A Unique Voice: Martin Elster’s “Celestial Euphony”

One of the complaints common among non-English majors is that poetry today is often inaccessible, sacrificing general audiences for academic ones, or that the qualities of rhyme and meter have been sacrificed on the altar of modernism and free verse. Martin Elster, however, simply writes the kind of poetry he writes, both formal and rhyming, because as a musician this is what he intuitively prefers. His is a unique voice, and his new book Celestial Euphony gives us poetry that is not self-consciously “accessible,” but rather engages the reader with a rare sort of clarity and art, bringing us perspectives on nature, science, and human nature that are wrought with the intent of conveying them in the best way possible. So below is the press release from the publisher for his book, which can be purchased here.

We’re pleased to announce the release of Martin Elster’s new poetry collection, Celestial Euphony. Many of you might know him by his pen name, Miles T. Ranter, under which he participates in our weekly poetry contests. In addition to winning many of our contests and earning an honorable mention in many more, Martin has seen his work published in numerous publications and anthologies, and has won or placed in several poetry competitions. Celestial Euphony is available in paperback and Kindle.

“Martin’s fluid movement among various frames of reference— from astrophysics to musicology to botany to etymology—creates a structure of sheer imaginative play, which frames his utterly humane eye. His poetry explores the lyrical, intellectual, affective forces of language, while staying rooted in sensitive subjectivity. Martin is a joyous craftsman!”

Matthew Kirshman, author of The Magic Flower & Other Sonnets

“Stepping into Martin Elster’s work, I’m taken by its rhythms and musicality. These are poems to read aloud, savor their sounds, and enjoy a meandering walk through the world around us.”

Frank Watson, editor of Poetry Nook and author of The Dollhouse Mirror, Seas to Mulberries, and One Hundred Leaves

Through ballades and ballads, acrostics and ghazals, sonnets and Sapphics—both lighthearted and ruminative—the evocative poems in this collection portray the sights and sounds of our natural and manmade environments, the plants and animals everywhere around us and our relationship with them, sometimes pleasant and beautiful, often harmful and ominous.

There are poems about terrestrial musicians and interstellar musicians, the songs of spring peepers and katydids, the plight of spiders and polar bears, humans in love and at war, songbirds vying with urban cacophony, lonely dogs and ghostly dogs, and very serious musings about the huge and mysterious cosmos that we are all a part of and how we click with it.

About the Author

Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.

His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies.

His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations.

A sample poem is below:

Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain

A dilapidated lepidopteran
dying atop The Mountain of Butterflies
holds out her wings to the darkness — wings as thin
as the mist that swirls beneath monsoonal skies —

and pictures the tea farm women, who often glow
like painted sawtooths dotting the plantation;
and, wallowing in the Mahaweli’s flow,
trumpeting in carefree conversation,

elephants plashing, washing away all worry.
Unlike them, she’s alone here on this rock,
a decent rock on which to dream. No hurry
to flee the fleeting memories that flock

like the birds of Sinharaja: the cunning jackal,
the whistling thrush, the fish in every lake
(which lure the hungry to come with boats and tackle
and float on magic molecules that slake

the roots of rice), the din of Devon Falls
reverberating through a green expanse
where a muntjac barks, a magpie calls and calls,
and footsteps crack the chrysalis of her trance —

men climbing toward her haven. Soon the sun
will oust the night. Slowly she beats her wings,
wings like frozen wood as, one by one,
they gain the hilltop, quicker as someone sings

a hymn to dawn, then darts away as a bell
blossoms like an orchid on the height
and, rising with the most resounding knell,
fades like the constellations at first light.

Wonderful Review of To Love the River in Lily Poetry Review


The gorgeous print literary journal Lily Poetry Review has published a beautifully-written review of To Love the River in its Summer issue. Due to family issues, I haven’t been very active posting things of late, but hope to do more now. The review is written by Editor-in-Chief Eileen Cleary, author of the heartbreaking and powerful book Child Ward of the Commonwealth (Main Street Rag, 2019). She writes “To Karami, poetry is music and as such is composed rather than written.” And “to explore luminous spaces in the hands of this capable and imagistic poet is a true pleasure.” How can I thank you, dear reviewer, for such a thrilling review? And the journal itself is a thing of beauty, full of poems that open up worlds to the imagination. Well worth a subscription.

Terence Hayes: Master of Form

When it comes to form, nobody does it like Terence Hayes: he understands the larger view of form as a Force that can drive a point right into your heart. In this New Yorker article, author Dan Chiasson says that the sonnet, a form Hayes calls “part music box, part meat grinder,” became the poet’s vehicle of choice for his recent book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin , because for him,

the sonnet offered an alternative unit of measurement, at once ancient, its basic features unchanged for centuries, and urgent, its fourteen lines passing at a brutal clip.

In the book, the American sonnet both contains and assaults his assassins: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” The form itself being the brainchild of “the L.A. poet Wanda Coleman, who died in 2013 and who coined the term American sonnet. Who considered the term as referring to a more “improvised” sonnet that used jazz techniques and musical patterns.

The language is powerful and immediate, exuding worlds and threats. This is what sets Hayes apart: the combination of power, poetic skill (unique use of craft), unrelenting content, and an intensity of heart that drives all this into a tour de force of words closing in on flesh.

All cancers kill me, car crashes, cavemen, chakras,
Crackers, discord, dissonance, doves, Elvis,
Ghosts, the grim reaper herself, a heart attack
While making love, hangmen, Hillbillies exist,
Lilies, Martha Stewarts, Mayflower maniacs,
Money grubbers, Gwen Brooks’ “The Mother,”
(My mother’s bipolar as bacon), pancakes kill me,
Phonies, dead roaches, big roaches & smaller
Roaches, the sheepish, snakes, all seven seas,
Snow avalanches, swansongs, sciatica, Killer
Wasps, yee-haws, you, now & then, disease.

A list that also serves as ammunition, a kind of automatic fire that thrills with its sheer brilliance and expanse of imagination. And also with its truth, how he disgorges the racist and white supremacist attitudes made flesh in the form of Donald Trump and his followers. To which this collection is addressed, among other things.

This word can be the difference between knowing / And thinking. It’s the name people of color call / Themselves on weekends & the name colorful / People call their enemies & friends.” 

Trump is a palpable undercurrent throughout the book, and occasionally Hayes addresses the President directly, calling him “Mr. Trumpet”:

. . . You ain’t allowed to deride
Women when you’ve never wept in front of a woman
That wasn’t your mother. America’s struggle with itself
Has always had people like me at the heart of it. You can’t
Grasp your own hustle, your blackness, you can’t grasp
Your own pussy, your black pussy dies for touch.

These poems all happen in the mind, which has been portioned into zones called “I” and “you.” Both assume countless different roles, but what remains constant is their reliance upon each other and their tendency to flip positions. This makes the work morally ambiguous in ways some readers will resist: I suspect that not everybody will recognize “blackness” as any part, even a rejected part, of Trump, a man whose loathing of black people seems unabashed.

Yes, “Hayes isn’t describing canonical melancholy, the pined-for vision of mortality that poets sometimes indulge in. He fears a more immediate kind of danger, which can’t be aestheticized or glorified in verse. “You are beautiful because of your sadness,” Hayes admits. And yet: “You would be more beautiful without your fear.” 

In the form he invented:

The Golden Shovel

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981
When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real
men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we
drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school
I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk
of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we
watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight
Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing
his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We
watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.
He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,
how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we
got down on our knees in my room. If I should diebefore I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.
II. 1991
Into the tented city we go, we-
akened by the fire’s ethereal
afterglow. Born lost and cool-
er than heartache. What we
know is what we know. The left
hand severed and school-
ed by cleverness. A plate of we-
ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-
ing in the afterglow. A late-
night chant. Into the city we
go. Close your eyes and strike
a blow. Light can be straight-
ened by its shadow. What we
break is what we hold. A sing-
ular blue note. An outcry sin-
ged exiting the throat. We
push until we thin, thin-
king we won’t creep back again.
While God licks his kin, we
sing until our blood is jazz,
we swing from June to June.
We sweat to keep from we-
eping. Groomed on a die-
t of hunger, we end too soon.
——————-
The Blue Terrance
If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,
the math teacher’s toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:
this match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.
Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,
and the lyrics asking: How long has your door 
been closed? I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows
of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song
in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That’s why
the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that’s why when they call, Boy, you’re in
trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you’re a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love
watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit
and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No 
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-
house more. That’s why nothing’s more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing’s more romantic
than the way good love can take leave of you.
That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

My Book To Love the River Now Available!!

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My first full-length poetry collection, To Love the River, is now on sale at the publisher Kelsay Books’ website! This is much sooner than I had imagined, months earlier than its projected publishing date, so this is a huge and happy surprise. The book is the culmination of many years’ work, the subject matter spanning a river’s worth of emotions and experience condensed into the craft of both formal and free verse poetry.

The cover art is by the Swedish artist — a pioneer of abstract art pre-Kandinsky! — and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) whose séance-inspired (and later simply inspired) paintings are finally getting recognition in her first solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. Like her work, my poetry also reflects a subtly spiritual perspective on life.

Here is one sample poem from the book, which echoes the “dawn” theme woven through some of these poems, “The Word for Dawn,” first published in Sukoon journal.

The Word for Dawn

Fajr: the j a mere mirage, light on the tongue,
just melting into r, no vowel between,
bluing into nothing but a turning of the lips.
I hear it like a distant motorcycle,
its street lost in a cricket’s heartbeat,
and I find it leaking tiny drumbeats from
my son’s earbuds fallen from his ear,
buzzing in his sleep. Newborn wasps,
tinny, revving j’s straight through the r’s
that rise and thread their little lights
where teeth touch lips and feel the furry f’s
a darkness, void, a space of hairy night.
A single hair-edge turning from the deep.

My Review of Neely’s Passing Through Blue Earth in WRR


The Whale Road Review has published my review of Cynthia Neely’s chapbook Passing Through Blue Earth. Please check it out, as well as the fine poetry and reviews in this truly excellent site. Well worth your time. Also here is a link to where you can buy a copy of Neely’s award-winning chapbook, selected by the fantastic and illustrious Kwame Dawes, one of my favorite poets too.

My Review of Ladin’s Fireworks in the Graveyard at The Rumpus!

The Rumpus has published my review of Joy Ladin’s transformative poetry collection Fireworks in the Graveyard” today here. Joy Ladin is quite an amazing person herself, and enlightened me, in the process of reading her work and about her struggles, about the deep connection between transexuality and religious faith. The review explores this and so much more. Please check it out!

Faisal Mohyuddin: The “Gentle Ferocity” of His Must-Read Voice

If you haven’t read or discovered Faisal Mohyuddin, then this may be the moment to wake up to the unforgettable, even transformative experience of his poetry. Also an accomplished and unique visual artist, as well as a recognized innovator in the teaching profession, Mohyuddin’s poetry is not to be missed. His newest collection, The Displaced Children of Displaced Children, won the 2017 Sexton Prize in poetry judged by Kimiko Hahn. A “proud American Muslim” whose voice enlightens a path to multi-cultural coexistence and compassion, one cannot really categorize his work in the usual sense, because its boundaries are made dynamic by their heartfelt human core. Just a sample of his work below. (More on his website.)

Migration Narrative

What wilts becomes
the world for the weary.
They can’t help but

wonder at the lovely
shadow touch of another
war’s rubbled song.

If crossing freely into fire
can churn the blood’s
hollow music, then

surely the orphan can
ask at dusk for water
and get more than spit.

—————————-

The following poem, published in The Missouri Review, is one of the most amazing poetic expressions of faith, fatherhood, love, and defining sacredness, I’ve seen.

The Opening

It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help. Guide us
to the straight path: the path of those You have blessed,
those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray. —The Holy Quran, “Al-Fatiha,” verses 5-7

THE CHILD: Tell me, Father,
what new turbulence took hold
in your blood on the day of my birth,
and did your stomach sink
each time I cried out for the basket
of your arms?

THE FATHER: I held you too close
to feel anything but the wild
gallop of your tiny heart.

THE CHILD: Did you recite
the call to prayer in my ear, slip
your pinky, dipped in honey, in my mouth
to mark with song and sweetness
my entry into the ummah
of the Prophet Muhammad?

THE FATHER: All night, I nursed
a candle’s flame, leaning in and out
of its sphere of light, mumbling verses
of the Qur’an, mispronouncing
the Arabic, not understanding a word
beyond “Al-Fatiha,” but knowing,
nonetheless, I had fulfilled
this first obligation of fatherhood.

THE CHILD: What was it like
to look into my eyes for the first time?

THE FATHER: I felt as if my fingers
had combed the embryonic silt feathering
the deepest bottom of the ocean.
And when I resurfaced, holding the key
to fatherhood, I understood
the true worth of being a living thing.

THE CHILD: What did you say
to Mother when she could not find
the words to tell you about how
the breaking open of a body
propels one toward heaven, that God
promises the greatest share of Paradise
to mothers?

THE FATHER: After a long silence,
I said, “To every unutterable thing
buried in your heart, to every miraculous truth
teetering on the tip of your tongue,
yes, yes, ameen.”

THE CHILD: Did you spill the blood
of two goats, give their meat to the poor,
to bless my arrival, to mark
the transition of my soul
from the library of the eternal
into the living fire of a body too fragile to share?

THE FATHER: For twenty years,
I harvested the silhouette of my father’s voice
from the night sky, let its echo rock me
to sleep whenever I felt so crushed
by heartache that even God’s infinite love,
a rescue vessel sailing through a history
of bloodshed and loss, could not hold me
intact enough to believe in survival—
so if it was my hand or another’s
that guided the blade along two throats
I cannot recall, nor do I want to.

THE CHILD: What else
might you have done
had fatherhood not stolen you
from the life you knew?

THE FATHER: When a surgeon
saves your life by amputating a limb
housing a reservoir of poison,
you do not curse the violence
of his work, nor the pain of the procedure.
You bow down before God.
You thank the man. You learn to write
with the other hand, to walk
on one leg.

THE CHILD: One final question,
Father. What should I say
when my son, when I too become a father,
asks me about the hours
of your life that exist beyond
my knowing?

THE FATHER: Tell him more
about the hours of your life
so his hunger is not as desperate
nor as bottomless
as ours.

My Review of Tweedy’s The Body’s Alphabet on Glass Poetry

My Review of Ann Tweedy’s wonderful poetry collection The Body’s Alphabet has been published on Glass-Poetry Journal. A gorgeous site, well worth visiting for the poetry too. So excited to be a part of Glass, one of the most beautiful venues out there. Please check it out.

The book’s author Ann Tweedy is a Pacific Northwest-based Poet, lawyer, scholar, and advocate for Native American rights, environmental protection, as well as polyamory, aka bisexuality, as a married bi woman. A voice that must be heard!

Review of In No Man’s Ear in Tupelo Quarterly


My review of R. Nemo Hill’s latest book, In No Man’s Ear, has been published on Tupelo Quarterlyhere. The book, available at Dos Madres Press, is a must-read, in a visionary class by iself, so please check out the review, published along with two fascinating reviews well worth your time, by Sara Rauch and Okla Elliott. I’m thrilled this review is in TQ, thanks to editor Kristina Darling.

Read My Review, “Poetically Incorrect,” of Jessy Randall’s Book 

Is this the world’s first poetry book review with comics? OK, maybe not, but it seemed appropriate and even irresistible to try my hand at comics as review for a book that includes poetry comics. Look for Howard Bloom going for the buzzkill button. Jessy Randall’s new book, Suicide Hotline Hold Music, is the inspiring subject of the review, which includes samples of her comics too. Of course. And yes, the review also includes writing.