charles rammelkamp

Ways to Read the World by Robert Scotellaro

ways

By Charles Rammelkamp

A triptych is an artwork made up of three folding panels. It can display a narrative sequence, show different aspects of a subject, simultaneously, as it were, and it can make a moral statement. Typically, we think of a triptych in terms of painting. Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is a famous example, displaying paradise and hell in smaller panels alongside the larger middle panel that displays humanity in all its sinful glory, indulgences of the flesh. The genius of Robert Scotellaro’s work here with the flash fiction genre is in using this three-part imagery to do all of the above, and he does it with a humor and compassion that has a reader wiping his (her) eyes. These deeply satisfying stories are riddles and three-act plays all at once.

“From a Hitman’s Sketchy Last Will and Testament Written on a Placemat at The House of Pancakes” is composed of three parts, “P.S.,” “P.P.S.,” and “P.P.P.S.” (Several other stories have the same three part titles, including “SensationalSaints.com,” “The Small End of the Funnel,” “Black Bananas” and “The Penalty of Silence.”) Without even reading the text of the flashes, the reader already has a vivid image of a gangster feverishly scribbling his thoughts in a booth at a diner, maybe on the run from the police or from some mafia bosses he may have double-crossed.

The first part begins, “You’ll find the key to a safe deposit box in the hollowed out copy of the one Agatha Christie novel in my bookcase.” He’s leaving his fortune to his son. In the course of his three fugitive thoughts we see his whole life. He cautions the boy to get rid of any guns he finds, but leaves him his collection of ceramic elephants. (“Notice how all the trunks are facing up. That means good luck.”)

“Okay so everything I did I did and that’s that,” he wraps up in “P.P.P.S.” No doubts, regrets or qualifications, certainly no apologies. “Enjoy the elephants.”

The forty-nine triptychs in Ways to Read the World feature a lightning-strike survivors support group, a prison guard “cowboy rap” band, a rodeo clown, a husband and wife in a horse costume (“Horse’s Ass”), a frustrated preacher’s wife, soldiers in Vietnam, and a plethora of husbands and wives, parents and offspring. Gangsters and hoodlums recur, in East Harlem and elsewhere. The effect is like opening a box of chocolates with four dozen wrapped pieces, each one a surprise.

The stories unfold (think of Bosch’s folding panels!) like a stage drama. Freytag’s Pyramid, devised by 19th century German playwright Gustav Freytag, a paradigm of dramatic structure that outlines seven steps in successful storytelling – exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement – is another way to appreciate what Scotellero has accomplished here in brief strokes.

Take the story “Close as We Get.” A husband and wife enter the stage for the first act, “Moon Dance.” They have a hobby of purchasing abandoned storage lockers, steamer trunks, treasure chests. The wife’s name is Rita; the story is told by the unnamed husband. Act two, “Negative Entropy,” introduces the inciting incident, the rising action: the discovery of an old boat’s log. It is the chronicle of a Ponce de Leon-like search for the fountain of youth! The chronicle is smeared with age. “I think about time, how it travels fast, sandpapers us down.” The third act, “Close As We Get Sometimes,” describes the climax, falling action, resolution and denouement: “I stop reading, can sense how this ends. Like all wild goose chases end. But I want to believe in the quest. It’s all about the quest, isn’t it?”  Resigned, he glances over at Rita, her hair down, so “you might think she was years younger.”

“Little Race Cars” is another example. The narrator’s cousin Peter, with whom he fought as a kid for the little gray race car token when they played Monopoly, has won the lottery! Lucky him! Only, now his wife Cynthia is leaving him because of the bimbos and hangers-on who’ve started flocking to their house looking for backing and handouts. All this happens in the first frame, “Fins.” “Hot Chocolate” develops the complications, the inventors who want his financial backing. “Hot Chocolate Again,” the third and final panel, brings us full circle to the inevitable. Peter could never tell a joke, try as he might, the narrator confides, but he gives his cousin a second chance. When he asks Peter if he has any new jokes, Peter replies, “Yeah, my life,” as he clicks on an enormous TV screen that’s like the emblem of his “success.”  The moral, of course, is implicit. Character equals fate, or something along those lines.

The story “History Lesson” sums it all up. A young woman (“Audience” – the first panel) is visiting her ailing grandmother, pill bottles arranged on her nightstand “like a medicine man’s rattles laid down.” In a burst of candor, the grandmother tells the girl about her risqué  life long ago (“I wore the reddest lipstick”) in the next panel, “Beehive.” Finally, in the third panel, “Snow Cave,” the grandmother winds up – her throat is dry “from spillin’ the beans,” advising her granddaughter to maintain her innocence. “You keep it that way for as long as you can. There’s no hurry, hon. Life will catch up on its own, no matter what. You’ll see.”

Robert Scotellero truly shows us new ways to read the world, backwards, forwards, upside, down, inside out and all at once.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Ways-Read-World-Stories-Triptych/dp/B09TYSFMSS

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 Upright Dog by Carl Fuerst

upright

By Charles Rammelkamp

Structured around the twelve labors of Heracles, Carl Fuerst’s whimsical, Vonnegut-esque novel follows Henry Streator on the “quest” he has been assigned by his employer, Atlas Systems, but The Upright Dog also purports to be Doctor Emily Stebbins’ attempt to set the record straight on the mythological Greek hero. Indeed, after the twelve entertaining episodes in which we follow Henry’s travels and trials, the last quarter of the book consists of the scholar’s clarifying endnotes.

The twelve labors of Heracles were his punishment for killing his family, which he was tricked into doing by Hera, the queen of the Gods, Zeus’s wife. Heracles had gone to the Oracle at Delphi for guidance on how to atone for his sin. There, he prayed to the god Apollo for guidance. Heracles was told to serve Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, for ten years. During this time, he was sent to perform a series of difficult feats, or “labors.”

Henry’s own “labors” come in the form of assignments from Atlas Systems. They feel like mysterious scavenger-hunt clues. “My employer doesn’t care what hours I work,” he tells Dixon, the exterminator (“God, in his wisdom, gave us the fly, but then he forgot to tell us why,” Dixon cryptically recites, part of this novel’s wisdom.) in “The Third Labor: Heracles and the Stag of Ceryneia,” “As long as I complete the tasks they give me.”

Each chapter begins with a precis of the labor that is often a metaphor for that particular episode.   In “The Fourth Labor: Heracles and the Pig,” for instance, Henry’s cellphone buzzes with a text message from Atlas Systems, “Drv Nxh,” which he interprets to mean “Drive North.” Heracles’ fourth labor was to slay the Erymanthian Boar.  When Henry skids into a snowbank and calls it quits for the night, the hotel where he randomly lodges has already received payment from Atlas, as if fated. Henry befriends a pug named Mrs. Biscuits, who mysteriously has a tag around her neck that reads “Property of Henry Streator.” (Another tag around Mrs. Biscuits’ neck reads: “We know this is nonsense, but trust us – when this is all over you’ll see the point.”)

Atlas Systems arranges and pays for a ride to which Henry is summoned by the hotel clerk. He nods off in the cab only to hear an anxious voice on the taxi’s radio announce that she is “Dr. Emily Stebbins of the University of Wisconsin-Algona Astronomy Department” – the scholar behind the scholarly record that forms part of The Upright Dog! Only Henry wakes up, alone in the cab. Mrs. Biscuits is gone. He’s sad, of course, having become attached to Mrs. Biscuits, and a mysterious woman (could this be Dr. Stebbins?), reassures him: “at no point was that actually your dog.” On to the Augean Stables! A tad confused? The footnote is even more mystifying, a quotation from Euripides’ Alcestis. But trust Fuerst – you’ll see the point when the story’s over…or will you?

Not the least of the pleasures of this work, by the way, are these arcane tidbits in the scholarly notes, such as the etymological origin  of the word “karaoke” (“empty orchestra”), complete with Japanese ideograms. The endnotes are full of “Alternate Translations,” from Plutarch and Homer, Aeschylus, Pindar and Hesiod. Indeed, the epigraph to the entire book is from Hesiod’s Theogeny: “We know how to speak many false things, as though they were true, but we know, when we will, to utter true things.”

Do we ultimately see the point? The twelve labors of Heracles are usually cited as the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which leads to fame and, in Heracles’ case, immortality. The labors themselves are often interpreted allegorically. By clearing out the Augean Stables, for instance, clearing out the mass of dung, he is said to clearing out the foulness that disfigures humanity.

By the eleventh labor – “Heracles and the Apples” – Henry has received a “certificate of achievement,” the kind of honorific “award” (in lieu of money) that organizations universally bestow on employees: “In recognition of outstanding effort at Atlas Systems.” Attaboy! He seems to be on the right road – metaphorically and literally.

In the endnotes, Dr. Stebbins explains to Henry that the Ancients’ concept of work was entirely different from modern views. This lesson is repeated for emphasis in the Epilogue

The “upright dog,” of course, is “man,” you and me and her and him; them and us. Henry is always on the road, driving, his “quest” a never-ending journey, which may be the ultimate metaphor, because “that’s what makes us human, and that’s what makes us gods, and that’s what makes us god-damned dogs.”

The Upright Dog is an ingenious puzzle, enchantingly Nabokovian in its construction (think: Pale Fire), but with a dark humor that, yes, does make one think of Kurt Vonnegut.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Upright-Dog-Carl-Fuerst/dp/B09R3HDX1S

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.

.

.

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me by John Weir

nosta

By Charles Rammelkamp

In the story “Katherine Mansfield” John Weir writes,

I don’t really understand friendship. If you’re in extreme need, I’m your best friend. Otherwise, I’m not there. There’s no second act in my life, but there’s a first and a third. I don’t do middles. I’ll stick around to fall in love and watch you die, but nothing in between.

Having lived through the slow, horrific death from AIDS of his close friend David, the author is experiencing a kind of PTSD. He feels survivor guilt. In “Humoresque” he writes: “My friends died and I didn’t.  Or: I should have died and didn’t. Or: in 1984, I figured I’d be dead I  five years; who didn’t?” Similarly, in the title story, “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me,” he writes: “I’ve watched friends die, and I have never been any help except to hold you and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

The first part of this collection, called “AIDS Nostalgia,” includes seven of the eleven interconnected stories, almost all of them alluding to Dave. Indeed, the very first story, “Neorealism at the Infinplex,” begins: “My friend Dave died of AIDS in the fall of 1994.” In “It Must Be Swell to Be Laying Out Dead,” he tells us, “He’s the first person I speak to each day, the last one at night. Phone calls early and late. Every day for the past five years has started and ended with Dave.” In “Scenes from a Marriage,” he helps Dave in the bathroom at a Broadway theater as he sits on the toilet, “his pants and diapers on the floor.”  His care of his friend is intimate and visceral, up close and personal. He feels helpless but responsible, anguished.  “How can I help him? I’m not a doctor. He’s my best friend, but he doesn’t want me to touch him.,” he notes plaintively.  Later in “Scenes from a Marriage” he writes, “By 1994 in New York City, AIDS had become routine, even as it stayed occult, a minority affliction.”

Yet Weir is also very funny, witty, especially in the voice of the manic, wisecracking David. He writes, “Now he’s dying, and I’m jealous. I’m competitive with Dave’s death. It’s all he cares about: dying, not dying.” And Dave, frustrated and desperate, lashes out at his friend/caregiver: “I’ve got news for you. You’re not the Messiah. You’re a fag. I’m a dying fag. I win the Suffering Sweepstakes. You think this is happening to you. Well, it’s not.”

“Katherine Mansfield” is a story about his romantic relationships soon after David’s death. Besides Marc, a successful singer/songwriter who regards Weir as his muse, there’s Phil, a younger guy he meets in an acting class. These relationships are doomed from the start, of course; Weir is too traumatized by death. He notes wryly about Phil, “A relationship that consisted of acting exercises, and an age difference big enough to span Madonna’s career, isn’t equipped to survive….” Elsewhere, he describes random furtive encounters in peepshow booths.

Movies, musicals, and stage plays are alluded to throughout these stories. Three of the stories – “American Graffiti,” “Scenes from a Marriage,” and “Humoresque” – are movie titles, as is “Imitation of Life,” the title of the third section, which contains only one story, the ominously titled “It Gets Worse.” “Katherine Mansfield,” by the way, is the name of the narrator’s friend Marc’s band; it does not allude to the British modernist writer, though Weir’s literary allusions abound, from Barthes and Foucault and Vladimir Mayakovsky to Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe, Thoreau, Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Eudora Welty, Jack Kerouac, and so on.

Weir humorously channels the gay trope of worshipping camp actresses. In “American Graffiti” he writes, “I was an actress. I yearned to be. I still do. I wanted especially to be an actress in 1970s Hollywood movies. Those women!” He goes on to name-drop “Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh, Ellen Burstyn, Barbara Harris, Cicely Tyson, Carrie Snodgrass, Cloris Leachman, Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Diahann Carroll, Karen Black.” He compares himself to Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

The three stories that make up part two, “Long-term Survivors,” also focus on death and dying, including his mother, now in her 80’s, and an on again/off again lover/survivor named Scott.  His mother lives in a retirement community and has just suffered a brain hemorrhage. “My mother is a movie star without a movie to star in,” he writes in “Humoresque.”

Just as in real life – indeed, it often feels hard to distinguish between fiction and memoir and essay in Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me – the narrator is involved in gay political causes, protesting with ACT UP for AIDS research and care, and with Queer Nation, notably a protest outside the Russian Consulate in New York against Vladimir Putin’s Medieval laws against homosexuals. “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re only drinking beer,” they chant, as they pour out Russian vodka onto the pavement.

By far the most affecting stories are the ones that describe being bullied and called names in his rural New Jersey schools. Not yet even sure of his sexuality, he is nevertheless singled out and tormented by other schoolboys who taunt, “Faggot!” “Fairy!” “Fruitcake!” “Homo!”  “American Graffiti” takes place during his graduation from high school in 1976. As he crosses the stage to receive his diploma, the taunts are audible to all. The story is about his friendship with a girl, Lottie, whose parents seem to assume they are a romantic item. It’s a confusing time for both. The final story in the collection, “It Gets Worse,” takes us back to an even earlier time, in middle school, when the taunting began. “I was president of the fourth grade,” he writes, “my peak. Downhill since.”

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me is entertaining and heartbreaking by turns, always a gripping read.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Nostalgia-Killing-Grace-Paley-Fiction/dp/1636280293

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 Great Time at Chase’s Hop Shop

Thanks to all the poets and those in attendance for our celebration – North of Oxford Presents – National Poetry Month at Chase’s Hop Shop. Thanks to Frank and the staff for all their assistance. Photos from the event appear below of Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, Charles Rammelkamp, , Ezra Solway, Jane Rebecca Cannarella, Paul Ilechko, Cleveland Wall,  Carl Kaucher, and Michael Griffith.

n2n3n6n4n8n7n9n10n11n1.

North of Oxford Presents – National Poetry Month @ Chase’s Hop Shop – 4-30-22

232

North of Oxford Presents

Live

National Poetry Month @ Chase’s Hop Shop

7235 Rising Sun Ave

Philadelphia, PA 19111

April 30th – 2pm to 5pm

Poets Reading 

diane hsDiane Sahms-Guarnieri, a native Philadelphia poet living in Lawndale since 1986, is author of four full-length poetry collections and most recently a chapbook, COVID-19 2020 A Poetic Journal (Moonstone Press, 2021). Published in North American Review, Sequestrum Journal of Literature & Arts and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal, among others, she is poetry editor at North of Oxford’s online literary journal and teleworks full-time for the government.  www.dianesahmsguarnieri.com .

.

charlesCharles 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.

Sawyer Lovett is a writer, bookseller, and professor. He is a pretty good person, but he is always trying to be better.

ezra Ezra Solway is a jack of some trades. A poet, fiction writer, reporter living in Philadelphia, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Temple University. He has  taught English in Akko, Israel; sold electricity door-to-door; and waited tables at a Japanese karaoke lounge, among other eclectic posts. Currently, he is the Assistant Editor of the Jewish Community Voice, a local newspaper covering Southern New Jersey. https://www.ezrasolway.com/

.

janieJane-Rebecca Cannarella (she/her) is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. She is the editor of HOOT Review and Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit, and a former genre editor at Lunch Ticket. She’s the author of Better Bones and Marrow, both published by Thirty West Publishing House, The Guessing Game published by BA Press, and Thirst and Frost forthcoming from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. https://www.instagram.com/anotherintro/?hl=en

.

Canal BWPaul Ilechko is the author of three chapbooks, most recently “Pain Sections” (Alien Buddha Press). His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Rogue Agent, January Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Book of Matches and Pithead Chapel. He lives with his partner in Lambertville, NJ.

.

Cl head 1Cleveland Wall is a poet, teaching artist, and maker of things out of other things. She performs with interactive poetry troupe No River Twice and with musical combo The Starry Eyes. Her first full-length poetry collection, Let X=X , was published by Kelsay Books in the fall of 2019. She is also the sole librarian at Books on the Hill, a mighty twig of the Bethlehem Area Public Library. https://www.clevelandwall.com/

carlCarl Kaucher is a poet, photographer, and urban explorer who lives in Temple, Pa. He is the author of two chap books, “Sideways Blues ( Irish mountain and beyond )”, “Postpoemed” and most recently “Peripheral Debris.” His work has appeared in numerous publications and on line. The writing explores his experiences wandering urban spaces near his home and throughout Pennsylvania. Using his photography and writing, Carl has been exploring the overlooked places and documenting the chance occurrences that happen to him and by doing so gives us the opportunity to reflect upon those similar events happening in our lives also. More info can be found at https://www.facebook.com/CarlKaucher/  and on instagram @Carlkaucher.

Dave-Worrell-238x300Dave Worrell is the author of  We Who Were Bound and Close to Home featuring paintings by Catherine Kuzma. Dave’s poems have appeared in Slant, Canary, Heroin Chic, Shot Glass Journal, Referential Magazine, Wild River Review, and elsewhere. He has performed his music-backed poems at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia and The Cornelia Street Café in New York. He began writing poetry toward the end of his 30-plus year law career, has taught writing at area community colleges and business law to undergraduates at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business.

Griffith PhotoMichael Griffith is a story-teller at heart, a teacher, problem-solver, and helper at heart. He has been freelance writing and editing on-and-off on the professional level for over 25 years. Michael has taught courses in communication, public speaking, mass media, film studies, logic, developmental English, and creative writing. He currently teaches for-credit classes at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, NJ and Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, NJ. https://michaelgriffithwordpress.wordpress.com/

    g beer  

Host – g emil reutter 

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/ 

.

chase logo

Chase’s Hop Shop

https://www.facebook.com/Chases-Hop-Shop-319982001828515/

.

.

Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani

smoking
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.

.

.

North of Oxford Presents – National Poetry Month @ Chase’s Hop Shop – 4-30-22

 

232

North of Oxford Presents

Live

National Poetry Month @ Chase’s Hop Shop

7235 Rising Sun Ave

Philadelphia, PA 19111

April 30th – 2pm to 5pm

Poets Reading 

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, Charles Rammelkamp, Sawyer Lovett, Ezra Solway, Jane Rebecca Cannarella, Paul Ilechko, Cleveland WallCarl Kaucher, Dave Worrell, Michael Griffith,

Host – g emil reutter 

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/ 

.

chase logo

Chase’s Hop Shop

https://www.facebook.com/Chases-Hop-Shop-319982001828515/

.

.

getting away with everything by Vincent Cellucci and Christopher Shipman

GETTING
.
By Charles Rammelkamp
.
Shifting location from Louisiana to North Carolina and back, this collaborative work is drenched in dream and memory and necessarily traffics in ghosts and remembrance of things past. Indeed, the very first poem is titled “Solastalgia,” a neologism that, as opposed to nostalgia, that homesickness we experience when separated from loved ones or “home,” signals a distress that is directly connected to the home environment. Rooted in the memory of a mellifluous radio DJ, the poem concludes:
.

Yesterday’s splintered limbs say

            don’t let this be the last memory of me
                                                head for the trees

                                                make an offering.

                        If the waves lap at the door
                                                            let us swim.
.
            If the sky is never finished
                                                            nothing is.
.
And so the next poem, “Time Travel,” focuses on the dislocation experienced from moving from one place to another – specifically from New Orleans to Greensboro, North Carolina – with “ghosts in tow,” as the title of the third poem tells us.
.
            same doom
            different poem
.
“Even the porch swing was a ghost,” the fourth poem, “This Morning,” continues the thread, as if it were “trying to find the right words / to finish a last sentence.” You get the picture. Haunted. This poem concludes:
.
            He understood the desire to perform
            such a gesture, rather
            than finish any sentence
            and wake forever from that dream.
.
For “waking is like being dead,” we are told earlier in the poem.
.
It’s the following fifth poem, “some mornings,” that launches the title speculation. “Getting away with everything” sounds so triumphant on its face, but it’s more complicated than that. The poem ends:
.
            it’s much simpler
to get away with everything
when getting away
with mere nothing
is no cinch.
.
All of this is in the first of the seven parts of the collection, the section called “opening words like floodgates.” The six sections that follow expand on the themes. It is the year that the poet turns 37. Think of Dante at the start of The Divine Comedy. He’s just turned 35. “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost,” he writes. So Cellucci/Shipman has two poems called “On the Morning of my 37th Birthday” and later, the antepenultimate poem in the book, “on my 37th year and yet another day around the sun,” in which the poet obviously feels distress, confusion, lost in the dark wood. The former begins, “I spill from a dream.”
.
In “getaway cars,” a poem from the third section called “Pilgrimage to the Fountain of Nothing,” a poem that is full of reminiscences of chases and escape, including “the first 9mm to the head” in a weed purchase gone wrong, the poet writes:
.
            a raindrop gets away
with everything down
            the window pane
.
Then quickly the poet is back into his dreams where we never get away with anything: “blame everything / get away with / the width of the margins / we sneak into / or are imprisoned in.”
.
Death, of course, is a factor in everybody’s life, from which you never escape, never get away with. As Kafka famously observed, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” Does death become more “real” as we age?   “chronic chthonic disorder” is a poem that quickly follows “getaway cars” and is a metaphorical “getaway” to the underworld, across the mythological Styx. “Churn the Earth,” section three, begins with the death of a pet cat, Jack, and segues to the burial of the poet’s grandfather.
.
            I remember wanting
to help haul Grandpa’s box
to its muddy hole.
I remember it felt wrong
the job was given
to his brothers alone.
.
I had to stand by watching
the rain churn the earth.
.
In the following poem, “alt burial rites,” the poet again expresses regret at not having eased a casket into its grave:
.
            I too have been envious
of pallbearers
excluded
(probably for my youth
or smaller stature)
from the last time
you have to help
someone make
a move
.
“In the Wake of Chthonic Fires,” a poem from the fourth section, “This Never-Ending Theater,” again alludes to burial, just as, from the same section, “negative capability,” a term first used by Keats to describe a writer’s ability to accept doubts, mysteries, uncertainties, he returns to the world of dreams, writing:
.
            but there’s some killer
            deep in my dreams
            sometimes he succeeds
            in his war against me
.
The poem called “honestly,” from the sixth section, “The Dampest of Spirits,” takes us back, one more time to that phrase at the heart of the book, “getting away with everything”:
.
            leaving new orleans
was getting away from
getting away with everything
and I know you felt now-or-never-compelled to do the same
.
No escape! So the poet returns, at least in thought, perhaps reluctantly, to Louisiana. Channeling the old quiz show, To Tell the Truth, the poet writes in “Will the Real Secret Agent Please Stand Up?”:
.
Now when I’m wishing I could slip back
into an old loneliness I’m back
in New Orleans back to the first year there
.
It’s a long poem, about thirteen pages, full of wonder and regret, the memories of youth mixed up with the inevitable memories of mistakes, “the treasured hours / we can’t remember / of friends and feeling / alive and fucked up / immune to / mistakes washed away in the mississippi.”
.
getting away with everything is at once a lyrical consideration of life and a philosophical cri de coeur.
.
You can find the book here: getting away with everything
.
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 Future of Black edited by Gary Jackson, Len Lawson and Cynthia Manick

afrofut
.
By Charles Rammelkamp
.
Though the term was coined in 1993 by Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is the quintessential Twenty-first Century aesthetic philosophy, exploring the African-American experience via comic book superheroes, speculative fiction, fantasy, magic realism and the like to embrace a vision.  Ytasha L. Womack author of Afrofuturism defines it as, “An intersection of imagination, technology, the future and liberation.” Subtitled Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry, this comprehensive anthology, The Future of Black, showcases some of the most eloquent  and emblematic examples of the genre, with more than five dozen poets included, not to mention the gorgeous illustrations throughout that accompany the poetry.
.
The Future of Black is organized into ten separate thematic groups, beginning with Man of Steel, poems addressed to that original comic book superhero, Superman, and including such categories as Black Superheroes and Black Antiheroes, Black Pop Culture and Black History before moving on to more speculative categories such as Video Games & Fantasy, New Origins and New Faith Constructs.
.
That the survey begins with Superman is at once obvious and brilliant, the starting point for all the superheroes and cosmic beings that follow, and no less a superhero poet than Lucille Clifton is the initial voice. Her four short poems undercut the notion of the ultimate efficacy of a “superhero/savior.”
.
Clifton’s titles include “if i should,” “further note to clark,” “final note to clark” and “note passed to superman.” Riffs on this follow: “new note to clark kent” by Frank X Walker and additional Superman poems by teri elam, Ashley M. Jones and Cynthia Manick, one of the editors of this anthology.
.
Clifton’s poems, first published in her 1992 collection, The Book of Light, before the term “Afrofuturism” had even been invented, set the tone of alienation and skepticism that follows. In “further note to clark” she writes:
 .
the question for you is
what have you ever traveled toward
more than your own safety?
.
She expands on this in “final note to clark”:
 .
what did i expect? what
did i hope for? we are who we are,
two faithful readers,
not wonder woman and not superman
.
Finally, in “note passed to superman”:
 .
you can trust me,
there is no planet stranger
than the one I’m from.
 .
The More Superheroes section that follows includes a poem by another anthology editor. Gary Jackson’s “Nightcrawler Buys a Woman a Drink” is in the voice of that Black superhero in the Marvel group (“You’re staring, jaw-dropped at my tail. And yes, / it’s a good twenty inches long and moves / like a serpent in heat. Touch it. I’m no devil, honey….”). A. Van Jordan (“The Flash Reverses Time”) and Keith S. Wilson (“Aubade on Bachelorhood and Never Becoming the Flash”) likewise riff on The Flash, one of the famous DC Comics heroes.
.
Black Superheroes includes poems about DC’s Static (Steven Leyva’s “Ode to Static”), Marvel’s Storm (Tara Betts’ “Storm Writes to Black Panther”),  Marvel’s Blade (Amanda Johnston’s “Blade Speaks at Career Day” – Basically, I’m an exterminator and I love my job; Tim Seibles’ “Blade, the Daywalker,” “Blade, Historical” and “Blade, Unplugged”), and Marvel’s Luke Cage, aka, Power Man (Cynthia Manick’s “Praise for Luke Cage’s Skin and Starshine” and Gary Jackson’s “Luke Cage Tells It Like It Is”). Derrick Weston Brown’s hilarious “Bruuuuuh or When Brothers Debate Black Panther in a Safeway Parking Lot,” a found poem, relates a conversation about the Marvel Superhero and the football team formerly known as the Washington Redskins.
.
In the dualistic universe of comic books, what is a superhero without a supervillain, right? The Black Antiheroes section kicks off with Sheree Reneé Thomas’ “Eartha Kitt Reflects on Cat Woman”:
 .
Some man always wanted to lay me down
but he never stayed to pick me up again
So I learned to make fear my friend
.
Len Lawson’s “The Amanda Waller Suite” is composed of four “episodes” about the complex DC Comics political figure (aka, The Wall): “She Condoleezas her way / through the Pentagon / with the stealth of a panther.” Lawson is the third of the editors of The Future of Black. Cortney Lamar Charleston’s “Elegy for Killmonger with My Own Pain entering the Frame” takes on yet another Marvel supervillain, memorably played by Michael B. Jordan.
.
While characters from the comic book world continue to appear in the poetry, the political implications seem to become more overt as we get into Black Pop Culture and beyond. Colin Kaepernick shows up, for instance, in a poem by Derrick Weston Brown, and Martin Luther King appears in Tara Betts’ poem to the Star Trek character, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura as well as in Qunicy Scott Jones’s “‘post-racial’ as Samuel L. Jackson.” Black History brings in Frederick Douglass, Toni Morrison, James Brown, the early anti-segregationist Octavius V. Catto, Emmett Till, LeBron James. Morian S. Webster’s “Harlem [3]” begins:
 .
The unfortunate news
for Langston Hughes
is that Harlem feels less like jazz
and more like the blues
This gentrified hood
being drained of its color
is like going home
and finding someone has replaced your mother
 .
It’s a small step from superheroes to religious mythology, and the New Faith Constructs section includes such titles as “Black Jesus” (Richard Garcia), “Creation Myth” (Bianca X), “As It Is in Heaven” (Craig Stevens), and in Black Women Narratives, “Goddess of Anger” (Teri Ellen Cross Davis), “Mitochondrial Eve” (Tim Fab-Eme), “La Diablesse” (Terese Mason Pierre).
.
Les James’  “Why Black Women Write Horror Stories:  A not-quite-fictional survey of Black female horror writers in the US,” prefaced by a confession that she uses Afrofuturism to process trauma as a horror writer, explains:
 .
Black women write scary stories
because: US history should be told as a scary story
because: Slavery was a living nightmare
because: Generations of Black people survived mass
kidnapping, physical and psychological torture, rape and
murder, and systematic dehumanization
because: Look at where we find ourselves today
 .
Black women write scary stories
because: Black people still fear for their lives
because: White people are still afraid of their own shadows
because: Most folks refuse to actually look in the mirror
because: They want good and evil to be black and white
 .
Terrance Hayes, Nikki Giovanni, former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, and Gil Scott-Herron are other notable poets whose work appears in this all-inclusive anthology.
.
While I’ve mentioned the breathtaking full-color illustrations that accompany the poems in this book, they really do merit a spotlight of their own.  John Jennings, Yorli Huff, Wolly McNair, Najee Dorsey, Karo Duro, Cagen Luse, Kevin Johnson and others are the artists of the over two dozen sexy, supernatural, at times downright scary graphic images that complete this astounding collection.
.
The Future of Black is a truly impressive anthology that amplifies the idea of Afrofuturism and indeed the Black experience in America.
.
.
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.
.
.
.