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Reviews of new poetry books by Lori Jakiela and Bob Ziller

"The Mill Hunk's Daughter..." looks at the world of the stewardess; "Van Gogh Surfing" ranges from politics to lyrical observation.

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The Mill Hunk's Daughter Meets the Queen of the Sky. Lori Jakiela's latest chapbook, on Finishing Line Press, takes a mere 26 pages to depict the lot of an airline stewardess through the prism of her relationship with her blue-collar Pittsburgh father.

Anyone familiar with Jakiela's nonfiction -- like her fine 2006 memoir Miss New York Has Everything -- will recognize this voice: In verse, former stewardess Jakiela crafts the same short lines and concise, pointed narratives. "My Father the Machinist Said" begins, "I could wipe my ass / with what you know about love." These comic yet poignant poems toggle between such hard-edged filial affection and the slightly carnivalesque realities of The Life Skyborne. There, supposed glamour and privilege go splat against workaday realities like truculent passengers, low pay and "a memo / that said it was against policy to show up / at the welfare office in uniform."

The poems are informed by an acute sense of social class, relative privilege. A highlight is the title piece, in which the narrator runs headlong into a haughty veteran hostess who longs for the "elegant" good old days of air travel: "‘Imagine,' she says, ‘Living your life always on the ground.'"

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Van Gogh Surfing. "All books are sculptures that dream," writes local artist, poet and musician Bob Ziller in his poem "Fig Leaf Circus." If so, this collection of 50 poems on Ziller's own Lascaux Editions/Awesome Books imprint -- most very short, some apparently dating to the 1980s -- is a deceptively casual found-object assemblage, dreaming the clown-masked Buddha on its cover. Loose and unthematized, it leaps from evocations of global strife (movingly imagining Don Quixote in wartime Iraq) to comic one-liners, from lyrical observations to homages to local characters.

The potent "Tiananmen Square Quiz" ("7. What Brave New World? / 8. What Chinese Bones?") stands alongside nice tributes to Allen Ginsberg, Romare Bearden and Martiniquan poet Aimé Césaire ("Neophyte / standing worthy / mask in hand"). The verses tend toward imagistic, with considerable Eastern influence: "words / footprints of sparrows / pressed in snow," goes "The Invisible Mt." Others are anecdotal and colloquial, like "Carson St. Ephiphany": "There's something beautiful / About this old woman waiting for the bus …" 

A few poems feel tossed-off -- still lovely, if a bit undercooked. But the collection ends strongly with the droll "The Last Poem," recounting the apocalypse through a lens of verse.

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