Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Book Review: Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Poetry: Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Poetry can slice deeply into the human heart and leave it open and vulnerable. When the poems involve an actual heart transplant, that truism may be more accurate than ever. Marjorie Maddox’s collection of poems, Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, reflects on her father’s heart transplant, on the human body in general, on faith, and on life. At times I had to put it down to catch my breath. These poems are beautiful, but they are also painful. I found that the poet not only exposed her own life to us, but at times she exposed my own as well.

 

Perhaps reading this collection when a loved one of my own is facing the possibility of a transplant made me more vulnerable to the concept. The very first poem talks about the stranger whose car accident killed him–making his heart available for transplant. “His heart is buried/in my father/who is buried.” What a searing, painful thing to write. Hope, loss, grief, all wrapped up in the first stanza of the book. The relief of finding a heart, of seeing the transplant done, and the agony of knowing that death was still the end result. Some might have been silenced by that tragedy. This poet instead turns her grief into eloquence and beauty.

 

An entire section of the book is poems about the human body. I will admit to never before reading a poem devoted to the spleen, or to the pancreas. A couple of the poems are written to not only pay tribute to the organs themselves through their words, but also in the shape and arrangement of the words. Her poem about the ribs, for example, is formatted in an oval shape, with very short lines at the top and bottom and longer lines in the middle.

 

Many of the poems reflect not only a deep faith but a profound grasp of the details of that faith. Two sections devote large portions to explorations of faith and its expression. If the word “transubstantiation” in the title was not enough of a clue, poems about the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Marriage, and others clearly show a deep engagement with church and its teachings. I found her comparison of marriage to other sacraments (baptism, confirmation, extreme unction, etc.) to be both thoughtful and profound.

 

Marjorie Maddox is a local writer, a professor at Lock Haven University, and we are very grateful she reached out to us and asked us to review her book. Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation is an eloquent and thoughtful collection, full of faith and embracing of life–up to and including its end. Whether you are a person of faith or not, this collection will help you appreciate the richness and fullness of life.

Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Book Review: Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, Marjorie Maddox

Book Review: Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, Andrea D. Pinkney

Book Review: Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, Words by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Illustrations by Brian Pinkney

Martin Rising: Requiem For a King, Andrea Davis Pinkney

Poetry:  Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, Andrea Davis Pinkney

Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Three days later, I turned two years old. I only say that to put my age into the context: Dr. King’s murder has essentially been historical fact for me my entire life. When I began reading Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney (illustrated by her husband, Brian Pinkney), I was 51 years removed from the fact of his death. I knew how the story ended.

 

And I wept. I wept for a man who died when I was a toddler. I wept for a people who lost their shining light half a century ago. I wept for a nation whose conscience was slaughtered on a motel balcony in Memphis. I wept for myself and the loss of a hero I never knew while he was alive.

 

Martin Rising is so many things. The standard words we use for poetic works all apply: powerful, elegant, majestic, etc. Pinkney’s poems capture the cadence of the best of African American preaching. They are rhythmic. They are memorable. They read like they are meant to be spoken aloud to a church.

 

I think the word I would use, though, is “unexpected.” I did not expect them to hit my heart so strongly that I cried for a man who died before I could understand death. I did not expect Henny Penny to take on the role of Greek chorus. I did not expect the metaphors of stormy weather and of chicks hatching to hit me so hard. I did not expect the illustrations of King’s children to become blurry through my tears. I did not expect to laugh at the thought of grown men having a pillow fight. From beginning to end, Martin Rising was unexpected.

 

The Pennsylvania Center for the Book 2019's Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award to Andrea Davis Pinkney for her work Martin Rising: Requiem for a King
The Pennsylvania Center for the Book 2019’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award to Andrea Davis Pinkney for her work Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King is the 2019 Lee Bennett Hopkins award winner for Children’s Poetry. I would not take away a well-deserved award, but I did not read this as a children’s book despite the exquisite illustrations. Martin Rising deserves a place on anyone’s shelf. Yes, children can appreciate the poetry and the cadence and the rhythms and the pictures. So will adults. Buy the book for your children or your grandchildren–but don’t be surprised if you end up shelving it with your more grown-up tomes.

 

Just, make sure you’ve got some tissues handy while you read.

 

Brian Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney discuss Martin Rising: Requiem for a King: the Pennsylvania Center for the Book 2019's Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winner
Brian Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney discuss Martin Rising: Requiem for a King: the Pennsylvania Center for the Book 2019’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winner

The Pinkneys will be at State College’s 2019 PA Bookfest on Saturday, July 13, 2019 to receive the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. This week we are featuring authors who will be part of the bookfest, part of an annual tradition we started last year.

Martin Rising: Requiem For a King, Andrea Davis Pinkney

Book Review: Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, Words by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Illustrations by Brian Pinkney

Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Poetry: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Local (State College, PA) poet Sarah Russell has given us a collection of poems that are heartfelt and moving. I lost summer somewhere is poignant, elegant, and sometimes emotionally raw. Reading it drew me into a world of love and loss, of new love found, of letting go of an aging parent piece by piece, of being with someone at their most vulnerable point, of watching granddaughters grow into a world we could never have imagined. At times it was a nerve-wracking white-knuckled journey through life. But it is hard to find someone relate that journey with the grace, beauty, and dignity that Russell achieves.

 

Anyone who has ever been in love can both relate to and laugh with her poem, “If I Had Three Lives.” She starts,

“If I had three lives, I’d marry you in two.”

This humorous look at love then goes on to imagine her life where she did not marry him: writing, reading lots of books, vacationing in Maine, practicing yoga…and then admitting,

“And I’d wonder sometimes / if I’d ever find you.”

This quirky love poem acknowledges that marriage has changed her in ways that might not always meet her ideal (“I’d be thinner in that life, vegan”), but in two of three lives she would choose him and in the third life she’d long for him. Honestly, that’s more than a lot of us get!

 

The titular poem is a metaphor for aging. The poet realizes that she has entered a stage of life when geese have abandoned their nests and wildflowers have finished their blooms. I love how she says to the geese as they leave,

“I’ll stay here, I tell them, I’ll air out / cedared cardigans. chop carrots / for the soup tonight, cross / the threshold of the equinox, / try not to stumble.”

Any of us watching the years spin by faster and faster can appreciate both the sense of loss and the acceptance of our future, whatever that may be.

 

Although the poems offer much to every reader, I believe that women would especially appreciate Russell’s perspectives. She writes as the wife who watches a marriage crumble, as the mother there with a daughter making a difficult choice and living with that, as the grandmother advising her middle-school granddaughter. Sometimes, like in Learning to Play Baseball, she is the bemused woman struggling to communicate with a man. She is the woman watching herself age, falling in love again, appreciating new seasons of life.

 

That being said, this book is not “for” women or men. It is for anyone who loves language, who loves poetry, for anyone who has loved and anyone who is watching an aging parent decline, for anyone who has enjoyed an “Indian Summer” of life and found a second love and held a child. Sarah Russell’s poems are beautiful and passionate, and I lost summer somewhere is a special collection.

 

I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Book Review: Mother Love, Rita Dove

Book Review: Mother Love, Rita Dove

 

Mother Love, Rita Dove

Poetry: Mother Love, Rita Dove

Rita Dove served as US Poet Laureate in the 1990s. Her collection of sonnets, Mother Love, was written at the end of her tenure in that post. It is a powerful collection inspired by the myth of Persephone. Dove’s speaker sometimes is Persephone, sometimes her mother Demeter, and sometimes a much more modern woman addressing the roles of mother, daughter, wife/girlfriend/other that women often fulfill during their lives.

 

In Greek mythology, Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest and seasons. Hades, god of the underworld, fell in love with Persephone and captured her to be his wife. Demeter was so stricken by the loss she made the earth barren and cold until the other gods prevailed on Hades to allow Persephone to return to the surface. He allowed her return, but warned that she could not eat or drink anything from the underworld or that would require her to return. Persephone did eat three pomegranate seeds despite herself–or maybe intentionally–and so every year she had to spend three months with Hades underground. Thus, we experience those three months of Demeter’s grief as winter, ending when Persephone returns in the spring, and so on.

 

Sonnets are fourteen lined poems. Dove makes the choice to limit herself to sonnets, because it “chains” her to a format. Since Persephone, and in her own way Demeter, are chained, since women are also often chained to their roles and expectations, Dove felt the format itself would be a poem within the poems, chaining the form as further expression of the content. The poems do not limit themselves to the ancient myth, but rather express the relationships which comprise the myth: mother, daughter, wife, mother-in-law, girlfriend, etc. They express the pain of letting go, of watching a daughter grow up and make her own choices, of not interfering even when those choices diverge from your own. They express the pain of growing up, of making difficult choices, of living with the consequences of those choices, of finding out that love and sex and independence and adulthood are not everything we thought they might be. Women (and men) face these challenges, but it is fair to say that society places burdens on women that men often escape, and Dove’s poems look unflinchingly at those expectations and what it takes to meet them, or what it takes to defy them.

 

Mother Love was written, the author says, “for her mother and to her daughter.” It is a challenging and arresting work, powerfully unified throughout and offering deep insight on the pains and joys of being a mother, a daughter, and everything else we ask women to be.

 

Mother Love, Rita Dove

Book Review: Mother Love, Rita Dove

 

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Poetry: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was best known for her elegiac, almost spiritual poems about nature and common things. In this collection she focuses on those very things, writing poems about her dog Percy, about thrushes and jays and foxes, mists and mountains. The result is a new appreciation of these things we might see every day, but seen instead through the eyes of an uncommon observer.

 

Oliver’s view of nature is both intimate and impersonal. The first poem in this collection says, “I go down to the shore in the morning…and I say, oh, I am miserable,/what shall–/what should I do? And the sea says/in its lovely voice;/Excuse me, I have work to do.” She feels close enough to talk to the sea personally. “I am miserable.” “What should I do.” And not to say the sea doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. The sea responds. But the response is simply, “I have work to do.” It isn’t rude, it isn’t demeaning. The sea is the sea, and it has its sea things to do.

 

In another poem, “Good-Bye Fox,” the fox tells her very matter-of-factly, “You fuss over life with your clever words, mulling and chewing on its meaning, while we just live it.” Again, intimate, a conversation with a fox. And impersonal, “You fuss over life…we just live it.” To make the point more firmly, the fox later repeats, “You fuss, we live.” Not a diss on the poet, simply an impersonal statement of fact. Nature does its thing, and our fussing does not much matter to it.

 

Mary Oliver’s poems are lovely. They speak to the heart, to the spirit, reminding us of what is around us all the time. Appreciating nature may seem simple conceptually. If we actually did more of it, we might find that it is not simple at all. A Thousand Mornings was published only a few years ago, but it speaks with the timeless elegance of nature itself.

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Quote: It was at that age, that poetry came in search of me. Pablo Neruda

Quote: “It was at that age, that poetry came in search of me.” Pablo Neruda

“It was at that age, that poetry came in search of me.” Pablo Neruda

Quote: “It was at that age, that poetry came in search of me.” Pablo Neruda

 

To help you nurture a love love of words, language, and poetry with children see:

Booklist: Books with Poems & Rhymes for Shared Reading with Children

“It was at that age, that poetry came in search of me.” Pablo Neruda

 

Book Review: this and that, hülya n. yilmaz

Book Review: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

Poetry: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

I had the privilege of attending the launch party for hülya n. yilmaz’s book this and that and listen to her read some of her poems aloud. Poetry should be read aloud, and her smooth and strong voice captured the room full of friends and supporters (and maybe a few strangers who saw there was free food and wine!). This is a lovely book of very personal and intimate poems, poems about family, about her travels, about love and faith and some of the burdens of history.

 

yilmaz is originally from Turkey but has made her home in State College, PA, for many years now. Recently retired from Penn State University, this is her third book of poetry. this and that is mostly in English, but some of the poems are translated on the same page into both German and Turkish.

 

Some of the most painful and personal works talk about family. Some of them deal with a father losing his memory to dementia, with a mother’s early absence from her life, with separation from family and living abroad away from them. Some of these are so raw that they brought tears to my eyes.

 

yilmaz is a fun writer, with poems about her friends the bunnies and birds that visit her backyard. She raises the question whether it is indeed “her” backyard, since the animals have been there long before humans dropped houses into the middle of “their” forest. Her poems dance and sing, traveling from her US home to various cities around the world where she has visited or lived.

 

Although the book has mature themes, individual poems would be excellent choices for middle and high school students. The poems that are written in three languages would be particularly valuable to high school German students (and if there are students taking Turkish), since they could see how translation differs from simply converting words from one language to another, ala Google Translate. The fact that this is done by an expert who is also the author gives this added levels of authority and authenticity.

 

this and that is a poignant and sometimes emotionally raw work, but also fun and beautiful with joy and humor relieving the tension between the more personal poems. I can definitely recommend hülya’s poems to anyone who appreciates honesty and passion, qualities made all the more powerful by the scholarship and intellect of their author.

Book Review: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Image result for the leaf and the cloud

Poetry: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver passed away January 17, 2019. Winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry both appealed to a wide audience and sometimes frustrated critics who favor poems that could perhaps be considered less accessible. Oliver’s work uses basic and universal themes: nature, life, death, eternity, God. Her book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud is an excellent example of how her work is both easy to apprehend and appreciate while at the same time taking the reader deeper into thought and feeling.

 

The title comes from a John Ruskin quote: “Between the earth and man arose the leaf. Between the heaven and man came the cloud.” What follows is seven chapters of a single poem, each chapter itself broken up into smaller pieces, all working around this theme that nature both illuminates and obscures eternity. Whatever your idea of God (if you have one at all), a god that created both nature and humanity is going to be revealed through those creations–and is going to be hidden by those same creations. One can see glimpses, one can discern concepts and ideas, but no one can see the totality of the creator through the creation. I was reminded of various biblical passages as I read this poem: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” “Now, we see through a glass darkly.” Oliver does not quote from the Bible, but her work definitely gives an air of familiarity with many of the Psalms. That may be an actual echo, or it may just be from dealing with similar concepts. Either way, for this lapsed churchman, it was full of nostalgia and longing.

 

Oliver is not preachy, nor does she assume everyone believes as she does. What she does is share her faith in nature, in life, in eternity (unnamed), and in the universe. Whether you choose to walk with her is up to you as the reader. She is going to go outside, to connect with the leaves and the clouds and the beetles and the hills and the rest of nature. You should come with her, though. You will see things in new ways, hear nature speak, experience life in its many expressions, and find a different perspective within yourself.

 

The Leaf and the Cloud is romantic, especially in the sense of poets from previous times, but it does not lose its footing in the modern technological era. Instead, it reminds us that regardless of the march of time, we are creatures, part of nature, evolved to live within the universe with other creatures. We remind ourselves of this to our benefit and we forget it at our peril. Mary Oliver’s voice may be silent in death, but her poetry continues to speak as eloquently as ever.

 

When death

carts me off to the bottomlands

when I begin

the long work of rising —

Death, whoever and whatever you are, tallest king of

tall kinds, grant me these wishes: unstring my bones;

let me not be one thing but all things, and wondrously

scattered; shake me free from my name….

 

 

Image result for the leaf and the cloud

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Definition: Smeuse

smeuse: “A gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal.”

 

smeuse
Photo by @angelt on Twitter @RobGMacfarlane

Smeuse

Driving slowly near my home,

I surprised a woodchuck standing in the road.

It was in no danger from me

But I suspect the poor beastie did not

Share my confidence

In its security.

With speed defying its corpulent shape

It dove in a bound to the grass

Then through the smeuse I had never noticed before

But can no longer unsee.

Like the word itself, “smeuse,”

“A gap in the base of a hedge

Made by the regular passage of a

Small animal.”

The woodchuck is gone

Though its trail remains open,

And in my mind

A gap is now filled

By a perfect word.

— David Marvin

 

For the book that inspired the poem above see the link to:

Book Review: Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane