Friday, July 15, 2016

Review of James Benger‘s As I Watch You Fade by Angel Uriel Perales

A quiet dignity arises from the tacit words of the demure. Strong direct declarative thoughts arranged within the stanzas to maximize impact. The beginning stanza from “Counter Jockey”:

I worked in a gas station for a couple of years or so.
I never pumped gas for anyone.

15 subjective poems in the chapbook, the majority told in first person, all strangely bereft of poetic ego. I met the poet once in Kansas City. I mispronounced his last name a few times as “Berger” before he firmly and resolutely corrected me, “my last name is Ben-ger.” He corrected me simply and without judgment, without expecting apology, but in a manner in which I would not soon forget the correction. The poet’s reserved personality translates fluidly into the poems. From the poem, “Mr. Milsap”:

Mr. Milsap opened the door.
He wasn’t wearing his glasses and
his eyes were red and watery.
I held out the basket and said,
For your kids, and feeling the need to fill the silence,
from everyone in the neighborhood.

The poems explore poverty, not extreme hunger inducing poverty but the kind of poverty which grinds down daily considerations of grandeur and personal distinction. This is rural poverty sliding into suburbia type of lower middle, upper lower class grinding subsistence kind of muted continuity. And Benger doesn’t preach. Life is just life in his poems, gas stations, slaughter houses, broken down cars, hand me downs, dirty fingernails, small apartments, rust, rot, alcohol. From the poem “The Ruins”:

We weren’t sure what The Ruins used to
be; nothing’s left but cracked concrete floors,
cinder block walls missing most of their
canary yellow paint and all their windows….

All the relationships described in the poems are affected by circumstance, as are all relationships in actuality, all affected by circumstance. From the poem Before the Job Fair:

She tells me she wants to make it better.
She says this will make it better.
I have my doubts.

Benger’s grandmother seems to be the only recurrent character in the chapbook, the grandmother who gave him a home, the grandmother who worked as a stripper, the grandmother whose advice and love he disparaged because of their shared lot in life. She didn’t have much to bequeath to the poet, a very old station wagon on the verge, a genealogy, her lineage, a due pedigree, poetry, kindred inclinations and temperament. From the poem, Sage Advice:

When she told me
to get my shit together,
I laughed and said,
Look who’s fuckin talking.

(As I Watch You Fade, Poems by James Benger, EMP First Edition 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2, 15 poems, no page count, $5, $7 signed edition,

 © 2016 Angel Uriel Perales

Bio: Angel Uriel Perales is a writer whose biographical details are not important. Please enjoy his poetry.

Jon Cunningham's Life on the Periphery

We live in the age of excess with a smorgasbord of literary offerings. This wasn’t the case when I was a teenage girl nerd devouring Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, McCaffrey, and Ellison between classes, and on the weekends holed up in my room while I ignored my chores.    
     These names ring true in the halls of my personal literary mythos, and now, there's millions of writers who publish and make their work available to the almost seven billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of material - and chaff - to sift through. Contemporary authors like Neil Stephenson (Seveneves), Megan Elison (The Book of the Unnamed Midwife), Chuck Wendig (Under the Empyrean Sky), Lev Grossman (The Magician Series), Sofia Samatar (A Stranger in Olondria), and Becky Chambers (A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet), are some of today’s modern masters of scfi/speculative/fantasy. There are also unsung masters who quietly write for the sheer pleasure of their craft, and one of them is Jon Cunningham, with his debut short story collection, Life on the Periphery (© 2016 Sybaritic Press).
      Life on the Periphery contains nine stories (or six short stories/three novelettes), that span the gamut of hard science fiction: “Think of England”, an unexpected story about first contact; to speculative, in “Für Wissenschaft!” a cautionary tale about monstrous transformation in the most unlikely place; to light fantasy in “His Cooks, His Bakers”, a feminist hero’s tale retold in the tradition of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Cunningham, an artist and filmmaker, brings his visual storytelling gifts into a literary gem that is both delightful and thought-provoking. There’s something here for anyone who loves quality literature, and who can appreciate the fusion of old school/new school tropes in scifi/fantasy.
     The intimate narrative tone of Cunningham’s prose, which, while isn’t first person, drops the reader right into the landscape of each story with the sense that they’ve been there all along. And there are no apologies or punches pulled in Periphery, which is punctuated with erotic undertones and graphic scenes of horror that, thanks to Cunningham’s cinematic background, rise full-fledged within the mind’s eye, as in the short story “Join Us For the Coming Feast”, a disturbing and acutely uncomfortable new take on alien invasion:

    Charlotte shrieked. One of them slammed into the window, grasping the frame with its talons. It was big, over seven feet tall, covered in a short black-ish brown fur. It was thin, yet muscular. Its arms were extended into long, leathery wings; that flexed as the creature struggled against the glass. Its head was tall, sharp pointed ears over a screaming jaw. It had a pig’s nose and a shark’s eyes. It had a manic, frustrated manner, unable to understand the nature of the barrier keeping it out of the offi ce. It was staring directly at Dave, and he came to realize it was not looking at him in anger. It was looking at him with hunger.
   I’ve always admired and championed the outliers in literature, and Life on the Periphery definitely falls into this category, though I suspect, not for long. My advice: read Life on the Periphery with an open mind, the lights on, and during the daylight hours… and then, try it again at 3 am with a flashlight, and alone in your house…  you’ll not forget one word. Not one.

Life on the Periphery, Jon Cunningham, © 2016 Sybaritic Press, ISBN 978-1-5323-1138-3, 186 pages, $12.00 (softcover), $4.99 (ebook),

© 2016 marie c lecrivain
author content © 2016 Jon Cunningham and Sybaritic Press