Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Orphans Burning Orphans by Gene Kwak

Orphans Burning Orphans by Gene Kwak
Greying Ghost Press, 2015
19 pages

I haven't done the Greying Ghost subscription for a few years, but they've always been one of my favorite small presses, so I was excited to get one this year. First up is Gene Kwak's Orphans Burning Orphans, a chap of six short stories. Staple-bound with black end-papers and a yellow cardstock cover that's stamped with black and red lightning/gun/fire imagery, the prose inside is quick and sharp to match.

The characters in Kwak's stories often come across as people trying to do good in the less-than-perfect situations they're put in. In "Neon God From The Top Turnbuckle" contemplates his own existence and whether he could continue the thread of himself through reproduction. "Red Skin, White Skin, Blue Skin," is a darkly funny story of a man attempting to go along with a lover's fetishes. Both of these pieces feature men struggling to find their place with women who don't always want what they want, making what they think are good decisions that ultimately mislead.

"The Death of Superman" and "Bad Done To His Good Hand" explore friendship and abuse through adolescent perspectives. The innocence lost in each - the severing of an inseparable childhood bond, the revenge taken by a child against an abusive family member - invokes a despair and hopelessness that isn't easy to clear away, no matter what the ending of "Bad Done To His Good Hand" suggests.

The story that feels like the black sheep of Orphans is "Warnings," though it's probably the most powerful piece in the collection. Propelling the story is a tragedy that befalls a man's child at a playground (one that I happen to have a somewhat irrational fear of, which may explain why I was most drawn to this piece), and while it's short and ends quietly, the ramifications of what's happened are huge.

Kwak's direct but poetic prose keeps all his stories on their tight tracks. Where other sparse prose is tired and distancing, the writing in Orphans is engaging, not wasting any sentence on trendiness or wit for the sake of it. Describing an encounter with a lover, the reader is asked to, "...imagine you only knew normal air and someone introduced you to a fog machine." It's satisfying to read fiction in which each line of prose is delicious and necessary, and each piece in Orphans Burning Orphans lives up to that.

Buy Orphans Burning Orphans here.

Poem In Fruita Pulp

The new issue of Fruita Pulp is out, and I have a new poem in it called "Feast on Top of A Smudged Glass Ceiling" that you can read here. There are some other fantastic poets in here too, so definitely check out the whole issue.

Big thanks to Kyle Harvey, Sonya Vatomsky, and the rest of the staff. I'm honored they included my work.

Poetry Review At The Rumpus

I wrote a review of F. Douglas Brown's latest collection, Zero to Three that you can read here. Some reflections on fatherhood and family, with some rhythm and pop culture thrown in.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: The Sheep Stealer by Jenn Blair

The Sheep Stealer by Jenn Blair
Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015
32 pages

Hyacinth Girl Press has become one of the few presses whose chapbooks I eagerly await, both for the badassery of their work and the stunning handmade style of their books. Kicking off their 2015 lineup is Jenn Blair's The Sheep Stealer, a poetic trek through rural America. Like all HGP titles, great care was taken in the aesthetic artistry of the book, featuring very simple cover art by Marian Scales, and my copy had flowery end-papers and lime green ribbon binding.

The twenty-three poems in The Sheep Stealer dance to the slow wilt and bloom of small-town, rural America, immersing themselves in a host of characters, meals, and ways of life. Blair's elaborate but pointed imagery carries the narratives, whether it's the prevalence of lamb's blood on everything in "Before the Flood" or a woman browsing brochures in a convenience store who, "inadvertently skins the knees of her / plump eyes on the word massacre," in the poem "Cherokee Summer" (oh, the power of a line that can make you stop, re-read, and then imagine it in your head).

Though the stories are diverse, they all speak to a movement within the stillness of place. This movement often comes in the form of travel, mostly on family vacations, and it also shows up in life cycles - birth, adolescence, and death. In "Vignette," two young girls go exploring and wind up dead; a boy confesses and is punished. "Gettysburg, 1992" is a fairly common snapshot of a family stopping in an antique store, the young girl bored and longing for the TV in the hotel room and fashion magazines. So much of these narratives is typical, but told with a breathtaking language and haunted nostalgia, and you find yourself looking between the lines for more from these characters.

My favorite poem in the collection is "Vessel," an inventory of mementos a mother keeps from her child's birth. It speaks of how she preserves, putting "small knit booties in / mason jars," and a baby footprint of "Five faint / pearls of toe and one gorgeous / black heel." We are shown a more literal imprint of life here, while the rest of the book recounts passages of time and life subtly, though the poem ends with the same "moving on" theme.

"Epilogue" closes the collection, moving primarily through the aging of nature, reminding us that, "once the beginning began / there was no way to turn it / back into itself." The act of looking back always takes place while life is moving relentlessly forward, no matter our desire to return to a certain newness from the past. The Sheep Stealer is an immensely satisfying and enjoyable chapbook to read. Rich in its language and setting, Jenn Blair's poems speak eloquently on adolescence, travel, loss, and the rural ways of life through an engaging cast of characters.

Buy The Sheep Stealer here.

Poem in Really System

Really System is a kick-ass journal that published me a while back, and I'm happy to be in their most recent issue again with a new poe...