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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Award-Winning Memoirist Reviews Imperfect Echoes

Imperfect Echoes
Subtitle: Writing Truth and Justice with Capital Letters, lie and oppression with Small
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Award from USA Book News
Genre: Poetry
ISBN: 9781515232490

Reviewed by award-winning poet and memoirist Elizabeth Krischner

Carolyn Howard’s poems in IMPERFECT ECHOES do articulate justice to the cleanly planed sentence carried across multiple lines. Incorrect to assume such sentences are reductive or simple. Unadorned sentences are an art, as in this one from Howard-Johnson’s poem, “Television for Children in the Seventies,” “she knows/Kermit as well as her Mother Goose/but mostly remembers/ body bags coming home.”

A self-proclaimed literary activist,  Howard-Johnson wants the slipperiness of history, its tendency to drift into the haze of forgetfulness, to regain traction and agency, to have gravitas as a loci for instruction and an insistence for change. Here’s another telescopic line from “Nightmare,” which begins with an apocalyptic dream wherein “Wasps sense/the smell of horror, napalm,” and ends with the deftly ironic sentence, “now my grandson’s computer/skull logo on the snap-top//arrives by Fed-Ex wearing a skin of Iraqi dust.”

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is most effective when her decisively chosen un-grandiloquent diction is subtle with historical reference, particularly when it comes to the unenviable march of war after war, wars witnessed in her lifetime, as in the poem, “Perfectly Flawed,” “I settle into my uncle’s arms, he on his way to pilot B42’s./Something about about the Blitz, something I guess/must be related to lightning, to the undersides/of clouds tinged with fire.”

Another poem, “Drumbeat,” creates a staccato-rhythmic list by naming wars since the 20th century and ends by turning a question into a statement, which is one of poetry’s finer devices: “I with no idea/if remembering makes/things better or worse.” It mimics the way it is impossible to know what makes a sick infant feel better or worse. Possibly, Howard-Johnson is positing that our country is that sick infant.

Howard-Johnson doesn't solely address war, but allows herself to range from her native Utah to art and Background Singers as well as travel and mythology. If, as according to Williams, there is “no news but in poetry, then surely readers will find such news in IMPERFECT ECHOES.

Elizabeth Kirschner is a North Street Book Prize award-winning author of WAKING THE BONES, a memoir. Learn more about her at www.elizabethkirschner.com.

Accepted for inclusion in Poets & Writers prestigious list of published poets, multi award-winning novelist and poet Carolyn Howard-Johnson is widely published in journals and anthologies. She is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. One of her poems won the Franklin Christoph poetry prize. She was an instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program for nearly a decade and edits poetry books for others. Learn more about all her books including her newest, Imperfect Echoes, at http://bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfile or http://howtodoitfrugally.com

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