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

Friday, July 12, 2019

Daniel Crocker


Mercury Must Be In Retrograde or Some Bullshit

You go to the reading and then to a nice
dinner with friends. You started drinking
early and on the drive from St. Louis to Cape
you puke all over yourself
Fajita Nachos
It's your medication making you sick again
You know you shouldn't drink on it
But sometimes you want to have a nice
dinner with friends. There might be something
more to it

You slap yourself. Then you slap
yourself again harder. You tell
your wife this is no way to live
You tell your wife that you want to kill
yourself. You puke again

It's okay, she says, it's okay

You've been so nervous for so many weeks now
that there's not enough klonopin left to do the job
even if you really wanted to. And you did

didn't you? For a moment
you thought about it and rode the rest
of the way home with puke drying on
your best pants and a wife who says
it's going to be okay, it's going to be okay
like a prayer. 





My Penis

I've never been happy with it
not being as big as I'd hoped

This kid at church camp
asked me if there was something
wrong with it

hidden up under its shell

It got better, I guess, as I got older
but never quite to what I wanted it to be
which was something worth writing home about

Now, it doesn't work
bipolar meds and whatnot

I still don't like the way people use
the size as an insult

Usually it's men, sometimes women
Often it's in a meme
Often it's directed at Trump and his imagined
small penis

People with small penises are rushing out
in droves to buy big trucks and corvettes
The little weens are stockpiling guns
The pencil dicks are shooting up schools
We're all just compensating

Like that's what makes Trump bad
Like that's what makes is all bad

Almost like it all boils down to a dick.

Daniel Crocker's work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Hobart, Big Muddy, New World Writing, Stirring, Juked, The Chiron Review, The Mas Tequila Review and over 100 others. His books include Like a Fish (full length) and The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood (e-chap with thousands of downloads) both from Sundress Publications. Green Bean Press published several of his books in the '90s and early 2000s. These include People Everyday and Other Poems, Long Live the 2 of Spades, the novel The Cornstalk Man and the short story collection Do Not Look Directly Into Me. He has also published several chapbooks through various presses. His newest full length collection of poetry, Shit House Rat, was published by Spartan Press in September of 2017. Stubborn Mule Press published Leadwood: New and Selected Poems—1998-2018 in October 2018. He was the first winner of the Gerald Locklin Prize in poetry. He is the editor of The Cape Rock (Southeast Missouri State University) and the co-editor of Trailer Park Quarterly. He's also the host of the podcast, Sanesplaining, about poetry, mental illness and nerd stuff.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Larry Smith

A Work Story
            “A good man is hard to find.”

Work shows up one day
red faced with lunch pail
and takes a seat at the bar.
I ask, “What’ll you have?” And he,
“What you need done?”

Four days later the new kitchen is finished
shining chrome and real tile floor.
I tell him he can have free drinks
for as long as he lives, and he laughs,
says, “Hey, the job ain’t done.”

When I get home that night,
Work is sitting on the porch
and says, “I’ve come for that drink
and to sleep with your wife.”
I laugh, but he doesn’t.

He’s fixed the porch now
and put in a new furnace,
while I just drive the kids to school
and sleep on the couch. This weekend
he and Grace are heading to Vegas.


Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, critic and biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He taught at Firelands College of Bowling  Green State University for 35 years and founded Bottom Dog Press which he serves as editor-publisher. A native of Appalachia's Ohio Valley, he and his wife Ann live along the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Kevin Ridgeway


Losing the Human Race

everything has become so quiet,
illness has struck us at close to midnight 
and we've missed out on the happenings 
sweet medicine eludes us everyone 
is in everyone's fan club but mine
those who were are all dead now
and i can't even write poems about them yet
so i suffer in this little bubble of mine
a little bubble that I can't seem to pop
and make my body tickle all over on up
to my brain where all the useless information
is stored and where all the memories torture me
and where the future horrifies me and when 
my fantasies put me on beautiful journeys
that make this hardship of opinions, morals
and different tastes in music some of my least
favorite things as I pass by that cemetery off
the Long Island Railroad in Farmingdale where
Coltrane rests and where I traveled back to
Southern California after the Big Apple was
a mean, smug son of a bitch who hustled me
into wanting to run away and hide in the 
countryside where a drunkard's dream 
would send me even though I can't be 
alone for long periods of time but I still 
am alone for much longer period of times 
than that and that's a dangerous trip to 
weird out along the way and never figure out 
what it all means beyond disappointment, 
cold calculations, vice, money and pain.  
So the best I can do is make it all look 
like a league of clowns with a big pie 
fight at the end of the world to ensure 
that we were all so crazy on a grey day
of lust in the eyes of poisonous snakes
that has buried the jazz men too soon.

Kevin Ridgeway is the author of Too Young to Know (Stubborn Mule Press).  Recent work can be found in Slipstream, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, Trailer Park Quarterly, Main Street Rag, Big Hammer and The American Journal of Poetry, among others.

He lives and writes in Long Beach, CA.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Gypsy Queen by NIcole Hennessy, reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Nicole Hennessy
Gypsy Queen
Crisis Chronicles Press
2019
60 pages
$12

Nicole Hennessy's Gypsy Queen, #109 from Crisis Chronicles Press, is a representative small press text in many ways. Filled with free-verse poems that tend toward the long and discursive, the book is arranged in such a way that the poems' performative aspects are in full effect, with strong voice and lots of sound-play. In "Vultures," a poem in five short sections, the speaker says to the potential partner "Tell me everything about me./Leave no room for me to tell you." which is a nice effect, as potential partners in the beginning usually say "tell me everything about you," so it's an intriguing beginning. We know this speaker is all ego from the get-go, doubling down on that initial statement by confessing just a few lines farther down:

I knew we'd walk to that cemetery together
I wanted to tell you something about myself
through those streets alone, along which I'd grown
and still wander windingly in dreams. . .
. . .Told you I needed to center myself.
I was trying not to know I want to know you.

Section II begins. "My eyes are sunken boats, wrecked in their own stalls" and Hennessy continues with the water metaphor throughout the section and into section III then inexplicably drops it just as it begins to give the poem some power, in order to bring in the vultures of the title. Via the Mayan myth that says "vultures [are] consumers of death converted back to life" the speaker suggests that to see a vulture implies one should be patient and to think things through, presumably referring to the connection made at the beginning of the poem. This seems like a perfect opportunity for more water metaphor--cenotes perhaps--to connect this section to the previous two more fully, but the connection never fully fuses. Instead, Hennessy brings us back to the cemetery from the beginning and to some exits that are also entrances, in an ending that intrigues with its possibilities yet underwhelms at the same time. I'm damned if I know exactly what is happening in the poem, but I want to know more.

Unfortunately, this is a theme that continues through the remainder of the book: intriguing images, some wild metaphors, but many lines that strive toward complexity but say little, as in another long poem, "Sometimes the Sun."

Smoke another cigarette
suck synonyms
backup
report the exact facts
not lyric mirrored
reflect face
fuck

I respect the effort, but remain uncertain as to what, literally, is going on here and in many of the poems, and so I'm unable to commit fully to the poet's vision. I like Hennessy's way with language in spots, and in other poems I appreciate the insight, but the two elements don't coincide enough to entirely succeed. This is the way: some things resonate, some don't. Maybe these elements I've described appeal to you, and if so, you should give this book a shot. I wholly respect the effort. 3 of 5 stars.

Friday, June 21, 2019

J.J. Campbell

before giving me the news
 
fading lights
 
and the hope
that tomorrow
will be better
dies with the
sun
 
i laughed on
the day my
father died
 
a woman told
me i got her
pregnant but
had the abortion
before giving
me the news
 
i congratulated
her on making
the best decision
possible
 
i have enough
people that hate
me already



punish myself for existing
 
i succumb to
my demons
late at night
 
it's usually
alcohol and
porn
 
sometimes
i'm eating
my emotions
 
or on the
fun nights
 
i punish
myself
for
existing
 
they tell
me they
have pills
that could
help me
 
i explain to
them i don't
mind being
the martyr
 
besides, my
insurance
won't cover
anything that
actually works

J.J. Campbell (1976 - ?) is old enough to know better. He's been widely published over the years, most recently at Record Magazine, The Dope Fiend Daily, Misfit Magazine. Yellow Mama and The Beatnik Cowboy. You can find him most days on his mildly entertaining blog, evil delights. (https://evildelights.blogspot.com)

Saturday, June 15, 2019

West Side Girl & Other Poems by Lauren Scharhag, reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Lauren Scharhag
West Side Girl & Other Poems
Self-published (available via Amazon)
2013
$11.99
reviewed by Rusty Barnes


West Side Girl & Other Poems by Lauren Scharhag assumes a lot of a reader. Plainly produced, the book has a cow on a pedestal on its cover, promising something earthy and plain, maybe, or--I hope not--an excess of irony, like Jim Harrison famously said, I'm a little tired of irony. But that's my problem. The poems' brief cover text says only that the poems were written from 2004-2013, exploring themes of womanhood, family and the poet's German-Mexican heritage. I could have been drawn in a little better, but I like a book already that says plainly what it is.

"Good Bread," on the first page, is a solid poem. "Good woman, good bread,/snug in waxed paper,/clean sheets on the bed." I anticipate the rhyme scheme that never comes, but never get frustrated at its lack, or the knack, of starting with something concrete in those three quick lines that turn into something else by the end. The poem's a celebration of good bread, and the women who have traditionally made it, who were also "the ones who looked at the moon/and baked bread round." This is the kind of poetry that tells us what is important right now in the poet's mind and doesn't equivocate or obfuscate unnaturally.

A little later on, in "The Medium" the speaker of the poem, presumably the poet, describes an artist grandfather "at his easel. . . in a shirt dappled with paint." I appreciate the sentiment of what's being described, but dappled is too easy a word, the image is too easy to carry the crux of the stanza, followed as it is by "hands nicked and chapped," words altogether too common to render their subject timeless. The words mostly not taut enough, running its long lines untrammelled by any attempt to slow down. I also note here a paucity of poetic language, which again speaks to the lack of tension, a single simile the only occasion in a page-long poem.

Overall, the poems are strong, narrative poems in the dominant mode. They surprise occasionally as in "Churrascaria"where "eyelids become peachflesh" or in "Chasing the Worm" where "Satan doesn't have to come to me. I'll go to him." In the best poem of the collection, "The Ages of Woman," the poet tracks a woman's life in stages: Fetus;Girl:Woman;Mother;Barren;Post;Ether. The poem succeeds on the impact of the "Girl" section."Cling to your poppets and doilies.//No matter how life-like,/Their painted stares cannot prepare you and "Harvest these cells if you dare" together with the "Mother" section, wherein the speaker imagines infanticide, and dreams a sequence of events both horrible and common. "And now I am prepared to end/all your possibilities,/all possibility of us." which lines grip and move a reader even knowing from the remainder of the poem what's coming, or not coming. This is a poem that rewards revisiting for the sheer power of the woman revealed.

Overall, the book is successful, but the terms of that success are determined largely by how willing you are to give yourself up to the forces of intuition and insight, and not necessarily the power of an individual line. I'm interested to see what Scharhag is writing now. 3.5 of 5 stars.