Wake Brings the Big Sleep to Life

3 and 1/2 Stars


Wake by Laura Madeline Wiseman transforms the grim reaper into a female, a cart driver with a passenger, and a character of intrigue. She is both a gentle friend and an aggressive enemy; she is a migrant of souls.

Fairy tale and mythology is a mere starting point to Wiseman’s Death — for Wiseman is far more interested in the tensions of the feminine/feminist and the sensual/sexual. Death is a symbol of Society, not the end of Individual.

To keep her readers engaged, Wiseman takes unexpected and well-executed turns in her design. Take, for example, “Considering The Little Mermaid“, which ends:


who worked in soul trade, a matter of contract,
signature, bind — all of us with no one else to turn to

were who we turned to, a pale fiery gaze of promise.
Take the gulp, she said and, you’ll have your man.

A bold and daring project, Wiseman as usual delivers, taking her readers on a journey that is both familiar in theme and focus, yet challenging and intellectual in its retelling.

Wake is 67 pp and published by Aldrich Press.

Art History Meets Satire

4 Stars

Artist Statements of the Old Masters

Artist Statements of the Old Masters by John Seed combines art history with wit and satire to create a work of art that is a funny yet sober statement on today’s art world.

If the artists in this collection were alive today, they would be wearing black turtlenecks and hanging out with Andy Warhol. They are pretentious, providing artist statements with a vocabulary of such pseudo-intelligence that it makes so little sense that we readers laugh at its absurdity.

Not to be outdone, The Venus of Urbino comes with an audio recording of the artist statement that includes “suspenseful” music and applause.

Artist Statements of the Old Masters can be ordered  here.

Hourglass Museum and the timeless art of life

5 Stars

Hourglass Museum

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon appears to be a book of poetry based on art — and it is, but it is also so much more. It is a book about life and its distractions, get-togethers and their conversations and other nuances of everyday life.

In fact, the book can be summed up by its opening poem, which lets the readers in on the secret, the joke, the maddening reality of what life has to offer.

Agodon is a master of enjambment, the turns-of-phrase and metaphorical imagery that begs awe-struck questions like, “Where did THAT come from? How did she come up with THAT?” that may leave poets wanting to take their craft to the next level.

There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallowed time.

Or this line, which is simple enough, yet for me it seems Agodon was channeling Ezra Pound.

Because the dress was worn.
Or wasn’t.

The book is a dialogue between art as life and life as art. There is both an unresolved tension between the two as well as an agreement to live in harmony together. But as the book progresses, it becomes less about the former and more about the latter. Agodon investigates questions of womanhood in general as well as motherhood and the family dynamic that is simple inspirational to read due to the way she expresses these themes.

Hourlass Museum is 120 pp and published by White Pine Press.

American Galactic lands close to home

4 Stars

American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman
American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman

American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman is a fun, well-written book that takes issues and events of everyday life and gives them a sci-fi twist.

The cover of the book, an image of martians doing the YMCA dance like the Village People, is a sneak peak in what the reader should expect by opening the front cover and digging down into the closest sofa with a cup of coffee.

Some of these poems are obvious inclusions in the collection, such as kids dressed as martians while doing their Halloween rounds. Others are a bit more surprising, such as a poem about Robin Williams, written before his untimely death, that choked me up when I read it.

Wiseman has fun with enjambment, and finds interesting ways to use double-meaning in line breaks.

I don’t know what martians eat. They might eat
potatoes or human cavier. I don’t know

what they wear to dances or how they move…

— from “After Watching a Martian Marathon on Cable”

Wiseman also uses end-stop lines to provide emphasis in her lines, never forgetting about that double meaning.

Accept the limits of the landscape.
Grow moonflowers. Transplant rain
lilies. Always befriend stargazers.
Listen when the big ear speaks.

— from “Creed: The Mission”

Each poem has its own difference in theme, of course, but the theme of the entire book is about the foreign-ness of humanity and human interaction. This is not a book about martians; it is a book about us. With poems about doctor’s appointments, complications and joys of gardening, introverts at parties, sci-fi movies and masterbation (or not), this book reminds us that when we look up at the stars, we see ourselves.

American Galactic is published by martianlit.com and is 75 pp.

Press Release: Red Dashboard publishes Steel Cut Oats


Red Dashboard Press announces release of Steel Cut Oats by Joshua Gray

April 12, 2015

Washington DC — Red Dashboard Press is pleased to announce the release of Steel Cut Oats, a new book of poetry by Joshua Gray. Gray began writing the collection as a companion to the book Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice, a book that celebrates food, culture and tradition as an integral synthesis to maintain health and well-being.

But the scope of the Gray’s vision widened to include other poems as well as recipes; in doing so, Gray infuses food and poetry to tackle both the traditions of ancient cultures as well as his own personal experiences of contemporary ways of life.

“Steel Cut Oats is not a cookbook. It is a book of food for the gods. Joshua Gray writes through the honest, curious eyes of all the families in our world. Gray surveys the heavens and moons above, and then cores them with metaphors for emotional satiety. He challenges stereotypes and spurs new revelations for his audience. He transforms food into life, and then back again to season its seasoning with these enticing poems.”

— Andrew Jarvis, author of The Strait

“There are other poems in the book as well as the ones written in response to Prentice’s work. I decided to include these poems early on in the vision of Steel Cut Oats, but the recipes came later on. While Prentice’s book centers more around food and tradition, the poems I wrote as a response Full Moon Feast were not as obviously centered around food. So the recipes were a way to tie everything together into a cohesive whole. The recipes are favorite ones of mine, and are to be used more as a starting off point than to be followed directly, although they certainly can be. The point of the recipes is more the creative process than anything else,” Joshua Gray states.

As for the poems he wrote in response to Prentice’s book, Gray found the process very difficult.

“After reading Full Moon Feast, I knew I wanted to write a sort of poetic companion, but the poems did not come easy. I found many of my initial drafts to be very didactic in nature, something I really felt I needed to avoid. Through the course of several years I tried writing and rewriting, until I had an epiphany while riding down a beautiful mountain in southern India: I didn’t need to state the importance of the subject matter in any way — Prentice had already done that — I just needed to highlight each of her chapters in a brief yet creative way. After I realized this, the writing came easier.”

Red Dashboard, LLC (www.reddashboard.com) publishes an electronic magazine called Annapurna, which seeks food-centric submissions, as well as an annual anthology about food called Clarify; thus, Gray didn’t need to look far to find a publisher for his manuscript, since he had been published by Red Dashboard in the past.

For more information about Steel Cut Oats, Red Dashboard, LLC, or any of its publications, publisher and editor Elizabeth Akin Stelling can be reached at editor@reddashboard.com.

The Sounds of Dust

3 and 1/2 Stars

Dust by Dave Buracker
Dust by Dave Buracker

Dust by Dave Buracker is a chapbook of poems that are simple, accessible, and informal, yet written with such a punch in the music of language, they are wonderful to hear as each poem is read. Buracker’s style may need a little getting used to: the language is not beautiful, magical, or particularly lyrical, but don’t be fooled. These poems utilize conventions such as alliteration and sound repetition that are highlighted within the backdrop of short lines that help draw attention to the the beauty of their music.

Take for example the “c/k”, “f/v”  and even the “l” sound repetitions that follow the opening “st”, “p” and “l” alliteration in this poem:

Paper Rock Scissors


Stainless steel pepper
shaker perched on a
loose leaf notebook,
floral table cloth,
contradiction or koan,

cannot compare to
window light walking
across carpet, cascading
over wooden chairs and
cubic zarconia fingers
flailing in conversation,
fondling non-dairy
creamers, bent forks
and paper fades

Buracker must listen to his word choices with a great deal of attention and discretion; it is not surprising to learn that he is also a musician.

Buracker also well-utilizes an often-overlooked and yet so important aspect of poetry: the title. The titles are as simple as the poems themselves, so much so that one could at first think the titles of these poems were created haphazardly, but they weren’t. The poems are not always what they appear to be about, but the titles often bring together topics and themes that frequently seem unrelated:

Orpheus Dying
In Becoming, We Retract

Be careful readers, if you only like reading things once: this thin collection might just leave you with a desire to open the book several times over. Dust is 43 pp and can be ordered from Amazon as well as other online outlets.

The Bluebeard Myth Gets a Red-Hot Makeover

5 Stars


Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience by Laura Madeline Wiseman is a wonderful take on the Bluebeard fable. For those of you who don’t know the story, it is essentially a Jack The Ripper story, but with wives instead of prostitutes. Wiseman modernizes the story and tells it from the perspective of three sisters, all of whom are wrapped up in their fateful relationship with the same man.

This is not a story of gore and murder; it is a story of sex and love. Their big city lives are filled with contemporary ideas and values. They are not completely naive and unsuspecting, but love and romance blinds them.

Wiseman comes up with a wonderful way to deal with the “blue” on Bluebeard. Everything is blue: there are blueberries, blue boxes, blue scarves, blue jeans, blue eyes, and much more.

The book is divided into three parts, one for each sister, and one for the late wives. Wiseman uses sectional poems to tell longer stories within stories, and employs prose poems, structured and unstructured free verse to tell the tale. I enjoyed every poem, but my favorite might have been the sectional poem “Against Plot”, which takes us into the second sister’s sexy past. The poem provides the reader with a character that is at once multi-dimensional and complicated yet easy to understand and relate to.

An excerpt:

At seventeen, a girl knelt between my thighs
during an overnight, her dark bedding
on the floor, the blinds rolled together,

the ringing phone lifted, then settled on its hook,
the thrum of music. I didn’t know anything
but her warm breath on my skin, her fingers,

To say I couldn’t put this book down is an understatement. Wiseman writes in a style that is accessible and colloquial, yet passes all the rigors of the poetic craft with flying colors. Her line breaks, her economy of words, and her sense of music are all flawless in this book. Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience was published by Lavender Ink in 2014 and is 110 pp. It can be ordered through Amazon,

Fighting Malaria With Poetry Gets The Win

4 and 1/2 Stars

Malaria Poems by Cameron Conaway
Malaria Poems by Cameron Conaway

Malaria: Poems by Cameron Conaway may be the most important book published in 2014. Conaway, an ex-MMA fighter, tackles Malaria through poetry. Conaway educates his readers on a plethora of issues by beginning or ending each poem with a quote or fact that illuminates his motivation behind it.

Each poem is written in a different style from the one before or after it, making the book fresh until the end, but the real beauty behind the book is its social and educational importance. Educating through art is nothing new, but it is pretty infrequent considering its effectiveness.

It’s risky business killing
killers that always only want
their kind
of tropical retreat.


It’s risky business sharing
your body with strangers —
uninvited multiplicities hijacking
what you have
because to them you are what you have.

— excerpts from “Silence, Anopheles”

While the book is not an academic paper that is full of important research or current programs designed to help fight the disease, such papers are intended for the professionals who focus on Malaria for forty hours a week. Instead, Malaria: Poems is for everyone else: people like me who spend most of their time — if not all of it — not thinking about Malaria. My interest in Malaria and its issues has increased since reading this collection, something that would never have happened if I had been presented with n academic paper, and I have a feeling that is exactly what Conaway intended.

Malaria: Poems is published by Michigan State University Press and is 61 pp.

Backwoods and Back Words is Forward Progress

3 and 1/2 Stars

Backwoods and Back Words by Nicole Yurcaba
Backwoods and Back Words

Backwoods and Back Words by Nicole Yurcaba is a unique collection of words that is fresh, inspiring and heartwarming. Yurcaba intertwines poetry, photography, and slices of memoir into  a vision that is fun to read because the reader doesn’t know what the next piece will be like.

Yurcaba comes from a Ukrainian background, and although that is apparent in her writing, in this collection she focuses more on the experiences of her rural Pennsylvania and West Virginia growth into adulthood. With so many new books of poetry to read each year, the life of a strong Ukrainian woman who hunts and fishes, keeps cattle and visits coal mines is a wonderful change of pace in the world of contemporary American poetry.

Poems such as “My Hands”, “Dress Rehearsal” and “Dirt Between the Fingernails” are excellent reminders of gender stereotypes, where a woman shouldn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but just by living life, demonstrates her strength of character, demanding respect in the process.

Dress Rehearsal

Of course
it takes a steady-handed, nerves-of-titanium
sitting tall in the golden seat
of a four-wheel drive
Deere 2755
(engine chugging in one-and-low)
to slyly steer Goodyear wheels

against a forested hill’s grass-slicked, limb-licked incline,
drawing taut a rusty, leaden-linked chain,
to free the clay-mud-enslaved
5040 Mustang skid loader
stuck unpurposely by
an impatient man’s

Yurcaba has several memoir pieces in the collection, my favorite being “Fossilized”, a story of a young girl’s initial romantic view of the coal mine, and then her understanding of the horrible circumstances a coal mine brings to both workers and caged birds alike.

Poems such as “Hunting Days” are met with other poems such as “Night Vigil”, a poem about the beauty of owls, and one can see that Yurcaba is a lover of the all things outdoors. She is reminding us Big City dwellers, where we are lucky to find a patch of grass for our dog, that being out in nature with animals is a lifestyle, that to own a rifle isn’t a bad thing.

Yurcaba’s next collection of poetry will be more about her Ukrainian heritage, and after reading Backwoods and Back Words, I can’t wait for its release.

Backwoods and Back Words is published by Unbound Content and is 79 pp. It can be ordered from the publisher, Amazon and other channels.

Writing Tomorrow's Poetry Today