Category Archives: 4 Stars

Mothers Ask ‘May I’ Too

4 Stars

There was a time in my life when I wanted to climb the corporate latter, at least, the organizational one. I was willing to do this because it meant more money.  Meanwhile my wife spent many of those years as a full-time mother. I say “full-time mother” instead of “stay-at-home mom” because motherhood is a job, whether you enjoy parenting or not. And it requires two shifts a day. When I came home from work during our kids’ early years, my wife was “off duty”.

Fifteen years into the work force, I had no problem “giving up the reins” and let my wife be the one who was working. She was stuck at home, with no real social life, and several attempts at starting something part-time at-home all failed to stick.

Mother May IAnd so when I read Mother May I by Tina Parker, every memory of parenting those newborns and toddlers was brought up. I identified with Parker a lot as a parent.

Parker writes about the fun parts of parenting as well as the stuff parents feel they shouldn’t say aloud about raising small children. Her poems aren’t particularly musical, but that gives room for telling it like it is.

The collection is loosely divided into four parts, the dividers being a poem called “Questionnaire”. It is a fill-in-the-blank questionnaire for young women. The first time it appears, the answers a left blank.


How many times have you been pregnant? ______________________

How many children born alive? ______________________

The second time the answers are filled in


Stillbirths? _____0_______

Miscarriages? _______1______

Finally the poem is a prose poem


I have two daughters. My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage…

I love the titles in this collection. They are introductory statements, usually something one of her kids said, such as the poem “When Our Five-Year-Old Asks If There Is More Sky Or Grass”. Sometimes these titles are the poems themselves. It reminds me how poetic young kids are.

Some poems, such as “How to Get Toddlers Into the Car” both have an element of humor that makes me chuckle, but also hurts deep in my heart as I remember how hard the simplest tasks could be. In fact, there are so many poems in this collection that are complete with a 1-2 punch, such as one about a father who is there but is still absent. In this collection Parker is a mother asking “May I” too, because she writes about topics some might consider taboo, such as hurting your child  for the first time. She communicates a struggle some mothers are ashamed of, and in doing so provides an answer to her own question.

My favorite poem in the collection is “Just Like That I Have a Daycare Baby”, which starts out innocent enough

Only she’s not a baby
She’s four but still
Some other woman gets her
Breakfast and lunch and snack
And fixes her hair when the clips fall out…

Soon the poem turns ever so slightly, but painfully, as the mother describes going to work. The turn is right around:

I have time to pour coffee
And put creamer in
I have time to drink it
Sometimes I even make it
I get paid to do this…

Everyone without kids who want to know what parenting is like should buy this collection. And those with kids as well — it is not a difficult book to read; on the contrary, it is a very enjoyable read. The poems about the joys of motherhood made me smile.

Mother May I is published by Sibling Rivalry Press.

Art History Meets Satire

4 Stars

Artist Statements of the Old Masters

Artist Statements of the Old Masters by John Seed combines art history with wit and satire to create a work of art that is a funny yet sober statement on today’s art world.

If the artists in this collection were alive today, they would be wearing black turtlenecks and hanging out with Andy Warhol. They are pretentious, providing artist statements with a vocabulary of such pseudo-intelligence that it makes so little sense that we readers laugh at its absurdity.

Not to be outdone, The Venus of Urbino comes with an audio recording of the artist statement that includes “suspenseful” music and applause.

Artist Statements of the Old Masters can be ordered  here.

American Galactic lands close to home

4 Stars

American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman
American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman

American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman is a fun, well-written book that takes issues and events of everyday life and gives them a sci-fi twist.

The cover of the book, an image of martians doing the YMCA dance like the Village People, is a sneak peak in what the reader should expect by opening the front cover and digging down into the closest sofa with a cup of coffee.

Some of these poems are obvious inclusions in the collection, such as kids dressed as martians while doing their Halloween rounds. Others are a bit more surprising, such as a poem about Robin Williams, written before his untimely death, that choked me up when I read it.

Wiseman has fun with enjambment, and finds interesting ways to use double-meaning in line breaks.

I don’t know what martians eat. They might eat
potatoes or human cavier. I don’t know

what they wear to dances or how they move…

— from “After Watching a Martian Marathon on Cable”

Wiseman also uses end-stop lines to provide emphasis in her lines, never forgetting about that double meaning.

Accept the limits of the landscape.
Grow moonflowers. Transplant rain
lilies. Always befriend stargazers.
Listen when the big ear speaks.

— from “Creed: The Mission”

Each poem has its own difference in theme, of course, but the theme of the entire book is about the foreign-ness of humanity and human interaction. This is not a book about martians; it is a book about us. With poems about doctor’s appointments, complications and joys of gardening, introverts at parties, sci-fi movies and masterbation (or not), this book reminds us that when we look up at the stars, we see ourselves.

American Galactic is published by and is 75 pp.

Conaway’s Poetic Justice

4 Stars

Until You Make The Shore by Cameron ConawayUntil You Make The Shore by Cameron Conaway is another poetry book in the growing and much-welcomed trend of long poetic narratives receiving publication, and it does not disappoint. The framework of the book is centered around four girls in the juvenile justice  system (specifically, Pima County Juvenile Detention Center), where the poet plays a supporting role as a creative writing teacher. In traditional narrative poetry, a poet needs to decide whether to be a narrator (not be present in the poem) or storyteller (be present in the poem); however, one gets the feeling that Conaway has managed to employ both: the poet makes himself known in the poem and is thus a storyteller, but the girls are the poem’s collective narrator. It is a dichotomy that works so well together. In the book’s forward, playwright Brad Fraser notes that the book reads like a stage drama, and he was correct. While there is a little dialogue between poet and his students, there is a lot of unwritten communication happening.

There are four stages of the system the youth have to go through before making it out, and Conaway establishes this as the parts of his book, and designates one girl for each part. Conaway is not only a poet but also a social justice advocate, and while he obviously has had personal experiences with the system, the people in the book — and the story told — are fictitious.

There is a lot of white space in the book, which helps the reader understand how the book should be absorbed. Unfortunately the poem’s layout is not suitable for the Web, making it difficult to provide readers with a sampling of the work as it is written. For the poem below, I have modified its layout by necessity. The underscore (_) denotes white space within the line of the poem. Removing white space altogether does not feel right upon reading. Note, italicized points in the book refer to the poet speaking; this is reversed below. Precious is the name of one of the girls, each girl gets about ten poems.


Precious, what did it mean to you when she called you a “hardened criminal?”

___Dreams are soft, Cameron. _____________My uncle’s

knuckles are vapor in dreams. ____________My throat

___doesn’t burn when I scream,
even a falcon’s talons can’t hurt me _____but reality

___is abrasive concrete pebble-izes knee skin

_______when we fall
in love it feels good or it hurts ____so I guess

_____________________she meant ___________I don’t dream enough?

Conaway’s detailed attention to craft, excellent use of imagery, his novel approach to storytelling, and his passionate commitment to social justice make Until You Make The Shore a must-read. I finished the book wishing for more, and that is exactly what an open ending of a well-written story should do. Four out of five stars. Published by Salmon Poetry, 73pp.