Sunday, October 16, 2016

DC's Grand Dame of poetry, Elisavietta Ritchie, showcases her talent & range, while exploring her Russian heritage, #smallpress, #poetry

Elisavietta Ritchie’s new and collected poems, Babushka’s Beads: A Geography of Genes, Poets Choice, finds the poetess in  top form, and is an excellent starting place for the uninitiated and a great collection for enthusiasts. Ritchie’s Russian heritage is on display here, and in the author’s forward she discusses the clock at the center of the inspiration for some of the new poems, and their narratives.

The book shuffles poems and pictures creating a poetic historical slideshow through Ritchie’s ancestry, which, is exotic, and romantic. Russophiles rejoice, for Beads drips with Russian mystery, some of it austere, others more dangerous. The book opens on foreign soil, where the speaker searches history for clues about relatives who served in the military. In “Orders to a Scribe,” history and its danger becomes a “dagger,” fierce a “lizard swiftness spears me,” and here Ritchie hits the danger of history, and our position looking back on it. We see, all too perfectly well, the cracks in the facade, the “half-baked campaigns” and the out lived palaces.

As a collected works, Beads showcases Ritchie’s grand style, breathless lines that cascade down; her eye and ear for a poem’s individual foot highly attuned. She’s in narrative form for most of this collection, acting as curator and guide. In “Guest of Honor” Ritchie’s stylistic flair perfectly clocks the surprise of a birthday guest, “She has visited me several times/Not during the year right after she died/while buying her ticket to spend/one more birthday with us.” And the poem synthesizes the best moments of family ritual: a “wink,” “dabs of icing.” Beads is not a ruby lensed look back to the good old days, rather Ritchie manages to remind the reader that this collection is focused on family, those moments of human connection that appear in our lives in small fragile moments. But that’s also true for the parts of history that haunt us. It’s not just the moments where you feel connected to your mother or aunt, but also the ghosts. The pain is the upside down of memory, and Ritchie dices it up with her composed, graceful lines. “We...distribute coats we cannot bear to see/ hang empty and hope not to know/ who wears those shoes donated to thrift,” and there’s actual ghosts too, adding to the exotic flavor, not just our mundane “things” like books, or watches, that carry on a little bit of our spirit after we die.   

Impressively, Ritchie has arranged this collection with photographs of some of the subjects, as well as organized the collection to provide a chronological narrative of her family. Her father’s war history acts a bridge to more familiar America. In the lovely elegy “While It Rains” her father’s “elbows and knees/fold and close/like the dull blades/of his pocket knife,” and later in “Root Soup, Boxing Day” his death becomes a retelling of stone soup; her father the poor soldier asking for food during the war. The military and service to one’s country is one of the constance's across the generations.  A tradition rich in imagery that Ritchie mines throughout the ages.

Babushka’s Beads contains an addendum featuring cover art submissions for the collection by University grad students, a sharp addition to an already fine collection.

Donna Marie Merritt's new #chapbook We Walk Together examines America, #smallpress, #indiepoets

Donna Marie Merritt’s chapbook We Walk Together, from Beech Hill Publishing Company $5, is a compassionate look at the world, and brings into focus the myriad of America’s current troubles. The slim volume of free verse addresses economic and spiritual woes squirming in America’s knotty heart.

Merritt opens the chapbook with “Come yah!” a socially conscious check of white privilege. The poem is set on Jamaica’s beaches, and the speaker serves both as narrator and conscious. Merritt is giving us a placid holiday poem that not only satirizes America's love of foreign beaches, but also America’s snobbery towards service jobs. While the exigency of the poem could apply to American beaches as well as Jamaican, Merritt focuses her poetic eye on the “Jamaican in the water,” who is just trying to feed his family while white vacationers ignore his calls from the water, and smile their “dental plan smiles.”

Merritt’s work, for much of Walk, is focused upon these contrasts, “JD” concerns a troubled young student, “Harmony” longs for a place where we can all “exhale.”  Children deal drugs to cope with tempestuous home lives, and a therapist’s office offers the only sanity for some.

Merritt’s voice is economic, and many of the poems strip away language in favor of image, a washed up door in Cape Cod, a berated wife possibly packing to flee her abusive husband, a college student pretending to be homeless for 48 hours for a class.  Merritt eschews simile and metaphor and typically goes for the throat of the matter, usually a point of clarity where the poems lenses come together, at the end, to focus on the contrasting imagery between the have and the have nots.

Merritt reminds us that it isn’t just material wealth that separates the haves from the have nots, but also the safety of home, that illusive emotional currency that is often broke. However, toward the end of the chappie, Merritt deftly handles a cheating marriage through the imagery of gardening and tree husbandry, pun intended.

We Walk Together is not a completely hopeless look at America, for the book ends on a positive note. Merritt shows us not only kindness at a busy checkout lane (where kindness is almost always sold out) but more importantly Merritt gives us a prayer for families and children in “It Has to Be Possible.”

Merritt is the author of four previous poetry collections, as well as 15 math and science books for children. She is teaching artist, active in her community in Connecticut.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

#SmallPress #Fiction #Review Michaelangelo Rodriguez's new novel is #gritfic set in #Rehoboth and other local beachtowns

Michaelangelo Rodriguez’s Delaware Shore, from Avacado media, is a novel of family drama that spans World War II, to Slaughter Beach, to the modern opioid epidemic, all while keeping the pace tight, and the realism gritty.  Rodriguez is an author and filmmaker, and a writer of various novels; Delaware Shore is currently being made into an independent film.

Agnes, the maternal head of the family, survived the holocaust, and in the first section is plunged back into the past by her neighbor, Nivek. The encounter forces Agnes to relive and recall the old loves and lives that brought her across the Atlantic to Delaware.  And if Agnes is the harried, and crazy, and sometimes pistol-toting heroine of the novel, then Tasha and Gallagher, the twins abandoned by their parents, are the novels head and heart.

Shore is loaded full of colorful characters, menacing strangers, hot strippers, rogue sailors, and Tasha and Gallagher maneuver their world, trying to figure out where they fall in it. Gallagher experiments with his sexuality and parties with the drag queen crowd, while Tasha falls in love with JJ, whom Agnes cannot stand. Wanting to be a writer, Tasha is the ever moving heroine. She thinks she makes smart decisions, but trips over her own feet, and proves to be her worst enemy.  Agnes is not the most loveable aunt in the world, for at times she is downright hateful, but she is nothing compared to Rodriguez’ Coco Man, a psychopathic and terrifying supernatural figure who haunts Tasha and her stripper friend, Mystic, in a series of hallucinogenic chapters in the novel’s third act. Coco Man represents our fears, and death, but he is also a kind of embodiment of caution. A boogie man drummed up to children to make them behave.

The novel is well paced, and written in short manageable chapters, and the dialogue is realistic without being preachy. There’s a real moral drama playing out here, and Rodriguez does not allow his characters to cop out.  

The violence that spirals out of this family’s lives symbolize the past. Tasha and Gallagher represent the young hearts trying to make sense of it all.  Coffins, and clubs, and sex and death, Delaware Shore shows us the underbelly of the American life, and how the past catches up with us.