A distress call that’s worth reading and heeding.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019


A collection of 57 poems that sound alarms about current ecological, political, and cultural trends.

Ungar (English/Coll. of Saint Rose; Immortal Medusa, 2015, etc.) provides helpful notes to explain her inspirations for this impressive volume of free verse, which includes transgressive female voices of the past and present; Cassandra, Emily Dickinson, and Audre Lorde make appearances. Alphabetical order is a recurring theme, as is Morse code. The title poem makes reference to rising, polluted seas; the placement of seven lines of “SOS” in Morse code seems to form waves. Environmental disasters are another urgent concern, as seen in “Endnotes to Coral Reefs” and “Naming the Animals,” a partial list of extinct species that ends with a gut punch: “Four species an hour.” Language is also under attack, as revealed in “Elegy,” which alphabetically lists words eliminated from the Oxford Junior Dictionary (“bluebell,” “buttercup”) and arrays them as if they’re drifting away. In contrast, newly included words (“blog,” “broadband”) are clustered in a solid block of text. Clever manipulation of language, space, and punctuation abounds. “Quoth the Queane” riffs on the letter Q, while “To You, U” explores the personal and linguistic history of Ungar’s initial. “Après Moi” offers 21 variations on the phrase “Let them eat cake”—with “cake” replaced by evocative signifiers, such as “bump stocks,” “the lying press,” “tax returns,” “opiates,” and “paper towels.” Dystopian poems will resonate with many readers, such as “The Woman With a Live Cockroach in her Skull” and its slippery preposition: “She wakes screaming / each morning at the news.” “Man Bun Ken” is a humorous meditation on the fate of the latest iteration of Barbie’s companion: “Future archaeologists / may stumble upon his simulacra / & mistake him for a shape-shifting god.” The book is full of keen insights regarding the passage of time, whether one is attending a wedding with one’s first boyfriend, taking a nostalgic walk through the West Village, or observing a spider and her web. Overall, Ungar suggests that language and memory are futile attempts to impose order on the chaos that surrounds us. 

A distress call that’s worth reading and heeding.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-912592-74-9

Page Count: 71

Publisher: The Ashland Poetry Press

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A volume of ambitious and engaging 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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?