Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Forty-two
Winter 2016
 
Review
In Their Own Way
              19 poems

by Chella Courington

Crow Hollow Books (2016)
ISBN: 978-1680730647


Purchase at Amazon



In Their Own Way is a physically lovely looking poetry chapbook, including uniquely wonderful cover art by Susan Yount, including an image of a man on the top of a burning house, juggling four human hearts.

Inside the book, there is purple paper in between the cover and the innards and the font on the titles of the poems looks pretty and girly.

The poems themselves are not light and airy and pretty though. They’re carefully crafted, but not easy and bright. They’re more like a multi-shaped, unsettling cross section of intertwined family connections. Sometimes darkness and light are interconnected, but overall, the content leans towards the dark.

The first poem, Blackbirds, begins the collection with this stanza:

Like a canopy of darkness
they shadow the ground for miles
on currents that lift them
back to their roosts.

Every roost has its imperfections, especially flawed family bonds dangling on the edge of abusiveness. What especially stood out for me was the father/daughter dynamic addressed in several of this collection’s poems. For example, when I was nine I / walked / over hot coals / dumped / from the grill by dad / who bet ten bucks / I couldn’t do it / and I said I would / if we would / and I did /and he laughed / wiping his hand across his mouth / me in burnt feet / crying (from the poem Pyromantics).

After the father laughs at his daughter’s burnt feet, the daughter visualizes herself branding his back and watching his skin sizzle, and then thinks of his fingers / tapers in a church / that I lit.

Many of the In Their Own Way poems strike me as memory oriented story poems, in short stanzas and short lines. Chella Courington’s short lines are sometimes a bit difficult to interpret or are open to different interpretations. My interpretation was that some of the poems in this collection intermingle real life elements with imagined elements and the power of creating one’s own visual reality inside one’s own mind, which especially makes sense from a child’s perspective, since a child cannot yet escape her family’s reality.

In the poem Perfect Day, Mom and Dad are angrily fighting and so the girl narrator moves to the ceiling and reads books. In the morning, her mom asks:

Why are you still up there?
Can’t you sleep in the bed
like a normal child?
Will you ever learn to behave?

and then

Fine day for bananafish
I said, and fat-bellied parents
in granny panties and boxers
bubbles billowing from their mouths
hair like strings on a mop
swam through the flood in my room.
One by one, they crashed

into the wall. Limbs scattered over
my bed like driftwood.
And my Joni Mitchell poster—
sprayed red.
Nothing left but her smile.

A face sprayed red except for the smile is intermingled with imaginary parents mopped into little pieces, instead of the real parents yelling and hating and throwing things to the point that their daughter needs to hide and create her own unreal reality.

The poem Job’s Daughter is open to interpretation, as are most poems and as is the Bible and who we should be drawn to believe in and why. It starts with the lines, I do not skulk from God. / He has no eye for me / only for my father – and then it portrays an insulting, controlling, and tortuous God, a cruel man in charge of lesser beasts. That God

forces the camel to sit on the cold earth,
head down, and gives father a white flint knife.
Slice the thorax, He bellows.

Father turns away—not a butcher.
The camel lives two hours. My father crawls
inside the camel’s skin and closes it over him.
Flesh still warm.

My mind thought of a daughter who has been cruelly told what to do by her father and is now visualizing that father being cruelly told what to do by a mean yet powerful God who has more control than the father.

Are we doing what we’re told to do for the right reasons? Are we being tested for our own strength? Are we too weak to escape the grip of a stronger force?

In addition to the unsettling Father/Daughter relationship, there are various other relationships in this collection that caused me to wonder what is family, what is love and what makes you stick with it or choose to escape in your own way?

Sometimes the troubling and cruel imperfections of others remain in parts of their child’s minds for an inordinate amount of time and even when that child grows up to become their own adult, those past memories are still stuck deep inside, darkening one’s own wings.

What are your options if you can’t escape the cruel control (or control the cruelty) when it is happening? Inflicting cruelty back on others? Trying to save others? Forgiving the perpetrator? Forgetting what was done to you or what you did?

From the poem, Taking It Home:

Eighty years of believing
he’s a chosen son, my father
forgets crawling up stairs that creak

pissing in curtained corners.
Forgets days he deserted my mother
slapped me hard for mouthing off.

My brother forgives him.
I don’t even pretend.
Mother is dead but not my grief.

Some choose to forget and others choose to save themselves and their own memories by sharing them in their own way. For a time, grief and pain are kept inside one’s own mind, but then they are partly released by choosing to express them with one’s own art and poetry, as poet Chella Courington does in her own honest feeling and genuinely moving way.
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Review by Juliet Cook
Guest Reviewer
Juliet is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, recently including FLAPPERHOUSE, Ghost Proposal, ILK, Menacing Hedge, and Tarpaulin Sky. You can find out more at http://www.JulietCook.weebly.com.




Some Kind of Shelter
by Sara Tracey

Misty Publications (2013)
ISBN 978-1-4675-7824-0


Purchase at Misty Publications





           Sara Tracey’s poetry collection, Some Kind of Shelter, resonates because of its humble content while still managing to enhance on the talented and unique stylistic approaches within her poetry. A common theme depicted throughout Tracey’s poetry is the realistic lamentations derived within an “everyday” person’s struggles with love. There are many complexities in our world and in our day-to-day lives. Tracey neither forgets nor minimizes these complexities when she enters the world of poetry, but rather, she portrays them powerfully by depicting our battles against emotions, mentalities, relationships and more.

           Tracey utilizes language and similes to form her poetry into stories. With colloquial terminology, references to everyday life, and even settings that are modest and ordinary, Tracey’s poems feel intimate. Barberton brings the reader to the setting of a Dollar Store. A Dollar Store is perhaps the most non-poetic place I could think of, however, Tracey has a knack for taking recognizable, simple locations and building on those to bring in an emotional depth and character development within a poem. She was able to make me feel a connection to the Dollar Store and add a poignant attachment to the setting.

           Tracey is not afraid to write all the way down to an emotional core. I appreciate the authenticity she is able to create through the raw emotions of the people in her poems. For instance, Stella Teaches Me the Body, brings the reader through this complex emotional mindset of a woman who has been hurt and taken advantage of by men. She used to desire unhealthy forms of love because it was at least some form of love. It was the love that was given so it was better than no love. I used to want a man/ who could make me feel small, these few lines from Stella Teaches Me the Body are great depiction to the raw emotion that Tracey unleashes on her readers. It is also compelling how Tracey can effectively contrast an intimate poem like this one to a less serious one such as Highway Maintenance, a poem about picking up road kill.

           Tracey doesn’t shy away from flawed characters. In fact, this draws the reader into the poems because they are relatable. She also uses sensory images and literary devices such as personification to explore human nature in her poetry. Syntax and enjambment were also common tools that brought a new dimension to the poems. For example, Mute as a Fish, uses enjambment and syntax effectively. The enjambment positions each line further onto the page, creating a visual experience as well:

At first, her dreams were filled with water,
             her body a boat lost at sea.
                          Her boat-body:

an empty hull, an open hatch.
             She counted the waves
                          that reached the break wall

like some count sheep, but she
             was already sleeping. In her dreams,
                          the lighthouse always moved

further away. It was a match head,
             a firefly. It was the dimmest star.

           The movement of the text symbolizes the movement of the wave. The poem̻s meaning and emotional depth intensifies with each comma, planned space and colon. This movement mimics that of a wave pushing a current further away and then receding back again to the shore, or in this case, to the margin. The enjambment used enhances the visual and contextual imagery on the page.

           I highly recommend Sara Tracey’s debut poetry collection, Some Kind of Shelter. Pull up a good chair and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.

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Review by Caitlin Morley
fall Arsenic Lobster intern
When she’s not found writing she is often mid dance party or pouring another cup of coffee. She believes the best days begin with painting at sunrise. She studies at the University of St. Thomas and majors in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and minors in Communications. One day she plans to write and illustrate a book.