Wednesday, March 26, 2008
REVIEWS FROM CHARLES RIES
Charles Ries is one of the most prolific and insightful reviewers in the small press today. I had the pleasure to meet him in New York City this winter. He sent me a batch of his latest...
I wanted to share the following reviews with you now that they’ve appeared here and there. Forgive me for sending these along in this master-blaster-manner, but they don’t call it the “small” press for nothing. And we must get good work into the hands and heart as best we can.
The follow writers, publishers are covered in the review sequence that follows: Curt Johnson, Cervena Barva Press (Gloria Mindock, Editor), Ellaraine Lockie, Ralph Murre and Peter Schwartz. These reviews run between 250 and 1,000 words. They have appeared in print in the US, but I wanted to get them out to a wider audience. Enjoy them and send them around if you wish. If you want to run any of them just credit the first appearance as noted.
Charles P. Ries
Find Web Home of Charles P. Ries at: http://www.literati.net/Ries
By Curt Johnson
Cross & Roads Press
P.O. Box 33
Ellison Bay, WI 54210
Review/Interview By: Charles P. Ries
This Review First Appeared In: Free Verse
SALUD is a homage to Curt Johnson by his dear friend and small press institution, Norb Blei. This is the 27th publication from Blei’s, Cross + Roads Press. Blei says, “When a writer reaches the point of Selected Works in his life, a definite benchmark has been achieved. You stand by your words. What you’ve penned you are. This could not be more true then in the life and work of Curt Johnson, short story artist, novelist, essayist, critic, and one of the best yet, least celebrated writers and publisher (december magazine and december press) coming out of the heartland.”
Through SALUD, Blei gives us a sampling of Johnson’s work: novel excerpts, essays, articles, and memoirs. The challenge here is condensing the works of a writer who wrote so broadly and in so many forms. I often felt like I was getting only the first course – a taste. But this is want Blei intended to do; tempt us with Johnson’s work and encourage us to seek it out.
This book is both a literary experience and a history of the small independent press. Johnson who is now in his 80’s, was editor of the highly regarded december magazine in the early 60s. He was one of the first to publish the works of Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Bukowski, and Ted Kooser, to name only a few who have gone onto popular acclaim. But Johnson also published the work of many writers who never hit it big, or at all. Johnson and Blei are two of the patron saints of the small press. They have been in it and doing it for over 50 years. They do it as much to give new writers a place to shine, a chance to be heard, as much as for any glory they may receive.
I found the interview between Johnson and Blei that concludes SALUD a delight - a history lesson and look inside the head of two small press pioneers. Blei says in the interview, “Curt have you, one of the Granddaddies of independent publishers in America, ever been invited to read your work and/or discuss the role of the independent presses in academia? Northwestern University? The University of Illinois (Johnson has lived his life in Chicago). And Johnson replies, “I don’t think the academy and its creative writing courses are of much use to the real writer. And I don’t think the safe haven the academy provides established writers does their own writing much good either.”
For those of us active in the independent small press this book is a must read. How can we know that we are innovating if we don’t know what has come before us? But even more, SALUD is a morality tale that has been told again and again by yet another talented, prolific writer sitting at linoleum kitchen table at 11:00 a.m., having a coffee and a shot of whiskey with a fellow writer and friend reflecting on the old days, lamenting the fact he never quite hit it big, but not willing to change one thing about his journey, the books he wrote, the people he met, or the writers he helped along the way.
ČERVENA BARVA PRESS
Gloria Mindock, Editor
P.O. Box 440357
W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222
By: Charles P. Ries
This Review First Appeared In: PRESA
What do you suppose is in the water in Somerville? Small press publishers are popping up all over the place: Ibbetson Street Press, sunny outside press and now, Červená Barva Press. Maybe we should all drink some of that Somerville prose juice as it appears to be poetry fortified.
Gloria Mindock founded Červená Barva Press in April 2005, since that time she has published and designed ten chapbooks, three e-books, and twenty-one poetry postcards. Forthcoming in 2007 are four more chapbooks, four full-length poetry books, as well as two plays and fourteen poetry postcards by fourteen poets using paintings by Nancy Mitchell. Oh, and she also publishes a monthly electronic newsletter which lists readings from all over the world as well as interviews with authors. I asked Gloria how it all began, “I started this press because of my passion for poetry. I edited the Boston Literary Review (BluR) for 10 years, and I read high-quality submissions during that period. Since the magazine ceased circulation, I have spent many years freelance writing, but see a need for a new publishing forum. This led me to take it a step further and expand into publishing. I wanted to provide another outlet for writers who take risks, have a strong voice, and are unique. Eventually I will publish more writing from different countries, particularly authors from Eastern Europe. There are so many wonderful writers in this world and I want to give them more exposure.” Mindock’s fascination with Eastern Europe, and especially Prague, prompted her to name her press Červená Barva which means the “red color” in Czech.
As the following short poetry reviews will note, Mindock has a wide range of tastes and inclinations when it comes to the writers she chooses to publish:
The Whole Enchilada
By: Ed Miller
Wonderful! If this is Miller’s first chap book – I want to put in an advance order on the next ten. I loved “Dear Poet” and “Extraterrestrials Use Holographic Imagery Of Naked Females”. How glorious to read a wry sense of humor who is capable of creating such endless possibilities.
God Of The Jellyfish
By: Lucille Lang Day
We need more poets with M.A.’s in zoology and Ph.D.’s in science and math education, or we will never discover the metaphoric limits of the ocean, stars and universe. Oh, and Lucille Lang Day also has a M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing. She will never run out of material given the galaxies she has chosen to examine. She does a wonderful job making this collision of science, the cosmic, and the day-to-day work.
Of All The Meals I Had Before:
Poems About Food and Eating
By: Doug Holder
This collection of poetry may well elevate food above sex as one of life’s two great pleasures. Holder writes in the spare precise style he is known for. No extras – all meat and potatoes. These are highly descriptive, ambient poems of place and person. I was surprised at how well Holder pulled this collection off.
By: Flavia Cosma
Mindock says her favorite writers come from Eastern Europe. As I read this delicious and somber Romanian born Canadian poet, it is easy to see why. Cosma uses nature as a backdrop and foundation for her poetry. She is a Richard Wilber Poetry in Translation winner for her book of poetry 47 POEMS. One has to wonder if being born speaking Slavic gives a poet the upper hand when painting silk on water.
By: Richard Kostelanetz
I had to work hard to get through Kostelanetz’s work – esoteric word art more than poetry. Begging the question, where does poetry end and visual art begin? Scrabble meets Einstein. Bilingual Poems is on one level a series of two dimensional Mandalas, and on another, a series of Gideon knots. Kostelanetz says that his goal is “to be the most inventive poet ever in American Literature.” He just might do it, but will people read it?
W Is For War
By: George Held
It is hard to create metaphor or image equal to combat. War is horror – how can words ever come close to mirroring moments of such suffering and fear? I give George Held credit for trying and doing such a good job at it. His poem, “From Nam to Armageddon” is a great piece of work. One of the most complete war poems I have ever read.
Fishing In Green Waters
By: Judy Ray
These are effortless poems that spin between here and now using both conversational and lyrical language. Judy Ray lavishes description around the subjects of her observations that are often common in their nature, but elevates their substance with her gentle compassion. Her poems, “Anonymous Valentines” and “Sometimes” are wonderful works. About this Fishing In Green Waters, Judy Ray says, “This new collection is more elusive in theme, and maybe more mysterious for that reason. Several of the poems refer to those sparks of excitement which come from recognition of some moment of transient beauty, or a small gesture which speaks for a historic moment.” This is work by a very fine, skilled, steady hand
I asked Mindock about her background and influences and she said, “My mother always painted, and poetry was always around me. I always had that artistic background. My dad taught 7th and 8th grade English. There are a lot of artists in my family. My sister is a musicologist. My parents are my biggest influence.”
Doug Holder of Ibbetson Street says this about Mindock, “Gloria has long experience in the poetry biz. We call each other holy fools because we are passionate about our work, and don't make a red cent, like most of the holy fools in the small press. She puts out a quality product and is a joy to deal with!” Doug is right, and we poets are lucky to have holy fools who work for nothing, but the joy it brings them.
At the County Fair
By: Ellaraine Lockie
63 Pages / 34 Poems
P.O. Box 238
Tehama, CA 96090
Review/Interview By: Charles P. Ries
This Review First Appeared In: Chiron Review
Ellaraine Lockie once again walks the tight rope between poetry that is accessible and ethereal - poetry that is at once plain spoken and musical. The title for her most recent collection of poetry is deceptively colloquial, Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, but her poems travel a varied world taking us far beyond the confines of the county fair. She uses a variety of technique and style to take us with her. As in her past work, she tiptoes along the high-wire that can separate the work of the academically trained and the self-taught writers.
In her poem, “Lost Legacy,” we find her wonderful ability to use alliteration with good effect. Moving us gently forward as she reflects on her beloved Montana, “Houses a hundred years old / with Alzheimer’s / Abandoned in isolation wards / on western prairies // Where homesteads were settled / on small town sanity brinks / Mine long ago lost / to profit margins / on minimal Montana farm // Hospice where I come to heal / from city assaults / My heart heavier / than the hard timber / turned driftwood soft.”
Lockie has received first place prizes for each poem in this collection, and as Lockie explains in her essay at the conclusion of the book, “And yes, some received blue ribbons at county fairs.” She goes on to say, “When I began writing poetry, naturally I thrilled to the idea of poetry contests. Not only are they fun and suspenseful, but placing in them gives credibility to cover-letters, pays money prizes or other honorariums and sometimes provides public reading opportunities.” So in a sense Blue Ribbons at the County Fair is sort of an Ellaraine Lockie Greatest Hits Collection. I especially enjoyed her poems focusing on the topic of modern romance – of one sort or another, such as in “The Other Woman”: “She shows signs of jealousy / That slight smart of suspicion / Of course she would know / How a woman / can move in on a man / Hang her underwear / over his philandering lines / Being a practiced poacher herself / An artist in sculpting seduction”. And again in, “Silk Dreams”: “I told you ahead of time / this affair / if it happened / wouldn’t be casual / But here it is a few hours old / Already wearing sneakers / and a wrinkled tee shirt / You say you will pass my way / when time permits / I say the way has potholes / that require attention / Mapped maintenance.” “Defying Gravity” also covers this eternal landscape with exceptional skill.
Lockie told me about her jump into poetry, “I previously had written in other genres (and still do)--nonfiction, magazine articles and children’s picture books. Nine years ago I had not read a poem since high school, except for the occasional one I came across in children’s literature. I thought I hated poetry; I thought it had to rhyme. Then one day an old friend sent me some of his poems and wanted my opinion. I liked them, but they didn’t rhyme. So I called my children’s writing mentors for advice. When they told me about free verse, I became obsessed with writing it and with getting it published. This happened at a tough time in my life, and poetry became my salvation. I just jumped in and started writing like crazy, unaware of what other poets were writing. I entered the poems in contests before submitting to editors, knowing that I needed something in cover letters to entice editors into reading my work carefully.” If she needed verification that she was on the right track, she certainly got it.
What I enjoyed most about this collection is Lockie’s ability to use language beautifully and yet have it remain accessible. I understood her metaphors; I could relate to her stories and pictures. And while her writing was accessible, it remained well developed and carefully composed. There are only a few writers in the independent small press who manage to walk this line and not fall in to the pit of abstraction (Michael Kriesel and Gloria Mindock are certainly two who come to my mind). One wonders if as poets grow and extend themselves that they must inevitably drift further away from the common and push the art form, play with structure and elevate their style of their writing? But it was a joy for me to settle into Lockie’s recent collection and find no extraneous obstacles to my entering her world or her meaning. As Lockie has grown as a poet she has become more elegant about communicating common meaning.
By: Peter Schwartz
P.O. Box 767
Augusta, ME 04332
Price: $4.50 / 19 pages / 1 Poem
Review By: Charles P. Ries
Peter Schwartz walks the line between ethereal image and the everyday about as well as any poet writing in the small press. His new book, “My Novena” is a single poem that covers nine days in nineteen pages. The word novena is from the Latin word novem meaning nine. It is a process of hopeful mourning, of yearning and prayer which if conducted over nine consecutive days promises special graces. Schwartz embarks on his reflection and on day one notes that, “I swim without / meaning as my memory / tunes itself to the tides / becoming the net / it always was”. And on day five: he comes into his own with the realization “to domesticate the distance / to acquaint flyspecks / with the celestial / because intimacy’s / its own habitat / a pleasant anarchy / seldom discussed”. Schwartz’s considerable talent at colliding the eloquent and common greatly elevated my experience with his reflections. “My Novena” no longer became just his prayer, but mine as well when on day four he notes, “I waver / from being somebody to nobody /so many time within the space / of a single hour that I really am / that person in between / the intermediate / the delegate / the agent and broker / to a condition / that can perhaps / be best summed up / as heartbroken”. This is a very talented writer.
CRUDE RED BOAT
By: Ralph Murre
P.O. Box 33
Ellison Bay, WI 54210
Price: $10.00 / 72 pages / 50 Poems
Review By: Charles P. Ries
First Appeared in: Free Verse
It always surprises me when I read a new book of poetry by a writer I've read and enjoyed in various journals and discover it is their first book. “How could this be?” I wonder when the writer has such talent. “Crude Red Boat” by Ralph Murre is published by the venerated Norb Blei’s Cross + Roads Press. It is a wonderful coming out party for a writer who began to write poetry just a few years ago. Murre uses plain spoken language in this collection of fifty-three poems, and the subjects of his musings are also common as noted by a few of the titles from this collection, “Rock”, “My Room”, “Gust”, and “Neighbor”. These poems are so immediate they made me feel like I was sitting across the table from Ralph having coffee. Indeed, he is the coffee counter philosopher in “A Good Reed”: “we are those of us who survive / slender reed / bending with each passing wave / changing with the tide yet unchanged / as the ocean is unchanged / by each reed on it shore”. And again, in “Running Things”: “Another year / Another chance to get it right / To do the things I shoulda done / Tear down that fence I built / Quite the party / Let running things run”. These poems are fresh and honest - a wonderful first book of poetry.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory and five books of poetry. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org), Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org) and ESC! (www.escmagazine.com). He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org). He is a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes (http://www.visitsheboygan.com/dairyland/). You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literati.net/Ries/