Paulette Demers Turco’s The Powow River Poets Anthology II, Reviewed by Dan Cuddy

714A+cQIE8LThe Powow River Poets Anthology II  edited by Paulette Demers Turco, Able Muse Press, San Jose CA 2020  ISBN 978-1-77349-075,  149 pages

The Powow River poets are probably not well-known outside of New England. Luckily Andrew Szilvasy had a couple of poems published in the Fall of 2018 in the Loch Raven Review, and this year inquired about getting a review of an anthology in which he has two poems, one of which was previously published in LRR. Because of that and the subsequent correspondence with the anthology’s editor Paulette Turco, I was lucky enough to get acquainted with this group of interesting poets.

The Powow River, a tributary of the Merrimack River, flows down southern New Hampshire through Newburyport, Massachusetts, north of Boston, into the Gulf of Maine. A group of talented and accomplished poets in the 1990’s under the prod of Rhina Espaillat and others formed a group that met regularly to read and discuss and nurture a wealth of native creative talent. This anthology is the second published by these poets. The first was in 2006. This group is characterized by its enthusiasm for metrics and traditional forms. The subject matter of the work of the 27 poets published in this volume is very diverse. Individual voices are very audible in this group enterprise. The anthology contains a wealth of sonnets villanelles, blank verse, heroic couplets, etc.

I see two types of readers of this anthology. The first is that group of people who love the experience poetry gives. They are readers just like museum patrons who walk through the galleries of museums looking at the beauty, the human message and the techniques in producing the paintings displayed. The second group are the practicing and aspiring poets. The poetry demonstrates that traditional form and observance of meter is still viable. When mastered by a practitioner, it can be brilliant and deserves ears, hearts, minds. To achieve the resulting work in this anthology requires both practice and talent. The voices here demonstrate to each individual reader that there is more life in the old forms than a high school or college student can imagine. There are achievements in this anthology which will startle and intrigue and teach the novice. Conversely, in a few instances, there is also the disease of excess rhyme and a too insistent mechanical paint-by-the-numbers seizure of creative momentum that can overwhelm, stifle the voice of a poet. However, those negative lessons are way out-numbered by the brilliance that will inspire a fledgling or struggling writer. The anthology will also introduce to readers unfamiliar names to pursue.

One of the first highlights that I encountered was the poem “My Fault Lines” by Barbara Lydecker Crane. Though the personification of abstract qualities is not original, she perfected it to my ear. It is clever and uses rhyme extremely well. Here are the first two stanzas:

Clumsy bumbled in, inept.
Heedless tumbled when she leapt.
Presumptive trod and overstepped.
Lazy’s late. She overslept.

Ditherer will make you wait.
Pessimist is blaming fate.
Carper’s sharpened words berate.
Nervous? In Another state.

The other two poems in the anthology are titles “Conjuring a Son”, which is both humorous and sorrowful. The first 3 stanzas:

Mom asks “How’s your son?”
Each time I visit now, though
I’ve never had one.

She asks it loudly,
Sweetly crinkling eyes as if
She knows I’ll proudly

Tell his latest news:
Timmy learned to stand today—
Tim can tie his shoes

Another poem that struck me was “Grappling Hook” by Robert W. Crawford. The first stanza sets the scene beautifully:

That summer I was eight, or nine, up early
To help my grandpa coming back at dawn.
I saw it on the transom of the boat—
An anchor-sized, steel-gray, and three-pronged hook
Still wet and covered with the lake debris.
“What’s that?”
He hesitated, trying to decide
If I was old enough to handle it
“It’s called a grappling hook. You drag it on
The bottom of a lake to find a body.
We needed it to find a boy that drowned.”

The two concluding stanzas reveal more. I will leave the surprising complex insight to future readers. Crawford creates a world, a vivid memory, different points of view between youth and age, an irony in 3 concise stanzas.

Midge Goldberg writes in a voice almost like Robert Frost.

Walking on Ice

Foot traffic on the lake’s increasing lately.
The fisherman are out without a boat,
Building fires and drilling holes sedately
In the only thing that’s keeping them afloat.

Some folks are skating, measurers who know
The thickness of the thing, the hard and soft
Of it. They don’t mistake the ice and snow
For something magic keeping them aloft.

The only ones unsure out here are geese,
Who clamor cautiously onto the lake.
The fact that they can fly gives them no peace—
Their wing-and-prayer approach to what might break

Recalls what lies beneath, how footing changes,
How pressure builds and cracks and rearranges.

There isn’t room here to quote or analyze all of the magnificence, but before closing with a couple more of my favorites I want to list a few titles to indicate the range of subject matter: “Period Furniture: the Royal Bedchamber”; “The Love of Sushi Sue”; “Bra”; “Hades Creek, Washington”; “Proposed Cliché’s”; “On First Looking at Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife”; “Winter Boats”; “Teen Angels: High Hopes, Circa 1960”; “The Frat Boys”; “The Hard Work of Dying”; “boondocks”; “Overheard at the Grotto above Assisi”; “Work or Play”; “Peter’s Denial”. Titles reveal in a general way the subject or starting point of a poem, but not the poem itself. Let it suffice to say that the poetry in the anthology gives the reader some interesting and moving experiences. The beauty of the book is that there is both tragedy and comedy, and a well-expressed lyricism. The poems are accomplished; they do not have the academic solipsism, or navel-rubbing, or the gush of broken-pipe words that often get into contemporary literary journals. Craft and inspiration are complementary.

I want to close with two other personal highlights from the anthology. The first is the whole selection of Deborah Warren’s work. I find it so miraculously pithy. Here is the poem ” Mole”:

Earth is his occupation, and the mole
Works the turf in his native breaststroke, swimming
Hallways into the sod—-a geonaut
Supreme, and connoisseur of worms; I’ve heard him
Breaking roots an inch beneath my sole
And seen how the subterranean specialist
Carves out for himself a single, simple role.
I envy the expertise he brings to bear
On dirt, the narrow office he was given;
As for me, my habitat is thought,
Where I grope and sweat and scrabble out a living
Forced to prove—-up here in a windy lair
As invisible as the mole’s—-that there exists
An animal who can dig a hole in air.

The final example is the poem by Jay Wickersham “Two Scenes After Edward Hopper.”

Alone is never lonely. Anyone
Who ever woke to empty city streets
Knows this. Your knees make mountains of the sheets;
The curtains waver outward, toward the sun-
Touched fronts of buildings. Now your eyes align
Each window. Is it just a painted set,
A backdrop to your waking? Stand erect;
Abrade your dreaming skin on brick and stone.

Alone is often lonely. In dark woods
A line of globes glows red and white above
The gas pumps. Like milk in water, light
Seeps out into the darkness, staining the night
With longing. But now you slam the hood,
Restart your car. The road begins to move.

One last note: I hope the readers of this review noticed the form of the poems and all the intricate little curlicues and dotted i’s of language. Traditional poetry is far from moribund.

© Paulette Demers Turco and Dan Cuddy

Paulette Demers Turco, Powow River Poet, co-organizer of Powow Reading Series, edited  The Powow River Poets Anthology II  (Able Muse Press, January 2021). Her poetry appears or is pending in  The Lyric,  Ibbetson Street,  The Poetry Porch,  Mezzo Cammin,  Poems for Plovers (Hawk &  Whippoorwill, 2020),  2020 Hippocrates Awards Anthology Merrimac Mic Anthologies. Her chapbook,  In Silence was published by Finishing Line  Press in 2018. Awards include: Robert Frost Poetry Award; First Prize, Rockport Ekphrastic Poetry Contest; MFA in Writing President’s Award from Lesley University,  Cambridge, MA. She earned her MFA from Lesley University in 2019.

Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. Most recently he has had poems published in the End of 83, Broadkill Review, Welter, the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, the Pangolin Review and forthcoming in Gargoyle.

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