The author of a three-year project called the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county, Jennifer Hetrick is a journalist, editor, and photographer, and she also teaches poetry in schools and state parks. Her traveling poetry class often meets at the Schuylkill River in warmer seasons.
By Lynette G. Esposito
You can find the book here: http://coffeehousepress.org/shop/in-the-distance/
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Literature-1914-1918-Oxford-Textual-Perspectives/dp/019959645X
Ray Greenblatt has recently been published in: Abbey, Apiary, Boston Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Clarion, and Painters & Poets. His experimental novel TWENTY YEARS ON GRAYSHEEP BAY, half poetry and half prose, is being republished by Sunstone Press.
By Carol Wierzbicki
Thad Rutkowski has made quite a franchise—one might even say genre—out of family dysfunction. I do not say this lightly or facetiously. In his previous autobiographical fiction Tetched (Behler Publications) and Roughhouse (Kaya Press), we meet a father with a persecution complex; a Chinese mother who’s mostly quiet and submissive but makes the occasional barbed retort; and a brother and sister who are just as isolated as Rutkowski’s protagonist, recognizing the symptoms but powerless to alleviate them.
Guess and Check is really a retrospective of Rutkowski’s mostly previously published work, exploring his experiences from his rural Pennsylvania childhood through his college years and finally adulthood in New York City.
In spite of the deadpan narrative, you find yourself rooting for the narrator, whether he’s on an awkward date (virtually all of them are in these stories) or just trying to endure one of his father’s often shrill rants (“’Enough!’” my father shouted. ‘I’ve had enough of you kids for a while.’”). His narrator’s detachment forms an eerie counterpoint to such histrionics. After reading just a few of these scenes, you can easily conclude that it’s his emotional evenness and writer’s/artist’s objectivity that has enabled him to survive the often volatile environment of the family unit.
What makes his prose surprisingly engaging is that just beneath the surface of his deadpan tone is a passionate will to survive, whether the challenges appear in interpersonal relations or grim workplace politics. And who among us would not identify with that?
Guess and Check is an odd title for a book. I marked the two passages where this phrase occurred. The first scenario has the narrator’s mother helping him with his algebra homework:
My mother looked at the same problem, worked for a minute and came up with an answer. For her, x simply equaled 4. According to the workbook, her answer was correct.
“How did you get that?” I asked.
“I can’t explain it in English,” she said. “I know the language of numbers.”
“Maybe I’ll just guess and check,” I said. “I’ll guess at an answer: then I’ll check to see if it works out.”
The second scenario involves a frightening nighttime storm rattling his childhood home. When the narrator wakes up the next morning, the stream nearby has overrun its banks and flooded fields:
I could cross the flooded field and walk up the hill on the other side. The problem was, there was nothing but brambles and tall grass on the other side.
I put on my insulated boots and got ready to go out. I didn’t know what I would find. I would have to guess and check.
Then I ran across this passage, toward the end of the book, where he muses on the often zigzag paths he takes when walking the streets of New York:
I want to find the hypotenuse, the shortest way…
Where are the hypotenuses in the city? Was this city planned by “experts” who had no sense of geometry? Did these experts forget the teachings of Euclid? Euclid of Alexandria would never have stood for this street pattern. He would have added some hypotenuses. And if Euclid couldn’t get the mayor and the City Council to adopt his plan, he would have brought in the big gun. He would have called on Ptolemy. A heavyweight like Claudius Ptolemy would have straightened out the local politicians and planners. This goes without saying. It is axiomatic.
I found this to be Rutkowski’s most profound statement in the book, while also incidentally being the most hilarious. It gives you the key to his whole world view. To him life situations—from being rejected as a child by other children, to the often absurd and confusing interactions with other New Yorkers, to the humdrum tedium of office jobs—are problems to be solved, like a math equation. There are angles to be navigated, risks to be calculated. He reduces possible catastrophes to a theorem in order to manage them, planting himself deeply in the hypothetical. A couple of pages after the above passage, he contemplates the possibility of his apartment being burgled:
Inside, the thief would work fast, but he wouldn’t be able to get out the front door because it has an illegal lock that requires a key on the inside. He will have to pick up items and throw them (gently) out the window to his friend waiting on the platform. Then they will both have to jump down to the sidewalk and run. On one trip, they could carry a couple of thin computers and a flat-screen TV. If no one stops them, they can stash the first batch of stolen items in a fence’s warehouse and come back for seconds.
Now I understand the meaning of the title: In Rutkowski’s hypervigilant mind, it is always a question of look or leap. He must guess and check. And guess and check, again.
This is a rewarding read for anyone interested in family dynamics, or the challenges of coming of age and raising one’s own family in a big city, or who just wants a satisfying compilation of Rutkowski’s oeuvre. The long list of publication credits at the back of the book attests to the success of his “franchise.”
You can find the book here: http://www.givalpress.com.
Carol Wierzbicki’s reviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail and American Book Review. Her work has been published in Long Shot, Public Illumination, Evergreen Review, Big Bridge, Many Mountains Moving, The Otter, and The Bug Book (Poets Wear Prada).
By Stephen Page
Cati Porter’s Seven Floors Up is about wifehood, womanhood, and most expressively, adulthood. Porter reveals in varied forms of verse the roles of a contemporary married mother.
The narrator of the poems has a husband, two children, a cancer-ridden dog, a mother, a stepmother, a mother in law, and a couple of people in her extended family who are terminally ill. She often reflects on how she got to where she is, and in her everyday occurrences she inadvertently divulges to the reader that being an adult means accepting responsibility and not showing that you are falling apart inside. Protecting her children from every day scrapes and falls is big on her list of things to do. To keep her life from getting heavy, she often looks for and finds the humorous things in her life.
This is a well-written book containing a good combination of serious and funny poems. It is an interesting read for anyone.
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Floors-Up-Cati-Porter/dp/093241267X
Stephen Page is the author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at
Reviewed by Lynette G. Esposito
In Wolf Season, published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York, 2017, Helen Benedict reveals lessons in interpersonal relationships of average people who have survived horrific war experiences. Benedict addresses both the psychological and physical damages as well as changes inflicted on the survivors whose stories stay with you after you have finished reading the book.
Juney, veteran, Rin’s nine-year-old blind daughter, Tariq, son of Naema, the widow of an Iraqi war interpreter, and Flanner, son of a deployed marine, represent the innocent sufferers of wars from which their parents try to keep them safe. Beth, Rin, Naema, Todd, and Louis represent the damaged adults who try to protect the children from the aftermath reality of their complicated war experiences. All the characters are well drawn and believable. To accomplish this, Benedict follows the characters’ every-day activities of normal American living and their sometimes extreme reactions to seemingly simple things.
Rin, a widowed war veteran, tries to fulfill her husband’s dream of raising wolves in the woods outside of fictional Huntsville, New York. Her PTSD and flashbacks from being raped by her comrades contribute to her paranoia and prevent her from normal interactions with other humans. Naema, a doctor from Iraqi, tries to adjust to American life with her son who has lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq. Beth, Flanner’s mother, suffers the loneliness of a deployed husband who comes back so changed, she believes he is two people—the before and after. When a hurricane hits this small community, these characters are whirled in to a crazy soup that only mother nature can cook up.
The novel is divided into four parts each with a title that suggests the focus in each section. The wolves and other animals in the book provide a symbolic backdrop of interdependency on each other and the humans who love them. Benedict’s use of nature and natural instincts gives readers a deep sense of what it takes to survive and the terrible toll war and loneliness extracts not only on those who go to war but also those waiting at home.
It is a good read and engaging on many levels. It has a light touch of politics as all war stories do, but the focus is on the consequences to people and their stories of coping when back at home.
Benedict is a professor at Columbia University and is the author of seven novels. She has also written nonfiction and a play. She currently lives in New York. For more information, visit www.helenbenedict.com .
You can find the book here: http://blpress.org/books/wolf-season/
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.
By Stephen Page
With Home of the Brave, editor Jeffery Hess puts together a collection of short stories about people in the U.S. military. The period covered is from World War II to the present. Although many of the stories refer to war, very few depict actual battles.
Let me reiterate that these are stories about people—humane stories, humanistic statements, reports about humanity.
This book will appeal to almost every reader, civilian and military alike. Jeffery Hess does a fine job in choosing stories that have empathetic characters, hard-hitting human drama, and convincing plots. The tales stick with you, the reader, long after you read them. Some of these stories will shock you; some will hit you right where you live.
A portion of proceeds from each book sold is donated to USA Cares.
Read more about the book here: Home of the Brave
Read interviews with the editor: Mary Akers Blog
This book may be purchased here: Amazon
Stephen Page is the author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at