Reviews in Brief

gone sane.  poems by christal rice cooper.  206 pages.  River King Press, 2011.


Christal Cooper, who is working on her MFA in writing at Southern Illinois, has written an interesting book of poems whose topics are fueled by current events, historical events, newspaper headlines, celebrity tabloid fixations, gutter journalism, and urban legend.  The prominent figures she makes the focus of her poems– Jim Carrey, Lady Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, Cult Leader Jim Jones, for example — are revealed through her clearly worded free verse with details culled from the press.  Frequently, Cooper will use the second person to address the subject, standing outside history, with full knowledge of the subject's fate, and speak.  Is it to soothe a departed soul, or is it to help us understand, empathize with figures that may otherwise seem distant to us because of their treatment through the media?  In the poem "Lady Diana" Cooper writes: 


You lived like a blade

of grass.

Jewels were your sun,

your water sweet

as Eve's navel

oranges, nourished

on Mother Nature's green.


With mother

you were fatherless.

With father

you were motherless.

With both

you were an orphan


going to St. Paul's Cathedral.

Just so they'd see you.

Just so he'd see you.


And he did.

Falling down the stairs,

vomiting in the toilet,

praying so loud

your throat went dry,

your tongue salty-parched


as the fortune teller's hands,

massaging your blue palms,

your jewel-burdened

fingers.  Which was worse?


Abandoning God?

The conservative wolves at home?

The black land mines of your eyes

exploding in red, white, and blue?


They must have seen

your reflection in the dark


heard your groans.

The camera lens zoomed.

The lights flashed white.


And men in white

massaged your heart

so your blood would flow–

but it froze, lay still

in the Paris dark.



On one hand, I enjoy the telegraphic leaping of the images, their directness, their boldness and energy, their confidence that nothing needs to be explained.  But it is also this confident momentum that derails the train of meaning and understanding sometimes.  "And he did. [Who did?  Prince Charles?]/  Falling down the stairs,/ vomiting in the toilet [When? Where? At St. Paul's Cathedral?].  I get a little lost, frankly. 


Christal Cooper is a poet early in her career, and she has a lot of potential.  She examines topics that few poets are attracted to, and she does so in an abundance and depth I haven’t seen for a while. Many of the things I see as “faults” can be clarified with a well chosen word or two.  If she were a student of mine, I would advise her to read the poetry of David Wojahn, another poet who is attracted to pop-culture and its personalities, and study his approach.  His approach is very focused, and a little more bent toward the formal rather than free verse, but he also delves into the gritty details of celebrities' lives, illuminates them through poignant moments, frequently speaking as his subject, with attention to voice, vocabulary, and above all, specific detail.



By Available Light, New and Selected Poems by Michael Carrino.  98 pages.  Guernica Editions, 2012.


I am familiar with many of these poems because I have reviewed past editions in which they were contained, and I am even the publisher of one of those books.  I have known Michael Carrino for a while.  In 1987 he rescued me and another Vermont College student from the Burlington, Vermont airport when we had just missed the last shuttle to Montpelier.  We stayed at Michael’s home near Lake Champlain, sipped white wine and talked poetry in the evening, and were fed Montreal bagels and coffee for breakfast before departing in Michael’s Sirocco for the VC campus.


One thing I remember about Michael’s home was a framed poem on the wall, a piece he had published in the literary journal Poetry Miscellany.  It was his poem “Lilacs.”



On a cobbled Montreal street

An old man pushes a wagon

Covered by a parasol – sells lilacs


Wrapped in white tissue.

He gives you a bouquet

Of the deepest lavender, their perfume


Heightens the air around you.

Hearing a freighter’s horn on the St. Lawrence

You turn to the sunset,


Shade your eyes to watch someone

Walking toward you, who by his appearance

Might be me.  Knowing


How quickly longing unwinds darkness, grows

Brittle with each moment of absence

You lean against the old man’s sleeve


Refusing to disturb this rehearsal.


How appropriate this poem was in a frame, I thought.  Its features were like that of an impressionist painting:  the “parasol;” the “lilacs wrapped in white tissue.”  It was as if Monet had put his efforts into words instead of paint.  Plus, there was the advanced pleasure of combined senses, color blending into aroma:  “…the deepest lavender, their perfume/ heightens the air around you”; and there was also the music of locale, sound blending into gesture: “hearing a freighter’s horn on the St. Lawrence/ you turn to the sunset,// shade your eyes to watch someone/ walking toward you.”  I was in awe of the poem’s completeness, denseness of imagery, and its ability to achieve a world in such a brief space.


These are characteristics that have always been a part of Michael Carrino’s poetry.


Now, after a career that has spanned decades, Guernica Editions has produced a gorgeous edition of Michael’s New and Selected poems: By Available Light.  This book includes selected gems from his previous titles:  Some Rescues; Under This Combustible Sky; Café Sonata; Autumn’s Return to the Maple Pavilion; and it also features a generous selection of recent poems.


One of my favorites in the New section is a poem that shares a similar spirit of lean, self-monitoring solitude with Edward Hopper’s painting, “Nighthawks.”


Woman At Dusk

            Anthony’s Diner – Barre Vermont


This woman will not be rushed.

She lifts a white cloth napkin

To dab at a crease above her pale lips.

I imagine knowing her aching

Sadness in uncertain light

Often mistaken for stillness,

But decidedly sadness

No longer disguised.

She settles the napkin

Across her lap, folds

Small, pale hands on scarred oak,

As if to begin deliberate prayer.


She stares quizzically

At black coffee served by a waitress

Who never left or arrived.

Beyond grease-stained windows

Where one faint breeze

Scatters a crumpled, glinting wrapper,

Main Street will change into road,

Slowly finding one town, then another

Until it approaches Canada.


Stirring tepid chamomile tea

I recall what is revealed—

A drive, Swanton to Montreal

Under hazy, summer moonlight,

Windows rolled open to any damp breeze.


I fell asleep.  Awoke.

Not startled, I drove on

Alone, drove on.


To pay my bill, I gesture to no one,

As folds of mist drape what is left of today.



Over the years, Michael Carrino has written many poems of steady quiet beauty and lasting aesthetic value.  This volume of New and Selected poems will help ensure his legacy many years more.


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Lastly, I turn to say goodbye, not with a book review, but with the presentation of some poems from my friend William Kemmett.  I hope he is enjoying life down there in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  He always seems to knock my head around with his poetry.  And to be sure, I send him plenty of my own.  In fact, I’m overdue.  But for now, here are two by Bill Kemmett.  Enjoy:






You are not who

  You think.  Even if

You are the mutation

  Of a gene pool.

Worms in experiment.

  “E Pluribus Unum”

The many out of one.

  The way out of

The maze.  Consider

  “Mozart” the child,

Every note in place

  Without a forest

Of paper.  In the desert

  Of a palm a pyramid

Has the last wink.








  Through soft rain

A horse

  With an empty saddle

Is tied to

  The tree on the front

Lawn.  It’s three

  a. m.  I take a pill

and hope

  sleep will come.