Essays & Reviews

  1. Review of Wake, by Laura Madeline Wiseman. Published in Valley Voices, Vol. 15, N. 1, Spring 2015.
  2. “Searching for Tom Moore,” Connecticut Review, Spring, 2005.
  3. Review of Persuasions of Fall, by Ann Lauinger, Utah State University, Published in New Delta Review, Louisiana State University,Vol. 22, No 1.Winter, 2005.
  4. Review of Bright Turquoise Umbrella, by Hermine Meinhard, Tupelo Press, Published in Rain Taxi Review, Summer, 2004.
  5. Review of Timepiece, by Jane Flanders, University of Pittsburg Press, 1988, and Heaven and Heck, by Denise Duhamel, Foundation Press, 1988. Published in Minnesota Review, Volume 33, Fall, 1989.

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Review of Wake, by Laura Madeline Wiseman. Published in Valley Voices, Vol. 15, N. 1, Spring 2015.

For many poets, death is a fellow traveler. In Goethe’s “Erlkonig,” death as an elf floats alongside a horse and two riders. In her latest collection, Wake, Laura Madeline Wiseman takes the reader on a wild gallop with the ladies of death in her exploration of the impermeable through a dark, splintered, and comedic labyrinth to the underworld and beyond.

In the initial poem, “Before Death,” Wiseman introduces the leitmotif of the cart, the vehicle of transport, but the protagonist immediately faces a decision about which cart to take, “the one like a cage or the one like a circus bumper car.” This may amount to a humorous allusion to Frost’s “A Road Not Taken.” Outside the confinement of worldly limits, this hell houses an empty museum with “the same man who is always at the desk.” A solitary crow lingers outside. The protagonist reports a ringing in her ears. A surrealist image communicates the inevitability of death: “for the street to fill with bodies I need to collect.”

In a spiraling downward spiral, the protagonist of “To Approach Death, I Take a Ride,” careens through a devastated landscape with “grass of toxic spray “and “traffic screams in six lanes of concrete and lights.” In “Riding Shotgun with Death,” the death lady reveals that she had been on the “death march, at Hiroshima, on 9/11,” “she’d been on the ninth ward as levees split.”

In “Befriending Death,” the lady of death attempts to become one with the protagonist by becoming her twin. In a stunning allegory, the main character notes, “The calling magpies gather in the golden trees. The sweet stink of skunk lifts in the setting sun’s breeze as I walk the potholes.” Re-jecting death’s offer to become a sister, she concludes, “I want a friend, death’s bright angel, you.”

Many of these poems, such as “La Petite Mort,” unfold with a fairy tale timelessness set in a modern world. The protagonist drives a car for the first time, and the death lady rides shotgun. They drive past “two-story jersey cows, beyond the Last Stop that sells booze and cigarettes to teens, farther still watching the funnel cakes, the duplexes, the cemetery vanish in the rearview mirror.” Unable to resist death’s sexual advances because her hands are glued to the wheel, “there is only the cool white tongue of the road purring beneath us and her jaw at my throat.” Death permeates the universe with the final statement, “I will be here when you let go.”

In one of the final poems, “Death’s Cameras,” the protagonist is trapped in a windowless set like the Metropolitan Opera’s recently per formed Bluebeard’s Castle, with rooms mirroring the mind’s interior. Instead of the doors of the castle, the main character faces cameras and mirrors. “The camera zooms in on my running nose. It’s late summer, the time for vertigo, sinus pain, and the thick fog of the brain on fever.”

A dream-like stream of consciousness expresses the helplessness of the protagonist, as well as her inchoate sadness. “The mirrors double us exponentially, until there are hundreds of us in the room with wallpaper runners repeating death’s carts.” A rapist enters and rapes all in a repetitive tale of the demonic husband and endangered wife, of dominance and subjugation. The protagonist notes that “behind him, are more of him.”


Laura Madeline Wiseman’s Wake is devoid of nurturing or soothing imagery: “carpet stained by beer, ash, and vomit, a collapsing fiberboard entertainment center, dilapidated couches, and black garbage sacks. They need to be taken out, but no one ever will.” This is Poe on steroids, with poems full of demon lovers and monsters, echoes of nursery rhymes with the troubling force of folklore, dances of death driven by desire and depravity.

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Searching for Tom Moore” By Margo Stever, Connecticut Review, Spring, 2006.

For the second time in three years, I found myself on the way to Bermuda, billed in a TV tourist ad as “the height of civilization.” Last time, before the event now known as 9/11, before the corporate accounting corruption scandals, and before President George W. Bush’s War in Iraq, I paid my first visit to this small extinct volcanic island stuck in the middle of the Gulf Stream. Nominally part of the British Commonwealth (its Governor is appointed by the Queen), Bermuda, nonetheless, struck me as decidedly more “American” than British. But it was then that I discovered the existence of the elusive Tom Moore, who had written his poems in the early part of the nineteenth century. Heralded by Bermudians as the unofficial poet laureate, Moore is their only celebrated poet.

Like others who accompany their spouse on business, I found that the most obvious tourist activity was exploring Hamilton, a shopping haven with all sorts of clothing and luxury stores. But that bored me. After learning of the existence of the poet when we booked a dinner reservation at the Tom Moore Tavern, I decided to buy a book of poetry by Moore. It would take three years to find one. Upon arrival at the main bookstore in town, the cashier abruptly told me that they had no books by or about the poet, and that if I wanted to see his work, I should go to the Hamilton Library; my quest was born.

Since we planned to dine that evening at the Tom Moore Tavern just outside of Hamilton, I was eager to go to the library right away. Naively assuming that I would find relevant volumes to read, I discovered to my chagrin that Mr. Moore’s work could be found only in the rare book room which would not be open until the next day.

When we arrived at the quaint, secluded restaurant, surrounded by dense vegetation, I was charmed by the romantic setting. In the midst of a sudden thunderstorm, but after the restoration of electric power, I asked the waiter if the restaurant so aptly named for the great poet also contained any of his poetry that I might read while waiting for our meal. Here, I hoped to eliminate the trek to the rare book room. With my Dolphin Quest swim planned for the next day, followed by the cocktail party and dinner hosted by my spouse’s firm, I could already sense my stress level rising as I wondered how I would fit in my visit to the rare book room.

Surely, I thought, the Tom Moore Tavern would contain the satisfaction of my desires! No sooner were my hopes raised than they were dashed. However strongly I believed that Tom Moore’s legacy would be fully celebrated at the restaurant that bore his name, I was disappointed. Not only were there no traces of Moore’s work, but the poet never actually lived on the premises. My curiosity about Tom Moore and his life, however, exponentially increased with each failure to find a trace of his poetry. My date with the rare book room had to be kept.

Not having specialized in library research and envisioning the rare book room as musty and smelling of decayed paper, I was comforted to find a small, spare space. Most compelling was the discovery of a trove of volumes devoted to Tom Moore. Delving into the works, I read his famous, “Ode to Nea,” for which he gained the indelible reputation as a skirt chaser since few people then or, apparently, now, can understand that a romantic relationship could be fictitious or even, merely, wishful. I read his self-deprecating preface in which he stated that his poetry should be shown in the “dim light of privacy which is as favorable to poetical as to female beauty, and serves as a veil for faults, while it enhances every charm it displays.”

These lines moved me to tears as I imagined how Tom Moore would feel should he have realized that the inhabitants of the island took his words so literally that they managed to celebrate his existence over the last two hundred years, but totally forgot about reading his poetry, not even in the dimmest of light.

Increasingly, the life of Tom Moore became emblematic of what was wrong with poetry then and what is wrong with poetry now. Before me blossomed a man who was considered in his lifetime to be so small in stature that anyone smaller would have been a dwarf. Perhaps, this characteristic alone propelled him to develop his considerable verbal skills. Tom Moore was an Irishman who later lived in England. Recognized as a gifted poet, he was app ointed Poet Laureate of Ireland in 1801. There was not much to this position. Moore decided that an appointment to Bermuda, at that time a prosperous British trading colony, would be more fulfilling. His job: To tabulate the shipwrecks and boats privateered or captured by the Bermudians. He was titled Registrar to the Vice-Admiralty Court in Bermuda.

Before I could fully immerse myself in Moore’s biography, I was forced to quit the library for my next all important business-related social event. At cocktails that night, a brilliant, young, good- looking attorney assured me with gusto that he was my worst enemy. For instance, he would no sooner read any poetry including my then newly published chapbook, Reading the Night Sky, than fly to the moon. He maintained that he had not read poetry since high school, didn’t understand it then, and didn’t plan to begin to do so now.

With the suddenness of an epiphany, I felt not simply a kinship, but a steadfast bond with Tom Moore that I hadn’t previously articulated to myself. Even the poetry of a celebrated poet who is mentioned in guide books and whose name adorns a reputable restaurant is nowhere to be found except in the only dead book room of the state library. Did I delude myself in thinking that anyone would ever make an effort to read any of my own meager work? Did not people then or now realize that poetry represents the “height of civilization”? How many consider that poetry brings us together from the far corners of the world and unites us in an understanding of our differences?

My first trip to Bermuda ended upon my return to New York. Tom Moore quickly faded from my memory and surely would have receded into the long forgotten history of my transient life had I not found myself quite by chance and circumstance plopped down on Bermuda, that unimaginably beautiful island, three years later. Once again, I had little to do and no place in particular to go.

While only three years had transpired since our last visit, those three years were in many respects like a millennium. Many had seen their fortunes evaporate. Some friends and hordes of others had lost their jobs. The sense of unending abundance that accompanied the irrational dot-com investment bubble had burst with George W. Bush’s arrival on the political scene. Our sense of invincibility was shattered by eleven terrorists and four hijacked airlines, our trust in corporate accounting destroyed by revelations of unthinkable executive greed, and our nation was again at war.

Back to the tranquil Bermuda I went on the same sort of business trip with my husband, fast forward. A confirmation of what must be a common observation about the island centers on the harmony between the human-built environment and nature. I don’t think that I have ever traveled to a place where the breathtaking natural environment harmonizes so eloquently with human culture.

That having been said, the social environment of Bermuda seemed to have dramatically changed. For instance, the local paper reported on a number of violent murders. In one incident, two Rastafarians had gone into a Catholic church and murdered the priest, nuns, and several parishioners. In another, a young adult was murdered gangland style after he apparently testified in a trial against the perpetrator. The crime rate appeared to have increased mysteriously on this island so close to paradise, which has a solid economy and only around forty thousand inhabitants. When I asked a knowledgeable local about how to account for the unfortunate and possibly unprecedented shift in social reality, she blamed the recent island-wide introduction of cable TV.

During this second visit, the wind blew at near gale force for several days. When presented with an opportunity to choose between many equally interesting recreational activities, I chose the island tour. After questioning my guide about whether he had read Tom Moore’s poetry, he assured me that he had not, but regaled me with his knowledge of Moore’s reputation for sexual prowess and recounted as fact the legend that Moore had engaged in several affairs with young Bermudian women. The guide also sparked my curiosity when he told me that we would visit a bust of Tom Moore at St. George’s, our main destination point.

With these new bits of information, my zeal from three years ago to find out more about Tom Moore and his poetry returned with a vengeance. Surely, I thought, in a town where his very bust was enshrined, I would find a book about this sadly neglected literary figure. No sooner did we hit the pavement for our hour of exploration than I headed for the only bookstore, which was located along a side street in a darkly-lit basement. I noticed the usual tour guide books, but no books on Tom Moore. When I asked the shopkeeper my now habitual question, she told me that they had run out of such a book and, oddly enough, directed me to look at the town pharmacy.

At the nearby pharmacy, I was directed up the stairs and then referred back to the bookstore. Confused and filled with despair and longing to find some trace of the soul of Tom Moore, I was about to abandon my search. I ducked into the Civil War museum (the Bermudians were gun runners for the Confederates) and settled down to a portion of a film on the history of the island. The curator was kind enough to let me stay for only a segment since my ride was set to depart. When I assiduously returned to find others in my group had dallied beyond our agreed upon meeting time, I returned to take a look at the museum store. It was there that my search was finally fulfilled. The shopkeeper quickly produced, An Irishman Came Through, by David F. Raine, a biography on Moore published in 2000 between my last visit and this one. Never had such a slim volume met such an eager reader.

On the tour-directed taxi ride home, I devoured Raine’s biography in which the author asserts that my tour guide and many other gossips over the years were all wrong about Moore’s extra-marital affairs. While he had two married female friends, Hester Tucker, and Margaret Trott, her cousin, he seems to have combined both of them into one aesthetic model for romantic love in his famous, “Ode to Nea.” Poetic license had sullied his reputation for centuries.

What is perhaps most instructive about Moore’s life was his decision to depart Bermuda after only around five months. The most likely explanation is that he was bored with his job which involved tracking the contents of ships, captured or wrecked. After he returned to England, he found someone to replace him at his job in Bermuda while he continued to receive some kind of agreed-upon remuneration. While in England, Tom Moore married. Shortly after the death of his second child, he was accused of embezzling over six thousand pounds from his post in Bermuda which Raine asserts was possibly even stolen by one or more of the locally prominent Tucker family who took advantage of a sloppy accounting system after Moore had departed.

In order to avoid debtor’s prison, Moore fled England for France and Italy to live in exile. On at least one occasion, he returned to London in disguise. While in exile, Moore wrote prodigiously to earn the funds to pay off the debt to the Vice Admiralty, and through his efforts and a little anonymous help from a wealthy relative of one of the probable thieves which Moore finally accepted, he was able to liquidate most of his debt by 1823. After his temporary exile, he returned to England and lived happily with his wife, Bessy, and their two surviving sons until his death in 1852. He was a friend of George Gordon, Lord Byron, and he was Byron’s biographer. Moore also wrote a biography of the playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Because I had within that year published my second collection of poetry, Frozen Spring, perhaps I identified with Tom Moore. As I eagerly attempted to garner some interest in my work, I quickly confirmed my previously held assessment that poetry isn’t even on the radar screen of much of the business community, or most other communities in America.

Deprived at least for significant periods of a satisfying life, Moore was forced to take a government job that could not have been in keeping with his poetic sensibilities, a job that he left to pursue his literary gifts, only to be victimized by wealthy opportunists and forced into exile. His most famous poem has been interpreted literally and no one remembers the actual text, which is almost impossible to find on the island. What people do say about it is based on an interpretation that amounts to little more than juicy gossip.

At the end of my second trip to Bermuda, I was privileged to take an evening “cocktail cruise” around Hamilton Harbor and up to the old ramparts where the dolphins swim with tourists, for a farewell dinner at the dockyards in the courtyard where the regiments once paraded before the Queen. Most of the people sitting at our assigned table were a generation younger than my husband and I. By dinner’s end, when the waiters passed around cigars, an attractive young woman, an apparent up-and-coming member of the firm, grabbed one and lit up.

While watching this, I remembered an event that had occurred some years past when another then-young woman of my acquaintance fired up a cigar in the “men’s grill” of a golf club on a Saturday afternoon to her husband’s chagrin and their later almost forced withdrawal from membership in the club. Some things change and some remain the same.

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Review Published in Rain Taxi Review, by Margo Stever of Bright Turquoise Umbrella, by Hermine Meinhard, Tupelo Press, Summer, 2004.

The strong poems in Bright Turquoise Umbrella, by Hermine Meinhard, explore the eternal child’s curiosity. Expounding on the Proustian themes of time and the significance of sensory reality, Meinhard drenches her umbrella with a cornucopia of impressions and colors.

In “Flying” (pg. 6), the introductory poem, the poet as child becomes the world around her as described in Keats’ concept of negative capability. Introducing the thematic infrastructure of surreal stream of consciousness, the poet makes use of the flying motif.

Once, when I was a fly, I flew in a ring of flies around the moon. Cold with wind,
I looked down and saw the little objects, the little houses. But when I saw the trees I
stopped. I was singing and it was in the treetops they found me.

The poem ends with the suffering that allows the poet to enter so fully into the world outside herself: “and in the /moment of it not being able to move, not to move, the sun made someone move. Someone/ moved out of the circle, and in the movement was sadness and everything I knew.”

Many of these poems document the subliminal nature of the child’s consciousness and the consequent subjectivity of time. Just as Proust describes the encounter with the madeleine in Le Recherche du Temps Perdu, Meinhardt sees the world in terms of food in the beginning of “Yellow Sun” (pg. 8). “Oh it’s a long day with shoes and chicken soup and running up the aisles of the Food/ Fair looking for Mother in the twilight on Second Avenue for the first time.”

In “Lost and Found” (pg. 10), the poet describes the child’s understanding of the adult world, a reality largely based on the cultural iconography of the family and society to which he/she is born.

At last I come to
the fan belt Daddy left behind.
It’s gray, it goes all around.

Meinhard uses the phenomenological details of the sun hitting wet towels to alleviate the negative imagery of the fan belt. The sun serves as a saving grace.

And the sun
comes in the window
and the towels are wet.

Many of the poems have a fairy tale, parable-like quality. In the title poem, “Bright Turquoise Umbrella” (pg. 32), through using alliteration and rhythmic interlude, the poet demonstrates her strong sense of how to construct a poem. The variability and surrealism of the child’s perception are augmented by the dense sense of the objects surrounding the speaker. By the very idiosyncrasy of the imagery, the reader is left with a strong vision of the significance of consensus, the shared sense of the familiar.

The sea was filled with red weed which wrapped
itself around my legs. When I emerged,
nothing was familiar: my knee, with the brown mark
like a chicken eye—my toes, little boxes, the pinky
straying like a wild hair.

Some of the poems in the third section, “Portrait of Myself,” such as “Noon,” “Heat,” and “And Does Not Return,” seem slight by comparison.

As the poet Elaine Equi writes on the book jacket, “These poems are delicate necklaces of gestures, imaginative spaces where bodies and fables get grafted onto and grow into each other.” Under the shelter of this poetic umbrella, the reader is allowed into weather where the mind doesn’t ordinarily dare to dwell. Bright Turquoise Umbrella is an intriguing first book that deserves close reading.

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