By g emil reutter
By g emil reutter
We searched YouTube for some of the poets we have published and our staff over the years to provide you with some live readings to enjoy during these turbulent times. We hope you enjoy!
From North of Oxford, this windy March issue blows us in two directions: backward into childhood, i.e., the past and upward into a distorted heavenly sky.
Rustin Larson’s poem, “Slap” conjures up Stanley Kunitz’s slapped check in “The Portrait,” but Larson’s metaphor literally moves us into confusion with his opening lines: “It was confusing. It’s / like getting on the wrong / bus and arriving at / the wrong school.” It’s as if childhood were a treacherous journey for the speaker, which leads the reader to his second poem, “Bats and Spiders,” where the end lines of his first stanza are “Your / mother would never have / aborted you’ says my aunt. / Things like that get me / thinking.” There is a mastery and magical craft to this poem that you will want to read and re-read, complete with…”The witch’s hand / felt in her shaggy purse for / a coin.”
Wesley Scott McMaster’s “Gypsy Blood” has Romanian blood running through this poem’s veins. Dedicated to his father, who he cried with, when the speaker, I, “watched my grandfather’s body / weak and frail / carried out to be burned / to be made into dust.” Not traveling on a bus like in Larson’s first poem, McMaster is wearing “shoes that are worn out / soles worn thin.” Walk with him and you will feel “rain or snow”, “the shit in city streets”and you will hear the voices of his ancestors “soaked in blood…gypsy blood.”
Thaddeus Rutkowski’s mode of transportation to the past, in his poem, “Where I’m From” lists several ways of getting around as a child: “I used a bike, my feet, or skates” never making “it more than a mile or two / from my childhood home.” With mixed maternal and paternal lineage his “goal was to learn to drive. / …and blow out of there.” His next poem, is where the winds of March blow upward, even inward, as we enter, “In the Buddha’s Tooth Temple,” and “We walk into a temple in Singapore to see the relic: / a tooth of the Buddha.” Led by walking, the speaker, more like a tour guide, helps us to see inside the temple, maybe even inside the winds of time, and in arriving, “No one is in the room. / There is no crowd around the pedestal.”
As wind circles, we are blown into the cross current poems of Howie Good. Not quite Nietzschesque as in “God is Dead,” rather possessing a drier wit and sarcasm, Good’s poem, “God Is a Joke That Nobody Gets” puns on the resurrection, in a modernistic way. “Your god” (with a lowercase “g”) “tumbles/ to the ground dead, then / gets up and dusts off his pants.” Good’s speaker reduces god into an unsympathetic human, someone like an uncaring boss, who is a lot of hot air / a wind bag, that “does a crap job intervening / in human affairs.” Believe it or not, a lot is seen and said in a minimalistic way; how ironic to condense a poem about god into only nine lines—the speaker bringing down the mighty powers of god. Good’s defying humor ensues in a “little snippet” of his squirrely poem, “Against Narrative.”
Check out this month’s issue, stay grounded, and “Beware the Ides of March.”
With much respect & admiration for these our March Madness poets,
Diane Sahms, Poetry Editor, North of Oxford
The following list consists of 15 book reviews published in 2018 that have generated the most interest from our readers as of November 2018. Click the links and consider a purchase for your holiday gift giving.
The Conduit and other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy by Richard Gessner
Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski
The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer
Appearances by Michael Collins
The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young
A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley
Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz
Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper
The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman
Ornaments by David Daniel
A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas
Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella
Logos by Gil Fagiani
A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree
The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching
By Thaddeus Rutkowski
Jim Feast’s new novel, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Unbearables Books/Autonomedia), is basically a murder mystery, told in brief, nonsequential chapters identified by date. Set during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the fall of 1998, the story follows Raskin Trask, a former drug user (and Wall Streeter) who is undergoing treatment for the virus. Though Rask is not gay, he gets involved in the politics of gay rights—demonstrating, for example, with the group ACT UP. At a crucial point, Rask suspects something is up with the doctor who manages the treatment in a hospice for a AIDS patients. When Rask’s roommate dies of questionable causes, Rask realizes he could be next. He works to get evidence that will implicate the doctor in charge.
Around this storyline, the author (who wrote the book with the editorial assistance of Carol Wierzbicki) brings in a number of other characters, some more important than others. Rask is a member of a downtown New York group called the Neo Phobes, and many of his fellow phobes cross paths and socialize with him. One of the more interesting of these people is the radio personality Mac, who works at the station WPHEW. Mac is described this way:
There was something about his libido, something that both got him into bad fixes (like the one-nighter that cost him his marriage) and into some of the most indefinably sweet moments of his existence. … More than once, he’d met someone at a party and, locked in the toilet, used the shag rug for … shagging.
This description of Mac reminds us that there was a time—in the ’90s—when urban youths didn’t think much about risky behavior or the need for recovery from such behavior. It was OK to “wang chung” all night.
Elsewhere, Feast brings us deep into the world of AIDs treatment centers. Here, Rask meets his new roommate in the infirmary, Yardley Chu:
Five or six bodies—not people, department store dummies—were grouped around one of the beds. … Rask went to the covered shape on the bed to introduce himself, but then stopped in surprise, jerking his head to the left. What he took to be Chu was a seventh dummy, prone on the bed. His new roommate sat beyond the bed in a wheelchair. Hanging over the back of his chair was a minor poet Rask had seen hanging around Mac.
At first, I took this scene as an example of surrealism, without a realistic corollary. Why would mannequins be set up in and around a hospital bed? It seemed a metaphorical comment on the impersonal nature of hospitals. There is no flesh and blood here. The live person is “beyond the bed,” in a wheelchair. Then, on second thought, I saw the situation as Yardley Chu’s attempt to physically hide from those in power, from the staffers who can—and will—do him in.
There are a number of subplots in this novel—having to do with drug dealing, corporate spying, file stealing—that add to the atmosphere of shadowy doings and hidden motivations. To say that all is explained by the end might be an overstatement. Long Day, after all, is only the second installment in the Neo Phobe Trilogy (the first volume is titled Neo Phobe). The forthcoming third volume promises to provide more excitement, more details, and more answers.
You can find the book here: https://www.akpress.org/long-day-counting-tomorrow.html?___SID=U
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of five books of prose. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
By Carol Wierzbicki
Thad Rutkowski has made quite a franchise—one might even say genre—out of family dysfunction. I do not say this lightly or facetiously. In his previous autobiographical fiction Tetched (Behler Publications) and Roughhouse (Kaya Press), we meet a father with a persecution complex; a Chinese mother who’s mostly quiet and submissive but makes the occasional barbed retort; and a brother and sister who are just as isolated as Rutkowski’s protagonist, recognizing the symptoms but powerless to alleviate them.
Guess and Check is really a retrospective of Rutkowski’s mostly previously published work, exploring his experiences from his rural Pennsylvania childhood through his college years and finally adulthood in New York City.
In spite of the deadpan narrative, you find yourself rooting for the narrator, whether he’s on an awkward date (virtually all of them are in these stories) or just trying to endure one of his father’s often shrill rants (“’Enough!’” my father shouted. ‘I’ve had enough of you kids for a while.’”). His narrator’s detachment forms an eerie counterpoint to such histrionics. After reading just a few of these scenes, you can easily conclude that it’s his emotional evenness and writer’s/artist’s objectivity that has enabled him to survive the often volatile environment of the family unit.
What makes his prose surprisingly engaging is that just beneath the surface of his deadpan tone is a passionate will to survive, whether the challenges appear in interpersonal relations or grim workplace politics. And who among us would not identify with that?
Guess and Check is an odd title for a book. I marked the two passages where this phrase occurred. The first scenario has the narrator’s mother helping him with his algebra homework:
My mother looked at the same problem, worked for a minute and came up with an answer. For her, x simply equaled 4. According to the workbook, her answer was correct.
“How did you get that?” I asked.
“I can’t explain it in English,” she said. “I know the language of numbers.”
“Maybe I’ll just guess and check,” I said. “I’ll guess at an answer: then I’ll check to see if it works out.”
The second scenario involves a frightening nighttime storm rattling his childhood home. When the narrator wakes up the next morning, the stream nearby has overrun its banks and flooded fields:
I could cross the flooded field and walk up the hill on the other side. The problem was, there was nothing but brambles and tall grass on the other side.
I put on my insulated boots and got ready to go out. I didn’t know what I would find. I would have to guess and check.
Then I ran across this passage, toward the end of the book, where he muses on the often zigzag paths he takes when walking the streets of New York:
I want to find the hypotenuse, the shortest way…
Where are the hypotenuses in the city? Was this city planned by “experts” who had no sense of geometry? Did these experts forget the teachings of Euclid? Euclid of Alexandria would never have stood for this street pattern. He would have added some hypotenuses. And if Euclid couldn’t get the mayor and the City Council to adopt his plan, he would have brought in the big gun. He would have called on Ptolemy. A heavyweight like Claudius Ptolemy would have straightened out the local politicians and planners. This goes without saying. It is axiomatic.
I found this to be Rutkowski’s most profound statement in the book, while also incidentally being the most hilarious. It gives you the key to his whole world view. To him life situations—from being rejected as a child by other children, to the often absurd and confusing interactions with other New Yorkers, to the humdrum tedium of office jobs—are problems to be solved, like a math equation. There are angles to be navigated, risks to be calculated. He reduces possible catastrophes to a theorem in order to manage them, planting himself deeply in the hypothetical. A couple of pages after the above passage, he contemplates the possibility of his apartment being burgled:
Inside, the thief would work fast, but he wouldn’t be able to get out the front door because it has an illegal lock that requires a key on the inside. He will have to pick up items and throw them (gently) out the window to his friend waiting on the platform. Then they will both have to jump down to the sidewalk and run. On one trip, they could carry a couple of thin computers and a flat-screen TV. If no one stops them, they can stash the first batch of stolen items in a fence’s warehouse and come back for seconds.
Now I understand the meaning of the title: In Rutkowski’s hypervigilant mind, it is always a question of look or leap. He must guess and check. And guess and check, again.
This is a rewarding read for anyone interested in family dynamics, or the challenges of coming of age and raising one’s own family in a big city, or who just wants a satisfying compilation of Rutkowski’s oeuvre. The long list of publication credits at the back of the book attests to the success of his “franchise.”
You can find the book here: http://www.givalpress.com.
Carol Wierzbicki’s reviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail and American Book Review. Her work has been published in Long Shot, Public Illumination, Evergreen Review, Big Bridge, Many Mountains Moving, The Otter, and The Bug Book (Poets Wear Prada).
Gival Press is pleased to announce that Thaddeus Rutkowski’s latest book Guess and Check, creative nonfiction, has been released.
The book, a collection of stories, which is a Giron/Valdez Series for Unique Voices in Literature Book has work praised by John Barth as “ . . . tough and funny and touching and harrowing.” And most recently the review by Kirkus Reviews states: “A stark, engrossing, Hemingway-esque portrait of a life spent in the margins.
“Story by story, Thaddeus Rutkowski snaps into place the puzzle of a mixed-race kid playing dumb in Guess and Check’s Appalachia. Much more than the postmodern sum of its parts, Guess and Check is spare, subtle and deadpan, Charles Simic married to Joyce Carol Oates. A beautifully constructed delicate narrative, a near dream of a book, a place ‘vulnerable to anyone who wants to break through the glass.’”—Terese Svoboda, author of Bohemian Girl
You can find the book here: http://www.bookwire.com/book/USA/Guess-and-Check-9781940724119-Rutkowski-Thaddeus-58835988
Thaddeus Rutkowski grew up in central Pennsylvania. He is the author of the book Violent Outbursts (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing), Haywire (Starcherone Books / forthcoming from Blue Streak Press), Tetched (Behler Publications) andRoughhouse (Kaya Press). Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York. He teaches literature at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and fiction writing at the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife, Randi Hoffman, and their daughter, Shay. He received a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Visit him at www.thaddeusrutkowski.com.