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 Cover and interior artwork by Ray Scott 

 Praise for Odes to the Ordinary

 

From MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW  

By Diane Donovan, Senior Book Editor

 

"Odes to the Ordinary is a tribute to everyday life and the wonder of ordinary living. It cultivates an atmosphere of appreciation and observation that reveals both the truths in ordinary wonder and the fallacies that lie in expectations of extraordinary circumstances.

'The Problem with Paradise' offers one outline of the issues involved in anticipating that an exceptional world will unfold from a change of place:
"From Key Largo, we drive down the great white spine/of the Overseas Highway, the ocean a gelatinous expanse/of turquoise, too improbable to be real, lucid and orderly/as an in-ground swimming pool./Even the pelicans seem/disappointed, their long faces exhausted/by so many graceless landings as they fumble through the air/with the disastrous flair/of malfunctioning aircrafts."

Poetic descriptions promote a newfound appreciation for the ordinary, a more empathic response to the life around us, and the underlying beauty of the most mundane of life experiences and events. Black and white watercolor art peppered throughout further enhances the detail and nature of these works.

Emily Benson-Scott's free verse is especially adept at juxtaposing the personal with environmental influences, as in 'Writer's Block':
"The mind can be a backyard in winter, buried beneath blankets of/forgetful white, a place full of frozen/potential, shrubs saddened beneath the burden of snow, forgetting/the latent inspiration of spring./You could always just give up .../but the neighbor's field, gone to seed will always haunt, with its/skeleton stalks of corn - shadows/of ideas both rotting and remaining, still/taunting you with their presence..."

Whether describing images from history in 'After Pompeii' or reflecting on strong women in pieces such as 'Ode to a Topless Woman in France,' these poems assume the form of celebrations of nature, travel, and small moments of observational experience that translate to bigger insights on relationships between self and the world.

Odes to the Ordinary will prove especially delightful for creative writing classes considering the ode format, and is highly recommended for literary libraries and readers of modern poems who would better understand and appreciate the incarnations of ordinary life via poetic reflections."

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From KIRKUS REVIEW

"A perceptive set of poems that find the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

A collection of free-verse poetry that aims to locate the hearts of everyday things. 

Benson-Scott organized her book into six parts by subject, including odes to “Inclement Weather,” “Trees,” “Abandoned Things,” “Animals,” “Travel,” and “Strong Women.” In many poems, the speaker interacts with her subject, allowing herself to be stirred by its inherent nature. The fleeting moments between the cessation of a storm and stillness are a reminder to appreciate clarity in the chaos of life in “Lake Champlain After a Storm”: “it’s too easy to forget this lucidity, this moment / when the horizon appears once more, so importantly before you / too easy to give in to the undertow of some private despair.” The poem “Ode to the Present Moment” is poignantly placed in the “Abandoned Things” section, acknowledging the human tendency to concentrate attention on the past and future, rather than live in the present: “Why do we want so much? / When everything is right here?”

 

The poems effectively render ostensibly banal things worthy of close examination, and they find beauty and complexity in objects and experiences usually taken for granted. For example, “What to Do with an Ex-Boyfriend’s Books” considers the mixed feelings that accompany an abandoned relationship with humor: “You consider keeping them on your shelves, for him to borrow.” In other poems, the speaker begins as an observer and ends as a participant in her subject’s life: “When I approach, you look straight at me, a faint plea in the endless liquid / of your eyes.” Other poems are dedicated to what the subject can teach us, for example, in “Ode to Niagara Falls”: “I want to live like this, in a miasma of / mist, an ether of dreams.” Some lines and stanzas feel overcrowded with adjectives, as though the speaker is searching for the right way to honor the subject; however, this also encourages readers to appreciate details of things that often go unnoticed." 

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“Perhaps the deepest root in all of poetry isn’t elegy’s instinct to mourn, nor eros’s urge to sing, but something simpler than either, an innate instinct to praise the world and all that’s in it. So Caedmon begins his hymn, “Now I praise,” and so Emily Benson-Scott offers us her Odes to the Ordinary. It takes a poet of both genuine gentleness and real humility to understand that our truest wonders hardly seem like wonders at all. So it is these poems give us back as gifts what we’d easily otherwise take for granted—the subway come up from underground snaking through the sky, an egret in central park, a rainy wedding remembered not with regret but gratitude. That is the word that suffuses these pages, gratitude. It is a small lesson in the daily graces we overlook when we seek epiphany instead of simple hours, and this book is a correction to that mistake, reminding us all of what all is most ours.”

 - Dan Beachy-Quick, poet, essayist, and translator, author of A Translation from Ancient Greek, Stone-Garland--Six Poets from the Greek Lyric Tradition

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“Emily Benson-Scott’s poems are lush displays of language, joy, and hope that shimmer and sear with a master’s stroke. They “flaunt their meteoric beauty like debutantes dressed in velvet dresses oiled in their perfume.” The raw honesty of life is on full display in Odes to the Ordinary forcing us into the moment to embrace what’s directly in our sights with what T.S. Eliot calls, “a lifetime’s death in love.” Of course, you will rediscover Keats in new and exciting ways on these pages, but there is also a nod to what Plath might have done in the out years. These poems are fiercely ambitious and sleek with urgency. An important book for our time, this collection provides a ready salve to heal a post-pandemic world."

 - Dean Smith, Poet, Author of Baltimore Sons, Director of Duke University Press

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"Emily Benson-Scott writes luminous odes to absolutely everything:  animals, seasons, trees, subways, people, loves and wandering.  She shows us all she sees, and takes us with her on her frequent trips to everywhere. Reading her poems, we are carried to a place that is graceful and gracious and full of life.  We’re happy to be with her."

 - Esther Cohen, author of Book Doctor, Breakfast with Allen Ginsberg, God is a Tree,

Don’t Mind Me: and other Jewish Lies (illustrated by Roz Chast) 

Editor of Unseen America, Cultural Activist, Poet, Educator

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"Emily Benson-Scott, lend me your eyes.  Let me see the beauty in the ordinary the way you do in your exquisite Odes to the Ordinary. Where else can I find an “Ode to Mud Season,” “Ode to a Red Maple,”  “Ode to A Carriage Horse in Central Park,” “Ode to a Stripped Bicycle in Brooklyn”? In your poems, a world I never see, a world that lurks below the surface, comes into view. 

 

In “Ode to the Present Moment, you write “Today as I wait   / for the biopsy results, the world / blindsides me with beauty” – just as your poems blindsided me with beauty in these worrisome moments of time.  In your “Ode to Rain” umbrellas are “blooming everywhere.” And “pelicans, in their / hunt for sustenance, skim low, like so many skipped rocks enlivening the surface.”  There is even a poem, “Motel Six,“ which describes the “dingy drapes, in the spongy, midnight-blue carpet / steeped in Sin, the broken smoke detector / dangling like a unsightly eye.”

 

My favorite poem in the collection, “Reykjavik“ describes Emily’s mother as if her hand forever “clutched a slender string / attached to a helium balloon that tugged continuously / upwards, towards the forgetful sky.”  Emily, lend me your eyes so I can hear “the blustering rush of waterfalls.”  In Odes to the Ordinary, Emily describes herself as filled with “tumultuous passion, for the smallest things – Maraschino cherries, a midnight stroll” – a host of tiny things this remarkable book helps all of us see for the first time.  

- Steve Zeitlin

Founding Director, City Lore

Author of The Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness

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“Emily Benson-Scott notices everything in her Odes to the Ordinary (which is really everything when you think about it, even death) but that’s the point here, nothing is to be missed or treated as ‘ordinary.’  In her lovely poem ‘Late Bloomer’, she writes — 

‘She dislikes the elder rose past her prime / her fragrant beauty collapsed, / her breast a nest for suckling bees’. 

There is surprise and beautiful language: the Ss, the internal rhyme. Her poems welcome you, but you need to watch your step, all of a sudden, in ‘Ode to Prisoners in a Park’, there is freedom, a park, and then ‘how it must seem, the / sky exquisite as opium’ 

the rhyme and jarring smoothness of ‘opium’ takes you to another place in the poem. 

Indeed, Benson-Scott does something very interesting in her first lines — she poses a question, makes a statement, draws you in from the start, and you’ll keep reading and turning the page for another well-observed line that will stay with you whispering or burning

like ‘claws lit/ with the fire of existence, a sudden match-tip redness’.”

Robert Lipton, former Poet Laureate of Richmond California, social activist, and author of A Complex Bravery 

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"Emily Benson-Scott is a seriously good poet.  I read poetry and I am very fussy about my poetry. At a bookstore, if I am browsing the poetry section, over 90 percent of the books and often 100 percent of the books will be rejected on first sampling.

 

Louise Gluck is my hero. Published Charles Bukowski is amazing. (Unpublished Charles Bukowski is worthless. His estate has done poetry a great dis-service.) Vincius de Moraes in Portuguese. I recently gave up on Alexander Pope for the pastorals and the idiocies in Essay on Man.

Emily Benson-Scott is a cut above. There is no treacle. There is no artificial cubism to impress some former creative writing teacher. She is precise. She is concise. She is perceptive. Her metaphors make complete sense. Her emotions are those an intelligent, sane woman can feel, given the realities of life.

Most poets do not meet even 20 percent of these criteria. Odes to the Ordinary is good stuff."

Samuel Cohn, Professor of Sociology at Texas A & M University

Author of All Societies Die: How to Keep Hope Alive

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