Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Source: Cedar Forge Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Robbie reached across and touched my arm. When he didn’t draw his hand back, I told him about my frights. “Maybe,” he said, “we all practice our dying, in different ways, at different times, but there’s no way to avoid the thought. Write it if you can.”

(from The Belle of Two Arbors)

The Belle of Two Arbors is a sweeping historical novel that takes readers on a journey between Glen Arbor and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and sometimes beyond, from 1913 to 1978. The book is presented as a memoir of the fictional poet Martha “Belle” Peebles, whose entire collection of poems, or “songs,” are found in a trunk, along with the memoir, after her death. The novel chronicles Belle’s life, from her mother’s tragic death when she was 14 until the end of her life and beyond.

Belle’s mother was a fan of Emily Dickinson and encouraged Belle to write. Although devoted to her younger brother, Pip, and her Papa, Belle decides to leave Glen Arbor to attend college in Ann Arbor, where her lifelong friendship with Robert Frost begins. Her friendships with Robbie, Ted Roethke, and Wystan Auden enrich her life and inspire her work, and they share their poems and letters over the span of many years. Dimond chronicles Belle’s work, her role as a caregiver, her complicated love life, her desire to preserve the natural habitat in Glen Arbor and expand the family’s stove works, her battle with sexism in academia, and more.

The Belle of Two Arbors is an ambitious novel that was just a bit too long for me at nearly 700 pages. Dimond’s prose is great, and Grimes’ poems (Belle’s poems for the purpose of the novel) are well done, but it felt like there were a lot of scenes and details that, though well written, just did not further the plot.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel overall because of Belle. What a fantastic heroine! She was brave, strong-willed, ahead of her time, a pillar of strength among her friends and family, a source of encouragement and love. She had dreams and figured out ways to achieve them. She managed the ups and downs of love without being overly romantic or dramatic. Her interactions with historical figures were fascinating. If it weren’t for the extraneous details that hindered the flow in certain places, I would have loved this novel, but even so, I think it is worth giving a try for Belle alone.

Check out The Belle of Two Arbors on Goodreads and Amazon, and click the banner above for more details about the book and to follow the blog tour.

Disclosure: I received The Belle of Two Arbors from Cedar Forge Press for review.

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Every April, I look forward to the National Poetry Month blog tour hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit. Serena is always challenging me to read more poetry and encourages everyone to just give it a try. If there is one thing I’ve learned about poetry over the years, it is that there really is something for everyone in the genre.

This year as I was contemplating my post, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of my favorite poetry collections. In no particular order, here are my top 5 favorite poetry collections:

From my review:

Dien Cai Dau, which means “crazy” in Vietnamese, is a collection of poems by Yusef Komunyakaa about his experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War.  I first read this collection in a college English course on literature of the Vietnam War, and after re-reading it last week, I’ve concluded that it’s my favorite poetry book dealing with the war.  Komunyakaa is a master of words, describing his experiences and observations in a way that isn’t as gritty and raw as some other writings by Vietnam veterans but still shows the horrors of war and the struggle to survive.  He tells it like it is but does so with much emotion.

From my review:

Song of Napalm is divided into three sections, each of which deals with memories of his war experiences and indicate a progression toward dealing with the ghosts he carries with him and striking a balance between the need to remember and the need to return to the land of the living.  Weigl’s memories are so vivid and filled with emotion that they bring the war to life, and I could feel some of his pain.

From my review:

Delights & Shadows is a collection of quiet poems touching upon such themes as memory, aging, death, and nature. Kooser obviously spends a lot of time observing his surroundings, and many of his poems bring ordinary objects or simple moments to life. When Kooser looks at the world, he sees things that many of us would miss, and the descriptions of what he sees are fascinating.

From my review:

Catalina exemplifies everything I love in a poetry collection.  While I have no idea whether these poems are autobiographical, it certainly seems as though Soriano exposes her soul in these stanzas.  They affected me deeply with their heaviness and their beauty.

From my review:

Although there is diversity among the poetic styles and the poets’ experiences, each of the poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry lead to the same conclusion:  that war is hell.  It makes me wonder how many of these poets were poets before, and how many used poetry as a way to deal with the loss, anger, and haunting memories tied to the war.  Some of the poems made me feel like I was staring into the poet’s soul.  I am in awe of men and women who can put such awful tragedies into words, and I believe that war poetry is among the most powerful and vivid, bringing to life the internal and external struggles in a way that non-fiction and prose cannot.

Have you read any of these collections? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of them. If not, I hope you will consider giving one or all of them a try! Happy National Poetry Month!

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I’m delighted to welcome Laura Foley to Diary of an Eccentric today to share the inspiration behind “Prayer, 1943,” a poem in her new collection, WTF.

Prayer, 1943

Dad and his fellow prisoners
crouched under a shed,
its roof a sieve
of shrapnel holes
allowing rain
they didn’t notice
any more than hunger,
in their concentration
on pawns, queens, bishops,
rooks they carved
from discarded
toothbrush handles-
from their mouths,
to God’s ears.

Please give a warm welcome to Laura Foley:

My dad described in his recollections the event that I have put into this poem. The date comes from his time as Prisoner of War under the Japanese, in occupied China and Japan. I have tried to imagine what it was like for him.

I was touched by the detail he gives of the chess pieces carved from toothbrush handles, the sense of deprivation and boredom this conveys, as well as the camaraderie with the other men. Also the constant danger from American bombings as the Americans came closer to winning the war, how the American and other European prisoners were afraid of being mistakenly bombed as well as being cheered by the sight.

I have read many books about the war and the Japanese prisons, most notably Unbroken, which depicts a sadistic Japanese guard eerily similar to the one who tortured my father. Throughout my childhood, his imprisonment was a source of conversation, even though I was born more than a decade after his release. I wrote a poem about him being in prison camp when I was in Kindergarten.

Prayer 1943 comes from my collection WTF which is a tribute to my father, whose initials were WTF, as well as a working-through of my relationship to him, decades past his death.

Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing a little of your father’s story and the inspiration for the poem with me and my readers!

About WTF

Laura Foley’s “WTF” refers to her father’s initials and, slyly, to the abbreviated colloquial exclamation, in a pun that laughs and cuts, in this reckoning with a fraught father-daughter relationship. These spare poems communicate more like snapshots than narrative lyrics, beginning with sympathy and gratitude, moving through disappointment, anger and resentment, without ever losing compassion, as Foley examines her father’s formative WWII experiences and, consequently, how he shaped her experience and character, ending with a positive recognition of her father in herself.

Read sample poems here: https://www.readcwbooks.com/foley_poems.html

Check out WTF on Goodreads | Amazon

About the Author

Laura Foley

Laura Foley is an internationally published, award-winning poet, author of six collections. She won the Common Goods Poetry Contest, judged by Garrison Keillor; and the National Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy. Her poetry collections include: WTFNight Ringing, The Glass Tree, and Joy StreetThe Glass Tree won a Foreword Book of the Year Award; Joy Street won the Bisexual-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review, in the British Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and many other journals.

A certified Yoga Instructor and creative arts facilitator in hospitals, she is the mother of three grown children, grandmother to two granddaughters. She and her partner Clara Gimenez live among the hills of Vermont with their three big dogs.

Follow her on Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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among-the-lostToday’s guest is Seth Steinzor, author of Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake: Book 2), who is here to discuss his inspiration for the poem about giving birth and how it serves as an opening for his take on Dante’s Purgatorio. Please welcome Seth Steinzor:

Fresh in my mind when I began writing Among the Lost was something that W.S. Merwin had pointed out in the Foreword to his translation of Purgatorio. I’m sure he’s far from the first to have noticed this, but it made a forceful impression on me: of Dante’s three canticles, Purgatorio is the only one to take place on earth. Inferno trudges through an idealized subterranean environment; Paradiso flies through the heavens; Purgatorio climbs a mountain.

Another thing sets Purgatorio apart from the first and third books of Dante’s trilogy. Each of the characters in Inferno and Paradiso has reached an ultimate end point in his or her personal development, and exists in a state of stasis. Unlike them, the denizens of Mount Purgatory continue to work through the moral muddles that were produced by their manners of living. The ones who were angry in life are still plagued by anger. The ones who were apathetic still have to overcome that. And so on. Admittedly, in Dante’s view, the Mount Purgatorians possess the certainty of salvation, not only the hope, and so might be said to have reached a sort of fruition; but they haven’t actually found it yet. Their experience of their own sure perfectability is frustrated temporarily by themselves. That’s pretty much my experience of life, in a nutshell, although I tend towards a somewhat less optimistic view of the overall human condition. (There’s a buddha within, but nobody’s sure of realizing it.) So add to the idea that the book takes place on earth, the idea that it depicts a state of being unfinished, unclear.

Also in my mind was the means whereby Dante escaped to Purgatory from the underground Inferno. He clung to the back of his guide, Virgil, as Virgil climbed up Satan’s enormous body and then through a tunnel to a sunlit beach at the foot of the mountain. So…our hero enters this earth through a narrow dark tunnel, from which he emerges unfinished and unclear. What else could one think of but a birth canal?

When I put it this way, it sounds rather more consecutively thought out than it was. I was fortunate enough to have attended the births of both my children. There is no more meaningful event than that, except perhaps one’s own coming and going. I knew as soon as I began to contemplate writing Among the Lost that the book would begin in a birthing room. And yet, at the same time, the rationale for doing so, which I have outlined above, accompanied this undeliberated intention fully formed.


About Among the Lost

Among the Lost, set in the modern American rust belt, is a meditation drawn from Dante’s Purgatorio. To Dante, Purgatory was the mountain where souls not damned went after death to cleanse themselves of sin in preparation for entering Paradise. What, Steinzor asks, are we preparing ourselves for, having lost the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, in the course of our daily urban existence? And whatever that is, how do we go about preparing for it?

Check out Among the Lost on Amazon | Goodreads


About the Poet

Seth Steinzor protested the Vietnam War during his high school years near Buffalo, New York, and his years at Middlebury College, advocated Native American causes after law school, and has made a career as a civil rights attorney, criminal prosecutor, and welfare attorney for the State of Vermont. Throughout he has written poetry. In early 1980s Boston he edited a small literary journal. His first, highly praised book, To Join the Lost, was published in 2010.

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essentialreadingsToday, I’m delighted to welcome poet K.V. Dominic to Diary of an Eccentric for a Q&A on his poem, “Musings from an Infant’s Face,” from Essential Readings & Study Guide, which compiles four collections of his poems into a single volume. I enjoyed perusing the book to select a poem for the Q&A, and I’ll admit it was hard to choose just one. I was a bit hesitant when I first picked up the book because it looks a bit like a college textbook, but I urge you not to be put off by that! Inside you will find plenty of poignant poems about Social Justice, Women’s Rights, and the Environment. I know very little about life in India, so I was fascinated by the poems. I hope you enjoy our discussion!

Musings from an Infant’s Face

(Composed on 8 March 2010–International Women’s Day)

An infant over
her mother’s shoulder
looked at me
from the front seat
of the bus I travelled.
Infants always
tempted me
like bloomed roses.
and non-human–
are embodiments
of grace and innocence.
The Creator is
manifest in their faces.
Blake’s poems
of Innocence
and Experience
flashed through my mind.
I tried to smile
at the infant;
she didn’t smile back.
Might be my
smile is guile and vile.
Her eyes seemed
to tell me something.
Her mother’s appearance
foretold the infant’s lot.
Born to poor parents,
how thorny would be
the path of her life!
She is yet to toddle;
I could vision
the blood oozing from
her soft feet.
Being a female,
black and dark,
poor and low caste,
abuses and tortures,
will come in battalions
to give her
Guard of Honour
and lead her along
the brambly path.
Lame and tottering
she will struggle along
till she reaches
her terminus, death.

(from Essential Readings & Study Guide, pages 115-116)

Here are the questions I posed to K.V. Dominic about the poem and his answers:

Was there a single, defining moment or experience that prompted you to use your poetry to speak about social justice, particularly the plight of women in India?

The inspiration or impetus for the poem is a single defining moment as portrayed in the poem, a bus journey. But that is only a dramatic occasion for the poet to speak about the plight of women in India, particularly poor and low caste born ones as well as those who don’t meet conventional definitions of beauty.

What is the significance of describing the narrator’s smile as “guile and vile?”

The narrator is a grown-up man, who unlike the innocent, graceful child is full of evils and sins of the world. Hence his smile is hypocritical, not like the divine, pleasing smile of the child. The child has more element of divinity and hence could detect the guile and vile of the narrator’s smile.

What is the significance of the image of “the blood oozing from her soft feet?”

The child being very poor, when she starts walking barefooted along the world around her, thorns and sharp grains and little stones will bleed her soft feet. That is the literal meaning. But it has a deeper meaning that the world around her is a cruel world to her, not sympathetic to people of her social class and every step she makes in her life will give her only pains and never happiness.

What is meant by Guard of Honour?

A Guard of Honour in India is a ceremonial practice to honour great dignitaries. Usually a battalion of police or soldiers headed by their commander march to the dignitary and salute him/her. Here in the poem the poor child, after all her voyage in life, serving the people around her, is honoured by not good words but discriminations, humiliations, abuses and tortures.

How/why have Blake’s poems inspired you?

I had to study and teach William Blake’s poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, published in 1794. The book juxtaposes the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of corruption and repression.

What is one thing you’d want U.S. readers, particularly women, to take from the poem about the experiences of women in India who are similar to the infant and mother in the poem?

The prime motive of my poetic compositions is social criticism and the reformation of the Indian society in future. The plight of Indian women is very pathetic, and patriarchy is responsible for it. I wish my American sisters to feel this hellish life of their Indian sisters, and thank the Almighty first for being fortunate to be born in a better country than India. Secondly, they should try their maximum to minimise the hardships of their sisters in India and other undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.

Thank you for answering my questions!


About the book

K. V. Dominic’s Essential Readings gathers for the first time the three most important works of poetry from this shining new light of contemporary Indian verse in English: Winged ReasonWrite Son, Write, and Multicultural Symphony. A fourth collection of 22 previously unpublished poems round out a complete look at the first 12 years of Dominic’s prolific and profound verse. Each poem includes unique Study Guide questions suitable for South Asian studies curricula.

Written in free verse, each of his poems makes the reader contemplate on intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, political, and social issues of the present world. Themes range from multiculturalism, environmental issues, social mafia, caste-ism, exploitation of women and children, poverty, and corruption to purely introspective matters. From the observation of neighborhood life to international events, and everyday forgotten tragedies of India, nothing escapes the grasp of Dominic’s keen sense of the fragility of life and morality in the modern world.

Check out Essential Readings & Study Guide on Amazon

About the poet


Internationally acclaimed poet Prof. K. V. Dominic (Kerala, India) is the author of three major volumes of poetry about the natural world as well as social and political commentary: Winged Reason, Multicultural Symphony, and Write, Son, Write.

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Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

George HS Singer’s poetry collection, Ergon, is impressive in its use of language. Singer does a great job painting portraits of various people and bringing to life glimpses of the ordinary through his poems. I’d already been impressed by the poem “To Charlotte Who Fled Hitler” (you can read the poem and Singer’s guest post on his inspiration for it here), and I enjoyed getting a chance to read the entire collection.

I knew the poetry within these pages would be profound as soon as I saw that the collection opened with the definition of “ergon” according to Aristotle: “The core function or purpose of something or someone. Virtue arises when the ergon is realized fully.” Right away I new these would be poems best suited for multiple readings, but thankfully I was able to glean some meaning just reading through them one time.

Singer’s use of imagery really stood out to me in “Tiny Fish,” particularly in these lines:

My wife stroked his feet, (no bigger than a doll’s).
Small hands opened as if to wave and soon
curled and closed like the tendrils of a sea anemone.

(page 28)

His ability to tell stories in just a handful of lines comes through best in the title poem, “Ergon”:

Neither did
my sorrowing angry father, not ever, not even once,
speak the names of his little sister nor of his
big brother, carrying this secret to his grave

(page 35)

My favorite poem in the collection, “Our Quotidian,” shows the evolution of a marriage and brings to life the everyday tasks, monotony, and annoyances in living with someone so long:

You vacuum, I mop.
I know your smell and you, my snore.
In line at the market, you lean into me,

Grazing my shoulder with the warm loaf
of your breast, I tap your thigh–still here,
together in the quotidian.

(page 54)

Furthermore, there were many observations that stood out to me in their wisdom, like these lines in “In Which He Explains Why He Bowed to the Dead Moth Stuck on His Door”:

Death can never be more than a thought. Until.
Best then to make it a kindly thought.

(page 63)

Ergon touches upon many topics, from nature, spirituality, and life/aging/death to memory and the complex workings of the mind. But where the collection shines is in Singer’s detailed observations of life, from the animals that inhabit the world to everyday tasks, with hints of sexuality, humor, and a sense of peace.


About the Poet

GeorgeSinger_AuthorGeorge HS Singer, a former Zen Buddhist monk and student of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, lives with his wife of forty-two years in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he works as a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was educated at Yale, Southern Oregon University, and the University of Oregon. He wrote poetry in college but took a twenty-year break before taking it up as a regular discipline. He has been a long term student of Molly Peacock and has had the opportunity to work with other marvelous poets through the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H.  He writes about life in and out of a Zen monastery, trying to live mindfully in a busy and troubled world, his love of nature and of his wife. The arts have become more central to his life.  Singer’s poems were published in the Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry.


About Ergon

George Singer’s Ergon is precise, delicate and fierce in its engagement with the world.

George HS Singer, a former Buddhist monk, has written a debut collection of poems about his life as a monk and in the monastery and about his life when he left to marry and have a family. As he tries to balance his spiritual principles with every day life as a husband and father, these poems utilize nature as a backdrop for his quest.

Check out Ergon on Amazon | Goodreads

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Disclosure: I received Ergon from the author for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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ytmbtth_cover_finalToday I’m happy to welcome Emma Eden Ramos to Diary of an Eccentric to review Arisa White’s new poetry collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. If you’re interested in White’s inspiration for the collection, I invite you to check out the guest post that appeared here last month. Now, here’s Emma’s thoughts on the book:

You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened by Arisa White is a poetry collection I wish existed when I was a teenager. If asked to describe the collection in a nutshell, I’d describe it as a combination of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl,” and Adrienne Rich’s A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far.

White begins her collection with a meditation on language.

There are little words
that can fit in little places
if you say them small enough. (p.11)

This poem, titled “Tail,” is a gateway to a collection that reminds us that words and language, in general, can be reworked and reclaimed.

In You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, Arisa White takes us on a poetic journey through the world as it is experienced by many of us in the LGBTQ community. Many of the poems are titled with words and phrases that are considered offensive by many. One poem, for example, is titled “Mashing Cookies.” The expression, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to, “When two females rub their hotboxes together with their legs in a scrissor-like formation.” The action of “Mashing Cookies” isn’t so different from heteronormative intercourse. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the act is made to sound perverse when, in fact, there is nothing perverse about it. In her poem titled “Mashing Cookies,” White writes,

Not all of us are lesbians on this island circled by orcas.
We’ve come because we’ve been nesting stories,
hollow voices that need time to season. We all need
to loot our minds for the woman who surrendered to wolves. (p. 68)

As with many of the other poems in You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, White challenges the language that has sullied the physical experience. Hopefully, readers will think twice before perpetuating stigma when referring to non-heteronormative sexuality.

You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is a powerful collection that succeeds in empowering those of us who have been silenced by stigma. It is a collection that could bring comfort and a sense of empowerment to anyone who has encountered prejudice because of their sexuality.

Thank you, Emma, for sharing your thoughts on what seems to be a powerful, thought-provoking collection of poems!


About the Guest Reviewer

Emma Eden Ramos is the author of two novels and one poetry chapbook. Ramos’ novels have been reviewed in The San Francisco Book ReviewThe Roanoke Times and other well-known papers. Ramos’ poetry chapbook was shortlisted for the Independent Literary Award in 2011. Ramos has written for Agnes Films JournalWomen Writers, Women[‘s] BooksLuna Luna Magazine and other publicationsShe has had her writing mentioned at RogerEbert.comExaminer.com, and on WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio. Ramos occasionally writes book reviews. Her most recent, a review of a collection of poems, was republished in The British Mensa Society’s Arts and Literature journal. Ramos studied psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. She is currently teaching at a high school in New York City.


About the Poet


Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.


About You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened

Angular, smart, and fearless, Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding. “To live freely, observantly as a politically astute, sensually perceptive Queer Black woman is to be risk taker, at risk, a perceived danger to others and even dangerous to/as oneself,” writes poet Tracie Morris. “White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms, lithe anecdotes, and disturbed resonances put us in the middle of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses.” You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened works through intersectional encounters with gender, identity, and human barbarism, landing deftly and defiantly in beauty.

Check out You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Goodreads | Amazon

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© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Today, I’m delighted to welcome poet George HS Singer to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release of his new collection, Ergon. I was intrigued by the poem “To Charlotte Who Fled Hitler,” and I asked if he could tell me and my readers about his inspiration for the poem. Before I turn it over to George, I hope you’ll read the poem that caught my eye, and look for my review of Ergon in early November.

To Charlotte Who Fled Hitler

This year, ninety-five and blind.
Whose mind reaches
through her walking sticks
with spidery intelligence, their tips
scuffed rubber, canes of polished sapwood,
made kinetic by her hands
as if, released, they will stand of themselves.

Our short talks,
only clear words these forty years.
She says, This is very happy-making.
Or How terrible, how terrible.
Before a meal: Now the great experience begins.
Of her eyes: Now the skin must guide.

ERGON_coverPlease give a warm welcome to George HS Singer:

I’ve had the good fortune in my life of getting to study with and befriend some wonderful teachers. In my book, Ergon, I have written a few poems about them because of the powerful imprint they made and continue to make on me decades after last seeing them alive. And I suppose I want other people to know them if only from a glimpse.

The poem “To Charlotte Who Fled Hitler” is a remembrance of a remarkable woman, Charlotte Selver who taught a form of mindfulness she called Sensory Awareness. Though she was not blind, she became profoundly deaf as a relatively young woman after she escaped from Nazi Germany where she had been ejected from a university faculty because of her 25% Jewish blood.

In her late nineties she started using canes to aid walking and she did it with such awareness of the ground and the vertical rise of the sticks that the way she proceeded was balletic with a kind of natural panache. The sticks actually looked alive to me as she approached. She was focused entirely on awareness of the moment as well as letting her body move and breathe in ways that were fully responsive to what was there in the senses. She knew words could be a distraction and could do violence to experience when they block awareness of the present. So when she spoke it was with such care that her speech was plain, direct, and heart felt.

She and her husband Charles used to lead sensory awareness classes on Monhegan Island off of the Maine coast during the summer. Charles would make cod stew (the cod fishery had not yet collapsed) in an immense pot that could feed twenty or more. Once I was reaching into the pot with a ladle and Charlotte commented, “Ah now the great adventure begins.” I still remember the expanse and powerfully enticing smell of that pot of chowder after she got me to really give it my attention. She lived to be 104 and left a foundation and several former students who continue her work. It is quite wonderful in its simplicity but very powerful in its effect.

She simply had us do basic actions like sitting and standing up, reaching for a stone and lifting it, or walking across the room, all the while asking us questions: Is your breathe responding now to the weight (lifting a stone)? Can you sense the full length of you from the top of your head to the feeling of the floor under you (standing up)? She called “standing up”, “coming to standing” as a wondrous vital action that can happen of itself if not blocked by habit or muffled by inattention.

One of the outcomes of studying with her was that I became very interested in the sense of touch that I try to call upon in my poems to ground them. I still ask myself her kinds of questions when I have the presence of mind to wake up a little. She paraphrased Paracelsus to the effect that one should add nothing to nor take anything away from experience. The kind of direct positive encounter with the world that she exemplified and taught is something that maybe I will one day approximate in a poem. Ergon represents efforts in this direction. In the poem, I took the liberty of making her blind rather than deaf. I hope I captured something of her in it and wish I had written it while she was still alive. There is a video of Charlotte Selver giving a brief talk in one of her classes. If interested, you can see her beauty well into old age and hear her directness of speech as she taught.


About the Poet

GeorgeSinger_AuthorGeorge HS Singer, a former Zen Buddhist monk and student of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, lives with his wife of forty-two years in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he works as a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was educated at Yale, Southern Oregon University, and the University of Oregon. He wrote poetry in college but took a twenty-year break before taking it up as a regular discipline. He has been a long term student of Molly Peacock and has had the opportunity to work with other marvelous poets through the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H.  He writes about life in and out of a Zen monastery, trying to live mindfully in a busy and troubled world, his love of nature and of his wife. The arts have become more central to his life.  Singer’s poems were published in the Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry.


About Ergon

George Singer’s Ergon is precise, delicate and fierce in its engagement with the world.

George HS Singer, a former Buddhist monk, has written a debut collection of poems about his life as a monk and in the monastery and about his life when he left to marry and have a family. As he tries to balance his spiritual principles with every day life as a husband and father, these poems utilize nature as a backdrop for his quest.

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© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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saris and a single malt

Source: Review copy via Poetic Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★☆

Saris and a Single Malt is a moving collection of poems written by a daughter for and about her mother. The book spans the time from when the poet receives a phone call in New York City that her mother is in a hospital in New Delhi, to the time she carries out her mother’s last rites. The poems chronicle the author’s physical and emotional journey as she flies to India, tries to fight the inevitable, and succumbs to the grief of living in a motherless world. Divided into three sections, (Flight, Fire, and Grief), this collection will move you, astound you, and make you hug your loved ones.

(publisher’s summary)

There are so many poignant lines throughout Saris and a Single Malt, and Vikram does a fantastic job of portraying the depth of her grief and her love for her mother in just a few short lines, emphasizing the value of writing as a coping strategy.

This is my mom’s favorite travel breakfast.
If I can’t fight for her life,
I am going to fight for her memory.

(from “Fifty Minutes from New Delhi”)

It’s in our tears
that you see the marks your absence left behind.

(from “It’s Not Easy”)

These poems churned up so many memories for me, as I lost my father nearly 17 years ago. In a handful of words, Vikram brought me back to the phone call I received from my mother telling me my father had died, and as with Vikram’s mother, his death was sudden and completely unexpected. Her poems brought me back to those early days of learning how to move on without my father, how the hardest thing was having news and not being able to pick up the phone and talk to him. And in the very short poem “Crashing,” Vikram sums up how I still feel about my father’s death more than a decade later:

I can’t be a Zen wave in the ocean–
crashing into the shore,
you never returning is okay.

I appreciated the afterword in which Vikram shares what she learned about the process of grieving her mother, and her advice was something I could have used when I lost my father.

Saris and a Single Malt is a touching tribute to Vikram’s mother, a love song from a grieving daughter. The rawness and the truth in these poems really touched me, and the collection ends with Vikram’s return to New York, but it’s obvious that the story doesn’t end there. Saris and a Single Malt emphasizes the hole left behind after the loss of a parent, how the pain never goes away but just dulls over time. It’s not often that I find a collection of poems that truly speaks to me, but Saris and a Single Malt did, putting Vikram on my short list of favorite contemporary poets.


About the poet

SwetaSVikram_backcoverphoto_WET SILENCESweta Srivastava Vikram, featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.

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Disclosure: I received Saris and a Single Malt via Poetic Book Tours for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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pride and prejudice limericks

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Mr. Bingley (the young man in question)
Is the object of much introspection
With the Bennet girls prowling
Soon, perhaps, he’ll be howling
To be locked up — for his own protection.

(from Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks)

Quick summary: Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks is exactly that.  Each chapter is one limerick.

Why I wanted to read it: I was curious whether Pride and Prejudice and limericks could work together.  And I like to say Séamus O’Leprechaun.  And I like to read delightfully silly things from time to time.

What I liked: This retelling of Pride and Prejudice is unique, humorous, and so short that I finished it in about 10 minutes.

What I disliked: There really isn’t anything to dislike.  It’s obviously not a great work of literature, but it’s not meant to be.  If anything, I was surprised by how many times it made me laugh.

Final thoughts: Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks came in handy recently when I couldn’t sleep.  It was enjoyable without requiring me to think, and it was a nice way to relax.  I can’t help but think Jane Austen herself would find this retelling amusing.

Disclosure: Pride and Prejudice, Retold in Limericks is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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