north of oxford poetry book review

Beauty and the Unrequited Landscape by John Goode

               beauty

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By Lynette G. Espositio

John Goode’s Beauty and the Unrequited Landscape published by Rain Mountain Press is an image-laden delight of poems that visualize, conceptualize and realize perception from different but common landscapes.

Bill Yarrow, author of Blasphemer and The Vig of Love says “John Goode’s poems are—all things wild and wonderful.”  The reader can see this clearly in his poem When My Father Took His Chainsaw into the Forest on page 30.
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                    the television died. 
                   Cartoons crawled across the carpet
                   and begged for more cereal. 
                   
                   The small angel of my life curled up
                    inside me. 
 
                   The sun dragged a generator across the sky
                   and the grass turned brown.
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The visual is so clear the reader wants to hug the narrator.  The poem continues with this sharp visualization of the setting, tone and timbre to reality-based images that set time and place into emotion.
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                   When my father took his chainsaw into the forest,
                    he cut the opossum
                   out of the encyclopedia 
 
                    He turned comic books
                    into woodchips and stone.
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This clear evaluation of a father by his young son depicted in the images chosen reveals a landscape of detail and emotion.

This continues on through the four parts of the 104 pages of poems followed by an interview with Goode where he discusses motivation and technique.

Goode continues to visualize and conceptualize his poems even in the titles from as simple as Unemployed to Elegy for a Tree in a Poem Written by a Young Woman Sitting at the Bar.  His poems, like his titles, vary in length. Some are one stanza and some are several pages. I find this detail of form gives support to the themes.  Most are free verse/blank verse in narrative form.  In the five stanza poem The Riot of Waitresses, the first lines set a contemporary situation: The girls at work are giving birth to televisions without doctors.  From page 87 to page 94, the narrator discusses the thwarted plans of women with their breasts trapped in their boyfriends’ hands like pigeons. Goode juxtaposes common images with an unorthodox landscape.  Breasts, boyfriends, pigeons…I love it.

The reader begins through the visualization to realize something special is happening.  Goode is able to make a point or points by choosing common understandings that expand out to fresh perceptions on how life works in suggestive images that conjure many interpretations.

The poems are consistently both interesting and surprising.  In A Note From My Boss on page 95, Goode uses the letter format and uses the salutary Dear Jude to make a point.

The first line gives real sarcastic attitude please wipe up the Lysol carcasses.  This memo to the boss ends with authority: Thank-you and no signature.  How impersonal is this as a reference to real life workers and how effective in a poem.  Thank-you, John….Yours Lynette.

Beauty and the Unrequited Landscape is available from www.rainmountainpress.com

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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

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Gothic Orange By Robert Milby

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A Guardian of Lost Legacies

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 By Karen Corinne Herceg.

In Robert Milby’s new chapbook, “Gothic Orange”, he fosters in us “the awe of eternal human history” (P. 5, l. 13), as he states so eloquently in “The Fossil Record, Catalogued by a Child.” He uses his home county of Orange in the Hudson Valley, New York region to create a microcosm of wonder and natural intelligence that informs both the local and wider landscapes of the world. Specific regional references correlate to universal knowledge through very personal perspectives, and Milby knows the minutia of the area as well as anyone. In stark and striking language, he writes with an antique authenticity, a pre-industrial mindset, and nostalgic yearning for a purer time of farms, fields, and the poetry of nature with “The sagacity of woodsmoke, grease/and ethers of the hayride of American history” (P. 10, ll. 10-11). He exhibits a remarkable ability to observe the environment with extreme patience and detailed specificity in the tradition of such great poets as Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Frost.

Milby reminds us that the ghosts of the past are integral to our shared history. They are ever present, but mostly obscured by modern noise and distractions that steal our rich heritage and the quietude required for reflection that enriches the imagination. We are overwhelmed by contemporary emphasis on commerce, capital, and our perceptions of compressed time. There is great irony in our emphasis on physical gain, loss, and success as opposed to what we miss on much deeper, spiritual levels:
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            Small village life, family secrets and scandals, useless to
            City folk, because in the end, the money cults prevailed. (P. 9, ll. 25-26)
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We are out of balance with nature and the very wonders that surround us. We bypass these gifts each day with our eyes transfixed on screens and superfluous messages. Meanwhile we forfeit the subtle, important wisdom that resides within our natural environment. Milby laments our lack of reverence for the natural world. He asks:

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           What is this motoring madness; distraction
           from the walk of life; song of Aurora’s heralds;
          whisper of a child at Dawn? (P. 18, ll. 10-11).
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There are very specific examples of our inability to acknowledge the disconnections we experience within our environment. Milby cares deeply and expresses this throughout his work.  We feel his deep sense of loss of a centuries old cottonwood in “The Balmville Tree,” cut down and disposable. He assigns an anthropomorphic persona to the tree that enhances the fact that this was a living, breathing entity: “Here he stood, a patriarch; a witness tree; over 300 years of/Hudson River story” (P. 13, ll. 2-3). And, again, in “Night Noise,” he employs a human element in a description of  “the parched and cracked skin of fields” (P. 16, l. 3).  Given our ubiquitous disregard for the importance and pre-eminence of nature, is it any wonder that a coyote would hide “from the heresy of humans”? (P. 26, l. 20).

Milby has a facility for examining humans and nature both in opposition and in communion. In “The King of the Frogs” he states: “I speak science truths one day, mythology the next” (P. 8, l. 17), evoking our ongoing conflicts and attempts to reconcile the mystical and the material worlds. He draws on his deep understanding of nature and extensive knowledge of both literary and world history to create an informed and nostalgic yearning, combining his wonder of the natural with ponderings of our many troubled interactions in the world. With wonderful, original lines like “the rails hiss like feral cats” (P. 10, l. 14-15), “wildlife gossip like human festivals” (P. 14, l. 17), and “Post partum rain” (P. 16, l. 1), he brings into focus the symbiosis of humanity and our indigenous environment. His connection to nature is intensely personal, and he integrates that connection with all aspects of art including painting, as in “The Field—for Vincent Van Gogh,” and with music in “The Grand Montgomery Chamber Series in Spring”:

            The artists spoke mythos through the piano. Forests rose,
            Surrounding the concert hall.
            Marshes and pastures permeated the parking lot.
            No breathing was labored as Chopin walked through the walls. (P. 4, ll. 10-13)
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 A visual image or auditory experience can evoke a direct association with elements of our inherent biological world. We have a legacy that is both ethereal and tactile, and nature is the bridge to that magical world through which we can “trace our organic past” (P. 5, ll. 1-2). There are “verses trapped in ancient stone” (P. 5, l. 8).

Milby is the Poet Laureate of Orange County, New York (2017-2019), an honor that is well earned and well deserved. He is the paterfamilias of poetry in the county and beyond it, encouraging and supporting his fellow poets, reading not only his own work but also promoting the work of others, hosting series and events since 1995, and publishing throughout the Northeast in many journals and anthologies. He is the author of four previous books of poetry and two spoken word CDs. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his dedication, support and assiduous study of the ancient art of poetry that is so vitally needed in our modern world.

We may not ever reconcile the contradictions of human desires and intentions with the imperatives of nature, but we have poetry like Milby’s to prompt us to awareness and reflection so that we, too, might stop to reconsider our interactions and possibly make “a truce with/snowflakes” (P. 24, l. 19-20).

Milby, Robert. Gothic Orange.  New York: Printeks Reprographics, 2018. Copies available from the poet at:

robertjmilby@gmail.com     

Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays.  A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with renowned writers Philip Schultz, David Ignatow, John Ashbery and William Packard. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Pavement by Rustin Larson

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By Lynette Esposito

Rustin Larson’s poetry volume, Pavement, is more than slim with only 14 poems but it is also more than powerful.  When I read the last poem on page 33, I wanted more; it can’t be over already.  I was left on the pavement struggling, visualizing and wishing I was not stuck in “nowhere.”  Larson’s tight focus, innovative literary technique, and clearly defined imagery lead the reader down his many forms of pavement.

Larson provides a tight focus on the image of pavement in each of his fourteen poems as well as entitling this tome Pavement.   Each poem is entitled Pavement with a number after it going from Pavement 1 to Pavement 14. This almost over focus works well here as the starkness of the multiple references and suggestions are revealed.  In Pavement 1, the narrator observes a man in a bathrobe smelling of urine coming into the health shop

where he has gone for a cup of barley soup.  The poetic lines are unevenly set up in length and indention which I like in the flow of this one-stanza poem.  The suggestion of a health shop where one can pay to be healthy but turns someone obviously unhealthy and desperate out to the pavement serves as irony at its best especially when the clerk goes to wash her hands after touching his bathrobe.

In creating his poems, Larson uses standard literary techniques and images in innovative ways.  Diane Frank, author of Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines comments …

Pavement breaks into new territory.  Larson, for example, says in Pavement 5, The Pallbearer has a rat’s tongue. So many suggestions of what this means almost assail the reader’s imagination and visualizations of funerals he/she has attended.  Just like Larson says in Pavement 4, Things we play with at home and mentions matches.  The settings of funerals and home are places the reader has been and felt secure in but the images take the readers out of that “comfort” zone. While Larson uses standard stanza formats, he fiddles successfully with line length and spacing to allow his meaning and images to form a visual of stepping and sidestepping on the underlying pavement.

Another example of Larson’s use of innovative imaging is In Pavement 13.   Larson says Part of you drinks sunlight.  This is a life story of a Norfolk Pine with a dream and hope about life. The metaphor extends beyond the seedling to anyone who has wanted to amount to something with the exception of being an overworked accountant.

All I can say is I loved this book and I am thirsty after reading it.  I want more.

Rustin Larson is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA in writing. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, North American Review and others.  He is the author of Wine-Dark House (Blue-Light Press 2009) and Crazy Star (selected for the Loess Hills Book Poetry Series in 2005. He has also won many prizes for his work.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Pavement-Rustin-Larson/dp/1421837781

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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Sidebend World by Charles Harper Webb

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By Charles Rammelkamp

The title poem of Charles Harper Webb’s new collection is an apt metaphor for his poetic vision. “When I lean to my right, left arm stretched / over my head…” the poems begins: all sorts of fresh angles and relationships appear. “All cars / in the condo parking lot incline.” What else? “All waves / tilt as they roar toward shore….” Charles Harper Webb looks at the world from a unique perspective, reminding us of Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” With refreshing, original metaphors and vivid language, Webb tilts our vision as well.  And his poems are often just so funny!

Take the poem, “Rain Stick,” sprung from the contemplation of one of those long hollow tubes filled with pebbles or beans, pins arranged in the inside of the tube so that when you upend it, it sounds like rain, and “you feel released,

as if the clenched world has relaxed, yielding
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to tears, orgasm, the laughing relief that soaks you
when the lab test comes back negative.
Its reprieve, resuscitation, the stopped breath
re-starting before a single brain cell dies,
the baby splooching out as the uterus sighs.
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 And you thought it was just a stocking stuffer or a tchotchke! So many of the poems in Sidebend World – and throughout Webb ‘s work generally – spring from these casual observations of mundane objects we might normally overlook – “Dominion of Blue” about the Galapagan booby made famous by Charles Darwin; “Box of Butterflies” with its curious observations (“Monarch: orange and black Majesty to which I bowed, seeing you / flap, frantic, on my killing jar’s drenched throne.”); “Bait Ball,” a poem shaped like an ornament on the page, “Not really round, but / suitable for bouncing.” He notes later in the poem: “London, to the / Luftwaffe, was a bait ball.” “The Woman on the Cover of Glamour Magazine” “so full of tigress-in-bed- / and tyrant-in-the-boardroom.”

Of course, “monsters” and “heroes” both get a slightly different look, too, in Webb’s sidebend world. In “Here Be Monsters,” he dismisses Cave Bear, Saber Tooth, Scylla, Charybdis,  Dracula. “Now monster means the flippered child, / the protoplasmic blob.” “Monster’s // a murderer with bulging, jailhouse arms. / A job-search agency. An energy drink.”  Monster is the disfigured prom queen burned up in an accident with a drunk driver, the one “every boy wanted, just last year / to kiss.”  The poem, “You Don’t Want to Meet the Ai-Uru” takes another sideways look at a monster, and “Fear Factor,” a satire on Reality TV, similarly describes a rescue gone wrong, despite the hero’s “class-president grin.”

Which indeed takes us to heroes. In “Meanwhile, back on Mt Olympus…” we get Webb’s amusing take on Achilles and the limping god Hephaestus who makes his shield. In Webb’s sidebend world they seem like ordinary people, if only because he elevates us all to the status of “hero.” “Hero Food” riffs on an instruction from Food Styling for Photographers that is its epigraph. For although we need heroes more than the Greeks did, what we get is “Kenny Carrot leading the Allied Vegetables / against the merciless axis of Tooth Decay,” as Webb’s imagination takes us laughing all the way through a Homeric epic of the staging of a photoshoot for canned corn.  (Take “canned corn” in both senses!)

But he can also be empathetic in his sardonic way, displaying a real tenderness for his son. In “Emergency” we see him and his wife overcome with despair as they have visions of the boy’s life “leaking away” to some mysterious disease. “Barred / from the spinal test for meningitis  – “Can’t have fathers / passing out!” – I roam the halls, dodging other dads’ dead eyes.” In “Nice Hat” he watches his son trying to master skateboarding, knowing the boy is “too thought-bound ever // to dissolve into pure speed. The jabs of “I might / fall,” “I’ll look bad,” “It’ll hurt,” punch / through his guard, bloodying his nose….” Yet he protects his son from the “mohawked thug” who calls him “Dickweed.” How protective we are when we see our loved ones are so vulnerable!

The best of Webb’s poems are the ones like “A Far Cry from Eli Whitney” and “Down the Bayou” that start us out in one place but by the time they’re over have taken us someplace totally unexpected. ”Hey, The Sopranos / are on TV!” he writes in “Down the Bayou.” “Five minutes in I’m calling guys // “Frankie the Frog” and “Lenny Lasagna,” / swigging vino, yelling “Fugedabout it”…” and only a stanza later, having caught a snatch of “She Loves You” on the stereo, he’s “tromping / through cold Liverpool rain, winking at birds, / all of whom I’ve shagged, and now call Luv.

Sidebend World is Charles Harper Webb’s twelfth collection of poetry. Any of them will take you inside, outside, sideways down with, as one critic puts it: “compassionate intelligence and an abiding wonder at the beautiful strangeness of the world.” Amen.

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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Sidebend-World-Poetry-Charles-Harper/dp/0822965615/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538521669&sr=1-3

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland

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By Stephen Page
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After I read What Narcissism Means to Me, I wished I had chosen The Donkey Gospels.  Glancing through the other, after I read the first, I sense more immediacy.  Nonetheless, I arbitrarily chose to study Narcissism, will accept my choice, and thus I shall report.  It’s a great book.  A good read.  The structure is interesting, with America, Social Life, Blues, and Luck as titles of the four sections, as if that were the hierarchy from top to bottom for self identity.  The poems are narrated sarcasticly, ironically, self-loathingly.  The point of the collection is to show that when the self is the center of the universe and the ego presides over community and society, problems arise—racism, dictatorships, presidents taking self-motivated actions without concern for the people.  Hoagland portrays the narrator, the “I” of the poems, as narcissistic, but this is aptly a tool for pointing out the fallibilities of narcissism rather than a point-of-view for confessional poetry.  Well done, Mr. Hogland.  I especially liked the poem the second section is named after, “Social Life”:
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            After the first party peters out,
            Like the gradual slowdown of  a merry-go-round
another party begins
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            and the survivors of the first party
climb onto the second one
                        and start it up again
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                        Behind me now my fiend Richard
                        Is getting a fresh drink; Ann, in her black dress,
                        Is fanning her breasts; Cynthia is prancing
                        From group to group,
                                                            Making kissy-face—
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                        It is not given to me to understand
                        The social pleasures of my species, but I think
What they get from these affairs
Is what a bee gets from flowers—a nudging of the stamen.
…..
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                        What I like about the tree is how
                        They do not talk about the failure of their parents
                        And what I like about the grasses is that
                        They are not grasses in recovery
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                        …because silence is always good manners
                        and often a clever thing to say
                        when you are at a party.
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All introverts can relate to this poem, all observers, all insightfuls.  Much of social life is childish, ridiculous, pretentious, an act, yet, it is probably natural for human species to behave this way.  Those who do not find it natural to socialize sometimes resort to the readily available drug alcohol.  Hoagland does offer a suggestion.  Listen.  Don’t act.  Don’t expound.  Make an appearance but do not lose the egoless self for the self that needs to be socially accepted.

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You can find the book here: https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/what-narcissism-means-me

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Stephen Page is the Author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He also attended Broward College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, reading, travel, family, and friends.

https://smpages.wordpress.com

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Logos by Gil Fagiani

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In the 161 page soft cover poetry book, Logos by Gil Fagiani, the reader learns from Fagiani himself in an author’s note that his poetry is of the people.
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                          This poetry of the people, this song of the streets, has been
                           the most influential element in my literary pursuits, and why
                           my first impulse has been to write about the world with addiction
                           and treatment by means of poetry rather than prose.
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This book fulfills Fagiani’s literary pursuit..  For example, his poem Believer on page 15 is only one stanza but powerful in both image and storyline.
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                          On a muggy
                          fly-filled day
                          inside a courtyard
                          reeking of diapers,
                          mice-filled glue traps,
                          take-out tins of rice and beans,
                          he stands behind a long line
                          of sick junkies
                          until it’s his turn
                          to push his last ten-dollar bill
                          through a hole in the wall,
                          convinced
                          a dynamite sack of dope
                          is going to be pushed back.
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The title suggests faith but takes an ironic tact on the “belief” of an addict with a questionable outcome for the deliverance of a product that would allegedly lift his spirits. The language used is clear and common in a setting that speaks of squalor and desperation.

Fagiani divides the tome into sections Shooting Dope with Trotsky, White Uncle Tom, Siding with the Enemy, and A Single Spark.  These titles also represent Fagiani’s approach to heal the reader with street song and poetry. Jose’ B. Gonzales, Ph.D., editor of Latinostories.com, says: This collection is full of lyrical grit. In the first section, Shooting Dope with Trotsky, Fagiani uses images in the poems talking about the black section of town, anti-poverty volunteerism in Harlem and skin popping until he almost ODs. In the section, White Uncle Tom, Fagiani tells the stories of an interview in the South Bronx, the feds busting Mikie for a pound of pure in his trunk, and teaming up with a girlfriend to scam guys.  The gritty storylines represent imperfect lives in imperfect and desperate situations.

In Siding with the Enemy, Fagiani shows a party group made up of Black, White,  and Puerto Rican men walking arm in am down a street in an Italian neighborhood singing at the top of their lungs until the narrator realizes they could get hurt and they need to leave the neighborhood when bottles start flying and exploding. A Single Spark shows situations in the subway, in the bedroom and behind the Paradise Theater with the play on words successfully executed.  The subjects, the storylines and the images use their figurative eyes to look directly into the face of reality.

The book is a  pleasurable read especially if you like looking at images that aren’t afraid to roll in the dirt and stand up to shake it off.

Gil Fagiani has many poetry collections to his credit including A Blanquito in El Barrio, Chianti in Connecticut, and Stone Walls.  He was a social worker and worked in a Psychiatric hospital and a drug rehab program in downtown Brooklyn.

The book is available from www.guernicaeditions.com

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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.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

 

Sideways Blues – Irish Mountain & Beyond by Carl Kaucher

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By g emil reuter

Carl Kaucher is not a poet who walks. Kaucher is a wanderer. Often from the foot of Irish Mountain in Temple, Pennsylvania to the sometimes familiar, often forgotten urban landscapes of southeastern Pennsylvania. From city to dusty borough, to boroughs on the rebound. Kaucher wanders the main streets, back streets and alleyways, ever the observer, ever the recorder.

This collection of 32 poems bring the reader into the geography and characters who inhabit these places, many on the margins of life. A realist, Kaucher writes in the second stanza of the first poem:

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My altar is alternative form
meditated since before I was born.
Sometimes I dream of silence
and pray for it’s return
Life is far simpler than I know
when I let go of my self.
Drifting on an empty street
I am hoping to be filled with lost.
In giving away, I am not taking.
In living my way, I am not faking.
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He writes of the intercity bus station, of the dirty socks of damnation, of life along the railroad tracks, of street preachers and when he wanders into a neighborhood where his appearance is different than those who occupy the corner, they look upon each other suspiciously in the mirror of distrust.
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Kaucher tells of his love of nature while on a park bench in the opening stanza of 16:
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Far side of nowhere
under cool shade of pin oak
singing the park bench blues
to the cello sounds
of cicada whorls
that mesmerize me deep
to the sonic rhythm
sonata of August.
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This well-crafted collection pulsates with the rhythm of the hard side of life as in the 2nd and 3rd stanza of 4:
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Hard stepping down streets
rhythmic to a four count beat.
Passing through pools of dark
Carrion shadow- into my self
into meditation – emptiness.
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Thoughts come to pass as memory
Then fall into the gutter
to someday be washed away
down sewers into streams
and into the seas of dream.
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