Skye's Reviews
A Good Cause
Feature Author Pamela Erens
Feature Artist: The Adventures of Max
Poetry II
Poetry III
Cigar Lounge
Zinta's Reviews
J. Conrad's Reviews
Skye's Reviews
Submission Guidelines
Links & Resources
The Editors



Cracked: Timeless Topics Of Nature, Courage and Endurance by Alice Shapiro

Book Review by Skye Leslie


Paper Back: 111 Pages

Publisher: TotalRecall Publications, Inc.

Price: $14.99

ISBN:  9 781590958353


What I’m interested in these days is illumination.  How do we bring light to bear in all the varying aspects of our lives?  I especially enjoy considering the concept of light in the written word.  Does the writer move a spotlight on to a subject in such a way which invites me to see, even the most mundane, in a new and perhaps startling focus?

Cracked by Alice Shapiro is just such an adventure into the concept of lighting in poetry.  The title of her slim and concise book of poems was inspired by the words from a Leonard Cohen poem:

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Cohen later reworked his poem and it became the famous song, “Anthem.”

Over the years, another theory about illumination has evolved for me and it is that our capacity to open the world, yes, just a crack and view it in a compassionate and empathetic way, is directed by our ability to suffer loss, endure hardship and emerge at the other end of a dark tunnel.  Certainly, Shapiro who lost a job, found herself homeless and job hunting in a shelter has emerged, through her writing, in the bright light of day. 

There are one hundred nine poems in this volume and the book is a page turner.  I found myself gulping down the words in each of  her poems.  I read through the volume so quickly, I had to slow myself down and go back and read again. 

There are wonderful lines of words such as:

The tulle of sneers . . .

You slouch, beautifully, lying in wait for a good man’s cheek . . .

mad lungs spitting air . . .

yet love arrived this morning, approving as an azure bloom . . .

All that Shapiro has written is proof of keen observation. 

From:  “What Do You Keep?”

Things passed:

prickly red hedges

semi circling a grand

viridian fir; an opalescent

rainbow on a rutted

gray sideboard.

Each of the poems in Cracked bears an elegance and grace.  Whether Shapiro is referring to the breakdown of a microwave oven and adjusting to a stove top  or making a poem out of a business meeting, her use of words and metaphor bring beauty to the verse.

There is not an extra word, a stanza gone amuck and Shapiro never loses sight of opening up her subject matter, sometimes slightly and other times with full force as in “After a Break”:

It’s time to play –

spurn the crippling ache, shun

the hurt arced fingers feel

and twist them round the pen,

a fluid instrument that mirrors

today’s pilgrimage . . .

Sparkle, subservient digits –

invent a sentence!

My favorite poem in the book is “Supplication”:

Today I moved. From room to room

chores completed, deeds done,

work gained its proper foothold.

The battle ‘tween flesh and spirit yielded

as I mused on prayers in the midst of motion . . .


I am drawn to the coupling of the everyday with spiritual in this poem.  The suggestion that as we go about the simplest of tasks, there is something else at work within us.  The notion that as I wash the dishes, prayer may be a consideration.  The consideration that what appears gray may suffuse with light.

“You are in my simple song,” is an opening line in “A Wilderness” and  Alice Shapiro brings each reader into her “simple songs”  through little tricks in language which allow us to discover just where the cracks lie for each of us in this world.

Cracked is not just an excellent read; it is an empowering, thoughtful and lyrical path of words leading us through a nuanced journey where the words direct light in just the right way.


Alice Shapiro has been writing since 1985 when she studied under William Packard, found of the “The New York Quarterly.”  In addition, Shapiro has had two plays produced.  Her “Four Voices” play is the winner of the Bill C. Davis Drama Award.  As further evidence of Alice Shapiro’s generosity of spirit, partial proceeds from the sale of her books are donated to SHARE, a crisis center for domestic abuse survivors serving Douglas County, GA.



Deaf American Poetry – An Anthology, John Lee Clark, Editor

Book Review by Skye Leslie


Paperback, 292 pages

Publisher: Gallaudet University Press, 2009

Price: $35.00

ISBN:  13: 978-1-56368-413-5

ISBN:  10: 1-56368-413-6


As an avid reader of poetry and prose, I am not often set back on my heels after opening a new book.  I am sometimes delighted – sometimes dismayed, often fascinated.  I am usually transported into the story or verse as if traveling with a new friend.  Rarely, am I thrown into a world shaped by controversy, racked with pain, enlightened, schooled and made a convert.  This was absolutely the case with Deaf American Poetry, an Anthology edited by John Lee Clark and published by Gallaudet University Press.

Deaf American Poetry, an Anthology, contains ninety-five poems written by thirty five deaf authors.  It also contains an editor’s note and an introduction.  There is nothing out of the ordinary here.  However, Clark’s note and introduction serve to alert the reader that they are, in more ways than ever, entering completely new territory.

When John Lee Clark, set out to pull together writings from deaf authors, he was hoping to gather poems from writers who had, obliquely or directly, referred to their experience as deaf.  What he found was that writers with hearing loss did not address this subject.  It was only the profoundly unhearing, who used American Sign Language as their mode of communication who addressed the subject in which Clark held the greatest interest.  Thus, this anthology begins with a division between American poets who may have hearing loss and those who are “culturally” deaf.  Clark chose the latter.

As a unit, these poems are a reflection on the signing community “and how Deaf people struggled against oppressive forces to discover more about themselves and to celebrate who they are.”  As well read and culturally sensitive as I’ve thought myself, this book has been nothing short of a revelation regarding the subculture of the deaf community.  It is a book as important, both as literature and as history, as anything written in African-American literature, the diaspora of the Palestinians and their tales, the attempt to bring into words the suffering of women and children in the long war in Sierra Leone.  The anthology serves as spotlight on these deaf poets, who, according to Clark “have contributed to the raising of public awareness about their community and its issues; they have inspired and led other Deaf people, both on and off the page; and their poems have, again and again, crystallized for many of their readers what it means to be deaf and how to embrace it.  No understanding of deaf culture and its history is complete without an appreciation of deaf poets and their work.”

When I was given the book to review, I wondered how the culturally deaf person could bring the sense of sound and voice to poetry.  It never, however, occurred to me that based on being profoundly deaf, controversy would surround these poets and their ability to contribute in a significant manner to the world of poetry at large.  Once again, I was ignorant.  Apparently, according to Clark, an often asked question is, “can Deaf people write poetry?”  There are others issues surrounding the deaf poet’s expression of himself – do they write or do they sign?  Do they conform to poetic traditions or do they somehow veer off on another path? 

Paraphrasing Clark, some deaf people hate poetry because it was shoved down their throats during their school days and this is most particularly true when poetry was used as a kind of speech therapy device.  Because poetry is so often given its true flight through voice, what does the deaf poet do to bring this about?  Does the deaf poet cause a bookstore or other venue to incur extra costs by hiring an interpreter for their sign language?  Do they attempt to read out loud in their own broken voices, if they have one at all?  In his short note, Clark had my head spinning over the deaf poet’s need to express themselves and the boundaries and prejudices held against them by the hearing world.  In the end, Clark invites the reader to seriously review the work he presents and to draw his own conclusion as to the merit of the work presented.

Clark chooses a simple yet effective layout for the work contained in this book.   He begins and ends, using the birth date of each poet included, with a chronological layout.  This serves to move the reader from the year 1808 to the last poem in 1979.  It is highly impacting.  I was able to watch the voice change from one of apology to the stronger and more emphatic voice of anger. One is allowed to bear witness to the persecution and abuse, the marginalization of the culturally deaf community.  An additional bonus to the poetry is the inclusion of a concise biography preceding the actual work  of each poet.  These small glimpses into lives led allowed me to come to the pieces with an enhanced sense of what I was being presented for reading.

Deaf American Poets begins with a poem by John R. Burnet (1808 – 1874).  It is titled “Emma.”  The poem is narrative and Clark suggests it “is a prime example of pandering to a hearing audience and an elaborate advertisement for institutions for the instruction of the Deaf and Dumb.”

From “Emma”

The Deaf and Dumb? is there another word

By which more sad emotions can be stirr’d? . . .

How would the heart shrink from the mighty sum,

And bleed to contemplate the Deaf and Dumb! . . .

And shall the feeling in mere pity end?

Will you not too a helping hand extend?


Given that Clark knows far more about his own culturally deaf community than I can ever hope to, I acquiesce to his assertions here.  On the other hand, given the time, the development or lack of development of the deaf community and their invitation into the world of writing – this poem, “Emma,” drew from me a compassionate response.  In the end, I am pleased that Clark chose this as the poem with which to lead the reader in to the rest of the book.  If nothing else it serves as a marker of how far the deaf American poet has come in an understanding of himself and his place in literature. 

The last poems in the anthology are by Alison L. Aubrecht (1979 - ).   These poems are a long way from pandering and maudlin sentimentality or begging for instruction.  For the most part Aubrecht’s  poems serve to indict the family and teachers of the culturally deaf.  A profound sense of loss and yearning runs through the work of Aubrecht.  One need not dig around for metaphor coming across the first poem in the series titled “Ape Child.”

From “Ape Child”

she sits at her desk

in a secluded classroom  . . .


during break

she finds herself gesturing

with another classmate

only to have a ruler

SLAM down on her hands



Or in “Conditional Wings” :

i have longed

To be a part of you, family

So deeply that it hurt like hell . . .


And in the poignant, “The Ghost in Yellowed Photographs, To my father”

All those times you shunned me

Because I was too hard to communicate with

All those times you preferred him to me

Because he could hear you better . . .


Deaf American Poetry, An Anthology was a bittersweet gift to review.  Fascinated by the history of the culturally deaf in America, I now feel compelled to read and know more.  Reading the poems as they play out over almost two centuries, I was glad to hear the voices begin to change, begin to analyze their situations, to bring to the page an honest and courageous exposition of the culturally deaf experience in this country.  Dwelling on Clark’s introduction will cause the reader, as it did me, to consider this sub culture of our country.  Every day the deaf are giving words in sign language to their experience in this world and so many of us are, through bias and separation, through pity and disbelief, bound to never hear them.

At the end of his note at the beginning of this collection, Clark invites the reader to make their own critical analysis of the work presented.  The collection includes poetry in narrative, free verse, and rhyming styles.  I did not love every poem I read but it had more to do with style preference than anything else.  I do not prefer, for instance, rhyming poetry.   However, armed with a new perspective toward the voice of the deaf American poet, I could still be swayed, despite the rhyme in a poem such Ars Poetica (Or, Advice to Aspiring Deaf Poets) by Robert F. Panara (1920 - ):

If you would be a poet, mark these words:

Most modern writers thrive on naked verbs

As readers dote on headlines.  Never fear

The use of “free verse” when you cannot hear . . .


I was thrilled to find in the reading of these works that between 1808 and 1920, the deaf American poet had moved to a place where poking fun at himself was now a part of his experience. 

As I would encourage anyone to read widely in poetry, to look at the African-American experience, the South African poet, the poetry coming from women out of India and the Middle East, I most highly recommend this anthology.  It is a glimpse, not in the least bit subtle, in to the talent, suffering, discernment, anguish and yes, joy – of the deaf American poet.  It was simply a privilege to read this important and historic anthology.  Congratulations to John Lee Clark, Editor and Gallaudet University Press.



The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha

Book Review by Skye Leslie


Hardbound, 353 Pages

Price: $22.95

Publisher:  Broadway Books, New York, 2009

ISBN:  978-0-7679-3140-3


In Naseem Rakha’s The Crying Tree, everything is good down on the farm, where Irene and Nate Stanley live a quiet, content life alongside their two children, Bliss and Shep. Suddenly, Nate announces a move from their family farm in Southern Illinois to the high desert of Oregon.  Nate will take a position as a deputy sheriff in their new home.  It is in Oregon where the Stanley family’s nightmare occurs and Shep is shot and killed during what appears to be a home robbery. 

The murderer has a history of assault, robbery and drug related offenses.  The Stanley family enters a vortex of hatred for the murderer which separates and depresses the entire family as they all begin to lose touch with one another.

At first look, the plot of this book is one that would be easy to marginalize as a grouping of characters working out the clichés of forgiveness and redemption.  One would be unwise to do so.  This book is a creative and many hued look into hatred.  It is a book which examines the insidious nature of unresolved rage and how it spreads across a human being like a rash across a body.  It is a book which examines the choices we make in the working out of grief which can ultimately rob us of our own lives. 

Often, I have great difficulty with books in which the plot and character development are moved along through the use of dialogue.  Rakha is a master of the art of relaying conversations between people, even the long silences which can occur, in a way which gives all her characters great depth.  One feels the transitions the mother, Irene, makes as she faces the horror of her own life, the longing from great distance of the daughter, Bliss and the pent up hostility of the father, Nate.

This book does not lag nor does it preach as it introduces the widespread disaster which occurs when Shep dies. Rather, through strong characters, the book is an illustration of looking into one’s own heart, making choices and how reconciliation, though hard won, may come about.

As the book begins to move to its end, a twist is thrown in. For me this was problematic. I felt it detracted from the major issue of the book. However, for others it may give greater understanding to one of the central characters.

All told, Naseem Rakha has written a moving and fast-paced chronicle of tragedy and redemption without ever reverting to sentimentality.

Naseem Rakha is an award-winning broadcast journalist whose stories have been aired on NPR.  She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.



Feedback, submissions, ideas? E-mail