Safe Colors by Thaddeus Rutkowski


By g emil reutter

Safe Colors by Thaddeus Rutkowski is presented in such a fashion that it is reminiscent of a yard master placing freight cars in place to develop a consist of similar yet not similar cars. Such is what Rutkowski has accomplished in this new book. He has coupled stories together in a consist of vignettes that brings the reader on a journey from rural to urban America and back again. His conversational style of writing endears us to each of his characters even those who may be considered unsavory.

The protagonist is met as a young boy in Appalachia of mixed-race parents. His father eccentric, an artist with military baggage. His mother steadfast, the family breadwinner and a brother and sister. The kids deal with racist slang at school and even an aunt states the protagonist doesn’t look like the family. Classic Rutkowski, yet in this book his style of writing draws the reader into each and every facet and in a very matter of fact manner exposes ongoing racism in America. It is an effective tool.

The writing of Rutkowski is layered in each story told. His effective use of humor; family; of pain and love; of substance; of being somewhere and nowhere. In these thinly veiled “fictions” we read of the transformation from young; to college age; to grown man, from rural to urban.

The novel is in three sections. The stream of Rutkowski’s prose flows without interruption from page to page. In the mix are a honeymoon; beach walking; cooking dinner; riding a bike; fishing in Appalachia and the adventures of his parents and siblings. The protagonist survives in the hills and survives in the urban caverns. It speaks to the inspirational inner strength of the character, flaws and all.

Much of Safe Colors occurs prior to the internet and transforms along the way to the current modern age. Rutkowski has documented a history many are unaware of and easily transitions into adulthood and marriage. Safe Colors by Thaddeus Rutkowski is a great read and leaves the reader with the feeling, let’s do this again.

Safe Colors is forthcoming from New Meridian :

g emil reutter can be found at :




Home by John Murphy


By Charles Rammelkamp


John Murphy is a poet’s poet. With a Ph.D. in American Poetry and a former lecturer in English and American literature and Creative Writing, currently editor of The Lake, a monthly online poetry journal in the UK, he is steeped in language, its relation to memory and reality, its lyrical nature, its kinship with song. The first of the three parts of Home, indeed, is called “Words,” and immediately he focuses our attention on these building blocks of expression and experience. The first poem, “Words,” ends: “I wouldn’t be me without words.” That’s a poet for you!


“Writing,” “Poetry Workshop,” “This Is Not a Poem,” “Trying to Write a Poem in the Library Waiting for the Rain to Stop,” “Writing on Walls,” and “There Is No Connection Between the Word and the Thing It Represents” complete the section. Each takes a perspective on language and how it shapes and is shaped by memory and events that only a poet can express – “in the strong iambic / beat of your heart,” as he concludes the poem, “Writing,” suggesting the unstressed beat followed by the stressed. Duh-DAH, Ka-THUMP.


“This Is Not a Poem” is a poem that addresses the challenges of putting into words a simple yet momentous experience, as when a father observes his toddler taking his first steps.
You picture this and feel it’s one
memory that won’t fade even if you
want it to, which you don’t.
You feel you don’t want
to get too lyrical, use words to lull
with a rhythm of their own beyond
pictures so solid in your existence.
You also feel that metaphors are too
cute as are similes….
The bay “exists way above any reason/to shape words into an experience of him,” after all. So, no, this is not a poem( and yet it is!)

Similarly, Murphy shows the challenges of “Trying to Write a Poem in The Library Waiting for the Rain to Stop” while a child streaks through the lobby, an “old, grey man dozes over yesterday’s news.”

I could write about someone somewhere saying
surfing the net or the death squeal of a rabbit
or a blade of grass on a Scottish island slowly
rising upright after a sad man’s heavy foot.

“And what word shall I use to start?” “She”? A color? “The stark possessive of My has its attractions.” Finally, “a poem starts to open / its tightly packed bud of thought” while the rain continues to come down outside.  
“The Interview,” from the third part, called “Away,” is a charming poem in which a “nice young man,” presumably a journalist, is talking to an elderly poet, who starts the poem asking, So what’s wrong with poems about cats? After a meandering speculation about cats, “She sips her tea, dreamstares into the cup.” And then she makes her point:

And just like cats words in my poems move
stealthily across the page stalking meaning,
never knowing until the pounce dropping
to the last line whether or not I’ve made it.
She smiles at that image, raises and spreads
her hands in a there-you-have-it movement…


“Sunshine of My Love” is a poem in memory of Jack Bruce, the late guitarist for Cream, the 1960s rock trio that also included Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.  Murphy recalls practicing that memorable opening riff to “Sunshine of Your Love”:


            Plays a D, fifth fret A string, another D
            down to C, same string third fret,
            then back to the D followed by
            A, G#, G, D, F, ending on the D


The fond memory ends: “pulsing like a radio wave / to the start of love, / to the end of the cosmos.”


“Song Lyric: Be Good Blues” and “The Backwards Song” are other poems that highlight this connection between song and poetry.


“I Think I’ll Write” is a satirical poem that starts: “an experimental poem.” There is plenty of unorthodox word- and line-spacing, fonts and even mathematical formulae. “Is it a poem?”

            N = Ns . fp . ne . fl . fi . fc . fL   Is anyone there?
                                                       Coming up next…
The middle part of the collection, “Home,” is made up of poems springing from memory. The title poem is about shaving his stroke-disabled father and the memories this evokes from his childhood in the 1950s, “our weekly trips to the flicks


            when he held my hand from our house
`           to the trolley bus, from the trolley bus
            to the Odeon and in the flickering dark
            of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


“Secret Codes” recalls the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s, specifically a British science fiction comic strip featuring a hero named Dan Dare and his nemesis, Mekon, so much like the American equivalents in Marvel – Sergeant Fury, Captain America, or DC Comics’ Superman.


            Encumbered with Brylcreem
            and the first press of lust
            we lived on the edge of the 60s
            and echoes of war.


“Yesterday” is another poem that alludes to comic heroes. He writes, “I’ve been waiting for a Superwoman / for ages to sort out my own planet,” likening himself to Jimmy Olson, “the trusted sidekick.” Superwoman will “give a feminine touch to put / the metaphorical flower into / the metaphorical gun barrel / so that wars will just be a metaphor, / not a reality.”


“Blackberrying, 1956” similarly recalls happy childhood scenes, just as “The Memory Seat,” which takes place in a graveyard, brings back memories of his mother soothing his sun-burnt child’s skin, his father carrying him piggyback.


Murphy’s verse is mostly unrhymed, but an exquisite sonnet, “Arrythmia,” takes the long view he hints at throughout this lyrical collection. Is death, after all, all that we are working toward?


            Yet as I catch my breath the heart unjams
            and slows into its regular iambs.


Duh-DAH! Ka-THUMP! John Murphy’s Home is a true lesson in poetry.


You can find the book here:


Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.


It’s About Time by Barry Wallenstein


By Greg Bem

The Wolf Moon, full of itself,
looms over this January field,
snow-covered and sparkling.
The creatures are silent
careful not to shatter the spell.

  • From “Luminous Danger,” page 53

As the title suggests, poet Barry Wallenstein’s latest book is all about time. More specifically, the book explores relationships as they appear at various chapters and moments in the poet’s life, with the occasional allegorical or epiphanic narrative. It’s About Time is an accessible collection of poems, often minimal and straightforward in descriptions and depictions. While it occasionally feels too stripped down as a collection, lacking flourish and the grandiose, its direct manner charges the reader to consider their own lives, their own experiences, their own growth across age and space. It is ultimately a delightful book capable of everyday inspiration, casual humor, and a dip away from the intellectualism common in most contemporary poetics.

Those cries or sighs
buoy us up as we
pick you up to hold,
nestle and fool around.

  • From “Happy Birthday,” page 28

Wallenstein’s collection is divided into nine sections, which are seemingly unrelated but connect over tone and structure more than other qualities. The first section, “Eventually,” seemingly covers reflections from an older age, often with references to children and grandchildren.  “Listen to the Music” offers poems describing the lives of music and jazz musicians. Stylistically, Wallenstein pulls from the energy of artists like Hal Galper. In “Albert Ayler at the End of the Day” the poet writes: And at the end of the day / the muted scream silenced / drowned/ hush / pearls for eyes/ yes.” (page 121). These abstractions are fantastical when juxtaposed with the otherwise clear and acute writings that otherwise fill most of the book. To encounter the poet’s more experimental writing at the very end of the collection offers insight into what other works may exist, now or in the future.

One the gates are opened,
I’ll tip-toe outside,
and on a whim
choose a direction

  • From “Quarantined,” page 82

It would be remiss to omit the poet’s pandemic writing from this overview. Wallenstein includes what is arguably the most powerful section, “Lifeboat,” which covers times of quarantine and isolation throughout the pandemic. While it is a strange and unsettling section given how short it is (eight poems in total, similar in length to the other sections), “Lifeboat” feels like a keystone holding the book together and offering insight, like an easter egg, into when this book was composed. Leaning into metaphors near and far, the poet brings plague and fire into the heart of the book, a shadowy center to the book’s otherwise refreshing and optimistic whole.

All readers can benefit from the occasional encounter with simple writing, and just because the poems here are simple or simplistic does not take away their urgency or impact. Poems like “August Remembered” bring the reader to reflect on the changing seasons (page 37). Poems like “The Border” ask us to consider what it is like to physically move from one territory into another (page 96). “Skin Deep” offers a subtle but engaging description of the body with all its veins and textures (page 107). These poems are broad and open, yet the window is narrow, the thinking focused, and the breath steady. They are small, wondrous gifts and there are many of them in this collection, making for robust revelry.

You can find the book here:

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


The World Itself by Ulf Danielsson


By Michael Collins

In The World Itself Ulf Danielsson presents an engaging and varied array of material ranging from historical narratives of the development of mathematics and the hard sciences to entertaining anecdotes and intriguing thought experiments. These quite readable elements are employed to present a compelling worldview of scientific nonduality that grounds mathematical and experimental productions and results in human consciousness – and that consciousness itself in matter:

“It is clear that our biological nature is central to our view of the universe. Our consciousness is in our bodies, and the world we experience through our senses is created by our using organic systems that have evolved over millions of years. We are part of a living continuum that stretches back to the very simplest organisms. All of this is crucial to our understanding of the physical world – the only world that exists” (152-3).

The organic ground of consciousness is intertwined for Danielsson with the centrality of physics to human understanding of the universe, self-knowledge, and future prospects:

“It is not just that physics is the basis of everything; it is everything. I define physics as the study of the world itself in all of its aspects. It is a world of which we as organic beings form a part, and through evolution we have slowly become aware of ourselves as matter awakened from its eternal slumber. Physics is not about how a free and independent observer floats outside the world and observes it from a proper distance. Our organic bodies, all our thoughts, including the scientific models we create, are parts of the same world that we so desperately want to grasp. The physics I imagine must handle everything; nothing must be left aside. It is literally a matter of life and death” (23-4).

His description of human consciousness as contextualized both by its material ground and temporal emergence presents the basis for qualifying its scientific and mathematical discoveries. However, these conditions have the counterintuitive effect of illuminating the profundity of the breakthroughs humans have made, such as they are, improbable and fascinating evolutions of understanding all the more remarkable for being extracted from the vastness of all that remains opaque. All of this is possible only through the definitional openness of true scientific pursuit: “[E]verything is physics and…there is no reality outside of matter. But there is no reason to believe that we are even close to understanding what this world of matter is capable of” (20).

The structure of the book, accordingly, forms a sort of scientific parallel of negative theology, systematically arguing against views and suppositions that impinge upon these central claims – and centering openness to all that we cannot yet know. One such gap lies between scientific knowledge, itself a product in each instance of its own experimental or theoretical intentions and specifications, and the world it seeks to describe. Danielsson cautions against forgetting that our means of exploring such questions are qualified by the influence of their very practices upon their subjects:

“To be able to talk about measurements, we must separate the object from the rest of the world and put it in focus. The connection to the surrounding universe causes information about the system to leak and be lost. In this way, chance and probability creep in. If we were to abstain from measuring anything at all, our quantum mechanical description of the universe would be completely deterministic. The price we would have to pay is that nothing would actually happen within the framework of our model” (50-1).

This grounding in practical realities opens to moral implications for scientific pursuits that are not too difficult, with reflection, to adapt to other kinds and uses of models and world building:

“The way we translate between a scientific model and the real world is not trivial at all, but something that is rarely discussed and often actively ignored. Instead, we tend to take for granted that our mathematical theories can be identified with the world itself. Not only is it seen to be practically irrelevant to maintain the distinction; the claim is that the identification of the model with what actually exists says something profound about the world” (149). Danielsson holds that such collapsing of object and description must make way for a more interactive mode of engagement with the physical world, one that does not foreclose ongoing disclosure from the unknown.

In a parallel argument, he calls for clear differentiation between mechanistic modes of reproduction and understanding and the biological functioning of human genetics and consciousness. This integral point underscores both the biological basis of consciousness and the centrality of physics to our understanding of it and the world: “The necessary code key is housed by the complete cellular system that reads and interprets the code and realizes it as a physically living organism. Without cells that can read the code, the DNA molecule remains meaningless” (36). Here, as well, Danielsson seamlessly connects microcosmic biological mysteries with a larger context that locates us – all of us, even those of us who are just here to learn as readers – within vast expanses of time as the quite temporary investigators of such nuances of the physical world: “There is no clear boundary between the code and that which interprets the code. The genome does not consist of intangible information. It consists of matter and is part of a cellular system that has evolved over billions of years without a need to fit into simplified models” (39). The objects of our inquiries contain the beings undertaking them. Our understanding is quite small, and yet therefore we are await more intricate development: In precisely the fact that we have so much yet to learn lies Danielsson’s source of inspiration.

The provisional nature of the situation in which we find ourselves as a result, evokes openness to future learning just as much as the ephemerality of today’s supposed certainties: “The universe is not governed by what we call the laws of nature, rather it is the laws of nature that are constructed by us to follow the universe” (62). Danielsson calls for an important balance, requiring our conscious understanding to remain cognizant that it arises temporarily from the universe it partially describes.

Interesting developments from – and support for – these insights are presented in Danielsson’s explorations of other forms of consciousness. Excursions through chimpanzee, octopus, and bat body-consciousness conclude that “One can never understand consciousness as isolated from the body or the environment” (161). However, such evolutionary understandings are also applied in thought experiments about teaching math to aliens:

“The mathematics we use to model the world in the form of natural laws does not exist in the world itself. The laws of nature manifest themselves and are identical with physical patterns in our brains that reflect phenomena that we observe in the world around us. When the patterns are in tune with the world and we find consistency, we see the models as successful” (74).

This conclusion, which echoes the descriptive role of the “laws of nature” above, opens to another way of perceiving the interconnections between consciousness, its practices of cultivating understanding, and the material world itself: “Mathematics exists only in the form of transient processes that help biological beings to better understand their enigmatic existence. The beautiful truths we find in mathematics, which make some people feel the presence of something almost supernatural, are only a consequence of our own limitations” (74). Another comparison with machines approaches the same idea of “transient processes” in the nature of organisms themselves: “Living organisms are constantly renewing themselves. Most of the matter we are made of is replaced. While the identity of a machine is carried by the material parts, ultimately the individual atoms, nothing like that can be said about a living organism. An organism is an open system with a constant flow in and out, while a machine is essentially closed” (135). It’s interesting, in the course of the reading, to consider these insights, not in terms of correlation or causality, but as inter-contextualizing uncertainties.

The book, among many other things, can serve as a restarting point for reflection on the nature our inter-determinism with the world, how consciously — or how deeply — accepting we are of our unavoidable openness to what we often define as outside of us, its unrecognized bounties, its implications: “We are in the middle of a world, which we can never escape, and we can only try to learn and understand as much as possible with our biologically limited abilities. I may be a physicist, but I do not think we know the physics required for us to fully understand the universe. And I’m not sure we ever will” (150).

I am not a physicist, but I am a reader who finds it invigorating and ennobling of all knowledge deepening endeavors to listen to the perspective of someone, who has considered his field more assiduously than I ever could, respond with deep openness and humility to all that even he still cannot know. Books like this invite us to direct our curiosities – both as groups and individuals – in useful ways often only as consequential as they are subtle. Books like this invite us to welcome our smallness before actual mysteries, to do so more together in the collective acknowledgment what we cannot yet know. Perhaps you’ll join me in this reading.

You can find the book here:

Michael Collins’ poems have received Pushcart Prize nominations and appeared in more than 70 journals and magazines.  He is also the author of the chapbooks How to Sing when People Cut off your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water and Harbor Mandala, the full-length collections Psalmandala and Appearances , which was named one of the best indie poetry collections of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews . He teaches creative and expository writing at New York University and the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and is the Poet Laureate of Mamaroneck, NY.



She Has Visions by Carla Sarett

By Lynette G. Esposito
She Has Visions by Carla Sarett is a slim volume published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. Sarett, in fifty-two pages, skillfully presents poems that engage the reader to question time,
place and situation, often using women and women’s viewpoints.
The poem, The Chess Game (circa 1555) on page twelve, uses a chess game to determine sisters’ futures or perceived futures. In six stanzas, the situation is made clear through multi viewpoints.
Minerva’s defeat is not so grave.
After all, she has been vanquished
by her equal, her sister,
and painted by her sister
who will become painter
to the Spanish Court in Madrid.
Lucia, the oldest, has won handily.
She sees her future boundaries,
a nobleman’s wife, perhaps.
The poem changes tone and becomes less hopeful in the next three stanzas as the baby sister and the old maid servant offer their observations.  The baby sister sees her satin-clad sisters in a perfumed garden and the older maid servant observes….how the garden walls narrow, how soon the gates close after the game of chess. The view of this particular garden image from an innocent child and an older, experienced observer vary 
dramatically especially in a time where women’s opportunities were so limited and where the innocent see hope and the experienced see a reality.
In the poem She Has Visions on page thirty, Sarett explores a narrator going to a sewing circle although she does not sew but sees, perhaps, the execution of what others create from their visions. The poem in seven stanzas suggests what sewers create from their memories and the possible meanings of these creations.
And I saw my friend’s visions.
buttons planted in gardens, strewn across lawns,
along the highway in San Francisco,
silver threads lining streets, under footsteps,
under bodies of half-dead men who wake
bound by silver threads.
She has a nice light touch with her imagery that gives the reader a chance to contemplate and think about a sewing circle with so much history.
The poem I Am In My Afterlife on page forty- nine is a four-stanza complaint poem about reaching into one’s future and finding it is as predicted.  Sarett opens with:
Your predictions of the future,
the plague, the crashes, yes, all of those
have come to pass,
as all racing toward me, as
if I were the
finish line.
As in previous poems, Sarett has a light touch that gives the reader room to interpret. However, after listing a few more examples of what has come to pass, she pulls the poem’s meaning together and the reader is given the surprising meaning to the poem.
What I crave is
random lights,
the blessing
of uncertainty.
Sarett has taken the universal theme of the desire to know the future and twisted it into
perhaps the idea of knowing is not so great or fulfilling.
The tome is an interesting read.  In some poems, I was left with the desire to want more almost as if the poems were not quite complete.  One has to be careful with the punctuation in these poems.  It is meticulous and meaningful.
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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review, Bindweed Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, That Literary Review, The Remembered Arts Journal, and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives  in Mount Laurel, NJ
 She Has Visions is available from

Irish Journal by Heinrich Boll

irish jouranl

By Ray Greenblatt

Heinrich Boll (1917-1985) was a German novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. He wrote a collection of essays about Ireland in 1957;  one might think it strange a German writing about Ireland. However, when staying with friends in Kerry in the 1960’s, I discovered that a number of German-run businesses thrived on the West coast; wisely the Germans employed local Irish workers.

Other than my personal interest in Ireland, what especially drew my attention to Boll’s book was his poetical flare, despite not publishing any books of poetry. He experimented with many marks of punctuation—colon, semi-colon, dash, quotation marks. He employed repetition of phrases like “throaty Celtic,” “lovely day,” “bog village bog,” “God help us,” in addition to other common poetic usage such as metaphor, alliteration, personification, etc. His style brings this book to life.


We would expect Boll to describe the vivid scenery. That is what so many visitors come for; the author does not disappoint, using many painterly techniques: “Darkness hung over Dublin: every shade of gray between black and white had found its own little cloud, the sky was covered with a plumage of innumerable grays.” (14) That was the capital; here is a major city on a river at low tide: “It almost looked as if Old Limerick were exposing itself indecently, lifting its dress, showing parts that are otherwise covered by water.” (46)

This is how Boll imagined a city at night: “I saw the street colored reddish-brown, as if smeared with unreal, stage blood: the piles of snow were red, the sky over the city was red, and the screech of the streetcar as it swerved into the loop of the terminus, even this screech I heard as red.” (18)

Then we move out into the thinly populated countryside. “The hills round about were covered with faded ferns like the wet hair of an aging red-haired woman.” (107) “In withered gorse bushes hung a yellow like dirty coins, shining quartz stuck up out of the moss like bones.” (35)

The coast is reached. “The coastline jagged and uneven like the cardiogram of an irregular heartbeat.’”(64) For some Ireland can become a mystical experience. “At this spot on the coast, whose beauty hurts because on sunny days you can see for twenty, thirty miles without a human habitation: only azure, islands that are not real, and the sea.” (66)

Being an island Ireland is dominated by the sea. “The sea was pale green, up front where it rolled onto the beach, dark blue out toward the center of the bay, and a narrow, sparkling white frill was visible where the sea broke on the island.”  (29) “Harpooned sharks lie like capsized boats in the mud at low tide.” (31) “Azure spreads over the sea, in varying layers, varying shades; wrapped in this azure are green islands, looking like great patches of bog, black ones, jagged, rearing up out of the ocean like stumps of teeth.” (56)

Light can play so many tricks on vision. “This clear, cold light does not penetrate the sea: it merely clings to its surface, as water clings to glass, gives the beach a soft rust color, lies on the bog like mildew.”  (70) A woman waits for her husband: “The naked coin of the moon that has traveled toward the western end of the bay; suddenly the headlight cones of her husband’s car: helpless as arms that find nothing to cling to, they writhe across the gray clouds, dip—the car has almost reached the top—shoot over the hill, landing first on the village roofs, dip toward the road.” (72)

Rain is more than plentiful in Ireland, often lasting for days on end: “When the first tongue of puddle licks its way under the door, silent and smooth, gleaming in the firelight.” (59) “Farmers were rowing outside across their flooded fields to fish up their hay from the water.” (103) “The train plodded wearily into the darkness, crawling as if through clouds of water.” (106) And then Boll uses some droll humor: “A barber was standing in his doorway, snipping with his scissors as if he wanted to cut off threads of rain.” (107)

One of the greatest tragedies of Ireland was the Famine of the 1840’s. Thousands died and thousands emigrated, leaving behind their homes. “Not a shred of material, no color anywhere, like a body without hair, without eyes, without flesh and blood—the skeleton of a village, cruelly distinct in its structure.” (31) “Everything not made of stone gnawed away by rain, sun, and wind—and time, which patiently trickles over everything; twenty-four great drops of time a day, the acid that eats everything away as imperceptibly as resignation.” (31)

Boll becomes almost possessed, as if he observed the ruins of his own city Cologne: “The main street, a little crooked like the spine of a laborer; every little knuckle bone is there; there are the arms and the legs: the side streets and, tipped slightly to one side, the head . . . Left leg: the street going up the slope to the east; a right leg: the other one, leading down into the valley, this one a little shortened.” (32) “Broad as shoulder blades were the two stone slabs sticking out of the wall where the fireplace had been.” (34)


An author—like a painter—is a close observer of what is around him in the environment. Boll can pinpoint minutiae, endowing them with poetic uniqueness. Let us first observe human elements: “Names were tossed back and forth like balls.” (8) “My hands were as empty as the church, just as cold and just as clean.” (13) “Men made of bronze, solemn, holding swords, quill pens, scrolls, reins, or compasses; women with stern bosoms plucked lyres, their sweet-sad eyes looking back through the centuries.” (114) These statues are dedicated to Man, like a museum: “As on a ghost train in an enchanted forest, we plunged headfirst into it.” (113)

Boll notices the animal life too: “Rooks were flying round the tower, clouds of rooks, and from a distance they looked like black snowflakes.” (107)  “Donkeys bray in the warm summer night, passing on their abstract song, that crazy noise as of badly oiled door hinges, rusty pumps—incomprehensible signals, magnificent and too abstract to sound credible, an expression of limitless pain and yet resignation.” (58) A hint toward the humanness of Irish people.

A variety of objects strike Boll’s fancy:  “Cyclists whir by like bats on unlit wire steeds.” (58) Something dredges up his earlier nightmares in the form of a truck:  “ It was simply the ‘Swastika Laundry,’ which had painted the year of its founding, 1912, clearly beneath the swastika; but the mere possibility that it might have been one of those others was enough to take my breath away.” (21)

“Milk bottles in the doorways were white, almost too white, and the seagulls splintering the gray of the sky, clouds of white plump gulls, splinters of white that for a second or two joined to form a great patch of white.” (43) Like a painter he plays with the concept of colors.  “The milk bottles stood gray, empty, and dirty in doorways and on window sills, waiting sadly for the morning when they would be replaced by their fresh, radiant sisters.” (46)

So many miscellaneous “tings,” as many Irish pronounce it, hold a fascination for this creative writer. “The suitcase locks clinked gently to the rhythm of the moving ship.” (3) “Where the button had looked like a full stop, put there by the tailor, the safety pin had been hung on like a comma.” (1) Here are another pair of objects juxtaposed:  “Marbles roll against the step, snow-white drops of ice cream fall into the gutter where they remain for a second like stars on the mud, only a second, before their innocence melts away into the mud.” (47)

We will close this section with a sharp contrast of opposites. “In the slums dirt sometimes lies in black flakes on the windowpanes, as if thrown there on purpose, fished up from fireplaces, from canals.” (14) “A great rainbow arched over the sea; it was so close we thought we could see it in substance—as thin as soap bubbles was the skin of the rainbow.” (62) Heinrich Boll can span from the gross to the sublime.


I would conclude that Irish character is what fascinates Heinrich Boll the most. He has great respect and fascination for the average Irish working people.  Boll is the first to admit that his English is not perfect: “Using the English words with care, like a novice juggler handling china plates.” (26) But he has to work hard to understand another culture. With another touch of humor he tries to be courageous: “I made up my mind to do something which is the basis of the myth of masculinity: I made up my mind to bluff.” (28)

Two very different Irish men he encounters. One is a beggar:  “Epileptic twitching ran like lightning across his face . . . I almost felt as if I were furnishing a corpse with money.” (14) The other a simple farmer:  “The oldest son has stayed home: from far off, when he comes in from the meadow with the cattle, he looks like a youth of sixteen; when he turns the corner and enters the village street you feel he must be in his mid-thirties; and when he finally passes the house and grins shyly in at the window, you see that he is fifty.” (35)

Similarly there is a great contrast between types of Irish women: “She was very tall, fat, and pale, and sat there with her child’s face like a great doll.” (103) In counterpoint a grouping of women at church: “Mouths like India ink, eyebrows like delicate forceful brush strokes. The thirty women were assembled at Mass, at tea, at the evening rosary.” (68)

Tea is a very important part of Irish culture, which Boll grows to love too.  “If Continental tea is like a faded yellow telegraph form, in these islands to the west of Ostend it has the dark, glimmering tones of Russian icons, before the milk gives it a color similar to the complexion of an overfed baby.” (9) Jokingly, Boll names the lady who pours the tea “the tousled tea goddess.” (9)

And yet drinking, be it fine beer or aged Irish malt, is another important component of the culture: “The private drinking booth with the leather curtain; here the drinker locks himself in like a horse; to be alone with whisky and pain, with belief and unbelief, he lowers himself deep below the surface of time, into the caisson of passivity.” (14) Yet in a lighter vein, Boll learns that landlords in summer cater to the tourists:  “We drank, and the clock hands still stood as they had stood for three weeks: at ten-thirty. And they would stay at ten-thirty for the next four months . . . So time stands still, and rivers of dark beer flow through the whole summer, day and night, while the police sleep the sleep of the just.” (40)

Boll wonders: “Are not all the Irish on the west coast almost like tourists, because the money for their support is earned elsewhere.”(72) Also about cursing: “His curses do not belong to the sexual sphere like those of the wine-drinking races, his curses are those of the spirit-drinkers, more blasphemous and cerebral than sexual curses, for don’t spirits contain spiritus.” (87) And the realm of make-believe: “Folklore is something like innocence: when you know you have it, you no longer have it.” (100) Likewise, “The man who has no time is a monster, a fiend: he steals time from somewhere, secretes it.” (54)

This highly intelligent German thinker arrives at the conclusion about the Irish, deciding they are people of paradox: “Strange mixture of passion and equability, to that temperamental weariness, that indifference coupled with fanaticism.” (10) He tells an Irish friend his conclusions: “You are happier than you know. And if you knew how happy you are you would find a reason for being unhappy. You have many reasons for being unhappy, but you also love the poetry of unhappiness.” (37)

In Limerick “we saw the skepticism flowering in hard, sad eyes: melancholy shining in blue eyes, in the eyes of the gypsy selling pictures of saints on the street, and in the eyes of the hotel manageress, in the eyes of the taxi driver—thorns around the rose, arrows in the heart of the most devout city in the world.” (46) “’It could be worse’ is one of the most common turns of speech, probably because only too often things are pretty bad and what’s worst offers the consolation of being relative.” (110)

I surmise that Heinrich Boll took a keen liking to Ireland because it reminded him of Europe devastated after World War II, but in fundamentally different ways.  Ireland had never been directly involved in that costly War; in the past it had been invaded by Vikings, Normans, English. But a major point is that Ireland had never attacked another country. When Protestant landowners were finally driven out by 1920, the Catholic working people reclaimed their land. Boll being a German Catholic and always considering himself an average working man, could comfortably relate to that fact, too. I’ll leave you with a final statement by Boll: “The man who lives poetry instead of writing it pays ten thousand percent interest.” (50)

You can find the book here:

Ray Greenblatt is an editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and for a decade now has taught a “Joy of Poetry” course at Temple University-OLLI. He spoke at the John Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, California. His most recent book—From an Old Hotel on the Irish Coast (Parnilis Media, 2023)—is a compilation of poems and fiction, with drawings by Philadelphia artist Michael Guinn.



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Two Poems by Sean Howard

now (not my backyard, cape breton)
fiona scythed through late september, but now november
is the cruelest month, waking forsythia to the ‘frost moon,’
the sun drawing dandelions, clover, grass from rest-
less roots: some midnights warm as
most fall noons, back
still life
old man on the bridge, shim-
mering morning, brook still
changing his eyes: “no fish
of any kind today. they’ve
taken to the
sean 2 (1)Sean Howard is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Trinity: Tribute Sequences, for Robert Graves (Gaspereau Press, 2022). His poetry has been widely published in Canada and elsewhere, and featured in The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English (Tightrope Books, 2017).




Love Stories for Girls by Susana H. Case

Love Stories for Girls 
Every distortion I learned about love
came from romance comics,
and later, telenovelas.
I blame the words love at first sight.
I blame walking in the rain,
walking on beaches,
dancing on beaches.
I blame red convertibles.
I blame messages about the unimportance
of a career.
I blame unrealistically perfect bodies
and men with full heads of hair.
I blame super-long eyelashes
and the negative portrayal of eyeglasses.
I blame the idea of nice girls.
I blame kissing. Really—
as if kissing fries the brain
and afterward, everyone ends up in love
with an inappropriate person
and they’re never the same again.
I blame makeup that tears never smear.
I blame tears.
susanaSusana H. Case has authored eight books of poetry, most recently The Damage Done, Broadstone Books, 2022, which won her a third Pinnacle Book Achievement Award. Her books have previously also won an IPPY, a NYC Big Book Award Distinguished Favorite award, and she was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, the American Book Fest Award, and the International Book Awards. She co-edited, with Margo Taft Stever, the anthology I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe, Milk and Cake Press, 2022. Case currently is a co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. If This Isn’t Love is forthcoming from Broadstone Books. Susana H Case