“At the Inkwell Magazine Review of “A Blizzard in my Bones”” and “Quaking Cantos” by Benjamin Schmitt

The Inner and Outer Journeys of Yuyutsu Sharma

http://attheinkwell.com/the-inner-and-outer-journeys-of-yuyutsu-sharma/

blizzard-in-my-bones

“In the cracks/of debased glaciers shine/the beguiled stars/of our twisted galaxies.”

I must confess that I read these books out of order, or at least not in the order that I recommend for other readers. Both of these books were released in the last year and one is actually quite long for a book of poems, at 173 pages. This is an enormous output for a contemporary poet, a cursory polling of my bookshelf reveals most of my poetry collections to be in the 70-page range, and some poets can spend up to a decade polishing a collection. I see these two books by Yuyutsu Sharma, A Blizzard in my Bones and Quaking Cantos, as a depiction of a journey more akin to sagas in lengthier tomes such as Dante’s descent into the Infernoor Milton’s description of a Paradise Lost than as typical volumes of modern lyric verse. Strangely, it is the poet’s journey to a foreign land that initiates inner searching and the poet’s return home that prompts outer travels to seek healing with brethren.

My recommendation for readers is to begin with A Blizzard in my Bones. It is the longer of the pair, but it is a good entry point as I believe this to be the beginning of the journey. In the initial cycle of the book, “Asleep Like…”, a black shape pours forth from the narrator’s grandmother “its flame/burning the walls/of her throat.” It is the search for this black shape that prompts the narrator’s journey to New York City. Soon he is entering “a Babylon/of wandering winter spirits/and wavering speeches” in which he experiences “the Subway’s odor/tingling the lonely/walks to Washington Square.”

While there are many discoveries inside New York City that take place in the book, the narrator’s self-discoveries are the most compelling. He once again sees the black shape, this time “a black bird like Anne Sexton” in “Luna, Fish on Long Island Sound”, a poem about discovering oneself in love. In “The Aging Translator of Mallarme” he explores how others see him. Through the Ginsbergian howl “The Scream, Subway Avatars” the poet begins to find himself in the city, particularly in the grimy dark. A process completed in “Your Name” as the narrator describes a tongue that “licks sadness/out of my life’s numbered streets” thus melding himself with the cityscape. The book does not end with this immersion though, eventually the poet leaves New York to return home with the strength of the city.

Nepal in the aftermath of horrific earthquakes is the setting of Quaking Cantos. Just like the black shape fleeing his grandmother prompted the journey inward, it is this tragedy that moves the poet towards the suffering Nepali people. Quaking Cantos is my favorite of the two books because it allows the poet to display the kind of compassionate craftsmanship such a subject demands. The most stunning accomplishment of this book is the poet’s ability to use short lines to convey the physical and emotional devastation in the wake of a natural disaster. Here is an example of this from the poem “Nipple”:

“a baby crawls

on the cold

chest

of earth

looking for

his dead

mother’s

nipple.”

The short lines slow down the tempo of the poem so much that the reader almost feels as if they are crawling with the baby through the rubble. In poems like “Bhaktupar” and “Sunya” the abrupt lines create the very effect of the debris they describe, an accumulation of unexpected objects lying on top of one another and sometimes mixing together. Sharma is gifted at an enjambment that reflects the destruction of the scene, evident in the poem “Course of Courage” which describes “buildings about to tumble/into the grand jaw of Time.”

quaking-cantos

In his outward journey, the narrator often fixes his gaze on the NGOs that have descended onto his country in the wake of this crisis. Throughout the book, he amusingly calls such organizations “Compassion Inc.” In “Quake Relief” a lamb starves under a sign in which an NGO is seeking blood from donors. The stark imagery of an animal suffering under such an appeal raises legitimate questions about the abilities and methods of these organizations, particularly their blindness to the everyday life of the Nepali people. InQuaking Cantos, Sharma brings this life to the epicenter of his collection, creating “a song/of human lives/crackling.”

In A Blizzard in my Bones the narrator begins picking up the inner wreckage of his life. It is only through this process that he is able to confront the outer wreckage ofQuaking Cantos and raise up the lives of the Nepali people. This is not a perfect journey, there were some sections in both books that could have been truncated and others that could have gone deeper. If you only have the time or budget for one of these books, I recommend Quaking Cantos, though both of them stand on their own. Regardless, Yuyutsu Sharma is an essential voice whose inner and outer struggles are worth chronicling. I am glad to have spent some time traveling with him, and I think you will be as well.


Benjamin SchmittBenjamin Schmitt is the Best Book Award and Pushcart nominated author of two books,Dinner Table Refuge (PunksWritePoemsPress, 2015) andThe global conspiracy to get you in bed (Kelsay Books, 2013). His poetry has appeared in Sakura Review, Hobart, Grist, Wisconsin Review, Two Thirds North and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle where he also reviews books, curates At The Inkwell’s Seattle reading series, and teaches workshops to people of all ages. Learn more at http://bens25.tumblr.com/

Nirala to launch American poet Karen Corinne Herceg’s Out From Calaboose: New Poems in November

karen-cover-nirala

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Calaboose :New Poems

Karen Corinne Herceg

ISBN 9-788182-500853  pp.91 2017 Paper Demy

American poet Karen Corinne Herceg graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University with a B.A. in Literature & Writing and has graduate credits in editing, revision and psychology.  A recipient of N.Y. State grants, she has featured at major venues such as The N.Y. Public Library, The Queens Museum, The Province town Playhouse, St. John’s University, Binghamton University and many others with such renowned poets as Pulitzer Prize winners John Ashbery and Philip Schultz and poet William Packard, founder of The New York Quarterly. She has studied with David Ignatow, Philip Schultz and writer/novelist Glenda Adams. Karen was co-founder and editor of The First East Coast Theatre & Publishing Company which published poetry by Anna Adams, Stuart Kaufman, Roger Steigmeier and a novel by Charles Powers.

Her first volume of poems is Inner Sanctions. She publishes poetry, prose and essays in a variety of magazines and literary journals. Karen’s most recent publications include Antioch University’s Lunch Ticket Journal, The Avalon Literary Review, MockingHeart Review, Badlands, The Furious Gazelle, Reminisce—a publication of Readers Digest– and several publications in the U.K. Her work is read on various radio broadcasts, and she has been interviewed by The Epoch Times. Karen is currently working with Khalilah Ali, writing her memoirs as the former wife of the legendary Muhammad Ali.

Karen is a member of Poets & Writers, Writers Digest, the Academy of American Poets, PEN America, The Poetry Society of America and C.A.P.S. and is a featured poet on the New York poetry scene. Her website is: www.karencorinneherceg.com and you can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

karenherceg1

Clutching her vision firmly in hand, Karen Corinne Herceg paints her inner world in such a vivid fashion that I was compelled to submerge myself in Out From Calaboose completely, and then not surface at all until I put down the last poem. What I wove through during the course of that reading was a feast: imagery fine enough that it startled; rhythms that wove from poem to poem, joining all their music together; and language so sleek that not one word had been left standing if it ought not to be. In this collection, Herceg brings us her life and all its many emotional truths, some ugly, some beautiful, but all revealed with restraint–so that by book’s end, we are left in wonder. 

–Linda Gray Sexton, author of Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back To My Mother, Anne Sexton and Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide

In Out from Calaboose, Karen Corinne Herceg traces what one might call a karmic trajectory from oppressive relationships in adult life back to a controlling or absent parent whose chiseled stone dates leave “impressions in her flesh.” And, after that, to a freeing.

Roberta Gould in the Foreword

Herceg is a grand ‘maker’ in our Eastern tradition, an emergence of a fresh American voice that pulls out of her past a dark abyss of time, ‘herding children, objects and desires’ and brings along her story with a ‘feline intensity,’ very much like her cats, never looking hurt, ‘just indignant.’ Here are poems racing against the chill of time and treacherous tides that have washed away years of a young woman who stands now at the threshold of life with ‘her grocery bags’ and sings songs of the new, her new hope in ‘greens and fruits’ tethered to ‘a grassy firmament,’ birthing through ‘a placenta of debts’, cutting umbilical cords, dragging herself throughthe mire of inherited sins in a ‘maternal bloodbath,’ a place where her parents rest in sullen ‘drawers of steel.’ This is a remarkable work, a Virginia Woolf moment stretched into a book of poems, or a Whitman rumination that refuses to come to an end, enamored as it is by life’s ongoing rush. Out from Calaboose affirms Herceg’s faith in a poet’s visionary status as she imagines her hand reaching toward, snapping through ‘embryonic clay’ and sculpting lives that could become whole…

–Yuyutsu Sharma, Himalayan Poet & author of Quaking Cantos: Nepal Earthquake Poems and A Blizzard in my Bones: New York Poems

Often it is a pronounced sense of wonder that makes poets like Karen Corinne Herceg.  In her volume, she is Alice in her Wonderland, a curious child asking Why? Why? Why?  Why are “our impatient lives [spent] in fluorescent lit aisles”?  Why can a mother only offer “left over hippie love before the dusk of empty bottles”?  Why is it that “time chimes clocks as if we were a gift”?  And why do we [keep] “kicking [ourselves] back onto the cross, always just shy of redemption”?  When a child asks Why, she expects a truthful answer.  So does Herceg.  She wants to get to the bottom of just why we break out of our birth shells so passionately, with biting egg teeth, only to construct invisible shields, brick and mortar walls and personal calabooses that separate us from each other.  What drives us?  What forces impose themselves on us?  The poems in Out From Calaboose compile a quest for truthful answers, one of which Herceg instinctively knows when she quotes  Carl Sagan at the beginning of her poem “Alternatives” – for small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

Janet Hamill, American poet, author of Body of Water

In her powerful new volume, Out from Calaboose, Karen Herceg clearly demonstrates the loneliness and wonder of a “world scaled for living”(from “Tableau”). Herceg’s is a world fueled by travel, whether it is global wanderings or the travelings of a troubled spirit seeking rest or resolution: “Will anything stave off this thing/called salvation–/how if we pine and ponder enough/somehow we will deserve explanations” (from “After Me, The Poem”). Her verse can often be troubling, as when she describes the transparent boundaries separating creatures from nature (the immolation of birds as they hit pane glass, a sacrifice to hubris); culture from culture; people from each other; and humans from nature: “tree bark flakes/plants wither/glaciers melt and slide/and we watch it on monitors” (from “Corporate Menu”). Once she has her reader thus in thrall, the poet ups the ante in positing a world fueled by despairing travail and the imminence of death: “Can we only be saved in loss?” (from “Epithalamium”). But then it becomes evident that the poet has a different world-view in mind when she juxtaposes such darkness with the idealism of her elegant and touchingHudson History:Honoring Pete Seeger” in which she infers the redemptive power of hopefulness, of what the world might be, stemming from a new vision. Out from Calaboose is a marvelous, skillful, and evocative work.

Dr. David B. Austell, Columbia University

 Herceg’s poetry has honesty and a sane, healing quality.  As a poet she fulfills one of the most crucial needs of our troubled age: Truth-seeking.  There’s no pretense in Herceg’s approach.”

Robert Milby, Poet & Hudson Valley, NY Poetry Series Host