Tuesday, May 16, 2006


In addition to the following review, scroll down for a note on the publishing format of this project, offered by poet and publisher SANDY MCINTOSH. But first,


Desire Path, a collection of four chaps by Myrna Goodman, Maxine Silverman, Meredith Trede, and Jennifer Wallace
(Toadlily Press, Chappaqua, N.Y., 2005)

Friendship: The Desired Path

The directive to the young writer is always: find a group. Find a collection of others like you, introverted, preferring to spend the days and nights alone in a room, plumbing your soul. Find a group. Share what you write. Be gentle. Encourage one another. Young writers are told this regularly. The four authors in Desire Path did that and more. The fruit of their group extends beyond ripe berries from the bramble to the pantry with a freshly baked pie cooling on the shelf.

Desire Path appears to be a full book of poetry but contains within it four distinct chapbooks by four poets, three of whom have been meeting monthly as a writing group for ten years (the fourth joined the group in 2001). Each poet is allotted sixteen pages in the collection. The four chapbooks combined create Desire Path, with a foreword by Thomas Lux.

Myrna Goodman submits the first sixteen pages with fourteen poems and the title Some Assembly Required. Goodman’s poems are well crafted and capture particular moments with spare length. From a poem riffing on an advertising campaign of Apple computers to Rand McNally maps, these poems are rooted in the experiences of daily life. Goodman’s observations are quirky, as in the poem “My Two Cents,” where she notes, “When you’re 2 you’re never alone,/you always have a companion with personality—,” and inspired as in the poem, “Even If,” where she writes,

               The gods could
still arrive at my door, . . . .
      make my daughters lie down
with swans, leave my grandchild chained

She concludes, “Better not tempt the gods today. Better/sit here in the spring sun worrying a word.” This first chapbook of Myrna Goodman begins Desire Path on a strong note.

The second chapbook by Maxine Silverman, titled Red Delicious, has poems that are more expansive in their size and spatial arrangement on the page, but take their inspiration from daily life—primarily the domesticated natural world—and Jewish spirituality. For me, one of the most wonderful lines is from the poem, “Days of Awe,” where Silverman writes about hearing Yehuda Amichai read and “sparks/flew out from the book/touch us touch us/ and the souls of the letters/hovered.” Perhaps the best poem in this chapbook is “The Black Dog,” opening with this line: “A black dog comes into your life and reorders it.” The poem meditates with its long lines over time about a beloved dog.

The third chapbook by Meredith Trede is titled, Out of the Book. Trede devotes nine of her pages to a long poem in eleven parts of family history with the same title as the chapbook. Each poem in this series presents a well-crafted insight into a family narrative. While the narrative is full in the existing poem, the time frame that each poem in the series evokes indicates that there is still a fuller body of work for this poet to write on this topic, which is often one of the delights of chapbooks: early insight into the themes and issues that will consume and be realized in a poets later work.

The fourth chapbook by Jennifer Wallace is Minor Heaven. The placement of Wallace’s chapbook at the end was wise. Her poems speak to the earlier poems of Goodman and Silverman. The interconnectedness of the poems between those three poets in particular seem to provide insight to what this writing group may be like: four poets (four friends?) carefully reading and commenting on one another work and shaping each other’s future work. Wallace, in her most ambitious poem of the chapbook, “Requiem,” writes,

Perhaps we are here to make of earth a minor heaven

where birds will glide higher

in an air made more full

by the deads’ barely audible sigh.

The novelty of four bound chapbooks by four poets is delightful, and these four poets have executed it well. From their own selections of what to include in each chapbook to the ordering of the chapbooks as a whole, Desire Path is a strong book with four new women’s voices in poetry. The novelty, however, is its weakness as well. Each chapbook because somewhat muddled with the sequential presentation. Each poet, with her distinctive voice, blends together within the whole. This may be a disservice to the poets. Desire Path also may be a disservice to the form of the chapbook as well, debasing it into the form of any other trade paperback. Still, that criticism is too esoteric to be highly regarded. Think instead of Desire Path as the consequence of the best of what the contemporary literary world has to offer: good groups, good poets, good books.


Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. You can learn more about her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.


A Note on the Publication Format of Desire Path
is offered by Sandy McIntosh, the managing editor for Marsh Hawk Press (New York) which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. Marsh Hawk Press was conceived partly because its collective members identified a need for a collective such as theirs, given the constraints of the existing poetry publishing infrastructure. In this sense, Desire Path was also of interest to Mr. McIntosh, who writes:

Desire Path is a collection of four chapbooks, with an able introduction by Thomas Lux. Combining chapbooks with affinity into one volume is not only a good aesthetic idea, it's also a necessary one. After all, there is really no serious professional distribution for individual chapbooks. In practical commercial terms, chapbooks are a legacy from a remote time. In my earliest experience, during the '60s and '70s, chapbooks were sold at small book fairs--and, certainly, their authors sold them after poetry readings (the biggest selling events for most all poetry books, then and now). But at modern bookselling venues, such as AWP, almost all books on offer are products as professional as any issued by major book publishers. And they are almost always full-length. It seems to me that the survival of the chapbook as an artform will be accomplished by Internet-based magazines and by printed collections, such as this one.


At 6:20 PM, Blogger Julie R. Enszer said...

Thank you to Sandy McIntosh for the insight on the publication format of Desire Path. After writing this piece, I read the article by Elaine Sexton in the current issues of the Writer's Chronicle. It is not available online at this juncture, perhaps it will be when the article is archived.
Elaine Sexton has also started a website, www.chapbookfinder.com and has some interesting information about chapbooks and publishing.
I'm continuing to mull the ideas and issues raised by Sandy and looking forward to seeing how the chapbook evolves as a form in our digital world.


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