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

Ten Big Things to Know About Roy Bentley: A Review of My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems, 1986-2020  By Mike James

Ten Big Things to Know About Roy Bentley:

A Review of

My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems, 1986-2020 

By Mike James




Roy Bentley started out as a poet concerned with his own life and his Appalachian and Ohio upbringing. In those early poems about his fire-lipped mama buying a car and an uncle who joined the navy when his wife sent him out to purchase bread, he wrote like a great and natural conversationalist. Those early poems are handled with subtlety, humor, and clear-eyed toughness.



At some point, Bentley decided he could write about anything. As the book progresses from the earliest work, Bentley’s subjects broaden while he deepens his skill. He has poems about Jim Morrison, Robert E. Lee, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He has a poem about losing his virginity in a whorehouse and a poem about listening to a boxing match on the radio. Whenever he is writing about a subject he fully occupies it. He’s not a poet who believes in sprinkling. He is a poet of submersion.



Roy Bentley knows how to end a poem. Here are a few random last lines. “The only rising we do is out of the body.” “That awful need to believe in God or nothing at all.” “The hardest part is living without hope.” “Something a boy says to no one in the night.” “Even shadows want to leave here.” (It’s good to be able to quote lines which speak for themselves and need neither footnotes nor back stories.)



His last lines can wallop or kiss, but he never takes short cuts to get there. Bentley might be a good guy to play cards with because he doesn’t seem to know how to cheat.



He is an Ohio poet. There must be something good in the Ohio water. Other Ohio poets include Kenneth Patchen, Rita Dove, Larry Smith, James Wright, Sherwood Anderson, Jeff Gundy, Hart Crane, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary Oliver, Paul Zimmer, and George Starbuck. That’s a partial list. There must be something in the Ohio water.



This is poetry without pose. His beer poems and pharmaceutical poems are matter-of-fact. He follows the poem wherever it takes him. He never sounds like anyone other than himself. His voice is distinct and only muddied when he is gargling with river water.



Filmmaker genius/artist/raconteur Jack Smith once wrote, “The title is 50% of the work.”

Based on that, Bentley’s poems are half-way successful at the start since he never provides boring or lazy titles. Some invoke curiosity about happenings, such as “Why William Earl “Bill” Hagerman Carried the Casket” or “Coal Town Saturday Night.”  Some place the reader in a landscape, such as “Body of a Deer by a Creek in Summer.” Others are more musical like, “Eggs and Butter and Milk and Cheese.” (Do you notice how that title starts and ends on the “e” sound? Do you notice how a grocery list becomes a short litany a child might chant to her mother as she helps put groceries away?)



Most of these poems either relate or create an anecdote for the reader. To call them narratives might indicate they are longer than they are. (His average length is one or two pages.) Some don’t so much tell a story as create a scene where a story might take place. Think of an Appalachian David Lynch driving through small towns, past closed drive-ins.



Bentley’s references are wide ranging and fun. He loves Jerry Lee Lewis as much as he loves Salvador Dali. He likes Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud. He loves Elvis (who doesn’t?) and Batman and zombies. Did I mention strippers? He loves those too.



Bentley has not only grown more skillful with age, but also more productive. Six years passed between his first and second books. Then fourteen between his second and third. Then seven more to the next. Then only five passed to the next two! And now this robust selected appears two years after the last two collections. Bentley is bending time in his direction these days with his well-told reckonings and his joyful, verbal leaps.


My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems, 1986-2020
Lost Horse Press, 2020
Poetry, $24




About the Author: 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.



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 Reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar


Mike James Reviews

Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems

By Marko Pogacar


Translated poetry is notoriously difficult to critique. Are we judging the work of the poet or the translator or the right combination of both? Even the best translation is a bit like listening to music playing in the apartment next door: we notice some of the beauty, but miss much of the subtlety. 

Ezra Pound famously said he wanted to know, “what could not be lost in translation.” One of the items more difficult to lose is imagery. The power of rhetoric may increase or decrease depending on the translator, but a clear, unusual image is harder to erase. 

Marko Pogacar is a poet well known in his native Croatia; however, this is his first volume translated into American English. Thankfully, for him and the reader, his translator is the supremely gifted Andrea Jurjevic, whose own poetry ranges across a similar landscape of stunning imagery and heart wrenching epiphany. 

Before diving into the poems, there’s a preface which calls out both Pogacar’s age (he’s in his mid-30’s) and the wars which shaped his early years. A good translator’s preface should address the work of the author being translated, as well as provide context on his life, while also addressing the nature of translation. Jurjevic does all of that. 

Her preface does a fine job of setting expectations for the reader. She writes, “There’s no idling in these poems. They’re noisy, mercurial, authentic. Their movement resembles a beehive; it is unpredictable and usually turned inward. The sound offers both a sword and a shield.” 

The last line is telling because much of the imagery throughout the collection is tied equally to violence and protection. Pogacar writes that “death fits into the three dots / at the end of an incomplete sentence,” but, despite that, “beautiful obstacles are everywhere.”  

Pogacar’s world is logic free and completely relatable. His poems exist within a dreamscape of surrealism and black humor. This is illustrated with the collection’s very first poem, the wonderfully titled, “Man Dines In His Father’s Slippers.” The poem begins as a type of love poem with the line, “What used to be borders, is now you.” The narrator then moves to a description of the environment and then back to observations on his internal life. The poem is structured as a jagged, uneven see-saw. Ultimately, it all evens out as the narrator tells us, “not love, stupidity, stupidity is the heart of the world– / and now in those slippers I eat and cry, / only eat and cry in the house.”

If a collection of poems is to be judged not just by the number of successful poems within it, but also by the number of exotically memorable lines, then Dead Letter Office succeeds on every level. Pogacar can take a reader into “a cage for the dreamless owl of the heart” and allow her to live there among “an archive of errors.”


Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems by Marko Pogacar
Translated by Andrea Jurjevic
The Word Works, 2020
Poetry/Translation, $21


About the Author: 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.


More By Mike James:


Paul Lynde

Oh Daddy, Give Me A Quarter For The Time Machine


Image Credit: “Chief Post Office Mail Room, Wellington 1920” Archives New Zealand Creative Commons 2.0

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”