Monday, July 24, 2017

New interview up at Poets & Writers of VMP

Staring at souls
Mike Lafontaine, chief of all things at Vending Machine Press, is working up some great magic for his contributors. One of those extras are interviews he's posting at a sister site called Poets & Writers of VMP. My interview was posted yesterday.

Mike asked some good questions and because he opened his doors to my work at a time when so many others seemed closed for awhile, I opened up and talked about some things I hadn't touched on before. It was fun and interesting. Have a look.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Appreciation of Timothy Gager's CHIEF JAY STRONGBOW IS REAL

Chief Jay Strongbow is Real
by Timothy Gager

Big Table Publishing (July 18, 2017)
$14 paperback (Amazon)

Timothy Gager is a fantastic poet. I'd like to say this up front. And I say that for everyone. To my mind, and I could be off base in mentioning this, but I seem to think he may go unnoticed too often for his poetry. Reading his most recent collection, Chief Jay Strongbow is Real, I've become convinced he could be one of our most natural poets. His poems have this feel to them, as if they appeared to him in visions. In truth, I realize this only means he worked on them extraordinarily hard. But still, not everyone can bring across this natural feel in their work.

Take this from Act I, the first of eight sections of poems from the collection, a piece titled "Repatriation":

It’s still happening, now, as 
science, debunked their tall tale

that I wasn’t really a native American,
not a cultural item of lineal descendants

see what they dug up, check the DNA 
which shows, I still long to be in the ground.

Timothy spends a good deal of time at the beginning of this collection dealing with justice and injustice, especially in regard to the native American. In his preface, he explains that his perspective on the treatment of the native American was changed following a failed grade school assignment. He spends time on the subject in the title poem, as well, Chief Jay Strongbow, a former pro wrestler who used a racist gimmick, a popular show technique for those guys in the 1980s. But he doesn't stay on the subject, instead moving on to topics ranging from the complexities of love to the hardships of addiction.

In the poem "Sobriety" with stripped down language and minimal space, Gager absolutely sums up one of many aspects of what staying clean is like, the hourly grind of it and how beautiful recovery can be when managed successfully. The poem begins with a familiar image, the addict or alcoholic in recovery with coffee. In this instance, sitting alone in thought, viewing oil paintings.

view the oil paintings 
hung boats and fields 

thousands of brush strokes 

But more than what he can do with a ripe subject matter, and returning to this natural rhythm his style develops on the tongue, it is his use of syntax that can astound in this collection. Of the many poems on display, none show this more clearly for me than "Nursery Rhythms." Have a look at the final stanza and consider while reading how Timothy must have labored over each syllable working in perfect concert with the other.

off my crooked clavicle
sapiens discern vertebrae 
unbreakable, resilient 
missiled. And shatterproof 
glass in pitched little houses 
is how we wind up a catapult.

Big Table Publishing just released this title. I suggest you get to Amazon and get a copy as soon as possible. BTP will have it available at their site soon, I'm sure. In the meantime, know that Timothy is writing poetry that is not only pleasing on a poetic level but is also important on a social level, aware of long-standing debts and the newly-wronged alike and poetry that offers wisdom shared beautifully, not something found easily or often. And he shares this asking nothing in return but your attention.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

New in the Mail - Kuzhali Manickavel

The Appreciation of Marcus Speh's GISELA

by Marcus Speh

Folded Word Press (June 30, 2017)
$16 paperback (from Folded Word Press)
$5.99 Kindle (free with Kindle Unlimited)

I won't spend too much time talking about when Marcus was Finnigan Flawnt, but you should know that Marcus was once a writer on the indie scene that other indie lit writers couldn't talk enough about. He was like Basquiat in the 1980s New York art scene. He still is, it's only now there's that asterisk there under the conversation with that cool pseudonym. Like Basquiat, he is talented, charming, completely original, and when working under the pen name, mysterious without being in your face with it. He's a natural, you know?

Over the past several years, he's receded a bit, back to Berlin and his primary work of being a genius in other fields of study (yes, Marcus is bonafide that way. My daughter could possibly still believe he alone invented the internet, in fact). But let's move along to his most recent achievement, the historical novel-in-flash Gisela, recently published by Folded Word Press.

Based on the historical queen and later saint Gisela of Hungary, Gisela, the book, bloomed in Marcus's mind (that's how I imagine it happening, blooming) from the idea of this influential woman who history forgot or, at best, made a footnote. How would the many pieces fit together, and how could he, Marcus, combine them to magical ends?

The end result is a beautifully crafted set of short pieces that can both stand on their own as exacting and fully realized works of literature but also, when laced together by Marcus's skilled hands, become a full structure that is, for me, literally breathtaking, in that I seriously discovered myself holding my breath while reading at least half a dozen times throughout. For instance in sections such as one titled "The Witches" the reader feels as much under a spell as any character presented in the text. Here's an excerpt:

"Gerbert, by the window, shuddered; his mouth contorted. The witch began to twist faster and faster while her twin was talking to Gisela, mumbling to her, marching old holy words straight through the child’s ear into her skull, where they entered the bloodstream and looked for the enemy. The monk’s fingers twitched in the same rhythm and he found himself falling into a trance. He knew it would be dangerous to witness the witches brewing and dancing but there was an energy in it that he’d missed badly since he’d been asked to educate the young princess. Gerbert didn’t even notice when the hags stopped, tucked the girl in, rubbed the concoction on her lips and left for the unseen place from which they had come. Gisela healed quickly thereafter: The fever fell that same night and she asked for solid food the next morning. She had no memory of what had happened, but when she bounced on one leg across the meadow in the castle yard, she chanted a little melody that had not been heard in church, an odd melody that made Gerbert’s ears prick up because he sensed the uncanny in it."

To my mind (and I've read everything that Marcus has written that I'm aware is out there) this novel surpasses anything he's accomplished to this point. It is no mind whether you have an interest in history or, in truth, even literature. Reading Gisela is to be fully enchanted, and that is the rarest of all states for any writer to place a reader. It may be the writer's greatest achievement. Marcus set an extraordinary goal for himself in this and never faltered. We're all richer for his effort and success.


Next Appreciation: Timothy Gager's Chief Jay Strongbow is Real

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Appreciation of Heather Sullivan's WAITING FOR AN ANSWER

Waiting for an Answer 
by Heather Sullivan

Nixes Mate Books (July 15, 2017)
$9.95 paperback
$2.99 eBook

My purchase of Heather's poetry collection Sullivan's Waiting for an Answer set the record, I think. I saw it on my Facebook feed at let's say 8:17 p.m. I owned the eBook edition at let's say 8:24 p.m.

I would have gotten the hard copy, but I was eager. And my book buying funds were wiped out about three weeks ago. These are the facts as presented. Here are some more facts.

I'm a fan of Heather's poetry and with this, her debut collection, I was, yes, eager, to say the least. What I found was a heartfelt collection full of talent and composure that took on the powerful topics of love and family and loss and parenting and childhood with an ease that has been, to my eye, unmatched.

The poems are written sincerely and from a place of awe or contentment or some kind of cosmic blessing the rest of us have yet to experience. When Heather trains her poetic vision on the present day of say her children or the seaside town she now calls home, the reader wants to be there with her, feel all the moments along with her. She does this with words, sentences, lines. And in poems that explore a childhood that immediately intones a past with more shadows and perhaps more jagged learning curves that will later feed the seaside present, Heather never falters with the same composure and talent. What is best about what is given up to the reader of these poems is simply everything Heather has to give that is best about her heart and her mind.

Waiting for an Answer is less a debut poetry collection and more a culmination of one incredibly strong person's inner awakening to a life lived with integrity in the face of hardship and a philosophy built on family and built to last for all time. When a poet gives you that kind of book, you pay attention.


Next Appreciation: Marcus Speh's Gisela

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Jellyfish Review publishes "After a Certain Point, You've Got to Name the Bird"

Chris James at Jellyfish Review (who I'm compelled to tell you is an unbelievably good writer himself as evidenced by this story alone) published a story of mine I'm very fond of called "After a Certain Point, You've Got to Name the Bird" yesterday. The story was rejected a discouraging number of times before Chris wrote giving me the fantastic news that he'd publish it at JR. I know we don't get to read as many online stories as we'd like, but I really would love if you could get time to read this one.

Read - "After a Certain Point, You've Got to Name the Bird"

Monday, July 10, 2017

Brief Appreciations Coming Soon

I've bought books by two of my friends in the past couple weeks - Gisela: Empress, Abbess, Saint by Marcus Speh and Waiting for an Answer by Heather Sullivan.

I've read most everything I've found by these two and I've always enjoyed it. I have no doubt I will be a fan of these latest works. It's Heather's debut poetry collection (congratulations Heather!) and I'm already halfway through Gisela, so the appreciations will be coming somewhat soon.

Appreciations? Yes, not reviews. Because let's be honest, I'm not going to find much at all in these books that I'm not going to like. Many thanks to Rusty for that term, by the way. It makes all the sense in the world.