Monday, November 27, 2006

next issue of VERSE

The next issue of Verse is currently, finally at the printer. We'd planned for the issue to be out by October, but various circumstances got in our way.

The issue is 300 pages long and includes work by 78 writers, plus reviews of 17 books.

If you pre-order the issue, you can get it for $7 (instead of the $12 cover price), postage paid. Just send a check to VERSE (address above) by January 15.


Seth Abramson
Samuel Amadon
Annemette Kure Andersen
Beth Anderson
Jeffery Bahr
Hadara Bar-Nadav
Dawn-Michelle Baude
Priscilla Becker
Simeon Berry
Judith Bishop
Emma Bolden
Jenny Boully
Victoria Boynton
Pam Brown
Julie Carr
Maxine Chernoff
Heather Christle
Bruce Covey
Michael Earl Craig
Mary Crow
Jen Currin
Crystal Curry
Ed Davis
Xue Di
Ray Di Palma
Landis Everson
John Gallaher
James Galvin
Sarah Goldstein
Chris Green
James Grinwis
Barbara Hamby
Michael Hansen
Jerry Harp
Sara Henning
Bob Hicok
Cathy Park Hong
Erika Howsare
Nicholas Hundley
Lesley Jenike
David Krump
Jesse Lichtenstein
Amy Lingafelter
Timothy Liu
Jennifer MacKenzie
Sarah Mangold
Peter Markus
Paul McCormick
Kevin McFadden
Gordon Meade
Sandra Miller
Stan Mir
Andrew Mister
Natasha K. Moni
Schirin Nowrousian
Jessica Olin
Ethan Paquin
Peter Ramos
Sarah Riggs
Peter Rose
Catie Rosemurgy
Christopher Salerno
Steven D. Schroeder
Morgan Lucas Schuldt
Roy Seeger
James Shea
Craig Sherborne
Anis Shivani
Lytton Smith
Chad Sweeney
Brian Teare
Jonathan Thirkield
Chris Tonelli
Sidney Wade
G.C. Waldrep
Chris Wallace-Crabbe
Mike White
Emily Wilson


Joshua Beckman
Ted Berrigan
Shanna Compton
Alice Fulton
Thomas Heise
John Kinsella
Jennifer L. Knox
Corinne Lee
Timothy Liu
Ted Mathys
Thomas Merton
Sawako Nakayasu
Ethan Paquin
Muriel Rukeyser
Gustaf Sobin
George Witte
John Yau

Sunday, November 26, 2006

NEW! Poem by Kate Hall

Kate Hall


I crawled out of a war machine.
You didn’t recognize it as such, but
I did. I held it and fostered it
and fed it strange wooden apples from my purse.

To spend a lifetime waiting inside
a stick horse is to live with confusion
between hollow and hallow. I’ve lived
in this one room my whole life.

It looks a lot like outside. A tiny farrier
by the red barn in the distance. Four horses waiting
to gather us up. We cannot see beyond them.
We colored their coats

to explain the end to ourselves.
The red horse and the pale horse
and the other and there is hunger. A tiny farrier
on the horizon line. Meaning, it’s time

to crawl back inside myself. As the wind,
I’m drawing these patterns in the sand.
Accept the horse as a dangerous gift
you find meaningful. The offering

before the first burning arrow is fired
into the city. It could have been
fireworks or lightning. For my horse and me,
it hardly matters. Though it will matter for you:

how you decide to read me or
whether you do. Overnight, one horse
will gather us. The equine sternum
a drawbridge to a corporeal castle

we are plotting inside. Four horses
released on the unsuspecting city. I am the only one left
inside the warhorse I am holding in my hands.
I will have to live with him, maybe

for him. I am ready
to practice non-participation.
I want this to be the last thing I’ll ever do,
to stop here and say I’ll go no further.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

NEW! Review of Marc J. Straus

Not God by Marc J. Straus. Northwestern University Press, $14.95.

Reviewed by Karen Robichaud

As a practicing oncologist, Marc J. Straus uses his own experiences to fuel his writing in his first play, Not God. Straus’ third book explores the hope, tragedy, and difficulty of communication felt when dealing with the effects of cancer. Though Straus’ first two books of poetry, One Word and Symmetry, also deal with human reaction to cancer, Straus enters new territory by creating a play in verse in Not God. The verse is simple and direct, sharing the stories of two people: the patient and the doctor. The subject matter of the poems ranges from the everyday gossip of the hospital to childhood memories to the nervousness of a patient following an MRI. To that end, Straus also explores the progression of a patient’s mental and emotional state nearing death, bringing his new and old work together under a different genre and connecting the poems quite differently. By alternating between doctor and patient, Straus depicts the concerns, fears, frustrations, and inabilities of both parties as they struggle with cancer.

Despite the absence of medical terminology in his writing, Straus depicts an emotionally charged medical world. The patient dying of cancer grows more overcome and frightened, while still trying to find dignity and comfort in the sterile hospital environment. The first poem, delivered by the patient, comments on the white lies told in hospitals to ease the shock of one’s own mortality: “She said he was old and frail / and his kidneys failed. / It is more than / she should say, but she is kind / to differentiate his circumstance from mine.” Straus shares what he has observed from years in oncology and never rationalizes the human behavior. His honesty creates very sympathetic characters, both of which grapple with the pain of cancer. The doctor, knowing that no easy answer exists, encourages himself to “say yes--a sliver of grace in an / excoriated world.” Straus strikes a balance between the direct ways doctors must find to deliver bad news and how one, as a human, must come to terms with mortality. By personalizing the doctor through descriptions of his own memories, Straus delivers a portrait of humans desperately trying to save each other and themselves.

Using natural language, Straus focuses on the lack of control one has over cancer, which emphasizes the value of the play. Neither the patient nor the doctor ever spins out of control, but both continually grapple how to exist in a losing battle. For example, in “Reward,” the patient reflects on the benefits of knowing one’s fate, as it consoles many, but decides, “I prefer not knowing. It sufficed / to know everyone died sooner or later.” Lack of control irritates the patient and the doctor as neither has the answers. Both learn each day how to understand a world in which cancer exists. However, in the final pages, Straus becomes rather heavy-handed with his metaphor in “Brine,” which sets up a nightmarish dream, a symbol of the doctor’s struggles to cure his patients, not always successful. Because the poem reflects the struggle, the reader understands exactly what Straus intends, but in the final stanza he shifts gears and alienates the audience by treating them like simpletons:
It is like this being an oncologist, and each time
I enter the brine I try to be buoyant. I try
to concentrate on the other side but the light
glares blindingly off that little girl in yellow.

This ending causes the poem to lose the momentum Straus maintains in the previous three stanzas. Without the final stanza, Straus’ message remains clear. In other poems, Straus does not create this problem. His final words often provoke new thought or add a twist to the overall idea rather than belaboring the point. Furthermore, Straus’ poems often reflect each other, though set pages apart, and his ideas about humans and cancer resonate throughout the whole book. In both “Luck” and “Say Yes,” both patient and doctor reference the quick fix people look for in bad situations. The doctors wishes he could “answer unequivocally, / to give patients a sense of purpose,” while the patient notices the tricks people play to fool away their bad fortune, “I have this itch under my arm. I’ll scratch it twice / in slow circles and my cancer is gone.” Both “Luck” and “Say Yes” represent Straus’ ability to look at human reaction slightly differently.

Straus continues to investigate human reaction as the two speakers, doctor and patient, explore human futility in very different ways, often missing connections, frustrating both speakers. Additionally, both characters explore the idea of God in different ways. The title poem, “Not God” explores the power a doctor holds as patients preface questions with “I know you’re not God . . .” but then ask the unaskable. The doctor’s pain becomes clear, “Do you say this to your lawyer, accountant / or mother-in-law? And if I’m not God, then / ask me a question that only God can answer?” In contrast to the doctor’s annoyance and his own inability to console, the patient references God in a completely different way. In “Humming” the patient hums to his/herself and all those around him/her try to guess what song the patient hums, yet, “I am confounded by these inexplicable noises / from my mouth that each recognizes as familiar. I think / God hears them as my prayers.” The final lines of Not God demonstrate Straus’ range of thought and emotion. The simple language does not stand in the way of delivering a powerful message about human beings in a chaotic world. Just as each individual tries to create order in the world, often through a personalized relationship to God, like in humming, Straus looks for order in a world where anyone could have cancer.

The book closes with a poem from the doctor, “What I Am,” explaining how he knows how long someone has to live, slightly apologetic for his proficiency in delivering death sentences. Straus openly confronts the gravity of his profession and reveals the heart behind it. Without sentimentality, Straus addresses the fear, loss, and purposelessness his patients feel and also expresses the doctor’s feelings of helplessness. A play like Not God is able to put its actors alone in space and allow the words to speak for themselves. Straus’ Not God is filled with potential and power, making it a compelling read, but under appropriate direction, breathtaking to watch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

NEW! Review of Paula Cisewski

Upon Arrival by Paula Cisewski. Black Ocean, $11.95.

Reviewed by Kate Seferian

One could regard Paula Cisewski’s first book of poems, Upon Arrival, as the beginning of a significant journey, but she too often seems to hover around the surface rather than dive to inspect the massive potential below. Although the mediocrity of many of the poems elicits lukewarm response, Cisewski unearths a few gems in the pile of rhinestones. Her ingenuity manages to shine through some of the chinks in Upon Arrival.

The book opens with “All the Way Home,” a brilliant, pioneering piece suited for the beginning of the book because it suggests the collection’s underlying purpose as a poetical expedition and gives a colorful glimpse of the poet. Cisewski introduces herself as a feisty and bright writer who embraces her flaws as elements of a jaded perfection: “The greenfinch in me flying straight into the cracked mirror in me / The you-already-said-that in me / The firewalk: the glow, the blistered faith.” Cisewski combines nostalgia, introspection, and inner strength to create a backbone, or essential reason, for her work. “All the Way Home” spurs the poet’s, and ultimately the reader’s, journey: Cisewski performs a meet-and-greet with her audience and establishes a foundation for the subsequent exploration of her art.

Cisewski presents a collection rife with erratic and eclectic forms, an observation which lends itself to her obvious proclivity to experiment, as well as her struggle to find a characteristic niche. Each poem exhibits its own personality, and while this aspect hints at a sense of lyrical schizophrenia, it also motivates one to think that if the current poem does not evoke a strong reaction in the reader, the next page may satisfy any lingering appetite. In his review of Upon Arrival, John Deming notes that “the mania [Cisewski] is really indulging in . . . is an obsession with the notion of multifarious selves. Every person is burdened with an infinite number of conflicting impulses and emotions--indeed, of ways to finally envision oneself” (

In “My Dearest Memory” and “Origami,” Cisewski showcases an extraordinary ability to weave language with the heartache of memory and wasted chances. “My Dearest Memory,” at first glance, almost appears as two poems and quite possibly could be read as such--the two staggered columns maintain a hint of dependence on each other but still act as their own entities. Cisewski exhibits skilled control in playing the poem line by line, each one holding its own weight but also contributing to a whole. Cisewski reaches a climax in Upon Arrival with “Origami,” in which she beautifully depicts the intricacies of the what-might-have-been situations we all run into: “Something folds out in the shape of a bloom / for the pocket of quiet they guard with their lives.” These poems are what propel the reader forward as Cisewski flirts with a taste of her abilities, with what pulsates beneath the rough surface.

The book contains three sections, as the poet’s penchant for dabbling in a variety of structures can seem daunting to the reader if she unleashed everything in an unorganized fashion. One could associate the final section, which shares the book’s title, with the theme of the opening poem “All the Way Home”--the theme of the poet’s journey. Cisewski opens her final section with a quote from T.S. Eliot: “In order to arrive at what you are not, you must go through the way in which you are not. And what you do not know is the only thing you know . . .” Cisewski suggests her collection may actually act as a personal journey, but one may find it difficult to discern any destination or closure in the end; her constant changes in structure contribute to the collection’s choppiness. It is natural, with any journey, to want to achieve a sense of resolution or declaration in the end, and the poet does not deliver the conclusive note that some of her readers may desire.

Cisewski finishes her book on somewhat shaky ground, leaving the reader with “who else is not to be trusted / with language”--a stimulating and loaded question, and possibly one that readers could use against her. This question humbles Cisewski and serves as an interesting finale to Upon Arrival, but the lines hint at the instability of some of the preceding poems. Cisewski bounces between mediocrity and brilliance, sometimes floundering but also exhibiting fearlessness in dabbling in colorful, chaotic personality.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

NEW! Review of Jon Woodward

Rain by Jon Woodward. Wave Books, $14.

Reviewed by Lauren Grewe

In his second book, Rain, Jon Woodward wallows in the beauty of modern decay and the poignant absurdity of unabashed grief. A personal testament to mourning and recovery, to the stages of bereavement and the urban ghosts that follow, Rain explores the trials of modern life, quietly propelling the reader through the mental process of redemption after trauma, of a world fallen but not completely lost, mired in chaos but still striking.

Rain is in many respects an elegy for Patrick (the speaker’s deceased friend) and for the world that Patrick inhabited and that the speaker still inhabits. Woodward processes and reprocesses Patrick’s death, finding various forms within which to fit and contextualize his grief. “[I]t’s not that he died,” the speaker says, “it’s that he won’t stop / dying and reemerging fully ordinarily / through ordinary doors.” These “ordinary doors” emerge as the poems themselves, which recount the grieving process as one in which Patrick resurfaces more living than dead, at least in the speaker’s mind. “Patrick stood in a bucket / and died only one foot could fit in the bucket,” Woodward writes, “would not the body of Patrick this / bucket fit inside as the / bottle of my mouth fills / one of my head’s pockets.” Would not the ghost of Patrick fit within some shape, take some form within the speaker’s mind, so that, given substance, the speaker could face the vicissitudes of the world and “the stain” that those trivial but unforgettable acts of violence leave on the human soul.

Woodward’s short poems (never longer than a page) seem to write themselves, flowing from phenomenal reality without the mediator of reason or logic. For the most part he grounds his poems in everyday occurrences--he starts some of his poems with observations about a church down the street tolling a D flat over and over again, going to see Spider Man, strawberries and scrambled eggs. But Woodward manages to imbue these mundane events with personal and emotive (if not always cosmological) significance, perceiving the here and now not as an end in itself but as an illogical gateway to emotional recesses.

Structurally, Woodward’s terse yet mellifluous phrases flood the boundaries of conventional syntax, their laxity opening up new possibilities of meaning for each reader each time she or he interprets a poem. By leaving his poems untitled, Woodward creates fluidity reminiscent of the book’s title. Playing off ideas and meaning established in his earlier poem, which discusses fear and uncertainty over a bowl of chowder soup with Patrick, Woodward picks up in the same vein two pages later with the ending of his last poem of the section “Rain, Ocean”:
guy at a gas station

walked up to the car
began cleaning the windshield saying
as he did so Sic
Transit Gloria Patrick goes Sic
Transit my Chowder Shitting Ass

The poems’ lack of punctuation and unnecessary capitalization force the reader to engage with the poems and self-consciously make syntactical decisions that affect meaning, resulting in a heightened level of participation that causes the reader to feel like the poet’s accomplice rather than merely his audience. The poem that begins “a grown man the singer” rejoices in this ambiguity which leaves the reader with multiple possibilities of meaning:
he explains how this man
deliberately attempted to wall off
all of his anxieties by
singing about the sunshine it
couldn’t possibly work I tried

dancing at their show a
first for me but can’t
help overhearing the death stumbling
fear look at all these
idiots dancing I’m fucking surrounded

The words “I tried” could fit within the context of either stanza, leaving the reader to decide whether the desperate speaker tries to mask his own anxieties by “singing about the sunshine” or by “dancing at their show.” Either act would be a frenzied attempt by the speaker to affirm a nonexistent, nauseating optimism, through burning his retina with the bright side of life or trying to lose himself in the crowd. While Woodward enables both interpretations, dualistic logic and the need to pause for breath, may convince the reader that she or he needs to pick one possibility. But Woodward may be employing this inclusive, non-delineating syntax in order to avoid just that eventuality of decision that would splice the poem and deny the multiple ways it can work. An oral reading would necessitate a decision, just as an oral reading would necessitate punctuation, even if temporary and hazarded. However, a reading of the words on the page requires no such divisions of meaning, no such decisions. Instead, the indistinct syntax contributes to the overall fluidity of the poetry in Rain.

Throughout Rain, Woodward juxtaposes instances and employs non-sequiturs to make connections. He grasps at meaning in a world where hell and absurdity collide and eventually emerge as two aspects of the same modern reality. One poem begins with a discussion of fire extinguishers so small the speaker cannot imagine them containing anything more than chicken noodle soup. The phone rings and the poem switches to conversational form as the speaker talks to his mother, “hi / mom yeah I got it / it’s right here thank you / no I like chicken noodle,” when “the phone suddenly bursts into / flames um hold on mom.” These moments of absurdity and logistic failure hint at the depth of the speaker’s grief and his subsequent uncertain state of sanity throughout much of Rain. In another poem the speaker recounts:
. . . this morning when
I woke up I fabricated
the following nightmare you dangled
a microphone from your teeth
you were on a ledge

four stories up the microphone
swayed back and forth I
was jumping trying to grasp
it whaddya mean not scary
I’ll show you not scary

This fearful yet contained voice quietly shrieks out its terror in the middle pages of Rain, wondering all the while “at what point did the / bombs begin to fall exactly.”

While Woodward bemoans modern life, unmasking its raw and imperfect nature, his world reemerges with distinct glimmers of hope amid the failure. Working in a circular motion, the first poem in Rain reexamines these notions:
in spite of which it’s
hard to imagine it all
going to shit the pinkflowering
dogwood for example is my
newest favorite tree the decay

of what world we’ve got’s
not exactly what I’m afraid
of not now . . .

. . . what questions then to
ask for what if anything
about this coffee these fries

The speaker in Rain often despairs of life and events, but he never quits the game. He falters at many horrors--the death of his friend, decay and loss--but his sincerity reveals his unwillingness to revel forever in modern decay, to lose himself completely in his grief.

More than a book of elegies, Rain experiments with ideas of what to do with this “brutally fascinating world” of which we can only “see a / tiny part.” How then to cope with grief in a world of self-conscious absurdity? What questions wait for us to ask them, if indeed there survive questions worthy of asking about “this coffee these fries,” this world, this being? By the end of Rain, Woodward convinces his reader that human experience is more complex than grief, more varied than despair, that, by gaining “momentum” from the “depths” of suffering, humans can transcend tragedy and “hang for / some seconds in the sun,” breaching out of states of sleep as “whales out / of the ocean whales silhouetted / like souls.”