Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Two from Jennifer Lagier
Covid Dissonance, 2021,Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.com. 35 pages $15-
These are acute, pointed poems describing what isolation means to an Everywoman of a certain age. Lagier is both physically and mentally active and feels the constraining aspect of forced isolation. She loves hiking and power walks in the wilderness near her home and on the beach with her dogs. And she’s pissed that we are forced into idleness and isolation. Consequently, these are political poems, excoriating the orange menace for his wanton disregard of humanity in general, and the citizens he is supposed to represent.
Not one to go quietly into her writing room, Jennifer offers some practical tips for weathering the plague beginning with the eminently sensible mindset: don’t think of yourself as isolated but as an artist (writer) in residence. Use your free time, to cultivate your space, literally and figuratively. If you are fortunate enough to own your own home with a garden, tend it, plant, weed, get down and dirty with the seeds. Exercise in and out of doors daily, read, create and don’t dwell on the constant assault of the talking head politicos. You too can turn your shelter in place into a work of art.
Meditations on Seascapes and Cypress, Blue Light Press, www.bluelightpress.com 2021, 97 pages $19.95
Quite literally Jennifer’s newest book is a Zen Walking meditation. In nature she is in the eternal now, observing and being to the maximum, using her state of awareness to detail her observations. The result is a major collection of highly visual, landscape painting like poems. The style is spare and precise and always on point.
streak colorless sky.
Distant fog smudges
A small boy
gouges wet sand,
leaves weeping holes
along low-tide seashore.
(from Moonstone Beach)
Fingers transcribe what the muse whispers.
Metaphor raises a cautious head.
Poetry sneaks out from under thin shadows.
(from Moon Fall)
The book is organized by the four seasons beginning with Fall. Each season of this year’s long meditation examines an aspect of that season as “changeability”. Winter, recovery & preparation, Spring, blooming and regeneration and Summer, full bloom, the majesty of light.
In some respects, this collection reminded of the transcendent visions of the Hudson River School of painting transformed into word pictures. This is a book highly recommended for people who prefer the slow walk-through Nature to a quick guided highlight tour.
Laurie Blauner, A Theory for What Just Happened, Future Cycle Press, www.futurecycleorg., 2021, 71 pages $15.95 also available as kindle book $2.99
Laurie Blauner’s latest collection is so rich and diverse, a brief review cannot capture the scope and the range of her work. There are three intimately connected sections: Shy Instruments of Understanding, Warn the Others and Still Life with Nervous Animals. More than a mere cautionary tale, these apocalyptic visions feel more like the revelations of a mythic oracle on the brink of imminent disaster than poems. Often dreamlike, the initial poems show a society that, despite all of its technical devices of personal informational sharing, this society is fundamentally unable to communicate in a visceral, truthful manner. Information is facile, misleading, and downright stupefying, as in as fanciful as it is stupid. Conclusions are reached but they are almost always the wrong, most harmful, expedient as opposed to forward thinking ones. Disinformation replaces truth and the result is chaos and, inevitably, disaster.
When I began reading Warn the Others, I thought of the concluding scenes in the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. The last of the humans not subsumed by the alien pod people, runs out into the freeway, past the trucks loaded down with the pods that reconstruct humans into something else not quite human once they fall asleep, and no one will stop and listen to the warning, “They are here.” The movie may be remade but the result remains the same.
Climate change is coming, the world is severely out of balance. We look for the signs that spells out Dystopia Now!
“The dog knew everything and I tried to forget him
until it was my turn. Black fur outside,
gravity inside. He counted birds,
in unusual arrangements. I took him into the woods,
which mistook me for someone else.
Creatures opened their throats like women persuading
Us with words: mysterious, wolves, weighty, arbitrary sky,
Inept shade. I was right about rancid leaves,
A woman screaming, her family buried deeply inside
One another. They mistook me for what they already said.”
(from Mistaken Selves in an Accident)
This is a world in flux, the elemental music of the spheres is in the key of metaphysical distress. The world is so outside of time it is almost mythological in its dislocation. We now have an unnatural world instead of a natural one: spoiled weather, exhausted light, diseased lightning. We have nature poems without nature.
By the third section, what once might have been considered surreal is now normal. We have Dali silhouettes morphing into landscapes, interiors of a Georgia O’Keeffe skull as a skyscape reflecting the night as if it were the sun once all the light had all been sucked out of its core. The first person familiar is at odds with the environment, coming of age poems become elemental, describing a stepping outside of time rather than personal growth. We are all locked into a nightmare reflected endlessly in hall of mirrors where all the selves that are reflected back are pieces of a puzzle that will never connect. In my right hand is everything that is on the left. There could be a solution to all the problems posed, to everything turned upside down, maybe. Look behind the dark concealing curtain. It’s up to you what you find there. Perhaps, looking matters more than what is found. So it goes.
Miho Nonaka, The Museum of Small Bones, The Ashland Poetry Press, Ashland University, Ashland, OH 44805 firstname.lastname@example.org 2020, 82 pages, $19.95
The Museum of Small Bones by multi-lingual poet Miho Nonaka is an extraordinary effort, so assured, so poised, so precise and elegant, the reader cannot help but be amazed that this is her first collection. Each poem is finely wrought, intense and lyrical evoking a spiritual and creative divide that compromises her cultural heritage. The Introductory prose poem, “Rupture” uses an inspired metaphor, cooking marbles in a frying pan, heating them to a point where once they have reached a fully heated state, plunging them into water splits them creates rifts and fissures and veins, broken layers of glass that become the dislocation she feels in her own emotional and creative life. On one hand her father attempts to come to terms with a revered emperor, once deemed divine, who is dying. And later, as these poems so deftly show, how difficult it is to adapt to a new world whose language, cultural referents, literature are so different than the one she is born into. I think of the Tanizaki novel where a post-war family lives in a house in Japan that incorporates the old spartan rice paper walled enclosures for the older generation, and Western rooms for the younger people who have fully embraced the Western influences on the country (as opposed to say, Mishima’s obsessive apocalyptic, nihilistic chauvinism).
While the Tanizaki’s fictional family remains in Japan, Nonaka has to assimilate in America. The result is these poems; a wrestling within, trying to cope which often feels like a dream or a movie in a foreign film the lead actor doesn’t know the language. As I had just finished reading my two favorite Kawabata novels, Snow Country and A Thousand Cranes, I was reminded of his intense focus, the poetic detailing of landscape and characterizations. As thesethoughts of Snow Country were fresh, I discovered my subconscious thinking had referenced the workings of a deliberate dynamic by Nonaka. She twice references the Snow Country (and Abe another of my favorites contemporary novelists) in the section.
More personally, the poet longs to be a jellyfish, essentially transparent, with a spherical head and tentacles adrift in a current she has no real control of. These poems offer an opposite impression, a writer in full command of her subject, divides and all, that is self-assured in their artistry even as the poet doubts her ability to be wholly of one place; not Japanese but not American either.
The second section is a brilliant study in contrasts. Nonaka uses silk weaving worms from a childhood class participation project to elucidate the process involved in the making for the fine fabric as a metaphor for process of creativity. The exquisite prose poems are both personal and intensely focused, especially when contrasted with the hostile “Cowboy” poets she encounters during a bad poetry workshop experience. The Cowboys are condescending, are smug, superior, insulting, cruel even, in equal measure either failing to comprehend her work or not even bothering to try. A reference to Elizabeth Bishop prompts a dismissive response equating Bishop with a former student of average talent, at best. I’ve been to a workshop like that one with a former director of the Iowa Workshop, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet of such boorish disdain for students at all levels of achievement, one wonders how he managed to survive his tenure without a viable death threat. Who considered his mission to demean and disregard all the so-called students. I guess the thinking is only the strong survive. One wonders how many lives he destroyed, after destroying all their dreams?
Certainly, he would have never understood, nor cared for, Nonaka’s explanation as to why she does not own a kimono; she knows the level of sacrifice that goes into creating the garment. Creation is a life struggle, a process that defines, subsumes the self for the ultimate goal of creating a final project, be it a silk scarf or a poem. It is well-earned personal metaphor.
The poet love’s contained objects, especially one surrounded by an impenetrable wall of glass. She cites paper weights, the aforementioned marbles, Cornell constructions and concludes with “and the flaming tongue barely contained inside the perfect dome of glass.” This is the poet speaking of the vital aspects of creation. Visiting Japan, a friend asked Nonaka if she might like to return to Japan to live. She does not immediately reply. Nonaka has found herself translating her thoughts, her poems, from Japanese to English instead of her previous rendering of Japanese poems to English. Assimilated? Yes and no. It is a process. A process like writing a poem. She is breaking away from her constraints, yet remains rooted at the same time. You must acknowledge where you come from in order to become what you will be in the future.
“……The birds and branches
Are one, entwined for necessary heat.
Its you waiting to be translated.”
Four from T. K Splake all published by Cyberwit. www.cyberwit.com, all $15-
The Bard Res’ 2020, 40 pages poetry and original photos throughout by the poet mostly of ruined interiors.
Black Dress Fevers, 2020, 49 pages with full color photos of the black dress of the title in a wide variety of, often n congruous locations, all exquisitely framed and shot by the author
Do Not Disturb, 2021, 38 pages
beyond tears, 2021, 49 pages with 17 exquisite color photos of fields of yellow flowers. And the usual assortment of three-line haiku like poems, some of his best yet.
The Bard Res and Black Dress Fevers, closed out the dreadful 2020 year with the usual flare of Splake wrestling with the muse against rat bastard time. These two books are especially impactful due to the exquisite photographs that heighten the effect of Splake’s blending of his signature brief, haiku like poems, and some longer musings about life and times in the shadows of the valley of death.
Brief tastes from the first two collections:
wannabe writing friend
learning of my retirement
receiving monthly check
saying “you could go anywhere”
sadly not understanding
in my upper peninsula exile
feeling comfortable with myself
poet finally home
telling his friends
only part time poet
full time nobody
From Black Dress Fevers:
early morning light
brautigan creek shadows
light mist falling
enjoying silent beauty
not necessary to thank
holy book scriptures
pray to stone gods
for wilderness pleasure
different rock strata colors
circles in tree trunks
blue topographical lines
rivers winding back and forth
yellow wildflower pollens
spider web creations
over dandelion floss
creative forest designs
Splake starts 2021 off with a bang if the cover image of Do Not Disturb is a small caliber handgun with two bullets beside it, aligned as a still life. Is this now or is it the end? Given that he has more collections in the pipeline, we’ll say it is a continuation...
long hair and hot cars
looking cool being fast
living rock and roll
hot brats cold budweiser
jack daniel’s t-shirts
two sizes too small
Brief selections from beyond tears:
black burnt branch
wild thimbleberry juice
haikus written on leaves
thumbleweed blowing beyond
old Conoco gas station
empty route sixth-six
dark moonless night
after campfire died
northern lights warm glow
Scott Ferry, Mr. Rogers kills fruit flies, Main Street Rag Publishing Co, www.mainstreetrag.com, 2020, 53 pages $13-
If pressed to provide a one-word description of Ferry’s latest collection it would be, eclectic. In the first section we have mostly well-known people in highly unusual circumstances beginning with “Gabriel Garcia Marquez changes a diaper”. Of all the incongruous associations I might have imagined for the leading proponent of magical realism, diaper changing would not have appeared on my list. I have enough difficulty absorbing his actual meetings at bowling alleys in his youth as he approaches the lanes and releases his black beauty towards the pins (as related in the first volume of his memoirs). Further incongruities include: “Jacques Cousteau rides a camel,” “Joseph Campbell imagines war” and “Jane Goodall flosses her teeth,” along with the title poem. Amusing, mundane and satisfyingly surreal.
Section Two is about what you would expect from one with the banner: How to cross eyelid bridge. “it’s not for us to decide/ but we cannot wake the godbody.”
“He can see the animal eyes
and the toothbones articulating, demanding
responses and it will be understood
there can be no answer, no judgment,
no plaster word-powder on is tongue.
He can just grin, billowing through the hallways
like a cashmere praying mantis, inedible
(from “Holden’s cowheart boat”)
The final section is called Divination by: 17 different, I assume actual, psychological states ranging from Aicmomancy: by sharp objects to Gyromancy: by dizziness to Labiomancy: by lips to Psuedomancy: by false means. These range from odd, to inspired, to downright ingenious. If you are looking for something truly off-beat poetry this would be a great collection to buy. Trying to define it feels futile when you could read it yourself and make your own judgments.
Two by David Spicer
Waiting for the Needle Rain, Hekate Publishing, 73 John Drive, Farmingville, NY 11738, Anthonyknott@hekatepublishing.com 2020, 89 pages, $6.95 original art cover by Nancy Clift Spicer
American Maniac, Hekate Publishing (as above), 2020, 79 pages $15- On Amazon
Spicer’s exuberant poems in Waiting for the Needle Rain, have a strong sense of immediacy. The situations may be fantastic, Keats lover of mermaids, Sharon in the sky with diamonds but are told in bluff, casual way, that rub the right way. The feeling is as Spicer says, when you meet a compatible companion like a willing woman in a bar. Poems are often amusing, tongue in cheek, and faux naïve, wryly humorous, and, occasionally rude and crude.
A sample of his method, “Monday in a Nutshell, quoted in full
“You play one last note on the quiet Wurlitzer,
yielding to the murmur of distant whales
near the beach, and I pray to Buddha
humming birds will revel in the sand,
The smell of cabbage drifts into the parlor.
I wipe the marble counter and shit
the oven door, flashing the calico and tuxedo
a honeyed smile. You and I flirt
during the drive to work, on our elevator ride.
Coil against each other like contented snakes.
While the clocks hide in the bottom
drawers, we prowl the office all day,
selling every stock in sight
after we kiss each other’s noses for luck.”
As an extra bonus, Spicer poses questions, “who will know the thrill of a busboy?” And asserts a little-known supposition that “even aliens need insurance.”
American Maniac has more strictly speaking, “persona” poems. The voice defining itself through a series of increasingly tall tales. The maniac asserts how bad he is as an of oversized outlaw who would not be out of place hanging with Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers” Finally, there are the more realistic poems, say as in “Badlands” with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Those movies are based on the kidnaper and killer Caryl Chessman, a man not devoid of some personal charm despite his warped way of attracting attention of the, across-state-lines-with-a-gun, kind. Spicer’s Maniac is closer to the cartoons Stone creates for “Natural Born Killers” than realism of the Badlands. In fact, if #45 had clones and the clones went from bad to worse, you could easily envision this Maniac as one of those soulless, reckless lying bastards everyone has been familiar with through the president’s disastrous, just-seemed-like-it-was-forever, one term.
A case could be made that Spicer creates this “legendary” outlaw prototype, a kind of Ed Dorn Gunslinger, to extrapolate how the mythic “bad guy” can become the worst kind of real. The last half of American Maniac contains some brilliant work such as “Anthem of a Terrorist” and the long, elegiac, vibrant tribute “....The Towers Fell...”. Those two poems alone are worth delving in to the wild landscape of Spicer’s America. Remember, as the poet asserts in a poem, “My guns are named Jesus.” That one title says it all.
Books by Simon Perchik from Cholla Needles all available from Amazon for $10- each.
The Weston Poems, 2021, 170 pages includes an essay by Simon, seven instructive interviews, billed as a conversation with Simon which I read before I read the poems. I can say after decades of reading and puzzling over Simon’s poems, I wish I had access to these interviews sooner as they provide a lucid, comprehensive overview of his working methods, his creative process and the intent of his work. In short Si gives you permission to not understand the poems but to formulate an impression, a feeling for each piece(collection).
The Reflection in a Glass Eye Poems 2012-2016, 2021 170 pages
After reading two collections back-to-back, I have come to understand the human mind may not be constructed in such a way as to easily read two full length totally involving collections of Si’s poetry as I did. It feels necessary to digest one before moving on to another. Of course, if you like nightmares directly associated with specific overlapping images evoked by Perchik’s poetry, have at it.
Once you get past the need to understand each poem on a logical level, you can read this collection to see how a master manipulates his form. There is repetition galore in Simon’s work, images recurring like pieces in a very elaborate, extremely vivid nightmare. Simon claims to be influenced equally by classical music, Mahler, Mozart, Beethoven among others. He also begins the process of writing with a collection of photographs (in this case Edward Weston) the resulting poetic associations are both aural and visual. He beings by describing, in prose, the pictures, elaborating each quality of an image, or set of images, and then places the images he has gleaned in conjunction with its opposite and somewhere in the middle a poem begins to emerge. He mentally erases the original images, looking for a hook, and once he finds it begins the process of drafting a poem. I struggled to find a musical equivalent to the repetitions, the core physical images. Despite that, I understand the music is all in your head anyway so it really doesn’t matter what you think he hears, it’s what you hear that matters.
All these poems, his poems in general, are extremely physical but not firmly rooted in a particular place. There may be specific places: a landscape with graves, the headstones marking the graves, the graves themselves, dug or being dug, or grown over. Sea walks are prominent: pebbles and stones and sea birds and endless arrays of moss reside among these sentient stones.
The music in these poems, and they are musical in their way, are decidedly in a minor key. Played at night. In complete darkness. Or in the shadows of a moon. These poems are almost universally colorless. The Weston Poems are almost completely colorless. I counted the references to specific colors, not black, and there were five reds four blues and one green, far outstripping Reflections which has one reference each to blue, green and red, all in the same poem. Which would be odd as the photographs in the collection Simon began with, are roughly twenty five percent colorful, while the Weston ones are a master class in black and white. Of course, thinking of these referents, you would be ignoring Simon’s saying that these are not ekphrastic poems. Essentially, you would be wasting your time looking for referent in the books cited.
The bottom line is these are deliberately dark poems and death is the predominant theme. I guess when you reach middle 90’s and your contemporaries, friends, lovers, relatives, acquaintances have all passed on and you are the only one left, what else would be your major theme?
For all that, these are not depressing poems, just, well, dark. Somber. But often exultant in their revelations of conjunctions of language and images created. This is especially true in Glass Eye with several closures, in particular 88-90, that literally can take your breath away. While some of these particularly in the last sixty or so, feel less successful than the previous ones, it may be a symptom of the reviewer’s brain overload than the poet’s burning out the form. What I found less successful in the last batch was these brief tercets began to not follow the internal logic of the image sets to a conclusion that feels in keeping with the earlier parts of the poems. Others may disagree. What is assured is that reading Perchik is fully involving, an experience far beyond what a reader is accustomed to in a poetry collection.
Rather than attempting a critical analysis of these two collections I am offering, as suggested by the poet, impressions, feelings, an overview of my immersive time in the poetic world of Simon Perchik.
Essential actively physical universe.
Sensual, completely present, extreme like a cycle of recurring nightmares with variations in ways only dreams can be variant.
As the presence is perceived it is actively slipping way: a vision in recession.
A pitiless explication on an interior world made external.
Always elemental like weather, always fluctuating, epic, tidal only partially apprehended and as you reach to touch it, to achieve a kind of understanding you realize it is impossible to rein in, to completely understand.
A superimposition of two worlds, days that are nights and nights that are days, waking states that are sleeping ones, and sleeping is what it means to be fully awake.
Aerial overviewed, contrails, headwinds, and look out below bomb sites in the receding landscape.
The stench of the mountain sides.
Life: half graveyards, half fuselage.
Retrograde celestial bodies. Human ones too
The Reflections in a Glass Eye Poems:
An erotic dream that ends in an explosion, and orgasm of death.
Surreal like a Maya Deren short subject dream sequencing.
The dream of the cemetery walk that you can’t wake up from.
A plotless horror movie made more terrifying by an assault of unknowable images.
Sisyphean dreams. Like walking through seashore much and moss dragging a granite headstone strapped to your body.
Floating rudderless on The River Styx.
Odd Nedrun canvases of tormented humans in stress positions in an elemental, featureless world.
Colorless as a black and white movie before the invention of sound.
A Sidney Spencer grave warming revival meeting.
A perpetually in motion abstract so fluid it can no longer move.
Two from Rain Mountain Press
Karl Gluck, Blue Dwarf, www.rainmountainpress.com 2020, 106 pages $18- with an introductory essay by Andrew Kaufman and an epilogue by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson.
Reviewing a posthumous collection of poetry is a mixed blessing given all the wonderful work the poet left behind and, conversely, knowing there will be no more work in the future. Karl Gluck was an active participant in the nascent poetry scene in Albany while he was a graduate student at the State University of New York at Albany. We may have crossed paths on occasion, but I can’t recall meeting him. I was working nights then and I was only a rare visitor to the various, now legendary venues, that were cropping up in the area. By all accounts, Karl was a well-regarded poet and friend of many in the arts community, a feeling re-enforced by two personal accounts that bookend this excellent collection of poetry.
Andrew Kauffman, an excellent poet himself, opens with a textual essay which examines Gluck’s work from an academic point of view with personal insights added for an extra dimension. Rosalind Palermo Stevenson offers a brief but touching reflection on casually knowing Gluck. Editors Stephanie Dickinson and Rob Cook both knew Karl as a deep thinking, kindhearted intellectual, who was a fluent Russian speaker, expert in the literature and who took up Mandarin Chinese as a hobby. After a memorial service, his siblings hand delivered a manuscript, in a bag, amid sheaves of long neglected papers. After painstaking work reproducing the poems and assembling them from a numbered group of pages, they had the book Blue Dwarf.
So, what is a blue dwarf? Stephanie explains “it is what remains after a star goes through the phase of deconstruction from supernova to the smaller red dwarf and finally to a blue dwarf.” Given that this collection is primarily concerned with the impermanence of all things, blue dwarf was/is the perfect title. The poet is both despairing of life and celebratory at the birth of his beloved daughter. Ultimately, despair, his perception that the dichotomies of life enlighten and obfuscate equally, are impossible to reconcile. In order to find peace of mind we have to understand chaos, in order to know the harmony of existence, we have to experience the disharmony and find the way for ourselves. And in the end to know life is to court death.
Death and alcohol are constant themes throughout the collection. He says that he is just a poet. That he can’t save anyone. Not even himself. Despite the dark themes there are some amazing physical images such as the transparency of a jelly fish as an analogy of existence, both here and not here. The poems are always present but escaping at the same time as life always is. The feeling is of the Buddhist sense of living in the eternal now knowing that even as we know now, it is already the past. Contradictions abound but, in the poetry, he finds a brief resolution by enumerating the conflicts in his heart and mind. Seeking solace in literature and writing was a blessing but in alcohol was a curse. Alcohol only emphasized his despair, in counterproductive ways. I have known these things and I feel his despair in every poem but rejoice in what survives on the page. We can only wish for more, but we can cherish what we have.
Wasted away into nothing
I now feel only a slight
tug during full moon
I can live for weeks on end
with this rag between my teeth
this blood at the corners of my mouth
I am nothing
proud of it aroused by it
I set fire to my adrenaline
burn weakly benignly
in the crushing vacuum of infinity
The tension that holds
rebellious sons nomadic fathers
insane daughters wrathful mothers
legends once so familiar now
lost on me roaming
through labyrinth of stars.
(closing stanzas of Blue Dwarf)
Lawrence Mallory, Ned Discusses Beckett in Key West: The Complete Poems of Lawrence Mallory www.rainmountainpress.com 2020, 116 pages, $18- Intro by Jennifer Poteet
The Ned of the title refers to a persona Mallory uses to create a fiction, a view of the world that may, or may not, be his own. Much as Weldon Kees does with his Robinson, Paul Zimmer with his eponymous Zimmer Poems, Berryman with his Henry et al. Ned observes and comments on the world around him. Who is this Ned? A kind of beige guy whose commentary is a disguised, pointed, often wryly critical observations. Many of these comments have implied political and social implications, ones Mallory can say with a straight face, “those are Ned’s ideas not mine.” Believe him? Why should you? Ned’s ironic end is neatly described as happening by Ned being killed behind a bar over a discussion of a passage in Descartes. Which makes as much sense as disputed election results based on false claims leading to an insurrection.
Mallory’s poetic world is predicated by the proposition that there is no meaning. Not in the Buddhist sense, but in the nihilistic; I can’t go on, I go on anyway, point of view. His is the sensibility of Samuel Beckett, that champion of all things absurd, empty, and hilariously funny in a whistling in the dark on the way to the grave, way. His getting by, despite all the negativity, is best summed up in any of the three stanzas of “Memento Mori”.
“I have lusted after pensions,
inhabited guilty offices,
and numbered innocent people.
I have woken at night
to hear pinstripes moaning.
I have commuted without mercy,
I have clutched my stomach,
I have had my shoes polished.”
Despite mockery of the man in the gray flannel suit, commercial business world, Mallory is essentially an extremely serious comic poet. He states that none of our sins are original, writes some deftly inspired poems, “The Seven Deadly Sins: An entertainment” (which I would nominate for title of the year if there was such a reward) and “Seven Deadly Sins: The Here and Now”; we are not progressing far, only the toys we play with have changed. He poses and interesting question later on, “Why can’t drones deliver beer?” I assume that it is only a matter of time before they will. My favorite poem in the longest in the book in the second section “In Brackets” where the poet imagines the life of a reader who has written comments in a book of poems by Galway Kinnell.
Mallory concludes his collection with a list of six titles of poems he hasn’t written yet (and might never write.) I for one would love to see a poem to, “They’re Crazy, The Bicycle Lanes.”
Stephanie Dickinson, Blue Swan, Black Swan: The Trakl Diaries, The Bitter Oleander Press, www.bitteroleander.com 2021, 68 pages, $18.Winner of the Annual Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Award.
If you are like me, your working knowledge of Georg Trakl, early twentieth century poet, was limited, to non-existent. I read a small Jonathan Cape edition of his work eons ago and basically recalled next to nothing other than he seemed hyper-sensitive, manic to the point of paranoia, and that he killed himself during WWI. As I started reading Dickinson’s intense, absorbing prose poem “diaries”, I felt as if I was entering into the mind of this wild man in a way that was completely absorbing, compelling and immediate. These poems felt as if they had been lifted directly from the pages of the man’s life. After one section, I knew I had to find out more of the Trakl’s life and read poems from the time that she was writing about. The result of that reading only re-enforced my initial impressions. Her uncanny rendering in Blue Swan Black Swan was a representation of Trakl’s state of mind during the brief years of his life.
And what a life it was! One of six children of a remote, to the point of total non-involvement, drug addicted mother and an absent, then deceased, father, Trakl developed into the strangest of young men: a shy, self-indulgent, irresponsible sybarite, with an excessive artistic temperament. These personality traits were not a combination for a long and successfully life in arts or for cultivating relationships. The one lasting relationship of his life, in fact, was an incestual one with his younger sister Margarethe. She, who would, a few years after his death, excuse herself from a dinner party and blow her brains out. It almost goes without saying that none of these perverse Trakl children reproduce.
What Trakl does do, and Dickinson so aptly shows, is somehow, improbably, given his own substance abuse problems, qualify to be a pharmacist. This occupation leads directly to his posting to the front of the Austro-Hungarian War. What he sees there is beyond horrific, both inside the tents, where the wounded are, a charnel house he is ill-equipped to cope with, and outside them, where dozens of men are hanging from trees. His already unsettled mind is completely undone. Despite previous attempts on his own life, with a gun, he is allowed to remain at the front. And have access to guns. Ours is not to wonder why? The next time his suicide is successful.
I believe it would be possible to put any of Trakl’s last poems next to these “Dairy” entries, and the reader would be hard pressed to not think of them as coming from the same hand. I say this, as I tried it, and her fictional diary is so accurate in tone and timbre, images and emotions, contained in the actual Trakl poems, as to be as identical as a fictional representation. I am a longtime fan of Stephanie’s work. See her long “interview” with Jean Seberg for another personality invocation. She reimagines the actresses, recreating a voice in an extraordinary way. You may not be surprised but you will be astonished as I was by Blue Swan Black Swan.
Stephanie Dickinson, Razor Wire Wilderness, forthcoming May 2021 ISBN 978-1-952224-04-1 Kallisto Gaia Press, 1801 E. 51st Street, Suite 365-246, Austin TX 78723.
As a reviewer/reader for this mag, True Crime books are generally outside of my general frame of reference. What separates this particular book from the genre is its artistry. Dickinson’s quality of writing feels elegiac and personal in the way a good memoir does. I say memoir because Stephanie is intimately involved in the story, relaying her personal history as a victim of a violent crime, when young, and her ten-year association with the subject of this remarkable, poignant story, where even the accessory to murder is a victim. This is not a remote work like Mailer’s poetic evocation of a murderous man without a center, In The Executioner’s Song can be, but one that is on location, in the cells with the principle and on the street where the crimes are committed.
The subject, Krystal, was a major focus of Dickinson’s real crime novel, Love Highway. Krystal’s boyfriend (she is Trinity in the novel), in Love Highway, and in Razor Wire, is a manipulative, domineering, drug abusing, club bouncer and pimp. His primary source of income is selling his putative girlfriend for the basics of life: drugs and alcohol. His penchant for deviant sexual encounters includes a predilection for three-way sex with two women. During an encounter with a reluctant third young woman, literally plucked from the side of a highway while drunk and brought from the City to their derelict Jersey squat things turn ugly. What began as a kind of rape, soon escalates into a beating, one that turns murderous, as he loses control. What Krystal’s/Trinity’s role in this remains a bit unclear. He asserts she was culpable and participatory; she admits only to being high and scared shitless. Later, she helps her boyfriend ditch the body in a dumpster where it is found.
Razor Wire Wilderness is the aftermath of the crime, ten years along the line, in the notorious woman’s prison in New Jersey. Equally as tragic as the facts of the crime that brought Krystal here for twenty years, is the knowledge that her story is not a unique one. Krystal was one of a trio of sisters, daughters to a neglectful drug addicted mother, who prostituted herself for her fix. Krystal was the pretty one, and as such, is sexually abused from childhood. Eventually, tall three sister are removed from the mother but, by then, the abuse has made deep marks on all the girls.
Once in the system, she is fostered. She is given all the material opportunities to succeed in life, discovers a talent for basketball. For a while she is happy and thriving. Eventually she is seen as a chronic misbehaver and is unceremoniously shipped off to “Camp” for disobedient young girls. This place is a kind of nightmare facility with handsome brochures and a compelling line claiming to be a finishing school for girls, but is actually a sadistic, brutal place worse than prison, as Krystal says. And she should know. After four years of that, it is no surprise that she falls into the wrong crowd at “home”. She begins sleeping around and using drugs. Before long she is on the street selling herself. At 17, her life course is set and it is not going to end well.
Years ago, I read Beverly Lowry’s, Crossed Over, the story of last years of killer Karla Faye Tucker on a Texas death row. The author visited her regularly, as Stephanie has visited Krystal, and admits she cannot recognize the Karla Faye of the today of the book. Karla Faye was a reformed, sincere Born Again, as opposed to the Karla Faye the teenager, who sold herself on the street for drugs. The crimes Tucker committed as a youth, with her co-defendant, were beyond horrific due to a toxic mix of chemicals. Their realities were totally distorted their way of thinking making what they were doing seem unreal. Lowry’s portrait of the new Karla Faye is so convincing she keeps a picture of the horrific aftermath of the killings above her computer to remind her of what she had been capable of. Still, it is not hard to like the new version of her.
It is not difficult to extrapolate that executing the Karla Faye of today of the book was for what the Karla Faye in another life had done. Was meaningless at the time of her execution date. Werner Herzog, in his compelling anti-death penalty movie, “Into the Abyss”, interviews guards on Death Row in the Texas penitentiary, one of whom said he was a fervent advocate for the death penalty until Karla Faye. He had participated, willingly, to the process of executions but Karl Faye was different. There had to be another way. What happened to her was murder.
What happens to Krystal in prison is a living hell. She is beaten, robbed, raped, threatened, and literally forced to fight to stay alive practically from day one in the prison. Still, close alliances, even love affairs with cellmates and other intimates are possible. What happens to these women is dehumanizing, is a human warehousing that is self-perpetuating and serves only to keep the system operational. There is no question that criminals need to be punished for their violent crimes, especially when one results in a death, but placing them in an environment that replicates the street scenes they came from is worse than counter-productive. This is a book that anyone who has any interest in the welfare of prison inmates Must read. The day after I finished the uncorrected proof, a long article appeared in our local paper under the title,” male guards accused in attack at N.J. women’s prison.” The article states that several guards had been suspended or fired over similar abuse in recent years. That investigations are continuing. They are always continuing. We all know what that means. Nothing will change. Krystal will be eligible for a parole hearing in a few years. Hopefully, she lives that long. That she gets out and has something like a second chance at life.
Briefly Noted and Recommended
Nickole Brown, The Donkey Elegies, Sibling Rivalry Press, www.siblingrivalrypress.com, 2020, 34 pages $12- subtitled an essay in poems Unique, thoughtful, substantial work much deeper than brief page count would suggest.
Rena Priest, Sublime Subliminal, Floating Bridge Press, www.floatingbridgepress.org2018, 45 pages $10-
Tom C. Hunley, Adjusting to the Lights, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 2020, 38 pages $6- Winner of 2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize and an excellent choice it is. Parenting to very demanding special needs teenagers and working as a teacher. You thought your life was complicated. Told with compassion, humor and humility.
Gerald Nicosia, Beat Scrapbook, Coolgrove Press, www.coolgrove.org distributed by SPD books, 2020, 113 pages $19.95 A Reminiscence, elegies, tributes to various Beat he has known and written about. Nicosia is author of the massive go to bio of Kerouac, Memory Babe. His scholarship and personal interactions with many of the leading lights of the Beats is highly readable quirky and unputdownable. What more can you ask from a book?
A. D. Winans, Blurred Visions and Wasted Nights, 2020, Cyberwit, www,Cyberwit.net 87 pages $15- Winans is one of the last remaining survivors of the SF poetry scene. Though he is well into his 80’s his voice remains sharp, crisp and clear. He was there, met the women, drank the booze, wrote the poems, and hung with the legends. And became one himself.
Jericho Brown, The Tradition, Copper Canyon Press, 2020, www.coppercanyon.org 77 pages $17- I often don’t agree with selections of books for the Pulitzer Prize but this one is easily among the best books I have read this year.
Michael Torres, An Incomplete List of Names, 2020, Beacon Press, www.beacon.org
110 pages $15-. These are propulsive, compelling poems of his life growing up in an ethnic neighborhood. You can take the man out of the hood but you can’t take the hood out of the man. Told with refreshing candor, humor, grace and urgency by a man who seems to take pride in being a regular guy as his language, means of expression, shows. Don’t let the tone fool you, he knows what he is about and has the skills and the knows how to be on the list of poets to watch I in the future. A well-deserved National Poetry Series Winner.
Four From Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com all published in 2020
Irene Mitchell, Clerestory, 60 pages $18- Seeing is the key word: how we see, what we see, and where we see. A strong, wide variety, of contemplative, personal and amusing poems well told.
Geoffrey O’Brien, Who Goes By There, 61 pages, $18-
Neo-Noir, as one of his poems explores, is one way of looking at these highly accomplished poems. But that would not do justice to the scholarly referential work. Or the personal observations including one unforgettable exploration of the Two Towers. There is a judicious sprinkling of humor and “camp” to lighten the mood, closing with a moving lament for the city.
David Almaleck Wolinsky, Llanto Tonto, 89 pages, $19-
Grandpa White Boy, as his grandchildren call him, is an amusing, highly idiosyncratic, composer of deliberately tongue in cheek poems. They are what they are and that is plenty. If you are looking for deep, thoughtful technically astute poems go back to O’Brien. If you want something to read for the face value of, they are what they are, this is who I am, sometimes juvenile, sometimes wise old man, here you go.
Owen Lewis, Field Light, 127 pages, $20
Personal, local (greater Pittsfield, MA area) and cultural history applied to life of a thoughtful man struggling with the after effects of a bitter divorce. Lewis’s book is always absorbing as he brings seemingly disparate snippets of history together in a unique way. Having been to all the houses, now museums in the area he refers to: Wharton House, Normal Rockwell, French’s studio, with its model for the Lincoln Memorial statue. His references expand my knowledge of the back stories and how they have personal connections to the author. I could easily have read another 100 pages or more in this manner. As the truism suggests, the hallmark of a really good book is one that makes you ask for more.
Michael Flanagan, Days Like These, Luchador Press/Spartan Press imprint, available through Barnes & Nobel 2020, 114 pages, $15-
Flanagan is a born and raised son of the City. Even though he no longer lives in the area, his narratives are rooted in the places he remembers best. There are coming of age poems, hanging out poems, and deeper more emotional ones about lost loves, his daughter and the travails of her teens and early adulthood. His working with mentally challenged adults, the frustrations and the rewards, are powerful character studies both of the people he works with and the person who does the work. Flanagan closes this generally powerful collection with several outstanding pieces, my favorite being the “Locked Unit Psych Ward Cornel Medical Center New York City.”
Charles Rammelkamp, Mortal Coil, Clare Songbirds Publishing, www.claresongbirdspub.com
2020 40 pages, no price listed.
Poet Rammelkamp continues his elegies for his family in this well-wrought, heartfelt group of those people in his family who have died including several poems of his twin brother. Anyone who appreciates good, solid, compelling narrative poetry, should find this book to their taste. Unique cover fabric art of faces with expressive eyes, emphasize the brooding nature of the poems.
Pauletta Hansel, Friend, Dos Madres. www.dosmadres.com 2020, 33 pages $18-
These poems could aptly be described as Covid Art as they derive from a workshop that was designed to entail the mechanics of writing epistolary poetry. Then the pandemic hit and they became actual letter poems, in a diary/letter form to and for students. Each piece is personal but also have a universal appeal to what to be human, for what it means to teach, write (from Mid-March to early June 2020) and survive in a general lockdown.
Megan D Henson poems and J. Michael Skaggs photos, Little Girl Gray, Dos Madres, www.dosamdres.com 2020, 47 pages $18-
This arresting small volume of persona poems is an effective blend of genres featuring a husband-and-wife team of artists. The Little Girl Gray is billed as the dead girl that lives in my head (Henson’s) making these ghost poems. Often the rich collection of photographs is deliberately hazy, out of focus or made indistinct to heighten the otherworldly effect. Ones that are sharp are posed in such a way to be discordant, eerie elements made more curious or disturbing, by the nature of the subjects as in a woman half way up a rock face wall that seems inaccessible, a woman writing with both hands simultaneous on a blackboard. The poems are equally as disconcerting. The combination makes for a memorable, disturbing as a bad dream can be, collection.
Mickey Corrigan, No Guns Left Behind: Poems about Mass Shootings on US School Campuses, 2020, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.com $15, 63 pages.
In the Victorian age there was a love that dared not speak its name referring to homosexuality. In our current age there is the subject that no one wants to talk about, referring to school shootings. Mickey Corrigan’s book is essential as it tackles this problem squarely, focusing on individual, brutal murders of young people by deranged people with guns. Choosing soft targets like children is a coward’s crime but it does get you on television and everyone knows your name. Instead of focusing on the real issue, gun control and mental health. we talk about what a tragedy these shootings are. They are not tragedies; they are heinous crimes against humanity and they have to be stopped. Each of Corrigan’s moving poems has a brief prose coda explicating the crime. She deserves to be lauded for confronting the crimes and making us more aware not that the people who can effect real change are listening. More the shame on them.
Jesse Wolfe, En Route, Cathexis Northwest Press, www.cathexisnorthwestpress.com 2020, 53 pages, $12- also available as an e-book for $3-
Wolfe’s En Route is a personal journey highlighting significant road marks in his life. Memory seems as important as the events themselves reminding us of people and places we can no longer access. Recoating loves won and lost, are recalled with equal measures of affection and sadness. Wolfe’s narratives remind us that a life doesn’t have to be Eventful to be well lived. It is better to have loved and lost, as Wolfe clearly has, than to never have loved at all.
A small collection for all the times and ages of man.
Dan Provost, December 22, 2020, Alien Buddha Press, email@example.com available on Amazon, 42 pages, 2021, $10.44
An extraordinary outpouring of thoughts, asides, brief poems and mediations’ all taking place on the title day. We should have a productive day as Dan did in December of 2020, an otherwise best forgotten year.
John D Robinson, Always More New and Selected Poems, Horror Sleaze Trash, www.horrorsleazetrash.com, 2020, 162 pages, available on Amazon $9.99
John D Robison flexes his drinking arm and his veteran poet muscles to produce this hefty, often amusing, and hard-hitting book of “street” poems. If you are expecting a Bukowski imitator rest assured Robinson has the mojo but broader interests. His voice feels more mature than much of early and middle Bukowski, showing more poetic growth both in style and tone, as reflected in his recent books, than Buk. Given the weight and heft of this book, a bargain price.
Lelia Chatti, Deluge, Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonepress.org 2020, 93 pages, $17-
Deluge is an intensely personal account of what it means to be a woman. For most of her young life she was afflicted with excessive, almost constant bleeding, a medical condition that affected every aspect of her life. In the hands of a lesser poet, the subject would not have been able to maintain a fine balance between metaphor and personal suffering, but she succeeds admirably. Chatti confronts her affliction, with the help of a long-term partner, and makes a dynamic work of art. She deftly manages all aspects of the word deluge in ways that which transcend the personal.
George Franklin, Noise of the World, Shelia-Na-Gig Editions, www.shelianagigblog.com, 2020, 136 pages $17-
Franklin follows up his excellent award winning first book with Shelia na gig with this new wide-reaching collection. Everyday life, eventfulness and otherwise, is made meaningful for the reader. All aspects of his life are explored: from deep-into-the-past to the modern, quarantine days. Franklin finds narrative gold in all of these poems richly detailing people, places, and relationships while occasionally delving into historical subjects to make relevant points about our current state of affairs.
Katalin Mezey, Song of Offerings, translated from the Hungarian by Paul Sohar, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books PO Box 906, Island Heights, NJ, 08372 2020, 122 pages, no price listed.
All readers of European Poetry, especially Eastern Europe, should be eternally grateful to Sohar’s translations. These poets, such as Mezey, would otherwise be unavailable to those of us who do not have the languages. Mezey is a skillful, fascinating poet, whose nightmarish scenes are both surreal and frighteningly immediate as all good sur-reality should be. I her echoes of the writings of Polish novelist killed by the Nazis, Bruno Schulz, and his Streets of Crocodiles, of the Greek communist guerilla poet, Yannis Ritsos, and Nobel Polish poet Szymborska. I am sure there are many connections others, with a broader familiarity with literature of the area can make that I can’t. Entering into her poetic world is like stepping into a nightmare that goes on and on that you can’t escape from. She balances the tactile and ineffable skillfully and often feels of slipping into a Dada construction. her work is sometimes extremely political, how could it not be given her coming of age behind the Iron Curtain and her late poems are very personal ones citing the inevitability of debility that is the fate of all of us suffering from old age.
Jesse Bertron, A Plumber’s Guide to Light, Rattle, www.rattle.com 2021, 36 pages, $6-
Plumbing is a dirty, nasty business, and anyone who thinks that the people who do the work aren’t feeling, thinking people, are in for a shock. Bertron has an MFA in Poetry and is a highly literate, if plain spoken poet, who as Howard Cosell used to say, “tells it like is.” To be sure, his co-workers are characters, some rude and crude, but Bertron makes them the kind of people you are likely to know and maybe share a few beers with. Back in the day, my literate poet was named Frank. He was a jazz enthusiast and all around well-read, well-spoken man, who was a joy to have around. So much so, you almost wish you had plumbing issues, so you’d have a chance to hang out. No problem, in an over a hundred years old hose with original plumbing. Frank is gone now but his spirit lives on in these lively, excellent poems. This chapbook won the most recent Rattle chapbook award and at six buck a throw, how can you not buy one?
Zoltan Boszormenyi, translated by Paul Sohar, Pining Away, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, Dave Roskos, PO Box 906, Island heights, NJ 08732-0906, 2021, 108 pages, No price listed.
This compact, tightly wrapped novella is a heartbreaking portrait of an 11-year-old girl literally dying for love. An absent, anonymous father, a distracted and often absent mother, forced to travel out of county for work (unspecified employment, probably manual and most likely Not prostitution as her mother asserts) and a termagant “care” giver grandmother. I parenthesize care as the grandmother does nothing but piss and moan and belittle the poor girl who only wants her sporadically affectionate mothers’ love and attention.
The girl is literally wasting away, refusing to eat, as much as a reaction to her grandmother’s assertion that she is costing her money she doesn’t have, though there is evidence the mother sends periodic checks for her care. After dramatic weight loss, and declining energy levels, the mother places the girl in care of a friend with two children near her age, but she too proves less than an ideal substitute parent. The husband is a drunk and a thief, the mother squanders the money on treats and lavish meals that the child doesn’t eat, but her own children do. There seems to be some affection between the children but mostly they are selfish and self-involved, and the girl continues to waste away to the point where she becomes unable to stand, walk or eat. She is literally wasting away from anorexia nervosa. Authorities eventually intervene and place the child in hospital where she is fed intravenously but gradually slips further and further into a coma. The mother is basically, unavailable due to her vague work commitments.
If Kafka were to write “The Starving Artist” from the Eastern European State of Romania following the fall of the Soviet Union, this is what the tale would look like. Freedom of mobility allows people to travel for work but what about the children left behind? No one seems to care, least of all the state. Some workers at the hospital are compassionate and competent but by the time the girl arrives in their care, it is already too late. This may not be a modern fable but it definitely is a morality tale.
Received Not Reviewed
Two Poetry Pamphlets from Laurel Speer, Bobby & Sarah, A Love Story and Francine Under a Tree 20 pages each, 2020, available from the author PO Box 12220 Tucson AZ 85732 $4-each (well worth it too) and a pamphlet, mini-chap from Gary C. Busha, Catching Nightcrawlers, 2021, Wolfsong Publications, 28 pages.
Dan Provost, Rattle of a Realizer, Whisper City Press, available from Lulu, 2020, 36 pages, no price listed.
Steve Henn, Guilty Prayer, Main Street Rag, www.manistreetrag.com 2021 40 pages $12-
Charles Cantrell, Wild Wreckage, Cervena Barva Press, available through their online bookstore
www.cervenabarvabookshelf.com 2020, 79 pages $18-
Robert Cooperman, All Our Fare-Thee-Wells, Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com 2020, 26 pages No price listed. More tales from an unrepentant Dead Head!
Randall Rogers & Christ Butler, Dead Beats, 2021 Beatnik Cowboy, roughly 24 pages no price, unaffected beatnik cowboy.
Randall Rogers, Cambodia Poems 2009-201l, 2017, Beatnik Cowboy roughly; 32 pages no price
Inveterate, unapologetic beatnik cowboy poetry, loose and free and the beat goes on.
See Cooperman review elsewhere this issue
Tohm Bakelas, Punk Poets Are Pretentious Assholes, Between Shadows Press PO Box 394 Danville NJ 07834, 2021, 15 pages.
Contact Tohm for more info at listed address Glimpses of what it’s like to be a social worker at a psychiatric center.
Two from Unsolicited Press, www.unsolocitedpress.com
Marion Deal, The Messiah’s Customary Diner Booth, 2021 47 pages $16.00.
Beate Sigriddaughter, Emily, 42 pages $16.00
Gone or going but not forgotten.
Big Scream #60 probably the last print one. A long esteemed, venerable publication goes the way of all print magazines. Look for a Best Of Big Scream in the coming months.
Lummox Annual #9 Also probably the last print one though editor, R.D. Armstrong, left the doors open for a possible online e-version in future. On the good news side: long struggling, starving, working man artist, Armstrong received a surprise windfall inheritance he is researching best way to distribute his newfound wealth to help the most amount of needy people.
Trajectory ends its ten-year run as a fine publisher of prose and poetry on a high note. Editor Christopher Helvey cites, among other issues, a positive direction for his own work which he will be devoting more time to in the future. Good luck Chris!
Slipstream from the dynamic trio out for Niagara Falls NY area, an annual, usually themed magazine with an annual chapbook contest.
Nerve Cowboy out of Austin still belting out solid issues while enjoying vibrant local music and arts scene.
Clutch, an annual, is out from the Wisconsin wilds where editor Rob Zoschke lives and works. He continues to mix the work of classic Beat poets with current long-time veterans of the small press wars. Particularly striking is that artful strategic matching of poets with exquisite portrait photography by Christopher Felver (and other artists). This latest issue features jazz and country and western artist portraits in particular along with tributes to the late, great Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poems and self-portrait photos from the grand old bard of the UP, T.K. Splake, the double threat married duo of Jen Dunford Roskos and Dave Roskos, the late great Albert Huffstickler, Bob Kauffman and a host of others. Clutch is a must read.