Books Received

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Laurie Blauner, Figments (& other occurrences), dancing girl press & studio. 

Laurie Blauner’s aptly titled, “Figments  ( & other occurrences)” is a journey into what lies just beyond our immediate senses.  Everything seems familiar but with an odd angle to it like walking inside a funhouse mirror and encountering a strange, surrealistic world within.  At once comic and absurd, there is a sharpened edge of the ordinary transformed into the horrible, the banal becoming a grotesque.  The evocative, simple seeming cover, invites you into a world of figments and you will not disappointed.

Where Beach Meets Ocean:  10 Years of the Block Island Poetry Project, Lisa Starr and a committee of editors, published by The Block Island Poetry Project.

This handsomely produced, oversized, lavishly illustrated volume, chronicles what must be a special poetry workshop.  Poets represented in this volume range from the nationally known: Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Carolyn Forche, Le-Young Lee, and others equally as familiar, to virtually unknown participants from the project’s circle of poets. As might be expected most of the well known presenters outshine the lesser known poets but that isn’t a criticism of the work of the lesser knowns, many of whom have work that range from very good to the better than most poetry you see coming out of workshop experiences.

The sense of community is so strong in this collection that a reader, even if he or she was not familiar with the setting, would be compelled to wonder, “Just what is it about this place, this coming together on a small island off the coast of Rhode Island, that is so special?”

I should confess, I have been visiting Block Island annually for well over twenty years and have sat with one of the editors, at an informal workshop behind a local Church and written about the place.  On that particular day, it was perfect, calm, beatific July morning, the deep blueness of the sea, a slight offshore breeze, cloudless sky and I wrote wild highly impressionistic pieces in a prose poetry format called An Imaginary Topography of Block that in no way betrayed a slightest connection with anything visible from the place where two poets had been sitt”ing. When we read our pieces back at the church later on, one of the participants asked me, What were you writing about, really?” And I replied, “I only write about what I see.”  I guess that says a lot more about me than it does about Block island.  I guess the point of it all is that there has always been poetry in the air for me on Block Island. I have written as many as seventy poems in one week there or as few as a couple depending upon the prevailing winds inside myself.  Apparently, if this anthology is any indication, the poets and artist involved with poetry project have always had strong prevailing positive winds during their meetings.

Alexis Ivy, Romance with Small Time Crooks, Blaze Vox.

Shifting gears, literally, from the serenity of Block Island to the world of Alexis Ivy, we go from the beatific to the hyper-kinetic; a kind of Venus overdrive of spaced out junkies and OD ’d road warriors literally spitting their guts out along side of the road.  Make no mistake about it, Alexis Ivy can bring it and bring it she does.  I don’t know Alexis and the author photo shows this serious appearing, studious looking, not at all in-your-face young woman of 25 described in her biography, “as a student of poetry at Harvard.” Given the text of these finely wrought, intense, well honed, blister raising poems, she can have my first t-shirt (if and when I market it) of Four Dead and One Maimed for Life by the Age of 29 (after a highly autobiographical story I wrote about people dying at my feet).  Not people I knew necessarily, as the many dead in Alexis’s book are, or rather, were her friends.  If you like high energy, no nonsense, well crafted, real as hell, poetry this is your book. 

John Cullen, Town Crazy Slipstream chapbook contest winner

The title says it all. They are everywhere and they aren’t going away. One Michigan poet of my acquaintance who I sent a copy of this book swears he knows some of these guys.  I know I don’t but I know their New York cousins. Check it out, you probably know someone here too no matter where you live.

Devin McGuire, After the Hunt, encircle publications.

Doug Holder, Eating Grief at 3AM, Muddy River Books.

Ed Werstein, Who Are We Then, Partisan Press.

Political poems with a decided left leaning, working class stance by Blue Collar Poetry regular.

T.K. Splake, Autumn Shadow, The Moon Publishing.

If it seems as if I just reviewed new work by the indefatigable Mr. Splake, I did. Here is another of his polished gems about life as poet dropout in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan where the word remote was invented.  I am especially drawn to the shorter, lyric poems in the unadorned language that typifies Splake’s highly personal, distinctive work. 

Daisy Fried, Woman’s Poetry, University of Pittsburgh Press. 

The word eclectic is the most appropriate description of anything Daisy. Poems range from highly esoteric to down to earth, to advice from the poet in the form of a Miss Lonelyhearts like newspaper column. There is literally something for every kind of poetry reader here.  Fried remains among the more intelligent, witty, genuinely unique poets writing today. 

Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Wave Books. 

I’m not sure whether this is actually poetry or an essay as the book indicates on the rear cover. I found it in the poetry section of an independent bookstore and basically read these self-contained, thematically linked paragraphs. in one sitting.  You could say these snippets were aspects of blue, a novel in aphoristic form, as say Carole Maso’s Man in the Chinese Hat or the “This Is Not a Novel” novel series  of David Marskon, or an autobiographical romp through the language.  Whatever you call it, Nelson never disappoints as her two previous books on the murder of her aunt Jane, one as a memoir, the other in poetry, proved.  “Bluets” is a much different work that those books but still brutally honest, wryly amusing and stylistically accomplished.

Eleanor Swanson, Trembling the Bones, Three: A Taos Book.

The poet, in her introduction  to this intense study of the Ludlow Mine Massacre in 1913, describes this historically based  word as “Haunted by History”. The gift of this book, and there are many, is making the historical personal.  Workers, virtual slaves to the company, had the audacity to presume to strike for better wages, better working conditions and basic human needs and were punished severely for their temerity. Men, women and children were brutally killed by company enforcers. One hundred years after the fact, their sacrifice is memorialized by Swanson and it is a memorial we should all be conscious of.  Much as Robert Pinsky made the women of The Shirtwaist Fire immediate and shocking well after the sweatshop had burned down, Swanson makes the murder of workers real for us now.  Given the economic climate and disparity between wealth and wages now, the out-of-sight out-of-mind near slave labor factories of our largest retail chains sponsor, these kinds of tragedies will endlessly repeat themselves unless we recognize that cheap prices are bought at the expense of human lives. The question is, when are we going to ask ourselves the one essential question, is the human pain and suffering worth a price reduction?

Paul Pines, New Orleans Variations and Paris Ouroboros, Dos Madres.

While these two closely integrated travels, to a pair of actual geographic places of extreme importance to the author, there is a dreamlike quality to them that makes the journey an interior exploration of the self in transit.  The place visited and the people evoked are real enough but the poet’s subtle method, make everything feel infused with an extra layer of consciousness; a kind of psycho drama enfolding on a twilit stage with bright colors just beginning to fade from view.  Readers more familiar with the landscapes  may read these poems in an entirely different way, however. Some, perhaps as a memory garden with landmarks in it, or a tribute to the beloved people and places some gone forever now, or even all these multi-layered, multi-textured aspects at once.  However you read this, Pines has out done himself with this remarkable book.

John Bennett, Into Water.
, The Book of Shards. Both from Hcolom Press  (Hcolom, for those curious where  the press’ distinctive name comes from, spelled backwards is Moloch.)

I reserve the right to return to Bennett and his books. I will say that if you haven’t been following this small press legend’s work over the years, you should be.  “Into Water” is a kind of Selected, showing that the poet has established and maintained a consistently strong voice throughout his long and varied writing career. He is irascible, hilarious, irreverent and always his own man.  His Shards book represents a-culled-from-thousands, selection of this unique form that he invented. Shards are a kind of prose poetry variation


Artwork by Gene McCormick