poems by Carole Stone
Carole Stone’s new collection of poems, AMERICAN RHAPSODY (CavanKerry Press; March 2012; $16.00), is a rhythmic cycle that explores themes of our imperfect national history, collective and individual identities, and sometimes amnesiac sense of nostalgia. The poems, some of which first appeared in such prestigious journals as Southern Poetry Review, Chelsea, and New Jersey Journal of Poet, are at once personal and communal, drawing on the poet’s own family heritage, but linked to the broader world through vibrant references to music, popular culture and shared memories.
Many of the poems hearken back to the 1920s—the Jazz Age with “tasty booze/flowing from kegs, basement jugs./”In bathtubs, in stills—“ (“Invocation/Intoxication”). We come to learn that the poet’s father was a rum-runner who made a sizeable living bootlegging, but died when the poet was a young girl, leaving her with hazy, somewhat conflicted recollections. “My father is/a roller coaster, a grey fedora,/cut glass decanters with silver tags/engraved: Scotch Gin Rye. (”Homecoming”). Her mother also died young, leaving so much clouded, like the identities of strangers in old photographs. Recalling an upbringing overseen by a colorful collection of relatives, all vividly portrayed with the poet’s gift for concision, Stone paints a portrait of childhood in a less complicated age.
The poet’s ken extends well beyond the personal, though, as she recreates the world that shaped her—New Jersey in the 1930s and 40s: Days spent in darkened movie houses watching gangster movies, learning in a classroom under the watchful gaze of FDR’s portrait, summers at the Jersey shore or eating Sunday dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. She imagines, too, the landscape before it was settled, paved over, choked by bad air. Hers is an American experience that speaks loudly of the ordinary things we cherish, sometimes disregard, and in the end yearn to regain.
Despite its wide-angled lens, though, at its heart this collection focuses most acutely on a daughter’s need to clarify a relationship that remains shrouded in the haze of the past and perhaps unanswerable questions:
Here I am again, Father, searching
Sloppy Joe’s souvenir photo for the man you
were. Cigar between two fingers,
face forever handsome and tan,
the only likeness you left me. Again I wonder,
as you leaned against the bar,
beer bottle half-full, one foot on a bar-
stool rung, did you miss me?
(from “A Daughter Returns to Her Habana Fantasy”)
“AMERICAN RHASODY is a charming, witty, musical portrayal of American life in the 1920s and ’30s and of its larger impact on the nation today,” says Grace Schulman. “Stone evokes the sublime of Le Jazz Hot and the seediness of rum-runners, marathon dancers and racketeers. Through it all she muses on the hope and destiny of the American dream, elegizing believers who ‘live/as language/in my inky heart.’”
About Carole Stone
Carole Stone is the author of two books of poetry and seven chapbooks as well as many critical essays on writers, among them George Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sylvia Plath. A recipient of fellowships from The NJ State Council on the Arts and residencies at Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland and Chateau de Lavigny inSwitzerland, she is Professor of English Emerita, Montclair State University. She divides her time between New Jersey and East Hampton, N.Y.
AMERICAN RHAPSODY by Carole Stone
Publication Date: March 2012
Price: $16.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-28-0
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 1-800-421-1561 or 603-448-1533, Ext. 255