[Issue #4, Winter 1999-2000]
By Katharine Whitcomb
Parallel Press, Memorial Library
728 State Street, Madison, WI 53706
The Pocket Poetry Parenting Guide
Edited by Jennifer Bosveld
Pudding House Publications
60 North Main St.
Johnstown, OH 43031
By Douglas Goetsch
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street,
Brooklyn, NY 11217-2208
Vol. 1, No. 1, Late Summer/Fall 1999
PO Box 3278
Duluth, MN 55803
Reviewed by Matt Welter
What I have to admit about Katharine Whitcomb's book, Hosannas, is
that I envy it. Every bit of it. Parallel Press' second publication and
once again it's a high-quality presentation. I turn to the credits page
and wish I could get into reviews like Spoon River, Kenyon,
and Pleides. I turn the page and wish I could get a fellowship. I
look at the index and envy Ms. Whitcomb the most: nine poems. How I envy
her for being able to bring her chapbook down to nine solid poems.
Each poem is written in the formal academic style. Stanzas break evenly,
with the last sentence of each stanza spilling into the first line of the
next stanza. Whitcomb uses this like other academics to seed the next stanza's
subject. When reading a poem written in this form, I can envision the author
covering up prior stanzas, then reading the tidy stanzas as a whole poem
to see what has come out of it. The form seems to take you on an abstract
journey, one in which you're not sure where you're going to end up. This
is especially poignant in her opening poem, "Saints of South Dakota,"
in which the poem starts "From smoked-soaked hotel rooms," hitting
images of tea, cowboy farmers, and snakehandlers like speedbumps and ending
up "on the lip of something vast."
The two poems that best embody Whitcomb's abstract journey are "Benediction"
and "Truth Has Two Hands." The closing poem, "Benediction,"
is a poem of severe form in which each stanza has some impression of survival,
mixed with prayer chants. The best piece in the book, "Truth Has Two
Hands," is about Whitcomb's experience as a jury member for an inner
city murder trial. We feel how she feels, not quite knowing how this mishmash
of thoughts, feelings, and stories can ever make sense. "I found your
picture in the paper this morning, Charles,// found guilty typed under it,
right down the page from a story/ on Rwanda about village adults who rounded
up orphans/ and clubbed them to death. Those kids hardly making a sound//
since they'd known their attackers all their lives..."
* * *
The Pocket Poetry Parenting Guide is an anthology that manages to
be accessible without being dull. In fact it is warm and loving. A.E. Swaney's
poem, "Beautiful," arrives at the realization that it is primal
for a parent to find their child beautiful. It ends on the image, "Her
mind a spring brook full of trout." Beautiful image, Ms. Swaney. Claire
J. Baker's poem, "Night Story," shows the practical value of taking
your child on night walks without flashlights. Richard Waring's "Crib
Notes" has some insightful peeks into the fatherly urges to know the
mind of his child. "As if to a fabulous cave, trying to fathom/ the
language of your painting, the habits of your bats/ secretly reading the
same books as you, to find out/ which way you're heading, where to find
you on the open horizon."
Still, no poem holds a candle to Peggy Hong's "The Zen of Diapering."
This masterpiece should be given to every mother and father the day they
bring their first baby home, and placed on the inside of every box of nappies.
Douglas Gray, Frank Van Zant, Thom Ward, Michael Chandler and Kristin Berkey-Abbott
also have some helpful and memorable pieces. The book ends with an insightful
essay by the editor on whether it is better to say "Yes" or "No"
to our children on a regular basis.
Artistic, yet practical, this guide is something I would consider sending
my two brothers who are both new parents, but not much into poetry. More
guides like this should be made for those who want to appreciate their children
rather than falling back on Dr. Spock.
* * *
If I am nervous to review Douglas Goetsch's Nobody's Hell, it is
because it is the first book I have reviewed by someone from New York, and
being a person from a town of under 700 people, I'm afraid that the author
may come to kick my ass. Nevertheless, Goetsch's book has a four-star opening
piece, "Counting." The poem encompasses images that the author
would count as a kid, from "pine needles on the shoulder of the road/
bubbles in my white summer spit," to breaths and even standing next
to God, counting. My favorite image is this end of one stanza:
I dreamed of counting the galaxies
Part One has some of the strongest poems in it, two of which face side by
side, "The Walls" and the title piece, "Nobody's Hell."
The former is a short poem in which every image disintegrates within your
mind. The latter work starts off with how physically numb the author could
get from winter, but ends on an image of a chilling numbness that freezes
you even more: experiencing racism on the receiving end. All of the poems
in Part One have a simultaneous young adult and adult perspective. Goetsch
does not so much romanticize his youth as he presents it like a film. He
has done all of the directing and editing and you the reader are left entertained
by what is flickering now before your eyes.
of freckles on Laura MacNally,
touching each one -- she loves me,
she loves me not -- right on up her leg...
Onto the part he's going to kick my ass over. I don't feel that Part Two
is as strong. These poems are the early adult poems and seemed to fizzle
towards the end. I don't know if it was the gambling, the booze, or the
failed dates, but the title "Love in Las Vegas" seemed to read
"Leaving Las Vegas" as I finished this section. The two redeemers
in this section are "Urban Poem" and "The Key," the
latter of which opens with the line, "I have memorized the coastline/
of your key..."
Still, I feel that if this is the introduction to what Hanging Loose Press
has to offer, I am eager to find out the diversity of its other authors.
I am also eager to see what Mr. Goetsch will have out in the next five to
ten years. Perhaps he can bring his next book to my front door and brain
me with it.
* * *
Natural Superior is a godsend for people who love Lake Superior,
silent sports, and interesting scientific findings about natural history.
Articles include subjects by Lake Superior naturalists. The premier issue
includes articles on asters, geology, and sharp-shinned hawks. In the aster
article, I learned that asters that grow in shaded areas have larger leaves,
while open field asters have thin willowy leaves. The geology article was
in-depth, yet easy to understand, focusing on just what makes a beach a
beach. Finally, in the sharp-shinned hawk article, I enjoyed the theories
on why male sharp-shinned hawks are nearly half the size of the female.
The magazine's publishers have put a lot of forethought into their magazine.
Their premier issue is only $1.95 to entice readers to pick it up. The phenology
features Lake Superior natural history events and breaks them down by different
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the actual seasons surrounding Lake Superior: spring, summer, fall, early
winter and late winter. Finally, the publishers have an environmental ethic,
using soy ink and recycled paper that is non-gloss to make recycling the
Natural Superior's combination of color photos and quality articles
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the large colorful pictures of wildlife.
gives out the prestigious Pippistrelle Best of the Small Press Award each
year on Feb. 2. He will have two chapbooks of poetry out in 2000: Shadows
of a Cloud (Puddinghouse Press) and Our Sainted Lady Esther (Parallel
Press). He lives in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
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