"Searching for Tea Leaves in a Pot of Coffee"

Written by: Terry Lowenstein
Published by: FootHills Publishing
ISBN: 0-941053-68-7

Reviewed by: Fionna Doney Simmonds

Genre: Poetry

For a first collection, 'Searching for Tea Leaves in a Pot of Coffee' is a lovely piece of work. The majority of the poems are polished pieces revelling in the freedom of style poetry affords. Lowenstein should be proud of her accomplishment. From the catchy title to the simple jacket, she has packaged her poems with finesse, speaking volumes for the amount of thought gone into this collection.

Searchgin for Tea Leaves in a Pot of Coffee

Multiple subjects make up this pamphlet. The only thread I could detect linking most of the poems was that of nostalgia, however, each of these nostalgic poems explores the theme in different ways and this is what makes it such an interesting read.

dried husks
remnants of yesterday's harvest
dance with the north wind

a full moon rises

fields bereft of crops lie fallow
nearby withered brown leaves sigh
remembering autumn's proserpinian beauty

unseen a worm consumes an apple

ravens mock as the scarecrow sags his shoulders
the weight of days rests on the jack o'lantern
who like dorothy's witch collapses as water

cold stirs up mist that shrouds the farm

all is forgotten
the yellow brick road disappears
the tin man and lion weep

oz gathers dust

- the cornucopia is empty

Unbidden, Van Gogh's 'Wheatfields with Reaper' dramatically conjured itself up out of Lowenstein's words. So many images fill the mind: 'unseen a worm consumes an apple', 'ravens mock as the scarecrow sags .', 'dorothy's witch', 'the yellow brick road', 'tin man', 'lion' and 'oz'. Degenerating vegetation mouldering in the rich wholesome earth following the harvest with all its dust and feverish activity, and the unspoken promise of regeneration signified by 'oz' where all dreams come true and anything is possible. Oz the green land, a symbol of springtime currently sleeping behind the curtain-like dust of harvest. The lack of capitalisation places autumn as an insignificant month, busy, but caught between the extremes of winter and summer. Lack of punctuation allows the reader to fall into his or her own sense of rhythm. Interestingly, I did not find this lack to make the read difficult. Thoughtful placement and line lengths have assisted the reader's eye. The cornucopia is empty's dreamy nostalgia invokes laziness in common with the soft 'Dancer's Return':

They waltz on fallen leaves
in buildings that once shone bright.
Now reduced to skeletal remains.
Plantation walls stand by sheer will
under a mystic roof of onyx sky.

Magnolias line forgotten paths
silent sentinels of what was.
Spanish moss drapes windows
replacing the finery of the past.

Forgotten melodies echo,
through halls abandoned
long ago by the living.
Faces and names
remembered by stone,
return and dance once more.

Listen to their laughter in the wind,
whispers of innocence of youth
cotillions, debutante balls,
soirees and celebrations;
resurrected by moonlight.

Moonlight and Spanish moss.
Magnolia trees and a soft wind
that floats through the air.

- Dancer's Return

This poem brings alive all the romance of the Southern States in true 'Gone With the Wind' fashion. The soft assonance of a repeated 's' whispers a gentle sigh. This is a poem that sweeps the romantic off their feet and into the make-believe of Rhett and Scarlet. Again the images are arresting, leaving the reader with a haunted feeling.

The title poem 'searching for tea leaves in a pot of coffee' could not be more different. Romance and nostalgia are but distant thoughts as Lowenstein abruptly tackles the here and now.

we have become invited voyeurs
glimpsing through goldfish bowl lenses
the prescribed truth

busy with normalcy
we do not see the rising tide
and are left to paddle

with ladles of indifference
staring at empty mugs
and wondering what is next

- searching for tea leaves in a pot of coffee

There is a sense of hopelessness prevalent throughout this poem. It is a weary poem with the lack of capitalisation and punctuation again creating a sense of insignificance. It helps emphasise the sensation of not being in control. The normal guides are not in place. We must struggle to find our feet, for this time, there are no visual guides with each stanza being strictly three lines. On the other hand, 'Cold coffee' uses shorter sentences to create a sense of urgency, of protest, before succumbing to the disillusion of its final stanza.

The plug has been pulled.
Headlines no longer percolate.
Instant "news" is now
Taster's Choice.

Decaffeinated ideas
short on taste, with little body.
Far from stimulating.

Joe the voter
is handed a new cup
of what is merely
yesterday's coffee.

- Cold Coffee

'Searching for Tea Leaves in a Pot of Coffee' is a fantastic first collection, despite presenting a slightly mixed bag of poetry. There are some truly amazing poems, but they rest uncomfortably beside poems that tremble on the shaky foundations of corniness. Poems that build up to an anticlimax such as 'Learning to Strip' tread on dangerous waters. Its flighty lightheartedness was out of place in this collection and Lowenstein needs to be more careful about what poems she includes in her next collection.

Apart from this poem the rest of the book is for the most part truly beautiful. The only constructive criticism I feel I must add is that Lowenstein's poetry is of a calibre I would like to see published in subjects and not as a random mix. Terry Lowenstein has the potential to be a poet of note and I look forward to following her career with interest.

Fionna Doney Simmonds is Moondance.org's Poetry Editor. A freelance writer, she has published reviews with Moondance.org, parametermagazine.org.uk, 'Reader's Review' (UK) and 'Avocado'.