Summer 2011

Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 2


Poetry Fiction NonFiction Reviews   

Dan Cuddy


Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems, an anthology edited by Laura Shovan, A Maryland Writers’ Association Book, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0-9820032-1-3, 158 pages paperback $12.95 U.S. $13.95 CAN

Crawford cover

Speaking as a reader of poetry, I think this anthology would be a good addition to any home library. The quality of the poems it contains is quite high. Some, such as Lalita Noronha’s “The Kiss” are almost minor masterpieces. Ms Noronha is an acclaimed fiction writer in the Maryland area but her talent for poetry may vie for attention as well. “The Kiss” is a well-sculpted poem of sensuous words that describes Rodin’s famous sculpture and a viewer’s reaction to it.

It’s the way your hand rests
On her thigh,
Barely touches
Her buttock,
Your thumb poised above,
The way she sits
Sideways astride between
Your legs opened wide.

And after an equally precise description of the woman’s embrace of the man, the viewer, a society of viewers, is addressed directly, and the poet speaks for all:

It’s how we know
What drove Adam and Eve from
Why Paolo and Francesca left
The Gates of Hell
And why we stand
And gaze,
And gaze.

This poem embodies both passion and art, and illustrates the passion in art and the passion for art. The poet has created a marvel to inhabit our mind’s eye.
   John Hayes in another poem in this collection, “The Rodin Show”, writes about The Kiss. It is interesting to compare the two approaches. Hayes’ poem is accomplished as well but it comes from a different angle. Ms Naronha speaks for us; Mr. Hayes presents his (the narrator, the poet) reaction to the statue, and he is self-conscious and speaks with humor and distancing:

The Kiss inhales my sight.
I wonder
Do their tongues
Exchange saliva?

The poet also looks at another bronze, Young Woman’s torso.  The reader watches him and a society of cultural mores interact:

I glide my fingers
Along her curvature of hip.
A guard reacts
To this endearing touch.
Unceremoniously he escorts
Me from the room.
At the exit, I wave a kiss
Into her parted lips.

 Since sexual passion is an individual thing, individuals and societies try to protect themselves from its disruptive anarchy as it makes all of us and our supposed dignity, self-possession and control  ludicrous when we let our defenses down and pursue it. The poet is wise to treat it with humor. The passion is there but we sort of disown it in public, though we possess it and it possesses us.
   The anthology is ostensibly about Love but it stretches the definition. It is divided into seven sections:  1. First Love, Lost Love, 2. Love of Art and Work, 3.Friends and Family, 4.Love of Nature, 5. Love Floods the Senses, 6. The Madness of Love, 7. Love as We Age. Each section has an introduction by an individual editor.  I will leave it to future readers to read them.  
   I want to discuss some of the poems in the collection that particularly struck me for one reason or another.  Barbara Diehl plays with and in received traditional forms. Her “Sonnet for an Ex” is surprisingly good.  Sonnets in general have a bit of dust and mold in that their tradition was popularized by the skills of Petrarch and Shakespeare and Milton, etc. However, it would be difficult to find a sonnet more contemporary in sound and subject than Ms. Diehl’s.  I will quote it in its entirety because it is a tour de force and example of how a traditional form can be adapted to contemporary use, though you would need this poet’s talent to pull off anything this successful.

The glamour of a little prison time,
The drama of the draft board records burned,
The parties with John Waters and Divine,
The thrill when the Mustang engine turned
And push-started from Danville to Baltimore,
Our hippie home of actors, TV techs,
And Vietnam vets, a revolving door
Of girls who wanted love and just got sex
From a cokehead drunk they romanticized,
Who rasped like Cash about the life he’d lived---
And then the legal papers arrived,
The son you fathered, checks you didn’t give---
I pass you by at touch points in your life,
Like entourage friends, a peripheral ex-wife.

Amazing, yes? The rhyme is just so natural, even when end-stopped. The rhymes are not always exact but subtle in their sounds like “techs” and “sex”. Tex is an exact rhyme for sex, not techs, but the difference is slight and it works magnificently. There are also internal rhymes in the poem ---“rasped like Cash”, and in the line between the techs-sex we have “vets”.  Perhaps to an experienced poet pointing out these masterful touches is elementary, but, though it looks easy, the writing here is not easy.  The diction is contemporary. This is a far cry from the poetic speech of Keats’ day.  Keats was a 19th century poet and a great one. Barbara Diehl is a 21st century poet and a darned good one. The poem has a contemporary tone too----that scolding feminist bite, but it isn’t just some rallying of wronged women. This poem is a delight to read. The put down of this great-in-his-own-head man is done with entertaining restraint until the final phrase that contains so much emotion in the ironic guillotine of its words.
   There is a poem by Margi Grady , “Ways of Talking to Leaves”  that is so tender and so sad. I will let readers discover it in its entirety for themselves. It is such a beautiful and simple expression of---yes, love. There is a short poem “Steamy Web” that is a delight written by Eric D. Goodman. “If Then” by Deborah Edelman is a poem summing up the outlines of a life and love. It is done with unexpected twists in its narrative and the last stanza should affect anyone who reads it. Sue Ellen Thompson’s  “The Old Boyfriend”  is a wondrous poem in the section Love as We Age .
   The poets of this collection may be regional but the poetry isn’t. There are enough delights to read and reread that I urge anyone who is or has been in love to get this book for their personal library. A lot of poetry is being written today but much of it will produce only a yawn from the average intelligent educated reader. This anthology, so full of our human experience, communicates the fires, fierce and/or gentle, that inspired its poets to write. 



© Dan Cuddy


Poetry Fiction NonFiction Reviews

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