Author: North of Oxford

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

2nd Wednesdays Poetry @ Northeast Regional Library – April 12th

Spring 2023

2nd Wednesday’s Poetry @ Northeast Regional Library

Featured Poets + Open Mic

Curated By North of Oxford Literary Journal

6pm to 7:30pm

2228 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19149

April 12th

Host: Dave Worrell

Diane Sahms and g emil reutter 

diane b

Diane Sahms a native Philadelphian, is the author of  six poetry collections: Images of Being (Stone Garden Publishing, 2011), Lights Battered Edge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2015), and Night Sweat (Red Dashboard Press, 2016), Handheld Mirror of the Mind, (Kelsay Books, 2018); Covid 19 2020 – A Poetic Journal (Moonstone Press, 2021); and most recently City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) – Alien Buddha Press. Her poems have appeared in a number of online and print publications.   Diane is the Poetry Editor at North of Oxford and works as a purchasing agent. You can visit her at   and

selected poems photo

g emil reutter lives and writes in Philadelphia. Seventeen collections of his poetry and fiction have been published, most recently Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys a poetry collection and Selected Stories 1990-2022 both from Alien Buddha Press.  He is the book review editor and site manager for North of Oxford.  His work has been published widely in the small and electronic press. You can visit him at





An Interview with Carl Kaucher

karl 4Carl Kaucher of Temple, Pa has published three books of poetry, Sideways Blues – Irish Mountain and beyond. Postpoemed and his latest, Peripheral Debris. He explores his experiences wandering urban spaces near his home and throughout Pennsylvania. The work reflects the amazing diversity of events that are happening all around us if only we slow down long enough to observe. Through his photography and writing, Carl exposes the miraculous beauty of the ordinary. He is photographing the overlooked places and documenting the chance occurrences that happen to him and by doing so gives us the opportunity to reflect upon those similar things happening in our lives.

Interview by g emil reutter

GER: How did growing up in Reading influence your poetry and method of writing?

CK:  Reading Pennsylvania is situated in a valley bordered by the Schuylkill river, Neversink mountain and Mount Penn. Where I grew up on the northeast side of the city, I was just a few blocks from the base of Mount Penn which has large tracts of undeveloped woodland. So as a youth I was exposed to both an urban and natural environment and as with most youth I was outdoors all the time. On weeknights I was playing in the back alleys, streets, schoolyard lots and urban playgrounds. On weekends my friends and I were either downtown or wandering in the woods of Mount Penn. We were always exploring and as we grew older the wandering went further from home.

As a young adult I had various apartments around Reading. I worked at a factory in downtown Reading but never earned enough money to really afford or want a car. I walked. I walked a lot. Reading is a small city so public transit was limited to buses and the buses stopped running fairly early. I walked at night. I found a lot of places in the various neighborhoods I lived to explore, old rail yards, warehouses, out of the way places. I was always trying to find different ways to get from point A to B. At the pace of a walk the world becomes more intimate.

One apartment I had was across the street from the old Reading railroad yards.  I would sometimes meet friends there at night, we would drink beers and I would shout my poems to the moon or passing diesels. I loved being in an urban environment. Sometimes I would walk to the edge of the south side of town with a friend and trek out the railroad tracks to the backside of Neversink Mountain, camp all weekend and build huge roaring fires with railroad ties, drink beers chilled in a little spring we found. I also loved the woodland spaces.

When I got older, after the kids were raised and the desire for career advancement fled I picked up where I left off only I began extending my journeys outward into Pennsylvania at large. Trying to rekindle my creative self, I started writing more about my experiences wandering. I had written for many years but when I made the connection between writing and the experiential part of my life things started to coalesce. When my brother bought me a camera for Christmas one year, I started to document these journeys photographically.  Both of these crafts I still am trying to develop and perfect

GER: What type of jobs have you worked?

CK:  I started my working career in 1977 with a summer job painting dorm rooms at Albright College in Reading. Since that time I have worked in various retail and industrial jobs and until this day I still work in industry at a battery manufacturer as a Quality Inspector. My favorite job was working in a small hardware store for a couple of years. I learned so much about various hardware, lawn and garden and home repair wares especially from the various contractors we served. It was an old building with 4 floors jam packed full of stuff  We sold everything from Kerosine heaters to seed potatoes. You had to learn and learn quick in order to be able to help the customers.  It was the perfect job for a young man. I was the master glass cutter.

Another noteworthy job I had as a youth was working on the grounds crew at Albright College. It was during this time I started writing, I believe I was 19.  My sister was an art major at the school so through her I met a lot of fantastically creative and interesting people. I started writing in part to try and impress some of the girls I was hanging around. I was not that good at writing. I was not that successful with the ladies either. One of my bosses there gave me the nickname Sideways and it stuck.

My job in a factory provides the inspiration I need to do something more fulfilling with my life away from work. I was never really career oriented but I am a blue collar writer and proud of it. From the outside it may seem that those who work in factories are cut from the same mold but I am blessed to be working with a lot of interesting people. I work with folks from Columbia, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Croatia and wow do I learn from them.  Even the people from various regions in Pennsylvania have so many different interests and perspectives. I work with poets, musicians, photographers, hunters, farmers, entrepreneurs, people with skills I could never master. I learn from them all and respect them deeply. There is nothing common about the common man.


GER: What influence did Kerouac’s San Francisco Blues, Mexico Blues and Book of Blues have on your own volume, Sideway Blues: Irish Mountain and Beyond and how do they differ?

CK:  Sideways Blues, was stylistically influenced by Kerouac’s concept of the Blues which he defines in the front sleeve of his book Some of the Dharma. He says, ” A blues is a complete poem written filling in one notebook page, of small or medium size, usually 15 to 25 lines, known as a Chorus,…” Kerouac insisted upon spontaneity and little to no revision. That being said, I am not a huge fan of most of his poetry per se’ because of that lack of revision. He certainly hits the mark on several pieces but most come across as conversational, and lacking of profundity or depth. I am much more a fan of his prose work. 

We part ways on revision.  I revisit my poems after writing them and revise. Upon a 2nd, third or forth reading I am able to develop the lines and imagery so that it more closely resembles the experience that I felt at the time of writing and also to present things in a way that might be more palatable for the reader. However, when revising I do try to keep the original intensity and vibration that I felt at the time of writing. I also allow myself the ability to extend the poem beyond a notebook page but I do like the concept of sticking to about a page because it forces you to develop each line more succinctly instead of getting too wordy.


GER: Your collections, Postpoemed and Peripheral Debris document through poetry and photography the decline of industry in towns, boroughs and cities in Pennsylvania.  What effect did the geography and people you encountered have on you?

CK: The other thing that inspired me to continue my explorations was the discovery of the concept of Psychogeography which is a sort of pseudo-science dealing with the effects of environment on the behavior and emotions of individuals. It is also very much a literary and artistic movement as well and has a long history.  The premise is to quiet the mind and open up to the surrounding environment to recognize its impacts upon your thoughts and feelings and then document the results through writing or photography. Walking can be meditative. With each step you let go of cares and worries and open up to the present, the longer you walk the easier it becomes.  As you walk you merge more and more into the surroundings and become less noticed by others.  Sometimes I will just sit somewhere and observe. Whether walking or sitting I take notes of happenings, thoughts and feelings. Usually within the next day or so after the experience something poetic resonates within me and I revisit the notes and write it out. The result is not always a success but sometimes works out quite well and those are the works I have published so far.

In the process I have gained a greater appreciation of the people and places I have been. Everywhere everyone is just leading their ordinary lives the best that they can. As an observer, I consider myself lucky to have witnessed all the chance encounters, all the events unfolding. Had I not been at a particular place at a particular time I would not have seen what I saw. Everything unfolds in the present moment and it is the present moment everywhere so depending on where you are that is what you know. Just sitting at home trying to discern reality from the news or from the internet is a half truth at best. I think the truth is what lies before your eyes, take that and fit it into the larger context of what you read or hear.

Pennsylvania is a beautiful place, so many winding roads though cities and towns past forested mountains and farms. The people I have encountered are distinctly interesting manifestations of that environment. Those I have met along the way are always surprising in their diversity.  I have learned to never trust first impressions as during conversation I am generally surprised to find out I was wrong. The architecture I encounter will never be duplicated. There is much historical beauty throughout the state. Even the decay has a certain beauty. The streets of early 20th century row homes I walk down will never be duplicated and may not even be replicated anywhere else outside of the northeastern United States. There is something quite unique about a small Pennsylvania town. There is much to find.

GER: What other poets have influenced you and do you have any you return time and again?

CK: The work that I am currently producing is directly influenced by the beat movement, spontaneous rhythmic free verse. So Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William S. Burroughs of course. Gil Scott Heron, Amiri Baraka, Richard Brautigan, Maggie Estep, Lydia Lunch, Lorri Jackson, Captain Beefheart ( Don Glen Vliet ), Patti Smith are also great poets as well and on and on. I am greatly in awe of the talents of so many other poets too numerous to mention. I have also met a lot of lesser known writers who have inspired me. Strangely enough though, it is the work of William Blake that over the years I have returned to time and again. The marriage of Heaven and Hell has been read many times.

I am also drawn to literature, philosophy, eastern religious thought and well crafted prose.  Another book I return to often, so dog eared, battered and torn, is Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet  – A Factless Autobiography. Pessoa’s prose is flawless. The narrator, living his entire existence in Lisbon Portugal ( and mainly one street in Lisbon) opens up a boundless universe of imaginative thought and observation. It is the one book, along with a survival guide, that I take with me into the woods when the bombs start to drop and the shit goes down.

karl 2

GER: Are you familiar with Martin J. Desht’s Photosonata?

CK:  I was not familiar with Desht’s work but I am certain I will be sometime soon.  From what I can glean off the internet it very much looks like his photography is similar in nature to mine. It seems like he had explored some of the same areas that I have been exploring. Perhaps it would be interesting to try and revisit and photograph the places he has and see how they have changed. Thank you for bringing him to my attention.

GER: Do you believe lost industrial jobs can return to Pennsylvania and if not, will the wealthy continue its efforts to eliminate the middle class?

CK:  No, nor do I think they should. The past cannot be duplicated. The future and any prosperity it may bring to the depressed regions of Pennsylvania will be unique to its time. Manufacturing will be a part of this for sure but it will be manufacturing producing what is needed for the times they are needed in. Yes it is always the people near the bottom that are most affected but humans are adaptable and must adapt to the current situation. Some of these towns will survive but there will be many that continue to crumble into dust. To try and hold on to the dream of returning to the glory days of the past is only keeping us from progressing into what we could be tomorrow. I used to think it as essential for towns to hold on to all those beautiful old buildings of historical significance but if they are holding us back from becoming more prosperous then they too must go.

Overall, I do see us by necessity having to return to a more urban environment, a more community oriented environment. I see the revitalization of small cities taking place everywhere I go.  Places like Phoenixville, Lancaster, Doylestown, Stroudsburg and closer to my home, West Reading are becoming attractive to live in again. Perhaps as more people work from home some of those depressed towns will become more attractive because the cost of living will be less. Certainly, during any revitalization there must be efforts made to keep affordable housing. But, this notion of escaping further and further away from each other is unsustainable. There are only so many places to go.  The car culture and the blandness of suburbia is destroying us more than any loss of industry. The pervasive self similar, scale invariant strip mall culture of the WaWa – Wal-mart world is culturally destructive and environmentally unsound. However, this is a huge topic and could be the subject of many a book so I will stop there and reserve the right to be wrong about any of it.

GER: Was there a transition between living in Reading and now living in Temple?

CK:  I have a love/ hate relationship with the Reading area. I very often wonder where I would be had I lived in other places also. Yet, I would not be achieving what I currently am if I had gone elsewhere. I suppose it is pointless to even speculate what my life would be. I will just try and be appreciative of what has befallen me and trust the universe to take me where it will.

Temple is on the northeastern edge of the greater Reading area so the transition was not that great. I am still in an urban environment where the sidewalks still run and connect me to the city itself. Temple is in Muhlenberg Township which is adjacent to Reading and is very much a fast food, Dollar Mart, strip mall hustle and bustle boom. Temple itself is an old town at the end of a trolly line that was just enveloped by sprawl. Overlooking Temple is the hump/ pseudo mountain called Irish Mountain and it is where my poetic journey began in earnest. It is also the focus of my first book Sideways Blues.  I have found many places nearby to escape to on foot but everywhere I go I can turn the corner and look northeast and there’s that dam Irish Mountain glaring down at me saying – where do you think you are going now?

karl 1

GER: How is the poetry scene in Reading?

CK:  Reading has had a pretty stable poetry community since the early 1990’s under the moniker of “Berks Bards”.  The “Bards” are part of the artistic establishment and tend to be a bit academic, but the group has afforded me many opportunities over the years so I am thankful for them. Under the leadership of its original  founders it was more of a county-wide group involving many communities, now it pretty much resides in Reading and is intertwined with the local art venue at the Goggle Works. The Goggle Works is an old factory that was refurbished to now be an arts and craft center with artist lofts for rent and workshops etc. It is a good thing overall but is a self contained island of art with not many places to go outside of it. Ironically, it is the old factory where I used to work at in my young adulthood when I was tromping around the streets. I believe there is a couple of other groups that are around but are more “workshop” oriented and I am not a “workshop” poet but I’m guessing they do good things.

Reading itself has become a largely Hispanic community which is vibrant and diverse and does seem to have it’s own growing creative community. I have only recently discovered this but have long sensed it. Unlike a large city such as Philadelphia if one wants to broaden their scope and reach you have to travel to other small cities to expand the circle. I have found very vibrant poetic communities in Lancaster, York and Harrisburg as well. I know of groups in Allentown, Bethlehem, Scranton and Chester County also so poetry is very much alive in Eastern Pennsylvania. I also have found a great circle of friends and supporters in Woodbridge N.J as well.

GER: What current literary projects are you developing?

CK:  Like in the Lawrence Ferlinghetti Poem I am Waiting, currently I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder which is slowly beginning to emerge. While I am still writing experiential poems of place, I am delving more and more into some longer prose pieces which are still experiential in nature but incorporate mental traveling as well, stream of thought. I am most interested with the juxtaposition of loosely related images that play upon each other to form a more implied narrative.  I have done this in the past with some success in longer spontaneous pieces I have written but I think I would like to utilize this in some shorter poems. I have just been reading some and love his poems Night Highway 99 and Three Worlds, Three Realms, Six Roads  in which stand alone lines juxtaposed take the reader on a journey without much in the way of narrative. It all comes down to a well crafted line, I think. I also like the short numbered aphoristic like chapters found in Fernando Pessoa’s work or Kerouac’s Desolation Angels or even Fredrich Nietzsche’s Human, All Too -Human or Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. So, I am continuing the process of developing and experimenting with my writing.

As with my previous three books, at some point it manifests that I have a body of work that fits together well and then I seek to publish. If I do publish again, I think it will be an E-book to try and reach a larger audience but we will see. Along side the writing I am still exploring and trying to better my photographic skills. I have a large body of photographic work so maybe a collection of photographs like Martin J. Desht’s would be in order but I would have to figure out how that is done. In this electronic culture I am not certain that hard copy books are the correct path but on this too I reserve the right to be wrong.

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Kaucher at Amazon:

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Kaucher at North of Oxford:



g  emil reutter can be found at:




Two Poems by Charles Carr


All spoke the language of the Mill.
Separating, straightening, twisting
Weaving a life out of cotton
Processing began at 6:00 AM, stopped  at 7:00PM
half hour break for lunch
Six days a week
Entire families offered their hands
The Opening room
Wrappings stripped off bales of cotton
Raw the opening machine tearing
Hands of pickers, lappers and fluffers smoothing it into sheets
the card hands  feeding into the teeth of the carding machine
where it was swallowed, digested into loosely compacted rope like slivers
the Boss carder made $12.00 per week a card hand $4.50
 Onto spinning room
            floor vibrating
to the slubber hands, intermediate hands, speeder hands
all women paid $4.00 per week
feeding the rollers of drawing frame
thinning the slivers.
Fibers wound tighter
spoolers, twisters, warpers,
band boys.
A progressive rhythm
Oilers and sweepers overseeing the banding machine
bobbins spinning filling with thread
the duffers moving up and down like a xylophone player
replacing the bobbins keep the spooling
The Weave Room
with fillers, creelers, beam warpers
slash tenders. drawing in girls and weavers
more hands that mounted rolls of yarn
 hands that raised, lowered sections
draw in hands lacing threads through an eye
designs for carpets, sheets, clothing
             the world’s.
Ode To a Stone 
I found it resting among the driftwood and seaweed
At an angle and in that light and moment stood out.
Heavy it rested
Chiseled and polished by the oceans forces.
A brightness glowed within,
as if it was breathing
Paused me to think of the thoughts
and movements it had gathered into itself-
The air, birds, clear sky
Balancing now at the summit of the cairn
on my windowsill.
A totem
brute matter speaks
endurance, density, solidity
charles photo

Charles Carr of Philadelphia has two published books of poems, paradise,pennsylvania and Haitian Mudpies & Other Poems. Charles has been active in the Philadelphia poetry community for 20 years and he hosted a Moonstone Arts Center Poetry series at Fergie’s Pub forb5 years and is currently the host of a live monthly broadcast Philly Loves Poetry now in its seventh season.


Hotel Krupa Lounge by Mark J. Mitchell

Hotel Krupa Lounge 
The desk is vacant. She slumps in—damp, sad
from an old bop tune that never leaves her head.
She looks for mail. Sees none. Hears one rogue note—
a piano. Then she feels she’s not alone.
Elevator buttons get pushed. The mean guy
from three. A second note that almost sighs—
a low C, she thinks, coming through the wall.
They climb in the small cage. He smells of salt
and fish. It’s a waltz tune, low keyed. The whole
ride up she knows it. Wants to sing it slow
and blue. Guy steps off, uneven, at three.
She waits for her floor, punches L just to see
how long that wisp of a song can play on.
It circles her from four all the way down.
She leans her ear to the wall just beside
gold mail boxes. It’s there. She feels a slight
vibration from a bass key, Hears a click—
a foot tap, a cigarette getting lit
somewhere within plaster. It’s “Danny Boy”
now, very soft and slow. Another guy
enters. The pipes stop calling. She believes,
for now, at least, a hidden lounge, unseen,
unseeable, lives in a room with no door.
Maybe next to the shaft. Someone performs—
Only at night? Never noticed. Who else
hears keys—that Bill Evans touch. A bell
rings. Elevator’s back. The dark notebook man
walks out. Doesn’t lift his eyes. His hand
writing, writing all the time. Can’t keep a beat.
She’ll ride down and up all night. She won’t sleep.
head shotMark J. Mitchell has worked in hospital kitchens, fast food, retail wine and spirits, conventions, tourism, and warehouses. An award-winning poet, he is the author of five full-length poetry collections, and six chapbooks. His latest collection is Something To Be from Pski’s Porch Publishing. He can be found reading his poetry here: @markj.mitchell4351




Grampa Bill by Donna Pucciani

Grampa Bill 
We called him Grampa Bill,
but to his friends he was “Red.”
The silver hair that covered his red scalp,
perennially sunburned, used to be
carrot-colored, nearly tomato.
The nickname signaled
his job with the Public Service
reading gas meters. He strode daily
from house to house in the modest
suburbs of New Orleans, the heat
beating down on his smiling cheeks,
his gray uniform sticking to his torso
in Louisiana heat.
Day after day, year after year,
his Irish skin became more red
until his lower lip cracked into nodules
of cancerous dolor, the red sun
of the South absconding with
his scarlet body, baked into oblivion
in an oven of crimson death.
donnaDonna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in Shi Chao Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Journal of Italian Translation, Meniscus, Agenda, Li Poetry, and other journals. Her seventh and latest book is EDGES.

Reading the Dead by Grace Andreacchi

Reading the Dead 
Sometimes at night I scour the net
looking for dead lovers
looking for old men
I look at their photos
on funeral sites
read the obits
wives and children
fulsome praises
the usual phrases
He was wonderful
He was special
He was beloved
Old wounds throb again
I don’t actually cry
but lie awake in the dark
Remembering just how
wonderful this one was
or how awful
And sometimes I wonder
before they died
late at night, once or twice
If they ever tried looking for me?
And say they did, what then?
How did that go?
They’d see I’m not at all fat
I’ve a beautiful cat
and several books
to my largely unknown
but beautiful name
that’s about it
Then do they think at all
of the damage done
of the shit that went down?
Can it be they just forgot?
My guess for what it’s worth
Probably not
gtraceGrace Andreacchi writes novels, plays, short stories and poetry. Works include the novels You Are There Behind my Eyelids Forever, Scarabocchio, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbooks Ten Poems for the End of Time and Berlin Elegies. Her work has been published by Serpent’s Tail, the Permanent Press, and in many fine journals, as well as her own imprint, Andromache Books. She lives in London with her little cat, Mimì.


Benefit by Siobhan Phillips


By Michael Collins

Laura, the narrator of Siobhan Phillips’ Benefit, describes her dissertation as “focused on characters in Henry James at the periphery of the narrative” such as Fanny Assingham in The Golden Bowl, who “has little money and no children. She therefore can do nothing herself. She stands on the sidelines and talks about what other people are doing” (72). Notably, this passage could also function as a plot summary novel from the somewhat lost perspective Laura herself occupies for much of it, if, that is, if we add Laura’s addendum:

Viewed another way, Fanny Assingham is not peripheral to The Golden Bowl. It is she who introduces the impoverished Italian prince and the rich American daughter. It is she who sets the whole narrative in motion. At some point, Renata wrote at the end of one of my dissertations chapter drafts, you may wish to consider whether your description implies a stronger indictment of narrative structure. But I didn’t want to indict anything. Certainly nothing I was working on. (75; italics original)

Laura’s impressions of the relative importance of a “minor” character and the injustices visited upon her by class structure are a mere whisper of the widespread social injustices Laura’s research projects in the novel will explore, ranging from the brutal sugar trade’s accumulation of mass fortunes, to the treatment of characters “at the periphery” of modern wars and the refugee crises they caused. The quote from Renata also foreshadows much of Laura’s intuitive and creative “research” that will be published as the novel itself, which follows Laura’s reorientation toward her evolving guiding principles and her extensive reconsidering of the perspectives of other characters previously kept at the periphery of her own life.

The novel begins as Laura is “not renewed” at an adjunct teaching position, which sends her on various explorations of potential sources of income. By necessity or unstated wish, this time period also seems to call Laura toward reconnecting with friends; in fact, the first few chapters are individually structured around meeting various members of her former cohort of Weatherford fellows at Oxford. Laura’s narration of these meetings, often eviscerating all varieties of social contrivance, shows her to be an incisive reader of humans as well as texts:

Heather’s relationships with men: numerous not frivolous. They were always deliberate, even if sometimes casual. She did not do one-night stands or flings. She went on dates; she dated, sometimes several people at one time. Sean and I are going to brunch. Matt is taking me to a jazz concert this weekend.  I told her, I don’t know anyone else who actually dates. Dating helps you meet people. As if that’s a good – Laura you’re terrible. Heather was smiling. I know I am, I said. Don’t mind me. Keep doing everything exactly as it should be done.

I think you need to be very beautiful to do everything exactly as it should be done. Also, you need to have money. (54; italics original)

If, however, Laura undertakes an informal inquiry into narrative structure, she does so intuitively and relationally – and her own assumptions are revised along with anyone else’s, particularly those involving the importance she places on the perspectives of others. Through this process she learns that her friends do not view her as a foreign object, but rather with respect, as in Caroline’s description of their time at Oxford: “[Y]ou were sort of assessing everything all the time. That’s why you weren’t part of things. Mark and I talked about it once. He had this idea that if he passed muster with you, he would be okay” (288). This seems to be a discovery for Laura, although it has long been apparent to the reader that Laura’s narrative voice is indeed continually assessing everything, an interesting way in which Phillips’ narrative strategies allow us to see Laura concurrently from interior and external views. It helps us to perceive an interesting complexity Laura’s character: Her assessing gaze is also regularly turned debilitatingly inward, so much so that she relies on observations of and interactions with her friends and mother as one primary source of grounding in navigating her professional crisis.

In an interesting formal development, the middle chapters are structured around improvisational forms of writing, including a narrative structured around a false dichotomy between novels of incident versus novels of character that was dismissed by Henry James, whose rebuttal she highlights: “the only classification of the novel that I can understand is into that which has life and that which has it not” (242). This more esoteric doctrine seems an elusive goal compared with her sometimes comically self-aware diary: “Today I thought again about how I should use this record, this journal. I am doing it wrong. I should write more about my day-to-day life, my ordinary actions. I should not write about what I am learning or reading. That goes somewhere else” (110). Writing things in the “wrong” places, in turn, becomes the form of a later chapter that interrupts and juxtaposes attempts at biographical imagination of the founders of the Weatherford fellowship with her own process of moving out of her mother’s house. In seeking out a form that “has life” narrative structure is obliged to morph with and perhaps to a degree facilitate the unfolding life of the narrator – or, seen another way, perhaps, a narrator who is opening to a broader array of experiences carries into their writing a curiosity to experiment with the perspectival and expressive potentials of new and different forms, even those that seem “wrong.”

Laura’s experiments with more process-oriented modes of writing, dovetail with her extensions of “research” to include a variety of excursions into previously unexplored pockets of consciousness and society. Meditation helps her to perceive her work as a mirroring, albeit in a backhanded way: “[I]t turns out my thoughts are not like clouds in the sky. They do not drift. They gnaw. My thoughts are rats in a field of sugar. Rats, I read, are one of the few animals that not only survive but even prosper when fields are cleared for cane” (96). Reconnecting with friends from her time at Oxford also allows her – and the novel itself – the benefit of their perspectives cultivated in other fields, integral to complicating the work of both. Greta, a professor intently focused on supporting students, quips, “You don’t need to be a trained anthropologist to know that gifts are all about power” (142). Whereas Caroline summarizes her field of “Development”: “It’s a bunch of people who wanted to do some good, and realized they couldn’t, and kept going anyway” (283). I’m focusing more on Laura’s evolution of consciousness in this piece, but the historical and ethical conversations, clustered to a degree around the other characters’ specialties, are each significant in their own right, as well as providing context for Laura’s troubling meditations. The rats have real teeth, and, significantly, they sometimes visit the meditations of other people.

These exchanges of disappointments, disillusions, and apprehensions point to another interesting aspect of these social reconnections, the delicate manner in which Phillips shows the other characters to be Laura’s friends, almost despite Laura’s wishes to remain at an observational distance. The other, also notably understated, side of Laura’s aversion to sentimentality, though, seems to be that she is a generally polite and compliant friend.

None of this obviates the litany of psychological and historical demons Laura faces, beginning with those created by her lumping together of social structures and their evils: “Anything you do is part of something, some institution, system, way of operating, and all of these ways are founded on cruelty or heading for a crash or they have no use for you” (156). Her ideation also cuts off what she perceives as her potential paths of retreat from this quagmire: “I know that failed academics are supposed to find refuge in imagination; they are supposed to realize that books are more important than scholarship about books. But they’re also supposed to find refuge, the failed academics, in life; they are supposed to realize that the world is better than any words. I don’t want either part of this contradiction” (209). Oddly, this thinking bottoms out in a realization that, though negatively experienced, is quite grounding: “I saw for a moment what I was. How I was. Exactly how wrong, how petty, driven by illusions I didn’t even admit, cowering under the generosity of others, my own indecision, my own ineffectual inconsequence, counting on that” (264). Leaving aside the self-indictment of “failed academic,” which is barely justifiable as a criticism, Laura’s comments, if we’re individually being honest, are true for most of us and the social structures that contain us. A subtle achievement of the novel is its balancing of social critique with awareness of the shadow aspects of the consciousness through which they are processed and articulated.

Laura is aided in this process by a bit of sanguine wisdom from her dissertation advisor, Renata, through which she develops a more intricate understanding of the “countercultural” work of “scholarship” (292) and a more complex and intersubjective understanding of the dynamics between story and character, based in no small part on a reconceptualization of her own character and story:

It was the feeling of taking things in; it was the feeling of needing more – information, words, understanding – and of having more and not enough and then again needing; it was the feeling not of wanting to work but of wanting to learn. It was not a moral feeling. Selfish rather. But so utterly distant from myself at the same time. How badly I had served this desire, and yet how faithfully it continued nevertheless: That was something to trust. (297)

This ownership of her passions constitutes a complex enough understanding of “selfish” to be characterized as self-knowledge, and its realization carves a place for the novel as a pluralistic and interdisciplinary research story in which the personal equation forms a shifting figure and ground with the various subjects of study. Laura is, after all, among many other things, the narrator. Not to be excluded from this achievement, the work’s literary forebear Henry James tacks on his own again reread writing advice to such posterity: “One must save one’s life if one can.” (296).

You can find the book here:  Benefit

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.



Lilith Walks by Susan M. Schultz


By Greg Bem

In Susan M. Schultz’s pandemic volume, we confront one artist’s engagement with and description of daily life. What we do with our time every day is an illuminating question, and Schultz uses the form of the “dog walk” to document and present her own findings.

Each entry in Lilith Walks is approximately a page in length, describing the poet’s walk with her curious and empathetic companion Lilith. The setting spans multiple locations in Hawaii, a landscape Schultz knows well from decades lived there. A zooming in toward the texture of daily life is blushed with natural beauty and a description of the environment through which the walk occurs. In “Chemistry Professor,” the walk begins within a cemetery:

Lilith and I walked farther into the cemetery than new usually do today, past the black tombs with Japanese names on them, around the corner, and up the hill toward a loop built around fountains and a garden (with stones and plaques in it, including some to the still living). (page 76)

A brief read of Schultz’s descriptions comes off as ordinary, even perhaps mundane, but in sum they build an arousing context through which the work becomes more whole, more complete, filled with issues, subtexts, and questions. The environment fills in the periphery, but the pressing themes mostly concern what other dogs and their humans are doing as they are encountered.

These characters show up once, or twice, or many times, and many are not without their own problems. Whether it’s on presidential leadership or on teaching remote or on surviving a pandemic, the conversations are not without tension. The fleeting nature of the “dog walk” amplifies the allegorical qualities behind the encounters and discussions, such as this one from “Lilith and the Cop’s Pug”:

He says there’s no leadership from the top of the police department. No advisories on how to deal with the public. He asks me how on-line education is going. I tell him some of my quiet students have come to the fore on discussion boards; other students have gone missing. Sangha has a missing professor. I tell him I’m worried that the crisis will become an excuse to convert us all to on-line from now on. He nods. Everything’s changing. (page 41)

Schultz’s reflective processes are acute and endearing, and with each piece there’s a sense the poet is sharing with us a secret, an illumination into an otherwise impossible space and interaction. This continues with her writings of observation, which often walk the line between the literal and the absurd, painting an image of the book’s corner of Hawaii as a land of extremes:

On our way back down Kahekili I see a young man in swim trunks ,dancing at the light; his movements awkward, head bobbing up and down. I also see someone with long brown legs carrying a large black plastic bag, a black piece of luggage and an umbrella. (from “Embodiment,” page 25)

The realm of human to human interaction is pervasive in Lilith Walks, but it must be said that dog walks also involve dogs. And so, while Lilith serves her human as a Beatrice-Virgil dualism guiding toward instinct, reason, and a profound sense of life, Lilith also is a dog who has her own world. And what a world it is! Schultz commits vast space and time to describing Lilith’s relationships and behaviors. Interaction leads to description, new layers and complexities evolving with every turn, as seen in “A Death in the Neighborhood”:

Her older dog, Buddy, made her anxious interacting with Lilith (as usual). A smallish brown dog with black snout, Buddy had had a tooth out, and that was after he had eye surgery. Buddy was costing her some money. But Buddy’s eyes looked better, far less bloodshot, and he didn’t seem to be in distress over the missing tooth. My neighbor had her wide-brimmed tan hat on, but didn’t answer directly when I asked how she was. On Sunday, she died. (page 13)

In Lilith Walks, no description lasts long, though, because of the remarkable temporary qualities of the “dog walk.” As a literary form, a dog walk feels like a remarkable hybrid between inspiration and constraint. The “dog walk” is descriptive yet concise. It balances deep engagement with time and place and often relies on a lightheartedness to carry forth the spontaneous flashes of experience. Even the usual and ordinary are elevated because dog walking is often about established routines and norms. In Schultz’s approach, the form is opportunity to document where norms are broken, where the exceptional occurs.

It is important to note that the activity of walking the dog appears to be exquisitely aligned with the pandemic. As we were all figuring out the world and our place in it, we often were doing so outdoors, in the comfort of our shared isolation across outside spaces. Thus, Schultz’s work doubly serves as fantastic pandemic literature. Published in late 2022 alongside a variety of other pandemic collections, Lilith Walks includes writings running from 9/10/17 to 11/12/21, making it exceptionally above and beyond most other pandemic literature and offering insight into what life was like immediately before. It is a fascinating portrait of the artist as a person living their life and continuing to live their life as the world is upended, with the help of a trusty, loveable canine in the lead.

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

Stop Lying by Aaron Smith

By Charles Rammelkamp
Two-thirds of the way through Stop Lying, Aaron Smith begins the poem, “The World of Men,” in which he is talking to his psychiatrist,
I’m a therapist’s wet dream, I say, and he writes
in his notebook, probably, that I’m using humor,
again, to cope.
Self-deception, deflection: there are so many ways of “lying” – to ourselves and others. Humor is certainly one of Smith’s gifts, as he comes to terms with his mother’s death from cancer. In his previous 2019 collection, The Book of Daniel, also dedicated to his mom, he is likewise coming to terms with her sickness, her mortality. Now she is dead. The drama of her death is central to Stop Lying.
Other forms of lying include withholding information and changing the subject. As Smith writes in “The Only Thing,”
                I never told my mother
I wrote books, and as far as I know,
she never saw one. She Googled me,
once, and found an essay I wrote about
being gay. She called my sister and cried,
begged her to ask me to take it down.
I didn’t, and we pretended it never
happened. She loved me without looking.
at me.
Or sometimes the lies are what sound false, boilerplate, as when we struggle toward being authentic and come up short. In “Letter to My Sister,” in which he realizes “Anyone, I now know, // can be lived without (I feel guilty for knowing that.),” Smith writes:
I hate the words we use –
especially numb, or how grief comes
in waves because it’s not true
but it is, and there’s no language
that belongs only to us, how it feels
to miss her, nothing someone else
hasn’t already thought of.
In the title poem, his mother is in Intensive Care. It’s the last week of her life, and the cancer has spread to her brain. Of course, her loved ones are trying to be encouraging, comforting, but to her it feels like deception. Smith writes, “In the ICU, my mother
asked: Is this a dream, or am I really dying? She asked
my father for a kiss, said: tell me the truth, stop lying.
A short poem, “When We Know My Mother Will Never Wake up Again,” reads:
My sister says:
           Aaron’s a really talented poet, Mom.  He’s published four books.
My sister says:
          I thought it was important she know.
In a tender moment of frank honesty, in the penultimate poem, “Fourteen Mondays,” Smith remembers sitting in a restaurant with his mother only months before her death, on his birthday.


She looked beautiful those last months, and I told her,
and not because she was my mother and sick,
but because she was beautiful,
as if the illness had made her more herself.
Similarly, in “Three Months Before She Died We Went to Dollywood,” he writes,
We watched roller coasters, and she said you’d
probably rather be here with friends, and I said no,
and it was the truth. She bought me a mug
with my name printed below Dolly’s perfectly
painted face. She wanted me to remember the day.
But it’s also true that for years both his mother and father, West Virginia fundamentalist Christians, tormented him for his lifestyle. The poem, “Afterlife” sums it up:
the hardest part
is wondering
if my mother died
I would go
to hell
But Smith is funny, witty. “My Father Was Frank O’Hara” is a poem about discovering the love letters his father had written to his mother when they were in high school. Smith calls his sister to read them to her. He notes:
there’s an O’Hara quality
if O’Hara was straight
and in high school
and couldn’t spell. Okay,
they’re not that good.
“God Is Not Mocked” is a satirical poem that contains lines like:
             Three Gods walk into a bar…
             There was a farmer’s daughter named Mary…
 Knock, knocketh…
                Who’s there?
How many Gods does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
        One, because I am the Great and Powerful Oz!
As the title suggests, “Plathoholic: A Party Game” is another clever poem. And then there’s “Some Days Everything I Do I Do,” which is both funny and heartbreaking:
with a broken heart.
Today, for example,
I threw away
the ceramic red
wheelbarrow she left
in the yard last
winter; it froze
and cracked beside
the abandoned
birdbath. I know,
I’m writing a poem
that mentions
a red wheelbarrow—
fuck off!
As when his dying mother demands it, Stop Lying is also Aaron Smith’s plea for his own sense of identity. This is who I am!
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.