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BOOK REVIEW: The Oculus by Stelios Mormoris

Stelios Mormoris’s poetry in The Oculus celebrates the intersections between life, emotions and nature. He writes, “How necessary it is / to lose yourself / in tangles” and takes that to heart as he weaves the “staccato of cicadas” and “the stubble of broken grass” into the “pleats of time” memorialized in his work. This is a collection that demands attention as each sentence blooms through multiple lines dense with meaning.

The work is split into three distinct sections identified as Sentries, Aureoles and Verdicts which each follow a different path through verse. The first focuses on glimpses of a relationship while commingling memories of intimacy, thoughts of separation and meditations on the environment. There are moments here that mimic the mastery of Romantic style, creating calmness elevated by the nuance of nature. In the poem “The Leaf” which begins, “I decided // to leave you while idled watching / a leaf”. The scenery’s intrusion into the speaker’s thoughts is a smooth transition that mirrors the way one’s atmosphere can adjust one’s pondering. 

Aureoles turns to experiences which vary from watching a toreador enact his craft to facing off with a trolley in the street and later to winter on a summer island and the taste of potato chips. He describes a relationship in which there is “the need to speak less and less // while scurried leaves and vapors of coffee / have a busy random conversation.” Lines like this establish a fascinating contrast between the couple and the inanimate, highlighting the silent comfort of the human pair.

The final section weaves loss and family history together with powerfully emotive subtext. In “Aunt Charlotte”, which focuses on an image of the woman, Mormoris subtly slips language of her cancer into the narrative in unexpected places, giving the reader pause. There are also a number of pieces focused on the the speaker’s mother and her loss with magnified details like “I saved half the word / Maybelline in the scrolled shaving” and (reflecting on the mother’s apron) “hanging / on a nail, slump-shouldered, / as if she had just slipped out.” The fine details bring both the life and the loss into clear and dazzling focus in this part of the collection.

The Oculus by Stelios Mormoris has kaleidoscopic power to engage readers in its layered twists and turns.

Purchase your copy of The Oculus from Tupelo Press.

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