Monday, February 15, 2016

This River Here Poems of San Antonio by Carmen Tafolla

Many thanks to Reyes Cardenes for introducing me to this collection by the first Poet Laureate of San Antonio, Texas, Carmen Tafolla: This River Here Poems of San Antonio. As of 2015, she is the Poet Laureate of Texas. Rich with imagery, culture, history, and language native to the area, Tafolla draws us into the soul of place through the ages. There are also photographs to show changing families and the city through the years, it is an extraordinary read and very difficult to pin down just a few poems to represent such a well-lived collection. I am happy to share a few samples below:

There’ve always been rattlesnakes

especially if you live in Texas,
quietly coiled potent surprises
filled with regrettable poisons
scorpions startled under rocks
tails poised for incisive action
flash floods submerging the floor, the bed
wiping away anything not rooted yards deep
droughts that wilt the cactus,
bake the trees, suck dry the elderly

there’ve always been rattlesnakes,
husbands collapsed to the ground, stores gone broke
grandmothers fading away, bills eating the grocery money,
heart attacks at midnight, heat strokes at 4 p.m.
wagons, cars, bikes, crumpled into broken skeletons
tornados that wreak havoc, lightning that incinerates homes into black ash
cancers that appear when least expected,
disasters that life or nature makes

But even the cruelly unexpected fangs of rattlesnakes
grow brittle over time
crumble into the offended earth
even droughts bathe eventually in the abundant August chubascos
even long-staring skeletons become rich abono
fertilizing the persistent pecan trees
the hope-filled shoots of chile serrano
the motivation of survivors trying to rebuild
bone by desperate bone
to rebuild

Here Tafolla captures Texas in all its glory, with all its critters, flora, and fauna. She encapsulates the way modern civilization coincides and collides with the landscape through heat stroke, flash floods, rattlesnakes. No matter Mother Nature’s arrows, even the “fangs of rattlesnakes grow brittle over time,” even grandmothers fade away. Her poem about all of the living creatures fighting for their place, building and rebuilding, everything will eventually fade away.

Alli por la Calle San Luis

West Side – corn tortillas for a penny each
Made by an ancient woman
and her mother.
Cooked on the homeblack of a flat stove,
Flipped to slap the birth awake,
Wrapped by corn hands
Toasted morning light and dancing history –
earth gives birth to corn gives birth to man
gives birth to earth.
Corn tortillas – penny each.
No tax.

I love the rhythm of this poem, the imagery. If you haven’t seen the flat stoves that tortilla makers use, it can be easily found on Google Images. Tafolla links the earth to man to earth again through the making of the corn tortillas, rightfully poetic, “slap the birth awake,” the tortilla makers slap the tortillas into being just as women and doctors slap a baby’s bottom for the cry—to awaken the birth. Beautiful.

San Anto’s Mezcla Magica

What it means to co-exist,
to bloom together,
is that the lines grow fuzzy,
optical illusions with two different faces
appearing at different times
there is not a street that marks
a neighborhood others have not
crossed into
eaten, loved, lived in, tasted in a different way

Even in Alamo Heights,
tamales end up on the “Old Texas” families’
Thanksgiving tables, while “Graciela’s”sells
designer suits in sarape colors
Even on Nogalitos Street
the Chinese tamarind seed is the top-selling snack
at the Mexican food counter,
Indian curry gets scooped up
in comal-warmed pita bread
Vietnamese eggrolls brim out of
toasty tortillas made from
German-milled white flour

At the corner of French and Fredericksburg Road
Martinez Barbacoa pairs steaming barbacoa
with ice-cold, carbonated Big Red,
imports El Milagro tortillas from Austin
and Virgen de Guadalupe wooden bracelets from Mexico,
stacks avocados just lusciously ripe enough
but not too soft, in front of the lusciously Olympian Aztecs
posed on a calendar that only distantly layers
echoed rhythms of the Aztec Calendar

After barbacoa and corn tortillas for breakfast
we want “something different” for lunch
and pair black-smoked Jamaican Bar-B-Q
with chile-roasted corn
So nighttime at Sam’s Burger Joint we are not surprised
when in the Music Hall out back
a tall, blonde Chicana named Patricia Vonne
(nee Rodriguez and freshly back from concert tour in Europe)
rattles the cage of the stage and
sings a blend smooth as honey
to the harmony of a rock electric guitar
country fiddle
and Spanish castanets.

Blend. This poem is about the ultimate blend of cultures and flavors that continue to percolate here in Texas. It’s a luscious mix that is as addictive as it is beautiful, varied, and extreme. I would dare any visitor to San Antonio, to find it boring or bland because it is anything but. If you ever visit the area ask the locals where to eat, you won’t regret it. The music at night is wild and bright, smooth and sultry, just like the night air. Tafolla captures it completely.

If you enjoyed these poems as much as I do, you may purchase a copy of This River Here Poems of San Antonio by Carmen Tafolla at Amazon for $14.85 here:
You can also download it onto Kindle here:

To learn more about Carmen Tafolla and her work, visit:

You can also find her on Social Media such as Facebook, please support your favorite writers and follow them.

As always, thank you for reading and drop in again soon…

Thursday, January 14, 2016

In 2015, Jameson Bayles, Dianne Borsenik, John Burroughs, Joan Koromonte and Michelle Roberts decided to collaborate this project, A Case For Ascension, published by Asinimali Publications, Inc. These poets will be gathering in April for National Poetry Month in Kansas City, MO at a literary festival and decided to write/gather poems in honor of a recently constructed staircase inside the bookstore, Prospero’s Books, where the literary festival is to be held. Each author used the title as their muse for the poems inside and while they all wrote separately I couldn’t help but notice similarities. There are words used from Buddhist and meditative teachings or practices such as karma, OM, bodhisattvas, sage, incense,etc. in several writers’ poems. Perhaps because of the idea of heights via a staircase can also translate to a higher sense of enlightenment. Others spun out a tale through their poems. It is an enjoyable read and best read over more than once. It is a short collection, easy to sit with over a hot beverage and a restful moment. Here are a few samples:

Excerpt from The Five Breaths by Jameson Bayles

IV. Rechaka

…and the pendulum keeps on

As benevolence evolves, uncontested
karma reciprocates.

It’s a surgical carving of your soul.

Not a repairable tear
An erosion of causation –

It’s a deliberate


In retaliation,
the evaluation of your heart is not

on the typography of your scars
but in your mockery of each swipe
from the blade.

…and the pendulum keeps on

Bayles let me know that this poem is based on the need to rise out of cyclical and dysfunctional relationships. This poem causes me to pause and wonder about the main character’s story and which side of the relationship they were on: Did they leave or were they left? Which side has them contemplating a drastic measure and then seeking to rise above it? It is a piece that shows that whether or not blood is let out, the “pendulum swings,” time goes on whether you participate in moving with time or stop your own clock. We can all relate to heartache and the struggle to move onwards and upwards when it feels as though we can only curl up and give up.

Excerpt from Sutra for the Four Monkeys by Diane Borsenik

2nd Monkey

Humor is a precious resource.
Energy—positive and negative—wells from
Allow yourself time to breathe.
Relish the extant moment.
Nothing can prepare you for what comes
Open your heart to possibilities.
Enter through the exit.
Variety is the vitamin of life.
Is this where you want to be right now?
Lennon had it right: imagine.

There are four monkeys and they have life lessons to share. From a personal perspective the 2nd Monkey poem hit home for me since I had a radically unexpected change of plans in early Fall 2015. So for my background and for you to relate: Imagine feeling solid in your existing life and career—you’ve settled into the right home, you have perfect neighbors, a job you have the rhythm of with a team you adore working with, people in your life who you adore, family nearby, etc. Then an opportunity arrives: one you had wanted YEARS ago. It happened to us, my husband landed a job in Texas and so we took a leap of faith and I had to trust that I would find a job soon after selling our home and moving after him—and I have.
So that is why I picked THIS poem. The poem above exemplifies everything about the unexpected journey. Have you ever gone through a major life change and took a leap of faith? Variety is indeed the vitamin of life, while it can be a large vitamin to swallow, we all grow in unexpected ways when we allow ourselves to live in the moment, find the humor, and open up to possibilities we weren’t ready for. Ms. Borsenik gives us a seemingly simple poem but if you take it into your heart you will find so many layers.

Since this is a short book, let me assure you there are wonderful poems that take on a variety of tones, some hard, some tongue-in-cheek. I don’t want to give it all away, so please be kind and purchase a copy for yourself to discover the rest: A Case For Ascension: A collaborative sample reader by Jameson Bayles, Dianne Borsenik, John Burroughs, Joan Koromante, and Michelle Roberts is available for $5.00 at

You can find many of these writers on social media, be sure to engage them. When so much of social media can be plagued with the negative I believe it is vital to find inspiration and positive energy through those whose work you enjoy reading. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogspot, you name it, take advantage and create an inspiring world for yourself by connecting to those who inspire YOU.

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Schizo-Poetry Fragments of the Mind by Susanne Wawra and Kevin Nolan

Susanne Wawra and Kevin Nolan, two poets residing in Dublin, Ireland, created a collaborative work based on images brought forth by color—15 colors total. The first poem in each set is by Wawra, the second by Nolan. Their poems are rich with imagery, sensuality, memory, and philosophy. Self-published by in Dublin, Ireland I am surprised that a publisher didn’t pick them up. The work is imaginative, thoughtful, and worth reading over and over again. Below I am happy to share some samples and I urge you to support these poets and their future:

(bright yellow)

A colourable moon perspires down
on a foreign country.

A road surrounds an Anglican church –
the door swings open and a distant high pitched sound gets higher.

The air is wet with Ave Marias, a solitary singer searchingly fingers her
soul and moans low while city foxes dash by dizzy and wild-eyed with
questioning snouts.

Sitting near on footpath
are two people, in love, smiling at each other, knowing each other

In one beats a heart:
its drawers swing open and shut in slow motion, catch imaginary
snowflakes, which melt and leak down to collect in the swells of her eyes
opening like butterflies.

The other’s heart
is wet with vitality, desperate in its countenance
opening and reaching out to her like a legousia flower to the heat of
flavescent moonlight.

By Nolan

The first two lines alone are captivating. Who on Earth wouldn’t want to dive into this poem after reading the opening lines? Along with “The air is wet with Ave Marias,” lending a magical quality to the scene that further unfolds of two lovers sharing an emotional intimacy with each other. Nolan romances us equally as well as the lovers romance each other.

(gray blue)

I hesitate, a breeze beats my back
As if to push me, I start walking in
The crisp cold water swallows my
Feet, knees, thighs, my breath

Hardens. I stand and wait for the
Waves to invite me in, they come
At me – hit, foam, draw back an
Then again. I inhale and advance

Until my heart reaches sea level
It pounds against the wall, throws
Itself towards the new encounter
Entering a dance to its intriguing

Rhythm. I spread my arms and feel
the resistance, I move them back
And forth, the water runs through
My outspread fingers, I shiver.

I give myself to the sea, plunge deep
Into the cleansing blue, grey, green
We embrace each other, we become
Lovers, unified. I am the wave, the

Push, the take. For once, I feel whole,
Complete. I surface, shake, then turn
Around and walk back to the beach
Seasoned with salt, bliss, intensity.

By Wawra

This poem is sensual, enigmatic. The reader can place themselves into the writer’s shoes and feel the waves and be renewed by nature’s envelopment. I live within driving distance of the ocean and it can be therapeutic to wade out into the waves, especially in the early hours of the morning when there are very few, if any, other people around. This poem reminds me of the importance of immersing oneself in Nature, I hope it inspires you to get outdoors as it does for me.


She is dressed in black, a heavy cloak
of darkness mantled on her shoulders.
As she enters the room slowly but
With fortitude, the lightbulbs explode.
A thick blackness immediately fills
The space, it seeps into every corner
Of our being, we become the night.

She speaks of wrong and death and
Hate with a voice that catapults our
Synapses into a warping war of words.
We start spinning, swirl, twist around
Each other till we manifest into a knot.
The sounds echo down our spines,
Vibrate viciously, we are left shaking.

She moves closer, her breath so cold
It clenches our hearts, grips our guts.
A pulsating pain possesses our bodies,
Beats in every cell. A weight pushes
As if to crush us, holding the pressure
To demonstrate its power. The attack
Blows our defence, we are weakened.

She enters our being, spreading her
Poisonous black, detracting all colour,
All light, all life. She empties our very
Inside, only rawness, hurt and despair
Remain. We are shapeless on the
Sharp boards of the floor, surrender.
The ruins moan but we will rise again.

By Wawra

This poem strikes me personally. There is always someone in life that seems to suck the life out of the room when they enter—whether they realize that about themselves or not. This poem is deep, dark, and I wonder who the poet is speaking of, if there is anyone in her life that causes her to truly feel this way. The woman who spreads the darkness in this poem is powerful, so powerful in her negative words and actions that she leaves her victims writhing inside and out. I am thankful for the ending line “the ruins moan but we will rise again,” lending hope that the victims will overcome this poisonous person, just as we all strive to overcome the poisonous people in our own lives.


The moonshine sits on the waves
Making their way to the flat beach.
As they are rolling in, it dances
Across the waterlines. Upon their
Breaking, the white foam thunders.

All colour has been washed away,
All is condensed in shades of grey.
The night simplifies my view, eases
My mood and sharpens by senses.
It talks to me, tells it like it is, makes

No apologies. I can see clearer now,
I listen and understand. The wisdom
of the sea opens up and lets me in.
Everything makes perfect sense,
The answers are right there, I am

Ecstatic. Without looking I have
Found it or it may have found me.
But as the sun pushes herself up
It disappears, I am overwhelmed,
Swallowed by a tsunami of colour.

By Wawra

The poet ties nature into its restorative abilities here again. Quiet contemplation and observation greet us, seeing the world in “black and white” before daylight spreads to obscure the simplicity. It is a beautiful poem and I’m happy to share it with you.


Somewhere in a dark room
mists are mistaken
for spiders’ webs
softly sifting through the air
in beautiful motion, like
those seahorses
lovingly negotiating, the pull
and trusting language of the sea:
its deep shifting tides

a grimy underpaid
emigrant boy is printing yet
another copy of Finnegan’s

He’s never read a word
for his language
and the language of Joyce
are very different.

On a break he exhausts
a cigarette
and traces the image
of the words
as if reading braille

while back in the room
the wings of a gallivanting blue-bottle
surreptitiously kiss,
into a drifting web.

By Nolan

This poem captures a scene that upon observation may seem serene but hints at something darker. An emigrant worker trying to make his way, unfamiliar with the language and the world he has placed himself in, just as the blue-bottle drifts unsuspectingly into the dangerous web. This is another poem that strikes me personally, having moved several times in my life and having to learn the language, customs, lingo of other locations, even within the United States Midwest versus living on the Mexican Border in Texas. The world is mysterious and full of secrets, just like the ocean and its shifting tides in the poem above. A beautiful poem layered with meaning, it gives us pause to linger over Nolan’s words.

I hope you enjoyed these samples of Schizo-Poetry by Susanne Wawra and Kevin Nolan as much as I do. You may purchase a copy of their book for 10 Euros + 2 Euros shipping and handling if you reside outside of Dublin, or 10 Euros + 1 Euro within Dublin at:!schizo-poetry/c1m56

Thanks always for reading, please drop by again soon…

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kristina Marie Darling’s Double Feature: The Arctic Circle, Failure Lyric

I admit that lately I have been very slow to read and review books these past two to three years and I can assure you I am working on ways to get back to doing these reviews more often. It will take a bit longer to achieve some of the goals I have set for myself in order to accommodate more reading, writing, and creating. I thank all of my loyal readers for sticking by. In the meantime, I will post as often as I can:

Today I review one of my favorite writers for a Double Feature. Kristina Marie Darling’s work continues to inspire me and sets my imagination spinning.

First is The Arctic Circle, published by BlazeVox books in 2015, is a haunting collection where the ghost of the first wife lingers over the current couple’s lives. The current wife begins slipping into the first wife’s character, alarmingly the husband voices approval. The environment surrounding them grows cold, frosted over in ice. Below I am happy to share a few pieces:


The name I was given at birth was no longer my name. When I arrived at the reception hall, I was mistaken for another bride. Laced into the wrong dress, wearing the wrong shoes.

My husband would later confuse me with his last wife. He thought I was supposed to bring him cigarettes, and for a moment that seemed right. He mumbled as I handed him a purple lighter, and I left behind the only life I’d ever known.
But we were so good together. I never argued with him, afraid for years he’d remember his first wife was dead.

This poem describes our main character slipping into an expected persona and losing her individuality to make her partner happy. I fear the number of women who do this daily. I wish they would fight to keep themselves intact. Here, the bride succumbs to what is “expected” of her.


From the start you made me promise not to ask questions about your first wife. You’d leave for weeks and wouldn’t tell me why.

When you finally came home, dinner always began the same way. I’d catch a glimpse of something in the window while warming soup or vegetables. Then I looked out into the yard and saw her face. Sometimes she stood at the door, straightening her dress, about to knock. Most of the time she was out of breath, as though she’d walked a long way in the cold.
No matter what you told me, I was afraid to open the door. She carried no purse, and no luggage, because everything she needed was already here.

This is when the ghost of the first wife makes her appearance. It is telling when the new wife says “because everything she needed was already here.” It leads us readers to believe that the husband never cleaned out any of his previous wife’s things. The new bride is simply there to become the former bride. Haunting, isn’t it?


When I woke in the middle of the night, I saw another woman in the glass. She looked the way I had always imagined your first wife: white blonde, pink lipstick with a hint of sparkle.

I climbed back into bed and you asked me why I was shivering. I told you I was cold, but really i wasn’t. I knew I could never sleep in the same house as her. That was when I noticed something glittering on the side of your mouth. I told myself I was imagining things, but even I didn’t believe it.
After we’d been married a few years, things started to make sense. You never told me the house was haunted because you hoped it wasn’t. Every night, when you thought I was sleeping, you kissed the woman on the other side of the mirror.

Quite disconcerting, this piece. Not only is their home haunted by the first wife but the bride’s husband continues to carry on a relationship with the ghost in the mirror. It turns your heart for the current wife and you wonder why she stays.

The garden was all thistle and frost.

I had been living in her house,
wearing her clothes, answering
to her name.

This is where I leave you, dear reader. To learn more about the life of the current wife in this haunting tale, you will have to pick up a copy for yourself. The bride’s transformation, the husband’s acceptance of this transformation, and then ultimately… The rest is for you to find out in the pages of this indelible tale.

If you enjoyed this review and are curious to learn the rest of the tale, please purchase a copy of Arctic Circle by Kristina Marie Darling for $16.00 at:

Failure Lyric, published in 2014 by BlazeVox books, is a collection of unexpected heart aches, failures as the title implies, and a couple’s relationship at the center. As always, Darling uses vivid, beautiful language to create scenes that etch into our minds. It is nearly impossible for me to narrow down which pieces to share, so please forgive me for sharing so many, and there are many more for those of you who wish to read more:


My sister looked at me and said, You choose the love you think you deserve. She poured another cup of herbal tea. Out the window, I see birds burying their dead.

This is one of the first poems in this collection and sets the tone for what follows. “You choose the love you think you deserve” is relatable to so many of us and it pushes the reader’s curiosity forward.


At first, you didn’t quite understand. How I carried all that grief from city to city, until it turned into an enormous white halo around my head.

And the stars. The way they followed my sadness, rising and falling like an ocean. Before long, even the cities where we lived began to circle around my melancholy, each one a thread spinning through the eye of a needle.

One morning, you woke and noticed that the world around you moved differently. The freeway no longer led to the subway station. And the flower stand wasn’t where you remembered it.

You cried, but neither one of us could change it back.

This piece hits me personally. Growing up our family moved many times and there was culture shock as we yo-yoed between the Midwest and the Texas Border on Mexico. My dreams are vivid and filled with scenes from both, there was heartache from being such an obvious outsider each move. So this piece allows me to relate to both the wife and the husband, feeling grief that grows with each change, then tears when you return to a place only to find it has changed drastically. This piece I feature for personal reasons, I hope you can relate to it and love it as much as I do.


At first I thought the gift was for me. A little box, wrapped in green paper and tied with a silver ribbon, sparkled on the kitchen table. Each of the corners had been taped shut so I couldn’t see what was inside.

That was when he walked in the door with a bag full of wrapping paper. Ribbons in every color. Roll after roll of sticky tape.

He told me that he was going to an anniversary party. I didn’t hesitate when he asked me to help wrap the gifts.

Before long, I realized the presents were meant for his last wife, waiting at the restaurant. I couldn’t help but recognize her favorite chocolates, that ungodly perfume he always dragged with him on his suit. Now the gifts shimmered in their boxes. All that ribbon curled at my feet.

You see, when we married, memory fell asleep in the chapel. We left her in the pew, wearing her best dress.

Somehow she never found her way back to the door.

This piece makes my heart ache for the current wife. How does a woman wrap gifts for the former love of her lover’s life? The mention of losing the memory in the pew is poignant. The wife conveniently forgot the husband’s previous life when she married only to stare it in the face now while wrapping up gifts for the last wife. Strange that the husband would do something so elaborate for an ex and ask his current wife for help, there are layers upon layers in this couple’s story in such a short piece.


There is a room where grief doesn’t sleep.

She tosses and turns beneath a white blanket, that silk canopy draped around her. When I open the door, she asks for a glass of water. Anything but the orchid on her dressing table, the shriek gathering in its perfect mouth.

Because when she closes her eyes, she can feel the same burning in her own throat. That smoldering beneath a violet nightdress. A fire in every eyelash.

The first line caught my attention, didn’t it for you? We all know that room, whether it is in our minds or a place that brings back tearful memories. I love that grief is a woman, just like La Llorona (The Crying Woman). Not only does she toss and turn, she burns with fire, just as we all feel inside during our own grief. It’s a beautiful piece.


I walk between two rooms, but somehow the furniture is the same: a torn envelope, a lifeless clock, the armoire smoldering beneath a beveled mirror.


I unwrap relics one at a time. The room aches with light. You are the patron saint of lost causes, of silent vows and a scorched altar. We are the windows of a chapel shattering as it burns.


Now the plaster angel speaks his final benediction. In my hand, a bouquet of paper flowers, aflame. Still these attempts to catalogue, this desire to preserver.


I had always imagined the mind as a museum of memorable objects. Those endless rows of dried butterflies pinned under glass.


When asked, the docent told me that the placard couldn’t be trusted: The colors have been known to shift with the light. You see, at the time the glass case was built, the specimen wasn’t quite dead.

This is where I feel Darling excels. These moments, these vignettes, they speak worlds to me. I see a museum filled with relics and glass cases and the idea that the butterflies weren’t “quite dead” when they were placed in their case is frightening to me. The idea that all of our beloved keepsakes may have some sort of life and then be left for dead in their “display cases” is what makes me look at my own things in a different light. I feel that Darling is well versed in turning the beautiful and sacred onto its side and holding a prism up to give us a new and unexpected perspective.

If you enjoy this feature, please purchase a copy of Kristina Marie Darling’s Failure Lyric for $12.00 here:

Thanks always for reading and please drop by again soon…

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sarah Sousa's Split the Crow

Sarah Sousa’s collection, Split the Crow, is published by Parlor Press in 2015 and weaves indigenous tales with natural world imagery that burrow deep into your memory long after you read them. Her work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Barn Owl Review, and more, she has won the Red Mountain Press Prize for her collection Church of Needles in May 2014. Below I am happy to share a few samples of her recent collection:

The Dead’s Bright Copperas

Could it be held in a bottle like smoke
or liquor; the color of shadow. Could it
be one of the sad animals, one of the instinctual.
Sad because extinct but still
possessing mythical teeth, legs, claws.
Carnivorous and sad. Furred, plumed, spiny
and sad. Could it be hollow as the keeled sternum
of a gull or the pitch of the cricket’s flat
note. Could it be trapped like a song in the skull’s
dull kettle. Sometimes resembling anemic condolence,
sometimes largesse. Primarily unique unless
born again of some woman. Could it be the sun
festoons the dead with necklaces and bracelets
of fat flies. Fishing for dead. Hunting the dead.
Always engaged in pursuits of the flesh.
Or could it be ghost infants who flop about
like trod-on birds. Without the strength to pass they stay;
eat our corn, settle invisible villages among us.
And wear their broken breastbones
like knocked-askey shields, stirring the flaps
of our doors—like a breeze their ingress and egress.

Sousa talks about the dead and decaying, the decomposition akin to “the sun/feasting wolf-like on the dead” and the spirits of the deceased creatures and people remaining in “invisible villages among us.” The imagery is striking to me, lines such as “the sun/festoons the dead with necklaces and bracelets of fat flies” is clear as a bell in my imagination, as is the idea of the dead “trapped like a song in the skull’s dull kettle.” This poem strikes me for its imagery and for Sousa’s ability to remind us of death’s every day presence.

Of Creation

Man and woman were made of stone.
But Cautantowwit, displeased, broke them
into many pieces and the mica shone out
like stars. Our cut places still glimmer.

So he started using trees.

Now you want the trees
to grow like corn, an inch for every rain.
You want the trees for ships—to take a gale,
rock on the angle, unbroken. You want the trees
to get you to another shore and back?
Better barter with the sea, god of tide-sucking
moon, god that rules your bird-caged lungs.
If the timbers of your roof stay true, thank the roof.

Cautantowwit is the Native American tribes Algonquin and Lenape’s version of God the Creator. Here Sousa shares the tale of their version of creation, filled with stunning visuals: “broke them/into many pieces and the mica shone out/like stars” and when Cautantowwit wasn’t satisfied he decided the living, growing tree would be a better way of creation, and the poet asks the Creator “You want the trees for ships—to take a gale, rock on the angle unbroken…” which leads me to believe the poet meant the Native American people’s ability to weather the storms in their lives.


It is said the women wended
their way in the dark between empty
cabins, cold fire pits, into the forest
they would abandon. It is said the procession
was formal. They wore embroidered robes
similar to the ones the Hopi lay
upon the ground when the first horses
entered into their country. Sacred horses.
Sacred trees. It is said the women whispered
to oaks and elms, wept and stroked
the bark as a mother strokes her child,
one last lull,

She makes a ghost of herself then
leaves leaves leaves.

Sousa describes the way Native American women would prepare for childbirth. The women would go far away from the rest of the tribe and prepare a sacred place from which to give birth without assistance. Sousa’s words envelop in the senses of the woman preparing for birth, leaving cold fire pits behind, the silence of the forest surrounding the woman, the feel of the bark as the woman makes way to give birth, all of it beautiful.

If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Sarah Sousa’s Split the Crow from Parlor Press for $11.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kristina Marie Darling's Fortress

Kristina Marie Darling’s Fortress is published by Sundress Publications and showcases the dance of doomed domestic bliss from the perspective of the wife. The main character alludes to the field of dead poppies that welcomes her to her new home. The husband does nothing to coax them to life and creates gardens elsewhere only to fail. The possible greenery is a metaphor for the relationship when the husband disappears after the poppies catch fire and spread disaster to the homestead. The wife is left to determine what to do about the outcome on her own, just as many relationships leave at least one person wondering what happened and what to do next. Below I am happy to share some examples:


Another night. The same lifeless corsage. I wondered if the landscape, rather than affection for on another, had been the source of our euphoria.

Here, the wife tries to understand what brought their marriage happiness. Dead flowers permeate the landscape of this collection and are romanticized as a display of love and affection for the characters.


I could not endure the boxed geraniums beneath every window, their long stems like dried insects under glass. It was then that I began to examine the iron gates and coaxed the locks with such care, as though they were hothouse flowers or small children.

What caught my eye was the line “their long stems like dried insects” because I am fascinated by insects. It is easy to picture the hollow, fragile stems driving the wife to escape. The gates surrounding the house have kept her in and now she is trying to escape as carefully as she can, not just from the landscape but from her marriage.


What is there left to say? When we married, I became his wife. I can no longer remember what I looked like before that veil descended, or the vow exchanged between us.

The lines above ultimately sum up my worst fears. I have witnessed this myself watching other couples: when they come together, they lose their individuality completely and it is terrifying. The wife above became “wife” and forgot everything about herself in the process. Truly terrifying to me.

Kristina Marie Darling uses her skill of erasures and of footnotes to create a world in which a couple’s marriage dissipates over time in a landscape that echoes their lives. If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Kristina Marie Darling’s Fortress for $12.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Alessandra Bava's They Talk About Death

Alessandra Bava’s collection, They Talk About Death, is published by Blood Pudding Press. Her collection is surreal, rich, and thoughtful. Inside these pages dwell iconic literary and historical figures, she dips her pen into their universe and extracts her own thoughts from them. It is my pleasure to share a few samples:

St. Baudelaire

I dream of you at night
entangled in the spires of evil,

tied to a living pillar in the
profane sanctuary of Poetry—

the spores of wild flowers in
your nostrils, the ecstasy of

“the Word” painted on your face
& slowly dripping from your

St. Sebastian-like wounds
in sanguine lines.

I twist the arrows in your flesh,
I dip my fingers in your scars

as you spit out your own
poisonous mythology

into my soul.

I love the poet’s macabre language for dreaming of meeting Baudelaire, the poet who wrote Flowers of Evil which was banned once it was published. I love Baudelaire’s poems and this tribute to him is dark and beautiful.


She has danced and played all night long with her Madame Sosostris’ wicked pack of cards and now she holds her trophy in a silver platter. John’s beautiful severed head. Salome likes her meat rare. She is hungry. She’ll bite his livid lips awake with her love words. One day, when the head will turn to skull, she’ll make a lamp for her own enlightenment and write chiaroscuro poems.

This piece is as dark as the biblical reference itself: the stepdaughter of the King, Salome, requests the head of St. John the Baptist. Here, a reference to T.S. Eliot’s tarot card reader, Madame Sosostris, is linked to the act and delivers a mystical, clairvoyant quality. Salome’s thirst for vengeful blood is presented in a gruesomely beautiful way thanks to the poet.

Dreaming Arthur
“A thousand Dreams within me softly burn” --Arthur Rimbaud

I take seat at the
Big Bear tavern,

redolent of smoke,
absinthe and dung.

A pale blue eyed
seer at the counter,

in his ruffled scarf,
sells illuminating

prophecies. I order
my glass and he

fills it with green
ink in which

we dip our loaded

I stare at his
provincial clothes,

at his holsters
full of satisfied

flesh, Christian
mothers’ morals,

deliriums, vowels,
poisons, Ville Lumiere,

Abyssinian darkness,
seasons in hells, pure

monstrosities, burning lines
crows, leg-eating gangrene
suns, Eternity…
We aim
high at
the sky.

I pause, I pant, I shoot,
I write.

He grabs my hand
and cries: “Wake up!

I’m just a ghost
selling false promises

and watered-down
wine. I am only an

extinguished meteor
blazed away to ash.

How can I rest in peace
if even my words refuse to


In this poem I picture the poet dreaming after reading Rimbaud and having deep conversation with him in a dank tavern. I personally feel as a writer that my own work sells “false promises” as the writer says above, as every piece of literature takes its liberties.

If you enjoyed this sample, you may purchase a copy of Alessandra Bava’s They Talk About Death from Blood Pudding Press for $7.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again…

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Starting with the Last Name Grochalski by John Grochalski

Published by Coleridge Street Books, John Grochalski’s collection Starting with the Last Name Grochalski is bared teeth, pull-no-punches honest and at times humorous. From daily observations that hold the poet captive to memories stripped down to their essence, Grochalski takes us on a journey of his life observed in detail. Below I am happy to share a few samples:

the sunbather’s ass

she sunbathes

in a rose garden
in brooklyn

her bikini top off

her ass barely covered
in a thong

the young boy
walks by

pointing and smiling
at her

tugging his
embarrassed mother’s

feeling a new kind
of want
inside of him

one so deep
that he’ll one day
beg for it

to let him go.

This poem makes me smile because it makes me think “this is how it starts,” when young boys learn to be interested in females. I think every parent has had to deal with this scene in some way, their young child noticing bare flesh and the parent being at a loss for a reaction or what to say other than to be embarrassed. I also love that the poet adds that the young boy will beg for this want inside of him to let go, the beginning of lustful feelings and their powerful hold will be wished away.

that’s what i want

there’s never enough money
in my wallet

never enough money
in the bank account

once when i was younger
my mother broke my piggybank
to buy us milk and bread

she cried when she told me
she’d pay it back

and all those years later i’m still so scared

that there’s never enough money
hiding underneath the soiled couch cushions

never enough money
in this little old world

for me

This poem strikes a chord with me and I’m sure it strikes a chord with many of you. We all struggle with money at some point in our lives and it makes you feel vulnerable no matter how young or how old you are. The line “and all those years later i’m still so scared” is a powerful statement. A memory so deep that years later it still makes the grown version of the boy feel scared about having enough to this day.


bobby mueller had these
two doberman pinschers
that he’d sick on us
whenever he walked past his house

you’d hear a whistle from the porch
and then these two salivating beasts
would come tearing across the yard

smacking off the fence
foaming at the mouth
trying to get at you before you knew
what was happening.

no one knew what made bobby do this

he was troubled people said
there were family issues
the kid was just a world class asshole

when he wasn’t sicking the Dobermans on us
bobby would ride around in his old man’s car
and throw his garbage at us

mcdonald’s bags full of half-eaten food
the carton of eggs he’d bought at foodland
or wd40 canisters from his backseat

in the winter he’d throw snowballs at us kids
that were laced with rocks and other things
just to give them an extra sting when they hit
your cold, red face
or he’d toss icicles like they were darts

but nothing was as bad as watching those two
goddamned dogs come charging at you

looking at the mueller’s fence as it shook
the gray foam on the beasts’ jowls

their yellow fangs snapping at air, hoping for flesh

listening to bobby’s laughter on the porch
as he chain smoked winstons
and asked you if you’d pissed your pants yet

knowing that you probably had before you tore off back home

his sick laughter trailing you
the convenience store and baseball cards be damned

when bobby took his own life on new year’s eve
in that devil car with the motor running in the garage

a lot of us kids
were more relieved than saddened
as our parents sat us down to make sense of it

it was like a war had ended
peace had somehow been restored
our trivial civilization saved
from strawberry milkshake Molotov cocktails
snowballs with rusty razors hidden in their core

or the snap and strangle of those Dobermans
who now stayed in the Mueller home most of the time
looking out of darkened windows

or when they were in the yard
paced around the muddy landscape
with thick chains around their necks

while all of us emboldened bastard kids
taunted them like paper tiger tough guys

happy to have the vigor and fight
drained from their murderous bodies

now that their master was gone to heaven
like all of those fat priests had said.

This poem hits me at my own core. Having been through hell as a kid in a variety of ways, this one about bullying I can relate to. I can also relate to feeling relief instead of sympathy or sorrow when the bully falls into tragedy. I could go on for pages but I won’t. I’ll simply say that having been through hell inspires people to either become hell raisers themselves or to become those who champion against bullying. I champion against it.

If you enjoyed Starting with the Last Name Grochalski by John Grochalski, you may purchase a copy for yourself for $9.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kristina Marie Darling's The Sun & The Moon

The Suns & The Moon, by Kristina Marie Darling, is a haunting and romantic collection centered around a couple who are surrounded by the supernatural. Darling creates a world that struggles with fire and ice, romance and heartbreak, and ultimately envelopes the reader in an enchanting world of her own making. Below I am happy to share some of her work:

You began as a small mark on the horizon. Then night & its endless train of ghosts. You led them in, one after the other. They took off their shoes, hung their coats & started looking through the drawers. By then I could hardly speak. I realized the lock on the door must not be working. The floor was covered in ash. There was nothing I could do, so I kept trying to tell you goodnight. You just stood there, your hands in your pockets, that small army behind you. That was when they started polishing the knives.

In this collection these ghosts come to stay and ultimately cause trouble for the couple in their home. The idea of ghosts hanging their coats and then hunting through the drawers is an unusual sight to imagine, as most ghosts have no need to do such things. The polishing of the knives sends the ominous signal that these ghosts may mean more harm than good and are here to stay.

Even when they became unruly, tearing at the floorboards & our furniture, I never expected the ghosts to drive us apart. The change was slow at first. You started sleeping with your eyes half-closed, watching the window for signs. Then sleep came upon me like a breath of winter air, & I woke to an empty bed, your magnificent suit in pieces on the floor. I realized you weren’t my husband any more than I had been your wife. That same day, I saw you standing in the vestibule, but even the light around your eyes was gone.

A marriage can be tested in ways no one anticipates. Here, Darling has ghosts that literally tear the house apart and ultimately the marriage. Throughout the store there are peculiar events where it is as if the husband is in charge of the ghosts but seems driven away by them after introducing them in the first place. I think it is a testament to Darling’s skill to portray a couple’s complexities in such a phantasmagorical manner.

the key hidden somewhere

the curtains scorched & the floor smudged with

would watch me straighten my dress, my veil &

start those small fires in the vestibule. I
did what I could to keep the house from



The fire grew smaller but

that’s what I loved about you.

As true to her form, Darling deconstructs her prose and creates new meaning and visuals with her work. The fires that burn the house leave their ashes behind in the home but yet the house grows cold, just like the love between husband and wife in this story.

If you enjoyed this sample, please purchase a copy of Kristina Marie Darling’s The Sun & The Moon for $16.00, published by BlazeVox Press:

Thanks always for reading…

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

how to be another by Susan Lewis

Susan Lewis’ collection, how to be another, is complex, rich, and decadent. It could easily go over your allotted intake of prose, perhaps go above your head, yet is worth submitting yourself to again and again. Her words take time to sink in, dear Reader, and I urge you to take a closer look after the sample I am happy to share with you below:

The Embrace

And in that ecstatic moment he squeezed her harder than he had ever done before, crushing her rib-cage against his like a sprig of lavender or a wedge of lemon, a bagpipe or an emergency alert, squeezing out her fragrance & her juices & her cries, cracking her hollow bones in order to coat himself in her yielding flesh. He did this because there was no other way to endure the concentrated intensity of attachment deposited by the years, but also because he could no longer do without certain information. So he held on, while his Proteus ran through her repertoire of alternatives: not lion or serpent, tree or torrent—but Lolita & hag, consumptive & shrew. He knew enough not to be surprised that the compression he exerted on her living core would transform her, as sand is transformed to stone by the weight of the world. She might even split in two—in which case, he thought, he would possess her doubly. Or perhaps she might disassemble into an entirely new form. & although he feared for the continuity of her identity, he felt sure he could adjust to anything—anything, short of erasure, or whatever might silence her, because then he would never learn what he needed to know.

When I read this, I think of a man so in love with his woman that he must possess her utterly, sink into her and mold her to his own desires. It is a violent, possessive love for this pair above and it makes me wonder who this couple is and if she wants to be consumed so fully, transformed to his side so completely.


I want to thank you for the cage you made. As you know, it fits my narrow outlook to a T, better than the one I made myself. That one, you may recall, replaced my original home. Those were the days! Remember? Back then we were always fed & watered, & could sometimes touch fingers through the bars. Forgive me for wondering why you continue to concern yourself with my well-being. I would have thought, with those instinctively kinetic & incessantly expanding offspring, you’d have your hands full enough with (only the best) locks & bars & other paraphernalia of affection & concern.

I sometimes feel as though I am caged, we all do sometimes. Whether it is by a family member or work or illness, there are a variety of cages we build to either protect ourselves (mentioned in the beginning) or by others who want to control or possess us. I feel there is a complex relationship between the poet and the one she addresses in the prose. While it may not be our privilege to know the story it is a relatable one and I am moved by it.


You can’t say we didn’t have it coming. You can’t say I didn’t warn you, unless you can. On the bright side, there were breadcrumbs littering the forest floor. Hansel mistook the place for some kind of confection. We haven’t done anything wrong yet, whined Gretel, whipping out her loaves & fishes, whacking her witless brother about the head. Hundreds of years later we’re still lost & wandering, getting by on miracles & the fumes from our self-directed rage. Confusion is our guiding principle. Entropy lights some sort of way, which is the best we can hope to achieve in these dark & scary woods.

I always love twists on classics. While this may be the “familiar” tale of Hansel and Gretel it turns the focus towards the relationship between Hansel and Gretel. While they may still be “lost & wandering” hundreds of years later they have somehow escaped danger at various turns. It makes me wonder about their full history, their full story.

As I said earlier, I urge you to take a closer look at Susan Lewis’ collection, how to be another. To purchase a copy for $17.00 please go to:

Thanks always for reading…

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

JoAnna Penn Cooper's What Is A Domicile

Joanna Penn Cooper’s What Is A Domicile, published by Noctuary Press, explores reality and memory intertwined from domestic life versus nature, of dreams and reality. It is a complex and beautiful collection, I am happy to share some inviting tidbits with you:


I’m writing to inform you of my qualifications on this sunny day inside wearing silent headphones, a small white feather stuck to one foot. I can hear that tree clearing its throat outside my fifth floor walk-up. I can see all this packing and half unpacking of boxes as a compulsive metaphor for how we’re all of us always moving, always learning it all the freaking time: How to lose how to lose how to lose. How to know the dark leather gloss of July leaves and let them go. How to wear the crown of love and fresh pita for lunch and let it go. My life is not a plastic hamster ball. My life is not that refugee song. Not any more than anyone else’s. I’ve cured myself of being so meta, or else I’ve embraced it. Either way I’m wearing the crown. Either way, we’re all wearing the crown.

--I can picture the poet at her writing desk staring out the window and letting her thoughts flow onto the paper. This makes me contemplate life, too, especially the “losing” and “letting go” of things. How we often have to learn this the hard way, letting things go and moving on. “My life is not a plastic hamster ball”—references the idea that she does not live in a bubble safe from the world’s afflictions. It’s a great poem for freeing our own thoughts on life’s journey.

All these dreams: Some interview in a large house and who will take care of it.

Having woken: A kind of yelling back and forth about the work they’re doing out there. Trying to clean the fine grit yesterday’s work left.

In the dream: A movie that isn’t a very good movie in a small round room. The good part is in the water under our feet. A turning whale.

Awake: Dread of small tasks. Resentment. Leaves out dirty windows, seeming to greet your.

Another dream: Staying in your home, an orphan. Staying in your orphan tower.

--What actually grabbed my eye in this poem was “Awake: Dread of small tasks. Resentment…” because it is often when I awake from dreaming that all the small tasks of the day come flooding into my mind and I dread them. So this dream/wakeful state is a wonderful illustration of daily life for many of us. You cling to the memory of the dreams while your brain begins work on the daily tasks. The orphan and orphan tower at the end makes me think that the poet wants to stay in her dreamworld and forget about the waking one.

This year
let your eyes focus
then let them go wild

Eat the air

--This poem is just a plain guilty pleasure to share. I want to follow its advice.

If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Joanna Penn Cooper’s What Is A Domicile for $14.00 at:

If you’d like to learn more about Joanna Penn Cooper, visit her blog at:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Interview with Eric Shonkwiler: Above All Men

Earlier this year I featured a review of Shonkwiler’s novel, Above All Men, and had the opportunity to interview him about his novel. Below is his biography and our Q&A:
Eric Shonkwiler has had writing appear in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He received his MFA in Fiction from University of California–Riverside, where he was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship Award, and is a regional editor for Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as a former reader for [PANK] and former Editor-in-Chief for CRATE: The Literary Journal of UCR. Born and raised in Ohio, Eric has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. time zone, and finds himself on the road as often as not. He is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel, Above All Men, a 2014 Midwest Connections Pick released in March from MG Press. You can find him at

1.) Let’s begin with the landscape that inspires all of the events that take place within the story’s main characters. The future is famine, crops dying from drought, dust storms sweeping through and further hindering the chance of animals and plants to thrive. Why did you decide the future would become a dustbowl?

ERIC SHONKWILER: It seemed like a logical and poetic result of global warming. While I might not get the location of the bowl right (Ohio’s been getting good rains for a few years, for instance, while California’s dry as a bone.), it seems rather likely that the change in climate is going to result in some semi-permanent disasters akin to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.

2.) The main character, David, struggles between family, independence, and revenge for the wrongs done to his friends in the story. Often, his wife complains that he is always leaving them behind. Why did you create a character with such complex wanderlust?

ES: It’s not exactly wanderlust that drives David; it’s a profound desire for service. David has in him a messianic complex that, when combined with his clearly deep war traumas, creates a man who’s ready to perform virtually any sort of self-sacrifice, without realizing that sacrificing himself comes at great cost to his family.

3.) Red comes across as a free-spirited man who served alongside David in the war that brings out David’s darker side. Can you tell me how you created Red’s character? Is he a foil to David’s family-man struggles?

ES: Because David is a closed-off individual, almost anyone who can keep up with him becomes a foil; Red, Helene, and O.H. all take their turns countering or interrupting David’s worldview. Red started as a much simpler idea than that—he was just David’s friend. They fought side by side, and, at a climactic moment, were split apart. These two different paths show that a single event or a single decision can fundamentally change a person, and though it wasn’t my initial intention to illustrate that with their relationship, that is what came of it.

4.) An African-American family moves in—believing a sales pitch in the city they used to live in and hoping to farm the desolate land—and are delivered a dose of reality by David. This seems to be a direct nod to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Were you inspired to spin a modern version from Steinbeck?

ES: The similarities with The Grapes of Wrath are largely incidental—You’re bound to cover the same sort of territory because the subjects are similar; poor farmers and exploited citizens are shared characters in the two books. There is, however, a bit of a wink to Grapes when Fogel mentions going to California.

5.) Samuel, David’s son, makes friends with the new family’s daughter. The events that transpire afterward send Samuel into a deepening silence. Samuel’s path keeps leading back toward David’s, and his mother, Helene, worries about that path. What is behind Samuel’s character that he follows the man who keeps leaving their family, as opposed to a path like the women in his life who stay loyal and close to their own family?

ES: I think it’s natural for Samuel to gravitate toward David’s path, because from the outside it appears to be one of action and righteous anger. Samuel doesn’t see (and for most of his youth, doesn’t know) that David has and does “leave” the family. Complicating this is the intertwining of David’s path with Red’s, which Samuel finds even more exciting. Ultimately, I think you can’t ask a boy his age, having seen what he’s seen, to understand that the women in his life have been fighting the good fight longer and more consistently than the men he knows and admires. He’s a smart boy, but he is just a boy.

6.) What influenced your choice of landscape and setting into the future?

ES: I wanted a setting that was quintessentially American, and I’m a Midwesterner, so it seemed easy and iconic to write what I knew about, in that instance. I also wanted the issues that we seem to be facing today to be seen playing (or played) out on the page, and causing real and heavy consequences. This led rather naturally to the future.

7.) What books are you reading currently?

ES: I’m deep into Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, and for research purposes, I’m leafing through a few books on mining in New Mexico. Next up will probably be either Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist or Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

8.) What project(s) are you working on right now that we may be able to look for in the future?

ES: I’m finishing up and shopping around a second novel, with a light noir flavor, titled, Eighth Street Power & Light¸ that I’d love to see on shelves relatively soon. I’m also researching and repeatedly starting and deleting a third novel that has some Western elements to it.

Thank you always for reading. To purchase a copy of Above All Men by Eric Shonkwiler, please go to:

For more information about Eric Shonkwiler, please visit his website:

Please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Paul David Atkins' Stick Up

Stick Up, published by Blood Pudding Press in 2014, is a story told in poems about a convenience store being robbed by a woman over 50. Paul David Atkins describes the characters involved and creates tension in the scenes throughout. How it ends will have to be a surprise. Below I’m happy to share a few plot-tantalizing poems:

He Gripped the Alarm

after he heard her from the freezer yell,
This is a stick up!
Around his neck
hung a silent alarm button.
He pressed it once or twice

or forty times

in the seven seconds it took
to crack the door and peek.

He saw a woman with a gun aimed
at the other clerk, demanding

a spool of Treasure Chest lotto tickets.

The other clerk glanced his way
and mouthed
Stay there!

He eased the door,
raised his hands,
shouldered the plastic curtains.

In this scene, I’d definitely be pressing that panic button forty times, wouldn’t you? Yet the main character in the poem makes an attempt to ease forward into the scene, would you be brave enough to do that?

She Thought

She thought, Now, what?
Shit! She held
two hostages, clerks the age
of her kids.

The boy squinted at the gun.
She thought he could tell
it’s a Crossman.

The robber wanted to
get him
out of the store,

figured he’d take off
if she ordered him to run
to the truck
and grab her bottle of Jack
in the passenger seat.

He bolted.

She turned to the girl.
You called police,
I know.
Thank God
the boy is gone.
It’s less
complicated now.

The glass door flew open.
The tin bell shot off.
The clerk and the robber wheeled,

But it was the boy, red-faced, returning
and waving the whiskey bottle
in his clenched fist
like a gold bell.

A twist in the robber’s plan and a twist for the readers: Who would go back inside the scene after being sent out of it? Here our poet creates heightened tension and keeps our eyes locked on the story.

She Discerned

She discerned a siren approach.
She tensed.
Her pistol ammo rattled
like a pack of tic tacs.
No one spoke

until a fire engine lumbered,
red lights rocking past the store toward
some distant farmhouse burning,
calf-filled barn
collapsing on itself.

April Fools,

the girl clerk forced
herself to blurt.
The robber laughed.

Amid the broken
promises of lotto
strewn across the tile,

beneath the scrolling
Powerball jackpot lights,

beside the humming,
ignorant ice cream freezer,
she laughed. They

all laughed.

Here the poet breaks the tension for all of us. We are left wondering whether any cops will ever show but in the meantime we can all laugh with the clever clerk. What happens next? You’ll have to nab a copy for yourself and find out.

If you enjoyed this review please purchase a copy of Paul David Atkins’ Stick Up from Blood Pudding Press for $7.00 at:

Thanks always for reading and please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Amanda Oaks' Hurricane Mouth

Amanda Oaks’ Hurricane Mouth is published by NightBallet Press and is a powerfully emotional collection of poems that describe the impact of words, thoughts, actions on relationships within the poet’s life. They are beautiful and hardscrabble, delicate yet tough in sinew. The poems are honest and brutal and life-affirming. It is another collection where I have “dog-eared” the majority of the pages and had to settle for a select few to share with you, dear readers:


Late summer, picking peas
cornfield just feet away,
I would tiptoe with the words
of warning looped ‘round
every strand of my hair.

When wearing pigtails,
all those locks acting together
could be thunderous
but I would plug my ears & run
in any one direction
until my lungs felt like the tires
of that far-off tractor
I overheard many a time
was plotting my death.

Out there though,
I witnessed the wind
unearth harmony.
The way the stalks
would touch,
sliding against one another,
hissing like plastic bags
clothespinned to a wire
& dangling from the mouth
of a paper-winged crow.

I found safety in the squeeze,
stuck between clear-cut emotion.
There’s something in there
that you can’t close your ears to,
like barn rats
or the secrets I found
in the laughter of ghost children
jumping from rock to stone
in the creek bed
behind my house.

Standing still,
before walking in silence
all the way back to the alarm
in my grandmother’s voice,
looking up to the clouds
for a way out—
twenty-seven years later
& I still have yet to find it
outside of these words.

I love the landscape of this poem. I picture the poet as a young girl lost in the cornfields, her grandmother searching for her as the tractor plows on indifferent to a child’s presence. All the sights, sounds, the feelings, they are all captured so well in this poem and reminds me of my own childhood adventures.

--after Heather Sommer

If you were a city, every day at dusk
I’d fill my pockets with packets of seeds
to pepper the rainwater rivers running
through the cracks of your asphalt

If you were a city, I’d let your air sweep
over & under & over my hand hanging
from a car window, pedal pressed to 60
on your reckless boulevard.

If you were a city, I’d never drag my feet
on your sidewalks, I’d never love you


because your light drowns out the stars.

If you were a city, I’d never judge you
by your infrastructure.

I’d never ask you
how well you think we
stack up.

This poem is sweet and tender to me, packets of seeds to grow life into asphalt of the love interest’s heart. The light of the city “drowns out the stars,” making the love interest seem complex and full of life in a way that cannot be captured any other way. I cannot do this poem justice, only that I just love this poem for all that it is.


I boil water. I pace the floors.
Cold kitchen tile under feet.
I look out the windows.
I curse the cold. I want to pull
all my teeth out one by one,
seal them in an envelope
with a note to you reading:

For you, dear,
my last true smile.

This poem is eerie and makes me smile anyway. I have had my own moments of “lunacy” where doing something like the above would be appealing. When someone drives you to the brink in your thoughts of them and you want to pull your hair out—or your teeth. Love this poem.

If you enjoyed this review you may purchase a copy of Amanda Oaks’ Hurricane Mouth for $8.00 here:

To learn more about Amanda Oaks, (writer, Kindness Advocate and female extraordinaire) please visit at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

black hands of a morning calm by Ayshia Stephenson

black hands of a morning calm by Ayshia Stephenson is published by imaginaryfriendpress (who doesn’t LOVE the name of this press?) and follows our poet’s experiences overseas where her skin color stands out more than she’s ever imagined. In South Korea she begins to feel uncomfortable even around her fellow Americans who reside in this country with her, longing to feel enveloped by the color black amidst the sea of night lights and South Koreans who stream past her. The collection is beautiful in the poet’s expression of her sense of self outside of her native country of America and of her ethnic background in relation to South Korea. I feel I cannot do her justice, nevertheless I am happy to share some of her poems with you:

i cough at the cafeteria table
when the kin-chi is too hot

i wonder too much at night
and think
when i don’t understand

in the morning
i force myself
to go outside
to become someone

that foreigner
who should follow
the rules walk
straight and avoid
the eyes
of other westerners

that foreigner
that american blocking
the penetration
of han-guk sa-ram stares
pushing through
the subway masses
bumping into those
who try to brush off
the black

Stephenson captures the loneliness of meal time even among fellow westerners in this poem. Despite her loneliness she sees herself as a physical obstacle to those surrounding her, “bumping into those/who try to brush off/the black” and I picture the flow of people who brush against her then brushing against walls or other people to “brush off the black” and wonder if this is what she witnessed or if she simply felt out of place in the scene.

in the first snow storm
i walk
with the foreigners
where the foreigners live
and i see her
i see her black skin in the falling flakes

and i want to

kiss her
hug her
but she
keeps her
straight walks
past me

she is african
but i am american
so we are
different and we are
not the same

Even when there is the potential for familiarity and comfort the feeling of rejection and of being ignored is brought heartbreakingly to the forefront by her fellow dark-skinned traveler when she looks straight ahead and doesn’t make eye contact. I have had similar experiences and the feeling is vast and empty. Here she captures it well, they may have the same skin, but they are of different countries and this prevents connection yet again.

let the sweat drip
down your face
i smile with my americans
in our
i-tae-won night clubs
we turn torsos into waves
because beats
belong to everybody
because music
doesn’t belong to skin

This poem frankly raises an “Amen!” out of me. It is one reason I love dance so much in general, no matter what country you are from, there is the ability to communicate through body language and through dance most of all. Love this poem, it’s a personal pleasure to share.

If you enjoyed this review as much as I enjoyed reading her collection, you may purchase a copy of Ayshia Stephenson’s black hands of a morning calm for $15.00 here:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…