stephanie dickinson

City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) by Diane Sahms

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City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) by Diane Sahms has just been released by Alien Buddha Press. You can find the book here: 

What Others Say About  City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia)

In Diane Sahms’s ambitious City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) there are classical elements, the prominence of the elegiac as well as the lyrical and an oracular power that echoes back to Greece, yet remains rooted in Philadelphia.  The language soars—blooms, although with a dark undertone, illuminating the shadow and shading the light.  The meticulous pairing of the shadow and light allows the reader to explore the connective tissue between the seemingly unalike. Sahms’ syntax alone imparts a musicality and a dissonance to her work. Readers are jarred into a heightened realm of acuity.  Heroin’s inner arm of a clawing dragon/he never slew and Blue Heron’s Blue-gray architecture wades slowly, deliberately/leads slavish eyes knee-deep into still waters. They are yoked together like duets.  In her “Suite for Iris” the poet’s persona explores the world from the perspective of Iris who exists in the liminal zone of part human-part flora, a fertile intersection of the primeval and the reasoned. Iris, tall stalk before shears, /rhizome’s roots as heart’s arteries. Sahms’ often heretical visions push brilliantly into an unseen darkness.

Stephanie Dickinson, author of The Emily Fables and Big Headed Anna Imagines Herself. 

Wade into the mirror with Diane Sahms as she unveils and unravels identities—probing for meaning and finding connections. Different life forms fuse into a “universal soul” in these “heart shuttling” sojourns that sonically imagine the magic of “spirits united.” Morality and mortality yield their secrets in exhilarating lyric passages in which emptiness is purified via resolute perception and consequent insight. —Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

In City of Shadow and Light (Philadelphia), Diane Sahms looks upward to the cosmic, then comes back to the personal, in poems that are full of natural imagery and (often) mystery. The focal point is the “first city,” Philadelphia, and its inhabitants, particularly those connected to the poet. We meet ones who create and others who struggle. What brings them together is the poet’s care for each and every one. Through these poems, you will gain a new appreciation for a place and some of its ordinary (and extraordinary) people. This is an eye-opening, heart-tugging collection. —Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Tricks of Light

Diane Sahms’s City of Shadow & Light opens with the loss of two sons and continues to hearken more challenges as the book unfolds. But as she quotes from Jung in one epigraph, dark shadows only heighten the brightness of light. Thus, the book’s ending of “light” is hard-earned, and the fortitude is as inspiring as the “brave Raven, who stole light / from total darkness // for everyone.” The reader is left gladdened that this poet managed to retain her voice and that, despite everything, that “voice, still sings.”—Eileen R. Tabios


City of Shadow & Light (Philadelphia) by Diane Sahms – 


Blue Swan Black Swan – The Traki Diaries by Stephanie Dickinson

blue swan

By Lynette G. Esposito

Stephanie Dickinson has cleverly used the prose poem form to reflect diary entries of a tragic narrator.  Published by The Bitter Oleander Press of Fayetteville, New York, the sixty-six- page tome is strong on place, emotion and image.

The book has five sections which are characterized by places.  The five sections:  Salzburg. Vienna, Berlin, Galicia, and Grodek.  Dickinson adds time as well as place in the titles and a linear time line throughout until you reach the final sections of 1914.  She also uses a linear time technique in Salzburg, 1887 where she details personal items about George Traki, 1887-1914. that influences the poetry being presented.

On page fifteen, Dickinson begins her two- stanza prose poem with The Linden trees take on a wilt.  The tone is set. The second stanza begins, Morning drags on. Again, Dickinson combines poetic skill in linking place with time.  All through this first poem are details setting the scene presented as if these are diary entrees that are logical, emotional and personal.  This first poem captures the reader completely.

The tone changes in the second section called Vienna and the time is 1909.  The first poem in this section on page twenty-nine is The Wine-Hunt.  It is a one-stanza poem that begins: Vienna, 1909.  Two days asleep.  Dickinson’s narrator gives time and action as if it is a notation to the self. The narrator speaks of extreme drunkenness and a sky full of piss.  The poem reads like a self evaluation of one’s condition and in this poem, the self- evaluation is negative.  The narrator puts his fingers to his nose and smells the piss. Dickinson skillfully causes the reader to not only see the narrator’s condition but to relate to it through the senses.

In the third section, Berlin, the poem Snow on page forty-one begins 1912. Tavern night and the serving girl’s shoulders sag….  Again, Dickinson has placed the reader as both the observer and as participant in this one- stanza poem.  This sweet girl nudges the narrator out into the snow and the many cruel things that happen to a drunk in the cold.

All the poems in this book are prose poems of different lengths but written with great detail and sensitivity. The book is an interesting and complicated read but worth it.

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.



Razor Wire Wilderness by Stephanie Dickinson


By Charles Rammelkamp

Toward the end of her harrowing true crime memoir, Stephanie Dickinson writes that her own experience with missteps “has shown me that life sometimes does give you a second chance, and that we must seize it.” Razor Wire Wilderness focuses primarily on Krystal Riordan and Lucy Weems, two inmates in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, New Jersey, a maximum security prison for women, how they got there, how they survive once they are incarcerated, their urgent pursuit of that second chance, that redemption.

Dickinson weaves her own story throughout Krystal’s and Lucy’s, from her dull mid-century childhood in rural Iowa to hitchhiking around North America as a teenager, rebelling against a repressive Midwestern mother, her fateful meeting with her friend Michael in Montreal, and eventually attending an inauspicious Thanksgiving Day party in North Carolina at the home of Michael’s psychopath friend Charlie, who, drunk and jealous, blasts her with a shotgun, rendering her left arm useless for the rest of her life.

Dickinson had already read Capote’s In Cold Blood, the newspaper stories of the Manson cult girls in the Tate-LaBianca murders, the accounts written by Auschwitz survivors, the brutal Andersonville prison camp during the American Civil War, when, in the summer of 2006, her attention was snagged by the lurid cover story in the New York Daily News, Hooker Watched Boyfriend Kill Teen, a true crime story about Krystal Riordan and her pimp lover Draymond Coleman and their victim Jennifer Moore, murdered in a shabby Weehawken, New Jersey hotel.  Stephanie befriends Riordan, sympathetic to her through her own life experiences, and the friendship results in Dickinson’s much-heralded 2014 novel, Love Highway. Razor Wire Wilderness is as much backstory to that novel as it is a story of deliverance.

Krystal is born with the odds already stacked against her. Her mother, Eva, is a prostitute who neglected her children.  Indeed, when Krystal reconnects with her mother years later, Eva steals from her! Lice-ridden, Krystal, already molested by an uncle before the age of five, and her younger sister Nicole are “rescued” by Child Services and subsequently adopted by the Riordans, a middle class family in Orange, Connecticut. Despite the parental attention, Nicole will become a junkie, Krystal a prostitute.

For almost a decade, Mrs. Riordan, a Girl Scout troop leader, ferries Krystal and Nicole around to therapy sessions, music lessons and, in 5’9” Krystal’s case, basketball practice, until one day, when Krystal is 14, her mother catches her in her bedroom with some boys, and after consulting a psychologist for “disturbed adolescents,” packs her off to a boarding school for troubled teens in Maine called Élan, which turns out to be more like a prison run by sadists than a nurturing educational institution. Students are humiliated and attacked by residents who are egged on by school officials. They shout, “You’re a whore!” and “We wish you were dead!” The whole approach is later described by investigators as a “brainwashing technique.”

Élan ultimately closed in 2011 after stories of deprivation and abuse circulated about the place whose annual tuition was around $50,000. Stories of suicides and prison were common. But in Krystal’s case, the damage had already been done – or exacerbated. After she graduates, it’s almost no wonder she turns to prostitution.

This is how she meets her psychopath, Draymond Coleman, a man almost twice her age, whom she loves with the passionate conviction of a person in the grip of Stockholm Syndrome.  Dray is both her lover and her pimp. Often, at Draymond’s direction, they engage in threesomes with other girls, and indeed this is how things ultimately go wrong.

One night a group of teenagers from New Jersey comes to Manhattan for a night of fun. One, Jennifer Moore, get separated from her friends and falls into Draymond’s clutches. He takes her to the Weehawken hotel where he and Krystal are staying, and things get out of hand. Draymond strangles Jennifer, and he and Krystal dispose of the body.  They are caught and Krystal winds up at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF).

Dickinson describes the bleak existence at EMCF in great detail, from the treatment by guards to the work details to the humiliating desperation of “Toilet Paper Day” to the interaction among the inmates. It is at EMCF that Krystal meets her friend Lucy Weems.

Dickinson describes Lucy’s life in grim detail, from her rough treatment by an uncle, her life of drugs and prostitution, the heroin addiction that drives her to the grimmest decisions.

“It’s hard to get off the hooker hamster wheel,” Lucy confides. “I’ve given blowjobs for $400 and anal sex for $20. If you’re dope-sick, you’ll do anything.”

Dickinson describes the intensely possessive friendships among the women at EMCF and how Valentine’s Day with its explosions of love and sex is the signature holiday in prison. “Love’s an obstacle course that sometimes ends in blood,” she writes. Fights are usually about cheating.

By contrast, Mother’s Day is sad. Children are ashamed of their incarcerated mothers; mothers of inmates refuse to visit their daughters. Those that do are awkward and self-conscious. Dickinson tells the grim stories of so many of the women, like “Anna,” who has sex with her 14-year-old daughter’s boyfriend, for which she’s been sentenced to five years at EMCF.

Do Lucy and Krystal get a second chance? After her release, Lucy reunites with the father of her younger daughter and seems to be making a life, difficult though it often is. The COVID-19 pandemic occurs when Krystal is still facing five more years at EMCF, still determined to get out and start over. “I look forward to a normal bed,” she declares. “Wearing real clothes and shoes….There is so much I want to do.”

In a final reflection, Dickinson dreams of a final redemption for all the girls – for everybody – who has taken a wrong turn, made a disastrous decision. Razor Wire Wilderness is a fascinating look at a world so many of us never encounter.

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 Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.



Farmers, Queens, Trains and Clowns by g emil reutter


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Alien Buddha Press has just released g emil reutter’s poetry collection, Farmers, Queens, Trains and Clowns.

The collection is available on Amazon at this link: 

What Others Say about Farmers, Queens, Trains and Clowns by g emil reutter

In g emil reutter’s Farmers, Queens, Trains, and Clowns we are treated to a panorama of a fractured Americana. The singer/seer/poet weaves the celebratory and the lament in his masterful “Philadelphia.” The ghost of a railway station is conjured along with the past majesty of derelict neighborhoods. Gut-wrenching abandonment abounds—turkey buzzards on rooftops, icy furnaces,  vacant-eyed buildings, carp that float sideways next to legless frogs. Laced through the graffiti-scarred souls who wander these poems, the moon’s splendor shines as does the richness of family and the poet’s compassion. reutter blesses us with a raw poetry of savage beauty like his bees encased in a silken coffin. His acute powers of observation witness the spider’s captive brown butterfly as well as what is ensnared in the vibrating strands of a divided America.  We are left with the haunting image of Orion frozen with his back to the earth as if an entire civilization has been discarded.

            —-Stephanie Dickinson, author of The Emily Fables and Big-Headed Anna Imagines Herself

Red, white, and blue-collar—g emil reutter champions the past glory of America, finding triumph in his avid, dead-on descriptions. Suicide, cancer, abandoned tracks, those down-at-the-heels and down on their luck—these are the subjects this poet describes with boundless compassion, flawless cadence, and drum-tight metaphors. Here is a distinctive, authentic, and powerful voice. And beautiful. He makes rust sing.

            -– Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, author of Party Everywhere 

You can get the book here:

A reading from 2018

Big Headed Anna Imagines Herself by Stephanie E. Dickinson

big head

By g emil reutter

We are introduced to Big Headed Anna at birth. Her child mother, boy bodied suffers in child birth. Her baby’s head so big that Anna’s feet were roped to free her from the womb, upon looking at her the young mother fled. Anna took to a cow when left for dead, survived to go on. Or so it is imagined by Anna.

Dickinson has crafted a series of flash fictions that chart the adventures of Big Headed Anna through time and space, of viewing the living and dead, of the life of an outcast from birth who encounters a wide array of characters. Imagined or real? For many who take the time to read this vivid collection, who have suffered from the cruelty of human kind there will be no doubt that the life of Anna could be real. Dickinson’s use of flash fiction to tell the story is simply brilliant as are the images and metaphor that populate this collection.

From Big-Headed Anna Believes Herself as a Strange, Beautiful Name:

“I am eleven years old today and hungry since I ran away from the other place. If I cut my eyelashes there would be no feeling. I would have to move my ear lobe between the grist’s flint or the tip of my nose to understand about touch. To show you how orchids thrive in snow and spongy soil, an earthworm loses its head and grows another. Tallow, bone flesh. My neck thinks of me as its lily. Wandering toward the French Quarter under talon of moon, I sing in a beautiful whisper. Hush little brittlestar who lives underewater. My big head hides under my bigger hat. I shiver listening to the river, the cotton barges.”

Big Headed Anna suffers the indignity and violence of rape, unable to see her attacker, a bag covering her head. And when she gives birth, her child stolen from her, carried away her only comfort is knowing the child has a normal head. Many of the flash describe her efforts to find her child.

From Big Headed Anna Listens to the Last Sound in the Grass:

“I am braised with malaria and yellow fever, and I sink deeper into the bittersweet. I am haul and lumber. An unmarked grave on Rampart Street where traveling workers make prayers has seen my child alive. A raven brings them bread and flesh. The lost Creole spirits sheltering them on houseboats tell me to lift the tablecloth where oysters are set down with comets.”

Dickenson has weaved these stories together as a master quilter, each strand interwoven, each resulting image full of color and metaphor. The stories take place between 1900 and 1933, a harsh time in America, a harsh time for those who appear a bit different from the majority, a harsh time for the poor during a time of exurbanite wealth and decline. Although dream like in its presentation the supporting characters are developed with words and images reflecting a beauty and realism to this work. Yet like a master quilter, Dickinson has created a body of work in this collection always with an underlying love for its central character.

You can find Big Headed Anna Imagines Herself here:

g emil reutter can be found here: