Friday, July 15, 2016

Review of James Benger‘s As I Watch You Fade by Angel Uriel Perales

A quiet dignity arises from the tacit words of the demure. Strong direct declarative thoughts arranged within the stanzas to maximize impact. The beginning stanza from “Counter Jockey”:

I worked in a gas station for a couple of years or so.
I never pumped gas for anyone.

15 subjective poems in the chapbook, the majority told in first person, all strangely bereft of poetic ego. I met the poet once in Kansas City. I mispronounced his last name a few times as “Berger” before he firmly and resolutely corrected me, “my last name is Ben-ger.” He corrected me simply and without judgment, without expecting apology, but in a manner in which I would not soon forget the correction. The poet’s reserved personality translates fluidly into the poems. From the poem, “Mr. Milsap”:

Mr. Milsap opened the door.
He wasn’t wearing his glasses and
his eyes were red and watery.
I held out the basket and said,
For your kids, and feeling the need to fill the silence,
from everyone in the neighborhood.

The poems explore poverty, not extreme hunger inducing poverty but the kind of poverty which grinds down daily considerations of grandeur and personal distinction. This is rural poverty sliding into suburbia type of lower middle, upper lower class grinding subsistence kind of muted continuity. And Benger doesn’t preach. Life is just life in his poems, gas stations, slaughter houses, broken down cars, hand me downs, dirty fingernails, small apartments, rust, rot, alcohol. From the poem “The Ruins”:

We weren’t sure what The Ruins used to
be; nothing’s left but cracked concrete floors,
cinder block walls missing most of their
canary yellow paint and all their windows….

All the relationships described in the poems are affected by circumstance, as are all relationships in actuality, all affected by circumstance. From the poem Before the Job Fair:

She tells me she wants to make it better.
She says this will make it better.
I have my doubts.

Benger’s grandmother seems to be the only recurrent character in the chapbook, the grandmother who gave him a home, the grandmother who worked as a stripper, the grandmother whose advice and love he disparaged because of their shared lot in life. She didn’t have much to bequeath to the poet, a very old station wagon on the verge, a genealogy, her lineage, a due pedigree, poetry, kindred inclinations and temperament. From the poem, Sage Advice:

When she told me
to get my shit together,
I laughed and said,
Look who’s fuckin talking.

(As I Watch You Fade, Poems by James Benger, EMP First Edition 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2, 15 poems, no page count, $5, $7 signed edition,

 © 2016 Angel Uriel Perales

Bio: Angel Uriel Perales is a writer whose biographical details are not important. Please enjoy his poetry.

Jon Cunningham's Life on the Periphery

We live in the age of excess with a smorgasbord of literary offerings. This wasn’t the case when I was a teenage girl nerd devouring Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, McCaffrey, and Ellison between classes, and on the weekends holed up in my room while I ignored my chores.    
     These names ring true in the halls of my personal literary mythos, and now, there's millions of writers who publish and make their work available to the almost seven billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of material - and chaff - to sift through. Contemporary authors like Neil Stephenson (Seveneves), Megan Elison (The Book of the Unnamed Midwife), Chuck Wendig (Under the Empyrean Sky), Lev Grossman (The Magician Series), Sofia Samatar (A Stranger in Olondria), and Becky Chambers (A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet), are some of today’s modern masters of scfi/speculative/fantasy. There are also unsung masters who quietly write for the sheer pleasure of their craft, and one of them is Jon Cunningham, with his debut short story collection, Life on the Periphery (© 2016 Sybaritic Press).
      Life on the Periphery contains nine stories (or six short stories/three novelettes), that span the gamut of hard science fiction: “Think of England”, an unexpected story about first contact; to speculative, in “Für Wissenschaft!” a cautionary tale about monstrous transformation in the most unlikely place; to light fantasy in “His Cooks, His Bakers”, a feminist hero’s tale retold in the tradition of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Cunningham, an artist and filmmaker, brings his visual storytelling gifts into a literary gem that is both delightful and thought-provoking. There’s something here for anyone who loves quality literature, and who can appreciate the fusion of old school/new school tropes in scifi/fantasy.
     The intimate narrative tone of Cunningham’s prose, which, while isn’t first person, drops the reader right into the landscape of each story with the sense that they’ve been there all along. And there are no apologies or punches pulled in Periphery, which is punctuated with erotic undertones and graphic scenes of horror that, thanks to Cunningham’s cinematic background, rise full-fledged within the mind’s eye, as in the short story “Join Us For the Coming Feast”, a disturbing and acutely uncomfortable new take on alien invasion:

    Charlotte shrieked. One of them slammed into the window, grasping the frame with its talons. It was big, over seven feet tall, covered in a short black-ish brown fur. It was thin, yet muscular. Its arms were extended into long, leathery wings; that flexed as the creature struggled against the glass. Its head was tall, sharp pointed ears over a screaming jaw. It had a pig’s nose and a shark’s eyes. It had a manic, frustrated manner, unable to understand the nature of the barrier keeping it out of the offi ce. It was staring directly at Dave, and he came to realize it was not looking at him in anger. It was looking at him with hunger.
   I’ve always admired and championed the outliers in literature, and Life on the Periphery definitely falls into this category, though I suspect, not for long. My advice: read Life on the Periphery with an open mind, the lights on, and during the daylight hours… and then, try it again at 3 am with a flashlight, and alone in your house…  you’ll not forget one word. Not one.

Life on the Periphery, Jon Cunningham, © 2016 Sybaritic Press, ISBN 978-1-5323-1138-3, 186 pages, $12.00 (softcover), $4.99 (ebook),

© 2016 marie c lecrivain
author content © 2016 Jon Cunningham and Sybaritic Press

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Welcome to the Dollhouse: the Poetry and OCD of Cat Angelique McIntire

    There are poetry chapbooks hastily thrown together, due to desperation/laziness, and chapbooks edited within a hair’s breadth of perfection. Then, there are chapbooks that capture the essence of the poet in the “decisive moment” (ala Henri Cartier Bresson), which is exactly the category Welcome to the Dollhouse: the Poems and OCD of Cat Angelique McIntire, © 2016 Baxter Daniels Press/International Word Bank, falls.
    McIntire, poet, and co-host of Poetry Stew, a vibrant reading that showcased some of L.A.’s best emerging and established poets, sadly, passed away in early 2016. As stated by both David McIntire, who curated his wife’s debut chapbook, and Brendan Constantine, who wrote the moving introduction, McIntire tended not to think of herself as a poet (truth: many of us never do, which a universal trait of a poet, imo), but Welcome disproves that assertion in spades.
    Welcome introduces the reader to McIntire's creative process, which, in part, feels like reading directly from the pages of her journal, minus the tears and edit marks. McIntire’s poems appear raw,full-blown, and almost promethean, on each page. Welcome is an intensely private experience, and there’s a a variety of poems to savor: love poems (“they were the oddest 5 seconds of my life”, “keys”); poems written in praise of her favorite inspirations (“wondering about wanda”, “letter to a shipwreck”);  poems written in the final days of her battle with cancer (“cancer ward #1”, “cancer ward #2”), and real life hardship moments filled with humor and self-realization, as in the poem “pawnshop blues”:

I was in my go-to pawnshop yesterday
tryin’ to scrape together some survival funds -
and the was this ol’ hefty black man sittin’
in the corner,
pickin’ and strummin’ blues riffs on a beater
his face was a heavily lined roadmap, and
his porkpie hat looked like it’d traveled
every mile with him.
I said “can you play me the I just pawned my
wedding rings to buy milk and butt wipe
his large laughter filled the small room.
“baby girl,” he said
“I’m an old blues man who’s gotta tuck tail
in hear to play his own damn guitar - it
don’t get no bluer than that.”
and the battle of the blues began -
‘we just went broke on our dog’s back
surgery. we can’t pay rent and just found
out she won’t walk again anyway. THAT’S
I grinned a challenge.
“I lost my job of 42 years to a skeevy little
brown-noser greener than a new frog’s ass n
they took my pension to boot.”
he played an underlying progression.
“I got two different organs fighting over
which one’s going to kill me first.”
I assume a confident hand on hip stance.
he leans back, hands sure in their stillness on
his axe and delivers the kill shot:
“kids ‘r dead. wife’s dead” (blues
progression). “dog died too.”
I shook my head n grinned, a beaten baby
Never try to out-blue a blues man.

    My personal takeaway, after reading Welcome, is mixed. I’ve always respected the poet who doesn’t sacrifice honesty in the name of mainstream appeal. McIntire instinctively followed this rule, which, in the longer view of poetic history, places her in the poetic pantheon of Bukowski, who achieved poetic acclaim (mostly) after his demise. However, in the interest of honesty, I wish this collection had included more of her work. The length and breadth of McIntire the poet is partially conveyed in Welcome. What I hope will happen - eventually - is that a new edition will be expanded/edited into a more comprehensive and complete collection. For a poet of McIntire’s caliber, that is my wish. In the meantime, I thoroughly recommend purchasing a copy of Welcome to the Dollhouse, and enjoy it like an awesome first date - with the promise of more amazing times to come.

Welcome to the Dollhouse: the Poems and OCD of Cat Angelique McIntire, edited by Dave McIntire, introduction by Brendan Constantine, © 2016 , Baxter Daniels Ink Press/International Word Bank (, ISBN 9780996393792, 70 pages, $10.

review content © 2016 marie c lecrivain
pawnshop blues” © 2016 estate of cat angelique mcintire

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Heather Schubert on Aleister Crowley

“The reception of a poem, being a ritual Magical initiation, suffers no interruption. The music must be perfect; hard, maybe, to appreciate, as is Beethoven, but unmistakably sublime when fully understood. “ The Confessions of Aleister Crowley

     One of the reasons I love poetry is because it involves aspects of language that appeal directly to, and communicate by, sound and sight. Poetry relies on the sound of the spoken language and on figurative language. It has the ability to transport the reader into an entirely different reality in an extremely short time. When I read many of Aleister Crowley’s poems I find myself submerged into decadent tales full of rich scents, sounds and tastes so descriptive they brutally assault my senses. "The Eyes of The Pharaoh" takes me deep into an ancient pyramid. I go from standing in a tomb, to a temple and back again. I can smell the acrid scent of death wafting through the musty halls and taste dry dust in my mouth. Crowley’s ability to inspire the reader’s imagination is notable. When it comes to being disgustingly descriptive in some of his more vile pieces he certainly possesses a unique gift.
Whatever the substance of the remarks and the ultimate message, poetry is characterized by linguistic elements that go beyond standard sentence structure. 
     From a literary standpoint Crowley was an unoriginal poet in the sense that he mimicked other great writers primarily in form. There is a great deal more value in Crowley’s poetry than what we can gain from it purely on a literary or analytical basis. He wrote poetry from a young age until close to his death, pouring himself into this artistic form of expression his entire life. When you consider the magical and spiritual experiences and transformations he underwent during his lifetime; the secrets he learned, guarded and taught; the prophetic visions he had; and the sheer amount of knowledge he possessed, it would be naïve to think that none of that came through in his poetry.
     Spiritual art of this type has the power to transmit realizations directly to us, as if we share in the artist’s journey. Some spiritual experiences aren’t easily translated into words and poetry provided Crowley with the perfect artistic medium. Some of his poems attempt to describe intense moments of union in which division falls away and the unity of reality and individual awareness is experienced as one fluid stream. Others describe ecstatic experiences of a different kind, while some depict the subtleties of our inner life and of the spiritual journey itself. The language of other genres of writing is expressed as being "poetic" when it draws heavily on either indirect expression of ideas through imagery, symbolism, or figurative language or when it draws heavily on the sound of words. Much of his other writings are poetical in nature because they draw on these expressions of ideas and because he was truly a poet at heart. If he hadn’t been, I do not think that his ideas and philosophies would have survived as long as they have. The work of Aleister Crowley speaks to my soul and has inspired me to discover and describe my individual spirituality through my own poetry and other writings.
     Aleister Crowley is best known for being an occultist and the scribe of the Book of the Law, which introduced Thelema to the world. He was a prolific writer and I find that many people are not aware of the intense volume of poetry he published during his lifetime. The fact is that he published it on a fairly consistent basis starting in 1898 and ending in December of 1946, shortly before his death. He published more poetry than anything else. When you take on Crowley’s poetry you must cast aside your preconceived notions of the man himself and of his literary handicaps. You have to be impartially open to it. I encourage you to approach it with new eyes and believe me, you will see new things.

© 2015 Heather Schubert

Bio: Heather Schubert’s education and involvement in Thelema and the philosophies of Aleister Crowley has been rich, broad, deep and exciting. Her burning passion currently lies in further propagating the Law of Thelema and in expanding the areas in which these philosophies apply to all aspects of modern day life. She joined Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O., in 1994 and has been an ordained Priestess in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica since 1999. She teaches classes on the poetry of Aleister Crowley, as well as on his other writings and rituals. Heather has studied classic literature, poetry, philosophy, psychology, religion, anthropology and early childhood education. Her interests and talents lie specifically in applying the Waldorf and Montessori teachings of the therapeutic aspects of creative play across many scientific disciplines and philosophies including research in positive child psychology, sociology, philosophy and other sciences as they relate to what cultivates thriving childhood experiences. She was the editor of the Crowned and Conquering Child for three years. Her poems have been published in a local journal called The Blue Fur as well as in a variety of coffee table books, newsletters and magazines for years. She is currently working on a collaboration of collected poems by Aleister Crowley, a book on thelemic parenting styles and another book that delves into the spiritual aspects of orgasmic birth from a thelemic viewpoint.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Patrick Grizzell on William Stafford


     The last time I saw William Staffordwe were standing near a table at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival where Muhammad Ali, surrounded by a pressing crowd, was signing copies of his autobiography. We were both a little star-struck. Stafford had been signing at a table too. His crowd had been much smaller - “an occasional gathering of the faithful” is how he put it. A few years later, when he died, I thought (and wrote) about that day, about him, about how he sees it, and how he writes it.
    I thought about him a lot today, too. All day, big tanker planes flew back and forth over my house en route to fighting the fires in the Sierra foothills. I thought of his time fighting fires as part of his conscientious objector work during WW2. I thought of his integrity, his practical way of seeing the world, of being true to it and willing to pay for that truth, and the little miracles he makes when he writes it down. He is down in MY heart, a frequent visitor who always offers clarity and a persistent gnawing to get to the meat of it.

     Here is a favorite little poem of his:


They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.

Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing

Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.

(from An Oregon Message, Perennial, 1987)

article (c) 2015 Patrick Grizzell, poem (c) 2015 Estate of William Stafford

Bio: Patrick Grizzell is a poet, songwriter and visual artist. His books include Dark Music, Chicken Months (about which Robert Bly wrote, "... the poems have a sweet spontaneity and tenderness."), Minotaure Into Night (with sumi paintings by Jimi Suzuki), and the recently published chapbooks, 13 Poems, and It's Like That. He has a full length collection, Writing in Place, under way. He was a founding member and previous director of, as well as an editor for, the Sacramento Poetry Center. He has performed poetry and music with, among others, Allen Ginsberg, Leon Redbone, Gary Snyder, Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin, Edward Sanders, Taj Mahal, Shizumi Shigeto, William Stafford, Robert Creeley and Anne Waldman. Grizzell studied art and literature at CSUS with Maya Angelou, Dennis Schmitz, Eugene Redmond, Kathryn Hohlwein, John Fitzgibbon, Jimi Suzuki and others.
  Grizzell's  band, Proxy Moon, will release a CD later this summer. John Lee Hooker once said he "sound pretty good" on the dobro.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Lynne Thompson on Pablo Neruda

And it was at that agepoetry arrived in search of me

Like many poets, I began scribbling verse at a young age.  (With any luck, my sister-in-law will never feel compelled to share the poem I wrote when she married my brother.)  Post-college, my desire to write poems dissipated as other priorities took hold.  That is, until I walked into Los Angelesmuch-lamented Duttons bookstore and plucked a copy of Pablo Nerudas Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair from  the shelf.  I didnt know then about the scope of Nerudas oeuvre or his Nobel Prize or his political and diplomatic careers.  What I knew was that when I read and you are like the word Melancholy./I like for you to be still and you seem far away and I no longer love her, thats certain, but maybe I love her./Love is so short, forgetting so long, I was hookedand not merely hooked by the romantic notions these words conveyed but by the musicality that made them unforgettable.  These poems would teach me that the music of the line is what makes poetry.

What I didnt know was that I would be enchanted by other facets of Nerudas poetry, as well.  His curiosity, for example, as reflected in The Book of Questions:  how do the oranges divide up/sunlight in the orange tree? or and what is the name of the month /that falls between December and January? or in the sea of nothing happens/are there clothes to die in?  These whimsical, philosophical mediations are eternally delightful meals for any writers consumption.

I came to learn, too, of Nerudas passionate political commitments in reading A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution where he begins by invoking Walt Whitman, relying on his  gray hands,/so that, with your special help/line by line, we will tear out by the roots/and destroy this bloodthirsty President Nixon and continuing, in praise of his homeland for Chile, for her blue sovereignty,/for the ocean of fisherman,/for the copper and the struggles in the office,/for the bread of nightingale children,/for the sea, the rose and ear of grain,/for our forgotten countrymen…  Of course, were still living in a country that clings to the types of political stances Neruda reviled and we would do well to follow his lead in calling out those who promote them, whether in Washington, D.C., Texas, or anywhere else in the country.

I also learned that, despite his concerns with political issues in his homeland, Neruda maintained a deep concern and keen observation for ordinary things.  One only has to read his odes (among my favorites:  Ode to a Pair of Socks, my feet were/two woolen/fish/in those outrageous socks/two gangly/navy-blue sharks/impaled/on a golden thread and Ode to Clouds, giant feathers/ of light, nests/of water/and now a single/filament/of flame or rage.  I re-read the odes as a constant reminder to look and look again to make sure Ive looked as closely as possible.

The references above dont begin to do justice to the breadth of the work of Pablo Neruda.  The Poetry of Pablo Neruda published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2003 is almost 1000 pages and Copper Canyon Press has recently announced the upcoming publication of his lost poems.  These are all poems to be read and re-read; that send me running to my pens and papers in the hope that a little of Nerudas magical genius will rub off so I can write the first, faint line/faint, without substance pure/nonsense,/pure wisdom/of someone who knows nothing

Note: All italicized lines of poetry are written by Pablo Neruda

Bio: Lynne Thompson’s first collection, Beg No Pardon, won the Perugia Press Book Award and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award.  Start With A Small Guitar is her second full-length manuscript and follows the publication of two chapbooks: We Arrive By Accumulation and Through a Window.  A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Summer Literary Seminars, her poems have been widely published includng Ploughshares, Sou’Wester, and Crab Orchard Review and are forthcoming in the African American Review and Prairie Schooner.  Thompson is Reviews & Essays Editor of the California journal, Spillway.

Lynne Thompson's author page is here.

copyright 2015 Lynne Thompson