Author: North of Oxford

A journal of book reviews, commentary, essays and poetry.

An Interview with John Macker

macker profileJohn Macker lives in Santa Fe, NM. His latest books are Atlas of Wolves, (Stubborn Mule Press 2019), The Blues Drink Your Dreams Away Selected Poems 1983-2018 (Stubborn Mule Press), Gorge Songs (DCArt Press, 2017) with Denver woodblock artist Leon Loughridge and Blood in the Mix, (with El Paso poet Lawrence Welsh), Lummox Press, 2015. Other books include Disassembled Badlands, Woman of the Disturbed Earth, Underground Sky, Adventures in the Gun Trade among others. In 2006 he edited the Desert Shovel Review.

By g emil reutter

GER: What are your roots in poetry and how were you able to evolve to your own unique voice?

JM: I started writing poetry seriously and consistently after college in Denver. Dylan Thomas was a huge early influence and then, later on, Kerouac and the Beats and their vital connection to Denver. Fresh out of the Univ. of Missouri, in 1978, I took Gregory Corso’s “Socratic: Poetry Rap” at Naropa Institute in Boulder that summer. I was influenced by the Donald Allen-edited anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, as seminal a representation of contemporary poetry as there was at the time. I began to scour bookstores for Diane DiPrima, Corso, David Meltzer, Ed Dorn, Lew Welch, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Ginsberg and the rest. In Denver, I was introduced to poet/artist Tony Scibella who owned Black Ace Books on East Colfax. He had been influenced by his friendship with Perkoff, who died in 1973. (An early, enthusiastic supporter of Perkoff’s was Charles Olson.) Our friendship lasted until Tony’s death in L.A. in 2003. My first publication, a broadside, was published by Larry Lake’s Bowery Press in 1983.

So, my roots involved that generation of artists and wordslingers who came of age in the 1950’s and 1960’s, who wrote with a radical new spontaneity and vision that was based in large part, on the way people talked to each other on the streets, responses to cultural suffocation, the atom bomb, drugs, Vietnam and sex. Also, the little small press literary mags and their attendant scenes that began springing up all over America, edited by Judson Crews, Diane DiPrima, Amiri Baraka, William Margolis, Wallace Berman, and many others, had their origin stories in that generation. 

My own voice found its origins in the texts of these poets but also through a carefree diet of indiscriminate and voracious reading throughout the years. Prose writers such as Kerouac, Roberto Bolańo, Charles Bowden and Cormac McCarthy come to mind. My true voice came, with the most potency, from the landscapes and natural beauty I found in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. I grew up in the west, my grandfather was a cowboy and a rancher, so I absorbed the landforms early on. I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship of humans to their environments. It sounds like a well-worn theme but it also involves ritual, magic, Native American history, the desert and the Blues. The works of Gary Snyder, Ed Dorn, John Knoll, Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momaday, Amiri Baraka, the transcendent essays of John Nizalowski and many others.

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GER: How did your move from Colorado to New Mexico enhance or affect your art?

JM: It was significant, life changing. The visual stimulation and history came at me full throttle. The Apaches, Billy the Kid, the canyons, mesas and pueblos. The graves, the hidden underneath. It was mind-altering. A drug with wings. It allowed me to build my writing with new focus, energy and subject matter. They came in through the window. I guess you could say I reached a level of maturity and discipline that was needed to get the work done.

GER: Share with us how your collaborative work with Paris Butler, Leon Loughridge and Lawrence Welsh came about and how was the experience?

JM: Parris and I collaborated on the one broadside back in Denver in ’86, I think. Again, the writers of that generation were keen on collaboration because it not only enhanced the words but visual art, on many levels, was integral to their lives. They were all friends! The influence was always mutual and contagious. Leon and I met through the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe where I was working and he was represented. He is a superb wood block artist in the light and tradition of Gustave Baumann. We’re working on our 4th limited edition book together. Sometimes I would work off of his images and sometimes we would just meet having done the work separately but guided by a central image or theme. Sometimes he’s worked off of my words. It’s a mutual inspiration society. Mostly geographical and historically themed.  He’s also an amazing book maker. His technique is flawless. I’ve also collaborated with my wife Annie, Tony Scibella, Denver artist Steve Wilson, Santa Fe artist Carol Anthony, and artist John Felsing.  

I’d been an admirer of El Paso poet Lawrence Welsh’s work for years. He approached me in 2015 about doing a book together and I had some new work so we made it happen. It was published by Lummox Press. Blood in the Mix was Larry’s title. I’m a bit more long-winded than he is so the contrast, I think, was illuminating. Some of his potent shorter poems work like Southwestern charms or spells. He’s also a firm believer in collaboration. His latest book is Cutting the Wire, with photographer Bruce Berman and poet Ray Gonzalez.

GER: In 1988 you opened a used and rare book store in Glenwood Springs. How did that experience add to your poetry as well as the constant interaction with poets?

JM: Denver was only three hours away from Glenwood Springs, a mountain community, so the connection with writing and old friends was always there. A bookstore should always be a community conduit. That’s why so many small independent booksellers have survived things like economic downturns and pandemics. Yeah, a lot of different folks dropped by throughout the years. Influenced by the small press publishers, I published the Harp Arts Journal, which had feelers up and down the valley. Hunter Thompson was a fan. I dug the action, I didn’t have a boss and I didn’t make a dime. But for seven years, I was in book heaven. Got to know Colorado poets like the late, great Mike Adams, Art Goodtimes, and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer.

GER: For two decades you have been bookstore director at Gerald Peters Gallery. Even though you continue to promote the arts how does this gig differ from Glenwood Springs?

JM: Due to covid, I’ve been furloughed for the last 12 months so I’m not real sure about the future. But, I had a hands-off boss! I had a paycheck! I didn’t have to worry about keeping the lights on. I met some of the most interesting people in the world there and Gerald Peters, as one of the perks for working there, let me use the gallery space off-hours for poetry readings, publication parties and so forth. Great fun. And the art on the walls was always an inspiration. I was able to attract some local (& national) writers of supreme talent for my one and only edition of the Desert Shovel Review. I also had free reign to stock the shelves with some of the greatest art and photography titles (new and out-of-print) ever published.

GER: You have been involved in a number of publications over the years. Describe the interaction with other writers and what do you consider to be your best publication?

JM: My first editing/publishing shot was the lit mag Moravagine, in 1983, in Denver. Very raw and by today’s standards, primitive. I still wince when I look at it. I did 3 issues. My third issue featured an interview with Venice West/Denver poet Tony Scibella which was later used by John Arthur Maynard in his book on the SoCal Beat era, Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California. But it was a learning experience. And that’s what you did, you got to practice your craft while assembling what you believe to be the finest art and writing that you can scrounge up, to surround you on the page. It was influenced by Larry Lake’s Mano/Mano 2 (with Kenneth Patchen, Neal Cassady letters, Ken Kesey, Russell Edson, Stuart Perkoff, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac etc. ) and Ed Ward’s Passion Press, both in Denver. Ed Ward’s interview in one of his issues with underground filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who was a Colorado resident, was essential reading. Brakhage extolled the virtues of the small press and was close to poetry. I had him show a couple of his films at this Denver Art Museum gig I did in the 80’s.

     Later, in Glenwood, I edited a few years’ worth of monthly Harp Arts Journals (in tabloid form) before ending up with a couple of magazine format issues. There, I was fortunate enough to have access to material by Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Diane DiPrima, John Hiatt interview, Ben Talbert etc).

     I edited the Desert Shovel Review in New Mexico, in 2006. I was able to connect with some fine American writers including Jack Hirschman, S.A. Griffin, Mike Adams, Donald Levering, David Meltzer, John Knoll, Janet Glovinsky, Philomene Long, John Thomas, Todd Moore, Tony Moffeit, collage by Steve Wilson. It was, for lack of a better word, a kind of outlaw presentation: perfect bound, jaw dropping collage by my wife, published out of our roadhouse. It was during the second Bush administration and I quoted Hans Arp: “While the thunder of the batteries rumbled/In the distance, we pasted, we recited, we/Versified, we sang with all our soul.”  I still feel that way.  I was in all 9 issues of RD Armstrong’s Lummox journals with either poems or essays.

     One of the best I was involved in, no doubt, was Gary Brower’s Malpais Review that appeared between 2010-2016. He published my poetry but mostly essays on poets, like Ed Dorn and his Recollections of Gran Apacheria and Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. I ended up there as contributing editor. It was published out of Placitas, New Mexico. A poetry anthology for the ages.

     Padma Thornlyre, publisher of Turkey Buzzard Press, published three of my poetry titles. He’s a good editor and friend. I’ve also established a good working relationship with Jason Ryberg of Spartan/Stubborn Mule Press, who published my last two titles. I’ve worked closely with both of them on the look and scope of the books.

     Another type of collaboration between consenting adults.

OutlawFlyer-Boulder

GER: How did you become involved with “The Outlaw Poet’s Summit Reading” and how did that go?

JM: RD Armstrong asked us to meet him in Boulder so we did. It was great to see old friends, Art Goodtimes and Mike Adams, who was ailing but in fine form and voice.

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GER: Can you share with us your memoires of Todd Moore?

JM: Todd was a gentle man with a huge spirit and generosity. His kind of scholarly appearance and soft voice belied the ferocity of his language. He was a school teacher but also the quintessential outlaw poet, along with Pueblo, Colorado’s Tony Moffeit. One night, a whole group of folks came out to the roadhouse for the Desert Shovel publication party. Todd and Tony were huddled in the corner & I overheard Todd tell him that he was “in the process of destroying the American line.” I believed him. Some of his lines were one word in length. He probably knew more about John Dillinger than Melvin Purvis did. He was an early supporter of my manuscript for Adventures in the Gun Trade. He had a collection of historic knives that was scary and they had a privileged spot in his study close to his wall of books. He was extremely well read. On his 70th birthday he dropped into the gallery. He still had a twinkle in his eye. I think he enjoyed busting the chops of the “literary establishment” as much as anyone. He reiterated his love for gangsters and old Westerns. I could go on. Todd shouldn’t be forgotten.

macker cutting

GER: Your 1984 chapbook, the cutting distance, was released by Long Road Press.  Can you tell us about the chapbook?

JM: It was my first. And I think a kind of green, careless work. I needed an editor like a drought needs water. I needed more seasoning, for sure. My mother had just passed away suddenly so I was riding on those emotions & it was dedicated to her. Tony Scibella illustrated it and Frank Rios wrote a foreword. We assembled it in Tony’s bookstore. But Larry Lake, who published my first broadside believed in it so we went ahead. The poems were like early auditions for the Muse. Some poems still stand. One in particular: in the park/my dog/like a silly yellow snowcloud/lopes across the grass/in the dark/with the crooked smile/of dead things in his mouth.

GER: Tell us about Border Wall Blues from Atlas of Wolves and its continued relevance to events of the day?

JM: I’m glad you asked. That poem is an exclamation of terror and urgency. It sprung out of previous administrations’ obsession over walls. It’s also satirical. The previous administration turned the border into a hellscape, a boneyard, a place where families were separated and decayed. It’s about our “rapacious crumbling beauty”, our obsession with tired, racist monuments and statuary. It destroys the migratory paths of wildlife. It’s a billion dollar disgrace and illustrates what happens when a government lacks all imagination and empathy. Recited aloud, the poem is a chant and ends up singing us the blues.

j macker 1

GER: You have been performing readings for a few decades. What do you get from readings and how important are they to your continuing development as a poet?

JM: Two things: They are key to listening to the poem aloud in your own voice and gauging the reaction of an audience. If the poem is not finished (& I’m not sure any of mine really are) readings help to edit the poem. Secondly, I’ve spent years trying to become a better reader or performer of my work and I think I’ve managed to communicate my words with much more clarity, enthusiasm and professionalism than I did, say, 20 years ago. My first major public reading was at the Slightly Off-Center Theatre in Denver in the early 80’s. I read with Ed Dorn and Linda Hogan. It was the first time I really listened to poetry spoken to me.  

I’ve done some Zoom readings and those have been useful but it’s nothing like live talking flesh.

GER: Has Covid had an effect on you and your family and where do you see us in another year?

JM: My wife’s art business (she sells at an artist’s market at the railyard in Santa Fe) has come to a halt. I haven’t worked at the gallery in a year. We are unable to see our grandchildren, one who has special needs. Like everyone else, we’ve mostly adjusted. I sit under a tree in the backyard (weather permitting) and compose, if the gods are paying attention. We walk the dogs 2 miles every morning. Trying to reach some semblance of order and common purpose with the rest of humanity going through what we are. But, yeah, the isolation gets to us. Phone calls and emails just don’t cut it. With the vaccines moving down the line and if everyone masks up and social distances for a while longer, I think we can be in a good place for 2022, but we can’t take our eyes off of the task at hand. There’s been a fanatic belligerence towards public policy of late and everything got politicized, so that set us back in real time. The game is simple: we need to keep ourselves and others safe.

GER: What projects are you working on?

JM: In 2020 DCArt Press put out a short prose memoir of mine, “El Rialto”, with serigraphs by Leon Loughridge. I also put out a book of short fiction, essays and a one-act play, Desert Threnody, published by auxarczen press in Missouri. It was helpful to stay busy. Am working on a couple of manuscripts, one (surprise!) having to do with the pandemic, Oblivion Decorum. I’m collaborating with Leon on a series of 4 short fiction pieces, Chaco Sojourn, with his woodblock prints for the coming year. Thanks for asking.

Macker on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=john+macker

atlas

Atlas of Wolves: https://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Wolves-John-Macker/dp/1950380157

g emil reutter can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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Requisite by Tanya Holtland

requisite

By Greg Bem

“through each other we become”

(from “Inner River,” page 51)

Natalie Díaz, in her 2020 collection Postcolonial Love Poem, writes: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.” The water around us, fluid and encompassing, vital and nourishing, fills space, creates impressions, and harnesses stories. As the world changes, as the climate morphs, these stories—who we are, where we are, and how we are—shift too. Tanya Holtland’s first full-length collection of poetry, the glyphic and mesmerizing Requisite, explores these shifts in a full sense, in a sense that is aquatic and liquidous, heavy with weight and fluid with transition at once.

Holtland’s intentions, rooted in a “spiritual ecology” inspired by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee’s book of the same title, contain reflection upon the changes of the world and its environments, and inquiry and observation into those changes. In this balanced and strong approach to an eco-poetics, Holtland applies meditative aspects to the exploration of the imperative: that the world is undergoing “dis-symbiosis” and the threat to wellness is real, and that comment is necessary.

Following a brief introduction to the text are four sequences of poetry. Each sequence connects with space, with life, with water, in a way that reflects our stories. Each sequence is a flush of the linear that also feels balanced between the open and the terrestrial—rooted in the daily practices of our lives. With Holtland’s speaker, the embodiment of life can be found in gazing through a window, conducting research and reading the stories of the world’s climate crisis, and pondering the memories of the self, the home, the community, and the global collective. This reflective range, when spread across the page, exhibits a powerful transformation between the concrete and the abstract, with abstraction serving as invitation for the reader to be present and to wonder, as Holtland does, of the imaginative and the possible.

I cascade down to the marrow of a thought

its parts—my parts

(from part four of “Fated,” page 13)

The first sequence in Requisite, titled “Fated,” is a four-section work originally written “as a libretto, set to music by conductor and composer Daniela Candillari and performed by mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae on November 1, 2017” (from the end notes, page 92). The work’s literary iteration is powerful, its lyrical origins connecting it to music are obvious. “Fated” takes a deep look at our relationship to the world and our relationship to life. It elevates an image of the people of Greenland who live with ice. It embodies early, indigenous knowledge, posing it as more than memory. It looks at time, and the moments of time, as being interrelated to the self and personal identity. “Fated” is a surge of an opening that closes with an image of the moon and the world as systems of communication and iteration knowable and curious.

the river giving way to all its water
part of a lifelong relationship to instability is this

(from “Inner River,” page 30)

Following, “Inner River” is the second sequence in the book, a single poem that stretches roughly 25 pages. The sequence was previously a chapbook, and holds space on its own as well as side-by-side the other works of Requisite. Holtland’s long meditation is concerned with the idea of the river, the symbol of the river, and all its properties. While reading it, I was reminded of Joy Harjo who wrote, in 2020’s American Sunrise, “Rivers are the old roads, as are songs, to traverse memory.  / I emerged from the story, dripping with the waters of memory.” Among her many considerations, Holtland examines the Duwamish River in this section, the river that was transformed by the colonial Europeans not long after they arrived to the area of the Pacific Northwest now containing the city of Seattle.

As much difficulty there is in the river, Holtland’s poetry examines it in a way that is compassionate. “imagine the cells of all your loving / loving a body of longing” she writes on page 34. These “songs, to traverse memory” are bound to and carried by and cleansed with a larger river, one that exists between and among and surrounding the collective memory. The spirit, or Spirit, of the world, which includes and is beyond humanity, makes many obvious and hidden appearances in “Inner River.”

The penultimate “Other Names for the Future” reads both as a long poem and a series of entries in a daybook or journal. The poem opens and closes with the sun. It opens up and acknowledges change, and the potential, natural violence within change: “It is more than a belief that we are changing. / The wind’s violence is in the trees.” (page 61). Prophetic and at ease, the tone carries sorrow and urgency as well. Holtland’s poetry is multifaceted, much as the way we as humans interpret the environments around us. While “Fated” and “Inner River” take shape over many pages, “Other Names for the Future” carries a form that feels sharp and instantaneous.

And yet it is full of more questions and considerations, it is subtle, and its pace continues from its predecessors. Themes include fate, include logic, include process. Holtland here is also concerned with life, death, and the renewal. The poem closes with “In front of us now / a tree grows in the city, / following through / on all its commitments.” (page 66). And the sentiment rings: to observe, to be present, to see hope but also to, more flatly, more plainly, see the beginning led to an end of multiple possibilities—is one of many lessons contained.

The central energy within Holtland’s closing sequence, “The Story,” is Brahma. Destruction is central here, with Brahma’s closing eye, which can remove and recreate in a blink. And it’s a fascinating concept Holtland describes: what is now, what is our reality, is just before the blink: “We are the story we watch / as the eye closes.” (page 79). There is a solemn, matter-of-fact approach to this destruction. Surrendering to what is and what will be, and acknowledging the power and powerlessness of that surrender is yet another invitation. It is also an invitation to act, in a way that resonates with communities of practice, communities of meditation, communities of being present and sharing experience.

The spiritual ecology to Holtland’s works finds a pause with “The Story,” and is a pause that feels modular and unclosed, in a way that asks for more, asks for action and activity, alongside acceptance and agreement. But these concepts are abstract, and they are bound to the medium of poetry, which, like a river, is capable of holding much—much interpretation, much understanding, much conversation.

Requisite is a book of many waters, and is a book of many insights. It is an outstanding and exceptional release from a poet who is deeply connected with, interested in, and invested in the rapidly changing world. It is both quiet and loud, both enduring and abrupt. It calls forth, but also listens. It is demonstrative of shifts the way the world is, and the world is better with this book’s presence.

You can find the book here: https://platypuspress.co.uk/requisite

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 gregbem.com.

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Erotic by Alexis Rhone Fancher

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The term “erotica” is defined as literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire in the reader or viewer, not exactly “porn,” which is a loaded term, after all, but the word does evoke associations of sensual stimulation, sexual fulfillment, lust, craving. In Erotic, Alexis Rhone Fancher’s collection of new and selected poems, this is only part of the deal. There are explicit scenes of carnality, no punches pulled, to be sure, but the sex comes with so much more at stake. Including work from her previous collections – How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen and other heart stab poems (note to reader: not that Michael Cohen) and Enter Here – Fancher’s poems explore betrayal, abuse, guilt and anger as well as pleasure and excitement. At times, desire competes with revenge. At others, desire goes beyond craving pleasurable sensation to the thrill of risk-taking. You know you’re getting in deep when you read about a man asking a wild teenage girl: ¿Tienes ganas de morir?
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In this story, “His Full Attention,” the narrator tells us, “I am newly seventeen, sick to death of my vanilla life, my womanhood a bravado with no foundation.” She picks a guy up, Eduardo. “A Man I’d never run into after tonight.”  After they have sex at the summit of a mountain, Eduardo becomes ambiguous. Is he going to kill her? He scoffs at the gringa. “You like it rough, senorita? Is this what you expect from a man like me?” Spoiler alert: nobody dies, but that doesn’t make the story any less disturbing. Similarly, in “LARCENY: A Story in Eleven Parts,” two girls pick up a hitchhiker on their way to San Francisco. Nobody has pure designs, though the ending is a bit of a surprise.
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“There’s a reckless streak in me I can’t control,” the narrator of “Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera” confesses, and in “Tonight I Will Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rules of the Road…,” the narrator again confesses, “I admit, I’ve always been driven to sin.” But she goes on to clarify: “All I can say is, I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do, I do for love.”
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The underlying erotic drive that sustains the menace gets its succinct expression in “Tonight We Will Bloom for One Night Only.” Fancher writes:
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We are each bodies, hard-wired for pleasure,
destined for momentary blooming,
the extinction.
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Carpe diem!
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Indeed, so many of these poems have an element of danger that both heightens and tempers the lust and promiscuity. “Sex, Guns and the Canadians Next Door…” underscores the point. “I play with myself while he plays with his gun, just out of frame. I’m hoping he’ll get the message, that I’m horny enough to make it up to him….”  “Divorce & Mass Shootings in the Time of Trump” exposes the darkness at the base:
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            If you buy a gun you must learn to shoot it.
            You almost have to shoot it.
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Family gets in the way of so much of the action, too, so it’s always much more than sex. Now it’s about transgression; now it’s about taboo. There’s the mother, of course. “You hardly know him! My mother’s voice is loud in my ear,” the seventeen-year-old girl in “His Full Attention” observes. In “Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera,” as she’s about to take nude selfies for Wayne, the Volkswagen repair shop owner, she notes: “My mother. I could never tell her, she’d never understand about this.” In “Out of Body,” a poem about betrayal, she writes:
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Her dead mother reaches through the wall,
throws the marriage in her face.
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Mom inevitably shows up in the dozen “sister” poems, whose central drama is sexual sibling rivalry, though there’s also some sisterly support. “Red-Handed in Canoga Park: Root Causes & How It Is All My Fault” starts the sequence, the sisters five and three, shoplifting. The older sister abandons the younger to save her own ass, and it all follows from there. “This day has defined our sisterhood. I was five for Christ’s sake. Forgive me.” “When I turned fourteen, my mother’s sister took me to lunch and said:,” and “when your mother convinces you to take in your homeless younger sister” involve mom, but mainly the sisters compete for lovers. “Boy Toy / Learning to Share,” “Roman Holiday,” “Double Date: The Quarterback, The Fullback, & the High Cost of Dinner,” “Casual Cruelty” and “Playing Dirty” are several that emphasize this: “we’re linked like galaxies, / till he walks away from us both.”
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And then there are the crazy relatives from Chicago! “The First Time I Made Cousin Lisa Come,” “Cousin Elaine from Chicago and I Are Naked,”  and “When I Turned Sixteen, Mother Let Uncle Kenny from Chicago Take Me for a Ride” introduce us to the extended family. About Uncle Kenny:
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When Uncle Kenny died soon after
in flagrante delicto, no one was surprised.
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I heard it was his heart, my mother said,
But I know he didn’t have one.
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Throw in a few ex-husbands (but husbands aren’t really “family,” are they? Blood?) and a few lovers, both male and female, and you have the ingredients for a juicy Raymond Chandler noir.  Erotic includes about twenty of Fancher’s atmospheric black and white photographs, too, that accentuate the noir mood she creates.
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Which brings us back to erotica in general. In the end, are these poems in Erotic truly erotic in the sense of arousing desire? Well, duh.
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You can find the book here: Erotic: New & Selected
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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The Philosopher Savant Crosses The River by Rustin Larson

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By Lynette G. Esposito 
 
The Philosopher Savant Crosses the River published by New Chicago, reveals Rustin Larson’s sense of place, time and sense of humor in almost eighty pages of artistically controlled poems.
 
In, By Greyhound with Grandmother on page nine, the reader is immediately invited onto the bus with a safe companion.  Larson skillfully sets the scene with the title before he reveals the details in the text of the seven- stanza poem.
 
Quarters slid into the vending machine.
   It’s good to have a town in mind in California
        when you speak of death.
 
The scene is set, the location is clear and the action of eating from a vending machine shows the reader the circumstance.  But death? 
 
Subliminal messages: deviled ham
     On white bread.
           My grandmother handed me half.
 
The poem triggers the narrator’s memories of sound, taste and color. He mentions his grandmother again so the reader knows the narrator is with a safe traveling companion.
 
The ending, however is a surprise since there is a tone of calm and nourishment.  After remembering the taste of a drink that spoke of sunset and tasted like kisses, the last line brings an image of colossal meaning of his feeling for his grandmother and her role in his life.
 
My grandmother hugged me
 
The way a mountain hugs stone.
 
The poem is written in three- line stanzas except for the last line that stands alone.  The visual of the two traveling companions is built into a remembrance and an accolade for the safe feeling being with Grandmother.  This artistically transports these images into the universal feelings and observations one has of a protector.
 
On page twenty-one, the narrator is in second grade and speaks of First Love.  This is a time of innocence and surprise. The three-stanza poem shows a young boy discovering desire and longing.
 
In second grade, I stuck my paste-stiffened mittens on Donna Owen’s shoulders, then choked on my saliva.
 
The poem ends with:
…….The whole
 
tree quivered as it swallowed it down.  The goddess walked flowing
in silk.  She would take her chances.  The cool air shattered and sang.
 
The images are descriptive and lovely as this young second grader discovers the fleeting deep emotion of young love.
 
On page eighty, the poem, Neruda, demonstrates a wry twist life has. All is good in the five stanzas until the last line.
 
Neruda had the goddess scarf
     dangle what was over all
           in heaven again pounced
 
in a roar around the microscope
       about what the devil said.
 
The evangelist, red,
     complaining, is lit
         with Neruda’s returning,
 
white and blue, by the way,
     with happy people.
I’m contemplating;
   it occurs, it asks me
          and then it rains.
 
This poem has a serious and religious tone. The reader is drawn into the importance of what is happening here.  And as in life, no matter how serious, no matter how religious, nature takes over and puts one in his/her place.  In this case, it rains.  It is a fresh presentation on pomposity.
 
This tome has a wide variety of scenes, places, situations and images that seem to speak out loud of commentary on daily life both as it is lived and remembered.  I liked the conversational tone of the poems and the skilled clarity of the narrator’s observations.  This is a good read.
 
 
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.
 
 

Adjusting to the Lights- Poems by Tom C. Hunley

HunleyCov
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By Thaddeus Rutkowski
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In the first poem in this chapbook, the speaker asks for a way into his autistic son’s mind: “a Place Inside Himself / That No One Else Can Ever Enter.” The capitalized words offer an added meaning, because they are part of a name the speaker “gave” to his child. The condition of being separated from others (all others) is part of the son’s identity. But there is a way in. The speaker (who is the poet) says:
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Not even I can go there,
                        But I believe You can go there,
                                    Dear God, please go there.
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Through this higher manner of communication, the son may receive an understanding or protection that his father cannot provide. And protection is needed, because the father cannot “ward off” a wolf that might step “out of the woods.” A higher power, however, can do the job—if the poet’s prayer is answered.
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As if having a developmentally disabled son is not enough for one lifetime, the poet introduces his daughter, who was adopted as a teenager out of foster care, in “What Feels Like Love.” The poem’s title has a couple of meanings; the more obvious one concerns the way some young people interact without thought or propriety. A boy talks the daughter into “photographing herself topless … and putting it on Snapchat.” This behavior, of course, is only what seems to be love, real as it may appear to the daughter. The father, on the other hand, expresses a deep sympathy for his daughter:
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            . . . Be mine because I cry when you cry
Be mine because I fear for you       when you don’t
have the sense to fear for yourself
What feels like a punch in the nuts       is really love
when you love a girl     who doesn’t know
yet      how to love herself
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Here, the plea “Be mine” stands in contrast to the daughter’s attachment to her boyfriend. Her father loves her, too, with a love that goes beyond “what feels like love.” Whether she will respond to her father’s protectiveness or will go with her boyfriend is not stated by the end of the poem.
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The 40-page Adjusting to the Lights, a Rattle Chapbook Prize winner, contains eighteen poems about parenting children who require a very high degree of attention. (Hunley and his wife, Ralaina, have also raised two other children.) Many of the poems cover ordinary occurrences that become adventures. After viewing the movie Elf, for example, the poet’s son “treats every day like Christmas.” Meanwhile, with regard to the same film, the adopted daughter becomes gigantic, like Will Ferrell’s character, who is as large as an adult but acts like a child.
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As things are, the outlook for the poet’s son is not good. In the poem “Optimal Outcomes,” Hunley writes:
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. . Autistic kids become autistic adults,

become mostly unemployed, often become
suicides, rarely become old folks or even
forty-year-olds. They give up on fitting
their worlds into this rigid one the rest
of us inhabit”
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That “outcome” isn’t much (or anything) to look forward to. Here, the poet recognizes (as we all should) our limitations as human beings. What’s left, perhaps, is the possibility that prayers (however they are defined) will be answered. With the Father’s love (beyond a father’s love), “colorful rays of sunshine may peek through the curtains” separating us from our best selves and from each other.
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You can find the book here: Adjusting to the Lights
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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Thaddeus Rutkowski
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This Is Not Your Moon by Matthew Woodman

moon wood
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By Don Thompson
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It takes nerve in the 21st century to write poetry about the moon—that or a puckish sense of humor.  Or both in Matthew Woodman’s case, whose This Is Not Your Moon, takes the ancient trope seriously while giving us an occasional wink and nudge.
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And despite the moonglow, these are poems of intellect rather than emotion—not categorically, but in emphasis: that is, the mind controls; it masks the emotions and provides ironic distancing from intense feelings—a distance as far as the moon is from the heart:
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                        Warning: Objects in the night sky are more
                        distant than they appear.
                                                                The same applies
                        to those you love.
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Throughout, the language is alert to its own sound—not the flat affect of so much poetry these days, which seems so indifferent to how it says what it feels entitled to say.  Woodman even risks occasional Eliotic rhymes, one suspects for the fun of it:
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                        We bear the tension as long as we’re able.
                        Without the darkness
                                                            there is no fable.
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Perhaps it’s the gravity of the moon that’s pulling him away from American plain style into an approach that by current standards is shamelessly stylized.  This is overdue.  Let’s confess that it’s no longer a sin to be openly intentional about diction—which will, of course, end in rococo followed by rediscovery of the vernacular.  And so it goes.  But for now, let’s enjoy more music and imagery with less blatant angst:
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                        Somewhere the moon is bound with baling wire
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                        We tend the garden with gasoline
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                        The arroyo awash with polished thirst
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This collection is filled with such lines that one enjoys for the sound, for the fresh images, and for that droll touch so typical of Woodman.  Another of his traits is a serious use of scientific terminology.
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Most of it is above my pay grade, sending me to the dictionary (well, to Google anyhow) to work it all out.  Somewhat.  What matters here, however, is that Woodman handles it very deftly so that the jargon, if still intimidating, becomes eloquent rather than stilted.  For instance:
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                        The selenographic coordinates
                        may be accurate, but the orthoclase
                        reveals your tendency to coalesce
                        stone and story, terra and tour.
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In “The Way Out”, one of the most interesting poems, we have:
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                                                Traverse the contiguous
                        gravity of exhaustion and paw
                        to reach the cradle of undisturbed gravel.
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                        Get busy.  Get gone.
                                                             Ignore the craw
                        rending the descent ephemeral,
                        escalate the spawn.
                                                             Paint the world redd
                        and glutinous.
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This effectively mixes levels of diction, and there’s a hanging curve ball that the punster in Woodman couldn’t resist, a “redd” being the gravel nest in which fish deposit their eggs.
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One notices a kind of surrealistic feel, and yet such imagery doesn’t quite seem to emerge from the subconscious through free association.  Rather, it could well be encrypted, as if consciously shifted a few degrees from common sense—or scientific discourse.  This is merely an impression, but Woodman seems sly enough to do it intentionally.  “Keep your thoughts where I can see them,” he warns—but doesn’t do so himself.
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                        Follow the magnetic confluence
                        of natal stream and anadromous chisel.
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Could this be encryption?  Could we break the code?  To change the metaphor abruptly, we might be caught up in a thimblerig game with a straightforward meaning hidden under one of the nutshells.  Here are a couple more puzzlers:
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                        There is no incandescent right of way
                        from which you have become estranged.
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                        Our hearts a patchwork of scars
                        and skull-shaped aquariums swimming in stars.
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Ultimately, whatever is going on, this is a book about the moon and therefore love has got to be under one of the nutshells.  Indeed, we do find allusions to a failing or failed relationship, but more ironic than confessional:
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                        The shrapnel of eggshells ensconced even
                        here, on the kitchen counter
                         We can love only the things we can lose.
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In “Salving the Tidewrack” Woodman provides instructions for “How to carve a driftwood lover”.  (Many of these poems are imperative or processes).  You must follow precise steps, even if now and then you have to “stifle the sobs” and
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                                                Ensure your blade is sharp
                        enough to get to the heart of the crimes
                        you each will commit against the other.
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So these are the poles that create the gravitational tension in Matthew Woodman’s poems: the actual satellite as subject of scientific study and the sneered-at but hardwired, almost inescapable timeless totem of—well, love: love and its losses, separation and death.  We have both intellect and heart constantly pulling at us until we seem two-faced:
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                        Which face will you show to the moon?
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You can find the book here: This Is Not Your Moon
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Don Thompson has been publishing poetry for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.

 

At Night by Lisa Mottolo

hummer_InTheLight
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At Night
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I had a round, wooden keepsake box in which I’d smudge

                                                                                             out my cigarettes

and if it they weren’t burned quite down to the filter

                                                               I’d retrieve them from the ash

and smoke them again

This way I’d have something left to calm me

                                                                     when there were men outside

my bedroom window like hummingbirds that think

                                                                      everything pretty is a flower

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lisa

Lisa is a life-long writer and the Project Manager for Atmosphere Press. She studied copyediting at UC San Diego, and her writing has been published in Barren Magazine and Coffin Bell Journal. Lisa is from upstate New York and currently lives in Austin, Texas. She loves birds and has four adopted parrots at home.

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Funeral in the Rain by John Grey

rain
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Funeral in the Rain
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warm rain,
cold blood
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the women have kissed
all the cheeks they’re ever
going to kiss
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the men have waked
until they can barely wake
no more
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funeral rolls by
sacred haunts –
sad faces press to glass
stare out at the living
as they pass on by
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rosewood coffin
carries him off –
among the mourners,
fingers grip like
claws in flesh
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preacher stands amid
the wildflowers,
tries to convince
those present
that the deceased
has never been so far
beyond darkness
trees shake,
leaves tremble,
all out of respect
for raindrops
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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River
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Sitting on the Porch With Mom by Catherine A. Coundjeris

goldfinch
Photograph by Diane Sahms
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Sitting on the Porch with Mom
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We sit in the sunroom,
admiring the green world
with song birds flitting by. . .
She is fair today.
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Cooler weather comes
again, we sit in the sunroom.
Dark green changing to gold
maples red
green grass browning
autumnal skies
cat on the porch
making eyes at Mom.
Silent and still we sit some more.
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She is not herself
and in a thoughtful fancy
 I can see us
changing space
years ahead I will be in her place
tied down to a chair
watching the mountain
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But for now, she is
passing time with me
yet another day gone.
Winds stirring
hair raising
spirits flying…
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Electricity in the air.
She speaks,
I love you
and then we sit still,
watching the mountain
change and yet remain the same.
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Catherine has taught writing at Emerson College and ESL writing at Urban College in Boston.  Her poetry is published in literary magazines, including 34th Parallel Magazine Ariel Chart Magazine, The Drabble, Nightingale and Sparrow, Rune Bear, Backchannels, Inkling Magazine of the Storyteller’s Cottage, Finding the Birds, Yellow Arrow Journal, The Dawntreader, Visions with Voices, and Nine Cloud Journal.  Currently she is living with her family in Frederick and she is working on a YA novel. Catherine volunteers as an ESL Coordinator with the Literacy Council of Frederick County.

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