[Grace Cavalieri] Exemplars of Poetry, August 2018

Grace Cavalieri’s Monthly Poetry Review and Round-Up, August 2018

Grace CavalieriIn preparation for September’s list, we look back at the great collections reviewed by Grace Cavalieri for her monthly feature in Washington Independent Review of Books. All the collections Grace reviews this month are coming out of indie publishing houses, which, sure, make up the large majority of those who actually publish poetry, but also stand to lose the most, and take the greatest risks on the most singular works. Indie presses are those who publish new writers, those who mentor and evolve with their poets. While the big 5 might remain pedigreed entities with sky-riser financial structures and many brilliant people may choose to publish with them, they are not their books. In a word, Penguin Random House is not Zadie Smith, nor is Ms. Smith, in all her grace, Penguin Random House. Contrast this with Greywolf whose icon means more than money, means more than “this book will show its spine in every Barnes and Noble in every major metropolis all over the world.” Greywolf lives and dies by its writers, its risks, its students; it is its writers. This is why there is such a turnover in the indie world, as presses fade in and out of the market. In this way, Alan Squire Publishing is Grace Cavalieri, and what she cares about, we care about. Grace herself has published myraid books with indie presses and even founded her own (The Bunny and the Crocodile Press). And so when she recommends a book, we encourage you to look at the author, love the author, but then take a moment to consider the press.

Grace’s exemplars of August comprehends nine disparate and compelling collections coming to us from 8 unique indie presses.

Read all her August 2018 reviews here

Check out an archive of every monthly review (there are 111 in total!) she’s ever done for the WIRB here 

Here is her review of Esperanza Snyder’s Esperanza and Hope reproduced in its entirety:

Esperanza and Hope by Esperanza Snyder. Sheep Meadow Press. 120 pages (plus a bonus poem in dialogue with the book by Stanley Moss).

A great idea begins the book. Esperanza (Hope) Snyder writes a 12-page précis disobeying usual formats, to give us an honest conversation as context for the poems. This fine-grained exposition of a life strongly lived reads with energy lifting the page. Had this not served as intro, the poems might be appreciated as illuminations, but maybe more like fireflies that need a backdrop to be seen exactly.

What strikes me most is that this isn’t a dream journey as with many other poets. It’s a real journey from Columbia, Madrid, Italy, West Virginia — a strange progression you might think but you’ll see Snyder’s storytelling forms as barrages of truth. A poem is only as good as the poet, only as thoughtful, as meaningful. Snyder is an accomplished poet and consummate scholar, speaker of languages, on a constant quest for meaning. This makes up the tumult beneath each poem leveled by spices of earnest emotion.

Page after page, I kept going as if in a fairytale/drama — such an inveterate woman on her own, as child, as young person, as single mother and wife. How she delivers this true hearted passage is completely without self-pity. It’s a strong expressionistic commitment to tell each piece of the puzzle. The sensuality of place, taste, scene and color is a gift from the author and innate in her nature. I’m completely taken with this book, worthy of our best attentions. It’s bold and reaches deeply. Rilke says, “I was seeking who I was…” Snyder has found herself, handsomely, in this collection.


That year, I traveled five thousand years to Tuscany,

to live with a man from Fiesole who sold door handles

to Ferramenta stores. We went to Assisi, San Gimignano,

Milano, Ferrara, drove to Arezzo through cypress trees-lined

roads, saw Petrarch’s home, drank brunello, decanted

and slightly warmed. One weekend in February

we walked along paths on top of city walls

that Ercole d’Este commissioned in Ferrara.

From our hotel balcony I watched a woman bike

along the Po, her legs hidden by fog. I remember

her long hair, red bike handles, torso floating on clouds.

We hadn’t been together centuries, the lying had not

started yet, though I already felt like getting on an eagle

and flying home, except there was no “nest” for me,

not with my mother and her second husband, not

with my first husband and his anger. The lying

had not yet started, but part of me, like the woman

on the bike — felt invisible, polluted like the waters of the Po.

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