Book and Chapbook Reviews: Comstock Review Poets
Authors - M
Ithaca poet Katharyn Howd Machan is well-represented by her new book Redwing: Voices from 1888 (Foothills, 2005), a compilation of all her Redwing poems; her fictional community of 19th Century Redwing seems as real as my own hometown.. Chapbooks of her renowned verse include the new chapbook of sonnets, The Professor Poems (Main Street Rag, 2008), a novel of "academe" with delightfully caustic humor, as well as The Raccoon Book (McBooks, 1982, with pen and ink illustrations by Anita C. Nelson), Writing Home (Gehry Press, 1983, in conjunction with Barbara Crooker), Along The Rain Black Road (The Camel Press, 1986), From Redwing (Foothills Publishing, 1988), Belly Words (Sometimes Publications, 1994), The Flames They Are (Sometimes Publications,1998), Delilah's Veils (Sometimes Publications, 1999), Skyros (Foothills, 2001), Dreaming How the House of Love Begins (Pudding House 2002) and Wise Woman (Anabiosis, 2003). These joyous poems celebrate the natural world and the strength of the human spirit, the beauty of dance, the power of womanhood. (Updated 2/08)
R. Nikolas Macioci's two books are Cafes of Childhood, Event Horizon Press, 1992),an expanded edition of the chapbook that won the 1991 Pearl chapbook competition, and Why Dance? (Singular Speech Press, 1996). The first of these is a harrowing story of abuse and survival, the second is a celebration of being alive in a wonderful, although fleetingly mortal, world. The poet combines words beautifully, like the paintings on a Grecian urn. He also has a Greatest Hits chapbook (Pudding House, 2001).
Jennifer MacPherson’s most recent collection is Rosary of Bones (Cherry Grove Collections, 2007). In the Mixed Gender of the Sea, which won the Spire Press 2004 Poetry Book Award, and A Nickel Tour of the Soul (FootHills, 2004) are other recent books from her pen. Previous work includes two chapbooks, Stuck in Time (Pudding House , 2002) and Greatest Hits (Pudding House, 20001) and four books: As They Burn The Theater Down (Hale Mary, 1998), and the out-of-print“Cute & Perky, Slim & Sexy: A Poet’s Guide to Personal Ads (Mellon, 1996), Another Use for Husbands (Salt Fire, 1990) and To Attempt A Tower (1985). The review of Rosary of Bones that appears on the Amazon site, reads: “Rosary of Bones a stunner, for all lovers of really good poetry. Jennifer MacPherson is a poet's poet. if there were any doubt of this, her latest collection, Rosary of Bones, removes that doubt. The poems are fresh in language, imagery, and ideas. The entire collection is much like an actual rosary in its linked notions and the poems find a spiritual place for themselves without being religious or overtly prayerful in a nonsecular way. There is a musical mantra at work here, each poem reverberating with a luminous spark that ponders while it strides out and asks to be recognized. There is a bone to break while there is a bone mended. There is silent prayer and shouted psalm. There is solidarity and solitude. The book is mirror and image in the mirror. "Half the leaves/ lose their quarrel/ with frost and hang/ like yellow rags" (from What Happens in September) describes what each of us must confront: our own mortality. MacPherson helps us to confront and then to celebrate.”
No contemporary poet writes about religion better than Marjorie Maddox. Her Transplant Transport Transubstantiation (WordTech, 2004) and Weeknights at the Cathedral (WordTech, 2006) contain joyful and passionate engagements with matters of faith and dogma. Both doubt and grace accompany her on her spiritual journey and, in her clear and luminous poems, we see the many ways that one can be saved. www.wordtechweb.com (added 2006)
Don Mager presents four decades' worth of selected poems in The Elegance of the Ungraspable (Main Street Rag, 2004) and they are indeed elegant and graceful as they trace the poet's life from Des Moines through Upstate New York, rural England, and Detroit, to Charlotte, where he has lived for over twenty years. These are poems of place and of profound thought. ( added 9/07)
Three fine books by Al Maginnes celebrate humanity through their steady gaze and elegant craft. Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews College Press, 1997) is both poignant and engaging as it reflects on the nuances of everyday life and the pleasures of creativity. The poetry in The Light in our Houses (Pleiades Press, 2000) are poems of memory, narratives with the weight of parables, the poet awake, amazed and alive. Film History (WordTech, 2005) celebrates the music of life and love in all its bittersweet joy and heartbreak, all its hope. All three books are highly recommended. To quote Tom Sleigh, "This is mature, intelligent work that is both rigorous and human" www.wordtechweb.com (added 2006)
In Susan Manchester's Pouring Small Fire (Northwood Editions, 2003), "the personal and nature tableaux captured on the page buzz with their own intensity," says one reviewer. Molly Peacock describes the lyrical poems as both tart and dreamy and says "Manchester's marvels will never leave you hungry." In Water Voices (Junction Books, 2000) the finely crafted, deceptively simple poems tell of her father's death, her mother's decline, and her own despair, all cloaked in the wonderful images and metaphor of pond, river, sea and rain, of sand and mud and frogs. Both books are lovely.
Angela Consolo Mankiewicz has authored a number of chapbooks. The oldest, Cancer Poems (Undulating Bedsheets Productions, 1995), despite its stark and ominous title, spells hope amid the ravages of fear, dread and her husband's cancer diagnosis and treatment. The narrative is compelling and the reader hopes along with the poet that all will be well. Wired (Aquarius West, 2001) gives us poems of melancholy and loss, reviewing her life from the vantage point of middle age. An Eye (Pecan Grove, 2006) swings a wider arc of subjects, and deals with the contemporary world of Los Angeles as well. As in all her work, the poet centers her interest on the interior workings of the characters' minds. Finally, As If (Lummox Press, 2008) is an overview of poems detailing the highs and lows of her life so far. It is part of the press's Little Red Book series and can be carried in a pocket. Like all of Mankiewicz's poetry, it is strongly imagistic and neither seeks nor accepts the easy answer; it resonates with the blending of acceptance and anger that accompany our journeys through lives worth living. Bravo! (Updated 4/09.)
David T. Manning's notable chapbook Out After Dark (Pudding House, 2003) encompasses the relationships of the living to their ancestors, the pleasures of now and their passing into the past as each generation lives its own time. As the title would suggest, many of the poems focus on manifestations of night. These are well-crafted poems and a very readable book.. This is followed by The Flower Sermon (Main Street Rag, 2007). Rooted in this world, engaging, and evocative describe the poems in this book. Manning is aware of every moment and its passing. (updated 11/07)
How They Got Here (Pudding, 1985), a 22 page chapbook by Janet McCann, has poems about nurserymen and gardeners, chain letters, travel, reunions, oil spills, divorced fathers, museums, instruction manuals, animals, and ghosts, all delightfully direct and fun. In contrast, her full-length Pascal Goes to the Races (Custom Words, 2004), is a much more serious book with poems that blend inglorious moments of the world's history with the ruins of human experience and does so with stylistic daring. It combines numerous longer darker poems with shorter, more intimate (and equally touching) lyrics. The result is this gripping book. (updated 2006)
Kathleen M. McCann’s A Roof Gone to Sky (Carpenter Gothic Press, http://carpentergothic.org/publications.html 2009) starts on a deceptively simple note. It builds, encompassing mysteries that begin in ordinary New England seasons, then stretch across to Ireland, the land of her ancestors. For example: "How we advance into time like a living sepia...." leads us, at the end of the book, to: "Takes an iron spine to bend rock’s curved tube.../More than iron, it takes an economized soul/that can match history’s force of bargaining/strength, even where harsh,/an island’s pledge of faithfulness." This book includes a poem we published in Comstock Review that makes me proud to revisit it in another setting: "In everyone there is a wilderness of want..../How hard one must work uncurling desire,/the forced grip, cavernous need." The book is much more than my sampling of her words, try it! (Reviewer: Peggy Sperber Flanders, 1-11)
Michael McClintock is an acknowledged master of haiku and tanka. Letters in Time (Hermitage West, 2005)is an evocative narrative collage of sixty of these forms, a love story set as letters. Subtle, graceful and utterly lovely, they evoke the eternal journey of the human heart. (added 1/06)
Blessings The Body Gave (OSU, 1998) won the 1998 Journal Award in Poetry for Texas poet Walt McDonald and deservedly so. These strong narrative poems encompass his life history: his father's death, memories of the Vietnam war, family love and ultimately survival, set in the sometimes harsh American West. And Counting Survivors (Pitt, 1995), an earlier book, mines the same fields equally well. McDonald is one of our national treasures
Rescue (Backwaters Press, 2000), by Sally Allen McNall, won the 1999 Backwaters Prize and How To Behave At The Zoo And Other Lessons (State Street Press, 1997) was her prize-wining chapbook. The poems in Rescue are poems of intelligence and compassion which illumine the ordinary moment in daily life. They are also wise poems, constructed with skillful craft and rich clarity. This is definitely one of the best books of poetry to come out in 2000.
A Frieze Drawn Over Peace (1999) is Baldwinsville poet Ellen McNeal's limited edition chapbook collecting her skillful ghazals centered around war in Serbia and a host of her wonderful peaceful garden photographs as contrast.
If I Could Know The Soul (Gemini Press,1996) is a long poem that comprises Lee D. Mendenhall's 14 page chapbook. Lee is a master of formal verse and uses it effectively here.
Joyce Meyers gives us Wild Mushrooms (Plan B Press, 2007), a 40 page chapbook of poems about the world, both in its bounty of nature and art, and in the tragedies of the war-torn and ravaged. Azaleas, O'Keefe paintings and snowbirds share pages next to women choosing whether to bear a child, the homeless, sleeping on park benches, and damaged Iraqi children. Her fine poems are spare, direct, and from the heart. (Updated 2/08)
Ann E. Michael's More Than Shelter (Spire Press, 2004) is an outstanding chapbook that retells the construction of a family home in rural Pennsylvania. The specificity of visual imagery and graceful metaphor are the hallmarks of this poetry.
Seed Case of the Heart (Slate Roof, 2007) by Susan Middleton, is a visually beautiful, perfect-bound 32 page chapbook, produced with care and craft by the Slate Roof collective press, which is dedicated to producing small collections by the poets who comprise the collective. And what a stunning collection of poems this is! These are brilliantly crafted relationship poems often couched in natural images. Love and the natural world seem two sides of the same thing, both informed by the same spirit. added 12/07.
Errol Miller's Magnolia Hall (Pavement Saw, 2000) brings us poetry as southern as grits and gumbo voiced in a flowing non-narrative that is both imaginative and challenging.
Peggy Miller gives us Martha Contemplates The Universe (Frith Press, 1999), the runner-up in the 1998 Frith Press Chapbook Competition, and in this way gives us Martha, an unlikely heroine of her own dramas of everyday life. Clever and ironic yet tender in its treatment of the craziness in all of us, it is a delight. In her Greatest Hits (Pudding House, 2003), longer, carefully crafted yet intense poems about science and time fill the pages with their themes of presence and absence. In What the Blood Knows (CustomWords, 2007), a powerful taxonomy of the world in verse, flowers and vegetables,, animals and birds, seaweed, trees are embodied by the stories woven in each finely-wrought poem as the poet seeks answers to this unknowable universe. Her universe is not just an airy concept; it has its scientific underpinnings intact as she explores her over-riding themes of mortality and consciousness.. This book is a fine achievement, both intellectually and poetically, one of the best of poetry collections of 2007. Now, she follows with Stone Being (Custom Word, 2009), as she continues to mine the many-specied universe for poems that beautifully merge explorations of the physical and scientific with the even-more unknowable questions of the spirit. Personal experiences of her own recent loss both blend and contrast with cosmic stories of dark matter, quarks and dendrites in lines that shimmer with intelligence and perception. The book consists of fifteen series, each consisting of approximately three poems, each series set off by short haiku-like fragments, an arrangement that sets off both fragments and poems by highlighting their contrasting style and tone. If you can ony read one poem this year, let it be “Only Love”, the book’s final poem. Highly Recommended. 9/09. www.custom-words.com
Deep Freeze (BkMk Press, 1994) by Philip Miller is a fine yet dark collection, heavy with poems of loss, loneliness, and grief. The poems are intimate, understated, and thick with description. As Neal Bowers says, the poems are about difficult subjects: impasse, stasis and silence leading to quiet regeneration of the self.
Wendy Mnookin is the author of the lyrical collection The Moon Makes its Own Plea (BOA, 2008) beautifully nuanced poems of family, the brevity of life, and the commingling of delight and heartbreak. Her work shines with clarity even as it reflects the mystery of its subjects. The poet's imagery is especially lovely. How loss can shape and inform an adult life is the theme of What He Took (BOA, 2002), Written from the persona of a 2 year old, these poems are lyrical and unpretentious. In To Get Here (BOA, 1999), haunting narrative poems about a loving family and an addicted son show how love can not always save us. Her earliest book, Guenever Speaks (Round Table Publications, 1991), is a collection of dramatic monologues from characters in the Arthurian legends. This is a very talented and accomplished writer. (Updated 4/09)
Red Jess (Cherry Grove, 2006) by Judith H. Montgomery is one of the most outstanding books of poetry to be published this - or any - year. Like her prize-winning chapbook Passion (Defined Providence, 1999), the lyrics are engaging, a mix of lively and grave, and heartbreakingly beautiful. Montgomery is a master of form when she chooses to use it: "Blaze, with Apples" is the best pantoum I have read. She pays attention, both with her senses and her heart, and tenders the result in sculpted, fluent music that moves and transforms us. Her newest chapbook is Pulse & Constellation (Finishing Line 2007), a hope-filled tapestry of death and eternity woven from loss, wonder and love as each poem explores the heart's mysteries. (updated 7/07).
Melissa Montimurro: The fancifully-titled chapbook Onion Festival Seeks Queen (Pudding House, 2002) is labeled as "poems and prose-poems of hope, hunger and housekeeping" and it's evenly divided between the two forms. The poet has a perceptive eye and a deft turn of language.
The Mouth of Home (Arctos Press, 1999) is the work of Janell Moon. These are unflinchingly honest personal poems; one reviewer said, Janell Moon writes "with wicked humor and a compassionate voice." Her new collection is the intriguingly titled Riding Free in a Blue Studebaker (Main Street Rag, 2008). Many of the lyrical poems are based on family stories, culled from memory, sweet, flowing, and natural. They evoke a wide range of feelings from the reader as they plumb the yearnings of us all. (Updated 3/08)
Berwyn Moore’s second collection, O Body Swayed (Cherry Grove 2009) displays vivid and illuminating metaphor as she explores the pleasures and wounds of both the natural world and our human bodies. The poet, herself afflicted with MS, does not spare us the grimness of physical pain, but she balances it by her celebration of the joys we also find in daily life when we are aware. These poems comprise a strong, compelling and overwhelmingly lovely volume. Her first book, Dissolution of Ghosts (Cherry Grove, 2005), poses witty, gravely serious, skillfully phrased poems that take us on strange and surprising journeys. The aptly named manuscript is filled with elegant poems haunted by ghosts of loss, memory and ties that bind, each poem set like a dream. amended 1/10. www.cherry-grove.com
Ronald Moran gives us three full-length collections, Saying These Things (Clemson 2004), The Blurring of Time (Clemson 2007) and Waiting (Clemson, 2009). This poet takes his inspiration from memory and keen observation to create crystal clear narratives and lyrics imbued by his fertile and outrageous imagination, lit with subtle humor. The latter books shows Moran at the height of his considerable powers as he mixes wit with gentleness to create poems that will last. He muses on simple acts that define his sensibility and, indeed, the 70+ years of his life. Additionally, he has given us three chapbooks: Getting The Body To Dance Again (Pudding, 1994), Fish Out Of Water (Juniper Press, 2000), and Diagramming the Clear Sky (Pudding, 2006), all narrative persona poems in the voice of “Jonathan,” recounting his life and times. added to 1/10. www.clemson.edu/caah/cedp.
Heaven of the Moment (Fairweather Books, 2007) by John C. Morrison is the winner of the 2006 Rhea & Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition. These poems inhabit each moment fully. His language is precise and although the poems cover a vast amount of subjects, he retains a strong preference for the natural world. Clarity, grace and gratitude are the hallmarks of his writing, (added 5/08).
All I Have Is A Fountain (Singular Speech, 1995) comes from the pen of Australian poet R.H. Morrison and it's truly a garden: sixty pages of beautiful, lyrical, formal verse.
Anna E. Moss is the pen name of Ithaca poet and teacher Mary Beth O'Connor, author of the prize-winning chapbook, Smackdown: Poems about the Professor Business (The Teachers Voice Press, 2007). Acting department chairmen, untenured faculty, and incompetent deans with political ambitions people this hilarious tale of modern academic life. These imaginatively nuanced and sardonic poems capture the fictional world with fresh language and a penetrating eye. (Added 5/08)
Chicago poet Simone Muench continues to produce outstanding poetry in Lampblack & Ash (Sarabande, 2005). Wit, grace, and poise mark these poems that identify with the consciousness of deceased poet Robert Desnos. Refreshing, musical, evocative, this is one of the most outstanding books to come out in 2006. The Air Lost In Breathing (Helicon Nine, 2000) is her earlier collection, also outstanding. To quote a reviewer: "In these poems of longing and deliverance, passion and plenitude, Muench's considerable artistry resonates in the depth of the female. Hers is a feisty voice, insistent and prodigal, erotically grounded in the earthly body." And her use of language is purely wonderful. www.simonemuench.com (updated 2006)
The Fractured Emerald (Pathways Press, 1992), by Daniel P. Murphy, mines the rich familiar territory of childhood and family intertwined with Celtic legend and Irish charm. 68 pages.
The poems of Erin Murphy in her debut collection, Science of Desire (Word, 2004), are edgy, idiosyncratic, and totally marvelous. They are filled with wry humor, quick intelligence and "love for the ordinary stuff of the world."(Eamon Grennan). These are persona poems in the best sense of the word, as the poet briefly inhabits the lives of others, mostly family members. (added 11/07)
Kate Murphy's When We Thought of War (Pudding House, 2002) gives us stirring portraits from "modern" wars: the scenes of a family's daily life in Kosovo, an American schoolgirl remembering air-raid drills of the Cold War, survivors of September 11. Outstanding poems that demand hope in spite of it all.
In Useful Fiction (Pudding House, 2003), Patricia Cochran Murrell tells the story of middle-aged romance, starting with the end of a marriage, the dating process, and the beginning of a new and greater love. Her direct speech makes the poems do their work well.