Category Archives: CPR Volume 20, Issue 1

CPR Volume 20, Issue 1, April, 2018

Review of Susanna Lang’s Travel Notes from the River Styx

Travel Notes from the River Styx -Lang
Travel Notes from the River Styx
Susanna Lang
(2017 Terrapin Books)

Review by Michael Eddie Anderson

Travel Notes from the River Styx is a carefully crafted study of a soul journey. Although the work is not personal in the narrow sense, it does focus on family. We live through the saga of a dying father, watch a mother giving piano lessons, and meet a son going off to college. But the larger reference is to the human family, including emigrant peoples, their experience of displacement. In “Migration” we hear their voices: “My family came to stay/ but not in one place”. The monk who says “My real country is not a place…” speaks for all those whose identity is less geographic, more relational.

Among the most striking characteristics of Lang’s poetry are its wild leaps. As in all good writing, the metaphysical rests on and arises from the physical. The poem “In the Rearview Mirror” turns our eye to five migrating Sandhill cranes. The birds stand motionless, “the long/knobby legs of their resurrection still”. This is the epiphanic leap, but the setting couldn’t be less so: a traffic jam.

Lang shows us we’ll find splendor and ecstasy in the pedestrian. Yes, these are Travel Notes and we do indeed pole down a mythical river, but as the opening citation from TS Elliot reminds us, in every true journey we “arrive where we started” – we end up at home.

Many unknowns await us before we get there. In the title poem, which opens section three, we’re spelunking in Mammoth Cave, its cold river running under our feet. The cavern’s name refers to its size and seeming endlessness, and in these images, Lang finds powerful metaphors of disjuncture and confusion.

The cave may be made of rock but “the border is porous”. There might be a river but it is “flowing so slowly/it almost isn’t a river”. And those etchings on the walls—they’re “written in candle smoke”. Added to all this indeterminacy is a father’s decline through dementia. The final section, a sentence fragment nine stanzas long, evokes this bewilderment:

…this dream

of drifting, low in the water but never sinking, never

snagging on a fallen branch, never touching the shore

where we walk beside the river, endlessly, our muscles

aching, the boat just out of reach—

And so it ends: abrupt, unsettling. We’ve drifted along the river only to come suddenly to a falls. Out of control, out of options, we find ourselves asking “where/has the ferryman gone, how do we call him?” But isn’t it always this way? Whether on Chicago’s elevated train or Charon’s dark waterway, the one thing we can expect is: “destination unintelligible”.

Some poems give us comfort. In Travel Notes from the River Styx, Susanna Lang gives us more. She’s a wise guide on a dark river every human being must learn to navigate.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 20, Issue 1.

Michael Eddie Anderson has been an editor at Rhino: the Poetry Journal and now serves on their advisory board. His poetry has appeared in New Verse News, Matter Monthly, Rhino, Pen Woman, the Poet and Artist Chapbook of the Northwest Cultural Council and other journals. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Susanna LangSusanna Lang’snew collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in summer 2017 from Terrapin Books. Her last collection was Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013). Read her poem “Confession” in CPR Volume 20, Issue 1 (April, 2018).

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by Matthew Gellman

There are so many questions the rain in a city
will turn into answers. Will there be flooding

becomes: Of course. Why didn’t he come back
becomes: he didn’t. It’s like that. But you remember

mornings mimicking couples you’d seen in movies.
How his hair looked tied in a bun. How he’d use

words like proclivity. You met him at a party upstate
and walked home together, passing a muffled campfire,

shapes painted on the water tower, joints scattered
like the season’s first flowers. He looked down,

as boys do when telling the truth about themselves.
The window gets stuck. You try all morning to close it.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 20, Issue 1.

Matthew GellmanMatthew Gellman’s poems are featured in Poetry Northwest, Narrative Magazine, The Journal, Sugar House Review, Thrush Poetry Journal and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Columbia University and teaches at Hunter College.

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Elegy for an Unused Storm Cellar
by John Sibley Williams

I can’t see the whole ocean from here. Just a bird-
broken bay, backlit oyster shacks piled high in
hollow shells, incomplete haloes reflecting off

polished masts. Windless, their sails tied down
like domesticated dogs to backyard trees. A born
wildness deferred. Something I want desperately

to call my own: what is the word for wings
once skin has grown over them? We arm ourselves
with slack & acceptance, adulthood & all sorts of

gods, stories that end with boys falling, feather-
singed, from the sun. This is meant to be
a teachable moment. A father aims his son’s

cocked finger at passing barges & says bang.
He reads the morning paper loud enough
the whole house mourns each casualty.

& there are so many casualties. Just beyond
the storm-readied town, past the jetties that break
the breakers in half, in other words out of our empire

of sight: a war that reaches us ink & clean lines. Of home
I mainly remember these confident rooflines, so sharp they
could be words. How another’s tempest brings out our eyes.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 20, Issue 1.

John Sibley Williams is the author of Controlled Hallucinations (FutureCycle Press) and six poetry chapbooks. He is the winner of the HEART Poetry Award, and finalist for the Pushcart, Rumi, and The Pinch Poetry Prizes. John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review, co-director of the Walt Whitman 150 project, and Marketing Director of Inkwater Press. A few previous publishing credits include: Third Coast, Inkwell, Bryant Literary Review, Cream City Review, The Chaffin Journal, The Evansville Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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