A Review of Sundown At The Redneck Carnival By John Dorsey

Chase Dimock Reviews

Sundown at the Redneck Carnival

By John Dorsey

With his trademark spare and exact style, John Dorsey’s latest book of poetry guides us through a carnival of characters that stretches across the country in space, and deep into his decades on the road. What sets Dorsey apart from the other geographers of trailer parks, small town diners, and dollar stores is the balanced empathy of his writing. There isn’t anything sensationalized or exploited. What he reports may shock, but his work never relies on shock value or gratuitously gruesome description to strike its blow. The power of his work is in his ability to make his readers empathize with the marginalized and grotesque without straying into the cheap pathos of pity.

In a poem about a man who lost part of his nose to cancer, Dorsey concludes in the final stanza:

but he’s not pretty enough for heaven
or the silver screen
& not ugly enough
to hide his face
& let some lonesome dirt road
forget he was ever there

This liminal space between beauty and ugliness, between heaven and hell, is where Dorsey’s redneck carnival is located. Beauty is always tempered by the constraints of the environment in which it lives, and what gets written off as ugly is infused with humanity, glowing with careful understanding. At this carnival, the “prettiest girl in town,” “pours drinks/ &becomes a wingless canary/ singing for tips/ in a cage filled with smoke.” Later, Dorsey’s poem for his grandmother similarly envelops us with smoke, describing her with the following:

I never remember you looking young
shaky hands lighting one cigarette
off the other
black rings under your eyes
but your smile was magic
talking about tv preachers
by their first names
as if they really did care
about your salvation

Cigarette smoke is the before and after: beauty destined to shrivel in its environment and the unsinkable beauty deep within an already withered face. As you thumb through Dorsey’s poems, the question is always, who is living in the before and who is living in the after? Who is the young and beautiful destined for pain and age, and who is the weathered soul whose beauty still flickers from inside a battle scarred body?

Take his short “Trailer Park Song, 1982” for example:

my brother
angry
red faced
screaming
& beautiful.

Brief, simple, yet unexpected. Dorsey hands us the unanticipated connection of anger and beauty without a treatise on their causal relationship. In another poem, “Love Letter for Jana Horn”:

the mailbox is full of postcards
from hipster boys
&aging dreamers
who just want
to be swallowed whole
by a desert rose

The young who are destined to become old, and the old who cling to what makes us young in spirit all desire to be consumed by beauty. In Dorsey’s poetry, beauty is as much an aspiration as it is a physical state. Physical beauty is fated to fade, which in of itself is beautiful, but the aspiration toward beauty is what remains after flesh fails.

The only time Dorsey is explicit in labeling true ugliness, is ironically, when he describes a young woman asking “for donations/ for a baby beauty pageant”:

$10 here
$5 there
for a twirl
at the baton
of immortality

sometimes there
is nothing uglier
than
hope.

It’s here where Dorsey draws somewhat of a line where his appreciation of the aspiration toward beauty stops. There is an inherent ugliness in these pageants that exploit the bodies of young people and inculcates in them a belief that beauty should be subject to the judgment of others. Yet, even in his distaste for the pageant, Dorsey isn’t judgmental of the young woman asking for donations. She has bought into the ugly side of hope when our culture commodifies our aspirations to be beautiful. The same is implied in the earlier poem about his grandmother and the TV preachers who pretend to care about her salvation. It’s not the women having hope that is ugly, but instead, the ugliness is in the cynical hope sold to them by institutions that promise what they won’t deliver.

Dorsey never patronizes his subjects by lapsing from empathy to condescension. Sympathy can often be a temporary license we give ourselves to gawk at someone’s misery. While Dorsey doesn’t shy away from presenting the sad circumstances of someone’s life, he also never infringes on their agency by flattening them into one-dimensional victims. Even the aforementioned cancer survivor:

says we are all ravenous locusts
at the same overcrowded trough
as he explains his theories on women

We can only imagine what these “theories” might be, or what he might be expressing with the locusts comment. What is sure is that these complicating aspects of the man’s personality play against any impulse to use his cancer as a thin premise for sympathy. He is not the perfect victim, just a human whose cancer is part of his story. 

Dorsey’s poems are all honest reports on the damage we all live with, and whether this damage is a circumstance of birth or self-inflicted, the damage is inextricable from our stories. For example, Dorsey bluntly spells this out in his poem “Young Man”:

david
i’m not saying 
you were no good
just rotten on the inside
like a bag of sour apples
who left us too young.

Dorsey does not fear pinpointing the rot inside this young man, but also avoids any kind of judgment on him or blame on anyone else. It is taboo to speak ill of the dead, but our culture’s fear of this taboo often leads us to invent a fictitious version of the dead that paints them as blameless and brightsides their darkness. This is more of a dishonor than providing an accurate record of the life they led because it erases all their choices and every mark they made, good or bad. It doesn’t remember the dead; it forgets them immediately and entirely.

This leads me back to what I refer to as John Dorsey’s balanced empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean excusing or ignoring the faults and failings of an individual, but understanding the trauma residing in someone’s scars, including the self-inflicted.  Dorsey’s balanced empathy calls attention to the ugliness of the sour apples rotting in all of us, but in just a few words, he makes the pain of carrying this rot momentarily beautiful.

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Sundown at the Redneck Carnival is available via Spartan Press

About the Reviewer: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. His debut book of poetry, Sentinel Species, was published in 2020.

Poetry Soundbite: A Reading and Interview with Agnes Vojta

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Agnes Vojta author photo 2

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Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s fifth Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For this edition, we welcome Agnes Vojta, a poet who grew up in Germany and now lives in Rolla, Missouri where she teaches physics at Missouri S&T and hikes the Ozarks. She is the author of Porous Land (Spartan Press, 2019) and The Eden of Perhaps (Spartan Press, 2020), and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines.

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More By Agnes Vojta:

Legend

Sisyphus Calls It Quits

Flotsam

John Brantingham: Five Poems About the Santa Ana Winds

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Still for a While

We get a Santa Ana
and wake to streets
full of branches
and trash and a palm tree

that’s crashed down
through the wrought iron fence
around the city yard.
Today, the air is still

for a while, but the winds
always come back,
or they have so far.
The train tracks are

covered in tumbleweeds.
This air that has come down
from the highland deserts
smells clean.

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News of the Weather

The first weather report I get
is when the airport shifts
its flight pattern directly over us,
and I know the winds are coming.
The breaks in our conversation
as the engines pass above
soon become natural and unnoticed
unless one of us points them out.
The eucalyptus across the train tracks
looks shaggy today. I wonder
what it will look like tomorrow.

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Just Us

The flags on top of the tax service
and immigration building are torn
to feathers by the Santa Ana winds,
and that feels like a metaphor

for something, but I’m not sure what.
The winds have always felt
more symbol than real to me.
They’re so dry they suck

the water right out of you.
We can see for miles across
the normally smoggy sky, and at night
we get stars. All of these things

might mean something like someone
is out there telling us something
with great clarity that I could see
except that I am limited to being just who I am.

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Baldy Winds

After the winds
have died down
here in the valley,
they are still rising
a mist of snow
blowing it off the top
of Mt. Baldy,
which I can see
headed straight up
Euclid Avenue.
It’s still early
on a Sunday morning,
and I’m the only one
out in the world
made clean
by the Santa Anas.
The dawn has no transition
through filtered air.
One moment it’s night,
and the next it’s full day.

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The New Neighbors

When the Santa Ana picks up,
some long haul truckers
pull off the freeways
and park in the neighborhood.

We can see their cabs
in the pale blue lights
of their computers
as they wait out the winds.

When we walk the dog
down the street in the evening,
we invade their space.
This is now their backyard.

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About the Author, John Brantingham: I was the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and my work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. I have eleven books of poetry and fiction including my latest fiction collection Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). I teach at Mt. San Antonio College.

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Image Credit: Impressions of Southern California by Chase Dimock

Poetry Soundbite: A Reading and Interview with Kory Wells

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Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s third Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For this edition, we welcome Kory Wells, the author of Sugar Fix, poetry from Terrapin Books. A former software developer now focused on her longtime side gig in creative writing, Kory nurtures connection and community through her advocacy for the arts, democracy, afternoon naps, and other good causes. A recent two-term poet laureate of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, she is founder and manager of a reading and open mic series and a mentor with the low-residency program MTSU Write. Kory’s poetry has been featured on The Slowdown podcast by former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith, and her writing appears in James Dickey Review, Ruminate, Stirring, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and elsewhere. korywells.com

 

Below the video, you can find links to some of the poems on AIOTB Magazine

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The Assistant Marshal Makes an Error in Judgement

When the Watched Pot Boils

Untold Story

Poetry Soundbite: A Reading and Interview with Bunkong Tuon

 

 

Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s second Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For this edition, we welcome Bunkong Tuon, a Cambodian-American writer and critic. He is the author of GruelAnd So I Was Blessed (both published by NYQ Books), The Doctor Will Fix It (Shabda Press), and Dead Tongue (a chapbook with Joanna C. Valente, Yes Poetry). He teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY. He tweets @BunkongTuon

Below the video, you can find links to the poems from Tuon’s reading.

 

 

From Bunkong Tuon’s reading:

“Our Neighborhood in Revere, MA”

“Snow Day”

“Tightrope Dancer”

“Women’s March in Albany”

“My Mother on Her Deathbed”

Poetry Soundbite: An Interview and Reading with Mike James

 

 

Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s first Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For our inaugural Poetry Soundbite, we welcome Mike James, author of over a dozen books of poetry, including the soon to be released Leftover Distances, from Luchador Press. Below the video, you can find the text of the poems from James’ reading.

 

 

 

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“Falling as We Go” and “Drunk Butterflies near the Missouri River” previously appeared in The Rye Whiskey Review.

 

About the Author: Mike James has published widely in places such as Plainsongs, Laurel Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Tar River Poetry. His poetry collections include: Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), and My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle.) He has served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review, of Autumn House Press, and of The Good Works Review, as well as the publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. He currently serves as an associate editor of the prose poem journal Unbroken. His 18th collection, Leftover Distances, is forthcoming from Luchador Press. A multiple Pushcart nominee, Mike has read and lectured at festivals and universities throughout the country He is strong supporter of cats, literacy, coffee, white wine, top hats, crows, and free range poetics. He is an opponent of plaid, rigidity, salads, and quiet parakeets. He currently makes his home right outside Nashville.

Chase Dimock: “Imitation Unicorns”

 

 

 

Imitation Unicorns
– For Nellie

When I first held you
I watched Unicorns prance
in soft fleecy pink across
your onesie as your dreaming
breathing belly rose in and out
lifting them off into the infinite
pastel possibilities of infancy.

I wondered when you’ll start
sorting your fairy tale menagerie
into fact and fiction, when Z
will still be for Zebra, but U
will have to settle for Urchin
or the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl
the Unlined Giant Chafer Beetle
the Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant
or any number of animals
defined by what they lack.

Will you still marvel at
the Unadorned Rock Wallaby
despite his lack of adornment?

Will you still respect
the Unarmored Threespine Stickleback
despite her vulnerability?

Will you accept substitutes?

The fencing Narwhal
swashbuckling the Baltic
more weaponized than majestic

The Hornbill who flies like pegasus
but shrieks, fighting for figs in the trees

When Marco Polo first laid eyes
on a Rhinoceros in the land of Basma
he wrote, Unicorns are
           altogether different from what we fancied.

He bemoaned, Unicorns are
……..not in the least like that which our stories tell of.
           They delight much to abide in mire and mud.
           Tis a passing ugly beast to look upon.
I hope you never use myth as your measure.

When you gaze at the Unicorn trotting through
the frosted cupcake mountains on your Lisa Frank
Trapper Keeper, know that fantasy is a projection
of our inner colors, on a world both grey, and yet
so brilliant, we can’t see all the light in the spectrum.

And most of all, humor your uncle
when he pulls a mule to your birthday party,
straps a rainbow painted corn cob to its head.
When you ride old Wilbur into a sunset that stops
at the fence in your backyard, know he did the best
Unicorn impersonation his old bones could carry.

 

Imitation Unicorns appears in Sentinel Species, now available from Stubborn Mule Press on most online bookstores.

 

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock lives among mountain lions and coyotes in an undisclosed location between Laurel Canyon and the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. He serves as the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine and makes his living teaching literature and writing at College of the Canyons. His poetry has been published in Waccamaw, Hot Metal Bridge, Faultline, Roanoke Review, New Mexico Review, and Flyway among others. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship in World Literature and LGBT Studies has appeared in College Literature, Western American Literature, Modern American Poetry, The Lambda Literary Review, and several edited anthologies. For more, visit chasedimock.com

 

Image Credit: from “Historiae naturalis de quadrupedibus libri” (1657) Image Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Eden of Perhaps: An Interview Between Poet Agnes Vojta and Chase Dimock

 

 

 

The Eden of Perhaps: An Interview

Between Agnes Vojta and Chase Dimock

 

 

The genius of Agnes Vojta’s poetry is in its simplicity. In just a few neatly composed short stanzas, she can contain entire ecosystems of thought. Never overstated or garish, her work bears the influence of her background as a physicist.The poems have their own neatly defined gravity; poems in motion stay in motion. She can sketch a mountainscape in the Ozarks with the same topographical precision as the folds and crevasses in the human mind.

I want to call her poetry objective, but the depth and rush of human feeling in her lines makes that word misleading. It’s more that her work is authentic, like you’re reading a 1 to 1 ratio of her perspective translated into stanzas. After a few pages, you feel like you really know Agnes Vojta, not because she is easy to interpret, but because you can feel each word is her exact truth.

 

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Chase Dimock: Your title, The Eden of Perhaps, recalls the Garden of Eden, a mythological moment in mankind’s history of existing peacefully in an unspoiled natural world. There is an abundance of nature poems throughout your collection, and I know from your facebook you’re an avid hiker and student of nature. What do you hope to express about your relationship with nature in your poems? Do you go on hikes looking to find subjects for your poetry and/or the peace of mind to reflect poetically on nature?

Agnes Vojta: I have been hiking for decades and need it for my physical and mental health. Even in times of greatest stress, one day of the weekend is sacred and I must spend it in the woods. Hiking is also a spiritual practice for me, my way of meditating. On an easy trail, you can let the thoughts wander and percolate; difficult terrain requires intense concentration that forces you to be completely in the moment in a way few other experiences do. Getting away from the chatter of civilization and connecting with nature grounds me and puts everything into perspective. The forest, the rivers, and the mountains speak a deep truth that surpasses what we try to grasp intellectually, and when I can hear those voices, I feel balanced, connected, and at peace.

When I write about nature, sometimes I simply want to share these feelings and my sense of wonder; I wish everybody could experience what I do. But I don’t write to get people to go out into the woods – for that purpose, I run a hiking website and facebook page. Nature often gives me the metaphor that expresses what I cannot otherwise put into words, teaches me lessons that extend into other areas of life, and mirrors my interior landscape. In my first collection Porous Land, a seasonal arc of nature poems reflects an internal journey from loss to acceptance. Nature has to be experienced directly, not through abstract linear thinking. So one might say, trying to put these experiences into words is paradoxical, but the words are not there to explain and analyze – they try to recapture an impression, a feeling that then creates understanding that goes beyond words.

I do not set out on my hikes with the intention to write or look for poetic subjects, but I often get ideas for phrases and poems, and I carry a little notebook. It is always a surprise what I will find, and in which way nature weaves into my thoughts and feelings. The key is to remain open and receptive. Conversely, writing has affected the way I see. After my emigration from Germany, I was unable to write poetry for ten years, and when I resumed writing, I found myself observing more closely and being more attentive – being a poet has enriched my hiking experience.

 

 

Chase Dimock: The “Eden” in your title also recalls mythology. Some of your poems contain allusions to classical mythology, including the muses, Sisyphus, and Persephone whose pomegranate spreads its seeds across your book cover. You also invoke fairy tales like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. What is it about these enduring tales and archetypes that draws you in as a poet? What do you hope to add to these stories and characters with your poems?

Agnes Vojta: I grew up an avid reader in a house filled with books; Grimm’s fairy tales and Greek and Norse mythology were the stories of my childhood. Invoking those tales taps into the powerful symbolism of the mythological figures: Sisyphus epitomizes human struggle; Ariadne’s thread evokes the navigation of a labyrinth with a monster lurking at the center.

Grimm’s fairy tales abound with archaic gender stereotypes. I enjoyed subverting the story of helpless Sleeping Beauty and, instead of letting her wake from the prince’s kiss, giving her agency: she awakes on her own and chooses to defy expected gender roles. I let Rapunzel cut off her hair, the symbol of her femininity and her most defining characteristic; she is no longer willing to play her old role. Awakening, rebellion, and the questioning of dichotomies and gendered expectations are recurring themes in my collection.

On an underlying layer, both poems that reference Sisyphus allude to Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus which deals with humans’ search for meaning in the face of an absurd world, a topic deeply connected to the themes I was wrestling with.

Continue reading “The Eden of Perhaps: An Interview Between Poet Agnes Vojta and Chase Dimock”

Chase Dimock reviews “The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae” By Sean Karns

 

Chase Dimock reviews

The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae

By Sean Karns

 

Many times, I have sat next to a random, drunk stranger at a bar, and he used the chance meeting to stammer and slur his words through his life’s story, the dizzying heights and crushing defeats. He has used my expressionless face as a sounding board for his ill-defined philosophies, raging impotently at foes he never really explained, pining for lost joys whose sweetness I couldn’t smell over his beer breath. He has seen a reflection of a younger self in my eyes, and tried to warn himself about the agonies of the future in which he lives.

Many times, that random drunk stranger at the bar was me. 

Maybe it’s because the bourbon has washed away all the specific contents of these tavern confessions, but I don’t remember any of them coming close to the philosophical depth and poetic craft of Sean Karns’ new book, The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae. 

The premise of this chapbook is simple. A retired magician meets an nameless stand-in for the reader at a bar and in 25 pages, we hear the rise and fall of a magician addicted to and debilitated by his craft and the audience’s adoration of his spectacle. The longform poem is set up like a dramatic play, though the only other character who speaks and breaks up the magician’s monologue is a nameless narrator who addresses you, the reader, to provide exposition. Yet, the narrator does not just describe the scene and plot; he also tells you how you feel and react while listening to the magician:

You impatiently shift in your barstool
And stare at your hands and pick at your nails.
You have no clear exit strategy

Perhaps I am in the minority here, but this voice of a narrator explaining my own actions to myself replicates my experience of drinking and remaining silent as others prattle on.

Karns’ chapbook follows a tradition of random encounters with monologuing, philosophical drunks in literature. As I read the magician’s story, I thought about Crime and Punishment and The Fall. Raskolnikov listens to the drunken laments of barflies who squandered their family’s savings and reputation as Dostoevsky explores what he called “the present question of drunkeness.” In The Fall Camus places the reader in an Amsterdam bar. You are the unlikely recipient of the confession of a once prominent and respected defense attorney whose fall from grace came from the paralyzing realization he did not authentically believe in the values he championed in court.

Karns’ Magician is somewhere between the drunken oblivion of Mameladov and the weary introspection of Clemence. Like both Dostoevsky and Camus, Karns’ perspective is existential. All the world’s a stage, and that is where the crisis of authenticity opens the void, or as the Magician explains, a wound:

When you’re a spectacle, you can’t be something else.
There are consequences for acknowledging

There is an absence. I didn’t want to be
A lonely spectacle…how’re we spectacles,

You ask? Why so dismissive? The Wound will
Let you know what you are or aren’t.

We’re formed by a collection of the Wound’s 
Memories, and through these memories,

We become a spectacle, a viewing pleasure
For others, especially for the Wound.

Here, I feel as though I am under the gaze of Jean-Paul Sartre, thinking of how we internalize the gaze of others and become not a being in of itself, but a being for others. When how we perform for others pleases the other, we internalize that role and mistake it for an authentic self. As the magician puts it “While performing a pointless trick/ Perhaps our real selves are locked in trunks.” 

As a young queer scholar, a short passage from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness redefined my understanding of my own identity. To illustrate the problems with authenticity, Sartre presents a scenario in which a homosexual man refuses to come out to another person who believes he has the right to urge him out of the closet. The homosexual man is in a bind here. If he were to lie about homosexual desires, he would be inauthentic with his true desires. But, if he were to confess, he would would be accepting the definition and expectations of sexuality that the other man holds, which the homosexual man does not agree with. He can’t deny himself, but he also can’t validate the flawed thinking of others that would place a label and category on him that doesn’t come from himself.

Karns’ Magician presents a similar problem with authenticity and being turned into a being for others:

As a spectacle, for it was all
I knew, and I knew I’d regret it.

Hypnotize, I’d regret it. Don’t,
I’d regret it. Disappear and relocate

An audience member, I’d regret it.
Don’t I’d regret it. Unknowingly

The audience follows the spectacle
Into ocean bound trunks.

Like Sartre’s example of the closeted homosexual, you regret staying in the trunk and hiding, but you also regret pantomiming the expectations of the crowd on stage. Even celebrated figures like famous magicians become bound by the persona needed to achieve applause. I wonder if those 80s and 90s bands, well past their glory years, that you see playing county fairs every summer ever feel this way. Could you find the guy from Smash Mouth sitting next to you at the funnel cake stand, confessing that he’d rather lock himself in the mic trunk than sing “All Star” one more time?

But here’s the inherent problem with confessions that the Magician, the homosexual man in Sartre’s story, and maybe even the Smash Mouth guy knows: they are always given to someone who does not possess the power to forgive them. As the Magician says: 

And I longed for forgiveness for years
Of deception, but the Wound ignores confessions

And redemptions–the Wound requires you
To absolve your guilt, alone.

Since in this poem, the person receiving this statement is “you,” I wonder if this means that the magician knows this barroom confession is invalid since he is not alone and “you” cannot absolve his guilt, like some people assume priests can. Maybe this confession is as much a performance for an audience as any of his magic tricks.

Or, maybe this is why “you” do not speak in this poem, and why he speaks to a random stranger. Even though you’re there to hear him, he’s still alone in the bar.

 

The Premise of My Confession: A Dramatis Personae is available via Finishing Line Press

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, New Mexico Review, Faultline, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, Flyway, and San Pedro River Review among othersFor more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More Reviews By Chase Dimock:

A Review of All Seats Fifty Cents by Stephen Roger Powers

A Review of Willingly by Marc Frazier

A Review of Your Daughter’s Country by John Dorsey

Chase Dimock: A Review of Sugar Fix By Kory Wells

 

A Review of Kory Wells’ Sugar Fix

By Chase Dimock

 

       When Kory Wells sent a submission of poetry to As It Ought To Be Magazine last Spring, I was first struck by her sense of history. In “The Assistant Marshal Makes an Error in Judgement”, Wells writes about a census taker in the 19th century whose guesses at the races of citizens become their legal racial identity inscribed in his government ledger. Today in 2020, it took a court battle to resolve the citizenship question on this year’s census. This poem is more than just a historical footnote; its reminder of how the politics of identity and who has the right to recognize it have continually defined American society. In this way, Wells follows the words of fellow southern writer William Faulkner, who famously wrote (and was even more famously quoted by President Obama) “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

       With Sugar Fix, Wells explores the never dead past of today through the personal and cultural memories of sugar. Recipes handed down from generations are clues to her family mythologies, the proustian taste of chocolate ice cream on her tongue is a confessional, the trade in sugar and sweets in the south is a material history of the racial and class tensions of reconstruction to today. It would be easy for a book of poetry centered on the metaphor of sugar to lapse into saccharine sentimentality and syrupy cutesiness, but Wells is a poet who understands the cost of pleasure and the sweat demanded of our brow before we taste the sweet. She knows the personal price of indulgence and the social cost of supplying society with its sugar fix.

       In “Still Won’t Marry” Wells takes on the persona from the traditional Appalachian song “Angeline the Baker,” envisioning her as weary of the constant propositions of trading sugar for skin:

He says a little taste of sugar will cure
my weary back, my aching shoulders, my
singed arms. Like I don’t know what that man wants.

Angeline’s side of the story is wise to the after effects of the sugar fix “The bed a pleasure too short. Babies Chores./ His wants ahead of mine.” Wells connects this folklore of indulgence in sugar and flesh to her own past in a poem whose title conveniently saves me from having to summarize its premise: “He drove a four-door Chevy, nothing sexy, but I’d been thinking of his mouth for weeks.” During a date at a Dairy Queen Drive in, Wells is fixated: Continue reading “Chase Dimock: A Review of Sugar Fix By Kory Wells”