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: 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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Assorted Heads

Poetry by Greg Brownderville

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Assorted Heads

by Greg Brownderville

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Prosimetrum 1: Assorted Heads

 

The Story—

 

1

All the colors of the universe, wondrous clutter everywhere. Sister Law had conjured that rickety sanctum out of scrap lumber from her dead husband’s building business. Called it “The Upper Room.” You had to spider up a red-rung ladder to achieve the holy of holies. First time I entered, she made me climb first, gripping her bag of “leavings” and art supplies, and she was right behind me. Me and Sister Law in her highest outbuilding—a cross between a chapel and a toy shop, crazed with her sculptures. The room was her mind, and there we sat, two kids in the floor. She was eighty-five years old.

We prayed, we sang. She began to rig a boy up out of trash. She was a Oneness preacher. When I quoted Revelation, “Strengthen the things which remain,” all of a country sudden, the Holy Ghost possessed us. We spoke in other tongues. Just me and Ethel Leona Fitch Law. She was sitting there making a boy.

2

Sister Law said the Father, Son, and Spirit are three of many masks. My Sunday School teacher said no. One day, he took me out walking down a rock road, along a weedy bank. Small, unseen animals moving in the brush. He said the Trinity is like that. The brush itself is alive, but certain animals are in there, snapping twigs and rustling grass.

Me and Sister Law—we sang, we prayed, we spoke in tongues. She was Oneness. She was buds with heathens. She made spooky dolls that, little did I know, would later scare my niece and nephew. Keep them from wanting to sleep in Uncle Greg’s room. To me, the dolls were like speaking in tongues. To me, when you close your eyes, speaking in tongues looks like that scary snow dust in the hills, how it snake-swirls over pavement in your headlights. Unlike my niece and nephew, even at their age, I liked to be that kind of scared.

One time, me and Sister Law went to the turtle boil. Out at the hush harbor. People handled snakes and got possessed there, same as church but different. Mister Good Day used my body as a horse for better than three hours. Danced up on the women and even on the men.

Sometimes me and Sister Law would laugh in the Spirit—that was called the holy cackle. It was meant to get you good at laughing off your life.

3

She was sitting there making a boy. She painted him a shirt of picnic gingham, red and white. I think it was a boy, but the hips of the driftwood body rounded wide from a narrow waist. Sister Law painted on some blue jeans. She talked about nighttime on the inside. She said, “That outer darkness what they talk about—fact of business, it’s inward. I’ve wandered too far in. Pure-dee old dark, son. I’ve been by my lonesome. Not even the Devil to torment me.”

She glued on sycamore twigs for arms. Had trouble settling on a head. She had assorted orbs to choose from: a baseball smudged with green from the outfield grass, a coconut that looked like an otter’s head, a real otter’s head she’d taxidermied herself, a light bulb, a gourd, a shriveled apple that favored an Egyptian mummy I had seen at a museum in Memphis (Tennessee), and some I can’t remember.

I had given her the baseball. My coach presented it to me after my little league game the week before because I knocked the winning home run. Sister Law liked baseball. She thought the pinch-hitter rule had ruined the American League. I wasn’t sure what she was.

Light walked through the window of “The Upper Room.” Sister Law held up the baseball, dirty cream, and thumbed its bruised leather. Inspected it like a vegetable she might not use for supper. She squinted at me. Made some quick strokes on the ball with a red marker. Looked at me again. Made some marks. Glued the ball atop the torso and studied on it.

She took the ball off and set the otter’s head there instead. She studied on it. Tried the ball again. Tried the apple. I wondered if the glue’s grip was weakening. She made marks on the coconut and gave it a chance too.

They all looked soul-worthy, all of them. In the end she settled on that hurt, grass-stained, winning smile and called the doll Yeah Boy. Sister Law was a girl.

She gave me the boy for keeps.

 

The Song—

I’m standing in the need of prayer.
Pilgrim, let me tell you—yesterday’s tornado
dropped the Double Portion Tabernacle
into the Twin Oaks Mall, and made my parents’ house get up
and dance.

When that ugly cloud bore down
like a black Texas, Yeah Boy quaked
on top of my dresser. His head jarred free
and rumble-rolled across my bedroom floor.

When that ugly cloud bore down, it raptured
a culvert, and they played like
Slinky brothers. A woman on the news said, “I thought
I was gonna be blowed
off the globe
of the earth.”

But the wind laid down, and now I’m babbling,
I’m at large—feet bare among the burs.

There’s a Ronald McDonald statue perched in a beech,
and a Stratocaster lying
in the beechdrops underneath.

A white beekeeper’s suit slumbers manless
by the road, so I put it on and tromp
around and hit Mad Butcher Market.
I find a pack of matches and
a dark-chocolate bar. Matches
like pale lady hands with pink polish.
When I tap and brush them
against my candy bar, the fingertips catch fire.
They burn a yellow song
of who am I and why
across that small piano barcode.

My kin don’t know
about my wordness, all the languages
that swarm me. They know about my Holy Ghost
possessions, but I hide the rest: how Easy
Lee and Good Day get inside
me when the Mirror Saw divides me.
Shall you compare me to a McDonald’s drive-thru?
Growly guy voice
greets you, and you order a McRib. But then:
tinny girl voice (where’d she come from?)
offers you fries and a Coke.

I rove all over morning as The Beekeeper Spaceman. Yes,
I float across a meadow
past an abandoned game of marbles,
peer down, and dream it’s our magnificent solar system.

Too hot, I shed the bee suit in the cane
and kneel like a hart beside the water brook.
A twirly-bird roof vent drifts along. I nab it,
hold it high, atop my head: a baker’s hat.
I study myselves in the glassy babble.
Make a mud pie deluxe and stow it in my pocket.
Later on, I’ll climb said beech
and share my pie with Ronald.

What if Ronald McDonald
is Jimi Hendrix in captivity?

Before the magical baker was, I am
a multitude. The head was never
secure. Pilgrim, please
remember. Please
remember me in prayer.

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“Bath” and “Death is Boring”

Poetry by Jacob Oet

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“Bath” and “Death is Boring”

by Jacob Oet 

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Oet’s poems come from his chapbook, With Porcupine, which won the 2015 Arcadia Poetry Chapbook Contest.

Bath

A porcupine and I take a bath.
He says, snout sticking out
of the foam bubbles like a pinecone
half buried in snow, that I
should look for a boy without a mother,
and write poems to him
about the trace of a mother’s hand
on the wind-swept hair,
about the strength of a mother’s voice
like a bullet through glass.
“Yes,” said the porcupine.
“Write about the speed of a mother’s voice,
that sweeps clean through the window
without breaking it.”
And I ran the porcupine like soap
up my legs and my shoulders,
and the skin was weeping.
From the water stemmed a flower,
from the drain, whose years-later ring
would still have the red stain.

Death is Boring

“It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!”
            —Bill Watterson

The porcupine and I walk out
during the funeral. A ghost tags behind,
but disappears when we cross
the street. Years pass, we become
traveling magicians. We astound
with feats of clairvoyance:

“Calvin hurries his mom back
to the white cot, lips stained from her
drink at the water fountain,”
intones the porcupine. And I add:
“She shivers and burps. Calvin wraps
his tiger fur coat on her. He leaves.”

We pull clean diapers out of our hats.
We walk backwards. I tell every child:
“Look at the dark changing clouds
that you are.” And when we are
alone, the porcupine sings
walk one way, and never come back.

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