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Like the beautiful crescent moon that adorns its cover, June Blumenson’s debut poetry collection, A Scythe of Moon (Kelsay Books), is a slim volume, hardly more than a chapbook. The thirty-three brief poems all seem drawn from Blumenson’s life, but illuminate different aspects of it. “At seventeen, I was blue-sky, don’t look back, fly-me-to-the-moon weightless,” she writes on one page (“Burgeoning”), while on another she is relaxing at a hotel in Sedona, where “I lick salt from the rim of margaritas / as if it were earth” (“Vortex of Sedona”).
Elsewhere Blumenson, whose poem “Connected” can be found on page 8, muses on seasons (“Spring Equinox”), refugees (“Muses of the Lower World”) and reincarnated canines (“A Dog’s Life”). Like many debut collections, A Scythe of Moon is uneven, but shows a waxing promise of fullness. The highlight for me was the title poem with its theme of a haunted person:
You don’t have to climb attic
stairs in search of spectres
settled in dust. You have only
to receive the sun’s burst
upon your shoulder
Gwendolyn Jensen, another Whistling Shade contributor, writes of “the sea-tossed maddnesses of grief” in her poem “Each Day Your Death”. Indeed most of the poems in her chapbook Graceful Ghost (Birch Book Press) surround death, written by her or translated from the Italian poet Alda Merini by Chiara Frenquellucci. The Merini poems are vivid and surreal, their oddity heightened by the translation:
Don’t disappear into the blue,
one day I saw your hanging corpse
fixed in space, it seemed to be singing.
Jensen’s verse is more comprehensible, but equally imagistic, with subtle borrowings from Robert Frost, William Blake, William Faulkner and George Herbert. The early poems in Graceful Ghost seem to be addressed to a living man:
that breath that comes from your glance
calls out an immediate name: your woman.
She is made of shadow and cyclamen,
she asks you your mystery
and you do not know how to give it
(“Listen, the Brief Pace of Things”)
Later the poems address the departed—though not always in a mournful way. “Grief is how we keep the dead,” Jensen writes in “Grief”. And in the title poem, the dead have almost a living presence:
You are the kid who follows me
through the turnstile at the T,
coming through along with me
running joyous on a ticket
not his own.
Whistling Shade poetry editor Ethna McKiernan has her own otherworldly musings in Swimming with Shadows (Salmon Poetry), her latest poetry collection. With a storyteller’s eye and a poet’s feeling McKiernan writes about lives broken and things vanished. A lost cat. A man living in a dumpster. A baby given up for adoption. She borrows a line from Edna St. Vincent Millay, but her "Oh World, I Cannot Hold Thee Close Enough" begins “And here I am on the porch roof, / just me and my addiction and the stars". But dark as these poems sometimes turn, McKiernan always provides us a way out. In "Come Back to the World" she commands us to
Leave the ruined realm
you inhabited those long years,
where bluebirds' silence hurt
and oceans never surged.
These poems may have personal shadings, but they are about everyone who has suffered loss, and they are both wise and beautiful.
- Joel Van Valin