Undercover: Carousel: New & Selected Poetry & Fiction and Muskrat Friday Dinner

Reviews of "Carousel: New & Selected Poetry & Fiction" by Judith R. Robinson and "Muskrat Friday Dinner" by Scott Silsbe.

Carousel: New & Selected Poetry & Fiction
By Judith R. Robinson
Lummox Press; $15

Judith R. Robinson’s poem “This Summer Moment” quietly fades out like the last long evening of summer with these bittersweet lines: “No more white ice cream / Trucks, very few honey bees. / No more starlit hay rides / Or other glowing events.” Longing, regret and much hard-earned wisdom runs through Robinson’s “Carousel: New & Selected Poetry & Fiction.” The poems collected here shimmer with a dusky light, glowing warmly like the sun going down over a still sea.

Robinson is a writer, editor and teacher. She has taught and led writing workshops for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Winchester Thurston School and the Community College of Allegheny County. Currently, she teaches as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

In her poem “Collateral Circulation,” she offers this balm to the reader: “Please understand that the heart does not quite break.” However, Robinson quickly qualifies that reassurance in the following line, “Neither is it ever quite repaired.” Her work is a study of the smooth scar tissue accrued from a life of loving, being loved, and, as the years pile up behind us, being left behind while the memories of time passed continue to haunt us, “what perverse circuitry / of suffering brain fastens on this / utter stillness, this image caught / forever in an unmoveable moment.”

Not every great struggle is of the summer blockbuster variety. Often what we seem to suffer most are those moments when the mind wanders back and an old beloved memory resurfaces unbidden and unprepared for, “so much effort to hold bitterness at bay / in the silence that crushes any thought / that a song we loved might still somehow matter.”

Muskrat Friday Dinner
By Scott Silsbe
White Gorilla Press; $11.99

Scott Silsbe’s poetry is in perpetual conversation with the idea of nostalgia. This is not to say his poems are nostalgic, instead his work recognizes the gravitational pull of some sepia-toned past but pushes back against it.

Silsbe’s latest collection of poems, “Muskrat Friday Dinner,” casts an eye back to the Downriver Detroit of his youth while simultaneously offering a painterly look at our current moment in Pittsburgh. Silsbe has an affinity for the kind of watering holes and dive bars only the locals patronize. “Pinball, 1983” suggests the poet comes by it honestly as he takes the reader to Marve’s Bar, which was “a basement with a television, a pool table, four stools, / and a Star Trek pinball machine. I was 5 years old.”

Bars continue to be a touchstone for Silsbe. They are the places we gather with friends as well as the places we go to be alone with our thoughts. “Sitting on a barstool at the BBT, / having a cold one and a small / plate of pierogies, I’m reminded / of why I don’t watch the news.” Though not immune to the darker things in life — the specter of death and dissolution haunt the edges of his work — Silsbe’s poems seem to always carry within them a comforting light.  


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Nov. 20/ Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo brings his heart-felt and comedic tales of blue collar lives to Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures stellar Ten Evenings series. His novel “Everybody’s Fool,” a sequel to “Nobody’s Fool” (made into a movie starring Paul Newman), returned readers to the down-at-heel upstate New York town of North Bath last year. His nuanced portrayal of life in Rust Belt America particularly hit a chord during the recent presidential election in “Trajectory: Stories,” a new collection of short stories that was published earlier this year. (Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-8866, pittsburghlectures.org)

Nov. 8/ The poets and performers r. erica doyle, francine j. harris, Douglas Kearney and Ronaldo V. Wilson gather to present new work honoring Pittsburgh sculptor Thaddeus Mosley. Organized by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for African American Poetry and Poetics as a part of the Black Futures series, this celebration of Mosley’s work continues the long-standing tradition of ekphrasis, or the response to another work of art, in poetry. (Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Schenley Drive, Oakland; caapp.pitt.edu)


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