A Book Review of “Love and Metaxa” by Christina Strigas

a review by Matthew da Silva.

Love and Metaxa Review

When I was reading this book I was reminded of Billy Joel. I felt like I was seventeen again and listening to records downstairs at Vaucluse, the stereo leaking out its sweet sounds like glass through which I tried to see the outlines of my own face. Strigas uses poetry to make sense of her life like I used to use music to make sense of mine, but her enterprise is more real. As she writes in ‘Ugly is Beautiful’:

In a poem you look for peace.
In life, all you find is chaos.

But like Billy Joel the suburban magic of Strigas’ apotheosis – if you read the introduction you can get a history of the book’s becoming, and of Strigas’ journey to becoming a published author – rewards particularly because of the familiarity of the tropes, even though, as a man myself, some of the insights must be outside of my understanding from lived experience. I could never write a poem like ‘A man’, where the poet conjures up a masculine reality as a response to feelings that work to form her but that she seems to resent.

Often there seem to be two voices, one rendered on the page in italics. This second voice is like the poet’s conscience. In ‘Rinsing’ we see romantic love compared to washing clothes. This is an effective strategy as it allows the poet to boldly step into a place where the reader can also share her feelings, and possibly add some of his or her own. It’s a bright-lit room we can both inhabit at the same time – the writer and the reader – as we participate in an act of imaginative reckoning (this is what poetry’s for). You have some predictable tropes (stains, cycles) and though the poem is not long, you feel as though a considerable distance has been travelled. After all it’s thousands of miles between my house and where Strigas lives. But “step‐by‐step you know / what will come next, / then repeat.’ That final line, the last line of the poem, is an invitation not only to contemplate one’s own life, the many times you’ve thought about love as laundry (love as laundry) but it also prompts the reader to do some more work. You might even, the next time you do laundry, think about past girlfriends, past wrongs, mistakes that you thought had been left behind but that, you know, leave their traces on the fabric of your memory.

The two voices form a harmony, as though the poet were two people or one person at different times in her life. In ‘Not a love affair’ there’s the poet of the present (“You feel love to be a phantom. What if that person never destroyed you? What if that spirit wasn’t deserving? Love? What is that?”).

So different from the hard present where the poet is forced by circumstance to put words down on paper in order to come to terms with what’s happened. “Decades later, when you run into an old ghost, you will feel frightened—fifteen with acne again. You’ll know.” It’s almost as though, in her busy mind, the poet were talking to her younger self.

It makes no sense. It terrifies your logic. What does logic have to do with phantoms? You intend to get to the bottom of love. You approach and ask the ghost to sit down, you smile, and then you say hello.

While in this poem the italicised words seem to come from the past, perhaps 20 years earlier, a time of discovery, of shame, of becoming, in ‘I want to be her’ they belong to a woman the poet sees outside her hotel room. In ‘Stranger at parties’ it’s the thoughts of a stranger. In ‘The galaxy of you’ it’s the poet herself in her writing present who’s talking in italics.

Italicised parts might be the thoughts of another person or of 15-year-old Christina, in other places they seem to be the conscience of the poet sitting alone in her room typing, and, for example in ‘Lacustrine’, it’s sometimes not clear who’s saying the italicised words. This multiplicity of voices is characteristic of Strigas’ method. We come close to a source where, we know, many voices combine in our minds as we go about our daily business. The postmodern additions – the references to poetry and writing – are aspects of the same faceted reality Strigas inhabits like a mage. Poetry is like a window opened into a room as we walk, thinking, remembering, hoping, on a quiet, dark street. We can hear the sound of Billy Joel leaking out of a lighted room while, in another part of the same house we’re passing by on soft feet, the flickering blue light of a TV screen forces out images we cannot see. We only know we recognise the tune playing. Is it for us that it plays?

It’s as though Strigas clothes her ideas in words. Clothes figure again in ‘Inheritance’. Here there’s a stain of another kind, but her relationship with money is complex and nuanced. Thankfully it’s not a matter of baldly rejecting, nor is it a covetous link tying the author to the subject, rather it’s an imaginative bond made up of complex feelings that we’re invited to survey as though at an auction where we can bid on their remains by promising our attention for a few moments. (Do I hear fifty?)

It’s in this realm of exchanges and of feelings, things that leak across the borders set up by agreed-upon referents, where we can deliberately tug garments for our intuition and take them off their hangers out of closets, perhaps put them on for a change – will the weather be too cold? is this style right for the occasion? – so that we might step out onto the broad expanse of existence manifest in the vibrant concurrence of consciousness and page. Digital reality a PDF more flexible by comparison to paper, able to be sent at the speed of light, faster than cathode rays spreading out of a bungalow on the dark street. Money isn’t everything

But if I turn it into a poem
it does sound lovelier

though Metaxa is a harsh word, its suggestive weight seeming to drag the poet down. Those memories possibly including ones where the girl was asked to wash glasses. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. The self-reflexive moment of poetry – the (re)lived experience, the past crumbling like broken bread – surges like a wave over the beach of the present. It’s a summer’s day and we’re again on a family outing

But real love bleeds in inks
with an old fountain pen

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Christina Strigas

From Avalanches in Poetry writings & art inspired by Leonard Cohen (2019) How Leonard Cohen Kept Evading Me by Christina Strigas

https://www.facebook.com/christinastrigasauthor/

https://www.instagram.com/c.strigas_sexyasspoet/?hl=en

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/christina-strigas

https://tinyletter.com/christinastrigas

A book review of “I’ll Pray When I’m Dying” by Stephen J. Golds (review by Matthew da Silva)

from Red Dog Press

reviewed by Matthew da Silva

The book’s hardboiled style lets you more vividly imagine the past in which the narrative is placed while simultaneously allowing the author to obscure the sometimes stark divide in Ben Hughes’s characterisation where his illness slips into view. It seems that sometimes Hughes is lucid and controlled – as when he’s working Frankie over – and at other times he’s consumed by panic and fear – as when he meets Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK) in the office of Chief Sullivan. But the hardboiled nature of the pose – all glaring edges and sharp angles – allow for this sort of contrast to be less obvious, or at least it matches it for drama.

And drama is what we all crave, whether it’s in a crime novel (as in the case of the book being reviewed currently) or a midday soap opera. Personally, I’m a big fan of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ which I watch most afternoons at 4.30pm just before the evening news. Hardboiled an innovation of a time of change and progress, when the shuddering perverse realities created by unjust laws of an older, less progressive age came up against the morphing present with a smack like the sound of a fist on a streetwalker’s pretty face.

Dealing however with modern issues like racism and dementia, PTSD and corruption of office Golds mixes the past with the present in a curious but compulsively readable melange. As you progress you’re always checking yourself to try to understand the feelings that emerge, and you wonder if it’s cognitive dissonance that formulates the drama’s rich appeal. So, for example, when Ben talks with Li Yu in her room in China Town you feel sympathy for her and an equal quantity of concern for crooked Ben and you wonder if the pleasure you sense inside you as you contemplate the possibility of more violence means that you are a man like him even though you don’t suffer from PTSD and even though you could never shoot a man out of anger because you disliked the way he sniffled as you sat at a bar. In fact the idea of holding a gun fills you with horror. Yet you understand and, in that moment of clarity, are transported, as when you watch a disaster unfolding in the evening TV news.

Addressing modern concerns in the context of the past — a time 70 or 100 years distant in time — lets you feel pity, which, it seems, is the brother of contempt, and by examining your own conscience you’re able to feel an echo of pity also for yourself because, like the people depicted in the novel, you are human. The story has this redeeming quality, letting you feel sorry for yourself while feeling sorry for obviously flawed characters as they appear in the story. It’s cathartic. Though reading doesn’t make you drunk you can feel clean and new again for a while in the same way that the second glass of wine might give you a temporary high whereas the fifth will just sit heavy in your gut, though Ben Hughes, who carries a whisky flask around with him for comfort, might continue to feel a benefit past that point, the dullness anyone would feel from drinking a bottle of chardonnay precisely the thing he seeks when he tilts his head back to take a draught. That is if he ever tried drinking wine. I gave up alcohol two years ago and I haven’t read a novel like this for longer than that. Placing the story in Boston is also evocative as the links between England and Massachusetts are ingrained in popular culture as deeply as are the tropes of Dashiell Hammett. When I was young I read John Fante, whose tales of life in Los Angeles illuminated the darkness I experienced at that time in my long and eventful life, and Ben Hughes has a dream of relocating his life – such as it is – to that city, the allure of California and the West Coast entering Golds’ story also in Kennedy’s proposal to use Hughes for a social and business event in Salt Lake City so that the whole of the North American continent is alive in Gold’s breathless imagination. And we know what happened to Kennedy’s son.

A book review of “Push” by Sadie Maskery

a review by Matthew da Silva

These lovely poems reach out with straining hands to touch the infinite, to press between the pages of a book a moment in time, to capture forever a thought that might stray across the frontal cortex of any person’s racing mind. Or perhaps a lazy, resting mind, as when you’re surfing the internet eager for distraction. The attempt is usually successful, as in ‘404’, which invites us to see the failures of community as it exists online, a place of fear and foolishness where people resent connection before they find the fractured peace they secretly desire. In this experimental poem, Maskery alternates between a more conventional poetic diction and snatches of computer code, suggestive phrases (“HttpResponseMessage Get / (string connection))” that draw you into the authored, mechanical realm lying between everyday utterances written in cyberspace as part of a flame war held any morning of the week in Atlanta or Abu Dhabi. The internet “decays” but “I don’t exist without” it seems, the poet reflecting on the ephemeral by trying to nail down fleeting instants that disappear in the ether as soon as they come into stuttering existence.

A disconnect also exists in ‘Do not enter’, a monologue by a person meeting a visitor at the door. The invitation appears sincere although there is a sign on the door telling people to keep out. Why has the visitor come? It’s not clear. There are no clues as to how this person decided it was apposite to knock – though life is like this, isn’t it? – but what he or she hears should, perhaps, reassure. Questions are raised and some are answered but the sense of foreboding that rests once the poem ends suggests that something is amiss.

This dislocation is repeated in poem after poem, for example in ‘make me’, which is, again, about the internet. Here, in a few words, Maskery tries to understand – and to communicate to the reader – something about its allure, but while the outlines of debate are defined there exist by the end of the poem – which is not long – more questions than answers. What is virality? How does this rare exposure help us to become more completely ourselves? Or is that not the appeal? Perhaps the answer lies in the message of the previous poem, ‘Prayer’, which is addressed to “gods of the ephemera” so that “sins may be sold” (if they could be, we’d all be rich) and “let us devour” the body “sacred / scarred” that we worship.

I really enjoyed reading these digestible items, and the collection often veers off into the inexpressible, as in ‘i’m so sorry, it’s just’ where it’s never clear exactly what the narrator is talking about, just “one sweetness / one beauty” “residue / from its grind / smirching / the smell of small things” though “why / pretend all is well” in this world of destruction and release, of small things broken apart and devoured (looking back to ‘Prayer’) by anonymous crowds of people (looking back to ‘404’)?

Surprises lend their appeal to the chorus of sorrow Maskery unmasks, so in ‘Thread’ the message is thin but eloquent, a single phrase written down to look like a pair of threads – perhaps a strand of DNA encoding our identity – that sit upon the page like flags flying above a parapet on a windy day.

The waves of the lines are enticing and strange. In ‘Beginnings’ an uncommon enticement reveals the outlines of desire, a moment rendered in words like a synapse firing, “The first time we meet the shock / is there but small” and the poet goes on to lay out in miniature the universe of the mind that that instant unfurled. This is a masterpiece of expressive competence, a very strong poem that unearths worlds that are normally buried in the vast wildernesses of memory. As I read I started to recall things that had happened to me, a night when I was maybe 21, a day I went to a party in Double Bay, various times that happened in my life – so long ago – arose to conquer my attention in the flickering present where images combine with the pulse of the computer screen to reveal the mind’s frail existence in all its broken lightness and sorrow.

So the positive dwells in this collection of short poems – many are one page long, some are two pages long – alongside the negative (see especially ‘Networking’), the euphoric (see for example ‘Art’) with the base, the high with the low, the thing to be celebrated with the pain of despair. I was struck by the flexibility of Maskery’s evocative voice, its ability to accommodate a range of ideas and to give utterance to an array of different feelings. This is a memorable book.

Order here: https://www.erbacce-press.co.uk/sadie-maskery

3 poems from “Push” by Sadie Maskery “Lost Child” “Rearrangement” & “Once we were”

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Sadie Maskery

Poems about “Connections” by Sadie Maskery

A Book Review for Stuart Buck “Blue the Green Sky” review by Matthew da Silva

There are places people go to when they use their minds, places like poems that furnish them with the material they need to escape the bounds of mortality. Stuart M. Buck’s poems are either long or short in this collection, they use humour of an incisive brand to pare away the scales that lie over your eyes and once they have been removed you can perhaps see the poet laughing beside you like a statue of Bhudda you can think about buying online when the mood takes you to browse.

A Welshman, Buck gives you something to think about, something that will not only break the tedium of web surfing, but that provides open windows through which to view a world of contradictions. The role of sex, for example, is paradoxical. In ‘dear richard’ the narrator talks to a neighbour or a friend – someone he knows well enough to look after his house while he’s out of town – and tells him caustically that he’s “fucking your wife” but in ‘midnight in prague’ a different narrator imagines, as he’s walking around the eastern European city, that a woman is following him (“her scent a whisper, her taste. her taste. I burn for it.”) But then he thinks about infinity, as if the thought of the possibility of a strange woman following him around a strange city makes his imagination take flight and soar.

Humour works to temper such transcendent impulses, as happens in ‘rejection letter to the crow that just flew into my bedroom window’ which needs little to accompany it as the main gist of the poem is cemented in the title. Yet even while commiserating with a bird that came to an unpleasant end, the narrator celebrates the creature’s “innocence” and recognises “the delirium of flight” as something that he wants and, perhaps, dreams of. Is this the same thing the poet uses to anchor the unreality of sex and desire? In the longer poem his avatar muses, “i feel sad. these buildings deserve more than to be fucked, impregnated by moneymakers and endless tourist traps.” He wants more.

The problem of physicality the poem about the crow also contains is not resolved here but in other places the poet gains altitude and seems to leave the earth – or is this an illusion? In ‘tom waits and an infinite softness’ a trope the poet sometimes uses – global warming – arises at the outset but it’s immediately subsumed in the minute progress of imagination’s random ephemera that graze the consciousness of the narrator as she daydreams – it might be a bad trip she’s experiencing – but then, “suddenly i knew things i never knew before and i was in love and i had lost and i was in every moment of every life”. The dry evidence of a shared life on a lonely planet – the awareness of impending disaster – mutates without any interruption into contemplation of the divine.

This is the measure of this poet’s achievement. It’s there in the Prague meditation as well, in the way, at the end of that poem, he is tangling with things that cannot have a voice because they are too fragile even for words, things as hard to even think of, like infinity, which sits smiling beyond imagination. But still the poet tries to express what it looks, feels, and tastes like. “to feel infinity is, i believe, to place your thumbs over the eyes of a ghost. to feel the soft, giving eyeballs below. to have the power to end the sight of another, but instead to feel the flitting, papery wings of their dreams.”

At the other end of this spectrum is a hard-nosed and blank humour, almost humourlessness, as in ‘cat’ (which opens the collection): “on my way to kill myself i met / a very friendly cat” and as the narrator turns, deviating his progress along the street – the cat is probably one of those sociable felines that sits on walls in the sun waiting for passersby to stop and stroke them – he thinks about the universe. As you would if you were, for some outrageous instant, thinking of putting an end to your life. And what does the man think? He thinks, “we are all decomposing slowly / so that is of some comfort”. This is dead, stone cold but then you get the feeling that this flash of awareness has helped the narrator to get through another tortured moment. Perhaps there is a God and on this day the eternal deity just happened to take the form of a roadside moggy?

An interview with Stu Buck of Bear Creek Gazette

A Book Review of Alan Parry “Neon Ghosts” A Review by Matthew da Silva

Many of the poems in this collection are very short and are designed to capture a single lived moment where memory and experience merge in the flux of consciousness. When I was reading I was trying to place the poet geographically – was he British? American? (he’s British) – and so had to search for his name online but the universality of these observations of life is what strikes the reader, the poet’s ability to reach inside you as you scan each short line, picking up the referents and passing them to the mental synapses in your brain.

If there’s a narrative set up within this fragmentary world it’s one of the night in a foreign place, such as we find in the eponymous poem (‘Neon Ghosts’) in which, it appears, a man and a woman are getting ready to go out for dinner. The man is in the living room going about his business and the woman is in the shower getting ready. The man occasionally stares vacantly at the TV, which is on, and catches brief sequences of segments aired for viewers throughout the city. A politician is caught up in a scandal. The politician is a neon ghost but what about the man and the woman? Are they, also, something like ghosts? It seems, as a reader, that they might be indeed – and then what about me who’s writing this review about a book which contains a poem with, embedded in it, like a flash of lightning, three particular, vivid neon ghosts? What’s real and what’s just a stray phenomenon like a thought?

Where is the boundary between fiction and reality? The ephemeral nature of existence is catalogued in this relatively long poem. In ‘The Scene’, which is much shorter, an almost fictional America is imagined by the poet, a place “Stuart Davis knew” with “skyscrapers in / technicolour” full of “gas pumps” and “rooftops” that is “in full swing”. As in the first poem I talk about, here Parry economically reaches into the reader’s subconscious and drags out images that “belong” to a particular place at a specific point in time. Stuart Davis, a painter inspired by jazz, is a signal referent that pulls you back to the middle of the last century, a time when America’s place in the world was still being negotiated.

Perhaps it was a more innocent time because it came before all of the struggles of the second half of that century, but because of the link to now-still-popular artforms, it was perhaps a time when the soul of the nation was nevertheless cemented in the global imagination. Or else it’s because of the struggles of the second half of the century that the achievements of an earlier age finally came to be celebrated. What’s important is that the ideas the poet places in words are also inside the reader. A brief, mediated connection is made that links minds. All of the special resonances evoked by the name “America” suddenly rise up like ghosts to inhabit the room where the reader sits, focused on the grey page.

The dark energies of humanity are also canvassed, for example in ‘God’ and ’15:30’ – poems that appear conveniently on facing pages. A theme opened in ‘Neon Gods’ takes flight in ’15:30’ where “young daughters in / green pencil skirts & / high socks / hold their knees close” while boys stand watching them on the opposite corner. The shopkeeper is like a guardian in this dynamic scene that is fresh as a bird’s wing and just as swift, being over almost before it’s begun. In ‘God’, the man who’s focalising the narrative is “watching women walk under speechless green trees” and because of where this poem sits in the collection – right opposite the one already mentioned – you’re left wondering what is given to the reader to contemplate without speech.

The underbelly of society is exposed and the position of America – almost as if the name had been tattooed on life – is a refrain the poet keeps returning to like a memory of a tune heard in a commercial that aired in a hotel room while he was waiting to go out for dinner with his girlfriend. Though he thinks about getting into the shower he knows that there’s no time for monkey business – they have a reservation – and so he contents himself with daydreaming. In his mind old jazz tunes mix with the neon ghosts that are his brothers and sisters.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Alan Parry

Poetry/Sonnet by Matthew da Silva : On my Way to New England

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