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Posts from the ‘REVIEWS’ Category

3
Aug

BEAUTIFUL SNARE by Laurie Jameson

BEAUTIFUL SNARE by Laurie Jameson. (2012. Seven Oaks Publishing, Llano Texas.) 320pp.
        $14.99
        (Kindle $7.99)

        Amazon

 

BEAUTIFUL SNARE may be a quick, invigorating read set in Celtic Britain, but it is not without the often-overlooked and delicate details that make it real and captivating, not without the earthy myths that envelope the reader in an enduring veil of another time and place. Laurie Jameson’s first novel, ‘Book One in the Spirited Women Series’, the author may be better known to readers of Dry Crik Review as the poet, Laurie Wagner Buyer.

Like the dutiful Ywain, I fell in love with Bekah on her tumultuous quest to save her people and her land from the invading Romans, intrigued by her divine visions from the Goddess of the Otherworld, by the guiding ghosts of the dead, and the pantheistic realm in which this tale is set. A story of love and unrelenting loyalty balanced against a winless war, Bekah relinquishes all for the sake of her people.

With a tasteful amount of ingenious erotic passages, Jameson’s prose style is as polished as her poetry, descriptive paragraphs full of colors and fragrances, with assonance and solid breath beats, the reader floats as if watching the landscape and all its creatures unfold into another world. These vivid descriptions are felt as in a theater. And a movie, this novel could be.

But one cannot ignore the application of this book to our ongoing impacts to Mother Earth, to the failure of male-dominated cultures and religions to sustain her worth. Jameson’s alternative view throughout BEAUTIFUL SNARE is a refreshing, hopeful and exciting place to be captured. Read it. – JCD

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25
Jan

DIRT SONGS: A PLAINS DUET

Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet. By Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom. (2011. The Backwaters Press, 3502 N. 52nd Street, Omaha, Nebraska 68104-3506) 146 pp. $16.

I must admit to some reservations as I eased slowly into this collection of poetry, skeptical that the voices of two contemporary female poets from the mid-west might actually harmonize well enough to think: duet. I didn’t know Twyla Hansen’s work, but being fairly familiar with Linda’s no-nonsense poetry (“Instead of a Death Wish” and “My Uncle Harold Makes Up His Mind” included in this online issue of Dry Crik Review, also appear in this collection), made ‘songs’ in the book’s title somewhat of a stretch for me. But I was wrong.

With this duet dedicated to William Kloefkorn, I have instead become a devout fan of Twyla Hansen’s lines that resonate truthfully and personally:

                    there in a tangle of leaves, in a land of feast and famine,
                    among pears and feeder calves, pines and manure,
                    sweet clover and silage, under the indifferent farmyard sun
                    where for a brief lifetime my brother and I were one.

                    (“Green Apples”)

reminding of that ‘brief lifetime’ shared by my sister and I as children with no one but ourselves to create adventures and wild imaginings. Her titles and subject matter may seem simple and rural, perhaps basic and commonplace compared to what I read from other places, but Hansen’s wide range of consideration, of feeling and a thorough understanding of these basic things celebrates and invigorates the seemingly more mundane aspects of farm life into rich and captivating poetry.

Even though each word has found its place, her language well chosen and consistently real throughout this collection, in her poem “Perfection”, I am so pleased that Hansen concludes:

                    As in trees and in language, a beautiful thing is never perfect.

                    Surely the Neanderthals adapted, related tales of their own survival.
                    The long-ago storyteller in me twitches: I am tireless but to try.
                    Besides, isn’t perfection overrated? Let’s get it roughly right.

But one of many examples of their harmony in this collection, Linda Hasselstrom uses some apt advice from William Stafford in her poem “When a Poet Dies”: When poetry comes hard,/ lower your standards and keep writing, a common chord from a stingy landscape, from rigid folks determined to make a living from the dirt—these are sisters singing “A Plains Duet”.

That I’ve been an advocate for Linda Hasselstrom’s poetry for a long time is probably no secret in my small circle, but the imagery in one of her longer poems, “1971: Across From the Packing Plant”, juxtaposed with those of an unfaithful husband, quakes to darker depths:

                    The knocking of the hammer has begun
                    delivering its metered message.
                    Tonight my husband sings the songs
                    he used to sing to me, but I hear death
                    across the street. Another steer
                    begins to moan, I step outside the door.
                    Soon the butchers will come out to smoke.
                    They’ll hang their gory aprons
                    by the door and wipe the fresh blood from their shoes.
                    And all night long I’ll hear the hammer beat
                    its rhythm, and the howl of blood and death.

There is no false romanticism, no floaty nature poetry, no weak pieces here from either poet, each one a study and delight for me to read, reassured now that “Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet” will be heard for a long time. Thank-you both, we are so blessed.

-JCD

23
Jan

ACORNS AND ABALONE

Acorns and Abalone. By Sylvia Ross. (2011. Bentley Avenue Books, P.O. Box 44040, Lemon Cove, CA 93244) 99 pp. $10.

By reading her poetry and prose, one doesn’t need Sylvia Ross’ family tree to tell she’s native, that she’s Chukchansi, a sub-tribe of the Yokuts that solely occupied the ground around Yosemite, California. And one doesn’t need to study society today to see that the majority is missing some basic understandings about the earth that has sustained us all. Her poetry offers natural windows to her life, without squeamishness or contemporary judgment, where she can hold back witness/ that a broken shell is no more/ beautiful than a beach sand feather. (“THE SEAGULLS’ BANQUET”) At once the reader realizes how we tend to sort our natural surroundings into a hierarchy, and only then to endure its consternation, whether to favor predator or prey. The poet diffuses this baseless order of importance, suggesting she might be both—not unlike comparing children, she would love who they were—by offering the beauty and satisfaction of a much bigger picture in this poem.

A former illustrator for Walt Disney and author of several children’s books, Ross sees herself and her sister as ‘bear women’ with ‘great bear women arms’:

                                We have the power
                                To crash through brush, to smash
                                The clouds and pluck down stars
                                And make a meal.
                                Sister, tonight your voice
                                Brings our mother back to us.
                                Her great bear woman presence
                                Fills all the space
                                Of this room.

                                (“SISTERS”)

So often disconnected from family, few today would see themselves and be so wholly remembered in the form of an animal, but such identities can pack long-lasting power that can trigger memory and presence. Instead we tend to see ourselves in the form of actors or athletes—but for the most part, nothing very permanent.

I also enjoyed the vernacular, the ‘pigeon-English’, because of its plain and simple way of getting things said, a minimalism of sorts appearing in some of the prose and poems that rings truly. There are varied pieces with varied styles, but all with the theme of family and a native culture that endures. This book is dedicated to the resilience of the early women of the West—and to the present women of her family who continue to thrive in its rugged landscape.

                                She says the best knitters of any were her own ancestors
                                Back in Ireland. Her granddaughter Denine works down at the
                                Taco Bell since summer. I ask her if Denine knows how
                                To knit them fine fishermen sweaters. She says kids today
                                Just don’t want to learn nothing what takes time.

                                (“CONVERSATION”)

A delightful read with depth and force, this collection of work refreshes the senses
to help us suppose:

                                VERTEBRAL DOGGEREL

                                Would it be so difficult to cope
                                with being an ant?
                                It might be nice to be
                                an ant or roach or scorpion,
                                often social, ever industrious.
                                One might hope
                                thoughts more relevant
                                would arise from neurons safely
                                inside an exoskeleton,
                                that ideas, grand and illustrious,
                                would find firing there superior—
                                unimpeded by a bony interior.

-JCD

18
Jan

METACOWBOY: poems

METACOWBOY: poems. By Rodney Nelson. (2011. The Moon Publishing and Printing The Moon) 34 pp. $14

These are brilliant and delightful poems that soothe mind and heart—unique insights to a life and landscape North Dakotan Rodney Nelson introduces and shares from the inside out and visa-versa, an intertwining of mind and place that is light at times, but more often captivating. (Try as I might to merge this Rodney Nelson with the Rodney Nelson of Cowboy Poetry stages, these North Dakotans are not one in the same.)

These poems move on the page without (permission or) punctuation, each word demanding equal weight, each line its own, often offset as asides in a poem. The closest adherence to form among these thirty poems, some of which have debuted previously in as many as fifteen different small press publications, is “CHANTS FROM NO ONE OTHER”, an excerpt from his longer narrative poem “NO ONE OTHER” that reminds me slightly of a villanelle without the rhyme. But it is the ease in which Nelson navigates his poetic plane, from muddy flats and prairie sage to mountain ranges triggering connected meanings that intrigues me, where more than a memory/ of juniper scent will draw you up/ and make you content to live/ the morning (“BELONG”).

There is a well-thought sadness here, but an acceptance that seldom weighs heavily as the poet escapes with a grin:

                    where men have made a heap of boulders that
                    have no right home in the drought-cracked mud flats here and
                    amid them an only sunflower is working
                    toward tall and I hear the clamant young voice of
                    a crow on the woody other bank
                                        why do I
                    get a hello smile
                                        every young brown woman
                                        of them I meet
                    not one afoot however
                                        they
                                        go wheeling
                    away from the last elm in the world
                                        maybe
                    they know I have nothing on under
                    my skin or maybe its my old Yuma hat

                    (“YUMA HAT”)

Not unlike crossing the Great Basin for me, these poems come from great spaces that ring timelessly, yet familiar, almost as if any inhabitant, man or beast, could have felt and written them down, or as if they were indelibly etched in the land. It is

                                        late afternoon
                    but I had a nose for the world now
                    and knew witch hazel when I smelled it

                    (“EAST OF WALLA WALLA”)

This small but special collection of poems offers a native’s eye and heart. Five Stars!
-JCD

16
Jan

WE DROVE ALL NIGHT

                                        
WE DROVE ALL NIGHT. By Red Shuttleworth. (Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box 1506, Georgetown, Kentucky 40324) 25 pp. $12.

Red Shuttleworth covers a lot of ground with this little chapbook of 22 poems. His vistas are varied and wide between lines that look in, as well as out, upon the unique West that we’ve inherited and occupy with the time-clash of ‘kettle-bang thunder’ as each image bucks and runs into the next. With bright and incisive eye, he stirs paradoxes with some tenderness by offering seductive glimpses of real people and places—only barely different from ourselves. ‘Champion roper at twelve,’ “Barbara Moffett (1940)” strips at Hollywood’s Florentine Gardens:
                                        

                                               …orchidaceous. But next spring,
                    road money earned, she hopes to win the Saugus Rodeo,
                    have a beer, go shirttail to the frisky wind.

Or the conversation between prizefighters Stanley Ketchel and “Jack Johnson (1909)”:

                    When I think about God,
                    Ketchel says, it makes me cry.
                    Nail holes never heal. Johnson grins,
                    Circle God to his left, unload a right.

Each snapshop colorful, Shuttleworth can either ride through town on a gust or make a study of human nature

                    with a jar of Kessler’s whiskey and water
                    in yet one more deadfall groggery
                    with some ruddy, pocked, half-starved
                    barn dog claiming direct decent
                    from Bat Masterson or Pearl Starr.

With the hard facts, his poetry is almost always sensual, and sometimes voyeuristic as he reasonably ignores his father’s advice in “Tip Fogarty (1963)”:

                    But I love how she poses in the midnight center
                    of her daddy’s pasture, the robe untied, quarter smile,
                    smackin’ hot in the thick white headlight beams
                    of my Dodge pick-up, like a special picnic treat,
                    not one flaw from God, no silly teasing,
                    like I’m some Swedish film director
                    at the high noon of his heart’s requirements.

Our native correspondent, only Red Shuttleworth offers this mirror to, of and from the West we might not otherwise see. “We Drove All Night” is a delightful ride to sip and take slowly, to enjoy and digest.
-JCD

13
Jul

51: 30 POEMS, 20 LYRICS, 1 SELF-INTERVIEW

51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview. By Paul Zarzyski. Foreword by Tom Russell. (Bangtail Press, P.O. Box 11262, Bozeman, MT 59719) 249 pp. $20. Bangtail Press

For the poet, a review is feedback, and for potential readers and book sales, a review can offer the flavor of a work with hopefully some unique insight. Tom Russell’s Foreword to this collection concludes, “Read this book. A little of the passion might rub off on all of us, and edge us towards the poetic redemption we need and crave.”

I couldn’t agree more, but if the world needs and craves ‘poetic redemption’ so much, why in the hell hasn’t someone seriously reviewed “51”? It ought to get the 2012 Wrangler Award (National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) from my narrow and prejudiced perspective, not because Paul is my dear friend, but because no one else comes close to the originality of these poems and songs, no one living west of the Mississippi has encompassed more compassion and consideration as his Self-Interview.

For a flavor of the poems and lyrics (songs), as well as a taste of this passion, see the four pieces published here in DCR that are included in this collection, like “Bob Dylan’s Bronc Song,” the 2010 Spur Award winning poem from the Western Writers of America. My current favorite of them all, however, is “Red Light” written In Memory of Carole DeMarinis.

                Revved-up on lust in the crosswalk
                two fledgling teens, holding hands,
                flaunt, preen, promenade, strut
                their youth with cockle-doodle-doo pomp
                just one vintage Chevrolet hood’s length away
                from me—in my fifties, of the sixties—caught
                somewhere between sock hops and Woodstock,
                between Viet Nam and Iraq
                in this stoplight time warp, radio
                tuned to the oldies station—shaboom-
                shaboom
to “Tombstone Blues”
                to let it be, let it be, so loud
                these lovebirds, joined at the thigh,
                glance my way. Never before have they
                been lit into flames by such
                a large scarlet car, vermillion paint
                framed in polished chrome, front bumper
                distorting their onemess of love
                like a funhouse mirror.
                                                I strain
                my hippest black-cowboy-hatted-
                in-lieu-of-full-head-of-hair-
                over salt’n’-pepper mustached
                grin, flex my sinew, my buff
                forearm out the window like a buzzard’s wing,
                drape my right bicep
                oh-so-bitchin’ and groovy
                man…I mean “dude”…
                over the seatback. All this pose
                lacks is a pack of Luckys,
                a lariat loop slow motion smoke ring
                floating into some noir
                plot, the moody James Dean, young
                Brando or Newman sitting in for me
                as a body double.
                                                The couple, in unison,
                smiles—teeth brighter than simonized chrome
                over a pair of four-barreled-carb hearts,
                skin, tighter, smoother, more gloss
                than any new paint job, washed and chamoised,
                chatoyant in the noon sun. The girl
                lip-syncs two syllables, unfurling, bending
                them into a sensual red symphony—“sweeeet
                riiiii-ddde
”—with a slight kiss-
                tossing lift of her chin that teases
                her onyx-black hair
                away from the exact spot
                upon her cheek where I fantasize
                placing a platonic peck
                of pure gratitude.
                                                Long after
                the light turns green, I sit idling
                in neutral—beyond lust, beyond
                life’s rearview noise—yearning only
                to soak in this innocence,
                meld it with my own
                long ago and yesterday, both
                always and never in a simpler time,
                a more perfect world, any world
                less tormented by war. What I want
                desperately to remember of this hopeful
                episode is the metaphorical deep pink
                double-fisted-his-and-her
                fingers clutched together, raised
                toward me in revolutionary salute, prayer,
                praise and mourning to youth, crimson-needled
                arc of darling years
                puched 0-to-60 in the lurid
                blue of far, far, far too few seconds.

In the running with “Red Light,” an excerpt from “What of the Ugly?”

                                                The ugly go out of their way
                to say the Lord’s name in vain
                while praying for parity in heaven or,
                better yet, getting even
                in hell. The ugly know
                things will get much uglier, but we refuse to
                fear death.

and a slice of “Good Friday”, lamenting the loss of his father:

                                                Prayerless
                with faith, I will launch
                my lucky bait into the mystery
                riddled with apparitions. I will keep vigil,
                lean with the weight of all my heart
                into the fogged mirror, my hands splayed,
                fingers flattened against the glass,
                against the murky depths. Mesmerized,
                I will yearn until I fiercely see again
                someone here I can love to believe in.

Also, an excerpt from “Rubatto: Stolen Time”:

                                                I know nothing of
                sequels, encores, postscripts,
                altered states in the wake
                of our last systolic starburst of blood
                into the arteries. The visceral
                aftermath of sadness, nevertheless,
                becomes more my bailiwick
                with age.

Of the 20 Lyrics, the collaborative impact of writing songs plays out interestingly on the page as style, as tune and meter, and as musicians change. And one might argue that songs tend to be lighter, often more predictable, than poems, especially without music. Working within these varied structures drawn from more than a decade of songwriting, Zarzyski offers another dimension, another caliber in his arsenal, as a writer that not only enhances this powerfully diverse collection of poetry, but brings his poetic perspective home from another angle. Written solo, “No Forbidden Flowers” (included in DCR), a lovely tribute to our fading generation, remains high on my list as both poem and song.

But the very real pièce de résistance is Zarzyski’s Self-Interview, five enlightening rounds of sparring with himself about living and writing with passion, about the stage and the page, about religion, and all with such consideration balancing the sensitive with the sensible, it is a candid and risky glimpse into what makes this accomplished poet tick.

So fresh from reading “51” last April, I am including a portion of my email to Paul for this review: I had thought my hot, dark-thirty shower would help distill and coalesce a brilliant response to ‘51’ apart from “Well done!” – having saved Round Five for my early morning satisfaction, in lieu of my usual mental masturbation of filling a blank sheet with words. You covered a lot of ground, and I loved every round. ‘To be continued’, there are, of course, 5 more, at least, to go.

Yeah, I think the ‘Self-Interview’ is important, as do you, or you wouldn’t have done it – more than a therapeutic rant, more than a self-indulgent memoir, you wield both meat cleaver and scalpel to bare the bones to a creative process without a gram of academic snoot, making it accessible to all on Planet Earth, to the gods and muses, but especially the hands-on, blue collar crowd – and that’s important! How many postured @#$%^&s are there on the cowboy stages, and elsewhere, that need the green light to reach inside and be themselves, to be OK with being human?

And isn’t that the poet’s job? As TR said, “Read this book.”

-JCD

19
May

RIGHTFUL PLACE by Amy Hale Auker

RIGHTFUL PLACE. By Amy Hale Auker, with forward by Linda M. Hasselstrom. (Texas Tech University Press, 2011. 2903 4th Street, Suite 201, Lubbock, Texas 79409) 156 pp. cloth $24.95 http://ttupress.org/

Modern Western ranch life isn’t a subject I thought I’d be moved by—until I read this small, out-of-nowhere essay collection, Amy Hale Auker’s Rightful Place.

It’s an eloquent yet hard-bitten book that completely changed this city slicker’s attitude toward Texas cowboy life, despite the fact that I’ve read and reviewed many similar literary efforts; now those other works seem slight by comparison. I didn’t so much turn pages as live inside them, transported by Auker’s unfussy, unflinchingly precise prose. She casts a spell of language I can’t shake off.

In the very first essay, “Waking Up,” Auker confesses that she wasn’t cut out for anything less than working in a cow camp. “College was a groomed and manicured world where the clock ruled and my dorm room was the size of a coffin,” she writes. “I missed the sky.” After a short but intense struggle to find a place in the automated, suburbanized landscape of late-20th-century America, she opts to follow her father’s only real life lesson: Never leave the land.

At 19, she marries a ranch cowboy, Nick, and spends the next 20 years or so cooking for cowboys at spring camps, having a couple of kids and writing columns for “Western magazines and small-town weekly newspapers.”

What kind of guy is Nick? Well, if you’ve never met a ranch cowboy, here’s an excerpt, describing the couple’s first Christmas together, that sums up him—and his marriage to Auker—pretty well:

The only problem, that first year, was that when we got all of the glass balls and painted wooden ornaments hung on the tree, we realized that I had forgotten to buy a star for the top. Nick sat down with his pocketknife and built one out of a beer box and a roll of tinfoil. Though it has been refurbished with new foil from time to time, that beer-box star is still the last thing to go on our tree each year.

It’s not all on-the-cheap improvisation for Auker; there’s hard work, too. For instance, in the excruciatingly vivid “Facing North,” she and her family assume branding and vaccination duties for 200 recently arrived Mexican steers, even as a storm from the north approaches.

The head gate slams shut on yet another steer as he attempts to leap through the keyhole for freedom. I squeeze the triggers on the airplane-shaped vaccine guns, one shot in the neck, one in the hip. … My hands are cramped and chapped. Periodically I stop to change needles, yanking the dull one off with a pair of pliers, dropping it into the trash barrel, carefully uncapping and fitting on a new sharp one.

Gruesome as the task sounds, Auker and her clan need to eat, and after applying Nick’s ChapStick by “ignoring the bits of dirt and snuff stuck to its surface,” the food she prepared spills out like a poem of mercy lodged within in an epic novel of scientific doom: “The trip north is quiet after I open our lunch sack and pass out still-warm tortillas filled with roast beef and cheese and wrapped in tinfoil; green, crisp apples; crumbly squares of chocolate cake.” In other words, Auker is no Luddite cattle-industry reformer criticizing the use of antibiotics. Rather, she understands the tradeoffs we as a people, as a species, often make.

At the same time, her focus and concern is on her family and the land. Indeed, the two are often synonymous, especially in her meditative descriptions of watching the Texas landscape in action. But her most compelling passages occur in isolation, as in “Harvest,” after the sun has set, and her family is sleeping.

Tonight the moon is fat on the horizon. Coyote pups wrestle and nip at each other at the bottom of a maroon cut bank. Their mother lopes up out of the draw and points her nose in a song that sails out over the prairie. Later she’ll bring fat quail and drop them at the half-grown pups’ feet. After their supper she’ll teach them a rapid staccato yip while the feathers drift away on the breeze.

This high level of powerful imagery and language mark every page of Auker’s debut; indeed, Rightful Place does everything right. If you wish to understand how a woman can find happiness, forget Eat Pray Love. Auker, who now resides in Arizona, will remind you why, when you were kid, the land—or just nature in general—felt so much closer, and why you never should have left it.

by Jarret Keene

reprinted with permission from the Tucson Weekly

11
Apr

HORSE TRACKS by Real Bird

HORSE TRACKS. By Henry Real Bird. (2010 Lost Horse Press, 105 Lost Horse Lane, Sandpoint, ID 83864) 111 pp. $18. Lost Horse Press

Poet Laureate of Montana, Henry Real Bird was raised, resides and is active within his culture and community of Garryowen, not far from Hardin and the Little Big Horn River. With these eyes, he sees, speaks and thinks in Crow (Apsáalooke), leaving rhythmic and descriptive poems displaying a minimalist style upon our doorstep – and so feeds the spirit of being human. [I can’t help but be reminded of our native (Sierra Nevada foothills) Yokuts leaving food upon the doorsteps of early settlers to preclude the use of guns that scared their game.]

The natural world and Real Bird’s rich relationship with it, its wild and domestic characters, is intriguing and rare. I am drawn to his syntax, as I was drawn many years ago to BLACK ELK SPEAKS, investigating a structure that might better fit this seemingly simple, yet subtly pantheistic, life with livestock, on this or any grazing ground. He writes with respect and an ingrained understanding of how things work together in nature, with the depth of ancestral wisdom and myth, and of course with feelings – his great heart open to the world.

                                ROBIN

                                Lost to a memory
                                In a sky of dreams
                                Where a kiss was temporary,
                                This feeling beams
                                A scent of life
                                In light golden yellow frost;
                                The bittersweet cold
                                Tinkling where rivers go,
                                A drifter
                                Floating through time
                                Where memories live
                                In early winter moon
                                The crystal dragonfly is
                                Alive in a moment,
                                Just wanted to know
                                That tomorrow was there,
                                In past future perfect feeling.
                                Love is a lasting moment,
                                A robin in winter sky.

Perhaps most consistent throughout this collection is the unending, yet accomplished, quest for the spiritual, To be connected with Mother Earth (“Night and Day”), whether ghost writings/On dead trees, under the bark (“Ramblin’”) or These horses have a soul (“Rivers of Horse”), Real Bird gives us eyes to see things differently, and plainly. I found these poems uplifting and visual, with insight into a culture I don’t know, to become alternative and viable perspectives to cherish, or listen to when riding out alone – ancestors trickling down the veins (“Bird Horse”).

                                Clouds lift up Ruby Valley
                                As the medicine man unveils
                                Feelings of illusion.
                                The poet paints with wails
                                Of inner heart commotion,
                                Life is a song of feelings.

                                              (“Eyes Take Out”)

Writing in the moment, his treatment of the past, present and the future fuse together matter-of-factly, In cosmic universal alliance walk (“Mass In Crow”), no one tense favored in his thinking or writing. Steeped in his culture, one might think a longing for the old ways would be more evident in his poetry, within a culture dealing with tribal politics, drugs and alcohol, or ever-hopeful in the promises of more lucrative days ahead, but it’s not, because these poems live on a spiritual plane all their own. I hear his chanting voice when I read these poems, perhaps songs that are continuous moments within which he re-finds himself and his heart, and that he selflessly gives to us in HORSE TRACKS.

                                Then I remembered myself, as feeling in wind,
                                The vision of a feeling drives the heart
                                Slowly through a life where people hide
                                From themselves in thick underbrush,
                                In the shadows of their hearts.
                                I want nothing to cling to your heart
                                As you go riding in life.
                                That is what I’ve asked for you.

                                              (“Vision”)

-JCD

5
Apr

BREATHING, IN DUST

By Tim Z. Hernandez (Texas Tech University Press, 2010. 2903 4th Street, Suite 201, Lubbock, Texas 79409) 192 pp. Cloth $26.95 www.ttuo.edu

Tim Z. Hernandez’s writing isn’t new to me. A few years ago, at the U.C.L.A. Book Fair, I bought a copy of his book, SKIN TAX, because I liked its cover. Of course no one can tell a book by its cover, but I liked the title too. The purchase, justified.

Opening SKIN TAX, as my husband and I were driving north on 99 coming home, I found myself overwhelmed. The words in the book were even more beautiful than the cover. The poems sang of life in this valley, life elemental, life I saw around me, life I shared. My husband drove; I read to him. We both recognized a voice singing the pure music of language with an unusual power and an honest eloquence.

BREATHING, IN DUST, Tim’s new novel is gut-bustingly, heart-rendingly graphic. It is a difficult book to read, because it holds nothing back. But it is truly an unforgettable book, so emotionally wrenching that a reader must stop and mark a page, to rest for a time, before being able to read further.
It has been over a month since I read the book, and I have read other good novels in the interim. But chapters from in BREATHING, IN DUST stay in my mind as whole units. They will not leave. BREATHING, IN DUST is a profound book of adversity and pain, and also triumph. At the end of this book, not only has Tlaloc, the protagonist, risen from its pages to a secure place in the reader’s pantheon of memorable literary figures, but its lesser characters: Zeta, Alajandro, Jesus, Talina, even a bakery truck driver, have emerged as both the saints and martyrs of California’s Central Valley. They, too, are the book’s heroes.

Challenging James Baldwin and John Steinbeck, Tim Z. Hernandez’s triumphant novel will hold a place in the ranks of American writers of social conscience through its sensitive humanity. But this author’s glorious attention to the rhythms, sounds, and nuance of language make the book transcend journalistic goals. BREATHING, IN DUST is literature. I’m proud that such a book came from a writer here in the region of America where I live.

A beautiful child, who worked hard at his spelling and times-tables, was killed in a drive-by six years after he left my third grade classroom. He wasn’t the target of the shooting, merely present in the same house. He shared no guilt. As so often happens here, he was another accidental victim. I’ve never found the words to write out the harrowing grief I felt.

Thank you, Tim. You know the words, and have spoken them for me.
– Sylvia Ross

5
Apr

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES: A HAIKU JOURNAL

By Laurie Wagner Buyer. (Filter Press LLC, 2009. P.O. Box 95, Palmer Lake, CO 80133) Paper $12.95. www.FilterPressBooks.com

In 1994, Laurie received the ‘Dry Crik Chapbook Award’ recognizing ‘the poetic achievement of a past contributor to Dry Crik Review – an individual whose work furthers the understanding & connection of man to the land’. That 1995 print run of BLUE HERON has long been out of print. INFINITE POSSIBILITIES is her fifth poetry title since then. ACROSS THE HIGH DIVIDE from Ghost Road Press received the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America in 2007.

The prospect of recouping printing costs for a collection of haiku is a real challenge for a small press in these times. Each of Laurie’s haiku is delightfully personal and insightful, but this is more than just haiku because Filter Press has designed the book to be an attractive journal as well. None of the pages of INFINITE POSSIBILITIES is numbered and each is nearly blank without lines, save for two or three of Laurie’s haiku at the top or the bottom, allowing readers lots of room to put their own thoughts down.

                                Give me one more chance
                                to dance naked in the moon light
                                capture childish joy.

The book may be aimed towards women writers, but I intend to keep my copy on top of my desk and try to use it regularly, let Laurie’s haiku trigger lines of my own first thing in the morning. She wrote these 365 haiku during a year while she and her late husband were ranching near Fairplay, each one a specific observation or little epiphany from that Rocky Mountain landscape.

                                Was that a blackbird
                                or just the squeaky gate hinge
                                in my husband’s hands?

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES makes a perfect gift for introspective friends and writers, to become a special place ready to record daily thoughts and events in more artful ways than ordinary journals.

                                Sun and wind on skin
                                not one single thought intrudes
                                in this seduction.

This is a refreshing collection consistent with Laurie’s unique ability to capture and get in touch with her natural surroundings, succinct perspectives to be digested and enjoyed.
– JCD