Review of Scraped Knees by Kristine Brown – Michael Rush

Michael Rush has written quite a thorough review of my collection of poems and flash stories. I give Mr. Rush and Forage Poetry great thanks for their time in receiving my work and sharing the goodness others create. Forage just released their last issue. Please give them a visit and peruse the entire archive. The showcase is truly something.

Additionally, if you’re interested in purchasing a signed copy of Scraped Knees, feel free to let me know. Again, thanks for your support. Happy Monday.

++++It would be easy to label Scraped Knees as a collection on growing up. It would be easy to see its poetry and prose about someone finding their voice, then connect it to your own upbringing and drift back into personal moments of discovering the world. Yet for me Scraped Knees is much more; it is a book of contrasts. A collection of poetry and prose which can speak from the perspective of the young, but do it with a more mature voice. Wonder is mixed with rationality and realism. Expectation mingles with disappointment. We experience some lighter moments, but there is a weight to carry with us both before and after that lightness.

++++Anemic Disappointment would be an example of that weight as the speaker’s uncoordinated efforts are further highlighted by her Mother’s reminder of her own athletic exploits. Yet it’s not the rebukes or even the…

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Starlit Speculation – This is Charlie Zero

Introduced to Björk and Tori Amos at the age of eleven, and remembering echoes of of a swarming crowd as Shirley Manson stated, “I’m only happy when it rains,” I’m difficult to unnerve through words, medical terminology, and images I hope will prompt more than just some kind of lucid, false, epileptic seizure.

Perhaps the challenge in impressing me lies in my affinity for the experimental, cracked into three large shards. Charlie Zero’s This Robot Dreams Inside a Plastic Soul stirred my intrigue as the sun prods an amusement park worker to wriggle in his four-legged, alpaca wool suit. I snuggled into the blankets covering my macintosh red futon, took a minute or so between pieces, and thought, “Damn, Charlie. I’d imagine LSD does come to a halt, but I’m not quite ready.” For the record, I’ve never tried LSD.

Charlie’s writing reminds me of wind chimes that clang out of nowhere in the summer heat, doorbell melodies that warn me I’m entering the home of a prolifically artful eccentric. I don’t know what to expect, conversing with a local historian about “tarot-cards & playgirl magazines” I’ve never taken more than a glimpse at, or a “virtual console” commanding fine-tuning by those long departed. The allusions run unbridled, as read in “Witchcraft Acidhead 23.” Grammatical devices, the marriage of the supernatural Ouija with universal Apple products, and an image of Edgar Allen Poe stuffing the macabre into his DDT heart, It seems anything and anyone stands around to grab the microphone, announcing standard grievances, pointing out that CNN should be taken with a grain of salt, that institutionalization confines more than young girls admitted out of parents’ concerns that they may be too hormonal. Charlie Zero assembles dismantlement to encourage us to question what’s heard and said, while navigating local alleys, gathering others interested in communal innovation while acknowledging the stagnancy that sets our minds on fire.

Charlie toys with form and language like people I see on the Travel Channel acquainting themselves with flower arrangements. Nothing’s quite symmetrical, yet the juxtaposing hues encapsulate readers in a curious glow. “I didn’t know this was a medical term! What could it possibly mean? Would I hear it at my next doctor’s appointment?” These are questions I asked myself as I breathed in the smoke trailed by thirty-five poems.

Now, back to the three large shards. This Robot Dreams Inside a Plastic Soul invites you to do your own research, opening dictionaries, finding encyclopedias at your nearest discount bookstore which directly pertain to Twentieth Century pop culture, and beyond. The collection offers more than trance, illustrates complexities more intricate than tangled arms and legs in an urban club scene. In Charlie’s synthesis of the bright, historical, and contemporary, we read what it means to be eclectic. Lines such as “Arachnid gods/ registered virtuoso/ T-minus 1” sends us jolting, neck hairs raising as if our fingers almost pricked the shine of an open lamp socket. Again, I emphasize eccentricity, but not as a term describing a human. The poetry collection, though fierce in its delivery, does not settle itself centrally. See Charlie’s work as an ever spinning globe, continental tenants shouting insults they’ll one day take back, digging their fingers into the clay on which they stand, giving Pangaea one more chance.

This Robot Dreams Inside A Plastic Soul ignites fury, anxiety, and hope in the midst of a changing society that in retrospect, may not have changed so drastically should we consider human faltering. Nonetheless, it is a thoughtful read, pushing us to wonder what we truly think about the world and people who cross our path as we walk, confined by our Ziplock exteriors.

Charlie Zero’s collection of poems remains available in paperback, through Paypal. Do follow his adventures in writing at his blog, filled with starlit speculation.

Scraped Knees by Kristine Brown

Hermione Flavia at CravenWild has written a lovely review for my collection, Scraped Knees. She hosts a blog ample with feedback on books, cosmetics, and more. Stop by at CravenWild on your next coffee break, and feel inspired!

CravenWild

Poetry is a funny thing. It’s kind of forced on us in school, and becomes something we love or hate, something that bores us to tears or moves us deeply. It’s also something that, well, a lot of modern hipsters like to think they’re poets, right? Poems are a lot like man-buns, lumberbeards, Mac laptops in Starbucks and toting copies of Nietzsche that you’ve never read.

But poetry can also be Wordsworth, Byron or Maya Angelou. Or Eminem for that matter.

Kristine Brown, to get to the subject at hand, sent me an email asking me to review her little chapbook of poems, Scraped Knees, published by Ugly Sapling. I got the good vibes from her, so I said yes, though I don’t normally deal with poetry in this blog. I do happen to quite like poetry.

The book itself you can see in the picture above, it’s a neat…

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Sweet and Conscientious – Poetic RITUals by Ritu Bhathal

51OZQmeTjcL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_“…there is something for most situations.”

Oh, is that right?

If we respect convention, my age warrants questions, about the longterm boyfriend I do not have, the left ring finger pale as eggshells, and what I would do upon receiving a call from the daycare director after baby’s first brawl. In the barest sense, during these conversations, I answer with “Not yet.” Motherhood is foreign to me, but projects in my planner beg for attention. My obligations are limited, and as of late, my deepest conversations consist of “goo-goo”s and “coo-coo”s with none other than my two cats, George Batman Michael and Tabby.

Ritu Bhathal has a cat. Children, a husband, a profession commanding compassion and patience. She maintains a blog, But I Smile Anyway. Here, we find authenticity. In the giddy, frazzling, and sometimes tear-worthy moments of a life we have encountered sometime before. The bus monitor, teacher, neighbor next door. A woman I would like to meet on my sidewalk, share conversations with, and look up to as a model of bustling positivity.

I mention again my aversion to self-help books. Often times, I fail to relate to the sources of frustration discussed, sources that have brewed others’ anxieties and inner tensions that I grapple with daily. I sense some condescension, a reminder of “I’m twenty years older than you.” However, filled with the cries, sighs, groans, and laughter of a busy life I have yet to experience, Poetic RITUals does not condescend in the slightest. Rather, Bhathal’s book comforts.

A child learning to blow bubblegum. A working woman keeping a home. A dash of redolent romance sweet like hazelnut creamer. Contemporary issues such as prejudice, and some self-deprecating humor. The ways men perplex, and the ruddy grace by which they captivate girls in their hopeful youth. The author’s pieces, thoughtfully constructed in their rhyme and concise sincerity. Some bits remind me of well-written sitcoms from the ’90s that some of us can re-enact, word by word. There are sections of sentimentality, verses that left me thinking of the magic experienced each time I journey with Kitty and Levin in Anna Karenina. Undoubtedly, Bhathal’s collection is diverse, playful, enticing in its humor and emotion, and most admiringly, real. Girls in their twenties yet to wed may surely delight in her warmth and wisdom, verses appropriate for morning reading before the drive to work. It would not be farfetched to predict that grandfathers will smile, leafing through musings about chocolate cake, the restlessness of young children, and a matter-of-fact, personalized rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Rarely do I come across books about family life written without the drippings of sappy vanilla that leave our tummies and thoughts aching from overcompensation. Bhathal loves her children, her husband, her cat, her life, and daily sights. But the love is composed, neither preachy or theatrical. Self-aggrandizement, child worship, and Instagram shots of couples smiling too widely have no place in RITUals. But know that at a point, perhaps two, three, or more, one may be left smiling upon completion of this work. Through rain’s residual mud puddles, the teasing of daylight saving time, the loss of those we cherish and squabbles between people with whom we live, Bhathal encourages us to seize the moment. To reflect, learn, and smile any which way life takes us.

Poetic RITUals, in its gentle honesty, is now available on Amazon, through Kindle or paperback. 

Swiftly Paced Intricacy – Oak and Mist by Helen Jones

Available on Amazon via Kindle or paperback.

Available on Amazon via Kindle and paperback.

Admittedly, I’m not what you’d call extremely well-read. That being said, aside from the first installment of The Lord of the Rings series, and the Harry Potter books that I’ve rarely ever re-read, I have hardly read any fantasy. Perhaps it’s all too intimidating, with its multiple worlds, factions, alliances, alter-egos, and allusions to mythology and other things I find elaborately rich. While I’ve intended to, I’ve never really given attention to the YA genre. It takes a skilled and enthusiastic writer to draw me into such works, and with Oak and Mist, Helen Jones does the job.

We see predestination’s lingering hold as Alma faces a tall order. Ambeth, a world outside the familiar, is threatened by an imbalance between Light and Dark. One does not choose the faction he is born into, and ultimately, one is not granted volition to shift, even in the unlikely presence of a desire to do so. Caleb, Alma’s friend, makes this clear as he dissuades her emotions for a boy from the wrong end of the spectrum.

Jones presents a world that I found highly believable, intricate though uncomplicated. Ambeth is lush with pleasantries, elegant party wear, a hierarchy and party scenes that warmly remind me of the Royal Diaries series. Alma, quiet though brave and resolute, reminded me so much of my younger self, overly impressed with the outwardly beautiful and concerned of other’s perceptions. She’s like a snow globe; you can sense when something unsettles her, whether it regards the dangerous, the lustful, or simply, the possibility that she has wounded a friend, however lacking the intention to. Her friendship with Caleb is something most of us have had, along with exasperating conversations about whether That Guy is worth dating.

While I found descriptions of Alma’s infatuation to be gratuitous and sweetly tedious to read, I was impressed with Jones’s integration of the conventional human world with that of contentious Ambeth. The idea of hybrid individuals and half-siblings isn’t new, though I appreciated the dialogue regarding acceptance of one’s blood, and awareness of one world over another. At several points throughout the novel, what appear to be gaps are eventually sealed. The story itself is considerably fast-paced to where one may not acknowledge that something is amiss. However, upon this realization, readers can appreciate that few things mentioned in Oak and Mist could be dismissed as trivial.

Oak and Mist details what I’d expect in the YA genre: formative relationships, both romantic and platonic, familial bonds, and reconciliation between how one would like things to be and how things actually are. Events and relationships are presented so cohesively to where the book could well stand on its own, though the detail in thoughts, interactions, and transferrals between Ambeth and the world in which we readers live leaves much to be predicted and returned to. Delightfully, Oak and Mist is just the first book of the Ambeth Chronicles, as Ms. Jones has just finished its followup, No Quarter. I anticipate the second book to be just as enjoyable.

With all being said, I should really give some genres more of a solid read.

Refusing to Die – Oneanna65’s About

For sale on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback.

Cancer. The frenzied multiplication of cells, here, there, anywhere, really. Most of us have met at least one person with cancer, perhaps experienced the deaths of several afflicted. I often think of chemotherapy, isolation, strict diets, dramatic weight loss and other complications to sadden, aggravate, and sour. But I’ve never heard anyone, at least in person, discuss his or her experiences with cancer so candidly as to mention the “doughnut machine” when recalling the day’s radiation session.

Oneanna65, as she prefers to be called, combines memory, poetry, social media, recipes, and faith-guided introspection in her self-published book, About. She’s been a fighter since childhood, though positive in her outlook. From the autobiographical start, to poetic revelations, and excerpts of her most memorable blog posts, she has you not only rooting for her, but thinking, “Wow, this is perseverance.”

We see perseverance in just one of many bits of reflective commentary:

“For one clean wine bottle I would buy a sweet bun. If I could find 10 bottles and make two trips to the recycling shop, I could buy sweet bun, candy, lemonade, and I could go to the movies.”

The author lived a life I’d call chapped by poverty, absent fatherhood, and several childhood tragedies. In 1978, she made the transition to Chicago from communist Poland, evading the predatory motives of her already-married sponsor but knowing, as one seeking refugee status, that she could never simply return. This isn’t the only large transition. Throughout About, we learn that the author:

– Spent much of her life as a limo driver, encountering the strange, normal, sweet, and mean.
– Found herself in a homeless shelter.
– Caught herself in the disappointment of one stressful job after another.
– Continues to experience serious health problems, which About primarily discusses.

Despite all this, Anna keeps going. An impoverished child with a dogged will that persists across the decades. A scene I found most memorable was the one regarding church. Attending church was fine, until Anna was hungry. Her mother would hand her money to give to the local priest, but when Anna needed to eat, she never hesitated to walk to the bakery. She describes her lack of guilt in a way that’s admirable, and logical. She came to the conclusion that God loved her, and would continue to love her, even if she bought herself a piece of bread, rather than offer the prominent church leader the weekly tithe.

Anna’s forwardness in thought and action is a feature that manifests repeatedly. A woman experiencing a breakup gets into the limo, expressing her want to die. While similar scenarios I myself have witnessed were prolonged as bystanders thought of how to be polite, Anna never hesitates. She talks about her own relationship problems, acknowledges she too wanted to die, but says she’s overcome. And if Anna can do it, so can the girl. I thought the scene would explode with some diatribe, a rant about “You not knowing me.” But Anna made a friend, and treats us to another story of an ever-smiling girl in a wheelchair, thrilled that she can finally get inside the limousine, without help, in spite of multiple sclerosis.

This isn’t the only scene that displays Anna’s greatest strength as a storyteller: illustrating contrasts. Again, I’ll go back to her childhood memories. “Half-an-orphan.” This was a term Anna often heard growing up without a father. “But I’m whole!” she insists, and discusses the greater suitability of the word “father-free.” While the circumstances of their relationship dishearten, Anna assures us that there were positives out of this, recalling some often socially condoned practices she witnessed in the lives of her friends with “complete” families.

Aside from the autobiographical, Anna addresses the nutritional. A recipe for chicken soup, and a resigned acknowledgement that yes, while it’s healthy, one can tire of chicken soup. So Anna drops suggestions to diversify the meal. If you’re not familiar with her blog, you’ll find some insights on health, the brain, and food. Regarding the neurological, Anna comments:

“…our cells don’t have a brain, they listen to our thoughts and do exactly what we are thinking.”

In the beginning, she shares this quote:

“From every wound there is a scar, and every scar tells a story. A story that says I have survived.” – From Words of Wisdom – Mhar.

Anna asks not for sorrow towards her struggles, but invites us to live with optimism, faith, receptiveness to health, and renewal of the will.

As a reader, I learned that foods like tuna, pomegranate, red wine, and bok choy have cancer-fighting properties, and are worth researching. And as a blogger, I smiled reading Anna’s recollections of advice to use WordPress over other site-building services, the time she encountered a nasty commenter, and her declination to use the polished “About” statement recommended to her. Anna does mention several times that her English is not the best, but I find the imperfections invaluable to the work. It made the book absorbing to read and reminded me of books read to my third grade class from our audibly Ukrainian teacher. I admired that she was willing to share the intricacies of her ailments, explaining how writing can be a physically taxing feat. She even mentions it when explaining the lack of punctuation in her poetry. Like the foods Anna recommends we eat, About is fairly organic.

And that’s the lovable aspect of About. It’s natural, blunt, unhindered, though comforting. Ultimately, positivity lies within you. Praise, encouragement, and sunlit brunches are appreciated gestures, but in the face of adversity, no one can will yourself to wake up and live other than yourself. Anna lives, and keeps on living.

Small Town Friendships and Unconscionable Doings – Pete Deakon’s Buried Within

Pete Deakon’s second novel, Buried Within, is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Not everything is alright in America’s humble Midwest.

I’ve only been to Missouri for three days, at most. One day in Springfield, two in St. Louis. While I remember the weather being muckier than desired, walking from the botanical garden in an inadequate poncho, the people continued to grin.

In Buried Within, Pete Deakon illustrates just how the fond, playful winsome conflicts with the dreary, the two eventually coalescing as the horrific transpires.

“I’m here for you if you need it,” a friend offers in tragedy’s chill. But of course, the person facing loss may brood, in his own special way. Some understand, others are spooked. Maybe he’s not sad enough. Maybe he’s too angry. Perhaps, a bit obsessed. Crazed. They’ll still continue to talk about him, meaning well, though not immune to plasticized gossip and sentimental recollections of some romantic movie.

Mark, he’s a romantic. An awkward one who Deakon endows with calculative flair. Like The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor, Buried Within holds tight to the logical, each character’s thoughts, mannerisms, and relationships presented with the accessibility of a well-written instruction manual. But the steps you follow to assemble the cabinet, they’re written with heart and integrity.

Here is just an example of dry humor by which I was charmed:

“Like most men, Adam and John were not attorneys and they certainly made decisions that proved them to be hypocrites to their own lofty notions of morality, but still they held these notions.”

Of course, attorneys aren’t perfect people, and everyone, in a series however prolonged or brief, repeats the same mistakes. This is a human flaw, and while imperfection can embarrass and disappoint, Deakon describes everyday follies with a bluntness and dialogue that not only has one chuckling, but reassures readers that maybe, even through the appallingly unpredictable, things will be okay.

The thrill of courtship, the drabs of marriage, the challenge of keeping the flame at a flicker. Couples and partnership are key players in Buried Within, helping to establish the backdrop of a quiet town and steady friendships. Mark and Rebecca are great for each other. The girl, young and lively, shivers in her modesty, though comfort is found in the sheer stability of quiet, awkward Mark. Again, no one is perfect, but upon finding out, most would “tsk” and pry. So Mark and Rebecca keep to themselves for much of their married lives.

Before, things were better. Wholesome memories of a budding love that makes me think of that movie with a young Reese Witherspoon. Man in the Moon.

In time, Mark unravels. We see the petals of a vibrant rose gradually fall. Insecurity, infertility, the bureaucracy of adoption. Work. Because love doesn’t pay the bills, though you’d think it makes hardships easier to bear.

Mark gets struck with a hardship. Brought on by a different kind of awkward.

Deakon writes about the interpersonal in very personal ways. Again, I’ll emphasize that he’s quite technical, something I can’t deduce too often in the span of a short novel. The chapters read like vignettes, Norman Rockwell paintings that hang on the same wall, but don’t necessarily depict the same thing, like dogs or the ocean, hotdogs and cottages. We begin at the present, roll in the past, proceed to the present again. The woods, a car, a bowling alley. A garage. The trunk of a car. Deakon doesn’t concentrate too much on building a bridge from scene to scene, but they all fit tightly. More so, we appreciate detail in thoughts and dialogue.

But one thing I wish the author could have done more is drill more detail in those more unpleasant scenes.

In general, we tend to be more comfortable reading about atrocity than seeing it. Given the freedom of imagination, it makes a lot of sense. While Deakon did well with his fine brushstrokes the first half of the novel, I felt things grew curt towards the end. Know that the writing is always straightforward. But with actions we associate with high coverage trials, I was hoping for more exploration. The content itself is unsettling, though I wanted something more graphic.

However, this may be the point of it all. Contrasts are everywhere. The conventional versus the old-fashioned, the young and the old, the masculine and the effeminate. Pay attention to what Rebecca says about Mark’s dad, the perks Rebecca hopes for at work when she hits her thirties, the way Mark’s friends laugh at him because he uses the word “tendrils.”

By the way, I’ve never actually heard a man use the word “tendrils” in person.

So while I initially felt I was walking through some lush forest beneath some starry, lovelorn sky (and I do like to feel this way every once in a while), it seemed like I suddenly found myself in a pale tundra, with poison ivy here and there. Jarring and out of place.

But then again, maybe this was the goal Deakon aimed for.

The quirky and the creepy. The grieving and the vengeful. These, among a handful of other attributes, harbor similarities but diverge at a certain point. A fork in the road, or a fine line. The demarcation isn’t as harsh as the water of romance and the oil of postmarital boredom, but it’s there to be noticed. A point for reflection.

Despite its occasional brusqueness, Buried Within left me with thoughts whole and absorbed in our own flaws. The things we hold most dear, and things that really, anyone is capable of accomplishing when we lose our grasp on what we loved.