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Review of Dwelling Space

Dwelling Space                                                                                                                            Poetry by Lisa Harris  Cayuga Lake Books  2019  69 pages

Book Cover

 

 

 

 

 

“Love the earth and sun and animals, Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, Stand up for the stupid and crazy, Devote your labor and income to others….Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book; Dismiss whatever insults your own soul; And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” Walt Whitman

“All of the writing I do is about a search for spirit and truth, philosophically speaking, when any one of us identifies a sliver of spirit and truth, each of us is made brighter. So all my writing is about locating light by looking at the darkness and the light, by looking at the ugly with the beautiful. I also weigh words and try to make the sound perfect especially in the hardest parts of a poem or story or essay.”   Lisa Harris

 Dwelling Space is Lisa Harris’s seventh book and her second collection of poetry. This is the work of a mature artist in full voice. The poems are statements about observation, creative process, and spiritual development and explore universal themes of time, place, love, seasons and life cycles, geography, nature, the planet, and the cosmos itself. The word cosmos rather than universe implies viewing the universe as a complex and orderly system that is the opposite of chaos. Dwelling Space is about this complex and orderly system. It is a book about microcosms and macrocosms, the interconnectivity of all living things, life on the cellular level, and the place of sentient beings within the larger context of the cosmos.

The book is thoughtfully organized and laid out in five parts: I. Journey From Rock To Flight, II. A Gardener Of Time And Dust, III. Deserts And Oceans, IV. The Color Of Mercy, V. Sermon Of Light. The poems within each section are simply numbered, and not individually titled, so it reads like one continuous poem without the encumbrance of titles that might interrupt the flow. Dwelling Space is a book length poem that harkens back to other long form poems such as Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass with its sense of transcending time and place and offers a universal, ecstatic celebration of being alive in the world in the present moment.

Lisa Harris’s command of the English language enables her to render vivid imagery that evokes authentic emotional response. The poet leads readers along a path that has been traveled by Hildegard von Bingen and Rumi, Rilke, the American Transcendentalists and Walt Whitman, TS Eliot, and contemporary poets Gary Snyder, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe and Mary Oliver. The work’s lush, evocative prose serves as a bright beacon and antidote to the diminution of language in this age of newsfeed sound bites, Twitter-speak and social media slang.

Dwelling Space claims its rightful place in the lineage and company of other poems and poets I’ve mentioned above. Dwelling Space is Earth’s house hold.

“All beings, seen and not seen                                                                                                            are part of Earth’s household                                                                                                microbes and ions, bees and ants, people and stones.”

 I am reminded of Gary Snyder’s 1969 book Earth House Hold, which explored many of the same themes. “As a poet,” Snyder tells us, “I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic; the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying intuition and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.” Fifty years later Dwelling Space is remarkably aligned with the same values.

The poetry in Dwelling Space does not fit neatly into any of the classic categories ~ lyrical, narrative or dramatic. I view it as a hybrid between lyrical poetry and narrative poetry. Largely written in the third person, it puts the reader in the position of looking over the shoulder of the poet to observe and to make their own meaning from this multi-sensory experience. While it reads well off the page, it rings out like music when read aloud and resonates like a symphony with different movements. Envision Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

The rhythm of the language is hypnotic and the cadence even sounds liturgical at times. A Gardener Of Time And Dust ends with a blessing.

“Waves sweep against sand, making the word;

Shantih, shantih, shantih.”

Shantih, a Sanskrit word meaning peace or inner peace, is prayed at the end of an Upanishad and also appears in TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. The rhythm is sometimes reminiscent of shamanic incantation:

“Locate constriction. Writhe. Slither. Pant.

Rain falls. Sun dries the backs of throats.

Sun burns retinas. Heartbeats throb in temples.

Stand firm. Welcome anger and fear.

Welcome pain and doubt, too.”

The imagery is cinemagraphic and dynamic, with multiple things intertwining and occurring simultaneously. In this way it reminds me of the descriptive prose of Richard Ford and the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu. Dwelling Space is a multi-sensory experience that evokes a sense of synesthesia that is, at times, dizzying, kaleidoscopic and psychedelic.

“Bullfrogs bellow love songs.

Fireflies blink encrypted messages.

A coyote barks in the far field.

Bats swoop and skim the pond’s surface

searching for food.”

 

“She can taste green and hear it.

She can feel green and smell it.”

Dwelling Space is deep and heady stuff, but by no means obscure or inaccessible. This is not a “one and done” read. There are levels and layers and new things to discover each time you return. This is a book that will hold up over time. Like any work of art with complexity, depth and nuance you’ll want to revisit it time and time again.

Dwelling Space is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble  and at Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, New York https://www.buffalostreetbooks.com

Head shot (1)

Lisa Harris writes poetry, short fiction, novels and creative non-fiction. She is the author of another poetry collection Traveling Through Glass and five books of fiction: Low Country Stories, Boxes, ‘Geechee Girls, Allegheny Dream, and The Raven’s Tale. She lives and writes in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

 Front Cover by Nicholas Down: A Harbored Memory                                                            Nicholas Down lives and works as a painter in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

 Cayuga Lake Books was founded in 2012 by some authors from the Ithaca, New York area who were looking for alternatives to mainstream publishing. More information and their catalogue can be found at https://cayugalakebooks.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Struggle Is Real

SPARKLING MIKE

Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have each expressed their belief that Artificial Intelligence may be the most dangerous existential threat to the survival of the human race. For decades, Artificial Intelligence has been depicted in science fiction, television and film. Sometimes it’s a benevolent presence, like R2D2 and 3CPO in Star Wars, Data in Star Trek or Rags the dog in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” However, more often than not Artificial Intelligence lurks as a menacing and darkly malevolent force in films like 2001- A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, as well as in television series like Battlestar Glactica.

Who can forget this classic showdown between man and machine in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001- A Space Odyssey.

Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Dave: What’s the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?

My own troubled history with AI dates back as far as I can recall. It begins with me trying and failing to draw a diagonal line on an Etch-A-Sketch that only drew vertical and horizontal lines. Then there was the very first video game “Pong.” It was a game of virtual ping pong which consisted of a dot bouncing back and forth across the television screen. Hours of good, clean late night stoner fun. But I couldn’t even get that right. Got crushed each time I played. Do I even have to mention “The Clapper?” Lately my dysfunctional relationships with AI include contentious exchanges between me and the disembodied androgynous voices emanating from my GPS and my vehicle’s Blue Tooth interface. Also now I have both Alexa and Siri to contend with. I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel like having a conversation with my devices every time I turn around. That super perky upbeat cheerfulness is just too much in these nihilistic times, especially before I’ve had my coffee.

Today I burned up an hour of what’s left of my mortal existence on this planet trying to convince a series of robot overlords that I need to speak with an actual human being in customer service to schedule an appointment. It’s like passing through the Seven Circles Of Hell, the Bardo and Purgatory just to get another sentient being on the other end of the line. Today’s interaction involved a protracted struggle just to utter a simple phrase a robot would comprehend.

Robot: “Thank you for contacting customer service. You can talk to me like a real person. Ask me anything. For example, you can say “How much credit do I have available? When is my next payment due? Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?

Me: “I need to speak with a customer service representative.”

 Lots of background noise, whirring, clicking and popping as if somebody is typing a transcript of my request.

Robot: “I’m sorry. I did not understand you. Ask me anything. For example, you can say: “How can I buy the entire boxed DVD set of Battlestar Galactica? Do you know the way to San Jose?”

Me: ” I need to speak with a customer service representative.”

 More popping, clicking, buzzing, whirring, typing noises.

And so, on and on we went, until I was a jibbering idiot barking out monosyllabic commands like a drunk calling out for more whiskey at closing time.

Robot: “I’m sorry. I did not understand you. Let me connect you to a Customer Service representative. This call may be monitored.”

Customer Service Representative: “Hello. This is Mathew. For security purposes, what is your Service Contract number?”

Me: I recite an unintelligibly long string of alpha numeric code.

Customer Service Representative: “I’m sorry, but that contract has expired.”

Me: “No. There must be some mistake. I have the Service Contract right here in front of me and it doesn’t expire for another six weeks. May I please speak with a supervisor?”

Customer Service Representative: “Absolutely. Please wait while I transfer your call.”

Five minutes of waiting while insipid music blasts the shit out of my ear drum.

Customer Service Robot Supervisor: “Thank you for contacting customer service. You can talk to me like a real person. Ask me anything. For example, you can say “How much credit do I have available? When is my next payment due? Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?

 ME: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I’m sorry, Mike. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

ROCK N ROLL BOT

Surrendering August

Surrendering August

 

early evening, late summer

walking down the lake road with the dogs

the sound of a tractor mowing the field above

grinding and clanking

tall grasses pulsate with cricket song

the water, placid and serene

opalescent pink and turquoise

a fish surfaces and dives

leaving ripples in concentric rings

on the far shore, in the vineyards

timed charges explode like the sun catching on fire

it scares crows away from the grapes

warm sunny afternoons and chilly evenings

sumac leaves, blood crimson

splashed across the blue forever

mornings laden with fog banks and soaking dew

migrating flocks wheel across the sky

air still warm from the day, but soon changing

into the fecund smell of damp coolness

black walnut trees already starting to turn

shedding golden leaves that flutter

like tears onto green grass

last to arrive and the first to go

a little girl rides her bike, training wheels still on

stops at the foot of the steep hill

she’ll be climbing before long

but not for a while

kids going back to school

pinching their noses shut

as they hurl themselves off the dock

into the cool blue water

already a memory

the season slipping away

away, like this day

like youth gobbled up

by the unremitting passage of time

it feels over too soon

already ending when it seems

it’s only just begun

the pale rider draws closer

with each trip around the sun

I stand at the edge of the shoreline

the edge of the season

surrendering August

Red Canoe

 

Red Canoe

Passing the Last Buoy

My poem  Passing the Last Buoy 

 is up on Austin based Bay Laurel Online (SUMMER 2013)

 http://www.baylaurelonline.com/2013/06/passingthelastbuoy.html

 Thank you editors Timothy Connor Dailey, AJ Reyes, Emma Kalmbach !

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Passing The Last Buoy (Visual Art)

Book Journal ~ FINAL NOTES J P Reese

FINAL NOTES

FINAL NOTES poems ~ J P Reese ~ Naked Mannequin, 2011

 I’m sitting in the midday sun on my deck, dogs at my feet, taking in the balmy spring air and listening to bird calls on what, technically, is the last day of winter. We are captivated by watching a group of birds noisily banish a red tailed hawk from their territory. After much flapping of wings and dueling from tree to tree, the hawk has retreated. Mourning doves call from the tumble down woods across the road. Spring breezes whoosh through the branches of tall pines. It’s a perfect day for quiet contemplation and reading the poetry of J P Reese. The book I have in my hand is Reese’s new chapbook entitled Final Notes. 

I’m not a literary critic nor do I aspire to be one. The Alice B. Toklas Book Journal doesn’t even have book reviews, as such. In fact, I prefer to call them Book Reports. I know it may sound juvenile, but I don’t care. It’s a way for me to share reflections about books I’ve read that have moved me in a positive way.

I grew up listening to albums, first on vinyl, then tapes and CDs and now as digital downloads. No matter what the format, they’re still specific collections of songs, often thematically linked and arranged by the artist to be played in a specific order. I grew up with this structure and I have become hard wired to it. Perhaps I find the chap book format so appealing because it operates on so many of these same principles. For me, J P Reese’s chap book, Final Notes has that kind of album vibe. To carry that metaphor just a bit further, many of my favorite albums were a collection of 12-15 songs, each one only a little over two minutes long. Final Notes is a collection of 16 poems, each one of them short, compact, stripped down to bare essentials and almost Zen-like in its simplicity. However, this is not to say that economy of motion, brevity and simplicity are traits that are necessarily synonymous with shallow or superficial, because, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Reese’s poems are full of of the kind of heart and soul that is reached only by plumbing the depths and mysteries of the human spirit. Reese draws the reader into the theme of any given piece with clear language and vivid imagery, but the depth of meaning comes from reading the poems again and again. To return to my music metaphor, it’s the same way a song grows on me. I really need to hear it over and over again.

Final Notes is a collection of poems about what it’s like to be alive in America in the 21st century. The poems are quiet meditations on the passage of time, relationships with domestic partners, love, loss, strength, and perseverance. Reese contemplates caring for aging parents “at the end of your life”, the shattering of the American dream against “the blind windows of Wall Street”, hopes and dreams for her children, a poignant profile of a psychically scarred soldier home from the war in Iraq which, for him, will never end, and a chilling, but beautiful refection on the day the Twin Towers fell that somehow reminds me of paper cranes of Hiroshima. For me, the shortest poem in the collection is the most cryptic, while at the same time, written in the most beautiful and lyrical language. Final Notes is a wonderful chap book of sparkling poems and I will return to it time and time again.

About the Author 

JP Reese is associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: an Online Artifact and Poetry Editor for THIS Literary Magazine. She teaches English at a small college on the North Texas prairie. Reese’s published works can be found at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty: jpreesetoo.wordpress.com

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