Journeyman’s Suitcase by Mike James

By Lynette G. Esposito
In Journeyman’s Suitcase by Mike James, published by Luchador Press, clear questions and observations open a literary window of perspective and viewpoint. The fifty-two pages of this short tome are mostly one-stanza experiences that read like someone’s notebook as the writer interprets representative images into logical conclusions.
For example, in the poem False Confessions on page three, James presents things that never happened in a one-stanza truncated sentence form.
                   The time you panhandled for tattoos. The monthly
                   payments for transcendence.  All the famous people waived at or
                   had orgies with.  The time you found the burnt wreckage
                   of flaming shoes.  Childhood spent tossing pennies behind the
                   Red Dirt Cabaret.  The mother who worked as both a nun and a
                   stripper. The medical journal contribution about aspirin as a
                   cure for love sick penguins.  How you were the first o capitalize
                   and conjugate KAPOW.  That ability to translate any fairy
                   language into Yiddish.  The parakeets who sang duets while
                   you scrambled and re-scrambled the eggs from the plain white
                   chickens you raised. The prize-winning rooster from Borneo.
The choices of the false confessions suggest bravado and humor as well as serving a good dose of how our memory works and what we are willing to confess to even if there is little truth in it.
James uses this same tone and technique in the poem, She Could Have been a Seller of Indulgences on page twenty-one This poem shows a perception of time as it controls and/or influences one’s choices.  The poem is presented in a two–stanza format.
                        It was never easy for her especially on Tuesdays, as we know
                        how Tuesdays are with their leftover promises from the start
                        from the start of the week and the day before.  It’s probably not enough
                        that every third day she wore a sun dress to keep the sun
                        interested and nearby.
The reader is introduced to the she of the poem by what she wears and on what day. she wears it.  There is a certain tonal sorrow for this SHE as the unnamed person who seems to be holding on by the thread of a perhaps unneeded sun dress on a specific day of the week. The answer the narrator gives is to keep the sun near and interested. This is almost like a Don Quixote scene without windmills.  In its place is the sun.
The second stanza gives details of her life and the dry chardonnay she shares at her dining room court with her nail technicians and everyone else.  It is like a short story without unnecessary details.
In part two of this volume, the journey continues as James explores the everyday symbols that define everyday life. The image of a map is used in Too Far on page thirty-nine.
                               A map keeps you from too far.
                               That’s a map’s job.
                               The best map would reflect stars.
This poem like so many of the poems in this book, suggest in a direct way the meaning, both literal and figurative, of everyday objects that guide us.
James demonstrates his prowess in observing and analyzing poetically how the world works.  The book is a pleasure to read and quick paced.
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym

What the Owl Taught Me
By Byron Beynon
In this, her first full collection, Annest Gwilym makes an impressive debut. She brings to life, through rich observation, her deeply felt connection with the natural world. She inhabits this world with an objective and sympathetic eye. Landscape and place are important to an understanding of what Gwilym is trying to say in these poems. The creatures that inhabit them become the primary focus, whether they are mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish and marine life, they all play a part in the delicate balance and rhythm of a world we all share and live in.
As Ted Hughes discovered as a teenager, animals have a “vivid life of their own, outside mine” and he began to “look at them……from their own point of view.” Gwilym’s poem “Last Night I Became An Emperor Moth” begins with this view in mind:
“I rode through the liquid night,
as a melon-slice moon crested a bank of cloud.
Part of the hush and curve of the universe;
Pleiades above me a diamond cluster ring.
Clothed in starlight, wings powdered,
furry belly glossy and plump.”
Gwilym also casts an innocent eye in the poem “Whelk Shell” when
“As a child they looked like ice-cream cones”……and “Held to the ear I hear/the rushing blood and heartbeat/of a living being.”
There are several focused observations in her work such as:
“sheep like drops of candlewax/Spilled over bare green hills.” (Driving Through Sheep Country)
“Hair-thin legs on stilts” (Daddy Longlegs in the Attic)
“They huddle like conspirators/in slick black suits…” (Crows)
“they crest/ like the pure notes of a clarinet.” (Dolphins At Porthdinllaen)
and from the poem “Great Crested Newt” she takes us to a world inhabited by a “Creature of two elements,/he waves his dinosaur tail /at his chosen one, beguiles/her with cologne/in his brightest spring suit.”
There is also that sense of fate which many creatures have little or no choice to determine:
“Ear-tags show these beasts are marked for death;” (September Cattle) and again where trees are uprooted and houses built “foxes /stalk the shrinking woods.” (The Fox Road)
As the Anglo-American writer Stephen Pain says we “experience a whole range of feelings towards animals, and hope and believe that they are reciprocated. They produce, to paraphrase David Hume (author of A Treatise of Human Nature), “a sensible concern” in us. The birth and death of animals (not all of course) elicit from us sympathy. The nature and extent of this sympathy has evolved over centuries into something complex and provides the foundation for our appreciation of animal verse.”
This concern can be heard in the poet’s voice as she looks outside late at night from a bedroom window at a family of foxes “a swirl of autumn,/with a feline leap from a fence they landed,/velvet-footed, spangle-faced, a mother/and kits who rolled and played…”(City Foxes)
Gwilym has two patterned poems, “Wasps’ Nest” and “Golden Child”, both arranged in interesting shapes on the page. In her poem “Golden Child” the endangered Undulate Ray is: “Beauty queen of rays,/she hides her cartoon face underneath where she/grins with 50 teeth. She bears children in a purse/fit for a mermaid.”
We are closer to the poet’s home territory in “Seal At Play” where in the marina she perceives the unfamiliar in familiar surroundings;
“A water-slick head surfaces and his eyes
watch the watchers, as sunlight glosses him.
Later, the retreating tide will lead him away,
dragged by the moon and stars.”
In “Encounter” an unexpected meeting with a mare unfolds “she is as polished as a chestnut just out of its thorny armour,” when the horse is offered some grass to eat a trust develops as:
“the mare lowers her head
and eats, lipping my hand
as ears flick away flies.”
This is a mature, accessible first collection of forty poems, written with imagination and craft.  Her keen perception allows the reader to experience an understanding of familiar creatures in a receding and threatened world from a different slant.

You can find the book here: WHAT THE OWL TAUGHT ME

Byron Beynon’s work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, The London Magazine, Agenda, San Pedro River Review, Planet, Poetry New Zealand, Wasafiri and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren).  A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine.  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)

Reviewing Jennifer Firestone’s Two Latest Books of Poetry: Ten and Story


By Greg Ben

Within six months, poet Jennifer Firestone published two pivotal works: Ten and Story. Both books of poetry follow 2017’s remarkable Gates & Fields (published via Belladonna*), and both resemble a conceptual understanding of their predecessor’s interest in poetic movement and observation, voice, and the poet’s relationship to time and space.

The two leafless trees operate by wind,
look happy.
When one behaves the brain responds, the gesture
absorbed. (Ten, page 11)

In Ten, the first of the two published works, Firestone presents a series of 10-line poems that were written during her time restricted to a single room. In circumstances that follow knee surgery, these poems of constraint are matched with and blended through a second sequence of prose narratives exploring the underlying architecture of emotion, livelihood, and creative liberation.

While the 10-line poems are fascinating on their own, the prose interjects and offers context, and clues into the why of the writing and the how of the writer. The earliest section of prose describe the moments leading into the surgery, which would result in the 10-line project: “What you can say is there was a burning, up, up the body. They had given you the meds too late. Isn’t that basic, make sure the patient gets her meds before pain kicks in. You cried right before going in. Yes it’s knee surgery, but you pleased, ‘I have kids!’ It was genuine but you also thought maybe your tears accompanied with saying ‘kids’ would get extra attention.”

As the quote reveals, Firestone’s writing is closely aligned with the lived, daily experiences she encounters pre- and post-surger. The short journey of Ten is not just summation; Firestone is concerned with an examination of self-determination, exercising power and action within constraint, and exploring the openness of possibility within an explicit physical environment. The result? Firestone’s creeping sense of wonder glides between concrete and abstract observations:

The setting shifts. I am a tiresome sea.
Surely, sight has value. Say it. Thoughts
quaking. Quietly I shift,
anxiously awaiting the end.
“I am infinity,” claims he. (page 17)

The world within her room crosses through the window to the world just outside, and the poems only expand from there. Within the 10-line poems especially, undefined characters with their own fragments of language support the liminal and the ambiguous within Firestone’s project. The tone is cryptic and shifting. Firestone’s poems contain rhythms seen and unseen, as hinted at through this moment ars poetica: “The idea is to freshen up, give things a twist. When you’ve stretched out each menial task as far as they might extend, putty that becomes so thin it’s stringy, you look at Ten. There it is, bricks stacking. Its tidiness deceiving. The words rush, then slip” (page 51)

While in many of its moments the book feels like a day log composed of curious observations and poetic maneuvering, Ten is also a longitudinal expression of life within recovery. There is imperative and there is urgency and there is, really, a longing to overcome and thrive. While reading Ten, I was reminded of Frida Kahlo’s life working with spina bifida. I was also reminded of David Wolach’s 2013 examinations of chronic illness and the “Hospital Industrial Complex” in Hospitalogy. I also thought of my own, similar history as an artist—in 2013 I suffered a blood clot, and was bound to my home under physical recovery, while engaging with an incessant opiate addiction. Far from melodramatic, Firestone’s work is ever-personal, a clear portrayal of self, a chiseled proclamation of experience, and it also feels incredibly relatable.

To have a book from 2019 concerned with questions on how to be an artist in times of constraint feels oddly like a premonition or foreshadowing. Today, under COVID-19, many of us see the same rooms, stare at the same trees, hear the same voices each and every day. Our world shrinks. The world becomes cyclical, repetitive. As a result, our minds deflate, become tired, and the world melts, becomes more abstract. Blurs and blends. Is Firestone’s book of poems, then, a representation of what we are currently experiencing? Or perhaps it is a rhetoric, a blueprint, for how we can respond. Either way, Ten is an applicable, evolving document that I cannot recommend more in mid-2020.

If Ten explores the power behind and overcoming of constraint, then its follow-up, Story, exercises the inverse. It is a book more rooted in the future, more concerned with the past. It is a book about remembering, about defining memory, and about the construction of reality through language, through poetry. It is also a book about trauma and traumatic experience, and how we—as individuals and as groups—respond to trauma during its initialization and presence.

The book’s story is also nearly inverse the story of Ten: the protagonist and her partner are tourists in a tropical locale when they encounter a terrible accident, an event of such violence that the tension of juxtaposition is ever-present. The book is about that violence, just as it is about arriving to that violence and trying to live beyond that violence. Story is also that locale, that setting, and the implications inform the book’s narrative. Story pushes the world into a meaningful constraint, an identifiable form, though through filters of glaze and dream.

Like Ten, Story shows Firestone’s attention to form and container as significant and prioritized. A much different book visually, Story contains mostly pages of four lines, listed in the following order: a statement unbound by quotation marks, a statement bound by quotation marks, a statement unbound by quotation marks, and a statement bound by quotation marks, as with the following:

When the body wriggled like a fish on land, lines of logic dissipated.


“Slim fish, films.”


It was like this: she wondered is this my narrative?


“Waves crack, pour.” (Story, page 32)

Lines are distanced from one another. Each inform each other in more or less direct ways. There are themes between the quotes and the unquoted. The voices are never defined. There is puzzle building and puzzle solving. There is synchronicity and asynchronicity. As the book unfolds, the observations from the past surface. It is fascinating to look at the weaving between the two strands of thought, and wonder where these strands originated. Perhaps there are more than two strands—the ambiguity is intelligent and concerning, keeping the book pinned open, keeping a narrative from reaching any level of comfort as it develops.

While a book completed through just the patterned language described above would be captivating, Firestone splices her work on multiple occasions with variance of form. Story, like Ten, also contains a strong sense of rhythm. The first splice in the book, for example, breaks down the form from the four lines into a single line: “To my dear story      gristling in the wind” (page 48). Two pages later, a set statements are listed in rapid succession on the page, including:

The bar man prepared several ornate tropical drinks repeatedly.
Presumably the ambulance crew patiently rattled protocol while lifting.
Presumably another tourist couple hopped into the back with humanitarian kindness. (page 52)

This falling and rising through language mimics thought processes and memory: from the focus on a single image that can sit in consciousness for what feels like an eternity, to the focus on a barrage of images that feels relentless and overwhelming, trauma is never so simple as ebb and flow. With memory systems within Story driven by images of the locale’s water, tide, and beaches, Firestone’s language is compelling. It is empirical while also feeling distant. It is focused while also feeling spread thin. The poet explores these movements of trauma, the approachability and untouchability of it, through the content and its form. And there are many surprises to both, which are worth discovering through a read of the book directly rather than second-hand, here.

When considering what is said versus what is quoted, when thinking about what is proven and final versus what is felt and squishy, Firestone considers larger constructs of polarization and contentious relationships in how we learn, how we feel, and how we know. Where Ten held a much more lenient understanding of the connection between concrete and abstract, the weight of both feels much more intense in Story. Knowing what is concrete and knowing what is abstract suddenly is filled with implications: what happened that day, on the beach, and what does it matter? How is it processable? In thinking about process, I was reminded of White Noise by Don DeLillo, of Staying Alive by Laura Sims, of Things That Go by Laura Eve Engel. In each of these works, there is a “large something,” and understanding that something is the point, and the point can only be reached by reaching forward, by attempting to grasp. In a way that differs completely from Ten in intention, Story too is about power.

Did she emerge wet and coronated, past the sorrows of her human face?


“With grace, murmurs.” (page 72)

Much can be said about Story and I hope a lot is; the work is significant and complex and there’s nothing quite like it. And there is so much about it as a collection and as a paradigm that feels important to our world today, right now. To say it too is timely would be an understatement; that so many are struggling to learn, understand, and even identify the source of the global public health crisis is applicable to this text. And derivable from this text.

Firestone’s writing feels as if it was written about our world right now, with each day feeling like a distant memory and each moment of thinking and feeling combined into a mixture of the exhausting and the enthralling. When thought of alongside Ten, a book of so much “stay alive, stay inside,” I find incredible lengths of beauty and intelligence.

It would be a disservice to not mention that like Gates & Fields, both of Firestone’s latest books are precisely and adamantly feminist. Jennifer Firestone is front and center. Her voice is front and center. And her work contains comments on gender—via presence, authority, and relationships. It is exciting to me to see Firestone’s trajectory, her personal canon, continue to explore the world, personally and generally, while also honoring her personal experiences and her voice. We have strong works to keep us company while in anticipation of Firestone’s future creative projects.

You can find the books here:  and

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at




Obit by Victoria Chang

By Charles Rammelkamp
Written in the slender, right-justified form of newspaper columns, so familiar to readers of obituaries, these poems are no less lyrical for their journalistic form. Two events inform these poems.  “My Father’s Frontal Lobe,” the first poem, begins:
My   Father’s   Frontal  Lobe  –     died
unpeacefully  of  a  stroke  on June 24,
2009 at Scripps Memorial Hospital in
San Diego, California.
The second poem, “My Mother,” begins:
My Mother died unpeacefully  on  August 3, 2015 in her room at Walnut Village Assisted Living in Anaheim, California, of pulmonary fibrosis.
These two dates, June 24, 2009, and especially August 3, 2015, recur again and again as Chang writes the obituaries for what has been lost – “Victoria Chang” died June 24, 2009: “Because he did / not die but all of his words did.”  In the first poem, “My Father’s Frontal Lobe,” she has written:
.                                                   When the
frontal lobe died, it sucked in its lips like a window pulled  shut.  At the funeral for his words, my father wouldn’t stop   talking, and his love passed through me….
“Voice Mail,” “The Future,” “Civility” (“Maybe / this is what happens when language / fails, a last breath inward but no breath / outward.”); “Reason” (“My father’s words / taken out of his brain and left downstairs.”), “The Clock” also died on June 24, 2009, the circumstances of their loss and the questions their loss provokes noted in separate obits.
Things that died August 3, 2015, for which she writes obits, include “My Mother’s Teeth” (“…died twice, once in / 1965, all pulled out from gum disease. / Once again on August 3, 2015.”); “Ambition” (“I buried ambition in / the forest, next to distress.”); “Chair,” “Approval” (“I love so many things I / have never touched: the moon, a shiver, / my mother’s heart.”); “Form,” “Optimism,” “Friendships” (“…died a slow death after / August 3, 2015.”) ; “The Doctors,” “Time,” “The Situation” (“at least part of the situation; my father / was the other situation.”); “The Head,” “Hindsight,” “The Priest,” “Similes” (“There was nothing like death, just / death. Nothing like grief, just grief.”); “Language,” “Clothes” and “The Face.”
There are plenty of other dates and other things whose passing is noted in their own obits, because the overarching themes in these poems are grief and language and their intricate intersections. “Grief,” indeed, gets its own obit (“Grief – as I knew it, died many times.”).  But there are so many insights into the grieving process throughout these poems.  “…our sadness is plural, but grief is / singular,” she writes in the obit for “Tears.” In one of the several obits for “Victoria Chang” she notes, “When someone / dies, there is a constant feeling of / wanting to speak to someone….”  In the obit for “Oxygen,” she recalls her mother’s difficulty with breathing that the pulmonary fibrosis caused (“I’m not sure / when I began to notice her panic / without the oxygen….”) and reflects:
Like   grief,  the   way   it  dangles   from
everything like earrings.  The  way   grief
needs oxygen. The way every once in a while   it   catches   the  light   and   starts
smoking. The way my grief will die  with
Juxtaposed against her obit poems for the death of her mother and the crippling of her father are tankas written about her own motherhood, for her own children. This Japanese five-line form is so appropriate for these brief reflections. Each of these intervals contains two such stanzas. Several of them begin with the line, “I tell my children,” and several others with “My children, children.” The very first of the tanka intervals reads:
My children, children,
there’s applesauce everywhere,
but it’s not for you.
It is strange to help someone
grow while helping someone die.
Each time I write hope,
the letters fray and scatter.
The hopeful poets
never seem to have dreams,
never seem to have children.
Indeed, “hope” is so entangled with “grief” that it’s tough sometimes to distinguish the two. In an obit for “Hope,” which “died on October 15, 2014 when / the FDA approved two drugs, Esbriet / and Ofev for pulmonary fibrosis,” Chang alludes to Emily Dickinson’s famous poem (“Hope is the thing with feathers”) when she writes:
                    Hope is the wildest bird,
the one that flies so fast it will either
disappear or burst into flames.
OBIT concludes on a wider angle, as if, as in a movie, the lens widens to include a more expansive vision.  For the final obit is for “America,” which “died on February 14, 2018, / and my dead mother doesn’t know.” That’s the date of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, in which seventeen people, most of them children, were gunned down, and over a dozen others were injured. Though certainly not the last school shooting, in many ways the Parkland shooting marked a change when the children themselves said enough is enough and began to protest the insanity of guns in the United States.  And thus, after so much grief, so much noting of loss after loss after loss, Victoria Chang concludes her collection on a redemptive note, with the final tanka:
I am ready to
admit I love my children.
To admit this is
to admit that they will die.
Die: no one knows this but words.
My children, children,
this poem will not end because
I am trying to
end this poem with hope, hope, hope,
see how the mouth stays open?
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –

As Promised, the fire by David P. Kozinski

As Promised, the Fire 
In the heat I saw colors
no one else could or cared about.
In the fire we lost most
of the things I cared about.
The wills, birth certificates, passports
were lodged at the bank. The art
became smoke,
then a charcoal smudge.
In the fire I smelled apple and azalea,
cedar and hemlock,
mother and father;
what they worked for.
Far from any city
stars burned holes in the skin
of my dream time. Laughter, sirens
spun rings around the world.
I was offered in the fire
the hope of revolution and stasis.
I lost people I loved during the years
of occupation. Not dead, they were misplaced,
stuck away in cupboards, hidden
in lockers, in paperwork. I sought
and could not find them again.
I heard much in the darkness
you brought with you. Most
of the captured images came clear.
You lost people too.
You prayed for them.
They died, their lights went out
and others could be seen.
Everything burned, even things
you wouldn’t expect; rivers and harbors,
identities, principles many
boasted they’d die for.
I saw the colors of ideas, some
for just a moment, while others burned
into my palette. The more profound,
the duller the hues – matte-finished gun metal,
hospital green – while funny little concepts
rose like globes from a soap bubble pipe
and popped right out of existence.
From where we huddled
dying stars sounded
like the shrieks of toads when they jump
from embankment to water, gone in the ripples.
Even the thick doors of perception
shut bank-vault tight, tall
as cathedral spires, went up.
At the end, geysers erected
steam towers to sustain the sky,
to hold it back.
Some authorities told me about cold fire
that cuts through the hardest hearts,
arteries pulsing with angry lorries
and crazy cabs. I reminded them
the avenues and boulevards are also strolled
by hand-in-hand youth,
by skeptics as well as cynics.
There’s no shame in sweat, I told them,
even the kind that poisons
the very ground when flicked
over a garden wall.
I asked these magi for references
that might unlock my box of promises
where the bedeviling of man
is kept down, churning in mushroom dark.
I read to them as they lay in blindness,
fallen into adult beds with linen
as dirty as any hospital could make it,
infirmity our timekeeper.
DPK Headshot 9-2019 (photo by P.A.M. )
David P. Kozinski received the 2018 Established Professional Poetry Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts. His full-length book of poems, Tripping Over Memorial Day was published by Kelsay Books. He received the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which included publication of his chapbook, Loopholes (Broadkill Press). Kozinski was named 2018 Mentor of the Year by Expressive Path, a non-profit that facilitates youth participation in the arts. He serves on the board of the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center in Philadelphia and the editorial board of Philadelphia Stories. He is Art Editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal.

a field of manhole covers by Jason Baldinger

a field of manhole covers
seems every morning
after sun-up the sky commits
suicide. we’re left to pockets
of gray to sit with endlessly
pull myself together, out of bed
inventory or lottery, which new
old thing hurts. stop. listen
time throbs, fuck middle
age is a helluva drug
stare out the window, don’t
notice traffic too busy
staring through time
memories fall out my eyes
I remember hangovers
better than anything,
a field of manhole covers
some years don’t dry out
too much time stretches
between narratives
that time frays and ends
same the first time as every time
I realize this might be all that’s left of this heart
Jason Baldinger is a poet from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  A former Writer in Residence at Osage Arts Community, he is co-founder and co-director of The Bridge Series. He has multiple books available including The Better Angels of our Nature (Kung Fu Treachery) and Everyone’s Alone Tonight with James Benger (Kung Fu Treachery Press) as well as the chapbook “Blind Into Leaving (Analog Submission Press). His work has been published widely in print journals and online. You can listen to him read his work on Bandcamp and on lps by the bands Theremonster and The Gotobeds.