Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged
Howard Kogan, Before I Forget, Square Circle Press, www.squarecirclepress.com 2023, 84 pages $17.95
Howard’s third collection with Square Circle Press is a winner. In a clear voice, much like the one he employs in his two previous collections, Indian Summer, and A Chill in the Air, Kogan present us with his thoughts on life, aging, and death. What is most appealing, his most engaging qualities as a poet, are the precise nature of his voice. The poems are not too complicated, are always affable, even when the subject matter is dark. His work is always humane told in the voice of a gifted, natural story teller. Each poem has a subtle internal momentum that builds to a logical conclusion regardless of how surprising the closure may be (and they can be totally unexpected).
As might be expected by a poet who was 82 when he wrote this collection, a constant theme is the aging process. Often Kogan reflects on cherished memories of those gone and are recalled with real, deep, and abiding affection. Aging and imminent death are not seen with a morbid curiosity or an overwhelming sense of dread, but seen as a natural progression, a fact, though, regrettable, that is unavoidable.
“Mourning Becomes Her” recalls a woman who revels in wakes to the point of real sexual excitement at these wakes. This amusing, if perverse tale is counterbalanced by days at the cancer clinic, holocaust remembrance, and the all too familiar “airport delays as hell.” The saddest of all may be several visits with his sister, once beautiful, vivacious, and desirable, now barely able to walk, “how did we get so old?” The poem concludes with the supposed feeble sister saving the poet from stumbling by grasping his arm with a surprisingly strong grip.
Kogan’s poem “Red Rover’ sums up old age, memories of days gone by, maybe even all of the human condition, in the simplest but most effective way befitting a master of the craft of providing deep context to a seemingly banal premise, quoted in full,
I dreamt last night of playing Red Rover
as we did in the long twilight of summer.
Someone was calling from the other side,
Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Joanie come over!
Joan my older sister and I, holding hands
holding hands, standing side by side,
I don’t remember her playing Red Rover,
but last night she was there on our side.
And when she let my hand go and went over,
I knew she would not be coming back.
Sean Thomas Dougherty, Death Prefers the Minor Keys, Boa Editions, www.boaeditions.org
2023, 112 pages, $17.00
Dougherty’s latest collection is a long series of prose poem laments for the families he loves and for the patients he cares for on the late shift in a facility for people with brain damage issues. As always, his work is compassionate, empathetic and cry in the wilderness at the end of the world.
“…In order to write the poems I wish to write, I must
live longer than I suspect I will. So I must write as if I am
From No, I Will Not Do in the Empty Room, because if I
Go In to the Empty Room, the Room I Was in Will Become
Long before I reach the Keith Garrett poem, about a musician who could no longer play his instrument but can hear the music in his head, I had inserted the first CD of my collection of 10 requiems that I used to play while revising, collecting, and writing new poems. Beethoven once asserted that the most dramatic music was the requiem ( he once claimed Cherubini was the greatest composer of all) and as I listen, I agree. As the familiar music plays, I think the most compelling music can only be heard in your head even when nothing is playing. As in my CD’s are hundreds of miles from where I currently am, on a small island, listening to music in my mind while reading Sean’s dispatches from the hard edges of his world.
I think of Cherubini’s Requiem for Male Chorus and Orchestra the slow movement of Beethoven’s Eroica, of the displaced slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, of a sadness so infinite, and universal, so completely inexpressible that it can only be rendered in just this way. So is with the deeply felt poetry of Sean Thomas Dougherty.
Linda Lerner, How It Was 2020/2021 And Is…, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 253, Seaside Heights, NJ, 08751 available on Amazon, 2023, 32 pages, $10-
During the Covid years, Linda was in the City, sheltering in place as much as was humanly possible. She recalls the eerie silence of empty streets, the non-existence of rush hour, everything seeming the same, as in the buildings are there, but where are the people? It was like an end of the world Twilight Zone episode, maybe the one where Burgess Meredith is alone and has all the time to finally read all the books, he never had time for previously. And then he breaks his coke bottle glasses…. Lerner’s book is a kind of Covid diary, which could be, as she does, likened to a war journal only, in this case, the enemy is invisible; the ultimate asymmetrical war opponent, everywhere but nowhere waiting to attack. Her poem “About Whales and Breathing” seem to me the best Covid time piece I have read to date.
of people struggling to let out
each breath, tied up to ventilators
for months, not making it, and
thankful to be breathing at all;
I’m thinking of whales this Thanksgiving
how they breathe, and what
it takes to be alive every minute”
(from “About Whales and Breathing”)
Later Lerner cites, in her poem “Getting Back to Normal” “means getting out what feels/ like a war-torn place…” And the body count exceeds those of three wars. Will we ever be back to normal? Probably not but we will pretend that we are, after all this is the city that moved on from 9-11. While this is a “small book” in terms of page count, it sums up the Covid experience as well as any has.
Rebecca Schumejda, Sentenced, NYQ Press, www.nyq.org, 2023, 102 pages, $18.95 available on Amazon and SPD Books
How can you forgive the unforgivable? Rebecca wrestles with a conundrum no one should ever have to face: her little brother, the kid she thought she knew and loved, in a drunken, schizophrenic rage, brutally killed the woman he loved, his wife. Many of the poems recall visiting her brother in a maximum-security prison, while she thinks about their growing up together. All those shared experiences, memories, and a troubled family life have a different meaning now. All the reflections, soul searching, wondering why, could prepare her for the task of somehow contextualizing what her brother did.
Off his meds and hearing voices the worst imaginable crime happened, that is the basic facts of the case. The now is how she feels dehumanized each time she visits, is how she struggles to suppress the deep sense of anger at this heinous crime. The now is, how to find the brother she once loved in the man she sees, sentenced to 27 years for murder.
Eventually visiting becomes an impossible journey. Her oldest daughter hopes he never gets out. Their mother saves his stuff, clothes, toys trinkets he’ll never use again if he does. It is difficult to imagine a more emotional book than this one, though there is nothing overt about these deeply felt conflicts. Many poems, especially in the latter half of the collection, contains epiphanies that take your breath away. Jason Baldinger’s cover photo of a shattered glass window sums up the unforgettable experiences waiting to be felt inside the book.
Also, by Rebecca, Advanced Directives, River Dog, email@example.com no price or pagination( roughly 16). (A fine, numbered limited edition.) Essentially Advanced Directives is a coda to Sentenced. As if the murder of her sister-in-law wasn’t enough, Rebecca has to cope with her husband dying of cancer during the Covid pandemic. Then her mom. Misfortune often travels in packs of three. This collection is dedicated to her daughters, and we hope, along with her, for a brighter future for everyone.
Nathan Graziano, Born on Good Friday, Roadside Press, available at www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 80 pages, $15
I was reading the recent anthology from Nerve Cowboy: Selected Works 1996-2004 ( a best of the early years of long running print poetry zine) that featured four poems of Gaziano’s from that era, reminding me how long I had been reading work by this poet. Besides feeling old, the realization, re-enforced by the tone of his new collection, is that Graziano is now middle aged, settled and maybe not “still crazy after all these years” but still alive (as the peasant says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.”)Which probably says a lot about me as well as an officially, much older than Graziano, well settled poet.
The Nerve Cowboy poems are signature Graziano poems that were the hallmark of his early work: lots of lost nights and down days after, the kind of Carveresque dissipation and hooking up that made his novel, not long out of print ( yes, I still have my copy) Frostbite, memorable. Some of the poems in Born on Good Friday reflect a looking back ruefully and wondering, “why the hell did I do these things to myself. And how did I survive.” Been there and done that. Throughout his many collections of writing, Graziano has maintained a tone of engaged in this life style but not taking myself all that seriously. He always seems to successfully strive for, and find, the humor in the most outrageous and ridiculous things that he does. The key point is he knows they are ridiculous while so many adult children don’t.
Born on Good Friday is roughly chronological beginning with his upbringing in a traditional American Catholic family proceeding to a rejection of his upbringing and later antics of a young and not so young, adult. Like many of us who lived through an engagement with Sister Harridan of the Tricornered ruler with the wrath of God on her side, much of the education and indoctrination didn’t take root except to reject the tenets brought up in the faith. I guess I was reminded of the old cliché last told to me by a very Irish colleen, “You can take the catholic out the church but you can’t take the church out of the catholic.” Proving her point, The same young lady was married in a church and she hoped, maybe even prayed fervently, that we would all survive the service without being struck by lightning from above given her wanton ways as a young adult. We did.
Graziano seems to prove his point that mellowing does not necessarily mean giving up or sinking into a near comatose middle age in front of a TV with packs of Marlboro Lights and cans of Budweiser mindlessly watching what passes for a sporting event on 24/7 sports TV. Not that he doesn’t like sports, he is a fervent Red Sox fan, but there are other things in life. Other things like loving his wife and children, writing clean well narrative poems, some recalling his crazy days and lonesome nights, and more contemporary ones; still rueful after all these years.
Westley Heine, Street Corner Spirits: poems and flash fiction, Roadside Press, available from www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 146 pages, $15
Street Corner Spirits is the second Roadside Press publication for Heine following his novel about trying to make his way as a street musician in Chicago, Busking Blues. While Heine claims not to be a poet, there are some great moments of pure poetic fire as Heine here. He can turn a phrase and rip off amazing lines with ease. From AA meetings where he talks of pouring booze in his inner child, to his time on the street, he represents what he calls the “missing chromosome generation.” My favorite of these is “Sugar Skull” which resounds with the breathless authority of Howl on acid,
“She was sure she could
lead the homeless army
over the wall of the
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
to dig up the Pharaoh
and use his skull
like a radio to free
the internet slaves.”
(from “Sugar Skull”)
There are four distinct sections of Street Corner Spirits, which could be summed up as follows,
2-Somewhere between teenaged and adult
3-Mature and more settled
4-As we live now in a Brave New World. I have seen the future and it is Apocalypse Now!
There is a great deal of raw energy in the first two sections as Heine throws words on a page and seeks a voice to channel all the memories of bad choices made and lived with. As he settles into a less peripatetic, more focused life, marries, and moves on with a sense of direction, he finds a new sense of personal peace. Heine expresses his vision of the society as a festering boil about to explode by writing songs, performing, and painting. The energy that went into living the life that is expounded upon in the poems is often chaotic and so are the poems which vary in effectiveness from knock your socks off amazing to nice try, better luck next time. His work as a poet feels like a work in progress but this collection clearly shows he is well on his way to getting there.
It should be noted that there are a few brief prose stories included that parallel the poetic work. While they feel almost incidental compared with the energetic poetry, the rent party, “Keep Your Shirt On” has a manic quality that suggests partying with Pynchon and the bright young things. I am on board also with his idea of a “Pay Per View Apocalypse.” Live streaming the heat death of the universe seems like the coming thing.
Drew Pisarra, Periodic Boyfriends, Capturing Fire Press, firstname.lastname@example.org available on Amazon, 2023, 153 pages $20
There are sonnet sequences and then there is a sonnet sequence by Drew Pisarra. By which I mean, this is not your great-grandfather’s sonnets sequence. Unless she was Oscar Wilde. A truly demented Oscar Wilde. That was meant as a compliment by the way.
What Pisarra has done is nothing short of ingenious. And I say that with a straight face, and as a straight men, who found this compilation of brief love affairs and one-night stands (virtual, actual, and even, I dare say, maybe, imagined?) with his gay lovers. All arranged according to the periodic table of elements.
A lot has happened since I took chemistry in eleventh grade which I may never would have passed if it were not form my girlfriend who got the highest score in school history to date in the chemistry college board specialized test, But I digress. What I meant to say, is there appears to be some twenty or so new elements since I took that course in the sixties, making me feel as if what we studied then was more alchemy than actual chemistry. No matter, Pisarra knows them all, though I confess, I cannot see the connections to the actual elements and the people he ascribes them to but, I don’t think it spoils the fun and games. Some of these are somewhat graphic, but, hey, we’re all consenting adults here, right? And I learned a few intimate details about piercings and sex toys that fell into the category of, I didn’t really need to know that (ie. Prince Albert, Jacob’s Ladder) Pisarra has a gift for snarky concision, and rhyme, too I might add. These rhymed sequences won’t knock either Petrarch or Shakespeare out of the box or even latter-day practitioners of the form such as Marilyn Hacker but they are proficient. Did I say these were fun?
Well, mostly fun. One whole section, The Lanthanides” are dedicated to lovers (and near lovers) who have died. Some of these are full of grief, others feel spiteful and the poet makes the reader feel that the amenity was well earned. “The Actinides” were mostly virtual affairs by seethe with the kind of sexual heat that is present in the more intense physical contact poems. (pandemic concerns made most hookups virtual)
Subthemes involve drinking to access, lovers regret, blank spots with sex in them and implied recovery and more healthful, yet still randy, encounters. No matter how you read these, Pisarra has written a one-of a kind collection of gay “love poems” that even a straight person can love.
Jared Smith, A Sphere Encased in Fire and Life, NYQ Books, www.myq.org distributed by Small Press Distribution, 2023, 108 pages $18.95
Jared Smith’s latest is a valedictory voice crying in the wilderness, a wilderness in disarray, on fire and out of balance, as disharmonic as a world can be. Smith begins with an elegiac poem for the new lost generation of Americans in the era of unrest and uncertainty typified by the horrific shootings of student at Kent State. The 60’s, which did not end until well beyond the next decade, in bright disco lights and inane music and even worse clothes. The deep societal rot continued like a cancerous growth to infect the bones and the soul of the nation. A few poems into this prophetic collection, the reader realizes that the title, A Sphere Encased in Fire and Life, is the theme of the book.
Like Twain’s Man Sitting in Darkness, Smith sees the never-ending wars of terrorism as a perpetual sink hole of resources and planet destroying waste products, not mention the catastrophic loss of life. Particularly the unnecessary loss of life becomes an affliction, a haunting ghost in his memory and in our collective histories, as a world reaches stress points from which there may be no turning back. We are constantly being surveilled by satellites, surrounded by security cameras, our government agencies is reading our mail, our electronic mail, and hard copies. There is no privacy and we opted into it (or, at least, didn’t opt out when we should have). We are losing our individuality as we are being analyzed for buying trends and consumer preferences. We are silently, gradually losing our souls to the corporate interests that control our governments. No longer do we look into the sky to survey the stars and contemplate immortality as world’s beyond within the stars are now satellites. The once joking reference to our mass communication, everything is connected world, “Somewhere anywhere in the world, right now, someone is watching I Love Lucy,” is no longer as funny as it might once have been.
“It used to be a man would use his desk
to organize his thoughts. Now not,
now he sits there to be erased.”
(from ”The Launching of Satellite Cities”)
The first two sections continually describes the ongoing ruination of all that we knew, believed in or understood and revered. We no longer live in the world we grew up, in Smith observes. The only; thing that remains constant is the scotch. This thought is not so much profound as disheartening because it is true. It is enough to make a reformed drinker to take up savoring unblended scotch in a mountain retreat with only the last remnants of nature as his only companion.
Yet somehow, we go on.
The final, briefest section recalls the front cover of a man, the author, fishing in a pristine pond or lake on a clear afternoon. There is peace in the world, tranquility persevering despite the world’s, the earth’s irritation caused by man’s unrestrained follies. In the end, it is the celestial nature of thought, the miracle of existence that prevails.
Marc Frazier, If It Comes to That, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com, 2023, 114 pages, $23-
Early on in Frazier’s latest collection he quotes Robert Haas,
“-All the new thinking is about loss
In this it resembles all the old thinking…”
If It Comes to That is about becoming, discarding the old to create a new self. His creativity represents a growth process; seeing and knowing, of looking forward while knowing full well he is the sum of all parts, new and old. His excellent poem “Marked” delineates ways of being marked: Moses for greatness, Juden for being Jewish and marked for death. Later the gold star of Nazi Germany has a new connotation for gold star parents. There are marks like X for condemned trees to be cut down and are also used in many urban areas for condemned buildings to be refurbished or demolished. Marked houses once were used to denote plague houses to be avoided under pain of death and, while we may not have marked homes during the pandemic, we were all marked by the masks we wore (or did not wear. ) The richness of this brief poem is typical of the best work in Frazier’s collection.
Frazier has many muses, mostly of the marked by deep depressive tendencies, or worse, suicidal ones like Frida, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath among others. His “Anne Sexton; Family Tree” is an unforgettable journey through the tragic life stories of her siblings and forbearers many of whom were driven to suicide as she was.
A Donald Hall influenced poem “Pastures of Dead Horses” is a nightmare that has the freshness of a lived experience transformed into nightmare and is not easily forgotten. A later poem, “The Lover of Horses…” is a more restrained, almost idyllic take, on the same subject. In fact, this Janus headed collection seems to reflect on itself, with variations on themes looking forward and back equally, each iteration creating a fresh vision of the subject being written about.
Throughout this collection Frazier uses art as metaphor for life as he so effectively does in the Sheltering Sky poem. “3 Fridas” is tour de force as Frazier uses both cinema and painting as a visual enhancement to his poetry as he so effective did in his previous collection, Each Thing Touches. Everything still touches in the latest collection as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the truly inspired “P is for Picasso” a poetic tour de force of the highest order with a killer closure. Overall, it seems to me that Frazier uses writing as a medicine for melancholy, to evoke his, and our better nature, no matter how well hidden or how burdened our nature may be.
Paul Sohar translator, Before the Storm: Transylvanian-Hungarian Poetry Today selected by the league of Transylvanian-Hungarian Writers (EMIL) ,Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books) PO Box 252, Seaside Heights, NJ 08751 72 pages available on Amazon $10
Sohar’s work translating Before the Storm is a kind of miracle. It is difficult to imagine ten more diverse, unusual, contemporary poets writing in their respective cultural areas, than the poets represented here. There are nature poems, political poems, Dada Art poems, satirical, art, and historical ones. You name it and there is at least one poem in that genre here. Not only is there range but there is a profound depth to the work. I can’t say that I was equally moved or impressed by all the poems, but I was overawed by the density of the book as a whole. I read Before the Storm, straight through, almost without pausing for a breathe, to see what each new poet had to offer. I can honestly say, I can’t think of any translated work by any poet, with the possible exception of Transtromer, that I have read seventy pages of without a break. I can wholeheartedly, without reservation, recommend this collection to anyone, scholar, or general reader, with an interest in poetry in translation.
Benjamin Goluboff & Mark Luebbers, Citizens of Ordinary Times, Urban Farmhouse Press, www.urbanfarmhousepress.ca Crossroads Poetry Series, 2023, 134 pages $19.95
This is one of those particularly rich collections I have several pages of notes for. A diverse selection of historical figures (10 in all, though two are grouped together) appear who don’t seem to have any discernible connection. They range from the confederate general James Longstreet, to the messianic transcendentalist preacher and poet Jones Very, to jazz innovators Bill Evans and Mary Lou Williams. Several sections have as few as six poems (“Balloonist” Larry Walters and socialite Florie Stettheimer) to as many as to as many as 16 (Gerda Taro and Robert Capa and 12, Longstreet.) Of the briefer ones, in particular the always fascinating Iris Tree, and Bill Evans, I would have loved to see dozens more, maybe even a whole volume on these guys. But then there would be no room for Longstreet and the dynamic Taro/Capa duo. That said, we can only dream about what we do not have.
All of these intensely focused poems reveal a deep understanding of the characters and the not so ordinary times, they lived in. We see Tree, when young, living her life as a model who becomes a human art form. At the end, she is seen issuing instructions on how to pose so that you never see the same model twice. An invaluable and subtle art if there ever was one. I’d love to see more about the in between of this vibrant woman’s life, the in and around the turbulent times of WWI where she was known and seen by everyone and is still spoken of today.
Evan’s life was a pianist who played with everyone who mattered and was generally considered a genius as a pianist, arranger, and collaborator,
“Later Bill would write
about the Concept
to the lines of a Japanese
What he saw now
was a labyrinth of pathways
leading to freedom.”
(from “He Reads George Russell….”)
Though whatever freedom he found was undone by depression, drug addiction and arrests.
Robert Frank is duly celebrated now for his seminal life study on photography, The Americans. He was criticized at the time for showing the ugly, common side of life rather than the spontaneity, the honesty we appreciate in his work now. It seems so obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, the critics totally missed the point. As they so often do. History will prevail. And it did.
The section that most moved me was the Gerda Taro/ Robert Capa duo. They were partners in real life, before her untimely death, getting as close as one could to the action, during the Spanish Civil War until that closeness killed her. Capa, much later on, would, ironically, suffer a similar fate becoming the first photographer killed during the Indonesian Conflicts in Vietnam that would claim hundreds of more photographers lives later on. The richness of their work is duly celebrated in these poems.
Much to my surprise, I found myself engrossed in the life of Longstreet, whose career as a military officer was distinguished in most ways, if you don’t count Pickett’s charge and The Wilderness campaign, and concentrate on “the triumphs” in the Mexican American war. Regardless of how a reader feels about his affiliations with the rebel forces, he was one of the more successful generals on the Southern side and his long life was anything but ordinary in all respects.
The collection closes, fittingly, with the section on mary Lou Williams, a rare figure in the jazz age who composed, played, and performed jazz and Boogie Woogie. Williams worked with all the names of the era, for decades, beginning as child prodigy, worked successfully until her into her middle age. She, unexpectedly, abandons her career to convert to, and dedicate her life to, the catholic faith. The most amusing anecdotal moment in the collection, is found in “Age Ten, She Plays for Afternoon in Pittsburgh, 1920”
“and what to make of this little brown girl
in her Sunday white dress, white socks
and patent Mary Janes who,
though dwarfed by the massive Steinway
gleaming in the drawing room,
played as if it was her own and who smiled
a smile of fine bemusement
as if she was wondering:
would they stop talking
if she broke off the middle
of “Moonlight Sonata”
and went hard into
Ma Rainey’s “Crazy Blues?”
Tohm Bakelas, Cleaning the Gutters of Hell, introduction by James Norman, Zeitgeist Press, www.zeitgeist-press.com, 2023, 120 pages $13
Zeitgeist Press boldly asserts that they publish poetry that anyone could read, which is an admirable goal that more poetry publishers should aspire to. Bakelas is, in these poems, a kind of ordinary guy with an extraordinary job; he is a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. What that means in everyday life, I can only imagine, having spent a good deal of a couple of years spending weekends visiting a parent at one of those places. Luckily, Bakelas has the kind of insight, and clarity of purpose to make life there as vivid as it sounds. I only wish there more of the insightful, hair raising, pieces, rather than: what I do on my days off. Not that there isn’t much to appreciate outside the nuthouse walls; I expect you’d drink a lot, have bad relationships, get divorced a couple of times too, if you spent all of your working hours in places that have suicide rooms, lockdowns, and padded wall places. In fact, it is extraordinary that Bakelas is as prolific as he apparently is, given the collections he has published at a relatively young ( in his 30’s) age.
Bakelas quotes William Wantling, no stranger to madness and excessive behavior but a brilliant writer, in his epigraph,
“What I wonder is, why all the hassle?
Why all the bullshit?
I never wanted to be a poet anyway
I’d carry a lunchbox like everybody else
If only the muttering would stop.”
Section titles give you some idea of what we are dealing with here:
Part One: Smoking Near the Loading Docks of Heaven
Part Two: Hell, That Revolving Door with No Exit
Part Three: Purgatory Is a Parking Lot in New Jersey
That Bakelas managed to maintain, granted maintaining is on a razor thin edge of a blade of substance abuse, depression, madness… is kind of a miracle. He’s awfully young to feel so old. The poems speak for themselves. Writing is not the cure but the life blood.
Also new from Zeitgeist Press:
James Norman, A Monk with No Religion, Zeitgeist Press, www.zeitgeist-press.com, 2023, 140 pages $20
At one point in the Zeitgeist catalog which includes several books by Norman, a poet previously not one I was familiar with. He is described as the best poet you have never heard of. After reading A Monk with No Religion and a previous title, I am inclined to agree. He is a man of wide personal experience, who has been there, done that and had the relationships, experiences, wisdom, and talent to translate his peripatetic life into damn fine poetry.
I confess he had me from the beginning with a poem titles “Alien Nation” which is a title I used for a collection of four thematically related chapbooks that deal with the character, behavior and declining sense of morality and purpose that our country is embarked on. Nathan runs a parallel course as out formerly united states have become a nation of rootless, self-involved, angry people with no real sense of humanity, of common purpose but one of grievances. That is a nation of people who are alienated, no longer citizens so much as visitors from another state of mind,
“what our circumstances betray:
we are a fistful of traffic violations,
a night in jail, the pop-tab cold comfort
that doesn’t make a difference
once the heat comes down.
All it means to be an outlaw is
a lack of better opportunities.”
( from “Alien Nation”)
Norman concludes the poem suggesting we are all refugees making a home out of displacement, that it isn’t a tragedy of we don’t cry, and a kind of grace note, “even weeds can be beautiful/when they are/in bloom.”
I have pages of notes that follow Norman on his peregrinations with some of the best lines I’ve seen in a while : “I keep losing pieces of myself/in these rental agreements.,” “joy is a tiger,/lazing away in a tree/with no natural predators” and “I have a healthy suspicion for/anything that doesn’t fit in my toolbelt.” The clear winner for best title for a poem this year is “Jesus Would Go Fishing Just Like the Other Locals.” But what would he catch?
In the end, Norman suggests: “we are the ghost in the/ machine of mortality.” But in between the birth and this ghostly image is a lively, exciting collection of poetry anyone could read and everyone should.
E.D. Evans, Time for My Generation to Die, www.earthislandbooks.com 2023, 66 pages $16.95
I don’t know what I expected before I started reading Evans spoken-word-on-the-page, book
but it wasn’t this. The first section read to me like cowboy poetry. Which I guess it is, in a way. The author has forsaken the post-punk, oral traditions venues of NYC for Arizona and it shows. The publisher’s info sheet accompanying the book shows a woman dressed like a sprit refugee for the Day of the Dead but that’s not what I was seeing. At first. By the time I got to “miss america, 20 pages in, though I finally got into the spirit of her work.
“ I want to be an American tragedy-
Dye my hair Marilyn Monroe blonde,
first degree-burns searing through my scalp
while eating Hostess “American Dream” Twinkie.
(from Miss America)
Clearly there is a lot more going on that yippie aye yay,
“I want to hire a team of spelunkers
to explore my vaginal walls with flashlights,
searching for my G-spot like a lost Atlantis.”
(from Miss America)
This is a beauty pageant in the era of president pussy grabber and she goes straight to the dirty heart of it. Evans follows Miss America with Monster trucks that screams: read me out loud, please! The poem visually and orally brutalizes all the aspects of the monster truck fallacy, I mean fantasy. As the sequence continues, she shifts into a higher gear of sexy, provocative poems skewering the Monroe/Kennedy mythic sex liaisons, whiskey as the only true lover, pills as the sweet candy of love. A true dramatic reader could make an audience sweat with poems like these and I have to believe Evans is one of those. The final section are more bluesy and subdued but equally as effective as in in-your-face sexy ones. The only problem with terrific spoken word poems is that they are diminished on the page. The reader has to imagine how the reader would emphasize and slur and scream certain words for impact. Maybe someday a companion album of Evans reading her work?
Carrie Magness Radna, Shooting Myself in the Dark: poems and lyrics, Cajun Mutt Press, distributed through Amazon, 2022, 148 pages, $12.99
Shooting Myself in the Dark, begins with what is clearly a song lyric that begs to be performed. It has that hip hop feel you can easily imagine someone singing with a light percussive background. I expected more music but personal narratives are the main focus of her latest collections. And that is not a bad thing.
The curious choice of arranging the poems alphabetically by title prevents the reader from a sense of continuity that clearly could have been achieved by arranging poems thematically.
There are the always intense: “Women’s name sensual series ranging from Melissa to Zelda,” several particularly strong COVID lockdown/isolation poems, and, to my way of reading, the strongest group of all a series of Ghazals to colors. While there are only three of these (Black, Green, Yellow) all are spot on (this said by someone with a particular bias against program poems though good ghazal and a good pantoum are always of interest and Radna has both). There are less of the bad relationship, hook up poems, than her previous collection In the blue hour. Perhaps being in a strong, loving relationship with a husband has a lot to do with a shifting of focus. Yet there is still the brilliantly focused “Honey (I don’t want this)” which moves from graphic physical imagery of what she doesn’t want to a more general,
“I don’t want to live a 1950’s existence, where the men
make all the big decisions-
Please let the women have political powers & those women
who want to be mothers,
please let them be mothers, but please let the rest of the
Her “A Lucy Curse” is a real hoot recalling when she was ten and sounded just like Lucy Van Pelt, the “original bitch.” She claims to be haunted by that image but, all in all, it could be worse. She could have sounded like Sally.
Scott Ferry, each imaginary arrow, Impspired, email@example.com available on Amazon, 2023, 74 pages $9.99
Scott Ferry is on a roll with several books being released in the last couple of years. What makes this particular hot streak so impressive is the versatility and scope of the new books; no two are stylistically alike. Each imaginary arrow is a wild blending of surrealism and metaphorical imagist musings that explores the deep dreaming world of Jungian archetype. At one point he asks, ,”I want a set of instructions” for this alien world we live in then baldly states, “…from god but none of what is written lasts/I find some answers as crying turns to laughter and back” . At times the imagery is so out there in the nether reaches of the imagination we feel as if we are riding in Dali’s underwater taxi to a destination not indicated on any map. One wonders, idly , how much the fare will be and if we can afford to pay the price. His “self-portraits” remind me of Leonora Carrington with Max Ernst in Arctic wastes, part human/ part avian creatures becoming one or the other but never completely on thing. Ferry’s alien creatures morph into a kind of Day Book of dreamers awake exploring the magic of creation. It is a magical journey, finding a place in small g, god’s creation with personal reflections of how we might fit into the plan amid this strange but always wondrous world.
Charles Rammelkamp, See What I Mean? Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com 2023, 140 pages $23
See What I Mean? is a poetry miscellany that takes readers of affairs both current and historic.
We partake in a Houdini Séance, travel with Scott on his ill-fated Antarctica adventure, escape from Treblinka, view aspects of Beethoven’s beloved nephew who clearly disrespected his famous uncle but named his son Ludwig, enjoy a long sequence on Pierre Roget with some unexpected forays into an eventful life and go back stage with a stripper or two. If there are rewards for best poem title, “ Like Romeo and Juliet, Only Tragic” has to a serious contender. There are personal, or are they persona poems, with Rammelkamp you can never be too sure. Expect much of Rammelkamp’s trademark sense of humor though expect deeply serious moments as the holocaust and other, of more recent vintage current event poems, show.
Jack Henry, Los Angeles, Gutter Snob Reviews, available from www.magicjeepbooks.com2023 40 pages $15
Henry has seen it all on the mean streets of LA. He’s been down and out, in and around, drugged out, stoned, drunk and a one-night stand man in dark places with shady men. Through it all LA is the place he lives and loves, a living presence he inhabits as it inhabits him, and one guesses, no doubt, will never leave.
Susan Vespoli, Blame It on the Serpent, Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com, 2023, 53 pages, $19.99
How is a mother’s love beyond the breaking point? You have children who become drug addicts. Susan’s impassioned words are a howl in the night as she tries to cope, care for, nurture her daughter back from the depths of drug addiction to something like a normal life. A son is afflicted as well and is later killed by the police. How do you respond to That phone call in the night? Susan Vespoli answers that question and more. On this vital collection that should be read by anyone who has ever loved a child that has come apart at the seams.
Michael Czarnecki, Becoming Who I Needed to be: a poetic memoir, Foothills Publications, www.foothillspublishing.com 2023, 105 pages
Michael’s plain-spoken odyssey from callow, naïve youth, scion of a Buffalo working family to itinerant poet following a call to see the USA from one coast to the other and back finally settling in rural Warren Count, N.Y., is an engaging one. A blank verse narrative voice tells a tale of wanderlust, bad relationships, a failed marriage. His is a quest to find meaning and he offers us narrative examples of early writing, seeking not only as voice, but a home. For a while Acadia national park in ME fulfills that need but this too proves unsatisfactory until he lands in nowhere N.Y., working odd jobs and finally finding peace, happiness, and a vocation as a poet/publisher. Easily read in one enjoyable sitting, Czarnecki is the kind of person you want to tag along with on a memorable life journey. Each Foothills book has sewn signatures and is a work of art in and of itself.
Hayley Mitchell Haugen, The Blue Wife, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com, 2023, 48 pages, $17.00
The Blue Wife is afflicted by the Black Dog of depression among other ailments that render her virtually paralyzed. Home life is a chore, writing, working anything that requires effort seems like a hill too high to climb, maybe a hill to die on. Memories of childhood sexual abuse feeds her depression, drugs are numbing but not especially helpful, guilt of having abandoned the family she loves exacerbates her moods. Brief intervals of relative normalcy between a deep roster of physical woes are debilitating and the cycle repeats itself and deepens her affliction. With help she manages to achieve a state of equilibrium, no doubt, aided by the composition of this affecting book. Naming the beast helps to localize and depersonalize it. May Hayley’s wellness be a permanent one and this book a guidepost, an inspiration for those similarly afflicted, who will know that you are not alone.
William Taylor, A Room Above a Convenience Store, Roadside Press, available from www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 88 pages, $15
Taylor’s latest collection spans the pandemic years and a time of personal health crisis involving serious heart surgery. Perhaps, the most effective ones involve people he meets during his recovery after the surgery. These pieces are both surreal, oddly funny, and totally believable. Taylor sees a young woman, a pretty girl as he says, reading a big volume of poems on the train he is commuting to work on. He wistfully thinks of how alive the poets words are even now and that maybe someday he might be worthy of that kind of audience. Mostly what Taylor is, is a keen observer of modern life. San Francisco is microcosm of the country filled with tourists who look at stuff but don’t see anything, who don’t understand are the barbarians at the gate ordering complicated drinks at the bar they don’t give tips for after they get them. His wandering through the Tenderloin at 3AM yields an evocative picture of how even the lives of low lives, miscreants, petty thieves and the homeless have changed over the years. A man is riffling a parking meter that only takes credit cards, for coins, says it all.
Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Kiss the Heathens, Roadside Press, available from www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 230 pages $20
Make no mistake about it, Kiss the Heathens, is a big ass book and true to its size and nature, it delivers the goods by taking names and seriously kicking ass. These are generally tight, clear- eyed narrative slices of life, as the poet sees it without extreme attitudes of drink, drugs, and general lack of focus. Yeah, there is a little of all that going on and some sleazy squeezing of tramp stamped women on the make, but there is nothing malicious or nasty about any of the carrying on. Who doesn’t, didn’t, want to get laid and have a good time when young? As the poems are not chronological, we share moments of Flanagan with his wife that show an intimacy based on a long term, positive, loving relationship. I might quibble that some of the later poems feel somewhat like padding on might have been best left out, but the final poem, “Arcade” dispels the less than wonderful moments with a strong closing picture of a group of heading nowhere video game addicts at play.
Rob Plath, Batter the Keyboard Like a Raptor Is Behind Your Back, Laughing Ronin Press, firstname.lastname@example.org Available from their website, 2022, 63 pages, $8.99
Plath’s title clearly channels Bukowski, who remains the primary catalyst for his work. I won’t say that Plath has mellowed, because the themes remain the same: we live in a hellish world filled with evil, demons and hostile forces that threaten are well-being and our sanity. Other poets besides Bukowski especially Todd Moore seem to be a major influence. One suspects Steve Richmond also, who specialized in demons, in a different tangible form than the master of grunge and dissipation. Richmond, along with Moore, was more restrained than Bukowski and now Rob Plath . Rob seems to have refined, honed his poems to a more manageable, leaner, better focused poetry here than previously in this is largely successful book. “More Than Chips of Death” is my favorite in this crisp, hard hitting, new collection.,
In recent years we have seen novels by the likes of Colson Whitehead, full length poetry books like Michael Basinski’s Blob, celebrating the genre of incredible science fiction movies (Attack of the Giant whatever’s, you fill in the title) so bad they are good sci fi horror flicks from 50’s and the 60’s and now we have Finke’s Them! Many of these are of the tongue in cheek humorous kind though a few rise to the level of the warning issued by Kevin McCarthy at the end of original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Beware “They are already here.”
Jennifer Lagier, Moonstruck, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.com, 2023 32 pages $15
Lagier’s Moonstruck follows in the footsteps of a time-honored tradition of celebrating the phases of the moon in word. Her contemplative, precises, haiku like brief poems read like a Zen meditation; mysteries are rendered in words but the deepest mysteries of all are left for the mind to unravel. In the end there are no answers but there are lasting images, a fleeting glimpse at nothingness; a moving shadow within.
Alan Britt, The Tavern of Lost Souls, Cervena Barva Press, available through www.thelostbookshelf.com, 2023, 86 pages $18.95
The cover scene is Van Gogh’s, “The Night Café,” a place of infinite regression where the denizens are slumped over their drinks, the lighting is dim, the atmosphere oppressive as the clock crawls toward the early morning hours. The reader suspects it is always this way, where the lost souls gather and Britt obviously knows the feeling, the people who more or less, exist there. He does claim there is still time to listen to our poets but he knows, as I do, one who knows the environment of the café well, and who writes poetry, that no one ever will.
Joe Roarty, showtunes, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 252, Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2023, 82 pages $10-
These high energy, street smart, linguistically challenging, phonetically precise oral tradition driven poems, are a chore to read at first. The spelling of common words are often shortened, abbreviated or sounded out as if spoken on the page, but once the jazzy rhythms kick in, you’re in for a bumpy ride. The bumps include broken relationships, bad choices, some fatal but overall, the feeling is one of celebration of life lived in the moment. These are moments that are often filled with absurd juxtaposing and crazy people but, hey that’s the way it is in the world he inhabits and write engagingly well about.
Also from Iniquity Press:
Anthony George , finding my mind, intro by Carl Kaucher, Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, PO Box 252, Seaside Heights, NJ 08751, 2023, 80 pages $10
The title is an apt for a collection that is one deeply concerned with the process of searching, finding one’s way in a hostile world, and making sense of it all. George is passionate about social justice, pacifism, and inequality. His poems are mundane in the best way, that is focused on the everyday, the familiar, the world as it is outside of where we are and must be lived in. Throughout the book, George inserts black and white photos of places we would pass every day and not think that much about: three deck chairs framed against a building wall, graffiti speckled alleyways, downtime pool hall tables, an empty urban bicycle lane at night, am empty beach in late afternoon after all the swimmers had gone home. These are still lives of daily existence, these are poems by an author trying to make the most of what we have.
Juliet Cook, Contorted Doom Conveyor, Gutter Snob Books, available from www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 42 pages, $13
Juliet’s book is the last of the Gutter Snob series of mostly chapbook sized book as editor McDannold concentrates on full length collection under her Roadside Imprint. So how do you know you are in the crazy world of Juliet Cook? Just step onto the doom conveyor belt and you enter a world of dolls, pieces of them, whole ones, effigies, doll graveyards, of a sort, and well just about anything you can think of short of Anne’s porcelain doll collection (Anne as in Anne Rice who famously collected some pretty scary ones). Basically, Juliet’s world is one of hallucinatory conjunctions, Bob Dylan surreality from his early Rimbaud infused years, sick bags, like Nick Cave, free floating dread like being in a David Cronenberg movie, watching a “Naked Lunch” while lying on Freud’s couch ( Sigmund or Lucien’s, take your pick), under the influence of a peyote dream, high flying whiles suffering new pill side effects. Juliet’s voice is decidedly and uniquely her own. I love it.
Mike James, Back Alley Saints at the Tiki Bar, Red Hawk Publications, www.redhawkpublications.com 2023, 96 pages, $15-
If you were expected wild times, night out at the bars, you won’t find that in Mike James’s latest which is more of a night at Hotel Lautremont than a tropical resort beach bar. You don’t need to take a tennis court oath to drink there or wear a loud Hawaiian shirt either. Be prepared, though, for some absurd confrontations with language, absurdist humor with an edge, and everyday occurrences transformed in magical ways where mowing your lawn can turn into a Dadaist adventure. I can pretty much guarantee you will never see Snow White in quite the same way ever again after reading “Tiki Bar” and learn lessons only Rocky Balboa can teach you. Go for it. As in buy this book.
Arthur Kayzakian, the book of redacted paintings, Black Lawrence Press, www.blacklawrencepress.com 2023, 90 pages $16.95
the book of redacted paintings, is the inaugural title of a new series of Immigrant Writing. The story of an immigrant’s family, particularly the author’s father, is a narrative in collage with pieces missing that will never be found. A central metaphor is a commissioned painting of the father that is purportedly stolen and attempts to recover it proves futile. Gradually, we understand, there is no, nor ever was, such a painting and like much of the history of the family, the father is lost. Other family objects are stolen by marauders, police, genocidal soldiers, of a kind, thieves. History is unkind to the oppressed and Kayzakian’s people were oppressed more than most. While this is an intensely personal, poignant story of family in flight, his is also the story of displaced people everywhere and as such, should be readily identifiable to anyone whose family has immigrant roots. Which, like it or not, is just about all of us. If there is such a thing as “an important book of poetry” these days, the book of redacted paintings ranks high as one of those.
Nancy Patrice Davenport, Nothing and Too Much to Talk About, Roadside Press, available through www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 86 pages, $15-
There is a lot of smoking , all sorts of substances, chilling and communing with cats in Nancy Patrice Davenport’s latest book. I guess it should be expected from a poet whose previous work including a book called, Smoking in Mom’s Garage. All of which is cool. Davenport describes herself as, presumably echoing a child’s observation, “a cool mom.” And she is. Her poems are easily relatable, unique in that they have zero punctuation, yet she manages to make that so organic to her style, you don’t notice until well into the book. And you never miss it, because the lines fit together perfectly. As she says of her work,
“I break open
push into revealing new selves
to the bones
consider the power
of a self that’s been
(from “Monday Morning Maris in Capricorn”)
And it works.
As Davenport observes, “life is a soap opera/not a sit com”
George Wallace. Resurrection Song, Roadside Press, available through www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 250 pages, $20-
Make no mistake about it, this is a massive tome that feels like a compilation of a life’s hard work, living, traveling, reading, and contemplating life and literature. The collection is not only large in size, but it is impressive in its scope, and stylistic variations. There are brief pieces, long sprawling ones, short lines, long lines, a little bit of everything. My personal favorite is “Mayakovsky in New York’ (not be confused with the equally as impressive “Lorca Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”) where the author enters the mind of that wildman poet and makes us feel what he feels in a totally alien civilization,
wanted to mount
new york city like a
French whore—legs astride
the Woolworth building…
If there is a subject to be written about or a place to go, odds are Wallace has read about it, written a poem there and/or traveled through it.
Stephen Bett, Briek Glosa: an alphabet book of post-avant glosa, Chax Press,
email@example.com, 2023, 164 pages $21
Bett’s latest compendium of wild things is a poetic school for scandal. If it were a humor magazine it would be The International Lampoon as he skewers every and all postmodern avant garde approach to writing from the Black Mountain Guys, to Language stuff, to the Beats, Neo beats, Objectivist and so on and so forth. Oulipian in style, and omnivorous in scope, these often hilarious (the ones I can understand) parodies featuring bad puns, name dropping lyrics that all add up to satiric nonsense of a high order (himself included apparently, he know or knew many of the poets often obscure, to me, and well outside my field of study). With Nabokovian footnotes.
Arthur Russell, At the Car Wash, Rattle Press, www.rattle.com 2023, 48 pages $6-
Randall’s dad owned an independent car wash in Coney Isalnd section of Brooklyn for 40 years. Dad was strange, domineering character who, not believing in banks, hid money all over the house including in a car that was stolen, trashed, and ended up in a junkyard. One poem recalls how his father and uncle retrieved the money, but said the hell with the car, is one of the more entertaining of these down to earth, often humorous slice of life narrative poems. Randall worked from the bottom up in the business, taking time off for college to help out. In a final act of letting go he marries, moving on from the family business that was no longer viable as it had been in his early years.
His work experience with otherwise unemployable men, mostly back guys, was far better than with his dad who saw them as interchangeable pawns that were easily replaced. Randall saw them as human beings, who despite their many faults, deserved better treatment than what they received from his father. His insight and empathy for these lives gives depth to what could have been fairly routine saga. All in all, a good, one sitting read.
Karl Koweski, Under Normal Conditions, Roadside Press, available through www.magicjeepbooks.com 2023, 132 pages $15-
Reading Koweski’s latest collection is like a heavy weight fight with life, language, and poetry. In fact, one of my favorite poems in the collections evokes the image of “the lifeless eyes of sonny liston.” The former champion who lost his crown to then Cassius Clay, soon to be Mohammed Ali, after a phantom knockout punch. Many in the sports world thought Sonny took a dive, which stands to reason given his associates and tragic end to drug abuse. Koweski doesn’t pull any punches or take a fall. Watching his four-year-old play Grand Theft Auto is one of the most chilling poems I have read in quite some time. The boy relishes death and destruction and Koweski concludes, “my little psychopath.”
His “High life of the low life” is a hoot featuring a guy who claims he can recognize a porn actress by her coos and gasps.( which is totally absurd as those are often dubbed in by an off- camera voice ) He cites Nina Hartley as a blonde who I always thought had dark hair but you don’t watch those movies wondering about whether the star’s hairs is bottle blonde or not. The low life would snort at the idea of even noticing the actresses hair, no doubt. Koweski’s contention that poetry reading are a kind of spoken word masochism s inspired but it is “We are fools here” that sums up the small press poet’s life as a writer,
“the poet can retire
a small press mainstay,
an underground hero.
never really dying
into greater obscurity.”
Welcome to the club fellow poets.
Edwin Romond, Man at the Railing, NYQ Books, www.nyq.org distributed by SPD Books, 2023, 94 pages $18.95
Man at the Railing, won the 2022 Laura Boss Narrative Poetry Award and, as advertised, is a collection of mostly impersonal, “story poems that cover a full range of human emotions.” Ones that stood out for me often were about baseball: were the dignity of man who succeeded despite overt discrimination, “Breaking,” a tribute to Hank Aaron, “That Night on the Bridge” pre-hall of fame tribute to Gil Hodges and, “Lou Gehrig Day.” If baseball isn’t life, what is? The highly emotional examples show exactly what life outside the game can be: “School Lockdown, Classroom Search in My 28the year of Teaching” (pre-Columbine), “In Pennsylvania Graveyard” and the absolutely heartbreaking, “Amish Elementary School Massacre.”
J.R. Thelin, The Last Few Moments of Light, Slipstream, www.slipstreampress.org, 2023, 40 pages $10-
Thelin’s book is the latest winner of the annual Slipstream Chapbook Contest. These narratives are all told from the point of view of a young boy in grade school, the dead boy, who seems more dead in the sense of having once existed, now a memory and who has morphed into soemthing completely different. No one can escape the past, Thelin least of all. All told with verve and wit with a sharp edge to them.
Read, Not Reviewed, Recommended:
Howie Good, Heart-Shaped Hole, Laughing Ronin Press, www.laughingroninpress.com
2023, 40 pages, $8.99 Usual high quality offbeat prose poems with a punch and some cool original art.
Ellen White Rook, Suspended, Cathexis Northwest Press, www.cathexisnorthwestpress.com,
2023, 40 pages $15, Strong questioning of the ineffable with personal insights.
Tamara Madison, Along the Fault Line, Picture Show Press, firstname.lastname@example.org Titles available on Amazon, 2022, 45 pages $7.99 Deep in the desert, growing up, living, loving, and writing. Evocative writing of a personal nature.
Eileen Myles, a “working life,” Grove Press, www.groveatlantic, 2023, 268 pages $26
Writing, working, living all pretty much the same dynamic.
Geoffrey O’Brien, Went Like it Came, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2023, 64 pages, $20
Erudite, witty, proficient.
Brian Turner, The Goodbye World Poem, Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org,
2023, 74 pages $17.95 “dying is personal” Elegies for loved ones lost and other excellent poems.
Sam Sax, Pig, Scribner Poetry, www.simonandschuster.com 2023, 107 pages, $17
The essence of pig in all its manifestations, in a multitude of forms; a tour de force.
Late Arrivals Briefly Noted:
Bruce Isaacson, Anthems of the Doomed: Poems 2018-2023, Zeitgeist Press, www.zeitgeist-press.com 2023, 104 pages $20
Living in the USA. The world is upside down and spinning out of control and our lives with it but we go on, we go on. Narratives from the edge of the abyss well told.
Alan Britt, Guilty Pleasures, Access Road Studios, available from www.magicaljeep.com/shop/britt/10 2022 110 pages #16
Britt’s book is covered by a fine OP Art cover a kind of bat girl/dominatrix with a whip, Britt’s lively collection ranges far and wide as his work always does closing with a long poem in sections called “Ode to Nothing” which , of course, is a misnomer. It’s about just about everything.
2 From Dos Madres:
Katie Lehman, Emily Dickinson’s Lexicon, Dos Madres, www.dosmadres.com, 2023, 104 pages, $21-
Richard Hague, Continued Cases, 2023, 152 pages, $22-
All Dos Madres titles are available from SPD also.
Lehman’s engrossing new book collection interweaves Dickinson inflicted poems based on her life and work with personal reflections often based in Ireland where she clearly has strong familial associations. The striking cover of Emily with birds and flowers is recreated from fragments of wallpaper found in her bedroom sets the tone for intimate moments in the author’s and ED’s life.
Hague’s poems confront the serious political and cultural issues of our fraught times. Many are in-your-face near rants against the person and policy makers who were the enabler’s of 45’s descent into maelstrom that continue to this day and will do, well past our time here. Two poems in particular raised the hair on the back of my neck: “Resistance, Or, Our Most Worthy Habits” and “Beautiful.” Hague is a clear-eyed, if dyspeptic ( and what clear-eyed person, isn’t these days?) observer of our chaotic times.
Selima Hill, My Mother with a Beetle in her Hair, Shoestring Press, www.shoestringpress.co.uk 2020 30 pages $13.11 on Amazon.
If you haven’t read a book by Selima Hill previously, this is a good place to start. Most of her poems are short, as in eight lines or less, quite often less, on a theme which is loosely examined to great effect. Her poems may seem disingenuous but they are razor sharp, often hilarious and to the point, whatever that happens to be. How could you hate a poet whose recent full-length collection was I’m Stupid, But Not That Stupid? Believe me, she is anything but stupid. And one of a kind. If Stevie Smith didn’t write rhymed verse, she might be Selima Hill.
Emily Stoddard, Divination with Human heart Strings Attached, Game Over Books, www.gameoverbooks.com 2023, 72 pages $18-
Who knows what the magpie knows? Apparently, Emily Stoddard does in this dense, intellectually challenging, humoresque. There are biblical refences galore, divinations both sacred and profane and all kinds of wild stuff I clearly do not fully understand. What I do know is Emily Stoddard is a formidable poet, whose debut collection is as accomplished as it is dense with allusions and a strange kind of humor I may begin to more fully understand once I’ve read this collection again. And again, after that.
Just in and duly noted:
Gloria Mindock, Grief Touched the Sky at Night, Glass Lyre Press, www.glasslyrepress.com, 2023, 88 pages $16
Gloria’s impassioned poems explore the ongoing misery of war-torn Ukraine from a ground level perspective. There are no winners in any war and Gloria shows us just how devastating the losses are. While her excellent, never preachy, always touching poems are focused on Ukraine they could be war anywhere: Israel, Gaza, and the next war here, there, or anywhere.
Even if you hate war writing, you can love this book for its compassion, its empathy, and for the spirit that binds us all together as one in the universal struggle against inhumanity to our fellow man.
As a rule, as in I have never gotten a photography book in over ten years of Misfit, I don’t review photography. Or non0fiction or fiction. But there are always exceptions if the timing and the book is right. I should mention I love photography collections especially, ones that feel as if the viewer is engaged with the work as in Real Life lived by the subjects and the photographer.
My Punk Rock Life-The Photography of Marla Watson by Marle Watson, Eart Island Books, www.earthislandbooks.com, 2023, 254 pages available as a paperback (oversized) $40, as an e-book $16.00 or as a hardcover $50 #mypunklife further information email@example.com
I missed the 80’s. The counter culture that is. I was around and floundering, first stuck working in a succession of nightclubs and lounges that morphed from pop entertainers (bad Tom Jones/Engelbert Humperdinck or Barbra Streisand, imitators) into faux disco. Later I was just floundering but that is another story . I should note that I hated disco so the whole period was a nightmare musically coming from an underground, 60’s counter culture with a rock and roll equally mixed with folkies and acid rock. The closest I came to an actual punk experience was a Jim Carroll gig back in his Catholic Boy album days. “People Who Died” resonated with the crowd and it felt kind of edgy even if ( or maybe precisely because)Carroll looked like some kind of wan fallen angel, half-dead pale (revenant?,) with a white silk scarf and a heavy Rimbaud from The City vibe. Looking through the collection of photos and the intense anti-everything image projected by the punks, I could see how far away from the punk scene Carroll was even of he sounded like a guy doing one thing and the band was doing their own thing, and never the two shall meet. (I just checked my vinyl copy of the album and Carroll took credit for writing “People Who Died” though his friend Ted Berrigan actually wrote the poem although the song almost exactly duplicates it. So I guess that makes Carroll truly punk.)
Oh, yeah, I knew who Patti Smith was.
And more vaguely, Iggy Pop.
Other than that, I was trying to escape a disco inferno and move onto my own poetry gig that was mostly finding an audience in a very vibrant small press scene. And the zines. As Marla comes from a zine background; she and a friend founded a short run zine devoted to punk called Skank, the kind of name and vibe I could instantly connect with. Thus encouraged, I immersed myself in this collection.
Marla was quite young, an amateur, when she took all these back and white pictures, so they aren’t as sophisticated and as carefully edited and cropped and so forth as a professional photographer might. And that is a good thing because pro photos would be so not punk. And Marla’s work is the essence of punk. She captures the groups, the clubs , roller rinks, basement venues, with all the claustrophobic exactness of a denizen of the scene; there is a freeze frame intensity so real you can feel the energy, smell the sweat, and feel your eardrums bleed.
Among those Marla photographed are well know : The Misfits, Clash, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Goo Goo Dolls and Billy Idol, other groups with great names are less well known (to me anyway): Jodie Foster’s Army, Seven Seconds, Lewd, Subhumans, Urban Guerillas: Rat People. The Angry Samoans, Angelic Upstarts, Suicidal Tendencies, L.A.’s Wasted Youth and so on. Others are mostly completely unknown.
The scene seems largely populated by young males exercising their right to be horny, frisky and bad as all but a select few of the groups in the collection feature males only. Consequently, there is a kind of post adolescent testosterone surplus. Jello Biafra, in a Skank interview, has the closest thing to a coherent, intelligent world view that transcends the Attitude,
“Sometimes we have trouble trying to get
across to some people because in order to
understand what we’re trying to say you
have to know how to read. And again getting
back to school thing is Johnny can’t read
because his teachers don’t want him to.
So you have these people who are plopped
in front of televisions from day one, who I do
know people like that, who are only 18 or 19
years old and they can not read a damn thing.
And they went to middle class white suburban
In general, her survey covers a few years in the early 80’s, is mostly centered on L.A., with some Brit groups sporting impressive Mohawks, with commentary by Marie and a selected few aficionados of the scene. Some of those were almost impossible for an old guy to read given the white lettering on a gray background. Marla’s work is a kind of historical document and is valuable for that alone regardless of whether you were into punk or not.
Punk came roaring in late 70’s early 80’s , anti-everything and ended miserably, with cops busting heads and anyone even vaguely punk looking getting rousted, frisked, and jabbed as Marla was several times a night in the late days. But the attitude outlived the scene. How do you know something like punk is really dead? Billy Idol doing a commercial during the Super Bowl.
Anthologies et al:
Benjamin Rosenblum, The Cherry Flames, Chiron Review issue 130 Summer 2023, www.chironreview.com $49 a year (four issues) 90 pages
I debated whether this qualified as a standalone book, which it, but as it is billed as Issue #130 of long-time print journal the Chiron Review, I decided to place it here. Rosenblum’s book is the first such collection issued in lieu of the usual mix of poetry, reviews, short fiction, and essays. Rosenblum is a musician and song writer by trade and this first effort in poetry shows that influence. Most of these are narratives, slices of life that are readily identifiable to a reader and listener to balladeers, though they do not have a sing song quality. These are accomplished works of a poet finding his voice and doing it well. A couple of these blew my socks off, “Tiny World” and ”True Story” which summed up the crazy violent world we live in featuring a fully vested, camp wearing dude sitting front row at a Sunday Service armed with a water gun.
The Country Fried Panda Fest Poetry Anthology from Panda Press 2982 Waddy Rd #2, Waddy, KY 40076 firstname.lastname@example.org no price, no pagination maybe 75, 2023 edited by Bree
Country Freid is billed as prehumous, as opposed to posthumous, I guess, tribute to Charles Potts among other gone and still kicking outlaw poets. Intermixed with the poetry sections of some 50 contemporary, and some sympathetic minded past poets and artists like Patchen, Bukowski, High Fox, Diane DiPrima et all, are illustrations by Chad Horn, Steven Smith, d.a.levy, the editor Bree and other photographers and artists in a decidedly avant garde/Beat mode. Two poems in this motley, largely highly readable collection particularly stood out :“Fidel Castro in Birdland” by Michael Salinger and “Shades of Blue” by Bob Phillips.
David Chorlton, Life Goes On, Kelsay Books, www.kelsaybooks.com, 2023, 55pages$20
With a painter’s eye and a poetic sensibility, David Chorlton
has created a veritable living landscape in words. His natural
world is never static, always alive with avian activity, wild life
and human interventions. Places, objects, and natural occurrences
become a metaphor for the human condition; mankind’s vagaries
and political interactions. In the end, we are the transients briefly
inhabiting the natural world that goes on with and without us.
Jennifer Lagier, Weeping in the Promised Land, www.kelsaybooks.com
2023 70 pages $20
Weeping in the Promised Land is, on one hand,
a meditation on our troubled, fractured nation
at this deeply contentious, historic inflection
point, and, on the other, a deeply personal evocation
of her troubled personal relationships. This wide
ranging collection progresses beyond politics and
a seemingly perpetual chaos, to a more settled,
satisfying existence. Ekphrastic poems celebrate
nature, laying the groundwork for a place of
contentment: gardening, daily scenic walks and,
ultimately, the reflective work of writing.
Jennifer Lagier, Postcards from Paradise, Blue Light Press, all titles available on Amazon, 80 pages $20, 2023
Jennifer Lagier’s Postcards from Paradise is a poet’s
travelogue that is deeply engaged with the places she is visiting.
A Rhine River cruise yields poems of Amsterdam, Vienna and
Paris among other highlights. A longer, extended sequence reveals
deeper connection with Spain that expresses both the beauty and
harsher realities of life there. However, it is time spent in Hawaii,
a place she knows and loves, that reveals her gift for describing
the natural world. Here, in an earthly paradise, she celebrates
her wedding anniversary on the Day of the Dead. What could be
more romantic than that?
Tim Hunt, Counting the Cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, forthcoming
Reading the stark, moody poems of Tim Hunt’s latest collection put me in mind of a Paul Simon, “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/ They’ve all come to look for America.” Though in Hunt’s version it was the highways are out west; the mood prevails, only the scenery changes. By the time we get to the exquisite third section, after a brief detour into Bluegrass land, I felt as if I was in a Cormac McCarthy novel: vast wide-open, sun-bleached plains, arid deserts, desolate, and unforgiving. Beneath every ghost haunted surface lies a threat of violence. The journey is all about searching for what we have already found within ourselves. Choose your own highway and travel if you dare.
Last but Not Least: The Biannual T.K. Splake Compendium
Robert M. Zoschke, The Splake Path, Stret Corner Press, 10781 Birchwood Drive, Sister Bay, WI, 54234 115 pages $14
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Rob is the cliff dancers , Splake’s name for himself, biggest fan. The Splake Path, is the third reflection on the life and times of the Upper Peninsula’s grand old man of all things bardic. The cover features Splake shoveling that latest addition of the long white, as he refers to the none months of winter/snow that is Michigan in winter. Rob lives around the corner in Wisconsin, (why that part of Michigan is not part of Wisconsin is the subject for books), so it is doable day trip for a weekend visiting with Splake.
The collection complete with a compilation of Splake photos and new ones by the author, is a travel journal. It’s late April and there is snow on the ground and more on the way, so what else is new ? Splake shows Rob around the very crowded with books, manuscripts, photos, and other significant totems that are part of the amazing world of Tom Smith octogenarian poet. The biggest revelation for me was the Splake diet seems to be primarily, if not exclusively, Spam and yogurt with the super strength coffee he begins every day with at the local café. Anyone who is interested in how an old poet maintains a life as beatnik artist, thriving and creating well part the time most of us are long gone or confined to a chair with a tv remote in our hands. All hail, the poet! And yes, Virigina, you too can thrive on spam.
T.K. Splake, surrealistic shadows, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.net, 2023, 40 pages $15
, poems for richard, Transcendent Zero, 2023 unpaged roughly 24 pages $10
, poet’s fool’s journey, Transcendent Zero, 2023 unpaged roughly 24 pages $10
, late midnight riffs, Cyberwit, www.cyberwit.net, 2023 28 pages, $15-
surrealistic shadows features some of the best of Splake’s color interior photos of derelict factories. There are many keeps in this collection of mostly, three-line haiku’s including two of my favorites of the recent Splake,
poet on the way home
leaving hell for god’s country
headed true north
funeral and baptism
professor died around campfire
poet born over morning coffee
poems for richard are dedicated to the life an spirit of one of Splake’s seminal writerly muses, Richard Brautigan,
sitting alone in darkness
late nights early mornings
lost in life’s memories
remembering the past
things you have done
thinking about future
what is coming next
before first dawn
asking serious question
reason for your life
turned out like this
why you survived
poet’s fool’s journey is the writing life with imagery and influences of the fool card from the tarot. The fool is a risk taker not afraid to make mistakes and be honest enough to know it and admit it, learning from the errors to create anew as he goes. A credo for an artist/poet to live by fits Splake as well as any.
late midnight riffs provides some telling examples of the credo of fool’s journey, where the artist is now,
small forest shadow
alone in the wilderness
happy in the middle of nowhere
god’s gift to poet
providing earth sand sky
morning light for writing
poet not knowing where he belongs
three rivers battle creek Munising calumet
finally discovering home in himself