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Skylar Hamilton Burris
Small Press Poetry Book Reviews

Following, in alphabetical order by title, are a variety of poetry books and chapbooks published by small presses, self-publishers, and non-traditional print-on-demand publishers. In addition to these poetry chapbook reviews, you can also read past reviews of small press prose books. I AM NOT CURRENTLY ACCEPTING BOOKS FOR REVIEW.

Accepting Invitation 
by Shayna Lilley
© 2001

This small press collection of poetry is well designed, and the book includes illustrations and photos that compliment the chosen poems very effectively. I was asked to review this collection and was generously provided with a complimentary copy. I had no idea what to expect, but I must admit I was prematurely prejudiced when I read the acknowledgements, which included thanking "Spirit" for "this gift" as well as "Mother Earth." The first poem, as I had anticipated, was a bit high-handed and moralistic. "Transition to Millenium" attacks man "the hunter" who has become the victim of "his own need for greed." The evil hunter-men "tear . . . and slaughter . . . and dine" instead of showing "peace" and seeking "Oneness of Mind." Not that I disagree with having moral messages in poetry; I think it is valuable, but such morals can be expressed with more nuance. (Of course, how "subtle" a moral lesson appears is in some ways related to how much we resist it.)

Most of the remaining poems, however, are more introspective, and consequently not at all preachy. The second poem in the collection, "Passions Unanswered," is an intimate love poem. It has some great alliteration, but some of the imagery is a bit maudlin: "Why does the child of my wild seek your touch," for instance. The poem, though not perfect in meter, has musical rhythms, which are especially aided by the use of internal rhyme. The third offering, "Elusive Gift," poses a series of thoughtful questions, but the repeated use of the archaic "’tis" is very much out of place in a poem employing otherwise completely modern language. I won’t continue to dissect these pomes one by one, but I will say that, in general, the work reflects a highly promising skill that is still, however, clearly in an amateur stage.

After the Eclipse
by Albert W. Haley, Jr.
Small Poetry Press, © 1999

This slender, attractively printed volume is divided into three parts and contains 41 very short poems.  Some of the poems seem to lack substance and appear to be little more than an exercise in form.  Others are not only sonorous but also prove the adage that “less is more,” containing as they do the kind of concise insight you might find in a work like Proverbs or the Tao Te Ching. 

Air, Angels, and Us
by Ida Fasel
Argonne House Press, © 2002, ISBN 1-887641-65-3

This is the fourth chapbook by Ms. Fasel I have had the pleasure to review, and her verse has occasionally appeared in the pages of Ancient Paths. This most recent offering contains 48 poems.  Ida Fasel’s poetry is decidedly “modern” in its style, but without the pretension and contempt for grammar that often makes contemporary poetry unpalatable.  Her rhythms are frequently soft and smooth, and the reader is carried along by poetic repetition and other devices.  Abbreviated lines, when used, most often serve as a means of transition and do not jar the reader from the easy flow of the text, although the verse can in rare instance appear choppy.      

As might be guessed from the book’s title, angels are a recurring theme throughout the collection, and they are admittedly not my favorite subject matter.  But Fasel treats angels, which are something of a current fashionable trend, with complexity and subtlety.  The book also explores a variety of other themes, such as unity (“Pledge”), the human mind (“Aloft”), and the power of music (“Sunday Morning on CD”).   My favorite poem is “At the Millennium,” in which the author “finds people nicer than / the 10 o’clock news reports” and learns that sometimes even clichés are necessary, because “to be right some of the time / helps me for most of the time / when more trendy words cut me off.”

Amphora Full of Light 
by Ida Fasel
© 1985

Before the Rapture Press, the publishers of this chapbook by Ida Fasel, ended up cutting the book in half because they ran out of money.  And it is little wonder they did, for the volume is printed in two colors on thick, textured paper with protective inside sheets.  The printing is beautiful, but perhaps not worth the sacrifice of substance; I would like to have seen more of the author's poems.  The book contains only seven, which may be a symbolic number to the Jews and a perfect one to the Greeks, but, in this instance, it is an inadequate one to me.   The book takes its title from its first poem, a wonderful three part reflection on the believer who can manage to hope in the midst of a fallen and suffering world.  

In today's world of workshop clones, Ida Fasel's poetry is unique and honestly profound.  Her work is not written in traditional forms, but nor can it be appropriately describes as "modern," because it is, while remaining intelligent, largely unencumbered by the pretentious techniques that so often define poetry in this "over-refined age."  The author does, however, use "archetypal," which, along with "primal" and "primordial," is one of the most commonly used see-how-literate-I-am words in the submissions I receive. But in context, I must forgive her for it.  Throughout the collection, the poet employs an appropriate amount of imagery, assonance, and anaphora, without going overboard on any of it. 

Aureoles
by Ida Fasel
Juniper Press, © 2004, ISBN 1-555780-165-7

Aureoles is a mini-chapbook, a physically small collection of eight poems.   But there is nothing small-minded about the author's work.  Fasel uses her words sparingly, but she communicates a great deal.  My favorite in the collection is "Bonsai," which in just five lines explores how, when something is forced to fit an unnatural form in the name of art, it can sometimes be drained of life.

Ballad Girls and Other Poems
by Frank de Caro
Garden District Press, © 2005, ISBN 1-931002-47-9

This small chapbook contains eight poems and two illustrations that focus on places, folklore, and aesthetic objects.  It uses the power of places to evoke the past.   The poems are rich with rythm, alliteration, and imagery (but the imagery is not overdone or nonessential).

Bearable Weight
by Michael Cleary
CW Books, © 2011, ISBN 978-1-936370-51-1

Michael Cleary's Bearable Weight contains frequent allusions to religious life or the Bible in emotionally fraught settings and paints a sometimes bleak landscape penetrated by occasional rays of hope. There’s a bitter-sweet tone to several of his poems. The reader will be introduced to a diverse cast of characters, each with his or her own unique life story.  Many of the poems left me wanting to know more about their subjects and speakers. I question the reader who doesn’t cry at some point in the course of digesting this volume, and I found poems such as “First Wife,” “Relative,” “Some You Remember and Some You Can’t Forget” and “Bless the Child in Any Juke Box Bar” especially affecting. As with any collection, there were a few poems I just didn’t “get,” or that failed to hold my interest, or that seemed to be trying too hard, but, on the whole, the collection is impressive, and when I am hit hard emotionally by more than four poems in a single volume, I generally take note of the poet.

Book of Dreams and Nightmares
by Lisa M. Taylor
Lisa Taylor, © 2012, ISBN 1461088666

This secular poetry collection tries to recreate the sensation the dreamer has when waking from a dream so vivid that he is uncertain which world is real. The verse guides the reader through strange, dark lands. Books of Dreams and Nightmares belongs to the small niche genre known as "horror poetry." The poet employs rhyme and meter in many of her poems, which is refreshing in a world so often lacking in formal poetry, but the rhyme is often predictable and the meter occasionally strained. The poems themselves assume the format most popular among amateurs--centered on the page.  Some of the poems seem to tell a short story, giving the reader quick glances at images of terror or seduction.

Deep Wonder
by Philip C. Kolin
Grey Owl Press, © 2000, ISBN 0-9671901-1-8

This volume of 66 poems is complimented by illustrations from the pen of Christopher J. Pelicano, and the collection is presented in a professional manner.  The poems are the result of a bitter inspiration: an unexpected, numbing experience of personal rejection.  Broken by the loss of human love, the poet turns to God, directing his love poems at the worthiest of targets, and at the only being capable of wholly selfless love.  

Deep Wonders is in one sense highly personal, but this does not mean readers will be unable to relate to it.  Anyone who has suffered and turned to God with a newly opened heart will be able to join in the celebration Kolin offers.  Kolin’s style is somewhat truncated, with very short lines written in free verse.  Occasionally, a lack of standard punctuation impedes the otherwise easy flow of the poems,  causing the reader to temporarily pause in order to gather the meaning. 

Nevertheless, Kolin’s poetry has the rare quality of being accessible without being simplistic.  There is no academic pretension displayed here, no convoluted or irrational comparisons.  The imagery is powerfully concise and always appropriate.   Alliteration is employed frequently but subtly. 

Some of my favorite poems in this collection include “The Desert,” “The King’s Arbor,” and “Christ, My Courtier,”  and “The Prodigal’s Brother,” which you can also read in issue ten of Ancient Paths.  

The Deep and Secret Color of Ice
by Paul Willis
Small Poetry Press, © 2003, ISBN 10891298-20-8

 Here comes yet another tastefully designed chapbook from Small Poetry Press, complete with color cover.  The title (which the poet draws from the last line of his “Sierra Juniper”) was arresting, leading me to look forward to reading the 24 poems within.   The unrhymed poems are rhythmic and melodic.  The imagery does not generally seem affected (as it unfortunately does in much modern poetry), nor is it used as a substitute for substance.  My favorite poems in this collection are “Silliman Creek,” “Apocalypse,” and “The Leper.”

DOWNSIZING my muse
by David Alpaugh
Small Poetry Press, © 2004 , ISBN 1-891298-41-0

This pint-sized chapbook collection contains 18 poems of 12 lines or less, plus a "revolutionary" sonnet.  The latter is written in a circle with text that grows increasingly smaller as it nears the center, making the poem an interesting experiment in form but a useless mode of communication.  Even though I did not like all of the poems in this collection, the book was refreshing because it was unique--no workshop clones here.  The tiny volume begins with a breath of fresh air--an honest confession that the book is self-published, presented as an EPA  ("Ethical Poets of America") warning.  By necessity, the poems must be concise, and that conciseness at times can be quite clever.  I laughed aloud at at least one poem ("What I said to my dog...") and paused to think seriously about another ("The Young"). I also particularly enjoyed "Inside Story" and part two of "the minimalists' milton."

First Words
by Don J. Carlson
Jagged Corner Publications, © 2006

This tasteful, simple volume contains a variety of poems complemented by pen and ink drawings.  Stylistically, some of the poems read like proverbs. Others are cast in the form of blank verse, and still others would best be classified as free verse.  There are several short and powerful poems with stark messages, and yet these verses usually avoid sounding didactic. Favorites include "Start Again," "Seeking God," "Weeds," and the clever "Ancient Polls."

The Geography of Prayer
by Donna Farley
Skysong Press, © 1999

Donna Farley presents a collection of poems that range from the invitingly accessible to the almost-esoteric, from the charmingly sentimental to the deeply pensive.  The nineteen works in this chapbook are divided into five sections centered around the vital components of prayer: meditation, confession, intercession, supplication, and praise. Each poem is well placed in an appropriate section.  The printing is simple yet attractive.  This slender volume has a number of truly excellent poems, and only very occasionally will the reader encounter anything like the sense of pretension that so often prevails in modern poetry today.

Although the majority of poems in this books would be best classified as free verse, the poet is not afraid to employ traditional forms (such as haiku) or to make use of rhyme, which she does in an unobtrusive way that enhances her poems.  It is rare to find well-crafted traditional poetry in today's world, but at least three such poems are included in The Geography of Prayer:  "Mary of Egypt," "Unseen Art"' and "Bell Song." 

The Giant Book of Poetry
Edited by Willaim Roetzheim
Level 4 Press, Inc., © 2006, ISBN 0-9768001-2-8

This weighty paperback anthology contains more than 750 pages and 60 illustrations complementing poems from the classical to the contemporary.  The collection is designed for readers who do not normally read poetry books, and consequently it includes footnotes that define the poetic forms employed as well as unusual or archaic words used. The footnotes also offer hints for interpretation.  The volume is well indexed and the selections are wide ranged, hitting on most of the important poets in each period.   This would make a fine gift for someone who is just beginning to develop and interest in poetry.

Grief
by Howling Wolf
Black Sun Press, © 2000

This volume contains modern poetry, some experimental, some concrete, and some standard free verse.  The poems generally substitute nonconformity for substance and spacing tricks for poetic devices.  These verses are unique for the sake of being unique, and some of the poems seem a bit pretentious.  A few, however, are clever.

Heavy Lifting
by David Alpaugh
Alehouse Press, © 2007

This unillustrated collection contains about 80 pages of poetry as well as an essay on "The Professionalization of Poetry."   Some of the poems are written in free verse; some are concrete; some are metrical; and the rare ones even (gasp!) rhyme, and that rhyme is never obtrusive. Many of the poems are not accessible upon a first reading, and some take awhile to capture the reader's attention.  There were few that were able to grab me from the very first line, but, if the reader invests some time and patience, there will be rewards, although I recommend instead the smaller, slimmer, lighter, and more arresting volumes Mightier than the Sword and DOWNSIZING my muse. Although there were several poems to enjoy in Heavy Lifting, I have to confess that this is my least favorite of the three collections I have read from this unique and clever poet. My favorite poems in this volume can already be found in the other, shorter collections.

Holy Week Sonnets
by Philip Rosenbaum
Posterity Press, © 2004, ISBN 1-889274-21-6

This elegant hardback collection of sonnets is a rare treat.  Well-written formal poetry, complete with meter and rhyme, is like a swift breeze of invigorating air in a world that all too often scorns the riches of tradition.  And these sonnets are indeed well-written: the alliteration, rhythm, and imagery work together to move the reader to reflection, as he or she embarks on a Holy Week journey from the costly anointing of Christ, through the crucifixion, to the resurrection. I could name many favorites in this volume, but I will content myself with a few.  "A Single Stone" inspires empathy for the often overlooked Martha; "Good Friday, 1987" shows how intellectual confusion can be happily consumed by childlike faith; and "The Signature" reminds us of the beautifully brutal way Christ sealed His contract with us.  These are beautiful poems to read aloud, and this is the kind of collection that can bear repeated reading each year during Lent.  The poems are complemented by scripture references, which are printed in their entirety in the second half of the book, so that you may use the volume as a kind of devotional.

i should have given them water
by Eileen Malone
Ragged Sky Press, © 2010, ISBN 1-933974-08-7

I am not a fan of the use of the lower case i for the personal pronoun, which has become increasingly popular in poetry. In fact, I even note my dislike for the use of the lowercase I in my submission guidelines to Ancient Paths, the literary magazine I edit and publish. In my experience, the lower case “i” in poetry is very often accompanied by either excess pretension or impenetrability. Therefore, I was expecting to find much of the poetry in “i should have given them water” not to my liking. Interestingly enough, despite the title, no poem in the volume uses the lower case i.  That alone was not why I respected the poems in this volume, however. Proper capitalization of the personal pronoun, as satisfying as it is to me, does not a great poem make.

But I enjoyed the stark and often unique imagery of Eileen Malone’s poems.  She makes use of the five senses, but I was particularly struck by her use of scent.  At times the lines seemed too long to carry a pleasing rhythm, and I felt as though I was being dragged along them, but the alliteration was arresting. These dark poems are sometimes tender, sometimes disturbing, with alternating notes of hope and dejection. Some are quite moving.

Although the poems are all well written, there are very few in the volume that could see myself wanting to read over and over again.  The most powerful are those that deal with struggling or dying relationships. I would not recommend this collection to a casual reader of poetry, as they are not easily accessible and require some thinking, but if you are well-read in the genre, I would urge you to give this volume a try.

The Imaginary Baritone
by Richard Merelman
Fireweed Press, © 2012, ISBN 978-1-878660-27-5

This collection begins with a preface that is a concrete (shape) poem and then goes on to depict in free verse some painful scenes of family and school life. Many of the poems tend to be dark. The collection is well formatted and elegantly presented.

The Inner Voice
by Jenelle Jack
iunvierse, © 2001, ISBN 0-595-19464-8

This softcover collection of verses published by a college student contains over 100 poems.  Many are free verse, although some rhyme.  Those that do rhyme tend to employ simplistic forms and rhyme schemes.  Those that do not rhyme sometimes appear as unadorned prose distinguished by line breaks.  The poet tackles important themes and has many valuable messages, though these are not presented with subtlety.  Ms. Jack shows a promising skill that yet requires further study and practice. 

The Inness of With
by Eamon Kiernan
Aontau Dublin Gehrden, © 2002

The Inness of With is a cycle of 49 poems, broken into seven sections of seven poems each.  Each section is centered around a different theme, but there is one overarching, uniting subject: coping with the loss of love. The poet, who in his prelude says that he realized, while writing this work, he was looking for God, has produced a vaguely spiritual collection.  Despite this declared spiritual quest (which is universal to man), the work at times seems too personal (or too self-conscious) to be widely accessible.

Journey Into Healing
by Sherri Waas Shunefenthal
Pocol Press, © 2003, ISBN 1-929763-16-6

This book uses poetry as an introduction to its prose reflections, reflections that consist of spiritual meditations, commentary, thought-provoking questions, and personal biblical interpretation.  The author, as she did in her book Sacred Voices, focuses on the perspectives of women, this time moving beyond Genesis to include Esther, Hannah, Ruth, and Naomi.  The book is intended to help people as they, like their biblical ancestors, struggle with the age-old problem of pain.  The poetry is not overtly sonorous, but it does grapple with heavy themes, and it serves as a solid jumping board for the author's reflections.

Judith  
Translated by Albert W. Haley, Jr.
Zip Type Service, © 2001,   ISBN 0-938138-10-3

This chapbook-style volume contains a modern English translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem “Judith,” which is based on the Apocryphal book of the same name, as it appeared in the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible.  Just as the author of “Beowulf” Christianized the pagan legend, so too does the author of “Judith” Christainize this Jewish, intertestmental tale, resulting in a few entertaining anachronisms.

Not being versed in Anglo-Saxon  myself, I cannot judge whether Haley’s is an accurate translation.  I can, however, say that the work is a pleasure to read.  The alliteration (the primary device used in Old English poetry) is especially powerful in “Judith,” creating a mesmerizing cadence in the mind of the reader.  The translator has also produced a version of “Beowulf,” available in paperback.

The Lamp-Bearer
by Joan Kikel Danylak
Poetry Center Press, © 2011

This chapbook collection of numerous poems is staple-bound with cardstock covers and appears to use clip art for illustrations. The poems alternate between free verse and rhymed forms. The rhymes tend to be of the sing-songy variety. The themes are primarily religious and literary, with references to poets such as William Wordsworth and Omar Khayyam. There is an occasional poem or prose message thrown in by other authors and poets. One interesting aspect of the collection is that it contains several poems written in epistlatory format.

Light Under Skin
by Amanda Auchter
Finishing Line Press, © 2006, 1-59924-050-5

This simply-designed chapbook contains 22 poems unaccompanied by illustration.   The collection explores themes of loss and renewal and examines the relationship between mothers and their children (especially daughters).  The free verse poems are often rooted in time and place with imagery drawn from everyday life, childhood, and the general domestic landscape. Many of the poems have a "coming of age" feel as the innocence of children is slowly eroded by the inevitable march of experience.

Listening to Africa
by Diana M. Raab
Antrim House, © 2012, ISBN 978-1-936482-18-4

In Listening to Africa, the poet Diana M. Raab recounts the spiritual and emotional effect of her travels through Nambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The poetry is free verse but makes plenty of use of alliteration, cadeance, imagery, and other poetic devices that make it read like much more than prose divided by line breaks.  The volume is occasionally punctuated by photographs that lend flavor to the poems.

Lion Sun  
by Pavel Chichikov
Grey Owl Press, © 1999, ISBN 0-967I901-O-X.

Readers do not often have the opportunity to encounter well crafted formal poetry these days, but Lion Sun is one pleasant exception.  The poet’s use of traditional devices such as rhyme, meter, alliteration, and anaphora is consistent and non-obtrusive, lending much needed form to the substance.

God is sometimes in  the forefront of these poems, sometimes subtly resting in the background, and Christ’s crucifixion is a frequent subject of meditation for the poet. The themes expressed are largely universal, though hardly trite. Lion Sun provides a much need break from the typical, personalized, self-centered poetry of modern times.  As I read the collection, there were times when I was reminded of William Blake’s Songs.

The beautifully designed volume contains 74 poems as well as several illustrations by Eric Young.  As with any large volume of poetry, the quality of the individual poems is varied.  Some particularly good works  in this volume include  “The Secret,” “Mother and Child,”  “Craving,” “The Voice,”  and “Empty Church.”

Meditations
A Collection of Contemplative Reflections
by Merle Ray Beckwith
Bristol Banner Books, © 1991, ISBN 1-879183-05-6

This softcover collection contains 365 aphorisms, some of them rhymed.  It is like reading a collection of random proverbs of varying quality: some insightful, some inane; some poetic, some prosaic; some charged with clarity, and others that make you want to say, "Huh?"  Give it a whirl and judge each for yourself.

Mightier Than the Sword?
Poems about the bizzness (and art) of poetry

by David Alpaugh
Self-published,
Small Poetry Press © 2005

This was the most entertaining collection of modern poetry I have read in a very, very long time. Moving? No.  Profound? Not particularly.  Funny? Absolutely.  These clever poems are an enjoyable way to pass the time, and if you are an editor, a poet, or a literary scholar, you will find something to relate to in the pages of this slender volume.  The book itself is a parody on poetry books, with "In Lieu of Blurbery" gracing the back page, a self-published disclaimer on the inside page, and a boilerplate biography to boot.   As an editor myself, I especially appreciated  "Giving them the Slip," and I found the poet's commentary on USPS postage stamp selection highly amusing. (Yes, that's what I said--USPS postage stamp selection. Just read "Have You Seen the New Poetry Stamp," and you'll know what I mean.)  Yes, there were some poems I simply did not "get." (I know it is the fashion to feign comprehension of poetry, but I won't do that.)  For the most part, however, I found this collection to be an accessible, delightful, intelligent, and witty poetic romp.  The book is beautifully designed as well.

Most High
by Don J. Carlson
Self-published,
© 2001

This simply designed chapbook (photocopied and side-stapled, with cardstock cover and illustrations) contains 55 pages of Christian-themed poetry.  Many of the poems have the quality of Eastern wisdom literature—presenting theological insights in the form of proverbs or questions.  They vary widely in quality from poem to poem.  Some lack any captivating poetic devices and sound like stilted prose divided with line breaks; others strike the reader with the power of their conciseness.  Some are plainly didactic and almost preachy; others inspire the reader to grapple with the poet’s meaning and with deep issues.  My favorite poem in the collection is “Censors,” which takes a swing at artists  who, after jumping through the “trendy hula-hoops of art,” cry “censorship” simply because the public does not choose to parcel out its hard earned money to support their profane brand of art.

Motley Chaos
by Joseph Hart
© 2012, ISB 978-0615614069, Valentine Press

This collection is self-described as an "iconoclastic cacophony in words." While the poems are indeed characterized by an attack on established beliefs and institutions, I fortunately didn't find the "sound" of the verse to be harsh and discordant, though I did sometimes find the poems to be abrupt. The poet admits "there is no unifying theme, and these poems don't hang together" and then questions "What does?" It's a clever way to preface a hodge podge of poetry, although many of the poems do in fact share a common theme: literature.

Whether offering a paean to Dickinson, questioning the sincerity of Keats, praising the originality of Larkin, or reflecting on how Shakespeare "scattered words like gems and dice" thereby "burrowing through cheese like mice," the poet spends much of his verse in commentary on the poetry of others. In some respects, Motley Chaos is occasionally like a brief, metrical (sometimes rhymed) volume of literary criticism, with more opinion than analysis.  The poems aren't particularly subtle, but they are well structured in blank and rhymed forms. The book is an easy read, if one can ever call poetry easy reading, though it will have a limited audience.

Of God and Love
by Solimar Otero
Garden Distinct Press, ©  2006, ISBN 1-931002-59-2

This collection of eleven poems celebrates physical and spiritual love. It contains a mixture of secular and Afro-Caribbean spiritual themes.  Most of the poems are written in free verse, although one could qualify as prose poetry.  The poet's verses are replete with colorful imagery. For more information, write Garden District Press, 2848 Camp Street, New Orleans, LA 70115.

Old Man Walking
by Almira Astudillo Gilles
Moon Journal Press,
© 1991, ISBN 0-9755795-5-X

This chapbook-style collection of 26 poems spans twenty years of the poet's childhood and young adulthood in the Philippines.  Many cataclysmic events occurred during this time in Gilles's life, and the poems explore her early impressions of poverty and social inequality, but not without a sense of nostalgia, for the poet expresses a sense of homesickness for her family and the simplicity of her native land. These poems teach us that no matter how far we travel from the lands that gave us birth, our childhood is never far from us.

The volume contains three photographs but is otherwise unillustrated; the layout is simple and unpretentious, clear and easy on the eyes. The cover contains a simple map-like illustration of the poet's homeland, which Gilles believes looks like a bent man with a cane (thus her title).   The poems are free verse and contain some clever imagery that paints a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

The collection may be purchased directly from the author using the e-mail link in the title above.

A Parable of Women: Poems
by Philip C. Kolin
Yazoo River Press, © 2009, ISBN 0-9723224-5-0

A Parable of Women offers up the poetic perspectives of both modern and ancient women, largely unnamed. These are women who persevere, wrestling with the human pangs of loneliness, betrayal, longing, lust, and loss.

Written in free verse, these poems make ample use of alliteration. Occasionally I wished for more cadence, to be swept up into the rhythm of the poetry, but the volume always managed to hold my attention. The poet makes uses of such intriguing images as “women sewn into the frocks of childbirth.”

My favorite poem from the collection was “Hagar’s Lament,” which offers us a powerful look at the heart of a woman turned out of her home and left to rest on the promises of God. Also especially moving was “Over Coffee,” the raw story of a woman aching from a failing marriage.

The Pilgrim's Lyre
by Teresa B. Burleson
1st Books, ©  2003, ISBN 1-403387-13-3

This collection of Christian poems is simple yet elegant.  The poems are free verse, but they are not without rhythm.  The poet's style is concise and occasionally powerful. The imagery and metaphors are appropriate and essential; they are never pretentious or extraneous.  Pleasant alliteration will often trip from the tongue should one choose to read the verses aloud. The poems are of varying quality, but my particular favorites are "Willow Lake," "Pilgrimage," "Breakthrough," and "Recycling." 

Points to Ponder
by Elizabeth Pearson
Authorhouse, ©  2005, ISBN 1420875140

This lengthy devotional volume (544 pages) contains an assortment of original poetry and seven essays about how to become a Christian. A portion of the book is designated for children, but the remainder is intended for adults. 

Rock Me
by S.M. Thomspson
Publish America, ©  2006, ISBN 1424114330

I was not given this complete collection to review, but only selected poems. Based on what I saw, the poet employs short verses without form, but they are rhythmic and sometimes even soothing in quality.  The poems are not always accessible upon first reading and require consideration. The collection explores the theme of peace, with specific reference to the conflicts in Ireland. 

Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak 
by Sherri Waas Shunfenthal

In Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak, Sherri Waas Shunfenthal examines, through numerous poems, the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the women who inhabit the pages of the first book of the Pentateuch, fleshing out "the silence / between words." She writes also of the extrabiblical character Lilith, who has in this age become a sort of poster girl for the modern feminist movement. And, despite the title of the book, she also presents the voice of Miriam (of Exodus fame). Noticeably and regrettable absent from the montage of tales is that of Tamar, daughter-in-law to Judah.

In Scripture, these women are far less developed than their male counterparts, and the creative female imagination must, I believe, inevitably speculate about their unspoken perspective. With the exception of the songs of Deborah and Miriam, the ancient Scriptures were written exclusively by men. Although I find Midrash fascinating and believe it can be edifying, I have a theological objection to it when it tends to contradict the original stories. Shunefenthal’s version of Genesis does this from time to time. For one, it endorses the felix culpa, a misinterpretation of Genesis that is especially popular in secular circles, although it has likewise made inroads into Jewish and Christian thought. This is the idea that man and woman, by disobeying God in order to eat the forbidden fruit, actually brought about a "fortunate fall" and ushered in an age of profound knowledge that made man better off. Or, as Shunfenthal phrases it, "Humans were just one / of many beasts before Eve ventured forth." This is actually a rather cleverly worded encapsulation of the philosophy. This interpretation of the Genesis account of man’s fall, though common, would make God an arbitrary tyrant, rebellion a virtue, and suffering a blessing rather than a curse. We forget, all too often, that Adam and Eve ate not of the "Tree of Knowledge," but rather of the "Tree of Knowledge of good AND EVIL."

In the last decade, Midrash has become a powerful weapon in the hands of modern feminists who wish to degrade traditional religious perspectives and dismiss much sacred history as merely "patriarchal." In literature, this perspective has virtually become a cliché. Although women are certainly underdeveloped in scripture, it is, I believe, possible to flesh-out these stories without, at the same time, contradicting the original text or pushing a political agenda. Unlike many feminist authors of Midrash, however, Shunfenthal does at least show some degree of respect for the role of men in Jewish sacred history, as is evidenced by many of the words she places into the mouth of Noah’s wife. Indeed, even her poem "Hagar" is as much about Ishmael as it is about his mother, and despite the seemingly exclusive title of the book, we also hear the stories and voices of men. (Take for instance "The Dream," in which the poet explores the mind of Abraham, or "Ascension," in which she traces Isaac’s journey up the mountain of sacrifice.) For this more encompassing approach, I must applaud the author. The blurbs on the cover lead me to believe she would have a more narrow vision; I was pleased to discover otherwise.

Nevertheless, much of Shunfenthal’s work does exhibit a feminist political thrust. As a woman who believes that modern feminism has done as much harm for women as the more "old fashioned" feminism has done good, I found some of Shunfenthal’s message unpalatable. And as a monotheist who is disturbed by the growing trend of goddess worship which seems to have made inroads even into Jewish Midrash, I am skeptical of anything that appears to be too great an exaltation of the human woman, an exaltation which I believe occurs to some degree in Shunfenthal’s Eve and Lilith poems. As has been previously mentioned, in Shunfenthal’s version of Genesis, it is the aspiration of Eve, and not the gift of God, which separates man from the beast. Lilith "lights the darkness," while Eve is created "in her own image." (Much more blatant overtones of goddess worship can be found in other works of Midrash, such as Anita Diamant’s Red Tent. Shunfenthal does not duplicate Diamant’s error, but she does hover dangerously close to it.)

But setting aside my theological and political objections, I can find much positive to say about the author’s book. Though a small press publication, Sacred Voices is impressively presented, complete with appropriate drawings by Judybeth Green, which complement the poems nicely. The author has obviously put a great deal of thought into her portraits, having been informed by Scripture, Midrash, and her own creative passions. Perhaps the most insightful work in the collection is "Lot’s Wife," in which the unnamed woman’s fatal action of looking back is depicted with compassion. The series of Leah poems are also well-developed.

The author’s poetry is not defined by any meter or particularly outstanding rhythms, and it is differentiated from prose primarily by line division and the brevity of its sentences. But the poet’s very simplicity succeeds in creating a feminine voice (or third person perspective) that seems both sincere and innocent, almost naive. When the poet employs imagery, she is not just following workshop conventions or attempting to impress the reader with obscure associations. Although not miserly with regard to her use of images, similes, and metaphors, Shunfenthal is economic. This economy can make a single, unpretentious line of comparison stand out from a poem with power. When Sarah stands "rooted like a tree," for instance, an image immediately leaps to the reader’s mind, despite the simplicity of the simile. However, I must confess that despite these positives, sometimes the overall simplicity of the poetry is a bit too stark for my taste.

As a bonus, Shunfenthal adds to the tail end of her book some prose discussion of each of the characters, and much of this is as informative as it is interesting. I was edified to learn, for instance, that the story of Lilith may have originated because of what appears to be the two separate creation accounts in Genesis. These prose sections demonstrate the same simplicity of form as the author’s poetry.

Seeded Puffs  
by Cherise Wyneken

Dry Bones Press, Inc., © 2000

Seeded Puffs contains approximately 100 poems, an impressive number for any verse collection.   Wyneken makes masterful use of alliteration, anaphora, and other rhetorical devices.  The imagery is well-formed and often original, but the author relies on this particular poetic device rather heavily.  After much use, imagery—no matter how well-drawn—eventually ceases to have an impact. As a reader, I look for poems that move me, that stun me into contemplation.  I find several in this series.  “I Thirst” is a powerful reflection on Christ’s dying words.  “Like a Thief in the Night?” inspires the reader to consider whether “the trumpet’s final blast” might leave him “drowning in the wake of [his] own plans.”  Other poems that gave me real cause to pause include “Cutting Facts,” “Keeper of the Keys,” “The Shining” (despite its presumption that evolution is fact rather than theory), and “Waters of Life.”

Many of Wyneken’s poems break out from the dull, unvarying flow of much modern free verse into fine rhythmic cadences.  Two examples are “Voices Red as Wine” and “In the Eye of the Storm.”  There are also lines that leap off the page and cry for consideration: “The Father’s rules of right and wrong / tied in hopeless knot.”  There is a bit of liberal, propagandistic moralizing to be waded through here and there, but I think people of all political persuasion will find much to admire in this volume.  The book is finely printed, but a Table of Contents would have been helpful. 

Snapshots and Dances
by Leslie Prosterman
Garden District Press, © 2011, ISBN 978-1-931002-95-0

I can’t quite put my finger on just what I liked about this collection. It’s not my usual preferred style of poetry, and there were certainly some poems that “did nothing for me” so to speak, but there were many others that struck me, drew me in, and made me experience particular emotions as though I were myself a part of the scene. These poems are as the title implies “snapshots” of life, glimpses into the particular human spirits and psyches of the members of a particular family that nonetheless offer something universal to the reader. The poetry is, again as the title implies, a sort of complex dance.  In several poems, the poet has a special eye for scenic detail.  The collection is perhaps a bit too stylistically varied and therefore seems to make abrupt shifts, but there is an overarching mood that draws the poems together. The collection is haunting, sad, sweet, nostalgic, and hopeful all at once, and seems to leave a lingering since of lost opportunity. Although not explicitly religious, the volume employs Jewish cultural references to root the portrayed family in its specific, personal context.

Sonnets for a Soul Mate
by Edward F. Cervinski
Stellaberry Press, © 2005, ISBN 0-9770100-0-7

This collection of more than 200 sonnets explore a mixture of religious and secular themes.  The book is a sort of sonnet cycle, recounting the true story of two people who meet and fall in love but who are soon separated.  The poet believes that "everyone is entitled to flirt with the extreme" and "pursue happiness."  

The individual poems are sonnets insomuch as they are poems of 14 lines each, though they are unique in that they are written in rhymed couplets rather than a Shakespearean or Petrarchian rhyme scheme.  At times the meter sounds a bit off and the lines are occasionally forced to fit the rhyme.  There are also some cliches to be found in the pages, but the work is heartfelt, and it is good to see modern poets embracing the sonnet.  

Sonnets from Matthew
by David Craig
David Craig,  © 2002

It’s wonderful to see that poets are still making use of the sonnet form these days.  As Wordsworth knew, the strictures of the sonnet can create a happy prison, where poetry is made stable by a strong structure.   This volume contains over fifty such poems, each inspired by a different set of verses from the Gospel of Matthew.  The poet’s determination to draw so many poems from a sole source is impressive, and he has managed to dredge much variety out of  that single spring. Occasionally the rhyme seems a little forced or slightly off, but for the most part the sonnets flow smoothly.  The collection (perhaps not surprising given its inspiration) is ripe with meaning.

A Spleeny Lutheran
by Robert Karl Meyer II
© 2000

In A Spleeny Lutheran, Robert Karl Meyer II presents 29 short poems, many of which depict man's failure to live up to his potential as a being uniquely created in God's image. Yet some of these works are also tinged with a note of quiet hope.  In the  haunting poem "Tenements of the Soul," for instance, we find the speaker "searching for forgotten magic words" as the "dawn sheds light on dingy slums of gloom, / on my small room, on visions that still bloom" 

The author frequently employs allegory, using Arthurian legend and Greek mythology to parallel biblical themes.  Although some of the selections are not as well-crafted or effective as others, the chapbook contains many works that embody a depth and seriousness to which most  poetry only pretends.  The poet, perhaps because he is also a  mathematician, delights in the traditional forms most moderns have rejected, using sonnets, rondeaus, and even acrostics.  These forms serve to structure and compliment the meaning of the poems, and today's reader, so often deprived of good rhyme and disciplined meter, may find that these works are music to his ears. 

Stars Scattered Like Seeds
by Jeanne Shannon
Wildflower Press, © 2002, ISBN 0-9714343-5-2

This 164 page book, published under the author’s own imprint,  interweaves poetry with short fiction and creative memoir.  It focuses on the  author’s native culture, which is rooted in the southern Appalachian Mountains and subject to inescapable Baptist influences.  This world is related to the reader through the eyes of narrator Audrey Yates, and the stories possesses a poetic quality.  Some   of the poet’s verse, however, relies too heavily on disembodied imagery, although some of her poems succeed in creating a powerful picture. I have a minor quibble about formatting: the prose, to my annoyance, used both indentation and full line separation for paragraphs, when one or the other would have sufficed.

The Most Secret Window
by Natalie Vanderbilt
Random River Press., © 2007, ISBN 978-0978805623

This epic, book-length poem, set in the early 1900's in San Francisco and Maine, is about balancing passions and ambition.It presents the story of a shipping magnate, Grayson, whose life is one of unforgiving structure and responsibility. This book is on deck for review.

Thoughts I Left Behind
Collected Poems
by William H. Roetzheim
Level 4 Press, Inc., © 2006, ISBN 0-9768001-0-1

This debut book of poetry by prize winning poet William Roetzheim takes a look at life, death, and religion.  The collection explores the themes of growing up and growing old.  It contains over 100 poems and is complemented by 30 plus illustrations. 

The book opens with a short poem that offers a warm and personal welcome to the reader as the poet invites him or her to pull up a chair and receive the assurance that "I've waited / all my life to share some thoughts with you."   The poems that follow, however, are often harsh or pessimistic and contrast sharply in tone with the opening invitation.  Indeed, the very next entry in the collection depicts new Navy recruits as lost and childish souls who "rattle sabers" and "diaper the ragheads who were less than animals."  It makes allusion to Tennyson's "do and die," but with grimness rather than patriotic zeal, and it employs some unusual and powerful imagery: "A sea of green / with gobbling sheen of pink that bobbed in time / to stomping feet and ribald songs of whores..."   There are also more quiet and tender offerings, such as the poem "Stretch Marks," where the lines that mark the speaker's wife are referred to as "subtle decorations" that "seem to spell our love, / our family, our thirty years together."

Just as the tone of the poems vary, so too do the forms.  Many of the poems are free verse, unrhymed yet occasionally rhythmic.  Others are written in traditional forms.  Among the traditional offerings is a fairly impressive villanelle, "Beware of 'Friends.'"  The collection likewise contains several sonnets, including a modernized, somewhat vulgar response to William Shakespeare's sonnet CXXXVIII.  Other such replies follow the same thematic vein in the special section "More Responses to the Dead," which the well-read poetry lover will probably enjoy.  We get to hear a  business man's sardonic response to a Walt Whitman poem and a modern virgin's reply to Robert Herrick,  among others.

Transmission to the Mystic Nebula
by Christopher Vera

Christopher Vera, © 2012, ISBN 0985230916

This poetry collection involves an interesting premise in which a cyber poet (in the not-too-distant future) seeks to find his place in the universe by initiating several unauthorized communications to a mysterious cosmic phenomenon he calls "the mystic nebula." That's the premise, at least. Then we get into the actual poems, which really seem to have nothing to do with that rather intriguing introduction.This is not to say that the poems themselves are therefore not intriguing. They are rife with themes of self-exploration, of finding oneself and others through the heights of love and the depths of tragedy. The collection contains over 75 poems, and the poet's style is typically concise. Stark imagery is a prominent feature in the poems, and it is often easy to visualize the poet's verse. As a consequence, the poems have the potential to leave a powerful impact on the reader.  I found "Those Four Little Word" especially affecting.

The True Purpose of Planes
by Ida Fasel
Snark Publishing, © 2004, ISBN 0-972-8948-9-6

This collection of 31 poems is simply printed as a side-stapled chapbook.  My favorites in this volume are "Can You Trust Me?", "Baked Goods," and the title poem, "The True Purpose of Planes."

Walking to Light: Poems of a Prairie Year
by Ida Fasel
Small Poetry Press,, © 2002.

This chapbook was designed and printed for the Osage Mission-Neosho County Museum in St. Paul, Kansas.  The book is beautifully printed, neatly and consistently laid out, with a color cover and seven illustrations throughout. The volume kicks off with a clever, sing-songy little poem that asks, in a voice of innocence, “Will I touch the sky? Will you?”  It then continues with a series of bitter-sweet, nostalgic poems, each full of quiet imagery.  In the wake of a world that has for years past emphasized the horrors of life and the indifference of nature and nature’s God, these poems come as a refreshing breeze.  They are not shallow, upbeat clichés, or poems unrealistically isolated from genuine pain, but they do thrive with a gentle, unyielding hope. 

We Were Not Falling But Rising
by Ida Fasel
Small Poetry Press, © 2006, ISBN 1-891298-25-9

The poems contained in this collection were originally penned as private reflections on the events of September 11th and the political aftermath that ensued.  However, the poet's publisher encouraged her to bring the poems to the public, and I for one am glad to have this volume. 

Too much poetry inspired by September 11th dedicates itself to political protest and internal finger pointing; We Were Not Falling But Rising, however, calls into question such shrillness and willingness to justify the attacks.  "If I were an activist," writes the poet, "I would do away with hyphens / as weapons of assault." She speaks of the "new historians" who "reject greatness for nonentity" and "defend treason as symbolic speech." The poet does not fear being accused of political incorrectness and has no difficulty considering and lamenting the evil of those who would perpetrate such a slaughter or rejoice in it, throwing rocks that were "meant to be cleaned up, cut / and polished." Though the poet longs for peace, she understands it cannot be obtained by one-sided wishful thinking: "Peace like all good things must be fought for."

The poems honor the fallen, the survivors, and the nation's leader.  They radiate with a strong, if occasionally sorrowful, love of country.  The imagery is often original and deeply moving. 

I have reviewed several collections by Ida Fasel, and I believe this one to be the best to date. The poems are accessible yet nuanced, and many of them bear repeated reading.   My favorites in the collection include "As Days Go By," "I Sent a Check," "As I Lay Dying," "Training for Paradise," "If I Were," and "Long Long Thoughts."

The Wedding Party
by Philip Rosenbaum, 2012

I don't usually review eBooks, but I was originally provided this collection in a printed format, and I've enjoyed Philip Rosenbaum's previous work, so I'm making an exception.  This eBook contains Volumes I-IV of Philip Rosenbaum’s epic poem The Wedding Party. While I was more deeply moved by the poet’s collection Holy Week Sonnets, The Wedding Party is a good read in its own right.  The collection gives the reader insight into Old Testament characters (such as Adam, Noah’s wife, Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah) through a series of “songs” written in Spenserian stanza. The wedding party in question is attending the marriage of Christ to His Bride the Church, and a variety of biblical characters are invited to answer the question, “Why do I choose this woman as my bride?” It’s rare to see formal poetry these days, and even rarer to see it done well, but Philip Rosenbaum “chants[s] in meter, musical and clear.” Consequently, The Wedding Party is a welcome addition among contemporary poetry collections, one that walks the ancient paths so to speak. 

Woman's Evolution
by Kim Nelson
ISBN 978-1-59924-776-2, Finishing Line Press, 2011

Woman's Evolution paints a portrait of a poet in various phases of life as she suffers, aspires, learns, and grows, culminating in the unshakable strength that comes with a hard earned maturity. Most of the twenty-five poems in the collection are written in free verse, though a few rhyme. The poet tends to use short, stark lines that sometimes seem too simplistic and lacking in poetic devices, but that at other times (as in "501s," to name but one example) lend power to the theme. My favorite poems in the cycle were among the few rhymed ones: "The Paths," which kicks off the collection, and "Fragility," which falls toward the end.

Women at the Well
by Olivia Diamond
1stBooks, © 2001, ISBN 0-75962-882-3

In Women at the Well, Olivia Diamond speaks through the personas of numerous Biblical women, from Eve to Damarias.  In doing so, she addresses many of the questions that will little doubt enter the mind of a female Bible reader: How did Hagar feel, being given to Abram and abused by Sarah? How did Tamar survive the rape of Amnon? Why was Lot’s wife punished for merely looking back while Lot, who offers his own daughters to be ravished, escapes unscathed?  Diamond gives many of her speakers a hard edge and places bitter words into their mouths. I occasionally had earnest objections to the poet’s interpretation of the thoughts and attitudes of these women, and I had doubts about the theological implications of some of the poems, but I had no significant quarrel with the quality of writing.   The stories the poet tells are personal and sometimes powerful, breathing new life into these previously underdeveloped figures.   Her rhyme, when used, is unobtrusive.  Diamond’s poems are thoughtful, fresh, and largely unhampered by cliché. You can read the title poem of her collection in issue ten of Ancient Paths.

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