Well, this is a somewhat reluctant post, since it seems a bit self-aggrandizing, but I thought it would give a flavor of the response to my book down here. I am duplicating two reviews of the book which appeared in a couple of online publications.
This first article is from the October issue of Living at Lake Chapala, a publication primarily written for those considering a move to this area. Judy King, the editor, also seminars for people who are considering retiring here so they'll get a realistic view of what to expect.
A Lyrical Look At Lakeside
By Judy King
When Karen Blue and I founded Living at Lake Chapala, our goal was simple. We agreed that we would strive to provide solid information and a clear view of life here in Mexico in every article published in the monthly magazine.
There have been 93 issues of this publication—that's over 1100 articles. While other local publications frequently publish the poetry of local writers, we've not found poems that adequately described life at Lakeside…until now.
Recently at a meeting of the Ajijic Writers Group, Bill Frayer stood behind the microphone and began to read from Sacred Lake, his newly published book of poetry. Before he could sit down, I'd bought a copy of the book. I was hooked with the way Bill has captured the essence of the way we, as foreigners, live in the midst of Mexican villages.
As Bill explained on the back cover of his slim volume of poems—most with a Lakeside theme—he retired after 31 years as a Maine community college humanities professor, and while he spent many years teaching writing, communication, and critical thinking and has enjoyed poetry for many years, this is his first volume of poems...and he's written all 34 of them since he moved to Mexico with his wife, Pixie, in 2007.
Former Maine residents Bill and Pixie Frayer are delighted with their new Lakeside life.
In just over a year, Bill and Pixie have both found their places in the Lakeside community. In addition to their circle of friends, reading and writing, they are devoted volunteer teachers of English as a Second Language class at the Wilkes Education Center in Ajijic. Pixie started her educational career teaching children with special needs and later taught English as a Second Language at the community college level. Due to the Frayers' commitment to the program, Bill is donating the proceeds from the sales of Sacred Lake to help with WEC's ongoing expenses.
Once you've read the sampling of poems we're publishing here, we think you'll want a copy of this book for yourself, and it's nice to know that you'll also be helping educate some of our Mexican neighbors.
Bill's volunteer teaching position and his devotion to his students is reflected in the "Learning English with the Gringo" from Sacred Lake.
Learning English with the Gringo
They are patient with me
The gringo who no longer works
While they struggle to learn new sounds
Which hurt their mouths
So they can understand more clearly
What these old gringos really want.
They arrive in our tiny classroom
On Mexico time, straggling in,
Always pausing at the door, smiling
Until I invite them in
To join our loose group.
I butcher Spanish words, they politely correct
Sometimes in unison, articulating with wide mouths
Showing their teeth, but all together
So the sound is muddled to me.
"Que?" I ask; they obediently repeat
Until they are satisfied with my approximation.
They talk about their families
As they try to fathom
Our language, where objects are sexless,
And pronunciation follows no rules.
"Not bideo," I implore, "viiiideo!"
"Veeeeedeo!" they repeat, eyes twinkling.
When learning geography words
We come across "Paris."
"heh heh," chuckles Juan José, "Paris Heeeelton!"
"Oh," I declare, "She's a bimbo, you know."
"Pan?" they look bewildered
"No," I laugh, and swish.
"This is a bimbo!"
They roar and I love this moment.
Reading Bill's poems is not just a joyful experience. He has twisted the lessons of his adjustment into the stanzas. In each of his poems I see him reveling in his exploration of his new world and new culture. "Foreigner, Walking" captures a moment in time. It is a vignette of life here and also reveals how we feel so much at home here—and slightly out of place.
Stepping out into the surprising heat
Whitening my skin, it seems
As I navigate the uneven stones
Of our Rio Zula
Past a dark-skinned boy
Drinking Coke and mixing sand
Into cement. "Hóla," I offer,
And he responds more lyrically.
Mangos fallen to the street
In the overnight rain
A flat-faced madre
Picks them up, bruised and unripe alike,
Into a faded nylon mesh bag
Another beautiful "Buenos Días"
Enunciated slowly, carefully,
With a slight smile.
Passing a tienda, glancing into
The dark space
Lined with small packages of snacks,
A cooler with soda, juice
Milk and cerveza.
A small boy, ebon hair,
Busy red fingers dancing
Counts berries into small bags,
His grandmother cutting melon
At a white, plastic table,
Teen boys with greasy hair,
Gold chains, swagger by, ignoring.
A man with a leather-lined face
Pushes an incongruously white
Straw hat up his forehead
As he leans intently, under
The open hood of a twenty year-old
Plymouth, proud but helpless.
He waves and smiles,
As I trudge past,
No place to be,
Plenty to eat,
Here by choice,
Perhaps the reason I so appreciate the poems in Sacred Lake is that through Bill's eyes and words, he has returned to me the feelings of wonder I felt in my first year at Lake Chapala. He has so beautifully captured the colors, the sights, the sounds, the surroundings of Mexico in his poetry. "In Squeezing Lime on Jicama" he also helps us capture some of the tastes of this new adventure.
Squeezing Lime on Jicama
Squeezing lime on jicama
Dusting with chile
Fresh taste bursting
Into our new life
And our newfound hours.
We chop plum tomatoes
Onion, cilantro, jalapeños
Salt and lime
Concocting a new salsa
For our anticipated sunsets.
From the Tianguis, a symphony of color
And unfamiliar tastes
Sour, sweet juice
Dripping on the bright tile
Of our simple, intentional life.
Savoring grilled goat stew with red grease
Chewing a suspicious texture
Brings us to another plane
Our days no longer the same
Challenging us to live larger.
Leaving cautious taste behind
Our new palate paints vivid
Delicious days, taking nourishment
From the rich, thick fruit
Of our newly-minted moments.
Over the years I've tried to explain to other parents how it is that I have chosen to live so far from my grown children. In the future, I think I'll just let them read "Worries from Afar Seem Diminished," Bill's incredibly clear take on the topic.
Worries from Afar seem Diminished
Children, as adults, are difficult.
They heed their own voice
Even when I know their paths
Will lead to ruin and tears.
We raise them to think
And they do, not as I would
Of course. But why should they
Listen to me?
When living close
I hear their problems intensely
And stand helpless before their tears
Occasionally grimacing as I
Provide rescue funds
And watch them continue
Down my idea of
A futile path.
But, worries from afar seem diminished,
Theirs to me and me to them
Now distance provides liberty for all
To live unobserved.
They don't need to please
I don't need to see
And with this comes
The perspective I craved.
If you want a copy of the book to quote "Worries From Afar Seem Diminished" to your friends and family, Bill will be reading, signing and selling Sacred Lake during a October 7 Book Fair, Sale and Signing which will feature more than a dozen local writers in the back patio at the Lake Chapala Society.
The published members of the Ajijic Writers Group and many of the other area published writers will be on hand with their books from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. This event is a fundraiser for the ACA Eco Training Center in Jaltepec. The entrance fee is $75 pesos, all of which will go to ACA, which will also have a good supply of their fresh, organic produce on hand for sale. Don't forget that the proceeds from Bill's book are going to help with WEC programs.
This next review is from Mexico Connect, Mexico's largest online magazine which covers all of Mexico. Jim Tipton is an established poet who has published in many publications and won the Colorado Book Award for his collection of poetry. He is also a member of the Ajijic Writers' Group, and he has done a lot to encourage me to keep writing. Here is his review for Mexico Connect.
By Bill Frayer
Bill Frayer, 2008
Available from the author
Reviewed by James Tipton © James Tipton 2008
I have reviewed a lot of fiction and non-fiction books for Mexico Connect, but I have been hoping to eventually discover a collection of poems written in English by an expatriate living in
Now I have in hand Bill Frayer's book, Sacred Lake, and it is a lovely book, nicely produced, with lots of fine poetry. All of the poems were written since Bill arrived in
Yes, as I came upon this lake
So resplendent with spirits
Of many lives lived, I found my muse
And it quenched a thirst
I never felt till I fell at its bank
And drank deeply of its richness.
These poems are filled with charming details of life in
A man with a leather-lined face
Pushes an incongruously white
Straw hat up his forehead
As he leans intently, under
The open hood of a twenty-year-old
This is part of life in
Other poems celebrate the Mexican palate, and the unfamiliar juices "Dripping on the bright tile/Of our simple, intentional life." ("Squeezing Lime on Jicama"). In "Opening My Fruit," the poet has awakened at dawn, and alone in the cool air he can "Work on my fruit." As he exposes the sweet inner flesh of mangoes and papayas and melons and bananas, he becomes eager for more, and even squeezing "prickly fruit/Over-ripe" releases, unexpectedly, "Thick, white globs of life/Over my hands."
Likewise, Bill learns to bow before the Mexican attitude toward death, so different from that of his own culture, or perhaps better to say the culture he lived in before he moved to Mexico and began to discover his "own culture." He decides he wants to be remembered the way Mexican people remember their deceased loved ones. In "Remember Me with Good Dark Beer," Bill has discovered that…
Their stay on earth does not expire,
Extending on in memory
As concrete offerings require.
Flowers, photos, food, tequila
All that they loved their families share
And gather o'er their loved ones' bones
To eat, to weep, to laugh, to bear.
But a few short stanzas later the author steps back to take a look at the attitudes of his own (and we need to begin to say former) country, and compares Mexican practices with those we had been more familiar with before his move south.
And as I watch this ritual
With skulls and food and special bread
I think of mother's bare, cold grave
Unvisited, of course, she's dead;
She couldn't know, nor could she care
If we brought her garlic bread,
Or beer, or shrimp, or needlepoint
Or tell her, "Mom, we're all well fed!"
But, that is his "former culture," and Bill now is begins to hope that when he dies his friends will, in good Mexican style, remember what he held dear: "like chips and good dark beer."
In other poems, Bill is intent upon discovering "What Makes Them Sing" in spite of the expatriate culture that now "clogs" their streets, "arrogantly," forcing them to be "accommodating." Still, though, the Mexicans are both laughing and singing as they carry "heavy white buckets of cement/Up old and splattered ladders/Again and again in the heat." Bill longs to (and rather obviously is learning) "to live/Among their songs." As others, I suspect, are learning to live "among Bill's songs."
For many of us, once we have been in Mexico for awhile, and particularly for those of us who have made a permanent move to Mexico, something "shifts" inside and we can begin to more easily revisit and rethink and reflect upon past relationships, including those difficult relationships that can only be healed by love; indeed, most of the closing poems in Sacred Lake are about love. "How Profound is my Love?" begins this way:
How profound is my love
For the father, who,
By his gentle example,
Taught me how to live
And to think,
So that I could live,
In a world
Where character matters?
In "My Mother Dying," Frayer is "waved… away one last time" but he is able to acknowledge to himself that she had been a difficult mother.
She had not been an easy mother
And now… alone - she needed my help
To shop, to manage.
I couldn't sense much warmth
Or gratitude. With guilt, I knew
Her death would bring relief.
In contrast to that mother who simply "endured" him, Bill and his wife have left the "stale debris/Of yesterday behind them." Bill and his wife have made a long journey together, ultimately to
And now we awake together to breathe the same air
And brew our tea from the same pot
Somehow having arrived in paradise
At the same time.
Earlier in the book, Bill wrote about "As I Carry the First Box into the New House," and in that poem he and his wife are "full of hope/For years left unlived." Reading the poems several times, I begin to feel that for Bill that "New House" is really all of Mexico, and most particularly the Mexican people. That poem ends this way:
I am content to be here
In this moment
With our future, unrevealed.