Howie Good: “In Defense of Prose Poetry”

In Defense of Prose Poetry

By Howie Good


In Defense of Prose Poetry

Occasionally –  very occasionally – a relative or acquaintance will look up long enough from their phones to ask what a chapbook or a prose poem is. Their unfamiliarity with the terms suggests the general irrelevance of my writing to even people I’m related to. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and it isn’t to me, but it is dispiriting. 

According to my research (OK, Wikipedia), the tradition of chapbooks arose in the 16th century, as soon as printed books became affordable, and reached its height during the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Many different kinds of ephemera and popular literature were published as chapbooks: almanacs, folk tales, ballads, nursery rhymes, poetry, and political and religious tracts. Usually between four and twenty-four pages long, and produced on rough paper with crude woodcut illustrations, chapbooks were the reading material of the poorer classes. “Twenty-volume folios will never make a revolution,” Voltaire said. “It’s the little pocket pamphlets that are to be feared.

The term “chapbook” for this type of cheap literature was coined in the 19th century and is still in use today for short, inexpensive booklets. I’ve had something more than 40 chapbooks of poetry published since the early 2000s. It’s very much like me to succeed in an area of publishing that most people have never heard of.

Continue reading “Howie Good: “In Defense of Prose Poetry””

Mike James Reviews James Dickey: A Literary Life

Mike James Reviews

James Dickey: A Literary Life

By Gordon Van Ness


In his essay, “Reflections on Wallace Stevens,” the poet and critic Randall Jarrell wrote, “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” James Dickey was fond of quoting Jarrell’s line to students and in interviews. The quote encapsulates Dickey’s ambition as well as the luck involved in literary reputations. 

Gordon Van Ness offers the definitive biography of James Dickey and reviews how the reputation of Dickey’s work has collapsed since the 1960’s when he was, with Robert Lowell, considered one of the two most important poets in America. For those who are familiar with Dickey’s life, either through literary gossip or from the previous hatchet work of Henry Hart’s biography, it offers a familiar rise and fall. 

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, James Dickey published an extraordinary number of well received poems, essays, and book reviews. His work regularly appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic. His 1965 collection, Buckdancers’s Choice, won the National Book Award. Then, in 1970, he published his first novel Deliverance. The adventure story of four men going down a river was a tremendous best-seller. Two years after the novel’s publication it became a hit movie. Dickey wrote the screenplay and even had a memorable role as the sheriff. It was at this point that celebrity began to replace the artist. 

Van Ness makes clear that Dickey enjoyed fame. He wrote several lucrative coffee table books and accepted commissions for a few occasional poems. One of these, “The Strength of the Fields,” was read by Dickey as part of Jimmy Carter’s 1976 inaugural. (The poem is one of the best examples of a “public poem” and has aged better than similar pieces from other inaugural poets.)

What Van Ness also makes clear is that after the summation of his work in Poems: 1957-1967 Dickey became interested in a different kind of poetry. Dickey’s work, in what he referred to as his “early motion,” ranges from the narrative to the lyric, from the mystic to the confessional, from the formal to the experimental. A reader would be hard pressed to find a more various or successful book of poetry and Poems: 1957-1967 remains comparable to Pound’s Personae and Steven’s Harmonium.

The later poetry (the work after 1967) is both more rhetorical and more visual. The poems often range across the page with word and image clusters which sometimes mirror a speaker’s breath units and sometimes mirror high energy synapses firing. While many individual passages often stand out, the poems are less successful and more indulgent. Dickey’s later work often asks more of the reader than it gives. 

Van Ness does a fine job of covering the later work and how it relates to Dickey’s life. He reviews the critical and public reception of Dickey’s two later novels, Alnilam and To the White Sea, as well as the wildly mixed response to his late poetry collection Puella. He also spends a considerable amount of time discussing Dickey’s role as a teacher at the University of South Carolina. Van Ness was a student of Dickey’s in the 1980’s and the exuberance Dickey often brought to the classroom is apparent. 

Exuberance is a key word for describing Dickey’s best work. In poems like “Cherrylog Road,” “On the Hill Below the Lighthouse,” “Adultery,” “The Performance,” “The Lifeguard,” and “To Be Done in Winter” Dickey’s work seems bathed in vitality and life joy. His poetry is not concerned with mundane, small moments. It is concerned with transcendence. 

There are many reasons why Dickey’s reputation has dimmed over the last fifty years. Van Ness covers all of them. His womanizing and alcoholism wrecked many of his friendships and some readers and critics remain willing to dismiss his work based on the numerous misbehaviors of his life.  Also, unlike one of his contemporaries, James Wright, Dickey outlived most of his best work. To quote Nietzsche out of context, Dickey did not “die at the right time.” Finally, the type of masculinity Dickey publicly embodied (think John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway combined with erudition and southern twang) is now out of fashion. 

Van Ness does a fine and necessary job of separating Dickey’s indulgences from his art. He focuses on key early works and adds understanding and appreciation to later, overlooked gems. As someone who has edited two volumes of Dickey’s letters, his early notebooks, and a posthumous collection of late poems, Van Ness is a worthy guide to Dickey’s work. In writing this biography he sends the reader back to Dickey’s poetry and fiction. Dickey remains a poet with a lightning rod, wide awake as he walks through a crackling summer field.


James Dickey: A Literary Life, by Gordon Van Ness

Mercer University Press, 2022

Biography, $45

About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His most recent book, Portable Light: Poems 1991-2021, was published by Red Hawk in April 2022. Mike’s previous poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog.) 


Image Credit: Digitally remixed image of a public domain James Dickey photo

Mike James Reviews “Erotic” by Alexis Rhone Fancher




Mike James Reviews


By Alexis Rhone Fancher


Some poets bring a very cerebral enjoyment. Think of the pleasure of watching John Ashbery’s mind work as he leaps from surprise to surprise, tossing out great lines as extravagantly as a child tossing candy from a parade float at Christmas time. A reader comes away from his work with a voyeur’s amazement akin to watching a skilled acrobat do trick after trick.

Alexis Rhone Fancher’s work offers a different enjoyment. Though her poems display tremendous skill, it’s the stand out nearness of her images and the relatability of her stories which are most striking. She writes about break ups and disappointing relatives, about first lusts and “the regret that hides outside.”

As the title suggests, this collection is broadly concerned with sex. There’s a lot of it, with men and women. The narrator seems aware of every desire and records them with vividness. Her often long titles are a lot of fun and prepare the reader for what’s ahead. For instance, the collection’s second poem is titled, “Tonight I Will Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rules of the Road…” The title ties into Angelica’s T-Bird and what takes place there, which is a lot. The narrator tells us, “I’ve always been driven to sin.”

She writes poems about one night stands where, “We are each bodies, hard-wired for pleasure, / destined for momentary blooming / then extinction.” And she writes poems about relationships which linger past their shelf life. She tells us, “Tonight I am ripe for forgiveness.” She tells us, “We had a history / all dead ends.”

What’s most exhilarating about this collection is the number of risks it takes. So many of these poems would not work for less talented poets. Fancher is fearless in her approach to subject and form. This collection contains prose poems and free verse. It contains litanies and Americanized haiku. Fancher reinvents them all.

One of the best poems in the collection, “White Flag”, is based on an Edward Hopper painting. Fancher adds a sensuality to the occupants of Hopper’s world. Loneliness is what can come the night after a hook up or during the weeks after a break up. She tells us “No one paints loneliness like Edward Hopper paints me, missing you, apologies on my lips.”

Thankfully, no apologies are needed for these stunning, life-filled poems.


Erotic; New & Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher
New York Quarterly Books, 2021
Poetry, $21


About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 18 poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), He has received multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.


More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

Mike James “Generations Apart: Two Poets on One Theme”




Generations Apart: Two Poets on One Theme

A Review of Once Upon a Twin, by Raymond Luczak

and New York Diary, by Tim Dlugos


Here are two books (one poetry, one prose) which cover similar material in different ways. The approaches are informed as much by generational shifts in attitude and sense of self as they are by genre.

Tim Dlugos is one of the many poets, artists, and musicians who died from AIDS. (The list is too long for one article, but Jack Smith, Jim Brodey, Karl Tierney, and Klaus Nomi are among the not-often-mentioned-enough.)

Dlugos was in the generation right after Ted Berrigan’s and his work often has a similar chatty, try-anything feel. David Trinidad, who edited New York Diary, also edited A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos. That book is a must-have for anyone who loves poetry or for anyone interested in that era. (Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader is another key and recent text.)

New York Diary serves as a sort of appendix to A Fast Life. The diary chronicles the summer and fall of 1976 when the twenty-something Dlugos moves to New York City. He’s appearing in magazines. He’s already published one small collection. He’s helping with readings and presses. Most importantly (to the diary and to a lesser extent the poems), he’s living. He’s flirting with the famous and the near famous and having anonymous sex with the unknown.

There are two audiences for New York Diary. The first is Dlugos completest. His fans are not legion, but they are devoted and passionate. This book will not disappoint them because it shows Dlugos working on his poems of “spontaneous goofs, flights, body motions” while also tracking his day-to-day.

It would be wrong to state that New York Diary should be read only by scholars and devoted fans. The book is enjoyable for any fan of poetry gossip because Dlugos is such a wonderful line-by-line writer. His entries can be notational, but he sketches out the ambience of his time in quick, jagged, and jazzy lines. Here are a few entries which can be read without context:

“Reminds me of a nun, without the saving gutsiness.” “In middle of a dance-floor sound bombardment, I discovered S&M component of disco.” “Clean, salt-water taste of his body.” “So much time still taken up w/ indecision.” “Phone booth has been put up outside front door. I haven’t sunbathed in a week.”

As much in his diary as in his so-necessary poetry, Dlugos is joyfully quotable. Within ten lines he can be graceful, funny, sad, and catty. On rare occasions he can be all at once.

Raymond Luczak is from the generation after Dlugos. He is a queer, deaf poet who is very much alive. He is as concerned with recording his life in his poetry as Dlugos was with recording it in his Diary. Maybe more so, since Luczak never seems to draw a line in regards to what he is willing to share with his readers. The only adjustments he makes are the adjustments of craft. Luczak is a skilled craftsman and this collection shows him operating within a variety of syntactical styles. The poems are all autobiographical, but he speaks in many voices.

It’s often dangerous to suppose that a poet’s work is autobiographical. Rimbaud and ten thousand poets since have made it clear that “I is another.” Luczak, however, confirms the autobiographical nature of these poems in a brief and interesting afterward. Instead of muddying the poems with explanations, he provides context for the catalysts behind his writing life.

Luczak’s skill is shown throughout, but he especially excels in small, subtle touches. The longest title in the collection has the fewest words. It’s a list poem called, “the easiest words to lipread in a school yard (even if you’re not deaf.)” Here are the last five words to the poem: “sicko / showoff / stupid / you girlie.” The additional word in the last line surprises the reader and frames the collection. The poet is not only deaf. He is queer. And he is Catholic. And then he is a foster child. His life unfolds and the hits keep coming.

He weaves his themes together throughout in poems where “anything forbidden / becomes even more desired.” The collection shows his growth from being a timid and clumsy child into a “serpent tongue of hiss” with a “catalog of grievances.” All the while, Once Upon a Twin may or may not be a false narrative. The memories are real, but stories and the lens they are viewed through change over time.

One of the many striking things about this collection, as well as Luczak’s poetry in general, is the immediacy and directness. He is not a poet who hints. He is a poet who reports. In Once Upon a Twin he has submerged a diving bell into his memory. He makes his readers grateful for the inventory he brings back.


Books Reviewed:

Once Upon a Twin, by Raymond Luczak
Gallaudet University Press, 2021
Poetry, $15.95

New York Diary by Tim Dlugos
Edited by David Trinidad
Sibling Rivalry Press, 2021
Prose, $15.95



About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 18 poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), He has received multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.


More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney


Image Credit: Charles Demuth “Zinnias” (1915) Public Domain

Padma Thornlyre Reviews Desert Threnody by John Macker




Padma Thornlyre Reviews

Desert Threnody

By John Macker



John Macker has long been among my favorite living American poets and several of his titles—Woman of the Disturbed Earth, Underground Sky, and Disassembled Badlands—have confirmed that high regard. Desert Threnody is unique in his oeuvre in that it collects, not his poetry, but his literary essays, a short play, and short stories. It is a worthy read, displaying as it does a measure and range of the writer we have not seen before. My assignment of 4 stars instead of 5 reflects no real criticism of this fine work, but simply a perceived unevenness in the opening section, his Essays.

Macker does not concern himself with establishment writers; like other wordslingers I admire, he’s drawn more to the fringes than the commonplace. Indeed, his literary essays, which examine poets he has considered mentors and friends, do not address the “academy” but in a grand tradition more often associated with the visual arts, illuminate instead the outlaws and outsiders: Ed Dorn, Michael Ondaatje, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Kell Robertson, Tony Moffeit and Tony Scibella. Every essay is interesting, and his essays on Dorn and Moffeit are especially intriguing. Considering his acknowledged debt to Perkoff and his decades-long friendship with Scibella, I had expected more passion, but those expectations may have been projections of mine. Still, it is the weakest section in the book, but only because the essays are not as stylistically cohesive as the remainder of the book.

Section 2 is devoted to Macker’s marvelous short play, Coyote Acid, concerning an elderly woman in mental decline and her troubled son, recently released from the hoosegow and desperate for a hidden treasure he believes is buried somewhere on his mother’s land. Meticulously wrought, with Macker’s keen sense of the American language, every word rings true, and the ending does not disappoint—especially as I had anticipated a conclusion that I am delighted to say did not materialize.

The eight short stories composed in Section 3 made me wonder why John has not been writing fiction all along, for these are in no way tentative or pretentious, and in no instance does he bite off more than he can chew. Of course, as a poet who’s been published for the last 40 years, with well-established chops, he’s cut his teeth on a hard-edged duende that merges mysticism and injustice and exposes the grotesqueness that underlies American civilization. And don’t get me wrong, his poems are not polemics, but meditations—one could never accuse Macker of being a propagandist; in this regard, he reminds me most of the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Race, class, privilege are realities, but the real spotlight remains fixed on the human soul. The stories collected here are well-marinated in the lyrical integrity one expects of John Macker. His prose is flecked by his poetic sensibilities, like virga rain that evaporates mere feet from the parched soil, meaning that his stories, while not saturated by the incantatory power so vibrant and so defining in his poems, are yet driven by the same thirst, walking as they do through the harsh landscape of elemental forces that gather not only in the clouds but in the hearts of men. Of the eight stories gathered here, I am especially fond of “Diablo Canyon” and I open at random to this passage:

“The mankiller wind lashes itself to the landform smells of debauchery, extinction, his desert sizzles like a fuse; this is where the clouds break off from the distant humpbacked hills and float unambiguously towards Mexico. Each shape is an obscure species of shadow animal that drifts in rigorous silence high over the border; each cloud is shape-shifted with meticulous abandon by the volcanic breeze. Loco knows each of their Spanish names.”

John was raised on jazz and the blues, which explains somewhat the musical force propelling his prose. His vocabulary is vast and flawless. Enough said.


Desert Threnody
Essays, Stories, One-Act Play
By John Macker
Carthage, MO.: Auxarczen Press, 2020
135 pages. ISBN #9798675661893



About the Author: Padma Thornlyre, having spent most of his 61 years in Colorado, now lives in NE New Mexico with three feline females, surrounded by 5000 books, the art of his friends and, beyond his windows, mesas to the east, extinct volcanoes to the south, and the Rocky Mountains to the west and north. A confirmed Fire Giggler, he designs books for Turkey Buzzard Press and publishes the underground magazine, Mad Blood. His own titles include Eating Totem, Mavka: a poem in 50 parts, and The Anxiety Quartet (all poetry), and the unpublished novel, Baubo’s Beach, a braiding of dreams and other manifestations of the unconscious (no wonder he can’t find an agent!). He believes the writer, Linda Hogan, is right about most things; he tries to read Homer every other year and has exhausted the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis, H.D., Amos Tutuola and Rikki Ducornet, but is still working on his collection of Ursula K. LeGuin.

Mike James Reviews Wave If You Can See Me By Susan Ludvigson




Mike James Reviews

Wave If You Can See Me

By Susan Ludvigson


In “How It Can Happen,” one of the first poems in this fine new collection, the narrator imagines death as Shakespeare’s “other country.”  She writes, “I go with you, / but not all the way to your destination. / I wait in a dark house while you are taken / to a secret location. / We knew this could happen.”

The last line is instructive because it hints at a foreshadowing which haunts so many of these poems. In poem-after-poem the narrator is never sure of what’s across the river, but she’s certain it’s bad. A bridge will suddenly give way. Flood waters will rise too quickly. The villagers at the next exit won’t be friendly.

The dread is natural since so many of the poems are concerned with the death of the poet’s spouse, novelist Scott Ely. Many are not elegies as much as they are re-imaginings of an old life and dream-like restructurings of the current one. In the wonderfully titled “You Could Be Drinking Faulkner’s Bourbon,” she pictures what her husband might be doing in that other country. The poem moves from image to image, then concludes with a leap of transcendence: “we tell ourselves we’d like to know / but knowing / puts a period on speculation / and we are opposed / even in esoteric theory / to endings.”

From a technical standpoint, the addition of the four words “even in esoteric theory” deepens the poem. If good writing is about surprising the reader, those words surprise by their placement. “Esoteric theory” may not be the most sonically pleasing phrase, but it serves well to play off the narrator’s “speculations” and to strengthen the poem’s conclusion. The narrator is not just opposed to death and all the sorrows death brings. The narrator is opposed to all finality, even of the most far flung variety.

For Ludvigson, mourning is not relentless. Death is to be accepted. If Ludvigson never imagines death as gentlemen caller the way Emily Dickinson did, neither does she shy away from placing a spot at the table for him to sit. The narrator in “Too Late” tries to take in both her dream life and her new life as she travels without fear. “In the new country, / I try to ask directions, tell someone / how far we are from home. / The man behind the counter nods / as if he understands.”

Throughout the collection, over many roads and many nights, an understanding is always sought. Some poems end with an epiphany. Other poems end with an image like a cocked gun.

Though the subjects are often wrenching, there’s a steadiness throughout this collection which is appealing. The poems are tough and sensuous, subtle and clear. And the book is structured so that each poem adds resonance to the one before it.

This is Ludvigson’s first collection in 14 years. That’s a long time for a poet who has published many books, with most appearing in three to four year intervals. What has she done during her long silence? Well, she has continued to appear in magazines like Poetry, Atlantic Monthly, and Georgia Review. She has taught and judged book contests and taken up painting after a lifetime of watching. And she has said goodbye to friends and to her husband all while taking note of, “stars / burning through the debris of history / like love burning through the dark of loss.”

Wave If You Can See Me, by Susan Ludvigson
Red Hen Press, 2020
Poetry, $15.95


About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 18 poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), He has received multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.


More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

A Review of Larry Smith’s Mingo Town & Memories by Mike James



A Review of Larry Smith’s

Mingo Town & Memories

By Mike James


Larry Smith knows what a penny tastes like. I kept thinking that while reading his fine new collection of poems, not because he says that but because his poems are so concerned with the absence of money.

Neither Eugene Debs nor Sherwood Anderson are mentioned in any poem, but any reader might notice them at the book’s periphery. Like Debs, Smith is concerned with the underclass and with how class can go a long way towards shaping destiny. And, like Debs, he has an almost mystical faith in the goodness of collective humanity.  Like Anderson, Smith is focused on day-to-day, small town, Ohio life. Also, just like Anderson, Smith is concerned with language spoken in diners and factories. There’s nothing ornamental in these poems. They are as sturdy and as practical as Amish furniture. His characters don’t always do right, but they seem to always recognize when they’ve done wrong.

Smith is an Ohio writer who has been publishing widely since the 1970’s. His books include poetry, novels, translations, biography, and non-fiction.  For his many readers, this new collection will arrive like an old friend. The things he’s always done well he continues to shine with.

Here’s a sample to illustrate what Smith is really good at, from his poem, “Wages.”


When I break a plate, Mom cries,
“Oh shit. Look what you’ve done.”
You can hear the sound of wind.
Then Mom hands Dad a fist full of bills,
and we kids go off to our rooms.
Tomorrow will mean our old clothes again
and the counting of our coins. 


Now poetry is about structuring language as much as it is about anything. Look at what Smith does with the endings of those lines. Only one word (again) is more than one syllable. Smith not only sticks to the vernacular here, but he also uses monosyllables to emphasize harshness and what it’s like to just get by. At the same time he allows the lines to play upon one another with off rhymes of wind/again and rooms/coins. This is an artful way to not draw attention away from the scene. Smith does a fine job of saying just enough in his poems.

These poems are often about the moments of just enough. Smith’s characters do a lot of waiting. Factory workers wait around to see if they will stay employed. Boys wait along the river. Old couples wait to talk. They are ordinary people killing time. Now and then a couple of his characters get together and are like, “two boats mooring along the shore.”


Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith
Bird Dog Publishing, 2020
Poetry, $15



About the Authors:

Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Gargoyle, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Chiron Review. His fifteen poetry collections include: Journeyman’s Suitcase (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and currently serves as an associate editor of Unbroken.

Larry Smith is the editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio, also the author of 6 books of fiction and 8 books of poems, most recently The Pears: Poems. A retired professor of humanities, he lives and works along the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.


More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

Dolores Mildred Batten: “A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas”


Dolores Mildred Batten:

A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas 


The making of poetry is a painstaking process. The writer, soul bared in blood on print or papyrus pages, places their words into the cosmos of the book; the universe of the IMMENSE contained in the small, on the off chance that someone might get “it”: both the medium and the message (McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man). That is the impulse behind writing: the Promethean promise of both creation and destruction (“Mountain smoke”, 12)—in words, at once both solemn and unapologetic, that rip through your heart strings—what makes you smile, makes you angry. Makes you feel. So, if in this review, you are looking for an explication into the worlds of literary criticism and critical theorem that can be applied to Alex Z. Salinas’s words, you will not find it “hear” (read that again: this point is correctly spelled). What you will find, however, is a reviewer who is in awe, a fellow human who is in yearning, and a fellow writer who is taken aback, absorbed in Alex’s warbling work into the crevices that people do not usually dig, because “we all seek warmth / in old footsteps” (“Needles”, 19; 7:18-19); a promise buried under the rocks that people seldomly overturn.

This is the journey that author Alex Z. Salinas’ poetry collection, WARBLES, takes you on, like a Kerouac-esque trail of tears and tears (pronounced tares). It is a disjointed look inside the soul of the tortured and talented poet, and it is one that deserves our attention.

And that’s the real feat. As the poetry editor of the San Antonio Review, Alex’s job is to read, reject, and revise several authors’ words. I, too, as the essay editor of Plath Profiles, the only journal in the world specifically dedicated to the poetry and prose of Sylvia Plath, know this position well. But in that respect, I have always been of the school of thought that it is not for the editor of an academic journal, webzine, or a newspaper, for that matter, to judge another’s writing, but for the writer of the work to write, and re-write, and then write some more, or as Alex would say, “Do it. Do it every day. Every hour. Every half-hour. Every second, in your head” (“21 tips to better writing”, 55; 1: 1-2). Though you may not be taken with every poem from the writ of Alex’s hand, that is simply because, that one there—it was not meant for you. Soaking the salt of our wounds (“Salt”, 9), seeing sports as more authentic than religion (“TV religion”, 21-22), even speaking to specters in “Apparition” (14), you, the reader, are invited to eavesdrop in on his special world; take what you want, and leave the rest. Thus, Alex Z. Salinas makes a name for himself as a seasoned writer and a newcomer to the compilation poetry book scene, by breaking the boundaries of what poetry “looks like” and forcing us to confront the “warbles” which lie and lie within ourselves. Continue reading “Dolores Mildred Batten: “A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas””

“Acetylene Sunsets: Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria” By John Macker


Acetylene Sunsets:

Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria

By John Macker

“In the internal resistance of his thought, Dorn has been able to understand the American Indian more deeply perhaps than any recent writer, scholarly or poetic, who is not himself an Indian. In these works, as in the larger body of his writing, Dorn makes marginal figures, as they resist external authority with an indivisible spirit of self, land and history, morally central to the inner life of American Culture.”

                                                                                                         – Paul Dresman


I dug Ed Dorn because he wd rather
Make you his enemy
Than lie
           – Amiri Baraka


I first encountered Ed Dorn at a reading I did with him and Linda Hogan in Denver in the spring of 1983, at Muddy’s Coffee House in the Slightly Off Center Theatre on 15th street. I was a young, green poet and it was my first major reading with a theatre full of people, most of whom I didn’t know. I remember being anxious, pacing as I read, almost stalking the words as they came from my mouth. In contrast, Dorn was seated for his reading and read from Hello, La Jolla, or, possibly, Yellow Lola, late 1970’s works that, in contrast to the wild-crafted, rhythmic surrealism of his Gunslinger series of books, seemed arrestingly aphoristic. I knew of Ed Dorn — he was teaching at the University of Colorado — but it would be some years before I began reading all of his works and concluding, along with many others, that his was a distinctive, uncompromising and wildly original American voice and, as his friend the late Amiri Baraka described him, “Thin straight blonde Cowboy/movie looking white guy with the mind/of a saw.”

    Fact is, I didn’t appreciate him as much in those days. And that was as much due to my immaturity and insecurity as it was my inability to recognize great writing character when I was in the same room with it. He was particularly generous to my wife and I and after the reading we spent some time together talking about Denver — he was interested in it as a collection of characters in a landscape, its roots as well as its contemporaneous presence as a major metropolis. He was intrigued by its straight, cosmopolitan, newly corporate cow town development vibe verses the academic/counter-culture exoticism of post-hippie mountain town Boulder. At that time, Naropa Institute was sucking much of the literary air out of the room. Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman had conceived the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics there, and Trungpa Rimpoche’s hijinks were becoming legend. (I attended the summer poetics program in 1978, so, guilty.)

    After a brief summer teaching stint there in 1977, Dorn evidently wanted no further part of it. In fact, he eschewed the authoritarian implication of all labels and categories: definitions, belonging to a particular school or group of writers. He disdained being classified as Beat, outlaw, academic or avant-garde or belonging to any particular “movement”; as for his primary poetic education with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, as Lisa Jarnot put it, “the formidable constellation of Black Mountain poetics”, it was a transformative experience that would transcend all manner of category or label. In fact, his appearance in Donald Allen’s seminal 1960 anthology of non-academic, avant-garde writing, The New American Poetry, where his work appeared with the greatest poetic minds of his generation, would be as close as he came to belonging to any group. Continue reading ““Acetylene Sunsets: Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria” By John Macker”

“A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country” By Chase Dimock


Your Daughter’s Country by John Dorsey

Reviewed by Chase Dimock


Reading Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press) is like leafing through an old family photo album. But, instead of your good-natured grandma narrating while tactfully dancing around family secrets and perfuming the pictures of cousins nobody talks about anymore with a folksy “it takes all kinds,” your guide is Uncle John, who tells you everything. Schlitz in hand, he tells you of aunts with “cracked skin” who could “eat $20 worth of burger king”, abusive great-grandfathers, uncles who never left their “mother’s side,” and cousins bathing in a steel drum.

You wonder if it’s appropriate to hear all this, but you can see the fondness, empathy, and pain in Uncle John’s eyes, and you realize this isn’t gossip or the settling of old scores. It’s love for the wear and tear we see in people content with their scars or nursing their bruises, and an almost ethical duty to present people as they are: neither sensationalized nor sanitized.

Dorsey’s first two poems “Poem for Olin Marshall” and “A History of Bite Marks” might best express this style of empathy through truth.

all my grandmother’s cousin ever wanted
was his own pizza & a used lawn tractor
the son of sharecroppers & war heroes
he drove a school bus & raised wild dogs
that bit the hand that fed them

We see Olin’s life as a series of loss: he talks of his dead sister “as if she were a saint,” his wife who passed the same year (“he had never seen a ghost quite as lovely”) and the death of his brother, whose estate he inherited, but simply let sit in a bank, resigned to “gathering his history up like dead leaves.” It’s this understanding of Olin’s melancholia that perhaps explains why in “A History of Bite Marks,” Dorsey does not complain too loudly about washing Olin’s dog Bruno as “he tried to take chunks out of our ankles.” Loving others means being bitten, and finding meaning in the language of bite marks.

When applied to his family, Dorsey’s trademark empathy for the underappreciated tells us more about his own identity. In “Tommy” he remembers a great uncle born with cerebral palsy like himself:

one of the sweetest men
i’ve ever known
he was a large baby
big enough to swallow
whole japanese tourists
in some infant godzilla scenario

Several poems remember his grandfather, who bears the decline of the Rustbelt on his shoulders. In “His Summer Place” he laments his grandfather losing an inherited family property after the failure of his painting business. “We Were Still Brave Then” depicts Dorsey as a child and his naive but charitable reaction to his Grandfather’s unemployment, gifting eight dollars to help the family. In a way, we’re reading the John Dorsey origin story, a look into how he inherited and developed his human insight and empathy as a poet.

The collection’s eponymous poem “Your Daughter’s Country” is Dorsey at his most revealing and unsettling, tracing the lineage of generational trauma. It begins with a fairly standard description of his great-grandfather’s depression era farm life, but then suddenly he exposes what the family long repressed:

the family history gets a little fuzzy

it wasn’t until i was in my 20’s
that i found out he had also been
an alcoholic
a railroad man
& a rapist

something my own father never knew

The rest of the poem delves into the tragic, abused life of his grandmother, for whom “there was never anywhere for her to go that was far enough away from where she’d been.” This is Dorsey’s greatest twist. He populates the book with several endearing, or at least sympathetic portraits of family, until you come to the poem that bears the book’s name, and he rips apart our expectations, like the way his great-grandfather’s abuse likely tore through generations of family.

While the poems about his literal family stand out, for John Dorsey, the familial extends beyond blood kin. Throughout his career, Dorsey’s work has been known for his portraits of people often overlooked or misunderstood. Whether it’s an old friend or a weathered stranger’s face at a rural Missouri diner, he has the ability to pull something from deep inside a person that feels as if it came from the memories of a cousin you spent all your summers swimming with.

In “Poem for Mary Anthony” Dorsey portrays a trucker who knows “you won’t find god in the stacks of books we have piled high in the bookstore in town.” In another poem, he mentions a friend’s brief recollection of a man who placed second in an episode of Star Search, but

just like in life
nobody ever remembers
the runner up.

instead they ask you
for your last cigarette

I’d argue that Dorsey’s poetry is all about remembering the runner up, as well as the last place finishers, those who didn’t get an audition, and all those who never got to dream of an opportunity.


Your Daughter’s Country is available from Blue Horse 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, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, San Pedro River Review, and Trailer Park Quarterly. For more of his work, check out


More by Chase Dimock: 

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey 

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James