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CRACKED PIANO

A seasoned poet working at the peak of her craft.

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A veteran poet ruminates on solitude, insanity, deviance, and health in this collection.

Roughly 140 years ago, Peter Taft—half brother to a future U.S. president—was shut away in the Cincinnati Sanitarium. The exact reason for his institutionalization remains unclear to this day, but readers do know that his time in the asylum was intensely stressful. His sense of isolation was acute, and whatever treatments he received did little to assuage his pain. Readers know all this from Taft’s letters, which are lovingly reproduced by his great-granddaughter as found poems and which serve as the core of this moving, masterful tour de force. Taft is a poet in spite of himself—or perhaps in spite of his circumstances—and his missives read like poignant verse. The most affecting is, aptly, the title poem, which opens: “Dear Father, / I am alone this evening as every, / alone. An artist of imperfect / mind is endeavoring to extract / harmonious discords out of a cracked / piano just at my left. Life here / is of the plainest, I might say, / of the hardest kind.” Stever (The Lunatic Ball, 2015, etc.) is mainly reproducing the work of her ancestor here, but it’s a wonder what a few deftly placed line breaks can do for emphasis. Taft’s letters are the foundation of this elegantly rendered book, but Stever angles away from them in a variety of dazzling and unexpected ways. Some tropes repeat: human cruelty, the distance between madness and genius, motherhood, the uniqueness of Ohio. Several poems seem to be one-offs, though no less valuable because their concerns are tangential to those of the other pieces. “Raven’s Rock,” about three ghosts that haunt the countryside near Sleepy Hollow, New York, features the following: “What is a raven but a bird, a ghost / but a raven bird, and the ghosts of three women / ravenous, waiting at Raven’s Rock / for a single man to pass by.” Stever’s kneading of the single word “raven”—which morphs from noun to adjective to proper noun while hiding in “ravenous”—is an act of faith and skill few rookie poets could pull off. But Stever is anything but a novice; she is a virtuoso, and it’s a joy to see her perform.

A seasoned poet working at the peak of her craft.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 96

Publisher: CavanKerry Press

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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ONCE UPON A GIRL

Therapeutic, moving verse from a promising new talent.

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Keridan’s poetry testifies to the pain of love and loss—and to the possibility of healing in the aftermath.

The literary critic Geoffrey Hartman once wrote that literature—and poetry, in particular—can help us “read the wound” of trauma. That is, it can allow one to express and explain one’s deepest hurts when everyday language fails. Keridan appears to have a similar understanding of poetry. She writes in “Foreword,” the opening work of her debut collection, that “pain frequently uses words as an escape route / (oh, how I know).” Many words—and a great deal of pain—escape in this volume, but the result is healing: “the ending is happy / the beginning was horrific / so let’s start there.” The book, then, tracks the process of recovery in the wake of suffering, and often, this suffering is brought on by romantic relationships gone wrong. An early untitled poem opens, “I die a little / taking pieces of me to feed the fire / that keeps him warm / you don’t notice that it’s a slow death / when you’re disappearing little by little.” The author’s imagery here—of the self fueling the dying fire of love—is simultaneously subtle and wrenching. But the poem’s message, amplified elsewhere in the book, is clear: We go wrong if we destructively give ourselves over to others, and healing comes only when we turn our energies back to our own good. Later poems, therefore, reveal that self-definition often equals strength. The process is painful but salutary; when “you’re left unprotected / surrounded by chaos with nothing you / can depend on / except yourself / and that’s when you gather the pieces / of the life you lost / and use them to build the life you want.” The “life you want” is an elusive goal, and the author knows that the path to self-definition is fraught with peril—but her collection may give strength to those who walk it.

Therapeutic, moving verse from a promising new talent.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72770-538-6

Page Count: 196

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

Endings

POETRY AND PROSE

Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.

A slim volume of largely gay-themed writings with pessimistic overtones.

Poe (Simple Simon, 2013, etc.) divides this collection of six short stories and 34 poems into five sections: “Art,” “Death,” “Relationship,” “Being,” and “Reflection.” Significantly, a figurative death at the age of 7 appears in two different poems, in which the author uses the phrase “a pretended life” to refer to the idea of hiding one’s true nature and performing socially enforced gender roles. This is a well-worn trope, but it will be powerful and resonant for many who have struggled with a stigmatized identity. In a similar vein, “Imaginary Tom” presents the remnants of a faded relationship: “Now we are imaginary friends, different in each other’s thoughts, / I the burden you seek to discard, / you the lover I created from the mist of longing.” Once in a while, short story passages practically leap off of the page, such as this evocative description of a seedy establishment in Lincoln, Nebraska: “It was a dimly lit bar that smelled of rodent piss, with barstools that danced on uneven legs and made the patrons wonder if they were drunker than they thought.” In “Valéry’s Ride,” Poe examines the familial duties that often fall to unmarried and childless people, keeping them from forming meaningful bonds with others. In this story, after the double whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hits Louisiana, Valéry’s extended family needs him more than ever; readers will likely root for the gay protagonist as he makes the difficult decision to strike out on his own. Not all of Poe’s main characters are gay; the heterosexual title character in “Mrs. Calumet’s Workspace,” for instance, pursues employment in order to escape the confines of her home and a passionless marriage. Working as a bookkeeper, she attempts to carve out a space for herself, symbolized by changes in her work area. Still, this story echoes the recurring theme of lives unlived due to forces often beyond one’s control.

Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5168-3693-2

Page Count: 120

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2016

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