Author: North of Oxford

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

From Our Poetry Editor

Diane Mudd Puddle  In the month of love, ironically a tryst of lovers turned into “strangers” at the climax of the poem (end of the romantic rendezvous) entitled “The Forge” by John D. Robinson. Then the surreal enlivened images in two poems, “Liberty Atoms 11 & 15,” by Christopher Barnes with quotes within them from the late novelist Iris Murdoch (The Nice And The Good) take flight like Cupid’s wings—”Birdcage alarm clock flew / Tick-reversed / An hour pursuant to every ten minutes.” (from “Liberty Atoms 11”).  Further attributes of love and time exist in DS Maolalai’s poem, “Time takes pawns like a short game of chess” with the first line completed by two words, “everyone leaves.” His fresh and remarkable mixed metaphorical images are evident, especially “…and spiders / with legs / that bounce like bent paperclips…” This poem gives the reader a “bent” angle of the timelessness of time and lost love in a simple but loved object of a “…a cup and saucer / in your mother’s house. / kept whole for 20 years, / and cracked / and thrown away.” Lastly (but, by no means least), Louis Gallo’s “Tree” poem, where the speaker is witness to the loveless butchering of “a most magnificent oak tree” grieves the reader to heart’s core.  “But this is the way it goes with the sacred.” North of Oxford hopes you enjoy reading our United Kingdom, Irish-Canadian, & American poets in this February 2020 issue.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Diane Sahms


                        Submissions are always open at North of Oxford. Please see our guidelines for submissions at this link:



The Forge by John D. Robinson

The Forge
Afterwards we lay quiet,
catching our breath,
although we’d done
nothing wrong, we both
felt guilty for some
reason and we could
not let go of this
feeling but we knew
we had to,
there would be plenty
more to feel guilty
I didn’t seek the life
I’ve led, it happened
along the way, I began
with no plans and as
we held onto one
another as youthful
lovers , we knew
life would be closing
in on us and forge us
into becoming
johnd d
John D. Robinson is a poet from the U.K.

Two Poems By Christopher Barnes

Liberty Atoms 11
Birdcaged alarm clock flew
An hour pursuant to every ten minutes.
Maisie writhed, forecasted a drum roll;
Squabbled-about lace
Reduced to tatters.
Kalanchoe petals on flung down Riesling
Ordered the tidings:
“Look, there’s a cottage.  I can see a light”.
Quote: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
Liberty Atoms 15
Razor-wire teddy bear
Fissioned its thin ice.
Cynthia’s aura
Held no mollycoddle
Into an insensitive galaxy.
Maisie wrung the cigarette
                  –       Retaliation.
And on that postal stamp:
“There were faint scratching sounds
Rats perhaps,
Or what Ilona called ‘Mousekins”.
Quote: Iris Murdoch, The Nice And The Good
Christopher Barnes is a poet, filmmaker, and performance artist.

Time takes pawns like a short game of chess by DS Maolalai

cup and saucer
Time takes pawns like a short game of chess
corner-shop flowers
gone rotten
as vinegar,
like dead fish
and scattering ashen petals
on varnished tablewood.
blown up from the sea
and cast in cornered piles
against our castles,
to be gone in the morning,
with spring rain.
everyone leaves.
they don’t have to choose to,
but they
do it.
everyone leaves.
with wings like eagles
and spiders
with legs
that bounce like bent paperclips.
a cup and saucer
in your mothers house,
kept whole for 20 years,
and then dropped
and cracked
and thrown away.
DS Maolalai has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)

Tree by Louis Gallo

I am watching men in hard hats and chain saws
amputate limb by limb, before they destroy
the trunk, a most magnificent oak tree
across the street—for no apparent reason.
I have admired this tree for decades, the
tallest in the neighborhood, even the city,
and no doubt hundreds of years old.
It must surely rise over three hundred feet,
though I am not much at guessing distance.
It’s wide as a massive ziggurat, and who knows
how deeply its roots burrow into the earth.
I imagine it reaching into the sky to touch
Orion, that it is in fact a sublunary Orion
itself, an Orion being butchered
for no reason, for no reason, for no reason.
But this is the way it goes with the sacred.
Two volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Crash and Clearing the Attic, will be published by Adelaide in the near future. A third, Archaeology, has been published by Kelsay Books; Kelsay will also publish a fourth volume, Scherzo Furiant, in the near future. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

Someone’s Utopia by Joe Hall

Joe Hall - Someone's Utopia - Cover
By Greg Bem
to give a heavy falling all things do but I keep time
will push through the wall where you stand alone on the conveyer line
of a massive retailer of a baby’s mouth as who looks back on a man’s violent desire
of milligrams in dosage of poem stop singing
it all   together—through yourself—it can fall
if there’s someone to catch it
(from “Amnesia, 1997 / Closing the Vents,” pg. 31)
Someone’s Utopia is a mess of poetry that careens through the sordid faces of history both recent and not-so, across into the present, with unspoken truths lingering on the tip of the tongues of the future. It is deeply chasmic, almost impossible to approach at points, and carries a blankness at once riotous and shackling. It is difficult and with its difficulty, and its commitment, is triumphs as a howl and as a whisper, but nothing tolerably-in-between.

Hall’s trailer-strewn, antiquity-as-proclivity atmosphere returns following in the bloodied, entrenched, mouth-foaming footsteps of his formers Pigafetta Is My Wife and The Devotional Poems. The atmosphere is one of suffocation and distraction in its images of longing that bridge desperation and exasperation. It is an atmosphere that rages with a poetics driven by defensive structures in language, lingual nihilism, and a self-made pathfinding/wayfinding sentiment to grind the reader from one parapet to the next. It is filled with love, and not filled with love, simultaneously:

It is a world, a built environment, a fortress that is founded on history, founded on text found, founded on collage and ekphrasis. For example, some of this fortress of letters harkens at times back to the quasi-colonial-cum-industrial, anti-or-faux-spiritual ridiculousness of Oneida’s John H. Noyes (late 1800s) and his targeted efforts as patriarch and disciple of or for agony. It also includes ekphrastic derivations from Tirzah Miller’s journals, she who is Noyes’s niece, she who was suffering acutely from the utter misogynistic ownership of women by their abusers. It also includes more contemporary though gritty conversational approaches to industrialism and poverty a la a conversation with a one Mary Scire.
There’s also, most brutally, the transcriptions and echoes of transcription of time Hall spent in manual labor, or documented of (perceivably proximal) peers who did the same. The factories and warehouses and oppressive architecture of the endless machines punches across the page and sputters and flows in tandem.
My wife stares at the sun. Her scabs turn to birds
Dyed red after red until black.
A opossum tooth is in my fist. In my mind is the man
Choking on his nephew’s fingernails
After eating the live from his belly.
(from “Someone’s Utopia: Love as Refusal,” pg. 142)
drain games small moves whorl
reed bone color can’t say next
move to fiber in the morning planet
shaves cell seep fill sleep formation
Ever Ever Ever the unvarying word
itself thunder overrun under
(from “Amnesia, 2007 / Nightshift, Mandatory Overtime I,” pg. 99)
Hall’s mastery of giving into form and theme, a practice that arrived much earlier in his story as poet and artist, is seen here. It is a bleak shower of numbness across time, space, and project. Worlds upon worlds collide, requiring information but being deprived it. The rumble and rubble of chaos is protected through its own relentlessness, a Catch-22 of corrosion that entrances, enthralls, and brutalizes.

These texts of what could be late-stage humanity seep with drama, with utterances that can suck us in and whip us dry, as the collision of our inabilities to our necessities, universal and forever, remains striking and paralytic.

Throbbing across the book is the resemblance of love. This love is cloaked in the maddening disorder already stated, but it’s there, there to read, there to seek out, there to latch onto. It is the heart and the guts of the otherwise wretch of rudiments spewing from the covers. Love opens the book with an absurd sequence entitled “Greetings: Play for 2 Voices,” a 9-poem-long first section of the book that reveals attraction, attachment, and obsession amidst the whirrs and sonic ripples:
[. . .] 1: You can’t

hurt—as a Player at the Keys. 2: Now I want you to do something for me.

I want you to close your eyes. The back of your head is resting
in someone’s hands. 3: Someone is holding your head, and you rest
like that, like a buoy in waves. Who is it? Who is
holding your head like a buoy folded in faves? [Often a communicating spirit cannot
(from “Unfoldment,” pg. 11)
Later on, in “Talk Piece: David” contained within the second section of the book, “$ ∞ / HR,” we encounter discourse between Joe Hall and “David Hall,” (the specific David goes undefined), which reflects bonding, reflects initiation, reflects bondage.

The piece with Scire, “Talk Piece: Mary,” extends this flittering socializing process. Again, the love, the need, the presence, the indefatigable. The book hints at it throughout, and this spattering song balances text while provoking the reader into a cruel sense of hypnotic submission: the perfect situation for the muck and the crack of a nuanced poetics of tear and wrought, tare and rot. “Talk Piece: Mary,” affords the reader with excellence in the grotesque nature of our split affections by mildly erasing (a la the strikethrough) all of the verse in the “piece,” and leaves fully intact a distributed interview with Mary Scire. The effect is uncanny, though resolute, as seen below:

in mind never to the nearest hold my finger slips eggs foam slow useless to
the nest I know people strokes my hair a man pays heavy with some virus
to eat centipede song thousand legged
so you see a new basis you still got to do something about it
[. . .]
M: When my parents built their house in Virginia, in Shenandoah Shores, we spent or summers down there working as a group. It was cheap labor. We all worked together to help build that house, from the little kids getting water or stones. [. . .]
(from “Talk Piece: Mary,” pg. 105)
Lest not we ignore the fountainhead of love itself, “Someone’s Utopia: Love as a Fountain,” a poem that strikes the reader, barrages them, with the poet’s reflections on enduring connectivity. Despite “the cannery,” despite the alchemical and industrial transformations of life and substance, there is the direction outward, the direction inclusive of bond-making, sharing, collectivity:
We cut three names into a tree.
And when I burned my wrist in the cannery
So badly it began to bubble,
You were there with a bucket of cold water.
Among tons of softening apples
You smelled like cinnamon burning.
(from “Someone’s Utopia: Love as a Fountain,” pg. 129)
The balance between the creep of chaos and form, between cavern and home, between polarity and proximity: these are Hall’s points and counterpoints, these are the poet’s arrival to disturbance and peace. In an odd, disfigured, brutish way there is harmony following fulcrum, transformation above stasis, and reflection beyond the juxtaposition. There is light between the cracks.

When I think of Joe Hall, I envision the human behind the phalanx of writ, the maestro commanding a presence of stacks of lines of poetry in darkly-lit theaters. This book has etched this image, in conjunction with the former works. It is a crude image, and it is one that supplements a book that needs its keeper, a keeper that needs its book, both illuminated, rhythmically in the dark.

While the stage’s pit coughs up that which is despicable from the world outside, and the floor runs slick with the sweat of the efforts of our sordid and malnourished collective: Someone’s Utopia instills the brittle, angry reactant to a truth we can always try to and never quite fully imagine, never quite realize completely. It is a challenging truth in being partial. It is difficult to accept though there is power in it being a beginning. It is more alive, this book, than not. And some readers might have a hard time accepting the universality within.

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

Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein

By Lynette G. Esposito
Are you in pain?  Its 2020 and maybe there is a need for a qualified author to discuss this issue.  Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein and published by Bellevue Press does just that. Olstein redefines the understanding of pain through an extended lyrical essay that includes poetry, conversation and perceptions of pain.
The opening chapter begins with:
                            All pain is simple.  And all pain complex. You’re in it and
                            you want to get out.  How can the ocean be not beautiful
                            Pain is pain:  vivid even in its opacity, vague even in its
                            precision.  Pain reduces and expands, diminishes and
                            amplifies, bears down upon us, wells up within us, goes by
                            the as often as by my, and only rarely by our. 
The next paragraph uses the words: “Fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck as Olstein begins to describe the birthing of her child.  This honesty about birth pain alerts the reader that this is a no holds bared author and the discussion of pain will be real. Starkly refreshing, this honesty brings the reader close to the writer as well as to the subject of pain in an intimate way women have with other women who have given birth and endured the choices of how to give birth and how to handle the pain.  Her style of writing is crystal clear and although the subject is pain, it is like watching a rider and horse jumping rope:  fascinating.
In thirty-eight short chapters comprising 181 pages, Olstein explores the notion of pain with a variety of writing styles. Her creative nonfiction employs personal revelations such as her birthing experience, conversations about pain and poetic techniques.  In chapter thirteen she refers to Antiphon the Sophist in the late fifth-century B.C. who suggests people should not fear dreams and was criticized for this philosophy.  He is believed to have written a treatise The Art of Freedom from Pain.  Olstein explores the surviving fragments of Antiphon’s discussions and expands the discussion into chapter fourteen discussing the language used by Antiphon and other Sophists concerning pain. In chapter fifteen she brings the reader into the present with her neurologist attempting to define migraine pain.  Pain is old, pain is new, pain is present she seems to observe.  She explores how we are trying to avoid it as well as understand it. Some of the interpretations read like poetry; some like analysis, and some like a conversation with a therapist.
 On page 151, Olstein talks about perception and how it affects us in attempting to make sense of the world.  She quotes Jonah Lehrer a science writer and one-time lab technician who suggests that the brain is redefining cellular forecasts.  The wide scope of her references opens the discussion of pain to a broad spectrum…perhaps too broad.
She ends the book with a poem on hearing voices.  This technique to end a full-length creative nonfiction essay this way is a little risky to bring the discussion to closure.  If the intent was to leave the discussion at an open door, I think this technique succeeds.
 Olstein teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and has authored four award-winning poetry collections published by Copper Canyon Press.  She is a member of the poetry faculty at the University of Texas at Austin where she teaches in the New Writers Project and Michener Center for Writers MFA programs.  She also serves as an associate editor for Topeka Quarterly.  Pain Studies is her first book of creative nonfiction. For further reference, the author’s website is LISA OLSTEIN

Pain Studies is available in March 2020 from Consortium Book Sales and Distribution or


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.