norbert blei | small presses, small writers, big voices

2 03 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 171 | March 2, 2009

: (small press reviews #1)

Small Presses, Small Writers, BIG Voices

With this posting, #171, Notes from the Underground will periodically showcase the reviews of Wisconsin’s own, Charles Ries — one of the small press warriors out there, devoted to spreading the word of writers and works that never get the attention they deserve. We’ve all heard that before.

Writers, readers, reviewers, publishers, lovers of grassroots/real/experimental/lost literature to be found mainly in the ‘underground’—we’re all in this together. For better or worse. Certainly not for profit. But for the good of the soul.

I hope you will read the reviews. I hope you will purchase some of the books…support the cause of new and seasoned writers who need to be read, need to know that somebody out there is listening.

Most of these writers cannot be found at Amazon. com nor are their books readily available at Barnes and Noble. A few independent, often local bookstores…perhaps. Mail order, most likely. From the trunks of their cars? Possibly. (The personal touch).

Lend them your ear—and a few shekels along the way. —Norbert Blei


By Bruce Dethlefsen

83 pages / 59 poems / $15 – Fire Weed Press

Review by – Charles P. Ries*

Bruce Dethlefsen doesn’t write many books of poetry. It’s been six years since he came out with his second book, Something Near the Dance Floor by Marsh River Editions. And one doesn’t see much of his poetry in and around the small press, but my-oh-my, when he decides to show us his good stuff, he comes out swinging. In this, his third and largest collection of poetry, Dethlefsen does most everything right. He is a master of drawing word pictures that are at once narrative stories, melodies, and free association free-for-alls.

The book is broken into five sections that broadly define the thematic mood of Dethlefsen’s mind: migrant, knots, poet warrior, secrets, and autopsy. There is great kindness here, and a mind with a very wide reach.

Here are two poems from Breather. “Playing the Field”: “you hover / you say I’m not your first flower / your first lover // you lower yourself / how hoverly / how loverly / then leave // oh bee / my honey boy / oh baby mine / come back to me”. And “When Somebody Calls after Ten P.M.”: “when somebody calls after ten p.m. / and you live in wisconsin / and you’re snug in your bed // then all’s I can tell you / somebody better be missing / somebody better had a baby / or somebody better be dead”.

In Breather, Dethlefsen flows from the concrete to ethereal. He orbits around the collective unconscious like a Jungian astronaut – his interior radar big enough to find meaning in both the great moments and the small nuances of life. This is the blessing of the mature poet – one who has lived hundreds of lives and can bring this diversity of experience to us as a numinous pool of images to soak in. Breather is an exceptional collection of poetry.

Editor’s Note: Send Check or Order To: Bruce Dethlefsen, 422 Lawrence Street, Westfield, WI 53964

d.a. levy & the mimeograph revolution

Edited by: Larry Smith & Ingrid Swanberg

Review By: Charles P. Ries

A few months ago I asked Chris Harter, Editor/Publisher of Bathtub Gin who were some the pioneers in the independent small press movement. He said without a doubt one of them had to be the late d.a. levy of Cleveland, Ohio – this was the first time I had ever heard of d.a. levy.

Levy was 26 years old when he shot himself. Well regarded small press editor, Len Fulton says that the mimeo graph revolution “is almost overwhelming in its reach and passion for its subject. It is sobering to think that one young person could accomplish so much in so short a time, while confronting torment from within – and genuine torments from without.” While I enjoyed reading levy’s poetry and seeing his visual art, what I found most compelling were the numerous interviews with him from this time period. They reminded me how ground breaking the free speech movement of the 1960’s was, and what a wonderful, diverse and passionate group of poets were at the forefront of this effort.

In Karl Young’s essay on levy he says, “levy invented more literary forms then any other young poet working in the U.S. in the 1960’s.” Levy who only graduated from high school devoured books and build an international network of writing friends. He was consumed by language and words. When he was arrested on obscenity charges in 1967 Allen Ginsberg and the infamous Fugs (Ed Sanders rock group) came to Cleveland for benefit concert. He never left Cleveland or, rather never gave up on Cleveland. As Ed Sanders says, “Cleveland was levy’s decision. I think it was an act of Cleveland patriotism. ….he wasn’t going to let anyone drive him out.”

Contributors to this book include: Ed Sanders, T.L. Kryss, Karl Young, Allen Frost, Larry Smith, Russell Salamon, John Jacob, Doug Manson, and Michael Basinski. The book includes a 2006 DVD of Kon Petrochuk’s film documentary titled, if i scratch, if i write. It also includes a chronology of his life and work, biographical essays, photographs, interviews, profiles, statements, letters, art work, collage, poems, critical appreciations of his writing and art, “Cleveland Prints” in full color. This is as comprehensive and riveting a book about an artist, passion, and persecution as I have ever read. It’s all meat, no bullshit. I found it confounding and amazing that such a young, untrained writer could grow himself in to such a remarkable talent in so short a time.

Editor’s Note: Bottom Dog Press, P.O. Box 425, Huron, Ohio 44839, Price: $25 / 264 Pages


By: Christopher Robin

Review By: Charles P. Ries

I don’t read many poets whose world I enjoy entering more than Christopher Robin’s. Angelflies In My Idiotsoup is Robin’s third book of poetry and his best work to date. Again, he captivated me with his view from the street as he reflects on his circle of friends, poets, losers, and lovers. His stories are mesmerizing in their own right, but come to life through his significant gift at creating metaphors and word unions that collide street culture with pop culture. I would say, in this case, to be able to write it one must have lived it. I often think “humor” has become poetry’s dirty word or the kiss of death if one has ambitions. But none of this matters to Robin who continues to find something to laugh at while visiting the snake pit. He reports to us from his village, but was there ever a village populated by such an array of nut cases, lost souls and hearts seeking healing? I don’t think so.

Editor’s Note: Platonic 3 Way Press, Post Office Box 844, Warsaw, IN 46581, Price: $5, 27 Pages/ 18 Poems

*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. Most recently he was awarded the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association “Jade Ring” Award for humorous poetry. 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.

A citizen philosopher, Ries lived in London and North Africa after college where he studied the mystical teachings of Islam called Sufism. In 1989 he worked with the Dalai Lama on a program that brought American religious leaders and psychotherapists together for a weeklong dialogue. It was during this same week that the Dalai Lama was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize. Ries has done extensive work with men’s groups and worked with a Jungian Psychotherapist for over five years during which time he recorded five hundred dreams and learned to find the meanings in small things. He is a third degree Reiki healer, and has received advanced yoga training. He now finds mystical insight while drinking brandy old-fashioned sweets and writing in his basement.

Ries has begun work on a second book entitled, SEEKER, which will follow his path as a mystic in Morocco, and subsequent floundering while living in Los Angeles. All of which has convinced him of the time-honored wisdom, “wherever you go, there you are” and “this isn’t Kansas, Dorothy.” He lives and writes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his two daughters, four frogs, two cats, and one salamander on a wooded street along the lazy Menomonee River three doors down from his brother, Joe.




One response

2 03 2009
Eric Chaet

Charles & Norb –

Good job!


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