T.J. Sandella’s Ways To Beg ($17.95, Black Lawrence Press) is reminiscent of that most memorable scene in the 1984 film The NeverEnding Story when Atreyu loses his horse Artax to the Swamps of Sadness. Strangely beautiful, heart-wrenching and impossible to let go of, Sandella’s debut poetry collection takes the reader on an inquisitive journey from the madness of boyhood to the intrinsic nature of insurmountable loss.
“A lot of times, I’m begging or asking for some kind of wisdom, whether from the reader, from the universe or from the poem itself,” says Sandella. Reflective of Sandella’s Catholic upbringing, the Cleveland-based poet sprinkles religious imagery throughout the collection in surprising ways: “how could I / not be consumed / like Jonah / by the whale / and come to live / in the belly / of loss...”
In other poems such as “Lucy’s,” in which Sandella reflects on ancestral connections while dining at Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar, to perhaps his most poignant 14-page poem “It Took Seven Days For My Mother To Die,” in which the author reflects on his mother’s final days as she succumbs to cancer, Sandella never shies away from the hard truths that expand upon our human existence.
“The arc of the book starts by imagining the creation of the universe and the last poem is ruminating on Earth’s ongoing destruction,” says Sandella. “The types of stories that most impact me are so specific to the human experience that they represent something much larger.”