GRL February 2012
Essays & Criticism on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
Ardor Oil, acrylic, ink, gold leaf, wood 16 1/2” x 20”
THIS MONTH’S FEATURED ARTIST:
Artist Biography: Making art is an act of remembering. I draw, carve, paint, and write in search of the lesson, the pearl of great worth, the gold in the dross. I reﬁne, concentrate, preserve the best parts. A human life is diluted with struggles and distractions. An artist records truth and surprises the viewer with beauty. Kateri Tolo grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the other end of the Mississippi, not knowing that God would have her follow it southward to attend school at Belhaven University. She graduated from Belhavenʼs Visual Art Department in 2011 and currently serves as elementary art teacher at Jackson Academy and creates and exhibits work in the city of Jackson. Her work is made mostly of broken fragments of previous works and the discarded remnants of other projects. Many of these come from her own work, but also from the work of other artists and friends. She reﬁnes these fragments into objects of richness and worth. Her inspiration in the restoring work of the Creator God who offers shining hope for those who turn to Him. “Being an imperfect creator, everything I make breaks at one time or another in the making,” she says. “My hope is that as I work, toil, fail, and succeed, those who come in contact with me would see Godʼs provision and strength in all my weaknesses.”
Founder/Editor-in-Chief Daniel Casey
Daniel Casey earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. In 2008, Gold Wake Press published his first electronic poetry chapbook, Well Enough. He created and has been editing Gently Read Literature since 2008. Rarely, other literary reviews will publish his poetry. He minds two cats and is the husband of a brilliant geologista. Feel free to email him.
Designer/Layout Manager Carol Jackson Carol Jackson earned her Postgraduate diploma in Arts Management from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, UK. Currently, she is working as Associate Administrator with the Norfolk ChamberMusic Festival/Yale School of Music. Gently Read Literature is her first design/layout project.
Announcing the publication of THE BEDS by MARTHA RHODES from Autumn House Press
Praise for Mother Quiet “. . . Weird, dark, hilarious, direct, otherworldly-these poems display a poet in command of every note the English language is capable of sounding. They will not be silenced: they are unforgettable.” -James Longenbach
For orders, review copies, course adoption examination copies, please email: info@autumnhouse. org or call (412) 381-4261. Click Here to Order Online or place a special order with your local bookstore. THE BEDS ISBN: 978-1-932870-53-4 54 pages | $14.95 plus shipping. Martha Rhodes is the author of three previous collections of poetry: At the Gate, Perfect Disappearance, and Mother Quiet. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Rhodes is a founding editor and the director of Four Way Books in New York City.
“The aim of poetry (and the higher kind of thriller) is to be unexpected and memorable. So a poem about death might treat it in a way that combines the bizarre and the banal: the Other Side as some kind of institution-a creepy hospital, an officious hotel or retirement home. Martha Rhodes takes such an approach in ‘Ambassadors to the Dead,’ from her abrupt, unsettling, artfully distorted, indelible new book Mother Quiet . . . Blending the matterof-fact with the surreal, as a way of comprehending the stunning, final reality, Rhodes is an inheritor of Emily Dickinson’s many poems on the same subject.” -Robert Pinsky, The Washington Post
Frightening & Familiar: Amy Henry on Timothy O’Keefe’s The Goodbye Town
Seasonal Patrons: Joe Sullivan on Matthew Guenette’s American Busboy
We Are All Implicated: Cindy St. John on Susan Briante’s Utopia Minus
LPivotal Yet Ordinary Moments: David S. Atkinson on Richard Duggin’s Why Won’t You Talk To Me: Selected Stories
Whatever You Eat You’re Gonna Shit: Christopher Crawford on Nick Demske’s Nick Demske
The Deranging of Language: Langdon Dean Julius on Scott Wilkerson’s Threading Stone
Dancing with the Stars: Barbara Goldberg on Jay Rogoff’s The Art of Gravity
The Country of Want: Rita Mae Reese on Shara McCallum’s This Strange Land
Joe Sullivan on 30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Young Writers In the Aftermath: Sandy Longhorn on Allison Joseph’s My Father’s Kites
About Us/Review Copies Available
Amy Henry on Timothy O’Keefe’s The Goodbye Town
Oberlin College Press, 2011
Frightening & Familiar:
How then, can a cozy name Betray our need for something Ultrahuman, polychrome? …the satellites Are never coming home. We live In peek-a-boo stars. In afterthrills. If we need color, as Timothy O’Keefe writes above, he certainly delivers it in this collection of poetry that plots the geography of the anonymous landscape in The Goodbye Town. Nearly every poem uses colors to describe a place that feels familiar yet retains a sense of mystery. The use of color in poetry is pretty much standard, but I’ve not read a poet that has used so many variations of color to reflect regret, shyness, and even the “trembly green” of social isolation. At times, he uses poems to connect past memories to current events, making the reader ponder if change every truly occurs, or if our DNA projects only grim repetition. In “Poem in a Book That Was Never Opened,” he describes the definition of home but ultimately in the past tense: There was a home We called it here. The big lamps burned And the wind was humming Then: taking, taking, Giving red maple, red maple. 1
…We’ll say The shapes are not bereaved of weight. We said The town is not besieged. This same sense of conflicted memory exists in “The Outlying Counties and Then Some,” where in 27 lines he traces the change from childhood innocence and abundance, where “everyone had a mother then, a working train set” to impending adulthood, wondering “why this quaking in the trees, the winter sidewalks so quick to melt”. It’s with acceptance rather than melancholy that he describes a place that is ultimately “a forgiven landscape, the landscape itself a reflection of the grace that gathered elsewhere.” His gaze isn’t focused on blind nostalgia, but on reality; one that may lack the Crayola memories of youth but instead gains texture and shadow. The most intriguing part of his book is the unknown identity of A.F. Little, a character that appears in various poems that only hint at who he is or how he relates to the intangible location of the Goodbye Town. Born of violence, he thinks in the color brown and acts childlike, although we can sense advanced age. The bird-like man appears in shadowy poems that depict the sea and warfare, a past in Alban. Is it the fields of Italy or France that have marked him? Even from his ominous birth, the presence of grief accompanies him. O’Keefe is also a master of knockout lines, phrases that halt your reading as you reverse to read them again: “penguins never dream of flying, even in water” “a screen door snaps like a shard of night itself”” “the clothesline whips its sleeves” In line with this collection, an essay in Windfall (Vol 1, No. 2, Spring 2003) entitled “Form in Poetry of Place,” editors Bill Siverly and Michael McDowell help in describing the unique nature of literature related to location: The idea of “place” has been considerably devalued in American culture, to the point at which it functions more as a metaphor than a reality. Few people see themselves as part of a particular landscape…rather, we see ourselves as inhabiting very transportable “places”—look-alike Starbucks, cars, ranch houses, condos, Costcos, concerts, conversations. ”Place” is more of an idea…. “Place” in literature tends to be dismissed as ‘regionalism’ or ‘local color’.
It feels cliché to say that the Goodbye Town is Anytown, USA, but the structure enhances the poems because it anchors them in something we can recognize. Whether or not O’Keefe imagined this place or if it is loosely based on a real small town is immaterial; every mention of a wet road, a windy street, an old tree or an abandoned house locks it into reality. His apt descriptions combine with our memories and somehow, we know we’ve been there. The familiarity can be frightening too. We’ve felt that wind ourselves. In this light, the poems become ours.
Recall Oil, acrylic, ink, gold leaf, wood 10 1/2” x 11” 6
Joe Sullivan on Matthew Guenette’s American Busboy
University of Akron Press, 2011
The fact that Matthew Guenette is able to create a 76-page collection of poetry, and good poetry—funny, incisive and soul-bearing—about such a seemingly mundane subject (being a busboy for the summer) from that first-person perspective tells me clearly that he must be a genius. Or, at least, very, very clever. More than anything, Guenette uses dark humor in this collection to explore its theme: bitterness over being a busboy for the summer. Which is inherently funny. The complaints from those on the lowest rung of the service ladder come from close observation and are funny because they’re true. This bitterness is framed by an existential struggle that has maintained itself for all time: the constant push and pull between management and patrons. Seasonal patrons. And seasonal workers sent in specifically to cater to these people, who may or may not vacation at any other time of the year. In the middle of these two groups but below them, and subject to their whims, are the busboys. And only slightly higher in the middle are the wait staff. The social hierarchy is at the core of this collection. The poems trace a timeline of the season, from May to September at The Clam Shack! Guenette himself is from New Hampshire, and he knows the subject matter well. He’s been to Hampton Beach and seen its seasonal workers firsthand. I would guess he’s been one. In “Name Your Poison,” he describes with great alliteration the busboy’s first realization at the tedium he’s signed on for, and his realization of the conflict between management and tourist: the buoys & the by-&-by a bedlam of butter & beer spilled over 7
& managers (barbarians) big-bellied with battle-axes to grind bullshit to your spine bitch-&-bitch & those Boston baked beans a busboy can stand for only so long Later, in “The Golden Age,” tongue-in-cheek, he expands on the problems with management: The tables would be so clean you could eat off them. That’s how one manager put it. You used to be able to EAT off a table when a busboy was done. Those busboys were punctual. Those busboys weren’t ashamed of their black & white checkered polyester pants. But for some reason—it’s unclear— the model busboys of yesteryear hung it up, their trash bags & orderly ways, & said fuck this! Gradually, the busboy settles in, but so does despair. He ruminates about the middle school teacher waitressing for the summer and going home with the chowder cook in “Upside-Down Crates,” a title that makes the poem feel as if the busboy resides in a world of total absurdity: I would be sitting alone on the upsidedown crates anticipating the uncertainty between the last party of the night & dragging my ass back to work the next morning. Sitting on the upside-down crates searching for the meaning of sitting on the upside-down crates considering what it means for the crates to be upside-down
Stunned at the possibility that downshifting into third with the chowder cook in the cab of his truck was somehow a middle school teacher’s idea of keeping busy. Anger starts to build out of the despair, and at certain points, the poems turn serious (around mid-June for the timeline of the collection). In “7-10 Split” the busboy remembers a meeting long-ago that seems to have brought him to where he is: My uncle… the one & only time we met he said people could just catch on fire. It’s called spontaneous combustion. We were at the bar sharing a pitcher of Schlitz & a corned-beef. I was maybe 10 years old. It’s what you call a formative experience. And there doesn’t seem to be much outlet from the angst, aside from getting wasted, as shown in “Lyric,” one of the more beautiful short poems in the collection: From the ass of The Clam Shack! I stumbled to the beach where I figured the stars for buckshot until I was too stoned to think. No ride home (it didn’t exist) I passed out where the surf could kiss my greasy sneakers. When I came to, another busboy was wandering the dunes with a pool cue trying to sink the moon in the corner pocket. The summer presses on, and the busboy will reach for anything to justify in his mind continuing on, even Rainer Maria Rilke, in “Take Your Pants for a Walk Day,” which 9
feels like a delirium that’s being lived through: So what that Rilke’s psycho mom dressed him in checkered pants. So what that he skipped like a restless schoolgirl & was snubbed by that chowder-head Tolstoy! Screw Tolstoy! When Rilke whipped his throbbing lobster out & whispered presto it scared management so bad they fired him with pay— Rilke’s plan all along. Eventually, in August, the end is in sight, and the busboy becomes accepting and a little hopeful. In “Kiss & Make Up,” he says: A hostess in a zodiac dress. She invented mottos that were little knives aimed at the restaurant’s heart. The Clam Shack: Where No Sorrow Is Too Big! I remember thinking as night turned into the sorry mess of morning that the tip of her cigarette in the dark was the irradiated breath of an angel. Which is boring. & stupid. But the end of summer was beginning & I was feeling good. The busboy who trained me was determined to teach me one thing or another. It was a question of degrees. An immensity beneath everything making tracks in my thoughts, filling me up with a dumb hope. At the very end of the season in September, in “Clean,” he reflects almost fondly on the whole experience, as if he’s repeating something important he’s learned or felt, like a mantra, or maybe just a glorified memory, poetry within the shit: 10
& when a busboy was cleaning a table his hands should resemble a hummingbird’s wings. & when the condiments were being organized a skilled busboy should spin the ketchup & shakers like pistols before holstering them in the tray. Only then in the customer’s mind would a table really be clean. It’s a fitting end to his season, one filled with the mess of food, and the psychological mess from management and customers. A weight has lifted, and finally he can move on to the next phase of his life in the fall.
Cindy St. John on Susan Briante’s Utopia Minus
Utopia Minus opens with starlings, a magnolia tree, a helicopter, butterflies and a highway. In cities, we live between nature and concrete. The speaker feels “a pilot light at the back of my throat,” a tiny flame to keep all other fires going, a fire controlled, contained. Later, she sits on the front stoop that smells of gardenia and sewage, waiting for her lover to arrive. Susan Briante’s poems are contemporary lyrics for our daily lives, for our strip malls and nail guns and Gap advertisements, and equally, for thunderstorms, blackbirds and sunsets. She weaves through urban landscapes, looking for signs of life before the suburbs, when pioneers lived by seasons, and wonders if they might have felt more connected to each other and to the land. In the poem, “Redbud,” she writes, “Texas redbuds blossom into violet scabs, the last crop between the tollway and condos; the only text left before the ink goes.” These poems strive to record the every day, to remember and transcribe the decay of American culture into the stock market and construction sites. She writes, “our struggle has too few chroniclers” and “so frequently, I want a witness.” The epigraph to this collection comes from Robert Smithson, an American artist known for using the land as his medium: “the suburbs exist without a rational past without the ‘big events’ of history.” We are fascinated with industrial ruin, and yet, Smithson, and Briante too, argue that the urban sprawl fed by mass consumerism are also ruins, “ruin before they are built,” under the guise of progress. In the poem “Photography of Nature,” Briante writes of destruction in the wake General Sherman’s army in Columbia, SC, in Bagdad and in Belgrade. She connects these images to “a woman exposed to pornography [who] craves images of increased intensity.” Other poems have titles such as: “From the Ruined Concrete Foundry West of Airport Blvd between Manor and M.L.K.” and “300 Block Kings Ln—Demolished Apartment Complex.” Briante chronicles these places, a history in rusted metal and 12
Ahsahta Press, 2011
We Are All Implicated:
wildflowers, in a “blue-black lake like an 8-mm film.” Without a past, the imagery of decay has the potential to aestheticize viewers, much like the recent photography of Detroit, termed “ruin porn.” Briante, however, resists spectacle, insists we are all implicated. She traces the past in poems that reference the Civil War and Westward Expansion, the beginning of the shapes of the cities where we now live. She reads Whitman’s Specimen Days and Melville’s journals, studies General Sherman, and talks to Dickens. In “Nail Guns in the Morning,” she writes, “Sit with me/ C. Dickens, let me tell you how bad/ the food is on the Amtrak.” She weaves her own past with that of the pre-industrial country: her childhood growing up in New Jersey or a winter she lived in Brooklyn. Memory is linked to place. At a time when our society verges on historical amnesia, Briante explores “new urbanism, racial uprisings, cultural memory.” And in a political landscape as ruined as the physical one, she writes, “how does a tree move when it is angry?/ I want to be angry like that.” The book is in three sections; there is a “Memoranda” between each section with poems that are letters to government officials, to Mr. Surgeon General or Mr. Director of the Census Bureau, who are far removed from the daily life of the American people. Briante describes “life whittled to a slender focus: a sideways kiss, a single receipt, lizard disappearing around a concrete corner.” The poems are not without humor and, as disillusioned as the speaker is, “what a time, then, to be an American in love!” she writes in a letter to Madam Secretary of Homeland Security. I-35 is a highway that stretches north and south from Mexico to Canada. It cuts the United States in half; it’s a trade route, a traffic nightmare, a trail of chain restaurants and burnt brown fields. Briante writes, “Show me the asterisk, clause at the end of my lease, something in between the butterfly garden and Arlington Cemetery, between cattle drives and I-35, wagon trails and Walt Disney, enough of the anecdote for everyone I love.” Maybe what exists in between are the stories, the words we collect like crumbled bricks. Alice Notley writes in her book Culture of One, “I am building this culture out of will and language and garbage.” Briante too is building a culture, a culture of ruins and memories, a culture that exists in the words that connect our fences and “scrapmetal skylines,” the redbud trees and birdcalls, the way our highways and railways have failed to bring us together. In these poems the negatives are “still-wet,” still searching and angry and hopeful and human. These poems are tending a fire, and building a language from its ashes.
David S. Atkinson on Richard Duggin’s Why Won’t You Talk To Me: Selected Stories
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to dig into more of Richard Duggin’s writing since I came across The Music Box Treaty a while ago. This review is about Why Won’t You Talk To Me? instead of The Music Box Treaty, but to explain why I’ve been waiting so eagerly I thought I’d provide a snippet. In Lodgepole, Nebraska, the volunteer fire department are debating the application of the main character, a former literary man who came to a point in his life where he found he could no longer live as he had. He attempts to explain this by way of symbols during his interview; something the rural volunteer fireman who interview him is incapable of understanding. The following results clearly shows why I was so eager to read more of Duggin: “Ray, you did the interviewing, why don’t you report on the applicant,” Chief Sorrensen says. Ray unfolds the flap of his shirt and out comes my application form. He unfolds it, one neat crease at a time, and smooths the paper out on his thigh. “Let’s see…the applicant’s name is…heh, heh…Marion Monaghan—” “Jesus, Kremke,” Chief Sorrensen says. “Well…” His name is Ma-ri-on Monaghan, and…let’s see…oh, yeah, he works for Brochau at the lumberyard, and he used to teach at The University but he does not any longer. He says he is here to make some sort of treaty, because there are no buffalo and the land is burned off.” I shrink in my chair. “Well, that’s what it says here,” Ray says[.] In any event, I was ecstatic to hear about this collection. And, I am pleased to be able to say my patience couldn’t have been better rewarded. I love the quiet ease of Duggin’s prose and the stories in this collection showcase that style beautifully. Consider the following excerpts from the story “Valerie” where a twenty-year-old woman’s relationship with a much older man is interrupted by the older man’s ex14
Outskirts Press, 2011
Pivotal Yet Ordinary Moments:
wife’s repeated attempts to see him: He ran his fingertips through the wisps of hair along his temples. “What you must think of us.” He pressed himself suddenly down upon her, his muscles taut. But when he kissed her, his lips, in contradiction, were soft on hers. When he set her free, his face was composed and serious once more. “You’re truly remarkable, you know,” he said. “Living with you is something cooling to my nerves. Twenty years old, and in many ways you’re more adult than I am.” She poked him sharply in the ribs. “Oh gimme a break. It’s not like you’re shacking up with a teenager, you know.” That drew a laugh from him finally. “Damn. Then where’s the fun in it? shortly followed by: “Actually, this whole thing has me messed up.” “You’re a nice man, Martin. You ought to believe that about yourself.” “I don’t know. Every relationship has its own dynamics, I suppose. But if you’d known us a few years ago…” She knew something about those dynamics, about forces pulling and repelling two people. “It’s all right,” she said, although it wasn’t. But he had trapped her into reasonableness. She was remarkable, after all. She was cooling to the nerves. Also, there is a marvelous quality to these stories that brings me into how these characters feel about these pivotal yet ordinary moments in their lives. Strangely, if people I knew were experiencing such moments, I might not be that concerned. Yet, the way that these stories pull me into how the characters feel about such moments, I couldn’t be more interested if these were crises in my own life. This can easily be seen in the following portions of “The News at the Top of the Hour” (a story where a firefighter has moved into an apartment building after his successful newscaster wife decided they should separate, though she later decides otherwise):
He laughed in return, and when he rolled his head and looked away for a moment, savoring the warm humor between them, he found himself looking right across the pool and through the iron fence at Gail’s silver Lexus wheeling into an empty space in the parking lot between a yellow VW and a red Corvette. **** As soon as she got out of the car it was evident to Duane that she was in a tizzy. Her hair was stringy and straight, her clothes—the same pink blouse she had worn when he left the house yesterday—was limp and tailed out of her skirt over one hip. She stood on the sidewalk in front of his truck, staring at it and then casting her gaze at the three apartment buildings, as if the truck itself might somehow point where he lived, live a dowsing rod. Duane became very still. He tried to make himself smaller as he pressed into the chaise. Next to him, Linda was saying, “I’m a nut for estate sales. I don’t buy many new things, but I can’t keep away from other people’s stuff. **** When Gail spotted him—her attention drawn to the pool by a fat man racing
by Duane to cannonball into the water next to a girl with mermaid hair—she waved him her way with traffic cop sweeps of her arm. He turned his attention to Linda. **** Then he heard Gail, her voice plaintive. “Du-ane?” Duane!” He tried to ignore her. **** “I think someone’s trying to get your attention,” Linda said. “Yeah?” he said. He turned his head to acknowledge his wife.
I literally could not put the book down once I picked it up. I read it straight through the very same day that I got it. Insightful, delicate, and subtle, these stories reveal a warm compassion for the common yet incomprehensible human puzzle that we all are in the midst of. In short, Why Won’t You Talk To Me? is what I’ve been waiting for.
Recompense Oil, ink, gold leaf, wood 12 1/2” x 16 1/2” 17
Whatever You Eat You’re Gonna Shit: Christopher Crawford on Nick Demske’s Nick Demske
Fence Books, 2010
Nick Demske has written a very angry collection of poems which he has entitled Nick Demske, and which won the coveted Fence Books prize in 2010. In these poems you will happen upon paintmixers, sharts, girls who become faggots while other girls die on impact, cops shot in absurdly-broad-daylight and the martial art of spanking. There are many fine poems in the book. Three things I want to say that will save a lot of time: Demske seems to be somewhat at odds with, and yet makes giant use of, mainstream pop and corporate culture; its concepts and language. He can be very funny; and he is angry, but you knew that bit already. Important things are said well in the book. Furious sonnets take from a multitude of sources ( Berryman, Seidel, the popular current-poetic-of-high-irony, the internet, Olde English, folkish sayings, political correctness, gangsta, juvenile insults) but always take from that modern culture which has so saturated our every waking moment. You know the modern culture I mean. That one. Nick Demske, (ostensibly) the book, is divided into sections with non-serial subheadings such as XI, 2, SECTION C and SECTION THE 7TH, anarchically, as in the best poems here, Demske does whatever he wants within his chosen forms: some poems employing judicious line breaks in the middle of words or phrases, without the use of hyphens, to good effect: “Nick Demske, you are the most beautiful girl in the World/ Trade Center, when refracted through adequate spectrums. I for/ Got to eat today.” Sometimes, when Demske is not addressing himself, he is insulting the reader then turning the insults back on himself: We demand accessible poetry, but our access prances home Denied. We squirrels bury nuts never to be exhumed.
I hope you’re happy. Now think about what you’ve done. I love what you’ve done… ……………………………… Mongo- I observe you from a distance like a holiday no one else celebrates. You catalyst Of illiteracy rates, you hissy fit for a king. Not only are you deaf, but you sound retarded When you talk. O brother. Either I’ve sharted Abstractions more substance than art or a baby with nothing To say is learning to speak. Above, with his “O Brother” (like Baudelaire and his hypocrite reader, “—mon semblable,—mon frère!”), Demske appears to point toward a collective guilt for the perceived societal wrong-turn the Western World initiated, and which manifests itself in the language we choose to speak, or by now, cannot help but speak. Here is the poet, having already metaphorically vomited, addressing the reader with these strange lines in View from a Balcony: Go ahead And disgorge. I’ll hold back your hair. Like lovers, we two; obscene. Rest your weary head, which is a chip, on this shoulder. Which is a guillotine. Demske builds his work using the joists and neon bricks of the mainstream culture he seems to detest but revels joyfully in: a man, who having had his face beaten against the sidewalk, then beats his face off the sidewalk, screaming “how do you like that, huh? That good enough for ya, huh?” until his attackers turn away in horror, defeated. We read Demske at his angriest on received opinions, passiveness, mass-brainwashing, mass-stupidity and television. Here, in his poem TREASURE, an admission of imprisonment and anger gives way to bluster, blankness and (projected and reflected) defeat: We now return you to your regularly scheduled pogrom. When I get all steamed up I will shoot. Show me angry regular plus or premium. Propagandist cavatine make me poot. 19
(Poot). The complaint department is really a make Believe mousetrap. The screwdriver is really a butter knife. The complaint department is the pin of a fake Grenade. Just wait until you see my other wife. ……………………………………………………… …Aretha Franklin’s voice is a National Treasure. I don’t know what I think about That. I don’t know what I think About. I don’t know what I think. And here, in PSYCHE 101, ridiculing platitudes and (again) passive thought; violently equating those with secular newspeak, kitsch stupidity and the church: The key to brainwashing is repetition. The key Did you expect me to repeat that now? Did you expect me to Enact the experience you think I describe? But alas, I describe only an aggressive brand of hula. Behold my swivel Ing hips. The key to brainwashing is kept beside The porch in a hollow, plastic object designed to look like a rock… ………………………………………………………………… But this is a gun against your head, an extension of my Condolences. You will do and say exactly as we tell You until we simply needn’t tell you anymore. The key to brainwashing is next to Godliness, getting further behind The ears than you’d ever thought possible… In Blues Sonnet, railing against the various trend/thought-traps Demske believes we are caught in: We rent our trousers, but that’s the fashion. We smote our goat, but you’re vegetarian. We masqueraded in fecal cosmetics, Snarled and growled in canine rhetoric… .................................................................. 20
Our name Brand sackcloth is sooo last year. ……………………………………….. Dearly beloved, our wrists slit Themselves in protest. And they’re being optimistic. Forgive the over-generous quoting, but to write about Nick Demske properly would be to replicate the book in its entirety, such are the complexities and rightness of reference in much of what Demske has attempted. I’m reminded of lines from a Robert Pinsky poem, Anniverary: Until we were sick not only of the sight Of our prodigious systems turned against us But of the very systems of our watching. Self-loathing, arrogance, blood-lust, fear, grief, frustration, anger, deftness, image, wit, recognition, loss and compassion: all present, but where, from such a peak of intensity, can the poet go next? At his best Nick Demske puts words into the broken birdcages of his son nets and still gets them to scream beautifully, gets them attending mightily to alienation, fury, grief and non-compliance. At his less-than-best, he can yammer slightly at willing converts. In a poem not included in this collection, entitled Campbell McGrath(http://therumpus.net/2011/03/campbell-mcgrath-a-rumpus-originalpoem-by-nick-demske/, Demske states: Whatever you eat you’re gonna shit so fuck it. That probably comes as close to excusing you, me and himself as Nick Demske allows.
Langdon Dean Julius on Scott Wilkerson’s Threading Store
Carey Scott Wilkerson debuted in the poetry scene in 2009 with his first complete book of poems titled Threading Stone. Of Wilkerson’s book, Ken Cormier writes “These poems […] urge you to embrace scrambled syntax […] compel you to piece together meaning from dismembered word parts.” Wilkerson’s book is precisely that: a woven veil of calculated diction and complex syntax that relies upon the mathematical precision of word choice and placement, rather than the organic flow of the human breath. Wilkerson’s novel, like the writings of other language poets such as Ron Silliman and Bob Perelman, is a direct response to the writings of the Beat generation and the speech driven poetics that William Carlos Williams taught Allen Ginsberg. Wilkerson’s book emphasizes the importance of diction, sentence structure, and the fanciful complexities of language. It is a direct contrast to preceding aesthetics, specifically that of the beat generation which stressed the importance of the stream of consciousness and the spoken breath. Wilkerson does precisely what Jack Kerouac warned against in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose:” taking every pause to think of proper word. Wilkerson’s Threading Stone focuses the lens of poetics from the “scatological buildup” of words to the concise framing of language within the poems (Kerouac). Pinpointing its diction, carefully selecting its syntax, and dissecting each sentence as if every preposition and conjunction were as important as the subject and verb, Wilkerson’s Threading Stone is a search for the core of understanding poetic composition via the inescapable vehicle of grammar and language. Wilkerson says it best in the opening poem of his collection, “Research and Development.” His book begins by introducing the reader to the essential nature of writing in which the narrator exists. The second stanza begins, “I need some new material […] a ghost lyricist, unspooling ideas secretly among the marginalia of your recipes and daybooks.” Unlike the impulsive generation of words that Kerouac suggested in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” Wilkerson has no muse, no ghostly lyricist to 22
New Plains Press, 2009
The Deranging of Language:
reveal the secrets of his writing. Rather, the muse is in the words, as he suggests in the third stanza, “as for my own incidental involvement here, / I could say only that objects are suspended before the gravity of your aesthetic.” Outright, Wilkerson invites the reader to explore his dissection of language and poetry, breaking from the tradition of Ginsberg and Kerouac that sought to conjure language as “undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image” (Kerouac). Threading Stone is precisely the opposite of what Kerouac, Williams, and Ginsberg assert. He announces his opposition to these bardic traditions in the book’s second poem “Equivocal Topology,” asserting that “we remain resolutely opposed to these grammatological songs, / these ruinous texts and endless declension of alterity.” The narrator stresses that, opposed to the speech oriented poetics of his predecessors, “we want to understand this in terms of simpler conjectures.” To the narrator, the poem is the sum of its parts. Unlike the beats who stressed the removal of “literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,” Wilkerson is acutely interested in the grammatical and syntactical inhibitions that create the poetic line. Wilkerson “systematically deranges the language,” as fellow language poet Bernadette Mayer says in her “Writing Experiments,” to create a poem of calculated parts that maintains a cohesive whole. Mathematically, the poem is a balanced equation in which the reactants equate the product. It is with this precision that Wilkerson creates the illusion of language. In “Oubliette,” the narrator asserts, “here is the escape artist.” Wilkerson’s narrator squirms within in context of his predecessors to find a shred of light in which to further the efforts of his companion language poets. Similarly, Wilkerson’s poetry is a break from the “the socially contrived basis of any writing,” namely poetry (Hartley). Wilkerson recognizes the context in which much of poetry has found itself. Up until the early 1970’s, Beat poets and other schools such as the Black Mountain School and those farther back such as Williams Carlos Williams and James Joyce, had emphasized the clarity of human expression through the spoken voice. It is here that Wilkerson finds himself struggling to emerge within a new content alongside his avant-garde colleagues. Wilkerson is searching for answers within a new school, that exists in opposition to the “institutionalized workshop aesthetic and the preceding generation of the American avant-garde” (Kim). Wilkerson then, as stated earlier, is creating a body of work that positions itself within the forefront of an evolving movement. As the title cleverly suggests, Wilkerson is threading the stone that his predecessor poets have created. He dives into this evolving aesthetic to push against the grain of the socially established constructs of writing.
Stone, Water, and geological forces are recurring images throughout Wilkerson’s work that characterize the narrators struggle to emerge from the bonds of past
schools of poetry into a new form. Like his father who found “farming tools / buried in the backyard, lost to work and clay,” Wilkerson’s narrator searches to excavate the foundations of the past poetics to find himself as writer. His poems are “above all searching” as Ken Cormier says about Wilkerson’s collection of poems. Wilkerson uses language as a mode of transportation, a machine that digs at the past to create the present. His poems are inquisitive, witty, and inviting. Wilkerson uses this amalgamation of language to beckon the reader into the world of language-surgery, “archaeologies of the tongue,” a world in which the poem is not focused on the cosmological “unspooling of ideas,” but rather on the architectural process by which the poem in produced. Wilkerson’s poems are about the creation process. They search for answers in the simplest form of composition: the formulations of language. For Wilkerson, the “poet could be imagined as a node of solemnity in doggerel.” As a result, Wilkerson searches for answers in “the very thought” of the writing process. He suggests that, unlike Kerouac and Ginsberg, who considered poetry to be the process of conjuring the breath by “swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion [...] tapping from yourself the song of yourself” (Kerouac), poetry is a “of a number of procedures and assumptions about writing that the author may be more or less conscious of when composing […] social constructions which have become conventions” (Hartley). Wilkerson is a purveyor of poetic construct, an architect of language who seeks to dig for answers in the dirt of grammar and linguistics. As said before, Wilkerson’s work is an attempt to reveal to the reader the “the socially contrived basis” of poetry (Hartley). Similarly, his work excels in its wit, grammar theory, and the process of poetic composition through language. Threading Stone is filled with the curiosities of language and its constructs, the theorem that assemble social conceptions about poetics, and the ever prevalent quest to find the muse—in Wilkerson’s case, the framing of language on the page. He invites the reader to discover what he sees as the well kept secret: he has found in predecessors’ poetry, “a mechanics of hard enterprise […] irreducible, to be sure […] an uncertain similitude of what is fixed and what is broken.” For Wilkerson, language poetry and Threading Stone are a means to create out of a socially contrived aesthetic, a broken cocktail of reactants that will equate to form the true product, the poem.
Recollect Gold leaf, wood 11” x 13 1/2”
Tried Oil, acrylic, ink, gold leaf, muslin, wood 35” x 17 1/2”
Bind Oil, acrylic, ink, pigment, gold leaf, wood 11” x 22”
Dancing with the Stars:
Barbara Goldberg on Jay Rogoff’s The Art of Gravity
First things first: the cover of Jay Rogoff’s fifth book of poetry is drop-dead gorgeous. The poetry is too – if your taste runs the gamut from tarantella to serenade. Even the way the title, The Art of Gravity, appears – elaborate calligraphy for the words “the” and “of,” and a functional font for “art” and “gravity” – tells us that these poems will explore how perfection of detail, the little words, underpin something we call Art. Before you assume these poems too “artsy” for human consumption, rest assured that true art is artless and can even be funny, and dance includes everything from the hokey pokey to danses macabres. The cover image itself is of the world-famous ballerina Maria Kowroski, spotlit in gossamer tulle and toe shoes, her flawlessly arched back. One leg is firmly planted on the ground, her face upturned to what might be a pitch-black sky. Earth and heaven. Light and dark. Life and Death. The pose is one of proud supplication, and Kowrosky the personification of Terpsichore, the muse of dance. And Rogoff considers dance – the art of movement physical and spiritual, of precision and control –the embodiment of all art. Including poetry: The oddness of attending a rehearsal: the starts, stops, half-steps, the wobbles off pointe, the ballet master’s abrupt clap to signal the lagging pianist – it’s not yet art,
as though you, all along, were reading rough drafts of this poem, the grammar wobbly, rhymes askew, and meter pirouetting off. (“Rehearsal in Summer”)
Louisiana State University Press, 2011
The goal of all this sweat and clumsiness is to look “heavenly.” Heaven rests on sweat and “dreck” – as in “torch the dreck out of human passion… (“Making a Fool of Myself over Maria Kowroski”). The poet knows that heaven and hell are entwined in a wild embrace. He sputters when face to face with the great dancer that he finds her dancing “thrilling.” She responds, “How sweet!” But “no – it’s hell, not sweet,” both for the spectator who is kept up nights and for the dancer whose satin toe shoes “battered, hardened, stripped of their ribbons, nude, pink,/ ragged with pointework,//shoes your feet have danced in, where sweat-conducted/ contacts sparked to generate light, divine toes/ crammed…” These poems can be found in the first half of the book, “The Code of Terpsichpore,” which concerns itself with the arduous, unglamorous work of mastering technique. Wandering through these poems are the ghosts of the great masters - Edgar Degas and George Balanchine. Death is the cocky hero dancing in sonnet form in the second half of the book, “Danses Macabres.” He likes to party, have a “smashing” time, have a ball, In fact, he’s dancing like there’s no tomorrow. Here’s “Death’s Deal”: What a joker, that Death, what a card. We tell him, Have a heart, and so he steals ours, the shyster, our parents’, our girl’s. He can lay it on with a trowel, a spade, dig?... And from “Breathless”: Your stocking’s black whisper under my hand, Your black garter’s stutter against blood-drained, squid-white flesh, the utter minimalist art.... The imagery is morbid, the humor, black, and the rhythm syncopated It’s only when you stop and listen, really listen, that you hear the rhymes. And that’s how it should be. Rogoff’s command of the language is dazzling. It’s like he’s writing on pointe. Both a lecturer at Skidmore College and a dance critic, he’s a poet with “attitude.”
Forgo Oil, acrylic, ink, pigment, gold leaf 6 1/2” x 11 1/2”
Ardor Oil, acrylic, ink, gold leaf, wood 16 1/2” x 20”
Rita Mae Reese on Shara McCallum’s This Strange Land
At a reading I gave a few months ago, I was asked if having children had affected my writing. I thought, “Good God, I hope not” but tried to answer more diplomatically. After all, there were surely other mothers in the audience, some of whom had probably even written poems directly about their offspring. But I have to confess that one of my favorite poems about children is “Against Writing about Children” by Erin Belieu. In it she writes, “They reflect // the virused figures in which failure / began. We feel accosted by their / vulnerable natures.” I have also resisted reading any writing that muses on the predicament of motherhood. I have suspected, without bothering to look for evidence, that most of it is either openly self-congratulatory or self-denigrating in a way that is supposed to reveal the extraordinary achievements of the author/mother and her laudable humility and sparkling wit. Most other readers are perhaps more open-minded but I don’t (or at least I don’t like to) think so. Given these feelings, I probably shouldn’t tell you that This Strange Land, Shara McCallum’s third book of poetry, is about motherhood. The book, which comes with a CD of the poet reading her work, is divided into three parts and traces McCallum’s journey from daughter to mother, or in other words from the object of mothering to its perpetrator. (The CD is a nice addition. allowing us to hear the poet’s voice; though it didn’t change the way I read the poems, it is nice to have a different “poetry delivery system” to enjoy the poems again later.) The book traces the poet’s journey from Kingston, Jamaica to Pennsylvania. It opens with a poem called “Psalm for Kingston,” which wonders who the poet will be if she forgets the place of her birth, but it is the second poem, “Dear History,” (and the first of three bearing the same title) that more directly addresses a more central subject for the book—namely, the violence that is visited upon children and what on earth we are supposed to do or can do with the knowledge of that violence. The poem remembers a schoolgirl (though confesses not to know her name) who is raped and murdered on her way home one day. McCallum writes: “I did not know death could 30
Alice James Books, 2011
The Country of Want:
come to a girl / walking home, stick in hand // tracing circles in the dirt…” But once you know that death can come for that girl, a girl in a red school uniform like yours, who knows the songs you know, then you know death can come for any girl. This is a frightening thing for a child to learn but it is even more frightening for a mother. The book ends with the powerful poem “History Is a Room,” a room that the poet “cannot enter.” Even when we are told that a murdered girl is not history, we know we must remember anyway. In This Strange Land, Shara McCallum insists that remembering is what we can and should do with the knowledge of violence against children, as difficult and painful as that task is. The second section of the book is entitled “Fury” and it opens with a quote from Eavan Boland, whose work finds echoes in this book: “Memory. / Which is the ghost of the body. / Or myth. / Which is the ghost of meaning.” Here McCallum moves from the wider memories of her homeland to memories of her mother, memories that are mythic and painful, as in “The Mermaid.” The poem is told in third person, in prose lines and simple language. It opens with, “There is a place where the river meets the sea, where the water turns green and cold and still, a mirror in which you can see into your own eyes but nothing beneath.” The detail about seeing nothing beneath your eyes provides just the right note of unease to begin the narrative of this excursion of a mother with her children to the water, an excursion that should be idyllic but in which the mother disrobes and swims away as the children beg her not to go. In this section too we find poems such as “My Mother as Penelope,” “My Mother as Persephone,” and “My Mother as Narcissus” (which contains the mother’s distinction between vanity and pride and ends with the bittersweet confession, “I thought I could stand to look // into the centre of myself / and not fall in”). Here McCallum paints clearly a mother’s need for selfhood as deep and mysterious and threatening as the water in “The Mermaid.” The last section of the book, “Dear Hours,” opens with a quote from Sylvia Plath, “Love set you going like a fat gold watch,” which forcibly reminds the reader that not only has motherhood been the subject of great poems before but also that both art and motherhood can exact a grim price from each other and from the poet. McCallum sums up the dilemma beautifully in one of the lines in “From the Book of Mothers”: “Motherhood: the country of want, of want, of want.” In this line we see echoes of Jamaica with its “empty bellies” that can’t be filled, of the children on the shore howling for their mother’s return, and the mother’s need for some measure of freedom from the “spinning galaxy of self-self-self” that is a child.
It was once believed that if women learned to read and write that the lost world might never be recovered. I have often wondered what was in this lost world.
Perhaps it is a belief that all mothers (except maybe our own) have sacrificed themselves gladly to their children’s futures, that official histories are truly the ones that matter most, and that there once was and can be again a land where children are safe, or at least one where they will always manage to save themselves from the witches, the huntsmen, and the gunmen. Perhaps it is a world where we are allowed to forget what seems unbearable to contemplate. In “History Is a Room,” McCallum writes, “History is recounted in The Book of Beginnings: the storey of a people born of forgetting.” We have fallen from the lost world into This Strange Land where we must not allow ourselves to forget and where we must also forgive ourselves for forgetting, a land where we must make our home among the ghosts of memory and the ghosts of meaning.
An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Young Writers
The title of this anthology implies a response to The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 list from last year, maybe in a tongue-in-cheek way, and with a more ambitious number of writers. The participants are nowhere near as well-known as a Jonathan Safron Foer or Wells Tower. Many of them are well-known, though, to anyone who follows closely indie lit on the internet, to which co-editor Blake Butler’s site HTMLGIANT serves as a hub, and to which Lily Hoang is a contributor. HTMLGIANT tends to have an experimental side, sometimes behaving like postmodern art, and in keeping with that, this anthology is no easy read. The writers all show what they can do, but it takes careful inspection and repeated reads to get at what many of them are saying, and really, everything is open to interpretation. It’s not a collection of straight-ahead narratives with expected outcomes by any means, and it doesn’t seem afraid to tackle difficult subject matter. Or in some cases, no obvious subject matter. One thing that’s striking about some of the writers here is how able they are to describe the horrific or grotesque. Todd Seabrook’s story, “When Robin Hood Fell With an Arrow Through His Heart,” documents the fall of Robin Hood and his men in graphic, decaying detail beginning with Alan-a-Dale’s slow death: The back of his Lincoln green tunic has rotted into the bark, and insects have burrowed into his spinal tissue. Even though he is still alive, a colony of ants slowly excavate one of his lungs, their procession funneling into the hole between his ribs and carrying out pink chunks of sponge and cartilage… As it goes on, the layout of the story on the page, itself, seems to decay, with lines being broken in strange ways and letters or words misplaced or missing, in a way so that just enough can be made out: 33
Starcherone Books, 2011
Joe Sullivan on 30 Under 30:
Robyn Hode is dead, felled with arrow through throat. He lies in a casket made of ash wood. quiver and his bow are crisscrossed over his chest, the Lincoln green blending in with his clothes, although the arrows have of the quiver spilled out.
In a more modern scene, Rachel B. Glaser takes a glimpse into anatomy class with the main character, a gay student named William, in “Infections,” when he’s forced to take part in a cadaver dissection, The hardest part to saw apart was the teeth. William let the girls do that part. It was an old woman’s body and having never seen one in real life, he was unprepared for the intricacy of a vagina. So intricate! he exclaimed, poking it with forceps. The skin is divided into folds, lying between the legs like a lizard in the sun, William wrote in his notebook. And Christina Kloess’ “The Hardest Button” is an absolute horror tale about Mother’s son Tiger killing her newly born 14th child, who seems to have some sort of defect or demon marking (a thick black spiral on its forehead): “Kill it, Tiger,” she whispers. “Oh Mother,” Tiger moans breathless, and he grabs the baby quick, picking it up, lightning quick mitts. He grabs the baby quick and swings back, swings back, pulls back. Tiger dashes the baby against the mirror. Moving beyond these examples of the gross or horrific, there are quite a few poetic moments in the book, and some humor, even. James Yeh’s “You Don’t Need a Place to Sleep If You Don’t Plan on Sleeping. Or 5 Shorts” is direct and refined, and it tells its story somewhere in the spaces between its five sections of flash fiction. It’s about romance: Her back sliding across the carpeted floor, a trail of friction marks where we’ve been. Our jeans around our ankles. We are blocking the doorway, heads pressed up against the door and holding our breath. The radio is on. She asks me if I know the song that’s playing and I shake my head. She asks me if I hear something downstairs and I say no. She looks at something for a second and I kiss her… With wistful narrative, Angi Becker Stevens covers the ground of loneliness and desire in a surreal story called “Blood. Not Sap” about an oak tree in a woman’s yard that turns into a man, years after the woman’s husband has left, 34
When I wrap my hands around his biceps, I can’t remember if I ever held on to the old oak tree this way, if I ever lifted my feet up and hung there, but I know that if I ever did, this is exactly what it would have felt like. Even more surreal, and child-like, almost a fairy tale, is Shane Jones’ “Black Kids in Lemon Trees.” It’s about black kids in lemon trees helping cops stuck in clouds come back down to earth. The kids send notes on thrown lemons to the cops. Eventually, the cops are able to descend: 022: The lemon trees have grown tall but not tall enough. Most of the cops land in the trees & they get cut, maybe break ribs. A few cops miss & land on the grassy field. A group of black kids wearing neon blue shorts run over & drag the dead cop bodies away. This story seems loaded with a sociopolitical element, about racist cops normally harassing black kids, but black kids helping them in their time of desperate need. On the humor side, it took a page or two to realize Matt Bell’s story, “Jumpman Vs the Ape,” is all about the game Donkey Kong. In places, it goes deep into the psychology behind the game: THE APE’S MOTIVATION The ape used to belong to you, and maybe you mistreated it a bit. You called it names, fed it too little, worked it too hard. Made it carry too many beams or pipes or whatever it was you needed carried. Maybe you did a lot of things one way that you might have done another… Finally, Ryan Call’s “Somewhere Ahead Smoked the Wreckage of My Evening” is pure dry humor, about a teenaged boy’s break-up next to the backdrop of his parents’ doomed marriage. I pulled down the blinds of my window and suggested she do a bit more research into the sex-related jargon of our generation. I don’t know what you’re talking about, she said. Word combinations, I told her, such as blue-balls, might give you another perspective on the entire issue.
The anthology is an uneven collection, but there’s no question that there’s talent here. It will be interesting to see how a lot of these writers progress in the next few years. Many, like Jones, Bell, and Joshua Cohen, have already had novels and story collections published.
The Toil It Brought Oil, ink, gold leaf, wood 40” x 19”
Partake Acrylic, wood 13” x 35”
Restitution Oil, acrylic, ink, pigment, gold leaf 53 1/2” x 48”
Sandy Longhorn on Allison Joseph’s My Father’s Kites
The poems of elegy and reflection that make up Allison Joseph’s My Father’s Kites seek to uncover the often difficult relationship between a father and his daughter. This difficult relationship is seen through the lens of the father’s death, although the poems touch on the daughter’s entire life with and without her father. In the shadows, there waits the figure of the mother who died years earlier, adding to the depth of the daughter’s losses. In the first section, the speaker, who identifies as a poet and is clearly quite close to Joseph herself, struggles with the public nature of writing about family and exposing these bits of autobiography. In fact, one of the first few poems in the book is titled, “On not Wanting to Write a Memoir,” a villanelle that lays bare the fact for this speaker that: Some memories lurk deep, in bone and tooth, with consequences I can do without. What’s there to write? I had that kind of youth. Forgive me if I don’t tell you the truth. This poem and the one that opens the book, “Bio Note,” both play with the voyeuristic nature some readers bring to poetry. The poems also set up the hint of danger the speaker feels as she wanders into a territory she has avoided all her life. Throughout the book, the kites the father used to make for the speaker are only mentioned directly a few times; however, they act as a crucial image. That levitatingyet-tied-to-earth image is such a profound metaphor for the parent-child relationship that it might be overdone. Instead, Joseph works the image gently through the book and avoids overwhelming the reader with bluntness. 39
Steel Toe Books, 2010
In the Aftermath:
The opening of the title poem, “My Father’s Kites,” provides a fine example of this. The title bleeds into the first line, which suggests that tethered experience in the craft of the poem itself. Joseph writes: were crude assemblages of paper sacks and twine, amalgams of pilfered string and whittled sticks, twigs pulled straight from his garden, dry patch of stony land before our house only he could tend into beauty, thorny roses goaded into color. Here, the poet’s use of sound shines, as it does in nearly every poem in the book, the lines a delight on the tongue, the reader able to taste and feel the echoes of “assemblages” and “amalgams,” the repeated short ‘i’ sounds in “pilfered,” “whittled sticks,” and “twigs.” As the sound draws the reader in, we confront the image of that “stony land” of the father’s garden and the harsh verb “goaded” to describe how the father forces the roses to bloom. In that image resides a telling metaphor for the speaker’s feelings for her father. The speaker goes on to ask, “How did he make those makeshift // diamonds rise, grab hold of the wind to sail / into the sky…?” That question illuminates the heart of the book, the speaker’s wonder at the power of the father to create this beautiful thing out of almost nothing and her sense of loss because the string between father and daughter, never secure in life, has now been severed in death. The middle section of the book, the largest of the collection, explores that loss through a series of 34 sonnets, recording the speaker learning of her father’s death, the funeral, and the aftermath dealing with the remnants of his life. Here, the reader learns of the distance, both physical and emotional, between the speaker and her father, how she is forced to confront her own feelings of both love and anger with a father who, yes, loved her mother dearly, but did not support his family financially, spiritually, or emotionally. After hearing the news, the speaker travels back to her childhood home to claim the body (along with her sister) and plan the funeral. In “Countrymen,” she meets her “father’s college classmates” who talk about how she reminds them of her father and how he “was proud / of all his daughters had become.” This is one of those things that people say at funerals, and the speaker does not answer because she has no proof of this, given her own interactions with the man. She states, “I’m here to play / the role of grieving child who’s not allowed / to speak of memory’s truth when others won’t.” 40
And still, she loves this man, her father. In “The First Moment,” viewing the body at the funeral home, the speaker claims, “but strangely I was proud / to be the child of such a handsome man.” Later, in “Absence,” “I miss the man who used to build me kites,” she says, along with, “I want the father back who laughed aloud,” who would sing “a made-up tune to show the world how proud / he was of me.” Here, the reader absorbs the way the speaker yearns to have more of these loving memories to lighten the burden of the darker moments of her youth and early childhood that led to the distance between them. Balancing the first section, the third, final section returns to the poet’s stance on writing about this subject matter and her conflicted feelings about her father. The final poem is “A Daughter’s Villanelle.” By placing this poem last, Joseph leaves the reader with the weight of these lines: I write about your life because I can, because I couldn’t live as you’d demand. But you can’t read these words. My father’s dead, and cannot read the words I’m sure he’d damn. All I can do is write, because I can. While the book presents a range of emotions, we end not only on the speaker’s lasting frustration with her father’s lack of understanding about her art, but also on her empowerment by using that art to grapple with her frustration, grief, and love. There are no easy answers in v. Instead, honesty permeates the book, honesty that borders on bluntness about this speaker’s position as daughter to a distant, now dead father. Through that honesty, the book stands as a testament to longing for what never was and grief for what will never have the chance to be.
February Contributors Amy Henry is a freelance writer and reviewer who is obsessed with Eastern European fiction and global poetry. She reviews both at her website,www.theblacksheepdances.com. She spends her time reading, writing, and wrangling an octopus. When that wears her out, she watches the BBC and acquires an accent.
A dance magazine editor by day, Joe Sullivan is author of a novel, Three Thirds, and recent fiction and poetry in Monkeybicycle, Poets/ Artists, On Earth As It Is and Overflow. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his family.joesullivanwrites.wordpress.com
Cindy St. John is the author of three chapbooks: Be the Heat (Slash Pine Press), City Poems (Effing Press) and People Who Are in Love Will Read This Book Differently (Dancing Girl Press). She lives in Austin, TX, where she prints Headlamp, letterpress postcards of poetry and art (www.theheadlamp.org).
David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver. He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. His stories have appeared in “Grey Sparrow,” “Children Churches and Daddies,” “Split Quarterly,” “Cannoli Pie,” “C4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,” “Atticus Review,” “Brave Blue Mice,” and “Fine Lines.” His book reviews have appeared in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “All Things Pankish.” The web site dedicated to his writing can be found at http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/. He currently serves as a reader for “Grey Sparrow” and in his non-literary time he works as a patent attorney in Denver.
Christopher Crawford was born in Glasgow. His poetry, translations, essays and fiction have appeared in Agenda, The Cortland Review, Evergreen Review and Ekleksographia among others. His work has been nominated for the next Pushcart Anthology by RATTLE and Now Culture.
Dean Julius is a Staff Journalist with The Bolivar Commercial of Cleveland, Mississippi and a 2012 Masters in Education candidate from Delta State University. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi. When he isn’t buried in school work, he’s an aspiring poet and is currently seeking admission into M.F.A programs for the fall 2012 semester.
Barbara Goldberg authored four prize-winning books of poetry, most recently, The Royal Baker’s Daughter, recipient of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize (University of Wisconsin Press). She also edited and translated anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (Syracuse University Press). Scorched by the Sun (forthcoming 2012, the Word Works) is a book of Goldberg’s translations from the Hebrew of the Israeli poet Moshe Dor. Currently, she is visiting writer in American University’s MFA program.
Rita Mae Reese has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. She is a graduate of the MFA program at University of WisconsinMadison. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her first book, a collection of poetry entitled The Alphabet Conspiracy, is available from Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press. She is currently working on a second collection of poetry entitled Apocrypha: The Lost Books of Flannery, a biographical treatment of the Southern writer Flannery O’Connor.
Sandy Longhorn is the author of Blood Almanac (Anhinga Press), which won the Anhinga Prize for Poetry. New poems are forthcoming or have appeared recently in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, North American Review, Waccamaw, and elsewhere. Longhorn teaches at Pulaski Technical College, runs the Big Rock Reading Series, is an Arkansas Arts Council fellow, and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty.
About Us Gently Read Literature publishes monthly in-depth reviews of contemporary poetry and literary fiction as well as the occasional original essay pertaining to aesthetics, writing, or culture. Gently Read Literature is always looking for reviews, criticism, and essays on contemporary poetry and literary fiction. Although we are open to examining all styles of poetry and fiction (and, therefore, all poets and novelists) we prefer those authors/presses that do not typically get the attention they deserve. Our guidelines are simple: 500 words minimum with no maximum, with as much direct textual analysis as possible. Contributions should be emailed to Daniel Casey, editor, (firstname.lastname@example.org). “GRL submission” should be in the title of email, and must be in the body of the email or attached as a MS Word document. All contributions should be plainly formatted—12 point font, Times New Roman or the equivalent, single spaced. Because GRL publishes monthly, contributions are consid-ered on a rolling basis. Gently Read Literature is edited and maintained by Daniel Casey, all comments or questions can be directed to him at email@example.com or mailed to Daniel Casey, 223 Eastern Ave, Oberlin, OH 44074.
Available Review Copies POETRY Call the Catastrophists, Krystal Languell, BlazeVox Books One Sunday Morning, Anne Whitehouse, Finishing Line Press Make Yourself Small, Michelle Brooks, The Backwaters Press Glass Harmonica, Geoff Bouvier, Quale Press Book of Fire, Cary Waterman, Nodin Press Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart, Carlos Reyes, Lost Horse Press Vanishing Horizon, Gerry Lafemina, Anhinga Press Kibbe, Suan Azar Porterfield, Mayapple Press The City She Was, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Center for Literary Publishing (Colorado State University) Our Lady of the Ruins, Traci Brimhall, WW Norton Night Chant, Andrew Demcak, Lethe Press Uselysses, Noel Black, Ugly Duckling Presse Forage, JoAnn Balingit, Wings Press Into the Snow: Selected Poems, Gennady Aygi, translated by Sarah Valentine, Wave Books Notational, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Otoliths Field Work: Notes, Songs Poems 1997-200, David Hadbawnik, BlazeVox Books Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation, Amal Al-jubouri, translated by Rebeca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi, Alice James Books Road of a Thousand Wonders, Jeffrey Joe Nelson, Ugly Duckling Presse Indios, Linda Hogan, Wings Press Pith & Amber, Carah Naseem, Fugue State Press Afterimage, Damon Krukowski, Ugly Duckling Presse 45
Little Winter Theater, Nancy Kuhl, Ugly Duckling Presse Re-, Kristi Maxwell, Ahsahta Press No Grave Can Hold Me Down, Aaron McCollough, Ahsahta Press Slot, Jill Magi, Ugly Duckling Presse One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t, Jacqueline Waters, Ugly Duckling Presse True Stories from the Future, A. Molotkov, Boone Dock’s Press Heavenly Body, Leah Stenson, Finishing Line Press The Way We Live, But Kimmelman, Dos Madres Press Ennui: From The Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders, Deborah Hauser, Finishing Line Press One Bird Falling, CB Follett, Time Being Books Unexpected Shiny Things, Bruce Dethlefsen, Cowfeather Press Melons and Memory, Helen Peterson, Little Red Tree Publishing The Book of What Stays, James Crews, Bison Books She’d Waited Millennia, Lizzie Hutton, New Issues Poetry & Prose Say Sand, Daniel Coudriet, Carnegie Mellon University Press After the Firestorm, Susan Kolodny, Mayapple Press Still, Matthew Cooperman, Counterpath Press Absence is Such a Transparent House, Aby Kaupang, Tebot Bach The Hands of Strangers, Janice Harrington, BOA Editions Transfer, Naomi Shihab Nye, BOA Editions Concertos, No Collective, Ugly Duckling Presse Cursivism, Will Hubbard, Ugly Duckling Presse The Hermit, Laura Solomon, Ugly Duckling Presse Journal of American Foreign Policy, Jeff Hoffman, New Issues Press Underdog, Katrina Roberts, University of Washington Press Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You, Lea Graham, No Tell Books Flies, Michael Dickman, Copper Canyon Press No Father Can Save Her, Julene Tripp Weaver, Plain View Press Remains to be Used, Jessica Baran, Apostrophe Books The Disinformation Phase, Chris Toll, Publishing Genius A Fast Life: Collected Poems of Time Dlugos, ed. David Trinidad, Nightboat Books Memory Future, Heather Aimee O’Neill, Gold Line Press Downtown, Lee Meitzen Grue, Trembling Pillow Press Flower Chart, Lisa Fishman, Ahsahta Press Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, Joshua Ware, Furniture Press Books The Crows Were Laughing In Their Trees, Peter Conners, White Pine Press The Open Light: Poets from Notre Dame, 1991-2008, edited by Orlando Menes, University of Notre Dame Press What’s This, Bombardier?, Ryan Flaherty, PleiadesPress Kingdom Come, John Estes, C&R Press 46
The Illustrated Edge, Marsha Pomerantz, Biblioasis The Cold War, Kathleen Ossip, Sarabande Books As Much As, Allan Peterson, Salmon Poetry Naked Woman Listening at the Keyhole, Sophia Rivkin, Mayapple Press Left Glove, Mac Wellman, Solid Objects Fully Into Ashes, Sofia M. Starnes, Wings Press About the Author, Larry O. Dean, Mindmade Books (chpbk) The Yellow House, Robin Behn, Spuytend Duyvil Stranger Air, Stacie Leatherman, Mayapple Press Tropicalia, Emma Trelles, University of Notre Dame Press Pretend the World, Kathryn Kysar, Holy Cow! Press Track This: A Book of Relationship, Stephen Bett, BlazeVox Books Dreamlife of a Philanthropist, Janet Kaplan, University of Notre Dame Press Undone, Maxine Scates, New Issues Poetry and Prose Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered, Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Plain View Press The Relenting: A Play of Sorts, Lisa Gill, New Rivers Press Fishing for Myth, Heid E. Erdrich, New Rivers Press Birds of Wisconsin, B.J. Best, New Rivers Press Kings of the Fucking Sea, Dan Boehl, images by Jonathan Marshall, Birds LLC Rust or Go Missing, Lily Brown, Cleveland State University Poetry Center Say So, Dora Malech, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Firestorm, Zach Savich, Cleveland State University Poetry Center The Girl Without Arms, Brandon Shimoda, Black Ocean Ennui Prophet, Christopher Kennedy, BOA Editions At the Bureau of Divine Music, Michale Heffernan, Wayne State University Press Grief Suite, Bobbi Lurie, CW Books The Body, The Rooms, Andy Frazee, Subito Press Historic Diary, Tony Trigilio, BlazeVox Books Born Palestinian Born Black & The Gaza Suite, Suheir Hammad, UpSet Press Strata, Ewa Chrusciel, Emergency Press Breathing in the Dark, Howard Schwartz, Mayapple Press Faulknerâ€™s Rosary, Sarah Vap, Saturnalia Books You and Three Others are Approaching A Lake, Anna Moschovakis, Coffee House Press Mapmaking, Megan Harlan, BkMk Press I & We, Joseph P. Wood, CW Books Annulments, Zach Savich, Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado State University Expedition: New & Selected Poems, Arthur Vogelsang, Ashland Poetry Press The Homelessness of Self, Susan Terris, Arctos Press Circular Migrations, Brenda Bufalino, Codhill Press While I Was Dancing, Steve Clorfeine, Codhill Press 47
Climate Reply, Trey Moody, New Michigan Press I-Formation Book 1, Anne Gorrick, Shearsman Books Cargo, Kristin Kelly, Elixir Press The Other Place You Live, Jane O. Wayne, Mayapple Press Sleepers’ Republic, David Gruber, Astrophil Press Death Obscura, Rick Bursky, Sarabande Books Why We Make Gardens, Jeanne Larsen, Mayapple Press Logorrhea Dementia, Kyle Dargan, University of Georgia Press The New Make Believe, Denise Newman, The Post-Apollo Press The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihedrals Zoom, Leslie Scalapino, The Post-Apollo Press Naked Beauty, John C. Goodman, Blue and Yellow Dog Press Your Mouth is Everywhere, Nick Twemlow, Racquetball Chapbook Tournament (chpbk) Venus and Other Losses, Lucia Galloway, Plain View Press Iteration Nets, Karla Kelsey, Ahsahta Press The Ache of Appetite, Rachel Hadas, Copper Beech Press This Is Not About What You Think, Jim Murdoch, Fandango Virtual The Houdini Monologues, Karl Elder, Word of Mouth Books Mosquito Operas, Philip Dacey, Rain Mountain Press The Best of (What’s Left Of) Heaven, Mairead Byrne, Publishing Genius Incidental Music, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, BlaveVox Books Night Songs, Kristina Marie Darling, Gold Wake Press Gospel Earth, Jeffery Beam, Skysill Press The Iron Key, James Longenbach, WW Norton The Smaller Half, Marc Rahe, Rescue Press Praying to the Black Cat, Henry Israeli, Del Sol Press The Smaller Half, Marc Rahe, Rescue Press No Other Paradise, Kurt Brown, Red Hen Press The World in a Minute, Gary Lenhard, Hanging Loose Press Wet Information, Jillian Brall, ZoeWo Press These Indicium Tales, Lance Phillips, Ahsahta Press Realm Sixty-Four, Kristi Maxwell, Ahsahta Press In the Function of External Circumstances, Edwin Torres, Nightboat Books How To Live on Bread and Music, Jennifer k. Sweeney, Perugia Press Paternity, Scott Owen, Main Street Rag FICTION Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions Make It Stay, Joan Frank, The Permanent Press The Keepers, Mike Maggio, March Street Press All the Roads that Lead from Home: Stories, Anne Leigh Parrish, Press 53 48
All Her Fatherâ€™s Guns, James Warner, Numina Press The Silver Wind, Nina Allan, Eibonvale Press The Louisiana Purchase, Jim Goar, Rose Metal Press Hystera, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Fiction Studio Books Feather, David Rix, Eibonvale Press (PDF) Access, Xu XI, Signal 8 Press (PDF) Animal Sanctuary, Sarah Falkner, Starcherone Books The Cisco Kid in the Bronx, Miguel Antonio Ortiz, Hamilton Stone Editions Destroy All Monsters & Other Stories, Greg Hrbek, Bison Books Bohemian Girl, Terese Svoboda, Bison Books The Tigerâ€™s Eye: New & Selected Stories, Gladys Swan, Serving House Books Inheritance, Jane Lazarre, Hamilton Stone Editions Hassie Calhoun, Pamela Cory, Scarletta Press Our Jewish Robot Future, Leonard Borman, Scarletta Press Janet Planet, Elanor Lerman, Mayapple Press Insomnia and the Aunt, Tan Lin, Kenning Editions A Marriage of Convenience, Andrew Plattner, BkMk Press Green Gospel, L.C. Fiore, Livingston Press Trigger Man, Jim Ray Daniels, Michigan State University Press Instructions for Living, Laurie Blauner, Mint Hill Books/Main Street Rag Sensation, Nick Mamatas, PM Press Love/Imperfect, Christopher T. Leland, Wayne State University Press Funeral for a Dog, Thomas Pletzinger, WW Norton Events Film Cannot Withstand, Zach Savich, Rescue Press At Home Anywhere, Mary Hoffman, New Rivers Press American Fiction: The Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Authors, Volume 11, Kristen J. Tsetsi, editor, New Rivers Press This New and Poisonous Air: Stories, Adam McOmber, BOA Editions Death-in-a-Box, Alta Ifland, Subito Press Halal Pork and Other Stories, Cihan Kaan, UpSet Press The Cosmopolitans, Nadia Kalman, Livingston Press/University of West Alabama Calendar of Regrets, Lance Olsen, FC2/University of Alabama Press The Wonderful Room, Bryan Woolley, Wings Press Color Plates, Adam Golaski, Rose Metal Press 3/03, Chuck Wachtel, Hanging Loose Press The Underbelly, Gary Phillips, PM Press Pike, Benjamin Whitmer, PM Press Yield, Lee Houck, Kensington Books Fort Da, Elisabeth Sheffield, FC2 We Know What We Are, Mary Hamilton, Rose Metal Press How We Move the Air, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen, Mayapple Press Dream Fishing: Stories, Scott Ely, Livingston Press 49
Under the Small Lights, John Cotter, Miami University Press In the Time of the Girls, Anne Germanacos, BOA Editions Attention Please Now: Stories, Matthew Pitt, Autumn House The Kasahara School of Nihilism, Ben Brooks, Fugue State Press Robot 9 in Wonderland, Louis Phillips, World Audience The Rat Veda, James Chapman, Fugue State Press Flashing My Shorts, Salvatore Buttaci, All Things That Matter Press (pdf copy) Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows, Leslie Scalapino, Starcherone Books Bartleby, the Sportscaster, Ted Pelton, Subito Press From the Hilltop, Toni Jensen, Bison Books University of Nebraska Press Life of a Star, Jane Unrue, Burning Deck The River Road, Tricia Currans-Sheehan, New Rivers Press
Essays & Criticism on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction