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Book Review: Amber Porch Light by Gina Ferrara

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Gina Ferrara
Amber Porch Light
WordTech Communications, August, 2013
72 pages/$17.00

Light is the protagonist of Gina Ferrara's powerful poetry collection, Amber Porch Light. Hinted at in the book’s title -- and its three section titles (Aglow, Burnished and Candescent) -- light is thoughtfully sourced to different effect in nearly all of the 16 or 17 poems within each section.

In Aglow, the poet delights not only in the "harbingers of light" revealed in "craved fruit not found in Eden," but also in the "spectrum of gems" of an ordinary kiwi and the "darkest shade of sunset" inside a typical blood orange – not to mention the "pink melee" of flower petals collected by the "rusted tips" of a metal rake.

There are poems illuminated by vast frescoes, while others are "lacerated" by "moonlight" in "degrees of tint" with a fair share of "necessary darkness." In the poem, "February Eclipse," light and darkness actually seem to lust after one another when the sun "mate[s] with the moon" in this "aboriginal legend." In other poems, light ignites during an "epic sleep," sparking "dreams of autumn" with the "brightest hues of olives" and "violet." Try as you might, you simply can’t "ignore the translucence" of these carefully lit poems.

My favorite piece from the book, "Double Helix," comes from this first section. I especially enjoyed this stanza, which seems to brag almost about a special knowledge born necessarily in the absence of light:

My fingers know the difference
between crumbs and dirt.
The print at this hour is small
but has not started to melt
like the ice cream
we had yesterday.

But this collection offers more than just a clean, well-lighted poetry of nature, beauty and Epicurean delights. In Burnished, the book's second section, the poet turns her spotlight onto more seemingly ordinary subjects: a fence-less yard, a paper fan, a family photograph, cutting her husband's hair – but the light-lingo used in these poems clearly signals a change in tone and meaning. Suddenly, the water "is darker than jade," patterns are revealed by "tarnished moonlight" with "burnt copper flames" and "delicate peals" of amber porch light that attract "hundreds and hundreds of bugs/ with the vast capacity to devour." In these poems, "a stainless touch of scissors…dissipates night to daybreak…" In these poems, we get a more ominous sense of light, one with "glimmers of polished brass" that reveals more than just beauty. It exposes us to the truth and the shadows that hide the truth.

My favorite poem in this section, "Nuclear Family Photo," offers two powerful images: a sixty thousand foot mushroom cloud, and a black-and-white photograph of the poet's family, "far from Hiroshima," being utterly abused by light and dark images. The poem's date (listed in parentheses below the title) and the word "nuclear" suddenly seem to stand out as the poet's mother "squints at the glare,/ and struggles to recognize shapes/ in distant clouds."

There are several more poems in this section like this one with very powerful images and double meanings. In the book's title piece, for instance, references to the Vietnam war are starkly juxtaposed with an image of termites, a swarm of "ruthless vermin," a "menacing cloud" of "silent little enemies."

And I haven't even gotten to Candescent yet, the final section of the book, in which the poet takes on the most personal and powerful subjects in this entire work: the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; remembering the Gulf cities and beaches and the eroding chain of Barrier Islands southeast of New Orleans; the 1911 factory fire in New York (in which 146 mostly young immigrant women were killed); a death march in the Philippines and much more.

However, despite a more serious subject matter, light is still the main source of inspiration for the poet in this section, too. In my favorite work from this section, "Remembering the Gulf," a lighthouse, a "statuesque vestige of secrets," a "snuffed flame, a wick ruined" evokes questions, a search for truth on "the Emerald beach," and "between the tides" where "the water was a blind man's eyes." The poems in this section, potent, deliberative and contemplative, made me appreciate the earlier poems -- beautiful, lavish and ambitious -- even more.

Bottom Line: Charged with light, beauty and a touch of danger and heat, Amber Porch Light by Gina Ferrara is a powerful, memorable collection.

About the author
Gina Ferrara received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of New Orleans. She works as an educator and lives in New Orleans. In 2006, her chapbook, The Size of Sparrows, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including Poetry East, The Briar Cliff Review, and Callaloo. She was awarded a grant from The Elizabeth George Foundation and was published in The Poetry Ireland Review. Her book, Ethereal Avalanche, was published by Trembling Pillow Press in October of 2009. Her latest collection of poems, Amber Porch Light, was published in September 2013 by Wordtech Press.

Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales (foreword by Carolyn See) and Gary, the Four-Eyed Fairy and Other Stories. His latest book is an illustrated novella for adults called Different. Don't forget to subscribe to his emails and follow him on Twitter @Frankemundo or @LABooksExaminer for the latest updates.

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