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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

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Guest Book Review: Carol Reid Reviews Audrey by Beate Sigriddaughter

I am very honored to feature Carol Reid’s incisive review of Audrey by Beate Sigriddaughter. Welcome to Your Own Backyard!

Audrey by Beate Sigriddaughter

ELJ Publications 2015

Fiction: 316 pages

audrey

Reviewed by Carol Reid

 Audrey is the work of a kaleidoscopic mind; every emotion and interaction is broken down, assembled and reassembled as its narrator chronicles four seasons of an almost unendurable love.

Set in 1980 amid a loosely knit community of writers and artists, the narrative relates in minute detail the all-consuming relationship between the young poet Andrea and Audrey, a painter and self-professed healer more than twenty years her senior.

To Andrea, nothing is trivial. Her fervent wish is to live an exalted life in which she is part goddess and part angel, with time and opportunity to produce poetry and magic. Employment and men encroach regularly on her precious time. She attracts and enchants many male lovers, and loves them because, “if there is sex, there must be love”.

Enter Audrey,

She came with a painted dragon and cinnamon hearts for Valentine’s. Her name was Audrey and I am hard pressed to remember what anyone else brought to the party.

Dragons are diverse in mythology. In this novel they are presented as a sort of spirit animal connected with Audrey, but which variety– malevolent or wise, fire-breathing or powerfully protective?

Their first important conversation is generated by the painting of “Serena”, described by Andrea as having “a timid fawn-like nose and forceful amber eyes”.

“I’m so glad you like Serena,” [Audrey] said, “some people are afraid of her.”

Before Andrea can devote herself fully to Audrey, she needs to close the door on her relationship with Joel, whose gentleness, wisdom and acceptance of Andrea linger at a distance throughout the story.

This scene takes place during a rafting trip after which Andrea intends to end the affair-

The raft hurled headlong into waves, stood almost upright, despite our forward weight. Then we were flat on the water again, rocking through turbulence. We were drenched with ice-cold water. But the sun was warm and there was hardly any wind to chill us.

I leaned back and shook water from my hair, my poncho. I watched Joel. He was still concentrating. His arms pressed into the oars. His eyes were filled with love and reverence for the water, full of attention….if it were possible for me to love a man, I would have loved him. But I no longer believed I could.

Audrey is in some ways a gender-free novel. Traditionally masculine and feminine traits are exhibited by both male and female characters. Andrea’s gender struck me as not yet fully formed. She is at her core a sort of pre-adolescent, or as a psychic says of her, late in the novel, “an innocent”. This innocence allows her to believe in the possibility of pure, perfect love but of course makes her prey to being manipulated up, down and sideways by the more experienced and perhaps more irrevocably damaged Audrey. Occasional glimpses into each woman’s real, painful history are just enough to reveal how and why they came to be the way they are, separately and together.

Andrea articulates every feeling involved in an ultimately poisoned and poisonous love- torment, elation, enthrallment, hopelessness, selfishness and self-abnegation. Luminous moments are eclipsed by moments of despair. Any reader with a similar episode at the back of her emotional closet will recognize both Andrea’s and Audrey’s experience very well. This passionate love between two women, although it exists as an ideal in Andrea’s heart and mind, is not idealized nor exempt from betrayal, possessiveness and violence.

No one can spend a year in the mouth of a dragon and emerge unchanged.

About the author:

Beate

Beate Sigriddaughter grew up in Nürnberg, Germany, not far from the castle where she sometimes sat in a corner to write poems or rewrite fairy tales. She now lives and writes in Silver City, NM, Land of Enchantment. The background to all this enchantment, though, is living as a witness and participant in a world that is steeped in misogyny, ranging from subtle avuncular belittlement to legal or vigilante execution for infractions of male entitlement. The background is a world where people are addicted to conflict and competition and where peace and partnership are simply not (yet) sexy enough. In all of this, she still hopes to one day fulfill her lifelong dream of creating a language of joy that will triumph over a language heavy with addiction to conflict and sorrow, no doubt created and sustained in an effort to gain love and attention that way.

Beate has a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University. Her published works include two novels, a novella, and many stories and poems. Three of her stories received Pushcart Prize nominations. She has also created the Glass Woman Prize to honor other women’s stories.

Carol Reid is a writer and editor in British Columbia, Canada.Guest 

Book Review: Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass

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My review of Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass is up on MadHat Drive-By Reviews.

http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/book-review-like-a-beggar-by-ellen-bass/

Cover Like a Beggar

 

Book Review ~ Everything Neon ~ Bud Smith

Book Review ~ Everything Neon ~ Bud Smith

Everything Neon

Everything Neon ~ Bud Smith (Marginalia Press 2014) is the best book of poetry I’ve read in a long time. Bud Smith unleashes his keen powers of observation and ability to describe contemporary life in narrative prose that takes the reader on a stream of consciousness magical mystery tour.

Rarely do I want to go back and start rereading a book right after finishing it, but I did with Everything Neon. For me it was like listening to one of my favorite vinyl albums that left me wanting to immediately flip it over, lay that needle right back in the groove of the first song, and do it all again.

Bud Smith writes poems that I wish I had written. He makes it look easy. Maybe it is for him, but these are poems that only Bud Smith can write. Bud Smith is a total original who is as comfortable in his own skin as he is with his own authentic voice. He exhibits a high degree of self awareness, but writes with a zen-like unselfconsciousness. The poems in Everything Neon are rendered with unstudied freshness and spontaneity and are never over worked.It’s like he’s on your living room couch and you’re just having a laid back, casual conversation.

Everything Neon is a collection of epistolary love poems and reflections on people and a sense of place. Smith’s poems somehow have a meandering way that manages to transform the everyday mundane into a transcendental experience. Everything Neon contains personal reflections on human intimacy integrated with, and somehow juxtaposed to, the ebbs and flows of living in a present day New York City neighborhood. Bud Smith ruminates on the day-to-day of urban living in the way that nature poets might describe the natural environment.

Intimacies shared with his lover are interwoven with reflections on finding and keeping a parking place or remembering where his car is parked, impressions of living in a pre-war Manhattan apartment building with all its noises and quirks and the idiosyncratic behavior of neighbors in close quarters. It’s also about the interaction of nature with his city; with references to the “moon scraping the tops of buildings”, the “silver river”, the storms of winter, the heat of summer and passing of the seasons.

However, don’t be fooled by what might, at first glance, appear to be minimalism or even simplicity. While Everything Neon may feel as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans, the poems reveal hidden depth and subtle layers of nuance. Everything Neon is a celebration of being alive and fully present and the work resonates with me for the same reasons as the work of Gary Snyder, and (Hell yeah!) Walt Whitman. The poems in Everything Neon have a funky feel and a songwriter’s soul.

Smith writes with the sensibilities of a photographer and a film maker. Bud Smith’s narrative prose manages to take us inside his head so we can see through his eyes. Everything Neon is also about compassion, humility, humanity, ironic humor, a keen sense of the absurd, and a sense of optimism with hope for redemption. Smith is a prolific writer and a ball of fire with multiple collaborative projects in the works at any given time. You can expect a lot more from Bud Smith, but Everything Neon is as good a place to start as any.

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

Letter to the Poohbah

Mojo Hand

you’ve spent a lifetime chasing paper, seeking validation

a closet full of certificates, documents, degrees and licenses

that define who you are, give you permission to practice, drive,

drink beer, shoot guns, go fishing, camp in the open, march in the street,

marry, have children, travel across borders, own houses and cars,

to show where you’re going and where you’ve been,

to prove you were born and that you exist

you bear them like a talisman, you wear them like a mask,

like armor.

 

you’ve spent a lifetime running just to run

from coast to coast across continents

halfway around the world and back again

climbing mountains swimming oceans flying through clouds

looking out there 

for love sex magic redemption to fill that hole in your heart

it’s something that not even

sixteen shooters and a Siberian shaman

could fix.

 

where do you go from here?

it’s the fourth quarter, the ninth inning, the final act

match point, injury time, the shank of the evening

show down – buck-a-throw, one-eyed jacks and suicide kings are wild

no timeouts left, no do-overs, take backs or gimme puts

government, religion, politics, all the money in the world

so much smoke and mirrors

put it up on craigslist, but mention that slackers, tweakers, weasels and whiners

need not apply

 

you were a hamster in a wheel, a dancing bear, a bird in a gilded cage

all that chasing butterflies and rainbows, the Holy Grail and the American Dream

dialing for dollars, texting your vote and extolling the virtues

of sex and drugs and rock&roll, all that’s over

ring the mission bell, saddle the painted pinto, thank the radiant angels

send a letter to the poohbah, but you know what he’ll say

the answer you’ve been seeking

has been right here

all along

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