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Briefly Noted - April 2013

A monthly book review in brief from the staff of the Prairie Schooner and associates.
Earth Again by Dombrowski

Briefly Noted

A monthly book review in brief from the staff of the Prairie Schooner and associates.

Vol. 2 Issue 2. April 2013. Ed. James Madison Redd

The Golden Road by Rachel Hadas | Reviewed by Caitie Leibman
The Hours of The Cardinal by Richard Lyons | Reviewed by James Madison Redd
Earth Again by Chris Dombrowski| Reviewed by James Crews

Rachel Hadas. The Golden Road. TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2012.

Reviewed by Caitie Leibman

Frank in its frustrations, Rachel Hadas’s collection The Golden Road seeks to capture “lives in progress,” as they are marked by changing seasons, evolving relationships, and aging bodies. The poems explore fifty years of memories, from summers spent at a family home to the gradual dementia suffered by the poet’s husband. Throughout, Hadas examines the challenges of holding steady a relative identity within a forever-moving universe.

When the human sphere proves a painful one—full of fading connections and feelings of “transparency”—Hadas uses the natural realm to negotiate painful experiences. She writes, “Going outside, you brace yourself for cold. / But by the time you’re used to it enough / to stand up straight . . . raise your head and face into the wind, / you face another weather. So with this: / I drank your diagnosis, took it in.” The poet’s husband slowly disappears, but her mindfulness of her surroundings and the seasons creates the tiniest bit of order out of the “uneasy human silence” found in loneliness.

Hadas’s work does convey comfort: by sharing her journey, she tells us that we are not alone in the pain of loss. As Hadas tries to delineate how “the shadow” of dementia “started ever so slowly creeping” over her husband, the intimacy of her poetry invites the readers to reflect on their own ill and aging loved ones. She provides a center of “gliding quiet and fresh perspective” from which to engage these topics and emotions.

“Nature moves on,” Hadas writes. It shapes even the most familiar places, those separate and away spaces to which we escape. Though we may pause to reflect along our journeys—as Hadas has, so thoughtfully, on the page—the shifting world will not cease: “I looked up / And saw the sky had changed.”

Richard Lyons. The Hours of the Cardinal. University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Reviewed by James Madison Redd

In The Hours of the Cardinal, the acrobatic poet Richard Lyons stretches the line and time to resurrect his deceased mother. Lyons memorializes Agnes (an ordinary person to a lesser writer who lacks perspicacity) among continuous allusions to everlasting artists. Just as life is never long enough, the page seems too short to contain the lyrical elegance of this collection. As the poet begins a journey into the Greek underworld, Charon’s oar strikes Styx, memory revives. A mournful cadence ticks off each second of The Hours of the Cardinal, yet the dreamlike imagery and ceaseless lines of these boundless poems pleasingly deceive the reader—time no longer exists, past and present survive at once, we walk among the dead and the living, we can live again in the wombs of our mothers and be reborn. In this collection, poetry sustains, not through the exuberance of Whitman, but through the indomitable longing of a poet who believes in the power of art to spite the constraints of time and space. I listen to a cardinal’s voice on a Mississippi spring day, and wish Lyons luck on his heroic quest to draw life from death. I am reminded of the power of poetry to attain the unattainable.

Chris Dombrowski. Earth Again. Wayne State University Press, 2013.

Reviewed by James Crews

In Earth Again, Chris Dombrowski taps into our collective fears about the future of the planet and the ways in which we can and cannot connect as humans with the natural world. The magnificence of Earth Again is that every poem seems to emerge from the very dirt, the very ground on which Dombrowski walks. Unlike many collections these days, which muse on nature and ecology from a great remove, this book gives us a speaker unafraid to sing to us from the middle of the woods, his hands covered in the stuff of this world he loves. In "Tablet," the poem that opens the collection, he writes:

Up the cutbank of a creek named after stone,
striking stone, I came walking, my fingers
stained with the pulp of raspberries picked
from branches arched over descending snowmelt
beneath two clouds and blue sky no one
built . . .

Dombrowski's urgent lines seem always to push us forward, keeping us reading until the conclusion of his often-striking revelations. And a collection that focuses on the Earth cannot help but also call forth visions of the end of the world. In "Weekly Apocalyptic or Poem Written on the Wall in an Ascending Space Capsule," Dombrowski delivers a bleak but unflinchingly honest assessment of where humanity is headed if we keep ignoring what we're doing to the planet:

. . . How devoted we were
to despising one another, to erecting
our own private islands made of water
bottles and various other plastic
disposables. "Will you forgive me?"
was a phrase stricken from our language--

None of us, he points out, is willing to accept the blame for the effects of our collective actions, and the poem thus ends on a quiet yet heartbreaking note: "There was/this bird we used to call a whippoorwill." It would be a disservice, however, to say that Earth Again is only a serious collection, for Dombrowski also gives us the tenderness of domestic scenes with family and the humor of trying to be more ecologically aware. "My Recently Implanted Gov't Eco Guilt Chip," for example, imagines a world in which we are all forced to feel remorse for using too much toilet paper or wasting six gallons of fresh water whenever we flush. It's refreshing to read a book that never turns maudlin or sentimental, yet still illuminates what Chris Dombrowski describes as "the lustrous strand / binding us here, each to each."

Contributors:

Caitie Leibman is an M.A. student in creative nonfiction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She edits and writes for the UNL Nebraska Transportation Center and coaches competitive speech at Doane College. … James Madison Redd’s poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Fifth Wednesday, Deep South Magazine, and Fiction Southeast, among other journals. He is the editor for the Prairie Schooner blog and the founder of the Crooked Letter Interview Series. … James Crews won the 2010 Prairie Schooner Book Prize with The Book of What Stays. He’s also authored three chapbooks, What Has Not Yet Left, Bending the Knot, and One Hundred Small Yellow Envelopes: A Poem After the Life and Work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and is currently an editorial assistant at Prairie Schooner.

Submission Guidelines:

The editors of Briefly Noted welcome submissions of short reviews from our readers. The series features short reviews of books published in 2012 or 2013; however, we occasionally publish short-shrifted reviews of significant older works under the radar. We're looking for reviews that are punchy and to the point, around 100 to 300 words. Send all submissions to pswebed@unl.edu with “Briefly Noted" in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you in brief!

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