Exquisite Duet: Karen Stefano and Ken McPherson

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.




 by Karen Stefano

Something isolates us from ourselves
when we try to control another’s thoughts.

I don’t have time to be still.
I don’t have time to listen to my own mind.
I hear my name repeated ceaselessly through the day.
Requests, demands, errands to be run.
It will never stop, this much I know.
Tuesday, I forget to shower.

For the first time in years I recall The Yellow Wallpaper.
Can this be a warning?

We breakfast together.
My eyes flutter across the table.
–What is it? What do you need? What can I get you?
–Jesus. I was just looking for the salt.
–I just want to make you happy
Disillusion seeps across the crisp white table cloth like a stain.
I have learned that disillusion festers, overwhelms, until it becomes dissolution.
Of marriage.
One thing for certain.
I can’t afford another mistake.

Days drift by.
I drift with them.
Wednesday, I forget to brush my teeth.

I don’t know what you want from me.

I am a possession, a dependent.
I must shape up or I will lose my screen time.
I must shape up or I will get a time out.
One way or another, I will be punished.
Everything smells yellow, it is true.

I know what you want from me.

If I can learn how to stay here, I won’t lose my way.

Maybe it is time to settle.
I will settle.
For happiness.

Clouds, Toys, Screams

by Ken McPherson

Something isolates us from ourselves,
drives us into walled darkness,
stretching black shadows into waves
of shapeless clouds. We discover
our propensity for concealment,
and through vibration, synch our verses.

We lean against tactile, charcoal walls
in otherwise abandoned rooms
gathering twilights of muted grayness.
We lean with no confidence to move,
wrapped in compression, slipping,
slipping toward a journey undreamed.

We shift souls of dust,
share the slide of time,
push across jagged ceilings,
enliven perfidious, dank corners.
We feel cool, silk hands, cobwebs
mapping tracks across false eons.

Warped windows splatter gray,
we disengage from attic noises, toys left
sequestered, Jacks no longer in play,
six points filed sharp
in need and threat, scratch
gargoyles on my chest.

Whispers breathe clouds across
secluded rooms where we sit.
We leave this footprint:
stretch to touch a metered life,
withhold no phrase nor iamb
to prove our vapid worth.

We will linger, as here
we demand solitude, refuse life
with ferocity that splinters
into our vessels, charges
to pierce our hearts,
shouts a perfect path to our end.

Who blames a child swept away,
no breath, no hope, no dream.
No, we rend our screams of isolation.


Karen Stefano is the author of The Secret Games of Words, published by 1GlimpsePress (2015).  She is Fiction Editor for Connotation Press, and her stories have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Epiphany, Lost In Thought, Green Mountains Review, Gloom Cupboard, and elsewhere, Her story, “Seeing,” was nominated for the XXXVIII Pushcart Prize. To learn more about Karen and her writing, please visit www.stefanokaren.com.

Ken McPherson has been published in various literary magazines. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where a walk to the mailbox can inspire the creation of visions and dragons. He mostly writes short stories, and believes poems are like arm wrestling. However, he is willing to step in. Who wouldn’t dare?



Review: The Best Small Fictions 2015 (reviewed by Ashley Begley)


The Best Small Fictions 2015

Guest Edited by Robert Olen Butler

(Tara L. Masih, Series Editor)

160 pages

Queens Ferry Press, 2015


ISBN-13 978-1938466625




We cannot fool ourselves any longer. Although we plan and blueprint and outline our lives, we cannot hold the unknowable in our hands. The uncertainties of life surprise us, as The Best Small Fictions 2015 surprise us. This collection of small fictions, stories that, at most, span four pages, stand as a microcosm of every breath we take. Edited by Robert Olen Butler and Tara L. Masih, this collection exposes the human moments that matter: those snap decisions, those glimpses, those fleeting touches in which life, love and death happen.

These stories, these woven words, are simply beautiful as they guard “the ghosts and the echoes and the earth’s seeping wounds” (Wiley 5). Each author, writing from one of the many corners throughout the world, usher us from one doorstep to another until we see that we share the same rage to live. From a woman and a man trapped in a drug-induced loveless relationship masturbating to a tennis match in “Wimbledon” by Seth Brady Tucker, to a boy who runs away from his parents who locked him in the basement because he turned into a bear in “The Boy and the Bear” by Blake Kimzey, to an EMT who stares at a Buddha with piss in its eyes in “The Family Jewel” by Ron Riekki, we understand—from the mundane to the absurd, we understand and “we know this urge, know how strong and primal and erotically charged it is” (Wiley 3).

The sparse words, chosen frugally and carefully, that are used to craft these small fictions means that the rest is left to us—we must question and poke the story. We don’t know the beginning and we don’t know the end and these two facts are the only certainties afforded to us. Sometimes, we only get two sentences as with “Inland Sea” by Stuart Dybek:

Horizon, a clothesline strung between crab apples. The forgotten dress, that far away, bleached invisible by a succession of summer days until a thunderstorm drenches it blue again, as it is now, and despite the distance, the foam of raindrops at its hem sparkles just before the wind lifts it into a wave that breaks against the man framed in a farmhouse doorway. (18).

And we have to trust that this is enough, that this glimpse will lead us to movement. We have to trust, like the stolen blue-green-yellow parrot trusts that his “darting back and forth…diving then ascending on invisible spires of hot chimney air, in utter disbelief at its own good fortune” will lead to his freedom (Price 79).

Perhaps everything that I have been trying to say is already best said by Robert Olen Butler, so I leave the last words to him:

A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl…We listen to small fictions like night sounds from afar. They enter us briefly, in sweetness or sassiness, in hilarity or aching sadness, but they leave us imprinted with freshly experienced truth. Truth possible to know only through the clarifying lies of fiction…They are small but brimming with our shared human experience. (XIII-XIV).



Ashley Begley

Six Poems by Nancy Allen


Casualties of War

My brother and I tattooed
the naked G.I. Joe
with magic marker,
unhooked limbs and head
from his sexless torso
and buried him in pieces
all over the yard.

We had nothing
against him. It was time
to put him down is all,
to stop playing with dolls.
We were soldiers ourselves,
and hunters and spies and…

Those years, our father
was three tours overseas.
When he’d return home,
we were in his crosshairs,
our every movement suspect.

Blink and we’re strangers,
doing strange things.


The Last Picnic

It’s a bad sign when search dogs
are kenneled and the dive team arrives.
They’re strapping on tanks, headlamps
over there where the pastor parked
three hours ago. Imagine
praying for broken bones,
abduction, anything
from which a child might be saved.

It was the end-of-summer picnic.
Paper plates laden with wings,
potato salad, deviled eggs.
Beach towels on the railing,
flip flops scattered and lost.
Who needs more ice tea?
Go call your brother…
Well, who saw him last?

At the edge of the dock, sun
sparkles in the water, fish
dart just below the surface.
His face reflects back at him
as he leans over, hands pressed
to slippery knees. Always before
his dad held him aloft, dipping him
to his shoulders, no deeper.

The divers slip into the lake,
leave behind his shouted name.
Only the sound of breath now
where water deepens, grows dark.
Glimpse of fabric, hair waving, skin.
They hoist him by his shoulders.
In water, he is weightless—
grows heavy as they pass him
up the muddy bank to daylight.


My Father Called the Mourning Doves

and I thought they answered him.
Sitting at the kitchen table
beside a screened window,
humid Virginia summers,
the fan thrumming and clicking
in its rounds. Didn’t he show me
a thousand times how to cup
my hands just so, to blow
through the space at the base
of the thumbs, to press together
my fingers and wave them quick,
as one, to make the sad echo
that all the mourning doves
all around heard, and hearkened to?
Didn’t the sky fill then
with the song of mourning doves
calling to my father?


Nature Craft for Girls

A woodpecker’s hammering made her look up
from the coloring book and crayons spread

on the porch glider: hunks of bark spraying
like buck shot into brambles soon to be lush

with blackberries. She saw a fox pounce
at the verge of the pasture and tore off after it.

The day was cool spring and spangled with light,
leaves scudding across the path into the woods

and everywhere birds chattering, weaving nests.
The girl squinted at a doe stepping through poplars,

and guessed that nearby, a fawn held still
in a moss-lined hollow, odorless as bone.

She was a wolf chieftain, a bow hunter;
she fended off wild boar with her wits.

She was lost. She knew to follow deer paths
to the creek, and it was there the sheriff

and bloodhound found her long past nightfall
holed up in the spreading roots of a sycamore

under a blanket of cut pine, watching wind toss
tree tops, and singing at the top of her lungs.


Habit of Silence

My family never went to the movies or to carnivals—
no surround-sound or gaudy lights and clowns for us.

We took long hikes, or drives when the rain poured down.
We were quiet enough to walk noiselessly through the woods, quiet

enough to hear church bells in the valleys, the hoot of an owl
yearning for an answer, the sound of our breath, thud of pulse.

We trod stone steps green and slick with moss where paths
shouldered their way down dark ravines to laurel-edged pools.

We picnicked summer and winter, wringing sweat from socks
or blowing across the surface of tea in blistering metal cups.

Nightfall was the ticking of a campfire embering down.
Lying on my back in the dark tent, I would suspend my blanket

above me, hold its four corners with hands and feet, then release
it all at once to parachute and settle over my body’s landscape

where wind shushes down hillsides, whispers in hollows.


Coming Back to Haunt Them

Every Memorial Day weekend
the firemen’s bar-b-que spread out
along the banks of Rye Creek, wide
and deep with mountain runoff.

I never figured out who did it or how,
everyone taking credit the way they did
for the raccoon chained to a log
floating in the middle. It would pace,

worry its collar and hiss. The winning hound
was the one who managed to lope-swim
out there and knock the sow off the log.
Most years there was no winner at all.

The hounds came whining back to shore, tender
noses raked by the same delicate paws
that could pluck a single egg from a robin’s nest
and cart it back to a hungry brood.

At night, the coon hunters startle in their sleep
and reach for their wives, imagine an armed
and masked intruder lurking on the porch—
nursing a grudge, hatching a crazy plan.

Nancy Allen is a poet, criminal defense attorney, and yoga teacher living in Lynchburg, VA. Her poems have been published in the Tar River Review, Piedmont Virginian Magazine, and the Sow’s Ear Review, and she has won awards in the annual contest of the Poetry Society of Virginia.

Exquisite Duet: Allie Marini and Brennan DeFrisco

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


The Story Behind the Poem

This month is a small but exciting departure from the usual style of “Exquisite Duet.” For their collaboration, Allie Marini and Brennan DeFrisco wrote a contrapuntal triptych poem—Brennan’s poem runs down the left side and served as the anchor. Allie’s poem runs down the right side, and is the response piece. Read left to right, there is a third piece, the collaboration and poetic dialogue, between their pieces. Both poems begin with the prompt line, “Your whispers coat the room” and end on the word “dreaming.”


Your whispers coat the room

like silk

in unspoken gestures, all saying


the same thing

is our secret language:

it’s your hand on the back of my neck

fingertips & spine,

your breath and mine, navigating

distance shrinking,

the space between each other’s lips

a galaxy unfolded

it’s tongue and teeth and the way

when we kiss

they take turns

becoming St. Elmo’s fire—

it burns in the distance of your eyes

a glowing ball of light

finds its way through your fingertips

thrums like a thunderstorm

& echoes across the dunes of my vertebrae

& this, too, can be a religion:

it’s waking up next to you & being unsure

how to breathe & how to pray, finding faith

that I’m not still

under the sheets with you, awake & alive,



Allie Marini (Batts) holds degrees from Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has been a finalist for Best of the Net & nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is managing editor for the NonBinary Review, Unbound Octavo, & Zoetic Press, and co-edits for Lucky Bastard Press with her man, performance poet B Deep. She has previously served on the masthead for Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal, The Weekenders Magazine, Mojave River Review & Press, & The Bookshelf Bombshells. Allie is the author of Unmade & Other Poems, (Beautysleep Press), You Might Curse Before You Bless (ELJ Publications) wingless, scorched & beautiful, (Imaginary Friend Press), Before Fire, (ELJ Publications), This Is How We End (Bitterzoet, forthcoming), Pictures From The Center Of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) & Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide To Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, forthcoming). Allie rarely sleeps, and her mother has hypothesized that she is actually a robot fueled by Diet Coke & Sri Racha. Find her on the web: https://www.facebook.com/AllieMariniBatts or @kiddeternity.

Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco likes words and the way they move. He is an organizer and performer at the Berkeley Poetry Slam and will represent them again in the upcoming 2015 National Poetry Slam. He is co-founder of Lucky Bastard Press and author of Highku: 4 & 20 Poems About Marijuana. His work can be found in TheThe Poetry’s Infoxicated Corner, Drunk Monkeys, Yellow Chair Review, Sweet Wolverine, Revolution John, and Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal. He loves a particularly beautiful and talented woman, movies, poker, whiskey, pluralistic points of view and his community of writers. He was born, raised, and pays rent in the San Francisco Bay Area.

REVIEW: Viral: Stories by Emily Mitchell (reviewed by Melissa Wyse)


by Emily Mitchell

384 pages

W.W. Norton, 2015


ISBN-13 978-0393350531




Viral, Mitchell’s first short story collection, builds on the successes of her 2007 debut novel, The Last Summer of the World: both books deploy sophisticated structural choices and – in two of the new stories – masterful mining of historic material.  Yet in Viral we also see Mitchell turn her formidable insight and lyrical talents to speculative fiction set in a future that feels both near and probable and to the dislocations of an unspecified and yet recognizable present.

Many of these new stories excavate the methods people put in place to explain and moderate experience.  In the collection’s speculative first story, “Smile Report,” a company installs a fictional and yet imminently imaginable Facial Expression Cognition Software designed to monitor how genuinely its employees smile.  In “My Daughter and Her Spider” the narrator’s daughter is prescribed a Companion, a computerized spider meant to help her feel “calmer” in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce.

And in the collection’s title story, “Viral,” after teenagers all over the world light themselves on fire and jump to their deaths, their families gather for a conference where a series of experts attempt to explain the phenomenon.  Yet the controlled environment of the “brightly lit, fabric-lined hotel ballroom” and the long series of expert explanations ultimately cannot contain the families’ raw emotional response to loss.

For as much as Mitchell is interested in the mechanisms people use to modulate experience, she is equally compelled by the way these methods fall apart.  The daughter’s spider Companion malfunctions and webs her bedroom; the convention in “Viral” erupts in riots; the narrator of “Smile Report” experiences genuine empathy that defies the smooth metrics of proscribed smiles.

There is the sense often in Mitchell’s work that beyond the benign numbing of experts and self-improvement technologies, larger problems loom.  The teenagers in “Viral” have died in a mass tragedy.  The narrator of “Smile Report” “[finds] it difficult” to smile in the wake of news that entire towns are being swallowed by sand.  And when the narrator of “If You Cannot Go to Sleep” fails to cure her insomnia through a litany of visualization exercises and herbal treatments, she lies awake and contemplates global warming.

Even in “Guided Meditation” the audiotape meditation leader strays from her smooth, soothing professional language, leading her student listeners through an increasingly hostile and dystopian visualization narrative.

But Mitchell’s stories – irreverent, witty, incisive – are never dystopian, never despondent. There is a playfulness to Mitchell’s writing in these twelve stories, which are funny and incisive and coupled with a capacious faculty for humanity and depth. The meditation leader brings her students to the dark “foreboding” of a basement elevator where a “weird, rumbling, ugly creature” lurks in the corner.  “You could run away from him,” she says.  Or, she advises her students, “try holding out your hand to him.”  She goes on:

He might take it in his own hand, which turns out to be enormous, oddly shaped, maybe with the wrong number of fingers, but warm and dry and strangely comforting.  Then, without letting go, try stepping forward, leading him gently out of that back corner of the elevator into the light and space…. Will he follow?

Even this dystopia becomes empathetic and generous.

The stories in Mitchell’s collection are rich with such moments of humanity.  For as wry as Mitchell is about the dislocations caused by technologies as disparate as the telephone, Facial Expression Cognition Software, and Facebook, she also deploys technology movingly as a vehicle for human connection.  A record player in “Lucille’s House” returns Louis Armstrong to his grieving widow; in “Three Marriages” an internet chat room brings Cynthia halfway across the world to a life and a marriage she had never imagined.

Human connection is one of the key preoccupations of the twelve stories in Viral, and Mitchell is remarkably attuned to the subtle imbalances and disruptions that demark and interrupt relationships.  The characters in “On Friendship” chronical the ways friendship is lost and redeemed through ordinary calibrations: the tone of voice a friend uses in phone conversations, the circuitous re-tracings of a political disagreement, the rediscovered generosity of a handmade recipe book from an old friend.  Mitchell is a keen observer of such permutations.

The stories in Viral hinge on subtle shifts, the accumulation of moments, habitual action interrupted, plots that bloom from half-scenes and then swell into the full emotional force of Mitchell’s apt and piercing lyricism.  She maintains a slight distance in the perspective of these stories, even in those that are told by first person narrators.  The narrators in Mitchell’s stories are more likely “after a while [to realize] that [they are] unhappy” than to immerse readers in unhappiness’s visceral sensory immediacy.  And this distance is what allows space for the characters to puzzle through the shifting meanings of their experiences, and for Mitchell’s careful observations and wry humor.

The technique proves particularly well-suited to this collection of stories, where meaning can mutate and change into something else entirely.  The sister in “A Boy My Sister Dated in High School” tries to find a framework to help her respond when her high school boyfriend hits her, and then years later finds herself re-casting the incident’s significance.  In “On Friendship” we think we learn the moral of a story about a friendship that ends over political disagreement (“Now that some time has passed… those concerns, which seemed so urgent at the time, don’t seem that way to me anymore,” the narrator tells us.) only to find in the next paragraph an elegiac memory from early in the friendship.  Only then do we discover that this story is actually about a far more human loss.

Perhaps the story to most strikingly re-define its meaning is “No-No,” set in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War.  For its first two thirds, the story is about a questionnaire that the internees have been asked to fill out attesting to their loyalty.  Mitchell builds tension and suspense surrounding these forms, continually raising the stakes for her protagonist Karl until we understand that his answers will carry grave consequences for his family, his community, and his safety.  It is not until the last third of the story that we discover that the story’s meaning has abruptly changed – for Karl and for us.  It turns out to be a story about something else entirely.  To the point that, many years later, in the story’s final paragraphs, a student interviewing Karl asks him about the questionnaire and he cannot, for a minute, remember it.

These leaps through time are one of the collection’s hallmarks, and one of the structural strategies that allows the stories’ meanings to shape-shift.  And in Viral meaning is infinitely morphable, multiple, open to play and improvisation, structural leaps and narrative experimentation.  The closing story in the collection, “Biographies,” is a prime example of this.  In it, Mitchell presents five biographical sketches of a character named Emily Mitchell.  The speculative sketches in this story, lush with detail and empathic connection, are an apt metaphor for Mitchell’s work in this varied, multifaceted, complex collection.  Through it Mitchell makes herself multiple: equally deft and at home in a novel like Last Summer of the World and in these playful, human stories.  Viral expands the scope and nature of Mitchell’s canon, readies us for a future body of work poised to be just as rich, and just as multidimensional.

Melissa Wyse


REVIEW: One Child for Another by Nancy Murray (reviewed by Michael Tager)

One ChildOne Child for Another

by Nancy Murray









Let’s get this out of the way first, because reviewing this is challenging:  yes, One Child for Another is a good book. It’s also troubling, because it’s a troubling story. And  it’s also lovely and hopeful. In short, One Child for Another is what memoir should be, difficult and easy, full of darkness and growth, easy to read and hard to digest. It’s a lot like life in that way.

If it’s not easy to read and review One Child for Another, imagine the difficulty in writing it and more, of living the life that breathes within its pages. The story of how memoirist Nancy Murray took control of an out of control life and gave a chance to the life within her is a powerful one. While it is often a funny and joyous read, it is threaded throughout by the reality of darkness within a regular suburban family. Reading it, we understand who Nancy was and how she became the woman she is.

Within the first few chapters, we know the outline of the story: pregnancy as a result of sexual assault (at the least), an abusive father, a passive mother, a decision to give a child up for adoption. The 80s were not that long ago, but it was still a time when were still “sent off” to take care of their little problems. Given that setting, it’s easy to imagine a tragic, miserable story. But that’s not what’s given. Instead, what destroys some, empowered Nancy. The difference between her story and others is that she chose to be other than a victim.

Telling too much of Nancy’s story would give away too many of its pleasures. There are colorful characters (nuns), amusing anecdotes (some involving nuns) and touching moments as the arc of Nancy’s pregnancy develops. And we follow the pregnancy the whole way, from conception to birth. The focus of the book is narrow and all the stronger for it.

There are many, darker directions One Child for Another could have gone. It could have followed the thread of abuse and dysfunction that haunts the back story. Instead, Nancy shines light on the story of her choice, her son Dillon and the experiences leading to a closed adoption. Would exploring the fullest depths of abuse have been a strong choice? Maybe, but that would have made this a different story. Instead, we know just enough of the background to understand Nancy’s choices and decisions.

When we judge memoir, we often talk about how powerful the story is, how brave the author is to exhume the damaged bones of life. But where is the line? At what point is the Rubicon crossed and the story become sensationalism? Murray wisely knows where the line is and sticks close to her chosen story, that of a girl faced with a common problem who makes uncommon decisions out of necessity. One Child For Another is a brave, powerful story, all the more so because of its chosen focus. It doesn’t dwell on the ghoulishness humans are capable of, though it acknowledges its existence with a steady gaze.

While we praise the integrity and honesty of  personal stories, we often forget to focus on the quality of the prose. That the story is a powerful one is important, but every tale is better when the words behind it shine. How can we tell our story if our words are mud? Luckily, One Child For Another is a marvelously well-told book. Candid, humorous, honest and affecting, reading it is almost like having a conversation with Murray over a cocktail. Her voice is clear and strong, the language simple but never plain. It flows easily, lingering when it needs to over truths and thoughtful digressions. Putting it down is difficult and unnecessary.

Why do we read memoir? Why should we read One Child For Another when its subject matter is troublesome? Because difficult stories are the most important ones and because voices that were quieted need to be heard. Nancy Murray’s voice is a unique one, full of acerbic wit, honesty and anger, joy and hope and One Child For Another tells a story that needs to be told.

Michael Tager


CALL FOR POEMS: BEST “NEW” AFRICAN POETS 2015: 100 poems, 100 poets

langaa_r1_c1CALL FOR POEMS

BEST “NEW” AFRICAN POETS 2015: 100 poems, 100 poets

We are calling for 1-3 poems per poet from Africa (living in Africa) or of African descent (Diasporas) to be included in BEST “NEW” AFRICAN POETS 2015: 100 Poems, 100 Poets Anthology. Poems of any topic, form… but less than 40 lines, must be in any 3 languages; French, English, and Portuguese. The anthology to be edited by Tendai Mwanaka and Daniel de Purificacao, is earmarked for publication by Tendai Mwanaka and Daniel de Purificacao, i (Cameroon)

Deadline for entries is 15 October, 2015

“New” maybe newness of form or newness to the genre…, preference will be given to younger poets to help them grow as poets.

Entries should be in one doc, include also your contact information, country of stay or country of origin and a bio note of not more than 50 words

We are looking at selecting: English poets- 40 poets
French poets- 30 poets
Portuguese poets- 20 poets
Guests poets- 10 poets (by invitation only)

Unfortunately due to financial constraints we won’t be offering contributors free copies but poets will benefit immensely from this exposure.

Entries should be sent to Tendai Mwanaka or Daniel Purificacao at these e-mails:
mwanaka@yahoo.com or danieljose26@yahoo.com.br or

REVIEW: The Suicide of Claire Bishop by Carmiel Banasky (reviewed by Ashley Begley)

Suicide Clare BishopThe Suicide of Claire Bishop

by Carmiel Banasky

384 pages

Dzanc Books, 2015


ISBN 978-1938103087


Have you ever had that moment when you have to take a step back and marvel at unsuspecting brilliance? Well, this book was my moment. Carmiel Banasky’s novel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop, is, in a word, indescribable. What I mean to say is that to try and explain this picture of lives colliding would be to diminish the spark of madness hidden within its pages. Therefore, I would like to put forth a request: you must question everything that I say and you MUST go in search of your own truth, “subjective and hairy” (63).

 The core of this novel is the core of us all—a burning need to connect with another person, even if it’s forbidden, even if she forgets you, even if she disappears. It is the search for her, for Nicolette, “she was there, and her flesh was sweaty, and she was smiling, and she held me so tight I thought she’d break my ribs. We gripped and pulled our bodies together…We couldn’t become the other” (373). And then she is gone, but West Butler does not forget her. He cannot forget her because ten years earlier, he saw her commit suicide: “the wildflowers dripped from my brow. Something inside me was rousing from a long sleep. Awakened by a twang that said home. And then she jumped” (83). How is this possible? How could Nicolette have died when they were in high school but then meet West while he is in a psychiatric hospital a decade later? Though the answer does not matter, and though logic really plays no part, West devotes his life to finding the portal that he believes allows Nicolette to time travel; he devotes himself to loving her. People say he is crazy because of the voices in his head, because of his paranoia that the Jewish mafia is watching him, but maybe he is the only one that has it right: “I must lower my dosage…I can barely hold it in my head. It makes so much sense I’m scared of it. But I will find the truth. I will find Nicolette. And you will help me, Loyal Voices” (104).

His first clue is a painting commissioned in 1959 that depicts a woman, Claire Bishop, falling to her death. The painting haunts Claire, who grew up believing she would one day go mad. She sees herself mutilated on the cobblestones, the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Yet she can’t help but be drawn to the painter that is named Nicolette: “She slipped her fingers along Claire’s lips, her chin and neck, her lips again. Claire felt the heat of Nicolette’s face, closer now” (37). Claire obsesses over this painting, as West will obsess over it forty five years later.

 It is this painting that connects everything, everyone, even you. It brings out the raw humanness that we crave and thus the characters become people that sit next to us on a park bench or, more aptly, who sit next to us on an airplane screaming that we all have to jump. I get annoyed with the characters, I scream at them, I love them, and I want them to be loved. These characters cannot be rushed, however. They demand your attention and your time. Banasky creates these parallel and colliding universes by saturating the pages with heady descriptions so that a mere passage transports you to a different ‘everywhere’ and ‘everywhen.’ This story is a story that you must savor, like a moment from which you never want to let go.

 But maybe Banasky IS calling us to let go, to let go of “the normal people with their normal briefcases and lunch bags. They have no idea who they are. They don’t want to know” (197). Her words, then, are her defiance against banality because no matter how absurd Claire or West or Nicolette may seem to be, they’re still living and they’re still breaking the laws of the Universe. They still make the jump: “I feel the grass slicing along my ankles as I run, the air whipping the hairs on my face, the edge of the bluff on the ball of one foot and then the other. And then nothing. Nothing. I am in the air. I am the air. I am wildly open” (330). Banasky asks that we be open, too. Open to something that seems impossible but that might just turn out to be something extraordinary: “Here, the sky is forever in front of you…Here you are so alive. You are alive, you are alive, you are ready. Dive in” (398).

Ashley Begley

REVIEW: Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink (reviewed by Michael Tager)

Fake Fruit FactoryFake Fruit Facory

by Patrick Wensink

350 pages

Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2015






How can a town die?

Centralia, Pennsylvania was shut down due to never-ending underground coal fires. It sounds like Cthulu mythos, but go visit. Despite the lush forest growth that has reclaimed almost the entirety of the town, it still smells like burning. Somehow, ash gets inside your lungs.

Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina is for sale after its textile mill closed. You – yes you! – can buy it for just over a million.

Glenville, Deleware ended after a flood and subsequent government buyout.

Kaimu, Hawaii was obliterated by lava.

Clayton, MN died for no reason it all. It just didn’t develop. There are hundreds of others in every state; towns can die in any way. Nuclear disasters. Economic downturn. The end of gold rushes. Because it’s in Kansas. The reasons are nearly limitless.

To the question, “How does a town die?” Patrick Wensink would posit: all of them. When he wrote Fake Fruit Factory, I suspect he had more than a few of those doomed towns in mind. Uncovering which one(s) is part of the fun.

Dyson, Ohio, the setting of Fake Fruit Factory, could be any struggling small town, inhabited by good-hearted Americans. The town is in trouble, everyone agrees on that but how?  The mayor has a “Save Dyson” project that seems doomed to fail before it succeeds. The waitress appeals to reality television. The rich schemer has plans of her own; she’s going to buy the town up, bit by bit with future goals on the horizon. Then there’s the former mayor, who, once he meets a foie gras-serving mummy during a suicide attempt, preaches unity as the only salvation.

Wait, what?

Only a couple of the townspeople know about the good-deeds performing mummy, they’re too concerned about the campaign to save Dyson. Until, of course, news of the falling space station that threatens to flatten Dyson on impact reaches the townspeople’s ears. And even then, there’s other stories happening all the time, in the background, foreground and every other kind of ground. There’s celebrity to chase after an untimely death afflicts the America’s Most Boringest City. Relationships to navigate. Radio talk show slots to find. Citizens to deputize and cajole into moving statues.

In Fake Fruit Factory it’s clear that even the smallest towns have beating hearts. Patrick Wensink knows that the best way to show a town is to show the town. Everyone gets their voice. The joke-telling bartender and Mr. Mayor are equals and their stories are being told. Because Fake Fruit Factory isn’t about the plot. It’s about how the voice of each person who lives in a place joins every other voice to be a greater part. 1 + 1 + 1 … = infinity. Q.E.D.

Those seeking a straight, slick narrative are advised to look elsewhere. There’s a couple dozen storylines, points of view and narrators, all vying for attention. Sometimes their paths cross and comment upon one another, sometimes they attend to their own agenda off screen. A pad and paper can be helpful for notes and intimidating for a casual reader. But for those who want to gaze deeply, not into the voice, but into a beating heart and the thousand voices inside of it, Fake Fruit Factory offers delight.  It moves quickly, jumping from slice-of-life to slice-of-live, rarely giving a view from above to the reader. Plot is gauche, anyway and besides the point.

The point is that pleasure is in the tiny details, in the sordid and sweet relationships that may/may not work, in the grandiose plans that desperation leads us to, in the sickly dark sense of humor (the continuing suicide attempts of the former mayor brings sad chortles) permeating the pages, in frenetic movement and, surprisingly, an underlying sense of hope.

A dust speck on a map might be blown off at any time. It’s happened before and it will happen again. But the dreams, failures, loves and triumphs of the people inhabiting that flyspeck of a town will continue despite all costs. Fake Fruit Factory transports us to a place where we all live, regardless of our actual location. To those who want to find themselves in the pages – warts and pathetic dreams and faded glory and all – and share in a candid (and often kind) image of humanity, this is probably the place.

Michael Tager


Review: George Washington’s Secret Six: by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager (reviewed by Bill Hughes)

WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Secret Six:
The Spy Ring That Saved the Revolution

by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

272 pages

Sentinel (reprint edition), 2014



The premise of George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the Revolution is intriguing: George Washington was able to rally from his defeat by the British in New York City in 1776 by cultivating a top-secret group, the Culper Spy Ring. Through the use of an intelligence network, Washington was able to compensate for America’s lesser firepower and “save” the American Revolution.

Poppycock. The co-authors, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, in their poorly researched book, want their readers to believe that six spies hanging out in and around then British-occupied New York City between 1776 and 1783 somehow, miraculously, “saved the American Revolution.” Sorry, this yarn doesn’t even come close to adding up to that kind of resounding result. Plus, it’s a gross insult to the leadership of General George Washington, his staff, and to the brave, fighting men of the Continental Army to suggest such a silly scenario.

None of my criticism is meant to take away from the skill and courage of those six America spies, but their efforts were tenuous at best and very hard to connect to any real war-related successes. For example, let’s take a closer look at chapters, 11, 12, 13, and 14, and one of the major premises of the book. These four chapters deal with the treachery of the traitor, General Benedict Arnold, and his connection to his British counterpart, the repulsive Major John Andre.

Andre was then in charge of the counterspy network for the imperial Brits, headquartered in NYC. The authors describe him in glowing terms as that “dashing young major.” The simple truth was that Andre was a notorious “war criminal.” I’ll get to that controversial issue in just a moment.

First, Arnold, in June, 1780, decided to defect to the Brits. He had been passed over for promotions and had gotten married, in Philadelphia, to a flaming Tory, Peggy Shippen. Wounded at the battle of Saratoga, in October, 1777, he was a very bitter man with a large chip on his shoulder.

Arnold had Washington appoint him to command the critical fortress at West Point, located north of NYC, on the Hudson River. His British’s contact was Andre. The clever scheme centered on Arnold turning West Point over to the Brits, and hopefully, to quickly capture Washington and his high command. It almost worked. Control of West Point meant control of the Hudson River Valley to the Brits, that split the American forces.

The plot was foiled, by accident, when Andre was captured, on September 23, 1777, by three American militamen and was found to have plans of Arnold’s betrayal hidden in his stockings. The notion that the American spies in NYC had anything to do with this seminal matter is simply preposterous. The co-authors are way off the mark with their claim on this important issue, along with other allegations submitted in the book.

Andre, since he was captured out of uniform, was considered a spy, an offense punishable by death. After a trial, he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. The turncoat Arnold got wind of the botched efforts and quickly escaped by barge down the Hudson to board the “HMS Vulture.”

To read a detailed, documented and authoritative accounts of one of the darkest act of treachery in our history, I recommend: Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, by William Sterne Randall; and Major Andre by Anthony Bailey.

Getting back to that miserable cad, Andre. The co-authors refer to him as a man with “gallant manners and a sense of honor.” What planet are these guys living on? Andre was previously second in command to an elitist scoundrel named Major Gen. Charles Grey.

On the evening of September 20th, 1777, Grey’s troops launched a surprise night time attack on the camp of General Anthony Wayne located at Paoli, near Philadelphia (present day Malvern). More than 2000 American soldiers were stationed there. The Brits gave “no quarters,” in their blood-stained and vicious attack, and “at least 53” Americans were slaughtered trying to surrender. No mercy was shown by Grey and/or Andre. The massacre later became a rally cry for the patriots. To learn more about this mass butchery, check out the “Battle of Paoli” by Thomas J. McGuire.

Here’s an ugly truth. The Brits treated the American rebels as traitors and held them in the lowest possible regard. To prove it, just look at what happened to the American POWs. More than 11,500 prisoners died in captivity aboard sixteen British prison ships then docked in New York harbor during the conflict. A “Martyrs’ Monument” was erected to their sacred memory. It stands in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, NY.

I should have known not to buy this book, when I noticed blurbs of unctuous praise on its cover coming from the likes of that God-awful Neocon, Donald Rumsfeld; Dubya’s Brain, Karl Rove; and even (triple gasp) – Donald Trump!

To sum up, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the Resolution, suffers from a badly flawed premise and some very poor research. It lacks serious scholarship. There are no footnotes. The co-authors repeatedly make up quotes. This book is a mega disappointment. I’m giving it, out of a sense of mercy – one star.

Bill Hughes is photojournalist and author. His book, “Baltimore Iconoclast,” can be found at: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000076922/Baltimore-Iconoclast.aspx


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