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.