FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
Face Painting in the Dark, by Ann Cefola
(Dos Madres Press, Inc., 2014)
Available on Amazon:
Reviewer: Linda Simone
Fans of Ann Cefola’s poetry chapbooks, St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped and Sugaring, and her interesting poetry blog, annogram.blogspot.com, will be excited by the publication of her first full-length collection, Face Painting in the Dark. The beautiful cover design foretells a journey that promises to transport the reader from the depths to the stars. The richness and substance of the 40 poems presented within will entice and satisfy all poetry lovers.
Cefola’s poems shed light on aspects of the human condition as they explore themes of love, joy, death, life, and the legacy of ancestors. They cover landscapes as varied as a Vermont pancake house (“Sugaring”), the Arctic Circle (“Magnetic North”), far-off constellations (“Amateur Astronomers Asleep on Pine Island”), and an iconic Picasso canvas (“Demoiselles 7”). Cefola’s poems are peppered with a Zen-like enlightenment that comes from the greatest of all teachers: experience.
In poem after poem, Cefola’s unique cadence, uncommon images, and painterly eye shine through. Her careful mastery of language pleases the ear. Within the space of these pages, the poems are transformative, as the speaker in the title poem encounters (“In space I am whatever I behold.”).
Like a Siren’s song, Cefola’s opening lines draw the reader into the poem. Take, for example, the first stanza of “Shelter Island:”
Painting. What I do out of some sense of — not the bud —
but the root. That runs away, whose pigment dissolves.
My eyes, fingers in Braille.
“Kerning” offers another irresistible portal:
Don’t give me that stenography crap,
the designer says, protesting two spaces
inserted after each period. Let me tell you what happens
when you do that: In the text you create rivers of light.
Cefola’s associative leaps are startling. In “Early Thunder, Atlanta” — part homage to her great-great-grandmother and part lecture to self during a business trip — Cefola skillfully employs the word “laptop” to link a writer’s work to a bawdy dance.
My great-great-grandmother fled
This city once, leaving treasure tied in trees.
I’m here to earn my own coin in work she might
take for something Belle Watson’d do: laptop.
When someone pays for your bed,
it is a kind of prostitution.
In final stanzas, Cefola uses her deep understanding of how worlds collide. “Anthem” begins with the speaker noticing an ant crawling around her bedroom lamp, then closes with a kind of sisterhood (“We will meet again one day, both of us wandering / around the light, and I will explain that.”).
The ending of “Open Season” extends a heartfelt and stunning invitation (“Find your sure path, as I have / in the dark and limitless spaces between stars.”).
Throughout the collection, readers can expect to mine beautiful and evocative lines. Here are a few that I found memorable:
- the flowers we draw on our faces in the era of love (“Teint Pur Mat”)
- we like small loaves expand, turn golden, rise (“Express”)
- I applaud each tender year, the achievement of. (“Cantor Fitzgerald”)
- sprinklers throw streams like harp strings (“Aspiration”)
Also from “Aspiration” are the only lines that no longer (happily) ring true (“Small talk of poets cherished and met till I / admitted despair at not having a book.”).
Ann Cefola has her book. It is well worth the reader’s time and effort.
Ann Cefola’s work includes the chapbooks St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped (Kattywompus Press, 2011) and Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007), and the translation of Hélène Sanguinetti’s Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007). She is the recipient of the Robert Penn Warren Award, judged by John Ashberry; a Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Residency Award at the Santa Fe Art Institute; and an MFA in Poetry Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She works as a writer in the New York suburbs. www.anncefola.com
Linda Simone’s work includes two chapbooks, Archeology (Flutter Press, 2014) and the award-winning Cow Tippers (Shadow Poetry, 2006). Her Pushcart-nominated 15-poem sequence, “Stations of the Cross,” appeared in the anthology, Alternatives to Surrender (Plain View Press, 2007). She recently moved from New York City to San Antonio, Texas and is a listed poet on the San Antonio Poets Source. www.lindasimone.com