Epitaph for the Beloved by Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Bill Yarrow


Epitaph for the Beloved by Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas

The 102 poems in Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas’ Epitaph for the Beloved (Finishing Line Press, 2019) are divided into seven sections, each introduced by a line in the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child” though the lyrics have been changed from present tense (“Monday’s child is fair of face”) to past tense (“Monday’s Child Was Fair of Face”) and thus we have a history, a looking back on a life, rather than a contemporaneous description of or a prediction of one. One other change is the wording of the last day of the week. “And the child that is born on the Sabbath day / Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay” becomes “But the Child That Was Born on the Sabbath Day, Was Fair and Wise and Good and Gay.” The change seems to be for clarity, though “blithe” and “wise” are nowhere near synonyms and I’m not sure what that comma after “Day” adds to the reader’s comprehension.

The reason I comment on this structure is that in any odd-numbered list there is a middle term as in the fifteen stories in Joyce’s Dubliners. The eighth story in that collection (“A Little Cloud”) is central to the meaning of that book. In this book, the fourth section (Thursday’s Child) is the center, the fulcrum from which all the other poems ascend or descend. The fourth section deals with the dissolution of the speaker’s marriage. Leading up to that section we have poems of childhood, motherhood, and grief, and following that section, we have poems of remarriage, nostalgia, and resolve.

But the poems in this middle section are the most passionate and the strongest in the book with titles like “Womanizer,” “Conman-Duplicitous,” “Sleeping Beauty, Betrayed,” “Detonate” and “The Vibrator,” a poem about the gift that a husband gave a wife with the refrain “you gave me a vibrator.” Here is the savage last stanza:

And here, I would say to you now, is the box
that sits bare and unfilled, which needs
no replacements. Here is the case which you
happened to leave while taking the vibrator
upon our divorce which I never questioned
knowing you’d need it—
far more than I.

The long dash above that separates the last line (“far more than I”) from the rest of the stanza is a typical strategy for many poems in this volume in which the last line is often set off from the rest of the poem, privileging it, investing it with dramatic and significant isolation.

Here are some examples:

  • “Ah, flower, to be loved by such a bee.” [“Pheromones”]
  • “They had no parents, but they had each other.” [“The Blue Rosary”]
  • “now you must learn what it means, to be strong.” [“Keep Me This Night”]
  • “as we pass through the proof of the other.” [“Mirror in My Room”]
  • “bars that scrape the latch of forgotten entries.” [“Playing Woodwinds to an Unborn or Just Reincarnation”]

Some of Grellas’ word choices are surprising and arresting as when she writes in “Mouse Queen” “you are an enigma of narrowing bones” or in these lines from “Caterpillar Prayers”:

You were a butterfly
in the meadow

where no viewer
could see your grace

save the birdlike seraph
perched on a nearby

magnolia leaf

At other times, an occasional cliché (“pearly whites”) or a solecism (“laying on a bed”) appears, and every once in a while the language becomes a little precious, a little strained, as in “the air blued and bruised / from lies” [“Conman-Duplicitous”] or “how no / amount of plea undoes the fate / of any willful heart.” [“Breached”]

Still, so much of the diction in these poems is winning.

Dog, I am sorry
that you have gone hungry.
I have been a glutinous[1] fool. [“Wild Thing”]

This is the kind of poem,[2] that will sleep with you
when no one’s looking.  [“Bad Poem”]

And so much of the sentiment in these poems is not to be resisted as when Grellas writes of her children, “They are the poems I’ve yet / to write as they will become a part of me / no matter what devastation the world / sends my way” [“If I Should Die before I Wake[3] Remember…”] and also when she writes memorably of herself, “A prelude to ecstasy is all that I ask.” [“Meet Me in the Countryside”]

As a “prelude to ecstasy,” read these poems of face, grace, woe, distance, loving, living, and wisdom, poems where “the moonlight knows your name.”

[1]Was “gluttonous” meant?
[2] Those strangely placed commas!
[3] A wished-for comma here!

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Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas is a ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a seven-time Best of the Net nominee. In 2012 she won the Red Ochre Chapbook Contest with her manuscript, Before I Go to Sleep. In 2018 her book In the Making of Goodbyes was nominated for a national book award and her poem “A Mall in California” took 2nd place for the Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize. In 2019 her chapbook An Ode to Hope in the Midst of Pandemonium was a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Grellas’ writing has appeared Mezzocammin, The Tower Journal, and Sheila-Na-Gig. She was recently the guest speaker at the California Writer’s Club, Sacramento chapter. She is the Editor-in-Chief for The Orchards Poetry Journal and Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Tule Review. She is a member of the Sacramento Poetry Center Board of Directors; Saratoga Author’s Hall of Fame and she is currently enrolled in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program. Twitter: @secretpoet | Facebook: clgrellas

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Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College, is the author of five full-length books of poetry and five poetry chapbooks. His poems have been published in PANK, Contrary, Diagram, Thrush, Chiron Review, RHINO and many other journals such as The Decadent Review, Isacoustic*, Toasted Cheese, and Port Yonder Press. Yarrow’s latest collection is Accelerant (Nixes Mate Books, 2019). Twitter: @billyarrow | Facebook: bill.yarrow.1 | Poets & Writers: bill_yarrow

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Accelerant by Bill Yarrow

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Accelerant by Bill Yarrow

World-building. That is what came to this reader’s mind when I finished the last poem in Bill Yarrow’s collection, Accelerant. Each poem brings the reader to a betwixt place, real or imagined. A split-second moment communicating a universe of thought. Feelings. Ideas connected with Yarrow’s well-chosen vocabulary and punctuation, steeped in the abstract as well as nostalgia. For me, it was like each poem opened a door to an unseen space. I call it a twilight space. Unique and sometimes unsettling, perhaps because it is partially recognizable. Yarrow evokes an idea and then he populates it with intriguing elements, elegant and gritty. Familiar and yet perplexing. I pondered on some of the poems in this collection for days, like this one whose title suggests but offers no explanation:

Machete

aspirin and Band-Aids in baggies
astronauts with flags on their swimsuits
addicts with raging colitis
none of the above

blandishment heaped upon Girl Scouts
board games invented by florists
beachcombers drunk at the drive-in
none of the above

magnets left in a chapel
manatees shunted in tunnels
mystics sedated with sulfur
none of the above

wellness empowered by ampoules
weather defended by dancers
whimsy unharnessed to outlook
none of the above

Despite my curiosity, I marveled at the alliteration, the absence of punctuation, and repetition of the last line in each stanza.The poem is a list of people, objects, and ideas paired in a nonsensical partnerships that have purpose and yet no explanation. I enjoyed every word.

Repetition, alliteration, and interesting structure, indeed, are a few of the hallmarks in Yarrow’s collection of forty poems. I loved the first sentence in “Sin Embargo”: I like badness.

Yarrow makes a list on this subject that sounds terribly terrific especially when read aloud as all poems should be read.

I like badness. Don’t all the really good
Films have the word “bad” in their titles?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Bad
Day at Black Rock. Bad Lieutenant.
Baadasssss! The Bad and the
Beautiful. The Bad Seed.

Evil’s another story, a story
whose orphan narrator is misery,
married to pain, son of suffering,
sibling of spleen. I have seen evil.
If you have too, you know there’s
But one bad way to get rid of evil.

Retrieve the ragged dagger. The night
Is just weak enough for insurrection.

Other poems have a reverse mirror-like structure that seem to end as they begin as in the case of “Not a Villanelle.” While other poems reveal their structure in their conclusion like “Poet between Oxnard and Van Nuys” which is a combination of description and lists, and lists loving details of a spectacular summer evidenced in the musings of poet gazing out a passenger train window at the landscape outside and the internal one happening as well, in tandem:

The butter of summer was melting onto
the toast of the town, a town which I had
visited only in dreams

Another poem I liked describes a western U.S. landscape. I think. A landscape the poet knows well and as a reader I recognize, too. The poem is “Less Scenery” and the words are set in an interesting array of line indents and white space on the page that continues in a trajectory that may relate to the title and perhaps a guided message within its context through the use of very American establishments such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and other generic structures that seem to creep up on the western landscape of “arroyos” and “mesas” and “avocado trees.” Perhaps it is the window view from another ride through the American landscape. The landscape of American dream? Or perhaps it is a sociopolitical commentary on America today. Maybe both.

Yarrow’s poems also have a nostalgic quality to them. “Pinochle in My Snout” is a snapshot in time of a family party absent of cell phones and social media. A bygone era in popular culture. Familiar and a tad bittersweet.

The paneled linoleum basement rec room
with tables set up for pinochle, salami, and
schnapps. My uncles, grandfather and father
at one table; my aunts and mother at the other.
The blurry TV on. The bookcases with glass
fronts and carved locked doors holding auction
volumes and foreign coins. My three sisters
in ballerina tutus running up and down stairs.
My unemployed younger cousins on the back lawn
smoking Luckies. My coiffed older cousins discussing
the subdivisions of the Republican future. Albums
of peeling Polaroids, dirty doilies, fuzzy rugs.
The fetching wreckage of an arsoned heart. “Does
anyone want anything else to eat? Anyone? Anyone?”

Accelerant is an intrepid collection of gutsy poems. A pager turner in that each poem is unique in its structure, voice, and message. For forty days I read one of Yarrow’s poems with my morning coffee and knew with each visitation, I would be taken to a new place, down an interesting path, or a look back to a familiar space seen through Bill Yarrow’s very cool and penetrating perspective.

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Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College, is the author of five full-length books of poetry and five poetry chapbooks. His poems have been published in PANK, Contrary, Diagram, Thrush, Chiron Review, RHINO and many other journals such as The Decadent Review, Isacoustic*, Toasted Cheese, and Port Yonder Press. Yarrow’s latest collection is Accelerant (Nixes Mate Books, 2019). Facebook: bill.yarrow.1 | Twitter: billyarrow | Poets & Writers: bill_yarrow

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

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Two Poems

Poetry
Bill Yarrow


Photo Credit: J.A. Alcaide/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Collect Enough Fragments, You’ve Got Yourself A Poem

1.

The sun’s corona. Empty boxes
near the firehouse.

Red birth.
A bird’s lost wing.

2.

The bitterness of littleness.
Apples in a pile.

Early love.
A spider, swinging.

3.

A father’s harshness.
Twelve bills unpaid.

Leaves in a crevice.
A dream unwrapped.

4.

The future.
Its dizziness.

Christmas cookies.
A dollhouse all alone

 

Thirteen Syllable Poem Ending With A Line From K. Balmont

I attended a college where fauna was worshipped.
There I studied Biology of Mysteries II.
I had written twelves pages re: mountains near Venice
after I practiced devices I learned from bad men.
I rehearsed a short play about demons and pirates,
once assembled an army of recalcitrant prigs.
Forsaking the reward for returning the holy,
I visited the outskirts of a village of thugs.
When I lived with a group of itinerant schmoozers,
I strangled my impulse to incinerate tinder.
I have traveled to cities emissionless, suspect,
where I started at laws of strict carnal compunction.
I predicted weather that interrogates safety.
I organized committees for the reuse of tin.
I once taught classes in repudiation of bosh.
I led dead seminars in The Reduction of Soul.
I saw in government a lacuna of talent.
I arranged for the drug that will parry emotion.
I opened a fissure in the magma of thinking.
I had learned to ensnare the vague shadows far straying.

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Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College and an editor at Blue Fifth Review, is the author of Against Prompts, The Vig of Love, Blasphemer, Pointed Sentences, and five chapbooks. He has been nominated eight times for a Pushcart Prize. Email: bill.yarrow[at]gmail.com

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