In These Voices by Sherri Levine, Reviewed by Paul Telles

In These Voices by Sherri Levine

The Poetry Box (August 29, 2018), 42 pp $12

ISBN #: 978-1948461115

Available at: https://thepoetrybox.com/bookstore/in-these-voices

True to its title, Sherri Levine’s In These Voices deftly explores personae ranging from a squirrel to an English teacher to ruminating lovers and parents. Throughout this collection of 22 short poems, Levine employs supple, confident verse that maintains stylistic consistency while giving each character a distinct voice. She seems equally at home with plainspoken vignettes and song-like outbursts.

The range of Levine’s ambitions is suggested by “I Ate a Raymond Carver,” which begins with its speaker wondering, If I ate you, / Raymond Carver / would I write like you? The speaker praises Carver’s skill at carving and chiseling / characters. However, after a stanza expressing admiration for specific Carver stories, the speaker wonders if writing like Carver would lead to a cancerous death. The end of the poem finds her considering a richer poetic. She takes a bite of Henry Miller and Anais Nin and finds they taste of Nutella, candied nuts, whipped cream.

The rest of the book shows Levine striving successfully to unify these stylistic impulses. She displays her sympathy with Carver in “Orange Crush,” a brief poem that begins with a matter-of-fact description of an everyday frustration:

I saw my man

put a dollar

in the soda machine

to buy a Coke

but the Coke didn’t come out

instead

what

came

out

was an Orange Crush.

After banging the machine with his fists and yelling, the man decides to drink the unwanted soda. The puzzled speaker asks Why? The man’s answer delivers an ending worthy of a Carver story or poem:

Cause it’s here

and I’m thirsty.

You get used to it—

You get used to a lot of things, he said.

I’ll never get used to losing you, I told him.

When Levine reaches for the candied nuts, she doesn’t emulate the elaborate diction of Miller or Nin. Instead, she breaks out into free-verse song. For instance, “Only Cowboys Can Make” begins with an outburst appropriate for its subject:

Alberta July swings her hula-hoop hips

around her cherry chocolate thighs,

bubblegum bubbles go smack! Crack!

The poem’s title becomes a refrain as Levine employs rhymes and song-like rhythm to portray an ambiguous relationship. Alberta repeatedly calls the speaker’s name:

“Joleeeen,” she sings my name

in a high-pitched cry

only cowboys can make.

Eventually, Jolene pleads with Alberta to “please stop singing / my name, you’re making me cry.” But, in a burst of rhymed couplets, Alberta persists until she gets a new response:

She’s shaking her head with her purple pink bows,

and silver-framed glasses sliding down her pug nose.

I throw up my arms, roll on my back, then cover my eyes

I sing, “Jolleeeeen! Jolleeeen!” in a high-pitched cry

Only cowboys can make.

As I read, I was tempted to speculate about which poems express Levine’s personal voice. For instance, because she teaches English in Portland, it would be easy to conclude that she is the speaker in “Grammar Lessons,” a first-person poem that shows a teacher conjugating love. On the other hand, it may seem obvious that Levine is not the “Gray-Haired Squirrel” who frets about his inability to remember where he buries his nuts. Ultimately, this speculation proved to be pointless: In These Voices does not enable or demand any demarcation between self-expression and empathy. Instead, Levine appears to find herself in all of these voices and to find all of these voices in herself.

In These Voices adds a fine first book to Levine’s poetic resume, which includes a first-place prize in one of the Oregon Poetry Association’s 2017 contests and multiple appearances in small-press publications. Levine’s poems are fun to read, thought-provoking, and rich in feeling, observation, and linguistic texture. I’ll be looking out for more of her work.

Reviewer Bio:

Paul Telles is a poet and Yoga teacher who lives in Beaverton, Oregon. His poems have appeared in Verseweavers, Children, Churches and Daddies, and Currents, a journal published by the Body-Mind Centering Association. He is a winner of multiple Oregon Poetry Association prizes, including an Honorable Mention in the Traditional Verse category in Fall 2019. He is a two-time finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest.

The Rhythm of It, Poetry’s Hidden Dance by Anita Sullivan, Reviewed by Katie Eberhart

The Rhythm of It, Poetry’s Hidden Dance by Anita Sullivan

Shanti Arts Publishing, 2019, 118 pages, $14.95

ISBN: 978-1-951651-03-9 (softcover)

Available at http://shantiarts.com

Author web site: https://www.anitasullivan.org

The Rhythm of It, Poetry’s Hidden Dance by Anita Sullivan is a collection of essays brimming with ideas that accompany the author’s mindful and body-movement exploration of poetry. These seventeen essays offer glimpses into the physical experience of poetry, often bringing forth aspects that seem to be hidden in plain sight—and that may help us find our own route into writing new poems.

In the essay “Tai Chi Time,” Sullivan finds herself distracted by the rhythmic ticking of a wall clock:

What does this mean about Time? I briefly wonder.

Humans do rhythm, which is connected to a different kind of time than what this hapless

device insists upon … (16)

Reading these ruminations, I frequently paused to consider my own experiences. I also have been distracted by an eerily clicking wall clock that, once noticed, became the only sound in the room; yet, I did not think to write that experience into anything more. Throughout this book, Sullivan demonstrates determination to find more meaning. The sound of the clock ticking turns out to be a useful distraction. Shifting focus to the silence between the ticks, she considers how poems arise and how they convey the value of silence. Within this line of inquiry, she moves on to consider the distinction between silence and quiet. While searching for places where poems arise, she tracks across a terrain of feelings, rhythms, and sound—and, like the elephant in the room, the ticking clock periodically reappears.

In The Pulse,” Sullivan considers the difference between clock-time and the human-time in which we breathe and move:

The clock is not making pulses that constantly quiver with the possibilities for slight variance; rather it is pounding equidistant stakes into the ocean of time. (20)

Like following a breadcrumb trail of ideas, I lingered here, contemplating time as an ocean rather than a line, and appreciated being surprised by each new perspective. Even when I was certain that all the meaning had been prodded from a point of reflection, Sullivan doubled back, rotating her original premise just enough to reveal another aspect.  

Rhythm is a big deal for poems whether through rhyme or “a skillful laying on of numerically-guided metric frameworks …” (25); and, yet, after a nod to prosody, Sullivan questions her reaction to a new poem:

Do I start to sway in a dance that draws upon old patterns scratched onto my bones like petroglyphs? (26)

I appreciate that, in our current time of gilded technology, Sullivan asks probing questions as if we might relearn our profound ties to the past.

The Rhythm of It offers a language-rich journey through ideas and possibilities and––as if I’m the subversive one­­––I notice opportunities to extend, borrow, or repurpose. I see essay titles begging to be written into a poem, or into a thousand poems: “We Spin.”  “A Nod to Whim.” “The Pulse.” “Plain Speech.” “Why Rhythm and Not Something Else Instead or Also.” Several essays also include epigraphs which thoughtfully highlight aspects of the essay as well as suggesting more opportunities for reflection or reuse.

Each essay also includes a page of artwork that relates to deep history or nature: a line drawing resembling a petroglyph with a humanoid figure engaged in some activity, or a graphically strong photograph that might be a river or bay, or trees—and, like a poem, may be interpreted in more than one way.

The Rhythm of It is a lovely book laced with questions and insightful meditations. Sullivan shares her stories and ideas as she engages in an intellectual and body-movement adventure with language—through Tai Chi, clocks, mathematics, music, chant, deep history, and walking. She demonstrates asking questions and “feeling” rhythm so that it’s as if language fleetingly plays 2ndfiddle to the subconscious—which, of course, is somewhere that poems hide.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Rhythm of It to everyone who has a thoughtful relationship with language and is mindful about life. Something will come of it.

Reviewer Bio:

Katie Eberhart’s book Cabin 135, A Memoir of Alaska will be available from University of Alaska Press in August 2020. Katie has an MFA from Rainier Writing Workshop (PLU). Her poems, essays, and articles have appeared in Cirque Journal, Sand Journal, Crab Creek Review, Northwest Accordion News, and other places. Uttered Chaos Press (Eugene, OR) published her chapbook Unbound: Alaska Poems in 2013. Katie currently resides in Oregon where she studies accordion, arranges music, plays 2nd violin in the Bend Pops Orchestra, and is finding her way back to writing poetry. Katie’s web site is http://katieeberhart.com

Chasing Down the Storm – by Charles R. Castle, Jr. reviewed by Joy McDowell

Improbable Press, 2019, 110 pages   $20

ISBN 9781088457542

Available at – www.amazon.com

Fluidity is the word that came to mind as I read Charles Castle’s latest collection of poems. Divided into seven sections, Chasing Down the Storm does indeed chase a panorama of personal pathos and characters that utilize a bridge between nature and the human struggle to comprehend life.

The author’s images enhance the combined fabric of those two elements. In “She Comes Like Candles,” his lines demonstrate this relaxed connection:

                                    My lover

                                    comes like candles

                                    on the snows

                                    of Christmas Eves.

The reader moves inside the poet’s head in “Under a Green-leafed Sky,” with verse that celebrates the bliss and brevity of summer—a universal view that floats the lines:

We count the days of June

As if they could not end.

We sleep our morning slumbers

Rich as momentary thieves.

In the poem “Hiking Sweet Creek,” the reader is moving through the countryside before making the hike up a route carved with waterfalls:

                                    A narrow road competes for space

Where the creek flows between foothills

Through what is less a valley

Than a series of hollows

Of pastureland and small farms.

Having made this hike myself, I could not help smiling at the line All manner of dogs on

 leashes …

Even a hint of malevolence is folded discreetly into an amusing scenario in the short seven-line offering “When the Truth Hurts. I found my head nodding in agreement.

                                    Load the gun son

                                    We’re going to shoot the messenger

                                    He’s hunting quail up on the Bixbee Road

                                    Accidents happen all the time

                                                and his turn’s overdue

                                    Load the gun son

                                    I never liked what he had to say

Castle is a romantic. On the couch we speak of things/ like fruit we cannot reach. This line from “Divine Therapy” turns over in a languid manner familiar to lovers. Hinted rhyme keeps the physical ardor in pace with the intellectual statement about the complexity of attraction and a reluctance to embrace love fully.

 Readers will find entertainment in tales about wild places, such as “Tequila up the Trapline.” This poem inserts the reader smack into the dysfunction of a Montana character. Imagine if you will, a Montana trapper singing Patsy Cline and driving through the snow while he tells the reader his hard luck story without complaint, just stating his facts. Image upon image dress the stage.

The snow blows deep, it’s ten below

The upper road ain’t clear

My truck is totaled in a ditch

My wife’s down south of here

She’s shacked up flush in Bigfork

With a Bozeman friend of mine 

From the section titled Clouds and Clarity, Castle gives us a longer poem, If You See My Brother.” It takes the reader on a touching and timeless search for the lost portion of each family, each relationship pursued, each disappointment weathered.

He might have joined a union once,

    mining coal or in the Merchant Marine,

    or packing alongside migrants

    pickin’ in the San Juaquin.

Someone said they saw him in Alberta

    during Vietnam.

I found Chasing Down the Storm delightful to read, worth rereading, and totally unpretentious.

Charles Castle supervises the building of Conestoga Huts for the homeless. He donates all proceeds from the sale of his book to this cause. What a wonderful opportunity for OPA members to enjoy a good read and support a pressing need.

Reviewer Bio:

Joy McDowell is a poet who writes from Sky Mountain outside of Springfield, Oregon. She has been published by Uttered Chaos Press. A fourth chapbook is moving toward publication.