Thursday, October 22, 2015

I Dream of Empathy

I prefer to use The Song Is... to promote other poets' work, but this evening I'd like to post a lovely review that Michael Oliver (one of the judges for the spring/summer contests) just sent me.

I Dream of Empathy

Marianne Szlyk's slender volume of poems, I Dream of Empathy, with its delicate sounds and intimate touches, reaches the reader at her loneliest; and we wonder: across what abyss these feelings must travel?

The volume's more than two dozen poems resonate with music and art, with memory and deep yearning: a yearning for human contact, human touch, human knowledge.

By far its most emotionally powerful sequence is Ms. Szlyk's "Scene from the Blue Room." In this three poem montage, we first discover Mrs. Feeney, the matriarch, sitting in blue, yet embraced by "her tan and orange plaid chair," which ironically no longer matches "the white that the walls used to be." It's that detachment that matters most, that disharmony that leaves the reader imaging empathy in a world no longer welcome to such sentimental journeys.

In the trilogy's second poem, we enter the space of Mrs. Feeney's granddaughter, Olivia, and the void at the center of that space could not be more filled with possibilities. Olivia's chorus, a thrice repeated "I miss..." rolls like thunder in the background, a remembrance of a life vivacious, until finally Olivia stands with bitten lip and her "blood in the lip gloss." It is with those uncanny details that Ms. Szlyk woos her reader, not to empathy, but to its dream.

That's when Mary Rose Feeney enters, "arms akimbo" ready to curse the hospice workers only "if ladies cursed." Her world is that of surfaces, the details, but not so intimate to stir an empathetic response. As her cell phone vibrates, and the walls turn from blue to a more cheery color, she sells her memories to the highest bidder.

And that's where "I Dream of Empathy" resides: a world where once sacred simplicity grows increasing more difficult to see and appreciate; but more importantly, a world from which we grow increasingly estranged.

"If you bloom you need the sun, not the ice." Yet, in these words sun at best is a brilliant reflection off a mirrored wall and at worst a ghost whose light barely flickers; in these words, the bloom seeks its essence in imaginings, in recollections, and in brief semblances of truth.

Ms. Szlyk's "I Dream of Empathy" will take you to that place of solitude, where yearning to embrace the other shines brightest.

-- R. Michael Oliver

If you would like to buy a copy of the book, here is the Amazon site:

The book is also available on Createspace:

I'll begin the music with "Crepuscle with Nellie" since one of of the poems in the chapbook is "Crepuscle with Callie":

Stanley Turrentine and the Three Sounds perform "Blue Hour" here.  It's a little after Mrs. Feeney's time.

This is more Mrs. Feeney's cup of tea:

I'll include Gary Bartz's version of "But Not for Me" from his Red and Orange Poems:

Let's finish with a little Dorothy Ashby:


  1. I took my time and savored I Dream of Empathy, and Michael Oliver's review says so much of what this reader felt reading it. And Oliver's final line, " A Dream of Empathy will take you to that dream of solitude, where yearning to embrace the other shines brightest.
    Thank you for the book and the review.