Black Forest Dreams:
A Journey Through Germany
Joseph Kuhn Carey
Kelsay Books, 2021
Review by Terry Loncaric
I have long admired the lyricism of Joseph Kuhn Carey's poetry. I respect the clarity of his writing and the beguiling nature of his narratives. Every poem in Carey's latest collection, Black Forest Dreams: A Journey Through Germany, lives up to the title of transporting the reader with lush, dreamy images and stories of family, heritage, and the rugged landscape of his ancestral homeland. Along the way, we delight with Carey in such palpable memories as watching a ship that sailed "like sugar cubes through molasses" and enjoying a nightfall that crept upon him "like trickles from a half turned-off faucet."
As the Chicago suburban author paints pictures of "a beautiful green landscape" and "deep dark quietude," he presents more than a series of intriguing vacation post cards. He crafts a love letter to a land with many "endless, expanding, serene" layers. He shares the compelling allure of his ancestral homeland in "The Black Forest is a Dream."
A mysterious mingling of woods, paths
roads and streams, where
past and present join hands
and deftly dance dance across
the alluring landscape . . .
He continues to describe, in "The Black Forest is a Dream,'' the images that Germany has planted into his brain and spilled into his poetry. There is an earthy flavor to Carey's memories that sinks into your soul.
. . . until all you hear is a sweet simple folk song
and all you see is a scythe,
a spoon, a motorcycle,
a boy and a girl and
love and hope flickering
in an old black and white movie
on a stucco farmhouse wall. . .
Carey's poems are lovely in their simplicity, yet complex and textured in their narrative development. In "Watching the Scenery," Carey weaves the simplest of details into a compelling story-poem. There is a musicality in Carey's description of the delightful twists and turns of a family bus trip, fueled by his clever use of action verbs. (In its entirety)
Watching the Black Forest scenery
rolling, dancing, flashing by
from the big clean window of a bus,
humming along the autobahn,
curving along back roads,
spinning huge wheels through
little towns with proud churches
and welcoming gasthouses,
each happily content to be small
and part of the swirling surrounding
wooded hills that flow like green rivers
through the dark and light,
thinking about good beer, cuckoo clocks,
and Schwartzwalder Kirschtorte,
a chocolate dessert that can bring
a strong Schwabian lumberjack
to his rugged, calloused knees.
The last four lines, of course, make me salivate as a lover of desserts. Of all the descriptions of desserts I have read, this by far is the funniest.
Carey is clearly a master of juxtaposition. He can introduce humor to deliver an added punch, yet it does not disrupt the flow of his finely-chiseled narratives. The author ponders the ridiculousness of "Lederhosen," for example, without being disrespectful to this odd-looking German garment.
are so crazy-looking,
they make you laugh,
but then you look closely,
and you can tell they're
beautifully made and
full of ornate, colorful stitching . . .
Black Forest Dreams shares the full depth of Carey's travel adventures, from visiting an open market "as the sun drizzles down like a daytime ice cream sundae delight" to eating pizza and pasta with his wife and children on a rainy day in Wiesbaden, "huddled together like birds in a nest."
Sometimes the poet is at his best when he uses the metaphor of travel to describe the connection of family. He takes a simple utensil, "Grandma's Wooden Spoon," and brings it to life in the animation of his words. The movement of each line paints a picture of Grandma in the kitchen "bustling in her colorful apron."
Grandma's wooden spoon
sits proudly in the drawer,
smooth as silk from years of use,
easy to handle, full of love,
ready to turn again in circles
like the hand of time itself
to make her reappear bustling
here and there in a colorful apron.
Carey takes the reader on a journey through his German heritage that exudes old world charm and human emotion. "Thinking of Germany" pays homage to his ancestors in a soulful, almost haunting way. Carey takes you back in time with his deft storytelling.
Thinking of Germany,
of Black Forest relatives unseen
for forty years,
of the house (still there)
that Grandma Kuhn and
her brother (my godfather) Reinhold grew up in
way down south in tiny Seitingen/Oberflacht,
where farming was a way of life,
and steady muscles were required
for milking the cows and feeding the chickens . . .
In these days of Covid, when travel might not be an option, I love that you can still take a trip to a far-away land in a poet's masterful use of language. In Black Forest Dreams, Joseph Kuhn Carey captures lyrical moments, whimsical adventures, and family discoveries as he explores the rich layers of his German heritage. Carey reveals a landscape that changes with the turn of a bus wheel, from mountains to forests and green rivers. His poems are much more than simple travel narratives. Carey's poems reveal his longings to connect with the soul of his homeland. His poems resonate with the traveler in each of us.
===ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Terry Loncaric, of Hampshire, Illinois, is the author of Crashing in Velvet for Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared locally, and nationally, on storefronts, newspapers, and anthologies. She has hosted many poetry events in the Chicago suburbs.
Posted May 1, 2021