charles p. ries | reviews

26 04 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 180 | APRIL 26, 2009

(small press reviews #2)

CHARLES P. RIES REVIEWS,
Small Presses, Small Writers, BIG Voices:
MINDOCK, SONNENFELD, WITTE

BLOOD SOAKED DRESSES
By: Gloria Mindock
Ibbetson Street Press
25 School Street
Somerville, MA 02143
Price: $13.50 / 62 Pages / 45 Poems
IBSN: 978-4303-1034-1

In her third book of poetry, “Blood Soaked Dresses” Gloria Mindock raises horror to transcendent allegory. With language that has a lyrical soft quality to it, her new book of poetry becomes the perfect vehicle to express moments (sad, horrific, and glorious) that are set in El Salvador during its civil war from 1980 to 1992. When we see the massacre of innocents continuing in Kenya, Somalia, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan – the list becomes painfully endless. Her book becomes a timeless poetic prayer for peace.

Her book of poetry is about the most painful of subjects. Through Mindock’s love of this culture, its people, words, and many flavors, she creates transcendent metaphor after transcendent metaphor. Here are a few cherry-picked from her poem, “Seeing Is Only a Flawed Secret”: “A long shadow filling my body”, “I have conversation with the abyss”; “My weary mind is just a symbol.” “The sky is gray today. / healing itself back to blue.” Jesus, rearrange your schedule. / Go, show me your lips. Make your kiss / a compass so I know where to go.” “I look out the window and feel / like a fool. / Everyone carries on with no ears. / Such motionless supervision – a crime!” Amazing – and these lines and phrases are taken from just one of her 45 poems.

Mindock’s success with “Blood Soaked Dresses” is all the more remarkable given how very hard it is to write about horror. If a poet can enter into this world, speak to this blackness and create a wisp of hope, then the poet is by demonstration a great writer indeed.

typewriter art
By: Mark Sonnenfeld
Marymark Press
45-08 Old Millstone Drive
East Windsor, NJ 08520
Price: $4 / 16 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-9798819-9-2

Mark Sonnenfeld is a unique creature in the small press. His world is one that lives at the intersection of poetry, word, and visual art. Many times his use of language has nothing to do with complete thought or meaning, but rather the splattering of words in a random cascade. We might call his work “experimental”, but for the fact that poetry, as one of writings shortest forms, lends itself to constant variation and experimentation. His new book, “typewriter art” is no different. Dedicated to small press pioneer and all around good-guy Joseph Verrilli, he takes words, or rather the ink-on-paper-image of words, and collides them with a phrase. On page 8 we find word the word “Mark” in 68 point type face and below it the phrase, “Magazines from the stack”. On page 5 we find the phrase “I woke to head pressure” in 14 point type laid onto a page that has a series of letters extracted from words in 68 point bold black type face. His work is so conceptual that it is even hard to clearly describe – it must be both seen and read.

So what is one to make of this? Is it poetry or is it visual art? Certainly it is experimental, and in each art form there is a mad scientist who will push the medium’s relevance toward the absurd, toward meaninglessness, through the trap door of context, and perhaps, toward yet new meanings. Will this become the rage? Will thousands of writers try to do what Sonnenfeld has done? I doubt it, but the highest form of flattery isn’t always imitation, sometimes it is our acknowledgement to artists like Sonnenfield that we have experienced their creation and encourage their continued exploration. The great literary unknown will be a richer friendlier planet because we have pioneers like Sonnenfeld orbiting the “word”.

THE WIND TWIRLS EVERYTHING
By: Francine Witte
Muscle Head Press Chapbooks
Boneworld Publishing

3700 County Road 24
Russell, New York 13684
Price: $5 / 40 Pages / 25 Stories

Francine Witte’s book of flash fiction/prose poems gives us two wonderful things. The first is her nimble and effortless use of story, form, and technique. This collection of 25 short form vignettes shows us how quickly a skilled writer can create place, character, conflict, and move a story to a stratifying conclusion. Witte who is also a poet and a playwright applies these two forms into interesting, fast moving short stories. Her technique is effortless and invisible, but central to making these stories move forward.

The second gift of “The Wind Twirls Everything” is her reflection on love, clueless good hearted men, place, and family. The men who populate her stories “try” to do the right thing, they are not without heart and soul, but still they do manage to stumble. Into this mix are the women who love, long for, or try to stay away from them. This collision of interests and abilities gives the stories in this collection their strong core. She is quick and nimble as she riffs around a variety of topics: a chair, a love, a city, a time, a man, a woman.

There are many great stories in this collection: Jake Is A Forgotten Place, Someone Keeps Calling, My Husband’s Mistress, Joe and Sue Get In The Car, to name a few. The open paragraph of her story, “The Romance Of Sadness” gives us a taste of how well and how quickly Witte invites us into her world, “One day, she fell in love with the sadness. Unlike the man who had given it to her, the sadness would stay with her long into the night and never leave. If the sadness did leave, there would more sadness. And that was good.” And again her opening paragraph of “Someone Keeps Calling”: “A faraway voice. Like a voice underwater. He says hello. Nothing more. He hangs up. Calls back. His breath is angry, inviting, sexual. He’s distant, but intimate. Saying nothing. Saying everything.”

What a treat to see Witte bob and weave structure, pacing, and story with such alacrity. How wonderful to read stories that run no more than 350 words in length contain so much heart, humor, yearning and meaning.

Charles P. Ries

lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory and five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press & Publishing. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot.  He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore and a member of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. But most of all he is a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literati.net/Ries/

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