Charlatan: New and Selected Stories, by Cris Mazza

reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

images-2Cris Mazza’s 2017 Charlatan: New and Selected Stories reminded me—in this crazy way—of Waiting for Godot. There’s something both spare and dense about it. I’m left a little hungry, but I feel the import too. It’s weighty. Might it be, like Beckett’s work, of great philosophic import? Perhaps existential anguish is replaced here by the quiet dynamics of sexual dogma and human intimacies?

This collection includes short stories from 1979 to 2013. Mazza, a literary force with seventeen books, is escorted here by the likes of Gina Frangello (editor) and Rick Moody (wrote the foreword). I did, indeed, feel hungry—but that’s a good thing. Even when the stories are lengthy, there were often characters without names—characters existing as pronouns, as he or she. Gender-specific. Or existing like this, from “Dog & Girlfriend”:

“She is trained to stay off the bed. Somehow she understands this rule to mean only her back end. She’s perfectly capable of keeping her little feet on the floor and taking a nap with the rest of her body on the bed.”

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the only flesh to feed you, by Brendan Walsh

Reviewed by Lynn Marie Houston


(Yellowjacket Press, 2018)Rev

Brendan Walsh’s latest chapbook, the only flesh to feed you, runner up in YellowJacket Press’ Florida chapbook competition, is a lyrical exploration of how science can inform poetry to better help us understand the complexities of human nature. Like in his previous collection, Buddha vs. Bonobo, Walsh uses the animal kingdom as a foil to explore the wants and desires that drive all living beings, including humans.

The study of science often seeks to reveal the secrets of nature to humankind. In the only flesh to feed you, we watch as the speaker—through the voices of various animal species—discovers his own secret nature and explores his own desires and contradictions. Walsh’s poetic project does enormous work to undo toxic masculinity and heteronormativity. In these pages, we see a partnership that continues the dream of a matriarchal society, like the one Walsh explores in Buddha vs. Bonobo. Oftentimes, the female partner is given the upper hand, and Walsh even draws our attention to homosexual behaviors among certain species, as well as orgies. A couple of the poems include typical narratives about males who mate and leave, but more frequent are tales that tell a different side of this story: for instance, of the male octopus who is aware of the likelihood that his mate will kill and eat him and who chooses to pursue her anyway. The call to flesh, Walsh seems to argue, is larger than any fear of death, is born of it.

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How to Wear this Body, by Hayden Saunier

Reviewed by Bernadette McBride


(Terrapin Books 2017)

If it’s true, as someone once opined, that, but for love, loss, and death, there would be no poetry, Hayden Saunier’s new book, How to Wear This Body, reifies the power writing wields in excavating the fortitude needed to brave and reckon with grief’s depths and to embrace with gusto life’s joyful offerings.

In four sections steeped largely in wintered themes (with welcome doses of spring’s and summer’s redemptions), Saunier testifies to the human condition through vehicles ranging from life’s quotidian norms to our sometimes dangerous, sometimes hapless, often healing partnerships with others and with all of nature on this teeming planet. In tight, crystalline style, she attunes the corporeal grit of living to the stretch toward the spirit within that endures and sustains, to arrive at a truce, of sorts, with life’s dichotomy of brightness and bitter realities.

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Eros, by Kevin McGrath

Reviewed by Thomas Simmons


(Saint Julian, 2016)

In the way that remarkable texts call forth other remarkable texts, sometimes in subterranean ways, Kevin McGrath’s EROS for me immediately called two texts to mind––the first unsurprising, Diotima’s instructions to Socrates on how to move from love of a single beautiful body to the totality of love in the Form of beauty. One of the finest two pages of Plato’s Dialogues, this upward motion of the questing spirit deeply resonates in McGrath’s collection, as he moves from a profound devotion to his partner and the life they have formed to the ways in which the world at large reflects that love and also invites new themes and variations.

McGrath explains this in his afterword: “The book’s narrative moves from a singular individual distinction toward the increasingly social and synoptic, for such is the nature of the transition which occurs in the human psyche….” Divided into four sections, with numbers instead of words as titles, as in the great religious traditions from which McGrath teaches, this book is a long practice of deep devotion, in which in the end, however we configure the end, there is nothing left for us to remember because all the remembering has already been accomplished.

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Elephanta Suite, by Paul Theroux

Reviewed by Isabelle Kenyon


(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)

Theroux has a gift – it is almost as though I can picture him in India, observing the people there so completely that they come to life on his page.

Elephanta Suite consists of 3 stories. The first seems to come to an end all too soon – I wanted to see where this discontented English couple ended up. (Spoiler) Their death is assumed, but this seems a cheap trick – let them live out the consequences of their actions and please the reader who feels as though she knows this complex couple intimately.

All of Theroux’s characters are complex and so is the reader’s relationship with them. It is the last story, Alice, that stays with me. In the light of the recent “MeToo” Campaign, this story, and the way in which Alice chooses to enact revenge and seek justice –something the courts do not give her—is so poignant. Theroux’s talent embodied in how completely he understands the thought process of Alice’s young adult mind. Alice’s sarcasm, self – awareness and self-discovery are endearing and engaging.

Isabelle Kenyon is a Guildford based poet and a graduate in Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance from the University of York. She is the author of poetry anthology, This is not a Spectacle, and micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered, published by Origami Poetry Press. She is also the editor of MIND Poetry Anthology ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’. Her poems have been published in many poetry anthologies and included in literary festivals, such as Anti Heroin Chic, Literary Yard, Bewildering Stories, The Inkyneedles anthology, the Great British Write Off, the Wirral festival of Music, Speech and Drama, Poetry Rivals, and the Festival of Firsts. Isabelle has been awarded third place in the Langwith Scott Award for Art and Drama and runner up in the Visit Newark Poetry Competition. You can read more about Isabelle and see her work at

All the Names They Used for God: Stories, by Anjali Sachdeva

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel


(Spiegel & Grau, 2018)

This debut short story collection is hypnotizing, lovely, and a relief. As a reader, I found myself exhaling slowly, sucking in air comfortably, trusting in Sachdeva’s authorial control.

The stories are original, unusual (Kelly Link is oft mentioned in comparison). There’s weird stuff: women alone on the range or the prairie or wherever that is, struggling with winter and food and underground crystalline worlds; explorers of ancient ruins—part Indiana Jones and part Old Maid Daughter; girls kidnapped from their African villages and made into sex slaves in the name of Allah; a fisherman mesmerized by a shark-loving mermaid; snot glob-like aliens who replace human limbs with forks. Each one is beautifully written.

Here’s a lovely quote in a book of many lovely quotes: “The shark was a solid whip of muscle, carelessly lethal, and his presence transformed the drab green of the northern sea into a place she longed for even though she could not properly recall it. He dove deeper; the water changed from green to gray to nearly black, and eventually the mermaid left him and spiraled away on her own.”

Sachdeva’s imagery was the big draw for me, though her originality is also notable. Anthony Doerr, who wrote his own super beautiful book (All The Light We Cannot See) blurbs that he looks forward to reading her future stuff. I’d definitely second that.

Jennifer Spiegel is the author of three books, The Freak Chronicles (stories),  Love Slave (a novel), and And So We Die, Having First Slept (forthcoming from Five Oaks Press). She’s also half of the book-reviewing gig, Snotty Literati.


THE CANOPY, by Patricia Clark

Reviewed by Nina Bennett


(Terrapin Books, 2017)

The Canopy deals with death, loss, and grief, yet always there is a reminder of rebirth and continued life. These are quiet, reflective poems, with nature serving as a backdrop for grief. Actually, something much larger than backdrop; nature is the container in which we mourn and celebrate.

There is a prologue poem, “Knives on the Irish Air,” which sets the scene:

The cry, though, came again, forming
around a name, my sister’s name,
then gone.

Clark reminds us that grief is unpredictable and out of our control, that for many people, the way through mourning is to accept it by “letting the knife settle where it will, / blade nestled between a rib and a rib.” Ribs protect our heart, lungs, and stomach from physical injury, but the knife of grief slides between them and pierces us at the core of our being.

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Light Activity Involved: THE QUIETING, edited by Michelle Tudor

Reviewed by Cody Stetzel


(Platypus Press, 2016)

The Quieting is an anthology of ten poems published by Platypus Press. Each poem meditates on the meaning of softness and light. But what are we to make of an anthology of only ten total poems that falls under twenty pages? I find the limited approach to the theme refreshing. Easily, one could compose this same anthology with dozens, hundreds of authors. However, this micro-anthology is well worth the read.

This is not an exhaustive work that leaves you breathless. Instead, I find myself thinking deeply about specific pieces. Two works that stood out to me are “Two birds—One stone” by S.A. Khanum and “At Night” by Anis Mohjani. Both of these are written in voices that echo for a long time. The concision of the anthology enabled me to pay more attention to poems that halt within the flow (to use a water metaphor, a theme heavily-laden within the anthology). A poem, for example, like Terrence Abrahams’ “Just between us,” becomes memorable when it is paired with the noisy contrast of “At Night”: “Take every dream, crack its shell, / watch the yolk run down your fingers, now // take a hunting rifle, run outside—.” Continue reading

Outside Paducah: The Wars at Home, a play by J.A. Moad, II

Reviewed by Lynn Houston

Runs until October 15th, 2017 at The Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd Street, New York


In the middle of Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim, the character Marlow faces a narrative crisis when he finds it difficult to reconcile the information about Jim’s life he has gathered from a variety of sources. He is sure of one thing, however, regarding Jim’s travels, “that for each of us, going home must be like going to render an account.” J.A. Moad, in his richly layered play Outside Paducah: The Wars at Home, solves the narrative confusion at the heart of Conrad’s classic by providing us with three linked heroes that each tell their own stories in different contexts. The result involves the same trope of “homecoming as accounting” referenced by Marlow in Lord Jim, which Moad employs with great skill to deliver a message about the bitter loss of ideals among working-class men.

Outside Paducah is being billed as an exploration of the effects of PTSD on returning soldiers, and it certainly accomplishes this objective with a coherent artistic vision comprised of cultural sensitivity and historical grounding. The play traces an arc of U.S. military service from the Civil War, to World War II, through Vietnam, and Iraq. The secondary story lines reinforce the main themes in the lives of the main characters: in Act II “Cairo,” the father begging for a loan recalls an incident at a school near his son’s—a boy who opened fire on a prayer circle, killing three girls. Similarly, the images projected during the play contribute to its historical complexity—a newspaper headline flashes on the wall: “JFK shot by sniper.” The play broadens a discussion of PTSD to the larger issue of gun culture and toxic masculinity.
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Interview with Randy Brown

Interviewer: Stephen Sossaman

51qqpGCbf1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Randy Brown is a poet, journalist, and editor, and a leading figure in the veterans’ writing movement. He is the author of the award-winning poetry collection Welcome to FOB Haiku (Middle West Press, 2015); editor of a 2016 book-length collection of citizen-soldier journalism; poetry editor of the on-line literary journal As You Were; and a blogger on military experience, culture, and writing. In 2011, Brown was embedded as a civilian journalist with the 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division, the Iowa National Guard unit with which he served before retiring in 2010.

Stephen Sossaman: Every war is different, and so too is the generation that fights it and writes about it. From your readings in contemporary war poetry, what about Afghanistan and Iraq — and military personnel today—seems different?

Randy Brown: I’d like to think that there’s a growing appreciation for different voices, for different perspectives on the battlefield. A variety of voices now seems more easily available to us. Is that a function of how poetry is published and propagated today? Or answer to a growing call for narrative diversity? Either way, war poetry today isn’t as easily triaged into simple categories. It’s no longer just soldiers or aviators, enemies abroad or families waiting by the fires at home. Our war chorus has grown more complicated, more cacophonous.

SS:  So how much of this diversity do you think is due to cultural change, and how much to the vast opportunities of online publishing, ebooks, and self-publishing?

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