A photograph often tells a thousand words, or so it’s been said.When you add poetic verse to animated images and the inquisitive eye of both Erica Lewis and illustrator Mark Stephen Finein you find yourself victim to the backward realities and ideas that lurk inside the book titled, Camera Obscura.Memories are ingrained in our minds but are subject to change upon our re-telling or remembering them, but a photograph cannot morph or change into an altered version of reality. While a photograph can age and the shape and images can fade, that moment in time stands still. In examining how a memory can be kept alive or reinvented is discussed in the pages of illustrations here, all while remaining safe in the creator’s mind. Images actually reside in the receptacle of saved images the mind keeps tucked away.  This hybrid work of art and poetry asks us, the memory-makers to look closely at what we hold so dear.  What is real and what is imagined? Do recollections through art (written and photographed) stand the test of time? Do they outweigh the memories in our mind? How and why we recount stories the way that we do? How accurate are our re-telling of stories or viewing of old photos can be when we lose the organic nature of each simply in the re-telling.

Lewis states on the opening page: “a photograph I saw made me think about how time and the constant mutability of everything is actually the underlying story of all the stories we write. . .to translate the light we see into density, negative and (on) paper an austere and blazing poetry of the real…”

We are asked to question the idea that an image presents an objective or timeless view of reality. Lewis dissects what a camera does to reality: “a camera to hold in your hand the image forming device/ aperture and effect focus on the range within which/ objects appear to be sharp for fractions of seconds…” and how that image is altered or even what happens when said images fade—in short, she forces us to look at our memories and identify the factors that contribute to haziness.

We all struggle as years pass with the idea of losing our memory to age or illness and whatsmore, we attempt to hang on to moments in any way we can, whether it be through storytelling, photographs or recalling images of moments that we’ve kept locked away in the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds. Lewis reminds us, “the human eye retains an image for a brief moment of time this theory is said to account for the illusion of motion which results when a series of images is displayed in quick succession rather than the perception of the individual perception as a composition or a single piece of glass letting me see here we are in a moment that will never happen again time curves conversely liquefies spills out of the picture and fades way until everything is fictional

The hypothesis posed in Camera Obscura is one that we’ve all pondered, albeit subconsciously on a regular basis. If we are constantly reinventing memories “for new ways of thinking about movement to lay in ability and reproduce reality” do we quickly forget that all of the images, visual, textual, sound-pictures are a blip on the screen we call life and each mini-reality is here and gone before we can blink?

Camera Obscura invites us into the mystical world of the imagined and turns us inside out by exposing the reality of our pretend world.If we can look at the theories suggested in these pages with our eyes wide open, then perhaps only then we will be able to hold onto the images and people that exist only in our memories.

Impermanence is something we all struggle with in life. How we choose to overcome the harsh realities in life really boils down to how we view our circumstances, what we chose to acknowledge as being malleable or damaged; Renee Norman carefully considers in these pages. The poems revolve around life and loss as seen through a mother’s point of view while incorporating issues of motherhood, parenting, love and the cultural traditions of Judaism.These varied pieces on mother-daughter relationships and the struggles that result as time ebbs and flows are only some of the themes discussed in Norman’s second collection.

Part one of the book is labeled “Turning Point” where the author possesses a strong sense of humor and longing for time to stand still. In her poem, “First Night of Chanukah” she recounts the omissions in her daughter’s dialogue and what it feels like to be kept at arm’s length,“these days makeup stains the counters by the sink an assortment of products announces the individual . . . details filter to me only as the residue of what is overheard” and the teen brooding in “Mother Troll”wherein a daughter labels her mother the “enemy” “rummaging through private diaries plunges through boxes of keepsakes aims bug out eyes over to the letters crawling on the computer screen grabbing secrets” and a mother begins to recognize the rebellious nature in her young daughter’s dress but outstanding devotion to her Jewish roots in “Anatomy of an Evil”

Aren’t you afraid to wear that? A grey-haired woman with a heavy Jewish accent points to my daughter’s magen david on a chain no, my daughter retorts with an attitude black lipstick wild hair trademark Adidas and some boy’s initials carved on her hand in colored felt. I wear a magen david, too point to mine around my neck it’s hidden, the old woman announces my star under the collar of my shirt it takes several generations to learn not to flinch.

The second half of the collection entitled, Part Two: “Snail Slipping off “depicts the array of human emotions we experience when dealing with aging parents and their subsequent deaths. Poems like Fred and Ginger at 80” conjure up images of old age and things to come “my mother is my father’s legs rushing to fetch a plate-a pickle-his cane-his pills she cannot move fast enough to taste her own food before he barks another order.” A certain peculiarity exists about aging and the demise of our relationships with one another but Renee Norman disassembles the feelings of emptiness and aftermath of death in a way that resonates with her readers in a way that feels familiar. Her depiction of the everyday, her Jewish background and honest account of life as a mother, wife and daughter are remembered and celebrated in this moving collection called Backhand Through the Mother. (Inanna Press)

Kate Durbin’s Fragment’s found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot (Dancing Girl Press) is an exploratory romp through various narratives which masquerade as a journal of the long lost Amelia Earhart. Durbin taps into the lines and phrases that connect foreign to the commonplace by giving us language to digest as fuel for our journey; a mapping out of uncharted terrain that Earhart once traversed.

While the work here seems to be at the core, a poetic account of a fantastical journey into a man’s world. On the page called “Take-Off” the narrator says, “Bumpy, awful. Nearly lost one of my wings. Am I losing my touch? F called me madwoman. I cackled back at him like a blessed witch.” These brief excerpts allow for a glimpse into the moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings a distressed pilot might feel. Durbin invites us in to a world of abandonment and silent screams in her sporadic sprinkling of dialogue and thought. We hear the words of a writer in peril, a desperate plea for acknowledgment and help, “Water: No boats. No planes. Only bruised arms and legs. Paper and pen. This water-logged heart.”

Durbin allows the text to be our guide in these short pages and we begin to ask ourselves, “did this fictionalized Amelia Earhart really exist?” Based on the elements in Earhart’s fictionalized space, we can only be haunted by an unknown back and forth between character and real-life humans, both of which seem urgent and relevant in these pages. For years, readers, historians and the like have been fascinated with Earhart’s story and Durbin has placed her own poetic spin on what it means to possibly survive the horrors of isolation, if only for mere days on some rock of an island where life and hope is extinguished with a gasp for air.“I believe that little red plane was my awakening” is only a faint representation of the vast abyss that led to Earhart’s disappearance. The text here attempts to capture that, (as well as a plethora of additional emotions) in brief dialogue and conversation that quite possibly took place upon a plummeting plane.

Les Fugues Press recently published Harold Abramowitz’s latest work, “Not Blessed”. This is a story told or rather, re-told twenty-eight times with various narratives. Each story takes its own path which the narrator must follow each round, crossing over ground that has been covered on the last pass, but somehow remains less familiar than the time before it. The reader is never sure whether to trust the language of its narrator, nor who the narrator is. What’s so enticing and simultaneously frustrating about this tale is following the uncertainty that exists not only in plot, but also in the resolution of story, language and skewed memories.The pacing of this fantastic but short story/novel, told and told again in 81 pages leaves the reader trying to decipher the formula to the seemingly absent logic of this story. That’s ot to say it’s a bad thing, just something to contend with as you turn each page. Abramowitz asks us, who is the who that’s telling this story and how do we determine truths vs. non-truths when we have narrative regurgitated time and time again? How new is new when you’ve heard it all before? The author shows us that old is the new “new” in twenty-eight different and groundbreaking ways. (Not Blessed is published as part of the TrenchArt: Maneuvers Series at Les Figues Press.)

*** Kate Zambreno’s, “O Fallen Angel” is being reviewed by yours truly over at The Collagist in October.If you haven’t read one of the best books of the year, you can catch a glimpse here of my forthcoming review:

O Fallen Angel is an uncomfortable tribute to all the damaged girls, the toxic teenagers, college roommates and friends you’ve known that were all at once the best and worst versions of themselves. This work spews back at society the vile, misguided judgments we place upon one another with the style of a post-modern poet and the mind of modern day Woolf. The reality and banality of suburbia, its conventional ideals and preconceived notions regarding gender and voice are quickly demystified as Zambreno examines the root of our culture clashes. Here we are asked, what are accepted/dejected ideals on madness, cruelty and everyday life and the monotony that often exists in a middle-class landscape?

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ANGELA STUBBS lives in Los Angeles and is a freelance writer and MFA graduate of the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, esque Magazine, Puerto del Sol, elimae, Marco Polo Quarterly, Lambda Literary, The Rumpus, and others. She is currently working on a collection of short fiction entitled, Try To Remain Hidden.

3 responses to “Between the Pen and Paper v.6”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. You’re so much smarter than me!

  2. Doug Bruns says:

    I very much enjoyed your essay, particularly your thoughts on the Camera Obscura piece. I’ve given a good bit of thought to this business of how photography plays in our life, and in our memories in particular (my essay, for instance, To Transform Awareness, at Obscura Press). I will have to check this out. Thanks for bringing it to my attention–and thanks for the thought-filled piece.

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