Monday, September 22, 2014

NEW! Review of Karla Kelsey

A Conjoined Book: Aftermath & Become Tree, Become Bird by Karla Kelsey. Omnidawn Publishing, $17.95. 

Reviewed by Catherine Kyle

In Karla Kelsey’s A Conjoined Book: Aftermath & Become Tree, Become Bird, disparate things coexist in tenuous but elegant union. The tranquility of nature interlocks with decay, contamination, and violence. Fairy tale joins with historical anecdote. Descriptions of painterly techniques are juxtaposed with meditations on astronomy, Descartes, and Galileo. The book itself, as the title suggests, invites a kind of “conjoined” or double vision, challenging readers to form connections between linked but separate things. Aftermath and Become Tree, Become Bird exist in recursive harmony, each teasing out new meanings in the other. 

Aftermath opens with an epigraph from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves that conflates the speaker’s subjectivity with the sea. This excerpt sets the tone for the first portion of Kelsey’s conjoined book, which thoughtfully explores the parallels between human consciousness and nature. In “Landscape of Vantage & Soft Motion,” she writes:

… the
river is not just the river but holds legends in relief. The
woman in reeds breathing murky water. The man &
the stone that was starred. Pages begin to disintegrate 
& so she puts them into a glass cylinder & buries it
under the holly tree.

While this bond between humans and nature is frequently generative, it also necessitates joint suffering. Kelsey’s subjects and speakers experience decline in concert with their settings:

mercury into
the watertable

(the scald
filled me 

In an interview with Omnidawn co-editor Rusty Morrison, Kelsey explains that part of her inspiration for the book came from her time spent in Pennsylvania, a land that both awed her with its beauty and pained her with its long history of environmental degradation. This disquieting blend of admiration and horror is brought to bear in her work as she orchestrates imagery that encompasses both: “I /   was your / Rose, your Lily, your Loralie dying over & over with the slow pause of an early / silver screen, grass gone nickel, skin gone glycerin.”
True to her understated approach to such turbulent themes, the catalyst of the subjects’ waning vitality is never explicitly named. Speaking from the negative space of undisclosed events—the perimeter, the echo of catastrophe rather than the catastrophe itself—Kelsey dwells in effect rather than cause. This is perhaps most deftly achieved in her series of “Afterimages” that read as both part of and additions to the poems that immediately precede them:

the sun

the pen

increasingly estranged. 


… In pictures his
face has gone blanched from scald from freeze. The car a
sun a chair that wouldn’t that couldn’t go.

As is apparent in this passage, Kelsey’s work bears certain hallmarks of modernist writing, foregoing standard punctuation in favor of free-flowing thought. Hyphenated phrases such as “the seen-through-a-glass” and “the wait-in-the-doorway-until-you-recognize” invite consideration of the relationship between perception, understanding, and language. The author also toys with form, rearranging and repeating poem titles, interspersing asterisks and footnotes, and substantially altering her use of line breaks from one piece to the next. These techniques, which also appear in the second half of the conjoined book, reveal a keen interest in expression and a willingness to take linguistic risks. 

Like Aftermath, Become Tree, Become Bird opens with an epigraph, this one from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale “The Juniper Tree.” This story, in which a wicked stepmother murders her stepson and frames her daughter for the act, forms the backbone of the text. Kelsey unfolds the story gradually, interlacing it with echoes of Afterimage (some line-for-line) in addition to plenty of new images and themes. Though it has a somewhat narrative quality, Become Tree, Become Bird is more than a poetic retelling of “The Juniper Tree.” With its abrupt shifts from the intimate and personal to the historic and public, Kelsey troubles the boundaries between confessional and expository writing:

Shadow: Your hair smelled of smoke & ash & I have not forgotten departure 
sketched on thin paper. …
Source: The sources used by the Brothers
Grimm were demonstratably literary & many of their tales are not
exclusively German. From the 1812 edition on, one way the Grimms made
their fairy tales seem authentically German was to render them in some form
of dialect. 

This questioning of the supposedly monolithic subdivisions of literature evolves as Kelsey reflects on the invisible dialogue that undergirds all reading: “True readers always read creatively,” she writes in “Interstitial Weather Remnant.” In another poem by the same title, she adds, “Performers do not repeat their texts word for word but introduce changes into them.” This is a book that asks us to imagine, to fill in gaps, and even to invent. Many of its strongest moments are those that make readers conscious of their own presence, which, as Kelsey suggests, is synonymous with their own participation. Become Tree, Become Bird encourages us to regard text as something living, protean, and wily, much like the soul of the stepson who reemerges in new guise. 

The body of A Conjoined Book is followed by a “Sources” page—a list of books, images, and internet searches that Kelsey “is indebted to.” The breadth of sources illustrates the author’s curiosity, and the bibliography lends one final flourish to her work’s thematic apophenia. An intellectually nuanced and formally refreshing read, A Conjoined Book is a layered set of mirrors reflecting nature, tragedy, resilience, and the spaces where these things meet in contradiction and symbiosis.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NEW! Review of Elizabeth Robinson

On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson. Solid Objects, $16 (hardcover).

Reviewed by Mary McMyne

Elizabeth Robinson’s fourteenth book, On Ghosts, is indeed a haunting collection. Elusive and difficult to characterize, the book contains poems as well as abstract essayistic passages, floating quotations, anecdotes, an e-mail, mathematical formulae, and descriptions of (absent) photographs. In her “Explanatory Note,” Robinson writes that the collection “is an essay on the phenomenon of ghosts and haunting,” and at first glance, this statement appears to be true. She begins by exploring the “conditions that locate themselves in specific sites or persons” and “calibrate individuals and places, make them vulnerable to the heightened perception, which is hauntedness.” What conditions make us vulnerable to perceiving that which others cannot see? How and why does this happen? What can we make of it? Later in the same note, Robinson claims that an “[a]pparition is not an entity as we think of it” with agency, but an “erasure.” As an example of this phenomenon, in “Creatures,” she describes a “subject” plagued by pain so insistent the pain
eats through layers of herself variably, mostly consuming the surface, but sometimes penetrating deeper. The remainder of the surface is first spongy with excavation, but then dries to a surprising sheen
bright enough to “attract things that want light.” The subject goes on to complain that since the pain has begun to persist, she has perceived invisible things attacking her, which she calls “creatures” for lack of a better word. The subject’s complaint—along with many of the other images and examples Robinsons uses throughout the book, such as the image on the first page of a building infested with termites—emphasizes the erosive quality of loss, the way absence can eat away at the self, causing the self to perceive absence as something other, something else, like a phantom limb. 
Much of the book is filled with essayistic passages, which outline ideas in abstract exposition and ask readers to project their own understandings to fill in the blanks. Robinson’s examples, when she provides them, are brilliant and lyrical. In “Incident One,” she narrates the story of a child who ends his own life: “Over and over the loop of his life rubs on its seam until the stitches rough up his skin and the garment comes apart. Dual ravel. He wrestles in the hammock slung over what, until seam and skin fall out.” Once dead, the child cannot figure out “what to do with goneness” and “keeps coming back to his departure.” The bereaved family he has left behind then perceives his presence in uncanny details, presumably projecting the apparition of his ghost, though Robinson stops short of saying so: “The nicely watered grass gets trodden down and the soil beneath it glistens, clinging to the bottoms of shoes.” A “tape clicks on mid-narrative when no one is there to push the PLAY button on.” In the description that follows, which appears atop a blank page with no such visual aid, Robinson describes the house the child has left behind: 

This is a photograph of a domestic interior. Because this ghost manifested primarily in an auditory manner, it is hard to see anything of significance in the photo. Note however the ghost’s baby tooth crumbling in a dish on the kitchen counter (foreground) and further back in the room, the boom box that went on at random times, always when there was a Harry Potter story tape in it.
There is, of course, no proof of the little boy’s ghost in this description, nor would there be in the missing photograph. Rather than provide proof that the haunting occurred, the description offers only proof of the boy’s family’s desire to perceive the boy, in the crumbling “baby tooth” that so concretely evokes his absence and the uncanny auditory events they ascribe to his return. Throughout the book, every time Robinson approaches the question of proof, she emphasizes her inability to provide it: in the doubtful nature of her evidence, her beautiful fumbling language, and the language of her characters. 
A closer look at On Ghosts, in fact, reveals the collection is less about literal ghosts than the ghosts of meaning and metaphor. Pulsing beneath the surface of these fragments is Robinson’s interrogation of the sort of haunting that compels writers to put words to page. Like ghosts do the bereaved, termites buildings, and pain its victims, the question of meaning haunts writers, compelling them to write despite the fact that their words “never truly impact the surface.” Robinson explores the way words erode those who attempt to “use” them as their medium, “lessening” or “infesting” them: “The word, his word or words, was like an autoimmune disease which attacked him, the word’s own organism, his soul and his body.” In “Drifting Interlude,” a writer trying to explain something—what we cannot be sure—
says, gesturing with her hands,
“There was just
this and this
and in between it was all commas.”
In “Visitor,” an elderly poet, who Robinson wryly calls “the dead man,” enjoys reading his poems aloud to a class despite having forgotten its teacher’s name, then, in “PHOTOGRAPH #3,” “is seen”—or not seen, since it is absent, of course—“looking jaunty, surrounded by a group of friends and admirers,” holding “a cigarette aloft.” In an epigraph to her poem, “Translation,” Robinson quotes James Longley on his difficulty with capturing the spirit that haunts him on the page: “How will I be sure that the spirit is speaking in me at all, much less when I transcribe, much much less when I translate?” Such writerly skepticism is apparent throughout Robinson’s book, in the way she uses analogies and then corrects them, the way she consciously experiments with form.
It is, no doubt, Robinson’s experimentation with form that causes the collection to continue to haunt the reader after it has been put back on the shelf. Robinson has written a collection full of absences, blank spaces, and abstractions, which require the reader to project her own understandings, to fill in the blanks in a way that brilliantly illustrates the book’s concepts. Robinson’s consistent use of absence, echo, and fragmentation enables her to capture a difficult subject in all its complexity, offering readers a new language for contemplating the human struggle with meaning and absence.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NEW! Two poems by Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck

Two poems


And if there are no names 
for the land before us,

there are still the cataract 

clouds, the shapes we watch for,

the hardened ground

come winter opening its great body

into a pale reliquary.

And when it rains come spring,

we know to huddle close. 

There must be names

for the warmth of bodies, 

the emptiness of so much

stillborn land. Even children know 

that stars gathering

in a swollen sky 

must still be lonely.


Everywhere is rain. Is grass. Or night becomes a hunger 
of analgesic stars. Or day stews in its loam pot.

Is this what it means to be alive? Earth dreaming an augury 

of living ash. Then, come dim morning, something thrashes

into air. Something evolves or devolves outside

the bedroom window in gray light. Calls as primitive

as the odalisque moon, so many dark feathers.

Then clouds begin slipping nearer with fluency or away.

And hours pass in the language of earth then vessel, vessel 

then earth, though nothing knows to hold its shape for long. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

New issue of VERSE

The new issue of Verse is out and includes portfolios by

Brian Teare
Elizabeth Robinson
Daniel Tiffany
Bridgette Bates 
Stephen Ratcliffe
Barbara Tomash
F. Daniel Rzicznek 
C.V. Moore
Seth Landman
Deborah Celizic 
Tony Mancus
W.C. Bamberger
Srečko Kosovel

The issue costs $15 and can be ordered from the Verse office: English Department, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173.

Monday, May 12, 2014

NEW! Two poems by Ryan Collins

Ryan Collins

Two poems

You’re too much on the fly, not enough 
Feet on the ground, too much a burning 
Candle at both ends, too hot to handle 
& too cold to hold. If you move too fast 
Into the heat you will shatter like a light-

Bulb. Your murals colored w/ shades not 
Legal in the country where you were born, 
But your tags all painted over. So you stew 
In your own juices, hope the bromide & 
Mercury have made a way into the branches 
Of your rivals, your enemies, your erasers. 
You are desperate not to be erased, New 
American—who could blame you besides 
The voice-over narration from the movie 
Being filmed inside of your unreliable head? 


You are the danger & I am the weapon. 
You are the science & I am the sweet 
Chile, the hydraulic, the knowhow.
You are the master & I am supposed to 

Bow at your feet, but I can’t go for that.

What I can do for you instead is deep 
Background, reconnaissance, the enemy 
Killed in action. We make our decisions 
For whatever lord we answer to alone, 
New American. You are the righteous 
Man & I am the tyranny of evil men, of 
Arsonists, of monsters suicide bombing 
In broad daylight—the battlefield makes 
Its own decisions. You are blue sheets
Of glass. I am leaves of grass for the rake. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

NEW! Poem by Peycho Kanev

Peycho Kanev


In this
calm lake
thousands of moons
and nobody dug
them graves.
Only Li Po
sat at the shore
and wrote their

Friday, April 25, 2014

NEW! Poem by James Reidel

James Reidel


The wisterias in flower—
You can see the beards,
The title,
The Blue Supper.

Monday, April 21, 2014

NEW! Review of Ramona Ausubel

A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel. Riverhead, $26.95 hardcover / $16 paperback.

Reviewed by Brynne Rebele-Henry

Ramona Ausubel’s unearthly collection of short stories, A Guide To Being Born, reconfigures the lines between birth and death, human and plant, the earth and the womb. Throughout these stories, Ausubel creates a dimension of growth and creation that, more often than not, destroys in pursuit of madness and comfort. The book is divided into four parts—reverse stages of birth—with two to three stories in each section: Birth (“Safe Passage” and “Poppyseed”), Gestation (“Atria,” “Chest of Drawers,” “Welcome to Your Life and Congratulations”), Conception (“Catch and Release,” “Saver,” “Snow Remote”), and Love (“The Ages” and  “Magniloquence”). The different sections present a dissection of birth, and the stories are all the more haunting for it. At their best, these stories are like a poltergeist: they follow you around, leaving dust, confusion, and bones to sift through and ponder later. 

In “Safe Passage,” a mob of grandmothers near death are on a cruise ship in an ocean filled with crates of baseball bats and roses—mementos of their time on land. The protagonist, Alice, remembers the boats and trains she has been on throughout her life and divides them into different passages of her time on land. At the end of the story, she climbs overboard and floats suspended in the cold ocean while unknown creatures swim beneath her:

She peers below, trying to see, but the only things are her own feet haloed by green phosphorescence, kicking and kicking and kicking.

“Will both of my husbands be mine again?” she calls to the birds or the fish or the sky. “Can I love them again now?” She does not get her answer. Her slip rises up around her like a tutu. She looks now like a ballerina on a music box, legs bared under the high-flying skirt. The material is soft and brushes Alice’s arms. She does not try to hold the slip down. Her breasts float up. All around her the green light of stirred water.
The images in this story are captivating, and each sentence is polished, packaged like a planet insulated by the other corresponding story systems. 
In “Poppyseed,” the parents of a severely disabled eight-year-old whose brain cannot develop past infancy decide to give her a hysterectomy. Her growth is compared to plant life and seeds, and they literally transplant her by burying her breast glands in a median in the highway near the hospital where her operation takes place:

In the median I knelt down and began to dig a hole. Your father understood right away and helped, his left hand a protective fist, his right a shovel. In a few minutes, we had come to darker soil and we both put the seeds of you inside, covered them in earth. “To growing,” I said. “Whatever that might mean.”
This is a book of maladies, a manifesto to mothers and animals and desire. Here, furniture and fetuses and animals join. In “Atria,” a teenage girl in a closely knit suburban community gets pregnant and begins to think of her unborn baby as a host of various animals because the possible fathers (a rapist and a gas station employee) seem inhuman and incapable of creating life. In “Snow Remote,” two twins begin to assume identities based on the expectations and myths surrounding their dysfunctional home, most of which are fabricated by their father, who spends his days rigging a Christmas light display and waiting for passersby to rain artificial snow upon. In “Tributaries,” people grow new arms when they fall in love, and a person’s character is judged by the number of arms he or she has.
Throughout A Guide To Being Born, Ausubel’s prose is lush yet natural, clear and bell-like, almost religious in its fervor. She expertly combines the profane and outrageous with the mythical, beautiful, and surreal. These stories are reminiscent of a Matisse, visceral and amusing, as if ridiculing sadness. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

NEW! Review of Robert Walser

A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories by Robert Walser. Translated by Damion Searls. NYRB Classics, $14.95.

Reviewed by Diane Gremillion

Robert Walser’s A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories, translated from German by Damion Searls, garners affection from readers by adopting several perspectives throughout the narrative. There are three parts to the book: Part I (“Fritz Kocher’s Essays”), Part II (a medley of short fictions), and Part III (“Hans”). The stories, written just before World War I, masterfully foreshadow the tensions building up. However, A Schoolboy’s Diary never explicitly states its intentions or any clear agenda. What one piece subtly hints at, the next piece builds a stronger case for, and then may be alluded to in another work in the book. Throughout this collection, Walser retains his sophistication and distinct writing style, simultaneously exposing readers to various outlooks. Poets’ lives, poetry’s purposes, soldiers’ lives, and war’s value are interrogated from various ages and positions in society. Just as Fritz Kocher claims that he would rather die than live a boring life, Hans of the last story is a wanderer who refuses to commit to anything uninteresting. They both strive to challenge expectations and to enjoy themselves. True to these characters, A Schoolboy’s Diary is, if anything, entertaining. 

“Fritz Kocher’s Essays” are framed as a young German schoolboy’s class writing assignments. The introduction, written by Walser, informs readers that this pupil (whose persona he adopts) dies young, which influences how readers interpret Fritz’s outlook on life. Nonetheless, these pieces are endearing, upsetting, and inspirational. With the candid nature preserved only by youth, Fritz writes, “I would die, yes, stubbornly die out of spite, if I was poor.” This phrase carries emphasis because of the knowledge that young Kocher does, in fact, die. Fritz is aware of his high social class and explains his understanding as a child would:

Someone is poor when he comes to school in a torn jacket … I wouldn’t want to be poor, I’d be ashamed to death. Why is being poor such a disgrace? I don’t know. My parents are well off. Papa has a carriage and horses. He couldn’t have them if he was poor.

Walser’s mastery of a schoolboy’s writing style allows him to confront complex social paradigms with little acknowledgement of the implications of each statement and to vocalize the concrete details in which the problem manifests. For example, “all the poor people work in the factories, maybe to punish them for being poor.” Fritz’s insensitivity is often shocking. He despises the poor and lacks empathy, and his thinking is one-dimensional. However, he also offers extremely insightful bits on other topics not influenced so heavily by class, such as friendship between boys, nature, and music. However, Fritz’s language and style are occasionally elevated to an advanced level. This may be an intentional source of friction, created by Walser, between what the narrator should be capable of saying and what is actually being said, as in this passage:

What a precious flower friendship is. Without it, even the strongest man could not live long. The heart needs a kindred, familiar heart, like a little clearing in the forest, a place to rest and lie down and chat … O, there are false friends, whose only goal in life is to wound, to hurt, to destroy! There are people who zealously strive to seem to be our friends…

Although Fritz’s age is never specified, he is in grade A-2, and based upon his candidness, he is still too young for “zealously” to be a part of his active vocabulary, to write “O” in the style of a lyric poem, or to convey emotions such as “the heart needs a kindred, familiar heart.” This disjunction in style serves as a type of comic relief. Readers must imagine little Fritz Kocher delivering these profound messages, which lightens their mood. 
Walser uses the same writing method—gradual hints at meaning—in Fritz’s essays as well. These exercises work together to create a dialogue for readers and to further explain his personal beliefs. At one point, Fitz references the unspoken nurturing bond between his mother and himself, the youngest child:

I felt like I had to say something loving to [Mother] but I couldn’t get it past my lips. She noticed what I was trying to get out and hugged me close and kissed me. I was unspeakably happy and glad that she had understood me … I was so happy that I could talk to my mother in this nicer way.

Fritz connects with his mother by nestling in her arms, rather than explaining to her verbally how much he loves her. In this instance, feelings speak more clearly than reason could express. Walser creates this image between mother and child, thereby eliciting a deep level of affection and familiarity among readers, and then evokes the same emotion once again when Fritz describes music:

Purely rational beings will never appreciate it, but they are precisely the ones it is most deeply beneficial for, in the moments when they do listen to it. You can’t try to comprehend and appreciate any kind of art. Art wants to cuddle up to us. Its nature is so completely pure and self-sufficient that it doesn’t like when you pursue it.

Personification of art cuddling up to listeners, completely wrapping itself around them, echoes Fritz’s bond with his mother. The mother’s love and the music completely surround Fritz and induce the same positive reaction. Although this intensity of contact which language cannot express is not explicitly stated, the two instances complement one another. 

This same tactic, paralleling emotions and struggles throughout separate works, appears in the series of short stories, but in more creative ways. Each story carries the possibility of different perspectives. The common, yet unspoken, themes create unity among the seemingly separate narratives and endow readers with deeper, more complex understandings of the beliefs at hand. The collection, unlike Fritz’s writings, focus on many more mystical topics, such as “Apollo and Diana,” “The Tale of the Four Happy Fellows,” and “The Little Tree.” The titles alone hint at the style of each piece. Walser operates frequently in the hypothetical, thereby gaining freedom to use abstract images, evoke magic, and say exactly what he means. Very simple and approachable subjects allow him to examine larger themes. In “Hat-Chitti,” Walser creates words for specific emotions. In this way, he retains a joyful air while confronting a somber topic:

Oh how terrible this chitti is! Grim inner hatred and deep quiet rage are very, very bad things. Not only boys can bear grudges against other boys in such a way, so too just as well can grown-ups against grown-ups, mature adults against mature adults, and, I would venture to say, nations against nations … Yes, that is chitti, hat-chitti: unburied inner hatred.

From a German author, written in 1915, this is audacious and extremely insightful. Walser circles around what he really means, and once the issue is explored from every possible perspective, an undeniable concreteness to his sentiments emerges. Soft allusions connect each piece and narrow down from the oblivious observations of a schoolboy to the reality at the end of the book: a soldier called to war. 

Readers today may find fault with these pieces because women are never presented as narrators or endowed with thought in the writing. When this book was written, however, German women still had not gained the right to vote, which might help to explain Walser’s lack of consideration. Still, the subtle elements of sexism may be unsettling for readers. The assumedly male speakers often describe women according to their beauty. Fritz writes, “The women’s singing is the prettiest,” “The ladies look especially lovely,” “She is as beautiful as a princess,” “[She has the] most beautiful hands on earth.” While women are never given a voice in these stories, it is also important to keep in mind that Fritz Kocher’s sexist views, like his comments on class, parrot cultural and social conventions modeled for him in his life. The only alternative to being lovely for women in A Schoolboy’s Diary is the one “wicked woman” written about by the assumedly older narrator, Hans. Women’s function in this part of the book, besides being beautiful, is to raise men’s stature in society comparatively. “If [military service] was fun, then young girls would be best at it. Since, however, it isn’t, men are better suited for it.” These opinions are reflective of commonly accepted views in the early 20th century, but are nonetheless sexist and important to identify. 
Walser masterfully writes about increasingly concrete issues, despite progressively abstract narratives. This style requires careful readings from translators in order to identify and to achieve the same effect in a different language. The larger messages are presented within the details. As Fritz concludes his last essay, “[The teacher] is too small to seem big to us.” Despite his youth, Fritz maintains a larger perspective on life than those outlined in simple classroom rules. Similarly, Walser sustains a broader understanding of his nation and of his writing. The result—written during a moment when the world most desperately needed it, but failed to see the larger meaning—is timeless.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NEW! Two poems by Bob Brooks

Bob Brooks

Two poems


—What did you do with that turkey bone? We don’t want the dog to get it. 

—I threw it into the buddleia.

—You threw it where?

—You know, behind the vibernum.

—Behind what?

—Over there by the cotoneaster. 


—Don’t worry! He’ll never find it. 


Across the road in front of my car 
the chipmunk charges

tail borne high 
like a banner. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

NEW! Four poems by Lillian Nickerson

Lillian Nickerson

Four poems


During your lion year goodwill will once again scream from the other side of Cheyenne Mountain. It is your duty to report your physical growth to the Den Chief without a stammer and to sleep through the church bell’s eleven sounds. It is your duty to not eat your young. It is your goodwill that’s calling—a shallow whisper, a plea—to keep your temporary claws retracted in this year of prideful service.


Your fire maker’s rank requires that you return all beauty to its rightful inhabitant. A thorough hand examination will be conducted to certify that all fingernails have been sufficiently bitten and that all fire makers are adept at cooking a three-­‐course meal without the use of knives or spoons. Teeth will be filed in anticipation of the Face Wars and irises will be dyed to match the nearest pond. She with the prettiest voice will be silenced. She with the roundest breasts will require a horsehair coat.


At times it may be easy to forget that you are both Wolf and Not Wolf. Both Lion and Not Lion. At times you will exist only in name. At times you will exist only in the scruff of your patchy beard. One day you will be all teeth. One day, all stomach. One day you will be a sash of badges, and then an expert X on the den chief’s roster.


When you are Chief going directly into anything will mean never going alone. Bears and wolves will stretch paper-­doll style from each elbow. When you howl, they howl. When you hate, they hate. Your knees will learn to bend backwards, but still you will remain a man. Better than a man, you will harvest lightning. You will set your own broken bones in splints made of squirrel. You will be bored and you will be enough, which is enough. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

NEW! Short story by Cathy Herbert

Cathy Herbert


I wait, hopefully, for the zombie apocalypse. When I’m packed sardine-close on the commuter bus, I wonder if it has already consumed me. Sitting with mom in the living room that smells of old age and stale cigarettes, I catch a whiff of zombie in the air. She can’t hold a thought in her head. The image on the TV freezes into a patch of pastel squares.

“Picture’s gone,” she states once again, as if it has never happened before. 

“The zombies did it.”

“The neighbors?”

“Yes. They’re not very nice.”

I guess I shouldn’t have invited them for tea.

I feel the signs of the apocalypse in my cold bones, in the cicada-like hum of the fluorescents in my cubicle at the end of the factory floor. I imagine the papers on my desk have scattered on the wind, relics of a time before the zombies.

They say dogs can smell cancer. Perhaps that’s why Clancy no longer wants to lick mom’s face. She coos to him and offers him treats. He takes them, warily, his spindly old-dog tail tucked. When she tries to pick him up, he twists away. She forgets all of this in a heartbeat and believes that she has spent the last hour cradling him, still a puppy, his wiry fur pressed against her multiple chins.

I hear the tea kettle whine, happy that she’s remembered to heat the water. She used to tell me stories, now forgotten, about biscuits called scones, served with a paste made of real fruit and a heavy sweet cream that tastes like heaven. I sense the muted, shuffling footsteps in the kitchen. I know that the zombies are packed tightly against one another. Finally, I will join them. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

NEW! Poem by Virginia Konchan

Virginia Konchan


X is for Xanax, xenophobes, 
and x-rays that purport
to shine a cathode light
on the pathologies
of your spine. X:
positus, topoi, key— 
secret location of the eye- 
witness to the century’s 
most gruesome crime. 
Let those for whom 
gender and speech
are propositional acts 
sing of the headless, 
stateless, nameless, 
exiled in St. Tropez
until discovered by 
satellite topography: 
eyeball of fame,
tungsten blue on
the screen of our
illicit, private-cum- 
public desires. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

NEW! Poem by David Koehn

David Koehn


I am escargot. Grilled sloth. A 1000 year old egg.
My skin nests psoriatic rice hulls; my aura, ash. The taste
Of my tongue, salt; the feel of my love, warm wet clay.
The burn of my kiss after I leave you, quicklime.
My homemade noodles taste better than others,
Not only longer but I take longer to make them.
There is a reason every lover I’ve left opens
When I return. I do not understand why lips
Purse or legs part. But a cough thumps
The critical word in a phrase. The scratch in the vinyl.
The difference between assumption and being understood.
When they lift the bed sheet, no matter who is there, I am too.
They frost seminal vowels with soundtracks from black and whites. 

I squinch sepia into the dough. Tack bruise onto the ink. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

NEW! Poem by John Bonanni

John Bonanni

The rain gutter deserves a better cleaning

At night my corduroy shorts
take the window frame with them,

a sweep of gray across one leg.

To sit & smoke on roof slats, 
to watch the tea billow

from the curve of the tin can.

Here, the bird
had a way
of whistling less invasively.

It's time for dinner.

A friend taught me this.
You can use almost anything—

a cigarette, a Pepsi, an apple.

Down the aluminum stairs
to hear magnified a rattle of glass like plates

beneath a lawnmower.

Whose turn is it to say grace?

I never did learn the twist
of spaghetti in the cup of a spoon.

To shovel was so much easier. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

NEW! Poem by Emari DiGiorgio

Emari DiGiorgio


Your daughter is out in the world. Not quite lost,
though the stretch of cerebral highway she’s been driving along 

has been washed out in a storm. Sudden rain, flash blood 
pressure. You’re on your knees now. Every surface is a map: 
the Berber carpet, your husband’s face. If you could find
the trail of crumbs, a strand of hair. But the brain is forest, 

desert, glacier, gorge. You stumble in the new moon dark. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

NEW! Poem by Eric Komosa

Eric Komosa

It doesn’t mean I don’t still and won’t always

Goodbye Mom. I’ll paint that room yellow rose 
when the Maple tree you will not cut down
has let down its branches even further.

Erin will be fine when she stops having 
ideas of what life is supposed to be like 
or when she joins a cult.
Either way,

Friday, March 14, 2014

NEW! Review of Minae Mizumura

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura. Translated by Juliet Winters. Other Press, $29.95.

Reviewed by Tina Liu

Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel is like a Matryoshka doll: each skillfully crafted and gorgeously painted doll represents a different narrator from the novel. This reminds the reader that there is no doubt that the story each narrator tells could be a stunning piece of craftsmanship on its own; but the reader must keep in mind that a doll separate from the set is hollow, filled with nothing.

A True Novel is set in postwar Japan as a remake of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The novel focuses on three main narrators: the author, Yusuke Kato, and Fumiko Tsuchiya. All three have relationships with the protagonist Taro Azuma but do not know one another directly. Yusuke has the least intimate relationship with Taro but serves as a crucial link to Taro’s story. Taro was raised by his uncle’s family and often abused by his uncle's wife and two sons. Yoko's grandmother, the widow Mrs. Utagawa, could not stand to see this treatment so she took Taro under her wing. After she passed away, Tara moved to the U.S. in his late teens. The author presents the story of Taro’s time in the U.S. while Fumiko presents the story of when he was in Japan. Yusuke only met Taro twice, but is the one who listened to Fumiko’s narration and later seeks out the author and shares it with her. The reader soon learns that Taro grew up with Yoko from the Saegusa family, a family whose women are known for their Hirano faces (breathtaking looks). The Saegusa family is also the employer of Taro’s grandfather, a rickshaw driver and handyman. The gap in social status does not stop Yoko and Taro from becoming inseparable playmates and falling in love, but this gap foreshadows their devastating fate.

The novel begins with a first-person prologue written from the perspective of the author. She talks about her family’s move from Japan to Long Island and how the culture shock she experiences makes her more appreciative of Japanese traditions such as calligraphy. After her move she meets the protagonist, Taro, a Japanese immigrant trying to make his fortune in New York. Because the author felt lonely and friendless, she naturally found Taro intriguing because he was the only one from Japan close to her age. Taro is only a chauffeur when Mizumura first meets him, but he quickly moves up in society and eventually makes his fortune as an entrepreneur in the field of medical equipment.

Mizumura’s presence lasts for nearly a fifth of the 850-page novel. Mizumura takes such a large proportion of the novel for two reasons: to introduce the protagonist and to explain a form of Japanese literature, the I-novel:

In an “I-novel,” readers expect the writer to figure in the work in one way or another. Whether the work is in fact based on the writer’s life or is a contrivance is ultimately irrelevant. The author-protagonist of an “I-novel” is perceived as an actual, specific individual … The work is necessarily assumed to be truthful about that individual’s life. Moreover, readers tend to favor works that have no beginning or ending, and are fragmentary, finding them true to life, as life also has no opening or closure as such and is nothing but an accumulation of fragmentary experiences.

This also explains Mizumura’s presence in the novel.

Juliet Winters’ skilled translation enables the language to flow naturally, presenting no barriers to this exciting journey into the heart of the Japanese culture, which is important because the novel is not only a devastating love story, but also a reflection of history and society through the lives of each narrator. There is the westernization of Japan, culture shock, class and race prejudice, etc. Although the narrations are fragmented, Mizumura is able to present a dimensional version of a story that endures through time because of how she chooses to present the obvious differences in western culture and eastern culture. Mizumura does not imply that these two cultures clash and fight. Nor does she claim that it is merely a case of choosing one or the other. The interaction of citizens from different cultures affects their cultures as well.

Near the end of the novel, Yusuke learns that Fumiko’s relationship with Taro was more intimate than she suggested in her narration, so he wonders: “Was he too naïve a listener or was Fumiko too discreet a narrator? He couldn’t be sure.” At this point, the reader has already completed the task of taking apart doll after doll, or narration after narration. Everything is neatly lined up when the reader suddenly feels no joy or closure. Mizumura creates a story that feels effortlessly real through different layers of narration that offer specific details on the cultural and historical background as well. But then she forces the reader to realize that the story, though finished, will never be complete. All the characters offer narratives in an emotional tone, but no matter how specifically they approach the story, they still present a version that is biased, fragmented, and distant. But because of this, the novel offers truth in the sense that in reality stories are passed on by spectators or close relations of the protagonist(s).

A True Novel is filled with characters connected through a series of events that stretch across time and space. Representatives from multiple generations and social classes come together to act out a behind-the-scenes love story between two cultures: when the cultures enter into relationships, they no longer remain independent identities. Mizumura’s novel shows these lines and borders being redefined through this interaction between cultures, but never to the point that they disappear completely. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NEW! Poem by Kelly Fordon

Kelly Fordon


I couldn’t stand my ground. My foot snagged, landed in the mud. The river took me on a wild ride. No branches to save me. I’m sprawled half off the plinth, as if I just fell moments ago.

The truth is this has been coming for years.   

I won’t lie. There were moments when I liked the pedestal. But I’d had premonitions: half off, head angled, breasts defying gravity. In puris naturalibus.

I am a rock.  

Just a minute ago, I was checking my hair in the mirror, just a minute ago I was gaping at the scale, just a minute ago I was planning to move on, move forward, change track, make something of myself. It was the time right before the flood, the intruder, the runaway car, the diagnosis, the lightning strike. 

When I heard the river rushing I didn’t run. What does that say about the pedestal? What does that say about its tenuous allure? 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

NEW! Poem by Kelly Fordon

Kelly Fordon


Well, you are a very small monster. I have to give you that. It’s a big 
world and I wish I had a little rhinestone suitcase. Then I could carry 
you around like a miniature poodle. Of course, you are much smaller 
than that. You could hide behind two books on my shelf, you could 
fox trot with the dust bunny under the couch, quiver in anticipation 
of the broom. There! Over there! You could dart underneath the tea 
set. You could nestle into that score in the wood. Once, long ago, 
when you lived in the crib, I believe I remember you larger. I saw you 
shaking the slats. Escaping must have been scary! That may be when 
you shrank a la Alice, crawled underneath the wall-to-wall carpet. Set 
up camp there. Later, in the hospital, your size saved you, scurrying 
as you did up the IV pole and into your own vein. You made sure the 
infusion took. I will put you in an eggshell, in a locket, in a coin purse, 
under my tongue. Never mind what they say about you. You are not 
alone. Look in the woodpile, on the evergreen leaf, in the finch feeder, 
there are hundreds riding in the paramecium parade. Stick to the glue 
on the envelope and I will lick you. Someone will post you. 

You can pretend that wherever you are, there you aren’t. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

NEW! Review of Joanna Howard

Foreign Correspondent by Joanna Howard. Counterpath Press, $16.

Reviewed by Rebecca Quillen

Joanna Howard’s Foreign Correspondent is a brief testament to the world of high culture and the journalists who endeavor to report it, blending the tangible and the fantastical as it proceeds in episodic bursts of prose unified by a whimsical reverence for the allure of the past. The novel delineates the struggles of free-wheeling heroine Johnnie James as she strives to extricate herself from the feminine drudge work of the “domestic correspondent” and launch her debut into the glitzy, highbrow realm of the serious reporter. Along the way, platforms such as the study of jiu-jitsu, sports journalism, and extensive insect collections provide unexpected moments for reflection on the complexities of societal convention and human communication. 

Johnnie’s story unfolds in a series of charmingly told vignettes that take the form of various types of correspondence, from heart-wrenching, soul-baring love letters to casual missives hastily tapped out on the screen of a “magical touch device which was recently outfitted to exact specifications at a retail outlet by a male youth in a midriff sweater wearing a tag that said ‘genius’.” However varied the mediums of Johnnie’s communiqués may be, the narrative arc is pleasantly energized, rather than disrupted, by this multifariousness of form. Two running undercurrents connect Johnnie’s numerous dispatches and form the backbone of the girl reporter’s tale: her efforts to win the respect of the philosophical man of the world Alphonso, and her continued ineffectual attempts to form a lasting correspondence with Scooter Mackintosh, a reticent boxer who hails from her hometown.

Johnnie’s narrative is very much an exploration of dichotomies: the foreign is pitted against the domestic, professional against personal, and the highbrow against the philistine. Johnnie plunges headfirst into the mystical world of yakuza mobsters, Dominican monks, and exotic birds, hoping to discover that certain intangible quality that will enable her to ascend to stardom while Scooter, the local “Bricktown Butcher” and the embodiment of everything with which Johnnie is familiar, remains strangely elusive to her, displaying a perpetual and unexplained reluctance to answer Johnnie’s plea for a continued correspondence. Scooter’s mysterious distance serves as a poignant reminder that the “foreign” may be closer to home than we think.

Also at the heart of the narrative is a deep appreciation for--and allusions to--the world of vintage mystery and intrigue. Though concrete details ground the story clearly in our own time, nostalgic Hitchcockian tropes dance from page to page, paying a whimsical homage to the 1940 film from which the novel takes its name. Despite being thoroughly steeped in the trappings of the twenty-first century, Johnnie seems to express an impractical longing for the covert thrills of World War II-era espionage and intrigue, articulated in indulgent flights of fancy when the circumstances her own life fais to slake her thirst for adventure. She even resorts to the careful construction of a fantastical alter ego that evokes the glitz of wartime reportage. “Next I’ll take up my pen name Ute Brynstock,” Johnnie rhapsodizes as a sort of apology for the mundanity of her career thus far. “Ute Brynstock, reporting from the aftermath. Ute Brynstock, on the trail of the assassin.”

Beneath the surface of this admiration for the glamor of the past, however, is a compelling and, at times, troubling tension between Johnnie’s fanciful visions of a bygone era and the realities of her own contemporary existence. In no instance is this tension between archaic and modern clearer than when the girl reporter negotiates the perpetually shifting of her own femininity. Johnnie struggles to escape from the outmoded stigmas that plague her journalistic work (“This is Johnnie James from the intimacy of your kitchen!”),  yet the pursuit of her sometime correspondent Scooter sends her into a spiral of desperation as she contemplates the unabashed deployment of every possible weapon in her female arsenal, ranging from the melodramatic (“Passionate declarations followed by suggestions of how many men are vying for my attentions”) to the comical (“Would a photo of me sitting on the back of a Harley Davidson holding two chainsaws seem like I was trying to hard?”), and when these methods, too, prove fruitless she begins to wonder at her own readiness to abandon the liberation won through the efforts of her forbearers. “Am I sending my sex back to the dark ages?” Johnnie guiltily muses, “Am I at the mercy of my womb? Seriously, in the twenty-first century?” It is a question raised and left unanswered and it hangs over the novel’s uncertain conclusion. In one of the novel’s more pensive moments,  Johnnie laments the ghostly loneliness that marks her existence as a liberated female. “Females who haunt often haunt from sorrow, or from love,” she reflects, “We must make the most of our feminine wiles because we can now pass through materials unscathed.”

Howard’s novelistic creation is as much a reflection on the complexities of modern existence as it is a paean to the embellished and even unabashedly fictionalized past. Though clearly indebted to a series of stylized tropes and images for inspiration, Howard’s prose deftly resists the pitfall of merely falling into weepy nostalgia for the clarity of ages past. Instead, it is a testament to the way our personal and national histories weave into the fabric of human existence, as Johnnie’s fanciful journey urges the reader to reflect on attitudes both past and present, and the ways we attempt, and often fail, to communicate those attitudes to each other. 

Johnnie James is a heroine who inspires chuckles, frustration, and ultimately a deep sense of resonance as she struggles to find her place in a world that is half-real and half the construct of her own wishful imagination. Though the veneer of whimsy and imagination occasionally clouds the underlying bitterness of Johnnie’s reality, Foreign Correspondent is really a testament to the complex and ever-changing nature of popular and highbrow culture, as well as the often tenuous line that divides the real from the imaginary, the foreign from the domestic, and the distant from the accessible.