It’s nothing new for a novel’s key character to share his name with the book’s author. Past examples are Stephen King in Song of Savannah, Paul Auster in New York Trilogy, and Philip Roth in Operation Shylock. But Ches Smith’s protagonist, Ches Smith, is something apart and definitely a standout character in Smith’s new book, The Author is Dead. Try not to speculate on any detail in this book that might be drawn from the author’s life, except that it’s about a writer who writes a book titled The Author is Dead.
We meet Ches, the character, at Sugarville Mall. He carries his writings, his so called “loose-leaf chronicles,” in a black binder that’s always with him. Ches is intrigued by Thalia, lead singer with the Zombie Cowgirls, a “punk-country fusion” band. One short conversation with her and he’s hooked. It won’t be giving anything away to tell that Thalia very soon becomes his ghostly muse, since her otherworldly presence is key to this story’s setup.Read more...
The cover of Booth’s Winter 2019 issue invites readers in with little square scenes of bright colors and caricatures, with text promising the Nonfiction Prize winners inside. Of the four pieces selected by Judge Brian Oliu, two touched me most: “A Fractured Atlas” by Alex Clark and “Remember the Earth” by Angelique Stevens.
In the first, Clark recounts the fractured memory of being molested as a child by a friend’s father. Points of view are manipulated. “Her” becomes “you” which sometimes slips into first person: “you grow my nails out.” Throughout the piece, names are redacted, reduced to “( )” for the friend and “// //” for the father/abuser. The switches in POV, these redactions, font changes, and layering of text and image parallel the ways memory works. Details are left out, forgotten, rearranged, repeated, layered with other memories. Each page feels like decoding a map, like uncovering a new memory, a truly inventive piece of nonfiction.
In “Remember the Earth,” Stevens explores the idea of death, of what and who we leave behind. After her sister Gina’s suicide, she faces their tumultuous relationship and the years, months, and days that lead up to Gina’s death. She tries make sense of the timeline that brought both of them there. A tender and intimate work, Stevens packs so much raw emotional energy into one short piece, I had to read it in little bursts.
Both deserved of placing in the Nonfiction Prize, Clark and Stevens peel back layers of their memories. While constructed completely differently, both give stark and honest examinations of a moment in each of their lives.
Review by Katy Haas
Spanning four pages of The Southeast Review (37.1), Tiana Clark’s “Gentrification” conjures up hidden details, the poem’s speaker talking in wisps, the ghosts of a summer past haunting the neighborhood in East Nashville where she used to live and which has now been gentrified. The speaker discusses the ways in which her body—a woman of color’s body—fits into this forgotten space:
and I had never tried cocaine before,
until you tricked me [ . . . ]
and other men laughed and you laughed and I laughed too,
but I didn’t know what was so funny. I didn’t know
when something was at my expense. I was the only girl there too.
I’ve always been the only girl there
inside a house with men, being duped by men, waxing their backs [ . . . ]
Repeatedly, she finds herself in moments like this, moments of emotional or physical violence: her boyfriend feeds her then calls her fat, she does drugs in a backseat, she has drunken fights in the street, she reveals the “vulnerable part” of her neck as she once “grasp[ed] at white men for attention,” her body becoming another gentrified space.
The scenes come quickly as if Clark is quickly scrawling these memories down before she can forget them, wrapping readers in the heat and tension of that summer, unflinching as she reveals the underbelly, the ugliness, the truths about her home and herself. Take some time to sink into “Gentrification,” then, like me, check out Clark’s books of poetry: I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2018), and Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016).
Review by Katy Haas
Big Muddy has proven to be one of my most favorite journals to read. The topics of its many stories and poems speak to that downhome, simpler type of life, even if sometimes it may not be a positive image or experience for those involved.
Within its pages, you’ll find fiction, poetry, and essays that really make you think about life and the situations we find ourselves in. Most of the work and topics are directly related to the ten states bordering the Mississippi River, all the way from the U.S./Canada border to the Gulf Coast through Louisiana.Read more...
It only takes looking at some of the poem titles in The Cape Rock #47 to get that this slim volume published out of Southeast Missouri State University is poetry by and for the people: “Dad’s Skoal Can” and “Song of the Opossum” by January Pearson; “Toilet Cubicle” by Steve Denehan; “Trimming My Father’s Toenails” by Cecil Sayre; “Long Distance Dating for the Elderly” by Mark Rubin. Not meaning to be dismissive in perhaps attributing these works as common, the craft and skill exhibited in them speaks to the draw of the publication and the selective capabilities of a strong editorial staff.
There are many single stunning contributions: Danielle Hanson’s poem titled “How to Tell This Wilted Dogwood Petal From Starlight” continues “Both have fallen from some level of sky. / Lay down and let’s discuss this rationally.” commanding the reader’s experience of the tangible and intangible; the three lines of “Years Later” by Ryan Pickney will leave readers speechless; Jeff Hardin’s “This Only Place” examines a series of moments under the poet’s microscope, opening, “This easy weightlessness along the earth I owe / to having heard the heron‘s wings the moment / it alighted then decided otherwise and lifted off.”
Offering multiple poems by individual writers is a welcome attribute, and the closing four by Claire Scott exemplify the ability of many of the poets included to manage a range of subject and style. Her poignant “At Eighty” reads at a bit of a romp thanks to line breaks like:
spun with mum
of prayer to
At 86 pages, 43 poets, 69 poems: The Cape Rock is a venerable journal of poetry that both makes connections and distinctions.
Review by Denise Hill
“Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!” Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures!
Author/illustrator Mira Bartók’s debut novel follows the story of a one-eared fox groundling (human-animal hybrid) named Thirteen. As if having one ear isn’t bad enough, Thirteen was abandoned in a grim-filled orphanage under the control of a wretched villainess called Miss Carbunkle. But the turn of events led to unexpected paths, both good and bad. Thirteen’s gut-wrenching encounters with brutality, deprivation, and unappetizing Dickensian roads are intertwined with gentle humor, uplifting vibes, and epic journeys.
Music and friendship play essential roles in the story. This explains why, in spite of the rouge-ish undertakings of rouge-ish characters, any reader will surely immerse oneself with the rollercoaster ride of events and keep the pages turning. Bartók’s writing draws rich kaleidoscopes of characters, steampunk setting, and sensational quests. The delightful illustrations brought a new level of charm to this adventure, making the whole experience undeniably jam-packed with surprises to the brim.
Blend in Miss Peregrine’s characters with the woeful mishaps in A Series of Unfortunate Events, then top it off with the legendary tale of King Arthur, and there you have it! The Wonderling! In a nutshell, The Wonderling takes its readers into a world of infinite possibilities.
Don’t let people tell you that this book is just for children, because adventure has NO age limit!
Review by Mary Kristine P. Garcia
It was the illustration by Ricardo Bessa that originally drew me to Anthony Oliveira’s [pictured] short and poetic “Dayspring.” The image caught my eye as I scrolled down the front page of Hazlitt: browns and tans and reds, one man lying on another’s chest, their beards brushing; the embracing figures exude warmth and intimacy as sunlight filters through leaves above them. The story behind this depiction imagines (an unnamed) John, “the disciple whom he loved,” as Jesus’ lover in the days before the crucifixion.
Writing in short poetic bursts, Oliveira roots the story in two religious parables or folktales, one involving a donkey, the other involving a nun. The conversation shows Jesus’ words in red, the two speaking in modern vernacular, including “dudes” and “what the fucks,” making the characters more relatable. The red is striking on the screen whenever Jesus speaks, and these two stories give us something to come back to—something to be anchored to in the chaos that follows.
I couldn’t help thinking of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles while reading “Dayspring” as both pieces of writing display a mythological queer relationship of love and gentleness with a strong foreshadowing of violence and tragedy. Knowing the story of Jesus and his crucifixion, you can guess where Oliveira ends up taking us: to Gethsemane where everything falls apart, where Jesus is arrested, and the chain of events leading to his death begins, only this time we see it through the eyes of the one he loved.
While the piece is short and a sparsely written, the language is strong and beautifully built up. Oliveira writes with a poetic voice that eases readers in and creates the warmth that Ricardo Bessa’s illustrations kindle.
Brandi Pischke’s cover art of sparkly strawberries invites us into Jen Hirt’s book of poems, Too Many Questions About Strawberries. Can we expect a romp through a garden or farmer’s market? Not necessarily, though Hirt’s book takes us through fun, rowdy poems, as well as challenging ones that do, in some cases, concern plant life.
Let’s start with “Why not malachite for resurrection.” In this poem, an apartment’s appeal is heightened because its back steps are perfect for a container garden.Read more...
The Summer 2019 issue of Rattle includes a "Tribute to Instagram Poets." The editor's preface explains that the poems were originally published on Instagram, which uses captions that are included along with the poems. The editors assert that the poems were selected based "on their own merits and not the popularity of their authors."
Some works include long poetic commentary, such as Benjamin Aleshire's "Good Manners," while others, such as Luigi Coppola's and Jeni D La O's only include a user name and series of hashtags. When applied, the hashtags range from simply labeling the obvious (#poetry #poem) to adding to the poetic image/text in the Instagram, as in Vini Emery's: "All of the things that have been done to me have been done with out me." hashtagged: #disassociation #trauma #power. Because the image is of handwritten text, it's actually difficult to decipher if there is a space or not between "with" and "out," which seems fitting for the work that this should be ambiguous.
Still other poems, such as Raquel Franco's, add comment text without hashtags: "You are more than paper thin. / You are more than sad girl. / You are ink + paragraphs, / an anthology of purpose." with "You are more than your circumstance." as added comment.
A unique feature to include in this issue of Rattle, and one that opens whole new dialogues for poetry writing, reading, and analysis.
Review by Denise Hill