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  • Writer's pictureKristin Kowalski Ferragut

Three Great Poets, 3 Short Reviews


Review of Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth, by Laura Costas



Part manual for deconstructed thought; part call to remember bits of us more fundamental than ideas, or language, and some pieces able to stand as koans, Laura Costas gifts us a thought-provoking collection of 91 short poetic-prose pieces. 


Ariadne Awakens


  She smoothed the creases in the bright blue sky, and when he arrived, there was barely time to clear the space between them of ash, coffee grounds, today’s paper, and flammable liquids scented of anise, of orange.

  Her dune his dromedary; their islands with violet horizons. He carved her initials in a cloud.


I interpret this title poem, a love poem, as a nod to Ariandne and Dionysos; a celebration of what does not imprison; what invites expansiveness. 


The introduction to Laura’s collection alone makes it well-worth having this book. She provides a fascinating summary of the myth of Ariadne and reflection on what it means to be imprisoned and freed and what structures we may live in that compare to the labyrinth. In brief, Ariadne is the daughter of Minos, king of Crete. She is given an enchanted ball of thread that serves as the key to the labyrinth in which the Minotaur, Minos’s cursed son, is trapped. Ariadne escapes with Theseus, who kills the Minotaur after following Ariadne’s thread and, in some accounts, with her sword. Yet, he manages to abandon her. She is then found by Dionysos. “In most accounts Ariandne and Dionysos enjoy an abundant marriage with six children, and when she dies, Dionysos places a crown of stars in the shape of bull’s horns in the night sky.” (p. xiv)


The poems in this book are divided into three sections: Ariadne Awakens, Cloud Streets, and Taurus. Throughout, Laura references powerful symbols found in nature and astrology, juxtaposed with common modern, often urban, items and circumstances that create a feel of reaching — reaching beyond the confines of our material situation; reaching beyond the socio-economic or ideological spot in which we are fixed, perhaps trapped. Some poems address release and who holds powers of freedom and to free. More poems seem to stand purely as points of introspection. In that respect, they offer a tool for each of us to illuminate self-understanding, which is to gain freedom.


I flagged 16 favorite poems, preparing what I might want to quote. In reflecting upon the range of these pieces, I see humor in some wordplay and images, profundity in most, and some speak of redemption. Most of these short pieces encompass many facets. I will endeavor to share one from each of those categories to offer a feel for the scope of this collection.



Funny:



Impedance



  Across the day-long desert, you tell your love to me by texting fruity digits and telespieces. I reply with chimes and pocket smoke.

  But as you cross our threshold, jealous ions reverse that tender appetite, the work of a briney rival who waits with endless patience to pull the cork on bitchcraft.

  She doesn’t even want the tumble. With her, it’s hornets in the air till the snoring starts and another page of your diary burns to ash.

  The static splash will deafen us both.



Profound:



Tell



We read each other by the light of fireflies, perfect unintelligence. What will we find to talk about once the lights go on again?



Redemptive:



Shortfall



  If you were to put your hand in mine and sit across all the seasons from me, would the cool of your bone and the warm of your blood be enough, just this once, to let you speak true instead of right? Would you admit, just this once, that I was never the one you wanted me to be?

  In that moment, my hand would slip, and you would sink away again into the black, to be remade as one who could remake herself forever.

  And I, the overmuch, would be forgiven.   



Reviewing now, I would not characterize Impedance as comic, but there are some phrases that made me laugh, despite the distressing ending. 


I have lived with Ariadne Awakens for over a year, flipping through it periodically, reading it cover-to-cover at least twice. With every visit, it becomes a different read. I believe it’s because the surrealistic quality of the poetry invites a range of interpretations. This is a fascinating, imaginative, dynamic collection.



to buy Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth: Paycock Press


DC native Laura Costas wonders if she is an artist often overtaken by words or a writer whose poems intermittently become pictures. She has written three books, draws in black and white, and dreams in color.




Review of Night Logic, by Matthew Gellman



In Night Logic (Tupelo Press, 2023), Matthew Gellman collects much of what makes us human, with a tender and aching focus on inhumanity, through a singular experience, or set of experiences. The voice in these poems is of a boy, ridiculed and abused for his femininity; of a son left to make sense of abandonment; a brother yearning for a sister; a man understanding injurious pasts mirrored in lovers; an adult placing childhood loss in context. Rich with lyricism, each poem tells a narrative, often nonlinear — the moment of the past sometimes informed by the future — in a unique poignant style that stirs empathy and understanding.


From the title poem, Night Logic:


To be queer is to be questioned

on the way your breathing

displaces light…



…According to gestalt theory

the whole is greater than the sum

of its parts. One light tapped 


on the railroad track

becomes all the lights interrupting 

by cold. By this night logic

a boy jumps over a fence


or a boy gets bound to the fence

and there\s only an aperture of dead grass

to determine the difference.

The man searches but he cannot find me


and stumbled down the mess 

of the alley. I keep my head low

and wait for the morning to steady.

So quiet I hear the whole planet.


A boy is a galaxy shoved underwater.

A moon with a fork in its sternum.

a boy is a star in the stratosphere

blinking like something that could be extinguished.



One encounters heart-break in Gellman’s 21 poem chapbook, Night Logic, and even when not explicit, danger and violence are easily inferred. Through glimpses into such experiences as a boy in Catholic school in the Mountain West and homophobic incidents suffered by a man in the city, Gellman creates a brave portrait of the struggle most central to being human, which is to be each one our self. There’s wisdom in Night Logic and I’m grateful for its perspective honesty. 


I close with one of my favorite passages, from Not Music:


here I learn the template.


That night cannot unexist.

I am proof of it. I am still inside it.

So invisible I must be everywhere.



to buy Night Logic: Tupelo Press Bookshop Amazon


Matthew Gellman's poems are featured or forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Narrative, Indiana Review, the Common, Ninth Letter, the Missouri Review, North American Review, Waxwing, Lambda Literary's Poetry Spotlight, and elsewhere. A recipient of a Brooklyn Poets fellowship and an Academy of American Poets prize, Gellman was also awarded the Adroit Journal's Djanikian Scholarship in 2020 and has received residencies and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute. His manuscript, Beforelight, has been a finalist for Tupelo Press' Berkshire Prize, Four Way Books' Levis Prize, Ohio University Press' Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, the Alice James Award, and BOA Editions' A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. He holds an MFA from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.




Review of Powèt Nan Pò A

Poet of the Port, by Indran Amirthanayagam



In his 56-poem collection, Poet of the Port (MadHat Press, 2023), which might really be considered a 112-poem collection, since each poem appears in both Creole and in English, Indran Amirthanayagam offers a beautiful love song to Haiti. He writes of Creole throughout. A Revolutionary Thought: Overheard speaks to one aspect of the power and magic of the language and the country.


My idea is not complicated, dear foreigner.

Haiti is the center of the universe and Creole


the official language for all authorities,

United Nations, International Criminal Court,


for all kinds of crimes, and NASA as well

because, as you surmise, to fight future wars


we will need codes that not everybody knows…

which is why I am leaving Creole with you—your call


—as code language, to explore space, for new commands

in war, dearest Haiti. Great country, center of my head.



Indran wraps themes of home and movement throughout Poet of the Port, speaking as a global citizen, grounded everywhere. With his heart residing in Haiti, the speaker is also grounded in the present — a keen observer of politics, historical trends, and Haiti’s place in history, and documents it all beautifully. Such themes also appear in Indran’s other twenty-three books, written in four different languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and, of course, Haitian Creole.


Mortality and images of illness and death are woven subtly throughout Poet of the Port. These contrast the speaker’s passion for life and appreciation of sensual experience highlighting each moment — each love, taste, dance —  not to be taken for granted, as must not be the island of Haiti or any moment with her. In three poems of this collection, Indran references the country without a hat. This Haitian phrase references death, the place where a person does not wear a hat. I end this discussion with my favorite poem of those three. 



Meditation under the Tree



I think of you at every moment

of the day even if there are others

in the world, other wars to fix.


It is always like this, inspiration

takes blood, sweat, absolute

compromise until love arrives


because we are exhausted from

running fast, pressed in the course

that life sets. Stop already. Take


a breath. We are there even if

in our heads we visited the country

without a hat, even if obsession


with love flourished in your poem

because the poète maudit must write

about the flower wilted, punched,


destroyed. Or perhaps one can change

themes like a lizard its skin. I sit

in the leaves of the tree. I am waiting


for you. Nobody can see me

except you; because

I think I see you still. 



to buy Poet of the Port: MadHat Press Bookshop Amazon


Indran Amirthanayagam produced a “world record” in 2020 publishing three poetry collections written in three different languages. He has published twenty-four poetry books, including Isleño (R.I.L. Editores), Blue Window (translated by Jennifer Rathbun) (Diálogos Books), Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant (BroadstoneBooks.com), The Migrant States, Coconuts on Mars, The Elephants of Reckoning (winner 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize), Uncivil War, The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems & Origami: Selected Poems of Manuel Ulacia (2022). In music, he recorded Rankont Dout. He edits the Beltway Poetry Quarterly; writes a blog; co-directs Poets & Writers Studio International, writes a weekly poem for Haiti en Marche & El Acento; has received fellowships from the Foundation for the Contemporary Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, The US/Mexico Fund for Culture, the Macdowell Colony. He is a 2021 Emergent Seed grant winner. His poem “Free Bird” has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He hosts The Poetry Channel. Indran publishes poetry books with Sara Cahill Marron at Beltway Editions.




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