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Book Review: Hemming Flames by Patricia Colleen Murphy

In the "throw-things house" where the speaker of Patricia Colleen Murphy's debut collection Hemming Flames grows to adulthood, a father asks of his wife, "could you / try not to murder yourself / in front of the children." Murphy opens with Bolsheviks; her mother, a Stanford graduate, communist, a woman with mental illness; and the speaker finding her mother after another suicide attempt. This entry into the family is casual, the implication that it's a commonplace occurrence, that at the dinner table, peas passed in irritation, we come to that query and enter into a family with more to show than can fit in a dining room window peek, so the pane (pain) is thrown wide open.

Murphy's playful nature makes this collection a resolute, deep-thinking, tribute to dark humor. Lines that turn and crackle with wit—an "on-call oncologist," "pandemonium lessons," "Maybe I'm Miss Remembering"—on and on the wordplay sparks, laughs with the reader, challenges perception. Cracks the window through which we peer.

A flirtatious, challenging mother seen through an adult's recollection, this collection has the audacity of acceptance, the view that her mother was wholly flawed and flagrantly affected by her illness but is stunningly absent judgement (though not anger). So too is it absent the victimization casting of the roles in the book. The parents stop just short of villain and stand firmly as catalysts to their own destruction. Murphy positions the collection at all times in the controlled pace of a panning lens versus an exploratory confessional. There is never a moment when the reader might feel as though Murphy has used the page to shock, or to assuage a need for vengeance. There is no victim here except, perhaps, the mother to herself. The brother, to his own rip tides.

The hand we hold is one of a stable, perceptive, deft poet. 

The poet reveals the effects of an adolescence scrying an uncertain future in tight quarters and never lets the reader step back. We're granted access to the slow, deliberate fracturing of the family in the dining room. A crack moves across the glass, another breaks off the first, and the glass doesn't shatter so much as it just keeps cracking again, and again, and again. Our view spiderwebs and chips, but holds, and readers press faces to glass, Murphy's hand at the back of their necks, urging them closer. The poet never asks if we can handle the blows.

A brother agoraphobic, mother traversing the worlds of a turbulent mind, "Think of the courage it took for me to touch a doorknob" the speaker asks in "Scrotum and Bone."

This collection is a series of a momentous pauses that catch the reader up in earnest bereavement of the family at the center of the threaded narrative. Hemming Flames is the case study of one family, twenty years in the making, with a tempered control of execution—a profundity of content which reads like the catechism of a woman awakened. 

Hemming Flames is published by Utah State University Press.


Patricia Colleen Murphy holds degrees from Miami University and Arizona State University. She teaches creative writing at ASU where she is the founding editor of the literary magazine Superstition Review. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, and American Poetry Review, among others. Her poems have received awards from Glimmer Train Press, The Southern California Review, Gulf Coast, The Madison Review, and Bellevue Literary Journal. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.


Reviewed by CL Black, managing editor, Hayden's Ferry Review

Haydens Ferrypoetry, Book Reviews
BOOK REVIEW: wildcold by Ruth Baumann

        Ruth Baumann’s chapbook, wildcold, opens with Rilke’s instruction, “Listen to the night as it makes itself hollow”. Here, I must admit my hesitance to dive into any work that prefaces itself with an oft-quoted (and often misquoted) poet. And here is where I am glad to say my literary-prejudice had its teeth kicked in.

        Winner of the Slash Pine Press chapbook contest, the poems in Baumann’s second collection feel like cupping your palms to receive a handful of singularities; the poems themselves are small, but their weight is undeniable. The book opens with “Prelude I”, the first of five that intersperse themselves throughout the book. In it the reader is asked only one question, “Can the dead smell a storm like dogs do?”, but still forced to consider the beauty and impossibility of a series of thoughts that feel like they came moments before poet went to sleep.

“Whisper tornado into a tornado.
  Imagine art constructed without blame.
   …
   The impracticality of grace.”

        In all of these poems, Baumann constructs small worlds bent on mediating themselves into or out of existence. Her series of “Dream Interpretations” manage to keep their ethereal aura without falling into cliché, and a refreshing “Ars Poetica” reels the reader back in at just the right moment in the collection. The question all of these poems are asking seems well posited in “Prelude II”.

 “You can blow on your hands
   for warmth all night, but what
   does the temporary prove?”

        To find the answer, I suggest you get your copy of wildcold as soon as possible – Slash Pine typically prints only 125 copies. 


-       Ruth Baumann holds an MFA from the University of Memphis, & is pursuing her PhD at Florida State University. Her chapbook I'll Love You Forever & Other Temporary Valentines won the Salt Hill Dead Lake Chapbook Contest. Her second chapbook, wildcold, is forthcoming from Slash Pines Press in 2016. She won an AWP Intro Journals Project Award in 2014, & has poems published in Colorado Review, Sonora Review, Sycamore Review, The Journal, Third Coast & others listed at www.ruthbaumann.com.


Reviewed by Kyle J. Bassett

BOOK REVIEW: Kaleidoscope by Tina Barr

Tina Barr begins her latest collection of poems, Kaleidoscope (from Iris Press), with a perfect sonnet, “In the Kaleidoscope’s Chamber,” which ushers the reader into her colorfully patterned world. But, rather than using the kaleidoscope as a mere toy or object of whimsy, Barr’s speaker sees it as a truth device:

 

            “The chamber fills with purple,

            blue bruises, the open jaw of a dead father,

            multiplies the tight eyes of liars, orange tubes

            of trumpet vine, pink-tipped brushes of mimosa,

            filaments sweet as what I concocted in bottles

            from a perfume kit as a kid.”

 

Barr’s speaker smartly ends these fourteen lines with the calming yet cinematic, “My ears arrange it as music; outside are birds, ushering us in.” This ushering from nature leads to “Blue Rose” and “Blue Fawn,” two poems that use the kaleidoscope metaphor to create shifts in color. Barr skillfully takes a color to concoct not only a new color, but also a fresh, unexpected twist in the poems. Barr’s speaker withholds the blue in “Blue Rose” by starting out with the green of lettuce to the sensory details of vinegar, thyme, and salmon, to a lovely synesthesia of “…tails of four anchovies,/split grey and white, arranged on a plate./They taste of a concentration of salt/breaking into the mouth. As if their bodies/are permeated by a sea…” Food leads to water, which also leads to song. “Blue Fawn” also plays with a remarkable synergy, starting the poem with “pink mountain lions” and withholding the “Blue Fawn” until a later line. No lack of sensory feeling exists in Barr’s work, evident in “My husband cuts his fingers on the piano’s teeth,” which becomes the grating line introducing the titular blue fawn.

 

Throughout the book, Barr’s speaker inevitably questions the usage of kaleidoscope, whether in meaning or in function. In doing so, “Masque” is a standout poem—Barr heightens the definitions of “masque” and “kaleidoscope” in several ways. Wordplay of “masque” vs. “mask” occurs—masque, as in theater, becomes emphasized through, “Nights,/children dab their tongues in gelato. Romeos/and Juliets glitter in the storefronts’ blaze over cobbles,” while mask, as in disguise or the relation to vision is focused on through “The waist that could draw men’s eyes has lost/its elastic” and “Inside my mask,/my husband recognizes my eyes.” This wordplay of “masque” vs. “mask” is crucial, since with the shift of words also comes a shift in the kaleidoscope metaphor.

 

Barr also uses the visual element of kaleidoscope to extend to ekphrastic pieces. Another standout poem of the book is the longer Henry Darger series that introduces section 2. In these poems, the definition of kaleidoscope shifts to that of a lens—the lens of Darger’s work upon discovering it after his death and the lens of the work (which the reader can only guess) during his lifetime. The inclusion of Darger is significant: the artist’s reclusive nature mixed with the vibrant yet tragic subjects of his works add to the synergy of Kaleidoscope.

 

Besides vibrancy, kaleidoscopes have the potential of the grotesque and kitsch. “Gold Moon Casino” in the third section plays with this kitsch, with a high culture analysis of the casino: “Gold drapes expose the fish tank of the parking lot” mixed with a low culture moment of sentimentality: “I laid my head in my Mama’s stomach: ‘I want you to die in my arms.’” Barr takes this high-low combination and effectively presents it in form, with a poem of twenty lines (10 in the first stanza and 10 in the second stanza).

 

While the opening sonnet of the book “ushered us in,” the opening poem in the final section introduces the kaleidoscopic movement of water. In “Launch,” the warm water serves as an impetus of the kaleidoscopic turn—a turn where we end up getting the masque, performance, and repetition of “Chinese Nuo dancers,” along with references to travel in Tibet. Movement in travel occurs multiple times in this final section, and “The Ecology of Atlas” serves as the culmination of this with interesting enjambments and indentations in form. The form takes a cascading effect, and in this final section, the full effects and metaphor of the kaleidoscope is realized. 


REVIEWER: Dorothy Chan was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, Day One, and The Great American Poetry Show. In 2012, The Writing Disorder nominated her poem, “Ikebukuro Train Rides” for a Pushcart. In Fall 2015, she will begin her creative writing: poetry PhD at Florida State University.

Book Review: Reveille by George David Clark

2015 winner of the Miller Williams poetry prize from the University of Arkansas Press, George David Clark’s Reveille, rings in each poetic section with a reveille, or a wake-up call. Clark defines and creates his own meaning for this term—the title Reveille creates a “call” for the rest of the book, transporting the reader into the author’s painterly world of “a lattice musics,” “a bathing suit red as tomatoes,” “the gloss of lacquered walnut golds and olives jigsaw,” and “the holy face plum-colored.” Clark uses touches of color to guide the reader through this imaginary world that borders on the holy, and the first section opens with “Reveille on a Silent Whistle,” with its angelic imagery of “Two seraphs in the live oak’s highest boughs are sleeping,/constructing minutely their crystalline fretwork.”

Each section of this collection opens with a reveille, which becomes the framing device of the book. Reveille not only wakes up the reader into this world, but in each sectional reveille, the reader is introduced to another aspect of Clark’s world. Imagery that is biblically influenced, painterly-produced, and sublime floods these slow-paced and careful poems. For example, the second section opens with “Reveille with Kazoo.” Clark’s speaker travels this dream-like musicality:

                                    From your overlong, even invincible sleep;

                                    from the pink and orange moth-scales

                                    that collect on your mind like a dust;

                                    from the stately plush where you jonah

                                    in a bottled frigate’s belly;

                                    from this lopsided aerie of marigold sheets:

                                    wake up.

In this opening stanza, Clark’s anaphora builds up this dream, only to culminate the reader into a “wake up.” The language is sensual, the lines gingerly lengthened, building up the dream and moving back and forth between the spiritual, with the reference to Jonah, and the spiritual turned down-to-earth, with “this lopsided aerie of marigold sheets.” Clark’s painterly quality is also gradual: he gives us gradients of color, only to wake us up into another world, this one postmodern: “The swimming pools/of the future were born this morning.” And with each section reveille, comes multiple turns. The following poem, “Interview Conducted Through the Man-Eater’s Throat,” takes us to the opposite spectrum of colors with “Like the blue-black char in a chimney.” The poem also takes us to the opposite spectrum, challenging form in stanzas filled with question and answer. In fact, Clark utilizes the musicality of the opening to formally influence and pervade the rest of this section.

Clark pushes the modern even more with “Reveille with Reimbursement.” The collection may start with the mythical and spiritual, but Clark is able to ground and transform the book’s movement into the present day. We close with “Reveille with Lullabies,” a strategic bookend that takes the reader deep into the speaker’s persona and subconscious. Clark leaves us with a blessing:

                                    We rise when something calls us out of bed

                                    Your song’s not addressed to the dark

                                    We wake in

                                    Or for you as you dress in the dark

                                    …

                                    Rise now rise now and bless us

                                    till our cries lie down cry less

______________________________________________________________

George David Clark's poem, "Shadows of the Antediluvian Soldier," appeared in issue 44 of Hayden's Ferry Review. Dorothy Chan was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, and The Great American Poetry Show. In 2012, The Writing Disorder nominated her poem, “Ikebukuro Train Rides” for a Pushcart.