My Coming of Age
Review by Elana Wolff
HMS Press, 2018, 48 pp
The forty-four poems in My Coming of Age-a chapbook with the inside-cover subtitle The Best of an Ongoing Collection
of a Life Expressed in Poetry-represent I. B. (Bunny) Iskov's selection of previously published poems,
most of which have received contest citations. The title poem, My Coming of Age-a riff on the
fan-fiction mold, told as homage to The Beatles-aptly captures the poet's characteristic
wry sense of humour and unshielded personableness in the face of life's swerves, curves, and world concerns.
"The Beatles belonged to me / in my coming of age. It was a freer time / even though the
Viet Nam war was raging, / even though there was unrest in the Middle East, / even though my parents were constantly fighting, /
I had my Beatles record / to keep me safe and happy / when they sang All You Need Is Love ..."
Bunny Iskov displays a discerning eye for the everyday, as captured in titles like Chronic Cough,
Wringer Washer Warranty, and Ode to My Computer; genuine interest in the 'everyman' in poems like
Trucker on the 401, Lucy and Desi, and Pamela for Mayor; and strong identification with her
Jewish self in What Is a Jew, The Jewish Side of the Poem, and Be on Guard. An Iskov poem speaks with
personal conviction and plainspoken pluck: "I am in charge," says the narrator in Bedtime Chimera;
"My depression is a page in your book," she declares in As One Cradles Pain; "I remember the last time /
I worked the street in high heels," she says tongue-in-cheek in the savvy-shopper piece,
cleverly titled Cheap Love. There's a strong thread of sadness underlying the humour and juxtaposed easiness
in many of these pieces. Humour is often a cover and a face for deep and complicated emotions,
and it's clear that I.B. Iskov has the latter. She reveals her own Complicated Suffering and
Personal Complexities; remembers and pays tribute to those who have gone to the other side:
the beloved people's poet, Ted Plantos, in the surging opening poem What Plantos Meant to
Poets Trapped Within Socio-Economic Boundaries; her girlfriends "Marilyn, Rhondi and Lolly" (lost to cancer)
in Making Macaroni and Cheese; her mother in Memory and Loss; and the dead at large in
When the Dead Do not Depart.
In possibly the most touching and illuminating piece in the chapbook, Glass House, the poet writes:
"I open my cabinet doors, / rearrange familiar figurines ... "I care for moments, dust them off,
display them / on little easels. / I'm composed." This could be the artist's statement.
She makes what she will of her life-delicately, deliberately and artfully, piece by piece.
Wallace Stevens wrote that "the poet is the priest of the invisible.
" I submit that Bunny Iskov is the priestess of the visible.
My Coming of Age is a collection that will let you know who I. B. Iskov is
and what she stands for.
field: haiku and senryu
Review by George Swede
kinshu ori (Ronda Wicks Eller)
HMS Press, 2019, 36 pp.
A self-described “modern formalist poet” Ronda Wicks Eller has published her first collection of
Japanese poetry—haiku, senryu and haikai (a sequence of haiku, senryu or both). The chapbook
consists of 80 individual haiku and senryu (numbered making each one easy to refer to) as well as
six haikai which include another 52 haiku/senryu.
Overall, the collection is a delight to read whether one is a fan of the haiku and its
relatives or not. Eller is careful to follow the conventions while at the same time contravening
them if necessary, for example, she eschews 17 syllables and the 5-7-5 format whenever something
else works better. Most of the poems brim with authenticity. Some are set in nature; others in
social and political contexts. To put things into the vernacular of baseball—a Japanese passion—
here are some of the poems that hit home runs.
seamless rural view, feathery willows
a pale blue-veiled horizon— shield spring nests—
calm fertile woman the cradle gently rocks
black on blue unquestioned dogmas
crows mottle the horizon— dictate proper behaviour—
a bruised thigh my child’s playpen
gutted old barracks—
yesteryear’s construct is now
a beetle bordello
Eller also has a nice touch with humour—
something that is too often missing in haiku and senryu collections.
on stepping stones lying naked on the grass
the heron lays lofty claim my butt cheeks glow
to an island chain moon to moon
woeful first date
she hugs goodbye
to an octopus
To sum up with the baseball metaphor—among the total of 132 haiku and senryu
only a small number strike out. Ronda Wicks Eller has made an impressive debut.
To order your copy, use PayPal on main page click on the book title.
Field: Haiku & Senryu
by Kinshu Ori (Ronda Wicks Eller)
Review by Randy Brooks, Frogpond V. 43:2 Summer 2020
HMS Press (2019) 36 p. $8 = $3 S/H
Field is a first collection of haiku by Ronda Wicks Eller, an accomplished poet, editor and novelist
from (Mitchell) Ontario. For her creative foray into haikai arts, she has taken the haijin name,
"kinshu ori", which means "little pen". While I'm not a fan of pen names in general, I am also aware that
several English language haiku writers have taken on "haijin" names for various reasons.
In the worst cases such oriental names are a form of cultural appropriation,
a kind of literary "black face" mocking or pretending to be the stereotype of someone from another culture.
If the subsequent haiku and senryu employed fake broken English, abundant oriental topics, and stereotypes
of oriental perspectives, the suspicion of cultural appropriation would be confirmed. I am glad to report
that in this collection, most of the topics, language and perspectives remain true to
Ronda Wicks Eller's own cultural experiences.
She takes up the "little pen" name in the spirit of playful poetic creativity. In her opening sequence
about the origins of Kinshu Ori, we get this haiku: toronto traffic / whirring outside the window /
flowing breast milk (3). Her collection moves through the seasons then ends with some senryu and sequences.
I especially liked this haiku: a kildeer nest / near the clothesline - / my dress has new spots (6).
Here is a surprising, but effective comparison: black on blue / crows mottle the horizon - / a bruised thigh (7).
Frogpond is published by the Haiku Society of America
Caution: Deep Water
by Katherine Gordon
Review by John B Lee Verse Afire
HMS Press 2018 978-1-55253-096-2
A Cautionary Tale.
In his poem "Keine Lazarovich" an elegy for his mother, Irving Layton writes the line
". . . the inescapable loneliness of growing old."
As a young man Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan sang, "I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now."
And in her book Caution: Deep Water, [Katherine] teases out the connection between the time of life
and the place we live. She is suffering the twin sorrows of a husband in the early stages of dementia
and the loss she feels when life forces her to abandon her beloved wilderness home for the institutional
life of a caregiver not yet ready for the scrapheap. She sacrifices her deep connection with nature
to nurse her beloved partner in a new and largely unnatural environment, uprooted from what she once
called home. Home is both a place and a state of mind in these finely honed poems where she is seeking
equilibrium in the alienated cloister of elder care. The great tragedy of her life arises from the necessity
to move in order to accommodate her partner in decline before she herself has entered the same downward path.
She uses the word "transplanted" in her forward and the concept of transportation is repeated in her
closing poem wherein she writes of herself:
In the deep waters of transplantation
exiled from all I knew and loved,
a light of understanding has come
to guide me back to shore . . .
With the closing lines:
Ask the wolf, the primeval icon who travels between worlds,
our path is to see more dimensions,
understand our birthright, the connection in every living thing,
peace and love will surely follow.
And so we navigate the deep waters, carrying th light where we go,
and the light in this case might prove to be the poems of Katherine L. Gordon,
who offers up the place we keep in memory, the wildflowers of the mind, the fairies of the imagination,
these give consolation when the material world withholds her beauty in the close at hand, sometimes
sadly closed-in-rooms of the aged.
Caution: Deep Water
by Katherine Gordon
Review by Chris Faiers
HMS Press 2018 978-1-55253-096-2
the free spirit must not be caged for Katherine L. Gordon (on reading her "Caution: Deep Water''
this may be your best book yet your most important story the prisoning of a shaman spirit in a 'progressive'
Canadian retirement home your saddest book, too it's all here - readers will feel your loss of the spirit visitors
the ferny spreadings and season changes in your Spirit Valley A too true cautionary tale first word in your title.
Caution: Deep Water
I, too, left my spirit valley
retreated to a small village lot
but your wisdom decrees
when the retirement home beckons
swim - swim far, far out
into Lake Ontario
this body will sink
but the spirit owl shaman
who invaded me long ago
will rise and fly
deep water is not the realm
for free spirits
Whale Songs In The Aurora Borealis: Selected Poems
Rhonda Wicks Eller,
HMS Press 2005, 44p. ISBN 1552530604
Review by Katherine L. Gordon POEMATA 2005 V21 N3
After a short sabbatical, Ronda Eller, a.k.a. Wicks, has taken up pen and palette once again to step onto poetry's stage to delight us all with
Yeatsian whimsy, wonder and ocean deep wisdom. Her pen and ink cover is gripping revelation of the theme of the book: "Everyman" steps into the
sea of being, flute raised defiantly over his head, to join the music with cosmic consciousness in the form of a great whale breaching, singing
in the eerie, ancient whale-song. The back drop is the aurora borealis, composed of the forces that clash and colour our experience in this ocean
So much artistry unfolds in this book: Ronda's pen and ink sketches, the wind and water music inherent in the verse, the poetic insight into
multi-dimensions of time, briefly mirrored manifestations of the spirits we are and might have been, all weaving a magic flute song that
spellbinds you throughout the pages.
The diamond bright images, "jewel set in a radiant crown", "our diamond resurrection", "emerald sky", are enhanced by a uniquely gripping use
of language: "black garment of premature morning", "my bleaching heart", "dappled with wax preachers", "gold-toothed fleece grinned", "impaled by
consanguinity", "dust-drawn noose", wing and wings spiked to a tree." Ronda has the honesty to speak of human impalement in time.
There is a wisdom here, sketched on a Celtic harp that the tide of time swells often as we ride the wave from cave to dreamt perfection. This book
draws out the attraction of history, the pageant of the ages of man as we carry it all with us, and out of mirrors steps an embodiment
of the one sought throughout eras. The trick is to recognize him/her in the Now - "the force connecting here to here." Ronda uses the characters
of history in the orchestrated tour, Shakespeare, Jesus, Donne, Yeats and a fantastic old astrologer Greystone. Greystone acts as shaman, taking
us from one stage of reagent to the next.
Sounds intrigue in many settings: ethers of silence", "whisper of a heartbeat", "ears filtered for a whispering flay of wing tips", a thorn-bird
song in many ways." The title poem, Whale Songs In The Aurora Borealis, is a stunning slide through mythology, a subject as huge as a whale, whose
eerie sound calls up the aurora borealis. In Panderings and Self-Discussion, two sides of the poet's psyche converse, the flesh and spirit:
"write these words inside your sleeve / you are in the one that you believe." Re-incarnation is a tantalizing thread explaining Ronda's flashes
of past and present balance, somewhere a scribe, poet or songster eternally "chained to echoes", "immortals through each season's sleep."
Part of this thread is a fascinating twist. Perhaps an interchange of gender complicates the gender complicates the journey: male and female
bodies expressing love beyond gender, mismatched incarnations are possibilities to stretch your mind.
Some mystic encounters so enjoyable and sense-piquing in Ronda's work will remind the reader of Hildegarde of Bingham's ecstatic musings:
"gender and sorrow scarred my face", "like Jesus I was misplaced", "like Israel, tired and homeless." This book is a whale of a ride,
encompassing dimensions of time and spirit. You will want to pick up your flute and follow the mystery of exploration that will lead you to
your own inner music. Our archetypes and daemons are all here to comfort you in a classic Celtic saga through the knot-work of a spirit sea.
Under The Jasmine Moon
by Geri Rosenzweig
Review by Patrick Holland Canadian Literature No. 145
HMS Press 1995 ISBN 1895700183
Under The Jasmine Moon is about journeying, but where Eibel [previous review, same article] mainly profiles those who stay, travel and return,
Geri Rosenzweig's is the confessional voice of an "I", ferrying between Ireland and America, lyrically connecting one with the other, the
present with the past and the future, youth with age. The diction and imagery lush, but what might become a surfeit of sensuousness is
held in check in disciplined short-lined strophes. Travel in these linked lyrics, is personal, celebratory and elegiac in turn.
Though the writer will not go back to live in Ireland, she knows that her "hunger for its white cities / is a journey from which she'll
never return"; her childhood countryside drenches the poems in their images and figures.
Though Eibel is sparing with simile and explicit metaphor, while Rosenzweig is prodigal of them, their work has in common a loving
attention to craft, an expertise in taut formal practice, and dictional sureness. In one of the beautiful Jerusalem poems of
Under The Jasmine Moon, the image of Israelis as a people "wrapped around each other in a small place" gets its strength from
foraging nature stanzas imaging the shoreline life of mussels as a nation. Rosenzweig's poems, anchored in representative personal
life are adept at such imaginative leaps and connections, the very stuff of poetry.
Book Reviews to Come
Book Reviews to Come