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Recent poetry, reviewed



Company of Women
New and Selected Poems by Jayne Marek, Lylanne Musselman, and Mary Sexson
Chatter House Press

Three books of poetry. Three poets. 95 pages. Jayne Marek's The Umbrella Shore starts off the collection with her "Burn Series," which asks the question, "What if I were to climb the slopes of the mountains today/to find the place where light folds under the clouds... " In this destination "among dead trees marked by fire," Marek finds a rich vein of metaphor. With its evocative imagery, the poem inspires re-reading, as well as contemplation.

While Marek's poems are often inspired by travel, Lylanne Musselman's What She Taught Me seems more rooted in "ordinary Indiana." That's the way she describes the state in "Our New English Teacher," which finds Musselman praising her former teacher as a "dash of drama in a room full of drab denim" who inspired her to write poems that are "out of ordinary." Skipping along a few years, in "Resurrecting Poets in 2012" she wonders about the relevance of poetry in the Internet age; she also pictures Walt Whitman driving a Smart Car and Amy Lowell riding along with Dykes on Bikes.

Mary Sexson closes this collection with her Memories of an Unarchived Past. Her stunning poem "Copper Cup" reflects on a memento of sorts left by a son who has gone off to travel to Tibet, taken a new name "and not once called home." -Dan Grossman

And God Said: Let There Be Evolution!
Poems by Steve Henn
NYQ Books

Writing in fluid and engaging verse, Steve Henn pokes fun at everything on the American scene from the certainties of televangelist Pat Robertson and his ilk to the way in which high-minded academic institutions dominate contemporary poetry. Henn is at his best when he's at his most generous. In "Letter to a student, just before the Census, 2010," he asks the question to a high school student of his, "Lisa, in essence, are you not immeasurable?" It's a poem that successfully merges a jaded world view with hopeful sentiment.

Henn does go off the rails occasionally with poems that bury themselves so deeply in sarcasm that they seem devoid of all human compassion. In "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Splash Park," the poem's narrator wishes he had a camera ready so he could photograph a man walking around with a urinary drainage bag peaking out of his shorts: "At this point Bag-Of-Piss-Man's existence is about as verifiable / as the existence of the Sasquatch... " -Dan Grossman

Songs in Sepia and Black & White
Poetry by Norbert Krapf and photography by Richard Fields
Indiana University Press

The poems of former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf are kaleidoscopic in their subject matter. In this collection he writes about the music of Bob Dylan, a boyhood growing up in small town Indiana, and 9/11, among other topics. In "Virgil in Hill Country" Krapf seamlessly weaves his apparent familiarity with (and love for) the ancient Roman poet with a boyhood memory: "I see you squinting up / at a fox squirrel cutting / in a shagbark hickory / in the woods / where I hunted / with my father."

But poems that take on a more contemporary poet and songwriter - Bob Dylan - seem to lead Krapf astray. In "Arlo and Bob go Fishing," Krapf draws a strained metaphor to songwriting; and in "The Voice," Krapf waxes prosaic in outlining the one obvious hurdle to becoming a Dylan acolyte: "If you can get beyond an addiction to the merely pretty, this voice could change your life."

It's when Krapf finds connections between the natural world and his own experience that he nails it. In "The Screech Owl's Call" he recalls overhearing an owl in the dark with his brother when they were children. "Now that / my brother, more than / half a century later / has withdrawn from his / brothers and sister, I wonder / what calls he hears in the dark." The black and white photos by Richard Fields of Hoosier landscapes provide excellent accompaniment to Krapf's Songs. - Dan Grossman

Anathema: A Complete Understanding of Everything
By D.M. Ross
Anathema Hall

This miniature book (3.75 inches tall by 2.75 inches) arrived a few months back, addressed to a colleague who recently decamped for the dunes. I think it's about free will.

Here's the compete text: "IT IS a matter of control. / All things are the power to decide what will happen. / There is nothing but a chance until the end. / Search for all that can be found."

Each line break is also a page break. The book is bound in Sturdite Black Silver 209, with a gold and silver embossed cover. Do the interlocking four rings on the cover represent the four elements? Is this some kind of calling card for the Church of Satan? What is the "is" that is a "matter of control"? What to make of the tortured syntax of the second sentence? Why is there nothing but "a chance" instead of "chance"? I only have one chance? But then what am I searching for? How will I know when I find it? I fear I still have an incomplete understanding of everything. - Scott Shoger

Riley Farm-Rhymes with Country Pictures
By James Whitcomb Riley, illustrated by Will Vawter
Indiana University Press

IU Press availed itself of a digital type and other tricks of the modern trade in printing a new facsimile of Riley Farm-Rhymes, first published by the Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis in 1883. The halftone and line drawings were scanned from the best existing materials, and the text was recomposed in an Adobe Systems font, "giving the poems new life while preserving as far as possible the feeling of the 1905 edition" (the final reprint by Bobbs-Merrill). The green cover is likewise a handsome facsimile of the 1905 edition, the front board being pretty much identical (a strapping lass rising out of a field, clad in a red shirt and set against a golden setting sun).

This reader can't say he's gained a new appreciation for Riley, but this seems an essential purchase for any Riley fan, even if he or she has a copy of the original edition (because you can page through this one without fear of disturbing the historical record). Extra points to IU Press for leaving in a period "other works by Riley" page that lists prices for the collected Greenfield Edition (eleven volumes uniformly bound in sage-green cloth, gilt top, $13.50). Also available from IU Press: a 2010 facsimile edition of Riley Child-Rhymes with Hoosier Picture, likewise based on a 1905 Bobbs-Merrill edition. - Scott Shoger


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