Speculative Poetry Book Reviews

Reviews in Star*Line itself are now limited to short excerpts; however, those reviews in their entirety will appear on this site. Further reviews, especially those expressing a different opinion, are welcome and will be posted or linked to. Send reviews, links, cover images, and corrections to starlineeditor@gmail.com. NB: reviews published here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Star*Line editor. Moreover, dissenting opinions are welcome.

Only SFPA members’ books are listed on the Books page. Here, however, reviews for any speculative poetry book, regardless of membership status or year of publication, are welcome. Star*Line welcomes books for possible review; see the Star*Line page for our editorial address. Reviews are listed by year of publication and alphabetically by title.

Previous years: 20172016201520142013201220112010200920082007200620052004≤2003

For books published in 2018:

The Bone-Joiner by Sandi Leibowitz.
(Sycorax Press, 2018). 115 pages. Paperback. $12.95.

In her first collection, Sandi Leibowitz gathers together forty-eight of her speculative poems, drawing upon both world mythology and folklore, and her own imagination. Divided into five sections, with each section named for a different poem, the collection is loosely organized by theme—but that theme is not immediately obvious. The poems must be studied and carefully considered, their imagery and language examined.

The first section, for example, is “Witch-Love.” Superficially, it is centered around the theme of love, and love (romantic, filial, parental, et cetera) does indeed play a prominent role in these poems. But look deeper and the theme is not just love, but the creation and destruction perpetuated in the name of that emotion. In “The Bone-Joiner,” the bereaved bring the bones of their loved ones to an unnamed narrator who restores the dead to some semblance of life. In “The Gifts,” two sisters separated by their very natures (one is spring and day, the other forest and night) bring beauty to the world around them, and leave gifts of love for one another. “On Failure’s Wings,” on the other hand, deals with the love (person and feeling) that motivates a Creator and his disappointment in that creation. In the poem “Witch-Love,” a witch successively marries the sea, a stone, the wind, and the night, each time recreating and learning more about her true Self.

Leibowitz crafts whole new worlds in only a few lines, pulling the reader in, and there is no escape even with the last line. Her poems leave indelible impressions, marking the reader’s imagination and memory. Consider these lines from “Sleeping Gypsy”: “But first I will sing to you / of the moon, / the wind-blessed lands of blue trees peopled with silver cubs / that chase the stars each night.” Or this sequence from “One-Winged,” which is based on the classic fairy tale, “The Wild Swans”: “I will not call it curse. / Air was my element. / I breathed blue.”

In The Bone-Joiner, Leibowitz has created a stunning collection which reminds us that the world—every world, real and imagined—is filled with passion, beauty, horror and pain, and that those ideas not only fuel one another, but are often indistinguishable, flowing in and out of one another “in liquid singularity.” Highly recommended.

—Rebecca Buchanan

Dark Matters: New Sci-Fi Poems by Russell Jones.
(Tapsalteerie Press, 2018). 28 pp. Paperback £5.00.

This is a short chapbook by well-known Scottish poet and editor Russell Jones. He has been published in Star*Line, and John Philip Johnson reviewed Jones’ chapbook Spaces of their Own. I reviewed the same chapbook and the anthology he edited, Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poetry from the UK. Most recently he has been deputy and poetry editor of the SF magazine Shoreline of Infinity, where I believe quite a few of our members have been published. A new anthology, Multiverse: An International Anthology of Science Fiction Poetry, coedited by Jones and Rachel Plummer, includes many, many SFPA poets.

Anyhoo, on to the chapbook at hand. Many of poems collected here (8 of 14) are previously unpublished. Only six were published singly in other publications, all in the UK, aside from Star*Line. There’s a wide variety of forms and styles here and a demonstrated adventurousness, playfulness and humor. One poem has been used in an anthology about poetry and comics: Over the Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics (“Whatever Happened to the Blue Whale in 2302 AD”).

My favorites in this chapbook (in order of appearance) begin with “Dark Horse,” about people transforming into a herd of horses at night. Jones really pulls us into the transformation so that you can feel it in your bones as you read. Also, the use of the double meaning here in the title is seen often in Jones’ poems; familiar phrases and idioms take on a different meaning in the context, which creates a layering or faceting effect.

A found/erasure poem using only the famous quote “That’s one small step for (a) man…” moved me deeply. It is unquotable here, since much of its effect is in the format.

“Dredd” is a “villain”-elle (pun courtesy of Russell Jones himself!), one of my favorite forms, and Jones uses it with great skill for maximum effect.

There is a set of poems called “Pioneer,” which I don’t understand fully, but contains one of the funniest poems, “iii. Relative,” which is a space spoof on a GPS navigator speak when you’ve taken a wrong turn.

This chapbook was a pleasure to read and reread. Highly recommended.

—Diane Severson Mori

Debudaderrah by Robin Wyatt Dunn.
(John Ott, 2018). 153 pp. Paper, $10.00. eBook $3.00.

The publisher is a one-man outfit from California with at least eighteen volumes previously published, and this book was released as an ebook at the same time as the trade paperback. Debudaderrah is a long book of primarily prose poems. On Kobo, the short form blurb for the plot of the book relates that a far-off colony of Earth is visited by “a sentient robot from some Earth which does not yet exist. The robot has orders to eliminate all life it finds but the robot is also human, and has a troubled conscience.”

My name is Debudaderrah. I am 347,000 years old. I am in love with a sun. I am in love with you, my father. I am in love with killing. (94)

Debudaderrah uses multiple viewpoints and takes a concrete hard science future and layers it with myth and spirits and other core elements of humanity; those symbolic leaps that separate us from cool logic machines.

They kept the god-robot in the freezer (10)

When a poem asks

Do you remember? . . . What part of me was erased? (63)

every one of us can feel the pull of the diminishing past that anchors us with shadows that pull at us too hard, that will not leave us free, and the knowledge that on one level the past exists as no more than an absence of light obscuring the fascism of historians.

Everything I was is gone but new mes keep popping up; it is identity
that is the pain, in whatever form, they must keep emerging, like weather patterns

This book is mythmaking in a concrete hard science future, and creates a tapestry which includes threads of Picasso, Los Angeles, distant space colonies, killer robots, ancient spirits, unwanted voices in the head, dialogue, diatribe, diary, Gilgamesh, Uruk, and more. This is SF poetry with a sense of mystery, of actions unseen like dark planets whose gravitational pulls warp motives in actions unseen, but whose reality and orbits must be deduced without firsthand observation.

I small god, metal agent of my interlocutor my misdirector my home; I small metal man embrace thee with all my heart (54–55)

An overlooked component of the scientific method is that experiments are encouraged to provoke more research and more experiments. This book provokes readers to create their own myths. When they read of “the last scout,” “The launching of the Great Missile,” and the “two lovers, Hiroshi and Sarai . . . nestled beneath the sand of Debudaderrah,” the desire to grant each myth its own book is likely to push readers into fits of reverie. This the author encourages, writing:

Here, please imagine your part of the story (96)

Imagine that the chapters of this book are a disorganized line of saké cups filled randomly with plum wine or sweet grape juice. And just when you find a proper altitude within which to navigate the astral plane, the next cup is full of single-malt scotch, the kind that’s supposed to burn.

You imagine parts in order, but for me they happen all at once (1)

If you are looking for linear narrative verse, or constant lucidity, you are in the wrong place. That the title of the book could easily belong to the Dadaist movement should have tipped you off. Properly you should get whiplash from reading this due to having your reality so frequently recreated. If you like that sort of thing (and I do) this book might be for you.

—Herb Kauderer

Entanglement by David C. Kopaska-Merkel & Kendall Evans.
(Diminuendo Press, 2018). 55 pp. Paper $8.99. Introduction by Bryan Thao Worra.

Entanglement is a handsome slim trade paperback collection of poems by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (hereafter DKM) and Kendall Evans. There are 50 pages of poems including a few short ones, but most of the 27 poems are substantial.

Entanglement, quantum phenomena, or reference to particle physics implying such, are directly mentioned in more than a third of the poems. The macrocosmos and multiverse are mentioned in another third or so. Yet, for me, the book is about viewpoint and perspective. For example, the Rhysling-nominated “The Trajectory of Culture” (36) considers the plight of the Fomalhauts, which is a device for looking at human traditions, especially regarding mail, from a different perspective. I found it pretty damned funny, as I also found “The Bagel Shop Across the Street” (25).

More examples of shifted viewpoints include “Virtual Love” which is a love letter from a virtual stalker with some lovely twists. In “Conestoga” while considering intelligent microbes, they write “Some ponds produce not oxygen, but poetry” (10).

With thematic trends of entanglement, quanta, macroworlds, and alternate perspectives it would have been easy for the authors to depart from the personal, but they have not omitted it. The collection as a whole leans to the cosmic, but there are intimate personal moments such as “Warp Time” where the narrator finds “I’m suddenly as ancient & wrinkled/As Tiresias, as androgynous, / Weary beyond cognition” (23).

“I, A.I. ” offers the view of early human/A.I. interaction from the viewpoint of the A.I. who concludes

. . . the Turing line is a gradient
No sharp division between thought and not
Is there, so Ian and I metaphorically
Dance blind-folded
Arms flailing, somewhere in the mix—

I was stuck with the lines “Maps of anywhere available everywhere / Not necessarily accurate, but extremely detailed” (21) as not only a description of cyberspace, but of speculative poetry’s presence there.

The last stanza of the book was hugely powerful for me, and a perspective shift on the sense of wonder that I still adore in speculative writings. I won’t spoil it for you here. You can see for yourself if it hits you the same way.

—Herb Kauderer

Eurydice Sings by Sandi Leibowitz.
(Flutter Press, 2018). 45 pp. Paper $8.00

An old woman tests her granddaughter’s readiness to take up the crimson hood. A witch warns away the mice who greedily nibble, nibble, nibble at her cottage of sweets. A princess on the run dons a cloak of furs, and takes comfort in the voices of the animals slaughtered to create it. A princess locked in a casket and thrown into the sea patiently awaits the salvation offered by prophecy. A Goddess laments the loss of her love, who set aside his garden for a throne.

In Eurydice Sings, Leibowitz collects twenty-two of her fairy tale– and mythology-inspired poems, including the previously unpublished “A Woman Made of Scarves” and “Snow Bride.” Ranging broadly through European lore (with two pieces based on Mesopotamian and Japanese sources), the poems revisit both well-known and little-known stories and characters. “Crimson-Hooded” draws upon Red Riding Hood, while “Danaë at Sea” focuses on the mother of the Greek hero, Perseus. “Freyja in Falcon-Skin” draws upon Norse mythology, while “The Kitsune Goes Pub-Crawling” features the famous fox spirit on the hunt for a new tail.

A widely published speculative poet, Leibowitz is skilled at taking familiar stories and pulling out unexpected elements or points of view, particularly in regards to the experiences and voices of women.

Leibowitz delves deep into the original stories, dragging hidden horrors, unexpected connections, and unconscious prejudices into the open. In the title poem, for example, Eurydice celebrates when she is finally able to defeat Orpheus in a contest of music—even if that means returning to the underworld. In “Sleeping, I Was Beauty,” the narrator laments: “I try unsnarling the skein of words / one hundred years of sleep have knotted up. / But my husband’s lips twist in distaste. / He squints each time I speak, / trying to imagine her back, / that sleeping girl he loves, / the mute.” In “Sea-Silk,” a woman skilled in weaving and song must wait until her granddaughter is grown to pass on ancient traditions, for “her only child, a son, lacks / blood’s inheritance / or woman’s patience.” In “Brother and Sister,” a young woman contrasts her sibling’s transformation into a deer—and his apparent new freedom of movement—with her own desire to escape the constraints of childhood and become a woman in her own right. In “Mother Gothel Recovers,” the eponymous witch awakens to find that her forest tower has been overgrown by a city; casting aside her “dowdy dress” she steps forth as “the wilderness reclaimed, / deadwood re-greening.”

Throughout the collection, Leibowitz’s use of color, texture, and sound is haunting and hypnotic. Her poems are filled with “cobalt-glass lamps,” hair as “brown as elm-bark” and “gold as clover honey,” “vermillion shimmering to turmeric,” and “the undergleam of deeps shaded / by coral forests / and the dreams of whales.” The result is a sumptuous feast for the imagination.

Fairy tales and myths are not for children or the faint of heart. In Eurydice Sings, Leibowitz guides us across the threshold and into a realm of darkness, power, pain, and heart-aching beauty. Highly recommended.

—Rebecca Buchanan

Every Girl Becomes the Wolf by Laura Madeline Wiseman & Andrea Blythe.
(Finishing Line Press, 2018) 34 pp. Paper, $13.99.

Every Girl Becomes the Wolf by Laura Madeline Wiseman and Andrea Blythe defies reader expectation, decoupling many familiar tales and myths from their traditionally masculine point-of-view in order to impart a different, more contemporary message. In addition to the dark and brilliantly visceral imagery, one aspect I particularly enjoyed about this collection was its motif of transformation, such as in “A Music of Shattering Ice”:

You’ve become so hard I could shatter you, reassemble sharp-edges
until you resemble the shape of this place, heavy with sleet,
headwind, and bite . . .

There is an undercurrent of anger to these poems that resonates, a sense of injustice, if not outright unfairness. Wiseman and Blythe seem to understand full well what it takes for a woman to survive in a world of men—as well as what it takes from women, both physically and emotionally.

People fill spaces with their sweat and sorrow—parlors
or bedrooms or chambers within others’ bodies, the way
he filled mine. I didn’t fight him when he poured himself
into me. I never wanted this motel. Yet, I rot.

While the shape of the poems are as varied as the personalities revealed through them, the poets always do a great job of marrying form to subject. Take, for example, “The Red Inside of Girls,” a pantoum that reframes the tale of Little Red Riding Hood inside her ever-evolving hunger and need, rather than the wolf’s appetite.

Every girl hums her own lithe youth and becomes the wolf
feeding on the elderly, seeing with large eyes how flesh rots with age,
how the wolf opens the door, eats what rots first, swallows what
hums inside every girl, lithe with youth as she becomes the wolf.

In the end, this collection seems to mourn without lamentation, to innovate without tearing apart its mythological foundations. Instead, these poems exist in perfect conversation with the stories that inspired them, like a series of howls that, depending on the reader, communicate either accusation or reassurance to their audience.

—Hayley Stone

The Hatch by Joe Fletcher
(Brooklyn Arts Press, 2018) 122 pp. Paperback $18.00; Kindle $9.00.

It’s very difficult to define speculative poetry. Most readers will know that the SFPA did a survey in 2017 to define the genre, and the results were quite varied. Therefore, it’s difficult to see The Hatch by Joe Fletcher as pure SpecPo. It’s not definitively science fiction, fantasy, or horror. But it’s also difficult for a reader to NOT see it as SpecPo, either. From the brooding cover and it’s dark tones to the rich vehicles, The Hatch is a solid contemporary poetry book with clear speculative elements.

The cover of The Hatch immediately catches the speculative reader’s eye and makes them believe this is their sort of poetry. The title is set against an evening sky. Pointed branches dripping with vines seem to poke at the letters. The scene is framed with thorny vines. Even the author's name is in a pointed, vegetable font. The whole aesthetic set by the cover is one of brooding and foreboding, tones with which speculative poets are quite familiar.

The poems themselves continue this tone. The poems themselves are surreal in their narratives, and it’s difficult to place them into a genre. In “The Bird Nester,” a poem about a man who seduces birds, hints of mythic fantasy are present. The poem “Muselmann” uses allusions to WWII concentration camps to touch on psychological horror. “Umbilicus” seems to move seamlessly between fairy tale and eloquent body horror. However, whatever genre Fletcher touches upon in each piece, the overall tone of the collection is dark and haunting.

Where Fletcher really succeeds as a poet is with his metaphors. The vehicles are vibrant, and whole poems seem to be composed of complex layers of metaphor. The poem “Kindergarten” begins “You pull a child from the earth and stuff five autumns into her./A blue wind dries an eagle heart in canebreak.” This sort of layered metaphor, reminiscent of poets like Sherwin Bitsui, is really evocative and effective in capturing the reader’s attention. Line like “Night was a black stone/dropped from a bridge/by a blind child at night.” turn inward on themselves and dance the reader through their strata of imagery. At times the imagery gets overwhelming, and the reader is forced to pause for a breath, but there are times when the reader is so caught up in the language that the poem seems to end without them even knowing it.

The Hatch is not pure speculative poetry, to be sure. There are no robots, no elves, no zombies, etc. The hallmarks of speculative poetry are not here. However, if 70% of the SFPA consider surrealism to be speculative poetry, and over half of the membership considers metaphors dealing with speculative tropes to be speculative poetry, Fletcher is clearly in our cool kids club. While SpecPo purists may not appreciate The Hatch, readers with wider definitions who desire poetry with rich, allusive metaphors and surreal imagery will thoroughly enjoy this collection.

—Joshua Gage

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust: A Collection of Fantastical Poems by Edward Willett, illustrations by Wendi Nordell.
(Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, 2018). 126 pp. Paperback CAN$19.95.

Though published in 2018, Edward Willett’s poetry collection I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust had its genesis in the spring of 2016. During poetry month (April) that year, Saskatchewan’s former Poet Laureate Gerald Hill threw out a challenge to members of the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild. The nature of the challenge: to create new work either inspired by, or incorporating, the first two lines taken from poems published by Saskatchewan poets. Two sets of assigned first lines were sent out to participants each business day during the month.

Willett decided to play along, and the 21 poems contained in I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust are what he came up with.

The space devoted to each poem contains three elements. First, there are the lines that inspired the piece, with the author, name of the original poem, and where it was published indicated. I thought it was a nice touch to devote page space for this information right near the poem, rather than burying this information at the back of the book. That being said, there is a more detailed bibliography at the back for those who might be inclined to seek out the original works.

Second, each poem has a full-page black-and-white illustration drawn by Alberta artist Wendi Nordell. Finally, there is the poem penned by Willett.

Like much of Willett’s prose work, the poems all take on a fantasy or science fiction bent, with some dipping toward mild horror. The works themselves evoke a variety of moods. Some are brooding and apocalyptic, while others are humorous or whimsical.

Willett is better known for his prose than his poetry. Therefore, it’s not surprising that, inspired by the assigned two lines, he created, for the most part, poems that tell a story. Some of the poems are more “poetic” in nature than others. Some, like the title poem, “I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust,” contain metaphor and figurative language. Others use repetition as an element, while “The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills” incorporates a rhyme scheme. However, I felt a number of the poems, with few changes other than removing the line breaks, could have been re-purposed as flash fiction.

One of my favorite poems in the collection was “I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust”, particularly the section:

I tumble through the diamond dust
of my own frozen air,
tombstones of ice for future days
that I will never see,
the glittering crystal snowflake wake
of my last lonely flight

I enjoyed the dreamy quality of the poem, although I felt the ending might have been stronger.

“The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills” is one of the few poems told in a rhyming style. Its rhythm reminded me of Robert W. Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” although it had less internal rhyme. The style did not come across as artificial, and the meter provided a nice pace to the poem.

There were other parts of the book that stood out for me. For example, the following lines in the poem “Virtuality” evoked a certain moodiness that hit home:

I never thought that I would come
to this sad room,
to this sad place

In “This is the Way the World Ends”, the second stanza begins:

It Came from Outer Space
rose from its grave
in late-night TV hell, shambled,
zombie-like, down every city street,
rebooted, reimagined, restaged
with all of us, mere players
who strutted, fretted, bled and died,
to the last syllable of recorded time

“Saint Billy” and “Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God” were also enjoyable for their ironic humor.

When I heard about the premise of the book, I was curious to see how the author would deal with the assigned two lines. Would they stick out like proverbial sore thumbs, or would they flow seamlessly into the poem? From my viewpoint, Willett did a good job of integrating the lines into the poems. In some cases, though not all, he achieved this by using one set of “first lines” as the first line of the poem he wrote.

I also found it interesting to see where Willett’s imagination would take him with the assigned portions. In reviewing the poems, I can honestly say that Willett went places that would never occur to me. Included in Willett’s poems are a pair of snail siblings with a hate on for each other, rodeo cowboys, a woman with a werewolf husband and a vampire son, and sentient rocks. The situations Willett depicts are also interesting, and include extra years of life stored in a closet, a section of farmland excised from the Earth and turned into a living miniature, and a colony of aliens living near Revelstoke.

Because of the prose-ish nature of many of the poems, I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust may be less appealing for poetry purists. However, the book is interesting in its own right for a number of reasons. It builds upon, and in a way helps to highlight, the works of other Canadian poets. It provides a living demonstration of how using other poets’ work as a springboard can end up taking us somewhere new and different. It includes illustrations as an added bonus. And, last but not least, it provides 21 small stories that transport us to strange places on, or off, the planet Earth.

—Lisa Timpf

Noisesome Ghosts by Clay Thistleton
(Blart Books, 2018) 482pp. $16.53 paperback.

Noisesome Ghosts is an experimental text based on stories and reports of ghost which speak or write. Author Clay Thistleton uses modernist and post-modernist techniques to convey the stories and reports. At almost 500 pages, it’s an impressive tome and clearly one of great scholarship, but the experimental form of the work often overtakes the content, leaving readers alienated and confused.

Thistleton, in his introduction, argues that Noisome Ghosts is “both a work of scholarship and of poetry.” It is a very detailed and well-researched tome. Most of the pieces in the work have one, if not multiple, references and page numbers. As a work of scholarship, it’s impressive.

To convey his scholarship, Thistleton uses a few modernist techniques. He refers to parts of his work as “cantos,” and the occasionally the style is more along the lines of Pound than Dante or Spenser. There are also allusions to Eliot and parts of the text are imitative of his immersive and allusive style. Thistleton also pulls from post-modernist techniques of the Black Mountain School, The Beat Poetry Movement, as well as the more experimental techniques of Meat and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. This text contains cut-ups, erasures, experiments with open field poetics, negation techniques, deconstructionist techniques, etc. The book itself is an experiment in Investigative Poetics, as advocated by Sanders, so Thistleton is clearly tapping into some of the more experimental movements of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the experiments often get out of hand, and the book becomes almost unreadable. I think Thistleton is attempting to immerse the reader in the experience of a ghost or poltergeist and to replicate the chaos of dealing with problematic spirits by deconstructing texts to create his an uneasy and unpleasant mood for readers. But there are pages of text that are so broken and scattered as to be almost illegible, and the book itself is so long and weighty that the effort required to decipher it doesn’t seem worth it.

As a interesting form or scholarship, Noisome Ghosts might intrigue really dedicated horror fans. There is a lot here, and Thistleton has delved deeply into the cases to find a lot of relevant examples. The poetry, however, is so long and so disjointed and scattered that only the most ardent fans of experimentation will find it worthwhile. This book has a niche audience, to be sure, and I’m not sure most of the SFPA will find it appealing enough to wrestle with.

—Joshua Gage

Poetry for the Neon Apocalypse by Jake Tringali.
(Transcendent Hero Press, 2018). 70 pp. Paperback $11.99. transcendentzeropress.org/jake-tringali/

she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders
she was only waking up

Those lines from “all the way down” pretty much set the reader up for a book that, in a lot of ways, I could really have related to back in the punk days of the 1980’s, and still do. However, that does not mean that Tringali’s work is stuck in a certain time or place, unless that place is a seedy bar at the end of the world, kind of like Liquid Kitty in Los Angeles, which closed last year. Or rather I could say that if the fictional character John Constantine from Hellblazer wrote poetry, it might look a lot like Jake Tringali’s, which is to say that this poetry exists at the intersection of noir, horror, science fiction, and existential dread. A poem in the collection that might encompass all four of the items on my list is this one—“the computer program was named suicide”:

demons awakened, marched towards subroutines
where the laws of physics warped and coiled to its hellbent limits
the worlds yet disintegrated again and again
civilizations gained favor and quickly rotted to death

Most of the poems in this collection could be called “Stealth SF” examples, since the majority of them were first published in mainstream literary journals, such as Coe Review and Boston Poetry Magazine. This is Tringali’s first collection of poetry, and it is a good one, both for those of us who maybe “can relate” and those who like to read their SF and horror while wearing a trenchcoat. Apropos of all that, have a gander at these lines from “the declining economy of whiskey”:

our whiskey is at its last dying drops
and we hesitate before going
into that good night

there’s the angels
there’s no one else

Jake Tringali edited the “Sex” issue of Eye to the Telescope, so no one should be surprised to see plenty of that in these poems as well. For example, in “I sip Campari from your left eye” we get a tour of the liquor cabinet and various orifices:

I sip Chartreuse from your left ear
now, let’s not be craven
shallow dives to wet the tongue
aural exploration

The poetry is all pretty much free verse, with some formalist couplets and such sneaking up on you. This is a fun collection with approachable style and diction. I like the way the seediness that creeps into some of the poems is juxtaposed with techno-horror, although the poems never seem to feel like cyberpunk or are otherwise clichéd. I like this book a lot and would recommend it to some of the more jaded amongst us. No long faux-Tolkein fantasy poems that make me feel like I’m swimming in oatmeal, just Doc Martens, booze, sex, and robotics gone somehow wrong (as though robotics could go right). Some of Tringali’s poetry is hard as nails, while other poems are lyrical in a guttersnipe sort of way, like “valentine’s day at zyzzx bar”:

the moon, an alabaster witch, sinks with yearning
to touch glitter city, gay with rage, catching lunacy
lil cupid does its sick voyeur thing from the moonshadows

In other words, the perfect collection of poetry for the apocalypse we’re currently living in. Highly recommended.

—Denise Dumars

This Ae Night, Every Nighte and All by Frank Coffman
(Mind’s Eye, 2018) 46pp. $7.50 paperback. lulu.com/en/us/shop/frank-coffman/this-ae-nighte-every-nighte-and-alle/paperback/product-12qgp72z.html

Coffman uses this chapbook of 33 formal poems as an educational tool as much as a poetry collection, which is useful for readers considering his deep dives into the history of formal poetry. However, there seems to be such a preoccupation with form that at times, the poetry itself is lost, resulting in a very uneven collection.

In his “Poet’s Preface,” Frank Coffman makes his mission with this chapbook quite clear. He wants to write formalist poetry, speculative poetry (focusing, specifically, on horror and supernatural poetry), and story poetry. All of this is certainly to be praised, but Coffman’s introduction makes it seem like he’s an outlier in these pursuits, which will be puzzling to most readers, especially those of speculative poetry. The SFPA has been in existence since the late 70s, so the idea that Speculative Poetry is a “rapidly reviving and burgeoning realm” of poetry seems an anachronistic assertion in 2018. Furthermore, the idea that formalist poetry or “story poetry” would have the same descriptor when The Reaper was founded by Jarman and McDowell in 1980, who later went on to found Story Line Press, helping to establish the ideas of New Formalism and New Narrative poetry. So for almost forty years, the three movements that Coffman is tapping into have existed. Coffman is clearly part of a long, rich tradition of poets, and writes from that perspective.

Coffman uses This Ae Night, Every Nighte and All to not just present poetry, but to teach his readers about formalist poetry and various poetry forms. He makes sure that readers know every form that he’s using for each poem, and goes so far as to include a five-page glossary of the forms he’s using and some thoughts on formal poetry. This really helps readers to understand the approach that Coffman is taking towards poetry, and while there are a handful of factual inaccuracies in the glossary, it serves as a basic introduction to the forms which Coffman is using.

When it comes to the individual poems themselves, it’s a mixed bag. At times Coffman seems so caught up in mastering the elements of a particular form that he forgets to hone his other poetic craft. This can be seen in the sonnet “Accursed,” a sonnet following the Scupham rhyme scheme as invented by Bob Newman based on the writings of Peter Scupham, but with a clear turn at the end. The poem begins “I cannot stop this curse which taints my soul,” and continues through a stereotypical werewolf story about a man who gets bitten by a werewolf and, even though he kills said werewolf, is still cursed to change with every full moon. The images in this poem are limited and cliché, and the plot of the poem does not imbue the werewolf legend with anything new. That doesn’t seem to be the point, though, as the focus isn’t the poetry of the piece but how the form itself plays out. With that as the intention, Coffman takes a rather obscure form and taps into older sonnet traditions, imbuing the form itself with new life.

Alternately, “The Lich,” the meta sonnet sequence that begins the collection is quite rich, and serves as a good opening sequence. While there is a clear narrative in the sequence, each individual sonnet is a variation of traditional sonnet forms, and the formal aspects of the poems do not overshadow the content of the poems. The rhymes are rarely obvious or obtrusive, and while some of the language is deliberately archaic and pretentious, that’s the point of the sequence itself. Of particular interest is the second sonnet—“The Book—which details a book “fashioned, foully, of tanned human skin” in which “the lines are not in ink, but scrawled in blood.” Here, while the poem serves the narrative of the sequence itself, the imagery is rich, and while not particularly original, the sequence itself serves as an introduction to the whole chapbook.

Overall, This Ae Night, Every Nighte and All by Frank Coffman is a unique chapbook. As an artifact of formalism, it’s both an education and an adventure. Coffman taps into some familiar forms, but also some obscure forms, even inventing a form or two himself. This makes for an interesting read, and readers of poetry, especially formalist poetry, will appreciate Coffman’s attempts at these difficult challenges. However, as is often the case, the poems themselves are a mixed bag, and while Coffman fulfills the rules of the forms, he often fails to write a successful poem due to the lack of imagery, metaphor, and other craft considerations. Readers of speculative poetry will be impressed at Coffman’s formal achievements, which are clearly the focus of this chapbook, enough that they’ll probably be able to overlook the detriments in each individual poem itself. Readers won’t be particularly moved or horrified by these poems, but they will be able to enjoy them for what they are, exercises in formal verse meant to both inspire and educate readers.

—Joshua Gage

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