Review of Amanda Ackerman’s THE BOOK OF FERAL FLORA

The Book of Feral Flora
Amanda Ackerman. Les Figues Press, $17 paperback (196p) ISBN: 978-1-934254-58-5

            I was at first captivated and struck by the title of Amanda Ackerman’s collection. Feral Flora. I imagined stories that were darkly whimsical, tales of wild plants on the hunt perhaps, or poetic explorations juxtaposing the fantastic. Some of the material in The Book of Feral Flora was apparently generated by plants themselves- a concept which I found to be extremely intriguing. Ackerman recorded herself reading her work and then sent it to a programming poet, Dan Richert, who played the recordings for plants. Richert then recorded the responses of the plants, via electrical impulses, and new texts were created from the originals. These ‘plant writings’ make up much of the text pieces compiled in the section “Feral Iridium Animate Matter: flowery uneconomical language” (another title that I love) and the Table of Contents. Ackerman also points out in her Process Notes that while writing the texts meant to be recorded, she interacted with different plants in various somatic ways such as touching or ingesting the plants. In short, Ackerman is not afraid to take wild experimentation to the edge. I admire the way she thinks and have to give her props for committing herself wholeheartedly to the production of the pieces in “Feral Iridium.” Ackerman is clearly a writer who lives and breathes the material she has dedicated herself to.

Tensions That Never Change: Review of Theodore Wheeler’s On the River Down Where They Found Willy Brown

On the River Down Where They Found Willy Brown
Theodore Wheeler. Edition Solitude, $3.50 chapbook (50p) ISBN: 978-3937158877

In Theodore Wheeler’s debut chapbook, On the River Down Where They Found Willy Brown, readers are whisked along with the mob that dictates the racial tensions of Omaha, Nebraska in the early 1900s and the repercussions that those tensions have on all communities involved.

Willy Brown is the story of both the titular character, a black man wanted for allegedly committing a rape, as well as Karel Miihlstein, a 15-year-old German immigrant who loves baseball. Eventually their paths intersect, though not directly, and Miihlstein watches helplessly as “justice” is enacted upon Willy Brown by the mob.

Wheeler begins by painting an almost-mythic portrait of Willy Brown, humanizing yet idolizing the man who will eventually be arrested for an alleged rape. “Some of us thought a lot about who that schwarzer Mann was. That Willy Brown who did those bad things to a girl. Willy Brown wouldn’t have looked that old, but he would have felt old that year.” You are then introduced to the baseball-loving Miihlstein, and watch as he takes in the annual Fourth of July Interrace baseball game before. “Anybody who held steady in an integrated profession,” Wheeler writes, “lived and died with the Interrace game.”

Finally, the two stories begin to intertwine, as someone suggests Brown was the culprit and the mob captures him. Miihlstein and his crew follow along, watching as the police are helpless against the power of the mob.

Glitter as the Night Sky; Glitter as the Soul: Review of Laura Relyea’s All Glitter, Everything

All Glitter, Everything
Laura Relyea. Deer Bear Wolf Press, $12 chapbook

In the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer at the beginning of the book, Laura Relyea states that “Names have all been changed to Kesha, characters never are Kesha.”  This literary sleight-of-hand is not just a gimmick; it also foreshadows the transformative effect of Ke$ha.

The poems are reminiscent of Lauren Ireland’s Dear Lil Wayne from Magic Helicopter Press, where each poem is an address to Lil Wayne that Ireland sent him in 2010 while he was incarcerated (spoiler alert: he never wrote back).  In All Glitter, Everything, the book’s namesake is not a rapper who often rhymes fuck with fuck; instead Relyea turns to the pop queen of auto-tuned party anthems with lyrics like “I’m talkin’ bout - everybody getting crunk, crunk/Boys tryna touch my junk, junk.”  Often synonymous with the most condemned aspects of pop music, including repetitive beats, empty lyrics, and the ubiquitous auto-tune, Ke$ha resists such easy categorization; in fact, she considers the dollar sign in her name an ironic gesture and, according to an interview in Time, scored a 1500 on the SAT.
Like Ke$ha, Relyea could be accused of creating work that is ephemeral, that is all surface.  However, like the best writing coming from the hybrid prose poetry genre, these poems throb with the emotional now.  Each poem searches and celebrates and aches and shines, all reveling in the promise of glitter: a transcending of the mundane, a swelling of possibilities, a real fucking good time.

Review of Pearl Pirie’s THE PET RADISH, SHRUNKEN

The Pet Radish, Shrunken
Pearl Pirie. BookThug, 2015. $18 CAN/US (96p) ISBN 978-1-77166-092-1


the lane walks the legs along mud
while the moongrass verge lullabies.

a hand grapples with sedge more
easily than with a steer.

any mushroom omelette admits
the axe equally as the flax seed.

winning is not all but it is
something of bliss. for one side.

in cold blood? shortfin mako sharks
and yellowfin tuna are endothermic like us.

lose an evening chez chefs
their red snappers, ocean wars.

far hums of the 2 am road racers
making vain small vrooms of their own.

Ottawa poet, editor and publisher Pearl Pirie’s third trade poetry collection, The Pet Radish, Shrunken (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2015), continues her exploration into and through sound, play and meaning. The author of two previous poetry collections—been shed bore (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2010) and Thirsts (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2011)—as well as a growing number of poetry chapbooks, what becomes curious about Pirie’s writing is how she appears to utilize poetry as a way to understand how the world works and somehow navigate through the occasional confusion, whether the immediate day-to-day of existing, or something larger and more abstract. As she writes in the poem “how not to have the mouth say”: “you’re uncharacteristically / quiet. I’ll balance us. we’ll // average us out to everyone / okay. what did I do? I decided / to fix a shirt by getting a huge / pot & dying.” Whereas her first two trade collections felt exploratory, and even hesitant in places, The Pet Radish, Shrunken is a collection by a poet with far more confidence and heft, using language as a series of tools in which to facilitate discovery. As the final poem in the short suite, “discarded early spring,” reads:

Review of Rachel Loden’s KULCHUR GIRL

Kulchur Girl
Rachel Loden. Vagabond Press, $15 AUS (88p) ISBN 978-1-922181-21-3

Instead of a Preface

In July 1965, a few days after turning seventeen, I returned to the city in which I had spent four years of my childhood to attend the Berkeley Poetry Conference. At the offices of the University of California Extension (through which the conference had been organized) at 2223 Fulton Street, I paid the steep registration fee of $45, which covered two seminars, with money saved from hundreds of hours of babysitting.

Alternating between a brown journal I’d carried with me, and a green one purchased in Berkeley for the seminars, I took notes on whatever pleased me, occasionally leaping from the spoken words in the room to others of my own invention, with no duty (at the time) to anyone but myself.

On the Poetry Foundation website, the biography for American poet Rachel Loden includes: “As a teenager, she discovered Donald Allen’s influential anthology The New American Poetry (1945–1960), and from there began to immerse herself in poetry, finding influences in Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, and John Ashbery, and attending seminal events like the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965.” The Berkeley Poetry Conference of 1965 was considered a follow-up to the infamous 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, and included a number of the same participating American poets, including Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. Given its status in American poetry generally and Loden’s own development as a poet, it is interesting to see the publication of Kulchur Girl (2014), a sketchbook of notes the author made while attending those Berkeley sessions. As the press description reads:

Review of M.L. Kennedy’s Thanksgiving for Werewolves and Other Monstrous Tales

Thanksgiving for Werewolves and Other Monstrous Tales
M.L. Kennedy. Tiny Toe Press, $6.66 ebook

Sometimes, readers just need to be entertained. Thanksgiving for Werewolves and Other Monstrous Tales plays like a marathon of b-movies at the local classic movie theatre on a rainy day. The kind of event were eager fans show up in costumes and exchange trivial histories of their favorite, but not well known, monster. In this collection, M.L. Kennedy puts monsters in our everyday life, and instead of focusing on the sharpness of their teeth, or the ooze coming from the corners of their mouths, he instead observes the involved humanity. Sometimes, the monsters serve a more important purpose over simply hiding in the dark waiting to scare you.
M.L. Kennedy’s introduction lays the foundation of the collection, a kind of call back to Ron Sterling’s brief monologues regarding the Twilight Zone. Although this collection has cults, werewolves, and all sorts of bugs in all the wrong places, he makes a note about the importance of monsters in his own life, in the world we currently live in:

 Like a lot of kids, I grew up loving monsters. Monster stories are often conceived as warnings about the dangers of the outsider. Then a strange thing happens in that children who feel like outsiders relate to the monster. An unpopular tween or teen has more in common with Larry Talbot or the Creature than he or she is likely to admit. It’s the opposite of the power-fantasy of super-heroes. Horror stories deal with a lack of power, a lack of control, whether it’s of one’s impulses or about how one is perceived by the angry mob that is Junior High.

This rings true more than maybe you would expect as you journey through Thanksgiving for Werewolves and Other Monstrous Tales. The fear and sometimes lack of empathy we have for the unknown, as seen in “Dinosaurs versus Cyborgs.” The pitfalls of our own curiosity, as seen in “A Hair out of Place.” The everyday dangers and risks of “benevolent humanity” in “Tried to be the Pied Piper, ended up being a Bridge Troll.” In these stories and more, Kennedy flips the expectations of horror and puts the pressure on the humans, on the unlucky souls caught up in ancient monster rituals and blood feuds.

Review of Tim Miller’s TO THE HOUSE OF THE SUN

Tim Miller. S4N Books,$24.99 paperback (622 pages) ISBN 978-0-9798707-4-3

As the product of a union between a minister and an elementary school teacher, my childhood was steeped in ancient literature – everything from Bible stories to European myths and African folk tales. Add to that my teenage fascination with medieval English literature and my resulting foundation in classic texts made it possible for me to appreciate the massive scope of Tim Miller’s research for To the House of the Sun, a novel-in-verse set in America’s Civil War era.

Miller’s book-length poem opens with Conrad mourning the murder of his wife at the hands of his father. The image-rich language flows easily as he decides to walk away from Savannah, all but shaking the dust off his proverbial sandals when he leaves. Miller’s poetics twist around the mind like his character winds around the South, allowing the reader to experience visceral textures of language and perspective. For example:

“Conrad opens his eyes & squints outside at the glare of the glass & the passing fields & quick specks of people, standing there—& he looks at the loud guy just talking, smug & big, each word given with a slap or a step back or a head shake:” (pg. 51)

And just as the Bible opens with straightforward narrative and ends with surreal images too fantastic for the mind to absorb, so does Miller’s tale. As Conrad continues wandering across the whole of the continent, he first encounters the divine, then absorbs it so fully that he radiates it – like the biblical Moses whose face shone in blinding fashion after a mountain-top conversation with God. Once this transformation takes place, Miller’s language transforms as well into a driving expository force: