New review of ‘where i come from the fish have souls’


‘where i come from the fish have souls’ was reviewed for’s “off radar” section by Dana Wilde:

“Where i come from the fish have souls” by Lisa Panepinto…is strongly characterized by an ecological and social conscience grounded in a reverence for nature. These poems range in subject matter from travelogues (“journey to dc”), to encomiums (“beautiful saint alberta,” conversations with an elderly woman), to crystallized lyrics on the spirit the poet detects, or seeks to detect, in the natural world.

Read more at:

“Her new book shines with a soul-light that we can bask in, that reaches into our hearts, into the darkness, and out into the Milky Way.”–Gary Lawless.

Poet and co-owner of Gulf of Maine Books Gary Lawless wrote the following review of ‘where i come from the fish have souls’ & event announcement:

Lisa Panepinto will read from her new book of poems “where I come from the fish have souls” (Spuyten Duyvil Press) at Gulf of Maine Books on Friday, July 26.

I love almost every poem Lisa Panepinto writes.

Lisa, who says, in her poem “let’s give thanks”:

“I want to live in moss
with mountain pollen
and balsam scent on my skin.”

Lisa who says in the book’s introduction:
“I envision “where I come from the fish have souls” as a place of equality and justice where the sacred earth and all living beings are revered and it’s recognized we share a holy connection to the life-giving sun, water, air, ground, and stars. I feel unable to truly rest in this awareness until all people and the land are treated with fairness and allowed freedom.”

Lisa who says of poetry, later in the preface:
“I aim to use poetry as a sense-making process, bear witness, and promote human rights. I also seek to express my relationship with the earth, which I’ve experienced as living breathing light since I was a child.”

Her new book shines with a soul-light that we can bask in, that reaches into our hearts, into the darkness, and out into the Milky Way.

Here is the title poem from the book:

where I come from

running through ferns diving into the sea
a fisherman appears puts wire into me

I lie on the rocks cover myself with salt water
and kelp play harp

there’s always a river circling
and my heart is the sea
a thousand times a day with sun and wind and rain

all I am I give hurricane light
the coral light gold of my return

the tide moves me sings through me
brings ecstatic wind a blessing rain
where I come from the fish have souls
(lisa panepinto)

review by Gary Lawless


Review: The New Testament by Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown, The New Testament 
Poetry, 2014, Copper Canyon Press
Jericho Brown’s The New Testament reshapes the world with fresh syntax and magic. The collection transforms received views of religion, race, gender, identity, politics, and language itself, and brings new life to traditional forms like the ghazal, iambic pentameter, and the blues. Concepts of “brother,” “black,” “solider,” “angel,” “prison,” “hotel,” all become intertwined and remixed, and the outcome is a new poetic scripture. Death is confronted over and over in these poems, and death is transfigured into new life.
There’s a tenderness throughout Testament, a consideration for how it feels to be a child, paralleled with a sometimes desolate world, and an acknowledgment of ones ancestors and the dead, “My grandmother is dead she lives with me.”
One of the most striking elements of Testament is its vulnerability—the showing of loneliness and the need to be loved, “Why is it so hard to make friends here”—the sharing of such feelings that all of us experience brings an intimacy and universality to these poems.
The lines in Testament are deceptively simple. Efficiency at crafting and ending a poetic line is a standout of Brown’s poems. It’s as if each line tells the whole story. Through this style, a unique sense of time is created in the book. The reader is allowed the freedom to savor the music at our own pace—each line can be mused on slowly, or every poem in the collection can be read as an interwoven part of a whole. Both ways allow us to be transported, meditate, escape, and be redeemed by the gifts of song language and story that we seek in poetry.
In the opening piece, “Colosseum,” the narrator says,
I cannot locate the origin
Of slaughter, but I know
How my own feels, that I live with it
And sometimes use it
To get the living done,
Because I am what gladiators call
A man in love—love
Being any reminder we survived.
The concept that love is the reason we’re not dead stays with me. Brown reminds us that love is the reason to be alive, and love is reminder that we are alive. Being able to love who we want is a basic human, spiritual need and a right for life on this planet. Paradoxically, these poems often feature a narrator who is pressured to hide his love of men from people like neighbors and family because of prejudice that remains too prevalent in the 21st century.
 “The Interrogation” sets the tone for motifs that are woven throughout Testament—incarceration, the child self, death, visibility, invisibility, black, love, brother, questioning. Parts I and II of the poem are excerpted below:

In that world, I was a black man.
Now, the bridge burns and I
Am as absent as what fire
Leaves behind. I thought we ran
To win the race. My children swear
We ran to end it. I’d show them
The starting point, but no sky here
Allows for rain. The water infects
Us, and every day, the air darkens…
The air, the only black thing
Of concern—
Who cares what color I was?


Do you mean love?
Certainly a way of loving.

Did it hurt?
When doesn’t it?

We’ll ask the questions. Did it hurt?
When death enters a child’s room,

The child feels a draft.
So you chose for it to hurt.

I chose my brother over my desire
To be invisible.

We thought your brother was dead…
He is.

And his death made you

You only see me
When I carry a man on my back.

But you arrived alone.
That wasn’t me.

That was the man who lost
My brother.
Here we are given a dreamy q&a session, which is its own form, and an image of a narrator who must be martyred like the burning sky in order to be seen.
There is a threaded metaphor within Testament of an incarcerated brother and an incarcerated self, and perhaps an incarceration of an entire people. Because the brother is condemned through circumstances of oppression, the narrator himself feels condemned by association, guilt, love, or martyrdom, and the wish to save and love his “brother”—his kin and lover. The narrator thus becomes the accused, the condemned, and the guilty by association, whether in reality or through empathy. This echoes Whitman, “Whoever degrades another degrades me, And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.”
Etheridge Knight’s prison poems come to mind while reading Testament, and Brown references infusing Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Terrance Hayes, and popular culture into this collection as well.
In addition to forced incarceration, Brown addresses the constant presence of war in our lives,
It’s like a love for me, this
Love of language, and we are
Men at war, says the news.
No matter how long we speak
English, English means not
To count us or to count us
Darkly, but I know what
I want and so does channel 4.
They give it to me, one heap
After another: soldiers who,
Following another battle, shed,
Sweat, and spit like fountains.
Whether it’s an actual war being broadcast on the news, wrestling with using the language of colonizers, paying taxes that go towards killing others, finding oneself in impoverished circumstances that push us towards harm, or fighting to love who we want, it’s as if we must be soldiers or healers in order to live in this world. Testament gives us a wish to heal the brokenness through love, which is “reminder we survived.”
The New Testament reflects an American society that continues to recast unjust bias towards those who don’t fit into a white, straight, male homogenous mold, a world that poisons nature itself, and in turn poisons people:
“We saw police pull sharks out of the water just to watch them not breathe”
Such lines allow us to reflect on the wastefulness, the confusion, the senseless violence of present day America, where authority can be cruel just for the sake of cruelness, and the sacred is condemned like a messiah.
There’s a fragmentary element to Brown’s poems, broken up pieces of memory, reality so harsh that we wonder if it’s even real, and lines that stand on their own, yet each line moves easily into the next, each poem resonates off the others. This feels cyclical and renewing.   Cohesiveness is made from the fragments. The reader is invited into a reclaiming, where the question is asked, who cares who I love, as long as I love in a world gone wrong?
The New Testament is affirming and brave in giving us poems where narrators choose to embrace their true selves—their color, “Blackness as a way”, their sexuality, “So what if I love him / The one they call bad, / The one they call black”—over their “Wish to be invisible.”

“i never stopped loving no / one” –etheridge knight

The sun rose today, and
The sun went down
Over the trees beyond the river;
No crashing thunder
Nor jagged lightning
Flashed my forty-four years across
The heavens. I am here.
I am alone. With the Indianapolis / News
Sitting, under this indiana sky
I lean against a gravestone and feel
The warm wine on my tongue.
My eyes move along the corridors
Of the stars, searching
For a sign, for a certainty
As definite as the cold concrete
Pressing against my back.
Still the stars mock
Me and the moon is my judge.
But only the moon.
‘Cause I ain’t screwed no thumbs
Nor dropped no bombs—
Tho my name is naughty to the ears of some
And I ain’t revealed the secrets of my brothers
Tho my balls’ve / been pinched
And my back’s / been / scarred—
And I ain’t never stopped loving no / one
O I never stopped loving no / one
                                                                       Indianapolis, Indiana
                                                                      April 19, 1975
-Etheridge Knight


This poem echoes in my head as a daily mantra, particularly the last stanza, in which Knight gives us two of the most beautiful poetic lines I know of:

And I ain’t never stopped loving no / one

O I never stopped loving no / one

These lines bring strength to my heart and remind me of my dignity. When I recall the lyric phrase, “I never stopped loving no / one” I think how that’s true for me–and gain a sense of reclaiming.  Because if we can say that much for ourselves, maybe there’s hope for the world.

To never stop loving, to never cast anyone aside—is a revolutionary act.  A society that teaches it’s ok to put ourselves above others—other socioeconomic groups, other races, other countries, other sexualities, other genders—is out of skew.  So few of us receive unconditional love, yet it’s something all of us need.  To forsake anyone is to forsake ourselves.

The speaker in this poem turns the other cheek. He’s saying he’s been beaten before, he’s been molested—but he refuses to cast such hatred and violence against another. He will not dishonor his brother, torture people, or drop bombs. He chooses love.

I admire the tightness and music of Knight’s lines, and the efficiency of his syntax. “Cause I ain’t screwed no thumbs” brings a visceral image of torture and a declaration against such brutality, in just six syllables. Subtle, sensual images like “The warm wine on my tongue” let us anchor ourselves in the slightly buzzed euphoria & lonesome soul searching of the narrator.

This poem begins with a primordial ceremony—the rising and setting of the sun, which ushers in all births and deaths each day. Reverence for the solar system is established, yet the speaker says there is nothing especially striking about this day–the anniversary of his birth.  He has humbled himself to his place in the universe–his role in the “the corridors of the stars.” And he acknowledges the dead and eternity by celebrating his birth in a graveyard. Though lonesome under the stars, it’s consoling that the moon cannot judge him too harshly because he’s never turned to the wrongness of dropping bombs or ratting out a friend.  He “never stopped loving no / one.”  The lines sing.

The pause indicated by “/” after “no” accentuates the word “one,” and brings to mind oneness. I think it is the egolessness that comes to mind from “O I never stopped loving no / one”– the oneness, a power invoked by continuing to love everyone in our lives no matter what despair and torture the world faces us with—that makes the last stanza of this poem such a powerful mantra.

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

I learned about Lorraine Hansberry through the great songwriter, musician, performer and civil rights activist hero Nina Simone.  Hansberry, a genius playwright who died at age 34, was one of the first people who inspired Simone to work for social justice and the rights of black people.

Hansberry’s groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun is a brilliant, stunning work of art, as well as important social commentary on the oppression of minorities and the need for compassion that transcends human constructed barriers.  Such assets of literature are still highly relevant 55 years after A Raisin in the Sun’s debut.

The title of the play, and perhaps the premise, comes from the Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred.”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Hansberry asks the same questions as Hughes’ poem in A Raisin in the Sun, a drama both captivating and heart-wrenching in its realistic depiction of the lives of a hard-working yet impoverished black family living in cold war era Chicago.  A Raisin in the Sun centers around the dreams each family member has for a better life—dreams that are hungry for progress & growth, desperate for survival & self-worth.  Ultimately it is the communal, life-giving dream of the family matriarch, Mama, which brings understanding, strength, perseverance and dignity to a family hindered by circumstances–victims of racism, poverty and bad luck.

Every line in the A Raisin in the Sun serves to show insight into the characters of the family and adds to the construction of scene and setting, such as in the following passage portraying Mama’s messages of love:

“There is always something left to love.  And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing…Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most?  When they done good and made things easy for everybody?   Well then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all.  It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so!  When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right.  Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”

The speaker, Mama, is an emblem of a family structure that holds love above all else, allowing self-respect and humanity to prevail.

Hansberry’s play shows that amidst a world of hypocrisy, hatred and apathy, we can overcome the most daunting trials through love for one another, understanding, solidarity and being true to ourselves, our families, and a greater good.  We may be broke and have nothing material in this world, but strength comes through maintaining dignity and being able to hold our heads high with satisfied minds.

Review: Nurses Who Love English by Paula Marie Coomer


Paula Marie Coomer is a nurse and writer who uses poems as balm.  Her latest collection of poetry Nurses Who Love English gives a diverse coalescence of lyric story and song: a soundtrack to a personal history that traces American landscapes of ghosts, rivers, mountains, healers, wanderers and the divine.  The language in these poems feels authentic, giving the sense of passing through forest roads and being let into secrets near campfires, in fields and in diners.

The poems range stylistically from couplets to syllabics to found poems, all containing imagery of earth, dream, memory, presence and desire.  Coomer’s use of the prose poem is notably musical and enchanting:

“He carves us pitch for better spark and hotter kindling to knit old times with folks he doesn’t even know.  The fire keeps you and I tippling Glenlivet and telling serendipity tales long after he drives into the October dim.

Brook trout with strawberry bellies, fins dipped white-edged, trimmed like frosting, leave Strawberry Lake by the scores to spawn, thick enough to walk across the fingers of the delta.  I think it’s a miracle and accuse you: you led us here because humans need to see miracles now and again.”  – from“Strawberry Lake’s Photo Album”

One of the most compelling aspects of Coomer’s poetry is the surprising and spiritual glimpses into human relationships.

Nurses Who Love English offers current social commentary, like in “Polar Bear SOS,” which gives stark and realistic visions of polar bears drowning in the melting polar icecap, and in “A New Poetry,” where the luck of a few people is juxtaposed with the destruction of others, and the raven’s song has the final say.  While using art to imitate the life of now, Nurses Who Love English keeps hold of a well-rooted foundation capable of transforming the heartbreak of loss and war with beauty and love.

The book showcases other types of transformation as well.  In “On Leaving Home” the narrator describes boldly breaking free of her Indiana homeland at a young age, and how the place “never said, daughter, why don’t you/come on home, now, you hear?   It just let me/go.  It let me take my satchel and book bag/and follow the creek out of the woods, down/and out of my holler.”  Here the narrator recognizes the need to spread her wings in order to survive, yet she is pulled by a telepathic message from her Aunt Imogene, “Smart girls don’t drill holes in the water bucket.”  The poem ends.  Such unsentimental telling is a Paula Marie Coomer signature, seen also in the Americana traveling poem that comprises her chapbook Road.

Coomer’s poems show us how to meld into our surroundings, which in turn become us, and give us the wisdom to love trees, sip water straight from the well, and listen to birds give blessings, “Safe journey earth daughter.”

Review by Lisa Panepinto

Originally published at:

walter echo-hawk talk

Last week we attended a speech by Walter Echo-Hawk, author, tribal-law expert and Pawnee from Oklahoma.  He is a brilliant speaker—warm, funny, incisive and inspiring in his ability to be positive and hopeful amidst decades of untangling legal trespasses enacted against Native American tribes.

Echo-Hawk discussed how indigenous people in North America are approaching an exciting new era of reclaiming human rights, led by internationally endorsed legal framework put forth by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Obama and the United States officially signed in support of in 2010 (the US was the last country to sign it).

Echo-Hawk sited the need for a national discourse on Native American human rights and human rights violations.  He pointed out that the US has made significant strides in designing policy that grants human rights to women and people with disabilities, but not for Native Americans.  Tribal cases lose over 80% of Supreme Court rulings, & indigenous peoples are among the most impoverished populations in the US, which is directly linked to an oppressive legal system that denies tribes human rights.

Legal framework for protecting human rights as outlined by the United Nations protects the basic right to exist and practice one’s culture.  To Native Americans, that means being able to care for and manage their traditional sustenance lands.

Just a few days ago in Maine, state governor LePage transgressed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by trying to deny Passamaquoddies fishing privileges on their own land, making threats to close their hatcheries, despite the fact that Maine tribes are sovereign nations with their own Fish & Game departments to enforce fishing & gaming limits on their territory.  Such human rights violations among us cannot be tolerated.

Echo-Hawk discussed how current US laws dealing with tribal-state and tribal-federal issues are based on colonialism and racism, which uses oppressive, abusive language based on the Doctrine of Discovery, such as calling Maine tribal peoples imbeciles who require parental guardianship.  Echo-Hawk spoke of the necessity for a new legal framework based on recognizing past and present human rights violations perpetuated against Native Americans, safety from further injustice, healing from wrongs, and enabling indigenous cultures to manage land and practice their cultures.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a blueprint for how to ensure indigenous peoples are allowed such rights.

When indigenous cultures are allowed to exist and flourish, practices of reciprocity and living in balance with nature create a healthier environment and better, more diverse world for everyone.  Human rights for indigenous people enables human rights for animals, water, air, and land as well.

Echo-Hawk ended his talk by calling for forgiveness and healing among Native Americans and non-Indians.  He described how all wisdom traditions contain forgiveness practices, and sited these steps for healing from wrongdoings:

1 Acknowledge that injury has taken place

2 The person who harmed another apologizes and asks for forgiveness

3 Person or community accepts apology and forgives

4 Offer voluntary acts of retribution and atonement to wipe the slate clean

5 Healing process allows justice and compassion



Review: “Gift For The End,” by Mariee Sioux

Mariee Sioux makes gentle music that encapsulates the fierceness of the wild.  Her latest album Gift for the End inspires the sensuous and provides instruction for returning to the earth and intimate realities of the animals.  The first track titled “Homeopathic” is a perfect entryway to an album that cleans us with natural healing remedies and entrances us in melodies for the ride.

One of the most stunning aspects of Gift for the End is the visionary poetics of Mariee Sioux’s lyrics—the singsong cadences, refrains, fresh language, chant incantations, and truth telling encircles the heart with illuminated galaxies.  Sioux knows about transformation.  How a fawn can turn into a raven, creating the world.  Her songs are sympathetic to the animals, insects, and trees, sensitive perspectives necessary to the survival of the planet.  

Even if listeners don’t pay close attention to the messages in Sioux’s lyrics, they can still receive benediction thru the flying, seed-sowing, and animal sounds found throughout the album.  Sioux’s style is acoustic folk—front porch dream roots blended with ethereal stargaze.  Her sound is unique, but Gift to the Endbrings to mind other artists who are aware they arose from the sea and sand, like Death Vessel, Beachwood Sparks, and the Tallest Man on Earth.


A standout of Gift for the End is “Old Magic,” which describes a western world that’s replaced the old magic of cultures and creatures who live on the earth without destroying it for a world of plastic deer and tarps.  This paradigm is articulated in the lines:

We ran through the mule shadows
Hand in hand sorrows in sorrows
Chased by plastic deer and tarp spirits
Tripping over tools and sleeping bullets
Years of dusty praying
You picked a pouch off of your dad’s tree
Poured it in my mouth to show me
How he’d saved all of your baby teeth

You said “Special fears they always win”
Like a river been robbed of its bend
A braid you just don’t want to end

Nature has been robbed like generations of dreams hanging from the tree of life, like a river that’s lost its bend because a dam flooded it, like forests replaced with coins, dead streams, bullet-riddled bodies and petroleum.  

Mariee Sioux’s music is healing in how it parallels assaults against the earth with honoring the holy beauty of non-human creatures.  The personifying of animals present in Sioux’s songwriting is a crucial truth.  It leads the way for consciousness shifts in which our chants, poems, guitar playing and entering the bodies of fish & birds brings us back to reciprocal relationships and the ever present divine.  

In giving voice to nature and envisioning the reclaiming of magic, Sioux’s music has the power to make sensual scenes from her songs arise in our surroundings.  I saw a key hanging from a tree this morning.  

As glaciers melt, fires burn, species go extinct, and numerous other human-led apocalyptic visions emerge, Sioux’s music is a prayer for the wild, a sincere gift for restoring a world where life is valued and protected, even as one sees a polluted horizon become nearer.    

Mariee Sioux rebuilds the goddess rib by rib on Gift for the End and asks her to please take us back into her realm, we need her direly.

we can be forever blessed if we take the back roads. –mariee sioux

Review by Lisa Panepinto

Originally published on Cabildo Quarterly 

on Gabriela Mistral

Chilean poet & activist Gabriela Mistral is the first Latin American, and the only woman Latin American, to receive the Nobel Prize.  Mistral passionately devoted herself to poetry and a spiritual commitment to liberty & civilization, thru education & service, which she considered alternatives to barbarism.  She was a founder of UNICEF, champion of women and children, and an international worker in the struggle against poverty, illiteracy and oppression.

Someone who identified all her life with the poor and outcast, Mistral’s commitment to social justice and poetry make her revered throughout Latin America.  She placed value on communication and the gift of translating one’s own reality to the reality of another.  Her poems use language of clarity and truth that all people can relate to.

A distinctive author herself, Ursula Le Guin’s beautiful translations provide the first substantial collection of Mistral’s divine poems in both Spanish and English.

Mistral’s stanzas are so gorgeously visceral I can hear them thru my fingertips:

   Hincho mi corazón para que entre
como cascada ardiente el Universon.
El Nuevo día llega y su llegada
me deja sin aliento.
Canto como la gruta que es colmada
canto mi día Nuevo.
   Por la gracia perdida y recobrada
humilde soy sin dar y recibiendo
hasta que la Gorgona de la noche
va, derrotada, huyendo.
-by Gabriela Mistral
   I open out my heart so the Universe
can enter like a cataract of fire.
The new day comes; its coming
takes my breath away.
I sing, a hollow filled to overflowing,
I sing my break of day.
    For grace lost and grace regained,
I am humble, not giving and receiving
until the Gorgon of the night
flees defeated and takes flight.
-translation by Ursula K. Le Guin


Work cited:

Mistral, Gabriela.  Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral.  Trans. Ursula Le Guin.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003.  Print.