These collected poems explore memory, regret, and missed connections . . . Appel’s poetry has a narrative quality that’s appropriate for a fiction writer, telling compressed stories that often end in moments of realization or summation. In the title poem, for example, the first line provides a nutshell character sketch: “You could never put one over on my uncle.” Instances follow: “Scoured his returned change for Canadian pennies, / Steered clear of con games like synagogue / And life insurance.” . . . Other poems consider mortality and the past’s irretrievability, such as “Summer Camp Socials,” which recalls a girl who’s cheerful despite being ostracized at a dance for her bald scalp . . . A strong collection of insightful narrative poems.
—Kirkus Review, March 19th, 2018
The narrative poems in Jacob M. Appel’s The Cynic in Extremis cast a cold eye on present and past, personal and political. But like the cynics in their classical conception, the poet’s subtext here is hope, at least love, and living without illusion in the extremis of the quotidian. These are mordantly moving, even entertaining poems, always thoughtful and frequently elegiac.
—Dan O’Brien, author of War Reporter
Like his stories—approachable, insightful, and touched with a tinge of sadness for what was and, indeed, is—Appel’s poems speak in straightforward, plain language to raise the curtain on the intimacies of his world. New York City with its pigeon lady, the palsied pharmacist, Luigi the barber, beak-nosed Molly Seward’s father, and, oh yes, the many girls who “left me breathless” and alone. You can almost hear their footsteps walking the cement pavement. Although good-humored and delightfully smart-alecky, the collection has a dark undercurrent, for it is Holocaust-haunted as he is, as we all are who escaped the horror but are doomed to remember and bear witness.
—Alice Friman, author of The View from Saturn
From this masterful collection arises the sense that, with the end so woefully unpredictable and fate so fickle-hearted, to waste any moment amounts to a sin. Quirky characters, often full of longing and regret, pepper Appel’s work, like the uncle so cynical he “steered clear of con games like synagogue/ And life insurance” and his compassionate opposite, the pigeon-feeding, environment-destroying Mrs. Z. These characters seem to fail to leave a mark on the world, beyond the poet’s eye.
—Brigit Young (from the foreword), author of Worth a Thousand Words
Both beautifully written and lively, the poems in The Cynic in Extremis embrace the world with warmth and wit. The portraits of family members and friends, workers and teachers, neighbors and a first love, some set in a time long gone, are wonderfully free of nostalgia and sentimentality. Human virtue, vice and folly all have a welcome place, because there’s a tone of understanding, forgiveness and humor that pervades this book and makes it a joy to read.
—John Skoyles, author of Suddenly It’s Evening and poetry editor at Ploughshares