Books Noted

Another Word for Love by Sarah Stern, Finishing Line Press, 2011. $10

Reviewed by Ellen Miller-Mack

Sarah Stern asks resonant questions, dropped like pebbles in a deep lake from a rock on which she balances with grace.  Picture concentric circles— these are the fluid poems in Another Word for Love.
The opening poem, “A Spring for Einstein” floats a rather cosmic idea on a stream of images, arriving at “that breeze was once you” with remarkable clarity and a unique perspective. 

Another switch of perspective yields the poet’s exploration of that irresistible urge to fly in verse, in “With Henry Hudson”: “I’m not cold, so light, effortless / then I wake and know // I’m no longer a child gliding // over telephone lines, / dogs on the hill,” soaring beyond dream-space.”
“Saw Mill River Bike Path”, an expertly paced poem, begins with a stark question: “My daughter asks when you die / do you stop feeling anything then carries the  reader back in time, to a very specific  experience many  of us have had—learning to ride a bike. As the wheels turn, Stern modestly yet deftly conjures the cycle of life.

Another poem which deals with mortality is “Riding the Bus from Manhattan”, crafting autumn’s waning light and “the Harlem River gulls” afloat through:

Yankee Stadium
The Auto Parts Store
The Providence Rug Company
Beato’s Professional Hair Braiding
St Matthew’s School

It’s a human world they glide through “like royalty.”  The poet’s guileless (and very human) question is answered, as they “suddenly rise up / in unison and head for shore.”

There is sweetness to Sarah Stern’s gentle probing of life, including her poems about war. “From the Journal Entries of Sergeant Anthony Jones, age 25”:

Grieve little and move on.

Sergeant Jones knew he wouldn’t
return.  Kelly found his diaries
after he had spent two weeks at home.

I shall be looking over you.

“Empty” is paradoxically filled with the unwieldy weight of sadness, beginning with the personal and domestic: “I’m empty like a spoon next to / a fork that’s beside a knife.” The knife as a symbol of violence begins to haunt, as the poem turns to a different daughter and mother as well as a husband killed in the war in Iraq.

Another Word for Love, Sarah Stern’s first chapbook, is filled with love for life and family, with a cultural Jewishness that I find warm and welcome, writing this on the first night of Chanukah. Its questions are fundamental and deep, woven into well-wrought poems.

Ellen Miller-Mack has an MFA in Poetry from Drew University.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 5 A.M., Valparaiso Poetry Review, Rattle, Rumpus and Bookslut. She co-wrote The Real Cost of Prisons Comix (PM Press) and is a nurse practitioner/primary care provider at a community health center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The Spleen of Fiery Dragons by Mishka Zakharin, Infinity, 2009. $10.95

Reviewed by Jamie Lynn Morris

To fully appreciate, The Spleen of Fiery Dragons, one must first digest its title.  The phrase "spleen of fiery dragons" originates from Shakespeare’s Richard III Act 5 Sc. 3.  The poems contained throughout the book are laced with folklore and mythology references brought to the forefront by modern day plights.  They are introspective in nature and touch on a variety of human skepticism and pessimism. The author has a raw distinctive style that teeters on the edge of creative chaos.  Some of the lines that I could fully appreciate were, from "Parasite":

I am a parasite ____
leeching off the lives
 of those around me…
              sucking from the juicy marrow
               of their emotions, their dreams,
                                                           all into the substance
                                                           of who I am___
           or, anyway, of what I write…

or from "Devout":

                                                           Ignoring the allure
  of the Vodka Goddess…
                   ----the roar of inner demons wailing
                             ere the wiles of the goddess beguiling!___
                                                          shunning her attempts
                                                          at seduction…
                                                          putting the mystery
back into the dying……

                                                          ----but then,
                                                         as darkness casts over…
                                                         and seeps in…
                                                         I am hers……

Other poems tended to be overly ornate and at times go off on a tangent. This digression however is what characterizes Mishka Zakahrin’s unique raw poetic voice that teeters on the edge of the abyss.  This book is not for the novice reader, but one well versed in the history of literature and symbolism and who is prepared to journey to the dark side of humanity.