of suction while you use the product.

Fleshlight Review: Let’s go deep

The Fleshlight has always intrigued me. Whenever I would see an ad for the product, I would wonder what it really felt like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m in a loving relationship but sex toys in the bedroom never hurt. So how does this one stack up?

First, to get the best feel out of your Fleshlight, soak in warm water 5-10 minutes before use. You’ll find that not only does this give it a very nice warm to the touch feeling, it feels even better when you penetrate the sleeve (Credit: warm sleeve tip from Fleshlight Expert).

There are a variety of sleeves — the pink Super-Skin interior — you can get ranging from the starter models right up to ones that give the ultimate sensations with ribbed and dotted textures within the sleeve. I got a combo pack. And, if the taste strikes you, you can even select a sleeve modeled straight from the vagina of a celebrity or porn star. I’m not kidding, see the Fleshlight Girls here.

How to use the Fleshlight

Once you sleeve is warm, place it back into the case, use the cap the set just the right amount of suction you want. This is a feature that actually works and based upon the setting you choose you can actually feel like pull and tug just like a tight pussy. Place a generous amount of lube at the entrance of the sleeve as well as on yourself. The right amount of lube really helps intensify the pleasure but make sure it’s not too much since you still want to be able to feel every inch of your new sex toy.

The next step is the easiest: penetrate and enjoy to your heart’s content.

So what does the Fleshlight feel like?

I have to say, it was better than I could have ever imagined. When warm, it really feels extremely close the real thing. You can feel the walls, ribs and textures of the sleeve wrapped around your cock with each stroke. And the suction control helps you alter how much resistance you want to feel as you go.

Of course, if you’ve been having sex with your partner while wearing a condom, this will be leaps and bounds ahead of it and you can ejaculate every last drop into it without a worry about getting anyone pregnant!

Clean-up is also a breeze since you simply wash and air-dry it. I’ve also found that using a bit of powder helps dry it that much quicker since it absorbs the moisture. Once dry, you can place it back into the case for discreet storage.

The Best Deal on a Fleshlight

The best part is the Fleshlight ships right to your door in discreet packaging and they always have some great deals going on including a Fleshlight discount code to get you even more sleeves to experiment with.

If this Fleshlight review doesn’t make you want to order one, nothing will. See ALL current deals like the 2-for-1 steal here collected in one place.