Strong, moving poems of reflection in a fine collection.

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This poetry collection searchingly considers the ambiguous role of the poet as a mediator between soul and nature.

In the title poem, which also stands as an epigraph, Collins (Psalmandala, 2014, etc.) establishes his stance: because “Soul never presents in its own shape” and “can only stalk sunfaces from their shadows,” the soul’s presence must be discerned from clues, as a hawk’s flight reveals the wind that it rides on. But the observer also creates, so that clouds, for example, make him or her “imagine horses / become horses: horses become gods.” The way that the soul mediates the divine doesn’t, however, get us any closer to the soul, as our “similes bleed out.” And because “entropy claims / every dawn,” we’re left to figure out a way to live, “to imagine / wandering on” in a world of appearances. For the poet, this means long walks around the harbor, which serves as a central image and metaphor throughout the collection. Although the word “harbor” has connotations of haven and safety and is said to be a place that calls out our authentic selves (“We are each ourselves at the harbor: / Runners run, readers read, children play”), it’s also depicted as a constantly changing threshold, a route to the mythic “Underworld.” The speaker’s longing for spiritual connection is constantly tested by the harbor, with its oil spills and stench of death. Collins’ use of language in this collection, and especially of verbs, is fresh, and he employs forms that help to convey the feel of his speakers’ daily walking meditations. In several poems he writes of the impulse to render the world in poetry and the natural world’s resistance to being reduced to metaphor. In “Ars Poetica,” for example, a nest-building bird momentarily “seems my soul,” teaching a poet to move between worlds as fledglings are taught to move between nest and sky. But, looking up after writing his poem, he sees that “She is gone.” Collins also addresses how imagination can interfere with one’s ability to discern realities, such as the cycle of life and death. For example, a speaker remembers how, as a child, he saw a caught fish gasping out its life—now he “hear[s] myself think look, the fish is playing”; on the harbor ice, gulls are shown dropping clams to shatter their shells, “again, again, again, again, forever.” Still, though his poems are often serious, melancholy, or rueful, Collins can also sometimes laugh at himself. One especially strong poem, for instance, is “The Sacrosanct Mallard of Mamaroneck Harbor,” in which the speaker satirizes his own tendency to epiphanize, claiming that it’s not his fault: “Listen, Jesus, it wasn’t my idea / for this mallard to stand on the dock / stretching his wings out all crucifixiony.” In the final section, the speaker becomes willing to live in mystery, guided by the soul’s “impossible eyesight” that discloses other worlds "by what imagines to contain it.”

Strong, moving poems of reflection in a fine collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9969074-5-3

Page Count: 82

Publisher: Saddle Road Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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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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