In the 1930s someone asked Robert Frost what he thought of the fact that the WPA had put about 600 unemployed poets to work. He replied there had not been 600 poets in all of history.

Well that was then, this is now, like we say. The expansion in numbers of writers and artists that was well underway before World War II atomized the human psyche has since turned into a slow-motion explosion, fostered by increased leisure time for reading and writing, a need to express personal and social pain, and creative-writing and arts programs.

I try to keep up with the results that fly under big-time literary radars just here in Maine, and can’t. Here are notes on just four books recently received.

The Café Review Vol. 25

Fall 2014, Steve Luttrell, editor

XPress, Portland

76 pages, saddle-stitched

The Café Review, operated out of Portland by veteran poetry warrior Steve Luttrell, just published its 25th-anniversary edition. Many of this issue’s contributors have been prominent on Maine literary radarscopes for a long time, including Gary Lawless, William Carpenter, Mark Melnicove, Kendall Merriam, Carl Little, Bruce Holsapple, Jim Bishop, and Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair. There’s a review by Kristen Stake of former Maine Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl’s new book “Otherwise Unseeable”; art by longtime Portland artist Steven Priestley; and contributions by more recent notable Maine writers such as Kristin Agudelo and Carolyn Gelland. Pick it up for a representative taste of Maine poetry.

“The Moon and the Luckchaser”

By Richard Sewell

Black Rose Writing, 2014

472 pages, trade paperback

$19.95

An explosion within the literary explosion also occurred in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Richard Sewell’s new entry is a quirky novel of ancient Earth where high-end intellectual lizards find their arts-, philosophy- and politics-driven civilization is in deadly environmental peril. Eerily similar to a certain contemporary Earth civilization, except the intellgentsia snack on dragonflies. This book is dotted with entertaining little tucked-in apothegms (“Books live longer than we do but their brittleness goes to dust without warning, just like us”) and will, like we say, make you think. Sewell, of Waterville, is retired from teaching theater arts at Colby College and has many awards and writing credits in his field.

“Questions About Home”

By Cynthia Brackett-Vincent

Encircle Publications LLC

Farmington, 2014

64 pages, paperback, $16.95

Cynthia Brackett-Vincent’s recent collection offers a drive through the western Maine countryside of her well-schooled verbal imagination. Her attention is captured by the small beauties of nature (“Such a small thing / to catch my eye – / pale green patch of lichen / against gray sky”) and the shock waves of the emotional life, such as the birth of yet another grandchild (“It never gets old”) and the inevitabilities of personal loss. Brackett-Vincent operates Encircle Publications in Farmington, which publishes The Aurorean magazine.

“End into Opening: six sestinas & their humble companion poems”

By Shirley Glubka

Blade of Grass Press

Prospect, 2014

62 pages, paperback, $5

Shirley Glubka, of Prospect, offers here her experiments with closed-form poetry — after, she explains in her detailed preface, decades of writing open-form verse. The free-ranging rhythms of six long poems, with the pre-plotted interweaving end-words of the sestina form, frame open-ended questions about language (“The Metamorphosis of the Word”) and the imagination that shapes it (“Every Mind Considered Mystical”). The “companion poems” that follow are crystallized conceptions of themes and imagery from each longer poem. Glubka also gives lengthy prose explanations of her poetic experiments. Her other collections include “Echoes and Links” and “Green Surprise of Passion.”

Whether there are 600 poets actively at work in Maine, I of course have no idea, though I think it’s more than that. And when you add in the fiction writers, the memoirists, journalists, amateur and professional historians, playwrights and pundits copiously posting or keeping it to themselves, you realize that, despite nonstop bad news about the implosion of learning and culture, we are actually in a state of exploded literary production.

Keep writers off the dole. Buy books. Read them. You never know where the next nova will detonate.

Off Radar appears about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected]

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