‘In Lieu of Flowers’ by Rachel Slotnick

in-lieu-of-flowers-slotnickRachel Slotnick’s In Lieu of Flowers is a series of epistle like poems that address ideas of memory, time, and the nuances that pervade both concepts. Woven between the poems and poetic prose are poignant illustrations, collages, and graffiti that capture perfectly the essence, the sadness, and the pragmatism with which Slotnick takes on the world in her collection.

Each section of the book is addressed to a different person: Fisherman, Mathematician, and Musician. Further, each address is a calling not only to the named person, but to a specific idea attached to that person. In Dear Fisherman, Slotnick particularly addresses the subject of her father: a man in love with the sea, a man handicapped by a shark, a man with a wooden stump for an arm. After his experiences in youth, her father “became a shark hunter, and he hated all trees for daring to resemble him.” As shown in this example, Slotnick has a knack for capturing language at its most vulnerable and apt entry points and twisting it to fit the exact mood and mode of her poetry.

She uses this section to explore ideas of life, and passing through life, as it slowly slips through your fingers like water. “At the edges of the fishbowl,” Slotnick describes the last moments she spends with her father, moments in a hospital, moments in which she can see his life slipping away as well as the life the two have yet to live together. Each slipping further, he towards death, and she towards a life without her father. “I realized we both knew we were headed somewhere strange,” Slotnick remarks as she watches her father leaving her.

As in the early section, Dear Mathematician also addresses the concept of death and the passage of time. This address, though, is made to Slotnick’s grandfather, a man so in love, that without his wife, his life, became a living landmark of her memory. “Memory is a strange father,” says Slotnick. “It’s funny how you tend to remember sweetly,” trying your best to ignore the harshness of life, the pain in memory. At its end, Dear Mathematician also confronts death with the passing of Slotnick’s grandfather, and though sad in its content and in its form, Slotnick somehow portrays the reality of death with a sincerity rather than an edge toward the depressive.

The book ends with Dear Musician, which could almost be a calling to the author herself as an artist in love and in hate with her art.

Throughout all three sections, Slotnick draws through the theme of flowers. Flowers that grow in nature, funereal flowers, and flowers for the beginnings of something like love. Each series of poems in itself could be seen as in lieu of flowers – something given to the people addressed besides flowers – something potentially more, or something equally as, meaningful and significant as flowers.

A beautifully and artfully composed collection of both poetry and unique images, In Lieu of Flowers is Slotnick’s first book of poetry and is a masterpiece of a first book.

Published by Tortoise Books, you can purchase In Lieu of Flowers on Amazon.

Read more poetry book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Pleasure You Suffer: A Saudade Anthology’

the-pleasure-you-sufferWhy is it that the greatest suffering always involves someone or something that we love? Perhaps because the loss of, the imperfection of, the mere existence of pleasure invites pain. In The Pleasure You Suffer, authors inquire into this phenomenon of pleasure’s linkage to pain through short stories and poetry.

From bad relationships to unrequited love, from parental issues to dissatisfaction with employment, the authors of The Pleasure You Suffer explore the pain in pleasure through a variety of lenses. There are some pieces, like The Good Tombstone by Joseph G. Peterson, that are so heartbreaking and visceral that it’s hard to remember they’re fiction. A story about a widower who plays the lottery in hopes of buying his dead wife a more appropriate tombstone, Peterson hits at the essence of pain in love and loss.

Then there are poems like Rachel Slotnick’s The Perfume that is so profoundly introspective despite it’s sad content, that Slotnick is able to remove the reader from despondency and put her in a place of love and warmth. Slotnick essentially argues that we are nothing without the one’s we love, even if it is painful to lose them.

Overall, The Pleasure You Suffer is an absolutely beautiful and courageous set of works that is well worth its pages. Every piece is unique and says something slightly different about the same running theme.

Published by Tortoise Books, in June of 2016 The Pleasure You Suffer is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Ruler of Hearts’ by Jason Kerzinski

ruler of hearts-kerzinskiRuler of Hearts by Jason Kerzinski is a poetically driven collection of works that glimpses the lives of those in the French Quarter of New Orleans with a searing depth.

Kerzinski divides his collection into four different sections: Ruler of Hearts, Little Abyss, In Bloom, and Exceedingly Beautiful. Each section features a host of mini character sketches focusing on a different aspect of life for those characters. From the effect that New Orleans has on in its people, to ideas of both spiritual and physical death, Ruler of Hearts captures the most intimate moments of life in mere pages.

The long form poems range from one paragraph to a few pages, but the poignancy with which Kerzinski is able to grasp and dissect the lives of his characters is what propels the collection forward. Each piece focuses on a different person who the reader has never met before, and yet by the end of that piece the reader feels as if she knows this character in an intimate way, as if she’s been reading about him for 150 pages already.

Rather than flowery language, Kerzinski utilizes short terse descriptions to feed the narratives, and he does so in the most compelling way. Though he might be simply telling the reader exactly what’s happening, the images that he procures are visceral and moving in a way that transports the reader directly to the scene. Kerzinski also includes illustrations throughout Ruler of Hearts: black and white sketches that symbolize some aspect of a particular poem or section.  The illustrations are uniquely oblique, and some of them are utterly terrifying; yet, all of them throw you into the piece with greater fervor, wonder, and dread.

Ruler of Hearts is a beautifully crafted work that gets at the heart of life in the French Quarter in the most direct and concise manner. Kerzinski is a master of descriptive poetics, and his first published collection is a testament to this claim.

Published by Obzene Press in 2016, Ruler of Hearts is available for purchase online at Obzene Press.

Read more book reviews of small press published work at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Beware of Napkins’ Written by Jack Murphy and Illustrated by Melanie Jeanne Plank

bewareofnapkins_murphy_plankIn a hybrid form of poetical artistry, author Jack Murphy and illustrator Melanie Jeanne Plank have created the ultimate literary tribute to one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, The Beatles. The title of their book of illustrated poetry, Beware of Napkins, plays on George Harrison’s 1970 song “Beware of Darkness.” This misheard song title features as the main narrative thread for the collection as the signing off of an unnamed father to his daughter Jessica in a series of letters that spans from Jessica’s childhood to motherhood.

Aside from the letters between Jessica and her father, of which we are only privy to Dad’s side, there are also a series of portrait poems about each of the members of The Beatles, as well as shout outs to particular songs, and highlights of their individual and collective careers. Covering topics of hypocrisy, the price of fame, selling out, and the whole Yoko controversy, Murphy and Plank do a splendid job of providing not only an overview of the band’s career, but also imagined snippets into their souls.

While Murphy’s poetry wraps the reader in sentiment, nostalgia and comedic relief, Plank’s illustrations are the perfect aesthetic and emotional accompaniment. From her realistic portraits from John, Paul, George and Ringo, to her cartoon-like drawings of beach chairs and her handwritten letters, each piece is the exact physical manifestation of the more ethereal emotion that Murphy attempts to convey.

There may be inside jokes and obscure hints that the lay reader won’t necessarily understand, but these do not detract at all from the overall piece if you don’t have the knowledge needed to understand them. Beware of Napkins is hilarious, heart breaking and intimate whether you are a hardcore Beatles fan or just one of the everyone who at least knows who The Beatles are.

Beware of Napkins is available for purchase at JackMurphyChicago.com