Review: Heart in a Jar

Heart in a Jar

Kathleen McGookey

White Pine Press

Kathleen is at her best in this new collection of prose poems, fighting existential crisis with concrete, existential minutia. If we make paper hearts with the school children, if we care about the animals in the zoo, if we pay enough attention to the world and people around us, perhaps then we, like Kathleen, will be insulated against the cold of oblivion, of the forgotten, of meaninglessness. And when Death appears, expected or unannounced, we may also have prepared remarks at the ready to bully up a defense, no matter how refreshing or debilitating the arrival. For those readers searching for an honest connection, for poems that speak from the heart, to the heart, this collection is a must.


Review: The Bird-while

The Bird-while

Keith Taylor

Wayne State University Press

Science now tells us birds use a special light nerve to navigate, that birds see ultraviolet light even more than they perceive the visual light range we rely on. So, not being a bird, it would be easy to miss what a bird sees. But what if you could be a bird? A bird seeing another bird or a bear, or a person, even, and report back on the encounter for non-birds? In The Bird While, Keith has captured the fear of hollow bones, the whimsy of flight, the solitude of a quiet forest punctuated by a union of song and sun.

The Bird-while isn’t just a meter of time, it’s a pacing, the perception of time passing at a rate in which our senses are heightened and our memory is made supple. In the right light, the right pacing, we are transfixed, both outwardly observing and inwardly alive. In the spirit of the Romantics and the Transcendentalists, Keith pins “moments [that] felt significant” to our minds eye without a hanging reason there.

Review: Objects May Appear Closer

Objects May Appear Closer

Janeen Pergrin Rastall

Celery City Chapbooks

I believe Objects May Appear Closer is proof of the goodness, the value, and process of poems about family, our past, and the counter-intuitive utility of nostalgia. I once heard, “never write poems about your family,” as an axiom touted by some significant writer. You might imagine how well it stuck. If I recall correctly, the reason given was that it was boring. In truth, I immediately railed against it. Not because I was so sure it was false, but because it took so little for me to imagine it were true. I could see us all sitting there, trying to leave our mark, leave our family’s mark on the world in a language spun from our own familial nebula, believing, perhaps, we could transcribe something important to everyone in the menial affairs of our parents, never to understand why publishers never took our most cherished work. Because it was all blah. I could see then mountains of papers disintegrating, never to be read, and certainly, never to be missed. Because family can blind us to what’s really important, one might easily wander aimlessly across such a poem seemingly convinced every detail as beautiful as the last. But, I’d argue, that shouldn’t mean a good family poem couldn’t be written, only that most people don’t, can’t write them. Janeen Rastall can.

In “Tend,” – what may be the most essential poem of this collection – Janeen asks, “What if you could propagate Time / …?” but her readers won’t think to ask “How?” Throughout Objects May Appear Closer, she achieves sadless nostalgia, taking moments from her own life and renewing them with the touch of a loving gardener “tending” to clones. Throughout the collection, her touch is as kind as it is deliberate. The resulting poems prove their mettle in an arena that often misses the relevance between the audience and the familial – where many might fall flat, Janeen’s work shines.

Review: Our Sudden Museum

Our Sudden Museum

Robert Fanning

Salmon Poetry

The title for Fanning’s new book comes from the poem “Staying the Night,” which witnesses the poet visiting his sister’s house the day after her death. The house is a “sudden museum” in that it represents its former occupant, though the museum is perishable: scents will fade, the produce will need to be thrown out. The poem is a moment of heightened awareness that invests everyday objects with intense significance: “I chose to eat / the peach she chose from the grocery’s / produce rows, not knowing it would outlive her.”

The poems in this collection are museum pieces in this sense. The title object in “The Beam” is from where the poet’s brother hung himself. “Go Ask The Lobsters” considers how to tell children the purpose of the live lobster tank at the grocery store. “Cuttings” observes “my children’s commingled curls” on a porch after home haircuts.

These otherwise mundane objects form a sort of museum of impermanence in that Fanning is struggling with the inexorable march of time. But it’s not all deadly serious. In fact, the persona throughout faces these existential questions with a mix of intellect, dread, and humor, best exemplified by the title of my favorite poem: “A Consideration of Potential Afterlives and the Ontological Interrelations of All Beings at Bedtime, or, The Ladybug Friend.” The poem ends with a child’s eulogy for a ladybug which resonates through the rest of the collection: “We love you. Please come back.”

Review: In Which We See Our Selves: American Ghazals

In Which We See Our Selves: American Ghazals

Eric Torgersen

Mayapple Press

The Ghazal is an ancient Arabic form that uses two-line stanzas, the second of which ends in a refrain: a repeated phrase. Like other refrain poems such as villanelles and pantoums, the point is to play with the refrain, to give it new meaning and context each time. Because Ghazals have so many refrains, the repetition itself is not exact, but playful, using rhymed substitutions for example. Besides the technical aspect, Ghazals traditionally are associated with love and lamentation.

Torgerson’s poems do all that and seem quite American as well. Consider the opening lines to “Before”:

I’ve heard the ringing of this bell before,
I never dreaded what it might foretell before.

Living with real if ordinary dangers,
I never had such fears I couldn’t quell before.

A bell here is a fitting subject for the droning sound of a refrain poem. The poems are more playful then melancholy on the whole. The poet imagines himself an imposter superhero in “Eric America.” Other poems visit the edge of cliche, such as “For a Change” which begins with the banal lines: “Let’s refuse to play the game for a change. / Suppose we live what we proclaim for a change.” And it ends with the self-deprecating persona departing on a horse: “Your poet mounts his tottering white horse / and hobbletrots off, not speaking his name for a change.” (And sadly, none of the refrains contain the word “hobbletrots.”)

But it’s difficult to represent the poems with mere snippets. The form depends on the sum total of the refrains, the net effect of the tone of the poem: these poems are meant to be read aloud.

Review: Stone Poems

Stone Poems

Don Cellini

FootHills Publishing

Don is a master of taking objects commonly overlooked and revealing the magic hidden within them. This new, hand-stitched chapbook demonstrates that skill with short, sparse poems that hold plenty of weight as he illuminates the many ways in which stones are more than we might think. And while these poems might not take much time to read, they’ll stick with you as reliably as a rock is hard.

Michigan Poet Anthology Fundraiser

This year marks 5 years of The Michigan Poet. To celebrate the occasion, we are publishing an anthology of all of our published poems to date.  We’re running a gofundme campaign right now to fund this project:

Our goal for The Michigan Poet is to bring great Michigan poets to local communities.  We fund the publication out of our own pockets and rely on donations to offset some of the cost.

The money raised will be used to send copies of the finished book to each of our contributors.  Any extra money will put toward the cost of running The Michigan Poet.

Please help us broaden the audience for these talented local poets. Even $5 will make a difference.

Thanks for your interest in local poetry!