“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. 

“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

On Crow Reviews- Interview By Karen Lillis

Thank you to Karen Lillis for her interview series on reviews in independent press. I was honored to answer some questions about Crow Reviews this week and you can check it out on her site here. In this interview, I had the opportunity to discuss our particular point of view here, what our goals are and what they aren’t, and what we are trying to do. It was a good opportunity to revisit my thinking as this section has evolved, and I hope that it explains (to some extent) what my perspective is on the process.

The conversations that arise from discussions like this have been very helpful to me, informing my thinking, and I appreciate the comments and feedback that I have gotten about it. ~Elynn Alexander (Lynn) 

Here is a copy of the interview, from the link above to the original piece, at Karen’s blog.

 

This is the third in a new interview series, The Art of the Book Review, about writing book reviews in today’s literature world. I’m taking on reviewers of the small press, many of whom are also writers in the small press. Previous interviews have been with fiction author Spencer Dew and poet Barrett Warner.

Today I’m excited to introduce Lynn Alexander, one of the hardest working women in the small press. A writer and a poet, she also co-edits Blink Ink, writes and edits at Red Fez, is involved with the Outsider Writers Collective, and is the producer and editor-in-chief of Full of Crow, a multi-faceted literary engine. Full of Crow produces quarterly reviews of fiction and poetry; publishes chapbooks, ebooks, and zines; hosts a blog, poetry podcasts, interviews, and online book reviews; distributes micro-press books and journals; and generates various other literary projects including periodic readings around the US.

I wanted to include Lynn in this series in part because her review style is unique: It’s often descriptive of what the work is doing and how it is structured, while it shies away from labeling or validating a book as “good vs bad,” “a great read,” “compelling,” etc.

Karen: How do Crow Reviews fit in with the Full of Crow mission?

Lynn: Full Of Crow is over three years old now, and like the people involved, the direction has evolved and changed over time. The reviews section was actually a suggestion that I was resistant to and explaining why will get into some areas of the other questions.

The mission at Crow has always been to create a space for words, because of our sense that these spaces matter. I believe in and support the independent press; I also like the idea of openness and access to all without predetermined ideas about who has legitimacy as a writer and who does not. In the end, it is about the work, which must speak for itself. The idea of a reviews section came from a desire to discuss aspects of work in the independent press, but in particular–work that we enjoyed and did not see represented in well-known publications. As we all know, breaking into any circle is difficult and Crow Reviews was meant to be a place for the appreciation and exploration of what we were reading, whether known or obscure.

That said, I have mixed feelings about the idea of a “review” in the commonly held sense of the word. I acknowledge that I don’t have formal expertise and try to approach reviews from the perspective of a reader, reflective of my experience with the work. On one hand, I think that all people are “qualified” to read and develop thoughts about the work they read and intuitive perception is very valuable. On the other hand, reviews are often seen as a person’s assessment of merit and validity, a process of making a decision and subsequent case for or against work and the value brought to the table.

So I feel that all are qualified and capable to review in some sense and many do, but ironically–I feel that it is a presumptuous undertaking to decide what has merit and what does not. In other words, we are all entitled to our opinions as readers, but I am less inclined to say that our opinions should be asserted in the sense of giving work a thumbs-up or -down, versus an impression. Review, criticism, and literary analysis involve different agendas and I was reluctant to use the term “reviews.” I don’t think it accurately reflects what I hope to accomplish, particularly now. But there are few outlets for “exploratory essays.” Looking back, maybe I would have stuck to my guns and tried to shape the space accordingly.

If there aren’t many outlets for independent or small press “reviews” there are even fewer for the directions that I like to go in.

My preference is to discuss work, write about work, analyze and dissect elements of the work–but I stop short of saying THIS IS VALID.

I have answered to some criticism about this, told that a review is supposed to rate the merit, and whether or not others should buy [the book]. That is a “review.” And I get that. But I can’t seem to see myself in that self-appointed position. Independent Press often involves the interactions of peers, and the review relationship goes against what I hope to see as the ongoing emphasis of Full Of Crow which is an approach of openness and humility and acknowledging that people have different subjective opinions. You might hate what I love, but let’s talk about what speaks to us and why, let’s talk about the work and what we find there. If doing that encourages people to read the work or have a different understanding of the writer’s execution, that is enough for me.

But in the end, I hope that people read what we have to say and then pursue their own experience with the work, whether positive or negative.

If I had to summarize, I would say it comes down to the difference between analysis and judgment. I am more comfortable with analysis and even criticism, judgment is a different beast. Criticism involves study and subsequent evaluation, judgment is the subjective act of telling the world that something sucks because you say so. I want less of that, and more reflection.

Karen. How do you think reviews complement or complicate the community aspect of the small press?

Lynn: “Community” is wonderful and necessary, but we have to be practical about the dynamics of the writer in context of a community. Some are able to support the work of others and embrace the value and need for community while others cannot. Some will look to what the community can do for them, and think little about what they can give. Motive, ego need, and agenda vary widely. Reviews can therefore be a way to encourage interest and thought about the work of others, or they can be currency. Reviews can be thoughtful, reflective experiences or they can be platitudes. Certainly, negative reviews can cause conflict in a community just as positive comments can demonstrate loyalty. All of these complicate community.

My thought is that what complements community is an effort to understand what others are doing, to read the work carefully, and offer up something that suggests sincere interest and engagement in the process and outcome. Even when we get it wrong, I think we need to also advocate for the work of independent writers and publishers by articulating WHY we find the work to be compelling. I’m amazed by what I read, and I think in our “reviews,” however approached, we need to address the criticism that independent/small press is synonymous with failure, or lack of ambition, or lack of quality, or lack of purposeful art–a default region where “anybody” can thrive without effort. If nothing else, I want to show that as a reader, I see the writer’s effort and time.

I think that [approach] complements community more than anything else accomplished by a “review.” It gives proper credit to the talent around us.

Karen: Describe your method of reviewing and how you perceive this to be useful.

Lynn: In a sense, many of us “review” every day when trying to decide on content for a publication. I read hundreds of stories and poems each month between the submissions at Full Of Crow and Red Fez, and part of the editorial process at Red Fez involves providing feedback on submissions. But this involves a different mindset, as we are selecting from a pool of submissions for a limited space and we have to rationalize the decisions somehow. Many of us acknowledge that this is difficult on matters of taste and style.

When writing a review or essay on a book or collection, I often consider the pieces in aggregate and the intended recipient of my review is not necessarily the author, but other readers like myself. I am not filtering potential content, I am coming from the point of view of a reader and try to approach it accordingly. The process is necessarily intense for both cases but with a different objective.

To take an example, I recently wrote about John Swain’s chapbook “White Vases” and I read it cover to cover at least five times. I never write anything after the initial first read, even though that is truly where my emotional response takes shape. I don’t want to focus on my emotional response, so I put it away, and take it out later. I try to identify what I see as common themes and how the structure conveys them–sticking with the text. I try to point to examples and I am not above getting out a dictionary and looking a few things up. I try to answer the primary question- what I think the writer was trying to accomplish, and how they set about doing so.

I’m not sure if this process is useful, no doubt it sounds tedious, but I think my goal is to move toward more useful reviews that move beyond “this is AWESOME.” If I think a writer brings “the goods” I don’t think you should take my word for it. I think it should be evident by the examples cited, let the text speak for itself.

I don’t claim to be a good “reviewer.” I know that I have to keep working at it, but I think the best way to do that is to keep making the effort to understand why certain pieces resonate.

Karen: Where do you read reviews? What do you hope to find in a review? Do you hope for an engaging essay, or are you seeking a specific type of info or opinion on the book in question?

Lynn: I like to read reviews in independent press publications like Big Bridge and Red Fez, and in some print publications like Rain Taxi. What I hope to find is definitely an engaging essay that demonstrates some level of familiarity with the work and genre, that sense that the reviewer is open to what the writer is trying to do, whether you are partial to the structure or not .

For example, you can’t impose your expectations of traditional writing on an experimental artist, and proceed to rip the work apart as “nonsense”–that seems like a bad fit. The author’s intentions might not match your expectations, and there might be reasons for particular choices that are dismissed when you take a narrow view of what they hoped to achieve.

In the end, like I said, we all have the right to our subjective experience. If something reads as nonsense to you, own that. But don’t hold it up against a rubric of elements that don’t apply.

 

 

“All Her Father’s Guns”, James Warner

“All Her Father’s Guns”, by James Warner. Reviewed for Full of Crow by Paul Corman-Roberts.

HIJINX FOR A SAD AND DECLINING EMPIRE

2011, Numina Press, 190 pp.

Ostensibly a madcap political caper with two narrators, James Warner’s debut novel “All Her Father’s Guns” is in fact the story of two men who are desperately seeking to redefine the meaning of their lives in a world that is becoming more and more dominated by the females in their lives. Continue reading

SF Poet Steps Up: Jazzbo Wind

“Jazzbo Wind”, by Michael Layne Heath, published by Kendra Steiner Editions, reviewed by Paul Corman-Roberts for Full Of Crow.

Michael Layne Heath’s poetry is about nothing if not music.  An original Washington DC punk rocker expatriated to San Francisco, Heath has found himself a nice little home with Kendra Steiner Editions, a poetry press that has now also become, surprise, surprise, a music label as well.  KSE publisher Bill Shute has had a long standing commitment to independent rock and roll and literature, and he’s got the writers to back up the commitment from the literary side of the enterprise with other rock  writers like A.J. Kaufman and Doug Draime. Continue reading

"A White Girl Lynching" by Elizabeth P. Glixman

Cover, A White Girl Lynching“A White Girl Lynching” by Elizabeth P. Glixman is an offering from Pudding House, an independent publisher of poetry with a reputation for selecting manuscripts from poets who “do right” by their art, meaning poets who give dutiful consideration to the process in terms of poetry as craft. Glixman’s commitment is apparent in this chapbook, as she accomplishes what she set out to do: explore “our ‘feeling’ natures as symbolized by poetry”.

In particular, Glixman looks at human dignity, and how the affirmation of dignity relates to her hopes for a more just and united world where people are better able to coexist peacefully mindful of the validity and benefit of our differences. When Glixman speaks of “lynching” she is no doubt aware of the historical context of the word and it’s connection to violence, persecution, violation. She seems to have chosen the word to suggest in a very powerful and forthright way that lynching is both a physical act and a social act, whereby people are stripped of an “important element of individual dignity”.(Preface,Glixman) Continue reading