River Runs Red – Scott Alexander Hess (Lethe Press)

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Calhoun McBride: sixteen, a runaway from an orphan train, works night shifts at Snopes Brewery; hustles on the banks of the Mississippi River, trying to save money for a train ticket out West to Wyoming. Clement Cartwright: son of Irish and German immigrants, his father worked too at Snopes Brewery; left St. Louis to become an architect. Belasco Snopes: current owner of his family’s brewery, and heir to their fortune; twisted, cruel, addicted to cocaine, possibly mad. Dolores Brattridge: a sheltered member of St. Louis society; blessed, or cursed, with visions that may or may not result from the laudanum she sometimes adds to her morning coffee.

These four characters alternately narrate successive chapters of River Runs Red by Scott Alexander Hess, set during the hot and humid summer of 1891 in St. Louis, where their lives come together, explosively. Clement has returned from Chicago, commissioned to construct the Landsworth building, the first skyscraper in St. Louis (and second in the world); one stormy night he finds himself by the banks of the Mississippi River, where he meets Calhoun. After their midnight swim they begin an ongoing association that eventually Snopes uncovers and exploits, determined to discredit Clement. Dolores, propelled by dark premonitions of death and doom, tries to thwart them, only to exacerbate them further until they escalate climatically at Calhoun’s trial.

Hess has written another gritty, steamy (in all senses of the word), and atmospheric historical novel. He travels effortlessly from high society parlors to the shacks of the river drabs, easily capturing the cadences of cultured classes, and those lower down the social ladder. River Runs Red is aptly named: at times brutal, even in civilized arenas an undercurrent of violence flows throughout, be it from Man or Nature, and given to erupting unexpectedly.

One might not associate fin de siècle St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West,” with such southern noir; but River Runs Red combines the sultry decadence associated with the Mississippi Delta, with a veneer of eastern gentility, and spices it up with otherwordly elements, both European and non-European. It may be a short novel, but it packs a punch, like a river rat boxer. And like the Mississippi, the short chapters of River Runs Red lap at your ankles, but before you know it, the riptide of the story has drawn you in, and then there’s no way to resist the current of this narrative.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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How to Be Remy Cameron – Julian Winters (Interlude Press)

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The modern-day struggles of black, gay adolescence and cross-cultural adoption are the focal points of Julian Winters’ sweet, gawky high school drama How to Be Remy Cameron.

Seventeen-year-old Remy is not the kind of hero typically seen in contemporary YA. He’s an un-hung-up, popular kid entering his junior year at a public high school in suburban Atlanta, and he happens to have been adopted by a white couple, and he’s black and openly gay.

Unlike gay YA of the past, he’s not up against an unsympathetic world. Unlike most gay YA of the present, he’s not embattled by a search for his first true love, at least not as a primary theme. I wouldn’t categorize Winters’ novel as a “post-gay” or “post-racial” story. It’s a reflection of how identity and diversity have changed for the younger generation.

That’s a standard treatment for modern high school dramas, but what makes Remy’s story different is the narrative approach. There’s no mysterious stranger sending him notes or e-mails who might be Remy’s true love. There’s no surprise gay reveal of a friend or enemy Remy didn’t realize was waiting for him all along. Almost all the drama and conflict occurs between Remy’s ears. An AP English assignment to write an essay that answers the question: who am I? sends him into an identity crisis tailspin, and simultaneously, he must decide whether or not to meet his half-sister Free who reached out to him on Facebook.

Quintessentially adolescent, Remy becomes obsessed by that question of what defines him, and his essay hangs over him as an inscrutable cloud. Is he fated to forever be the guy who got dumped by his first boyfriend because he was too clingy? Does being the president of the school’s GSA make him too gay? Growing up looking different from his parents and younger sister, and as one of five black students at his school, he’s inevitably hyper aware of his blackness, but relating to his black classmates is also a complicated task. Then there’s the big question of whether it was the black birth family who gave him up who made him who he is or was it his white adoptive family?

Throughout Remy’s angsty ruminations, he’s surrounded by a supportive and diverse circle of friends. Winters adds nice touches to Remy’s high school world. The popular couple is the star quarterback and a cheerleader, but the quarterback is the school’s first girl on the team, and she’s Muslim and wears a hijab. The cheerleader is a boy who’s openly bisexual. The cool kids, including Remy, want to be popular but they bemoan corny school traditions and teenage clichés, demanding individuality. The portrayal is solid with some surprises for older readers. High school life has evolved considerably with respect to gender, sexuality and cultural diversity.

A well-handled example of the social challenges that remain is an incident at a party where Remy is propositioned by a white boy who thinks it’s a winning turn-on to gush about how he’s always wanted to be with someone black. Taken from Remy’s perspective, the creepiness and indignity of the encounter comes off with skin-crawling emotion.

Remy’s story is thin on plot, but his journey of self-discovery gains pace and tension when he decides to meet the half-sister he never knew he had. It’s so important to see cross-culturally adopted teens represented in YA, and Winters’ choice to stay in Remy’s head most of the time allows the identity formation challenges therein to be explored rather than glossed over as just another example of the changing modern family.

Would Remy have felt more comfortable in his own skin if he had been raised by his black family? Is he a ‘sell-out’ because he had the advantages of a white, middle class upbringing? Winters wades into those fraught issues fairly deep, though one wishes Remy’s white parents’ “we love you just the way you are” platitudes would have been unpacked a little more. As happens in a lot of YA, taken from a teen’s perspective, the parents lack a bit of dimension. Remy’s adoptive mom and dad are hopelessly uncool and slavishly emotionally available, but we don’t see whether or not they’ve put in the work to raise a child who is culturally different from every member of the family. Given the subject, it feels like an important matter to consider.

On other key issues, Winters’ is meticulous in considering how teenagers can navigate adult situations while minimizing emotional harm. Remy and his emerging love interest ask for consent to hold hands and kiss. He and his friends are exceptionally enlightened regarding gender expression and sexual diversity. Teachers swoop in to correct the few homophobic students in the classroom. It’s a nice reflection of the new world for kids growing up LGBTQ+ in the suburbs.

Remy’s first person, pop culture reference-dropping, excitable and snarky POV will delight hardcore YA fans while eliciting sighs and eyerolls at times from other readers. Nonetheless, his kind, painfully self-conscious personality is irresistibly charming.

A sure winner for fans of Becky Albertalli and David Levithan, and a great book for readers looking for black gay characters in YA.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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Stories to Sing in the Dark – Matthew Bright (Lethe Press)

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How do you write a cohesive review about a collection of short fiction which includes steampunk space-tombs and the concubines sealed inside waiting to die, a gothic novella, a story with a self-aware film character fighting his way out of a Hays Code era required death, and a noir thriller retelling of The Wind and the Willows?

I’m not sure it’s possible, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a collection that cast so wide a net, but here’s the most important thing said first: not only does Stories to Sing in the Dark succeed, it’s my favourite collection of the year, and I can’t imagine there’s a chance of it being deposed before 2019 comes to an end.

Matthew Bright has a genuine talent for fresh angles. He crafts on the frameworks of ideas that could have gone a dozen different usual ways, and then veers away. Take “The Library of Lost Things” (a reprint from Tor). A library of books that no one has ever seen made up of stories that fell through the cracks? Yes, okay, but wait, why is the librarian of the place hiring someone without any inclination to read at all?

And did the rats just talk?

It’s these little zigs when the reader expects a zag that Bright does so well.

In “The Concubine’s Heart,” we meet Qiaolian, who has been sealed in a space-borne steampunk tomb of the Empress with the other concubines, and the set-up is more than a little bleak. With no food or water, they are expected to pay at the side of their lost mistress until the ship flies into a star, or, more likely, they die of starvation or thirst. What could have been a completely grim and dark tale is instead given just a sliver of hope (without shying away from the realities the woman faces), and Qiaolian, who has lived her life feeling like a failure due a defect of her heart, instead finds strength and opportunity.

The other steampunk tale hands a completely different tone to the reader. “Antonia and Cleopatra” are a mother and daughter team unlike any I’ve ever read (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible), where a series of caper-like complications creates a tongue-firmly-in-cheek adventure with borderline slapstick moments mixed with seriously great wordplay, language that’s pitch-perfect for humour, and even a bit of mayhem and ancient evil curses and perhaps a lost soul or two.

Stories to Sing in the Dark also includes a trio of retellings, a queerly reframed “A Christmas Carol,” where the ghosts are sassy gay icons and the truth of Scrooge’s pain has a different source (and a different target). The truly chilling “Golden Hair, Red Lips” brings Dorian Grey to the Castro at the height of AIDS and through his eyes the story manages to deliver something both horrifying and defiantly triumphant. And I don’t even know how to begin with “Croak Toad,” the noir crime thriller retelling of The Wind in the Willows, other than to say by the time I was done this story, I wished I could hate Bright for coming up with the idea, but the story is just too enjoyably twisted and he’s just too nice. Maybe next time.

The queerness in Stories to Sing in the Dark remains a strong presence throughout, and beyond the stories mentioned above, we get to see a drag performance in a nebulous, future Manchester in “The Last Drag Show on Earth,” and the “ghosts” in the audience (somewhat left up to interpretation of the reader here) add a trace of melancholy and shiver to what isn’t perhaps as quite a sad story as one might think. There’s ambiguity here, and in such a perfectly queer way.

Similarly, “In Search of Stars” brings us a man not-quite-brave-enough to try a door that might lead to somewhere he could find… something, and instead settling for one-night stands that end with a vaguely sinister (but also dreamy) fate for those he brings home, though the aid of some alchemical paint. The stay-or-go of the story doesn’t lend itself to happiness, but it still manages something akin to an aching sort of triumph.

And “Director’s Cut”—a story that had me wound tight and hoping-against-hope—tells the tale of a character in a movie with the dawning realization as things repeat over and over that his role is written to be a tragic one, and his battle against all too real foes for a chance at something other than the demanded fate. I loved this story, both in and of itself and as a queer reader and writer. A narrative “fuck you!” to the Hays Code, I frankly wanted to stand and applaud when I finished “Director’s Cut.”

At the end of the collection is the novella-length “No Sleep in Bethlehem,” a story that could cheerfully (well, perhaps grimly) hold hands with a Shirley Jackson tale, and leaves one wondering if there’s any hope for the two men, or if this will be a sole-survivor (or worse) right to the last decaying moments. The revelations of the darkness in the tale, grounded so firmly in a contemporary evil transplanted to the time and place of the story, are profoundly disturbing (and so specifically queer) and the result is sublime, even as it horrifies.

Stories to Sing in the Dark covers so much ground, so much time, and so many different worlds, and yet as a whole it does exactly what it says on the tin: it sings. There’s a chorus here of very different tales, yes, but the theme and the whole has a cadence to it that’s thoroughly satisfying, and a tempo inclusive of just enough hope and humour amongst the grim for those of us who most often shy away from the dark, the disturbing, or the horrifying.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

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Breathe – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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Cari Hunter is one of my favorite action/adventure/romance authors. I thought her Dark Peak Series was terrific, and I’ve also enjoyed each of the one-offs I’ve read. If you sense a “but” coming up here, you’d be wrong. Breathe is easily their equal, a snappy combo of police procedural and romantic beginnings.

Jemima Pardon (Jem) has a reputation for bad luck on her paramedic assignments (breech births, impossible rescues, etc.), but it’s no worse than Police Constable Rosie Jones, who finds herself working on the same victims. Of course, they keep meeting accidentally until the spark is struck, then they’re off investigating the death of a teenage boy with the back of his head caved in, leading to an all-out search for a mysterious girl named Talia.

One of the reasons I read is for immersion, and Hunter accomplishes this on a couple of fronts. First, the Brit slang. I love it. Whenever I encounter a culture different from my own, I always gravitate toward either its food or its music (or both). Here, Hunter makes British junk food into idiomatic delicacies I had to Google some recipes for. And if the references are occasionally obscure to American ears, context usually wins the day.

Hunter also immerses the reader in water. No major exterior scene here is complete without a downpour. It’s either misting, raining lightly, or pissing down. The British have as many terms for rain as the Eskimos do snow, and I think they’re all collected here. The book has so much water I wondered if the title wasn’t intentionally ironic. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s certainly an element to contend with and use to ramp up tension during those action scenes Hunter does so well.

But it’s not just the action scenes that pop. The burgeoning relationship between Jem and Rosie is both sweet and unsentimental, and it unfolds as naturally as does the plot. At no time does it feel rushed or simply one of the elements that needs to be balanced. They have charming chemistry, and I hope to see it continue.

Cari Hunter’s Breathe is a worthwhile, solid entry in her catalog, sure to please old and new fans. But don’t forget your rubbers and your mac. It’s pissing outside.

JW

© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler

 

 

 

 

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Choirmaster: A Mister Puss Mystery – Michael Craft (Questover Press)

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Lammy award-winning mystery author Michael Craft’s latest novel is a cozy, small town whodunnit with a compelling cast of characters, including a talking cat.

Fictional amateur sleuths tend to be “detective-adjacent” such as criminal defense lawyers (Michael Nava’s Henry Rios series), investigative reporters (R.D. Zimmerman’s Todd Mills series), or at least TV crime noir fanatics (Marshall Thornton’s Noah Valentine from the Boystown series). It’s a helpful convention to provide the hero with the access and the know-how to solve the crime.

Craft takes a different approach with his leading man Brody Norris. Brody is an architect of all things. But as the junior partner in his husband’s illustrious firm and a fellow of society in a tony Wisconsin hamlet, Brody’s social connections make him something of a secret weapon for the local sheriff when he’s sorting out foul play. Brody also may be getting help from his eccentric friend’s possibly telepathic Abyssinian Mister Puss, though Craft plays it coy with that bit of esoterica. It could just be Brody and his friend Mary Questman are projecting their subconscious thoughts onto the beloved feline as pet owners are known to do.

Brody’s investigative quest begins when the young, handsome and gay choirmaster of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church is found dead at the organ while the church is nearly engulfed in flames. A quick study of the circumstances reveals a host of intrigues. The deceased had a well-known allergy to nuts and had a plate of cookies on the organ console, baked for him by the middle-aged church secretary who was harboring a hopeless crush on the young man. The parish had just been given notice the ancient church will be condemned unless costly repairs are made to bring it up to code. Alternatively, some in the church leadership are campaigning to demolish the old church and construct a new one, which could involve lucrative self-dealing.

In the middle of that debate is Joyce Hibbard, the ambitious new rector of the parish who happens to be in Brody’s social orbit. Joyce is the wife of his husband Marson’s old college buddy Curtis Hibbard. Having had a successful career as a lawyer and never before been religiously-inclined, Joyce’s call to faith late in life is curious.

Furthermore, her marriage to Curtis is mainly for appearances. Curtis needed a beard to fit in with the high-powered New York City lawyer set, and similarly, Joyce needed a husband at a time when being a career-driven woman required softening one’s image. Though the fact that Curtis was trying to get into her choirmaster’s pants makes Brody wonder whether Joyce had resolved the issue of jealousy in their marriage.

Then there’s the choirmaster’s ne’er-do-well younger brother who’s been after his brother for money and stands to inherit a fortune as the sole heir to their parents’ estate. Curtis and his good friend and ex Yevgeny, a former world-renowned ballet dancer, are also possible suspects as they had been competing for the handsome choirmaster’s affections. And reports of anti-gay violence in nearby Green Bay suggest homophobia could have been a motive.

Craft knows mystery writing. As Brody gets deeper into sleuthing, the reader is breathless from possibilities and flipping pages briskly to find out what’s really going on. Craft doesn’t break any boundaries with the story. It’s cozy mystery through and through (did I mention there’s a talking cat?). But for readers who like their whodunnits Miss Marple-style, with terror afoot in quaint places and not much blood and gore, Choirmaster is vacation-reading gold.

In fact, there is something unexpectedly transgressive about the story. Gay genre fiction tends to demand the hero finds some romance along the way and favors characters in the prime of gayhood. Craft’s Brody Norris is a happily married fellow in his late thirties with a husband twenty years his senior. Their challenges of gay living concern domestic themes like choosing the right menu for a dinner party while many of their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors struggle with “to be or not to be” and navigate double lives. The story focuses on gay men of a certain age and a certain income bracket, and the portrayal rings true.

A lovely murder mystery that will charm the author’s loyal following as well as fans of Richard Stevenson, R.D. Zimmerman, and Mark Richard Zubro.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

 

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Anais Nin at the Grand Guignol – Robert Levy (Lethe Press)

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Anais Nin (1903-1977) was a woman writer ahead of her time. Born to Cuban parents in France, she was trilingual in her lifetime. She lived in Paris with her banker/filmmaker husband from 1924 to 1939, when she wisely escaped to New York in time to avoid the German occupation of France. She became known for her apparently tell-all journals, published in edited form while she was alive, which revealed her emotional sensitivity, her bohemian lifestyle, and her affairs with several famous men. She was persuaded to publish her erotic short stories, originally written for a mysterious private patron. Anais Nin has been a role model for erotic writers ever since.

After Nin’s death, the 1990 film Henry and June popularized one phase of her life in Paris, when she was in an erotic triangle with American writer Henry Miller and his wife June. In 1992, her diary from 1932-34 was republished with all the censored information restored, including her affair with her own father, a musician and composer.

Was Anais Nin drawn to Le Theatre Grand Guignol? This doesn’t seem clear from the existing records, but Robert Levy’s fictional version of one of Nin’s diaries from 1933 is uncannily plausible.

The “Grand Guignol” was a small theater in a former church in Paris where the gothic architecture perfectly suited the gruesome subject-matter of the plays performed there. Established in the fin-de-siecle (1897), it attracted a cult following into the 1930s, but attendance declined after the real-life atrocities of the Occupation and the Holocaust. The theater closed in 1962.

In Levy’s version, Anais Nin goes to the theater with her husband, Hugo, and both are aroused by a scene in which a doctor mutilates a female patient. Anais responds to her husband’s “squirming:”

“I bring his hand to my lips and kiss his knuckles, the room electrified with murmurs and movement as the patrons resettle in their seats. Like me, they are unsure how to feel, how best to absorb and respond to what has just taken place before them. Did they see their own objects of desire and longing in the patient, the way that I saw June? Did it make them feel the same exquisite satisfaction, the first twinge of a new and awakening pleasure inside?”

Between trysts with her lover, Henry Miller (after June’s departure from them both), writing sessions, and appointments with her real-life psychoanalyst, Dr. Allendy, Anais returns to the “Grand Guignol.” There she meets real-life lead actress Paula Maxa, an opium-addicted creature of the night who tries to protect Anais from her master, pimp, or stalker, Monsieur Guillard. “Maxa” apparently doesn’t know that Anais has already had a disturbing vision, or encounter, with Monsieur in Dr. Allendy’s office, in the dark box called an “isolation accumulator,” in which a patient is supposed to focus on dispersing negative emotions such as guilt and shame, and eventually feel herself “awash in positive light.”

Alone in the dark, Anais imagines herself on a beach when she sees a being with “silver-yellow eyes” emerging from the water. The being is strong and male, and Anais feels him dragging her by the ankles into the sea to drown.  At this point, the threatening male figure doesn’t introduce himself.

Soon afterward, however, the man with the penetrating gaze shows up everywhere in her life: at Paula Maxa’s door while Anais is visiting, and at a masquerade party that Anais attends with Hugo, where Monsieur Guillard accuses Anais of summoning him to find her. He echoes what Paula Maxa has already told her: once Monsieur claims you, there is no escape.

Is Monsieur a seductive, sadistic father-figure conjured from the depths of Anais’ masochistic hero-worship of powerful men? Is he a supernatural being? Is he the resident spirit of Le Theatre Grand Guignol?

“Maxa” suggests to Anais that Monsieur has given her the magical power to enact the fears and secret desires of every member of the audience, and that this power must be paid for. She lets Anais know that she can’t protect “Maxa” or any other woman but herself from Monsieur, and that this can only be done by staying away from him.

So far, this slim novel looks like a mildly erotic study in traditional feminine masochism and psychological horror.

However, Levy’s version of Anais is resourceful as well as curious. She comes to the profound realization that although a supernatural being or an archetype can never be killed, human flesh is mortal. The requirement of human flesh for lust to operate on not only makes Anais and other female victims vulnerable to physical violence, it also makes Monsieur vulnerable when he appears in human form. The Man is not all-powerful after all.

Many years before the advent of Second-Wave Feminism, Anais discovers the wisdom and strength in a group of women focused on a common purpose.

Not all the mysteries are resolved by the end of this book, and that is part of its charm. Levy persuasively imitates Anais Nin’s writing style, and his imagery fits the subject-matter. In the last scene, Anais writes: “I turn, and I face him [Dr. Allendy.] I face them all.” Fear, desire, surrender and resistance are shown to be inseparably connected.

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

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Duncan’s Fall Poetry Roundup

When Duncan isn’t playing with his bone, he reads poetry. You can probably tell that by his soulful, sensitive eyes. Oh, that’s not all he reads. He loves a good mystery now and then. Some Buddhist philosophy. Reprints of old Erma Bombeck columns. But he has five new selections for your autumnal enjoyment he’s been working on all summer. It’s not that he reads slow; he has trouble swiping on the Kindle.

Have You Seen This Man?: The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney – Jim Cory, ed.

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The idea of the unheralded and tragically short-lived artist is hardly a new one, but it seems particularly poignant in the case of Karl Tierney, a poet working in San Francisco in the 1980s. The 50 poems he left show a poet almost fully-formed, time being the only ingredient necessary to improve the depth and maturity of his work. Sadly, he did not have that luxury. Nor did we. What we do have, however, is by turns emotional, dispassionate, sad, and hilarious–all with a craftsman’s eye for detail. One of my favorite pieces, “Caligula or Nixon Leaving” is as applicable today as it was then:

…and as the helicopter lifts from the Rose Garden lawn/from someplace like Istria or Capri and a fat bank branch/three guards roll up the red carpet/as if we’d never invited him into the palace/in the first place.

Informed by everything from sleazy sex to Billy Idol, these poems are far more entertaining than a legacy should be, and that makes their scarcity all the more lamentable.

Genre Fluid – Dan Webber (Big White Shed) 

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Dan Webber bills himself as a reluctant bear and an attempted vegan who has performed in many spoken word shows only to be told he’s a comic at poetry nights and a poet at comedy nights. When faced with material as witty, earnest, and well-observed as this, the last thing that should concern us is which box it goes in. “Homo on the Rocks,” “Anonymous at 6 am,” and “Some People Never Learn” are among my favorites in this slim but fully packed volume. The ending of “Child of the 90s” in particular resonated with this child of the 70s.

On New Year’s Eve 2016/I told my oldest friend I preferred men to women/And he was livid/Not because I liked guys/Because I had lied to him for all these years/I’d never told him when I was most happy.

Webber shifts effortlessly from comic to serious, changing the layout up with different typefaces and pictures and little bits. His predicament about being pigeonholed highlights what I’ve always wondered about the line between poetry and standup comedy since I first heard Lenny Bruce and Allen Ginsberg. Webber’s insights are very interesting indeed.

Spring Sonnets – Don Yorty (Indolent Books) 

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Where Webber is non-traditional, New York City poet Don Yorty provides a more formalistic approach with sonnets to spring written during a six year stretch from 2003 to 2009. Those fourteen lines of iambic pentameter are to poetry what the five-paragraph essay is to composition, and you can be just as creative within that structure as you want to be. Yorty’s eye turns to everything around him, tying it all back to spring with the mention of a flower, a scent, a food, or a memory. And his subjects are myriad. But writers never stray far from their own heads, so we get sonnets featuring pencils, smudges, and of course, writing itself:

Writing’s a thing of opposites, putting/on clothes, taking them off, whispering shouts/starting a fire and then putting it out./You don’t want to burn the pages

This is clearly a lot of poetry, but this collection is definitely worth your while. Savor it slowly–one or two at a time–and make your spring last until the snow flies.

Love and Detours – David-Matthew Barnes (Blue Dasher Press)

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This is also a large collection, but many of these poems have appeared elsewhere and it’s wonderful to have them neatly compiled in one place. A writer of many guises and genres, Barnes’s poetry is very dynamic. It’s always on the move. Someone’s running or walking or searching. These are pieces of escape, of rebellion, of restless adolescence. Love and Detours is all about destinations and shifting places, imbued with Eighties pop culture. One of my favorites, “Walking to K-Mart to Buy a Dolly Parton Album,” is also an award-winner:

Someone protects me when I’m ten: a boy/ in my class. He’s stronger than the others./He waits for me each day, walks me home./He’s convinced I’ll be the next/Nancy Drew and encourages me to open up/my own detective agency. He colors the green/construction paper signs we tape in store windows.

From the geographic name-checking in “Looking for Homer” to the freestyle images of “Subway Stations, Atlanta,” Barnes’s poems are all conscious of the fact that they are memories–that is to say, they have a self-realization that these events are in the past, observed from a safe platform of better-if-not-well-adjusted adulthood. I can guarantee you’ll relate.

Infinity Standing Up – Drew Pisarra (Capturing Fire Press)

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Sonnets, yes. But unlike the above-reviewed Yorty, Pisarra’s sonnets are more directly Shakesperean in nature. And lustier. Not only that, but Pisarra has a wicked sense of humor that makes this one of my favorite volumes. “Sonnet 45” is about a vinyl single, “Sonnet 11 PM” about bedtime, “Sonnet 666” about Satan, “Sonnet 69” about…well, you get the idea. I love Pisarra’s warped viewpoint and willingness to take on any subject, such as the penis in “Sonnet 6″‘:

Hey shlong, listen up. Hey penis, pay attention./Pecker! Turn your unblinking eye over here./Oh, thick-headed prick, oh tool of no pretension,/ oh wood that could, and dick shaped like a can of beer/I have ogled and gagged. I have ridden such cock.

But the effect is not all fun and games. “Sonnet -1” is about a particularly tough break-up, and “Sonnet 12.11.15” is a portrait of the beginning of a relationship which may or may not still be extant. Pisarra is as confident and sure on the serious side as he is with wit and a well-turned phrase. As with the Yorty, I’d do one a day just to keep your spirits up.

And there you have Duncan’s Fall Poetry Review. He’s looking for something to read for Winter, so if you’ve a mind, drop a line.

JW

© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler

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