book review

Let No One Sleep by Juan Josè Millàs Translated by Thomas Bunstead


By Michael Collins

The intertwining themes of mirroring, identity and narrative construction present themselves concurrently in the very opening of Let No One Sleep, the latest from Juan Josè Millàs in the engaging translation by Thomas Bunstead:

Seeing herself in the mirror, Lucía said, That fat woman is me.

This was not said insultingly; she wasn’t being mean to herself. She, after all, was pretend thin rather than fat. So her mother had said when she was a girl….” (9)
Lucía negates the simple assumption of a weight-normative negative inner monologue. However, the reasoning for the statement, such as it is, involves an attribution of her “true” identity to a concept coined by her mother, who died when she was young, an construct that Lucía herself fleshes out as an adult. It is notable in this context that the statement “That fat woman is me” – as opposed to the more expected “I am fat” – seems to create an alternate self in the mirror image in opposition to her invented-inherited self in order to identify with it and draw towards the enigma it represents.
The line takes on more ominous undertones shortly thereafter when we learn of Lucía losing her job in IT development the day after the death of an obese colleague who died suddenly after a significant weight loss:
Her death confirmed people’s suspicions, whatever they were, given they were impossible to substantiate either way. The day after she died, the company, an app-development firm that also installed, configured, and maintained IT systems, filed fraudulently for bankruptcy and shut down. (10)
The passage, like many of Lucía’s narrative constructions, juxtaposes the two events syntactically, as if their slight chronological separation in consciousness keeps the death from shading or perhaps expressing Lucía’s feelings about the job loss. The self-confirming gossipers add a layer of isolation to the woman’s plight, and by extension Lucía’s, showing her awareness of how neither have much control of their own story. Or, perhaps, none of us have much control of such things, but we notice it most when cut off from our habitual sources of stability – and when conscious compartmentalization collapses.
As fate would have it, Lucía leaves work in a taxi, and “The taxi driver turned out to be a programmer as well” (11). Shortly, we learn that this interaction, like the one with the mirror, ends up describing Lucía’s future in reverse, a subtle pattern that dovetails with the ways in which individual identities support and destroy the identity formations of others throughout interactions of the novel. The cab driver suggests – narratively and/or psychologically – Lucía’s oncoming events in sharing his own experiences as a driver: “’You get into all kinds of scrapes. Plus, I imagine I’m in a different city every day. New York, Delhi, Mexico…’” (11). The English translation here sounds like a mashup of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Fight Club in ways that invite comparisons of this “single serving friend” and the complicated adventurer Lucía with various unreliable narrators and the works that serve as their vehicles. Other subtle literary allusions arise throughout, in keeping with the novel’s problematizing of identity, mirroring, and art as representations of and stable reality.
Lucía’s driver also references his use of self-hypnosis as a way of deepening his practice of pretending to drive his cab in different cities with the hypothetical – and evangelized – purpose of deepening connection to his actual environment: “’It’s like when you succeed in imagining what you’re doing and doing what you’re imagining, all at the same time, the anxiety in your life goes away’” (12). I’ll leave the reader to parse where the novel upholds and complicates this statement, mentioning merely that the self-hypnosis seems to form a segue for Lucía from her previous work with algorithms in IT programming. As the novel unfolds it also seems to explore the algorithm as a metaphor for the mind’s own recursive functioning in ways that range from the liberating experiences that can arise from improvising with identity to the blind spots and tunnel vision associated with obsession.
Somewhere between these competing approaches, Lucía also seems to calm herself with an ironically non-predictive rehearsal of precognition inherited from her mother:
This was a phrase she had spoken thousands of times in her life, though it did not, in general, precede anything happening. She had gotten it from her mother, who would sometimes stop mid-action and say, “Something is going to happen,” followed by a vacant look coming over her. Then, since nothing happened (nothing visible at least), she would go the rest of the way down the stairs, or finish brushing her hair, or whatever it was she had been doing before the sudden stoppage. Lucía had inherited that sense of some vague but threatening event being constantly just around the corner. (15)
The prediction, counterintuitively, comforts Lucía by not coming to pass, except on rare occasions that reveal how terrifying the unforeseen often is as a mere psychological factor without an actual event even needing to take place. As if a part of Lucía’s learned algorithm for confronting fear, the statement repeats in, from, and to Lucía as if creating a ritual bubble of psychic protection, a practice that deepens the pathos of the opening scene significantly.
Other characters posit such bubbles in the external world as well, and the novel as a whole continually explores ways in which the psyche, precariously, exhilaratingly, hilariously, and tragically vacillates between these poles of self-protection and relative self-exploration through interaction. In Lucía’s case, this takes place on a higher magnitude due to her process of attempting to negotiate with the world a new identity that it will mirror back in the responses of others. However, the same duality manifests in the other characters, like the woman who works in theatre who invites her into a similar para-intimacy to the one Lucía shared with the first cab driver, except with the seating reversed: “I often use taxis to get things off my chest. The car is a kind of bubble; it creates a provisional sort of intimacy between two strangers. I’ve told colleagues of yours things that not even my closest girlfriends know about” (36). Also like the first driver, she offers up a statement that, while true in a limited context, wildly belies greater implications: “Theater’s quite like that, a bit of a closed circuit, it’s own ecosystem” (40). Both characters, regardless of their initial intentions in these conversations, open new worlds for Lucía, in which she sees herself from different perspectives and allows dormant parts of her to externalize into evolving new versions of herself that grow increasingly chaotic to those around her, ultimately challenging the algorithms of social reality itself.
Lucía is insouciant and instable, liberated and liquescent. Though she is seeker and subject in ways that dialogue with meta-dramatists from Pirandello to Beckett, the narrative itself is continuously surprising and entertaining, offhandedly funny and deconstructive of many forms of social preposterousness that one is often too polite to point out, unless one finds oneself with nothing to lose. I’m limiting myself to writing about the opening here so as not to ruin the turns, hard stops, and side trips for everyone else because the book is, literally, the ride of a lifetime.
Michael Collins’ poems have 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.

Flutter, Kick by Anna V. Q. Ross

By Lynette G, Esposito
Flutter, Kick by Anna V. Q. Ross features poetry that explores the human aspects of the feminist voice that deals with hurt, loss and solution. Ross observes from complex angles and touches, with a light hand, issues that affect women’s lives.
In her poem, Milk Teeth on page twenty-two, she speaks of her problems in conceiving and the kindness of friends who suggest she should foster. Later in other poems, she reveals she has a son and a daughter transcending the hurt and loss to solution. 
While her friends could not predict her future, she demonstrates in her poem, Passenger Pigeon on page thirty-three, how short-sighted people can be in other ways. She opens the poem with:
I read they traveled
in flocks big as hurricanes, and fast
She purposely suggests the past in the tense of her verb and how her knowledge of the pigeons is from research. The one- stanza poem says a person could reach up and grab a bird there were so many flying so low. Her view of how we see what we want to see and the lack of seeing the outcome is clear.
Who was the passenger?
Or is passage the important part–
the routes they moved through air.
We care so much about who
belongs where, arm ourselves
against the imaginary. No one
believed they could die out.
There were so many.
The poem is short, only eighteen lines, but the message suggests the outcome of how many can become few and then none without anyone predicting it.
Ross explores memories and scenes as she uses everyday reminders of the good and the bad. On a train ride she pictures the beautiful school her children attend but drowns the thought in sorrow of a shooter. This is a poem brought from the headlines that breaks a heart.
She addresses another headline issue on page sixty-five in her poem The Crossing, where Ross suggests how people depersonalize migrants.
In this morning’s paper thirteen women
Drowned off the coast of Lampedusa–
The mothers, fathers, babies were called migrants by the Italian coast card that came to their rescue as if they were different from people. The one-stanza poem observes that help is not always helpful and good intentions do not always provide good results.
In this poem, Ross has taken current problems and made them personal in how one views others.  She uses the image of the water opening up to those fallen from the boat and closing over them because the rush of water from the fast- moving coast guard vessel caused the water to rise like a hand in greeting and scuttled the boat.
The volume is divided into four unnamed sections.  Ross explores both personal issues and subjects that are in the modern news cycle.  She has a contemporary voice that intermixes universal issues with personal ones.  This works well throughout the ninety-one pages of verse.  It has an earthy and realistic tone as if she raised chickens in her backyard and named every one of them.
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.

Atlantis, an Autoanthropology by Nathaniel Tarn


By Neil Leadbeater

In this literary memoir and autoethnography, anthropologist, poet, essayist and translator Nathaniel Tarn reflects upon a life lived in many different cultures. Now in his ninth decade, it is a work that has been over thirty years in the making, giving us a truly remarkable summation of a lifetime’s achievement.

Something of the modesty of the man speaks to us in the title for Tarn hesitates to call it an autobiography per se. In it, he eschews the empirical ‘I’ for he has lived such a full life that he has ‘never (yet) been able to experience the sensation of being only one person.’ The dedication: ‘To all my (m)others’ and some of the quotations that preface the book are worth repeating here because they point the reader to the way in which Tarn has chosen to embark upon his project: ‘I is a throng of voices’ (Janet Rodney: The Book of Craving) and ‘No, one wasn’t just one. One was ten people, twenty, a hundred. The more opportunities life gave us, the more beings it revealed in us…’ (Joseph Roth: Right and Left). Instead, Tarn assumes the position of narrator, referring throughout to this person or persons called Tarn, as if he were a fictional character. This shifts the perspective, making the narrator examine his life as a subject of study.

The book is organised into a series of ‘throws’ rather than chapters. The full significance of this choice of word is explained later in the text (think of the potter and his wheel). Each ‘throw’ follows a particular theme which weaves its way into the overall tapestry of the book, following more or less in chronological order.

Before embarking on his distinguished literary career, it is necessary to remind ourselves that Tarn had been an anthropologist for thirty years, beginning with studies at the Musée de l’Homme, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes and the College de France, Paris, in 1949-50, continuing with work at the University of Chicago (including fieldwork in Guatemala), 1951-53; the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies (S.O.A.S.), in 1953-58; fieldwork in Burma in 1958-59; and teaching at the S.O.A.S. in 1960-67.

Reading between the lines, we get a real sense of the tensions that built up and the decisions that had to be made when Tarn came to realise that he could no longer inhabit simultaneously the world of anthropology and the world of literature. There had always been the hope that poetry and fieldwork could continue in parallel but something had to give. Resigning from ‘the best southeast Asia job in the world’ in 1967, Tarn changed tack and worked for a couple of years at Jonathan Cape, publishers, London, breaking new ground by pursuing literary connections with the Americans before re-entering academia in the United States and, after teaching at Princeton, teaching comparative literature at Rutgers from 1970 to 1984.

On one level this is a book about people and places. Among many of the world’s major artists and intellectuals, he knew André Breton, René Char, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Margot Fonteyn, Günter Grass, Pablo Neruda, Charles Olson, Octavio Paz, Henri and Nō Siegel and Claude Lévi-Strauss.

As an anthropologist, Tarn has travelled widely to places in Guatemala (special mention should be made here of Lake Atitlán, which became a kind of spiritual home to him with overtones of a lost Eden), and South East Asia. Reading about these and other places, one gets a sense of how privileged and grateful he feels for having seen them before the tidal wave of mass tourism took over and changed their character forever. In 1959, for example, when he first saw the Taj Mahal in India it was with, at most, a dozen other people. Twenty years later, he shared it with several hundreds.

From the world of literature, we read of Tarn’s associations with the British, the Europeans and the Americans. In Britain, there is an account of Tarn’s membership of ‘The Group’, an association of British poets that included Peter Redgrove and George MacBeth that used to meet at the home of Edward Lucie-Smith, his work with the publishers Jonathan Cape and, by extension, Cape Editions and Cape Goliard Press, his inclusion in volume 7 of the hugely influential Penguin Modern Poets Series and the publication of his first full-length poetry collection Old Savage / Young City. After emigration to America, we read of his assimilation into American life and his meetings with leading luminaries such as Edward Dorn, Robert Duncan, Eliot Weinberger and Charles Olson. 

On another level, the book is about far more than this. At its heart, it is an exploration of poetry: what it is and how it comes about within the mind of the creator. There are insights into the visionary poetry of Wordsworth and Blake, the need for the poet not merely to give pleasure but crucially to become part of the very spin of the world in motion. It is also about the many different sides of Tarn: Tarn the traveller who has an insatiable interest in other cultures, especially in religions and symbolic systems, primarily but not exclusively, classical, Mayan and Buddhist, Tarn the avid collector (of textiles, ceramics, postage stamps and books), Tarn the ornithologist (trips to Cape May and Hawk Mountain to watch the raptor migrations, magnificent sightings in Alaska, birding in New Guinea) and Tarn the botanist (he has a particular love of roses)…and this is by no means all. ‘Completion,’ he states, ‘is not a word that ever should come near this book.’

Following ‘retirement’ there are accounts of trips to countries as far flung as Bhutan, Indonesia, China, Japan and Ecuador to soak up the culture. We read of his insatiable enthusiasm for visiting museums and cultural monuments and the need to experience one’s past.

Tarn’s views on the way in which historical artefacts are displayed for the public’s consumption, consumer bourgeois culture, his horror of human exploitation and the impotence of institutions to do anything to stop it, his prediction that ‘the planet will survive by the skin of its teeth.  The human race will not,’ and the fact that too few understand that the conservation of nature and of culture are indissolubly linked: ‘you cannot save one without the other’ are all argued vigorously and stated with conviction. Although, at times, the writing is introspective, his style is always engaging and often conversational with a good dose of humour.

Poetry is so central to Tarn’s world that, towards the end of the book he declares that its title is also known to its author as Atlantis: An Autoanthropoem. It is here that he poses the question as to why so many young people want to be poets and concludes that it is because it is the only means whereby one can create ‘world’. As Tarn sees it, ‘Poetic liberation is the oldest liberation movement there is. Anyone can join. Anyone should.’

You can find the book here:

Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014); Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017) and The Gloucester Fragments (Littoral Press, 2022). His work has been translated into French, Dutch, Nepali, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.



La Clarté Notre-Dame’ and ‘The Last Book of the Madrigals by Philippe Jaccottet (Trans. John Taylor)

la clarte

By Michael Collins

The late Philippe Jaccottet, winner of the Petrarch Prize, the Prix Goncourt and the Schiller Prize once claimed, “Everything – I think I can say this – everything that has given rise in me to a poem or a poetic prose piece has done so, it seems to me, because an opening has taken place in the wall of appearances; an opening through which, in addition, a happy light did not necessarily pass; what rushed through might have been frightful.”[i] This passage seems particularly descriptive of the meditations that make up ‘La Clarté Notre-Dame’ and ‘The Last Book of the Madrigals,’ his final, posthumously released works.

‘La Clarté Notre-Dame’ is a sequence of prose sections, spanning the final decade of Jaccottet’s life, that arise from and reflect upon one such “opening,” the sounding of a unique chapel bell:

I’d never heard a tinkling—prolonged, almost persistent, repeated several times—as pure in its weightlessness, in its extreme fragility, as genuinely crystalline . . . Yet which I couldn’t listen to as if it were a kind of speech —emerging from some mouth . . . A tinkling so crystalline that it seemed, as it appeared, oddly, almost tender . . . Ah, this was obviously something that resisted grasping, defied language, like so many other seeming messages from afar—and this frail tinkling lasted, persisted, truly like an appeal, or a reminder . . . (6-7)

The abiding experience accrues great devotion, a poetic inspiration that never finds verse form: “I must keep it alive like a bird in the palm of my hand, preserved for a flight that is still possible if one is not too clumsy, or too weary, or if the distrust of words doesn’t prevail over it” (5). The poet’s faithfulness is rewarded in continual and invigorating attempts themselves at reaching for the expression of the ethereal sound, ranging from a “limpidity which a heart would hardly be able to conceive, to hope for; and yet which would have enough power to act on a heart without any reference to its own nonetheless undeniable origin” to a synesthesia resonant with myth: “I had to think of morning dew that would be—as in a fairy tale—winged, and metamorphosed into aerial sounds . . . ” (13). A humble resilience results from this ongoing practice of linguistic devotion to the ultimately unsayable, yet even this modest dignity rests upon the mere possibility of his own life being somehow akin to the mysteries of his own reverence: “Would thus my life, so close to the end, at last discover itself to be an appearance of sense as fragile, yet also as persistent as all those signs of which I would have been the gatherer, the ‘re-gatherer’, and the too-clumsy interpreter?” (14)

All of these gentle considerations are confronted and threatened throughout the work by the rising drone of mindless cruelty that pervades the same world, represented by the recurrent figure of a man being released from a Syrian prison while hearing the screams of those still being tortured:

Therefore reduced, at the very end of my life’s path, to staggering between two aspects of my experience, at least both of them being indubitable: the gathering of signs, which is almost all my poetry, with the last sign received, this year still, as the starting point of these pages—all those signs whose singularity is to be minute, fragile, barely graspable, evasive yet undoubtful, indeed quite the opposite: very intense; in the final reckoning, the most precious things that I will have received in my life, without my having looked or even hoped for them. And on the other hand, the growing fright of one who walks in a corridor of a prison in Syria and will never be able to efface from his mind the screams that he has heard rising from the lowest circles of Hell. (20)

The fellowship of past poets, readings of their work and the memories it framed, provides recurrent and essential succor:

Defenceless, however? Not completely, because I had experienced those unexpected encounters as by far the best part of my life, some of them remaining completely interior or almost, and of which I perceive today that they were all oriented in the same direction, embellished with a mute joy, directed towards what Plotinus, as a rereading of Shestov has just reminded me, called the Very High, with the same terms that Hölderlin, all the same, still dared to call the Sacred, and even the Gods. Encounters sometimes prepared, without my being aware of it, by all those fragments of poetry which had come to me from all sorts of places, which were so well engraved thereafter in my memory, and which also proceeded, however different they were, in the same direction. (26-7)

Though these textual embodiments of the sacred may bridge death in finding the next generations, the awareness necessary to engage with them, in accordance with its own perceptive nature, circles back to its consciousness of the very evil that can only manifest materially because it is utterly unconscious of itself:

As for he who gets immersed in listening to music, with closed eyes, and imagines himself, for as long as he listens, sheltered from the worst; while this coat protects him no better than that of the snow.

Comes the moment of the torn coat, the torn body, and too often tortures with no thinkable excuse for them.

Comes the destruction with no remedy and of which one cannot speak without lying, without flourishes, if not those armfuls of flowers that merely mask the unbearable. (36)

The enduring truth, perhaps, that we may take from this “opening…in the wall of appearances” is the plurality of delicate, life-affirming synapses it fosters, in which both wisdom and innocence past are borne into the future:

I cannot help but notice, at this very late moment, as I write these already trembling lines, that here I’m touching the exact heart of what made me write, and which excuses, or in any event explains and justifies, all my repetitions from the onset, or nearly so.

To which responds the little bell of my childhood, the one that my father would ring at the garden gate…a little bell tinkling shrilly in the falling snow (34-5)

The sequences comprising The Last Book of Madrigals can be read as following the life of an intimation such as the bell, through a lifecycle – or several – within creative development that allows the inspiration to morph and take on new perspectives, as the title indicates. Here the initial life declares itself “While Listening to Claudio Monteverdi”:

When singing, he seems to call to a shade

whom he glimpsed one day in the woods

and needs to hold on to, be his soul at stake:

the urgency makes his voice catch fire. (49)

In a process that will play out in various ways over the course of the sequence, the speaker then moves into an imaginal scene in which the shade disputes with him:

              ‘I’ve no wish to be led away by your too-ingenuous angels,

but rather by those gentle women, even if they disappoint,

those merry ones suddenly—who knows why—so serious,

and we’ll take the white cherry trees for a lamp.’ (51)

The speaker first decries then incorporates the other perspective, merging it with his original one into a modified third:

would their way of leading astray also guide,

since they’d be the most faithful images

of the ephemeral sky?

It’s their gaze I gaze at, for quite a while,

to verify these landmarks for my future steps. (51)

As with the bell, the speaker enters into a form of dialogue with the place in himself where the “wall of appearances” has opened, and, as in ‘La Clarté Notre-Dame,’ this conversation expands over the course of revisitings to include the voices of imaginal characters, poetic ancestors, and mythic echoes. Within the psychic movements of the text, the experiential, living qualities of myth are consistently invoked through dialogue with the other poetic elements, the replicable nuances of perception, feeling, and reflection in which the reader may join the speaker. Take, for example, the conscious, felt rebirth of placing oneself as a small life within a vastness of voices and stories both ancient and present:

Then I raised my eyes: the whole wide sky

was around us,

with chirping in the stubble

like stars along the ground.

A last flight, like a trail of silence, was visible

and I said to myself: ‘So now we’re born again,

baptized by the long summer night.’ (53)

The fusion of stars and crickets combines unlike senses while also interchanging the grand and humble, the immanent and transcendent in a poetic gesture that corresponds with the larger moves between the speaker’s voice and those “other” voices great and small that the poems incorporate. This can be observed in more extensive imaginal developments throughout the collection as well”:

I believed that with its creaking wood and wheels,

once the day had snuffed out its fires, this chariot

would almost join the other one

where each of us would hardly have to reach

to gorge ourselves on ripe stars. (55)

Other images, perhaps indicative of communing with the past poets in a more direct way, reflect the polyphonic nature of “the poet’s” voice, its awakening of the textual voices of the departed concurrent with correlatives in the living world:

The streams have awakened.

The least clear voice intertwines with the clearest one

as their fast waters weave together.

So that I can be bound with similar bonds,

I’m happy to reach out my two hands.

Thus bound, I free myself from winter. (71)

The classical identification between poet and weaver moves from image, to mythic invocation, to refrain and extended metaphor as the poems unfold, the shifting between roles helping to facilitate accompanying movements of tone and perspective. Hence, in one poem Penelope “reweaves the blue cloth of the sky” in order “to protect us patiently and faithfully / from the black archer with his too-frigid arrows” (73). The colors in the weaving are then commended to “swift jockeys of summer, / wear them to glorify the invisible woman / who bet her beauty on your fiery spirit” (75). Spring’s affirmation of new life is the explicit concern of this weaving, the mythic renewal both fusing and expressing the invigorating feeling and sensation: “Who on those flaming benches around the arena would doubt / that living grace will triumph over a bundle of bones?” (77)

The intermittent use of second person and imperative draw the reader into the drama as both witness and surrogate to the speaker’s explorations, perhaps a subtle way of this poet passing on his own legacy:

Look at the swifts:

as many wrought-iron arrows in the walls,

shot towards the four corners of the sky

when the summer evening falls.

And he who still writes on the last staffs,

perhaps, of his life:

‘That unknown woman fishing in her lightweight skiff

has struck me as well.

I first thought it sweet to be her prey,

but now the hook tugs at my heart

and I don’t know if it’s the daylight or me

bleeding in these pearly waters.’ (81)

The poem places the central perspective with the reader, through which the speaker views both his own mortality and, perhaps paradoxically, through it, his own enmeshment within the daylight and water as a vital and ongoing part of the life of the world despite the impending cessation of “his” consciousness:

There’s a beauty that the eyes and hands touch

and that makes the heart take a first step in song.

But the other one steals away and we must climb higher

until we can’t see anything any more,

the beautiful target and the tenacious hunter

blended in the jubilant light. (83)

As in the meditations of ‘La Clarté Notre-Dame,’ however, the perspective that affirms its temporary place in ongoing life is not at one with the voice located closer to personal mortality. In fact, one important moral contribution of both works is bringing the two into intrapsychic dialogue. Here, the birds carry the blurred projection of transcendent self and the shadow of death that it implies for the individual poet, through which he recovers his deep, unwavering vocation:

In the distance, the blue tents of the mountains

seem empty.

What are you sombrely scheming on your wires,

nervous birds, my familiar swallows?

What are you all going to take away from me?

If it were only the summer light

I’d willingly wait here for your return.

If it were only my life, carry it off.

But the light of my life, cruel birds,

let me keep it so I can brighten November. (99)

The movements between mythic macrocosm and imaginal immanence, in parallel with the reflexivity of speaker and addressee positions, facilitate many framings of this inner dialogue, bringing forth various moods, perspectives, experiential openings, and insights. In doing so the reflections weave together objective knowledge of the human confrontation with death with the mythic experiences of ongoing life in ways that transcend both poet and text, brightening Novembers for those yet to add their own threads to the choir of tapestries.

[i] Jaccottet, Philippe. Ponge, Pastures, Prairies. Translated by John Taylor. BSE Books, 2020pg 37.

You can find the book here:

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.

Casualty Reports  by Martha Collins

cas reports

By Charles Rammelkamp

Martha Collins’  new collection is dedicated to “the casualties of Covid-19; to the casualties of racism inflicted by the police and others in the United States and throughout the world.” The poems shine a light on the casual cruelties the powerful inflict upon the vulnerable, the exploitation, the inhumanity, the total lack of empathy.

The book is also dedicated to the memory of her father, William E. Collins, whose similar stories of exploitation in the coal industry are highlighted as part of the thematic thrust of Casualty Reports.

The tone is necessarily elegiac but the verse is written in a style that is at once allusive and expository, suggestive and explicit. Several poems in the final section, “And Also,” are indeed elegies for lost friends.  In fact, Casualty Reports is finally dedicated to Collins’ late friend, the peace activist/poet Lee Sharkey, whose collection I Will Not Name It Except to Say, which likewise addresses injustice and inhumanity, was published in 2021, after her death in October of the previous year.

Casualty Report is made up of five sections, two titled “Legacy,” which deal with coal – coal mining, coal miners and unions, pollution, propaganda – and two titled “Reports,” which focus on other injustices for which we have a collective accountability – racism, poverty, war, gun violence among them.

The first poem in the first Legacy section – the first poem in the collection – is called “In Illinois” and deals with her family’s history in the coal mining business, great-grandfather and grandfather dating back to 1871.
             My father whose mother kept   him out of the mines kept
             his father’s fathers oil lamp   kept his father’s carbine
              & safety lamps kept a box   of wicks-picks-globes kept
              his father’s 50-year union   pin his first aid pin his
              flashlight safe for use kept   manuals papers This lamp\
              was given all labeled This pin    was given kept it all it was
              his legacy labeled dated   1965 & signed & kept for me
Two poems later is “A History of American Coal Through the Lens of Illinois,” largely a prose description of organized labor – United Mine Workers of America – with a mention of Mother Jones, and the largest private-sector coal company in the world, the Peabody Coal Company. Subsequent poems – “Du Quoin,” “Herrin,” “Virden” – highlight the brutal massacres of miners in parts of southern Illinois, union members and Blacks. Poems like “Store” and “Model Miners (2005)” allude to Merle Travis’ celebrated country song, “Sixteen Tons” (famously covered by Tennessee Ernie Ford) about the virtual slavery of the miners to the coal companies for which they worked (“Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go / I owe my soul to the company store”).
Collins does for coal mining what Herman Melville did for whaling in Moby-Dick, an exhaustive overview and close examination of its history and its global implications, from “A History,” which cites references to coal in the Oxford English Dictionary from as far back as 1387, to “Types of Coal Mines,” which include coal picked up from the surface, to mines going deeper and deeper, more intricate and elaborate, to the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining, which devastates the landscape, turning lush forests into barren moonscapes. “Burning” focuses on the poisons and pollution.
            the mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen
            oxides from burning coal that fill
            our air & fall upon us as acid rain—
            the selenium, arsenic, lead from coal
            ash stored in coal ash ponds that leak
            & spill & pollute our waters—
            but most of all the carbon dioxide
            released by burning that captures
            heat that warms our air & melts
            our glaciers, lifts our seas & warms
            them, dries our land & fuels fires,
            strengthens rainfalls & hurricanes….
The previously mentioned “Model Miners (2005)” is a poetic transcript of a propaganda piece General Electric made to depict coal miners as sexy Marlboro men and women, who are concerned about the environment and global warming. The advertising clip can be seen here –
The poems in the two “Reports” sections concentrate on other forms of worldwide injustices. The five-part poem, “Lamentations,” modeled, Collins tells us in an endnote, after the Biblical Book of Lamentations, was written in response to an interdisciplinary project about guns and gun violence. The first part begins:
            America   more guns   more   than us
            Bullets   bullets   bullets   bullets   more
            Children in school   boy in park   no sorrow
The subsequent parts allude to Trayvon Martin, mass shootings in locations across America (El Paso, Dayton, Midland Odessa), hate crimes and gang violence. It ends, part five, echoing Lamentations, with a call to remember the dead:
            Remember our people killed by guns
                                                                                    we have more guns than people

.             Remember our 100 people killed each day

                                                                                                      the shot and injured
            Remember our 1000 killed each year by police….
“For Gaza” is a poem about the shabby treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government. “Blue” is a poem that refers to the Vietnamese monks who set themselves on fire in protest in the 1960’s. The poem, “Like Her Body the World” sums up our inherent responsibility in the whole mess. Collins writes:
            we are part of the body we forgot
            we thought we lived outside like a brain in a jar
            we thought we were pure like thought nothing to lose
            but we are losing too we are losing parts.


The poems in the final section are more personal, saying goodbye to different friends who have passed on. Casualty Reports is a devastating indictment of our time, of our species, of our less than honorable stewardship of the earth.

You can find the book here: Casualty Reports – University of Pittsburgh Press

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.



Event Horizon  by Cate Marvin

By Lynette G. Esposito
Event Horizon by Cate Marvin, published by Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, Washington, May 2022) is ninety pages of long, sometimes prose-like poems that deal with universal subjects such as relationships, memories and life problems.
Rendezvous with Ghost on page eleven explores the possible sensual relationship with a ghost in an historic hotel filled with memories.
Did it transpire to rise from beneath the floorboards?
Did it escape into the room through a heating vent?
Suddenly, my head palpable as an apple, felt its eyes.
The folding chairs woven into the room by their rows.
The shining caps of knees bent that belong to bodies
that sat with ears attentive as rabbits struck midfield
by a passing motor…
The eerie scene is set.  The poem consists of twenty-six lines in a one-stanza form presented visibly like a newspaper column.  The narrator’s voice erupts in the last line in italics: But I love him, I love him, I love him.  All is made clear in this imaginative love story.
Marvin’s poem Blue on pages forty-seven and forty-eight is dedicated to Adam Zagajewski (1945–2021)
and explores grief with the memory of shared observances in nature.
I really like that joe-eyed weed.
Pictures of pretty pink wildflowers
can hinder sorrow for a second,
by the idea of filling my yard with
the distraction of blossoms whose
colors turn on like a hundred radio
stations all at once.  The problem
with plants for me is all the names I can’t remember….
Marvin skillfully equates flowers, colors and one’s own yard to the alleviation of grief which she gives a time frame to—a second.  The reader can feel the loss through the carefully selected images of things a person wish they did, the lack of remembering things, and the wondering about where one was when death came for the loved one. All work extremely well partly because they are common to all of us.
The poem has six stanzas all composed of nine lines.  This reminds me of Sylvia Plath who often used form to suggest a message.  I particularly like this.
In the poem, My Mother Hangs Up, on pages eighty-four, eighty-five and eighty-six, is presented
in couplets mimicking the back- and -forth conversation between a daughter and a mother on the phone and the masks a daughter wears for her mother’s sake.
I can feel my mind panting.
She asks me to save the program.
I almost convinced her to fly
to New York to see the performance
with me but her knee is stiff
and she can’t manage stairs.
The daughter persuades, the mother resists. The poem continues in this venue.  Marvin sets up scenarios of her past, her mother’s reactions and the ultimate concern that her mother thinks she knows her.  It is a fine example of two people in a complicated relationship, a mother and a daughter,
who understand each other but not in the way they think they do.  Mother love does that.  Daughter love does that, and Marvin hits the target on this.
  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.

Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani

By Charles Rammelkamp
Chris Abani’s Smoking the Bible is a long letter to his brother, dead from cancer, full of sadness, grief, melancholy, but also a strange kind of nostalgia and a groping toward forgiveness, a resolution of grief that can never come. The poems are written on a train ride through the American Midwest, the train itself a metaphor for so many journeys.
The title refers to a memory, growing up in Nigeria with his older brother, using pages from their often violent father’s Bible to roll cigarettes. As he writes in the poem, “Leather,” which begins with the observation, “The Bible is heavy with vengeance”:
 And so we smoked Father’s Bible.
 Page by torn page folded into the origami
 of an adolescent rebellion.
 All these pages inhaled,
 the holy evocative power of words and we
 remained silly children bound by our fears.
Indeed, Smoking the Bible is full of ghosts, which necessarily refer to a profound past that lives on in the present, and which introduce God into the equation, that Ultimate Ghost. In the poem “The Ghost Speaks” he writes:
You tear Psalm 23 from Father’s leather-bound Bible,
roll it. Silently I recite, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not –
You consider the roll and with the match and flame
already licking the edge of the paper, you ask if I think
God remembers my name.
Abani is no stranger to political oppression. He spent six months in prison at a tender age for writing a political thriller, Masters of the Board, on suspicion of having helped organize a coup. The plot of his novel resembled what actually occurred in Nigeria. His brother, like Chris, was also a political refugee. From the very first poem, “Flay,” addressed directly to his brother, we understand this. “Migrant,” he writes,
 punished by spice and the scent of cooking,
 you wake up on a cold day in another country
 and put your faith in hot rice and braised goat,
and the persistent aftertaste of a lost home.
Gospels are made of less than this.
So the train metaphor becomes even more pointed – flight, escape. As he observes in “Ritual Is Journey,” “To be a man, to be black, to be a black man, / is a dangerous journey.”  In “What Is Traveled, What Is Fragile,” while winding up a mountainside in America, on the train, Abani writes, “The first lie they tell you
is the lie of immigrants. The truth
is America is a nation of refugees
of trauma, displacement, and fanatical hope.
When we say immigrants we mean
I left home but I have nowhere to arrive to.
When they say immigrant they mean
an anxiety that leads to murder, erasure—
of indigenous, black, brown and other bodies stamped
into bedrock, into foundation, into sacrifice, deleted.
And later in the poem,
Grief is the beast we must all ride,
for the sublime yields only after the grotesque
has been traveled with grace: a living.
“Jordan Is No Mere River” is addressed to God. It starts “I don’t know how to work out this loss with you, O God,” meaning his brother’s death. “Here in the Midwest, winter haunts everything.” And later in the poem:
Now death feels familiar as my palm on your brow.
We are citizens of displacement, never
recognized for who we are. Never
from where we travel to.
Moreover, his mother, a white British woman, represents the tribe of the colonizers, an inherent tension; his father is violent and abusive. In “Lineage” he writes about his father’s “quiet revenge” against the British, “blow after blow dealt to my mother, / his white English wife.”  While she did try to leave her husband, he writes in “Cameo: The Cut,” “No woman can leave five children like a wayward past. / No road can hold that journey.”
In “Portal,” Abani spells out the situation that forms the background to this thoughtful sequence of poems, the underpinning urgency with which he addresses his brother:
I wear my father’s death like a scar.
I wear my brother’s death like a scar.
I wear my mother’s death like a scar.
Not a talisman, but another kind of medicine.
The danger of begging the dead to return
 is that sometimes they do.
“How to speak of us / without speaking of Father and Mother?” he asks in “Cameo: Broach.” Likewise, in “Rain” he asserts that “our father’s violence” has bound them as brothers. “How to Write a Love Letter to Your Brother,” which begins in “A train station silent but for the hum of tracks,” includes the lines:
When father stepped to you, just before
the first blow landed, I heard you
begging, negotiating, pleading
that began as words became a keening.
How overwhelming! The futility of grief, though inevitable, dominates the landscape. In “Offertory” he writes, “Though we know grief cannot raise the dead,  / we speak the spells nonetheless.” Similarly, “Fragrance” begins “Sometimes grief is acceptance / that love has always been inadequate.”
I think of that endless summer of fragrance –
smoke from burning Bible pages….
The final handful of poems in this powerful collection, from “Scythe” (“I watched your tense quarrel with death”) and “Vigil” (“My brother’s jaw slackens in death,  / mouth falling open, slides to one side.”) through “Mbubu,” “Crossing,” “The Familiar Is a Texture We Cannot Trust,” and the last poem, “The Calculus of Faith,” focus precisely on his brother’s death. This inevitably brings up the theme of religious belief and meaning. “The Calculus of Faith” begins, “In the end I realize / every human body is a scripture,” and later goes on:
The second miracle was an onionskin sheet
of paper torn from a King James Bible
filled with oregano and thyme and smoked.
Smoking the Bible is a powerful, elegiac collection, eloquent with grief and forgiveness.

You can find the book here: Smoking the Bible

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.



A Feeling Called Heaven by Joey Yearous-Algozin

a feeling

By Greg Bem 

I wanted to show you something

that would give you pleasure

before the end of the world

(page 3)

Climate change. Ecological disaster on a global scale. The coming and going of empire, civilization, the human imprint. The collapse. The Anthropocene. It is all very present and very intangible and, no matter how we spin it, the end of the world (as we know it and have known it) is nigh. And so, what are we going to do about it? There are many who believe that the only two responses are complacency and response, where response is solution oriented. But there is a third, humble option: acceptance.

The embracing of finality is a core concept in Joey Yearous-Algozin’s A Feeling Called Heaven, a book surging with as much pause as activity. Within this remarkable collection, Yearous-Algozin takes the poet’s approach to disaster and hopelessness by finding a contemplative, curious, and stable position of observation. Not without difficulty, the poet’s form is as much didactic as it is conceptual: the poet is one of instruction and of a simpler positing within the calm reality that the horrific exists and it probably really is too large for us to manage.

I want you to focus your mind

on denouncing the hope

embedded in the idea

of our momentum as a species

the belief that we will somehow continue

even after we’ve gone

(page 40)

The book is composed of two poems: a first that lasts most of the book, and a second that serves as a coda to close out what is, overall, a sequence of meditations, mantras, prayers, and cathartic rest. The poems total just over 60 pages in length, and I felt them gently urging me on from the moment I opened the book. I felt the poet’s breath, the angles through which the dismal was approached, and reconciled, and I read on and on until the last line. There are natural pauses throughout the book’s first poem, “for the second to last time,” but they feel more like the space between the pulse than any full rest. It is an active book, after all, one that accounts for stillness but radically approaches stillness with full energy and availability. Even the title indicates that the fullness of acknowledgment and existent may sit within a single second, which for readers of poetry may be further elaborated as a single poem, a single book, a single read.

A Feeling Called Heaven is calm, and much of the calmness, despite the terror that surrounds us, can be connected to the simple and uncomplicated language Yearous-Algozin has filled within the pages. I attribute the plainness of the poet’s speech as a method of contrast to the failings of the human world’s complexities: what we, as a society, have created across time and space have led us to this point, this point that will soon be gone. Is it the poet’s job to continue the damned lineage, or offer relief and radical shift? The speaker here follows the latter path, though not without calling forth several examples of our burning world:

and the sun glints off pools of irradiated water

outside a freeway on-ramp

or hospital parking lot

in which a few discarded syringes

and fragments of plastic tubing

bob in the light breeze

(pages 12-13)

Like other post-apocalyptic descriptions as we’ve come to know them in recent decades, the imagery within A Feeling Called Heaven is as bleak and valueless as it is slightly exaggerated as relic and memento. It feels human while lacking the humanity, feels moving while utterly still in the confines of the poem. The poet, on the other hand, is not completely still. The speaker murmurs their way through the lines that scatter like dust across anonymous landscapes and situations that are grayed, sitting beyond the realm of truth and beauty. These moments that float through the page are as much liminal as they are in the center: the blind spot that is within each of us as we exist in an ever-fading moment.

Yearous-Algozin calls out this ever-fading moment as beyond-verbal. It may be hard to imagine a situation, a system, a reality that is outside of the confines of language, but that is yet one more radically-shifted premises of this book, and it is not just a premise but a truth that is absolute:

a non-verbal certainty

that a time will come

when the residue of the human

will have disappeared

almost entirely

(page 16)

When Yearous-Algozin writes “almost entirely,” it is the crucial piece of this recipe: we are not quite gone yet, and this is a moment we can refer to as the “feeling” of “heaven.” The last stretch before the end is one that is reconciliation, catharsis, and embrace. It is fullness. Finality. Totality. It is utter loss and the resounding silence we can feel at the end of our collective existence and knowing that it has come from us and will exist after us.

In Social Text Journal, Barrett White writes of Yearous-Algozin’s book, “Through its radical acceptance, A Feeling Called Heaven teaches an important lesson about pausing, being present, and deeply listening, both inside and outside ourselves.” While in agreement, I also believe that the book offers an additional lesson on our capacity as creators. Yearous-Algozin has written a book that offers a nullification of the creative process, an anti-inspiration to take the pause and escape the creative act; unlike any other book I have read, A Feeling Called Heaven positions itself as a rational counterpoint to tangible production and artistry. In the book’s second and final poem, “a closing meditation,” the poet writes:

my speaking to you now

produces an image like the reflection of the sun

or more accurately

a space for your thoughts to inhabit

(page 55)

Indeed, this book causes process to cease, time to fold, and the mind to warp beyond thought. For that feeling alone, I can’t recommend it more highly during this Winter, this season, this precipice we have found ourselves upon.

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




Last Stop on the 6 by Patricia Dunn

Dunn Dolce Cover

By Thaddeus Rutkowski

In this fast-paced novel of tangled family relationships set just before the start of the US war against Iraq, Patricia Dunn tells the story of Angela Campanosi, a twenty-nine-year-old antiwar activist who returns to the Bronx after several years in Los Angeles. Angela has received an invitation to her brother’s wedding, but she doesn’t know why the invitation was so late in coming or why her brother is marrying this particular woman: a nurse who is about to be sent to Iraq. Further complicating matters is the fact that the groom is MIA when Angela arrives—and no one will tell her where he is.

Angela’s thoughts turn inward as she remembers sins she believes she has committed—deeds that caused her to flee the Bronx and lose touch with her family. “I needed to get away, far away,” she tells the reader. “Distance didn’t make the guilt vanish, but it had made life bearable enough for me to take action, make changes, and be a better person.” For a long while, we don’t know exactly what happened, but Angela blames herself for the accidental fall that put her brother in a wheelchair. She doesn’t know if he still holds that incident against her, because she can’t find him to ask. She receives no help from her stubborn mother, her unrecovered alcoholic father, her foodie uncle, and a onetime friend/boyfriend who has (almost) become a member of her family.

Things get wild when Angela receives a request to be her brother’s best man, makes a trip into Manhattan and gets caught in an antiwar demonstration, and visits an art opening where all of the works (by the friend/boyfriend) represent members of her family—all before she reunites with her brother. A subplot involves a large amount of money owed by the brother to some gangster wannabes. For much of the story, Angela is on the outside of her family, looking in. “All the years I’d been away,” she tells us, “I could only see [my brother] Jimmy from ten years ago, sad and hopeless. He’d moved on. He was able to express joy. He, my whole . . . family, was happy. Happy without me.”

The novel, by the author of Rebels by Accident, is published by Bordighera Press, a nonprofit dedicated to Italian and Italian American literature. As the story unfolds, you’ll meet characters living more or less as they did in the old country—but in the northern Bronx, at the last stop of the Number 6 subway train. In addition to Angela’s family, you’ll find various local personalities, including the Beach Chair Ladies, whose role is to keep the gossip going. Anyone, Italian or not, who has had an immigrant experience will appreciate the push and pull that exists between an original culture and a new society. “At the end of the day,” says one of the local characters (who turns out to be a building contractor, not a gangster), “there’s love.”

You can find the book here:

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.