Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
T.K. Splake, Sunflower Wisdom, Cyberwit. www.cyberwit.com, 2020, 41 pages, $15.00
Evoking the spirit of Allen Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra”, the beat goes on. Splake’s signature, short, haiku like poems, interspersed with stunning, full color photos of sunflowers. Several of these poems are among the best of his work to date:
wilderness cemetery ghost
in forest of bones
quiet whisper of trees
closing her eyes
remembering she was pretty
sadly never dancing again
after marrying cell phones
for better or for worse
nursing home shadow
long way from home
life’s final journey
T. K. Splake, rising from ashes, Cyberwit, Cybert.net. 2020, 46 pages $15.00
Splake takes us on a journey to one of his magical, spiritual places in the woods. This time around we visit the Poet Tree. Actually, it is the second incarnation of the Poet Tree as the original was stripped of its postings/photos, then desecrated. Splake assumes the destruction was by young men drinking. Whoever it was, came back, cut down the tree and burned it. What would anyone do such a thing? There is no answer to the question other than random, heartless, morons in action, something that seems to be encouraged by the Trump regime. An obvious shrine of importance to its creator, the bohunks felt it had to go, just because they could make it go away. But Splake was undaunted, recreating the original as much as he could, in the woods and in this collection of short poems and color photos. Most of the photos are of this new manifestation of poetry in the woods.
Charles Rammelkamp, Catastroika, Apprentice House Press, www.apprenticehouse.com, 2020
123 pages, No price listed
If you thought Rasputin’s life was without compare, you haven’t heard, or read about, his daughter, Marie. Marie escaped the political upheavals that transformed Russian History, that resulted in the almost-beyond belief demise of her father. Rasputin was the charismatic advisor and, perhaps, lover of the Tsar’s wife, Alexandra. After her father’s death, and several chaotic years, Marie made her way to the United States where she was, variously, a cabaret dancer, a circus performer (lion/animal taming a specialty until she was mauled by a bear) and a ”Rosie the Riveter”, during WWII. She later claimed the blue collar, manual labor job, the most satisfying of all until she was forced into retirement in her early 60’s. The story is told in alternate points of view by Sasha, a fictional character representing Russian Jews exiled from Russia, who eventually emigrated to the US, and Marie. This dual narrative presents an informative, personal history of a tumultuous time. Fascinating people in one of the most eventful, life changing times in history.
Two from Iniquity Press
Joe Weil, Helping the Village Idiot Feed the Chicken, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2020, 94 pages
Anthony George, Tomorrow, 2020, 95 pages
Weil is a genuine poet of the people. There is nothing pretentious, or especially learned, in his work. What it is, is simply: where we are now. Weil, at a poetry reading, gets the irony of a young female saying, “I am not a disposable person.” Then, offstage, this same poet, participates in the disrespecting of the waitress, treating her rudely, crudely and, worse, leaving her a bad tip. How does the waitress feel? The waitress, a woman who has been around the trade for decades, feels it comes with the job. Once she might have been angry, now she shrugs it off as a waste of time and energy. The deeper truth is, and Weil knows it, that being demeaned and accepting it, is as bad as the demeanors. Even a large, compensating tip, can’t change that fact. Or the reality of her situation. I’ve been there, demeaned by professionals, who build themselves up by putting other people down, people who can’t fight back. And had to eat it. You want to work, right?
Essentially, Weil is a choreographer of the everyday moment. There are epiphanies at the bus stop, a bittersweet first love poem, has known the every day, the, “ the common brotherhood of diddly squat”, the sad girl at Wendy’s whose sadness makes her far more interesting than her beauty. The poet sums up his feelings as,
“I don’t know
if I believe in art or poetry. I don’t want to wear a cape
and have three names and have people think I’m some bad boy
at a literary festival.” (from “Showing Up”)
What he is, is a guy who appreciates fairness and justice as his striking, “Against the Wall” shows,
“I’d like to create my own sanctuary city:
No jails, just community time spent
compositing the Sunday papers
There’d be a little store at every corner
There’d be someone by the salt cod arguing
the merits of past presidents, ball players
(Ball players preferred) which hot dog
joint was the best...
Later he writes of factory work the authenticity of someone who has worked the line in the best tradition of Fred Voss, Philip Levine, and Jim Daniels.
When he wanders off the reservation, and writes sonnets (because he can), and rhyming poems, he loses some of that authenticity for me, but there is enough real Weil in this book to overlook these brief forays into Art, that barely distracts from the task of describing everyday life.
Tomorrow, Anthony George’s most recent book, is a tale of two books. The reader can approach this as a poetry book with collages. Or a viewer can look at this as a collage collection with poetry. Both are equally as effective in their creation of a narrative, one visual and one verbal.
This book, easily digestible in one sitting, is like traveling through a dream into a surreal brave new world, that is both familiar and disconcertingly unreal. I am reminded of Max Ernst’s collage novel, Une Semane De Bonte, a week in the subconscious of a man tormented by half-men, half-bird creatures. George’s world, like Ernst’s, is one of war, loss, sex, death and despair of a particular kind. The world is at war, but the mind is too, sublimating the conflicts of life in horrific ways. At one point the author suggests, “we are a peep show for aliens.” He has seen the aliens and they are us,
“we had to embrace ourselves
we did it differently
secret introvert secret extrovert
ruling our world with self magic
life and death
one kisses one gouges an eye
those who breathe those who don’t
the ones celebrating the others shrieking
world spinning to show off
the gala damage of global warming
it’s like a peep show for the aliens
self-destruction must be a fetish they think”
Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Leaving Las Vegas, Whiskey City Press, 2019, 63 pages
Although there is a good deal of drinking and carrying on, don’t expect to see Nicholas Cage careening across the landscape, reliving the life of John O’Brien’s, slightly fictionalized character/stand-in, Ben. Actually, what the book reads like, is stumbling into a demented Twilight Zone episode where you are required to learn the rules of the realm on the fly. Ask the bartender for advice, when ordering a beer, and you are likely to get some, distilled-from-kale crafty thing, that tastes like badly fermented swamp water. Whatever happened to Budweiser? Flanagan wonders this weighty question more than once. Rule number one, Do not ask the bartender for recommendations.
Adding to the cultural shock is the Flanagans are Canadian. Not that Canadians are aliens, The Vegas people are. Just thinking about all that glitz and glow, real-time-has-stopped casino interiors that are all unreal. The “stay and play” ethos, and it’s too loud make believe props, is enough to give you a headache. But they gamely persevere.
The Flanagans are celebrating their second wedding anniversary and they are going to make the most of it. If making the best of it means going with the flow, so that you can better blend in, so be it. Their narration is not meant to be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas nor does it pretend to be. Besides, one Hunter S. Thompson is probably enough to last several lifetimes: many have tried and died attempting to repeat his particular brand of insanity and the Flanagans plan to survive.
They have close encounters on the street with men dressed as Chewbacca, whom the locals don’t even deign to notice. Then there are Freddy Kruegers as well, teletubbies, NY football Giants fans (almost as ubiquitous as Yankees fans and equally as annoying said the Giants fan understanding it is a hereditary disease), open carry gun nuts, well, you name it., Vegas has at least two. One can never be enough.
This is the human circus in action or is it the human comedy? Is there a difference? Maybe they should do a Hollywood vacation for their next anniversary. If there is a way over the top fantasy island, combining all the worst popular cultural objects, and worst inclinations of humanity in one place, plus slot machines, Hollywood would be that place. Go for it guys. And Happy Anniversary.
“We are walking into the Miracle Mile and get stuck
behind a large group of young dudes with giant purple
beakers of mystery drink fastened to their necks. Vegas wants
to make everything as easy as possible. If they can find a way
for you to not have to hold your drink, they will.”
from “Everyone Works for NASA”
Thaddeus Rutkowski, Tricks of Light, Great Weather for Media,www.greatweatherformedia.com 2020, 100 pages, $18
Of all the writers I can think of practicing our solitary trade, I can think of no one I would rater spend time in quarantine with more than Thaddeus Rutkowski. His work in general, and Tricks of Light in particular, do not disappoint my expectations.Rutkowski’s humor is sardonic (reminiscent of Charles Simic in his more comic modes), rich with a deadpan sense of timing that is always flawless in its delivery. His poems feel simple but are often a disguise for a deeper metaphorical intent. The reader is drawn into his intimate-seeming tone that feels autobiographical, and may well be, but you never really know. Does it matter? I don’t think so. What matters is how he leads you down a yellow brick road of strange beauty and wondrous sights and sounds.
“Seems” is a key word the reader needs when tackling the strange world of Mr. Rutkowski. He is like an interrogator who begins asking you easy questions so that you get in the habit of saying yes. By the time he makes more outrageous (or leading, incriminating questions) you are willing to accept stipulations, and situations, other poets wouldn’t even attempt to ask the reader to accept. He can make riding a bicycle into a major event as he does in “Steamroller.” The speaker is riding on newly laid blacktop, as a machine flattens it out. Totally oblivious, the clueless narrator, unwittingly risks being flattened himself. He concludes,
“Then I hear a horn that comes from a steamroller.
I ride around a monster machine
to where the new blacktop ends.
The road is rough, gouged,
so I ride my bicycle onto the sidewalk.
I didn’t know steamrollers had horns.”
Thoughts and images from one poem, recur in the next in a different form and context, creating an internal sub textual fluidity. An angry man in one poem becomes an angry persona in the next: different contexts, a different sense. The variations are seamless and subtle, almost unnoticeable.
A favorite poem of mine is the “Waxed Paper Museum” dedicated to, Sparrow,
“I don’t want to go to the Wax Museum.
I want to go to a Waxed Paper Museum,
where varieties of waxed paper through the ages
are displayed in vitrines and frames,
and where the gift shop
sells objects wrapped in paraffin-coated paper.”
(first stanza of “Waxed Paper Museum”)
Rutkowski does not confine himself to flights of fancy, outrageous situations, and analogies. The grading of his exams is both nightmarish, as an anxiety dream, and a real-life situation, as your future depends upon the results of that grading. The person grading your final exam, in a subject you have worked hard on all year, is unqualified to do so. The anxiety is palpable. Rutkowski concludes the poem: “everyone gets a grade they didn’t expect.” This could be a good thing or a not-at-all a good thing. Been there, had it happen, though the professor was qualified. He pulled a fast one of his students with an impossible to complete, “joke” final exam no one got until the A’s arrived in the mail. It’s kind of funny now. In Rutkowski’s poem, the reader does not get the grade.
An innocent seeming-poem, that strikes me as indicative of the kinds of narrative tricks Rutkowski employs is “Cold Days in Florida”, quoted in full below,
“When the temperature drops to forty degrees,
people don’t want to walk around,
it is too cold to be outside.
They stay inside and wait
until the days are warmer.
The temperature rarely drops below forty.
But once it dropped to twenty-eight.
When that happened, birds started to die.
All around the bay, all kinds of birds
keeled over, because of the cold.
Along with the birds, people started to die,
but no everyone succumbed to the cold.
Only old people died;
they couldn’t take the shock
of a cold snap in Florida.”
Or a Covid19 virus in quarantine.
Mike James, Journeyman’s Suitcase, Luchador Press, 2020, 53 pages, $13.00
, Parades, www.alienbuddhapress, 2019, roughly 50 pages, no price listed
It is difficult to imagine two more different books by the same author than these two. In fact, given, I have now read his last five, all of which are completely different in tone and intent, I should not have been surprised. Of the two, I prefer the more straightforward Journeyman’s Suitcase.
These poems are consistently outrageous, witty, and funny with an intentional absurdist tone, and ironical twist, to them. Each poem has at least one conceit, that is varied throughout the poem. Early on he writes of a false confession, which would be an apt description of what these poems are all about: absurd permutations to straightforward constructs. To give the reader what I mean I have assembled a kind of found poem of images and ideas found in the first few poems:
Belief in Bigfoot, Jakalopes, BVM image on toast,
Little Bo Peep disguise, the scrambled eggs heresy,
angel halo meat slicer, climb tree to rescue cat-get
stuck-need to be rescued-cat springs free, spell check
your home tattoo kit, recurring problem/image,
sailor sea chantey fight songs, joining the fight club
after leaving the nail salon, goodbye de Kooning,
And so it goes, in Mike James’ world,
Dylan makes up stories about being a runaway and a circus
clown, about a neighborhood widow he loved and left in
scandal. Tiny listens and listens but doesn’t believe. He’d
tell about vaudeville if he was there or could imagine. He’d
like another order of fries or some woman to love him
badly. He’d like an extra set of strings for his ukulele. He’d
like ketchup with the fries. Dylan hates ketchup.
(from “Tiny Tim and Bob Dylan in the East Village”)
Parades is a much different story altogether. James follows in the tradition of Ronald Johnson Raid Os who used the Erasure technique to edit the first four books of Milton’s Paradise Lost. James has a more modest approach, erasing language from the first two books, editing what he calls the: erotic passages of Milton, which I surely missed when I read the poem eons ago. What he has created is a spare, fairly effective, erotic dream. He ranges from bondage to S&M, with some healthy, casual, sensual language, in between. The effect is remarkable. I should state that I have rarely, if ever found this technique to be amusing, edifying or effective on any level. I can think of one exception, Karen Neuberg, who erases parts of her own work to distill images to a new, poetic essence.
would say this is a novel enterprise on James’ part, but as a technique, I am still dubious. I’m not sure that anyone can sustain the conceit as an extended riff, though I have not read Johnson’s book or managed any other full length collection using this technique. I will say that James comes damn close to proving me wrong.
John Bradley, Everything in Motion , Everything at Rest: A Gallery of Photo Poems, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com 2020, 83 pages $18-
If you like narrative photography, by which I mean photographs that tell a story, and you like poems that provide a story based on the pictorial narrative source, this is the book for you. Having just completed deep research of, writing on, and absorption with, the work of Diane Arbus, I was immediately gripped by Bradley selection of photos and accompanying poems. In fact, if there is a single philosophical, abiding principle, behind these choices, it would be thoughts by Arbus on the nature of what photography does.
Unlike Susan Sontag who intellectualizes the process, thereby sucking all the life out of her subject, Arbus mined the depths. Rather than being a mere chronicler of freaks, she has much more substance than this obvious conclusion. What she was primarily interested in was the Other knowing that a person who has a physical deformity that places them in this Other category, knows something about life we can only imagine. It is undeniable that her work is often harsh, even “ugly” but the essence of what she did was exploring the Other, with empathy and, even something like grace; she sees what is inside us that we are afraid to see. And you could make case, it killed her.
Bradley’s first poem is of the iconic execution of a Viet Cong Prisoner by a close-range pistol shot to the head at point of impact. No one who has ever lived through the Vietnam War coverage can ever forget this stark, horrifying image. Nor the one of the protest against the government, self-immolation by a Buddhist Monk that is examined later in the collection. Arbus is here as well. If you know her work, or if you have seen the movie “Fur”, you will recognize the image at the nudist camp, where a man and his wife sit in their living room. This picture is staged perfectly in the movie, from Arbus’s original,( as are many set shots were later on) proving once and for all, that even naked to be exposed in unexpected ways (look at their face, examine their body language, understand what is revealed is much than the surface nudity). The woman’s reluctance, and the man’s arrogant posture, clearly indicate their psychological state. No surprise that, five years after this shot, the couple divorced.
For those reluctant to read poems about photographs that remain unseen, Bradley provides the full titles for the curious who may easily find them online. In fact, you may be surprised, as I was, how many of these pictures you didn’t realize, at first, that you have seen. I would estimate that I had seen something like 75% of these pieces somewhere along the line.
Bradley makes these narratives real in ways that a simple viewing cannot. He examines the picture that should never have been taken, (of a vulture waiting nearby small child too weak to move). Apparently, the photographer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the image, agreed, committing suicide not long after the award. Potentially staged photos are mentioned: Capa’s famous Spanish soldier killed shot, civil war manipulations, Eugene Smith’s detail amplifications and so on.
He states the cardinal rules for photographer’s and offers examples of those who defied them. Not always to good effect. There are moral choices to be made that the photographer has to consider. Taking a photo of the Vietnam Girl in the Picture literally burning up, ( and there are others equally as bad,) before offering aid, is a question that haunts many a photo journalist. Or should, if it does not. One of the best in the trade, Don McCullin examined repressed societies, starving masses in Africa, in England, atrocities of war, slum life, every conceivable human tragedy before retiring. In answer to, “what he is doing now?” He says, “Shooting British landscapes.”
Is it the image all that matters in the end? Life is not as simple as a list of rules and photographers know this as well as anyone. Still, in an age of easy and frequent image altering, and manipulation, Bradley gives us much to think about beyond the photo narratives.
Sean Thomas Dougherty, Not All Saints, The Bitter Oleander Press. www.bitteroleander.com
2020, 74 pages $16.00
Whenever I read a new book by Sean Thomas Dougherty, I feel as if I am listening to war stories told by someone who has been there and done that in every sense of the word. I don’t mean actual wars, as in fighting wars with weapons, but the daily wars of life. Dougherty takes us to the schoolyards where “what kills us sneaks up from behind.” A childhood, playground bully administers a bruising. In fact, bruising is an apt word to describe how Dougherty has experienced life. And it is a life that is lived to its fullest.
Despite the many traumas of a humble upbringing on the streets: odd, bad jobs, failed relationships, substance abuse, all the obstacles that bring most people to the canvas, and leaves them down for the count, Dougherty always manages to learn from his experiences. He rises from a technical knockdown, and moves on to the next fight, wherever and whenever, it should arise. Despite, all the down swings, all those moments when a girl is “so high it hurts”, I feel as if I have been listening to a tuneful laments, an extended elegy and that the poet is always on the edge of deeply felt experience.
Portrait of Townes Van Zandt as a Murderer
Of crows, black suited ministers
on the telephone wire,
his guitar strings,
cawing for the coroner
to come as he picked
slow as a dirt road
leading to a rooming house
where someone fingered
a bullet into a revolver,
to shoot his best friend
in bed with his lover,
he sang like the hollow
(quoted in full)
Van Zandt is the perfect choice of a poet like Dougherty: a honky tonk poet, a rough riding, hard drinking cowboy, burning the proverbial candle at both ends, rushing toward an inevitable, early death. But Dougherty is no self-destructive, existential warrior, “rushing nowhere to die” but a married man with two young daughters. He sees the future as a place that is fraught with danger, that what we teach our children “will destroy worlds”. He feels deeply that what we inadvertently teach them may be the most destructive lessons of all.
Most of all, Dougherty is a man of great empathy. I say “great empathy”, because I think that is a truly “great” quality, one that is sorely lacking in our world, a world fraught with terrors we have no control over. After reading one of his books, I always feel as if I’ve been where he has been. There are some scary places on that journey but having been there, with him as a guide, I always feel that I am a better person because of it.
Not All Saints won the Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Award for 2019.
Marc Swan, all it would take, tall-lighthouse, www.tall-lighthouse.co.uk, 2020, 76 pages, $13.00
“I’m at that point
where time accelerates,
music from my youth takes
on a new meaning.”
I’m beginning at the end of Marc Swan’s tightly rendered, vividly detailed narratives in three parts. I feel a kinship with this sentiment, having reached that point myself. Why just today I heard, .... you know how it goes. The portraits of parents, friends, old loves, and newer ones, plus ongoing personal health problems, show the process of life rounding out. Swan does so with equanimity. He makes casual contacts vibrant, as sitting in an oncology waiting room, listening to stories of those who wait. These are chilling moments, unintentionally revelatory in unexpected ways, and, most of all, unfailingly human.
Essentially, the book is divided into three distinct but intimately related sections. The first is the youthful poet. The poet is relating his fears as a 14-year-old, of being hit by car-was it prankish bravado or an accident? We know what his father thinks. He tells us of his family death car, in the pre-Nadar, Unsafe at Any Speed, Corvair, of filming a Playboy bunny type, frolicking naked in the surf, road trips with friends, of the oft-used, never quite full waterbed, of a youthful beatific life, and many of the casualties of youth.
The second section is later in life, aging stories, realizing you cannot recapture lost youth and friends, but you can relive, in your mind and imagination, good times together. He tells of an intimate connection with the late poet Louis McKee, in “oranges”, of his parents estrangement, of an accident, his wife suffers, that leaves her disoriented and out of balance, has, as the doctor describes it, ”an ankle sprain of the brain”. Hers is a disquieting disequilibrium, startling and distressing, in equal measure, and the poet feels it acutely. He thinks of old friends, in well-wrought portraits, of a people known, here and gone, like the bandy leg drummer he so vividly evokes. There is a rueful sadness and a celebratory tone, to these poems, that achieve that delicate balance between sentiment and despair.
A trait he carries through to the final section. As the opening quote shows, this is a mature poet, exploring the beyond-aging-state of life’s last phase. If I were to be indexing the section I would say, “Beyond Aging, consequences of.” We see the last days of his parents, the death of his father from cancer is almost brutally honest and memorable, with a closure that is so startling and right, it as close to as unforgettable as any final line could be.
A phantom limb poem is almost surreal in nature, as a woman of extremely loose morals, sees the missing arm stump of an acquaintance, in ways only the thoroughly depraved could imagine. The waiting room stories, as mentioned, are as vivid as any chance encounter can be, suggesting whole lives from brief moments in time and place. all it would take has the richness, the familiarity, the immediacy, of one of those waiting room encounters, thoughtfully, and artfully, rendered by a poet at the top of his game.
Jimmy Pappas, Falling Off the Empire State Building, Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner, www.rattle.com , 2020, 34 pages $6.00
David Thompson, Shake My Ashes, Alien Buddha Press, poems and photos, 2020, 43 pages no price listed
Jennifer Lagier, Dystopia Playlist Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.net, 2020, 53 pages $14.00
A new collection by our esteemed colleague and web goddess at Misfit. Jennifer attacks the social injustices that are The Fritocheeto’s evil regime and the systematic dismantling of the America we know and love. At times intensely personal, and at others highly critical, you can never go wrong with a new collection by Jennifer. Draw up your own playlist and compare notes with friends. I know mine would start with “The Eve of Destruction” and proceed from there.
Cathy Porter, the skin of uncertainty, Maverick Duck Press, 2020, unnumbered roughly 30 pages, no price.
In deeply personal poems, Cathy explores a checkered past where she might decide on the spur of the moment, with a friend, to start driving until they ran out of gas, to the present time dealing with her own, and her husband’s, cancer. Life is never normal and in an age where every day offers a new life threatening challenge. These challenges range from the threat of health care being lost, to job loss in an unforgiving employment world. Still, the poet bravely confronts her uncertain reality in these deeply felt, resonant poems.
Books Received, Read, Recommend
From Press 53. www.Press53.com
Richard Garcia, Porridge, 2016, 66pages, $14.95
Outrageous, exuberant prose poems.
Andrew Rihn, Revelation: an apocalypse in fifty-eight fights, 2020, 76 pages, $14.95
Ingenious, tight collection/progression of prose poems, using each of Mike Tyson’s prize fights as the unifying element. Highly recommended.
Seth Michelson, Swimming Through Fire, 2017, 55 pages $14.95
Meg Eden, Drowning in a Floating World, 2020, 68 pages $14.95
Tsunami and Fukushima disasters brilliantly recreated among other aspects of Japanese life.
Mark Cox, Readiness, 2018, 65 pages $14.95
Prose poems: incisive, personal, funny, excellent.
Jim Peterson, 2019, 71 pages $14.95
Elegiac, moving, finely wrought on universal and personal themes.
Scott Ferry, The only thing that makes sense is to grow, Moon Tide Press, www.moontidepress.com 2020, 57 pages, $15.00
Aptly titled collection centering around personal relationships and life changing, personal growth.
Melody Davis, Ghost Writer,Broadstone Books, www.broadstonebooks.com, 66 pages, $15.00
Long sections on dealing with mother’s Alzheimer’s is deft and heartfelt. Also aspects of various implications of “ghost writing”.
Carolyn Forche, In the Lateness of the World, Penguin Books, www.Penguinrandomhouse.com 2020, 76 pgs, hb $24.00
Her first new collection in seventeen years and her best since The Country Between Us.
Essential, gripping poetry of witness.
Barbara Sobol, Imagine a Town, Shelia-Na-Gig Editions, www.shelianagig.com, 2020, 77 pages, $15.00
Winner of Shelia-na-gig 2019 poetry book award. Opening superb poem, “I’m from a one-way bus ticket” establishes a strong working-class tradition then branches out to the vital stuff of life.
Robert Cooperman, Lost on the Blood-Dark Sea, Future Cycle Press, 2020, 89 pages, $14.95
Poetic retelling of Odysseus and his men after the fall of Troy.
Robert Cooperman, The Ghosts and Bones of Troy, Kelsay Press, 2020, 103 pages
Odysseus homecoming on Ithaca considered as a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in action.
Natalie Diaz, Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf, www.graywolf.org, 2020, 103 pages, $16.00
Follow up to incomparable, When My Brother Was an Aztec. Another astonishing, electric work of political poetry with personal, erotic flourishes. A must for all poetry readers.
Sara Comito, Bury Me in the Sky, Nixes Mate, www.nixesmate.pub 2020, 68 pages, $12.95
Exciting, even electric form shattering first book. An exciting, promising career is born.
Eric Greinke, Break Out, www.presapress.com , 2020, 63 pages hb. $24.95
The final publication from a long esteemed small press publisher of a magazine, chapbook series and full-length poetry collections by underserved but deserving small press poets. In contrast to his earlier collection, Greinke turns his discerning eye outwards to more socially conscious poems than usual. Many are stark but incisive look at the world we live in now. For me the soul of the books is “Wave”, a paean to love and appreciating what you have now, in the moment, written for his recently deceased wife, Roseanne.
Lucian Mattison, Reaper’s Milonga, YesYes Books, www.yesyesbooks.com, 2018, 69 pages,
Slow, sexy dancing with death. Vivid, physical, alluring, exciting stuff.
Brad Rose, de/tonations Nixes Mate, www.nixesmate.pub, 2020, 54 pages, $12.95
Prose poems from a Brautigan for the new millennium. These are rooted in surrealism but are, essentially, comic in nature befitting someone who, in a poem, names his cats Edgar, Rice and Burrows.
Mary Buddinger, Partial Genius, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawrence.com, 2019, 82 pages, $16.95
Wild, out there, amusing, slightly insane, highly inventive , thoroughly enjoyable from a poet whose books get progressively better which is saying a lot given how good the previous one were. A Sample of her method,
“I loved being around smart people when they were neither
pontificating not mansplaining. Except if they were discussing
Nietzsche as if he was William James, the entire world a
conspiracy tapping holes in pit glasses and hollow legs, like
my beauty was something constructed by a god and not two
from “Some Truths”
Al Ortolani, On the Chicopee Spur, NYQ Books, www.nyq.org , 2018, 103 pages, $15.95 Haibun in an American style which means not confirming to the exact haiku syllabic requirement but faithful to the essential qualities of a haiku. These are personal, observant, evocative of mood and place. A well-rounded collection that made me want to write my own Haibun.
Clara Burghelea, The Flavor of the Other, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2020, 55 pages, $18.00
Effective, contrasting poems, from a childhood in Romania to a new life in America as student, mother, poet. “How to Lose a Self in a Few Steps” is on my top ten poems of the year.
Krikor Der Hohannesian, First Generation, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2020, 90 pages, $18.00
With several exquisite art works by the author’s father. The Armenian massacre by the Turks is never far from the mind of any Armenian. His mother one of the last survivors and he feels an intimate connection. By no means the only subject, however in this intimate, engaging collection.
Tobi Alfier, Slices of Alice and Other Character Studies, Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library, www.chollaneedles.com, 2018, 99 pages, $8.00
Ron Wallace ed., Bull Buffalo and Indian Paintbrush TJMF Publishing in conjunction with Buffalo Press, 2020, 75 pages, $15.00
A generous selection of poems from a host of writers including well-knowns who you might not have known as poets (I know I didn’t) such as novelists Louis L’Amour and Rilla Askew. An impressive range of voices embraces the history and heritage of Oklahoma from the Dust Bowl to the Plains. A refreshing, regional work that opened the Northeastern eyes to the rich poetic voices of the South-Midwest.
Personal reveal: I have appeared or appear in all of the following anthology/magazines
Big Hammer #21 Iniquity Press PO Box 253 Seaside Heights NJ 08751, edited by Dave Roskos 270 bigassed oversized pages.
This is the mother of all Big Hammers. As per usual, Dave has assembled a broad selection of poems of small press veterans complimented by original collage art. Also, per usual, there is a generous selection of late, lamented poets including Dave Church, Steve Dalchinsky (art and poetry), Albert Huffstickler, Ed Galing, Doug Draime, Lyn Lifshin, among others. If you are looking for genteel, formal poetry, with an academic bent you have picked up the wrong book. The mind bending, nightmarish collage art by Jen Dunford Roskos, on the front and back covers of the anthology, should have been you first clue, that you are going to get some heavy hitting, streetwise, fast talking, kick ass, poems and art.
Chiron Review, Issue 118, Spring 2020. www.chironreview.com $60 a year four full sized book length collections of poetry averaging 150 pages an issue. It seems as if editor Michael Hathaway has been doing this publication forever, in one form or another. Once upon a time it was a folded newsprint, Kindred Spirit, which morphed into another newsprint journal of poetry, reviews and short stories and occasional interview, Chiron Review, and after few years, hiatus came back strong in the current format. I admit I am prejudiced, having been part of all three iterations, but my bias is towards intelligent, far ranging, eclectic work, which is what each issue is all about. It’s what all quality journals should be about.
Trajectory Issue 20 Spring 2020, Trajectory: www.trajectoryjournal.com $12 an issue or $20 a year 2 issues. editor Christopher Helvey
While not quite as venerable in years as Chiron, Trajectory has been turning out a slick format, intelligent mix, of short stories, poetry, occasional non-fiction, and photography for ten years now; an eternity in the small press universe. Poets include favorites of mine Matthew Spireng, Jack Phillips Lowe, George Searles, t k splake, Stephanie Hiteshew, Eric Greinke, R. T Castleberry, Ted Jonathan, and Cathy Porter, among others, all of whom have appeared in Misfit, some multiple times. Prolific editor Helvey, will entice you with a selection from his latest novel, Dancing on the Rim. Talked me right into to buying it. Whether it be short stories or novels editor Helvey is a good, solid read, in his own right.
Clutch, edited by Robert M Zoschke, 10781 Birchwood Drive, Sister Bay WI, 54234 240 pages. Let’s start with the cover. Every issue of Clutch, since the initial one, has featured an original photo of a recognizable cultural icon as does the 2020 (the original cover featured the editors twin daughters, as babies, embracing). On the front cover we have Henry Dean Stanton and the back-cover Herbie Hancock as shot by Christopher Felver. Felver also contributes a fascinating study of artist Larry Rivers (“sword fight” with poet Kenneth Koch is a classic), originals of Normal Mailer, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Charlie Musselwhite, Townes Van Zandt and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott among others. Also featured are t k splake, Gene McCormick art, Jen Dunford Roskos collages and several other worthy artists. Poets range from Splake to Huffstickler to John Bennett to d a levy, Steve Dalachinsky to Herschel Silverman with many others too numerous to enumerate including the editor. Fiction includes a Nick Tosches original and selection from a novel in progress by the editor I’d love to see the finished result of.