Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kristina Marie Darling's Fortress

Kristina Marie Darling’s Fortress is published by Sundress Publications and showcases the dance of doomed domestic bliss from the perspective of the wife. The main character alludes to the field of dead poppies that welcomes her to her new home. The husband does nothing to coax them to life and creates gardens elsewhere only to fail. The possible greenery is a metaphor for the relationship when the husband disappears after the poppies catch fire and spread disaster to the homestead. The wife is left to determine what to do about the outcome on her own, just as many relationships leave at least one person wondering what happened and what to do next. Below I am happy to share some examples:


Another night. The same lifeless corsage. I wondered if the landscape, rather than affection for on another, had been the source of our euphoria.

Here, the wife tries to understand what brought their marriage happiness. Dead flowers permeate the landscape of this collection and are romanticized as a display of love and affection for the characters.


I could not endure the boxed geraniums beneath every window, their long stems like dried insects under glass. It was then that I began to examine the iron gates and coaxed the locks with such care, as though they were hothouse flowers or small children.

What caught my eye was the line “their long stems like dried insects” because I am fascinated by insects. It is easy to picture the hollow, fragile stems driving the wife to escape. The gates surrounding the house have kept her in and now she is trying to escape as carefully as she can, not just from the landscape but from her marriage.


What is there left to say? When we married, I became his wife. I can no longer remember what I looked like before that veil descended, or the vow exchanged between us.

The lines above ultimately sum up my worst fears. I have witnessed this myself watching other couples: when they come together, they lose their individuality completely and it is terrifying. The wife above became “wife” and forgot everything about herself in the process. Truly terrifying to me.

Kristina Marie Darling uses her skill of erasures and of footnotes to create a world in which a couple’s marriage dissipates over time in a landscape that echoes their lives. If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Kristina Marie Darling’s Fortress for $12.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Alessandra Bava's They Talk About Death

Alessandra Bava’s collection, They Talk About Death, is published by Blood Pudding Press. Her collection is surreal, rich, and thoughtful. Inside these pages dwell iconic literary and historical figures, she dips her pen into their universe and extracts her own thoughts from them. It is my pleasure to share a few samples:

St. Baudelaire

I dream of you at night
entangled in the spires of evil,

tied to a living pillar in the
profane sanctuary of Poetry—

the spores of wild flowers in
your nostrils, the ecstasy of

“the Word” painted on your face
& slowly dripping from your

St. Sebastian-like wounds
in sanguine lines.

I twist the arrows in your flesh,
I dip my fingers in your scars

as you spit out your own
poisonous mythology

into my soul.

I love the poet’s macabre language for dreaming of meeting Baudelaire, the poet who wrote Flowers of Evil which was banned once it was published. I love Baudelaire’s poems and this tribute to him is dark and beautiful.


She has danced and played all night long with her Madame Sosostris’ wicked pack of cards and now she holds her trophy in a silver platter. John’s beautiful severed head. Salome likes her meat rare. She is hungry. She’ll bite his livid lips awake with her love words. One day, when the head will turn to skull, she’ll make a lamp for her own enlightenment and write chiaroscuro poems.

This piece is as dark as the biblical reference itself: the stepdaughter of the King, Salome, requests the head of St. John the Baptist. Here, a reference to T.S. Eliot’s tarot card reader, Madame Sosostris, is linked to the act and delivers a mystical, clairvoyant quality. Salome’s thirst for vengeful blood is presented in a gruesomely beautiful way thanks to the poet.

Dreaming Arthur
“A thousand Dreams within me softly burn” --Arthur Rimbaud

I take seat at the
Big Bear tavern,

redolent of smoke,
absinthe and dung.

A pale blue eyed
seer at the counter,

in his ruffled scarf,
sells illuminating

prophecies. I order
my glass and he

fills it with green
ink in which

we dip our loaded

I stare at his
provincial clothes,

at his holsters
full of satisfied

flesh, Christian
mothers’ morals,

deliriums, vowels,
poisons, Ville Lumiere,

Abyssinian darkness,
seasons in hells, pure

monstrosities, burning lines
crows, leg-eating gangrene
suns, Eternity…
We aim
high at
the sky.

I pause, I pant, I shoot,
I write.

He grabs my hand
and cries: “Wake up!

I’m just a ghost
selling false promises

and watered-down
wine. I am only an

extinguished meteor
blazed away to ash.

How can I rest in peace
if even my words refuse to


In this poem I picture the poet dreaming after reading Rimbaud and having deep conversation with him in a dank tavern. I personally feel as a writer that my own work sells “false promises” as the writer says above, as every piece of literature takes its liberties.

If you enjoyed this sample, you may purchase a copy of Alessandra Bava’s They Talk About Death from Blood Pudding Press for $7.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again…

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Starting with the Last Name Grochalski by John Grochalski

Published by Coleridge Street Books, John Grochalski’s collection Starting with the Last Name Grochalski is bared teeth, pull-no-punches honest and at times humorous. From daily observations that hold the poet captive to memories stripped down to their essence, Grochalski takes us on a journey of his life observed in detail. Below I am happy to share a few samples:

the sunbather’s ass

she sunbathes

in a rose garden
in brooklyn

her bikini top off

her ass barely covered
in a thong

the young boy
walks by

pointing and smiling
at her

tugging his
embarrassed mother’s

feeling a new kind
of want
inside of him

one so deep
that he’ll one day
beg for it

to let him go.

This poem makes me smile because it makes me think “this is how it starts,” when young boys learn to be interested in females. I think every parent has had to deal with this scene in some way, their young child noticing bare flesh and the parent being at a loss for a reaction or what to say other than to be embarrassed. I also love that the poet adds that the young boy will beg for this want inside of him to let go, the beginning of lustful feelings and their powerful hold will be wished away.

that’s what i want

there’s never enough money
in my wallet

never enough money
in the bank account

once when i was younger
my mother broke my piggybank
to buy us milk and bread

she cried when she told me
she’d pay it back

and all those years later i’m still so scared

that there’s never enough money
hiding underneath the soiled couch cushions

never enough money
in this little old world

for me

This poem strikes a chord with me and I’m sure it strikes a chord with many of you. We all struggle with money at some point in our lives and it makes you feel vulnerable no matter how young or how old you are. The line “and all those years later i’m still so scared” is a powerful statement. A memory so deep that years later it still makes the grown version of the boy feel scared about having enough to this day.


bobby mueller had these
two doberman pinschers
that he’d sick on us
whenever he walked past his house

you’d hear a whistle from the porch
and then these two salivating beasts
would come tearing across the yard

smacking off the fence
foaming at the mouth
trying to get at you before you knew
what was happening.

no one knew what made bobby do this

he was troubled people said
there were family issues
the kid was just a world class asshole

when he wasn’t sicking the Dobermans on us
bobby would ride around in his old man’s car
and throw his garbage at us

mcdonald’s bags full of half-eaten food
the carton of eggs he’d bought at foodland
or wd40 canisters from his backseat

in the winter he’d throw snowballs at us kids
that were laced with rocks and other things
just to give them an extra sting when they hit
your cold, red face
or he’d toss icicles like they were darts

but nothing was as bad as watching those two
goddamned dogs come charging at you

looking at the mueller’s fence as it shook
the gray foam on the beasts’ jowls

their yellow fangs snapping at air, hoping for flesh

listening to bobby’s laughter on the porch
as he chain smoked winstons
and asked you if you’d pissed your pants yet

knowing that you probably had before you tore off back home

his sick laughter trailing you
the convenience store and baseball cards be damned

when bobby took his own life on new year’s eve
in that devil car with the motor running in the garage

a lot of us kids
were more relieved than saddened
as our parents sat us down to make sense of it

it was like a war had ended
peace had somehow been restored
our trivial civilization saved
from strawberry milkshake Molotov cocktails
snowballs with rusty razors hidden in their core

or the snap and strangle of those Dobermans
who now stayed in the Mueller home most of the time
looking out of darkened windows

or when they were in the yard
paced around the muddy landscape
with thick chains around their necks

while all of us emboldened bastard kids
taunted them like paper tiger tough guys

happy to have the vigor and fight
drained from their murderous bodies

now that their master was gone to heaven
like all of those fat priests had said.

This poem hits me at my own core. Having been through hell as a kid in a variety of ways, this one about bullying I can relate to. I can also relate to feeling relief instead of sympathy or sorrow when the bully falls into tragedy. I could go on for pages but I won’t. I’ll simply say that having been through hell inspires people to either become hell raisers themselves or to become those who champion against bullying. I champion against it.

If you enjoyed Starting with the Last Name Grochalski by John Grochalski, you may purchase a copy for yourself for $9.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kristina Marie Darling's The Sun & The Moon

The Suns & The Moon, by Kristina Marie Darling, is a haunting and romantic collection centered around a couple who are surrounded by the supernatural. Darling creates a world that struggles with fire and ice, romance and heartbreak, and ultimately envelopes the reader in an enchanting world of her own making. Below I am happy to share some of her work:

You began as a small mark on the horizon. Then night & its endless train of ghosts. You led them in, one after the other. They took off their shoes, hung their coats & started looking through the drawers. By then I could hardly speak. I realized the lock on the door must not be working. The floor was covered in ash. There was nothing I could do, so I kept trying to tell you goodnight. You just stood there, your hands in your pockets, that small army behind you. That was when they started polishing the knives.

In this collection these ghosts come to stay and ultimately cause trouble for the couple in their home. The idea of ghosts hanging their coats and then hunting through the drawers is an unusual sight to imagine, as most ghosts have no need to do such things. The polishing of the knives sends the ominous signal that these ghosts may mean more harm than good and are here to stay.

Even when they became unruly, tearing at the floorboards & our furniture, I never expected the ghosts to drive us apart. The change was slow at first. You started sleeping with your eyes half-closed, watching the window for signs. Then sleep came upon me like a breath of winter air, & I woke to an empty bed, your magnificent suit in pieces on the floor. I realized you weren’t my husband any more than I had been your wife. That same day, I saw you standing in the vestibule, but even the light around your eyes was gone.

A marriage can be tested in ways no one anticipates. Here, Darling has ghosts that literally tear the house apart and ultimately the marriage. Throughout the store there are peculiar events where it is as if the husband is in charge of the ghosts but seems driven away by them after introducing them in the first place. I think it is a testament to Darling’s skill to portray a couple’s complexities in such a phantasmagorical manner.

the key hidden somewhere

the curtains scorched & the floor smudged with

would watch me straighten my dress, my veil &

start those small fires in the vestibule. I
did what I could to keep the house from



The fire grew smaller but

that’s what I loved about you.

As true to her form, Darling deconstructs her prose and creates new meaning and visuals with her work. The fires that burn the house leave their ashes behind in the home but yet the house grows cold, just like the love between husband and wife in this story.

If you enjoyed this sample, please purchase a copy of Kristina Marie Darling’s The Sun & The Moon for $16.00, published by BlazeVox Press:

Thanks always for reading…

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

how to be another by Susan Lewis

Susan Lewis’ collection, how to be another, is complex, rich, and decadent. It could easily go over your allotted intake of prose, perhaps go above your head, yet is worth submitting yourself to again and again. Her words take time to sink in, dear Reader, and I urge you to take a closer look after the sample I am happy to share with you below:

The Embrace

And in that ecstatic moment he squeezed her harder than he had ever done before, crushing her rib-cage against his like a sprig of lavender or a wedge of lemon, a bagpipe or an emergency alert, squeezing out her fragrance & her juices & her cries, cracking her hollow bones in order to coat himself in her yielding flesh. He did this because there was no other way to endure the concentrated intensity of attachment deposited by the years, but also because he could no longer do without certain information. So he held on, while his Proteus ran through her repertoire of alternatives: not lion or serpent, tree or torrent—but Lolita & hag, consumptive & shrew. He knew enough not to be surprised that the compression he exerted on her living core would transform her, as sand is transformed to stone by the weight of the world. She might even split in two—in which case, he thought, he would possess her doubly. Or perhaps she might disassemble into an entirely new form. & although he feared for the continuity of her identity, he felt sure he could adjust to anything—anything, short of erasure, or whatever might silence her, because then he would never learn what he needed to know.

When I read this, I think of a man so in love with his woman that he must possess her utterly, sink into her and mold her to his own desires. It is a violent, possessive love for this pair above and it makes me wonder who this couple is and if she wants to be consumed so fully, transformed to his side so completely.


I want to thank you for the cage you made. As you know, it fits my narrow outlook to a T, better than the one I made myself. That one, you may recall, replaced my original home. Those were the days! Remember? Back then we were always fed & watered, & could sometimes touch fingers through the bars. Forgive me for wondering why you continue to concern yourself with my well-being. I would have thought, with those instinctively kinetic & incessantly expanding offspring, you’d have your hands full enough with (only the best) locks & bars & other paraphernalia of affection & concern.

I sometimes feel as though I am caged, we all do sometimes. Whether it is by a family member or work or illness, there are a variety of cages we build to either protect ourselves (mentioned in the beginning) or by others who want to control or possess us. I feel there is a complex relationship between the poet and the one she addresses in the prose. While it may not be our privilege to know the story it is a relatable one and I am moved by it.


You can’t say we didn’t have it coming. You can’t say I didn’t warn you, unless you can. On the bright side, there were breadcrumbs littering the forest floor. Hansel mistook the place for some kind of confection. We haven’t done anything wrong yet, whined Gretel, whipping out her loaves & fishes, whacking her witless brother about the head. Hundreds of years later we’re still lost & wandering, getting by on miracles & the fumes from our self-directed rage. Confusion is our guiding principle. Entropy lights some sort of way, which is the best we can hope to achieve in these dark & scary woods.

I always love twists on classics. While this may be the “familiar” tale of Hansel and Gretel it turns the focus towards the relationship between Hansel and Gretel. While they may still be “lost & wandering” hundreds of years later they have somehow escaped danger at various turns. It makes me wonder about their full history, their full story.

As I said earlier, I urge you to take a closer look at Susan Lewis’ collection, how to be another. To purchase a copy for $17.00 please go to:

Thanks always for reading…

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

JoAnna Penn Cooper's What Is A Domicile

Joanna Penn Cooper’s What Is A Domicile, published by Noctuary Press, explores reality and memory intertwined from domestic life versus nature, of dreams and reality. It is a complex and beautiful collection, I am happy to share some inviting tidbits with you:


I’m writing to inform you of my qualifications on this sunny day inside wearing silent headphones, a small white feather stuck to one foot. I can hear that tree clearing its throat outside my fifth floor walk-up. I can see all this packing and half unpacking of boxes as a compulsive metaphor for how we’re all of us always moving, always learning it all the freaking time: How to lose how to lose how to lose. How to know the dark leather gloss of July leaves and let them go. How to wear the crown of love and fresh pita for lunch and let it go. My life is not a plastic hamster ball. My life is not that refugee song. Not any more than anyone else’s. I’ve cured myself of being so meta, or else I’ve embraced it. Either way I’m wearing the crown. Either way, we’re all wearing the crown.

--I can picture the poet at her writing desk staring out the window and letting her thoughts flow onto the paper. This makes me contemplate life, too, especially the “losing” and “letting go” of things. How we often have to learn this the hard way, letting things go and moving on. “My life is not a plastic hamster ball”—references the idea that she does not live in a bubble safe from the world’s afflictions. It’s a great poem for freeing our own thoughts on life’s journey.

All these dreams: Some interview in a large house and who will take care of it.

Having woken: A kind of yelling back and forth about the work they’re doing out there. Trying to clean the fine grit yesterday’s work left.

In the dream: A movie that isn’t a very good movie in a small round room. The good part is in the water under our feet. A turning whale.

Awake: Dread of small tasks. Resentment. Leaves out dirty windows, seeming to greet your.

Another dream: Staying in your home, an orphan. Staying in your orphan tower.

--What actually grabbed my eye in this poem was “Awake: Dread of small tasks. Resentment…” because it is often when I awake from dreaming that all the small tasks of the day come flooding into my mind and I dread them. So this dream/wakeful state is a wonderful illustration of daily life for many of us. You cling to the memory of the dreams while your brain begins work on the daily tasks. The orphan and orphan tower at the end makes me think that the poet wants to stay in her dreamworld and forget about the waking one.

This year
let your eyes focus
then let them go wild

Eat the air

--This poem is just a plain guilty pleasure to share. I want to follow its advice.

If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Joanna Penn Cooper’s What Is A Domicile for $14.00 at:

If you’d like to learn more about Joanna Penn Cooper, visit her blog at:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Interview with Eric Shonkwiler: Above All Men

Earlier this year I featured a review of Shonkwiler’s novel, Above All Men, and had the opportunity to interview him about his novel. Below is his biography and our Q&A:
Eric Shonkwiler has had writing appear in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He received his MFA in Fiction from University of California–Riverside, where he was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship Award, and is a regional editor for Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as a former reader for [PANK] and former Editor-in-Chief for CRATE: The Literary Journal of UCR. Born and raised in Ohio, Eric has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. time zone, and finds himself on the road as often as not. He is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel, Above All Men, a 2014 Midwest Connections Pick released in March from MG Press. You can find him at ericshonkwiler.com.

1.) Let’s begin with the landscape that inspires all of the events that take place within the story’s main characters. The future is famine, crops dying from drought, dust storms sweeping through and further hindering the chance of animals and plants to thrive. Why did you decide the future would become a dustbowl?

ERIC SHONKWILER: It seemed like a logical and poetic result of global warming. While I might not get the location of the bowl right (Ohio’s been getting good rains for a few years, for instance, while California’s dry as a bone.), it seems rather likely that the change in climate is going to result in some semi-permanent disasters akin to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.

2.) The main character, David, struggles between family, independence, and revenge for the wrongs done to his friends in the story. Often, his wife complains that he is always leaving them behind. Why did you create a character with such complex wanderlust?

ES: It’s not exactly wanderlust that drives David; it’s a profound desire for service. David has in him a messianic complex that, when combined with his clearly deep war traumas, creates a man who’s ready to perform virtually any sort of self-sacrifice, without realizing that sacrificing himself comes at great cost to his family.

3.) Red comes across as a free-spirited man who served alongside David in the war that brings out David’s darker side. Can you tell me how you created Red’s character? Is he a foil to David’s family-man struggles?

ES: Because David is a closed-off individual, almost anyone who can keep up with him becomes a foil; Red, Helene, and O.H. all take their turns countering or interrupting David’s worldview. Red started as a much simpler idea than that—he was just David’s friend. They fought side by side, and, at a climactic moment, were split apart. These two different paths show that a single event or a single decision can fundamentally change a person, and though it wasn’t my initial intention to illustrate that with their relationship, that is what came of it.

4.) An African-American family moves in—believing a sales pitch in the city they used to live in and hoping to farm the desolate land—and are delivered a dose of reality by David. This seems to be a direct nod to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Were you inspired to spin a modern version from Steinbeck?

ES: The similarities with The Grapes of Wrath are largely incidental—You’re bound to cover the same sort of territory because the subjects are similar; poor farmers and exploited citizens are shared characters in the two books. There is, however, a bit of a wink to Grapes when Fogel mentions going to California.

5.) Samuel, David’s son, makes friends with the new family’s daughter. The events that transpire afterward send Samuel into a deepening silence. Samuel’s path keeps leading back toward David’s, and his mother, Helene, worries about that path. What is behind Samuel’s character that he follows the man who keeps leaving their family, as opposed to a path like the women in his life who stay loyal and close to their own family?

ES: I think it’s natural for Samuel to gravitate toward David’s path, because from the outside it appears to be one of action and righteous anger. Samuel doesn’t see (and for most of his youth, doesn’t know) that David has and does “leave” the family. Complicating this is the intertwining of David’s path with Red’s, which Samuel finds even more exciting. Ultimately, I think you can’t ask a boy his age, having seen what he’s seen, to understand that the women in his life have been fighting the good fight longer and more consistently than the men he knows and admires. He’s a smart boy, but he is just a boy.

6.) What influenced your choice of landscape and setting into the future?

ES: I wanted a setting that was quintessentially American, and I’m a Midwesterner, so it seemed easy and iconic to write what I knew about, in that instance. I also wanted the issues that we seem to be facing today to be seen playing (or played) out on the page, and causing real and heavy consequences. This led rather naturally to the future.

7.) What books are you reading currently?

ES: I’m deep into Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, and for research purposes, I’m leafing through a few books on mining in New Mexico. Next up will probably be either Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist or Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

8.) What project(s) are you working on right now that we may be able to look for in the future?

ES: I’m finishing up and shopping around a second novel, with a light noir flavor, titled, Eighth Street Power & Light¸ that I’d love to see on shelves relatively soon. I’m also researching and repeatedly starting and deleting a third novel that has some Western elements to it.

Thank you always for reading. To purchase a copy of Above All Men by Eric Shonkwiler, please go to:

For more information about Eric Shonkwiler, please visit his website:

Please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Paul David Atkins' Stick Up

Stick Up, published by Blood Pudding Press in 2014, is a story told in poems about a convenience store being robbed by a woman over 50. Paul David Atkins describes the characters involved and creates tension in the scenes throughout. How it ends will have to be a surprise. Below I’m happy to share a few plot-tantalizing poems:

He Gripped the Alarm

after he heard her from the freezer yell,
This is a stick up!
Around his neck
hung a silent alarm button.
He pressed it once or twice

or forty times

in the seven seconds it took
to crack the door and peek.

He saw a woman with a gun aimed
at the other clerk, demanding

a spool of Treasure Chest lotto tickets.

The other clerk glanced his way
and mouthed
Stay there!

He eased the door,
raised his hands,
shouldered the plastic curtains.

In this scene, I’d definitely be pressing that panic button forty times, wouldn’t you? Yet the main character in the poem makes an attempt to ease forward into the scene, would you be brave enough to do that?

She Thought

She thought, Now, what?
Shit! She held
two hostages, clerks the age
of her kids.

The boy squinted at the gun.
She thought he could tell
it’s a Crossman.

The robber wanted to
get him
out of the store,

figured he’d take off
if she ordered him to run
to the truck
and grab her bottle of Jack
in the passenger seat.

He bolted.

She turned to the girl.
You called police,
I know.
Thank God
the boy is gone.
It’s less
complicated now.

The glass door flew open.
The tin bell shot off.
The clerk and the robber wheeled,

But it was the boy, red-faced, returning
and waving the whiskey bottle
in his clenched fist
like a gold bell.

A twist in the robber’s plan and a twist for the readers: Who would go back inside the scene after being sent out of it? Here our poet creates heightened tension and keeps our eyes locked on the story.

She Discerned

She discerned a siren approach.
She tensed.
Her pistol ammo rattled
like a pack of tic tacs.
No one spoke

until a fire engine lumbered,
red lights rocking past the store toward
some distant farmhouse burning,
calf-filled barn
collapsing on itself.

April Fools,

the girl clerk forced
herself to blurt.
The robber laughed.

Amid the broken
promises of lotto
strewn across the tile,

beneath the scrolling
Powerball jackpot lights,

beside the humming,
ignorant ice cream freezer,
she laughed. They

all laughed.

Here the poet breaks the tension for all of us. We are left wondering whether any cops will ever show but in the meantime we can all laugh with the clever clerk. What happens next? You’ll have to nab a copy for yourself and find out.

If you enjoyed this review please purchase a copy of Paul David Atkins’ Stick Up from Blood Pudding Press for $7.00 at:

Thanks always for reading and please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Amanda Oaks' Hurricane Mouth

Amanda Oaks’ Hurricane Mouth is published by NightBallet Press and is a powerfully emotional collection of poems that describe the impact of words, thoughts, actions on relationships within the poet’s life. They are beautiful and hardscrabble, delicate yet tough in sinew. The poems are honest and brutal and life-affirming. It is another collection where I have “dog-eared” the majority of the pages and had to settle for a select few to share with you, dear readers:


Late summer, picking peas
cornfield just feet away,
I would tiptoe with the words
of warning looped ‘round
every strand of my hair.

When wearing pigtails,
all those locks acting together
could be thunderous
but I would plug my ears & run
in any one direction
until my lungs felt like the tires
of that far-off tractor
I overheard many a time
was plotting my death.

Out there though,
I witnessed the wind
unearth harmony.
The way the stalks
would touch,
sliding against one another,
hissing like plastic bags
clothespinned to a wire
& dangling from the mouth
of a paper-winged crow.

I found safety in the squeeze,
stuck between clear-cut emotion.
There’s something in there
that you can’t close your ears to,
like barn rats
or the secrets I found
in the laughter of ghost children
jumping from rock to stone
in the creek bed
behind my house.

Standing still,
before walking in silence
all the way back to the alarm
in my grandmother’s voice,
looking up to the clouds
for a way out—
twenty-seven years later
& I still have yet to find it
outside of these words.

I love the landscape of this poem. I picture the poet as a young girl lost in the cornfields, her grandmother searching for her as the tractor plows on indifferent to a child’s presence. All the sights, sounds, the feelings, they are all captured so well in this poem and reminds me of my own childhood adventures.

--after Heather Sommer

If you were a city, every day at dusk
I’d fill my pockets with packets of seeds
to pepper the rainwater rivers running
through the cracks of your asphalt

If you were a city, I’d let your air sweep
over & under & over my hand hanging
from a car window, pedal pressed to 60
on your reckless boulevard.

If you were a city, I’d never drag my feet
on your sidewalks, I’d never love you


because your light drowns out the stars.

If you were a city, I’d never judge you
by your infrastructure.

I’d never ask you
how well you think we
stack up.

This poem is sweet and tender to me, packets of seeds to grow life into asphalt of the love interest’s heart. The light of the city “drowns out the stars,” making the love interest seem complex and full of life in a way that cannot be captured any other way. I cannot do this poem justice, only that I just love this poem for all that it is.


I boil water. I pace the floors.
Cold kitchen tile under feet.
I look out the windows.
I curse the cold. I want to pull
all my teeth out one by one,
seal them in an envelope
with a note to you reading:

For you, dear,
my last true smile.

This poem is eerie and makes me smile anyway. I have had my own moments of “lunacy” where doing something like the above would be appealing. When someone drives you to the brink in your thoughts of them and you want to pull your hair out—or your teeth. Love this poem.

If you enjoyed this review you may purchase a copy of Amanda Oaks’ Hurricane Mouth for $8.00 here:

To learn more about Amanda Oaks, (writer, Kindness Advocate and female extraordinaire) please visit at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

black hands of a morning calm by Ayshia Stephenson

black hands of a morning calm by Ayshia Stephenson is published by imaginaryfriendpress (who doesn’t LOVE the name of this press?) and follows our poet’s experiences overseas where her skin color stands out more than she’s ever imagined. In South Korea she begins to feel uncomfortable even around her fellow Americans who reside in this country with her, longing to feel enveloped by the color black amidst the sea of night lights and South Koreans who stream past her. The collection is beautiful in the poet’s expression of her sense of self outside of her native country of America and of her ethnic background in relation to South Korea. I feel I cannot do her justice, nevertheless I am happy to share some of her poems with you:

i cough at the cafeteria table
when the kin-chi is too hot

i wonder too much at night
and think
when i don’t understand

in the morning
i force myself
to go outside
to become someone

that foreigner
who should follow
the rules walk
straight and avoid
the eyes
of other westerners

that foreigner
that american blocking
the penetration
of han-guk sa-ram stares
pushing through
the subway masses
bumping into those
who try to brush off
the black

Stephenson captures the loneliness of meal time even among fellow westerners in this poem. Despite her loneliness she sees herself as a physical obstacle to those surrounding her, “bumping into those/who try to brush off/the black” and I picture the flow of people who brush against her then brushing against walls or other people to “brush off the black” and wonder if this is what she witnessed or if she simply felt out of place in the scene.

in the first snow storm
i walk
with the foreigners
where the foreigners live
and i see her
i see her black skin in the falling flakes

and i want to

kiss her
hug her
but she
keeps her
straight walks
past me

she is african
but i am american
so we are
different and we are
not the same

Even when there is the potential for familiarity and comfort the feeling of rejection and of being ignored is brought heartbreakingly to the forefront by her fellow dark-skinned traveler when she looks straight ahead and doesn’t make eye contact. I have had similar experiences and the feeling is vast and empty. Here she captures it well, they may have the same skin, but they are of different countries and this prevents connection yet again.

let the sweat drip
down your face
i smile with my americans
in our
i-tae-won night clubs
we turn torsos into waves
because beats
belong to everybody
because music
doesn’t belong to skin

This poem frankly raises an “Amen!” out of me. It is one reason I love dance so much in general, no matter what country you are from, there is the ability to communicate through body language and through dance most of all. Love this poem, it’s a personal pleasure to share.

If you enjoyed this review as much as I enjoyed reading her collection, you may purchase a copy of Ayshia Stephenson’s black hands of a morning calm for $15.00 here:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Friday, June 6, 2014

Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men

Above All Men by Eric Shonkwiler, published by MG Press, is set in the future where drought has devastated the country. Cities empty out as people flee to the country in hopes to farm their way out. Existing farms face the hardships of running out of fuel for their equipment and are forced to grow what little they can by hand. Dust storms sweep across the landscape filling homes and barns with sand.

The main character, David Parrish, does his best to help his neighbors and a gullible family duped into believing they can turn their luck around after leaving Atlanta. David’s son, Samuel, befriends the new family’s little girl, Mel, while David attempts to teach the family how to farm only to end up helping to build a rudimentary house on his own property for the family when those attempts fail.

David’s past as a War Veteran haunt him throughout, including a visit from his fellow veteran and best friend Red, instilling flashbacks that spur David to wander away from his family time and time again as he tries to reconcile tragic events that befall the characters of this story. When Sam’s friend Mel is murdered the turn of events rock David and his family to their core. David’s wife begs for him to stay home as she watches Sam slide further into himself, David leaves and begins hunting for clues on his own since the local law enforcement failed to turn up leads.

There are layers of daily life that all collide towards the end, from a mining boss who keeps trying to convince David to join his company and give up farming, to David’s neighbor who keeps an eye on the family when David is away. There is also the Sherriff’s Deputy who is keen on David’s wife and finds ways to visit the farm while David tries to find Mel’s killer.

The novel is engrossing and frightening in its potential realities. The children in the novel have never experienced the internet and when the adults make the mistake of mentioning such technology they quickly retreat and change the subject as though it would be too painful to mention when people around the world were more connected. Cars no longer exist on the road; horses that run free are sought after, any animals that offer sustenance are highly prized. This novel seems to be a nod toward’s Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath but with a futuristic twist with a murder mystery combined.

This book kept me up nights and I imagine it will do the same for you. If you’d like to obtain a copy of Eric Shokwiler’s Above All Men for yourself, you may purchase a copy for $13.21 at Amazon at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Music for another life. A Collaborative text by Kristina Marie Darling and Max Avi Kaplan

Max Avi Kaplan’s photography capture a glamorous 1950’s high-style woman who is spun into a wife who reveals the unglamorous side of domestic bliss under Kristina Marie Darling’s skilled hands. I am not able to share the photos that pair with each poem, so please sneak a peek any way you can and/or purchase a copy for yourself, the photos truly set the scene for each piece. A woman named Adelle, who longs for domestic bliss and finds none, she is one who abandons the notion only to reveal the complexities of having been part of married life and then no longer being part of the world so highly touted by conventional society. The balance of being married and no longer being married tilts back and forth in the pages as Adele’s thoughts melt into readers’ minds as Darling challenge the “conventional norm.” Darling and Kaplan bring forth the all too familiar diatribe of women who “snag a man” only to become invisible to them as they keep the house clean while also trying to strap on their high heels and dresses only to find their once devoted lover glued to the television screen or worse, running off to be with another woman who has distracted them away from home. Below I am happy to reveal a few samples:


I always wondered what it would be like to live alone. Back then I thought I might still acquire friends, hobbies, or pets. I knew I’d keep the tea kettle warm, real daisies blooming outside the window. What I didn’t imagine back then was the stillness. Every room seems like an ocean. I tried buying myself new things: a television, some dishes, a new bed set. Now my pillow is soft but the stone walls are firm. No one ever wants to come in for tea or cocoa. Every time I close my eyes I hear the kettle shriek.

I love this piece because it hits home for me in a different way. Whenever I lived completely alone I found myself very happy yet noticed that the social life dropped off in a dramatic way just as Darling indicates above. I especially love the line “Every room seems like an ocean,” because I know exactly what she means. Each room’s emptiness vast and expanding when you are all alone. When you go to bed alone, you imagine sounds that are not there because there is no one else to distract you from yourself. Here Adelle is adjusting to life on her own and finding the balance of trying to make herself happy in this new state of being alone while thinking about all that she wishes for such as friends dropping in or pets greeting her at the door.


By the time I turned twenty I knew I’d never stay married. Not to a man. Not to a copywriter in a charcoal suit. And not to a god or a marble statue in a church. I knew I’d never stay married because I didn’t want to be married. What I did want, though, was a party with croissants and fresh strawberries. I began inviting friends to celebrate my freedom, my unattachedness. I sent crisp little cards in cream-coloured envelopes. Until finally the day arrived and my doorbell rang. When I opened the door, there was no one there.

It is heartening to read of a woman who doesn’t want the conventional lifestyle. That there are alternative ways of existing in the world. I love that she will not even marry God, as nuns do, and belongs only to herself. I wonder about the ending when the “day arrived and my doorbell rang. When I opened the door, there was no one there.” It sounds as though there was supposed to be a suitor at her doorstep and yet the suitor turns out to be invisible and perhaps signifies her resolve to remain unattached. The mysterious suitor may simply be Freedom.


Your new wife checks her makeup, holds a pink plastic mirror in her perfect hand. I suppose it’s easy to hurt someone when you know exactly what you want. She’d been Hollywood-bound, a minor film star. But you stopped her on the bridge to California. You stopped her with one look, a quick flash of your black leather checkbook. While the two of you talk about groceries, I sneak back into our old house. Our marriage bed creaks on broken springs. Who even lives here anymore? No one would sleep under these moth-eaten sheets. I’m sick of cooking meals that don’t get eaten.

There is another piece about the new wife that I like also, but this one strikes me most because Adelle sneaks back into her former home and tests the bed and the sheets. Adelle doesn’t really say her regrets or whether she is thankful, we only know part of the story above and it is up to us to decide from our own experiences with love and loss. For me, it would be a mix of bittersweet regret and relief of things not turning out as they should. The line “Who even lives here anymore?” shows that she can see how much has changed in her absence, that the signs of her now ex-husband have changed enough that she doesn’t recognize him in his new role with his new wife.

If you enjoyed this sample of Kristina Marie Darling’s and Max Avi Kaplan’s Music for another life as much as I do, you may purchase a copy for $18.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Susan Yount's House On Fire

Susan Yount’s House On Fire is published by Blood Pudding Press and carries with it the weight of overcoming childhood’s complexities and rising above the ashes. Her poems are raw and beautiful, provocative and daring. I am happy to share a sample below:


holds the bloated baby goat.
Tongue licks death. He bawls
recoiling neck and I cannot stop this.
Evident Baby is sick beyond kilter,
straw sticks to his teeth. Yet I
still pretend to call the vet
and help support Baby’s neck.

Sissy looks at me and blue eyes
balloon behind saline. Life whiffs
in her hands while the phone rants
off hook. She drops to her knees
opening frothy shriveled goat lips.

Breathes into him
as hard as she can.

To me, this poem illustrates how tough you have to be in the everyday life of farm work. Yount knows the goat is doomed and tries to revive him anyway. Often we don’t think of animals receiving CPR, we think of it only as a caring act for humans. The tenderness and terror make this a remarkable poem.

The Oracle

I have read your cards
today, you beautiful,
moonstruck moth—
stay away from the light.
Later tonight,
when you take that hit,
ask yourself, why do I want it?
Why be depressed all the time?
You will find there is no
good reason and trip
into the hotel hot tub.
Stop drinking.
Stop writing
about your father.

the folding house is
folding faster. Of course,
every time you take a hit,
it changes you. Next time,
you might not be as beautiful.
Next time, you might not
come back. Be grateful
with your life. For I have
seen you die at the Flaming Lips
concert. I have seen you
come back again. I have
seen you naked and noted
your tattoo. I have not seen

your cyst but I have been
your chiropractor,
your gallbladder.
Your antihistamine
just so you can breathe.
Focus now—
remember the house
where you practiced
your death. Shadows
of apple trees in the back—
the folding house
folding you. The place
you practiced your
life, sleep. I have seen
the band-aid on your pinky
shredding zucchini in 2009.

Be careful
where you are now.
You could be drinking beer
at your computer. The paintings
your baby made—melting.
You could be Elizabeth Bishop
burning in a house.
You could be a ghost fish
and you were already dead

at the Indigo Girls concert in 1995.
Everyone thought you were a saint.
Wear your hair in pigtails again
and they will cry at your feet.
You die several times—

your solo car wreck.
This time. You change
listening to the immunization
officer. He will let you register
as long as you only take
one class. Often. There is life outside tetanus shots.
Life outside the fold.
Next time—

You are drunk.

And that helps.
You are folding snow;
close now.
You are barely alive.
You are just a dollar

away from that Indigo Girls song
so that you can remember—
the folding house, the balcony.

Life below you.
The stories of you
falling. Headed
out a window.
Your pink infected
at 9:49 pm. This is 2009.
You haven’t asked to see
the future—

you remember it.
Fugitive. Hammer.
Nail. Just another hit.
They won’t stop
coming and crying.

In this poem, Yount is referring to a Tarot card reader predicting her life along with her own predictions from learning to read Tarot cards under his tutelage. Yount was kind enough to give me insight into this poem as I found it difficult to determine who the Oracle is. It is a fantastical and dark world that is told by the cards.

Almost Dark

I hear his truck throw gravel
so I go hide in the woods.
He looks for me, thinking I am
somewhere between the rabbit cages
and the goat pen but I am not.
I watch him from the creek.
He doesn’t think to look there
and yells my name—
as if I would come.

Maple leaves gargle his throat-call
and I squat thinking of ways
to kill him. He hasn’t quit looking
for me yet and scans the tree line.
I bet he is angry now,
his face turned beer-cooler red.
He knows I’m hiding.

I see him
walk back to his truck
and grab another High Life.
I go deeper into the woods
and pick up that heavy shovel I left
when I buried the litter of Flemish Giants
dogs ate on. He’ll stumble
through here soon enough.

This poem is terrifying. The implications are loaded as we read on to find out what happens to the poet and her father. If you read the other poems in this collection you will learn why she is hiding in the woods and the hunt will leave your heart pounding for her. While we wonder about the true ending we know the poet survives to tell the tale.

I cannot do these poems the justice they deserve, they will tug at your core self. If you enjoyed this review, you may purchase a copy of Susan Yount’s House On Fire from Blood Pudding Press for $7.00 at:

Thanks for reading, please drop in again soon...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rebecca Schumejda's Waiting at the Dead End Diner

Rebecca Schumejda’s collection, Waiting At The Dead End Diner, is published by Bottom Dog Press and is a very entertaining read. From budding romance to scandalous relationships both in and outside of the Diner alone with tragedies of losing a loved one to illness or to ideology, it is all here. Characters that melt your heart, make you grimace, or make you grin, you will not be able to forget the names inside these pages any time soon. Morals good, bad, and ambiguous all play out in Schumejda’s skillful hands. I have dog-eared many pages to share but will pare them down to just a few poems and I urge you to purchase this collection for yourself. You will also have renewed, or perhaps new, sympathy and appreciation for any and all who work in the restaurant industry. You will also find yourself driving to your nearest Diner and listen closely to the stories of the lives of the workers around you. Here are a few poems to whet your appetite:

The Weed Whacker

In the weeds, during a breakfast shift
with Lillian, I go into the kitchen with a
bouquet of orders that wilt instantly
under Tommy’s insults.

Back on the floor, while I dash around
in search of refills, condiments,
missing sides for the nine tables
in my section, Lillian, who is more than
three times my age, glides gracefully
around her seventeen tables
like a figure skater, poised enough
to ask each person how so-and-so’s doing,
if they got that promotion they were up for
or what place their child came in at the
science fair. I can’t even remember who
asked for the hot sauce that just came uncapped
in my apron and is running down my leg.

But Lillian knows and places another
bottle of hot sauce in front of Frank,
who’s fuming because he’s already eaten
half his eggs dry. Lillian smiles and says,
This should cool you down, and he cracks
a smile and begins chit-chatting about
the men down at the firehouse
about how big Al’s son just had a baby girl.

If you are a regular at any restaurant or diner where you live then you know there’s always that one server or employee that you look forward to seeing there. You know you’ll be taken care of and they do have that magic way of remembering you and your family. I grew up that way with my parents at a local Cracker Barrel in El Paso, Texas. I always wonder what happened to the waitress that always brought out a bowl of whipped cream for my little sister and if she still works there. Who do you look forward to seeing when you go to your dining place of choice?

Cold Soup and Overdone Steak

A woman at one of Jolene’s tables
grabs Carlos by the wrist and scolds him:
I don’t know how they serve soup in
your country, but in this country,
they serve it hot—bring this back now

Carlos apologizes, takes the soup
and tells Jolene. Later after the woman
cuts into her steak, she snaps her fingers
and screams across the diner,
Hey you, soup boy. She adds
incessant finger snapping.

When Carlos gets to her, she puts
her plate to his face and says,
Would you look at this? Does this
look rare to you? I said I wanted it
to moo.
Carlos says he’ll get Jolene,
but she says No, bring it back now!

Expressionless, Carlos does what
he is told. Tonight is the one night
a week he calls home to El Salvador
to talk with his kids on the phone.
He goes into the kitchen, gives
the steak back to Rick then opens
his wallet and takes out their picture.
He looks at his family,
ignoring Rick who mumbles,
I’ll make this cow moo for the bitch.

My blood boils for Carlos and the restaurant in general. Having worked in customer service (as a secretary) I can relate to rude customers who treat people the way this one does. I wish I knew if Rick spit in this woman’s food, too.

The Things We Bring

George decides to close the diner
from 6pm to 6am on Christmas Eve.
Edna invites us over to her house
and because I didn’t want to drive to
my parents’ house, I go over with a bag of chips,
a 16 oz. container of French onion dip,
a bottle of white table wine with a twist-off cap,
and a pair of flowered gardening gloves
folded into white tissue paper for Edna.

Maggie comes with her daughter,
brings a casserole, a bottle of vodka,
and two boxes wrapped in shiny red paper.
Rick carries a case of beer
with a potted red poinsettia balanced
precariously on top.
Jolen comes with her boyfriend
from the bowling alley, two twelve-packs,
and scratch off lottery tickets for everyone.
Rochelle brings a painting for Edna
and a loaf of golden Challah bread.
Carrie brings statues of the three wise men
and Danny, who carries her coat and pocketbook.

Tommy wears a Santa hat,
brings a large pan containing a cooked
spiral ham, green beans in a cream sauce
decorated with slivers of almonds,
a box of chocolates and a red envelope
for Edna. Then George enters
with a pan of baklava and a
bouquet of two dozen red roses.
Everyone is relieved his nail tapping
wife made other plans. Asif brings
a cheesecake and two small boxes.
He hands one to Edna and the other to me.
Even Hakim stops by for a minute
to drop off the clay owl he made for Edna.

We sit around two rickety card tables
pushed together and covered with
a beige laced table cloth laughing
about how Edna is running around
waiting on us on her day off. Sit down,
Tommy orders, and all the men
take over, waiting on us.

Later as Asif sits down beside me and
rests his hand gently on my leg,
I imagine what is inside each of the gifts
under Edna’s tree. Gifts, Maggie says,
Edna brings out every year.
They are the ones she bought for
her husband, son and grandson
the year fate stole them from her.

This poem brings my heart to my mouth. If you read this collection this poem touches you more deeply because you have gotten to know every single individual named in the poem above by now. The kindness of the gathering of coworkers as family and the tragedy of the ending stanza brings the complex feelings of most holiday gatherings into a bright and uncomfortable light.

There are countless poems I want to share with you but you will have to read this collection for yourself and it is definitely a worthwhile read. If you enjoyed this review you may purchase a copy of Rebecca Schumejda’s Waiting At The Dead End Diner from Bottom Dog Press for $17.00 at:

Thanks always for reading, please drop by again soon…

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Vow by Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling’s collection, Vow, published by BlazeVox press, explores the fictional tale of a bride and groom whose world is being consumed by fire. Using the effects of white space as she often does, Darling allows our imaginations to dictate the couple’s interactions in our minds. Darling creates enigmatic imagery of keys and locks, the feeling of helpless acceptance of being consumed by fire, being burned perhaps by each other. The word vow is taken to the extreme and played out amongst the flames and I am happy to share some of her work with you:

Our house burns with light. He is a shattered window overlooking the desert. I am smoldering in a field of dead poppies.
The fire is tearing at floorboards, the rooms, us. It’s the second night, and already we realize the danger of bringing children into a barren landscape.
So we bury our vows one by one. We are pieces of an altar collapsing from the inside.

I picture a couple who realize exactly what they are truly in for once they have gotten past that first wedding night, having that heart to heart talk that sets their initial dreams and expectations on fire. Hence why the fire tears at them and they realize the danger of children, the vows being buried, and the proverbial altar collapsing.

I dream another me exists in the burning home, reading aloud from what I have written. Broken glass. A sad film. The awkward silence.
I had always thought night would feel like: an electric current, the most startling numbness in every fingertip. Throughout the landscape, a small fire would still be blazing.
But somehow in the dream I’ve grown wings. Tell me, does this change everything--?
I want to use them so badly, but I don’t know how—

In this the bride wants a different version of herself in the life she finds herself, along with wings. I assume she either wants to soar above her problems or fly away altogether. Either way, the disappointment of the moments in her life permeate the words above and we feel her pain with her.

The house was vast, but so much of it seemed inaccessible: locked rooms, an iron gate, and the envelopes with their dark red seals.

This is a short piece but powerful nonetheless. I imagine the house being an expression of marriage, the secrets that are kept under lock and key, the wax seals beckoning to be opened to reveal secrets that come out after vows have been exchanged at the altar.

If you enjoyed this sample you can obtain a copy for yourself. To purchase a copy of Vow, by Kristina Marie Darling, please visit the link below:

Thanks always for reading, please drop by again soon...