Since 1996 Volume XXI
Janet Brennan
aka J.D. Stillwater

Poetry Reviews

By Janet Brennan


Crazed by the Sun
An Anthology

Lynn Strongin (with Glenna Luschei)


This magnificent anthology, which features some of the best poets I have read in many years, is a work to be studied for its importance and contribution to world literature.

It is divided into five parts. Each part deals with not only the sadness but also the blinding beauty of life and its many challenges. Part One; "Most this amazing day" (Childhood & Apostrophes to Sun) Part Two; "Washing Down Noodles" (Coming to the Feast) Part three; " World as Stained Glass" (Scars, Experiences) Part Four; "Deep In My Comforter" (Returning to the world after trauma) And Part Five;

"Presence we Pass Back and Forth."

Unique to this anthology is that it defines the word elegy. We should use the light which elegy sheds to illuminate the various ways in which the soul is capable of rising into ecstasy above grief.

Indeed, as a child we experience and process life far differently than as an adult. And yet, we at any age can tap into those things we best remember as a child and incorporate into our daily lives. In Liam Rector´s, "The Night the Lightning Bugs Lit Last in the Field Then Went Their Way," One senses the metaphoric ideal that completes the message in this poem.

I am an adult, I was a child, I am an adult,
and still I wonder..

"We went out into the field to get away from the others, to make Love, and there they were-hundreds
of them-lighting Last night -"

In this poem, Rector begins with the desire to make love and then quickly finds himself enveloped in his own childlike fantasy of watching firebugs and questioning what comes after the light of life goes out in the night. In his own dreamlike style of writing, the poem is ended the way that it began, made perfect in the viewing of something that he remembered as a child and now wonders about as an adult.I was especially fond of Barbara Crooker´s "Eggplants." In a sensual dance and come hither poem, Ms
Crooker aptly describes the birth of an eggplant in a symbolic gesture that eventually overcomes the

Eggplant and becomes humanistic. I felt as if I was swaying in symbolic, almost ritualistic rite of passage
tantamount to watching a young girl grow into a woman
"Cradle us in the palm of your hand,
solid and fleshy, glossy as satin,
as we pull our black silk slips
over ample curves, rounded hips.

In Part three, "The world was "Stained Glass" (Stains and Scars) "Icarus" by Charles Ade´s Fishman, sweeps us away in a young man´s desire to feel and see the world and its spectacular light. In his reckless abandon, he is drawn to the excitement of the night only to realize that he must return to a mundane existence akin to sleep. This is, to him, a fate worse than death after experiencing the wonders of the night.

"He flew toward home, but time burned slow;
how could he sleep when sleep was death
and the night had glowed like a shooting star?"
One takes away the tantalizing knowledge that this young man will fly many times in his life following
the seduction of light.

Part Four takes us into "Deep in my Comforter" (From the Birth of Light to the Death of darkness). Once again the theme of light plays into this book in perfect harmony.. Death is viewed not as an end but as a source of light once understood in its proper context and stand that it takes in each individual life.Joyce Peseroff in her "Natural Light" aptly demonstrates in this gorgeous poem how the person who has eparted from our lives can be seen and felt in everything around us.

"That summer I saw you as a bird,
A whitethroat singing O Sweet
Canada Canada but a strange sooty color,
Then as the drawf peach that had never borne
ruddy with hanging fruit, actually bedecked
like a Christmas tree, Everything promised"

And in part Five, "A Presence we Pass Back and Forth" is perhaps my favorite poem in this wonderful book. It is written by poet Steffi Weisburd and entitled "Little God Origami." In this exquisite poem of elegy and celebration, Ms Weisburd has captured the essence of life and death and the unbreakable tie between the two. She shows how all of life´s experiences help to form the essence of what is in the present and future.

"In the soul´s Space, one word on a thousand pieces
of paper the size of cookie fortunes falls from the heavens."

She has expressed what I like to think of as pieces of construction paper cut into a million pieces. They fall and scatter, yet when placed together with the glue of life, we have a complete soul. Effi Weisburd ends her poem with these words:
-Alas, the window to your soul needs a good scrubbing, so
the letters doodle into indecipherables just
like every remedy that has rained
down through history, and you realize
in your little smog of thought that death
will simply be the cessation of asking, a thousand
cranes unfolding themselves and returning to the trees."

Brilliant writing, indeed!

Lynn Strongin (with Glenna Luschei) has culled a most intriguing and thought- provoking book of Poems of Ecstasy. The writing of both introduction and poems which constitute the body of the book is varied, fluid and intelligent. It often bends the rules of traditional poems of praise in way that kept me going back into many of the poems so that I could savor their exquisite images. I was reminded of Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke in the objectivity of many of the poems in this anthology as they fit the apt quotation of the brilliant Wilke in "The silence of their concentrated reality." This is a modern and important compilation of some of the most excellent poets in the literary field today.I shall place this wonderous anthology in my own personal library for safekeeping knowing that it is there whenever my own soul needs an infusion of light.



Review of The New American: Selected Poems
by Mary Barnet

Open the pages of this book and you will enter into a world you thought you knew;

however you will quickly find yourself transported into something quite different..

This book of intelligent and stunning poetry with illustrations by her artist husband,

Richard Schiff, is indeed, a compilation of what it means to be "The New American". It is the sums total of what was and still are the values that our country was founded upon. Mary takes us into the hearts of those hardworking entrepreneurs who founded the small businesses in our country in her "At Nine we Open the Door," and "Losing Hands," only to go on to question the disappearance of these wonderful icons in her "Fourth of July", where she writes

      "My elderly mother
      Reminisces about the Civil War cannon
      "What happened to it?" she asks, quite innocently"

In her opening poem "I am Both Rich and Poor" Ms Barnet aptly describes the idiosyncrasies of life 

      "I am both Rich and Poor,
      Both happy and sad
      I am one, I am you,
      I am the changes of my life."

It is her gorgeous and vivid descriptions of a day on the lake in her poem "Little Man" where she blends reality and metaphor in a willow-dance that marks this gem of a poem as my favorite in the book. In this poem, she shows how fear can sometimes be our greatest adversary and triumph at the same time and how we, as humans are titillated

by the knowledge that one begets the other.
      "In eager anticipation of a journey over his lake
      Richard braced his hand
      And he climbed his Mt. Everest
      Into our canoe."

Then goes on to show how overcoming that fear brought about a union bound by both nature and soul

      "We gawked as one
      At turtles large and yellow-spotted
      Egrets by the shore
      And a forest of barely conceived pines
      Beginning to rise from their lake
      Into the fresh, stirring
      Soup, primordial as we and our sky"

Mary Barnet does something and she does it well. She weaves her own images of her beautiful homeland into her poetry as only a lover of life can do. Barnet successfully manages to realize that there are always questions and it is not necessary to have answers 

In "The Sermon" she writes

      "She found, as of by instinct
      The World she had dreamed of so long ago
      She felt not alone but rather full of peace
      The peace that one finds in a good word
      And in a smile
      The sermon she had come to hear was
      Life itself."

Clearly it is important to this magnificent poet that it is essential to spend time in the question of life and love n her breathtaking "Quiet Time" she reflects

      "I cannot write a word
      Or choose a rhyme.
      But I listen
      To my own quiet time.
      I believe
      In silence there is a song."

As I finished this book of 98 pages, I realized that her opening poem was actually an answer to her final poem in the book.

Question or Answer

      What question is it?
      Or which answer
      Reveals itself in the wind?
      Whistling past this house
      Howling from out our windows
      Changing to quietly falling snow?".

This book is a jewel to savor and tuck under your pillow for future reading. It is intelligent, imaginative and one of those rare pieces of art that will live long into the future. 

-- Janet K. Brennan



Seven Places in America
by Miriam Sagan

Having completed this unusual and lovely book, “Seven Places in America” by poet, Miriam Sagan, I found that I had read more than a book of poetry. This writer took me on a journey along the off roads and byways of my country. Although I have visited these places, I never saw them through the eyes of this ingenious and multi-talented writer.

Sagan chose to go into the heart of America and take up residence in places that are seldom thought of as places of the heart. Only a unique tourist yearns to gather in these places where humanity is defined at its best; someone who can find the ultimate, thriving life which abounds in these soul-feeding places. Poet Sagan is just that person. She is a hunter and a gatherer. Although she has chosen seven pristine and desolate places, her metaphoric poetry brings to life those exquisite things that spring off the beaten path and into the heart of the reader. As many writers do, Poet Sagan prefers to work in obsolete and naked rooms, void of any character or significance. She can easily pull up a make shift table or use a pile of hard rocks to carve what will turn into a magnificent poem about where she is staying and the things she saw during her time there.Sagan expresses a brand of pain when she finds herself becoming too enmeshed in the landscape and often states that she needs to retreat, lest she lose herself in the beauty and not be able to return to what she adeptly defines as her life.

In "Thousand Islands," Everglades National Park, Florida, December 2006: An Exotic Solitude

I longed for departure

As if it were love

As if it could take me out

Of myself, of my accustomed way -

Metaphorically perfect is her description of the mangroves with their roots reaching into the murky water hoping to find a way to explode with life, knowing instinctively that they will.And in “The Poinsettia” she describes the plant as if she had never really seen it before, taking in its elegance and spiritual kinship gracing her table; a companion to her sometimes-lonely moments in what is a hostile environment.

It sat there as the hours

Passed, and days as I ate

My quiet meals.

Petrified Forest, Arizona, May 2008: Time made Visible

In this desolate and multi colored panorama of trees turned to rock over the centuries, Sagan guides us through what it means to be truly alone and yet, not lonely. She shows how all we need to do is tap into the energy around us and sift the gold that can be found in an echo or a night of solitude. She owns all that is around her, including the chair that she sits on to sort her writings and the picnic table that she uses to bare her soul in her poetry. This is not her first visit to the badlands. She has, in fact, been here as a child on a family vacation. Now she is

going full circle.

In her poem “Curio” she writes:

Tonight the full moon

Hangs enormous, and then rises

Over the Chinle badlands

The reason I’m here to see it

Is what spoke to me

Just at the edge

Of childhood

Andrews Experimental Forest, October, 2009: Compost

This quite possibly is my favorite section of Sagan’s book. Here she visits a forest in the lower Cascades. Not only does this poet live in the forest, but she lives with the forest. I was stunned to read her description of the cuts that were made in some of the trees.

This was like seeing people or animals being mistreated, and I understood the trees as living beings, not as resources.

In her poem "Rustic."

If old growth means never logged

Then I am not old growth -

Fern, moss, lichen, nurse log -

I’ve been cut, and more than once

Who hasn’t by middle age

This book of poetry by Miriam Sagan is complex in that it deals with the tangible world around us and yet manages to reach out and weave together metaphysical aspects, just as Henry David Thoreau did with his own poetic sensible and
philosophic poetry, a true talent.



Copyright, 2017Janet K. Brennan.
All Rights Reserved.

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Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan