thechapbookreview

October 2009

From the Editor:

This issue opens with J.A. Tyler’s interview with the ever astute and irrepressible Sean Lovelace. They celebrate sentences, cultural icons, how to navigate the mainstream and the slipstream, and wonder at how language can “float and flow and blossom.” Following this, Tobias Carroll reviews David Ohle’s Those Bones, Nicolle Elizabeth reviews Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes, Cooper Renner reviews Jimmy Chen’s Typewriter and Deborah Woodard’s Hunter Mnemonics, and Tyler returns with a review of Zachary Schomburg’s I Am a Small Boy.

I thought it would be fun to offer you a soundtrack for each of the chapbooks reviewed here. Below I offer a fragment from each book and then offer a song that I thought could run in counterpoint with it.

1. From David Ohle’s Those Bones:

My Father and Uncle Mark drove over to the property a few weeks after the storm. Regrettably, they took me with them. I cringed in the back seat, looking up at all those dead cows in the trees & the hundreds of vultures feeding on them. In my young mind, God belonged in Heaven, the Devil in Hell, & cows belonged on the ground. It was a sight never to be forgotten. For years afterward, their bones fell like fruit from the trees, piling up in white rings around the base.

From Alice in Chains’s “Them Bones”:

I believe them bones are me
Some say were born into the grave
I feel so alone, gonna end up a
Big ole pile a them bones

Dust rise right on over my time
Empty fossil of the new scene
I feel so alone, gonna wind up a
Big ole pile a them bones

Toll due bad dream come true
I lie dead gone under red sky
I feel so alone, gonna end up a
Big ole pile a them bones

Regarding this song, Jerry Cantrell, in the liner notes of 1999’s Music Bank box set collection, said:

I was just thinking about mortality, that one of these days we’ll end up a pile of bones. It’s a thought for every human being, whether you believe in an after-life or that when we die, that’s it. The thought that all the beautiful things and knowledge and experiences you’ve been through just end when you end scares me, the thought that when you close your eyes for good, it’s gone forever.

2. From Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes:

The book now aflame he takes another few steps back before propelling it forward. It is nearly instantaneous, the roar of the blaze, & his cheeks flush with the impact of outward branching heat. He turns courteously to the girl, as if to seek her opinion on the matter. Her face is beautiful & placid in the still, orange light & he thinks: yes, I fully agree.

From XTC’s “Books are Burning”:

Books are burning
In the main square
and I saw there
The fire eating the text
Books are burning
In the still air
And you know where they burn books
People are next

I believe the printed word should be forgiven
Doesn’t matter what it said
Wisdom hotline from the dead back to the living
Key to the larder for your heart and head

Books are burning
In our own town
watch us turn ’round
And cast our glances elsewhere
Books are burning
In the playground
Smell of burnt book is not unlike human hair

I believe the printed word is more than sacred
Beyond the gauge of good or bad
The human right to let your soul fly free and naked
Above the violence of the fearful and sad

The church of matches
Anoints in ignorance with gasoline
The church of matches
Grows fat by breathing in the smoke of dreams
It’s quite obscene

Books are burning
More each day now
And I pray now
You boys will tire of these games
Books are burning
I hope somehow
This will allow
A phoenix up from the flames

3. From Zachary Schomburg’s I Am a Small Boy:

I am boy.
I am a small boy.
These are my little ribs.
You can pick me up
and throw me over your shoulder
at the swim meet.
You call me your sack of potatoes.
My legs are still wet
when I sleep.

From John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”:

Close your eyes.
Have no fear.
The monster’s gone,
He’s on the run and your Daddy’s here.

Beautiful,
Beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful Boy.

[…]

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait,
To see you to come of age.
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient.

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand.
Life is just what happens to you.
While your busy making other plans.

Beautiful,
Beautiful, beautiful,
Darling Boy

4. From Deborah Woodard’s Hunter Mnemonics

You said here’s Jerusalem, the green rising between tire tracks.
Blinkers lit your Jerusalem. This followed a crash in the dim evening.
A what? A buzzing in the metal when a windshield cracked into a web.
You knew which plaid sleeves I tied around my waist
as we walked on. Someone has tried to skirt Jerusalem. I didn’t feel
all that steady on the road or in the hunter’s place, waiting for the others
to come in—I didn’t know who yet. Their star was also little.
When I was little, I couldn’t understand, but for you. So your blood caramelized
on the jacket of the hunter who lived where you and no one else went—
just rats jostling on the floor with people’s woes. (Later I’d shoo them off
till they gnawed at other rustlings, gifts scanty even for their kind.)
A few spent casings were your solemn ointment. We went once, saw Jerusalem emptied like the sandwich wrapper on the floor. This was a great solace to you—the wax paper’s opaque ball.

From “Jerusalem,” a British hymn by Hubert Parry. (The lyrics are derived from William Blake’s poem “And did those feet in ancient time.”):

Blake’s poem: “Jerusalem”

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

The Hymn: “Jerusalem”

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

5. From Jimmy Chen’s Typewriter:

As long as the typewriter isn’t loaded with paper, there will not be a problem. When you approach the typewriter, it senses your presence and designates two things for you: a) a horrible fate, and b) a major problem loading paper. How it does this involves too many variables which shall not be explained here, but let’s just say the system was greatly designed. If you try to load under ‘special’ conditions, you will need to manually override your designated fate by pressing your thumbs into your eye sockets (do not use ‘Auto Select’).

From The Posies’s “Farewell Typewriter”:

farewell typewriter now you’ve gone away
overdramatic and underfed
to visions unheard of in any bed
I checked my mailbox, but you weren’t inside
would calling be trouble, I bet it would be
please greet the angel with courtesy
full color pictures of a black and white world
a slow dissolve as a new scene’s unfurled
I’m tired, so tired, my jaw won’t move
never providing a method to prove
that we love typewriter more than she’ll know
searching through cupboards to reprobate
the evil bestowed her when she was eight
no dollar signs in her asterisk face
now just a hyphen and I can’t replace
farewell typewriter
I love typewriter more than you know
who said that being in one place was dull
I never answered when my arms were full
I’m never competing with history again
I’m never to write on typewriter, my friend

6. From Sean Lovelace’s “Meteorite”:

The only recorded meteorite to actually hit a human being sits in a glass case on the second floor of Smith Hall, the University of Alabama’s museum of natural history. The meteorite hit a woman with hair wrapped high like a hornet’s nest, in the left thigh. There’s a photo in the glass case. The woman stands on her front steps, hip-handed, clearly not smiling. It makes me think of god and lack of god and luck—good, bad, out of, etc.—and this newspaper story I read last summer about a Good Samaritan who pulled over on the highway to help change a woman’s tire and was struck dead by a semi. I think of that exhausted word, destiny.

From Kill Hannah’s “Raining All The Time”:

She fell like a meteor onto the planet
And said, “Your world, it brings me down
I feel like an animal
And I don’t think I get it
But one day I’ll make you proud”

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J.A. Tyler Interviews Sean Lovelace

J.A. Tyler: Sean, I haven’t even emailed you yet. But I assume that writers want to do interviews, even if they are super busy writers like I think you probably are, so I am going to write these questions as if we have already talked through our inboxes and you already said, “Yeah, sure, I would love to do an interview/review kind of thing,” and then I said back to you, “Awesome, thanks for playing along,” and we started talking for real.

How Some People Like Their Eggs, your delightful chapbook, winner of the Rose Metal Press’s Third Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by Sherrie Flick, is a collection of ten brief wandering stories. I would like to go through each piece in this one at a time, reviewing and interviewing as we go—sound fair? Good. You are so easy to work with.

1. ”Meterorite”

In Sherri Flick’s intro, she says that your sentences are “unexpected”—and that is certainly what I was most struck by in reading the opening piece “Meteorite.” Like this:

It makes me think of god and lack of god and luck—good, bad, out of, etc.—and this newspaper story I read last summer about a Good Samaritan who pulled over on the highway to help change a woman’s tire and was struck dead by a semi. I think of that exhausted word, destiny.

Those sentences bend into one another, dip down and then back up, carrying me. It seems so molded and faultless, nothing scattered, all words poised and placed, ready to tip with a reader. Is this evidence of a careful revision process, of placing words so precisely? Or do they simply fall out this way for you?

Sean Lovelace: I am large into sentences, probably because I teach. Students come into my office and ask, “Could I be a writer?” and I answer, “Do you love sentences?” Then I show them Blake Butler or Erika Lopez or Peter Markus or Diane Williams, and go, “Look. Look how much these people love the sentence.” Faulkner once wrote a 43 page sentence. Then again, “Stop!” is a sentence. The way to write a decent sentence is a mix of natural and lucky flow—to get into a Kelly Clarkson of language, but this is rare, for me. The established method is to write a clunky or flat sentence, then slice/revise/grind/revise/boom! I wish writing had more shortcuts, but it does not.

2. “Charlie Brown’s Diary: Excerpts”

I wake, and hear the bird coughing. Some dog barking. My coal-smudge eyes sting with sleep. In a hotel near a train station, yawning off Löwenbräu fumes in my zig-zag shirt.

Tyler: Here, in the second text, the mood is a wonderful mixture of wit and darkness, taking Charlie Brown, a cultural icon of depression, and pressing his face deeper in the mud. But being clever in writing is difficult, and lacing it with darkness is even more challenging. How do you work to play with humor in your writing? And how often do you think about the balance of emotional range within an intentionally clever piece?

Lovelace: Someone once said, “Cleverness is a thin drug.” Not sure who and I don’t feel like Googling. But you have to be regardful with clever. Again, since I teach, I see legions trying to be funny, and that can go really wrong. For me, the thing I have to ask myself is what do I do in my work different from most others? Or what is my crunky-style, I suppose. Or what can it be? And I notice I write quite a bit of persona work, like with Chuck here. And I can sometimes be funny. Funny is fucking hard. You can fake serious, but it’s hell to fake funny, almost impossible. So I try to use my innate sense. The humor with Chuck is of course sad, dark humor, one way to deal with the Charlie Brown within us. Again, a lot of this comes from revision. I cut a lot of stuff I thought was witty or sly in the drafts. Once in a while I am actually funny. It works, occasionally, sort of. I mean I write a lot of bad stuff (people who read my work cheering now).

3. “I Love Bocce”

Tyler: What happens in the third piece is that we see your approach to the surreal, replacing every word and action with bocce, verbing bocce, nouning bocce, until I see in my head nothing but bocce balls crossing and re-crossing the sky, bocce jetliners.

Everyone nodded his or her head. I felt like a cloud in someone else’s dream.

It is a rare occurrence to find writers who can negotiate the realistic, the clever, and the surreal, all with the equal vibrancy that you do in these first three stories. Do you think about these varied approaches when you write? Or is this just a symptom of different contexts, changing content?

Lovelace: Another smart question. You have smart questions, which means you read and took time to apply your intellect to this writing, so I thank you. Seriously.

It is content and context. I mean I never start a story trying to write it one way. Or let me backpedal. If I do begin that way, it falls to the ground like a breast-shot dove. It won’t usually “click.” All three of the stories are really about the world not meeting its preconceived idea. Cancer is chaos and entropy. Charlie Brown wakes up every day and he’s kicking (not) that damn football. The bocce thing is really just how none of us can truly communicate with each other. A very frustrating aspect of daily life. And lonely. Also, full disclosure, I was obsessed with bocce when I wrote this story. Now I just kindly like the sport.

4. “A Sigh is Just a Sigh”

She said, “You ever seen a Nordic woman naked? Skin like fresh milk…”

She said, “Are you jesting? Marriage? That’s just the art of saying no.”

She said, “Do you mind if I smoke? Do you mind if I place this cigarette between my moist lips, and set it on fire?”

Tyler: Like several other pieces in this collection, this story is segmented and subtitled, making flash fiction—already a brief form—read even faster, with even more staccato rhythm. The whole piece has a unity and fluidity that works like magic and makes me wonder if pacing was the reason behind breaking this story into smaller moments? Or is there something in the freedom of re-titling each movement and heading up a new perspective?

Lovelace: My whole life is segments. I have kids, way too many hobbies (obsessive disc golfer, obsessive marathoner, like to fish and hunt, etc). I have my beer. I am editing a lit mag (The Broken Plate—please send us work [our submission period is Sept-Oct]). Then I am trying to write. I keep feeling time is running out and Time really is, you know, running out, so I try to cram as much as possible into the day/week/life. Like Regis Philbin. So I think it all bleeds into my writing. All these fragmented ways. I’m not sure it’s the best way, but I can’t do straight narrative anymore, like a Freytag’s or whatnot. I wish I could sometimes. I keep writing in these blocks. Then I stick the blocks together, like collage. It seems to work, or often not. I don’t have any ulcers. I can beat most men in a road race.

5: “Molasses”

Tyler: Unlike the previous pieces, there is an overwhelming sadness layered into this story, pecking at the reader in images of junk-collectors and the elderly—how things go away.

I watched her round the corner and collected my bags of yeast and barley and I swear each one of them weighed ten thousand pounds.

In what way do you construct or build emotion into your writing? And is it, for you, mostly in the images you set in the piece, or more so in the characters/voices/narration?

Lovelace: Well, I think it’s tone. How does the writer perceive the story, the situation? Like say Batman. Ok, all these directors keep making these Batman movies. Jesus, how many are there now? But look how each director controls his/her take on Batman. One director thinks this is serious, man, heavy, like literary—Batman is all angst and Freudian and psychologically bent and we need a shot of him with a wrenched face, lonely on big-ass fucking rooftop moon, etc. Maybe he kicks a dog or gets drunk or admits to Cat Lady he’s scared of tunnels and high heel shoes. Then the next director is cynical and thinks an audience is a stupid monster, a lazy, adolescent monster, and all the monster wants is diversion, that’s it, diversion, with celebrities and fast cars and sharp angles all sparkly and big laughs, bigger explosions and we need some cleavage and a bodysuit protruding flesh and maybe another explosion and one more celebrity cameo. On and on…You can show Batman’s story a thousand ways (and apparently they will), right? It’s about tone.  “Molasses” is about change. My tone on the subject, in this instance, is sadness.

6. “Wal-Mart”

The phone I bought at Wal-Mart rings and I pick it up and Bear says, “I’m gonna kill you you skinny freshman motherfucker!”

Tyler: See? Unexpected. Sherrie Flick was so right. But in this piece, the conclusion goes to a they/me dialogue, straight structured like a play. This is not used elsewhere in the book, and it leads me to ask how much you think about varying your structure? When starting a piece, are you already thinking of how it will be different from the last?

Lovelace: This story makes me sweat. I slept with this woman and almost got my ass stomped. Anyway, I have no idea why this piece ended this way. I think maybe I thought it so ordinary in draft, so felt the need to diverge. You know ending a flash is so critical, so can be rather difficult. As to your larger question, I do look for motley cloth in a collection, but you have to understand I have files of flash fiction. They aren’t collected, so I might have just added this story because I felt it “fit” this collection, as in overall, larger thematic and structural concerns. It seemed to link a bit with “Meteorite,” maybe because of setting. Not sure. I might have been drunk.

7. “How Some People Like Their Eggs”

Thelonious Monk:

No human being knows how Thelonious Monk likes his eggs.

Tyler: The title piece of the book, and it is worth the wait. Again, broken into digestible segments and with a through-line of only literally how people like their eggs. The amazing feature here is that even without ‘story’, I am compelled forward. The subtitle of a celebrity name makes me want to know how you will make them like their eggs, how you will push them to fit your language. How often do these kinds of pop-culture references make their way into your writing? And when they do, how do you keep it from seeming hollow, from being a mere culture capture?

Lovelace: Celebrity is important to my writing. They are the only gods I see left. The largest drug we take. I mean it’s so fascinating, to know these people’s names and their sex lives and their incomes and all this personal shit, and most of us don’t even know—or want to know!—that about our own family, or the neighbor. I keep asking what is this celebrity phenomenon? It fuels my fiction. I think fiction can provide answers, by working, re-working a thing. I still haven’t figured our obsessive need to follow these people, to like and love them, to desire them, especially when so many of them are clearly awful human beings. Why do I need to see their bodies in bathing suits/baby carriage/crotch shot/newest lover/newest Disney green dress/drug-addled party flesh/DJ/car crash/cancer scare/charity whore/ etc.? Who knows? Are they us, by proxy? Are they who we need or want to be? Are they our personal Satan? Or—and excuse me Depeche Mode—our Jesus? Are they mirror or a cocaine mirror or my reflection on the face of a deep well? Fuck. I really don’t know, so I just keep writing about them. They just appear.

As for being hollow, that happens. I mean probably 10% of what I write makes it forward and actually works in any real way. So I leave a lot of dead celebrities on the shoulder of DELETE highway.

8. “Crow Hunting”

Tyler: Though it is referenced in an earlier story, this is the piece that sets down the events of crow hunting, gearing up to meet a Wednesday:

Crisp, uplifting, green.

I could easily inhale the odor of pine all day.

But this was Wednesday, so I turned to the shed’s padlock. It was a copper lock and to open it you had to sigh into a tiny hole in its center. I sighed and stepped inside.

The way this piece works is by cutting itself into options and sounds, the way the calls make noise, the words moving in and out of themselves in a shifting structure. Is it important for you to avoid the straight paragraph normalcy that we see in most books? How do you think this kind of structural playfulness affects readers as they pour through a collection like this?

Lovelace: I’m not sure how it affects readers. I just know that when I read something even remotely fresh I go, “OK, you can do the thing this way, too.” (Then I of course immediately try to steal the writer’s idea.)  Like with Shane Jones, that shit’s inspiring. To see the language float and flow and blossom. I think crows speak in poetry. Crows are badass. People have been writing some wicked crow books lately, I have noticed.

9. “Coffee Pot Tree”

With hearts of eggshell and blue we finally had the old Coffee Pot Tree down…

Tyler: We go back now to the surreal, this piece connecting our items with our insides, building a ligament between objects and emotions. Do you see this as a theme in your work, the ways in which people are connected to the world? And here, in this piece, does it stand for more than what it is on the surface?

Lovelace: I really believe all objects are metaphorical. And I don’t mean in that “Hey, look at my lit PhD badge I’m wearing” way. It’s nothing to do with academia. I mean objects, in their very essence, are metaphors. We live with metaphors continually, so like a swimming fish, we don’t see the very water. Take flowers. Look at what we do with flowers, as a symbol, a business, an emotion, and it’s a fucking plant! We rarely use it as a plant, much more often as a metaphor. But I digress. This story is about my dad. My dad lived in the suburbs but his soul lived on the farm. His whole yard was an organic farming jungle mess. It looked like Heart of Darkness up in that yard: vines and crazy trees and bananas dangling and giant-ass arterial red flowers and goldfish ponds and fern gardens and what the hell?  He tried to raise rabbits in the backyard. He put bee houses on the lawn! The neighbors couldn’t handle it, all this resistance to the neat and orderly suburb. Man, my dad would have loved a coffee pot tree, or maybe a beer shrub.

So here’s to you, dad. Fuck the killjoy neighbors.

10. “Endings”

Tyler: Though we expect a novel to wrap-up in its final pages, we often are not afforded that pleasure in story collections. But here, you have given us not one but seven endings, each with their own peppering of violent brevity:

A ferret twists free from the arms of his owner and runs directly into a passing train.

And while I have been focusing on the differences of each piece from the next, in these endings we see more fish, more animals, and one more semi that takes out someone. When putting together this book, was this always the planned end? And does it intentionally connect together so many elements of the previous stories?

Lovelace: It was never a planned conclusion, but people love this flash at readings, so why not? I’m not sure why they like it so much. The sudden violence? I just listened to this guy at the university one day talk about how all the writers would respond to the perpetual warfare—Iraq, Afghanistan—following 9/11, how everyone would grow up in this odd, psychological (and for some, physical) miasma/milieu of war, war, war. And I went home and wrote this piece. I was answering the lecturer dude. Like this, I was thinking: all stories will end with a fucking bomb. BOOM!

Tyler: Thanks Sean for answering all of this. We wanted insight and you gave it. Bravo.

Lovelace: Oh no, thank you. What a great interview. A work of art, really, and I thank you again for such a close reading of Eggs.

Tyler: So to all of you who are not me, holding this book, and not Sean, having written it, go buy this collection. Rose Metal Press did a phenomenal job with its layout and design, and How Some People Like Their Eggs will stir you in all the right places.

Sherrie Flick told me, and I listened.

Listen.

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typewriterTypewriter

By Jimmy Chen

Magic Helicopter Press

5.5 x 8.5″ | Saddlestitched
April 2009

$6

Reviewed by Cooper Renner

The 13 flash fictions which constitute Typewriter employ wryly or darkly comic voices to comment upon the intersection of modern life and cyberspace. In  “‘Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’” (yes, the title is in quotes, as in a multi-word search), the German writer Googles himself only to find that another JWvG, who manufactures lawn mowers, is far more prominent on the Internet than he the author is. The Amish reveal in “An ‘E-Mail’ from the Amish” that someone created a hotmail account for them which holds over 900,000 emails by the time they discover and open it. “Tomorrow’s Tiring” features 20-something partygoers who snap and post thousands of digital images of themselves and friends from a single night out. Textspeak, Youtube, blogposts and Facebook all make appearances, as do personifications of fonts. Though Chen’s dominant manner here is a kind of deadpan commentary, the opening flash “The Typographer” revels in puns, appropriate both to the vocation and the character of this particular practitioner. The most accomplished and satisfying fiction is the closing faux-memo, “Re: Loading This Typewriter,” which builds upon the absurdity of a typewriter which workers are forbidden to load paper into. The title page is itself a comic meditation on late 19th-century advertising styles and the contemporary capabilities of computers. Several of the fictions have appeared previously in such magazines as Keyhole and Monkey Bicycle, and the chapbook’s first edition consists of 75 numbered copies.

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A Thousand & One Others, Yes

By Elizabeth Ellen

Mud Luscious Press

ISBN13: 9781161756975
ISBN10: 1161756973

Burning Down the House: On Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes

By Nicolle Elizabeth

Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes out on Mud Luscious Press, (which I like to refer to as “doer of awesome things” press), gave me a papercut. Perhaps the chap itself should be considered a weapon. A weapon which can be brandished at ghouls, and naysayers, old ghosts. Elizabeth Ellen, deputy editor of Hobart and author of Before You She Was a Pitbull (Future Tense) and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press), is in a class by herself; and I don’t mean a wrestling class, which would be weightier than mine, because she is like four hundred feet tall and looks like she should be Miss America and could kick my midget ass. I mean she is in a wordsmith class on a divine level. This writer can write. It’s a damn concerto, and me being silly isn’t really doing it justice, lets talk shop:

There is a very direct, very planned choice to work with specific consonants in all of Ellen’s work. Her sentences generate a staccato energy from her apt use of patterning letters: “lit matchstick…instantaneous…impact…heat.” She opts for a landscape devoid of contractions. “Does not” dances for “doesn’t,” which is why use the “&” instead of “and” was a surprisingly artful call. Through this harsh staccato spittle, we have a flowing, downward curving symbol. Signifying the combination of two. Ellen’s deliberate minimalism converges with the complicated situation she has woven from the first sentence. Her skill set is alive here: its obvious she has been digging toward dawn. She tosses mud over her shoulder, looks up at us from the muck and says, “Now, watch this.”

The premise: two kids living in a dump, literally. Bonded by what we grown-ups who grew up with not a lot would call “bein’ trashy.” The boy in the work is subject to the general ridicule that comes with adolescence, and the girl is treated as wallpaper by everyone around her. The girl sits under the boy’s window, and the boy carries soap with him in his pocket and washes his hands until they’re bleeding—he “cannot bear the risk of unfiltered words.” While the girl is sitting under his window, the boy will take this soap he carries in his pocket and he will shove it into the girl’s mouth and he will say to her without speaking, “this is not who you are. Have you forgotten?” If you’re a writer, or a reader, or both, this sentiment is the sort of nourishment you get out of bed for. Pardon my layperson’s terminology here, but that shit is bonkers.

A Thousand & One Others, Yes is reminiscent of Mark Richard’s “Strays” from his collection Ice at the Bottom of the World. “Strays” uses varying degrees of symbol simultaneously. Three plates spinning together adding momentum toward one singular hurricane vortex, as in Ellen’s work. In Richard’s, two boys are living impoverished in the South while their mother has run to hide in cornfields. Their drunken uncle has taken over their house. Richard dots the story with metaphor. There are stray dogs running under the house, which has leaking pipes the dogs come to for water; there are windows without screens, which are open while there’s shouting. These symbols return throughout this short short, turn on a new angle to illuminate the shadows into the cornfields, different, stronger each time, but always starting from the same place. The boy and the girl in Ellen’s story ride a school bus together: the school bus feels like it’s somehow pointing toward the trajectory of their fate. This Shakespearean duo are victims of their own hands and perhaps of circumstance, but it is ultimately the choices they make which are the crux of Ellen’s work. The crux perhaps is what someone once said to me of the short: “Stories are about the way people miss one another.” Double the meaning of the word “miss” there. The girl has sacrificed herself by seeing toward the boy and the boy has sacrificed himself, and the girl, by trying, albeit violently and perversely, for a new life, and an inability to communicate to the girl what he is trying to say and do, or perhaps he is just trying to have some kind of control as to where the metaphorical school bus is pointing them, and where they stand in the garbage. We are watching the bus, the garbage, the fires, the school, whether literal or symbolic, from Ellen’s perch like a crow on a wire. The girl (some will argue, has been killed by the soap in her mouth, and some will argue hasn’t) slumps forward in her chair while the boy warms his hands over the trash he has ignited next to her body, and says, among other things, “there is still plenty of time for us.” I’ll tell you who there’s still time for: Elizabeth Ellen.

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I am a small boyI Am a Small Boy

Poems by Zachary Schomburg with drawings by Ben Estes

Factory Hollow Press

$7.00

Reviewed by J. A. Tyler

I Am a Small Boy is a small chapbook.

I Am a Small Boy is full of small poems.

I Am a Small Boy is a small snippet of a great poet.

Ten poems accompanied by drawings from Ben Estes, I Am a Small Boy is another grand and stellar collection by the venerable Zachary Schomburg.

What I find most interesting about this book is how much volume Schomburg is fashions from so few poems, so few lines, so few pages. Here, as in both The Man Suit and Scary, No Scary, the evidence that language needs little to expand, that it can in fact be the grain and the world all at once, rivers of meaning informed by simple drops collecting.

This is a boy who is lost. This is a boy who is longing. This is a boy who is dead. This is a boy who doesn’t know what he wants or is or does or will be. This is a small boy.

When you die

a secret is revealed to you.

This happens to everyone.

But I think I already know

what the secret is.

Probably I am dead.

Maybe birth is the real death.

Maybe living is the secret.

I Am a Small Boy is another way of saying poetry can be small.

I Am a Small Boy is how language molds into drifts.

I Am a Small Boy is another round of Schomburg that is fascinating and sprite.

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Those Bones

By David Ohle

Mud Luscious Press

Unpaginated

ISBN13: 9781161669053
ISBN10: 1161669051

Reviewed by Tobias Carroll

David Ohle’s Those Bones is billed as “excerpts from a memoir,” but the brief images of New Orleans he reveals here achieve a mournful resonance on their own. “I was born in New Orleans & lived there until I was twenty one,” Ohle’s account begins; what follows are short vignettes, New Orleans considered from multiple vantage points. We’re offered a glimpse of Ohle’s family history, short accounts of previous disasters to befall the city in question, and, in the chapbook’s early pages, tragedy at a forced remove: after Hurricane Katrina, Ohle, looking through Google Earth’s window, seeks his “old familiar places”.

Katrina’s devastation and its aftermath echo through all of the scenes depicted here, whether set in 2005 or 1947. These accounts are short, sometimes taking up less than a full page, and at first I found them their settings somewhat arbitrary. Was Ohle, I wondered, mirroring a post-Katrina dislocation through this fragmentation? And slowly, patterns emerged, and the brief doses of history flowed towards it inexorable conclusion, namely, the image that gives this book its title. It might suffice to say that Ohle closes this work by reminding us that the natural world can outdo any surrealist in terms of an ability to create unsettling images.

The amount of detail Ohle fits into Those Bones is impressive: primers in hurricane history, memories of a century of New Orleans life, and sudden, searing images, from drinking beer while storms rage to livestock drowned and displaced by the same wind and rain. But in the end, what this short work does most powerfully is provide an intimate perspective on a national tragedy. Ohle’s own dramatic play of memory sustains itself neatly across these pages, all of them infused with the pain of separation, geographically, from a city he loves.

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Hunter MnemonicsHunter Mnemonics

Poems by Deborah Woodard and drawings by Heide Hinrichs

Hemel Press

ISBN: 978-0-615-21019-3

$8

Reviewed by Cooper Renner

The five long-lined poems assembled here call up a sort of mythic rural Northwest—red plaid, antlers, cabins and, yes, hunters—as well as the nearby Jerusalem, “just a few miles up the road,” which the speaker and her companions rarely visit. “People only went to Jerusalem if it rose magically / from the rats’ scudding.” The rats recur throughout, provoking the reader to wonder if this—despite the milkweed, the woods, the echo of the Promised Land—is an Eliotesque waste land. Woodard’s careful, reserved narrator doesn’t say, leaving the reader to piece together the evidence. Other images than the rats return repeatedly—tire tracks or ruts, wax paper, shoe laces—but they remain almost hermetically sealed behind the narrator’s reportage. Occasionally she allows the language to flare up—“the dovetailed bodies of two hawks,” “the dry goods of epidemics,” “your blood caramelized / on the jacket of the hunter”—before tamping it down again. Allusive and elusive, Hunter Mnemonics takes the deliberately ordinary world of poets like Richard Hugo and renders it almost surreal.

Equally evocative—perhaps even more so—are the accompanying illustrations by Heide Hinrichs. Washes of black ink on notebook paper, these extremely simple, yet haunting works reflect and expand upon Woodard’s words—a cluster of off-centered trees near a well, two slightly curled hands which may be giving the reader the finger, a group of buildings seen through a deer’s antlers. Because Hinrichs’s work is so powerful, I imagine for this slim chapbook two audiences which, like a Venn diagram, will only partially come together: admirers of Woodard’s methodical free verse, and those who turn to Hinrichs’s extraordinarily evocative visuals.

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