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oneoar.jpg

One Oar: A Journey with Alzheimer’s, poetry by Marie Bahlke

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

 

Paperback: 38 pages

Publisher: Christmas Cove Press, 2004

Price: $11.95

ISBN-10: 0975383302

ISBN-13: 978-0975383308

 

 

Now in her 90s, writer and poet Marie Bahlke began her writing career when she was in her 70s. She is living proof that it is never too late to chase and catch a dream. Alas, her poetry collection One Oar was inspired by the painful and difficult experience of living through her husband Harold’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and eventual demise.

Writing is often likened to therapy for its healing powers, and that refers not only to the writer, surely, but to the attentive reader. Bahlke’s courage in sharing her and her husband’s journey allows us to enter their intimate world, the world of a caring marriage, where one partner must gradually learn to let go of the other. With her poetry, her skill, her open heart, she allows us to feel along with her the bewilderment, the frustration, the grief, the loneliness, the desire to go on.

In the poem “Balancing,” Bahlke writes:

Half there, half gone

one oar in the our boat

what do I do—crawl to the bow

and paddle from there?

Move my pillow

to the middle of the bed?

 

How do I deal with

faucets that weep,

too many potatoes,

the Christmas tree stand,

a stranger’s kiss,

that shoebox full of foreign coins?

 

Filling out medical forms, the poet hesitates before checking off: widow. She sleeps in a half empty bed. Her damaged heart spreads its pain through her chest and catches in her throat. As we read, we know these emotions and sensations, too, and we know them in direct transfusion from her clear and unsentimental, brutally yet beautifully honest writing. One poem leads into the other to tell the story of this journey, and it is done with the rich beauty of a successful marriage, wife to husband and poet to words.

Interspersed between the poems are the black and white photographs of Steve Bahlke, lending poignant images of nature that offer both metaphor and healing.

One Oar was the winner of Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards. Bahlke continues to write, currently at work on her memoir.

 

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Quality Snacks by Andy Mozina

Book review by Zinta Aistars

 

Series: Made in Michigan Writers Series

Paperback: 216 pages

Publisher: Wayne State University Press (May 1, 2014)

Price: $18.99

ISBN-10: 0814340156

ISBN-13: 978-0814340158

 

It begins with a lie. A good one. The author, after all, is an expert liar. He disarms you for only a moment when he admits it, his expression unchanged.

Andy Mozina, an English professor at Kalamazoo College since 1999 and author of the new story collection, Quality Snacks (Wayne State University Press, May 2014), makes his admission, or confession, on air in a recent interview for the Arts and More program at the WMUK radio station, Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate. Yes, he lies, he says.

As do all fiction writers, and Mozina is fast gaining notoriety as such. Quality Snacks is Mozina’s second story collection. His first, The Women Were Leaving the Men, also published by Wayne State University Press (2007), won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a finalist for the Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writer. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Tin House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review, and The Missouri Review, and has received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the Midwest. His critical work, Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice, was published by Routledge in 2001.

On the morning of his radio interview, talking about his new book, Mozina enters the studio breathless. He abandoned his car, he says, realizing that he was running late. The car was beached like a whale on the grass, he says, with hazard lights blinking and doors swinging open as he tore up the campus in his race to the studio.

Really? Not quite. As it turns out, Mozina’s car is parked in its parking spot, squared between the yellow lines, doors locked, lights off, engine cool.

Mozina grins, just a little. This is how he tells stories, building on near nothing, embellishing, adding twists and surprises and horseshoe turns on every page. He says he often begins his story idea with the twist, then builds the story around it.

Quality Snacks is a collection of 15 stories, each one with Mozina’s signature sense of wry humor. The stories, for the most part, are built around the efforts of middle-aged men struggling with relationship issues.

Santa Claus as a baseball player may not qualify as middle-aged in the final story, “No Joy in Santa’s Village,” but he nevertheless struggles with deteriorating relationships with his elves, who have come to resent him for what they consider Santa’s shortcomings. In fact, the elves in the dugout are showing a dark side as they clamor for Santa flesh in retribution for those long winter nights.

“His dugout was filled with elves. Some never moved, some never sat still—whittling a piece of wood into a bat, whittling the bat into baseballs, whittling the baseballs into tiny bats, which were whittled into still tinier baseballs. Some were incontinent, some respired entirely through their pores, like plants. Some rooted for Santa, some cast spells against him. At each game they created a locked-ward atmosphere in the dugout. Last year, one or another of the elves would occasionally streak onto the field in the middle of a game, tear up a piece of turf, and retreat toward the bench, gibbering hysterically, holding the turf aloft.” (Page 184, No Joy in Santa’s Village)

As for Doritos, a popular snack by Frito-Lay, Mozina says he once had an addiction for the chips, but, happily, has been able to conquer it. His title story, “Quality Snacks,” is a story of a team of Frito-Lay employees brainstorming new and vitamin-fortified flavors for the snack (burrito, chicken quesadilla, enchilada, refried beans), perhaps even marketing them as a main meal rather than just a snack.

Mozina won’t admit to a fear of dogs, but his opening story, “Dogs I Have Known,” begs to differ. He’s convincing. In one mini-story after another, the narrator describes dogs that have made an appearance in his life, none truly vicious, yet Mozina manages to make even the nicest pup at least a little unnerving with toothy potential.

The banker and the college professor meet over sandwich wraps and keep on meeting into what warms and then sizzles into “My Nonsexual Affair: A Tale of Strong and Unusual Feelings.” Lines are not exactly crossed but toed and danced upon with increasing insistence, and Mozina manages his signature effect on the reader once again.

Again: Mozina’s ability to make us see ourselves at our nerdiest, geekiest, weakest, most vulnerable and so also most human. Even as we wince and sigh, glad that’s not me … we have to admit, some of it is. The silly human condition, the offbeat element of truth that is stranger than fiction, unless it’s Mozina’s fiction.

Mozina is riding along on the Michigan Notable Book Tour that began in April, reading with Michigan notable authors Patricia Clark, Arnie Johnston, Ron Riekki and Phillip Sterling. With Quality Snacks officially off the presses on May 1, the book launch party will be held at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit on May 21, where Mozina will read with fellow Wayne State University Press authors Lisa Lenzo, Lolita Hernandez, Diane Decillis, and Kalamazoo College favorite, professor emeritus Conrad Hilberry.

It's the meal that leaves you licking your fingers, Doritos dust and all.

 

Snack more at http://andymozina.com/.

WMUK Arts and More radio interview with Andy Mozina and Zinta Aistars: http://cpa.ds.npr.org/wmuk/audio/2014/04/Andy_Mozina_Full.mp3

 

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