margaritas and redfish

Lyric poetry is a matter of seeing, seeing
an act of the mind going
here and there
to and from

familiar places (away from home
and back again again
again) a way

of making
new, inviting

us to see what we
think we know
so well we

eyes closed,
to see

for the first time
what we have seen
before. To make a scene.

Ken Hada is a nature poet in the sense that his poetry touches us with what we take to be other. It is a cultivated habit of being in the world. And that makes him a “city” poet as well, because a city is what happens when humans dwell on a place.

What I find most remarkable about Ken’s poetry is its gentle admonition to dwell here now in this place where congregations of krill loiter, “unsuspecting as a wave” (1), “…an emerging world / where winter has been” (3), where we so often “name gulls / but fail to understand / gulls naming us” (20). Ken “manages a small fire” (12), and that is a big part of what it means to be at home.

“For all of us / it’s simply a matter of time” (43). What it is is simply a matter of being “witness to things / defying explanation, flourishing without me” (53). Without me, eyes closed, to see now.

I know Ken’s Canadian River from “slipping / through shifting sand, eyes / pierced…” (67) picking plums miles upstream. I have known many of the places he writes about all my life. And I am grateful for the opportunity Margaritas and Redfish gives me to see them now for the first time.

Whether you know these places from childhood or not, you will be glad Ken has taken the time to dwell on them. Pitch a tent here with him, make a scene. Accompany this gifted poet who walks lightly “where grace empties / into a delta” (1), a city as wide as the world.

reviewed by Steven Schroeder, Chicago

Ken Hada. Margaritas and Redfish. Lamar University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-985-0838-6-1.

ransomed voices

Elizabeth Raby’s Ransomed Voices entices the reader to turn the page the way a friend entices a friend to wait on the next word (every next word) in a conversation. The best memoirists are neither self-conscious nor self-absorbed — and Raby is among the best on both counts. We come to know her voice in the intersection of stories, skillfully woven the way one expects an accomplished lyric poet to weave them — with an eye on what can be made of seemingly inexplicable collisions as well as those we think we have orchestrated.

There is ransom in Raby’s voices, and that is something she not only gives but also receives.

In an introduction entitled “Singing the World,” she writes of saving the voices of ancestors — saving their lives and her own. But, as readers of her poetry already know, she has an ear for silences without which there is no music. It is her ability to listen to the voices she has encountered that opens a space in which they save her. As she discloses early on, she comes to poetry out of an experience of losing her voice: a sinus infection led to laryngitis, and, as a singer, she “fell from song into silence.” She “became more inward.” Then, “a year or so later,” she wrote her first poem (an act that is consistent with inwardness, with becoming subjective, as Kierkegaard put it).

This reads like a sort of dance, and it sets the pattern for the book. The Emily Dickinson poem that inspires Raby’s title names silence the way one might name a demon if one is intent on casting it out: it is “all we dread.” It “is Infinity. / Himself have not a face.” Facing silence Himself, Raby sings a world. And it is a pleasure to witness that singing in the dance of this book.

Silence is not the opposite of sound. It is the opposite of “face.” All we dread, faceless, robs us of our voice, like the whirlwind overpowering Job. Job’s redemption lies not in resignation before overwhelming power but in turning to face it.

In this sense, memoir functions the way prayer functions, at least to the extent that, as Theodor Adorno suggests, prayer is connected with the “name” of God (which I take to be closely related to Emily Dickinson’s connection of dread with the facelessness of Infinity). The antidote for dread is facing silence, finding the form of the name. Adorno makes the connection in an essay called “Music, Language, and Composition,” where he writes “What music says is a proposition at once distinct and concealed. Its idea is the form [Gestalt] of the name of God. It is demythologized prayer, freed from the magic of making anything happen, the human attempt, futile, as always, to name the name itself, not to communicate meanings” (Essays on Music, 114).

Ransomed Voices is, Raby writes, “an exploration of my road to poetry and to a better understanding of myself through the stories of my ancestors” (12). It is that and more. As is so often the case, one makes the road by taking it — and whether the poet makes one’s way to poetry or poetry makes its way to the poet is always a fascinating question. But I think what is particularly interesting in this memoir is that the ransom of the voices (saving the voices and the voices saving) is inextricably connected with a poet finding her way back to music — and, in retrospect, a singer who fell from song to silence finding song again in the process of becoming a poet. That speaks volumes about poetry as music, and it affords considerable insight into Raby’s work as a poet.

And, as is so often the case with a well-crafted memoir, this one affords considerable insight into the time and place of its subject (the one dancing and the one it dances about).

Raby begins not with herself but with her mother wanting another child, coming to know (as she has known before) that coming to love a person takes time. And with a journey, introducing us to relatives from Burlington, Vermont all the way to California and back (not so far off the road Jack Kerouac followed just a few years later). As there is not one story, there is not one voice; and that rings true. The first section begins with the mother’s I, in both narrative prose and poetry. It continues with the I of a very young Elizabeth, in Burlington, Vermont, in 1943, then on the way with her mother and brother to stay with relatives in Tucson — again, in narrative prose and poetry. A series of relatives speaks in first person, in prose and in poetry. Raby also ransoms the voices of relatives via newspaper accounts and letters. We begin to know her through them, and we come to know them in the way we often come to know strangers — through bits and pieces of private testimony made public by choice or by chance.

Raby’s voice grows more distinct as the book goes on, and this parallels the way memory is made in the maturation of a child. It never stops being a social process, but — in language familiar from the introduction — it moves “inward.” It is possessed. It is consolidated in time as the child says “I” with greater confidence and consistency. The earliest memories are most often stories told by others, the “we” through which “I” am. Later, memories still take shape in stories, but they are as likely to begin as stories we tell as stories we hear from others. Raby wisely avoids making this a strictly linear progression. She continues to draw on first person accounts in numerous voices, and she continues to move fluently between prose and poetry. She intertwines voice with place — Burlington, Luxembourg, Vassar, High Point, Stroudsburg, New York. And she lets time flow backward as well as forward, the way we experience it in our memories, our dreams, and the telling of our tales (to ourselves as well as to others), the way it moves in lyric poetry.

Especially striking to me is the short chapter titled “The Second Coming: Burlington, 1946-1949,” which begins “As a very young child I closely identified with Jesus. I thought I might be He, resurrected” (65). This is a charming, self-contained, little piece on childhood egocentrism. But it is also a pivotal moment in the memoir that sets up Raby’s reflection on a deepening religious understanding that makes her (wisely, I think) wary of “saviors.” She wryly comments at the beginning of this piece that “at that age I didn’t realize being female made me unfit for certain occupations — savior, for example” (65).

She moves quickly in this short piece from the perspective that “Jesus, a living presence to me, and I both understood things that others did not” to giving up on “attempts to bring people around to Jesus’ and my point of view” (65). She “understood Jesus’ loneliness,” and that understanding is part of what propels her from being the center of the universe to being one consciousness among others. All of this is deftly connected with her developing relationship with her parents: “I think I confused Mother with Almighty God, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, She who did not permit argument” (66). And “I had an easier time understanding my father. He often raised his voice. God did not yell; therefore, my father was not God but just a regular man. Unlike Mother, he made mistakes. I was sure I understood him. He must understand me back…” (67). Out of this cluster of relationships — with her mother, with her father, with Jesus — she comes (because she cannot oppose her mother) to “know it was wrong to feel proud about the nice thing someone said about me. I should never forget that I was nothing special” and “as an alternative, determined to be as selfless as Jesus, I wandered the neighborhood looking for people who needed my special understanding” (68). From relationships close to home out into the neighborhood is an apt way to describe the trajectory of an evolving social self. Raby’s is a special understanding, and this little theological vignette is one of many that help us get a sense of how it comes to be as she comes to be at home in the world.

There are fascinating variations on this theme in Section Four, “Love and History” and “On the Fringe: Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, 1968 / High Point, North Carolina, 1963.” “Love and History” begins with the story of her mother’s parents coming to live with her family in Burlington. It is still 1946, near the beginning of the time of Elizabeth’s “theological confusion.” The relationship with her grandmother includes a shared fantasy world that was clearly a delight to both. But the story telling game Elizabeth describes as “playing Peter” comes to an abrupt end when she brings her friend Lynne to join. Her grandmother (Bessie) is embarrassed and suddenly has no time. She says “I’m too old to be playing games. We shouldn’t waste our time with such nonsense. I don’t want to hear any more about Peter” (96). Again, this dances on the edge between home and world and helps to shape Elizabeth’s attitude toward imagination. In the construction of the memoir, it provides the occasion for going back to Grandmother’s story — in a poem titled “The Story I Didn’t Tell Elizabeth” and a bit of prose narrative entitled “The Story Bessie Did Tell,” both spoken in Bessie’s voice. This story carries the narrative to Nebraska and Iowa and reminds us just how close the unsettling experience of settling (including homesteading in a remote corner of Nebraska) is for people who were young adults in the 1960s. Elizabeth hears some of the stories associated with settling. Others she must imagine. And the interplay of what has been heard with what can be imagined, of what is told and what is not, forms the social memory we identify as history. In the United States (as elsewhere) “our” history has been forged at least in part in a struggle over which stories will be heard and who will tell them. The art of the memoir lies in selecting and arranging stories as much as in making them. The sequence Raby constructs from a hard lesson in lines between private and public (or circles around the many publics we inhabit) through a history of unsettling settling to descriptions that turn on where she stood during public events during a period marked by two assassinations — all related to imaginaries and imagination — is illuminating. That the Ghost Dance and her Quaker ancestors (on at least two fringes) have a prominent place is telling.

Raby ends Ransomed Voices with a poem in the form of a letter to her brother. “This morning,” she writes, “when I ate my yoghurt, / unsweetened, runny, I thought of the culture, / dried on a clean cotton handkerchief, our father / brought home from Lebanon, fifty-four years ago. / As long as he lived he kept it alive, a fresh / batch every week or so in the stainless pot you use / now to continue his tradition” (228). Yoghurt is exactly the right image for culture, a noun as well as a verb, a living organism that nourishes and, as the letter says in the last line, comforts.

It comforts, and it illuminates, bringing Raby closer to her Quaker ancestors than she might have expected, widening, as the best memoirs do, a circle of friends — and for that we are most grateful.

reviewed by Steven Schroeder, Chicago

Elizabeth Raby. Ransomed Voices. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Red Mountain Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9855031-2-3.


At the heart of Barbara Crooker’s new collection lies a series of poems in which she directly engages the illness and death of her mother. The series begins a little over halfway through the first of four parts and continues through the second. We settle into it by way of eight poems set in late autumn when, as she writes of October, “leaf means loss, and bird means go” (8). The heart of the matter begins with hands curled around a cup of tea that “feels like a benediction, / a reprieve from my crazy life: bringing my mother / from one doctor to another, as systems shut down, / doors start to close; going to interviews / with my disabled son to find, in the end, / that promised programs aren’t funded, / and when school ends in June, that’s it, so long” (11). The body in which this heart beats is the ordinary rhythm of life — beginning (as some calendars do) with autumn and loss, with endings marked by systems shutting down. This is a deft weaving of the personal and the political that gives us pause, especially in the light of a gold standard spun out of the Robert Frost epigraph: “Nothing gold can stay.”

The first part begins with a poem titled “Invoice,” wrapped around the observation that “Some days, it’s hard to see beneath / the surface,” leading to the (apparently) rhetorical question “What choice / when the world burns to ash, to gold?” It seems the offer we can’t refuse, what we are billed for, is sky’s blue cerulean bolt of cotton — and the price is “so much death — // the year, the leaves, old friends” (3). But the tone lightens with late October as vaudeville (4) and the autumn maple tree as an ecdysiast (a stripper) for whom “age is just another ring, a thing / she’s happy to accumulate” (5). The wages of sin is death slips into a fragment of a familiar nursery rhyme said to be about death — “all fall down” (5) — as the maple tree slips out of red silk on satin blue sheets. Falling is the price we pay for our embodiment, which is precisely what Crooker celebrates, even as she confronts her grief at the loss of her mother, an experience beautifully embodied in the image of “becoming part of the past while she’s still / here” (13). The first part ends as the world ends: “nothing is just right. Nothing will ever be / just right, as her body fails and fails” (15).

That is not to say that nothing is right, but rather that nothing is just right. Every body fails and fails, but that does not diminish the poet’s celebration of the body. It is interesting that two snippets associated with seventeenth century England, a time and place shadowed by Plague, slip into the poems so seamlessly that they are not explicitly noted: the nursery rhyme in part one and a phrase from one of John Donne’s holy sonnets in part two (“batter my heart, three- / personed God”). Crooker disarms Donne’s brutal imagery by taking batter as “flour, salt, and milk” in which the heart is fried “good and golden as this afternoon, / one shining lake of light” (21). This is a lovely spin on imagery often associated with fire and brimstone — no island in a lake of fire, but a body gold as a bright afternoon, a tasty morsel in a lake of light. The eucharistic image is consistent with Donne (whose twisted humor is often lost in readings of his poetry), and there is reason to smile in the face of loss.

One of the ways that Crooker spins a eucharistic imagery with a tone reminiscent of the blues (and these poems are infused with blue from beginning to end) is through her loving attention to the preparation of food (and here she often brings Lucille Clifton to mind). The second part begins with ambrosia, food for the gods with the power to confer immortality. That is what her mother, dying, calls the food the poet brings to her — sometimes complicated, sometimes simple. It is the making, the bringing, the sharing, the presence of an other that gives it power. She depicts her mother’s appetite as concentrating, finally, on sweetness — a taste for donuts: “Right hand limp under the sheet, she grabbed that donut / in her left, and squeezed. The pallid yellow filling / ran down her arm, and chocolate oozed between her fingers. / When the chewy dough was gone, she licked the rest off, / every bit. And when she was done, she sighed. Ambrosia” (19). This becomes a communion of Peeps — “Spun sugar and air, molded in clever forms” (24) — in the backyard with the hospice chaplain: “When there were / no more words or tears, I ripped open the last packet / of Peeps, tore their little marshmallow bodies, / their sugary blood on my hands, and gave a piece / to each of us. It melted, grainy fluff / on our tongues, and it was good” (24).

This is real presence.

“Time keeps zigzagging” in this collection “past/present/past, / like that fat red fox running in the meadow’s tall grass” (31), and the seasons work their way in a stutter step to spring, wading across a river of grief. In “Goddesses,” we hear the name of Enheduanna, “the first poet” whose words come down “through the fabric of time,” as though in the weaving of it, set against Washington, “where men make monuments / of cold white stones” and the women of this poem, like the woman Enheduanna, have their mothers — “both recently gone” — on their hearts. Recently gone, “their absence “an old one” (32). A motherless child on one page, a woman is her mother on the next: “A woman is her mother, but alone” (34).

Given the repetition of the image of sleeping alone as one more reminder that we all die, it is interesting that this image of being her mother, but alone is followed immediately by a memory of something her grandfather made, a table her mother’s brother kept “though it was promised to her.” It was made “by their father at his lumber // yard, the one he owned, then lost… // She wanted it because his hands / had turned the legs, glued the boards, // sanded them smooth, applied / the stain, brought out the grain, // rubbed to a luster with butcher’s / wax. She wanted it not for its beauty, // but because it was a letter, / from father to daughter” (35).

Words again, down through time’s fabric, present.

In the third part, still zigzagging, folding time, there is a visit to an observatory: “One by one, we hear God’s name / gasped in wonder as we take a peek at Orion’s nebula, / the double star of Ursa Major, the hundreds in Andromeda’s cluster…” (43). It is April, and “we are dazzled dizzy, stumbling / as we find our way back in the dark, / tired as the light that has fallen on us, / coming from so many light years away” (43). This section ends with three intensely blue poems and, finally, “A fisherman / casts in the surf, / one more time, / a long silky filament, / the thread that still / joins me to you; / it snaps taut, then loosens, / and he pulls it back in” (51).

The last part returns to sugar, to mother as a hungry ghost longing for sweetness, which Crooker locates in embodied life. Of angels, she writes “We always long for what we don’t have, and they yearn to be incarnate, to know the hunger / of the tongue” (55).

Ireland is in the first poem of the collection, and we return there in a series of poems near the end, zigzagging time shaping space as well. What began in autumn with an invoice naming loss as the price of embodiment ends with a promise of spring: “at summer’s end, we find / what’s left, lurking in the leaves: / an enormous baseball bat flung / in the corner, abandoned, waiting / patiently for the seasons to whirl / around again, bringing the start / of spring training, the sun, ascending / like the letter A, rosy in the east” (69).

Writing on the south side of Chicago with October approaching fast, I find that abandonment, baseball, and patience in whirling seasons make a powerful case for spring training as an art of living hope in the face of loss. This book, infused with the whole spectrum of blue, is spring training, taking dandelions, sugar donuts, insalata caprese, zucchini, and baseball as the stuff of parables in which light breaks on a world of ordinary things.

Yes. Every body falls, words come down in the fabric of time; and there is light in this book, a shining lake of it, pure gold.

reviewed by Steven Schroeder, Chicago

Barbara Crooker. Gold. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2013. ISBN 978-1-62032-940-5.

the end of night

I received Paul Bogard’s latest book, The End of Night, just a few days before the closing of my new place on 30 acres in rural Oklahoma. One of the features I was looking for was dark sky as I searched for a place to call home. I am fortunate to have been raised under glorious starry skies in northwestern Oklahoma and in the northern Ozarks, and I still look for dark night and brilliant stars everywhere I travel. It is an old habit that conjures many wonderful memories, but one that also causes frustration. As Bogard’s book so forcefully demonstrates, there are fewer and fewer night skies available to us. Light pollution is a real problem. The end of night is not merely dramatic license. Even my little spread, 3 miles from a “town” of a couple hundred people (really just a four-way stop with two convenient stores) is not as dark as it once was, as it should be. Ambient light from something somewhere on the horizon delays the best star gazing until very late in the night, and even then, the artificial glow no doubt interrupts some of the potential natural radiance. As I was transferring the electricity account into my name, I was asked if I wanted the security lights to remain on – for $30 bucks/month. I said no. Turn them off. I had just finished reading Paul’s book, and I was full of celestial awareness. Frustratingly, one security light remained aglow for the first two weeks after I had moved in, after I had requested the lights to be turned off. The one light itself was so bright that it literally blocked the night sky. I was disheartened. One reason I had moved out here was to see the stars, but the light from the backyard was so bright it actually glowed through the windows, penetrated the curtains and seeped around the cracks interrupting my sleep. Ironically, it was darker on my previous street in a town of 20,000 people. Thankfully, after two weeks, the security light is gone. I guess I’m less secure, but the night radiance is now a regular mystical occurrence. I can see the starry nights that mean so much to me.

Of course Paul Bogard’s book is not merely about left-over romantics wanting to look heavenward at the expense of progress. It is startling, nevertheless, to consider that “two-thirds of the world’s population – including 99 percent of people living in the continental United States and western Europe – no longer experience a truly dark night, night untouched by artificial electric light (25). His very important book shows us the many areas that are affected by the loss of darkness, including many issues concerning the health and wellness of humans, bird and animal life, wasted energy, even faulty notions of security. The loss of natural dark sky, concomitantly linked to the intrusion of unnecessary artificial light is sadly akin to the newly coined term solastalgia – “missing a a loved place that still exists but to which toe old birds and plants and animals no longer come … a yearning for a place you still inhabit rather than one you’ve left behind” (179). Are we not merely diminishing the very soul of our existence by our ignorant reliance on unnecessary lighting? Bogard’s holistic research, thoughtfully and elegantly communicated in a convincing manner, suggests the unfortunate answer to my question.

Understandably the most important consideration regarding the overuse of artificial light concerns human safety. We assume that “because some light improves our safety, more light will improve our safety more” (67). This non sequitur governs so much of our thinking about lighting the night, but much of our night lighting only gives us the “illusion of safety” (87). Bogard’s investigation argues that “everything doesn’t necessarily have to be lit. On the contrary, it’s when you leave things in shadows that you see the light better” (qtd 62). In fact: “the human eye has an amazing ability to adapt to different lighting levels, including levels we normally think of as quite dim” (71).

His writing style is very engaging. He masterfully weaves various threads in this book-length example of the creative nonfiction genre. At times, his words flow in the tradition of American nature writing, some of the earliest writing that concerned the value of Earth. Consider this lovely extended passage:

The canoe gleams – I could read in this light. I’m glad to have my Twins cap, pulling it down to shield my eyes as I paddle to the middle of the lake. Perseus emerges over the horizon, the Summer Triangle overhead. Lying back, I let the canoe rotate away from the moon. A splash startles me, a fish for sure. Then silent and still again. As I drift over the sandbar something scrapes the bottom of the canoe. “Weeeeeeds!” we would cry as kids. A freaky sound, and I nudge the canoe into deeper water. Everything very quiet, very still … From shore, the barred owl’s hoo-hoo, hoo-hoooo, in the water, frog songs and fish jumps. The lake pulses with life. I hear bubbles that have risen from bottom weeds burst, imagine walleyes and northern cruising beneath the canoe. A loon calls … there is so much unknown in the lake’s wild night. The way owls hunt and fly without sound in the dark. The way wolves drift through the woods like smoke, evaporating at the first hint of morning light … I sit listening … two owls going back and forth behind me … [then] with two strokes I turn the canoe toward shore and set the paddle down. Two strokes as quietly as I can, and the owls stop. They hear me, back in the woods on their branches in moonlight (134-135)

In addition to lyrical passages such as this, Bogard relies on his observations from multiple trips to significant places in North America and around the world, mixed with academic research as well as interviews of everyday human subjects. The result is personal, conversational yet informed and persuasive. A thoughtful and respected voice in eco-criticism, Bogard’s work achieves the ideals of that literary/philosophical movement by relying on science, history (the history of light is far more interesting than one might expect) and other disciplines, blending them into a personal compelling response. The tone of the work is especially pleasing – inspirational though earnest. not overtly depressing as discussions based in ecology can be. In fact with some humility and common sense, we can do much to prevent light pollution, and Bogard’s writing is a necessary reminder of why the issue is so important to us all (In 2008 Paul edited a lovely volume of scientific and personal essays, Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, Reno: Nevada UP). I especially respect the honesty with which he addresses such a broad topic. He does not carelessly call for a stone-age end of light: “The hope is for a different style of progress” (206). If nothing else moves us, then practical considerations linking wasted money to unnecessary lighting ought to concern us: “It’s estimated that the European Union spends some 1.7 billion euros a year on wasted outdoor light. In the United States, the figure is a similar $2.2 billion” (228). Bogard argues for a responsible, manageable understanding of how light works, and more important, how it does not work – despite our assumptions to the contrary. Even more important, he calls for an understanding of darkness, without which most of the life we have inherited will be radically and negatively affected.

The End of Night reminds us that we need to rediscover what we have always found mystifying, to revive our wonder and our certain, accountable, place beneath an incomprehensible sky:

in these countless stars, in their clusters and colors and constellations, in the “shooting” showers of blazing dust and ice, we have always found beauty. And in this beauty, the overwhelming size of the universe has seemed less ominous, Earth’s own beauty more incredible. If indeed the numbers and distances of the night sky are so large that they become nearly meaningless, then let us find the meaning under our feet. There is no other place to go, the night sky makes this clear. So let us go dark. (13)

I encourage everyone to read Paul Bogard’s writing. I encourage everyone to turn off some lights. Now, I need to follow my own advice – go see some stars.

reviewed by Ken Hada, northwest of Ada, Oklahoma

Paul Bogard. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2013. ISBN 978-0-316-18290-4.

trouble behind glass doors

Walter Bargen’s latest (his 16th) collection of poems is not pretty, hopeful or uplifting. The forty poems bespeak trouble. The voice is that of a neighbor, or a member of a community chorus overhearing of tragedy, or a fellow human wondering aloud in keen, truthful verse regarding the breakdown of various individuals. In the process, the honesty of the collection calls in to question the very efficacy of society arrayed for the common good. As all good poets, Bargen helps readers see the humanity within the tragedy, the persons involved, rather than sensationalizing the problem. To be sure, there is humor (dark sometimes), there is self-effacement. There is grace implied, but frail humanity speaks most consistently in this volume. Clearly, the first Poet Laureate of Missouri has turned his attention to menacing, vulnerable, perplexing events and attitudes within an array of characters around us whose futility becomes pronounced in Bargen’s lines. Perhaps the old idiom “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones” comes to mind. Thankfully, the poet’s careful observations of troubled others is not simply voyeuristic; it portends a shared path anyone might one day walk. Clearly, the phrasing “trouble behind glass” is itself tragic, for the image suggests the way out is fraught with danger (breaking the glass), thus making the entrapment all the more sinister. Bargen’s book posits a looming question: How will we, the readers, the community, the other onlookers respond? Will we merely gawk, or will we demonstrate empathy, compassion, understanding?

The lyrical quality that Bargen commands enhances his topics. In “Halls of Waters” his subject “turns to ask if this is / the way, and recalls the ocean broken / inside him. / He leaves the stranger / whose boat is already carelessly / rocking out into the clouds” (p. 31, lines 29 -33). “Tolstoy’s Ants” “punctuate / War and Peace across cold linoleum floor” (71, lines 19-20). “In These Times” depicts “a wounded soldier / folded into grief, a soul / waiting to be rescued, waiting / for one arm, then the other / to be slipped into a sleeve, / then to button the body closed” (72-73, lines 27-32). In Bargen’s hands, “Foreign Policy” is farcical like a Laurel and Hardy episode, yet the consequences are real. After inflicting chaos and pointless destruction, “Laurel and Hardy drive off / in a steel skeleton, happy / to have escaped, believing / their cause just” (86-87, lines 48-51). In “Point of No Returns” a pilot “continues, fuel / too low to turn back and too low to arrive” (51-52, lines29-30).

It is too simplistic to dismiss Walter Bargen as cynical or hopeless, but his lines are stark and suggestive. The poet is concerned with the erosion of natural rhythms as he is with the disintegration of purposeful living. Community is rotting, and the poet warns of deterioration. In this book worried people pray “like there’s not tomorrow,” and that is “the point and half the joke” (“Give or Take a Day or Two,” 93, lines 11 -12). The truth is that decline is part of life, and Bargen reminds of the unpleasant yet prevalent facts we tend to ignore. Indeed, lines from The Whole Facts sum up the poet’s varied observations: “A black cat leaps and swats one / bird out of the air. The flock flutters on, / a smaller whole, a winged army, / and for a moment, I grow calm / and remember what it means to grow whole / and smaller with each breath” (35-36, lines 53-58).

reviewed by Ken Hada, East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma

Walter Bargen. Trouble behind glass doors. BkMk Press, University of Missouri – Kansas City, 2013. ISBN 978-188615787-3.

redemption in poetry and philosophy

Reading Simon Haines’s description of what Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy is about in the light of his conclusion that life may be “fundamentally religious” and that “we are not God” sheds considerable light on the more pressing question of what Haines is about in this book. He says the book is about Wordsworth and Kant (one standing in for poetry, the other for philosophy), chosen because they are “two of the earliest and greatest writers” to sense the need for an “analogue” of redemption in the aftermath of “the long process of dismantling the Christian faith, which began with the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment” (xiv). But it is “in a sense” also “about the first consequences of Rousseau,” tracing the precedent established by “the earliest redemptive writers of Rousseauan modernity,” who pointed the way for subsequent writers whose experience of “sin” drew on Christian sources in a post-Christian context.

As Wordsworth and Kant stand in for poetry and philosophy, Rousseau stands in for the dismantling of the Christian faith. Choosing Rousseau for this role means the pivot about which this book turns is not Germany or England, but France. Haines reads the Enlightenment project as a dismantling of Christian faith and the French Revolution as the culmination of that project. His reading assumes that the project leaves the “sense of sin” intact (at least in part because, while we are not gods, we are tempted by the possibility). So the question for Haines is how poetry and philosophy, as exemplified in Wordsworth and Kant, address the sense of sin. Dismantling Christian faith without dismantling the sense of sin creates the need for something to replace Christian redemption, and Haines reads Wordsworth and Kant as embodiments of two ways (both under the influence of Rousseau, both flawed) to do so. It is also important that he reads both as anticipating much of the argument Nietzsche makes. Part of his rationale for reading them as he does, it seems, is to get to what lies behind Nietzsche’s project (described by Camus as “to kill God and to build a church… the constant and contradictory purpose of rebellion”).

All of this tells us more about Haines than about Wordsworth or Kant — as it should. If we want to read Wordsworth or Kant, we are best advised to read them rather than reading about them. How reading Haines can contribute to our reading of Wordsworth and Kant (and not just be a reading about them) hinges on how he puts them to work. The answer, I think, is that he engages them in a task best understood as dogmatic theology with an ecclesiological core. Haines has something to say about God — which means, as is most evident in the last sentence of the book, that he has something to say about us. And what he says about “us” is an instance of what Michael Harrington called the politics at God’s funeral — Camus’ church after the death of God.

As Haines describes redemption in a post-Christian context, it is a necessity grounded in our lingering sense of sin and the desire it precipitates to feel better about ourselves. That puts feeling front and center (appropriate in a book that devotes most of its space to a Romantic poet), and it gives desire precedence (making Freud a structuring absence in this book, as Haines acknowledges in a note on Wordsworth’s “spots of time”). On the face of it, redemption is a hypothetical made necessary by our desire to feel better — and dependent on a “self” with enough continuity over time both to feel better and to feel better about. Dependence on a “self” explains the autobiographical turn in Rousseau and Wordsworth. But it also (as Haines acknowledges in passing) calls Augustine and the confessional tradition in Christianity to mind.

When Haines comes down at the end with a temptation to think “the nightmare of modernity” has been “the awful thought that each of us, indeed humanity en masse, faces the eternal silence alone — rather than the alternative that we all live noisily together, piping and playing, and that each of us, after all, lives, and lives now, rather than then, and is survived by others who also live,” he binds a succinct account of his church with a temptation to think. I can’t help wondering why he sees this as a temptation. It looks more like an assertion to me, followed by a confession: modernity is a nightmare in which each of us is alone, face to face with eternal silence; but the reality is that each of us always lives in the context of a we that was there when each of us arrived and will survive when each of us is gone (though it may be then what we call “they” now). The confession is a statement of what is really real, and Haines expands it with three statements (the first qualified with “surely,” the second qualified with “may be,” and the third unqualified): “surely… life in itself is not fundamentally elegiac”; life “may… be fundamentally religious”; and “we are not God.”

Haines defines “religion” here as “such acceptance and celebration of the limits of life that enable life itself to be lived most richly” (219). But I think it is critical to connect this with the earlier image of living noisily together, which is a rejoinder to Wordsworth and Kant (but also to the French Revolution) as Haines reads them. The “we” that defines religion — that leads to celebration of limits — is a noisy, playful, joyful, living crowd.

This understanding of religion, I think, helps to explain why Haines reads Wordsworth’s poetry as a whole (and poem by poem) as a failure marked by moments of greatness (a reading that is surprisingly consistent with Wordsworth’s “spots of time”). He sees the “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” as a withdrawal from political life (which failed at redemption) into the solitude of childhood (which succeeds at redemption only by making living elegiac): life is always what is past, living always mourning what is gone. Redemption lies in memory, always then never now, and memory is always autobiographical, always dependent on making a self.

So much depends on what is real, what is illusion, what we mean by we, and what sort of self that makes possible.

Haines describes poetry and philosophy as the two ways (the only two ways) human beings think with language. Poetry, he says, is metaphorical, while philosophy is conceptual. This is a fascinating claim that Haines seems to think goes without saying — so he says very little about it beyond the simple assertion. I find the sharp distinction problematic, and I am confident Wordsworth would share this response (though I am less confident about Kant). I might as well say I find it unthinkable, because I am convinced that human conceptualization is (as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson suggest) itself fundamentally metaphorical. Lakoff and Johnson allow for nonmetaphorical concepts that emerge directly from experience (and in this, they are close to Kant in identifying concepts without which the activity of thought would not be possible). But the activity of thought — conceptualization — which brings these concepts into contact with other concepts, proceeds by making metaphor. That is what we do when we think, and philosophy is nothing if not thinking. The sharp separation, it seems to me, is itself a withdrawal from the messiness of living. The moment one thinks, one is knee deep in metaphor — and philosophy forgets this at its peril. By the same token, poetry is inconceivable without nonmetaphorical concepts. To abandon them would be to abandon thought and language. While there may be good reason to say that the abandonment of thought and language is precisely what poetry seeks (poem is where mind goes), as long as mind is going, nonmetaphorical concepts will be colliding to make metaphor. That snippet of Wordsworth’s that is so often quoted as a “definition” of poetry — “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” — is not a definition at all without what follows: poems with any value need poets who have also “thought long and deeply.” That poetry and philosophy are two ways of thinking with language seems most helpful in reading Kant and Wordsworth. As long as we are thinking in language, minds going, we are engaged in both.

And this, it seems to me, would be the place to criticize Wordsworth for placing redemption in memory if memory is simply past. Haines rightly notes that we live here and now, not there and then. If Wordsworth does indeed abandon the Augustinian insight into time so familiar from Book XI of the Confessions, there is reason to criticize. But I think he sets out to embody it in poems like the immortality ode and the poem to Coleridge we know as the “Prelude.” Memory is an activity in the present. Where else could it be? And it is an embodied act (what else could it be?), a taking place.

Reading Kant and Wordsworth in Rousseau’s light (or his shadow, as the case may be) is interesting. But I think it is a mistake to ignore the Augustinian (and specifically Lutheran) context in which Kant wrote. Haines makes passing reference to this, but I think a closer look would help him make more sense of Kant’s spontaneity. Wordsworth’s Anglican context is equally Augustinian (and Lutheran in its own way). This is most evident in Coleridge’s theological reflections and the impact they had on F.D. Maurice and Christian socialism — but that leads to another book, another time. For now, I think it is worth noting that any concept of redemption either Kant or Wordsworth is likely to employ will be radically incarnational. To put it simply, it has precious little to do with how we feel: it is a matter of who we are. And who we are is entirely dependent on what God is. (Whether we have a sense of sin or not, Kierkegaard would say, we are always in the wrong vis-à-vis God — perhaps especially when we have no sense.) When Haines says “we are not God,” he invites an apophatic corollary that may be of use here: God is not us. That is certainly something a Romantic poet could play with (it is very close to Emerson’s definition of Nature) — especially in a radically incarnational world that confesses God incarnate in human form. God who is not us is us now. Now what?

Haines is dismissive of Wordsworth’s embrace of his “office” as poet (and, less expansively, of Coleridge’s embrace of Anglicanism), which he understands almost entirely in terms of duty. This suggests that it is a renunciation of the freedom Wordsworth experienced during his time of political activity in France. But I think it would be more useful to work through “office” in terms of vocation, which binds it with freedom along lines Luther articulated in “The Freedom of the Christian.” Starting with the ubiquity of God and a radical reading of the incarnation, our vocation is to become who we are — which is what it means to be free. Who we are, in Luther’s language, is Christs to one another; and that transforms what we do. To put this another way, our vocation is word made flesh. It is certainly possible to say (or write) that Wordsworth’s poetry, as word, is an escape from the action that immersed him in the terror of the present moment in France. This, too, is, of course, only words. But, agree or disagree, I think it makes sense to take Wordsworth at his word and consider the possibility of poetry as action in the world. It is interesting politically to consider the possibility (to borrow an image from Wallace Stevens) that it’s a world of words to the end of it — and this is not a failure.

That may even be a good way to approach Haines’s “may be” — that life is fundamentally religious. And it may, as others have suggested, make Marx and Burke more alike than Marx and Rousseau in their embrace of politics as an organic process. The most important political question (and the question of Wordsworth’s poetry) is how embodied beings grow. For human beings, addressing this question has often taken the form of making lives by asking what we mean by “we” (as the Hebrew prophets did repeatedly — and as Romantic nationalism has, for better and for worse, so often done) and, within that context, coming to know and articulate an I. Haines says poets are masters of life writing — and in that sense every one of us practices poetry every time we say I. And every time we say I, we engage in the political act of making a city — even when we think we say it on the way out (as hermits from Laozi through Merton have known).

Haines says life is not fundamentally elegiac, but I find myself reading his reading of Wordsworth with John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison in mind. We’ll never get out of these blues alive. And Billie Holiday — You don’t know what love is / Until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues. Elegiac is not the opposite of joyful, and being a hermit does not mean fleeing the terror of the present moment. More likely, it means addressing the terror — more often than not, in a piping, playing, messy mélange of poetry and philosophy in over its head in metaphor.

reviewed by Steven Schroeder, Chicago

Simon Haines. Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy: Wordsworth, Kant, and the Making of the Post-Christian Imagination. Baylor University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-60258-779-3.

like father, like son: a narrative in poetry and guitar

I first listened to this album in New England spring.

Then I listened to it again, on an unseasonably hot day. Which seems appropriate, given the poetry about fishing.

I printed part of a chapbook listening to this, over the sound of an old motor. The motor makes strange creaking noises, because the belt is catching on something, and the guitar reaches over the top of the clank as the cylinder reaches the end of the press. Words are indistinct — it is more of a tonal arc around the sound of printing.

I listened to it in a car, stuck in rush hour traffic in the industrial back end of Boston.

Someone recently said something like “but who sits down and listens to music anymore?” in conversation. I don’t, I admit it. I stand up. I walk. You know. I don’t sit to set type, why would I sit for music?

Anyway, Ken Hada is one of my favorite people, so I’m obviously biased, but here’s the thing: Ken, and the people he is surrounded with, have forced me to admit that sometimes (only sometimes) I like poetry — by being so good at it. Ken’s voice is perfectly suited to reading his own work, which is an exception. (Most people, I have concluded, should not be allowed to read their own work. They think too hard about it.)

Kenny, like his father, is an inspiration. I know a small, precious handful of people who are so good at what they do, and such delightful humans, that they inspire an urge to work better. Or at least to try harder. I’ve only met Kenny a few times — at Scissortail, where he provides a soundtrack — but he’s a sincerely charming young man of a sort I don’t encounter much in my everyday life.

So: listen to Ken & Kenny Hada play off of one another’s strengths, and see what it inspires in you.

reviewed by Regina Schroeder, Boston

Ken & Kenny Hada. Like Father, Like Son: A Narrative in Poetry and Guitar, produced by Chris Shofner, Ada OK, 2012.

endearing ruins / liebenswerte ruinen

er findet immer einen Weg
…for Walter Bargen, after reading Endearing Ruins

Seven layers of sponge cake (eight
for those whose memory, like
art, is longer than life), each baked
alone, then stacked and mortared
with buttercream (a touch of apricot
if you please) all shrouded in enough
dark chocolate to make the kind of tower
you would make if you did not think it
robbery to include one god or the other
in your circle of friends. Slice and serve
with strong coffee and, nervous as
that may make some gods, they
will not need to lift a finger. Divine
aphasia will settle on tongues naturally,
a whole greater than the sum of all
the stories we carry speaking in them
when we find ourselves living lost. Once
we live, we live everywhere. And
though we may wonder how
tight to hold a handful of air, the
important thing is how the air holds us.
And how it does hold us. That we
can’t call back this or any other
universe cannot be denied, but
don’t even try to tell me there’s
a hell of a good one next door —
even when it is so cold we carry nothing
home to burn for fluttering warmth, even
when the difference between fighting and
executing is hard to hear. Wonder the way,
wander the difference careful as one
who crosses a bridge in winter,
courteous as one who is a guest
giving way like ice melting. Nothing
happens when you have nothing
under control. Face it. Ice gives way,
and everybody knows you have never
been nothing, not even before
your parents were born.

reviewed by Steven Schroeder, Chicago

Walter Bargen. Endearing Ruins/Liebenswerte Ruinen. German translations by Josef Wittmann. Liliom Verlag, 2012. ISBN 978-3-934785-58-8.

salton sea

At the official book launch for George McCormick’s Salton Sea, I sit on a plastic chair in the Leslie Powell Gallery, a surprisingly neat oasis in the midst of a semi-deserted street in Lawton, Oklahoma. The gallery is comfortable and smart, if not elegant – happily offering a stay against the seepage of culture here on the southern plains. It occurs to me that this setting is appropriate for this inaugural reading. McCormick’s characters also struggle in futile wastelands, though they fail to fully understand their plights. Bayard Godsave introduces George, and he points out how the characters in Salton Sea are often “oblivious” to the way in which their surroundings affect them. But Godsave also points us to the “beauty in their ruin.”

The author stands behind the podium and acknowledges two guiding influences in his life: his mother, a librarian, from whom he gained the love of story, and his father from whom he learned to appreciate topography, and to read maps. These influences seem pertinent as George begins to read. This thought stays with me as later I would read and reread the entire collection. As others have noted, McCormick’s characters inhabit a western landscape though their relationship to it is often beyond their appreciation. They are dots on a map.

With something like boyish charm – yet with an all-grown-up-now voice of one who knows his craft, George begins to read his story “Birdy.” His manner seems to say: “Hear me. These characters have come through my soul. I have imagined them for you, and they are a lot like us.” Indeed, these are good stories. They exhibit control. They flourish with rich but understated characterization. Four of them were first published in respected literary journals. One of them, “The Mexican,” won a 2013 PEN/O. Henry Prize. “Birdy” displays lines like “the stink was sweet and awful.” This is the story of a would-be family man trying to sell pot to make ends meet. His less than powerful presence is routinely highlighted by phone calls with his wife who is concerned about their sick child. This is a story about money, about getting enough to make a happy life for an ordinary couple. Of course the drug deal goes unfulfilled, not in a clichéd, violent way, but in a weird confessional in which the main character washes the dishes and cleans up a bit in the apartment of Birdy, his contact who fails to provide the agreed upon money, and who is obviously in a worse situation than the main character. His impulsive cleaning of the place somehow rudely compensates for his own apparent lack of attention to his wife and daughter back in Bozeman, Montana. Readers feel the anguish of a man trying to be two places at one time and get away with it. Double lives divide us in half, don’t they? The story begins with the admitted failure of the main character: “these mistakes came from my hand.” And so we see the mock-heroic attempt of an ordinary guy trying in vain to make up for his sense of failure. With a sincere but quiet voice, George ends his reading. We all applaud. We recognize the necessary subtle vanity developed in his characters. Members of the audience line up to buy their copy of Salton Sea. I am anxious to read the remaining four stories.

I had heard George read a draft of “The Mexican” once before, so I was anxious to see its final form that garnered its prestigious award. As I contemplated my reading, I decided that this story should be required reading for every American. It is a story that represents not only our failure to understand, but our intentional manipulation of reality. The story is a simple plot. A worker on a train finds a Mexican hiding among a train-car full of oranges. Nothing more, nothing less. But in the eye contact of the two characters lies a history of political distrust, and more important, the ironic goal of what it means to be human. McCormick’s handling of this plot leaves readers profoundly affected. The peril of the lonely and vulnerable immigrant – desperate and now silently brought face to face with an ordinary American. What will he do? The story takes a marvelous turn. We see how “years later” this encounter becomes legend. How the solitary immigrant becomes a cattle car of Mexican steers that bust out and run wild from their boxcar prison. As the narrator tells us, “in the West what we love most are lies. What we love are images of a stampede, of animals running; of what we think are the right stories of stealing away.” I repeat. All Americans should read this story.

“DC” is the next story. It develops an everyday dilemma of whether or not to take a good job in Washington DC, or to stay put in small-town Idaho. Of course readers soon begin to realize that the move will never take place. The move cannot happen because the principal is forever defined by a place. The dream of bettering an economic situation dissolves into illusion before it is cancelled by the familiarity of logging trucks, estranged Mormon in-laws and a favorite barstool. The clever appeal of this story is the undeniable feeling that Orofino, Idaho contains the pulse of America – not DC.

The title story, “Salton Sea,” is set in Fontana, fifty miles east of Los Angeles where “there is no sky.” The story revolves around an oddity: an inland sea, a place where the narrator has “come to hate.” The mundane reverberates in this story. There seems to be no life, no color. The irregular community of Salton City mirrors the main couple of the story whose search leads only to futility. They are explorers who never find anything significant or useful, and wear themselves out in the process. The fifth story of the collection boasts my favorite line: “Montana winters are hard on women and machinery.” This story also presents my favorite title: “You are Going to Be a Good Man.” Like each of the five stories of this collection, this context demonstrates the futile present tense. Someday, in the undefined, vaguely imagined future, things will be better. Someday, there is the faint hope of change, but not only does betterment always seem to be just out of reach, it also seems to finally not be worth the effort. Maybe a redeeming irony of these stories lies in their mirroring effect they provide the reader. Maybe we should sense the precious importance of who we are now, in the contexts in which we find ourselves. Certainly all the stories use memory in significant and very interesting ways. Along with McCormick’s skillful use of memory, the domestic tension within these stories is gripping. It is a joy to read such masterful tributes to a flawed and common humanity.

Reviewed by Ken Hada, Ada, Oklahoma

George McCormick. Salton Sea. Noemi Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-934819-24-1.

the river white: a confluence of brush & quill

There is a long tradition of artists blurring the line between art forms: Whistler painted symphonies in white and gray, Debussy composed impressions of sunken cathedrals, and of course Langston Hughes wrote in jazz. Yet these invocations are never a true collaboration with another medium; rather, they offer a teasing glimpse of the fragile space between image and word, a space that no one artist can traverse. It is all the more satisfying, then, to find a true collaboration between artists who share the same vision and can blur the lines between “brush and quill.” Flipping through the pages of Ken and Duane Hada’s The River White, the reader is immediately confronted with the question of genre: is it a pictorial travelogue of the White River, with poems serving as convenient signposts? Or quite the reverse–a series of rustic poems redundantly decorated by regional landscapes? Thankfully, a close reading of the text offers more ambitious claims for the narrative. Far from being a mere ‘tour’ of the White River, this book is ultimately not about the river at all. The River White is a conversation between two artists–and brothers–about the most human experience of all, that of finding oneself in utter awe of the soaring, swelling, breathing, rustling, silent expanses of our natural world. Reading the book from cover to cover is not a lukewarm reading experience–nor recommended for the casual ‘tourist.’ Like a stray leaf being carried away in a current (to quote the beautiful image on page 90), the reader has to surrender to the rhythms and half-tones of the work, which ultimately lie beyond questions of medium or genre. It is a book that simply had to be.

So how does it work? Can paintings and poems truly ‘speak’ to one another without resorting to slavish illustration? One of the more haunting examples of this conversation occurs on pages 10-11, entitled “Morning Fog: State Park.” On the left is a foggy mountain-scape, dim flashes of trees peering through the mist, while a lone fisherman–a mere shadow himself–flits in and out of existence. Despite the incredible calm of the painting, a darker undercurrent rises up from the depths, a darkness caught palpably in the poem: “Be honest now–you/feel what you cannot name,/you fear to articulate/what you feel–.” Through these words, the fisherman becomes our own soul, fearing a beauty that makes us question the path of our lives, the entanglements of modern civilization. By way of an answer, the poem claims that the “dark moment/permits you to pretend/you’re ahead of the game,/passing others–/such is the myth/of the purple-hearted.” This “myth” clouds the poem like the fog itself, reminding us of Nature’s ability to cleave through human myth-making and reveal the naked, shivering self. Are we who we mean to be? Can we ever go back to something as pure and unpolluted as the poem’s “God-space”? Neither artist nor poet offers an easy solution; their ruminations about life as observed from the end of a fishing pole echoes William Wordsworth, who believed that such moments made us “a living soul…[which could] see into the life of things.”

Of course, as with any journey, the clouds part and sunlight bathes the landscape. Duane Hada’s watercolors offer us radiant depictions of life along the White River, from the swimming expanse of Hopkinswoode to the steamy, nocturnal charm of Batesville. Ken Hada’s poetry is a cunning companion, never offering flat illustration or cliched charm; the poetry can be profound, confessional, humble, or paradoxical. Peering across the water at the glowing lights of Batesville, he notes that “We live/as we die–in the triumph of now–refracted/as ghosts always are.” This, perhaps, is the note that sounds most frequently in the book: the sense of being haunted–by regret as well as beauty–and of reconciling sincere love of all creation with the limitations of the human spirit. Whether or not Duane’s artwork would completely endorse Ken’s ruminations is part of the ironic charm of the work; the collaboration succeeds by moving a step apart. The vision is shared, yet the inspiration, one suspects, is different. The direct, clear-eyed paintings find a distorted beauty in their poetic reflection. Of course, any other relationship would seem forced, untruthful. The ‘ghosts’ haunting the work are not ideals; they are lonely, passionate human beings, searching for the beauty they cannot find in themselves in the world without.

In short, the work offers a sumptuous feast for the eyes and a healing tonic to the soul. Sadly, it is a work that can easily be dismissed, as so few precedents for the Hadas’ collaboration exist in modern literature. Like nature itself, we simply have to come with it without judgment, willing to see it–and ourselves–for what it is. Beautiful. Dark. Sublime. Disorientating. To quote the lines of “Newport Bridge,” “If you go with me far enough,/you will recognize yourself…this is why you must go with me,/why we all must go together.” The book is our guide, through the White River to be sure, but through life itself–or at least, life as only art can create. It is a book worth getting lost in, as every page brings us closer to home.

Reviewed by Joshua Grasso, East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma

Ken Hada & Duane Hada, The River White: A Confluence of Brush & Quill. Mongrel Empire Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-983305-26-2.