A debut collection of poetry inspired by the author’s relationship with his wife and their time living on an island in Maine.
Rifkin’s poems are heavily influenced by nature. In the preface, the author notes that he and his wife lived on an island when he was writing, and he meditates on everything from the changing seasons to the tempestuous tides. His often melancholic musings communicate both the beauty and isolation of island life, and his wife’s simple but lovely sketches enhance the poems, making them even more evocative. The illustration of birds flying over a moonlit ocean, which accompanies “Tides For the Moon,” is especially pretty. Although the collection contains some love poems, including the very romantic “In Love,” many are more impressionistic than overtly emotional. In the beautiful “Of Irises,” the author displays his playful, creative skills with language: “in a garden / at dusk / blades stem and bud or now stars / bluish and blush.” His attempts at more colloquial expression are less successful. In “Arabic Calligraphy,” he writes, “There is much that is silly about Arabic / calligraphy / And a lot that isn’t.” Such lines sound a bit clumsy, as if the same thoughts could be conveyed more artfully and economically. The collection’s closing series of three poems, together titled “Views of Italy,” strikes a more satisfying balance between a narrative style of verse and rich, thoughtful word choice. In “A Fury in the Trees of Tuscany,” Rifkin writes, “Yet there was beauty, too, to be fair, / the fat-cheeked children, and the young mothers, / fair-skinned and dark, and not just blood on / the walls, / the tatter of a flag stuck to a dying horse.”
A promising, if uneven, debut from a poet whose work will continue to mature and evolve.
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.