“Bulletproof”, by Wolfgang Carstens

Cover of the poetry book "Bulletproof" by Wolfgang Carstens. “Bulletproof” is the newest book of poetry by small press veteran Wolfgang Carstens, printed in 2017 by grey borders books and available now. Carstens is the frontman of Epic Rites Press, an unrepentent Canadian with front row seats to the latest American shit show. He has published many of the familiar poets we love at Crow: Zarina Zabrisky, Bill Gainer, John Dorsey, and more. 
        The first thing that you will notice is the art work on the front and back covers and interior by Epic Rites go-to artist Janne Karlsson who has rendered the poet in a cool ink punk comic style, with scattered bones as he’s walking the tightrope of death. Dig that for a few minutes, then jump in.
Despite the whimsical tone, your heart will quickly get heavy. 

Like here:
“my father spent / the last days / of his life / asking / to see / me

which / is ironic / because / I spent / the first years / of mine / asking / to see / him 
“Bulletproof” is both funny and sober, approaching themes of death from many directions: regret, denial, defiance, inevitability. Carstens also focuses on the evolving way that people view death and regret during the lifespan, from taking life for granted to rethinking choices to accepting lost opportunities. The poems are at times tribute, at times lamentation. The poet has to reckon with death around him and the spectre of his own. Nobody is bullet-proof, after all: 

in a drunken stupor,
clawing my way 
across the floor
on my hands and knees
like a wounded animal,

i started thinking
about great exit lines-

something
worthy of a tombstone.

ultimately,
all I could come up with 
was:

surely,
one more
won’t kill
me

He touches on the inevitability, and the small negotiations with mortality. How “clean” do we want our lives to be, how many things do we forgo to gamble on bought time? Do we rationalize our choices in the name of living on our own terms, and will we regret it? 

Even though there are lines and lines about human loss, the poem that hit that nerve for me was the poem about putting a dog to sleep: “when she slumped in my arms”.  Shit. 
It reminds me that we can read poems, read lines, read about awful things- but certain lines, certain images can just stop us in our tracks- and damn if it didn’t make me go hug the hell out of my dog and throw treats at her. You never know what will hit you, or why, and that is part of the experience of poetry. It happens like that- that wave- from some words on a page, something resonates. Certain things like this just stick and that is a powerful thing. You can’t blame people for wanting to do it, right? Of course we argue that people NEED to be doing it. 

Carstens is able to do this with brevity, saying a lot in a small space. This is one of the notable features of the poetry that I have read by him to date: succinct, choppy, but linked and cohesive taken together. 
I agree with what Wayne F. Burke had to say about the book: 

“In BULLETPROOF Wolfgang Carstens uses terse language of an exactitude unsparing inessentials to make a defiantly unsentimental last stand. Like a Daniel Boone of poetry—stoic yet capable of deep emotion—Carstens acknowledges brute existence, but does not give in to it, exults even, in his (and our) continuance, and with mordant wit, skewers vicissitude.”
—Wayne F. Burke, Dickhead

And Magdalena Ball:

“BULLETPROOF is a short, punchy and powerful collection of poems. Carstens looks death in its blackest eye, with anger, sorrow, and humour, and emerges victorious.”
—Magdalena Ball, The Compulsive Reader

“Short, punchy”. Yes. If you are new to Wolfgang Carstens or Epic Rites Press, check out his site here.  

Information about “Bulletproof”:

BULLETPROOF

23 pages
Perfect bound
ISBN: 978-1-897180-80-8
​Grey Borders Books, 2017
www.greyborders.com
 

“What We’re Reading”, Full Of Crow Press, edited by Elynn Alexander. 

“Fireball”, by Charles Joseph

I met New Jersey poet Charles Joseph when we read in the Lehigh Valley Vanguard’s event “Explorations Of Identity” at a new space in Easton, 719. He is a founding publisher and editor of Indigent Press, a relatively new small press based in Montclair. His chapbook “Fireball” (Or 12 Quasi-Epic Poems of Cheerful Doom and Gloom) is one of their offerings, with an initial print run of 100 limited copies.

The first poem, ‘The Return of Kid Lightning”, introduces the speaker as a poet who struggles with self doubt after “years of sluggin’ it out with the blank page.” He has made a connection with a reader in Texas, who has provided encouragement, now: “the blank page better watch its ass.”  Continue reading

“This Same Small Town In Each Of Us”, by Wanda Morrow Clevenger

“She writes like a reader.”

I recently received “This Same Small Town In Each Of Us” (Embracing The Human Condition) by Wanda Morrow Clevenger published by Edgar and Lenore’s Publishing House in California. A collection of prose, memoir, and poetry, it was a needed change from many of the essays that I have been reading lately. Her characters felt familiar to me, recollections from different ages and situations brought me to places that I recognized. I connected the prose and poems to many of my own memories and reading this book brought me back to experiences that I have not thought about in years. Small things, like riding on the handlebars of a bike and skinned knees, holidays and little memories triggering larger ones. Clevenger moves from child to mother, past and present, the world of her youth and the world of today, different in obvious ways but also in the sum of many small things that we lived without back then but are an integral part of life now.

IMG_3676Clevenger has this ability to be funny and serious, descriptive without going too far, with her transitions well timed. She knows when to pull the reigns, how much information we need and she doesn’t dump words to fill pages. She writes like a reader. Continue reading

“Stay Afloat Inside”, by Cord Moreski

“Stay Afloat Inside” Poetry by Cord Moreski, published by Indigent Press in 2016. Posted by Elynn Alexander for Full Of Crow Press.

We all have a floor
                   to rise from

Cord Moreski is a New Jersey Poet, host of Words On Main in Asbury Park and a frequent performer who brings a balance of power and composure to his readings. He is forceful, passionate, he throws himself into the delivery- but he is also a laid back, unassuming guy. He is, in person, like his poetry. His poems are straightforward, but read them twice.  This poetry chapbook from Indigent Press is white, stark, with a simple sketch. And a simple mantra: Stay Afloat Inside. 

Cord Moreski's Poetry Chapbook "Stay Afloat Inside"

Many of these poems return to themes of rebuilding, recovery, pushing through and kicking off from the past and making sense of the walking present with reminders of the people and places of steps past. 

flying back to four years ago

where if I close my eyes
I can still picture
those nights

The poet remains humbled by the past, the vulnerability, vigilance. He can’t go back. He has to confront his choices in the present. In one poem, he chooses club soda and lime instead of a drink:

We all have a floor
       to rise from
I place the sour fruit wedge 
between the blades
of my teeth,

bite down,
and sip the bitterness 
from the pith,

chewing
on what’s left
until I break the rind.

Continue reading

Aad de Gids Reviews “Body Voices” by Kevin Reid

Aad de Gids reviews “Body Voices” by Kevin Reid, Published by Crisis Chronicles Press. Full Of Crow Press. 

kevinreidbodyvoicesKevin Reid has written an intriguing collection of poetry themed around the vestiges of the human body called: Body Voices. In his book the body does acquire an actual voice. More accurately, several voices, as there are various parts of the body which all appear to be eager to speak. Never denoted without wit and sometimes a frail sadness or deadpan acuity, each poem is at once written for that particular body part’s seemingly idiosyncratic voice, while simultaneously bearing references to either more personal, societal or philosophical and poetical insights. As such, the book also resembles the great atlases of  ancient renaissance, Vesalius de humani corporis fabrica (1543) comes to mind. However, now in Reid’s hands, and in a decisively modern and postmodern idiom, the various Body Voices show a language best summarized as strong in vulnerability. Continue reading

The Non-Herein, Michael McAloran

Poetry by Michael McAloran The Non-Herein, by Michael Mc Aloran, published by Lapwing Press. Reviewed by Elynn Alexander for Full Of Crow. 

Of the non herein
Ash upon drought as if

It could be uttered
Set to light

Broken cleft absent
In whip of

Spinal affluence
Dragging out the magus

Pulse of futile
Again once again

Till none
Asked of without quarter

(In Abacus)

Michael Mc Aloran’s collection “The Non Herein” from Belfast publisher Lapwing Press invites the reader to anomie and paradox, what lies within is self-negating. His poems mirror back life, (“opiate’s glass” . (Traceless of), “naught of the sheet glass” (Never Once) reflected as decay, vitality that reaches to extinguishing, the “jugular ash”.  (Into Echoing) Continue reading

“Desecrations” by Howie Good

Desecrations, by Howie Good.  Discussed by Elynn Alexander for Crow Reviews, part of Full Of Crow Press. Desecrations was published by Fowlpox Press in 2012, with design and cover by Virgil Kay. ISBN 978-0-9881088-2-0. www.fowlpox.tk

Everyone felt exiled from everyone else.” (RSVP)

The poet begins with distinctions, people and things apart, alienation from minor to extreme degrees. The poet observes, even as he is aware of his own separation:

“I looked for the house while also trying to watch the road.” Continue reading

“The Horizontal Poet” by Jan Steckel

Jan Steckel’s The Horizontal Poet is an award-winning collection of poems published by Zeitgeist Press with cover art by Deborah Vinograd. This review appeared at Litseen, (link) a bay area event and lit site organized by Evan Karp, in October, 2012. Elynn Alexander

The cover of The Horizontal Poet features a supine female form, vulnerable, trusting but not submissive, open but not fully revealed. It is suggestive of a vulnerability shared by choice, not taken. She is at ease with her nakedness, calmly bold. Her hands are at rest, not a figure in waiting but suggesting serenity, contentment.

For these reasons, the cover struck me and became a recurring image throughout the collection, a presence that, like the subjects in the poems—“Wake,” especially—lifts up and transforms the reader. You can’t come away without feeling you’ve experienced something of this woman. Continue reading

Metamorphic Winters: A review of Confessions by Marcus Reichert

Full Of Crow welcomes Serena M. Wilcox: Metamorphic Winters: A Review of Confessions by Marcus Reichert

Have you ever experienced a prolonged dark night of the soul? Numbness is your meat and silence is the only form of desired communication. In Reichert’s latest book Confessions, he directs the reader like an old sage through chilling moments of despair and confusion to inner chambers of heat and illumination. Continue reading

“White Vases” by John Swain

“White Vases”, John Swain. Discussed by Elynn Alexander for Full Of Crow Press.

Poets navigate with labels. It is just a part of the deal as people try to make sense of their associations and perhaps figure out their own sub-sects. What we find, however, is that poets surprise us and like all artists, poets evolve. We have to challenge ourselves to suspend the need to define one another because when we do, we stay open to a fuller catalog.

To put Swain’s work into a box (nature) is to minimize what he is doing, what poets do, and doesn’t speak to the question of WHY he brings up nature or birds or anything else.  It ignores the scope of what he accomplishes, and constitutes a cherry picking of themes that is a common practice with poetry and poetic criticism, this pursuit of labels and categorization.  It keeps the reader in periphery, and ultimately leads them away from “White Vases”.

As a reader of John’s work for years now, I would like to encourage people that read his work to resist the temptation to typecast him and to force associations.  I hope that I can at least make the case for the rewards of digging deeper, as there are few poets on my radar that bring me to the point of study the way he does. The beauty of his writing makes me want to sit with his poems; their resonance makes me want to understand why they touch me. Their brevity fools me into thinking that they are simple and then I embark on an experience that becomes more layered with each read and with each book I find myself taking what he is willing to share and adding it to the experience of him, and when you have that relationship with a poet’s work it is an appreciation that is difficult to convey.

I may lack the words to convince you, but I won’t stop trying. Continue reading