Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Tony Gloeggler, What Kind of Man, NYQ Press, www.Newyorkquarterly.com., 2020, 140 pages, $20
“Hot town, summer in the city,
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city...”
John Sebastian et al
Hearing the lyric to that classic tune from the 60’s, as I write this, is the appropriate accompaniment to the panoramic nature of Tony Gloeggler’s latest collection of narrative poems. He is, above all else, a New York City born and bred, boy, whose poems reflect his experiences living, working, and playing on the streets. We see him in the Garden, in apartments overlooking playgrounds, and asphalt topped courts, where kids shoot hoops until there is no light. We see him playing stickball in city streets where a kid who can hit a pink spaldeen three man hole covers and be king of the neighborhood forever. Hell, one of his beloved Yankees, a kid from Brooklyn named Joe Pepitone, whose lightning fast wrists were attributed to abilities honed on the street swinging the little yellow stick ball bat, grew up to be what every kid wanted to be, a major league ball player. For the Yankees! And Tony would share that dream. Though he didn’t realize that goal, his poems reflect the kid of everyman yearning shared my millions of kids growing up in NYC.
As Tony is a lover of popular music, we get glimpses of some of his favorite performers such as Bruce Springsteen giving his all, live, the Beach Boys, in particular Brian Wilson, hear jukebox tunes on Tony’s peregrinations to Coney Island by train. Music is an essential part of the fabric of the City.
Several poems chronicle early loves, his first poetry reading (awkward, whose isn’t?), his interactions with street people and a later, lasting love, that leads to the deepest relationship of the poet’s life.
“All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
But at night it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl....”
Sebastian et al
Through his deep relationship with a former lover, he has a deep, lasting bond with her severely autistic son, a relationship that feels paternal for the poet, and has long outlived his intimate relationship with the boy’s mother. Now an adult, living in Maine, non-driver Tony, periodically visits the young man deepening the gut level bond they both feel. This relationship is the subject of Gloegller’s recent books and, while less prominent in the current collection, is still a binding force.
Also central to his work are the poet’s profound health problems that led to a kidney transplant a couple of years ago. Prior to the transplant and recovery, Gloeggler had to undergo several dialysis treatment a week, a process debilitating in and of itself, but made more difficult by his limited means of access to the hospital where the treatment is given. While he minimizes the traveling, there are cabs dedicated to hospital visits, the time involved, in all kinds of weather for years, is formidable. There is no skipping a dialysis treatment.While this is a collection deeply rooted in place, it is a deeply personal one. Place helps define and shape the man but the substance of who he is knows no place, is defined by his ability to touch and know people in extraordinary and unusual ways. His relationships are not always positive, can be deeply flawed, and even the best of them are touched by human frailties of self and situation. The title poem says it best. Tony is riding the F train (his commute is formidable and, like most New Yorkers, the subway is the primary mode of transport. No matter how you look at it, subways are a wonderful place to observe your fellow citizens) watching two young men, obviously newly in love,
“ The technician bundles
my blanket over me.
She then velcros
the blood pressure sleeve
to my right arm, readies the needle
to stab me, hook me up
I check the clock,
note when my three hours
will be done. “
from “The Dialysis Shuffle”
how hard it can be
to find someone
to lift your loneliness,
how you should bless
and celebrate their miracle,
maybe even hope
it could happen to you
again someday. Instead,
you slow down, stare
at them like a car wreck
burning in the highway’s
right lane, sirens blaring,
red lights flaring. Sorry,
you had always hoped
you’d be a better man.”
Lauren Russell, Descent, Tarpaulin Sky Press, www.tarpaulinsky.com also distributed by SPD, 2020, 119 pages $18-
Russell’s book is accurately billed as hybrid: poetry and memoir. In this scrupulously, exhaustively researched, family history, Russell details her lineage as a descendant from a slave owner and a slave. While her lineage is by no means unprecedented, her decidedly mixed feelings about her white great-great grandfather are made explicit, thanks to her examination of a diary her forbearer left behind. He was a confederate soldier, much lauded and praised as well as, an unrepentant slave owner. While his liaison with her great-great grandmother was illicit, it appears to have been a loving one. Her great-great parent’s wife died young and he mourned her all his life but seemed to have found comfort in his relationship with his former slave as evidenced by the fact she was buried at the foot of the graves of her former owner and his wife.
Russell’s book is an extraordinary one, mixing history with personal reflection on her present life, intermixed with her deep story. As a teacher and a poet, she encounters a strange mix of acceptance as a mixed race person in metropolitan areas of the North while “she never felt as back as she had when she was in Madison(WI).” Her grant work in Madison made her feel extremely uncomfortable adding to the end of a relationship. This is a truly remarkable piece of work, a book that can be read through at one sitting, then returned to for more reflective studies of individual pieces. Russell has created a strikingly poignant, relevant, work for these troubled times of division.
Maggie Dubris, Brokedown Palace, Subpress & Furniture Press Books, 5000 MacArthur Blvd. Oakland, CA 94613-1301 distributed by Small Press Distribution, 2019, 273 pages $22-
Anyone who is familiar with Maggie’s work has been looking forward to this massive tome for years. Her previous books detailing her wild rides as an EMT in the heart of NYC. Think Bringing Out Your Dead wedded to Hospital and you have some idea of what her colorful life was. In fact, Dubris acknowledges Joe Connelly, author of Bring Out the Dead, the Scorsese movie was based on. In fact, Connelly was one of her partners on “the bus”, as the ambulances these EMT’s rode in were called. Ultimately, the book is an epic poem dedicated to the hospital she rode to, St Clare’s, which was decommissioned during the Berger Commissions reign of terror.
As she did in Weep Not, My Wonton and Skels, Dubris presents a cast of unforgettable cohorts. As may be expected, Midtown Manhattan has more than its share of crazy, drugged out, insane people and many of them find their way into EMT vehicles. These buses can’t be turned off or they will never start again, have AC that doesn’t work, back doors that might not close and other mind boggling, almost surreal, qualities. Unlike the previously cited books, Dubris is more concerned with a factual record of St Clare’s, the hospital, and the people she worked with, than an exaggerated-for-effect narrative. With characters and situations like these who needs exaggerations!? This book was a several years in the making as she tried to uncover historical documents and hospital records, many of which were withheld, destroyed, or just plain lost.
If you find your attention wandering after the first several chapters (you can you used to just about anything and normalize it) have no fear, Maggie will shock you back to life. Every day for the riders of the bus includes observations like there is nothing quite like a rescue effort involving a six story walkup, finding guys with their faces shot off, grotesque dead people in shooting galleries and on and on. All in days’ work.
Dubris really jolts you attention with Chapter 8- “Hit”. She was there on 9-11. On 9-10 she was told she would need medication for life to combat Multiple Sclerosis, was a day of anticipating the drugs and wondering about her suddenly devolving active lifestyle ( she was in a punk rock band, a writer and performance artist among other pursuits) when the unthinkable happened. She, and her partner Steve, find themselves at ground zero, literally covered in white soot and debris confused, in shock, wondering what the fuck happened. Like just about everyone else on scene. She doesn’t know what she was doing there nor does Steve. Doesn’t think she actually did anything, this was not a rescue effort as such, what was there to rescue? Then she was somewhere else, transfixed and changed, forever, as all of us were, though not quote in the way she, and her partner, and thousands of other first responders were. The sections on 9-11 are worth the generously priced, oversized book, alone.
Equally as affective and effective, are Dubris’ descriptions of dealing with the AIDS crisis. She was there, brought the dying young men in, and watched them go. Some of these men were dear friends, all of them part of some awful epidemic the government was loath to diagnosis or treat. She is unsparing in her detailing of the suffering and the unfeeling responses of the Reagan people. Her critique is so personal, so vivid, it feels totally justified. And she never resorts to diatribe. Her point is taken this was a national tragedy the likes of which we have never seen (until now), when another unfeeling, clueless president, approaches the issues of pandemic with indifference and ignorance. Brokedown Palace is a true hybrid: memoir, history and poetry in one massive volume essential reading for all.
Jefferson Carter, Birkenstock Blues, 2020 originally published by Presa Press now republished, updated and expanded by the author and available from www.jeffersoncarterverse.com 42 pages $10-
Birkenstock Blues is by no means Carter’s first rodeo. His chapbook publications stretch all the way back to 1976 . The back cover shows an obviously experienced reader, with a really cool hat, belting out a poem, probably one of the pieces in this wildly entertaining, brief book of poetry.
Carter has been married close to forever. The marriage is a fruitful subject for him. They have been together so long, the couple has numbered their arguments in order to save time and energy during a dispute. One of them can hold up a finger and the other knows what the number indicates as in: #3 You’re so negative, #8, you’re so naïve #11 another beer already.....Obviously a time saving, voice saving, device.
In a related long married observation, Carter wryly suggests, “she ain’t heavy...” as it applies to a woman, is a misnomer. She is when she is sleeping on your arm. These kinds of observations clearly show that a long marriage can be a deeply loving one, especially when you can agree about the parameters of the domestic situation, and the numbers that define it.
Carter is a cat lover also. He threatens never to write another poem about cats as, apparently, he has for years, then writes several new ones. His cat poems are not quite as gentle as might be expected. He suggests if he were to die unattended, after three days without meals, you know what the cat will do. Among the more outrageous poems, is the one I liked the best, quoted in full below,
Cat & Apocalypse
I’m watching our little black cat
sitting in the sink, drinking
from the faucet, her eyes closed
in ecstasy. When the world ends,
I won’t mourn my fucked-up species.
I’ll regret our cat’s moment of terror
when the water turns to flame.
If you are looking for a few laughs and some solid verse before the great Oblivion Ha Ha here is a great way to acquire them.
Rose Mary Boehm, The Rain Girl, Chaffinch Press, Ireland, 2020, 105 pages no price
Rose Mary is an international poet of distinction as her previous collections and wide publication both here, and abroad, amply show. Therefore it is unsurprising that her work embraces a multitude of subjects. And not just any subject, but large ones, including, but not limited to, immigration, escape from oppression, Diaspora, life as a refugee and violence against women. Imagery is often startling with unsettling associations as an early poem, quoted in full shows,
The rain girl
lives in her dreams,
and in a house without a roof,
where mushrooms push
through the carpet,
and a beehive is forcing
its tumorous growth
through the piano strings.
As weightless as a new soul
she stares at him in distress.
And why would she remember
One of the most striking poems in this impressive collection is dedicated to Virginia Woolf. Boehm uses the troubled genius novelists’ suicidal ideations, her life as a depressive as metaphor, where death is a female article.
One Wednesday morning
as he wished her good morning,
she grabbed his reflection
walked through the garden door
and drifted toward the millpond
picking up stones
on the way.
It is a stream of consciousness that, literally, ends in water.
Perhaps, even more striking, is the idea that Boehm effectively advances using Dorothy’s exile from Kansas as a original sin.
“Dorothy fell in love with the witch.
The cowardly lion roared.
The scare crow was burning
the fire set by the heartless
There is no place like home.
These are just a small sampling of the riches that Boehm’s wondrous latest book contain. I could quote dozens more but they would only spoil the thrill of discovering them all for yourself.
T.K. Splake, last train home, 2020, www.cyberwit.net , 45 pages with original photographs $15-
No Books Received, for any given cycle, would be complete without a Splake offering. In the current title, Splake visits local train depot for candid photos of what almost looks like observations from another lifetime. The construction of the depot suggests early 20th century with a fallen-into-disuse air. The pictures beg the question, “When was the last time you traveled by train, anywhere?” I have to seriously think about that. It’s been quite a number of years while it used to be something I did all the time.
As might be expected, many of these poems are of the brief, haiku like construction that Splake has favored in recent years. Some are longer but all embrace his favorite topics of aging, materialistic culture, and the inevitable law of diminishing returns of life as a senior of advancing years.
gray rainy morning
dip voice revealing
no beauty without pain
riding on death
riding toward heaven
hot rail whisper
brand new accommodations
spas condos hotels
not exotic places
in hemingway books
also cloned personalities
everyone the same
no unusual characters
like papa’s old cronies
his exciting adventures
visitors now lost
in fancy tourist traps
Splake continues to amaze with his energy and output.
And while we are on the subject Splake, a new title arrived, Poets First Light. In addition to the usual brief poems the accompanying photos to the text are outstanding. Each is in color highlighting cloud formations, sunsets and sunrises. The art photos alone are worth the price of entrance. Readers familiar with Splake’s work will know what to expect. For this who do not, I have chosen two brief ones to illustrate what to expect.
morning after the poetry reading
stale camembert squares
cheap white wine
starving artist’s breakfast
sand hill crane silhouettes
sun setting over marshland
shadows like monks praying
From Cyberwit, 43 pages $15-
Just as I was finishing this column another Splake title from transcendent Zero appeared in the mailbox, Cemetery Dreams, www.transcendentzeropress.org 2020, 37 pages $7-
What’s it all about? I guess when you get well into your 80’s, feel the weight of advancing years and diminishing days, it is the most important question of all. Splake, as always, deals with the ultimate questions in the only way he knows how, with poems. I’ll quote a couple of my favorites to give you the flavor of the collection.
quiet stream waters
beaver dam pond
madness waiting to happen
with touch of honey
green tea breakfast
after many years
of bloody mary mornings
mentally ill wife
serious bi-polar girlfriend
both wanting my dreams
One major flaw is whoever laid out the cover spelled Cemetery wrong. I can’t imagine how that got by but there it is with an a.
normal, a heightened sense of light with artist Stephen Kerner, selected poems 2020, available from Amazon for $39.46, roughly 80 pages, half, full color art, half poems by normal.
For those of us who know normal’s life and work, this collection represents a diversion but not an entirely unexpected one. His early work reflected his embrasure of the street culture of major cities in the 60’s as NY, Boston and SF. He speaks of himself, in those days, as a down and out rabble rouser indulging in every form of substance on offer. Poetry from his early days was openly discursive, free spirited, unfettered, unedited, with the most amazing myriad of spelling errors. Somewhere along the line he cleaned up. Mostly. A couple of typos slipped by the copy editor but if you know normal’s early work that would be one sentence’s worth back in the day. He was all about getting it down and getting it out in the pure form as it came to him. He describes himself as the kind of poet who when he spoke his work, he went to wailing, often with jazz accompaniment. All very 60’s Beat. He’s way beyond that now, more contemplative, spiritual and patient
Despite knowing him for many years I can’t say I know his “real name”. normal has always covered it and still does covers, though there is nothing normal about normal. After his early dissolute days he began looking for meaningful direction in life. He became a visiting nurse and spent decades helping other people afflicted with the ravages of their substance abuse and general declining health. So now, in his retirement, his “senior” years, his embrasure of mother earth, geo-politics, peace, and an informal Buddhist approach to this new work is more of a natural progression than a radical departure.
The poems in this beautiful art book, and it is an art book, divided equally into the poems by normal and the art, I presume, of Krener. I say presumably, as the art reflects so many diverse moods and styles, a reader unfamiliar with his work prior to this collection, as I was, initially asks who are the artists? The publishing information is scant to non-existent, no pages, no credits, no price. What I can say is the artwork is faithfully reproduced, mostly in color, and the poems compliment the art or, if you prefer, the art compliments the poetry. Whichever you prefer, this is a wonderful symbiosis of the written and the visual art. normal’s poetry is compact, contemplative and faithful to the Beat heritage that has its roots in Buddhism.
I carve you in vision
above the fray
pure & untouched
the way you have always been
It would be difficult not to see this book for what it is: an outstanding work of art by two people working in harmony. A story as he says “Of a day in a life and I life in a day.”
Susana H. Case, Dead Shark on the N Train, 2020, www.broadstonebooks.com ,96 pages $16.95 from publisher, $ 22.95 retail.
The first section of Susana Case‘s excellent new book of poetry is aptly titled,
“Living Dolls.” While not explicitly feminist in tone, implicit in her poems is the transactional nature of men and women, particularly in business. Regardless of a woman’s credentials, her education level, and expertise, sex is always a factor. Men see women as sex objects first, and foremost, while women would like nothing better than to be treated as professional equals. If this is a capital F, Feminist position, well, so be it. The question remains: why shouldn’t women have the right to being treated as equals to men. I am not suggesting women are not interested in sex with men but that there are places for, and situations where, sexuality is appropriate and there are places where it is not.
Her poem, “The Unpublished Poems of Marilyn Monroe”, is a prime example of the fate of women. I use the term, Prisoner of Sex, with some trepidation, given that uber macho man Norman Mailer wrote a book defining his views on the relationships of men and women with that title. However, that title expresses the fundamental issue a woman like Marilyn Monroe could never escape. Her image was her life. End of story.
If you have seen the photo of her reading Ulysses while she was married to Arthur Miller, at a time when she was desperately trying to be taken seriously as a person, you know what the doomed to be a sex symbol means. A serious person, in her mind, reads deep books and converses intelligently on their content, making intellectually astute observations. Monroe tries to start at the top of the intellectual pyramid but she cannot achieve her goal because she was denied the fundamentals of an equal education as men of her age were. The sadness of her fate is defined by that one image and led her to a bedroom and a bottle full of pills.
At the heart of Case’s book is the section “Crime Scenes”. These poems are based on a series of forensic scene models using dolls, and recreated rooms, where murders happened, all in miniature. These models meticulously recreate furnishings and victim’s body placements with the sort of precision of a Joseph Cornell. That is if Cornell were into blood spatters instead of art boxes. These models were created by an unlikely person, an elderly widow, who could easily be imagined at home playing one of those old ladies in a movie like Arsenic and Old Lace. In fact, these “crime model constructions” by Francis Glessner Lee are still in existence and are often referred to by students today.
Case sees them as an inspiration for ekphrastic poems to take us inside the scenes.
The poems she creates enter into the minds of the deceased. The poems are tactile and emotionally spot on. These are lives snuffed out in “nutshells”, unceremoniously ended by acts of violence. Clearly Case was influenced not only by the Lee constructions but by a previous book, Doll Studies: Forensics by Carol Guess. Guess follows a similar approach, yielding equally as vivid work. While these scenes are nowhere near as graphic as the classic study of actual crime scene photos by Luc Sante, Evidence, they don’t need to be. In fact, I would argue, these poems are more effective, for not being overly graphic. Matter of fact description leaves ample room for your imagination to enter into the lives of the victims than do the graphic, static images of violent death. While Evidence gave me nightmares, as it was supposed to, Guess’s Doll Studies, and Case’s “Crime Scenes”, touched emotional and aesthetic chords.
The final section continues the themes of women as objects, of surviving in a man’s world and making a niche for yourself as a woman. As the title poem suggests, the poet has to keep moving to stay alive. Case recounts an incident where a man died on the #1 and rode the loop from South Ferry to the Bronx and back twice before anyone noticed he was dead. A friend of mine, after a night of drinking in the City, recounts a tale of sitting on a subway bench, I forget where, talking to this older man slumped forward a with a hat over his eyes as if resting. Finally, my friend asks him what time it was. When he received no answer, he touches the man’s shoulder to rouse him and he keels over, not sleeping, but dead. Some things never change.
Case’s poems are not without humor as she fully well understands the absurd realities of modern life. Case also deftly turns the tables on sexually aggressive men by being assertive to the point of demanding. Her aggression makes the man squirm as she has places him in a sexual situation he could not control or dominate.
This is not a strident book, as Case is clever enough to frame her feelings, and her concerns, in a way that is immediate and compelling at the same time.
The Poet Spiel, Softly and Tenderly Home: The Peril of Duty, Madman Ink, contact the author at www.thepoetspiel.name 2020 125 pages no price listed, very limited availability. Check Amazon
The Poet Spiel aka Tom Taylor aka Toss W. Thomas has written a loud primal scream of a book that goes one step beyond PTSD. Each piece in this, fist-in-the-face collection details a different aspect of the pain of war and of how coming back from fighting is often worse than the fighting itself. No one is left unscathed: not the soldiers, the loved ones, especially wives and children. A whole society of scarred, wounded people are hidden behind flag waving ceremonies, patriotic gestures and speeches, while the actual combatants are left to manage a horror beyond bearing on their own. Obviously, the title is ironic, as there is nothing soft or tender in this collection. One could also say there is no place called home.
In an age where we live in a place called Trumplandia, a question will be asked, What is a gay, well into his senior years, never a soldier, man, doing writing a book about Post Traumatic Stress suffered by veterans of foreign wars? The answer is another question: why shouldn’t he? Our society is one large land mass of Trauma right now. We have collectively lived in the shadow of these wars, through three living generations, and are raising another in the midst of endless wars, domestic and foreign. My mother knew a young man who was killed at Pearl Harbor, all the male relatives in my father’s generation served in some capacity during the war, some were wounded, one was captured. Their sons fought in Vietnam. I knew guys who died there. Walked to school with a guy who went to West Point, served as a combat company leader, and has devoted his professional career after, to writing about Post Traumatic Stress. And on and on it goes. No one can escape the reach of war in the US of A 2020.
Empathy is the key to Spiel’s book. He inhabits the minds and bodies of those affected, wives, children, soldiers and speaks their words. His arresting use of the vernacular, unintentional puns, double meanings, and fractured syntax is unlike any other you are likely to read anywhere. And it works, all of it rude, and obnoxious, and highly uneducated as speech often is. These are common people in uncommon situations, and it breaks them all completely or in subtle ways that take years to completely reveal themselves.
There are stories as well as poems. “What God Wants” riffs on the Roger Waters song and takes us to Afghanistan. Apparently, endless war, stress and destruction is what God wants. None of us can clearly understand the reasoning, if there is any. At the heart of the collection is a scathing tribute to Dalton Trumbo, a friend of Spiel’s when he was a youth, who wrote the most compelling anti-war novel ever, Johnny Got His Gun. I first read Johnny when I was in high school, in 1965, on the recommendation of an English teacher and it changed my life. How many books have you ever read that you can point to that made you see life in a completely different way? I used to buy copies of Johnny, when you could afford to buy books like that, when it was readily available in newsstands, and give it to people. Just give it to them and say, “Read this.” Spiel’s Trumbo tribute is called, “Yeast Rises” and it tells the inner thinking of a man like Johnny who is a human torso, with no body parts, no face, just a torso, and a brain that works. Imagine meeting President 45 like that.... Is Johnny readily available anymore? I don’t know but everyone should find it and buy it. Spiel’s book is essential reading.
I cited three iterations of Spiel’s name as he has worked and created professionally under these three names. Equally as important and as arresting as the written work, is the inclusion of an insert of original images the artist Tom Thomas has created. Each is as compelling in their vivid, edgy state of abject terror as the poems and stories.
Evelyn Lau, Pineapple Express, Anvil Press, www.anvilpress.com 2020, 105 pages, $18 USD
It feels as if Evelyn Lau has been around forever and she is not quite 50. She literally burst on the lit scene with an eye-opening memoir of life as a runaway on the street. While on the run, in and out of foster homes, she would, and often, did do any, and everything, to stay alive. By her early twenties she had published the memoir, a book of poetry and a book of short stories. The miracle is not that the bad girl lived, which was an accomplishment in and of itself, but she thrived as a writer.
Well, she’s still here writing and, unlike the bad boy Jim Carroll who likewise hurtled into the lit world and is no longer with us. His was also as story drugging and whoring around with the addition of the ending of a once promising basketball career. All graphically detailed in Basketball Dairies. Unlike Carroll, who dedicated the rest of his life to being cool and making the scene in the City, Lau grew up. She has made a living as writer, giving reading, publishing and teaching writing. However, Lau also has mental health issues, depression in particular, that has led her to desperate dark even suicidal places. There are psychiatrist and the usual mood-altering drugs, but still, her daily life is one of struggling to escape the lifelong appearance of the black dog, the sheer lack of energy to go on. As you might expect from her earlier work, she spares no one, especially herself, from the intense scrutiny, resulting in a moving collection of mature, personal poetry, anyone who has ever known depression can easily relate to.
Charles Rammelkamp, Ugler Lee, Kelsay Books, ww.kelsaybooks.com 2020, 115 pages $18-
Rammelkamp’s latest book is a family history spanning the generations preceding his own and his contemporaries. While there is more than enough tragedy to go around: his twin brother dies young of cancer, parents struggle with Alzheimer’s, the previous generation dies, it is not a book that dwells on tragedy. In fact, there is good deal of humor, some of the dark variety, but an explanation of the odd title gives you an idea of where he is coming from. Ugler Lee is a term devised and is often used by his father to describe any mishap along the bumpy highway of life. At one point the phrase is defined as meaning “a private commentary when something unspeakable happens.”
The word reappears throughout the collection in different contexts, such as directly applying it to The Grim Reaper, death in the family, impending doom, but in ways that feel more black humorous than angst ridden. The poet has a kind of Dies Irae kind of glee, our fates are all the same and are unavoidable, but we must make the most if it while we can. One of the ways Rammelkamp chooses to do so is by creating a memorable family portrait for his generation and the ones that follow.
The most touching poem for me in this collection is quoted in full below,
After My Brother’s Funeral
When I looked
at my reflection
in a storefront
I looked older
than I imagined myself,
Alan Britt, Greatest Hits 1969-2010(and beyond) Dream Tyger Press,2020 reprinted with additional material of an edition by Pudding House Press, looks to be 30 plus unnumbered pages no price listed
, Ode to Nothing, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Press with co-operation Concord Media Jelen (Irodalmi Jele), Arad, Romania, 63 pages No price or publication date
, Lost Among the Hours, Rain Mountain Press, www.rainmountainpress.com
2014, 93 pages $16-
, Gunpowder for Single-ball Poems, Concrete Mist Press, York, PA, 2020,111pages, $14-
Poet Alan Britt sent me a bonanza of poetry showing the wide, far reaching, range of his poetic gift. The Pudding House series was editor Jennifer Bosveld’s attempt to broaden the appeal, the commercial and cultural appeal, of poetry in brief editions representing stages of the poet’s development. The poet chose his own work and offered an explanation of why the poems were chosen. The idea was to create a kind of album of Greatest Hits the way pop artists did in the early days of rock n roll. While none of us branched out into the world with huge commercial success or sales, it was a fun idea.
Alan’s poems, expanded in this new collection, are mostly narratives, personal poems of growing up in Florida, young love, lost love and coming of age work. In the spirit of the Greatest Hits concept, none of these are formally challenging, but all are entertaining and plain spoken, in a way any general reader could appreciate. In marked contrast to my own selection in the series which is largely abstract.
As is the engrossing, deep song of the Ode to Nothing. Here Britt enters into a surreal, deep image language that both celebrates the written world and calibrates the dimension of the imaginative process. This a place that is boundless, always challenging the reader to see with new eyes, eyes willing to accept the challenge that: anything is possible. And ode to nothing is a philosophical statement that could also be read as an ode to everything. This is the kind of collection that you read straight through than return to the beginning and read again to expand the experience.
Generally, I would not mention a six-year-old book separately in relation to a current title but these two books are very much of a kind, best read together. Lost Among the Hours and Gunpowder are unified collection that follow a single narrative course. The narrator is mock serious, almost flippant in tone, as if daring the reader to take what he says seriously. The photographer whose, work adorns the section breaks in both books, is Charles P Hayes. His scenes along the Hudson, mostly in Peekskill, range from the tongue in cheek Peekskill on the Hudson #1 of distorted shadow images that could be seen as alien in nature, to oddly eerie reflective shot of a crane reflected in a pond.
The intent of this work is serious but has a very coy sense of humor emphasizes a series of overlapping themes and images that are progressive in nature. By which I mean, each poem adds something to the one that precedes it. Lost Among the Hours ends with a blaze of Glory for George Harrison while Gunpowder contemplates questions of sex and death, mostly death, and concludes with a variation on a 60’s musical theme, for what it’s worth, (though in quite a different context than the revolution in the street Buffalo Springfield song.)Gunpowder also includes an incisive interview with the poet about his process and art. All in all a challenging reading experiences full of multi-various rewards, ranging from the pop culture, to all manner of art and music, to the outer realms of the cosmos.
Margaret Randall, Starfish on a Beach: The Pandemic Poems, Wings Press. distributed by www.ipgbook.com 2020, 62 pages no price listed $18?
Randall has the distinction of being born in America, lived in Mexico, among other places, and then denied re-entry into the country of her birth. Needless to say, she is not a poet or a writer who to be taken lightly, who expressed her mind freely and is solidly against all things oppressive, especially governments. Her distinguished career includes, literally, pages of publications. And those are just the books.
Needless to say, Starfish on a Beach is political. How could it not be? The regime’s errant, misguided, probably criminal, lack of a response to a world-wide public health emergency is one long political statement in and of itself. Randall humanizes the pandemic. She relates human tragedy and suffering, the common people who are most likely to be afflicted are her most frequent subjects and you know when she writes of their dilemmas, she has been there. Seen the suffering. Consider this, one brief passage among many,
“Yesterday looks different
now that today
has its hands
around our throats”
(from “Trap a Minute or Two”
Received, Recommended, Capsule Reviewed
Jennifer Lagier, Camille Comes Unglued, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.net , 2020, 34 pages $15-Our esteemed Webmistress, adds another chapter to her long, running series of persona poems featuring the eponymous, Camille. She is older, and wiser, and no longer as spry as she used to be, but continues undaunted: politically expressive, sexually mature and active, poetically charged. Our esteemed art editor, Gene McCormick adds his striking cover art expressing a freak out, horror show in action, no doubt mirroring Camille’s reaction to president Fritocheeto’s latest mad tirade.
Noelle Kocot, God’s Green Earth, Wave Books, www.wavepoetry.com 61pages 2020, $17- distributed by SPD. Title says it all. All things great and small. Witty, profound, highly readable, by an accomplished poet.
Samantha Deal, Something Opened, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawerence.com, 61pages, 2020 $16.95 distributed by SPD . A car accident when young and how it affected her life, essentially, shaped her life. Moving and technically astute.
Gary Metras, River Voice II, Adastra Press, 16 Reservation Road, Easthampton.MA 01027, 73 pages, 2020, $18- distributed by SPD. The man and the river and the fly and the trout are one.
Heather Christle, what is amazing, Wesleyan University Press, www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.com, 2012, 65 pages. Poetry by the author of the quirky, astonishing memoir, The Crying Book. One wishes there was a little more cheek and a little less tongue.
Candice Wuehle, Death Industrial Complex, Action Books, www.actionbooks.org 2020, 81 pages Price Not Listed, distributed by SPD. Wide ranging, complex meditation on all things death related , using the multi-talented, dead at 22, by suicide, Francesca Woodman’s transcendent photographs as a spirit guide. Both challenging and fascinating, if a bit overdone at times, and unnecessarily opaque.
John Dorsey, The Afterlife of the Party: New and Selected Poems 2016-2018, Ragged Lion Press, UK, printed in US, for the press by Bottle of Smoke Press, 2019 129 pages 8 pounds. Tight, consistent, visually evocative poems, of people and places seen by the prolific Dorsey on his extensive travels across the USA.
Jordan Smith, Little Black Train, Three Mile Harbor Press, www.3mileharbor press.com, 2020, 91 pages, $16- distributed by SPD. Diverse collection covers all the bases from European travel, jazz jams, classical music, reading Lacan, hiking, and everything in between, and beyond. Of special interest is the series of Eight Hats previously published as a standalone, ekphrastic chapbook with illustrations of, a selection of hats, one of which graces the cover of the book.
Gayle Brandies, Many Restless Concerts: a testimony, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawerencepress.com 2020, 130 pages $17.95 distributed by SPD. Gothic recreation of many of the victims of the “Blood Countess”, Hungarian Countess Bathory, who was reputed to have murdered upwards of 600 “virgins” basically, because she could.(Also depicted in a gory novel by Andrei Codrescu among others) A fiend for all seasons right up there with mad Ludwig previously captured in poetry and in a play by the late, great Robert Peters.
Leah Naomi Green, the more extravagant feast, Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org, 2020, 68 pages, no price listed. Winner of Walt Whitman Award personal, humane, universal themes mostly revolving around family and motherhood.
Zvi A Sesling, Simple Game: Baseball Poems, Presa Press www.presapreess.come, 2019 31 pages $8- For anyone who loves baseball this is a must for you. Especially if you grew up collecting the cards as I did in the 50’s and 60’s. Sesling poems focus on the Braves, the team he followed from Boston, to Milwaukee and now, in Atlanta. For someone who is more likely to remember the lineups of the ’57 World Series than cast members of any given Shakespeare play, as I do, you should have already ordered a copy.
Susan Tepper, Confess, Cervena Brava Press, www.cervanabravapress.com, 2020, 2020 201 pages $8- Allusive and elusive poems in the manner of her acknowledged mentor, Simon Perchik. Mysterious and abstract, probing poems, that explore deep relationships as a “spool running out in the dark.”
M.J. Arcangelini, A Quiet Ghost, Luchador Press an Imprint of Stubborn Mule Press, www.stubbornmulepress.bigcartel.com check them out on Facebook. 2020, 47 pages. $13- Imagine a routine test trip to the doctors that ends up “you’re not leaving.” The reason he won’t be leaving is heart surgery, that has to be performed like now. How is your day going so far? A Quiet Ghost is the poet’s vivid recounting of the heart saving surgery, the post op recovery and the other, more mundane aspects of PT afterwards. There is nothing mundane about feeling like a revenant. Despite some repetitions in the post-operative poems, the reader is grateful that the poet survived and was able to compose this brief but memorable book on a vital subject.
Sarah Giragosian, The Death Spiral, Black Lawrence Press. www.blacklawrencepress.com Distributed by SPD 2020 $16.95. Well past midway through 2020 year of the plague and reading as much as possible to avoid virtual insanity, Sarah’s book is on the top of the list of new poetry books. There is no subject she doesn’t, or won’t, tackle with originality, verve and wit. There is deep tragedy, a poem dedicated to her great-grandmother survivor of the Armenian holocaust and there is poetry of joy, such as a poem celebrating the same sex marriage she was finally allowed to have. There are “nature” poems, which I qualify, as no one writes “nature” poems quite like Sarah does. At once they are rooted in the particular but extrapolate into a fabulist world or a world of such startling clarity, we are left marveling how we were transported there. These are deeply informed, knowledgeable in form, substance, and subject matter or a first-rate poet whose every book should be celebrated as a publishing event.
George Douglas Anderson, The Rough End of the Pineapple, Uncollected Press, www.therawartreview.com, 2020, 148 Pages, $15. The title is an Australian colloquialism that can roughly be translated into “the shit end of the stick” in rude American. Anderson presides over poetry blog Bold Monkey which celebrates the “in the street, hail fellow well met, beer drinking bro” set. His own work travels that familiar route, yielding some outrageous, crazy-assed yarns. Anyone who has spent way too much time in a bar, as I have, would have a local version of these stories. Some of these rise to the level of folk legend. Anderson proves that what is true in the pubs of Wollongong Australia applies equally to say, pre-Covid, College Station, Texas or Utica, N.Y.
Brady Rhodes, The Milkweed Man, iuniverse, 2019, 67 pages $10.99 https://www.amazon.com/Milkweed-Man-Brady-Rhoades/dp/1532073410. Two stories and a collection of slice of life poems by a man who has worked as a reporter. His piece “Marcus” about an old black man stood out the most.
Kathleen McClung, A Juror Must Fold In On Herself, Rattle.com, Winner of Rattle Chapbook Competition, 2020, 35 pages $6- Intriguing look at life as a juror in a trial, including being sequestered. Poems are told in a variety of forms, which I could have found off-putting, generally, as I am not a fan of most forms, but they are so well executed, I can’t imagine telling them any other way. McClung is clear-eyed, accomplished poet, and the subject is one you don’t often see tackled from an outsider’s view. Having been called as a prospective juror several times, all my summons turn into murder trials, I have often wanted to hear an insider’s view, no having been chosen for the jury four times. The usual high standards of editing and production are evident in this Rattle little book and for six bucks, how can you go wrong?
Mark Terrill with illustrations by Jon Langford, Great Balls of Doubt, Verse Chorus Press, www.versechorus.com 2020, 128 pages, $14- Ex-pat poet Terrill, he was born in California, has for decades , called Germany home. Terrill has traveled widely as a former merchant marine, student of Paul Bowles in Morocco and as a youth in America. He brings his experience to bear in harbor roughneck bars, houses of prostitution, kif smoking in Morocco and many real life lived in some rough places Fodor’s won’t take you. In the spirit of Beat writers from the 60’s, Terrill’s writing is straightforward, never overtly complex, and reflects an observant, well-read read world view. His books have been infrequent so a new one, which feels like a distillation of what have been writing the last ten years, is a welcome arrival.
Doug Stone, Sitting in Powell’s Watching Burnside Dissolve in Rain, The Poetry Box, www.poetrybox.com, 2020, 94 pages $16- It rains a lot in Oregon. Stone lives in Oregon and his poems of place, literally, feel wet. As if he had just walked in from a walk and his notebook got drenched in a sudden squall. But Stone is more than a poet of place. He writes of growing up, with touching sincerity, that feels genuine and honest. If there is sentiment in poems looking back, Stone like myself, is of a certain age and can’t help looking back, it is a sentiment tinged with feeling and understanding. A final section is contemplative and appreciative of Chinese poets which includes a touching, humorous exchange between two old friends and poetic masters. Appreciations of contemporaries such as Ursula La Guin, now gone, and mentor/friend Peter Sears, round out a never-a-false-note excellent collection.
Serge Gavronsky, Once Written Liber Scretarium, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2020, 118 pages, $18- Gavronsky is a poet of brief moments, here, and now, and always. Ranging from the personal to the reflective, of place and time, and that which transcends time, Gavronsky has fashioned a book of deceptive simplicity that forces you to slow down and begin again, more slowly this time and appreciatively. As a student of Louis Zukofsky’s work, there does not seem to be an ending to poems, as much as a fervent sense of beginning, in a new place, always looking for the immanent in the everyday.
Matthew J Spireng, Good Work, Evening Street Press, www.eveningstreetpress.com, 2020, 86 pages, $15- Winner of the Sinclair Poetry Prize 2019. Spireng is a plain spoke poet of place. The place he most clearly associates with is rural New York farming communities where he lives and has worked. Subjects range from finding artifacts, fishing, mechanics of farming, the people he has met, known or heard of. Spireng is an accomplished enough poet that he makes even the most mundane seeming subject alive and immediate. Local legends have meaning and the stories that surround them are the stuff of this wonderful collection. The poems exude a joy for living and the places where the everyday may not be teeming with excitement, but a slow pace, that makes one stop and reflect and appreciate where you are, now.
Received, read, most recent
Jon Bush, A Little Book of Smoke and Freedom, Perry Terrell Publishing PO Box 1623, Alameda CA 94501-6200 2020 11pages no price listed. Long story.
“ “ , Betty, Same publisher 18 pages. Long, love story
Max Stephan, poems for the American Brother, Slipstream Press, www.slipstream.org , 2020 Winner of the Slipstream Chapbook Contest, 38 pages $10- Intense depiction of a younger brother’s near hero worship of the older one. And the older brother’s sad, decline, death and the aftermath effects on the younger one, the poet.
Virginia Aronson, Itako, www.claresongbirds.com 2020, 31 pages, price not listed. A brief collection of poems examining a little known practice of training blind women to communicate with the dead in Japan. An exercise in spirituality deeply felt in the East but not in the West which seems spiritually bereft by caparison. Fascinating if only for the brief explanatory notes on the practice. The excellent poems are a bonus.
Odds and Ends Prose etc.
Lunar Richey, Offbeat & other stories, Inequity Press, Vendetta Books, PO Box 252 Seaside Heights NJ 08751, 2020, 73 pages, No price listed.
Despite some moments of raw humor and outlandish antics “on the bus” I preferred Richey’s stories in the previous, Fuck Factory to this new title. That collection had a hapless, clueless loser, working a desk clerk in a no tell motel that felt like, well, the title of this collection. My favorite of the Offbeat, is the opening, title piece. A couple lives in a crappy apartment with their two-year-old son, living a going nowhere, exceedingly shitty life. Not much changes except more shittiness. I am generally sympathetic to hapless heroes, after all Ignatius Reilly remains on my all-time list of great fictional characters, and no one is more hapless than he is. Alas, none of these people rise to the level of charm, wrong word, of abject amusing haplessness, as Reilly does. The long concluding story is an attempt to recreate a Merry Prankster type of bus on a cross country adventure. The people are dissolute, drug addled, and prone to making bad decisions they compound with even worse decisions. Maybe if the story was even longer, they seem to cover vast distances cross country, from NYC to CA, in a paragraph, their misadventures would have felt more compelling. Maybe not. Having read Robert Stone’s adventures on the bus, that self-centered prig/prick Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy Kolored whatever, Hunter S Thomason’s encounters with weirdness in its ultimate forms, this piece feels insubstantial by unfair comparison. Maybe that is too high a bar to set but if you are going to recreate the, either on the bus or not on the bus scene, it would help to do a better job of it. That was one bus journey I would have opted out of in Paramus.
Zoltan Boszormenyi translated by Paul Sohar, The Refugee, Inequity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 252, Seaside Heights, NJ 2020, 2019 2nd edition.
The Refugee is a tale that seems timeless, though it is rooted in modern European History. It is a place that Kafka would find familiar. A man seeks to flee an insufferable, oppressive regime where he has no future. In doing so he is forced to leave his wife and beloved young sons behind, for an uncertain future, in a strange place.
The camp that takes the refugee and his fellow escapees in, feels like hell’s anteroom. Communal cells are like prison with lawless gangs of skinheads and psychopaths, mixed in with common people just trying to get by. The first day in the prison/camp finds the protagonist assaulted by criminal elements and stabbed. He is rescued and installed in a cell with several other, now stateless men, suffering the whims of the board that determines their fate.
There are strict procedures, but men and women are allowed to socialize and even take day jobs though, technically, they are forbidden to work. Time seems to have no meaning, except each day feels like an infinite regression of humanity with a questionable future. The claustrophobic, episodic nature of the book, reminds me of Herta Mueller’s trapped citizens dealing with the ruthless dictators of the Eastern Bloc. While not quite as polished or as accomplished as Mueller, and why would we expect it to be, as she has won a Nobel for her works. This refugee feels poignant, and immediate, at the visceral level. We are expected to experience what these lost souls on the way from limbo to someplace else experience. And we do.
Ironically, the kind of reprieve available, is an equally burdensome one as life in the camp. The reader is fully aware that being sent to a country with no money, where you don’t know anyone, do not speak the language, have no home to settle in or hopes of employment, despite many marketable skills, makes you ask, is it a reprieve at all?
Special Kudos to Chiron Review for their Donald Trump “Crucifixation”: An obese DT, on the cross attended by a cowled Melania, cloaked Vlad Putin, worshipful Mitch McConnell, Stoic Jared, weeping Ivanka and a special guest appearance by Stormy Daniels as Mary Magdalene. Cover, #Issue 119, Fall 2020.
And Last but Not Least:
A link to my latest completely different book of poems: