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: 202120202019201820172016201520142013201220112010200920082007200620052004≤2003

For books published in 2022:

Angels of Hell: Poetic Tales of the Apocalypse by Christopher Reichard
(Apocalyptic Vision Books, 2022). 200 pp, $19.99 hardcover. $5.99 Kindle. amazon.com/Angels-Hell-Poetic-Tales-Apocalypse/dp/B0B2HZGFQY

Reichard’s foreword mentions his inspiration from Dante’s Inferno, Homer’s Odyssey, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Epic. He set out the goal of writing a poem each day of 2021 to form this series, all related to his Angels of Hell graphic novel universe. It’s an ambitious goal of a project, an even more ambitious goal of a book. This one clocks in at 190 pages of material, about 155 of which is poetry.

I find myself skeptical with any poetry today working in rhyme and meter. Not opposed to, but I definitely set a high bar for work that sets out to be compared with Milton, Dante, and Homer.

Most of the poems are centered in the middle of the page, each written in ABCB quatrains.

Reichard’s work demonstrates an engaging use of vocabulary and sound. The first poem, “Forsaken Knowledge,” which starts with a pleasantly chewy title, contains several alliterative examples: “many millennia … measured by might … reason’s rhyme … raised from ruins.” These instances are punctuated with a balance of hard syllables:

If only Babel had never fractured,
splitting tongues beyond reason’s rhyme.
Erasing ward, word, and dialect.
Incantations lost to the sands of time.

The narrative describes an apocalyptic vision starting in Las Vegas, which is as fine a place to start the apocalypse as any, probably better. Characters are introduced in one poem after another. The narration leans heavily on overt description and occasional conversation:

Pushing past decaying corpses,
corporeal casualties caught in flux
that strain to claim a piece of Terry.
To avoid their clutch, his driving crux. (“Escaping Lust”)


“So, if I'm understanding—” War probed,
“—all you wish is a blind eye?”
Asmodeus remarked, “Yes.”
“To everything?” “Yes!” Asmodeus cried.
“Absolutely not, you'll return to Hell.”
Flared Death, “In pieces if necessary.”
That dev’lish grin points at himself,
“Surely you can make exceptions for me—”
“—I mean my sins are no worse than yours.
Tisn't the first Christ you've let down.”
“Watch your tongue, that's your last warning!”
Asmodeus and Death locked in showdown.
(from “Boiling Tempers”)

This makes the story more accessible than it might otherwise be, trying to step into this dark vision of end times, but is also sacrifices a poetic immersion that might help balance the action. The poems are consistent stylistically throughout the collection.

One of the dangers of writing in meter and rhyme is the sacrifice of more natural grammatical structure, which Reichard regularly slips into, though whether the rhyme and meter is the driving force or it is a stylistic choice is unclear.

There are black and white graphics between each canto, which must connect this collection to the broader Angels of Hell universe. These are highly detailed and make for interesting additions, though not necessary and possibly distracting for the reader’s immersion in the imagined visuals of this world.

There is a 30-page section of sketches toward the end of the collection, followed by a glossary of people, places, and events mentioned in the book. Each of these entries is written in bold when it appears in the poem, which might be helpful to some readers, but also might prove distracting to others. The glossary is 8+ pages. The same risk is there with the sketches and I did not find supportive of the poetry, though perhaps they are a nod to the Reichard’s graphic work.

In a world of immediate gratification, epic works have an uphill battle, though there are regular reminders that we can still be drawn into their spiraling sagas. This collection might benefit from a graphic rendition, or perhaps it is just calling for me to read Reichard’s other work.

—John Reinhart

Codex Yith by Cardinal Cox
(17th Lovecraftian poetry pamphlet, 2022). 16 pp, free for SASE while supplies last from 58 Pennington, Orton Goldhay, Peterborough, PE2 5RB UK, or email cardinalcox1@yahoo.co.uk

This little booklet has the same form as its predecessors. Each page bears a poem, which in every case leaves enough room at the bottom for a brief but authoritative archeological-style explanation. These give context and link the poems together. The whole thing is like a series of snapshots, peeks at a narrative that does not actually exist. Edward Gorey did something like this to good effect with cartoons. These explanations, which deviate remarkably from the world as we think we know it, are my favorite part of Codex Yith. Did I mention that some of them are funny?

Some things about Codex Yith I like very much, and some I do not.

One thing I love about this pamphlet is its nonlinearity. Successive poems jump back and forth in spacetime, which focuses the reader’s attention on time, place, and sequence. The booklet becomes a historical puzzle to be solved, but one whose scope spans billions of years. Earth is a part of the story, but as in much Lovecraftian literature, Earth and our species are by no means as important as we humans tend to think.

In “Tsan-Chan” empires fall and new worlds are colonized

In rough years firm neighbours became raiders
As vultures the strongest stole from the weak
Thieves became the beggars’ grim-faced gaolers
Power alone became what the free seek

Science marches on. From “Nevel Kingston-Brown”

A star-drive to open the galaxy
The Earth’s billions to be offerred new homes
Galleons set upon this darkest sea
Fresh high roads cobbled with stardust to roam

But (“Mercury”), what does it matter?

Other worlds in orbit are now cold husks
Even Venus cooled – atmosphere frozen
Rotten Earth falling into final dusk
Mercury remains the only chosen

What I don’t like about this mini-chapbook: some of the rhymes seem forced, and this always bothers me. However, Cox’s poetry often affects me this way, and the poems in Codex Yith flow more naturally off the tongue than those in recent pamphlets in this series.

This a fun read, thought provoking and imaginative. Get it if you can.

—David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Endymion or the State of Entropy: A Lyrical Drama Inscribed to the Memory of John Keats and Percy Shelley by Kurt R. Ward O.P.R.
Lush illustrations by Rebecca Yanovskaya. Self-published in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2022. 64 pp. $21.96 hardcover, $12.99 paperback.

This is a four-act play in verse that owes much to the mythological works of Keats and Shelley. In particular, there is much of the battle between logic and raw emotion that the work of Romantic poets embodied.

Logic cannot subvert Imagination,
The Laws of Science cannot Infinity divide,
Nor calculate Eternity in Divine proportion

The verse is formal in the sense of high vocabulary, occasional rhyme or meter, and the primary use of non-enjambed lines; in fact almost every line ends in punctuation; comma or period. Here is an example of the vocabulary:

Summon the daughters of Mnemosyne
To consummate the Auguries of Discontent.

The tacit mirrors of Recrimination

What you repress in Sublimation
Permeates until manifest.
Fear is the Sacrament,

The book reads like ancient myth that has gone through multiple translations, a feel that sometimes works well. There is a wealth of declarative sentences alleviated by direct dialogues between gods. The declaratives, however, are often written to be literal or metaphorical depending on reading such as:

The Path is forgotten,
The Keys are lost,
Only a God can navigate
The Labyrinths of Tartarus.

Overall, despite the use of dialogue, the book often lacked flow yet it was so full of memorable quotes that could inspire other poems, that it kept me going. Here are a few examples:

If to love is to live,
Why does Death hide behind each kiss?

What you Fear is not what is lost,
But what you have not Found,

The further we move ahead,
The more we stumble behind.

Who weeps for Birds that do not sing,

We grasp at Stars but gather only Dust,

There are multiple mythological interpretations of Endymion, including a few where he is divine, but in this exploration he is human. The comparison of a human who is a lover to a god (Diana) is given attention. While the drama itself does not recapitulate the birth of the gods, their extraordinary births versus the normal process are touched on here.

Why should my heart
Vexed with the insurrection of Birth
Be more silent than this Grave?

From Daughter to Son,
Famine, Poverty, Avarice and Guile

Some readers may stumble over the lack of possessive apostrophes. Inconsistency of rhythm and rhyme may put off some readers. Others may have some issues with the occasional mixing of mythologies with references to dragons and to Myrrh and Frankincense. But if you like the old literary style, and dense verse that expects you to know your Roman and Greek mythology, there are plenty of rewards in this book. It is rich, dense, allusive, and mythological. If that sounds appealing this may be for you.

—Herb Kauderer

Foundlings by Cindy O’Quinn & Stephanie Ellis
(independently published, 2022) 93 pp, $8 paperback, $4.01 Kindle. amazon.com/dp/B09TMTCLTD

Using the works of Linda D. Addison and Alessandro Manzetti, O’Quinn and Ellis conjure monsters that are simultaneously undefinable yet familiar in their collection of bite-sized found poems. The collection possesses an overall somber tone. With a combination of violent imagery alongside beauty, the work reveals a romance in suffering.

From “Broken, Fragmented”:

… a frozen gift of dead flowers, broken like her neck

Angels and demons populate many of the poems, as the authors explore themes of mortality and the dark corners of life.

From “Garden of Delights”:

I, the leech of angels,
plague’s brother, am walking
In the garden of delights

From “Medusa Smiles”:

Demons lead her captured dead
to the streets of hell.
red matter to be drawn everyday
and everyday

and everyday

While many poems depict companionship at the end of life, one poem stands out while discussing birth with an opposing image of loneliness.

From “The Resucked”:

A universe of sorrow in the cell of my brain
An imperfect newborn screams of revelations

The collection is aptly divided into five parts; Part I with poems solely by Cindy O’Quinn and Part III by Stephanie Ellis. Part II is a collaboration of both authors on every poem. Yet Parts IV and V delve deeper into the concept, with found poems created from the found poems in the previous sections, resulting in poignant haikus that entirely transform from the original source material.

From “Smiles,” found from the poem “Medusa Smiles”:

men drawn to pain, everyday
demons lead her to hell

Each poem references its source at the bottom of the page. While personally unfamiliar with the poems of Linda D. Addison and Alessandro Manzetti used to create these found poems, the collection is coherent and enjoyable with the implication that all poems have been transformed into something unrecognizable. For fans of the source material, this collection might offer a deeper reading experience that this reviewer missed out on.

Overall, both authors work together seamlessly, with neither voice eclipsing the other in style. All poems fit together thematically and tonally, making the collection a cohesive reading experience. However, to some readers, this collection might feel monotonous, with little variation from the core themes.

—Robin Rose Graves

From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum by Kathleen Balma
(Black Spring Press Group, 2022), 96 pp, paperback, £10.99, blackspringpressgroup.com/products/from-your-hostess-at-the-t-a-museum

Sirens, ghosts, historic figures, GMO crops, and the notion of stopping time are just a few of the subjects explored in Kathleen Balma’s first full-length collection, From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum. The book’s first section, “Harlequinade,” contains 26 stand-alone poems, while the second, titled “Snubbed: A Motion-Picture Ekphrasis” is a collection of poems forming a narrative about a pair of monkeys called Prince and Pauper.

One of the collection’s most likeable aspects is the humor, which comes in a number of forms including sly, absurd, and irreverent. For example, the poem “Abraham, Honestly” is prefaced with the snippet “With his own two hands, Abe Lincoln built the log cabin he was born in. —from an American college student’s history paper.” Balma plays with three different scenarios suggested by this statement.

“Homage to the Twelve Steps” applies The Twelve Steps to gardening, and in “Escape from the Abhorrent Vacuum,” Balma wonders if nature is “tired of being a mother,” and asks, “… What if she isn’t / a she at all, but a beautiful bearded mountain // man, all oceanic swagger and volcanic lisp?

In “A Tour of Pompeii’s Red-Light District,” Balma notes;

Along the top
edge of hall

(where a wall-
paper border

might go) is porn so old
we feel safe

saying “art”
and smiling.

“The Causes of Cyclone Formation Aren’t Well Understood” blends meteorological references with allusions to The Wizard of Oz, and concludes, “A weatherman is an elemental wiz. As such, he can do nothing but try to predict what air already knows, then instruct you to use the dead’s shoes to find a way home.”

Balma juxtaposes the concrete and abstract to powerful effect, sometimes adding a dash of absurdity and throwing it all in the blender to produce a punchy concoction that makes you feel as though you’ve been there too, even if you’re not sure where “there” is. For example, in “What the Traveler Knows,” Balma states

Every country is a cure for something;
Every cobblestone a lozenge
For some scratchy, sore spot
In your pedestrian head …

Balma’s work contains masterful imagery. “Stopping Time is Not as Useful as We Thought” includes references to “frozen smoke curls,” and “the way pellets of rain disappear where we walk, leaving body-shaped paths in the air.”

The second section of the book, “Snubbed: A Motion-Picture Ekphrasis” contains a number of short poems separated by page breaks. “Snubbed” was inspired by a documentary by Xi Zhinong. The poems primarily focus on two monkeys, Prince and Pauper, as they grow up under different circumstances. The poems blend in cultural references including children’s songs, and facts about monkey behaviour.

Though this is Balma’s first full-length collection, she is not new to the publishing scene. The poems included in From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum appeared in magazines such as Atlanta Review, Dunes Review, and Fugue. Some were also anthologized, and “From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum” was reprinted in Pushcart Prize XXXVII.

—Lisa Timpf

Little Black Box edited by Anna Cates (Resource Publications, 2022) 104 pages, $9.99 Kindle, $13.00 paperback, $27.28 hardcover.

This is a collection of speculative poetry from Ohio, and particularly of poets affiliated with four writers’ groups. There are one to six poems from each of twenty-three poets, with all poetry presented in alphabetical order by the poets’ last names. A fair number of the poets are academics, including the editor, who is a respected SpecPo figure. Overall, other than the editor, they are names less familiar.

Almost every poem in the book would fit comfortably within a common SpecPo market, but collectively they give a different feeling. More time is spent in the liminal space between the reader’s breadth and the speculative or the spectacle that defines the field. There is less exploration of the established tropes of SpecPo, having been replaced with more poems grounded in this reality. For instance, the haibun of a golem (Cates 16) has him meeting a Nazi during World War II. Nicely done, but also showing the primacy of this primary world rather than transportation to a secondary world.

The question then arises, is this just a group of dabblers? And if so, what is the value of their work? To be sure, this book includes a greater number than usual of poems that leave the reader asking “Is this SpecPo?” And yet, the majority own their place in the genre, even while taking sometimes different angles. For example, a common genre trope is to consider fairy tales and folklore from different viewpoints. Here we are offered the biblical tale of Abraham from the ram’s point of view (Broidy 8).

The more common places publishing SpecPo include their share of poems that seek to break the envelope out of SpecPo, while in this anthology, more poems are trying to break into the genre, sometimes by using metaphor that threatens to become concrete, but doesn’t always succeed. More times, it is up to the reader to decide. Consider:

On the freeway kangaroos are bouncing
from lane to lane all over the place.
(Hambrick 44)


let there always be melody
in the blood. let it ruminate
in the marrow of the bones,
(Martin 68)

There is abundant imagery, but while the genre usually pulls the reader out of the everyday world and into speculation, here the imagery attempts to pull the everyday world itself a step or two closer to the speculative.

Consider this meditation on haunting:

… when November comes, to pick the lock
between the living and the dead, notice,
please, the door that whinnies on its hinge,
the book that turns its own pages,
(Essinger 26)

At times, the flow and the rhythm of the book falls into a hypnotically mainstream style, but not in a bad way. Such as:

Truth, like the wind,
Finds form in
What is moved.
There is so much
That is nothing, we can
Barely believe
That we may
(Broidy 10)

Later in the book the rhythm is broken with freshness, especially in the poems by Skip Leeds, and particularly “Star Trek Liberal.” The poem almost defies excerpt, rich in this world, and the Star Trek World; but here is a taste:

I’m crying, and fetal on the inside
          and I’m watching these old episodes in the Memory
          archives (In this mirror, mirror universe they call it
                    “Netflix”) and godammit
          I want the better world aboard the
Enterprise. (Leeds 15)

In the end, a handful of these poets would be a great addition to the field. David A. Petreman’s “What To Do With a Dead Angel” sparkles. Barbara A. Sabol is one of us. Perhaps the historical horror of Myrna Stone. Definitely the scifaiku of Valentina Ranaldi-Adams.

Expect to rarely leave earth. To rarely journey far through time and history. You are unlikely to find yourself an alien hostage, or a weary space tech. Instead, expect to be suspended in air, measuring breaths, for long periods of time. Expect a different taste.

To this reader’s eye, the anthology has much to offer in diversity and broadening the field by spreading it across the face of the world we live in. At the same time, it does not have the depth often found in the work of regular practitioners. If you’re looking for wildness or total dislocation, look elsewhere. If you’re ready for a measured journey that’s a few steps to one side of the usual flow of SpecPo, this may be for you.


—Herb Kauderer

Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea, and Other Fairy Tales to Foment Revolution by Rebecca Buchanan.
(Jackanapes Press, 2022). 170 pp, $15.99 paperback. jackanapespress.com/product/not-a-princess-but-yes-there-was-a-pea-and-other-fairy-tales-to-foment-revolution

In Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea, and Other Fairy Tales to Foment Revolution, Rebecca Buchanan offers new and varied perspectives on traditional tropes. Buchanan uses fairy tales, nursery rhymes, fables, and folklore as the straw from which to spin these poems. In so doing, Buchanan crafts tales that are at the same time familiar and startlingly new.

Five of the works in Not a Princess have been previously published in venues like Corvid Queen, Gingerbread House, and The Future Fire, but the remaining 29 are offered for the first time in this collection. Most of the poems are also complimented by a full-page illustration, drawn from classical art by Albrecht Dürer, Walter Crane, Gustave Doré, and others.

Buchanan provides a list of source works for each poem. In many cases, poems play off a single source, such as “Hansel and Gretel” or “The Three Little Pigs.” Some of the poems, however, are a mash-up of different tales, as is the case with “The Green Knight,” which blends Arthurian lore with the legend of Johnny Appleseed. Buchanan visits some of the source materials multiple times. For example, there are several poems providing different takes on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” and more than one poem draws from “The Frog Prince.”

Buchanan’s poems evoke a variety of moods. Some deal with darker issues like abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder, while others are more light-hearted and even optimistic.

Buchanan uses humor to good effect. For example, “Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea” contains the lines,

I certainly wasn’t lost.

I knew exactly where I was.

Hard to miss that monstrosity
of a palace, even in the middle
of a storm.

In “The Frog,” which visits “The Frog Prince” from the Princess’s viewpoint, the lead character states:

Don’t misunderstand.

I like frogs:
the way their legs move,
the arch of their backs,
the bump of their hearts in their throats.

Just not
when they follow me home.

Buchanan’s twisting of the tales also means that the moral of the story has, in many cases, changed. In “Seven,” which plays off “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the happily ever after is the hope for a better and kinder world. In “The Sisters and the Knife,” which uses the “Cinderella” tale as its takeoff point, the stepsisters realize that they might be the lucky ones because the prince isn’t such a prize, and not being chosen comes with a kind of relief.

As one might expect from a book that has the words “Fairy Tales to Foment Revolution” in its title, some of the poems contain social commentary. “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe: An Analysis, with ‘Questions’,” investigates the nursery rhyme mentioned in the title section by section, making observations like, “this is what happens without access to viable birth control and prenatal care.” “The Cobblers,” which plays off “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” ends with the helpful elves kept in servitude. The shoemaker’s wife can hear “their chains / clinking all through the night” but despite her discomfort, she’s willing to live with that situation because she and her family can live warm and well-fed as a result of the elves’ labors. “Enchanted Forest News” provides a humorous and satirical take on a self-serving and PR-savvy Fairy Godmother.

In the Author’s Note, Buchanan states that “Fairy tales—or faerie, if you prefer—are revolutionary texts,” and advises,

… dig a little deeper, pay closer attention, and read between the lines. The princes are not always so noble. The princesses are sometimes out-spoken, and are punished for trying to make their own life choices. The witches are not evil, but powerful women who are feared by those around them.

Not a Princess offers intriguing glimpses of alternate possibilities underlying familiar stories. For those who enjoy the interplay of “what if” scenarios, delivered with a dash of humor and a generous supply of satire, Buchanan’s collection is well worth a look.

—Lisa Timpf

The Saint of Witches by Avra Margariti
(Weasel Press, 2022). 81 pp, $12 paperback.

The title poem closes the collection and might suggest a tightly thematic book, but it is not that. Witches occasionally appear, for example, from “Unmaking”:

This, the secret all hedge witches learn the hard way:
how to unmake a person
before they unmake you.

There a few references to religion that might harmonize with saints, such as “Pterotillomania”:

If I ever awaken, will anyone want this grisly angel
who cannot stop recreating their own fall?

But overall, the book is more thematic in mood than content. It is full of animals, bugs, and other creatures, including the wonderful “Pity-Party Fairy”:

and bought myself a pity-party fairy in a jar.
Careful, it’s carnivorous, the ragged shopkeep said.

Perhaps related are Point of View experiments to be found in poems such as “Ruinous Beauty”:

Fissures traverse my stone legs,
my marble arms,
my battered brick and mortar.

Of particular note among the POV poems is the exploration of the difficulty of being a muse in “Maiden, Muse, Crone: A Self-Portrait”.

There are explorations of alternate romances in “Behold, a Rabbit-Footed Boy”:

I wondered if he would like me
with my teeth filed sharper

just for him.

And “Hanging Fruit”:

of lovers standing side by side,
mutual pain acquitted, compressed into compost
to nourish hybrid roots.

Sprinkled throughout are glimpses of sweet language and high vocabulary. “In the Ever-Night”

[…] the paper moon
is wrinkled again. Soon it’ll fold into itself
too small to notice, leaving the sky
ripe for the raven taking

From “River-Mud Rose”:

I am adulterated sand, dying before I can
become a freshwater pearl.

From “On the Genesis of Ghosts”:

Everything humans don’t know, they name
dark matter.

The author’s bio identifies Margariti as a “Greek sea monster” (among other things). Beyond the fun of the metaphor, it captures the mood of much of the book as largely Southeastern European, and fantastical. The works are certainly not limited by that, for instance, later in the book there are two explicitly Arthurian poems. Similarly, while the book is largely dark fantasy, it includes science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and sometimes blends them. A high concept example is “The Little Medical Experiment Who Ran Away” which includes the titular experiment asking for:

A kind touch, maybe even a fairy tale.
(A name. Oh, a name.)

In the end, this is a moody and diverse collection full of devils, harpies, medical experiments, strange creatures, and stranger humans. And it is largely in a voice a little different from the common Northwestern European roots that inform much of specpo.

—Herb Kauderer

The Sibyl by Hamant Singh. (Partridge Publishing, Singapore, 2022), paperback $11.99.

In his poetry collection The Sibyl, Hamant Singh offers 30 poems which are described in the Preface as “a collection of hymns, poems, dirges and songs.” The poems, which were written over a nine-year period, are organized into three chapters: “Conception,” “The Festering,” and “Chaos.”

In the opening chapter, “Conception,” Singh provides “accounts of histories that have been re-imagined as experiences,” referencing beliefs from a variety of cultures. As is the case with other portions of the book, some of the writings contain dark and foreboding elements. “Mara,” for example, includes the lines:

We constantly hear the reminder.
The tap of your
Single crooked fingernail
On the hourglass
As ravens scream from
Withered Trees.

In “San Martín,”:

Black trees quiver—
Reverberations and
That wake the dead,
That reach out and
Grab wandering souls
By the neck.

But there is subtle humor, here and elsewhere in the book. In “The Spectre,” the title entity, which “came from Beyond,” is clumsy at first,

Bumping into everything,
As if alien to
This world.
Finding bearings seemed to be
A most trying task.

The second section, “The Festering,” is described in the Preface as “an attempt to immortalise the events in the life of the author.” Again, many of the poems have a bleak tone. “Sunset,” for example, includes references to “a predetermined doomed destiny,” and “helplessly clinging to sorrow and woes,” along with the lines, “The journey slowly comes to a close. / But where was the warmth? / All along, where was the warmth?”

Despite the bleakness, there is a lyrical quality to some of the poems, including “Ballad of the Siren”:

Whispers and chants,
Spits and sighs,
Bound by magick
That blinds the eyes.

Singh also uses repetition as well as word play, with one example being “The Scorpion Dance”:

The Ballet of Blood—
A twirling battle that demands
A single dancer remain,
Standing over a single dancer’s remains.

In the third and final chapter, “Chaos,” Singh offers poems “based on prophecies about the future … what will happen when the end comes and the Great Mother Dragon rises from her watery slumber.” This segment includes apocalyptic, day-of-reckoning imagery from a number of cultures.

“My Surrender” begins with the lines:

In total surrender,
I sit before the Ocean.
I do not fear
The Beyond.

Later in the poem, Singh refers to “A reset to Infinity, to Chaos— / For Chaos is all, when there is naught,” and adds:

In total surrender
All life gives in to Death.
She rises once more,
A storm of horns and wings,

Despite this chapter’s foreboding theme, there is still space for subtle humor and lyricism. “Seventy Demons” ends with the lines:

Seventy demons, arm-in-arm
Dance in a circle, a circle of harm.
Dance in a circle, arm-in-arm,
Seventy demons, a circle of harm.

In the “About the Author” section, Singh is described as a “Singaporean writer who is influenced by horror, different cultures and the occult.” The poems in The Sibyl offer some striking imagery, exploring a range of emotions, including awe and a sense of mystery, despair, and resignation or even acceptance of the seemingly inevitable. The Sibyl is Singh’s first poetry collection.

—Lisa Timpf

Some Disassembly Required by David C. Kopaska-Merkel. Introduction by Marcie Tentchoff.
(Diminuendo Press, 2022). 96 pp, including 30 poems first published here.
Price: Print copies $10 postpaid (jopnquog@gmail.com via PayPal, or, a check made out to David C. Kopaska-Merkel at 10055 Goodwood Blvd, Baton Rouge LA 70815); ebooks from me $3, PDF, ePUB, MOBI, LIT, LRF.

The title of Kopaska-Merkel’s latest collection is fittingly simple yet twisted. Like eerie Ikea instructions, it delivers a result that will require revisiting.

The collection includes six ominous black and white illustrations by Henk-Jan Bakker, and 96 pages of poetry.

Kopaska-Merkel uses forms to highlight different characteristics in his stories—from haibun to fibonacci to lists—but writes primarily in free-flowing short lines.

Like the title, many of Kopaska-Merkel’s poems are deceptively simple in concept, like the girl who built a freeze ray and brought it to her sixth-grade science class, for the momentary ridicule of her classmates. The poem could easily play on revenge against “those pigtail-pulling, / lunch-tray shoving, / mean-mouthed boys,” but also presents the mystery of where Megan acquired the plans and parts to build such a weapon—aliens? supernatural possession? a government experiment? The questions are more unsettling than the poem’s actual narrative.

Some of the imagery is surreally nightmarish. For example, this passage comes from “Host.”

I dreamed,
thousands of tiny spiders emerged
from my open mouth,
crawled from my body,
floated from the bed.
I couldn’t move,
and as I lay I shrank;
more and more emerged,
and still they come,
and still I cannot move.

Kopaska-Merkel’s poems are a steady and consistent ride along the weird. These poems aren’t in-your-face, but the kind to leave you scratching your head, disturbed, or just chuckling quietly to the discomfort of everyone else in the room.

For instance, in “Adult Female, Deceased,” a fine setup for a dark and twisted poem, Kopaska-Merkel holds back from gore or shock, hinting just enough to make the story unfold in the reader’s head.

Lashes flutter under the sheet …

A student screams
Dr. Pierce looks up.
What will you say when we cut
into tonight’s body,
she asks,
if you scream at a little passing gas?

What indeed.

One of my favorite twisty poems is “Conversion Therapy,” one of the longer pieces in this collection, which starts:

Blood sucking, a lifestyle choice,
abominable in the eyes of God;
it stains the soul.
In compassion and love,
we’ll expose your son
to the sun’s
restoring, holy light,
a little more each day,
until he returns
to the bosom of God’s love.

You’ll have to get the collection to read the rest of that story. “Swamped” is another topical poem, focused on immigration.

The last two and a half pages contain scifaiku, where Kopaska-Merkel displays his ability to generate worlds in three lines.

Emy’s doll
has 2 arms, 2 legs
poor crippled thing

This is a strong collection from start to finish and sure to please spec poets who lean all directions, whether toward fantasy, science, or horror.

—John Reinhart

Songs from a White Heart by Jack Dann
(IFWG Publishing International, 2022), 44 pp. $9.18 paperback. https://www.amazon.com/Songs-White-Heart-Jack-Dann/dp/1922556971

The 11 poems in this chapbook were variously published over the last four decades, going back to a 1978 sweat lodge experience Dann relates in the introduction. He explains that the book is “in a sense, an autobiography of my experiences with traditional Native American religion,” though he’s sensitive to his own inevitable lack of knowledge, and went so far as to have a medicine woman vet these poems.

Dann works the line between spiritual and fantastic here, moving fluidly between the physical description of experiences he can rationally explain, “phonies and actors and / saints and wannabees / pretending so hard” in hopes of some enlightenment “carrying the earth and star gifts” and finding the universe empty.

There’s an element of horror in these poems. I wondered what it was about these poems that frightened me—not just references to pain, but some sense that the pain is part of the experience of being infinitesimal, of being a bug on the universe’s windshield. Explaining the power of giving flesh, a medicine man says in the introduction, “Your skin is the only thing you really own.” Of course. And yet…

Now I burn here
in the darkness
of my youth and middle-age
and once again I scream
and press my face
into the sweat moistened mud.

(“We Sat in the Sweat-Lodge”)

Our place and our responsibility in the universe arises starkly in “It Is a Circle”

… had we known
the terrors and the
wreckage, the losses
and longing, would
we have dreamed this

Speculative? I can already imagine the different comments about this collection, and I wonder whether these small and personal leaps into the unknown truly constitute speculative poetry. But perhaps that’s what they do best. They raise a specter.

Perhaps that specter is the limits of white western culture, the limits of experience cordoned off by our language and concepts.

The book itself comprises 30 pages of poetry, plus an introduction and acknowledgments. Every other page contains the picture of a face, like a watermark. Potentially distracting, these images (the same image repeated throughout the book) also have a haunting quality, giving the sense that the reader is being watched.

—John Reinhart

Summoning Space Travelers by Angela Acosta
(Hiraeth Publishing, 2022). 70 pp. $10.00 paperback.

In Summoning Space Travelers, bilingual Latina poet and scholar Angela Acosta offers 37 poems, roughly two-thirds of which have been previously published in venues such as Altered Reality Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, and Radon Journal. The collection is organized into three sections: “Terran Born,” “Outward, We Sojourn,” and “Summoning Space Travelers.” Several themes resonate throughout the collection, including ancestral linkages past and future, diversity, and the importance of valuing the wonders of the “spaceship Earth,” even as we might yearn for the stars.

In Part 1: Terran Born, Acosta reminds us that space is not the only frontier, stating, in “Visitor,”

I walk this Earth a visitor,
a cosmic wanderer tethered
to this globe by gravity.
I am the universe sensing itself.

In this section, Acosta speaks to our hopes for our planet, and how we might want to leave it for future generations. At the same time, she contemplates the damage done by colonization, and the threat of “intergalactic greed” ruining other worlds, just as Earth has been damaged. In “Anthropocene Children of Holocene Parents,” she calls for “deep cultural change,” lamenting the environmental disasters inflicted on the planet we currently call home:

What futures can we shape
when festering clouds of noxious fumes
rise from the Amazon, the lungs of the Earth?
What does tomorrow look like
when environmental racism and ecological collapse
destroy our communities and pollute our futures?

In Part 2: Outward, We Sojourn, the tone changes, with some of the poems musing, in entertaining ways, about the future. For example, in “Packing for the Voyage,” Acosta asks, “How will you pack for a trip beyond the Oort cloud / from which you may never return?” In “Tamales On Mars,” Acosta writes,

The dry soil of Mars could be
the deserts of Chihuahua,
Bolivian salt flats
or the frigid Patagonian steppe.

She imagines how future colonists might bring with them cherished cultural traditions:

We make tamales on Sundays,
filling them with the sweets
of dried fruits left in the sun
and cheeses from goats happily
jumping in Martian gravity.

“Worldwide Nightlight” remarks on the way the moon connects us, wherever we are on Earth:

A thousand miles away,
surrounded by trees, houses, or country roads,
the moon shines on us both,
a beacon of communication crossing time and space.

Look up and we’ll see each other,
waving like passing clouds gently floating away.

In “Part 3: Summoning Space Travelers,” Acosta’s imagination takes flight. In “Voyager’s Arrival,” she states,

They live out here,
in the dark relics of our accretion disk,
where leftover comets get sifted over
for drinking water and children jump,
tethered, between little worlds.

In “Tesseract,” she writes:

Perhaps I can hook onto a tesseract,
ascending Jacob’s ladder into orbit
until CFCs stick to my suit
as I reach the threshold between a globe
and a kaleidoscope of dimensions.

In “Our Queer Home in Space,” Acosta speaks of “folding the fabric of queer time / to find a place of refuge for our kind.” In “Cripping Outer Space,” she contemplates “a flotilla of accessible spacecraft / inhabited by multispecies coalitions / and jungles of biodiversity.”

Summoning Space Travelers, Acosta’s first poetry collection, delivers some beautiful and startling imagery while at the same time offering aspirations for the future that might resonate with many readers. In “The Point of It All,” Acosta urges, “Whether you stay or go, / leave this world better than you found it.” Amen to that.

—Lisa Timpf

Tuesday’s Child is Full by PS Cottier
(in case of emergency press, Travancore, Victoria, Australia, 2022), $13.99 paperback.

Since 2009, PS Cottier has posted original poems on her blog, pscottier.com. Tuesday’s Child is Full is a collection drawn from these poems. Cottier typically posted on Tuesdays, so the title is a nod to this fact as well as a reference to an old nursery rhyme.

Tuesday’s Child is Full contains 68 poems. While the collection is not exclusively speculative, there are a number of speculative poems and many with speculative elements.

Some of the poems have been lightly edited since their first appearance on the blog. The style is for the most part free verse, although there are also haiku poems, haiku sequences, haibun poems, and even an acrostic poem addressing the isolation imposed by Coronavirus. There is also some light rhyming for effect in some of the entries, such as “Fungi,” which ends,

Poison is just a flicker from food,
kidneys breaking down like wood.
They are not one nor the other—
they have their ways.
Would that we were they.

Nature serves as a focus for several poems. Some of the birds and other creatures might be familiar to North American readers, while others are specific to Australia. In “Currawongs,” Cottier writes,

They are nobody’s favourite bird,
brunching on bright blue wrens
or snacking on smorgasbords
of tenderized olive silvereyes.

Cottier describes currawongs as “sharp gazed moving funerals,” providing a hint of light horror even to poems about nature.

Some of the entries include fanciful musings. In “Do dogs dream of flying?” Cottier wonders, “could it be they chase sparrows / up beyond tight leash of earth?” “Just may be” notes,

Just may be, out there, there’s another place
where placentas are the exception,
and green marsupials lie on towels
and listen to the orange surf

“Ten-minute prose poem” depicts someone installing brain sims, while in “Oppressing the gnomes,” one of my favorites, garden gnomes are “downing tools / all over Australia, and whimsy is plummeting.”

Some poems dip into myth and folklore, again with Cottier’s turn of humour. In “On the sticky retirement of myth,” Cottier writes:

Pegasus got too old
so Bellerophon melted him for glue.
Useless glue; for each pot is full
of feathers…

“Roll up! Leap through!,” about an aging circus lion, has a sad loveliness about it, while “We are all working our way up, towards the birds,” contemplates a strange future:

Next year, unaided flight will be de rigueur,
and song will erupt, without instruments,
deep from the gape of seven billion throats.
We are all working our way up, towards the birds.

In “Turn away,” Cottier evokes the call of wonder:

Day demands in clear clipped diction
that we make work’s time rituals
the sum of all equations. From such
abbreviation, each star whispers
turn away, turn to me,
turn to me, and turn away.

The collection also contains social commentary. “Greyhounds’ release” argues:

.… let them live—
just as long as greyhounds live
not dispatched for slowness
and spaded into the bush
in a quotidian slaughter
nose to tail, tail to nose.

“French police cut soles off migrant children’s shoes,” based on a news headline from June 2018, and “Three first world concerns,” are other examples.

Cottier has to her name seven books of poetry, a volume of stories, and a short non-fiction work, Paths Into Inner Canberra. The poems in Tuesday’s Child is Full reflect that seasoning. Leavened by humour, sometimes dark and sometimes simply witty, the poems demonstrate a keen insight into nature and human nature. Printed on good quality off-white paper, Tuesday’s Child is Full provides a satisfying read for fans of Cottier’s work.

—Lisa Timpf

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