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

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

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

Gently Read Literature, Fall 2013



The Fall 2013 issue of Gently Read Literature is available now. Take a look at the contents listed below and if this sounds like a good line up to you, you should probably subscribe.

A year-long subscription to Gently Read Literature (3 issues) is $10 & will be delivered to you as a PDF.

You can subscribe via PayPal ( ) to the email address

or mail a check payable to Daniel Casey to

Daniel Casey

816 Indiana St.

Lawrence, KS 66044


(Critic, Author, Work)

4—Caroline Crew: On Male Privilege, The Exorcist, & Women Writers Who Won’t Step Down

7—Sophfronia Scott: The Making of a Classic, Review of Pamela Erens The Virgins

14—Alyssa Jocson: Forever Quirky and Fantastically Flawed and Ridiculous, Review of Madeline McDonnell Penny, n.

16—Jaime Boler: Think Twice Before Opening Boxes, Review of Norah Labiner Let the Dark Flower Blossom

20—Suzanne Hard: Persistent Empathy, Review of Anne Leigh Parrish All the Roads that Lead from Home

22—Suzanne Hard: Ill-equipped, Perhaps, Deserving of Compassion, Laura Kasischke If A Stranger Approaches You

25—Eileen Austen: In Search of Narrative, Review of Alicia Kozameh Ostrich Legs

31—Kelly Lydick: Unconsciously Conscious, Review of Bernadette Mayer Ethics of Sleep

35—Glenda Burgess: Art of the Discarded and Reclaimed, Review of Dana Johnson Elsewhere, California

37—Christine Cody: A Missive from the Deities, Review of Anne Germanacos In the Time of Girls

40—Matthew Mahaney: A Lyrical Choose-Your-Own Adventure, Review of Loren Erdrich & Sierra Nelson I Take Back the Sponge Cake

44—Allan B. Rubin: An Edifying Compendium, Review of Daniela Gioseffi Pioneering Italian American Culture

47—Maria Espinosa: Of Craving, Of Touch, Review of Susan Sherman The Light That Puts an End to Dreams

50—Pamela Klein: Uncomfortably Dangerous Poetry, Review of Rauan Klassnik The Moon’s Jaw

53—Bill Pruitt: Questionable Insight, Review of Hugh Martin The Stick Soldiers

57—Bill Pruitt: Xenotransplantation, Review of Bruce Beasley Theophobia

60—Holly Helscher: The Complexity of Choices, Review of Gila Green King of the Class

63—Glenn Halak: Poetic Persona vs Poetry, Review of Helene Cardona Dreaming My Animal Selves

68—Glenn Halak: The Invisible Man, Review of William Pitt Root’s translation of Pablo Neruda

78—Cory Johnston: Forms of Detachment in Holocaust Literature

Gently Read Literature, 2013 Winter Issue

Well, it’s here in time for the new year–the first subscription-based issue of Gently Read Literature. GRL’s 2013 Winter Issue is packed with quality, in-depth reviews and essays.

 Subscribe & get your copy today! A year-long subscription to Gently Read Literature (3 issues) is $10 & will be delivered to you as a PDF. Via PayPal ( ) to the email address rr mail a check payble to Daniel Casey to

Daniel Casey

816 Indiana St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Table of Contents

Sigh Eternally: CL Bledsoe on Adam Clay’s poetry collection “A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World”

A Beginning For an Author Who Obviously Isn’t a Beginner: David Atkinson on Molly Ringwald’s novel “When It Happens To You”

Cycles of Time, Notes to a Tune: Kelly Lydick on Sandy Florian’s poetry collection “Prelude to Air from Water”

The Horse Doesn’t Always Flow: Nicole Contreras on Leslie Scalapino’s hybrid work “Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows”

Muddled & Luscious Residue: Todd McCarty on Ryan Teitman’s poetry collection “Litany for the City”

Ne’er-Do-Wells Who Plunder: CL Bledsoe on Dan Boehl’s poetry collection “Kings of the Fucking Sea”

Wild Prospecting: CL Bledsoe on Daniel Pyne’s novel “A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar”

More Language, More Linkages, More Minds, More Memes: Paula Koneazny on Laura Solomon’s poetry collection “The Hermit”

Kurt Brown’s The Pictorial Impulse: The Poem as Camera and Brush

Tom Bradley’s Foreword to the New Edition of My Hands Were Clean

The Friendly Highbrow: Heather Lang on Matthew Zapruder’s poetry collection “Come On All You Ghosts”

The Lyric Mode: Christopher Schaeffer on Dorothy Lasky’s poetry collection “Thunderbird”

Don’t Doubt Language: Jennifer Jean on Elain Equi’s poetry collection “Click & Clone”

The Transvaluated Body: Gary Sloboda on Christian Hawkey poetry collection “Citizen Of”

The Perfect and The Imperfect: Glenda Burgess on Gretchen Henderson’s novel “The House Enters the Street”

Smashing the Masks: Michelle Ovalle on Amal al-Jabouri’s “Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation”

Fluid Ease: Ann E. Michael on Elaine Terranova’s poetry collection “Dames Rocket”

What is Polish Poetry Like Today?: Mike Walker on Jacek Gutorow’s poetry collection “The Folding Star”

Deep Family in the High North: Kirsten Sworts on Melinda Moustakis’s short story collection “Bear Down Bear North”

Longing: Sara Habein on Kirsten Scott’s novel “Motherlunge”

Rural Gothic Literature: Casey Pycior on Jon Boilard’s novel “A River Closely Watched”

Flouting the Rules: Garry Craig Powell on Tom Williams’s novella “The Mimic’s Own Voice”

A Reckoning on the River:  Sophfronia Scott on Robert Vivian’s “Water and Abandon”

Equilibrium & Gravity: Amber Jensen on Christine Stewart-Nunez’s Keeping Them Alive

Keeping Them Alive, Christine Stewart-Nuñez, WordTech Editions, 2011

In Keeping Them Alive, Christine Stewart-Nuñez expresses a range of emotions—from fear and anger to curiosity and joy—as a sister’s untimely death and the birth of a son converge in this collection of meditative poems. Through carefully carved language and crisp images, this collection demonstrates the craft that won Stewart-Nuñez the Academy of American Poets Award (2003) and the 2008 publication of her Postcard on Parchment. Through personal, yet universal themes, the collection draws readers into the shadows of death and regret, into the glow of life and hope.

The first poem in Keeping Them Alive, which is titled “Braid of Birth and Death in Blue,” establishes the collection’s tone with contrasting images:

cracked shell of a robin’s egg
cervix after conception
indigo salt
empty casket’s pool of navy satin
parallel lines of a pregnancy test
sister’s lips when Mother found her
azure glass in the chapel where mothers pray
sapphire of a flame’s base
midnight umbilical, looped. (14)

As demonstrated in these lines, Stewart-Nuñez avoids sentimentality by balancing light with dark, examining the subtle shading of human responses to life and loss. Fear fades into hope, grief tints happiness. The second poem in the book shades the miracle of conception with futility:

Day fourteen:
Gold crocus open. My body won’t
flower. No nausea, breast tenderness,
only an ache in my core. The usual
blood. What words created, life
absorbs, cell like any other cell. (17)

Yet intransience imbues a poem near the end of the collection titled “Dead Sisters”:

Sisters never leave forever, memory
just changes the record,
Bee Gees swapped for early AC/DC.
In my dreams she’s seven
feet tall, freckles misplaced.
Through castles she tromps,
soaping carriage windows, slaying
dragons. Princes beg for her hand. (65)

The reflections throughout Keeping them Alive skip across the color wheel of emotion, balancing the weight of mourning with the levity of new life. In the companion villanelles, “Upon a Request to Describe the Impact of Her Death” and “After Bring Asked to Describe Motherhood,” death is both a “phantom twin” and “feasts of unleavened bread” (19); birth both “joy” and a “question embodied” (58).

But these contrasting themes and emotions create more than equilibrium—they also create a gravity, a pull towards the center of the human experience that tethers fear in reality. “Spot,” which describes anxiety when bleeding begins at week ten of pregnancy, appears next to “Keeping Them Alive,” which justifies this anxiety:

Press dirt firmly, give
a good first drink, dust
leaves with a damp cloth—
Mom’s ritual for each cutting
clipped from my sister’s
funeral plants. […]

When I find my cutting
with curled leaves in the dirt,
I drive three hours home
with it in my lap. Mom
looks at the stick in the pot,
places her hand on mine.
It’s already gone, she says.
There’s nothing I can do.

Universal themes like this one make the collection accessible, yet Stewart-Nuñez layers emotions and experience patiently so that in the end, the poems in this collection mimic the saturated hues of emotions and readers can relate to the way past loss colors our own experiences.


Amber Jensen is the mother of two creative and energetic children; she also teaches high school Spanish and language arts and is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing through the University of New Orleans’ low-residency program.  Thanks to her supportive husband and an inspiring network of writer friends, Amber finds time to read, write, and revise despite this busy schedule.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly, Elipsis, and Assisi.

Still Life on Water: Megan Burns on Motion Studies by Brad Richard

Motion Studies, Brad Richard, Word Works, 2011

One of the central motifs in Brad Richard’s Motion Studies is the examination of the visual arts and their ability to transmit an emotion that transcends the bounds of space and time. It’s a subject taken up by many poets, the close examination of paintings and photographs, but in Richard’s hands this act of seeing into the painting delves deeply into personal trauma and the philosophical theory that time is not divisible and therefore, change is illusory. The study of motion that an artist attempts to replicate in paintings and photographs is translated into words as Richard uses these studies to push language to the shattering point. What emerges from the break is a stunning and deep resolve to enter into a communion with art that allows us to look ever more deeply into our own small lives. From his family history to his personal trauma after Hurricane Katrina and from Whitman’s lineage to painter Thomas Easkin’s obsessions, Richard weaves together these disparate thoughts into one line that points to “the telling a bridge back to that crossing” (75) or in other words, the story that we are always making of our days.

Divided into four sections, Richard begins with a sequence of poems about daguerreotypes and ends part one with his first poem titled Motion Studies, which outlines a recurrent theme of time caught in the act of happening. He uses the philosophy of Zeno to outline in a series a poems the idea that “time is composed of instants too small/ and dense to divide” (24). Richard returns to this idea throughout the book adopting Wittgenstein’s play on words that objects are either what we define them as or not; an idea that hearkens back to the painter’s or even the photographer’s desire to capture time. The daguerreotype in its day was a type of magic bringing forth an instant, but Richard argues this illusion is just one part of the greater illusion that time is moving past us and that we are not always trapped ourselves.

The next section begins Richard’s long examination into a painting by Thomas Eakins, Swimming, which is the cover image for the book. In several poems, Richard returns again and again to the painting and Easkins’ life outlining his interpretations, research, and his characterization of Easkins’ world through characters such as his wife. This continued meditation on this one painting provides Richard with a way to explore his own complicated relationships with his family, his desires, and his grief. The view he imagines of Easkins watching several young males naked in the water echoes Whitman’s celebration of the male body. The beauty of the male body and the gaze on it by the male speaker is a complicated terrain in both Whitman and Richard’s time; and perhaps, unfortunately, what makes these poems so compelling: the need to normalize and draw attention to the beauty of homosexual desire. Richard compares the male body to the works of art he admires: “their art/ like yours, to exclude yet hold me” (57). The proximal distance between the viewer and the art is repeated and redefined as the speaker notes the distance between himself and the bodies that he admires; in this case proximity is far outweighed by an abstract distance bounded by cultural norms and attitudes. In this section as well, the mark that Hurricane Katrina has left on the poet appears suddenly in a poem called Waterlines, and from this point the book’s examination of art is always tempered with this personal sorrow. Richard closes with his second poem titled Motion Studies, a temporal examination of his family’s past that includes an uncle who had to be hurriedly buried before his family could reach him due to a flood. These male bodies take all forms in Richard’s book; like Whitman, he sings of the lover, the artist, the father, the brother, the son, and the corpse.

In the next two sections, Richard returns again to this complicated notion of time being indivisible, and he continues his intense examination of Thomas Easkins’ life, which in turn informs his own ordering of his memories and experiences. In the third poem titled Motion Studies, the speaker returns to the uncle whose burial was not attended due to a flood and this event is transposed over his experiences with the flooding of New Orleans in 2005. Time folds and repeats, and the speaker notes that a journal the uncle kept that was swept away by Katrina’s floodwaters was the nexus for writing these poems. Again, art replaces what is lost and attempts to make sense from what is seemingly random. Richard in his book is able to order the images that inform his life so that they recur in rich, descriptive ways, a point that belies the chaos and disorder that often accompanies any reality. The book closes with the fitting image of the speaker swimming in a pool speaking to someone in an imagined letter about the destruction of New Orleans. Swimming, art, trauma, beauty, survival: all swirls round in these poems, and Richard reminds us: “And where their motion shatters/ on the river’s wrinkled face/ let my image swim against decay” (30). Like the painter and poets before him, Richard contends with nature in its beauty and destruction, and he makes with his poems a stalwart against the coming end, an attempt to capture motion and to still the moment.


Megan Burns is a poet, performer, essayist, and editor. She edits the poetry magazine, Solid Quarter, which is dedicated to poets working in the tradition of the long poem. She has been most recently published in Trickhouse, Horseless Review, Callaloo, New Laurel Review, and the Big Bridge New Orleans Anthology. Her book Memorial + Sight Lines was published in 2008 by Lavender Ink. She has two chapbooks: Frida Kahlo: I am the poem (2004) and Framing a Song (2010) from Trembling Pillow Press. She lives in New Orleans where she and her husband, poet Dave Brinks, have run the weekly 17 Poets! Literary and Performance series since 2003.

Living on the Cutting Edge: Barbara Goldberg on Peter Gizzi’s The Outernationale

The Outernationale, Peter Gizzi, Wesleyan University Press, 2008

These poems are hard – the language is razor-sharp; the syntax, fractured; surfaces collide with great force and speed – in short, the poems are hard to take, much less swallow. And there is no attempt to soften the blow: no story, no plot, and perhaps hardest of all, no character, no “I.” The hard truth, as Gizzi sees it, is that we are at the mercy of incomprehensible forces in this whirling vortex of a world we live in, and whatever meaning we construct is mere fiction.

Yet, the speaker of these poems suffers, and suffers greatly. He is constantly bombarded, one could even say assaulted, by jarring sensations of color, light, time, language, half-familiar phrases, nothing is stable, everything is jumbled, surfaces jitter and with everything moving so fast, no wonder the overriding sensation is one of dizziness and vertigo. What a relief it would be to grab hold of something stable, certain, something whole. But everything is in shards. There is no calm, no serenity, and most tragic of all, no sense.

This makes for an unsettling experience for the reader, who similarly struggles to find some unifying thread, some meaning. The velocity of these poems is such that just as you think you are approaching some semblance of order, it is disrupted. It’s exhausting, all this jumble, this lack of clarity, but this is life, it’s real. Anything else is wishful thinking. This work effectively annihilates any proposition that human beings are special, or chosen for heroic fates.

In “Human Memory Is Organic,” the word “gneiss” appears. The word is emblematic for what Gizzi believes is the essence of human experience. Gneiss, coarsely layered metamorphic rock, is formed at high pressures and temperatures, much like ourselves. This is the self that shatters under pressure, that constantly attempts to put it all back together. These poems are obviously not for the faint of heart. They are admirable in their steely acceptance of the human condition: Always an exile, on the outskirts, out of bounds, no sugar coating to make it go down easy.


We know time is a wave.

You can see it in gneiss, migmatic
or otherwise, everything crumbles.

Don’t despair.

That’s the message frozen in old stone.

I am just a visitor to this world
an interloper really headed deep into glass.

I, moving across a vast expanse of water

though it is not water maybe salt
or consciousness itself

enacted as empathy. Enacted as seeing.

To see with a purpose has its bloom
and falls to seed and returns

to be a story like any other.
To be a story open and vulnerable

a measure of time, a day, this day one might say
an angle of light for instance.

Let us examine green. Let us go together

to see it all unstable and becoming
violent and testing gravity

so natural in its hunger.

The organic existence of gravity.
The organic nature of history.

The natural history of tears.


Barbara Goldberg is the author of four prize-winning books of poetry, most recently, The Royal Baker’s Daughter, winner of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize (University of Wisconsin Press).  She and the Israeli poet Moshe Dor translated and edited The Fire Stays in Red: Poems by Ronny Someck (University of Wisconsin Press) and two anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, most recently After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (University of Syracuse Press).  Goldberg’s work appears in the Gettysburg Review, Poetry, and The Paris Review as well as Best American Poetry.  She has received two fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Witter Bynner Foundation Award as well as national awards for translation, fiction, feature writing and speechwriting.  A former senior speechwriter for AARP, she currently is Visiting Writer in American University’s MFA program.  She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.