Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Curie

Curie, by Jessica Cuello, is a beautifully written chapbook entirely about Marie Curie, the Polish-born chemist and physicist best known for her groundbreaking work concerning radioactivity. Naturally, as a student of history, my fingers were excitedly tingling as I opened up the envelope that the mailperson delivered to my door several days ago. I have read through the eighteen poems it contains several times, and have deemed the chapbook, overall, to be outstanding.

Cuello's style, for one, is perfectly matched for a subject like Marie Curie--it is, for lack of a better word, measured (a word used several times throughout the poems in conjunction with the subject). Each word has a distinct purpose. This is made all the more powerful in that the poems are told from Marie Curie's own point of view--history measured in poetry, tempered by a personal perspective. It is this personality which makes many of the poems outstanding--they deal, not only with the purely historical aspects of Curie's life, but also with very singular events--the early losses of her mother and sister, for example, to tuberculosis and typhus:

"I clutched her coughs
like kisses. I wanted to touch
her throat, press my lips
beneath her eyes, bury
my face in the contagion
of her--who left early." 

Of the ghostly, otherworldly dance of her friend, Loie Fuller, painted in radium:

"Breasts curved with gold,
thighs phosphorescent, her neck
a stick of light."

Of performing surgery on a wounded young man during the First World War:

"Our eyes watched each other
as the metal entered
his skin. An odd silence:
a storm behind our pupils,
more than the pain of surgery..."

Truly, Cuello's talent for writing is superbly showcased in Curie. While the strength and richness of her poetry is captivating, there is nonetheless bound to be some confusion for the casual reader who knows next to nothing of Marie Curie beyond what simple information schoolchildren may know--that she received two Nobel prizes, that she discovered Polonium, that she pioneered the study of radioactivity. The poems are laced with names and references...Casimir, Bronia, the beet children, the leaking shed...which will confuse anyone who does not have more than passing knowledge of Curie and her life and work. Accompanying information, such as a page or two of clarifying notes, would be helpful if published with the book. The upside of this is that casual readers will be encouraged to learn more about Marie Curie--and by doing so, they will both gain knowledge of an extremely important historical figure, and be able to appreciate and understand Curie all the more.

Overall, Curie, by Jessica Cuello, is a highly enjoyable read from a very talented writer. Anyone wishing to read some very good poetry, and anyone wishing to learn a bit about Marie Curie, may do so right here.

Volume I, Issue II. July 15, 2011.

The Ides of March

July 15, 1799: 
The Rosetta Stone, 
the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, 
 is discovered by a French soldier.  

 Featured in this issue:

Paul David Adkins
      ---"War Story #57: Kellogg, Brown & Root, Kuwait City Airport"
      ---"War Story #64: Stop Loss"
Gary Beck
      ---"Emily Dickinson"
John I. Blair
      ---"Philip Nolan"
Doug G. Campbell
Zann Carter
      ---"The Possibility That My Grandmother Saw Isadora Duncan Dance"
Jessica Cuello
      ---"Jean D'Aulon, Squire"
Julie Laws
      ---"When 9/11 Happened"
Donal Mahoney
      ---"An Irish Enclave, 1956"
Micah Anthony McConchie
      ---"A Journey Through Asgaard"
      ---"The Dance of Apollo and Artemis"
Bill Wolak
      ---"Nicodromus of Againa"
      ---"Poet of Assisi, 20BCE"
Mark Young
      ---"The Chant of Cuchulainn"


"War Story #57: Kellogg, Brown & Root, Kuwait City Airport"
---Paul David Adkins

On landing our DC-10 the pilot gushed--
On behalf of KBR, welcome to Kuwait.
We laughed.
I shook my head.

Years later, I analyzed that instant--
squinted, drew near,
slowed it down
to frame by ticking frame
until in the left corner I noticed
a gun raised.

Rewind. Relook.

Being raised again.


"War Story #64: Stop Loss"
---Paul David Adkins

His retirement date landed in the middle of his second Iraqi tour.
He crowed, That's it! I'm through --
hassles, deployments, idiot officers.

He showed up late next day unshaven. It's good
to be retired. He forgot his helmet.
Boots untied, belt undone, shirt untucked.
No tirades worked, no screaming.

The day before they shipped him home
he pulled a lawn chair, fishing rod from his tent and sat
casting and reeling. A naked hook snagged paper scraps.
He plucked and dropped them
in a cooler by the near-beer at his feet.


"Emily Dickinson"
---Gary Beck

Emily Dickinson didn't deplore
the frequent use of metaphor.
She thought it better than to be
the victim of a simile.
So struggling poets who aspire
to set the literary world afire,
should seek their own mode of conjugation
and avoid Emily's subjugation.


---Gary Beck

Your mouth
a harbor of passion
invited my entry,
I the wrecker of cities,
the bearer of corpses,
fell within your sateless flesh,
birthed a voyage
and unleashed disaster.


"Philip Nolan"
---John I. Blair

In bronze your name appears beside State Highway 174
And a live oak we imagine held the rope that hung you.

Again, in paint, on bridges by a rocky stream that flows
Past Cleburne, Rio Vista, through Blum into the Brazos.

Brave Irishman, bigamist, filibustero, horse thief,
You died at Spanish hands in 1801 somewhere nearby.

Your name brought tears when whispered to your friends,
Your two young wives, children without a father.

But after years your name means nothing to the boys
Who skip flat stones and tease the sunfish in your river

Or to the breeze that blows across your unmarked grave.


---Doug G. Campbell

Each night after stars have risen
above his battlefield, and taps has
ceased its lonely and unaccompanied
mourning, General Grant walks
into the night. You cannot see
him stepping deftly among the dead;
only the glowing tip of his cigar marks
his presence. He always goes alone;
he tells us he walks out among the ghosts
newly born, to apologize for all the stupidity
that leads to war. A general who sends
young men out to die cannot sleep
until he walks the bloody hills that
he has painted; a vast bone yard that
can never be fully purged--made clean.


"The Possibility That My Grandmother Saw Isadora Duncan Dance"
---Zann Carter

On June 17, 1906, my grandmother left American for years in Europe.
She journeyed on waves of grief: her younger sister, her mother, her father
all gone within one year.

She wandered the Continent, begging to be consumed by Art.
The Louvre, the Uffizi, the ruins of Pompeii. I have the postcards.

That same June, in Holland, Isadora waited by the sea for the birth of her first child,
and by December was dancing again in Warsaw.
Letters and photographs then document sojourns to Berlin, Florence, the Riviera....

I can almost make the places and dates fit.
I imagine convergence in Nice: DearMa's grief and Isadora's astonishing dance,

meeting perhaps in a garden performance, grace blossoming
before a soul in mourning, Isadora's wings

carrying both of them upwards through spiraling lines
of leap and gesture, movements of pure joy Isadora always believed
would go on forever in the infinite ether.


"Jean D'Aulon, Squire"
---Jessica Cuello

There was a camplight, tender
with the spell of death.
We slept on straw
and entered sleep more thick

than death. I saw Joan undress.
Her breasts were beautiful
but none of us wanted her.

We did what she said: mass,
cursed less. She was black
armor on a white horse. We trusted
with our breath.


"When 9/11 Happened"
---Julie Laws

Fear polluted my blood
when I saw the towers crumbling.

I thought of other fires
which had scorched my eyes from history books:
of the oily infamy of Pearl Harbor,
of the ashy plume of the Reichstag burning,
of Vietnamese forests glowing napalm-red.

Do we ever learn?
my heart whispered.
Do we ever learn?


"An Irish Enclave, 1956"
---Donal Mahoney

    South Side of Chicago, 
    long before Barack Obama 

On bungalow porches
and out in backyards,
on hot summer evenings
old men lower themselves
into green canvas chairs,
smoke and sip beer,
laugh and relive
Easter, 1916
and plot what they'll do
when the niggers pour in
and eddy all over
the dregs of their city.


"A Journey Through Asgaard"
---Micah Anthony McConchie

Listen, ye children, to the tale I sing
Your mind's eye borne aloft on mighty Raven's wing
My song of immortal realm of Asgaard
The land which inspires tales of men, and songs of bard
See the one-eyed, All-Father, Odin, upon his throne of stone
With arms like oaken logs, and voice that break bone
With Queen Frigg by his side, the essence of beauty and regal grace
Hel have mercy on man that puts a frown across that striking face
Behold Baldr, god of beauty and innocence, with eyes alight with eternal mirth
Slain by wicked brother, then returned in birth
Feel the eternal, piercing gaze of mighty Heimdall, the All-Seeing One
Rooted in his perch, ensuring the sanctity of his beloved home
Witness the brawn of the god Thor, holding aloft Mjolnir, hammer always near
Deadly weapon that sends giants and the wicked running in fear
Hear these tales, and become enchanted children, by me, Bragi.


 "The Dance of Apollo and Artemis"
---Micah Anthony McConchie

Virgin goddess in moonlit sky
No man can see with mortal eye
Dazzling brother follows with sunup
Radiance flowing like wine from a golden cup
Artemis, queen of the night
Apollo, king of light
Handsome beardless youth brings joy with poem and song
Beautiful unspoiled girl brings the joy of hunt with game trailing along
Twins entwined in eternal dance
Chase each other along horizons
Ancient deities inspirational even to this day.


"Nicodromus of Againa"
---Bill Wolak

"Nicodromus of Againa defeated a rebellion
on his island and prepared to execute
seven hundred of the conspirators when one escaped
and ran to the temple of Demeter, the lawgiver,
grabbed onto the door-handle of the temple,
and claimed sanctuary.
Nicodromus, when his soldiers failed to wrestle
the man's grip from the sanctuary,
lopped off his hands at the wrists with his sword
and dragged the man off to be executed.
The hands, they say, remained
clinging to the door-handle of the temple.


"Poet of Assisi, 20BCE"
---Bill Wolak

"Let my enemies love women,"
prayed Sextus Propertius,
who in his poetry praised and blamed Cynthia,
"but let all my friends love only boys."


"The Chant of Cuchulainn"
---Mark Young

Lugh's own son, Culan's Hound--
   the names of Cuchulain!
Ireland's pride, in foe-gore crowned--
   the truth of Cuchulainn!
The Sword of Ulster whom none could break--
   the strength of Cuchulainn!
But greybeard age was not his fate--
   the lot of Cuchulainn!
With spear and sword, his death fell fast--
   o woe to Cuchulainn!
To stone was lashed, and breathed his last--
   the blood of Cuchulainn.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Miller's New England Haiku Dictionary

Mike Miller’s Miller’s New England Haiku Dictionary is just that—a collection of words defined in haiku. But to write this off as simply a dictionary with a poetic twist would be to kick yourself rather solidly in the ass. I personally don’t think adding stanza breaks to Webster’s would make it more interesting—just longer and speed you on your way to buying bifocals. 

Miller’s is much more than a mere dictionary. It’s a small cross-section of existence, conveniently printed, stapled, and mailed to your door for practically nothing. And I’m not saying that to be dramatic. These haiku cover many aspects of life in general. I like to think of it as sort of a poetic photo album, with the photos/poems gathered from many different situations, attitudes, and lives, which makes for a very compelling collection.

There is, for example, laughter:  

Sobriety (n.):
can’t say I remember it.
Care for some more gin?

There is joy:

Watermelon (n.):
chasing your laughing sister
through the sprinkler.

There is sadness:

Melancholy (n.):
diabetic black fingers
on old guitar strings.

And there is wonder:

Thankful (adj.):
the sigh breathed out by the trees
when it starts to rain.

See what I mean?

That was just a sampling. I wish I could go through them all, but that would deprive you from getting a copy and seeing for yourself (which you can do here). Miller’s New England Haiku Dictionary is full of those words that make you see ordinary life in ways new and previously unknown. Don’t let this one pass you by.