Garden Metamorphosis

“Between Life and Death There is Nature”

A review by Joey Madia

Smoky Zeidel has a way with words. This five-time Pushcart nominee is able to plumb the depths of human experience with a simplicity of language that makes accessible what the philosophers, rhetoricians, and many poets render (at times on purpose) vague and therefore useless.

Garden Metamorphosis is much more than a book of poems (and a bonus short story that rends the heart); it is a meditation made in nature’s Cathedral—the garden. As Voltaire advised in Candide, we each must “tend our own garden.” Gardens have served for centuries as masterful metaphors for the soul, the human condition, and the mystical nature of Nature. Zeidel’s powerful poetry captures this alchemical mixture-in-a-bottle in book form, and the reader is wiser for the journey.

Monarch butterflies figure prominently in the collection, in both poems and the short story. The transformation of the butterfly (caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly) is perhaps the most tried and true metaphor of all of the many nature metaphors that have graced the page from the author–mystic’s pen. It is the three-act model in action, a pattern that happens not once, but many times in a person’s life. It is proof that our lives are a process, a chance to continually move from “I am this” to “I am becoming something new.” Another core theme is the sacredness of the soil, the plant life, the bugs and beasts encountered when one is down in the dirt—rooted and connected, away from the brain-draining, connection-dampening technological construct into which so many of us are patched. Continue reading

Redeeming Grace

Of Redemption and Forgiveness

Review by Joey Madia

Some writers have a gift that sets them well above the rest. Being a teacher of writing as well as an author, Zeidel deftly augments her natural talent for storytelling with sharply drawn characters, tight plots, seamlessly woven research, and a high level of symmetry and macro/micro structure.

I was first introduced to her work several years ago, when I received The Storyteller’s Bracelet for review. I was very taken with the mythological nature of the Native American–based tale she told, so it was with great pleasure that I received this special release.

Engaging the dogmatic/religious more than the mythological, Redeeming Grace centers on a family’s ongoing struggles following the separate deaths of two children and their mother in late 1920s rural Maryland.

The title character, the oldest daughter of a hardcore minister named Luther, marries a somewhat older man, Otto Singer, to get her and her sister away from Luther’s physically and emotionally abusive ways. His grief has poisoned his mind and instead of being the kind-hearted family man and well-respected religious figure of years passed he has become an abusive mis-interpreter of the Bible. Continue reading

The Cabin

Time Travel Made Easy

Review by Joey Madia

As I have made the journey from reader, to writer, to student, to professional writer, to teacher of workshops and writing classes, and then to book reviewer, I have come to believe that there are three kinds of (proficient, “talented”) writers at work in the world.

First, there are the Storytellers. People like Hemingway, that come from the gut, who go fearlessly into the vortexing dream-space of human experience to capture something in the net of their creating, who can spin a captivating yarn without too much verbal or plot complexity but plenty of power and resonance. Then there are the Technicians—those who inherently and through 10,000 hours of practice, understand and apply structure, word choice, syntax, and suspense… who “do the task of writing” at a high level. Continue reading

The Storyteller’s Bracelet

Making a Case for Myth in Modern Life

Review by Joey Madia

Frequent readers of my book reviews and creative writing are well aware of my belief that mythology, folktales, and multicultural tales, and storytelling in general, are an all-too-often missing and yet vitally important element of a healthy mind and well-functioning society (I am in the process of writing a new book about it), so when I got the opportunity to read and review this book, I jumped at the chance.

I was not disappointed.

Smoky Zeidel is not a Native American, as she tells us in the book’s Afterword. And yet she captures the syntax, symbolism, and simple beauty of the Native American expression of human experience with an artistry that makes for almost hypnotic reading. Continue reading