Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“MRI” by Sara Backer

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “MRI” by Sara Backer.  Backer is the author of two chapbooks, “Bicycle Lotus”, which won the Turtle Island Poetry Award, and “Scavenger Hunt” coming soon from Dancing Girl Press. She's currently pursuing an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her online writing is posted on her website, www.sarabacker.com/publications.

Sara Backer

I am the log the river shakes downstream.
The helmsman turns on pulsing disco
and mechanical rowers chant pins and needles,

pins and needles. I’m 100% sure those are the words
until they become friends in need and friends in need and
into the chute I’m sent.

The periscope mirror above my face
to ease claustrophobia doesn’t fool my mind.
I sense the lethal weight of magnets

closing round my brain. I churn with the noise
that will transform secrets of my dark tissue
into silent psychedelic imagery.

I become lumber run through the mill,
hammered, sawed, planed, and drilled,
bolted and drilled again, vibration after vibration

in a chilled room with a useless sheet
tossed over my legs—
a preview of my own autopsy?

A wet prick of dye announces Act II.
An intercom voice asks are you all right?
I say yes despite numb fingers, dizziness

of holding still, breathing minutes away through—pins
and needles, friends in need and—this construction project
of me somewhere between alive and dead.

Poet’s Notes:  Perhaps because I lived in Japan for three years, I'm always interested in the dynamic of opposites in Eastern poetry. A brain MRI is a loud and tactile hour-long ordeal for the patient that results in a silent image that doctors can see and understand in seconds--and find beauty in it. I hoped to show the way our brains try to fill in for us when our senses are deprived or when we are deprived of information. 

Editor’s Note:  Backer has nicely poetically captured the experience many have during an MRI.  The poetic conceit works well, and the stanza about the sheet is especially powerful. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

“Le suicide” by Ashley Valente

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Le suicide” by Ashley Valente in her publishing debut.  Valente has honed her craft through years of study at the University of La Verne.  She specializes in short stories and poems and is a classic film buff.

Le suicide
Ashley Valente

Fine stone cold turkey
The cut of a searing hot blade

Surrendering identity
Le fin de vie

on the wrist
where there est non vermillion mouth 

Depression emotion
Fear madness

to call you mad

N’est pas? 

in your 
own villa 

Self hatred 

it smells strongly of money
metallic, like blood 

Marked violence

drips into your eyes
blind to everything but 

Le désir à 

where her stomach is 
hard and willing 
for you to swim lower

Life stolen
Pour quoi? L’argent? 
Le mensonge de soi
Is the worst
Rope of all 
Ça va? Non. 
No modern man 

Lives well inside

Poet's Notes:  The 1967 film Diaboliquement Votre inspired “Le suicide”. An amnesiac, played by international sex symbol Alain Delon (pictured), is being systematically brainwashed by his supposed wife and best friend, who are both urging him toward suicide. The left oriented stanzas touch on sex as an addiction, the right oriented stanza on monetary greed, before the two sides converge in the final stanza. In addition, the left oriented stanzas may be read together as a stand-alone poem. 

Editor’s Note:  I particularly appreciate the thirteenth stanza, where the erotic and death begin to combine and then come together beautifully in the final stanza.  The first line works on many levels--visceral, as metaphor for drug addiction, as metaphor for stimulated flesh--a strong beginning to a haunting piece.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Standings for the Songs of Eretz Readers Choice Award Contest So Far

First place:  "Autismville" by Melinda Coppola

Second place:  "7 a.m." by Melinda Coppola

Tied for third place:  "Deceptive Cadence" by Carol Kner & "The Great Escape" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Tied for fifth place:  "Passing On" by Carol Kner & "When I Am Old" by Tim Amsden

Seventh (last) place:  "The Poet Says This Is How You Should See" by Melinda Coppola.

Voting continues for two more weeks (until midnight CST March 31).  If you have not already voted, send your pick for your favorite poem to Editor@SongsOfEretz.com.  See http://www.songsoferetz.com/2018/02/announcing-1st-annual-songs-of-eretz.html for more information about the contest. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Toads Abounding" by Ross Balcom

Toads Abounding
Ross Balcom

"All Hail!" Ink and Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
a black candle

mouth a prayer
to the Toad

let the heath
run wild

with warty weirdness

toads abounding,
toads abounding

dance naked
with them

this hour
of abandon

is yours
croak, croak, croak

with wanton weirdness

toads abounding,
toads abounding

lumpy children
of Luna

noisome numbers

join them,
midnight mage

in your wild weirdness

toads abounding,
toads abounding...

All hail the Toad!

Poet's Notes:  I am a lover of toads. I embrace and lick them in my dreams. This poem is dedicated to every toad, from the toad in the road to the Toad on the throne.

Editor’s Note:  I toadally love this one! 

Artist's Note: This piece went a different direction than I expected, but I think that is appropriate for the subject matter. All glory to the Hypno Toad!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Temptation” by Sylvia Cavanaugh

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Temptation” by Sylvia Cavanaugh. Originally from Pennsylvania, Cavanaugh has an M.S. in Urban Planning from the University of Wisconsin.  She teaches high school African and Asian cultural studies and advises break-dancers and poets. She and her students are actively involved in the Sheboygan chapter of 100,000 Poets for Change. 

Cavanaugh’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies.  She is a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual: An Online Community Journal of Poetry. Finishing Lines Press published her chapbook, Staring Through My Eyes. A second chapbook, Angular Embrace, is forthcoming in April 2018 from Kelsay Books. You can find more of Cavanaugh’s poetry at sylviacavanaugh.com.

Sylvia Cavanaugh

Paralyzed by food
"Reverse Birth" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
the garter snake
helpless and limp
lies by the side
of summer’s dirt trail

the enormous impossibility
of swallowing that frog
like childbirth
in reverse

if eating were that traumatic
let’s face it
I could slink
cold-blooded cool
past untold bounty
pizza, pasta, even chocolate

I might have the time
to find a woman 
and spill my secret plot

Poet’s Notes:  I was walking along a dirt trail to Lake Michigan and saw a garter snake off to the side. It was limp and helpless but grasses obscured its head. At first, it appeared that the snake had suffered an injury, but upon closer examination, I found that it was working a frog through its jaws. It looked painful and rendered the snake completely helpless. I moved the snake further away from the trail so that it wouldn’t be stepped on. It was shocking to see how traumatic the act of eating could be.

Editor’s Note:  This one is filled with goodies!  I especially like the image created by the brilliant metaphor of giving birth in reverse, a concept of which Neil Gaiman would approve (ref:  American Gods).  The wicked idea of slinking past the delicious food followed by the Genesis reference produced an involuntary "wow!" from me. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"An Old Man’s Book" by Kaitlyn Vaughn

"Disturbing the Peace" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
An Old Man’s Book
Kaitlyn Vaughn

Extraterrestrials were the old man’s favorite subject.
Most nights he roamed the countryside in search of otherworldly beings.
Information for his latest book he was seeking to glean and construct
Inspired by articles teeming with evidence for possible new life forms
Driven by curiosity, frowned upon by others with scorn
“What a peculiar old bloke, 
Always tromping about during the late night’s hour,
Wonder what he’s searching for?”
The troop whispered from a nearby bush as they cowered.
The man was equipped with a rucksack filled with provisions,
And what all else, no one could tell.
An alarming amount of questions the man couldn’t quell
He gazed at the sky for long periods of time
Searching for any sign of lights flashing or sounds chiming.
He zigzagged and trekked onward almost aimlessly with no certain destination,
All while the nosey troop followed with indignation.
At last he arrived at a spot which resembled that of a low valley,
Where the trees and all growth seemed to recede.
He sat in the lifeless meadow, took out his rations and began to eat.
Not a lick of new insight had he found for his book,
At this time he was most ready to go home, 
But jumped with a startled look,
For above in the star-blotted sky flew forth the most curious drone.
It spun in circles on a tilted axis.
It whirred, it hovered, it hummed with madness.
As one can assume the troop had quite dispersed,
For the show didn’t take very long to chase the group
Clean back to their homes,
Meanwhile the old man still sat all alone.
He absorbed the spectacle, never to lose in his mind.
The new sighting was enough to ready his book and to bind.
However, the apparatus began to open,
And out came a bridge with a blinding light that lashed out with force.
The man could see nothing, and all at once couldn’t feel.
The light retracted and so did the bridge for good.
All that remains of the old man are his glasses
Nestled in the meadow where his new comrades had frequented in the luminous apparatus.
None of the nosey troop members have disclosed any words on the events
In which they so willingly abandoned the old man,
For his family often questions his disappearance, 
But most are too guilty while others say good riddance.

Poet’s Notes:  My husband and I are avid documentary watchers, and aliens and the paranormal fascinate me the most. In the poem, I try to help the reader envision the old man as a recluse who is obsessed with aliens and with writing books on them. The meadow where no life seems to grow is actually a large crop circle that the man stumbles upon and finds his source of interest out of nowhere.

Editor’s Note:  Until this year, I would not have chosen to publish a poem like "An Old Man's Book" but I have expanded the mission of Songs of Eretz to include publishing riveting prosaic narrative poems such as this one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"“Looking Out At 42nd Street” by Mary K. O’Melveny

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Looking Out At 42nd Street” by Mary K. O’Melveny, a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington, DC and Woodstock, New York.  O’Melveny’s poetry has appeared in various print and on-line journals, including Allegro Poetry Magazine, GFT Press, The Flagler Review, The Write Place At The Write Time, The Offbeat, Into the Void, and Slippery Elm Literary Journal.  Her poem “Cease Fire” won the 2017 Raynes Poetry Competition sponsored by Jewish Currents Magazine and appears in the anthology Borders and Boundaries.  

Looking Out At 42nd Street
Mary K. O’Melveny

"Buzz" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
City rhythms feel electric on my skin.
The Hudson River emits a slight smoky haze.
Hot summer air settles over geometric rooftops, 
copper and glass vie for attention with neon lights.

The Hudson River emits a slight smoky haze
as I stare toward a distant horizon line.
Copper and glass vie for attention with neon lights
while helicopters flit above the water like summer insects.

As I stare toward a distant horizon line,
I wonder if every city denizen feels safe
while helicopters flit above the water like summer insects,
or if the urge to run and hide takes over.

I wonder if every city denizen feels safe
walking street side in the sweltering afternoon
or if the urge to run and hide takes over
even as sunset ripples slowly across the sky.

Walking street side in the sweltering afternoon,
people push past us staring down at bright images.
Even as sunset ripples across the sky,
camera phones are cradled like newborns.

People push past us, staring down at bright images.
Some would call this the center of the universe.
Camera phones are cradled like newborns
as memories are captured in distant clouds.

Some would call this the center of the universe,
but I believe we are just dancing on its surface.
As memories are captured in distant clouds,
city rhythms feel electric on my skin.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem was composed during a visit to New York City in July 2017.  I had just begun experimenting with pantoums.  Somehow, the rhythms of the city seemed perfect for this form of expression.  I am a former New York City resident and always experience a “current” whenever I return to this place of magical energy and multiple contradictions.  I began the poem after looking down from my hotel window onto Times Square many stories below.  After walking to the theatre and back through throngs of tourists and city dwellers alike, these multiple scenes carried me quite naturally to the poem’s ending.  

Editor’s Note:  I was riveted by the narrative of this perfectly constructed pantoum.  My favorite part is the last stanza with its play on the word "clouds." 

Monday, March 12, 2018

"Perhaps" by Aparna Sanyal

Aparna Sanyal 

"Peace" Ink on Paper
J. Artemus Gordon
there is a book
by a fireside 
on a rug of tufted joy,
at the end of a long day. 
Shall we make our way there?  
Through a spiraling
once our lives have unspooled,
and insect-like, we have
scrabbled through the rims of
endless pine cones,
dreamt arachnid dreams
of flies, spit-cocoons and
Once we've opened too many holy 
books with gun shapes 
cut inside,
drunk too much merry wine,
foul scotch and swilled 
bitter pills,
will you join me at 
this fireside? 
We can open the first page together. 
something that isn't 
jaded, cloyed, tainted
will draw us to its core.
And with your hand in mine,
leaning back against 
your absorbing shoulder, 
we can read again? 

Poet’s Notes:  This poem came to me at the end of a particularly stark day. Watching radical religious fundamentalists create yet another fight, seeing the downward spiral of economic and social conditions in my beloved country, and then seeing tear-drenched, hopeful faces at another candle-lit vigil, I was struck by how varied a country we are, and how we’ve existed for eons seemingly teetering at the edge of devastation, but somehow redeeming ourselves. Perhaps, all we want, all we dream of, beyond the divisions, beyond the hate, is a simple, sweet, honest ending to our mortal tales? 

Editor’s Note:  What a lovely overriding metaphor and hopeful sentiment so beautifully expressed!  The world is so divided.  That would be fine, perhaps even beneficial, if all sides respected each other, but sadly they do not.  Perhaps this poem will at least change a few hearts and minds.  In any case, it is my honor to publish it. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

"My Journey with John" by the Editor

I have been aware of the speculative poetry of John Reinhart ever since I became aware of the self-styled Science Fiction Poetry Association.  That would have been late in the year 2012.  At that time, his work appeared frequently in the SFPA journal Star*Line, edited until recently by F. J. Bergmann.  I found (and still find) his genre poetry to be engaging and thought-provoking with a sprinkling of (at times dark) humor worthy of a smile albeit sometimes a grim one. 

I launched Songs of Eretz Poetry Review in 2014 and published some of John’s more mainstream poems with such frequency that I eventually invited him to be a Frequent Contributor, a quasi-staff poet position, which he held from the inception of the FC program in January 2016 until he decided to move on to other projects in December 2017.  During his time as an FC, I published approximately thirty-five of his poems, easily enough for a chapbook or small collection.

Of all John’s poems that appeared during his time as an FC, the most popular with the Songs of Eretz readership were “24th century lullaby” http://www.songsoferetz.com/2017/03/24th-century-lullaby-by-john-reinhart.html and “saying goodnight” http://www.songsoferetz.com/2016/09/saying-goodnight-by-john-reinhart.html.  The latter is a mainstream poem of only twenty-six words that exemplifies John’s love of family, storytelling, and science fiction.  (There is always a speculative element in one of John’s poems--one just needs to look for it.)  In this poem, John melds heart and ear to form a “heart ear.”  What a weird yet beautiful concept!

In the former poem, John demonstrates his enjoyment for composing form poems, this time using the empat perkataan form.  Setting aside the obvious sci-fi title, the poem, while certainly speculative, harkens back to balladic nursery rhymes and old household tales, a joining of the familiar with the cosmic.

The last collection of John’s poems that I read was Invert the Helix.  Disappointingly, only half a dozen poems in the collection really moved me, two of which I had previously published in Songs of Eretz.  The rest of the poems in the collection I found either too "out there," borderline non-sequitur, experimental (but not in a good way), or too cutesy for my personal taste.  Nevertheless, I admire John for taking a risk.  After all, if poets never did, poems would still be imprisoned in stifling forms and entirely dependent on rhyme and meter.  And that would be a shame.  I will continue to follow John’s poetry career with great interest.  You should, too.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon

"Mi Isla" by Alberto Garrido

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Mi Isla” by Alberto Garrido.  Originally from New Jersey, he is currently studying marketing and advertising in New York City.

"Isla" Watercolor & Graphite on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Mi Isla 
Alberto Garrido

Skies I had never seen before
Land I never felt below my feet
Yet everything was so familiar

La tierra that my dad’s family escaped
I see a familiar flag in the distance
The red triangle mocks me
The government tells me it is for strength 
But I know it is for communism

This country that once thrived
That the whole world rushed to
Now ridden with poverty
Those remaining, dying to leave

Mis primos ask me about the United States
About the Ferraris, the wifi, the pools, the food, la libertad
Things they will never see 

Che’s face looks over those whom he has ruined
A symbol to those who know his face
A monster to those who know his story

But I can’t say any of this
Or I will put us in danger

Celia and Gloria sang their hearts
Now they can never go back

“Mi isla”
I have never been to it
But it feels so familiar
Aquí corre mi herencia
I can feel the tears shed by my Abuela as she boarded the plane
I know everything my Abuelo left behind

I hope that one day
“Mi isla”
Will be what it was

I pray that in
“Mi isla”
People can speak
And say that Fidel was a killer

Yo quiero que “mi isla” sea mi isla un día 

Poet's Notes: Being Cuban on my father's side, I have always heard stories of survival and escape from members of my family. In March of 2017, I had the privilege to see Cuba with my grandfather. Upon being there, I realized how much my family overcame and the major sacrifices they made so that I did not grow up under this system. Seeing my extended family that is still there, I realized how blessed I was to be brought up in a country founded on freedom. This poem deals with my conflicting experiences and emotions on the island.

Editor’s Note:  I am moved by the passion and longing that bleeds and screams through the words of Garrido’s simple, heartfelt poem.  Quiero que su isla sea su isla un día también.