Talking with Stanley Kunitz : Book Review

“TALKING WITH STANLEY KUNITZ,”

by JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON

66 pages

Torderwarz Publishing Company

REVIEWER: DOMINICK ARBOLAY

JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON’S 7th book, Talking With Stanley Kunitz, starts a theme of the juxtaposition of everyday life with the extraordinary. An African American girl meeting actor Orson Wells on a London street in “Teenager in London’s West End” and poet, Stanley Kunitz in New York. A Brazilian hack in New York’s encounter with a movie star in “Driving Robert DeNiro” (the irony of Taxi Driver, which made DeNiro a major star, and the Brazilian cab driver, coincidentally and subtley harks back to DeNiro’s cab driver character in the movie which Torrence-Thompson acted in). Poems such as the skillful sestina form “Falling in Love With Little Neck Bay” explode with color and images. “It is a honeymoon for my eyes” indeed.

Several issues are brewing including civil rights, urban and racial issues, slavery and its legacies and music. There are the memorable poetic jaunts through New England, such as a biker unexpectedly holding a door for an elderly African American lady as his bemused pack looks on in “Bikers Enroute.”

BIKERS ENROUTE

The old man and woman

poked along the New England Thruway

in their five-year old Mercury

stopping now and then to photograph

a feast of colors gripping the trees

and inhabiting distant mountains

First stop in Guilford, Vermont

bore a bevy of tough-looking, ruddy-skinned bikers

dressed sky to ground in black leather

like they stepped out of Marlon Brando’s

“The Wild One,” keen like a Sunday Prance in the Park

They charged through swinging doors

wearing black skull caps. One tall,

muscular biker with probing  blue eyes

and a skull tattoo hung on his arm

held the door open for the plump old woman

His smirk belied it was a happenstance

— an unintentional gesture —

as he imitated her walk to his buddies

Their throaty laughs swirled through the air

“Front of the Bus With Rosa Parks” is a powerful demand for equality and justice, which is another occurring theme. The South African theme poems and “Knowing” – the stand-out piece — set in Birmingham, Alabama, deal with remembering injustices that tie in with Rosa Parks.  Sometimes justice comes in subtler tones such as an ailing BB King still able to perform his magic on his guitar, or a woman asking for a divorce in “Checkmate.”

KNOWING

Knowing she dabbled in art,

Creating sculptured delights

That repleted her soul like

An immovable feast.

Knowing she flew South

To his funeral – A dear friend –

Couldn’t miss it.

Knowing she saw his and her friends

There like Old Home Week

— Alabama college days re-blossomed.

Knowing she attended a fish fry

At his widow’s mansion. What an eye opener!

She loved her twin girls,

Workaholic husband, Ralph, but

Had she made the right choices?

Should she have moved South

To wallow in luxury?

Knowing she traveled to Birmingham now

Photographed a famous church

Where black children were murdered on 16th Street

Knowing she wandered the streets

With her friend where Birmingham hoses

Had attacked black protesters

Streets that looked quite innocent now

Knowing she bought fruit

At Birmingham Farmer’s Market

Paid the young white clerk

Who smiled, looked into her mahogany face

And said, “Thank you for your patronage, ma’m,

Come again.”  Knowing she was surprised,

But returned a smile as, “You’re welcome.”

Flew from her lips.

Knowing she sauntered out of that Birmingham

Market feeling at peace with herself

And knowing and knowing and knowing…

Then there are the Vermont poems which display another side of Torrence-Thompson’s view of the world. We have the playfulness of “Bennington Gas Station,” the unexpected discovery in “Dog Walking Man,” and the quiet, imaginative poem, “Echoes From the Mountain Top.” Here is an excerpt:

ECHOES FROM THE MOUNTAINTOP

Suddenly I fall back in time

to horse-drawn carriages

imagine my mother’s tender smile,

loving voice echo my name calling

from the mountain peak

I lift my hand into the air

almost touching the amber sky

Juanita Torrence-Thompson has painted a magnificent treasury of poems people can relate to and learn from without being preachy. “Talking With Stanley Kunitz” will put a smile on your face or elicit a teardrop, but you will feel compelled to keep reading. As usual, Torrence-Thompson delivers.

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