Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Suzanne' Lummis' Open 24 Hours

A review by guest blogger, PeggyDobreer

     Open 24 Hours, winner of The 2013 Blue Lynx Poetry Prize is an extraordinary volume of poetry by one of LA's own; master teacher, poet, and cultural icon, Suzanne Lummis. This is a double sassy book of poetry that even so, teeters on the edge of historical fiction, and delivers a guised but sophisticated curriculum.
     A long time teacher for UCLA Extension and independent workshops, Lummis's #9 Broken Rules poems, as in Broken Rules #3, "No past tense permitted":

 "Or try this: package it,
Mark it Was. Leave it in a locker
At the Greyhound Bus station."

and pieces dedicated to various poetic devices as in “Sad Poem In Winter - With Assonance, Consonance and Other Occasional Effects,”

 "..like a dream
Of Hollywood. Meanwhile
The rain strikes swollen rags,
shopping carts, the essential smashed flat Styrofoam cup.
I want to burn like a saint,
but I can't, so I'll smoke
my last menthol down to the butt.",

are an education unto themselves and of benefit to writers. Lummis is always teaching, as in, “Broken Rules #5, How To Write the Love Poem”:

"Don't say My soul longs for you,
Say, In this life I am occasioning a body
That needs yours. And wants."

     She breaks it down to the easiest equation. Poet? Life coach? Solvable. Certainly, in print.
The poems in this book sizzle on the page like a neon sign in a neglected neighborhood after closing. Lummis' crisp, sometimes caustic voice, and quick wit put us on guard as though we are 'in danger' (the title of her earlier collection.)

     The characters reveal themselves in short visual clips, almost like the flickering of the aforementioned neon:

"His wife is this heart-shaped
metallic balloon that got loose
and bobbed up high over
the jammed intersection..."

     The poems compel us to continue, like a dark metal stairwell down which we can hear the sound of our own heels descending. They have no dreamy penthouse views, no highfalutin' family traditions.
     They are fire escape poems, rooftops that might house broods of doves, slews of unsavory situations, and characters standing on their own lean  shadows, falling prey without fanfare, not a shred of schmaltz. These poems are fearless jumpers without gear.
     If you love the seeded underbelly of the streets of L.A., spiffed up with the glamor and intrigue of Hollywood noir, you will love Lummis' sensibilities, and you will want to have her books. If you don't yet, get them for sure. Soon you will find yourself watching old Raymond Chandler movies and visiting unsung landmarks you had forgotten existed. The books will become your late night bedfellows.
     But don't be a wimp. Lummis won't hold your hand. And she won't give the plot away without an investigation. If you want to know who dunnit, you'll have to follow the clues, be careful not to trip over the casualties. 

Open 24 Hours, © 2014 Lynx House Press (http://lynxhousepress.org/books/open-24-hours), ISBN 9780899241388, 80 pgs, $16.95 (U.S)

review content and author photo © 2014 Peggy Dobreer
poetry content/book cover art © 2014 Suzanne Lummis and Lynx House Press

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review of In the Pink: Short Stories by A.D. Winans

Warning: This Review Contains MATURE Content!

Writing a review about a collection of short stories from another era is daunting, but in the case of A.D. Winans In the Pink: Short Stories by A.D. Winans ( © 2014 Pedestrian Press), it needs to be done for the simple reason that history repeats itself, and literature, especially the personal narrative, can provide us with a better perspective on how to navigate tumultuous times successfully, either the second (or third) time around.

In the Pink recalls the 60’s Sexual Revolution, specifically in North Bay area of San Francisco. This time in history, of course, has been documented ad nauseum in film, art, and books to the point of overkill.This can’t be said about In the Pink, which slowly and almost deliberately peels off the rose-colored glasses that were synonymous with “free love,” and “peace.”

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, which Winans’ deftly reminds us in his straightforward, dark prose. The dawn of the American Sexual Revolution spawned a seamier side rife with the following: fetish exploration - along with a creepy touch of magical realism - in “Night of the Living Dildo”;  the up/down sides of anonymous sex in“Notes from a Crazy”; and unrealised desires that come to the fore in a sexually charged environment, as in “The Masseuse.” Winan’s characters are three-dimensional people; they are your neighbors, they are your family, imbued with equal amounts of loneliness, compassion and depravity. Winan chronicles these vignettes in simple and graphic detail, as in the story “Hotel Entella,” a tale of two lost souls, an unemployed writer, and a lonely widow, who, out of a reluctant need for intimacy, culminate their strange partnership with the truth laid bare:

She unlocked the door to the house, and escorted me into the living room taking off her coat and hanging it in in a nearby closet. She motioned for me to take a seat on the couch. She paused at the fireplace, and pointing to a painting on the wall. She said it was a portrait of her former husband.

“He was a kind man,” she said. “But he wanted a child in the worst way.I’m barren you know. I sometimes think he died prematurely because of this. He liked oral sex, but I denied him that too.I was such a prude in those days. He looked a lot like you when he was younger.”

I got up from the sofa and let her lead me into the master bedroom, It was a graveyard, total darkness. My eyes strained to adjust to the pitch-blackness. Even the bed sheets were black satin. I could hear the rustling of her clothes falling to the floor, and quickly joined her naked on the bed.

Almost immediately she settled herself down between my legs, resting her face on my navel, her hot breath stirring my passion. She stopped just short of my groin.

“Beside you - on the bed - pick it up,” she said.

I reached over to the opposite side of the bed, and was startled to find a flesh-like object in my hand. It was a two-foot doll with child-like flesh.

“Please,” she said, take it in your arms and hold it.”

I felt awkward, even a little sick to my stomach, but felt I owed her this small favor. i picked up the doll and cradled it in my arms. She instantly went wild. Her teeth scraping against the head of my cock. moaning hungrily as she tried to work it deeper down her throat.

“Squeeze it,” she sobbed, “Squeeze it.”

I did as she told me. The sounds hit the wall like a Mack truck. “Ma-Ma.Ma-Ma.”

“Yes,” she said, “Yes.”

     In the Pink also contains an excellent mini-novella, “Straws of Sanity,” a cautionary tale that spells out the end of democracy and inter-personal relationships in the modern era. I would strongly encourage people to seek out and read In the Pink, if just for the last story. As I mentioned before, personal narrative, or, in this case, creative non-fiction, can serve as a valuable tool to avoid repeating history’s mistakes, like depersonalizing sexual intimacy, and treating people like commodities. It’s been 50 years since the official era of the 60’s began, a time of throwing off the barriers to embrace the possibility of a new world order - which is sort of like the times we live in now - and thankfully, we have good literature to help us guide the way.

In the Pink, Short Stories by A.D. Winans, © 2014, Pedestrian Press, http://www.thebicyclereview.net/ ) ISBN  978-1494754556, 156 pages, $10

artistic content © 2014 A.D. Winans
article content © 2014 marie lecrivain

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Marc Vincenz's Beautiful Rush

          Author/journalist/translator Marc Vincenz has been lauded across the board for every poetry collection he's produced, and the accolades spill over into his fifth collection, Beautiful Rush (copyright 2014 Unlikely Books), which has been described by his poetic peers as “spellbinding,” “one of the finest poets of his generation,” and “hard-won and believable.” With those kind of credentials, one might either be too intimidated or too turned off to read Vincenz's latest literary offering.
          Don't let the tsunami of praise dissuade you. Beautiful Rush recounts one brave poet's journey into “terra incognita,” that unknown territory that is humanity's deep well of shared unconscious. On the surface. many of the poems in Beautiful Rush come off as decisive moments captured in time, ala an Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph. But there is so much more going on in every one of these gorgeous poems. Vincenz, with an adept combination of contemporary language and classic archetypes, pulls back the veil of ubiquity to show the reader - through a poet's vision and voice - the strange, beautiful worlds and wisdom within ourselves we choose not to acknowledge, yet need to recognize for our own survival, as in the poem “Cassandra's Smoke”:

That foul breath of the city
waters the eye,
                           but the nose,
self-assured, carries on—

embracing whatever
comes its way:


fungal spores lofted over
mountain ranges

in puffed up storm clouds,

            jagged desert-dust,
bits of life dredged up.

the megaphone urges you to waltz
         to pass the long-short-long time

in a park,
             where old fools battle
                           crickets and compare
                           bird feathers,

where dogs shit and rut,
            where artists seek the ears

of trees and pansies

              and crumbling brick—

                                                  but a riptide

of taxis and buses burns carbon dioxide

               through your arteries,

you hear voices

in hard labor,

              and behind closed rooms,

you hear something

           like knowledge,

                                      clearing its throat.

        In reading Beautiful Rush, Vincenz's choice of archetypal delivery, aka Cassandra, the doomed prophetess of fallen Troy, is particularly well-chosen. Cassandra was a priestess of Apollo who was endowed with the gift of prophecy, but was doomed to never be believed. Throughout Homer's Iliad, Cassandra's repeated fervent warnings are rejected by her fellow Trojans, who dismiss her as insane. Much to their collective folly, they paid the ultimate price. Vincenz, in the role of Cassandra cum poet, outlines the visions of a 21st Century world at a crossroads, one that would do well to listen to the warnings lost amidst the increasing noise of technology and progress. And in this, Vincenz-Cassandra not only serves as a means of prophecy, but as a guide and a vehicle of rebirth/reaffirmation of identity, as in the poem, “Cassandra's Level-headed Company”:

Knowing the stars
gave her a sense
of reality.

Knowing less
than what she knew
others had, gave her
a sense of place.

She needed means
to believe
and to doubt.

And through a riddle
when in doubt,
when standing alone
at rebellion,
even careless
wisdom had to go.

To be one
of the lingering
wicked’ ones,
to be sealed
in an icy fate.

What is it really
to be honest?
I choose
what governs
the syntax
within this level-headed

          We live in a world that, for all intents and appearances, is on the verge of repeating its most heinous historical mistakes. Marc Vincenz, with his book, Beautiful Rush, has provided an essential road map to navigate our way through an increasingly unknown and troubled time.

Beautiful Rush, Marc Vincenz, copyright 2014 Unlikely Books, 104 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-9708750-2-0, $13.00 (temporarily discounted to $9 through the Unlikely Books website: http://www.unlikelystories.org/unlikely_books/beautiful_rush.shtml).

poems © 2014 Marc Vincenz

article content © 2014 marie lecrivain

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mere Smith's The Blood Room

I don’t often review prose, though my favorite medium to write/read is the short story; however numerous articles on quality v quantity of the price of literature have made me revise my way of thinking. At last month’s L.A. Times Festival of Books, which was, sadly bereft of many small presses, I came across one author who’d partnered with another author friend to cheerfully hawk their literary wares to passersby. I picked up a copy of The Blood Room ( © 2013 Evil Gal Productions), by Mere Smith, a short (40 pages), witty and almost way-too-frank tale about giving birth.
The Blood Room is not about Smith’s foray into motherhood, but her younger sister’s, who, against all commonly accepted odds (common in the sense of universally anecdotal medical evidence), becomes pregnant with just “one embryo” because her sister only wants “one baby.” Smith, a forthright independent soul, often finds her own preferences and moral values challenged in the face of her sister’s pregnancy (no smoking in the house, no drugs allowed on the premises, numerous cameras installed in her sister’s basement to film the home birth). Demands on Smith (and Smith’s mother) advance along with the pregnancy, but in spite of this, Smith rises to every challenge, even into the hours of her sister’s active labor, with a mixture of humor and mounting frustration:

So there I was, looking into that miniature grimy lake, heat radiating off my skin, knee throbbing, muscles screaming, adrenaline coursing yet still exhausted, feeling more than a touch light-headed, when all of a sudden my guts tried to pole-vault their way out of my mouth, right into the AquaDoula.
Thank God the first leap was small - aided by the fact I was so surprised by it, I quickly gasped for a deep breath that seemed to quell the second heave.
It was only then that I realized, Holy shit! You almost just puked on your sister!
The next micro-second brought, Goddammit, Mere, if she can endure 22 hours of full body torture, the least you can do is not vomit in the water her baby will be born in.
Marshaling every last ounce of self-control, i turned away - one hand keeping a cold towel still pressed to my sister’s forehead, one hand wiping sweat off my face with my T-shirt.
I would not leave her.
I would not.
And if that meant I had to puke on the floor right next to her, in front of her husband and our mother and the doula and the midwife and the midwife’s assistant and the cameras, then so be it. I would puke on the fuking floor.

For those of us who’ve decided not to, or have not yet had children, being not only proximate to a sibling giving birth, or in the case of Smith, an intimate part of the process, will be life-changing (Fun fact: I was just outside the door of my sister’s hospital room the moment she gave birth to my nephew Alexander. I heard it! It changed my life forever, and for the better). In The Blood Room, Smith is more than willing to graphically kvetch about the blood and gore that comes with giving birth, but she also gives to the reader, in equal measure, the wonderful and painful details of her own emotional growth.
        There are no best-selling Congratulations on Your Impending Aunthood, or What to Expect When Your Sibling is Expecting books out there, but The Blood Room will more than suffice for those who are about to go through this process, or who are curious about it. As for the length of the book, The Blood Room is a perfectly written encapsulated tale of transformation, and in this case, quality totally triumphs over quantity.

The Blood Room, Mere Smith, © 2013 Evil Gal Productions,http://evilgalproductions.com/,  ISBN 0989813606, $4.99, 40 pages.

artwork and prose content ©  2014 Mere Smith
article content © 2014 marie lecrivain

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rich Ferguson's 8th & Agony

  I’m adding my thoughts rather late to the mix, but I feel compelled to do so after reading through Rich Ferguson’s first collection, 8th & Agony (© 2013 Punk Hostage Press). I’m also compelled to disagree with one of his admirers who proclaimed Ferguson “the last of the great poets.” Instead, I choose to view Ferguson as one of the founders of a new generation of 21st Century poets who’ve fused the best of written word with the classical tradition of oral poetry, or in this case, spoken word/slam poetry, and, in doing so, ensures the survival of both.
    Ferguson has spent many years performing in showcases. films, and tv shows. His stories have been burned into the minds of thousands of poetry lovers worldwide. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Ferguson perform, then you’re in a woefully uninformed minority. Fortunately, now there’s 8th and Agony, a collection of the best of Ferguson’s poems that leap off the page and into the mind of the reader with the same lyrical ferocity of his aural performances. It takes the twin gifts of a bard and a writer to be able to deftly straddle the words of written and spoken word. 8th & Agony has achieved that level of mastery.
8th & Agony also offers a positive message, poetically and mythically speaking, which is often absent from contemporary poetry. Underscored in all of Ferguson’s poems is an aching tone of wistful hope, even through the lens of grief, as in the poem “Excommunication,” which chronicles the final stages of death and resurrection from a long-term relationship, which could have at one time been romantic and addictive:

A corrosion of loss clotted in his still-unformed wings,
while somewhere in his ghostly remains of memory
lingered a woman’s kiss -
sweet as gardenia.

He could remember that much,
remember that much of his life. He knew
there’d be things like this
he’d always remember. He knew he could
never die of forgetting.

    Ferguson is, as many of his admirers have put it, a “poetic messiah.”I gladly agree with this assessment, as the majority of Ferguson’s poems pay tribute to the bruised beauty of humanity, (“Transition Into Turbulence,” “Certain Things About Certain Women I’ve Known”, “On Becoming an Urban Legend”). Ferguson is a comedic street-corner prophet preaching a new version of the afterlife through the streets of Los Angeles in what I regard to be the best poem in his collection, “The Los Angeles Book of the Dead,”

O’ Son and Daughter of Noble Birth,
if you’ve done wrong
you can’t go trading up karma like baseball cards,
thinking you’ll end up with that prized
Tommy Lasorda 1988 Dodgers World Series Winner.

So if you’ve lied, cheated, looted,
committed a drive-by shooting,
screwed your best friend’s girlfriend/boyfriend,
left your cell phone on during a yoga class or movie,
now is the time your conscience is collecting
those sins and numbering them
on the bones of a South L.A. body count.

Yet if you should find yourself
in a La Brea tar pit hell
filled with dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers,
space aliens, and earthquakes -

don’t worry.

Know that it’s merely being created
by the special effects experts at Universal Studios
to ensure your journey
is the most exciting ride possible.

It’s National Poetry Month, and the masses (including myself) will unashamedly push all kinds of reading recommendations into the ether. If you had one book to choose, I’d recommend Ferguson’s 8th & Agony as an experience to immerse oneself into, and as a journey to take alongside one of the best poets to exist in any time or place on this planet.

(8th & Agony, Rich Ferguson, © 2013 Punk Hostage Press, ISBN 978-0-9851293-6-1, 136 pages, $15.95)

poetic content/cover artwork © 2014 Rich Ferguson and Punk Hostage Press
article content © 2014 marie lecrivain

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

David Herrle's Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy

     David Herrle's Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy (© 2014 Time Being Books), is a hefty poetic treatise that explores – in Herrle's scarily well-informed opinion - the varied and contradictory reasons this world reveres and destroys all that's bright and beautiful, as well as the impact of macrocosmic events (history) on a microcosmic happenstance (the human soul).

     To prove this premise, Herrle devotes the first third of the book by paying tribute to well-recognized icons of beauty (Katy Perry, Rita Hayworth, Eva Braun, et al). Here, Herrle champions the girl on the pedestal whose unwilling/unwitting elevation to heights of glory both exalts and condemns her. Herrle compares and contrasts the ever-increasing modern day need for destroying that which you love to The Terror in 18th century France, Hitler's Holocaust, and the invention of the atomic bomb. This sets the reader up for a one-two punch. The meat (no pun intended) of Sharon Tate involves Herrle's troubling look into the depths of three historical lovlies who, through no fault of their own, met with a grisly and tragic end: Sharon Tate (at the hands of the Manson Family); Marie Antoinette (under the blade of the guillotine), and Mary Jane Kelly (the last, youngest, and most attractive of the Ripper victims). Herrle doesn't spare the reader any time to feel remorse. To balance the equation, he also invokes the maddened minds of Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson and his followers (Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle, etc), and various personages from the (pre/post) French Revolution (Jean-Paul Marat, Marquis de Sade, Napoleon Bonaparte). Beauty v Beastliness, Peace v War, Life v Death, Creation v Destruction; all of these themes are dissected under the blade of Herrle's excellently written poetic prose. In the end, why do we even bother?

     I believe, and I may be going on a limb here, we (in this case, Herrle) bother because to do so leaves us with nothing left to live for. Even in an existential world, there is a need for beauty, light, and a purpose beyond oneself. Everyone needs to be a hero (Joseph Campbell was correct). Theology, philosophy, art, music, poetry, none of these things matter if one cannot, even for one brief moment, transcend the visceral “anus mundi” to advance beyond the immediacy of their shitty existence. Herrle proclaims, “I'm... the Scarlet Pimpernel.”

     Herrle also dares himself and the reader to take their deeply ingrained ideas of beauty for a walk through the darkest depths of hell. Every artist must do this; question WHAT they believe in, put that belief through the ringer, abuse/rape/destroy it to see if that belief can/will survive. How would one's viewpoint change, say, if you it came to you, as it did to me, that I was born one day before the Tate-LaBiana Murders? How uncomfortable would it make you feel to know, as you were drawing your first breaths, that a couple hundred miles away there was a psychotic band of fringe hippies planning the murder and evisceration of Sharon Tate's baby, an innocent who should have been born into this world without harm the way I was? How ugly and intrusive the world becomes to me when these thoughts present themselves. How enraged I become when I read Herrle's imagined account of Tate's last moments, and those of her baby's life in the poem “The Baby Lived Twenty Minutes After Sharon's Last Breath”: “You begged those soul-midgets/to take you to their lair and kill/you after you birthed your son./The gleeful stabs that replied/seemed to make one girl cum.” If this doesn't lay you low, as it did me, if it doesn't make you question the cruelty of the world and challenge your premise of sweetness and light, I don't know what will.

     All is not lost. In the end, (sorry, no spoilers), Herrle is able to give the reader a glimmer of hope, like a wet towel on a bad burn. Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy is Herrle's stunning account of initiation into the deepest layers of self-doubt and the hard-won attainment of inner wisdom. Treat Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy as you would a copy of Liber AL vel Legis, The Torah, The Koran, or The Art of War. It's not a book for the meek, but it is a book that will make the reader stronger for the reading.

Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy, David Herrle, copyright 2014 Time Being Books, ISBN 978-1568092225, $15.95, 198 pages.

(poetic content © 2014 david herrle)

(article content © 2014 marie lecrivain)