November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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A Dirt Road Hangs…/Book Reviews




by Barbara Rosenthal

Judging this book by its cover is exactly the right thing to do. The cover is black, matte, waxy, subtle, pliable; it yields but springs back. Its large, strong, cramped capital block letters, once white, are now broken, scratched, distressed. The illustration, placed on a vertical axis between the title above and author below, looks at first to be the eye of a fox or cat or snake, but come closer and you’ll realize that its vertical pupil is the silhouette of a girl. We see her from the back. She’s stepping into the scene, a receding forest path. When we take a breath, allow ourselves to open the cover and follow, we tread A Dirt Road Hangs from the Sky, fifty-eight harrowing poems by Claudia Serea, telling in their sparse but unsparing way of the brutal Communist era in her native Romania.

With a nod to those who’ve trod the road before, notably the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, whose political endurance and formal craft have been a compass, Serea finds images in nature to serve as statements of witness. She shows us grim political realities through windows of breathtakingly sharp, poignant, original metaphor and observation. And she writes with great restraint — lines of only three to six words within stanzas of two to four lines within poems of four to fifteen stanzas, and one, “The Dictionary”, a ten-page self-contained section.

From “The Dictionary”:

A succession of sounds
to which a face is attached

From “Valea Piersicilor
Romania, 1950s”:

Oh green valley,
where the arms of the trees rise in surrender
and the roots kneel in the ground,
how quiet you are.

Some in first person, some through the eyes of her grandmother or other relatives old enough to have had direct experience, Claudia Serea writes enduringly of the mundane and the spiritual without falling into traps of  sensationalization, saturation, poetification, schooling or slam-cadence. She keeps her own voice evenly pitched, steadily thrumming, then suddenly sings or screams out a black-edged half-rhyme or a brilliant note of contrast.

This body of work is almost flawless. Its few tiny stumbles serve merely to make perfectionists wish only that everything in the world were as nearly as perfect. Only that the numbered partitions don’t differentiate themselves, and within the poems a few possessive/noun combinations that might have been plural/verb; a few extra gazes at the sky, rain, kisses, slivers of soap and shuffling feet; and the editor might have inserted a historical forward for those of us who must pause our reading to refer to outside scholarship so we don’t miss a single step. This reviewer mentions these things only out of duty, for they exist among passages as significant and intense as this:


From “A song on the radio”:

Fall has come.
It flows from the barrel.

Farewell is the young wine
you pour into the evening’s glass.

It’s sweet and tart like summer
with a hint of grass
broken under our bodies.

Take a sip, love,
Fall has come.

* * * * *

Serea, Claudia, A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky, 8th House Publishing, Montreal, Canada, 2013. ISBN 978-1-926716-24-4

About the reviewer:

Barbara Rosenthal is a New York artist and writer of existential themes. Four of her books have been published by Visual Studies Workshop Press. Cold Turkey at the Dog Run will be published by Deadly Chaps Press this spring.


 * * * * *



by Cherise Wyneken

Grace Marie Grafton’s latest book of poetry, published by Hip Pocket Press, draws one in jesterwith its intriguing title, “Jester,” and by the colorful cover depicting a jester’s antics. Continuing in the mood of the title, the book is formatted in sections reminiscent of acts in an old-fashioned vaudeville show: Improv’, Impersonations, Singing the Blues, and Last Act.

One soon finds that the acts are not mere buffoonery, but poetry, giving us a picture of Grafton’s prowess of imagination and skill.  She becomes the jester herself as she puts words together in imaginative ploys.  Words that leap from the inspiration she found in a line or title of a poem, a piece of art, or its title.

In the first section, Improv’, “Flying home from a lost wedding” is the title of a poem by Rosmarie Waldrop.  Grafton’s version is an evocative example of an improvisation that suggests that everything has gone awry:  The hasp of the chest flew open when it/landed in the spring-awakened field and the whole town/and all its environs would become parade.

“Background” in Impersonation, depicts a woman’s picture of herself as a seventeen-year-old who thinks she is acting like a sophisticated woman.  It is a memory which she has taken with her all of her life where she says, there’ll always/be my youth as suggested from John Ashbery’s line about time: time that one seizes/and takes along with one is running through the holes…

“The Nude Out West,” is a perfect example of Singing the Blues taken from Joyce Treman’s painting “The Nude Out West.”  Here Grafton aptly makes us feel the nude’s regrets:

A fireplace and couch became
her cloister, for thirteen years she wept
about the time she’d wasted dressed in
black and white, then stood up and
taught herself to walk again.

In Last Act, from Claude Monet’s painting “On the cliffs – Dieppe” we are treated to “Maids’ afternoon off,” where through the eyes of the poem Grafton imparts how it would feel to be alive in that scene:  how they wish to dangle on ropes down/the steep rock drop, above dangerous water –  and They want to risk/coming near the monster, then escape,

Grafton’s poems are filled with splashes of bright colors and inventive specific images:  A motif of wildflowers, “Look,”/ I said, /they have owl’s eyes above the white/belly,” from the poem “Approach” for Melissa Kwasny.

We think of a jester as one who entertains.  Grace Grafton’s poems do just that.  The book is a work of art fit for a king.  I highly recommend it to all lovers and would-be lovers of poetry.


Grace Grafton is the author of five previous collections of poetry.  She taught for many years in the California Poets In The Schools program, for which she was awarded twelve California Arts Council grants.  She was named Teacher of the Year by the River of Words annual student poetry contest co-sponsored by Robert Hass, United State Poet Laureate.


About the reviewer:

Cherise Wyneken is a freelance writer and contributor to the Oakland Chronicle, where this review first appeared. You can read more about her at: