poetry book review

City Poems by Mbarek Sryfi

city poems
By Lynette Esposito
In ninety-four pages of poems that range from light hearted ironic observation to serious reflection, Mbarek Sryfi presents a world of contemplation.
The volume has two sections, The Trace of a Smile and City Poems.  The first section presents poems that have just a light touch of humor.  The second section of poems are more serious in nature and tone.
On page twenty-six and twenty-seven in the first section, Sryfi asks a question in the title: Where the Hell do the Birds go in War, anyway? While the title evokes a sly smile from the reader, the poem is serious about the shocks of war.  Sryfi shows a mother in her red PJ’s sitting on the step with her daughter in blue PJ’s.  Her eyes are vacant.
                     Under the sign sits the young mother in her red PJ’s
                     And blue blanket.
                     Hazel eyes,
                     Empty gaze.
                     Her little daughter in her blue PJ’s
                     Rummaging in a plastic bag.
The scene has been set. The aftermath of a bombing focuses on a mother lost in thought holding a tin cup begging for money. The images of desperation and loss of hope in this eleven-stanza poem–some stanzas only one line–is clear and poignant. The last stanza has the mother becoming aware of where she is and her reaction.
                      “Merci” she whispers
                       Without looking up.
Sryfi’s poem is powerful and clear.  He is skilled in form and strong in powerful line breaks.  He sets the contrast between the morning coffee and the bakery and the woman sitting on the step in such a way the reader feels the despair at the same time smelling the morning coffee from a nearby shop. The common language works well here and the poem succeeds in presenting the leftovers of war.
Throughout the book, poems vary in size, form and theme.  One of the short but interesting poems in the second section is The Autistic Child on page sixty-six.  This three-line poem sets the scene with the title and gives the reader a clear view of a child wanting to communicate but can only use his eyes.
                      He stood there gazing.
                      His tongue helpless
                      But words dripping from his eyes.
Although the poem is short, it is so direct that the reader can almost see the silence. This experience with an autistic child is realistic and tugs at one/s heart.
On page seventy-eight, Till the Last Sound Ceases to Exist is a one-stanza, fourteen-line poem that is enhanced at the beginning with a quote from Eric Sellin: “History may well be a matter of one’s relative age.” The poem is unrhymed and conversational.  The narrator begins I like listening. The poem addresses the skill of listening and the artistry of sound. But, again, Sryfi has used his title to telegraph what he is really talking about and the last line brings it home.
                     What you ought to do is just wait for death.
Although the poem speaks of listening and sound, the message is more somber.  If there is no one to listen, there is no sound.
Sryfi uses many poetic technics throughout this volume including quotations from other authors, translations, mixed-line and stanza lengths as well as creative images. The book is interesting and has a freshness to it.
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.

High Tide by Ed Meek

high tide
The surf is certainly up in Ed Meek’s High Tide published by Aubade Publishing. Nina Rubenstein Alonso, Editor of Constellations, a Journal of Poetry and Fiction, comments that “Ed Meek’s poems pull us in with such clarity that you don’t feel the pain at first, almost like a painting you need to study until you see what’s waiting in the shadows, that scarred figure, it’s history.”
High Tide makes the reader feel like he is swimming in the shallows, safe, unaware of the images of sharks like dark gothic beings waiting to prey on your intellect.  The poems open on one path, then deliciously lead down another one you did not expect. For example, the first poem in the book on page one, Hamock, details notes that Columbus took.
                 Mayans carved them from the bark of trees
                 Columbus noted in his diary.
Meek skillfully uses the title to define “them” and holds a conversational tone all through this twenty-six line, one- stanza poem.  Meek details the wonderful leisurely activities of using a hammock through the first fifteen lines of the poem then speaks of A promise I usually fail to keep as the poem reaches a turning point.  The tone of the poem becomes more somber and the narrator becomes like a spider in a web suspended above the earth dreaming of things he did not do and the Mayans half asleep before Columbus washes ashore.  It is a powerful poem with many suggestions.  
This highly skilled author shows this strength throughout the book.   In the poem on page seventeen, Praise for Ponytailed Girls Who Run, Meek presents a nice setting and visual and makes a subtle comment on what is alive and what is not alive using hair as his metaphor.
          I love to see them bouncing past
          on the balls of their feet—
          hair pulled back to flaunt
          flawless skin, flashing
          arms from T-shirts, legs
          in short shorts, multi-colored,
          incandescent shoes.
In this three- stanza, free-verse poem, it is clear the narrator’s admiration has reconstructed a view of beauty.  The third stanza turns to the hair.
        And the hair, lovely,
        surely not dead
        but vibrant with life and light
        as it sways and bobs
       like a rope swings in the wind above the water.
Meek has turned the vision of a young girl running into a comment on how life is perceived.
While some poems span more than a page, Meek is also able to project deep meaning in very short poems.  On page seventy-eight, the three- line, one-stanza poem,  The Last Game, demonstrates Meek’s ability to see and translate images into profound interpretation.
        When you die, you will slide
        under the tag at home.
        dust rising in the air.
The assumption that we all die is, of course, clear, but to become dust and rise in the air at home, gives one pause for thought when housekeeping.
Hide Tide is a thoughtful book of complex poems that range from the ordinary to extraordinary in both themes and images. It is not a book one would read in a single setting but a little here and a little there allowing time to digest.  It was a pleasure to read.
High Tide is available from Aubade Publishing at https://aubadepublishing.com/books/high-tide/ 
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.

Everything You Hold Dear by Jamie Sharpe


By Greg Bem

The J. Sharpe Award for Poetic Mediocrity

(from: “Bootstraps / And Where Best to Purchase Them,” pg. 17)

Following 2017’s Dazzle Ships, Jamie Sharpe’s latest collection of poetry is cunning, confusedly irresolute, and filled to the brim with a thinly-veiled sorrow-cum-cynicism towards poetry and the situations of living writers. Despite his outlashes toward the stereotypical situations that poets find themselves managing, Sharpe’s wit carries Everything You Hold Dear, which is compiled of 28 lyrical bursts and 27 micro-biographies. Often the anonymized vignettes and lessons that fill each page reflect a certain autobiography, alluding to Sharpe’s own struggles through the world of the literary, of publishing, and of poverty.

The book begins with the reflective “Turning the Alphabet Into a Band-Aid,” which in six lines informs the reader that this book is both within and beyond the deadpan of a poet’s futility and hopelessness. “When I was nobody, who I was / didn’t distract from what / I said.” (pg. 9) opens the poem, and the book. Admitting to ego and a history of self-determined success, Sharpe props the door for all manner of storytelling. This book, thus, is concerned with the problems and burdens of experience, and how experience damns us all.

Amongst poets I know,
wealth is “fiercely original.”

(pg. 16)

The manifestations of experience and the lived life of the writerly types are presented through an alphabetical concept of biography. Every other page is a poem about a writer who is only identified by their assigned letter within the alphabet, and each letter is represented both abruptly and distinctly. These stories, often allegorical and proclamatory in tone, exhibit a typification of the common situations poets find themselves in. It could be me, it could be you, it could be any of us who encounter the world of fame and recognition, advances and meager award money, and the many dead-ends of employment.

No job. Limited prospects. U, what’s to
be done with you?

I’d run

(if U weren’t a thinly veiled I).

(pg. 54)

As distanced and chiseled as they are, these alphabetical iterations also represent Sharpe’s own criticism and critical points of argument, at times scathing and at other times subdued, of the world keenly observed. That the book has been published during our time of supreme isolation, during a global pandemic, feels fitting, for the many of us who can only glance and gawk in a general, lamenting peanut gallery at the trials of our peers, as flat the failures and successes may be.

Interspersing these stories is a lazy string of poems that feels resonant of Sharpe and Sharpe’s own experiences. They are lyrical poems that often feel disconnected and irrelevant to Sharpe’s larger message within the alphabetical pieces. Many of the poems have occasional glimmers of potency, where the poet finds catharsis and, occasionally, self-actualization, but there is a thickened layer of ego fat that fills in all of the gaps. If Sharpe has been intending for a flighty sense of the mediocrity of experience to fill the spaces of insight, this intention has been accomplished.

Everything You Hold Dear, its title emblematic of an irony that haunts these pages, follows the many writers of the 19th and 20th centuries who have sarcastically engaged the canon and the general milieu of “the writer.” Sharpe follows in the shadowy footsteps of many relatively recent authors, like Joyce, Nabokov, Plath, Kerouac, and Bukowski, who have similar practices. These, and countless others, have gone to extreme lengths of fictionalization and memoirification to capture the feeling of the destitute and “alive” lifestyle of those damned, poetic souls. The ones who wander the earth in something between paralysis and determination. These salty critics often rely on sardonic methods to make their point regarding how ridiculous (and absurd? existential? nihilistic?) the writer’s world continues to be. Sharpe’s contemporary, Seattle-based Thomas Walton, operates in a similar manner through his recent lyrical essays.

At the end of the day, and the end of the collection, we are reminded that the world around us, the world for poets that must be dealt with by the poets, continues. Sharpe closes with a couplet, called “Foreword,” which symbolizes something greater (or, at least, mediocrely the same) around the corner. But that corner is not determined: it is not solidified and proven to be true other than the graying of a very Sisyphusian landscape

The book closes and turns our attention back onto itself, in a folding manner, encapsulated within the collection some vague, curious, greater offering. Sharpe is inadvertently contributing an ars poetica, stiff and defiant. It may be sloppy and blurry, but Sharpe, either consciously or not, is yearning for something more, something greater, something that contains fulfillment. As the book’s title suggests, Everything You Hold Dear is as much about the joy and a positive reason for being as it is for the shadow lurking behind. Thus the “dazzle” continues. Thus, Sharpe’s beautiful, quintessential poet’s damnation persists.

to view Alps
puke sour suns.

Thick, yellow voltas.

(from “Avalanche Kills One,” pg. 29)

You can find the book here: https://ecwpress.com/products/everything-you-hold-dear

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 www.gregbem.com



Red Rover Red Rover by Bob Hicok

red rover
By Charles Rammelkamp
One thing you notice about Bob Hicok’s poems is that so many of them have no stanza breaks, and when they do it seems a little arbitrary anyway since every one of them is a stream of consciousness, developing its own logic, as if the poet is thinking out loud.  Indeed, in an interview several years ago with Split Lip magazine, Hicok said, “I don’t really know where my poems are going; I almost never know where they’re going.” He goes on, “I wish in a lot of ways that I could plan poems out. A lot of people talk about walking around and they’re writing as they’re walking around, or they’ll build a sense of a poem over a period of time. And for me it’s so much about just sitting down and seeing what shows up. The first thing that shows up that has energy and catches my attention—I just start following where it’s going.”
Take a poem in his new collection called “A lament, pep talk and challenge walk into a bar.” It begins
Banjo. Zither. Carnegie Hall. The Four Tops and Seasons.
Greek chorus, Music of the spheres and triangles
and dodecahedrons.  The Kinks. The Mozarts
and Fats Waller and Puentes.  The Butthole Surfers.
My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart
and this is a weird way to critique my heart….
And he’s off, musing about what it means to be a good person, helping others (“and do unto others goes from words / dropped in the suggestion box to law.”), the futility of good intentions, of wanting selflessly to bring clans and tribes together. And then, “It’s no accident I began”.
this meandering with music: no two species
could come from more distant planets
than a Steinway and a sax,
yet listen to how well they get along
when they put their mouths where their fears are,
when they lend us our better-tuned selves.
No accident that Hicok describes his verse as “meandering,” and yet it coheres in a heartfelt message. “Don’t just have but be a soul,” the poem concludes.In that same interview with Split Lip, Hicok laments, “One of the things that I am uncomfortable with as of late is that some people are looking at me as a funny poet, and I think that can pretty much be the death of a career.” Indeed, the title of the poem just quoted takes the form of the classic joke about three different characters walking into a bar, but there’s obviously a serious moral consideration at its heart.
Make no mistake, Hicok can make you smile with his versatility with words. He is funny! In “Pedagogy,” a 55-line poem with no stanza breaks, he and another person are passing notes, “the most private genre after the shopping list.” You have to smile at such an observation. And later in the poem, “I try to make the word / ‘theater’ out of ‘hate her’ but need another t / and one less h.” But Hicok goes beyond “funny.” “If you make a joke,” he notes in the interview, “it usually stops the conversation, and that’s not my intention at all.”
Indeed, so many of Hicok’s poems in Red Rover Red Rover concern themselves with how we humans are wrecking the planet.  It doesn’t get much more urgent than that. Poems like “On the Rocks” and “Weather Report” and “On the Other Hand,” which takes Greta Thunberg as its subject, directly confront climate change and human responsibility.
“Having our cake and being eaten by it too” addresses the thoughtless human greed at the core of this, as does “After you, or what would Whitman, Emerson, or Merwin do?” (The title is a jokey play on “What would Jesus do?”). This poem begins, “It’s not too late / to schlep water in a bucket to your sink.” It goes on with example after example of how the human urge for convenience has wrecked the ecosphere. It concludes,
On the count of three, never use
electricity again. One, two, two
two, two, two
This, too is funny, right? But of course it’s serious. And heartrending. Oy. How are we going to get out of this mess? “Looking in the mirror” has the same message. It’s a poem about the Amazon burning because Brazil is clearing the forest for cattle, because cattle provide beef for hamburgers, and so many of us love our Big Macs and Whoppers. If each one of us just stopped ordering cheeseburgers,
the closer we are to being able to breathe
tomorrow and more importantly the day after
the day after the day after
the ten thousand years after that.
While not prescribing a solution to the world’s problems, Red Rover Red Rover includes several poems about the Tao, the Way, living in harmony with the natural world. Indeed, the book’s title, itself a kind of joke as it plays on the simple childhood playground game, comes from the ten-page poem in the center of the volume, “My Tao”: “red rover, red rover, send good or evil over.”
But Bob Hicok is just thinking out loud, not really suggesting or commending any social policy changes, not really. These poems are entertaining, first of all – yes, often “funny” – but they are challenging and thought-provoking at the same time.
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.

Postpoemed, by Carl Kaucher

By Lynette G. Esposito
Postpoemed, by Carl Kaucher (Alien Buddha Press) is 80 pages of mostly free verse poems exploring the context of location, time and circumstance.  Throughout the volume, Kaucher titles various poems with actual places and places observations within the verse that empirically reveals connections between what can be seen and what cannot be seen. 
For example, in his poem, Philadelphia, on page thirteen, in the second stanza of six, the narrator defines where he is:
                         I am sitting on sitting on the sidewalk, silently
                         pondering chaotic cracks in the concrete
                          that form these fractal lines of prose
                          that go nowhere and have no flow
                          till someone throws me a dime
                          that I turn into a rhyme
                          and scribble it on a cardboard sign
                           that no one can read.
The picture of the city is there but subtle.  In later stanzas, he talks of not knowing where he is and of great philosophers as he ponders an empty storefront.  The last stanza pulls the reader across the boundaries of what one sees and how one sees it.
                            Martyr me vagrancy at the Trestle Inn
                             then bury me in a pothole
                             At 11th and Callowhill.  
 In this context, a person cannot sit on the cement step just to think and then to write without passers by judging the poor soul as a jobless nuisance.  Kaucher skillfully comments on societal reactions as well as the state of thinkers and poets.
In his poem, At 8 pm, on page 60, Kaucher intermixes time, place situation and distortion.  He sets the place at a concert with the lead musician attired in a dress but looking not like a woman and is juxtaposed to flashing lights and grandma hooping it up in the front row with the crowd possibly protesting the NRA. Seems like chaos but he makes it work in the last stanza when he pulls the reader from a possible high back to reality with simple receipts.
                                      coffee, crumb buns, horn honks
                                      and rude gestures till 2 AM
                                      and the sleepless interlude
                                       I woke with a pocketful of receipts
                                       that all indicated
                                       it was Easter morning.
The poem makes the reader feel as if he has been on a trip but gone nowhere.  At 8 pm is a well- controlled poem with clear visuals that one needs to awaken from to be back in real time.
In his poem, Weed Freak, on page 73, the narrator makes a clear comment on what it is to be unique.
                                          Wet fallow field
                                          and vacant lots
                                          inspire dormant seed
                                          that grow into weeds.
                                          One time,
                                          I was called a weirdo freak
                                          while taking a picture
                                          of a rustic wooden fence
                                          with two
                                          beware of dog signs.
                                          Freaks can always spot a freak.
                                          Weeds can always be pulled.
The poem succeeds with its plain images and concept that wryly twists the observed and the observer into one.
The poems in this book are interesting and well crafted. Kaucher sets the place, time and situation in the poems with deliberate precision.  It was a pleasure to read.
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.

Hysteria by Kim Yideum


By Greg Bem

Contemporary translations of South Korean poetry reveal a world of many layers and many breakthroughs. The quasi-recent collection Anxiety of Words, which features Seattle-based poet Don Mee Choi’s translations of three late 20th Century female poets serves as a cornerstone for feminist voices coming out of South Korea. Ch’oe Sung-Ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju are featured in that text, and their distinct styles are brought together in a text both compelling and informative. As Choi wrote early in the book’s introduction, it’s important to remember that there was “an emergence of a feminist consciousness in [South Korean] women’s poetry beginning in the 1970s.” But that emergence is not limited to one time or place. As with any understanding of feminism, its development is fluid and across generations.

Around 50 years ago, the poets listed above started bringing the world to their works and vice versa, and yet Anxiety of Words was released in 2006. The translations are utterly present within the 21st Century, and feel exciting and exacting, inciting and insightful. In one moment, rage and compassion and a visceral coming-to-terms are thrown into the blender of the poems. In many ways and from many angles the poems carry more energy and inertia than the dominant voices of the Americas and Europe. In many ways, these are the voices of liberation and independence. They reflect the art of breaking free from bondage and abuse. I have written of Hyesoon’s works of body and horror at length in multiple reviews and could write about her and Sung-Ja and Yon-ju extensively. Their works are symbolic and deserve space, and yet what I am curious about today is the next generation of work from South Korea. Let us turn our attention to contemporary South Korean poet and feminist successor Kim Yideum.

The 2010s and 2020s will be generations marked as a shuffling along, a rounding the corner, and a subduing of life amidst infinite crises. Information overload challenging the global populace at every moment is impetus for achieving both satisfaction and numbness. Kim Yideum is a poet whose words reflect this sense of paralysis and challenge. In Hysteria, poets and translators Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, and Hedgie Choi bring a fresh and immediate presentation of Kim’s works through vigorous translations that are as harmonious and consistent as they are defiant and excruciating.

Hysteria is, as one might guess from the title, a book that finds balance between the mundane and the extreme. A throwback to the concept of hysterics and reactionary moods as defined by male doctors in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the book investigates, through a feminist lens, the way the poet and world collide today. It is often harsh, unpleasant, and at odds with truth and beauty. And yet Kim’s poems, poems of hysteria, are, in their trials, puzzles and conversations.

I have this hobby where I go to the back of the bus
and lean on the window and stare out
until I fall into a sleep so deep I don’t breathe.

(from “Aori More Than Aura” on page 2)

The book goes far in exploring the relationship between self and world in the long format. The poetry is divided into three sections: the first feels utterly nihilistic and opiated; the second reflects the anger and fury constantly under the surface; and the third extends to the pettier qualities of the everyday filled with humdrum and melodrama. The arc across the book is exquisite because on the surface there is a sense of failure; however, the arc challenges how neat and polished collections of poetry serve only to reinforce structures and historical power. Kim’s work explores each poem’s interconnectedness and these threads are exposures into an authentic and versatile every day. That truth and that beauty that is covered up is actual and gritty. It is noisy and full of disjunction.

Finding a middle ground is reaching a point of absurdity. It feels, through a quagmire of emotions, impossible to be at one with the atrocities of everyday life and the rhythm and unstoppable reverberations of that life. Kim writes in “Correction” that she is “Writing like someone suffering / something they haven’t lived through / winners of million-dollar prizes, whatever” (page 19). The attitude toward this space is sardonic and demeaning, but also Kim is consistent in elevating an understanding of what it means to be authentic, and how right and wrong that is. This sense of absurdity feels like the works of American poet Rauan Klassnik, who challenges the machine while riding the machine all along.

Kim’s speaker is in no way doing one thing or another; there is never a clear position or stance within the voices of these poems. When taken side-by-side, the poetry as a collection often feels disconnected and, as such, incorrect. And this is where Kim is so profound. Hyesoon poetry, contrasted, is wild and filled with awe-and-wretch-inducing moments, and there is a fantastic sense of the whole as one consistent, blasting chorus across poem-time and poem-space. And for Kim? Kim’s answer is to throw the sense of the fantastic into the gutter.

Even if you cover me with a wrinkled blanket
you’ve got to understand that a buttercup’s character is so fiery
it can’t be buried. Not even by a snowstorm.
I’ll never be weak.

(from “The Flood” on page 58)

In 2019 and 2020, this sensibility, as captured within these poems, feels relevant and insistent. There is enough destruction in the sentiment to feel like Dada feels, or like Grunge feels. To feel as though the world we’re facing, with screen addictions and a fallow/hollow sense of relationship and commitment, is a world to reject. And in the process of rejection there are poems, and what those poems are, as padding or as output, is fascinating and inspiring. But as it feels unsettled, it begs the question: what next? Does there need to be a next? The emotion of rage and wrath Kim elegantly includes suggests that there may be something more loving, more accepting, more inclusive. But that is not in Hysteria. It is not the point of Hysteria. Making space for positivity is something Kim’s future works may consider, or not. I suppose it all depends on how much of the world weighs down upon us, and how trapped or numb we feel about it.

You don’t have anything else?
a woman shopper asks me and
I become a different person
who wonders what it would be like to be someone else.

(from “You Are Suddenly Green” on page 76)

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Hysteria-Kim-Yideum/dp/0900575824

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 gregbem.com.

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, www.brownstonepoets.blogspot.com  and at patriciacarragon8.wordpress.com  

All Our Fare-Thee-Wells by Robert Cooperman

By Charles Rammelkamp
The title of Robert Cooperman’s latest chapbook of poems refers to the fiftieth anniversary concert series the surviving members of The Grateful Dead performed in 2015 – a couple of decades after Jerry Garcia had already died. Like the concert, this chapbook is at once a sweet goodbye and an almost palpable blast of memory. Of course, it’s saturated with nostalgia. Cooperman’s previous chapbook, Saved by the Dead (Liquid Light Press) likewise revives the memory of the famous jam band and similarly addresses the fleeting nature of youth.
The collection begins with the poem, “Ask Amy,” set in contemporary times, the narrator and his wife, Beth, who is an integral part of the whole sequence of poems, reading an advice column question over breakfast, from a woman whose feelings have been hurt by her brother, who plans to attend a rock concert rather than celebrate his sister’s 65th birthday. The advice makes Bob and Beth smile, though not without a passing sorrow over what cannot be recovered.
“Unless,” Amy replies,
“that gig involves
Jerry Garcia returning
from the Other Side,
your brother has no excuse.”
The next set of poems takes us back in time, first to Cooperman’s youth in New York and the Dead’s legendary performance at Fillmore East, “all of us roaring for the music never to end, // as all things must.” A suite of four poems set thirty years ago in Baltimore and D.C.’s RFK stadium follows, bringing us to Jerry Garcia’s last days and, almost as a consequence, the end of Cooperman’s youth. “Seeing the Grateful Dead, RFK Stadium, July, 1993,” ends:
“Jesus, he’s a wreck,” I said,
frightened for a favorite uncle,
though his fingers flew
along the frets, and tunes filled the air,
two years before he went still
and silent forever.
We’re next taken to that Fare-Thee-Well concert in 2015. At this point, Bob and Beth concede their age has become an issue. “Watching the Last Show Ever of the Grateful Dead: Pay Per View TV” starts:
Who could afford tickets and a hotel room?
Not us.  So Beth and I settle for live TV
and not a joint or pipe: Beth frowning
on my imbibing, and nowadays, my lungs
rasp like stripped-down gears, after one toke.
The concert’s a treat, though if we’re honest,
we admit something’s missing: Garcia,
gone twenty years, but still indispensable…
Just as in Saved by the Dead, Cooperman encounters kids who weren’t even alive when the Grateful Dead were prominent and reacts to their innocent ignorance, reflecting on his own geezerhood. In “The Grateful Dead Dancing Terrapins Baseball Cap,” he encounters such a person in a health care facility, home away from home for the elderly. The poem starts:
The receptionist at this urgent care center
compliments my baseball cap when I sign in.
“Thanks,” I smile, despite the urinary infection:
my urethra barbwire every time I piss.
“We’re everywhere!” I chime the code
to a fellow Deadhead, but she throws a look
blank as the black boards I’d dusted
and washed, at after-school detention.
“Jerry Garcia?” the name, in my nostalgic universe,
should be clarification enough.
“Who?” her young brow’s furrowed, as if considering
the most confusing math problem ever devised.
 In “A Question in the Buchtel Boulevard Post Office: Denver, Colorado,” it’s a postal clerk who makes him feel his age.
“Winter Cold,” “The MRI Machine” and “At the University of Colorado Hospital Spine Center” are other poems involving the frailty of age. This final one is about the results of the tests, the X-rays and MRI, the next steps, the next treatment decisions. It ends:
Still, it’s nice to dream of walking,
even slowly, around the park’s lakes,
and not teeter and tap with my cane,
while listening to the ghosts
of Jerry Garcia and Pigpen
harmonize on an old blues number,
when my generation believed
its birthright was to stay forever young.
Ah, youth! But there are also moments of redemption, as when, in “We’re Everywhere,” he encounters a couple of fellow Deadheads at a fundraiser at the university where Beth teaches. In “License Plate,” he notices a car’s vanity plate as he drives through Denver running errands. “GR8ful-1” it proclaims. Bob wants to salute his fellow Deadhead, but the car turns left, and he’s not so sure the driver would understand anyway.
Better just to savor his plate, of tasting
the delights of once being young,
when we thought music could save the world,
or at least make it more bearable.
In the final poem, Bob and Beth consider attending a concert in nearby Boulder featuring three surviving members of The Grateful Dead, but they decide against it.
“Now if Jerry’s ghost were to show up,”
I joke to Beth, “or if the man himself
were still alive, that’d change everything,”
like all those hopeful sightings of Elvis.
All Our Fare-Thee-Wells is full of wit and an honest appreciation for a musical act that means so much to Cooperman, and with its insights into aging and the exuberance of youth, it’s a collection anybody can enjoy.

You can find the book here: ALL OUR FARE-THEE-WELLS by Robert Cooperman – Finishing Line Press


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.

I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood By Tiana Clark

i cant
By Lynette Esposito
I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark published by Pittsburgh University Press in the Pitt Poetry Series is an amazing collection of verse.
The ninety-nine pages of poems vary in style, length and subject but are connected by a raw honesty that reveals stark truths. For example, on page three in her poem, Cross/Bite, Clark describes a difficult birth.
          I was born into the world sideways.
    Doctor said.
            surgery to break my face
set it right again
              as f breaking were simple.
 This poem represents a harsh beginning that makes the narrator’s jaw click like typewriter keys, yet she remains unbroken and thankful.  The form supports the images and revelations in this poem by having ragged lines on the right.  It suggests, among other things, like white sand in the mouth, an uneven life from the very onset and the uneasy decisions that are made from the beginning of existence.
In the poem, In the Middle Things on page eighty-eight, the narrator is grown but acknowledges the desire for information on an unknown absent father.
       My daddy   is what    is always   at stake   in all   my work
       I want to know if he is still                                alive—
       If he thinks of me as often I think of him.
       I am still that baby, alone
       In the incubator, yelping    for more and more breath
       with moist, moth-like wings for lungs.
       Only my mother’s name is on my birth certificate
The poem skillfully uses spacing, and word groupings as techniques to emphasize the desire to understand where one comes from, who one’s fathers are and what that does to one’s lives.  Her images reek of longing and wondering.  It is a strong poem that is worthy of being read and read again.
The book is divided into four sections, I Can’t Talk, About the Trees, Without the Blood and an Epilogue that has quotes from Muriel Rukeyser and Gwendolyn Brooks. This is a poet who is not afraid to quote other poets throughout the book as well.
The book is the winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.  Justly so.  The poems are consistently strong and complex.  The images are fresh and interesting.  This is a good read for lovers of poetry.
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.
The book is available from www.upress.pitt.edu