Category Archives: CPR Volume 16, Issue 2

Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2, April, 2014

My Favorite Tyrants by Joanne Diaz
Reviewed by Caron Andregg

by Caron Andregg

My Favorite Tyrants
My Favorite Tyrants
by Joanne Diaz
(2013 University of Wisconsin Press /
$16.95, paper /
ISBN:9780299297848)

“Surely, there’s something beyond this” is the last phrase in Joanne Diaz’s Brittingham Prize-winning collection My Favorite Tyrants, and as fitting a last line has probably never been penned. Diaz’s finely-rendered poems are at once deeply personal narratives and meditations on the larger universal forces molding the self.  The intimate is revealed as infinite. “77 Porter Street” begins with the memory of a trivial apartment fire and ends at the threshold of death “when, as bodies do, ours break down to mere traces of life,” and asks, “Will you remember those days of fire/when we burned to touch and be touched by all things?”

Throughout the collection, the mundane and the mythic occur in shared space. In “Motor City,” a disaffected Vulcan haunts the bowels of abandoned, decaying Tiger Stadium, forging his golden net. In “Demeter’s Last Stand,” a greasy elementary school janitor stands in for Hades as he cradles the Camp Fire Girl-cum-Persephone in his lap, until Queen Bee descends, snatching her away from “a lifetime of winters.”  Meanwhile, a distilled evocation of Larry David has a recurring cameo as a form of spirit-guide for outrage and indignity, as when he mediates on the imperialist significance of a pre-war Philippines tennis court (“Larry David on Corrigador”).

As the title would suggest, Diaz is concerned with tyrants and tyrannies of all kinds.  Yes, in these pages we encounter historical tyrants: Franco manufacturing a nation of orphans “living up to the Latin archaeology of that word, dissedere,/to sit apart, to be foreign to one another, to never know/the other’s truest name” (“Archaeology”); Lenin incubating “more mold over the years than Ussuriysky Forrest” (“A La Turk”); Stalin when he was still little Soso at the observatory in Tblisi “astonished by the dignity of stars” (“Little Terror”). Political ghosts emanate from the grainy Super8 film shot one Halloween during the height of the Cold War when her Cuban-American parents dressed her little  brother “as baby Castro, complete with greasepaint beard, the already-heavy//eyebrows of a brooding Spaniard, the olive green military uniform/and tiny plastic cigarillo” (Cuba Libre).

But so, too, Diaz illuminates life’s other tyrants, the ones that hold us in thrall almost without our knowing: race, family, desire. Her mother, both alive and after death, plays a key role in this exploration.  As the robust and exacting Queen Bee, she was “one of the people on whom nothing was lost… /and she had, through these things, become white in the America that would have counted her people as a separate, squalid race” (“Queen Bee”).

Queen Bee even has her way with death—perhaps the ultimate tyrant—revealing it instead as the ultimate liberator:

Days after her death, my mother didn’t hide
in that place that was no place.  She busily thrived
as the starling that stared at Nila all afternoon;
as the falcon that hovered above Alonso’s boat;
as the sparrow that scratched the top of Jay’s head
twice on his jog along Lake Shore trail;
and once, as a kinglet, ruby-crowned, bobbing
and floating as a pugilist at our front window.
(“Visit to Fox Hill Cemetery”)

Queen Bee expresses the death’s largesse in body as well as soul when the hospital harvests her skin. “Queen Bee, mother, wife, no longer a tightened knot…. Now just epidermis: expansive, generous, promiscuous,/so capable of protecting the body of another.”

If the dead escape the tyranny of the body the living are not so emancipated. “We are prisoners of our bodies,” Diaz writes, “No metamorphosis/for living humans, not even for a little while” (“Visit to Fox Hill Cemetery”).

So many tyrants, so many tyrannies; so much to hate and so very much to love in this complex, captivating collection.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2.

Caron AndreggCaron Andregg is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Cider Press Review. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals, and in the anthology Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems (2002, Southern Illinois University Press). In her non-poetic life, she owns SeaCliff Media Marketing, a Web design, eBook and marketing company, with too much help from office cats.

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Headwaters by Ellen Bryant Voigt
reviewed by Ruth Foley

by Ruth Foley

Buy at Amazon
Headwaters
by Ellen Bryant Voigt
(2013 Norton
$24.95, hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-393-08320-0)

Ellen Bryant Voigt is one of poetry’s sharpest minds—possibly the sharpest—when it comes to syntax. Her books The Flexible Lyric (2001) and The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song (2009) contain the kinds of essays that can leave your brain feeling too big for your head, discussions that gain resonance with subsequent readings. Much the same can be said of her newest collection of poetry, Headwaters.

Voigt’s mastery of syntax becomes evident with the first poem, the title poem, which, as it begins with “I,” contains one of the few initial capital letters to be found in the book. In fact, none of the poems contain punctuation, and the only white space comes between lines and stanzas, leaving line breaks and syntactical markers as the reader’s only navigational systems. In less-adept hands, this technique could become irritating or even exhausting, but in Voigt’s, it instead opens up vistas of tumble and space, of fluidity and precision, as in the last four lines of “Headwaters”:

no snow as in my dooryard only the many currents of self-doubt I clung

to my own life raft I had room on it for only me you’re not surprised
it grew smaller and smaller or maybe I grew larger and heavier

but don’t you think I’m doing better in this regard I try to do better

One might expect to get lost—perhaps in the enjambment of “I clung / to my own life raft,” or the placement of the prepositional phrase in “I’m doing better in this regard I try to do better,” or even in the aside “you’re not surprised”—but the reader is never left adrift because the syntax sets our course.

It’s also surprising—although it probably shouldn’t be—how well Voigt’s subject matter matches the choices she’s made. Many of the poems center on the natural world. The thoughts in the tree poems branch like perfectly-diagrammed sentences, and the lack of punctuation lends an almost innate logic to the animal poems in particular. After all, what skunk would use a comma? What use does a fox have for periods? Instead of the imposition of a human order, even though the speaker is clearly human, we get what could pass for animal stream of consciousness, where we are led on brief side trips and then returned to the path. Take, for example, the first stanza of “Hound”:

since thought is prayer if hard and true I thought that thought
could lead me to compassion for my fellow creatures
insects excluded contrary to the Buddha the wasps
might show a little compassion too…

And as well-suited as this approach is to the animal world, it’s also extremely appropriate for poems of loss and grief, as in “Sleep”:

                                     but a moral sense
is exhausting I am exhausted a coma looks good to me
if only I could be sure there’d still be dreams it’s what I miss the most
even in terrible dreams at least you feel what you feel not what
you’re supposed to feel…

If I have one piece of advice for you, it’s this: read these poems aloud. Spoken into the air, what might pass as stripped language—after all, even most of the titles are single words—comes fully to life, lush and vibrant, its echoing language and rhythms allowed to inhabit all the space they deserve.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2.

Ruth FoleyRuth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her recent work is appearing or forthcoming in Redheaded Stepchild, The Bellingham Review, Yemassee, and Sou’wester, among others, and her chapbook Dear Turquoise is available from Dancing Girl Press. She serves as Managing Editor for Cider Press Review.

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Review: Flourish by Jeanette Clough
reviewed by Megan Mericle

by Megan Mericle

Flourish, by Jeanette Clough
Flourish
by Jeanette Clough
(2013, Tebot Bach)
$16 paper
ISBN: 978-1893670075)

The poetry collection Flourish is a dictionary of abstractions and natural wonders, arranged thematically instead of alphabetically. Even the table of contents functions as a poem, as the one-word titles and short descriptions encompass characteristics of life like “Light,” “Sky” and “Sound.” Clough manages connect the concepts with her unique style while still maintaining a sense of wonder. She plays with the building blocks of the world and adds hints of personal experience without overestimating her own significance.

Clough also plays with words, and the surprises in her word combinations make the poetry a delight to read. Stone is “earth knuckles,” grass is the “hair of the earth” and salt is a “jewel of choice.” In the poem “Unknown,” Clough compares the unknown to a retreating creature and a paisley couch. Its antonym is “photogenic” and its synonym is “flicker.” This definitional wordplay mimics a dictionary, but in truth tells much more. The description of “unknown” as a laughing trickster reveals how impossible it is to know the secrets of the world, but how human it is to try. Clough tackles concepts we take for granted, reminding us what it means to be human.

Clough is also able to weave humor into her dictionary, making the pieces refreshing to read and adding to their depth. In “Shape,” she mocks the analysis indicative to the genre when she states, “This is an abstract poem. Do not look for hidden meaning, narrative, or significant line breaks.” The same humor arises again in “Middle” when she states, “Between the letters A and C is the letter B. Discuss this among yourselves.” The contradiction in “Unknown” reveals the absurdity behind the lack of human understanding: “The unknown never does the same thing twice. Then, maybe it does. Who knows?” But Clough does not sacrifice image for wit; her best moments are born out of her mastery of language and reversals, as in: “it took a lot of irritated oysters to make the pearly gates” in the poem “Heaven.”

Above all, Flourish is a reminder of the simple abstractions that make up our language. Clough describes the flesh and bones of the earth, from “Cold” to “Wind” to “God.” The poetry is a great comfort; Clough tells us we live in a galaxy that “holds us in its arms” and reassures us that God will always exist because there will always be mystery in the world. She emphasizes the cyclical nature of life: “Sounds” reminds us that while we think of time and life as a terminal line, in reality, both are unending curves, or perpetual sound waves. And “in the real world, it is all middle,” since we cannot remember the beginning of our lives, and will not know our end. But that also means we are destined for renewal, as “freshness is irresistibly attracted to time. If you stay long enough, all your body’s cells are replaced by new ones.”

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2.

Megan MericleMegan Mericle is a graduate of Western Carolina University and an Assistant Editor at Cider Press Review. She is double majoring in English: Professional Writing and Psychology. She recently returned from a semester abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her work has appeared in the student literary journal Nomad and the 2012 NCUR Proceedings.

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