Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cider Press Review

I’ll start with a confession. Many years ago, I dabbled in poetry. Haiku. Sonnet. Free-verse. Villanelle. Sestina. Name the form, I tried it.

But today’s world is no place for a poet, at least not for one with skin as thin mine, so I laid my quill aside and, with a sigh, set my sights on more prosaic pastures. My own failure as a poet, however, gives me great admiration for anyone who stays at it, and even greater admiration for anyone willing to provide poets with a venue, an area in which to be appreciated. Caron Andregg and Robert Wynne, the co-editors and publishers of Cider Press Review, have done just that, and their journal is not only a labor of love, but a bastion of hope for struggling poets and poetry lovers everywhere.

The latest issue of the journal opens with a poem titled “About the Type” by Marilyn McCabe. As its title suggests, the poem consists of an imaginary note on the type in a book set in a font called Requiem. Yet Requiem, the poet notes, has fallen out of use. The irony, of course, is that while the typeface is no longer used, it is, nonetheless, the typeface used in the book that the poet imagines. In many ways, it can be argued that this is the state of poetry in the modern world: while the pundits of cultural production and mass media may insist that the poem is a form of communication that is itself “now out of use,” poetry continues to resurface and prove that reports of its death are grossly exaggerated—as demonstrated, of course, by Cider Press Review and other journals like it.

Another poem in this edition of CPR that caught my eye was “Night of Broken Stars” by Brian Lutz. Ostensibly a love poem, this piece takes the conceit of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 into the free-verse realm of a gothic American October. Where Shakespeare finds beauty in the black wires of his subject’s hair and the reek of his subject’s breath, Lutz finds beauty in “the undusted room” and likens it to the “second hand/of working things ticking.”

Overall, Cider Press Review does a wonderful job of collecting the poetry of new and exciting voices as well as that of award-winning poets from around the world. The latest issue is nearly 150 pages long, perfect bound, with a bright, beautiful cover. If you’re a poet, you certainly can’t go wrong in subscribing to this gem of a journal.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The First Sandcastle

Early in M.E. Delgado's debut novel, The First Sandcastle, narrator Marlo Clemente and his gruff father build a sandcastle, which, the father promises, will never fall. Never, that is, as long as the tide stays out. And here lies the crux of the difficulties Marlo faces throughout his life. The universe his father envisions for Marlo is perfectly idealized and completely inviolable--as long as real life doesn't seep in. The problem, of course, is that real life does inevitably seep in, and Marlo so believes in the admittedly misogynistic world his father has created that he's not sure how to reconcile it with the world that his senses and better judgment tell him is real.

At issue through much of the novel is Marlo's attitude toward women. According to his father, women are treacherous and deceitful, and nothing else. Even Marlo's mother, says the father, is completely untrustworthy. Initially, Marlo's experiences bear the father's theories out as a beautiful girl gets the better of his best friend. When Marlo himself falls in love, however, he begins to question his father's wisdom, especially upon realizing that the girl's mother has a similar theory with regard to men. For Marlo, then, growing up is a matter of recognizing that the monolithic theories we tend to build to explain the world have a tendency to fall apart under scrutiny--just like the sandcastles he loves to build must always fall to the tide.

Overall, The First Sandcastle works wonderfully as a coming of age novel. I wouldn't quite call it young-adult literature, but elements of the story will certainly resonate with youthful readers who are themselves attempting to navigate the choppy waters of romance for the first time. Indeed, Delgado's prose mimics the earnest tone of adolescence so faithfully that it's easy to forget that the author is an adult. This isn't, of course, to say that Delgado writes in a childish fashion, but that he beautifully captures that moment just before adulthood when we all believe that we have the world figured out, that all matters of ethics and morality fall neatly into simple categories. Just as abandoning this black and white world view to explore the moral ambiguities of adulthood is ultimately what growing up is all about, so too is The First Sandcastle.