Books Received

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Jennifer Lagier, Hookup with Chinaski, Paisano Press. Kickass poems riffing on lines from Bukowski.  No punches pulled, no hands left unplayed, read at your own risk and enjoy.

Robert Head, Fragment Euripidea.

W.D. Ehrhart, From the Book of Daphne Tree, Adastra Press.

T. Kilgore Splake, grand marias  chapbook with CD.

                            , beyond the ghosts, Presa Press.

grand marias reflects poet/photographer Splake’s continuing interest in the local history and the  scenery of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Photographs accompanying the brief poems provide a particularly vivid accompaniment to the places and the people he writes about who live or, have lived, in the area. The UP is a unique place known for its wicked bad winter weather, is a left- behind by the death of American industries and mines place, intermixed with stunning natural landscapes.  Splake is up to the challenge of representing all these aspects of life in the UP. 

The accompanying CD to grand marias should be of particular interest to oral historians. Splake conducts a long revealing interview with a lifelong, still sharp and observant resident of grand marias, along with readings of a selection of poems from the chapbook in representative scenic locales.

If you are not familiar with the vast, unadorned poetry of Mr. Splake, beyond the ghosts is a great introductory volume even if it his thirty-third, by my rough count, collection. Splake is at his best in poems such as “kerouac in the cliffs”, “sad girl”, “senior citizen delight”, and “femme-ex”.  The well-into his seventies, indefatigable Splake, and I wish I had half his energy, writes in “reflection”,

                                    ‘living final days

                                  faded old row house

                               backwater ghost town

                        mining boom long gone

                               days writing poems

                        explaining life’s experiences”

            At six bucks how could you go wrong?

Dan O’Brien, War Reporter, Hanging Loose.          

War reporters have always been a breed apart. Whether it be Cartier-Bresson or Robert Capa or Lee Miller or Don McCullin, in the lead up to the WWII or during the war itself, or the wild, nearly insane daredevils  of Vietnam made famous (or infamous by) Dennis Hopper’s portrait of a reporter in Apocalypse Now! (widely thought to be Tim Page who memorialized the legion of photographers killed in Vietnam with his landmark exhibition/collection “Requiem”) what cannot be contested is the intense images they brought home at enormous personal cost. One such modern photographer is Paul Watson who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo of a dead American being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.  In addition to that rare, get-the-image-at- all-cost personality, Watson is missing one hand, a handicap that neither deterred nor prevented him from pursuing his single minded obsession to visit the seemingly never ending war fronts around the world.  O’Brien masterfully captures the person, the obsession, the milieu of the man and his colleagues.  I was particularly struck by how the escalating world violence seems to have become mathematically more grotesque and horrendous with each succeeding conflict.  As Philip Caputo pointed out in his excellent, neglected novel, Del Corso’s Gallery, Vietnam was picnic compared to what the war reporter finds in Beirut (and Caputo should know having been in the field in both place as a s soldier and a reporter). Later, the striking war memoir “This Is My War I Love it So” the drug addicted, but not addled, author reports on the internecine warfare of Bosnia, where the atrocities make the existential wasteland of Beirut seem merely absurd compared to what he has seen. And now O’Brien’s book takes us around the world to more modern day conflicts each more nightmarish than the last.  In this highly visualized/televised, era, as Sontag points out, we have become inured to tragedy, the horrible and the grotesque. O‘Brien, as does Watson, ask us not only to see but to feel.

Flower Conroy, Escape to Nowhere, Rain Mountain Press.

Philip Dacey, Mosquito Operas, Rain Mountain Press.

W.W. Christman, On Helderhill: Selected Poems edited by Alan Casline and Walt Franklin,  Benevolent Bird Press/Great Elm Press,  a wide, well-edited selection of Upstate  NY naturalist and poet.

Therese Broderick, Dislodged: Poems for My Mother’s Weeks of
, Benevolent Bird Press.  

Subluxation, as the poet explains, is the medical term for dislodging vertebrae in the neck, These moving, well-observed poems, detail the weeks following the injury to Broderick’s 83 year old mother and the poet’s role as a primary caregiver. Both intensely focused and finely detailed, deep relationships are explored, memories relived and happy moments shared. This is a collection to be cherished for people who care about the intimate, basic relationships all people have in common. This small book is exquisitely designed and illustrated by the publisher, Alan Casline, and is a rare keepsake.

Also from Benevolent Bird, two pamphlets: Stephen Ellis, Tow Poems and Alan Casline, sudden copious rainfall.

Jack Phillips Lowe, Cold Case Cowboys, Middle Island Press.

One of the heartening trends of late has been receiving chapbooks that publishers have obviously taken a good deal of time, energy and, most of all, real care with their design and production.  Cold Case Cowboy had fine heavyweight stock, an eye catching Remington reproduction cover and Lowe’s well laid out, easy to read poems.  These are enjoyable, often outlandish and fun poems to read.  If you ever wondered why no one ever finds Bigfoot’s bones, Lowe provides an answer. If you were ever a sucker for TV westerns, Lowe brings you back to the scene of those, in a not really nostalgic, but fun way in the title poem, one of my favorites in the collection.   Lowe evokes the spirits of Raymond Carver, J. D. Salinger, John D. MacDonald, and Jim Morrison, but the one he appears closest to and most fond of, is the early Richard Brautigan, before he went off into  the mountains and never returned.          

Zachary Kluckman, Animals in Our Flesh.

Robyn Hunt, The Shape of Caught Water.

Gary Worth Moody, Hazards of Grace.       

All three of these substantial books were from Red Mountain who offers a terrific deal to introduce readers to their press. Send them twenty bucks and they will choose three of their titles for you.  Many of the poems in these books had a Southwest focus, given that the press works out of New Mexico, this was not a surprise. Though there is a shared geographic interest, I should add, it is by no means a limiting, or exclusive feature of the poems. Each book had its distinctive style and approach to their subjects.

Kluckman’s award winning book is closer to the spoken word/performance poetry school and seemed to me, the least polished and least interesting as poetry, to me. I don’t mean to suggest that there are not poems of interest or accomplishment, but when compared to the long, muscular lines of Moody’s, Hazards of Grace, which immediately conjured up images of C.K. Williams and James Dickey, Kluckman’s work felt dwarfed.

Hunt’s poetic sense is both polished and far reaching, contemplative and imagistic.  A  deceptively simple poem such as “Language Skills” where the poet describes a parent slowly composing an e-mail message to an adult child, becomes an intensely focused rumination on the gaps between generations that our machines, purportedly created to bring us together, are actually thrusting us further apart. Hunt’s book continually shows us what the writing of poetry is all about, why we do it and what makes us human.

Mimi Moriarty, Crows Calling, Foothills Publishing           .          

Another of Foothill’s excellent titles, lovingly produced and hand crafted to match the elemental poems.  This is Moriarty’s strongest collection so far; ruminations on love and death and parenting, all the basic human inter-relationships, often evoked through natural setting that add tonal depths and resonance to the themes.

Neeli Cherkovski, Manila Poems, Bottle of Smoke Press.

Each volume, broadside or pamphlet that Bottle of Smoke produces is a collector’s item and this chapbook is no exception.  I felt these poems began in an inordinately self-consciously “beat” mode but  hit an emotional stride where the words , form and content came together in an effective, evocative longer poem “Moon, Garden, War Zone”.  It is impossible to go wrong with any title Bottle of Smoke produces; you might not love everything in it but you love to hold the work in your hands, return to it, and ultimately, to cherish the rare combination of art and artistry. 

A.D. Winans, San Francisco Poems, Little Red Tree Publishing.

Steve Dalachinsky, A Superintendent’s Eyes: revised and expanded, Unbearable Books/Autonomedia.

Jazz Poet, Collage Artist and performing poet, Steve Dalachinsky has been making the poetry scene in and around NYC for decades.  In his real life, that is his working life, he was a super in a building downtown NYC, a job that provided a wild array of subjects for his poems.  I read the new version as I had read the initial version, with interest and fascination, as Dalachinsky narrates the lives and interactions of some of the tenants over the years. 

As the fabric of the City has changed, so have the tenants, but the one constant is the often eccentric, sometimes tragic elements of life in a relatively small, self-contained space. I was reminded of the nearly forgotten novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, “The Tenants of Moonbloom” in which the building becomes a kind of microcosm of the human condition as the rent collector goes from room to room during the course of his duty and becomes part of a larger story of Life as we live it in the macrocosmic world. It is a device Melville used to great effect in his rarely read, “The Confidence Man” where there are ten interactive aspects of the idea of a confidence man, eventually narrowing down to a single room, the smallest microcosm of all. Dalachinsky’s designs are more modest, philosophically, than these books, but he accomplishes many of the same ends. The reader has a clear sense of who he is, his ineptitude as a handy man, his being put upon by demanding superiors and tenants. There is the ugliness of people over the edge and the fleeting joys of close and unexpected connections, the mundane and the surreal, ultimately, a strange amalgam only chance encounters can bring. 

The new volume, sharing a similar cover photo as the original, all of the same poems, is an expanded and revised, continuing the saga of Steve: super, poet, man about town and his love of jazz, his poetic concerns, gigs, personal problems with women and drugs and his cramped space he inhabits and works in.  As a reader, I am especially appreciative that the press would undertake a large work in transition such as this one and publish it.  This is a book that is uniquely New York, on one hand, but universal on the other, and deserves a wide and enthusiastic audience.


Sharon Venezio, The Silence of Doorways, forward by Donna Barresi, Moon Tide Press.

I usually take the effusive praise of books in blurbs and forwards with a huge grain of salt.  The whole purpose of both is to come in praise of, to excite, if not inflate, a reader’s interest and anticipation of the work inside and to follow. In the case of The Silence of Doorways, all the praise is much deserved and well earned.  I found myself reading and rereading poems with frank astonishment and appreciation, eventually scribbling a small note which succinctly sums up my impressions of the poems; a kaleidoscopic feast of words and images. 

It seems almost unfair to extract pieces of poems as examples but I will cite a couple:

“the berry tree is buried in snow
hovering over a coldness
the yard is a mirror
my bird heart flapping in its cage
hands filled with winter
it’s all I’ve managed so far
snow and wind and fingers
a clear blue ice
spreads over the yard
nothing is young anymore”

                                                     ---- from “A Geography in Fragments”

“you are a brief installation of curved
bone and wall
jumping from a window
you are both sidewalk and falling
did you think the camera would catch you?

                                                            from [Untitled]
                                                            to Francesca Woodman

If you don’t know who Woodman was, what she did, and what happened to her, you should definitely find out.  I will say this a near perfect poem/representation of her life and work.

Years ago, my mother closed her bedroom window
and never looked out again. She collapsed like a wave
folding inward. She said  hope can be an anchor;
it’s easier to just let go.

                                                            from “Snapshots in Sepia

As a reader, I try not to play a rating game, as in: this was my favorite book, or number seven on my top ten list, but if I did, this would be at the top of the list.

Just in time for Halloween….

Lyn Lifshin, Hitchcock Hotel. electronic book. 

At first, I was struck at how uncommonly well this book was copy edited, something this author has not been noted for of late, until I came upon the unintentionally hilarious , "pecked to dearth by birds". I was willing to let go the previous, "Erotica Symphony", equally as hilarious in its way, unless you are Beethoven purist, as another slip of the key, but the writing went precipitously downhill from there. The poet spends roughly one third of the book talking about Alfred Hitchcock's obsession with blondes; a point well taken, especially with regard to Tippi Hedren, but, she could easily have managed her points in one or two poems instead of twenty odd, longer ones. Equally as annoying, were the dream poems. These often seemed to have nothing in particular to do with anything, as if chosen and inserted at random; much less would have been much more. It is my considered opinion, no doubt in the minority, that judicious editing would have pared this selection down to a much more manageable, smaller length, and an effective chapbook might have been salvaged. Instead, Hitchcock Hotel is way too long and way too repetitious; unless of course, you enjoy being pecked to death by "The Birds" while listening to Beethoven's Third.



Artwork by Gene McCormick