Books for the Turn of the Year: December, 2006 – January, 2007

The Washington Writers’ Publishing House

Reviewed by Grace Cavalieri

Nora’s Army by Dennis Collins.
Washington Writers’ Publishing House.
© 2006. pgs. 298. ISBN: 0-931846-83-8

The Medusa’s Smile by Laura Brylawski-Miller. WWPH.
© 2006. Pgs.206
 ISBN: 0-931846-84-6

The Steam Sequence by Carly Sachs. WWPH.
© 2006. Pgs. 60.
 ISBN: 0-931846-81-1

Three new books from Washington Writers Publishing House invite attention as the year turns; two are novels, one a premiere book of poems.

The Steam Sequence by Carly Sachs
All the money in the world, all the poverty in the world, from whatever we came, the pain, the value of human life all reach the same destination in an extermination camp. Perhaps it is Auschwitz, perhaps another, perhaps this is about one woman or all women. This is the Holocaust of World War ll. All turns to steam, not air, for air is clear. The steam Carly Sachs shows us is the half world of breath and tears. Poet Sachs wanted to tell a story, a memorial, a confession. She brings us a meditation of horror and transformation, with the only delicacy there is reserved for the rudeness of human degradation — controlled language. We are interior to the woman as well as outside the woman. The gray dawn of this book is a rhetoric, which becomes a chant, until the mind becomes the poetic narrative. The complexity is not only thematic but also pictorial; for Sachs is able to place words contextually so that the word pattern tells the story on the page as it makes the meaning. Make no mistake about the consciousness on the page. Words are not scattered, they are assembled to visually enact the metamorphosis of a gasping for life, for self. This is a mature technique for a first book; yet Carl Sachs is hardly a novice to poetry — She teaches Creative Writing at GWU. She creates paradox through using space on the page. The language grows stronger as it becomes sparer. Everything on the page is indispensable. Nothing is dispensable. The world and the spirit become one. The poet reconciles contradictions between spirit and flesh with evil as the transaction. Self-liberation for all of us is in the writing, even for the victim.

Nora’s Army by Dennis Collins is an amazing book. I only use ” amazing” 3 times every ten years, now that the word has been co-opted by TV hosts and college kids. Dennis Collins presents a time in history, 1932, where very little fiction has focussed with precision on Washington DC. This is history and fiction, featuring members of the bonus army camping in Washington, waiting for recompense and restitution via US Congress. The technique Collins uses is suitable to his historical realism…chapters from the Point of view of each main character, with an arresting love triangle, and a huge panorama of events that is made for wide angle high definition screens. Through prevailing political ideas, there is a love for the world of the past, the specifics of history and precision of place. With a strong sense of the fundamentals, of a seething city, Collins maneuvers a large cast of characters through tentative love, racial complexities, interracial love, spiritual and psychological gains. Collins is endowed with intelligence, the necessary power at the helm, holding it all together. There is suspense throughout the writer’s supreme network: tramps, hobos, veterans, heroes, military icons. Eric Severeid is in the triumvirate of major characters. This thread of recognizable personality lends an exuberance to the story. We are directed by experience of young Nora, émigré from Ireland as she courageously tramps through this New World with heavy boots and persistence. Collins has a deep sense of real speech; and his chief strategy is down-to-earth rhetoric, and a true sense of the printed record of what actually happened in Washington DC during a time, actual and fictive. This is a unique existence to enter. I loved roaming the streets of DC in the first part of the 20th century at a meaningful time, told by a masterful teller of time.

The Medusa’s Smile by Laura Brylawski-Miller.
Thomas Sloan said the critic works toward the past, the revolutionary toward the future. The novelist does both. Laura Brylawski-Miller moves across time to create a world of glamour, romance, young love and the rites of passage — upon which an emotional reality of the book’s outer world depends. A young 17-year old woman vacations in a whirl of celebrities, movie personalities and wealth. This is a flashback of Marina who visits her birthplace, Venice, ricocheting from a failed marriage. The world of the Venice Lido, Rome, Padua are backdrops for emotional adventure on a glamorous Italian roller coaster. This world would not work for the reader if the emotional impulses did not ring true, for the associations are valid and the responses are identifiable. We may not know the language but we know the pain. The reader enjoys the emotional projections and  fluid lines. Marina is a tour de force of youth and yearning.

Brylawski-Miller has a lyric gift where romanticism becomes respectable (certainly by European standards) and Italian attitudes are recognizably traditional. The author is no imposter, having been raised in Milan and presently owner of a house on Lake Como. She’s a world traveler and uses her intimate life in that land as metrical counterpoint to the action/adventure story.  We live through times of transition for the protagonist, Marina; and part of her is left unruined by adolescent despair, by way of a duplicitous relationship. Sex, adultery, affairs, flirtation, seduction, life and death (in that order) are not the property of Italians alone, but somehow they seem to do it with more style than other cultures Add a contessa and a count, a movie star or two, and this is haute couture reading. What lifts it from the superficial is an ardor for this world, a dynamic sense of control and incisive, creative intelligence. My interest level never lessened. My father was born in Venice, and his father spent undergraduate years at University of Padua, so I knew the book’s lexicon. However the occurrences were compellingly new.

Grace Cavalieri is a poet and a playwright. She produces “The Poet and the Poem ” now celebrating its 30th year on-air, and now broadcast from the Library of Congress via NPR satellite. Her poetry commentaries are heard on