Breath Life
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Reviews, Blurbs & Excerpts

Breath-Life poems nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


Review (Excerpt) by Seamas O'Flannagain in The Culvert Chronicles, September 16-22, 2010:

Pick up Juanita Torrence-Thompson’s new volume, Breath-Life on a tired Friday, a lonely Saturday, or any old rainy night when you need sunshine or a smile. Just a few pages into her poetry, you’ll find yourself with an admirably playful and creative poet who will, if need be, tickle us into appreciating life.

Most poetry, perhaps too much, dwells pensively on sadness, loss, and inevitably, death. It is, perhaps, understandable and inevitable, for us to bemoan our outcast (or just plain painful) state. Even the allegedly hopeful among us, phoenix feathers in our caps, must make sure we have a good look at death and destruction before caroling about resurrection. And we know that beauty alone is boring if it can’t be lost and thus lamented. We know too well that always at our backs we hear time’s winged chariot and so on and so forth... roaring along after us.

But sometimes for all the sad truths that poetry tells, we need a bit of cheering up because a laugh is just as real as a cry even if it’s not as dramatic or dignified. That’s when I reach for Breath-Life and let Torrence-Thompson take me over to the bright side.

The first part of the book, “Word Play” is exactly that: twenty-four glittery, wittywise language riffs that mix and meld words in a bright, jazz-like way. A bit like Salvador Dali set to music, these wordplays/poems fuse random and slippery smooth images into conundrums, wordjams, and silly tongue toys. I like “Silkscreen,” or “Catwoman,” the sly homage to an alley cat (homeward bound?) seen out after sunrise.

In the second part, “In This Heat,” Torrence-Thompson presents us with a range of more familiar moods and themes. With only one striking exception, all these poems are infused with a hopeful and affirming touch that avoids sentimentality. Throughout, they have a tightness and compactness that can range from crisp to cryptic. In most, she gives a wink to the reader who knows what’s skipped over and why, as in “Ghazel#6.”

Veering from pithy sagacity to dark comedy, Torrence-Thompson runs us through a series of prose poems based on newspaper headlines that she infuses with a snarky, edgy whimsy. “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks,” “Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half” and my favorite, “Police Begin Campaigning to Run Down Jaywalkers.”

Music, dance and humor play all through this section, and poem leads us to poem. There is definitely an urban feel here-the pace, the quick shift from scene to scene, creates a pulsing life that beats through this part of the book. It’s a big city book, too fast-moving, too hip and sweet for small slow villages or mountain towns no matter how true or heartdeep. And then, when she has us moving, our minds stepping out with that swift city sidewalk walk, jaywalking from idea to idea:


I fold sky
crease earth
wrinkle sky
fold moon
crease sky
wrinkle earth.

I tip sky
leon on stars
slit earth

I split sky
split moon
split earth
split man and woman
split mind that explodes stars

2009 Juanita Torrence-Thompson

There it is, especially for a New Yorker reading a New York poet, in the middle of all that joy and savvy city stuff, the memory of “that day.” It’s not the last poem, it’s not the dominant poem, but it’s there and all of a sudden all those other poems become more important, more affirming of life as they make us laugh and puzzle and squint hopefully through it all. We need to keep a book like this within reach so we remember that life, ordinary life and its joys, are such treasures: Breath-Life poems by Juanita-Torrence Thompson, a good poet, a good book. ” (See full review: The Culvert Chronicles column, September 16-22)

Excerpt Review from Rattle magazine by Valerie Martin Bailey (author and former Poet Laureate of San Antonio, Texas):


Scopcraeft Press
Portales, New Mexico
ISBN 978-1-8-8160478-5
2009, 56 pp. $12.00

With Breath comes Life, and so it is in Breath-Life, the sixth collection of poetry by Juanita Torrence-Thompson. Part I, titled “Word Play,” is indeed playful and the first poem “Alphabet Soup #1” takes the reader on a merry, tongue-twisting romp through the alphabet in a delightful style that is as fanciful as Dr. Seuss for grown-ups with alliterative treats like:

…licorice-licking lecturers laughing and dancing the Macarena, munching mincemeat and mayonnaise at Mobil malls…

The poem, an extended abecedarian form, is written as prose, but with its bouncy rhythm and crisp alliterations, there is nothing prosy about it. The first section features twenty-three additional short poems that are equally innovative. I had the sensation of flight as I dipped and twirled from poem to poem like a butterfly on “lime-tinted wings” to sip the nectar from “dreamy dahlias,” while “tweaking ascending roses” in a “whirling garden of verbs”-these poems are “syncopated dollops of color” in a world of blue that “surrounds and surrounds.”

Life is rich and savory in Part II, titled “In This Heat,” and Juanita Torrence-Thompson is the Iron Chef of poetry, using language with a bold creativity that declares this poet is not afraid to experiment as she dishes up fresh, unexpected metaphors and whimsical imagery that has no echo. Breath-Life is the full-meal-deal-soul food for those who hunger for new taste sensations in the search for the human soul….” (See full review at: www.rattle.com)


Breath-Life is an absolutely beautiful book. Juanita Torrence-Thompson is such an exquisite crafter of poems, almost like a jeweler who selects each stone or in her case words with great thought and precision. ...I enjoyed her book so much, however, my very top choices from Breath-Life are: “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks,” “Aida,” “African Absurdity,” “Barriers,” “Ride Through the Night,” “He Clings Like Windblown Leaves” and “In This Heat.””
—Laura Boss: Arms: New and Selected Poems (Guernica) & editor of LIPS

“Reading Breath-Life in the chaos of the hospital gave me Life-Breath. It is a beautiful, magical, meaningful work. Dazzling in its dream narratives, musical language and sensuous images. It put a smile on my face when I really needed it.”
—Rex Sexton (award-winning poet & novelist. Acclaimed by Kirkus Discoveries: Desert Flower & The Time Hotel.)

Breath-Life is an apt title for Ms. Torrence-Thompson’s amazing new book, because the poems are ultimately about the elusiveness of the soul, how it appears briefly as the object of love, and fades away if you try to hold on to it. Ms. Torrence-Thompson’s poems are like self-portraits of the soul, the Gordon Parks of poetry. She’s not like the father of Icarus who lets us, the readers, get too close to the sun. She steers us away. She’s a poet whose concern for her reader is as great as her need to get every word right. One of the great accomplishments of the book is she single-handedly rescues the prose poem from being prosy and injects it with life. ”
— Hal Sirowitz, author: Mother Said, Former Queens Poet Laureate

“Juanita Torrence-Thompson’s new book of poems (Breath-Life) is exciting because it is more daring. She’s opening up, taking risks, experimenting and the results are unexpected. She exhibits a new freshness in her work. Poems like “Alphabet Soup #1,” “Flowers Read The Targeted Brain,” “Her Sweet Ear Flowered” show us these strengths. Paul Eluard and Andre Breton would admire these. Absolutely throwing all caution to the wind and the reader will too.”
— Tom McKeown, author: The Ocean in the Sleepwalker’s Hands

Breath-Life offers us the work of a gifted poet whose joyful rhythms sustain her insights and power. I truly loved the vitality, the rush and leaps and the honesty of the poems.”
— Simon Perchik author: Hands Collected The Books of Simon Perchik 1949-99

Excerpts from Breath-Life (Scopcraeft Press)
By Juanita Torrence-Thompson


My soul, a rhapsody
plays melodies at each stanza
each insatiable syllable

My soul, an epistle,
reads chapters of memories
recites ebullient phrases…


Myrtle drifts like rivulets
into nature's silkscreen

ascending, engaging,
now descending softly

into a grassy cubbyhole
where it languishes
singing the blues
singing the greens


Parents, the Mayor's office, police and the little community of Woe-is-me, Wisconsin were up in alms about the inept cutting of six Woe-is-me student dropouts. The culprit, Carl Cutter, a jewelry cutter by trade, was known as a cutup since high school days. Police suspected Cutter, the cutter, wanted to get even with the dropouts for dropping out. On the eventful day, he captured the dropouts with laughing gas and cut them in half with cutting remarks. Everyone is up in alms because Cutter got drunk and groggily stitched the dropouts back together after dropping the top of each student onto the wrong bottom. Carl Cutter was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years of cutting granite.

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