Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Sean Thomas Dougherty, The Dead Are Everywhere Telling Us Things, Jacar Press, www.jacarpress.com 2022, 65 pages $17-
How do we know we are reading a Sean Thomas Dougherty book? The tone of the poems are in a minor key, elegiac and wistful, despairing but hopeful in the sense of: we will make the best of what we have while we can. They are compassionate, caring, empathetic, melancholic, and self-effacing. The dead are, literally, always with us in Sean’s latest book. The images are intense, sensuous, vibrant as seeing the crushed light of fireflies in his daughter’s eyes. In his places where shadows meet, in the seams of living history are the gaps in our lives where the poet resides with his “ghosts.” Ghosts can be literal as Dougherty works with brain damaged people, and, as he says in his bio, employment is always subject to change as his work history suggests, and these mentally flawed people see things that can’t be explained. Dougherty is the kind of writer, the kind of person, who tries to see what they do even when it is something that cannot be seen or understood.
In tones both gray and black, Dougherty explores the past in an elusive present where everything, everyone, precious to him are touched by the ancestral dead. After his grandfather’s death, the poet enters where the old man lived and feels his presence in the scent of the tobacco that lingers long after he is gone. Sean feels as if he can see him in a familiar pose, smoking and only knowing that he never will again, does he fully understand the depth of his loss.
Upon first meeting the woman he will marry; she says he seems so familiar it as if they had known each other “forever.” Despite growing up a thousand miles apart in the United States, their forebearers lived in adjoining towns in Europe or, as he says in “the thatched villages of our dead.” These intimate, generation spanning connections, feel like being in a Cocteau movie listening to an improbable, ultimate underground radio station playing Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” while traversing this known world into another. “If I were Orpheus I would have stayed.” Meaning, he would prefer to remain in the other world with the ancestors such as the ones who were murdered by the nazis in the camps during WWII. And yet, it is the boundless love for his wife and children that sustains him, binds him to this place, no matter how grim and inhospitable and enables him to write one essential book after the other.
The saddest stories
are not the ones
but the partial ones
we never come
to fully know.
All our stories are partial ones. We are the richer for knowing what Sean knows of his.
Kelley White, No. Hope Street, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com, 2022, 95 pages $20
As I read No. Hope Street, I felt as if we were in a kind of urban waste land, one where there were only a few buildings left intact: a bar, a police station, a cab company, and a hospital. The bartenders would fill the inhabitants with intoxicants, adding to the illegal substances they had already ingested before arriving at the bar, throw them out onto the street (or call them a cab depending upon how obnoxious they were) where they would either be arrested or transported to another equally as devastated area as the one. Some of the arrested would end up in the hospital, some would be arrested in the bar after an altercation that saw grievous bodily harm inflicted, others would go to a place they called home, and inflict damage upon the ones they lived with. Then these people would be transported to the hospital where Kelley would see them. Kelley White is Dr. Kelley White and she has been pediatrician in inner city Philadelphia as well as rural New Hampshire.
These poems represent some of what she has seen over her decades of dedicated work. When I say these are poems to break your heart, I do not mean that in a cliched way but as a compliment of the deep feeling that she conveys. These are a life’s work detailing her physician life, poems that do not inspire the kind of deep loathing for humankind that Celine felt ss he doctored the poor underclass but poetry of compassion, of deep feeling for the people who often have nowhere to go but down.
One of my closest friends in the small press poetry community, and I sincerely mean a community in the collegial sense, was Dave Church who spent the last years of his life driving cab in Providence. There is a deep irony in driving people from No Hope places to other No Hope places, but that’s what he did. He admitted he had deep mixed feelings about bartenders. I could fully well understand. I knew some of the cab drivers I inflicted drunks upon during my service behind bars but, generally speaking, the “customers” who truly psychotic, I would leave to the police. They got paid to deal with irrational, over-the-edge personalities, and cabbies don’t. I also had an understanding with the cops who work the graveyard, (I knew the lead shift guy well,) that I wouldn’t call them unless I really had to and I didn’t. And then there are the ones who end up in Dr. White’s world. It takes a special kind of person to not succumb to the misery, the despair, and the hopelessness of so many people in dire need. It takes a truly special poet to write their stories in a way that we all feel their need, their humanity despite the suffering involved and, most of all we come to a deep appreciation of the doctor and the poet that has seen the worst and made the best of it, in a way that is never demeaning, always empathetic and caring, and most of all, made us see that their lives mattered.
Willa Schneberg, The Naked Room, Broadstone Books, www.broadstonebooks.com, 2023, 94 pages, $20
Imagine you are standing before a wall of copper containers. You can’t tell how high the wall is from the perspective of the photograph that shows this wall, but you can see that you are outdoors as there an overexposure that suggests trees, buildings in the distance, and the more obvious fact that many of the containers are being tainted green by the weather. It is a compelling picture (taken by the poet) but what is it of, exactly? As in what is in these cylinders, if anything, and what does it mean? The copywrite page answers the immediate question of what the wall is, “Cremains Memorial, Oregon State Hospital.” The immediate question is answered but what of the central mystery, what does it all mean, is what the poems are for.
The Naked Room is divided into seven distinct, but closely related, sections. In order to suggest their relationship, I will list them all: Asylum, Case History, Straightjacket, Fifty Minute Hour, reality testing and Termination. Stepping inside the asylum, we are immediately drawn into the human interest, the ghost of the past, the mentally infirm, diseased, distraught, on the fringes of mental health, were confined. Each poem takes us further inside. We see what a straightjacket is for in practice, visit the so-called cures for mental illness that involved extreme forms of torture disguised as therapy. We can hear the voices of the lost in the quiet of the hallways of the no longer active institution. We learn the history of Rose Kennedy, she who was lobotomized because she was a threat to her brothers political ambitions. We hear stories that move the reader to high degree of compassion and sadness for all the lost lives mistreated in the name of science.
I was particularly moved by the Kennedy story having recently viewed An Angel at My Table, a series of memories made into a move about New Zealand author Janet Frame. Frame, whose shyness, introversion and melancholy were deemed incurable was a few days short of lobotomy when her book of short stories won a major book prize. She went on to have along productive career as a writer and is still revered as one of the all-time greats of New Zealand literary icons. And yet. She was a couple days from being lobotomized for being melancholic. What about all those unfortunates, certainly legions of them who weren’t saved at the last minute? What of them? They probably end up at a place like the Oregon State Hospital with a life sentence worse than death than can never be undone.
More personally, I have been in a place like Oregon State Hospital, three thousand miles away but virtually the same place. I visited one, biweekly for the better part of a year as a child. My mother was confined there and being there was like living in a child’s worse nightmare, one where no explanations were offered as to why these people were there, or what was wrong with them but even a child could easily recognize, they weren’t right. And never would be. More memorably, twenty years later, when she was involuntarily confined for grievous bodily harm to her mother, I walked the hospital reliving that nightmare as she pled her case for me to take her home. That’s what reading The Naked Room was like for me. But that is extraneous to quality of the work that is The Naked Room. I only mention my experience to illustrate how authentic Schneberg poems are.
In addition to her award winning, often deeply personal work, Willa is an artist and psychotherapist. Her compassion, expertise, and above all, empathy for her subjects are clearly evident in all these poems
Laurie Blauner, Come Closer, The Bitter Oleander Press, www.bittereoleander.com 2023, 87 pages $20
The cover of Laurie Blauner’s, winner of The Bitter Oleander Library of Poetry Award, is both simple and compelling. The words Come Closer are repeated in ascending (or descending depending upon your point of view) order, partial words or complete in bright eye-catching colors. This exciting tonal contrast prepares the reader for an exciting series of fables that look and act like prose poems. But not quite. Everything about the book is a bit off-center in a disquieting but intriguing way. Everyone, everything is in the process of becoming someone or something else. Bits and pieces of people, objects, landscapes are being eaten, destroyed, and processed and reformed as a new kind of creature, object, landscape. None of the laws of nature apply. It’s a bit like reading nonsense verse in that set scenes that shouldn’t be funny, are inherently violent, or grotesque, are absurdly funny. Often the fables are obsessive in context. Think Cortazar’s story of obsession, “Dust” where he simple fact of dust, becomes a massive, overwhelming destructive force of nature. Blauner can do that in a few lines and the effect on the reader is one of shocked amazement.
These poem stories put us in a place somewhere between dream and fable, in a kind of circus sideshow performance piece as imagined by Franz Kafka on an acid trip. Images assault you, sentence you to a place where clarity and confusion are identical Siamese twins. What is human is feral and what is feral gives voice to what is eternally lost even as it is being found. Pieces of dreams reconstitute as places on a map that haven’t been demarcated yet, are chains of islands who trade places with birds and fly as if they had wings. None of this seems abnormal except when it is, but by the time, we realize what this new normal is, we are buried in a quicksand of the subconscious. It’s a wonderful place if you like dreams that have the power to consume you.
Witness this in her words: “And you, with your iridescent plumage, make us a pair facing a firing squad loading sunlight.” (page 20)
“You used to mean something large and frightening like fiction.” (21)
“We sit in overstuffed blue chairs, which are getting to know one another.” (27)
“I want to excavate my parents’ graves because growls are arising from them.” (28)
“With so many beautiful people around, I’m left wondering what’s stuck to the bottom of my shoe.” (35)
“The child wondered how difficult it was being inside someone else.” (74)
“As I grew older, I began talking to my drinks, which understood me better than my mother or my father.” (81)
And then Blauner brings us back to where we began and we start the journey anew.
Silvia Scheibli & Patty Dickson Pieczka, Gathering Sunlight, The Bitter Oleander Press, www.bitteroleanderpress.com 2023, 104 pages $24
Gathering Sunlight is a back-to-back collection of two veteran poets who share a deep connection to the natural world, Mexico and, in particular, Ecuador. Their language, their images are transcendent, imbuing place, wild life, tropical birds with an almost otherworld sensitivity; if this is earth, than it must have bits of paradises on it. There is nothing ordinary here, only color, rapturous moments of such lushness you want to renew your passport and make travel plans to be where they have been.
Editor Paul B. Roth includes a brief interview with each poet introducing us to the specifics of their work. Scheibli channels a mythological “spirit guide,” Chakira, to accompany her on the travels in Mexico, both in the wilderness, and into and around, tourist meccas such as Puerto Vallarta. The contrast between the wilderness and the tourist town couldn’t be greater. In Puerto Vallarta the artificial is a wedding of the contrived and the cliché, a souvenir created for la torista who are induced the buy an idea without witnessing the place itself. Despite the glitz distraction, The poet is determined to find the heart, the soul of Mexico and she composes a Duende, verbal soul music foe the intrepid voyager.
Silvia confesses to being an avid bird watcher in her interview. Her descriptions of the exotic to Norte Americanos are lush, immediate, and so memorable you almost feel as if you have seen them yourself. Rarely do you to read such immersive poetry, words that have their own environment. You can feel the humidity, sense the smell of the sea, see the birds and the iguana and the animals that live in this sensory wonderland; sometimes dreamlike, other times vibrant, pulsing, and immediate.
The brief Ecuadorian poems are more mythic than the Mexican ones, yet retain the sensual elements of the earlier work. She cites Heidegger as an epigraph to Mindo, Ecuador, “Poetic language calls up the invisible and makes things visible to us.” As much as anything, this citation sums up the method of the poet in this collection as variations on splendor.
Pieczka cites Dante as a prefatory statement to her work. “Nature is the art of God.” At times mythic, always lush, and sometimes mystical, the poems are landscapes of the mind. Poems are often dreamlike, a blending of artists as diverse as Chagall, Remedios Veras and Leonora Carrington translated from oil into word. These are always intensely personal as they are descriptive as the poet sleepwalks through light. One offhand elemental, another a deeply felt memorial. Here are lingering griefs, some contemporary, of friends and loved ones lost, others familial evoking war-torn Europe during the 40’s. One poem, Echo, is one of the most vivid haunting poems I’ve read in some time. The conclusion is a stark evocation, stark, storm-torn, raging, yet strikingly immediate and all too familiar,
Loud rumbling kept me awake.
I buried it-dropped it
like a string of black pearls
clattering against the wood
of its tiny coffin.
sent their broken-tongued ghosts
to my dreams to complain
Her chained, multi-part poems, have stanzas that begin with the closing lines of the previous part, give a sense of unity and diversity of thoughts that have similar roots that branch out to new hybrids with fresh connections to what has preceded it. These are particularly effective in creating complicated moods, sensations, and states of consciousness. Sometimes we arrive where we began, other times we arrive at some place new, but regardless of where we are after reading these poems, we are changed by what we have read and seen.
Lisa St John, Swallowing Stones, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com, 2023, 89 pages $20
St John contemplates the awful realization that the significant other is losing his battle with cancer. Her “Sestina For My Husband Who Is Not Coming Home” is a heart-rending study in grief. The second stanza summarizes the kind of pain she feels.
Memory cannot make me whole,
as if I could forget
your pain. I wish it had been me.
I guess people say that out of fear,
Lest they be thought lucky rather than admit anger.
Oh, our lost life. It was dazzling. It was gentle.
In six lines she has covered the full spectrum of a relationship, of the helplessness facing an inevitable end that no one can prevent. She experiences most of the stages of grief in these lines: the anger, the helpless feeling of loss, the resignation, the affection of the loved one which has already become a memory. It is a life compressed with artfulness that anyone who has loved and lost can fully relate to. Grief, after all, is the emotion that expresses what we cannot change and must live the rest of our life with after the death of a loved one.
And St John does go on examining what it is like to be a sister, a wife, and the lager question of what it is like to be a woman. Several poems deal with what it is like to be an object, the target for sexual assault. She memorably states just because she (a victim of assault) is quiet, held close and not reported, doesn’t mean there isn’t a story. Quite the contrary, as many, if not most, assaults of this kind are not revealed until decades after.
St John also delves into the larger questions of what it is like to be human, understanding fully well that there are some questions that can never be answered. We must get on with it, it being life and she does but not before completing the circle back to her husband, as a widow though one who never forgets a promise made. We do not know, nor should we, what that promise was but I suspect an abiding love has much to do with it.
Ron Riekki, Blood/Not Blood Then the Gates, Middle West Press LLC, www.middlewestpress.com 2022, 86 pages
A Desert Storm vet, Riekki tells the timeless story of what the experience of war feels like. He opens the collection with a brief poem, “After I got out of the military” “I was still in the military/because of my body.” There is no leaving the military when you have PTSD, when you have seen people die, melted/burned alive in a helicopter, when ten people died who went in when he did. The poems leave indelible images and show when you have seen what he did, what field personnel saw all the time, it is no wonder the rates of suicide among the military, active and inactive, have soared. I was constantly reminded of Michael Casey’s Vietnam classic, Obscenities, as I read Riekki’s book. The poems are straightforward in the common language of the soldier without pretense or artifice.
On a related note, I recently read Aaron Graham’s, Blood Stripes, Sundress Publications (www.sundresspublications.com) 2019, 85 pages $16 Graham’s book also deals with war related PTSD and his nightmares, trauma, difficulty with adjusting, extreme behavior exactly parallels Riekki. As does all the recent books of the war experiences in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts. No wonder so many soldiers commit suicide. The need our help and understanding. And most of all we need to stop getting involved in senseless conflicts for dubious political reasons. His “PTSD Poem 12” is worth the price of the book.
Amorak Huey, Dad Jokes From Late in the Patriarchy, Sundress Publications, www.sundresspublications.com 2021, 117 pages $16
As in his previous Sundress books (Boom Box and HA HA HA Thump) Huey postulates a situation draws it out, often to absurd lengths, in a clear, readily accessible, slightly off-center voice. What separates this collection from the previous ones is that the closures have real bite as opposed to punch lines. Not that the other collections are at fault, both are enjoyable, fun reads and highly recommended. Dad Jokes are not funny, amusing maybe, at times, but much more serious as the best humor is. Rather than bludgeon you with deep thoughts and Hamlet like seriousness, Huey strings you along with this bluff, guy next door voice and then zaps you with a killer finish. I agree with the blurbs that hail Huey for a giant step forward from a place of excellence to a new poetic height.
Ranney Campbell, the desert so, Bottlecap Press, firstname.lastname@example.org 2022, 28 pages $10-
the desert so is a both austere and lush, a seemingly inherent, irrevocable contradiction on terms. Campbell embraces the contradiction depending on mood, intent, and focus. Descriptive poems are stripped of all their unnecessary components, leaving only the objects themselves. A relationship can be bare boned and to the point. Other pieces are as lush as the desert in bloom sensuous and sensual even sexy. Her Forcing Roses is as evocative as on O’Keeffe flower, opening to the touch and revealing everything. If that’s not sexy I don’t know what is. Campbell also has dense, long sentences, highly charged with emotion that penetrate deep inside the subjects. Before, love in love and after, there is much to savor here by a poet who seeks to escape and succeeds at, not being tied down or categorized.
John W. Evans, The Fight Journal, Rattle, www.rattle.com, 2023, 40 pages, $6 A Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner
Just as Tolstoy famously asserted each family’s happiness is unique, their breakups are as well as Evans proves in spades. There is a rich history of breakup literature, from the brutal series of sonnets by George Meredith to Sylvia Plath’s brutal dissection of her marriage now there is Evans.’ His breakup is complicated by the manner of the slowly revealed death of his first wife who was mauled by a bear while they were on vacation in Europe. In these poems he feels mauled by a wife who no longer loves him and the protracted dissolution of their union is vicious, deeply complicated by young children they share.
A friend asserts there is always a third person associated with this kind of breakdown but it isn’t clear whether this is the case. What we do know is Evans does not want to see the marriage end but once he sees The Fight Journal his wife kept during their last time together, we can only agree with a friend of his who says, “A fight journal. Who does this?” The ex-wife does. The implication is that therapist’s encourage clients to keep a journal where they define and work out issues rather than ameliorate and effectuate rage and resentment. The fight journal is a devastating document, as is this highly charged, absorbing work that takes us inside a dissolution so final we can only marvel that these people ever connected at all. I mean Ever Connected.
Dan Fiore III, Hospital Issued Writing Notebook, Querencia Press, contact email@example.com, 2023, 28 pages $7 available on Amazon
As opposed to Evans’s Fight Journal, Fiore’s hospital issued one is an actual journal, a notebook with margins and lines, is the kind of tablet you took notes in for college courses. Fiore’s course is in mental illness. He literally wrote journal poems about his ongoing struggles with bipolar issues. His work is often grim revealing a person over the edge trying to work his way back into a place where he can get the hell out of a ward and live a kind of productive, “normal” life. It isn’t high art and it isn’t pretty, but mental breakdowns never are. Fiore says copies of his book are for sale in a gas station, the kind of places people go, real people with dirty hands and greasy fingers and issues. It seemed appropriate to me, when I first heard read his only real outlet for the book was in a gas station, and more appropriate that it is, since I’ve read this honest, affecting personal account.
Sandra McPherson, The 5150 Poems, None Mile Books, 4451 Cherry Valley Turnpike, Lafayette, N.Y. 13084, 2022, 70 pages $16-
The 5150 in the title of McPherson’s book refers to the California law that allows people to be remanded into psychiatric custody involuntarily and held there until the system (doctors) decide you are sufficiently mentally able to function on your own again. McPherson, well known as a much-published poet, publisher and a teacher, fell victim to this law when she reached a crisis point in her life where she was unable to write anything, who seemed unwilling to function at all. This painstaking diary entry like book of poems details her struggles to become a whole person again. That it exists at all is a true triumph of the human will to survive and reclaim your life.
Clint Margrave, Visitor, MYQ Books, www.nyq.org, 2022, 92 pages $18.95
Margrave’s third book of poetry with NYQ is a kind of miscellany or the poets loves, life and abiding interest as a poet and reader which ranges from Bukowski to Leonard Cohen to J.P. Sartre and to Henry Miller. His poem Tropic of Cancer muses on the history of the well preserved 1962 of the banned classic in his grandfather’s house after he died. Was he attracted to the unusual titles? The notoriety? Did he mistake it for something else as it was lodged in a cabinet with a Billy Graham book. I found and read, a little at a time, the same edition of Miller’s book “hidden” in my mother bureau. She read it for the smut value though she didn’t hide her copy of This is My Beloved, which I also read, so I figured Miller’s book had to be really dirty. I was right. Like Margrave, I still have that edition. The collection is filled with small gems like this, some more serious, some quite funny, all worth a read.
Kerry Trautman, Unknowable Things, Roadside Press, distributed by www.magicaljeepbooks.com 2023 118 pages $15-
Trautman’s latest book has a domestic feel to it. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way but in a way that suggest sensual things: smells of cooking, lots of and lots of good food, but also in a more dramatic way as the arrangements of home become more complicated by marriage, children, vagaries of becoming middle aged. Most of his spend a good deal of our time in a place called home and Trautman fills her poetry with sharp contrasts, vivid portrayals, living people, strong narratives that is the stuff of good, relatable poetry.
Dan Denton, Finding Jesus & Prayers to My Saints, Gutter Snob Books, www.guttersnobooks.com 2022, 70 pages.
Denton’s on the road book is somewhere in between Hunter S. Thompson’s, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Kerouac’s On the Road. Literally down and out in his beater ‘85 Impala, high on cocaine and bourbon and whatever else he can get along the highway to Arkansas. Denton is on a spiritual quest to find Jesus in Arkansas. There is a specific Jesus in Arkansas, a massive three-hundred-foot-high monument pilgrims travel to from far and wide to worship and pray to. Denton’s spiritual guide are more likely to be found in a bottle of Beam or on a flea-bitten mattress with some wasted floozy, as out of it as he is by the time he crashes into the bed, as it is at a holy shrine. Told with verve and humor, Denton’s trip is an episodic romp of the less than reverent kind.
George Wallace, Blowing Thru Secaucus, Gutter Snob Books, www.guttersnobbooks.com,
2022, 54 pages, $13
Wallace’s lively collection is panoramic speedway tour through the wilds of Northern New Jersey. Along the way we are treated to a bit of Ginsberg, a dollop of Springsteen, Prince, Kerouac, Neil Cassady, and all manner of cultural icons that have breezed through or called Joisey their home. There are drunken road trips, crazy hitch hikers, wild revels, and slices of life, all of it an affectionate rendering of the state of mind that his New Jersey, all told with wit and a lively voice that literally begs the poet to read these out loud.
Dan Provost, Wolf Whistles Behind the Dumpster, Roadside Press, distributed by www.magicaljeepbooks.com 2022 118 pages $15-
Dan was the kind of kid who didn’t fit in well. He was fat and shy and not a one of the guy’s kind of kid. Grownup, he hangs out in bars with rednecks and Trumpsters (not to be confused with the dumpster in the title) “Bellingham Burnout” has a deadeye portrait of one of these soldi citizens who evolved from AC/DC concert t-short wearing delinquent stoner to MAGA man beer drinking election denying bully summed up as,
“I guess going from being constantly stoned to
Becoming 24-hour stupid is an easy
Segue to make.”
I know that guy and thank my lucky shot glasses I bailed on that business before I had to attempt to deal with him in that stage of his development from Bush loving, greaseball to mindless MAGA automaton.
The degeneration of the human spirit these universal warriors against education and common-sense spill over to their treatment of women. We see and hear women who are bedraggled, beaten, neglected and hopelessly depressed. The closure to “Pass on By gives an indelible portrait of these kinds of woman,
“Clothes are torn, soaking wet.
Snot adds to smudged makeup.
Eyes swelled shut from,
Beating from some Timber jack
who laughs at pain & suffering?
When has hatred become a virtue?”
My personal favorite is “Chi Music” where Provost makes a high and tight pitch in baseball into a metaphor for life in Trumplandia. Chin music is now our national past time.
a.s. coomer, Songs for Leaving, Gutter Snob Books, distributed by www.magicaljeepbooks.com, 2022, 76 pages $13,
There is an elegiac tone to Coomer’s book as he roams through the desert Southwest remembering gone friends, celebrating the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, and composing songs and poems against the end. And the end is manifestly present throughout the collection; not just to all that he sees, and everyone he knows but to everything as in Goodbye Cruel World, until we meet again Dr Strangelove kind of end. But despite the subject matter the tone is not defeatist or depressed but accepting in an: as long as we are here, we should celebrate our lives, kind of way.
Michael D Grover, Fort Meade, Gutter Snob Books, www.magicaljeepbooks.com 2023, 38 pages $13
Ah, Florida. What can you say about Florida? The Gunshine State. Kaos Country, Covidlandia. The new Chamber of Congress slogan is Visit Florida and Die. Well, Grover lives there. He sees DeSantis and his Shermanesque march through the swamps towards the sea burning down every civil right and autonomous critical organization that dares to oppose him and his dream of total autonomy. And now he wants to go national with this future where history is rewritten to make American white again. (MAWA?) Grover lives in Fort Meade, and he has seen all this and more and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. He might be an endangered species of this sort, a free thinker (and he is battling cancer on top of fighting dishonesty and disinformation). Read his book now, while you can.
Heather Dorn, How to Play House, Roadside Press, distributed by www.magicaljeepbooks.com,
2023, 116 pages $15
Heather Dorn is a real mom with real life issues. She’s more Journal of a Mad Housewife than Kate Middleton, though she’s not a stuck at home mom going crazy with her kids but a PhD in English Literature who teaches at the University in Binghamton. She has real health issues (a pacemaker to cope with heart failure) whose wild days of youth are way, way back in the past and can never be, even remotely, repeated. She (and no doubt most of us) reveled in crazy, bad choices who made total fools of ourselves during them and Dorn recounts them convincingly with wit and humor. Most of all, Dorn has a strong, readily identifiable voice; a mother we’d like to know, voice.
Drawing a contrast between herself and the aforementioned Kate Middleton, Dorn is the mom with spaghetti-o’s on her blouse, coffee stains too, no doubt , while Kate looks beauty parlor fresh after giving birth. Heather confesses she looked like, well, she just gave birth after all three of her children. As Dorn says, Kate doesn’t give interviews. She doesn’t speak. She’s not a real person. Heather Dorn is most definitely a real person and it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, a real poet.
Misa Levy, I Don’t Want To, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2022, 30 pages, $6-
Misa Levy (sounds like “Leave a Chevy”) relies on her snarky sense of humor to rev the engines of these poems. The cover collage by Jen Dunford Roskos is a congregation of disparate humans in free fall or engaging un mundane, totally absurd activities none of which have any connection to the others. The back cover shows the poet in a thoughtful moment her glasses folded on a copy of the book she is reading by Ogden Nash. If you can imagine the decidedly mainstream inoffensive Mr. Nash writing risqué, off color, in your face, relationship poems, you can imagine Levey’s work.
Dave Roskos, Poems for Proles: Stories for Working Stiffs & More Pedestrian Preoccupations,
Illustrated by Michael Shores, 2023, Legitimate Business Press, POB 203, seaside Heights, NJ 08751 firstname.lastname@example.org, 106 pages
Ever had a job? I mean one where you have to work a shift to eat? To survive? Nothing long term, just entry level stuff. Career? Are you serious? This is survival working. Dave Roskos has had all those entry level and below jobs, and as you might expect, they are dehumanizing, exploitative, bad paying. Etc. In a word these jobs, sucked. Poems and a few short stories detail these working experiences. Some are a bit jazzed up for effect but you get the point; working survival jobs is the pits.
Boss still in jail
Maybe of he paid me more
I could afford to pay his bail
I used to pass out on them.
Now I install them.
Dan Grote, We Are All Doing Time, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2023, 60 pages $10
The title of Dan’s book is especially appropriate as he is prisoner #22670-424 in the Federal Prison in Waymart, PA. Dan has described himself as the author of two bank robbery notes that didn’t go over well; instead of publication, he got incarceration. These poems bring home what it feels like to be locked up without much hope of release in the near future. We learn of his busted marriages, his journey towards reading and writing as an escape mechanism. The choices are: going bat shit crazy in jail or read and write. Dan made the wiser decision and we are all the better for it. Not merely “another prisoner writes from jail” collection, We Are All Doing Time is a work of an intelligent, thoughtful man working through his issues and learning the poetry trade in the worst writing retreat ever.
A Beautiful Life Tanka
A beautiful life
waking each day to ugly
locked inside this cell
Spent years as my own jailor
caged birds singing out of tune.
It should be noted, Angela Mark’s trippy cover draws you right inside the life of Dan Grote, prisoner, and poet.
Debbie Kirk, Bad Teeth: selected early poems, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 253 Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2023, 166 pages $10-
Bad Teeth collects four early chapbooks by legendary small press whirlwind in constant motion, Debbie Kirk. A fifth chapbook was lost and selections from a longer, larger work is excerpted. Debbie is the original wild woman. She drinks, does drugs, and fucks with reckless abandon and lives to tell the tale. But just barely. Her poetic life feels like the living embodiment of the song “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.” If a white woman could sing it, and you know Amy Winehouse could have, Debbie would be the next bluesy lady at the mike, out in front of the band, signing from the heart, deep into the Blues. The years of abuse and living down and out have taken their toll as these collections clearly show. There is rehab, 12 step meetings, low suicidal moments that become less momentary and more real with each passing day often feel like a bipolar Valkyrie ride into the abyss.
And yet, somehow, Debbie, maintains a strong, focused voice. There is obvious intelligence and craft in these roller coaster hell rides, a strong, intense control (not without humor) that make these poems open up fresh wounds in the reader that ache along with hers. She says, I can’t write like Bukowski and, guess what, he can’t write like me. She doesn’t say, so fuck him. She doesn’t have to.
Thanks to Roskos crew for salvaging these poems and putting them out in one affordable volume.
John Dorsey, Pocatello Wildflower, Erasure Poems, Crisis Chronicles Press, www.crisiscrornicles.com 2023, 372 pages $20
Pocatello Wildflowers is a herculean effort that is fully realized. When you think of Idaho, the first thing that enters your mind is not the home of excellent poets. At least, I didn’t think that until I read this collection. Dorsey mines the work of at least ten poets and well over a dozen books, for erasure gems rendered in short, compressed lines that read like the souls of other poems. I was skeptical Dorsey, or anyone, could pull of the miracle of finding poems by erasure the way he has. Surely, this must have been the work of years of concentration, drafting and editing more than three hundred poems selected here. Honestly, there isn’t a real loser in the batch. Some are funny, others are sad, and others are profound the way haiku can be.
Howie Good, Swimming in Oblivion: New and Selected Poems, Red Hawk Publications, www.redhawkpublications.com, 2022, 100 pages $15
Quite simply, Howie Good is one the preeminent practitioners of the prose poem writing today.
His exquisite paragraphs range from the politically trenchant, the surreally humorous, suffused with an apocalyptic fury that can be outrageously comic. This generous selection from his overall work is a tour de force that anyone with an interest in the form would do well to own.
Don Winter & Curtis Hayes, Waiting to Punch the Clock, Working Stiff Press, 741 Broadway St #1265, Nile, MI 49120 contact email@example.com 2022, 68 pages no price
As the title indicates, these are working class poems. The jobs are not well paid, they are soul sucking labor intensive and often the kind of work no middle manager, small business owner or corporate person would be caught dead doing given how demeaning and unrewarding the work is. That one poet is from the Midwest (Winter) and the other the West Coast (Hayes) validates a core assumption to these kinds of jobs: they are the same wherever you go and the capitalist system likes it that way. Denying fair payment, benefits, like health care, housing, food allowances, uniform allowances, is part of the plan to create and maintain a class of working people to do the jobs no one wants to do. And/or to provide bodies for whatever war is on and, if they should survive, physically intact, to deny meaningful after care both physical and mental. If you wonder why so many veterans commit suicide, don’t. If you create a perfect killing machine, send him or her to war, and bring them back home to not have a place in the world or a job that provides security or satisfaction, what do you expect? In fact, these poems are as close to seamless as they can be as I read through Winter’s section and into Hayes’s without noticing a stylistic shift to the poems. If that’s not what a close collaboration is all about, I don’t know what is.
Ron Lauterbach, Snapshots, 2022, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com 2022, 40 pages $17-
As the title suggests, Lauterbach’s evocative poems are snapshots of his family life in words. The kind of photos he describes are the kind your mother (or grandmother or great grandmother….) would have in an album with black pages, little sticky corners that adhere to the page and that the now yellowing black and white Kodak pictures into. Someone would write where they were taken and who is in them on the back, or with white ink on the page. That is if you are lucky. Otherwise, well, they become just pictures, aren’t they? Lauterbach’s poems are never just pictures. Each poem is alive, suggestive, and well-wrought. I was transported back into my own youth, the places and the people who were once there and are no more. Snapshots should do the same for you.
Bernadette Mayer, Milkweed Smithereens, 2022, New Directions, www.ndbooks.com 85 pages, $16.95
During the lockdown I bought and carefully examined page by page, image by image, Mayer’s multi-media rerelease book, Memory. Never has a day by day “journal” in word and picture and sound, though that wasn’t included, been some meticulously detailed. This is the Mayer gift that separates her from us mere mortals, her work is totally inclusive yet totally elusive (and allusive) also. Her streams of consciousness begin with a day’s outings: visits to museums, sports arenas, bedrooms, nurseries, well, just about everywhere a person can be. Time and space seem irrelevant; you are at once rooted to where Bernadette, family and friends go. There is a lot of visiting going on, it is summer in a summer rental in MA, children about, excursions both mundane and esoteric, but in her head, Bernadette goes anywhere and everywhere sometimes beginning in midsentence (granted these sentences can be Very long.) To say I was entranced, mystified, and amazed is an understatement. Given there wasn’t much else to do but read during the Lockdown I started in on the Mayer shelf and delved into her journals, diaries, poetry, and random musings on all things various and sundry. I felt as if I knew more about Bernadette Mayer than I did about anyone else I had ever read about and yet, again the all-important, yet, she was completely and utterly unknowable to me. Her new book, with the typical Mayerian panache, Milkweed Smithereens, is in the same vein as the aforementioned Memory, but without the pictures. Who needs pictures when you have Bernadette to create word salads, a Covid Journal that transcends time and place, poems about life and times in Lockdown in the Poetry Forest? I will say this unequivocally, Bernadette Mayer, you were boundless and we love and admire you for it. Rest in peace.
Charles Rammelkamp, A Magician Among the Spirits, Blue Light Press, www.bluelightpress.com , 2022, 85 pages $18- Winner of the 2022 Blue Light Poetry Prize
I love Rammelkamp’s ongoing series of biographically based sequences of historical figures that ranges from William Jennings Bryan to Mata Hari and now to Houdini. Born into a family that fled Hungary, Erik Weiss took the stage name Houdini in honor of the French magician Robert Houdine. From an early age, he performed in circuses, dance halls, anywhere he could earn a living doing magical tricks. His repertoire included card tricks, to “mind reading”, to illusionist, finally achieving worldwide fame as an escape artist. Rammelkamp follows his career with a lively first-person voice. From the performing duo with his brother and later his wife, Bess, to the amazing death-defying feats that continue to fascinate to this day. How did he do it? You’ll have to look elsewhere for the answer to that age old question.
What Rammelkamp does go into great detail describing is Houdini’s quest to debunk phony spiritualists who prey upon the unsuspecting and the grieving, who would contact their loved one who have passed on. Hs friendship and, later, falling out with Conan Doyle, is a core concern in the latter parts of the book. Houdini could not understand how the creator of the detective of supreme logic and deduction, Sherlock Holmes, could be a lifelong believer in spiritualism. Houdini understands Doyle and his wife grieving over their son killed in WWI, a belief that continued long after logic had dictated these people were complete frauds and that all the literally, tricks of the trade, were smoke and mirrors but still….What is rational about contacting the dead? What would Sherlock think?
During his research Rammelkamp has unearthed some great anecdotes including one where Sarah Bernhardt was convinced that Houdini had supernatural powers. Despite his insisting otherwise, she persisted asking him continually if he could replace her wooden leg with a real one. Details such as these make this a must read for anyone interested in the verbal arts and magic men of all kinds.
John Macker, Belated Mornings, Turkey Buzzard Press, Grand Junction, CO, 2022, 45 pages,
No price listed
Belated Mornings is a small book that contains multitudes. Written during the lockdown, Macker sees a desert sunset as a prayer for peace; the morning as a music of the spheres as the desert comes to life with the light. He has a painter’s eye for the landscape and a musician’s ear for the melodies of everyday life. Macker apprehends beauty in small things in a way that is almost religious, certainly spiritual, as his observations often feel like out of body experiences. He sees ana approaching storm as “a nautilus of thunderhead” feels the sky’s generous expanse of clarity, senses the memories of ancient lives of the people who once lived in the desert where he now lives. This is simply a masterful book by a wonderous poet at the peak of his powers.
Two from poet Carla Sarett,
Woman on the Run, Alien Buddha Press available on Amazon, 2023, 33pages, $10.99
She Has Visions, Main Street Rag, www.mainstreetrag.com,2022, 53 pages, $14
Woman on the Run has an atmospheric, noir, cinematic vibe. There are endless streets of dead ends, Maltese Falcon/ Shakespearean references to the stuff dreams are made of, subways that smell like death camps, women who smell like Bronx funeral homes and even, and I love this, a tragic don’t shop. Was I entranced? You bet. I was along for the whole ride with a poet who has a strong, assured voiced and a highly controlled, visual sense. I’m eagerly awaiting the actual movie.
She Has Visions also has a finely developed visual sense but with poems that feel much more personal than the elusive dark lady of Woman on the Run. Connections are made and missed, a brother has a doomed relationship with a junkie who is murdered a month after they move into a City apartment. He too later dies, presumably of drug addiction. Memories are filled with actual goodbyes and ones she wished she could have made. Even a seemingly mundane moment, a tour of the Alamo is deeply felt in an unexpected way, “I put a twenty in the donation box/for no reason except that old forts make me cry/and that must be worth saving.”
Two poems in particular blew me away in the overall, consistently solid, collection, “Disraeli Bedtime Story” which explores the many aspects of love in unexpected ways, and the appropriately, thoroughly eerie, “The Shining.” “Yom Kippur, Remotely” is a heart stopper which concludes as follows,
“But my great-grandfather
was a rabbi somewhere
and most of his children were
murdered. Of that, I am sure.”
Rebecca Hart Olander, Uncertain Acrobats, Cavan Kerry Press, www.cavankerrypress.org,
2021, 78 pages
Throughout this heartfelt collection, I thought of Donne’s, “Valediction Forbidding Mourning.” The bond between parent and child is a deep one on a pure, spiritual level. While the Donne poem specifically relates to lovers parting, Hart Olander’s poem is a more elemental, primal one, but just as deeply felt. Hart Olander recalls her father’s life and their close, loving relationship in an attempt to celebrate that life but as a way to process his early death and to let go. Each finely crafted poem is designed to contribute to these goals and clearly took years to write, process and revise. The letting go is as much an acceptance as it is a permission for moving on through the next stages of her life.
Anthony George, fascists suck, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books PO Box 253, Seaside Heights, NJ 08751 2022, 65 pages $10
No argument with the title, they do suck and they are everywhere infiltrating the government and the political process in the name of patriotism. Several collages illustrate the thesis, my favorite being a Roman centurion holding a spear by a large screen television on the left of the image and messianic berobed dude sacrificing an animal on one side and offering it to the Gods on the other. Rants against materialism, politicos and MAGA monsters abound. Makes one want to join the church of stop shopping now. Fascists suck says it all.
Daniel Simpson, Inside the Invisible, Nine Mile Books, 4451 Cherry Valley Turnpike, La Fayette, NY 13084, 2022, 99 pages $10 Winner of The Propel Poetry Award
Nine Mile Boks primarily focuses on poetic work by people with disabilities. Simpson is a blind from birth writer who hasn’t let his handicap keep him from living a full lie. Herein he tells of his education, travels, a first marriage that ended poorly, and second, ongoing successful one. Often told with wry humor these poems are for anyone who loves a good story of man overcoming obstacles and producing the kind of art all of us can relate to.
Ian Lewis Copestick, Detritus of the Drunken Night, Cajun Mutt Press, available on Amazon, 2019, 122 pages, $9.86
Here is no doubt Copestick has been there, on and in the dark alleys of the mind, the run-down bars, crack dens, and, ultimately rehab, which doesn’t take, and wakes up in a place like the title of the book, as self-loathing human garbage. What saves this collection from being a complete drag is a poem like “The Woman Who Isn’t There”, the saga of the “woman next door who was lobotomized and made into a barely sentient vegetable. He concludes, “How do the doctors sleep at night? /They’ve gotten away with murder, /No its’ something/ worse than that.” Amen.
Brain Rihlmann, A Screaming Place, 2021, Cajun Mutt Press, available on Amazon, 153 pages, $13.99.
Rihlmann covers much of the same ground that Bukowski did: drunken nights in bars, picking up women, busted relationships, bad jobs with no future, but unlike Bukowski he is the kind of guy on a bar stool you probably wouldn’t be tempted to punch out after an hour of drinking with him. It is my personal professional opinion that Bukowski wouldn’t be allowed in any bar I was working in, on general purposes, for being a self-promoting, obnoxious, all-around pain in the ass. I don’t like Hemingway either for the same reasons. But I’ll read their books. Rihlmann also is master of a much cleaner line that Bukowski who tended to ramble on (at least in his later work) and, do line breaks on some whimsical non-pattern completely his own (or John Martin’s). Which is to say, if you like a gritty life-style, an intelligent conversation, and a poet in command of his craft, Rihlmann would be your guy instead of late Bukowski (by which I mean just about every posthumous collection of Bukowski’s Black Sparrow released).
Howie Good, Stock Figure Opera: 99 100-word Prose Poems, 2019, Cajun Mutt Press, available on Amazon, $13.99
Imagine word salads made of image
clusters leaking from holes in a canvas
by Dali. And one by Cocteau. With a
side of Bacon. Or shotgun art made by
someone like Burroughs at ten paces
with a pump action, shooting five-gallon
paint cans, resulting impact something like
forensic evidence. Like blood splatters.
With a side of fileted Pollock. Like Dada
at the MAMA. I mean the MOMA.
Opening night Patrons of the arts dancing
a Lobster Quadrille to a Resurrection Jazz
Band. Dressed in top hats with pink boas
and Robante gowns. That’s a Stick
Figure Opera: 100 words exactly.
Dan Holt, Motel, Alien Buddha Press, distributed through Amazon, firstname.lastname@example.org 2021, 112 pages, $10.44
There is dark, and there is really dark, and then there is Dan Holt’s, Motel. Channeling Matt Borczon’s PTSD Middle Eastern war poems and life after, Holt travels an interior war zone, inhabiting bar’s cheap rooms, cheaper women, drugs, and booze and all the things that bring you to that bad place called home. In one particularly vivid poem a father instructs his child, still in diapers, to get daddy’s works, which struck me as about as grim as it gets. But it isn’t. There is a lot of forensic evidence in these poems; by which, I mean blood spatters and brain matter on walls, floors and ceilings like a demented Quentin Tarantino movie outtakes that he left on the cutting room floor. Reading Holt’s book is like being involved in an accident on Highway 61 waiting for an ambulance to come after it does it’s rounds on Desolation Row, to pick the injured up and take them somewhere else. His is way beyond the blues. Maybe it’s the blacks.
Elizabeth Lund, UN-SILENCED, Cervana Barva Press, www.cervenabarvapress.com 2023 60 pages $18-
Lund has tackled one of the most pressing issues of our times, domestic violence, with a strong willed, well focused, personal, emotionally charged description of the violence inflicted upon a female partner by an abusive spouse. By personal I mean, you feel the pain and fear, understand why someone might stay in such a relationship despite the obvious extreme abuse. Lund does not spare us details but she does so with a rare understanding and empathy that makes this book a necessary read for everyone who has ever been in or is contemplating a relationship.
E. Ethelbert Miller, How I Found Love Behind the Catcher’s Mask, 2022, City Point Press, www.citypointpress.com 58 pages $15.99
If you love baseball and you love poetry, Miller’s series of baseball poems represent a poet pitching a perfect word game. This group is more representational of how life is like baseball (and writing) than previous collections that were more character centered. Doubt me about life and baseball? Read, “Every Buddhist Is a Baseball Player” and be convinced. And watch, I mean really watch, a baseball game. I mean as the immortal Yogi said, “Baseball is 90% half mental.
This collection complete a rare triple play of baseball books. Check them out. It has long been my contention that the two hardest subjects to write well about are about love and sports, especially baseball. Miller has written exquisitely about both subjects.
Read, Received, Not Fully Reviewed
Gregory Corso, The Golden Dot, Lithic Press, www.lithicpress.com, 2022, 180 pages $20
Posthumously published archival work that feels more like unfinished journal writings than actual poems with occasional spark. For Corso completists only.
Joshua Peralta, 3Rd & Orange, ZQ-287 Press, Long Beach, CA, 2022, 170 pages $16-
Young love and loss in a roughly 120-page poem followed by the unusual retelling of the story in prose. The poetry feels familiar and less interesting (in a: you had to be there as one of the couple kinds of way) though the prose is more mature and focused than the poetry, depicting a decent guy coming of age, not full of himself, as a writer.
Alfred Encarnacion, Library Suite, Moonstone Press, www.moonstoneartscenter.org 2022, 28 pages $10-
As blurbist George Drew accurately says, “Librarians are a lot like bartenders. They serve and they observe, and, here, we’re served up poems that offer us studies in character.”
Kevin Pilkington, Playing Poker with Tennessee Williams, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawrencepress, 2021, 74 pages, $16.95
Pilkington writes a strong narrative line that is particularly good at focusing on ordinary lives and evocation of place. The strongest poems take place in NOLA and NYC, cities he seems most comfortable in. The cover art is an invitation to step inside (“Big Red Doors in the French Quarter”) a café/bar/restaurant to partake of whatever is offered inside. It worked to entice me to enter.
Saeed Jones, Alive at the End of the World, Coffee House Press, www.coffeehousepress.org 2022, 88pages $16.95
Jones does the impossible, he outdoes his first, brilliant book. A queer, black man at the end of civilization, such as it is, as he sees it. This is so Now it’s scary. Next up on my non-fiction reading list is his memoir.
Monica Sok, A Nail the Evening Hangs On, Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org,
2022, 63 pages $16-
Sok is the winner of just about every under 30 poet award you can think of and she deserves every accolade she has received. A first-generation survivor of Cambodian Pol Pot holocaust, Sok returns to Cambodia to better understand where her forebearers came from. Her unflinching reporting are intense, focused and refrains from over emoting. She has nightmares. Who wouldn’t?
Susan Nguyen, Dear Diaspora, University of Nebraska Press, www.nebraskapress.unl.edu2022,66 pages $17.95
Like Sok, Nguyen’s forebears escaped from a war torn South East Asian country. Her experiences, historical accounting and impressions are not easily forgotten. A long poem about “the Boat People” is central to the narrative, making real, on a personal level, the doomed attempts of refugees everywhere desperate to escape a country where there is not future for them.
Her poems are particular and universal and we should be listening and following these stories more closely that we presently do.
Andrea Carter Brown, September 12, The Word Works, www.wordworksbooks.org. 2021,
Andrea Brown begins her personal 9-11 story with a long-distance phone call from her sister asking her if she is alright. Puzzled she asks why? The World Trade Center is on fire. Most people turned on their TV’s to see what is going on, Brown looks out her apartment window and sees, one block away the WTC is indeed on fire and she instantly knows it time to get out. Now. Miraculously she does. A map of her journey, first on foot, later by ferry, and by car, she escapes, literally with the aid and kindness of strangers. Everyone should read this book and remember. You may escape, on one level, but you can never get away.
Tina Cane, Year of the Murder Hornet, Veliz Books, PO Box 1701, Houston, X 77251 email@example.com 2022, 116 pages $19
Opening with a dynamite titular poem, Cane’s book uses fragmentary phrasing and ultralong lines to create word tapestries that excite, amuse, and tantalize. Her verse is self-revelatory, but not in a self-conscious brooding way, but one that is canny and, often, quite funny. She can be brutally serious as well which makes this unusual collection well worth a close look.
Lucy Wainger, In Life There Are May Things, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawrence.com
2023, 34 pages $9.95 winner Black Lawrence Chapbook Competition
Wainger’s prize winning chapbook is a delightful, quirky first effort. The language is crisp and unusual seemingly effortlessly evocative and engaging. Often amusing, always thoguht provoking, and like Scheherazade had, we hope she has a thousand more nights to spin stories and wondrous poems.
Also new from Black Lawrence
Chelsea Stickle, Breaking Points, 2021, 48 pages, $9.95
Stickle’s genre is the short prose form and like Wainger, her pieces are vibrant, quirky, and amusing. There is a kind of social media, chain linked story that is outrageously funny: an absurd Boyfriend Quiz, (or maybe it’s all too true one and not nearly as absurd as it first seems), nights in bars that are far from as ordinary as they might have been once upon a time. All in all, a lively, rewarding collection easily read in one sitting.
George Franklin, Remote Cities, Sheila Na Gig, www.shelianagigblog.com 2023, 155 pages $17-
Franklin’s latest is a wide-ranging, far reaching compilation. He covers all the big topics of love and death with sensitivity and humor. His insights are many, topics diverse, locations world-wide. There is absolutely something for everyone in this major collection of the poet’s life work.
Marcia Arrieta, through time waves, Artelodia Press, available from Amazon, 2022, 52 pages $18-
Marcia’s book is, in a word, beautiful. There is a full compliments of color collages and a series of thematically related poems in a spare voice that channels Post Expressionism in both word and image. A partial list of artists evoked include Leonora Carrington, Remedios Vera, Kandinsky, Frankenthaler, Krasner…Philosophical underpinnings demonstrate affiliations with Unamuno, Kant, Kierkegaard…; Pure Reason, and the passage of time. A stunning work of Art in all senses of that all-encompassing word.
Barbara Sabol editor, Sharing This Delicate Bread: Selections From Shelia-Na-Gig 2016-2021
Shelia-Na Gig Editions, www.shelianagidblog.com 2022, 162 pages $16-
60 poets from the first five years if online publishing have best selected, often with more than one poem per author. Shelia was a print edition, back in the day when editor Hayley Haugen, was an undergraduate and then a graduate school that wad discontinued until a few years ago. Barbara Sabol stepped into edit the blog and this anthology which represents the best of a hundred of poems published on the blog. I am a proud contributor of two poems to this edition. May Shelia live on for many years to come.
Moonstone Press edited Remembering the Waste Land 100th anniversary, 2022, Moonstone Press. www.moonstoneartscenter.org 2022, 38 pages $10
Why the Waste Land? As in why this poem instead of millions of others? Why do people watch golf on television, as Atlantic George Packer asked? Well, because the Waste Land is a chronicle of dislocation, of fragments trying to find a shifting center, of a literature of disaffection that would be the 20th century, world wars and lesser atrocities that have spilled over in to our century which could very well be the last one. After the written word dies, the culture is destroyed, the Western canon is blown up, there will be the waste land.
This small collection of poems riffs on aspects of Eliot (and Pound’s) poem. Some are serious, some not. Some are formal, one in Spanish, a prose poem or two, narratives and exposition. The one poem that stands out the most for me is by fellow Albany poet, Dan Wilcox which humorously satirizes Pound’s Cantos and Eliot’s “Burial of the Dead.” Using clever baseball metaphors, Wilcox equates the end of the season with the wasteland. Where else would you see a dedication celebrating il fungo? Also, of note were: “Maybe She Is? By Elka Franziska Lampe, “I Return to You/You Return to Me” by Faith Paulsen, Margaret Tau’s inspired found haikus and Kelley White. I also have a brief poem detailing a meeting of Eliot with famed philosopher, Groucho Marx.
It should not be forgotten that Eliot was an uptight, extremely conservative, antisemite though he tried to renounce some of his former hateful rhetoric. If you peruse his early writing such anti-Jewish remarks are conspicuously present. As George Packer also astutely observed, “The poem is superior to the man.”
Clutch edited by Robert M. Zoschke, Street Corner Press, 10783 Birchwood Drive, Sister Bay Wisconsin 54234, 2023, 222 pages of writing (mostly poems) and photos, $20
Starting off the new year with this annual anthology of writing and first-rate photography is always a treat. The 2023 cover is Salman Rushdie, I’m almost afraid to write about given what happened to him this year, by Chris Felver. Other exquisite pictures are by Dana Cardella, T.K. Splake and art by our main man, Gene McCormick among many others. A full color back cover is eye catching by Chad M. Horn. The poetry lineup features old favorites: Splake, the late Albert Huffstickler and Kell Robertson. Among the many fine still living writers: Marge Piercy, Jen and Dave Roskos, Walt McLaughlin, and prison poet Dan Grote among many others, myself included.
Chiron Review Issue #128/129 Queer, Winter 2022, Spring 2023 ed Michael Hathaway, www.chironreview.com 362 pages $20
This huge issue selects the best from LGBT special issues#13, #33, #50 Q. The cover art is a photo of a naked Basquiat which relegates this issue to Parental Advisory Shelves. Whatever. It’s a great picture, so if you can’t handle the cover be forewarned; you won’t like what’s inside either. There are over 265 pages of excellent poetry by some of the best-known small press poets on the last 30 years or so including Edward Field, Laurel Speer, the Poet Spiel, James Broughton, Will Inman and countless others. Rounding out the issue is a prose section that includes interviews and short stories.
Normal, Ghostsong for the Masses, Iniquity Press/ Vendetta Books, PO Box 253, Seaside Heights, NJ 08751 2022, 117 pages $10
Like a 21st century shaman, normal is a kind of latter day conjure man. He evokes the gone spirits of past worlds who continue to inhabit our imagination. While these spirits may not be with us in body, they are present in our being, are part of the ongoing process of history each new generation must build on.
normal’s poems are written in the best of the oral traditions that are a fundamental aspect of much of our country’s poetry. He channels the words and process of Walt Whitman, Vachel Lindsay, Beat poets Ginsberg, Kaufman and Patchen plus the outlaw of letters, Henry Miller. there is a real sense of cadence in this work, even as you read it silently to yourself. It is not difficult to imagine a jazz accompaniment, a muted sax, a low drum riff in the background as these poems roll off the page and onto your tongue.
Rose Mary Boehm, Saudade, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com,
2022, 72 pages $20
When I think of ‘saudade,’ the impression I get is one of intense longing for a place, of an unattainable, much beloved person or object. It is the kind of deep emotion exiles felt when they were banished from Rome at the apex of Empire. Boehm’s Saudade is an unsentimental journey that traverses continents with an unsparing eye for detail.
Whether she is describing an escape from an occupied homeland or the consequences of bad relationship choices, the reader feels the immediacy of the moment. Saudade is the journey of a lifetime.
As per usual the last but not least:
The Biannual T.K. Splake Compendium
First and foremost is a kind of selected poems edited by poet, philosopher, publisher
Walt McLaughlin, Escape to the Wild, Wood Thrush Press, 27 Maple Grove Estates,
Swanton, VT, 05488, 2022, 133 pages, $14.95 also available on kindle
As the title suggests, McLaughlin selects poems and prose that spans the length and breadth of Splake’s long career focusing on the poet and photographer’s engagement with the wild. As “wild,” in the abstract, and in the real, physical sense, is a key ingredient to his subject’s work. This is a fascinating, appropriate, and well-chosen subject. McLaughlin mines the work from early writing I can’t recall having seen before, up to his current engagement with short, haiku like three liners that are now his signature stylistic form. An informative, introductory essay provides the reader both with an overview of the poet’s work and the editorial sensibility that became this collection. Highly recommended for first time readers of Splake and for his legion of fans.
t. kilgore splake, 66 tranny trippin’, Transcendent Zero Press, www.transcendentzeropress.org
2023, unpaged roughly 32 pages, no price listed
Editor Dustin Pickering points out in his brief intro that tranny of the title is not a slur, nor does it refer to transsexuals in any way, shape or form whatsoever, but to transmission, as in traveling by car. For those of us who know Splakespeak, there was never an issue here as we would automatically think, Kerouac road trip. Jack Kerouac is Splake’s primary muse (along with Brautigan and Hemingway) and these poems set out on the highway of the mind for a journey into the interior. Another seminal Splake inspiration is the late, great, Michigan author, Jim Harrison aptly evoked here,
au sable rover ghost
hands holding fly rod
pen scribbling words on blank page
jim harrison fishing for poems
men’s faculty bathroom
before early morning lecture
putting on professor face
For those who don’t know Splake, he gave up his profession as a college prof to pursue his art, decades ago, after years of living a conventional life he felt was a lie. Some forty years later he is still following his muse wherever it takes him.
soft pine whispers, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.net 2022, 30 pages with poetry and full color pine trees laden with snow $15
The Upper Peninsula, where splake lives, is known for its Long White. The Long White is a euphemism for endless Winter. It is no joke either. When Yoopers, as UP residents are known, refer to seasons as two months of summer and ten months of winter. Some just say two months of not winter and ten months of winter, No matter how you look at it, splake captures the cold, wind-blown nature of life in the wilds of Michigan.
big two-hearted shadows
holding fly rod and beer
nick adams rainbow dreams
nursing home day room
senior in rolling stone t-short
watching mtv reruns
mad dog fevers, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.net 2023, 45 pages $15 full color photos
A remarkable feature of every splake collection is an original first rate, memorable, photograph.
To my way of thinking, the mad dog bottle variations, as the photo on the cover and the ones inside should be seen as, are the most memorable of all. They become like impressionistic paintings conceived and executed in a fever dream. As a liquor store owner once said to a young man contemplating buying a bottle of Mad Dog 20 20 (that’s Mogen David 20 20 to the uninitiated, widely known as mad dog because “once the dog bites you, you never forget”) “Son, that stuff is not fit for man nor beast.” Of course, the kid bought it and has regretted his choice for the rest of his life. Once was enough. Amen.
There are so many gems here I can only note a couple of personal favorites,
alone in forest darkness
night silence so deep
hear clouds passing by
several family photographs
hanging on living room wall
bad people looking good