Sunday, December 9, 2018

Introducing New Frequent Contributor Charles A. Swanson

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present a special double feature, "Quilted" and "Black Holes" by Charles A. Swanson, one of our new Frequent Contributors.  Charles' bio may be found in the "Our Staff" page.

Charles A. Swanson
Pieced from Papa, a little of World War II,
and Mama, scraps of a failed marriage,
a double wedding ring stitches me in,

circle of mountain past, circle of city hope. 
Log cabin shade and light, something of darkness
and chimney smoke, the smell of old fabric,

cloth saved, raw cotton for batting, I recognize
composite of genius and frugality, waste nothing.
I am not so new, never was, as reclaimed

and made pretty—a needle thrust into tomorrow,
a seam sewn by a domestic hand.  A bear claw
and a pinwheel, a little fear, a little play,

but most of all a warmth, I’m all of these.
Lay under me, love, on a cold, troubled night,
though I have my haunts, I will comfort you.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is dedicated to Grace Toney Edwards who taught English and who advanced the study of Appalachian literature at Radford University for many years.  She loves quilts.

My wife quilts and when she puts her needle into a top pieced by her grandmother or by mine, one of those tops whose patterns were sewn together but never quilted to a back, she feels as if she is touching kindred hands with a frugal and thrifty artisan of years past.  Such is the strength of a quilt, especially when a scrap here, or a piece there, is one saved from cloth worn by someone in the family.

My grandmother also made crazy quilts, solid blocks on which she added her own embroidery patterns.  Her “BER” (her initials), her words, “Remember Me,” and her free-form flowers still speak out of her needle, that needle she used to quilt us into her life.

Editor’s Note:  The personification of the quilt really works here. I love the soft, cozy ending.

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Black Holes
Charles A. Swanson

For any work of art, the palette spins
in dreams.  Imagination sorts the thin
and nondescript from the fat and rich.
How orange blazes, makes loud the witch
of Halloween, but beige is colorless.
I choose the bright, the sun that scours the west.
I see it in my mind.  But I also choose
the beige to soften all this noise.  I lose
the rainbow when I pick the blackest black
to border every afghan square.  This black
is traditional, but when I also pick
the same lost black to make the squares, the click
of Grandma’s soft tsk catches me.   Not that,
she says.  It won’t work.  It’ll be too flat.
But somehow I see blank windows of night
and know that every short day cycles, light
gives way to what I can’t see, don’t know.
And I must work the dark night of the soul.

Poet’s Notes:  Once, many years ago, a boy of nineteen sat with a woman of eighty-one in front of an open fireplace.  He had learned to crochet that fall and now had come to live with his grandmother on a small farm in the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia.  As he attended college, he worshiped at her Baptist church, played pick-up basketball at the college gym, and helped his uncles with chores.  

Two small homemade chairs drawn to the fire, the only heat in the living room became symbolic of a recurrent time to talk and work.  He looped the yarn for squares of his first afghan, running the thread through his fingers and onto the hook, twisting it into the stitches known as single and double crochets.  His grandmother sat beside him, easing her arthritic limbs in the heat of the fire and always busy herself with some kind of handwork.

I was that boy—and still am that boy as I travel back through the vehicle of poetry.  I also travel back each time I pick up the crochet hook.  I have moved past the traditional “granny square,” edged with black, with which I started, but I still see that archetypal pattern, good for beginners as well as experienced hands, on television shows in background staging.   Invariably, the squares are finished with a black row, despite all the color within the square.  

To edge the pattern with a color other than black seems somehow daring—somehow irreverent.  Even as a nineteen-year-old, I was one to play with the rules.  I loved following the pattern and breaking it at the same time—much as I love form and freedom in poetry.  Although I edged my squares with the expected black, I upset that pattern on my first afghan by making some squares a solid black.  Grandma objected, but, when all the squares were whipped together at long last, she gave me the approval I cherished.  

The solid black squares reminded me of windows at night.  The rest of the squares, vivid with color inside their black frames, represented the warmth of the fire, the friendship of conversation, the light I needed to balance the dark.

Editor’s Note:  I take pleasure in the mood here--somehow somber and hopeful simultaneously.  While knowledge of crochet would be requisite for a complete understanding, the poem may be enjoyed even without that.  The ending gives an interesting insight into the speaker.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"cinderella" by Larry Schug

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “cinderella” by Larry Schug.  Larry has published seven books of poetry. He is a volunteer writing tutor at the College of St. Benedict and a volunteer Naturalist at Outdoor U. at St. John's University.  He lives with his wife, dog, and two cats beside a large tamarack bog in St. Wendel Township, Minnesota.


i woke wishing i was entangled 
with a euro-trash cinderella, 
who wanted to smash  
all the glass slippers in the world
loosen the wheels and free all the horses 
of every princess-carrying coach
a girl with a stud in her nose
and a small tattoo of a spider on her shoulder
who looked like my friend danica
but with a dirty face and jet black hair
round eyes that see right into you
and sneer at all the prince charmings
and i wished we were both ragged and thin as old jeans
and wore torn army jackets as we snuck around
bleak abandoned streets 
of some post-industrial eastern european city 
maybe in czechoslovakia or poland, some dark place
so hungry our minds were clear as ice
and that at night we sheltered in a bombed-out warehouse
and were the only ones left in this city
but still afraid because of roaming packs of wild dogs
and because the night sky clouds the color of dead skin 
were lit from below by an electric glow
and we talked only with our eyes.

--Larry Schug

Poet's Notes:  Thanks, of course, to Cracker for their song "Euro-trash Girl" (see Editor’s Note).  I just took the story of Cinderella a bit farther in time.  I also found the poem wanting a post-industrial setting.  I'm not sure if Cinderella lived happily ever after or not.

Editor’s Note:  All poets are rebels.  Some even live a rebel lifestyle, but most do so only through their words.  This poem should resonate well with all the true and wannabe rebels out there.  

The poem has a strong beginning, setting the reader up for an avant-garde experience and pleasing the ears with its inter-line rhyme on "-ash".  The narrative of the poem does not disappoint, and the ending is also strong.  I particularly like the "dead skin" metaphor three lines from the end and the intra-line rhyme in the penultimate line.  The final line speaks volumes.

Enjoy a video of Cracker performing “Euro-trash Girl” here

Friday, December 7, 2018

"How to Grade Comets" by Mary Soon Lee, Poet of the Week

How to Grade Comets
Mary Soon Lee

Do not grade on a curve.
Do not use numbers at all.

Even the smallest comet
deserves more than a score.

Consider their constancy,
their patience, their heart.

That long cold trajectory
before the sunward curl.

Compliment their commitment,
their comae, their tails.

The courage it takes to burn
for the sake of their art.

Grant each a gold star
to welcome them back.

Poet's Notes: This poem is part of a sequence of astronomy poems that I am working on. I have been writing more science poetry of late, but it is often science poetry with a slantwise view, such as in this case. If I could have six lives and six careers, I would hope to be a scientist in one of them. I am especially drawn to space, and, though I have not put it to use, I have an M.Sc. in astronautics and space engineering.

Editor's Note:  I have known Mary for years and just found out about her Master's degree!  I hope you enjoyed this final tribute to her as she goes ad astra (but hopefully not per aspera).

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"Per Aspera Ad Astra" by Mary Soon Lee, Poet of the Week

Per Aspera Ad Astra
Mary Soon Lee
Every rocket rises
against weight.

Before Sputnik, before Vostok,
before the race to space,
Korolev's teeth fell out
in the mines of Kolyma
under Stalin's terror,
beaten, scurvy-ridden.

Before Gagarin orbited Earth,
before Voyager 1 glimpsed Saturn's rings,
concentration camp workers
carved caves to birth V-2s.
Corpses cremated.
A pit filled with ash.

The stars a fire.

Poet's Notes: "Per aspera ad astra" is a Latin phrase meaning "through hardships to the stars." I wrote this poem after reading the opening chapter of T. A. Heppenheimer's book, Countdown: A History of Space Flight. I love the space program, but there is plenty of grimness in its history, far more than the poem touches on, some of it merely (merely!) due to equipment/vehicle failures: Grissom, White and Chaffee who died during testing for the Apollo program. The Soyuz 11 crew. Challenger. Columbia.

Editor’s Note:  The state motto of Kansas is ad astra per aspera. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The First Monthly
Songs of Eretz Poetry Contest Is Underway!

Contest Theme:  “Winter”

Deadline:  December 15, 2018

Judges:  The Songs of Eretz Editorial Staff

Prize:  One-half of the net proceeds + publication

All contestants will receive feedback on their poems by the editorial staff, whether accepted or rejected.

All entries will be considered for publication in our January 2019 winter-themed issue.