Friday, February 27, 2009

You Might Find Cures Between These Pages

Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder
Review by Missy McEwen

Karen S. Williams' debut poetry book Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder dedicated to "the late Dr. Clarence Livingood, former chief of dermatology, Henry Ford Hospital Detroit, Michigan," is a poetry collection of "wonderfully made" poems about medicine and midwives, diseases and doctors and death, cures and childbirth, studies and science and surgeons, and hospitals and healing. Thus, Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder is not an easy read. These poems demand the reader's full attention as Karen S. Williams focuses on topics about smallpox, yellow fever, syphilis, keloids, and anorexia:

"The way the epidemic chewed and swallowed.
Onesimus had seen the horror...
The victims clothing
must be torn off, he heard, tossed
into a flame...
To cure it, some thought would be
a leap of faith, a move beyond
Bostonian cure...
But in Africa for displaced Guramantese,
for its lost son, slave Onesimus,
it required using a prickly thorn,
a hard known briar know to rend flesh
or a twig astutely shaped
a sharp, sharp knife." -- from "Onesimus' Twig" Birth of the smallpox inoculation

"Mosquitoes like these from Hispanola,
troll about ships,
flit and foul in Eastern bogs...
They cluster and breed,
still the quick and walking..." -- from "At First Frost" for Black clerics...whom lead black volunteers to serve the sick during the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia.

"Soon, I won't remember the quiet, petite girl:
brunette...with the lazy eye. She

reminded me of my friend except that
she was white...

She spoke to me in whispers
dulled by cheap wine, her

warm, breathy words
making me forget about prophylactics,
vivid canteen posters that spelled
'Syphilis is Death'...
and said that my French woman
may look clean-- but
there is no medicine for regret."-- from "French Letter" For African-American Soldiers with Syphilis during WWI

The poems in Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder are thick and heavy with history, importance and remembrance. Remembrance of doctors such as Dr. Daniel Hale Williams ("…performer of the first open heart surgery in 1893") and Dr. Kenneth Clark:

"Dark and stiff,
in perfect line,
boys and girls enter the room...
One by one they look at the table
I have placed mid-floor,
burdened with brown and white dolls...
I give the children basic instructions,
shake each tiny hand and say:
'Hello. My name is Dr. Clark.
What I would like for you to do
is look at the table filled with dolls.
Show me the doll you think is nice,
then show me the doll you think is bad.
Then after you do that, show me
which doll looks like you.' -- from "The Doll House" For Dr. Kenneth Clark

Karen S. Williams' Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder published by Willow Books, Aquarius Press (2008) cannot be summed up by quotes pulled from the text. It is one of those books that has to be owned and read in full, read thoroughly (you might find cures between these pages). A poetry book packed with so much knowledge and insight should be in every house and on every desk in every schoolroom and can be purchased at

To learn more about Karen S. Williams go to

Friday, February 6, 2009


Blood Ties & Brown Liquor
Review by Missy McEwen

Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is divided into four sections and the pages that are used for the sections' titles resemble the backs of postcards and the cover of the book is like the front of a postcard (cover illustration: Detail of McIntosh Street by Frank Stanley Herring). Even the feel of the book (glossy, smooth to the touch) reminds me of a postcard. It is as if the reader has been sent a postcard, not just from Milledgeville, Georgia, but from another century and the poems are what is scribbled down (in the neatest handwriting) on the back, written by the relative with a knack for writing and storytelling. He sends you postcards about "Red-brown" Benny:
"Benny's handsome, red-brown like rust on a hoe…
The day is empty like a cicada's husk clinging to a tree,
empty like sound after the mule's kick when Benny falls, free
of this place then the hum of a bee and cry of a Jay.
Benny's skin red-brown like rust on a hoe is empty
as a cicada's husk clinging to a tree." -- from "Elegy for an Older Brother 1922"
He sends well-written, poetic postcards about the "..Georgia heat," "Silas & Mulberries 1917" and "Nigger Street 1937":
"McIntosh Street the sign reads
like the apple red but not
red delicious red but red
like redeye gravy on grits
at Gus's or red like stoplights
but they're also green and yellow
like apples in Allen's Market
on the corner…" -- from "Nigger Street 1937"
Postcards of memories, mostly memories:
"In the spring of '43 you went
to the prom. There was a band…
Lucien Walker spun records. You'd sewn your
own dress---white with bright red apples.
Your father didn't allow you to court.
Said you had to invite a girl. Your date was
Lucille Jackson…" -- from "#5: Going to the Prom"

"When I asked, you told me this quiet family lore.
I didn't do no courting worth nothing
cause daddy was so strict
. In May of '44
when you were seventeen--an innocent thing--
wouldn't be eighteen for seven months yet,
you eloped. Said: He lived right cross the street
there right cross the street
." -- from "#6: Courting"
Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is made up of "records," and "certificates of death and birth" and life -- life as it was in Milledgeville, Georgia, a town with mockingbirds and Flannery O'Connor's grave (there's a poem about it -- "In Memory Hill Cemetery"). In Sean Hill's book, the reader sees, hears, and feels Milledgeville and its people:

"Hear those cicadas building and falling
in rounds? Ain't as soothing as the steady
buzz of bees. Sounds like the whole church
testifying or a car's whine when the belt's
loose..." -- from "Milledgeville Evening Song"

"There was this high yellow man,…
lived up the road/from us when I was a boy…
He raised bees for honey.
[His wife] made candles from the beeswax." -- from "Milledgeville Evening Song"

"All night heavy moonlight dampened
echoes of the curfew bell that rang us in.

Nathaniel stole the little cool
from the late August night that touched my skin

the way the silver I polish and my mistress's
looking glass on first touch took the warmth of my

curious finger…" -- from "Milledgeville Aubade 1831"

Fiction it may be (the back of the book has a blurb about the poems in Blood Ties & Brown Liquor being about "the family of the fictional Silas Wright, a black man born in 1907"), but the feelings are real; the characters are real; the town is real (Sean Hill is from Milledgeville, Georgia). Sean Hill has created a civilization and I forget that Silas Wright is fictional. With an imagination like this, I cannot imagine Sean Hill ever having writer's block. Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is innovative, creative, and inspiring.

To pick up a copy (and cop-a-feel -- the book's feel is awesome) of Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, published by The University of Georgia Press (2008), go to (There you will find a list of places where Blood Ties & Brown Liquor can be purchased). And to learn more about Sean Hill go to: