July Issue of Gently Read Literature

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Gently Read Literature Review Essay on Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction

ISSN 2161-2595

July 2011 Issue

Pang-Chieh Hsu, Left Wing, 2006, Oil on canvas, 50 1/2 x 33 1/2"


Gently Read Literature July 2011

Contents 4

Jason Pettus on Heather Fowler's Suspended Heart ; Stacey Levine's The Girl With Brown Fur


Kurt Brown on Steven Huff's A Pig In Paris


Jason Rice on Paula Bomer's Baby and Other Stories


Savannah Schroll Guz on The Dirty Poet‘s Emergency Room Wrestling


Mary Shippee on Matthew Henriksen's Ordinary Suns


Elisa Rolle on Michael Thomas Ford's The Road Home


Wynn Yarbrough on Full Moon on K Street


Alexandria Ashford on Cristina Garcia's The Lesser Tragedy of Death


Grady Harp on Jee Leong Koh's Seven Studies for a Self Portrait


Rachel Lancaster on Jeanpaul Ferro's Jazz 3

Gently Read Literature July 2011


Ah, the MFA story collection; has

Suspended Heart, Heather Fowler, Aqueous Books, 2011

a more beguiling trickster ever existed in the literary world? Originally a cutting-edge means of education at a time when "creative writing" was largely seen as an unworthy subject for university study, over the last 75 years this distilled, often intense artistic format has become a victim of its own success, resulting in a world now so oversaturated with short academic pieces that the genre itself has largely become a self-parodying one, the universe now filled with an unending series of obscure trade paperbacks destined to be picked up only by that author's professors and friends (as well as the occasional random book reviewer). And so do these academic and basement presses keep fighting the good fight, putting out hundreds and hundreds more of these compilations with each passing year, the results sometimes great in quality but with it becoming more and more difficult to justify their existence in general, given how little you usually have to travel anymore to find an existing story collection that's already exactly like it. Take for example two volumes I recently had the chance to look through, Heather Fowler's Suspended Heart from Aqueous Books, and Stacey Levine's The Girl with Brown Fur from Starcherone Books,


itself an imprint of Dzanc Books. Both writers are award-winning academes, one from California and the other from the Pacific Northwest; and frankly, both of their collections feel like the pat results of a year's worth of workshopping with their fellow professors and students, a typical grind through the MFA sausage factory that tends to produce stories that all sorta vaguely sound like each other, and that all tend to coalesce in one's head not long after finishing them into a big blurry blob of magical realism and ten-dollar vocabulary words. I mean, take Suspended Heart for example, which I suppose I would call the better of the two, although truthfully there's not a whole lot of difference between them; it's essentially a book's worth of metaphorical fairytales and fables, which in good Postmodernist fashion examines a series of blasé real-world issues (bad jobs, terrible boyfriends) through the filter of madeup genre concepts, such as the title tale for a good example, in which a woman at a mall one day literally loses her heart, placed into a glass jar by a janitor and put on display in the hopes of finding its owner, and eventually becoming the source of all these freaky emotional things that happen to couples whenever they walk too close to it.

Gently Read Literature July 2011

The Girl With Brown Fur, Stacey Levine, Starcheone, 2011

It's not a bad story by any means, and Fowler is a more than capable writer; but I just can't help but to feel that I've already read stories like these a million times before, which always seems to be my issue with MFA story collections much more than the quality of the collections themselves. And this is even more pronounced with Levine's book, which frankly just a week after finishing I can barely even remember anything about, other than a vague recollection of finishing each story and thinking, "Really? Was that it?" And that of course is one of the lingering problems of the MFA short story that profoundly contributes to their short mental lifespans; that since character development tends to be much more treasured than plot in most academic writing programs, and since the most prominent style in academic writing is ho-hum social realism, and since most academes tend to live sheltered, uneventful lives, the very subjects of the stories themselves tend to command little attention on their own to begin with, the problem then compounded by the lackluster personal style and tendency to over-edit that is so endemic to


m u ch

a ca d e m ic

writ in g.

It's a question that budding young writers really owe to themselves to ask, when they sit down to start putting together their first professional manuscripts; that now that they have their training under their belt, how are they now going to differentiate themselves from not only what's come before, but from all their contemporaries churning out those five thousand new fiction titles that are currently being published each year in the United States, every single year without fail? It's a question that academic programs tend not to address, because in many ways it's not the academic world's job to address it -- it's their job instead to crank out well-trained writers, and to make sure by graduation time that they are literal Masters at the fundamentals of the English language and the threeact structure -- but as Fowler and Levine's earnest yet forgettable volumes prove, for a writer to have a true success in the 21st century, they need to know more than just how to dot all their I's and cross all their T's.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


A Pig in Pars by Steven Huffl Big Pencil Press 2009

Steve Huff can say more about reality, American experience, and human relations in three pages than many novelists can unfold in four hundred. Master of what has been called the ―short-short,‖ or ―flash fiction,‖ Huff introduces us to a cast of characters and their mostly hapless lives, any one of which might be developed into a book-length narrative, though Huff expertly renders the essence of each down to a few deft paragraphs in snapshots that capture the core of who they are and why their lives are exemplary. With polished wit and humor, always compounded with the grief of human existence, Huff charms the reader in story after story, and runs the gamut from farce to mystery to horror to love without missing a beat or stumbling along the way. Readers will decide for themselves which stories are best, which capture the imagination and move the soul to respond with laughter, sorrow, or shock. But for my money, you can‘t beat the opening story, ―Paris,‖ in which a forgotten middleaged musician on vacation with his wife, hears a group of French teenagers singing his one hit song while leading a pig on a leash through the streets of the city. He follows them into a café, and winds up being thrown out with the pig, his consolation prize for having lost his onetime prominence in the American cultural psyche. The story reminds us, as does the narrator himself, that ―in America it is not remarkable


to be suddenly famous, and just as suddenly forgotten…‖ We recall Andy Warhol‘s joke about the brevity of fame, or Fitzgerald‘s observation that ―there are no second acts in American life,‖ but Huff adds an addendum that both Warhol and Fitzgerald overlook: ―One learns to shut up about it.‖ But this is only the beginning. The following story, ―Orbits,‖ depicts an American professor near the end of his career, seeking one final sexual adventure with a Russian woman whose husband was an astronaut and may still be orbiting earth, though his existence has been denied and ignored by the authorities in the Kremlin for half a century. His was one of the early flights that failed, it seems, and his wife awaits his return doubtfully as the situation comes to symbolize any preposterous hope in which the believer himself has long since ceased to believe. A fanciful situation, it‘s true, but Huff takes advantage of it to make the reader both smile and feel a twinge of sadness, or regret, as the professor, lying in bed after sex, muses to himself: ―perhaps it was only that he too had someone, some woman lost in the vast darkness behind him, in America or somewhere else, whose voice still orbited his thoughts and startled him sometimes.‖ The situation is immediately universalized, and our emotions are engaged.

Gently Read Literature July 2011

Another story, ―The Shadow of Hollywood,‖ is a rare gem, a little masterpiece of flash fiction that shows the depth and whimsy of Huff‘s imagination to great effect and cannot be reprised without spoiling it. It is so short, and achieves so much in its curtailed length, that to attempt to describe it would take about as much (and as little) time as the story itself, and I would not want to ruin anyone‘s genuine pleasure in reading a tale so wonderful, so deftly told. Like all of Huff‘s best stories, it combines the comic and tragic in a volatile mix that somehow feels ―true,‖ though it is as ludicrous as the actual events we see and read about every day that have us shaking our heads in disbelief. Most, if not all, of the stories in A Pig in Paris are aimed squarely at satirizing the absurdity of contemporary American life, which is both sad and hilarious, a fact Huff illustrates in story after story, taking on each of our foibles in turn. This includes a Pulitzer prizewinning poet who hears Dylan Thomas talking to him by recorded messages as he jumps into various cabs in New York; a couple on their honeymoon who enter ―The Museum of Natural Futures‖ only to have a machine tell the bride that her new husband is a swamp of toxic chemicals; a story, entitled ―Story‘s End,‖ that never really ends, not in a conventional sense, in which the narrator speaks directly to the reader: ―You probably think you know where this story is going…but no;‖ a bilious old Irishman who substitutes his dog‘s excrement for his own stool sample and hands it in to his doctor for analysis; and a story about a man, lost on a lake, who strangely cannot find his way back to shore, a preternatural tale that might have been

written by Shirley Jackson, it is that eerie and unexplainable. And I‘ve only described the first thirty pages. IBesides a knack for storytelling, Huff has other qualities that distinguish him as a writer. He is a firstrate poet, and that explains much about his ability to radically compress subjects and express himself through startling and unexpected metaphors. Take, for instance, the character in ―Where Snow Comes From,‖ who is beginning to panic: ―She heard his voice rising from bewilderment to exasperation, reminding her of a kettle starting to whistle.‖ Or, in the best two opening sentences of any story in the book (―The Z Train‖): ―The tunnels I drive are dark as hell‘s shithouse. And I‘m the only light running on the track, driving the Z Train underground like a lightning bug flying through the intestines of a big beast.‖ Huff‘s best metaphors, moreover, are consistent in tone with the general character of the speaker: rude, crass characters express themselves in uncouth similes, while more educated, well-bred characters construct discrete, classier comparisons. Imagination itself, Huff knows, reveals character and not just speech or physical detail. In addition, Huff‘s ear for American speech is pitch perfect. A viable narrative voice is one of a fiction writer‘s most crucial challenges. Besides playing a fundamental role in the creation of convincing characters, tone is one of the first elements in a story that helps break down a reader‘s natural resistance to belief, allowing him or her to ease into the narrative naturally.


Gently Read Literature July 2011

That is why opening sentences are so important. They either invite the reader into the fictional world immediately, or they don‘t. Huff‘s opening gambits are invariably compelling. Take the following: ―The most terrible thing has happened at the court. The King‘s food taster was found dead. Long live the King!‖ Or ―The moment I looked out of my office window and saw fifteen or more men coming up the street and turning in at my gate, with Tommy Dubit hobbling in their midst, I suspected what their visit was going to be about…‖ Or ―Rita had a black tomcat with a white head that reminded me of a cat in a tuxedo…‖ Who wouldn‘t want to continue reading stories with such engaging openings as these? Flash fiction is more entertaining, and easier to pull off, if there is a strong sense of the imaginative, something magical and inventive about it. In every story in A Pig in Paris, there is an element of the preposterous or the absurd, which Huff somehow manages to make palatable and ―real.‖ We assimilate these stories—with their bizarre characters and events—because Huff is a deft enough writer to charm us from the outset, and accomplished enough to lead us by the nose from paragraph to paragraph wanting to know what happens next and how things will work out in the end. A rollicking good tale is what we want, and that‘s what we get, every time. I imagine a coach car on a commuter train entering or leaving any major city in the country, each passenger holding up a copy of A Pig In Paris to while away the time until they arrive at their separate destinations invigorated, with a smile on their face. In any 8

just and literate culture, this would be true.

Gently Read Literature July 2011


It is an impressive achievement to get a short story collection published. A book like this fits the mold of a young Carver, or Ford, even a salty A.M. Homes. It is mysterious to me why Paula Bomer has not received wider acclaim. ―The Mother of His Children‖, the first story in Baby & Other Stories is a gem that will kick anyone in the crotch who has had kids, and is still Baby And Other Stories, married. Ted and Laura met at a party, fucked, and were quickly Paula Bomer, Word Riot Press, 2010 pregnant, shortly thereafter they paid a visit to city hall. Paula Bomer has been cited for laying marriage and parenthood on the table, warts and all, real realism, which is refreshing. This collection does nothing to make you want to be married, or stay that way after you‘ve read it. Ted and Laura are going through the pains of being married, he is getting fat, and she has perfected the art of boring. She brings him ice cream each night, longs for him, and she rubs his crotch with her foot while they watch TV. Ted is a computer programmer, and on a trip to San Francisco he dreams of getting a blow job from the stewardess, and even thinks of leaving Laura. It‘s a common thought, all men think this way. Ted recounts the days before he became a father, having sex with pregnant Laura, her vagina swollen and filled with mucus, she gave birth the next week. He is sickened by the site of his son slithering out of Laura, and

needs countless hours of therapy to get over it. The flight is filled with drunken regret, mostly that he‘s left his noisy, bothersome family for two days, and then sadness as he misses them. Ted can‘t figure out why his wife loves him, even longs for him. He sounds like every married man I know. It is extremely difficult for a woman to know these things about a man. How Bomer figured it out is a mystery to me. In ―The Shitty Handshake‖, it is unclear where I can start to describe Karen, a character who refuses to believe life can be lived sober, even when she ruins her marriage by fucking another man. Her husband works constantly and expects dinner on the table when he comes home. husband/wife. They have small children, and live in a nice apartment in Brooklyn. Her husband is just another child to be taken care of, and they share no intimacy; the relationship is more mother/son than Karen gives her true feelings to anyone that will listen while she tries to maintain sobriety. She even attends AA meetings, where she instantly mocks and insults the other members of the group. She talks about the burdens of parenthood – how drinking is such a glorious release – how nice it feels to be drunk, especially in the face of family life. Bomer manages to deliver a severe case of not so silent desperation with Karen, and the world she is stuck in. 9

Gently Read Literature July 2011

There are no edges to these stories, and at any moment these characters can come crashing down all around you. I cannot adequately explain the power of this collection. On the surface it seems very angry and almost exhausting, but as a whole it is the writing that monopolizes your attention. To go into great detail about the rest of these stories would deprive you of their brilliance.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


Emergency Room Wrestling, The Dirty Poet, Words Like Kudzu Press, 2011

Anyone who has watched ER or viewed the formulaic misfortunes comprising each episode of House can understand the chaos and horror inherent to critical care services. In light of the contemporary health care debate--now mired in politicized abstractions--the subject of critical care has itself become critical. However, it is not the organizational injustice that the poetry collection, Emergency Room Wrestling, recently published by Pittsburgh-based Words Like Kudzu Press, deals with. Instead, it is the frustration, the revulsion, and the raw experience of an insider that makes this such a powerful and disturbing collection. It is a work that, through its fundamental revelations, elevates issues central to the healthcare crisis. Beyond the red tape, beyond the battalions of statistics lies humanity, weak and quivering like pale jello. These poems, frank in their expression, get to the core of individual experience. Presumably male, the self-dubbed ‗Dirty Poet‘ has been an emergency room respiratory technician for twenty years, and this collection represents his first book. Based on the copyright, which spans eleven years, some of the included poems date to 2000. For the poet, the collection title likely has metaphorical significance, since these poems are, ostensibly, a method of processing both the disgusting nature of ailing humanity and the frequent

obtuseness of patients and their visitors. In every room, there is an unpleasant narrative, and many of the 44 works reveal the poet‘s observations and unsavory experiences. Yet, that is not to say this is entirely factual reportage, as the last stanza of the prefatory poem, ―for the tortured genius‖, indicates: ―hospitals exist; misery is real/this book is imagination/driving a lamborghini of experience‖. Therein lies the authorial disclaimer. Still, the poet sets the collection‘s tone, and establishes his vantage point, in his first poem, fittingly titled, ―you think you need a beer‖. In relatively objective, if darkly humorous language, he explains the difficulty of supporting a screaming, 400-pound man, whose groin and genital tissue has been largely destroyed by necrotizing bacteria. As the poem‘s speaker strains to keep the patient upright, other nurses attempt to clean up a tide of feces. (Dear Dirty Poet: Under the circumstances, I would say something stronger than beer is called for. How about a double vodka? Allow me to buy the first round.) In many ways, this is the conceptual heart of the entire collection. It is what makes each of the incorporated poems so timely, but also ―timeless,‖ as collection editor and Words Like Kudzu Press founder Karen Lillis notes in her incisive introduction.


Gently Read Literature July 2011

In these windows onto patient, visitor, and caretaker behavior, The Dirty Poet offers us commentary on humanity‘s contemporary expectations, their impractical burdens, and the sometimes questionable nature of victimhood. The dirty poet continues in ―you think you need a beer‖ by asking how it‘s possible the man‘s infection got so bad before he sought treatment. He ends by musing over the man‘s weight. How, he wonders, did he allow himself to grow so unmanageably large? Although such questions might be hailed as discriminatory, they are valid to the healthcare debate. In a society that still promotes informed choice and personal responsibility, one might safely ask how much have this man‘s own actions (or inaction) turned him into a permanent victim? And what, then, is our responsibility to him in medical terms? Going a step further, who is the true victim here? The patient, who is clearly suffering, or the caretaker, who must wade through recurring torrents of fecal matter to care for him?

Often, there is death, through no apparent fault of the victims‘. And sometimes, because of vicious and problematic patients and the frequency of death, its occurrence is often accepted without--what outsiders might view as--the necessary gravity. Moreover, The Dirty Poet warns against taxing hospital staff with questions and requirements. In ―human nature‖, he writes, ―every time you ask me if I washed my hands/(like the posted signs advise you to ask)/i think: if you‘re that worried about infection/i‘ll just stay out of the room; that much less exposure/ that means painful bedpan delay for your loved one/or lying in filth a little longer‖. It‘s likely an attitude patients suspect technicians of having, and it‘s frightening to hear its confirmation in this poem. Yet, doesn‘t this warning to revise our behavior as patients and visitors also reveal a lapse in obligation?

Certainly, the spectral presence of patients‘ rights lingers on each page, but in poems like ‖must have been a full moon in that unit‖ caretakers‘ involuntary (and compulsory) sacrifice of personal safety is thrown into high relief:

This poem speaks to the profession‘s tendency towards burn out. As with other service oriented fields, medical technicians are forced into constant and direct interface with the public, which leads—almost inevitably and in short order—to frustrated exhaustion. And while this might not be so menacing in some occupations, like waitressing, it certainly has dire consequences in the healthcare field.

On my way into room # 9 where I found a Mexican standoff the patient had the nurse by the hair let go of me she said he wouldn‘t I grabbed his arm and tried to pry open his fingers couldn‘t do it I went around the bed and he punched me


The visitor has caught no one by the hair and thrown no punches, so does naive concern warrant a withdrawal of vigilant care?

Gently Read Literature July 2011

PC or not, these messages, both tacit and avowed, are subjects essential to discussions about healthcare and the crisis we currently face. What role does patient responsibility play in treatment? Should it play a role at all? What must medical providers forfeit while treating the belligerent and willfully helpless? What do these experiences do to their sense of duty? These are questions that need to be asked, if not answered, before we can reach constructive solutions in a system growing ever more

complex, both on financial and ethical levels. Perhaps most importantly, the poems elevating these questions comes from a vantage point many of us find entertaining in prime time, but don‘t otherwise critically consider, unless we are caught in the system itself. Ultimately, The Dirty Poet presents us with notes from the trenches. We would be wise to listen and learn.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


Matthew Henriksen is not a fancy poet. At first glance. When I flipped through his book for the first time, Ordinary Sun seemed simplistic. He did not seem to be pulling any fancy John Ashberry complex, convex mirror tricks. He did not seem to be whipping up any sort of impressive metaphors, or crafting any sort of mind-blowing forms. In honesty, Henricksen even seems sort of borOrdinary Suns\, Matthew Henriksen, ing when you flip through. Then you Black Ocean, 2011 start to closely read the poems, and even at first, they seem clumsy. The book opens with a multi-page poem called ―Copse‖, and the first few pages have some awkward lines like ―another man‘s table saddens beyond bees‖. But then about twothirds of the way through ―Copse‖, you start to get it, what it is that Henriksen is doing with this collection, and then by the time you get to the last page of that first poem, you‘re amazed at how he‘s created this gentle tornado of words and lines that have swooshed you up, lightly swirled you around in its funnel, and placed you back on the ground, pleasantly unsure of what just happened, but thrilled by your impromptu flight. That‘s what marks all of Ordinary Sun: a deceptively interesting simplicity. He is able to write tragically about nature, or more specifically, our human lives which dwell inside of nature, with a clarity and poignancy that is actually shocking. Henriksen, in his second book, shows an impressively subtle mastery of lan-


guage, one that poets can only aspire to. As an example: the structure and form of his book. Henriksen uses the same form for the vast majority of his poems- each poem being a series of couplets of varying length, with the length of each being identical within the sections. The section titles themselves, some of which are actually just several page long poems, have some fairly boring seeming titles, such as ―The New Surrealism‖ or ―The Talk‖. But once one dives into the nakedly tragic world of Henriksen‘s collection, what superficially appeared as simplistic forms transforms into a brilliantly crafted canvas on which Henriksen paints his naturalistic and deceptively complex world. By making such tactful use of the space on the page, Henriksen manages to neutralize poetic space. It is likely that this 100 page collection could be squeezed onto perhaps sixty pages, but in spreading, for example, the 160 line, four part poem ―Corolla in the Midden‖ onto eleven pages, each page with about the same space filled in by couplets, he creates white space in which the reader can take in the carefully crafted lines: I can have more empathy for a dog than a child and have no empathy for you, only a disfigured grace to strike your notions to smoke until we have between us only motion, this walking, even when we are not walking.

Gently Read Literature July 2011


This New and Poisonous Air Adam McOmber Blending historical fiction with fantasy and the macabre, Adam McOmber‘s debut short story collection brings the influence of Angela Carter, Isak Dinesen, and Edgar Allen Poe to the next generation. In ―The Automatic Garden,‖ a solitary architect from the court at Versailles builds a water-powered pleasure garden; in ―There Are No Bodies Such as This‖ we read a haunted and romantic fiction about the creation of Madame Tussaud‘s wax museum; in ―Fall, Orpheum‖ a small town movie palace becomes the temple for an entire town‘s devotion and sacrifice. Adam McOmber seamlessly blends history, artifice and desire to create a dream of the past that intertwines with our own notions of modern life.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


In a Beautiful Country by Kevin Prufer


I‘ll make you a bomb. First the booster gas canister, then the heat shield, then the radium case, which, yes, is shaped like a peanut. I‘ll make you a bomb, first the heat field, then the lenses that drive the implosion, and last the radiation space, which, yes, is shaped like a peanut. I‘ll make you a bomb, first the space filler, then the glass lenses, which, careful, may implode. I‘ll make you a swan, first a crease here, then a crease there, a quick tuck for the wings, an explosion of flight. I‘ll make you a swan, one-two-three folds and now it‘s done, but it will not fly, its wing tips burning like fuses. I‘ll make you a dress, don‘t you love me? a nip and a tuck and three pins to hold it tight. I‘ll make you a little white dress, inside it your heart says bang, bang, bang, your mind like a swan‘s. Careful, it‘s shaped like a peanut, careful of when it decays, careful, it may implode. Don‘t you love me? Look what I‘ve made you.


ISBN: 978-1-935536-11-6 paper, 116 pages, $15.95

Gently Read Literature July 2011

It is in such poetic space that the reader can appreciate even more, and more easily, Henriksen‘s innovative use of repetition, for example the last couplet ending in with the same word, and yet the two ―walking‖ remains a fresh word, with the addition of emphatic syllables ―when we are not‖ in the second line. The reader can appreciate, too, the interesting image of striking notions to smoke, an image whose action takes part entirely in invisibility. It is throughout his whole book that Henriksen deals in double meanings and smooth connotations. Although often times, his word choices seem simple, he is able to draw out the multiple meanings of our daily vocabulary words. Just the title, in bold black lettering on a saturated yellow cover page, suggests the contradiction in its words the sun being essentially a dangerously compressed ball of energy, and something that would kill anything that came close to it, while also being necessary for to continue living. And the idea that that is something ordinary is laughable. Then there are the seamless streams of ordinary words which fit so easily together, creating a rapidfire succession of images, like in the lines from ―Passé History Test‖, Make money, dinner & love in the clos with the closest monkey you can afford. You love the monkey because you must obey the law of a desert skull. Make your river snake. Tail feathers fake a virile imagination, when every monkey knows you oblate doom.

ending with the ―monkey‖ image, and the lines transitioning so smoothly between some closet and a desolate desert. You tingle with some kind of poetic joy when you read ―closet with the closest monkey‖ because Henriksen is playing so easily with his words, and so despite the overall ominous tone of the lines, there is still a sort of joy in the world play. The same is true of ―make your river snake‖. The duality of that image- an actual river, winding through some dusty place, or an actual snake which lives in a riveris so pleasing to the reader, while still lending itself to the ominous tone. Repetition also plays a large role in Ordinary Sun. Throughout the whole book, there are several images which are sprinkled throughout the whole book- swallows, bees, trees- and which lend themselves to that dual meaning that is also present throughout the whole book. It is clear that Henriksen knew exactly what he was doing when he picked these images, because despite their mundane nature, Henriksen is able to make them fresh, as though there is nothing more interesting than bees, or swallows, or trees. In ―Copse‖, for example, bees are mostly forming other things. They appear as a shower on the second page, as a table on the sixth, and the poem opens and closes with the image of a jar full of bees. Swallows appear as the bird and as the action, and this action is once given an air of anxiety, another time given the air of appreciation, another time given an air of calm.

These seven lines use such cyclical language, with the lines starting and


Gently Read Literature July 2011

It is this sort of word play that makes Henriksen‘s book so thoroughly enjoyable to read. The play is there, and it is delightful, while at the same time, it is taken place in the fairly somber world of Ordinary Sun. And that is really what is most wonderful about the book. Even though at times, the poems can get a little clumsy, and sometimes, the repetition gets a little heavy handed, there


is an overall more impressive quality to these poems that allows the reader to forgive the author for those small mistakes. Because, ultimately, Henriksen is a truth-teller. With his poetry, he is able to give the readers an honest slice-of-life, with all the sadness, beauty and humor that come with.

Gently Read Literature July 2011


Heart First into the Forest Stacy Gnall Self-Portrait as Thousandfurs To have been age enough. To have been leg enough. Been enough bold. Said no. Been a girl grown into that negative construction. Or said yes on condition of a dress. To be yours if my skirts skimmed the floors. To have demanded each seam celestial, appealed for planetary pleats. And when you saw the sun a sequin, the moon a button shaped from glass, and in the stars a pattern for a dress, when the commission proved too minute, and the frocks hung before me like hosts, to have stood then at the edge of wood, heard a hound’s bark and my heart hark in return. To have seen asylum in the scruffs of neck—mink, lynx, ocelot, fox, kodiac, ermine, wolf—felt a claw

curve over my sorrow then. Said yes on condition of a dress. To be yours if my skirts skimmed the floors. To have demanded each seam just short of breathing, my mouth a-beg for bestial pleats. And when you saw tails as tassels, underskins sateen, and in entrails damasks of flowers and fruit, when the bet proved not too broad for you, and before me, the cloak held open as a boast, to have slipped into that primitive skin, made out towards another sort of prowling around. To have turned my how how into a howl. To have picked up my heavy hem and ran.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


In The Carnival of Breathing LISA FAY COUTLEY ISBN 978-0-9828766-3-3


"Coutley deftly alternates moments of lyric contemplation with the brutal—and banal—realities of love...This is a terrific collection." —Sandra Beasley Order at http://www.blacklawrencepress.com/

Contemporary Literature & Non-Fiction


Gently Read Literature July 2011


This is only the second book I read by Michael Thomas Ford, but I think he is quite the master in writing stories about modern gay men who are also traditionalist and conservative, but in the positive meaning of these words:

The Road Home, Michael Thomas Ford, Kensington Books, 2010

―The front of the sled began to rise. Burke held his breath, praying that it wouldn‘t bog down in the snow. It didn‘t, and a moment later he was lifted into the air. He seemed to rise above the toboggan. Below him the snow spread out like a frozen sea, and he appeared to be flying over the tops of the pine trees that lined the edge of the field. Exultant, he threw his arms out wide and shouted with joy. This spontaneous expression of happiness was his undoing. The toboggan, its balance upset, veered from its intended trajectory and lurched to the left as it descended. The prow struck the edge of the track at an angle and the sled tipped sideways. Burke, clutching the guide rope, managed to remain seated, but the toboggan itself spun so that it was now moving backwards down the hill. It was also picking up speed. Disoriented and unable to control the sled, Burke could only hold on and wait for the

ride to end. He had no idea where the sled was going, but eventually it had to stop. If he could just hang on he would be fine. And then there came another lurch. The toboggan, catching in a bit of frozen snow, upended. Burke once again rose into the air, but this time he could not hang on. His body was thrown from the sled. He somehow turned so that he was facing the sky, and for a moment he thought everything would be fine. Then he struck something with great force and all went black. When he next opened his eyes it was dark and he was cold. Snow was falling on his face, and he lifted his hand to wipe it away. The fingers of his gloves were stiff and scratched his skin. When he breathed a sharp pain exploded in his chest. He couldn‘t feel his legs. He was lying beside a tree, but he couldn‘t recall how he had gotten there. His mind filled with jumbled images– snow, flying, a sled. It all began to come together. Then, all of a sudden, a blinding light filled the sky above him. He shielded his eyes with his hand. The light burned like fire and turned the world gold. Then a voice came from within it. 21

Gently Read Literature July 2011

―Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.‖ The author starts the novel with a very ―traditional‖ memory, a past winter, a young boy, his favourite game. But even in this memory, Burke feels detached from that life, since, as he said, the spontaneous expression of happiness was his undoing. It‘s like Burke already knew at that time, that being spontaneous, being open to feelings, was wrong, dangerous. Burke is an apparently successful man living an enviable life in Boston as a professional photographer; he has everything he dreamed about when he was growing up in a small town in Vermont, and he would do everything to not having to renounce to it. But when a car accident forces him to face the reality he actually has no one who really cares for him, if not for his family, it‘s there, in that small town in Vermont that he goes back; The road curved to the right and became a driveway that led to a large white farmhouse. Daylilies, their orange and yellow heads bouncing lightly in the breeze, were planted in front of the screened-in porch that ran along the 22

front of the house. A beatup red pickup truck was parked outside, and beside that stood a tall, somewhat heavy man with white hair, dressed in chinos and red plaid flannel shirt. As the Saab approached, he lifted one hand to about chest level before returning it to his pocket. ―That means ―hello‖ in Vermontese,‖ Burke said. ―It also means ―You‘re probably right about that snowstorm,‖ ―Them politicians is a bunch of fools,‖ and ―Sure I‘ll have a piece of blueberry pie.‖ ―He‘s a good looking man,‖ Gregg remarked as he pulled the car to a stop. ―You don‘t look anything like him.‖ Burke rolled his window down. ―Hi, Dad,‖ he said. His father leaned in. ―How was the drive?‖ he asked. ―You hit traffic around St. Albans?‖ ―It was fine,‖ said Burke. ―Could you help me out of here?‖ His father opened the car door as Gregg got out and came around from the other side. ―Dad, this is Gregg,‖ Burke said as he turned sideways in his seat and swung his leg out. ―It‘s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Creenshaw,‖ said Gregg.

Gently Read Literature July 2011

―Ed,‖ the man replied. When Gregg looked confused, he said, ―Call me Ed. Everybody does.‖ He then squatted down, put Burke‘s arm around his shoulder, and lifted his son up and out of the car. Ifound this part quite enlightening of the following story, since Burke was just out of a bad car accident, and he really needed someone to take care of him, not only on a physical level, but also emotionally. No one, neither his ex-partner Gregg was willing to do that, and so Burke goes back to his hometown in Vermont, and as soon as he is arrived, his father is already there, helping him like he was still the kid who left so many years ago. Burke is sarcastic and a bit detached, but nevertheless he knows by instinct that, if he asked to his father for help, his father would be there. Not only that, his father approached Burke with questions that are ordinary and common, like Burke has only left home the day before. This gives to Burke the reassurance that nothing has changed, in good and bad. As a teen, Burke was not a repressed or troubled kid, but more a reclusive, and for he was not easy to express his feelings, but that was more a normal behaviour in his own family than his fear of rejection. For a reason or the other he has never done a real coming out to his family and friends, more or less applying the ―don‘t ask don‘t tell‖ rule: everyone knew but no one admitted. Rather than facing it, Burke preferred to erase everything, his family, his youth, his friends; the man living in Boston is a different one, someone who has no connection with that life. When he comes back home, to Burke is like re-entering

an unknown universe, even if nothing has changed, he doesn‘t recognize the environment, his own childhood room is something stranger, he doesn‘t even remember the books he probably coveted so many year ago (like a very ―used‖ Gordon Merrick‘s novel). When he meets Will, the 20 years old son of his childhood best friend Mars, Burke is not able to split the old Mars with the young Will; Mars, who was Burke‘s first experience with sex (even if it was not something Mars wanted even to acknowledge), is now someone completely different, and for that reason between them there is no possible reunion, they barely speak to each other. But with Will everything is different; above all when Burke finds out the kid is interested in him more than his dad‘s old best friend. At first I thought Burke was projecting Mars in his son, Will, he was trying to live with the kid the unrequited love he was not able to fulfil with Mars. But then I read something different, Burke was projecting in Will the teenager he was, the one who wanted out from the small town to finally live an openly and happy gay life. Burke was, and still is, reflecting his family‘s attitude on the small town: since in his family no one was willing to understand who Burke really was, and it was not only the gay thing, also his career and dreams, Burke automatically thought the small town was the same, and a life there meant for sure a life in denial. As soon as Burke is able to understand that it was not a rejection, but more a lack of communication, he also starts to see the small town in a different way;


Gently Read Literature July 2011

―So, what‘s your life about?‖ ―I don‘t know,‖ Burke said. ―Me, I guess. That sounds selfish, doesn‘t it?‖ He didn‘t wait for Sam‘s answer. ―I guess it is. But it‘s true. My life is all about me. What I want. What makes my life better.‖ He wanted for Sam to say that there was nothing wrong with that. After all, hadn‘t he said that paganism was about enjoying life now? You know that‘s not what he meant, he told himself. ―I think most people embrace religion because it gives them a set of rules,‖ Sam said. ―They tell themselves that as long as they follow those rules, they‘ll be happy. But how often do those same people hurt others, or themselves? How often are they still miserable? That‘s what I find so interesting. They follow the rules, and they still aren‘t happy.‖ ―Are you happy?‖ ―Mostly,‖ said Sam. ―You?‖ Burke thought about his life back in Boston, the one he‘d thought he couldn‘t wait to get back to. He thought about his work, and how instead of doing his own projects, he‘d accepted commercial work because of the good money. And he thought about the failed relationships. ―No,‖ he said, his voice catching in his throat. ―I really don‘t think I am.‖ I think this is the point when Burke realizes that he didn‘t find happiness leaving Vermont, and that is not the


place that makes him unhappy, and neither the people, it‘s his own incapacity to understand what he wants from life and what is really important. From this moment on he will also start to understand that is not following a lost dream (his first love for Mars he is trying to re-live with Will) that he will find that happiness. There is an historical subplot regarding two men living during the Civil War, it‘s not really something that changes completely the feeling of the story that is still a contemporary one, but more a nice addition; the only thing that I can see as a parallel between now and then, is that those men were able to accomplish something the modern day Burke is not able to do, living comfortable with themselves even in a place and time that was all other than accepting. I think Burke is searching info about them to prove they were not happy, that something happened, a tragedy; Burke will be able to understand, and accept, that only life got between them, only when he will be able to accept that no one is against him and his happiness, if not himself. Last nice note, is the supporting character of the old gay man living an happy but somewhat sad old age with a whole lot of good memories about his past; this is a character I have already found in ―Looking for It‖, and it‘s so real and well described that I think it‘s the representation of someone in the author‘s real life, or at least someone he would be glad to exist. It‘s probably the hope of any modern man, gay or not, to arrive to an old age without regretting your past.

Gently Read Literature July 2011


LEFT GLOVE Mac Wellman 56 pages / $12.00 ISBN 13 978-0-9844142-0-8 http://solidobjects.org In Left Glove, Mac Wellman makes a theater of fragments, of lost objects and unnoticed people, of waste and cast-off isolation. But this somehow never becomes a theater of alienation or lack or loneliness or emptiness. Left Glove is unique in showing how things that are broken or alone can nevertheless have their own fullness.—Young Jean Lee Chorus of One Resolved, that: Left Glove will fit thee like a glove if thou relishest the sort of play in which the most awe-inspiring acrobatic feats are performed by no other character than language. A left glove may have been lost, but here thou shall encounter dexterous play bountifully—not the telling of This and That in the established mode of articulation, right-handedly, for that's unglovely, and dull. And that is that. YEA.—Mónica de la Torre From three-time Obie Award-winner Mac Wellman comes this complex and provocative play about two simple events. Yamaha Nazimova drops a glove. Jewel Beckett picks it up. Between these occurrences, a band of moths, fingers, demons, and all-too-human pronouns sing 27 choruses rich with puns, reversals, exclamations, whisperings, cries of loss, cries of victory, arguments, and resolutions. Turning dramatic convention on its head, Left Glove offers a profound view of a mishap and its ramifications in the public and private sphere. This paean to lost gloves everywhere covers and uncovers its methods and its radiance with grace and exhilaration. 25

Gently Read Literature July 2011


Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington, D.C., edited by Kim Roberts, Plan B Press, 2009

One would not have to be out of touch to have a disdain for Washington, D.C. these days: whatever your political stripe, your issue du jour, your favorite target of disdain. But the city, and the political capital of the country, don‘t often meet; they aren't in the same place, particularly for the people who live here and not for the connections: for the job, the firm, or the corporation back home. This is home for many writers and has been for centuries. ―We live in a Federal District which operates like a colony,‖ says Kim Roberts in her introduction. And many of the writers in this anthology explore psychological, aesthetic, and political complications of this peculiar geography. There are poems by A.B Spellman, Elizabeth Alexander, and Liam Rector, as well as poems by less well known poets. But the compulsion for me, as a reader, was easily towards poems that chronicled the city through its local byways, poems like ―The Jello Man on the Feast of the Circumcision,‖ ―There's Been a Killing in the Neighborhood,‖ ―Snookie Johnson Goes Down to the Recruiter's Office Near Benning Road and Starts Some Shit,‖ and ―Tambourine Tommy.‖ This last poem, by Thomas Sayers Ellis, reads almost like a picture of initiation and belonging: More man Than myth, more myth Than freak, he would come


out Between bands In a harness of bells And high-waters Held together and up By a belt of rope. Seemingly a curiousity for Ellis, ―Tommy‖ becomes emblamatic of life for DC natives east of the Anacostia River: ...the way He beat himself (head, shoulders, knees and toes), proved he Was one of us, A soul searcher Born and raised In the District, Proved he Could reach in, Blend… One of the strengths of this collection is local geography and life is always touched by national life and events, whether that be Bush's second inauguration ―Second Inauguration‖ or the legacy of slavery and Lincoln's maid, ―Elizabeth Keckley: 30 Years a Slave and 4 Years in the White House.‖

Gently Read Literature July 2011

Since so much history has taken place in D.C. and continues into the present moment, this collection engenders much of its richness from the intersections that are available to a poet writing for and in this city: even if it is because of nationwide outlets like the Kennedy Center, as in ―billy eckstine comes to washington, d.c.‖ where national fame intersects with local preoccupation back in the day he was there on u street with stokely when word came that the king was dead and the country would burn break crack and wail sometimes i look at him see my grandfather on the porch preaching about unions or willie ―the lion‖ smith at the piano reminding young upstarts that his fingers can still dance like chorus girls rehearsing for a show This isn't to say that there aren't poems that read like dictates on politics: one may even expect that from an anthology of poets from D.C. But, for the most part, the poems encapsulate the 20th century in remarkable ways. Roberts organized the anthology based on the birth date of the poet. In this case, the first poem is ―The Washingtonian‖ by May Miller, born in 1899, and the last poem is ―There Were Homes‖ by Abdul Ali, born in 1984. In many ways, you can read the changing aesthetics of the various decades of the twentieth century as well as the changing cultural make up of the city due to Roberts' eye for different

voices. For what it is worth, I found copious amounts of humor in this collection as well as a concern for different ways of seeing. For example, Richard Peabody's ―I'm in Love with the Morton Salt Girl‖ ends with ―When she is done I will lick her salty lips with my tongue/ and walk her down the stairs into the rain, wishing that I/ could grow gills and bathe in her vast salt seas‖ or the almost Fitzgerald moment of Daniel Gutstein's ―Valise variations‖ with: hashes a scoop of cranberry a scoop of taters a scoop of stuffing outside public kitchen a mimic thrasher catbird building next and nestling atop crown of flickery signage ―Eats in the measure of its eye its rustic housecoat missing the weather of your wit kind instrument of your variance

As the collection progressed, I tended to enjoy the later work more (which is not much of a surprise to me as my taste in aesthetics runs towards play and discovery). I would be remiss if I didn't mention Toni Asante Lightfoot's ―Mothership Future Dream Palabramorphetic‖ where the language play and the concert attended by the narrator and sister are a gumbo of narrative, language and image: 27

Gently Read Literature July 2011

Blue haze floats and grows over the roof of the Capital Center. This place is new, shiny, unprepared. There are a dozen Black folk on stage dressed psychoanfronegrofuturemetastylistic. Flue must be clogged, smoke unable to rise out tumbles down. My sister is bellbottomis, braids, and anticipation. Me? 10 year old cock blocking

And while Lightfoot's George Clinton vision delightfully takes us on a journey that may remind readers of a P Funk concert, her poem serves as reminder of what is best about this collection: it is a gumbo. Organizing an anthology around a city—Roberts reminds us that it is also a celebration of ten years of the Beltway


Quarterly, an online magazine— allows for a variation of voices that are situated in the same place. In that vein, I found the collection captivating because of the different stories from writers of the same age writing about the same place. In 2010, Vincent Gray, the new mayor of Washington, D.C. may have won the election due to his ―One City‖ slogan. But, if this collection demonstrates anything, it shows the reader that the richness of the city exists precisely because it houses so many different voices trying to work out a life in a city that is at times bloody, political, racist, and, often, surreal.

Gently Read Literature July 2011


Christina Garcia‘s debut poetry collection begins with an offering of sorts, a poem called ―Tapestry.‖ The lines read: …This business of biography is a sham. Thin brocade of words. Knots of grief. Can grief be a gift? I fear it will make me your enemy but you must Trust me: I offer this in peace.

The Lesser Tragedy of Death, Cristina Garcia, Black Goat Press, 2010

I was introduced to Cristina Garcia during my last year of undergrad. Her award winning novel Dreaming in Cuban was required reading for my Caribbean Literature course. As poetic as the novel was, I admit I was a bit skeptical when I discovered that Garcia had just released a book of poetry—her first in fact. There are those terrible instances where people do cross-genre work and you wish they hadn‘t. Thank God this wasn‘t one of those times. A tribute to a troubled brother, The Lesser Tragedy of Death chronicles, in snippets, the tragic undoing of a beloved sibling in a voice that is at once charming and true; regretful and nostalgic. Garcia is nothing if not smart in these poems: she tells the story of her brother as plainly as my grandmother told me stories of her girlhood. In other words, these poems flow like stories told beside the fire. The brilliance of this collection lies in its simplicity: She spares us the

long, complicated stanzas and tricky forms poets use to flex their poetic prowess. It‘s not long before you realize this book is not just a tribute to a brother gone astray—it is a conversation with him. Garcia systematically visits the defining events of her brother‘s past one by one, praising his innocence, mourning his troubles with drugs and crime, and even remarking on her own guilt for not being able to save him. In the poem ―Boy‖ Garcia croons: You gave away everything: Your candy and rapt attention… I winced at your misplaced trust. Why couldn‘t you Toughen up? You were a boy, weren‘t you? Where did your gentleness come from?

Here we are able to see the brother Garcia loves so intensely; she reveals the innocence that she so poignantly remembers, but so desperately mourns the loss of. For the most part, Garcia spares us the flowery language and avoids lapsing into sentiment: a difficult job for the most seasoned poets. There are some instances where she relies on tired turns of phrases like ―adios amigo‖ (in ―Girlfriend‖) though this seems inconsequential to the strength and poise of the collection as a whole.


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Also impressive is how efficiently Garcia tells the story of her brother, also her own, without the girth one would expect from a poet who is also a novelist. What comes through loud and clear, however, is that this book was not written to impress anyone (except maybe the god of honesty) and that Garcia is amazingly brave. In poems like ―Trip‖ and ―Vigilante,‖ Garcia waxes bold about her brother‘s addiction to crack. The former begins with the lines: You drove a taxi strung out on crack, Made record time across Bed-Stuy. Red lights only encouraged you.

Garcia is nothing if not thorough. The three main sections of the book are divided by years: the first covering her brother‘s first twelve years, the second, the next twelve years, and so on. And it‘s in Part II that Garcia deals with another touchy subject: the role of her parents in her brother‘s demise. Though she does not ―call her parents out,‖ she is direct. In ―Your Room‖ Garcia says: Papi having another affair; Mami Lost in those damn love songs again (I‘ll hate Julio Iglesias forever), disappeared o South America for months only to return and pretend she didn‘t remember us…

The speaker here is not accusatory—just truthful. Garcia is a pro at allowing the facts to tell the story on their own, a trait probably garnered from years of writing novels. Part III of the collection deals with her brother‘s latter years—and with


those latter years comes something even more challenging to talk about: the speaker‘s own guilt for not doing more to help her brother. …You came for a long visit: stayed up nights watching who-knows-what; hibernated days away. Your niece refused to go near you… …I drove you to Santa Barbara to break the news. Perhaps you never forgave me. Perhaps you never should.

In this poem the speaker is forced to choose between the daughter she must protect and the brother she has known all her life. The book ends with a Part IV of sorts—a section called ―Coda‖ that includes one poem, ―Last Dream.‖ The last line says this: ―You bring the trumpet to your lips.‖ By now (if you‘ve been paying attention), you realize you‘ve been on a journey with this author; that this collection is not a calculated work of fiction, a novel for which formulas have been figured out. Each poem, from beginning to end, was part of a long progression, a process of forgiveness and letting go; a meditation, a prayer. We‘ve read along as the speaker croons over her baby brother, wondering at his gentleness, perplexed at his drug habit, disappointed by her family‘s apathy. And here at the end, she realizes that the one thing she can give her brother is not salvation or a second chance— but a voice. And not just a voice, a trumpet.

Gently Read Literature July 2011


Color Plates By Adam Golaski Small Fictions Paperback, 228 pages September 2010 ISBN 978-0-9846166-0-2 $15.95 http://rosemetalpress.com/Catalog/colorplates_more.html

Color Plates is a museum of stories, curated by a sort-of Mary Cassatt. Four rooms of Mary‘s museum are open to the public, and they are named Éduoard Manet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Mary Cassatt. Color Plates contains sixtythree little stories—plates—spun from real paint-ings by these painters. The stories range from sweet to weird, from melancholy to funny. This isn‘t just a short story collec-tion, and it isn‘t a novel, but something else entirely. The plates each stand alone, offering startling visions and situations. Yet at the same time, Color Plates of-fers the depth of a novel, with recurring characters, themes, and motifs. The mu-seum says: My name is Mary and Mary is my museum. Paintings are brushstroke upon brushstroke. With a pencil I lift each brush-stroke and make lines. Line upon line, story upon story, the small fictions in Color Plates will engage you, delight you, and challenge you to consider the intersections between art and time.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


Seven Studies for a Self Portrait, Jee Leong Koh, Bench Press, 2011

Jee Leong Koh is one of the more sensitively creative poets writing today. Those who have read his ecstatically beautiful collection of his poems, Equal to the Earth, know his talent well. But with this new collection, Seven Studies for a Self Portrait, he introduces even more evidence that not only is he a poet of great style and substance, but his is also a painter of poetic images whose core is self investigation and observation with few peers.

titled 'He Went', 'He Liked', 'He Had', 'He Knew', 'He Remembered', 'He Watched', and 'He Danced':

Technically speaking this book of poems is divided into seven sections. The first section 'Seven Studies for a Self Portrait' is a set of ekphrastic poems (Note: Ekphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of anything, person, or experience) each 'Study' referencing a painter (D端rer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Schiele, Kahlo, Warhol, Morimura) in which he defines himself in the style of each painter as in Study #4: Egon Schiele; Look at me, cock in my claws, Comb crimson from scratching. Skinny arms kink around my back but can't kill the screeching itch. The hand can't scratch its bones. I snap off the blackened arrows but their featherless beaks stab the crying katydids, their broken feet catch in the scattered flesh. I stretch the canvas on the rack.

'I am my names' forms the third section where in seven poems he poses descriptions and follows each with a last line such as 'My names is Answer. I am a son.' or 'My name is Variable. I am a Chinese.' as though he has created riddles and then given us the answer. The next section, 'What we call vegetables' is a series of poems obeying many of the rules of sonnet writing, but breaking them into seven instead of fourteen lines, as in 'Stem':

The second section, 'Profiles', are free verse in form, interrelated and 32

He estimated the cab fare from sugar to quietus, and carried the metal sum in his mouth when he took his first trick home. He still remembered the man had excellent teeth, and how sweet the stirring, and then the disappearing

We spar, we spear softly, secretly, your gut. We spare most of you our acrid smell. A few get us. Asparagus, Proust says, perfumes his chamber pot. As do doctors. As do saints.

Gently Read Literature July 2011

And he then offers us full sonnets in the sections 'Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet' and 'Bull Ecologues', and completes his collection with what for this reader is the most emotionally charged and eloquent section, 'A Lover's Recourse', a series of forty nine ghazals (Note: 'a ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in 6th century Arabic verse.') It is in these poems that Jee Leong Koh rhapsodizes on his sexuality and the result is an examination of the scope of joy and pain that love touches.

In another poet's hands these repeated collections of sevens, each section drawing on the study of poetic forms, would be considered an academic braggadocio, evidence that the poet knows his craft and must prove it. Not with Jee Leong Koh: each section teaches us, yes, but also bathes us in profound thoughts and emotions that just happened to be contained and controlled in forms the poet uses the way a painter changes brushes and media and pigment. Brilliant! The book design, multiple photographic fragments of the artist‘s face, both photographed and designed by Stephanie Bart-Horvath is stunning.


Gently Read Literature July 2011


In Jéanpaul Ferro‘s latest collection of poetry, Jazz, he portrays a startling world full of twists and turns through the wide-open spaces of America and beyond. It is hard not to read Ferro‘s work and not be left standing there in awe at times. His work pulsates with emotion and heartbreak, reaching you at some unspoken level as he transports you through locale after locale, from one situation to another. He has this unique way as a writer of placing you Jazz, Jéanpaul in a situation, let‘s say in Nicaragua, Ferro, Honest Publishing and then he‘ll take you half way around the world and place you somewhere completely different after that. He simply pulls us along as though on some magic carpet ride, able to view the world as though through a prism, introduce you to someone you may have never even thought about before; and suddenly he has you believing in this person and caring about what happens to them next. Jazz is not written from a uniquely American perspective. There is definitely a U.S. slant here as Ferro deals with many difficult American issues such as guns, politics, terrorism, etc. But he is a vagabond also, taking us along through the back alleys of Cuba, over to the desolate Greek isles, through the underground cemeteries of Paris, and ultimately right onto the battlefields of Iraq. Poems are written from the point of view of soldiers, little girls, parents, children, drug addicts, or even heartbroken lovers. There is 34

such a wide array of flavors here that there is something for just about everyone. The poems range from the simple to the complex; from the gut-wrenching to the sublime. And he has this beautiful nuance with words that at times can leave you breathless. ―Letter From A Soldier‖ is such a poem. We almost feel as though we are reading the words of a soldier‘s private journal after they have returned home after the war: ―I am just a little bit broken / broke in all the right places— / a million little jewels that split apart / all across the ground.‖ This same sublime imagery is found again in ―The Dream House‖: ―Her soul was the color of God / a thunderhead of apple red, and in wavelengths / vestigial hips and thighs / the drunkenness that comes thereafter.‖ Some of the most powerful pieces within Jazz are Ferro‘s political pieces or war poems. But almost like a well trained reporter he takes neither side, but instead puts you in between the cross-hairs or on a street in a war zone or confesses to you as the Virginia Tech Massacre shooter and then lets you make up your mind. In ―Armageddon Days‖ he‘s a desperate man in NYC who needs to understand why there is so much death and suffering. In the phone booth on 47th Street, the city steeped in bottle green/neon, too weak to seek out what‘s appropriate, these legs, waterfalls, in her living memory, in the paper—another war to wet our beaks;

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Jesus, pick the phone, need to talk ASAP; I see it all on the looks on each passing face, secretly, eyes dreaming poetry out of the light, living the life they got—right or wrong, perfect/not; I‘ve never heard singing so dark in a place, horns blaring, air rushing by, cars splashing water, Jesus, you there? maybe you can come—quick! There is something to say for not saying anything, right or wrong; solitary/strong; peace or fighting; I‘ll be who I am; I don‘t know about you; the wind in my veins getting colder every minute, a million faces to see when I only need one: hello? is anyone there? hello? hello? hello?

Or in the haunting ―Swords of Qādisīyah,‖ where the myth and reality of war collide like two freight trains driving full speed ahead toward one another in the middle of the night: We sent our boys off to war, threw them a ticker tape parade in our heads, jumping up and down, waving with hope as the train went pulling out from the station— all night long a steal drum and a violin playing, that long dream of the charred out bones of the man lying there in his car along the desert road— who was that man? what did he think? what was his name? what did he dream once? everyone begins to pray: we pray, others pray, our enemies pray; everything else left for God to vet — eighteen months later some of our boys are returning home into the silence of their own heads; and there is this expression of grief itched onto their young faces, the war still raging on a million miles away (like Earth is another plant) for the rest of their lives.

Normally when I read a book I will turn down the corner of a page or place a beautiful book marker where I want to leave off so I can

start up reading again another day, but often I found when I was reading Jazz that I couldn‘t stop anywhere, because each time I read a piece it surprised my senses or made me want to rush and turn the page to see what might be next. ―Arrete! C‘est ici L‘Empire de la Mort—‖ was one of those poems that made me feel like I had to go on to the next poem, because this one was so breathtaking. On that cold October day we escaped the Paris rain by going down the spiral staircase of seventy-seven steps, fifty feet below into the graffiti filled Catacombs, into the supernatural, deeper and deeper we ran through the revolution of years, black pools of underground rain collecting on the ceiling, like years of rain that was suppose to quench and protect us, you kept smiling, nervously laughing, your hand pulling at your v-neck shirt, trying to cover over your breasts from the cold, running and running through the years until we reached the painted pillars, a doorway between them, where this sign stops you in your tracks: Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead— Into the room of the dead we rushed, russet and brown stained bones piled atop each other as walls: arm and leg bones, ribs and shoulders, men and women, the rich and the poor and the young and the old, fast death /slow death, the apple size eyes of their skulls staring out at us as we stood there together, intricate patterns that are meticulously placed in both dignity and symmetry, six million dead below the streets of Paris, France (beating on anyway), and you held my hand tight and leaned into me; and you whispered in my ear right then: ―I wish I were dead sometimes, too!‖ you said; and I knew what you meant, but I was afraid to admit it in fear of egging you on.

The American Dream and the new reality of a post 9/11 America often finds its way onto the page in Ferro’s books.


Gently Read Literature July 2011

Sometimes this is a dark world, richly layered, intoxicatingly accented with virtual worlds where characters and actions are metaphors for the time period we‘re living in. In ―Bet Everything On Red‖ an American world on the brink of Wall Street collapse, tired from the stranglehold of two long wars in the middle-east, and worn out by threats of terrorism and collapse, ceases to be a place with a quiet main street and amber waves of grain. But instead large chunks of society have lost themselves to selfindulgence and escapism. We went to the disco at twelve, danced beneath the rainbow and confused disco ball like it was Studio 54, this guy with a handle-bar mustache and a leather vest comes on up on us all sweaty and meaty, shaking his pompoms violently in front of me while I count out the hundred dollar bills, ten different ways to make love on five different beds, We drink some champagne and then go racing down by the Hudson in the Bentleys, someone says: buy, buy, buy the stock, stock, stock on the Internet all night long, everyone going swimming in the blue Olympic pool over at my place, I‘m confused, a special agent, I got a badge to prove it, there is some cocaine on the pearl table by the plasma TV, feel free to order in—the credit card is right there by the phone. In the morning everyone is asleep down on the floor, arms and legs valiantly thrown about in every proportion, a couple of people ready to use their one phone call, But I don‘t want to kill the party again, the casino is only fifty miles away, someone whispers that I can take their car, but I haven‘t taken a cab in years, so I call one and pay this guy to drive me around all day long, so no one can ask me any questions. 36

Jazz has this essence to it of making you look at difficult choices, brutal realities, and painful realizations in such an artful way that is it almost like viewing and reading a graphic-novel where the illustrations are composites of situations that make you uncomfortable and squirming in your seat, but the art and illustration is so heavy in achievement and so beautifully executed that you cannot look away. In the end, Jéanpaul Ferro‘s infinity with words leaves you like a good drink does after you‘ve downed it as fast as you could—dizzy, buzzed, and waiting for more. But this work is also a cautionary tale, and this is where Ferro leaves us in the closing poem ―Mohegan Bluffs,‖ reminding us of the beauty and fragility of the world, and telling us what we probably already knew but would never want to admit.

Gently Read Literature July 2011

The ghosts sail out from the Charlestown Breachway every night at dusk, the wind filling their sails, shadow filled, all these tiny pewter disks shining atop the waves, and sometimes you can hear them saying: I just want to go home; and they sail out into the Great Salt Pond into the middle of Block Island, where the parking is always free; where all our familiar dreams go on vacation; and when you‘re ready maybe you‘ll go there too; out into the mystery of happiness— you and God in a perfect place, out into this little secret that lasts no longer than a second: never desire anything


Gently Read Literature July 2011

July Contributors Jason Pettus is the owner of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography ( http://www.cclapcenter.com/ ).

Kurt Brown founded the Aspen Writers' Conference, and Writers' Conferences & Centers. He is the author of six chapbooks and five full-length collections of poetry, including his newest No Other Paradise from Red Hen Press. He is currently an editor for the online journal MEAD: The Magazine of Literature and Libations and has edited ten anthologies of poetry, including his newest (with Harold Schechter) Killer Verse: Poems about Murder and Mayhem from Everyman‘s Library. He taught for many years at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

Jason Rice's fiction has been published online and in print. He has a short story in the Hint Fiction; An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words of Less, published by W.W. Norton. And he is one of the founding editors of the blog Three Guys One Book.

Savannah Schroll Guz is author of American Soma (2009) and The Famous and The Anonymous (2004). She is a monthly columnist for Library Journal and contributes regularly to Sculpture Magazine, American Craft, and Pittsburgh City Paper. More goodies can be found here: www.savannahschrollguz.com


Mary Shippee currently studies creative writing and French at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. She enjoys the writings of Tony Hoagland, Rebecca Dunham, Michael Chabon and the NPR show Radiolab.

Elisa Rolle started her own review blog in 2006 on LiveJournal (Elisa My Reviews & Ramblings) and soon after that started to post her reviews also on Amazon. She is now in the Top1000 Reviewer on Amazon and her blog has an average of 1000 hits per day. But aside from the numbers, she is basically doing what she loves: reading.

Wynn Yarbrough lives in Mt. Rainier, Maryland and teaches creative writing and children‘s literature at the University of the District of Columbia. He has worked as a painter, bartender, editor, teacher, and mover (among many jobs). Poems, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in The Potomac Review, Branches Quarterly, the Pedestal Magazine, Poetry Midwest, H_NGM_N and others. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Louisiana College Composition Poetry Prize in 2005. His book, A Boy's Dream, was released in June of 2011 by Pessoa Press.

Alexandria Ashford received her Bachelors Degree in creative writing from Pepperdine University in 2010 and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans. She is the winner of the 2010 Prize Americana for Poetry: a national award given to an emerging poet of exceptional promise. Her first poetry collection, Danke Schoen, was released from The Poetry Press (Hollywood, CA) in September 2010. Ashford has been published in literary journals such as Rose and Thorn, Chopper, Review Americana, South Jersey Underground, and Silk Road.

Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has produced exhibitions for the Arnot Art Museum in New York, Fresno Museum of Art, Nevada Museum of Art, National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, and Cleveland State University Art Gallery and has served as a contributing artistic advisor for universities and colleges throughout California, in Berlin, the Centro Cultural de Conde Duque in Madrid, and in Oslo. He is the art reviewer for Poets & Artists magazine and is the art historian for The Art of Man quarterly journal.

Rachel Lancaster is a freelance writer and poet from Corvallis, Oregon. She can be contacted at: lancasterr17@yahoo.com. 39

Gently Read Literature July 2011

About Us Gently Read Literature 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, (gentlyreadlit@gmail.com). "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 considered on a rolling basis. Gently Read Literature is edited and maintained by Daniel Casey, all comments or questions can be directed to him at gentlyreadlit@gmail.com. Available Review Copies Poetry: Lie Down Too, Lesle Lewis, Alice James Books Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, Joshua Ware, Furniture Press Books To Be Human Is To Be A Conversation, Andrea Rexilius, Rescue Press Here and Now, Stephen Dunn, WW Norton 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 Pinko, Jen Benka, Hanging Loose Press This Strange Land, Shara McCallum, Alice James Books What's This, Bombardier?, Ryan Flaherty, PleiadesPress Inspiration 2 Smile, Nate Spears, Unbound Content This is How Honey Runs, Cassie Premo Steele, Unbound Content In New Jersey, Julie Ellinger Hunt, Unbound Content Before the Great Troubling, Corey Mesler, Unbound Content Kingdom Come, John Estes, C&R Press 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 Suspended Somewhere Between, Akbar Ahmed, PM Press Wisdom Teeth, Derrick Weston Brown, PM Press Left Glove, Mac Wellman, Solid Objects Rage & Bone, Kathryn Nuernberger, Elixir Press Fully Into Ashes, Sofia M. Starnes, Wings Press Lessness, Brian Henry, Ahsahta Press Utopia Minus, Susan Briante, Ahsahta Press Disappearing Address, Simone Muench & Philip Jenks, BlazeVox Books


Gently Read Literature July 2011

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Gently Read Literature July 2011

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Gently Read Literature July 2011

Naked Beauty, John C. Goodman, Blue and Yellow Dog Press Rude Girl, John Sakkis, BlazeVox Books Your Mouth is Everywhere, Nick Twemlow, Racquetball Chapbook Tournament (chpbk) God, Seed, Rebecca Foust & Lorna Stevens, Tebot Bach Press Bird Lovers, Backyard, Thalia Field, New Directions Venus and Other Losses, Lucia Galloway, Plain View Press The Hairpin Tax, David Appelbaum, Codhill Press (chpbk) Iteration Nets, Karla Kelsey, Ahsahta Press The Ache of Appetite, Rachel Hadas, Copper Beech Press Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Ho Kyun, Translated from the Korean by Ian Haight and T'ae-young Ho, White Pine Press The Book of Things, Ales Steger, translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry, BOA Editions This Is Not About What You Think, Jim Murdoch, Fandango Virtual Concrete Pastures of the Beautiful Bronx, W.R. Rodriguez, Zeugpress The Livelihood of Crows, Jayne Pupek, Mayapple Press The Houdini Monologues, Karl Elder, Word of Mouth Books Mosquito Operas, Philip Dacey, Rain Mountain Press Fall Off the Bicycle Forever, Michael Rattee, Adastra Press Life as a Crossword Puzzle, Noah Falck, Open Thread The Royal Baker's Daughter, Barbara Goldberg, University of Wisconsin Press The Best of (What's Left Of) Heaven, Mairead Byrne, Publishing Genius Stone Whisperer, Hendrik Gideonse, Gandalf Press Incidental Music, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, BlaveVox Books Night Songs, Kristina Marie Darling, Gold Wake Press Gospel Earth, Jeffery Beam, Skysill Press (made), Cara Benson, Book Thug The Iron Key, James Longenbach, WW Norton The Smaller Half, Marc Rahe, Rescue Press Run, Kim Gek Lin Short, Rope-A-Dope Press (Limited Edition Chapbook) A History of Clouds, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, translated from the German by Martin Chalmers & Esther Kinsky, Seagull Books Praying to the Black Cat, Henry Israeli, Del Sol Press The Available World, Ander Monson, Sarabande Books 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 No Rainbow, Judson Hamilton, Greying Ghost Press The Ghost of Cesar Chavez, David Dominguez, C&R Press All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song, Rebecca Foust, Many Mountains Moving Press In the Ninth Decade, Marilyn Zuckerman Wet Information, Jillian Brall, ZoeWo Press No Room for Buddha, AD Winans, Polymer Grove Water the Moon, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Marick Press Gnawed Bones, Peggy Shumaker, Red Hen Press If Not Metamorphic, Brenda Iijima, Ahsahta Press These Indicium Tales, Lance Phillips, Ahsahta Press Realm Sixty-Four, Kristi Maxwell, Ahsahta Press


Gently Read Literature July 2011

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Gently Read Literature July 2011

Calendar of Regrets, Lance Olsen, FC2/University of Alabama Press Beauties, Mary Troy, BkMk Press Please Don't Shoot Anyone Tonight, Dave Newman, World Parade Books The Cannibal of Guadalajara, David Winner, Gival Press The Wonderful Room, Bryan Woolley, Wings Press Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack, Carol Novack, Spuyten Duyvil Color Plates, Adam Golaski, Rose Metal Press Look! Look! Feathers, Mike Young, Word Riot Press Ventriloquism, Prathna Lor, Future Tense Books (chpbk) Neo Phobe, Jim Feast with Ron Kolm, Unbearable Books They Had Goat Heads, D. Harlan Wilson, Atlatl Press The Wind Came Running, Marianne Gage, Plain View Press 3/03, Chuck Wachtel, Hanging Loose Press The Underbelly, Gary Phillips, PM Press Pike, Benjamin Whitmer, PM Press Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, Alissa Nutting, Starcherone Books Yield, Lee Houck, Kensington Books The Shame of What We Are, Sam Gridley, New Door 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 Felicity & Barbara Pym, Harrison Solow, Cinnamon Press Dream Fishing: Stories, Scott Ely, Livingston Press 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 Probation, Tom Mendicino, Kensington Books Robin and Ruby, KM Soehnlein, Kensington Books Robot 9 in Wonderland, Louis Phillips, World Audience Normal People Don't Live Like This, Dylan Landis, Persea Books The Rat Veda, James Chapman, Fugue State Press Superstitions of Apartment Life, Pedro Ponce, Burnside Review Press Brazil, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Cleveland State University Poetry Center (novella) 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 Manhattan, Sarah Rosenthal, Spuyten Duyvil From the Hilltop, Toni Jensen, Bison Books University of Nebraska Press Cradle Book, Craig Morgan Teicher, BOA Editions Life of a Star, Jane Unrue, Burning Deck The River Road, Tricia Currans-Sheehan, New Rivers Press