Well-crafted, sensitive poems that movingly convey liminal experiences.

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THRESHOLD DELIVERY

This collection examines tradition, family, mahjong, and more in lyric poems.

Seyburn (English/California State Univ., Long Beach; Perfecta, 2014, etc.) has previously published many of this collection’s pieces in literary journals. The title refers to delivery services—generally for large, heavy objects—that stop at one’s front door. This concept connects to “Davenport,” one of several prose poems in this book, which begins: “When I asked the men to bring my couch inside, they shook their heads: threshold delivery, ma’am and I pictured them lovingly carrying my movable the way a bride once was hoisted.” The image of a couch being lifted recalls a Jewish bride being elevated in a chair amid celebration. From here, the poem, as if to take over from the deliverymen, lifts each image forward and links it with new ones. Finally, says the speaker, “I cannot run as fast now but have much better endurance,” suggesting what eventually lies over the threshold. This poem is in the first of the book’s three sections, which is often haunted by themes of night, memory, and loss, and the speaker’s mother is a recurring figure. Despite these serious associations, the poems also show sly wit, as when the speaker imagines her mom impatiently waiting in the afterlife’s anteroom: “Lend a mirror so she can put on / her face and bring a little artifice / with her.” The poem closes by considering the temporary nature of liminality and of crossing from life to death: “If you never had a foyer, // you’d imagine it / more grand than it was: really, it was / just a threshold, a place / to arrive, pause, abandon.” In the middle section, “Mah Jongg: An Homage,” the poet reflects on a game that’s popular with older Jewish women, examining mahjong’s images, rules, history, and lingo as well as the nature of luck. She links these elements to a problem that Jewish people have often been forced to confront throughout history: how to handle the cards that are dealt to you. These thoughtful, smart poems unveil layers of imagery and significance: “Every mahjj tile, symbolic. / Sometime you wish they, along with everything else, could mean less.” But the tiles don’t mean less, requiring constant vigilance: “The goal is to improve your hand. // The goal is self-improvement.” The final section’s poems again conjure the speaker’s mother as well as painful memories, psychic scars, and the need to speak out: “I do not forget, this is one / of my great gifts,” says one poem; in another, even “the angel of silence…wants to live aloud.” The urgency of this need comes out in several poems, as in the final piece, in which the speaker’s mom, Shirley, is given the closing lines: “no sound is dissonant…which tells of Life.” Fittingly, “Life” is the closing word of this collection—an affirmation that the poet earns by honestly engaging with the specifics of memory, both collective and personal.

Well-crafted, sensitive poems that movingly convey liminal experiences.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63534-929-0

Page Count: 86

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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