"Ashes in Midair" by Susan Settlemyre Williams (Many Mountains Moving Press, $15.95)
Williams worries constantly at that stitched-up place in the psyche where the secret can become the sacred. The book's first poem, "Codes for Hunger," erupts in the reader like childhood trauma, reverberating all the way through the volume, from the ambivalent terrors of youth to the clouded panics of dementia. We move from childhood's hurricanes of dread and delight to maturity's often sterile control, where "color [is] sealed inside" and where we must train ourselves to "increments of pain." In the unforgettable first section, the speaker sometimes squirms in her own telling. ("About Glass" and "Slug Story" might inspire nightmares.) The squirming in these admirably wrought poems is both psychologically apt and artistically cunning.
Williams knows that the daylight mind is not enough to sustain us. Her book is interpenetrated with forms of Christianity that allow our pagan underpinnings to show through. We share experiences with eccentrics who turn animal skulls into folk art or claim to grow a second head, with witches, voodoo masters, fortune tellers and the just plain cracked.
Like her hoodoo priestess Marie Leveau, Williams doesn't "mess with pink love candles." She gives us no sweet, predictable, hackneyed verse. Williams, like Leveau, becomes a true "flute for the spirit." And, young or old, broken or whole, keening or crooning, isn't that what our bodies should be? -- Ron Smith
"Beach to Bluegrass: Places to Brake on Virginia's Longest Road" by Joe Tennis (The Overmountain Press, $17.95)
Photographs, maps, directions and history follow U.S. 58 as it snakes across the southern border of Virginia. From Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach to the pioneer graves in Lee County, Tennis doesn't miss an opportunity to dig below the surface, or off the beaten path, taking readers on a virtual tour of the state. Tennis' key characters include Mr. Peanut, headquartered in Suffolk, June Carter and Johnny Cash's Clinch Mountain home and the statue of Grace Sherwood, who was tried as a witch in Princess Anne County in the early 1700s. Valley Haggard
"The Chief and I" by Karen Tootelian (Brandylane Publishers, $15.95)
Through journal entries that span the beginning of 2002 through the end of 2006, Tootelian chronicles her transformative experience caring for the aging chief of the Mattaponi tribe, Webster Little Eagle Custalow. Born the day the Titanic sank, Custalow, a deeply spiritual leader, was as comfortable on a horse as he was on a motorcycle. Tootelian's entries raw, graceful and often poetic don't end with Custalow's death, but continue with her fight to preserve the Mattaponi River, which she came to love as much as she loved the chief himself. V.H.
"The Lost Parade" by John Alspaugh (Flower Street Press, $50)
"The Lost Parade" delights in appearance, content and style: Art, poetry and short stories live together and belong to the "edge effect" that began in the late '70s with the acceptance of prose poems into the verse canon. In this genre, more than one medium often appears between a book's covers. Alspaugh's carefully considered manifesto comes at the close. The colorful and visually exciting bookplates in "The Lost Parade" aren't meant to illustrate the writing. Everything can be enjoyed in different combinations, treating readers to fiction, poetry or fine art.
The Richmond native lives in the Hollywood Hills, but while residing here he published a book of poetry, "Everything Dark Is a Doorway." He was the same man then as he is now a writer and artist willing to take big risks. "The Lost Parade" is a synthesis and a nudge to other writers that this might be the perfect time to experiment again. Think William Blake in cowboy boots. Susan Hankla