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Short Takes: Short Book Reviews for September 2016 

STARFISH

click to enlarge starfish_pauline-u.jpg

Pauline Uchmanowicz

Twelve Winters Press, 2016, $15

The opening poem of this stunning collection by SUNY New Paltz professor Uchmanowicz concludes, "Look everywhere / you will find what you need." The poet's intent gaze makes the familiar remarkable. Sometimes she seems to be holding binoculars backward, seeing "anthills / filling weedy cracks" at a beachside burial and finding gravitas in a discarded chair. On her native Cape Cod, "year-rounders" grill swordfish and drink, passing the names of dead friends "like lighted sparklers." In "Elements of Style," Uchmanowicz muses, "What if poets had to pick? The ocean or the stars." Like its lovely title, Starfish contains both.

KNOCK

Janet Hamill, photos by Mary Ann Livchak

Spuyten Duyvil, 2016, $15

Orange County poet Hamill has opened for Patti Smith and often performs poetry with a band, so the incantatory music of her language is no surprise. Her new collection Knock is a concept album, with six suites of long-lined pantoums. Livchak's haunting photos of doors divide them by region: Hollywood, Tijuana, the Atlantic, Giza, San Tropez, New York. Dense and astonishing, these poems paint "a cobalt blue song for a friend." Hamill will appear 9/25 at 2:30 at the Subterranean Poetry Festival in Rosendale's Widow Jane Mine; 10/14 at 8pm, Calling All Poets at Roost Studios, New Paltz; 10/23 at 2pm, Seligmann Center, Sugar Loaf.

ALEPH, BROKEN: POEMS FROM MY DIASPORA

Judith Kerman

Broadstone Books, 2016, $17.50

Parsing the uneasy relationship of a secular Jew to her heritage, this striking collection by Woodstock writer/publisher Kerman is animated by a searching intelligence, steeped in grief but never sentimental. "You're hard," a fading mother states in the raw-whisky prose poem "Conversation," and the response devastates: "It's a shell, Mother, a protection for my own pain. Or against it. When I knock, I hear the echo of nothing there." Phrases glint and startle: a cut tomato becomes the "Red Sea unfurling, opening its arms;" a star-nosed mole passes through dirt "like the needle of a blind tailor;" and "Hooks of letters / tangle and unwind."

SHE TOOK OFF HER DRESS

poems by Tad Richards, drawings by Nancy Ostrovsky

Old Mole Press, 2016, $15

Inspired "by jazz and eros" and pumping out plenty of both, this loose-limbed collaboration between Saugerties poet Richards and Accord performance painter Ostrovsky is breathless in all the right ways. Words and images riff off each other, musical line chasing pen-and-ink line. Both are remarkably varied: Richards' smart, sprightly poems reference Gregorian chants and Bettie Page, Illinois Jacquet solos and "Clifton Chenier, / with bass enough to rattle / the crate against the wall," while Ostrovsky morphs nudes with horseheads and motion-captures Miles Davis in slapdash white on black.

COAT THIEF

Jeffrey Davis

Saint Julian Press, 2016, $12

Ulster County poet and creativity consultant Davis weaves an audaciously wide-ranging coat of many colors, channeling voices of the title poem's anxious hoarder, a gypsy wife begging in an airport, a fire-scarred Indian bride, a thousand-year-old stone goddess. In the opening poem "A Promise," an unborn baby rolls over in her mother's belly, "Melon motion teasing your papa's palm, / are you knocking? What can I tell you? // Sprout, it gets dark out here too, and cold / and, if you pay attention, strange." Davis pays attention, reminding us of wonder and eventualities. Insomniacs all, we must "be awake, stupendously awake in the dark."

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