Thursday, August 1, 2019


August 2019 "Sonnets" Issue
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Cover Art "Fourteen Gulls"
[Digital Photograph | Steven Wittenberg Gordon] 
Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are the work of our Art Editor or taken from "royalty-free" open internet sources.
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Table of Contents
A Letter from the Editor
Ross Balcom
   "The Beach Cities Enigma"
Steven Wittenberg Gordon
   "Loon on the Kennebec"
Gene Hodge
Karla Linn Merrifield
   "Sonnet, So to Speak, for Boyo"
Vivian Finley Nida
   "Blackberry Bliss"
Charles A. Swanson
   "Driving Home on a Rainy Night, after a Troubled Visit"
   "On Sweetness, Pie, and You"
Poetry Review
The Invention of Secrecy by David Citino
   Reviewed by Alessio Zanelli
Desecrations & Other Poems by Jesse Van Horne
   Reviewed by Howard Stein
Frequent Contributor News

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A Letter from the Editor
How difficult is it to compose a proper sonnet worthy of publication?  Let me count the ways!  About a hundred submissions, give or take, were submitted for this theme.  Not a single unsollicited submission made the cut, and only three even came close (you know who are are, and I do hope to hear from you again).  Even our Frequent Contributors had trouble with this theme, with some punting altogether and others missing the mark. In the end, only five FCs and yours truly made it into this issue.

Vivian Nida provided the only Shakespearean sonnet to make it into this issue among the dozens that were submitted.  Not only is her adherence to the form impeccable (an absolute requirement for consideration for publication) but her chosen topic is refreshing.  Not a single attempt at a Petrarchan sonnet made the cut, although many were submitted.

The other six poems presented are interesting modern takes on the sonnet form.  Some were obviously inspired by the Shakespearean or Petrarchan.  Others, including mine, maintain the fourteen-line framework (an absolute must in order to be considered a sonnet) but not much else.  Yet, these are sonnets--not just poems of fourteen lines.  There is still some form within them that echoes the traditional, whether it be rhythm, assonance, chorus, or organization.

The spots granted to the poets herein were dearly won and represent the finest examples of what may be done with the sonnet form.  Although short, this issue is jam-packed with real gems.  Enjoy!

Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

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The Beach Cities Enigma
Ross Balcom

The beach cities enigma was fog between my toes,
the bellowing of a phony saurian offshore.
The beach cities enigma offered only continuance
of itself; that, and a limp kelp sandwich for a dime.

The beach cities enigma was the sorcery of lifeguards
praying for rip-tides in low voices.
The beach cities enigma was picnics, mole crabs, 
and random deaths, in the order preferred by virgins.

The beach cities enigma hammered me with boredom,
sent my dreary stats to the mayor.
The beach cities enigma was unreadable charts 
and graphs, clockwork sunsets souring the water.

The beach cities enigma was beached with itself:
wreckage, anomie, free tartar sauce on the side.

Editor's Note:  This is an interesting modern take on the sonnet form.  I enjoy your relentless use of anaphora, the sprinkling of macabre humor, and the whimsical non-sequiturs.  It will be a pleasure to publish this one.  SWG

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Loon on the Kennebec
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Flying in low just before dusk 
a loon glides just above 
the running water of the Kennebec 
touching down without a sound.  

His red eyes gleam with the last rays 
of the sun before he dives.  
He surfaces a bit downstream
then emits his haunting cry.

The waves billow and blur
his shapely silhouette.
Then he dives once more
reappearing near some willows.

His be the waters, shores, and skies.
With that loon my spirit flies.

Poet's Notes:  As loyal readers already know, I recently changed from enjoying semi-retirement in Overland Park, Kansas (recently recognized as the best place in the United States to raise a family) where I enjoyed ample free time and controled my own schedule to working full-time in Downeast Maine where I enjoy little free time and have almost no control over my own schedule.  I had to leave behind in Kansas almost all of my worldly possessions, my house, my children, and my dog.

Maine is beautiful--much more so than the "flatland" of Kansas where, I am fond of saying, "you can watch your dog run away for three days."  The countryside of Maine is well-forested, well-watered with rivers and lakes, near or on the sea, and is home to the gorgeous Appalachian mountain range.  The Common Loon (pictured) can be found on or about the fresh waters of Maine and is known to be most active around dusk.  The call of a loon is indeed "haunting."

This poem was inspired by my first sighting of a loon in Maine.  It was dusk along the Kennebec River when he silently glided over the water, landing in it to hunt for a meal.  His cry was spellbinding.  It was a magical moment.  For me, the wild loon represents the freedom that I recently had to trade for security.  SWG

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Gene Hodge

He said it’s the little things that bother me.
Like a squeaking door . . .
my popping knee—
first thing in the morning when my feet touch the floor.
For breakfast, I told my wife
I wanted eggs and bacon.
She acted smitten,
looks at me as if I’m ill
and hands me a glass of Metamucil.
There’s a lot of things I’ll never know,
but when I look in the mirror at night
and see hair growing out my nose,
I know my window is closing
and I’ve grown old.

Editor’s Note:  I like this poem’s ironic humor and universal theme.   SWG

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Sonnet, So to Speak, for Boyo
Karla Linn Merrifield

The poetry of bodies
may happen in thigh-flexed couplets

toward a sonnet of muscular broken rules;
The poetry of two bodies

may also be measured in the woman’s
silk-skinned syllables of self she peels away 

to be the more nude in embodied words of poetry
shaped by the man’s iambic intentions to commit 

Petrarchan apostasy in neo-ecstatic stanza schemes; 
But, soft, then may the poetry of their bodies unfold 

in an ephemeral—non-corporeal—metaphor              
of the floating pleasures of disrobed imagination.

The poetry of poetry—of bodies, or not—is being 
made, original, flush in its urgency to this form transform.

Editor’s Note:  This is an interesting, modern take on the sonnet form with many plays on words, whimsy, and a strangely lilting rhythm.  It pushes the limit of the Songs of Eretz PG-13 aesthetic but does so tastefully and playfully.  SWG

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Blackberry Bliss
Vivian Finley Nida

Late spring’s pale blossoms, tender stars, charm bees
to waltz with them in tangle of wild stalks
Soon thicket fills with sweet, plump blackberries
rich seeds dispersed by sparrows and red fox
When dawn’s pink kisses gently wake the day
I reach the brambles, light breeze on my face
choose darkest berries, edible bouquet
leave red on vine to ripen at their pace
Hands brave sharp snag of prickles in work gloves
Black, glossy clusters, pull free, start to ooze 
deep purple stain of pleasure the world loves 
As bucket fills, delicious thoughts amuse
Serve fresh, enjoy jam, offer toasts with wine 
but save your heart for cobbler, lush, divine

Poet’s Notes:  My family and I pick as many wild blackberries as possible during their short season, eat them fresh, and freeze them to use all year in various ways.  Traditional cobbler topped with lattice pastry is my favorite, but when time is short, I make “Easy Blackberry Cobbler.” Everyone in my family looks forward to this treat. The recipe link is

Editor’s Note:  What a yummy sonnet!  I want to gobble it right up!  Vivian weaves a delicious lattice pastry around her blackberry words--words that saturate the senses.  My diet is ruined!  SWG

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Driving Home on a Rainy Night, after a Troubled Visit
Charles A. Swanson

Avalon.  Take this woman, wounded, in.
Tread the darkness of the mystic lake,
littered with water lilies.  Mortal ache,
breath so shallow, yet soul flashing like fins,
beneath the black tar, darting.  Winds
of autumn push orange leaves across the wake
of passing cars.  I shudder.  Ah, no lake
but only fall, and rain, and death blowing in.
There is no cold red sword-thrust on her brow,
no barge of queens with laps to soothe her head,
from misty fevered seas no arm of might
to take Excalibur.  My headlights plow
the road, searching the darkness that’s ahead,
making the black tar bottomless this night.

Poet’s Notes:  The love explored in this poem is my love for my mother-in-law as her life was fading--love in death, love defined by death, love made knowable by the ache of the unknowable. Love does not always throb with ecstasy.  Love sometimes throbs with pain.  Love is not always a flush brought on by the glimpse of a beautiful physical form.  Love sometimes grows slowly, grows with wearing.  As life wears away, as two people bend toward each other, the intrusion of mortal illness begins to define love that has found its way through hardships, through (and despite) the push and pull of day-to-day challenges.  

Editor’s Note:  This is a strong modern take on the sonnet form with a riveting narrative.  I particularly enjoy the nod to Arthurian legend and the deft employment of enjambment.  Its seeming imperfections of rhythm serve to emphasize the sense of chaos and loss  This one was originally submitted for consideration for our “Love” themed issue, but I decided instead to feature it this month to highlight Charles’ expertise with the sonnet form.  SWG

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On Sweetness, Pie, and You
Charles A. Swanson

Meringue sea-caps piled high—I think of rhyme,
fluffy metered verse, so sonically sweet.
I think of you, pie maker, whirring egg whites,
electric mixer churning into peaks
this soft confection.  You slide the pie,
butterscotch or chocolate, lemon, key lime,
into the oven.  Flour whitens your cheek
from the dough you’ve rolled.  You speak
about the trouble, no trouble. Yet the work
to bring a pie to the table!  I pull open
the oven, watch the bubbles turn amber,
the sea-caps brown.  I think of sweet words,
of images that start to sugar the tongue,
I think of you, our honeymoon, our summer. 

Poet’s Notes:  If a poem has tension, then it intrigues.  Tension in a poem is like conflict in a story.  Fortunately, a poem is not exactly a story, and poems about sweetness and light can also intrigue a reader.  Love can be a story of toughness, of love under adverse challenges.  Love can also be a picture of closeness and harmony.  Both scenarios are truthful.  

Editor’s Note:  This one really makes me want pie--diet ruined (again)!  SWG

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Poetry Review
The Invention of Secrecy by David Citino
Reviewed by Alessio Zanelli

In The Invention of Secrecy (Ohio State University Press, 2001, 76 pages), David Citino carries out a candid dissection of the human condition, borrowing from the miscellaneous vicissitudes of some charismatic figures of the past and present as well as from the stories of everyday people—himself and his kindred included.  In doing so, he aims to show us how every kind of “secrecy” has been “invented” to sidetrack us at every level of existence, to infuse hope and relief, and to make us abide our finitude. In unison and progressively—though quite flatly—the poet’s observations also reach the bottom of man’s “earthen” nature, stigmatizing our unrestrained greed for power and possessions.

The collection spans some of the most evocative episodes and enigmas that affect our lives by erecting fences around our comprehension and by compelling us to seek a continuous and improbable confrontation with God, seldom named, often inferred. There is poetry of experience and remembrance, of loss and disappearance, of unsought solitude and conscious communion in one ineluctable fate, of denunciation and resentment, of mild sarcasm and resolved disenchantment. What these poems reveal is a sort of “spiritual disillusion” with a hint of regret but without remorse.

Along his singular historical and geographical itinerary, from the Egypt of ancient pharaohs and of modern excavations deep into his “twentieth-century” Italian roots and about the intriguing, manifold oddity of Italy’s lore, Citino also exhibits all his poetic mastery. His verse goes straight to the point, is cadenced and fluent, sometimes urgent but never oppressive. The structure is neat and polished, someway reassuring. The language is agile and frank, not too refined but telling, occasionally rich in select, striking idioms and fairly peculiar phrasal verbs. The form is free and easy, with a predilection for regular stanzas, having the same number of lines (mainly three or four) but various meters, unrhymed, drifting to prose now and then. The overall style is finely attuned to subject matters and moods, never stiff nor too accommodating.

If I were asked to choose one adjective to define the effect of these poems on me, it would be “enriching”, if in a rather trying and disquieting way, and I say this as a poet first of all. And if I really had to find fault with this challenging work, it could be its lack of a conclusion, of a counterproposition to all that is subtly mocked and disparaged or openly argued against throughout its pages. That said, isn’t a possible solution what good poetry is said to leave or just suggest to readers?  

About the Poet:  David Citino was a Member of the Poetry Foundation, the Poet Laureate of Ohio State University until his death in 2005, and the author of ten previous poetry collections.  The Invention of Secrecyis available for purchase through Amazon.  A new hardcover edition may be had for $28.05, a paperback version for $17.95

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Desecrations & Other Poems by Jesse Van Horne
Reviewed by Howard F. Stein

The cliché--the central organizing theme that Desecrations & Other Poems(Skullflower Books, San Bernardino, California, 2018) redeems--is the universal mythic cycle of decay, death, resurrection, redemption, and freedom.  It is the shamanic journey from darkness to light, an act of self-redemption by an ordinary mortal.  Jesse Van Horne is an author, poet, painter, illustrator, designer, singer/songwriter, and applied anthropologist in Denver, Colorado.  In Desecrations, his fourth (and most recent) book of poetry, Van Horne provides hope that ideas long frozen into clichés can be revitalized. 

Desecrations is rich in metaphor, simile, alliteration, riveting imagery, and jarring end- rhyme, all written on life’s razor’s edge. Van Horne is adept at a wide range of styles: free verse, prose poem, meter, and rhyme, and is no stranger to hard-bitten wisdom: “Rivers convey regret/ with too much flow,/ if only I could still / the moving water”. 

Desecrations is organized in four parts plus a crucial preface.  In the latter, Van Horne begins his journey with a sense of mystery, “in awe at this strange human experience”.  His leitmotif and starting point, explicitly as an “ordinary life”, not as a hero, is “corrosion or corrosiveness”. 

The poems in Book 1 explore “the shadow or dark side” of the inner and outer worlds.  The opening poem, “Flowers Will Fade,” shows how quickly delight collapses into disdain. “He was taught/ to appreciate blossoms,” is soon followed by “Then as seasons fell,/ a beginning to despise,/ for he saw they dwelt on brink/ of ruin, of death”--one moment, disgust; the next moment, defiance. 

Book 2, “a rambling prose poem”, explores the “subconscious where anything might occur”.  This book is “dreamlike” and opens up a world of possibilities.  It is filled with urgency in the face of fleeting life.  The poet exhorts his readers, “Stop! Thief of nature, of that which makes the blood boil, do not linger at the lamp post hoping that one day soon you will taste the rain fresh from the sky!”  The entirety of Book 2 is an anxious admonition--as much of the poet to himself as it is to the readers he addresses.  

The poems in Book 3 are “a melancholic proclamation of sorts, a coming to grips with the life of freedom, with no safety net, no surety of anything”.  The poet’s “spiritual liberation” abolishes the unnecessary, binding fetters.  Book 3 begins with “emptiness” and journeys toward “pilgrimage.”  The book concludes with a Nietzschean paean to freedom. “I have evolved./ Now fear neither death nor life,/ walk unburdened and pray,/ may the nothingness that awaits/ and the fullness that is saturate/ my every pore.”

The concluding section, “Other Poems”, explores the poet’s experience of identity on the other side of self-liberation, when he is untethered, and instead “floats” in the possibility of each day.  Although these other poems stand formally outside of and are distinct from the mythic journey of the first three books, the poet muses “that this uncharted realm is yet another season in the great cycle . . . ”. The poems make it clear that the cycle is no straight line, destined for a state of possibility as a final achievement.  Victory is temporary. Eventually, corrosion and decay return, contaminate and sabotage the poet’s blissful floating. The inner world of Book 1 insidiously returns anew (return of the repressed?). 

Van Horne ends his book with an ecstatic vision, “Lost Inside the Dream,” which, as he writes earlier in this concluding section, will corrode, decay, and disintegrate “for artists trapped/ in blocks of stone/ I sharpen my chisel/ for you”.  This final poem sends the reader off in rousing hope. But in earlier poems in this same section, darkness, doubt, and desecration pollute triumph and hope.  Reality undermines the poet’s imaginative rally.  

I heartily recommend this intense volume of poetry that is at once personal odyssey, social criticism, and universal experience.  Desecrations & Other Poems is available for $12.95 from Barnes & Noble.

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Frequent Contributor News
Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Alessio Zanelli has released another book of poetry, The Secret Of Archery.  At the moment the book is only available from the publisher’s website and from select bookshops in the UK. Later on this year, Alessio anticipates that it will be made available from all major online booksellers. 

Alessio also has a piece, “Sunset In Five Haiku”, in the Spring 2019 issue of Main Street Rag, and his poem “Where The Horizon Ends” appeared in the 2019 edition, issue #9, of BFS Horizons, the literary magazine of the British Fantasy Society

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Lana the Poetry Dog
Our next issue will feature prose poems and be published in early September.  Calls for submissions for that issue are closed.

Beginning with our "Hallowe'en/Horror" themed issue due out toward the end of October, Songs of Eretz will be accepting unsolicited submissions for cover art as well as poetry. Submissions for that issue are open now and will close on August 31.  Our Associate Editor, James Frederick William "Edgar Allan" Rowe, the Dungeon Master himself, will be taking the lead on this issue, so send in only your most disturbing, haunting horror poems--he does not scare easily...

The original paintings and drawings (and prints of them) created by our Art Editor Jason Artemus Gordon and used for the illustrations in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review are available for purchase with and without copies of the poems that inspired them.  Please visit our "Artwork Store" page for details

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