Saturday, August 17, 2019

Book Review: Nostalgia and Ruin, by Cameron Mount

Nostalgia and Ruin
70 pages
ISBN: 1365118002
independently published
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
$15/5.38
reviewed by Rusty Barnes


Cameron Mount's Nostalgia and Ruin is a great example of a transitional work. Mount is one half of the duo that runs the pulp magazine Broadswords and Blasters, and I get a sense that this book is very much the work of an excellent writer feeling out interesting ways what will become his permanent subject matter.   

"Spring Break, The Unnamed Key," an example from early in the book, sets up reader expectations and follows through in a satisfying manner.  Simple declarative phrases set off the first half of the poem: "we took;" "we made;"we fished and caught;" we piled;" and so on, followed by simple but rich detail that gives us the feel of what camping on this unnamed key means for the poem's inhabitants, simply going through a day. "It wasn't long/before the drunk/and tobacco high/sent us rolling/through complex thoughts/and left us spinning on our cots/in sleeping bags." The short lines pile up on each other nicely before leveling out in the remainder of the poem and returning to those simple declarative introductory phrases which highlight this deceptively complex poem.

Later, there are poems which succeed or fail depending on how consciously poetic Mount chooses to be. Where simple declaratives rule, the poems succeed. In places like "Mirage," the  normal force of the lines loses focus in favor of sounding like a poem. Clouds turn into rain in this piece and truth drops to the ground, and the "I' of the poem is undone. Well. A very few poems fall into this trap, though, and I believe this is a matter of the poet feeling out how they are going to write their subjects and why.

It doesn't take Mount long to bring back that eye for detail. In "Blossom," another richly detailed poem, the narrator recalls a distracted day of  afterschool suffering. "The color of her thigh,/the pink that blossoms/into my daydreams." and the 'quick bare flash//sufficient for love" focuses the reader too on the narrator's observation in the way of many schoolboy reveries. "I meet her gaze./The way her lips part,/tongue pressed lightly/to curved upper lip. It is/enough to impose after-/school suffering." Again, a poem whose strengths are in the small details.

The last poem I want to mention is "Whiskey, Neat," which takes the drinking poem and turns it inside out. Many people write these poems, and they're generally tiresome because they vary little poet-to-poet. Here, rather than focusing on the drinking and what it means to the narrator of the poem, Mount turns his eye on the liquor itself ("I'd rather have it straight up/but a rain drop slips/into the burnt oak of my glass.") and then to everything that is happening around the drinking scene. "The brisk wind carries echoes of mourning/doves through the goosebump-dappled skin/of my bared chest." Especially note that break on 'mourning' and how it turns the line from ordinary to special, and at the end of the poem, how the poet returns to simple and rich details ("The sun winks/behind a cloud in silent collusion/with the pins and needles/in my left arm."). Finally, the poem ends back where it begins. "I don't mind the rain splashes anymore./They'll just ease the inevitable burn." Both poem and drinking interlude end with the rainwater dappling the drink and easing the burn of both insight and alcohol. Fine stuff.

I suppose I'm outlining an aesthetic in these review pages as much as anything else, but I feel as if Mount's poetry is tailor-made for that. I'm into it, and appreciate these poems very much when they stay in character, meaning when Mount details his poems first and applies poetic force as it comes naturally. Simple declarative sentences first, poetic impact second, meaning paramount. I suspect a poem that doesn't want to communicate. It's lucky for me, for all of us, that Mount communicates exceedingly well in these very successful poems. 4.5 of 5 stars.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Tom Darin Liskey


Visitations

I was ten
That winter night
When my brain
Burned with fever
And I lay
Dreaming awake
That you had come back
From the firmament;
An unwinged angel
Sitting at my bedside
Speaking words
That sounded like fire
In my ears.
I don’t know
If it was real anymore.
Maybe it was just yearning
To touch you once more
The way the blind read braille;
Or maybe it was just
The hot syllables of sickness
Wailing like sinners
At a tent revival
Behind my burning eyes.
But whatever it was
That night, with the snow
Beginning to fall
Your hand touched my skin
And the fever broke.

Tom Darin Liskey spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. His writing has appeared in HeartWood Literary Magazine, Driftwood Press, and Biostories, among others. His photographs have been published in Hobo Camp Review, Museum of Americana, Blue Hour Magazine, Synesthesia Literary Journal and Midwestern Gothic.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Porous Land by Agnes Vojta: Review


Agnes Vojta
Porous Land
Spartan Press
March 2019
57 pages
978-1-950380-01-5
$15
Reviewed  by Rusty Barnes

Agnes Vojta's Porous Land is nearly textbook minimalism.. Every word seems created specifically for the task she sets it to perform in the poem. I don't mean minimalist to an extreme, but rather that there is no fat on the words. The overall effect is a bracing shiver of recognition at the natural world and our place in it, as well as how that world shapes our thoughts.

I found myself in a sort of dream-state the deeper I got into the collection. in the "Greening Begins from the Ground," Vojta sets up a scene not by telling us what is in the scene but instead what is not, in lovely simple phrases and lines: "Not in the high places/that still belong to winter/not on the barren ridges/where buzzards rest on bare branches,//but in the valleys". In the valleys she describes, with an Eastern feel, where "shy white flowers hide" in the manner of Japanese masters of meditational verse.. I'm very much in the moment of the poem, my eye flowing  along the images but then Vojta stumbles a bit. The Eastern feel ends at "green shoots push through the soil" and Vojta adds an unnecessary two-line coda that hammers the point home by doubling up and restating the title, a momentary and unfortunate twitch in an otherwise fine poem.

In another poem, somewhat later on in the collection, Vojta gives us a deft thirty-nine word epiphany: "The  Spring Rains Were Relentless." Here she gives a class in how to use strong verbs. This river never merely flows (thank god) but "smashes", "slashes," "slices" and "crashes." Houses caught by the water "struggle" and "thrash" and "swirl," and this short poem finishes by cutting away from the house breaking up as it follows the stream, to another human intrusion in this powerful flash flood. "The round eye/of the  satellite dish/does not blink/before drowning.

There are highlights on nearly every page here, but I want to discuss one more poem which can stand in for the whole of this fine book. I'll quote it in its entirety.

Oracle

The heron is the color
of a November morning.
Fog wets the river rocks.
Fossils faintly echo
a gray past.

I shall take one stone
home,
to look
through its waterworn hole
and see the future.

It's not that the images here are overtly unusual, but that this first stanza is nearly matchless in its rhythm and breaks, the subtle and deliberate repetitions that make up the poet's inimitable voice. The great blue heron makes an appearance here for the second or third--maybe more?--time in this collection.  A November morning where I live, next to the ocean, also includes a damp, somewhat desolate and gray fog, so I'm already buying into what the poet is selling me, and. when the last stanza kicks in, and I think of how many stones my children and I have brought home from oceans and rivers wherever we've gone, I live that again through Vojta's poem. I've seen that waterworn hole in the stone, and I can find my own future there too. You could ask more of a poem, probably, but this is pretty damned satisfying to me. 4.5 stars of 5.

Tiff Holland

Positive Identification

Memorize all his parts, not just
lips, eyes, the intimate tools,
tiny erect nipples tangled in red
hair, the spot where you can most
easily imagine him as a mere boy.
Sure, count the freckles, the moles
you worry over, the pounds he frets, but
commit to his scent, to the pink scrapes
of knuckles where his skin becomes so
dry it cracks, and he superglues
himself back together.
Stroke the quarter-size Achilles-like
blond-spot on the back left of his other-
wise reddish, receding, head of hair. Freeze
in time his aura, above you, the last time
you make love
remember when he asked
what it felt like "going in"
him, going in to you
the serious voice you could never mistake
for anyone else’s, to say what lovers say
and sometimes tire of saying, or assume,
after time they needn’t say.
Never assume anyone is coming back
from just going out to get the mail
shirtless, in gym shorts and cheapo
Walmart tennis shoes covered in blue
paint speckles, his arm hairs wound into
sweaty rosettes, his whole body spiraled
tightly to itself and away, with heat
and humidity. You never know
the unknown, stare at:
what's a body doing in your yard?!!
The deputy says there's no identification
on him, no shirt, hands you a stack
of envelopes some with his name,
others with yours or both as well as dirty
tire tracks that match the dump truck
across the street, a County Sheriff circum-
navigating its rusty red body, with a shiny
aluminum citation holder, the pen moving,
up and down, even from a distance, you can
see check marks being made, words circled
as the white sheet billows down over your
officially unidentified husband
half units you called yourselves
when you worked in the cop shop
on his bed of grass. You’re asked
without being allowed to look. Every
one holds you back when you try to charge
over and around the split wide-open tree
to see for yourself, know certainty, so as to
definitively deny. Is it good to know Love
by skinny calves, socks that always roll down
a bit at the top, the exact shade of paint
flake and speckles, Jackson Pollocked
on the socks, the chapped knee caps,
the no-name shoes?
The faces of friends across the street make
the identification for you while the sheet flutters
billows, settles. You're in cooperation
answering from dealing with authority mode
all yes sirs and no sirs confirm, yes,
he's my husband, because who else
would be dead with your mail in your yard?
But thinking mine, mine,no! no! no

Tiff Holland's poetry and prose appear regularly in journals and anthologies. She is the author of the novella-in-flash "Betty Superman" and currently lives in Central Texas. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Todd Mercer

The Dam at Taylorsville, KY

The lake rose over the docks.
It kept coming inland and uphill.
No one built their homes around it
to later drown them, but this day
the lake inundates the ground floors
without subsiding. It takes upstairs
levels an hour later. Come back
in a month, in a boat and see
if you can make out roof outlines
down deep below where town used to be.
The lake rose up, but not because of rain.


Todd Mercer was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. His collection of pre-owned Italian ties purchased for $2 each is probably the most bad-ass pre-owned Italian tie collection outside of Italy. Just sayin’. Recent work appears in: The Lake, The Magnolia Review, Praxis and Softblow.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mike James


Crossroad Blues

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
                                                            Robert Johnson

Some people go down to the crossroad from heart hunger, from being badly loved since that first kiss. Others want advice disguised as directions. Others go because they were born fearless, want to learn what fear is.  

It helps if you smell like film noir dreams and worn out coins. If you carry bad luck, in your back pocket, as if it’s a postcard from home. 

Most days, the Devil wears a fedora. His smile, forever white. His voice, the accent of an old friend. There’s a joke he loves to make about how his handshake isn’t as warm as people expect. It’s his eyes though everyone notices. No one ever says if they are hazel, brown, or blue. Just that they hold your attention longer than any wish.

Mike James has been widely published in magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His thirteen poetry collections include: Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor for the Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press, as well as the publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. He makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. More information can be found on his website at mikejamespoetry.com. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Susan Tepper


The Plan

is a dream
set
in motion by chaos

fallen angels
come to shake
things up

no discernable reason
you can fathom

reliance
on whatever
say the weather

shot in the back

handcuffed
to a truck mirror

opportunity
to see for yourself
in harshest light
percussion noises
& street traffic
jamming

suffering dogs howl
their persistent hunger
flesh is flesh

is other beasts
huddled around
smoking barrels watching

cops everywhere
watching
don’t lift a hand
who dies or what

their coffee & donut
on the hour while

-2-

prostitutes dimpling
for any
ready cash
smile and jump
fast
into cars.

From the doorway
ice melts down
in your hair.

Susan Tepper is the author of seven published books of fiction and poetry. Her forthcoming book titled WHAT DRIVES MEN is a road novel full of zany characters and situations, soon to be published by Wilderness House Press. Tepper has received many honors for her writing which include 18 Pushcart Prize Nominations, 7th place on the Zoetrope Novel Contest shortlist, and a Nomination for a Pulitzer Prize for the novel.  She lives in the NY area with her husband and her dog, Otis. www.susantepper.com