Poets Probe Humanity's Dark And Hopeful Heart In Quill & Crow Publishing's New Collection, 'Renascentem'

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Poetry is the music of the written word. Rooted in the rhythmic magical incantations and oral storytelling of preliterate cultures, from the epic verse of Gilgamesh and Beowulf to the romantic Shakespearean sonnets and political allusions of Yeats, poetry has assumed a vast range of elusive, sensuous, and lyrical forms. In Classical times poems were explained in spiritual terms—Homer and Hesiod claimed their writings were inspired by the Muses of Greek mythology—while in western European tradition, the oft-irrational sentiments of the poet were believed to be tainted with madness.

Known for their dedication to reviving Gothic literature, Quill & Crow Publishing is a small press endeavor with a continuing series of multi-author collections devoted to those onyx shades of poetic expression, The Crow Calls. Edited by A.L. Garcia with Quill & Crow publisher Cassandra Thompson, the sixth volume, Renascentem (available July 15), includes nearly fifty writers willing to explore the darker yearnings of human experience.

The book opens on a reflective note about the nature of poetry itself in Garcia’s pensive ‘Of The Apotheosis of Hercules’. Thoughts on brotherhood, addiction, Christ, and the Devil can be found in Andrew W. Clark’s powerful ‘Golgotha’. ‘Gentle Revenge’ by Ann Marie Eleazer reflects upon the demise of a weathered heart. Some of Renascentem’s most beautiful passages are in ‘Where I Left Him’ by Harlequin Grim (‘...though dig, and dig did I; ‘til dusk had bled my bones’), a rumination on passing friendship. The lament of an ancient tree is sung in Jacob Steven Mohr’s ‘The Ancestor’, while editor Garcia’s ‘Strands’ conjures powerful imagery about a woman no stranger to holy land. The changing of the seasons isn’t always a welcomed event in Amanda M. Blake’s ‘Vernal’, and a hunger for freedom lies at the burning soul of David Andrews’ ‘We’.

Dusk, fire, and demons inspire the next poetic grouping: Cassandra L. Thompson devotes two short stanzas to The Lightbringer in the titular ‘Renascentem’ and the later ‘Luciferi’. Night time awakens in both Brad Acevedo’s prose-poem ‘In Cinders Lie’, a retelling of the mythological tale of Nix, and Mary Rojette’s imaginative ‘The Night Unfurls’. A fear of falling gives way to flight in L. Morris’ ‘Regeneration’, while fallen angels inspire Fay Lane’s ‘Winged’. A question made to Odysseus is answered in Melanie Whitlock’s ‘XIV-VII’, and daylight rises in Natalie Sierra’s moving ‘Renacimiento’ (‘...Surrender to the fire. Surrender to the flame…’).

A person’s delusion that they can command mountains is behind ‘The Lie’ by Craig Randall. The bloody remnants of a cheating lover focus the ‘Dark Thoughts, Widowed Heart’ of Matthew L. Reyes’ composition. Gender inequality ignites the fury of Renascentem’s next poems; K.R. Wieland’s ‘Ready For War’, Karina Ordonez’s ‘The Woman Who Dared To Speak’, Dara Kalima’s ‘Must We Always Be Our Own Heroes?’ and Jenn O’Day’s bold untitled piece (‘...Fuck this hypocricy and patriarchy we’ve been chained too…’).

The theme shifts to death in Heath Mensher’s brief-but-moving ‘Sempiternal’, and Lee Dobecka’s heart-wrenching ‘To Cancer/Illness (Journal Pieces)’. An abuse survivor ascends from the ashes in Sophie Brooks’ ‘My Rebirth, Long Overdue’, while the forces of nature provide catharsis in Matthew Siadak’s ‘Rain’.

Broken hearts define Q. Imagine’s ‘It Was You’, Bryan C. Miles’ untitled piece, Amy Westphal’s ‘Pernicious’, M.T. Pariti’s ‘From Psyche To Eros’, and P.S. Conway’s ‘Passions So Tender’. Desideria Mesa’s ‘Little Wing’ is a playful excursion into romantic love perfectly accompanied by William Bartlett’s ‘To My Child Self’, a triumphant declaration of self-love in the face of adversity. The mercilessness of loss and the travails to overcome it are expressed in Lady Lee Andrews’ ‘Little By Little’, ‘Hello’ by David Andrews, and David Middleham’s untitled verse.

The pleasures of the flesh combat despair in Ginger Lee’s ‘My Melancholy’ and a Dionysian lust for life inspires Heath Mensher’s ‘Bacchanal’. The journey into the wilderness for spiritual renewal is central to Chuck Smith’s ‘Nomad’, ‘My Tomb Is A Womb’ by Caley Adona, and Tiffany Putenis’ untitled work. And the specter of childhood haunts LT Ward’s ‘A Wistful Brushstroke’ and Marvin Lee’s ‘Broken Wings’.

At 140 pages, Renascentem is a slim volume, but its content holds the weighty substance of a much larger tome. Garcia and Thompson have carefully constructed a journey for readers, grouping individual works thematically so that they flow from one related subject to another—love, loss, grief, triumph, tragedy, death, resurrection—all can be found within these pages in one form or another, and taken as a whole the book has an unusually satisfying completeness. Renascentem will not be for everyone, however. Dullards content with mass-market spoon-fed triteness won’t appreciate the deeper ruminations present here; poetry is unquestionably the most intimate form of writing, and as such each work is best savored slowly in order to taste the precise meaning of every author’s chosen wording, and the effects can only be grasped by open minds and willing hearts. And though all of the fifty-two entries in Renascentem are worthy of praise, nine rise above the rest for their lyricism and breadth.

The pressures put upon women in the name of beauty lie at the core of Lize du Toit’s complex ‘The (Un)Birth of Venus’. Themes of transformation and delightfully colorful imagery (‘...You’re a heart like a wheel, full of rainbow, fire, venom, and birthday cake…’) bolster Newton’s evocative ‘A Man Made of Butterflies’. A victim of violence speaks from beyond in L.V. Russell’s vivid ‘Nightshade Acceptance’, and Wendy Dalrymple’s 'Poisonous Flower’ is a brief-but-fun rhyme that’s best read aloud.

“There are no saints awake at this hour,” assures Damian Rucci's solemn indictment of excess, ‘When The Party Is Over’. Subtitled ‘A Fable by Théa-Marie Ryde’, the first of the collection’s two prose tales, ‘The Boy, The Goddess & The Girl’ is a graceful recasting of the Greek legend of Siproites and Artemis as a modern-day lesson in gender identity and acceptance. Echoes of Poe can be heard in Raine August’s untitled piece about premature burial and a telltale heart. And few express the numbness of grief quite so starkly as Tarishi M.I.D.N.I.G.H.T. Shuler in ‘Advice For Letting Go’. The masterwork of Renascentem, however, is Kay Koel’s chilling volume-concluding short story, where a woman attending her mother’s funeral discovers the macabre secrets hidden away in ‘Pandora’s Shoebox’.

The greatest strength of Renascentem is the diversity of its line-up. Perusing the author biographies reveals a multitude of voices from all corners of the earth, and the variety is both welcomed and revelatory. For any reader there will be at least one poem, one line, one turn of phrase, that strikes a familiar chord and makes them feel, if but for a moment, indivisible from its creator, and that connectivity unveils a singular, hopeful truth about humanity: that despite our perceived differences, in the end we may share more in common than we think.

I give Renascentem: The Crow Calls Vol. VI a well-deserved 4 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.


4.0 / 5.0