Excerpted reviews posted at Amazon:
In Saltian, Alice Shapiro sacrifices the most tender parts of a poet's ego to obtain helpful criticisms for her poems. You can read the finished poems in the first 100 pages. The remaining 168 pages contain an early draft of each poem followed by one or more critiques. The critiques reflect and sometimes clash with the poet's intention. Numerous examples show how Shapiro uses or discards editorial suggestions. This feedback provides useful insights to ways different readers interpret a poem–or a single word in a poem. Such insights can make us all aware of the subtleties of language and metaphor as we write and rewrite our own poems. Congrats to Alice Shapiro for her brave vulnerability!
"Who are you?" we are asked by the prologue poem that greets us, as if to hold up a mirror and remind us that "some humans never question" the ever-shifting lights and shadows that "control this mortal dance" we call life. We are then guided through a poetic outline of Saltian based on the Seven Ages of Man, from the famous monologue in Shakespeare's "As You Like It."
We turn the page and we are at the headwaters of a poetic river where Alice Shapiro's poems begin to flow. A voice speaks to an unborn child: "I wondered where you were/between the misted twilight/before birth, before awareness" [I. Infancy]. At birth the journey through stages begins [II. Childhood]. From a carriage swaying in a summer wind, we see an infant's consciousness awaken, "two eyes, barely open/seize the sky" (Look up at the green and blue). Then in a classroom, we watch as childhood innocence "begins/dancing to/The Farmer in the Dell," and is transformed into ego when the child witnesses "self" (A cow woke me up). As the river grows and whitewaters dance with puberty [III. Lover], the door opens to “a first sweet lust-experiment” that “may last a mind’s lifetime”; and nothing is ever the same again (In the morning, looking). Waters now rush over rocks and into waterfalls [IV. Soldier] where in “the land of the quarrel … a soldier’s stage/is of embattled villain and hero/and in the breast of combat/lies precision.” As many currents converge, the waters slow and widen [V. The Justice], where the passion of youth begins to wane, and "The couch is more familiar than the sky." The river now begins to narrow [VI. The Pantaloon, Old Age], and we are told that "The fire's dying, crimson embers fade/and a gray chill begets a hemorrhage of reckoning" (Original face). Lastly, the river approaches the ocean [VII. Dementia and death], and "Watered eyes, soft bones/sleep/control this mortal dance." Finally, we enter the sea, "Freed from dirt-encumbered bodies/light-forms at their youthful peak … in an "everlasting dance" (Saltian).
Alice Shapiro's poems are many voices, embracing the flesh, blood, and bone of human experience, surrounded by the great mystery of existence. The language of her poetry shifts between simple phrases and unexpected turns, laced with depth and vision, which springs from acute observation and intuition. She has a mastery of language, and and a discipline of free form, which captures memories that are both earth bound and metaphysical. Saltian ends in the metaphorical womb of the sea, where life is resurrected to dance again.
Shapiro's Saltian is a fascinating mix of beautifully written poems, with an analysis of each one complementing it. I had the pleasure of contributing to this experimental piece and thought it was fun and interesting to see each poem with an analysis of the poem side by side. It really sheds light on the editing/critiquing process that not many readers have a chance to see. It is also very interesting how each analysis is written by different people with completely different backgrounds and the various points they focus on. If you enjoy working and reading with not only aesthetic poetry , but more experimental, then definitely check this one out.
A poem is like a kiss–awakening dreams, loves, passions, memories.
A poem is like a ray of sunshine–making colors vibrant, revealing the obscure.
A poem, like our beating heart, maintains the rhythms of existence.
Why do I tell you this? To let you know what you will find in Saltian: "to dance," Alice Shapiro's lastest volume of poetry.
Not only does Ms. Shapiro's poetry artfully lace the traits of each passing phase of life with lyrically worded ideas, they offer a perfect opportunity for the classroom. Each poem is a lesson on life and a lesson in the power of writing poetry. In addition, the last half of the book showcases critiques of some of her poems. Again, a perfect opportunity for the classroom. Students can read a poem and then read what a literary expert think s of the poem, thus gaining even more understanding of the ambiguity of perfection and imperfection in poetry.