kelsay books

I Hear It the Way I want It to Be by David P. Kozinski

i hear (2)
David P. Kozinski’s, I Hear It the Way I Want It to Be, is seventy-nine pages of modern-themed poems divided into three parts. Kozinski explores universal themes of loss, love and regret with contemporary twists and subtitles (quotes) from well -known writers such as Jimi Hendrix, Mark Twain and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
On page twelve and thirteen, he presents his title poem I Hear It the Way I Want It to Be.  Kozinski takes the reader back to when he was in sixth grade and references boys of his age during Dickens’ time who were factory workers creating figures for chess, sometimes endangering their digits. Sixth grade is an age of both innocence and becoming aware. He says he and his friends were coddled and soft studying fractions and a map- changing Europe. Then the poem changes and the viewpoint in the three-stanza poem switches to a more mature view. The final lines read:
          But from somewhere far above
          and not too far in the future
          I felt the squeeze coming—
         to manufacture a more amusing game,
         a better strategy for knocking down kings.
Sixth grade is pivotal in the phases of growing up. The poem shows this by moving from the production of pieces for a game to implied real-life understanding of war. The poem is successful in presenting, in common language, the complexity of time frames, place, and situation.
In the poem Find and Seek on page twenty-nine, Kozinski speaks of another kind of change in one’s life. In repeating the words, I call for you in the first three stanzas of the six- stanza poem, Kozinski has set the tone and mood of loss and details where the you is and cannot answer. The you is in the yard—then in her sick bed. He skillfully changes the phrase from I call you to I call for you to I call out for you. The poem clarifies in the third stanza.
          I call out for you
         And you are there for me
         until you are not.
The last two stanzas detail the narrator discovering the many doors in his house after his loss and says it is in a dimming light.  He closes the poem trying to make the past real by remembering the smell of her perfume and the touch of her skin. but succeeds only in memory.  He again calls out: I called to you at dusk and again this morning. She comes but the final stanza reveals it is not real.
          I called out a warning, a prophecy
          and it was a claim cordoned off
          and conveyed, an alias
           of ill-fitting clothes.
 His images in this poem are strong and although low key and controlled, carry intense emotion which is clearly felt.
Kozinski’s final poem, Planet of the Uncluttered Mind, makes a comment on the writing of poems and his attitude toward it. I find it funny.
         There is a distant place
         where the one-word poem is highly valued.
We can skip the two stanzas in between for you to read later.  The last line reads: I’m not going there.
Although Kozinski’s poems are generally of medium length, some run onto the next page which weakens the power of his words when the reader thinks the poem has ended when it has not. This is just a layout criticism and not about the wonderful work he has produced.  The poems are sophisticated and layered with meaning. They are a pleasure to read and to think about.
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.

Red Truck Bear by Richard Nester

red truck

By Mary C McCarthy

In “Red Truck Bear” Richard Nester asks the most necessary of questions: what, like the moon, is in plain sight, yet unfathomable? The moon hides nothing, thinks nothing of us, looks back at us “with no discovery on its mind at all/ and even less concealment.” The moon, like the world we inhabit, is opaque in its stubborn “thingness,” cares nothing for us as we weave our webs of choice and action in its reflected light. In the wickedly funny “Wild”, forsythia, that early flowering plant often welcomed as harbinger of the new season, becomes a devouring nightmare, product “from a mating of kudzu with barbed wire.” Here nature is neither benign nor indifferent but actively malevolent. We are counseled to “Forget its pastoral sham,” beauty disguising the fact that “Forsythia hates you,” intends only its own good, and will gleefully overrun all your hopes and plans, punish you with slashes, poke out your eyes, finally even “devour houses and spit out the bricks.” Completely unsympathetic to us and our cherished sensitivities “It will eat your dog.”

All a hilarious exaggeration, yet the kernel of truth it proclaims can’t be denied. Empathy is only possible in the human world, not inherent in nature, and when it exists at all it is an “itty-bitty seed,” rare and hard, small and yet essential for any dream of the future. The job of the poet and storyteller is to make something out of the “Indecipherable,” to “convince you of your own indecipherable worth.”–”so you can go on and not give up.” Poetry may be like prayer, holy and essential, a saving grace.

Humanity, empathy, justice, love, all the hard things these poems strive to find and define, while illuminating their complexity and challenge. What we know is that “broke things stay broken,” and the enormous task of healing is an arduous process, where the damaged “have to be cleaned one breathing bird at a time” The theme of restoration occurs again and again in the idea of cleaning, of making things clean, even though “Clean” is an invitation to dirt, and “Too much cleaning up and one starts to see dirt everywhere.” To clean something becomes an act of faith and love, an insistence on hope. It is interesting that the principal character in the poems who does this restorative act is the poet’s “Dementia Stricken Mother, “who could make already clean things sparkle, and “shine like gospel in a new revelation.” Maybe we should all aspire to the kind of saintly “industrious joy” that loves the world so well “everything can be restored.”

In the series of shorter pieces under “Grudge” Nester demonstrates the power of inertia,

The stubborn resistance to change that keeps broken things broken. In stories about his father he explores the result of remaining mired in old and ungenerous assumptions. Stuck, his father cannot change, and the generations remain strangers unable to meet, share or collaborate on a future. The result is “nothing coming of nothing” unhealed, persistent isolation.

How can we escape this separation, plumb the indescribable space between the self and the world? That challenge comes from a cultural habit, the “Science Method.” To the Cherokee shaman that space doesn’t exist, he is never alone, but continuous with the natural world. For Western man, the existentialist, that space is an unbridgeable chasm, “our gift, only the gray form of a penetrating ignorance we were proud of.” Habit and theory are prisons, “not the key, but the lock.” Freedom is threatened by the familiar, though that familiar may be terrible, it is what we’re used to, what imagination chokes on.

As we live always hungry, always “at the starving end of something” we may only have a choice of addictions, where “Everything that lives is addicted to something.” The best we can do may be to choose our addiction purposefully, eyes wide open. Love something, “bite hard on the hook of something you love that loves you back and doesn’t lie.” We are like the praying mantis who chewed a frame for his head from a leaf, always seeing the world as frame for our image. Can we do more than preen, are we the universe reflecting on itself while “munching our green hopes”?

Perhaps our place is not in death and distance, but in love, which “keeps no calendar.”

Love can be our mirror, and the stories we share, even reluctantly, the fires to warm us. Stories are powerful acts, and shouldn’t be told “with your back turned.” A good novel carries us off and returns the world to us new, remade, and reimagined. In “Reckoning” singing birds teach us to reckon as they do, to see ourselves as “of little consequence beside important song, as by a great river.” Ultimately what we have and what persists is there always outside the window, “the exquisite world,” a wonder we are also part of, that might even “for the smallest instant” have depended on us being there, seeing, reflecting, loving and creating. There lies true restoration.

You can get the book here:

Mary McCarthy is a writer and artist whose work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Third Wednesday, Verse Virtual, Earth’s Daughters and The Ekphrastic Review.

Reefer Madness by Robert Cooperman

By Charles Rammelkamp
The title of Robert Cooperman’s hilarious new collection comes from the 1936 melodrama about high school students lured by drug pushers. Reefer Madness became a cult classic in the 1970’s among the younger hip generation, for its unintentionally campy humor.  The lurid movie poster, warning ADULTS ONLY contained phrases like “The sweet pill that makes life bitter” and “drug-crazed abandon.” “Youthful marihuana victims. See what really happens.” In part one of this collection, Cooperman shows us what really happened, at least to him, and his experiences are so familiar to anybody born before 1960 and probably beyond.
After a poem about the meaning of “420,” the code for smoking dope, Cooperman launches into “The First Time I Tried Weed: Brooklyn College,” about his initiation into the rite. Though citing the familiar “Refer Madness” warnings in the very first stanza – “In high school, it was gospel / that one ‘puff’ would turn us / into groveling heroin addicts” – curiosity wins out, and just as the response to the old adage, “curiosity killed the cat” – “satisfaction brought him back” – that first time smoking with a college friend was glorious.  The poem ends with another nod to Refer Madness:
            Giggling at a joke only I could get,
            I fell into bed, the room a tilting merry-
            go-round in a Hitchcock mystery,
            but no desperation, thank god,
            to shoot smack.
  Then in one entertaining poem after the next, Cooperman details the whole project of “getting high”: The rituals of rolling joints, the exclamations of “I’m really wrecked!” that came almost like a testimony at an evangelical religious service, only instead of “Praise Jesus!” it’s “I am so stoned!” We read about the psychedelic songs of the era that were a necessary component to the experience – “White Rabbit,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Jimi Hendrix.  There are poems about the various drugs on the menu of our youth – hash, angel dust, psychedelic mushrooms. “Worse” vividly describes a bad trip on mushrooms in the otherwise idyllic setting of the Catskill Mountains. “It’s in the Bag” is a poem about snorting cocaine and the energy-burst it provides – and recognizing how easily one could become addicted to it, reefers or not.
“Smoking Dope Outside the Keats Museum: Hampstead Heath” tells the story of two friends sneaking a joint outside the building while their wives linger inside, “maybe beside the very tree / where Keats had heard / his immortal nightingale.” Their spouses bust them, making them feel like kids caught breaking a window, but at least they avoid the surveillance cameras!
As the first section winds down, marijuana has become legal in Colorado, where Cooperman currently resides, though now in late middle-age, a little late to really take advantage. He recognizes his dope-smoking days are over, though he still enjoys the occasional “contact high” from the skunk-stink of marijuana drifting from the pothead neighbors or when walking by the school kids passing joints around. In “The Weed Tree,” he and his wife stroll up a hill after passing the kids,
            me floating a bit, pointing out to Beth,
            the red-tailed hawk making lazy, lovely,
            merciless circles above the lake.
“Got Pot?” and “AAA and the AA” explore the further implications of legalized weed, in the Trump era, when we all needed a crutch to make it through.
In “Now That It’s Legal” and “Now That Colorado,” he laments the loss of the risk-taking scoring dope used to entail, which added a frisson of “sticking it to the Man” to the alteration of one’s consciousness, an added bonus. “Now That Colorado” ends the first section and sets us up for the equally hilarious second part.
            In my day – geezer that I am – it took
            some discernment to score primo weed,
            and always the fear that the dealer was a narc,
            or if you sweated sauntering past beat cops,
            they’d stop you faster than Killer Kowalski’s
            professional-wrestler Atomic-Drop-Kick move.
           And now the Girl Scouts will sell cookies
           outside pot shops! I ask you, is nothing sacred?
“There are eight million stories  in the Naked City,” the iconic line at the end of every episode of the long-running TV series from the early 1960’s went. “This has been one of them.” Just so, Cooperman gives us over three dozen angles on the scene outside of The Wild Weed Dispensary in Denver as a Girl Scout troop sets up outside to sell cookies, in the second part of this hysterical collection. “The Girl Scouts of Colorado have decided it’s now cool to peddle their baked goods outside marijuana dispensaries,” a story from The Denver Post informs – the epigraph to the section – and Cooperman is off and running!
There’s the Larsen family, the jilted wife Wilhelmina, chaperoning her Girl Scout daughter Melissa outside the Wild Weed Dispensary, while the wayward husband Ron holes up with his sex kitten Clair. There are Leonard and Marissa Millstein, a public defender and corporate lawyer at ideological (and marital) loggerheads, and their Girl Scout daughter Emily, caught in the middle. There’s the cop, Malcolm Sanders, whose daughter Kelly is also a Girl Scout and remembers the note her mother left when she walked out on Kelly’s father, no longer able to be a policeman’s wife.  Poor Fiona Terry, shoved into the Girl Scouts by her mother, hates being there at all, always the odd-girl-out. Cindy Bartlett, another Girl Scout, is the daughter of Sonny, a Hell’s Angel-style motorcycle gang member whose ex-wife Jo-Jo is having an affair with the tattoo parlor owner Nick Breeze, all here while the Girl Scouts sell their cookies. Each uproarious poem adds a soap-opera-like tale to the afternoon sale.
Reefer Madness is a rollercoaster high, and the melodramatic warnings about pot? Still potent in the twenty-first century, as little Melissa Larsen tells us:
            Tiffany’s older brother tried to get us to smoke,
            but our teacher warned us we’d become maniacs
            and have to live in straitjackets, like forever.
So do yourself a favor and read this collection about “drug-crazed abandon.”  But a warning: read just a couple of these poems and you will probably be hooked!
You can find the book here: Reefer Madness
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 Bold News of Birdcalls by Edward Morin

By Charles Rammelkamp
Constructed around the notion of birds, four parts entitled, Noise of Blue Jays, Melody of Wrens, Endurance of Robins and Passage of Swans, each section containing ten or eleven loosely thematic poemsEdward Morin’s charming new collection, though steeped in the natural world, principally in the Great Lakes region, contemplates so much more than feathered bipeds.  To be sure, there are more than half a dozen poems focused on birds – blue jays, swallows, wrens, robins, juncos all in the spotlight; thrushes, kingbirds, siskins, ducks and grouse making cameos, and, as he confesses in “A Bird Story,” “I killed / a cedar waxwing, then swore off hunting.” There are poems about invasive plants (“Mighty Phragmites”), fish and fishing (“”Beneath the Bridge,” “The Big One”), flowers, anemones, a toad, a dog. But the ultimate attention is placed on humankind.
Morin’s lived a long life, as he recounts in several of the poems. “Moments Musicaux,” a tribute to his younger sister Audrey, who died at 73 in 2010, tells her life story in snapshots accented with reference to music, singing, musical instruments. For one, there’s the ukulele he holds in the family photo taken when his mother comes home from the hospital with his new sister, older-sibling-resentful (“I look ready to wring its stringed neck”). There is also the image of a devoted brother singing Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus at her first wedding.
Morin’s love is implicit in his description of what sounds like a challenging life, Audrey’s two marriages, her five children. The first husband? “He chased gals and the American Dream / to the Coast.” But through it all she shows grit and determination. Later in life, when she answered phones for her suburban Chicago police station –
She would coax abused wives and suicidal
teens away from permanent solutions
to temporary problems. She knew more
about caring than many social workers.


“Elegy,” “Poetry Man,” and “Old School Ties” are other affectionate poems celebrating lives that have touched Morin’s, two of them former colleagues, the other a friend from childhood, all of them now gone. “Poetry Man,” written for Lawrence Pike, concludes:
In isolation I ask myself:
Why go on writing? Is it for glory?
promotion? a fee? self-help? Or even
to knock another poet out of the ring?
Larry, I celebrate and share your
compulsion: fire smoldering in the belly,
rising to enchant the heart and brain
and fly out of the mouth, as a gift.
These reflections are echoed in the poem, “Depression,” which ends, “Loneliness is a feeling time has run out.” But note the “celebration.” That’s the main note in Morin’s poetry, despite the trials and the adversities. My favorite poem in The Bold News of Birdcalls bears this out. “Yes” is a poem about the single-note birdcall of “Joe Sartori” (a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, “comprehension; understanding”) – the bold news of a birdcall indeed.
Satori is the middle-aged neighbor of the narrator’s mother. Home from college, the narrator visits Satori at his mother’s request. Satori has evidently had a stroke or suffers from some disability. He can say only one word, his one-note birdcall, “Yes.” Years later, when he reflects on his neighbor, the narrator puts things in perspective:
When I was broke or girlfriends dumped me
and I feared the horrors of life’s end,
Joe’s predicament stormed into my mind.
Fate gave him one word to last his life.
Not a bad choice, I still say out loud
to the night sky in witless affirmation.
Yes.  Yes.  Yes.
“Valentine’s Day, 1972,” with its allusion to the legendary 1929 murder of seven mob members in a garage in Chicago, is a noir description of a hold-up in a store in which the poet was clerking.  (“Nixon had ordered wage freezes to curb / inflation; bosses cheerily complied. / My part-time teaching paid child support.”)  It’s a grim memory of a hand-to-mouth existence. But this, too, teaches a lesson. (“It was only a job.”)
The Bold New of Birdcalls includes a number of humorous poems, some reflecting his years in academia, including “Adjunct Winslow’s Discourse,” a poem about the subjectivity of grades and one buxom coed’s attempts to have hers changed. “Father Holtschneider Considers Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s Tenure,” related in the voice of Holtschneider himself, President of DePaul University (an actual historical person),  tells the not-so-funny story of a man applying for tenure and the politics that surround such decisions. “The Bernie Madoff Hustle” – to a tune something like “Barney Google” – satirically roasts the charlatan financier.  And that “Odelet to a Toad” (“Can you fathom why some call you ugly?”):
For you, being there is more important
than getting there. If I were to reach
down and clutch your soft body so we
might discuss this matter face to face,
I suspect that you would wet my hand.
In the final Passages of Swans section, which includes a wedding song to a friend (“Epithalamion”) as well as advice in the form of a letter to “Tom Katt” from a wise, older friend about navigating the stormy straits of love (“An affair is the poor man’s vacation”), there are, among the episodes that mark a life, a couple of meditations on old age, regarding his mother-in-law, that stand with the previously mentioned poem about his sister. Wise, sad, compassionate.
The poems in The Bold News of Birdcalls soar with humanity. Yes.  Yes.  Yes.
You can find the book here: The Bold News of Birdcalls|Paperback
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Time Signatures by John Bing

time bing

By Yamini Pathak

John Bing’s debut poetry collection, Time Signatures (Kelsay Books, 2021), comes into the world in a year filled with pain – a global pandemic, the ugly aftermath of an ugly election, and too many expressions of racial violence. The poems in this book feel like a long, cool drink of water. They bring me to a place of stillness and healing.

Bing’s Afghan poems bring to light the rugged character and rough beauty of a place that nowadays is so often associated with violence and trauma. The poet came to Afghanistan as a friend, a Peace Corps volunteer, and the poems shine with an awareness of gifts both received and given. In “The Water Carrier”, he writes,

“I sat with new friends in full winter, eating dried fruits on a low covered table

While underneath, a bukhari with hot embers kept the cold at bay.”

In Afghan Pantoum, he captures the sweetness of finding a temporary home in unlikely places:

“Then spring came, mulberry trees in bloom.

            After sitting in a hidden garden in Herat

I began to feel at home.”

On the opposite end of the world, just as faithfully captured, are the landscape of New Mexico and the cycle of seasons in the desert. Bing’s language is as brightly colored as the “turquoise glints” and the “blue flax flowers” that await the monsoon. I am possessed with the energies of the land as he rejoices,

“when at last the sky turns to gray

and water horsetails down in sheets

the arroyos run.”

Like “a long pendulum swinging between my past and my future”, the poems swing between past and present and carry intimations of the future. They trace his grandparents’ escape from Nazi Germany to the US. With his characteristic empathy, Bing turns our attention to those whose families were not lucky enough to have made it out alive. Throughout this collection, we are reminded how delicate the border is between life and death. Bing’s compassion extends to the natural world, as he mourns big and small losses. In “Moving On or Entropy”, he names “the black rhino, the ibex lost in the slime” and talks of forest fires “that blacken and cinder the oak and pine.” He realizes that time takes all, even loved voices, “rich as vintage wine.” Especially moving are love poems written to his grandparents, father, and his wife.

The author incorporates challenging traditional forms such as villanelles and a pantoum as well as a series of ekphrastic poems. One of my favorites, “Near the Borders,” is based on a painting by Frida Kahlo. It issues a warning:

“everybody lives near the border,

Especially those who believe they live safely

on the right side.”

These poems notice and praise small wonders, the “bright blue bowl of dark-red cherries,” that we encounter in our lives, all the while carrying an awareness of the inevitable mortality of all things, especially ourselves. Yet this knowledge of the end is not in the least disturbing. It is held gently, with the ease of acceptance and revealed to us, his readers, like a gift.

You can find the book here:

Yamini Pathak is the author of the chapbook, Atlas of Lost Places (Milk and Cake Press). Her micro-chapbook Breath Fire Water Song is forthcoming in the Ghost City Press Summer 2021 Micro Chapbook Series. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in Waxwing, Anomaly, The Kenyon Review blog, Jaggery, and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor for the Inch chapbook series published by Bull City Press and an MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Yamini is an alumnus of VONA/Voices (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation) and Community of Writers.

A Little Excitement by Nancy Scott


By Charles Rammelkamp


Perhaps because so much of her poetry involves dreams and death and anthropomorphized animals, Nancy Scott’s new collection has the force of fable, subtle moral insight and a long view of existence, lessons for living. “My mind lives in a neighborhood I don’t want to visit,” she writes in “Some Things Never Change,” a poem that, like so many others, takes stock of some of the frightening elements of life and ends with an image of longing and regret.
The modest claim in the title is reflected over and over again in the 41 poems in A Little Excitement. Take the poem, “Gone Fishing,” which begins in an erotic dream but moves on quickly to frustration and remorse.
I was deep into this dream
where our tangled bodies
were naked in the wet grass,
stars overhead, suddenly
a neon sign flashed
Vegan Cocktail Guaranteed to…,
no matter, the magic was gone.
I floundered around for
a new dream and found myself
standing in front of your grave,
but you weren’t there.
Gone Fishing was staked
next to your headstone.
The whimsical term means checking out from reality, and it applies here in more ways than one, from the brief, interrupted, sensual dream – the magic gone as instantaneously as the neon flash – to the stark reality of her lover no longer living.
As in ancient fables, Death is a real character in several of the poems. There’s “Death Attends a Poetry Reading”; Death is not really a welcome guest!  “Mixed Greens” begins-
After a spate of relatives dying, funeral wreaths, heels
sticking in mud on the way to the gravesite,
I decided to dine with Death to discuss the situation.
I love what you’re wearing, said Death to jump-start
the conversation.
It’s an amusing poem; Death seems to have the narrator’s best interests in mind, for the sake of her longevity (though one is reminded of Saul Bellow’s observation in Herzog, “Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping lightbulb.”).  Similarly, in “The Old Woman at the End of the Block” (Aesop couldn’t have come up with a better, more portentous title!), she brings a measuring cup over to the 103-year-old woman to borrow a year or two.
If you still need more time,
come see me again,
because after I’m dead,
what good is it then?
I thanked her profusely,
and, with cup filled to the brim,
I took my sweet time home.
Like Death, animals have human features, too. Poems such as “The Bear,” “The Birds,” “Dumping the Emu,” “The Elephant in England” (fifth cousin of Babar’s wife, Celeste), “Playing Chess with the Muskrat” and “Rabbit Diva” (“She was the warm-up for Wayne Newton / in Vegas. She had a million-dollar fur coat / and pink ears to kill for.”) could be straight out of French fabliaux, as anthropomorphized as any Reynard the Fox. In the title poem, “A Little Excitement,” which begins with a bemused observation about “cloverleafs,” those complex highway constructions, being so unlike the plants we find on lawns, a traffic accident occurs.
A bewildered coyote with an injured paw
was snarling traffic. Cars honked.
The coyote kept zigzagging across lanes.
Another coyote joined the first.
They walked upright now, slapping
each other’s back before suddenly vanishing.
Wow, you can see them becoming human before your eyes, a couple of dudes in modern America!
Just as fables sort of “bend” reality, so do dreams, and so we circle back to regret and its opposite, wish-fulfillment. “Gone Fishing,” which confronts the reality of the death of a lover, ends:
If I scroll to the part where we
were throbbing with passion,
would you forget all
this craziness and come back?
“Some Things Never Change” similarly concludes:
No matter, I can do without until the tracks of my mind
finally unwind: I’ll answer the doorbell
dressed in bridal white,
a gardenia in my ear, and you’ll be waiting to lead me
down the garden path the way you always have.
And the poem “What Is Meant to Be,” a title that confronts “reality” head on like no other, likewise sums up:
Heart pounding, I hesitate to approach your car
only to find you’re still a dream.
Instead, I slip my key into the front door lock.
When the wind suddenly kicks up,
I feel someone behind me, whispering
my name. I can’t move. What if…
These fabulist themes of the potency of dreams, the malleability of death, so potent in Scott’s poetry, ultimately make me think of the famous Taoist tale of Chuang Tzu, dreaming he was a butterfly, and upon awakening, wondering if he wasn’t really a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu. Who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t? The poems in A Little Excitement are sad, clever, and thoughtful all at once, whimsically playing with the gratification of desires, the moral implications profound and moving.
You can find the book here: A Little Excitement
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Poems from Argentina by David Francis

Poems from Argentina by David Francis
By Patricia Carragon
We travel by train, boat, plane, car, or on foot. In Poems from Argentina, David Francis shows us another way—by poetry, in four segments—Tucumán, Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata and Honeymoon Hitchhike. But this is not an ordinary travelogue that details superficial expectations and experiences of tourists from the United States. This is an independent traveler’s journal; a modern-day troubadour traveling deeper into the daily throes of a country at war with the United Kingdom back in the early 80’s. Mr. Francis, a poet and singer-songwriter, writes about the tensions he saw and sensed in the Argentinean people, even while doing the most mundane tasks. Being a poet, he has empathy. His poems are conduits for a nation’s sorrow. Yet at the same time, his personal life experiences discord, making it difficult to balance the pressure, giving credence and flavor to his work.
In his first poem “A Window in front of the Mountain,” Mr. Francis picks up on foreboding karma in the atmosphere.
A window in front of the mountain
but from that window you cannot see
the mountain . . . Clouds themselves like
towels fray and mildew, are impure
because the air is not a vacuum.
Even the cypresses will not last but
turn to sticks, a slight discolored
stain on the grass.
He sets the metaphoric tone for his stories to unravel. War is waging, and Argentina is dealing with a military dictatorship. You can’t see the mountain in front of you. Clouds aren’t pure, and the cypresses will die. Nature in pain like its inhabitants.
In “A Rainy Night,” fear is everywhere and grips the people of Tucumán.
but the wires are black
but then forms start to emerge
sharing no umbrella they hurry across
the street to one of their houses
leaving behind a house with no lights
then – the shadow of the inside of a kitchen
on a neighboring house – a face in silhouette –
in the darkness a horrible white face –
then nothing – back to bed
We move on to the section called Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, famous for the tango and its European architecture and culture, has its dark side. In “Apology for the Seamen,” we read about how sailors react to the city.
There is a logical reason
seamen are so gray and bored and
redundant and their endless card
games have the insensitive traveler’s
flipping-through-postcards flatness.
There are certain calls they won’t
answer and ports they wouldn’t
go to if you gave them a million
dollars.  They are tired of
meeting begging children on the
first land they see.
And in “Drops Falling after a Downpour,” the author is miserable in his hotel room. He writes:
Stick my head
                       out the window
from our hotel room
                                 into the alley
so dark
            with a bad smell
and feel
             the drops falling
catch one
               in my hand
one on
           my eyelid
am I
the present
The author, like the sailors, impoverished children, and nature itself, lives in the ever-present gloom encompassing the city and nation. As you read on, the balconies get darker, rain becomes incessant currents, and the author goes deeper into battle with himself. An old man nods to something Mr. Francis fears.
Mr. Francis takes us to Mar del Plata, a section where he writes his truth behind a pretty postcard seaside resort. He is lonely and sees that he is not alone as we learn in “Mirror of Loneliness.”
The loneliest rooms facing the sea
the opposite of what people say
the sea is a mirror of loneliness . . .
. . .  and an old man walks his dog
runs him across the street
then takes off the leash
and sets him free
                           on the beach
and the man picks up the bread
for the birds and throws it
and the little dog ignores him
                           for a sand castle
The ocean in “The Sea Is Peaceful” tends to be calming but to the author, its rhythmic tides synchronize with the flow of soldiers marching off to the Falklands War.
oh we say the sea
is violent
but it’s just an expression
the sea is peaceful
but always, always
old waves rolling
young men marching,
young men.
Lastly, in Honeymoon Hitchhike, Mr. Francis and his bride travel through a myriad of landscapes, ranging from hills, pampas, deserts, to the southernmost tip of Argentina. This final chapter does end on a more hopeful note.
We feel the iciness of “A Wall in Río Gallegos.”
Woman in black walking along the white wall,
holding her purse tightly as though in a stall,
ignoring the signs advertising the city
as though they were so much graffiti,
huddling in the chill of the South . . .
. . . I had seen her before proudly enter the café
as the men froze their dice and glowered her way:
what made her move to this cold town
like a black rose by a sudden snow weighed down?
And his final poem “Ushuaia” almost sums up Mr. Francis’ Argentinean adventure.
the shadow of the stovepipe
on the snow is like a toadstool
but neither the frozen wires
nor the frozen antenna
that balances like a cat
have shadows or reflections
and the reason is
buried things have no reflection
and the snow buries
even the clouds
sometimes even the stars
However, there are reasons for hope, since the chill and bleakness of snow and sorrow are temporary in the last stanza.
A twisted tree
on the side of a hill
and behind a yellow falling torrent
and bushes with orange thorns
stranded on streaked snow
sea gulls congregate on an isthmus
and cows listen
strange buds start reddening
one ahead of the others
in the distance
To summarize, Poems from Argentina is a traveler’s journal set to poetry. With his troubadour poet wisdom and vision, David Francis delves into the depths of situations, going beyond his world to understand nature and the Argentinean people, while watching history take another ugly step into the future.


Patricia Carragon’s debut novel, Angel Fire, is from Alien Buddha Press and her latest book from Poets Wear Prada is Meowku. Patricia hosts Brownstone Poets and is the editor-in-chief of its annual anthology. She is an executive editor for Home Planet News Online.  She lives in Brooklyn, NY. For more information about Ms. Carragon and her reading series,  and at  

Praise for The Handheld Mirror of the Mind

Hand Held Mirror of the Mind


At The Northeast Times 

Finding truth through poetry

At The Philadelphia Inquirer

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:

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