“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. 

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

“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

“Handing The Cask”, by John Swain

“Handing The Cask”, poetry by John Swain, published by erbacce press, UK. Reviewed for Full Of Crow by Elynn Alexander.

I keep saying that John Swain is a poet to watch, and I have published as much of his poetry as I could get my hands on including “Burnt Palmistry” and “The Feathered Masks” as well as including two of his poems when I guest edited the September 2011 issue of Graffiti Kolkata Broadside. His work has been nominated for awards and prizes and has appeared in Red Fez, part of our small press family.

The late Nobius Black of Calliope Nerve stated that John Swain “paints the world in words.” Sandy Benitez of Flutter Press said that “he has only begun to enchant us.” And I couldn’t agree more.

John Swain is a humble, reluctant artist who seems to shy away from the trappings of ambition and persona and somehow remains above all of that. It is this tendency that is part of his charm because it is refreshing, his work speaks for itself, and it reaches you without imposing. You want to let it in. In my opinion, some arrogance would be well deserved- but you won’t find it. When I first started reading his work, I couldn’t help but wonder: where the hell has this guy been? But every poet has their time, and here’s hoping that we continue to hear more from him.  Continue reading

Sunshine In The Valley, by Kyle Muntz

Sunshine In The Valley, CCM (Civil Coping Mechanisms) Press, by Kyle Muntz. Reviewed by Elynn Alexander for Full Of Crow Press.

We were here and we were really here. It kept us breathing.” (7)

It strikes me that they gather beneath the full sun, seeming to celebrate time’s passage rather than indulging in lamentation.

“...always to glorious burning.” (7) This is in contrast to the typical themes of the so-called human condition, creatures tethered to dread, in constant fear of our own mortality and with an often painful awareness of our insignificance. Living with the spectre brings a certain pressure to bear, beings set out to live in ways that maximize perceived “significance”: progeny, legacy, endurance of the corporeal made manifest through enduring actions and accomplishments. How to make one’s mark? How to distinguish one’s small life from an expansive tribe, exponential, a pool that consists of others with the same preoccupations, both present and ancestral? We compete with history. We want to BE something in our own right. We want to be enduring, somehow, different perhaps in the way that Muntz makes a distinction between a story and a legend. We want to be more than a story, we want to be embellished and etched into permanence, to linger. Continue reading

Crow Reviews

This is the Review Section for Full of Crow, edited by Aleathia Drehmer and Lynn Alexander.

We review independent titles and small press publications, as well as self-published work. We hope to incorporate some of our knowledge of the authors, their approach and methods, and bring something different to our reviews in that we want to go past an attempt to judge quality. We are looking to describe work, explore a specific aspect of work, talk about context or what an author was trying to achieve. We want to talk about the work, but also the writing of the work.

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