Teaching While Black

Teaching While Black, by Matthew E. Henry

Review by Risa Denenberg

We teachers of color can feel so torn, so defeated, so at a loss to reach some of our children and parents that we sometimes forget why we decided to teach in the first place […].
Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City —Pamela Lewis

After reading Matthew E. Henry’s poetry chapbook, Teaching While Black, I came across a number of articles and essays by Black educators regarding the experiences, longings, and burdens they confront working in public education in America. The problems are vast, exacerbated by poverty, racism and cultural ignorance; by undervaluing and underpaying educators; by underfunding public schools and diverting educational dollars to private schools; by abandoning arts education; and by being forced to “teach to the test” rather than being freed to teach students how to think and problem-solve for themselves. In the quote above by Pamela Lewis, she answers the question of “why we decided to teach” with these words,

[ . . . ] to uplift the people of our communities, to make students who feel invisible feel visible again, and to give them the confidence they need in order to want to achieve.

While Lewis is advocating on behalf of children of color in classrooms in New York City, she also speaks for teachers’ highest aspirations for all students in classrooms everywhere.

Henry is an educator with such aspirations, who also feels deeply the frustrations incumbent upon being a Black teacher working in schools with a majority of white educators and students. God bless him for that, and even more so, for the frank, humorous, and compassionate poems in his memorable chapbook, Teaching While Black.

The preface poem, “my third grade teacher,” places the daily experience of a Black child front and center. This is where invisibility begins, Henry tells us, as a teacher “explained skin” to him by stating that his face “lacked / the ability to bruise or blush.”

Growing from child to teacher in the classroom, Henry wonders how it is possible that he has “only been called “nigger” once by a student—at least / in my presence—and that under his breath.”  He wonders facetiously “if I’m doing something wrong” if “I may need to make them more / uncomfortable with my skin.” The poem ends with this musing:

so it was surprising, struck me as odd,
that it only happened when I told a while boy to put his phone away—
the straw that broke his fragile back. deferred his dreams.

The second section of the book is mainly devoted to a dissection of sexism by a compassionate and knowing witness of the pervasive sexual abuse experienced by girls. Overheard in the classroom, someone says: “I don’t understand why a woman would wait / 36 years to say something.”

In “little red,” Henry portrays how futile are parents’ warnings, and simultaneously, how this works to stifle girls’ curiosity without protecting them. We can only nod and sigh, as “little red,”

rides through her hood
her mama’s words in mind:
keep to familiar, well-lit roads
and don’t talk to strangers,
wolves wear any disguise that fits—
a badge, a stiff white collar.

While teaching Roethke’s “Waltz” to his class, exploring the tension between two possible views of the drunk papa, Henry notices a student who is silent in the classroom. He reports,

Katherine’s stillness split my heart.

Later she explained her stepfather’s demand
of a demon’s dowry: how she nightly endured
his endless gropes and gasps, in a silence
which left her sister untouched.

The poems in Teaching While Black are brim-full of compassion for students’ palpable tragedies, despite their often ignorant and arrogant ways. One girl recounts how she mops up after her drunk mama in “happy birthday for Ashley,” while another girl’s “cotton sleeves conceal hash marks of silence” in “show, don’t tell.” A boy,

finds
his father’s body
just where the old man left it
note pinned to the coat
hung limp around his shoulders,
final spasms timed
for an after school arrival

In the final section, there are more harrowing narratives including the time “the school resource officer […] almost shot me in my class.”  The final poem in the chapbook, resets the clock from teacher back to childhood, in “when asked what I learned in in elementary school being bussed from Mattapan to Wellesley.” Among the lessons learned, Henry recounts:

what they think is appropriate: to treat Black hair
like a pregnant woman’s belly,

//

how to be a chameleon: to code-switch;
to bite my tongue instead of theirs;
to make excuses for them

 //

to endure the cultural appropriation of slang.

I applaud Henry’s humanity, his decision and dedication to teaching; and his ability to write about these experiences so forcefully and with so much grace.

TEACHING WHILE BLACK
Matthew E. Henry
Mainstreet Rag Publishing Company, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-59948-785-4
52 pages
Price $13

PURCHASE HERE!

Matthew E. Henry (MEH) is a multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated poet and short story writer. His works have appeared in various publications including The Anglican Theological Review, Kweli Journal, Poetry East, The Radical Teacher, Rhino, Spillway, and 3Elements Literary Review. MEH received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University yet continued to spend money he didn’t have completing an MA in theology and a PhD in education. An educator who has taught at the high school, college, and graduate levels, he will most likely die in a classroom. This is his first collection of poetry.

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).

[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).

FRANCINE WITTE

Interview with Arya F. Jenkins

Francine Witte has published four poetry chapbooks, among many other accomplishments. The Poetry Cafe introduces Witte in conversation with poet and writer Arya F. Jenkins, who joins our guest reviewers with this interview.

I’ve always thought that it’s the small details that connect the writer to the reader. –Francine Witte

Arya F. Jenkins: You write poetry, flash and fiction. As a poet, you have authored several poetry chapbooks and a couple of full-length poetry collections. How did you come to be a poet?

Francine Witte: I started writing poetry in second grade. Rewriting song lyrics. And then when I was about 13, I started writing poetry for real. It was about playing with words and expressing ideas. I’ve always enjoyed language and writing.

AFJ: Your ability to write about lost love, grief, and aging with such particularity and universality is a rare gift. Are you sometimes surprised at the level of honesty and truth your poems are able to plumb?

FW: I’ve always thought that it’s the small details that connect the writer to the reader. Everyone has experienced love, grief, and on some level, the discomfort of getting older (I never have felt as old as the day I turned 20, by the way.) It’s the focus of a tiny detail that either makes the reader say, “yes, that happened to me,” or “oh yes, I can see what you mean.” Finding these small moments is actually one of the most fun parts of writing for me.

AFJ: Are your chapbooks held together by certain themes? If so, what are they?

FW: My chapbooks seem to be unintentionally themed as a result of what I was writing about at that particular time. For example, in First Rain, I have a good amount of the poems focusing on child/parent relationships, while Only, Not Only, deals more with a grown narrator who has been hurt by romantic love. And the theme of Not All Fires Burn the Same, is really more or less a collection of mother/daughter, love gone wrong and environment.

AFJ:  How has your relationship to the big themes of love and loss in your writing changed over the years? Have you abandoned any topics? If so, which? And why?

I’m still pretty focused on love and loss. I don’t see that changing.

FW: I’m still pretty focused on love and loss. I don’t see that changing. I am also fascinated by the theme of people and their history on this planet. I’ve always been interested in weather and the natural world. In Theory of Flesh, I find myself looking back to cave people and thinking that they were the same as us in terms of their basic emotional makeup.

AFJ: I am intrigued by your deconstruction of “self” in some of your poems. In your collection, The Theory of Flesh, the narrator asks who the poet is and how she can be distinguished from the other selves that inhabit her daily life? Does this focus have precedence in your chapbooks?

FW: I think you are referring to my poem “How Many Me’s are There?” which talks about the different people we are in different situations. It asks the question of the me’s occurring at the same time in a person’s life. But there are also different me’s that span time. There’s childhood me, grown-up me, married me, etc. I do think my chapbooks reflect these different times in the speaker’s life.

AFJ: Lately I’ve encountered artists and poets who revere animals, the dog especially, and have done beautiful justice to them in their work. Some of the poems in your full-length collection, The Theory of Flesh examine links between the animal and human kingdoms. What do animals have to teach humans? How do they “speak to” what is higher in us?

FW: Animals seem to live in the moment. They go on instinct and need. They don’t seem to have hidden agendas. They love the person who feeds them. They are grateful for that. Simple. That’s what we can learn from them.

They speak to the need in us to be needed, to care for someone else. That part, the part that cares beyond our own comfort, really is our higher self.

AFJ: Do you feel you have any obligations as a poet? If so, to what or whom?

FW: My obligation as a poet is to give the reader or listener a great experience for having taken the time to read or listen to my poem. I need to say something that the reader has never heard in a way they have never heard it. I have to create something, make them feel something, or at least make their few minutes of reading worthwhile. That’s my obligation.

AFJ:  What if anything would you like to impart to those poets new to poetry who would like to publish a chapbook?

When putting together a chapbook, or any book, make sure
every poem is a 10.

FW: I would tell all poets to become your own best editor and listen to that voice that tells you a line or a stanza isn’t as good as it could be, or to take it out, etc.

When putting together a chapbook, or any book, make sure every poem is a 10 (at least in your opinion.)  There is no room for filler even if it’s on theme. I think the quality of the poems is more important than any superimposed connective tissue.

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two full-length collections, Café Crazy and The Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) Her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind has just been published by Ad Hoc Fiction, and her full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This was recently published by Blue Light Press. She lives in New York City.

The Magic in the Streets (Owl Creek Press, 1994) first prize contest winner
First Rain (Pecan Grove Press, 2009) First prize contest winner
Only, Not Only (Finishing Line Press, 2012)
Not All Fires Burn the Same (Slipstream Press, 2016) first prize contest winner



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).

Arya F. Jenkins

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.

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).