In the Hour of War: Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry

Despite my best intentions, I am not going to get a book of poems read today. A few days, ago, however, I came across this review, at, of a new anthology of contemporary Ukrainian poetry, edited by Carolyn Forché and Ilya Kaminsky. The review is well worth reading, and the book? One more I am going to have to buy.

Luci Shaw, Eye of the Beholder

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: POEMS, Luci Shaw. Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2018, 96 pages, $19 paper,

When I decided to co-teach the Advent & Poetry class last December, someone told me about Luci Shaw, born 1928 and still writing, living somewhat local to me, in Bellingham, Washington. I read a few of her poems on-line, stumbled onto Paraclete (also the publisher of Christine Valters Paintner), liked the cover of Eye of the Beholder, and purchased it.

Some of the poems are overtly religious, some simple prayers of gratitude, quite a few are about nature or family, and some are about writing, a discipline Shaw has practiced for a very long time: “To be a poet you must write / more than you know, hoping it to be true, // that the words will have a life beyond the moment, / taking the shape of their meaning, like rain // filling a bowl” (“Take These Words”).

Sunday morning seems the right day to post one of her poems, and why not one about spring?


Noon, early spring. I tingle with
the promise of warming air, thrusting my hands
up to the wrists in the dark soil of a flowerbed,
willing a root to spring from each of my fingers,
joining me to the humid rot whose smell rises from
underground, where moles with their flat paddle feet
swim the soil, and worms dance, rejoicing.

I await the electric blue of hyacinths, and long for
other perennials to lift radiant flags like
oblations. Even under the last rags of snow
tulip bulbs dream their own vegetable praise—
a field burnished with chalices of pink and red

—Luci Shaw

To learn more about Luci Shaw, visit her website, or Paraclete Press.


Sally Albiso, Moonless Grief

MOONLESS GRIEF, Sally Albiso. MoonPath Press, PO Box 445, Tillamook, OR 97141, 2018, 74 pages $15 paper,

It was my pleasure to read Sally Albiso’s Moonless Grief this morning. A lovely book that—perhaps because of Albiso’s untimely death in 2019—feels like a collection of elegies, or love songs for life.

The poems flutter with wings, cormorants, eagles, sometimes wings of angels. Wings are observed, and metaphorical. “Kingfishers kite with a nervous energy like yours,” a thrush slams into a window, and we get these evocative lines: “I cradle the bird the way some people pray / but take only silence into my hands” (“Compass”).

And this:

A hibernating bird,
its flock called an addiction
as if flight becomes sleep,
becomes craving
only a season of torpor relieves,
and loss just a word
like winter.

(from “Storm”)

Here’s a short poem, that will maybe demonstrate why I’m swooning:


A conical shape concealed
among loops of rope
hanging from a cedar bough.
A shelter of lichen and moss
lined with feathers so soft
I want to peck my way through a shell
and curl inside such refuge.
This way station between hatching
and flight more forgiving
than immediate delivery,
a secondary womb that secludes
until air gives life. How it would feel
to wake to that mercy and suspend
among cushioned walls
even after the last umbilical scab
falls away. To linger there
until able to take in light
without squinting,
breathe without crying first.

—Sally Albiso

You can read Albiso’s poem “Wildfire” at Verse Daily, and “When You Visit,” at MoonPath Press, plus Albiso’s brief biography and legacy.

Photo by Miriam Fischer


Colleen McElroy, Blood Memory

BLOOD MEMORY, Colleen J. McElroy. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15260, 2016, 112 pages, $15.95 paper,

I met Professor Colleen J. McElroy when I was a newly minted MFA student at the University of Washington in 1985. If I had to characterize her in one word, it would be “storyteller.” Yes, she taught us (a lot) about poetry and the making of poems, but part of the glamor of her classes, for me, was when she would lean back in her chair, half-close her eyes, and begin telling a story. She put all of us in a trance.

The stories were about her travels—which were many; about poets she’d met and read with all over the world; about her St. Louis childhood; about her family, particularly the women who taught her how to tell stories. Reading Blood Memory transports me back to her classrooms, and to her office where, as my faculty advisor, she met with me (and regaled me) weekly. I read these poems, and I hear her voice, its cadence, its rich timbre, her laughter. And, sometimes, I can see her, fixing me with a look that she must have learned at the feet of the indomitable women who peopled her childhood.

from “Paint Me Visible”:

in a family of beautiful intelligent and profoundly
crazy women     one danced in the dark
to soothe her nerves      another wove shawls
from her husband’s hair and discarded both
when the work was done      another read palms
tea leaves   cards   anything that left an imprint
on her inner eye    neighbors said she saw
things nobody else could describe

From hopscotch rhymes to blues, through birth, abortion, estrangement, exile, and return no one can describe this world the way McElroy can. Here is the book’s opening poem:

The Family Album

call it blood memory for I am the only
one left to identify by name the ancestors

I am the only one left of the women
who sat around grandmother’s oak table
and wove the stories of who and where
who knows the half of it and when

I am the answer to the questions
my mother’s sisters swallowed:
What will you do with that child?

I know now that I am here to give
voice to tongues never silent
and doors closing too quickly

I am of the age where death comes
easily and visits often in those little
obit notes of passing reminding us

how we’ve neglected dear ones
now lived again through fading pictures
stuck to crumbling pages

I buy tickets to places I may never visit
spend hours trying to remember
if the image stuck in my head has origins

in a dream or some foggy night
slipping past almost unnoticed

I am the last female of a family
of women who wove the fabric
of stories into doilies and slip covers

I am the child with sparrow legs
sock heels stuck halfway in her shoes
drinking the last of the metaphors left
in teacups on the table unattended

—Colleen J. McElroy

From the back cover, these words of description and praise:

“She is the last woman of her line. Her new poems end and begin with A. Phillip Randolph and Pullman Porters, her enjambments are Ma Rainey and Lawdy Miz Cloudy, her leading men are the last Black men on the planet named Isom, her major planets are porches and backroads. She is still the master storyteller to the 60 million of the Passage. When I didn’t know how to be a poet, I first read Colleen McElroy to slowly walk the path to how.” —Nikki Finney

Exactly so.

To read more about Colleen J. McElroy, find her at The Poetry Foundation,, and I recommend this interview with Bill Kenower of author Here she talks about where she learned to tell stories. And (love this) she talks about poetry as not just any relationship, “but an affair.” Maybe that helps explain the clotted love that breaks to the surface in poem after poem in this book.

I first read Blood Memory when it was released in 2016. It was a delight to read it this morning and enter the trance again.