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Best of the Small Press

March 11, 2018

As editor of Ancient Paths literary magazine, I have received numerous complimentary copies of poetry books over the years. Sometimes these collections are published as chapbooks (the term publishers give to a small paperback booklet containing poems or fiction) and sometimes as trade paperbacks (a publishing term that refers to any book with a flexible cardstock cover that is larger than the standard mass market paperback). They are usually published by either a small press or by the author himself.   While I don't have the time to review every title I receive, I have shared a few of my favorites with you in previous blog posts. In this post, I'd like to add a few more titles to the list.
 

Deep Wonder
by Philip C. Kolin
Grey Owl Press, © 2000, ISBN 0-9671901-1-8

 

This volume of 66 poems is complimented by illustrations from the pen of Christopher J. Pelicano, and the collection is presented in a professional manner.  The poems are the result of a bitter inspiration: an unexpected, numbing experience of personal rejection.  Broken by the loss of human love, the poet turns to God, directing his love poems at the worthiest of targets and at the only being capable of wholly selfless love.  

 

Deep Wonder is in one sense highly personal, but this does not mean readers will be unable to relate to it.  Anyone who has suffered and turned to God with a newly opened heart will be able to join in the celebration Kolin offers.  Kolin’s style is somewhat truncated, with very short lines written in free verse.  Occasionally, a lack of standard punctuation impedes the otherwise easy flow of the poems,  causing the reader to temporarily pause in order to gather the meaning. 

 

Nevertheless, Kolin’s poetry has the rare quality of being accessible without being simplistic.  There is no academic pretension displayed here, no convoluted or irrational comparisons.  The imagery is powerfully concise and always appropriate.   Alliteration is employed frequently but subtly. 

Some of my favorite poems in this collection include “The Desert,” “The King’s Arbor,” “Christ, My Courtier,”  and “The Prodigal’s Brother,” which I had the privilege of publishing in issue ten of Ancient Paths.  

 

DOWNSIZING my muse

by David Alpaugh

Small Poetry Press, © 2004 , ISBN 1-891298-41-0

 

This pint-sized chapbook collection contains 18 poems of 12 lines or less, as well as a "revolutionary" sonnet.  The latter is written in a circle with text that grows increasingly smaller as it nears the center, making the poem an interesting experiment in form but a useless mode of communication.  Even though I did not like all of the poems in this collection, the book was refreshing because it was unique--no workshop clones here.  The tiny volume begins with a breath of fresh air--an honest confession that the book is self-published, presented as an EPA  ("Ethical Poets of America") warning.  By necessity, the poems must be concise, and that conciseness at times can be quite clever.  I laughed aloud at at least one poem ("What I said to my dog...") and paused to think seriously about another ("The Young"). I also particularly enjoyed "Inside Story" and part two of "the minimalists' milton."

 

Lion Sun   
by Pavel Chichikov
Grey Owl Press, © 1999, ISBN 0-967I901-O-X.

 

Pavel Chichikov’s use of traditional devices such as rhyme, meter, alliteration, and anaphora is consistent and non-obtrusive, lending much needed form to the substance. God is sometimes in  the forefront of these poems, sometimes subtly resting in the background, and Christ’s crucifixion is a frequent subject of meditation for the poet. The themes expressed are largely universal, though hardly trite. Lion Sun provides a much need break from the typical, personalized, self-centered poetry of modern times.  As I read the collection, there were times when I was reminded of William Blake’s Songs

 

The beautifully designed volume contains 74 poems as well as several illustrations by Eric Young.  As with any large volume of poetry, the quality of the individual poems is varied.  Some particularly good works  in this volume include  “The Secret,” “Mother and Child,”  “Craving,” “The Voice,”  and “Empty Church.”

 

Mightier Than the Sword?
Poems about the bizzness (and art) of poetry

by David Alpaugh
Small Poetry Press © 2005

 

This was the most entertaining collection of modern poetry I have read in a long time. Moving? No.  Profound? Not particularly.  Funny? Absolutely.  These clever poems are an enjoyable way to pass the time, and if you are an editor, a poet, or a literary scholar, you will find something to relate to in the pages of this slender volume.  The book itself is a parody on poetry books, with "In Lieu of Blurbery" gracing the back page, a self-published disclaimer on the inside page, and a boilerplate biography to boot.  

 

As an editor myself, I especially appreciated  "Giving them the Slip," and I found the poet's commentary on USPS postage stamp selection highly amusing. (Yes, that's what I said--USPS postage stamp selection. Just read "Have You Seen the New Poetry Stamp," and you'll know what I mean.)  There were some poems I simply did not "get." For the most part, however, I found this collection to be an accessible, delightful, intelligent, and witty poetic romp.  The book is beautifully designed as well.

 

A Parable of Women: Poems
by Philip C. Kolin
Yazoo River Press, © 2009, ISBN 0-9723224-5-0

 

A Parable of Women offers up the poetic perspectives of both modern and ancient women, largely unnamed. These are women who persevere, who wrestle with the human pangs of loneliness, betrayal, longing, lust, and loss. Written in free verse, these poems make ample use of alliteration. Occasionally I wished for more cadence. I wanted to be further swept up into the rhythm of the poetry, but the volume always managed to hold my attention. The poet makes uses of such intriguing images as “women sewn into the frocks of childbirth.”

 

My favorite poem from the collection was “Hagar’s Lament,” which offers us a powerful look at the heart of a woman turned out of her home and left to rest on the promises of God. Also especially moving was “Over Coffee,” the raw story of a woman aching from a failing marriage.

 

The Pilgrim's Lyre
by Teresa B. Burleson
1st Books, ©  2003, ISBN 1-403387-13-3

 

This collection of Christian poems is simple yet elegant.  The poems are free verse, but they are not without rhythm.  The poet's style is concise and occasionally powerful. The imagery and metaphors are appropriate and essential; they are never pretentious or extraneous.  Pleasant alliteration will often trip from the tongue should one choose to read the verses aloud. The poems are of varying quality, but my particular favorites are "Willow Lake," "Pilgrimage," "Breakthrough," and "Recycling." 

 

Seeded Puffs   
by Cherise Wyneken
Dry Bones Press, Inc., © 2000

 

I had the privilege of publishing three of Cherise’s poems in previous issues of Ancient Paths: “Shoreline” (Issue 7), “Keeper of the Keys” (Issue 8), and “Easter Song” (2003 Online Easter Issue).  Seeded Puffs contains approximately 100 poems, an impressive number for any verse collection.   

 

Wyneken makes masterful use of alliteration, anaphora, and other rhetorical devices.  The imagery is well-formed and often original, but the author relies on this particular poetic device rather heavily.  After much use, imagery—no matter how well-drawn—eventually ceases to have an impact. As a reader, however, I look for poems that move me, that stun me into contemplation.  I find several in this series.  “I Thirst” is a powerful reflection on Christ’s dying words.  “Like a Thief in the Night?” inspires the reader to consider whether “the trumpet’s final blast” might leave him “drowning in the wake of [his] own plans.”  Other poems that gave me real cause to pause include “Cutting Facts,” “Keeper of the Keys,” “The Shining” (despite its presumption that evolution is fact rather than theory), and “Waters of Life.”

 

Many of Wyneken’s poems break out from the dull, unvarying flow of much modern free verse into fine rhythmic cadences.  Two examples are “Voices Red as Wine” and “In the Eye of the Storm.”  There are also lines that leap off the page and cry for consideration: “The Father’s rules of right and wrong / tied in hopeless knot.”  There is a bit of liberal, propagandistic moralizing to be waded through here and there, but I think people of all political persuasion will find much to admire in this volume.  The book is finely printed, but a Table of Contents would have been helpful. 

 

 

A Spleeny Lutheran

by Robert Karl Meyer II

© 2000

 

In A Spleeny Lutheran, Robert Karl Meyer II presents 29 short poems, many of which depict man's failure to live up to his potential as a being uniquely created in God's image. Yet some of these works are also tinged with a note of quiet hope.  In the haunting poem "Tenements of the Soul," for instance, we find the speaker "searching for forgotten magic words" as the "dawn sheds light on dingy slums of gloom, / on my small room, on visions that still bloom" 

 

The author frequently employs allegory, using Arthurian legend and Greek mythology to parallel biblical themes.  Although some of the selections are not as well-crafted or effective as others, the chapbook contains many works that embody a depth and seriousness to which most poetry only pretends.  The poet, perhaps because he is also a mathematician, delights in the traditional forms most moderns have rejected, using sonnets, rondeaus, and even acrostics.  These forms serve to structure and compliment the meaning of the poems, and today's reader, so often deprived of good rhyme and disciplined meter, may find that these works are music to his ears. 

 

Three of Robert’s poems have appeared in Ancient Paths: “Requiem” (Issue 7), “Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’” (Issue 8), and  “The Acrostic Church Year” (2000 Online Christmas Issue).

 

The Wedding Party 
by Philip Rosenbaum

© 2002

 

While I was more deeply moved by the poet’s collection Holy Week SonnetsThe Wedding Party is a good read in its own right.  The collection gives the reader insight into Old Testament characters (such as Adam, Noah’s wife, Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah) through a series of “songs” written in Spenserian stanza. The wedding party in question is attending the marriage of Christ to His Bride the Church, and a variety of biblical characters are invited to answer the question, “Why do I choose this woman as my bride?”

 

It’s rare to see formal poetry these days, and even rarer to see it done well, but Philip Rosenbaum “chants[s] in meter, musical and clear.” Consequently, The Wedding Party is a welcome addition among contemporary poetry collections, one that walks the ancient paths so to speak. 

 

 

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