Bryan R. Monte – AQ35 Autumn 2022 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ35 Autumn 2022 Book Reviews

Appel, Jacob M., Shaving with Occam, Hollywood Books International, ISBN 978-1-735-360133, 2022, 260 pages.
Seman, Pat, Ariadne’s Thread, self-published, available from Amazon, IBSN 979-8-820-227653, 2022, 40 pages.

A slim, beautiful, blue poetry pamphlet (Amer. Eng. chapbook) entitled Ariadne’s Thread by Amsterdam Quarterly veteran Pat Seman arrived in my letterbox over the summer. Seman’s poetry and photography about Greece, and Crete especially, has appeared regularly in Amsterdam Quarterly over the past decade. In addition to the excellent poetry inside, her pamphlet has an eye-catching cover and internal design by her son, Alexander Klerk. The cover features the head of woman or goddess, known as Peplos Kore, in Athens’s Acropolis Museum (Greek Archaic Period), with large eyes and flowing, wavy hair, the perfect image for a Seman’s poetry collection set in a Cretan landscape of sun, wind, sea, hills, fig and pomegranate trees, goats, ancient ruins, and of course, mythology.
      The strength of Ariadne’s Thread comes through Seman’s astute observation and juxtaposition of imagery through which she finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. Her first poem, ‘Said she wanted to die’ opens her collection dramatically ‘With the dark flame under the fig tree / where the split tree offers itself to the sun’. And of course, in addition to the sun and the rocky soil, this is a land ‘where sky meets the sea in a pencilled blue line’. The sea is present in one way or another in almost all of these poems.
      It is collection of poems about an island that has been the stage for successive cultures over the millennia. From ‘a snake coiled / it held her / motionless / under a dark sun’ a symbol of power and divination in Cretan culture in ‘The Earth Held Her’, to ancient Greek culture in the poems ‘Persephone’ and ‘Labyrinth’ (with its two sections entitled ‘Ariadne’ and ‘Theseus’) to Greek Christian culture in ‘Epitathios’ and ‘Litany’, the latter which ‘…saints have retreated / into their darkened icons, / (and) long tapering candles that burn without a prayer’, and the modern era in ‘The Stranger’ where Seman’s epigraph about Dionysius precedes her poem about a male backpacker with ‘sculptured muscles, / on his bare calves, the broad / tanned feet and naked torso’ asleep on the beach. She muses whether this ‘Young traveller, (is a) vagrant, refugee // or the god himself / on the storm-wracked, shifting shores.’ Her poems reflect the great sweep of human history and cultures Crete embodies.
This thin volume’s 22 poems are also interesting because of Seman’s skilled and varied use of line. Sometimes her lines roll forward on the page like the waves breaking on the beaches surrounding Crete such as in ‘I Am Making No Money’:

                                           just riding the days from dawn till dusk, I check
                                 the weather, what the waves will bring with them, the changing
                          complexion of a sky, frayed with rain, now washed

Other times, they a thinner but more solid, such as in this excerpt of her concrete poem entitled ‘Building a Wall’

                                                   Rock white
                                                 in the shadow


                                                   even the sea


      These lyrical poems also address contemporary concerns such as climate change and refugees. Furthermore, on the Acknowledgments page, the author also indicates that ‘All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Medical Volunteers International, an organization offering medical help to refugees worldwide.’ Ariadne’s Thread is a strong, debut collection of memorable poems that I recommend highly to AQ’s readers.
      Another book I received this summer was Jacob M. Appel’s new crime novel, Shaving with Occam. It is narrated by protagonist and crime sleuth Henrietta Brigander aka Granny Flamingo, a homeless, and frequent ‘guest’ at New York’s Mount Hebron Hospital’s walk in, night psychiatric ward. I can assure you as a former Magill-Rhoads freshman scholar to Haverford College, where I studied for only one year, due the withdrawal of my parents’ financial support, I completely understand Henrietta’s descent into madness after she had to leave Bryn Mawr due to the simultaneous sinking of her grandfather’s yacht and the loss of the family fortune, and later the tragic death of her twin brother, who fell down an elevator shaft. Since then, Henrietta has lived on the street, wearing a giant hat with a flamingo on top, which is the origin of her moniker.
      Granny Flamingo spends most of the book trying to solve a fellow patient’s (now her dead lover’s) Abraham Currier’s murder. She interviews the 15 people (patients, doctors, nurses, and a few extras) who were present on the ward at the time of the murder. In addition, she follows many leads, some which lead her in unexpected directions. She also listens to and at other times ignores her voices, which are largely self-destructive, but which sometimes provide insights. Interlaced in the book are the rich descriptions of psychiatric patient medications and assessments I assume Appel culled from his many years working in hospitals’ psychiatric wards. This makes the book’s setting very convincing, helping to maintain the story’s suspense, which is palatable. It’s real page turner, and I could only put the book down at the end of each richly described chapter.
      The title of this book refers to Occam’s razor, or the law of parsimony, a philosophy expounded by the 12th century scholastic William of Ockham. It states that the simplest explanation of an event is usually the best and stresses eliminating unnecessary information. Granny Flamingo uses Occam’s Razor to solve the murder mystery, eliminating suspects as she tries to find and interview all people present on the night of Currier’s murder. Some are them, the regulars at Hebron, are readily available for her to question. However, others are outside Manhattan in the boroughs of Staten Island and the Bronx, and some seem to have disappeared entirely, until she meets them again purely through coincidence.
      As a counterweight to Occam’s Razor’s simplicity, Appel provides a very entertaining, encyclopedic, 50-page index entitled ‘Glossary of Things You Should Know By Henrietta Florence van Duyn Brigander’, a compendium of history, filmography, and discography to explain Henrietta’s frequent references to her family tree, American history, and Newport, Rhode Island’s Gilded Age’s descendants. (Remember, this is a Bryn Mawr woman who is narrating this story, even if she was only able to attend for one year). Personally, I think Appel outdid William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha county inhabitants and genealogical nonsense with his own rich, crime novel index. If you can’t find an interesting fact on each page that makes you giggle or laugh aloud, then you should check your own pulse to make sure you’re alive.
      After following my leads and a few dead ends, including some related to a supposed NYC Albanian mafia that had a hit out on Currier, Granny Flamingo picks up a 91-year-old, limo-driving sidekick, Nënë Roza, who not only provides transportation for Henrietta’s enquiries but also extracts an unexpected confession from two attendings, frightening by Roza’s erratic driving, afraid they’ve been abducted and are about to be killed by a Granny Flamingo. True to form in his past work as a master plotter in The Mask of Sanity, (reviewed in AQ18, spring 2017), and Millard Salter’s Last Day, (reviewed in AQ21, spring 2018), all the loose ends are tied up in the end. Through a logical pursuit of the facts of the case, Granny Flamingo solves the crime and the problem of her persistent homelessness, the first, through a clue that was present at the beginning of the story, and the second, from a completely unexpected, but familiar corner.
      To sum up dear reader, I can only state (in the style of Mr Appel’s book), What a book! What a Middlemarch epilogue! What an ending! What a glossary after the ending! I sincerely hope Appel is planning a sequel with more crimes for Granny Flamingo to solve. She could certainly become the new Jessica Fletcher and Appel, the new Tom Wolfe of crime novels.       AQ

Bryan R. Monte – Antony Gormley GROUND Sculpture Exhibition

Bryan R. Monte
Antony Gormley GROUND Sculpture Exhibition, 26 May – 25 September 2022, Voorlinden Museum and Garden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands

Museum Voorlinden is currently the site of Antony Gormley’s GROUND sculpture exhibition. For those of you unaware of Mr Gormley’s work, two of his famous sculptures are Exposure, a galvanized steel, 25 x 13 x 18 metre frame sculpture, (2010), of a squatting man on a narrow spit of land in the Flevoland polder, and Angel of the North, a steel, 20 x 54 metre sculpture, (1999) of a man or angel with aeroplane wings for arms standing in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England. Both sculptures are based on castings of Gormley’s body, (his most prevalent sculpting method), and they are visible to thousands daily.
      On 25 May 2022, Mr Gormley opened his new retrospective exhibition at Museum Voorlinden. In addition, he also provided a guided tour of his exhibition for the press. During this tour, Mr Gormley not only described his sculptures, their material processes and his philosophies behind their creation, but also his ideas on art and a few on politics, with ended with a very personal, bombshell announcement.
      The tour began in the museum’s library which includes many of Gormley’s sketchbooks, the earliest from 1975. Here, he told the press ‘Sculpture asks questions: “What can we be? What are we certain of”’ We were then taken into the museum proper and to the first gallery. It contains a sculpture of two bars at right angles called Coordinate VIII (2022). Two crossed bars divide the visual perspective into four Cartesian quadrants. Gormley said that this symbolized the two-dimensional world of drawings.
      Gallery 2 has about a half dozen sculptures and some moulds of Gormley’s body. At the right and squatting Spiderman-like in the upper corner, near the ceiling, is the first of these casts entitled A Corner for Kasimir (1992). This sculpture’s pose is a bit unexpected and frightening even though one realizes it must be firmly anchored in place and won’t fall down. The second piece in the gallery is Over the Earth (1987-1992), with a planked Gormley figure: face down, arms out to the sides. It was in this room that Gormley explained his sculpture process formed from casts of his own body, which is first coated in vaseline and then wrapped in plastic. When the plaster has hardened, Gormley is cut out of the cast and these casts are then used to create the basis of his sculptures, which are made of iron poured into the moulds created from the casts. During the Q&A session at the end of the tour, Gormley said he prefers working in iron instead of marble or bronze because iron is a material at the very core of the planet. He also referred to his sculptures as fossils. ‘We are trying to leave some trace of human thinking and feeling in geologic time’.
      On the right wall of Gallery 3 is My Clothes (1980/2020), a life-size, silhouette sculpture in clothing, including socks, underpants, and T-shirt. Whilst I did not find this sculpture especially inventive or humorous, one I did feel deserved pride of place is on the next wall to the right: Mother’s Pride V, (2019). This sculpture is made of sliced bread, arranged in a grid 23 slices high and 20 wide, into which has been chewed an image of the artist, falling head first in a tucked position to the ground. I can think of no better image of the precarious position of the (starving) artist in Western culture. (The importance of this sculpture was reinforced by the scent of fresh baked bread which had been impregnated into the press’s swag bags in the form of a golden handprint).
      On the wall directly across from the clothes sculpture are some of Gormley’s drawings. I was very pleased to see that Gormley’s preparation drawings are on a grid, reinforcing the pattern of the Cartesian grid in Gallery 1. However, I felt that these drawings should have been included in a space between Gallery 1 and 2 along with his human silhouette sculpture Set IV (2018) composed of intersecting, perpendicular rods, which is not included in this exhibition. This would have brought Gormley’s gridding sculpture technique into sharper focus. It also would have connected Gormley’s cubist structures in Gallery 4 with his castings in Gallery 2. One last item of interest in Gallery 3 is a cloth with a golden, X-ray like of impression of Gormley’s torso and legs, Blanket Drawing V, (1983) another aspect of his casting technique, which reminded me of the Shroud of Turin. Gormley also commented on the works in Gallery 3 by saying ‘This is what contains us. We live in a serial world of mass production.’
      Gallery 4 is dominated by a series of colossal, cubist, metallic, human sculptures (some almost as tall as the gallery’s ceiling) entitled Expansion Field 2, 7, 8, 22, 25, 28, 34, 40, 43, 52/60, which become increasingly taller and abstract. Here it is a pleasure to view Gormley’s experimentations with the dimensions of the human form in purely geometric relationships.
      One of Gormley’s well-known sculptures also on exhibit is Passage, (2016) a 12-metre-long steel tunnel, open at only one end, constructed to the height and width of Gormley’s body—head, shoulders, waist, legs, and feet. With so many works related to the form and proportions of the human body, one may ask if Gormley is referring back to Protagoras of Abdera’s idea, adopted by Renaissance artists and writers, of ‘man as the measure of all things.’ However, isn’t this what got humankind into so much trouble already—the idea of a world created by God or gods with the Old Testament admonition to achieve dominion over all other species?
      Other large sculptures in GROUND inside the museum include, Clearing VIII, which fills the space in a gallery with its atomic ringed structure which visitors are encouraged to walk through and explore. In my opinion, this sculpture seems to represent the world of the very small, the paths of sub-atomic particles which make up our structure and the structure of things, and which, on the micro-level, cast the shape of everything in the universe. However, this might be just my uninformed speculation. (Note: for wheelchairs users, there is an unobstructed path along the left wall which goes around this sculpture and leads to the next gallery).
      Another, room-sized sculpture is Gormley’s day-glow maze, entitled Breathing Room III, which is illuminated by high-intensity lights for 30 seconds followed by minutes of darkness during which visitors can step through (but not on) the glowing frame bars of this matrix making them aware of the space their bodies occupy. Again, due to my wheelchair, I could only view this sculpture from the periphery. (However, unlike the atomic-like sculpture, there was no path around the outside of this one).
      The last room-sized sculpture that we were shown on Gormley’s tour was the installation of 30,000 clay sculptures fashioned by South American indigenous peoples to Gormley’s specifications called American Field (1991). All the pieces are approximately a hand high with eyes and noses, but no mouths. This begs the question, however, why Gormley decided not to allow the sculptures to have mouths. By doing this, isn’t Gormley metaphorically engaged in silencing their protest against the destruction of the Amazon forests flora and fauna, their source of food and culture?
      There are more sculptures outside in the museum’s grounds, including its dunes. There are five times the 12 casts of Gormley’s body in different positions: from folded up and foetal, to ones sitting, and ending with increasing upright figures, the last of which has its head up looking towards the sky. These sculptures positioned in a line from right to left on the mansion’s lawn, or spread out individually over the museum’s grounds. One was extended stiffly over the mansion’s low, front brick wall. The series of twelve reminded me of the biological or anthropological charts of the evolution of life or of man which I first studied at school. As far as his technique is concerned, Gormley said during the tour, ‘You don’t look at them (the sculptures) to see how beautiful they are. There are all just registrations of the mould… (which)… takes about 52 seconds to fill. We are trying to leave some trace of human thinking in geological time. That translation of a moment of lived time. You could say that (this is) the history of making things, whether we look at a Dordogne or a Brancusi head.’
      Gormley mused at the end of the tour: ‘Can we reposition art in terms of our survival, in terms of the history of life of the planet. in terms of our universe’s 13.4 billion of years of stellar development, almost all of which the Hubble Telescope has revealed.’ He also wondered, ‘How can we recontextualize human consciousness and productivity within that story? (The) Materials represented are important, and grounding, grounding in a way with all that’, bringing his explanation back to the name of his exhibition. He also announced that in protest against Brexit, he planned to obtain a German passport.
      There is no disputing that Mr Gormley is a very influential sculptor who makes artistic and social statements with his colossal sculptures on exhibit around the world. With cosmologically-named works such as Out of this World (1984), Time Horizon (2006), and Event Horizon (2007) (the last taken from the point in space where it is no longer possible to escape a black hole’s gravity), he definitely likes to think big. However, what will be the overall effect of his and other artists’ work and their lives have on human culture? Will it change the current world’s despots’ lust for more money, territory and power which now threatens to disrupt the West’s stated goal of saving the world from runaway climate change and thus prevent further planetary levels of dislocation and starvation? Or will Gormley’s iron, fossil-like sculptures be some of the few aspects of human culture left after mankind is exterminated or has gone underground and/or off planet in order to survive the coming planetary, human-induced, global climate change? Only time will tell. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – (AQ33) Spring 2022 Book Review

Bryan R. Monte
(AQ33) Spring 2022 Book Review

Jennifer L. Freed, When Light Shifts, A Memoir in Poems, Kelsay Books, ISBN: 978-1-63980-089-6, 99 pages.

Jennifer L. Freed is no stranger to Amsterdam Quarterly. Her poetry has appeared in seven issues depicting various subjects such as teaching, walking a dog along a road, her mother’s stroke and dementia, and her brother’s death from cancer. Her inventive poetry has caught my interest repeatedly over the last five and half years and I have marvelled at her range as a poet in various forms and subjects. Despite this, however, her new book, When Light Shifts was a pleasant surprise because it brought together many of these narrative threads.
      The book’s prologue poem, ‘Leaving’ is prescient. In the poem, the speaker keeps saying to her daughters: ‘Look! ‘Isn’t she beautiful.’ When they ask her why she keeps saying this she responds, ‘Because / I know she is going to leave’. When Light Falls details the forms of this leave taking. It includes her mother’s partial recovery despite her physical, psychological, and social rehabilitation and her temporary move with her husband to a care centre. In my opinion, it provides an overview of how stroke affects a whole family. I say this from the perspective of someone who has lost a mother to stroke. However, I have never been able to express my observations and feelings as eloquently as Freed does.
      When Light Shifts is divided into four parts. Section I is about Freed’s mother’s stroke (and her father’s accompanying anxiety) her recovery in ICU and in rehab with visits from therapists and social workers, and her mother’s and father’s decision to move into a care home. The different techniques used in this section alone show the range of Freed’s poetic expression. ‘The Border’ describes her mother’s stroke (and her father’s reaction) in sparing terms. The stroke begins as a sort of dizziness ‘while/bending over to paint an old rocking chair.’ Disorientation follows as she ‘set herself down/but found vomit there’ and then a loss of equilibrium when she ‘crawled/ to someplace clean’. Next comes her husband’s inability to understand why she’s there on the garage floor ‘the trembling / ground, the strangely shifting light.’ which gives the book it’s title. This poem is fairly traditional in form with left adjusted lines, written in free verse. However, other poems in this section are very different. For example, the next two ‘Cerebral Hemorrhage’ and ‘My Father’s Heart’ use unconventional line breaks. The former’s lines float down the page:
          opens her mouth
                not her eyes
                      A word
                          we do not hear.
                                Her arm rises, fingers strum air
                      She sinks
                into stillness.
In the latter, her observations about her father’s emotional concerns on the left are questioned by an italicized chorus on the right:
The world warps
without her
                                                                   (His heart, his heart)
At its core
and inside his head, the buzzing—
emphasizing the mortality of her father and his physical inability to take in or deal with what has happened to his partner through the beating of his heart.
      Other interesting typographical poems in this section include ‘Rehab Hospital’ and ‘We’re So Happy You’ll Be Joining Our Community’ in which some of the words and details seem to be erased or suppressed, mimicking her mother’s partial loss of speech and cognition. This erasure technique is especially effective in the latter which communicates much information in only six lines which I quote in toto:
We’ll need
for each of your parents
for our files
because your father
on behalf of your mother
sign here
      In Part II., the speaker discovers how much her mother has changed since she was released from hospital. For example, in ‘Thrown’, she compares her active, pre-stroke mother ‘in the garage with her electric sander/ refinishing a second-hand table, a desk, a chair’ to her mother now who ‘can’t / understand. Why she can’t / understand.’ Here again Freed uses words spread out on the page to portray her mother’s loss for words and her fragmented perception of her situation. She describes her mother’s uncoordinated motor skills in ‘Scattered’ when her mother attempts to collect marbles that she has knocked out of bowl on the windowsill, but instead ‘her hand knocks them father away.’ In ‘Mystery (A Question)’ the speaker wonders where her mother went and if she will come back. In ‘From Inside Askew’, ‘Tilt-a-World’ (not Whirl) and ‘What Then’ Freed describes her mother’s loss of equilibrium and the accompanying falls in the now treacherous up-is-down, floor-rising-and-falling ship deck world her mother must relearn to navigate. Freed’s poem ‘Broken Brain Blues’, in rhyming triplets, describes the speaker’s mother ‘struck by a train, now she weeps and mourns’. Then a little later, her mother ‘standing again, but she can’t walk home’ embracing this characteristic lyric form of despair. The last stanza starts with ‘Feels like the burden to the man in her bed’ a theme which is also echoed in poems in this and other sections of this book. In the final poem in this section, ‘He Stays’, Freed describes the toll her mother’s stroke is taking on her hard of hearing and forgetful father. He’s ‘by her side, leans closer / to hear her / repeat / the best route home.’ He’s not accustomed to being a caretaker and Freed writes ‘how he wears thin’ in the assisted living home, but he won’t tell his wife because ‘he’ll break / her heart’, the final line break anticipating or mimicking his spouse’s heart break.
      Part III continues Freed’s exploration of her father’s response to her mother’s stroke, rehabilitation, and physical and mental limitations. Its first poem, ‘The Occupational Therapist Answers My Father’, describes her mother’s encouraging progress the first three months, but offers no guarantees about the future. ‘Unsettled’ describes her father’s sense of having suddenly lost someone he knew, who knew how to manage things.
          His chest binds when friends ask what he’ll do
          with the house. She
          was the one
          who knew how to turn a page, make sense
          of fine print.

‘Broken Love Song’ describes how he sings his ‘weeping’ spouse back from her sensory overload after their first trip back to a supermarket with ‘its high shelves—/crowded aisles. Its colors, sizes, brands, sales, / decisions.’ with a familiar song from when they were younger. ‘She was happier in rehab,’ describes the change in her temperament after her stroke. Now instead of being happy and active, ‘she quietly seethes.’ and wants ‘Someone to curse. Someone / to kick in the teeth.’ for her loss. She’s also unable to focus, her mind darting from one thing to the next as in ‘An Hour’ and ‘Proof’.
      ‘He Can’t’ details her father’s own disabilities ‘he can’t hear / the birds the phone her / voice, … ‘can’t see words in books the nuance / of her face.’ This poem ends with her father despairing, ‘Never mind I just can’t / do anything / to please / you.’ However, in ‘There’ Freed describes how her parents are able to stay together, no matter how much they frustrate each other. After her father’s walk, her mother ‘… smiles glad to see him again. /And he smiles, glad to see her again. / And she reaches up to touch his cheek./ And he hands her dandelions /from the side of the road.…/before the bickering resumes.’
       Section IV describes the challenges the couple face after they decide after eight months to move out of a care home and to go back to their own home. In this section Freed also describes her brother’s death from cancer. Freed describes her mother’s perception of her son’s approaching death in ‘Her Strength’ and ‘Low’. In the first, her mother wants to stay with her son as he dies in hospital, but ‘Her own gray body’ and ‘Her gray husband’ both with their problems, prevent her from doing this. In the second, her mother doesn’t weep in hospital, but only ‘in the car.’ She withdraws from the world, ‘Stops going / to Group Chair Exercise, /Brain Games with Beth, / Current Events’ and instead ‘begs to sink / into the yawning dark.’ We see also the memorial service through her eyes in ‘Spirit’. She finds a field mouse in her bathroom ‘the very morning her son died’, in whose eyes ‘she imagined … he’d found his way back to her, (and) was saying / goodbye.’
      ‘I’ll Be the Safety Net Stretched Taut, Waiting’ depicts her parents’ decision to leave the care home, even though Freed knows how much they’ve both miscalculated their ability to live independently. For example, her father doesn’t realise that his spouse ‘can’t lift, or carry or clean’ or ‘how much time he would have to give / to rinsing salad greens, bringing plates to the table.’
      The effect of her brother’s death on her own life is shown in ‘Then, Somehow’ when a social worker assessing her parents’ family support, asks Freed ‘Are you an only child?’ Once again, it’s what Freed doesn’t say that has the strongest effect.:

I am       a fish
my mouth opening, closing
my eyes round
and staring.

And already she is saying
Oh! I’m sorry.        Oh
I’m so

In the next poem, ‘Turkish Fig’ Freed mourns her brother and parents: ‘my mother / and father—going / my brother—gone.’ All that’s real to her is ‘the fading of taste’ of a fig on her tongue in that moment. Freed’s prediction of her parents’ inability to fend for themselves is proved true in ‘Help’ where thankfully a hired ‘aide’ is able to humour or to move things for her parents out of each other’s way, ‘saving / a small square of the world.’ As with many creative works written in the last two and a half years, Freed’s book ends with a Covid scene. She speaks to her mother ‘standing outside the glass door’ via a mobile, ‘draw(ing) a heart on the glass, kiss(ing) it’. Her mother, ‘grasps her walker, pushes to stand, kisses back’. It is the closest intimacy they dare in the first months of the pandemic.
      When Light Shifts is an honest, brave book—written as a memoir of her brother and parents—by a poet placed in an unwinnable situation. Through her verse, Freed creates no artificial happy ending. Instead, she uses her poetry to capture her mother’s stroke in all its aspects including occasional acts of kindness and slight, temporary progress in a world beyond both their control. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – (AQ33) Spring 2022 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
(AQ33) Spring 2022 Art Review
Every day, some day, and other stories at the Amsterdam Stedelijk

Every day, some day, and other stories, the Amsterdam Stedelijk’s Museum’s exhibit of artwork from 1950-1980, featuring both old favourites and recent acquisitions, has something for everyone. On display is 1950s figurative work, ’60s Pop, protest, and space-age art and furnishings, and ’70s minimalism, all defining periods for modern art. In addition to the paintings and posters, there is also plenty of photography, video, and mixed media work on display.
        The Stedelijk has arranged this exhibition’s galleries chronologically and thematically. They include the work of well-known artists such as Christo, Willem de Kooning, Morris Louis, Henri Matisse, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, along with new acquisitions by Armand Baag, Corita Kent, Marie-Louis van Motesiczky, Ganesh Haloi, Batia Suter, Quintus Jan Telting, and Sarah Zapata. As a result, viewers can indulge in familiar as well as new works as they view the exhibition, parts of which have been previously mentioned in Amsterdam Quarterly’s reviews of various past Stedelijk exhibitions.
        A good place to start is in Gallery 1.28A entitled ‘Expressive Tendencies’. It includes de Kooning’s painting, Montauk IV (oil on paper on canvas, 1969) with its exuberant abstract cream and yellow bands, but also with somewhat torso-like figure at its centre. In addition, is his The Clam Digger sculpture, (patinated bronze, 1972-79), rough and earthly looking, with knots and clumps of material, especially in the right foot and the toes. In the same gallery is Sam Middleton’s Come Sunday, (mixed media on carton, 1962) with its red, brown, blue, and black bullseye shield on the right and what appears to be an axe on the left.
        The next gallery, 1.28B features familiar work from the ’50s and ’60. The queen of this gallery and one of my personal favourites, is Rauschenberg’s combine Charlene (assemblage on softboard, 1954) with its found objects that include an umbrella, a light, a mirror, as well as a letter from his mother, all covered in a brown, grey wash. To the right is Elaine Sturtevant’s Raysse High Voltage Painting (acrylic, collage, and neon light on canvas, 1969) with orange-tinted portrait of young Warholish woman with a pinkish-red neon mouth. Speaking of Warhol, on the facing wall is his Bellevue II (acrylic silkscreen, 1963) with its 12 reproductions of the same photo of police and a white jacketed attendant or doctor around a man who had jumped from the mental hospital’s balcony to his death. The reproduced photos take up much of the wall space and are placed one after another in several rows, so they have the appearance of a few seconds of film footage rather than a single photograph. To the right of Charlene is Claes Oldenburg’s seemingly deflated Saw, Bucket, Hammer, and Ladder, (wood, canvas, and paint, 1968). In the galleries centre is Tetsumi Kudo’s sculpture Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit (mixed media, 1968) It is a greenhouse with a neon light and fake flies inside which are fixed in place. However, the green legs on which the installation stands were too high (1.2 metres) for me to view the artwork in its entirety while sitting in my wheelchair. I had to push myself up, leaning on my cane, in order to view the greenhouse-like, fake fly and insect filled artwork. However, despite its height of the installation, the different types of work and media in the gallery do emphasis the number and range of artistic approaches in the ’60s.
        ‘Revolution and Protest’, Gallery 1.23B, features a high wall of protest posters and photos and tables of protest buttons and publications from the sixties and seventies for abortion and women’s rights, more public housing, and environmentalism, and against the US, the Vietnam war, nuclear proliferation, and pollution. Among these is Pieter H. Goede’s photo, from the architectural journal FORUM, against mass-reproduced, cookie-cutter, urban housing. A poster protesting the same lack of housing is the infamous ‘Geen Woning, Geen Kroning’, ‘No Housing, No Coronation’, (poster, 1980) which protested Dutch Queen Beatrix’s coronation in Amsterdam that year, and the lack of urban housing. An anti-war poster, from a decade earlier, with the caption ‘My Lai, We Lie, They Die’ protests the Vietnam war. Below its slogan is a naked man with grenade gonads and three, tank turret penises. Included in this gallery or adjacent is Cor Jaring’s iconic photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed Peace, Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, (gelatin silver print, 1969). However, I had trouble viewing the artwork and navigating between the tables of buttons and publications in this gallery because they were placed just wide enough to slip a wheelchair between, but not wide enough to turn around in.
        In Gallery 1.29, ‘Minimal Gestures’, are jewels of understatement and new materials design. (as I suspect the first 3-D printed homes in Eindhoven will one day be). Works I would include in this category include Maria van Elk’s grey and white work Untitled (machine embroidered cotton, 1974), which has a grey triangular area on its right side in contrast to a a white section on the left, and Chavalt Scemprunksuk’s Untitled, (PVC foil, staples, and paint, 1971), which is composed of silver strips, machine-stapled in their centres on a black background. However, one of the stars of this gallery and the exhibition, is the Stedelijk’s new acquisition of four of Ganesh Haloi’s, works, Untitled 20, 15, 25, 14, (ink, ink wash on paper, 2020), that look to me like little, black and white spiral miniatures done in the style of Joan Miro with an occasional green background for emphasis.
        In a different media, but in the same gallery is Nan Hoover’s engaging video, Movements in Light (black & white PAL video with sound, 1975-76). It features a 15-minute loop with changing light that exposes a hand half hidden by fabric (such as a bed sheet). In addition, a few galleries further, is Martha Rossler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (black and white video with sound, 1975) which shows a woman demonstrating the use of some kitchen utensils, such as a whisk and a soap ladle, first in their traditional use, and then in a much more aggressive manner as if to fling the ingredients outward rather than to stir or serve them. The text provided for his piece by the Stedelijk states that Rosler’s video ‘offer(s) a parody of television cooking shows by using kitchen implements to present a “lexicon of rage and frustration.”’
        Another gallery of particular interest is the black walled and floored ‘Earth’ gallery, (1.22). It features furniture, fonts, photos, and electronics, some within space-age or modern designs. The furniture includes plastic, polyester, or polyurethane chairs and couches such as Gunter Belzig’s white, Floris Chair, with its high headrest (1968, polyester, lacquered finish), Peter Ghyczy’s red, Garden Chair, (PUR ester chair, PUR ester foam, and synthetic textile upholstery, 1968) and Achizoom Associati’s chaise lounge Superonda, (stitched PVC covers, moulded polyurethane, 1966). It also includes a white, astronaut helmet-shaped JVC television Videosphere (model 4240, acrylic, glass, and metal, 1969). In the far corner of this exhibition is also space dedicated to Wim Crouwel’s bit-mapped and rastered typefonts, invaluable to the computer industry. (See AQ26 at for an earlier review of his work at the Stedelijk). It also includes a photo of Buzz Aldrin’s Earthrise (colour photo, 1969) suspended in the air.
        An old favourite of particular interest in this exhibition is Henri Matisse’s simple, cut out shapes of The parakeet and the mermaid, (gouache on paper, mounted on canvas, 1952-53). This large art work was produced when the artist was an old man. He cut out shapes to put on the wall similar to what Piet Mondriaan did during his last years in Manhattan in exile during WWII. On a facing wall is Robert Saint-Brice’s, Compositie, (oil on cardboard, 1948) with some similar leaf shapes and colours such as purple and green as in Matisse’s. These last two artworks raise the question of whether their similarities is due to archetypical tropical forms or perhaps artistic cross-pollination. If the latter is true, who influenced who? Once again, the museum guide provides a helpful, partial explanation:

‘In the same period Matisse designed his Arcadian Garden, Robert Saint-Brice and Gesner Abelard were creating painting in Haiti of stylized plant shapes that stem from another tradition entirely. Matisse’s work was characterized by a hedonistic aesthetic. The practices of Saint-Brice and Abelard, however, is rooted in religious traditions such as voodoo, and postcolonial artistic and intellectual discourse.’

Nearby is Morris Lewis’s flowing streaks of black, yellow, orange, and green and brown that seem to create two parallel sides of a valley of unpainted canvas in Gamma Mu, (acrylic on canvas, 1960) or the meditative quiet of Barnet Newman’s serene, blue, large double canvas Cathedra (oil on canvas, 1951) in a underlit gallery with large bench, the perfect place to rest and reflect on what you’ve seen in this exhibition.
        Other outstanding new acquistions are Ron Flu’s, Women of Prayer in the Garden, (oil on canvas 1964) and Armand Baag’s, The Fabric Dealer, (oil on canvas, 1979). Flu’s women are painted in a simple, restrained style which pays as much attention to the palm fronds as to the woman walking in the garden. Although the museum classifies the style of this painting as cubist, I think it is closer to the streamlined, simplified effect of Art Deco. In contrast, Bragg’s use of bright and darks colours is much more unrestrained and gives his pictures and added dimensionality and energy. And not to be forgetten, Sarah Zapata’s playful, multi-coloured waterfall-like construction of shag carpet, To Teach or Assume Authority (natural and synthetic fibres, handwoven and wood, 2018), honours an ubiquitous element in any seventies home. All of these pieces are outstanding and I applaud the Stedelijk for these purchases.
        There are some disappointments in this exhibition. One is Bruce Nauman’s Playing a Note on the Violin while I Walk Around in the Studio, (16 mm film transferred to video, black and white, sound, 1967–1968), which is literally all he does during this video. This artistic philosophy is based on the belief of ‘whatever I do/make in my studio is art,’ which sets aside standards such as craftsmanship, range of expression, and beauty. Another is Christo’s Package on Table, (metal, jute, and rope, 1963), which has become quite a sad sack (pun intended) and now is covered in a patina of dust. As with most of Christo’s works, you have to be there when they’re wrapped (such as the Reichstag or the Arc de Triumph) in order to get the full effect before the wind, sun, and time decay or unravel what the artist originally intended.
        Another complaint I have about this exhibition is that many of its photos are crowded together in the smaller, peripheral galleries. It’s hard to take them in with so many of them mounted on the walls so close together. I felt I did not have enough room to back up and appreciate them properly.
        Further criticisms I have of this exhibition are all related to the Stedelijk’s continuing accessibility problems, which began as soon as I entered the museum the day of the press conference. The wheelchair lift next to the main steps, (which wasn’t installed for years after the museum opened after its €170 million renovation in 2012), was out of order. This accessibility issue is one I first raised in AQ6 back in 2013. It was then I suggested that the height difference between the old and the new wings be equalized by a ramp that would zig-zag up and over the steps, and thus avoid any delays caused by a mechanical solution. As I have already mentioned, some of the art on the tables was too high for me to view, such as Kudo’s sculpture/installation and the tables of protest buttons mounted on bricks with their deep yellow sides while other tables with art publications and correspondence were too close for me to comfortably navigate between. Once again, I would like to emphasize the need of anyone organizing an art exhibition to place tables so that top of the artwork on is no higher than 1.2 metres and no closer than 1.5 metres from each other so that all can view and navigate between them comfortably and safely. All of this and more is covered in The Fast Guide to Accessibility Design by Baires Raffaelli, which I purchased in the Stedelijk’s bookstore at the conclusion of my visit. I would advise the Stedelijk’s staff to study this book. In addition, I would suggest that in the future, anyone organizing an exhibition at the Stedelijk or any other museum for that matter, view and navigate between the work they have arranged in a museum in a wheelchair from beginning to end. I’m sure it will help exhibition designers notice obstacles and impediments, and also perhaps gain insight into how some disabled people will experience the art on display.      AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ32 Autumn 2021 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ32 Autumn 2021 Art Review
Picasso & Giacometti? You Decide

Picasso-Giacometti, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, the Netherlands, 16 October 2021 to 13 February 2022

A must-see this winter is the Picasso-Giacometti exhibition at Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, the Netherlands, through 13 February 2022. The thesis of this exhibition is that Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti had a lifelong influence on each other’s art after their meeting in Paris in 1922. The exhibition tries to prove its point due to the direct comparison of the two men’s painting and sculptures through their realistic, cubist, surrealist and again realistic periods sometimes side by side in its seven galleries. Did they influence each other in their sculpture and painting? Yes, at least during the 1920s and ’30s. Was this influence lifelong? I’m not sure. However, I’m not an art historian, so I can only offer a layman’s opinion. You can visit the exhibition, take in its generous selection of sculptures and paintings, and form your own opinion.
      According to museum director Suzanne Swarts, the Picasso-Giacometti exhibition is organized historically and thematically into similar eras. Each gallery has work by the two artists, sometimes side-by-side, to prove the exhibition’s point of the two artists’ life-long influence on each other. It’s a formula followed in Paris and Doha, and now Wassenaar, just outside of The Hague, this travelling exhibition’s third stop.
      The exhibition begins with two self-portraits of the artists at the same age but of course from different years: Giacometti from 1920 using Cézannesque, late impressionist colour dabs (as if applied with a sponge, however, and not with Cézanne’s characteristic knifeblade-like application), and Picasso from 1902 in his famous Blue Period.
      Published photographs of these two self-portraits don’t do them justice compared to what I viewed in the Voorlinden. In the place of the rich dabs of thick chestnut, brown head of hair and red-rosy dabs of the blush of life in his face and chest, photographs depict purplish-brown hair and pinkish skin on a much too light golden background for Giacometti. In other photographs, the colours for the facing portrait of Picasso were also not completely accurate—the background is often too dark, imposing, and even a bit overwhelming for the magisterial figure of Picasso, clothed in a dark coat which is buttoned up to his light orange-brown beard which clearly stands out from its background in the Voorlinden original. These facts alone make a visit to the museum essential and worthwhile.
      However, in addition to seeing the correct colours, as a Voorlinden visitor you will be able to decide for yourself whether the two artists did have a life-long influence on each other. Every gallery contains work by the two men from the same time periods, artistic movements, with the same motifs or themes. Gallery 2 contains work from the 1910s and ’20s. As you enter this gallery, you will see sculptures by the two men in a line on a wide table. Giacometti’s begin on the left; Picasso’s begin on the right. At opposite ends, they show these men’s original figurative differences. When they meet in the middle, they show their abstract similarities.
      Another subject in this gallery is the women in their life. For Giacometti that is a portrait of his sister, Ottilia (1920) a companion in size, style, and colouration to his self-portrait in Gallery 1.For Picasso that means paintings of the women who were his models and lovers. Behind the sculpture table are three paintings of models sitting in a chair, a common pose for Picasso. These are Portrait of Olga in an Armchair (1918), Reading (1920) Portrait of Olga with Fur Collar (1923). These, as Giacometti’s Ottilia portrait, are all figurative. Picasso’s cubist wood sculpture Mandolin and Clarinet (1913) is prominently displayed on the gallery’s right wall. At the opposite end of the gallery on the table is Giacometti’s wood sculpture Head of a Woman, Flora Mayo (1926). However, I don’t see a similarity since the perspective of the latter is still fairly traditional if not overly simplistic. The only similarity is that both sculptures are from wood. On the far-left wall, the last two items in gallery are two large cubist Picassos: Reading Boisgeloup (1932) and Portrait of Marie-Thérèsa (1937), which also do not seem to me to have Giacometti corollaries in the same gallery and are also from a different time period.
      However, Gallery 3 does seem to have the most paintings and/or sculptures paired with common referents. Picasso’s wire and sheet metal sculpture Figure (1928) is similar with Giacometti’s Man (Apollo) 1929. Both are interested with line and the negative space between the lines, which creates the volumes for these sculptures. Giacometti’s famous painting Palace at 4 a.m. (1932) with its rectangular architectural lines does, in many ways, seem similar to Picasso’s Portrait of a Young Woman, (1928) a painting with a wiry sculpture of a woman reduced to a face, a vagina and a lower body basket on a beach, which also seems to be exploring this inside/outside structural contrast and tension. The facial shorthand Picasso’s cubist/surrealist Woman in a Red Arm Chair (1928) (with just two eyes, a mouth and teeth), is similar to Giacometti’s much more minimalistic Untitled (Head) (1926) drawn with one continuous line to represent the forehead, nose, mouth, and chin, reminding me of the early Neolithic sculptures.
      Gallery 4 was somewhat of a revelation and is worth the price of admission. It was the first time I had viewed Giacometti’s The Nose (1947). Before I had only seen it in photographs, which do not do justice to the sculpture in this gallery. The sculpture creates a dialogue about space, being, and representation. Hanging in its cage, the elongated nose (perhaps a Pinocchian reference) sticks out of the sculpture’s black frame into the room, which even for a piece of figurative art, is a representation, not the thing itself. Perhaps René Margritte would have captioned it ‘Ceci n’est pas un nez’.
      In this gallery are also paintings and sculptures by Picasso and Giacometti of death’s heads or memento mori. Giacometti’s Headskull (1934) plaster has a much more cubist interpretation compared to Picasso’s surprisingly round and more traditional sculpture Death’s Head (1943) in bronze and copper. Picasso’s paintings of death’s heads on display include Skull, Sea-Urchins and Lamp on Table (1946) oil on plywood, Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle (1952) oil on canvas, are drawn in greys with heavy black lines reminiscent of Guernica. However, these paintings vary from Giacometti’s Annette, (1952) which is more a realistic: a sort of frontal x-ray of a woman’s skull.
      The next gallery, Gallery 5, was somewhat of a surprise: not for the art it held, but rather because the exhibition’s chronology seemed to backtrack one or two decades. The painting and sculptures in this gallery are from 1920s to 1930s. On the centre table are bronze sculptures of Giacometti and Picasso. However, they are not organized as in Gallery 2 with Giacometti starting on the left and Picasso on the right and meeting in the middle. There are just four, paired objects at the right end of the table: Picasso’s Knelling Bather, (1931), and Giacometti’s Reclining Woman Who Dreams, (1929), Picasso’s Head of a Woman (1931) and Giocametti’s Unpleasant Object (1931).
      While the gallery guide tried to convince us of the similarity of styles of the first pair, all I could be certain of was that this table’s sculptures were made from the same material during the same period. While the first pair do describe reclining subjects, the second two certainly do not use the same perspective. Next, the Unpleasant Object is horn-like and fairly realistic, representing a curved penis. However, The Head of a Woman is from Picasso’s surrealist period when women are represented as blobby, non-realistic discombobulations. At the far left end of the table are two rather stiff cubist sculptures by Giacometti of two couples, the first Cubist 1, Couple 1926-27 is composed of two blocks leaning on each other, the taller one on the right. The next sculpture by Giacometti, The Couple, 1926, is in the style of two African masks next to each other, again with the one on the right taller than the other. There are no other sculptures from Picasso next to these two, although there is a cubist painting hanging on the wall just to the left by Picasso of The Lovers 1919 dedicated to Manet in large letters in the upper right. However, this is not one of Picasso’s African mask works which I feel would have been a much better choice.
      The centre of Gallery 6 is taken by Giacometti’s busts of women, especially Annette, from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Here Giacometti’s distinctive style of tall, thin, elongated sculptures with small heads finally comes through. On the walls, however, hang more of Picasso’s surrealistic paintings from the 1930s including Woman with a Blue Hat and Head of a Woman, (both 1939). In this gallery, I can find no common ground between the two men. In Gallery 7 are Giacometti’s striking, archetypical Tall Woman and Walking Man II (both 1960) and other hyper-elongated sculptures from his last period. Across from them in the gallery are Picasso’s six sculptures of The Bathers (1956). Although these are also tall and thin, they are considerably squarer and reminiscent to me of railway signalling apparatus compared to Giacometti’s tall, elegant, stately figures.
      Further chronological and stylistic discontinuities in this gallery are two Picasso paintings The Shadow (1930) and Jacqueline with her Hands Crossed (1953) both of which I found a stretch (pun intended) next to Giacometti’s elongated sculptures. The first painting clearly exhibits Picasso’s surrealistic traits from decades before, while the second portrait includes a long, wide, thick Pez neck not found in Giacometti’s elegantly thin work of this period.
      To strengthen the exhibition’s chronological/thematic organization, I would suggest that the first five galleries should have been arranged 1, 2, 5, 3, 4. Further, Picasso’s cubist sculpture Mandolin and Clarinet (1913) could have been hung in Gallery 5 opposite Giacometti’s Couples sculptures. In addition, Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Mar (1937), Woman with a Blue Hat, Royan, 3 October 1939 (1939), Head of a Woman (1939) and The Shadow (1930) seem out of place in across from Giacomett’s line of elongated sculptures of women from the 1950s and ’60s. These paintings should be hung in a 1930s gallery such as Gallery 3 or 4.
      All in all, despite my criticism of the placement of some of these works and the exhibitions thesis of the life-long artistic and stylistic bond between Giacometti and Picasso to which I do not subscribe, this exhibition still is well-worth a visit due to the number of Giacometti’s and Picasso’s paintings and sculptures on display. I would suggest that you see this exhibition, enjoy the art of these two masters, and make up your own mind.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ32 Autumn 2021 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ32 Autumn 2021 Book Reviews

Irene Hoge Smith, The Good Poetic Mother: A Daughter’s Memoir, International Psychoanalytic Books (IPBooks), ISBN 978-1-949093-87-2, 232 pages.
bart plantenga, LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness, Spuyten Duyvil Press, ISBN 978-1-952419-54-6, 137 pages

It is my privilege, as AQ’s publisher and editor, to read excerpts from works that will sometimes appear later in published books. It is akin to having a backstage pass to literature, which I thoroughly enjoy. Both writers above have appeared regularly in AQ during its first decade: Irene Hoge Smith in AQ9, AQ12, and AQ29; bart plantenga in AQ23, AQ25, and AQ28 as well as being an active member of AQ’s Writers’ Group. It is exciting to see what was once a single, stand-alone piece, take its place in a larger collection. It is even more exciting if this collection seems to extend the writers’ expression and/or our understanding of arts and letters or history in general. In my opinion, both Smith’s and plantenga’s collections do this. Furthermore, it is exciting to see how these two writers use different genres, prose memoir for the former and list poetry for the latter, to travel through similar territories in their development as writers.
      Smith’s book, The Good Poetic Mother: A Daughter’s Memoir, is an account of her life and that of her mother’s, Frances Dean Smith, aka the poet francEyE, who abandoned her family to move to California to become a writer. Here for a time, Frances Dean Smith became Beat poet Charles Bukowski’s partner and muse. As I read Smith’s book, I immediately became aware that the passages, which originally appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, only tell a portion of this mother-daughter story. Smith’s memoir depicts the neglect she felt both as a result of her mother’s California move and her father’s work in Washington DC, whilst Smith and her sisters lived in Michigan with relatives and family friends. The absence of both her parents resulted in Smith having to raise herself and her sisters, trying to keep their abuse and abandonment a secret from those at school and church, though not always successfully. Decades later, after raising her own family and getting a university education, she tries to make sense of her parents’ neglect and abandonment: what it means to her own family and to her professional and later literary development.
      The Good Poetic Mother begins with a chapter entitled ‘Pandora’s Box’, which refers to the ‘battered, cardboard box’ containing her mother’s papers she receives from her sister Sara in 2009.

                 (T)his box had been in our father’s possession from the time our mother left
                 at the end of 1962 until his death in 2000. It didn’t seem that the box had
                 ever been opened,

      The box image is repeated on the book’s cover, perhaps in reference to the Pandorian myth of satisfying one’s curiosity without knowing the possible disastrous consequences. Ultimately, after hesitating ‘several weeks’, Smith chooses to open the box and read what her mother left behind before she abandoned her family and went off to California to become a poet. And it does have a negative effect on Smith who, in response to her husband’s ‘How’d it go?’ says:

                 It’s like the box is radioactive—each thing I read is confusing and crazy,
                 and I swear whatever she had, it’s contagious.

In the box, Smith finds her mother’s poems, letters, short stories—and a one-inch-thick document labelled ‘novel’, which turns out to be a journal her mother kept during the last five months of her marriage to Smith’s father. It answers many of Smith’s questions, raises even more, and leads Smith to understand that the book she needs to write will be about her mother.
      In the following chapters, Smith reminisces about how she received her first name, as mentioned in a popular song of the day, her first memory of her family’s home, ‘grandmother’s brick row house in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Washington, D.C.’, and her sister Patti’s defenestration where she just missed being impaled on ‘a spiked iron fence’, landing instead on the sidewalk with a broken ‘arm and leg’. The following chapter ‘Riverside (California 1951 to 1954)’ describes the family Quonset hut home on a former military base (both her parents were army veterans) and the beginning of her family’s bicoastal life. Smith and her mother stayed in California for one year before returning to her grandmother’s house (the one with the spike fence), while Smith’s father remained in California keeping her older sister Patti. Smith writes that her father was changeable: wanting her mother ‘one moment and rejecting her the next.’
      Without a doubt, the frequent moves and Smith’s parents’ unstable relationship and eventual split adversely affected Smith’s and her sisters’ physical and mental well-being. In later chapters, Smith describes the abuse and she and her sisters faced: not having enough to eat, living with several of her parents’ friends in uncomfortable basement bedrooms, raising her younger sisters, growing out of her own clothes and trying to wear her mother’s clothes as replacements. Or, whenever her father was there, how he ‘banished his own self-doubt by projecting all inadequacy onto others…’ Smith’s adjustment and acceptance of an adult role, whilst still a child, is so complete that she broke up with her junior high school boyfriend rather than tell him she was moving away again. Later on, she drops out of college after her freshman year at the University of Texas.
      In her 20s, Smith begins to turn her life around. In the chapter ‘Transcript of Record (Washington DC 1968)’, she has a job, an apartment, a stable relationship, and is resuming her college studies. She also corresponds with her mother seeking some sort of connection and an answer to why her mother abandoned Smith and her sisters. These attempts met with little success. Her mother does not reply to the letter where Smith mentioned her progress above. Months later, her mother does respond to a second missive, but makes no mention of Smith’s life. In the months of silence, she’d been in San Francisco with her oldest daughter, that daughter’s two young children, and her own daughter, Marina Bukowski. That situation has not worked out and now she implores Smith to come to California for a visit or perhaps to live with her mother and half-sister “in a rented trailer fairly near the beach.” Smith supposes her mother is hoping for assistance with childcare.
      In 1981, Smith finally visited her mother in Santa Monica after she had finished graduate school. By then, Smith had learned to keep the anger she had for her mother to herself and talk more about neutral subjects such as gardening or her mother’s writing. Smith brought her thesis along for her mother to read, but she just puts it aside in her cluttered, bohemian home. In 1987, Smith invited her mother to visit her in Washington DC, where she wanted to share her research on trauma over lunch. Smith opposed conventional medicine’s attempt to return the psychiatric patients to the ‘baseline’ because she believed:

                 …there are some experiences that change you forever, after which there
                 may be healing, but no going back to being the person you once had been.

At which her mother ‘smirked’ and remarked:

                 Changed forever, you think? Yes, well, that’s a popular idea, I suppose.

      Before her mother leaves for the West Coast, however, Smith finally levels with her mother about how difficult her life had been in Ann Arbor—her parents’ constant fighting—and afterwards when her mother abandoned her children. ‘I have to tell you, it was just—it wasn’t okay.’
      Smith notes that:

                 She hadn’t been expecting that, and quickly, she was angry. ‘Oh, it
                 wasn’t, wasn’t it? Not okay?’ She took her cup and saucer to the sink,
                 lips pressed tightly together, and walked out of the kitchen.

But in the train, her mother wrote Smith a thank-you note:

                 Words cannot express my thanks to you for this wonderful vacation. It was
                 extremely generous of you to take such good care of me. And thank you for
                 telling me off. It was painful, but it was necessary.

This indicated that after decades of effort on Smith’s part, they were finally making progress. I won’t reveal if or how they finally reconciled. That’s what you’ll have to find out by reading the remainder of Smith’s memoir.
      Structurally, bart plantenga’s LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness is a very different type of collection. However, through these lists, plantenga covers six decades of his own life and sketches the histories of his Dutch parents, from their WWII experiences, US emigration, and their mostly unsettled, constantly-on-the-move-for-a-job family life.
      LIST FULL includes everything from the sublime ‘List of Near-Death Experiences’ to the ridiculous ‘A List That Makes Me Doubt Who I Ever Was’. Before he goes into his own lists, however, plantenga mentions other, more famous lists such as Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Silver left at Montecello’, Mark Twain’s ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses’, or Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘fictitious taxonomy of nonexistent beasts’ along with other, more common, Top-40-type lists in his preface.
      plantenga’s different types of lists include chronologies, such as ‘List of Lonesome New Year’s Eve’ and ‘No Hot Water/Heat, [Kew Garden Hills, NY 1979-80]; timelines, ‘List of Places Lived [1954- ]’ and biographies, ‘List of Near Death Experiences’; statistics, ‘Score: Track Meets in 9th Grade, 2-mile’; inventories, ‘Contents of Foppe’s (father’s) Secret Cigarbox’ and ‘List of Candies 2017’ that his mother filled her walker basket up with during a trip to a discount store; to-do lists, ‘List of the Hopeful Writer, 1984 NYC’ including bookstores where plantenga had books on consignment and magazines/journals to which he planned to send out work; brainstorming, shopping, and checklists for items to take on a journey; lists of misspellings of his last name (a wound I have also acutely felt my entire life with a much simpler name); and even other people’s sometimes abandoned lists. Through these various lists, plantenga narrates the story of his life.
      There is so much in these lists, that I found them to be a veritable inspirational gold mine for poets and writers. Some of my favourite sections include his father’s ‘List of Clothing To Take To Berlin, 1943’ as dwangarbeider (forced labourer) in German armament factories during WWII. It includes practical clothing, ‘2 shirts (underwear), 1 long 1 workpants, 4 short pants, 3 borsttrokken, [singlet or undervest], 2 flannel shirts, 7 pairs of socks’, stationery supplies and documents ‘1 ink pot, ‘1 writing folder’, ‘paper’, ‘school results’, and hygienic supplies such as ‘1 mirror’, ‘toothbrush’ and ‘6 handerkerchiefs’. Another feature of the book of lists is its photographs of the original lists that sometimes appear on facing pages such as his father’s ‘KLEDINGLYST’. (This list is contrasted by a list called ‘List of Clothes of England’ with items numbered from 1 to 27). Another list that is very creative and reflects the dreams, aspirations, and whimsy of their owners, is plantenga’s ‘Boatspotting List’, which I will posit provided the creative inspiration for his ‘Boatspotting’ memoir about his ’90s Amsterdam squat days along the IJ that appeared in AQ25. This list opens with: ‘Anima, Borneo, Thomasa, Anita, Lara, Sirius, Hirundo, Geert Jan, Diadema, Condor, Meerval, Saturnus, Thetis, Janny, Fury, Speculant, Forel, Isala, Marie Jose, (and) Rope of Sand’. Meanwhile, his father’s ‘KLEDINGLYST’ certainly provided the raw material for plantenga’s AQ28 memoir, ‘The Man Who Came Home’.
      However, it is the ‘List of Places Lived [1954-]’, with its 42 addresses where plantenga’s life experience mirrors Smith’s many residences (both having lived in nine or so homes before going away to college). plantenga’s abortive first year at the University of Wisconsin, briefly mentioned in the list above, mirrors Smith’s first year of college at the University of Texas described in her chapter ‘Failure to Launch’. This is not uncommon for writers, many of whom don’t stay at their first or sometimes not even their second colleges beyond a semester or a year—present company included—as they search for a place where they can be nurtured and inspired. (plantenga went on to study his second year at the University of Michigan at Flint, before spending his last two and half years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he won a Hopwood Poetry Award in 1977.
      Later reckonings with parents and a more sympathetic awareness of their human imperfections also occur in both books. Whether it’s through a list of their frailties such as plantenga’s ‘List of Drugs Taken By My Mother’ or his ‘1960s Man’s Adventure Magazine Story Titles’ list of his father’s soft porn stash or from Smith’s later correspondence with her mother.
      Irene Hoge Smith’s The Good Poetic Mother and bart plantenga’s LIST FULL are radically different approaches to the memoir. However, both dramatically reveal the inner development of the writers over six decades, challenged by economic adversity and their parents’ unsupportive and sometimes adversarial stances to their creative aspirations to find a place for themselves in the world as artists. I assure you, you will be inspired by these books’ narratives to examine your own family’s documentary history. These books may also provide strategies on how to understand chaotic, confrontational, and estranged parental relationships and perhaps ways to mend them or to provide closure later in life, no matter what medium or genre you choose. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ31 Summer 2021 Book Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ31 Summer 2021 Book Review

Robert Hazel, Praise and Threnody, Circling Rivers Press, ISBN: 978-1-939530-15-8 (trade paper), ISBN: 978-1-939530-16-5 (hardback), 210 pages.

Recently it was my pleasure to discover the work of Robert Hazel, an influential, post-WWII American poet, who, unfortunately was never mentioned during my undergraduate lit. courses at Berkeley nor in my graduate writing seminars at Brown. As I read Circling Rivers’ recent edition of Hazel’s collected poems, entitled Praise and Threnody, I became fascinated by the richness of his poetic voice, which draws on the traditions of Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Dylan Thomas, among others. I was also amazed to discover that this poet’s students included Wendell Berry, Rita Mae Brown, and Bobbie Ann Mason, and that he was briefly The Nation’s poetry editor.
      Hazel’s poetry harkens back to Whitman’s and Crane’s in his description of America and New York, especially, warts and all. In her Foreword, editor Jean Huets quotes Robert Buttel who says that Hazel’s ‘post-symbolist, surreal poems … are the most haunting, brilliant, dramatic and resistant.’ In addition, Huets mentions Wendell Berry’s citation of a section of Hazel’s ‘Celebration Above Summer’:

            Hear dark the priestly insects of my endless summer coast down to cells
                     of wax
           and kind weeds bend my flowers to their colors’ end

which she reports ‘can be read chaotic as an overgrown vacant lot in high summer, chaotic as a disintegrating love affair, chaotic as poetry can be.’
      Hazel is also good at character studies, especially those related to poverty and social protest. However, he also records the joy and beauty he finds in city- and landscapes. In addition, his social themes and their presentation styles also remind this reviewer of Muriel Rukeyser’s attention to the working class and the underprivileged, to John Dos Passos and Alfred Döblin sometimes newsreel or police blotter narrative techniques, to report of social problems, and finally of Allen Ginsburg’s wanderlust in his loving description of America, especially the South.
      In her expanded foreword to Praise and Threnody, Huets adds important facts about Hazel’s childhood and teens including his father’s academic background as ‘at Indiana University’ and later at Kentucky University, where Hazel developed ‘his great love for writing and poetry’. Huets also notes Hazel’s three-year military service in Korea, his Bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Karl Shapiro and where he met his first publisher, Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
     In her Afterword, Huets explains her organizing principle for Hazel’s collected poems. She decided not to order them chronologically or biographically, but rather thematically: to ‘gather poems loosely based on themes that carry through Robert’s entire corpus of work. I’ll leave it at that; it seems best to allow “who touches this” to discover (or ignore) what those themes might be.’
      I think this method has worked very well. I would divide the parts of Hazel’s collected poetry into four life stages, each prefaced by a prologue or poetic ‘Ceremony” poem, I-IV, as Huets calls them. The first section is primarily about childhood, youth, family and his early explorations of the world. The second is about young love and youthful adventures. The third section is about mature love and loss including the death of his parents, wife, and child. In addition it has a national focus containing for example, poems about the funeral of US President Kennedy. Finally, the fourth is about preparing for the end and contemplating the meaning of life, with a strong dose of naturalistic nihilism.
      As mentioned above, Hazel’s poetry owes an enormous debt to Whitman, Crane, Thomas, who are sometimes mentioned directly in his poems or in the dedications. This excerpt from ‘Ceremony at Dawn’ demonstrates Hazel’s debt to Thomas:

          east where my fathers worshiped a young dying god
          a chapel of shingles settles in a stillness of bells;
          the tombs on the hill spool fine spiders and ferns;
          immaculate bones turned salt are licked by wild mares

Hazel’s Hopperesque family home and his strict upbringing is described very well in his very short ‘The Pinched Face of Virtue’ quoted here in its entirety

          A correct parlor, a correct wall-clock, a 60-watt light
                   corrected by a plastic shade
          & the sofa dustless & on a dustless end-table
                   the Standard Revised Bible

          Suddenly my father’s bloodless face, legacy of privation
                   & endless correction

His strained family relations are further defined in ‘What Do I Know’, a subsection of his ‘Sunday’ poem:

          What is my knowledge? Parents I can’t find?
          Brothers I visit once a year?     A sister who
          is a Pauline Christian?      A wife anointed by pain?
          And a child who was taken away?

However, in this section is also included Hazel’s awareness of the deleterious effects of social and racial inequality in his poem ‘Who Touches This’, one of Hazel’s finest:

          crying, “Whore of Babylon!”
          Near sleep I heard something
          perfect as a dream
          so certain that I felt
          it would survive my waking
          It was only the hoarse
          repetitions of a drunk man
          shouting, cursing, weeping
          how this nation was killing
          all his innocent children
          Yet strangely when he stood
          pounding the garbage cans
          and imploring, “America!”
          The word sounded beautiful
          as if he believed it

      This description is very close to my almost weekly experience in Haight-Ashbury in the early ‘80s, when, in the middle of the night, someone went off his/her meds, or was just fed up with his/her marginal life, until someone from the Free Clinic, across the street, brought them inside.
      The second section begins after ‘Ceremonies II’, and describes his first loves and corporeal experiences in the world, and the changing role of his parents in his life. In ‘Not by Bread’ (a section of ‘Death in Oregon’), the poet laments: ‘My father and mother have become my own / children’ It also includes poems about his East Coast exploits such as ‘To A Young Woman of Twenty I Carried On My Shoulders at Five’ which I consider to be one of his clear-voiced poems, possibly influenced by the New York School, about adults exploring roles and costumes, perhaps in the funky dress up days of the Summer of Love:

          I was glad to see you
          despite your Cowboy boots
          Western jacket and hat
          and your air of being interested
          in nothing at all

and ends with:

          I might have said, “Timothy Leary
          loves Doris Day” and you would
          have had to run me through
          with your Army Surplus bayonet

      Praise and Threnody’s third section reveals a more mature poetic voice with poems that represent his grief over the loss of his parents, a wife, a child, some friends, and a president. It is a more earnest exploration of the world, including it social and political problems. His robust travels in the American South as a vagrant poet in the back of a truck, in ‘Shenandoah’ reminds me of Allen Ginsberg’s picaresque adventures.

          In the rack of a cattle truck
          calves scratch my hands with little tongues
          I make my own music
          I catch a hatful of whispers like old rain
          that will not fall as long as I

      It also contains six poems about President Kennedy’s funeral in the subsection ‘Guard of Honor’, parallel to Whitman’s reverence for President Lincoln including Hazel’s poem from ‘Riderless Horse’ with its iconic imagery

          Above the muffled drums, the high voice
          of a young soldier
          tells the white horses how slow to go

          before your widow and children, walking
          behind the flag-anchored coffin—
          and one riderless black horse dancing!

      Huets saves the best for last in the ‘Love, Thou, At Once’ section, when Hazel is at the height of his poetic insight and technique. His lines are no longer overgrown with Thomasesque natural symbolism, but rather pruned to short and powerful lines and stanzas where he has just the right amount of greenery to get his point across.
      This section has finely crafted poems which discuss such weighty issues as President Johnson’s foreign policy in ‘Lines in Praise of Myself, a Frederic Thursz painting in ‘The Red and the Black’, the British Empire in ‘Empire’, and Dachau in ‘Star’. Hazel’s famous ‘Letter to the Kentuckian’ dedicated to his former student, Wendell Barry, is also included here along with ‘Under A Florida Palm’ with a reference to Wallace Stevens and the Sermon on the Mount in ‘Consider the Lilies’. It also comes with a strong dose of naturalistic nihilism and honesty. One such poem, ‘Death Flowers Are’, I imagine depicts a suicide.

          My flowers fan tall on wrists, their fragrance
          as the odor of powder from a fired gun.

      In ‘For the First Day of Benjamin’ Hazel collapses all of the history of human aggression in three short lines:

          All times are evil
          From the first stone thrown
          To the high-blown atom

Finally, this section is crowned with one Hazel’s longest poem, ‘Clock of Clay’, which I think should be considered as his consummate achievement. Here, the poet realizes he is at the end of the road:

          I have no future                  The river
                    is flowing backwards
          My past is my present
          & I retort to Charcot, Freud, Husserl
                Binswanger, Heidegger, Buber,
                You tone deaf piano tuners
He continues a few lines later with ‘I am becoming nothing’, and a few more lines after that with the observation:

          I am the man who cannot exceed himself
          Threnody is my name

He reports further that: ‘Christ isn’t there/only a dead Jew my people pray to’ and that ‘I run a treadmill / level with evil – no gain into good’. Hazel also refutes the Bible. ‘The last shall never be first’ and his imagined escape plan from end-of-life-care ‘Before my life is reinvented by tubes / in imitation of the living cord / I shall cut free’. He also mentions that he is grappling ‘in the handcuffs of language’, an appropriate image for the difficulty of the writing process and the limits of language.
      Praise and Threnody is an impressive collection that successfully recapitulates Hazel’s themes as well as his artistic journey. It adds another voice to the landscape of American poetry from the 1950s-70s, which is sorely missing. It is a book by a poet who merits renewed and further consideration. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ30 Spring 2021 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ30 Spring 2021 Book Reviews

Kim Addonizio. Now We’re Getting Somewhere, W. W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-54089-5, 96 pages.
Colin Bancroft. Impermanence, Maytree Press, 978-1-913508-09-8, 29 pages.

As editor of Amsterdam Quarterly I have the privilege of reviewing poets’ books whether they are just starting out, in mid-career, or have had decades of acclaim. Two poets, one each in the first and last categories are Colin Bancroft and Kim Addonizio respectively. Addonizio’s new book Now We’re Getting Somewhere, is scheduled to be released in March 2021 by W. W. Norton, a well-known, independent, American publisher, whilst Colin Bancroft’s pamphlet (Amer. English: chapbook), Impermanence, was released in October 2020 by Maytree Press, a small British publisher. Both, in my opinion, are well worth AQ’s readers’ attention.
      Now We’re Getting Somewhere is Addonizio’s fourth poetry book from W. W. Norton and her eighth poetry book in total. It is divided into four sections: ‘Night in the Castle’, ‘Songs for Sad Girls’, ‘Confessional Poetry’, and ‘Archive for Recent Uncomfortable Emotions’, the third section being the most minimal, experimental, and incongruous, which immediately drew my interest due to my graduate school immersion in post-Modernism criticism which places the most emphasis on focussing on erasures, gaps, holes, or inconsistencies in the narrative style to identify the most significant parts.
      Now We’re Getting Somewhere is dedicated ‘To the Makers’ who Addonizio informed me in her interview in this issue, are the poets (from the Greek word poësis) or ‘those who make rather than break things’. It has two epigraphs—the first from Leonard Cohen song referencing a leader’s untrustworthiness and the second by Elizabeth Taylor referring to alcohol, beauty, and sex.
      The first section starts with a bang with the section’s title poem, ‘Night in the Castle’. Danger is present from the very first line with a ‘scorpion twitching on the wall’. The speaker, who is ‘on an artist’s grant’ to write in a medieval, Umbrian castle, wonders if she ‘should slam it with this book of terrible poetry’ (the one she’s writing or reading?) or ‘murder it with my sandal’ since ‘I gave up on mercy a while ago’.
      However, in the sixth through eighth stanzas, the focus changes to the poet’s fantasy of what would do if she had the power. She imagines herself as ‘an underage duchess whose husband has finally died / of gout’ … or maybe ‘She might even have poisoned the duke’ to have ‘more secret liaisons with the court musician’. Then she fantasizes about what she would do as ‘a feared & beloved queen ordering up fresh linens & / beheadings’. Her fantasy is re-enforced by further punitive desires of ‘locking up bad poets in their artisanal hair shirts’ and ‘torturing academics with pornographic marionette performances’.
      The poem ends with an imaginative leap in its penultimate and final verses. ‘(T)he scorpion is still there twitching blackly / reciting something about violence and the prison of the ego’ and the speaker imagines ‘the clashing armies on the wide lawn outside / sinking down into history & then standing up again’ as does the castle to this day.
      It’s a good summary of Addonizio’s past themes and concerns, external and internal; her wider awareness of artistic, geo-political, and historical power which is reinforced in other poems in this section. These include the themes of the global travails of people of colour in ‘Black Hour Blues’, ecological, planetary degradation in ‘Fixed and In Flux’ and ‘The Earth Is About Used Up’, migrants working in dangerous conditions in ‘Comfort of the Resurrection’, and gun-toting, religious racists in ‘Grace’. In ‘Animals’, Addonizio explores and destroys Whitman’s naïve trope of the natural world’s beauty and deceptive harmony. However, three poems later she remarks on its surprising comforting in ‘High Desert, New Mexico’ where horses ‘stand outside and wait for you to come / with a single apple’. Moreover, ‘In Bed’ the poet realizes that sex and love aren’t worth as much as lying in a Proustian bed ‘between cork-lined walls / writing very long sentences in French’.
      The second section, ‘Songs for Sad Girls’, contains a series of poems about women’s search for sex and lasting companionship—from the gothic and exotic narratives in ‘Wolf Song’, ‘Ghosted’, ‘All Hallows’, and ‘AlienMatch.Com’ and highly imagistic on-liners in ‘Ways of Being Lonely’, (which I consider one of this book’s best poems), to the more realistic ‘August’, ‘Winter Solstice’ and ‘Small Talk’, the terminal line from which gives this book its title. ‘Songs for Sad Girls’ also contains one of Addonizio’s most well-known poems, the sonnet ‘To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall’, which is one of Addonizio’s most quoted poems on social media. ‘Résumé, is a tribute to Dorothy Parker’s poem of the same title about suicide. However, instead of listing the disadvantages of using razors, rivers, guns, etc., to kill oneself, this poem discusses the failings of rehab, lovers, and friends to help one stay sober, the poem ending with the couplet:

                  You’ll soon be subtracted;
                  You might as well drink.

      As mentioned previously, the third section’s, ‘Confessional Poetry’ is the most minimalistic and experimental. This poem, with a few lines spread over 13 pages, is a meditation on various subjects such as the real power of writing, the importance the poem’s space to the poet, self-pity, dealing with traumas, public bathroom sex at a conference on pornography, censorship and men’s criticisms, rape, pollution, drinking, and inspiration. Some of my favourite lines in this section are: ‘Writing is like firing a nail gun into the center of a vanity mirror’,… /‘or beating a piñata selfie… so you can pet the demons that fall out’, and five pages later… ‘Not wearing waterproof mascara while you’re being tasered’, as well as two lines, three pages later, lines I quote in their entirety because of their resonance with most poets:

                  I really like feeling something when I stagger into a poem
                  & having a place to lie down & cry.

      Some lines in this section are more compelling than others, but that’s what one would expect in this rather experimental section. These poems are perhaps not as taut and strong as the surrealist, one-liners in ‘Ways of Being Lonely’ in the second section, but they are more urgent, naked, raw, and personal.
      The general themes of desire, decay, disease and death are interwoven in several poems in the fourth section. More specifically, this section addresses the themes of ageing, alcoholism, the impermanence of love, and the poet’s musings and concerns about her legacy. The poet repeats thrice in ‘People You Don’t Know’ the phrase ‘the early delusional phase of love,’ yet that does not keep the speaker from entertaining the thought of going with a ‘stranger’ at the bar to a room ‘with a creeping mold … with a parking lot view.’ In ‘Ex’ the poet says when she was younger she thought:

                  …nothing could ruin our love which is what everyone /
                        thinks at first
                  but it turns out everyone is wrong

In this section’s title poem ‘Archive of Recent Uncomfortable Emotions’ the poet adds:

                  The I’m sorry I gave you those blow jobs and did you not understand the
                        meaning of “reciprocal” feeling

Here the poet imaginatively catalogues other feelings of loss:

                  The trees are no longer my friends feeling

                  The my friends are no longer my friends feeling

                  The once I was a nineteenth-century Russian novel but now I’m a frozen
                        chicken entrée feeling

      Her poem ‘Still Time’ mentions Keats’ last days, and after his death how ‘they take his body out and burn the wallpaper.’, her own loss as a child of a plush lion, her parents, as an adult, and how she ‘finally stopping sobbing in the bathroom at weddings’ and then circles back to Keats’ again, and rues she ‘can’t go back to 1821 and invent streptomycin / or stop the poet’s kindly doctor from bleeding his patient’. She does however, ‘see the flowers on the ceilings, the same ones Keats held / for weeks in his fevered gaze.’, and realizes ‘That’s as close as you can get’.
      Mortality comes up again in ‘Happiness Report’ where the poet writes: ‘I hate the term bucket list’. She also regrets that ‘it’s too late to drink myself to death at a young age’.
      In ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You John Keats’, the legacy theme is especially strong. Here the poet, fantasies she could ‘fall through a wormhole or get knocked on the head or go though / some stones in Scotland… with medicines sewn into my in pantaloons’. She describes how she would make Keats ‘forget about Fanny Brawne & the big difference in our / ages … (and) lie on the grass & drink French wine & you lay your / head on my breast’. Later she says she wants to be ‘a woman from the future changing literary history forever…while you steer our little boat out of Lethe / & into the lilies / trailing my hand in the canonical water,’… and that she doesn’t ‘want to stay in this world watching Truth bound and gagged on the / railroad tracks’.
      This legacy theme is also mentioned in ‘Art of Poetry’ where the poet imagines her work discovered ‘sometime before the death of the sun’, which will be ‘display(ed) in a luminous floating interdimensional sphere’. Her mortality is reflected upon at the poem’s end:

                  The days & nights keep drunkenly arriving, the guests are all dying
                  & I’m starting to feel pretty sick.

Yet another poem, ‘Little Old Ladies’ begins with:

                  We know we’re supposed to shut up now and tremble off
                  into the wilderness of a golf course on the edge of a retirement community’

      She describes the sight, sounds, and smells of the aged delinquents ‘pissing vodka in our bedpans / Pulling the fire alarm, wandering out into traffic’… no one ‘wanting to breathe us in.’ This fourth section contains poems attempting to imagine and perhaps negotiate the end before it comes.
      On a final note, two aspects of this new volume, of which I personally wanted more, were Addonizio’s inventive sonnets and more poems about Italy. Perhaps her investigation of the strictures of the sonnet and her Italian ancestry might help expand and define her sense of her past, present, and future, and help give the book’s last section a more positive or at least a more balanced perspective.
      A poet who first came to my attention when he submitted two poems, ‘Marsden’ and ‘Atmosphere’ to AQ27 is Colin Bancroft. As I read these two poems, the whole room and my usually whirring mind stopped as they captured my attention—which is my test of whether I want to publish someone’s poetry. The bio he sent noted an upcoming chapbook, Impermanence,, which I requested from his publisher, Maytree Press in Scotland.
      I must say I am very impressed with this pamphlet (Amer. Eng.: chapbook). Its Turneresque cover is by Kevin Threfall, He depicts an autumnal landscape ablaze with soft focus swaths of green, yellow, orange, and red, and a long white house or barn at its centre, reminiscent of Turner’s lone ship in fog. This cover is definitely an attention grabber.
      And Bancroft’s twenty-three poems inside are just as arresting. Though many are composed in rhyming verse, the range of subjects they cover and the voices they include are far from the usual fare. ‘Tethered’, the first poem, describes, on one level, a channel storm about to blow a couple’s tent down. On another level, it addresses the couple’s relational tension. In the next poem, ‘Pheasant’, the speaker is parked in a layby to clear his head. He hears a pheasant’s call, thinks it’s a bit ‘mechanical’ and likens it to an instrument recording of a ‘Your broken heartbeat.’ The poem ‘Absence’, almost seems to describe the Impermanence’s cover. ‘Just the blank canvas / Of fog, primed with rain…Trees loom as ragged patterns cut / From this fine cloth of mist.’
      ‘Mis-en-scène’ contains the thoughts of a young man waiting to enter an amusement park or museum he visited as a child, with his partner, who is a few weeks pregnant, planning his future family. He imagines ‘The cot, the pram, the bike, the toys, the pets, / And all the untold stories that would unfold’. Unfortunately, ‘Three days later / there was a change to the script and we were left / With our plotlines torn,’. ‘Snapshot’ makes an interesting if not uncommon comment on marriage. Set at a café reception in the Borderlands, the speaker comments how ‘that it’s all downhill from here.’ In the next poem, Fallen, later in ‘Crown’, Bancroft’s poetic language becomes more inventive, where he compares a dead tree in a hedge to a skeleton, which ‘we let it lie there…Touching the earth, at last, where its shadow once reached.’—a fitting elegy.
      His poems ‘Marsden’ and ‘Atmosphere,’ both at the centre of this pamphlet. They are about gradual and sudden change. The former about an abandoned village on ‘a windswept headland’ and the latter about the discovery of an overnight snowfall and its effect on the speaker. These poems were originally published by Amsterdam Quarterly at and at They still have the ability to stop me in my tracks, which is why I decided to publish both in AQ27’s Beginnings and Endings issue. Other poems, such as ‘Overgrowth’, ‘Ambleside’, ‘The Clearing’ and ‘Criccieth’, all succinctly describe the feeling of the English country-, lake-, or seaside.
      Next however, come three poems, which were real surprises: ‘The Broken Tower’, ‘After Frankenstein’, and ‘Census’. In the first, the speaker steps out of himself and imagines the life of Hart Crane just before he committed suicide. In the second is in the voice of a young woman, who goes to bars, bringing various men with different physical attributes home to try to reconstruct a past, lost lover. The last describes the squalid scene a census taker notes a century or so before. It this ability to step outside of himself into different personae and eras, in addition to his description of natural scenery and relations closer to home, which set Bancroft apart as a true poet.             AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ29 Autumn 2020 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ29 Autumn 2020 Book Reviews

Hester, Diarmuid, Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper, University of Iowa Press, ISBN 978-1-60938-691-7, 319 pages.
Horn, Bernard, Love’s Fingerprints,, Circling Rivers Press, ISBN 978-1-939530-09-7, 134 pages.

This summer I received two interesting books for review by authors with completely different family dynamics. The first is Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper, about American enfant terrible gay author Dennis Cooper, by Diarmuid Hester, a rising star in LGBTQI literary scholarship. Cooper has long been the ‘bad boy’ of the American gay writing scene for the post-Stonewall generation. At polar opposites, is retired university professor Bernard Horn’s book Love’s Fingerprints, which describes the love and connections that held his family together through four generations and their experience of emigration, the Holocaust, family conflicts, and failing health, as well as Horn’s engagement in the natural and political worlds.
      Hester’s Wrong draws on archival materials as well as interviews with Cooper and those of his admirers. Spending ‘more than a decade’ on this project, Hester provides an excellent overview and summary of Cooper’s works from his early poetry and magazine Little Caesar, to his mid-life George Miles novel series, the deletion of his online blog by his provider due to a complaint, and ending with film collaborations with Zach Farley in the early 21st century.
      Hester’s biography includes interesting aspects of Cooper’s dysfunctional family and their lasting influence on Cooper’s writing. Hester outlines Cooper’s artistic pedigree from his painter grandmother to his alcoholic, former-concert pianist mother, and his earlier, aspiring writer and later aerospace manufacturer father. Hester documents Cooper’s education, public and private, his parents’ divorce, his circle of friends, their attendance at punk music and art venues, and their recreational drug use.
      Hester continues Cooper’s work as Beyond Baroque’s Director. Here, Cooper changed an open mike reading format to a programmed one. (I believe ‘curated’ is the word now used in British and American English). This caused lasting animosity with some of the earlier generation of poets and writers who had previously attended. This tension lead to Cooper leaving Beyond Baroque in 1983. In the meantime, he programmed punk and new wave writers and artists more closely affiliated with the LA contemporary cultural scene.
      Where Hester’s book really becomes interesting for me, however, is in Chapter 6 “If There Actually Is Such a Thing Like New Narrative…”, which describes the Small Press Traffic Bookstore workshops on 24th Street in Noe Valley, San Francisco and New Narrative Writing. I attended SPT’s gay men’s Tuesday night writing workshops from January/February 1983 until July 1984. During this time, I graduated from Berkeley, founded a gay magazine, No Apologies, and later won a fellowship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. If this chapter is representative of Hester’s work in the remainder of the book, I think I should be able to estimate the overall accuracy of Wrong. In brief, the things Hester got right were due to his own scholarship versus interviewee information, sometimes obtained decades later, which almost always contains a few inaccuracies due to faulty memories.
      Hester’s description of the then competing New Narrative and Language schools of writing and their styles in San Francisco in the 1980s is spot on. His assertion that the New Narrative groups’ leaders talked a lot about gay community building as well as good writing is also correct. His description of the purpose of New Narrative writers versus the Language writers in San Francisco is also quite good. New Narrative promoted a self-critical, self-reflexive writing style, which was more like a conversation with the reader, as in the early novels. On the other hand, the Language school produced self-contained narrative entities composed of rapidly changing images from which the reader had to build his/her own narrative. New Narrative’s subject matter was the gay and lesbian community and its writing, which the mainstream press had not yet embraced. The New Narrative writers rightly saw Language writing as a privileged art form for writers who didn’t have to fight for visibility.
      Hester also correctly observes that practically the whole New Narrative movement was included in the second issue of No Apologies. I created this magazine in July 1983 after I discovered just how difficult it was for gay men and lesbians to find publishers for their work. I wanted to preserve and disseminate some of the good work I had heard in these workshops.
      However, there is one inaccuracy in Chapter 6 from information obtained from a Kevin Killian interview. On page 103, Hester quotes Killian as saying that when I went to Brown’s Graduate Writing Program, ‘he (Monte)…took No Apologies with him,’. Killian states further that ‘The materials I (Killian) had left over, gathered for No Apologies, I (Killian) used to start up a new magazine, Mirage,’.
      This is incorrect. The split between Killian and me occurred five months after I had left for Brown. Before that, Killian and I corresponded and telephoned each other regularly from August 1984 to January 1985 exchanging around 10 missives each to coordinate work on No Apologies #4’s upcoming East Coast-themed issue.
      It was Cooper, however, who unwittingly caused my break with Killian. On 8 December, after Cooper had read at my invitation with Olga Broumas for Brown University’s Gay and Lesbian Union, I walked him down College Hill to the train station. On the way, I asked Cooper if he had a piece I could add to the interview I had conducted with him in New York in October for No Apologies #4. He walked a few steps further in silence, then told me he had already sent one to Killian.
      It was for this mis- or lack of communication and other reasons mentioned in my memoir of Killian in AQ27, that I stopped working with him in January 1985 and published No Apologies on my own. However, Hester would have only known about this if he had read Killian’s correspondence with me (now at Yale’s Beinecke Library) or my Killian memoir in AQ27, which came out in March 2020, probably after he had already completed and submitted his MS.
      Overall, I found Wrong to be informative, scholarly, and accessible. It covers sixty years of Cooper’s life in just 319 pages (including a 20-page bibliography and a seven-page index). In addition, Wrong is not mired in technical or academic terminology and provides a good overview and generous excerpts of Cooper’s books so it felt as if I were reading them again. Wrong is an engaging book, which I found sometimes difficult to put down. Fortunately, the book is modular enough that it can be read one chapter at a time without losing the thread of Hester’s description and analyses. Many chapters also include conclusions with Hester’s suggestions about what each means to Cooper’s development as a writer specifically, and/or to LGBTQI writing in general. I believe any Cooper fan or scholar will certainly find Wrong essential reading.
      In contrast, Bernard Horn’s poetry collection, Love’s Fingerprints, is a work written from the right side of the tracks of family dynamics and in a more traditional thematic and stylistic approach to literature. The love and relationships between father, mother, son and siblings is tender, palpable, and binds his family down three generations despite anti-Semitism, emigration, a North American trans-continental relocation, and war. Many of these family links are reinforced thematically with Biblical and classical references, many in the poems’ epigraphs.
      Love’s Fingerprints is divided into five parts: a prologue ‘A Self-portrait with Music’, and four longer sections entitled ‘Hear!’, ‘Dreams of a Black Panther’, ‘Red Red’, and ‘The Ideal World’. In “Hear!’ Horn introduces his parents and grandparents. His father was a 1930s Polish Jewish soccer star and his grandfather was a butcher. They emigrated to Canada during the Depression. His Ukrainian mother also emigrated to Canada with her mother.
      Horn has many poems in this collection about his athletic father and his bright mother. These poems especially depict the strong bond between father and son and between his father and his grandfather. In ‘Sunday In the Park’ father and son are ‘clandestine in their complicity of watching each other,’ at sport, his father ‘showing off with a soccer ball to his European soccer buddies’…‘easily heading the ball between makeshift goal markers’ who lovingly though doesn’t say anything when his son ‘missed an easy pop up and a grounder too’ during his softball game. The Victorian rooming house, where his father played poker and rented a room to change into his swimsuit, is described in ‘The Porch’. On the beach, his son watches his athletic father swim ‘through and beyond breakers,/far beyond the rotted jetties, as the sun set, as you vanished in the distance and the darkness/ on a moonless Saturday night in July alone,/except for the eight-year-old-boy staring out to sea’.
      The bond with his mother can be seen in ‘The Work of Our Hands’ which describes how his mother rinsed gently his hair, even though ‘at ten she witnesses her father’s murder’… ‘at twenty,…brought her aging, half-willing mother/across Europe, the Atlantic, and half of Canada,’…and ‘at thirty-three, left her own beloved extended family there/and led her husband and three-year-old son/to New York…to escape a sister-in-law/bent on dismantling her marriage.’ ‘The Blue Corduroy Blazer’ describes his ‘math prodigy’ mother’s advice to ‘Save up,’ and ‘Buy one good suit,…a pair of pants, a couple of double stitched /shirts, top-of-the-line-ties, fabrics of/quality.’ This first section continues with additional family poems ‘To my Brother’, ‘Portrait of My Mother Knitting’ the long, prose poem/memoir ‘My Father, the Swimmer’, and ‘Wind Hair’ about three granddaughters, among others.
      Horn also addresses the Holocaust in ‘The Merit of Ancestors’, ‘Try to Remember”, ‘What My Father Revealed’, and ‘What My Mother Revealed’, and his own personal experience of anti-Semitism in ‘Jew Cap’.
      The second section contains more poems about Horn’s own family, friends, upbringing, and contemporary events. ‘Cinderella’ describes the reaction of two young girls watching the speaker’s daughter try on her wedding dress in Israel. They ask Horn if his daughter is Cinderella, and their mothers mouth “Say yes,”. ‘At Capo Vaticano’ he describes the rescue of his granddaughter as she fell from some rocks and was about to hit her head. However, Horn’s son-in-law, grabbed her by the ankle just in time. Later, the little girl is shown playing with her sisters oblivious to the danger she’d survived. Then follow two poems, ‘My Daughter’ and ‘Asphaltine’ also about the speaker’s daughters, as well as a remembrance of a grad school party in ‘Forty-Five Years Ago’ of a professor passed out on the living room floor and his wife weeping over the kitchen sink.
      This section also includes two strong, long poems: ‘Sappho’s Blues: Four Songs’ and ‘Dreams of a Black Panther’. The first mixes classical invocations and images with modern, musical, poetic modes The second is a pastiche of Horn’s childhood love of learning, which led him to speak out of turn for which he was punished, his college years discussing politics in a Boston coffee shop, the observation that all the metal in us is produced in stars, and the stony New England soil which still produces daffodils and homes for rabbits.
      Part 3 ‘Red, Red’ is about mankind’s engagement with the natural world. Whether swimming through it and admiring its beauty as is ‘The Snorkelers’ off a Red Sea reef, or coming eye to eye with a raccoon trashing his waste cans or with a great ape in a zoo rolling its eyes as children tap on the glass of its enclosure in ‘Raccoon’, Horn describes inter-species awareness and connectivity. ‘Above Leuk’ describes a medieval church’s walls built from human bones as expertly as ‘The master wall builders from Connecticut,…who worked /mortarless, as they tossed stone rubble/from a cleared field perfectly/into place’. ‘Sycamores’ describes Nature’s healing effect on Horn. Here he leaves ‘his perfect Cambridge apartment’ at 3 a.m. to ‘make my eight mile loop along the Charles’ to clear his head. In the title poem of this section, ‘Red, Red’, the phrase ‘Is that all there is’ is repeated twice to unite the surprise of a damaged, bleeding hand in the first stanza and ‘raspberry red stained lips and teeth in the second stanza, the first time as disappointment and the second, as a celebration of satiation.
      The book’s final section is ‘The Ideal World’, though I found this a bit misleading, because I felt much of its imagery, thoughts, and perceptions are part of the real world. Here Horn explores the topics of meditation in ‘The Silence’ and ‘Mind, Feel’; film and the human drive for sex and death in ‘Strange Love’ and ‘Death, Rothko Said’; the haunting memories some music brings in ‘Schubert’; and a selection of political poems mostly based on personal experience. ‘Hope. Heartbreak’ is about a remembered conversation with a hijab-wearing Palestinian woman in a hallway after a lecture. Here, the woman, who knew his work well, asks about the use of temporality in one of his poems. Unfortunately, Horn never heard from her again. At the poem’s end, Horn years later wonders if the woman still feels the same about his work due to the on-going conflict in Israel and Palestine. This terminal section ends with the section’s title poem. Here Horn writes that the strongest example of political/social change, is not ‘the fear filled bravery of those who face down the instrument of /tyranny’, but a child, no more than three in her mother’s arms yelling the contagious chant: ‘“The people demand social justice.”’
      Love’s Fingerprints is a varied, engaging, and accomplished poetry collection, another excellent book in Circling Rivers’ growing collection. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ27 Spring 2020 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ27 Spring 2020 Book Reviews

Claudia Gary. Genetic Revisionism. Loudoun Scribe, 24 pages.
Erin Wilson. At Home with Disquiet. Circling Rivers, ISBN 978-1-939530-10-3, 127 pages.
Margaret DeRitter. Singing Back to the Sirens. Unsolicited Press. ISBN 978-1-950730-28-5, 100 pages.

After my Augean task of compiling, editing, and posting the AQ 2019 Yearbooks to contributors, libraries, and friends, I finally had some time at the beginning of February to do a bit of reading, between selecting pieces for AQ27. Three poetry collections (two books and one chapbook), which really stood out were Claudia Gary’s Genetic Revisionism, Erin Wilson’s At Home with Disquiet and Margaret DeRitter’s Singing Back to the Sirens. Two are by previous AQ contributors and one was so interesting, due to its cover, subject matter, and author’s bio, I felt compelled to explore it.
      The first is Claudia Gary’s (AQ7, 11, 15, 26, & 27) chapbook, Genetic Revisionism, subtitled: Poems Inspired by the Sciences and Mathematics. True to its title, this is a brief collection of 24 pages with poems about intellectually engaging subjects such as medicine, maths, physics, acoustics, intrusive new communications technology, and humanity’s nascent ability to design its own future through genetic manipulation. The first seven pages are concerned primarily with medicine. The collections first poem, ‘Antiseptic’ is very engaging because it presents how the speaker first learned about the subject from her Air Force veteran father. ‘“…You will never be without / an antiseptic, if you use your urine.”’ Her mother, who wants her to be ‘pretty’ quickly objects with ‘“Hey! / Don’t tell her things like that!”’ as her father ‘dabbed peroxide on her foot’ to disinfect a wound. This juxtaposition of prettiness with science also makes the prescient, young speaker wonder what’s buried under the ‘bumpy-textured’ paintings by an alcoholic aunt, ‘what’s wedged below the prettiness’ and whether it was ‘buried too deep to tweeze it out and cleanse the wound?’
      The poems ‘Kidney Stone’, ‘Aloe Barbadensis Speaks’, ‘Toxoplasmosis’ and ‘Transcribing an ER Report’ continue this medical theme, but unfortunately, not with the same personal attachment. For example, in the last poem, when the transcriptionist hears the doctor say the patient ‘has a real bad cold’, she wonders if he’s being ironic or maybe just suffering from ‘long hours of work’. However, the poem ends with a note of detachment. ‘She never learns the end, which seems a shame. / But he’s the one who has to sign his name.’
      The maths section, pages 10-11, includes a long poem ‘In Binary’ about a couple attracted to each other because they can count in binary and a very short two line poem which mentions thinking about imaginary numbers to fall asleep called ‘A Cure for Insomnia?’ Other scientific poems include ‘One Small Step’ and ‘Music of the Missing Sphere’ about the 1969 moon landing and the NASA January 2018 video of the ‘Super Blue Moon Eclipse’. ‘Higgs-Boson Moments’ is about the observable six stages of this particle. Gary’s truncated villanelle, ‘Ripples in the Fabric’ compares waves in space-time to poetry: ‘they spring from meter and inherit rhyme.’ She compares ‘our galactic spiral’ to a ‘growing nautilus’s climb’. In ‘Ex Nihilo’ she uses Frederick Hart’s stone carving in the Washington DC National Cathedral of ‘”half-formed figures of men and women / appearing from the void”’ as an image of how the universe and human consciousness came into being. She uses a similar technique in ‘An Illumination’, where also in the epigraph, she compares Jan Beerstaten’s ‘The Castle of Muiden in Winter’ scene with skaters, a moat and a great castle to the cosmos and mentions ‘the Muiderkring, which was this heaven’s source.’ Her poems address the positive as well as the negative sides of technology: NSA surveillance, video calls, CRISPR (in the chapbook’s title poem), and the upcoming Singularity, when human and machine/computer consciousness shall merge. It is a short chapbook, which addresses a number of subjects in science, mathematics and being human.
      Although most of these poems present a somewhat detached, objective, philosophical or scientific perspective, some also relate back directly to the poet’s experience as in ‘Antiseptic’ and ‘Aloe Barbaensis Speaks’. These along with her poem ‘Guidance’ in this issue (AQ27), represent Gary’s work at her best: when theory and scientific observation are united with personal experience. I hope that Gary continues to write more poems in this vein.
      All in all, Gary’s Genetic Revisionism is an impressive, short collection of formal poems, (rhyming couplets and quatrains, sonnets, villanelles, etc.), about the sciences and maths, remarkable in its scope and artistry.
      At Home with Disquiet is a poetry book by Erin Wilson published by Circling Rivers Press. The collection’s setting is primarily the speaker’s rural Canadian home and it is divided into seven sections, the first six of which are introduced with a explanatory phrase about the activities of a jackdaw, which seem to intersect philosophically with Wilson’s own life. Many of these poems contain Wilson’s close observation of the natural and domestic worlds related to the weather, tending her garden, and her ancestry. Her revelations come not only from her observing the natural world, but also through raising her children. In ‘It’s Late’ her son records his sudden growth by saying: ‘remember when your moccasins were too big // for my feet? Playfully he demonstrates he can’t even / squish the width of his toes inside them.’ In ‘Lines from Movies—II. Spit from the Top of the Stairs,’ her daughter, who hadn’t been good before Christmas even though her mother had threatened to withdraw her presents, is surprised by the abundance of those she still receives repeating the phrase: ‘More than enough’.
      In the fifth section, Wilson also includes two poems called the ‘Cancer (Suite)’. The first one ‘Healthcare’ is about the experience of undergoing an MRI, a scan this reviewer has experienced many times over. In order to release herself mentally from the confining, narrow, noisy, hot space, (my words, not hers), ‘I visualize the swamp / I was in front of yesterday…visualize some / stable ice for those / starving polar bears…do what seems impossible, imagine a future for our kids.’ The next poem ‘RADIANCE’ innovatively narrates an internal medical examination in reverse order: first with the results, then the examination and lastly the symptoms that brought the speaker to her GP’s surgery.
      However, Wilson’s book is more than the usual combination of genealogy, cultural heritage, the creation of the self and a family, and mid-life retrospection. Reflections on her rural Canadian surroundings include also narrative forays into the art world such as ‘Lines from Movies (A Letter to Van Gogh)’, a shop in which a copy of Georgia O’Keefe’s Black Iris, 1926 in ‘Jacquard’ is being framed, in ‘An Untitled Rothko’ from the ‘Fishing Suite’ in which a river bank is compared to one of Rothko’s paintings, or the book’s penultimate poem, ‘Almost’ in which the speakers ‘reminiscing about the Chicago Art Institute’ as ‘Whistler’s muted Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southhampton Water, / still washes up at our feet),’ at ‘Misery Bay in May,’. Her poetry is also replete with epigraphs and references to well-known, maverick poets such as Constantine P. Cavafy, Bashō, Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Gilbert, William Everson, Charles Wright, or even Galway Kinnel’s little boy Fergus in ‘Statistics, 2012’.
      Her poem, ‘Gentrification’ about an old downtown, with its derelict shops boarded up windows next to hip, ‘Vegetarian fare and fair trade coffee shops, / a stripper’s club’ brings her poetry right into the present, now decade-long, economic malaise. The book’s final poem,‘Agrarian Landscape with Fanbrush’ in the eighth, and last untitled section, is set in a windy, March scene, with the poet: ‘Walking along between / the parcelled farm fields, / the windows of heaven / keep passing over me,’. The poem includes images of birches, a crow, and quote from Mahler, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, which close this book masterfully. It proves that Wilson is not just a poet of the Canadian countryside, but one deeply rooted in many poetic and artistic traditions. At Home with Disquiet is an excellent addition to Circling Rivers’ growing collection.
      Singing Back to the Sirens is a poetry book by Margaret DeRitter (AQ24), published by Unsolicited Press. The book is divided into three parts: Part I, ‘So Many Sang to Me’; Part II, ‘Singing Back to Her’ and an ‘Epilogue’, one poem entitled ‘Funeral Directive From a Serial Monogamist Who Never Stopped Looking for the One Who Would Last’. The first section begins with an epigraph by Walter Copland Perry about Homer’s Sirens, whose songs ‘though irresistibly sweet / were no less sad than sweet’. The poems in this first section are about family, her mother’s illness, childhood friends, mistaken gender identity based how she dressed and what she did with friends, and her introduction to a gay support group via a college newspaper—a lesbian Bildungsroman. These include the momentous experiences of her first entrance to a gay bar, her first girlfriend, and sexual experiences—one hot and sweaty and another with a woman who keeps saying she ‘likes boys’. The Siren motif is mentioned again in ‘Singing Back to the “Straight Girl”’, about ‘girls who fall for girls who / never look their way when it’s time for love, who keep on chasing them / anyway’, a common, LGBTQI experience of unrequited love.
      The form of DeRitter’s poetry varies from short to long lines, and includes prose poems such ‘Susie and Me and the Line in the Road’, and ‘Dream Sequence: The Roof Leaked When You Moved Back In’ and ‘After the Confederate Flag Came Down’ (the latter two poems both in Part II) and also a poem arranged around one colour, ‘Blue’, referring to the colour of ice cubes rolling down her belly, the colour of her girlfriend’s dress, and the azure skies of Arizona.
      In ‘Paddling the Wilderness’, she uses geographic and meteorological metaphors to describe her strained relationships. At the end of a summer holiday after enjoying a canoeing trip together, their close relationship falls apart. One ‘locked… (the other) ‘out of a hotel room’ and the other ‘threw a telephone at the floor’…‘like Michigan’s winters, your moods / turned gray and I drew stormy.’ In ‘Gone’ DeRitter describes her feeling of being deserted by a partner she’d kissed that morning before leaving for work and then coming home to find her partner’s belongings gone. The poem is most effective because instead of describing the speaker’s emotions at being abandoned, it is a catalogue of the missing possessions and the signs of their removal, such as the poem’s last lines: ‘The scratches on the wooden floor/ the only sign of your tall oak dresser.’ In fact powerful closing lines are one of the best aspects of DeRitter’s poetry. In ‘Shooting Angels: Mendon, Michigan’, the poet writes about her frustration at not finding someone with whom she can settle down.

      Nesting was her specialty, her safety net,
      her terror. She flew back from California once.
      We sat in a car outside my house.

Other geographic and outdoor images include Lake Michigan, its dunes, winter snow, rivers, and hiking. Like many later-in-life poetry collections, this first section is a list of regrets, a list of loss about those who died, and those who disappeared, but also the maturity that comes with surviving these losses.
      The second section begins with an ode to a former partner in ‘The Alchemists Had Nothing On You’. It’s one of only a few outtakes from the speaker’s primarily North American and specifically Michigan settings. ‘Novices at Sacré-Coeur’ describes a happy visit to a prominent Parisian landmark and ‘We Left our Love in Lourmarin’ is about being haunted by her ex- and her memories of their holidays. In ‘Wedding Cathedral’ the speaker describes her outdoor wedding under arching trees, with a flower in her partner’s hair, just like ‘that San Francisco song’. ‘Avalanche’ is about personal tragedies coming in threes: the deaths of her mother and her dog, and the loss of her job, all in quick succession. ‘Dateline: Kalamazoo’, (I assume about the job she lost), was first published in AQ21 in its Media issue. It’s about the struggle to keep a local newspaper alive, an issue common to most towns in the early 21st century, as younger readers turn more to digital instead of print media. In ‘Thanksgiving Explosion’ the speaker describes her emotional outburst after she asks her partner to call her family, who had not attended their wedding. The speaker becomes angry and vents in front of her partner’s family, all present for the Thanksgiving dinner. The speaker imagines ‘every grievance splattered on the kitchen’s walls / the stove, the floor, the cupboards’.
      In the next poems, the speaker relates her feelings of loss due to their breakup. In ‘That Day In January’ she describes the feeling of waves crashing against her chest, when her partner told her, ‘I have to leave’. In ‘Uncoupling’ the strangeness of her partner ‘coming in through the front door,’ when they’re no longer together, and in ‘I Had a Granddaughter for Seven Months’ the loss of a briefly shared feeling of progeny through caring for her partner’s granddaughter—the physical contact, photobook, and FaceTime, which ended when her partner broke up with her. And finally, the tears in ‘Closing Our Account’, when she and her ex- went to the bank to close their joint account—‘the paper all wet / and see-through’. It is this attention to detail, the use of just the right metaphor to translate her feelings, which makes DeRitter’s poetry so striking and arresting.
      Stylistically, DeRitter’s poetry takes a turn when her poems talk about digital media. In the Whitmanesque long lines of ‘If Friend Had as Many Variations as Arctic Snow,’ she takes exception to Facebook’s ‘Friend’ designation. The poet writes: ‘I’d have a word for the friend who shows up on my Facebook list / but never on party invitations…(who) tells me Happy Birthday online, but never in person.’ A few poems later, in ‘Awaiting Word at Mission Control’, her thoughts are separated structurally by days and smartphone ‘dings’. On the first day, there’s a text to her ex- about a movie she’s just seen, the next day, another saying she ‘heard you were having surgery / at Mayo’. On day three there’s a report on millions of ‘women marching / all over the world’ and a photo of the ‘ex-granddaughter’ she hasn’t seen in four years’. On day 5, a message from an old friend, who watched the moon landing with her in her living room 48-years ago, and then disappeared, and on day 6, the poet wondering when her ex- will stop resenting her and get in touch again.
      The epilogue poem, the book’s summation, ‘Funeral Directive from a Serial Monogamist Who Never Stopped Looking For the One Who Would Last’ reminds me of the ninth of W.H. Auden’s ‘Twelve Songs’, at least in its refreshing combination of details. Mourners are instructed to bring their ‘boxed-up / photos, useless house keys, sad CDs’ and lay them at her feet, to place their ‘grievances on pure white / paper, fold them into mourning doves / or cut them into snowflakes and let / a blizzard fly’ and to pile a column of rocks to express their sorrow. The speaker also asks for ‘a preacher who’s heard of Meg Christian / or at least the Dixie Chicks’. Lastly, she asks the mourners to ‘take off my glasses and lay them on the casket’ as they sing her to sleep. Such a moving poem, such a moving collection from birth to death, such an ending.
      There is much to praise and recommend here. Singing Back to the Sirens is an excellent poetic compendium of the joys, sorrows, and wisdom gained through this lesbian poet’s experience in the post-Stonewall/pre-Marriage Equality Act generation.         AQ