Book Review: Jubilee

Jubilee, Poems and Artwork of the National League of American Pen Women Portland Branch

Authors: Portland Pen Women

Editors: Anne Price Yates, with Doreen Gandy Wiley as assistant proof-editor, Portland Branch

Reviewed by Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch


The image on the cover of “Jubilee” is member Anne Price Yates’ painting, “Summer Reunion.”

Jubilee, Poems and Artwork of the National League of American Pen Women Portland Branch, published in 2016 by the NLAPW Portland Branch, is a collection of works that, though penned, drawn, and painted by several authors, provides the reader a coherent view of the group’s talent and character. From the cover art, Summer Reunion by Anne Price Yates, to the final essay, “Going Home,” also by Yates, the contributors explore themes of nostalgia, friendship, grief, beauty, and wonder.

Each of the fourteen contributors has her own section, and the collection begins with the work of Barbara Affleck. Her opening lines introduce images of sea and birds that re-emerge in several other contributors’ work unifying the book. Her poem, “Four Seasons,” sets a measured pace with contemplation of time and an overarching sense of wonder.

Her poetry is interspersed with sketches and an image titled, Glass Artscape, which would certainly have benefited from being printed in color rather than black and white. This is the case with all the visual art in the book, but the reader can still enjoy the images, perhaps imagining hues as suggested by the tone of the written works.

A strong sense of longing characterizes Jane McDonald Johnson’s poem, “Winter Beach.” “All the summer wood/lies waiting, but/few winter guests come,” is the final stanza. “After the Drought” and “Blue Sky Day” spirit the reader to places enshrined in the poet’s loving memory.

H.S. Lange chooses crows, Mallards, a Great Blue Heron, and a Redwing Blackbird as subjects for poetic musings. The common and natural become uncommon and thought-provoking in “Brief Study of a “Coastal” Crow,” “Wings at Wendy’s,” and “Redwing.”

Carolyn Moore reveals keen observation and deep empathy in her poems. “The Yurok Medicine Woman Studies a Framed Poster at the Free Clinic,” “The Teen Romances Her Razor,” and “The Dance Instructor Steels Himself for the Upcoming Class, or Why I Hate the Villanelle” are all poems in which Moore lays bare imagined, yet only too real, thoughts of her subjects.

Ducks and geese inhabit the musical poetry of Myrna Tabino Perkins. Her poem, “Celebrate,” is a melodic tumble of colorful, joyous imagery that perfectly captures the arrival of spring. Her love of natural beauty is equally evident in her drawings and paintings, including some lovely botanical paintings on china. Again, color would certainly have added immensely to the presentation, but the skill of the artist shines through.

Nostalgia is a strong theme in Barbara Peter’s memory-inspired verse. In her first poem, “Snow by Streetlight,” she reflects upon her father’s death, and the memory of pain is forever woven into images of beauty. Birds appear in Peter’s work as well, from parrots in “The Pirate at Fisherman’s Wharf” and the heron and wrens in “Marshland.” “All kingdoms yield to time,” a line from the ultimate stanza of “The Runner,” touches upon the cyclical nature of time, echoing the steady rhythm that runs throughout the book.

Roberta Plummer’s poems set the reader on a slightly different plane, one with an intriguing perspective. Details fascinate the poet – outrageously long fingernails, the expression on a bartender’s face, an empty swing moving in the wind. In “Certain,” she writes, “sweepings/of spring sweetness/saturate the air,” and her melodic alliteration conjures the sight and scent of raining cherry blossoms.

“What If We Lost the Moon?” is exemplary of Linda Varsell Smith’s poetry. She ponders, in this wandering monologue, just what would happen if our moon were suddenly gone. The poet’s thoughts flit from astronomy to myth to music. She casts a wide thought net in each of her works in this book. Birds appear in “It’s the Cherries, Stellar Jays,” anchoring Smith’s unique style among the contributions of her fellow Pen Women.

Kinetic energy abounds in Joanne Steven’s poems. Images stream, flash, flitter, rush, hover, jump, and stumble. Her earth lives in motion. Stevens ends “Mainline Streams,” her final poem in this collection, with these lines: “Words and flowers are mainline/streams of thought, as a handyman/transferring energy-fixation/into circles of wonderment.”

Annette White-Parks’ essay, “In The Owl’s Care,” brings yet another avian image to the collection. She blends wistfulness and wisdom as she relates her experience of visiting a place that she holds dear in memory, the land her family once owned. She writes, “The hedge of cottonwoods in the distance demarcated the border between their grassy realm and my creek; bubbling ribbon of water, smelling of frogs and dragonflies and black, pencil-thin water snakes, tasting of the watercress our mother made into sandwiches with bread and butter.” Semi-colons rarely work in this type of construction, but here the choice of punctuation is the right one, connecting two parts of the sentence in a manner more poetry than prose.

Bluebirds (“Haiku”), finches (“Doin’ Nuthin’”), and owls (“In a Familiar Season”) appear in Doreen Gandy Wiley’s contributions, continuing the thread of imagery that weaves through the collection. “In a Familiar Season” includes the heart-rending lines, “There was a time when autumn was forever,/until the day you left and took it with you”, exemplifying this poet’s ability to say much with few words.

The collection ends with the works of Anne Price Yates. The paintings, reproduced in black and white, hint at the dimensional possibilities that must surely be present in the originals. However, they exhibit beautiful compositions, and the pet portraits have wonderful appeal. Her final essay, “Going Home,” provides a firm yet gentle ending to this assortment, bringing closure to a book that, though written by many, creates the effect that it was conceptualized in concert. The artistic and intellectual camaraderie of NLAPW, Portland Branch, rings true throughout Jubilee.

2016, Portland Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, $27.99
ISBN: 9781541040519