Review of Les Fleurs du mal
By Charles Baudelaire


Les Fleurs du mal and the flowers of rape are generating heat and light, I will try to illuminate the difference.

Rape as an evil is capital “E” evil, a sexual assault and a sin.  But rape may be complex, multifaceted in English.  The word “rape” describes the rapeseed plant that is used to make canola oil.  Its flower is yellow.  (Rape as the residue of the winemaking process is ignored for this review).  Rape as a flower is a scrawny blossom, but when planted with other plants in a field can look rather lovely.  The French phrase “je vais mal,” means “I don’t feel well.”  Thus, I suggest, that rape with its multiple possibilities of meaning is closer to the little “m” mal of Baudelaire than the Satanic Evil of capitalized English.

The need for possibilities comes from the origin of the flowers of evil.  The flowers of evil are the children of paternal slavery, the children of statutory rape.  The mulatto children of the master are stigmatized as unwanted.  This needs remedy, as the poet attempts to create a new identity for the young ones.  So the innocent yellow flowers of rape do bloom in America.

The poem “La Géante” (The Giantess) is exemplary of the difficulty of interpreting Baudelaire.  Greek mythology teaches us that giants are human beings.  Our giant is described as being monstrous or enormous.  The difference is telling.  As a monster, her humanity is diminished, as a large human being, she is preserved.  I believe Baudelaire wants us to respond to her as a Person, no longer a girl, and not yet a woman, a giant, a female garçon.   So Baudelaire defends young women.

The poem “Le Cygne” (The Swan) might be about the sin of slavery, or captivity against one’s will.  It is considered by many as one of Baudelaire’s best, as a flower of evil the swan is a symbol of all who are held in servitude.

The flowers of evil support modernity, as the human equality of married spouses; thus the words of Thomas Jefferson find a home in France; Liberty stands in the harbor, and symbolizes America, an irony not lost on the few.

Review of Petits Poèmes en prose
By Charles Baudelaire

Many poems from Petits Poèmes en prose stand out.  I selected five to describe the fifty.

“Le Gateau” (The Cake) knows the hard truth of war.  A battle between two brothers leads to exhaustion, frustration and futility.   The event of the American Civil War is not far away from our minds.

“Les Fenêtres” (The Windows) offers the image of an elderly person in the window of an old woman.  With gestures and respect we see that she could have been a man.  The truth does not matter as much as the legend as told.

“La Belle Dorothée” (The Good Dorothy) is a pleasant picture of the life of a freed slave, a woman whose sister is in danger of being assaulted.

“Un cheval de race” (A Thoroughbred Horse) is tremendous!   It is potentially bilingual, complex in the telling of a story, a poem, a protest, and a vindication.  She is delightful.  She is delicious.  It (a flower) is delightful.  It (poetry) is delicious.  So we today might eat our poetry!

“Les Bons Chiens” (The Good Dogs) supports a broad interpretation.  The dogs are symbols for enslaved Persons, a dignity we afford dogs but not people!

In all the book continues themes of Liberty and modernity first offered in Les Fleurs du mal.

Review of “Snow Drones”
By Jill McDonough
AGNI 80, Boston University 2014

“Snow Drones” is a celebration of all things American: women, Christmas, winter and war.  It honors the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall fame, an anthem of “rockets’ red glare” cannot be far behind.   They are all so organized.

The connection between celebration and victory is complete.  A war protest replete with joyous (or raucous) excitement over the drones, snow drones, from the orchestra pit to our vision overhead.  It is the 1812 overture in our ears and ringing in our summer memories. 

All for us. Tous pour nous. Two for us.  Victory!

Jill McDonough has succeeded in imbedding in my subconscious a version of a subversion of war, a celebration in the National Anthem becoming a dissent in the actions of America today.  Oh how we do love our drones!  W. B. Mason and their flying reindeer trucks!  Military drones, civilian drones, snow drones!  Love them all!

Review of Queen of the Fall:

A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses
By Sonja Livingston
University of Nebraska Press 2015

Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses is a book pregnant with the idea of dwelling in possibility. Poetic prose writing, with a command of lyricism, the introduction greets us with an image of an ancient variety of apple, the Queen of the Fall.  Part childhood memory and part adult recollection, the book proceeds through the mysteries of female sexuality, childhood friends, nieces and mothers, and then the author’s own experience at the Center for Reproductive Endocrinology (fertility clinic). 

The author celebrates modern life; living in America, in post-modern America, today. Short chapters make reviewing easier.  For those familiar with her first book, Ghostbread, I recommend Queenof the Fall as an excellent sequel.

Review of In the Silence of the Migrated Birds
By Austin Smith
Parallel Press 2008

The title is a quote of the poet’s father, also a poet, and family farmer, who the author remembers on the farm.  These twenty-four poems form a chapbook of considerable depth of feeling.  Stonewalls, the rain, Orion and the Pleiades comprise a work of a young poet honing the knife of his craftsmanship.  Ships (boats), & fossil fuels round out a look at the modern world.

The poetic play on words is controlled, the images rich and lush.  From “The Night I Saw the Pleiades for the First Time” the poet writes of being in the family barn with the horse, frightened:

                         “Maybe my hair and her mane
                        Became one in my fear,
                        The way the earth and the sky
                        Become one through rain.”

Genius work, observant of nature and the natural world, the poet as observer is accomplished and we are well served.  Congratulations!

Review of “Factory Town”
By Austin Smith March 2015

“Factory Town” is a fact story, a machine for burying yellow; a headlong race for the finish line, the horse an appaloosa.

A yellowed train lies buried inside a wedding gown, an image of Lynda Hull and her “Black Mare.”  Kurt Cobain lies in bed, as a meteor shower shoots overhead. Black coats combine winter woolen jackets with the black coat of the horse.

Iodine is a medication for thyroid problems, a reddish-yellow color like the dark yellow of urine that the son passes at night.  Burying yellow is the story here, the deceased modern master deserves a last acknowledgment.  The master’s rhyme is (by design?) employed in stanzas five and six with the three-line sentence of "curfew, iodine, fume, bedtime, requests."  This is truly Baudelairean.

Quick of foot, the pace picks up at the poem’s conclusion.  The marriage of narrative and lyric is delicious.  The conclusion of the poem has me thinking about how to bring a poem to a satisfactory finale. I like the thought of urine.  I like its color.  I like its play on words, like "you're in" or "you are in" or “your in” as if I, the reader, was invited inside the head of the poet. 

The bed linen, multiplied as sheets, multiplied as leaves, and multiplied again as leaves of a tree, is in competition with the appaloosa for the description of "gray, dappled" and "broken thing."  The river is also in play as a running thing, so that three possibilities are available as the focus of what we "are in." 

Rhyme is employed at the beginning of the end as "night" & "flashlight" combine to start us off right.  What is "the water you're in," but a river image and a reminder of laundry. Rhyme returns at the end with "appaloosa" and "spooked", a fitting conclusion to the poem's suggestions of multiple images. 

The use of rhyme in “Factory Town” is right on time in memory of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus.”   The postmodern musical rhythms are to the interior of the lines, a syncopated jazz rhythm that is defined by its associations with modern poetry.   Seemingly effortless, free and easy, the poem is the result of hard work and determined action to support a musical art. 

In all the offerings of possibility combine in a narrative construction to lyrically describe a thought about modern poetry.  The rapid-fire changes of urine (you're invited), sheets (of poetry), dying trees (& autumn leaves) & "Thoreau bred horses" (black mare or appaloosa) join in a marriage of images of a fertile imagination.  Congratulations.

“Factory Town” tells us it is time to bury yellow, to bury the modern master, to bring on the post-post-modern world.  Good luck and best wishes to you all!

May 1, 2015