Welcoming in the Starry Night… by Karen Holman

Welcoming in the Starry Night of the Lightning Bees is the third short book in the fourth volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Karen Holman is a social worker in Detroit whose clients include the mentally ill. In the final poem to Saint Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally afflicted, the speaker tells us, “Those afflicted in their minds collect and assemble the words they hope will save them. Their sentences tangle but I have a knack with ciphers. In response to their pleas I weave tapestries of words. Speaking plainly to you now is luxurious.”

Holman does employ plain speech. The opening poem admires the onion for its “frank gaze.” Like Acts of Contrition, the poems in this collection touch upon the relationship between mother and daughter — allegorically through the myth of Persephone and Demeter, and directly through narrative poems like “No Mood” and “Arguing With My Mother Over My Father’s Ashes.”

Holman also questions the trustworthiness of plain speech in this collection. “After the Ark” is an experimental prose poem that employs the strike-through to convey the impact of narrative revisionism:

I walk backward and drop a shawl over my mother’s nakedness. My mother is being beaten. I cover her nakedness. My mother is left for dead. I cover her nakedness. My mother runs away from home. Mother on the day father died in the house. I cover her…

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Return of the Fist by Amy Lingafelter

Return of the Fist is the third short book in the third volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Illinois-born Lingafelter flirts with deeper human concerns through surrealism, holding up, as she writes in “Holoblastic,” “a mirror / in the bathroom of the party.” The speaker goes on in this poem to admonish those on “the road to Recovery” through cleverly spring-loaded syntax that “you’ll never always be wanting / just one thing.”

Indeed, Lingafelter never gives the reader “just one thing.” It is from “Days of Grace” that the theme of the title emerges, through an extended metaphor comparing ear-nibbling “Mike T.” to the speaker’s own animalism, indecision, and inability to avoid returning to “the fist.”

This signature combination of absurdity and pathos, dealt like a one-two punch, culminates succinctly in “My Cousin,” where we learn:

…My cousin was kicked in the face by a horse,
pregnant, indoctrinated, working at a Dollar Store,
in the Air Force, naked behind a shrub,
pregnant, married for three weeks,
when all of a sudden, she evaporated into a POOF! of tiny spores
she rode the wind southeast,
searching for the right conditions under a tree, a large stone,
to mold on, groove on, get kicked in the face by a horse,
pregnant, promoted and given a key,
felt up by a doctor, pregnant,…

The two most startling elements of this poem, that the cousin is “pregnant” and “kicked in the face by a horse,” recur and interweave through a series of believable and unbelievable “facts,” juxtaposing the plausible and tragic (“felt up by a doctor”) with the equally-shocking, but clearly surreal (“she evaporated into a POOF! of tiny spores.”)
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Death Song for Africa by Victor Camillo

Death Song for Africa is the third short book in the second volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Connecticut-born Camillo’s poems are set in the landscape of the American Midwest, with reference to many countries, cultures, and religions.

The opening poem, “Bar Mitzvah for Seth,” reminds me of the celebrated Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai in its ability to confront the weight of history through striking imagery:

My son does not know
That he is the oak outside the window
Whose leaves are blowing away,
That he is a raindrop,
A word someone might say,
That his name is not written
In any of the prayer books that his visitors
Pick up in the outside hall,
That the Jewish dead,
Lost on their way to Israel,
Are burrowing into the Synagogue walls.

Many of the poems in this collection are haunted by the past. The dead, skulls, and the skeletal recur, as does blood. In “The Monster of the Dead,” the speaker tells us, “At night the water in the tire tracks beside my house / Becomes my blood.” And in “The Disappeared,” the speaker admonishes himself, “I should remember that the pencil I put on an empty page / Is a thin finger of some anonymous starvation.”

Other poems are haunted by the present. Continue reading…

Liminal: A Life of Cleavage by Lisa Galloway

Liminal: A Life of Cleavage is the third short book in the first volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Indiana-raised, now Portland-Oregon-based Lisa Galloway believes that “poetry should be a shock to the senses, it should evoke something and it should leave you with something.” In poems about love, sex, drugs, and family dynamics, these poems look you straight in the eye.

The collection involves frank depictions of lesbian culture and sexuality. It is also laced with double entendres. The title itself depicts an irreverent attitude — since one who feels cleaved could be said to reside in a liminal space, neither fully inhabiting one part or the other; and also “a life of cleavage” carries all the intended sexual humor of a low-laced Renaissance Fair bodice. Throughout this collection, Galloway turns philosophy into wit, and draws the deeper philosophy and pathos out of seemingly glib word-play.

In “I Want to Shake You,” the speaker addresses a cared-for bereaved, and the futility of getting through to her:

…like you
are in Plato’s cave chained,
you can’t turn around to see
that the road does go on,
and there is more to life than shadows,
even though the buildings
are all wrong angles.

Sometimes you stay
because you’re still searching
for the words that should have been
her suicide note.

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Last Night’s Fire… by Jesse S. Fourmy

Last Night’s Fire and the Dwindling Embers of Evolution is the second short book in the fourth volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Jesse Fourmy writes from his “government outpost on the Big Island [of Hawaii].”

These poems fuse a casual tone with a quirky outlook,  a deeper pathos always just beneath the surface. If Keanu Reeves could write poetry like William Carlos Williams, the result might read a bit like Jesse Fourmy. I assure you there is nothing quite like it.

Take the following passage near the end of “White,” for example:

…only one of us lost our virginity that year
and it wasn’t me and I wouldn’t for a few more
because I was scared and shy and disguised myself
valedictorian of wise-crackers and smart-asses
class clown performing in a room full of strangers
who had cars of their own and sped past me on their way
home or work depending on the season or the hour
and this was life in the middle eighties in Arizona
and don’t let me fool you, bud, it wasn’t that bad
if you’d been in prison or paid regular visits to
torture chambers the house I grew up in felt like

Fourmy’s poems often take the form of a single long stanza, driving forward uninterrupted, while building on past references, down to an unexpected end. The two dream sequence poems, for example, end as “People rummage your pockets. Steal your things. / One your money. Another a photo of your wife.” and as “you plug into your radio and a woman’s voice / you’ve never heard doesn’t laugh or call your name.”

My favorite poem of the collection, “The Speed of Light,” which is broken into several stanzas, ends a “confession” to a former science teacher reflecting on the “cupric” smell of urine, “a warmth of fatted cows staring oddly at motorists for miles.” Urination is a recurring theme in this collection, “pissing” outside under “the weight of the stars,” relieving oneself as a substitute teacher between classes in the science room sink, or as a three-year-old in a caretaker’s lap.

This is a collection that reaches ad astra per aspera, neither smoothing over the rough patches nor losing sight of the starlight.

Last Night’s Fire and the Dwindling Embers of Evolution is available in New Poets | Short Books Volume IV from Lost Horse Press. Read more reviews from the Lost Horse Press New Poets series.

Shine Tomorrow by Joel Craig

Shine Tomorrow is the second short book in the third volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Iowa-born Joel Craig, who now lives in Chicago, tells us in his personal statement that, “It’s in my poetic blood to make disjunctive arrangements.” In five long poems spanning sixteen pages, Craig employs a kind of idiomatic scrapbooking, combined with syntactic contortions, to achieve surprising psychological assemblages.

Consider the middle of “High Park,” for example:

It wasn’t until I had reached the hotel, getting out of the cab
that I remembered the blue nightgown, and laughed.

The door opened and a mass of electrified silver hair poked itself
into my field of vision. Words carving through my mind
occasionally taking a wrong turn
through labyrinthine caverns.

I didn’t even know I wanted cornbread with scallions until now.

Language, and where it leads us, is primary in these poems. Narrative takes a back seat. Craig is particularly fond of certain words and phrases. The word “okay,” for example, that milquetoast signifier of nothing-much assiduously avoided by most poets, is gainfully resurrected by Craig in multiple poems. The color green, Death Valley, and Buddha also weave their way through this tapestry. The phrase “It’s just so fun to speculate” repeats throughout “Thin Red Line”, as indeed these poems do speculate — leaping wildly from line to line.
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