red hen press

Flutter, Kick by Anna V. Q. Ross

By Lynette G, Esposito
Flutter, Kick by Anna V. Q. Ross features poetry that explores the human aspects of the feminist voice that deals with hurt, loss and solution. Ross observes from complex angles and touches, with a light hand, issues that affect women’s lives.
In her poem, Milk Teeth on page twenty-two, she speaks of her problems in conceiving and the kindness of friends who suggest she should foster. Later in other poems, she reveals she has a son and a daughter transcending the hurt and loss to solution. 
While her friends could not predict her future, she demonstrates in her poem, Passenger Pigeon on page thirty-three, how short-sighted people can be in other ways. She opens the poem with:
I read they traveled
in flocks big as hurricanes, and fast
She purposely suggests the past in the tense of her verb and how her knowledge of the pigeons is from research. The one- stanza poem says a person could reach up and grab a bird there were so many flying so low. Her view of how we see what we want to see and the lack of seeing the outcome is clear.
Who was the passenger?
Or is passage the important part–
the routes they moved through air.
We care so much about who
belongs where, arm ourselves
against the imaginary. No one
believed they could die out.
There were so many.
The poem is short, only eighteen lines, but the message suggests the outcome of how many can become few and then none without anyone predicting it.
Ross explores memories and scenes as she uses everyday reminders of the good and the bad. On a train ride she pictures the beautiful school her children attend but drowns the thought in sorrow of a shooter. This is a poem brought from the headlines that breaks a heart.
She addresses another headline issue on page sixty-five in her poem The Crossing, where Ross suggests how people depersonalize migrants.
In this morning’s paper thirteen women
Drowned off the coast of Lampedusa–
The mothers, fathers, babies were called migrants by the Italian coast card that came to their rescue as if they were different from people. The one-stanza poem observes that help is not always helpful and good intentions do not always provide good results.
In this poem, Ross has taken current problems and made them personal in how one views others.  She uses the image of the water opening up to those fallen from the boat and closing over them because the rush of water from the fast- moving coast guard vessel caused the water to rise like a hand in greeting and scuttled the boat.
The volume is divided into four unnamed sections.  Ross explores both personal issues and subjects that are in the modern news cycle.  She has a contemporary voice that intermixes universal issues with personal ones.  This works well throughout the ninety-one pages of verse.  It has an earthy and realistic tone as if she raised chickens in her backyard and named every one of them.
You can find the book here:
 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.

Pacific Light by David Mason 

By g emil reutter
Mason is a poet defined by place, if it is Southeast Asia on the Pacific Rim or Northwest America, his poems breathe life of the people around him as well as the nature he observes and partakes in. Careful observation and craft abounds in these poems. The poet tells us in The Voices:
I came to a wood where dark trees were talking,
their voices sparking in the shadows, near
or distant, singly and in chorus, and I thought:
This is the way of trees, to wait until we least
expect it of them, then to speak from their depths,
the nerves strung out in lines with each new flash. 
Voices sparking in shadows, nerves strung out in lines with each new flash. Trees talking. There has been some study indicating trees communicate through the root system, this poet see it and tells us about it. There is no doubting here.
In the poem, The Work, he offers up a beautiful description of time:
Time is the hillside falling away in grass and gum trees,
the current of water, the island behind the cloud,
and there is more of it and less of it than we know. 
Pacific Light, the title poem is a paean to the Pacific by a poet who embraced the light and moved south. In the second and third stanzas the poet wraps himself around the Northwest:
I remember now. The light in my mother’s house
above a bay, a virile western sun
bleaching the spines of books, fading furniture
and making the candles we lit at dinnertime
doubly sad. I’ve watched for sixty years
the sun on the western water, islands, clouds
the mud flats, oyster beds, fishing masts–
the light I thought a poem should be infused with,
the light a man might die by in his bed,
the light remembered women leave behind
and children recollect like broken dolls,
the light destroyers cut with their gray prows
in my father’s war, light the lava died in
the massive gouts of steam, and spouts of whales,
So much captured in just two stanzas. His mothers house, sun bleaching, mud flats, fishing masts, broken dolls, father’s war, spouts of whales. It is a lyrical intensity rarely seen, packed with images, metaphors and observation. He ends the poem:
No pill or whisky and no burning weed
can touch the light, nor can the blue flame
of the struck match or lightning’s jagged stroke
that sets the woods aflame. A passing light
that holds us watching motionless as seals
till night returns us to our element. 
The words speak for themselves.
Mason writes of the nurses who care for those passing to the other side and leads off the poem, The Garden and The Library, with beautiful images of the dead in the garden:
A gardener grows familiar with the dead
and dying, each tree with its own way of letting go,
the oak leaves brittle and difficult to heap,
while beech let down their arms to the hold the dead.
He ends the poem with this:
I think about those nurses, and their speed
and silence in the face of miracles.
I think of all the weeping, all the books
in tiers of shelves. I think of all the leaves.
It is the trees, the nurses, the weeping, books in tiers of shelves. It is us.
There is much to this poet, this book. David Mason has arrived and we should all have a look. Get the book, watch the video and be prepared to be amazed.
Watch the poet reading from the collection here:
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at:

Most Read Reviews @ North of Oxford 2022

Just in time for holiday shopping! Most read reviews as determined by the readership of North of Oxford

cas reports

Casualty Reports by Martha Collins

book cover

All the Songs We Sing – Edited by Lenard D. Moore


A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers edited by Kyle Schlesinger


Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani

diseno de tapa echavarren paperback

Contra natura by Rodolfo Hinostroza Translated by Anthony Seidman


The Flash Fiction of Lydia Davis


The Upright Dog by Carl Fuerst


Punks: New & Selected Poems by John Keene

World's Lightest Motorcycle

The World’s Lightest Motorcycle by Yi Won, Translated from Korean by E. J. Koh and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello


getting away with everything by Vincent Cellucci and Christopher Shipman


Along the Way by Scott Pariseau

a feeling

A Feeling Called Heaven by Joey Yearous-Algozin


Poolside at the Dearborn Inn by Cal Freeman


Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me by John Weir


The Bar at Twilight by Frederic Tuten




Touching Creatures, Touching Spirit by Judy Grahn

By John Zheng
Judy Grahn’s Touching Creatures, Touching Spirit is a thought-provoking study of relationships between human and nonhuman creatures and spirits. It collects ten nonfiction essays, divided into three parts, with a vivid record of Grahn’s observations and contemplations of the sentient world, a historical track of her metaformic consciousness, and a personal encounter with creatures and spirits presenting nature and human nature. As Jenny Factor points out in her introduction, this study is “about capturing a world—our whole interconnected, living world—before it has slipped out of our consciousness and into realms beyond our possible reclamation” (p. 11). Its purpose is to raise an awareness of the world that belongs to both human and non-human creatures.
Grahn is a pioneer in metaformic theory. Her essay, “The Emergence of Metaformic Consciousness,” discusses four varieties of metaform. The first one is wilderness, referring to, in Grahn’s words, “the use of, or more accurately, being in relation with, creatures, formations, and elements of nature to describe menstrual ideas” ( What then are Grahn’s menstrual ideas? Grahn believes that ancient rituals embody ideas through menstrual instruction, which she terms metaform—a physical presence of an idea with menstruation as its fundamental source. Because menstruation is associated with blood, Grahn argues or proudly proclaims in her poem, “All blood is menstrual blood” (
Menstrual blood is the only source of blood
that is not traumatically induced.
Menstrual blood, like water,
just flows.
Its fountain existed
long before knives or flint.
is the original source of blood.
Menstrual is blood’s secret name.
Grahn’s belief reflects her feminist attitude toward mystics and wilderness. She thinks that the metaform of wilderness contains a creature attracted to the menstrual blood or the feminine shape, like the legendary snake mentioned in “The Emergence of Metaformic Consciousness”:
Anthropologists currently believe that the oldest continuous religion on earth is among Australian aborigines, some of whom have a deity named Rainbow Snake. According to legend, two sisters, the Wawilak Sisters, were the first to be swallowed by the Snake. This happened on the occasion when the older sister was giving birth. The younger sister began to dance while they waited for the afterbirth, and suddenly she began her first blood flow. At this instant, the Snake came out of the waterhole and wrapped itself around both of them and their newborn child. Anthropologist Chris Knight has hypothesized that the idea of the Rainbow Snake, coming from the “womb” of the waterhole, and said to
“swallow” a woman when she menstruates, is an example of menstrual synchrony, evidently
so central to these people—at least at one time—that “menstrual blood of three women” is a topic of
women’s cats-radle games, and most rituals include “menstrual” flows.
The use of the snake reflects Grahn’s idea that animals, like us humans, have emotion, thinking, consciousness, communication, and social life. With this idea held firmly in mind, Grahn develops an “interest in how to process the encounters with creature consciousness, involving intentional interactions and communications from nonhuman beings, as well as encounters with that even more mysterious aspect we call spirit” (p. 16). For example, Grahn describes a spirit cat seen by her and her friends in the house. It is a light-colored, female cat that comes up the porch steps, brushes past their legs, and goes inside the house. This unpredictable encounter immediately associates her thinking with human-nonhuman interrelatedness because it feeds her “sense of profound delight at the interconnectedness of life: we are not just random dust motes blowing around, when, anyway, maybe dust motes aren’t so disconnected either” (49). What Grahn says keeps a mysterious touch, an interactive response between humans and nonhuman creatures/spirits.
Grahn is not just a conscious observer but one who records and reflects her experiences with nature and human nature. She takes a notebook with her for her physical experience, like lovemaking on a broad smooth stone one night on a ranch, and later contemplates the experience aesthetically with detailed notes about it when she needs to develop her metaformic consciousness (p. 190). In a way, Grahn’s observation and experience show her understanding of self and other creatures and spirits, both human and nonhuman.
Furthermore, this book shows a new sense of self in Grahn, as she says, “I have always said I am she, her, hers. But after this exploration of levels of consciousness, I have a new awareness that creeps into my speech…. The pronouns that are appropriate for this sense of ‘me’ as a ‘self’ must surely be extended. The pronouns should be ‘we, us, ours’” because “‘we’ interact, the radiance impacts us, co-creating our state of being” (pp. 205-206). In short, reading Touching Creatures, Touching Spirit makes one reconsider the being of self in a large realm of “us” through the touch of human and nonhuman creatures. It provides a psychic and empathic way to understand not just us humans but, more importantly, nonhuman creatures around us. There is a touch to be needed and nurtured; there is an emergency of raising awareness of our existence in and with nature.
John (Jianqing) Zheng’s publications include A Way of Looking, Conversations with Dana Gioia, and African American Haiku: Cultural Visions. He is the editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Dog Years of Reeducation from Madville Publishing.

Suitor by Joshua Rivkin

By Charles Rammelkamp
“we are what happens by accident,” Joshua Rivkin writes in the first “Envoi” of this lyrical, emotionally probing collection, and goes on:

Suitor, from the Latin secutor,

to follow. I can’t
catch them, or let them go —
So much of the poetry in this book is about desire, the Joie de Vivre it provides and the mistakes and tragedies it can cause. Or, as he writes in the second “Envoi” that bookends the collection, meditating on an orange peel “wound over the core of an apple —”:
imperfect as the marriage
of memory and desire.
Our bodies hunger
and can’t remember for what.
We make the same mistakes over and over again, propelled by our desires. “A New Old Story About Want” is a title that hammers this home. As Rivkin later notes in “Suitor’s Dream,” “I want to begin again.
A new desire is an old one rising.
Old mistake. Old news.
The heart of Suitor is about inherently dysfunctional families, his in particular, about fathers and sons, oddly suited partners, mothers looking for love, everybody looking for love.

At the physical heart of Suitor, indeed, is a 20-page prose meditation on the moral ambiguities of people titled “The Haber Problem.” Making an implicit comparison between his father, an internationally admired oceanographer, often absent from his family on research expeditions – until he leaves the family altogether, via divorce – and the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Franz Haber, whose discoveries led to gas warfare in World War I and Zyklon B, the gas used in concentration camps in World War II to murder Jews (Haber, ironically, was a German Jew), Rivkin ponders the moral legacy a man leaves behind him. Rivkin cites one historian’s observation about Haber: “People don’t know whether to admire him or despise him.” On the one hand his discoveries led to artificial fertilizers, expanding how much can be grown, feeding people, and on the other, Haber was an enthusiastic gas warrior and a really horrible husband who drove his wife to suicide. His son likewise killed himself.
Just so, Rivkin constantly re-evaluates his own father, a boastful guy very much enamored of his own abilities and accomplishments, to the point of obnoxious arrogance. He is a man who has likewise caused emotional pain for his wife – and son. His father has “anger he carries like a pocket watch.”

The disturbing thing for Rivkin, though, is in his observation that “every father is a window. And in the right light, that window can be a mirror.”  He quotes an unnamed poet: “Let us be gentle when we question our fathers.”
Indeed, who among us could stand up to the same microscopic scrutiny? In the poem, “The Ad,” Rivkin suggests something like this. The poem begins with an allusion to a classifieds dating profile:
            The ad I answered asked for me
                        or the man I wanted
            to be. On paper we sing.
                        In flesh, we’re off-key.
Do we ever measure up to our ideals? Life gets in the way. We can’t always live up to our self-conceptions.  He treats his lover badly, ghosting him until he goes away. The poem ends:
            The man I promised
                        to be – taller, surer,
            content – left too.
                        On paper I sing.
            In flesh I run.
Rivkin’s verse predominantly consists of these short lines, the language spare, allusive, vivid, wise.  The two parts of poems that are broken up by “The Haber Problem” in the center are like mirror images. Both begin with multi-part poems entitled “The Suitors” and “Envoi” followed by a handful of lyric poems.
The suitors Rivkin catalogs in part one are the men who wooed his mother after his father left, making the reader think of Penelope and Telemachus (or not).  “My mother’s third boyfriend owned a Peugeot / he let me drive over the Choptank River Bridge.”  Another suitor (or a different view of the same one?):
He was a different kind of wisdom poet –
faith in real estate, rolls of Lifesavers
and Amway. He sold cleaning supplies
and cologne from his Buick’s backseat.
The “suitors” in the second part are Rivkin’s own lovers, male and female. One of these segments begins:
            Her mother warned her never to date a writer.
            Or become one.
            They have no skills in this world
            just lies and sweet talk
            mixing up the story they tell
            and the story they live.
Hah! But this also gets at the perplexing dichotomy Rivkin riffs on throughout between a person’s self-conception and his or her actual life. “The Docent,” from part two, further digs into the duplicity of relationships. Again referring to classical literature, this “docent” can be seen as a sort of Virgil figure (or not), but turned on its head.
            We lied about our first meeting.
            We lied to our friends. To each other.
Rivkin ends the poem by addressing the docent himself about this essentially misguided relationship: “My coy guide,” he writes,
            where are we going? When will we arrive?
            What will we call that place?
But of course, it always comes back to the mothers and fathers. In the poem “Tashlich,” from the first part, referring to the Jewish custom on Rosh Hashanah of symbolically tossing your sins away in the water with bread crumbs, the speaker unloads everything into the stream, shirts, socks, pants, wallet.
                                                the watch from your wrist, a name,
            shame, a stubborn reflection that holds to you
                                                                        as you hold to it,
            your father’s voice, your mother’s eyes.
Toward the end of the collection, sounding almost like a Yiddish curse (“May you be so rich your widow’s husband never has to work a day” or “May your teeth all fall out except one so you can still get toothache,” are classic examples), Rivkin writes in “At Night You Read to Me”:
            If I write again about my father
                        may my hands fall off,
            my tongue harden to obsidian.
                        Or give me the punishment of myths:
            my son will never speak to me;
                        or he’ll speak to me in that tone, write
            every mistake, tell all I’ve done wrong
                        and regret every word.
Suitor is a satisfying read on many levels, both admirable as artistic expression and valuable as self-reflection, uncovering certain universal truths about all families.
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.

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me by John Weir


By Charles Rammelkamp

In the story “Katherine Mansfield” John Weir writes,

I don’t really understand friendship. If you’re in extreme need, I’m your best friend. Otherwise, I’m not there. There’s no second act in my life, but there’s a first and a third. I don’t do middles. I’ll stick around to fall in love and watch you die, but nothing in between.

Having lived through the slow, horrific death from AIDS of his close friend David, the author is experiencing a kind of PTSD. He feels survivor guilt. In “Humoresque” he writes: “My friends died and I didn’t.  Or: I should have died and didn’t. Or: in 1984, I figured I’d be dead I  five years; who didn’t?” Similarly, in the title story, “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me,” he writes: “I’ve watched friends die, and I have never been any help except to hold you and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

The first part of this collection, called “AIDS Nostalgia,” includes seven of the eleven interconnected stories, almost all of them alluding to Dave. Indeed, the very first story, “Neorealism at the Infinplex,” begins: “My friend Dave died of AIDS in the fall of 1994.” In “It Must Be Swell to Be Laying Out Dead,” he tells us, “He’s the first person I speak to each day, the last one at night. Phone calls early and late. Every day for the past five years has started and ended with Dave.” In “Scenes from a Marriage,” he helps Dave in the bathroom at a Broadway theater as he sits on the toilet, “his pants and diapers on the floor.”  His care of his friend is intimate and visceral, up close and personal. He feels helpless but responsible, anguished.  “How can I help him? I’m not a doctor. He’s my best friend, but he doesn’t want me to touch him.,” he notes plaintively.  Later in “Scenes from a Marriage” he writes, “By 1994 in New York City, AIDS had become routine, even as it stayed occult, a minority affliction.”

Yet Weir is also very funny, witty, especially in the voice of the manic, wisecracking David. He writes, “Now he’s dying, and I’m jealous. I’m competitive with Dave’s death. It’s all he cares about: dying, not dying.” And Dave, frustrated and desperate, lashes out at his friend/caregiver: “I’ve got news for you. You’re not the Messiah. You’re a fag. I’m a dying fag. I win the Suffering Sweepstakes. You think this is happening to you. Well, it’s not.”

“Katherine Mansfield” is a story about his romantic relationships soon after David’s death. Besides Marc, a successful singer/songwriter who regards Weir as his muse, there’s Phil, a younger guy he meets in an acting class. These relationships are doomed from the start, of course; Weir is too traumatized by death. He notes wryly about Phil, “A relationship that consisted of acting exercises, and an age difference big enough to span Madonna’s career, isn’t equipped to survive….” Elsewhere, he describes random furtive encounters in peepshow booths.

Movies, musicals, and stage plays are alluded to throughout these stories. Three of the stories – “American Graffiti,” “Scenes from a Marriage,” and “Humoresque” – are movie titles, as is “Imitation of Life,” the title of the third section, which contains only one story, the ominously titled “It Gets Worse.” “Katherine Mansfield,” by the way, is the name of the narrator’s friend Marc’s band; it does not allude to the British modernist writer, though Weir’s literary allusions abound, from Barthes and Foucault and Vladimir Mayakovsky to Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe, Thoreau, Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Eudora Welty, Jack Kerouac, and so on.

Weir humorously channels the gay trope of worshipping camp actresses. In “American Graffiti” he writes, “I was an actress. I yearned to be. I still do. I wanted especially to be an actress in 1970s Hollywood movies. Those women!” He goes on to name-drop “Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh, Ellen Burstyn, Barbara Harris, Cicely Tyson, Carrie Snodgrass, Cloris Leachman, Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Diahann Carroll, Karen Black.” He compares himself to Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

The three stories that make up part two, “Long-term Survivors,” also focus on death and dying, including his mother, now in her 80’s, and an on again/off again lover/survivor named Scott.  His mother lives in a retirement community and has just suffered a brain hemorrhage. “My mother is a movie star without a movie to star in,” he writes in “Humoresque.”

Just as in real life – indeed, it often feels hard to distinguish between fiction and memoir and essay in Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me – the narrator is involved in gay political causes, protesting with ACT UP for AIDS research and care, and with Queer Nation, notably a protest outside the Russian Consulate in New York against Vladimir Putin’s Medieval laws against homosexuals. “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re only drinking beer,” they chant, as they pour out Russian vodka onto the pavement.

By far the most affecting stories are the ones that describe being bullied and called names in his rural New Jersey schools. Not yet even sure of his sexuality, he is nevertheless singled out and tormented by other schoolboys who taunt, “Faggot!” “Fairy!” “Fruitcake!” “Homo!”  “American Graffiti” takes place during his graduation from high school in 1976. As he crosses the stage to receive his diploma, the taunts are audible to all. The story is about his friendship with a girl, Lottie, whose parents seem to assume they are a romantic item. It’s a confusing time for both. The final story in the collection, “It Gets Worse,” takes us back to an even earlier time, in middle school, when the taunting began. “I was president of the fourth grade,” he writes, “my peak. Downhill since.”

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me is entertaining and heartbreaking by turns, always a gripping read.

You can find the book here:

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 Skin of Meaning by Keith Flynn

By Lynette G. Esposito
The Skin of Meaning by Keith Flynn published by Red Hen Press, Pasadena California is, according to Quincy Troupe, author of Ghost Voices Keith Flynn is a brilliant, bodacious poet at the top of his sonic, linguistic game in his new volume of poetry The Skin of Meaning with poems that dance of the page in arpeggio of light, gripping the reader’s imagination, and taking American poetry in a new exhilarating direction. This is high praise, but this volume of poetry delivers.
In one hundred and eighty-one pages, Flynn covers themes of faith, violence, the justice system and more.  He unafraid to be frank and clear in his images and message. In his poem Climate Change on page fifty-three, he discusses what God sees when she observes what is happening.
                           If you want to know
                          what God thinks about
                          Wealth, then closely
                          observe the people
                          She decides to give to us.
He proceeds in the ten-stanza poem filled with color and image to show how the premise works. In the seventh stanza he speaks of a scorpion necklace and in the final stanza of a polar bear seeking a berm of ice to rest its skinny fur on. The expanse of the poem is broad and inclusive with references to nature in its many states.  His skill with linguistics and suggestion is successful.
On page one hundred and seven, Flynn expores the theme of Stylish Violence.
                         Into this life I am poured
                         a trip wire, and the tears
                         I shed yesterday, whose
                         circumference are everywhere
                         have become rain.
He is speaking of the conflict of the poet to create lasting beauty and what this entails. He uses situation and image to reveal what poet goes through mentioning witches and beach walks, a long arm around how a writer is affected. His final stanza brings closer:
                     No one is immune to the drive=by,
                     the random spree, the knock at the door,
                     and the stranger, straddling the original
                     choice, with a whirl-wind for a voice.
Flynn captures the wide boundaries and internal demands the poet faces when he creates.
Flynn also shows violence in the too common occurrence when a deer is hit on the road in his poem The Long Black Road on page one hundred and thirty. The poem has seventeen stanzas that are all couplets.  He opens the poem with:
                   Having been chased into the roar and clash,
                   trapped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,
                   even the 10-point buck, agile as he was,
                   could not escape, no way to fudge this.
Flynn has set time and place clearly with a situation that can only end in a negative manner.  It does.  The buck is shot in the head to put it out of its misery, The couplets go through the steps of the buck going down and on-lookers and responders dealing with what has happened.  The final couplets are vivid.
                  One wrong move from death’s certain broom
                  Damn things ought to learn, the trooper said,
                  and turned his back on the night.  All the drivers
steered past, thankfully trapped behind their steel
                  and glass, their futures fixed and their suitcase
                  packed, right foot firmly planted on the gas.
The tragedy of the buck and the lack of emotion by those passing by gives the reader a death chill the image is so poetically cold.
This is a wonderful book of poetry.  It is well worth more than one read.
The Skin of Meaning is available from
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.

American Quasar with poems by David Campos and art by Maceo Montoya + A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

A Camera Obscura CoverAmerican Quasar Cover

Two New Titles from Red Hen Press

By Greg Bem

As we continue to live our days through the latest chapter in our ever-unfolding, shared pandemic, and emerge from the darker months toward the light of the summer, two new titles from Red Hen Press arrive, and they are fantastic. These are not necessarily optimistic works of poetry, though they positively invite us to return inward and see the universe reflected within the self. I cannot recommend them enough.

The words of these poets who stare across the facets of existence, from the limitless sky to the great expanses of desert are pushing, pushing forward to question, reflect, and question further. These two distinct collections of verse, honoring many paths of the literary canon, are bountifully lyrical and entrancing. They arrive in our times of collective need, and shine upon the worlds that have continued to exist, worlds complex and beyond our human conflicts, burdens, and shadowy loss.


“[. . .] plunging further into a continuum you recognize as your own.”

(from “[* * * *] No 4 [ Fata Morgana ]” in Carl Marcum’s A Camera Obscura¸ page 70)

A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum is a book that feels full, feels like it is inspired by life itself (minutely and grandly) and the pact of pondering through a poet’s daily travels. This collection is filled with lines that stop us dead in our tracks, seek out the closest distance—the inevitable horizon—and beg to the nothing and the everything around us, “Why?”

It is an existential book, but it also takes the reader far from the gentleness of existentialism and philosophy. A sense of imperative action fills in the gaps between each stanza and leaves the stark poetry shivering in the zone of illumination, exposed like epiphany, insight, resolution. Poems often start with small keys that twist and unlock fuller worlds through textual portals. Insight is provided into recesses of our daily existence. One example is “Word Assimilation” (page 48):

If you’re looking for truth here, it’s only in passing.
If you’re looking for her, she’s in a room dreaming.
If you’re looking for them, imagine no English.
If you’re looking for work, see me at the door.

Marcum explores the border between the root of existence and the fringe, the tangential, the subtext. What is front-and-center and what is leftover, and why, becomes a series of questions that leads us to catharsis through their answers. All of this, provided in the narrative of the poems, opens further and further, a poetic field that is meta and direct at once.

Marcum’s work moves through the multilingual shadows, operating somewhere between Spanish and English, finding harmony (and harmony’s antithesis) within the translation of language and everything that occurs after. The poems in A Camera Obscura feel almost spontaneous. And yet they are process-oriented, just as the world is sculpted by infinite processes, infinite moments of translation, just as the hushed blend of cultures do their dance and the poet finds the self within that hush.

The poet’s voice is strongest in its acts of defiant questioning. Just as many before Marcum stared into the heavens and demanded answers, so too does he look upward and outward through his poetry. The cosmos is, throughout this collection, a grandiose muse, often starting and, subtly, ending each poem. In “Ojo de Dios” (page 60), Marcum begins: “Simple to understand: a star like our own that’s shed,” and closes: “Whose gaze is this? Whose soul growing exponential in darkness?” These are brilliant flashes calmed by darkness, by potential, by a sense of the beyond. The speaker grows through descriptions, through the process of describing, and by the ultimate loop into self-reference.

Time collapses into blank
& buzzing light. Something is bound to happen.

(from “Purgatory Adjacent: A Dreamscape,” page 39)

There is much to discuss with A Camera Obscura and, as its title alludes, much that alluded and cannot be directly seen. Overall, the book is an exceptional collection of elegant, intelligent verse. Each page, each poem unfolding, the lines felt monumental and momentous, creating worlds of text that last with flight and weight, paradoxically. Still, the joy resonates with the poet’s care intact upon each page. It leads to something, if not identifiable, still curiously certain in its sustained presence.


All the mirrors are broken. and the sun refuses to show you my shadow.

(from “A Town Hall in America in Five Movements: II. The Condition of My Heart,” page 29)

There is also much to discuss with Red Hen’s additional release featured here, American Quasar. The work features visual art by Maceo Montoya and poetry by David Campos. It is a wholly different but familiar work, one that aligns well with Marcum in its concerns and forays. The cover of American Quasar features a figure, back to the viewer, hunched over and staring at some distant horizon, with stars spilling down into the frame. It is a mesmerizing image, and one that aligns with the core of the book and its many visceral images, which are scattered throughout the book, neither dominant nor submissive to the poetic text.

The book is divided into two sections: “American House Fire” and “Quasars.” The former includes distinct themes of transformation and disintegration within the poetry and its American images. The text focuses on ecology—namely drought and rain—and seeks to examine the objective and poet’s landscapes of America. Drought and rain, deprivation and provision, serve as accessible carriers for the larger conversations of the United States, the region, and beyond.

Within American Quasar is a world of dissipation and disappearance just as it is a world of discovery and identification. It is about seeing, about understanding through definition, and about incomplete and undiscernible truths. Campos’s work “This American House” (page 37) is a fantastic example of the poet’s commitments, as it evokes mixed desire and cynicism at once:

When I dream of America, it’s only as big as a house, a home where all our roles are left on the doormat. I don’t just wipe my feet, I scrape off the crumbs of my desires and leave as is my unkempt mouth.

The poem is attached to another image of a figure by Montoya, this one a silhouette, who is bathed in light or fire, and the image contains a single textual caption: “there was no judgment” (which is also in the poem). The tone contains multitudes: stoicism, fatigue, solitude, and reverence, to name a few.

Each poem draws out a core, undeniable question: how many stories within the context of America, of the United States, of the “house fire” proverbial and literal throughout the West, emerge through writings like these? Campos’s writings, alongside Montoya’s art, investigates humanity in an age of barred immigration, barred inclusion, militarized borders, and the ongoing narrative against connection, love, and compassion.

How long has it ben since America looked
into a mirror and saw its true reflection?

(from “Historian of Buried Stars,” page 45)

A later poem, “The Dormant Quasar in Our Center,” is matched with a similar figure to the one described above, but features a stronger, invigorated stance with vertical stripes that move upward and downward, dynamic and static together. The poem closes, “Please. Tell me / the unraveling sky hides no stars. // Tell me it gives all its breath to the empty.” (64).

Campos explores the world and, much like Marcum described above, reaches a newfound symbolism of the external and internal. Campos’s strength is in the visual, the image-oriented approach to crisp, clean verse. He connects to greater phenomena using extended metaphors and loops of images and ideas. It is a poetry capable of blending the microscopic and macroscopic into a single, unifying understanding. The result is the emergence of allegory, mystery, and beautifully complex imagery, as with the work “The Human Condition is a Drought” (page 17):

is this why the rain has stopped? Are there no more names left in our mouths?
The only water left is in our blood; everyone hides a knife in their pocket.

American Quasar holds a marvelous place in the contemporary Latinx poetry canon, one that can be examined again and again. Both it and A Camera Obscura make great readings as the sky opens up and beckons us into the possibility of life throughout the summer.

You can find the books here:

American Quasar with poems by David Campos and art by Maceo –

A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum –

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

The Likely World by Melanie Conroy-Goldman


By Alexis David 

In Melanie Conroy-Goldman’s novel, The Likely World, Mel lets a drug called “cloud” spread over her mouth and wrap her in a state of forgetfulness. The story is told in a braided narrative between the years 1988 and 2010. Mel is a woman whose mind has been fogged by substance abuse and is boggled when a man she doesn’t recognize shows up at her house. A single mother, she struggles with whether or not she should revert back to her addictive, pre-sponsor (Emily) behavior, or if she should adapt to a modern definition of pure motherhood, one where she tucks herself into a neat little drawer and her child becomes her new drug, her happiness, her everything.

In The Likely World, Conroy-Goldman has created a fictional drug that explores why, we as humans, want to forget parts of ourselves. Mel’s job is working for a man named Lew who asks her to create a tidbit of narrative that entices the viewer to click on a pornographic image. Once the viewer does, code is embedded into the computer and is able to replicate itself. This is similar to the drug Mel is using. That need she has, that we have, to forget, to smooth ourselves out, to become ideals of ourselves, to become the people in porn, which isn’t sex but the likeness of sex, the false beautification of sex: perfect people in perfect images whose entire objective is to arouse the viewer. Technology mimics real life but falls short. Isn’t the use of drugs always an attempt to either flee or enhance the actuality of perception? Drugs are an escape, a way out, a glossing over of all the problems we have: “a drug like that, it could smooth you out. All the awkward moments, all the missteps, cloud could fix all the times you got it wrong” (33). It sounds perfect, right? Except for one thing.

In The Likely World characters become ghosts of themselves. They show up to meetings missing hands, missing personalities, becoming people unable to recognize one another’s faces, unable to remember moments of their own past, always living in some kind of strange forgetfulness; their brains are always trying to piece together the whole story.

Conroy-Goldman’s postmodern novel beautifully speaks to the complexity of real life and addiction. Similar to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, it’s a novel about addiction with an affinity for the strangeness of modern life, an investigation into modern brains, which are treated as computers with intricate and complex webs of synapses. Infinite Jest takes a capitalistic look at the future and creates a book with an encyclopedia of citations and endless references: paths that follow paths to more paths to more information, i.e. the internet. He reinvents the form of what a novel can be. Melanie Conroy-Goldman challenges the form of “novel” by writing one with a hole in the center: Mel is a character looking for Juni’s father, the boy she went to camp with, Lew’s video, and a man who came to her house in a SUV.  There is an overwhelming sense throughout The Likely World of trying to get at the center of something. Mel’s daughter, Juni speaks in a type of gibberish, common to babies born whose mothers used cloud. Juni becomes a misfiring computer. The inability of her daughter to speak in real words is another hole, another post-modern stylistic choice: nothing, no one is whole.

This novel is ghostly and strange to read now, during the pandemic, during the post-Trump years, during our technological explosions. After reading it, I felt triumphantly happy for real life. I went to a picnic for a friend and saw that no one there was using their cell phones. I was elated to remember the faces of my friends and how they look in real life, outside, in the natural world, not on zoom, not on photographs on the screen. Perhaps Conroy-Goldman is commenting on our modern lives: put down your phones, give up your addictions, rebel against the attention economy and engage in the actual, real world: the one that already surrounds you. 

You can find the book here:  

ALEXIS DAVID is a poet and fiction writer who holds a BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, an MA in Education from Canisius College and an MFA from New England College. She published a chapbook called Animals I Have Loved. Links to her published work can be found here: