A gripping poetic meditation on aging and caregiving.

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ALL YOU'LL DERIVE

A CAREGIVER'S JOURNEY

A volume of poetry looks at what it means to watch a parent fade.

In this unflinching, highly compelling collection, Spang (Those Close Beside Me, 2018, etc.) mines his own life for reflections on his childhood and mother. As Anna, his mother, crosses into her 10th decade, the author and his partner, Myles, move her into their home where they care for her, watching as her body and mind begin to fail. In an early poem, Spang describes her as “handy as a wrench,” mimicking the limited view children often have of their parents. But the collection winds from the author’s childhood to adulthood and becomes increasingly revealing along the way. The book is often worth reading for the nuggets of Anna’s life, like the fact that she danced with Martha Graham and that she, as Spang reports with gentle humor, insisted her less than faithful husband was “wonderful.” The author is able to infuse the volume with joy and compassion while shining a light on the more unflattering episodes that come with caring for an elderly parent. Recalling a particularly difficult moment helping his mother to the bathroom, he writes: “I hear a scream—who is it? / It’s me or what seems to be me / (there is no other way to say it) / screaming like I’ve gone out of my mind. / I slam my fist into the closet door, / and cry out, ‘I can’t take it!’ ” The vivid scene ends with mother comforting son, underscoring the ways in which physical dependency is not the only mode at play in their new dynamic. Dividing the intimate yet universal poems are quotes from writers like Czesław Miłosz, Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman, accompanied by simple images of nature by debut photographer Rightmire. Gardening—a hobby Spang and his mother seem to share—is a long-running theme in these pages. An especially arresting closing poem uses the language of gardens both earthly and biblical to make sense of Anna’s eventual death.

A gripping poetic meditation on aging and caregiving.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-73236-246-8

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Moon Pie Press

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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