The Florida Review and Aquifer Author Publications: July 2020

Small literary magazines are integral parts of our writing community, allowing emerging and experienced writers to push their work forward with new experiments in self-expression and creative freedom. Our writers make up that essential part of literary magazines, and we welcome their work and help build writers’ opportunities. Here at The Florida Review, we love to celebrate the successes of our published authors. We encourage you to support the new books of these writers, who have been previously published in our print magazine and/or our online magazine, Aquifer.


Dilruba Ahmed (“’With Affirmative Action and All’” and “View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack: Mortality Reel,” Aquifer July 4th, 2017 and Editors’ Award for “Fever,” “Mojlishpur,” and “Clear Water,” TFR 31.2) has a new book of poems, Bring Now the Angels, from the Pitt Poetry Series.

Mary Pauline Lowry (“Texas Teeth,” TFR 42.2) has a new book out as of April 2020. The Roxy Letters (Simon & Shuster) is Lowry’s second novel.

Michael Hettich (“Shark Valley” and “Love Poem,” Aquifer July 12, 2018; “The Light of Ancient Stars,” TFR 40.2; and “Crows,” TFR 31.2) has a new collection of poems, To Start an Orchard, out from Press 53.

Ariel Francisco’s (“On the Eve of the Largest Hurricane Ever Recorded My Ex Tells Me She Hopes I Don’t Die and, I Mean, Whatever,” TFR 42.2) collection of poetry, A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship, is out in spring 2020 from Burrow Press.

Paige Lewis (Editors’ Award 2016 with “Angel, Overworked” in TFR 41.1) has her first collection of poetry, Space Struck, out from Sarabande Books.

John Sibley Williams (“Hekla (Revised),” TFR 42.1) won the Orison Poetry Prize, and his collection of poetry, As One Fire Consumes Another, was published by Orison Books in 2019. We have an interview with him and another poem forthcoming in Aquifer later this month.

Miriam Cohen (“Recess Brides,” TFR 40.1) recently released her first collection of stories, Adults and Other Children, from Ig Publishing, including a reprint of “Recess Brides.”


A Balm to Soothe the Fevers

Bluer and More Vast by Michael Hettich
Hysterical Books, 2018
Paperback, 82 pages, $15.00


Cover of Bluer and More Vast by Michael Hettich.


In Michael Hettich’s Bluer and More Vast, the reader bears witness to a man who is barely and beautifully tethered to the world around us. These small prose poems are  evocative, tender stories of companionship, confusion, home life, memories of fathers, and dreams of wives and husbands dreaming together. In “The Double Dream of Sleeping,” we are invited inside:


One night, my wife and I dreamed the same dream: we had carried our mattress to the ocean, thrown it into water and climbed on. We lay together in that bed as we drifted out into the deep water, in a night that was teeming with stars and silence.


What happens next, as throughout the collection, asks more questions of us than provides answers: What is memory? A dream? Family? Can small things save us?


The man and his family here reside in tandem with opossum families and insect worlds and the forest dwellers and everywhere the presence of birds, the birds, the wild Florida birds. Their homes are in the water and in the branches and the moss and the boat. We are all in it with him and looking around and wondering. Hettich brings a David Byrne-like beautiful befuddlement to it all: Is this my beautiful wife? Who am I? How did I get here?


Reading a new collection by a white male poet isn’t usually first on my poetry list these days. I have spent too many years on assigned books written by white men, and I need to catch up on years and years of missed and silenced voices from my queer, brown, trans, young, female, Asian, and other and other and other poetry family. I approached Bluer and More Vast with my armor up. I was curious. What does a seasoned white male poet have to say to me, a woman, right now? Right now?


In the end, I am grateful for the read and review. Taken as a whole, the collection feels like a balm to soothe the fevers whipped up in my body—and so many othered bodies—these days. Oh, these days. Even my teenage daughter has been taught dozens of dark, dystopian YA books in recent years—a response, they say, to our untethered, anxious world. Hettich’s prose is like a pill one can take to quiet some of the angry male voices on the air, across the bumper stickers that berate us, the defiant, spewing Supreme Court nominees.


The speaker of these poems is a man at once fully grounded and light as air—someone who puts a soup in the crock pot and carries injured long-necked herons to bed (“The Guest”) and who loves his wife. Really loves her. So many love poems here. Did Hettich know we needed this? In “Sunday Morning” a man recalls a long list of the books he and his wife are reading, and the passing of the days together:


We were putting our reading aside and going out to putter in our garden, to listen to the cardinals and mockingbirds and mourning doves, to smell the spearmint we’d planted by the henna tree. It was raining then, softly, and we let ourselves get wet, soaked through to the skin, which belonged to us now.


The beautiful, dreamy poem “To Sing The World” almost asks what is love? And it is not too sentimental; rather, in Hettich’s hands, it becomes serious meta-commentary in a world battered by a lack of gentleness.


Magical realism works well for these poems, especially because they occupy that murky, liminal place: the prose poem. Hettich’s emphasis is on story and mood more than traditional poetic elements like sound or metaphor. What is happening to these people, these fish, the deer with bird nests nestled in racks on their heads at the beach (“Solitude”)? Strange and confusing things, sure, but the reader is not scared. The language is evocative and beautiful, so the brevity of each piece lends an urgency to the collection that is hopeful instead of harried.


Hettich’s words play with idea and imagery, giving us just enough weirdness to want more. Does he want us to know he is dreaming or does he want us to just not care for once, to get in the poem and go? “The Ordinary Wonders” encapsulates much of the trip we are taken on, via spider web and the neighbor’s lusty libretto. These poems and this speaker are something to sing about. And so, in turn, are the little and big lives always happening around us. Like Mary Oliver, Hettich skillfully slows us down, and we look together on the wading birds in ways more studied than sappy, more insightful than ordinary in spite of the quiet subject matter.


And we wonder, too, as we sink in steel lawn chairs with Hettich and our ancestors all around us smoking pipes and bringing wayward turtles to our laps. All along the birds and the neighbors and the mothers keep singing and the opossums lumber. It is the big world in our small yards. It is knowing:


Everywhere we look there are reasons to go home


I felt like the poet carried me through this book because I needed to rest. It felt good to know, just a few poems in, that I could be taken well care of with words. The poems were the lullabies, the myths made by us, and maybe they were breadcrumbs, too. Maybe Hettich is a kind of prose poem Pied Piper, but he is not leading me far from home. He is trying to tell me, trying to tell us, that home is the safe place and the vast, relentless water rising all around at once. It is loving the person beside us as much as the people still in our dreams. It is standing in the shallows every chance we get. It is our feet finding sand dollars in the water while we still can.


Opening the Door

At the Great Door of Morning: Selected Poems and Translations by Robert Hedlin
Copper Canyon, 2017
Paperback, 220 pages, $18.00


Cover of Robert Hedin's At the Great Door of Morning.


Of all the books of poetry I’ve read this year—and I’ve read quite a large number—Robert Hedin’s At The Great Door of Morning: Selected Poems and Translations has pulled me most deeply into the depths of feeling, seeing, and being that I hope to discover in poetry. Each poem is a genuine experience, a small moment of grace, and the book as a whole is a series of revelations. Once I started reading At the Great Door, I couldn’t put the book down—and yet it is a book to savor. Its pleasures have renewed and reinvigorated my own faith in the power of poetry to matter deeply to us, to help us live by restoring us to wonder in this clamorous, narcissistic, cliché-ridden time. It is a book to be kept on that short shelf of favorites.


At the Great Door of Morning is divided into six sections, the first and last two comprised of Hedin’s own poems and the middle three of his translations of the Norwegian poets Rolf Jacobsen, Olav Hauge, and Dag Straumsvag. As masterful as the translations are, it is Hedin’s own poems that really sing. He is a master of clarity and of the kind of image that revitalizes the actual world—makes us look at an ordinary object or action with fresh eyes—as when, in a poem about teaching his sons to row, he shows the act of rowing as “keeping/the river moving,” making suddenly vivid what would otherwise be a common action barely worthy of our attention. In another poem he shows us owls that “glide off the thin/Wrists of the night.” These perfectly-observed/masterfully created moments of imagistic transformation achieve Pound’s goal of “making it new,” but they don’t just revitalize the art of poetry; in fact, they make new the actual world, showing us ordinary things in authentically fresh ways. And this is what Hedin does over and over here: makes the mundane miraculous again, refreshing our perceptions and thus our lives. We might even say that Hedin is a visionary poet, though a quiet and personally modest one. Reading these poems, we respond not to the poet’s brilliance (which is manifest) but to the world he shows us: This book shows little of Hedin’s autobiography or personal life. What it does show, in deep and trembling ways, is a vision and an immersion in the world of things and mind, the world of being and contemplation. One leaves Hedin’s poems with reinvigorated eyes. I was reminded of the experience of leaving an art museum after a particularly strong show of paintings—of walking around seeing the world through the lens of those paintings for a while. Hedin’s best poems have that effect on my sensibility: they refresh and reawaken my everyday world.


There is an ancient quality of folk-tale magic in many of Hedin’s best poems, a charmed and dreamlike quality of “seeing into the life of things,” which results from careful, lifelong craft and attention to clarity of detail. These poems remind us of how ancient the art of poetry is, how deeply a good poem can plumb:


 This must be where the ravens turn to geese,

 The weasels to wolves, where the rabbits turn to owls…

 Where hunters have forgotten their trails and sunk out of sight…

 Glistening with the bones of animals and trappers,

 Eggs that are cold and turning to stones…

 (“The Snow Country”)


It seems to me that the great majority of contemporary poems, even the best of them, are filled with clamor and self-regard. These qualities may be reflective of our time and thus fitting attitudes for our poetry. Sometimes it seems though that idiosyncrasy is a stand-in for originality, mere oddness a stand-in for genuine freshness. This observation is not meant to bemoan the state of our poetry, which is vibrant and challenging and forging new ground. But it is to point out one of Robert Hedin’s greatest strengths, and perhaps what moves and refreshes me most deeply in his work: the modesty that infuses every aspect of his art, a modesty informed of deep craft, genuine feeling, and transformative seeing. This is a modesty born of respect for the millennia-long art of poetry and the poets who have practiced before him. It is equally a modesty born of respect for the world of living creatures and energies with whom we live our lives, and a respect for the clarity of language. It is the grounded and self-assured modesty of a master:


 Goddard Hot Springs


 When you lie in these sweating streams

 You are lying in the breath of your ancestors,

 The old pioneers who sat here in these pools

 Mapping trails to the mother lode.

 You feel a fog drift through your body,

 A voice that is strangely familiar

 And still has stories to tell.


A poem like this, with its understated, carefully-modulated revelations, reminds us again that poetry, true poetry, needs to be savored—read slowly, listened to—then read again. Without such reading, the depths this poem plumbs might be missed or skated over. Hedin trusts his reader to breathe with his poem, to listen carefully for its news and subtle revelation.


Hedin’s best poems remind us that to read a poem, we must breathe with the breath of the poet who made it, thus reanimating it with our own breath-stuff.


Hedin’s book ends with a final “chapter” he calls “Field Notes,” a compendium of insights and assertions about the art of poetry, all of them wise, useful, and memorably written. Among them, this statement, which might stand as a kind of motto for all of Hedin’s work:


A good poem breaks through the numbing, stultifying voice of our mass

culture to successfully articulate, in all its breadth and meaning, a land-

scape of conviction, a deeper circuitry that helps give life its necessary

shape and substance.


and another:


Poetry is, in many ways, a sustained longing for home and reconciliation,

the inseparability of self and object, self and other.


Or, better yet, turning again to one of Hedin’s poems:


 The Tlingit on this island tell a story about fog.

 They say in its belly

 The spirits of the drowned are turned into otters,

 That on cold nights when the lowlands

 Smolder with steam

 The loon builds its nest in their voices.



As deeply as I admire this book, I do wish that Hedin’s modesty had not prevented him from including a greater number of his own poems and (perhaps) fewer of his translations. As strong as they are, the translations do not strike me as quite as linguistically or imigistically fresh as Hedin’s own work. Though the three poets translated here are themselves masters of imagery and concision, and though it is clear that they all have influenced him, still I yearned for Hedin’s own language, his singular vision. Perhaps I am merely quibbling. Perhaps it is simply that I would have liked a longer book.  What’s here is a treasure, a genuine contribution to American poetry and a gift to all who read it.


Singular Songs

Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer by Steve Kronen
Eyewear Publishing, 2018
60 pages, paperback, $14.99


Cover of Steve Kronen's Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer


Steve Kronen is a master of what we might call the “high” art of poetry, by which I mean a poetry in which the craft is deep and various and the knowledge of poetic and cultural traditions informs—and even determines—the poet’s formal choices, intellectual range, and emotional responses to his chosen subject matter. In his most recent book, Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer, Kronen’s embrace of traditional forms is both assured and innovative. In the best of these poems, the poet’s wide-ranging, multi-faceted references to intellectual, cultural and scientific traditions feel embedded organically in the language, part of the very sinew of the verse.


The poems embrace a mind-boggling cast of characters from high and popular culture and ideas ranging across the Western canon, to say nothing of a host of well-known and not-so-well-known poets. In a less assured writer, in fact, such constant formal and intellectual pyrotechnics might seem mere affectation, a pretentious and show-off-y affirmation of the poet’s knowledge of the Western canon, a kind of acrobatics of the soul. In Kronen’s best poems, though, such acrobatics seem part of the poet’s blood and marrow, embedded in his heart and central nervous system. In these stronger poems, in fact, the present world and the world that lies behind and before it, are braided in fresh, original ways. This is a strong book, unfashionable in its artistic gusto and challenging in intellectual range, one that apprentice poets as well as long-term practitioners can learn from and enjoy.


One of the pleasures of deftly crafted, intricate poems such as Kronen’s, poems in which challenging formal structures are actively determinative of content, lies in the fact that they reveal themselves fully only after successive readings. Take for example the first two stanzas of a sestina-in-rhyme, “How I Became King”:


 Rumors from the capital: the caliph lowered

 his fork of larks’ tongues in dreamy hollandaise

 and ordered all of black-draped Constantinople

 to turn its mournful eye to the Emperor-

 to-be, a pleasant tow-haired boy, his snuff-

 sniffing father, Stefan the Garrulous,


 dredged from the carp-pond, leaving us ruleless

 at last, our village decking its huts with flowered

 wreaths and dancing the long-repressed Balinksnov—

 Yanka Hoy! Yanka Ruiz!—three days

 and nights, slitting the goat to make for purer

 days ahead while I, a baby at nipple…


Even in this short excerpt, Kronen’s wide embrace is emphatic and impressive. The pleasure in the play of language is manifest. It is also obvious that the poem won’t be captured on a single reading. Rather, one must sit with it a while. In the case of this poem, real rewards follow.


In some others, though, in which the play is not so exuberant and the language not quite so scintillating, the poems—which in fact require explanatory notes to be fully grasped—one comes away merely befuddled. Even these less-successful poems, though, resist obscurity and work as poems—that is, as made things—as Kronen’s language is always clear and well-wrought. Kronen aspires not toward Ashbery or Carson; his contemporary masters are the likes of Justice and Wilbur.


In a few of the poems here, Kronen seems to relax, to allow a memory or an experience seem to speak for itself in a freer, less formally-determined language. These are among the freshest, most deeply moving poems in the book. Take for example “The Present,” quoted here in full:


 All of this too taking on the stilted look

 of childhood photographs:

 my brother and I on a couch, a small box

 unwrapped in his lap, both of us gray,

 couch and carpet gray, the day beyond the open window

 gray and its curtain pulled outside for the moment

 by a puff of wind. Hold up, again, delighted,

 to the photographer, Mom or Dad,

 your first watch, hanging from your hand

 like a caught fish, its darting eye grown dull

 in a blink.


Like his masters, Kronen delights in puns. These are almost uniformly refreshing and witty and very funny. One of my favorites forms part of a short series entitled “They May Not Mean to, But They Do,” which references a famous (infamous?) Philip Larkin poem of the same title. I’ve chuckled at this poem numerous times since I first read it a number of years ago. Here it is, in full:


 No one from our family

 had ever left to play baseball.

 Go ahead, said my mother,

 strike out on your own.


As in his two previous books of poetry, in Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer, Steve Kronen shows himself to be a serious artist, ambitious not for fame but merely (merely!) to make a good poem, that most worthy and difficult enterprise in which “… to speak of time was nearly to speak about love.”



Poems of Water

Shark Valley

We ride through the sawgrass, the only humans for miles,

as evening glistens in the shallow water,

 and thousands of white birds

 and gray birds

 and black birds
 land in the mangroves

 to roost for the night.

We talk and stay silent at once as we ride

and imagine wading into the grass

 through knee-deep water
 until we were far enough

 that everyone we’d ever known, everyone we’d loved
had forgotten us. And if we sat down in the water

 until our clothes fell away, and we sang

 to each other like the breezes across the tall grass,

going nowhere, and the minnows nibbled our bodies

 so gently it felt like a new kind of love,

 what could we say to the shadows waiting for us,

arms crossed and scowling, as though they owned our darkness?


Love Poem

The names we’ve never spoken, that define us to ourselves

like the rhythm of a river caught inside a stone

smoothed by that river, as it falls toward the sea.




In some other life, I wove grasses and lay down.

In some other life I made a nest, and slept

dreaming like a river, as it slides toward the sea.




How many years did we search to find our lives?

How many years do we have before we leave?

The singing of a river as it falls toward the sea




is a mind without thoughts, pure being, like the breeze

that wakes in your attic, or underneath your bed

and stirs up the dust, while you’re thinking of the sea




and hugging your wife, who’s dreaming in a language

that doesn’t have words yet, and gleams in her eyes

when she wakes in your arms, smelling faintly of the sea




and sunlight in the breeze as it moves through the bedroom

then back out the window, like life itself must leave

the body that held it, or like a wave far out at sea . . .