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The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor / Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor

By: Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

From the very first pages in this collection, the reader is immersed in a fearlessly detailed, masterfully textured symphony of poems that hold nothing back. Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow plunges boldly into an unrelenting quest to make sense of a universe that is both beautiful and troubling. Hers is a dauntless journey that reveals–at times painfully, sometimes with humor–a probing spirit with a pa...
ISBN 978-1-907056-96-3
Pub Date Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Cover Image Asian elephant, from James Balog’s book Survivors: A New Vision of Endangered Wildlife, used by permission of the photographer.
Page Count 94
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From the very first pages in this collection, the reader is immersed in a fearlessly detailed, masterfully textured symphony of poems that hold nothing back. Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow plunges boldly into an unrelenting quest to make sense of a universe that is both beautiful and troubling. Hers is a dauntless journey that reveals–at times painfully, sometimes with humor–a probing spirit with a passion for life, cognizant of its fleeting preciousness. Nimbly in command of a vocabulary ranging from the technically precise to the spontaneously emotional, she produces vibrant poems that captivate the reader with a spirited voice consistently lively, audaciously erotic, and then genteel with sensuality, and with lines crackling of energy that often erupts on the page. The result is a collection of poems that are arresting, urgent in the carpe diem tradition, and unfailingly celebratory. 

"Uproarious strains" indeed - Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow has invented a darkly comic, intelligently strange syntax all her own, where the grisly might be ecstatic and law laughter. There are territories here where poetry rarely goes, domestic and bureaucratic spaces ogled anew.  Tenderness, too, counts among the sweet surprises.  Keith Tuma

Early in a poem that is finally about accepting the contradictory qualities of nature, Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow quotes, with exclamation points, the three features the U.S. Patent Office requires for patents - "New! Useful! Nonobvious!"   Taken together, they offer a perfect description of this amazing first book.  There is a genuine freshness in Edlow's treatment of narrative throughout, equally unflinching in the Swiftean descriptions of courtrooms and autopsies as in recollections from childhood and family life.  "Useful" is often a hard case to make for poems, but here, in addition to close observation, is a quick wit and summarizing intelligence, offering its own contingent wisdoms, tightly packed and portable.  But the "non obvious" is Edlow's home, not only amid the strikingly unpoetic business of autopsy and litigation but in all the sudden, unexpected and uniformly rewarding, witty and intrusive turns this poetry takes.  Michael Anania


Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow is the author of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor and Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch. She has won the Red Hen Press Poetry Award, The Tusculum Review Poetry Prize, Willow Review Prize for Poetry, a Beullah Rose/Smartish Pace Poetry Prize, and three Pushcart Prize nominations (2011, 2015, 2016), two of which were nominations from the Pushcart Prize Board of Contributing Editors. Her poetry has appeared widely, including: American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Folio, Fourteen Hills, Gulf Coast, Live Encounters, The Los Angeles Review, Plume, Salamander, Santa Clara Review, Smartish Pace, Tahoma Literary Review, and Texas Review. Poems have been featured in anthologies, including: The Plume Anthology of Poetry 5,  Even the Daybreak, Drawn to Marvel, and The Emily Dickinson Awards Anthology


You train your roaming eye 
down to the undulation of his robe’s hemline.
You’re close enough to whiff a whisper of cinnamon breath.
His chambers are bright. Lots of double pane windows. Then an oddity—
framed, signed Dr. Seuss prints on the wall. Jim, 
his assistant, lowly singing the hook from “Brickhouse,” 
glances your way on “lettin’ it all hang out,” a line lingered at. Glee
would be the word. With open hand the judge motions you 
to sit. The comfortable invitee’s 
leather chair; sweet leather, milk chocolate color,
just enough sit and just enough give. The chambers’ door
couldn’t be wider open. 
                                 This judge feels like an ocean
as his sumptuous black robe is removed,
the familiar placing of it on the common coat rack. 
It’s unsuitable—the green cargo pants 
and river sandals! Clearly he’s a man, 
this person who, with irenic mind, contours 
behavior that binds other men.
At the lip of his gorgeous desk a polished 
gold name plate. He jokes: touch it
and he’ll send your prints for analysis. The way he says it
tells you he’s cast it, his standard line. Whose nerves
are higher? You’d like to confound him, drive him
up his Seussian wall. He wants you to watch him 
in these chambers, know he’s requested
your company. But he has a big kindness, a titanic
love for whomever he loves, and river 
sandals are shoes for him, not a statement.
                                                     Without your asking
his assistant presents a beautiful glass of cold water. 
You appreciate this. Liquid
sentence that makes you
change your unjourneyed mind. 


You finally meet someone who compliments
your idea of interesting and he or she invites you
to do something entirely out of your element.
Do not regurgitate your recent meal, freeze 
up in place or prevaricate. Try it,
try it for the sake of your ancestors 
who tried everything: the shaky wooden ladder
above the many colorations of soil, the shorn pelt,
the hand extended speechless towards another hand.

Blame is a date-stopper, a useless commodity.
Yes, the metal coffeepot and granola bar wrappers 
left outside the tent are big mistakes.
And yes, the real interrogatory always boils down to: 
How much can a mountain lion smell? 
For there it is, the snuffling, the padded-toe ambulation,
the making of indistinct but purposeful soft sounds 
far enough away from the tent 
neither of you is shrieking.
The creature’s nocturnal precision. Remember 
the value of not bumping into anything; it crosses 
the species gap. This is why
the good date always pockets hurricane matches.
Nothing like a roaring fire to scare a catamount
back onto its sward.

The compelling date is observant, yet encumbered.
No one can parallel your inimitable style
so do benevolence. Witness the marring of the sun’s 
surface, those orphic patterns not unlike
the deciphering of tea leaves at the palm reader’s 
but on a gigantic scale the size of which
you could get alarmed by, but don’t. Sunspots. 
An imperceptible little shade today, granted;
tomorrow, a mountain of tidal stoppage.
When and if you return to your daily lives
think upon that monstrous beetle you prodded
with a dead branch. Waddling its girth away
from your amusement, its bizarre frontal pincers
dragging, and when it decided for you that you were
done with it, it lifted its immense household
off the ground and flew.

Copyright Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow 2012
Review: The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor reviewed by Winnie Khaw for

Winnie Khaw aspires to create quality literary work, whether in poetry, creative nonfiction, or more questionably, fiction, and incidentally become astonishingly wealthy and adored by the world. Her work is featured in Magic Lantern Review, Empty Mirror Books, Passages North, Palooka Journal, The Philadelphia Review, Eclectica, The Daily Satire, etc. But mostly, Winnie spends her free time being silly...

From the opening poem the reader proceeds to unpack the morbidly entertaining contents of the “long, leathery, mottled man-luggage” (“Autopsy: Upon the Tamis Table”), a frightfully delicious description of a dead body about to autopsied by experts. Thankfully, Edlow’s actual work is lively and bright, evincing innovative humor and a keen imagination that blithely interrogates the essence of human behavior in reaction to everyday situations. Positive energy flows throughout the work on subjects ranging from a “naked attorney in the ladies’ room” to “ants.” The titles read like a whimsical shopping list for an imp on a holiday rampage, “When Academia Took Me to Lunch Then Fed Me the Bull,” “The Persimmon Can See You,” and many other entertaining headliners.

The eponymous poem “The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor” is frequently food-spurting and startlingly comical. In it the “classically round, pointless” face of “lady attorney for plaintiff” is creatively compared to “the courthouse sink” whose “handwritten line[s] ris[e] ... flying like bats unstuck.” If Judge Spencer didn’t learn how excellently Edlow could apply poetic imagery and metaphor to page that day, this amused reader certainly did. Yet, even in this overall vivid piece there are lines that obscure instead of illuminate, bewilder instead of clarify, and tilt between sense and nonsense: out of context, “The feeling is soil but where to put his finger to it,” among others.

In another poem, “Skateland,” the 11-year-old speaker matter-of-factly relates that she was “pretty old” when she “got that [her] mother hadn’t taught her proper hygiene,” and then follows with a detailed account of her feelings when she comes upon naked boys. While this piece offers some light on the “weird aroused repulsion” the speaker experiences, the prose lines sound neither quite like a child nor an adult looking back to the time of childhood, but rather something oddly in-between and a bit unpolished. Other poems, as well, could have benefited from some pruning, not of image and metaphor, but of the language used in evocation of the above. That being said, in the bulk of the poems Edlow skillfully uses a prose-ish form that well offsets the quirkiness of her quick wit, words and ideas.

The celebration of the privilege of living, of life, is often well expressed even within usually mundane circumstances. However, many a poem wanders off into a sort of theme park which, though undoubtedly full of fun rides and amusements, gets lost in its own ingenious metaphor, as though confused as to which activity to do first and trying to do them all. The reader certainly experiences Edlow’s words with pleasure, a world, as Edlow says, is “permeated with a sense of wonder” to an admirable extent. However, seeming randomness in organization, even if intentional, and unevenness in lucidity, flow, and originality of lines, somewhat detracts from unadulterated enjoyment of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor.

GALATEA RESURRECTS #26 (A POETRY ENGAGEMENT) July, 2016  Written by Eileen Tabios.

The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

At first, I considered each poem to be a novel--maximalist, as the genre allows, with meticulously-researched details. Reading through Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow's The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor, I felt like I was concurrently reading through Wikipedia as I read the poems. All of this is a compliment--each poem wrought a world that may have been miniature but was complete and believable. Like a doll's house perfect in its replications, down to the tiniest toothpaste tube next to a tiny toothbrush atop a tiny sink in a tiny bathroom. Except that the poems' details are not mundane (even when they are), often schooling you in the marvelous which, after all, is a common job of poems.  For example, from "TO THE CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER'S OFFICE,"

The Chief Medical Examiner...found in the nest of their expired wombs 

a tiny translucent baby or two together,  

always the surprise of the finding, as you surprise 

to crack open one perfect speckled farm egg, only to behold 

two viscous yolk orbs wobbling in the skillet. 

The dumbfounded medley of surplus in death

It's that last line in the above excerpt that manifest how Edlow elevates the list of details into poetry: "dumbfounded," this "surplus in death." It results because, these poems are silver, not gold--by which I refer to the last three lines in another poem, "MOB DAD,"

...And lousy men 

with limousine-length egos. And gold, and gold only, 

because silver you have to rub and rub to keep pretty.

One with a "limousine-length ego" settling for "gold only" implies a lack of industriousness that makes one work. Edlow, on the other hand, works the details in her poems like silver, rubbing and rubbing to come up with pretty. These poems are silver-pretty, way more satisfying than inherited (without labor) gold.

Other Titles from Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

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