Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
T.K. Splake, Final Curtain, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, 130 pages, 2018 no price listed.
This is a summing up; a life history kind of book. Splake cites Lummox publisher R.D. Armstrong for the idea of using material that did not fit in any of his many previous collections.( Armstrong had done this in his collection Orphaned Words.) In a real sense this is a posthumous collection. Splake indicates he had left instructions for his literary editor , Dave Engel, to publish these poems after the poet had passed on. So, in that sense alone, this is a very rare collection indeed. Splake is still going strong and so are the production of new works.
Readers familiar with Splake’s world will see many of the same themes, and personal history, that Splake has explored in great depth in previous collection.: the academic career he abandons, along with the family he was trying to support with soul draining work, the several failed marriages, including a final one to a “psycho, “ and his new poet’s life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he does battle with the elusive muse. As with previous collections, I prefer the earlier, shorter poems to the later, longer ones, which cover much of the same ground he had in earlier books. But what would a summing up be without the personal history, familiar or no?
dribbling trembling bodies
dentures in water glass
cabinet beside bed
wire basket walkers
organized hallway rows
nursing home retreat
between heaven and hell
Obviously, this is not the way Splake has gone in his old age as he remains an active hiker, tread miller, photographer of exotic locations in and about the Copper Country in the UP.
T. K. Splake, Windows of the Soul, 24 pages, 2018 contact the author for purchasing at email@example.com
The latest Splake offering is comprised of a series of haiku like poems, all 3 lines in length,” like syllogisms”, as Jonothan Church has observed, roughly five to a page. The poet covers his usual subjects: the emptiness of most people’s banal, device oriented world, the vagaries of aging ,and the wonders of nature. You can the feeling of sitting beside the poet at his favorite café savoring a cup of “morning existentials”, as he composed a new round of poems. It’s a good feeling.
circle of folding chairs
some church basement
salvation in Styrofoam cup
busy collecting likes
sad face page celebrity
sucking wet pussy
god’s sweet nectar
soul lost in cunt
found her thing
stepped into jeans
hooked bra and left
He may be old but, as the bring out your dead peasant stuffed in a tumbrel headed for the graveyard says in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, “I’m not dead yet.” He still has urges. Don’t we all.
Which leads to the extraordinary Brain Lace.
Katrina Bush, Brain Lace, Bare Back Press, www.barebackpress.com., 46 pages, 2018, $7-
How do you follow up an unapologetic, sexually graphic, finely crafted book of poems of your sex work in a brothel in Amsterdam? You expand the dimension of sex into cyberspace, that’s how.
The cover of Brain Lace is of the upper torso and partial head of animatronic person of indeterminate sex,(probably female) sprouting or should I say, exuding, a kind of string like substance into the ephemera.(nerve tendrils?) The suggestion is, and the poems affirm this, that interconnections are now made in the nebulous cloud world where there is no need for actual touching. Sex is a kind of brain wave interconnection that cuts out the middleman ( middle person?) of the body.
The machine stirs
The camera is on
His male brooding
One of those dark
At each end-wasteland
Our breeding ground
I’m pouring wine over the laptop keys
Down the wires
To intoxicate you
To fuck with you
Dressed up for you
Your stress is visible
And fuck with you she does. And infiltrate. And intoxicate. She takes us and “him” way past the what- are-you-wearing phone sex talk, cuts out the need for visual images, and goes right for the brain. Bush gives us a whole new meaning to cyberporrn by creating a cybersex. You may question her extrapolations ( which I do not) but you will have to admit, if there is one subject she knows it is sex , how to manipulate and to create the image, the result that She wants. Read this book. Then read it again and ask yourself, is this really far out? I don’t think so nor should you. Visit her website also at karinabush.com. Bush is redefining what visual poetry is also into a kid of performance art.
J.R. Solonche, In Short Order, Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, www.kelsaybooks.com., 109 pages, 2018, npl
, I Emily Dickinson & Other Found Poems, Deerbrook Editions, www.deerbrookeditions.com., 73 pages, 2018, $16.95
These are two distinctive collections, one of artistic miniatures in words and the other Found poems. I am only mildly interested in Found poetry, as much of it reads like cutouts or erasures, a form that totally eludes me as poetry. Still Solonche convinces me there is much to appreciate in a form I previously disdained, even when he uses familiar material.
In Short Order is at times aphoristic, always observant, often related to nature, but not exclusively. He delves into the art world and is often earthy as in the poem “Bar Talk. This is a poem I can relate to, having heard enough nonsense said in bars to last lifetimes, including re-incarnations. Some are like haiku, but not quite, some merely clever,including a few clunkers, there are a hundred of these after all. No one is perfect. Still, I found myself reading this collection straight through, and thoroughly enjoying it. Rarely does a poet display a sense of humor, a good eye, and a serious intent , when he chooses to. This one falls in an indefinable place somewhere in between all of those description and remains one of my favorites
In My Dream
In my dream.
I solved a great problem.
The problem had to do with darkness.
The solution had to do with dawn.
This was all I remembered when I awoke.
Oh, one more thing. The president was there.
I Emily Dickinson begins with a nine part poem of “I----“ all lines taken from the index of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1960 edition. It is a wise choice as an opening, as it virtually explodes the preconceived notion of what Found poetry generally is. I’m fairly certain that this is an inspired guide to rethink what your preconceived notions of Emily Dickinson might be as well. I confess that making the Known Unknowns speech by Donald Rumsfeld into verse was my favorite of the collection. Rumsfeld the Zen koan master. Who knew? Oddly I was reminded of the O Holy Cow the surprisingly readable poetry of Phil Rizzuto, which rendered his idiosyncratic broadcasts, often more enigmatic than Rumsfeld’s, but in a very different way, into verse.
While I loved this book, for its verve, oddball sense of humor, and down to earth sensibility, it was not without reservations. I recalled a poem by John Yau where he suggests titles for non-existent art works ( I believe though it could just as easily be poems without text) which actually do not need context as the title says it all . Some examples of titles that outstrip the content would be: “Ballad of Redundant Churches of England”, “Voice of the Mourning Dove”, and “The Ballad of the Beer” (though, I confess, I enjoyed that one immensely Many new flavors with poetic possibilities). That said the book titles from the non-fiction list of the New York Times produces profound effects. One of my favorites is from NY State Driver’s Manual,
Stalling on the Railroad Tracks
If a train
your seat belt,
of the vehicle,
as far away
as you can
from the tracks.
Who could argue with that?
Apropos of Whatever. As I was reading a book called Grown up Anger, by Daniel Wolff, referencing connection between Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Splake’s place of residence, Calumet, Michigan. A “massacre” happened in 1913 there, when someone yelled Fire into a crowded hall at a Christmas party for Union workers, organizers and their families and some 60 children were killed. Oddly the connection between this tragic event unites Dylan and Guthrie and has a lot to say about the Labor Movement . Not coincidentally, the Folk Music , often more protest music than hum along down home tunes, was irrevocably changed by this incident. The stirring paeans for the working man that came out of the Depression changed music history well into the 60’s. While reading that book, I came across a couple of quotes from Guthrie that seemed to fit Solonche’s notion of the Found poem .
but it ain’t
natural to be
broke, is it?
An outlaw does
one big thing.
Dies for what he
Goes down shooting.
Domenic Scopa, The Apathy of Clouds, Future Cycle Press, futurecycle.org , 65 pages, 2018, $15.95 also available as a kindle book.
I first encountered Domenic Scopa’s work in my capacity as editor of this magazine. I was immediately impressed by his fearlessness as a poet. Here was a young man, relatively new to writing, and submitting his work, sending out the most intense, personal poems of sexual abuse imaginable. I literally felt gut punched by what he had to say and his ability to confront his terrible inner demons. These were stories most of us would never admit to much less, share. Personally, it would take me years to enter a similar locked room in myself that was holding back my writing of a traumatic experience, that Domenic began with. With his first, substantial collection, Scopa proves he is a poet of range, depth and considerable skill.
The first section of The Apathy of Clouds, begins with family history. His father is an ambulance driver who totals his vehicle and subsequent fire, inspires a memory of the abuse Domenic suffered at the hands of male babysitter when he was seven. His parents separate and he and his mother move to an apartment, clearly a step down for them. He witnesses the final moments of a cousin as a child dying in a children’s hospital. Later, he sees a painter working on a fishing shack who plunges into the water and drowns, an incident that fills him with guilt for not helping. All of these pieces are rendered with an intense precise wording that brings you to the place of the tragedy and guides you and into the scene then steps back and allows you to consider the scene. This is what good poetry is all about.
Much of the second section deals with the poet’s journey to Europe, Prague and Krakow, in particular, during the time of the Occupy movement. Here his poetic concerns become wider than the more intense, closely observed personal poems. He arrives at Terezin, the notorious camp now in the Czech Republic,
“Past the gate where convoys spilled
their cargo of prisoners
past concrete cells
too confined to sit down
and rooms where doctors
tired to calculate
the pinnacle of pain
the body could take
before it gave out...”
from “The Swimming Pool”
The pain is so precisely delineated, so infinitely careful in its wording, you know the poet feels it as if it were his own pain. This section bristles with intense longing and understanding of the suffering inherent in the human condition. This is the work of a young man wise beyond his years.
The final section returns to the poet’s tortured youth, to the time of his abuse. The reader feels what he has suffered keenly. Still, you know now, he is more than a sum of his abuses. Domenic has become a man now and a poet of real gifts.
“And I don’t hear anything
as I try to leave the flesh behind
and open out
like a skydiver,
my arms and legs spreading
beyond their limits
as the apathy of clouds and wind
cuts through me.”
from “The Apathy of Clouds”
Pat Mottola, After Hours, Five Oaks Press, www.five-oaks-press.com, 85 pages, 2018, npl
Mottola picks up the life and times of a modern woman that she described with such verve, insight and energy in her previous Five Oaks title, Under the Red Dress. Her work is a no holds barred, (pun not intended but apt) of a woman who makes no apologies (nor should she) for closing down bars, liking lean, hard men who drink and dance and enjoy the same kind of sensuous free expression that she does.
“ I love those men with whiskey on their breath,
the ones who seem to slur my name so well,
but when I take them home I can’t forget
the boys who held my hand back in high school.
They’re very far apart, but for an hour
I try to make the most of men I find
when I’m most vulnerable , in corner bars-
they make sad memories disappear from mind.”
(from Sonnet for a One Night Stand)
Of course, it’s not all sugar and honey, Maker’s Mark and Champagne,
“They gulp Guinness from a glass.
I sip my gin and wait.
They trip like fools playing leapfrog,
drooling toward me. Soon
their loose, slurring lips
slip, admit they are out on parole,
did their time, spit pick up lines
like crimes in progress.”
(from the title poem)
Despite all the frogs in the local swimming hole, she admits she’ll be back. yes, there is a lot of partying and a carpe diem ethos expressed, but it is not all fun and games. She examines the life of a Vietnam draftee after the war, a subject she explores in greater depth in her previous book. Inherent in the bar scene is a sense of loneliness as an evocation of the sad, tragic death of Billie Holiday affirms. Mottola knows the other side of the neon lights is when the lights are turned off and there is nowhere left to go but home, a place that can be the loneliest of all.
Jack Phillips Lowe, flashbulb danger, Middle Island Press, PO Box 354, West Union, WV, 26456, 209 pages, 2018, npl
Jack makes no bones about it: he is not so much a poet as a story teller. Both in the witty preface, and the several pages long interview that follow the poems, Jack assures his readers that you will not find deep intellectual probing, fancy language or verse forms, but good old fashioned, well, stories. Hopefully, amusing ones.
This selected works is divided into four sections ranging from early work, late 80’s to 2000, and more mature work that spans the new millennium. As with most writers, Lowe’s work becomes more sophisticated and more polished as he refines his first person voice. This section is distinguished by a poem about road rage starring Stan 65 after his vanity license plate. Stan is an erratic, even a dangerous driver, and the poet speculates as to what his motives are. At first the poet giving him the benefit of the doubt before concluding, as we do , that , basically, Stan is a garden variety asshole. Less successful, despite a strong set up, is a dreadful open mike of ego strokers, self-interested, self-involved losers whose self-worth far outstrips their talent. We’ve all been there and struggled to stay awake, often wistfully dreaming of a human mute button that would end the display on stage once and for all. I confess that the resolution felt like overkill when a re-incarnated Walt Whitman takes the stage and is pelted with beer cans by yabbo, no neck, frat geeks, who take objection to his making an allusion that could be construed as homosexual in nature.
The second section is the middle years prior to 2010 continuing Jack’s facetious musing about poetry, and life in general, highlighted by the concluding poem about a “terrorist” who dares to enter a Web Café, sit at a table and actually Read. Imagine that! He is surrounded by the usual web addicts trying to download games, news sites, e-mail messages and the usual time wasters that are gradually shrinking the brain and making America stupid again. Eventually he makes one convert who is intrigued by Sandburg, a book of poems, and the possibility that there is more out there but the latest game or card playing ap. It may not be great art but it makes a valid point.
Sections three is his mature work and is a reprint of his previous book, Cold Case Cowboys, also published by Middle Island. I refer you to an earlier review I wrote of this book which I enjoyed for its honest, wry portrayal of real people at work, in the bars and in the bedroom. The highlight of this book was, and remains the ultra-serious, true life story of the television newscaster who committed suicide back in the 70’s.
The final section is devoted to all new poems, These are the strongest of the lot, ranging from the ultra-weird Freudian dream poem featuring Paul McCartney in a starring cameo. I am a sucker for anything Marianne Faithfull related, so I was drawn to the “Girl on the Motorcycle”, a reference to her 60’s movie of the same name, that shattered her virginal girl with the sweet voice (think “This Little Bird and remember she was riding on the back of Mick Jagger’s motorcycle all through the end of the 60’s and she wasn’t a practicing virgin while she was doing it.). The movie is truly awful but the her nude scenes are priceless. Read Keith Richards autobiography for his take on Marianne Faithfull naked if you need to know more.
Two poems are truly outstanding in this section, the title one featuring a jilted girlfriend rearranging her former lovers Bob Dylan recordings at random, in their slip cases and he doesn’t seem to notice, or care, preferring the chaos of random Dylan. My favorite is Jack musing with a neighbor about their respective writing “careers” The neighbor derides Jack’s published poems claiming that his letter to an editor printed in a Marvel Comic will endure because, well, Marvel Comics are forever and poetry is ephemeral. We both concede, reluctantly, the neighbor had a point.
Anne Champion, The Good Girl is Always a Ghost, Black Lawrence Press,www.blacklawrencepress.com.
98 pages, 2018, $15.95
Champion’s compelling voice is ardently feminist but not so much strident as empathetic. She speaks for the dozens of abused, misused, tragic women her poems examine in depth. Given the institutionalized disrespect afforded women credibly accusing men of heinous crimes, men in power, or about to be on The Supreme Court, so much in the news of late, these poems are particularly relevant and topical .
Ranging from Indra Gandhi, to Nicole Brown Simpson, to Lady Di, to Eva Braun, these women are assassinated, discriminated against, physically and emotionally abused, often for no other reason than they were women. Some of these, such as Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, are political figures, whose position as head of state have complicated lives dominated by overcoming enormous odds to accede to power, knowing full well, their positions, and lives, can be taken from them at any time. As Florence Nightingale observes, in another context,
“....You’d think something so powerful must be male
but I’ve seen what men are made of,”
They are made of mortal flesh just the way women are.
As might be expected famous suicide poets are not excluded. Champion avoids the trap of glorifying the lives and deaths of Plath and Sexton, for instance, but provides what can only be described as virtuosos performance recreating the poetic voice of Sylvia Plath in her tribute poem, “The Most Terrible Thing.” Sexton prepares for a graceful end in the back seat of her car, dressed and made up for death. The last line of her Amy Winehouse poem says it best,
“Death does that: polishes memory,
sands self-destruction into a smooth grace,
gifts a generosity that life
never granted, a perfect orb of sea glass.”
All of these poems are tragic, with the possible exception of a tender, even whimsical poem, about Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart, dressed to the nines, leaving a fancy Do, to fly into the night, for a brief respite from duty, and for a spot of fun. Many of these are punches to the gut as the last line of Jackie O’s poem. Quoting it feels like a spoiler so I won’t reveal it . Lovers of finely controlled, intimate persona poems, should find this book for themselves as no one since Ai has done this better.
John Goode, Beauty and the Unrequited Landscape, Rain Mountain Press, www.rainmountainpress.com,
115 pages, 2018, $12-
Reading John Goode is like being assaulted by all the weapons the language has to offer. His poems, especially in his first Rain Mountain book, Graduating from Eternity, are staccato paced, stiletto sharp, with stark visions of Armageddon, personal and apocalyptic, much like the early Bob Dylan poem/song riffs. Often he uses words like a bludgeon to shock the reader’s sensibility. When it works, which it often does, the effect can be mind boggling, when it doesn’t, it feels as if you’ve heard something was happening here but you don’t know what it is (was), to paraphrase early Dylan. One important distinction between Goode’s wild screeds and many of the poet manqué MBA monsters of the new poetry wave is: his screeds feel authentic, as opposed to the others, that feel, well made to impress. I don’t think Goode cares one way or another how impressed you are. He’s a bartender after all.
And why does that matter? For one thing he gets what bartending is all about. Speaking in his interview at the end of his new book, “But also, the job is physical, and can be exhausting. Not construction job exhaustion. But draining. A young man’s wilderness on an older man’s feet.” Perhaps, that kind of observation explains a slight mellowing of the language in the new book, but still out there and vibrant. The greatest risk of writing on the edge, the way Goode does, is that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, which is sometimes the case.
He knows that being a bartender means, like being a poet, seeing from “the other side” , keeping hours opposite of most of the rest of the world, of knowing a kind of offbeat calm that comes only from wandering the city streets at five thirty in the morning or waiting of a bus at street corner watching the sun rise over the city, after work, as I have more times than I care to think about.
If you don’t care for a line like,
“we drank newspapers under the light
of a bleeding television.”
( from “From Here to Romania”)
you won’t like Goode and then you would miss,
“the tattoos that skinned him
had no feelings”
(from “Late Night Work Shadows”)
though I could have done without
“his wife’s root canal breathing
in his ear”
(from “Bartending Through the Smooth Jazz Depression”)
which feels to me like a line Dylan would have cut out of “Like a Rolling Stone," (that is if he actually cuts lines out of anything). And, yet, the poems succeeds despite the missteps. You have to make the first tentative steps in order to fall and then walk later on.
These poems beg to be read aloud. The author’s photo shows him at dusty cavernous venue backed by musicians, which, I suspect, is the ideal way to see and hear him read. It’s probably exhausting and draining to do and hear, but you feel good having done it.
Apropos of nothing much: Goode gets plus points for the line “dusty old Catlin’s” I think that might be the second or, possibly, third time ever I have seen that reference to the old, surgical tool: a Catlin being a long, extremely sharp blade primarily used in the Civil War, though I gather there may still be some in use.
John Stupp, Summer Job, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, www.mainstreetrag.com., 41 pages, 2018 $12.
Summer Job, is the winner of Main Street’s Cathy Bowers Smith chapbook contest. Stupp’s poems are firmly in the tradition of working man poems made popular by such renowned poets as Jim Daniels and Philip Levine. As Stupp is a young man about to head off to college, his factory employment brought to mind Robert Cooperman’s experience as the new guy working in his father’s millinery plant in his recent work, City Hat Frame Company (Aldritch Preess). Both young men receive an invaluable lessons in life in the most unexpected ways.
Stupp’s comrades in the foundry, a Ford plant in the late 60’s, gamble their paychecks away, arrive at work drunk or become so on the job, and brag about their sexual conquests in ways that the young man could not previously have imagined. Stupp quickly learns that in order to survive , you have to adapt, go with the flow and, above all, stay out of the poker games. The language is crisp, no nonsense, and always on point. The foundry is hell and the workers are the doomed, toiling among the flames for modest wages given the work they do. Henry Ford would have been proud, the bottom line is so much important than the bodies in the factories.
These poems recall the daily toil of the best of the working man poets, Fred Voss, who deserves a much larger audience than the one he has now. Stupp could easily work alongside him in the poetry factory, even if doesn’t make precision airplane parts.
“If you work
the annealing furnace
where the foreman can see you
I will pray for you
if you take salt pills over and over
and watch the temperature rise from 90 degrees to 125
that can blow your mind even in August
I will pray for you-
so much salt can’t be good
but you don’t know better in ‘68”
(from “Foundry Prayer”)
Three from Iniquity Press,/Vendetta Books, PO Box 906 Island Heights NJ 08732, firstname.lastname@example.org., 2018 None of these have prices listed
It would be difficult to imagine three more different books than these three. The first is The Surrealist Explains His Smile, Selected Poems of Michael Pingarron , 1982-2006, 181 pages, Tunnels in the Snow, by Arpad Farkas translated from the Hungarian by Paul Sohar, 96 pages, and Fuck Factory, short prose by John Lunar Richey, 69 pages.
The Surrealist Explains His Smile, is a substantial work, spanning a long career by a not well-known poet who died in 2008. An extended preface of tributes, and of a biographical nature, seem much more sincere than most, as they are by best friends, his wife and proofreader, and other writers who knew him and encouraged him to continue writing, despite handicaps related to a dreadful accident in mid-life. His earlier works puts one in mind of Lamantia and, even the Greek poet, Ritsos. His work here is surrealist in an absurd way and occasionally could be seen as Dada influenced. What distinguishes this work is his sense of humor, knowing that the absurd is essentially comical. As the collection develops, echoes of political discontent and raging against the machine begin to manifest themselves.
In the later years, Charles Simic comes to mind as an influence :dark humor with a distinct sense of the incongruity of language, experience and life. At times he turns to elegy to lament the passing of a friend and to satire as the poem “the florida epic” shows,
“Florida’s still a jungle.
Ponce de Leon didn’t find the Fountain of Youth,
just alligators in the everglades.
slashing with machetes
they’re counting the vote
old people who retire here
and alligators in sheep’s clothing
loading cannons in Spanish fortresses.”
That about sums up the Florida experience for me.
While some of the later poems descend into political polemic, they do not detract from the impact of a truly versatile poet, one whose engaging personality, and sense of the absurdly humorous, who deserves to be more widely read.
It is clearly impossible to judge the accuracy of a translation of a language you do not read at all. Given Sohar’s extensive experience as a reliable, good poet and a native speaker of Hungarian, I am assuming the translation is a good one. Furthering that observation, is the sense one has of the translated poet having a distinct style and personality. Idioms are impossible to reproduce ,but there are very few moments when one feels the translator is reaching for an expression. As the poet develops an evolving style, one that does vary ,the reader enjoys a richness of language and well expressed thoughts.
I was especially struck by a sentence from the prologue about Farkas’s work,
“ A significant part of contemporary poetry is infested with a new linguistic
fungus; vaguely conceived sentences. Arpad Farkas is known for his sincerity, clarity and bravery of his declarative sentences.”
The earlier poems are flush with images from nature. There is much anthropomorphic imagery that is both energetic and lush. Poems feel as if they are sneaking across the border from everyday life into surrealistic territory though with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
“The plaster elf is on the watch,
eavesdropping on every sound.
His report now should be ready
to banish anyone around.”
(from “The Plaster Elf in Our Garden”)
The images are clever, the report, mock serious, but the reader should be careful not to disregard the history of Hungary, the nations that were under Soviet rule, where intellectuals are distrusted, poets reviled and detained, and everyone, and everything, is a possible informer.
One senses a strong undercurrent of implied political meanign in the imagery in many of these mock serious poems. The poet ascends to heaven on balloons in the “Quarry Miner Poem” but from where? And at what cost? The “Blood Soaked Sun” is a devastating political poem whose visceral imagery is shocking because it is based on a horrible truth.
There is much blending of myth and folk tales into modern day life. The past is never past despite the best efforts of barbaric political forces to suppress knowledge and history. The most affecting poem in the collection is “Mother’s Lost Hair” which is a lament for his mother who has lost her hair during cancer treatment.
“The rays were meant to cure you bust instead
they bombed the hair off your head,
cut down your dense ornament,
my childhood refuge in its tent,
a forest in a secret land,
alive to touch, strand by strand,
and yet a screen against all threats,
all troubles and upsets;”
(from “For His Mother’s Lost Hair”)
Few poems have expressed a lament for a living loved one better than this Farkas tribute.
Fuck Factory” by John Lunar Richey is a collection of unabashedly, raunchy stories, putatively set around the no tell motel, The Triborough Motel. The desk clerk protagonist, refers to his place of employment, aptly, as the fuck factory. The first half of this brief collection a, a mere 69 pages, adhere to the comic possibilities of the setup . Richey make great use of the lisping man’s transformation of his job title from desk clerk to death clerk. For awhile there are actual characters and plot lines of a believably realistic nature. One, even ,is touching, involving a youthful, attractive (unspoiled?) prostitute the clerk picks up on the street after a night of watching triple x in- house porn movies. The girl pleads with the clerk to sleep with her after the trick, as she hates sleeping alone. A request he denies. Was he smart to do so or callous? After years of working his particularly sleazy job, one can understand his reluctance given the nature of the inevitable pimps, but she seems so sincere....you decide.
The second half makes no pretense of plot or story beyond the fantastic ,which rapidly degenerates (?) to the level of pornography. If you have ever seen Screw magazine you know what the audience is he is aiming for. Many of these were originally published there. The title says it all.
These are no holds barred, clearly defined pornography with no socially redeeming qualities whatsoever. These are the real deal, not some soft core porn, simulated sex, like the movies we used to watch on Thursdays nights in college that featured stars like Donna in the Summer, Jody Foster Child, and Natalie Would, all characters in Richey’s collection. I wouldn’t be surprised if Richey wrote some of those movies or starred in them before he graduated to hard porn. Maybe he was Gregor Samsa, a woodsman, who was featured in many of those movies. I always wondered which guy he was.
I mistakenly referred to Mr. Richey as deceased in a review I wrote of New Jersey poets that Dave Roskos is printing. I apologize, the rumor I started about his death, is greatly exaggerated.
Clint Margrave, Salute the Wreckage, NYQ Books, www.nyq.org., 93 pages, 2016, npl
A man holds a sparkler in his hand. We can’t see him very well as our eyes are drawn to the bright object. If we look closer, the face of the person holding the sparkler is a man but the image is blurry. What is he celebrating? (if anything) Where is he? Why here on the cover of Clint’s excellent, second book with NYQ, following The Early Death of Man? These are the questions Clint’s poems ask continually throughout both questions. It is not a coincidence that one of the strongest poems in Wreckage evokes the immense epic work by Gauguin,
The baby is not an answer.
The baby is a question.
The couple picking apples is not an answer.
The couple picking apples is a question.
The man with his arms raised in not an answer.
The man with his arms raised is a question.
The statue of a god is not an answer.
The statue of a god is the question,
Don’t let the ants take your body Gauguin.
Suicide is not the answer,
but it is the question.”
(from Paul Gauguin: D’ou Venons Nou? Que Sommes Nous?
Ou Allons Nous (1897)
The early death of his father is recurrent theme in both books, perhaps more so in the second than the first, which indicates time does not heal all wounds, not if you ask eternal questions. A failed marriage to a woman he didn’t really know, is evoked as well. Relationships are a problem for the poet, but whose relationships aren’t? There are nights in bars, casual pickups, but the tone is always energetic, often good natured and humorous, and always suffused with a deep knowledge of literature and life.
“Where Do We Come From?
Where Are We?
Where Are We Going?”
These are the eternal questions all true poets and artists ask. Our work reflects our searching. May Clint’s quests for answers continue to prove fruitful as they do in both of these books.
Robert Cooperman, Their Wars, Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, www.kelsaybooks.com., 104 pages, 2018, $17-
Cooperman’s latest book continues his uses personal histories of family in love, war, work and death. Their Wars, shifts voices from Sam, newly inducted into the armed forces near the end of World War 2 and that of his new bride, Sarah. They married on the eve of his induction and shipping off to Fort Dix, then south to Fort Bragg for Basic. In many ways, this is a familiar, universal story, here with a particular American twist: man marries girl before heading overseas to an uncertain future at war, then confronts racial prejudice of the deepest ingrained sort.
Other poetic commentary is offered by friends of Sarah and army personnel Sam, encounters during training. What makes this story unique is the kind of prejudice and hassles that Jews in the armed forces encountered. Sam, never one to suffer fools or bullies is not afraid to defend himself against bullies. He lashes out when necessary. In fact, the poignant section dealing directly with the racial hate is aptly called “Bare Knuckle Drill”.
“Lyman Squires took a hate to me
because of that card cheat, Mack Yost,
who never met a Jew, but knows
in his ignorant heart I’m to blame
for everything, especially him having
to risk his sorry ass in this war
he knows Jews started to grow fat and rich
on the blood of good, dead Christian boys,
of whom the Krauts have millions.”
(from Sam Weissart, Bare Knuckle Drill”)
Some things never change. The men of World War 2 may have been the great generation, as Tom Brokaw insists, but it was the generation of ignorant, racist morons as well. This is the generation of Trump’s father, once arrested at a KKK rally, who spawned a generation of draft dodgers and militant race haters, that is still inflicting great harm to this day.
War is a great leveler , when you are in battle, the guy wearing the same uniform as you, regardless of his origins, beliefs , color, or religion, is now your best friend. After the shooting stops, when we have time to rest, reflect and settle in at home, the old habits of lifetime return. Sam is beaten by his fellow soldiers for the crime of being a Jew. It was what people did then, I guess. Still do, though they’ve expanded their hate list to include Muslims, gays, immigrants....There is a lesson to be learned here and it appears the only way it will be learned is the hardest way possible. It seems so obvious what the real point is but a large minority refuse to get the point. And they elect the Manchurian Moron, useful Soviet dupe/ useful idiot, to the highest office of the land.
Sam Weissart survives the war. He and Sarah enjoy a good marriage. They have children. His son looks marvels at what a great land this is, recalling his father’s stories.
“His jaw dropped when he visited
and I took him to the Statue of Liberty,
the Empire State Building, Radio City,
lunch at Katz’s deli on the lower East Side
where I grew up, then that night, home
for Sarah’s cooking, Saul gawking,
never seeing anyone that big before.
Saul’s dying to brag about his old man
to other kids, since he had to listen to stories
of their dad’s exploits. But I never battled Nazis
to Berlin, never won a medal, just fought
my own strange war against guys
who should’ve been my buddies
guys I’d have died for; and them for me.”
(from “Years Later”)
For many, the war, their war, whichever one it is, is never over.
Karla Linn Merrifield, Psyche’s Scroll, The Poetry Box, www.ThePoetryBox.com., 146 pages, 2018, $18
I must confess that I approached this oversized, weighty tome, with a certain amount of trepidation. The intro matter promised examination of The Id, Super Ego, Ego, personas et al. It seemed like a personal epic that could easily go wrong and be of limited interest to anyone but the poet and her immediate circle. But having seen her work over the years, I decided to trust the poet and proceed. Rather than a turgid, hand wringing, dark night of the soul, Psyche’s Scroll, is a free spirited, rollicking good time, as the poet is clearly having fun with herself, her personas, her Femininity, well, you name it. There is crudeness, rudeness, introspection and a lot more. Mostly, what intrigued me was the wide range of her expression, and epic of the self that doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as it could have. And that, is a good thing.
Karen Neuberg, the elephants are asking, Glass Lyre Press, www.glasslyrepress.com, 26 pages, 2018, npl
This is a small book with a big message: save the planet before it is too late. Each small, well- wrought poem, beseeches the reader to consider that it is not enough to understand species are being made extinct, climate change is real, the environment is being fouled: “While it is still possible/ to choose to not look/ it is impossible to continue/ to not see.” Alas in the age of Trump, where the secretaries of all the agencies that oversee these problems are chosen specifically to exacerbate these disasters for the good of all corporate kind. To Neuberg’s lasting credit, she refuses to give up. These poem are not mere diatribes or polemical dissertations, but a barely suppressed cry for reason and common sense, tightly written and of the highest artistic merit. When it comes to planets, there is no Option B.
Ruth Moon Kempher, Kafka Variations: echoes from Prague, Presa Press, PO Box 792, Rockford, MI 49341, www.presapress.com, 35 pages, 2018, $8-
Ruth’s book is the first in the new series of chapbooks re-instituted by Presa Press. These are well designed, on sturdy stock, and several cuts above your average small press pay per copy offering. Kempher is widely traveled and these poems range from Prague, to Moscow, to being an alien in Philadelphia. By turns whimsical, bitingly witty, and always deeply informed, of cultural and literary history, she is a wry observer of the human condition wherever she might be.
The darkly comic is what Ruth stresses in her title poem detailing the lives and loves of Kafka’s discarded fiancées, none of whom will become “Mrs. K.” In Prague she visits Kafka’s Castle, listens to and discusses Mozart, watches a strange adaption of Alice and Wonderland (is there any other kind?) that she feels is all too Czech. For a small collection, this covers a broad palette of colors, far ranging subjects matter. and visits many foreign lands including Moscow , where the world seems both exciting, strange and forbidding. If you don’t know Ruth’s excellent work, this is a great place to familiarize yourself with her penetrating eye, her ferocious wit, and her far reaching intelligence.
Nancy Miller Gomez, Punishment, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 26 pages, 2018, $6-
What can you say about a book that opens with these two lines:
“They used books as weapons.
This is not a metaphor”
Miller Gomez is awriter with an insider’s grip on the throat of problem. The problem is incarceration and what of the people who are imprisoned? Are they numbers? Objects? Units? Or thinking, rational but profoundly flawed humans who are thinking rational beings who deserve intellectual stimulation and the chance to express themselves? Gomez Miller has the rare gift of empathy and the craft to express it. This is a small book in terms of page count, but the impact is huge. The two part poem, “ How Poetry Saved My Life” is quite simply, profound. It could make you weep, it should. I can’t emphasize how each and every poem in this collection is as good as it can be. That, in and of itself, is a rare achievement.
I read this book right after finishing Rachel Kushner’s The Mar’s Room, which strikes me as a perfect complement to this book. if you can somehow get a hold of Maggie Jaffe’s, 7th Circle and any of Christopher Presfield’s work, they all reflect on incarceration in a deeply meaningful way. Also of note, the incomparable C.D. Wright combined with Deborah Luster for One Big Self , while Luster also plays a large role in the recent, wild combination of memoir and fiction, Vengeance, by Zachary Lazar.
Kelly Cherry, Weather, Rain Mountain Press, www.rainmountainpress.com., 36 pages, 2017, $12-
I hesitate to use a word like slight when speaking of the work of a writer whose work, on many subjects and in a variety of forms, whom I admire but this one feels like a work of whimsy. Perhaps, after recently finishing her magnum opus, a poetic life of J Robert Oppenheimer, anything would feel slight by comparison. As the title suggests, these poems are about weather. Most of these are mood pieces that range from beatific, to mellow, to fraught, as the prevailing conditions suggest. A couple do make pointed references to crazytown and the lunatic in charge as presiding clown-in-chief of these formerly united states. Even a beautiful Spring day cannot rescue the mood of fear, paranoia, and rage that emanates from crazytown though poems like Cherry’s try.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, Tales from the House of Vasquez, Rattle, www.rattle.com., 28 pages, 2018 $6-
This chapbook is another fine example of the inexpensive, excellent, eclectic selections by the annual Rattle Chapbook Series. Since its inception three years ago, Rattle has published nine chapbooks from this contest and none of them are remotely the same in conception, intent, or use of language . Vasquez Gilliland uses a deft combination of myth and folk tales to create a world that would best be described as, ruled by magical realism. The dilemmas of the people involved are real enough but often forces that can only be described as, otherworldly, have a major impact on how these dilemmas are resolved (or not.) I confess to having major reservations of the use of magic realism as a technique, there is only one Marquez, but in this collection the poet’s skill is such that no objection arose for me. The original cover illustration by the poet aptly compliments the poems. At six bucks postage paid how could you go wrong with this or any of the other titles in this ongoing, fine series?
Courtney LeBlanc, All in the Family, Bottlecap Press, available through Amazon, 2016, 30 pages, $10-
The gathered family of five on the cover of this pocket-sized book are obviously posed for a family portrait :Mom, Dad and three siblings. The striking feature of the portrait is that all the faces have been whited out. To protect the innocent? To hide the guilty? Some combination of the former two? The poems are divided into three section; mother, father, Sister with a coda, Mother/Father/Sister. All is not happy in suburbia. LeBlanc probes beneath the skin of family to reveals the secrets that lie within. The cumulative effect is that the personal is universal.
Laurel Speer, Election Day 2016 ,The Geryon Press, contact the author at PO Box 12220, Tucson AZ 85732, 2220, 2018, 20 pages $4
On the highlights of every year is Laurel’s annual poetry pamphlet. Long considered one of the strongest voices of the small press scene, her witty, erudite, acerbic, always pointed poems, embrace the world as it is now. The poet is as horrified by the results of the presidential election of 2016 as all right minded people are.
Barron Trump is a10-year old boy
doomed by his genetics and environment.
He also speaks Slovene,
It’s a strange world that produces such a child
and stands him up at 3 a.m. to listen to his father
speak, while he stifles a yawn, runs his eyes and rocks
back and forth trying to stay awake,
What could possibly be the future for such a creature?
What indeed? Especially since his mother insists he is just like his father in every way possible.
Euphrates Moss, Telos and Other Psychographs, contact riverun Quark 520 Mt. Fury Cir SW, Issaquah, WA 98027,for ordering information, 245 pages, 2017,
I can honestly say this book is a conundrum wrapped inside a mystery of an epic poem. In the discursive, often insightful too long introduction, the author outlines his purpose, aesthetic and philosophical, touching upon several intriguing possibilities. He is a self-confessed rebellious thinker, obviously well educated, seriously considering large issues not easily expressed in modern poetics. I am thinking here of the early didactic writings of ancients and even 17th century authors who tackled views scientific, philosophical and aesthetical in long poems. It is not done much in modern times simply because no one will read them.
The author expresses, or is it warns the interested reader than a criticism of his style involves the use of difficult words that send one scurrying to the dictionary (or not, as the case and level of interest, may be). On the first page of the poem, there are four words I am not familiar with which is about two more than I generally countenance for a collection, without reserving the right not to move on.
I tried to make my way through this book, if only because there seems to be a generally ambitious and serious attempt to elucidate points the author feels should be examined. I cannot disagree or agree as I have not been able to finish the work. I must humbly confess, that I am not the reader this book is intended for, given how many books I receive and time constraints. Perhaps, there is someone else who will take up Mr. Moss’s thrown gauntlet and carry on to the end.
Revealing Self: Tom Taylor/The Poet Spiel’s Multimedia Memoir. 2018 by Jendi Reiter
Visual artist Tom Taylor, a/k/a The Poet Spiel, is a creator of varied personae, with a 66-year career spanning genres from graphic design to mixed-media collage and installation art, poetry, and now memoir. His new book, Revealing Self in Pictures and Words, is an impressionistic retrospective of his personal journey and the dramatic shifts in his style and materials over the decades.
Boldly colored reproductions of his artwork are interspersed with vignettes, aphorisms, dreamlike or nightmarish memories, and previously published poems reformatted as prose paragraphs. These written sections are set off in quotation marks, like tantalizing snippets of an overheard conversation, and formatted in a multi-hued script that creates the impression of an artist’s journal. (This font was admittedly a challenge to read in large amounts, but the necessity of slowing down may have helped me absorb more of the meaning.) Instead of traditional narrative transitions, third-person summaries of the action, in a more businesslike sans-serif font, serve as occasional signposts to situate the samples of his creative work within the chronology of his life and travels.
And what a life: Born in 1941, Spiel was a maverick from the start. He grew up on a Colorado farm on the Great Plains, a repressive environment for a gay artistic boy with migraines and manic-depressive tendencies. The early pages of his book speak candidly, in intense and hallucinatory flashbacks seared with humor, about the burden of his mother’s mental illness and her violation of his intimate boundaries. His bond with animals and nature kept his soul alive, a connection he would later channel into successful commercial posters and landscape paintings of wildlife, inspired by his travels in Zambia. In the 1990s his work took a surreal and expressionist turn, protesting social conformity and war. His life as a gay man in America has given him an outsider perspective on the hypocrisy of conventional mores, and a rage against the stifling of his authentic life force. These themes show up in his raw, satirical, unpretentious poems. Revealing Self invites the reader to experience Rimbaud’s maxim that “A Poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses.”
FutureCycle Press's review
Aug 06, 2018
We are the publisher, so all of our authors get five stars from us. Excerpts:
FOR THE ANGEL WHO ANNOUNCES THE END OF TIME
in the manner of S. Dali
This could be the world after
End Time: the sea dissolved in
sunlight, hard-baked into deserts,
exposed shells thick as colored glass
nothing is reflected in, the steel-
plated arch to nowhere sightless
birds perched upon, flexing their
bloated wings as if they were
bladders of sulfured tea.
Once punctured, a killing rain
is released, slowly descending
like some primordial ooze,
challenging the laws of gravity,
onto the unprotected heads of those
lost and wandering below,
sunstruck and amazed at the chemical hues,
sunsets that expand the view beyond
the limits of conventional sight.
SOME COMFORT GAINED FROM THE ACCEPTANCE
OF THE INHERENT LIES OF EVERYTHING
“There are doors that slam louder than
mortar rounds that have landed on a face”
She comes back for me from the place
where she died in a dream of 1985,
eyes lit by Roman candles time-releasing
synthetic balls of fire inside eyes
marbleized harder than tempered
glass, body wasted by fatal cancers,
knotted inside, tighter than bolls of Black
Forest trees she whispered of, creating
new songs without words to be played on
string instruments forever out of tune,
a new Mephisto Waltz the goal of all
her frantic composing on the other side,
the rotten apples for her son held out
on hands made brittle by the cold,
the dark placing of herself within
the Arctic plane of memory, the awful fact
of the truth as she wrote it, “Old Age is
a fraud and Death is a lie!” something not
easily dispelled in this life or the other,
though the nightmare only truly began where
it ended in life, in fire, as if it were my
truest wish, behind a crematory door.