Book and Chapbook Reviews: Comstock Review Poets
Authors - S
Michael Salcman's The Color That Advances (Camber Press, 2003) is a wonderful set of 16 ekphrastic poems, half of them based on Eakins' portraits. As Tom Lux says, his " poems amaze me. Not for their knowledge of painting and medicine, though the knowledge is prodigious and beautifully rendered. Not for their craft, which is excellent. It's because of the crazy heart in these poems. It's because of the poems' tenderness and terrors, and their unique, but never morbid, sense of how fast time flees, and why what is most human about humans is so important." Click on poet's name to see all of his books or read a poem from this book by clicking here.
M.A. Schaffner brings us rueful, smart, unsentimental yet moving meditations in his The Good Opinion of Squirrels (Word Works, 1996). There is dark humor here, and carefully crafted formal poems of great skill dot the lyric narrative landscape of insightful free verse.
Another Life (Small Poetry Press, 1997), by Lin Schlossman, is a 47 page chapbook of her finely wrought poems of memory and personal history in both free and formal verse. There are some really fine sonnets here.
E.M Schorb's volume of new and selected poems, Time and Fevers (Author House, 2004), is a meaty 265 pages, of poems and prose poems by this celebrated North Carolina poet. Rich with humor and intelligence, these poems tackle just about every subject in the galaxy. Heather McHugh says, "This is the work of a mature intelligence, its ironies unadulterated by cynicism and its swells informed by understatement." See: http://www.emschorb.com
Penelope Scambly Schott’s books include The Perfect Mother (Snake Nation 1994(, which won the Violet Reed Haus Prize, Penelope: The Story of the Half-Scalped Woman (Univ. of Florida, 1999), a retelling of a fascinating 17th Century tale as a narrative poetic sequence, The Pest-Maiden, A Story of Lobotomy (Turning Point, 2004), a harrowing book=length narrative about mental illness and confinement, Baiting the Void (Dream Horse Press, 2005), winner of the 2004 Orphic Prize for its virtuoso presentation of the lyric voice. Scrupulously honest, spiritual yet sensual, imaginative and surprising, these poems can wring the heart. Such words of praise can also be used for her newest, May the Generations Die in the Right Order (Main Street Rag, 2007), in which the poet confronts the great themes of literature & art: death, love, humanity and the experiences of daily life in all their wonderful and unique detail. Schott is a master of imagery and musical charm, and she constantly surprises the reader, both by language and content. Simultaneously published is A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth (Turning Point, 2007), a narrative sequence about the banishment of Anne Hutchinson in 1638. Meticulously researched and impeccably rendered, the book recreates the misogyny of the times and the evil that religion can do when it mixes with politics. Now, in Six Lips (Mayapple, 2009), the poet returns to literature’s great themes and provides us with more insightful, inventive, magical and dream-like poems that take the reader on wild flights, but with her language always musical and controlled. Truly original. Also available are her chapbooks, Wave Amplitude in the Mona Passage (Palanquin, 1998) and Almost Learning to Live in this World (Pudding House, 2004), an achingly beautiful set of poems focused on the loss of her father. added 1/10. www.dreamhorsepress.com,www.MainStreetRag.com, www.turningpointbooks.com., www.mayapplepress.com.
With charm & delicacy, poet and art director
Michael Scofield treats us to Silicon Valley Escapee (Amador, 2000). And it is a treat with his often humorous, sometimes grim, pictures of modern urban life, a story with a happy ending: a move to Santa Fe and eventual retirement. These are great fun to read, somewhat ruefully.
Joanna Catherine Scott brings us the stunning verse-novel, Night Huntress (Main Street Rag, 2008), a simple story of tragedy told through elegant and transcendent prose poems. Brave, melancholic, and benedictory, this is a compelling series of meditations. I highly recommend this to people who ask "what is a prose poem?" (New 4/08)
Claudia Serea has created Eternity's Orthography (Finishing Line Press, 2007). Semifinalist in the 2007 open chapbook competition, the poems in this debut collection read like one long poem of linked haiku. The images and themes are recollections of her native Romania, recreating its beloved scenes of countryside and custom. I look forward eagerly to Ms. Serea's next offering. (Added 10/07)
Prartho Sereno: Her third collection, Call from Paris (Word Works, 2008) has been awarded the Washington Prize. This, too, is a joyful book, its lyical poems filled with wonder and magic, couched in graceful lines that lift us up. Causing A Stir (Mansarovar Press, 2007) tells us the secret lives and loves of kitchen utensils. These spritely tales of the different types of spoons and forks, what they think and how they came to be, and feel about a variety of topics, are accompanied by delightful illustrations from the poet's own watercolors. Joy, humor, and a lively imagination have joined up to create this magical collection that would charm anyone from adult cook to childhood reader. Highly recommended.Garden Sutra (Finishing Line Press, 2005) is a delightfully delicate chapbook of poems with its zen-like feeling. Precise, sensual, insightful, these wise yet seeking poems make me want to see more. (Revised 11/08).
Faith Shearin brings us The Empty House (Word Press, 2008), a collection of magical poems that are both elegant and calm, sometimes with startling images and lines that delight. They are the work of a loving and wise heart. The major theme centers around family in it many roles, both ancestors and immediate, seen as they act out original dramas that cast their spell around the reader. Previously, The Owl Question (Utah State, 2002) was selected by Mark Doty for the 2002 May Swenson Award. Doty describes it as "a lovely, trustworthy first book, full of affection and wry clarity, 'all life’s finite hope leaning closer for a kiss.'" The poet's mastery of imagery and delicate utterance is amazingly lovely and emotionally moving. Highly recommended. (updated 2/09)
What The Light Has Shown (Edwin Mellen, 1996) is Syracuse Poet Marilyn Shelton's deeply affecting sequence of poems about grief at her mother's illness and death, transcendence and finally, the Lithuanian heritage that has been passed on to her. Luminous.
Maureen A. Sherbondy has authored the delightful chapbook, After the Fairy Tale (Main Street Rag, 2007), imaginative portrayals of what happens to our fairytale protagonists later on (middle-aged, old, retired, at the arcade, at the Ford dealership, etc.) after the official tale has ended. 34 pages. And Praying at Coffee Shops (Main Street Rag, 2008) relates the Jewish experience in the South, with tales of Bar Mitzvahs, High Holidays, prayers at synagogue, Sukkoth holidays, and the poet's memory of a childhood visit to a mikveh (ritual bath) It is charming and nostalgic and ends with a clever prose piece in which "God Becomes a Poet." (40 pages) (Updated 2/08).
When There Is No Shore (Word Press, 2002) and Devil's Lane (Negative Capability Press, 1996) collect some of the prize-winning Vivian Shipley's accurate and persuasive narrative poetry. Her clear, expansive joyous verse focuses on family life and relationships. The poet is also editor of the esteemed Connecticut Review.
Enid Shomer has authored four collections of poetry: Stalking the Florida Panther (Word Works, 1987), This Close to the Earth (Arkansas, 1992), Black Drum (Arkansas, 1997), and Stars at Noon (Arkansas, 2001), which gives voice to the first woman to fly faster than sound. Hers is a poetry of image and metaphor that open to startling leaps of association, of beautifully wrought formal verse and elegant, passionate lyrics. (added 2006)
Syracuse poet Helen Shrier has a 36 page chapbook , The Gleam of Open Doors (1994), and a full collection, Stones In The Bridge (Mellen Poetry Press, 1998), subtitled A Jewish Woman's Crossing. These Biblically-based poems sing like psalm and prayer. Helene excels at bringing the reader fully into her tender, real poems , whatever their subject, and making the reader care.
Shoshauna Shy is author of the 24 page chapbook Souped-Up on the Must-Drive Syndrome (Pudding House, 2000).. These poems reflect our hectic lives where the world is halfway to chaos and not even our homes are safe havens of rest. The poet has a keen, observant eye.
Michael Sickler’s knowledge as art historian and practicing visual artist is at work in The Eye of Language (Finishing Line Press, 2009), a chapbook of fine-edged, insightful poems, their diction clear and strikingly imaged. He “tells the story within the story,” as he writes of the inner lives of painters from the impressionistic era (Renoir, Matisse, Van Gogh) and beyond (Picasso, Pollock, Warhol), and their subjects in lyrical, candid and unsparing. verse. The poet eschews the sentimentality so often found in poems about great artists, giving new life to the genre.10/09. www.finishinglinepress.com.
Previously, Stereopticon (Threshold Press, 2000), a 32 page limited edition chapbook, reflects the diversity of this poet’s multi-layered poetry. The skillful layout of the poems adds to the dramatic effect of each gem-like poem. And his Greatest Hits (Pudding House, 2005), a sparkling dozen of the poet’s best work, is outstanding. www.puddinghouse.com.
Former composer and poet Ann Silsbee's chapbook, Naming The Disappeared (Vista Periodista 2001) is a collection of portrait poems set in nine, or multiples of nine, lines. The language and imagery are both delicate and charmingly precise and the layout reflects the poetry perfectly. Orioling (Red Hen, 2003) won the Benjamin Saltman Award, As poet Tom Lux writes, it "is a beautiful title for a beautiful and deeply human book of grace, skill and passionate involvement in the world." The Book of Ga (Custom Words, 2003) is an imaginative biography of the poet's grandmother (and Muse) told through varying points of view. These beautifully crafted poems manage to blend meditative lyrics within a rich narrative context. They are intimate, sensual, grateful and wise. The posthumous Fullest Tide (Custom Words, 2006), edited by Gray Jacobik, is a lavish selection of remaining poems of Ann, who was at the peak of her powers when she died in 2003. The mastery, grace, and wisdom of these poems are breathtaking and remind us that Ann Silsbee has left us an enduring poetic legacy. www.custom-words.com. (for a longer review click here.) These two books are among the best to appear in 2003. For samples of Ann's poetry click here. (updated 2006)
Elizabeth Simson's outstanding chapbook Sea Change (Finishing Line, 2005) gives us poems that resonate with human experiences in words that are direct and necessary. Her clear voice is confident and we go willingly along as she chronicles the losses and strengths of our lives by recounting her own stories. Recommended. www.poemfish.com and www.finishinglinepress.com (new 2006)
Wreckage on a Watery Moon (FootHills 2006) by Jamaican-American poet Mary McLaughlin Slechta evokes the many images of death, especially that of her of her father which she sees in various guises: a dog hearing "bad news," a surgeon's in ICU, a tattooed man. The possibility of other deaths must be faced as well, as in the powerful poem "Driving Lesson". This poetry mesmerizes with its honesty, its intensity and its music as it chronicles the redeeming face of loss. There is also a previous first-rate chapbook, Buried Bones (FootHills 2004, Springfed Chapbook #30). A review describes this poetry as "mesmerizing" and so it is. It goes on to say, "She delves into the body and memory, racism and sexism, and gets to the other side." For sample poems of this poet, click here. (added 2006)
Barbara Smith's Demonstrative Pronouns (Mountainechoes.com Books, 2006), reverberates with the West Virginia twang of this Appalachian poet as she highlights the poetic in everyday life. She's exuberant and spirited, strong and edgy. (added 9/06)
Cheryl Snell brings us Flower Half-Blown (Finishing Line, 2002) and Epithalamion (Little Poem Press, 2004), the former a 25 page chapbook of varied and beautifully imaged lyric narratives, and the latter a 64 page collection with an unusual binding. Inside it's vintage Snell but more surreal, and with more Hindu content and themes. Again, she stuns us with her imagery.
Outside the Kremlin (Nightshade Press, 1996) won the 1995 winner of the William & Kingman Page chapbook award for poet Margo Solod. Vivid imagery and well-controlled use of form mark these poems in this fast-paced and attention-grabbing story of a two month visit to Russia during the tumultuous autumn of 1993.
Lianne Spidel is the author of Chrome (Finishing Line, 2006), a chapbook of finely-crafted intelligent poems that comprise a combination of elegy to her father and varied ekphrasis: origami, still lives, Van Gogh, the painting of cars, museum catalogs, cantatas. Humanly warm and intimate, the poems question the role of art as preserver and, in so doing, create their own fine art, (added 3/08)
Richard St. John's The Pure Inconstancy of Grace (Truman State, 2005) is a collection of intelligent, mature poems replete with fine cultural allusions and precise, intricately structured language. They find grace even as they struggle with the great spiritual questions. And they are elegant in their formal presentation. (added 12/05)
Beyond Flight (1986) is a 24 page limited edition chapbook of love poems by Syracuse poet Mary Stebbins and art work by Gregory K. Williams. These poems of shattered dreams are built on the wonderful nature metaphors that this poet is famous for -- a painful, totally honest book.
Shelby Stephenson is the author of Family Matters: Homage to July, The Slave Girl (Bellday Books, 2008), a stunning historical narrative named the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize winner. Judge Allen Grossman called it "an intense and heart-breaking poetic narrative which, in its exploration of historical and personal materials, holds affinities to the work of Susan Howe and James Agee ... a strenuous questioning and exposure of the fictions of ownership, whether of persons or places. graces or farms." This narrative grips the reader and won't let go. Just flawless and highly recommended. (New 10/08)
Half-Moon of Clay (Finishing Line Press, 2006) comes from the pen of Oregon poet Dianne Stepp. Nature is a constant theme here (flowers, seasons, the stars) and a strong sense of place informs the poems. Each poem flows in its observation of sight and emotion, the language rich and compelling. The chapbook is thirty pages, nineteen poems. (added 11/1/06)
Dolores Stewart is the author of Doors to the Universe (Bellowing Ark, 2008), a collection from her long career as poet (in addition to producing New York Times Best-seller cookbooks). The subjects are music and art, animals and magic, love and philosophy, vegetables - even the lowly rutabaga has its place. Seasons are celebrated, as are dead mothers wandering the house. Most of all, faith in ancient prayers and love for the world shine through these lovely poems. (added 2/09)
Drawing Water (Bull Thistle Press, 1992), is a small collection of wonderful poetry by F. Bjornson Stock. Although its overall range of subject is wide, most spectacular are the poems about the poet's troubled relationship with his father.
Virgil Suarez' You Come Singing (Tia Chucha, 1998) contains high-octane, feverishly energized poems that cut to the bone and heart of memory and recollection as they speak of the dislocation and alienation born of exile. An original and exciting collection.
Maxine Susman is the creator of the fine-imaged chapbook Familiar (Finishing Line Press, 2009). These graceful poems give us the stories of the relationships that matter: what binds women as they deal with mortality, be it as close friends, or as mothers and daughters. The language and imagery are beautifully crafted and grounded in the natural world. Both intense and subtle, the poems effectively touch the reader. 28 pages.10/09. www.finishinglinepress.com.
Embellishments (Chatoyant, 2003), the stand-out debut book by Virginia Chase Sutton, tells a harrowing tale of dysfunctionality in such a way that commands empathy from its readers. Intimate, fierce, totally honest and moving, these poems of witness are filled with exquisitely imaginative detail, sensuous language and fresh, vivid diction as they weave their tale of alcoholism and incest, of small joys and great losses. This book both disturbs and illuminates. She follows this with the winner of the 2007 Samuel French Morse Poetry prize, What Brings You to Del Amo (Northeastern University Press, 2007), an exploration of mental illness and hospital treatment, notable for its vivid language, high energy, and unique perceptions. The book is riveting and, as Charlie Harper Webb says, "a good read." in its ability to pull the reader along.. (revised 11/07)