The Sum of Two Mothers

The Sum of Two Mothers ~ Dennis Etzel, Jr.

About the Book:

Sometimes the most complicated stories of our lives can be put into the shortest of forms. In this small book of poems Dennis Etzel Jr. recounts a fragmented chronology from his childhood to his fatherhood. Living their lives with love and integrity, Etzel’s two mothers raised him together despite the status quo resistance they daily faced in Topeka, KS. Now the father of sons, Etzel’s poems draw as much from his own memories as they do from the larger social context of marriage equality — and in bridging that gap between the personal and the political with lyrical grace and political conviction, Sum of Two Mothers is a riveting little book that is as much about growing up with two mothers, as it is about becoming a father who is raising his sons with a more inclusive — but equally protected — model of the world.

—Kristin Prevallet, I Afterlife, Essay in Mourning Time

About the Author:

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and the boys in Topeka, Kansas where he teaches English at Washburn University. He has an MFA from The University of Kansas, and an MA and Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies from Kansas State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and others. He is Managing Editor of Woodley Press, volunteers at YWCA’s Center for Safety and Empowerment, and hosts the Top City Poetry Reading Series.

Reviews:

I just want to thank everyone for their love and support! Here are more blurbs from wonderful poets–and I am so grateful for and humbled by their words:

Sometimes the most complicated stories of our lives can be put into the shortest of forms. In this small book of poems Dennis Etzel Jr. recounts a fragmented chronology from his childhood to his fatherhood. Living their lives with love and integrity, Etzel’s two mothers raised him together despite the status quo resistance they daily faced in Topeka, KS. Now the father of sons, Etzel’s poems draw as much from his own memories as they do from the larger social context of marriage equality — and in bridging that gap between the personal and the political with lyrical grace and political conviction, Sum of Two Mothers is a riveting little book that is as much about growing up with two mothers, as it is about becoming a father who is raising his sons with a more inclusive — but equally protected — model of the world.
–Kristin Prevallet, I Afterlife, Essay in Mourning Time

I love this book, and I wanted to say that first, “in danger / of being / engendered”. These are the beautiful and percipient poems Minnie Bruce Pratt’s son could have written if the cops hadn’t ripped him from the arms of his two mothers. Crime Against Nature, meet The Sum of Two Mothers, it’s time we all meet up over here where Dennis Etzel Jr. is making the magic happen for us! You will hear in him with me the voice of a poet we have been waiting to hear, and glad we finally found him!
–CA Conrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics

There is always the kid who refuses to dissect the dead pig in science class. Or the kid who `liberates’ the frogs from their glass cubes to the chagrin of the teacher and the glee of the students. And then there is Dennis Etzel Jr., who gives the command, `make shining rescues’ while acknowledging the impossibility of this act. Yet, any color is possible in the light these poems throw. An orange that only exists in the kiss between two mothers. The color of witnessing. The color of sliding out of childhood into snowy legalities. Etzel is a color-sharpener. These poems will graze you with the glare of gendered equations. They measure the sum of omission. They are the prism’s reach and rescue.
–Julia Cohen, Collateral Light

Rarely does a poem do as much in as few words as Dennis Etzel Jr.’s Sum of Two Mothers. It is a complete mini-autobiography in verse — but one that leaves ample room for the reader’s imagination. The poem’s supple, continuous syntax, plain-spoken musicality, architectural lines, and ample white space deftly convey both what is said and experienced, as well as what is not said or talked about. Reading Dennis Etzel, Jr.’s work is like reading William Carlos Williams, if Williams had had Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas as mothers.
–Joseph Harrington, Things Come On: An Amneoir

Dennis Etzel Jr’s The Sum of Two Mothers wades open-wounded into the unfriendly waters of a society bent on strangle-holding natural love and motherhood into pat definitions: “she was a mother before I thought of her / as my `other mother,’ // or `another mother’ because `mother’ / for me is hard to define.” In tones questioning, unsure, and ultimately defiant, these poems gather together in representation of the complexity of familial love. The Sum of Two Mothers is an imperative story, and one that is cast in lines intuitive, melodic, and resonant.
–Leah Sewell, Birth in Storm

~ Amazon Customer

When I first heard about this book of poems, I must say curiosity got the best of me! As I read through the pages of heart felt poetry, I understood how familiar this sounds. Our society, especially in the Midwest conservative Bible Belt, has little respect or tolerance for a family such as Dennis grew up. I applause the bravery of Dennis and his two very special Moms! Well done!

~ Amazon Customer

In these wise and carefully-crafted poems, we are offered an origin story for a speaker whose childhood, raised by two mothers, will break from the mainstream in a way that ultimately deepens his appreciation for the complexity and depth of the “facts” that others might take for granted. This complex awareness is crystallized in what Etzel renders as a double perspective–“my viewpoint is designed/ by two different mothers.” This perspective, as it weaves through the chapbook, is itself a vehicle for quiet but powerful social critique, as when he writes: “it is not what is not written/but omitted/in the records/where words should be/ we receive/white space.” The white space serves as a counterpoint to the “purples[that]are in the darkness.” While the one references the violent exclusions of a law that will not acknowledge his mothers’ relationship or his own experience, the other answers with a sensitive & insightful way of seeing, one that can restore depth and nuance to that which seems to be erased or removed.

In The Sum of Two Mothers, Etzel is able to artfully interweave questions of what we know (or think we know) about ourselves and each other with how we came to know, and perhaps most importantly, who brought us to the threshold of this knowledge.

A lovely and important work.

~ Sara K. Biggs

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