[re]construction of the necromancer

[re]construction of the necromancer by Hannah V. Warren
–winner of Sundress Publications’ eighth annual chapbook competition–

Review by Lauren Davis

Many of us have internalized the watered-down version of Hansel and Gretel, where the kids seem sweet and the gingerbread house seems sweeter. The Grimm’s original tale is darker. The Warren tale is darker still. But history has the bleakest story of all.

From 1315 through 1317, there was famine in Europe. An estimated twenty-five percent of people in urban areas died. The elderly volunteered to starve. People dug up graves to eat the dead. And according to an Estonian chronicle, in 1315, “mothers were fed their children.”

Warren’s Gretel will not be eaten. Instead, she feasts. She meshes with the forest. She has two mother figures, and she is stronger than both. Alternating between first person and third person, these poems sit at the edge of “leaves & bones” while Gretel travels through trauma and abandonment, reclaiming her body as its own savior.

In an interview with Kyle Teller, a Creative Writing Ph.D. candidate at The University of Kansas, Warren says, “Transformation is an act, a process, a tangible outcome. It’s a way to move forward and discover a newness, a way to leave something else behind.” In [re]construction of the necromancer, we leave behind the old Gretel. She is not defined by her abandonment, unless we consider that it is abandonment that forces her into her own strength.

It’s easy to feel a little tricked by Warren’s language. We’re lulled with writing that feels lush and lovely, while all along the bodies cook. Take these lines from “Forgetting the Price of Liverwurst”:

I reconstruct who I may have been 
before my unbirth mother taught me

to drain femurs for marrow or to ribbon
thyme & rosemary together for roasting

two eyes & calloused fingertips rough
from shelling beans & skinning potatoes

my body is growing & I wonder if I’ll have 
cartilage thin wings or a throat full of gills

a month ago my unbirth mother would
have known how to pluck my feathers

she would have sweet thickened my hips 
with ginger & told me that growing girls 

need plumstreusel & sinewy calves
to feed the pressure in their wombs

Warren’s style is all stone fruit and spice. We stay with these poems not only for their drama, but also for their beauty. Is it any wonder that the woodland fuses with such a wild child?

Because of Warren, we learn to respect the breadcrumbs. They lead where the girls are forever.

Hannah V Warren is a poet, storyteller, and speculative literature scholar. [re]construction of the necromancer is the winner of the Sundress Publications 2019 chapbook competition. Among other journals, her works have found homes in Redivider, Moon City Review, and Mid-American Review. Warren has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Kansas and is a PhD student in English at the University of Georgia.

Publisher: Sundress Publications
ISBN: 978-1-951979-03-4
Pages: 36
Copyright: 2020


Lauren Davis is the author of Home Beneath the Church, forthcoming from Fernwood Press, and the chapbook Each Wild Thing’s Consent, published by Poetry Wolf Press. She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, and she teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books. She is a former Editor in Residence at The Puritan’s Town Crier and has been awarded a residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods. Her work has appeared in over fifty literary publications and anthologies including Prairie Schooner, SpillwayIbbetson Street, Ninth Letter and elsewhere.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

We Are All Things

We Are All Things, words by Elliott Colla and art by Ganzeer

Review by Burgi Zenhaeusern

“I am not a thing” rings the woman’s angry voice in the man’s memory when, for once, she made him feel like one with the heedless sex she’d had with him minutes before dropping him like a rag on the bed, naked, stripped of all pretense.

But, while this is the story’s premise, it’s not where the quiet drama of We Are All Things (Colla and Ganzeer, 2020) begins to unfold. Rather, the break-up of two lovers, who remain anonymous throughout, is the foil against which a room’s objects come alive in this genre-bending graphic prose poem. The objects are the inanimate protagonists made animate by both Elliott Colla’s sharp observations and no-frill, lyric diction and by Ganzeer’s striking illustrations that underscore the animate/inanimate theme through a clever use of the black, white, and pink color scheme. Ganzeer uses black and white for naturalistic depiction and pink for what the narrative implies or as a color accent to create contrast and focus. His detailed graphics deliver their own story next to Colla’s text-blocks, which bring to mind fragments of magazine columns lifted off and set down randomly on the page, halting the left to right reading inclination of a Western reader and allowing for distinctive ways of constructing a narrative.

We Are All Things is the first collaboration between Colla, who teaches Arabic Literature at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., and the Egyptian artist/designer/storyteller Ganzeer. Colla and Ganzeer discussed their collaboration in a conversation found on Radix Media‘s, pub sheet:

Colla: Over the years, I made one or two attempts to publish We Are All Things as a prose piece, but there was something missing. This is where Ganzeer comes in: he’s the one who realized its potential.

Ganzeer: Elliott wrote the text a long, long time ago, I think not long after the actual break-up the story references. […] It’s my understanding that upon coming upon a copy of The Apartment in Bab El-Louk [a collaboration among Donia Maher, Ganzeer, and Ahmad Nady, Darf Publishers; Translation edition, 2018], Elliott thought it would be really cool for We Are All Things to get the same treatment. [ … ] So, Elliott got in touch, we talked deets, and then I took it from there. So yeah: text first, images and design next.”

We Are All Things is set at a time when people still listened to tapes and is located in an unnamed city which can be inferred to be Cairo. This lack of specificity, where even the room itself has no definite location other than it is facing East and on the 12th floor, shifts the focus inward, signaling intimacy—the intimacy of long-used, everyday objects and the intimacy of setting—a naked man in his room surrounded by a chorus of inanimate witnesses, each with a personality of their own.

The seemingly random selection of stylized objects—aptly rendered glyphs on pink ground—on the book’s cover in conjunction with its title impart a sense of mystery while at once raising interesting questions: who/what is “we,” who/what is “all,” but foremost, what could be the meaning of “things” here: “objects,” “something,” “anything,” “everything”? Considering the narrative’s gist, the cover design and its graphics are particularly well chosen, although their genius becomes clear only in hindsight, after the reader has been led into the story by an omniscient narrator and the objects start to reveal themselves one by one, an assembly gradually emerging from anonymity.

The first object is “[t]the chrome lamp on the nightstand, the first thing fingers touch at night.” The opening sentence begins a clause that appears to prepare the reader for an innocuous description, then shifts unexpectedly, making the lamp the real protagonist. Thus, the lamp is moved front and center. Its shade becomes a distorting mirror for the other objects in the room and the weeping man on the bed. In those reflections everything and everybody is briefly introduced, and the stage is set. We hear about the objects from an omniscient narrator:

The bed, the sheets and
blankets, the glass of water
next to the alarm clock,
the stereo, the wardrobe,
the rug, the walls, the portrait,
the rusty mirror, the
black night scratching at
the window, and the naked
man, now crying on the
bed. All shine, all reflect.

In addition to the story’s narrator, objects speak in first person, expressed in italics. There is the old and nearly blind mirror filled with visitors only it remembers; the tape knowing that “with each turn fidelity slips away” and that “[e]ach time it is called to perform, [it] cannot but feel the frictions;” the glass full of itself; the water in it musing about its origins and connective potential; the singing mattress, a kind of ur-mother to multitudes deriding the man’s measly sperm with these words:

How can I compare
the thousands of creatures
whose eggs I have held
in my bosom, whose tiny
bodies I have shielded, to
those few seeds of yours
which have scattered and
died in my shallows? I can
hold so many! And I have
sheltered so many tender
lives before you came to
swim!

But the man scratching his leg “senses none of the depth on which he floats.”

There are the walls reverberating with the call to prayer; the broken air-conditioning unit; the clock that forgets itself for a minute; and the forever dripping window that becomes a mirror to the window washers, shielding what is inside from their view; the old portrait wondering “why [its eyes] ever wanted to be human.” Finally there is the weeping rug, the object most sympathetic to the man, and the only one with which he seems to commune:

He twitches as the carpet
hooks catch and tug gen-
tly on his optic nerves.
Lovingly, softly, she asks,
You think you’re so differ-
rent, my love? Really? And
once again, he feels the
yarns inside pulling loose.
In a voiceless weave, she
tries to soothe his nerves.
We are all things here, she
whispers. All things.

The rug makes him weep again, but less now from despair, as he has started to connect with his surroundings, if only at the periphery. The metaphorical use of yarns pulled loose underlines this connectedness. Previously, the man has been self-absorbed in his pain, oblivious, except for the change of light– night turning to dawn. And the objects in the room have mostly been detached observers and caught up in their own musings. It is interesting that along with their anthropomorphism they have also been assigned genders. Instead of the neutral ‘it’ typical of the English language, they become he, she, even they—a play on how many languages gender their nouns.

It is left to the reader’s imagination how far these objects reflect the man as a person. The glass, for example, easily lends itself to such a metaphorical interpretation, not without implying a dose of wry humor:

He feels her lip-
stick still smeared along
his own lip. He remembers
the tremble of her fingers
around his brittle body.
Only minutes ago, gripped
in her shaking hand, he felt
the precariousness of his
situation, poised to break.
But the hand set him down
and the moment of clarity
was gone. He immediately
went back to his old ways,
forgetting his fragility.

The texture of We Are All Things comes from the nuanced characterization of the objects and the intriguing parallelisms and contrasts they create, as noted above, in the voices of the rug and the woman, or in the reflections of the different mirroring surfaces. Its movement is forward and inward at the same time. Object and man are on par in how they inhabit the room together, each continuing their own story in it for a while, until other persons and things enter and the dynamics reshuffle. This paradigm says that a room is always inherited and owning it is temporary and relative.

We Are All Things seems to postulate that a world of sentient objects moves alongside a human’s world without intersecting. This is especially true when a human fails to be fully aware of their surroundings. The consoling rug pulls the man back into the room by “telling” him that it is alright to feel, to feel like a thing, or all things—the interpretations are various. And it leads the reader back to the book’s title which has assumed a shimmering multitude of facets. I encourage readers to read We Are All Things for the rich interplay of text and illustration, which comes to life in a space where at first, there are no words.

Title: We Are All Things
Author: Elliott Colla|
Illustrator: Ganzeer
ISBN: 978-1-7340487-1-1
List price: $12
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
Publisher: Radix Media

PURCHASE HERE!!

Elliott Colla is a Washington D.C.-based writer, educator, and translator who teaches in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is the author of Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity (Duke University Press, 2008), the novel Baghdad Central (Bitter Lemon Press, 2014), as well as many articles on modern Arab literature and culture. His current academic projects focus on protest cultures in contemporary Egypt. http://www.elliottcolla.com

Ganzeer operates seamlessly between art, design, and storytelling, creating what he has coined Concept Pop. With over forty exhibitions to his name, Ganzeer’s work has been seen in a wide variety of art galleries, impromptu spaces, alleyways, and major museums around the world. His current projects include the short story collection Times New Human and the sci-fi graphic novel The Solar Grid which received a Global Thinker Award from Foreign Policy in 2016. http://www.ganzeer.com

Burgi Zenhaeusern is the author of Behind Normalcy (CityLit Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Harriss Poetry Prize. Her work appears in various online and print journals. She volunteers for a local reading series and lives in Chevy Chase, MD. Find more at burgizenhaeusern.com

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Split Map

Split Map, by Rebecca Connors

Review by Arya F. Jenkins

In Split Map (Minerva Rising, 2019), her first collection with 22 poems, poet Rebecca Connors revisits the past, exploring the landscapes of the American South and of her girlhood, and along with these, the fear and anxiety which follow her into adulthood as she searches for a sense of place and identity.

From the beginning, the reader is steeped in a sense of the American South. In “A Lifting Force,” the poet describes “caramel stillness. Roses, cut grass.” In the South, the very air seems at times stagnant, at other times, suffused with heat, sorrow, fear, and expectation. Revisiting memory, the poet observes how even silence, arising from that heat, can be wielded as a weapon: “Your silence makes him sharp like an insult.”

“Anthem of the Elementary School Girls,” one of the strongest and most evocative poems in this collection, pays homage to the rich lives of young girls whose creativity, sense of power, and whimsy threaten to burst at the seams:

Imagine our sarcophagus–
stickered notebooks, mixtapes, ChapSticks crammed
into back pockets—testaments to our empire.

In “The Intruder’s Home,” the narrator explores a girl’s pervasive fear of her alcoholic father, “What is the word for when the beast / turns away? It doesn’t matter—you are // never not prey.”

In “Climbing Magnolia,” the reader is again surrounded by the feeling of what it is like to grow up in the South. There is mention of “summer heat,” “fragrant bloom,” the ever present “magnolia,” “honeysuckle,” and “rose bloom,” from which the poet herself seems to literally emerge, remembering experiences as a girl. Here, the experiences of girlhood are intense, speaking equally to a girl’s vulnerability and power:

I scramble
my way down trunk-smeared
bruises on my thighs. Emerging
from the forbidden boundary,
I am almost lost.

A sense of lost-ness pursues the narrator, although the world’s surprises, inherent in language and nature, feed and empower her. Sometimes that sense of lost-ness is shared, as in “Origin of Coordinates” in which the narrator reminisces about her brother. In “Ordinary Girl,” another extraordinary poem, the tools of the poet are shown early on:

She cradles a jar in her chest filled
with pebbles, alphabet magnets, a broken
harmonica, pencil nub. She glows
when the world appears cherry-lipped
beside her with all the stories
she could ever want.

Another theme evolves as the stories of these poems unfold—the surprise, shock and fear of the body—one’s own and that of others, what happens to it growing up and when encountering varieties of experience in the world. In “Corpus,” the poet announces,

I am
weight-bearing not up to code
here’s the library: finger the worm-eaten plans my wings admired but never constructed

In “To the Inspector” the poet connects language, the past, geography and nature, affirming her most empowering source: “atlas and magnolia / forsythia and sepulcher”

In the final poem of the collection, “These Ghosts are Home,” the poet elucidates how memory, the experiences that pass through us that we must let go, also remain like notches marking pain and wonder, offering proof of our existence with all its inglorious struggles. Traversing memory is risky, the poet seems to say, even as she journeys through it determinedly.

These poems reach deep and fearlessly into the past, into trauma and joy, fear and rapture which entwine like vines on the way to adulthood and awakening.

Split Map by Rebecca Connors
Published by Minerva Rising Press, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9990254-9-9
Cost: $10
Order from Minerva Rising Press: https://minervarising.com/purchase-books/

Rebecca Connors graduated from Boston University with a BA in English. She is currently an MFA candidate at the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor. Her work has recently appeared in Tinderbox Poetry JournalMenacing HedgeInk & Nebula, and elsewhere.  Her poems have been nominated for the Orison Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook, Split Map, won the Dare to Speak Chapbook Contest and was published by Minerva Rising Press in Spring 2019.

Arya F. Jenkins is a Colombian-American poet and writer whose work has been published in numerous journals and zines, most recently, IO Literary Journal, Rag-Queen Periodical, and The Ekphrastic Review. Her poetry and fiction have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Poetry is forthcoming in Poetica Review. Her poetry chapbooks are: Jewel Fire (AllBook Books, 2011), Silence Has A Name (Finishing Line Press, 2016), and Love & Poison (Prolific Press, 2019). Her short story collection Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite Press, 2018) is available here: www.aryafjenkins.com.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
 slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Wolf Daughter

Wolf Daughter, by Amy Watkins

Review by Lauren Davis

Pink roses reach up and around the unclothed body of a girl, her eyes hidden by a thick, tilted cloud. The hare she holds has closed its eyes. It’s a striking image for Wolf Daughter, the latest chapbook by Amy Watkins, and fittingly, the illustrator is Watkins’ daughter, Alice Copeland. The alluring, muted colors may lead you to believe you are entering a realm where young women lack necessary rage. Think again.

The dedication, “for Alice,” is a whisper, and the book is a battle cry. These eighteen poems, neatly numbered, are nothing less than a mother’s love made palatable and exposed for the reader.

The chapbook opens with, “My daughter says, ‘I don’t remember how / not to be a wolf.’” And here we are immediately thrown into the raw extended metaphor where girls grow fangs. The clash of mother/daughter, of animal/social creature, of child becoming an adolescent—this clash tangles throughout lines grounded again and again in the material world of malls and school dances. As a reader, I am brought back to my own struggle as a young girl, when I felt primal and weak and full of an anger I could not name. When the speaker says, “‘I think it’s hard being alive in this world’” there is no explanation needed. I receive the wisdom when Watkins writes, that if all else fails, “Find a mind for violence.”

Watkins is no stranger to the concentrated energy a chapbook creates. Her two previous chapbooks have found publication at the presses Bottlecap Press and Yellow Flag. She has also lectured at Full Sail University on creating and publishing chapbooks. Wolf Daughter proves the ability of a chapbook to construct an entire world. Watkins has distilled and expanded her subject matter simultaneously. We are never lost in her hands.

Wolf Daughter does not apologize for its animal nature. Instead, it ends with, “She comes and goes with such confidence. / Even her long teeth gleam.” Which is what we need—a society where girls can wear their rage proudly, openly. Watkins has given voice to the young girls’ war song. May it be heeded.

Wolf Daughter by Amy Watkins
Copyright: 2019
ISBN: 978-1-939675-96-5  
Published by: Sundress Publications
Cost: Free
Pages: 23
Available: http://www.sundresspublications.com/wolfdaughter.pdf

Amy Watkins is the author of three poetry chapbooks (Milk & WaterLucky, and Wolf Daughter), a graduate of the Spalding University MFA in Writing, and a parent of a human girl. Find her online at RedLionSq.com or @amykwatkins on Twitter. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
 slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

November Quilt

November Quilt, by Penelope Scambly Schott (The Poetry Box, 2018)

Review by Lennart Lundh

When I was in Vietnam, I wrote my wife every day. Some letters were long, some short, all filled with the events of the day. The thirty daily poems in Penelope Scambly Schott’s November Quilt (Winner of Second Place in the 2018 Poetry Box Chapbook Prize) are much like those letters, exploring the small things we all share or know of. Following the author’s first-day invitation to think of stitching (“I offer you my fingers / this pieced together quilt.”), these daily offerings are the rich and varied fabrics.

And varied they are. On the 2nd, we consider our parents and how we mis-see them:

Did you mistake your parents for grown-ups?
I did. I believed each untruth they told me.

I also thought married people talked only
about boring stuff like calling the plumber.”

 For November 4th, the poet bids us,

Let’s jump back to fifth grade in New York City
where the Russians would bomb first

how can I save us all?”     

while on the 15th we remember, “The dog Laika in her tiny Russian space capsule. // For years we were told / how she was euthanized — not that she fried.”

The importance of these scraps of fabric we share, things my great-granddaughter surely sees as the detritus of ancient history, is made clear on the 9th:

We need to tell each other
all these small details because after we’re gone,

who’ll care? In this life, I care about you.

This pattern formed by Life is explicit on the 13th and 14th, where

What will anyone remember about me? 
Does my sister know how I eat an apple?

The entire apple, core and all the seeds.”

is joined to

What do you know about apples?

I was pulled over for eating an apple —
the officer thought I was on my cell phone.”

Just past midway, on the 18th, Scambly Schott cautions us, “You might ask if my writing has a plot. No, none . . .” Perhaps, but there are subtly continuous threads holding the pieces of November together. For example, the 7th ends,

I reheat my coffee before I walk the dog. 
When we get back from the walk, the coffee is cold.

All day I reheat my same cup.”,

and the 8th picks up the conversation with, “Day after day, sip after sip, we piece together / our lives.” The 15th’s thoughts about Laika and Sputnik begin the epistle for the 16th (“After Sputnik, we were all supposed to study math.”), while the 16th ends, “For a smart girl, / said my mom, how can you be so dumb?”), as the 17th opens by partially explaining, “They taught us long division in May / and I forgot it over summer vacation.”

Somewhere in the third reading, refining my poem-by-poem notes, I realize the bobbin thread anchoring these stitches and pieces is a different commonality: how unknown by, and unknowing of, each other we are. This epiphanal moment, crowning fine, carefully chosen and blended words, is what makes November Quilt so marvelous, so poetic. A tap on the forehead, a pulling aside of a stage curtain, and what is obviously obvious appears. Once seen, it’s impossible to unsee, leading us to a final charge to readers in the last lines of the last poem:

“Please don’t hang this one on a wall or store it
safe from moths in a zippered plastic bag.

Spread this quilt to keep another reader warm.”




Penelope Scambly Schott, author of a novel and several books of poetry, was awarded four New Jersey arts fellowships before moving to Oregon, where her verse biography, A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth, received an Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Several of Penelope’s books and individual poems have won other prizes. Her individual poems have appeared in APRGeorgia ReviewNimrod, and elsewhere. Her most recent books are HOUSE OF THE CARDAMOM SEED and NOVEMBER QUILT.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
 slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

The Fire Eater

The Fire Eater by Jose Hernandez Diaz

Review by Lauren Davis

What happens when a poet eats the moon? Who knew this was a question to be asked? I work at an indie bookstore in Washington state. I read California writer Jose Hernandez Diaz’s debut chapbook of prose poems, The Fire Eater, between helping customers. I had to do so mindfully, because I found myself saying aloud, repeatedly, God damn this is amazing. People generally frown upon employees cursing in their workspaces. But Diaz’s language is so good, so surprising, I failed to keep my voice measured.

I tumbled down a rabbit hole. I did not grab for a crude edge to hold onto. Instead I let myself freefall, because this descent into Diaz’s work is a gift.

In recent years Diaz has graced the poetry scene with work in publications such as Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, and The Nation. A 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Poetry Fellow, his work pulses at the borders of genre. Poetry or prose? Allegorical? Narrative? Absurdist? To read the thirty-eight poems in The Fire Eater back-to-back is to experience the heat of a newly created world. Diaz’s recurring images create a crescendo of madness and angst. He invents characters such as the fire eater, the mime, the man in the Pink Floyd shirt, and the skeleton. They go to the moon, to Downtown Los Angeles, to deserted islands. They bring us back answers, or they never return at all.

Herein lies Diaz’s genius. His metaphors are so open, so strange, so blindingly bewildering that readers may insert their own stories, traumas, beliefs, and find personal truths within these pages. Am I overselling? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Take for example the opening of the poem “Moon,”

A man woke up on the surface of the moon. He didn’t float away. He sat on the pale floor. He pulled out a cigarette and took a drag. He saw the earth in the distance. It looked like a blue and green tennis ball, only significantly larger.

Is this a man displaced, resigned to his fate? Or someone who has broken past the barriers of his mind—spiritually and mentally? Is this addiction? Longing? I choose not to decide for myself, because tomorrow I may wake and find another answer here.

In a society of predictable symbols and wordplay, here we have a poet melting the walls. If you read any debut poet in 2020, read Diaz. The scald is worth it.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow living in Norwalk, California. His debut chapbook The Fire Eater is forthcoming from Texas Review Press on February 14, 2020. His work appears in publications such as Poetry Magazine, The NationNew American WritingNorth American Review, Poetry Northwest, The Progressive, Witness, and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology. He tweets at @JoseHernandezDz.

You can pre-order The Fire Eater at:https://www.tamupress.com/book/9781680032086/the-fire-eater/

Lauren Davis is the author of the chapbook Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press). She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her poetry and prose can be found in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Qu, Hobart, and Lunch Ticket. Davis is a bookseller and writing instructor at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books in Washington state.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
 slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

BOYS

Boys by Daniel Edward Moore

Review by Lauren Davis

“…where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be. Wherever the wound appears in our psyches, whether from alcoholic father, shaming mother, shaming father, abusing mother, whether it stems from isolation, disability, or disease, that is precisely the place for which we will give our major gift to the community.”
― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book about Men

The cover art of Daniel Edward Moore’s debut chapbook Boys will make you instinctively take a deep breath. It warns you that you are about to descend not into flat reality, but further into one man’s psyche with all its spirals and shadows. The cover reminds me of a David Lynch piece—part surrealist daymare, part hypnotic and dark nostalgia. What makes this art even more powerful is that Moore’s wife, Laura Coe Moore—the woman who likely knows Moore best—created it.

It seems fitting, then, that the first poem would be “The Architect’s Son,” a piece where “Leather is the love, you thought was a hand,  /  she said was a dragon’s tail.” An unnerving juxtaposition of rage and fathers and baseball gloves—we have entered the world of boyhood. And this is how we move forward as readers, into the darkness that will show us the light.

It is hard, while reading Boys, to come up for air. This is not a criticism. Instead, these poems create a landscape that so perfectly encapsulates what I can only imagine to be a frightful appointment—to be raised a boy in a society of anger and expectations and “Never Enough.” These are poems where the religions that are meant to give direction create their own trauma and end up leading us further away from our truth.

The universal father, a bloodied Jesus, the boy—together these personas create a peculiar type of trinity. And in doing so, they form a faith more likely to restore the soul, “a cathedral of gnashing teeth.”

The title poem (originally published in Hot Metal Bridge), in its violence and restraint, encapsulates the innate spiritual struggle weaved throughout the entire chapbook. The poem begins:

It sounded like
boys in the woods
kicking a dying wolf.

They called him faggot
and his eyes
rolled to heaven.

They called him hungry
and his face
ate the earth.

Moore’s exploration of queerness against the backdrop of brutality is a long look at “men wearing crowns of bloody tiaras” while “rejecting the soul of a boy.” So when the chapbook closes with the last line, “birds become hymns of smoke,” we are reminded that even in the worst of circumstances there is hope that we can rise above our struggles.

It is apt that one poem in Moore’s chapbook would be dedicated to Paul Monette, author and gay activist who died from AIDS. Monette once said, “Go without hate, but not without rage; heal the world.” Moore’s work exemplifies this quote.

Boys does not deny suffering. It does not deny the gift of anger, “like all religions based on blood.” Instead, it celebrates it. And in celebrating the darkness within us, we have the chance to be transformed.

Publisher: Duck Lake Books (November 29, 2019)

Daniel Edward Moore is an award-winning poet whose works have appeared in literary journals such as American Literary Review, Columbia Journal of Arts and Literature, Spoon River Poetry Review, Rattle, Mid-American Review, December and many others. His chapbook Boys is forthcoming from Duck Lake Books in December 2019. His full-length collection Waxing the Dents was a finalist for the Brick Road Poetry Prize and will be published by Brick Road Poetry Press in February 2020.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

A Nation (Imagined)

  10/14/19

A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha Kochicheril Moni
winner of the 2018 Floating Bridge Press chapbook contest   

Review by Linera Lucas 

   

A Nation (Imagined) (Floating Bridge Press, 2018) is a lyric poem about love, grief, nature, and graceful endurance. The format is one long poem bookended by two short poems, and the story is a simple one: a man and a woman love one another, he goes off to war, she stays home, he dies and she continues to think of him. But the way Moni tells this story is anything but simple. Just because a book is short does not mean it is not profound.

The opening poem “And what if everything” makes it clear that this is going to be about death and memory. We are going back in time. First we are in a field of daffodils, and then we are in a minefield. The transition is brief and shocking, as if the reader is the one who is blown up. We start with sex and move to death where,

the pause after love
before love which is
now     You are in a field
of daffodils
– no –                                   
a field of living            mines 

If you bend left, death. If you bend right, memory. This is the prologue, the poem that teaches the reader how to read the rest of the work. Thank you, much appreciated. It’s good to have a guide, even if I’m not quite certain just how much I can trust the poet who is leading me onward. The long poem begins,

Remember the year you forgot to water my jade

and ends with,

Do you remember this?

Next, we are going to have the catalogue of what happened, in poet time, in real time, and in a mix of the two. I feel as if I had been given the chance to open a secret box, to read letters I am not supposed to know about, and I feel a little guilty, but I don’t want to stop reading.

Now the poet writes to her lover, telling him what has happened since he left, how she wishes he would write to her, then I turn the page and she says a letter arrived three years too late, that their tree will be firewood,

 Tomorrow
 our madrona
 becomes a cord
what will keep

                                      (our heat)     

And what will keep their passion alive, now that he is dead? This is a poem about coming to terms with grief, also about not coming to terms with grief. She wants to send him his chickens, tries not to weep, gives him a list of what she saw on her daily walk in the woods. She saved a wildflower from a young girl who wanted to cut and press it.

“They” (the ever present outside world), would like her to do various things, to be more like someone else, to behave in a recognizable manner, but she wants her lover to “enter and with care //   strike the lantern” . . . taste the apricots,

on your favorite plate              your favorite plate

the one                        chipped                       
from too much             loving.              

   

This might be my favorite passage in the whole book.

Then there is the bargain she wants to make at the end of this poem: “unwind your voice / from my inner ear and I will ” not steam open the letter written to him, which started this whole story. What is in that letter? I am not going to find out, and I like that.

And now the final poem, the other bookend, “Letter to a Lover Whose Name Spells Dark Bird.” This is, of course, a letter to Corbin, the dead lover. Corbin is a variation on Corbie, which is another name for crow or raven, birds of intelligence connected with death and messages from the dead. This poem has the kind of bargaining that deep grief brings, past pleading and near madness, but such resigned madness. Here’s how it starts,

Look, when you call – bring the basket

and here’s how it ends,

Meet me and we
will forget our bodies were ever anything but

a little salt, water                                   
waiting to be stirred. 

and in between is,

the year we spent a lifetime
sailing in the boat of our bed.

So that’s the last poem. I have read the story, and have been changed by it. What makes this chapbook so fulfilling is how real the grief and love are, how tender and fierce the poet narrator’s love for her dead Corbin, and then the ending, with the unopened letter. Because at the last, we never really know another person. We can guess at them, follow the clues from how their lives cross ours, but each person contains many mysteries.

Natasha Kochicheril Moni is the author of four poetry collections and a licensed naturopathic doctor in WA State. Her most recent chapbook, A Nation (Imagined), won the 2018 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Natasha’s writing has been featured in over sixty-five publications including Verse, Indiana Review, Entropy, The Rumpus, and the recently released Terrapin Press anthology, A Constellation of Kisses. As a former editor for a literary journal, a panelist for residency and grant award committees, and a chapbook contest judge, Natasha loves supporting fellow writers. She owns and operates Helios Center for Whole Health, PLLC, which offers naturopathic appointments, medical writing, poetry manuscript consultations, and writing and wellness lectures/workshops.

natashamoni.com 
helioswholehealth.com

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Bad Anatomy

Bad Anatomy by Hannah Cohen

Review by Siân Killingsworth

In Bad Anatomy (Glass Poetry Press, 2018), over the course of twenty poems, Hannah Cohen opens a window for readers into a world of isolation, regret, and danger at the edge of the speaker’s self-destructive tendencies. Using a broad variety of poetic arrangements ranging from ragged free verse to restrained couplets to ghazal, Cohen allows herself to run wild with form. Wildness seems to be an underlying drive of this book, as poem after poem incorporates images of monsters, monstrosities, defiant wrongness, and a celebration of imperfection.

Cohen’s poems pull the reader into an already-running engine, a monologue in media res. Readers witness and listen to a speaker who reveals her deepest feelings and worst fears about herself as she recognizes their movements. This speaker is an unreliable narrator who confesses to drinking, making questionable and self-destructive decisions, and laments her own body’s betrayal.

The title poem, “Bad Anatomy,” appears early on and encapsulates the problems the speaker is grappling with. She feels not herself in her body, instead she feels that the “universe keeps me / betting against my conception,” and further admits she’s “unable / to divine the good.” As the poem ends, she claims defiantly that she doesn’t “need help / to empty my chest of its hope.”

The desolation and despair the speaker feels is the water this book is moored in, and the sense of bodily wrong pervades. In one of my favorite poems, the speaker morphs into a monster in “Self-Portrait as Grendel,” revealing,

I myself am half-hell
and half morning

/ / /

A new head, a different name,
but still my skin.

Cohen uses her speaker’s confessions to provide a context for a larger malaise. The book itself becomes a lament on the instability and inconstancy of a life, the missed opportunities due to the speaker’s struggles with pain, isolation, and depression. This speaker is willing to bare it all: to pull back the veil to show the feeling of being on the brink of something even more serious.

But before readers dive too deeply into the pit of despair with Cohen, she pulls us back with humor. A delicate stream of sarcasm or sometimes false bravado sparkles through the book, reinforcing the authenticity of this speaker; it is as if she were in your living room or at the other end of a phone. Witness this skillful play in her poem “Like Someone Driving Away from her Problems,”

even god doesn’t believe
in the rusty jesus-saves
signs can’t save her

The poem “Superficial” is where we really dig into the idea of bad anatomy. Here, the body has gone wrong and seems to be a stand-in for the speaker’s battered and distorted psyche. Opening with the horrified discovery of a specific type of birth defect, the speaker compares herself to babies “born with their intestines / outside their little baby bellies.” This gruesome image of bodies turned inside out serves up a metaphor for the speaker’s sense of self. Her own discomfort with her gut instincts and feelings are out for display, in contrast to the physical way surgery would be used to correct a birth defect. The intent of the poet seems to be to reveal the guts and gore and make us sit with the discomfort of existence.

In a gesture appropriate for this book, the final poem “Body as an Alberto Giacometti Sculpture,” refers to the stretched-out, abstracted human figures created by the sculptor (1901-1966), which are widely recognized as representing alienation, loneliness, and existential dread. This slim poem trails down one page and trickles onto the next with a blunt directive to the reader to see this alienation, the pose held by the speaker so that we may bear witness to it, this “beautiful arrangement / of flesh that isn’t love.”


I thought it would be clarifying to include an interview with the poet herself. Cohen was gracious enough to answer my questions, in this email exchange:

Siân Killingsworth: When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?

Hanna Cohen: Like most writers, I started writing at a young age. I loved writing and illustrating my own stories and sharing my “books” with family members. As I got older, my writing interests shifted from writing stories to poems. I read Poe and Keats and Yeats. I wrote tons of garbage angsty poems as a teen. I still write garbage angsty poems—they’re just (hopefully) better written. I’ve written nonfiction (and am attempting to write fiction) but I primarily think of myself as a poet first.

SK: Where do your poems most often come from— do you use prompts? Do you overhear conversations and springboard off those? An image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

HC: It’s a mishmash of all the above! Sometimes I’ll hear a weird sentence out in public and write it down, so I don’t forget it. I mostly write based on how I’m feeling. There are certain themes I keep coming back to (identity, family, Judaism, depression, etc.) but I also like to write nonsense for the sake of generating lines of material. I don’t use prompts a whole lot since I don’t like forcing myself to write.

SK: Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?

HC: It’s hard to say who exactly influenced me, but the most obvious answers would be Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Lowell. Nowadays, I find myself reading Jewish poets such as Rosebud Ben-Oni, Rachel Mennies, and Erika Meitner. Though his writing style isn’t exactly seen in my work, William Butler Yeats continues to be a poet I return to.

SK: What are you reading now?

HC: I just finished The Book of Joan by Lydia Yuknavitch a few weeks ago, which was all parts amazing, slightly off-setting, and powerful. I had purchased the novel a year ago, so I’m happy I finally read it. The most recent poetry collection I read was Lauren Milici’s Final Girl and Emily O’Neill’s You Can’t Pick Your Own Genre double feature collection.

SK: Tell us a little bit about your collection: What’s the significance of the title? Are there overarching themes? What was the process of assembling it? Was is a project book?

HC: Bad Anatomy takes its title from a poem within the chapbook. I wish I could say I had a thorough process but really, I chose the title because it sounded cool. The book doesn’t have a true narrative but rather an emotional landscape of depression, isolation, lots of self-deprecating humor and even flashes of hope. There are other subjects present (drinking, body images, etc.) but those are the more immediate themes.

When it came to arranging these poems, it was important to have words and feelings “echo” each other. What’s on the surface of the poem versus the interior, and so on. I’m forever thankful to the poets who offered insights and edits into the order of the poems—crafting a collection really isn’t a solitary job.

Most of the poems in this chapbook were written during my time in graduate school. However, those poems didn’t make the cut into my thesis due to the different subject matter. When I learned that Glass Poetry Press was having an open reading period for chapbooks, I basically took those twenty-odd poems and compiled them into a chapbook. The rest is history.

SK: Tell us briefly how your poetry has changed since you began writing.

HC: I think I’ve become more particular about the weight of words, and where to place them within a poem. I’m also challenging myself to write poems about subjects that I hadn’t considered, trying on new forms, and allowing myself space to NOT write. Since I work a day job, writing time is far more precious than when I was in school.

 SK: What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

HC: If you can’t think of a title for your poem, just start the title as “Poem After/About/On [Insert Subject Here]”. It’s simple and direct. My newest poem, “Poem After Reading the Chapter in Stephen King’s It Where the Word “Kike” Appears Six Times” (forthcoming in Cherry Tree), is an example of this.

SK: What a great suggestion! I’ll try this in some of my newer poems. Sometimes I struggle with titles because I don’t want to be too obscure. This will do the trick, I think.


Hannah Cohen received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Virginia. She is the author of Bad Anatomy (Glass Poetry Press, 2018). She is a former contributing editor for Platypus Press and currently co-edits the online journal Cotton Xenomorph. Recent and forthcoming publications include Cherry Tree, The Rumpus, Berfrois, Entropy, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018 and has received Pushcart Prize nominations.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Carry On (elegies)

Carry On (elegies), by Adam Deutsch

Review by Lennart Lundh

“Carry On,” the front cover says, coupling those two words with “(elegies),” and that’s a double-edged phrase, the title poem being about carry-on luggage. Adam Deutsch’s chapbook of twenty-five poems is double-edged throughout. On first reading, it’s very author-personal and self-referential, as elegies often will be, but a later, careful oral reading makes the poems reader-personal, universally affective, and quite rewarding.

It quickly becomes obvious that none of the poems are elegies in the confined, traditional sense. Even “Great Aunt, Winter, & Sun” (p. 15), while written “for Marilyn Adler,” makes little reference to the deceased, and is more about the graveside ceremony that will “never really fill the hole” felt by the family. The bulk are, however, clearly about some form of loss, the sense of loss, or the aftermath of loss.

“The Roads Will Be Closed” (p. 5) swings from a classroom non-incident to the Cold War of the Fifties that now can only haunt but not harm:


I was schooled, too,
and my parents,
their sisters and brothers,
looking at the bomb shelter signs
beside the basement doors.

           

Individually spoken, but perfect for the universal impact of today’s world, “Packing Heat” (p. 6) concerns itself with the loss of principles, saying of a job offer after a year’s unemployment, “I must wrestle down / genuine objection to wearing a gun.”

“What Cuts through the Woods” (p. 8) speaks of urban sprawl’s impact on community, saying, “We all drink from the same well.” in a foreshadowing of the title poem. “Carry On” (p. 20), with the accent on the first syllable rather than the cover’s suggested last, re-emphasizes the “we” to make its lines resonate with truly shared loss:

We’re exiles of an old country’s
long gone century, erased analog tape.

We’re plowing through this life
in our longings so mighty, a bird swoops
up ahead and is creamed by the bumper.

At the physical center of the book’s thirty-seven pages, a pair of poems bring us to the two sides of our elegies and rememberings. “The Center for Personal Growth is Next Door to Cremation Services” (p. 16) describes those who refuse to let loved ones go, ending a short list with the recognition that, “We’re of a people / who keep absence / near. Handy / as duct tape.” This sets the stage for “Strangers, Autumn, & Gray” (p. 18), with its dedication “for those in the City of Ithaca Cemetery.” It speaks, in twelve lines, of those who have let go:

A whole other mass, back in their ground,

/ / /

. . . the monuments
abraded smooth, generations’
worth of runoff, drizzle, and pour.

There are, of course, other things than death to be found here. We’re treated to small, but serious, observations. “Golden Hill” (p. 34) says of preparing food, “Every beet I cut / looks like a heart / on fire in a Mexican / art piece.” and later points to “a flower dealer / watching a woodpecker / with priorities in order.” In “Our Advances Are Not Unique” (p. 24), the subject is how “A sugar maple’s arms built a chest / around the block’s telephone wires . . .”, and the closing “Returning” (p. 37) leaves us with “An incredibly mysterious current event: a garage / door is wide open, waiting for anything.”

We often think of elegies in terms of someone else’s physical death. Deutsch’s work comes to remind us that parts of each and all of us are dying every moment, often unnoticed until later. There isn’t always time or reason to mourn or feel melancholy, not until the speed of life slows, or an absence catches us by surprise. The message, as well as the poems which convey it, are well worth the reader’s consideration.

 [BUY IT!]

Adam Deutsch is the publisher at Cooper Dillon Books, and has work recently or forthcoming in Poetry International, Thrush, The Cossack Review, Ping Pong, and Typo, and has a chapbook called Carry On (Elegies). He teaches in the English Department at Grossmont College and lives in San Diego, CA. He can be found at adamdeutsch.com

 

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).