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Poetry Review: The Lamps of History by Michael Sandler

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Lamps of History on a drawing of an aster blossom and bud

Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm reviewing a collection of poetry entitled The Lamps of History by Michael Sandler.  I enjoy poetry, but full disclosure: I've never had much confidence in my  poetry interpretations.  I was an honors English student in college because I love stories, and I tend to appreciate narrative poems more than lyrical.  I was traumatized once in class when I was asked to share my interpretation of "The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens.  Apparently no one in the history of the world had ever interpreted the poem quite like me.  

About The Lamps of History

• Publisher: FutureCycle Press (January 4, 2021) 
• Paperback: 98 pages 

The Lamps of History wrestles with the ambiguities—and choices—between connection/alienation, renewal/decay, and faith/doubt. Its poems explore family histories and our stance toward them as they dim, frayed bonds with our grandparents’ traditions and beliefs, and distances ingrained in our current relationships. There are also poems on our civic estrangements: an ode to a papaya that spills into America’s tribal conflict; elegies to the environment (one on disappearing phytoplankton, another on forests ravaged by pine beetles); a ghazal to a semi-automatic weapon; and a failed recipe for noodle pudding. Michael Sandler’s writing marshals wit and wordplay in a deft handling of language and form. The poetry navigates the crosscurrents of tradition and post-modernism, steering somewhat closer to the former. Poet and editor George Bishop concludes: “This language is addictive. A stunning sense of place and story. To be read and read again.” 


Purchase Link


About Michael Sandler

Michael Sandler is the author of The Lamps of History, a poetry collection that explores connections between personal and historical experience while wrestling with the ambiguities (and choices) between connection/estrangement and faith/doubt. For much of his adulthood, Michael wrote poems for the desk drawer, while working as a lawyer and later as an arbitrator. He began to publish in 2009. Since then, his poems have appeared in scores of literary journals including Arts & Letters, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Zone 3. He lives in the Seattle area. To learn more about Michael and his work, please go to

My Review:

I enjoyed (and recommend) Sandler's collection of poetry for several reasons.  There are plenty of poems about family, and I've re-read several of them.  One of my favorites is "Of Old Auras and Coronas."  The poem briefly gives hints about an aunt when she was a young girl during the Bolshevik Revolution.  I would love to know the whole story! 

There are also several poems with titles that begin with the word still, for example: "Still: Catching Up on the News."  These poems are all based on Roman Vishniac's  photographs documenting Jewish life in Eastern Europe between 1935 and 1938.  I would love to see all the photographs these poems inspired, and I think it would make a lovely poetry volume marrying the poems with their photographic muses.    Michael Sandler has a page on his website featuring one of the photographs and poems.  Here is the LINK.  

I appreciate that many of his poems are visual in nature (not just the Vishniac poems), especially the ones inspired by art.  A second favorite is "Woman With Chrysanthemums."   This is the alternate title to an Edgar Degas painting, and the flowers are asters, not chrysanthemums.  (You can see my drawing of an aster at the top of this post.)  Art critics believe that the misidentification of the flowers is a nod to the Japanese influence on the painting's composition because the chrysanthemum is the imperial flower of Japan.  The painting and poem are below, and I am sharing the poem with the poet's permission.

A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers
Edgar Degas, 1865
Oil on Canvas
29"x 36 1/2"
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Woman with Chrysanthemums 
by Michael Sandler

Chrysanthemums alive, their silvered vase
ringed with sedate brochures.  The petalled eyes
meant for a corporate lobby's staged repose,
unnoticed in the glance of passersby.

A woman sits, completing the tableau.
Briefcase shut, she gazes, balancing chin
on hand, reminding me of a Degas:
these blossoms dance, or so my stare imagines.

I know she should prepare--why temporize?
Her clientele awaits, bunched across 
a conference table, barbed to scrutinize
a sales pitch--these mums evoke her loss
of words, failure.  She blends with the d├ęcor,
its art resting on what a viewer buys--
what credit lets me prize an image more?

Disclosure:  I received a copy of the book from the poet via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” —Dylan Thomas

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. Ricki Jill, I admit that poetry isn't what I generally read for leisure, but as a teacher of primary aged children, poetry was an integral part of everyday. I relished that, and encouraged children to write poetry of their own. I would much prefer to read fiction, mostly historical fiction. I, too, was an English major. I resented professors who required us to write papers interpreting a piece of literature, then criticized the thoughts if they didn't match the preconceived ideas of the professor. One would think professors would encourage individual thought.

  2. Sounds like a nice read of poems. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I would share in Facebook but I am an Ausie and not allowed

  4. This sounds like heavy and beautiful stuff! I know next to nothing about literary seems to me that the interpretation is much like viewing art, the piece can look different to each viewer...So you shouldn't have been shamed for your interpretation of The Emperor of Ice Cream, you should have been praised for originality!

  5. Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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