Poetry Review: The Language of Little Girls, by Kate Falvey

A Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Poetry: The Language of Little Girls, by Kate Falvey

Review by Dante Di Stefano

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The Language of Little Girls

Kate Falvey

David Robert Books, 2016 ($19.00)

Kate Falvey has published two poetry chapbooks, What the Sea Washes Up (Dancing Girl Press) and Morning Constitutional in Sunhat and Bolero (Green Fuse Poetic Arts). She is associate professor of English at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York, where she teaches creative writing and literature. City Tech/CUNY supports the annual literary journal, 2 Bridges Review, for which she is editor-in-chief.  She is also an associate editor for the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center’s the Bellevue Literary Review. She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from N.Y.U.

The Stealthy Dream of a Constant Hand

Kate Falvey’s new collection of poetry, The Language of Little Girls, reads as a compendium of unforgettable female voices; the book abounds with sketches of compelling, thoughtful, unruly, questioning, and complex women and girls. Falvey introduces her readers to grammar school angels contemplating the divine, schoolmarms, nuns, catholic schoolgirls, piano teachers, mothers, daughters, ghosts, literary critics, cosmopolitans, Little Red Riding Hood, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, an indomitable young woman named Cora, and tomboys who decorate the blushing rubber of their doll babies with blood from their own scraped knees and shins. This diverse cast of characters shares an irrepressible vitality and an unquenchable curiosity that Falvey expertly marshals into the elemental language of her poetry. Precise detail muscles Falvey’s lines, pierced through, as they are, with egret and cygnet, birch and alder, iris and calendula, brush and bracken, bufflehead and common goldeneye. Falvey’s poems whisper avowal everywhere in their own lovingly windswept vocabularies.

Not only does The Language of Little Girls whisper avowal in all directions, but it also affirms the creative and imaginative power of the feminine. The girls and women in these poems are makers: poets, musicians, craftswomen, artists in the kaleidoscopic overlay of urban and pastoral, of heaven and of earth, of the ordinary and of the sublime. These girls and women “can see into the very insides of / angels” and “know God’s sigh is the / voice of all the world.” However, Falvey’s poems also articulate more immediate concerns; the poem, “Incidental,” for example, begins:

The world creases sometimes
less like the brittle page of an old paperback
(one with a moon on the cover — and the soft
eyes of a girl peeking over a mess of creepers riddling
through a neat fringe of boxwood)
and more like a bed sheet busy with violets and snow drops
slept on fitfully and dragged into a stealthy dream of
a constant hand, smoothing, rumpling, smoothing.

In these lines, the creasing of the world—an existential problem—relates more to the domestic sphere than to the literary. However, the literary overlaps with the domestic. The crease in an old paperback implies an engagement with a text, an old intimacy, a giving over of the self to the dream of pulp and ink. Similarly, the folds in a bedsheet, upon which are written a chronicle of bodily restlessness and insomnia, might be coopted “into a stealthy dream of a constant hand,” endlessly smoothing and rumpling their surface, like the work of a poet who has entered the infinite dream of restorative utterance. The Language of Little Girls pleasantly uncovers the world’s creases, so that they might be smoothed, rumpled, and smoothed again, by Kate Falvey’s constant hand.

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Poetry Review: Break the Habit, by Tara Betts

A Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Poetry: Breaking the Habit, by Tara Betts

Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Break the Habit

Tara Betts

Trio House Press ($16.00)

Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue. Tara holds an MFA from New England College and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. Her writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, POETRY, Essence, NYLON, Octavia’s Brood, and The Break Beat Poets. Tara teaches at University of Illinois-Chicago.

This Wild Whisper Runs Inside Me

Tara Betts’s second collection of poetry, Break the Habit, charts the dissolution of the poet’s marriage. Betts chronicles her relationship with her ex-husband from the initial sweetness of first love through the vicissitudes of married life to the heartbreak of divorce and beyond. The arc of this failed marriage serves as a metaphor for various forms of uncoupling from the bondage of routine; in poem after poem, Betts argues for a sloughing off of the quotidian, for a liberation of the imagination, for an unbridling of the heart and mind. As Betts notes in “The Paterson Falls & Hinchliffe”: “There’s history I cannot write when / decaying, forgotten places cling to the present.” In this poem, the ghosts of Satchel Paige and Minnie Minoso writhe through the derelict remains of the famous Negro League stadium against the backdrop of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson. The failed epic of Williams’s Paterson serves as a counterpoint to the failed epic of Betts’s doomed romance. Here, as everywhere else in Break the Habit, Betts grounds her work in an aesthetic of radical departure.

Whether writing about the loss of a lover, the death of a loved one, or a spider spinning its web above her front doorstep, Betts constantly seeks to affirm the “symmetry in the body of the living.” Her poetry insists upon the renewal implied in decay, the rebirth hidden inside demise, the beginning whittled from an ending. As Betts writes in the final two stanzas of “Go”:

I cannot deny what rocked and kept me,
what once made me feel safe, gone now
—ashes dust, burned, singed, blown to
a language that wind and soil must know.

This wild whisper runs inside me, and I
must answer it or the rustling of skin shall
molt what is left. I will never, I will not
allow myself to live half a life, so I must go.

Throughout Break the Habit, Betts celebrates the people and things that have rocked and kept her: her mother and the rest of her family, the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, her beloved Chicago and the streets of Kankakee, the music of Cassandra Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Bon Iver, and Public Enemy, the prose of Borges, the company of friends. Betts sagely invokes the gentle collisions and the bittersweet partings that constitute a full and fragrant life. The poems in Break the Habit display a pleasingly complicated humanity: intelligent, feisty, romantic, fragile, nostalgic, defiant, broken, unflagging, committed to living in and through the word in the way one might live forever in one note unfolding greenly from John Coltrane’s horn.  

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Poetry Review: Waiting for the Dead to Speak, by Brian Fanelli

A Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Poetry: Waiting for the Dead to Speak, by Brian Fanelli

Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Waiting for the Dead to Speak

by Brian Fanelli

NYQ Books

Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) and the full-length poetry collections All That Remains (Unbound Content) andWaiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books). His poetry, essays, and book reviews have been published by The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, The Paterson Literary Review, Main Street Rag, [PANK], Louisiana Literature, and elsewhere. His poetry has also been featured on “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor. He has an M.F.A. from Wilkes University and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. Brian is a full-time faculty member at Lackawanna College.

Swing State

The world did not end on November 9, 2016. However, for some of us, even for those of us who saw a Trump victory as a distinct possibility, it certainly felt like it did. Brian Fanelli’s second full-length poetry collection, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, addresses many of the underlying class issues exposed in the recent presidential campaign. Fanelli’s poetry dramatizes the enthusiasms and struggles of a white working class childhood and of an adulthood wed to activism and to poetry.  Throughout the rolling hills of Lackawanna County dramatized in poem after poem, Bruce Springsteen blares out of car windows as Dollar Trees proliferate and young men learn the gospel of Bud Light and Monday Night Football. The Scranton, Pennsylvania of Waiting for the Dead to Speak, a place freighted with pasts and vanishings, could be anywhere in Middle America; Fanelli’s poetry mainlines anthracite and coal dust, caked in creosote and lye, in order to deliver a rustbelt bucolic in which empathy outflanks hate.

The twin cornerstones of Fanelli’s poetry are empathy and gentleness. The first poem of the collection, “For Jimmy, Who Bruised My Ribs and Busted My Nose,” gently demonstrates the empathetic vision that ennobles the whole of Fanelli’s work. The final two stanzas of this ode read:

This poem is for the bully who never cried,
who hid belt lashes from us, who ran from the sound
of his father’s battered Ford tracking him down,

the son whose hands tightened to fists like his father’s,
who uncurled his fingers to study my blood,
and then extended a hand to lift me up.

Here, as elsewhere in Waiting for the Dead to Speak, Fanelli moves through the bruised and the busted to a place where those in conflict are united in a gesture of uplift. Like his heroes, Philip Levine and Joe Strummer, Brian Fanelli knows what work is and he sings for all of those lost, unborn, and unmade in the ramshackle. The only swing state depicted in these poems is the movement away from complacency’s chubby scraped knuckles.

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Poetry Review: Reflections on the Dark Water by M.P. Jones

A Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Poetry Review: Reflections on the Dark Water, by M.P. Jones

by Dante Di Stefano

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Reflections on the Dark Water

by M.P. Jones

Solomon & George Publishers $13.00

Madison Jones is a Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Florida—where he works with the  TRACE journal and innovation initiative. He is editor-in-chief of Kudzu House Quarterly. Reflections on the Dark Water (Solomon & George) is his second poetry collection. Recent publications include co-editing Writing the Environment in Nineteenth-Century American Literature; an article forthcoming in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment; poetry forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Journal, ISLE, and The Goose, and recently appearing in Canary, Tampa ReviewPainted Bride QuarterlyGreensboro Review, and elsewhere; book reviews in ISLE, Kenyon Review Online, The Journal, and elsewhere. Visit his website: ecopoiesis.com.

Catastrophes of Sunlight

In M.P. Jones’ second collection of poetry, Reflections on the Dark Water, the poet pursues the black currents and refracted joys of his own psyche through the lush rural landscapes of the Deep South. For Jones, the pastoral tradition itself becomes a scene in which he might untangle “the skeins/ of naked selves.”  Magnolia, kudzu, squabbling jaybirds, the stars over Alabama, and “the low pull of trainsong,” provide the backdrop against which Jones paints a portrait of the many selves contained within a single line of poetry. Through “catastrophes of sunlight on the bedspread,” the poet constructs entire genealogies of silence and, in so doing, he strives for an ecological mindfulness centered as much on love of others as on love of the earth.

Love of family, love of poetry, and love of human history intermingle throughout Reflections on the Dark Water; the collection reads as a ghostly palimpsest where Jones’ deceased brother might be read alongside James Wright, Li Po, Charles Wright, Emily Dickinson, Hayden Carruth, a slew of Roman emperors, and generations of Japanese poets. As Jones notes in the poem, “The Bicycle,” there is “no division/ between the deep taproots and the loam.” Each poem in Reflections breaks down arbitrary temporal and physical divisions; each moment, here, is every moment, an eternal recurrence of thrush, threshing floor, bone sutra, and crow shadow, presided over by the Native American trickster god, Coyote. Jones demonstrates this cyclonic phenomenology in the poem, “Morning Otology,” when he writes:

The neighbor passes again
                                      on the green mower.

                         Emperor Titus thought a gnat
had crawled in a nostril
            to pick his brain as punishment.

The loud hum of the John Deere shuttles the poem from neighborhood to imperial palace, through the ruins and the lacunae of antiquity, reminding us that to be human, whether rich or poor, whether provincial or cosmopolitan, whether ancient or postmodern, is to contend with the great final silence of the grave. M.P. Jones writes to affirm the amethyst in the bramble, the dark syllables of thunder, the nocturne of the empty field, the world behind the world, hidden in the wing of a heron alighting on the drainage lake of an industrial park.

 

Listen to Jones read his poems:

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Poetry Review: Hemming Flames, by Patricia Colleen Murphy

A Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Poetry Review: Hemming Flames,

by Patricia Colleen Murphy

by Dante Di Stefano 

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Hemming Flames

by Patricia Colleen Murphy

Utah State UP ($19.95)

Patricia Colleen Murphy founded Superstition Review at Arizona State University, where she teaches creative writing and magazine production. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, and American Poetry Review, and most recently in Black Warrior Review, North American Review, Smartish Pace, Burnside Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Hobart, decomP, Midway Journal, Armchair/Shotgun, and Natural Bridge. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Inventing a New Language for Fire

Patricia Colleen Murphy’s debut collection, Hemming Flames, dazzles and sears as it charts the wracked history of a family plagued by mental illness and addiction. With great nuance and empathy, Murphy resurrects the suicidal mother who lit herself on fire, the alcoholic father cursing and breaking dinner plates, the agoraphobic brother with an eating disorder that leads to crippling obesity, the crushing gravity of the family home, which is a frigate, a bridge for sale, a poker game, a firefly, a time warp, a time machine, a trap, a big sick lung. In lesser hands, the confessional mode that Murphy employs might come off as solipsistic and exploitative, but the poems in Hemming Flames alchemically transmute the base material of personal trauma; Patricia Colleen Murphy transforms the stuff of autobiography into the earned communion of poetry.

For Murphy, the earned communion of poetry thresholds itself between effusion and restraint. In her poem, “Good Morning, Mediocrity,” Murphy says: “…I’m stuck between the one who keeps it all/ and the one who gives it all away.” This is the dwelling place for poetry: the space between dispersal and recollection, the impulse that both gathers and discards. The poem, “Memory as Diary,” further articulates these competing impulses to affirm and to destroy. The poem reads, in full:

Because the body is illiterate, lacks
language any more complex than thirst;
and because the body came from another
body whose ultimate goal was to wean it;
and because the body saw a body burst
into flames on the bow of a boat;
and because the body watched its dog cross
the uncrossable street about to be stopped by
the unstoppable car; and because the body
went from soft & pink to rough & brown;
and because the body feels a stabbing, a
tingling, a dull ache, a numbness, a heat;
and because the body would tell you this
if it could, would say it hurts or I miss you.

“Memory as Diary” enacts the recursive strategies of the entire book, as the speaker seeks to find words for the throb that comes from being in a world where separation and loss are writ indelibly and indecipherably on our very bodies. In poem after poem, Patricia Colleen Murphy gives voice to a stabbing, a tingling, a dull ache, a numbness, a heat. She invents a new language for fire and this new language allows her to express anger and pain, desire and despair, regret and a wry hopefulness, despite it all. Her forte is not just the white space of her mother’s lunatic years, it is the restorative utterance of a daughter and a sister who has healed the torn cartilage and rebuilt the charred remains of her lost childhood. Hemming Flames is not merely a necessary book for anyone who has experienced mental illness and addiction in their family, it is a necessary book for anyone who cares about poetry.

To hear Murphy’s poetry and an in-depth interview, check out Audio Interview: Poet Patricia Colleen Murphy.

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Audio Interview: Poet Patricia Colleen Murphy

An Interview by Dante Di Stefano

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Audio Interview: Patricia Colleen Murphy

by Dante Di Stefano

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Readers of Arcadia might remember Patricia Colleen Murphy’s poem, “Songs in Kiswahili,” from Issue 9.1. In honor of her debut collection, Hemming Flames, the staff at Arcadia would like you to enjoy this audio version of Patricia’s poem and an in depth interview with the author herself as she discusses family, travel, mental illness, the confessional mode, and contemporary poetics. Enjoy and pick up a copy of Hemming Flames today!

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Check out Di Stefano’s review of Hemming Flames here.

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