Tag Archives: Deborah Fleming

Diana Woodcock’s Under the Spell of the Persian Nightingale

Under the Spell of the Persian Nightengale
Diana Woodcock
978- 1625491626
(2015, Word Poetry Books)
$22, Paper

Review by Deborah Fleming

Southern China, Tibet, Thailand, and Qatar are some places Diana Woodcock has called home. What we learn in her new collection of lyrics about the Arabian peninsula, Under the Spell of the Persian Nightingale, is to put away preconceptions about the desert and learn to embrace a new way of seeing a landscape we thought barren but which is an ecosystem rich with sensory detail which has much to teach us about beauty as well as economy. This is no utopian hideaway, however; we have to look past oil rigs and pipelines in order to perceive the birds and flowers, and we are reminded that we all have to be vigilant about protecting every ecosystem from the ravages of industrialism.

The speaker, a “guest/ trying not to be invasive” (“Seduced in the Desert”) as she ventures into the dunes, shows how the human spirit open to observation and acceptance can become one with a place. Lush images describe an exotic landscape of birds, flowers, and insects (particularly the white-cheeked bulbul—the nightingale of the title—and the sidra tree, which invites meditation like the Buddhist bodhi) thriving in seemingly inhospitable conditions. These poems engage our senses as we hear shamal winds blowing, owls calling, and larks singing in mangrove and acacia leaves; taste the sweetness of dates; view desert flowers like hyacinth, campion, and rock rose opening.

“Persian Nightingale” evokes love and loss through a journey across water to an exotic place reminiscent of “Sailing to Byzantium,” but instead of Yeats’s old man desiring to withdraw into a world of unchanging art, the speaker of this poem discovers enchantment in the “sad beauty” of the desert and discovers “powers/ and magic” in the “folds of feathers of this// exquisite mystic,” embracing the beauty of the world as it is. In “The Hardy Ones” Woodcock subverts Robert Frost as she voices appreciation of wild flowers like the caper plant and desert truffle, “steadfastly noble in their earnest labors/ convincing anyone who’ll kneel at their roots/ a lifetime’s not long enough to seek out/ the blooming sages of the most desolate places.”

The writings of Basho, Rumi, and Thoreau are literary ancestors. While “Bardo” declares that grace is lacking in the midst of plenty, “Living in the Margins” shows how austerity instructed the prophets, and “Hakeem’s Farm” describes the speaker’s awareness of the creation of memories while enjoying abundance and hospitality on a thriving desert farm where guests are considered to be emissaries of God.

In “Recitation for the Fatiha for the Dead” the woman speaker acknowledges that the desert itself taught her that she must be one with the women of the world (especially China, Africa, and India) who do not enjoy the right of self-determination, yet most of the time she can do little more than blasphemously recite for them the fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur’an recited as a prayer only for learned or pious men, never for women.

Woodcock employs a rich variety of onomatopoeia and internal rhyme to endow the free verse poems with form. In “Not Born in this Desert” she writes “Not desert-born, yet I refuse to scorn flat terrain,/ sparse vegetation, lack of rain” and “maybe someone/ is listening, missing the sight of sun glistening/ on the backs of a flock of flamingos in mangroves.”

“Desert Dare” makes clear that loving the desert means taking risks as it exhorts the reader imaginatively to “Take a chance—/brave sandstorms,/ mirages, dunes that shift,/ seering silence, Sand vipers,/ a million blazing stars/ keeping you awake at night.” The walker in the desert must “Have faith the nearest oasis/ is just over the next dune,/ there’s still time to join/ the maji’s caravan.” With an image reminiscent of Shelley’s “To a Skylark” the speaker must be grateful “When the Desert lark darkens/ the sun’s stark stare” and sweeps across the dunes “into shade of sidra tree.” Finally, the walker/watcher/listener must, like Shelley’s poet, “ascend like Desert lark/ on the shamal wind just/ at that moment when the sun/comes strolling over the dunes—//a flame of love to set your heart/ and hair on fire.”

“Desert Bound,” the final poem, reveals a capacity for compassion and generosity as it weaves a “karmic tapestry” of gifts, “no weed unwelcome.”


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 19, Issue 4.

Deborah FlemingDeborah Fleming is editor and director of the Ashland Poetry Press. She has published two collections of poetry, two chapbooks, one novel, and four volumes of scholarship. Her most recent poetry collection is Into a New Country.

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Into a New Country by Deborah Fleming

Into A New Country, Deborah Fleming
Into A New Country
Deborah Fleming
(2016, WordTech)
$19, Paper

Review by Diana Woodcock

From a rondeau with blues variation, in which the reader is caught up in the conversation of two men baring their souls in a bus station, to tercets depicting four endangered Brown pelicans “in silent harmony,” to an etude for Norway spruces planted on their wedding day by two German immigrants, the poet takes us along for the lyrical ride—and what a ride it turns out to be.  From mountains and lake of Glendalough (County Wicklow, Ireland) to Mt. Rainier and San Francisco Bay, to Glacier Bay in Alaska, to Farallon Islands all the way “into a new country.”  And the reader is soon following this poet willingly to Point Reyes, Lake Tahoe, the Cascades – all the way to Hydra where our dreams, like the poet’s—thanks to her lyrical rendering— “blossom into islands,” to Chernobyl and Baghdad, to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, where again the poet’s composure and restraint—coupled with her adept handling of rhyme—allows us to know without falling apart “unspeakable truth . . . all we allowed to be lost.”  Even as she gathers us together at the Vietnam War Memorial for a moment of collective grief, her skillful treatment of lyricism with restraint helps us stay composed even while feeling the full impact of the memorial’s necessity.

Beginning and ending with short lyrics “Aubade” and “Nocturne,” the collection is about love:  love lost as in “Two Old Men in the Bus Station,” love missed as in “Glendalough,” love wondered at as in “Dun Aengus,” love endangered as in “Brown Pelicans over San Francisco Bay,” and love realized as in “Anniversary.”  It is also about love of place as in four poems about the western landscape and the author’s farm in northeastern Ohio.  The use of fifteen different forms, as well as free verse, makes this book a candidate for use in poetry writing classes.

With so much water, light and fog—and so many winged birds and spirits swirling throughout this collection—the reader could begin to feel a bit queasy were it not for the poet’s competent usage of form and her flair for creating images that embody both the literal and figurative depths of internal and external worlds.  With this skillful poet, the reader gladly and without a moment’s hesitation “yield[s] to a wide arc” and flies on the back of a horse, jumping a quarry.

But more than the beauty and fragility of nature is woven throughout this poet’s lyrical tapestry.  Woven as well are those mystical moments when lovers lying side by side feel themselves part of the greater mystery, like “volcanoes rising out of their own flame.”

By inviting the reader to visit some of Earth’s most beautiful places, as well as to revisit some of the darker moments of our collective history,  this collection of lyrical poems shines light into the cavernous darkness of our troubled times.  More than just about losing, these poems encourage us to allow such visible creatures and invisible spirits “soar[ing] and div[ing[ into the glow of minarets” to light our way as we find courage to walk – and sometimes fly – on.

In her poem entitled “Irises,” the poet ends with these lines:

The impress of my palms

washes away.

Surely this will not be the case in regards to this, her second, collection of poetry.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 19, Issue 1.

Diana WoodcockDiana Woodcock is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, most recently Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale. Her first, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Women’s Poetry Prize.  Her third, Tread Softly, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.  Her seventh chapbook, Near the Arctic Circle, is forthcoming from Tiger’s Eye Press.

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