Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Nair, A Different Distance: a renga, Milkweed Editions, www.milkweed.org 127 pages, 2021, $15.99
Even though it is early in the new year, I am writing this in the first week of February, I will say, if you are going to read one book of poetry this year, this is the one you should read. The setup is basic: two friends, are separated by a few blocks and a pandemic in Paris. The few blocks could have been thousands of miles as both have health issues that require complete isolation. In order to narrow that space Hacker suggests the two write poems to each other in a chain of serial poems, a renga (purists will insist on more participants than two but who is going to argue with an isolating pandemic?) The result is a compelling portrait of two artists/poets in their advancing years but still actively creative. Nair is dealing with an ongoing cancer while Hacker a recovered cancer survivor who later is confined by a broken leg. The poems are brief, spare, almost Zenlike meditations, that reveal two brilliant minds coping with extreme situations under the most isolating conditions. We are all in this existential bind, to some degree or another, and these poems are eminently relatable, provide a compelling, universal story of how two people coped with Covid Lockdown Year 1.
Chocolate Waters, Muddying the Holy Waters, Eggplant Press, order from the author ChocPoet@gmail.com or from Amazon, 2021, 128 pages $15.61 print, a kindle version is available as well.
Rarely do you find a book you make an instant deep connection with. Essentially, I knew almost nothing about the poet other than what is revealed in this autobiographical book of poems. Yet as I read the connection deepened on a personal, even psychic level.
Waters, after 30 years of mostly not publishing, is back. (She published chapbook, the woman who wouldn’t shake hands with Poets Wear Prada) I wanted to say back with a vengeance, but what I really mean is, both a summing up and a making up for lost time. These poems feel like a letting go of a lifetime of inner turbulence that is not mean-spirited, though it could be, but heartfelt and textured with sadness.
Like many of us Waters was not a beautiful child. She was justified in feeling alienated from the world, and her family, after a peripatetic military existence that saw her changing schools 13 times by the time, she reached junior high. Her mother was not only unsupportive but cold, distant, and discouraging under the best of circumstances. Waters felt closer to her father but he was drinker, a philanderer, and emotionally inconstant though she continues to feel affection for him. In school she desperately wants to make a connection with crushes with anyone. Unfortunately, what few she attempts at emotional connections are unsatisfactory and deeply disappointing. As she grew older, she experienced confusion about having strong feelings for women sort of like Martina Navratilova who said she used to worry, as a girl, whether men would ever be attracted to her and when she grew up, she didn’t care.
Escaping from home Waters heads west and establishes herself as a radical feminist, a poet, performer, and publisher who made the rounds in small presses and elsewhere. After ten years she moves to New York to explore a larger canvas. Her poetry in Muddying the Holy Waters is expansive on those early years with her parents, those failed attempts at love, and her writing life.
The later, adult years, are more of a sideboard, left unclear but who says we have to know everything, when we already know so much? There is more than enough personal revelation to connect with in this unfolding of her life, even in her 70’s, that feels as if it is still a work in progress.
My instant connection comes from knowing what it was like to grow up as sensitive, inquisitive, intelligent child, feeling unloved, put upon, not so much physically abused, as mentally so. A childhood of being unable to find a connection among one’s peers is something I am acutely aware of. High school as hell is a formative experience anyone could relate to unless you were one of the glorious, popular, pampered beautiful, young ones who more than likely peaked at 17 and have been looking backwards ever since. Chocolate Waters is not mired in her past, thanks to these muddied waters, but swimming through them into whatever lies ahead.
Susana H. Case, The Damage Done, Broadstone Books, www.broadstonebooks.com 2022, 93 pages $24
The Damage Done is an intrguing, blend of historical record and a true crime noir told in multiple points of view by an kind of omniscient narrator. The outline of the plot is fairly straight forward: a fashion model who is an undercover agent for the FBI is murdered by person or persons unknown. Her death is examined in context of rogue Counter Intelligence Program instituted by J Edgar Hoover during his reign of terror. Using Janey as an example of the dirty politics of a power mad individual with a death grip on an organization with policing power shows the scope of harm that can be done. There is ample evidence that even presidents lived in fear of the infamous Hoover files.
Hoover’s obsessive prejudices are the stuff of legend and Case shows us what happens when putatively state sponsored terror decides to go underground and infiltrate black power groups. Janey’s death in her Karmann Ghia, an unexplained death, in the back seat amid a plethora of empty pill bottles parallels the death of actress Jean Seberg in Paris under similar circumstances. Seberg was a supporter of Black Panther movement and had a lover who was a leader in the group as did Janey. Once tracked down Janey’s backdoor man is fitted for the crime despite their being no real evidence, he had anything to do with it. Even the detectives know this but, as Case graphically shows, the CONTELPRO boys were adept at planting evidence and assassinating leaders of groups the director found objectionable.
Having read The Damage Done three times now, I can say with complete confidence, that multiple readings, for different threads of the text, are all equally satisfying. The first time through, I read it for the overall noir story line. The second time, I read it for the political implications of the highly illegal, underground machinations of Hoover’s army. And the third, for an appreciation of Case’s narrative gifts. No matter how or why you read this book, anyone who appreciates a good story, artfully told, should be reading The Damage Done. Anyone who went to a peace rally or went on a march during those years has an FBI file somewhere. That would include me.
Ken Craft, Reincarnations & Other Stimulants: Life, Death & In-Between Poems,
Kelsay Books, 502 South 1040 East, A-1119, American Fork, Utah, 84003, 103 pages, 2021 $18.50
Craft’s new collection is suffused with loss particularly focusing on his brother’s death. We see his bedroom as a still life much like Ashley Gilbertson’s photo collection depicting the preserved bedrooms of fallen soldiers. Regardless of how the loss occurred, the feeling of absence is identical to the collection of static photos; preserving the room of the missing open is a memorial, a way of holding onto the loved one.
Along the way in this raw, but compelling collection, we meet a neighbor whose only pleasure in life is talking about how awful his life is. Craft’s deepest connections are recalled at funerals of friends and relatives. There isn’t much looking forward especially in the early poems of the collection; just the weary reflections that looking back brings. There is a crazy cat lady as well. She tries to forestall her thoughts on aging, loneliness, illness in her life by creating a hoarder’s collection of animals who truly need her for survival in ways no one person ever will.
There is a quiet sense of desperation, in the Thoreau sense, to later poems. He meditates and considers and walks in Maine Woods much the way Thoreau did. He is isolated, as we all were, by a new normal of social distancing. Later poems have a strong sense of Andrew Marvell’s “time’s winged chariot drawing near,” or Shakespeare’s, “time creeps forward at its petty pace.” Poetry is a medicine for melancholy. One stunning poem near the end of the collection recounts Craft’s brother dressing for Halloween in a costume that now feels like a dress rehearsal for the Day of the Dead. Poetry preserves what is lost and in so doing is the most fitting memorial of all.
Stephen Falconer, Arcadian Grace, Resource Publications available on Amazon 2021, 216 pages, Hard Cover $28, Paper Back $23 Kindle 9.99
Falconer’s goal with his Arcadian Grace is about as ambitious as any one book can be. He attempts to make sense of and offer a historical perspective and a spiritual journey throughout the whole of human existence. Early poems offer a metaphorical description of the origin story of human creation. He traverses the world, literally and figuratively, examining various spiritual quests, illuminating place and notions and finding interconnections between man and a higher power.
Arcadian Grace is an epic, pure and simple. If I read his journey correctly, he is equally receptive to all spiritual quests and being without adhering to a specific dogma or philosophy. His vison is transcendent, embraces meditation, Christian values of love and brotherhood, Buddhist notions of peace and well-being, and the attainment of enlightenment. One of the blurbs assets this is the work of a mystic which seems as accurate as any to describe this journey of a lifetime. I would be inclined to support the view that this book is more a work of philosophy than religion (the philosophy of religion?) than a pure religious tract written in poetic lines that avoid pronouncements, expressing his thoughts in more concrete and metaphorical ways than more concrete, prosaic terms. A reader who is not versed in philosophy, beyond basic tenets, will have to approach this book slowly on its own terms which is: the author is not trying to convince you to follow his path, exclusive to all others, but to travel with him as he seeks his own particular sense of the timeless, the ineffable. It is up to the individual to find his own path and complete his own journey.
D. R. James, Mobius Trip, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com 2021, 63 pages $18-
Mobius Trip: an impression in words and phrases:
Sinuous snakes of reason. Ouroboros
maze imaging/imagining. Tightly composed
lines. Lasso images. Traps: once encircled
twice entrapped. The loose knot cinched
slip/knot(ed). Geometric horizons: slope
plane (plain) three dimensions cubed.
Tunneling wormholes. A wake awake
black hole! Atmospheric as pressure
What goes up must come(s) down.
Jazz suite or Galapagos Encantadas? White
whaling/wails. An Antarctic Sea. A moonlight
sonata. A Christ in concrete. A velvet Elvis on
Croon Lake. Pebble scattered sleep. Brain haze
not a purple one. Gift horses couldn’t drag
me away. Teleology/Theology
Event Horizon Friday. Last judgment for a
hung jury. Warping the weft. Who has the
final. Say? Pied beauty. After GMH on an
Orpheus tightrope. Don’t look back. In anger
David Bowie! Flying too close to the sun
is dangerous. Not a still life. Streaking across
the sky. Like a gravity rainbow. Feathers in
an orchid sky. Kind of blue. Sax change.
Chambered as nautilus. Shotgun shells. The game
is afoot! Alien as culture. Selves split like
atoms. Reaching ignition point. Tantalus anyone!
No clustered grapes for you! In a museum
of musculature. A bone for Emily. A white rose
for Neruda. Again. A descant or a pricksong?
Decanted like memories. A fugue state for Bach.
Get Bach to where you once belonged.
Gary Metras, Vanishing Points, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com 2021, 73 pages $18-
An autumn harvest presages the winter to come, friends die, the winters are brutally cold, the freeze encompasses everything but you can always kiss the one you love and feel the warmth. Metras’ new collection is honed with the kind of craft he lavished on his handmade Adastra Press books that he made for over forty years. While there is a strong sense of loss in this collection, a mélange of vanishing point, metaphoric and actual, these are mitigated by modest love poems for his wife, the birth of grandchildren, another day fly fishing in Spring.
Robert Perchan, Last Notes from a Split Peninsula, Uncollected Presswww.therawartreview.com 2020, 133 pages, $15-
The peninsula Perchan refers to here is Korea where he has lived for decades after wandering about working for the US Navy’s Program for Afloat College Education (PACE). He claims to have settled into “a life of reflective if occasionally perplexed peninsularity.” The perplexed part clearly shows through his highly amusing tales of teaching English as a second language to Koreans. There are odd cultural clashes, a hugely funny tale about how Allen Ginsberg’ schtick as a performance poet that does not play well with the natives. This tale in particular has a strong sense of Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America updated to a foreign land minus the cute. The Korean morays are often as foreign to him as foreign gets. There are amazing mangling and misunderstanding of regular and idiomatic English. The best example of the confusion and misuse of the language is the hilarious “Dear Bob Letter.” The final section moves away from the common themes of foreignness of the first two sections, to a more surrealistic blend of the cultural clashing of linguistic armies in the night in ways that Matthew Arnold, the poet and the educator, could never have imagined. Perchan is a veteran of the small press scene and a large book like this one is a welcome addition to the poetry shelves if only as an antidote to mfa poetics that seems to be the all-pervading norm these days.
Of note Perchan asserts his wife is the true hero in his life translating Jane Austen into Korean. She’s high on my hero list as well.
Susan Petrie, Hundred-Mile Home: A Story Map of Albany, Troy, & the Historic Hudson River, Excelsior Editions, State University of New York Press, www.sunypress.edu, 2021, 115 pages $18.95
Hundred-Mile Home is a perspicacious blending of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson and Basho’s, Narrow Road to the Great North. Petrie tells a personal tale of living in the capital city area with richly detailed historical references of a 400 plus year old city and immediate environs. You don’t need to be from the area to appreciate the rich language and the scenic tour much as you don’t ever have to have seen Paterson, the city with no zoning laws, or Japan, to appreciate those works. Petrie’s journey is enriched with anecdotes, commentary and illustrative photographs of places (taken by the author) she is writing about. Anyone who has traveled down the Hudson on Amtrak, especially during the Fall or of Winter, 2021, will share her love for what can be seen outside those windows.
DeWitt Clinton, Hello There, Word Poetry, www.wordpoetrybooks.com, 112 pages, $19
Clinton’s latest book is divided into three sections which could be described as: Section One Counting your blessings; something all of us who have reached a certain age such as Clinton and myself (mid 70’s) have. Section 2: Recounts what is lost: parents, friends, the health of those closest to him such as his wife, and disturbing memories of the past. Two of those are outstanding narratives, “Soldier to Solider Outside the Church if Nativity: Bethlehem” and “An Afternoon with PI Ssu Yao Who Visits Tu Fu in the 8th C”. Individual wars may be over but the war never leaves the soldier regardless of how old the soldier may be. Section Three: Is hanging on despite the increasingly failing health, both mental and physical, of his wife, increasingly deep questions about the nature of existence and life itself. At one point he reaches the conclusion: No, it doesn’t matter, our lives, in the grand theme of things, assuming there is a grand theme which I doubt, but it matters to us. Yes, it does. So do the poems.
Max Heinegg, Good Harbor, Lily Poetry, Lily Poetry Review Books 223 Winter Street, Whitman, MA 02382, 2022 55pages $18-
Winner of the Paul Nemser Poetry Press
Heinegg’s new book is an intimate one. There is a great deal of reflection and death in the earlier poems as the poet’s much-loved dad (also a poet and academic) passes away after a drawn out, lingering illness. Despite the poet’s intense focus on the deaths of love ones, it is the safety and comfort of family that sustains him. The good harbor of the title is both a summer place, a family retreat, but a symbolic one, representing the comfort and sanctity of family. He cherishes his wife and daughters and this deep connection sustains and motivated him to look outward and see life in terms of his children’s, and his own, future lives. As he says in the poem, “Cassiopeia” “I too/love my daughters more than I fear the gods.”
This is a warm, loving book despite the setbacks including a wayward younger life he describes in some details with a wry, “tuff that seemed like a good idea at the time but really weren’t,” attitude. I know how he feels. Moving onward and making a new productive life as a poet, musician, teacher and above all, loving father and husband is what matters most now as well it should.
Michael Casey, Millrat, 25th Anniversary Edition, Loom Press, www.loompress.com , 2021,
68 pages, $20- Includes an Afterword, Commentary, critical and personal, and Author’s Bio
I have made no secret of my admiration of Michael Casey’s work over the year. I can say that I have read his Yale Series of Younger Poets Award Winning, Obscenities well into the double figures by now. Not too far behind is Millrat. Casey speaks the language of the everyday worker in the factory as he did the soldiers in Vietnam. His tone is both ironic and dead serious as he finds humor in the most incongruous and unfunny situations. Regardless of how he does it or when, his language is spot on perfect and the poems are a joy to read and reread.
I share original publisher Gary Metras’ wonder when he received the original manuscript of Millrat, “Is this the same Michaël Casey who wrote Obscenities?” It had been twenty-five years since the publication of his first book but anyone familiar with it would know, without a doubt, after one poem, “Yep, the same Michael Casey.”
It is rare these days that a book of poetry receives a second, anniversary publication. The editors have added an informative essay by Metras, critical reactions and reviews to the Adastra original, and a detailed bio of the poet. I can think of few other contemporaneous poets other than Michael Casey who deserve such a volume.
Ted Jonathan, Unholy Melodies: New and Collected, with a forward by Tony Gloegller, NYQ , www.nyq.org, 2021, 310 pages hardback $40.00 paperback $25
Reading Ted’s poems was always a joy mixed with trauma, pain, black humor, some silliness and an earnestness of a completely frank and honest man. His life was more traumatic than most given his father murdered his mother when he was twelve. He written extensively of his guilt, that maybe if he hung around that day, she was killed …
I was reminded time and again just how much we missed him. Poet Tony Gloeggler, his best friend, wrote so well in his introduction what Ted meant to him. In fact, one of his best, most amusing, most heartfelt poems involved Tony and Ted meeting up for a concert while Tony was suffering from acute kidney disease, and was waiting for a transplant. Tony looked, as Dylan said in Tom Thumb’s Blues, “like a ghost who just arrived here from the coast”. I met Tony and with B.K. Tuon, around then and we did a reading at Union College. I was amazed how Tony found the strength to make the train journey upstate from Queens, give a dynamic reading, and travel back downstate. Traveling for Tony was an ordeal but he persevered because that’s what he does. It wasn’t a great concert experience for Ted. In fact, he hated it and the resolution of the poem is both pure Ted and pure Tony. Just a great poem
Having read almost all of these before, some many times, I felt myself thinking, “Oh Ted, there was so much more ya could have said.” But isolated by COVID, alone, a two-time cancer survivor, you felt he was okay, he was a survivor and he had so many good, caring friends…
I read on savoring favors, recalling ones we published in Misfit, then I came to,
In an instant
So I sleep a lot
And I had to stop reading. Oh Ted, shit…
As Tony said, your not being here, “really just fucking sucks.”
Diana Rosen, High Stakes & Expectations, The Tiny Publisher, www.thetinypublisher.com, 2022, 61 pages $15-
Rosen’s book is divided in two as the title indicates. The first, and to my way of reading it, the strongest, is The High Stakes. There are lives lost, lives taken, failed marriages, work place division and most telling, holocaust remembrance. Remembrance is the major theme throughout told in a litany of survivor’s songs. The language feels familiar at times but is always deeply felt making this section truly one from the heart.
The second section, Expectations, describes a more content and settled person. There is less tension, less conflict, more sensual encounters, and amusing poems often feeling like a slow tango into maturity. The book’s format is exquisite though I was startled when the second section began with a new table of contents making me wonder of there wasn’t a structural error. There wasn’t, just an unusual formatting, which didn’t detract at all from the overall reading experience.
Andrea Janov, Mixtapes and Photo Albums, EMP Books, www. Empbooks.com 2021, not paginated roughly 110 pages no price listed
Clubs, mosh pits, loud music, would be the background music of Janov’s adolescence. The poems, with photos, troll the punk scene, such as it is/was in Wilkes Barre, PA covering the years of Janov’s late teens. The book is roughly divided in half by two mix tapes: the first songs, not to listen to, chronicle bad hookups and failed relationships. The second a mix tape of songs to listen to where relationships are better though she doesn’t seem to progress much past summer girl status. The poems are energetic and downright sweaty with close encounters of the club scene well depicted.
Books with drugs at their core.
I was struck by Tommy Orange’s observation in a review in the NYTBR recently, that applies to drugs, “When it comes to addiction there are no answers-only stories.” How true is that?
Dave Roskos, Heaven’s Waiting Room, between shadows press, PO Box 394, Denville, N.J. 07834, 14 pages 2021, firstname.lastname@example.org ,no price listed
Roskos is a poet of the people, a working man’s friend, who has been in the gutter and now works to help people out of it. These are raw, intense poems befitting the editor of long-time small press staple, Big Hammer. Between Shadows Press is releasing dozens of these small, highly focused, inexpensive collections, well worth checking out.
Dave Roskos, The Ne’er Do Well Waltz, Cat in the Sun Press, 5 Edgewood Dr., Binghamton, NY 13903, 2022, 67 pages
In keeping with the previous collection mentioned and, well, pretty much all of Dave’s poems, three is a lot of drugs, sex and rock and roll in these poems written over a nearly 30-year span when Roskos was in varying degrees of addiction. So, they are a bit ragged. I imagine he was a bit ragged as well. Reading these is like discovering collected songs for my back pages of Jim Carroll’s, Book of Nods. You could easily imagine a poetry reading on the Day of the Dead in the darkening shadows under the volcano where these would be the featured poems. If you get an invitation to the next reading be sure to bring your own candle. You’ll need it. The pure Dias los Muertos sugar skulls make a nice souvenir because there will be among the unusual items for sale nearby. Complimenting Roskos’s poems are collages by Michael Shores creating a mood that suggest an L.A. Confidential fan mag wedded with some interstellar travel plus pictures at an exhibition curated by Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning.
Jen Dunford-Roskos, Love Junkie, Legitimate Business Press PO Box 235 Seaside Heights, NJ, 08753 email@example.com, 2022, not paginated I would guess 80 plus pages, no price listed
Love Junkie is Jen Dunford-Roskos’s first novella length fiction. She shows the same facility as she has in her poetry to get down and dirty in the subterranean world of young people hooked on drugs. The feeling is of a sub-culture of barely functional zombie kids whose only aim in life is to score in any way they can to avoid getting sick. Many, if not all of them have, done the various NA programs and flunked out, relapsing, then ending up back on the street hooked as bad, if not worse, than before. The sense is you hook, you score, you get high then you get clean or you die. I don’t think the ratio for “got clean to dead” is very good.
The principles do not meet cute. They do not have a legendary coupling and compelling with a movie score by John Williams. They do not prevail against all odds and have a blissful marriage of true minds. If you can imagine Romeo and Juliet in Providence, with Juliet married to an abusive bipolar druggie, rather naïve despite her addiction, very young seeming in her early 20’s, basically falling in love at first sight with a reluctant, slightly older Romeo, who has no interest in a relationship. Romeo is facing a likely jail sentence and is nursing a habit he is trying, half-heartedly, to wean himself from before the inevitable incarceration. They are both slam poets with some talent but when you are hooked, everything is on back burner in the never-ending quest for the next score.
The story covers a two-or so-year period as the young star-crossed, sort of would-be lovers have complicated lives getting clean and relapsing. The writing is convincing in “I have been there, done that”, way. If you know a sensitive young person on the edge of this world contact Jen to get your copy and make them read it: this is what happens to you when you sell your soul to a drug. You may get free and grow from your experiences the way Jen and her fictional character did, but don’t count on it. Expect the bumps on the road to a new life to be increasingly rocky with Grand Canyon lows and a long road back up the canyon walls to something like a regular life on the edges of a drug free life.
Two Books by Richard Jones both from Green Linden Press
Richard Jones, The Minor Key, Green Linden Press, www.greenlindenpress.com , 85 pages, 2021, $16
“ “ , Avalon, www.greenlindenpress.com ,75 pages, 2021 $16-
Poems in a minor key as title indicates, are contemplative, ruminative, reflective of family life, memories of places and people strong work that could easily been released as one book as they feel related in both tone and subject. Regardless, these should be read and savored before a blazing fire, with a glass of Armagnac, perhaps, red wine, chamber music playing in the background.
Laura Boss, Family Promises, NYQ Press. www.nyq.org., 20221 $18
This posthumous collection captures the verve and spirit of a lively, generous poet, and longtime editor of the New Jersey small magazine, Lips. While there is a preoccupation with disease, death, and end of life subjects, I didn’t feel as if this was a down collection. I see these as a recitation of life the way it is, or was, with the inevitable loss of a husband, a particularly galling and unnerving disappearance of a son, and her own, though muted in expression, health issues. She derides the poets who will offer encomium after her death, but you know what, they will because they loved her and her work. I can only offer my appreciation for her generosity of spirit and a life well lived even if I didn’t know her personally.
Carrie Fountain, The Life, Penguin Poetry, www.penguinrandomhouse.com. , 2021, 92 pages $18-
I generally don’t mention major press poets but I read this one directly after Laura Boss’ poems and a central theme, though from a vastly different point of view, of family life pervades both books. Fountain is a young mother, teacher, working poet, wrestling with the age-old questions of forming your children’s minds. She hopes to maintain innocence and imbues a sense of spirituality in the children. The family avoids the all-pervading bad news of the media these days and she watches with guarded trepidation as her children form distinct personalities. Fountain has an economic style, precise and not one word out of place or unwarranted. I’ve been where she is now. You do your best to protect your kids and hope life doesn’t damage them too much and that whatever guidance you provided them, helps them along the way.
Cassondra Windwalker, Tide Tables and Tea with God, Otis Books, www.otis.edu 2021, 110 pages $16.95
While the previous books were forged from loss and love tempered by trepidation, Windwalker’s book wellspring is grief. Grief is not a thing with feathers but a complicated, dark and spiritual, despairing thing, that can lead to darker place. Windwalker and her husband experienced a series of devastating personal losses, suicides, fatal accidents, and illnesses among their core family and friends. They picked up and moved, at considerable financial cost, to Alaska where she writes these poems punctuated by compelling photograph’s mostly of the ocean and winter scenes. While her work is often of the “midnight of the soul”, she finds solace in her writing and an understanding that we must work through our grief and move on. Overall, this is a stunning study in black and white that moves beyond despair to embrace what life has to offer.
Diane Frank, While Listening to the Enigma Variations, Glass Lyre Press, www.glasslyrepress.com, 228 pages $11
Frank is an accomplished musician as well as an excellent poet. As might be expected from a classical musician, music pervades the work in compelling ways as she relates her years spent traveling, living, and loving. While this seems to be a kind of selected poems overview, the work is consistently well crafted, focused and sonically balanced from first to last. Frank’s book is a bargain at twice the price.
Theodore George, Motherfisher: a haiku story of grieving in the time of COVID, Alien Buddha Press, available on Amazon, 2021, 50 pages $10.44
In the introduction to these brilliant, Basho influenced haiku style poems, George describes the loss of his mother and how it is amplified by not being able to be by her side at her passing. Separated by thousands of miles and divided by the plague, George feels the helplessness of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, who cannot offer love and support to their loved ones at the end of their lives. Though what she does, her dying is not COVID, but it is the plague that separates them. The enforced isolation is another kind of death for George. This sequence is artful, painful, poignant and universal the way all good poetry should be.
Jennifer Jean, Object Lessons, Lily Poetry, Lily Poetry Review Books 223 Winter Street, Whitman, MA 02382, 2021, 51 pages, $12
Object Lessons deals with objectification of women as sex workers, sex slaves, sex objects and not in a healthy way. Women are seen as vessels, entities without individual traits. Through a series of candid interviews with survivors of the various trades: from street walker to call girl and virtually everything in between, she portrays these women as the survivors they are. Often told in the language of the women. This is a compelling chapbook that is a must for anyone who is interested in the subject.
As is this one for anyone interested in personal, historical stories of survivors and victims of the Holocaust particularly in Poland.
Cynthia Barger, Sleeping in the Dead Girl’s Room, Lily Poetry Review Press, 223 Winter Street, Whitman, MA 02382, 2022, 63 pages $18
Barger’s emotionally wrenching, highly charged story is a trauma narrative with a capital T. An older sister who died before she was born bore the name Cynthia. She was given her name as the replacement Cynthia. The not implausible assumption by the poet is that she was a “damned from birth”, is borne out by her extreme emotional difficulties from adolescence onward. And it begins in her sleeping in the dead girl’s room. Her parents are by turns, neglectful, harmful, emotionally distant, and uncaring, especially the father. She searches for an escape route from the stifling restrictions of “home life’ in all the usual ways substance abuse, self-abuse, attempted suicide until she discovers another way out; madness. Even institutional confinement, with all the attendant horrors that entails, from electro shock treatments, to so called water cures, are parts of her in institution regimen. The poem, “My Aunt Talks to Sylvia Plath” is as emotionally charged, and hyper-real as any I have read in years. This is a book that must be read.
David Giannini, The Dawn of Nothing Important, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2022, 150 pages $22
If nothing important is what we have all been engaged in doing the past couple of years, in one form or another of Covid isolationism, Giannini has been using his time to great advantage composing, as he suggests, while doing something else. These poems may not feel important, in light of world issues, but if you love poetic variety, sheer formal inventiveness, and unusual syntax and phrasing, this is a collection for you. In early poems childhood is evoked but not in a generic Child’s Garden of Verses way, quite the contrary. They are often fraught, even angry, as he relays the removal of words related to Nature from a Junior Dictionary. A way of life is being altered in the way Orwell warned in his essays on language. Beware of the language you destroy, the objects words refer to, because when a thing disappears that way, it is well on the road to extinction.
His poetic focus is often as elemental, rooted in the natural world, as it is ephemeral. Particularly poignant are spiritual suggestions/connections with the natural world and the very real prospect of growing old in a Donald Hall way. There is a chain poem that reveals the interconnectivity of time and the existence of all things connected by poetry in a long continuum of memory and experience. There is often an almost Zen quality to the meditative pieces, all the while stressing togetherness in isolation from invisible threats. We are here in the now and the poems are. Remember that while we may be able to laugh at the grim reaper, he gets the last laugh. Carpe diem. And remember, unlike Samuel Taylor Coleridge never answer the door if a man from Porlock calls.
There is so much richness here, so many different ways to experience life in its infinite varieties and forms, a brief appreciation can only offer a few glimpses into the mirrors of the soul inside the words.
Dennis Rush, What Are the Rich Doing Tonight? Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com 2022, 73 pages $18-
Everyone knows the rich aren’t the same as us. Dennis Rush knows that as well as anyone. Unlike the wealthy, the famous, the elite, whatever they think they are, Rush is a regular all- around guy. His manner of writing, I almost said speaking, but that would apply just as well, is matter of fact and on the surface seeming. I say seeming because he is more subtle than you might expect especially in the later poems of this astute first collection. Sly digs and commentary reveal implication beneath bluff statements that could easily be missed on a first read through. Rush lulls you into a kind of complacency then zaps you with a zinger that, upon reflection, what did he mean by that, really? Of particular note are the poems he writes about his factory work which feel authentic and real as do the people he writes about who worked there. An auspicious debut.
J.R. Solonche, Selected Poems 2002-2021, Serving House Books, www.servinghousebooks.com
2021, 435 pages $-
Make no mistake about it Solonche’s book is a tome, is about what you would expect from a collection that an 11-page table of contents including selections from 22 collections. While those number could be construed as off putting, I would say not when the poet is J.R. Solonche. Having seen a few of these highly (even easily) readable collections previously, I knew what to expect: an engaging, often humorous point of view of a highly capable, experienced poet who knows what he is about. Solonche is equally as comfortable with a three-line poem as he is with a three-page poem. There are political poems, satirical ones (my favorites) riffs on well-known contemporary poets (the William Matthew’s one is not to be missed) and wry observations of life. His classrooms poems reveal students disturbing, but not surprising, basic ignorance of history and literature. He jabs the most ignorant of all, the never-a-student, former president. He decries the misery of growing old, arthritis, diminishing physical and mental capacities, but he forges on. This is not a mere weighty tome but a large gift with many rewards.
Joe Balaz, Pidgin Eye, ala press, www.alapress.org, Available on Amazon 2019, 276 pages $20-
A brief description from the Amazon header succinctly describes the essence of Balaz’s poetry; “Pidgin Eye features thirty-five years of poetry by acclaimed author Joe Balaz. Writing in Pidgin (Hawaiʻi Creole English), he honors the beauty, strength, and complexity of Hawaiʻi and the voices of its peoples. Balaz’s philosophical lyricism tightly weaves history and humor, aloha ʻāina and protest, the spiritual and the everyday. Together, these poems envision a world in which—like Pidgin—“everyting deserves to fly.”
I confess the first time I saw Joe’s poetry I didn’t get it at all. My first impression was these were a kind of black street talk I wasn’t familiar with, but the more I thought about it the less likely that seemed. My next thought was they were a kind of Caribbean lingo I didn’t know but that didn’t feel right either so I decided to research his work. The more I learned the better I liked what I saw.
The Pidgin in the title, of course, is a pun suggesting the essential Creole mix of native language as assimilated into the American English language. The result is a fascinating mix of cultures and derivative language. As I read the poems, right off, I can see a depth in them that isn’t apparent to the casual reader. “Da History of Pidgin” succinctly lays out a development of this oral tradition. I see a word like kine used here as a substitution for kind (usually) and I thoguht of Middle English kine which also suggests cattle as well as kind as a kind of object, a kind of person. In fact, Balaz notes the similarities later in the poem. A conscientious reader could find numerous examples of words with multiple linguistic antecedents. Rather than offer an exegesis of that nature, I will offer a bottom-line assessment: Joe Balaz is: wun funny dude. Read the poems. All of them. Laugh out loud, (how often does poetry make you laugh out loud?) share the hijinks, the youthful indiscretions, the sexual encounters, know the people he describes. If you have any interest in the oral tradition in spoken poetry you absolutely have to read this book and even if you don’t care about that subject, just dig it.
Note: A brief glossary might have helped but I suggest you can figure out what he is saying without a dictionary definitions.
Scott Ferry, Skinless in the Cereal Aisle, Impspired, www.impspired.com, 2021, 85 pages, order through Amazon $9.99
Ferry’s latest book feels like a retrospective moving forward, a looking back to a past that includes many bad memories due to drinking. Healing is a continuous process that is aided by his all-abiding love of his wife and children. He fears he can never be the kind of father he should be to his children or the husband that his wife deserves. All is well except he has these bad dreams: shame dreams, anxiety dreams, mitigated by prayers to end suffering. Part of this ongoing process is writing, expressing what he was bad and finding a way forward. I’ve been there, done that. Scott is a RN working with veterans helping their healing process.
Martin Willets Jr, Wars Are All the Same War, Future Cycle press. www.futurecyclepress.com., 2022,82 pages $15.95 print $2.99 kindle
Willetts’s book is a revelation. I’ve been reading his work for years and did not expect this profound, personal depiction, of the horrors of war as told mostly in terms of his service as a combat medic in Vietnam. When he says he saw more combat that the average frontline soldier, he is not exaggerating. As a messenger of peace, no doubt a Conscientious Objector, due to his being an American Friends member, his direct involvement with victims of battle is all the more profoundly moving. His mission is, quite literally, to save whom he could, and he does quite often but just as often as he fails. There is no getting around the failure, how profound an experience that is, how life changing. At one point near the conclusion of the work, Willett’s confesses he never wished to talk about his experiences, as many veterans don’t, not even to people he may have saved. His experiences were just so contrary to his beliefs that they felt soemthign like an aberration but eventually the need to unburden himself manifested itself in this timeless collection. For one, I am glad that he did.
R.L. Barth, Learning War Selected Vietnam War Poems, Broadstone Books, www.broadstonebooks.com, 2021, 63 pages $14.95
Down the line a piece from Willetts is Barth, a combat marine who saw action in the late 60’s when the war was ultra-hot. Barth begins with a poem “Reading the Iliad” suggesting, as does Willetts, that all wars are the same war. Regardless of the weaponry, the nature of the conflict the location. It’s about people killing other people for whatever reasons. No one wins in the end. Only death and the ferryman on the river Styx.
Barth’s poems are often short and epigrammatical and direct. Some are rhymed. He makes no pretensions to art of poetic niceties. No messing around, to the point, in and out like a fire fight with words, the Marine way.
A sucking chest wound’s nature’s way
Of Saying, “Jack, this ain’t your day.”
Of all the prayers enticed
Under the gun,
I’ve never heard Sweet Christ
Thy will be done.
Mark Louis Lehman, Long Falling Light Poems 1965-2020, Little Possum Press, 6740 Elbrook Avenue, Cincinnati, OH, 45237 Available on Amazon 2021, 156 pages $22
Long Failing Light is a pleasure to hold in one’s hand featuring a reproduced woodcut of a mermaid observing a sailor in a one-man sailboat at night. The poems range from juvenilia to more mature work and are often what a reader would describe as “light”, often humorous, often rhyming. If you are looking for strife and angst and hand wringing this would not be the book for you but if you are interested in something brighter, by an accomplished author, who has written produced plays and novels, this would be an ideal book for you.
Anthony George, Saint Frankenstein, Cat in the Sun (part of Redux Consortium) 5 Englewood Drive, Binghamton, N.Y. 13903 www.pubredux.com 2022, 76 pages $10-
The complete title to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein includes the subheading The New Prometheus. Though Frankenstein is no bringer of light, a hero to man for escaping the bonds of slavery by the Gods to bring fire to man as her husband’s masterwork, Prometheus Unbound, so clearly illustrated, he is a tragic figure. Frankenstein is created out by a kind of fire, a regenerating electrical charge.
The title of Mary’s classic novel is ironic as is Anthony George’s, Saint Frankenstein. While Frankenstein, the monster, both in the novel and in George’s new book, are born from hope, the reality of the creation is a horror story of misunderstanding and of unbridled scientific experimentation gone wrong. George’s narrator knows, as Victor Frankenstein does not, that the world the monster is born into is a wasteland of terminally corrupt politics and corruption. The New Prometheus is a mechanical christ, neither human nor completely mechanical, is an unblessed thing doomed to both literal and metaphorical crucifixion. This is essentially a dark book, well-illustrated by mostly bleak landscapes in black and white photographs taken by the author, but it isn’t without a kind of ironic, dark humor. “Look at my works, Ye mighty and despair!”
Amanda Newell, I Will Pass-Even to-Acheron, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 31 pages, 2021 $6-
Newell’s book is The Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner and deserves to be. Every year Rattle chooses a diverse group of small, divergent in theme and focus books, well designed and handsome editions. I’ve read them all and none of them are losers. Newell’s book focuses on a student of hers who goes off to Afghanistan and comes home maimed, missing a leg and as emotionally damaged as he is physically wounded. Newell’s Adam is metaphor for all soldiers who came home completely different than when they left. Adam is the first man, the first soldier, all men at war. These are as heartfelt and as poignant as any poem you will need to read and these poems need to be read.
Warren Dean Fulton, the coronation & inevitable dethroning of the tiger king, hiccup press #316-13352 105A Avenue, Surrey, British Columbia, V3T 2A5 Canada, no pagination about 24, 2021 $5
This readable, plain-spoken chapbook was included with a contributor’s copy of the poet’s magazine Pocket Lint along with assorted other Fulton publications. These are engaging, best read aloud, by a veteran poet who knows what he’s about. One of the blurbs says, “These poems are not bad.” Which is a compliment. Like the guy who said my stuff didn’t suck. Pocket Lint is an interesting journal that gives new meaning to the world eclectic. Focuses on short poems but includes all kinds of longer work and color print of mostly abstract art. Juliet Cook’s pieces are a favorite among the shorter poems.
Simone Muench and Jackie K White, Hex & Howl, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawerencepress.com 37 pages, 2021, $
I’ve read most of Simone Muench’s books and no one does “out there “exactly the way she does. Her collogue Jackie K. White, though, blends right into the fun and games of these on the edge, crisp, evocative, strong and intense language and imagery, poems. A do not miss collaboration.
Grzegorz Kwiatkowski translated from Polish by Peter Constantine, crops, Ohm Editions, published by Rain Taxi Inc, www.raintaxi.com 2021 28 pages $10
These poems were originated by the poet and a friend’s discovery near the site of Stutthof Concentration Camp of thousands upon thousands of discarded shoes. They had been dumped there by the Polish government in the sixties in an attempt to bury the past and to forget the people who they belonged to. As the poet’s grandfather had been interred there during the war years the stories these shoes represented were intensely personal. He recalled as a child visiting a museum at the site with his grandfather and how he would breakdown and cry every time they went there. The poems are a small but brutal reminder of why we should all be moved to tears by what the poet saw and what his grandfather and countless other parents and grandparents and their children endured.
Mike Schneider, Elvis Night at Johnny’s, Broadstone Books, www.boroadstone.com, 2022, 30 pages $14.95
Schneider’s world is a bit off-center but abstract in a down to earth way the way a man can be equally at home perusing a diner counter jukebox selector (remember those? No? well, I do) recalling music of bygone ages wishing for the pre-Vegas Elvis when his music was raw and real and, even, yes, revolutionary. If there was a poetry Rorschach maybe we could find an Elvis imitator in the Klee reproduction on the cover. Or in the surrealism museum Schneider gathers material for his most daring and expressive poems. These six wide ranging small collections with several touching tributes to a child (“Jolly Jumper” particularly moving) and gone friends.
Elizabeth Johnstone Ambrose, Imago Dei, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 2022, 42 pages $6-
Ambrose’s catholic upbringing is fraught with misinformation, repression and corporal punishments. From devotion to skepticism to outright rebellion is a familiar pattern of young people brought up by dogmatic parents whose faith seems more a generational habit than a religious belief. The better part of the chapbook brings into sharp focus the damage done, the sexual encounters that seem more like an act of negation, a lashing out, against something, than desire. If nothing else, relationships are more complex than they might have been in a less forgiving household. Ambrose seems to have settled into a stable life and along the way found a strong voice to show how difficult the path was made to be. Imago Deo was a Rattle prize winner, the first of 2022.
Gutter Snob Books titles
Gutter Snob is a new press by a long-time editor of other presses and magazines, and a poet in her own right, Michele McDonnald. The chapbooks are all professionally done, perfect bound with eye catching covers and sometimes with reproduced, in color, collages inside. Michelle plans to publish one book a month for the year. 2022. Disclaimer, I am one of lucky poets on the forthcoming list. All chapbooks are $11-
Michele McDannold, Space Time Continuum for Dummies, 2021, not paginated roughly 24
Relationships are at the heart of these poems, bad, good and indifferent between men and women in love and war. Mean and lean poems. Michele says it best in the following poem quoted in full,
Love Story Resolutions
when she figures out it’s not a love story-
let her go
regret is for the
she leaves behind
in the days you spent
akin to the last rays
to the kiss
all the hours.
misti rainwater-lites, Noise, Gutter Snob, 2022, unpaginated, roughly 28 pages
This colorful book is half collage and half journal style writing in a typeface that looks and feels like a manual typewriter. The collages leap off the page with a crude, often rude, cut out style that matches the written work. The feel one comes away is that misti rainwater-lites has been through the personal relationship’s wars/life (two marriage, one child, a breakdown, substance abuse etc.) and is not to messed with. A strong woman with an equally forceful personality who is a proven survivor and creator is a rare breed. Her interest in magik and pop culture shows through the writing and the art.
Kerry Trautman, Marilyn, a self-portrait in oil on canvas, Gutter Snob, 2022, 33 pages
The cover art is a direct reference to the title of the arresting painting on the cover. When I first saw the “coming soon” cover, I was immediately intrigued by this work. Trautman purchased it at a charity affair, brought it home, and placed it in her work space. Named it and Marilyn became her muse. The conceit of this highly original, “ekphrastic” group of poems, is a series of poems addressed to fictional persona of Marilyn. The poems are equally as fascinating as this once seen, not easily forgotten work of art. Hopefully, Kelly will continue this series
Aleathia Drehmer, Running Red Lights, Gutter Snob, 2022, 40 pages
A blur of hasty, flying, flock of birds over a derelict brick urban building is an appropriate cover, a gesture towards what lies inside. Drehmer’s poems are character studies of an array of mostly downtrodden folks anywhere USA. Each poems features a telling detail that suggests a larger portrait of the individual described: a woman who cradles her cigarette like a lover, the poet’s lover who braves black ice to satisfy her craving for a mango, the shabby chic ZZ Top wannabee loser, the other woman ogler locked in Vulcan Death Grip by his partner for so obviously staring and commenting on another female, being stuck on an airplane behind four female police officer’s returning from a conference, almost as bad as being stuck behind a Mary Kay saleswoman, as I have and a lot more revealing. All of these are vibrant slices of a life as it is lived today.
Bernadette McComish, Florence Nightingale’s Lost Log, Lily Poetry Review, www.lilypoetryreview.blog 2021 27 pages $12-
Like Trautman’s fictional persona, McComish has written a series of fictional, diaristic poems, purported to be by an actual historical figure. Florence Nightingale was not known to have had an interpersonal relationship during her time as a battlefield nurse. McComish has given her the fantasy of one. Attracted by a gravely wounded solider, she tends to him among the other severely wounded, all the while harboring feelings for him that may be reciprocated though never acted upon. This is an effective, though all too brief, short story in poems.
Paul Sohar translator, Pagan Flowers Selected Poems by the French Symbolists, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books PO Box 252 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751
Concentrating on the works of the three of the loosely aligned “group” of French Symbolists: Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine with a cameo by Hungarian Symbolist influenced poet Endre Ady. Sohar presents a lively reading of the decadence and depravity of the loosely defined as movement, poets. Baudelaire receives the most space. His work has the much commented upon irony that positively revels in pleasures of the flesh. If eat drink and be merry is a maxim to live by Baudelaire in particular found the most extreme ways to define and live the credo. Whether the poets represent fantasies or indulgences of actual experience, the reader gets a clear sense of in-your-face decadence without quite descending to the level of his predecessor the Marquis de Sade. Rimbaud remains everyone’s child protégé of sensuality. He is at the far end of the spectrum of precocity, whose star blazed like a Keats on opium, and burned-out relatively as quickly barely writing a word of verse after his initial seasons of hell. Verlaine is more sanguine as in sanguinary blood and guts reveling in a Poe influenced wedding of love and death, not so much a petite more but a grand morte on an epic scale. In fact, all three admired the work of Poe as a true continental. His influences are everywhere present in their work. Ady is much lesser known to us and the brief selections offered show a clear lineage to former three French poets. Pain and pleasure are equal in value, music, booze, ecstasy and pain, kill beauty and slay into joy. What could be more Romantic than that?
Speaking of decadent:
Sylvie Baumgartel, Song of Songs, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019, 72 pages hardback $23
Song of Songs is billed to be a modern lyric, one long poem, in the tradition of the Song of Solomon also known as Song of Songs in the Bible. If she is going for the erotic element in the original, she nailed it dead on in this long poem. What struck me is that this group of vignettes as having more in common in with The Story of O, than the Bible, with passages so graphic it would make readers of the lurid Fifty Shades of Grey, blush. If you were to trace the lineage of this kind of writing you would have it place it in direct lineage to the now tame, This Is My Beloved which featured sex scenes and orgasms that explode like fireworks. Those allusions seem smirk worthy now in the post Joy of Sex era. In fact, the speaker of these poems’ revels in sexual subjection and all manners of sex, as if she were attempting everything laid out in the manual for lovers (now updated with actual photos instead of arty 60’s line drawings). I haven’t checked the poetry against the sex manual but she couldn’t have missed too many positions in a mere 72 pages. As for artistic merit, well if your idea of a dirty weekend includes literature, this would be the perfect accompaniment for an assignation of the unrestrained, sexual kind. Otherwise, despite the author’s obvious complete immersion in the subject, and a facility for description and direct use of language, the book does become rather tedious after the novelty wears off. If there was satiric intent, or serious “spiritual fulfillment in the flesh” intended, I missed it completely, unless you consider equating the male sex master as God. Which I cannot and will not do. What is most amazing about this book is that a large trade house published it. I would not be going out in a limb that this book could be read for the prurient interest alone. If people actually read and took poetry seriously, Baumgartel’s book would be high on the list of books to be banned and burned forthwith. That alone would be a good reason to read it while you can.
Last minute arrivals
Steve Henn, American Male, Main Street Rag, www.mainstreetrag.com, 2022, 42 pages $13
Steve is unabashedly a regular guy, so don’t be fooled by the possibly off-putting title. There is no evidence of toxic masculinity in these poems, in fact, quite the opposite. Henn is empathetic, caring a good single parent to his kids and a high school English teacher who former students remember fondly for those qualities. Reading these poems, you can see why he writes well about young people; he remembers well how it was to be a teenager himself. One poem in particular stands out for me, “Elegy for my friend Alice, gone these 20 years”. Henn recalls a wild road trip he; Alice and two other friends took, culminating in the inevitable running out of money, gas, food, water and lucking into tickets for a concert where Steve drinks way too much and is spectacularly sick afterwards. He hears of the news of Alice’s death while in a mental hospital (a subject covered in previous books) and feels as if the life had been sucked out of him. Again. He relates that news with telling his four-year-old that his mother is dead and he reacts pretty much the way his father did to hearing of Alice’s death. Talk about a punch in the gut!
M. Scott Douglass, Living in a Red State BLUES, Paycock Press, www.gargoylepaycock.wordpress.com, available on MainStreetRagBOOKSTORE.com, 2022,
55 pages $14
Presuming there will be historians writing about the political history of America since, say Sarah Palin’s nomination to be vice president, to whenever this Trumpism insanity ends, also presuming that it does, M. Scott Douglass’s new book should be added to the pile of works that shows that not everyone who lived during this time had lost their ever-loving minds. Douglass riffs about the MAGA cultists who are legion where he lives in North Carolina and when he takes road trips on his bike. Yes, Douglas is a biker, not a hell’s angels’ biker, but one travels on two wheels because he wants to feel the wind in his face and experience the joys of riding solo. His experiences are many and varied (as a previous collection amply shows) and one thing is constant: MAGA madness. Whatever happened to civil discourse and the free exchange of ideas? Those folks bought red hats and jackets that said soemthign like: Inauguration Day #45 2017: in the beginning. In the beginning there was the word and the word was red. Douglass amplifies the many permutations of red throughout the collection reaching a point that he can’t abide anything even vaguely hints at red (like pink) due to the political associations attached to the word. Who would have thought you could politicize the color wheel? The unthinkable is everyday normal now.
Ironically, I began reading Douglass’s book while wearing the one red article of clothing I owned. By the time I was a few poems in, I felt oddly uncomfortable having it on and removed it to reveal a message t-shirt underneath: He wanted a wall, it said on the front, and on the back, so let’s give him four.
Received, Read, Not Reviewed
Laura LeHew, Dear John–, The Poetry Box.com, 101 pages, 2021, $16-
Peter Magliocco, The Underground Movie Poems, Horror Sleaze Trash, www.horrorsleazetrash.com. 40 pages, 2020, no price listed
slick publication, somewhat sleazy as the press’s poems tend to be, dark, humorous.
Peter Magliocco, Particle Acceleration on Judgment Day, Impspired, firstname.lastname@example.org, 74 pages, no price listed.
The introduction suggests this book is a kind of inner movie about the dystopian world we live in that hasn’t been made yet. If humanity is an endangered species, it’s out own damn fault.
Stuart Bartow, Invisible Dictionary, Red Moon Press, www.redmoonpress.com, 2022
Unpaginated roughly 80 pages $20. Haibun on a wide variety of subjects deftly managed.
Stephen Bett, Lift Off: a journey of future tense, 2022, Blaze Vox, www.blazevox.org
134 pages $16- Love’s labour lost. For the fourth time by supremely gifted stylist.
Hank Lazar, When the Time Comes, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2022, 81 pages $18
A Day book of sorts chronicling his mother’s last illness and her life, heavily Creeley inflected. Spare, emotional, artful.
The Poeming Pigeon: From Pandemic to Protest, The Poetry Box, 183 pages, 2021 $18
Each year The Poetry Box puts out a themed anthology of substantial girth and high quality. I’ve read them all and this is the best so far as it puts a human face on a year (now years) suffering, isolation, coping, sometimes with humor, and sometimes, not. Highly recommended for a well-rounded excellent selection of poets known and unmown, all worth of inclusion. A select back issue is The News which wears well despite a potentially dated topic. This coming year’s anthology will be unthemed so that should be a real adventure.
Best of Beatnik Cowboy Vol 4-1 ed Chris Butler and Randall Rogers ISBN 976-1-5136-9219 14 pages 2021 no price listed no ordering information
Seven poems, including myself, chosen from the past year’s selection on their website, Beatnik Cowboy. All rough and down in the dirt, concise poems depicting everyday life in everyday language. Also included: Donna Douglas, J.J. Campbell, Emalisa Rose, Brain Rihlmann, Yash Sevedbagheri, Jason Ryberg, Ross Vassilev.
Chiron Review Anthology 1982-1992 issues 1-32, Editorial Staff www.chironreview.com 2022, 304 pages annual subscription $60 for four issues.
Best of the long running small press staple a must for anyone interested in what came down, poetically, during those years. A candid black and white photo of Bukowski swilling the last of a bottle of Heineken’s on the cover says a lot as does an introductory quote by my late friend Leonard Cirino, “These are human, listen.” Poems are mostly narratives of the down and dirty kind of bitter realism. Well worth a fifteen-dollar investment.
Jiri Klobouk, Nearing the End, Rain Mountain Press, www.rainmountainpress.com
2021, 305 pages $20-
Nearing the End unfurls like a spool of memory fed through a kinescope, a zeotropic machine flashing images on the inside of the reader’s divided brain. The thoughts are pictures of places, people, and things spanning the 83 or so years of the protagonist’s life in a multitude of locations. He begins in Europe before, during, and after the war as the Reds invaded, as the Nazis were crushed, and whole countries were turned into disaster areas that became into a repressive political wasteland. Despite the desolation there is music, art, jazz, and later, poetry, drama and now this life loving novel disguised a memoir. Still, the tone is a minor key: bluff on one hand, precise and melancholic on the other.
Klobouk details this life in a discursive tone of ellipses that begin with a moment in time and disappears into a rabbit hole full of kaleidoscopic memoires, associations, and tales that tie them together in unexpected ways. Part of the disguise of memoir is the protagonist’s much younger Japanese wife he claims to be writing this for, as a way of describing what his life has been; a kind of vagabond’s history of wives, families, emigrations, occupations ,all reaching a nearing the end moment in a New York City apartment. The reader wonders, from the onset, how real is this supposed girlfriend, a retired B-52 bomber pilot (!) whose attraction, at the Blue Note jazz club, for the author is immediate and soul deep. She is an Everywoman, an older man’s dream. Variously described as in her 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, maybe older, maybe younger. Part of Klobouk’s gift is that we put our reservations aside and go where he takes us with his brain flickers, effusions of light and dark.
At one point, nearing the end, Klobouk quotes protean Australian author Gerald Murnane, “all books are crap”, an assertion one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a man who writes books for a living and has a title Landscape with Landscape to his credit. You can see the vanishing points in his mind, the vast expanse of the continents, mountains in the distance, and ignore whatever he asserts is crap in this masterpiece of concision and detail. Klobouk s nothing else but a fakir of the highest order, does his “wife” exist? Do we care? She is his muse and when his work is complete, he tries to find her to offer his last will and testament in prose but she is gone. Gone to where all good muses go. To another writer in need of direction. Nearing the end, no doubt, as we all are.
A Splake Compendium #2
As the prolific octogenarian Tom Smith, aka, T.K. Splake, continues to churn out new work,
and the chronicler of all things Splake, Robert M. Zoschke, issues supporting Splake volumes, another compendium of new the works is necessary.
Robert M Zoschke, Splake Eyes, Street Corner Press, 10781 Birchwood Drive, Sister Pay, WI 54234, 2021, 98 pages, $20
This coffee table sized book contains an almost equal measure of signature (mostly) three-line poems by Splake with full page color photos of the author’s working environment in the Upper Peninsula, MI in all seasons of the year. As the UP is noted for its Long White season of winter most of these pictures are Winter related though one series is of the same part of the Porcupine Woods in all the seasons of the year. The author is featured in several portraits along with some still lives and a campfire suggesting the fire of inspiration in an often cold and forbidding world.
This in essential volume that reinforces the fact that Splake s more than his poems but an outstanding visual artist as well.
Zoschke is also the editor of the annual independent lit mag, Clutch, from the Street Corner Press. The current issue is 186 pages jam packed with poetry and photos by Slake and the well-know photo portrait artist Chris Felver among others including the editor and art by Gene McCormick. There are poems, short ones by Ed Murkowski and Splake and longer ones by Walt Mc Laughlin (better known for his essays and philosophical nature-oriented musings published by Wood Thrush Press, Dave Roskos, Jen Dunford-Roskos, Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, and marge Piercy, Zoschke himself among many others. There are also reprints of favorite deceased authors such as Albert Huffstickler, Ferlinghetti (who contributed art and work in pervious issues as well) and Kell Robertson. There are stories, memories and essays as well and at $20 well worth a subscription.
T. K. Splake, life beyond shadows, Shoe Music Press, ed Gordon Purkis, available from Amazon 2021, 156 pages $17.97
“life beyond shadows is the ultimate collection of t. kilgore splake poetry. The poems are blinding real, earthy dark as well as ecstatically airy, and the light does indeed come in through the cracks of the superficial world to the golden serene reality that lies beneath it. He covers the gamut of the poet’s topics: sex, religion and the wonderful surroundings of nature. splake is a master at marrying these topics with his sparing but powerful verse.”
—Gordon Purkis, editor
life beyond shadows is a Splake first, a colorful hardbound of one per page three-line poems.
bare feet running
through cemetery grass
dancing with ghosts
Three from Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.com all $15
old reliable, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.com 2022, 35 pages
Old Reliable refers to the Keweenaw Peninsula copper mining shaft Number 2 that is still standing on Quincy Hill. The industry is long gone but some of the relics, in various stages of ruin, remain. Mine No 2 is fairly well preserved and provides inspirational still life photo opportunities for the enterprising who seek the derelict mine out. Splake shows the same kind of fascination with gears, mechanical objects and despair of same that early twentieth century painters, photographers and movie directors did due their geometric patterns and utilitarian functions. This slim volume has a generous selection of in color photographs and a healthy mix of longer than usual poems.
after breaking up
momentary painful heartache
soon writing again
wrestling serious ideas
filling empty pages
with intense creative desire
bring something into being
dredge artistic decay, 2022, 32 pages
This slim collection could easily have been paired with the previous collection as it deals with another aspect of the derelict copper industry in Michigan. The photos in this collection, much like those of old reliable are of machines, this time stamping machines for deep mining. These machines dredged the shafts and provided the water necessary for the process until the cost of the operation became prohibitive. The subject of these photos was a major center for the stamping process (explained in the introduction) and operated well into the mid twentieth century processing millions of pounds of troch lake copper. These days the decaying ruins are mostly of interest to graffiti artists, vagabonds, history students and the occasional poet. In addition to the photos Splake mixes his signature three liners with longer poems.
roads not traveled, 2022, 24 pages.
Evoking Frost in photos of the woods and the choice of paths to take, and poems Splake offers his perspective of the eternal choices of life.
frost poem mistaken
roads eventually circle back
returning traveler to himself
needing someone to talk with
shrink’s half-hour session
having poet’s brain scraped