This celebration of love and friendship is also a devotional from Atkins to her best friend/soul-mate, Mike, who was stricken with brain cancer, and it’s everything you’d expect from such a subject. It has joy and grief, sometimes cheek-to-jowl in the same poem. Rather than being depressing, however, it gives you the picture of two lives well-lived and a bond that lasts, in many ways, to this day. Atkins is, by turns, lyrical (“Cabinet of Wonder”), contemplative (“Unguided Tour of Grief with Green Wallpaper”), frank (“Hospitals & Guns”), and consumed by memories (“The Day I Made Potato Latkes”). My very favorite piece in this book, however, is one of the few poems of rage, “Why It Pisses Me Off When Someone Assumes You Died Of AIDS”: Because you weren’t HIV-positive;/because it doesn’t matter./Because it does matter/that people check their assumptions./Because I’ve seen someone/who’s sat at my table/say gay people, look/down in shame/and in that look/murder thousands. I know from personal experience that grief has at least some of its origins in rage, and Atkins’s is well-expressed and aimed here. A breathtaking journey with a sorrowful outcome, The Cafe of Our Departure is very emotional reading.
In Lambda Literary Award-winning poet Jim Elledge’s latest collection, stories and linear meaning is less important than emotion and configural word association–almost as if the literal is deconstructed so that the reader pays more attention to the meanings of individual words than how they relate to each other. Either way, this landscape holds no comforts. This is not a place of warm fires or wonders of nature. It’s a dystopian fugue state of numbered, multi-part nightmares populated by grief, anxiety, and trepidation. The section called “Aftermath” features a character named Mister who is followed (“A Terrible Body Stalks Mister”), bereft of company (“Daylight Savings Time & Mister In It”), suicidal (“Mister Faces the Holidays”), and overloaded on information (“Mister Betwixt & Between”). He finds solace in no one and nothing, and his torture appears to be perpetual, as in “3rd Person Helps Mister Articulate His Woes”: Mister’s bored day to day, July to June./His job’s a joke, his days off fraught with stress./Most nights, he slips out to spit at the moon/and curse each star./ He can’t help but obsess about loss other nights. Elledge’s world is full of people I’d not want to meet and places I’d not wish to visit often, but reading the reportage from a correspondent to this sphere of trauma and strife is often fascinating. Look, but only from a distance.
This is a terrific collection from a poet whose work spans decade, and it’s a rich body of poetry in which one can see joy, heartbreak, and elegy, but growth most of all–personal as well as artistic, though you’d be hard pressed to separate the two. Dykewomon’s work is all about acceptance and empowerment, looking inside for who you really are and exploring those avenues. Moreover, it’s about belief in yourself, belief in your identity, and belief in your abilities. Even though it’s plainspoken poetry, the lessons are as powerful as any which come with more flowery, ornate language. And Dykewomon is more than willing to pass on the knowledge she’s gained. In “a poem for my unborn niece,” for example, she states: We all know a fat womon is/what she eats./Can we watch you eating?/You must be hiding something/in your flesh,/is it rage or sex?/C’mon, we’re your friends,/we just care about you and we want to see/where the fabric hugs the expanse of your/stomach/the rolls at your waist/the fat that collects in pockets on your upper back. This self-examination is brutally frank, but its honesty resonates with anyone who has been deemed different at some point. Powerful and poignant, this is a collection of life lessons worthy of everyone’s review.
I love learning things, especially about poetry as my education in this realm is spotty at best. The last part of this roundup, I learned what a glosa was; this time, I learned that a cento is a poem comprised of lines taken from other authors. Hamilton has some interesting centones from John Ashbery (“Prayer for Spring”), Joseph Cornell (“Columbaria”), and Sappho (“Your Soft Throat”) as well as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (“Clean Wood Box”). As interesting as these pieces are, I think I prefer Hamilton’s own vision unconstrained by the lines of others. From the simplicity of “Us, Explained” to the more complicated “Pentimento,” Hamilton relates the dissolution of a relationship with astonishing clarity and lack of sentimentality. Sometimes, he uses toys, as in “Pals”: …By four/years old I loved/Play Doh’s sweet smell/too, its crayon hues,/soft-silk stretch and all/the things I shaped–/sausagey trees, whole/houses, roly-poly/families and pets. Even/so, left out too long/things formed grow/hard, and overnight/they crack. I had never read Hamilton before, but the energy and detail in poems like “Putting Down the Dog” or “Spooning” make me look forward to the next collection. I wonder what I’ll learn from that one.
And that’s it for this Roundup. I did have one more collection time simply didn’t allow me to get to, so that’s where I’ll start the next one. Until then, these fine volumes will have to get you through. Click the links and enjoy!
© 2015 Jerry L. Wheeler