The End of Gently Read Literature

Dear All

Gently Read Literature’s Fall 2014 issue, which will go out on September 1st, will be its last.

I would like to thank all you readers, contributors, writers, agents, publishers, and presses that made the this tiny electronic magazine possible.

I began GRL in 2008 and have had a very fruitful and engaging time editing it over the years. I hope you have enjoyed the reviews and essays GRL has provided. All of the essays and reviews written for Gently Read Literature will still be archived on this website.

I hope that the final issue of Gently Read Literature leaves you with pleasant memory of a review that tried to bring more discussion of poetry and fiction into the world.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by email ( or Twitter (@misanthropester or @gentlyreadlit).

Thank you for the opportunity

Take Care

Daniel Casey, founder/editor

Gently Read Literature, Spring 2014

The new issue of Gently Read Literature is now available. If you’d like to order a copy, send $4.00 via PayPal ( to the email address or mail a check payable to “Daniel Casey” with “Gently Read Literature” in the memo line to

Daniel Casey
816 Indiana St.
Lawrence, KS 66044



Spring 2014 Issue

3—The Hidden Ordinary: Glenda Burgess on Two Poets

7—True Stories from a Mexican Prison: Deborah Clearman on Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree by Mary Ellen Sanger

10—Gazing Upon Broken Mirrors: Wes Bishop on Lee Upton’s The Tao of Humiliation

14—Notions of Beauty and Materiality: Sally Deskins on Yona Harvey’s Hemming the Water

17—Tragic Histories: Ed Davis on Michael Harris’s Romantic History

22—Terse Lyricism: Daniela Gioseffi on Alfredo de Palchi’s Paradigm: New and Selected Poems 1947-2009

25—A Transcaucasian Mind: Mike Walker on Arslan Khasavov’s Sense

34—The Anti-Mayberry: Rebecca Stoebe on Earplugs by Bram Riddlebarger

37—The Delicate and Precarious: Catherine Bailey Kyle on Glenn Shaheen’s Unchecked Savagery

40—Dogs Don’t Fall in Love: Eileen Austen on Jane Vandenburgh’s The Wrong Dog Dream

44—Tangibly Intangible: Kelly Lydick on Brian Mihok’s The Quantum Manual of Style

49—Loss of Distinction: Jordan Wheatley on Sandy Florian’s Boxing the Compass

55—Ambiences: Bonnie ZoBell on Doug Holder’s Eating Grief at 3 AM

59—Thomas Pynchon’s Escape to the Bleeding Edge by Jesse Lambertson

66—The Culmination of a Life’s Close Attention: Karen Craigo on Sydney Lea’s I Was Thinking of Beauty

69—Burnette Saxifrage: Bonnie ZoBell on Jen Michalski’s The Tide King

74—Assembling a Diverse Literary Society: Kayla Rodney on the Anthology Dismantle

79—Nature’s Lens: Karen Craigo on Paula Bohince’s The Children

82—Intimacy and Exposure: C.P. DeSimone on Sean Thomas Dougherty’s All You Ask For Is Longing

Poet Bill Knott, 1940-2014


Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.   
They will place my hands like this.   
It will look as though I am flying into myself.

Bill Knott was always an outsider, but one that had made it in some ways on the inside. This fact of him being ‘the weird one’ often meant that his poetry was overlooked, dismissed, or fetishized. But there were many who admired his work, were thankful for his guidance, and welcomed his difficulty.

I never met the man but I did have sporadic encounters with him over the last few years via social media and was thankful for each.

A sample from Open Letters Monthly’s obituary:

Bill Knott’s first book, The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans, was published under the pseudonym “Saint Geraud” along with the legend “1940-1966.” This based on a 1966 letter to Epoch magazine announcing that Knott, then only 26, had committed suicide in his North Clark Street apartment in Chicago, the same apartment that Charles Simic later described as furnished with little but empty Pepsi bottles, a giant Yvette Mimieux poster, and the brilliant young poet himself, crumpled around his talent, crazy about words, and looking, as Thomas Lux would later write, like he had “been struck by lightning at least twenty-two to twenty-three times.” Possibly Lux was describing the young Knott’s talent and not his congenitally rumpled façade, but the descriptor works both ways. As it happened, Bill Knott, the author behind that hoax letter in Epoch, survived not only his own pseudo-suicide but the wider fame that surrounded it, dying only this afternoon at age 74.

I encourage all readers and lovers of poetry to seek out Knott’s work. There are a lot of misdirects when it comes to doing so, here is Knott’s writing blog and his art page. Also, to get the poet in his own words, here is an interview that Knott did on the site Book Slut in 2005.

And here maybe one of the last poems he was working on:


That the acrobat would remain instead
In the burning hoop rather than complete
Their turn through it is a suspect thought.  Why
Halt there in that residual nought wrought,
Assault that seary vortex, flarehenge shroud, 
Round and red as Plath’s ovenhead.  Ghastly
Silhouettes of gaslight pervade our past;
Kindled images drenched in daguerre, ancient    
To the point of banishment when evenings
Vanish in a similar coup, v-neck-deep in
Loinclothed caverns it’s best to hide.  Abide
May elapse and they, framed by flames, fall from
That looped height finale, that halo-hold
On all our eye normally denies.  Still,
The signal desire to stay locked in such
Arsonous arcs is one the circus rocks
Against each night in its maze of dreams,
Replaying the deaths that dared defy this ploy.
Is this highjinks all our mountebanks allow:
With thrall a ring of fire they marry the day
To their devious acts and thus are at last
Delivered, severed from its whole, that portrait
Momentarily clicked past every portal
Scorching their soles as they halt there bathed
In that eye whose lashes fry their hair and toes
Posing perhaps for the one photo its parade
Maims our streets with, vicious charade whose
Promised feats are purely made, not performed.
One might imagine it were in the nature to occur.
You could conclude this event was more yours
Than nature’s tiger tricks extinct already for
Their blessedness, a mock phrase the lecturer
Faces lions with, his tamed stallion stoned as
They lean over the podium to watch us wince
At each pick ax throe.  That cam contaminates
What it captures, bright cages bulge with fetish
Divulgences—it freezes trapezes, these bareback
Riders, nude knees.  They cannot move beyond
This figure, they must die there daily just for fun. 
Charioted into that charred station, this
Stagey stasis verges on the absurd, what a coal
Crude farce, though objections to imperfection
Are part of the drama enacted by critics:
Obsolete the sole acrobat’s illusive tiptoe
Teeter that flammable cameo concerns us;
How the spotlight is mottled in the star, blotched
By their performance marring each watched face.
Such sight must perpetuate what it sought
Or go astray: but is this status, this
Jumpcaught bit what our linear needs
To thwart its deliberately taut onslaught,
Swan somersault halted strid-air, though no
Continuation of the comedian
In that conflagration could be the true
Disruption, the correct avoidance of
Transcendence: it can’t taunt that denouement
FX-splendiddy enough, unlike the way one’s
Living beyond their years in splatter or
Pattern brings fit end to each leapt theft,
Though certainly one stalls its engulfment with
Curious realms of appalled affrights viz.
An astral body coined in light, the vaunt
Tumbler pauses there in their circ de solar
Auto da fe, feral fireball our drone
Missiles visit hourly to satisfy the spacious
Prey of the ticket window’s demands:
Why do I care if they burn there in mid air
Abandoned by the gruesome need to reach
The applause line, to round the stadium track
Racing for the tape across their chests hurrah
While victor olympian marathonic greeds gild
Post-event.  Better calamity for them, they
Should perish publically in clusters of cloud
Clash fare, the bomb heard posthumously by
The body it shatters.  They should explode there;
Let them droop like an upside down U from
That white hot hoop.  When Hart Crane sailed through
The goalposts to win the game for Sodom High in
Their annual grudgematch against Gomorroh
Prep, he shone for a moment as bright as this,
Each stadium cheering his radium.  Fireworks
To our face must fly the phantom bound pyreward
Drenched daily from raucous Pompeii . . .  But ask
The acrobat: demand from her/him whether
Hovering in that hell is preferable to
The headlong hurl of time: does it protect
The climax from commencement’s rash intent,
From end and then the only end of end, hails Larkin—
You will have seen the sun as a figure standing
Inside a similar wheel etched enfold, Da
Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.  Sustained by his
Refusal pall to ever leave this modest pose,
That threshold of gold spits scarring us for
The sacrifice that surely the crowd expects. 
Inca-high that knife gleams.  History buffs
Confirm his death and worship none but him
Perhaps.  Lingering, third-degree, ideal,
Some hung circumference of furnace
Festival.  Like celebrant Empedocles
We prefer an oval entry to eternity,
Who saw how perfect circ his volcan rim
Rose in its apotheosis of form, pure
Aureate anti-goal, broken so un-coned
And conjured in its ofference of O.
Say it is this incompleteness excites us.
If it were closed, if the acrobat aced
Her symbiotic roundgame, if the goal
Were capable of twinning its beginning gone,
Would DadaVinci/VineVanGogh have cheated?
Shall we salute, requite, honor, any
Height which resists summit, disdaining each
Ultimate point that might map our madness,
Spurning the pursuit of angels who seek
Peaks only, dullards pining for the crest’s
Honed sharpness of spite, groundsake shed where
We doctrinaire humans find sync thread in
Some secular oriel.  Regardless of descent
An actor takes their bow from this window
Lit by licking jets as if its footfire
Spanned the entire stage, or, thinned to a line,
Led tightrope misstep regrets.  Circling
Whom is the audience, applauding for
Coherence they griddle the enclosure
With incendiary candles whose torch would
Barbecue them if they dared abandon
That pose their tragic-guarded aspirations
Demand every artist must adopt: don’t
Bail and save yourself, Rimbaud, show-and-
Flambeau, rainbow-scald us till we laugh.
We love to see your turn-as-burnout blazed
Across our bluetube skies, your moon
Rockets die Titanic-wise.  Hush-lit
Orchesta pits await but why would she
Not complete her set, traverse that fiery
Core and trudge back safely in center ring;
What need too urgent to gratify our slavish engine
Moults us in that molten omega motif,
Bold bad figure trying to transbolt itself into
Pain’s pantheon of prancing grindshows film
Ilumed, from whom these testy trips descend;
When cymbals cling their triumph there, why
Does artifact elect the Paphos illusion,
Scales wept in random arbors, desiccate
Flowers whose vase unearthed the breach
Of our first kin.  Appalled sleep of the sentinal
Culminating in twelve o’clock amendments and
Celebrations—fixated by laminations of
Dexterity: to remain there in that Shadrach
Shade, that Abednego abyss where tapering
Grapes render the host bodied as mould mouth,
Incomplete transubstantation of the ashes
Promised by such.  Exposed to this apotheosis
Of the will obeying its stubborn occupation
Of the suicide it opposes, how can we
Respond when there is no red in the blood to
Accent the mime’s whiteness that designates
And underlines this cry for gore: nonlineage
The liontamer opens each cage hoping to
Channel the crossing over of the dice, odds
Gods wrestle as stainedglass, angel porthole
Jacob juggles with and must jettison the privacy
Of, because the act must occur in the show:
The acrobat could stand there on her gymroom
Treadmill encircled by flames in solitude, who’d
Care?  Publication’s scandal is vital, to air
One’s immolation’s the de rigeur we pay for—
Thrown wager against that hazard entrance, he,
The exegete costumed in cameo, the clone
Of our circular locket solar island marmoreal,
Posited motionless and visual, this principal
Model fixation focus of interest and poised
Inaction, this cessationpoint where one’s
Lapidary leap suffers its defiant disgrounding
Death around which cancellations flash
And norms occur: in the tethered fire of its
Incompatibility may we see this evanescent
Foreign frontier erasure all ways the farer flies—
A cat would not sit in that hot that long.
Maybe only Bartleby can understand
This arch refusal to honor the task and
Go through the hole that enters the stale turnstile
Of success, to land standing amid acclaims
Less receptive than those flames that clapped us
Rife for the briefest of blinks, captivated
Spellbound, gaining that acme game whose contest
Our feebleness would bear the better of,
Wear its caesura more purely.  What suspension
In the poet’s portrayal of silence, rude
Interruption of the spectacle by this perched
Ecstasy of decline, musing the stoopstance
Of routine, elevating its spasm comically
The tragic transport is empty (Holderlin)—
Barren, contradictory, purgatorial,
Pause unconnected, discontiguous coup,
Bridge-span the bride’s threshold bloodied with
Liminal costumes of grief.  Who repudiates
In spite of himself the gulf between this loss
Of trajectory in a space wagered by weight,
A grace of phases borne now by the citizen
Brow, laurel yearning from emerging light to
Observe their whole depleted origin, scald-version
Displacing this usurpation of a course
Reserved for lustral berth.  Acro is a stand-in
Syncly for the hearth whose gate waits to
Consume this fence-sitter, unwilling arbiter
Loathe to choose which of their substituted
Phoenix-eyeflicks can span this whirlicue
If only to escape the eternal bracing it takes
That cut-out coin to fix cold within space
A corpus collage, practicing whose personae—
Unanimously deformed, incessantly lazy,
Beyond seen clearly, veils cleaved, as when
Your nape dawns for the headsman’s axe and
He spits to make its split-edge shine sharper
For every arctic-pitted spectator—
Investing the forsaken sky with this
Decisive dearth is not enough to placate
Alleviate our loneliness as probe-missiles
Out-limbing him with love for his ice-cream
Hat and hacked-off head, the holo-guillotine
Honing itself against any lack of descent
From that arcade’s space capsule, or Anne
Sexton painting the shade carbon monoxide
Tints skin with in your car’s career, cherry sword,
Aureoled revolt upon the shocktuft tree:
That she, the acrobat, should fear that sphere
Of fire would seem synonymous with our own
Hesitance, but can that figure sustain its ground
Up there in transient facticity, that
Matchstick myth mourned by all, mute-hymned
To the core.  In Summer harvest the hung
Fruits manifest spirit, flesh hangs from an ideal
Wheel flung and clinging to air’s a-leaf womb
Atmosphere toppling at hand.  How near
It roams its round of annihilated creation
Emanating from the central outcast spun;
Can the burning child awaken the father
In time to be rescued or will he too grow old
Against vigilance.  Or must he watch over
This oval cremation where the wind’s kinks
Wither infancy’s summation, trender toward
Spurious apparitions, godmaze stalled in some
Corrupt word preferred to those I might throw;
Any furtive shadow my launchpad had.

Yona Harvey Receives the Kate Tufts Discovery Award

Yona Harvey, an assistant professor of English at University of Pittsburgh and the author “Hemming the Water” has received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a  prize of $10,000 given annually for a first book by a poet of promise.

The upcoming issue of Gently Read Literature will feature a review of “Hemming the Water” from Sally Deskins. Deskins is an artist and writer, focusing on women and feminist writers and artists, including herself. She edits the online journal Les Femmes Folles. Her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, came out in 2014. And she can be found at and

Here’s a sample of Deskins’s review of Yona Harvey’s “Hemming the Water”:

Harvey gives voice to womanhood without playing to any one role or dimension, with lyrics that are so rhythmic you can almost hear them whisper and roar as you read.

Imagery stuns as she utilizes nature with the swing of life, exemplifying women’s strong intuitiveness and proximity with all life. She plays with poetic form, as some poems are read from top to bottom and side to side, forcing readers to relish each word, and some are tight and direct, embodying a genuine raw voice throughout as the narrator comes to.

Indeed, the story comes full circle as “Sound—Part 1 (Girl with the Red Scarf) introduces gracefully the inimitable young woman who “when at particular moments her ears were full of odd instructions & she needed to hear something across a room, she listened with the whole of her body…What does a girl with a red scarf hear? Only she knows, approaching the world from the inside in…” (3)

Harvey’s strong use of the natural exudes in “To Describe My Body Walking” as she plays with the role of mother-nature: “…She is my mother, / even if she is made of snow & ice & air & the repetition of years…Just her advancing, multiplying– / –falling through branches / –there’s a flurry of her.” With this we can feel our mothers as snow falling—though perhaps not present, our mother figures are always in the back of our minds. (5-6)

Subscribe now to Gently Read Literature to receive the current issue, the upcoming Spring issue (released in May), and the Fall issue (released in September). A year subscription is only $10 and will be delivered to your email as a PDF.

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or mail a check payable to Daniel Casey at

Daniel Casey
816 Indiana St.
Lawrence, KS 66044

Literary Luminary: Pamela Erens


Pamela Erens‘s first novel The Understory (Ironweed Press, 2007) was a slim volume but a gem. Unfortunately, it only found a small audience of diehard fiction lovers, but anyone who read it immediately saw the brilliance of the work (Tin House will be reissuing it soon). When Tin House published her second novel, The Virgins, suddenly it seemed as though the entire literary world woke up. Quality and lengthy reviews and essays appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Slate, Book Slut, The Independent, The Rumpus, and the Los Angeles Review of Books as well as in a slew of other places.


For being such a small endeavor, Gently Read Literature has been obscenely fortunate to have not only reviewed The Understory and The Virgins, but to have had Erens herself review for us. With AWP 2014 raging this week, I thought it a good idea to present to you a compendium of Gently Read Literature’s Erens commentary. 

thevirginBelow are two reviews of The Virgins, the first from Sophfronia Scott featured in the Fall 2013 issue and the second from Ed Davis that ran in the current Winter 2014 issue. Then there’s Zinta Aistars’s review of The Understory which was featured in November of 2009. Later on that year, Erens reviewed Pasha Malla’s The Witdrawal Method and then in2010 David Shields’s Reality Hunger.

Alongside Paul Harding and Alissa Nutting, Pamela Erens may be quietly becoming one of the most important writers in the country.


Continue reading

The VIDA Count 2013 | VIDA

The VIDA Count 2013 | VIDA.


The break down of nearly 40 literary magazines and reviews–the big names that dominate publishing and the literary world–showing the amount of women featured versus the number of men featured. Here’s the opening of the article linked above:

A couple of giants in the original VIDA Count have begun to move. While we can’t call it a trend or cause for partying just yet, it is certainly noteworthy that The Paris Review’s andNew York Times Book Review’s pies have significantly baked up tastier for 2013.

The Paris Review’s numbers, previously among the worst in our VIDA Count, have metamorphosed from deep, male-dominated lopsidedness into a picture more closely resembling gender parity. While such progress is remarkable in one year, we are likewise pleased to note that we haven’t heard anyone bemoan a drop in quality in The Paris Review’s pages. Turnarounds like the Paris Review’s make it clear that with the right editorial effort, putting more sustainable gender practices into action isn’t too difficult for these magazines at the top of the major market heap. Pamela Paul, editor of theNew York Times Book Review, also demonstrates what good can come when top tier literary outlets recognize the importance of presenting a balanced mix of voices by significantly increasing the number of female reviewers in the NYTBR in 2013.


I’ve been tracking Gently Read Literature’s count in a move to show solidarity with the VIDA project. In 2011, GRL published 115 reviews, the percentage of women reviewers we 46%, and the percentage of women reviews was 51%. It wasn’t bad but I wanted to do better. 2012 turned out to only be slightly better–112 reviews, 63% women reviews and 50% women reviewed.

Over 2013 it looks as though things have regressed a bit. Gently Read Literature published 67 reviews, of those reviews 56% were from women reviewers and 58% were women reviewed.

From what I’ve seen of the literary landscape since 2003 when I finished my MFA, women writers and critics are more erudite, relevant, transgressive, adept, and pleasurable to read than men writers. I wish GRL’s count was more 60/40 in favor of women critics and writers. It comes down to me, as the male editor of the magazine, to work harder and more conscientiously.

The Great 2014 Indie Press Preview | The Outlet: the Blog of Electric Literature

A utterly brilliant list of new and upcoming books by some of the smartest writers and critics working right now, so check it out: The Great 2014 Indie Press Preview | The Outlet: the Blog of Electric Literature.

GRL will accept reviews of any and all of the books on this list

Elizabeth Robinson’s On Ghosts is a Finalist for the LA Times 2013 Book Prize

The LA Times announced its book prize finalists for 2013. Among those listed for poetry was Elizabeth Robinson’s On Ghosts. On Ghosts is a brilliant collection and the strongest work among the LA Times finalists.

Amy Pence reviewed On Ghosts for Gently Read Literature’s Winter 2014 issue, below is her review.  If you’d like to read more reviews of contemporary poetry and literary fiction, please consider subscribing to Gently Read Literature.


On Reading On Ghosts: Amy Pence Reviews Elizabeth Robinson

On Ghosts
Elizabeth Robinson
Solid Objects, 2013

1)       That I  am reading Elizabeth Robinson’s On Ghosts on Halloween could be pure accident.  Or is it?   Could occasion be one of those “conditions” that Robinson writes in her “Explanatory Note” that “calibrate individuals or places, make them vulnerable to the heightened perception, which is hauntedness”? (p. 3)

Robinson’s hybrid book—a blend of poetry, essay passages, personal narrative, quotations from writers manifesting the ghostly and a descriptive cataloging of murky photographs— proceeds—as she tells us—circuitously—and meditates less on what ghosts are, than how they “infest” (Robinson’s word) us metaphorically.  An image of a building’s support beams once infested with termites—then painted over—initiates the book:  how are we like these “porous” beams, and so, vulnerable to being haunted?  How are we broken?

2)       That I listen to Schubert, that poverty-stricken musician—the Romantic hero who went to an early grave—was it typhoid or was it syphilis?—as I read On Ghosts might be another condition of my hauntedness.

After Robinson discloses a personal narrative involving her self-effacing grandmother (now deceased), she vividly shows us how the “ghostly” presences in us.  In the passage “Aftermath,” she writes, “That to be alive is in so many ways is to be haunted anyway, to be coursed through with hesitations”(p. 24).

Hesitations define the book.  Robinson’s prose style: the insistence on the declarative combined with her technique of stopping and starting, her tendency to erase what came before, or to merely adumbrate a thought or an image gives the book its peculiar power.  In “Incident One,” a particularly tragic and beautiful prose poem, she writes:  “Over and over the loop of his life rubs on its seam until the stitches rough up his skin and the garment comes apart.  Dual ravel” (p. 13).

3)       That I am beginning to regret my ticket to ride the “Terror Train” later this evening while reading On Ghosts also heightens my perception.

Most admirable are Robinson’s statements that ring like flashpoints:  her narrative style may seem random, plain even.  However, as the prose piece “The Nature of Association” unwinds, for instance, we may think we are left with a sketchy description of the narrator’s preoccupation with a pore on her shoulder.  The piece concludes:  “I hope you understand this and its relation to haunting. Embodiment always troubles us, but here you have no clearer example of its effect” (p. 48).

4)       That the gloom crawls in and around the leaves of all the trees as far as I can see out my window, so that leaf and tone become indistinct while reading On Ghosts further “infests” my reading.

We begin to expect, in addition to an accumulation of  “Incidents”— narratives in which the speaker reveals her own specific haunting—the attendant accumulation of word photographs; some are related to what she has encountered, others not.  Not coincidentally, these are practically non-descriptions in that they trace what isn’t there.

…it is hard to see anything of significance in this photo.  Note however the

ghost’s baby tooth crumbling in a dish on the kitchen counter

(foreground) and further back in the room, the boom box that

went on at random times, always when there was a Harry Potter

story tape in it. (From “Photograph #1,” p. 15)

By resisting description, we are left not-seeing the little we may have seen.

The nature of ghosts, their incessancy, the way they activate…

5)       That the screen freezes and the cursor will not move when I type the words above, so that I hastily handwrite what I’ve already written,  then CTRL-ALT-DEL and recover my document with all but this last half-thought while writing about On Ghosts seriously spooks me.

Nonetheless, or perhaps moretheless, On Ghosts, once read, redirects the reader to attend to presences of all kinds.  Once haunted, Robinson warns us at the outset:  “There’s now a little alleyway, between the self and the not-self…The new not-selfness is exquisitely sensitive to presence but its own absence has been thrown into the realm of the nonlinguistic” (“Explanatory Note,” p. 5).  Hence, the not-I has been moved to a wondrous silence.

The Critical Flame Commits to a Whole Year of ONLY Women Writers & Writers of Color

The Critical Flame is a small literary magazine and its editor Daniel Pritchard has decided to commit this magazine to doing one small thing to fight gender and racial disparity in literature. I admire Pritchard’s move, it’s the right one to make. Here at Gently Read Literature, I’ve made it a point to feature women reviewers and to review women. I’m hoping that soon, GRL will be able to mirror The Critical Flame.


In Which The Critical Flame Dedicates One Year to Women Writers and Writers of Color

Women writers and writers of color are underserved and undervalued by the contemporary literary community. The phenomenon has been well documented by critics such as Roxane Gay and Ruth Franklin, and by organizations like VIDA: Women in Literary Arts (n.b. I am a member of the VIDA board). This disparity deserves greater attention from academics and social scientists, who could at least bring some much-needed rigor (and funding) to bear. It is vital that we uncover the mechanisms that produce this disparity. You can’t fight what you cannot see, as the adage goes.

What we can see today are the outlines of a culture still dominated by white male figures, and by the presumption of their essential literary merit, everywhere from major publishing houses to small literary journals. As far as mainstream literary culture is concerned, white males are the default. They continue to personify the sublime human person, accessible to all readers, while other writers—women, African Americans, latinos, etc.—are presumed to relate an incomplete version of life, narrowed by their lack of access to this white male universality.

This is all disappointingly banal. Today’s patterns of exclusion echo the ones we find all throughout our society, with little change over the last three decades. Regardless of what some pundits might argue, we are not post-race or post-men; we are not post-anything today except, I sometimes fear, reasonable hope.

In his iconic address, “This Is Water,” David Foster Wallace speaks about the reflexive consciousness of our perceptions and values: the awareness of a choice between our culturally-mediated default interpretation of the world, and something else. When we are at our best, that something is full of empathy, humanity, and compassion. But, the ability to choose our own value-filter exists only when we are aware that there is already a default, and that there is a choice. If this is so, then it seems that either the literary community has not realized the choice yet, or has chosen not to change. I’m not sure which is more disheartening.

Silence on this literary disparity has not been the problem over the past few years. Inertia has. Many editors seem immobilized by their options: either admit their failings and allow a bruise to the ego, or brush off the critique with grand claims about quality and editorial judgment. In one iteration, an unappealing act of self-flagellation that may well harm their own publication by alienating certain cultural power centers. In the other, adherence to a relatively painless status quo. Duty in conflict with conscience creates a difficult choice, even for the most moral person.

However, as I’ve written before, nothing will change if people do not act morally within their sphere of control. So, while The Critical Flame may not be a powerhouse of the literary world, we have yet decided to embark on a project that will help our readers, at the very least, perceive and evaluate the literary landscape differently. If there is a cycle of criticism / reviews, book sales, and publishing trends that perpetuates the unjust inequalities we’re seeing today, then CF will act in some small measure to break it.

Beginning with the May 2014 issue, The Critical Flame will dedicate one year of its review coverage wholly to women writers and writers of color.

CF will continue to publish well-written, insightful, long-form critical essays and reviews, all of which will cover women writers and writers of color, just as we did (without any advance planning) in the current issue.

I see no conflict between duty and conscience. CF is small, independent, and all-volunteer: our livelihoods do not depend on its financial success, so we are freer than some others (capitalism, literature, and marginalization—consider that a call for papers, ye writers). Also the often-cited dichotomy between quality and equality is, to my mind, bullshit. There are more good books than could ever be covered by any single publication; every issue’s selection of titles is just as much a result of luck, networking, and taste as it is of quality. This project presents a great opportunity to publish in-depth essays about undervalued writers, books, and traditions—what could be more exciting for a literary editor?

But this project will not succeed without the help of our contributors; and no doubt some of our readers will have feedback, questions, and concerns as well. Please feel free to get in touch via email. We look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Daniel Evans Pritchard

Daniel Pritchard

Daniel E. Pritchard is the editor and publisher of The Critical Flame. His poetry and criticism can also be found at Little Star, Fulcrum, Battersea Review, The Quarterly Conversation, Idiom, and elsewhere.

Gently Read Literature, Winter 2014

Gently Read Literature’s first issue of 2014 is out now.


The Winter 2014 issue includes fiction reviews of authors such as Peter Cherches, Kirby Gann, Pamela Erens, Bonnie ZoBell, George Guida, Valerie Fioravanti, Adam Berlin, Luanne Rice, Bruce Holbert, Linda Lappin, and Juliet Marillier.

As well as poetry reviews of collections by Caryl Pagel, Emma Bolden, Elizabeth Robinson, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Bill Yarrow, Frances Hatfield, John Gosslee, Marjorie Maddox, Gerald Fleming, Kristina Marie Darling, Mary Biddinger, Terry Blackhawk, francine j. harris, Jamie Sharpe, Alex Dimitrov, Petrosino, Carrie Olivia Adams, Jeffery Pethybridge, Julie Marie Wade, and Olivia Stiffler.

We’d love for you’ to subscribe to GRL to receive this as well as the Spring issue (released in May) and the Fall issue (released in September). A year subscription is only $10 and will be delivered to your email as a PDF.

You can subscribe via PayPal ( ) by sending to the email address

or mail a check payable to Daniel Casey at

Daniel Casey

816 Indiana St.

Lawrence, KS 66044

Gently Read Literature
Reviews of Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction
Winter 2014


4—Colleen Abel on Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death

6—Christina M. Rau on Emma Bolden’s poetry collection Maleficae

10—Amy Pence on reading On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

12—Michael Kasper reviews the novel Lift Your Right Arm by Peter Cherches

15—Making Music from the Badlands of Horror Vacui: Virginia Konchan reviews Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Swamp Isthmus

18—Parth Vasa reviews Kirby Gann’s novel Ghosting

21—David Appelbaum on Bill Yarrow’s Pointed Sentences

24—Ed Davis reviews the novel The Virgins by Pamela Erens

27—Robin Martin reviews Bonnie ZoBell’s short stories in The Whack Job Girls

30—Fred Misurella reviews George Guida’s short fictions in The Pope Stories

32—Bonnie ZoBell reviews Valerie Fioravanti’s short story collection Garbage Night at the Opera

35—Grace Curtis reviews Frances Hatfield’s poetry collection Rudiments of Flight

37—Robin Martin reviews Adam Berlin’s novel The Number of Missing

40—Christina M. Rau reviews John Gosslee’s Blitzkrieg

43—David Berridge reviews the anthology Homage to Etal Adnan

51—Brief Alphabet of Grief: Carolyn Perry Reviews Local News from Someplace Else by Marjorie Maddox

56—Deborah Bogen reviews Gerald Fleming’s prose poetry collection The Choreographer

59—Sally Deskins on Kristina Marie Darling’s VOW

61—An Insurgency of Language: Stacia M. Fleegal’s review of Mary Biddinger’s poetry collection O Holy Insurgency

63—Suzanne Hard on Luanne Rice’s novel The Lemon Orchard

65—Margaret Rozga reviews Terry Blackhawk’s poetry collection The Light Between

68—Jonterri Gadson reviews allegiance by francine j. harris

71—Emilie Esther-Ann Schnabel reviews Animal Husbandry Today by Jamie Sharpe

73—Samantha Duncan reviews Alex Dimitrov’s poetry collection Begging for It

75—Sing a Song of Darkness: Katherine Yets on Hymn for the Black Terrific by Kiki Petrosino

78—Help Me Solve a Mystery, Who is Who and Where are We?: Katherine Yets on Carrie Olivia Adams’ Forty-One Jane Doe’s

82—The Poem is a Ritual that Conceals: C. Kubasta reviews Jeffrey Pethybridge’s Striven, the Bright Treatise

85—Acceptance Inside an Envelope: Katherine Yets reviews of Julie Marie Wade’s poetry collection Postage Due

88—Olivia Stiffler’s poetry collection Otherwise, We Are Safe reviewed by Margaret Rozga

92—Twenty Poets Talking: Robert Archambeau reviews the anthology Password Primeval

95—Channeling the Prose Poem’s Ancestry: Steven Wingate reviews the anthology Family Portrait: American Prose Poetry

98—James Wharton reviews Bruce Holbert’s novel Lonesome Animals

101—Shaina Mugan reviews Linda Lappin’s Signatures in Stone

103—Things Redefined: Ayesha Ali Reviews Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier