“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-

worthy of a tombstone.

all I could come up with 

one more
won’t kill

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”:


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

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

“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

Rummaging In The Attic, by Constance Stadler

Rummaging In The Attic is a collection of poetry by Constance Stadler, produced by Differentia Press in 2010. (Read It Online Here)

Constance Stadler takes us through a mindscape, the attic housing of the seemingly disparate in context and chronology, at times rendered mute and others- in the words of Rich Follett- buoyant, ebullient. The attic holds hope in the face of gracious resignation, the poet both grieves and reaches. Continue reading

The Gravedigger, by Ilan Herman

The Gravedigger, a novel by Ilan Herman. Reviewed by Lynn Alexander for Crow Reviews. This is Herman’s debut novel from Casperian Books, released this Spring.

Sometimes he thought that all life was wasted. That was the nature of life- to be wasted. No bending words could change that.   -The Gravedigger

Ilan Herman admits that questions about mortality and purpose remain unanswered, despite our best efforts to confront them. Perhaps there is something in us that wants to keep trying, perhaps a stubborn tendency that makes us unwilling to let these questions go despite the obvious fact that we seem to come up empty. For some it is not a matter of pursuing purpose, but pursuing faith, choosing to have faith or being moved to simply accept or believe things even in the face of those questions.

Sometimes a writer does not presume to give us answers, but has come to understand that the processing and confrontation sets a wheel in motion in our own minds to chase our own struggles. I think that, above all, is what Herman wants us to come away with after reading The Gravedigger– that sense of being stirred to think. Why do we live? Continue reading

When The Cats Razzed The Chickens And Other Stories, Mel Bosworth

When the Cats Razzed the Chickens by Mel Bosworth, Folded Word Press. Reviewed by Lynn Alexander.
First of all, I have to start by saying that I happily ordered this book because I have never been disappointed by Mel Bosworth or the work of Folded Word. I wanted to write about it because I hope that you will read it, because it deserves mention, because I think you will be glad you did. Nobody asked me to review it, and even if Mel Bosworth was a tool (FYI- he is SO not a tool) I would want to ramble about it. There is an attention to detail that just makes me excited to have this book in my hands, tangible, “shelf-able”. I have this odd sense sometimes like web based literature feels transient, like something I won’t be able to go back to when I want to. I love that the web has made things accessible, but there are some things I want to keep. This book is one of them. The presentation is unique and thoughtful, with details that can only be done by hand collecting many of Mel’s pieces from the web into a well crafted presentation that is definitely worth taking a look at even if you have read some of them before. Continue reading

ANGLES OF DISORDER – by Zachary C. Bush


BlazeVOX (Books) (www.blazevox.org) ; 2009 – 96 pages

I think I’m writing this review in reverse, but the almost too brilliant Angles of Disorder by Zachary Bush is a deconstructive whirlwind around the wheel of life, which when it ends, kind of pulls the whole thread together with a poem entitled “The Hard Truths About Living and Dying,” particularly the last line:

“When you die there is no breath, and your life’s true purpose is finally realized. There is absolutely no meaning, and there is a great disappointment that can never be eradicated.”

Perhaps not so hopeful, but what did you expect from a book whose sections are marked off by a stick figure, ostensibly “the poet” who comes apart piece by piece throughout the manuscript and what’s left afterward, the head (or perhaps even “the intellect”) itself slips off the page until there is nothing left.

What precedes that final line is a Smorgasbord of modernism, put on display by Bush and then reflected through his own prism meditating on the impossible contradiction of poetic existence, that is, a dissonance (disorder) permeating all functioning dichotomies (angles.) They’re all here disguised in Bush’s peculiar yet resonant rhetoric…exquisite corpse (“From Within The Vortex”, invoked in “The Difference”) concrete poetry (When You Are Dead) absurdist archetypes (“The Goldfish”) dream journaling and yes, even some very clever and playful LangPo:

“Overweight Water Queen, sobbing top 50 Doo-Wop Hits. Sketching the differences in U.S. Stop Signs. An American Flag waxed in yellow wax hangs still-to-still life. The flag hangs 8 ½ feet above a village of matchstick castles, unable to melt because of the confused conversion. That, most likely, was just another Blackout contortion. See: no breeze, no sound & nothing near to sestina humidity. Yet something is sweating. Wax sings: drooping, dropping, releasing & splattering onto the sand. The sand, that resembles volcanic ash, covers the ground. Aquarius has gone tonight. ‘A’is as realized now. I see the all-consuming Frequency (trying like a bastard) to consume me…constantly dreaming in circles.

-from “From the center of The Circle”

The themes of “Hunger,” “Time” and “Energy” get their own sections, as these characteristics, personified, archetyped or otherwise, drive Bush’ deconstructionist spiral.  In the end, there is only the void or the sense of the abysmal, personified and manifest in Angles’ final section, by poems entitled “While You Sleep In The City,” Before the Spinning Color Wheel Becomes our Primary Source of Energy,” and “The Last Three Days of Your Final Starvation.”  “The Disappearing Act” in this section is among the darkest and most chilling in the whole collection:

“This boy’s mother once threw a pot of boiling water at his head when she caught him down in the basement, loving on the hunting dogs. This boy said nothing when the bigger boys shoved a branch inside of him. This boy was found in the woods by his father with the end of a branch planted deep inside of his ass.

This boy, when no one was watching, would urinate and defecate on the things that were for sale: glass ashtrays, silverware, empty bookshelves, second-hand sofas, and manual typewriters. This boy’s father laughed at him, when he found him in the woods, and called him a Patsy.

This boy made sure his mother and father were deep asleep before he took off all of his clothes, walked out the back screen-door, and followed the moonlight to the middle of the lake…”

Bush is at his strongest when he is grinding out his iconic prose analogies. Much of his experimental form here, while well executed, is at times superfluous to the otherwise powerful narrative that actually permeates the entire book with an impending sense of dread.  It is in the prose passages where Bush truly synthesizes a model that is part Buddhist, part Scientific Method, into a genuinely fresh Surrealism. There is the implication that no matter how “efficient” a model for existence is developed by a poet or philosopher or any human for that matter, it’s necessary imperfections lead back to a single, inevitable end.

The ghosts of Ezra Pound and John Keats also haunt this book (“The Vortex & Memory”) as Bush demonstrates in nearly all the pieces here his comfort with Negative Capability and the self-awareness of the poet.  No question Angles of Disorder is a BIG debut in the tradition of poets who are them-selves aware of pushing the form forward.  What’s unusual is finding this combination of talent and awareness in an author who is only twenty-five: not even Gen X but Gen Y.  Many young authors over reach on debut collections, or are too anxious to “flex” their poetic muscles.  Bush has given us plenty of flexing here, but delivers on all the goods.

Shudder Pageant by xtx and Mel Bosworth

Review of Shudder Pageant by Mel Bosworth & xtx.

(for PDF )

(for MP3)

2009, 57 pages

Shudder Pageant is a collaborative multi-media flash novel (as opposed to “micro-novel” – a novel told in 140 character increments) by a couple of young and edgy authors who are probably too good for their own good.

The plot of the story is a spiral, not linear, account of three friends; Jacob, Sophie and Cody, whose lives are irrevocably altered by the enlistment of Cody’s brother Brody into the Army Reserves.  The spiral of events downward (as it turns out) is mirrored in destinations like hospital floors and street gutters before the thread spins out. And it is back along that thread that the pageant of shudders parades.

“The more broken one bucked wild horse on the bed, red foam spurting from his mouth like water from a pinched garden hose.

First nurse leaned back, the leather strap straining damp on her palms.

‘Get the fuck over here and help me!’

Second nurse flicked the cigarette through the window. In the distance, explosions hung in the sky like angry memories. She passed the bed of the less broken one. He’d been awake for 10 hours now but hadn’t spoken a word. The 33 stitches through his lips were thick and sloppy, the result of an overtired and fawning young medic.

He whimpered like a broke-leg pup. Second Nurse frowned deeply.

She knew his time would come, and when it did, she’d be the one holding his hand.”

Xtx and Bosworth have seamlessly woven their interpretations of the three main characters with the perspective of peripheral characters who bear witness to the slow drop out of the primaries; into a story that feels as if it could have been culled from a fevered, attention span challenged Denis Johnson dream.  In just a few minimalist pages, the collaboration draws out violence, crime, drug addiction, broken families and broken loves all stemming from a bleak but familiar landscape:

“At first it was awkward, Brody was different…quieter. But even later, after he acclimated as best he could to his temporary civilian life, he still wasn’t the same. It was a different version of Brody, like someone had taken who he was, washed it several times, and put it back inside him.

His parents put on faces and avoided any discussion about how things were going “over there.”

They never said ‘Iraq.’”

What the collaborating authors have created here is an Ouroboros of narrative structure, a story that essentially gives birth to itself, coming together in the psychic connection between Cody and Brody, whose destinies are irreversibly intertwined and manifest in a two headed mutant which Cody keeps animated (or not) in a jar he keeps cradled close to his bosom and drug habit.

The surreal sense of events spiralling out of control is punctuated by an evolving chorus that runs from “We’re real people doing real things” which runs out to the past tense “I was a real person doing real things,” as if these characters are trying to convince themselves of something that isn’t quite genuine, or even entirely true.

Shudder Pageant is a little online miracle, a multi-medium flash novel in spoken or written form that is absolutely free to everyone, and yet weaves the “NOW” of both evolving literature and the reigning cultural paradigms into a post-modern fable that feels simultaneously unreal and immediate.  Bosworth and xtx demonstrate that they can function as one unwavering and unblinking voice, and one can only hope that they continue to move literature in a direction that is this honest, accessible and revelatory through future collaborations.

Paul Corman-Roberts for Full Of Crow. 

this is it…..by Geraint Hughes, Blackheath Books, 2008

As with all the chaps to be born at Blackheath Books, Geraint Hughes hand-crafted collection “this is it….,” has a warmth both inside and out.  This 20 poem collection speaks to personal journeys in times of change that can really only be traversed alone.  It recounts touching moments prior to and after the death of Geraint’s father.


The work ranges from introspective questioning in poems like “poem on the night I heard my father will die” and “the journey” to the subconscious tensions that surround a person in grief in poems like “hammering the nails in” and “I know what men are like”.  Interspersed  in between are hints of joy and shadows of anger.  He finds comfort in the paper and pen at a time when nothing one can say will ease the projected burden of death.


Geraint is at his best in “as Thoreau said” and in the very touching poem “the old wardrobe”:


“I thanked you for everything

Not just for what you’d done

Mostly what you hadn’t

Just for being there


I kept checking, as you cooled

And when they came for you

Mum asked for your wedding ring

And I got it for her”


Geraint Hughes’ collection “this is it….” Speaks to the rollercoaster ride that is loss, how in it there are moments of quiet contemplation, sadness, joy, anger, and hope, even if it feels backhanded.  This is a fine chap to place on your nightstand to just remind you of what you have and to be thankful.

"Poet Laureate Of A Dirty Garage", Wayne Mason

“Poet Laureate Of A Dirty Garage” by Wayne Mason, erbacce-press, 2009.

 Wayne Mason has been lauded as a working man’s poet and that is clearly defined in this collection of poems published by erbacce-press.  Poet Laureate Of A Dirty Garage is equal parts blue collar factory man, lone writer, and side-car Buddhist.

He is at his best in the poems “Defeated On Monday Morning”, “Poet Laureate of My Garage”, “Martyrs”, and “Swing Your Pen Like A Hammer And Sickle”.  Wayne understands the essence of the common man and how hard it is to find glimmers of hope amongst the day to day plodding movements of punching the clock.  He explores the idea that his words can chip away at this monotony, but that they might not save any lives from the factory….except his own.


Wayne grazes over images of Buddha in this collection, but does not dig very deep though his fascination is noted.  The recurrent mention of Buddha speaks to “what if” there is something more than this continuous factory life that maybe something exists beyond the things that might make life so hard.


My favorite poem in this 18 poem collection is “Dreaming of Han Shan”.


“I was only 16

when I read the

cold mountain

poems of

Han Shan and

the simplicity

like Chinese

brush strokes

on rice paper

kicked me

in the gut

and more

than ever I

saw the truth”


This collection speaks for the factory worker and begins to stretch its arms out to new age ideas.  This chap by Wayne Mason can be purchased from erbacce-press by going to: www.erbacce-press.com for more details.

"Acres", Bill Shute

Acres” by Bill Shute, Kendra Steiner Editions, #131, 2009.

What have we become? If observing the industrial minicosm of Bill Shute’s Acres can tell us anything, it’s that we are increasingly a society as he concludes: without ideas, only things.

And so he takes us through a setting of things: buildings with their smoky windows, paradoxical images, elements of nature and industry where natural stones have been unnaturally chiseled into angular structures of utility. Three old oaks are contained in this development, as though their natural context could be chiseled and contrived as well, in a median surrounded by pavement.

Steel poles with their boxy light fixtures (again, angular) challenge the claims of the old oaks, rivals in the vertical spaces. They are as towers contrived not by the needs of nature and biology, but rising from the plans of civilization.

In these acres, the landscape is reconfigured, and ironically the speaker is observing a space where what is natural is out of place: walking instead of driving? Only if there’s a compelling reason. Nature itself is reduced to a design element. Is he such an element? Where does he fit in?

This book is a short read, it aims to present a series of observations but trusts the reader’s ability to draw conclusions without overtly preaching or doling out judgment with a heavy pen. We can infer certain things, particularly about social stratification and this idea of “other” that is explored in both the natural versus industrial comparison, and in the physical barriers. Shute’s acres are stratified: gated communities, neighborhoods and buildings that are off limits, pedestrians versus drivers, participants and observers. Perhaps the message hits home here: where food is “eaten by those family members able to make it”.

What is he saying about progress, and the table that is our collective largess, our bounty? The speaker is of the space, but apart from the space, aligned with the outsider, the pedestrian. The speaker is aligned with the oaks in the median, the carved hills, the absent.

“Acres”, Bill Shute. Kendra Steiner Editions, # 131. 2009