Monday, December 2, 2013

Don Kingfisher Campbell's An Alternate Sky

     Don Kingfisher Campbell, poet, educator, and editor of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly is not an artist who can be pigeon-holed into one specific literary category. He proves this truth with his newest chapbook, An Alternate Sky (copyright 2013 Don Kingfisher Campbell).
     If you know Campbell (and I do), then you can’t help but like him. He’s an amiable guy from Pasadena who works hard to make sure that he - and all the poets he nurtures - are fairly represented, respected, and have a turn at the mic - and he carries this principle into his poetry.
     An Alternate Sky contains 36 poems written in a similar style (narrative, short stanzas), but each one has a distinctive voice. There’s Campbell the romantic (“Fuck to the Future”, “Seven Courses”), the teacher/facilitator (“Workshop”, “Prose Poem Inspired by Perfection”, “Summer School Senryu”), the social critic-commentator (“Not So Still Lives”, “Big Bangs”, “CNN Universe”), and my favorite (and where I believe he shines best), Campbell the dreamer-philosopher (“Did I Planet”, “Issa Frequency”, “Curiosity”). Campbell is a poet who respects his work and audience in equal measure. Each poem visually and lyrically unfolds in the mind of the reader like a series of well-crafted films, as in the poem, “Curiosity,” a revelation of what gifts Campbell has gleaned from viewing the Mars Rover Curiosity’s pictures from the Red Planet:

Why can’t I walk
on this pebbly dirt?

Why can’t I traipse
up rocky brown slopes?

Why can’t I climb,
ridge by ridge, plateau?

Just because it is too far
to reach without a ship,

just because there’s not
enough money for a mission,

just because I will be dead
before an expedition leaves.

At least, I can enjoy the robot
photographs from the rover,

and without hesitation believe
I am seeing familiar earth,

minus plants, animals…
now sporting human-made debris.

Campbell the poet has much to teach us about the nature of fair-play, with ourselves and in relation to how we as wordsmiths interact with our poetry. With An Alternate Sky, it’s a lesson many writer-poets can learn and refer back to in the future.

Note: For those of who weren’t fortunate enough to take advantage of Poetry Super Highway’s "9th Annual Great E-book Free For All", you can still purchase Campbell’s newest collection, An Alternate Sky, as a gift for the poetry lover this holiday season, or better yet, as a gift to oneself.

An Alternate Sky, copyright 2013 Don Kingfisher Campbell, 36 pages, $10 (includes shipping and handling. Details at )

© 2013 marie lecrivain

Monday, November 18, 2013

Zarina Zabrisky's We, Monsters

We, Monsters (© 2013 Numina Press), the debut novel of emerging writer Zarina Zabrisky is the literary equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting: a multi-layered, amazing, and seductive mess. Before I begin, let me say that Zabrisky has done something I have yet to do -  write a novel. However, as a fellow storyteller and a reader who likes to follow the evolutionary arc of a writer’s work, I appreciate what Zabrisky has achieved.
We, Monsters is the story of Rose, a Russian emigre who lives the American dream: successful husband, beautiful children, and house in the ‘burbs. Rose nurses aspirations to be a writer, which her husband doesn’t understand and the rest of the people in her life patently ignore. She has a rich fantasy life born out of her Russian literary heritage, her need to escape the banalities of her current existence, and the traumas of her childhood. She applies for a position as a dominatrix in a dungeon to research material for her book. Predictably, the further Rose delves into the world of BDSM, the more difficult it becomes for her to keep the parts of her life - as well as her past and present - from clashing together.
Running through each chapter of We, Monsters is a series of footnotes that explain Rose’s psychological pathology. The reader may find this intrusive. Indeed, it takes a measure of concentration not to get distracted from Zabrisky’s prose. In the heart of the story, Rose meets “Motherfucker Mike,” the most creepy (and litmus test) of the dungeon clients. MM is indirectly introduced via Rose’s study of a book called Deviants, an in-depth treatise on BDSM behavior. Rose’s first encounter with MM turns We, Monsters on its head. From this point the story instantly becomes coherent and cohesive even as Rose’s internal and external worlds fall apart.
What I like best about We, Monsters are not just the disjointed narratives that finally meld together, but the characters Zabrisky creates out of thin air. Each person in We, Monsters -  Rose’s husband Luke; her children, Nick, Olga and Roxanne; her fellow mistresses Mommy, Zoe, Greta, and Susanna; even the Latina gas station attendant and the quirky clients come to life through the lens of Rose’s fractured consciousness. With a few well-chosen words and a humorous tone, Zabrisky paints a full-blown, thoroughly believable portrait:

The session was held in the Dungeon. The spy turned out to be a fragile, red-faced man in his seventies. He had the radiant blue eyes of an iconic saint and an infectious laugh. He offered us a bribe of Moet champagne and two glasses.
“It’s a bribe,” he chuckled.
I hesitated, but Susanna gulped hers down, so I followed her example and soon felt all bubbly and light-headed. As we tumbled between the ob-gyn table and the golden shower tray, Susanna transformed.
Her angelic face twisted, she scowled; her pupils widened, making her olive-green eyes almost black. Her upper lip twitched and raised and for the first time I noticed her sharp, uneven teeth, like those of a small rodent, a squirrel maybe. Her gentleness was gone; she’d turned into a wicked bloodsucking witch, and once again reminded me of Potemkin, Potemkin the Huntress, a dying mouse hanging between her bloodstained teeth.
“We are mean! Nasty! Baaad!”
Her voice was bubbling, like the champagne we were drinking. I felt adrenaline rushing through my veins and my heart pulsing.
“I will torrrturrre you in a KGB way! You will forrrget your own name!”
I caught a glimpse of my burning face in the mirror next to Susanna’s; all we’d need in order to fly was two brooms. Susanna cursed and spit and grunted. We were shouting, hitting, kicking, fighting, hurting, and it felt breathtakingly sweet. We drank more champagne, and pushed the old man around on the floor. He was laughing like a baby and shoving dollars into our thongs… - (from the chapter “A Spy Fantasy/We, Monsters)

As with IRON, Zabrisky is unapologetic, as well as forthright. With We, Monsters, Zabrisky takes a great risk in alienating the reader with diametrically opposed points of view, but her gamble pays off handsomely with a novel that won’t soon be forgotten, and in some cases, may leave the reader questioning his/her own reality. I wish more writers would take this risk, as it would, in my opinion, bring literature back to where it needs to be, in the realm of Art.

(Note: We, Monsters will be released in December 2013. Check Zabrisky’s website for where/when to purchase, and author dates)

(We, Monsters, ©  2013 Zarina Zabrisky, ISBN 978-0-9842600-4-1, A Vox Nova Book, published by Numina Press, 300 pages, price TBA)

© 2013 marie lecrivain

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Alex S. Johnson's The Matador of Mirrors

Today, there’s almost no one who can write as well, and at the same time, prolifically as author Alex S. Johnson (The Doom Hippies, Black Tongues of the Illuminati). Daily, anyone can log onto Facebook and find two or three new posts of Johnson's scarily brilliant poetry or prose. If a reader desires to become more acquainted with Johnson's work, then his newest chapbook, The Matador of Mirrors (©  2013 Lucid Play Publishing), is a great place to start.

Matador delivers some of the best of Johnson's writing in a series of shorts (poetry and flash fiction), that will leave the reader, who may think she's prepared, dead flat on her proverbial back from the onslaught of Johnson's genius. Johnson lives in Bizarro World (he's listed as a top writer of bizarro fiction on Wikipedia), and he comes by his writing gift naturally (he's the son of Steven Johnson, noted artist and “Accidental Futurist). If one is to read bizarro fiction and poetry, especially Johnson's, then, one must come into the process with two things: an appreciation for the absurd, and an openness to the gorgeous variations of Johnson's vision. Matador opens with a short prose poem, “Body Art,” a paean to what could be described as a bizarro goddess – beautiful, shocking, humorous, and primal:

Her body was a journey. She became an exploration of golden temples, smiling pagodas, oracular energy. She sipped at the narratives that snaked up from the chinks in the stone. They cooled her throat, only she wanted more: diamonds that became wine, gems of all sizes, shapes and colors that spoke the language of hone. Singing draughts of perfume cleansed the air. A stock of recyclable babies clad in graveskin. The world riddled with tiny marble wounds that spat out forests where the tips of every branch yielded clockwork dynasties.

Matador, like its title promises, leads the reader on a rapid turn-on-the-dime dance through the doors of Johnson's perception: “Imaginary Criminals,” briefly drops the reader into a world of creepy surrealist film noir; “Today She is French,” explores a day in the life of a young woman whose imagination and casual donning of pop culture personas is her only escape from a dystopian home life; and “Matador of Mirrors,” beautiful and peripherally continues a journey through the constantly shifting dreamscape introduced in “Body Art.”

My only regret about Matador is that, at the end, I want more; more absurdity, weird beauty, and more time to immerse myself in Johnson's universe. The Matador of Mirrors is going on my permanent shelf, to be brought out again when I need a creative kick in the pants, and, more importantly, when I desire to read a truly great piece of literature.

The Matador of Mirrors, Alex S. Johnson, ©  2013 Lucid Play Publishing, (, 30 pages, $8.00 + shipping when ordered through the publisher website.

"Body Art" content © 2013 Alex S. Johnson
Review content © 2013 marie lecrivain

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Larry Colker's Amnesia and Wings

O misbegotten fool
in pool of inklings
things cannot be clear... - “Lyric”/Amnesia and Wings

Above is a gorgeous snippet of poetry from Larry Colker’s debut collection, Amnesia and Wings (© 2013 Tebot Bach Press). Most first collections are heavily laden with verse. To be honest, this handicap can turn off a reader to a poet’s future work. The opposite is true with Colker’s collection: 32 poems bound into one slim volume - which, in point of fact, turns out to be the perfect amount of poetry.

Colker, a careful bard, writes with the artful restraint of a man who's lived most of his life walking a fine line between the mundane and waking worlds. Like an alchemist, Colker has distilled his life experiences (mostly about love, and up to this point), into a series of beautifully written poems that are a genuine pleasure for the reader in which to immerse herself. Colker’s not afraid of linguistic gymnastics; quite a few of his poems could be put down to workshop exercises, but a touch of self-deprecating humor saves the day, as in the piece “Lunch Poem”:

Today I’m eating Brazilian,
three kinds of meat on a

Big knife!

The woman I nearly started an affair with
was - is -

Big knife!

She tasted like this fried banana,
sugary, fragrant, yielding,

Big knife!

I tried to give my marriage another chance;
kissed artistic, sexy, portugues-inflected Amalia

Big knife!

While the theme of love dominates Amnesia and Wings, Colker also explores other avenues; family (“Projector”), mythical archetypes (“Eros in the Heartland,” “Legend”), and the growing sense of one’s own morality (“China,” “Crossing Over (Exhibit #204)”). Though Colker is careful, he's not sparing of himself or his subjects. Each poem is bracketed by the conviction of a man who has no qualms in sharing and accepting the variegated, truthful totality of a fascinating and well-lived life. Few contemporary poets are capable of making that commitment to themselves or to their work.

Amnesia and Wings deserves a place on every poet’s bookshelf.

Amnesia and Wings,  © 2013 Larry Colker, Tebot Bach Press, ISBN 978-1-893670-6-31, 45 pages, $16.

Article content © 2013 marie lecrivain
poetic content © 2013 Larry Colker

Monday, July 22, 2013

Michelle Angelini aka Rina Rose's Between the Silence and Sound: Poetry and Photography of Rina Rose

   Local L.A. poet Michelle Angelini's aka Rina Rose's debut chapbook Between the Silence and Sound: Poetry and Photography of Rina Rose (copyright 2013 Rina Rose Publications), offers a fun mix of words and images that are locally inspired, interesting and accessible.

   Angelini, an East Hollywood resident, writes from the heart with skill and a touch of humility. There's no hubris in Angelini's poems, but there's warmth, humor and compassion. There are poems about past loves (“Unchanged Minds,” and “Past Magic”); passages that reveal the humanity in those society refuses to acknowledge, aka the homeless ("Too Many Sunrises”); elegies dedicated to the loss of youth to war (“The Last Plane Out of Persia”), and poems that explore inner and external archetypes ('Winged Epistle,” and “When She Smiles”). A third of the book is filled with poems and images dedicated to Angelini's unabashed love of the animal kingdom, in particular, her cat Sasha, but if Mark Twain extolled the virtues of felines and still remains one of America's most beloved authors, so can Angelini.

    The only downside, (and it's a slight one), are the numerous nature photos in Between the Silence and Sound, which are grouped in batches of three. The photos are lovely, but they so small that the colors and the details are obscured; the reader may find these images to be a distraction, however, the poetry more than makes up for it. What I like best about Between the Silence and Sound is that Angelini refused to hold back on showcasing both of her artistic loves - poetry and photography - which is a trend I hope will continue in the realm of DIY publishing. I look forward to Angelini's next book.

    Between Silence and Sound: Poetry and Photography of Rina Rose, Michelle Angelini aka Rina Rose, (copyright 2013 Rina Rose Publications), 978-1490437552 , 44 pages, $10.

© 2013 marie lecrivain

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Matias Viegener's 2500 Random Things About Me Too

Have you noticed how fashionable randomness is right now? Random is the new black. - 2,500 Random Things About Me Too

    The virtual documentation of our lives has become so commonplace (and, still continues, even while the NSA rifles through American citizens’ personal data) that the majority of people, including myself, almost don’t remember WHAT the world was like without social networks. Sadly, most of what is written into the ether is ignored. The truth is that the average person can’t cope with the onslaught of compulsive, collective thought. However, for artists like Matias Viegener, interacting with Facebook on a daily basis with a conscious artistic goal paid off with literary results: The memoir, 2500 Random Things About Me Too (copyright 2012 Les Figues Press).

   Viegener, a writer, and instructor at CalArts, decided to write 25 posts a day on Facebook - random things - until he reached 2,500 posts (I believe he reached more than that, but, for the purposes of the book, and this review, it’s officially “2,500”). In reality, this isn’t a big deal. Millions of FB members clog the Internet every day with meaningless drivel. The difference is this that Viegener created a highly personal memoir by not-so-randomly reconstructing the varied facets of his life.
   2500 opens with, People think I am American but inside I am foreign. (post 1, ch i); a great opening line for a memoir, but, one that’s not supposed to be intentional. Fortunately, the human brain is designed to recognize and sort through patterns of thought, and this is reflected in each chapter, though, with the non-sequential chapter numbers, one may be led to believe otherwise.
    Viegener reveals parts of himself that can’t help but tie together; real-time, intimate observations of his dying canine companion Peggy (I intend to let go of Peggy when the time is right. I think she still has a few more weeks. I’m mourning her a little now, while she’s still here to comfort me. She seems not to be suffering, just sort of evaporating. - post 7, ch liii);  pithy, in-the-moment views on art (Some people just pose in front of art. They want to be seen in its company - post 13, ch. ixxxix); sexual orientation (It is interesting that we don’t seem to think of homosexuality as innocent. - post 25, ch lxvii); an anecdotal history of his immigrant parents (My parents had an appreciation for certain things about American culture. Wooden ducks, decoys. Moonshine jugs. Collapsed barns. These must all sound like the cliches of Americana, but through my mother I came to see them as very exotic. - v. 6, ch xxviii); and, the impact of the death of his mother (I’d destroy every conceptual art piece on earth to spend an afternoon with my mother again.” - post 17, ch xci).

    Viegener spends a great deal of time consciously reflecting on the process of keeping his posts “random,” as well as the the effect his posts have on his FB friends (Sometimes people’s comments on my random things are better than my random things. - post 3, ch xxxiv). On the surface, the overall effect of 2500 could be construed as narcissistic, another subject which Viegener opines, however, that is not the case. Viegener has a highly disciplined and well-organized mind, which is reflected in his succinct and engrossing conversational style, and, in the spiral patterns of his narrative. He can’t help but go back to the most important topics - the foundations of his personal history, and those immediate things/incidents which eventually become woven into the tapestry of who Viegener has become/is becoming.  

    2500 Random Things About Me Too serves to the reader an invaluable lesson: in revealing ourselves, even in the virtual world, we cannot escape, and, we must come to terms with, the totality of who each of us “is,” especially under our own scrutiny.

2500 Random Things About Me Too, Matias Viegener, (copyright 2012 Les Figues Press,, 978-934254-35-6, 255 pages, $15.00

book content ©  2012 Matias Viegener
article content ©  2013 Marie Lecrivain

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Emilio and Enrique - Gonzalez Avenue poets' The Problem with Oxnard

The Problem with Oxnard, a small (literally) chapbook of poems by Emilio and Enrique – Gonzalez Avenue poets (copyright 2012 Emilio and Enrique - Gonzalez Ave poets - layout produced by Brass Tacks), presents a conundrum of sorts. Google the phrase “the problem with Oxnard,” and in the top three Internet searches is the comment “a small city with big problems.” Try to google the names of Emilio and Enrique, and one gets nothing... and, no response to my email query for information about this neat little chapbook. So, with that in mind, here is my assessment.

    Manifestos can come in any form – big, small, bombastic, unassuming. The cover, an image of a strawberry (one of the Ventura County's more popular crops), with an insert of the title, is intriguing in its simplicity. Oxnard packs a punch, with no apologies. The introduction explains, as many people are wont to forget, that Oxnard used to be part of what was once Mexico (or, Azteca, according to the authors). Anyone who has driven up the California Coast, or Route 126, will no doubt remember that the landscape is populated with fruit stands, and, in the warmer part of the year, with migrant workers who harvest the produce. The poets, whose roots go deep into the soil of Oxnard itself, invite the reader to experience the dichotomy that is Oxnard, with their straightforward and 'staccato' verse.

Oxnard contains seven poems, which seems a bit on the skimpy side, however, each little poem captures accurately, and beautifully, the sinister weirdness of living in a place millions obliviously travel through every year. The first poem, “Detour Use Gonzalez,” tells the story of life's goals being detoured, by circumstance, class oppression, and diminished expectations. From there, the next few poems “Often,Thirsty,” “The Migrants,” “Over the Land,” and “Land of Opportunity,” spell out the alienation, and, the discrimination, migrant workers, and their children, have faced/still face in land that once belonged to their ancestors (from “Over the Land:):

As we look out
Over the land, this land -
the land we manage
and harvest with our hands
we know it is not our earth
but that of men, with
strange children, who live
far away – their names
are on the paper that pays us -
but they never come
to these bountiful, dirty
beautiful acres we work
and have for years where we
hear our brown children cry
for beans and rice... never
the strawberries, kale
asparagus and flowers we pick -
and send to unknown tribes-
but the meager food of
an honest people who
are simply seeking
a better day.

    The overall tone of the poems in Oxnard are strong, and, infused with the dignity of the migrant workers the authors extol; that's what saves this little gem of a book from the falling into the ponderous whirlpool of angry political poetry. The other two poems “Oxnard,” and “Stars,” are as close to pastoral as I believe the poets can wax about the strange beauty of their home (from “Stars”):

The same star
on one side
of the sky -
then another;
emerald with
blue glints
over Oxnard -
appearing red
and orange
above the unlit
darkness of Highway 1 -
a scattering of them
to the south, to match
Palos Verdes; jumble
of jewels... confusing
how these myriad
points of light
owe so little
to our world.

    Here is the fun part: where to pick up a copy of The Problem with Oxnard. I emailed Brass Tacks Press. One of their editors/publishers answered my questions, and, was nice enough to let me know that Oxnard is self-published; as in, it's not officially part of the Brass Tacks Press catalog of books (ps: they have some awesome titles!). Brass Tacks lent their “aegis,” (production expertise), to the authors of Oxnard. Since Emilio and Enrique don't seem to check their email very often, the only place I can tell you to find a copy of Oxnard is at Skylight Books (1818 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, 90027), in the Art/Zine/Graphic Novel section of their store.

    The Problem With Oxnard successfully documents what most Californians prefer to forget; the sins of history cannot be concealed by the sweet smell of (agricultural/retail) commerce. Poets like Emilio and Enrique, will always remember, and, that is necessary.

  The Problem With Oxnard, (copyright Emilio and Enrique, Gonzalez Avenue poets, - layout done Brass Tacks Press_Mini Brass Tacks), 18 pages, $3, available at Skylight Books, .

poetry content © 2013 Emilio and Enrique - Gonzalez Avenue poets

article content © 2013 Marie Lecrivain