Sunday, August 17, 2014

The echoes of Christina Lovin's new poetry collection ECHO

Christal Cooper 2,928 Words

Around ECHO in 80 Days:
The Many Echoes of ECHO  
by Christina Lovin
Echo is the mountain nymph of Greek Mythology who loved her own voice, and like any little girl, loved to come to earth to play with beautiful nymphs, while denying the love of any man or god, even to the point of refusing the lecherous god Pan.  Out of anger, Pan incited a group of shepherds to kill her, tear her into tiny pieces, and spread the pieces all over the world.  The goddess of the earth, Gala, received those pieces of Echo, her voice repeating the last words of others.

         Echo is also the name of the communicative satellite experiments conducted by the American government in which two metalized balloon-shaped satellites, Echo 1 (launched in 1961) and Echo 2 (launched in 1964) were used as passive reflectors of microwave communicative signals bouncing from one point of the earth to the other.

         The Greek Goddess Echo, Echo 1, and Echo 2 are singing, chanting, crying, speaking signals in the form of poems that bounce from apogee to perigee of the earth to the other in Christina Lovin’s most recent poetry collection Echo, published by Bottom Dog Press (

Echo is a book of autobiographical poems, historical poems touching on the history of the baby boom generation, an attempt to hold on to the good memories of the past, and an attempt to exorcise the bad memories of the past.  Echo is also an elegy for:  womanhood; the precious haunts of childhood; land of the Midwest, and loved ones that have passed on.
There are poems depicting the Illinois countryside with human traits.  In “Echo 1” Lovin refers to corn and its narrow spaces  “like confessionals can hide a girl/ who wants to share the cool green secrets/ and learn the names/ of all things dark and wild”.

In “Shells” she depicts Pine trees as gossipers: “Pines gossiped coldly, tall on all sides,/ crowding the rutted roads where they crossed, littered/ with ruined shells from the button factory, shells that filled/ low places in the road:  opalescent pink, creamy and smooth/ as flesh.”

In “Elms” trees are “elegant/ but outdated, their feathered hats a quiver/ with gossip and gospel, their sturdy arms/ full of pies, fried chicken, and green gelatin/ thick with canned pear halves, walnuts,/ and Jesus.”  The elm trees also embody gods of white supremacy forcing even the statues in Lincoln Park to bow before:

                           Out there where the black-faced
statues of deferential jockeys lined white-rock      
lanes around the park.  Expectantly, they bowed
beneath the elms every fifty feet, hands held out
as if to hold the reins of some rich man’s horse,
or gather a penny tip, then diffidently dip
their head to murmur, ‘Yassir”
Excerpt from Echo “Elms”, page 25
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

         Soon the elms are no longer strong, rich white men who own horses; they are now decrepit old, diseased men.

                           The first diseased tree discovered
on a boulevard near the center of town, where old elms
gathered around the even older college, an aging family
of still virile gentlemen whose wizened faces
seem to peer into the future and see what lay.
                  Excerpt from Echo “Elms”, page 27
                  Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

Soon the trees the disease polio, that does not discriminate between black and white.   The diseased trees are in a way free from discrimination – they no longer can differentiate between colors.  All, both black and white, who touch them receive the polio.  The trees are now matchmakers – they become polio bringing two races of people together – in hopes of finding a cure in the form of polio vaccination that does not discriminate. 

We swallowed the bitter-
sweet remedy, despised the taint of medicine,
while outside in the Lombard yard, the giant elm
(second largest in the country) – breathed
in our useless breaths, returning the life-
giving oxygen – stood tall, still vibrant
at ninety.  Soon, Old Ben would fall
to the epidemic, the DDT-cure ineffective
and dangerous.  Unmindful, we walked out
into a town of ten thousand elm trees
spreading their strong summer canopies of green
over the streets, their shadows dappling
the oblivious brick, that , too would soon be gone,
obliterated beneath a smothering caul of asphalt.
                  Excerpt from Echo, “Elms”, Page 28
                  Copyright granted by Christina Lovin. 

There are poems that are of religious Christina themes, which seem fitting since Lovin was reared in a Christian family and at one time a preacher’s wife. 

In “Gathering Eggs” a little girl imagines the henhouse to be a cathedral, the hens the priests and congregation, and herself offering the only sacrifices she can give, only to have that sacrifice consumed by the black snake, causing the girl to go through a stigmata, or to endure the same wounds that Christ endured. 

The henhouse like any cathedral
nave – cool and hushed-
the old biddies muttering
at their stations.  The cross
beams above lifting the vesper
chorus of pullets to the roof-
safe from the black snake
that lives beneath
the stone foundation.

I kneel before the congregation
of setters, one to a box,
collect the reluctant offerings
from beneath each warm
body, accept the blood
blisters kissed onto tender skin
as the price of obedience.

A single egg – the sacrifice
of a small pale world
broken against the rough floor
of the henhouse – golden
stigmata that stains, then dries,
returning dust to dust.
A novice and her litany
of loss:  too many eggs,
one old basket. 
Excerpt from Echo, “Gathering Eggs” Page 16
                  Copyright granted by Christina Lovin.

One can interpret “Brushing My Mother’s Teeth” full of religious imagery even if perhaps Lovin did not intend for the poem to be interpreted as such.  The poem starts out with a daughter visiting her mother at a nursing home, washing her mother’s teeth: 

         Solid, these are held in my hand:  soiled-
         yellow and caked with starch from nursing
         home food.  The brush sends out specks that stick

         to the faucet, spot the break-proof mirror
         to the tiny shared toilet.  Another woman
         mumbles incoherently on the other side

         of the cheap laminate door while water runs
         clean now around the precise shape
         of my mother’s shrunken gums, sloughing

         the smooth channel, rinsing clean each tooth,
         perfect save for the chip hewn from the left front
Excerpt from Echo, “Brushing My Mother’s Teeth” Page 36            
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin 

         This reviewer envisions the daughter (who is the speaker of the poem) symbolizing Jesus and the mother’s teeth symbolizing the disciple’s feet.  The daughter remembers the washing of her mother’s feet, which she describes as a spiritual experience, where her mother is Jesus amongst women disciples, and like Jesus washed His own disciples feet, her mother washing her female disciples’ feet.
And I remember her foot-

         wet, dripping warm, scented
         water back into an enamel basin,
                  then gently rubbed, lovingly patted

         dry to be followed by the other.
         the foot washing rising, untying
         the long linen towel; kept just for this

                  sacred observance.  I see my mother accept the cloth
                  winding it around her waist, then kneel
                  before the next woman in the circle.

                  Take her foot, lifts it by a callused heel
                  into the washbowl between them.
                  I watch bored, too young to participate,
                  not understanding then those offices of humility
                  one will stoop to out of duty or tradition,
                  and on occasion, some reverent love.
Excerpt from Echo, “Brushing My Mother’s Teeth” page 36
                           Copyright granted by Christina Lovin          

This is a powerhouse of a poem that introduces not only the power of voice in the form of teeth, but also the power of women in religion – man is not the only one’s who can symbolize Jesus.
         In “Sunday” a young girl imagines her father’s bloody apron with a dead hen in his hand as the blood of Jesus. 
Other poems that depict religious Christian imagery are “Someone Else’s Sin”, “Mary’s Child”, “The Mourning After”, “Assumption of the Virgin”, and  “What The Other Woman knows:  Haiku to Be Read Alone (thought could be interpreted as a sensual poem).
There are poems about racism and other prejudices that occurred in the baby boomer’s generation:   “Flesh”, “A Cup Of White Sugar”, “Elms”, “To The Ghosts Of Halloween”,  “French Seams”,  and “Damn You, Barbie #1”.
In the pop-culture poem “Paper Doll Ghazal” Lovin writes of Elizabeth Taylor and “those violet eyes”; Kim Novak and her “blonde mystique about her quiet face”; Debbie Reynolds who “smiled the widest of them all”; and Betty Davis “must have been a hand-me-down”.

         In “Princesses” the speaker of the poem compares her tiara with that of Grace Kelly, Cinderella, Lee Meriwether.  In the last stanza she is thrilled to be wearing her own crown, walking down her on Miss America aisle, only to realize the frog she married, was not a prince, but still just a frog.

                                                               Only to find
myself hesitation-stepping down some narrow June
aisle, too young, too stupid in my own coronet
                  of pearls.  Eager to kiss the frog at the alter,
                  that would never transform into a prince.
Excerpt from Echo, “Princess”, page 48
                  Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

         Other famous names mentioned are Emmy Lou Harris; Dick Biondi, Wolfman Jack, Simon and Garfunkel, and numerous 1960s singing groups.

         Perhaps the most entertaining (but still compelling) poems are the crown sonnets “Myth Information” and “Trinity” focusing on:  Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Joseph McCarthy, Jackie Kennedy, Mae West, Dr. Spock, Elvis Presley, Hugh Hefner, Patsy Cline, Betty Friedan, John F Kennedy, Robert F Kennedy, Martin Luther King. 

There are also poems about the mistreatment of single mothers, the danger of nuclear weapons, and the power of a woman speaking her own mind.

         Lovin christened the second crown sonnet (fifteen sonnets) after the code name Trinity, named by J Robert Oppenheimer, to describe the nuclear bomb-testing project conducted in July of 1945 in New Mexico. 

The unseen enemy knitted its own dark chain
of silent destruction across New Mexico
and Nevada, as bombs burst over the plains,
spewing widespread radiation.
Excerpt from Echo, “Trinity II” Page 81    
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

         In the section “Scandal” Lovin writes of the violent crimes that gripped the world giving voices to both perpetrator and victim, but benefiting the victim and never diminishing the horror:  “The Ninth Muse:  Anaphora For Corazon” refers to mass murderer Richard Speck and the ninth nurse, Corazon Amurao, the only survivor, because Richard Speck was only expecting eight nurses.


         The poem consists of eleven four-line stanzas, the first line of the first ten stanzas begin with “there should have been eight that night”, and finally ends in a bittersweet ending: a triumph of justice delivered by the Melpomene, the Muse of Singing and Tragedy, and Corazon Amurao; and a tragedy that such horror could even take place.

So the slayer of the fates, silencer
                  of the muses, confused in the carnage, lost
                  count, missing the witness, the ninth, the muse

                  Melpomene, who lived to point a finger
                  and exclaim:  “This is the man!”  Silenced,
                  eight others; now the ninth muse sings no more:
                  holding only her tragic mask, the dripping blade.
Excerpt from Echo, “The Ninth Muse:  Anaphora For Corazon”, Page 91
                           Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

         “Panes’ gives needed life and cry for justice to victim Catherine Genovese who was stabbed top death while 38 people watched and did not help her or call the police.  It is the witnesses who are condemned in this poem that reveals that animals are not only “that prickle/ that skims the skin like a loosed curl”  but also a

graying woman awoke behind the shades
of her dream about kids’ slaughter and nanny goat screams
on a farm long since plowed under by progress,
turned on the bedside lamp to listen,
then lay back staring at shadows
that spread like bloodstains.
Excerpt from Echo, “Panes” Page 92
                           Copyright by Christina Lovin.     

There are also poems of convicted murdered Dr. Antonio Santamaria in “Private Dirt”; murderer Gary Wixforth and his victim Phyllis Olinger in “Blood Brothers”; and murderers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez and their victim Janet Fay in “Burning Love”.  “Elegy For Sally And Rose” focuses on convicted spies Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars) and Tokyo Rose (Iva Toguri).

The poet makes it known that her first echo was while she was in her mother’s womb in “Cry Babies” 

It was true.  I was a crybaby.  But I chose my sobs.
Excerpt from Echo, “Cry Babies”, Page 18
Copyright by Christina Lovin.

In, “Cry Babies” there is speaker of the poem’s cry of sexual abuse by her grandfather:

The familiar pain would stricture
my chest like the remembrance of some strange, work-rough hand
squeezing my budding breast as we walked toward tall rows of July corn.
ripe tassels dusting the top of my head, the sharp knowledge
of those rasping leaves cutting into bare skin and leaving scratches
as fingernails might, the scars deeper.  I never learned to swallow my tears

like some girls do;  hot-eyed but stoic the granddaughters of Him
of the cornfield whispered of a sin that rustled like cornstalks in the dark
as the three of us crowded a farmhouse bedroom one sultry summer night.
I began to understand that there are things to make a young girl cry
         Excerpt from Echo, “Cry Babies”, Page 18
         Copyright by Christina Lovin

She continues to echo with fearful caution, but there seems to be one person who is willing to listen to the little girl’s echoes that is the girl’s Daddy who at times seems fearful

                  -her father’s hot names
for fury and rage.  Listen – you will be the girl
to witness and fill in the blank spaces
and you will tell all – you will talk
to the hollow halls of night
between the rows of corn in its secret
Excerpt from Echo, “Echo 1 August 1960”, Page 11
                           Copyright granted by Christina Lovin.

You never spoke – nights appointed, shame, silence secret-
While together you watched Echo arc across, dark space, named
For that little girl who said too much -who learned it’s better
not to talk.
Excerpt from Echo, “Echo 1 August 1960”, Page 12
                           Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

         The narrator in “Laundry” finds her mother’s voice in her mother’s handwriting in a cloth covered notebook; thus the muscles of the fingers and hand also serve as the function of the mouth – the fingers the teeth, the hands the mouth producing

heartfelt prayers for her children:
blessings and absolutions
spelled out beside each name
in that familiar squared hand.
Excerpt from Echo, “Laundry”, Page 35.
                           Copyright granted by Christina Lovin.

The narrator reflects on her mother teaching her how to write:

She taught me to write: ABC’s
pressed with lead into cheap paper.
I copied each stroke, every camber
and closed arc, over and over again,
her clear script becoming min-
my name a span of homemade letters
that fluttered and waved across the page,
pinned to the lines like rumpled laundry
Excerpt from Echo, “Laundry”, Page 35
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

She acknowledges the power her mother taught her in voice to write her name and know her name not only by her fingers and hand, but also by her mind, and her mouth

symbols of who I might become, who I was
back then.  I looked down from the attic
window to my unwritten life, a blank
expanse of sheets,
Excerpt from Echo, “Laundry”, Page 35
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

         In one poem, there is the echo of the mollusk that was known to bore, or eat stones and/or corral rocks.  Another term for these mollusks is Lithophagus, the title of Lovin’s poem, in which it the speaker’s mother eats stones while pregnant with the speaker’s baby brother.  The baby brother, after he is born, consumes with savor dirt, grit, and pebbles.  
The speaker of the poem describes this type of eating and diet as a family trait., where she is left to eat the most difficult:

                  It must be a legacy:  this family trait, this brittle
                  yearning for the crunch and crack and crumbling tooth-
                  to bite down on a secret till it splinters
                  in the mouth and lodges in the throat like proof.
                  Lithophagus, at heart, I shrugged at that taboo
                  and swallowed stonier things, like loneliness and you.
                           Excerpt from Echo, “Lithophagus”, Page 67
                           Copyright by Christina Lovin

The big question of this book of poetry is what is Echo?  Is Echo the voice or the identity of that voice?  Is Echo who we are in the past, the present, or the future?   Perhaps there is no right or wrong answer – but the interpretation of the reader.  To Christina Lovin, she reveals the answer to that question in her powerhouse poem  “Social Studies.”

         Echo is a poetry collection that is Lovin’s world – circular and never ending, encompassing any reader who is willing to enter.  Each individual poem is its own satellite, sending rays from one side of the earth to the other, encompassing past, present, and future; the three elements that are the make-up of what it means not to be human and not to be spirit, but to be spiritually humane.
Echo also encompasses the undesirable residue of memories being torn apart from the desirable memories of life  – only to learn that a language is depleted unless a message is not taken as its whole.

         It is through the mouth that these confessionals, messages, voices, and echoes can be heard and break through the barriers that only Christina Lovin’s poetry can.

Photo Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1A
Echo from the Greek Mythology
Oil on Canvas Painting attributed to Alexandre Cabanel
Public Domain

Photo 2B
Photo Pan from Greek Mythology
Oil on canvas attributed to Mikhail Vrubel
Public Domain

Photo 3C
Echo 1 sits fully inflated at a navy hanger in Weeksville, North Carolina
Attributed to NASA
Public Domain

Photo 4D
Echo 2 under going tensile stress test in dirigible hanger at Weeksville, North Carolina
Attributed to NASA
Public Domain

Photo 5E
Jacket cover of Echo

Photo 6F
Bottom Dog Press logo

Photo 7G
Narrow path between two rows of corn in Tippecanoe County, Indiana
August 30, 2008
Attributed to Huwwilloms
Public Domain

Photo 8H
White Pines Forest Park near Byron, Illinois.
October 6, 2007
Photo attributed to Ivo Shandor
GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2
CCASA 3.0 Unported License

Photo 9I
Elm trees in Lincoln, Illinois
Postcard image from the late 19th to early 20th centuries
Provided by Mike Hamilton born in 1940
Public Domain

Photo 10J
Lincoln Park , Chicago, Illinois
January 24, 2004
Attributed to Jeremy Atherton

Photo 11K
The removal of dead elm trees in Lincoln, Illinois
From 1947 to 1949
Attributed to Joshua Fikuart
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 12L
Electron micrograph of the poliovirus
Attributed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library
Public Domain

Photo 13M
The famous Lombard Elm Tree that died at 97 year old due to Dutch Elm Disease
The tree was cut down in August 1, 1966
Public Domain

Photo 14N
Poster featuring the Centers for Disease Control’s national symbol of Public Heath, Wellbee.
Attributed to Mary Hilpertshauser, Employee of the Centers fro Disease Control
Public Domain

Photo 15O
Print produced form a vintage postcard or vintage print.
Public Domain

Photo 16P

Photo 17Q
Public Domain

Photo 18R
Drawing of Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet.
Public Domain

Photo 19S

Photo 20T

Photo 21U
Elizabeth Taylor in a studio publicity portrait
Public Domain

Photo 22V
Kim Novak in 1962.
Photo attributed to Frank Bez
Public Domain

Photo 23W
Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher on their wedding day in 1955.
Public Domain

Photo 24X
Bette Davis publicity shot for “Payment on Demand”
Public Domain

Photo 25Y
Grace Kelly during the filming of “To Catch A Thief”
Public Domain

Photo 26Z
Painting of “Cinderella Lost her slipper”
Attributed to Anne Anderson
Public Domain

Photo 27ZA
Dick Biondi
Public Domain

Photo 28ZB
Wolfman Jack
Public Domain

Photo 29ZC
Cover art of a 1970 recording of Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 30ZD
Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”
Public Domain

Photo 31ZE
Jayne Mansfield in “Playgirl After Dark”
Public Domain

Photo 32ZF
Joseph McCarthy
Library of Congress
Public Domain

Photo 33ZG
Jackie Kennedy in New Delhi
Library of Congress
Public Domain

Photo 34ZH
Mae West on September 13, 1953
Attributed to the Los Angeles Times Archive
Public Domain

Photo 35ZI
Dr Spock at the Miami Book Fair International
November 11, 1989
CCASA3.0 Unported License

Photo 36ZJ
Elvis Presley publicity shot for  “Jail House Rock”
Library of Congress
Public Domain

Photo 37ZK
Hugh Hefner
November 10, 2010
Attributed to Glenn Francis (
CCASA3.0 Unported.

Photo 38ZL
Pasty Cline promotional photograph
March 1957
Public Domain

Photo 39ZM
Betty Freidan
Attributed to Fred Palumbo
Employer of My World & Telegraph Sun Collection
Public Domain

Photo 40ZN
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy
February 20, 1961
Public Domain

Photo 41ZO
Senator Robert Francis Kennedy
May 1968
RFK speaks form the platform of a railway business care during his whistle-stop tour through Oregon’s Willamette Valley
CCASA3.0 Unported License.

Photo 42ZP
Martin Luther King Jr speaking against the Vietnam War at the University of Minnesota
April 27, 1967

Photo 43ZQ
J Robert Oppenheimer
Attributed to the United States Department of Energy
Public Domain

Photo 44ZR
Richard Speck
Attributed to Chicago Police
Public Domain

Photo 45ZS
The eight nurses murdered by Richard Speck.  Each individual photo is identified by her name.
Public Domain

Photo 46ZT
Statue of Melpomene
by sculptor  Wolfgang Sauber
CCASA 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, 1.0 Generic
GNU Free Documentation License

Photo 47ZU
The surviving nurse, Corazon Amurao
Public Domain

Photo 48ZV
Catherine Genovese
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 49ZW
Raymond Fernandez
Mug shot
Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law

Photo 50ZX
Martha Beck
Mug shot
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 51ZY
Victim Janet Fey
Public Domain

Photo 52ZZ
Mildred Gillars mug shot
Public Domain

Photo 53ZZA
Iva Toguira mug shot
March 7, 1946
Attributed to David Shapinsky
CCASA2.0 Generic

Photo 54ZZB
Three-month fetus attached to the umbilical cord
Attributed to National Museum of Health and Science
Public Domain

Photo 55ZZC
Robert Ericson, (Christina Lovin’s father)
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

Photo 56ZZD
Christina Lovin with her mother Clara
Summer of 1955
Copyright granted by Christina Lovin

Photo 57ZZE
Lithophaga trancata from Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand
Attributed to Graham Bould

Public Domain