Imperfect Echoes: Writing Truth and Justice with Capital Letters, lie and oppression with Small
Author: Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: HowToDoItFrugally Publishing (August 25, 2015)
Genres: Poetry Anthology/Social Justice
Available at: Amazon
CAROLYN HOWARD-JOHNSON'S IMPERFECT ECHOES IS JUST PERFECT
Narcissus knows her reflection
well. She forgets to peer
under burkas, in our jails,
in the beds of the abused,
deeper, deeper into the pond...
—Howard-Johnson, Carolyn. Narcissus Revisited. Imperfect Echoes.
Reading Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Imperfect Echoes made me want to write poetry. This Los Angeles award-winning poet lays out the landscape of her contemplative thoughts, feelings and reactions with such honesty and deceptive simplicity that they have the effect of offering a peek into her private journals. Yes, it would be wonderful to succinctly express my impressions in a well-crafted poem; however, what puts this poetry on par with leaping tall buildings (and thus out of my novice's reach) is the fact that each poem herein manages the feat of conveying personal and universal relevance at once.
If you are someone who gets scared off by the prospect of political rhetoric masquerading as literature, be advised that this is not one of those books. Although the book's subtitle, may strike some as rather lofty, it is a quote from Czeslaw Milosz's poem, Incantation, in his anthology, The Captive Mind, which reflects Howard-Johnson's poetic themes. She has divided her prolific poems into a Prologue plus four sections:
1. Remembering What We Must
2. Nations: Tranquil Self-Destruction
3. Acceptance: Waiting for the Gift
4. Future Stones of Distrust
Howard-Johnson deftly blends the "Truth and Justice" observations with the "Small" moments of "lie(s)" and "oppression" as they intersperse through her poet's journey. The poems in Remembering What We Must address the stark realities of war and global misery, which Howard-Johnson treats with her practiced light touch that floats like the proverbial butterfly and stings like an outraged bee. In Belgium's War Fields, she compares the reasons for bygone wars to our present day confusion:
And now a war that takes from the mouths
and hearts of the stranded, the homeless.
How different from those who
marched with snares or flew flags
in a war when we knew
why we were there.
In the Nations: Tranquil Self-Destruction section, The Story of My Missed Connection in Minneola brings to life a brief rest stop during a road trip, which seems rather amusing at first as the wife relieves her bladder and the husband declines the coffee with Let's skip it. Coffee's / probably been stewing for days... but hits an unexpected bump of overt bigotry when the roadside store owner confides in them (in between the screeches of his pet parrot) that he left Los Angeles to get away from the ragheads. [Howard-Johnson explains in a note that the form is a "stoerem," invented by poet Harry Gilleland.]
In the Acceptance: Waiting for the Gift section, Relatives really gets down with the ways in which "Small" minds can make a family dinner feel like a stint in Purgatory:
Perhaps you won't invite me back
if I mention that infamous
uncle. You know, the one who killed
three of his wives
but is candid
about who he is,
how many he's killed,
the methods he used
and never gets invited to dinner.
In the Future Stones of Distrust section, Rosa Parks Memorialized opens with On the day our September losses / reached 2,000, a tribute / to Rosa...and asks If she were alive now.../ would her solo / be enough or do we need now a choir singing, / thousands screaming...? In keeping with the contemplative style of all her poems, Howard-Johnson answers her own question with a truth that gave me chills:
Come to think of it,
that was required then, too. Elegant.
Gentle. Firm. But not
enough without the rest of us.
Imperfect Echoes allows readers to witness a poet's lifetime revisited in memory and with fresh wisdom. If the topics of oppression, prejudice and war seem to some "overdone," Howard-Johnson responds in her Prologue poem, Apologies from a Magpie:
Magpies are born to sing others' songs—
stained notes, imperfect echoes—
until the world begins to know
them by heart.
Imperfect Echoes has received the following awards:
Dany Poynter's Global Ebook Awards: Bronze
USA Book News Award: Finalist
Book Excellence Award: Finalist
About the Author
Accepted for inclusion in Poets & Writers prestigious list of published poets, multi award-winning novelist and poet Carolyn Howard-Johnson is widely published in journals and anthologies. She is the recipient of the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community's Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly's list "Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen" and was given her community's Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. One of her poems won the Franklin Christoph poetry prize. She was an instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renown Writers' Program for nearly a decade. Learn more about all her books at http://www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
COMMENT: From Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Just exquisite. Because you a writer, you know how special it is to have someone else appreciate your work! Thank you so much. You write such great, professional reviews. No wonder Midwest Book Reviews uses your work, too!