In the Small Press, Laura Stamps attempts the impossible – to break through with poems that are uplifting, cheerful, inspirational, sentimental – and have cats in them too. In a publishing sector more known for beer, cigarettes, bad ass bosses, bad ass jobs, Jack Daniels and Bukowski’itis we find a true iconoclast. An excessively cheerful mystic who says, “my work is optimistic, because I am optimistic. I grew up in a dysfunctional family terrorized with alcoholism and mental illness. I know how scary life can be. I also know that it is easy to gravitate toward the negative or depressing in our society. Your quality of life is your choice.”
In her KittyFeather Press Catalogue Stamps describes her most recent book of poetry, Cat Daze: New & Selected Poems as follows, “Cats are such a delight, blessing us in countless way. This special book, small enough to tuck in a purse or pocket, contains a collection of 28 of my favorite spiritual poems with cats scampering throughout. The perfect gift for cat owners and their cat-loving friends.”
I have to admit. I don’t love cats. And I don’t like excessively sweet poetry, but I found Stamps willingness to tilt against the dark windmills of most small press poetry, to be, well, very much in your face. And to this and to her I say, BRAVO! The core theme of this book of poetry is reflected in these lines from “Epiphany Of Joy”: “The joy of life exists / in the moment, the ever present / eternal – that’s the only / place to find the sweet / rhythm of the divine.” If one quickly scans a few titles from this collection and reads their concluding lines, you begin to see the message Stamps is selling:
“Beauty”: “Let us lift our wings / and soar in beauty.”
“Destiny”: “I must perform each / day to the glorious / tune of truth.”
“Tranquility”: “the weight of glory / the immutability of light.”
“Nonresistance”: “I practice transparency: / the art of allowing /every jot and tittle / I might resist to flow / through me, permitting / nothing to stick.”
A mystical cat poet walking the dark halls of the small press. Now that takes some nerve. She uses her love of cats as a backdrop and a hook to carry her readers to her deeper message – that living in the moment is liberation. She is selling, in an accessible package, what mystics of all ages have urged us to do, “Be here now.” As a result, these 28 poems present the reader with a landscape that has the rhythmic ease of a mantra.
I often wished she would heighten her contrasts in service to driving her points home. I wished that she would share a few dark moments when the soul walks the torturous path of existential uncertainty bringing me to the reward of the now. But as she tells us in her catalogue promotion, this is not her goal. These poems are intended to inspire.
Stamps worked as a full time painter before transition to writing, “One day I picked up a writers magazine and decided to try writing a poem. It was awful, but it completely satisfied every creative bone in my body in a way that painting never had. That day was the end of my painting career.” Having viewed a number of her paintings on the internet, I feel a reader would find the same fluidness and joy in them as they will find in her poetry. She paints with words.
I liked her poem: “Supplication”: “My cat lisps / her latest request / with a sound / halfway between / a purr and a gurgle, / but I know what she means / in the same way / the leaves / bunched in my hands / could fling themselves / like prayers / across this autumn sky / without a single / garbled word / falling / to the ground / unheard. / Amen.”
Stamps themes have been well worked by many mystics over the ages. I could hear the great Sufi mystic, Rumi in these lines taken from Stamps poem titled, “Magnolia Moon”: “So I close my eyes and focus / on the fact that I am not / my body, that one day / this body shall roll over / and fold its mossy wings- / but I am divine, and my spirit / will always fly, making today / another day for rejoicing, / for twirling like a thistle / in the wind, my arms a swirl / of moth wings white as summer / magnolias, my heart marbled / with star-song, turning / beneath the jeweled purse / of a southern moon.”
As a collection of mystically themed poems using cats as a backdrop goes, this collection will have great appeal to Stamps’ core audience, spiritual women. The challenge with inspirational poetry is that it can become one dimensional, so I asked Stamps about this and she said, “My poems appear rather simple at first, but they are actually constructed to teach spiritual laws. I have been told many times that reading one of my poetry books is better than taking Zoloft. That’s because the poems are constructed to alter the mind in such a way that helps people connect with the holiness of the moment.” Still, I would love to read poetry by Stamps that take me down a dark side street and up into the light. Poems that are infused with her ability to paint effortlessly, but reward me with more unpredictability and, just as importantly – enlightenment.
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives and writes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has completed a novel based on memory titled, THE FATHERS WE FIND: The Making of a Humble, Pleasant Boy. He has published two books of poetry, Bad Monk: Neither Here Nor There and Monje Malo Speaks English both published by Four Sep Publications. His third book of poetry titled, Odd will be published by Pudding House Publications in 2004. His work was nominated for a 2003 Pushcart Prize. His poems, poetry reviews and short stories have appeared in over eighty print and electronic publications. You can find more of his work by going to: http://www.literati.com/Ries/ He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.