poetry book

Central Air by George Bilgere

central air

By Lynette G. Esposito

Lynn Powell, author of Season of the Second, comments that Central Air will startle you with its power.  Haunting dispatches from Berlin, droll poems about late fatherhood, cheeky marital love lyrics, searing elegies, and laments for a country ‘growing stranger, less recognizable, more lonely every day….  I found this to be true of George Bilgere’s Central Air in the sixty-nine pages of poetry published by the University of Pittsburg Press in their Pitt Poetry Series.

For example, the poem, Fourth of July on page thirteen, is a one-stanza, twenty-five-line verse thatopens with a visual of the country’s birthday celebration causing the reader not to look up at the fireworks but to look at individuals rushing to the hospital after something went wrong.
Across the nation the newly nine-
fingered people the eight- and seven- and six-
(but rarely five – five is rare) fingered people are hurrying to the ER.
Bilgere has them coming from a wide variety of places: from the dark parks, backyard barbecues from the neighbor’s garage as if to metaphorically include everyone.  The wife is white faced, the kids are quiet and the fingers are wrapped because something didn’t go off right. He sets a time and place with clear observation how a celebration can go wrong but this poem is not about just showing what happened.  His last lines clarify the commentary.
the tiny treacherous bomb
that failed to go off, that refused
to commemorate the birth
of the great republic that stands,
one nation under God, with liberty
and justice, etc.  Then changed
its mind,
This highly skilled poem presents a picture of celebrants and country that twists itself into a patriotic pretzel with consequences. On page thirty-five, Bilgere reveals his dry sense of humor in his poem Mystery of Jerky. He sets the scene at a gas station in Nebraska and lauds the Plains Indians with cutting the heart out of a buffalo and eating it raw in the belief they would gain the courage and strength from the animal. He is eating jerky and ponders:
Why I or anyone would eat this is not clear.
He concludes this four-stanza poem, not of what happened to the Indians, but suggestion of what happened when one eats a tube of jerky in a Nebraskan gas station.
But as I stand here
in the air-conditioned gas station,
chewing on the tube of what might
once have been meat, I can assure you
that is not what is happening.
His ability to set time and place and reference an historical event then connect them to a smile is amazing. His last poem reveals a tender awaking.  Ripeness on page sixty-eight and sixty-nine is a one stanza poem of thirty-five lines that uses the power of imagery.  The poem opens with:
This summer a big hawk,
hulking and sullen has come
to live in our neighborhood
like a god in exile.
He relates his own life journey to the hawk with his own twists and wrong turns.  He uses natural, pleasant imagery of the pleasure he is feeling sitting in a lawn chair drinking a glass of wine.  He finishes the poem with:
…It all seems
gathered here in ripeness
of clouds flashing like salmons
streaming down to the west
above the laughter of my boys,
my wife singing.
It is as if Bilgere has reached a pinnacle and comprehends the value of it, The imagery works well on multi levels.The broad range of subjects and keen observations make this a book well worth reading. 


The book is available here: https://upittpress.org/books/9780822966890/


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.



Lost Autographs by Peter Baroth

By g emil reutter
Released in 2015 by Moonstone Press, Lost Autographs by Peter Baroth is slated for a second printing. Baroth is known for his irony, hipster meets beat and blunt realism. So seven years after its release why should you pick up a copy? First of all because you didn’t get the first edition. Secondly, Lost Autographs is 94 pages of excellent narrative poetry coupled with amazing character development.
Baroth a lawyer, artist, poet, musician, became a lawyer following in his Hungarian Grandfather’s foot steps. But tragedy is at the core of the poem, Grandfather:


getting away with everything by Vincent Cellucci and Christopher Shipman

By Charles Rammelkamp
Shifting location from Louisiana to North Carolina and back, this collaborative work is drenched in dream and memory and necessarily traffics in ghosts and remembrance of things past. Indeed, the very first poem is titled “Solastalgia,” a neologism that, as opposed to nostalgia, that homesickness we experience when separated from loved ones or “home,” signals a distress that is directly connected to the home environment. Rooted in the memory of a mellifluous radio DJ, the poem concludes:

Yesterday’s splintered limbs say

            don’t let this be the last memory of me
                                                head for the trees

                                                make an offering.

                        If the waves lap at the door
                                                            let us swim.
            If the sky is never finished
                                                            nothing is.
And so the next poem, “Time Travel,” focuses on the dislocation experienced from moving from one place to another – specifically from New Orleans to Greensboro, North Carolina – with “ghosts in tow,” as the title of the third poem tells us.
            same doom
            different poem
“Even the porch swing was a ghost,” the fourth poem, “This Morning,” continues the thread, as if it were “trying to find the right words / to finish a last sentence.” You get the picture. Haunted. This poem concludes:
            He understood the desire to perform
            such a gesture, rather
            than finish any sentence
            and wake forever from that dream.
For “waking is like being dead,” we are told earlier in the poem.
It’s the following fifth poem, “some mornings,” that launches the title speculation. “Getting away with everything” sounds so triumphant on its face, but it’s more complicated than that. The poem ends:
            it’s much simpler
to get away with everything
when getting away
with mere nothing
is no cinch.
All of this is in the first of the seven parts of the collection, the section called “opening words like floodgates.” The six sections that follow expand on the themes. It is the year that the poet turns 37. Think of Dante at the start of The Divine Comedy. He’s just turned 35. “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost,” he writes. So Cellucci/Shipman has two poems called “On the Morning of my 37th Birthday” and later, the antepenultimate poem in the book, “on my 37th year and yet another day around the sun,” in which the poet obviously feels distress, confusion, lost in the dark wood. The former begins, “I spill from a dream.”
In “getaway cars,” a poem from the third section called “Pilgrimage to the Fountain of Nothing,” a poem that is full of reminiscences of chases and escape, including “the first 9mm to the head” in a weed purchase gone wrong, the poet writes:
            a raindrop gets away
with everything down
            the window pane
Then quickly the poet is back into his dreams where we never get away with anything: “blame everything / get away with / the width of the margins / we sneak into / or are imprisoned in.”
Death, of course, is a factor in everybody’s life, from which you never escape, never get away with. As Kafka famously observed, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” Does death become more “real” as we age?   “chronic chthonic disorder” is a poem that quickly follows “getaway cars” and is a metaphorical “getaway” to the underworld, across the mythological Styx. “Churn the Earth,” section three, begins with the death of a pet cat, Jack, and segues to the burial of the poet’s grandfather.
            I remember wanting
to help haul Grandpa’s box
to its muddy hole.
I remember it felt wrong
the job was given
to his brothers alone.
I had to stand by watching
the rain churn the earth.
In the following poem, “alt burial rites,” the poet again expresses regret at not having eased a casket into its grave:
            I too have been envious
of pallbearers
(probably for my youth
or smaller stature)
from the last time
you have to help
someone make
a move
“In the Wake of Chthonic Fires,” a poem from the fourth section, “This Never-Ending Theater,” again alludes to burial, just as, from the same section, “negative capability,” a term first used by Keats to describe a writer’s ability to accept doubts, mysteries, uncertainties, he returns to the world of dreams, writing:
            but there’s some killer
            deep in my dreams
            sometimes he succeeds
            in his war against me
The poem called “honestly,” from the sixth section, “The Dampest of Spirits,” takes us back, one more time to that phrase at the heart of the book, “getting away with everything”:
            leaving new orleans
was getting away from
getting away with everything
and I know you felt now-or-never-compelled to do the same
No escape! So the poet returns, at least in thought, perhaps reluctantly, to Louisiana. Channeling the old quiz show, To Tell the Truth, the poet writes in “Will the Real Secret Agent Please Stand Up?”:
Now when I’m wishing I could slip back
into an old loneliness I’m back
in New Orleans back to the first year there
It’s a long poem, about thirteen pages, full of wonder and regret, the memories of youth mixed up with the inevitable memories of mistakes, “the treasured hours / we can’t remember / of friends and feeling / alive and fucked up / immune to / mistakes washed away in the mississippi.”
getting away with everything is at once a lyrical consideration of life and a philosophical cri de coeur.
You can find the book here: getting away with everything
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

The Algorithm of I by Jack Crocker

By John (Jianqing) Zheng
The Algorithm of I is Jack Crocker’s second collection of poems, but it is the first book proudly published by the newly established Mimbres Press at Western New Mexico University. It has a foreword, two poems titled and used as “Prologue” and “Offering” respectively, and seven subtitled sections. The foreword by Joseph Shepard offers a biographical sketch of the poet and points out that the collection is “a reflective journey of intellectual prowess that spins nostalgia with purpose and wonders about life, faith, and human evolution.” The prologue poem functions as a welcome doormat with eight questions about existential and temporal issues in stanza one and the recognition of nature as the source for thought and intuition in stanza two. “Offering” synthesizes the ideas conveyed in the seven sections: the quest about where the person is from:
the little big bang,
The atom dispersal that made me a singular
Universe, the quantum splash that set in
Motion the journey to entropy, the gravitational
Waves moving from the center of the generous
Brine to deliver me into the Mississippi Delta,
This quest especially echoes what the poet presents in the first section titled “Expatriate.” The title poem, “The Algorithm of I,” centers on the self. It has 18 tercets followed by 43 couplets or epigrams which function like a kaleidoscope of self-images or different roles played in society, community, and family. The tercet part asks a series of existential questions about the roles of the self. The last tercet shows the self who stands “mentally naked before / The mirror of I am, was, and cannot help but be.” So, the self sees the past and present of the “I” in roles indicated by the titles of each epigram, such as Athlete, Believer, Atheist, Musician, Rhetorician, Artist, Mississippian, Scholar, Philosopher, Poet, and Father. It is important to know that the poet believes that the birth of the self is through the marriage “to the universe in a union of senses / Until consciousness fell in love with itself.” This belief helps us understand why Crocker subtitles the first section “Expatriate”—poems about the Mississippi Delta, his birthplace—and why he states definitely “I left / before / I left” in “Exit.”
Many poems in “Expatriate” explore the sense of place. This sense can be a loss of place, a nostalgic moment, or a search for the self. It wrestles between attachment and detachment, as suggested by the house image in the beginning lines of “Home Place”:
The house has stood empty fifteen years.
I’ve returned each summer for the peace I feel
Watching it lean against the absence
Of those who brought it to life.
This wrestling is suggestive through the effective use of the figurative language, showing the poet’s craft of etching images:
I hear the sigh of nails ungrip, letting
The weary rafters and studs pull away
To gravity and the whims of wind.
A few snaggled posts remain,
Useless fangs weathered and veined
Like the final years of my father’s skin.
The abandoned house also symbolizes a lost place where the poet finds peace and embraces memories belonging to him alone. That’s why he does not rent the house out, preferring “its future unlived” so that no thoughtless breaths will foul the space and no strange footsteps will disturb the floors laid by his grandfather. Ironically, this sense of place moves like the ticking of a clock. Time loses itself, so does the self who stands like a headstone where the front steps were, and peace becomes memorial and “purified by fire” when the house burns down into memories.
“The Visit” is another poem about the loss of place with a feeling of attachment and detachment. Time has erased everything which remains fresh in the mind: the dying road to the birthplace, the rotting asphalt with gravel bones, and the neighbors long gone. There is nothing left in the area. “All welcome has vanished, even the banquet / Of pecan trees, and the oak’s summer shade.” It seems that nature or the Delta land has reclaimed the dwelling area once belonging to humans. What one sees is nothing but the plowed land, fallow and fertile with time. This vision extends the loss of place as the speaker says: “I am here where I once was, / Homeless and free to go.” This poem also suggests that memory of the birthplace cannot encage the bird of the mind from flying away. If the home place deserves a visit; it also deserves a farewell if one feels free to go to a new place.
The Mississippi Delta is the most southern place on earth. Its fertile alluvial flatland, its history and culture, and its influence on agricultural life also challenge the poet to dwell upon its social and racial issues. This sense of place reveals Crocker’s deep thinking and concerns about life, music, politics, faith, and race. He points out in “A Good Man” that “The Middle Passage never died, / Only turned into double chains.” He states in “Conversation with a Confederate Statue” that “I laid down arms long ago, / And live not in the shadow of was / But the light of letting go” and in “Upon the Removal of a Confederate Statue” that
Now malice spread from the Whitest House
Released the hemophilia of the lost cause—
Enslaved history is not the South’s alone,
But genetic repetition replayed in the course
Of our lives, a generation to generation clone.
Raised in the Mississippi Delta, Crocker learns as well to be a male, a musician, a thinker, a philosopher, and an expatriate. He acts against what he is told to follow. His disbelief in what “his bible-thumping cousins” try to sell makes them want to send him to hell (“Ancestry”); his desire to be part of nature helps him recognize that what “keeps us human” is “nature’s God” (“First Lust”); his vision as an expatriate offers an insight into the migration of the soul or the self that “…home is / Always someplace else” (“Migration”); and his interest in blues urges him to make a deal at a crossroads like Robert Johnson (“Delta Nights”).
The Algorithm of I explores a theme of where to posit the self and the human mind, revealing a sense of place through the loss of the birthplace, the resettlement of the self from place to place, and the human connection with nature, history, and environment. His poetry is both personal and universal, exploring for self-examination. This self comes alive in Crocker’s poems full of wit and poignancy, fresh images and figurative expressions, and loss and memory of the past because, as Robert Penn Warren says, “If there is no past, there can be no self.” Therefore, Crocker is a poet whose life is unique in connecting the self and the past.
You can find the book here: The Algorithm of I
John (Jianqing) Zheng published A Way of Looking and Conversations with Dana Gioia in 2021. His poetry has appeared in Hanging LooseMississippi ReviewPoetry SouthTar River among others. He is the editor of Journal of Ethnic American Literature.

Harvest Time by Martin Willits Jr.

harvest time
By g emil reutter
Willitts brings us onto the farm in this collection offering insight into the Amish/Mennonite life style in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He uses poetic imaging to reveal the harshness of field work, chopping wood, milking nameless cows. He writes of his quiet Grandfather and Grandmother. The title poem opens the collection that meanders through the seasons and as he accomplishes this he also meshes the farm with the lives of his grandparents who work the farm hard and in the end pass to the other side as the bank seize their assets. Willits worked the farm every spring into summer from the ages of 5-17. He tells us in this poem, I carry baskets of tomorrow/heavy as death. Willitts reveals the violence of nature in survival and the violence of man interacting with nature using domesticated animals until they have no use and then disposing of them. Not all is dark here as Willitts reveals the beauty of life in barns, fields, even Amish lovers.  In the poem, It’s All a Matter of Perspective, he himself watches as his girlfriend, ..ran away with the broom salesman.  He further tells us:
At seven, I never understood why Grandmother giggled
when Grandfather looked at her a certain way.
I believed it was because he puckered his lips
like he tasted lemon. Later, I found out what it meant.
My girlfriend made the same giggle when she ran off.
The poet tells the reader of Quiet:
When the world goes silent
after the crackle of birds landing on trees,
air seems to glow—
that moment of sadness
when nothing else happens,
time crawls into a small whimper,
a bantam rooster’s spurs
barely tic, tic, tic
on a grey, crushed-stone path.
Some people just need to disturb that silence.
Others want to escape the disturbance
like those birds swarming onto trees.
I just want that moment of solitude
emitting from apple blossom odors
in noiseless breeze.
Quiet is a beautiful poem with a freshness of images, time crawls into a small whimper…that moment of solitude/emitting from apple blossom odors/in noiseless breeze.
In the poem, Milking the Moment, the poet tells us:
Love takes the same slowness—
a body responds to evenness of hands,
anticipating the next light touch
until it feels fingers before they land,
gentle as dust. And if you lay your head
against a belly, cooing a soothing melody
the other person eases
into what will happen next.
This from an experience of milking a cow, a life lesson in handling other humans.
Willitts writes extensively of learning from his Grandfather in silence, no words, just nods and smiles as he learns the farm. He captures the beauty of this lesson in the poem, Silence Has Its Own Language:
There are days when I am still ten, following Grandfather
out the back door into the prayer of stars.
There are several ways to know silence—fishing forever
without a bite, your heart moving with a spring steam defrosting;
or mucking the barn, rake scratching wooden floors and straw;
or cat swishing its tail before striking: or goldenrod opening.
Grandfather barley spoke all summer. No need to talk. Words
Were wasted, when silent commands and nods worked well.
You can hear more if you listen intently— deer moving at dawn,
Inventing silence; or the stillness of heart and hush of breath.
More important, all of earth and stars and silence speak.
You can hear, like a dog ear’s perking, everything unsaid.
Harvest Time is an excellent read. Be sure to read intently as gentle metaphor and imagery blends with the harshness of farm life as Willitts captures rural Amish America.
You can find the book here: Harvest Time
g emil reutter is a writer of poems, stories and an occasional literary review. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

Left Over Distances by Mike James

By Lynette G. Esposito
Left Over Distances by Mike James published by Luchador Press is an interesting mix of long and short poems divided into five sections covering eighty- two pages.  In the mix are poems about dreams, locations and loneliness.
For example, on page twenty-six, James addresses time and space in his one-stanza poem Every Summer was Always the Same.
          He’d eat butter sandwiches three times a day.
          On Sunday, he’d check his blood pressure with a garden hose.
          A Zen witch taught him that trick for a pack of smokes.
          Afterwards, he’d turn the garden hose into a Sunday lasso.
          He would climb to the moon when he could find it.
          He liked it there.
         He liked the moon quiet.
         It was up beyond dark clouds and among white stars.
While James has not identified the he in the poem, he has focused on a special day of the week in the summer and what repeatedly happened on that day.  It is almost dream like in the memory of that day as the action went from observable activities to an imaginary trip to the safety of the moon where inactivity gave rest.  It is a skillful poem of images that both relate to summer experience and the distance one gains when one can see someone mentally disappear into another zone.
He also accomplishes this sense of the present and the ethereal in his poem The Refugees on page forty-three.
            Each carries two suitcases.
           One for belongings.
           One for ghosts.
In this tiny poem, James has drawn a picture of people fleeing what they had but also carrying the memories of the past with them. The poem is lean, controlled and effective. Here he sets an unknown place where the refugees have gone with their surreal packing of spirits that can both haunt and comfort, and at the same time, suggest the loneliness of the journey.
The poems throughout the five sections vary in form and length and from one stanza to many. James, however, seems to favor the one stanza free verse form.  On page sixty-five his poem,  Acceptance Jubilee  is a good example of this.
            Once, I mistook my scars for stars and made my own
            little universe. I was a big boy with my own place. That
            night was dark. The moon nothing other than far away.
Ths self-reflection poem uses images to detail the process of accepting one’s self with all the baggage that comes with it.  He turns his scars into something beautiful that helps with this acceptance.  The title guides the reader to the idea it is a Jubilee when it happens.  This is a skillful poem with empirical images and a clear message.
This tome is not a quick read. The poems are the kind you come back to for a second look and maybe a third read.   I liked the variety of subjects and the clarity of poetic message.
You can find the book here: Leftover Distances
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.

Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys by g emil reutter

thunder cover

Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys has just been released by Alien Buddha Press. The book is the final volume in a quadrilogy written over 13 years.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HFXSD2F/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1633437563&refinements=p_27%3AG+Emil+Reutter&s=books&sr=1-1&text=G+Emil+Reutter

What others have said about Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys:

In Thunder, Lightning, and Urban Cowboys, wilderness is never far from the urban setting, a wilderness in its own right. The Urban Cowboy is surrounded by nature:  “…a tree of warped candelabra branches…”; “…a conspiracy of sooty ravens…”; “sound of leaves kissed by wind…”  Nature pauses and waits for us to pass through in our moment of struggle and triumph and defeat.  The machinery of the city: “…diesel engine revving and revving, as if a struggle to stay alive…” g. emil reutter takes us from youth when “unbridled hope leaked from our pores…” to the far end of life “… the waiting, the heaviness of what is to come…”

The poet paints a landscape haunted by the tragedies of others and the tragedies of ourselves. Haunted by the fallen gravestones “sinking into the earth…” Haunted by spirits lingering in the trees because “heaven and hell are full and purgatory is closed…” In this poetic juxta positioning of humanity and nature, the poet puts us in our place in an unkind, uncruel universe and leaves us somehow grateful.

-Mike Cohen



Throughout, the poems are very well crafted, precise and insightful. reutter is most certainly an engaging poet, whether he is writing of train journeys, of love and friendship and loss, of nature, of time passing: each poem sustains a reflective beauty that refreshes like walking into a cold mountain spring: they permeate and linger with a rare clarity and a sense of humour that will ensnare and take you by surprise. The book takes you on a journey of wonderful variations and consistently offers imagery that transport the reader into the poem and this is something that is not easy to achieve. Thunder, Lightning and Urban Cowboys is stark evidence that reutter is a master craftsman of his art form: cool: crisp: clear: quality.

-John D Robinson

Poet and Publisher: (Holy&intoxicated Publications)

A sampling from the book: https://alienbuddhapress.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/spotlight-thunder-lightning-and-urban-cowboys-by-g-emil-reutter/


You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HFXSD2F/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1633437563&refinements=p_27%3AG+Emil+Reutter&s=books&sr=1-1&text=G+Emil+Reutter

Lines of Defense by Stephen Dunn

By Ray Greenblatt 
         This is a very mature and yet somber book of poetry often with gleams of warmth and humor. This is Mr. Dunn’s most recent collection published in 2014. The poet employs the persona of an older man; we can never be sure what is the mask or the poet himself behind it. The man has worked through many obstacles and suffering, but over and over he manages to find life-giving resolution.
          I like his technique of juxtaposing two opposed views. He explores the age-old question, in this poem, of THE CHICKEN AND THE EGG:
          The chicken for dinner with earnest friends, the egg for breakfast
          with folks who like to play with their food before they eat it.
          The chicken fills you up so you can’t move,
          The egg cracks open, and choices begin— . .
           Yet sometimes the chicken is both necessary and sufficient 
          and sometimes your earnest friends instruct you
          about how to live with the beak and the gizzard.
          The egg allows itself to be hard-boiled or deviled.
          It doesn’t worry. To live right isn’t an issue.
Here you observe the obvious light humor but the philosophical observations are thought provoking. 
In similar fashion he compares a poet to a priest in IF THE POET to achieve even more fascinating possibilities:
          Would a good priest find the right words,
          as the good poet would, in among the many words
          passed down for centuries
          on what to think, what to believe? . . .
          That is, if the poet mistrusts words, as he should,
          makes them pass hard tests . . .
          wouldn’t he,
          although self-ordained, be more reliable?
          But what if the villagers believed
          they were saved by a prayer the priest said
          one Sunday among the ruins? And all the poet
          could do was elegize the ruins? . . .
          things got worse
          and prayers proved useless,  and poems
          merely decorated the debris where a house
          once was? Would it be time for the priest
          to admit he’d known but one book? For the poet
          to say he’d read many, and look, it hasn’t helped?
The questioner in the poem ultimately decides that in this world of unclear answers just trying might be enough.
        Another striking technique Dunn uses to further his philosophic probing is to focus on a strong woman. In BETTY FRIEDAN’S FINAL ADVICE this historical feminist gives her opinions:
          Don’t let
          a ship’s captain marry you
          unless he’s adept at changing course . . .
          Say the words you must say,
          but be sure to violate all the stupid stuff.
          After the ceremony, change into that funky
          outfit that drives only the right men crazy.
          Hope your husband will be one of them . . .
          Tell him also you have nothing
          against God, but remember only an insecure God,
          like an insecure man, insists that a woman
          must obey . . .
          Your job now
          is to define what heavenly is, and heaven itself,
          and find ways to let him in.
          In the last poem a strong woman gives her opinions about relationships. However, in FOR MY SON a father warns his son about a woman strong in the wrong direction:
          To marry Alison, Robert, will be to haul water
          from a deep well for the rest of your life.
          It will be to worry about beauty
          instead of enjoying it . . .
          You love her soul, you say,
          but Robert, a soul is unmapped territory . . .
          Well, you’ll have to learn a new language,
          hers, which she expects to be understood
          before it’s spoken . . .
          I just try to make things that last.
          I’ve  made you up; I’ve given you a chance.
          Dunn revels in ways to use the Word IN LOVE, HIS GRAMMAR GREW:
          In love, his grammar grew
          rich with intensifiers, and adverbs fell
          madly from the sky like pheasants
          for the peasantry . . .
          until roused my moonlight
          and the beautiful fraternal twins
          ‘and’ and ‘but.’ Oh that was when
          he knew he couldn’t resist
          a conjunction of any kind.
          For love
          he wanted to break all the rules,
          light a candle behind a sentence
          named Sheila, always running on
          and wishing to be stopped
          by the hard button of a period.
          We have seen the shadows and the light in Dunn’s poetics. I’ll close with a very moving ending to his poem A COLDNESS:


          That powdered stranger
          lying there, that nobody I knew?
          I was far away, parsing grief,
          turning it over in my mind.
          He was simply gone, a dead thing,
          anybody’s sack of bones.
          Only when his son spoke,
          measuring with precise, slow-
          to-arrive language the father
          he had lost, did something in me move.
          There was my brother restored,
          abstracted, made of words now.
          I knew nothing about Stephen Dunn. Perhaps years ago I read some of his poems but had completely forgotten them. I had heard that he taught in New Jersey. That was all: perhaps a good way to come at a work of art for a fresh impression. There are many poets out there. Poetry is a thriving sub-culture like antique collecting, gardening, cuisine, etc. Poetry is used in advertising and song lyrics. Our challenge is to find the best among the many. I’ll choose Stephen Dunn.
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

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