Tag Archives: poetry reviews

Review of home{sic} by Julie Beveridge

The good folk over at Off Street Press have just published a glowing review of Julie Beveridge’s recent collection, home{sic}, by Brisbane-based poet, mr oCean.

Here’s a snippet from the review:

Thinking about how to describe Beveridge’s work had me thinking about Being John Malkovich; I have yet to find a poet who better manages to place you in a moment behind someone else’s eyes (however unfamiliar that moment might be).

Got your attention? Now, click on over to read the full review.

And remember, you can pick up a copy of home{sic} at the Another Lost Shark Online Store.

1 Comment

Filed under poetry & publishing

Migrant Moon

It’s Friday night, the moon is beginning to wane and the wind is all bluster. There will be light and I will be chasing it… but for now, settle in to a review by Patricia Prime. As always, Patricia’s review is generous in quoting from the collection – the latest release from Miriam’s Well Press, Migrant Moon by Barbara Mautone Robidoux – to give you a feel for the work. And from Patricia’s reading, it is some very fine work indeed. Read on!

Migrant Moon by Barbara Mautone Robidoux. Miriam’s Well Press. miriamswell.wordpress.com (2012) Pb. 101 pp. ISBN: 978-1-893003-15-6. Price: US$14.00 Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Migrant Moon is Barbara Mautone Robidoux’s second book of poetry. She also writes short stories and is currently working on a collection set on a reservation in northern Maine where she once lived. She now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Migrant Moon is a collection of tanka, tanka sequences and haibun. It shows the poet’s journeys through her travels, her inner and outer life and through the movement of the seasons. What we have here is superb: it’s a collection that doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Also, seeing the genres together increases one’s awareness that Robidoux’s poetry comprises various strands and feels like a unified body of work.

Robidoux’s use of language can be vivid, but self-explanatory, as in the haibun “Migration”, which is quoted in full:

Three bottle nose dolphins circle the harbor off Nantucket
Island. It is a cold December day and they should be out to sea on
winter migration south. No one knows why they have come into the
harbor. An old woman stands alone on the shore. She watches
and listens.

“they have come for me”
she tells
no one

Yet she also delights in writing simply, but at the same time effectively, as in the first verse of the tanka sequence, “Moonwashed”:

This moon washed town
October snow softens
cold cobblestone streets –
Was the sea
really once here?

Robidoux is often concise, yet even when she’s more expansive, as in the haibun, she is never wordy. She is a skilled raconteur – I would recommend the extraordinary haibun “November” in particular. Here is the first paragraph and following haiku:

In those days we wore red in the woods. Red woolen jackets
and caps over layers of thermal underwear and flannel shirts. I
had a favourite pair of wool pants which my mother kept in her
cedar chest until hunting season. My mother never hunted. Her job
was to preserve and cook the meat after the kill. But even though I
was a girl she allowed me to go out with the men to hunt. I believe
she felt it was an important way for me to learn about the
sacredness of life.

leaves rustle in wind
a doe enters the meadow

Robidoux has a good ear and eye. Her interest in her surroundings is most evident in the archeology of these haibun, both the literal archeology of the landscape and the mythological and folklore archeology of their people. The haibun “Stupa” takes us back into the poorest surroundings:

On the south side, the poor side, the immigrant-laden, gangster-
ridden, bean burrito and Tres XXX’s-riddled side of an otherwise
fancy art mecca in the west, a small group of Tibetan Buddhists
built a stupa. It is a golden pearl in a desert of empty-pocketed
sand. Trailer homes surround it.

“Ceremony for Letting Go” is a more domestic poem, calling on the poet’s love for an old cat who is “tired, very, very tired”, to present a multi-layered picture of the devotion one can feel for a pet. It contains the following haiku:

my elderly cat
losing weight day after day
I miss her already

In “Arroyo” Robidoux is a careful chronicler of the hidden history of a small village in the mountains of northern New Mexico:

It is summer evening and the desert heat has not descended
into night. Cholla cactus still hold their bloom. A veteran recently
home from the war in Iraq leaves his shiny red Mustang running
when he goes into the bar to buy a six pack of Budweiser. He has
used all of his severance pay to buy the car and he calls it “Baby.”

The selection of tanka takes us from “spring snows/ three feet deep” to “after tsunami”:

spring snows three feet deep
deer yard out in the orchard
patiently waiting –
frozen apples
fall one by one

after tsunami
funerals held in the streets
four purple irises
with tea leaves scattered
to honor the dead

Several things have accompanied Robidoux on this poetic journey: mysteriousness, musicality, humour, surprises, gracefulness and heart. How these elements work their way into the tanka is a delight for the reader to explore, as see in, as see in this tanka:

our chief is laid out
at the community center
killed on black ice;
asleep in the next room
you dream your own death song

The musicality of the tanka catches the reader’s imagination. The words and phrases have infectious rhythms and harmonies that are always linked to Robidoux’s experiences, as we see in the following tanka:

full winter moon
at Chaco Canyon
light bathes the badlands –
you refuse to remember
our first night together

Her choice of words transforms mundane things into things that exude poetry. As the magic kicks in, you absorb the music, the nostalgia and the narrative:

in the desert sand
poems found
under a full moon –
our long shadows
against the red canyon wall

The second thing that captures the reader is the way the tanka are saturated with humour:

wind down from Denver
blows neighbor’s mailbox open
yesterday’s letter
delivered airmail
to my address

Intimate details glimmer like gems throughout the tanka, but sometimes the tanka tilt into mystery with what the poet holds back:

after thirty years
I cut my long hair
and left you –
fog lifts
with the outgoing tide

There are many poems to love in this book – poems that favour language, narrative and nature as well as music, mystery and adventure. Robidoux has written some remarkable haibun and tanka that can stand as good examples of both genres. You need to linger and let her words wash over you as you accumulate their subtle delights.

1 Comment

Filed under poetry & publishing

“a 21st century Eve” – review by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

Home Is Where the Heartache Is (Small Change Press, 2007)
home{sic} (Another Lost Shark Publications, 2012)
by Julie Beveridge

Reviewed by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

For a limited time, all purchases of home{sic} from the Another Lost Shark Store will be shipped with a complimentary copy of Home is Where the Heartache is.

Stars are arguably best left to outer space, but if ten of them fell out of the sky, I would grab nine and a half of them to jointly rate Julie Beveridge’s first two books, Home Is Where the Heartache Is, and home{sic}.  I do it this way because Beveridge’s books are best considered together, as an oeuvre.  Taken in this way, their similarities, and their differences, both in terms of form, and of subject matter, identify her as a voice that is worth listening to, and following for the future.

I will first consider Home Is Where the Heartache Is, then home{sic}, then make some comments about the two taken together.

Home Is Where the Heartache Is is, yes, a dark, at times surreally nightmarish collection of haibun in ways that remind us of those Hieronymus Bosch canvasses:

This house was a steal.  The woman who owned it before me stabbed her
defacto to death and skinned him in the living room.

“Playing the Market”

Yes, Beveridge is, already, laughing: it’s confirmed as the poem continues:

… I remember watching it
on the news and thinking what a shame, that house has so much potential.

In the last poem in this collection, “Solitude: the end and the beginning” Beveridge makes overt what has been implicit all along: her at times oh so wry, dark humour:

sometimes I laugh despite myself,
from a place not so deep within me

Yet there is much more to this book than its humour, appealing though that is.  Beveridge is a 21st century woman, aware that in Australian society of this century there is violence, and you don’t have to scratch too deep to find it.  She acknowledges the truth that most of the victims aren’t male defactos skinned in living rooms, no, they are women, and so often there’s a sexual basis for that violence.  In the title poem, “Home is where the Heartache is:”

She is worth an exploded eye socket and nine dissolvable stitches.

Yes, it is easy to dispassionately admire the vivid description – the woman is there photographically caught before us in all her battered woundedness – but Beveridge challenges us to go deep into the sexual politics, ask ourselves “why.”

There are cigarettes, wine, joints and more to be found within these pages, but it is almost as if they are the props, the enablers, not the underlying reasons for the events depicted.  What are those reasons?  Beveridge sketches, alludes, never falls into didacticism, always prompts us to think.  And always – I return to this – with sharp, questioning humour.  In “Cold Hands Touch My Face,” which recounts an abduction by car by a man wearing mirrored sunglasses:

behind the shades
a murder
of crows feet

Violence, including rape and murder, happens in our society right now.  Beveridge is unflinching in her exploration of it.  Her take is a feminist one, but one that, as a man, I feel included in: the problem is mine as well as hers.  This book is thought-provoking, and in being so, is deeply satisfying.

home{sic} is a book of journeys: we are taken to a number of places on the planet, to both Australian locations and North American ones.  Beveridge’s perceptive powers of observation are acute:

whether I climb or fall
nothing is as patient as these cliffs

“van diemen’s land”

your men hold their cameras like cocks

“song for san francisco”

These are travelogues with hard, sometimes jagged edges.  Yet these edges are leavened with a wisdom that resonates with deep psychological truths:

the longer
you spend
with yourself
the less
alone you
will feel

“a handful of consistencies”

This is part admonition, part acceptance.  Beveridge knows aloneness, and shares her introspective insights on it, but she also knows what it is like to intimately be with another, in all its aspects, from small talk in an airport departure lounge to being:

a factory for future men

“meat and bread”

as she so drily terms being pregnant with her son.  So it is that her intimacies, shared with us, become ours too; we are happy for her, and with her, that she has the peppered roast pork sandwich; her pregnancy cravings,

with 18 weeks before it all truly

“canada day”

are ours to experience with her.  It is almost as if Beveridge, as home{sic} reaches its climax on the other side of the Pacific, is inviting us to be, if not defacto God parents for her as a 21st century Eve, then, in a secular sense, partakers of her future journeys with her to-be-born son.  This is an invitation proffered with rich humanity, and a powerful, overarching sense of the joy of life.

It is instructive, I feel, to consider Home Is Where the Heart Is and home{sic} together, and as the first two instalments in an oeuvre which surely will continue to unfold over the years ahead.

From the artful haibun of Home Is Where the Heart Is, home{sic} sees Beveridge further exercising her technical virtuosity; in it she uses a number of different forms, from poems in couplets to prose poems.  Often her forms in home{sic} are unpunctuated, the earlier volume’s prose passages are generally traditionally punctuated, but what both books share is a use of ambiguity, often for ironic, and humorous, purposes.

Upon a first three or four readings of each volume, I leant slightly towards preferring Home Is Where the Heart Is, but by the time I had read each volume half a dozen times, the similarities, above and beyond even the ambiguities, below the surface differences in form, were becoming increasingly apparent.

The first book, eschewing all the implicit sexual politics of violence it contains, is in a sense about aloneness, and the struggle to make sense of a too often contrary world.  In home{sic} by contrast, the poet’s persona is with another, yet, on a deeper level, the world is equally vividly strange.

The first volume is overtly about interior worlds.  Beveridge’s second book, upon reflection, under the at times sensuously written travelogues, is also.  Whether it be that meat and bread sandwich, or

mozzarella dripping from my tongue

“song for san francisco”

we taste as well the graphic psychological truth that

homesickness is not a metaphor

“a handful of consistencies”

and it tastes piquant, awkward – it cannot be easily pigeonholed – and ultimately undeniably real.

It is reality in the truest sense that these two books jointly explore.  There are many strange things that comprise our world, too many to easily make sense of.  Beveridge’s poetry becomes her torch; shining light on some of that strangeness, and her light oft-times makes the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.  In so doing, she challenges us to look into the very heart of strangeness.  And if we do that, perhaps, if we are honest enough to accept her truths, we see mirrors, reflecting back who we are inside.


Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke had his first poem published in 1966 when he was seven years old in the mass circulation Australian newspaper The Sun.  Michael’s first poetry hero was John Keats, after he read as a teenager a biography of the English Romantic poet.

At Monash University, from 1977 to 1980, while studying successfully for a Bachelor of Economics degree, he hung out in a part of the library where hardly anyone went, devouring poetry books, and Michael Dransfield became his favourite poet.

To this day, notwithstanding he now has many other favourites, Dransfield’s “to be a poet in Australia is the ultimate commitment” remains seminal.  Since university, Michael has made a point of reading poetry, often in translation, from as many poets the world over as he can.

Michael now lives in Townsville, enjoying the north Queensland tropical sunshine.  He is a valued member of Writers In Townsville Society, whose website is: http://witsnq.blogspot.com/.

If Michael could have one wish, for anything in life, he would give the wish away.

1 Comment

Filed under poetry & publishing

The Zen Parables of Steven Carter

The art of haiku is never far from my mind, so it is always a joy to discover a new collection that has been released. Steven Carter’s latest book After Blossom Viewing: Zen parables with Haiku was released by Alba publishing in May this year, so when Patricia Prime offered me the chance to publish her review of the collection, I of course said yes.

After Blossom Viewing: Zen Parables with Haiku by Steven Carter. Uxbridge, Alba Publishing. (2012) p.b. 36 pp. RRP: US$10. UK£7.00 / €8.00. ISBN 978-0-9551254-7-8. Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Steven Carter is a linguistic virtuoso; his work encompassing haiku, tanka, haibun and now his latest offering – Zen parables. Carter’s work is often self-referential, based on his experiences, travel and nature, but the viewpoint in this new book is different, distinctive, disarming in some way.

The set-up is straightforward enough, featuring in twenty-six parables either a Zen Master and his novice or a group of novices, or a monk narrating a fable. What’s notable about them is that they’re almost all narrated in a one-on-one conversation. It’s a remarkable feat: dramatic, sometimes humourous, often very wise. There are moments of comedy, sombre moments of fasting and hunger, revelatory moments, as when a jolly monk tells the story of a cruel emperor in “The Unhappy Emperor”, which ends on a suitably merry note:

“Tell me the secret of happiness,” he thundered, “or I shall have you beheaded.”
“There are two secrets to happiness,” the man said, “The first is being     summoned to such a grand palace as this, to see the towers, the coats of arms, the torches  – “
“What is the second secret?” the emperor cut him off gruffly.
“The second secret is not being beheaded by the emperor,” replied the man.

Cloud Mountain –
the world
seen through a ruby

All the personae are vulnerable to shock and change: the circle of novices in “The Meadow”, one of whom announces that he has no illusions, only to be advised that everything is an illusion. There’s the Zen Master in “The Message” who tells a story from the outside world about a man who receives a letter from his lover only to discover there is no letter inside the envelope, but “the man keeps the envelope very carefully.” A once worldly monk in “Of Love” shares a parable concerning a man sitting beside the sea when a single drop of water lands on his hand and he believes “that the entire sea was contained in that drop. . .

The plain, effective language of “The Monks”, a humourous parable of two monks, allusion and image deal with the theme of comfort in the likeness of their shiny bald heads:

Two bald monks sit down at a table. Pointing to his shiny pate, one says, “On me it looks good.” The other agrees, “On you it looks good.” Both are comforted.

knitted brow of clouds –
seeking a horizon
the summer moon.

In contrast, in “Three Birds” he describes a lay monk remembering a fable about a yellow bird and two sparrows:

A yellow bird flew onto a branch next to two sparrows.
“A canary!” the first sparrow said.
“All canaries aren’t yellow, my friend,” the yellow bird said.
“An all yellow birds aren’t canaries, my friend,” the second sparrow said.
“So I am content to be a yellow bird.”

harmony –
mountain winds
mountain shadows

There’s enjoyment in nature and the countryside is evoked in many of the parables, as we see in “Last Day of the Sixth Month”:

Sitting in a bamboo garden outside the Fukushima Temple, two Zen monks wax philosophical.
“We don’t agree on much, my friend,” observes one, “but you will agree that there are things in life that do not change, that they are, I mean to say, immortal?”
“And will you agree that the immortal things of this world cannot bestow immortality?”
“Yes, my friend. That’s why they are immortal!”

once again
yesterday’s birdsong –
a different branch

The landscape is beautifully evoked in both the prose and the haiku: “a tree bowing over the steam”, “a grove of poplars”, “mountain shadows”, “the summer moon and “a spreading bayan”. But Carter’s focus is on personal landscapes, the parables he is recounting and their effect both on the novices and the readers of the parables.

Towards the end the book, and perhaps where we see the duality of prose and poem at its best, is the long parable “Near Kyoto” in which Carter uses his poetic skill to ensure that this story crucial to an understanding of parables is neither forgotten nor mythologised by telling it in controlled language. The voices speak plain English: “You know, my friend, doing things right makes one happy. You ought to try it.” Yet the man who did get things wrong prefers to ignore his talkative friend and replies: “But I am happy, my friend; happy as the proverbial mollusk!”

Funny and poignant, tender and wise, the author’s virtuosity impresses. The book contains much fine writing and some positive endings to his tales.


Filed under poetry & publishing

Snow Moon reviewed by Patricia Prime

Snow Moon by Steven Carter, Uxbridge. Alba Publishing, Uxbridge, UK. www.albapublishing.com (2011) 48 pp. p.b. US$12.00/UK8.00 pounds. ISBN 978-095512544-7. Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Steven Carter is a retired emeritus professor of English and his book of essays, Devotions to the Text, was awarded the Eric Hoffer Foundation’s Montaigne Medal grand prize.  Carter secures his position as one of the most remarkable of contemporary writers with his first collection of haiku and haibun, Snow Moon.

The haiku and haibun in this collection are expressed in plain language that nevertheless enlightens us with their lightest and deepest concepts. In his haiku, which are divided into three sections: Equinox, The House and October, Carter ponders and marvels over the various seasonal changes that take place during the equinox, the practicalities of the house, and the coming of winter. Each section is headed by a haibun and the final section L’Envoi, contains ten haibun.

In Carter’s individual haiku, his mode is accessible, sometimes surprising, as in the opening haiku:

our silences –
the right words
only words

Carter displays considerable artistry in the haiku which sometimes jolts us out of complacency:

brightening the night
pale yellow moon –

and, at the same time, does not abandon the domestic:

careening moon –
the stillness
of your glass of wine

This trustworthy voice is welcome over a broad spectrum of subjects, yet is tied together so that each haiku unfolds something different and satisfying. In the section entitled The House, for example, there are haiku about the highs and lows, the practical and the emotional – test results, the garden, the empty birdhouse, rummaging in the attic, unwritten poems and more. The first haiku in this section:

waiting for the test results –
on which side of the window
a fly?

is offset by the nature haiku:

day moon on the lake
flying into its reflection
a hummingbird

or morphs into an account of disease:

mottled moon
no one brings up
the lymphoma

The final section of haiku, October, guides the reader through nature, landscape, seasonal weather, camping and the fireside. Here everyday occurrences and encounters enable the haiku to function as a catharsis to undercurrents that run beneath the poems, as for example, in the following haiku where we get caught up in the struggle that takes place in most of our lives:

behind scattered clouds
the coy moon
. . . regretting a kindness

taking early retirement –
winter moon
no longer part of something

Carter’s haibun are indicative of his interest in the form and sustain a high level of achievement throughout, but I do have my favourites: “Over Lunch”, “Kite””Sawtooth Range” and “1991”. What is particularly good, and the mark of a fine poet, is Carter’s ability and confidence to take chances.  In this particular book, the addition of “1991” abut a visit to Auschwitz places his haibun in the contemporary arena. Here is a short quote from the poem:

In a strange and terrible way, September is the cruelest month for     Auschwitz –     the skies are blue and balmy, the grounds and surrounding fields     lush with flowers, grasses and chestnut trees. These landscapes make the     facilities – gas chambers, crematoria, barracks, dungeons, the Wall of Death –     more poignant, even unbearable. I saw more than one Fullbrighter     throw up and     return to the bus.

The care that is paid to language in Carter’s poetry is just as evident in his prose and it is therefore no surprise that his haibun are exemplary. His haibun “Sawtooth Range” is impressive, and contains many well-crafted impressions of the “bearded, long-haired, very thin” young man carrying a cross he sees on his journey through Montana. : His lips move slowly – I can’t hear him because my window’s closed – but I lip-read his words: ‘Don’t forget me.”

This is a very fine collection and an engaging, attractive and worthwhile book.

Leave a comment

Filed under poetry & publishing

Bright the Harvest Moon

I have had a real ‘haiku-headspace’ of late, so it is a great pleasure to be able to publish this review of John O’ Connor’s collection, Bright the Harvest Moon by Patricia Prime.


Bright the Harvest Moon by John O’Connor, Christchurch. Poets Group, Christchurch. (2011). 100 pp. p.b. RRP: NZ$20. ISBN: 978-0-9582191-6-7.

A consistent innovator, John O’Connor has been a leader in contemporary New Zealand haiku for several decades. His new collection, Bright the Harvest Moon, focuses attention on his unusual blend of typography, font styles and symbols.

The haiku are inspired by traditional influences – haiku written by the Japanese masters – Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, and others. Noted for its tenderness and its irony, O’Connor’s work has revolutionized form in New Zealand haiku by taking words from various sources to create haiku to which he has applied his imagination to create new structures that support ambiguity, juxtaposition and humour, as we see in these two examples from After Basho:

Though singing till nightfall –
thinking the skylark
hasn’t sung at all.

In fine rain –
straw coats & willows
toward the river.

Rapturous, yet paradoxically precise and incisive, O’Connor’s haiku are both theatrical and performative. The haiku display his exhilarating sense of language, as well as his predilection for the comic play of typography and font which is sometimes at odds with the seriousness of the haiku. There’s a dynamic play between coherence and incoherence at the heart of this collection. We’re soothed into a welcoming comfort through his grammatically normative phrases – and their meaning. While the originals of his haiku may be familiar to many readers, each of his is original. As he says in his Note: “. . . I have ignored the disjunctive linkage of renga & at times the prescriptions & proscriptions of haiku.”

In After Buson,

 Rising mist.
A thousand steps e c h o
the market sounds.

The long roadside grasses –
a grave-post among them.

The haiku retain all the flash and dazzle of the ephemeral, all the play with which readers of his haiku will be familiar. And it is out of that flickering indeterminacy that O’Connor constructs the humour that drives his poetry. His work gives an aestheticized, meditative turn to daily detail that reflects his knowledge of the Japanese masters and his familiary with the art of haiku.

O’Connor makes haiku that inevitably feel stylish, timeless, and marked by a precise lyrical grace. His love, respect and knowledge of the Japanese masters influences his own work. Always challenging convention and form, this collection of haiku is inspired by, or is his “imitations” of haiku written by Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, and others, as we see in the following four haiku:

From After Issa:

Beneath the blossoms
there are no strangers.

Walking to Shinano –
higher & higher
the rice planters’ song.

From After Shiki:

How low the graves
under the grass
of late summer.

After rain –
late sun    touching
the cicada.

His is a highly speculative poetic intelligence, both philosophically elegant and lyrically charged. Meditative and mysterious, his haiku track the subtle moments of consciousness against the background of nature and human nature, as we see in the following four haiku:

From After the Followers of Basho:

So carefully
placing snow on this tray –
“autumn flowers”.

(After Kikaku)

From After Other Haiku Masters:

Delaying my journey
yet again
for spring.

(After Ryota)

The collection uses typeface, typography and symbols as a point of departure to alter our traditional ideas of haiku. Employing fragmentation and ellipsis, allusion and occasional symbols as a springboard that takes us back to the original haiku, but also emphasizes the public nature of personal experience; this is a collection to delight every reader of haiku.

1 Comment

Filed under poetry & publishing

Patricia Prime reviews ‘waves whisper the shoreline to life’ by Agnieszka Niemira

waves whisper the shoreline to life, Agnieszka Niemira. 
Post Pressed, 38 Suncroft St., Mt. Gravatt, Queensland 4122, Australia.  www.postpressed.com.au.  2010.  98 pp.  ISBN 978-1921214-63-9.  AUSS$19.95 + p&p

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

waves whisper the shoreline to life is Agnieszka Niemira’s second book of poetry.  This is a more substantial volume than Niemira’s first collection, Making the Invisible Transparent.  Here again, we have a beautiful volume published by Post Pressed, with front cover photo by the poet, back cover photo by Elleni Toumpas and additional photos by Barrie Frost.

A very different presentation characterizes many of the poems in this collection.  Many of the poems are longer than in the previous book, although it also contains haiku and short poems.

The first lines of the very first poem, “the story begins” reads very simply:

 it is quiet

 the house is asleep
 i am enveloped
 in its imperceptible breathing

This process of discovery, from inside to outside, the search to establish some sense of possible relationship between the inner self and the exterior world, is central to this collection.  The same initial poem concludes thus:

 i will love
 i will question
 what love actually means

 should i be trusting you with myself like that

 and would you trust me      to be taken where I go

waves whisper the shoreline to life is characterized by Niemira’s alertness to incidents that took place in wartime.  “visitors” and “survivors 1945” are concerned with the horrors of war.  From “visitors”:

 a gun pointed at my brothers and me
 my father     watching

and from “survivors 1945”:
 a single woman
 her house destroyed

 they give her
 one of their rooms

The ideas in these two poems are fully felt, unsentimentally realized and emotionally felt.  The precariousness of human individuality, the difficulty of sustaining family values in the face of war, functions in Niemira’s work not just as an intellectual conceit but as emotional reality.  In the poem “echoes,” for example, the poet lives with “grandma and grandpa / in a post-german house.”  But, though they are surrounded by “wetlands / meadows    gardens” animals, friends, and relatives, all is not well in this idyllic setting:

 grandpa drinks
 i dread seeing him
 leaving the house with his mates

but by the end of the poem, we discover the reason for grandpa’s drinking and anger:

 he survives a german forced labour camp
 i listen
 i hear screams

 grandfather talks
 war echoes

Niemira’s poetic persona has a confident, but not over-confident, sense of its own identity.  Niemira is able to write of others with a degree of empathy.  There is an impressive meticulousness of emotional observation and a lack of sentimentality which isn’t flaunted, as we see in the love poem “summer loving”:

you come with delicate breeze

you take me into the sapphire-blue snowstorm

we experience the omnipotence
of misty sanctification

the mysterious kiss ripens
in the freedom of the night

The registering of human emotions is one of Niemira’s strengths, and it is in her treatment of those people in her immediate circle that her work is at its most quietly moving.  One has no doubt in believing in the truth of what Niemira says in a fine poem “the world has no sharp edges”:

 so the world is round, no sharp edges,
 she tends to relax into various colours:
 sea green, purple, blue . . . rainbow . . .
 could be falling out of the sky too,
 perhaps being flexible and bouncy
 with an honestly smiling face.

A longer poem “dimensions” is full of Niemira’s experiences, full of her sense  of love, warmth and peace and in both the apprehension and comprehension of what is implied in the recognition of herself in a photo:

 what is this     she points to the screen

 marcus looks at the photo

 his tearful eyes find me
 is that you

But Niemira is not simply a poet of emotional lives.  She also writes poems in which the search for an axis of living is conducted in natural settings.  In the poem “dawn,” for example, she hears the birds and goes outside to listen to them:

hearing the birds singing their greetings
i go outside to unite with the world of awakening

i breathe in the freshness

the place is alive
though people are nowhere to be seen

In such poems the precision of Niemira’s writing is a recurrent delight.  Niemira’s real but unaffected attentiveness to nature is registered in a language which, very naturally, makes such attentiveness evidence both of a stilled self-consciousness and of a process of self-discovery.  There is a breathtaking responsiveness to simple beauty in her work.  In “the intimately known mystery” she observes that “my baby is out of my womb / out of my body // quiet for a moment / then crying / i stroke my son’s cheek     featherily.”  Another poem “motherhood” also recalls the poet’s experience of being a mother, “before i was just myself / now i am a mother / to eternity.”  The long poem “perfection” shows us the child’s humming and laughter:

 the music is perfected
 by my son’s humming and laughter
 i want to delight in the moment
 but the longing to see him
 overwhelms me
 i open the door to my bedroom
 he runs towards me
 and gives his mother
   the morning hug

“laughter” is a poem at ease with itself, conveying with skilful brevity the love between poet and grandmother:

 i come in quietly
 the house breathes to its own rhythm
 hello granny dearest     i say softly
 she does not recognize me
 but I know what to do
 . . . i laugh
 oh agnieszka     she smiles
 and dozes off in her armchair

In these poems we pick up on the poet’s relationships as subject, with a smile towards her feelings, shown in simple language.  Niemira pays minute attention to language, managing to achieve warmth and humour with concision and pointedness; and invention, either in the form and layout or use of space. 

In “silencescream” the effect of dreadfulness is conveyed by subtle and varying line length, reflecting the state of mind of the personae, in which everything is disjointed.  This is hysteria with a strange inevitability:

 in silence
 you tell me your story
 i see the scars
 looking into your young eyes
 i notice
 there is beauty but no youth in them

 the bloodstained images
 you’ve brought to life
 stay with us

 we fall asleep regardless

After this there is a group of tough, short poems which reveal the terrors of war.  In “terror triptych” “girls for sale / girls for the taking,” while in “honour” we see a “gang-raped woman // stoned to death.”  “staying alive” describes the persona of a young woman in an unpleasant situation.  A feat this, to picture such ugliness in an excellent poem.  Finally “this is my home” tells us that the poet would invite us in “but I had a bad experience.”

Although many of the poems make one look at hard subjects, reading this collection with its terse but vibrant images, tense voices and lives, the poems gather momentum each time you read them.


Filed under poetry & publishing