We are pleased to reprint the review of "Grateful Conversations" first published in Quill and Parchment, April 2019 and written by poet Michael Escoubas. The journal announced the publication of our anthology in its December 2018 issue.
Grateful Conversations - A Poetry Anthology by Westside Women Writers
Edited by: Kathi Stafford and Maja Trochimczyk, Ph.D
ISBN: 978-1-945938-22-1 ($24.80) Paperback, 280 pp., black/white illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-945938-24-5 ($98.00) Color Paperback, 280 pages with color illustrations
ISBN 978-1-945938-23-8 ($10.00) E-Book in EPUB format with color illustrations
Publisher: Moonrise Press, 2018
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
Let’s meet the nine members of Westside Women Writers: Millicent Borges Accardi,
Madeleine S. Butcher, Georgia Jones-Davis, Lois P. Jones, Susan Rogers, Sonya
Sabanac, Kathi Stafford, Ambika Talwar, and Maja Trochimczyk.
The Biblical book of Proverbs supplies an apt illustration of the poetry group known as
Westside Women Writers: “As iron sharpens iron, so one woman sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17). Out of their collective diversity emerges a “communion of minds”
possible only in an atmosphere attuned to sharpening writing skills and at the same time
refining the edges of the human spirit in love and humility.
The anthology contains two parts. Part I consists of seven workshops. The workshops
were organized by group members who wrote on selected “prompts,” often taking field
trips to gain first-hand exposure to interesting art exhibits. Works of art such as the
Cycladic Harp Player, from ancient Greece, paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, exhibits
found at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and The Broad Museum provided other
challenging prompts. Themes such as “Grandparents” and “Rivers” introduced a sense of
balance and “everydayness” into the portfolio of writing topics. “Grateful Conversations”
the initial prompt, was eventually chosen as the title.
Part II, “Self Portraits,” unveils the pathos within each poet’s life.
Editors Maja Trochimczyk and Kathi Stafford preface the collection by overviewing their
respect for poetry as an “elusive gift.” Some group members have supported each other in
life and in art for more than ten years. Sometimes they surprised one another by bringing
poems on related themes without pre-planning; these occasions contributed to the
communion of minds alluded to above.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the preface and introductory pages contain a
virtual blueprint on how to form a writer’s group. The editors provide an excellent “how
to framework” that includes premise, guidelines and expectations.
Part I. Workshops:
I looked for and found threads in each workshop, kept my fingers
wrapped around the threads, adding new ones weaving them into a unique tapestry.
“Compassion” draws me in as Accardi feels deeply for exploited workers in an Asian
clothing factory. Stafford depicts an ICU patient, His gray hair shambles its way over the
pillow top. Sabanac speculates about life’s ultimate destination in her poem by the same
name. As Trochimczyk experiences the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg in the air, she is
grateful for conversations never had but now taking place. Rogers writes,
We are but a conversation
of light. Through this exchange we trace
everything we have.
A musical thread pervades the Cycladic Harp Player as typified by Madeleine Butcher’s poem, Still,
We listen with you
inside the wheel of time.
a slight vibration,
across time it comes,
Color, light and song add to the garment as the writers respond to works by Van Gogh in
Workshop 3. In My Grandmother Danced the Kazatzka, Susan Rogers uses a brilliant 24-
part cinquain sequence to add an “admiration” thread showing that
was her life’s goal.
But life’s more than numbers.
Feisty Russian, she kick-danced till
By the end of the seven workshops, the writers weave a rich tapestry flowing like a river
where “rain falls in a sun-bright sky . . . out of the blue. . . . when you least expect it.”
Part II. Self-Portraits:
I regret that space considerations prevent your reviewer from doing justice to the superior
work of each poet. The following brushstrokes lifted from each self-portrait will inspire
you to learn more . . .
Here Lies the Thing I Most Desire
Here lies the thing I most desire,
Mixed with a spoon until consistent
And predictable. A life you can shape
And let rise and then pound down
A Second time until it is comfort-soft
And feels like old fabric.
as in a feeling so small
before a thing so vastly greater than we,
a thing embodying a profound truth
which we can sense but not ever truly know
I tell people that I like to write poems. A day when I have a
poem in the works is a happy day. Whole afternoons are
gobbled up in the joy of working with language, building
Listen! The Rabbi says, God is One. Listen for what comes next.
When death arrives shema as a mezuzah on the threshold
of your lives, the soul’s last words before leaving the body.
What the Trees Say
In the shrine
of an unknown God
I follow the path
Kristina Hugging The Tree
Her face glows
and her eyes are closed
as she inhales the scent of pine.
This is her tree of life.
It is green and not yet tall,
but the sky offers so much space to grow.
We used to hold
hands near the bower. Now we lean together,
quiet, and that is enough.
Kindlings . . .
If the breeze is tropical
or Icelandic it will matter not
This is love that weaves unceasingly
from land to water to air to fire that glows
far in ethers beyond our eyes can see
Essay: Why, Write?
For me, poetry writing truly is about “Grateful Conversations”— with
myself, with my friends, with the world . . . I am deeply thankful
for the ten years and many hours of conversing with Westside Women
May more of us treasure poetry as a bridge to grateful conversations never had, but now