In a new debut collection, Eiden writes of poems that “move me every time,” among other subjects.
In James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’sRoom, a character muses that “perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” If Eiden’s poetry is about any one thing, it is that irrevocable condition. It’s about the old home we leave without ever quite leaving it and the new home we build out of some uneven mixture of coincidence and desire. It’s also about marriage—the unlikely effort to forge a home with another human—and about children and our hopeful wish to strengthen a home for those who come after us. The poet is originally from Ohio, and although she moved away from there more than a decade ago, it’s clear that the state remains a gravitational center with real pull for her. In “To Know the Smell of Ohio,” for example, she writes that “You don’t have to / walk in the country / just step where / the river meets mud / Unlocked leafy smell.” She remembers this smell while in her new home in New Orleans, where she’s settled with her husband and new child. That city appears to be the other pole of the ellipse of her life and the other main setting of her poetry, as in the opening lines of “Moving back to New Orleans”: “I sit on a cardboard box in another new place, my in-laws’ unspoiled / white house four days before the anniversary of Katrina / there is little blood flow in my body, I haven’t said much.” Eiden writes frank, beautiful verse about her relationship with her husband: “two people who love each other / maybe unevenly, maybe not enough / can we ever articulate where we / fit together how far we will go in / I can only go on answering yes.” And then there’s the newest resident of Eiden’s home, which she sings of softly in “To My Child, For My Parents”: “I look around my tender room and / think of all the things / I want you, my child, to know / of me, of life / poetry art kindness.” On this tour of all her homes, the poet writes with pride but without arrogance, with wit but without guile, and with grace but without unnecessary ornament.
Moving poetry that kindly welcomes readers in to sit down and rest awhile.
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.
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.