By Greg Bem
Where to locate on that over-fingers lacquer speech?
Over boundaries of corruption, the physics of corpse or ash?
(from “Ouija Blink” on page 9)
Sprawling across 36 poems divided between three distinct sections, Amy Beeder’s latest published poetic voice has concocted and presented a vast array of personas and lingual variations that feel, in a short span, like living history. And So Wax Was Made & Also Honey is a book that brings forward the medieval, the gothic, the pioneer, the ancient, the contemporary, and more into an alchemical, prismatic collection that collects with each page flipped.
Beeder’s poetry shifts and morphs in front of the reader, states of the perceived reality as ephemeral as time itself. Never feeling without, never feeling of lack, this is a book of captivation, rallying, and an undeniable memento. It features explorers, witches, linguists, novelists, philosophers, and gravediggers, to name a slice of the cast. And it is global, covering grounds from many places and many cultures.
When quarantines are lifted we’ll play Marco Polo
in the empty wards & by lamplight study ancient methods
of beekeeping: mud hive & yeast cake, the tendering
of tiny crowns & tiny homes of sedge.
(from “And So Wax Was Made & Also Honey Out of the Tears of Re” on page 8)
The poems are senselessly arousing, moving between tangible and tangential from breath to breath. It is a book that is mischievous and keen, gripping and confounding, and ultimately visceral in its aural estimations and proximities. And So Was Wax contains some description, some explanation, and yet never enough. There are allusions and wayfinding, some intentionally exposed and some buried within subtext, yet there is mystery, and it is strong and strange and lingering.
One of the endnotes calls forth a reference to Ezra Pound, and I could not help being reminded of the complexities, challenges, and illuminations of the Modernists at large in texts nearly 100 years old. Still, I was also reminded of Black Mountain, Naropa, and also, I was reminded of the epic poems and parables of ages and eras many, many years’ past.
your tongue thicken to an ox’s, pronouncing words
that only through your industry still merit this translation:
I sometimes feel I am liquifying like an Old Camembert.
(from “Flaubert & the Chancre” on page 33)
Such is Beeder’s work. It never relents and it always offers more, the further one dips their head (and their mind) inward. Ultimately, the book sits on the precipice of greatness with a feeling of necessitated muddiness: to leave out direction leads to inherent incoherence, but never without confidence, without the sense that the poet is in full control, and knowingly looking upward, into the sky, the stars, and all directions of time at once.
A book of questions and yet a book of documentation and storytelling, it is a collection that may, at length, feel connected to something larger, above and beyond its own covers. I am reminded of the longer works of Caroline Bergvall, Anne Carson, and Joshua Marie Wilkinson, whose books are woven together like intense strands.
Drought our summer corn was overrun again
with weed & cheat; the bitter zinnias fell to bits.
Dear yearlings our harvest is lattice & husk.
(from “Dear Drought” on page 30)
Reminisces and ruminations on form aside, Beeder’s third book is distinctly her own. She brings forward wisdom derivative of many ages, and yet the comments feel current to the urgencies of today. From climate change to spirituality to a belief of women, Beeder captures the moment by deferring to the relevance of the past. All told, the timelessness is timeliness, and the poet serves as a firm but quizzical reminder that we have much to learn by adjusting our gaze.
I am waiting at the crossroads, here at your broken gate
where barbed acacias stoop to shade my trespass.
(from “For Fresno’s Best Process Service Call Hermes” on page 56)
You can find the book here: https://www.tupelopress.org/product/and-so-wax-was-made-also-honey/
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 www.gregbem.com
By Charles Rammelkamp
Following his debut noir, Nobody Move, winner of the Best First Novel in the Arthur Ellis Awards, Philip Elliott’s new novel is likewise set in Los Angeles, the home of so many legendary private detective dramas. This one, too, features colorful losers and endearing anti-heroes and is full of plot surprises and just generally compelling storytelling that makes you want to read on.
Porno Valley takes place at the turn of the century. Elliott juggles three different narratives, one in 1998 involving the ambitious Jemeka Johnson and her not-the-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer but well-meaning partner, Raymond (Ray-Ray) Jones. Another is set a year later in 1999 and involves a pair of small-time-crook junkies, Richie, a sociopath from hell, and his troubled wife Alabama. The final thread takes place in the summer of 2000 and involves a private detective named Mickey O’Rourke. Mickey is 78 and about to embark on the final case of his half-century long career. Mickey is the loneliest guy in the world and touches the reader’s heart with his quiet integrity and modest reflection. He’s been hired to find a missing person, a porn star named Jeffrey Strokes (“his real name”). Jeff is an interesting character in his own right, the most laid back person in the world, winner of three AVN awards, the Oscars of the porn industry. Somebody describes him as being like Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude, in The Big Lebowski.
In fact, the novel opens with Mickey meeting his client, Bethany Summers at MidnightPussy Productions in San Fernando Valley, where the nascent porn industry, fueled by the rise of the internet, has become a huge growth business. Jeff has been missing for a year, and hence the three threads will come together, eventually. Bethany is Jeff’s girlfriend – or former girlfriend – both part of the porn world. She’s currently involved with Riccardo, another performer in porn films. It turns out that Riccardo plays a pivotal role in Jeff’s disappearance.
We meet Richie and Alabama in Nevada where they are holding up a diner. They’ve been a Bonnie and Clyde pair for a while but recently had a quickie Nevada wedding performed by an Elvis impersonator. Most importantly, they are supporting heroin habits and want to move up to more lucrative enterprises to support their lifestyle. Elliott is excruciatingly detailed when describing junk sickness and need. It’s almost visceral, reading about Richie’s and Alabama’s craving and Alabama’s OD.
Originally from LA, Richie brings his wife, a rural Alabama girl who left home to escape an abusive father, to the big city to seek their fortune and feed their jones. Los Angeles itself becomes something of a character, its sleaze and glamor, its poverty and luxury. “Nobody knows Los Angeles until they’ve been entranced by it, corrupted by it, cast out from it, and returned to it on their knees begging it to save them, and Richie knew Los Angeles.”
Meanwhile, a year earlier, Jemeka, scratching out a living and paying off her late father’s debts as a stylist in a hair salon, stumbles into the world of dope-dealing and, shrewd businesswoman that she is, realizes this is her ticket out of poverty. Jemeka is very ambitious – “greedy” may be a more accurate, if less flattering, adjective.
Elliott writes compellingly about poverty and the desperation it creates, especially for characters like Richie and Jemeka, but generally in poor neighborhoods like Compton, “well-intentioned families who called Compton home got ground up in the giant machine of this nation, slipping further toward poverty and the tragic moment when pressing need overtakes good intentions.”
At first Jemeka worries about the negative impact her dealing may have on her community, but over time she rationalizes selling crack as responsible because she isn’t adulterating the drug with dangerous additives just to maximize her profits. “Looked at that way, selling crack wasn’t so bad. It could even be said she was doing something good for the community.”
On balance, Jemeka is a sympathetic character, even as her ruthlessness (which she rationalizes as pragmatism) sometimes blinds her. Richie, though, is a totally repulsive dude with a mean streak a mile wide. It’s only Mickey whom we admire. Mickey’s wife of decades, Martha, has recently died from cancer. We feel his loneliness. He’s always been a romantic. He remembers winning Martha’s love by reciting Yeats to her, the poem, “When You Are Old.”
While resolving the various plots, the novel ends somewhat ambiguously, as if the story is “to be continued.” We do learn what becomes of Jeff Strokes, but other things still seem a bit up in the air. Elliott is fully aware of this. “It’s an intentionally subversive ending,” he says, “meant to be a little irksome as I wanted to play around with the fact that most crime novels end super conveniently wrapped in a bow with all loose ends tied. The novel was my attempt at playing around with the concept of a whodunit (as a friend said, ‘it’s not a whodunit but a how- or whydunit inside a noir.’) In a way I wanted to write an anti-Nobody Move. So, yeah, just playing with expectations.”
Elliott convincingly recreates the era with reference to the current music at the end of the century. Richie is in love with the new Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Californication” He also goes for the relative oldie, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (Blue Oyster Cult). Jemeka plays 2Pac’s music in her salon, “Only God Can Judge Me,” which is appropriate. Mickey, meanwhile, has Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever on a cassette tape. Remember cassette tapes? “I Won’t Back Down” is his anthem. Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” is featured in a scene at Tower Records where Richie goes Medieval.
In any case, Porno Valley is a terrific, satisfying read. The reader’s reaction is not unlike Bethany’s when Mickey at last tells her about Jeff. “Bethany’s mouth fell open. She looked like God had descended from Heaven and urinated on her.” Philip Elliott keeps you guessing to the end!
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Porno-Valley-Angel-Philip-Elliott/dp/1999086848
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.
The Beautiful Works and Damned Lives of John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald
By Byron Beynon
The eminent Shakespeare scholar, Jonathan Bate, is also well known as a biographer. He has written award-winning biographies of John Clare, Ted Hughes and more recently his highly praised book on William Wordsworth.
He now turns his attention to a biography of two glittering and tragic lives, John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald who defined a decade that began one hundred years’ ago, The Jazz Age.
Bate unfolds and recreates their tragic lives in parallel. He argues that although biographers and critics have noted that John Keats was Fitzgerald’s favourite author, “the full extent of the influence, its pervasiveness across Fitzgerald’s career, the sense that he saw himself as the prose Keats, remains underappreciated.” Bate sets out his stall early, as he observes the parallels that “each of them established themselves as authors in the aftermath of a long and devastating war.”
He continues with several more valid points where the parallels do become quite uncanny. They both lived in a time of relative freedom, which ended with the stock market panic of 1825 and the Wall Street crash of 1929, respectively. Keats tried to make extra money by writing for the London stage, and Fitzgerald for Hollywood. There was Keats’s unconsummated love for Fanny Brawne (he wrote several poems and letters for and to her) and Fitzgerald’s writing was shadowed by his unconsummated love for Ginevra King, who inspired the character of Daisy Fay in The Great Gatsby.
Tuberculosis cursed their lives, and Fitzgerald’s chronic alcoholism destroyed him. Bate sees Keats as “the epitome of the Romantic poet, Fitzgerald the epitome of the Romantic novelist.”
In 1935, Fitzgerald believed that “a tubercular infection that had been inactive was now attacking his lungs, he sought treatment … and new x-rays confirmed the diagnosis. “Debts terrible”, he noted in his ledger, along with “Went on wagon for all liquor and alcohol” and “Work and Worry”. And a couple of months later, “Zelda very bad”. The ledger then grinds to a halt.”
Unsurprisingly, both men found great comfort in books. “I felt rather lonely this Morning at breakfast”, Keats wrote in a letter in April 1817 to his brothers from the Isle of Wight, “so I went and unbox’d a Shakespeare – “there’s my comfort”.” Fitzgerald also found comfort from books, the most precious was his Keats. Fascinating contemporaries are introduced as we meet characters that Keats and Fitzgerald knew during their lifetimes, along with places they visited and stayed.
There are many keen, concise observations throughout the book, following the paths of these two writers who died young, each leaving a body of work which continue to interest and inspire. As Bate notes “For Fitzgerald, as for Keats, there was nothing more sensually tender than a kiss and yet a kiss could also be a betrayal.” He goes on to say that “Like Endymion, Tender is the Night was subtitled “A Romance”. But Keats and Fitzgerald knew they had to pass beyond romance. “Do you not see how necessary a Wall of Pain and troubles is to school and Intelligence and make a soul?” Keats wrote in his spring letter of 1819 to his brother George in America “A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways!”
Equal attention is given by Bate to both Keats and Fitzgerald in this reflective and interesting book, allowing the reader time and space to empathise, carefully following their lives as key events and episodes unfold.
I will allow the two central characters to have the last word:
“The great beauty of Poetry is,
that it makes every thing in
every place interesting” (John Keats)
“thinking of my ambitions so nearly achieved of being
part of English literature” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, letter of summer 1930)
You can find the book here: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300256574/bright-star-green-light
Byron Beynon, author of A View From the Other Side and 14 other collections of poetry including Cuffs and The Echoing Coastline, coordinated Wales’s contribution to the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). His poems and essays have featured in several publications including The Independent, Agenda, Wasafiri, The London Magazine, North of Oxford, San Pedro River Review and the human rights anthology In Protest.
By Ray Greenblatt
Tatyana Tolstaya is from the noble and intellectual Tolstoy family. She was born and educated in St. Petersburg, then spent many years in the U.S. teaching. On her return to Russia she hosted a very successful interview show on TV. The first book she wrote—On the Golden Porch (1987)—is what I will write about. I found the two most outstanding characteristics were her startling imagery and raucous sense of humor.
Tolstaya has a marvelous ability to bring children alive with all their idiosyncrasies. “Flus would scream and bang at my ears, banging on red drums, surrounding me from eight sides and, swirling wildly, project a delirious film, always the same: a wooden honeycomb filling up with three-digit numbers.” (7, LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT) She does not deny a child’s imagination: ”The children couldn’t shut their eyes at night, sitting up like white columns in their beds.” (122, DATE WITH A BIRD)
And yet, a sadness invaded them and could stay with them for life. A boy loses his grandfather: “Surfacing from the magical bottom of childhood, from the warm, radiant depths, we open our chilled fist in the cold wind—and what have we brought up with us besides sand?” (49, ON THE GOLDEN PORCH)“His soul was boiled like egg white hanging in clumps on the trees rushing toward him; sour sorrow filled his mouth.” (128, DATE WITH A BIRD) The child can also pity others: “Lord, the world is so frightening and hostile, the poor homeless, inexperienced soul huddling in the square in the night wind.” (13, LOVES ME, LOVES ME NOT)
Under the oppression of Communism no one gets away unharmed emotionally,
women and men alike. “Rimma cracked—she looked around and saw that time kept flowing on, yet the future still hadn’t arrived.” (107, FIRE AND DUST) “Life had gone and the voice of the future was singing for others.” (112, FIRE AND DUST) “Thousands of years, thousands of days, thousands of translucent impenetrable curtains fell from the heavens, thickened, turned into solid walls, blocked roads, and kept Alexandra Ernestovna from going to her beloved, lost in time.” (35, SWEET SHURA) This image says it all: “Life had shown its empty face, its matted hair and sunken eye sockets.” (113, FIRE AND DUST)
Yet, moments of joy and love do exist. “His words glistened with winy sparkle. He led her to a restaurant and the crowd parted for them, and the coat check took her raiments as if they were the magical swan feathers of a fairy bather who had come from the heavens to a small forest lake. The columns emitted a soft marble aroma, and roses floated in the dim lighting. Vassily Mikhailovich was almost young, and Isolde was like a wild silvery bird, one of a kind.” (68, THE CIRCLE) And dreams can sometimes bode good: “Sleep came, invited him into its loopholes and corridors, made dates of secret stairways, locked the doors and rebuilt familiar houses.” (179, PETERS)
But memory fails. “Only a trace of her voice in my head, incorporeal, seeming to come from the black jaws of the telephone receiver.” (141, SONYA) “Now the backs of the seated people are translucent like gauze, and with frightening speed, their laughter falls to pieces, recedes in the distance—catch it if you can.” (141, SONYA) “How restlessly the transparent, tamed shadows of our imagination scurry when the noises and smells of real life penetrate into their cool, foggy world. (22, OKKERVIL RIVER)
Again we feel depressed. “The rain, darkness, and window-bending wind reflected the white solemn face of loneliness.” (17, OKKERVIL RIVER) A person dies. “The yellow dog gently closed his eyes and left through the snowflakes up the starry ladder to the black heights, carrying away the trembling living flame.” (49, ON THE GOLDEN PORCH) “Life had begun to turn its not-good side toward Pavel.” (131, SWEET DREAMS, SON) “Peters sat with his leftovers, as immobile as a suitcase.” (189, PETERS)
Children, women, men all find life at times hopeless, destructive. And yet, some weather through it all. “Peters smiled gratefully at life—running past, indifferent, ungrateful, treacherous, mocking, meaningless, alien—marvelous, marvelous, marvelous.” (192, PETERS)
It is fairly easy for a professional author to come up with some imagery. However, not every writer can pull off humor. I feel it must be built into the nervous system. Tolstaya has that ability too. In HUNTING THE WOOLY MAMMOTH she shows it through the character of Zoya. She puts on airs: “She opened her lips only a millimeter to taste the profiteroles in chocolate sauce, pretending for some intellectual reason that it wasn’t very tasty.” (52) She poses again: “Her face was supposed to reflect the fleeting nuances of her complex spiritual life, like exquisite sadness or some refined reminiscence.” (53)
She doesn’t really love the man she is trying to capture. She hates the great out-of-doors: “Among offensively hearty strangers bawling cheerfully over their dinner made of pea concentrate.” (54) He just won’t play the game she expects him to: ”But this one comes on his own, gets up close, grazes, plucking at the grass, rubbing his side against the wall, napping in the sun, pretending to be tame. Allows himself to be milked! While the pen is open on all four sides.” (59)
What she wants is to be worshipped: “Oh, they would have sculpted her soul, her pain, all the folds of her blanket the right way, they would have sculpted her and then fixed it up on tippy top of a dizzying, lacy cathedral, at the very top, and the photo would be in close up: Zoya. Detail. Early Gothic.” (60)
In THE CIRCLE a man is married but takes his wife for granted. He sees her in a hair salon: “My God—long wires were attached to a reddened, albeit very happy head, with protruding diodes, triodes, and resistors.” (63) Women love clothes: “A cow gives birth in suffering so you can have shoes; a lamb is sheared screaming so you can warm yourself with its fleece.” (64) Women love make up: “Your pink cheeks come from boxes of flying dust, your smiles from golden containers with strawberry filling, your smooth skin from tubes of grease, your gaze from round transparent jars.” (64)
However, “you don’t pick wives: they simply appear out of nowhere by your side, and you’re struggling in fine netting, bound hand and foot; hobbled and gagged.” (65) He admits that they teach you many things but are they important. “How to clean spoons, and the comparative physiology of meatballs and patties; he knew by heart the grievously brief lifespan of sour cream.” (65) Some foods he found ugly: “In the face of annual death nature gets scared, turns around, and grows head down, giving birth in the final moments to coarse, harsh, clumsy creatures—the black dome of radish, the monstrous white nerve of horseradish, the secret potato cities.” (68)
He wants to escape. “Sometimes he wanted to be born a fiery southern youth; or a medieval alchemist; or the daughter of a millionaire; or a widow’s beloved cat; or a Persian king.” (65) Or even have an affair. “Once, dropping off sheets at the laundry, Vassily stared into the blossoming clover of cotton expanses, and noticed that the seven-digit notation sewn onto the northeast resembled a telephone number; he secretly called, and was graciously welcomed, and began a boring joyless affair with a woman named Klara.”(66)
He kept searching for the answers to life. Perhaps a Rubik’s cube: “Spent weeks twisting and twisting its creaking movable facets, until his eyes grew red, waiting in vain for the light to another universe to shine at last from the window.” (73) “He spent hours standing on his head with his legs crossed in someone’s apartment near the railroad station, between two unshaven, also upside-down engineers, and the rumble of the trains outside the house speeding into the distance shook their upraised striped socks.” (74)
Plot is limited in these stories, mostly no more than vignettes. However, the characters are 3-dimensional and varied. It is primarily the imagery that makes every page sparkle. And the humor makes us laugh at human foibles, often with tears in our eyes.
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Porch-Tatyana-Tolstaya/dp/0679728430
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
The Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry annual national poetry prize features a first place $1,000 cash award. Three runners up will each receive a $250 cash award. The winning and runner up poems are published in the Spring issue. These poems and honorable mentions appear online. The Crimmins Prize celebrates risk, innovation, and emotional engagement. We especially encourage poets from underrepresented groups and backgrounds to send their work.
About Sandy Crimmins
Sandy Crimmins’s poem “Spring” appeared in the first issue of Philadelphia Stories and she performed at our launch party. She served on the Philadelphia Stories board from 2005 to 2007. Since Philadelphia Stories magazine premiered in 2004, Sandy’s voice and vision have fundamentally shaped Philadelphia Stories. Sandy was a poet who performed with musicians, dancers, and fire-eaters, and one of her proudest accomplishments was celebrating the work of her vibrant poetry community. The Sandy Crimmins Prize for Poetry is made possible by the generous support of her family.
Contest Submission Guidelines
- Submission deadline: November 15, 2021.
- The $5 fee covers the submission of (1) one single poem up to three pages in length. Each poem must be submitted individually. Multiple poems submitted in the same document will not be considered.
- Poets may submit as many individual poems as they like so long as they are each in a single document. There will be a $5 fee for each submission.
- Submission fees are not refundable.
- Simultaneous submissions are accepted; however, we must be notified immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere. If your simultaneously submitted poem is accepted elsewhere, please WITHDRAW your submission as soon as possible. And congratulations!
- We will only consider work previously unpublished in print or online.
- Poets currently residing in the United States are eligible.
- All submissions should use a 12 pt font and standard typeface (not Comic Sans or Impact, etc.).
- Poets should only upload Word documents [.doc, .docx]. The AUTHOR’S NAME SHOULD NOT APPEAR IN THE UPLOADED DOCUMENT.
- Submissions will be accepted via the website. If you have any trouble uploading to the site, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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North of Oxford is open for submissions of poetry, book reviews, and essays. Please follow our guidelines when submitting. Click here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/
19 years since 9/11
& the windchime’s
musical spirits lift
as blue lights tower
into New York’s
brightly & today
a masked woman’s
fingers traced letters
of an engraved name
& then her hand,
a swan, gently gliding
back and forth
back and forth—
not erasing pain
memory of a loved
one, who wore
an unforgotten name.
First appeared in Poetry and Covid. AHRC Funded project, June 2020-21. University of Plymouth and Nottingham Trent University and in the chapbook Covid 19 2020 – A Poetic Journal