charles p. ries | ries reviews

4 03 2010

PoetryDispatch No.316 | March 3, 2010

RIES REVIEWS

the small presses
by
CHARLES P. RIES

Lines On Lake Winnebago

Gary C. Busha, 33 pages, $8.00, Marsh River Editions, M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, Wisconsin 54449

To Gary C. Busha, life is the sound of one man fishing. Lake Winnebago (located in East Central Wisconsin) plays host to guys in boats, guys sitting over ice holes, guys drinking schnapps and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and guys standing under maple trees waiting for the big one to take the bait. It’s Zen meditation with worms and fishing rods. Busha’s Lines On Lake Winnebago is a reflection on life in sparse, conversational language. His poems and reflections are as effortless as the act of casting and reeling. In Getting Hooked he notes “Each fishing day / adds to my memories of / a star-clear night. / drunk with fresh life.” And in Portrait of Dock Fishing he sees “Old men with big yellow bellies / remember themselves as lean river boys / fishing together from the docks.”

There are no existential crisies or drunken diatribes against the insanity of life here. No shock rocks to grab your mind, but rather a numinous embracing of the freedom found on Lake Winnebago doing almost nothing. Ham and Cheeses on Rye “I am an old man fishing in the rain / on my sagging dock, without a fish in miles- / yet, it’s a perfect day for fishing.” #6 Hooks “on the dock, the scent of weeds, / wet wood, and rain hangs over the water. / The scales fly up like hailstones. / He hears a roll of thunder and feels / scales and raindrops fall in his hair.”

But beyond the beauty of these plain-spoken poems is the production quality of this fine looking chapbook. The cover jacket, photo reproductions, and cardstock are all well chosen making this not just a great chap to read, but a wonderful chap to hold. Gary Busha goes deep into common experience and nets rich imagery with still, clear meanings.

CELEBRATION OF SAMATHA

By: t. kilgore splake | The Vertin Press, P.O. Box 508, Calumet, Michigan 49913 | 56 Pages / Price: $17.50 | Make checks and money order payable to t.k. splake

I am always curious to see what poets can do with long writing. I know that for many it is a journey often considered, but seldom taken. I was pleased then to see t. kilgore splake take the leap with his novella entitled, “A Celebration of Samantha”. This is love story made all the more poignant because it also looks at the end of life. I was surprised that splake, who can write sometimes painfully long poems in stream of consciousness prose style, was able to reign himself in to tell this very sweet story. Here we find the Gray Beard Dancer has fallen in love with Elizabeth the young counter waitress at his local coffee shop. She has a young eight-year-old daughter named, Samantha who gives this story much of its depth. Told over thirteen chapters, it also includes black and white photos that depict the various places splake shares with us on this journey. This blending of prose and photo gives the story a memoir kind of intimacy. And while splake calls his book a work of fiction, it is hard to believe there is much distance between what is on the page and his life. Splake reflects on the end of his life, while celebrating love with Elizabeth, and becoming an endearing, wise and thoughtful friend to Samantha. As with all really good stories, I was left at the end wondering, “How did it all work out? Did they stay together?” I wanted more, but realized that fifty-six pages of prose may be all the prose we will get from a writer whose inclinations and interests seem more connected to poetry than long fiction, but I wish this weren’t so. I wanted splake to move this story forward another two hundred pages and take me in and out of the deep waters of love in his very unique fashion.

ČERVENA BARVA PRESS | Gloria Mindock, Editor, P.O. Box 440357, W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222 | www.cervenabarvapress.com

What do you suppose is in the water in Somerville? Small press publishers are popping up all over the place: Ibbetson Street Press, sunny outside press and now, Červená Barva Press. Maybe we should all drink some of that Somerville prose juice as it appears to be poetry fortified.

Gloria Mindock founded Červená Barva Press in April 2005, since that time she has published and designed ten chapbooks, three e-books, and twenty-one poetry postcards. Forthcoming in 2007 are four more chapbooks, four full-length poetry books, as well as two plays and fourteen poetry postcards by fourteen poets using paintings by Nancy Mitchell. Oh, and she also publishes a monthly electronic newsletter which lists readings from all over the world as well as interviews with authors. I asked Gloria how it all began, “I started this press because of my passion for poetry. I edited the Boston Literary Review (BluR) for 10 years, and I read high-quality submissions during that period. Since the magazine ceased circulation, I have spent many years freelance writing, but see a need for a new publishing forum. This led me to take it a step further and expand into publishing. I wanted to provide another outlet for writers who take risks, have a strong voice, and are unique. Eventually I will publish more writing from different countries, particularly authors from Eastern Europe. There are so many wonderful writers in this world and I want to give them more exposure.” Mindock’s fascination with Eastern Europe, and especially Prague, prompted her to name her press Červená Barva which means the “red color” in Czech.

As the following short poetry reviews will note, Mindock has a wide range of tastes and inclinations when it comes to the writers she chooses to publish:

The Whole Enchilada

By: Ed Miller

Wonderful! If this is Miller’s first chap book – I want to put in an advance order on the next ten. I loved “Dear Poet” and “Extraterrestrials Use Holographic Imagery Of Naked Females”. How glorious to read a wry sense of humor who is capable of creating such endless possibilities.

God Of The Jellyfish

By: Lucille Lang Day

We need more poets with M.A.’s in zoology and Ph.D.’s in science and math education, or we will never discover the metaphoric limits of the ocean, stars and universe. Oh, and Lucille Lang Day also has a M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing. She will never run out of material given the galaxies she has chosen to examine. She does a wonderful job making this collision of science, the cosmic, and the day-to-day work.

Of All The Meals I Had Before: Poems About Food and Eating

By: Doug Holder

This collection of poetry may well elevate food above sex as one of life’s two great pleasures. Holder writes in the spare precise style he is known for. No extras – all meat and potatoes. These are highly descriptive, ambient poems of place and person. I was surprised at how well Holder pulled this collection off.

Gothic Calligraphy

By: Flavia Cosma

Mindock says her favorite writers come from Eastern Europe. As I read this delicious and somber Romanian born Canadian poet, it is easy to see why. Cosma uses nature as a backdrop and foundation for her poetry. She is a Richard Wilber Poetry in Translation winner for her book of poetry 47 POEMS. One has to wonder if being born speaking Slavic gives a poet the upper hand when painting silk on water.

Bilingual Poems

By: Richard Kostelanetz

I had to work hard to get through Kostelanetz’s work – esoteric word art more than poetry. Begging the question, where does poetry end and visual art begin? Scrabble meets Einstein. Bilingual Poems is on one level a series of two dimensional Mandalas, and on another, a series of Gideon knots. Kostelanetz says that his goal is “to be the most inventive poet ever in American Literature.” He just might do it, but will people read it?

W Is For War

By: George Held

It is hard to create metaphor or image equal to combat. War is horror – how can words ever come close to mirroring moments of such suffering and fear? I give George Held credit for trying and doing such a good job at it. His poem, “From Nam to Armageddon” is a great piece of work. One of the most complete war poems I have ever read.

Fishing In Green Waters

By: Judy Ray

These are effortless poems that spin between here and now using both conversational and lyrical language. Judy Ray lavishes description around the subjects of her observations that are often common in their nature, but elevates their substance with her gentle compassion. Her poems, “Anonymous Valentines” and “Sometimes” are wonderful works. About this Fishing In Green Waters, Judy Ray says, “This new collection is more elusive in theme, and maybe more mysterious for that reason. Several of the poems refer to those sparks of excitement which come from recognition of some moment of transient beauty, or a small gesture which speaks for a historic moment.” This is work by a very fine, skilled, steady hand

I asked Mindock about her background and influences and she said, “My mother always painted, and poetry was always around me. I always had that artistic background. My dad taught 7th and 8th grade English. There are a lot of artists in my family. My sister is a musicologist. My parents are my biggest influence.”

Doug Holder of Ibbetson Street says this about Mindock, “Gloria has long experience in the poetry biz. We call each other holy fools because we are passionate about our work, and don’t make a red cent, like most of the holy fools in the small press. She puts out a quality product and is a joy to deal with!” Doug is right, and we poets are lucky to have holy fools who work for nothing, but the joy it brings them.

SALUD | Selected Writings. By Curt Johnson

216 Pages, Price: $15.00, Cross & Roads Press, P.O. Box 33, Ellison Bay, WI 54210

SALUD is a homage to Curt Johnson by his dear friend and small press institution, Norb Blei. This is the 27th publication from Blei’s, Cross + Roads Press. Blei says, “When a writer reaches the point of Selected Works in his life, a definite benchmark has been achieved. You stand by your words. What you’ve penned you are. This could not be more true then in the life and work of Curt Johnson, short story artist, novelist, essayist, critic, and one of the best yet, least celebrated writers and publisher (december magazine and december press) coming out of the heartland.”

Through SALUD, Blei gives us a sampling of Johnson’s work: novel excerpts, essays, articles, and memoirs. The challenge here is condensing the works of a writer who wrote so broadly and in so many forms. I often felt like I was getting only the first course – a taste. But this is want Blei intended to do; tempt us with Johnson’s work and encourage us to seek it out.

This book is both a literary experience and a history of the small independent press. Johnson who is now in his 80’s, was editor of the highly regarded december magazine in the early 60s. He was one of the first to publish the works of Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Bukowski, and Ted Kooser, to name only a few who have gone onto popular acclaim. But Johnson also published the work of many writers who never hit it big, or at all. Johnson and Blei are two of the patron saints of the small press. They have been in it and doing it for over 50 years. They do it as much to give new writers a place to shine, a chance to be heard, as much as for any glory they may receive.

I found the interview between Johnson and Blei that concludes SALUD a delight – a history lesson and look inside the head of two small press pioneers. Blei says in the interview, “Curt have you, one of the Granddaddies of independent publishers in America, ever been invited to read your work and/or discuss the role of the independent presses in academia? Northwestern University? The University of Illinois (Johnson has lived his life in Chicago). And Johnson replies, “I don’t think the academy and its creative writing courses are of much use to the real writer. And I don’t think the safe haven the academy provides established writers does their own writing much good either.”

For those of us active in the independent small press this book is a must read. How can we know that we are innovating if we don’t know what has come before us? But even more, SALUD is a morality tale that has been told again and again by yet another talented, prolific writer sitting at linoleum kitchen table at 11:00 a.m., having a coffee and a shot of whiskey with a fellow writer and friend reflecting on the old days, lamenting the fact he never quite hit it big, but not willing to change one thing about his journey, the books he wrote, the people he met, or the writers he helped along the way.

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. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org), Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org) and ESC! (www.escmagazine.com). He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org). He is a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes (http://www.visitsheboygan.com/dairyland/). You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literati.net/Ries/

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One response

4 03 2010
Charlie Rossiter

Chas. you’ve provided a real service reviewing these books. Many thanks
Charlie Rossiter

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