A moving pictorial study of the meaning of home and an implicit critique of society’s conception of the good life.

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The Success of Failure


From the American Street Philosophers series , Vol. 1

Material destitution coexists with spiritual exaltation in this poetic and photographic meditation on homelessness.

Wilson, a photographer and documentarian, shot and talked to people in homeless settlements in Oregon and Washington, sussing out the hard-won insights of these “American street philosophers.” Despite the tenuousness of their camps of cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, and the odd tent hunkered beneath bridges and overpasses that constitute their only shelter against lowering skies, their poetic musings keep returning to a crucial theme: the importance of community. “If the universe aims at richness / then the uniqueness of individuals is prime,” notes Tom, a former philosophy teacher, but he also believes that the “evolution of friendship / is greater, more important / than anything I could own or collect.” It’s a poignant reminder that the loss of connection to other people, even more than the loss of a house, is the central tragedy of homelessness. The second half of the debut book therefore explores Dignity Village, a settlement situated in a Portland parking lot where some homeless people have regained permanent shelter in the form of 42 tiny houses built from castoff and recycled building materials and supported by donations and residents’ sweat equity. It’s a slightly preachy place—“solar and wind powered,” with composting toilets and organic gardens—and its ethos is one of austere self-sufficiency. Writes resident Paul C., “Welfare begets welfare… / strips dignity, self-esteem, self-worth, self-reliance,” while Ed G. counsels an almost Buddhist renunciation of the material world as the path to freedom: “The more you have the more you want / and you stay unhappy because / there’s always more to want.” But autonomy is as much a group as an individual enterprise to judge by Wilson’s appealing photos of Dignity Villagers cooperatively building houses, staging barbecues, and painting their brightly colored sheds with cat murals to beautify the neighborhood. Even more captivating are his portraits of people—old couples, grizzled loners, toddlers, young people busking on the accordion for change—which bring to life these often invisible Americans in all their vibrant humanity.

A moving pictorial study of the meaning of home and an implicit critique of society’s conception of the good life.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 136

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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A volume of ambitious and engaging 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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