Books Received & Acknowledged
Received, Acknowledged, Recommended short reviews
T.K Splake, Creative Moments. Contact the author for this and following title at firstname.lastname@example.org or t. kilgore splake, 25214 ash street, calumet, mi 49913.
Both books published in 2017, no price listed.
creative moments is the indefatigable Splake’s latest foray into the short form. Here are 23 pages of haikus, generally four to a page, with a generous allotment of white space between each poem. The paper is slick and the poems are good, which is an excellent combination by anyone’s standards. The poet here is a lonely seeker after truth. Though he be old (octogenarian old) he has not forsaken the pleasures of the flesh, not does he concede that the journey is over until the last breath is taken. There is a Beat edge to these:
father lost on wild roads
deaf to daddy cry
but also a deep connection to the natural world:
rich green grass
inside sacred cathedral
resin bag and pitchers mound
Splake’s rich voice is at its best in these brief poems from a poet’s life.
if the walls could talk is a photo essay subtitled- finding St. Joseph’s Hospital. Anyone who is interested in found, still-life photography, will find these black and white pictures fascinating. I know I did. Splake focuses on the ruins left behind in the deserted building: implements and objects, some mundane, some sacred, all of them ruined. One of the moist arresting images I have seen in some time is the sun through slats of the wreckage of Venetian blinds. The viewer’s first reaction is, “what is this?” Thoughts and images race through your mind, none of which are close to what the photo represents until you say oh......Splake has that kind of eye.
AHHH Life,Transcendent Zero Press, transcendentzeropress.org, not paged, roughly 60 pages, 2017, $9.
While the title is not explicitly explained, (the cover photo features a coffee cup with a handwritten poem on a torn from note book page paper), I believe the reference is to the poet’s morning existential: his bitter, super-strength morning coffee. In his signature, short line, quick hitters, Splake continues to examine his life before and after his conversion from working stiff to poet. No one will ever accuse Splake of living an unexamined life.
after artist’s death
poems quickly forgotten
remote wilderness stream
he named Brautigan creek
flowing on forever
save the trees
simple easy answer
words not explaining
what’s beneath the bark
(channeling replicant Roi Batty in Blade Runner just before the end?)
Metamucil in the morning
after surgery prayer
they got it all
Patricia Lockwood, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Penguin Books, www.penguin.com. 66pages, 2014, $20.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother with a large press book, especially one that is three years old, but Lockwood is different. And so are her books. The poems begin in an outrageous voice, crazy conjunctions, tongue-in-cheek references, outlandish premises, and even wilder titles, that lead into more and more ridiculous places, and arrive at even stranger conclusions. She’s like James Tate or David Kirby on speed. And that can be a good thing especially with Kirby. But as with Tate’s poems, I could only read ten pages at time. But persevere I did, and it was all fun and game until someone tells a “Rape Joke”. And like anything to do with rape, it isn’t funny in the slightest. In fact, it is the kind of poem that grabs you by the throat and throttles you. This is the poem of the year, any year, if only because it exudes authenticity. I immediately sought to acquire her well-reviewed memoir, Priestdaddy, the tales of her, let’s say, excessively eccentric family (just the fact that her father, a father of five I might add, is a real life Catholic priest. That alone tells you a lot), to find out if she references this poem. And the memoir does, amidst the same kind of laugh out loud, outrageous, almost, too weird to be believed, immediate family whom she renders with one achingly funny anecdote after another until she relates how she came to write “Rape Joke.”
Lockwood is an unabashed original and I love her for it. She is funny, and smart, and has an in-your-face, devilish, irreverent way about her and she doesn’t care who knows it. Her energy, love of life, and considerable gifts as a writer are worth checking out no matter in which format she is writing.
That said, the poetry book is way over priced, as all Penguin Poetry books are, but that’s not her fault. One wonders if the commercial publishers of poetry price their books of poetry so high to discourage people from buying them so that they can point to disappointing sales numbers and say , “See, I told you, no one buys poetry”. Or is it a misguided attempt to recoup their investment through library sales alone. Libraries are facing their own fiscal constraints and this financial model is one that need re-examining. Simply put, individuals are unlikely to go for a twenty dollar, less than 70 pages, soft cover. I know I wouldn’t. You can find a less expensive, excellent copy on Amazon as I did. Yeah, I know Amazon is evil, but sometimes you have no choice. Whatever you pay for this book, and you should have a copy, “Rape Joke” is worth the cost of the whole book. The rest is gravy. And then there is the memoir.
John Dorsey, Shoot the Messenger, Red Flag Press, Redflag poetry.com, handsomely illustrated by Gary Edmondson, 62 pages, 2017 $15.
Dorsey is the kind of poet you turn to when you want to read something from the gut and heart. His poetry is informed directly from life, immediate and strong willed. His is not the stuff that comes from books but the places he has seen, the people he has known, and the life he had lived.
Cherry Bomb & Boxcar Bertha
for the swogger sisters
cherry & bertha’s younger brother chris
accidently shot himself in the head
with their father’s favorite hunting rifle
whole searching for his christmas gifts
he was never the same after that
mixed with fits of rage
only his spirit did.
The presentation by Red Flag Press is excellent with clear glossy paper and generously and colorfully illustrated also, a fine compliment to Dorsey’s poems.
Wayne Hogan, All Is Theory: poems and drawings, Little Press Books, PO Box 842 Cookeville, TN 38503. About 50 pages, roughly, half pen and ink drawings by the author plus the poems. No price listed.
To know Wayne Hogan is to love him. Eccentric artist and whimsical, mock-serious poet are inadequate descriptions but they’ll have to do as the language is in not equipped to describe Hogan’s work. Let’s just say, if you have seen, and marveled, over one of Wayne’s wild cover artwork that introduces any number of small press magazines and books, you know what to expect in this book. And you won’t be disappointed. That’s an ironclad guarantee.
David Chorlton, Bird on a Wire, Presa Press, PO Box 792, Rockford MI 49341, 68 pages, 2017 $13.95.
The opening citation for this excellent collection of new poems by transplanted Austrian, by way of England, Phoenix poet, David Chorlton, is by Leonard Cohen. The collection evokes the spirit of natural world, of the land, and all that live in it, which is an abiding passion in all of the poet’s work. An avid bird watcher, which has taken him to the mountains of the West and the jungles of Costa Rica, one revels in the rich canvas of the landscapes he creates with a painterly eye. There are dust storms and lightning strikes and the still lives with desert rock and washout sand. There are also refugees, and doomed pilgrims, neither at home in their native land, nor the one they are trying to escape. Chorlton is a master of the incisive comment, the rendered beauty of a place, and all the threatened creatures who live there.
Robert Cooperman, Draft Board Blues, Future Cycle Press, www.futurecycle.org., 73 pages, 2017. $15.95, also available as a kindle book.
For those of us of a certain age, the military draft was the defining element of our coming of age in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It is almost impossible to impress upon men who never had the experience what it was like living, literally, under the gun. Of exactly how prevalent and life-defining the draft was. Young men have only vaguely heard of the draft, and only know of registration for military service as something you did at 18 in order to be eligible for college loans. But in 1970, when I graduated from college with a lottery number of 49, I knew it was all over for me once my college deferment was gone in May: a college diploma and a report for your physical could arrive almost simultaneously. One thing you knew for sure, the reclassification took place on day 1 after graduation. Only it didn’t for me. There was a screw up and over the better part of the next two years, I would be playing a nerve racking games with the regional daft board. My writing a fairly obviously autobiographical piece about that time, a young lady editor said when she rejected the piece ”... but the protagonist has no plans for the future, he is rootless, he only gets temporary jobs, he has a family for Christ’s sake....” Yeah and he was 1A. He couldn’t get a job. Who would hire him? A friend maybe that’s how I got a job that led to a kind of career. But that meant nothing to her. ...but I digress....
All this is prelude to Bob’s wonderful book about his, and his contemporaries’ experiences, with the draft. Bob was classified 4F, the designation most coveted by those of us who did not want an all expense paid trip to Vietnam. I know I coveted a 4F, which meant ineligible because of a physical disqualification, such as poor eyesight, or flat feet or whatever Trumps’ lame excuse was. Something to do with a skiing accident bone problem that was about as bogus as he was, and still is, as he doesn’t recall which ankle it was.
While Bob was lucky in that sense, many of his friends and neighbors were not so lucky. Guys got killed over there, anyone our age who says he didn’t know someone who was killed or wounded over there is lying. Lying, just like the Colorado politician who says he doesn’t remember his draft number. It’s one of the three numbers you don’t forget: your birthday, your social security, and your draft number. I read this book straight through the moment it arrived.
Draft Board Blues sums up the experience of the draft eligible male who was not a politically motivated draft resister as well as any book on the subject could. Bob had no desire to go to Canada to avoid the draft, or to enlist and once inside, cause disqualifying-from-service self-injury, as many people did. Think that people didn’t slashi their wrists knowing the change of guard was about to occur? Shoot themselves during target practice? Think again.
Bob would have gone if he had to, as I would have, if it came to that. But neither of us had to. I did the Bill Clinton thing. I went to graduate school and extended my college deferments. I had children. I made almost zero money. I was financially independent and living way below the poverty line. I was exempt. Just.
I still think about my freshman year friend, Tony Revac, who enlisted in the Navy and was dead before the sophomore year second semester. He flunked a one credit gym class, he was an all state wrester in high school, but thought gym was bullshit at our school (and he was right) and didn’t go. He flunked out, .01 below the cut-off line. He’s on The Wall. I looked him up. I’ve seen his name. Bob knows guys like that too.
Which brings us to a guy who did go there, as White Hat, Military Police and who won the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1972 for Obscenities, the classic book about the Vietnam experience by one who went to the war.
Michael Casey, There It Is, New and Selected Poems, Loom Press, www.loompress.com, 160 pages, 2017. $15,
Throughout his writing career Casey has maintained a strong, consistent voice that is at once, self-deprecatory, doofus seeming, but totally on point. No one does a one-shot knockout punch closure better than Casey does. As he wrote in the unforgettable poem, “bummer” about a Vietnamese farmer expressing his frustration at the tanks crossing his fields by banging on a tank with his farm implement, a move that caused the tank commander to line up the tanks side by side instead of in single file and proceed directly across the farmer’s land completely destroying everything in its path:
“if you have a farm in Vietnam
and a house in hell
sell the farm
and go home”
If there is a better metaphor for the Vietnam experience I don’t know what it is.
Unlike most New and Selected poems, Casey chooses to mix up the chronology to great effect. Even if you had read these poems previously, and I had read over half of them before, they have the effect of totally new work in a fresh context. Much of Obscenities is here as are generous selections from later books including Mill Rat, detailing his experiences in a factory environment. I was continually struck by the stark reality of these pieces, the well-honed, concision; absolutely no unnecessary detail or verbiage. If I were no already a huge fan of Casey’s before this book, I certainly would be after reading this collection.
Wayne F. Burke, A Lark Up the Nose of Time, Bare Back Press, www.barebackpress.com, 2017, 92 pages, $13.00.
When you consider Burke’s previous books have titles like Knuckle Sandwich and Dickhead, you expect a rough ride over unpaved road. It wouldn’t hurt to have a six pack or two for the journey, as Burke does no mince words and he does not care who knows it. Burke has that rare gift of concision. Like Todd Moore he punches hard and fast and his poems are always the same. The same as in: consistently good. If you don’t like to get down and dirty on the page and people who do, well don’t read these poems. Anyone who does, well, Burke is your man. Comparing Burke to someone like Bukowski is unfair, as the imitators of Hank are legion and most of them are bad, including Bukowski himself, especially in his later book, where you have to read fifty pages or more to find something that is a keeper. Not a problem with Burke, whether he is hapless kid up to no good or an adult on the firing lines of sex and booze and just keeping on, Burke is always on point. His bio says he did not publish his first book until he was 58 which is hard to believe given how strong his voice is. Thankfully he seems to be making up for lost time in a major way.
Radha Marcum, Bloodline, Three: A Taos Press, www.3taospress.com. 89 pages, 2017. $24.
Bloodline is an intimate look at family members directly involved in the development and testing of the first atomic bombs at Los Alamos. The intimacy of the poems is heightened by the fact that Marcum’s grandfather was an active participant in that development. The secrecy and silence surrounding the work and the ramifications of what the successful tests could and would do. The acknowledged “father of the bomb”, leader of the project at Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer was not the only one who would view himself in terms of “Siva destroyer of worlds”. With possible the exception of Edward Teller, anyone who was directly involved felt a responsibility, a share of the burden, of what this ultimate weapon would mean to the world at large. Her use of language is, careful, precise, and vibrant, with a startling array of intense imagery. This is a vital book whose large format with a generous amount of white space to highlight the beauty of the words on the page. This is a necessary read, a must for any serious collection concerned with the atomic age
Karina Bush, 50 Euro, Bare Back Press, www.barebackpress.com, 58 pages, 2017. $8.95.
This is not your mother’s poetry book. Not unless your mother was a sex worker. I am not being facetious. Karina Bush makes no bones about her profession: she was a prostitute working the red-light district and she doesn’t care who knows it. Writing about sex is a man’s job and servicing men is a woman’s job. Telling the tales of what happens in-between the sheets has always seemed bad form unless it was for the titillation of men. See Anais Nin if you must be artfully titillated. Mostly, though, I think men feel threatened by a woman who is sexually aggressive, experienced, and unafraid to express herself. So, if you want to know what a woman really thinks about her sex work, read this book.
50 Euro is what Bush charges a high roller for a specific sex act. It might not even lead to actual sex but simple touching. In this she is the true capitalist: she has something someone else wants, and she charges what she can get for it. And why not? If he’s willing and able to pay, charge him. Every poem in this highly charged, explicit collection, is wonderfully written. Yes, Karina Bush, a whore, is a good writer, maybe even better than good. And why shouldn’t she be? In my unchosen profession I was used to hearing, “We’re not used to our bartenders being educated.” In some cases that was a compliment, with others it was a sneering comment. Karina knows what I mean.
The author’s picture shows a beautiful young woman, maybe this is her real picture. Maybe not. I don’t think Karina is her real name, but a booth name, and you know what? I don’t care. It’s the poems that matter and Karina is the real deal. I love Marianne Moore’s poetry, respect Emily Dickinson. They are two female poets you could easily run by your mom and not cause any problems. There isn’t anything remotely sexual or controversial in the conventional sense, in either poet. But let’s face it, who would want to sleep with either one of them? But that’s not the real point, is it?
Mike James, Houseguest, Future Cycle Press, futurecycle.org, 62 pages, 2017. $15.95, also available as a kindle book.
These short, wry, off-center portraits of poets, writers, and well-knowns gives new meaning to the concept of a Poetry Motel, that is a refuge/ overnight stopping place for visiting writers from out-of-town doing a local gig. Guests range from Gertrude Stein to Peter Lorre (now there is a pair) (the star of M meets the queen of Professor Edwin Corey poetic doubletalk) to Ed Wood and John Wayne (the imagination fails to provide an equivalency for that pair), to Basquait and Andy Warhol. These are crisp, knowing, ironic, small poems easily read at one sitting and then read again. I suspect, okay, I know the author has a bit of fun with the subjects but why not? My favorite is quoted in full below.
Some fathers are just bad. Drink too much. Gamble with money
set aside for school shoes. Wear a five o’clock shadow all day over
pale sweat. Made bad jokes to their daughters’ teenage friends.
And lie. Lie out of habit and grief. Because their lips are moving.
Because truly, truly they can think of nothing else to say.
This is the collection that provides all kinds of wicked combinations that could be answers to the NYTBR brief interviews question, “If you could invite any three people for a dinner party who would you invite?” From this collection I would choose Lou Reed, Elvis and Orson Welles though it is hard to pass up Gertrude, Lorre and Sal Mineo (or Ed Wood, if Sal couldn’t make it). Read this collection and create your own guest list.
Susana H. Case, Drugstore Blue, Fiveoakspress.com, 71 pages, 2017, $16.
The temptation is to suggest the reader play mood music while reading Case’s latest high-powered collection. It would be easy to say, Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue”, as blue, more precisely, aspects of blue are a recurring theme to these poems. Ultimately, though. Case’s tone is more “A Whole Lotta Shakin Going On” than a contemplative blues.
In the second poem, she references “Drugstore Blue”, that is the kind of eye shadow color seen in the arresting cover photo of a close up of single, open eye. The view is what you might see, up close and personal, before getting down to some serious intimate business. And Case is all about intimate business. Her observations are intense, whether it is seeing a friend from high school soul dead in early adulthood, her days of careening about in fast cars with reckless boys, so far past they aren’t even a memory. Or a tale of being shacked up the younger man, almost a boy, she collected and kept in her house for a week, the two of them nude all the time and sexed up until they ran out of food, an act she concludes, was just to see what it would be like. There are no wall flowers here, but a whole lot of pedal to the metal gasoline fume dreams. One of my favorites references Kerouac is Road Trip:
“The guy who wrote the definitive road trip novel
didn’t know how to drive.
He just liked the idea of driving
and that’s how feel when I run my palm
down your body ...”
As I read the title poem, I was reminded of a girl on high school who tried to seduce me
on a church youth group hay ride. I was going out with someone else at the time and I loved her, so I resisted. The tempting girl might have been wearing drugstore blue, probably was, it was roughly the same time as Case’s poem, and we were from a place not far from where Case was growing up, but there is no way of knowing now what that girl was wearing. She was killed in drunken convertible car ride with several college classmates. As I recall, the car she was in crossing double yellow lines and ran head-on into another car. Everyone was killed. It was the 60’s and dying young was what people did.
Rob Cook, Last Window in the Punk Hotel, rainmoutainpress.com, 156 pages, 2017. $12,
Cook’s hotel reminds me in many ways of the Tenants of Moonbloom a book about a rent collector in an urban hell setting, by the same author as The Pawnbroker only with the extra element of horror thrown in. Not the kind of horror we are exposed to in the current crops of, in-your-face, stylized computer-generated gore and gloom, but the old-fashioned kind; tension generated off stage or suggested. The protagonist overhears unnerving stuff from the rooms above, and below. The walls are closing in, the dialogues between people become more threatening and surreal, and like all good grotesques, the poems are immediate and engaging.
Whether it be in the hotel, or on the street, Cook’s language is fraught but contained, original and exciting. The book creates a special kind of internal momentum that hurtles toward the end with a unique sense of urgency. The imagery is so striking, the reader often stops mid-line to admire the juxtapositions that only a poet in full command of a considerable gift could originate. There is an odd sense of sardonic, mordant humor (surrealism emphasizes the absurd and the absurd is always has humor implicit in its point of view) that relieves some of the extreme states of moral and social miasma that Cook so aptly displays in Last Window in the Punk Hotel.
Rich Murphy, Body Politic, prolificpress.com, 108 pages, 2017, $16.95.
The beheaded government ran around
the barnyard squirting bullets and blood.
With the oven heating up, the farmer and wife
absorbed the violence and dressed dinner
After the religious Feast of St Loot,
the occupying army put its feet
up on the table and picked its teeth
until insurgents hear belching
and the coup backfired......
And so it goes.
Rampant commercialism, mall shootings, protests in the street, police brutality, heartless, self-interested politicians and governments and their armies....and so it goes. You can almost see the zombies invading the malls and the political statement that was meant to make, in between the gore fests in Romero’s movies, as the black guy who survived the zombie apocalypse only to be shot by a redneck cop. And the political statement that made. Not that people paid any attention to the politics, really. It was the gore they were interested in. I guess this is a major part of Murphy’s point. It’s all about the politics. The gore is free of charge.
And so it goes.
John Elsberg, Not Quite Ocean: Selected Poems, Paycock Press, www.gargoylemagazine.com, 61 pages, 2017 $12.95.
Not Quite Ocean is a posthumous collection of a late, affable, erudite, accomplished poet. The poet’s wife, Constance, acting as editor, chose a selection of styles and moods ranging from the contemplative to the descriptive mixed in with those directly influenced by his studies of literature. Haiku and Tanka receive equal space with poems influenced by the couple’s travel to England. I was especially drawn to the Lake District poems where the poet and his wife enjoyed hiking, sightseeing, and relaxing after taxing walks on the higher peaks. If you have ever been to the Lake District you will know exactly how challenging these climbs are. In fact, one of my most prized poetry possessions is a skinny, limited “flip book” of poems Elsberg wrote about time spent in the Lake District.
Not Quite Ocean is not meant as a comprehensive collection. Constance stresses she was a reluctant editor as she always expected John would live long enough to select and produce his own version of selected poems. Instead, this book is a reminder of what a thoughtful, skillful poet her husband was. One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Taking an Old Dog for a Walk on the Beach”,
the black dog
she remembers her bark
for the first time,
three blocks to the beach
she finds a good smell-
pees on it,
than we thought-
in the sand
and looks, and looks
the turn when she’s ready-
this way to the car,
she’d rather explore-
In the end we are all old dogs.
Simone Muench and Dean Rader, Suture, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawerncepress.com., 62 pages, 2017, $15.95.
This is the kind of book that poses and answers the questions: “What is poetry?” Their answer is, “Whatever you want it to be.” or, more precisely, “Whatever you need it to be.” Which leads to another important question, “How do you describe what can’t be described adequately in words?” By colluding with a like-minded creative person, using lines form other poets as titles, as springboards for the most unusual, even astonishing, collection of “sonnets” you will ever be likely to read.
The authors quote novelist Tom Clancy as a prefatory remark, “Collaboration on a book is the most unnatural act.” And off they go together. Hell, even the table of contents reads like a poem, though there are sixteen lines instead of the fourteen they use in the book proper. A small matter, as much of this collection is like an unexpected electric shock of images and conjunctions. Centos to the left of me, centos to the right of me, centos and more centos....
I’m not sure what the exact process of composition was, but I suspect each poet alternates lines, but I could be wrong. Regardless of the method, the coeval conjunctions work almost seamlessly as any good collaboration must. Take this image from “You thought I was the kind of animal”
“Succumb to my wolf face, your own savage
sweet tooth. Lick my fur until there’s nothing
but flesh, no more façade-no camouflage,
only revelation-the heart’s reddest
rifle. Let’s be honest: you love hiding
but I love hunting. Let’s see who’s the best.”
These kinds of revelations continue throughout the collection which was no surprise to me as Muench has written some of the most arresting work I have read in years. Her other titles from Black Lawrence, Wolf Centos and Trace are, well, amazing. The unforgettable cover of Trace could give you nightmares and the text well.... read these books yourself and be prepared for a wild ride. I am less familiar with Rader’s work but this is an oversight soon to be corrected. Another selection shows how well their mastery of this delicate balance of two minds working in near perfect harmony is,
“I wound; the body’s coil spring
is both rupture and rapture- a woven
sack of loss and plasma, a suturing
of sky to skull, of cloud to eye, and I
shall ring the loud bell of these bones as one
who owns the wings and knows the way to fly
beyond this body’s anatomy.”
(from “I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where”)
While these poems are often stark, always visceral and tactile, they dig deep into the subconscious as well. And often they are humorous, a sardonic humor for sure, but one that can be laugh-out-loud outrageous. Be forewarned, the laughs are earned and you have to work them out for yourself. There is not one line in this book that isn’t crafted to a fine point with intention.
I doubt one person can claim responsibility of the following lines,
“If time were a hand
I would break its fingers.”
(from “History has to live with what is here.”)
so I will thank them both for having created it.
Eric Greinke, The Third Voice: Notes on the Art of Poetic Collaboration, Presa Press, www.presapress.com, 84 pages, 2018, $13.95.
I would be remiss not to include Eric’s fascinating study of working with a diverse group of five poets to create what he calls the third voice. The five poets, three men and two women, all have distinct and completely different approaches to poetic compositions. Having read some, but not all of the collaborations, I can generally say that Greinke, a poet of wide range and broad poetic sensibilities, adjusts to each author and they to him They create work of outstanding merit well worth exploring. Hugh Fox was preoccupied with death and politics, as the long poem the two create together, and quoted in full, attests. Small wonder, as Fox knew he was dying as he wrote, and Eric is of an age (late 60’s) where death is ever-present. Glenna Luchesi and Eric’s poems reflect a more erudite, lively exchange, in which Glenna is the senior party by a full decade or more. The reflective and more contemplative sides of both John Elsberg and Greinke are obvious in their two collections. And Harry Smith and Greinke combine for a more earthy, lively exchange. The last collaborator, in a work yet to be published is, Allison Stone whose demands as a partner are more formal and challenging. There are all kinds of creative stipulations and rules for this partnership if the selections provided are any indication. I can’t recall having read a more thoughtful, more revealing examination of what it is like for two skilled poets to work together than this book. A must for anyone interested in the process of collaborative exchange.
Joan Colby, Her Heartsongs, www.presapress.com, 76 pages, 2018, $13.95.
I have made no secret of the fact that Joan Colby is one of my favorite poets. Each of her books explores a different territory with a fresh perspective that thrills, surprise, and enchants. Her Heartsongs is a primer on what it feels like to be a woman. There are no overt politics, no obvious statements, just narratives that span the whole of a full life of rich experiences. Colby never writes a poem with horses as the subject that isn’t first rate. Oddly, like Bukowski, who until his older, smug years, never failed to evoke the sublime weirdness of a racetrack, Colby finds magic in every aspect of a horse’s life. From being birthed with women as midwives, the two women are convinced men would have screwed up a difficult birth (“Twisted Gut”) They are probably correct in thinking so. The astonishing catalogue of diseases horses are prone to as metaphors for stages of a woman’s life (“Illness of Horses: A Woman Mediates”) is nothing short of ingenious. We also see the young Colby, skinny dipping in a swimming hole with a friend, relishing her young woman’s body. Later she reflects that when they drained the hole, they found a car with murdered victims inside. She thinks about all the time they were enjoying their lives; unseen people were becoming bloat and body waste beneath them. Thus, an unseen presence symbolizes old age and end of life inevitabilities waiting in years ahead. Colby more fully explores this subject in depth with poems later in this collection. The collection has a 2018 release date from the press due to their arrangement with an overseas distributor but copies should be available from the poet.
Jack Evans, Rain Is the Hourglass of Memory, www.fourcahmberspress.com, 163 pages, 2017, $18.00.
Evans’ book is a wide ranging collection, selections from magazines and seven previous book publications. The poet’s interests are eclectic. Many subjects fascinate and engage him and he travels extensively absorbing sights, sounds, and imagery wherever he goes. Evans seems equally at home writing about the red-light district in Amsterdam as he does about the Acropolis. My obsession with movies drew me to the fourth section, L’Avventura which summoned images from some of my “cult” favorites: Marker, Tarkovsky and Antonioni, not to mention one of the finer Simenon adaption, “The Blue Room”. These were a pleasure savored twice (once in recalling the moves, the other, reading about them as seen through someone else’s discerning eyes).Whether your tastes run to hot jazz in New Orleans, craggy New England locations or Midwestern America there is something here for all readers of broad interests. Evans loves Art and his work clearly reflects his knowledge of many forms, and his work shows how well he appreciates the Art rendered into word. This handsomely produced, substantial volume, should help Evans increase his audience as his work clearly deserves greater recognition.
Erica Wright, All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned, www.blacklawerence.com, 67 pages, 2017, $15.95.
Wright’s poems are: your hair-on-fire urgent and assertive, combining rich, electric imagery with sly dark humor. There is a surreal tension between perception and the perceived that makes even the most ordinary circumstances extraordinary. Don’t play Truth or Dare with Erica as there is likely to be snakes involved, relationships ended, secrets hidden in closets revealed. Her ekphrastic poems are so immediate you can sense the world she is transferring from Art to word,
“.........I want to flush myself away
from a world in which ever sun-kissed skin is artificial,
and yet there’s that cloud, and it makes my eyes swell
in awe the way landlocked recruits must feel
seeing the ocean for the first time, then not believing
the stories of how luminescent fish are really lost sailors
blinking to the surface, returning to say
that there’s nothing worth seeing down there either.”
How could you not be intrigued by a collection that features a title, “Admitted: There Are Tractors in This Hallucination” or “After the Human Pin Cushion: Mabel”? People may drown on Wright’s bayous but they come back to life in her poems.
Kevin Coval, A People’s History of Chicago, www.haymarketbooks.org , 135 pages, 2017, $18.
As the title suggests, Coval’s book is a real people’s history of the second city. By real I mean the displaced Native Americans who were displaced, the minorities, the workers, the poor, the Wobblies, (Haymarket Press obviously not a meek and retiring politically neutral group nor is it an accidental choice of naming) the social activist past, present, and future. Citing everyone from Jane Addams to Big Bill Hayward to Eugene V. Debs, this engaging, if unapologetically, politically slanted, history is not a simple diatribe but a poetry of the streets. The best poems are meant to be performed and there is rich hip-hop cadence to the words of protest and outrage. And by slanted, I mean anti-establishment but with political dynasties like the Daleys’, like the current Mayor Emmanuel, what is there to love about the establishment? Murder, oppression, racial discrimination, all of the above? Coval is the rare explicitly political poet is not only outraged and engaged but is an excellent pot as well.
John Amen, Illusion of an Overwhelm, www.nyq.org., 89 pages, 2017, $15.95
In the first of four related sequences, Amen introduces the Anima the female element of the self, signaling a journey through the interior. A sun conscious realm of shifting realities, of places and things both in and of the self, an inner reality that creates an outer reality that is at once familiar and totally inaccessible. At least, to this reader, who felt as if he had signed up for a walking tour in an unfamiliar urban area and got off at the wrong subway station for the tour.
The first of these numbered poems, from the section “Hallelujah Anima”, begins as follows,
“The purpose of desire
is to propagate desire
& its concomitant recoil:
ambivalence is truth.
Anima works the cattle prod, works the courtiers,
a new breed texting resentment poems
to the hum of an electric choker.”
Confused yet? I admit being an overly literal reader as my absolutely incorrect reading of Alexis Ivey’s Romance with Small Time Crooks proved, but in that case, I simply missed an obvious clue. Here I wondered, what, if any, the clues were (are). I get the Illusion part of the title but not what an Overwhelm is. If nothing else it is a highly unusual use of the word. I get that there is no whelm to overwhelm or that you can be overwhelmed or something is overwhelming but what is an Overwhelm. That which overwhelms is overwhelming?? This is how dense I am. Amen is a serious poet whose verbal skills are considerable but I feel lost in this one. I also, despite several introductory citations feel that I am missing key referents alluded to as introductions to poems; who are these people or well, things, and why are they relevant? There are no notes. There should be.
Don Winter and Rebecca Schumejda, Common Wages, Working Stiff Press, 741 Broadway Street #1265, Niles, MI 49120, contact www.donwinter.com for info on how to acquire a copy, 48 pages, 2017.
Just as he did with his dual collection with the poet laureate of machinists, Fred Voss, Winter offers a tribute to his co-poet Rebecca Schumejda. If you haven’t read her book about waitressing, Dead End Diner or of owning a pool hall, Cadillac Men, what are you waiting for? In this brief but generous selection of poems by Rebecca and himself, Winter whets your appetite for more. The work is all about the blue-collar spirit, working men and women, and the hardships they endure. If you want to get meaningless statistics about how unemployment is down and how household incomes have increased, watch the blathering news channels. But if you want to read about how people are actually living and suffering now, read this book instead.
Sebastian Matthews, Beginner’s Guide to a Head-On Collision, Red Hen Press, www.redhen.org, 77pages, $15.95, 2017.
Matthews has lived everyone’s worst nightmare. You are riding in your car, anticipating a weekend getaway with your wife and eight-year-old child, and the unthinkable happens. A car in the opposite side of the road crosses the double yellow line, the driver a victim a health emergency he won’t survive, and you have about one second to realize what is happening and the rest is months of agony and rehab. It could always be worse, I guess. The boy is mostly physically okay compared with the horrific injuries his parents suffered,: broken legs, feet, ankles, ribs..... To his credit, Matthews does not dwell on the bad hand Fate has given him but deals with the facts: what happened, how they recovered, and eventually, more or less, moved on. He is neither maudlin nor overtly angry, that is more than anyone who has unjustly suffered grievous bodily harm could be. One of the most telling moments in the book is his description of a “hot date” with his wife: intertwining fingers in the space between their respective hospital beds at the rehab center. Their recovery is a long, arduous affair. Their son seems to be the sensible one helping his father gradually increased mobility aiding him to participate, however limited, in his recovery. In his writing of this book, Matthews seems to be saying: this is not something anyone should have to live through, that this is a book he would have preferred never to have had to write, but that the experiences are part of his life now and part of recovering is writing about them. At least, or is it, at most, the family survived, are more or less intact, and this, above all, is the most important fact of all.
Kurt Olsson, Burning Down Disneyland, Gunpowder Press, www.gunpowederpress.com., 61 pages, $15.00, 2017. Winner of 2016 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize
I admit that I was intrigued by the title of this book, that, and the use of Whistler’s “Nocturne in Blue and Gold-Falling Rockets.” My expectations were heightened by these “teasers”, and while it isn’t fair to say I was disappointed, I wasn’t as thrilled as I might have hoped to be either. The hardest part of a great title (or idea) is delivering the goods after. You see so many poems that begin with an uncommon energy, fueled by an outrageous or amazing juxtaposition of idea and image, only to lose momentum half way through, and fizzle before they hit the closure. Just like one of JMW’s rockets.
I admit to not being a fan of the Disney folks. I was working the tavern job when I was introduced to someone who gave me a stern and disapproving cold shoulder knowing I had been in Orlando, and asked me if I had gone to Disneywhatever, and I said, “Seriously?” He persisted in insisting it was a place for kids of all ages. Well, you have had a childhood like I did, you would have resisted even admitting you were ever a child. But on he went Extolling. I wondered if he had a rodent t-shirt on under his dress uniform or a signature wrist watch. I eventually arrived at, “You mean that multi-national, labor exploiting, wage slave holding, benefit denying, corporate monstrosity who is one of the largest purveyors of Magical Thinking for commercial purposes from cradle to grave? That Disney World?” If he wasn’t such a wuss, I thought that might have incited him to jump the bar and go for me. So shoot me if my expectations were unrealistically high for this book. The title poem is strong but not exceptional. In fact, the whole collection is as competent and as polished as it could be, without the hint of real risk or exceptional insight. One poem channels Billy Collins, I believe in an ironic way, but this seems as close to where his inspiration might come from as anyone. You could do worse. You could also do better.
Received and noted
Jon Bush, Dragon Song: and other poems, Chapel Hill Press, contact the author at email@example.com, 80 pages, 2017 $10. For those with a Romantic heart, these are the (mostly) love poems for you. Pine and rejoice in each other’s company; live and love.
Two chapbooks from Benevolent Bird Press and offshoot of the Rootdrinker Institute and Albany area Arts and environmental organization. Neither are paged or priced both published 2017. Contact information Benevolent Bird Press, PO Box 522, Delmar NY 12054. Alan Casline ed.
Alifair Skebe, The Voyage of the Beagle (an Interlace Poem), Approx. 16 pages. Brief, evocative poems that feels as if it is part of a longer project. The author says it is subtitled an interlace poem (I don’t know what exactly that means) I am assuming the reference is to overlapping time, myth, history, imagination, ethnomythology etc, though I could be wrong.
Paul Horton Amidon, The Price of Admission, roughly 20 pages. An aging poet looks back to his childhood growing up in the 50’s with a clear, well-controlled narrative tone and eye. My personal favorite is “The English Test” where the student is listening to Yankees seventh game of the world series on a badly disguised wire to his transistor radio. That could have been me 10 years or so later. Second favorite is “Steeplechase Park, Coney Island”. You are there, eating the cotton candy, riding the steeplechase horses, seeing the former capital of glitz and glamour becoming a redolent ruin.
Clutch, ed. Robert M Zoschke, Street Corner Press, 10781 Birchwood Drive, Sister Bay, WI 54234, 216 pages, 2017, $16.00.
Clutch is a first run successor of sorts to Zoschke’s coffee table (and crazy expensive to produce) Lowdown, easily the best independent anywhere in the US. While Clutch is not a coffee table book, it is a professionally produced, slick paperback that should be required reading for anyone serious about small press publishing. The focus of the poetry and the many handsomely produced black and white Art and original photography is Beat and Post Beat. Graybeard octogenarian T.K. Splake is the unofficial feature with a wealth of mostly brief poems and exquisite photos taken in and around his chosen new home in the wilds of the industrial wasteland of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Not quite octogenarian John Bennett plays a significant role as do other veteran poets as Dan Barth, Dean McClain and Antler. Responses to “The Proust Questionnaire” result in succinct portraits of poets and an essay by Sam Pickering, of Dead Poets Society fame, “Sons and Fathers” concludes the anthology and is well-worth waiting for. I would be remiss not to mention my own conclusion so you can factor in my bias but how can you hate a magazine that has a closing photo of the editor’s infant twin daughters embracing on the back and Jack Micheline Eddie Malchowsky on the front.
And a super special announcement:
2017 Chapbook Contest Winner — Alan Catlin
Slipstream is pleased to announce that Alan Catlin, of Schenectady, NY, has been selected as the winner of Slipstream's 2017 Poetry Chapbook Competition for his collection, Blue Velvet. The award includes a $1,000 prize along with 50 copies of the book which is now available. All entrants in the competition receive a copy of the winning chapbook along with the latest issue of Slipstream magazine.
Catlin has been publishing for the better part of five decades. During that time he has published thousands of poems in hundreds of magazines from the mundane to the outlandish to the well-known and everything in between. In his working life he was a barman, a profession he credits with warping his mind forever and giving him a unique perspective on life. He has published over sixty full length books and chapbooks including: Last Man Standing from Lummox Press, American Odyssey from Future Cycle Press and forthcoming, Hollyweird from Night Ballet Press, which also published his Beautiful Mutants chapbook. He is the poetry editor of the online poetry magazine misfitmagazine.net.
For a signed copy directly from the author contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and a 20% free postage discount for mentioning misfit reviews.