A stirring exploration of trauma and healing.

BREAK

POEMS ON MENTAL ILLNESS

Brown (Death Is Not Our Holy Word, 2017, etc.) offers optimistic poetry about the realities of psychological illness.

“I can’t write a villanelle,” says the speaker in this collection’s final piece, “To the Reader.” However, the challenge of mastering the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is nothing compared to the pain of trauma, the horror of abuse, or the vertigo of the psychiatric unit, as evidenced in Brown’s devastating new book of verse on psychological illness. The collection’s greatest strength is the author’s wrenching honesty; it takes courage to reveal the realities of psychic pain, and these poems are braver than most in that regard. Such pain can fracture lives, and accordingly, Brown’s verse is often broken into quick, shattering bursts, as in “To My Trauma”: “5 years of mountains / strip-mined / from / childhood / sizzling with ugly / stares.” Here, the frequent line breaks stymie the regular flow of the words—a trick that he pulls off elsewhere with long spaces or slashes within lines. The effect, each time, is jarring but captivating. Yet the volume isn’t all about anguish; Brown also offers glimpses of recovery and rehabilitation, and nowhere so elegantly as in “The Trauma of Spiritual Flesh.” This long poem is built around two refrains: “I spoke to my trauma” and “I went where the hope lived,” with the first eventually giving way to the second. The poem articulates one of the collection’s main aspirations—that talking about our pain might lead to restoration. It concludes: “I spoke to my trauma; / I went where the hope lived; / and now all I can say is: / Your best day is still to come / give yourself a chance to live it.” It’s a message that many readers may find helpful.

A stirring exploration of trauma and healing.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950433-03-2

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Poetic Justice Books & Arts

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A volume of ambitious and engaging poems.

THE POWER OF THE TELLING

COLLECTED POEMS

A collection of poetry focuses on everyday beauty and wonder.

Over the course of 50 poems with straightforward titles, retired high school English teacher Hathwell (Between Dog and Wolf, 2017, etc.) explores the world around him. Nature is a touchstone of his poetry. In “Poplar,” he expertly describes the titular tree “catching a breeze, flutter sage and silver wings” while in “Sunflower,” he lingers on the “wide blank face” of the “saddest flower.” The author also showcases culture in his poems. “Fred’s Girl” is a propulsive ode to the Fred Astaire–Paulette Goddard duet in the film Second Chorus, and “Sunday at the Symphony” captures the ethereal experience of live classical music. But the poems aren’t limited to the author’s immediate surroundings. A visit to the Spanish Steps, where Keats died in 1821, is the subject of “Readiness Is Everything,” which encourages readers to “imagine the world without you.” Hathwell plays with humor in “Dust Is Winning,” about the futile fight to keep things clean, and shows his cynical side in “Red Dress,” which describes the “ruby radiance” of an ensemble depicted in advertising. The act of writing is another recurring theme in this collection. “Song” depicts a successful writing day, in which “I rise from my desk, / Majestic, and I dance,” while “Sure Thing” warns readers “that language is prepared to lie / When you ask it to.” Quiet moments are also rich material for the poet. Throughout, he matches his message to the pacing of the poem, creating an immersive experience for readers. In “Finding Myself in the Morning,” readers sink into Hathwell’s serene, solitary scene where he can finally “not wonder / who is speaking, or what comes next.” In “Ten O’Clock,” the audience can sense the descent into a “deep, forgiving sleep.” The one flaw of this collection is its breadth. Because everything from Astaire to flora is fair game, the individual poems don’t always flow from one to the next, and transitions can be jarring.

A volume of ambitious and engaging poems.

Pub Date: April 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939353-36-8

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Sturdy, exuberant verse.

Defining Atlas

Like the demigod from which it takes its name, Defining Atlas is a durable, uplifting volume.

A strong current of self-affirmation, self-love, and self-confidence runs through this work, and readers will come away feeling their spirits improved. We feel some of this current in the clever “Limited”; Michaels takes the titular subject and turns it on its head: “I’m new, but I’m old / Not limited beyond my means and methods / But limited because I’m special / Special beyond the heavens and everything that surrounds me / That I’m among…limited.” Elsewhere in “From the ashes…I am,” he sings a hard-won song of renewal and rebirth: “I am victory in its rawest form / I am hope that never conform / I am the will, the drive, and the truth / I am like everyone, like you.” But Michaels does not hoard specialness or victory for himself; he wants it for his reader too, and in “Wake Up!” he urges us on toward a bright future: “There’s something good here for you / Your purpose can never be defined by just one blue / Your destiny awaits you.” Underpinning Michaels’ stirring message is a strong faith in God, whose presence infuses many of the poems here: “But I always thank God for the latter / For the strength and will it takes / Shines so bright / Shines so right.” Michaels often adopts a loose scheme of rhyming couplets, and this decision leads to one of the book’s few weaknesses. Too often, the poet picks awkward or odd pairings; e.g., “And if I could become a perfect saint / I would make believers out of the ones who say they ain’t” and the “you/blue” couplet mentioned above. But such missteps are infrequent, and they don’t dim the warm light that emanates from Michaels’ fine volume.

Sturdy, exuberant verse.

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5035-4785-8

Page Count: 106

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2015

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