Two Book Reviews
by Mary Kane
Reviewed by Miriam O’Neal
Author: Mary Kane
Published By: One Bird Book
ISBN-10: 149 4838427
Kindle Edition available at Amazon.com
Door, Mary Kane’s first full-length volume of poems, has the fullness of a mature writer. This is a poet who has practiced her craft extensively and with intensity. The door of the title poem turns out to be the broad expanse of a man’s back. Other doors turn out to be memories, windows, spaces between trees, death, ideas…. Each contains a threshold and a frame. Each invites entry or exit; from unconsciousness to consciousness, from the past to the future, from grief to acceptance, from the real to the surreal.
Over the course of the first 5 poems of Door we move from,
- the ‘black door’ of a man’s back ‘opening/ to a church where the flat/hat of a single congregant/ accommodates despair
- to the ‘black coat’ in a series of photographs, which reminds the speaker of an early time when ‘Doctors and clergymen’ visited people in their homes.
- to ‘several varieties of morning light, all of them useful for reflection….’, in the daytime memory of a dream of an extramarital affair,
- to a woman named Mary Ann, who exists in a painting by that name, but whom the speaker invites you to imagine as yourself.
- to lemons in a daughter’s drawing that elicit layers of awareness of grief, desire, the loss of innocence, and more.
Real and imagined characters, artists, writers, and family members enter and leave the rooms of these poems, the action often takes place in a kitchen, on a sidewalk, in a dream, and other places. One wonderful characteristic of the poems in Door, is that Kane manages to persuade you to suspend your disbelief early on by providing familiar and ordinary details through which to view the worlds these poems inhabit.
Each poem operates as a report or a musing. We read the odd details of dreams or memories; the propositions she presents begin to reveal our own unconsciousness to us. I do not mean she preaches to us; she discusses matters with us. In “The Listener” we meet Joe, who
…cups one hand
behind his ear and crouches
in a scraped out space beneath a sidewalk, in hiding
in the dark nine-tenths of who I am….
It’s difficult to say how many times I have read this particular poem, but every time I read it I am amazed by its ability to clarify the particular reality of an acknowledged hidden self who understands what we are about. We each have a ‘Joe’ within, a ‘listener,’ that hidden part of ourselves with whom we long to merge; we “long to sit at dinner// with [our] entirety….”, even though until this moment we haven’t had a name for that self or for that longing.
A lot of what opens the door for the reader of these poems is Kane’s ability to remove us from the predictable immediately. Her titles and opening lines set up expectations of a one kind only to displace us by way of curious images or ideas. You might imagine you know what to expect from a poem whose title is, “Better Than Catholicism,” but you would be mistaken.
A man walks up Main Street
with a cardboard box on his head
and decides he likes it
better than Catholicism
but not so much
as a cigarette at a bar.
It’s important to say that Kane never reaches for the polemical. If she’s writing about religion, she’s not claiming it’s rightness or wrongness, she’s writing about the longing that one’s connection to a religion may or may not fulfill. That theme of longing is echoed in “Love Poem #279”, whose opening lines tell us “A poet is someone who is stupid/ enough to keep scratching….”, and with the closing lines of “Love Poem — Egret”,
which closes with,
…. I used to be
made of bird too, my fast
heart, my voice hidden
in foliage, my ready flight.
That sense of past life is one way that the poems address the presence of absence.
Absences create spaces. Spaces are to be entered.
Kane’s poems startle me into awareness again and again. There is the line from “A Fine Red New of Capillaries In The Shape Of A Human Head” where the speaker claims, “If you bring forth what is in you, that’s the Gospel of Thomas.” Thomas was the apostle who doubted that Christ has risen, so was invited to place his fingers in the wound in Christ’s side as proof that this was Christ. As such, this single line provides a quick insight or an afternoon of contemplation. What is the place of doubt in the human psyche?
There is also an intense awareness of how we inhabit the physical world as in the poem “Measure” where,
In the first winter
two sisters skate at night, lying on their backs
on the ice afterward, their ears and fingers
cold, the creak and moan of thick ice
widening the night….
Like a painter who knows her brushes, Kane has captured the experience of night skating precisely with a few strokes, including the sound of ice refreezing in the dark, which makes the night feel deeper, broader, and more mysterious.
If you review the table of contents of Door, it might seem that she sometimes goes too far with her titles. There are 7 poems whose titles are 9 or more words long, and 1 exceeds 20 words. These are juxtaposed with the single word titles like ‘Door” and “Measure,” “Parnate” and “Evidence.” I mention the titles only because they are, all of them, the kinds of titles, whether brief or extensive, that take on the work of doors themselves, framing the spaces of the poems, insuring that when you enter, you know how you got there, especially because where you end up can be so unexpected.
One of the remarkable characteristics of Kane’s work is her capacity for an undercurrent of droll humor. Imaginary characters like Eleanor, Ellen, a woman sitting on clouds or in a tree, and 3 women having tea, arrive with strange news or casseroles, or a photo of a window and a field; a poem shows up with mud on its trousers. The reader feels she knows the cast from somewhere else. Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Woolf, Whitman, Dickinson, Cezanne, Kitaj, Degas, and others show up to referee, infer, or illuminate situations. Yet there is not a single presence that feels self-conscious. They inhabit the poems as naturally as the birds— herons, orioles, egrets, the shadow of a hawk.
A common practice of reviewers is to examine a collection of poems for its arc. I won’t claim to have found one in Door. What I find is a wandering, as in the aboriginal ‘walk about’, which is defined by some as a rite of passage of adolescence, but is also related to the practice of leaving ordinary/daily life without notice when a ceremony must be attended to. The poems lead the reader on and on, from room to room, world to world, vision to vision. The first and title poem “Door” ends with the line “I only have to change/ utterly to enter.” The final poem “There Will Be A Woman Written In As A Wren,” suggests the transformation has occurred when one last character is introduced, “…there’ll be a young boy tossing a baseball in the air, higher and higher, always catching it in his glove….”. His easiness with ball and glove, in spite of ever growing distance between the two suggests a way of living with it all— with longing, with absence, with wonder, with grief: stand still, wait, receive, release. Repeat.
Door, by Mary Kane (ISBN 13: 978-149483423)
One Bird Book
35 Brush Hill Circle
Hatchville, MA 02536
About the Reviewer:
Miriam O’Neal has published poems and/or reviews in AGNI, Marlboro Review, Louisiana Literature, Birmingham Review, and The Guidebook, as well as elsewhere. Her translation of Italian poet, Alda Merini earned her a Beginning Translator’s Fellowship from the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) in 2007. Her manuscript, We Start WithWhat We’re Given is currently looking for a home.
From These Roots
by Audrie Clifford
Reviewed by Eileen Dandashi
Title: From These Roots
Author: Audrie Clifford
Published By: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
(March 4, 2014)
Audrie’s books are so unique. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. She tells us that some are purely fiction, some are memoirs and others are a combination. She’s got stories in her, this feisty-tell-it-how-it-is-80-year-old, who puts just enough fictional material in a factual setting that you have to read it.
Her story about her mother and grandmother was researched through family and her own memory. It is her mother’s story, but it’s hers and well as her brother and sisters. The absolutely clever way she begins the book keeps you reading, after all, doesn’t everyone want to find out what the dead have to say?
I’ve been dead a good long while now. I didn’t mean to scare you by saying that, but I didn’t want you to think that I was alive and that you could communicate with me.
I died in 1939, which was a considerable time ago, but you know how folks say that as long as there is anyone who remembers you, you’re really not gone? Well, it’s true. There are only two granddaughters left who have the vaguest memory of me, and those two girls are getting old, so I won’t be around much longer, I guess. I’ll just be fading into that blur of ancestors that we all have, and I don’t know if there are individual spirits among them. Guess I’ll be finding out pretty soon.
I liked the book for the story itself, the relationships been daughter and mothers. I was touched by the purely unselfish acts that women did for each other. It also described life as it used to be. I am not as old as Audrie, but I know life was simpler in the 1950s. But in the early 1900s when Florence, lived, there was very little of what we’ve come to expect today. Yep, outhouses were the norm in lots of the United States since much of it was rural. People did their own canning of summer harvests to tie them over through the hard months of winter. Poverty during the depression years was the new norm. Cars were a rarity. Doctors may know what you have, but have nothing to make it go away. And if they know what something is, there were no pills to pop, just herbs and natural ways to get over something. Addy, one of Emma’s children, had the Cuban itch. What is the Cuban itch you ask? The doctor had such a novel way to get rid of it! Hey, you gotta’ read the book, I can’t tell! People had to rely on themselves whenever they could, but also found help was available from the graciousness of others who had a little more than they did. Life was simple, yet difficult.
Women have always had to be strong. They were survivors. They still are. Our environment and challenges have changed, but the struggle continues. I’d like to think that our genes have been conditioned by our ancestors dealing with adversity. Women have always been thus challenged. We shall overcome and be stronger for it.
Audrie writes from her heart in a very entertaining way. I really have enjoyed all her books to date. I hope that you’ll choose to read one. Below are the covers of her books with purchase links from Amazon. Below that are links to my previous reviews of her three other books.
Book Jacket Blurb: Most of us don’t live in exactly the same style as our parents. It is the nature of the child to break away and to see a life more in keeping with their own inclinations. From These Roots tells the stories of Florence, a woman of the early 20th century and her daughter, Emma. Both women faced the challenges of poverty and heartbreak and yet, neither woman let circumstances define her.
As women of the modern age, we are inclined to give ourselves credit for our strength and courage in overcoming obstacles, never wondering where those qualities came from.
Perhaps the best thing to inherit from your ancestors is neither money nor beauty. It is the ability to cope with adversity.
A warm, but unsparing look at the events that occur in many of our lifetimes. Florence tells the tales of her own life and that of one of her daughters. They were both good women, but while Florence accepted betrayal and heartbreak in a docile manner as was proper at the turn of the twentieth century, Emma was more inclined to fight back or to get even. Their strength and endurance, along with that of other mothers has been left as a legacy to the women of today. “Great story about the joys and sorrows all families face during a lifetime.”
Another Damn Newcomer https://eileendandashi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=852&action=edit
A bit of information about Audrie Clifford:
My first book was factual, my second and third books were fiction, From These Roots is both.
I always knew that I wanted to tell my mother’s story because I found it to be almost unbelievable. What I needed to put it in an acceptable format was someone to tell the story from an all-seeing point of view. My mother’s mother seemed to be a perfect solution. The only problem was that I hadn’t known my grandmother. She died when I was only five-years old, after seeing her one time.
Family history, however, gave me some of the known facts of her life and she became “Florence” in my book. All I had to do was write the story to conform to the known facts.
My mother’s story (“Emma” in the book) was written to be as true to her reality as I could make it. She really, truly did intend to commit murder, and admitted it quite casually to me. She really, truly did deliver another woman’s baby in the desert.
Most women don’t have those kinds of stories, so that’s why I felt hers should be told.
The book I’m currently working on was decided on as a bit of challenge to me. This is a story of an ordinary life as told by a nine-year old.
About Eileen Dandashi:
“I am a lover of books, both reading and writing. My mission is to encourage people to see the treasures that lie between the pages. I enjoy conversing with authors, fellow bloggers who have anything to do with books and have a particular thrill seeing writers newly published. I am a past teacher of music, English as a secondary language, and French. I have traveled and lived in much of the Middle East, Arab speaking countries and would like to share my experiences and knowledge through the printed word.”