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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

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.

Continue reading

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

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?

Continue reading

Buddha vs. Bonobo, by Brendan Walsh

review by Kristen Leigh



(Sutra Press, 2017)

“…how far from where stories shaped/ their mouths and not/ the other way around.”

It is in the above line from Brendan Walsh’s latest collection, Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press), that I read an inquiry of human communication quintessential to the author’s body of work. Walsh’s commitment to fusing feeling with intellect and presenting the idea within the container of a poem is more than just pleasure reading—although there is much pleasure in the lyricism of his language and imagery. Walsh’s previous work asserts him as a minimalist of material goods, yet nearly hedonistic in his consumption of experiences, culture, language, travel, love, friendship. He communicates a drive, ravenous, for a common shared experience. We are talking about the work of a man who feels it all—who chooses to feel it all—and hopes you might join him in this lettered search for the origin of human compassion. It might be surprising to find it resting in hearts and on haunches in, at least on these recent pages, bonobo communities.

Continue reading

Stateside, by Jehanne Dubrow

Review by Lynn Marie Houston

419tVkReOWL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_A holiday this past week went largely unacknowledged on my social media feeds. Wednesday, June 14th is known as “flag day.” In fact, the whole week of June 14th to the 18th is called “flag week.” It’s a holiday to commemorate the adoption of the official design of the U.S. flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. We’ve since added a few more stars to represent the total number of states in our nation, but it’s still the basic design we use today.

The passing of flag day with little fanfare makes me think of news articles I’ve seen over the last couple of years that attempt to remind the American people that we are still regularly sending troops to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Just last month, one of my college English students had to turn in his final portfolio early because he was deploying to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit. And yet, like flag day, these deployments seem to go widely unacknowledged. Some advocates have taken to calling the war in Afghanistan “Forgotistan” in order to underscore the lack of public knowledge and support for the ongoing sacrifices of our military personnel.

But it’s not just our military personnel who are continuing to make sacrifices without headlines; their families do, too. In fact, the spouses, parents, and children of our deployed service members have been long accustomed to making sacrifices without much public acknowledgement. I know a little bit about the latter kind of suffering, having supported the man I was dating through his deployment last year. In November, the Heartland Review Press will be releasing Unguarded, my prize-winning collection of poem-letters written to him during our time apart. In honor of flag week and of Forgotistan, I’d like to draw attention to the poems of Jehanne Dubrow, whose 2010 collection Stateside rewrote the Penelope myth for modern times, capturing in poetry the quintessential 21st-Century experience of the woman who waits for her lover while he is at war.

Continue reading