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Coffee House Confessions
by Ellaraine Lockie
26 poems/ 44pp/ $10.00
Silver Birch Press
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
It is official; Christmas has arrived early this year with the publication of Ellaraine Lockie’s latest book Coffee House Confessions. As always, Ms. Lockie has assembled a group of poems that allows one to read and then spend some time pondering the relationship between her words and our own emotional landscape. The theme of this book revolves around Ms. Lockie’s personal discipline of going to a coffee shop, no matter where she may be, and draw inspiration from the rest of the patrons and the staff. The resulting collection is a laser eyed look at humanity and the way we interact in this caffeinated laboratory.
Coffee and literature have been intertwined since the 16th century. There were coffee houses in the Ottoman Empire and then Europe where intellectuals met to discuss politics and read their work to their friends. Charles II of England attempted to suppress coffee houses because of the “undesirable” elements that met there and “spread sedition” against the crown. Still, their popularity was so great that even a royal edict could not stop people from congregating there. Drawings from that time show a typical coffee house as having long communal tables with paper and writing implements available for the customers. Some five centuries later there are coffee shops virtually in every corner and book store throughout the world. Writers are still meeting there and this is the milieu that Ms. Lockie has chosen for her book.
She has no qualms about directly interacting with her subjects as in “Travel Writer” where, among others, she meets a patron
“He scans my face
as I sit at a Starbucks table
Stockbroker in a Silicon Valley suit
finishes his cell phone services with I Love you
Then looks up my skirt
I fix eyes older than iced coffee
on his two faces…
…and go the distance
that my pen travels
Into the remote terrain of the writer.”
Though her words for the stockbroker are biting, her poem “In the Privacy of Public” describes a scene between two women, perhaps a mother and daughter, who are having an emotional conversation at another table in the coffee shop. The daughter is crying and the mother consoles her. In some of Ms. Lockie’s previous poetry she has demonstrated an empathy for her subjects that few have approached. Once again, in this poem, she describes the pain and the sympathetic maternal gestures in this unheard conversation with
“Something horrible here that can be alluded to
only through an umbilical cord
And perhaps only in the privacy of public.”
My favorite poem in this collection is “They Speak Starbucks in Italy”. Once again, Ms. Lockie is interacting, this time with an Italian barrista in this most American of franchises (sorry MacDonalds). She is attempting to order a double espresso and the barrista keeps trying to give her two single espressos. This misunderstanding goes on for 15 lines until she reaches for a used cup, holds up two fingers and points into the cup. Her response from the barrista was:
“His prayer slips into shoulders that shrug
You want doppio, why not say so”
She moves from humor to introspection in her poem “Just Deserts” where she is the victim of a purse snatching in a coffee house. There is no shout for vengeance nor does she wallow in victimhood. She considers the situation in her mind and realizes that the theft was not about money but memory.
“How the secrets we carry there are as sacred as a diary
Our real weight, the words from someone
as gone as his last cell phone message
Or the Valium that we need to get through the day”
Ellaraine Lockie has written ten collections of poetry and, not surprisingly, she has won awards both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. This latest book carries the characteristic stamp of her work: accessible language with creative imagery and an understanding eye that sees deeper into the realities of the world. Despite the familiarity of style, each of her books is a unique work and Coffee House Confessions is no exception. While we may see our local coffee shop as a good place for a brew, Ms. Lockie sees a workshop of human interaction. What we may dismiss as a fleeting gesture, she finds a more complex meaning.
Yes, I knew the merits of this book before I cracked the cover but each poem gave me an enjoyment that so few other writers can muster. This is a wonderful book by a talented poet. I recommend it highly, especially for those summer days sitting outside at your favorite coffee shop.
2001- 2013, Quill & Parchment
contributions are copyright of the respective authors