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Lindsey Martin-Bowen



Lindsey Martin-Bowen teaches writing at MCC-Longview and taught at UMKC 18 years. In 2013, Chatter House Press published INSIDE VIRGIL’S GARAGE, her second full-length poetry collection containing “Bonsai Tree Gone Awry,” nominated for a Pudhcart Publoshimg Prize. Woodley Press/Washburn University released her first full-length collection, STANDING ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD in 2008. Paladin Contemporaries published her novels: RAPTURE REDUX (2014), HAMBURGER HAVEN (2009), and CICADA GROVE (1992). Her work has appeared in NEW LETTERS, ROCKHURST REVIEW, I-70 REVIEW, FLINT HILLS REVIEW, THORNY LOCUST, COAL CITY REVIEW, BARE ROOT REVIEW, THE SAME, LITTLE BALKANS REVIEW, KANSAS CITY VOICES, LIP SERVICE and other literary magazines. ****************************************************************** RECENT WORK: (Three pieces from INSIDE VIRGIL’S GARAGE)******************************************** “In Front of Virgil’s Garage” I wouldn’t expect to find Shakespeare here./ But there they are—his volumes, stacked/ in a corner where their spines grow oily/ from an old carburetor dripping/ on a shelf with exhaust pipes, cracked rims. And look—Paradise Lost lies next to them./ In the back office, Virgil fingers another tome./ I wonder why he doesn’t sweep the dusty floor/ or mop up antifreeze on this January day/ that’s brought him little business. I turn/ away to watch red clouds marble the sky,/ and blue ones form a mountain range./ They set me dreaming, make me rise high/ above the skyline, far from this suburb,/ where SUVs and trucks command the streets. In the sunset, I search for my father./ Mistletoe braided in my hair, I wade through/ Acheron to find him—or maybe myself./ Then I climb from the ditch, up a hill to this garage/ of metal siding, asphalt roof, and gasoline fumes. Somewhere hemming the horizon, my father’s ghost/ may drift with Charon—or perhaps, by enduring pain,/ he’s become stardust and rises with Venus./ I squint, spot Jupiter hiding behind clouds,/ suck in my breath, and shiver in lead boots. “Walking to QuikTrip after Dark” All teeth, the QuikTrip clerk helps me sack the Sunday Star, gives me a free refill. For a few minutes, I don’t detest this place: Vista del Verde—green view. That’s true—a pear tree grows in my yard, its leaves hunter-colored, even in July. And magnolia scents waft over swelled asphalt, softer than concrete. But tonight, black streets surround me, wrap me in black, black as half the moon, a moon from December— not this sweet September. Ahead, tower lights blink red against a sky, vacant except for the moon, an iridescent smudge— an impressionist watercolor. It hangs low, reminds me of another century, lost in the past, like this suburb of raised ranches and split levels on nitrogen lawns. “Backyard Burial” Something’s up. Two crows hop onto the fence./ They flutter/ back-feathers and lift their claws/ in a waltz—St. Vitus/ swooping along a cliff, his hands linked/ to a long line of dancers. I toss the birds/ stale cracker crumbs from my pantry./ They cackle./ Then, in the grass, I see the rabbit./ Fresh blood circles its twisted head,/ one open eye glazed, like the eyes/ at Carthage,/ Rome or Troy fallen into ruins—/ I’ll bury the carcass before the July sun rots it, before the crows feast./ I break hard dirt under the oak./ I am Antigone, defying/ an unfair edict—/ the lawnmower, a broken chariot—/ a relic marking this grave./ Roosting on a phone line,/ the crows laugh like pagan gods./ ****************************************************************************************************** REVIEWS******************************************** Review of Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s Inside Virgil’s Garage. (Indianapolis: Chatter House Press, 2013. 87 pages, paperback: $14.99) By Carroll Dorshorn Flint Hills Review. Issue 18: 2013. Emporia State University. The poems in Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s new collection abound in delightful sounds, ideas, and imagery. The musical language propels the readers from line to line, and a gentle undercurrent of recurring images transports them from poem to poem. This well-planned and subtle repetition of subjects and words creates a flow that carries the reader not only through the poems but also through time and space. Aptly divided into three sections, the poems come back at the end to where they began—not literally “In Front of Virgil’s Garage,” and not literally “Crossing the Mojave”—but in that unsearchable place where allusion meets wonder and where dreams and reality intersect, where the search for the timeless and spiritual begins, and where it ends—but does not stop. Martin-Bowen presents the book’s title poem first, introducing us to the full range of what she has for us. There we find a wealth of alliteration, assonance, and allusions. From the beginning, the persona is surprised to find Shakespeare’s volumes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . stacked in a corner where their spines grow oily from an old carburetor dripping on a shelf with exhaust pipes, cracked rims (l. 2-5). Equally surprised to see Paradise Lost there also, the speaker turns “away to watch red clouds marble the sky,/and blue ones form a mountain range.” Such sights, she admits, “set e dreaming, make me rise high/above the skyline, far from this suburb,/where SUVs and trucks command the streets.” So there we are, located in an oily, dusty garage in the suburbs at evening. And in the next stanza, we are with the speaker, wading “through/Acheron” to find her father—or maybe herself. Not really a “psychic leap” from the persona’s conscious to the unconscious, this artistic leap from reason to emotion is not at all irrational or bizarre. It seems perfectly natural, then, to envision a ghost drifting with Charon or “becom[ing] stardust and ris[ing] with Venus” to “spot Jupiter hiding behind clouds,” and, in returning to the garage and to reason, to “suck in my breath, and shiver in lead boots.” These leaps in the imagination are mirrored by the echoing sound of the words, so that the literal becomes uncontained. Similar leaps occur in “Bonsai Tree Gone Awry,” “Judy Judy Judy,” and “Till Morning,” also in the first section. In the second section, “Frenzies,” the leap becomes more frenzied. On the surface, the references to pop culture and contemporary literature seem jumbled, as if tripping out or channel surfing. In “Hot,” “Zip-locked,” and “Edging,” we move through at least seven different references each, some of which seem only connected by the sound of the words. Deeper reading, though, reveals the emotions of the works referenced connect them to provide a framework of thought. Though often surreal or flippant, these poems are not without their serious moments. In “Jupiter Eating” and “It’s never like the movies,” we are treated to the prospect of the transcendent and the eternal. The poems in the third section continue this tendency to make sense of the world, as they seek out the lofty and ethereal while not abandoning the earthy and tangible. In its description of a day, the poem “Petunias” compares clouds to rutabagas and describes a transformation that occurs when the sun emerges late in the day. “Ozark September” postpones winter, contrary to Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” which celebrates winter’s coming as a herald of spring’s eventuality. In Martin-Bowen’s poem, though, “leaves morph into” their autumn colors, the waves of the late are still “warm enough to swim.” This marriage of seasons prompts us to desire a different outcome than Shelley provides. We are, therefore, ready to grasp the alternative: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . though summer has crested, winter waits in a cove, where a heron blossoms into white plumes (l. 15-18). These two poems, and others, are so artfully done that the imagery is fresh and full of wonder. Martin-Bowen does, in contemporary poetry, what the Romantics did in their day: She immortalizes an ephemeral scene and makes the simple things sublime. Poems that touch on the baser elements of our human condition are scattered throughout the collection. In “Snapshots of Breckenridge #5: In the Cold Pan Bar,” we see “Mary Lou,” bottle in hand, lying “spread eagle across the pool table, where the locals take turns with her, as if they were pissing in a urinal—“and we are repulsed by that and by their “raucous laughter” and by their conclusion that, “she’s only George’s gal–/she’s had it rougher than this.” And though we know that life is like that sometimes, we are relieved and uplifted to find, in a later “Snapshot”–#11: K-11”—the story of a girl who “sings with a voice that cracks glass.” After several different jobs and a jail stint for check fraud, this amazingly different woman “finds Jesus, lifts/long hymns to Him. The peace/she sends out draws me in.” This move to what is solid and real (though intangible and spiritual) lifts us above what is absurd or ignoble. This contrast of the sordid and the sublime is apparent from the first poem forward. What governs that juxtaposition is a search for the timeless. It may be a loved one’s ghost “somewhere hemming the horizon” as in the first poem. It may appear that “there, on the horizon,/you see Wovoka whirl/in his dance of ghosts,” as in “It’s never like the movies.” Or it may even be that spark of beauty found in the desert, where “they say diamonds and garnets lie,” as in “Crossing the Mojave,” the last poem in the collection. The imagery of that poem is heightened by the precise diction used to explain the surface of the desert after the flooded Pacific ebbed away, which event “left a graveyard/of shells, rock and sand in its wake,” suggesting a continuation of landscape, time and life. The speaker wonders if there is static electricity “when a miner unearths gems” in the physical realm, while pondering in the spiritual realm, “if St. Paul’s ghost wanders here/searching for a spot to pitch a tent/in this place akin to where Christ suffered.” This search for eternity concludes in wonder about not only the gems buried in the desert but also about “where that orb called Heaven is,/where the oasis begins.” The collection’s penultimate poem blends all these techniques of sound and imagery to show that there is an answer to the search for what is both real and intangible. Entitled “Listening for My Father’s Ghost,” this poem mingles the musical sound of words and the descriptive imagery of everyday things like a dripping kitchen faucet or . . . . . . . . that incessant rhythm of rain hitting a roof or windowpane at late night (l. 4-7). A few pop culture references later, we have leapt through “harmonica strains,” a “blues riff,” and the “trills from the bagpiper/who strolled Waldo’s streets.” We leap back to the temporal and touchable world to observe a rabbit springing and a dog barking, while in the almost-empty street, two children toss a yellow frisbee. One drops the plastic saucer— I hear it scrape across asphalt (l. 22-25). We could wonder if the “it” is the Frisbee that is dropped or the ghost which is being sought, but somehow, because Martin-Bowen has made the ephemeral lasting and the eternal tangible, we know it is both. And that is the essence of her new collection, Inside Virgil’s Garage. With its fusion of sights and sounds, allusions and pop culture references, she makes the ancient contemporary and the contemporary timeless. Review of Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s Inside Virgil’s Garage. (Indianapolis: Chatter House Press, 2013. 87 pages, paperback: $14.99) By Carroll Dorshorn Flint Hills Review. Issue 18: 2013. Emporia State University. The poems in Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s new collection abound in delightful sounds, ideas, and imagery. The musical language propels the readers from line to line, and a gentle undercurrent of recurring images transports them from poem to poem. This well-planned and subtle repetition of subjects and words creates a flow that carries the reader not only through the poems but also through time and space. Aptly divided into three sections, the poems come back at the end to where they began—not literally “In Front of Virgil’s Garage,” and not literally “Crossing the Mojave”—but in that unsearchable place where allusion meets wonder and where dreams and reality intersect, where the search for the timeless and spiritual begins, and where it ends—but does not stop. Martin-Bowen presents the book’s title poem first, introducing us to the full range of what she has for us. There we find a wealth of alliteration, assonance, and allusions. From the beginning, the persona is surprised to find Shakespeare’s volumes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . stacked in a corner where their spines grow oily from an old carburetor dripping on a shelf with exhaust pipes, cracked rims (l. 2-5). Equally surprised to see Paradise Lost there also, the speaker turns “away to watch red clouds marble the sky,/and blue ones form a mountain range.” Such sights, she admits, “set e dreaming, make me rise high/above the skyline, far from this suburb,/where SUVs and trucks command the streets.” So there we are, located in an oily, dusty garage in the suburbs at evening. And in the next stanza, we are with the speaker, wading “through/Acheron” to find her father—or maybe herself. Not really a “psychic leap” from the persona’s conscious to the unconscious, this artistic leap from reason to emotion is not at all irrational or bizarre. It seems perfectly natural, then, to envision a ghost drifting with Charon or “becom[ing] stardust and ris[ing] with Venus” to “spot Jupiter hiding behind clouds,” and, in returning to the garage and to reason, to “suck in my breath, and shiver in lead boots.” These leaps in the imagination are mirrored by the echoing sound of the words, so that the literal becomes uncontained. Similar leaps occur in “Bonsai Tree Gone Awry,” “Judy Judy Judy,” and “Till Morning,” also in the first section. In the second section, “Frenzies,” the leap becomes more frenzied. On the surface, the references to pop culture and contemporary literature seem jumbled, as if tripping out or channel surfing. In “Hot,” “Zip-locked,” and “Edging,” we move through at least seven different references each, some of which seem only connected by the sound of the words. Deeper reading, though, reveals the emotions of the works referenced connect them to provide a framework of thought. Though often surreal or flippant, these poems are not without their serious moments. In “Jupiter Eating” and “It’s never like the movies,” we are treated to the prospect of the transcendent and the eternal. The poems in the third section continue this tendency to make sense of the world, as they seek out the lofty and ethereal while not abandoning the earthy and tangible. In its description of a day, the poem “Petunias” compares clouds to rutabagas and describes a transformation that occurs when the sun emerges late in the day. “Ozark September” postpones winter, contrary to Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” which celebrates winter’s coming as a herald of spring’s eventuality. In Martin-Bowen’s poem, though, “leaves morph into” their autumn colors, the waves of the late are still “warm enough to swim.” This marriage of seasons prompts us to desire a different outcome than Shelley provides. We are, therefore, ready to grasp the alternative: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . though summer has crested, winter waits in a cove, where a heron blossoms into white plumes (l. 15-18). These two poems, and others, are so artfully done that the imagery is fresh and full of wonder. Martin-Bowen does, in contemporary poetry, what the Romantics did in their day: She immortalizes an ephemeral scene and makes the simple things sublime. Poems that touch on the baser elements of our human condition are scattered throughout the collection. In “Snapshots of Breckenridge #5: In the Cold Pan Bar,” we see “Mary Lou,” bottle in hand, lying “spread eagle across the pool table, where the locals take turns with her, as if they were pissing in a urinal—“and we are repulsed by that and by their “raucous laughter” and by their conclusion that, “she’s only George’s gal–/she’s had it rougher than this.” And though we know that life is like that sometimes, we are relieved and uplifted to find, in a later “Snapshot”–#11: K-11”—the story of a girl who “sings with a voice that cracks glass.” After several different jobs and a jail stint for check fraud, this amazingly different woman “finds Jesus, lifts/long hymns to Him. The peace/she sends out draws me in.” This move to what is solid and real (though intangible and spiritual) lifts us above what is absurd or ignoble. This contrast of the sordid and the sublime is apparent from the first poem forward. What governs that juxtaposition is a search for the timeless. It may be a loved one’s ghost “somewhere hemming the horizon” as in the first poem. It may appear that “there, on the horizon,/you see Wovoka whirl/in his dance of ghosts,” as in “It’s never like the movies.” Or it may even be that spark of beauty found in the desert, where “they say diamonds and garnets lie,” as in “Crossing the Mojave,” the last poem in the collection. The imagery of that poem is heightened by the precise diction used to explain the surface of the desert after the flooded Pacific ebbed away, which event “left a graveyard/of shells, rock and sand in its wake,” suggesting a continuation of landscape, time and life. The speaker wonders if there is static electricity “when a miner unearths gems” in the physical realm, while pondering in the spiritual realm, “if St. Paul’s ghost wanders here/searching for a spot to pitch a tent/in this place akin to where Christ suffered.” This search for eternity concludes in wonder about not only the gems buried in the desert but also about “where that orb called Heaven is,/where the oasis begins.” The collection’s penultimate poem blends all these techniques of sound and imagery to show that there is an answer to the search for what is both real and intangible. Entitled “Listening for My Father’s Ghost,” this poem mingles the musical sound of words and the descriptive imagery of everyday things like a dripping kitchen faucet or . . . . . . . . that incessant rhythm of rain hitting a roof or windowpane at late night (l. 4-7). A few pop culture references later, we have leapt through “harmonica strains,” a “blues riff,” and the “trills from the bagpiper/who strolled Waldo’s streets.” We leap back to the temporal and touchable world to observe a rabbit springing and a dog barking, while in the almost-empty street, two children toss a yellow frisbee. One drops the plastic saucer— I hear it scrape across asphalt (l. 22-25). We could wonder if the “it” is the Frisbee that is dropped or the ghost which is being sought, but somehow, because Martin-Bowen has made the ephemeral lasting and the eternal tangible, we know it is both. And that is the essence of her new collection, Inside Virgil’s Garage. With its fusion of sights and sounds, allusions and pop culture references, she makes the ancient contemporary and the contemporary timeless.

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