Poetry collection, post-disaster novel reviewed

By Tyler Tichelaar


By Elizabeth Prechtel McClellan

Elizabeth Prechtel McClellan’s Painting Pictures with Words is a volume of poetry by a downstate Michigan resident very familiar with the U.P. and especially Lake Superior and its beaches.

The book is divided into six sections. The first section, “In the Beginning,” features some of the author’s earliest poetry, written as a teenager. These are fairly typical juvenile poems, but they show a great devotion to God and also the author’s early aspirations to become a nurse. Surprisingly, McClellan’s biography in the back of the book tells us she did not write poetry again until 2003, when she was about 60 years old, after a nursing career.

The second section, “My Little Book of Judy,” is a series of poems devoted to her best friend, Judy, who died in 2016. In the third section, “All My Judys,” McClellan writes about all 13 of the Judys who have been her friends. In section four, “Offspring and Grands,” we have a series of poems about family. Then come the two sections of most interest to U.P. readers: “Traveling,” in which McClellan writes about Michigan and the Mackinac Bridge, Marquette, the Bronx and Cumberland; and “Beaches and Lakes,” which largely focuses on her love for Lake Superior.

McClellan writes mostly in free verse, other than the opening poems she wrote as a teenager. The free verse is fitting for her tone and purpose. In one of the poems about her best friend, Judy, she states, “Poems are always supposed to rhyme/With rhythm and meter to match,” but she acknowledges rhyme doesn’t work for her in writing about her deceased friend, so she turns to free verse, stating in the opening of another poem, “There is no rhyme or reason/Nothing about it makes sense,” thus matching her style with the senselessness of losing a loved one. These poems about Judy are the most heartfelt in the book. The opening lines of “Journey in Sound” largely say it all: “Do you know the sound of cancer?/Have you ever heard the pain?/Indeed it has a voice.”

The family poems are also heartfelt but lighter in tone. There are poems about best friend Judy’s family—since Judy and McClellan were like soul mates, their children are each other’s nephews and nieces. The grandchildren poems express gratitude for the blessings of “bonus grands” and even a “great.” Others are fun, such as “Nana’s Taxi,” in which McClellan talks about bringing her grandchildren places, and then there is “Happy Birthday—I Blinked,” warning us how quickly children grow up so we must not blink and miss their childhoods.

The traveling poems will resonate with many readers. McClellan writes of crossing the Mackinac Bridge, “to places with names that roll off the tongue in the rhythm of long-stilled dance. Ontonagon and Negaunee, Escanaba and Menominee.” The bridge itself is “Ribbons of color suspended in mist” and “Prisms of promise to hold and to keep.” Other poems are less joyful, including those about visiting a friend in the Marquette prison, where there is a “A fountain of frogs in a garden unused,” but McClellan also visits St. Mark’s Church in Marquette, which she describes as “A humble building where love lives.”

The beach and lake poems will bring up memories of readers’ own visits to Lake Superior, hearing it roar and seeing ice on the lake as far as the eye can see. Overall, McClellan’s poems are full of life’s joys and sorrows and the wonder of life.

Painting Pictures with Words retails for $14.95. Those interested in purchasing a copy can email McClellan at epm.writes@gmail.com for more information.



By Deborah D. Moore

Cracked Earth: Ash Fall is the second book in Deborah Moore’s Cracked Earth series. For my review of the first book, see the December 2018 Marquette Monthly.

As the book opens, spring has arrived in Moose Creek, the fictional U.P. town just north of Marquette. After a winter of power outages and food shortages resulting from severe earthquakes across the United States, things seem to be getting back to normal, but Allexa Smith, the town’s emergency manager, knows that after what the town has been through, things will never be quite the same again.

For beginners, the power is back on but there are still shortages, so Moose Creek has to deal with sharing the power grid with larger cities, meaning its power will be on a three-day-on, three-day-off schedule. Daily medications are also no longer available; as a result, people with ailments like high blood pressure or type-1 diabetes have all died. Inflation has soared. A bottle of shampoo is $20, and meat is $45 a pound. Allexa has to bring $500 in cash to the grocery store now to buy what had been $50 worth of groceries. And not everyone has $500 to spare on groceries. When Allexa’s daughter-in-law buys groceries and leaves them in the car while stopping to visit a neighbor, she comes out to find the car doors open and the groceries stolen.

Nor are groceries the only things likely to be stolen. Allexa’s granddaughter Emi comes close to being kidnapped by a couple of pedophiles. When they are stopped, two other children are found in their vehicle. With society crumbling, some people have decided they can do whatever they want, breaking the law and even taking the law into their own hands. Allexa and her family, more than once, have to pass out justice in the absence of an effective law enforcement system.

As summer arrives, many of the problems in the United States have hopes of being resolved, but then another earthquake in the Caribbean causes an entire island to sink overnight, resulting in the deaths of 30,000 people and a tsunami that affects nearby islands.

Closer to home, Allexa has her own dilemma when a handsome doctor moves into Moose Creek. He tries flirting with Allexa, but she is still attached to John, the miner she has been living with through the winter. A cave-in at the mine, however, threatens to ruin Allexa’s chance at romance.

And then an earthquake in Yellowstone National Park causes an ash cloud to spread to the U.P., killing off all the wildlife because it makes the air unbreathable. Allexa only has days to plan before the ash spreads to her home. In desperation, she rallies her small community to prepare for the fallout, but will her survival skills be enough to protect her family and community?

Moore doesn’t disappoint in making this second book as realistic as the first. The reader comes to care about the characters and also be fascinated by the survival techniques they use. Moments of excitement are mingled with romantic ones and descriptions of all the hard work required to survive. Readers will want to continue with the four remaining books in the series to find out what other catastrophes await Allexa and her family, and those who enjoy natural disaster stories will be glad to know Moore has written other books, including Polar Storm and EMPulse, that explore the various catastrophes that could threaten the way we live.

For more information, visit www.DeborahDMoore.com.


Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of When Teddy Came to Town and Haunted Marquette. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit www.marquettemonthly.org.

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