north of oxford

Submissions are Open

232 1

Submissions are open at North of Oxford for poetry, book reviews and essays. For consideration of publication please visit our guidelines here:  https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

Diane Sahms and g emil reutter

Two Poems by Mike Cohen

sunrise
.
A Final Aubade
.
There is no adequate narrative for this
or any morning
when an early glint of sunlight
slants between leaves
as clouds mount breathlessly
beneath the great breadth we call blue.
Now that morning has come, the poet assumes
that morning requires an aubade,
missing what sunrise reveals
as he tries to catch it in his flimsy net of lexicon.
Let it come without comment.
Morning is a greater thing
than all the words dedicated to it.
There is no adequate narrative for this
or any morning.  A morning is
simply to be witnessed,
greeted with due silence….
Be quiet and watch it progress
acknowledging there is
no adequate narrative for this.
Yet we cannot help
but help ourselves to these grand pronouncements –
these pretentious aubades –
a profusion of insufficiency
like treatments for what cannot be cured.
It’s far too much and not enough.
There is no adequate narrative
for this or any morning.
Au revoir to you, Aubade…   – not another word.
.
IMG_0060 (3)
.
Bovine Mantra
.
“Moo,” I say to the cow.
She is surprised I can speak Cowish.
She’d assumed I was just another of those
who talk so much, with so little to say.
She’d looked at my boots on the ends
of my two legs, my silly colored clothing
and the hat that conceals my pathetic lack of horns,
and judged me to be capable only
of sub-bovine speech – some low human babble,
profuse and pointless and prattling on
so it could drive a cow over the moon.
.
This is what cows have come to expect of people.
I want to show her that we humans are not all alike.
And as, face to face, we stand in silence,
a trace of respect seeps into her big brown eyes.
She sees that I too recognize how inept words are
at expressing thought.
There is nothing more for me to say.
I have said my “Moo,”
and allow the resonant syllable
to fade into the beyond.
“Moo…,” the cow’s mantra,
is the consummation of language…
The rest is only cud,
a regurgitation to chew on and on and on.
.
Hour after hour the cow bears with me,
her jaws at work, her eyes on watch
until, finally satisfied that my understanding is sufficient,
she turns away and lows at the moon.
.
mike-cohen (1)
Mike Cohen hosts Poetry Aloud and Alive at Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Book Store. His articles on sculpture regularly appear in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in which he is a contributing editor. Mike’s wry writing has appeared in the Mad Poets Review, Fox Chase Review, and other journals. His poetic presentations feature humor and drama against a philosophical backdrop. Mike likes to bring poetry and audiences to life in cafes, libraries, book stores and venues including Princeton’s Café Improv, the Pen and Pen Club, the Hedgerow Theatre, Fergie’s Pub, Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and neither least nor last, Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Look for him at http://mikecohensays.com/  on youtube at mike cohen   and in his book, BETWEEN THE I’S
.
.

This Land is Full of Noises by Robert Nisbet

preseli hills
.
This Land is Full of Noises
.
Ours being a small and rural region,
much of our noise will be ripples and shifts,
quirks, half-mutes and ghostly sounds.
.
Yes, traffic certainly, a few loud racers,
the odd blasting exhaust, but get a mile away
from the small towns and it’s more a grumble.
.
The jets to America are too high to be heard.
There’s the now-and-again light aircraft drone
and the gliders, lower, hinting at a wind’s rush.
.
The sheep’s bleat can sometimes reach crescendo
but is often more a token of a stolid self.
The cow’s low is placid, stays short of the mournful.
.
The coastal winds can rise to a shriek, a pounding,
which can quickly drift on down to stillness
and soon to the sinking hiss of sea on sand.
.
Two sets of footsteps, trudging a Preseli peak,
just a slight crunching, faintest puffs of breath,
then the one flurry of the spoken …
.
Just .. well..  just want to say .. sorry ..
.
Few other sounds, just a slower breathing,
one long sigh, words of a kind ..  ah .. well .. yes ..
and above, just the piping of the buzzard.
.
a photo robert nisbet col
Robert Nisbet is a poet from rural Wales, about as far West of London as you can go. His work has been published widely in Britain and the USA, including regular appearances in San Pedro River Review and Panoply.  
.
.

Perspective by Robbi Nester

sycamore seed
.
Perspective
.
Sometimes in winter, I sit on the red bench
under the sycamore, remembering spring,
the faint green florescence of the earliest leaves,
almost a rumor, then the brash unfolding,
the tree sifting sunlight through its branches,
hoarding its riches in the roots. Though it
cannot be discerned, all trees, crowned
with moonlight, grow toward the brightest stars.
In autumn, the seeds come coptering to the ground
in their hundreds, where they send out cautious roots.
In this cold season, the bench too remembers
that before the shaved planks, sweet smell
of sawdust, it once was a tree, holding sunlight
deep underground, awaiting its next incarnation.
.
Robbi_Nester1_sqr
Robbi Nester is an elected member of the Academy of American Poets. She is the author of four books of poetry–a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She has edited two anthologies of poetry: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an ekphrastic e-book published as a special issue of Poemeleon Poetry Journal)–Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees–celebrating the photography of Beth Moon. Her poetry, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, most recently in Is it Hot in Here, or is it Just me?, an anthology, Pirene’s Fountain’s Culinary Poems, Lady Liberty, Tiferet, and Rhino.
.
.

ÜBERCHEF USA by Jennifer Juneau

uber

By Charles Rammelkamp

Jennifer Juneau’s debut novel is a real riot.  A mash-up of reality television shows – principally cooking competitions a la Gordon Ramsey, but with a nod to Survivor as well as disaster moviesthe novel also confronts the eternal questions, does art imitate life, does life imitate art, does art imitate art imitating life… or, more succinctly, what is reality? The possibilities seem reflected endlessly back on one another as in a funhouse mirror.  Indeed, the fun, zany plot of ÜBERCHEF USA is exactly like being caught in a funhouse mirror!

Related in the first person by one of the contestants, Greta Gupenheimer, the novel is told in twelve “episodes,” as befits a TV show. In the first, the audition, Greta explains her motivation to Maggie, a waitress at the Corner Diner. Friendless, obviously viewing the other contestants as competition, Greta comes to regard Maggie as a confidante.  (“The Corner Diner had been like a home. Maggie, a mother.”)  In the diner after the audition, Greta confesses to Maggie: “I can’t even cook.”

“Why enter a cooking contest to begin with?”

“Because making a fool out of myself on TV is easy money.”

So true! Remember the free Frigidaire contestants used to get on The Newlywed Game for humiliating confessions about the first time they “made whoopee”?  

“The world would be depressed without television,” Maggie soothes her elsewhere.  Greta is a starving artist, a painter, broke, about to lose her New York apartment for failing to make rent – it’s one of the reasons she’s come to LA to participate. Greta’s specialty? Eggs and toast. Not an auspicious start, but Greta has pluck. Through her eyes we meet the judges and the other contestants.  She has a funny way of sizing things up that makes the reader smile. “Looking at Bud was like looking at a vending machine full of junk food,” she tells us, describing another contestant.

As is true of the format of all “reality” competitions, there are three judges. But these guys are more like the Three Stooges – Slick, Gram (later, “Gramb”) and Chef Crank, who is the “Moe” of these stooges. They are constantly bickering, cutting each other down, belittling the contestants, throwing them curveballs. All that’s missing is the fingers in the eye – and maybe that’s not really missing!

After the ten contestants are chosen, the cookoffs begin with seafood.  Only, the contestants have to go out and catch their fish. Greta observes that her “fish looked like a worn-out tennis shoe.” Then, when they are back in the janky studio to prepare their dishes, they discover that behind the wall of their soundstage, the soap opera that’s being taped on the adjacent set is audible. A woman, Jane, is about to be stabbed “fifty times in the heart” by somebody. John? Of course, the contestants and judges become absorbed in the soap opera as the novel progresses and characters like the wealthy Drina Sanchez appear (“Her voice was like a long, black cigarette holder. Long black gloves.”). Did Jane die? The contestants argue back and forth among each other as viewers of soap operas often do.

“I bet John and his lover are in it together.”

“No, the girl in the hospital bed was an imposter.”

“It’s obvious that John hacked up Jane and flushed her down the toilet.”

“Jane was sucked into some vortex.”

The fact that nobody can actually see the soap opera actors underscores the whole notion of “reality” that’s so potent in this novel. (The epigraph to ÜBERCHEF USA comes from Academy-award-winning director Steven Soderbergh: “Reality shows are all the rage on TV at the moment … but that’s not reality, it’s just another aesthetic form of fiction.”)  Listening to the dialogue behind the wall, they are like the blind men and the elephant in the parable.

The next episode, after the Nurse is eliminated, is a spoof on Survivor. The contestants are divided into two teams and go out into the wilderness with guns. They are going to prepare a dish centered around a yellow-bellied marmot, and they are preparing the meal for monkeys. In episode four, it’s ice cream cones for clowns at a circus.  In episode five they go to Italy. One contestant is eliminated after each episode.

But just when you think you may have the plot figured out, a countdown to the winner, American Idol-style, think again. Just as the three remaining contestants prepare for their next challenge, in episode eleven – preparing the favorite childhood treat of one of the three judges (all dressed as children, Chef even wearing a cap with a propeller) – “reality,” the soap opera and the cooking competition all collide and mix like a spilled plate of spaghetti. Indeed, as Greta observes, “What happened next could not have been more surreal had the scene been an online video definition of the word ‘surreal.’” A group of terrorists from the “real world,” disguised as animals, invades the set…and that’s as much of the plot as I’m giving away.

Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of colorful screwball eccentrics, like the celebrity guests blind Helen and the vegan Agave. The Lighting Director, the Cameramen, Jim and Mike. There are the contestants, Ben Jax whose specialty is tacos, Keri, the precocious thirteen-year-old, and all the others from Bud and Tamara to the Nurse and the Mute, the Zookeeper and the rest.  The sponsors? The makers of the cleaning products used on the show, Klootz, Fick, Peedo and Skuzz.

The reader is never sure what’s coming next, but whatever it is is sure to be amusing. And indeed, what’s coming next from Jennifer Juneau? ÜBERCHEF USA is going to be a tough act to follow!

You can get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/%C3%9Cberchef-USA-Jennifer-Juneau/dp/1948510200/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=jennifer+juneau&qid=1575155925&s=books&sr=1-1

 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press.

On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge by Robert Dash

on an acr

By Greg Bem

.
“When it comes to exploring, it’s possible to travel real distances without going far at all.”  – Robert Dash, from the “Preface”
.
Epic encounters across time and space are often represented with examples of time and space. Such is the case of the 2017 book of poetry and images by photographer, naturalist, and educator Robert Dash. In his insightful, exhausting collection, where he examines the microscopic through the lens of the human, Dash reveals that time and space do not need to be large to be encompassing. This is a book that at its core explores the artistic fervor of the scanning electron microscope, Dash’s tool and medium of choice, and it is a book that explores how the photographer might internalize and become captivated by the worlds that fill their imagery.
.
“A community of processes, creatures and tools–termite jaws, fungal hyphae,
tunneling earthworms, wind, ice, drizzle, springtails, pecking nuthatches,
chemical magic, entropy, the ruthless blender known in slang as time–built this bridge.”
.
(from “Gossamer Thin,” page 99)
.
On an Acre Shy of Eternity reveals what an artist can do in a confined, constrained landscape. The muse cries out as a collective: from cliff rock to bunch of moss, the inherited imagery that is within, beneath, deeper still, is that imagery which is cherished and collected. In making this book, Dash situated himself across time while focusing on the subject of his home: the microcosmic subject matter within and along the periphery of his property, his corner of one of the San Juan Islands in the Salish Sea. The world is vast and vaster still, and it is one of mystery and intense—enormous even—forms of inclusion.
.
14

Camas Lily, by Robert Dash

.
The book is divided into four natural categories: plants, animals, water, and stones. Their presence reveals a quasi-alchemical relationship to reality and materials, and yet the subjects within carry range and precision. These are real images, a captured reality freakish and exquisite. Like the description of the X-Ray in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, the use and results of the scanning electron microscope feel hyper-potent and, at times, unfathomable. And in their space of fringe, in being known and untouchable one and the same, Dash provides juxtaposition, and tension. This leads to romance. To poetry. To feverish, undoubtedly spiritual insight.
.
“this one hops me back across decades
and reveals every wave, leaf, cloud, shadow and feather
as a trace of eternity.”
.
(from “Small Wonder,” page 57)
.
This circumstantial structure is directed by Dash’s own poetry. The poetry begins with the photographs themselves. Dash has given relatively straightforward descriptions to the plates within the book, which when strung together read as a poem themselves: “Grass pollen: four hundred pollen grains would span a pinhead,” “Garry oak leaf in autumn,” and “Cliff ice at sunset,” to name a few. The educator, the naturalist, in collector’s mode, constructor’s mode, educator and describer, traveler of the unknown universe beneath our limbs.
Poetry is here: poetry is reflexive, and it is functional, and it is emotional. The photographs may be visual poems through and through. And then, too, most of the photographs in the book are paired with their own short, lyrical poem. The text is elegant and brief—enough to entice and allure. It is poetry that is as cleverly portrayed as the subjects of the photography. The verse may commentary on the process itself: “and you can’t parse these facts / and sometimes life falters even when relief is at hand” (from “Relief at Hand,” page 72). And at other times, Dash extends the lesson or intention of the photograph with additional explanation:
.
“Down below, water shatters bedrock, free silica for diatoms
who float free to make half the globe’s oxygen,
only to come back around
wed to hydrogen
a lover returned.”
..
 (from “Water is a Lover,” page 82)
.
Dash’s efforts to provide a mixture of science and art is what I consider this book’s best quality. The photographs and the images each add to the weight and the significance of the overall message within the book. Much of this has to do with the flow of material across pages. Book designer Robert Lanphear allows Dash’s work to shine—quite literally, the expansive and intricate imagery is set evenly alongside the text. Images and poetry complement and provokes, in a dance between representation and self-awareness. As much as this book is about the tides that sit swollen alongside Dash’s island property off the coast of Northern Washington, so too is this book about the rhythm of the artist who inhabits, who occupies, who respects the surrounding and enveloping world.
.
Vac-High PC-Std. 15kV x3400 (46mm)

Camas Lily Pollen by Robert Dash

.
All but three of the photographs in the book were taken on this small nook of island geology. Three others were taken while in a boat, not far from the property. This proximity is fascinating when also considering the process of Dash’s poetics. The invisible hand of the writer, the invisible hand of the photographer: a sense of place is only afforded through the work itself. But Dash is generous in his literal descriptions of the work and offers challenges to the reader after setting the stage. This context, this establishment of bond, I can’t help but imagine reflects the bond Dash has discovered between his life in the macrocosmic alongside his life in the microcosmic.
.
Since the publication of On an Acre Shy of Eternity, Dash has continued his use of and passion for the scanning electron microscope, and the abundance made visible with such a tool. His collection Food for Thought – Micro Views of Sustenance: Threats and Prospects looks at the resources we (and the world) consume, from food to soil, from crops to deforestation, and the conversations in between in the context of climate change. Dash’s photographic work has evolved into even greater levels of precision, and curation. To see his early microscopic work thrive alongside his recent, empowered imagery is marvelous.
.
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at http://www.gregbem.com.
.
.

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Buy Die by Bernard Meisler

theres-never-been-a-better-time-to-die-bernard-meisler-front-cover-600x924

By Jim Feast

Bernard Meisler’s new detective novel, There’s Never Been a Better Time to Buy Die, centers on a flawed character who acts as a sleuth. If we look over some of the classical gumshoes, from Phillip Marlowe to Travis McGee, going back to Sherlock or, for that matter, Hercule Poirot, all of them, while differing in lifestyle, methods of investigation and personal involvement in the cases, are basically decent human beings. In radical contrast, in Meisler’s novel the sleuth, real estate salesman Rick Davies, is a petty chiseler, failed business investor, over drinker, and all-around skunk, who sets out to investigate some crimes in Mill Valley, a tony community north of San Francisco,

And it’s this a-bit-unsavory narrator who gives the book its irrepressible zing. For one, while our larger-than-life protagonist, always on the lookout for the main chance, spends his time trying to find the truth behind a murder linked to some illegal drugs he found in an old house he was prepping for sale, he accompanies this with a running, scathing commentary on his fellow, equally flawed but generally much richer, neighbors and suspects. For instance, in labeling the different suburban lifestyles, he mentions: “Let’s not forget the trustafarians. Their grandfather invented Velcro or Sterno or whatever. They dress like bums, torn t-shirts and ripped jeans or else eccentrically, sporting Victorian gear and top hats, killing time, waiting till the sun goes down so they can get loaded again.” In another classical skewering, he watches a rich yuppie getting out of her car with her kids. “Her kids popped out of the SUV like maggots out of a dead rat’s eyes, the girl in a ballerina outfit, the boy in a baseball uniform, still carrying his little bat. It could have been the cover of White Privilege magazine. ‘Zooey! Hunter! Let’s go.’”

Indeed, while detecting these motes in other’s eyes, he is also amusingly aware of the beam in his own. He characterizes himself, “People [in the area] like to hike and commune with nature but me, I’m a dedicated indoorsman.” And, to go back to the earlier comment on trustafarians, he ends his diatribe with this, “Believe you me, it might sound like I resent them but I don’t. I want me some of that fuck-you money too so I could smoke weed all day, drink all night and sleep till noon.”

But let’s be clear – and this is one of the gutsy moves of the book – the funny patter doesn’t make our protagonist a loveable bad boy, he can be a real shit.

The second strength of the book is that while trying to solve the crime, Davies must also keep trying to earn a living as a real estate broker, and in doing so he lays bare the scamming and over-hyping that are standard practice in a field, which, like a con game, depends on the cupidity and vanity of the clients to keep the money rolling.

He explains, for instance, that what the realtor wants is a quick sale, not the highest price. He says, rhetorically, “Do you think I’d rather sell your house in the first week for $900,000, or take 3 months of work to sell it for $1,000,000? That a $100k difference for you but not for me. See, I can make $13,500 in a week or $15,000 in 3 months. Which do you think I prefer?” Not that he lets the seller find that out. He goes on, “Meanwhile the suckers – I mean my cherished clients – think I’m out to get them top dollar. They think I’m their friend. Who am I to disillusion them?’

I appreciate learning the (often nefarious) workings of this business as well as the way Meisler keeps the pot boiling, that is,  keeps the clues popping up and the mystery unfolding. But most of all how he puts center-stage  a narrator with two major “character defects,” using my special meaning of the term. I am taking it to mean not the personality-based shortcoming of  the character in a story; but to defects which hit at the character’s functional role in the narrative.

Perhaps from what I’ve said already you can see what I’m getting at. A basic innovation in Meisler’s approach is in giving the story over to a lead character who violates two conventions. Davies is a detective who lacks the traditional good sportsmanship and decency of the Chandler type P.I. And, along this same line, he does not even have the charm and saving grace of the bad boy scamp, such as Hammer (as played in Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, for instance), who may have gotten drunk too often or let his partner get killed. No, Davies is not so lovable. For god’s sakes, when he sees he can get away with it, he even steals money from an old lady.

Add to that a second violation. He breaks with one regularly honored convention of satire. Like Juvenal, he “lashes the rogues,” treating those who deserve contempt with contempt, but he refuses to make this judgment from a lofty place, looking down at the lowlifes. Davies admits to sharing similar vanities and cupidity with those he condemns, shares them without having the strength to grow out of them

So if you want a book that, in the process of delivering a good mystery, on multiple fronts challenges the accepted way of doing things, in that case, while there may be a better time to buy, they’ll never be a better time to read this book.

You can find the book here: https://sensitiveskinmagazine.com/books/theres-never-been-a-better-time-to-die-bernard-meisler/

Jim Feast is the author of the poetry book Time Extends Life to Those Who Survive, Fly by Night Press, and the novel Long Day Counting Tomorrow, from Autonomedia.)