NewPages Blog :: Book Reviews

Check out book reviews of titles from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

Book Review :: Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke

Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke is the fantastical adventure of young mop-headed Milo who is sent looking for his baby sister’s missing sock in the basement of their new home. Not just any sock, this “special sock” was made by her Tia Maria “with her special yarn.” The pressure is on as Milo reluctantly heads into the strange, gloomy basement to check the laundry.

What ensues is a series of Milo stumbling into and across one breadcrumb to the next, each taking him deeper and deeper into a secret world under his house. For kids who are terrified of basements, so is Milo! He is resistant time and again to continue his pursuit of the missing sock, but as he meets various underground dwellers and becomes entangled in their plight to survive, his inner hero eventually shines through.

Hatke’s use of frameless borders and often organically shaped panels lends to the eerie feeling of the story along with a rich palette of shades to reflect the gloomy atmosphere. Brighter colors emerge as the action ramps up with some pages seeming to burst with energy and excitement. Dialogue is minimal throughout, with some characters communicating in easily interpreted symbols.

Milo’s lack of confidence throughout the story is frustrating at times, but this also makes him a wonderful role model for kids who may fear basements as well as for kids who are fascinated by them. In the end, Milo’s victory saves his newly forged underground friendships and allows him to conquer his own internal struggle, making him the ultimate hero.


Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke. First Second :01, August 2023.

Reviewer bio: NewPages.com Editor Denise Hill reviews books based on personal interest.

Book Review :: Transitions: A Mother’s Journey by Élodie Durand

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Transitions: A Mother’s Journey, Élodie Durand’s graphic nonfiction work, takes a nontraditional approach to narrative, visuals, and the idea of transitioning. First, this work isn’t a memoir, as Durand doesn’t tell her story; instead, she tells the story of Anne and Alex Marbot, fictional names for the mother and child whose lives she shares with the reader. Durand also moves back and forth in time, telling the Marbots’ story chronologically, at times, but then breaking up that story with inserts from Anne’s journal, which includes various inserts about gender identity.

Visually, the work moves between more realistic comic panels that tell most of the story and impressionistic sketches that reveal how characters (usually Anne) are feeling. The real difference, though, comes in the idea of transitioning. Rather than telling Alex’s story of their transition from female to male, this work focuses on Anne’s transition as she learns to accept her son for who he is.

Alex knows who he is throughout the work, as the reader only sees him after he comes to his mother to tell her of his decision. Anne, however, takes a couple of years to accept Alex, a journey that sees her move from questioning Alex’s decision in the fairly typical ways (believing they’re too young to make a decision or that their therapist put such an idea in their head) to becoming not just an accepting parent, but a staunch ally in the fight for trans rights and acceptance.

In this story, Anne is the one who must transition into becoming who she needs to be by the end of the work.


Transitions: A Mother’s Journey by Élodie Durand; translated by Evan McGorray. Top Shelf Productions, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: Telling the Truth as It Comes Up by Alice Notley

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Telling the Truth as It Comes Up Selected Talks & Essays 1991-2018 by Alice Notley is a collection of prose writing that gives opinions and anecdotes of strong interest to reviewers and scholars of contemporary poets and poetics. It is also a great companion to Notley’s poetry, especially her book, At Night the States.

Notley digs deep into dream territory in the first essay, “What Can Be Learned From Dreams?” and says, “This work is also very disobedient” when describing her new work. Because she uses terms and language that are accessible, what is sometimes difficult and complex about poetry becomes transparent and real.

“The Mohave desert is vast with space and one fills it with thoughts and dreams—or I did. I acquired certain habits of thought from growing up in this landscape,” Notley writes in “Dreams, Again.”

I was so happy to find “Where’d You Get It?” her essay on Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger (2018) tucked in between “Musical Influences” and writing about Philip Whalen’s collected poems, “To do exactly that, right now” (2007).

Notley shows and tells what is apparent and transfers her whole self into whatever she discusses. In this collection, she is also a historian of American Poetry, especially the particular dreamscapes that modern technology brought/brings to influence dreams and dreaming.


Telling the Truth as It Comes Up Selected Talks & Essays 1991-2018 by Alice Notley. The Song Cave, November 2024.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Paul Lynch’s 2023 Booker-prize-winning novel, Prophet Song, is timely and bleak. In a modern-day Ireland, the new government has passed laws that give them the power to clamp down on dissent, imprisoning and disappearing anyone who disagrees with them. That includes Larry, a leader of the teachers’ union, and, more importantly, Eilish’s husband.

Lynch follows Eilish and her four children as they try to hold their life together after Larry is arrested and the country slowly devolves into martial law, leading to a violent rebellion. Lynch mirrors this closing in by writing the novel without paragraph breaks, hemming the reader in, much as the Dubliners he writes about become increasingly trapped.

For much of the novel, Eilish tries to hold her family together by pretending their life is normal: she continues to take baby Ben to daycare, get the older kids to school, care for her father who is suffering from dementia. Even as some people leave the country, something Eilish’s sister who lives in Canada is willing to help Eilish and the family do, Eilish continues working to keep up a normal life. Ultimately, though, the conflict takes its toll on the family, which begins to fracture.

There’s no way to read this novel without thinking of the current rise of fascist or fascist-like leaders, despite the reader only seeing the result of decisions, not the politicians in charge. Sinclair Lewis titled a novel It Can’t Happen Here, which is how Eilish feels, but Lynch makes it abundantly clear what happens when people think that way.


Prophet Song by Paul Lynch. Oneworld, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: A Shining by Jon Fosse

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

Compared to Septology, the doorstop that is John Fosse’s multi-volume, A Shining is a relative pamphlet. At 75 pages, the story can be summarized as follows: in the midst of a dérive, a man drives aimlessly (much like Fosse himself did while calming his nerves before the announcement of his being awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature), turning left and right without a thought, before he finds himself deep in the forest, his car stuck in the mud. He gets out to look for help, but all he finds is a shining, otherworldly presence. As the strangeness ramps up, he gets distracted from thoughts about his car.

There is some dialogue, though more often than not the slim cast of characters are unheard or ignored. The man’s words usually form a monologue, tracking his attempts to posit onto the world of A Shining a logic that is perpetually evading him. A dreamlike quality persists throughout; despite all the questioning, attempts to unwind the supernatural events are lackadaisical, and the phantasmal world is accepted without much fightback. At times, the glacial pacing of Fosse’s novella feels like an episode of sleep paralysis.

Comparisons to Beckett are hardly original, though A Shining does illuminate them. Here, as in Beckett’s famous trilogy, the world is shrunk down to the parameters of the story, characters are often nameless, seemingly insignificant objects become totems, and besides events that make up the blurb, nothing really happens.


A Shining by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls. Transit Books, October 2023.

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Berlin. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton, and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Paul Harding bases his new novel, This Other Eden, on a historical settlement of mixed-race people on an island off the coast of Maine. He uses that history as a springboard to create deep and rich characters who live there, ranging from Ethan Honey, a boy who can pass for white and has artistic talent that provides him with an opportunity others from the island never receive, to his grandmother Esther, a woman who sees the reality of what will come to their island, but who provides medicinal help to the residents in the meantime.

There are other finely-drawn characters, as well, such as Zachary Hand to God, who lives mostly in a tree while carving scenes from the Bible, and the Larks, who are almost translucent due to the amount of intermarriage in their family.

Harding pulls from historical accounts of what the government ultimately did to the residents of the island, relocating them to the mainland, putting them in institutions, even possibly sterilizing them to keep them from reproducing. Harding’s narrative voice, though, presents some contemporary views of Ethan’s artwork and the government’s actions, showing that those who lived on the island, while different than the mainlanders, had a thriving community with a culture of its own.

Harding reminds readers that what we do to others today will appear quite different a hundred years from now, which should give us pause before we alienate those who don’t match our definitions of normalcy.


This Other Eden by Paul Harding. W.W. Norton, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: This Country by Navied Mahdavian

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

This Country: Searching for Home in (Very) Rural America, Navied Mahdavian’s graphic memoir, is, on the surface, the story of his and his wife’s attempt to literally make a home in rural Idaho. They have Amish builders construct and transport a tiny house to their land, and they begin learning how to survive in harsh conditions.

During their first winter, they’re unable to start their cars and, thus, get anywhere to buy food. Their attempts to raise enough food to live on doesn’t go well for their first year or two. They struggle to stay warm during the long, Idaho winters. However, their neighbors (loosely defined in such a rural setting, as they’re often more than a mile away) help them out, tell them stories about the area, and give them tips to help them survive. However, those same neighbors tell Mahdavian, whose parents are Iranian, that ISIS is in Idaho, they ask him if he’s Muslim, and they use racial and ethnic slurs to describe others when talking to him.

Navied and Emilie move to Idaho just before the 2016 election, which highlights such comments even more, making the book ultimately about Navied and Emilie’s attempt to find a country, to truly make a home, in a place that doesn’t welcome them. They ultimately have to face the choice of living the rural life they want or going elsewhere to try to create the life they want for themselves and their daughter.


This Country: Searching for Home in (Very) Rural America by Navied Mahdavian. Princeton Architectural Press, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite  

Book Review :: The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The Bee Sting, Paul Murray’s latest novel, set primarily in rural Ireland, follows a family of four that is clearly having a difficult time. Dickie, the father, is in the process of running the family car dealership into the ground, while Imelda, his wife, is trying to understand who she is when she can’t define herself by spending money. Cass, their daughter, begins making some poor decisions around school, due largely to the family’s disintegration. PJ, their son, is experiencing the normal struggles of early adolescence and in desperate need of a friend.

Those problems sound like the setup for a typical domestic novel, but this book isn’t typical, as the bee sting of the title echoes back to Dickie and Imelda’s wedding and marriage, which is much more complicated and fraught than first seems. In fact, all of the characters have secrets that Murray slips out through a variety of flashbacks, as he allows each of the four main characters their own sections, so the reader can see them as they truly are, not as others see them.

That theme of appearance versus reality runs throughout the entire novel, and Murray is not about to let the reader off easy with a tied-up ending that will make it clear how this family fairs. Like all of us, they will continue to struggle, one way or another.


The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: Plucked by Miracle Thorton

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

These poems are about what is left after cruelties. Thornton’s voice is at a whisper. She shows us what it is like to be young and vulnerable, and we can barely grasp the magnitude of events that happen because her telling is elusive, it is non-confrontational. Many poems deal with hair and looks and how the world and the self react to what others expect, as in these lines from the amazing prose poem “Quick”:

[…] these twins with hair like disturbed water lead the show, they take
gymnastics. you learned how to do a cartwheel off the tv. you join them
because the teachers are suspicious. they never leave you alone.

And this excerpt from “Jackdaw”:

embarrassed by his unfiltered blackness,
how it rings in his laugh like a broken key,

Thorton’s poems build and become fiercer and then settle down at the end to beauty found in nature instead of what might preoccupy humans. From “Equinox”:

[…] leaves, us calling, him calling, silky
traces of inch worms, cottontails

What it tells about is something we cannot exactly find yet get hints from through the actions of others. What we want changes into something we don’t want and are stuck with until it also disappears.


Plucked by Miracle Thorton. Rattle, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Continuity Errors by Catriona Wright

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The super real, feminist, and sharp-edged poems of Catriona Wright’s Continuity Errors are at turns an “embodied presence / in virtual environments,” a “fever / dream of escape,” a “walk through the cemetery,” and “a scathing assessment” of our time. To tell us like it is, our self-deprecating narrator, a fierce new mother, “got” her wings “removed,” owns her “inner bitch,” and admits she “know[s] … little about how to live / a good life or about who [she] want[s] to be.”

A line item in her assessment: The angelic/“rowdy” paradigm for women within her family and the impact a woman’s choices have on “job, … marriage, / a life organized // around wealth.”

Another item: Relationship difficulties. We are reminded “don’t kid // yourself, love has always been / transactional.” Our “demons / look like our mothers… exes / … bosses and professors” who “condescend / and lecture and harangue, activating / shames from childhood.”

These poems implicate “parental models,” gatekeepers, “scammers,” “tourists,” the “betrayer and betrayed,” and the “visionaries and oracles,” and they make us face the “old sputtering hurts” we cause ourselves, one another, and our world. This is the world our narrator has brought her child into, admitting we “can’t fix” or “staunch” its bleeding fast enough. It may not be fair, but some of us “get to stay here longer than the white rhinos, / the bees.” Informed by environmental ethicist Michael Vincent McGinnis’s term “species loneliness,” Catriona Wright’s poems “flicker” and “mourn,” and are “as likely as anything / to banish loneliness from the world.”


Continuity Errors by Catriona Wright. Coach House Books, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

Book Review :: Slows: Twice by T. Liem

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The poems, “filled with ellipses and reversals,” of T. Liem’s Slows: Twice are offered by a “speaker” who doesn’t “always feel / like” they are who they “say” they are, from a “threshold / between [self] and potential in any direction.” That is, the poems explore and explicate a betweenness: “on either side / of leaving… on either side / of the kind of words that look / right at you and leave you / in the middle of nowhere.” Even “nowhere” is “somewhere.”

This “threshold” is a way to “conceive of what a border could consist of.” A “border” is a place where “two things can be true at once”; both a place where “every fact has an afterlife” and a place “to link arms with some future.” At a border, time folds in on itself. The present reflects “what looks back at you”; the future “what can unfold from hurt.”

Liem’s poems swing on the hinges of “asking and repeating” the question: “[W]hat will carry you through what hurt you?” The poet uses mirror imaging and strikethroughs of poem text to suggest this phenomenon of “renewal or expiry.” The poet also uses their poems to argue with “time… spent // in omission” because, they assert, “there is no place and time / without names.” Our “bodies become an etymology”; “language is change.”

Dear Reader, whether you would choose to “slow time, / speed it up,” “[w]ouldn’t you like to be transported?” To read T. Liem’s Slows: Twice is to encounter “what other kind of living”—and writing—”is possible.”


Slows: Twice by T. Liem. Coach House Books, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

Book Review :: Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Western Lane, Chetna Maroo’s debut, Booker-Prize-shortlisted novel, follows Gopi, a British Indian teenager after the death of her mother. Before her mother’s death, her father had been taking her and her two sisters to Western Lane to play squash, but the game was nothing more than a hobby.

After the funeral, their father takes it much more seriously, mainly due to their Aunt Ranjan’s complaint that the girls are wild and need discipline. While her two sisters lose interest in the game, Gopi becomes obsessed with it, mainly as a way to build a connection with her father, but she also becomes quite good at it.

She is too good to play with her sisters, so she begins playing with Ged, a non-Indian boy whose mother works at Western Lane, a relationship that threatens to develop into something more. While her father grieves the death of her mother, Aunt Ranjan and Uncle Pavan offer to take in one of the girls to help him, which complicates Gopi’s burgeoning squash playing, as Aunt Ranjan thinks it’s unacceptable for a girl to participate in such a sport.

The novel is quiet and concise, as the characters and the narrator often leave what is most important unsaid, but readers can see the relationships fray and deepen as Gopi grows into a formidable player and teenage girl.


Western Lane by Chetna Maroo. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, November 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels.

Book Review :: Scorch by Natalie Rice

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Scorch, Natalie Rice writes “under the gravity / of immovable objects.” Our narrator asks, “How far can one carry such // emptiness?” Someone in these lyric, meditative poems wants “to be lonely,” despite the “ache in my chest completely / out of control”; yearns to feel “the freight / of my own becoming,” “to know the narrative // of my life.” In this way, Rice’s poems form a seeker’s pilgrimage and a mountain retreat “to lean / into what cannot be explained.”

There’s a sense that the poems are “tethered” to an aftermath of “collapse,” and that though there may be “nothing / left here to burn,” there is reparation and rejuvenation taking place: “a newness /… pushing / through soot,” marking how easily the natural world holds “contradictions.”

Situated in and “shaped by the living world of the Okanagan valley,” the poems “ blaze” with “iridescent bodies”: “the lady slipper / [that] blooms before the tiger lily,” “wild clematis,” “balsamroot flower,” “the last goldenrod /… plucked for the table,” and “[g]rass [that] is a fire // before it knows it is fire.” Is this “what emptiness sounds like” from “a body designed for grief”? “What if the answer // is that there is no answer?” Then, could it be enough to recognize the “unsayable // hung like a red berry in the back / of [the] throat”? Might the act of describing cast one of the “spells / to ward off longing,” “a common grief… / dissolving without telling // us why”?

Dear Reader, with a fine “ear / tethered to the ground” and “one line of a poem…tethered to two hundred / million small, beating bodies,” Natalie Rice heightens our awareness “into something so precious.”


Scorch by Natalie Rice. Gaspereau Press, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

Book Review :: The Telling, The Listening by Catharine Clark-Sayles

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

With a beautiful cover of a painting by Octavio Quintanilla (cats sleeping on the rooftops) of what could be a view from outside a hospital, these poems are reports to professionals, from professionals, and to oneself. Where does a voice, a person exist? Clark-Sayles answers, from “Falling”: little difference between flying and falling [. . . ] wheeze of air trembling just out of reach, slow reach and wiggle to find what moves and what won’t.

In “Night Call” Clark-Sayles tells the inside story of what it’s like to be a doctor: “I will love this midnight world,” and throughout The Telling, The Listening, she puts readers directly in this world of decisions and consequences. What becomes apparent is that a lot that happens is sheer luck, and we see that many times health professionals mainly practice being witnesses to life, with much sacrifice. From “Why I Seldom Sing”: “I’ve broken through walls to gain my calling and the breaking took my voice.”

Clark-Sayles gives us poems that sing out to the world to recover what was taken and broken. Poems that are the perfect embodiment of narrative medicine: a rigorous mixture of despair, celebration, and wonderment.


The Telling, The Listening by Catharine Clark-Sayles. St. Julian Press, October 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: a dangerous vacation by Dale Houstman

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Dale Houstman is one of the avant-garde poets often published in Caliban in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and in the 2000s as Caliban’s later incarnation, Caliban Online, edited and published by Lawrence R. Smith. On Facebook, recently, Houstman inventories his personal library under “My Unsightly Library.” It is great to see his writing; it is like Caliban has come back to life. Much like the Dada expressionists after the First World War, Houstman is as much an artist as he is a poet and writer/reader, and we get to see his surreal view at work.

Caliban Online features Houstman’s work in book form, along with half a dozen other Caliban contributors on a page called “Caliban’s Bookshelf.” These can be downloaded free of charge. Houstman’s poetry book (his sole publication), a dangerous vacation, is beautiful with its red titles and tiny dots which frame black letters on white paper, and the poems are arranged mainly in couplets and tercet stanzas; very musical looking and vibrant.

“They are ‘like Rorschach ink blots,’” Houstman says. Take a peek and be prepared to be fascinated by his pyrotechnics, by his electric mind.


a dangerous vacation by Dale Houstman. Caliban Online, 2017.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: To Free the Captives by Tracy K. Smith

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In To Free the Captives, poet Tracy K. Smith brings her lyrical writing style to the essay form, as she explores what it means to be Black in America today. Rather than straightforward essays laying out an argument, though, Smith uses parts of her life—her marriage and motherhood, for example—as entry points into meditations on the world as she experiences it.

She ruminates on the difference between being Free (white) and Freed (Black) throughout the collection, as she reminds readers that the past is as present as ever, for good and ill. She draws on the lineage she knows and delves into her family history, but she also looks to the broader Black culture for ancestors who can support her and the other Freed, as they continue to shape lives of meaning and beauty.

This approach isn’t metaphorical for Smith, as she feels those who have come before her speaking to her and guiding her in who she should be and who she could yet become. Her subtitle of “A Plea for the American Soul” reminds readers that both the Free and Freed must live in and through this past, as we all seek to create a present and future together; ignoring the past will only deepen the divide that has always existed in the American soul.


To Free the Captives by Tracy K. Smith. Alfred A. Knopf, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels.

Book Review :: The Future by Naomi Alderman

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The Future, Naomi Alderman’s latest novel, is set in a near-future America that’s dominated by three tech companies: Fantail, Anvil, and Medlar. Those companies are a clear combination of social media sites (ranging from Facebook to TikTok), Apple, and Amazon, and their three leaders echo attributes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs.

I would like to say that the fictional companies are doing far more damage to Alderman’s world than their real-life inspiration, but I could only say that for certain because Alderman lets readers know what her CEOs are actually up to. They’re preparing for the end of the world, as was Martha Einkorn — who was raised in a cult that focused on preparing for the end of the world, but who has become the assistant for the CEO of Fantail — and Lai Zhen, a survivalist who’s become famous thanks to her online presence.

They meet and begin a relationship that is complicated by the billionaires’ seeming desire to bring about the end of the world as they know it. Alderman’s satire of our technology-obsessed world and the egos that run it is spot on, but she also creates characters worth caring about.

Readers won’t just want the world to continue because they want to see the tech leaders lose, but because they want Martha and Lai Zhen to live on.


The Future by Naomi Alderman. Simon and Schuster, November 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels.

Book Review :: Dear Park Ranger by Jeff Darren Muse

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Imagine zoning out during a campfire talk at a National Park, wondering what the ranger’s life is really like during their off-hours. . . This book of essays satisfies some of that curiosity as Jeff Darren Muse takes readers through his life’s journey. Muse offers the ins and outs of his profession through carefully constructed prose and is very entertaining in his telling. In his chapter “SAR Talk,” Muse describes being behind the counter while his co-rangers pack up gear: “The counter is important, I tell myself. The lead ranger put me here because I’m good with people. […] I’ve got a shiny badge that looks like a toy. I’ve got a buzz cut, a thinning hairline. I’m in my own damn storm. On a ledge. Stuck.” Here, Muse is talking about his own anger that has put him “on a ledge.” This writing explores how Muse rescues himself by acknowledging what is around him and what and who has traveled before him. Gary Snyder is one of his role models, and Muse shares private thoughts and experiences walking in Snyder’s footsteps, traveling further and further into ranger adventures.


Dear Park Ranger by Jeff Darren Muse. Wayfarer Books, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Songs From The Dementia Suitcase by Karen Massey

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

In response to Karen Massey’s Songs From The Dementia Suitcase, I wonder who would want these songs, let alone be handed this suitcase, when the whole world is at odds with memory (past wrongs/wars/devastation)? Well, what I found inside this excellent work was a surprise in the form of a short poem of found material called “Two Blue Songs,” which Massey notes uses Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” as a source text. “Two Blue Songs” is folded into narrative poems having to do with family and caregiving. Not that the work is bereft of these; what surprises me is the wonderful short parts to it, divided “1.” and “2.” which look a little old-fashioned, yet so familiar and comforting when the poem glides into the unknown: “all the world thick with swans” and “it is summer it is winter.” Stumbling upon this poem was a moment of grace and understanding, if such a thing can be said of the understanding of dementia and its stealth. It is so, so difficult to write about dementia without sounding sappy or drippy. Maybe the key to what this is all about is indeed in waves and the soothing nature of water.


Songs From The Dementia Suitcase by Karen Massey. above/ground press, August 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Where Are the Snows by Kathleen Rooney

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Kathleen Rooney’s, Where Are the Snows, is dedicated “To the future.” This book of prose-influenced poems seems longer than seventy-three pages. Mainly consisting of long sentences reaching across the page like obsessions, it is beautifully made, with attractive cover and front matter graphics. The Table of Contents seems demure because of its scallop-edged border. Line breaks are not of concern here. Instead, being entertaining is. Underneath the jokes and ironic spins, Rooney blends advice column writing with poetry. Each poem is about a fact or observation and explores every facet as far as the imagination will go. In “The Point in Time or Space At Which Something Originates,” Rooney explores “newness,” the word “new,” and “beginnings.” She writes: “Can beginner’s luck apply from moment to moment? Not sure, but I hope so.” I wouldn’t go as far as saying she uses the techniques of stand-up comedians, but elements are here in what gets turned around. In the poem, “Foretelling the Future by a Randomly Chosen Passage from a Book,” Rooney concludes: “Quick! Somebody give me another assignment. Somebody tell me that what we do matters.” Rooney’s book matters. Laughing during the pain of life matters.


Where Are the Snows by Kathleen Rooney. Texas A&M University Press, September 2022.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa

Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation exposes the overt and hidden racism that runs throughout the healthcare industry, as well as other health-related concerns—such as the influence of social and physical living conditions on mortality. Villarosa draws on the history of health and medicine to show the variety of ways the then-legalized and socially accepted racism continues to affect how healthcare professionals today see people of color, especially African Americans. What was once obvious and intentional is now built into systems, whether that’s the way research privileges the white body or medical technologies continue the bias against Black bodies. One of her main throughlines is how the medical establishment doesn’t listen to African Americans, especially women, and especially mothers. No matter what their socioeconomic status or education level, African Americans have to work to convince those in the healthcare system that their pain is real, that their suffering needs attention. Time and time again, those pleas are ignored, leading to higher rates of mortality among minority communities, again, especially in maternal deaths. Villarosa ends the book by focusing on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she also ends with hope that changes are happening, even amid such continued suffering.


Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa. Doubleday, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

So Late in the Day, Claire Keegan’s latest collection of stories is subtitled “stories of women and men.” That could just as well read, “stories of women who are trying to live their lives and men who attempt to thwart them.” The middle of three stories, “The Long and Painful Death,” originally published in 2007, tells of a writer who just wants to use her two weeks at a retreat to produce new work, but one man intrudes upon her solitude. She reverts to societal expectations of what a woman should do to entertain a guest, ruining her day. The final story, “Antarctica,” first published in 1999, is more extreme in the complications that ensue. It’s the title story, though, that is the gem of this strong collection. Keegan published it last year, and it is a story that speaks to the gender dynamics of our time. The premise is simple, as it follows a man who meets a woman, then proposes to her. However, their relationship doesn’t go as planned, and he has the opportunity to learn about the world and women, but he learns exactly the wrong lesson. Keegan’s style, as always, is sparse and powerful, much like Chekhov, her favorite writer (who makes an appearance in the middle story). Keegan creates women who want to craft meaningful lives in the world, but the men who interact with them do their best to prevent those lives from coming to fruition.


So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan. Grove Press, 2023

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Good Grief, the Ground by Margaret Ray

Good Grief, the Ground by Margaret Ray book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Good Grief, the Ground, Margaret Ray’s debut collection, “we are in Central Florida.” It is late summer. We are coming of age, making out at the movies, sneaking into a pool, navigating gender tensions and expectations, and “no one is dead yet.” The poet writes personally of “the cusp of childhood” and adulthood and expands socio-politically to “the border / between” a “violent history / of colonialization” and what we “get away with… because” we “are white,” between queer desire and autonomy, between “this woman and wanting” “and wanting to be.” There is “a glow of danger and ferocity pulsing off” Ray’s lines, a ”buzzing-heat-made-into-sound that means” “we change // when we can name things.” But in reality “naming it’s no inoculation against / what happens in every parking lot alone at night.” There are “too many dead women.” In these poems, Ray is the one who carries both her younger and adult selves “across the threshold” where “[c]hildren are made of risk” and “someone says hysterectomy.” Whether we are children or adults, “everything / has always arranged itself into before / and after.” Everyone has to be “fluent in the grammar / of emergency.” The poems emit “the feeling of being ready to go somewhere,” but soon realize “there were never any good exit strategies.” Considering this ground of no exit, do we continue to risk “betting on anything” or do we go about “inoculating … against / hope”? Ray’s poems strive toward “self-sufficient womanhood” to “build the version where memory works,” to “feel at home in this life.” Isn’t that what we all want, dear reader? Margaret Ray’s Good Grief, the Ground “sparkles with impermanence,” “the most delicious tingling.”

Good Grief, the Ground by Margaret Ray. BOA Editions Ltd., April 2023

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

Book Review :: Apogee/Perigee by Leesa Dean

Apogee/Perigee by Leesa Dean book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Apogee/Perigee by Leesa Dean is about relationships near and far. What is the poet’s relationship to situations, people, and other everyday items? I see Dean’s poems in a creative, concrete way; and see them as points on an astrology chart, which is circular and the connecting points to various houses/states of being. This is a sacred, esoteric book of poems not to be approached offhandedly. Slowly, by studying these dialed-up, circles of potency, there is a lot revealed, as in these lines from “House of Values”:

[. . . ] movies
on repeat. ice cream on repeat.
dinner at bedtime. toys kept in
Crown Royale bags.

At first, I did not get that these were astrology charts. They looked like maps with scroll and script writing. When I went back and examined them, it was plain as can be. In these lines, Dean remembers her grandmother’s teachings:

[. . . ] her eyes lit like
bright swans when her mouth
formed the words.

I love, “her eyes lit like bright swans” so much. I can see and feel this image. The mystery, the sacred, and the overcoming of what was endured make for careful reading. If I read nothing else, I would be satisfied.


Apogee/Perigee by Leesa Dean. above/ground press, April 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

 Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Let Us Descend, Jesmyn Ward’s latest novel, like other neo-slave narratives—Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer— uses the mystical and the magical in her portrayal of slavery. Annis is separated from her mother and sold further South into even more brutal conditions. One way she survives is by drawing on the spirits of wind, water, and earth, as well as her ancestors. However, Ward doesn’t use these supernatural elements to make Annis’ existence easier; in fact, Annis often argues with these spirits about what they have done and where they have failed her or her family. Annis must ultimately rely on herself and those around her in order to survive and find a way to exist in a brutal system that consistently tries to break every bond she has, including the one with herself. Ward focuses more on the psychological and emotional effects of slavery than she does the physical abuse, though that’s certainly present. She is more concerned with Annis’ inner life and her relationships with her family and others who are enslaved than she is with recreating the brutality of the system. She ultimately wants to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit rather than relying on the supernatural spirits to provide an unrealistic survival for Annis.


Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward. Scribner, October 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: Meltwater by Claire Wahmanholm

Meltwater by Claire Wahmanholm book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Meltwater, Claire Wahmanholm buoys her poems between the loss of a child and glacial ice melt, between “wail / and wishing.” Her poems read like a glossary of “every passing catastrophe,” acknowledging that everything is “made of / vanishing.” And, the poet is “living,” “alive / to notice,” asking, What are the implications of artistic fertility and motherhood when we are killing Earth? Perhaps because the “clock is about to start,” poetic form and sequence are important aspects of Meltwater. In the abecedary poems “O,” “M,” “P,” and “XYZ,” there is an alliterative and assonating accumulation “between mist and milk.” In opposition, words melt “white letters of dread invisible against / their surface of snow” in the eight erasures entitled “Meltwater.” In another series that makes use of variations of the statement “Everything Will Try to Kill You,” Wahmanholm invokes Lucille Clifton’s poem “won’t you celebrate with me.” In her poem, Clifton asserts “something has tried to kill me / and has failed,” but Wahmanholm admits she has “no plan to keep the chemicals separate / from the lake, the acid separate from the rain, the bird from the glass.” A series of four other poems entitled “Glacier” recounts visiting “the bright blue undersides turning over and over in the bay,” which “sounds like a metaphor but isn’t.” Wahmanholm is “talking about water.” The glacial ice melt and sea level rise that will flood coastal areas. Unlike other writers who write about climate crises, I get the feeling Wahmanholm does not write to either avert or despite disaster. Wahmanholm writes “to be ready for whatever [is] left of the world” and what “we suffer the empty universe for.”


Meltwater by Claire Wahmanholm. Milkweed Editions, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

Book Review :: How To by Heather Cadsby

How To by Heather Cadsby book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

The prose poems in How To by Heather Cadsby are hilarious, and their titles are satisfying enough, let alone the bodies of the poems. Some examples: “How to catch flamboyant bohemians,” “How to tell if it’s different,” and “How to look at a broken fountain.” Each one offers its own non-advice and leads me to hunger for more.

I love how Cadsby plays with expectations. These poems offer surprises that are language-based without being frustrating to read. They are LOL poems, as in this line from “How to know if your venn diagram is pentimento”:

Golf is geometry as is burlesque.

These are funny and my mind creates illustrations or comic images to go with them as I read. I am challenged by this as a reader and also immensely entertained. Not a lot of poetry is funny. Many times, when poets try to be funny, they start rhyming or sound like Dean Young imitators (even though that is a good thing). Thank goodness to have read Cadsby’s inventions, I say to myself, wondering how I will manage to set this book down and get my mind back.


How To by Heather Cadsby. above/ground press, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link

White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

White Cat, Black Dog, Kelly Link’s collection of short stories, draws from Grimm’s fairy tales and uses them as inspiration for new stories. Some of those new stories are quite contemporary, while some read very much like the fairy tales that inspire her—most are a mix of that feeling. For example, the final story, “Skinder’s Veil” is based on “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” but it tells the story of Andy, a graduate student who hasn’t been working on his dissertation. A friend from graduate school offers him a three-week housesitting job at a rural home in Vermont. There are rules, though, in that he must welcome anybody who comes to the back door, but not the front door, including Skinder himself (who seems to be Death, but that isn’t clear). As in fairy tales, Link purposefully omits important information, leaving it to the reader to decide who some characters are or what particular events or places mean. In “The White Road” (based on “The Musicians of Bremen”), for example, the white road seems to be some portal to another place, but it could also simply be the evil that exists within each of us. Though Link has modernized some of the settings and plots from Grimm’s collection of tales, humanity never seems to change.


White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link. Random House, October 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: Once These Hills by Chris McGinley

Once These Hills by Chris McGinley book cover image

Guest Post by Ashley Holloway

Set in 1898, Chris McGinley’s rural noir saga Once These Hills introduces the reader to life in eastern Kentucky on Black Boar Mountain, a world relatively untouched by modernization. Gaining momentum quickly, this story follows protagonist Lydia King, then aged 10, as she navigates life in a world that favors only the few. By championing strong female characters throughout the book, McGinley emphasizes the hardships of life in the early part of the twentieth century in rural Appalachia and how survival truly was reserved for the fittest.

As life starts to change on Black Boar Mountain, McGinley explores the relationship between big business and politics where the arrival of the Railway Company and its single-minded pursuit of advancement serves as a brilliant metaphor for our North American history of colonialism and capitalism. Through its insightful and nuanced dialogue and well-paced storyline, McGinley highlights the relationships between power, influence, and affluence, and how modernization often leaves some behind. In Once These Hills, McGinley has created a full-circle story with well-developed, three-dimensional characters, wrapping them up in a saga that successfully reminds us of the inevitability of the future; it is coming, and McGinley wants us to be prepared.


Once These Hills by Chris McGinley. Shotgun Honey, August 2023.

Reviewer Bio: Ashley Holloway gets bored easily, so she lives her life according to an ‘&.’ She teaches healthcare leadership in Calgary, AB, and is a nurse with a Master of Public Health, a graduate diploma in Global Leadership, with further studies in intercultural communication and international development. She writes in a variety of genres with work appearing across Canada and the US and has co-authored three books. Ashley is an editor for Unleash Press and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She also really loves punctuation.

Book Review :: Hood Vacations by Michal ‘MJ’ Jones

Hood Vacations by Michal MJ Jones book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

I love seeing the various styles/forms of poems in Hood Vacations by Michal “MJ” Jones and the way they’re never the same from one to the next. This variety shows hard work and willingness to bend. I especially admire how one moment we could be skirting Nate Mackey’s style in Double Trio, and then the next poem is like a small concentration in the mode of Tom Clark. Filled with backslashes, “Turnstiles” is a one-stanza poem about the author’s young son. It is interesting to see how the use of this punctuation flips readers through Jones’ narrative in the poem:

[. . . ] He’s exhausted bones/by nautical
twilight I gaze/between crib bars/brown skin/in deepening dusk

Societal and racial violence, family issues, birth, identity, and travel to hot springs are topics Jones makes fascinating through restrained telling that turns wild, full of expletives and eroticism. I appreciate that there are longer poems here. “Channelings” is seven pages long, in seven sections, so it is a pleasure to read in such a sensible layout and such a relief to see and read a poem this way. Hood Vacations is a break with something to show for, something to keep us there. Exquisite!


Hood Vacations by Michal ‘MJ’ Jones. Black Lawrence Press, January 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: a beautiful rebellion by Rita Bouvier

a beautiful rebellion by Rita Bouvier book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

Rita Bouvier invokes Linda Hogan’s belief from The Radiant Lives of Animals (Beacon Press, 2020): “The cure of susto, soul sickness, is not found in books.” And yet this Métis writer gives readers a beautiful rebellion, a book “carrying ancestral memories of the land,” and “adding to the story / like old times around the fire / giving thanks always giving thanks.” The ethos here: “as long as we have more to enjoy / than another we have responsibility / to lift each other again / and again.” In odes, elegies, “call it prayer if you want” or “an invocation for the sick and the dying,” Bouvier’s are poems that both “ponder the murky waters of truth and reconciliation” and “the massive weight of colonial history” as well as celebrate the “new greening of spring” and praise her “relative’s warm hands,” “crying out / marrsî my relatives!” As Bouvier strives “to wash away the pain and sorrow / as right renewal,” “her questions are very simple / who counts? what counts?” Bouvier suggests that to find answers, we must “look beyond ourselves to others / human and non-human / with whom we share this marbled blue and green planet.” With “wild rose” and “the scent of sage enveloping” in a beautiful rebellion, Rita Bouvier offers readers “a gift of renewal / / understanding that language is the sinew / connecting us to a life force” and “when we tire… / … / a bed of mustard-yellow dandelions.”


a beautiful rebellion by Rita Bouvier. Thistledown Press, April 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

Book Review :: Heating the Outdoors by Marie-Andrée Gill

Heating the Outdoors by Marie-Andrée Gill book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

Heating the Outdoors, an intimate lyric written by Marie-Andrée Gill and tenderly translated from the French by Kristen Renee Miller, is a “love story like all others.” As a result, the poems balance precariously between “simple happiness” and “storm damage.” More pointedly, Gill writes: “love is a virgin forest / then a clear cut.” The reader enters at the “clear cut,” then follows Gill through three phases of her love story as she experiences break-up, objectivity, and rebound. Throughout the collection, there is the feeling that Gill is “writing to survive” after “turbulent intimacy.” Despite the colonization of her heart, there is “something” in her that “keeps a lamp on”; something beseeches “where do I even begin to switch off my hopes”? It may be hope that prevents acceptance and leads to the repetition of “old dramas” and “sex bombs reigniting” once again. The poems do not provide an easy answer, but they do reflect how the constant battle for a woman’s sanity and autonomy inside a love relationship is analogous to skating on thin ice. In Heating the Outdoors, Gill determines that the woman not “end up in an asylum,” but instead “seeking [her] place somewhere out on the trail” in the boreal forest. “Outside is the only answer I found inside,” she writes. Turning toward a new intimate, nature’s “aspen,” “elk,” “bright paths of snowflakes,” Gill, an Ilnu and Québécoise woman, begins to “feel worthy of its / voice” and her own.


Heating the Outdoors by Marie-Andrée Gill translated by Kristen Renee Miller. Book*hug Press, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: The Alta Vista Improvements by rob mclennan

rob mclennan image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

There must be an angst category in poetry called urban angst poetry when you realize you live in a city but have been feeling and acting like you are in the countryside. Maybe that’s not the case, here, exactly. More like pandemic angst, which the entire planet can relate to. rob mclennan’s Alta Vista Improvements is a place where such a realization occurs and is one of above/ground press’ unique pamphlets churned out in Canada. Here are a few lines in the titular poem in Section 5, which I loved reading:

[. . . ] this through-line
of patchwork housing, outcrop. A craft

of optimism, ignorance. The internet
equally bears each alphabet.

This is delicious writing! mclennan highlights the loss of the family goldfish through multiple fish, multiple losses; something is wrong in the picture of domesticity. What is it? We don’t exactly find out, yet travel the off-road territory with mclennan and enjoy every moment. In “Summer, pandemic,” as he waits for us in the car, his loyalty goes above and beyond to the complicated:

[. . . ] I perch in precooked car
awaiting our cat, in his follow up appointment
to recent dental extraction [. . . ]

Will life get itself all sorted out? In The Alta Vista Improvements, we sit and ponder (and hope) in all the wreckage.


The Alta Vista Improvements by rob mclennan. above/ground press, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi

A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi book cover image

A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi is both satisfyingly predictable and enticingly surprising. The story centers on middle-schooler Yuna and her attempt to detach from her Korean identity and fit in among her American schoolmates. Not finding the acceptance she craves, Yuna wishes to return to Korea, a place she left when she was just a baby and visited infrequently.

Memories of her halmoni (grandmother) and the stories her mother tells her about growing up there make Yuna believe she would be better off living in Korea. She makes the dreaded wish to return as she folds her 1000th tiny origami star and blames herself when news comes of her halmoni’s death. Burdened with the guilt that she has brought this untimely end, Yuna’s hand seems to turn to paper. Yuna travels to the funeral in Korea where she meets family she cannot even remember and who share memories of their halmoni that Yuna has no part in, causing her to feel even more isolated. As the shame over her wish grows, the transformation of her body to paper begins to creep up her arm. The only remedy, Yuna decides, is to complete an unfinished jar of paper stars her grandmother began folding. Once she reaches 1000, Yuna believes her wish will be reversed, and her halmoni will be restored.

Flashbacks in the novel shift from full-color images to blue or sepia tones, while the remaining present-day images throughout use deep, rich hues and dark brown rather than black linework to create a warmer overall tonality to the story. There are beautifully rendered full bleed pages to represent dream/surreal/imagination (I could envision a whole wordless book of these works by Yi). It’s these more fantastical elements of the story that help connect three generations of women and set the final emotional tone of the novel. The ending is heartwarming and surprising, enticing the reader to close the book and start all over again.

A Sky of Paper Stars by Susi Yi. Roaring Book Press, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: NewPages.com Editor Denise Hill reviews books based on personal interest.

Book Review :: Wellness by Nathan Hill

Wellness by Nathan Hill book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Wellness, Nathan Hill has written a novel that is of its time, while still being timeless. In exploring the particularly American obsession with wellness and improvement, what he is really excavating is the power and peril of stories. His second novel follows Jack and Elizabeth, a couple who fell in love at first sight in 1993, and who are negotiating their marriage after just over two decades of being together. They tell themselves stories about their marriage, as well as their childhoods, hoping to make sense of their lives. Hill weaves minor characters’ stories in, as well: Jack’s father becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories; Elizabeth’s friend Brandie hosts a group that believes one can manifest happiness by speaking it into the universe; and Kate and Kyle, a couple who find meaning through polyamory and a critique of monogamy. While Hill satirizes each of these characters—and more, especially the postmodern cultural conversation in academia in the 1990s, one of the most humorous sections of the novel—he also understands why they (and we) need stories at all. When Elizabeth seems ready to turn to nihilism, wondering if anything is real, her mentor tells her, “Believe what you believe, my dear, but believe gently. Believe compassionately. Believe with curiosity. Believe with humility. And don’t trust the arrogance of certainty.” That’s good advice for our divided country and world, now and anytime anyone might pick up this novel.


Wellness by Nathan Hill. Alfred A. Knopf, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: A knife so sharp its edge cannot be seen by Erin Noteboom

A knife so sharp its edge cannot be seen by Erin Noteboom book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In A knife so sharp its edge cannot be seen, Erin Noteboom positions readers on the fine line between the “sting and sweetness” of “lives in depth and distance.” This is a poet interested in demarcations and definitions, where memory meets metaphor, perspective meets specifics, and recombination implies structure. The poet repeatedly flips a coin, showing readers one side, then the other, revealing the enigma where one concept begins and another ends. Within the poems, the mysteriously undefinable is proximal to the scientifically discoverable. Wilhelm Röntgen, who developed X-rays, and Marie Curie, who discovered radium and polonium, are among the scientists Noteboom’s poems present to readers. The poems, like these scientists, are focused on the interplay between light, shadow, and darkness that permits new, profound, and various forms of seeing, as “the eye is lighthouse.” Such a quest for “the sensation of light” and the “struggle for another label” inevitably has a cost. “For such a cost, there must be benefit / that is the equation of science,” writes Noteboom, who determines as a writer, “I want to use my life up / like a pencil. I want to eat stone and leave behind / the shell of a word I live inside, / something open.” Noteboom’s poetry examines “the cost / of the beauty. The beauty of the cost.” The poems mark readers with their exploration of science’s brilliance, life’s radiance, and what it is “to write at the end of the world.”


A knife so sharp its edge cannot be seen by Erin Noteboom. Brick Books, April 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Excisions by Hilary Plum

Excisions by Hilary Plum book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

I’m attracted at once to the cover of Excisions by Hilary Plum. It is one of those famous tapestries from Medieval times, “The Unicorn Surrenders to a Maiden,” which is part of The Unicorn Tapestry series. That theme is theorized to represent Christ (with the unicorn being hunted) and the Crucifixion/Courtly Love. The titular long poem and section weaves in and out of the world of the Unicorn Tapestry and comes face-to-face with real-life situations and circumstances that Plum shows readers. The poet seems like the maiden, then like the wounded and dying unicorn, and then like the hound who has attacked the unicorn. Each line of Plum’s poems is precise and layers itself against the next line so that each creates a huge, whole image. These are such a mix of old and new, as in these lines from “If a gun disappears it reappears”:

…like
heaving stones no archeologist
schooled in empire
declines…

The images Plum creates are intriguing and captivating. I don’t know what to do with so many of them but to go back again and again to meditate and dream.


Excisions by Hilary Plum. Black Lawrence Press, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Deep Are These Distances Between Us by Susan Atefat-Peckham

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

Deep Are These Distances Between Us: Poems by Susan Atefat-Peckham book cover image

In an act of personal yearning, Editor Darius Atefat-Peckham offers readers his mother’s voice from beyond. In Deep Are These Distances Between Us, Iranian-American poet Susan Atefat-Peckham (1970–2004) tenders a “shining, shimmering / space” for poems prescient, prophetic, compassionate, forgiving, and ecstatic, “her hands cupped like a bowl / filled with sunlight and water and pleading.” Atefat-Peckham pleads for “words louder than the silence between them” to offer comfort to our wounded world. The poems trace “[s]hadows / we are bound by”—the Iranian state’s gender-based oppression, the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Islamophobia in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—“to speak of / and hold, to carry” and resolve, “knees snapped to the earth,” in a devotional conversation with Persian mystics.

Despite the fact that Susan Atefat-Peckham died in a car accident when her son was three years old, her mind, advocacy, heart, and soul remain “bright, burning, / and alive” in her poetry. On a day when Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while imprisoned for her advocacy of Iranian women’s rights and sixteen-year-old Armita Geravand was dragged unconscious from a train after being beaten for not wearing a hijab, Susan Atefat-Peckham’s poems remind us that “there is always an ear listening / in the silence.” The distances between Susan Atefat-Peckham and us may be great, yet hers is unmistakably a poetry for our perilous times. Susan Atefat-Peckham is “still / in the universe.” She lives on via her poetry, which provides readers with a “place of repeated / comfort where even scars will brighten.”


Deep Are These Distances Between Us by Susan Atefat-Peckham. CavanKerry Press, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Intaglio Daughters by Laynie Browne

Intaglio Daughters by Laynie Browne book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Okay, these are weird poems, weird-in-a-good-way weird because they excite the imagination. Browne has taken Lyn Hejinian’s [alert: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry] poems and added her own two cents to them. She has not embellished them but taken a title and then riffed on it. Each poem ends with the title (which are phrases, mostly) changed around. This adds to the meaning and feeling of what Hejinian has done. It stretches the sense of things, as in “Language is as blind as sheep”:

It begins with,

Imbroglio daughters, imbroglio mind…

concluding with,

…Language unkind and steep

This adds to what Hejinian has built, and while these poems can be seen as collaborative, they use the found material of titles and transform them into sparkling jewels of poems, turning them luxurious and dazzling.

I don’t mind combing through these with the weight of mystery that comes with the territory of oblique writing like Language Poets are famous for, and away from which many, many poets run. These are poems to run to, towards the playfully topsy-turvy.


Intaglio Daughters by Laynie Browne. Ornithopter Press, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: The Glass City by Jen Knox

The Glass City by Jen Knox book cover image

Guest Post by Ashley Holloway

Originally published in 2017, Jen Knox’s revised edition of The Glass City is a brilliant collection of seventeen stories that fluidly combine seemingly unrelated themes together in unexpected ways. In this futuristic-yet-timely collection, Knox highlights society’s overwhelming sense of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies and their relationship to our changing climate. Each story is a mirror thrust in our faces, urging us to get over our love affair with ourselves, reminding us that “people didn’t need to further distinguish themselves from nature.” With buildings collapsing from exhaustion, virtual races run at home on treadmills, terrorist attacks, never-ending snowstorms, and characters with extra layers of toes from food contamination, Mother Nature acts as an omnipotent protagonist throughout, serving her primitive justice as a warning to society for the perils of continuing along the same trajectory. However, like the art of Kintsugi, Knox leaves us with the thought that what was once broken can indeed be salvaged and transformed into something beautiful.


The Glass City & Other Stories by Jen Knox. Press Americana, September 2023 (re-release).

Reviewer bio: Ashley Holloway teaches healthcare leadership at Bow Valley College in Calgary, AB. She writes in a variety of genres with work appearing across Canada and the US and has co-authored three books. Ashley is an editor for Unleash Press and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Book Review :: What Just Happened by Richard Hell and Christopher Wool

What Just Happened by Richard Hell book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Really, what just happened when I read this book of poems, scribble scrabble drawings, photographs of crows, essays, and a memoir/list? Do I finally realize why my friend Robert Christie (who was a musician) was so enamored by Richard Hell? Probably. Coming across this writer reminds me of all the things I loved about Robert and his wife, Denise, what is direct and plainspoken, what is unusual and gifted.

Hell references Bill Knott in poems, and this can tickle the funny bone in a way that is curioser and curiouser. We do get a sublime glimpse into Hell’s music life and see that it cannot be separated from his writing. Even his essays are sprinkled with pure poetic reverie, “For instance, Roy Orbison hummed like chauffeured teal.” (“Falling Asleep”) My goodness! This is genius territory, beware!

My favorite poem is “Poets,” as I have just never read what poets do and what poetry is expressed so profoundly:

what poets hope to have
their writing do is somehow
trick into being
all that time forgot

Forgetting you, we are certainly not, Richard Hell.


What Just Happened by Richard Hell with images by Christopher Wool. Winter Editions, June 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Flare, Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Flare, Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey book cover image

Guest post by Jami Macarty

The coronae that flare in Flare, Corona, by Jeannine Hall Gailey, allude to solar explosions, coronavirus infections, cancer scare symptoms, and multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Put another way, the poems deal with exposure and contamination; after all, we “can only hold death at bay for so long.” Preoccupied with calamity, “downed planes, traffic accidents and plain old bad luck,” our narrator is “a person who looks for the dark side” and “can’t stop writing the apocalypse story over and over.” At least she has, and the poems benefit from, a sense of humor, dark though it may be. The collection reads like a survivor’s how-to manual for scenarios like a “zombie apocalypse” and “what to do when you get the diagnosis you may not survive.” Neither comedy nor gravity matter when the “truth is, there is no final secret, there is no formula to save us” from whatever “sudden instability” will cause our demise. Despite life’s supervillains and death’s close calls, Jeannine Hall Gailey is “dancing in the flames, arms raised high,” rejoicing in the “part of us radiant.”


Flare, Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey. Boa Editions, Ltd., May 2023

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Because I love you, I became war by Eileen R. Tabios

Because I love you, I become war Poems & Uncollected Poetics Prose by Eileen R. Tabios book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

The Glass Fire in Napa Valley, 2020 seems to have been a turning point for the extremely prolific poet, editor, novelist, and activist writer Eileen R. Tabios. She and her husband experienced the fire and subsequent evacuation, which was successful, except that part of her life’s work was lost. She lost whole archive entries; material that belonged inside protected library buildings in official archives and not in an outbuilding that burned. This book makes real the fact that Tabios felt strongly compelled, passionate, and driven to collect some of her rescued writings and preserve them in book form. She tackles this project with love of what she finds among the remains of her work and is saying that love is the war she is raging against loss. While published archives can be boring to read because we don’t have the original pamphlet, magazine, or lecture to enjoy, Tabios’ inventive poems are delightful. More than half of the book is a compilation of “Uncollected Poetics Prose” that expand the meaning of archive, leading readers to dream along within them. What is so magical about this collection is that we are not left hanging and lost in the dense material of this ambitious project; we are shown abundance and astounding imagination in what remains. This project is love.


Because I love you, I become war: Poems & Uncollected Poetics Prose by Eileen R. Tabios. Marsh Hawk Press, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson is a National Poetry Series finalist, Jovanovich Prize winner, and former Ragdale resident who lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in her book of poems, Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021). https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/susan_kay_anderson

Book Review :: Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Christina Sharpe has written an incisive and insightful book about what it means to be Black in America today. Though the 248 notes that make up the book are brief, they dig deeply into the realities of white supremacy as a central tenant of American culture. Sharpe draws on a wide variety of contemporary and historical writers, artists, and thinkers, ranging from some most readers would be familiar with—such as Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass—to a number who will be new to those same readers. Her 248 notes include 208 footnotes, in fact, as she steps into the long and deep river of Black thought and art. Sharpe structures her book around the various meanings of the word note, whether as a verb meaning to notice or a noun in the musical sense. She’s interested in definitions and words in general, as one of the longest sections of the book is what she refers to as “preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness.” Given her investment in the tradition of Black thought, she calls on other thinkers to help her provide definitions for “unbuilding,” “spectacle,” “property,” and a number of other terms. All of her notes—like a piece of music—combine to create a composition that is more than its individual parts, one that celebrates Black culture and history, while reminding readers of the White supremacist reality that Black tradition has been and currently is being forged within and against.


Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Fraud by Zadie Smith

The Fraud by Zadie Smith book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The title of Zadie Smith’s latest novel is misleading, as there is no singular fraud in this novel; instead, everybody seems to be a fraud. Smith bases her novel on the historical account of the “Tichborne Trial,” in which a man claims to be Sir Roger Tichborne, a claim that is so absurd to be laughable, given the evidence. However, people—primarily those of the lower- and growing middle-class—firmly support him, even when they know the claim is baseless. They attend his trial and rallies in support of him, denying any reality he or his trial calls into question. If readers are wondering if there are contemporary echoes, Smith sets them to rest with a song that serves as the epigraph for Volume Eight (her structure mirrors the Victorian novels she is channeling), in which each stanza ends with the word trump. While the trial is the underpinning of the novel, Smith largely follows Eliza Touchet, the housekeeper for William Ainsworth, a novelist who once outsold Dickens, but who is now largely forgotten. Eliza attends their literary gatherings, but even though she sees through the literary elite, she has no standing to critique, given the role of women in the 1800s. When she meets Andrew Bogle, a formerly enslaved Jamaican who serves as the faux Tichborne’s one consistent witness, she asks to hear his life story, wanting to understand a broader view of Britain and humanity. She ultimately has a moral choice to make to try to stay true to her beliefs, to avoid being a fraud herself, and she develops a different kind of voice by the end of the novel. While Smith spends much of the novel showing characters who doubt the very idea of a shared reality, she reminds readers that fiction can still convey truth, even when it rewrites history to do so.


The Fraud by Zadie Smith. Penguin, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Now These Three Remain by Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Now These Three Remain by Sarah Dickenson Snyder book cover image

Guest Post by Jennifer Martelli

Sarah Dickenson Snyder’s latest collection, Now These Three Remain, strikes the delicate balance of faith and doubt. Like the master carver in “Industry,” Dickenson Snyder ponders,

Maybe I am practicing for some god’s commandments
with chisel and mallet I tap across the smooth surface
of slate to unveil letters, carve words I can touch.

Sarah Dickenson Snyder uses the slash like a chisel in her three sections, “Un/Faith,” “Un/Hope,” “Un/Love.” This gives these Biblical words facets, as if carved in stone. The poems exist in these oppositions, these dimensions.

In “Ginger Roots,” the speaker tells us, “Most good things grow in darkness— / seeds, roots, a fetus.” The speaker’s conflict is, at times, rooted in trauma and healing. Coming from a place of religious doubt, the collection is also an account of sexual assault and sexual autonomy. The speaker remembers her assault, “not-breathing, those seconds / falling inside me like a rock in a pond.” In “Without Regret,” the older speaker, “chose my life over what was beginning / to grow.”

Sarah Dickenson Snyder’s whisper “Heal us, heal us,” resonates throughout Now These Three Remain, where “we all just want to make something / close to sacred while we’re here.”


Now These Three Remain by Sarah Dickenson Snyder. Lily Poetry Review Books, April 2023.

Reviewer Bio: Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella, both named “Must Reads” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. Martelli has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is co-poetry editor for MER. www.jennmartelli.com

Book Review :: In Memoriam by Alice Winn

In Memoriam by Alice Winn book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Alice Winn’s debut novel follows two British teenagers—Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood—during their time at an elite boarding school and into their time as soldiers during World War I. Their time at school sounds idyllic, but there are conflicts that come from Ellwood’s openness about his sexuality. It quickly becomes clear that Gaunt is also gay, but he is unwilling to admit that to himself or to others, and he is in love with Ellwood. The war significantly changes them both and forces them to confront their love, but also reminds them of the reality of the world they live in. Winn clearly conveys the horrors of the war and the loss of almost an entire generation of men, both through Gaunt and Ellwood’s experiences, but also through those of their classmates and Gaunt’s sister, Maud. She is part of a generation of young women whom adults encourage to go to the colonies, given how few men are left for them to marry. Winn creates a world where the war devastates all, leaving a world full of broken people who will have to spend the rest of their lives putting that world and their lives back together. Building their lives back is even more complicated for those on the margins, given society’s lack of acceptance of who they are. Winn reminds readers that so many did, in fact, sacrifice so much for the peace that followed, but some had to sacrifice even more.


In Memoriam by Alice Winn. Alfred A. Knopf, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Homestead by Melinda Moustakis

Homestead by Melinda Moustakis book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In this debut novel, Melinda Moustakis creates a couple who agree to marry each other a day after they first meet, based mainly on Lawrence’s claim to 150 acres. He and Marie have reasons for wanting land, a home, and a family, though she is more forthcoming about those reasons. On the one hand, then, this novel explores the challenges of clearing land and building a house in Alaska in the 1950s. It touches on the development of Alaska as a state and the land the federal government took away from the indigenous tribes who lived there for centuries. Moustakis, though, is more concerned about what it means to make a life with another person, as opposed to in a particular place; the isolation of the homestead simply heightens the conflicts Lawrence and Marie have. The idea of statehood echoes the trades one must make in a relationship, as some people oppose statehood because of the taxes the federal government will impose in exchange for services and the right to vote, while the takeover of native lands shows what happens when a relationship is one-sided. There are threats hanging over Marie and Lawrence’s relationship throughout the novel, whether that’s a grizzly bear attack or the secrets Lawrence keeps, leaving the reader wondering if what they have built can survive in the wild.


Homestead by Melinda Moustakis. Flatiron Books, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Black Ball by Theresa Runstedtler

Black Ball by Theresa Runstedtler book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Theresa Runstedtler digs deep into the NBA of the 1970s to show how a group of African American basketball players brought a new style of play to the sport, honed on playgrounds rather than high school and college gyms, where white players trained. More importantly, though, she shows how these same athletes stood up to the white owners and coaches, bringing lawsuits against them when necessary, to carve out more freedom and agency for the players. Those owners had almost full control of players in the 1960s, dictating who could play for which team when and limiting player salaries and the almost non-existent benefits. One player after another, though, began to push back against that control, winning one court battle after another, while also bringing a different style of play to the courts. Near the end of the book, Runstedtler shows how these changes reinvented the NBA and led to the strong performances of the 1990s and early 2000s, but also to the more politically outspoken players of more recent years. Runstedtler brings her experience as a Toronto Raptors dancer and scholar and professor of African American history to create a readable, insightful look at an important decade of development in Black activism and labor history.


Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA by Theresa Runstedtler. Bold Type Books, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Devil of Provinces by Juan Cárdenas

The Devil of Provinces by Juan Cárdenas book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

Lizzie Davis’ translation of Juan Cárdenas’ The Devil of the Provinces is a middle finger to literary categorization; mixing elements of both horror and thriller, Cárdenas’ novel plays with conventions of both classifications, while further blurring the lines between genre and literary fiction.

The story follows a failed biologist returning to his hometown. There are some deceptively lighthearted moments early on, mostly musings about the emotional repercussions attached to going back home. A clinical fatalism is always leaking under the surface though, pulling the masks off the comforts a small town and a quiet life seem to bring: “do nothing but wander from end to end, go up and come down, out and in, open and close the fridge door, sometimes lie in front of the TV. Pure actions… completely devoid of intention.”

Continue reading “Book Review :: The Devil of Provinces by Juan Cárdenas”