Mary Warren Foulk

Mary Warren Foulk has been published in Fjords Review, The Hollins Critic, Pine Hills Review, Palette Poetry, Silkworm, and Steam Ticket, among other publications. Her work also has appeared in Who’s Your Mama? The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers (Soft Skull Press), (M)othering Anthology (Inanna Publications), and My Loves: A Digital Anthology of Queer Love Poems (Ghost City Press). Her chapbook, If I Could Write You a Happier Ending, was selected by dancing girl press (2021) for their annual series featuring women poets. Her manuscript Erasures of My Coming Out (Letter) won first place in The Poetry Box’s 2021 chapbook contest. Her manuscript Self-Portrait with Erosion was a finalist for the 2021 Gival Press Poetry Award, and the Inlandia Institute’s 2022 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. 

Maria McLeod

Maria McLeod, is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Mother Want and Skin. Hair. Bones. She’s won the WaterSedge Chapbook Contest, Indiana Review Poetry Prize and the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize. She works as a professor of journalism for Western Washington University.

Dangerous Women

Dangerous Women, by Jesi Bender
Published by Dancing Girl Press

Review by Jennifer Saunders

Patriarchy can transform nearly anything about a woman into a threat. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is frequently criticized for paying too much attention to her wardrobe, but when Janet Yellen—secretary of the Department of the Treasury—appeared before Congress wearing a suit she had worn in public five weeks previously, she was criticized for that. Meanwhile, in 2014, Australian TV host Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit on air every day for a year as an experiment, and nobody noticed. Hillary Clinton was regularly criticized for being “shrill” but when she softened one debate appearance with a laugh and a shoulder shake, she was deemed unserious. It’s the classic double-bind: damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Which is why, in Jesi Bender’s poetry chapbook Dangerous Women, the “Married Woman” and the “Unmarried Woman” can both be declared dangerous. The “Young Woman” is a threat, but so is the “Old Woman.” There is either the “Beautiful Woman” or the “Unseen Woman.” The “Woman Apart” is suspect, but so are the “Women Together.” Why, it’s almost as if it’s the fact of womanhood rather than any particular behavior that’s considered threatening under patriarchy.

Too smart dumb blond too pretty what a dog too loud too pushy too bitchy too much. Who does she think she is?

The poems in Dangerous Women pair these archetypal threats with poems inspired by literary and historical figures ranging from Jezebel to Georgia O’Keeffe (who, it should be noted, once said, “The men like to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters.”). Bender lays the foundation in her opening poem “Womb Wounds” (archetype, The First Woman) which traces misogyny back to the story of Eve. “All daughters of the same black Eve / she in us birthed sin,” Bender writes. What could have been a source of power—the birthing womb—is reduced to pain, leaving those giving birth to “[b]ear this burden with a grin” and to become “broken bones.”

The line “Now—where is her heart, the core of her flesh” from “JesiBelle Waits For the Hounds” (archetype, The Faithful Woman) strikes me as the guiding thread of this collection. What has happened to these women’s stories? What has become of the core of them? The women in Dangerous Women have either been forgotten, like Maria Sibylla Merian, the German naturalist and scientific illustrator, or flattened into stereotype like Jezebel who is remembered as a harlot rather than as a woman remaining true to her native religion. The core of her gone, all that remains are:

her arms, her legs and her head.
They wanted it this way,
As far as I can tell,
So no one would ever be able to say;
“This, this was Jesi Belle.”

Bender writes this of Merian in the prose poem “Soft Egg” (archetype, The Independent Woman):

That was what she wanted to show the world—that deep down where things crawled and clambered, there were insides so beautiful, so delicate and bright, that they mirrored the infinite ecology of the human heart.

Here we see the heart again, the core.

I do feel compelled to mention my discomfort with one of Bender’s poem, “The Portrait My Mother Made,” (archetype, The Strongest Woman) dedicated to Mamie Till-Mobley and written in Emmett Till’s ghost-voice. This image troubled me:

Cradled by silt I came out
clean as cotton from the gin

Is that image one the murdered Till would have used? Coming from Chicago as he did and having been raised by a woman who herself left the South as a very young child, it would not likely have been a natural linguistic reference point of his. More importantly, the cotton gin was the invention that solidified chattel slavery in the South by making large-scale cotton production profitable. In a way, it was contributory to Till’s murder. Placing the image of ginned cotton in Emmett Till’s mouth struck me as a questionable choice.

Bender is on more solid ground when she is shining light on historical figures who should be better known such as the naturalist Merian or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Mexican writer, philosopher and Hieronymite nun who is considered the first published feminist in the Americas. I was unfamiliar with both these women, and Bender’s poems inspired me to learn more about them. Dangerous Women is at its best when recovering such stories in Bender’s lyrical language. In the “Tenth Muse” (archetype, The Unmarried Woman) she writes in the voice of de la Cruz:

promised you      Salvation
The sky quells and
light     vibrates against skin

Women fly and fall in this collection, become or give birth to birds. “Last night, I dreamt / I birthed three dead birds,” Bender writes in “Shalosh” (archetype, The Childless Woman) while in “A Poem For Emily” (archetype, The Quiet Woman) Emily Dickinson is described as a “little red wren.” Ada Lovelace, considered the first computer programmer, imagines herself flying in “The Bird Machine,” one of the collection’s prose pieces (archetype, The Intelligent Woman): “In her mind, when she closed her eyes, she pictured that as she spread her arms and pushed the wings against the air, there would be a trail of exultant leaves in her wake. {gold} “ In Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Hélène Cixous writes, “What is interesting is that birds, writing, and many women are considered abominable, threatening, and are rejected.” The repeated appearance of birds and bird imagery in a collection about how women are constructed as dangerous and threatening taps into this deep root, but Bender’s poems reject rejection. They reclaim and retell. They restore the core.

Jesi Bender is an artist from upstate New York. She is the author of the play Kinderkrankenhaus (Sagging Meniscus) and the novel The Book of the Last Word (Whiskey Tit). Her shorter work has appeared in Fence, Split Lip, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other places.

photo credit: Sarah Tinsley

Dangerous Women by Jesi Bender
dancing girl press, 2022
32 pages, $8.00
available here:

Jennifer Saunders is the author of Self-Portrait with Housewife (Tebot Bach, 2019), winner of the Clockwise Chapbook Competition. Her poem “Crosswalk” won the 2020 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize and appeared in Southword. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Grist, Ninth Letter, San Pedro River Review, and other publications. Jennifer holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in German-speaking Switzerland.
photo credit: Denise O’Gorman

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.

Jennifer Saunders

Jennifer Saunders is the author of Self-Portrait with Housewife (Tebot Bach, 2019), winner of the Clockwise Chapbook Competition. Her poem “Crosswalk” won the 2020 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize and appeared in Southword. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Grist, Ninth Letter, San Pedro River Review, and other publications. Jennifer holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in German-speaking Switzerland.

photo credit: Denise O’Gorman

Ruth Crossman

Ruth Crossman is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in publications including Litro, Flash Fiction, sPARKLE + bLINK, The Fabulist, and Maximum Rock n Roll. Her auto-fiction collection All the Wrong Places was published by Naked Bulb Press in 2022.

Ruth Crossman

Our Lady of The Flood

Our Lady of the Flood by Alison Pelegrin

Review by Diane Elayne Dees

The entire region around New Orleans embodies a certain sensibility, born of geography and weather and a unique heritage that is hard to define and even harder to translate. When I first moved to the city decades ago, I was both curious about and amused by the many “Our Lady” names of schools and churches. “Can you imagine what their fight song is?” an acquaintance once asked when we drove past Our Lady of Prompt Succor School.

After you’ve lived here a long time, though, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady Star of the Sea (which we called “the tuna fish church”) all become part of the sometimes bizarre linguistic landscape of the city.

I’ve also lived through many Louisiana hurricanes and floods, so I approached reading Alison Pelegrin’s Our Lady of the Flood with relish, and I was not disappointed. In this collection, Pelegrin skillfully cuts through the difficulty of cultural translation with a collection of poems that puts the region’s eccentricity in the colorful and sometimes absurd context that it deserves. Moreover, she does it—often with delicious humor—by using language that gives new life to the tasks and customs that are part of daily life in and around New Orleans.

The collection opens with the eponymous poem, “Our Lady of the Flood”:

Some saints are untouchable behind glass,
but you ride in open boats
with mildew on the edges of your gown,
a calm commander of the Cajun Navy’s fleet.
Your devotees worship outside
in a circle of ruined pews,
no incense but bug spray

This is a perfect introduction to the parade of “Our Lady” poems that are to come, as well as the other poems in Our Lady of the Flood, which include an ode to ambrosia (“confection snubbed by food snobs as a [. . .] meringue of shame”), a meditation on local bridges, and a commentary on the removal of New Orleans’ Lee Circle statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Hurricane Katrina, as one might expect, is an ongoing theme in Pelegrin’s collection. In “Anything We Want,” she expresses the longing of all Louisianans who were displaced by the 2005 storm:

They won’t quit asking, What do you want?
I want to be somewhere besides Mississippi
with its highway that splits fields
of cotton and soy and blackbirds.
I want art supplies and to read a book
in my old bed, to ride the streetcar by myself


I want my mom to say something
in the Walmart, where we have gone to spend
a gift card from some church
on anything we want.

And in “Quicksilver”:

[…] quicksilver visions wrinkle
and then they vanish. But
this water is absolute. It remains,
though the hurricane is over.
I have studied from my exile
in this hotel room, witnessed
rooftop rescue, the folly
of mammoth sandbags. This water
is no silvered mirage. It clings like tar.
It swallows everything we are.

The “Our Lady” poems are a special treat. “Our Lady on the Half Shell” celebrates “Bathtub Madonna, Lily of so many gardens, Queen of Heaven in a scalloped shell [. . .]”:

White-washed, with marble chips, or pansies, at your feet,
you have many faces in New Orleans—so many incarnations—
alabaster, hand-painted Creole or coffee or midnight skin,
your ghost eyes peering out and you motionless

And then there’s “Our Lady of ‘No Regerts’ ”:

Our Lady of No Regerts, prevention of bad tattoos
must be your side hustle, a part-time ministry,
because, queen of inky heaven, with respect,

a few too many permanent atrocities
have escaped your intervention

My personal favorite is “Our Lady of Whatever,” in which the poet fantasizes about being one of the many Ladies revered in New Orleans.

So many lakes. So many Ladies of the Lakes.
Maybe I could be Lake Pontchartrain’s Lady
of the Longest Bridge, Lady of Cicada Tea Parties,
of Lighthearted Marvels, of Sand Mandalas,
Reduced to Cerulean Ash. Our Lady of Shrinky Dinks.

A special gem in this collection is Pelegrin’s “Soliloquy against a Kudzu Backdrop”:

 Audience of none, superstition dictates
that I peek through the kudzu curtain
like a starlet before making an entrance
and speaking yet again on the theme
of ignorance observed in waking life.
I would like to believe these are actors I see—
rednecks so loud in their stupidity
that rather than being frightened by their antics
I find myself waiting for the punchline


How can we be
so different when the same trees
rustle in all of our dreams?

It isn’t easy to move readers beyond the clichéd images of jazz bands, wrought iron balconies and roaming alligators, to the sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious, and always evocative images that represent what life is really like in New Orleans and its outlying regions. But in Our Lady of the Flood, Alison Pelegrin provides a charmingly authentic portrait of a culture that is like no other in the nation.

Alison Pelegrin’s latest collection, Our Lady of Bewilderment, is forthcoming from LSU Press in 2022. Other books include Waterlines (LSU 2016), as well as Hurricane Party (2011), and Big Muddy River of Stars (2007), both with the University of Akron Press. Pelegrin is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the Louisiana Board of Regents. She is Writer-in-Residence at Southeastern Louisiana University. 

Title: Our Lady of the Flood
Author: Alison Pelegrin
Diode Editions
ISBN: 978-1-939728-16-6
28 pages, $12.00

Diane Elayne Dees is the author of the chapbook, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books) and two forthcoming chapbooks, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died, and The Last Time I Saw You. Diane, who lives in Covington, Louisiana—just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans—also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world. Her author blog is Diane Elayne Dees: Poet and Writer-at-Large.

ABOUT THE PRESS: Diode Editions is an independent press based in Doha, Qatar and Richmond, Virginia. Editor-in-Chief Patty Paine founded the press in 2012 as an offshoot of Diode Poetry Journal. To date, the press has published 37 titles of poetry, chapbooks and poetry-related nonfiction works and hosts yearly book and chapbook contests.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe

There is Still Singing in the Afterlife

There is Still Singing in the Afterlife, by JinJin Xu (Radix Media, 2020)

Winner of the inaugural Own Voices Chapbook Prize selected by Aria Aber

Review by Jeri Frederickson

There Is Still Singing in the Afterlife drew me in through its imagery and unabashed closeness to intimate loss and historical grief. You may find yourself and echoes of your own family in this debut collection by JinJin Xu. Drawing on personal experiences, playing with language and visual poetry, these poems shine a light for readers to see our own paths in the aftermath of complex family dynamics and loss.

We are in an afterlife of our own in 2021. I imagine this collection was written and set for publication before the Covid-19 global pandemic, and yet it entered the world right in the middle of it. Fortunately for us, as the world tries to find a post-Covid, or a Covid+ world, There is Still Singing in the Afterlife lifts the burden of finding a way. Xu visualizes an afterlife of both global and personal loss, chaos, and misunderstandings. As I read, I kept asking myself how does this collection feel so alive, like a song, despite its often heavy content? Xu shows the reader a way to sing again and a way to live through play, even as we grieve.

As is often the case with a contest-winning chapbook, There Is Still Singing in the Afterlife has already received several reviews; I agree with previous reviews asserting the language’s poignancy and intimate closeness. The language draws us into the longing and hardship inside familial ties in poems like “New Year’s with my Aborted Sister,”

& my poor mother, with only a daughter to her name
             Melts her red tears into the little girl
            I have long searched for.
I am her daughter in this life, her mother in the next.
             I undress her grief, suckle cancer from her breasts

Xu’s precise language affirms and eases the weight of similar grief. Some reviews of this chapbook have pointed to the titular poem or to the “To Red Dust” poems to uplift Xu’s exploration of and confusion with familial bonds. While I find their perspective interesting and certainly relevant to poems like “New Year’s with my Aborted Sister,” I’m most interested in another aspect of this collection. Xu’s playfulness through language and the visual design of the collection includes glossy images that emboss, strike-through, or erase text, and the text moves across the page with a playfulness that first caught my attention when thumbing through the pages. Even before I entered the words as individual units of meaning, this collection took on a sense of play.

“To Red Dust” plays with the book as a physical object, and the reader gets to be part of the play. The words flow in portrait as well as landscape across the pages of this poem. The book’s need to be turned and engaged with as a physical object was a delight as Xu weaves heady ideas and complicated emotions into physical images:

As if I am not of my father’s body, I write
My name into my exhale, please
A swipe of his palm –
Do not leave us in the red dust

“Red Dust” sets the rhythmic pace of the collection, acting as the inhale and exhale while making the reader crane her neck and turns the page around and around even as Xu turns the ideas of family around and around.

At times, I didn’t understand quite what was going on in a poem, and I was surprised to find this never bothered me. Xu interweaves the senses with an emotional understanding even when the logic or narrative seemed out of reach:

unnameable mother
sat gashing fish scales
into the tremble
of a bucket
between her legs,
not yet knowing
the cost
of a bullet fired
at dawn
into the belly
of her
poem –

I didn’t understand all of what was going on in each scene of “Showing my Mother a Censored Film She Cannot Unsee, in Three Acts”, but I loved the playfulness of the poem’s styles and always felt drawn into the poem and landed with the poem’s end. Xu’s ability to play in this weaving creates a sense of trust in the reader to go along with the poem.

Xu plays with form through erasure in “The Revolution is Not a Dinner Party.” This poem of very short lines creates a melody even as it erases its source. Chairman Moa’s Little Red Book is the source material, and the poem lifts extended images such as:

Blind war
xxxxxxin thick ropes.

xxxxxxa now common

Language. Not
xxxxxxliving. Paper.

We have many personal, societal, and governmental ghosts, and Xu’s deft words slide over playful rhythms and forms to give us a doorway to dance through into the afterlife of those griefs. There Is Still Singing in the Afterlife is a complex and visually compelling debut to hold. Let us look forward to more from JinJin Xu.

Photograph of JinJin Xu by Xu Xiao Ping.

JinJin Xu is the 2020 winner of the Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award. She has received honors from Southern Humanities Review, Tupelo Press, and the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. Her films have exhibited at Berlin’s Harun Farocki Institute and NYC’s The Immigrant Artist Biennial.
Born and raised in Shanghai, she received her MFA in Poetry from NYU, where was a Lillian Vernon fellow, and now teaches hybrid ballet/poetry workshops through NYU Tisch’s Art of Future Imaginations Grant, and serves as Books Editor of Washington Square Review. Her debut chapbook There Is Still Singing in the Afterlife was selected by Aria Aber for the inaugural Own Voices Chapbook Prize (Radix Media) and was published November, 2020. Her second chapbook This Is My Testimony is forthcoming Fall 2021 from Black Warrior Review. Find more of her work at


Title: There is Still Singing in the Afterlife
Author: JinJin Xu
Publisher: Radix Media: November 20, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-7340487-2-8

$12, 48pp

Jeri calls Chicago home with her two cats and many plants. She dives into literary, visual, and performing art as a channel to nurture love and access beauty while questioning the experiences that hold people together. She graduated from Antioch University Los Angeles with an MFA in Writing. Her chapbook You Are Not Lost is published by Finishing Line Press 2021. IG: @jfredcreates

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

S.M. Tsai

S.M. Tsai spent many years doing archival research and writing, then turned to 9-5 jobs for a new learning environment. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Ricepaper Magazine, Blue Unicorn, and the chapbook Bubbles and Droplets: 10 Poems of 2020. She lives in Toronto with her plants.

Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods

Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods by Emily Paige Wilson,
Glass Poetry Press, 2020.

Review by Emily Mohn-Slate

What if hypochondria is not about fear but rather love? In her chapbook, Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (Glass Poetry Press, 2020), Emily Paige Wilson observes in harrowing yet loving detail the secret truths a body can hold. Wilson’s chapbook investigates illness anxiety disorder, also known as hypochondria, which is worrying excessively that you are or may become seriously ill. This chapbook also explores language, power, and empathy in poems that exhibit a range of formal and sonic play. As someone who has suffered from chronic migraines for most of my life, I found myself nodding and underlining while I read as Wilson articulates the weight of invisible pain—mental, emotional, and physical—and its ability to fray not only one’s sense of self, but also one’s relationships with others.

Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods is framed by a series of concise poems titled “A Treatise of Hypochondria.” These poems use archaic spelling and capitalization (i.e. “Vapours”), which roots the reader in a time when doctors relied on the outdated theory of the “four humours.” The first of these poems, “A Treatise of Hypochondria (i),” serves as a prologue poem, and ends, “our Ancestors / rising / to make Complaints.” These lines ground us in the stereotypical image of the hypochondriac as merely a world-class complainer, while they also nod to how we are all bound by our ancestors’ genes. This framing begs the question: how far have we really come over the last few centuries in our understanding of women’s illnesses in particular?  The next poem, “I Am Constantly Seeking Reassurance,” is a first-person lyric that introduces the anxiety of the speaker and considers the limits of others’ support in the face of her illness:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxMy boyfriend
can only xxxxxxxxxxreassure me

so many times before trees grow
in his ears,
xxxxxxxxxxxtheir roots forming his red

One of Wilson’s poetic gifts is an uncanny ability to render emotional complexities via imagery. Here, the leap from narrative into image evokes a visceral, physical limit to the boyfriend’s empathy; the trees, trunk, and roots seal his ears against the speaker’s legitimate complaints. We begin to understand the isolation and loneliness felt by the speaker—a double insult to contend with—the way even those who love her most are closed off to her reality.

            “Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods” is the first poem of a series that serves as a second layer of nesting dolls, which situate the human speaker’s concerns in a larger mythological framework. Wilson’s tacking back and forth between humans and the gods draws out tensions around ideas of power and agency in the world. One would think that the god-figures would be able to exercise more authority than the human speakers, but that is not always the case. In “Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (i),” we see Hypochondria from a distance as the poem is narrated from a third person point of view. In these poems, Wilson gives us the god adapted for our modern time with sharply funny lines like, “Hypochondria once had lunch duty with Hades and he told her, ‘That’s some thorough grief you have.’” She is a complex, human-esque version of a god whose favorite color is beige: “She lets the other gods think it’s because she’s boring, but she loves it—this, the first color clouds turn when they finally let the light in.” Wilson’s speakers are always fighting to turn toward the light, toward connection, even in the midst of impossible odds.

One of the specters haunting this collection is the legacy of women’s pain being seen as insidious or dismissed as mere hysteria. In the second poem of the series, we see the risks of being a woman, even as a god: “Hypochondria was once called a slut by a satyr because she wears barely-there dresses drawn from river water and weeds, but she needs to see her body clearly.” She wears thin dresses in order to see her body clearly for a purpose that is her own, not to entice men; but again, her intentions and her body are misinterpreted. Hypochondria “wishes she could treat pain like a coin purse—something spare, sparse, to be exchanged for something else,” but instead she has to bear it again and again. Gender also shapes our understanding of pain and our acknowledgement of it as real. We see this in the poem, “Hypochondria and Her Estranged Half-Brother Sisyphus,” in which “Hypochondria knows he’s never taken her / symptoms seriously, the panic she’s attracted, / aches born less in the bones than the brain.” Sisyphus responds, “I hold my pain in a way others can believe. / See how it fits neatly in my hands. So visible and clean.” Boyfriends, family members, and doctors minimize and ignore her pain, as in “My Doctor Told Me There was Nothing There.” The speaker says, “They didn’t know how practiced I’d become / in distraction—deeming every discomfort / unworthy of concern.” Here, her secret pains are articulated against the forces that would silence her. And, we experience the way pain is subjective, shifting, and unknowable for others.  It takes a new doctor who had to “hold me / down while she checked the wreckage of the cysts / on my Bartholin glands,” apologized while she “milked blood / and pus from the thin skin of my labia, /gentle yet firm as if she had mouths to feed.” In the world of this book, and we are to understand, in the larger world, it is rare for the hypochondriac to be believed. What if the girl who cried wolf is telling the truth? Who will help her then?

In this collection, Wilson often lifts up the curative powers of language itself. Language is crucial to our ability to connect with others, to rise out of the murk of loneliness. But especially for the hypochondriac, language is also the locus of deep misunderstanding and damage. One of the most compelling aspects of this chapbook is the tension between the limitations of language that the speaker faces within each poem, while the language of the poem on the page is lush, precise, and exhibits transformative properties of observation and sonic beauty. In “On the Wall,” Wilson pursues a fuller understanding of language and reality: “In ancient Egypt, /only scribes were allowed to write—the belief that putting a word on paper was to summon the thing itself.” This is an argument for language’s power to create something real in the world beyond expressing an idea; this tangible power names why many fear sharing certain truths, and would prefer silence. The poem ends: “I’m not interested / in the etymology of a word, but the entire / music behind it. Not the origins, / but the tambourine.” It matters that the speaker is not interested in parsing the word; she wants to experience it—to hold it up to her ear and play each word, through the tidal waves of loss and silence.

The collection’s first epigraph, by Fleetwood Mac, is “I have no fear; I have only love.” These poems stare fear directly in the face with the gaze of love. The second epigraph, “I did not fear them until I wanted to be afraid,” by Sabrina Orah Mark, frames hypochondria in terms of wanting; the speaker has agency and has decided to feel fear. This agency is no small thing; combined with love, it amounts to the exact opposite force needed to dispel the silencing and pain caused by the dismissal of the speakers’ own pains throughout the collection. The final poem, “A Treatise of Hypochondria (iii),” lays out a bridge to another place from where we have come: “persist in all that / Pain and / Patience.” We trust that the speaker will continue carving a path forward, with god-like strength in her vulnerability, through mythology, music, and the force of her own will and love.

Emily Paige Wilson is the author of the forthcoming full-length collection Jalubí (Unsolicited Press, 2022) and two chapbooks: Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (Glass Poetry Press, 2020) and I’ll Build Us a Home (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Her work has been nominated for Best New Poets, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Connect with her at and @Emmy_Golightly.

Title: Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods
Author: Emily Paige Wilson
Publisher: Glass Press
ISBN: 978-1-949099-09-6
23 pages

Emily Mohn-Slate is the author of THE FALLS, winner of the 2019 New American Poetry Prize (New American Press), and FEED, winner of the 2018 Keystone Chapbook Prize (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, New Ohio Review, Muzzle Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She teaches high school English by day and poetry workshops by night for the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online

Grammars of Hope

Grammars of Hope by Chana Kraus-Friedberg

Review by Cheryl Caesar

As a friend, I encouraged Chana Kraus-Friedberg to enter her chapbook Grammars of Hope (Finishing Line Press, 2021) into the Mark Ritzenhein Emerging Poet contest, and I was not surprised when she won first prize!

“Grammar” has a hard sound: grasping, grinding. Few admit to loving this field of study. We, as members of this select club, see it as the skeleton holding up the flesh of words, the skin of imagery. There is no language without grammar. A modal auxiliary like “may,” in the title poem, indicates a whole universe of possible futures for a friend’s young niece. I am reminded of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and the Chinese servant Lee who works for years to find the best translation of the Hebrew word timshel, spoken by God to Cain. Did God say, “Thou shalt triumph over evil.”? That would be merely a statement of a predetermined future. Did He say, “Do thou triumph”? That is only a command. Lee finally concludes that God told Cain, “Thou mayest triumph over evil,” and that in the word “may” lies all the greatness of the human struggle. Likewise, Chana sees a great field of possibilities before her young heroine:

But I like to imagine
your niece’s grammar
as more hope
than mistake,
as though she’d been
shown two limited paths
and refused them both.
That’s not enough, and it can’t be
all there is,
she might (one day)
May there be…?
There may be better ways.

But Chana is also a lover of words themselves, for their colors, smells, or moods, as in the poem “Authorial Intent”: “sickening” has an adamant, exceptional sound, / with that hard solid K in the center.

Or in “Sometimes You Ask Me,” where she reflects of the common phrase “what the day holds”:

I imagine it
like a pair of cupped hands
waiting to be filled.

This chapbook’s title, then, is important for at least two reasons. Words of Hope would have been merely banal. And the plural form lets us know that the author is the product of no one grammar, language or culture; she lives and finds her hope while moving between them.

In revealing these worlds, Chana shares a history that few of us will find familiar. She begins with her ultra-Orthodox Jewish childhood in Brooklyn, early becoming aware that her response to other girls is not the “normal” one, is not something that people speak of. “Brooklyn Lust” tells the poignant story of her “tender, insistent ache,” while standing behind a classmate, breasts pressed against her back, braiding her hair. Chana takes us through her life nearly to the present, to the years of COVID and Brett Kavanaugh. We hear of romances following her coming out–some with presumably real people, others with historical figures like Emma Goldman that she meets on library shelves. But we also follow her to Twelve Step meetings:

I didn’t know it would
feel like that,
all that pain with
no drugs to put on it –


But I’m grateful
for this chair
I’m sitting on.
I know if I stop being grateful
what happens

 With each new piece, the identity of the poet continues to take shape before us.

Chana’s writing is highly literate but never affected. It is strong and always searching. There is no lazy or pretty phrase. We feel that the poet is exploring the words, feeling the sounds, finding the meaning along with us. I can see her looking back, bemused, at the lines that have come from her. It’s the same expression that I see on poet Stevie Smith, with her cognomen of “peculiar”– the same wry shaking of the head. In the poem “Authorial Intent,” Chana concludes:

But lately I wonder
how a sentence survives
in the wild.
I could take it outdoors in
my pocket, speak it and see all
the words strung together like small shining orbs:
and I’d know what I meant,
why I’d placed them that way.
I’d know I’d said it.

I can’t guess what you’d hear.

Chana shares the puzzle with us and invites us to join the experiment. It’s an invitation worth accepting.

Chana Kraus-Friedberg is the winner of the 2020 Ritzenhein Emerging Poet Award. She grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Since leaving that community at the age of 20, she has earned a Ph.D in archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MS in Library Science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She currently lives with three feline companions in Lansing, Michigan, where she is a health sciences librarian at Michigan State University. This is her first chapbook.

Title: Grammars of Hope
Author: Chana Kraus-Friedberg
Publisher: Finishing Line Press, 2021
ISBN: ‎ 978-1646624386
Cost: $14.99

Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris, Tuscany and Sligo for 25 years; she earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne. She teaches writing at Michigan State University. Some of her COVID-era poems appear in Rejoice Everyone! Reo Town Reading Anthology, and in The Social Gap Experiment, both available from Amazon. Her writing and artwork will appear soon in Words Across the Water, a joint anthology by the Lansing Poetry Club and the Poets’ Club of Chicago. With co-editor Ruelaine Stokes, she is gathering a volume of reminiscences of the Lansing poetry scene in the 70s and 80s.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe Online.