book reviews

I’ve been reading Peter Markus’s work for a few years now, ever since he came and read stories at Central Michigan University. I can’t say if it’s the same experience of watching a movie a dozen times or if this book is truly rendered different than the others, but there’s a totally new kind of magic I feel added to Markus’s already crazy arsenal of word-glitter and mud-slinging. Unknown

First of all, Markus has never compiled this many lengthy stories together before. At least not the same way — there’s a sequence, some longer individual stories, and and overarching connection tying everything together in what feels like an A to Z order and making a reading from cover to cover incredibly rewarding. The new largeness gives his regular pitches of phrasing and repetition room to really breathe and gather more context. The plot also has time to create different shapes than the past stories, though all the elements of fables and folk tales are still strong as hell. The book, during my reading of it, got me thinking about identity more than with his past work.

There’s a duality in everything in this book — as the title might suggest. Death and life are not just classically pitted against each other, but they blur and dance and throw things at each other. There’s a more intricate exchange. Labeling, like his past work, is important in Markus’s latest collection, but the introduction of more than just two or three characters makes it all the more complicated and meaningful, swapping ‘We’ for ‘I’ and making pronouns proper nouns. What it is to be an alive individual is dissected and blown to bits and it’s nothing short of beautiful.

The immaculate Dzanc Books has the title waiting.

Full disclosure: I’ve reviewed Peter’s books in the past and Threadcount, where I am an editor, published a piece of his in our first issue.


Jeff Bean’s new chapbook is full of domestic tensions, strung with thread to a “you” we don’t exactly need a face for. Delicate yet strong emotions provide the current (you’ll see what I mean), but are laden fully with totally visceral aesthetics and images, nearly touchable but frustratingly as delicate as the current.

“Can you feel / the notes you don’t play? / They slide like fingers / along the skin / of the room.”

Some of these, I’ll admit, I have a special fondness for in that Bean taught in my undergraduate program, so these settings feel familiar and imagesclose to me. But that doesn’t dampen their ability to be translated, to be plucked and replanted wherever else. These places are the commons.

Bean swoops down and briefly scans the quiet domestic moments that can be haunting, devastating, seemingly average and yet entirely consuming, and does so with a healthy bit of humor, because how else to tackle these walled-in instances. But like, aren’t these fragments of life both shared and intimate and therefore worth exploring? Aren’t they mini-horror-stories set in pastel?

“A father / now, I understand birds, / how unbearably thin / their voices are.”

Bean applies just the right texture and proximity to these things without smothering them or letting them slip through his or your fingers. You want to touch these scenes and you can feel them on your molars.

Here in this filthy, real, honest, beautiful book of short fictions by Megan Martin, we get shotglasses of poison reflecting on a thin layer of dark clouds forever looming around our homes and desks and continents. Nevers feels so apocolyptic in describing a total frustration with a disconnect from the rest of the world. The domestic becomes both highlighted in its singularity with the universe and Unknownentirely and darkly disconnected from it.

“I would like to note how truly amazing and breathaking it is that so many of us are still alive, how despite eroding sequins and lost harilines, we continue to bloom and rot and bloom, on and on and on like galaxies and bacteria and ants.”

All of this framed by obsessions with ex-boyfriends, a totally perfect number of appearances of the word “fuck,” and an entirely depression-fueled sense of humor; one that seems to serve as a type of salvation.

“There used to be this thing called privacy and these other things called secrets, mysteries and wonderings. Meanwhile there you are, a bookshelf of French literature Photoshopped behind you. I type out, ‘The internet persona you project is a Renaissance lie!'”

These things are short and lovely and frustrated and addicting. They’re sick of the way things work, sick of institutions, and sick of feeling both helplessly attracted to it all and hopelessly disdained.

I don’t read all that many translations, but this one is maybe the best I’ve read. Rebecca Wadlinger and Ugly Ducking Presse have released this translation from the Norwegian poet Gro Dahl, and my main reaction is: hot damn and holy shit. It’s a series/collection of poems on motherhood and daughterhood, of family and how dark that relationship can become, and what happens with that energy when it’s trapped in a house. Multi-generational motherhood, sure, but they all sort of blend together in a way that makes the relationship between mother and daughter the true speaker of the poems. It’s the in-between that speaks from its self-formed mouthGroDahle.

“A trout out of water. A catch of nine pounds. An exchange. / And the fish flops in the bucket. A daughter. A daughter. I am / deathless.”
The house reacts to the moods of this relationship, but the speaker also seems to direct the furniture and the space itself at times. It becomes confusing as to which is affecting which, and in this way, it feels a lot like a haunted house in the making. The ghosts in this book are alive and now, but already the house twists with the histories being made by its residents.

There is a narritive here, unearthed more intelligently than I could by Johannes Göransson, but it’s not entirely direct. It’s more of a stacking, of a collection of moments rather than a river’s momentum forward. But i like that so much better — it even fits in with the fabulisms of the house and the physical actions.

There is a heavy sexualization welded into this uneasy relationship, too, and the house feels it.

“Inside, the standing lamp touches the chair’s back. It all trembles. As I / turn out the light, the sofa silently mounts the coffee table. And / the chairs ride each other without a creak.”

The whole thing is dark, tense, beautiful, and moving. It’s amazing to me how so many of the poems take the same basic shape and function and yet surprises keep happening and happening. I mean, how the hell. How the house.


Check the book out here.


Forgive me for comparing, but Fernandez’s first and prior collection, WE ARE PHARAOH, is a starkly different thing and effect/affect than this follow-up, available from the very same Canarium Books.


Here in PINK REEF, the poems are quick and sharp and gruesome in a beautiful and crystalline way. Here, the body comes in pieces and seems to be on its way out due to its own deep thinking and observing. The body (or maybe the voice) tries desperately to describe and claw at its surrounding world as it implodes in its bloodiness and pinkness.

“find the dragon’s scales seeing in / my stomach’s bleeding”

In this way, I think, the collection does lend itself a thread to its predecessor, as I feel both books try to tackle that wonderfully dense problem of absorbing and describing one’s world. But, again, the form and content are given more canines than molars. It’s similar to the experience, I would imagine (mostly based on stories — okay, entirely based on stories), of acupunture: you come out feeling relieved and renewed but the objects themselves are small and pointed.

The voice itself is still Fernandez’s, but with an entirely different aim and purpose than his first book. I wouldn’t call it a comeback; I’d call it a new set of claws.

“the mounds of roe are / so bright today it’s like / I see the sun for the first / time it’s like I see the sun clearly / in the idea of it it’s like I see the sun / clearly in the black mounds of / shine in the swollen / clear of it”

I learned back in a high school weather class that the air in the upper regions of the atmosphere is so thinly spread out that you could fly around in a freezing vastness before encountering a single burning particle. That’s close to how I feel about this collection, though clear air might be replaced by every manner of cloud, by which I mean to represent the wild, weaving language in its beautiful and dangerous abstractness.9780989734417_cvr

“we eclipse / a limit to human strength / we eclipse / eclipse when you are / dying no body listens to you / because every body does”

Part of what connects Valerie Hsiung’s poems both in their individual interior and in the context of the rest of the collection is her heavy, heavy interest in repetition. The poems also relate every human instinct and expression with a piece of a landscape or some element in the natural world, resulting in a magnetic web of connectedness.

“Azaleas to play / and thru azaleas / prescience / Azaleas to play/ and thru azaleas / the place without them / prescience / Azaleas / as if the country/ and banned them”

The collection seems to me an attempt to break us of the way we think about and vocalize our thoughts and the conflicts behind them. It abstracts and blankets these thoughts while grounding them a bit (or, rather, trying to ground them) with repetition. Either way, they guide a sort of floating along as we ascend and descend into and from these struggles to think and address. And, my god, it’s a beautiful exploration. Hsiung prioritizes playing with the space on the page and repetition to make a more interesting and open composition out of these pieces. And it does; to me, it does achieve that openness which otherwise might be absent in these poems, which don’t have many clear markers as to beginnings and endings but if they did it would feel forced against the grain of her established aesthetics. In a lot of ways, the playfulness reminds me of Stein’s Tender Buttons, though under your face is certainly more directive and space-wandering.

I’ll end by saying the best part of this book is the vast amount of surprises. You’d think repetition wouldn’t allow for many, but you’d be wrong. You’d be weatherman wrong.


Click here to check out the press, O Balthazar, and their full catalog.

I saw Carrie Lorig read with Nick Sturm and a couple other local-ish talents in Cincinnati, my current digs, a week or two ago. When she began, or maybe it was after her first poem, Lorig mentioned that her being into sound is pretty obvious. It is. It really is obvious, and this chapbook from Magic Helicopter is proof and success.

The first thing I feel I must relate this book to is Ariana Reines’s book THE COW, as that book and this one both have some amount of focus on the cow’s body in order to discuss the human body, but this book is a book much more concerned with the sentence, with its restructuring, with its ness in every sense, and with making or Imageremaking or tweaking slightly certain words to help the flow flow. What I mean is: “a cow looks like me when it pets all over my underneat. a cow looks like me when i choke light. when i choke light, it is immediately.”

The language here is playful, sentence-considerate, and somehow Lorig manages to vary sentences over long-ish poems that sustain themselves on this language and on this variance. The poems, in discussing the body somewhat, mention blood or the body often, but rarely directly, and I have this wild idea that this restructuring of language while playing with modes of variance and repetition seeks, perhaps, to consider a restructuring of the body, to restructure a considering of the body, to make a body happen out of thin air. This book is a body.