cambridge book review

Birds of Wisconsin

B.J. Best
New Rivers Press 2010

Reviewed by Amy Lou Jenkins

B.J. Best claims he is not an avid bird watcher, yet the author photo on the back cover of Birds of Wisconsin depicts the poet in a wooded setting wearing a canvas fedora that is perfectly suited to an aviary expedition. So, by virtue of a book of poems about birds and his adorned noggin, let’s call him a bird-watching devotee anyway.

Best carries no binoculars to identify nuanced coloration of the migrating warblers; he hunches over no microscope to inspect graveled gizzards. He observes birds through the lens of Owen Gromme’s (1896-1991) life. Gromme, painter and artist, outdoorsman, environmentalist, curator of birds and mammals at the Milwaukee Public Museum (including taxidermy duties) is the renowned illustrator and author of Birds of Wisconsin (1963), one of the first books detailing birdlife in the state. Anyone who studies Gromme is going to see a lot of birds.

Best’s poems sharpen and blur. Divided into three parts, Birds of Wisconsin pulls lines of resonance through the legacies of Gromme and from the lives and landscapes of the Midwest. We move through facts as detailed as a dissected gullet and as boundless as flight itself.

Part one, Instructions on Flying, offers an experiential draw to winged wilderness. The opening poem, titled “owen gromme as a child watched canada geese staging,” begins:

they were the reason i quit high school:
to muck about the bottom of the lake,
hushed in the rushes and waiting for wings […]

In the poem “junco,” four brief lines in length, the unsentimental solid grayness of Wisconsin’s winter proffers a comforting structure of harmony to implied landscapes and bird imagery: “broken sleep / swept across the slate-colored morning / the husk of a sunflower seed / in the snow.”

B.J. Best

Part two, The Prayers of Birds, gifts birds with personified introspection and the occasional well-timed wink or knife through the heart. “The Prayer of the Common Pigeon” begins with the line, “Forgive me, I have defiled yet another city statue,” and ends with, “I have forgotten what it is to be bird.”

Part three, Instructions on Landing, weaves through actual and supposed events and moments in Gromme’s life. “Bird Dissection,” from part one, is repeated and morphed in part three. We see through the lenses of Best and Gromme as they slice, inspect, and lean close: “You open a nuthatch call to a piff of spores, and are / now concerned they seed in your lungs: // Record your findings on ruled paper, black ink.”

The counterintuitivity in the final poem, “owen gromme lies down and accepts the finality of it all,” which riffs on Gromme’s claim that he has never painted a bird that satisfied him, explodes our passion for the ephemeral life. Best injects us with thoughts and glimpses that cannot be captured within rhetoric.

Readers don’t have to be steeped in understanding of Gromme, birds, or poetic theory to enjoy this themed collection. Best will woo you. These poems open heavy doors. Don your bird-watching hat or not, but do journey with Best through Birds of Wisconsin.

____________________

Amy Lou Jenkins BSN MFA is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Every Natural FactShe holds an MFA in Literature and Writing from Bennington College. Unless it’s so cold it hurts, she would rather be outside.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , , , | Leave a comment

Battle

Elli Hazit

Bestial
mangy months of pain
Not wrenching, pointed cuts
but underwhelming, relentless
A thick unctuous solution
A beckoning, hellish lure—
to sleep, to anywhere else

Then the insidious beast
flipped side over
spit out gnawing anxiety
Eyes open
Dread and awe
sprawled in every room
Came to stay

Where is the quiet place?
Dry hands grab and clutch
Don’t let the obsessions
past the crippled, blind sentry
bowed over, mouth agape

The lapping somnolence
The careening insanity
left no dates
Consumed time

Survival
that stubborn, scraggly urchin
laughable and weak
Written off
Prevailed
The David
swung all available weapons
Downed the devil

 | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

Like A Name

Elli Hazit

Literacy
What product of what hot night, room
here ponders the correct answer?
A rudimentary measure of knowledge attained
Knowing isn’t everything
They orbit, leaves in the wind
Eyes and hands leading toward questions
Sometimes the spark glows
with strange names that sound like murmurs
They gather,
cadences broken on space, air, compression
into someone making something, of someone
from nothing
Cells in a frenzy of procreation,
impulses drive them, reign when not in check
and they’re always checking
Reviewing
Then later
there will be recovery
All this to connect to
Productivity
to achieve leisure
Another chance
at creation?

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

A.M.

Elli Hazit

A distracting influence
with good manners
Gazing at a tree’s width,
its bare tendrils of branches
There’s no compensation for misbehavior
We are insatiable
Nights of release are
glossed over in the grooming
and accessories
of a prepared countenance
and competence
Worries come unbeaded and fall
rippling around on the floor
Clothes are heaped on chairs, the bed
and the door is closed discreetly
on the private mess
where strangers are unwelcome
There’s a reluctance to organize
the day’s thoughts
much less pathways to order
only to be undone by haste
and misgiving
She rises,
all this in mind

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

Ruby’s World

Elli Hazit

Staying inside the present helps
Ruby to starve herself
For now, Ruby said, I won’t eat
For now
Just for now
For now, I don’t want to cry, eat, laugh, shout, fight
But I can be elliptical
I can pretend and pretend and pretend at pretending
I can stay inside
Myself

Ruby thinks she’s fat
And Ruby is dying from want of a mother’s love
Maybe
Or Ruby is killing herself
so boys will like her skeleton
Ruby has good bones

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

Mall Rats and Their Grandmothers

Elli Hazit

The beggar held out his hand
And I looked the other way

* * *

She
cannot read or write
Settles back
under her cloak of
fundamentalisms

The Philosopher
said there is no coherent self
but there is beauty
and a perversion

His own Sister
made up lies rewrote him
I imagine her with long hair
bangs cut straight across her forehead

After six thousand years
the tools get lost
Art tinkered to death

And no one loves
the Long-legged Boys
who talk too loud
Bred from moments of booze-soaked joie de vivre
boredom, or just vague curiosity

They loom
Hunters without lances
in an overheated dugout
circus tent
of choices elaborately displayed

She
makes meals to set before the
Men
leaving herself safely in their hands and

She
wears no shoes
except to go out in the daytime
covered to her ankles

The image of the law

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

Analogies

Elli Hazit

You study scientific decay
Regeneration,
compounded and recited
As if the memory
will increase the knowledge,
move history forward,
achieve something as yet unattained
When aren’t we just
plugging holes,
whispering reassurances,
stopping crimes before they occur?

Really, to lay a foundation
takes poetry, perseverance,
Capital,
stakes in a beatific future
of solutions

Don’t shake her
her brain will never be the same
Give something gentle back
At least there’s that
My memory fails me
That’s something like the heartache
every life contains
The receptacle is noisy, unpredictable,
misbehaving, and contagious
Blends appetite with waste
until the herd moves forward
into a state of grand preoccupation

Water, necessity
No brand,
braided uncertainties,
callous lovers
Only these little hopes
of improvement

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

For the Parade

Elli Hazit

Contented?
Building,
The endless construction
manifests in
something temporary
For want of the durable, the unchanging

Tagged walls skim past
Messaging of letters, words, fragments
Seams drawn, delineated

Her carriage straight and intentional
A stride that leaves no doubt
of faith or confidence
In public, for the viewing
the critique
By herself—that’s another story

The letters shriek
Words form, descend
And this emotion snarls into life
Turning,
escapes from view
Proceeds, tosses candy, scrambles, rests
The sacred repetition suggests
No redo
Just a renaming
A day’s celebration

< | home |

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

Winter 2011

Elli Hazit

The ravens
scatter in the snow
fly back up to the bare branches overhead
Black on white
against an overcast sky
Winter sprawled out over the vast fields
Green gone
Light scarce
Warmth withheld
A shelter
A gathering place
for considered reflection
is sought out
The phrases are concentrated
like parcels
Carried to become less specific
Richer for the telling
Or forgotten, like a verse
The tune unwinds
Wind swirls sparkles of ice
into my eyes

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | Leave a comment

Education

Elli Hazit

Your answers bewilder me
I’ve forgotten the method
and I am far too old for relearning
these equations, properties
Rules to live by
Advice cascades over the modern day
There’s a way to be better at everything
Better at living
Better at dying
Forgetting the role of chance and
leaving days unnamed,
unburdened by definition
In the throes of real pain
the moment renders itself, by itself
An existence
that will flame out
Comfort exacts desire, leisure,
the luxury of the first world
Every corner holds secrets
that are irrelevant
Or hard fought knowledge
gathered in quiet desk days
Half-remembered facts, connections,
imagined situations
History repeats itself, it’s said
Man-made, why not?
Can this be a soul
that crawled out?
Warmed, lighted, fed, and launched
into the fray, the forest, the field
Distinct from the meal
first served, then made
No rewinding, only memory
complicated, cheap memory
to bolster the feel of experience

< | home | >

____________________

Elli Hazit was born in San Francisco in 1960. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Boston University. Hazit lived in Paris, France from 1983 to 1997. Her writing has been published in the International Herald Tribune, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Cambridge News. She has also produced radio programs for WORT-FM, Madison. One of her stories, “The Tangerines and the Dogs,” was broadcast internationally on the BBC World Service Programme.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | poetry | , , | 1 Comment