Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Jennifer Lagier, Like a B Movie,Future Cycle Press. www.futurecyclepress.org. 93 pages, 2018, $15.95
Jennifer’s new, substantial, collection is broken up into four sections. While these pieces are not directly related, they form a remarkable whole; a whole that spans all the essential aspects of Life: life and death, marriage and divorce, coming of age and aging, and the tragic devastation of California by fire. I read the “fire poems” contemporaneous with the actual event, accompanied by pictures, and was moved by the immediacy, the visceral impact of the words and images. These poems, in the third section, do not diminish with time and, even without photographs, you can feel the heat and choke on the smoke.
“ Air quality plummets as prevailing winds
push stench and ash north.
Outdoor breathing is hazardous.
Those with lung conditions
or sensitivity are warned
to stay outside, keep windows closed”
(from Smoke: Day 21, 55% Containment”)
Jennifer would be one of those people. Imagine : breathing air outdoor can be hazardous to your health. Is this the Future? And now there are mud slides. Think about it.
The first and second sections deals mostly with personal poems: coming of age, bad marriages, one too young, another just bad, pumping iron, family history.... My personal favorite comes from section 2: “I Got My Guns at Al’s” Not a weapon, per se, but her body, built at Al’s gym. We can smile at Jennifer’s coming of age embarrassments, her bad dates, all the stuff that makes being young something we look back on as: how did we ever survive what we like when we were 19?
And then there is the final section: Malpractice. The earlier sections are not mere chronology but a deliberate progression: growing, learning how to live, and then ,wholesale destruction of the places you cherish, followed by a slow, painful death of the one closest and dearest of all. The reader shares the poet’s anger at doctors who misdiagnose her mother’s condition, consigning her to ineffective treatments and additional pain. The eventual correct diagnosis of a terminal cancer, the patient who will linger in home hospice treatment for nearly a year, is the subject of these poems. These depict a nightmare experience that never seems to end.
There are lucid moments for Jennifer’s mother, times of extreme pathos and even humor: mom’s spirit is indomitable, handles the impossible with equanimity. But there are awful moments when lucidity is replaced by hallucination, paranoia, endless repetitious debates about non-essentials. It is a slow death and an uneasy one. Only a poet of consummate skill and compassion could attempt to render these painful moments and the eventual release. Jennifer does this and should be commended for it.
Jerome Sala, Corporations Are People, Too! NYQ Books, www.nyq.org. 100 pages, 2017, $15.95
Corporations are people. Who was that said it? Mittens Romney? Who spoke frequently on the campaign trail about this ridiculous concept. It’s about what you would expect from a venture, vulture capitalist: only a Republican could come up with a bad idea like this one.
I recall one of President Obama’s State of the Nation addresses, with the Supremes front and center in their black length garb of doom, as the president look over towards this august body, as he decried the decision that made this designation possible, and Justice Alito is vigorously shaking his head and affirming, “Yes, they are.” The questions remain: “Would you let your daughter marry one?” “When was the last time you had a corporation over for dinner?” Of course, it was all about getting the rights of people for corporations. Regulations! We don’t need no stinkin’ regulations! Sala approaches corporate humanness with just this sense of extreme, surreal, absurdity . What next,” The care and feeding of robots?” Oh we already are doing that: it’s the Republican controlled Congress.
In three thematically linked sections Sala lambastes the corporate entities, in a tongue and cheek fashion, with a virtuoso display of poetic techniques. In pseudo sonnets (even a kind of double one) he anthropomorphizes, he takes the corporate world to absurdist ends:
“ He said we could avoid brandpocalypse
by practicing data stewardship.
But have you ever met a brand whose
life was rescued by a deep data dive?”
“Brands drive customers, but to where?”
Using corporate language and concepts he mocks the values, the concepts, and the whole enterprise implicit in corporatespeak. The poems, in Section 1 are, simply, a comic tour de force of the highest order. From the concluding
“And now both talk like hipsters, just to seem cool!
‘Cause corporation are people too!”
Yep! uh huh, and on to section two where Sala turns his satirists pitchfork to brands and products. If advertising is king, we are its subjects,
The price of sweet, sweet, sweet crude.
That’s the question all the markets are asking.” (from “The Question”)
Advertising diminishes our understanding of language, our skills of communication, the very value and nature of human interaction. He asks, quite rightly, how will we communicate in this Brave New World, when our minds are being subtlety (and not so subtlety) manipulated by commercial enterprises whose only goal is to make money. Is to sell us content. We might even elect a con artist president and he in turn, will animate Supremes, who will make more ideas like corporate humanity. This is what legitimizing money in politics has wrought and Sala sees it clearly. I hope we all do as well before it’s too late if it isn’t already. As Marge says to the killer she has apprehended at the end of Fargo, “There is more to life than a little bit of money.” There is, isn’t there?
Two by John Sweet, Bastard Faith, Scars Publication, available through Amazon, 38 pages, 2017 $8.95
Instructions for Drowning, Wall of Noise Press, available from the author at paypal@firstname.lastname@example.org 138 pages, reprinted and rebound, by the author (originally slated for publication 2011-2012) in 2017 $10-
John Sweet is a battle tested veteran of the small press wars. His ample collection Instruction for Drowning would have sunk into the great unknown world of dead manuscripts: books accepted for publication that made it as far as galleys, or even into print, but were pulled, neglected, or left to molder in someone’s file cabinet. That is unless the author rescues it, as Sweet had done by rebinding it and offering it for sale himself. I know how it feels, having won a contest that I was paid a winners fee for and never had the book published. Another made it to the galley stages, a book I did with Paul Weinman called Barred on Both Sides, two characters in a bar one behind the bar one on the customers side, two different poets. Marvin Malone from Wormwood Review fame, picked it as a most neglected book of the year. Sweet’s certainly falls into that category. Unjustly Neglected. Hang around in the underground press scene long enough and everything that can happen, will.
Sweet is a muscle and bone poet. He works and lives on the edge of a hostile world he is trying to get by in. The women he loves, leave him or are married to someone else. His children don’t do well. Jobs are demeaning and unsatisfying. He likes to drink but he is not a drunk. Picking up a woman in a bar, for an overnight tryst, is something he does but he does not revel in it. He is does not grovel in the mud, relish his downtrodden ways or, of mankind in general. Simply, the poetry is defiant and pessimistic. What do we have to look forward to, if we are not one of society’s elite?
“war is man’s work,
this is the extent of your freedom
old woman on the floor next to
her kitchen table
plastic sheeting over the windows
dogs whining in hunger
does this sound like a
(from “these burned edges of other lives”)
It does to me.
bastard faith follows much the same course. Life is an abject ruin, faith is for the blind, our leaders are not part of a representative government, but exploiters. The poems are not explicitly political but how else you could interpret a passage like the following but as political?
war is always an option
or the senseless slaughter of children
laughing in sunlit rooms and
look at all of the fuckers
throughout history who have
taken this route
(from “the bleeding horse pauses, turns”)
Sweet’s lines are lean, the stance if tough, we can’t go on, we go on.
r. soos, during the music, Cholla Needles, www.chollaneedles.com, available on Amazon, 144 pages, 2018, $5
Long time small press poet and editor, r. soos offers a hefty collection of mostly haiku, four poems to a page. The temptation is to read these quickly, but I prefer, a slow perusal, so as not to lose the effect of the compressed language. Ranging wide in subjects both personal and universal, abstract and mundane. Soos shows considerable skill at this much maligned form sometimes compared to be as exciting as watching bonsai grow. I beg to differ, Adamantly. A somewhat random sampling of some of my favorites :
the weather again
innocent of inner life
raging in us both
raging in us both
hidden sweetly and talk of
the weather again
I bake my own bread
while seasoning my own soup
glad to be alive
slow movement in the music
sucky place to live
A.D. Winans, Crazy John Poems: The Collected Series, Cold River Press, www.coldriverpress.com, 2018, 74 pages, $14.95
Here, at long last, are the three collection of Crazy John poems in one volume. I recall reading the first collection when it first came out, roughly 40 years or so ago, and the poems remain as fresh now as they were then. Crazy John is a kind of street messiah, making the rounds of the North Beach bars and hangouts, recording his impressions and wild ravings. His is the voice of unreason, at once a mythic and a downtrodden Everyman, one of society’s non-conforming rejects who defies categorizations as anything other than a misfit.
They Say That Crazy John Is Mad
Because he claims to converse
With the ancients
Grabs strange girls off the street
And tried to sell them
His peripheral vision
Sometimes on a warm summer night
People come from far off
To watch him gather fruit and nuts
At the local farmer’s market
But it’s been many years since
I’ve seen him perform a miracle
He claims he’s waiting for
The Holy Ghost to come out of hiding.
I’ve seen guys like Crazy John on the street, waited on a couple, and thrown more than my share out of bars. I’ve engaged others in conversations, at bus stops, passing a pint of Apricot Brandy back and forth, just to be sociable. I was more of a Scotch man, myself, when waiting for the 55, still you go with what’s on offer. I got to hear the kind of tales of an intimate nature that defy the imagination involving dildos, closed for the holiday’s stores and a lack of batteries for his girlfriend’s vibrator, from someone I had known for less than ten minutes. Some might say Crazy John is more of an exaggerated prototype than a person. Okay. After the preceding, actual conversation with a perfect stranger, one can accept the patently unreal as easily within the realm of possibility.
Allowed a work furlough
He processed barley
At a local brewery where
He fascinated the workers
By turning malt liquor into
Ale with one flick of the wrist.
(from Crazy John Was Arrested On)
A gift like that one every street grifter’s dream. Tales of Crazy John, for the street person in all of us.
Thaddeus Rutkowski, Border Crossings, Sensitive Skin Books, 96 pages, 2018 $12.95
Rutkowski is an accomplished writer of fiction, both short stories and novels, that are noted for their black humor, mock self-effacement, and bizarre family dynamics, and that often approach the surreal. He has also written flash-style fictions that can be read as prose poems much like those of a master of the form, Russell Edson.
Now, for the first time, Rutkowski has collected his poetry in one volume. As with his best fiction, Rutkowski presents us with a simple seeming dynamic that he develops in strange and unexpected ways. These poems dazzle with a strange kind of internal logic that often ends in a bizarre resolution. Only someone in complete control of his material can master this kind of style. Think Charles Simic returning to a place lit by a glass of milk. Absurd? Well, yes and no.
If a tree falls in the forest
and there’s no one to hear it
does the tree make a sound?
If a mouse runs across the floor
and there’s no one scream at it,
is the rodent a nuisance?
If a ball bounces down the stairs
and there’s no one to chase it,
does the ball escape from its owner?
If a door falls off its hinges and crashes to the floor
and there’s no one to witness it,
does the door fail to protect anyone?
If the face of a ghost appears in a mirror
and no one is haunted by it,
is the ghost wasting its time?
These poems offer many questions without easy answers. Read these with an open mind and provide your own solutions to these Zen like Koans. Is this a collection everyone should read? Yes, absolutely. No questions about that.
Matt Borkowski, Scorpion, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, email@example.com., PO Box 906, Island Heights, NJ, 08736-0906, 96 pages, 2017, $7 plus ph $4
Matt Borkowski, Old Blood for New Sacraments: Collected Poems of Matt Borkowski, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, 176 pages, 2017, $10 + $4 ph
John Lunar Richey, Dark Pastures: Selected Songs and Poems, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, 116 Pages, 2017 $10+$4 ph
All are available through Amazon, as well, keeping in mind they extract a huge piece of the press’s pie for the pleasure of being listed on their site.
Dave Roskos has issued this trio of tribute books to honor, posthumously, two of New Jersey’s small press scene poets. Richey’s book appears to be an amalgam of songs, poems, and prose riffs, often meant to be spoken word or with a band accompaniment as songs or performance pieces. His had a hardscrabble existence, played out on the streets, in clubs and bars. He speaks of being alienated by the drug and alcohol free, conformist culture, he could, and would not be part of. As he said in the opening poem, quoted in full,
Fearful of the light
I draw upon darkness
Tracing my background
It is not all doom and gloom, as Richey appear to have been a lively, raucous spirit, and these poems do him justice. Many do seem to lose some of their effect, out of the club/live venue context, but the voice is still effective, especially when the collection is read straight through, as I did.
Matt Borkwoski’s two collections depict, a well read, intelligent man, with real artistic talent, who is essentially rootless, without ambition, and whose worst enemy appears to be himself. Scorpion is basically a long story (short novella?) of a man whose occupation appear to be as a plasma donor . He uses his money for cheap thrills, hapless encounters with like-minded men and women, bringing to mind a slightly more sophisticated, Ignatius Jacques Reilly of a Confederacy of Dunces. He is going nowhere and doesn’t mind. Despite all his considerable faults, I found myself compelled by the voice, the odd humor, and the sense of balance that can come from a writer who understands that being down and out does not mean inhuman and worthless. Apparently Borkowski had been there: totally down and out, hooked on drugs and alcohol, and in and out of shelters and programs, of all sorts. The temptation is to compare Scorpion with Bukowski’s short fiction but Borkowski never descends into bitterness, acerbity and grossness, for shock value alone, as Bukowski often does in his short fiction. A brief selection of poems accompanies the fiction.
Old Blood for New Sacraments collects all the published and some unpublished poems culled from Borkowski’s personal notebooks and journals, who died in 2017. Most of the books reprinted here were originally brought out by Iniquity Press and were out of print. This new, handsome book, with a fine Art cover by the author, mimicking Picasso’s illustration of Lysistrata, is a worthy tribute to the late poet.
One of the most effective techniques Borkowski utilizes is, placing poets and writers from the canon, in a modern context, such as Shelley working as a gas station attendant. The incongruity of the subject matter effectively creates an ironic sense of what life has become, of what is important and what is not. Even the poets are reduced to taking menial jobs by a society who does not value its artists. Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, one which takes the next step from devalued Art, to revering the tacky and the derivative, is: “The King of Kings of Kings.” Velvet Elvii as the new standard of Art, Elvis is the second coming of Christ. The way people deny his death and revere his memory one wonders how much traction this could gain as a religious cult.
“Sure, Elvis Presley in a musical version of the Christ story
It can’t miss. The ultimate Jesus movie. Starring Elvis
Presley....come back from the dead for one last movie
The King himself...as King of Kings....they could
call it THE KING OF KINGS OF KINGS! With an all-star,
all-dead cast in living color....everyone’s dead but the
audience. THE KING OF KINGS OF KINGS!”
Many of the other poems in the collection cover themes and ways of life, on and off he street as, the fiction does, to varying degrees of success. My favorite of these is the running late bus poem which feels to me like a modern existential parable for the ages.
I am not a big believer in collecting unfinished or work in drafts that the author had either decided to not go back to, abandoned, or otherwise fit to leave in the notebooks. I know, personally, if I left a poem in my working journal, and did not copy it for possible publication, there was a good reason. Those poems are best left where they are: forgotten and unloved. Sometimes, releasing an author’s work in the unfinished state feels like an act of revenge: think Hemingway’s posthumous novels. Three of Borkwoski’s poems, in the previously uncollected section, rise above the rest: “grasping at stones”, the oddly effective “Pluto (1930-2006)” about the declassification of Pluto as a planet, and “the moon eclipses over....”. The rest , perhaps, should have remained in the notebooks.
(from “the moon eclipsed over”
I’ve circled round
the sun for 64 years
haven’t learned a
‘cept love is better
I think he learned quite a bit , actually.
T.K. Splake, Entropy, Gage Printing for price information and ordering contact the author at t. kilgore splake 25214 Ash Street Calumet, MI 49913, 2018, 42 pages
All of Splake’s poems in recent years can be summed up as doing battle with that “rat bastard time”. In our later years, many of us succumb to a lethargy and defeatism that can be described as waiting to die. Not so Splake. He still hikes, fishes, occasionally caves, does daily treadmill sessions and is as mental agile and brimming with fresh new projects of the pen and the camera, as men half his 80 plus years. One can only marvel, and enjoy, his latest, marvelous adventures in the wild (the creative wilderness and the literal one) in this slick, professionally produced, keepsake. Cover images are of a beat up, discarded “poet’s chair” strategically placed creek side, in all kinds of weather, where the poet pauses to reflect on the world inside and out.
blood red agate
containing poet’s heart
awash in lake tides
gentle waves slowly
pushing toward shore
soon sun’s heat
polishing rocks glow
soft echoes whispering
come dance with me.
And wouldn’t you know it, a few weeks later two more titles arrived from Splake on the same day.
T. Kilgore Splake, Lost Dreams, Transcendent Zero Press, www.transcendentzeropress.org., 2017, $9.98 no pages numbers roughly twenty pages five short three line poems per page
T. Kilgore Splake, world for myself, Presa Press, www.presapress.com., 2018, $8.00 30 pages
Lost Dreams has a generous selection of Splake’s best, recent short poems. Personally, I find these what he is best at: wry, observant, ironic, blistering commentary of the world (nature) and people he comes in contact with. Two of my favorites are:
after last call
musicians warming up
electricity in the air
lost in cold whiteness
wind driven snow
poet drunk on silence
Buy a copy and choose your own favorites.
Presa Press has reinstituted their chapbook series with Splake’s book and one by Ruth Moon Kempner that I haven’t seen yet. If Splake’s collection is any indication, and I am sure that it is, this promises to be a professionally edited, fine art series. world for myself, (Splake eschews those pesky capitals and most punctuation) mixes the short poems of the previous collection and longer ones. He confesses that he is obsessed with writing, doing battle with the fickle muse, rat bastard time, and the blank page. Now in his 80’s, Splake appears to be winning the battle. The beat goes on!
Denis Johnson, The Man Among the Seals & Inner Weather, Carnegie Mellon University Press, reprint 2017 (originally published in ’69 and ’76), address not listed, 78 pages, $15.95
I mention these two brief books of Johnson’s in one volume, as I am old enough to remember knowing Johnson first for his poetry. The rerelease of these two early works, are more for the completist than for their merits as poetry. The first book, printed when he was 19, is clearly a beginner’s effort. The second shows Johnson finding a strong voice as a poet with several noteworthy efforts that were better handled in his later CMUP book, Incognito Lounge, a volume that is still available and also includes two complete works of poetry. Better yet you can buy a Selected Johnson for a large sampling without having to read all the juvenilia and lesser efforts. No matter which volume you choose, there are glimpses of the kind of genius that will mark the novels he wrote later.
Mike Meyerhofer, What to Do If You’re Buried Alive, Split Lip Press, www.splitlipress.com., 111 pages, 2017, $14.
Meyerhofer, substantial collection is divided into two sections. The first, Scars, deals extensively with a congenital defect of his legs. His “difference” results in the inevitable cruelty from other children who mock and abuse him for his deformity. As he grows older, shy, by nature his interactions with people are limited and often fraught. He begins weightlifting to compensate for his weakness, copes, and finds solace in reading and writing the kinds of poems that are the bulk of this and other collections. The second section is Tattoos and is more centered on adult, interpersonal relationships. He is continually unlucky in love but he copes, works, finds solace in his poetry. This is the stuff of life. He doesn’t quit, he moves on, he copes. The strong survive.
Brenton Booth, Punching the Teeth from the Sky, Epic Rites Press, www.epicrites.org, 52 pages, 2016, $7.50 plus shipping from CAN
Booth has made the rounds and has the scars to prove it. He has been, in no particular order: a security guard, a dishwasher, a bartender, a blackjack dealer, tour guide, cashier, salesperson and is currently a deck hand in Australia. Consequently, his poems are hardscrabble, insider’s look at the daily life of brawls, bars and babes. But it isn’t all grim and bear it ravings of a drunken mad man. Far from it. Booth sites Chekhov, understands that his life is much more than transitory tough guy stuff: he has his poems. Still he never forgets his origins and how easy it would be to slip right back into the kinds of dead ends he is trying to escape from. He sits in a bar with his former mates, the toughest guys in the place, ready to fight or fuck, whichever happens first, and writes,
“the whole table with nothing
and no chance for a better
I had the poem and a job on
the boats in the city
my only problem was coming
back to this place
where time stands still
( from Lost)
Ultimately, what separates Booth from those men, and from the “meat” poets, is his sensibility; he has the soul of an artist, mean and lean. Those are good qualities to build on.
Linda Lerner, with illustrations by Donna Joy Kerness, A Dance Around the Cauldron, Lummox Press, www.lummoxpress.com. 29 pages, 2017, $12-
Technically, these short, meditative pieces are probably prose, but have the heft and rhythm of poetry. At times, incantatory, other times deep song propulsive, Lerner takes us into the Arthur Miller Crucible world of witches and demons. Of course, as she, and Miller realized, it is not about the witches at all, but a communal sense of fear, and guilt, and ignorance. And the projection of these deep seeded prejudices onto people who are perceived as different, and anomalous, to an excepted norm. Beware all those who enter here, or deviate from the accepted paths of behavior. Lerner also makes it eminently clear, time warping from Salem to the present day, that while, historically speaking, Salem was yesterday, it very much today. We live in a time where an immature, psychologically imbalanced president’s favorite ploy is to project all if his deepest personal fears about his short comings, onto his opponents. Lerner’s book becomes a warning: ignore the madness of kings at your own peril.
Kerness provides appropriate accompanying illustrations both harsh and memorable.
Rose Mary Boehm, Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back, Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, www.kelsaybooks.com. , 65 pages, 2017, $14-
Boehm is an expatriate in the truest sense: born in Germany, a UK National who permanently resides in Peru. In previous work, both in poetry and prose, Boehm has detailed her escape from the last days of the collapse of the German Reich in the most personal terms imaginable. Here, she turns her deft poetic skills to Peru, and what she sees is a contrast of extreme poverty and beginning to be despoiled natural beauty. Ancient civilization ruins are marked by graffiti, forests are being cut down and replaced by nothing, and the only job women of an uncertain age and past can get, is as a drug mule. This is an occupation that does not end well as Rose Mary clearly shows in her poem, “Jorge Chavez Airport, Lima, Peru”.
American TV is infecting the national mind set and the commercial landscape, but, still, the old values: male dominated homes, drunken husbands beating their wives, political instability has not been altered; only the names of the oppressors have changed. Readers of Vargas Llosa, particularly his Death in the Andes, will recognize this landscape intimately described by Boehm, a landscape she tellingly reveals to be suffering from a “scoliosis of the spirit.” And what of Lady Gaga? She won’t be coming back to this poverty crippled country because she did not make her nut, that is receive the kind of profits she needed to make a return trip. The Rolling Stones won’t be coming back either: it rained on their outdoor venue, as it is wont to do in places like Peru. This is a rare book combining insight and craft of the human condition in a place most of us are not familiar with. Maybe we should be.
Kevin Carollo, Elizabeth Gregory, OHM editions an imprint of rain Taxi, www.raintaxi.org. ,
42 pages, 2018, $10-
This remarkable book is for everyone who has a mom. Or a relative who has early onset Alzheimer’s. The subject is bleak but Carollo goes for, and finds a way, to include some humor into the poems. His chosen method is related to popular music, often the Beatles and the British invasion. In fact the clever, arresting cover, is of a 45 rpm, Columbia Records style label, of a single, as they were called back then, with the title and details on the label instead of song title, author of the song, and time of the recording. It even has the little black adapter insert you needed if your 78 rpm ready record player was not equipped to handle the new technology. The choice of the music from a bygone era, besides being a reference point for the reader, is an immediate one for his mother who is losing all her memories that came after the time of the songs. This is both poignancy and immediate in affect. Each poem has a different stylistic point of view, as the words are organized, his mother’s thoughts disintegrate and begin to disappear.
“In the film Dementia, all the world’s a player
and the men and women merely stages.
Everyone dies at the end of the movie and
that’s how we know it is a tragedy."
from “Early, On Set”
In as much as all stories end in tragedy, Carollo tackles an aspect of it that is inordinately difficult and heartfelt with wisdom, élan and compassion.
Darren Demaree, Two Towns Over, Trio House Press, triohousepress.org (order through Amazon), 61 pages, 2018, $16
Demaree’s Two Towns Over continues his darkly, dystopian visions of his earlier full length book, A Fire Without Light. The narrator’s voice lives in a mythical place like Ohio that could be anywhere drugs are sold. And they are sold everywhere. Life seems predicated, on the use, acquisition of or the selling of illegal drugs. Couldn’t happen here? Oh yes, it could.
North Liberty, Ohio
“There! The enormous
that is sitting on top
of the Kohler cooler
that is full of Pepsi Cola
& two thousand dollars
worth of cocaine.
There! A smile.
How lovely, her freckles
& sincere concern
that you know exactly
Two Towns Over won the 2017 Louise Bogan Award for poetry and clearly deserved the accolades it has received. These are dark poems, told as a matter of fact manner, where the wildest, most insane acts are ordinary.
David Cope, The Invisible Keys: New and Selected Poems, Ghost Pony Press, www.ghostponypress.com. ,111pages, 2017, $16
Cope has been deeply involved in the poetry game since, at least, the seventies when the first volume he selected poems from were published. It has been a long and distinguished career that includes his editing one of the longest running small press independents, Big Scream. He evokes, and I think most effectively the voice, structure, and tone of the best of the Beat poets. Tribute Poems to his fellow poet friends including ones to Rexroth, Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Antler and his late lover, Jeff P. He is not simply a one note poet, as his lyrics, describing the Michigan landscape prove, as does a poem about the birth of his child. Other effectively rendered subjects are Art and politics. The Invisible Keys does what a good Selected should: offers a representative collection of the poet’s best work amassed over many decades of working and writing.
Wayne F. Burke, In Dreams We Chase the Lion, Alien Buddha Press, available through Amazon, 92 pages $8.99
Burke exercises his considerable narrative poetic gifts, to enter the minds of a variety of crooks, madman, killers, and unhinged combat soldiers, among other unsavory characters. His Vietnam soldiers insist, “The Only good gook is a dead gook”, his anti-hero, killer for hire, red neck bruiser, Ramrod, adjusts attitudes until he find himself in prison, where his outside life skill set is useful for his new life path. Related poems explore writers and artists whose, on the edge lifestyles, made their work possible but in the end, destroyed them. Most effective of these poems is “M.L.” , about Under the Volcano, professional drunk and one hit-wonder, genius novelist Malcolm Lowry. Van Gogh of missing ear fame, is about an original work sold at a garage sale for 30 bucks. One on Bukowski, as a kind of golem, outsider voice of the late 20th century. And Muhammad Ali as a king among man, much as Elvis was both cultural King and the spiritual father of rock ‘n roll. Other themes intertwine with these poems, most notably Burke’s hardscrabble youth that shaped the man presented in the poems. As with all “voice” poems, their effectiveness depends upon how convincing the characters are they represent. None of these appear false or “made up”, all appear real as flesh and blood.
Dawn Marar, Efflorescence, Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com 32 pages, 2018, $14.99
Efflorescence describes and inter-continental love affair, and subsequent marriage, that is politically astute, culturally revealing, and refreshingly honest. Hers is by no means a simple life. The poet marries a man from the Middle East, in these times of extreme political upheaval, here and abroad, creating a kind of cultural and political mixed message. These poems examine the depths of the cultural divide on every level from language, in “American Sampler of Arabic Vocabulary,”, to cultural “Lowly and Happy Bitterness”, to the political “Efflorescence” and “Heavenly Bodies”. All of these poems offer a richness and depth of understanding that is rare in any collection of modern poetry, nowhere more effectively than “Cue the Leaf Blower” which channels all the cultural, political and historical elements in terse, staccato language each line as sharp as rifle retorts,
“Curse its drone-the air
In which it thrives. Curse the sidewalk
Blown free of twig and leaf and detritus,
Child and dog chased
Too. Curse the drone, air
Cursed where it flies. Drone on
Generals, Gnats. Drones.
Received, Recommended, Blurbed:
Benjamin Goluboff, Ho Chi Minh: A Speculative Life in Verse and Other Poems, Urban Farmhouse Press, www.urbanfarmhosuepress.com, 80 pages, 2017, $?
Benjamin Goluboff writes the best, the strongest kinds of narrative poems. His are the kind that makes history immediate, alive and real, even when he is speculating about the life of Ho Chi Minh. Equally as fascinating as his portrait of Ho, is a brief life of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg gleaned from a series of photographs of the poet and his friends. A concluding section, of loosely connected miscellaneous poems, takes you from the tagged streets of Chicago, to the battlefield of the Civil War, to an imagined photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his circle. All are written with a deft hand and consummate skill.
Allison Thorpe, The Shepherds of Tenth Avenue, 35 pages, 2018, $?
Using rich, lush language, Allison Thorpe, in The Shepherds of Tenth Avenue, creates word paintings: a veritable chiaroscuro of youth.Days are redolent with blossoms and scent, nights, a garden with a serpent in it. Gradually, she reveals the serpent is her father whose ideaof employment seems to be taking oral inventories of bars and storing theresults of his work in his liver. While the youth she describes is often fraught, her poems about: craving a lime green bikini, dreaming of Fabian, plus wild girls Janis and Gracie, and of misadventures with hair dye, inject a readilyidentifiable, wry sense of embarrassment at: stupid-things-done-when-young.
We can survive trauma and abuse. Thorpe shows us in this collection there is a real art to it.
Mark Swan, today can take your breath away, Shelia na gig Editions, www.shelianagigblog.com, 2018, 60 pages, $15-
Marc Swan’s latest collection celebrates gifts of life in its many forms: conversation over dinner with friends, daily walks on a beach, Being in all its natural glory. In this he is like Ray Carver, a poet he references in a discussion with an older woman, that ends in silence and confusion. Loved ones grow old, get Alzheimer’s, and are visited in nursing homes.
The process of life slowly integrates, much is lost along the way,
but the celebration of life continues: today can take your breath away.
Edward A Dougherty, 10048, Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com price and publication date not yet set as of this writing. Look for it. You will not be disappointed.
What John Hershey did with Hiroshima, Edward A. Dougherty has done for 9-11. 10048 is an elegy for the World Trade Center, the best kind of poetic history: one which is unvarnished, accurate, compassionate, and poignant. The poet says that no one had a metaphor for the attack on, and collapse of, the towers. “It sounded just like what it was.” Dougherty repeatedly asked, “What changed after 9-11?” The answer is, everything changed. All of us old enough to remember that day have stories to tell: Who we knew? What we saw. Where we were. 10048 is the story of a day that began when the zip code, the book’s title, represented a place, and by the end of that day, was no more. This is the book not only of our times but for all ages.
Amy Barone, We Became Summer, NYQ Books, www.nyq.org., 92 pages, 2018, $15.95
NYQ shows just how versatile and eclectic a poetry book publisher they are with Amy Barone’s, We Became Summer. In this age of polemically charged diatribes, angst ridden confessions, metaphorical charges into Dystopian land, once thought to be science fiction but now has become everyday reality, Barone brings us the kind of poems we can read at leisure. And I mean that sincerely, as a good thing. A real, good thing. Amy is the kind of person, who happens to be a poet, who you would like to meet, share a cup of coffee with, or a glass of wine, and just talk.
Her book is divided into five parts, each thematically specific. Section one is Heat, reflecting about her childhood and young adult experiences. She reflects about a possible relationship, “Who doesn’t want to believe/ this time you’re the one.” Later, observes , “We trusted strangers to take us/wherever we wanted to go.” “Those were the days, my friends,” as Mary Hopkins observed in her songs of youth. Days when a young woman could hitchhike and expect to get to the destination they had in mind. If you think that could happen now, you missed the second half of the 60’s. Still, they were good times while they lasted.
Nostalgia is a key component to much of this work. Nostalgia is probably the most maligned emotive response to looking back and evaluating the past. There is a difference between nostalgia, and cheap sentimentality, and I think Barone straddles the line effectively. In fact, I believe she adheres to what John Banville said in his memoir about Dublin, “The present is where we live, while the past is where we dream.” And there are dreams here, especially in the final section: dreams that confound and tantalize, as do the poems that relate them.
As I said previously, she is the kind of person you might like to know, and what she has chosen to share, has a universal element to it. All is not golden Summer memories, as the time she spent in Italy, visiting distant relatives, and experiencing new places. There is a bad, gorgeous, boy friend, who she cannot rid herself of, despite his drug abuse. There are times when she is abandoned by other children at beach parties because she was not sufficiently one of them. Loneliness is an emotional state that never completely heals.
Finally, she returns home to depict her beloved parents, spends years juggling work and providing primary care for her mother. But despite it all, her most cherished memories seem encapsulated by the two “soundtrack” poems, one each, for her mother and father. Those and the poem, “Protected’, of her mother and sister circa 1948, a poem that explains the cover. It is a framed photo placed above an upright piano keyboard, images suggest leaving and returning, a suitcase and a jacket, but mostly the suggestion is of that cherished place we call home.
Received and recommended
Mather Schneider, A Bag Of Hands, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 2018, 31 pages, $7
Schneider’s book is one of three chapbooks published from the 2017 contest that has, so far, in its two years of publishing, produced an impressive eclectic group of diverse voices and poetic visions. Title poem will make a lasting impression.
RD Armstrong, Orphaned Words, Lummox Press, www.lummoxpress.com. 2018, 226 pages, $20
Subtitled, Forgotten Words from a Haphazard Life, these lyrical pieces are what didn’t fit into earlier volumes Fire and Rain 1,2 and On/Off the Beaten Path. The author describes them as “the dirty laundry” and some of them are a bit dirty, raunchy and self-revelatory. Predictably, there are some less than wonderful pieces among the gems that hadn’t previously made the cut. Still , this is a collection worth reading and Armstrong chips in with a respectable batting average. No one bats a 1000.
Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org. , 2017, 89 pages, $16.95
This book simply has to be read to be fully appreciated. Probably two or more times. The Wolf Akbar calls a wolf is addiction, is the alcoholism that consumes major parts of his earlier life. As the poems show, the poet has moved on to produce a book that is full of unique, pyrotechnical feats of poetic wonder. These are stylistically challenging, relentless and always driven by a restless energy that can’t help but dazzle a serious reader of poetry. Not every poem succeeds but the ones that do can blow your socks off.
Jared Smith, Shadow Within the Roaring Fork, Flowstone Press, available Amazon, 94 pages 2017, $16-
Smith’s latest collection is far ranging, evoking place in a manner reminiscent of Jeffers; a spiritual luminescence suggested by the landscape, one that is at once deeply personal, but also universal. In one poem alone he conjures a, from the-air view of the sky that readers of Hugo, Jeffers, and Dickey, and their World War II experiences, will recognize. These are intense and deeply imagistic poems, a suggestion that life is a transitional place where imagination meets experience and wonderful conjunctions take place. This is essential reading for all serious lovers of poetry
E.F. Schrader, Chapter Eleven, Partisan Press, PO Box 11417, Norfolk VA 23517 36 pages, 2018, $10
Partisan Press is the publisher of the working man’s, politically activist poetry magazine, Blue Collar Review. Schrader’s impassioned chapbook vividly illuminates the plight of the average American working person: as an oppressed minority, at the mercy of the unfeeling, faceless, corporate world. These poems are clearly felt, anyone who works knows that he speaks from the heart and the wallet. Political poetry can be polemical and therefore lacking in Art. These are down and dirty in the work place, the bureaucrat’s office, the banks and everywhere else a person is unable to get satisfaction, that is denied the right to live a meaningful and economically viable life. These are not polemical, clearly political, but an implied politics, suggested by real situations, actual people, and the lack of empathy that characterizes the work place today.
Maureen Seaton, Fisher, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawrecne.com. 72 pages, @028, $15.95
Seaton’s carefully crafted, deeply felt collection, largely deals with the suicide of lover and the aftermath. How to you recover from such a soul shattering experience? Mostly you don’t. Not completely anyway. You do try and move on and create a life subsequent to the act itself. You find solace in poetry. You write a book like Fisher.
Clutch 2018, edited by Robert M Zoschke, 10781 Birchwood Drive, Sister Bay, WI 54234 222 pages , $19-
This is the second issue of fine eclectic journal of poetry, prose and Art. Editor Zoschke continues his fine independent journal editing with an impressive array of writers and photography including work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose image graces the front cover of this excellent issue. There are poems galore from late small press greats Dave Church, Herschel Freeman. Maia Penfold, Lew Welch and Albert Huffstickler. Among the living represented are T.K. Splake (poems and photos) Antler, Edward Mycue, John Bennett. Ed Markwoski, yours truly. and many others equally of note. A long two part prose piece on life and times in Trumplandia by the editor make this a rare and worthwhile must for all readers interested in small press print journals. There are damn few left and you can count on one hand new print journals that have graced the scene in recent years. A few you should read along with Clutch and Raindog’s Lummox annual would include Slipstream, Big Scream, Iconoclast, Nerve Cowboy, and Abbey. Keep the faith and subscribe to the magazines.
New from your Esteemed Editor
Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance
Chapbook, 32 pgs., $8.00
Available from the author or Presa Press, http://presapress.com/books/three-farmers
“Catlin delivers each poem as an utterly believable, albeit sad, portrait of what Fate itself does to humans…replete with moving and penetrating detail, is more than fodder for thought.” – Janet I. Buck
“Alan Catlin’s poetry is often grim, focusing on people who have gone off the rails either deliberately, stupidly, or from substance abuse or lack of self control, or just plain having the deck stacked against them.” – Charles Rammelkamp