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Nancy Simpson's LIVING ABOVE THE FROST LINE, New and Selected Poems was published by Carolina Wren Press (N.C. Laureate Series, 2010.) She is the author of ACROSS WATER and NIGHT STUDENT, State Street Press, still available on WWW at Alibris and Books Again. Her poems have been published in Southern Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review and other literary magazines. "Carolina Bluebirds" was published in THE POETS GUIDE TO THE BIRDS, Anhinga Press). "Grass" was reprinted in the 50th Anniversary Issue of Southern Poetry Review: DON'T LEAVE HUNGRY ( U.of Arkansas Press.) Seven poems were reprinted in the textbook, SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN POETRY,(McFarland.) Two poems were published in SOLO CAFE, Two more poems were published in SOLO NOVO."In the Nantahala Gorge" was published in Pisgah Review. "Studying Winter" was reprinted in Pirene's Fountain Anthology and "The Collection" in Collecting Life Anthology. Most recently, Southern Poetry Review Edited by James Smith, published "Our Great Depression," and The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. VII: NORTH CAROLINA,Edited by William Wright, reprinted "Leaving in the Dead of Winter."

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Untyying the Knot, A Book Review  by Nancy Simpson

Untying the Knot  (Kelsay Books, 2014) by poet Karen Paul Holmes is a first book that arrives in the hands of its reader fully accomplished with maturity not often seen in a first attempt. This is a book you will want to read cover to cover in one sitting. Be assured that is easy to do, for it is much like reading a satisfying short story with rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.  I am not trying to confuse you, it is not fiction. Make no mistake, this is poetry drenched in emotion with vivid imagery and fine tuned line breaks. In her art, the poet takes risks. She’s painfully honest. As a reader, we suck in breath and whisper, wait, wait, be careful, but the author releases all, knowing she can never take back one word.

Holmes connects quickly and fully with the reader on a sensory level, on an intellectual level and on an emotional level as she reveals step by step the breaking of the circle of life, the untying of her marriage that has lasted for over thirty years. Being left, humiliated by her husband and a friend, she uses up all her options to survive it, even tries to reconcile for the sake of the family. The most powerful poem in the book is “Telling My Mother” reprinted for you in full below.

Finally she leaves, hoping to find a new way to live. There is much of humanity in these poems. We can learn from this book, if you do not already know. If you have been divorced yourself, be prepared for a flood of old horrors to over take you and blind you. Do not imagine you can remain open minded about anything as simple as a metaphor or a caesura. You might have to read the book a second time, as I did. 

Untying the Knot is a book that deserves to be read for the sheer enjoyment of poetic accomplishment. The humor comes through, the skill of writing, and the skill of handling such topics as “She Who Will Not Be Named.” Step by step, we learn “I’m Really Not Crazy, but She Is”--and that’s when we get a glimpse of her-- named “C.” Finally she the other woman is identified as Catherine, a name destined to fall to the bottom of the Popular Girl Names List. 

It was hard to choose my favorite poem because as you will see, there are many very good ones. I choose the first one in the book, “Drawn Into Circles,” for I have known this poem since I read it in draft form and knew then it would always be a favorite. It is an excellent first poem in the book because it  sets up the Circle of Life theme. Holmes writes, “How life loves/a circle:/the sun/ cups of tea,/ pizza, roses, embraces/ wedding rings/ cathedral domes, bells/ with notes radiating like ripples from skipped stones/. The complete poem is  reprinted for you below. 

I recommend this book. Buy a copy for yourself and buy a copy for someone who needs it now.

From the Back Cover of Untying the Knot

—Dorianne Laux, author of The Book of Men and Facts About the Moon
These poems are poems about the pains of a broken marriage. About half the people who have ever been married would be eligible to write on the subject, but very few, if any others, could do it with such grace, humor, self-awareness, and without a dollop of self-pity, as Karen Paul Holmes has in Untying the Knot. This is a courageous deeply human book.
—Thomas Lux, author of Child Made of Sand and God Particles
In Karen Paul Holmes’s Untying the Knot, betrayal and sorrow are recontextualized into an acknowledgment of the transitory nature of relationships and the capacity to find joy through language. Indeed, in this work, one that dignifies a sadness so many feel, “a spark ignites the dry leaves” in lucid and radiant ways, creating poetry that not only enriches us, but possesses the potential to teach us ways to navigate and ultimately transcend the difficulties of divorce and the feelings of loss and grief such division engenders.
—William Wright, series editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology, author of Night Field Anecdote and Bledsoe 
About the Author
Karen Paul Holmes has an MA in music history from the University of Michigan. She eventually moved south and worked her way into a career that involved her love of writing: She became Vice President-Marketing Communications at ING, a global financial services company. Karen is now a freelance writer and owner of two naughty Welsh Terriers.
Karen founded/hosts the Side Door Poets group in Atlanta and Writers’ Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 2012, she received an Elizabeth George Foundation emerging writer grant for poetry. Her publishing credits include a number of journals and anthologies, including Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Main Street Rag, Caesura, POEM, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, American Society: What Poets See (FutureCycle Press), and the Southern Poetry Anthology Vol 5: Georgia (Texas Review Press). You may contact her through her web site: www.simplycommunicated.com.


Telling My Mother

She’s 85. Upsets make her heart palpitate
so we couch what we say. Or maybe we always have.
Now that Ken has been gone six weeks
my siblings and I confer on how to tell her
that he left me.
She loves him.

I wait until my sister travels to Florida
as back-up support for Mother, then call. Hear myself
somehow keep my voice from quaking.
He wants to separate for a while...depressed
since thyroid surgery. I think
he’ll be back.

She’s sad for me but surprisingly supportive.
Motherly. Modern. Sometimes couples do well
with a break: Their marriage becomes stronger.
I didn’t know any of her friends did that
but I believe her.

She visits me in Appalachia a few months later.
As we walk by the lake, he calls my cell. Some business
item to discuss. As usual, we try to keep a light note.
He chirps, Say hi to Baba.
(The name our daughter calls her.)
I cannot say to him
You’ve broken Baba’s heart too.

I put the phone in my back pocket
take her thin hand, let her rest on a fieldstone bench.
To her questioning face, I tell a small lie
His calls don’t bother me anymore.
I do not give her his regards.

Next day, she and I are driving
the two hours back to my mountain cabin after I’d read
at an Asheville Bookstore. Before we get
to the hairpin curves, it suddenly feels right to say
He had an affair.
He lives with her now.

She’s not surprised. Maybe by 85 she’s heard it all.
My contact lenses fogging, the road is a blur, but no
slowing down She was my good friend.
Mother, angry now, controlled
He never loved you enough.
He expected you to be perfect.

Though I know the route, I get lost--
we pass thick dark pines, cliffs, the fast Nantahala,
feel lucky for this scenic detour.
At home, I sense a burden was tumbled
clean in the rapids, washed
down the river.

Drawn Into Circles

Last evening, I placed fresh towels on both dog beds
heard scratching and rearranging in the night.
This morning, each dog lay curled
into a circle of towel
like a bird’s nest.

How life loves a circle:
the sun
cups of tea
pizza, roses, embraces
wedding rings, cathedral domes, bells
with notes radiating like ripples from skipped stones
the egg, the womb, the opening, downy heads
sucking mouths, breasts, eyes filled
with delight for bubbles
and bouncing balls.

Why do we box ourselves into corners
put our babies into rectangular cribs
build square houses and boxy buildings
drive cars to perpendicular crossroads
stare at newspapers, monitors, dollars
go to our rest in hard-edged coffins
slowly lowered into matching graves?

It’s a comfort
to imagine our rounded bones
becoming round bits of the globe
our spirits rising to orbit among spiral galaxies
joining those who completed the circle before us. 

(Please leave a comment.)

Buy your copy from  Kelsay Books/Aldrich Press
24600 Mountain Avenue, 35
Hemet, California 92544 (Book cover price  $16.00)
Buy on line from the press at $14.40
Also available at amazon.com for $14.40
or contact the author for a signed copy. (www.simplycommunicated.com.


KarenPH said...

Nancy, thank you for the intelligent and heartfelt review of my book. I am honored. You were one of the first poets who believed in me. I have the purple folder that you gave me to start collecting poems for a book. Hard to believe that I now have a book. All the best always, Karen

Glenda C. Beall said...

Nancy, this is a terrific review of a wonderful book on loss. Divorce is not unlike death of a spouse with the grief that follows.
Karen is a poet we must recognize in the literary community, I think, for she has written a book that we would all love to have the ability to write.

opwfredericks said...

Lovely work (poetic examples) you’ve offered by Holmes. More proof that Karen Kelsay (Kelsay Books) releases only the best.

I like to draw your attention what I believe are a few typos in the two poems.

“Telling My Mother”
She’s sad for me but su[r]prisingly supportive.

“Drawn Into Circles”
heard scratchi[n]g and rearranging in [t]he night.

Congratulations and all the best to Karen Paul Holmes.

O.P.W. Fredericks

Nancy Simpson said...

OPW Fredericks, Thank you for pointing out my typos. The review was written the eve before surgery. I did not have the copy and had to key in the poems.I knew I was not up to perfection but felt compelled to do it because I knew it would be yet more months away if I waited. I am making the corrections now. Thank you.

KarenPH said...

Thanks, OPW Fredericks. Appreciate your caring enough to comment.

Joan Ellen Gage said...

I enjoyed your review, Nancy, and the poetry is powerful, emotional. Sorry I have not been blogging!