Her poetry is a gift to those hungering for honesty and compassion in this complex world. The zest and energy Altshul displays in these new poems are matched only by her high intelligence and rare humanity.
Julia Paul writes, “Laura Altshul’s poems are ‘lit with life,’ to steal a phrase from this poet whose work is insistent and tender in perfect measure. Bodies Passing opens for us the pot’s lid, allowing us to experience the intense sensory details stirred into poems such as "On Kauai," where ‘Air lightens around us, surrounds us / humid and salty, sweet with jasmine / gardenia, funky garbage, burnt sugar cane / fried peppers and onions.’
Subjects ranging from the wonderful ars poetica that opens the collection to a woman sleeping with the ashes of a murdered child bear the bold mark of a poet able to deftly tackle the terrors and joys that are the essence of human experience. Laura Altshul’s book is a gift to those who hunger for honesty and compassion in this complex world of ours.”
And this from Ginny Lowe Connors: “Bodies Passing observes and celebrates the life of the body—its power and pains, its delights and limitations. Laura Altshul’s earthy poems delve into sex, childbirth (or in some cases, animal birth), illness, infidelity, and the urgent impulse to get up and dance. The people in her poems come to life as complicated and interesting individuals. These poems, while not shying away from the wounds that come with living, are joyously affirmative. The title poem, ‘Bodies Passing,’ includes the phenomenon of a set of adult identical twins, one an astronaut and the other earthbound, who find that the one who escaped gravity for a while has grown two inches taller. The same poem poignantly observes an aging woman and her daughter. The mother is getting shorter as age compresses her spine, their ‘two bodies passing / like the down escalator / viewed from the rising one."
Laura Altshul is a Vassar graduate with a Master's degree in English Literature from New York University. She has taught in the Great Books program and at the college, high school and elementary levels. She was for many years a kindergarten teacher at the Foote School, and later became its Admissions Director. In 1996 she co-founded the outreach literacy program Footebridge, a public-private collaboration, now the enhanced Horizons at Foote program, of which she is the Board Chair. She also founded STARS, a public-private arts collaboration in 1994.
Officially retired, she tutors and mediates. She also serves on non-profit boards dedicated to social justice and early childhood issues. In addition to writing stories and essays, she turned seriously to writing poetry four years ago, encouraged by her husband, Victor Altshul, also a poet. Her poem "Last Visit" won first prize in the Al Savard Memorial Contest, and she has given readings across the state. Her first collection of poetry, Searching for the Northern Lights, was published by Antrim House in 2015, following which she was a featured poet in the SCTV television series "Speaking of Poetry." She and her husband live in New Haven; they have seven children between them, and eleven grandchildren.
About the book, Clare Rossini has written, “Like all the best poetry, Victor Altshul’s Ode to My Autumn is written out of the poet’s sense of mortal urgency. Whether taking on the perspective of a ruminative blue heron, exploring the tragedy of a brother’s mental illness, or coming to terms with one of the many writers, artists, and musicians who serve as co-conspirators in his art-making, Altshul tracks his thought and emotion with an intensity and clarity that draw us in.
The success of these poems is due in no small measure to Altshul’s adept control of his craft. This is a poet equally at home in free and formal verse (his villanelle is superb!), and the music of the poems is consistently convincing. Altshul’s voice has similar range, moving from tender compassion to incisive political commentary to rueful self-awareness; every key is played here. And, yes, Altshul is also capable of being scintillatingly funny in his poems, a rare feat. But finally, it’s the felt sense of the life behind the work—one deeply considered and passionately owned—that makes it hard to put down Victor Altshul’s Ode to My Autumn.”
John Stanizzi adds this: “In his latest collection, Ode to My Autumn, Victor Altshul clearly, poignantly, and with great wisdom considers John Keats’ question Where are the songs of Spring? And he answers that question with a collection of poems that blesses the reader with pure accessibility, the joy of splendidly made and welcomed connections, and enormous insight. He brings to mind Dylan Thomas’ ‘Fern Hill’ by reminding us that there was a time when we were all ‘young and easy,’ and by himself singing ‘in his chains like the sea.’ I am reminded too of Robert Frost’s ‘Birches’ – Victor Altshul shares with Frost the thought that ‘Earth’s the right place for love.’ Ode to My Autumn is a lovely and powerful collection. Open it, enjoy it, and as the author writes, ‘let unbidden dreams excite your mind.’
Victor Altshul is a practicing psychiatrist in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale University School of Medicine and is on the faculty of the latter. His previous books of poetry, Stumblings and Singing with Starlings, were published in 2013 and 2015. He lives with his wife Laura, also a published poet, in New Haven.
Included here are native-born Americans, recent and not so recent immigrants, and residents of other countries. There are those who had brief windows of fame, and those who were or are completely anonymous. Women who stood, nearly unnoticed, behind their more famous men step out from the shadows here. The vivid words of the poems allow these often under-appreciated or unacknowledged women to speak for themselves, and in so doing, to reveal their indomitable spirits. This remarkable anthology, including work by some of today's most talented and insightful poets, is sure to be valued by those who want to fill in the gaps of history--and make it reflect herstory too.
Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of three poetry collections: The Unparalleled Beauty of a Crooked Line, Barbarians in the Kitchen, and most recently, Toward the Hanging Tree: Poems of Salem Village. Her chapbook, Under the Porch, won the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize. Connors has also edited several poetry anthologies. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Founders Award, top prize in the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, first prize in Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition, and recently top prize in the Flash Ekphrastic Artist for Artists Project, as well as other awards. Connors has an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is on the executive boards of the Connecticut Poetry Society and of the Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate. During her tenure as the Poet Laureate of West Hartford, from 2013-2015, she initiated the Poetry in the Parks program, combining poetry, nature, and art.
Sometimes these characters give their own testimony; sometimes they share someone else's story. Some poems recount simple moments; others tell longer tales. But for all of the variations, the storytelling is akin to a psychological or emotional digging, a cerebral parallel to the hunt for antique bottles described in the collection's titular poem. For the bottle diggers, to unearth even a fragment of a bottle is to salvage a story. An old dump ground then becomes a treasure trove of past voices that the diggers are compelled to discover. The bottle diggers have a shared trust that something of value is hidden there, that the voices that echo from the shards they encounter could easily be their own.
Andrea L. Fry was born in Dallas, raised mainly in New York City and the Catskill Mountains, and educated at Union College and Columbia University. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by J Journal for her poem “Murder.” Her poems have appeared in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Stanford Literary Review, St. Petersburg Review, The Comstock Review, and in the anthology, Still Against War, Poems for Marie Ponsot. Andrea is also a nurse practitioner at NYU Langone Medical Center. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two formerly feral felines.
Books and signed copies will be available at the event.