We’re well aware that some of today’s best writing can be found in chapbooks, which often fall under the radar in book press and promotion. In effort to make sure these works get their due, we’ll be doing regular flash-review roundups of recent chapbook releases. This time, we’re featuring two chapbooks that examine how gender and its idiosyncrasies carry on between generations.l
Poems for Crones, Roxy Runyan
Ghost City Press, 2018
“Through the veils of youth and age, we will listen to each other” the dedication reads to Poems for Crones, poet Roxy Runyan’s debut chapbook, available for free download as part of Ghost City Press’ Summer Micro-chapbook Poetry Series.
There is a constant effort to find the female in everything — in love, in loss, in memory and the present. It sounds all very heady, but the speaker of these poems constantly comments on these musings with her own immediate reactions and desires.
“Daily Tarot” begins: “my tarot card for the day is / really i believe im just working my way toward fucking eileen myles” and then continues later with “daily rituals, your churnings of the stomach / and the map on the voices of your heart.”
The poems function like tarot readings, each imbued with ruminative images in a constant attempt to connect — through space, through acts, through getting in touch with their own self as a way of knowing the women in her life.
For example, “Poem for Mama Linda, West Virginia,” one of several prose works, begins with “grey skies like i was raised, the creek too, and mothers. ‘any path you’re down, good or bad, you make the best out of it.’ well, shit. come on now.” But in the end the effort is successful: “…the holly tree, female with her berries. Pine, female with the cones. water on branches like gemstones. realize i’ve stopped counting the deaths inside.”
Or in “There’s Soft,” it’s “and prepare to wash more dishes / as always this is how / i connect with all the mothers / of my mothers and theirs,”
Runyan’s style is unadorned, with no capitalization and line breaks that cut between emotion and thought, a style evokes her crone’s aching bones, held together by tender love.The chapbook is a rejuvenation, not a eulogy. While these poems always acknowledge that march of age will eventually come, there is little melancholy here, instead an active, willful countering of the slightest idea. Throughout the book, a recurring image of flowers, ever a sign of youth and life, is a constant signifier of the crone love. No deeper is it that “You the Yellow Flower”: “you the yellow flower in the wash by the highway river tooth missing your dead are new too, grief born of moments.”
Daniel Edward Moore’s chapbook Boys is, to quote the last phrase of “Yard Work,” a little “cathedral of gnashing teeth” about its title subject, and how they may have different fundamentals than their parents. There’s plenty of weeping, too, including tears shed by the tools of manhood: wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers.
Boys contemplates the relationship of fathers and sons in a masculine world of machines, sports, war, religion, farming, and, as the poems progress, sex and sexuality. Moore’s linguistic originality seeds ancient ground where a son doesn’t fit the father’s mold and, more broadly, where men don’t fit culture’s expectations.
From “The Architect’s Son”: “Every son’s neck is a skyscraper burning / a hole in the heaven of fathers.” But what if the son prefers the poetic pen to the mechanical pencil?
Moore invites us to think about another son, Jesus, “his body a book on religious repair.” A father, always believing things can be fixed, might reach for a (cross-shaped) tire iron, but what tool can repair psychic damage inflicted on boys?
For Moore, the search and subsequent awakening from a claustrophobic upbringing comes in poetic experiences such as “The Fire Island Boys,” which begins with Warhol and is saturated with “days of aquatic ecstasy: / steam baths swirling with deep sea divers” in the company of “some other man who had to be entered / to prove how good, how beautiful he was, / even if only for an hour.” If these boys can find connection, they might be able to transcend the militancy of home (and American culture).
Perhaps the dedication of Boys should be, as Moore puts it, “for those whose voices lie silent in urns,” for the son who can’t enjoy waxing the car with his father when his mind is “tied to the page with leather and verbs” or for the persona who says, “Never have I listened so closely / to the stethoscope swinging from my soul.”
In Boys, the pen is the tool, poetry a way to repair.
Men, more than often, are still reared to be silent. Upon reading Boys, we should be thankful that Moore’s “tongue found a reason / to not swallow itself as punishment for such incorrectness.” The creation of art, be it an AIDS quilt or a finely wrought chapbook, is at least an attempt for some comfort, some understanding.
– Review by Barry Peters