The Pattern Maker’s Daughter
The discussion and attention drawn to class issues, thanks in part to the Occupy Wall Street movement and debate over austerity measures in Europe, is not solely for newspaper headlines. The current U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine, is the quintessential blue-collar American poet, who made his name known decades ago by writing about Detroit’s struggles and its impact on the average Joe. Other poets are also giving praise to working men and women. Sandee Gertz Umbach’s debut collection of poems, The Pattern Maker’s Daughter, is loaded with poems appropriate for the times. The hard workers and survivors that populate her poems would get along well with characters in a Bruce Springsteen song or Levine’s poetry. The farmers, mechanics, and other laborers that live in her poems struggle to overcome hard times and tough luck, including a historic flood that may conjure up images for the reader of Hurricane Katrina and its devastating aftermath. By the last page, the reader hopes these characters pull through.
There are topics that authors explore which have the ability to transcend boundaries – cultural, socio-economic, and geographic – because they are experiences that know no boundaries, ones that most readers will identify and connect with, whether based on personal experience or second-hand knowledge. Alcoholism. Teen drinking and drug use and sex. Infidelity. Families split by fissures. Alzheimer’s Disease. Kathryn Mockler guides her readers through the waters of several of these universal topics with equal measures of grit and grace in her debut collection of untitled, linked poems titled Onion Man.
The Art of the Sonnet
The basic elements of the sonnet include fourteen lines set in one of two essential rhyme schemes. Originally the metric scheme was iambic, but that convention was one of the first to go as the sonnet found common purpose with poets who preferred to tinker, rather than obey the letter of Roman law. The earlier, Italian form offered an octet, usually abba, abba. This was followed by an answering sestet. Most common would be cde, cde. The Shakespearean sonnet, in the late Sixteenth Century, waves away the octet/sestet structure and prescribes;
The final couplet is the poem’s defining feature. Once the original mold was broken the only proviso to stand up was the convention of fourteen lines.
Rarely has a poetry anthology been better conceived, for purpose or pleasure. If I had to quibble it would only be to say that I had expected to find one of the best and most often anthologized of all American sonnets, “Those Winter Sundays,” by Robert Hayden. It is not included. Surely I can make a decent excuse for the good professors’ decision, as editors, to leave it out. The fact that it is so well known and loved leaves room for one more in the collection that we know less well. At the end of the day I admit that I would not want to be without medical doctor and poet Rafael Campo’s poem, from 2007, “Rest Stop near the Italian Border.” Like so many in this volume, his is a poem I will come back to.
The Outskirts of Karma
The word “mature,” when used to describe an artist’s work or a writer’s voice, tends toward positive connotations. Critics incline toward praise when a writer’s youthful exuberance and riskiness matures into noteworthy ground-breaking territory, or when a poet’s early promise, if a bit callow, ripens into spirituality, wisdom, or keen and unsparing observation. I mention this aspect of the artist’s growth because I first encountered Alfred Encarnacion’s poetry when both of us were young. Full disclosure: the micro-press I co-published with the late David Dunn issued Mr. Encarnacion’s early chapbook collection, At Winter’s End. We lost touch for about 30 years. I didn’t even know he was still writing poetry. And now, through the digital network and the circuitous mysteries of friend networking, Alfred Encarnacion’s book The Outskirts of Karma has re-introduced me to his work; more accurately, the book has introduced me to the mature poetry of this talented writer.