kelsay books

The Weight of Bodily Touches by Joseph Zaccardi


By Don Thompson

This is dark stuff.  The opening poem of Joseph Zaccardi’s new collection, The Weight of Bodily Touches, seems to be offered as a warning so that the tender-hearted might proceed no farther.  In “To Feast on the Flesh of Decay”, a farmer’s wife exhumes the bones of a miscarried baby to “suckle my loss” and then “eats the grave dust under her own nails”.  Some readers of this review will no doubt stop right here.

But I wonder about the source of such darkness.  Usually it’s a kind of posturing that intends to shock for its own sake—a variety of grand guignol.  But in these poems, it’s a genuine and almost compulsive response to the—well, horror that surrounds us.  Zaccardi looks closely at things most of us studiously ignore or see as social issues that provide an opportunity to do good from a distance. In these poems we witness human consciousness barely holding itself together in the face of suffering that just is.  No one to blame.  Not much to be done.

“The Sound the Tree Makes” turns out to be a scream and the answer to Bishop Berkeley’s question that even if no human hears it, the other trees do.  And this is only a tree—perhaps ridiculous if Zaccardi hadn’t given us such a vivid description of the tortures inflicted on logs in a lumber mill. When he focuses on human suffering in “ICU”,  we’re forced to see the awfulness of hospitals that we try to pretend isn’t there among the pastels and smooth jazz: “…a gurney casting chirps down a corridor…while IVs beep and air whistles from tap holes” and “a defibrillator delivers doses of electric current to undo a flatliner”.

In all this, Zaccardi exhibits a craftsman’s skill with the unpunctuated, run-on prose poem.  We are carried long by the ebb and flow of rhythms rather than bogged down in the usual unreadable clot.  This gives the poems tension—an odd exhilaration that runs counter to their grim subject matter.  And he does make an effort to reach some sort of quietness if not peace of mind in the final section, which shifts tone radically to pay homage to classical Chinese poetry.  But it’s too little too late to offset the preceding darkness.

And yet, like the spiders he writes about in “Circle and Alchemy”, his work is both “beautiful and hair-raising”.  Although their webs and our lives are fragile and tear apart easily, we “rebuild because there is so much left.”

You can find the book here:

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at





From Our Editors

Recent releases from our editors here at North of Oxford. We thank all for supporting our work.

Hand Held Mirror of the Mind

The Handheld Mirror of the Mind


Stale Bread and Coffee


Finding Truth Through Poetry – A Review of The Handheld Mirror of the Mind

northeast times

Logan Krum of the Northeast Times reviews The Handheld Mirror of the Mind by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

The Handheld Mirror of the Mind by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri



Our poetry editor, Diane Sahms-Guarnieri’s fourth full length poetry collection, The Handheld Mirror of the Mind, is now available from Kelsay Books. You can find the book here:

What others say about The Handheld Mirror of the Mind:

Poetry of global dreaming. Life on earth is under threat and Diane Sahms-Guarnieri makes a poetic call for the survival of humans and all animal species, life on the endangered list. We are all connected and interdependent. Our past teaches us core lessons for the future. Now is the time to take action to preserve life on the global home we share. Diane’s poetry is a celebration of this life, inside and out.

—Martin Chipperfield, 34thParallel Magazine

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri is a stunning wordsmith. In her collection, The Handheld Mirror of the Mind, we journey through themes of loss, grief, our shared humanity, and the complexities of the inner life. With great tenderness and lyricism, Guarnieri skillfully navigates these topics. Her graceful descriptions of the natural world provide a vivid magic, as if painting with words. In one poem, Guarnieri refers to stars, “as pinprick diamonds mined out of/night’s cave—luminous studs/riveted through black velvet.” She deals with death and the expectation of loss with care, infusing the life of nature, as in the line, “Your dusty voice rising as spirit leaving mimosa.” There is also great comfort, as in the refrain of the poem, “As long as a heart is beating someone is always alive.” While dealing with human struggles, this collection offers hope. Guarnieri invites us to honor all beings, all creatures, and all understandings of faith by joining together, “as global dreamers in coexistence.”

—Cristina M. R. Norcross, Editor of Blue Heron Review; author of Amnesia and Awakenings and Still Life Stories, among others.

“What does a heart know anyway?” Diane Sahms-Guarnieri’s lucid and brave fourth full-length collection The Handheld Mirror of the Mind wrestles with this question, as love and loss pass as naturally as the seasons. Through elegy and aubade, the speaker turns her gaze inward, interrogating the darkness. However, as she sifts through memory’s wreckage, there are patches of light and hope, of song. As the speaker reconciles: “I carry their song inside my body,/inside rhapsody of thoughts….To them I sing this easy truth.”

—Emari DiGiorgio, author of Girl Torpedo and The Things a Body Might Become


The Handheld Mirror of the Mind:


Descanso Drive by Charlotte Innes



By Richard Nester


Charlotte Innes has dived into the wreck and returned to shore. I would say that she has brought back pearls but that suggests that there are pearls to be found. There aren’t always, a truth she is wise enough to know and delivers with an excellence that wins our attention. This is not to say that she has been unsuccessful, however. In one of the more remarkable poems of the book’s remarkable first section, “Seepage,” what she recovers is a “barnacle peace” a somewhat oxymoronic image that brilliantly sums up the central conundrum of survivorship, that healing requires revisiting. The poem deftly compares family events to natural ones and questions whether disasters in either realm can be overcome by the passage of time. The difficult answer to this question is no. An active agency is required in both cases and even then it may not succeed. In less skillful hands, the poem’s central conceit might have broken into pieces well ahead of this signal insight. But Innes does not fail us.

That she is conscious of these oppositions is clear. Witness the epigraph from Adrienne Rich attached to “My Silence” that holds that both words and silences are equally capable of lying. The poem recalls a sexual assault prevented only the intervention of a stranger, who is described as “tired,” a shadowy savior to say the least. But it does not begin with this recollection. The poem opens instead with a diary entry that startles Innes, not for what it says but for what it doesn’t say.  Innes finds the entry, made when she was a young girl at summer camp, gratifying in that it confirms creative gifts that she is proud of. However, the entry, for all its lyrical notice of the natural world, is false because it is silent about the day’s most crucial event, the violation that threatened her and that she was lucky to escape from, at least physically. Whether we ever fully escape the past is the true subject of the poem.

That the self may never be the permanent or trustworthy mooring that we might wish for is the revelation of “My Silence,” and it is this revelation that guides the book as a whole.  In fact, the self is as likely to hide in the familiar as it is to confront the painful. The book’s opening poem “The Moon in Theresienstadt” enacts this theme by means of a reversal characteristic of Innes, the ordinary becoming unfamiliar and even grotesque as the poet questions it. The poem tells us that “this week” the poet has produced seven poems in what she says is “a feverish rush” and asks, referring to the poems “where do they come from?” The answer that emerges from the juxtaposition of two moons, the one of “May 8” belonging to her ordinary life and the other of an earlier May in 1945 when her grandfather is liberated from the Nazi death camp at Theresienstadt, is that Innes’ poems arise from a compost of human suffering in which good and evil exist in terrible proximity.

She recounts in the opening stanza how the Nazis offer a masque of ordinary life—concerts and recipes and children’s paintings—to mask their crimes from civilized sight—theirs as well as ours. But the terrible always re-emerges. To read, as well as to create, is to participate, whether by choice or not. Her poems are a liberation, like the WWII “Liberation Day” experienced by her grandfather. They free us from what would be a more awful fate even than literal death, the cultural and communal death of not remembering. It is important to note how little Innes editorializes on why the Nazis permit the façade of ordinary life in the camps. My gloss editorializes far more than her poem. She reports instead, dwelling on how it was—not why it was—a stance that allows and encourages the reader’s psychic entry into her created space.

Assaultive change occurs again in “Death of a Carob,” a comic elegy for a beloved carob tree—beloved partly for its familiarity—cut down by the city because it is diseased. The tree is deeply missed but assumes a lyrical second life in the commemoration of its passing as its stump becomes a stage for the incongruous—a plaster bust of Beethoven and later an impromptu “arabesque” by a black-clad dancer. “Did someone pull a string,” she asks, and “flip joy my way,” proof for her that change can call forth joy as well as tragedy.

Innes’ individual lines are often small masterpieces. Consider the opening stanza of “Descanso Drive.” The rhythm of its stately opening sentence is like that of the neighborhood it introduces—easy iambs—that abruptly shift to a succession of trochees perfectly suited to their content “the speed limit’s shifted down from ten to five,” The deceleration is visceral. Moreover, the book’s title poem is elegant in its twists and turns. Like the street it honors, Descanso Drive, its surprises are doled out in carefully measured doses—the house that is often closer than one thinks, the woman and her dog, who seem like fixtures, until they’re suddenly gone. The tone, like the tone of “Kestral,” which immediately precedes it, is quiet, almost elegiac, and yet nothing is quite settled. Change, for better or worse, is always lurking.

Word play is a tool in this endeavor, and it is fully displayed in “Lashes,” another poem from the books consequential first third, where she calls attention to the similarity between “flesh” and “flush.” The poem’s poignant full title comes from another diary enter, this time the entry of a young boy in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. At times she comes dangerously close to mixing her metaphors in the first stanza of “Lashes” where the “mind” becomes “rain water,” the molecules of which turn into “guerillas.” However, these transformations are fine lines we walk with her, in a logic where permanence miraculously mixes with the provisional.

The Spanish poet Garcia Lorca spoke about the inadequacy of metaphor to touch the essence of experience, especially when the experience is laden with pathos. He says in one poem that “the blood ran into the street like . . . blood.” Innes employs Lorca’s understanding of metaphor and his caution many times in the course of Descanso Drive. In fact, one of her more persistent tropes is the undermining of her own tropes. However meticulously crafted her images, however expertly structured, her true subject is always the ineffable and the inarticulate, the tie between figurative and literal, joy and tragedy, the permanent and the provisional. Innes has an astonishing ability to arrest the mind, to not only capture our attention but also put it at rest, so that it willingly contemplates what it might otherwise find insignificant or unpleasant. Descanso Drive is well worth your attention.


You can find the book here:


Bio: Richard Nester has published two collections of poetry, Buffalo Laughter and Gunpowder Summers.






Tripping Over Memorial Day by David P. Kozinski

kozinski book
Review by g emil reutter
David Kozinski’s Tripping Over Memorial Day is a unique collection of poems combining urban grit and nature, of looking back and looking forward. In the poem Christmas 2010 Kozinski pens gentle realist imagery such as Half an hour before dark/there is no sailor’s delight on the horizon to The balm of forgetfulness/mutes the clang of language and in the last stanza, my father-in-law recites the gentlest hymn. /For him the most recent past dims/or disappears altogether/Our shaping moments/filtered, re-emerge into focus—His voice is quiet yet his observations are not sugar coated in this poem on aging.
In the poem First Christmas in Philadelphia Kozinski in the first three stanzas brings us into the grit of the city:  
Cut firs stood
in green fatigued
ranks on the corner
of the parking lot by the grocery
where gypsies hustled in the cold.
Every night the fire engines
roared down 44th Street
and teased
the news.
Forgotten are the reasons for this lullaby lush
with strings and sung clearly is paired
with finality of an abandoned
well, with the street smarted
calico I put to sleep
years later.
In a dark region
we are reunited, her white
fur gray with Sansom Street soot.
Into a Dark Land brings the reader face to face with immigration where only reflected light reaches corners/ baffled voices seep/through windowpanes and doorframes…the weight of sunrise and dusk/is an overcoat thrown off/and wings once dropped like sere leaves/unfold in a wakening field.
From the second stanza of Bailing:
my ancestors slip
in and out of trunks and portholes,
between the ribs and around the pipes;
            step on my tubes
of cobalt blue and mars black
with clodhoppers and grind
my bloodiest pencils into mud:
What Happened In Europe.
In Tripping Over Memorial Day he brings us into the muck in the last stanza with vivid images: It was swampy as Delaware/gets– dark, rubbery snakes/along the embankment, the river backing up like a clogged drain/birds restless in the dead air/under clouds that wouldn’t rain—a sermon proper for the abattoir.
Kozinski is an artist as well as a poet. He has given us a collection poems of not just words but of word painted from the palette of poet who has lived a full life and has keenly developed images such as this from the second stanza of Visitor:
Into the woods on a searing
summer morning it played
with reflections of overhanging boughs
and with my numbing hands
cupped so long in the slow motion water;
trailed across the sloppy stones
onto the mossy little island
I claimed as my own.
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter