Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Todd Moore: Dillinger's Thompson

Reviewed by: Victor Schwartzman

Victor has never met Todd.

But there is a story about why he wrote this review.

After a review by Christopher Robin (who else?) on a book of poetry co-authored by Todd, Victor sent Todd his standard email. It is longstanding ULA Book Review Blog policy (since three months ago) to send authors an email that their book has been reviewed. The idea is, respect authors enough to let them know their book has been reviewed.

However, I was told after sending the email that Todd wondered if it was some sort of spam, was a sneaky request for money, or whatever—spam on the internet can lead us to believe that an email from an unknown person is an attempt to get our money, one way or another—either by selling us penal enhancements, the opportunity to help someone from Nigeria invest twenty million dollars, or to let us know we have won a lottery we never entered. I was offended by the idea an author thought I was asking for money, although why I was offended is hard to say, since Todd is a total stranger and my emails can be even stranger. Like that last sentence.

Anyway, I decided I should read something of Todd’s as one way of showing my good faith, and found a used copy of Dillinger’s Thompson on Amazon. My, this is a long paragraph.

Where can you find this book? It's out of print, and thus available only in used bookstores (or through Amazon's network of bookstores). I found it through Amazon.

When Elliot Ness was shooting his hot seed from his Thompson sub machine gun, was he masturbating?

Todd Moore sees the 1930s’ weapon of choice--for both criminals and police—as erotic. In seeing the Thompson as erotic, he’s making a statement about how Americans see violence and power. What counts is indeed size, and how you use it—as the narrator basically says to J. Edgar Hoover while ridiculing him, the narrator’s Thompson is bigger than Hoover’s.

This book is short. I got it a few days before writing this review. I thought I would take a look at it before going to sleep. I figured I'd glance at it. Instead, I read it through. The poetry was instantly compelling, probably because it went straight to the heart of the dark side of the American dream.

The book is 53 pages. 12 of those pages are an introduction. The rest is a single poem whose individual lines are rarely more than three or four words.

In the introduction, Todd writes of the romance Americans have had with the Thompson sub machine gun, and then relates that romance of violence to his own childhood. He did not have an easy time, a street thief living in a sleazy hotel full of “marginal underworld toughs and amiable sociopaths”, finding escape in movies which reflected his life: “I remember shoplifting some stuff out of a five and ten just to get enough money to see The Asphalt Jungle. I remember putting a scar on a kid’s face right after coming out of The Big Sleep.”

In the context of American violence, automatic weapons are erotically charged, the ultimate. They spit out the lead without stop. And, of those automatic weapons, the Thompson is the classic, both from reality and the movies. “Maybe the marriage of Dillinger and the Thompson sub machine gun is the most subversive of all American couplings. It is one of the most extreme metaphors I can think of because it depicts the dark side of this country and it is a vision which will not go away.” In reading those sentences, I thought of the the coupling of America's foremost criminal with America's foremost romanticized violence, and then I thought of the current US President, who enjoys the image of himself as a quick draw cowboy, but who would never allow himself to get within miles of a shoot-out.

The poem that follows the introduction is part of a longer work Todd has been writing for thirty years (this book was published in 2002) and, at that point, totalled 50,000 lines.

There are four main characters: the narrator (at times Dillinger, at times perhaps Todd himself), Billie (his “woman” whom he sees only in carnal terms--they don’t talk about books), and Lester (a fellow criminal). And the fourth character: the Thompson sub machine gun.

The book begins with the gun.

Todd describes the weapon in erotic terms, unable to resist it:

…I can’t or don’t
want to resist
it knows the shape
the precise curve
the tight feel
of my trigger
finger the way
my mouth knows the
geography of a
woman’s breast i
want to hold that
gun in my lap…

The lines quoted above also help illustrate why the poetry is compelling. The language is direct to the point of being stark. The lines are short, and they are broken up in a fascinating manner, with “sentences” beginning part way through a line, or ending on the first word of the next line. It is not just a way of keeping your attention or making you read. There is a remarkable rhythm the writing establishes, pushing the reader along (not dragging, not pulling, pushing).

The writing is full of stark images that do not have any affectation, a mix of poetry with prose. In one section, getting shot by a Thompson is compared with being on the receiving end of having sex--getting fucked, not making love, with the bullets entering victims like a penis enters a body. In another section, Al Capone’s Thompson is described in loving detail.

This is poetry with intent and power, not poetry where the poet is desperate for the reader to whine with her/him about her/his navel. There is a lot more that I could write about this book, but this review already feels remarkably long, given it is about a single poem from a relatively short book. But Todd’s poem has that onionesque quality: the more you look, the more layers you see. Though unlike an onion it didn’t make me wanna sob, it was way too in my face for that—this poem is not a emotional kleenex you cry about, it is a dare.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Stephanie Hiteshew: Addiction Poetry

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher has now written enough reviews that I feel profoundly inadequate. I have not written nearly enough reviews! Talk about setting a high standard! Anyway, Christopher does not know Stephanie, and Stephanie has said nothing at all about that important issue--although if you read the review, you'll find a link to where you can hear Stephanie's voice--but not about whether she knows Christopher--what is she hiding?

Stephanie Hiteshew, PO Box 2325 Ellicott City, MD 21041-2325. Or try: poetofrage2003@yahoo.com. Or, how about James Michael Ward 13263 Spruce St Southgate, MI 48195

As a former addict, I found these poems to be thought provoking while mildly self indulgent, as addiction by its very nature is very self absorbed.

Once in awhile they attempt transcendence: “I’m talking about Iraq/I’m talking about 700 thousand dead/I’m talking about the needle in your skin/it’s madness,”(‘Madness’), and addiction is often a spiritual quest: “I believe in prayer/as self-meditation/the cure of my disease/begins with me/take your burnt lips/and black fingertips/rejoice in the beauty of the cathedral/knowing Christ a pauper who reveled in life,” (‘A Connection’); but mainly these are poems of struggle, poverty, and deep psychic pain.

The references to Jim Carroll and Bukowski are few and far between, as they don’t seem to be attempting “literary-cool,” via self destruction, which this reviewer has personally grown tired of.

The two authors run the gamut from complete obliteration: “fuck those politics/I’m feelin’ fine/ain’t that sweet/just one more time,” (‘Heroin’), to the euphoria of a few dry days: “I want to live to see my novels published/to kick around the script writers conference/can’t say I’ll never drink again/but a nice vacation from it/may help the health,” (‘A Vacation From It’).

This is poetry that is attempting to bring about salvation through the written word. This is poetry that is reaching out.

To hear Stephanie Hiteshew read out loud click here: http://cdbaby.com/cd/hiteshew

Blogperson's note: as an old hippy, I can note we all have addictions, albeit of differing types. Some of us stick needles in our arms, some of us smoke, some pop pills, while others drink too much coffee, and still others watch too much tv. These poems sound very interesting, and I'm gonna buy a copy, to check them out. One point: any writing done while you're stoned is usually crapola...you gotta be as stoned to read it as the author was when writing it, usually. On the other hand, writers are observers, and see a lot of pain, and feel that pain. Anesthetizing themselves is understandable, even if regrettable and counterproductive. I refer readers interested in 'recreational drugs' to a post on my Hypertension blog, at http://victorhypertension.blogspot.com, where I write about a time when tests were conducted on samples of Mescaline to see how good the stuff was. You may be surprised when you read the post...

Mark Wisniewski: One Of Us One Night

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin has not met Mark. By inference, Mark has not met Christopher. For that matter, we can infer that neither Christopher nor Mark have met Robert Frost. And it is highly likely that Robert Frost never met Aristotle (who did not write poetry but was allegedly pretty good at math). Christopher is a reviewing madman! He just won't quit! Nor do we want him to! Give this fellow a gold star!

$5, Platonic 3Way Press, PO Box 844 Warsaw, IN 46581. Or, why not try: www.Platonic3WayPress.com

The second in the Platonic3Way Evil Genius Chapbook series, Wisniewski writes deliberate prose-like poems of observation and funny circumstance, evocative of William Taylor Jr or Bukowski. Poems that create sparse images allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions: “& I’d keep standing& watching & she’d/dance/we’d never share/words/or money/or disappointment/it was a kind of celebration/generally impossible/in the world,” from ‘Waiting for the Elevator’, a poem about seeing a belly dancer in his hallway.

In ‘Mute,’ he finds fear in common with “rich whitey/on my ass in that Hummer,” in regards to the “leak in the nuke plant 10 miles west.” Over the years I have observed Wisniewski to have a gift for telling funny tales about being a somewhat hapless writer, in “An Office, Tons of Pussy, & Sabbaticals, Too,” and while describing a break up in ‘California Girl’: “but she didn’t deserve my computer/or printer/or monitor/so I carried these out/one at a time/placing each in the trunk/then slamming/it shut as I thought: there/but I’d just brought groceries/so again I returned/irked by how easily she could/leave me.”

Wisniewski also has a knack for making himself the butt of the joke, of surrendering to things he can’t control, like ants: “& I keep waking at 3 a.m./descending the stairs/to eat unsugared cornflakes/after kneeling on floorboards: a civilian forever/on watch,” (‘Sectarian Violence’).

My favorite poem in this chap is ‘Nebraska,’ a hitch hiker’s nightmare come true: “there’s a pistol/she said/under that sweatshirt/on the back seat/& despite myself I turned to see she was right.”

Wisniewski writes simple poems that are complex with human feeling and humor.

Blogperson says: could anyone possibly ask for anything more than the description in Christopher's last line? You should buy a copy of Wisniewski's chap, and see for yourself!

Robert Pomerhn: Abuse Art, Not Children

Reviewed by: Brian McMahon

This review was forwarded courtesy of Christopher Robin, and was originally posted on www.artvoice.com. Christopher says he has permission to do this. He says that Brian is a friend, but that he has not met him. Brian has not said anything. Confused yet? But the book sounds very good & thanks to Christopher, who we believe may abuse art, but not children.

Poetry& Visual Art by Robert Pomerhn
HighestHurdle Press, $10, bradleylastname@hotmail.com, pomerhn.robert@gmail.com
and...Robert Pomerhn 660 Cleveland Dr #3 Cheektowaga, NY 14225 (or Border’s Books)

At once the “cunningly clever” poet trashtalking in rhyme on the basketball court at the public park, the janitor of swirling thoughts, meditating while mopping an elementary school bathroom, and the buttondown poetry teacher, applying a lifetime’s wisdom to the purpose of putting art into action, Robert Pomerhn is the populist poet.

His third book, Abuse Art. not children, is a guided tour through the crumbling American mindscape, with stops at the Gulf Coast post Katrina, the dead-eye glow of TV programming, credit-fueled conspicuous consumption, the stagnant slam poetry scene, the failing 21st-century family, and America’s bedrooms, boardrooms and war rooms.

In “Family Tree,” the poet gathers together postwar Americana in a surreal consideration of domestic violence: “Leave it to Beaver/ to go after Ward/ with June’s meat cleaver.” In “Bush League,” Pomerhn lists the statistics of catastrophe after Hurricane Katrina sank New Orleans, writing, “174 portables pumping an open pit of putrid pampers, pus & piss/ into the Pontchatrain—PRICELESS.”

By deploying the signifiers of American popular culture in the form of rapid-fire rhymes and alliterative tongue twisters, Pomerhn puts our disasters in perspective, often hitting upon the humor and absurdity of contemporary life. But Pomerhn is a poet in transformation. While much of the work in the present volume extends the populism of his earlier books, there are new strands here as well. The intricate collage work, “found poems,” and pieces such as “this hearse doesn’t have seatbelts” and “da da cument” present snapshots of Pomerhn’s evolving poetics.

In “Till Death do Us Art,” he writes, “This is not an unfinished/ but an unfinishable work/ In saying this/ I am setting very/ high standards/… logic strikes me as a boring kind of game.” While logic may bore him, there is nonetheless a method to Pomerhn’s madness.

Abuse Art. not children demonstrates the influence of the poet’s work as a mentor to the teenagers who attend his “Art in Action” program at the Dulski Center on Buffalo’s East Side. The poems that have come out of that exchange express a deep meditation on the boundaries, purpose, and redemptive potential of art.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Joe Pachinko: Stumpfucker Cavalcade

By: Christopher Robin

Christopher and Joe are both poets, and are also both members of the ULA. I assume they know each other. Me, I’ve corresponded with both, but unfortunately have not met either.

$10. Available through: www.superstitionstreet.com, jpachinko_ssp@yahoo.com/, and http://www.lulu.com/content/407219

Stumpfucker Cavalcade details the freak show horror of everyday urban life when combined with mind numbing jobs, crushing poverty, and a belly full of booze. It is a cacophony of verbal bile from the lowest depths of the human mind, “dog shit and agony,” at the end of the planet.

In “The Garden of Diarrhea,’ he pokes fun at Billy Collins: “Billy Collins/poet laureate of the U.S., has drunk enough herbal tea in his poems to have the shits for the rest of his life.” In ‘Fear Was Always an Unseen Crewman,’ he goes to the local wino mart to buy some Ramen noodles, a story that ends with a gun shot and blood on the counter. In ‘Listen Up DumbFuck’ he challenges anyone who says: “oh, everything’s been done.”

But Pachinko is no cynic, and writes: “saying that everything’s been done is like saying that everybody has already been born, newness comes with every sunrise and every new person, and every dream, every hope and every orgasm…”

These titles will rivet and surprise you: ‘The Caffeinated Falafel Regatta of Wheelchairs,’ ‘Humor is an Orgasm of the Mind,’ ‘The Four Fuckholes of My Inflatable Sheep Love Doll Are Nothing Like A Dead Goats Anus’, ‘The Ballad of Harry the Half Head,’ and ‘Requiem for A Corpse Rape’.

He is the red-faced man on the Midway with a cigar in his mouth, beckoning you in to the real live 21st century carnival of the damned that is dead-end work and a dead radiator in East Oakland, if you dare.

And much like his predecessor Bukowski, he finds the diamonds in the shit, the glory in the muck: “cat vomit is one of the building blocks of existence,” and also throws in some humorous-hard-won-wisdom, as well as the profundity in simple things like a human touch: “a six foot three TGirl once crouched down next to me as I was/barfing between some parked cars/outside Baggy’s by the Lake, and she rubbed my back…she rubbed my back, and asked me if I was O.K. /it was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done to me,” (‘Puke for Peace’).

I highly recommend a dose of some of Pachinko’s undiluted reality that may make you laugh, wince and maybe even enjoy poetry again.

The blogperson adds:
It took me a while to read this book, possibly because the title gave me unshakeable images of splinters in the worst place possible.

However, when I did read it--and I agree with Christopher's review--this is one book of poetry it is impossible to breeze through. You can't flip through the poems. You won't go from a description of a sunny blue sky to a field of lovely yellow daisies--that ain't what Joe writes about, nor are the poems that light so you can read one, say to yourself "Oh yeah, okay" and then move to the next.

This is a book where you REALLY should read just one poem and then stop reading for a day. Not just stop reading the book, but pretty much stop reading anything. Maybe you should even stop watching tv (if you can). Instead, just think about the poem and what it is all about.

Then, when you're ready, read another one.

Repeat until you have finished the book.

Don't worry about it taking a while. Life takes a while.

Todd Babiak: Choke Hold

Reviewed by: Leopold McGinnis

As you will soon discover, Leopold has communicated with Todd.

Turnstone Press, 237 pages. Published in 2000.

A few months ago author Todd Babiak contacted me about some disparaging remarks I had made on my site (http://www.leopoldmcginnis.com) about his writing.

Apparently ‘his friend’ ‘who has nothing better to do with his time’ ‘got kicks out of finding places on the internet that made fun of him.’ He took issue with me off-handedly labeling his writing inane and then (passive aggressively?) asked to interview me for the Edmonton Journal.

In that interview, Todd told me he’d buy a copy of my book (Game Quest) and check it out. I didn’t believe him of course, but since he’d taken the time to do the interview (and listened to my wild rants, as well as fairly represented my opinions in his article - at least as far as a mainstream newspaper will go with any controversial opinions), and since I had sorta labeled his work inane without reading enough of it to accurately make that call, I decided to pick up a copy of his first book, Choke Hold, to find out what I really thought of Babiak’s writing.

I figured an author’s first book is a better representation of how they
write, who they are, want to be, what they want to say, etc… and the
Garneau Block was too steeped in media hoopla and its apparent ‘gimmick’ (it’s set in Edmonton!) for me to take seriously even if I tried. (In retrospect, my comments about inanity were probably more a reaction to the ridiculous hype and ingratiating Journal adds.) I thought that the premise of this book had much more promise and since it was written when Todd was unknown, I figured I could give it a more preconceptions free read.

So I read Choke Hold, about Jeremy, a martial-arts obsessed young man who returns to his small Alberta hometown after his martial arts school fails when one of his students murders a gay man. Thematically the book is about fighting, about viewing the world through fighting and how that gets in the way of living.

Plotwise, the book works fairly well. Thematically – which should arise from the plot – not so much. Babiak’s writing style is tight, personable and (what I like best) non-phoney. Character comes out very well through the text and he has a unique flair for doing quick ‘scenario’ setting – getting us physically into a scene in a very natural way. By the end of the book I found this a bit overused and unvaried, but I was impressed with it nonetheless.
Something I myself might work on.

The first half of the book was quite good and I had my hat nearby so I could eat it. The plot moved quickly, had a lot of potential, and was relatable. I’m not the sort of person who has trouble putting books down, but I ripped through the first half pretty quick. Yet, with any book you get a better sense of it the further you get into it, and about halfway through I grew less and less interested.

The vast majority of the book takes place in small-town Seymour, even though nothing really important relating to the plot happens there. Halfway through the book, several chapters seem devoted entirely to showing what goes on there (parades, fairs, etc…) without adding to the plot. There’s a friend Jeremy reacquaints himself with who adds nothing to the plot or theme, other than to make it ‘Canadian’ or ethnically balanced--and while one of the more interesting characters, still isn’t quite nteresting enough to be worth having anyway. A few pages are devoted to a couple bozo characters at a fair for no apparent reason, etc… These would be minor pace-slowing issues at this point if it weren’t for the fact that the plot had stalled and it was becoming quickly apparent that the thematic elements were going off the tracks.

Not wildly, but you felt like the train was just kind of meandering, wouldn’t get into the station on time, and you weren’t sure if it was going to arrive at the station you were promised when you got on. The thematic principle of the story is that Jeremy is an angry young man who sees everything in terms of fighting. This manifests itself in his hatred of his father, his failure to live with the woman he loves, to succeed in his business, etc… The problem is that this theme seems laid on top of the plot, rather than growing from it. The characters act as if the above is true, but the reader is never given sufficient evidence to believe it. Jeremy’s hate for his father is disproportionate to the perceived crime – his father dating an older woman Jeremy once had a crush on – and we aren’t given sufficient reason to understand or relate to Jeremy’s hate. Jeremy just seems like a passive aggressive, whiney mope. People who seem just as much interested in fighting, if not more, keep criticizing Jeremy for his interest in fighting.


The big questions that keep coming up are ‘is Jeremy gonna stay in town now that he’s back’, and ‘will he choose to be part of his family?’ These are only questions because the author keeps raising them – not because we’re asking them ourselves. Honestly, the further in I got, the less I understood why Jeremy came back at all. He doesn’t seem to like anybody, nobody is really interesting, everyone is pretty much a loser, he doesn’t like his family, have a job or anything to do. Ok, I guess he’s lost and falling back and that’s ok, but I don’t understand why his returning was a plot-driving question and had no reason to believe this was important. If I were Jeremy I’d hop the first bus out of that bumhole – Boston (where he has escaped from) was more interesting.

Furthermore, I didn’t understand why Jeremy didn’t want to be part of the family in the first place, let alone why he’d then chose (as he does in the end) to be part of it again.

I think my reaction to this can sum up my feeling of the book overall: I understood but failed to be convinced and therefore failed to care. It’s hard enough to accept Saturday Afternoon special endings in books where you really care or feel the outcome, but by the last few pages I just felt ‘meh,’ rushing through to finish. It was a typical ‘literary’ ending – kind of like the taste of the paste they give you in kindergarten to use as glue. The last line, how it’s left hanging, is great. Really great. Strangely satisfying, in its avoidance of a conclusion, but with enough of one to feel meaningful.
But it’s a small comfort after not really caring about what happens for the last 100 pages. Like a tasty burp at the end of a mediocre meal.

The book certainly isn’t bad, though. It gets originality points for being about martial arts. I thought the real potential of the book was here. There was a lot more opportunity to develop and explore this original theme. But the book quickly falls back into the dully dominating feature of all Canadian literature – small town nowhere. A lot of the exciting parts of the book happen in Boston but, because of the non-chronological nature of the book, appear near the end of the book after you already know what’s going to happen. By this point the events are distant and feel like footnotes.

Again, the writing style is good, and the first half moves nicely.
In some ways, until halfway, I thought of this book as a second coming of age story. We always get the first in lit – puberty – but people make a second big stride sometime in their twenties as they start to find out who they are, and what they think. This is rarely written about and was a big strength of the first half, but the book doesn’t take that direction in the end.

Frankly, this book is another excellent addition to the vast canon of well-crafted but passionless books in the can lit scene about small towns and understanding yourself. Choke Hold is mildly exciting, maybe even a little bit new and different, but still very safe within that genre. It’s nothing drastically new and though I’d say my opinion of Mr. Babiak’s writing is better informed and higher than where I expected it might be, it’s still well within the standard realm of Can-mush I expected it to be.

Certainly Babiak is fairly good at what he does, it’s just being done by a lot of people and doesn’t feel very…what’s the word…thrilling. No offense to Todd – it’s not like he needs my approval, you can’t walk ten paces in Edmonton right now without finding someone fawning over the Garneau Block. You can’t please everyone – and I’m hard to please.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Louis McKee: Near Occasions Of Sin

Reviewed by: Charles P. Ries

I think we've already been through this Charles knows Christopher thing, don't you? Why do you keep pressuring me?

You can get this book from: Cynic Press, Post Office Box 40691, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Price: $8.00, 44 Poems / 79 pages
ISBN: 0-9673401-6-0

Amazon also has a book with this title, but do not be fooled: maybe it's a good book, but it ain't Louis'.
Word Count: 556

Louis McKee exemplifies the ‘philosopher poet’. From the title of his lasted collection of poetry, Near Occasions of Sin to the content of his poetry we see a writer who is not just good with word, or good with image, or selective about the moments in time he chooses to inspect, but a poet who is capable using his well honed skill with word, image and observation and elevating all of them with a philosopher’s mind.

McKee is rich and textured in his yearning observations, nimble in his rich insights and wise in his conclusions. I felt I was not only being entertained, but learning. I was growing larger because of his clarity and counsel. It is not surprising that McKee has led an examined life as suggested in his poem, “After The Sixth Visit”: “That’s that one / when you lie / back and say no- / thing, everything / having been said / at least five times / already, and she / says well, what / are you thinking / right now? And you / tell her that / you’re thinking you / want to fuck her / and she says why / do you think that / is? but it is / too late, time is / gone, fifty minute / hours, seventy / dollars, and you / know when you leave / that you won’t be / back, you are better / then you have / any right to expect.”

McKee is a man who wants love, who loves love; a man who adores women but has had more then his share of challenges getting them, keeping them, and loving them. He, like all lovers (and writers), is a work in progress. This is illustrated in his poem, “Failed Haiku”: “This evening I took a moment / to indulge a fantasy – you, / walking naked along a Jersey beach, / the sunlight on your lovely ass. / An ancient Japanese master / could work miracles with as much. / I am content with this.”

And again from his poem, “The Reason I Write”: “I like to think she gets naked / and looks at herself in the full-length mirror; / as she does, and with a smile, slips /into soft bliss of soapy comfort, / the almost-too-hot water uncomfortable / for just a moment but then just right. / With her wondrous hair pulled up, / she uses it as a pillow, pours a glass / of wine, then picks up a book of poems. / This is the reason they were written. / The rest of you, get your muses where you can. / I write for this woman, naked in a hot bath / under a modesty of bubbles. This is our / moment. Our poem. You find your own.”

As I read this, McKee’s thirteenth collection of poetry, I could not help but think of the late great small press poet Albert Huffstickler (who passed away in 2002) who, like McKee, had the ability to yearn and observe so purposefully. When I read poets of McKee or Huffstickler’s emotional depth I wish they wrote novels. I wish these short, rich, textured scenes and their meaning could be extended 300 more pages. Many poets write well, but few poets give us work as rich and profoundly meaningful as Louis McKee.

Christopher Robin: Freaky Mumbler's Manifesto

Reviewed by: Charles P. Ries

Charles knows Christopher. So sue me. I've read Christopher's book and very much liked it myself. So sue them. Or should it be so sue them and then sue me? Why are you so litigacious? Are you at a tourney (of litigation)? Does sueing suit you?

You can get Freaky Mumbler's Manifesto at: I Press On! Publications,
Post Office Box 1611, Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1611
Price: $10
95 Pages/ 48 Poems
You can not, unfortunately, get this book from Amazon. Type in Christopher Robin, and all you get is something about a bear, which I found unbearable.

To one extent or another, poets draw their material from the worlds that surround them. These observations become our window to their soul. How wonderful it was for me to enter into Christopher Robin’s world through his second collection of poetry entitled, Freaky Mumbler’s Manifesto. True to form, Robin gives us a view from the street as he studies his circle of friends, poets, losers, and lovers. His stories are mesmerizing in their own right, but come to life due to his significant gift at creating memorable metaphors and word unions.

As I read Freaky Mumbler’s Manifesto I found myself underlining his odd word couplings. Here are a few examples. From “Who We Kill”: “The service workers who spend their pay / in local bars / and their imaginations on satellite dishes”. Or in “Clown Fish”: “gender mutant / of the sensual circus / lilting ghost radio / in my nerves”. In “Caveman Days (for Jules)”: “My girl friend is full of art and sensation / my girl is soft but wiry to the touch / barks at civilization / scoffs at my little vanities / bleeds on my white things”.

And again in “Butterfly”: “That summer in your lovin bus / in Big Basin / you introduced me to “speaking breathing / standing people” / I use to call them trees / and to the angels and fairies / all things that walk without words”. In this collection we see Robin maturing as a writer and poet. His signature bent-in-the-brain view of the world is still wonderfully evident, but now, more often than not, he elevates humor with revelation and pathos.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Patrick Carrington: Rise, Fall and Acceptance

Reviewed by: Charles P. Ries

Charles has met Patrick, but they don't seem to be buddies or anything, the review therefore is not compromised. However, are we not taught in school that compromise is a good thing? Or, do we mean that other compromise? And what other compromise is that, anyway?

For more information on Charles, please see the end of this review. He is poetry editor of Word Riot (www.wordriot.org).

Available for $12, through: Main Street Rag Publishing Company,
4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, North Carolina 28227
80 Pages/ 56 Poems
ISBN: 1-59948-042-5

Rise, Fall and Acceptance is Patrick Carrington’s first collection of poetry. For a first outing, this is an exceptional work. Its depth and workmanship suggest poetry born over a long period of time and many rounds of edits. This diligence is found not only in the written word, but in the meticulous care taken with line breaks and stanzas. Here is an example from “Brothers On the Crossed Hill”: “Do you forget who lies / under the wild grass, / disgracing with your lips / this hill his horses rode, / their hooves and his / flattening the green blanket, / that mighty rug / that tops him now?”

I asked his publisher M. Scott Douglas of Main Street Rag why he choose to publish this collection of poems. Here is what he told me, “I am often asked why Main Street Rag chooses a particular manuscript for publication. Time and again the deciding factor is the way the words come alive on the page. Rise, Fall and Acceptance by Patrick Carrington was one of these collections that caught my attention not just by its organization, its great use of words—particularly action verbs—but because the poems were alive with experience and involve the reader. Mr. Carrington gathered a collection of sometimes very personal poems in a way that avoids the maudlin and mushy and draws the reader into the experiences that inspired this collection.”

The tone of the poems in this collection is quite formal, and I wondered if Carrington had training as a writer, “I have advanced degrees in English Literature and Education. But for the most part, what I have learned about poetry has been self-guided and self-taught through enormous amounts of reading and research and a good deal of common sense. I do teach writing for a living and have taught at levels ranging from junior high to honors level high school seniors. I also tutor privately. I did this when I knew writing is what I both love most and what treats me best emotionally and spiritually.”

I was surprised to learn that while Carrington was not new to writing he was very new to poetry. He told me, “I wrote and submitted my first poem a bit over two years ago. Four years ago I began reading poetry, and simply fell in love with it. It became my daily leisure activity, and still is. I began devouring everything I could get my hands on. And one night, after reading a poem I fancied very much, a voice popped into my head. “I think I can do this,” it said. He went on to say, “There’s a finished novel gathering dust on my shelf. A first draft, completely unedited. If the mad dog of poetry ever stops nipping at my ankles, I might find time to repair it someday.”

No question but that Carrington is a strong writer, but I sometimes struggled not to get bogged down by his excessive use of metaphor and image. Granted many of these poems are image driven and set upon a delicate narrative framework, but I wanted some of the poems to be trimmed back. I wanted him to weave some straightforward language into these pieces as a way to balance their complexity. Here is an example from “Balancing Pens In Belfast”: “By day the seams and shadows / of their ruin unstitch and steal / my air and crush my bones / their powered hair and homes /that puff and fall in winter’s winds / and hand, the swinging noose / of England choking rough / and tumble songs they sang / in tall and long defiance, / defense of son and land.” And again in his poem “Strawberry Moon”: “Strawberry moon spreads its will / like jam, sweet with sugars / of song and sunfade, and I see / the back of sadness break. // Mockingbirds scoop the music / of a stream and fly it to the trees, / share the throat of that new sisters // as they sing. Rich with birds, // the willows whistle and dance, / waving their fronds like the wings / of their siblings. The tender joinings // of evening call me, / water to wing to willow.” His language is beautiful, but at times slips over the too sweet for me line.

Since his poetry is quite structured I wondered who had influenced and shaped his poetic voice and the choices he makes when constructing a poem. He told me, “There is such a large number of poets/writers, past and present, whom I love to read. Too many to list, but here are a few: T. S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. Hemingway and Steinbeck, whose prose reads to me like poetry without line breaks. And so many of today’s poets knock me out: Tony Hoagland and Bob Hicok. Kim Addonizio. Mary Oliver. Subconsciously, I’m sure they have all influenced me to some degree. They’re boiling in my head, like a bouillabaisse. My own writing cannot help but be imitative of that stew, to some degree.”

As noted, my reader’s eyes were sometimes distracted, specifically by three aspects of Carrington’s writing. I asked him about these.

I found too much alliteration. Here are a few examples: “Scrubbing MacGillycuddy’s Reeks”: “footprints / ground-frozen fossils that flinch.” Also in, “Inking The Road Again”: "while his neglected wife stripped / skin from a biker, / sucking highways out” He told me this, “ I do think alliteration can be overdone, like anything else. Whatever alliteration I use in my poems seems to happen by itself. I don’t consciously think about it when I write, nor about meter or sound. But sometimes I feel a beat, a rhythm in my head. I think most poets probably feel that, each different from the other, their own personal jazz. And there is no denying that poetry has a long tradition with sound.”

I also began to find line breaks and stanzas jumping out at me rather then melding effortless into the whole. There are very few small press poets I can name who could match Carrington’s precise use of this device. More often then not I see this convention used by poets who have been academically trained. Even the back cover blurb by Harvey Stanbrough, Editor of Raintown Review, notes line break and use of stanzas. Here is what Stanbrough says, “It (Rise, Fall and Acceptance) should be used to teach aspiring poets the importance of word choice, the line break, and the use of stanzas.” Here is want Carrington told me about this aspect of his work, “Unlike alliteration, line breaks are something I take great care with. Enjambment (the continuation of meaning, without pause or break, from one line of poetry to the next) is one of the devices I use to try to make my writing different, and fresh. I have developed some thoughts that guide me. I am convinced that the most important word in a line of poetry is the last one. I think that is where a reader’s eyes settle for a split second longer than anywhere else. I try to take advantage of that phenomenon when I line break, using the end placement to magnify a word, give it importance, or to create multiple meanings, or ambiguity. Unless I have a good reason to do otherwise, I like to break my lines after nouns or verbs, before prepositional phrases (to give the modified word both its own place and a second meaning when later joined by the phrase following it). I have started to break after adjectives also, if I want to “punch” that adjective. For me, breaking lines after unimportant words, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, usually feels wrong. The same can be said with stanzas. It is not only to add lightness to the page, but to give a group of words and ideas their own identity, besides being a part of the whole. It’s a complicated question to answer, since many of my decisions are intuitive.”

And finally an over abundance of language and metaphor (yes, I know we’re talking about poetry here) like in, “Balancing Pens In Belfast”: “By the say the seams and shadows / of their ruin unstitch and steal / my air and crush my bones, / their powdered hair and homes / that puff and fall in winter’s winds / and hands, the swinging noose / of England choking rough / tumble songs they sang / in tall and long defiance, / defense of son and land.” Certainly there is music in his words, and his love of language is noted by the acclaimed poet, Bob Hicok in a second back cover blurb where he says, “I can feel this poet’s love of language and his deep sense of truth in every poem.” While with Hicok, I sometimes stumbled over the abundance of metaphors. Here is want Carrington told me about these choices, “That poem was written specifically targeting a web journal I like very much, Alan Heinrich’s Carnelian. He publishes a lot of rhyme and sonnets. I prefer Popeye to Petrarch, but I thought I’d give internal rhyme a try and submit to him. I’m surprised to see you quote that particular poem, since it is not at all representative of the collection as a whole. It’s the only piece where sound and form are as important as content. As far as the formality of language, that seems to touch the on-going debate as to the value of academic vs. small press poetry. Writing is a 2-person enterprise, author and reader. I do think a poet who gets too far away from the life and experiences of that natural partner is doing both the reader and himself a disservice. Too large a gap may be one of the things that has moved poetry books into the dusty corners of bookstores, and turned poetry into a sub-culture where the only people who read one’s poetry are other poets. But I think there is and should be a natural and wider space between writer and reader in poetry than prose. I find the main difference between poetry and prose to be the degree of the creative process that the writer gives to the reader, prose being a heavily writer-based undertaking, poetry a more even split. Poetry that simply reads like prose with line breaks seems to indeed be prose, to me.”

Carrington’s quick rise as a poet made me curious about whether he felt he had locked in on his poetic voice. Here is what he had to say, “My poetic tastes are wide and cover both ends of the poetic spectrum. I very much like (most of) the poetry I read in Poetry Magazine and academic journals of that ilk, and I also very much like (most of) the poetry I read in the small press. I suppose that fact has created in me a double voice when I write, as I search for the one voice that will eventually become me. I love metaphor, as well as ambiguity and a certain amount of pointed obscurity. When I write from the academic half of my poetic schizophrenia, that personality comes out. I also love the ‘plain speak’ I read in so many small press poets, and when that side of me feels dominant, it’s the way I too speak. My poems have found acceptance in both academic and small press journals, and it is probably for that very reason – that I love and write in two distinct voices. This book reflects that, I think. Both voices are there, the abstract and concrete, the stretch of language and the down-home and real. And I think if I were to totally ignore one side or the other right now, so early in my writing life, I would not be true to myself. Both voices are part of me now. Whether and when one of the two takes over and becomes louder in my ears, I have no idea. Right now I answer both calls, and favor neither.”

Despite my problems with this book, there are still many exceptional poems. I find it remarkable that a writer wakes up to poetry and two years later, has over 100 publication credits, a pushcart nomination, is the poetry editor of Jennifer VanBuren’s very fine e-zine called, Mannequin Envy (http://www.mannequinenvy.com/Winter2006.htm) and most recently won the Codhill Press Chapbook Award. Isn’t that amazing - has ever a prose writer crossed the great divide to poetry as quickly? Carrington has a bright future both within the non-academic small press, as well as the better funded academic world. He possesses enormous heart and emotional depth, but (as a reader) I sometimes could not find my way through his imagery to the purity of his experience. I would ask that as he elevates his game he remember to always keep one foot firmly planted on the everyday.

To find additional samples of Patrick Carrington’s work please follow these links:

Kennesaw Review:
http://www.kennesawreview.org/OLD_SITE/summer2006/poetry_summer_2006.htm Rock Salt Plum Review: http://www.rocksaltplum.com/RSPSpring2006/PatrickCarrington.html
The New Hampshire Review:

And, since Charles is so helpful to Patrick, here is a Charles update:
He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and sixty print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing, and most recently read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (
www.wordriot.org) and Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org). He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most recently he has been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/ .

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Alan Catlin: The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre

Reviewed by: Charles P. Ries

It is not clear that Charles has met Alan. On the other hand, Charles lives in Wisconsin. u gotta watch out fo those chainsaws. You can check out Charles' work at: charlesr@execpc.com or www.bookthatpoet.com/poets/rieschar.html as well as www.pidjin.com/charles_ries.htm

126 poems / 180 pages

Note: the publisher left the business about three years ago, but Alan Catlin can be reached at: thecatlins@msn.com. Alan still has some copies of the book, so email him. The book is available for $15 US, which includes shipping & handling. Other books by Alan are available on Amazon.

Alan Catlin is a very talented and prolific writer. He penned the 126 poems that comprise The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre in just over two years – that’s an average of five poems per month for twenty-four months straight. Since 1984 he has published sixty books of poetry. And if that doesn’t leave you gasping for air and raising the white flag - over that same period of time his work has appeared in over 500 separate electronic and print publications. And it doesn’t end there – he has also garnered fifteen Pushcart nominations. Without even addressing issues of writing quality, one must sit back and marvel at Catlin’s persistence, productivity and passion. He is a man that was born to write.

Catlin is an astute, tireless observer with a remarkably developed technique. Like all poets, he draws his source material from his immediate environment and filters it through his person. As in “Sober”: “I gave up / drinking for / two weeks” // he said // “I just lost my / son-22 years / old - / he hung / himself” // I wasn’t sure / how that related // to his being / sober a whole / two weeks // other than / looking at him // the way he was / now for 22 years // was what made / that boy // die”. And again in “One for the Road, for Bill Bradt”: “You wanted someone / to slip a / Michelob into your // open coffin / for the long / journey to who //knew where- / it was sure / to be a hot // and thirsty place- / a dry road if you went / the way your // last two wives / had predicted - / I chickened //out at the last / minute-gave the beer / to the bartender // you’d spent the most / time with over / the years as I left // I never asked him / if he gave it to you / or not.” Again, a masterful use of words. Readers not familiar with Catlin’s work may find it interesting and relevant to learn he works as a bartender and draws significant material from the theater he observes and participates in during his day job – alcohol provides an endless pool for a poet’s musings.

In the 2001 interview with Catlin featured in Peter Magliocco’s ART:MAG 24 (POB 70896, Las Vegas, NV 89170), Catlin says, “It’s my job to see things and tell people what I see in the manner most appropriate to the subject. The tone is mostly matter of fact, sometimes bitter, sometimes ironic, sometimes outright nasty, but easily discernable and readily identifiable as a Voice. And I must add a Voice, not necessarily mine in real life time.” Later in the same interview, Catlin explains a bit about his process, “I almost always write my poems out in long hand so I will be forced to rewrite for accuracy and precision later on. I rarely make major revisions. The initial draft of a poem is almost wholly formed before it is written. Looking back on my drafts for the last twenty years or so, I see that they are remarkably clean drafts. Major changes in word selection or order may be in the revision state, of typing them onto the computer. As the poem already has found its form before it is written and has a tried and true (for me) authorial voice built into its composition. All the poet has to do is choose the words to fit the subject! (As if it could really be that easy.)”

The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre is presented in four sections. These establish a gentle progressive narrative cycle: Poster People for the Village of the Damned, Taxi Drivers of the Apocalypse, Dress Rehearsal for the Village of the Damned. Section Four, Bartending the Merchants of Death, focuses on the sights, sounds and clowns Catlin views from behind his bar while serving jive juice to the masses as he listens to their stories and shares their glories. As in “Whatever He Man”: “school he flunked / out of had a strange / definition for what / exactly went into / becoming the ultimate / Macho Stud he so / obviously wished he / could be-ordered an / extra-dry Vodka / Martini Up with extra olives he would slug / down in two gulps / further impressing / the regulars by slamming / his glass on the bar / & saying, ‘Now I’m / ready to teach!’ / A chorus of ‘Dude!’ following him out / the door was obviously / meant for someone else”.

There are even a few poems written in the voice of Ray Catina a Viet Nam Vet that Catlin created in the early 1980’s. Here is one titled “Coming Home 1968”: “No one had to ask, / “Where have you been?” // nights he broke free / from the compound/house, // parents secured, that is locked / in their bedroom, all lines // of communication severed, / illegal weapon set on lock // and load as he readied himself / for a solitary patrol dressed in // full camo and black face paint / using light of a quarter moon // to lead the way down Garfield / Place to the jungle on Ocean // Ave where Charlie was dug in, / sleeping, just four blocks // from home and half a world,/ half a lifetime away.”

Again, from the ART:MAG 24 interview, “Ray Catina came about fairly simply. I was frustrated with writing swaths, reams actually, of bar poems during one long summer between jobs. I was desperately trying to find something else to do with myself besides sling drinks and consume gallons of white wine, writing about people in bars from the point of view of an increasingly jaded barman. I must have spent a small fortune I didn’t have, on brown envelopes and postage, sending them out to every literary magazine on the face of the earth, to uniform disinterest and outright hostility.” Catlin goes on to say, “so, I decided, rather cynically, but consciously, to take all those poems about bars and set them somewhere else and change the details to fit the new environment. Voila – one cynical, anti-authoritarian, dis-enfranchised Vietnam vet.” With this newly created narrator, Catlin saw his submission acceptance rate catapult.

If you have never purchased an Alan Catlin book of poetry before, I strongly suggest you buy The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre and add it to your library. It’s full, it’s loaded, and it’s a joy ride down and through the odd alleys, darkened taverns and magical synapses of a master writer. Alan, I hope you never run out of postage stamps, brown envelopes and writing paper. For what will you do with that head full of verse if you can’t write it out?

Jennifer Blowdryer and Lenore Waters: The Revolution of 1964

Reviewed by Christopher Robin

Christopher advises that he has met Jennifer Blowdryer, but she is so glamerous she may not admit it. He has not said anything about Lenore Waters, which does not see fair, even if she does not have as great a name as Blowdryer. But she is just as hot and plugged in, I'm sure.

$5.95. Available through: Zeitgeist Press, 327 Carlisle Crossing Street, Las Vegas, NV 89138-1514. Website: www.Zeitgest-Press.com.

In these short, untitled, conversational poems Blowdryer sometimes ends with the words: “shit, fuck, what the hell!” as if you were riding a NYC subway with her after last call, gossiping and grousing. “civilization on a dime/that’s us.” “The ones who used to ask me why my hair was blue? It’s blue because the world is fucked up/and I just want a little fun”.

Always clever and to the point, Blowdryer is a damn good writer with the gift to deliver an understated anecdote.

This is a combination chap with her mother, Lenore Waters, who is equally as talented. The coupling of a punk icon and her Beat Generation mother provides great insight into two generations of rebellious women.

Lenore Waters weaves a story well in “Beat Poet,” when in 1980 her daughter tells her about an old drunk Beat hanging around-“never heard of him”, her mother, realizing it is Corso, then reflects on the man she knew in his better days. Lenore Waters' poems are emotionally driven as well as entertaining, a talented writer I hope to read more from.

Blowdryer is witty as fuck and punker than you.

20 pages.

Other new titles available from Zeitgeist: Love Poems for the Wicked, Brian Morrisey, $5.95. The Underwater Hospital, Jan Steckel, $5. Cannibal Casserole, Julia Vinograd, $5. I Want a New Gun, David Lerner, $12.95 (back in print!)

Nicole Henares: The Bitch You Love To Hate

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher has met Nicole. Whether he loved her, hated her--that has not been recorded for posterity. Nor is anything known about their posteriors.

$5. Available through: Magenta Press, 575 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA

Henares' poems may evoke colorful melancholy, brooding nostalgia and laughter. She uses a wide range of poetic techniques and her discipline as a writer is very evident in this chap. She also has an unpretentious, wide-openness that invites the reader into her vivid imagination, something that is lacking in most poetry that considers itself “well-crafted,” poetry that often loses its soul in an attempt to follow form instead of heart.

This chap includes her dedication to the history of her hometown of Monterey: ‘Cannery Row 21st Century:’ “Cannery Row/really now just a faded memory/of gray hit yellow/souvenir keychains/glossy real estate/and machinated dreams/against the slop of waves/kelp stink and exhaust;” to mockery of the pretentious hippie-fakers of nearby new age Big Sur: ‘White Boy with Dreadlocks:’ “I wear clothes from Tibet/and organic Patchouli. I smoke American Spirits/and see lotus flowers when I walk. I never fuck fat girls or fags.”

‘Mopey Boy’ is dedicated to every black clad skinny boy in every trendy coffee shop: “Oh, woe, boy; chew on the sleeves of your black wool/sit in the back of the bar/cry with your beer/scorn the dumb, the pretty, the fat, the baseball capped; write sarcastic poems: I get you, you the epitome of lonely, so tortured, so misunderstood/so real.” In ‘Bye Bye’ she delivers a verbal punch to the archaic institution that is the Miss America pageant: “like duh, Miss America/we want halter tops and navel rings/low-rise jeans and booty bling.”

And from the title poem: “I was a princess/and I worked at McDonald’s/I stayed faithful to Ken all those years/even without anatomy/he still pleased me. (You never knew because great sex doesn’t need to boast)”, from the title poem, a statement from Barbie herself, where she declares that she: “wanted to be your best friend,” and “was never a Brat.”

I also recommend her other books: Kelp & Cotton Candy, Lush, & Duende.

Blogperson's note: When Nicole writes of not fucking fags, she is obviously referring to cigarettes, i.e. that she is a nonsmoker. In the Didja Know This Department: The use of the term "faggot" to describe a gay person stems back to the Middle Ages, in England. Back then, when villagers found a gay person, they had a tendency to get fired up. They captured the person, put him on top of some rather dry wood, and started a bonfire. The word "faggot" originally meant a burning stick of wood (and, similarly, has since been used to refer to a cigarette). Hence the application of "faggot" to gay people, bringing back those times when men were men, women were women, and sheep were afraid of them both.

Don Winter: On The Line

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher has not met Don. Ergo, Don has not met Christopher---in this universe or dimension.

$4. Available through: Bone World Publishing, 3700 County RT 24, Russell, NY 13684

Don Winter has spent many years in the small press establishing himself as a bard of the working-class. Think of empty beer cans, dreary clothes lines, cold winters and forlorn diners. Though I have to say the forward to this chap, written by Anne Caston, is poetry in itself: “I want the corner mechanic shop back, its heat and smell of grease and oil and the man who owned it who took a break every afternoon to sit out back in a tipped chair with his old bag-of-bones hound. I want the corner service station where a boy in “overhauls” pumps the gasoline…”

Indeed, the America of the plastic-sheen, convenience driven Wal-Mart is actually deserted city centers, closed schools and crumbling rooftops. This is the America that gives birth to Winter’s poems. In ‘Roofing,” a brief quote from the foreman in this three stanza piece sheds light on the world of dispensable labor: “I’d get monkeys/to do your jobs/if I could teach them not to shit/on the roof,” boss yelled. In “Cleaning Up At The Hamtrack Burger Chef,’ the monotonous, workaday life is transcended, albeit briefly: “most nights I turn up/the radio/and sing my own words/Something about being in this business to stay alive/Something like that.”

This is poetry for the real America, as Winter dwells in its shell, as drained and irrelevant as a beer can on a dead lawn.

Jonathan Penton: Blood and Salsa/Painting Rust

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher is a fine poet. So is Jonathan. They have met. But, have they met enough? Poets should get out of the house occasionally--shouldn't they? We will be conducting a CNN Poll on this issue.

$7. Available from Jonathan Penton, P.O. Box 930092, Norcross, GA 30093. Jonathan Penton runs http://www.unlikelystories.org/.

A split-chap containing 2 separate books in one.

In Painting Rust, Penton takes aim with biting pen, challenging poets in a time of war and in the face of American collapse; challenging the relevance of everything we as artists do. In ‘Regarding Your Career,’ he informs: “your rice-paper handcrafted signed and numbered achievements/ are worth less than the formaldehyde stuck/to a dead poet’s balls;” ‘In the Company of Them,’ follows a similar vein: “while the talking heads keep talking/and the bloggers keep on blogging/and the artists keep pretending/there is something left to say.” In ‘Post-Coital Depression’ he goes deeper, still questioning: “today I think of stacks of burning bodies/dictatorships established in the name of democracy/and the motherless sons who will come back to America/and do everything they can to bring it down/and what does that means to anyone, anyway?”

Penton establishes himself as a relevant, political poet without being the least bit preachy, boring or one-sided. He uses clear, direct language and never tries to resolve himself of blame.

In Blood and Salsa he writes about lust, love and loss. “I tire of such intricacies. I retreat to the childhood world of rock ‘n’ roll/childish, transparent, Oedipal—boy meets girl, boy fucks girl, boy bashes father-in-law’s head with a baseball bat/Simple, pounding rhythms, brainless ballads of loss/the sort of thing I can relate to. I seek simpler sexualities. I turn my back on majestic music and briefly wonder/what other people hear.”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cynthia Ruth Lewis: Piss On Your Parade--Poems From A Disillusioned Pessimist

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher has met Cynthia, but I do not think she would piss on his parade. Maybe she'd throw him a beer though. As long as it isn't her handbag.

Piss On Your Parade--poems from a disillusioned pessimist.
It's available for a mere $5, from Cynthia Ruth Lewis, P.O. Box 232984, Sacramento, CA 05823-0433

The introduction to this book reads: “Enjoy the contents or die!! Any complaints? Cram ‘em!”

Like Misti Rainwater-Lites, Lewis is not afraid to make anger and sexuality a staple of her poetry with only the rare instance of apology. And where some female poets hollowly court self destruction, Lewis does not.

“The Difference Between A Blowhard and a Diehard: “one positive thing I can say towards drinking: I don’t drive recklessly/commit crimes, or sleep with strange men while under the influence—I do enough of that while sober.” She is not a Courtney Love clone, though she certainly has the attitude. In the title poem she writes: “I don’t usually carry handbags/but I’ve got to conceal the hatchet with something/I’m not purposely out for blood, but should the urge strike, which it usually does, it’s nice to be prepared.”

In ‘Outcast,’ she makes her stance: “I’ve never rushed out to see a “hit” movie/I don’t “do” the mall/I don’t pay attention to or/participate in gossip/I enjoy being on the other side/because if being different/is deemed wrong in this fleeting/fuck of a world, I don’t ever wanna be right.”

These poems are filled with rage and not the least bit melancholy. This is the sort of inspired anger that may make one want to rally for the author. These are poems you can get inside but will have to claw your way out.

In ‘Images,’ one of the few poems in the book that is not pure anger, she writes about her dying dog: “finally pulling you roughly from the car/to pretend I didn’t care, not feeling the sun warm on my back, or your tangle of fur soft in my hands…”

A very good first chapbook.

Shane Allison: I Want To Fuck A Redneck

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin.

Christopher has not met Shane. It is not known whether Christopher knows or has known (in the biblical sense or otherwise) any rednecks, or even tannednecks.

Some of Shane's work is on Amazon, but not this one. I Want To Fuck A Redneck is available through Scintillating Publications, 21 Russell Street, Burlington, VT 05401. But you can order it from Scintillating Publications at: Mustiis@aol.com. Order it now for only $5, and you will get a free new envelope around the book, plus genuine used stamps! Want to contact Shane Himself? His email is starsissy42@hotmail.com. Neither Chris, Scintillating, Shane or myself know who the 41 other starsissies are--but it might be fun to find out! Anyone have some free time for a research project?

Shane Allison writes no holds barred-shameless truth about being a gay black man in the south.

The title poem describes not fucking, but fantasy rape, and could make even the most enlightened queer squirm: “as I yell take off that fuckin’ shirt/motor oil beneath the fingernails/of those king kong hands/his butt tips up for a nigger queer fuck.”

Aside from sexual poems, which are his forte, he also uses word play to have a mind fuck with popular culture: "No one talks about Tonya Harding anymore. I don’t know anyone who talks about Tonya Harding. nor do I know anyone who likes Tonya Harding. Know one I know talks about Tonya Harding. Know one I know who knows someone talks about Tonya Harding," and the poems goes on like that, repeating the same words around and around until the irrelevance of the subject matter is humorously clear.

But, mainly, Allison uses his pen for sexual catharsis. ‘In the Event of My Dildo’s Demise,’ ‘masturbation poem,’ ‘Kiss Me, John Before Your Wife Comes Home,’ ‘My Fuckbuddy Has A Girlfriend,’ are some of the titles, detailing clandestine gay sex, loneliness, infidelity and raw cruising in the dirtiest, seediest of places.

The only complaint I have about this book is the layout. The poems are in a very small font with very light print. It seems like poems of this nature would warrant more distinction. I happen to know that the original cover art for this chap was censored by the printer, thus holding up production of the book for quite a while. So the cover art chosen is not sexual at all and more subtle, which is fine; but his previous chap, “Black Fag,” by Future Tense publications I found much more artistically pleasing to the eye.

This is Allison’s fifth book of poetry and is outsider writing at its best; tender, humorous and raunchy. I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Andrew Scott: Modern Love

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher has not said whether or not he knows Andrew. Not that he's refused, he just hasn't said. So, is this a secret kinda thing we should look into, or is he rebelling? Maybe it's because Christopher is a poet and zine creator. Zen Baby is his baby, and the latest issue is hot off the presses. You can order it from Christopher himself for $2 (please add postage!), free to prisoners Zen Baby is usually published twice per year. Order info:Christopher Robin, PO Box 1611, Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1611. You can also check out Christopher's available work on the ULA website, at: http://www.literaryrevolution.com/products.html.

As for Modern Love, it is a well-worth-it $10.
For a copy: Andrew Scott, Sunnyoutside Press P.O. Box 441429 Somerville, MA 02144. Or, www.sunnyoutside.com.
The book is also available on Amazon.

Sunnyoutside’s 2nd fiction chapbook, Modern Love is a short story about a young couple: a failed band promoter and his girlfriend, a bartender, determined to leave Indiana and get rich on the music scene in California. Together they cut loose of their small town, sell everything, and jump into their Chevy Cavalier, headed for Los Angeles.

On the way there, they discuss their dreams and learn that they have very different musical tastes, which sets the tone for their whole relationship. Their car breaks down and they encounter a strange but helpful person in Tucson that changes both their lives forever.

This story has many synchronistic overtones about fate, destiny and choice. The ending may surprise you.

Sunnyoutside is one of the best small presses to come out in the last few years. The publisher has a unique sense for finding quality work. Not only are the chapbooks themselves works of art, his choice of authors never seems to disappoint. This a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

The book includes illustrations by Ed Herrera.

Neal Wilgus: The Leakoids, "Newsalizing The Nation"

Reviewed by Christopher Robin.

Christopher has met Neal. Christopher wrote this review despite his working hard on the latest issue of his zeen. So, give Christopher a gold star! But maybe he could use a sandwich and a nap even more. Some Neal Wilgus books are available on Amazon (if he's the same author), but not this one.

$10. To get a copy, try writing to:
Neal Wilgus, 927 Camino Hermosa Corrales, NM 87048.

Wilgus has been writing and publishing for over thirty years and it shows.

He has fine tuned his literary sense of the absurd, influenced by the Discordian movement, and these stories are more original than what you would find in the satirical Onion Newspaper, though certainly in the same vein. These “spoof” stories (whether they are spoofs or not should be determined by what sort of reality you live in, and there are many, according to Wilgus) are inspired by the subconscious, a deep imagination, a finger on the pulse of Coyote Magic.

You may want to ingest these stories like medicine in dire times, as humor may be the only refuge we have at the end of the world.

My favorites are: Dog Sues for Divorce, (the Kanine Liberation Organization seeks an injunction against mankind on the grounds of mental cruelty and physical incompatibility), IRS Out for Boffo Laughs where the IRS vows to tax people every time they smile, so humor has to go underground (“blackmarket jokesters”) only to be thwarted by the Laffswat team whose mission it to is “to keep bootleg humor under control.”

I also enjoyed: Allegiance Pledge Found to Be Fake, Cuba Arrested for Speeding, Invisible Man Disappears, (“we’re not sure what to make of it,” Lost said, “but somehow all the computer records relating to Inviz have been erased and even the hard-copy files have been misplaced. At this point, we don’t even have a picture of the Invisible Man to give out to police agencies and the general public. Whether or not this is a deliberate act or just a coincidence is not clear at the present time.”)

Wilgus is keeping the spirit of the Church of the Subgenius alive. In the 80’s this sort of devious disinformation would find itself in my mailbox, the ONLY place to find “alternative realities,” or anything subversive, as there was no internet, ONLY mail-order. For those of you who miss Reverend Bob and get tired of all the bad, droll news, treat yourself to some belly laughs in this delightful book.

Neal Wilgus does NOT have a MySpace! Nothing should stand between a surrealist and his mailbox.

Friday, January 05, 2007

New American Underground Poetry Vol. 1:

Reviewed by: Charles P. Ries. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/ and you may write him at charlesr@execpc.com

Does Charles know any of the 32 poets in this anthology? Well really: he does not live in California to begin with, and if he spent all his time meeting other writers, when would he have time to write his own stuff? Give the guy a break, eh? You really are way too demanding!

Author: New American, copyright 2005. Alan Kernoff. Anthology issued by Trafford Press. Distributed by Zeitgeist-Press. (http://www.zeitgeist-press.com/) 323 Pages / Price: 23.00
TO ORDER GO TO: http://www.zeitgeist-press.com/

Context, talent and emerging form are the co-parents of art movements. When these three aspects of great art collide (as they seldom do) a child is conceived. A creative voice so unique in its character that when it is seen, heard, or read it guides the reader unmistakenly back to its place of origin.

As I read the thirty-two poets whose works comprise this expansive anthology entitled, New American Underground Poetry Vol. 1: The Barbarians of San Francisco - Poets from Hell, I welcomed the raw honest energy I found in these long narrative poems. I felt as if I was there with them, listening to them. They called themselves the Barbarians. Every Thursday night from the mid-late 80’s through about 1994, their home was a tiny wine and beer tavern located on twenty-second and Guerrero in the Mission District of San Francisco. For just under ten years it was the home of a perfect storm - a Thunder Dome in which spoken word poetry of high emotion, insight, and humor was delivered and refined. This excerpt from David Lerner’s, “Mein Kampf” addresses the objective of their collective efforts, “all I want to do / is make poetry famous // all I want to do is / burn my initials into the sun // all I want to do is / read poetry from the middle of a / burning building / standing in the fast lane of the / freeway / falling from the top of the / Empire State Building // the literary world / sucks dead dog dick //I’ll rather be Richard Speck / than Gary Snyder / I’d rather ride a rocket ship to hell / than a Volvo to Bolinas.” And indeed this desire to raise poetry above its lost status as a mainstream literary art colors many of the poems in this collection. These writers wrote and spoke words that could not be confused. They were metaphor lit and smash mouth rich.

Context: The back room at Cafe Babar. A tiny performance space of only about 30' x 30', with wood bleachers and corrugated aluminum siding stretched over the walls. At critical points, the poet could hit the walls and the entire small room would vibrate. Often, there were 75-100 people stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder, crowding the halls and every spare inch of space, hungry for what the poet could do. "The Babar crowd was pretty merciless," says Zietgeist Press Co-Founder and Café Babar regular, Bruce Isaacson. "There was no polite applause or lukewarm response. If they loved you, they let you know, and if they didn't, they really let you know: hoots, whistles, heckling. Even beer glasses would sometimes get tossed at the stage."

Talent: In the forward to this anthology, co-editor Alan Allen described the odd mix of tribal members to this scene, “The barbarian poets were broke. Won the west-coast slams but couldn’t afford the tickets to go East to compete. Lived only to write, to perform, to read. Many were without jobs (with notable exceptions), or disabled, or addicted, or worked in the sex industry. Most struggled to pay the rent, or eat well, wore thrift-shop clothes. IQ’s were the highest, hearts the biggest, poems what mattered most. Was all about feeling their voices, their words, their lines, their lives.” This collision of wild and diverse poets, writers, musicians, and performers created the ethos of that moment including: Laura Conway, Joie Cook, David West, Eli Coppola, David Gollub, Vampyre Mike Kassel, Kathleen Wood, Zoe Rosenfeld, Sparrow 13 LaughingWand, Q.R. Hand, Alan Kaufman, and numerous others who would go through the baptism of fire that was Café Babar. These writers and many more are featured in this exceptional collection of poetry.

Emerging Form: Richard Silberg in his introduction to The Babarians of San Francisco - Poets from Hell says, “As opposed to movements that have centered on magazines, a college, a writers group, the Babarians have forged their work in a performing space.” He goes on to say, “Barbarians focus on that performing voice. The Barbarian voice goes for personhood, somewhat like the voice of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, or a comedian’s voice, or the voice of a TV newsman. Emphasis is shifted from the page to performance. The poem on the page is more like a script or a score.” Berkeley Poet Laureate Julia Vinograd told me, “This period was an explosion of poetry and Café Babar was at its epicenter. The work was unlike anything that had been done before; we fed off each other. New things were being said in ways that were forceful, serious, and funny. The best of the young poets of their time read there along side total unknowns.”

The November 4, 1992 issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian described the poets reading at Café Babar as, “The Best poets working in America today. The cradle of the American avant-garde tradition. Formed in the crucible of real economic despair & political threat. Poets of lowered expectations & political rage. Café Barbar is the symbolic crucible of the spoken-word scene where gather the keepers of the flame – the poets doing poetry before it caught the public eye.”

All the poems in collection were written to be heard and grasped quickly. They speak to the world in which the writer lived. Here was a tribe and a moment in time that personified what is best about poetry – raw, straight forward revelation. Emotional honesty delivered in a manner that demands attention.

Here are two short excerpts from The Barbarians of San Francisco. The first is from “I Was a Teenage Godzilla” by Vampyre Mike Kassel. “When I was ten / I was hit by a very small nuclear warhead / which slipped out of a torpedo tube / while my cub scout pack was visiting / the Navy submarine U.S.S. Caligula / on a field trip. / The incident was hushed up. / The other cubs perished / but I mutated into a Teenage Godzilla / just like in the movies. / Only I was still only five feet ten inches tall / Just a friendly li’l two legged radioactive Komodo dragon / It wasn’t so bad / My parents were pissed / but the government paid them off / and they just had to kind of live with it.” And another from Sparrow 13 LaughingWand entitled, “Larry Said”: “Oh the filthy chalice of his skull / blown apart in New York / Oh, his razorback heart and his lead sugar mouth, / Larry said his mother died in a house fire / while he was in the joint / Larry said it was political. / Larry told / the dumbest arrest story I ever heard / how he broke into a liquor store and got too drunk to escape. / The Nevada beauty of his tomcat ass could / scratch your eyes out. / Larry said he was an honest thief. / Larry said I wasn’t queer / because he love me. / Thanksgiving we had lentils under my tarp / in a storm at Davenport. / Larry wasn’t a queer / because I really wasn’t a man.”

They stood stripped naked before a crowd of true believers and had to sell it. They had to make it real, and they had to make it work or they were shouted down. Posers were persecuted at the Café Barbar.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Alan Catlin: Thou Shall Not Kill

Reviewed by Christopher Robin.

Christopher has apparently not met Alan, so it should go without saying that Alan has apparently not met Christopher. Maybe they should meet. Send donations to The Christopher and Alan Should Meet Committee c/o this review blog.

$5, Chiron Review Press
522 E. South Ave
St John, Kansas

21 pages

A long poem delivering matter of fact lines attacking Bush, specifically during the time of Hurricane Katrina and also against the war, etc. A meaningful and original piece, though the subject matter has many times been written, a news-poem of this sort is a necessary archive.

On Katrina: “now that the avenging angel of doom in the form of a force 5 hurricane has invaded our borders/has landed dead center in the below sea level city of NOLA”. Throughout he attacks religion & capitalism and lashes out at current state of the apocalypse in a litany of doom reminiscent of a political treatise by Hirschman or Winans.

“Protest is what keeps America free/not your america/your America is an illusion/a delusion of isolationism & ignorance.”

This is a poem I will not soon forget.

Todd Moore/Gary Goude: Blood on Blood

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Paranoid reader alert: Christopher has met Todd! However, he apparently has not met Gary. So does this not balance out? And is not balance what we should strive for in life and art? And while Christopher, a fine poet, has met art, it is not clear whether he has met Art. We are not sure who Gary has met.

St. Vitus Press (2006)
stvitusfan@aol.com or:

If you are a Todd Moore fan you will enjoy Gary Goude, and vice versa. Goude’s poems are cut-throat, matter of fact images about those who live trapped in the everyday horror of the human condition.

Goude is an outlaw poet, and by that I mean he’s been places a lot of readers may rather not go. He also uses an economy of words, in the style of Moore. You may imagine through his poems that he has probably woken up next to the train tracks more than once in his life. Like Moore, he has lived hard and close to the bone.

These two poets fit perfectly together in this outstanding chap, which includes a color cover image taken from the film Reservoir Dogs. Goude takes us through the depths with tight lines: “I believe in the destruction/of everything man has touched and created,” (‘I Just Sit & Wait’); and from ‘The Bitter Life:’ “your teeth will begin to fall out/one by one/ your dreams will haunt you/with visions of ex wives/faces of your children/memories of dead love. Welcome to Hell.”

This is definitely not poetry one might read while sipping herbal tea in the garden. This is blood and guts writing while living in a world full of humans and rats, with not much distinction between the two.

The 2nd half of the book will not be disappointing to long time readers of Moore. If you light a match the poem will have ended, but the scent will linger in the air and you may feel like you narrowly escaped having your flesh singed. Moore’s section is entitled: “Lost in America,” and he is speaking for the forgotten: ‘benny always:’ “ask benny what the war was like/benny smiled/sd what war/then tapped his temple/steel plates/no pictures in my head.”

Each poem he writes is a unique story, a flash, a quick movie, a jarring of the senses, unforgettable. Moore has by now mastered the long poem (“Dillinger,”), and no one else can deliver a short poem like he does. I prefer to read his shorter poems, but no matter the length, the delivery is always clean, sharp, delivered with dangerous style.

I also like the inclusion of old black and white movie posters in this chap.

The World Is Ours--and Yours!

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