Saturday, September 08, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Diane Smith

Poet Diane Smith

Diane Smith  writes about global issues that haunt us all—the diminishing middle class, the poor, refugees, healthcare; those who have little visibility or power in society.  Smith has garnered awards for her writing in Canada, England, and the United States.  She is a graduate of Harvard University with a Master of Liberal Arts in Journalism through the School of Continuing Education.


The long, slow haunting whistle of the train 
Announces the arrival of the midnight special 
Midgets, bearded ladies, tigers and clowns 
Descend the conductor’s short, portable steps

Carny people sparkle with magic, 
Trinkets and trash and games of chance 
Swirling, whirling dervishes of dance 
Big Top with flying, sequined acrobats

Air thick with grease and deep-fried pronto pups,
Wispy cotton candy, peanuts, colas, 
Babies, sticky fingers, messy faces, 
Hot humid days, too swiftly passing by 

To the next town—the carny never stops
Bringing ferris wheels, tilt-a-whirls 
Thoughts of wonder, expectations rising: 
The ring toss and the endless broken ride

Days ebb as the carnival packs its bags,
Boxcars pulling up, loading animals 
Teens misting long goodbyes, as lights
Fade down the tracks, last refuge of summer

-Diane Smith

Friday, September 07, 2018

Every Day There Is Something about Elephants by Timothy Gager

Every Day There Is Something About Elephants   (Big Table Publishing)

Review by   Leah Brundige 

Timothy Gager’s engaging new collection of flash fiction, Every Day There Is Something about Elephants, shows a novelist’s interest in human interactions and vivid details coupled with a poet’s gifts for compression and figurative language. The book’s 107 stories vary in tone, scope, and length, but none is longer than four pages. Some—such as “The Lottery Winner,” a tour de force at just a page in a half—deploy and develop an extraordinary number of characters relative to their size, while others navigate the constraints on their length by more poetic means, turning on a single pun (“Chiller”) or extended metaphor (“How penguins break”). The reader is carried along by their expert pacing and, in many cases, by their sheer shock value—Gager is a master of the twist ending.

The subject matter of these short-shorts is often harrowing, and the author is unafraid to write with sympathy, if not approval, of the seedier sides of human nature and society. Abused or addicted, homicidal or lecherous, his characters command our attention as they grope through their flawed lives toward connection or transcendence. Gager is frugal with his imagery, but he knows how to illuminate a character’s plight with a painful, well-chosen detail when the story calls for it:

You burned your lips on a crack pipe, without the warning: The glass on this pipe reaches extreme temperatures. Handle with care. You didn’t care. The blisters popped and fused your lips together.

            The gritty realism of that terrible last sentence might seem at first glance to be at odds with another strain that runs through Gager’s work: a domestic surrealism that at times borders on whimsy. The elephant-haunted narrator of the collection’s title story recounts details that at first seem merely absurd (“How did I know an elephant had been in the refrigerator? He left his footprint in the cheesecake”) but become more disquieting as the narrative progresses, until we realize that the “elephants” are manifestations of the character’s mental disturbance. The conclusion brings the elephant metaphor to chilling culmination and unsettles the reader with all that it leaves unsaid. The story recalls Ernest Hemingway’s famous “Hills like White Elephants,” another piece of short fiction animated by its pachydermal symbolism, though the judicious silences in Gager’s narrative threaten to make Hemingway’s measured withholding of information look like a parlor trick.

            If the familiar concerns of Gager’s fiction—domestic violence, firearms, and drinking among them—recur frequently in these stories, they never feel repetitive; Gager’s imaginative resources are considerable, and imbue each piece with its own freshness of character or circumstance. They are stories that, however grim on the surface, rejoice in their own brevity and technique. This immensely readable book affirms the prolific Gager’s literary gifts, and showcases a kind of short story that seems, by the collection’s end, entirely his own.