Category Archives: Women Writers

My Review of The Motel of the Stars

My review of The Motel of the Stars is out: Project MUSE – Appalachian Heritage – The Motel of the Stars (review)

2009 Review of Book Awards

2009 in review with book awards

The Darkened Temple by Mari L’Esperance

The Darkened Temple

By Mari L’Esperance

University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London

Published in 2008

ISBN 978-0-8032-1847-5


The poet’s page on Poets & Writers:

Richly textured and admirably diverse in its structures, Mari L’Esperance’s collection of poems, The Darkened Temple, stuns as it edifies a craving for depth in modern poetry.

Many of the poems center on the poet’s experience of abandonment by and desire to hold on to her mother, who was born in Japan, and who disappeared when the poet was a child.

From “Forgetting”:

The garden that you loved has folded into itself,

the rotting blooms and stems so much litter in the dirt.

The empty bird feeder glints and sways in the sun,

freed of its purpose.

What is left of you, Mother, threatens to break apart

at the edges, a thin outline already losing its shape.

Other poems branch out from this experience to explore related ideas and incidents.

From “In the Valley of the Kings,” which begins with a note about a Canadian woman who fell into a tomb while hiking in Egypt. The poet imagines the woman’s dying thoughts:

Kiss the children for me. Tell them

I have found the door to the next world.

Tell them I am entering history.

It seems endemic for this poet to question and excavate memories gathered long ago. She is equally thorough in her examination of emotions that set apart the abandoned child: frustration, fear, regret, distrust, resignation, intense longing for connection. That L’Esperance relies so much on personal experience for her content without making us feel excluded or drawn into a too-close intimacy, is a tribute to her skill as a poet.

From “The Dollmaker,” one of L’Esperance’s most exquisite poems:

Long before I knew what would become of you,

I sat at the kitchen table, your small daughter,

while you fashioned their brilliant robes

Out of colored rice paper: persimmon,

indigo, mustard, silver and gold leaf . . .

. . . Black crepe became hair

coiled in the style of the old Edo, adorned

with a  splash of crimson. Here my mind’s eye

falters, struggles to complete the image––

and then I remember: the dolls were faceless

. . . .

Still other poems conjure the emotional landscape of loss and abandonment: “After Reading of the Expatriate Writer’s Death by Shipwreck, Margaret Fuller, 1850”; the folkloric “The Bush Warbler Laments to the Woodcutter”; “Longing”; and perhaps my favorite of the entire collection, “As Told By Three Rivers,” an extraordinary work about settling into place.

Breadth of skill surprises here in structural diversity. L’Esperance is a master of the lyrical couplet, but shows equal potency in the prose poem, the pantoum, and a variety of free verse. Her imagery distills and tantalizes: “hairline ridges that form on the skin of sour milk” (“Stroke”); cooking pots “filled with snails and rainwater” (“Another History); bombs like “hothouse blooms crackling in a seething sky” (“Kamakura”). It would be hard to imagine tighter line breaks.

Small wonder that this collection was selected by Hilda Raz for the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. L’Esperance displays power and authority in her lines, the softest eye imaginable, and a very sharp knife in her grasp of imagery.

Too self-referential? Some may think so. I found the controlled intensity of these verses moved the sense into reach of anyone seeking poetry that sustains both thought and feeling. I strongly recommend this collection for practicing poets, the general public, as a teaching text, and a library acquisition.

What gives me the gall?

I’m updating and renaming my blog to note what I’m doing now: writing book reviews, promoting work I think deserves attention.

What you will find here is my unvarnished opinion about women in the literary world: how we’re doing, overall; what’s new to read; major prizes won by women; and other topics that evolve from what I’m reading and observing. Send me books to review and I’ll give you my best assessment.

What gives me the chutzpah and why should you care? Well, the answer to the first question is that I’ve been a feminist bookstore owner, a small press editor and owner, a Women’s Studies and writing teacher, a long-time feminist activist, and founder and current President of Jane’s Stories Press Foundation, which supports women’s writing.

The answer to the second is that, if you want to read books that illuminate women’s lives in a way not usually encountered in mainstream books and movies, or popular culture in genera, then please join me as a I pursue our common goal. I am convinced that life will not change in a positive way for women across the globe, until our cultural consciousness reflects more completely the truths of women’s lives in all our complexity and diversity. What can change the world more deftly than words?

I hope you will agree and return often to let me know how I’m doing. Please comment: I want to have a conversation with you.

If you want me to review your work, write to

As soon as possible, I will link this new blog site to my older sites. You heard it here first: Integration is the word for the next decade.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon
Jane’s Stories Press Foundation
Author of Sa-co-ni-ge/Blue Smoke

Translating the Body, by Jillian Weise

Translating the Body

by Jillian Weise

All Nations Press 2006

ISBN 0-9725110-6-7

Cover art by Ginna Raymer

All Nations Press

PO Box 601

White Marsh, VA 23183

Jillian Weise has conquered the personal challenge. Now she is out to make the rest of us see and feel what she has learned.

She gets our attention with provocative titles and subject matter, like “The Amputees Guide to Sex.” Then she forces us deeper into our own experience. In the poem of that name, once past the curiosity, her lines could hold true for anyone having sex for the first time with a new partner. Weise gets at the uncertainty and ambiguity, crossing boundaries by holding disability up as a metaphor for feelings we all have when trying to relate intimately to others—thus “translating” the body. This poem in sections moves inexorably, surely from particular to universal. The removal of a prosthesis can be a covering metaphor for getting past falsities, manners, illusions.

* * * *

Wait for shadows to stand still, then quick, under the covers . . .

. . .  track their hands like game pieces on a board . . . Your goal is to achieve a false harmony with their body.

. . .Think for two people. Know where your limbs are at all times . . . .

Weiss has a profound connection to language.  In another poem, she probes like a surgeon feeling for tendons:

like the beautiful word: abscission

to cut off, in botany, to shed leaves

I think of the wives /of the twenty thousand masons/who raised the Taj Mahal. And how/when it was finished, the emperor/

Ordered a mass amputation of thumbs…

Did they ask, Can you feel me here and here? How about now?

* * * *

We are all disabled by falsehoods, pretensions, fear of connection, and more. Weise knows this and shows us how and why on every page. This is everything we want poetry to be: brave, uncluttered, deep as the pools of human longing. Weiss has a triumph here, a book both readers and writers can appreciate and return to for inspiration.

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