Author Spotlight | Geza Tatrallyay

“piano of ebony, symbol of my life:

My poor soul, like yours is ravished of happiness:

You lack an artist, and I the true ideal”

Cover final HRToday I am doing an author spotlight on poet and thriller/mystery writer Geza Tatrallyay. He is an excellent read for the month of November as he has written three memoirs—all perfect for the Nonfiction November. I often find that focusing on living authors I sometimes lack the ‘awe’ of having a biography filled with adventure to introduce the work, but in this case I have an exception. Tatrallyay was born in Hungary. Under the Communist regime his family escaped and immigrated to Canada. He captured this journey in the memoir: For the Children. He graduated with a BA from Harvard in 1972, and as a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford in 1974—two achievements I can only dream of—topping it off with an MSc from London School of Economics. In addition, Tatrallyay represented Canada in epee fencing at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal—the same event where Nadia Comaneci got the perfect 10. Events I only read about, Tatrallyay experienced firsthand not as a viewer but as an active participant. He also worked as a host at the Ontario Pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan where he helped three Czechoslovak women defect to Canada which he captures in the memoir The Expo Affair. He now lives in Vermont, and writes mystery/thriller novels, currently focusing on the Twisted Trilogy, the first two books of which are already out: Twisted Reasons, and Twisted Traffic. If you enjoy Stieg Larsson, or Graham Greene, you should certainly give Tatrallyay’s fiction works a try. You can also be caught up by the time the third book comes out. I can go on and on but what I would like to review today is his poetry collection Cello’s Tears.

Cello’s Tears is a perfect combination of all of Tatrallyay’s life experiences. Death, love, and growth are all explored at different points in his life. Abriana Jetté mentions in the foreword to this collection that “his brain exists in two spaces; our speaker thinks in multiple languages.” The collection is divided in four parts–similar to the four movements in a symphonic form. Part One is titled “Teardrops” and focuses on growth and life experiences. The section begins with ‘echoes,’ mere sounds we make as we grow before we become our own individuals. It ends with a poem titled “The Death of My Mother.” The death of the mother as the end of a section is symbolic of the day we are all truly cut off from the care of our parents and must search the world alone. Their protection is always there, like a shadow. The figure of the mother named Lily—a fragile flower—is depicted as an idyllic almost fairytale-like mother whereupon her death:

“we curse a perverse god / who dared crush the perfect / lily that was your life.”

Section two and three are “Concerto,” and “Pictures at an Exhibition” where Tatrallyay explores the artistic and musical. References are made to artists, locations, and cultural symbols. Tatrallyay combines elements from both the East and West, merging them together in verse with the themes uniting us all: music and nature.

“moments musicaux / Float into the night ether/ … Toward the black hole / Of thermodynamic/ Annihaltion/ Of everlasting death.”

Lastly, the fourth section “Unanswered Questions” opens up opportunities for unifying questions, and the basis of philosophy ending with the poem “Dollops of Drivel.” In the introduction, Tatrallyay says that he tries to capture the Wittgensteinian frustration with the inherent impossibility of communicating the fullness of one’s feelings. He writes in this last poem:

“why are there no words to convey the raw / And burning beauty of this energy / Bursting inside my heart, my mind, my soul?”

What I loved about this collection was that 1. We get glimpses of the poet in different stages of his life and 2. the ways in which he plays with format. There are several haikus scattered, and each poem is never too long-winded. They are succinct and capture the intensity of the moment within a few lines, while simultaneously not suppressing the rawness of each experience.

I loved this collection and I would recommend it to everyone who enjoys poetry. I hope I captured some of the parts that made this work beautiful without giving too much away, and that it makes you want to read it for yourself. The good news: Tatrallyay will have a second collection of poems coming out in the Spring of 2018 titled: Sighs and Murmurs. I very much look forward to it!

You can watch Tatrallyay read from his works here and here. You can also find him at his website, Twitter, and on Goodreads. Some of his works can also be found at your local library (link to Toronto’s).

Geza Tatrallyay’s other works:


Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry

34889267I received this work from Columbia University Press. It’s an academic book scheduled for publication on November 28. The work itself is a translation and presentation by Peter France of Konstantin Batyushkov’s writings. France interweaves Batyushkov’s own writings with his biography presenting to readers the life of a poet and his career as a soldier with his subsequent decline into mental illness at the age of thirty-four. A mixture of depression and PTSD from his life as a soldier made Batyushkov unable to write poetry any longer in the last few years of his life. Konstantin Batyushkov (1787-1855) was one of Russia’s greatest poets. France makes it known on page one of the introduction that even though:

“To most non-Russian readers his name is hardly known… for Russians he is a classic.”

He emerged in the 1820s in a literary grouping of what was later known as the Golden Age or the Pushkin Pléiade. The introduction to this work tells us that Pushkin himself regarded Batyushkov as a master.

In terms of where in the canon one might place or discuss Batyushkov, France tells us that:

“One might see in this divided soul an expression of Batyushkov’s intermediary historical position—between the urbane sociability of Enlightenment Russia, and the rebellious Romantic sensibility that is embodied in Pushkin’s Eugin Onegin.”


Portrait of Batyushkov

This work is relatively short but quite dense. Peter France focuses on each section of Batyushkov’s life by adding an introduction with biographical information. He then selects the corresponding poems that fit in with that time in Batyushkov’s life and illuminate his feelings, reflections, and own self-documentation. France also adds passages of close reading and analysis to Batyshkov’s poems supporting the connection to his biographical passages by adding letters Batyushkov sent to his family and friends.

Reading this work was refreshing because it felt like I was reading something completely new, but somehow reading a classic as well. I found it absolutely crucial that someone should introduce Batyushkov to the West after reading his poems. France did an excellent job not only presenting/introducing Batyushkov but also in translating his poems. I would strongly recommend this book to readers fond of Russian literature, poetry, and semi-academic works. I didn’t find it exclusive by any means, it was accessible and interesting.

Glances of Life | Poetry Review

35251432This poetry collection is divided in three sections:

  1. Intrigue: the way we perceive the world around us, how we take beauty in, how we get to know everything around us
  2. Whimsy: sketches of life, things that make up our life and become particularly significant to our role such as playing baseball, or putting ointment on foot fungi.
  3. Reflection: a step back analyzing ideas and concepts

As is indicated by the cover of this collection the symbol of the butterfly is a running thread through all three sections. The author considers the butterfly when discussing beauty, flight, and transformation.

Aside from the aforementioned three-part division, most poems in this collection are so diverse one cannot categorize them as they are stand-alones.  For instance, in the first section there is a poem called “Shattered” which is a rhyming poem juxtaposing the fairy tale of Snow White with the contemporary ways in which we attempt to alter the perception of our beauty either through cosmetic surgery or digitally manipulated Facebook pictures. While it still looks at another kind of transformation similar to that of a butterfly, the writing style, rhythm, and composition of this poem makes it somewhat unique and apart from others in its section.


Accompanying illustration of fireflies by Maria Rodriguez for poem: “Dusk”

In the poems where Anderson captures moments from life I was reminded of Sylvia Plath’s ‘moment’ poems like “Cut” or “Balloons” and yet his play on words is so fun that I couldn’t help but imagine that I was being serenaded by the Caterpillar from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  For example he plays with the word IT in the poem “IT” as ‘it’ being an ominous presence, a something, or literally the digital IT department. There are other moments where he writes ‘fizzycists’ instead of physicists, or when he writes in the poem “i.”:

“they say it’s as easy as a π in the sky”

Anderson combines the mundane daily life snippets with the larger activity all around all-present in nature and the larger cosmos.

My favourite poems are “i,” “Shattered,” and the very first one “First Glance.” Here is “First Glance” in its entirety (spelling of words appear as such in the collection, they are not typos):

“Inananosecond / The Photons reflect / From your face and zip / Through the lens of my eye – / Your image summersaults on my retina / Where all comes into brilliant sharp focus / Then the rhodopsin in the colorful cones / And sensitive rods transforms to create / The impulse which crosses / Via the optic chiasm / To the visual cortex / Where all is parsed –/ And though I have / Never seen you / In the past / Somehow / I know / You are / Beautiful ”

(“First Glance,” Anderson)

I enjoyed the collection and would recommend it to anyone who loves poetry. It is appropriate for younger children as well if you would like to use this collection as a bonding moment, or a poetry study in a classroom.

The poetry collection is also accompanied by several illustrations created by Maria Rodriguez.

J.B. Anderson is a Detroit poet with a B.A. in English Literature who has been practicing orthopedic medicine for 30 years. He published a children’s book called Hockey Cat in 2010 under a pseudonym.

The collection was published on May 30 by Dog Ear Publishing.

Pillow Thoughts & The Road Between | Courtney Peppernell | Poetry Review

I was recently introduced to Courtney Pepernell’s works through Instagram and I requested her two poetry books that will be released later this year from Andrew McMeel Publishing: Pillow Thoughts and The Road Between—both collections will be released on August 29. Courtney Peppernell is an LGBTQ author from Sydney, Australia focusing on Young Adult novels and Poetry Collections. Keeping Long Island is her third title release, and the first under her new book brand, Pepper Books. Pepper Books is a publishing house that has just been started this year and will focus on Poetry and LGBT communities.

Pillow Thoughts

35489042This collection was first self-published on October 4th, 2016 and has recently been picked up by Andrew McMeel. Pillow Thoughts is about love. It sort of took me by surprise when I noticed that it rhymes in a ‘fun Dr. Seuss’ kind of way but the subject matter itself is deep and honest. If I had to compare I would say it’s a combination of John Keats and Dr. Seuss. It sets up this sort of innocent, whimsical-humour-seriousness from the beginning with this poem:

Before we begin, I’d like to share a story.

Once upon a time there was a jellyfish. We’ll call it


You became lost sometimes

You could be a little unsure

You tried very hard.

But sometimes it didn’t feel like enough.

I hate to spoil the ending

But you is fine

You is still here.

You is going to make it.

The references to “you is” as a trending internet meme-culture joke is preceeded by a quotation from the Chainsmokers. This lightness of “the here and now” touched with recognizable references makes Peppernell very relatable and accessible as a young emerging poet.

Throughout her collection these references occur. Peppernell places before us lines and images we’ve seen repeatedly on online forums. For instance, she alludes to the famously known Albert Camus quotation changing it slightly:

“you promised you’d never take a road that I could not follow”

The poems in this collection go through love, heartbreak, and the various kinds of dynamics that exist in a relationship between young people. Based on the language used and the style of choice I think this book is ideal for preteens and teenagers. At its core this collection has a message which to me is: you will experience all this and you will hit some serious downfalls, however you will be okay. Everything will be okay in the end.

The Road Between

35489039This collection is exploring growth, mapping the metaphorical geographical spaces in one’s life. I.e. the caves you hide in when you are afraid.

I enjoyed this collection more than the one mentioned above because it deals with various aspects of one’s life where love is a part of it rather than its center.

This collection is also filled with proverb-like sentences like:

“you are not defined by the stage you are at in life. Just because you are unsure of where you are heading doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are inside.”


The Cave

I read some reviews of Pillow Talk shaming Peppernell’s use of language and simplicity. I think we need to look at poems like Peppernell’s as: us the readers getting a glimpse into an individual’s growth and healing journey. Peppernell uses poetry as a way to understand herself growing up differently. There are many “in the closet” references throughout her poetry, or hiding in a cave for comfort. I think it was more important for Peppernell to write this collection than it is for us to read it and/or judge it. As a reader and poetry lover I find it difficult to review things that are so personal. I wish Peppenell did more with the language, and played around with the structure. I also think some poems shouldn’t have been incorporated in the collection as they distract from the whole. However, I am happy these collections exist and I’m very excited to see what Peppernell will release in her newly created LGBT-focused poetry publishing house. Overall I enjoyed The Road Between more than Pillow Thoughts and both strongly reminded me of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honeyso if you enjoyed that collection perhaps give Peppernell a try.

Again if I were to recommend this to readers I would direct this to a younger audience perhaps ages 12-16.

Attributed to the Harrow Painter | Poetry Review


Red-figure Hydria is attributed to the Harrow Painter

The Harrow Painter was an ancient Greek painter of archaic red-figure pottery. Approximately 39 vases have been attributed to him and he got named ‘The Harrow Painter’ by J.D. Beazley in a 1916 article titled “Two Vases in Harrow.”

In the conclusion to this collection Twemlow writes about the Harrow Painter:

“though he has been justly called ‘more than ordinarily competent,’ the Harrow Painter was indeed a minor talent, notwithstanding the undeniable charm of some of his works. If, however, one looks beyond the quality of his line and his relatively low standing in the artistic pantheon, one discovers in him many elements of interest and more than a few delightful pictures.”

35010723The collection of poems Attributed to the Harrow Painter by Nick Twemlow depicts the highly personal bond between father and son (respectively his son Sasha who is named in the poem and dedication) almost like he is talking directly to his little boy as he grows. Both father and son have an eye for art: sculptors like Brancusi, Hellenist sculptures and frescoes, natural landmarks like Burnett’s Mound, etc. There are many classical references throughout the collection of poems, mixed in with Polonius-like advice for his son:

“& don’t worry so much / About whether they think / You’re a boy or a girl. / You have much / To look forward to / In the matrix / Of gods & trends.”

Reading this collection felt like I was watching a father raise his son, teaching him about art, sculptures, and the classical period, and simultaneously getting glimpses into the reflections the father has on his son growing up:

“armed with your vicious / Youth / Your tabula rasa affect / Your deep understanding of nothing.”

Overall the effect achieved by catching a glimpse into one particular father-son bond over art is one of intrusion. Unlike poets who discuss more general “applicable to all” kind of poems, Twemlow’s collection feels like it was written specifically for his son and no one else, and we, the readers, are mere observers.

Strangely enough I feel like this poetry collection belongs more with art majors than poetry majors. I would recommend this work to people who have an eye for reading into classical art, who enjoy sculptures, and who want to catch a glimpse into one particular father-son bond.

This book is scheduled for publication in November from University of Iowa Press.

Thin Places | Children’s Poetry

32608482Thin Places is a poetry book written by Lesley Choyce—it has one single narrative running through in free verse. The story follows Declan Lynch who is young, lives in North America, and is a little unusual. He is not popular at school nor very well liked. He feels out of place even in his own family, out of place, out of time. He narrates:

I want to live in my own kingdom

An island filled with amazing beings

Only I can imagine

Things get stranger when he begins to hear voices from what his parents call his ‘imaginary friends’ but he himself feels their presence to be much more significant. Over time, he can’t tell if the voices he hears are real or made up. The most significant voice in his head is that of a young maiden named Rebecca who guides him to travel to his ancestral home (Ireland) and explore its thin places. She tells him that thin places are:

These are places where they say

The spirit world and the physical world

Are close together.

Sacred places

Ancient burial sites.

This work as a story contains many elements from Celtic Mythology, Irish landscape, and childhood imagination. In its format however, the book is written in non-rhyming verse for children. I would probably recommend this to children around the age of 6-8. The main complaint I’ve read so far from its early reviews is that the poetry is not in any way challenging. There’s nothing to read further into, rather, it is a short story with its sentences divided to look like poetry. While I agree it may be that way for adults, I think it may be different for the age group targeted. I am by no means suggesting that children can’t handle advanced verse, but I remember from my personal experience a time when poems were presented to me as obstacles and challenges. Poems were never something to enjoy but something to dissect and discuss with a lot of pressure attached. I thought that they were all written by people like Shakespeare and that it would automatically be hard to understand. It wasn’t until later years in high school when I began to appreciate poetry. Since free verse has taken over, I think it’s time to start introducing children to non-rhyming poetry as well. I haven’t encountered much free verse for children and I’m glad that books like these exist. Choyce makes poetry accessible to children with this collection. The narrative captured in Thin Places is as lovely in content as any Dr. Seuss poem or Shel Silverstein only without the rhyming.

I would recommend this for parents with young children who want to introduce poetry to their young ones. This is a book to read in one sitting and children’s libraries as well as elementary school libraries should have this in their collection.

This book will be published by Dundurn.

Drinks with Dead Poets | Book Review

“Every word, phrase or sentence spoken by the literary figures in this book is drawn verbatim from their letters, diaries, journals, or essays.” – Preface

33011553The main character is a professor by the name of “Glyn Maxwell” (name of Author) who finds himself in a dream-like, quaint, rustic, village school. There’s a pub, a church, all like in the old days. He must teach a semester-long course on poetry.  He is charismatic, funny, and passionate–a bit like Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society.

He is given this syllabus to teach: “Reading List for Elective Poetry Module” featuring a week on each one of these poets: Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Brontes, Coleridge. Poe (on Halloween), Clare, Yeats, Whitman, Browning, Byron.

Each lesson feels like you, the reader, are present in a small seminar at University where the students can freely joke with the professor and also become fully engaged with the material—and the professor is passionate, and charismatic as he decomposes poems, discusses the poet(s), and asks thought-provoking questions. The lecture is followed by a vivid ‘hallucination’ or imagining that the narrator is meeting the poet in discussion. This whole book is a dream-like state. The dead poets talk to the narrator, get invited to class where they are publicly interviewed and they share anecdotes. They also explore parts of this town like the library, or pub. I enjoy the ways in which the whole text is full of literary references. For example if a student jokes a bit too much the teacher announces that ‘Yorrick’ is in the class. Simultaneously it merges the past with the present. Students for instance pick up that Bob Dylan songs have Poe references, as do Hitchcock films. I was more intrigued by the poets I genuinely like (Dickinson, Poe, and Whitman) because I was curious what Maxwell would do with them, and what new things I might learn about them. I found there were many funny parts, like when the narrator/author tries to write a letter to Walt Whitman but he just can’t get it right, because it sounds too much like something a teenage fan-girl would write, so he crumples up every draft thanking his lucky stars he didn’t ‘send it.’

Here are some of my favourite lines

Keats Lecture:

“poems that stay stay because the body feels them”

Dickinson Lecture:

“You can’t teach Emily Dickinson, you can’t write like her either. You no more have to write in her stanzas than you have to write limericks or clerihews. But you do have to absorb that she wrote about everything else she could think of—herself, others, life, death, God, Time, being here, being gone—in little quatrains shaped like hymns, rhymed or half rhymed, mostly four beats then three beats, four, three, stanza-break, and she barely left her bedroom…what you owe to such a poet is a true pause for thought.”

The visit to the library (with Emily):

“There are old books on every stall, twelve stalls, volumes and volumes, and great swathes of canvas thrown back behind the hardwood frames as if to protect them when needed.”

(A draft) Letter to Whitman:

“There’s more Life than there is Art, your poems seem to say, and the glory is in the reach, the stretch, the straining ever upwards like plant-life in the sunshine.”

I really enjoyed this book, and it really comes across as a work of passion. I wish I would have spread it out and read the poet alongside each chapter so that it feels like a real course. One can see that the author is well-versed and well-acquainted with the poets he teaches. The whole work felt like a love letter to these poets. I hope that if this work gets worked into an audiobook there will be more voices for each student and they find suitable voice actors for the dead poets because the whole work is mostly in dialogue and it would be fascinating to experience it that way—something like the way they recorded Lincoln in the Bardo. I thought it was well written, and captures the poets spot on because as the preface mentions the words, the attempt to reconstruct them, and capture their spirit comes from the poets’ archives and is probably as close as we will ever get to them.

I strongly recommend this book to readers who enjoy poetry, have liked studying poetry, want to learn any more about the poets listed, and who like 19th century literature from the Western Canon. Again, the feeling I had reading this was akin to sitting in a University lecture taught by a great professor…and that is a very pleasant feeling.

The book is scheduled to be published in August by Pegasus Books. Click here for link.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory | Poetry Review


front cover

Okay, let me paint you a picture:

You know that friend you have—you know the one—the individual who peaced out a few times to go find themselves in the East by being spiritual in Buddhist monasteries for a few weeks, the one who smokes pot and talks about the peace at parties, the one who thinks about attending protests, is probably vegan, and every time you’re with them they listen to Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix, and somehow is also insanely pretentious because they drop references to Charles Bukowski, any of the confessional poets, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Wordsworth, the pot-lord David Foster Wallace (who they suggest is far too pretentious and unreadable, but they themselves sounds like), the Great Gatsby, and who deep down thinks they’re Jack Kerouac?

If you miss that friend (who you love very much and wish you could have their courage and go with them) because they probably left you again to have another adventure without you (because you suck for reducing them to a stereotype in book reviews), then just read this poetry collection. It’s a textual embodiment of that person.

The weird thing is, that while that hipster friend who has become a trope right now is already a cliché, I think Chris Banks is actually an original because he was born in 1970. He actually did those things BEFORE they were cool. So let’s get into the collection:

This book really is for everyone, as the dedication suggests. It’s filled with references, which most avid readers or English majors will pick up on.

My personal favourite is the simplest one, devoid of any of the things listed above, which has the most honesty. It’s called “Fossil”

“To match in words

The impression

Some extinct creature

Left in mud long ago

To be that permanent

And still not there.”

The collection is divided in four parts:

  1. All Night Arcade
  2. The Cloud versus Grand Unification Theory
  3. Selfie with Ten Thousand Things
  4. Finders Keepers

The poem which starts this collection is called “Progress” and is representative of the kind of ‘protest-poetry’ that Banks offers:

“Gene-targeting and molecular cloning. The shrine /Of the genome has broken into—Glo Fish /…Insulin-producing bacteria / are grown in large fermentation tanks to provide / medicine for diabetics  / …demand / Big Pharma give us an alturistm patch, one to create / more empathy in politicians, say, or nasal spray, / to make children more resistant to fear-mongering, / and body shaming.”

The collection is filled with contemporary references like ‘selfies,’ society-accepted norms that mean nothing in the large scheme of things, and criticisms of capitalist-driven-corporations, and their lack of empathy, eco-love, or humanity.

There are some knock-out lines scattered throughout this collection like:

“most poems I read feel like I’m walking / through someone’s private zoo.”

– “Roadside Attractions”

Overall the collection is good, and it’s worth a try. It doesn’t take too long to read. I do wish that the collection had a well-written introduction to the poems and a better outline of Chris Banks as a poet. I wish there was more context.

Many thanks to ECW Press for sending me an ARC for early review. This collection will be published on September 5, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Up Against Beyond | Poetry | Review

“Holt has little interest in plain speech that is not, simultaneously, slippery. One thinks one has the meaning, the image, of the verse, and then it is gone — as fleeting as the moment of reading.” – George Elliott Clarke

34713994Jason Holt is a Canadian poet who lives in Nova Scotia and teaches at Acadia University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Western University in 1998. His books include Blindsight and the Nature of Consciousness, which was shortlisted for the 2005 CPA Book Prize and various academic works like Leonard Cohen and Philosophy, as well as Philosophy of Sport—a topic he teaches at Acadia in the Kinesiology department. His full academic bibliography can be found here. Up Against Beyond includes poetry selected from his six previous poetry book. This collection includes poems ranging from 1994 to 2017.  His use of language in his work Inversed (2014) received praise from Toronto’s poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke—one of my favourite professors at the University of Toronto—in an article titled “Linguistic Masquerades to Savour.”

Up Against Beyond, as a collection, contains a total of 121 poems and is divided in eight sections.

  1. (1994) Poems selected from Fine in Kafka’s Burrow
  2. (1999) from Memos to No One
  3. (2003) from A Hair’s Breadth of Abandon
  4. (2005) from Relics from an Open Vault
  5. (2009) from Longstern Poems
  6. (2012) from “A Brace of Sonnets”
  7. (2014) from Inversed
  8. New Poems

Holt’s poetry is hyper-self-aware and  playful with an intense sense of humour. For instance, the first new poem listed in section eight starts with:

“this is a poem/ I don’t/ title my poems/ not because/ I’m pretentious/ although/ I am pretentious…”

It’s the kind of poem that knows exactly what the reader expects to find from a Ph.D. University professor, and yet, it turns it on its head making fun of itself before the reader gets a chance to. Other poems sound like a proverb: “too many/ books/ Spoil/The prof” where the reader is left alone wondering what to make of it.

However, many of his other poems are so memorable and quotable told in a more sombre and philosophical tone, with the elegance one expects from a poet. Holt rewards readers and gives them the poetry they deserve. One of my favourite poems is this one (from which the title of the collection is derived):

“the only place to go

is up against beyond

what other challenge worthy

what other meaning

less than war

more than game

between covers of book or bed”

Most of Holt’s poetry is brief. The one proverb-like being indicative of that as it is in itself a single poem, alone on the page and each individual line is often one or two words with few exceptions. Clarke referred to Holt’s poems as “whimsical parades of terms and phrases” where one must puzzle his/her way through as a reader, akin to figuring out a Rubik’s cube, which is perhaps the best attitude to have, entering this collection.

What I particularly enjoyed about this collection is that excerpts are taken from the poet’s life spanning 23 years. We get to see a poet in various moods, and various spaces, using language as a tool for each occasion. I would recommend this work for anyone interested in reading new poetic voices and particularly those who are open to experimental poems. This collection also has a brief trailer on YouTube.

Many thanks to Anaphora Literary Press and Anna Faktorovich for sending me an ARC for early review. This poetry collection will be published on July 20, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy | Review

This work will be published on June 6, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced no matter of background, sex, or religion. John Brehm writes in the introduction:

“no poem can last for long unless it speaks, even if obliquely, to some essential human concern.”

Wisdom Publications is a non-profit charitable organization and the leading publisher of classic and contemporary Buddhist books and practical works on mindfulness. Their main goal is to cultivate Buddhist voices the world over, and preserving and sharing Buddhist literary culture.

John Brehm, the editor, won the Brittingham Prize in 2004 for his own poetry collection Sea of Faith. His goal for this collection is to present readers with:

“poets who strip themselves of all self-centered stories and desires, speaking out of pure consciousness and placing themselves on equal footing with all beings…like insects [Issa]…or fallen trees [Neruda]”

The collection is divided in three sections:

  1. Impermanence
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Joy

The inclusion of Western poets like Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, or even Jack Kerouac may come as a surprise, but the purpose of this collection is to show:

“how beautifully the Dharma manifests even in poems by poets who were not practicing Buddhists or knew little or nothing about Buddhism.”

Brehm uses the term Dharma broadly speaking, selecting poems which demonstrated:

“the way things are, universal law, or the truth of things, who force the reader to pay attention in a world filled with distractions”

I enjoyed the ways in which Brehm shows that at the end of the day, no matter what part of the world one is from, at the core of the fundamental truths that unite us all we are experiencing the same things. Love, joy, and impermanence in a transitory life are all universally true and not particular to any single corner of the world. I was very grateful to read this collection and be reminded of that, particularly with the news circulating the past few weeks (this whole year really). It’s a reminder that we are not alone and that regarding the things that make us fundamentally human the world is really not that divided.

I recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys poetry, spirituality, and is looking for a source of hope.

Many thanks to Wisdom Publications for sending me a copy for review.

The Hour Wasp | Poetry Review


The Hour Wasp will be published on May 28, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

front cover hourThis poetry collection is written by Jay Sheets and illustrated by Robyn Leigh Lear. This is Sheets’s debut collection, and it’s published by April Gloaming Publishing.

Lance Umenhofer, Author of And the Soft Wind Blows, writes in the introduction to this collection that Jay Sheets is setting out to create a

 “guidebook for those times in the dark, for those times the great world might decide to leave us behind, to drop us off in the void and carry on ahead without us, those times in which we are dead weight”

This collection reads like the description of  a dream in free verse. It’s almost as if someone tried to make poetry out of a surrealist painting. The natural realm is ever-present and there are references to scenes from nature though some appear as a vision like “a caterpillar in the centre of a heart-shaped bone.” There are references to oracles, fishbones, poetic enlightenment like in Cædmon’s hymn, jinn maps, henna-wrapped hands, and natural phenomenons. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, or the Finnish Kalevala, but with the writing style of someone like e.e. cummings. Reading this collection was akin to what I’ve always imagined a shaman’s vision looks like or the birth of a myth. There is also a constant reference to ‘her’ as if he’s talking about a specific woman or enigma.

The book is divided in three sections

  1. [o the dark places we will go] – where Sheets sets the atmosphere to his collection by his use of imagery. Here are a few of my favourite lines from this section:

“my fingers damp in a ruined dream hold tiny mirrors to her ashen face”

“…her fingers exhume vellum word-coffins”

“to the places you bottled your herbs &

preserved your rosewater tinctures tubed

chemical potions… magnetic precipitations

now spiderwebbed in the cabinet & like

worldly things [lace & pewter] idle elements

calcify : coral floats…”

  1. The Second part of this poem is the most dominant, it’s called [blue haunts black]

My reading of this section was that in the same atmosphere of part one, we as readers enter the night realm, and it is here where the dream-like description I mentioned above is most prominent.

  1. The Third section is called [the sky is white] which resembles morning, an aubade, and awakening. A rebirth.

“i hugged myself as a child & told

Myself that everything was perfect in the petrichor

The smell of pure innocence & earth & earthly

Innocence that stays in the clothes i only wear

on good days…”

In addition to such beautiful poetry the reader is also accompanied by the illustrations of Robyn Leigh Lear which set the mood even more-so.

I enjoyed this collection and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys poetry and is interested in discovering new voices.


Illustration by Robyn Leigh Lear

Plath and Hughes | Opinion

“The scholars want the anatomy of the birth of the poetry; and the vast potential audience want her blood, hair, touch, smell, and a front seat in the kitchen where she died…neither audience makes me feel she owes them anything.”

–Ted Hughes, The Observer, November 21, 1971

“It’s hard to read the original manuscript without trying to understand what Hughes was thinking when he left out certain poems and included others. She loved him. He hurt her. All of us who love her work are caught like children in that crossfire forever.” 

-Los Angeles Times

Last Tuesday, April 11 The Guardian posted one article around 4:00 p.m. written from an objective standpoint by Danuta Kean titled “Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Huges” showing how some letters to Plath’s therapist (Barnhouse) from Plath herself suggest that Hughes was physically abusive just before her miscarriage. Shortly after, The Guardian followed up with an opinion piece, only four hours later, by Sarah Churchwell titled: “Sylvia Plath, a voice that can’t be silenced” where Churchwell dives a little deeper in the dynamics of the marriage and draws on her own research. On Wednesday, The Guardian published a third paper that was more from a gender studies point of view by Rafia Zakaria titled: “Sylvia Plath’s letters probably won’t harm Ted Hughes’s reputation” where the article criticizes some of Plath’s biographers for placing much blame on Plath in the deteriorating of the marriage, and society in general. All three articles are linked if you are interested in following.

I read all the comments under the three articles with a lot of interest. I wanted to know what do readers who are part of the ‘Hughes’ or ‘Plath’ fandoms think about the three articles, and the dynamics of this relationship as it fits with the poets’ artwork. I extracted from it three dominant comments which I find crucial to discuss. To sum up, these were the dominant three reactions:

  1. Seriously, who cares?
  2. Plath killed herself because of Hughes, as did his mistress, and son.
  3. Hughes is a monster, not even surprised.

Before I try to address the three questions I would fist like to tell you where I stand. First, I love the poetry of Plath. You may have noticed in my “favourites” list that she is the first person that came to my mind. Of Hughes’s work I have read Crow, The Birthday Letters, and The Iron Man, whereas I have read Plath’s entire corpus (including letters/diary entries) so I cannot pretend to be an expert on Hughes. I have glanced at some of his other works but did not finish them. Her use of language stuck with me since six years ago when I discovered her and through most of my undergrad and grad school I have written most of my essays on her poetry, her print culture (comparing various editions of her work), and even on her tombstone which is often chipped away at by fans. Hughes to me, doesn’t quite cut it. I tried reading his works and they did not have an impact. I found that fans are often divided in the two teams, whether it’s Plath vs. Hughes, British vs. American, Women vs. Men, with the occasional: I like neither, or I like both but don’t care about their life.

Secondly I would like to present the disclaimer that I cannot discuss mental illness or pretend that I’m an expert on it, or apply what happened to Plath to all depressed/suicide cases. I do not romanticize suicide. I will only discuss the relationship and biography of the two poets AS POETS and why it matters (or doesn’t) when discussing their poetry as literature, in an academic setting.

That said, I would like to address the three points above:

  1. Who cares?

At first it seems like we all just thrive on drama and that’s what’s interesting. I certainly thought so for a while, until I realized that the ‘who cares’ question is part of the division I mentioned earlier. The truth is, Plath and Hughes were working on different kinds of poetry. Hughes was working on classical/mythological re-workings like those of Ovid; he was writing rhythmically, and building on a larger British Tradition of what was expected of a poet laureate. So if you like Hughes and his work then frankly, you shouldn’t care because Tales from Ovid, The Iron Man, Lupercal, Cave Birds…among others, exist within a contained context of what is on the page and in response to a larger Western Tradition—he was highly influenced by the Romans and his poetry resembles that of Keats, Shelley, or the more recent Seamus Heaney (to me). Unless you’re reading The Birthday Letters, it really doesn’t matter—as our teachers/professors tell us time and time again: biography of the author/poet shouldn’t affect our reading of their art. True. Yes. EXCEPT in one case. This case includes poets: Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell (Plath’s prof), Allen Ginsberg, John Berryman, W.D. Snodgrass, and Sylvia Plath. They were working on a different kind of poetry known as “Confessional Poetry.” This movement was mostly composed of American Poets in the 1950s and ‘60s who wrote ‘poetry of the personal.’ This personal poetry often didn’t rhyme and dealt with topics like: depression, sexuality, abuse, suicide attempts/thoughts, trauma, and things that were highly private and linked uniquely to one’s biography. Unlike poets like Hughes, these poets were drawing solely from personal experience without necessarily responding to a larger tradition. Confessional Poetry is the only time where the poet invites you to learn about their life and invites you to tie it into their artwork. So to answer the question ‘who cares?’ the answer is: people studying confessional poetry. They care about biography, because it’s important, because it’s connected, and because it sheds light and meaning on the artwork. I need to know that Plath was hospitalized in a white room where someone brought her these red tulips that stuck out like an eyesore, for me to understand “the tulips are excitable” in her poem “The Tulips” or that her father was German and a beekeeper which fuels her Holocaust references in “Daddy,” or the ways he was referenced in The Bee Poems. And perhaps understanding that the two poets (Plath and Hughes) were working on something different makes sense of why Plath fans are very interested in biography, while Hughes fans might not be.

  1. She killed herself because (or for) Hughes.

Plath at Smith

Claims like these, though kind of directed at ‘shaming’ Hughes, to me come across as demeaning to Plath. First of all, she wasn’t a love-struck Juliet figure who killed herself because a man left her. She was a very intelligent woman, and had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts. Claiming she ‘killed herself for Hughes’ or to prove a point comes from a reductive understanding of Plath, and a reductive understanding of mental illness.

Plath went to Smith College on scholarship for academic excellence (she wrote her paper on Ulysses). She got electric shock therapy (without anesthesia) which right now is illegal. She attempted suicide once when she was much younger. Her second suicide attempt was by overdosing on pills and she hid beneath the house porch. She was gone for three days, and was in the newspapers as ‘missing.’ They gave her electrical shock therapy again. She then went to Cambridge in England on a Fulbright Scholarship (very prestigious) where she met Hughes. Her thesis was on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s figure of The Double demonstrated through Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin’s character in The Double and Ivan Fyodorovitch Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov.  This is an excerpt from her Introduction in her thesis “The Magic Mirror:”

“It is this dangerous embodiment of the Double in two of Dostoyevsky’s novels which is the subject of our paper. The device of the Double, although an omen of doom, is instructive since it often reveals hitherto concealed character traits in a radical manner and thus frequently throws unreconciled inner conflicts into sharper relief. However, the recurrence of the double personality in Dostoevsky’s novels is more than a mere technique for clarifying the psychic oppositions; it is the core of Dostoyevsky’s own polemical philosophy.”

I think sometimes Plath is reduced to this ‘revenge-kick’ stereotype of a dismissed woman looking for attention. Just look at how Norton’s character talks to Darla in Fight Club like yeah, yeah, we’re all dying, Sylvia Plath. As if she was just looking for attention. She’s just as often stereotyped as “teen” literature because of The Bell Jar (which is a memoir reflecting on her teen years). This is a horrible reduction. That’s like judging Jean-Paul Sartre on Le Mots (The Words) only and clumping all of his later work and philosophy in that category.  It’s just not fair. Plath was an adult, Smith/Cambridge-educated woman with a career, she wrote a thesis on Dostoevsky, and was extremely well-versed in American, British, and Russian Literature. To look at her like she’s the teenage girl from Thirteen Reasons Why (which got criticism on its own as well), is just not comparable.

To return to my original point, while Hughes was an important part of her life, he cannot be blamed for her death because she had a history of attempting it, a history of depression, and they had already been separated for five full months.

“I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it—

…I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.” – Lady Lazarus

Secondly, to say that she killed herself for a man is something that demeans a woman of Plath’s stature (or any woman) immensely. She was so intelligent and capable, and was part of an emerging new group of poets—which she pretty much dominates now—that to say ‘she killed herself for Hughes/because of Hughes’ would be offensive to Plath herself and her ambitions for herself (based on the biographies I’ve read of her). Suicide is a result of mental illness and Plath wanted us to pay attention to that. Her poetry calls for mental health awareness, and paying attention to one’s life..

Point #3: Ted Hughes is a monster.

Zakaria’s article suggests that his reputation doesn’t get affected by the appearance of the new letters, while some in the comment sections painted Hughes as ‘monster.’ Maybe he was driven to do things like the biographers say, maybe his reputation is ruined or not like Zakaria says. I don’t know so I am not going to pretend I do. I wasn’t there. He gets blamed for burning Plath’s diaries from her last two years, and for many other things including the death of Plath, his mistress Assia Wevill (and her child), and subsequently Nick Hughes (son with Plath).

I myself am thankful for Ted Hughes for one reason and one only: he published Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and Collected Poems, and that is enough for me. He could have easily kept the manuscript to himself, burnt it, or never have worked on it. However, he did no such thing. He decided to publish them and in the end those last two published works made Plath the iconic figure she is today. The Collected Poems got her the Pulitzer Prize (which she got posthumously in 1982). The publication or Ariel coincided with the rise of second wave feminism and that is how the two stories clashed and combined. Fans of Plath rarely let Hughes forget, and if The Birthday Letters isn’t enough proof that he didn’t exactly have a fun time after 1963 then let’s just be thankful that he published Ariel which made Plath an icon and famous, as well as The Collected Poems. In discussing this with a friend I received the retort “so a bad person did a good thing, does that make his behaviour excusable?” Obviously not, if he was abusive then I would not (and currently do not) celebrate him. I don’t hail him as a ‘great man’  and like I mentioned, his poetry isn’t one that sticks with me anyway—but if it’s his poetry you like then his biography shouldn’t affect the Hughes side because his poetry doesn’t demand it like Plath’s does.  This excerpt from Churchwell’s article highlights an important aspect of this dilemma for us readers:

“the facts may alter with new evidence, but mostly it’s our interpretations that have altered. Our ideas — about feminism, marriage, mental illness, suicide and domestic violence — change and with them or attitudes towards Plath and Hughes.”

To remember that this was the ’60s when women weren’t even allowed to run marathons, have a bank account, or attend universities without signatures from spouses, perhaps Hughes can be seen as progressive by supporting his wife’s literary career. I hope I explained in this post the ways in which I think it’s important to examine this relationship, biography in confessional poetry, and for what purpose.

I would love to know what other people think about this. And if you see another comment in those articles that irked you, why did it? Or in this one. Perhaps I have said things that you found to be untrue in your experience of reading the two poets. If yes, how so? These were the three comments that got to me, but I would love to know what you think.

Other Resources on Plath and Hughes:

Interview with Plath and Hughes

Lecture given at the University of Toronto by Professor Nick Mount.

Sylvia Plath Archives

John Green’s analysis of Plath’s poetry

Discussion of Jonathan Bate’s recent (2015) biography of Hughes: Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life

Plath reading my favourite four: “Lady Lazarus,” “The Applicant,” “Daddy” and “A Birthday Present

Audible: Ted Hughes reading his own Crow, Plath’s Biography pre-Hughes Mad Girl’s Love Song, The Bell Jar (read by Maggie Gyllenhaal), Her Husband, Hughes and Plath, A Marriage

February 2017 Poetry Reads

Apocrypha by Catherynne M. Valente

valenteThis is a beautiful poetry collection. It’s a mixture of classical mythology, Plath-like confessional poetry, and the dark elements of Poe. I particularly enjoyed “Apocrypha,” “Music of a Proto-Suicide,” and “No. 10 Convergence.” The collection is split into two. The first part is in verse and the second is in poetic prose with each page standing in for a different letter of the alphabet. Alas, like all poetry it is best experienced when made personal. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys poetry or wants to explore new/contemporary collections.


The Asylum Dance by John Burnside

670652After reading The Dumb House I came to this collection of poems with high expectations and Burnside most certainly did rise up to them. The collection has a play on presentation similar to the poems of e.e. cummings. The collection as a whole had threads which indicated to “The Scream” –the painting by Norwegian Symbolism painting Edvard Munch. In a way the collection was a scream from the asylum and the words did dance. It’s a bit difficult to emphasize the great components of a poetry collection without talking about immediate emotional reaction and personalize it. I especially enjoyed the poems “Settlements,” and “Blues.” I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Plath, Dickinson, cummings, and Frost, as well as to those looking for a contemporary poetry collection to explore.

Poems – Maya Angelou

IMG_20170325_230347.jpgI now know why so many inspirational quotations are taken from Angelou’s poetry. I generally don’t like rhyming poetry or proverb-like hooks in each ending of a poem, and yet Angelou does both with such skill that I almost didn’t even think about those components as I was going through it. The poems are short and sweet and make their point in only a few verses which is incredibly difficult to achieve. “They Went Home,” “The Detached,” “When I think about Myself,” “Faces,” “Poor Girl,” and “Wonder” are going to stay with me for a long time. I strongly recommend this collection to everyone (including those who don’t like poetry

 “Will I be less dead because I wrote this poem or you more because you read it long years hence”

The Seasons of the Soul– Hermann Hesse

51EdscwyunL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The Seasons of the Soul is a very reflective collection–which is representative of the majority of Hesse’s entire corpus. The presentation of this book coordinated by Ludwig Max Fischer framed the reflections and spiritual wisdom fragments of Hesse in an accessible way, particularly with an introduction to each part. The collection is divided in five parts (or seasons): love, inspiration, nature, divine, Life/Time. Part one on love read too much like a Victorian poem which is what kept this collection from being a five star rating for me. It was far too polite and careful and lacked rawness and sincerity. Sections 2-5 however are absolute perfection. Everything is so quotable, I already want to re-read it. Although the collection is translated Fischer did an excellent job. If anything was lost in this process I’ll never know. My favourite poem was in the “inspiration” section called “Books” mostly because of this stanza:

“all the books of the world

will not bring you happiness,

but build a secret path

toward your heart.”