The Kimnama by Kim RobertsVrzhu Press, 45 pages ISBN: 978-1- 4303 -1407-3
More Than Anything by Hiram LarewVrzhu Press, 50 pages, ISBN: 978-1-4303-406-6
A Review by Ethan Fischer
Good poems love to travel. Conceive a new passage to India, immersion in its tints, sounds, and scents. Sight the Buddha’s very own neighborhood or move in rivers of traffic where time stops. Now for the price of lunch, The Kimnama (Vrzhu Press) by Kim Roberts transports us swiftly to India where:
When the sun goes down
the sky grows soft
and the air, like a liquid hand,
blows a slight breeze.
The day lifts
from the ground like smoke.
Such gentle lines give us a sense of dream places that wake us to marvels. Lapidary verses vary with brisk evocation of streets, shops, and voices. Roberts devotes her lean book to vast India not only from her vantage point as traveler but from the eyes, ears, and tongues of Indians; their timeless spirit shines despite imperial edicts or raids by sacred cows.
Roberts, who edits Beltway Poetry Quarterly, journeys with us far beyond any Beltway. She speaks the language. Generous grants give her the chance to unfold mysteries, magic. As we tour India in her company, we meet Father Monserat no less, who tells of an emperor “who sought refuge / in pleasures / such as fights between elephants. . . .” Many sites in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities seem no more exotic than these Kim Roberts conjures up in her Kimnama. Her pages are quiet postcards, yet Hindu X-rays, that frame themselves in the imagination.
The book’s cover arrests the eye with an ancient, angled courtyard and a green-clad woman, emerald set in stone. Women own earth and sky but are held back. Still women’s “prayers and wishes / must enter the mosques / without them, through these little holes.”
The suffix “nama” signifies an Indian memoir or life history. Here Kim Roberts gives us of that country and of herself. Passages echo and resonate as lines twine around streets or recline on roofs or ride camels or eat spicy meals or greet children or trace a god’s smile. People of India emerge:
A man with only a bathroom scale
can make a living weighing
clients for a fee.
Another man uses wooden strips
to clean your tongue.
Beggars will follow you for blocks.
Of course poets weigh and clean too. Note the shape of those tercets. Each provides a look at the quick, the living myth, of a place that changes us. This book deserves a place on the night stand to be read aloud to a spouse who knows India or would like to know.
Marylander Hiram Larew evolves a poetry of home. Yet here or there his volume takes wing with a felicity of words for fits of fancy. More than Anything (billed on the cover as “an audacious teenager”) issues too from the splendid new Vrzhu Press, a vehicle for books of verse that travel, revisit, move within. The universe eavesdrops on both Roberts and Larew. These poets echo in sweet realms of recollection.
Try these concluding lines from Larew’s second poem “Cigar” (which could be about his father or mine):
If I do anything now
It’s because he said so little
The surest sign of strength
Coming up the steps
And looking at me.
And cigars did light the way for boys, initiated stance and odor. The poet punches up the everyday and then some.
In “Thou” the poet concludes a short ode to a shirt this way:
It won’t open
Exactly like this again ever
For a poet’s work involves opening (not ironing) with color and warmth by a window. Larew provides clothing, furnishes rooms that open upon cozy wilderness. We can navigate. The poems encourage an audience of friends who laugh. He praises the friend who spies folly and “thinks of you / Later on long after / By frowning.”
In a Whitmanian way, weaknesses can be strengths. Consider these lines from “The Bridge” (which poem appears first in Larew’s book):
If you can help me at all
Then help me to become the loosest
Contrast this with Walt’s injunction to “unscrew the doors from their jambs”; loose doorknobs mean danger, could fall on a foot or fail to open. Yet the concluding stanza starts with lines that conjure Cummings: “Over it all change me into / The fullest why not . . .” This gives grammar a massage and charms us. We turn pages.
Other poems succeed in emulating Cummings (not easy), as in a love lyric by Larew called “Last”:
But if there’s an ever
Or gifts pure as logs over water
With the wonderful smoke of belonging
Then please promise in all and in every . . .
Another deep, light poem of love is “Traveling”--- Larew likes one word titles, like “Golly.” In prayer, he knows things: “And take me into the skins of apples . . .” Less successful seems “Cuff” wherein the poet courts confusion. But to raise the voice now and then, even to shout, seems worthwhile. Some wind must break out as well as break in; work by Larew has appeared in Not Just Air and Frantic Egg. “Because they all live with the comfort of worry / And every window around us likes gray”--- Such drab states Larew combats with all his art.
This poet’s deceptive simplicity and wit limn the ambiguous nature of loving person or place. “All I want is a smeary sense,” jokes Larew. But his limpid lines do not limp and soon they up and leap: “I’ve been you forever”--- This could be Rumi’s loving scalpel, but it’s Hiram Larew seeking the spiritual funny bone.
Ethan Fischer is the author of Beached in the Hourglass (The Bunny and Crocodile Press.) He edits the Antietam Review. Ethan teaches at Shepherd University, and produces mysteries for the comedy show "Rumsey Radio Hour," a time honored program.