Wednesday, March 27, 2013


      I normally don't do rah-rah posts for my books but I received such a wonderful review for The ABCs of Memory that I want to share it with readers.  Scott Whitaker, a poet himself, nailed what I was trying to do in the book.  I am very pleased with this review. 

       Lenny Lianne’s newest volume of poetry, The ABCs of Memory, from ScriptWorks Press, mashes two books of poetry, with opposing ideals, together, a tradition that harkens back to Blake: An Alphabet from An Ample Nation and An Alphabet of Modest Means.  Memory strikes a contemporary chord, cherishing the past while tightening the belt on the future, a theme most Americans could identify with in these recent years of economic recovery.
      Lianne’s ABCs are broad in depth and range, and touch on cultural milestones such as Elvis, Nancy Drew, Wonder Bread, 9 – 11, and Ty Cobb, as well as personal memories of her family.  These poems are celebrations, elegies, and like the titles of the books, or parts, suggest, hint at a plethora of riches, or a plethora of troubles, big and small.
Lianne speaks with authority about young men drafted into war in “Basic Training” and young boys peeking at their Centerfold cousin in “Finding the Playmate of the Month.  Lianne doesn’t just recount these memories, invented or real, but often questions them, mourns for them without evoking false pride or anger.
The ABCs of Memory could easily fall into sentimentality: we are talking about memories.  We are talking about cultural heroes.  Lost wonders of the good old days, but Lianne does not allow the poems to do so.  She steers them towards a unified bridge, another great American tradition — unifying the country through poetic voice, where all emotional landscapes butt up against each other, like so many state lines running parallel and perpendicular.  One of the finer poems, “Velocity and Other Variables”, begins as a memory of boys throwing olives but ends as a meditation on war, as if all the world’s violence is seeded in the youthful volley of spitballs, baseballs, and olives.
This volume manages to be both grand and humble; her form is crafted, though not too formal for non-academics, but her language is direct and frank, allowing images and emotions to breath, puffing up, or shrinking up as they will.  Mostly the perspectives are from the white middle class, a shrinking population as America trudges forth in the 21st century.  That’s not a criticism, mind you, but rather a reminder that what made the country great in the 20th century was the ordinary people in the middle who built, loved, sang, drank, died, and fought for something we used to call the American Dream.  Something that perhaps belongs in America’s euro-white-centric past.  And in that sense Lianne’s book is an elegy for the American Dream, as it once was, for that ideal is changing with globalization and a leaner economy.  The ABCs of Memory is a reminder that the voice of America has gotten broader and deeper, and more complex.
— Scott Whitaker
    for The Broadkill Review

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Irish Women Poets I: Moya Cannon and Leontia Flynn

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here.  Let’s celebrate with the poetry from Irish women poets.

by Moya Cannon

Where an ash bush grows in the lake
a ring of stones has broken cover
in this summer’s drought.
Not high enough to be an island,
it holds a disc of stiller water
in the riffled lake.

Trees have reclaimed the railway line behind us;
behind that, the road goes east —
as two lines parallel in space and time run away with us
this discovered circle draws us in.
In drowned towns
bells toll only for sailors and for the credulous
but this necklace of wet stones,
remnant of a wattle Atlantis,
catches us all by the throat.

We don’t know what beads or blades
are held in the bog lake’s wet amber
but much of us longs to live in water
and we recognise this surfacing
of old homes of love and hurt.

A troubled bit of us is kin
to people who drew a circle in water,
loaded boats with stone,
and raised a dry island and a fort
with a whole lake for a moat.

[The title is Irish and refers to a prehistoric dwelling, an artificially created island in a lake.  These were used for defensive residence during the Iron Age.]

MOYA CANNON, born in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal, now lives in Galway.  She studied history and politics at University College, Dublin and international relations at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  

Her first collection, Oar, won the inaugural Brendan Behan Award and, in 2011, she was the recipient of the Laurence O Shaughnessy Award (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota).  Her other books include The Parchment Boat (1998); Carrying the Songs: New and Selected Poems (2008) and Hands (2011).

A number of her poems have been set to music and she’s worked with traditional Irish musicians, amongst them Kathleen Loughnane and Maighread and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, both in the context of performance and of translating Gaelic songs.  Moya Cannon has edited Poetry Ireland Review and, in 2004, was elected to Aosdana, the Irish affiliation of creative artists.  In 2011 she was the holder of the Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University, PA.

Viola D’Amore
by Moya Cannon

Sometimes, love does die, 
but sometimes, a stream on porous rock,
it slips down into the inner dark of a hill,
joins with other hidden streams
to travel blind as the white fish that live in it.
It forsakes one underground streambed
for the cave that runs under it.
Unseen, it informs the hill
and, like the hidden streams of the viola d’amore,
makes the hill reverberate,
so that people who wander there
wonder why they find wells.

Click here for an interview with Moya Cannon.

With a different poetic voice from Moya Cannon, our second poet, Leontia Flynn, is also a poet from Northern Ireland.  She’s been “celebrated as an original poet — nervy, refreshing, deceptively simple.”  Here are two poems.

by Leontia Flynn

When you had packed up all your books and clothes
and taken the last crap poster down, and walked
like a mournful ghost through the blank, familiar rooms,
a thought struck — clang — loud as a two-pence piece
in a metal bucket: where was the vibrator?

Oh cruel Gods!  Oh vulgar implement
that was stowed discreetly on some shelf or cupboard
but has almost certainly not been boxed away …
Oh dirty gift of doubtful provenance.
Oh gift — surprise! — for the next week’s settling tenants.

Oh nice surprise for next week’s settling tenants,
four Polish men paid peanuts by the hour
—for in Belfast too The Market holds its sway —
to find in some nook or niche-hole the vibrator
still beats, in the dark, its battery-powered heart.
© 2011, Leontia Flynn

Leontia Flynn won an Eric Gregory Award in 2001.  Her first book of poems These Days (2004) won the Forward Poetry Prize for best First Collection.  It also was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize.  Drives, her second poetry collection, was published in 2008.  That same year she won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and a major Individual Artists Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.  Drives also was shortlisted for the 2009 Poetry Now Award.  Her third collection, Profit and Loss,published in 2011, was the Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn as well as being shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.

Leontia Flynn has written a Ph.D. thesis on the Irish woman poet Medbh McGuckian.  She’s been Research Fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen’s University Belfast since 2005 and currently edits the journal The Yellow Nib with Frank Ormsby. 

by Leontia Flynn

Rick (to Ilse): Who are you really and what were you before?  What did you do, and what did you think?

A plane is taking off in a bank of fog.
It leaves the grainy sky, the mapped Moroccan sand.
It is four months since I’ve seen you.  In my hand
the video’s controls point in the air.
“Who were we really and what were we before?”
These things are turning over in my mind

as the plane starts banking down.  It comes to land
on a grainy fog bank on a concrete plain.
Casablanca backwards; in this version
Rick Blaine sticks his neck out — really — for no one.
As time does not go by.  As history gives way to love —
all the rain of Morocco is raining back to the source!
the rain-soaked note resolving into words.
One tear streams back up Ingrid Bergman’s face.
© 2006, Leontia Flynn

Here are two links to hear (sound only) Leontia Flynn read two more poems:

Click to hear Flynn read Dorothy Parker.

Click to hear Flynn read Drive.