Poetry for Southern California


Reviews 2/10

Poetry CD Reviews & Other Things!

February 2010

By G. Murray Thomas, Senior Editor

Book by Maja Trochimczyk
Moonrise Press (www.moonrisepress.com)

Rarely does one find a book of poetry which holds together as well as Miriam’s Iris. Although presented as a collection of individual poems, it reads like it was composed as a whole, as a single poem of multiple parts.

On one level, Miriam’s Iris tells a story, of love and loss, and of final acceptance and wisdom. It manages to do this without giving any of the real-life details of the story. Instead, it focuses on the emotions, exploring them mostly through nature imagery. Nonetheless, the arc of the events comes through.

The book is carefully constructed. It contains three basic forms of poetry: “Angel” poems, “In Passing,” and “Interludes” (the Interludes include opening and closing poems titled “Prelude” and “Postlude”). Each form has its own distinct style and subject matter.

The Angel poems form the meat of the book. Trochimczyk uses six angels: Amor, the Angel of Romance, Eros - desire, Eloe - grief, Thanatos - death, Ellenai - peace, and Sophia - wisdom. Each Angel section contains six poems relating to that concept. These poems are, for the most part, abstract, focusing on the emotions involved. What imagery they contain is drawn from the natural world. They tell the story— the initial attraction of meeting one’s lover, the death of the lover, the grief, and finally the acceptance of the loss. As I said, they do this without ever describing the lover himself with anything more concrete than “you.” Still, they convey the stages of emotion of the affair.

Between each Angel section there is an Interlude poem, and an “In Passing” poem. The Interludes are the most concrete poems in the book. They are also the only poems with specific details of the poet’s life. They focus on descriptions of a natural phenomena—waterfalls, rivers, mountains—and then expand to bring in parts of the poet’s life. A recurring theme is her life as an emigrant, the differences between her current home, southern California, and her native Poland. This fits thematically as another sort of love lost. The Interludes connect emotionally with the surrounding Angel poems. They follow the same progression of emotion.

Between the Interludes and the Angel poems are short poems, all titled “In Passing.” These poems are very impressionistic. Each takes a piece of nature, something observed in passing, and uses it to delineate an emotional state.

These sections work together to give us the emotional arc of her life, from selfish desire to selfless wisdom and acceptance. “Prelude” describes her youthful destruction of beauty. By the final “Postlude,” her spirit has assimilated with the beauty around her.

Trochimczyk’s voice is solid throughout. She transitions from one style to another smoothly, mastering all three. She does occasionally slip into flat, generalized language, most often in the Angel poems, where she at times merely tells her emotions, rather than evoking them. But she also has moments of great poetic beauty:

we peel the minutes
off the ancient clock
(“Eros 6”)

among sweet magnolias
blooming out of season
dreaming, wishing
to be stars
(“In Passing 5”)

love fell on me
like snow from high sky
(“Sophia 2”)

Overall, Miriam’s Iris is a strong demonstration of how poetry can evoke emotion without getting bogged down in the details of one’s affairs. Along the way it provides some wisdom about finding one’s place, accepting what one is given.

—G. Murray Thomas

Novel by Douglas Richardson
Weak Creature Press (weakcreature@aol.com)

The Corruption of Zachary R. is an imaginative and entertaining novel. It gives a surreal take on a man’s descent into madness. At times it reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut; it also uses absurd situations to shed light on the human condition.

Zachary R. is driven insane by a variety of circumstances. He blames himself for his mother’s early death. His father only cared about chess. His wife is unfaithful, and dies as a direct result of that. All this is more than Zachary’s fragile mind can handle.

Richardson tells this tale is prose which is both creative and lighthearted (in direct contrast with his subject matter). Certain phrases repeat over and over in the book—“the searing mental sun,” “an endless train,” and so on. Most of these represent Zachary’s obsessions, especially “I like rivers and women” and “service to mankind.” In this way, Richardson uses language to capture Zachary’s mental state, how he perceives the world through simple, yet absurd, concepts. This is the greatest strength of the book, how he tells the story as Zachary would tell it.

Yet in the end, many of these catch phrases are really meaningless. What exactly is “a tissue-fiber nightgown”? A ”twilit bungalow”? Or a “hill of shacks and cigarettes”?

This points to what I found to be the main weakness of the novel. The Corruption of Zachary R. is a dessert of a novel, not a main course. It is entertaining, but with little real substance. It never really offers any insight into the nature and causes of madness. The situations which cause his madness—a weak mother, a domineering but distant father, and a masochistic, unfaithful wife—are in general unsurprising, almost clichéd, and, in their details, too absurd to connect with real life.

The characters are all sharply drawn, in that they are all given clear, identifiable quirks. But their presentation rarely goes beyond those quirks, and they remain characters, not fully formed people. Zachary himself remains a collection of catch phrases which never cohere into a functional human being.

But maybe I am looking for too much realism in a book of a decidedly absurdist nature. (My personal taste does run to realist fiction.) The Corruption of Zachary R. makes no attempt to be a clinical case study of psychosis. Rather it is a portrait of that psychosis from the inside, a place where realism no longer applies. Taken as such, it works quite well. At the very least, as I said in the beginning, it is enjoyable and shows a wild imagination at work.

—G. Murray Thomas

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