Lumière, poems by John Thomas Allen, published by NightBallet Press, 2014, 48 pages, $10.

Reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky

Imagine walking out into a large open field with nothing before you but the sky.  Suddenly out of that sky falls everything:  image upon image upon image in the beauteous light of the day.  Watch out, these are John Thomas Allen's poems!  Like drinks laced with strong exotic drugs ready to take us to dreamland, Allen's poems are also beckoning fires that attract us but also burn us up entirely, and then, reduced to ashes, we are resurrected, alive but breathless, encircling Lumière's bright crucible.

John Thomas Allen's surrealism brings us chanting mirrors, burning cassocks, blinded Sphinxes, bottlecapped maidens, occult museums, blue moments and glassblown hieroglyphs.  His heavens rain down girlfriend aliens who suggest honeymoons "where time sleeps" and missing children who meet "on each anniversary of the others' disappearances."  Guns twist "into/albino snakes," "green tea cups crack," crows call "between the days we lose/like Xeroxed suns."  We know what's happening here, and yet we don't, as mystery seeps through every word and catches itself sobbing quietly in the corner.  Allen quotes David Gascoyne, "That man's long journey/May not have been in vain" and then dedicates a poem to him, "The Bars", in which "our arrival will close a circus/red gloves will undo the trapeze."

Indeed these poems are a trapeze, and Allen is a trapeze artist riding waves of air and ringing like a bell at midnight with the darkness making his walks across the sky even more treacherous.  A poem dedicated to SHahla ROsa is entitled "Always for the Last Time", and here words are written "in a language of invisible ink" while in "Psalm Agonista", "the cactus "is mixed through with candy cane or brine, and you really couldn't tell them apart."  Thus Allen's life is one that is lived under moonlight, through the heart, and only with "a private these hopes/that you may say/my entirety" (from the poem "Misheard").

This is a life submerged, a life where "Nobody wants to hear a stone/angel's song" and "No one wants to hear glass sparks" (from "Home Film 0").  Through his eyes we see "The March leaf hanging like crippled/butterfly" (from "Dust") as "slit teardrops fall on/ sycamore plutonium" (from "Tying Impression").  In Allen's world "one day a week/we burn to the ground howling" (from "The House Where No One Died").

Poems that wink at you from beneath their veils, poems that themselves have read other poems, poems that the stars would long to utter:  John Thomas Allen's Lumière poems growl like wolves and gleam like opals.  Read them enthralled in an open field filled with the light of a full moon as you wonder what will fall down next from his bejeweled sky.
Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist, critic and TV producer who has won many local and national awards for her work

Order a copy of
Lumière HERE.

Review of John Burroughs' The Eater of the Absurd
Review by Willow Rose, first published in
Goodreads June 12, 2013

John Burroughs,founding editor of Crisis Chronicles Press and featured poet in numerous journals and anthologies, has finally published the long-awaited, first full-length collection of his brilliant and visceral verse in "The Eater of the Absurd."

It was worth the wait.

I read and re-read each word; aware of the absence of patterns and familiar conceits; aware of the dilettante I was; aware of entering a strange, new land and how its discovery would change my perceptions forever.

Just as the music that moves us most stays with us when it is not being played, John's poetry has a habit of coming back unbidden, months after seeing the printed page. There is an undeniable energy that is scalpel-sharp as it eviscerates dull acceptance and platitudes like the scales of a fish until only the thin, translucent bones of the skeleton remain, gleaming with the light that shines from things exposed--finally able to count for something.

John Burroughs does not shy from that scalpel as he strips away the truth-deflecting scales of institutions, emotions, belief systems, and, most of all, himself.

In "Stimulus" the restless voice and penetrating eye turn inward, "Seeing/Things/I don't see clearly/Minding the child within/Understanding only obliquely..." thus touching on self-discovery only to question the writer's, as well as the reader's, ability to truly know one's self. The Sisyphean task of finding truth with the societal blinkers screwed on tight discovers,reveals, and despairs in the last three lines of the poem; "Living/Under heavy manners/Starving." It is the starvation of the soul that Burroughs recognizes and resists.

The desire for unimpaired vision refuses to become dark and brooding as Burroughs delights in playing with words and meanings; using "gerunds" mocking; knowing; teasing; and, in "The Final Frontier" he gives a glimpse of the force of his genius; often self-deprecating but determined to "Boldly go/where know man/has gone before."

Knowing that one does not know is the beginning of knowledge, according to Confucious. Yet, to say there is a beginning implies an end. I felt swept up in a strange and incredible journey as I read "The Eater of the Absurd" It is a book that lends itself to many readings; I see something new and different each time. I can never read the quote by John Ruskin without thinking of John Burroughs:

"Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one."

Seeing clearly to better understand or have a better aim? Know one knows; except, maybe...John Burroughs.

Chapbook review: Selected Regions of the Moon by J. E. Stanley
Review by Greg Schwartz; first published in Haiku & Horror Monday June 3, 2013

J. E. Stanley is a talented speculative poet.  Selected Regions of the Moon, his latest poetry chapbook, follows in the path laid down by Intrinsic Night, co-written with Joshua Gage, and Rapid Eye Movement.  (He's written other books, too, but those are the only two that I've read so far.)

Selected Regions of the Moon is a 40-page collection of 32 speculative poems, slanted heavily toward the science fiction end of the spectrum.  There's something in this collection for all readers of speculative fiction.  The book contains short poems -- including four speculative haiku -- and long poems like "Silver Nitrate Trilogy" and the Rhysling Award-nominated "Random Facts About Halley's Comet."  The poems are presented very nicely, each on their own page or pages, and the chapbook is professionally printed.

The book leads off with the title poem, a solemn tale about an alien threat, broken up into stanzas based on different areas of the moon.  The apocalyptic story told in the poem is well-balanced by the minimalist way in which it's conveyed.

"After Eye Surgery" is one of the best poems of the book, a surprisingly deep look at ourselves and our reflections, and what it all means.  A short poem but definitely powerful.

"inspiration" is a good short poem, one that uses its form visually.  It is inspired by a longer poem on the same theme, written by a much less-talented writer.

"Letter from Poe" is another good short poem.  It contains vivid imagery and well-placed allusion, and no word is wasted.

"Tidal Lock" is a longer poem, very surreal and entertaining.  This one is hard to classify, but definitely one not to be missed.

"The Sad Gravity of the Moon," "Color Blind," and "Thoughts on Cremation" are all slightly less-upbeat offerings, but provide profound revelations that stick with you long after you turn the page.

"Asteroid" is a great example of how to plant words in a poem.  A whole world is destroyed in five words (six, including the title) and nothing else needs to be said.

Stanley is obviously a master of many different forms of poetry, from the scifaiku to the cinquain to the ghazal, and much more.  He doesn't rely on one style of writing, but uses every tool at his disposal to tell the story that needs to be told, and he does it in a way that makes you want to read more.

Selected Regions of the Moon is published by the Cleveland-based NightBallet Press, and can be purchased from the
NightBallet Press blog for $5 plus $3 for shipping and handling.  (Look for the chapbook link on the right-hand sidebar.)  The book can also be bought on Amazon for $8 plus $3.99 shipping and handling.

In My Jaws Wake - A Review of The Eater of the Absurd
by RA Washington - February 2013

"Doesn't matter if you laminate me
punch a hole in the end of me
create a neck on me
you can tie a pretty rope around"
from "Mark This"
In this first full length collection John Burroughs takes us toward minutia, the tiny snapshots of a life lived. The sentiments put for in "The Eater of the Absurd" are snarky, livid, and human. They come to us without the pretext of him as a writer, although his writerly craft is present, these poems come at us spoken with spit, said in voices as real as the one's banging about our head. There is something to his voice that reminds you that men take a long time to mature, that as we age our anger becomes more focused, and our love more nuanced. It is rare for writers and poets to be so fully formed in a debut, the shocking fact of it is the why and where are one in the same.
Take the poem "Lit (Er, a Tour)", which acts as both, personal, and a definitive action -

. . .I might not tell you
that I know what it's like
to be dead and I know
who I am when dead
more than I do when alive

the poem gives us a glimpse of Burroughs self-imposed exile, the stain regret of a man who has lost, and loved. So many moments in Eaters act like totems in this way, and we come away knowing that Burroughs' power as a writer of poems is his eye. It is an eye of someone who takes nothing in his life, or (ours) for granted.
The Eater of the Absurd is a beautiful book, a welcome tour through Burroughs' heart, his resentments, and his visions.

It is "his" vision that is on display in the poem, "Three Dot Night" here Burroughs plays coy with late career Auden, showing himself as a reader, and pun-maker in the second stanza -

We are dots on this
celestial dress
that seems sometimes
a universal mess
where peace is less and
war is more and
words are whores who
lie and belie us
lay and betray us
beget filet forget and gray us

This collection, published by Cleveland based NightBallet Press is fine example of how one's speaking voice can utter on page, and how humanly absurd the whole damn enterprise really is.

Erren Geraud Kelly’s Disturbing the Peace
A review of sorts
By John Dorsey

One of my least favorite things in the world is reviewing a new book of poetry, because let’s be honest, as artists we don’t want reviews, we want GOOD reviews. You’re guilty of it and so am I. And really care about poetry and do feel the need to be honest and the truth is there’s a lot of bad poetry out there. So when my dear friend Dianne Borsenik asked me to review the debut chapbook by a poet I had never heard of before, much less read, my first thought was, sigh, okay for you. All she told me about the work of Erren Geraud Kelly, is that it reminded her a lot of my own work and all I remember thinking is, man I feel sorry for that guy, are the majority of his close friends dead too? This aside NightBallet almost always puts out the very best that poetry has to offer, so I thought what the Hell, right?

Then I went on the internet and looked up the work of Erren Geraud Kelly and was immediately struck by the honesty of his work and then thought that this guy couldn’t possibly be for real and immediately put him out of my mind.

A few weeks later I hear the dog barking, so I go down to get the mail before it has his tooth marks all over it, he seems to autograph all of my mail lately, and there wedged between the collection notices and supermarket ads is a beat up looking package from NightBallet Press.

Let me really begin this “review” by saying that what shocks me most about Disturbing the Peace isn’t that NightBallet chose to put out the book, a question I find myself asking of so many other presses, but why hadn’t anyone else already put out a collection for this guy and why hadn’t I already heard about him? I must be slipping.   

Let me follow that by saying that I know very little about being an overweight, 40 something, lovelorn, African American poet and I probably never will. Okay maybe I do know a bit about the lovelorn part. Like me, Erren Geraud Kelly does write about pop culture icons his more Dr. King and Notorious B.I.G. than Adam Walsh or Billy the Kid, but I feel this guy. Where we do connect is family, were we do connect is feeling out of place in our own skin, where we do connect is a very clear love of words. While I tend to move to the beat of much darker memories, in Erren’s work there is hope, I can feel it like I feel sunlight on my skin, his words feel like falling in love for the first time, you don’t want to swoon, but you just can’t help yourself, so why even try to fight it?

Sure Erren has problems and those things are here in too and I’m glad they are, because I want to know where he’s going and where he’s been, but he has such a loving common touch, he never makes the reader feel like they have to go run for a dictionary to let his work into their heart. And that is all too uncommon these days. I don’t know if it is snowing where he is now, I don’t know if he’s a teacher or a troubadour or both. I don’t know if we’ve ever walked the same streets or looked up at the same stars, but I want him to get the girl, I want him to be able to have a heartfelt conversation with his father just one more time, I want to breathe a little more hope into his lungs and I want every dream he’s ever had to come dream, because rarely has a poet made me feel this good, given of themselves, instead of merely taking a piece of the sky away from all of us just to create some cheap motel room painting of words.

I’m not going to quote a bunch of lines from this book because you should just buy it, because it may only be February as I write this, but NightBallet has put out the best debut chapbook by a poet that you’re likely to read this year, it’s certainly the best one I’ve read in several years. What else can I say that Erren Geraud Kelly hasn’t already said better than me? Buy this book. I think Erren would be too humble to say that.      

Disturbing the Peace
            Erren Geraud Kelly
            NightBallet Press, 2013

Can You Bring Yourself?

By Victor Schwartzman

Target Audience Poetry Editor

Some poems are so in your face with their message, you wish they would back off.  Too much of anything is distasteful in modern society.  But some poems you wish would come closer—they seem intimate but provide no explaining detail.  In short, some poems wear their issue on their appendages, others seem remote from the reader, off in their own world.  Political rant or vague  reflection?  Too much/too little?  Advocacy poetry or literary poetry?  Does the poem bring itself to you, or do you have to bring yourself to the poem?

Welcome to the Target Audience inquiry into modern poetry.

Let’s start with something easy, where the poet clearly draws on childhood memories and you know what the poem is about.   

According to the bio on blood oranges, Chansonette Buck’s first poetry chapbook, she “spent her childhood ‘on the road’ as stepdaughter of a Black Mountain poet, living all over the American West, in England, and in Spain.”  (Her writing is available in various publications; her second poetry chapbook, desire lines, was published by Crisis Chronicles Press.)  That personal background totally informs the poem below. 

Do you think it was a delirious treat, growing up with famous poets?  Have you ever eaten with a poet?

back then (excerpted) 

i hated peter orlovsky
for touching me…

…as we passed
camel rock for the second
time i

drowsed between
his body and the body of
my brother…

“i hated peter orlovsky” is a grabber opening line.  It immediately involves you.  At first, with the ‘touching’ mention, you think Orlovsky is being creepy.  But no, he is being friendly.

Orlovsky is best known as Allen Ginsberg’s lover.  Ginsberg sits in front, with the narrator’s parents.  This car is a class society.  The ‘important’ people are up front.  (Ginsberg is very famous for one part of one poem.  Few people have read anything of his other than Howl, and fewer still have read more than Howl’s first section.  What did he think of that?)  Be that as it may, the patronizing, insensitive class society in the car is not the point, nor is it that Ginsberg is the most unread read poet in America.     

The point is that the five year old, dragged all over the map, is “falling asleep in a rage.”  Attempts to comfort her provoke the opposite response.  Orlovsky is showing “almost pity really” but what this kid really needs is a childhood. 

This poem is easy to understand.  back then is straightforward, reflecting the poet’s history.  Names are named.  back then’s style is identical to the other poems in blood oranges, Chansonette Buck’s first poetry chapbook.  Buck does not like capitals.  She does like short lines and crisp words.  You can feel her weighing each word, placing it on the page just so, occasionally creating an emphasis by using a few blank spaces.  A lot is packed into a little.    

All the poems in this review are taken blood oranges, published by NightBallet Press ($7; 123 Glendale Court, Elyria, Ohio 44035;;  The chap feels good.  Dianne Borsenik, the publisher, assembles the chaps herself.  A photo on the cover is a close-up of desolate gravelly ground, on which lie a pair of sunglasses and a drink container (possibly containing blood orange juice.)

Do you know blood oranges?  They are not a happy go lucky fruit.  They are not yellow sunshine baubles of the orchard, sweet to look at as well as to eat.  Nope.  Blood oranges are mutations (not that there’s anything wrong with being a mutation.)  They don’t look like a “normal” orange on the outside.  Inside, they are not orange at all but a creepy red.  They are often bitter, not sweet.  Yes, blood oranges are deliberately misleading.  Do not trust a blood orange.  If there is one fruit which should be kept from children, this is it. 

Never taunt a blood orange. 

Yet Buck named her first poetry chap after this devious produce. 

Nor did she write a whole chap of poems about blood oranges.  They are mentioned only once, and here it is:

blood oranges

the dishes
in the sink
the water
turned grey

left the blood
oranges on the counter
stained the counter
red   left  

the coffee
in the pot    burned
the coffee dry

the ruins
of the day
ruins crumbled
into dream left
the dream, dream
subsided into now

left now
to the blood

Things do not appear to be going well at home. 

Dirty dishes in the sink, blood oranges staining the counter, coffee burned, the day itself awful.  Like the kitchen, the narrator’s life is a mess.  Once life was lovely, but those dreams crumbled and have now shrunk into blood oranges, which stain the counter, supposedly sweet oranges which are bitter and look like bloody death. 

This poem creates atmosphere.  You know it is about something, but what? 

You’re asking the wrong question.  What is important is the creation of a moment, a feeling,  reflecting a person’s life.  Part of what makes poetry different is that a poem can go for the moment while explaining nothing.  A short story, you usually provide plenty of information about what is going on.  But a poem can be about feeling regret for something never revealed or explained. 

Poets can get away with that, because, well because it’s poetry.  Or, one type of poetry. 

Why name a whole chap after blood oranges?  Possibly because many poems reflect the whole  bitter/sweet blood orange deception—a life which should be sweet is bitter.  For instance, in the following poem don’t look for names to be named.  Do look for what it’s like to be a child deliberately diminished:

crawl space (excerpted)

cat’s eyes shining
in the crawl space
underneath the porch
in the dark of midsummer, i

was five when he murdered me
with metonymy

Wikipedia: “Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept….  For instance, "Hollywood" is used as a metonym (an instance of metonymy) for the US cinema industry….

Clear now?  This poem also creates a remarkable atmosphere, with creepy glowing cat’s eyes in the sole refuge.  But what is it about?  murdered by metonymy?  The line sounds great but what does it mean?  Killing the narrator (‘s sense of self) by associating her too much with something else?    

She wasn’t compared to the cat.  Could it be that the man was creepily under the porch waiting for her?  Was it his eyes glowing?  No.  But that interpretation and others are possible.  All of them add up to this little kid not having a happy childhood. 

The poem is haunting, more so because it does not provide obvious answers.  As noted, a poem can aim to capture an emotion, not what created the emotion.  In a way this helps readers make the poem theirs.  (Once the poem is published, readers play the major role in defining it, no matter what the poet wants.  It’s out there and has its own life now, thank you.)  (By the way, it is likely the poet might say “Not spelling it out?  What on earth are you talking about?  It’s so obvious!”)    

Critics like to fit art into slots, it makes it easier to write about them.  Buck’s poetry fits into no slot. 

“Literary Poetry” is pretty much what it sounds like—poems concentrating on lovely language, not harsh reality.  It is unfair to say such poems are academic exercises, and this reviewer feels bad already, but beautiful/haunting/heartwarming words and images feel pointless without content.  Buck shares with literary poetry the use of spare language.  Does she share its frequent lack of meaningful content?  No. Just because there are no details does not mean there is no content.  There is plenty of content, but it isn’t for sissies.  It is a different type of content, and you have to ask the right questions.    

You must bring yourself to this type of poem.

occluded memory  (excerpted)

what you first
thought empty water
is a swarm of fish: first
a ripple, then
a flicker of fin,
a long body…

…the speculum opens
on a rancid tampon
against your cervix, oh!

First the unexpected flow of wildlife in water, then the wildlife in you, which turns out to be blocked by a rotting tampon whose smell you’re in denial about.  Time for a shower. 

Why occluded memory?  Occluded means ‘blocked’ and it’s gotta count for something that this poem features a stuck tampon.  There are a lotta fish flowing outside, inside’s been non-flowing for a long time.  And there’s been a rancid smell but you’ve ignored it.  Symbolically or allegorically or something, the fish rushing to the surface could be a blocked memory/experience being unfreed.      

In which case, given the whole ignored rotten tampon deal, this particular memory sounds better occluded than unoccluded. 

Or, maybe it’s about creativity being blocked by a bad memory/experience. 

Or what if the womb is associated with opposites: growth (the fish) and repression (the tampon.) 

Yes, these arguments make no sense, but still?    

The tart “so that’s/where that smell/came from.” is playful and pointed, very much in your face, which, since it involves a smelly tampon, is problematic.  It’s an offhand remark, if that is the proper phrase.  The tampon is blockage.  However, now that it is gone, it does not look as if the memory will be less occluded.  Those last lines say it all about the narrator’s attitude.  

Since we’re pushing things to the brink, why not stand on that edge.  In parapet the narrator speaks to someone standing on a ledge (or herself).  Emptiness and concrete (or something else bad) are below.  Back to the sky, the person faces the stone (building) (pedestal) (sacrificial alter).  One hour has gone by, forever for the person on the ledge, a short time for the narrator.  However, the person on the ledge apparently (SPOILER) would have waited forever for the narrator, whereas the narrator is almost impatient (jump!).  

Is jumping involved?  There is a ledge, but the jumping could be physical or metaphysical.  Interpretations are open.  Perhaps this isn’t someone standing on a ledge waiting to jump at all.  Perhaps it is about lovers breaking up.  One stands outside the apartment door, ready to jump, to leap away, the other inside, watching.  Perhaps the person outside wondered if she was truly loved.  Perhaps insecurities drove them apart.  In which case, the final response is ironic. 

OR this poem could be about something else.  Can you bring yourself to this poem?   

parapet (excerpted)

you stand
on a parapet 


against the stone
your back

to the sky

how much
are you now? 

 as if
as if

NightBallet Press editor’s note:  Schwartzman’s review, while excellent and in-depth and very much appreciated, used the full versions of Buck’s poems.  As editor of Buck’s chap, I took the liberty of offering only excerpts in the review, in order to preserve the integrity and  burst of freshness in the original blood oranges.

Review of John Burroughs' The Eater of the Absurd by John Thomas Allen, on Goodreads, Feb. 2013

John Burroughs, hailing from highlands of Ohio, has a unique poetic gift: he can sound like two or three great poets at one time, and still retain a sense of humor.

"Art Achoke"

I feel I need
to write more
but sometime
I feel I talk too
much and the people
who listen already know
or misunderstand
and the people who don't
don't care anyway
and sometimes it's easier
to find and consume
busier work
and choke"

This is a calm distillation of nearly every poet's (unless you're Superman) struggle to get down and work, away from the often irrelevant distractions of the external world. Burroughs has a voice that is reminiscent of Bukowski, Jarry, and Lewis Carroll with some erotica thrown in here and there. He is most definitely a poet for the common man: the struggling, the sufferer, and his work commingles into a compassion which is universal. He is not to be missed.

Review of John Burroughs' The Eater of the Absurd on Yahoo

"Excellent Absurdist Poetry" by Shelley Chernin, Feb. 08, 2013

The title of John Burroughs' book of poems, "The Eater of the Absurd," sets the stage for a collection of poems that, like the Theatre of the Absurd, expresses life's humor, frustrations, and tragedy. This poet, like the Absurdists, demonstrates through a series of poem-stories, the breakdown in communication that inevitably results from the human predicament--how to live when existence has no meaning.

As the title suggests, the reader of this book is in for some seriously enjoyable wordplay. Here, language is fractured and reconstituted in new configurations, yet still betrays, still fails to provide purpose or meaningful human connection. For example, from "Three Dot Night": "...words are whores who/lie and belie us/lay and betray us/beget filet forget and gray us." But there is humor to offset the frustration. "The Beater of the Absurd" slyly winks at Antonin Artaud, the Surrealist who had an enormous influence on the Absurdists:

Aunt Onan
Art toe
Food fetish
Hart rose two ho
Training weal
Sealing fancy
Spin sigh cull
Jack bean imp pull

This beautifully printed and constructed collection of poems ends with "Lens," a poem-monologue that includes stage directions for the reader. Deconstructing and then reconstructing the words "violence" and "silence," the poem indicts our culture of consumption, shows us "stuck in the same groove" as we are manipulated by outside forces. Finally, when words are distilled to their essence, the speaker finds a way forward:

Time to pull out the needle
stop churning the handle
look in a mirror
for a moment
put my vy-
ing and my sigh-
ing aside
and focus
my lens.

Review of John Burroughs' The Eater of the Absurd by Buffy Franco on Goodreads:

The Eater of the Absurd is deadly serious play, and some of the most rhythmic poetry in recent memory.  Burroughs grants us a voyeuristic glimpse into his liason with the written word, laden with irony so ripe that it drips deliciously from the page.

A Review by Victor Schwartzman of Sometimes, Illinois (Steve Brightman)

"Tastes too good to be bitter"
By Victor Schwartzman
Target Audience Poetry Editor

There isn’t much widely known about Steve Brightman, though in this marvelous information age we supposedly know everything about everyone. But we don’t, so get ready for a surprise.

He should be widely known. Brightman has poetry chaps to his credit, does frequent readings and has been featured in anthologies. Here is a bio from online site Two Hawks Quarterly: "Steve Brightman lives in Kent, OH, and frequently worships at PNC Park, the finest cathedral in North America. His poems have been featured in Pudding House, Origami Condom, A Trunk of Delirium and he was included in the Ohio Bicentennial Anthology titled "I Have My Own Song For It: Modern Poems about Ohio"."

FYI, PNC is a baseball stadium. Apparently Steve has a religious connection with the Pittsburgh Pirates, possibly praying for them to play more productively [2012: 79 wins-83 sighs]. Brightman also owns a Pionus Parrot, possibly purchased from a Pittsburgh Pirate.

However, you should know you do not need to know any of this. You don’t need to know about Brightman’s life or if he has been published. But you should know about his work--but, not to get personal, you don’t [as didn’t this reviewer until two weeks ago].

By no means feel guilty about your ignorance. This reviewer doesn’t. Just because neither you nor this reviewer [I swore never to use I in a review but now this reviewer is getting fed up with the pretense] have heard of Steve Brightman [although now I have heard about him, and thought you should hear about him too] does not mean you should feel guilty. Nor should you feel regret, although by now you are, perhaps because you’re still reading, so please be advised that there will be help later.

What you should know before reading farther is, first, none of Brightman’s poems appear to be about baseball [in chase you were worried, although you should feel ashamed of yourself for denying poetry about the National Pastime.] Second, how much Brightman draws on his personal experience is unknown, but let’s hope he draws on little or none of it. His narrators go through more than a few breakups, though they never blame the other person. Unpleasant life experiences or not, at times Brightman’s philosophy is straight out of Moby-Dick, in reverse:

Big Fish in a Big Pond

The belly

of the whale

isn’t big enough

to hold us all and

even if it were,

the whale has

better things to do

than swim in

deep blue circles

waiting for us

to decide.

We all have a destiny inside that belly. Not inside a shark, which would chomp and destroy us, but a whale, which would swallow us intact. Inside, we wait to be digested. Life adds up to how long it will take us to decide to be food, and whether the belly will wait. While there is some comfort in knowing the belly is not big enough to hold all of us, there is less comfort in knowing the belly could care less. To it we are not so much miniscule fish in a big pond as we are potential food it is not even hungry for.

Many poets are optimistic. There’s all that stuff about pretty blue skies and flowers. Brightman doesn’t write about nice crap, but he does cushion the sharper edges.

Fast Last Breath

To be human is

to say goodbye.

Everything in this world

is a beautiful reminder:

the cathedral,

the cancer, the crow,

the crocus upon crocus,

upon blooming crocus

in the sunny early

days of April.

So, too, was the day

last year when you

didn’t recognize the sag

of your own face

in the rigid mirror.

And the photograph,

the fire bell,

the fast last breath and

the look of surprise,

the left turn into traffic,

the left behind,

the leftovers on

a chipped plate

in an otherwise empty

refrigerator that hums

too loudly as you

close the door

behind you.

Whoa. What starts out as global shrinks very quickly to the specific. Everything becomes a memory—in particular, one’s life with one’s partner. The reader is set up in the first stanza, and then the second goes from the global to the specific, where one’s partner not realizing s/he is unhappy, but the narrator does. And, over the course of a year, the narrator is unable to make it good enough. There is some funny wordplay in unfunny circumstances, but underneath it is a powerful sorrow--the basis for the narrator’s sad reflections about little memories are rooted in the other person splitting, and the presumed destruction of those happy memories.

Steve Brightman’s poems are short, the lines are short, the words are, if not short, simple. There are few flourishes, no pandering. Colour is inserted as needed, with fine results. The poems featured in this review have been taken from Sometimes, Illinois, a chap produced by NightBallet Press (123 Glendale Court, Elyria, Ohio 44035;; The chap is new and rare—only forty copies were produced in the first printing, all assembled by hand by NightBallet’s Dianne Borsenik. Probably one of the few places on earth where you can read these poems is right here at Target Audience:

Need to Stay

He never told the story

the same way twice.

Sometimes it was in Illinois,

sometimes it was in Ohio.

Sometimes he was on a bike,

sometimes he was walking

in front of her house.

I thought he was going daft.

Memories ain’t the movies,

I know now. Words cheapen,

Words corrode the details.

Reflective monologues kill.

The quiet skips of the heart

need to stay clean, need to

stay tucked away in case

she leaves before you do.

Our narrator is not a happy guy. In the past, he listened to some fellow tell the "same" story over and over, regularly changing details so it was never the "same". The narrator thought the person was "daft", which is a kinder, gentler characterization than "raving loon." But then something happens to the narrator, and his gentler approach to life evaporates. "Now" telling someone stories from your life is pointless. Why pointless? Not because of changing key facts so there is never one clear version of a memory. It’s the very act of trying to relive or remember that is the problem.

And why is that a problem? Because, in one interpretation, if your current sweetie is about to split, you want to preserve your version of the truth. Especially when you are not the one initiating the split and want your partner to stay. Need to stay is the title, not Memories are unreliable. All those memories of the good times, the quiet skips of the heart, must be kept hidden, unheard. Why? So if you’re dumped you, you’ll have your side ready?

This poem is not a ray of sunshine for the love stricken.

On the outside, Brightman’s poems look easy going, even simple. Below the surface there is often bad news. Brightman’s narrator has not learned the secret of making people happy (nod a lot and don’t lend money). All of those rejections lead to that awful monster lurking in everyone’s closet: regret. And regret is a monster because once you start, you always look back and never forward.

Under Luggage and Picture Frames

Long live the shadows

when you let them.

Long live the dueled ghosts

of regret in darkened closets.

They coil like adders

under luggage and linens.

Make your peace with them

before you unearth them.

You will not corral them

once they see the light of day.

Ain’t that the truth. Everyone’s life is littered with mistakes, some of which hurt other people. Some mistakes can be corrected or at least compensated for. But the ones where you acted like a total jerk, where you were offensive, a bull in a computer store, the ones where you destroyed something good, those mistakes linger. They linger because they are never resolved. If you open yourself up to them, if you let the snake out of the closet, it will bite.

Part of the charm of his poems is Brightman’s writing ability. His poems [and arguably this review], mix colourful spot-on metaphors with topics we know too well, to produce new insights into old issues. [Brightman’s are the new insights. There are arguably no new insights in this review, nor in any review by this reviewer, because his reviews consistently point out the obvious. However, because what is obvious to some readers is not obvious to others, including the poet, poems are always included with the alleged analysis, and, also, because adding them pads with the review’s word count.]

Be all that as it may, and it may be, an example of what is obvious to some but possibly murky to others follows:

Long Gone from Illinois

There were no

buffalo head nickels

in his desk after he’d died.

I didn’t really expect to find any.

Somewhere in my grieving head,

I’d known that the buffalo

were long gone from Illinois

by the time he’d left for

the Pacific to fight the Japs.

He liked to tell the story

about the fist fight

he’d gotten into.

He spent time in the brig

for punching an officer,

who was out of uniform with

a bunch of other men

playing volleyball.

He used to say that

every day he spent in the brig

made him wish

he’d punched that loud-mouthed

lieutenant even harder.

He’d say to take two things

from his story:

‘Give em hell’ and

‘Get your money’s worth.’

He never talked about

his time in Guam, though.

He didn’t have to.

If we touched him

while he was sleeping,

he woke up swinging.

Here is a fellow who seems cheerful enough on the surface, but something seethes underneath. Being in the Army during a war can be a profound, positive experience—soldiers are part of a huge team fighting for a common good. Veterans have many funny stories of life on the base, but rarely any about combat. Being in a war can have horrific effects on all involved.

The narrator describes a man, an older close relative, possibly his father, who had few illusions about life. Most of that life appears tied to being a soldier. There were no ‘buffalo nickels’ in his drawer, no daydreams. He believed in living fully—getting your money’s worth and standing up for yourself, and when standing up isn’t good enough, giving them hell. Perhaps the nightmares drove him to embrace being fully awake.

Brightman writes about not so much specific problems as about the people who have the problems. He does not write about break-ups but does write about the people involved. Even poems that are statements are often reactions to problems.

Speaking of which, a major Brightman issue is, obviously, regret. Certainly the man in the last poem had severe regrets from Guam. He did not get help. But you were promised help, and in this last poem Brightman looks at what stops us when the problem is right there in front of us and we can solve it. The poem succinctly lists the helpful rationalizations, even bailing-out of suicide. We let the problem continue when we feel that twitch and are afraid to act.

Waiting for the Twitch

The angle of retreat is always there.

It sits there, a dishonest Buddha,

beckoning us through cloud weak skies.

The angle of retreat is always there.

Our internal geometries put our jugular

to the blade, waiting for the twitch.

The angle of retreat is always there.

Phantom dragon need not leave its lair

when the enemy fears itself more.


White Girl Problems by John Dorsey,  NightBallet Press, 2012  Review by BL Kennedy at The Gypsy Art Show, Wednesday August 29, 2012

One Thousand Dead Abbie Hoffmans

I will remember you this way:

bong in hand
inhaling the fears of a thousand dead revolutionaries

in the Sacramento sun
where Abbie Hoffman became a rosary

What can I say?

You knew mambo when you saw it

Knew dreams by the way
They kissed your skin
For a taste of freedom.

This is (from) the new chapbook by John Dorsey. I like Dorsey’s poetry, but there is one major problem. Having recently seen the poet read from this book at Luna’s Café in Sacramento, California, I cannot get the experience out of my head. Dorsey’s reading voice tends to linger in one’s psyche. I simply cannot read these poems without the experience of hearing the boom of his voice. With that said, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of this book. As you read these poems, you constantly have the sense of the living voice of the poet.

Check out The Gypsy Art Show


Knife Edge & Absinthe- The Tango Poems by Lyn Lifshin, NightBallet Press, 2012
Reviews by Alice Pero and Cindy Hochnman

These tango poems are jazz, sweet, slinky.They wrap their legs around you and then leap out, leaving your heart beating. They pull you in as only tango does, all passion and juice, cold and hot, smooth and spicy...your head left slightly off-center, off the main beat, not knowing whether to breathe or not. Lifshin is dancer and poet and if anyone could embrace tango in words, it is she. Any poem quoted from this book will make you stand up, quiver slightly and be ready to fall off into the ecstatic abyss of eroticism:

"Tango Before the Light Goes Blood/streaks tourmaline sky./put on your ruby skirt,/transparent as rose gauze/fishnet scissors under./When stars glaze the/tango floor....."

This little book will leave a tart, sweet/sour taste and you will crave more and more.

--Alice Pero

As far as KNIFE EDGE & ABSINTHE (ha - who was it that said "absinthe makes the heart grow fonder" - lol) - goes, it is a beautiful book. I read it one sitting on the subway. The poems in this book are just wonderful - reinforcing why Lifshin is my favorite poet in the world! You would think, with all the work I've read and reviewed of hers, that nothing could surprise me, but these poems did - they make me want to write poetry, they also make me want to take TANGO lessons (I'm serious!)

--Cindy Hochman


Sleeping Beauty’s Revenge   George Wallace  NightBallet Press 2011  Price: $
by Philip Kobylarz

   Simply put, the poetry of George Wallace defines the glory that is our vernacular. The internationally renowned writer and author of twenty books/ chapbooks continues to mine his personal reserve of pure ecstasy in this new collection. The longtime organizer, mentor, and life force in the poetry scenes of both coasts delivers in this chapbook that ranges from the quasi-sentimental to the overtly skewed in a wry voice that is tinged always with his profound sense of humor and being.

   It might be a bit myopic to assert that everything Wallace writes is an ode, yet his poetry of sheer praise follows the tradition of the narrative infused with the elation of the lyric. How he tweaks and explodes the form is in cloaking his verses in a veneer of informality, hypnotic cadence, and topic choice that the reader rarely associates with the form. In many respects, he is writing the un-ode-able ode that in a very real way subverts the reader’s expectations.

   Subjects include the beauty of a solitary woman in a laundrette, an epic fail at an open mic, East Coast hurricanes, imaginary musical personae, unjust wars, and his own ballsy much, much too premature epitaph. That Wallace is often characterized as that vague beast known as a “performance poet” is a red herring-esque: though an accurate aspect of his genius, these poems breach beyond spoken word pieces and flow, informed by a Beat dynamic, off the page.

   It’s his refined lyrical sensibility combined with a Hopper-like eye for the seemingly mundane that alights upon the tiny ironic instances of beauty overlooked by most that empower his verse. He involves the reader, immediately. Would that it were that more poems would begin like this and take us to places and scenes we want to inhabit:

                        Oh say can you stop these crazy

                        chains of love from happening

                        in underground crypts of secret

                        imaginary nightclubs– all over

                        america tonight trains going

                        nowhere fast while inside her

                        head it’s 3 a.m. & she’s alone

                        Iin a laundry room– 17 yrs old

                        knock kneed romantic tender in

                        years– humming to her beautiful

                        self– & reading danielle steele–

Wallace become the vessel that transports the reader to the hipness and requisite sadness that comments on what is universally true and maybe uniquely culturally specific: the desire for something more.

   There is a feeling that the poet has inhabited Whitman’s sense that this often defunct experiment we are participating in nevertheless is the source for hope however seemingly hopeless it might seem. Ever the social commentator, Wallace takes to task the “. . . land/ of the free home of the ad/ hominem–” and “motherfuckers w/ plantation/ logic and get-away-for-the/ weekend plans  . . .”  He rages eloquently for the re-appearance for our collective unconsciousness and a no shit zeitgeist that has for so long been absent during the recent corporatization of the American soul.

   Much like a Broadway hit where people walk away whistling the tunes, this collection stays with the reader and makes him or her want to quote titles like “Clint Eastwood Wouldn’t Fuck You” and lines like “because reality’s for/ cry babies & just because/ you experienced something/ doesn’t make it true”.   

   Wallace’s verbal reality– impassioned and wild and veritably unique– is exactly what Louis Simpson tried to define in his archetypical piece “American Poetry”. Except for the fact that Wallace’s art is, in his ability to remind us via the speakers of his poems, brethren to the American idiom he has mastered: entirely and wonderfully human.

First published in Home Planet News-The Independent Literary Review (