I want to know, I put all the songs into this one, I want
you to know. Like crumbled up mushrooms.
I put all my body into this one this once only. Abracadabra.
Today I am the zoo. Today I am jasmine. I am
the setting. Another I fucked your mother joke. I am the seventh
son of the seventh son not. Remove the trampoline and see
the imprint of our beguine. Pull out each weed and a part of
whatever charade, arcade you think we’ve won. What
premeditates the by-permutation is this totemic trade, what
permeates foolishness is the preamble, nongeneric
Chinese takeout in Tennessee, prison fan mail, transparent
lunacy, amble, you were a hillbilly yesterday and you’re
a hillbilly today, too. Give me back my lost
emergency handkerchief, if it’s really all just
grown to dynamite, I am prickable, pick-pocketable
but there is no price
Gang-rape on the paper jetty again.
She was My Laika…
Bedsores on the book, tree worms in the book, chair mites inside, it all goes back to that.
From the jetty, you can view the proposal written in the sky…
The pit-bull who has been outlawed from your apartment building is the exploding heart
you cannot hear. This is called a record.
American military psychologists categorize gang rapes into three categories: gang rapes
that happen on foreign soil, gang rapes that happen in your memory, and gang rapes that
make it impossible to hold down a job.
We use the tablet, the cover of our book, as a cutting board.
Indices flake, as a broken printer clotting with paper even as clean sheets of our embers
stream out the auditorium of the window.
Sex, little gashes.
Celia Bland, Cherokee Road Kill, Dr. Cicero Books, 2018
"There was the first crash," begins Celia Bland's third collection—such a simple way to tell us that there are many crashes to come. In the Cherokee, North Carolina, of the 1970's, where Bland grew up and where she sets Cherokee Road Kill, life can feel cheap, a sad wisp of smoke left over from some bonfire heyday. Now, instead of proud Native warriors, we have boys who flip Jeeps and end up "scotch-taped" to a buckboard, lungs inflated with a bicycle pump.
Entropy in this world is so palpable you can taste it. The poems struggle with worth, the value of crumbling people in a crumbling region. Many of these poems are observational, a speaker casting a cool and careful eye, unflinching but not editorializing. The observational stance works well here because it obscures agency; the damage feels fated, just as the people in these poems—teens, family members, the "I" herself—feel buffeted by these fates. Fate flips Kenny Arrowhead's car; a dream compels the speaker's mother to buy a trailer out of the want ads.
Then, though, the reader will be jolted by the intimacy of a line. In the midst of description of "teen king" Stanely's wired-shut jaw, his "pursed lips a bottle cap/about to pop," for instance, Stanley thinks, "[B]ut who holds on to me?/Who is brave enough to let me go?" In "Brave," a boy remembers his mother's whisper and "her fingers interlacing/the softest plate/of skull." Such an intimate portrayal of the potential for damage.
Never in the midst of this world of disorder is the poems' music given short shrift. Each piece is infused with it. "Call it cash crop and cuss its shag-clotted, combed, carded, and shredded/like Carolina barbeque," Bland writes. Later in the collection, a boy is
(m)aybe snapping bloodroot to sip red sap
or sucking a redbone cottonmouth
flat as a dollar bill.
A hood crimped like crust, head
lights, windshield bead-
ing the wipers
That attention to beauty in the language spills over into the world it's describing, so that this world of despair still shimmers. The reader lingers in the state of decay and somehow finds it achingly beautiful, like the moldy old house the speaker inherits along with these memories.
Even the rare cleaner, greener memories feel like they're set in a context of decay. Witness some of the loveliest lines in the book, the speaker's memory of a boy named Eugene:
You, Gene, a stalk green from the soft earth, graduating
white as a scallion. Crisp. A blossom trumpet of lily, the
orange stain, the freckling stamen.
He's compared to something so fleeting: a silent, fragile trumpet ready to curl its petals. From so many angles, Cherokee feels like a place of loss.
All of this is packed into the book's first half, setting the stage for its second and final section, which tunnels into one particular loss: Louise, "whose hair hung in two halves like honey," a young woman whose fate is sealed when she volunteers to teach at a local prison. When he is released, one of her students shows up at the Christian bookstore where Louise works. The affair feels as fated, and is as deadly, as so much described in Section I's poems. When the two first meet in the prison classroom, "the thread of her raveled," and it continues to until her death.
This section appeals to my love of narrative, but it also allows for a more lingering look at the time and place Bland is illuminating in Cherokee Road Kill. The first section sets up the atmosphere for this drama, so that when we meet Louise, we understand her near-hopeless context, the water crashing "unseen over the falls" as she "leans into the black air." Her life is cheapened the way the others were—which is not to say she doesn't struggle. But her lover—and fate—win. And the entropy is still everywhere, even the tin cans in a road ditch "thinning to brittle bitterness."
The section's length allows for a worthy examination of the place where Louise and her unnamed lover meet. The prison is described in detail—the color of the chairs where Louise waits for clearance, the quality of the glass that divides her from prison staff on her way to the school wing. One poem, "Red is In/White is Out," outlines in a broken, confused, illogical structure the broken, confused, illogical rules that govern correctional facilities. The form not only mirrors that content, it also illuminates the lure of the forbidden tangled there: "Denim women Inmates NOTICE Cleavage Swag Bags in /Library….East Wing angel Wing west No Green Pants women denim/Contraband Cell…."
The section also allows examination of Louise's motivation for ending her pregnancy. "Before the Abortion" defies the fateful atmosphere of most of the book; in it, Louise is decisive, making her own life paramount rather than the one "quickening" inside her:
Infinite change, without her consent
but with her body's
…her blood, pumping double,
said yep and yep.
struggling to resurface,
pushed open the porch
door into the orchard.
…She would swallow her.
In the end, Louise's decisiveness leads to her death, as her lover cannot abide her decision—nor, perhaps, her ability and desire to make a decision for herself at all. She is sacrificed to the will of this man, a knot of rage and emptiness, "a ghostly revenant of the vengeance wreaked on some kid/ brave enough to test him." We feel in those later poems that he has forced her back into an atmosphere ruled by fate.
The second section does with patience what the first does with urgency: Lures us into this world of decay and buffeting. We may not want to live there, and I doubt Bland is sorry she bucked the fates and left, either. But through her deft poetic hand, it is a luminous place to visit.
Christian ALLE is a painter, collagist and photographer, and has been active in mail art networks since the 1990's. He is the publisher and animator of Nada Zero. He lives near Cherbourg, a small seaside resort in Normandy, France.
Marcia Arrieta's recent poetry collections include perimeter homespun (BlazeVOX 2019) and vestiges (Dancing Girl 2019). Her work appears in Otoliths, Marsh Hawk, Angel City, Anastamos, Helen, Whiskey Island, Eratio, Barrow Street, Empty Mirror, So to Speak, Conjunctions Online, Columbia Journal, and Hobart, among others. She edits and publishes Indefinite Space, a poetry/art journal.
Jeff Bagato is a multi-media artist living near Washington, DC. He produces poetry and prose as well as electronic music and glitch video. Some of his poetry and visuals have appeared in 3AM, Angry Old Man, BlazeVOX, Empty Mirror, Futures Trading, Otoliths, The New Post-Literate, Utsanga, and Word For/Word. Some short fiction has appeared in Danse Macabre and Future Cactus. He has published nineteen books, all available through the usual online markets, including Savage Magic (poetry) and Computing Angels (fiction). A blog about his writing and publishing efforts can be found at jeffbagato.com.
Christopher Barnes co-edits the poetry magazine Interpoetry. His reviews and criticism have appeared in Poetry Scotland, Jacket Magazine, Peel, and Combustus. He has given readings in numerous venues, including Waterstones Bookshop, Newcastle's Morden Tower, and the Proudwords lesbian and gay writing festival. His poetry collection LOVEBITES was published by Chanticleer Press in 2005. He lives in Newcastle, UK.
Michael Brandonisio is a creative writer, photographer and visual artist. Besides poetry, he has written two short one-act plays and has published fiction under his own name and also using the pen name Linc Madison. His work has appeared in print and on the web in various journals such as Angry Old Man, Word For/Word, Otoliths, Centrifuge, Small Po[r]tions, Eunoia Review., and elsewhere.
Active correspondence artist and poet Tom Cassidy, co-founder of ‘70s' avant performance troupe The Impossibilists, is currently on the boards of Rain Taxi and Cheap Theatre, both based in Minneapolis near Tom and the 15,000 books he purchased in one day.
Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as The Tip of the Knife, Counterexample Poetics, Eratio, Otoliths, Infinity's Kitchen, and Jacket. Most recent collections include Sharpsburg, from Cy Gist Press, Blake's Tree, from Blue & Yellow Dog Press, Whole Cloth, from Avantacular Press, Red Power, from Quarter After Press, Kansoz, from Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press, Web Too, from Tonerworks, War, and After, from BlazeVOX [books], Scorpions, from Unlikely Books, and Humors, from Paloma Press.
Seth Copeland's work is recent & scheduled in Theta Wave, ctrl + v, Heavy Feather Review, Dream Pop, and Paint Bucket. Originally from Oklahoma, he currently studies in Milwaukee. He is the founding editor of petrichor. His twitter handle is @SethTCopeland.
Darren Demaree's poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines and journals, including Hotel Amerika, Diode, North American Review, New Letters, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. He is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire (Harpoon Book, 2019). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He is currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
Herbert Dittersdorf is a poet, and an employee at a psychiatric facility working in Cleveland, OH. He has previously been published in Kenyon College's literary magazine, HIKA.
Mark DuCharme's recent books of poetry include We, the Monstrous: Script for an Unrealizable Film (The Operating System, 2018), The Unfinished: Books I-VI (BlazeVox, 2013) and Answer (BlazeVox, 2011). Counter Fluencies 1-20 appeared as part of the print journal The Lune (2017), and other work is recent or forthcoming in Caliban Online, Colorado Review, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, Ethel, Human Repair Kit, Monday Night, New American Writing, Unlikely Stories, and Noon: An Anthology of Short Poems (Isobar Press: due 2019). He lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Jesse Freeman is long time visual artist and poet living and working in New Orleans. She and Scott Helmes have collaborated on numerous publications and visual poems, with her viusalization of the human figure and face often central to the finished work.
Howie Good is the author of The Titanic Sails at Dawn (Alien Buddha Press, 2019).
Adam Greenberg's poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming from Best American Experimental, The Brooklyn Rail, Tagvverk, Columbia Poetry Review, and Witness, among others. His translations of the work of Mexican poet Carla Faesler have appeared in Chicago Review, Asymptote, Erizo, and Anomaly. He recently graduated from Brown University with an MFA in poetry, and lives in Washington, DC where he teaches writing.
Scott Helmes is a poet, book artist, writer, artist, architect and photographer. His experimental poetry has been collected, published and exhibited worldwide for over 40 years. Books published in 2019 include Recents, Redfox Press, Ireland (2019), and Magazine The Cut-Up Asemics, Asemic Press, 2019, Minneapolis, MN. Book Art work includes being an invited exhibitor to: Wallpaper An Exhibition of Altered Books, Traffic Zone Gallery, July, 2018, Minneapolis, MN. Exhibitor and Presenter, Art of Language: the Synergy of Text and Image, Perlman Teaching Museum, Carleton College, MN, April 2019. His work is also included in A History of Visual Text Arts, Karl Kempton, and Synapse International Anthology. His studio is located in Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Valerie Hsiung is the author of three full-length poetry collections, the latest of which is her e f g (Action Books). Individual poems can be found or are forthcoming in The Nation, The Believer, Tammy, Gramma, So & So Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Pinwheel, PEN Poetry Series, American Letters & Commentary, Berkeley Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, TAGVVERK, No Dear Magazine, and beyond. The winner of the 2019 Kay Murphy Prize judged by Danielle Pafunda, she has performed her little poetry theater at Treefort Music Festival, DC Arts Center, Common Area Maintenance, Leon Gallery, Poetic Research Bureau, Rhizome, Shapeshifter Lab, and The Silent Barn. Born and raised in southern Ohio by Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants, Hsiung is nowadays based out of New York.
Matthew Klane is co-editor at Flim Forum Press. His books include Canyons (w/ James Belflower, Flim Forum, 2016), Che (Stockport Flats, 2013) and B (Stockport Flats, 2008). An e-chapbook from Of the Day is online at Delete Press and an e-book My is online at Fence Digital. New collages are online or forthcoming from ctrl + v, Gasher, and Fugue. He currently lives and writes in Albany, NY, where he curates the REV Poetry Series, and teaches at Russell Sage College.
Tony Mancus is the author of a handful of chapbooks including Apologies (Reality Beach), subject position (Magnificent Field), Bye Sea (Tree Light Books), and City Country (Seattle Review). He lives with his wife and son and three yappy cats in Colorado, and serves as chapbook editor for Barrelhouse.
Kon Markogiannis is an experimental photographer-collage artist-visual poet-independent researcher with an interest in themes such as memory, mortality, spirituality, the human condition, the exploration of the human psyche and the evolution of consciousness. He embraces the indexical qualities of photography and its immediate impact on the viewer, but what he is mainly concerned with are the ways "reality" can be transformed. By manipulating the photographic medium and/or combining it with other media he is able to develop a personal and simultaneously transpersonal language which negotiates between subjective art and the photographic document. He sees his work as a kind of weapon against the ephemeral or, as Vilém Flusser would say, a "hunt for new states of things" (Towards a Philosophy of Photography). Kon has been exhibiting his art for many years (mainly in Greece and the UK) and his work has been featured in various books, journals and magazines. His university studies include a BA in Visual Communication Design, an MA in Photography and a Doctorate in Fine Art. He currently lives and works in Thessaloniki, Greece. His website is at konmark.com. He blogs at konmark.blogspot.com.
Steve Potter's writing has appeared in extant publications such as Blazevox, Galatea Resurrects, Marginalia, Pacific Rim Review of Books, and the Golden Handcuffs Review anthology A Screw in the Shoe, as well as in long gone and sorely missed publications such as 3rd Bed, Arson, Arthur, Nimble Jill Uphill, and Pindeldyboz. He lives in the vastly overpriced city of Seattle and writes about books and literature at bookfreak.us.
Gretchen Primack is the author of Visiting Days (Willow Books, Editors Select Series 2019), set in a maximum-security men's prison, as well as two other poetry collections: Kind (Post-Traumatic Press), which explores the dynamic between humans and (other) animals, and Doris' Red Spaces (Mayapple Press). She also co-wrote, with Jenny Brown, The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals (Penguin Avery). Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, and other journals. Primack has administrated and taught with college programs in prison for many years, and she moonlights at an indie bookstore in Woodstock, NY.
Steve Sorin currently lives in Durham, NC and practices rheumatology for a living. He has also enjoyed photography for over 40 years, and has, in the past, done his own silver gelatin printing. More recently he has switched over to digital color media. He particularly enjoys exploring how a photograph can capture what the eye cannot, and has done a large series of double exposures of trees, rotating the camera between exposures to create a swirling or vibrating motion in a "still" image. Scott Helmes has added yet another layer to this by superimposing his visual haiku. The composite creates a synthesis of visual poetry and imagined sound.
D. E. Steward never has had a pedestrian job since college, and has nearly a thousand credits and Chroma One through Five (Archae Editions, Brooklyn, 2018).
Barbara Tomash is the author of four books of poetry: PRE- (Black Radish Books 2018), Arboreal (Apogee 2014), The Secret of White (Spuyten Duyvil 2009), and Flying in Water, winner of the 2005 Winnow First Poetry Award. An earlier version of PRE- was a finalist for the Colorado Prize and the Rescue Press Black Box Poetry Prize. Before her creative interests turned her toward writing she worked extensively as a multimedia artist. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Web Conjunctions, New American Writing, Verse, VOLT, OmniVerse, and numerous other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.
Bill Wolak has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Editions. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 2018, The 2019 Seattle Erotic Art Festival, Poetic Illusion, The Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ, the 2019 Dirty Show in Detroit, the 2018 Rochester Erotic Arts Festival, and the 2018 Montreal Erotic Art Festival.