Books Received

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I am going to lump these two small collections together as they share two important characteristics a) they both adhere to a basic philosophy involving the poetics of personal neurosis, as in making constructive uses of personal hang ups for their poetry and b) a well-defined, creative sense of humor about themselves.
Eirean Bradley, the little book of Go Kill Yourself.  

My immediate reaction to this title and the opening poem was, “Oh no, not another practical guide to suicide.  The world needs this like a hole in the head.” And then I realized how inappropriate this reaction was and, as I read on, how wrong I was in my initial reaction. Yes, there are practical tips for the terminally depressed, but the reader isn’t meant to take them all that seriously. In fact, the funniest, yes, the most amusing moments in the book, are the poet’s first person account of his own suicide attempt, which began in earnest, and ended in farce.  Sort of like an Oscar Wilde play.  No doubt Bradley is a riot at parties.

Where he might well be matched up with Chelsea Martin, author of, even though i miss you, a neat little book from Short Flight/ Long Drive Press.  Martin is guilty of neither loving wisely nor well. Her love life isn’t going very well, nor is it like to, thank you very much.  But she isn’t one to indulge in morose self-pity. Instead her poems display wry, self- mocking attitude toward her persona, who may well be very at home in “Girls”( though she might call me on that.) What I can do  is recommend this book and her previous small collection, The Really Funny Thing about Apathy from sunnyoutside. How can you hate a gal whose web site is

A note about Bradley’s publisher, University of Hell publications.  I’m not sure where the actual campus is, I take it the press works out of Seattle, but after spending five brutal winters in Utica NY, I swear that Hell is in upstate New York and that its campus, no longer affiliated with Syracuse ,has finally acknowledged that hell is not fire and brimstone as commonly assumed, but ice, wind and snow and switched its allegiance where it belongs. 

Little known factoid, Utica is statistically windier than Chicago. I have personally seen term papers blown away across a vast expanse of frozen fields of ice and snow (in a time well before computers and those nifty SAVE FILE buttons, gone was gone in those days) toward the nut house (now closed) never to be seen again, making the excuse “The wind took it” one that was commonly accepted by professors at the college.

Lipsmack! A Sample Platter of Poets From Night Ballet Press Year Two 2013

As the title indicates this is a delicious sampling of the poets of the press, one each in a wide variety of voices and styles.  A terrific introduction to the poets, and the press, in a highly
palatable package.

Given the enticing sampling, I perused a sampling of titles from the press, prefatory to a submission of a manuscript there. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have a chapbook scheduled with this press in 2014.

John Dorsey, Fall of the Ramen Empire and White Girl Problems.  The first title is all poetry of the kind Dorsey is known for: raw, tightly written, snappy observations of a daily life filled with incident involving babes, booze and books.  As Dorsey is both an amiable and no bullshit allowed, intelligent companion, these are an excellent read.  The second collection combines poetry and prose.  I prefer the poems to the linked stories which strain to reach the kind of effects he achieves so effortlessly in his poems. 

George Wallace, The Hard Stuff and Belt Buckles and Bibles

As Wallace is an accomplished poet who travels widely reciting and performing his work, it is no surprise that he offers two quite different collections.  The Hard Stuff centers itself squarely in New York City and has a tough, visceral, feel for the people and the places he describes. Belt Buckles and Bibles is an ode to the Midwest which is a whole different animal than NYC as the selection of color photos that are, literally, central to the book, show.  Both collections are vivid, strong, evocations of their subjects well worth the bargain price of five bucks (as are all these chapbooks).

Lariane Seidl, Stitched Together is a second collection by a young poet from the Cleveland area whose primary focus is the vagaries and disappointments of a love affair that has ended badly (presumably)  for the author.

What Exactly Is a Valvis? is poet James Valvis’s answer to that eternal question. Valvis is a widely published poet so those familiar with his work won’t find any surprises here, those who   are not, will find the usual forthright, well-spoken, down to earth poet they are familiar with.

David Thompson, And Thou Upon Earth, Liquid Paper Press. This is winning chapbook of the final Nerve Cowboy chapbook contest. Previous winner Thompson, once again explores the main issues of hardscrabble life and his recent battle with cancer. Interspersed among the plain spoken, personal narratives of people and places, are well-chosen black and white photos by the author that would not be out of place in a collection by Walker Evans.

Ruth Moon Kempher, What Can I Tell You, Bright Hill Press.  Ruth’s book won the 2012 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Competition and it is a deserving winner.  Reading Kempher is like settling down by a fire, with a beverage of choice, for a long, satisfying heart to heart talk with a cherished friend.  Arranged by various subjects, from love, to aging, to home life with an aging (and since passed away) parent, Ruth’s work is always erudite and surprising, witty and charming, but never cute or sentimental.  What Can I Tell You is a kind of retrospective, a selected, that all discerning poetry lovers should have on their shelves.

Matt Gavin Frank, The Morrow Plots, Black Lawrence. In stark contrast to Kempher’s book, Frank’s a stylistically challenging, difficult to get into, disturbing book. I found it extremely hard to follow exactly what was going on through the early section of the book. Well into the book I determined only barest of outlines involving, what appeared to be, a rape and murder of a young college student whose body ended up in an experimental field of scientifically controlled, experimental crops.  Without the book’s blurbs as a guideline, I would have been totally lost. Still, by book’s end, not only was I engaged, but enthralled, (and appalled) by the crime, the inventiveness of the poet, and his skill as a writer.  My only suggestion would be to rearrange the poems with several of the poems (before the last one) at the beginning, for clarity’s sake.  Obviously, the poet chose the difficult route; clarity in an ongoing murder investigation can only be supplied at the end so providing it at the beginning, may be more realistic, but not necessarily, the easier choice for the reader.

Maia Penfold, The Red Buddha, and John Bennett, Short Jabs, both from Hcolom Press.

Red Buddha is another retrospective/collected by long-time small press stalwart Penfold (formerly known as Gerda Penfold).  The strongest works, for me, were the personal narratives, reflections on a long, productive life.  Poems such as,”Having Reached Three Score and Ten”, particularly resonate as do her reflections on a life growing up in rural Saskatchewan.  As an artist, her insights into various painters are revealing, as wel,l but I wish the proof reader had picked up the correct spelling of Miss O’Keeffe’s name.

Bennett’s Short Jabs are a continuation of his ongoing (almost daily additions) series of shards.  As opposed to the longer prose poem-like shards, these range from the near epigrammatic to more fully realized, but still short, poems that pack a devastating and sometimes hilarious punch.


An old
lady with a
Jesus Loves
You Repent
bumper sticker
just dumped
a week’s
worth of
in her
trash bin

Knowing When the Danger’s Past

so you
painted yourself
into a
but that was
decades ago.

The paint’s
dry now.

Walk on
out of there.

Strength in Numbers

Two people
are pals
ten or
is a gang.
Thirty-five is a
lynch mob &
after that
it‘s the
Super Bowl.

If these float your boat, check out John’s website:

John also sent me a book of short fiction, U-Haul with Dinosaur.  I think it would be safe to say these pieces range from the bizarre to the outlandish, heightened reality, of mostly going nowhere, clueless people in an exaggerated world of over the top situations and resolutions.  Still, in a world of “Reality (challenged) TV” “Duck Dynasty” and the like, the definition of what is over the top has completel


Artwork by Gene McCormick