bitter oleander press

Come Closer by Laurie Blauner

By Lynette G. Esposito
Rich Ives author of Light from a Small Brown Bird says of Laurie Blauner’s Come Closer that it is an assemblage of inter woven prose poems.  He adds that fresh patterns patiently emerge in varied and surprising forms. Close Encounters, published by The Bitter Oleander Press in Fayetteville, New York, fulfills this promise.


In the poem I’m Not Like the Others, Blauner creates a form that looks like a conversation with paragraph indentions that support the form and lines that indicate back and forth dialogue. The poem is in part one.
…I’m Not Like the Others,
I tell the lost little boy wandering in the woods.
He hides behind a tree with long, wispy branches and leaves.  When he asks, I
Allow him to touch my stray feathers that will soon turn into green scales.
The poem continues with back -and- forth conversations and reads much like a piece of fiction.
The storyline progresses with the creature trying to show the boy the way to safety. but then something surprising happens to this creature who wants to be his better self.
I am not like the others, I reiterate.  Come, I will show you the way.
…We saunter towards the edge of the trees before there is a field.  The lost boy is slow.  I move behind him, lick his neck to encourage to go faster.
When I taste him, I can’t help myself, like the others.
The poem is like a parable that reveals the conflict of one’s inner struggle and the reality of what one is when they collide. Blauner has excellent control all through this verse with her skillful ability to draw the reader into the woods and keep him there.
The tome is divided into four parts:  I’m Not Like the Others, The Books, The City That Knows Me, and he Guide for the Perplexed.  This is a good organizing technique and helps to focus each section. In part two, The Books, the poem, A Memoir is constructed first with a prose stanza followed by eleven one-line stanzas each beginning with the pronoun I.
…I’ve been told that the use of I is too prevalent in my writing.
She then goes on with her reactions.
I tell myself:
I enjoy complaining.
I talk and cry too much in my sleep.
The reader gets to know her better in her defiance of overusing the word I according to others.
In part three, The City That Knows Me, in the poem, Memoirs From the City, Blauner uses paragraph like stanzas that contrast the feeling in the country compared to the city.
…I dream of going to the country whose space the city is jealous of,
She uses the landscape surrounding the city as her comparison and skillfully reveals discontent in both. In part four, Guide for the Perplexed, Blauner explores the poem Aging in the Little Place.
…Alive, he took me out to dinner with my tiny head.  I whispered into
his enormous car that something was hurting me, something was always hurting
me for a while.
The poem explores the physiological view of oneself as one gets older and the value goes down. Blauner ends the poem with the note that the little body would soon be gone.
The book is a successful merger of prose-like forms and poetic creativity.  The subjects are universal and handled in a fresh way.  I would read this book of verse again.  
Come Closer is available from
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.



Tango Below a Narrow Ceiling by Riad Saleh Hussein, Translated by Saleh Razzouk with Philip Terman


By Greg Bem

Riad Seleh Hussein’s work has been a long time coming. Impassioned by political activism and experimental writing, Hussein’s work is not to be missed. Following a short but active youth, the Syrian poet (1954-1982) died due to unknown causes after a brief arrest and despite Arabic publications highlighting his contributions to prose poetry in Syria and the Middle East, English readers only now get a gaze into his world. Tango Below a Narrow Ceiling is a powerful book unlike any other and I hope it find its way into many libraries, personal and beyond.

The poetry here is often compared to prose poetry, but one might find more similarities in English to Amiri Baraka and Ray Bremser, with long, sword-like lines cutting out across the page over, and over, and over. The effect in English is hypnotic and stunning, concussive and paralytic, though Hussein’s work is charged with density and relentless presentation of fantastic lines. But these lines are not without difficulty, because they aren’t afraid of war, they aren’t afraid of hardship, they aren’t afraid of carrying the voice of the people, and the country, of Syria:

O poor knives
O dirty human body
O dogs stuffed with sausages, love and the aroma of mint.
I am Riad Saleh Hussein
My age is twenty-two dry oranges
And hundreds of massacres and coups.
Thousands of times my hands have been terminated
Like two trees of happiness in a desert.

(from The Pure Artist and a Clean Flower, pg. 28)

I am reminded of the prose poetry of Burmese writer Maung Day here. I am also reminded of the Hmong poet Mai Der Vang’s recent book of documentary poetics, Yellow Rain. Concerning the lines or the sum, not all of Hussein’s poems are long, of course. Some of the most spectacular moments in the book occur with short, concise poems that are packed with image, metaphor, and a longing to provide words for impossible situations. At other times, these short poems feel like songs or prayers, exquisite and heavy at once:

Forever we shall lead you into the springs.
Forever we shall dry your blood with our green fingers
And your tears with our dry lips.
Forever we shall pave roads for you
And never let you get lost O Syria
Like a song in a desert.

(from Syria, pg. 21)

Tango Below a Narrow Ceiling is not a long book, but it contains the best picture of Hussein that we have in the English language. Many thanks should be given to translators Saleh Razzouk and Philip Terman for their efforts in bringing forward these poems. The book is divided into three sections and includes a swathing survey of Hussein’s work, opening the door for more translations to come. The collection includes historical information, including an opening essay and a timeline of dates centering the poet’s life. It also includes an homage by Terman, reinforcing the impression and inspiration Hussein’s poetry creates.

The sense of love in Hussein’s poetry is second to none, and this love is clearly integral to the poet. In one of the latter poems of the book, a five part love epic, he closes:

What do we do
if there is only one jubilee for the kiss
and many jubilees for the killing.

What do we do?

(from Jubilee for a Kiss, Jubilee for a Killing, pg. 78)

This is a universal love poetry, one that responds to the cycles of violence faced across the world, time and again. That we can appreciate it is a gift. That it can be present during the many breakdowns facing the West is a gift. This is a poetry that will lead us to new forms of resilience and an ongoing commitment to the poetry of the lyric.

You can get 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

The Butterfly Cemetery by Franca Mancinelli Translated by John Taylor

butterfly book

By g emil reutter

John Taylor has once again opened the door to the mind and works of Franca Mancinelli. The use of complex, creative metaphors throughout the collection encompasses the use of forms, of the here and now and the invisible.

We enter An Earthquake Story in a home with two young children playing, using the home as a playground and both are rather tranquil.  Mancinelli then brings us into the quake:

One afternoon, while they were playing in the room between the yellow floor tiles and the sofa, a dark silhouette sounded the alarm, shouting: “The children! The Children are here!” Wearing her black, flowered apron, their grandmother came back to utter these words in a tone that became more shrill, pleading. Following the wake of the call, the two siblings were drawn to the parallele-piped of the hallway, where vast movements were making the air shake and tilting the walls from one side to the other. The children stopped between the panels of a glass door that created a sort of anteroom, from which they could watch. At the other end of the hallway, their father and mother were fighting. Shaken at its foundations, the world was trembling. 

An amazing piece of writing. The peaceful beginning and then suddenly air shake, tilt, shaken foundations, world trembling in the world of the two children. A masterful presentation of the effect of domestic violence on young children.

In the piece, The Little Girl Who Learned to Fly, Mancinelli opens with:

A bird kept alighting on the windowsill and pecking the panes with its beak, brushing the glass with its wings, and then flying off. The rustling and the small beating sounds it made seemed letters of an alphabet to be deciphered. 

Beating sounds as letters of an alphabet to be deciphered is such a fresh image. Later in the piece Mancinelli writes of a beautiful transformation:

The hair bulbs had become bone: small feathers were popping up, like those of a sparrow fallen from its nest. 

And following the transformation:

She stopped to look down at the garden, the house where she had lived, and headed straight for the blue. 

Beats as an alphabet, transition as a sparrow, and then escape.

In Walls, Rubble, bird metaphor reemerges and in Central Station, the train station speaks to her. Mancinelli uses language, extreme metaphor and imagery as a master craftsperson.

The Boy among the Rocks opens with a powerful descriptor that brings the reader directly into the piece:

Near the seaport of Gouvia there is a small beach from which one can see the profile of the island all the way to the city of Corfu; opposite, uninhabited and barren, the mountains on the Greek-Albanian border rise from the blue of the sea, their yellow-ocher dotted with a few scattered woodsy spots. It is a sandy strip covered with dry seaweed to which no tourists come, only a few locals. 

Later in the collection we pay a visit with, Living in the Ideal City: Fragments in the Form of Vision. In her vision, Mancinelli leaves little doubt that there is not an Ideal City. The poet tells us:

The darkness beyond the door and a growing fear could have gripped my body and kept me from moving, but it was impossible: my steps continued towards the center while my terror was blooming like a black flower.

And what awaits in the darkness?

A beast looks at you with its hollow eyes, awaits you, pretending to sleep: six large square pupils in a clear mellow sky that tells you not to believe in the darkness, not to be afraid.

And of the life force of the city:

The city keeps changing before your eyes, half revealing figures that it removes without your noticing. You don’t even notice how, after staying here, your gaze has now become different. Behind these lines is a force field. One single point, like the one at which your eyes sometimes inadvertently stare. 

Simply a masterpiece by Franca Mancinelli translated by John Taylor. The collection changes before your eyes, strong metaphor, imagery and while you read it you will not know that you too are transforming for your gaze will now become different.

You can find the book here:

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories and occasional literary criticism. He can be found at:




Blue Swan Black Swan – The Traki Diaries by Stephanie Dickinson

blue swan

By Lynette G. Esposito

Stephanie Dickinson has cleverly used the prose poem form to reflect diary entries of a tragic narrator.  Published by The Bitter Oleander Press of Fayetteville, New York, the sixty-six- page tome is strong on place, emotion and image.

The book has five sections which are characterized by places.  The five sections:  Salzburg. Vienna, Berlin, Galicia, and Grodek.  Dickinson adds time as well as place in the titles and a linear time line throughout until you reach the final sections of 1914.  She also uses a linear time technique in Salzburg, 1887 where she details personal items about George Traki, 1887-1914. that influences the poetry being presented.

On page fifteen, Dickinson begins her two- stanza prose poem with The Linden trees take on a wilt.  The tone is set. The second stanza begins, Morning drags on. Again, Dickinson combines poetic skill in linking place with time.  All through this first poem are details setting the scene presented as if these are diary entrees that are logical, emotional and personal.  This first poem captures the reader completely.

The tone changes in the second section called Vienna and the time is 1909.  The first poem in this section on page twenty-nine is The Wine-Hunt.  It is a one-stanza poem that begins: Vienna, 1909.  Two days asleep.  Dickinson’s narrator gives time and action as if it is a notation to the self. The narrator speaks of extreme drunkenness and a sky full of piss.  The poem reads like a self evaluation of one’s condition and in this poem, the self- evaluation is negative.  The narrator puts his fingers to his nose and smells the piss. Dickinson skillfully causes the reader to not only see the narrator’s condition but to relate to it through the senses.

In the third section, Berlin, the poem Snow on page forty-one begins 1912. Tavern night and the serving girl’s shoulders sag….  Again, Dickinson has placed the reader as both the observer and as participant in this one- stanza poem.  This sweet girl nudges the narrator out into the snow and the many cruel things that happen to a drunk in the cold.

All the poems in this book are prose poems of different lengths but written with great detail and sensitivity. The book is an interesting and complicated read but worth it.

You can find the book here:

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.



Consecration of the Wolves by Salgado Maranhão, translated by Alexis Levitin


By Greg Bem

To bleed, one’s fortune written
by the scythe; to bleed
with wings stretching
to the stars.

(from “Consecration of the Wolves, part III, page 17)

Far from a stranger within the world of Brazilian poetry, Consecration of the Wolves marks Salgado Maranhão’s fifth release of poetry in English. This bilingual edition stoically translated by Alexis Levitin, presents the English translation and the original Portuguese side-by-side. It is a beautiful collection of verse. It is visceral, challenging, and surreal.

Like one of the poet’s direct influences, Mayakovski, Maranhão’s explores the relationships to our constructed world just as he explores the relationship of the self to the universe. The results reveal the systems of control and fatalistic exhaustion as much as they do the reckoning of power and the spiraling call toward freedom.

Following the reiteration of a Cherokee legend that situates the act of consecration through which the book gets its name, the collection continues in a deliverance through multiple strands. The book is structured in three sections. The book’s title poem, the 15-part “Consecration of the Wolves,” is sparse and tense. Each poem lasts no longer than a page and builds upon its predecessor through abstraction and the extremes of symbolism. Not satisfactory in a single read, these are not only sparse but dense poems containing multitudes. There is resonance of the 19th and 20th centuries. There was a bridge across time, and I felt the voices of Char, Trakl, and Lorca within the folds of the lines.

Within “Consecration of the Wolves,” Maranhão’s words follow a relatively acute structure, with nearly every line presented fully in sequence until the burst, the surprise, the explosive tabulation of a phrase. These lines jut out and tear apart the poem like a tremor, a spasm, or a seizure. They are revelation visualized in text, as subtle as they may seem, and they are uniquely Maranhão in their conciseness and spirit of resolve:

I speak to beat down
the flame above innocence.

The seeds of those
who seek neither gold

nor victory in blood
will come to us abloom.

(from “Consecration of the Wolves, part VII,” page 25)

What I find humbling is the twists and turns of Maranhão’s rhetoric. The poet’s speaker is one of personalism and personality: we are invited into the exasperated texture. It is a realm of extremes, often feeling psychotic and intimate, often frustrating, and yet mysterious. As ritual or lullaby, these are poems that feel imperative and yet could be read as a whisper between states of consciousness.

The book’s second section, “Larvae of the Fracture,” is filled with additional sequences of symbols and questions. The poems here appear to speak of horror and monstrosity, though often superficially and analogically. Much like Justin Phillip Reed’s indispensable The Malevolent Volume, Maranhão zooms into the common figures of our surroundings, the evil lurking within the periphery, and sharpens focus.

“The Living Dead” provides a perfect example near the beginning of the sequence: “The dead are alive—/waxen scarecrows/of rotten joy” (page 47). Throwbacks to films following the same name and formula can’t be helped. There is a general return to and reminiscence of George A. Romero and more contemporary designers of the genre in this poetry of Maranhão. Other featured creatures include shades and hordes and a cult, and two poems are labeled as “Fractures.” But these are not genre poems and they do not feel ridiculous. Instead, they draw the reader toward a mature reflection on a center that is uneasy and filled with discomfort. Maranhão’s symbolism reaches surreal proportions in its demand for us to question and seek to look within transformation of image and scenario. “Daggers (Fractures 1)” is an exquisite example of this type of examination:

They have turned to daggers—
what once were sprigs sprouting in the rain.

(page 59)

The collection closed with a sequence of great difficulty: “Like a River.” The 12-part poem is filled with an energy of pain and open wounds. In it, Maranhão paints a world that is haunted by inequity and stasis. It is hallowed ground and hollow souls. In many ways, it is nihilistic, like the late Alfredo de Palchi, where the world may hardly be worth saving, though it is impossibly present. Maranhão writes in the ninth section:

Without calendar
or destination,
I gallop these geographies,
this tribunal of blood
and bone.

(page 93)

The poet continues with the jabs and the pokes of the broken/abstracted lines. The poet writes of presence despite struggle, suffering, violence, and death. And yet in doing so he has also provided us with a supreme juxtaposition: a fantastical situation where the voice’s presence is counter to the brutal reality which it describes. Brutality feels so fixed, and yet the poet is on the move. The poet, as body of water, can pass through to some distant elsewhere, as undefined as it may be. Beneficially, the reader may float along and bear witness while moving toward that unknown future as well.

Toward the end of the book’s closing essay, written by Professor Jack A. Draper III, there is a brilliant comment on the bestial qualities of those who are sovereign during a time of crises (page cv). When laid over Maranhão’s collection, I am left mesmerized. These are poems composed in sovereignty despite their active exploration of rising into a liberated stage from page to page. Maranhão has accomplished much with this collection on liberation and has in turn created a puzzle for his readers. The book is indeed worth every moment of opening, unbinding, and freeing even further through the subtle act of reading.

Consecration of the Wolves feels like a fantastic gift as it arrives in the middle of the pandemic. The translation between Maranhão’s Portuguese and Alexis Levitin’s English were completed in February of 2020, and their delivery to the world was prolonged. In many ways, the dagger-like verse that points and stabs toward the reader is as unnerving out of context as it is within the context of COVID-19. Each moment of suffering, each moment of yearning toward openness, and each sobering recognition toward liberation will forever be symbolically aligned with the pandemic’s veil and our collective, though individualized too, sense of endurance.

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