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:

Interview with the author: Caroline Cabrera

When reviewing Caroline Cabrera’s debut poetry collection Flood Bloom, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Cabrera is confident and humble, distinctly postmodern in her hyperawareness.”  In her latest collection The Bicycle Year (H_NGM_N Books, 2015), Cabrera brings the same voice and play to her work with a wiser voice.  This voice doesn’t offer answers, but seeks to complicate.

Carolina Cabrera is also the author of the chapbook Dear Sensitive Beard, published by dancing girl press in 2012. She was educated at Stetson University and the University of Massachusetts MFA for Poets and Writers. She has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Florida Atlantic University, and Metropolitan State University of Denver. She currently lives in Denver with her cat, Yossarian, and her husband, Philip.


Christy Crutchfield: Your book is made up of two long poems.  How did the book take shape? Did you know you were writing sections of longer poems or did you surprise yourself?

Caroline Cabrera: The first section actually began as named, discreet poems, each titled after cards in a deck. The two parts correspond numerically—52 cards in a deck, 52 weeks in a year; the first section had the card poems and the long poem evolved in diary-esque, week-to-week sections. I wrote one part of each every week for a year.  Or, at least, that was the plan; in reality I got ahead of and then behind schedule, so the book took me sixteen months. Once I had a first draft to Nate Pritts he questioned the card deck titles.  I realized that though those titles helped to inform the poems while I wrote, they weren’t necessary to the poems as they stood. So I lost the titles—removed the scaffolding, in a sense. Since they were conceived as a sequence from the beginning, they seemed to work well as a long poem.

Crutchfield: Your first poem is titled with a series of triangles and the cover of the book features a pattern of triangles.  What is the significance of the triangles?  How did this concept develop?

Cabrera: Following from the first question, once I lost the individual titles I had no clue how to title that section. I knew I wanted a symbol, something that would recall the four suits and their symbols. Anna Pollock-Nelson is responsible for the triangular interpretation, both cover and interior, with which I immediately fell in love.


Justin Limoli. Plays Inverse Press, $12.95 paperback (85p) ISBN: 9780991418312

By its own definition a play in verse has to work on at least two levels. Justin Limoli’s Bloodletting in Minor Scales [A Canvas in Arms.] has almost as many levels as it does an abundance of characters. To appreciate this book in all its bizarre glory is to read it multiple times. There is simply too much here for a single read. There are too many characters, investigations, secrets and tributes which lurk between the lines and within the shadows cast by the building sense of drama within the first read.

Suicide:  My name is Suicide, and this is a greeting. My name is Suicide
repeatedly. My suicide was a naming, and I am here to tell you
something. My name in robes is Suicide. I stole a color with a
naming. In brush strokes, there is a swifting breath of suicide.
You might be wondering why this is all relevant? I can assure
you that my name is Suicide and there is relevance in brush
strokes. A happening will occur, but I am not omnipotent. I
am Suicide, and for this act, that means everything.
(Page 10)
It is a play in its own right, with plot, characters, stage direction and so forth while also standing its ground as an intelligent, provocative and sometimes unsettling work of poetry. The reader only has to get as far as the character list, which includes Blood, Sonnet, Dante, Godot, Cupboard and Cloaked Epiphany as some of its players, to realise that this play in verse has ambitions way beyond the ordinary.

Surpassing unique, this is a daringly original piece of multi-layered theatre which predominantly concerns itself with loss; more specifically the threat of loss. Essentially, Bloodletting is a convoluted work of deconstruction. Limoli not only strips his protagonist, layer by layer, of all he knows, he also dissects and pokes around the inner workings of the form in which he writes. He dismantles the traditions within poetic form by breaking the rules of writing as only one who understands them can. With a mixture of contemporary style and structured form, alongside altered form that spills over its own borders, the writing itself almost becomes yet another personality.

Review of Sam Slaughter’s WHEN YOU CROSS THAT LINE

When You Cross That Line
Sam Slaughter. There Will Be Words, $5 chapbook

            Stories are meant to be told, even the weird and gritty ones. The ones with unhappy endings. The stories collected in Sam Slaughter’s chapbook, When You Cross That Line, are the kind of stories you find being told in rundown bars and on long road trips. They are the kind of stories that make you think twice about what you just read or heard. They deserve repeating.
            Sam Slaughter’s fiction isn’t a place for the fulfilled. Everyone is in constant motion, in search of something. His characters are always in some sort of transition phase, with subtle hints of a deeper history, but at the same time, naïve enough to head into the dark alleys that we refuse to look at. In this regard, his story hooks are a finely sharpened tool for this author’s tool box. Used well, his hooks vary from story to story. Whether it’s the protagonist’s curiosity in “When You Cross That Line” or the snowball of reactions in “Neighborhood Watch,” you feel compelled to continue on. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for his characters to cross that line between safety and danger.