by Kathy Lohrum Cotton & Michael D. Scott
59 poems ~ 29 Illustrations ~ 106 pages
Price: $13.00
Publisher: Independently Published
ISBN: 9798353225188
To Order:

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

In an age of felt-isolation for many, I found something rare in Synergy, the bold new collaborative project between poet Kathy Lohrum Cotton and Michael D. Scott, M.D. What I found was a surprise, like a mule-kick in a barn lot. I have a friend who, suffering from deep depression, said to me, “There is no light, everything is dark.” As I prepared to write this review, my research took me to “How the Light Gets In, by Cotton. This turned out to be the mule-kick that changed my life and my friend’s life:

         Ring the bells that still can ring
         Forget your perfect offering
         There is a crack, a crack in everything
         That’s how the light gets in

The lines are from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen. They form the basis of a “gloss” poem. Gloss poems amplify the lines from another poem by integrating them into a new poem. More on this later.

My friend needed an access to light, a way of thinking that let in fresh air. In these lines he found the “crack” that allowed “light” to get in. Synergy is worth its modest asking price if only for that!! But there is more. Much more. An elaboration of what “more” means in Synergy is the goal of this review.

Genesis of Synergy

Seemingly “out of the blue” Dr. Michael Scott, a relatively new poet, sent an email to Cotton with a challenge that they work on a collaborative project. (Both poets belong to the Illinois State Poetry Society.) Cotton agreed. Over time the project took shape and developed into a joint writing process which included “Collaborations,” “Word-count poems.” “Pairs,” (individual poems written on collaborative themes), and “Singles.” The singles stand alone and highlight each poet’s particular gifts. My sense is that both poets reached ever-deeper into their respective source-wells for “more.”

Synergy in Illustrations

Exquisitely designed by Cotton, 29 illustrations enhance the poems. They consist of black and white photographs and collage art. These are conveniently titled and catalogued in Synergy’s front matter. I was emotionally moved as I considered art and text together.

Synergy in Concept & Process

Merriam-Webster defines synergy as “a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility.” Poet Neil Blumenthal adds, “A good collaboration pushes the boundaries of both partners.” Creative patterns reflecting these cornerstone concepts, began to take shape. Scott chose themes and wrote opening lines/stanzas; Cotton responded, their writing going back and forth with Cotton supplying closing lines/stanzas. Synergy offers a roadmap for other poets who aspire to write collaborations.

Synergy in Text & Form

Kathy Lohrum Cotton is a seasoned poet with a long list of design and publication credits. Michael D. Scott, M.D., is an ER doctor, and relatively new poet. Had anyone told me that such a mix could produce a work of such quality, I would not have believed them. Shows what I know. These two artists have produced a work of near-seamless fluidity. “The Balance of Peace,” sets the tone. I have italicized Cotton’s lines. The collage is appropriately titled “Balance.”

         The Balance of Peace

         There is a peace and solitude in having
         spare parts, spare change, spare chances–

         a hearts-ease security in one day’s surplus
         magpied for the nest of a leaner day.

         Peace, though vexed when scouting
         and foraging exceed excess,

         can grow at ease in the simple balance
         of enough and not too much, sparing itself

         the collective groans of junk drawers, garages,
         cushions and hearts that obscure solitude’s moans

         and smother the quiet conscience beneath
         a cacophony of acquisition and upkeep.

         Here, savor metamorphs and emerges anew:
         lithe, frugal, feathered, reposed–

         its goodness winging away from the tug of life’s stuff,
         grateful for every spare chance to find peace.

Synergy through Topic Selection

Synergy engages life where readers live. “In the Raw,” explores strategies we use to cover up who we really are. What do we do in life when the most to gain and the most to lose coincide? Another poem uses alternating tercets to highlight five aspects of touch. “On the Brink of a Bridge,” challenged your reviewer to consider what it means to follow my dreams even if doing so means facing uncertainty. The poem is amplified by a figure crossing a chasm over a swaying suspension bridge. These examples barely scratch the surface of Cotton and Scott’s intellectual and emotional depth.

“Flatline” highlights Michael Scott’s medical background fleshed out in poetry.

         Up, up. Then, in a fleet swing downward. To flat.
         Oh! But a shock, a jolt, a quickening, raises–
         Only to dissipate in a moment, as natural
         Equilibrium ensues.
         Which is more natural? The up? The flat?
         The flux between? Flux is constant, except
         At our nadir
         Where zero has both change and say so.
         Up and not up is life, but
         Recurrent awakenings from deaths are
         Un-merry-go-rounds for faint hearts;
         Devastating roller-coaster rides with short-lived
         Thrills; screams galore at point naught.
         Tangents intersection no more, ghost
         Blips, flittering, from an unknown depth
         On a blank screen, the blankest of screens.
         Blips once spirited, heaven-prone, and gravid with potential,
         That once showed life, level silent, to a flattened memory,
         of you.

I mentioned at the beginning more to come about Cotton’s gloss poem “How the Light Gets In.”

The last two stanzas bring the volume full circle. These creations are more, much more, than two talented people discovering one another. Synergy bores in on life. Cotton and Scott, with one voice herald:

         There is a crack, a crack in everything,
         the armor’s chink, a cleft in stone,
         inherent flaws within us all.
         No brokenness is borne alone,
         we climb together and we fall.
         There is a crack, a crack in everything–

         that’s how the light gets in;
         how beauty pierces ugliness,
         and fractured wrongs reveal the right,
         the darkness split in suddenness
         like sunrise overcoming night.
         That’s how the light gets in.


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