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Unread 06-20-2003, 01:44 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,489
Default Reviews of Sphereans' Books

Far East of Fargo

Very Far North has filled hours with Timothy Murphy's unique ironic but spiritual sensibility. It is rare to see a poet use so few words to present such lushness of thought. He is a master of the art, as many phrases from his short lines will indicate; e.g., from “The Pallbearers”: "to bury/ love in the loam we've sowed." We don’t normally think of burials as burying love, but this contains truths about the authentic way the emotions respond at the moment of burial.

There is no more poignant and stunning quatrain here than "Blow Winds and Crack your Cheeks." "Horses for my Father" bespeaks Murphy’s lust for words and wind-blown vision. The love he bears living creatures allegedly of a lower order than humanity is a far-reaching lesson in his work; in the tributes to his father is another.

Look for originality, playfulness with words and a sly sense of magic: it would be difficult to tell the effects that fall upon a reader from this work. The floods and droughts are bleak, it is true; but not these poems.

Among the best of Murphy's poems in this collection are "Pa Sapa," "Headwater," "Elsewhere," "Landfall," "Casa Abandonada," "Hunting Time," "Vulture Acres," "Transformation," "Flight Across the Moor," and "Timing." “Flight across the Moor” is a study in horror, frightful but insightful. In “Hunting Time,” the insight in the last four lines brings interesting reflections about depression and alienation as a preparation for death.

The fact that he ends the volume with a series of poems about Tibetan Buddhists is another unique aspect of Murphy's consciousness: who else could combine themes of hunting, Buddhism, sailing, fauna and flora, farming, patriarchs and matriarchs, prairie wisdom, absurd wordplay and Americana in one slim volume?

Here is the first stanza of "Timing":

Walking a narrow path
where pilgrims go astray,
I regulate my breath
because I cannot pray.

What can be unearthed from this perfectly direct and seemingly simple, even childlike, quatrain is hidden knowledge: that praying is, to Tibetan lay folk who are devoutly religious, essentially a regulation of breath, and one which slowly spirals the consciousness upward.

“Prayer to Milarepa” shows rare insight in "I know no mantra /to correct my karma." Murphy knows that nothing can correct one's karma: it's just there, stretching back and even forward, infinite as air or space (but this is my own interpretation, and subject to change without notice).

“Mentor” transmits the poet’s hero-worship and elicits that, as well, for the reader's own heroes, possibly with regrets at not having sought them out.

Here is "Headwaters":

Up switchbacks to passes
we ride winded horses
through spruces, then grasses
ribboned with watercourses,
the Wind River's sources.

A trail called Highline
meanders through flowers
from treeline to snowline
where War Bonnet glowers
on Cirque of the Towers.

A bald eagle's shadow
plummets from its aerie,
then circles this meadow
whose cold waters carry
some hope to our prairie.

This is akin to a prayer, a prayer for the prairie, and regulates the breath as part of its effect.

This collection is a profound achievement in a paper wrapper. No one can say Murphy didn't take Robert Penn Warren's advice to him at Yale. The roots he’s grown strike far and deep. Very Far North is nothing if not an education in how to grow the roots we all need to nourish ourselves and eventually, with luck, to flourish.

Terese Coe (rewrite version)

[This message has been edited by Terese Coe (edited March 11, 2004).]
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Unread 06-20-2003, 03:29 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,489

(This is how the Krisak review appears in The Alsop Review, as of August 12, 2003)

Even As We Speak By Len Krisak
The University of Evansville Press
ISBN 0-930982-53-3

"It¹s 1946. Do you know where your wives / have been?"

So opens Len Krisak¹s poem, "On The Blue Dahlia." And doesn¹t that witty line break say something about jealousy? Could there be a better place to pause in that sentence; isn¹t it almost an absurdly early catastasis, or the foreshadowing of catastasis?

And the stereotypical plots of our movies rush in, in iambic pentameter, with a kaleidoscopic view. "A lot of edgy talk before that cesspool brew / comes clean," says Krisak. But in his case, the edgy talk is all wit.

The send-ups of his old teachers are alone worth the purchase price. "Mr. Friel" ends, "Like notes God passed, but none could figure out." It¹s a real-life game of Go to the Head of the Class crossed with Chutes and Ladders, as it was played for keeps. Another teacher was "as crimped and banged as Mamie." Another sonnet, about a fellow student ("fellow" being a euphemism), opens, "He said he came from Mars." And Krisak proves it. He proves said student came from Mars. (You will smile the smile of recognition.)

Where love is concerned, Krisak is no laggard. But it takes the form, in one poem, of fond admiration for the "chain gang's toddler-crooks" "in spaced-out, crooked file": in other words, "Day-Schoolers on a Walk." Bemused, and bemusing. I haven¹t been this charmed to revisit my school days since the last time I taught six-year-olds. I¹m even more charmed the volume got what it deserved: the Richard Wilbur Award for 2000.

With understanding, comes wit. At least in this poet¹s case. See how his "A Version of Akhmatova" wryly plumbs the depths of another poet¹s mind, a woman¹s mind. There are also translations of Horace, Johnson (from the Latin) and Asclepiades "at once both guileless and unbending," as the poet says, with opposite meaning, in one Horace translation.

"Rumination" is one of the shortest poems in this collection, and as focused and focusing as a meditation:

They say the Sufis say that God's like fire;
That first you hear the roar, then see the flame,
And at the last, get burned.
But all I've ever learned
From whirling like a dervish with Desire
Is that her name and his are not the same.

These are exhilarating formalist poems, beautifully natural in tone and diction, evoking pale remembrance and high spirits. Even As We Speak places Len Krisak distinctly among the most original and vibrant poets writing today.

Reviewed by Terese Coe

[This message has been edited by Terese Coe (edited March 11, 2004).]
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Unread 06-20-2003, 04:26 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,816

I suggested some time ago that Spherians write brief reviews of our books for and Terese, bless her heart has leaped into the breach. This is not the sort of reticent prose we become accustomed to in the academic quarterlies. It's more fun. If you love or hate a book go to these sites and like Terese, let 'er fly!
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Unread 06-21-2003, 03:24 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,489

Tim, this was a smart idea on your part. There's nothing like writing a review to put your thoughts on a poet in order. I recommend the process to everyone.

Here's a review of Rhina Espaillat's Rehearsing Absence.

After reading this collection of poems, poets everywhere may well envy those who live in Rhina Espaillat’s home town in Massachusetts, because that is where she presides over the monthly workshops of The Powow River Poets. Espaillat’s poems have a way of speaking directly to each person listening: a rare gift.

But she has many gifts: wit; ready intimacy; a natural understanding of the strange, the erratic, and the commonplace; the ability to translate those for others; keen vision into things, people, processes and events; a broad intellectual background upon which palimpsest her poems take form; and the kindness to share all of these with others.

Since the penultimate on that list brings up the subject of the visual arts, it's tempting to think of her husband's sculpture as a complement to her formalist poems, which have a three-dimensionality about them. On the other hand, Espaillat’s poems may comprise more than three dimensions: at times, they approach the five-dimensional.

In "Negations," for example, she hits upon eternity and its simultaneous nonexistence:

as if your days were plates of summer fruit
that you may wash and quarter, core and pare
for guests, until you notice they’ve gone mute,
gone home for good, if they were ever there.

The final line is both ironic and blissful, a combination that comes as naturally to Espaillat as rhyme and elegance.

"On Being Accused of Optimism after Predicting Good Weather" is especially musical, and delights with lines like

“how calibrations country people learn
to make, measure the thinning of the air;”

her "overcast/ with unspent weather" dovetails perfectly with the final line, “forgetting what I meant, or meant to say.”

"Practice" honors the divine gift of making all children one's own, as well as the gift for storytelling. The sly ironies of "Enjoy Your Meal!" (an “insincere” message from her microwave) stand in jovial counterpoint to the blunt truths there.

"Minefields" is a powerhouse. It can bring tears; perhaps the themes of deep friendship, the road, children and war are the mélange that does it. Incredibly, this poet can juxtapose a tragic youthful death with children banging on lids; but the din is part of the WWII remembrance, as well. She writes, "We always make it. Having come this far / we count on destinations."

There is an echo of Samuel Beckett in "Four O'Clock": one line there may hold the whole (“the landscape only seems to stay”). This, again, speaks of the meaningfulness of ephemera. It opens:

The eye, uncertain, almost sees
a luminescence through bare trees
rotating by minute degrees,

and ends:

"that time is an imperfect sum.
Nothing to do but let it come,
whatever light, wherever from.”

This is Rhina Espaillat’s fourth collection of poems. The second, Where Horizons Go, won the TS Eliot Prize in 1998; this book, Rehearsing Absence, won the Richard Wilbur Prize for 2001. John Frederick Nims awarded her the Nemerov Prize for one of her sonnets, and neo-formalist poetry and its adherents have grown much the richer for her lyrical gifts, high craftsmanship, and inspirational beacon.


[This message has been edited by Terese Coe (edited June 22, 2003).]
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Unread 06-26-2003, 04:11 AM
Posts: n/a

Wasn't sure whether you wanted others to latch onto your thread or start new ones. Apologies if it was the latter!
Here's a brief notice I've just posted on Alicia Stallings'
Archaic Smile. (Amazon have my name as Eileen M. Moore - the business version)
That over-used tag 'collector's item' is well deserved by this publication. Readers whose knowledge of Greek myth is rusty or rudimentary need have no fear. A.A. Stallings wears her learning as lightly as she holds the reins of her metrical horses. Humour bubbles up from time to time, as does tenderness, which never slurps into sentimentality.
Themes range from the personal (housework, lost belongings, garden disasters) to the public (the instability of urban civilization, the festering scars of war). Practising poets have much to learn from Stallings' easy switches from myth to modern reality, from colloquial to formal speech registers. Hers is indeed an art which conceals art.
PS. Alicia . Many apologies for putting 'A.A.' for 'A.E.' in the first para. M.

[This message has been edited by Campoem (edited June 26, 2003).]
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Unread 06-26-2003, 06:40 AM
Wild Bill Wild Bill is offline
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: San Antonio, TX, USA
Posts: 1,151

Posted on for "Where Horizons Go":

Anyone who has ever gone to a grandmother or a beloved aunt for comfort or advice will recognize this still, small voice that speaks with such authority and grace.

"Where Horizons Go" is a must-have for any serious contemporary poetry collection. The anatomically and politically correct "Bra" alone is worth the price of the book:

If only the heart could be worn like the breast, divided,
nosing in two directions for news of the wide world,
sniffing here and there for justice, for mercy.

You won't regret this purchase.

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Unread 06-26-2003, 03:30 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,489


Yes, I was inviting you to post reviews here. Thanks to you and Bill too!

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Unread 06-29-2003, 09:50 AM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,489

The reviews of Tim's, Len's, and Rhina's books have been installed at The Alsop Review


[This message has been edited by Terese Coe (edited March 11, 2004).]
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Unread 07-14-2003, 07:46 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,489

The review of Very Far North is now up at under "AR Books."

I've taken down the review of Len Krisak's Even As We Speak since I'm revising it, and I'll replace it when it goes up at The Alsop Review, in about two weeks or so.

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Unread 07-16-2003, 01:09 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Athens, Greece
Posts: 3,205

Dear Eileen--Margaret?

Thanks SO much for your kind and generous review. I'm especially grateful, since it replaces at the top of the page a rather nasty hatchet job someone posted recently--maybe I annoyed somebody at West Chester?--(no name of course on THAT review). Yours is very cheering and reassuring! Thank you!

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