Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Just in: Jennifer Lagier, Camille Chronicles, 2021, Future Cycle Press, www.futurecycle.org $15-95. In paperback. An e-edition is available also. 105 pages
All of the Camille chapbooks in one place! As Charles Rammelkamp says in his blurb, “I’ve followed Jennifer Lagier’s feisty, lustful, iconoclastic, hero since her 2014 debut in Camille Verite, I’ve followed her from Spain and back to the American dystopia of the trump administration, where she mobilizes for the fight of her life.” And I have to. Now you can as well.
Jessica Barksdale, Grim Honey, Shelia Na Gig editions, www.shelianagigblog.com
2012, 76 pages $15.99 Winner of the Shelia Na Gig book award
Grim is the appropriate word to describe the many inter-personal relationship the poet describes. She accuses her mother of reading while her family went to hell. Hence everyday difficulties are ignored, not dealt with, no matter how consequential. Her father was a person who started things but never completed them. It was not an auspicious upbringing for the poet and her siblings. Memories, including photos from the 80’s, are images of grief presaging all the many personal tragedies that are to come. Her tone is almost savage at times. A yahrzeit candle is a metaphor for not being able to let go of a loved one. Nothing is as it should have been.
The poet recalls losing her virginity as if it were a bad TV episode: part sordid, part human sacrifice. The act could have been comic but it wasn’t. Her marriage is one of betrayal and deceit and, ultimately bitterness of the most abject kind. The image of the title is fleshed out in a poem suggesting her married life was neither bitter nor sweet. Looking back is in anger, and there is nothing nostalgic about it. What is known, as she contends is nothing but absence and loss. What does all this loss leave Barksdale with a strong sense of empathy and compassion.
You Always Love the Broken Ones
The shy, he friendless, the hurt at home; the too short, tall, thin and
fat pull you into playground corners. Huddling between classroom
buildings, you make up stories about ruling the world.
The ones who read tales of ancient, made-up worlds rife with
wizards and fairies and dark magic. Those who study for spelling
(excerpt…poem continues in a like manner of all the misfits she loves and adores)
A bad marriage, she says, is like a Knock Knock joke that never ends. There is a strong sense that she finds solace in other relationships and a successful writing career as a novelist, with fifteen titles to her credit, and now an extremely promising career in poetry.
Grim Honey continues themes developed in her previous book from Finishing Line Press, When We Amors Drowned available from www.finishingline press.com, 2019, 56 pages $19.95. Well worth checking out.
Also from Shelia Na Gig editions:
Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia, Shelia-Na-Gig Editions, 2020, 97 pages, $17
Regina O’Melveny, The Shape of Emptiness,2019, 81 pages, $16
John Macker, Desert Threnody: stories, essays, one act play, auxarczen press, www.auxarczen.com 135 pages, 2020
Macker is best known for a long career in the small press poetry scene in the West primarily working out of Colorado and New Mexico. These prose pieces show his versatility in other areas. The essays are primarily focused on poets he has known or observed as Ed Dorn, Tiny Moffeit, Stuart Perkoff, and Tony Scibella among others. These are vivid, ranging in length from short impressions of the person and his work, to more in-depth ones, primarily of Dorn and Moffeit. His prose avoids scholarly, academic prose sticking to the basic information, providing context and insight of what is good writing of this sort should do (and often lost in the academic verbiage shuffle).
Coyote Acid is the center piece, a one act-play in the minimalist traditions of early Sam Shepard. The two characters are a young man just released from prison and his slipping-into- acute-dementia mother. The son is trying to prod his reluctant mother to reveal where she has hidden money from a robbery the son and his brother committed some years earlier. The mother is lost in the past, with her violent husband and equally as dissolute oldest son, who she refuses to acknowledge has died many years hence in prison. Instead, she reminisces and romanticizes, while the remaining son becomes more and more frustrated with her inability, or deliberate reluctance, to reveal the hiding place. There is a True West feeling to the play which felt almost too sparse, though the dynamic tension is acutely felt.
A third section of eight “stories” completes the collection. I bracket stories as these felt more like exposition evoking place and spirit of that place than what we generally think of stories. There is some fictional narration that introduces characters, and a kind of plot, but these feel secondary to the extremely vivid sense of place. I see these more as an extension of the essays using a heightened prose for emphasis in a way that can only be done with a fictional context. Especially effective is the final, title piece, an appreciation of the life and time of the irascible, inimitable, Chares Bowden, champion of lost causes, the disaffected, and the disenfranchised everywhere, but particularly in the True West near and around the Border. The border was everywhere for Bowden, and still is, as his scattered ashes in the wind attest.
Check out John’s recent poetry book, Atlas of Wolves, Stubborn Mule Press, www.stubbornmulepress.com. 2019, 101 pages $15
The subject was suicide.
A few years ago, I saw some sample poems of a poet’s last book, a poet who had committed suicide, and I bought it. Her work was fierce and polished, but not an overt challenge to death as in the, “here I come Plath poems” (or “the I’m jealous you Sylvia, you got there first Anne Sexton poem” or even, the Old Mr. Bones poems of Berryman who seems to have spent the last twenty-five years of his life composing the longest suicide note in history.) The new book I read lead me to a friend of the suicide poet who had also recently died, then another suicide poet, and felt as if they had formed an informal death league of suicides. That became the summer of reading suicides. I began an essay on the subject and, roughly half way through it, reading yet another, the most over the top new addition to the league, (involving the wife of a famous poet who was subletting, with her child who she also killed, in another poet’s house for the summer, Jane Shore, whose poems on the suicide in her home, is beyond stunning). And then I heard that Steve Henn’s former wife had killed herself. Steve was a poetry acquaintance from another press who occasionally sent me poems and was writing reviews for Misfit at the time. I stopped writing the essay in midsentence and never went back to it. I didn’t want Steve to read this essay and I no longer had any desire to write it for Anyone to read. The subject is too painful and personal, and there are no satisfactory resolutions. Now Steve has written a short book of poetry outlining the aftermath of his wife’s death and how it affected him and their children.
Steve Henn, Guilty Prayer, Main Street Rag, www.mainstreetrag.com 2021, 40pages 2021
The eight years after Lydia Henn’s death have been difficult ones. First there was rage, how could you do this to us? First, she leaves the marriage, leaves the family, as if leaving before she commits her final act, would somehow make it easier on the ones left behind. Her thinking, apparently, was: it is no longer a matter of if I will do it, but when. Leaving, then dying later, seems to be a fairly typical thought pattern of people who have made up their minds to die. (I can think of several examples of the exact same process.) Feeling rage afterwards, by those left behind, is also normal. The act is so inexplicable, anger is a way to localize the pain. Gradually, though, the initial shocks, the hurt, and the anger diminishes, and guilt, a kind of survivor’s guilt sets in.
Guilty Prayer is very much an attempt to right wrongs for actions in the past. Perhaps, I should have been more understanding, more mindful, more caring, more anything. The poems try to redress wrongs in relationships, not only with his late wife, but others. He drank too much, he receded into himself, he isolated, and it affected his family who had their own grief to deal with. This is a painful book, but not one without a positive motive; a forward motion. The poems show he has moved on from anger to forgiveness and understanding. It’s not about me, or her, it’s about us, the family and the love that they once shared. There is nothing more hopeful than that.
Jane Anne Fuller, Half-Life, Shelia Na Gig Editions, www.sheilanagigblog.com. 2021, 92 pages, $17
Half-Life is a multidimensional description of the poet’s life after her husbands’ unexpected death. One half was the part he severed from her when he killed himself, and the other half is what she has now, a life measured in depletion, of who she has become after the act. The poetry is painful, precise, honed of any excess, just the meat and bones of life and death. At one point she refers to her new boyfriend, who would not be her boyfriend if you had lived. The new boyfriend is a positive in her new life, but she wasn’t looking for a new direction. Only the gone husband could provide that. And the departed husband offers no answers for the act, not even legible clues like the indecipherable note she found under the seat mat in her car.
Your death is still an opening
through which we see the life left
in this world. What you took
from your sons and daughter
you gave back again through me.
Days I want more, I look at what you are:
three children who outlive
the burden of dumb hours.
I love you, then, that yours,
without your presence, leave me full,
a pail that you set down.
Fuller’s book is a survivor’s legacy in words, a loving tribute, a sad refrain.
Rosemary Daniell, The Murderous Sky, Lavender Ink, www.lavenderink.org. 2020, 105 pages, $19.95
At one point, in this white-hot collection of a mother’s pain, Daniell refers to a woman whose family compounded tragedies sound like a litany of grief: siblings prematurely dead, drug addicted, overdoses…that seem inconceivable as in “that couldn’t happen to anyone.” But it does as Daniell fully well realizes. She has lost two children to mental illness (schizophrenia, drug addiction.) She has suffered with a daughter who prostitutes herself for drug money, a son who carries a plastic bag wherever he goes, just in case he needs it to kill himself, who steals from her, lies to hurt her in the worst ways possible. I found reading this book straight through impossible. The pain is so palpable, so omni-present, that I need to take deep breath and leave it aside for a while, knowing full well there will be more pain waiting the next time I read a selection of poems.
Daniell never gives up on her children. How could she? They’re hers, she gave birth to them, and she loves them unequivocally. And they use that unconditional love against her. Still, despite all the personal grief, Daniell’s writes on. She has been instrumental in offering guidance to other people who are experienced the kinds of trauma she has. She has founded and remains active in Zona Rosans workshops, encouraging people to write through their trauma. Many have become published writers.
Daniell has had successful career writing memoirs such as A Sexual Tour of the Deep South and Sleeping with Soldiers and My Beautiful Tigers: Forty Years as the Mother of an Opioid Addicted Daughter and a Schizophrenic Son, that I have not yet read but intend to. (I’ve been where her children were as the son of schizophrenic parent and a substance abuser.) How she got from there to here promises to be an incredible journey of self-awareness.
David Chorlton, Unmapped Worlds, Future Cycle Press, www.futurecycle.org. 70 pages, 2021, $15.95
A fine art, three paneled cover by the author, depicts birds in a winter wasteland, presumably an Arctic one, then returning hunters in a storm, and finally, a blazing camp fire, birds circling above. Chorlton’s poems are always framed and executed the way a canvas is painted with an image or an idea evoked that often escapes the reader (viewer) disappearing from view into an uncharted place beyond the image. These poems are both rooted in place and time as they weave throughout history arriving some place near where they began. Or do they? A fascinating, always evocative, thought-provoking collection of the first order.
Ranney Campbell, Pimp, Arroyo Seco Press. www.arroyosecopress.org. 44 pages, 2021
As the title suggests, these are tough, urban poems with an attitude. They are visual, sexual, often down and dirty, but not without compassion for the people she meets and the pets she keeps. One of the more touching poems deals with the poet retaining a pit bull well beyond his “expiration date,” because she cannot let the deep connection go.
A pervasive loneliness caused by an absence of meaningful emotional connection suffuses many of the poems. These poems have a fresh exuberance that revels in wild behaviors, letting loose on pay days, and a general hell raising attitude. She freely expresses justified contempt for men who equate success with being able to afford and using whores for sexual gratification (a particular breed of animal I was familiar with in my not so good old days working in supper clubs and hotel lounges.) Men and women’s fantasies interact as natural extensions of what humanity is, their coming together are often for irrational reasons. Still, there they are, together, because it’s what we do, that, as an exercise to stay nimble for the fantasy fuck. Nimble is as nimble does.
John Grochalski, Eating a Cheeseburger During the End Times, Kung Fu Treachery Press, available through Amazon, 116 pages, 2021, $15
How can a diner meal be political, you might ask? Easy. It’s the Age of Treason in high places with a former president who trying to rebrand himself as #45whitehouse. A necessary marketing move as he has completely destroyed the one associated with his name. And everything that has come in contact with him. To this day proving once and for all, everything he touches turns to shit and then it dies. But not Grochalski who published a daily blog Winedrunksidewalk for all of 45’s term in office. It wasn’t pretty. Life in and out of the diner isn’t pretty either, but it is real, urban, filled with rage against the specific dehumanizing machine of tyranny and injustice. These poems might not qualify as a happy meal but what is these days?
Jim and Carol McCord, Beneath the Midi Sun, Shanti Arts Publishing, www.shantiarts.com 2021, 121 pages, each poem is accompanied by a full color photo or is it each photo is accompanied by a poem? $22.95
This book can be read as an accompanying volume to their previous collection, also from Shanti Arts, Two Lenses-Four Europes, which follows the same conjoining of photos and poems. The current collection centers on France and has a particular emphasis on painters: Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne and Gauguin among others are mentioned and effectively evoked. Lovers of photography and poetry are advised to add this exquisite collection to their bookshelves.
Also, from Jim & Carol McCord, Red and Green in the Alentejo, 2020, Green Lotus Press, Niskayuna, NY 30 pages, no price listed.
More of an oversized magazine than an actual book, the McCord’s continue to chronicle their European experiences. As would be expected from their previous titles from Shanti Arts, Red and Green in the Alentejo, is a vivid compilation of words and images from the husband-and-wife team. As explained in a brief intro, their trip to Portugal was cut short by the Covid plague but the work published here amply shows that while brief, the trip yielded fruitful work.
George Kalamaras, We Slept the Animal: Letters from the American West, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com 2021, 181 pages, $21
Kalamaras picks up where Richard Hugo left off in 31 Letters and 13 Dreams. The conceit of Hugo’s earlier book was each poem was framed as a letter to a friend, generally a poet or writer, evoking place, their relationship, real and imagined, and well, life. Kalamaras follows the exact same route and manages to capture personal, intimate connections without being overbearing, a danger of showing off connections with relatively well-known poets and writers. I read this collection in pieces, as it lends itself to sporadic readings, and there is no danger of losing your place or losing the thread. Kalamaras also evokes Hugo’s, White Center; the places, the people, the geography of minds. On the whole, reading along with George feels as if he is taking you for a ride around the country visiting all the literary hot spots and old friends as he goes.
Also from Dos Madres, Mary Ann Cain, How Small the Sky Really Dreams, 2021, 73 pages, $18
I read this book after George’s, not realizing they were husband and wife, so it purely coincidental that they are paired here. Cain’s book is intense and focused, in the earlier sections, she is dealing with a difficult birth, fibrous tumors, operations, and cancer. Memories of her childhood and family are evoked and are at best, fraught, at worst borderline abusive and nightmarish. By the fourth and final section, “refigure”, Cain sees her life as being forever altered, a missing breast is mentioned, but so is a growing season, the rebirth that is the cycle of nature, of life. This is a deeply personal work that effectively evokes the struggle of living and making the best of what we have. Her transformations are vital ones as are her words.
Peg Boyers, The Album, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2021, 68 pages, $23
Boyers states, in her brief introduction, that these ekphrastic poems that can be read and appreciated without the attendant art works that inspired the poems. After several test readings, with and without the images, she concluded that while the poems worked independent of the art, they worked better with them and readers tended to agree with her. I am of two minds on this particular conundrum of the form. On one hand the poet has an obligation to create a poem that works on its own regardless of what inspires it, but of the two, inspiring image and art work, are inextricably bound, well, given the opportunity to go for both. Boyers and the Dos Madres publishing team of Robert and Elizabeth Murphy, have published a wondrous catalog of art and word.
Some of the images, eclectic in nature and broad in scope, ranging from Rembrandt and Durer, to much lesser knowns such as Casorati and Claus Vogelsang, Boyers largely succeeds in writing poems that work independently of the art. “The Four Ages of Casorati”, in particular, is so well rendered one could imagine the original, while the Vogelsang remains elusive with or without the image. Of all these poems “The Garland of Four Ragas” most needs the attendant images if only because the art is something most readers, myself included, are less familiar with than selection from the Western art canon. Regardless, this is an excellent addition to a reader’s art catalogs and their poetry shelves. A book well worth returning to on both the images and the words.
Howard Faerstein, Out of Order, Main St Rag Publishing, www.mainstreetrag.com 2021, 50 pages, $13
Faerstein ends this compelling collection with a wild, spinning carousel of words evoking the troubled history of his forebearers and the nihilistic images of our own age with a loud barbaric yawp. He banishes the KKK to the caves they belong in, damns the Cossacks who slaughtered the people of his Armenian grandparents, hopes that there is language that will restore order to our world. Much of this collection describes an out of order society, relationships that are terminally busted, loves lost, and new ones found. Particularly effective is a family trip to Coney Island: “We’d go as a family where families were welcome/ That was joy.” We may have unknowingly crossed paths then, now and again, who knows? But that Coney Island was long gone, boarded up turned into a shooting gallery for street addicts and human flotsam that had washed up along the red tide beach. Howard evokes Ginsberg and Whitman and these are fair antecedents to a poet who may no longer hear America singing but hears her croaking instead. The voice may be damaged but his vision remains clear and insightful.
John Bradley, Hotel Montparnasse: Letters to Cesar Vallejo, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2021, 152 pages, $20
The roster of guests (characters) read like a roster of Surrealists and Modernists in the arts, both written and graphic. From Lenora Carrington and Remedios Vera to Vallejo and Badelaire, Artaud, Cocteau, Celan and a host of others. Guests are assigned jobs such as Kosinski is the librarian, Salvador Dali is in charge of pest control (too bad Burroughs couldn’t make it as an apprentice to Dali), Frida Kahlo is a health counselor, Sontag is justice of the peace, Gertrude Stein is Director of Entertainment, and, of course, Simenon is house detective. Just from a partial roster of characters you can get the sense of the absurdist romp which can be read as a novella or as a book of poetic fragments, told in epistolatory prose poems. Oh, and the hotel itself, is a character, not in the Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House, sense but in a management of the insanity going on inside its framework.
I read this book straight through as an enjoyable romp through the outsider avant garde cultural landmarks of the twentieth century. It can be read as an adventure in creativity with a Capital C . However, you want to read this one, the result is satisfying. If I had a top five list of terrific, unclassifiable books I read this ear, Hotel Parnassus would be near the top of it.
Roald Hoffmann, Constants of the Motion, www.dosmadres.com, 2021. 112 pages, $19
And Something That Belongs to You: a play, 2015, 99 pages, $16
Constants of the Motion, is a kind of selected poems, broken down into seven sections, each delineating a theme of the author’s work. To say that Mr. Hoffmann’s work is eclectic, would be a gross understatement, given his primary occupation is in the field of chemistry, for which he shared a Nobel Prize in the 80’s. That a man has the inclination, time and interest, not to mention, ability, to write poetry at this level is in and of itself remarkable. I was particularly drawn to the section II Poland 1941-1945 which recounts, briefly, how he and his family lived in hiding during the Nazi occupation of his childhood home.
This experience is the subject if his play, Something That Belongs to You, which delves into the lasting effect such an experience can have on a family through the generations. Flashback from modern times to the years in-hiding, courtesy of a man they paid for their deliverance, and meeting the daughter of this man now, gives that terrible experience a totally different perspective.
The scope and depth of this play is both fascinating and emotionally wrenching, in a satisfying, dramatic way. But it isn’t without flaws. I found there was too much Deux in the Ex-Machina, in the opening scenes of the two-act play. God and his angels are personified, speaking as embodied angels, of what qualities would be incorporated into man. My sense is these scenes are meant to inject some humor into an otherwise dark play. My overall impression is that all the issues in the play, unresolvable as many of them are, reach a dramatic resolution that is powerful without Jewish jokes and a rabbinical God plus minions. Still, this does not dimmish my overall opinion that this is a significant piece of work that deserves more exposure.
It is difficult to review a play that you haven’t seen or, are not likely to. Still this play is novelistic enough that the strong characterizations, sense of time and place, are enought to immerse oneself in the eternally grieving bitter mother’s world view, in the son who barely remembers, and his middle-aged wife and teenaged children’s impressions of the revelation at the end of the play. The attempt at reconciliation and renewal are well handled and we can only hope, successful, for all the families.
Dan Holt, Blank Canvas on Bloody Pavement, Alien Buddha Press, www.alienbuddha.com Available on Amazon, 65 pages, 2021
These poems by songwriter/poet Dan Holt are like swift hard jabs that score points in a relentless barrage of short lines and images reminiscent of war veteran poet Matt Borczon (who provides a back cover blurb.) You may not emerge from this collection bloody and bruised but it won’t be the poet’s fault, if you don’t.
Kell Robertson, The Goofy Goddess on the Wall, Iniquity Press/vendetta books, PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751. 2021, 52 pages $5
The legend lives on in this brief collection originally published by Dave Roskos in 2018. A couple of new poems are added that Kell sent along before he departed for the big saloon in the sky. These are a miscellany of often dream like poems. Many feel-like songs that you could easily imagine being cranked out with a good old boy network of shit kicking jug bands. They are babes and booze oriented as Kell’s poems usually were. At times they don’t feel as finished as his earlier work, but that said, they go down easy like a shot of booze with a good beer chaser. My favorite of this collection is “Auto-Bio”. If you ae feeling in the mood to get down and dirty, slow dancing to the edge of oblivion with Hank and his boys, this is the collection for you.
Matthew Ussia, The Red Glass Cat, Alien Buddha Press available from Amazon, 2021, 77 pages,
Ussia works in a university as a teacher but don’t mistake him as an academic. He is maverick soul a misfit whose work I was following on the days of our fucked-up lives under Trump in the daily blog Winedrunksidewalk. He is a no bullshit guy and his poetry is literate, straightforward in an earthy and unaffected way. In other words, he is a guy you can imagine having a beer with at a strip club and not feel as if he were slumming it. He is real people; good people and he can bring it on the page too.
Two from Matt Borczon: Saved Rounds, Luchador Press, available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, 2021, 77 pages, $15
, Cancel My Subscription to the Resurrection, Alien Buddha, available from Amazon 2020, 100pages, $10.44
Borczon is a veteran of the Afghanistan war whose poetry is dominated by the PTSD from his experiences there. On one level, these are poems of witness, and on another, a cry for help and understanding, not just for himself but for all the veterans of all wars. What he has seen is horrific, affecting his family life (a wife and four young children) and his work life. Borczon seems to have fared better than many others as a productive worker employed as nurse working with adults with developmental disabilities but he never, ever lets you forget how the war fucked up his life. Nor should he.
Cancel My Subscription deviates from his usual style of long, thin, hard-hitting poems in the manner of Todd Moore, to the erasure format. These brief, almost haiku like poems are suffused with horror and nightmarish visions appropriately scored from a black background. The title refers directly to a Jim Morrison song which states “No one gets out of her alive.”
Richard M Berlin, Freud on My Couch, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com 2021, 82 pages, $19
Berlin is an award-winning poet who dabbles in psychiatry. At least, that’s the way I like to read his forthright, often amusing yet, alternatively, deeply serious, affecting poems. He is a Humanist at heart which makes him the perfect person to pursue his trade as a practicing psychiatrist. Poems show his ability to be both empathetic and objective at the same time, a rare commodity in a person. If I ever had to see a psychiatrist, I would hope he could be someone like Berlin. If nothing else we could trade thoughts on basketball. How could you dislike a guy who admires the work of former Knick uber coach, Red Holtzman?
Kendra DeColo & Tyler Mills, Low Budget Movie, Diode Editions, www.diodeeditions.com. 2021, 40 pages, $12
Two poets working as one voice is a technique fraught with peril. Will one poet ‘s thoughts and mannerisms interfere with the others? In this case, the work seems almost flawless. This collection appears to be a project worked on for some time. “Seeing” is a major theme of this little gem of a book: how we watch the low budget movies of our lives and how other people watch us. Men are often inappropriate and crude even dangerous. Not all men, of course, but enough. There is glitz, glitter, humor that is raucous and restrained, and some cool nights at the movies. Some of the turns of phrase advance the cause of snarky commentary to new heights; a major plus in my book.
Dennis Rhodes, The OCD Poems, Indolent Books, www.indolentbooks.com 2021, 61 pages, $18
Rhodes’s journey through life has been a hard one. He is HIV positive, was sexually abused as a child, and has endured years of mental and physical and mental pain due to these basic, overriding facts of his life. A reader and critic cannot quantify the kinds of struggles and pain another feels nor should he attempt to do so. Rhodes is upfront about his life and all the traumas he has endured but has managed a kind of peace through his writing. What more can we ask of a poet?
A word on Indolent Books. They are a non-profit dedicated to publishing the full spectrum of queer, non-binary, AIDS positive authors.
Andy Clausen, From Oakland to Eternity, and Pamela Twining, Never That Girl, a back to back as in two chapbooks in one book reversed with eye opening collages by Jen Dunford Roskos, Iniquity Press PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, No price listed, Inquire.
Claussen remains a distinctive post beat voice. The title poem seems as much influenced by Gertrude Stein as it is by the Beats. Political, philosophical, pertinent work as always. Twining, “laments” never being:” that girl.” The one the boys go for, who are head turners. None of them could ever, or would ever, write a poem as well as Twining always does and once their looks are gone…
Howie Good, Gunmetal Sky, Thirty West Publishing, www.thirtywestph.com. 2021, 93 pages, $16.99
No one would ever accuse Howie Good of being an optimist. His work has become increasingly dark and apocalyptic, due to the current political climate and current events he has been writing about. He is a master of the prose poem form and the striking image. If what he sees mirrors a fascist takeover in Europe in the 30’s and 40’s who could blame him, really? Not for the faint hearted. Good is screaming in the darkness and we should take notice to what he is saying.
Helen Degen Cohen, My Life on Film, Glass Lyre Press, www.glasslyrepress.com., 2018, 99 pages, $16
You don’t have to be a lover of foreign, that is Art House, films, to appreciate this compelling collection, but it helps. Cohen gives a master class in combining subject and form, intermixing personal history with cinematic imagery to create poem that comment on the art and the life. Cohen was an unabashed lover of Fellini who work ranges from the ecstatic to the surreal, to the trashy kitsch. How could you hate a director that begins a movie (La Dolce Vita) with a long tracking shot a statue of Christ being towed by a helicopter and ends with the Mastroianni shrug, suggesting none of this means anything so let’s party until we drop or become character in an Eliot poem like Prufrock. Cohen also loves Pasolini, an acquired taste I have not yet managed, Godard and Bresson. This is an eclectic collection that is often as joyous as it is ingenious.
Two from Finishing Line Press
Jan Tramontano, The Me I Was with You, www.finishinglinepress.com, 2021, 28 pages, $14.99
These deeply, felt, brief poems all have one quality in common, grief. As one of her poems suggests, “The Art of Losing”, the cycles of life reach a stage where letting go predominates. Tramontano describes last days of mothers and fathers where one is powerless to arrest the inevitable and must watch the end come without being able to prevent it. But there is consolation: children, grandchildren, the cycle goes on, life is renewed, and we can always take comfort in that.
Judith Prest, Geography of Loss, 2021, www.finishinglinepress.com ,74 pages, $19.99
As with Jan Tramontano’s briefer book, Prest is mostly concerned with memories of loved ones here and gone. She shows us family scrap books and albums, relays family history some of which rise to the level of near legend and the persistence of a “home “place and how it influences our lives. Prest sees “a bad gene” factor passing down through the female line and residing in her, though she is far removed from wild girl days now. Two poems in particular stand out on the themes of inter-generational connections, the title poem “Geography of Loss” and “Monumental.” I know I’d have loved to meet her late aunt, the subject of that unforgettable poem.
Dan Provost, Dancing In and Out, Kung Fu Treachery Press, available through Barnes & Noel and Amazon, 2021, 71 pages, $13
Dan Provost’s poetry contains what can aptly be described as a singular kind of bar stool loneliness. Not that Dan is a drunk or a whining cry-in-your-beer loser, just a mildly depressive, ruminative sort. There is no striving for profound revelations in his work, just a down home and honest reflection of everyday life. What is most momentous in these poems are moments that can be found in a poem “Danny Boy and the Stone Temple Pilots” where he sits at his mother’s bedside as she slowly dies of dementia. There is such a thing as a slow death, the lingering kind that sucks the life out of the people who are nearby as it kills the people they have loved. I especially related to “Stoned at Fenway” and “Fake News Letterman List…Ten Jobs Donny Trump Can Apply for After He leaves Office,” whose titles speak for themselves.
Natalie Safir, In the Guesthouse of My Body, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2021, 69 pages
The word that most came to mind as I was reading Safir’s exquisite book of poetry, was mature. By mature I mean, someone who knows what she’s about, knows her body, her mind, has experienced a full, rich life, and has the experience as a writer to form this knowledge into poetry. Safir considers the big questions of life: aging, relationships, death with a clear eye and meaningful context that anyone who appreciates complex poetry can appreciate. Her work is dense without being overtly abstract, honed to the very essence of a subject. These are poems built to last and well they should.
Jay Passer, The Cineaste, 2021 Alien Buddha, Available through Amazon, $8.69, 127 pages
The subtitle on the Amazon listing says (100 Movies) which seems just about right for this autobiographical tour in terms of movies of every imaginable kind from art house, to schlock to horror, each resonating in a special, personal way to the author and, I suspect, for the reader as well. The conceit works well and the poems are enjoyable and revealing with a sardonic sense of humor.
Gil Arzola, The Death of Migrant Worker, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 2021, 31 pages, $6
The back cover quote is an excellent summary of the work inside,
“My father died in mid-air like a bird
shot out of the sky, like a hawk circling then
disappearing beyond a horizon, falling-
somewhere out my reach.”
The life of a migrant worker, as would be expected, is peripatetic, has no future beyond basic survival, and Arzola amply shows us what that life looks like from inside. There are no hopes and dreams, just survival and subsistence. The poems are compact and vivid, capturing the life of people doing their best to make life possible for a family that has no real hope of changing their fate. Arzola does his best to show their lives were not totally wasted, bringing them alive again his memory and the poems they inspired. The Death of a Migrant Worker, was the overall winner of the annual Rattle chapbook contest.
Juliet Cook, The Rabbits with Red Eyes, 2021 roughly 20 pages, www.ethelzine.com
Handsewn, handmade booklet of bizarre, often amusing, unique, as only Juliet Cook can be, poems. I may have gotten the last one available. Your loss.
Dave Roskos, The Winger Rabbit of Rabbits of Redemption, 2021, Cat in the Sun Books, 5 Edgeworth Dr, Binghamton, NY 13903, 35 pages, $5
Dave is a poet of the people as a selection from the first poem shows: “I found poetry/in the package/ goods store” In the mouths of whores, talking with day laborers, truck drivers on loading docks... There is nothing pretentious or fancy here, but way gritty, as befitting someone who has been in the gutter and hasn’t strayed too far since. My favorite poems deal with visiting days on psychiatric ward experiences. I know how that goes all too well. Not even remotely related to Juliet’s rabbits mentioned in previous summary.
Dan Raphael, Starting Small, 2021 Alien Buddha, Available on Amazon, 48 pages
Somewhere between the surrealists and the post modernists lies the work of Dan Raphael. While this is often a comfortable place to be, filled with poetic wonder and great lines, many seem disconnected and less satisfying. Not for all tastes but not without unexacted pleasures.
Suzanne S Rancourt, Old Stones, New Roads, 2021, Main Street Rag, www.mainstreetrag.com, 87 pages, $15
If there is an overarching theme to these poems it would be the evocation of place, in particular home in the sense of a spiritual place, an actual birthright place, a place of prominence in memory. Her family, especially her mother, are the subject of the best poems on the home as birthright. Her Native American heritage is significant in the evocation of a spiritual place, all of it part of rich, varied life, well lived and written down with poetic craft and care.
Jeanne-Maire Osterman, All Animals Want the Same Things, Slipstream, Winner of the 2021 Slipstream Chapbook Competition, www.slipstream.com, 32 pages, $10
What was it like growing up as a woman in the 50’s? Well, today’s young women will have no clue what a girdle was like and why women wore them. Remember pointy bras? No? Well Jeanne-Marie Osterman knows what it was like back then coming of age in a working-class family, waiting tables, having tactless, dead-end boyfriends and making your way into the modern age. As is usual with Slipstream contest winner, the poems are rooted in the places most of us who work for a living come from. It may not be pretty but getting by rarely is. Osterman’s book is a worthy addition to the series now surpassing forty years of hardass publishing, an extreme rarity in today’s small press world. Get this one quick as Slipstream titles sell out fast.
Scott Ferry, These Hands of Myrrh, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com , 2021, 54 pages, $16.50
Essentially, Ferry’s new book is one concerned with everyday life, home, job, and family. Because his job is as an RN, you witness what it’s like to give a two-minute round of chest compressions to a patient you re certain isn’t going to make it. There are the stark realities of life and there are the more peaceful ones at home with wife and child. There are memories of decidedly mixed feelings about a larger-than-life father and glimpses into the neighborhood as well. No matter where Ferry takes us, he always makes me feel at home and glad to be able to share the pleasure of his company.
Dennis Hinrichsen, schema geometrica, Green Linden Press, The Wishing Jewel Prize winner, www.greenlindenpress.com, 2021, 80 pages, $18
Without a doubt, this is the strangest book of poetry I read this year. And one of the more intrguing ones. It is visually stunning, poems overlaid with graphics, interspersed with “cartoons” and each poem a “piece of work” in and of itself. By which I mean, if you can imagine pop culture tropes (Wooly Bully, Sam the Sham, Elvis Presley) as a vehicle headed one way on a freeway and the canon of western literature headed another way (John Donne, Shakespeare) on the same freeway and one of them crosses the double yellow line in the center of the road and crashes head on with the other, you would get poems like these. I confess, I often haven’t a clue what he is on about but when I do (and even sometimes when I don’t) I find myself smiling, even laughing at the results of that collision of tropes. And the book, did I say this, is a visual delight.
Angela Voras-Hills, Louder Birds, Pleiades Press (distributed by LSU Press) winner of the Lena Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry, 2020, 60 pages, $17.95
In keeping with the strange theme, Voras-Hills has strange, in a surrealistic, absurdist, domestic context, down pat. If Charlotte Perkins Gilman had slept on a surrealistic pillow for a couple of years in college, did some mind/ chemistry altering substances and then retired to isolated manse to raise a family, who took her for granted, and refused to see her visions as real, she might have written this book. In short, this is what is behind the Yellow Wallpaper, inside the walls, and whatever it is, is coming to get you. Extraordinary images, great lines, all carefully parsed. If Bergman were still around, I could see him filming this as a sequel to “Hour of the Wolf” focusing on the wife this time, instead of the possessed-by-personal-demons, husband.
Janet Lacy McCann, Life List, Resource Publications, www.wipfandstock.com 2021, 197 pages, $22 (paperback) also available as a hardback
As the title suggests, Life List, a woman’s life told chronologically through her engaging, personable, often wryly humorous, narrative poems. Her manner is often deadpan suggesting a quiet, unassuming, uneventful life but her work shows otherwise. She has published widely, traveled extensively, raised six children, taught for decades at Texas A&M in College Station and carries on as a widow, all suggesting a full life. I met Janet in person, known her through the mail for years, in 1999 at the AWP in Albany, N.Y. and remember the poem she wrote about visiting a semi-derelict, dust encrusted bookstore near the hotel where she was staying downtown. The bookstore no longer exists but the poem lives on.
Meg Kearney, All Morning the Crows, The Word Works, Winner of the 2020 Washington Prize, www.wordworksbooks.org, 2021, 101, pages $18
If there is one overarching theme to Kearney’s book it would be: a fascination with birds. It would be unfair to characterize her interest as being of an Audubon kind, of a simple, descriptive interest, though the shape, nature and habits of birds do factor in, but a personal and metaphorical means of expression. Often the referenced bird evokes intensely personal images and life events. Her preface and must-read notes are instructive, explaining some of her process and research backstories.
As she says defining birds: Aspects of birds as the general name for a feathered tribe and a maiden, a girl, (slang) a girl or woman (often used familiarly or disparagingly). I read this on an island that is a bird watchers paradise which added unexpected pleasures to an already wonderful book.
Kate Durbin, Hoarders, Wave Books, www.wavepoetry.com 2021, 171 pages, $18.00
Durbin’s book belongs on that precarious ledge somewhere between poetry and prose. Told in brief interrelated paragraphs which are character studies reminiscent of the kind of people who would be at home in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
Though Durbin expands her gender of hideousness to include women and man these people are, well, hideous! Each person is a hoarder and their MO is the same, though the excuses for collecting vary (or so they think) but differ only in what is amassed. Each sentence in the profile begins in the italicized voice of the person portrayed and completed by the poetic voice. Some of these juxtapositions are as incredible as they are hilarious (and yes, hideous). After several of these portraits, a kind of sameness in tone, voice and personality, pervades making the people almost indistinguishable but her verbal audacity shakes us out of our doldrums and pushes our faces into the mess on the page. Are these people the result of a television obsessed age or has this phenomenon been with us forever? Hard to say. Mindless acquisitions of crap seem to be the goal of our current age aided by Amazon and Facebook and the multitude of corporations that are charting our behavior so that they can send us targeted marketing temptations. Read Hoarders, and beware.
Mickey Corrigan, The Physics of Grief, Poisoned Chalice, available on Amazon and as a kindle book, 2021, 210 pages, $14.95
What to do when your girlfriend leaves you and your life is reduced to endless cups of coffee, and the spoons that come with them, and the long, hot Florida summer is upon you? Accept a job offer from a mysterious stranger, who pays in cash, as a professional mourner. Why not? Needless to say, not all clients are equal, in this laugh out tale of outrageous encounters with families and the loved ones. As the front cover blurb says, “Good fellas meets T.S. Eliot for a drink in an Irish pub.” This Irish pub could only be in Florida and would spell Guinness wrong three different ways, on menus and chalk board specials, as the one we went to for lunch in, in Deland. The Physics of Grief is as outrageous as the daily local news in the Orlando Sentinel, where outrageous meets improbable with absurd consequences for all. Every day. I am not making this up.
Laurie Blauner, Out of Which Came Nothing, www.spuytenduyvil.net, 2021, 239 pages, $20
On rare occasions, like once every ten years or so, if you are lucky, a book crosses your path that is in a league of its own. Laurie Blauner’s latest novel, Out of Which Came Nothing, is one of those rare books. The temptation is to call the time and place of the novel as dystopian, though that feels slightly off. We don’t have a firm understanding of two all-important questions: when is this taking place? And where we are? Apparently, it is now, or yesterday, or tomorrow, in a kind of never were land that could be where you are now except much, much worse (to paraphrase Laurie Anderson.)
Maybe it is the End Times the book refers to. Or after End Time, which fits the category of much, much worse. There is a Doomsday cult, referred to as THEM, in the book. As with most cults, there is a charismatic, if elusive, chameleon like leader who is responsible (though often off stage) much of the plot line of the book. We are not quite at an end time as envisioned by Cormac McCarthy in The Road where all is desolation, a nuclear winter with end of civilization charred, burned beyond recognition. Blauner’s end time has subways. And hotels. And not much else though we are privileged to experience, an occasional circus excepted.
The sense is we are inside a cityscape that resembles New York. But it could be anywhere. Or nowhere for that matter. Or somewhere inside the head of the narrator. Or another character’s altogether. The sense is almost one of a world somewhere between a fairy tale and a fever dream; a nightmare with ill-defined limits that is both all-encompassing and self-contained. This is not a contradiction by any means. It is a state of being that is as specific as a recurring nightmare we can’t let go of, a nightmare that takes over our being and drags us deeply into a well of consciousness where voices in the darkness are threatening to follow us into an uncertain darkness. And we go. Because we have no choice not to.
The basic plot revolves around an older man, described only as simpatico, who is chosen by mysterious cult representatives, to care for a paraplegic blind boy completely confined to a bed. This young person is of great importance because the cult presumes, he has special powers as a prophet, powers amplified by his purity as a living creature unsullied by worldly impressions. Jimmy, the caretaker, is admonished not to expose the boy, Aaron, to outside information so he can retain that “purity” as a human tabula rasa. A time, they say, will come when Aaron’s absolute purity will be a key to THEM’s nebulous goals.
All of this is dubious to say the least. Jimmy, a reluctant caregiver at best, cannot abide by these strictures and immediately begins filtering news from the outside world into Aaron’s consciousness. And worse, he gives Aaron pen and paper, having discovered the boy can write, if in a rudimentary way, thus beginning a year’s long process of Aaron’s growth, both literally and figuratively. Oddly, the world around him remains mostly static. Aaron’s growth and awareness equates with a host of negatives, the dooming of End Time goals, though neither Jimmy or Aaron are aware these goals exist.
There are various subplots that expand the novel from the one room where Aaron is growing. As his consciousness expands, he wants to venture into the real world outside of the apartment. The resolutions to these plots and subplots culminate at a three-ring circus performance where Aaron is taken by Jimmy to be present while the wise (in all senses of the word) girl upstairs, the daughter of a prostitute, and closest thing to a friend Aaron has, debuts as a performing artist. Being at this circus is like being in Kafka’s, Amerika; everything seems real, but is askew in all important ways. An attempted assassination of Jimmy by a bag lady, of many names and personalities, seems right out of David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress (another novel in a category of its own) eventually leading to a fatal fire. Jimmy is rendered blind and paraplegic much like his charge.
The world is deteriorating, the edges of existence are melting away like time out of mind or the lyrics from Strawberry Fields Forever, where nothing is real and “living is easy with eyes closed/ Misunderstanding all you see.” It’s a world where the delusional thinking of the bag lady, Carly, has the last words, words that are like blinding lights of an uptown express train that has no intention of stopping no matter what might be on the tracks. Maybe it is McCarthy’s sunset Limited, maybe it is something much much worse. None of us may live to experience exactly what it is.
Tom Garvey, The Secret Apartment; Vet Stadium a surreal memoir, www.happyselfpublisher.com 2020, 178 pages, No price listed
You know that guy who is always sitting at the bar and after a few, he starts cranking out these tales from his wacky life? That would be Tom. There is a bar room banter feel to these. Which is the good thing about these amusing stories. Also, the downside, as they sound as if they were transcribed from one of these late-night bull sessions unedited. Tom claims these are fiction but they sure do feel as if they could have happened pretty much the way he told them. He hangs with Tug McGraw, an Eagles tight end, and other athletic notables who have passed through the gates of The Vet. Tom gets to do this as he has a kind of secret man cave in a forgotten, unused refreshment area/stand in The Vet, where he lived for several years while running the parking concession. If you are in the mood for some light reading of the harmless, amusing sort, crank back the reclining chair, pop a frosty and have at it. You could do worse than Tom Garvey at the Vet.
And on the other side of the bar, the working side there is:
George Douglas Anderson, The Empty Glass, Alien Buddha Press, available through Amazon, 2020, 245 pages, $7.49
Written in a conversational tone, The Empty Glass, has the feeling of authenticity as in: he’s been there, done that, and downed the shot glasses. Bartenders all have their war stories and these are some of Anderson’s. The kind of slugs he describes could be found in a bar anywhere around the world assuring one that Australian madcap craziness only varies in degree and kind from American insanity. I’ve witnessed rugby scrums mid-bar that compares with the insane footballers Anderson describes only his boozed, out of control, bozos dressed as women, something I have missed out on during my career behind the stick. And I’m not sad about that. Anderson had the experience for me. Basically, a fun, easy read, enjoyable on the level of bar room nastiness, rude and crude and decidedly R, maybe even X rated at times.
John Lunar Richey, Abandon mint, 2021, Iniquity Press/ Vendetta Books, PO Box 252, Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2021, 48 pages, $15
Richey is no shy pornographer. He subtitles his book: strange somewhat sexual stories; a statement that can only be described as tongue in cheek. And when there is a tongue and cheek you can bet there is a cock somewhere in that mouth as well. Richey references Henry Miller (he wrongly describes June as his girlfriend, she was his wife) and Hubert Selby, but other than the grossness of the stories, he fails to reach their standards of excellence as writers. Tropic of Cancer has always seemed to me a celebration of life, in hell, through the pleasures of the flesh and often soars to lyric greatness despite the filth of the world he describes. None of the situations in any of these stories rise to the pathos and brutality of Selby in, say, Last Exit to Brooklyn, where the degradation and destruction of the pathetic male prostitute and the chain raped tramp are described in the grossest terms in context of the milieu. Of a social system devoid of morality or values. There are no requiems for dreams here, just wet dreams. Richey has the grossness but not the context. Richey doesn’t seem to take his writing, his stories, all that seriously, so I guess I shouldn’t either. His strength lies in his blasé attitude which seems to me not that serious at all. I guess it all depends upon what you are looking for.
Northern Hope Poetry 3, writing from broken places, complied and edited by Jim Bell, Slate Roof Press, www.slateroofpress.com. 2021, 98 pages, $17
Editor Bell runs a poetry group for people in recovery. He states in his brief Intro that they discuss work, their struggles with addiction in a encouraging, positive environment. The poems are heartfelt, personal, composed from a place of deep pain by writers committed to escaping their lives as addicts. If there is Art in therapeutic composition, it is here. The book is and artwork, with original woodcuts, heavyweight covers and endpapers and the look of handset type. Well worth the cover price.
Acknowledged Not Reviewed
Eds Claire Schwartz and Nathan Goldman, Provisions, Jewish Currents Winter 2020, www.jewishcurrents.org, 116 pages, $10
Brief prose essays introducing meaningful poems for an age of crisis. As good a collection of accomplished, thoughtful work as any from this time of isolation and solitary musing.
Ed. Dennis Barone, Walkers in the City, Ohm Editions, Rain Taxi, Inc., www.raintaxi.org, 2021, 25 pages, $10
A stroll through well-known poet’s favorite city landscapes. A nice walk.
Zara Lisbon, Baby’s First Apocalypse, Luchador Press, available from Barnes & Noble, 2021, 88 pages, $13
Bob Rixon, Lupercalia, Iniquity Press/ Vendetta Books, PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2021, 25 pages $5
Better to have loved than never to have loved at all.
Michael McInnis, Secret Histories, Cervena Barva Press, PO Box 440357, www.cervenabarvapress.com, 2019, 104 pages
Mostly prose poems, surreal and personal, far ranging and far reaching. Assured.
Gloria Mindock, Ash, Glass Lyre Press, www.glasslyrepress.com, 71 pages, 2021, $16, also available from Gloria at Cervena Barva Press.
Aspects of ash, fire, literal, metaphorical, personal.
Shira Dentz, Sisyphusina, Pank Books, Pank, email@example.com, 2020, 96 pages, $16
Winner of the Eugene Nasser Book Award. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “I know something is happening here, but I don’t know what it is.”
Michael McClure, Mule Kick Blues and last poems, City Light Books, www.citylights.com, 2021, 115 pages, $17.95
The last hurrah of a seminal Beat poet. Dying is a coming into life.
Eileen Cleary, 2 a.m. with Keats, Nixes Mate, www.nixes,ate.pub.com, 2021, 48 pages, $15
It’s always 2 a.m. when we think of Keats dying. Abstract, sometimes humorous, brief poems with lots of white space.
Kaveh Akbar, Pilgrim Bell, Graywolf Press, www.graywolf.org, 2021, 77 pages, $16
Akbar’s second book is, in many ways, stronger than his justly praised first book primarily about his substance abuse and recover. Pilgrim Bell is about faith, all the aspects of it, from God to in himself. and everything in between.
Kimberly Ann Priest, Still Life, Pank Books, Little Book Series 2020, $26 pages, $12
As the author says in her acknowledgments, “The poems in this collection are the result of intuitive narrative therapy practice and research concerning the physical, psychological, and emotional impact of childhood sexual trauma on a victim’s entire life.” No one should have to write poems like hers (and no has, really) and they are all extraordinary.
Blurbs in lieu of reviews
Robert Cooperman, Reefer Madness, Kelsay Books 502 South 1040 East A-119, American Fork, Utah, 84003, 2021, 108 pages
If you grew up in the 60’s, as I did, and Bob did, you will instantly relate to his Reefer Madness. His poems are a personal journey in terms of the wacky weed. Everyone who lived then, and I do mean, everyone, tried it and if you said you didn’t, you were lying. And yes, we inhaled too. The present-day saga of parents of teenagers involving selling girl scout cookies outside a legal weed dispensary is priceless; are a kind of novella in poems. Overall, there is a funky kind of nostalgia in Cooperman’s book that makes you feel that the poems, and the experiences that inspired them, came from a better, more innocent, more hopeful age.
Alan Catlin poet, Asylum Garden: after Van Gogh
Chaos Management, the new novel from Alan Catlin is now available. Check out the link below where you can read an excerpt. Below that is a link to the paperback: