We review some 75-150 books, etc per year. Here are some books we recommend (current as of March 2001).
First of all, Detective fiction fans should get the latest from Dennis LeHane, MYSTIC RIVER, a complete departure from his previous series. This story details the lives of three men, growing up in South Boston (the staple locale for all LeHane stories) who are linked by fate in their youth. Years later, a brutal murder pulls them back together to sort out (and relive) their collective fates. It's another classic by this master story-teller.
THE NUMB PARADE by Scott Gordon. Scott doesn't think too highly of the human race. In the society of poets, these days, this is pretty standard fare. Yet, he is able to state his case, believably and in such a way that makes the reader want to stand up and cheer/or throw something. (Staplegun Press, POB 190184 Birmingham, AL 35219, $3)
HAIR OF THE DOG THAT BIT ME by Alan Catlin. The notorious bartending poet strikes again! Mr. Catlin's take on the characters one might meet in the neighborhood tavern, presented in the form of Mixed-Drink names, like Green Lizard (Aftershave cut with Port) or EMT Cocktail (Midori, White Tequila, Pineapple Juice, Cranberry Juice, Ground Elavil Garnish)... makes me wanna run right down to the V Room for a quick blast. (FOURSEP Publications, POB 12434 Milwaukee, WI 53212)
WALKING THE PERIMETERS OF THE PLATE GLASS FACTORY by Jared Smith. A fine example of Letterpress production, here. However, Mr. Smith's poetry, though well-written, seems to reside in another age. If you long for the days of Frost and Whitman, then you'll want to add this volume to your collection. (Birch Brook Press, POB 81 Delhi, NY 13753, $16)
ART & LIFE by Gerald Locklin. Two poems that really stand out in this little collection by one of the small press' most widely known poets, are Degas Between Ballets and Day Trips. Locklin's strongest suit next to his documentation of Jazz in poetry, is his interpretation of art through poetry. A fine legacy, if anyone asks. (Parriah Press, 604 Hawthorne Ave. East St. Paul, MN 55101, $5)
EXITS by Richard Houff. Poets come and poets go... but a clear image, a well-turned phrase, a line that might just reach over the horizon (if we let it), this is what remains true, and thus remains with us, even after we put down the book and move on. This is Richard Houff. (Roving Anvil Press, POB 16154 Saint Paul, MN 55116, $8)
BONE WHITE AND RAVEN BLACK by John Gohmann. Always a bright spot in one's day when the work of a previously unknown poet proves to be worth the perusal. Such is the case here.. Mr. Gohmann's work flows easily across the page and into the old brain pan. A good effort. (Pathwise Press, POB 2392 Bloomington, IN 47402, $3)
THE BAD THING by S.A. Griffin. This single poem contains all the elements that one has come to expect from this press: masturbation, terror, confrontation, a sense of Angeleno Noir, futility and humor. Griffin in top form, as usual. (Phony Lid Publications, 548 Spring St. Ste, 334 Los Angeles, CA 90013, $3)
THE GIRL WITH THE FUNNY NAME by Fatima Castaneda. A self-produced chapbook that falls prey to the easy seduction of multiple font choices and "artistic" presentation. These serve as a smoke screen to disguise the fact that most of the poems are weak. Notable exceptions are: MTV Internacional and Blue Hand With... There is potential here, but an editor wouldn't hurt, either. (no ordering info given)
A BLUES CANTATA by Nilda Cepero. Another poet new to my awareness, Ms. Ceparo writes with a lyrical gentility that reminds me of the sultry phrasings of Donna Gebron (a poetess here in Long Beach). Too often the bluntness of life demands that we forsake the velvet glove, but Ms. Ceparo's work here is a testimony to her stength as a writer and as a woman. (LS Press, POB 440195 Miami, FL 33144-0195, $6.95)
COYOTE AND SELECTED POEMS by Lamar Thomas. Mr. Thomas and I were introduced by the publisher of Phony Lid Publications. Well, indirectly, at least. We both were united by his hate Email. As a result, I was introduced to this Georgian writer, whose poetry is as lush and rich in tradition as the Athens countryside. So, thank you Kelly! (520 Willow St. Athens, GA, $3)
SCORCHED EARTH POLICY by John Sweet. John Sweet is one of the many poets whose work I appreciate, so I was really happy to receive this chapbook the other day. Like the title says, these are not "happy" poems. In fact, this is some of the darkest stuff I've ever seen from Sweet. No matter, it's still good. ((Black Hoody Nation, 1970 Westwood Northern Blvd. #5 Cincinnati, OH 45225)
BLACK MAYONNAISE by Donna Cartelli. Ms. Cartelli's collection utilizes a self-created history that is fluid and seamless. She moves easily from free verse to prose and back again in a sometimes languid stretch that can snap, unexpectedly, into a sharp observation of time and place. I particularly enjoyed Nonsuch, Prospect, Black Mayonnaise and The Cricket. (Ten Pell Books, 303 Park Ave. South #500 NY,NY 10010)
MORNING MOURNING (verse) and SHADOWS VISIBLE (photos) by T. Kilgore Splake. Here's a poet who's also a gifted photographer. This isn't so surprising when one considers that poetry is, for the most part, an observational art form. Mr. Splake is as meticulous in his capturing of an image in his camera lens as he is in exploring the themes of his poems. He is at his best in the natural world in both media. ((Athena-Angel Productions, POB 508 Calumet, MI 49913)
DON'T TURN AWAY (Poems About Breast Cancer) by Patricia Wellingham-Jones. This could have easily been a dreary collection of "why me" poems. Instead, this collection approaches the (always) scary topic of the Big "C" with an honesty and sincerity that is refreshing, to say the least. As more and more of us reach that stage in life where the physical horrors of growing older become reality, it's a rarity to find such honest writing. Strongest poems in my opinion here are: Don't Turn Away, Estrogen Free and Haven. While I recommend all the books reviewed, this one I highly recommend, especially if you or a loved one is facing this experience! ((PWJ Publishing, POB 238 Tehama, CA 96090-0238, $5)
HARD BUCKS (A Blue-collar Odyssey) by William Hart. My two favorite poems in this book are Swinging the Wedge and Seedling Pines, neither of which have much to do with the titled theme, but are, nonetheless beautiful poems. (Swan Duckling Press, POB 586 Cypress, CA 90630 $5)
MYRMECOPHILE (Selected Poems, 1980 - 2000) by Ifti Nasim. Mr. Nasim, a Pakistani immigrant, is a gay activist in the Chicago area. He writes from the heart about the "Gay experience," sometimes humorously and sometimes with a poignancy that stings with honesty. (Xlibris Corporation, 1-888-7-XLIBRIS)
THESE DAYS by Joshua Bodwell. This is another beautiful example of the art of the Letterpress. Like previous work from Clamp Down Press, specifically Mark Weber's February is the Crookedest Month, this book demonstrates what a small press book could look like, if one had the patience and time to produce such work. Mr. Bodwell's poetry is clean and crisp, nostalgic but never sappy. Poetry straight from the heart. (Clamp Down Press, POB 7270 Cape Porpoise, MN 04014-7270).
CD & MAGAZINE REVIEWS
Two exceptional Spoken Word CDs have come across my desk of late. RUG BURN by John Bennett ($10 from Vagabond Productions, 605 E. 5 th Ave. Ellensburg, WA 98926) is a tour de force reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Bennett, no stranger to the power of written words, moves easily into the Spoken Word idiom and represents himself well. Worth checking out.
The other CD, A WING AND A PRAYER by Lizzie Wann, ($10 for purchasing info) features poetry that is as beautiful a read as it is spoken. I say this since many Spoken Word pieces don't hold up when read off the page to oneself. Not so, in this case. This CD mixes music and poetry on several tracks, but not in the usual musical backing, ie. pretty-guitar-backs-poet-business. No, this CD mixes them together, weaves them into a tapestry of words and sound. A beautiful tapestry. BUY IT.
Two other CDs of a Spoken Word nature are UNPROTECTED POETRY by Larry Jaffe ($10 from POET WARRIOR PRESS, POB 27445 Los Angeles, CA 90027-0445) and STAIN by T. Anders Carson ($10 from Summit Sound, INC. Westport, Ont. K0G 1X0 Canada). Jaffe's poetry is solid, but my recording is flawed which of course detracts from the listening pleasure of this reviewer. I suppose this is not relevant to the work, but I disagree. I think flawed delivery can make or break one's willingness to slog ahead.
STAIN on the other hand is a moody and dark portrayal of all that is wrong with the world, at least through the eyes of T. Anders Carson, a young poet from the Great White North. It had me wondering where I hid the shotgun this time. Move over Hemingway, here comes Kurt Colbain...A well done CD with not much to say, the near-exact opposite to Jaffe's CD which shows so much heart, but breaks down in the reproduction.
A couple of other CDs I'd like to highlight are George Kahn's FREEDOM VESSEL and Deborah Pardes' BLESSING OR A CURSE (Mentl Music, 415-546-3776 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
FREEDOM VESSEL by jazz pianist George Kahn, features trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez in a tight sextet format. Most of the original compositions are homages to the various influences in George's life, from Gil Evans to Miles Davis. It's a straight-ahead treatment, if that's your cup of tea, though his interpretation of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, does skirt dangerously close to nostalgic sappiness (but I love that tune, so bring on the sap!). This is balanced out by a whimsical treatment of The Way You Do the Things You Do. You can check George out online at MP3.com and at Who did that? See for yourself.
BLESSING OR A CURSE is Deborah Pardes' third CD. While it lacks some of the sheer raw exuberance of her first CD, it makes up for it in polish! This is one finely crafted collection of songs from this San Francisco-based singer-songwriter. Clearly, her time has come. I only hope that the title of her CD is not an omen for her success. You can check out her CD and other samplings online Mentl Music and tell me if I'm mentl or not.
(For the sake of brevity, I'm focusing on new mags, though I also firmly recommend the ones that follow below)
FREE THOUGHT published by Gary Aposhian. The Resurrection Issue. Judging by the content of this issue all I can say is "It's about time." This issue commemorates the life of Charles Bukowski. For some reason, publisher Aposhian was able to score interviews with Black Sparrow Press founder John Martin, Linda Bukowski, Carl Weisner (Buk's German translator), Michael Montfort (Buk's photographer), and a few of the Bukowski faithful. I say score, because these folks are strictly off-limits to the rest of us. This is an important issue for the Bukowski archivist. (POB 238671 Encinitas, CA 92023, FREE but also by subscription)
BENDER edited by Jeff Epley. Epley is establishing Bender as a literary force here in Long Beach. This issue is no exception. Not only does it come in a clever wrapper that involves using one of those clasp-style envelopes, but it also contains a chapbook of Locklin's, to boot. Many of the poets in this issue are representative of the "Long Beach" school, principally graduates and faculty of CSULB's fine Creative Writing program... almost makes me want to go to college. (Long Beach Downtown Station POB 21261 Long Beach, CA $5)
SPUNK edited by Violet Jones. The last issue of SPUNK I received was hand-screened on shopping bag paper in a limited, hand numbered printing of 200 copies. This is dedication! Inside there are reviews, letters, stories and lots of illustrations. A good source for what's what in the alternative zine movement, and just a real pleasure to hold in your hands and leaf through. (POB 55336 Hayward, CA 94545, $2)
THE TEMPLE edited by Charles Potts. This quarterly mag contains reviews and poetry (including translations) and is a rich source for commentary on the state of the art. 80 pages worth of solid reading. (Tsunami Inc, POB 100 Walla Walla, WA 99362-0033, $5)
HERON DANCE edited by Rod MacIver and Ann O'Shaughnesy. Here is a beautiful mag that (like Lummox) doesn't fit into a formula when it comes to format. It is a north woods ode to the "gentle way," featuring beautiful illustrations by Rod MacIver, interviews, commentary, letters and even a few poems. (52 Seymour St. Middlebury, VT 05753-1115, $6)
EXPERIMENTAL FOREST edited by Jeanette Trout & Kevyn Knox. A solid collection of writers, whose names will be familiar to anyone who reads the small press fair. Of note, poems on page 30 & 31, of issue #6. (223 Bosler Ave. Lemoyne, PA 17043, $5)
MINESHAFT edited by Everett Rand. Here is an editor who takes the time to do it right. An interesting article in issue #5 on the art of Tommy Trantino, whose drawings are similar to our own Claudio Parentela's; a cartoon by the Godfather of modern cartooning, R. Crumb; poetry (& photo) by Winans, Ostroska, Terrill, and Pavlopoulos. Each issue is a treasure. (16 Johnson Pasture Dr. Guilford, VT, $4)
On-going favorites worth mentioning: UNWOUND edited by Lindsay Wilson (POB 835 Laramie, WY 82070, $5); BEATLICK NEWS edited by Joe Speer (1016 Kipling Dr. nashville, TN 37217, $3); CHIRON REVIEW edited by Michael Hathaway (522 E. South Ave. St. John, KS 67576, $5); Meschabe edited by Dennis Formento (1539 Crete St. New Orleans, LA 70119-3006, $5); STAPLEGUN edited by Scott Gordon (Staplegun Press, POB 190184 Birmingham, AL 35219 $2); NERVE COWBOY edited by Joseph Shields and Jerry Hagins (POB 4973 Austin, TX 78765, $4); BLUE COLLAR REVIEW edited by Al Markowitz (POB 11417 Norfolk, VA 23517, $5); THE BROWN BOTTLE edited by Nate Graziano (and sometimes, Daniel McNamara) (21A Grove St. Concord, NH 03301, $2); BATHTUB GIN edited by Christopher Harter (POB 2392 Bloomington, IN 47402, $5); FIRST CLASS edited Christopher M (POB 12434 Milwaukee, WI 53212, $5) and JOEY AND THE BLACK BOOTS edited by Cari Taplin (Kitty Litter Press, POB 3198 Nederland, CO 80466, $2).