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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Book Review: Ryan Quinn Flanagan AMBIENT SAVAGE (Rust Belt Press, 2019) 280 pages

This is one of the latest collections of poetry by the prolific Ontario poet Ryan Quinn Flanagan, who has amassed more than thirty-five books to date, most of which are still available through Lulu or Amazon. Check out the yolasite below. This output is not surprising when you consider that on a good full day Flanagan can crank out 20-25 poems. Recently asked if he ever deleted a poem Flanagan quipped, “Hahaha! Yeah, I got a big pile of QC (Quality Control) that I box away when it’s not good enough so plenty of rejects for sure.” 

There are 199 poems in Ambient Savage and those familiar with Flanagan’s poetry will find both confessional verse combined with what Flanagan refers to as his “wandering poems.” He explained his use of style in a BM review of his collection Gangbangs and Other Mass Rallies (Pski’s Porch, 2017), “The more matter of fact confessional type poems are much more straight forward, and often the backbone of the book.  The other intricate word play or “wandering poems” as I like to call them are probably the best example of how my brain works.  They are non-linear, almost steams of conscious, but not quite.  I honestly enjoy writing these types of poems more and more I find.  I don't consciously set out to do so, but I find that more of them are appearing in newer works.” 

The title poem “Ambient Savage” appears early in the collection:

Ambient Savage

Big Brother is little sister
sharing a bunk

the fingers of lepers
always leaving the

and I walk into the room

and all the walls have been

not a Latin bone in my body
so that fishy cans from Sardinia
mean nothing to me

that salty red taste of split lips
after a fight

the way you can leave yourself
behind in the snow
and be somewhere else

your ambient savage
scabbed across distant

drying in the street
that stolen joyride cars
drive over.

The highly associative word play in the title poem is a good example of Flanagan’s “wandering” poetry. In the Gangbangs interview, he explicitly explained the sense of artist freedom and joy he derives from his writing methods: 

“I have always loved surrealist paintings and Dada and such and the wandering poems allow me to jump around a bit like a frog stretching its legs a little…It is more a comfortable free association as you go along, not locked in on anything specific, but rather gliding through loose sentiments and never forcing a cohesion.  There often is a loose cohesion when you are done, but it is flexible and free and therefore often the most rewarding.”

You will find more than two dozen “wandering poems” in the collection. Here’s another interesting example:

Summer Comes

You reach
and come up

that is straight
carrot on a stick

leading the horse
to glue

and the cars
that won’t start
come to rest
in the street

the neighbourhood
children try the doors,
then jump on the hoods

if there is a body in the trunk
the right people will
find it

with its testicles cut off
and shoved in
its mouth

or perhaps
this is a reckless

the plates removed
like loose teeth

and when the summer comes
it is hot

your clothes seem to stick to you
like cotton shadows

in the absence of trees
for shade

and books



I have been following Flanagan’s work for over ten years and have been impressed by his tenacity to get the word down on the page.  Asked about his process of composition and how he arranges the order of his poems for publication, he extensively replied:

“The process I follow for composition is pretty simple and repetitive.  I eat the same thing which is a bowl of oatmeal, then I listen to the same music to get in the right headspace. Usually some Ministry and Nine Inch Nails or Joy Division.  After that, I head upstairs with some wine or beer and switch to classical music from hard rock or industrial.  The classical stuff is just nice and quiet like something in the background to help put you into a sort of trance so you just get to the business of writing without thinking about it too much.  I might have a few notes to jog the memory, but usually I'll just sit down and see what comes out.  If I have a full day to write I write until the wine or beer is gone.  Then I turn the computer off and grab some dinner before bed.  I can't write everyday of course, we all have lives to lead and life stuff always intruded, but when I can I definitely make the time and just repeat the above process as many times as I can.

“When I feel the poems are written and the collection is ready to be assembled, I print out a hard copy and spread all the poems out on the bed so I can get a real good idea for the flow as I'm arranging.   The flow is very important to me like building a strong album in many ways.  Some people can just do it on the fly on the computer, but I have to see everything laid out in hard copy and arrange things that way.  Then I take the assembled MS and rebuild it onto the computer with cut and paste until it is in an ordered MS form on the computer.  Then I read through and make any edits I have to, usually just a lot of little spelling and grammar things.  I almost never change anything that is written.  I figure it was written during that specific time and headspace and just stick to spelling and grammar edits.   It is important to be totally sober for this part, can't stress that enough!  "Write drunk, edit sober" is a mantra I certainly ascribe to.  

“After first edit, the MS is ready to be sent off to the respective publisher.  The MS is then formatted into a PDF and all the line and spacing issues are dealt with.  I do a second reading during this stage as well.  When the corrections come back, I check to make sure everything is good to go and usually do a third cursory edit read while we work on the cover art and other important things that go into a work.  Then the proof is ordered and we check to make sure everything is correct and transferred just as we wanted it to be.  After that, we are good to go.  And that's the process for every book with little to no variation.  Just certain things may be different depending on the respective publisher.  But I really am a creature of habit when it comes to writing, that's for sure.”

As with Flanagan’s previous collections there is no unifying theme in Ambient Savage. As he explained in the Gangbangs review, “I much prefer to sit down and write whatever comes to mind over a couple of months, and then look at what I have in its entirety and choose from there.  A few loose themes or motifs often appear, but overall, the idea is to just let things flow and see what comes from that; to mine the subconscious and make sure the conscious just gets out of the way as much as possible. When the poems are written, that is the way they are.”  

The poems in Ambient Savage were written over a short period of time two years ago and “in the same head space.” Flanagan says of the process of getting this collection published:

“Ambient Savage was written about two years ago. I then approached the amazing artist Marcel Herms about his fantastic art for the cover.  I love whenever I get a chance to work with Marcel.  We've worked together on five books to date and I'm sure there will be many more.  Once I had the book written assembled and proofed and the cover art, I approached a press about working with them. To their credit, they got back to me and said they would like to publish Ambient Savage, but had so many books ahead of it in the queue that it would be over a year before they could get to it and suggested I see if I could get it picked up somewhere else in the meantime if I could.  I was very appreciative of them being so upfront about the wait.  That extra time would have put the poems at over three years old at that point.  I then went over the MS again with yet another proof before I approached Rust Belt and Ambient Savage came about pretty quickly after that.

“As I mentioned, most the poems were written over two years ago and then there was a wait with the first press before the move to the second.  The poems in this collection are their own beast and completely independent of the other collections.  They were all written during the same short period of time and in the same head space.  And having Marcel's wonderful artwork grace the cover really brought everything together.  That guy is truly a great artist!”


The heart of Ambient Savage consists of confessional verse and narrative poems which include personal anecdotes and observations of everyday events, conversations with his wife and other women, his battle with mental illness and his thoughts on writers and writing. The writing is typically clear and easy to follow. 

In the poem “Key Development” Flanagan uses a simple trip to get a key cut into a memorable experience for the reader:

Key Development

I am in this little closet of a shop
down by the water.

Having a key made for my new place.

This old timer in a candy-striped smock
standing over the buffer.

A wrinkly stooped Polack
with large brown growths
on his face.

There are many locks on the wall as well.
I check the one on the entrance to the shop
figuring this old timer would use the lock
he trusted the most.

There is no open or closed sign.
No one comes in while I am present.
I doubt they even know it is there.

It’s the type of place you walk by
a thousand times without thinking
about it.

When the key is done, the old timer
charges me next to nothing.

I thank him and he nods.
The same way creepy butlers do
in old horror movies that don’t
end well.

Then I am out the door
and back into the

With a shiny new key
tucked inside a small white

Past the movie house crowd
spilling out
and date night diners inside
restaurant windows.

Knowing the quietest one in the room
is the strongest one
in the room.

And your noise is the sound of
their victory.

Perhaps the consistently best in the collection are his portrait poems, usually of struggling, marginalized people who appear in poems such as “Evgeny the Loan Shark”, “The Dope Dealer”, “Stanley’s Creation”, “Chop Shop”, “Gridlock Gary”, “Luke” and “$5 Cum Dumpster.”

Ryan Quinn Flanagan recently told me about the evolving role that writing has had in his life, "I used to think that writing just played a cursory role in my life, but as I've gotten older I think it plays a much more therapeutic role than I previously thought. I used to laugh at that idea and I still have some problems with the idea of that, but writing really does help me. It just calms me more than anything and allows the opportunity to do something I enjoy doing as opposed to all the things we all have to do in daily life that aren't enjoyable in the least. Some of those daily things can be soul crushing really, so it's good to have something you can go to that makes you feel good, you know? And because it is so enjoyable I try to make time to do it whenever I can."   


You will find plenty of surprises in Ambient Savage. When you think you have Flanagan worked out he will fling your way a remarkable line or a poem to blow you away. That said, some of the poems in the collection appear comparatively weak and perhaps this is due to Flanagan’s massive output, his bold experiments and his determination not to revise his work once it is down. He says candidly in the Gangbangs review, “I never revise anything beyond simple spelling and grammar issues.  I believe that when you write, what came from that day, that specific time and space is specific to that place and not to be polished up or amended later on when you find yourself in a completely different headspace.  I don't want to censor anything I may say, so I just go with my first natural instinct and trust that.”

Ambient Savage is an interesting and solid collection of poems. Flanagan is up there with the best of the alternative small press. And as he is still only in his early 40s we should expect dozens of books to follow. The poems may not always work but you have to admire Flanagan for his ongoing experimentation with language and his tenacity in getting his work out there. 

Check out dozens of other books by Ryan Quinn Flanagan here:

Find a BM review/ interview of Flanagan’s Gangbangs and Other Mass Rallies(2017) here:

March 16, 2019 Interview with The Dope Fiend Daily:

Monday, June 24, 2019

Final Instalments of Alan Wearne's Verse Novella In Our Four Dominions

BM is proud to announce that Parts 9 "The Correspondents"” and 10 “Dream” of Alan Wearne’s verse novella In Our Four Dominions have now been posted. The verse novella is now complete. Note that apart from New Zealand writer Terence Risetto, Wearne's contribution is the most viewed amongst BM's featured writers.

Wearne is Australian publisher of Grand Parade Poets. Check out his website:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

New Release: Adrian Manning STARE DOWN THE GODS (Holy & Intoxicated Publications, 2019) 28 pages

Stare Down The Gods is an eclectic mix of highly accessible poems by Adrian Manning, publisher of Concrete Meat Press. The work is skilfully constructed and has a measured, sometimes ominous tone. The five-part poem "He" is the pick of the crop. Cover art by John D. Robinson. Here are two poems from the twenty-six in the collection:

  It is Time

to take the needle 
off the record

empty the bottle
and roll the dice

stare down the gods 
in the last gamble 
and turn off the lights

it's time
to do the thing 

the mad dance

time to find 
the essence 
of myself

and decide 
whether I like it 
at all


this is not a painting
      something from Goya
or an imagining of Dante’s
      circles of hell

this cannot be viewed
    in comfortable galleries

air conditioned with a 
     third floor restaurant

this cannot be discussed 
    by learned guides
or Chinese tourists and 
    local university professors

this is a barely breathing 
      image of now
this is hell in modernity
      this is real dust and blood

the outcome
the reality
not to be dismissed 

as historical folly 
this is happening 

(poems included above with the permission of the publisher)

The chapbook can be purchased here via paypal:
$/£5 plus p&p

Find out more about Concrete Meat Press:

Monday, June 3, 2019

New Release: Rust Belt Review #3 Summer 2019

The third issue of Rust Belt Press's periodical Rust Belt Review, summer 2019 edition. Front and back cover art by Jyl Anais Ion. Interior art by Volodymyr Bilyk. Writing by Pete Donohue, Jyl Anais Ion, Matt Dennison, Wayne F. Burke, Matthew Borczon, Jeff Weddle, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozabal, Mark Hartenbach, George Anderson, Maxwell Ryder, R. Bremner, Red Focks, and Mark Borazon.

Buy Rust Belt Review #3 here:

Update: Like everyone I was saddened to hear that Jay of Rust Belt Review announced on 8 June 2019 that the press was going into a long, perhaps permanent hiatus:

It’s with mixed emotions that I announce that I must put the press on an indefinite hiatus due to multiple factors the most prominent of which is a demanding full time day job and an unfulfilled desire to spend more time on my own work in the little free time that I have. 
The term hiatus is key as I will not be closing anything at this time. Not this page, the Facebook group, the email account, website, lulu store, etc. Since the long term fate of the press is unclear, I want to leave the door open to possibly coming back later to publishing again even if it’s just my own work and/or the occasional zine edition or manuscript. 

The group will remain open. 
Back issues of old projects will remain in the lulu store and authors can and will receive royalties that they are entitled to. 
If you have submitted anything or had a manuscript accepted by me I will be getting with you personally to discuss this and help you transition. And I apologize for any inconvenience. 
As a consolation/win-win potential soft landing, I have discussed this with Alien Buddha Press in advance and they are open to considering all of my pending projects if the authors decide to go in that direction. 
Thanks in advance for your understanding,

A couple of weeks later I received a copy of Rust Belt Review #2. It is a beautiful, large publication which provides an ample font (probably size 16) and space for each featured writer! It is a sad sad day when another small alternative press raises the stumps- at least, for now.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Featuring Joseph Rathgeber

Excerpt from Mixedbloods (Fomite, 2019)

Chapter 4
By the time Exley arrived in Cragmere, the skies were darkish—the avenues illumined only by the flowers of Callery pear trees, smelling not so much semen-sweet this late in June as poison. His car stalled out at the LED-fringed stop sign, flashing red. As he pumped the gas pedal, turning over the ignition, he stared out the window at the cobblestoned curbs.
The address of the party was on a tear of paper on the dash—83 Masonicus Roadflickered against the odometer. Exley was halting, iffy as he gathered a backpack of over-the-counter medicines out of the trunk. He was only welcome at the party because of the tangible items he could provide to his peers.
 The paver walkway leading to the side gate was trimmed with artificial flowers—asters and freesias. Pesticide flags poked up from the lawn. A Slomin’s Shield placard was conspicuously positioned below a bay window. The gate opened onto a vast yard. 
Brash music blared from a small stereo on the deck rail. Nobody was letting a song finish. Kids were just pecs and breasts and necks and arms and heads and mist-damp hair in the jacuzzi—the rest of their bodies submerged in the froth and the foam of the jets. 
“DeGroat!” one of them belched. Exley wasn’t sure who it was. 
There was an inground pool—heated and recently shocked. The smell of chlorine even overpowered the rank keg spills and skunk stink of weedsmoke. The deep end of the pool boasted a grotto with a stone waterfall. And there was a group huddled around a diving board listening to some whiteboys freestyle—all doing arrhythmic head nods. A girl Exley recognized from study hall, clanking her rainbow bangles, asked if he’d paid for a cup.
Exley scoped Womack further off by a manmade koi pond. He and others were feeding handfuls of Chex to the fish. Womack greeted Exley with a gut punch.
“Where’s your squaw at?”
“Who you talking about?” Exley asked.
“Your squaw—Sue.”
“Fuck you, yo.”
They walked along the privet hedges at the far end of the property. Several dudes were yellowing the fringes of the lawn with piss. They stopped next to a storage shed and Exley unzipped his backpack.
Womack emptied a bottle of whiskey into an antique flagon. “It’s the only thing Aubrey said she could find in the kitchen,” he explained. They squeezed raspberry Kool-Aid through the strawholes of juiceboxes into the mix. And then the dextro, which is dextromethorphan, which is over-the-counter Dimetapp DM, of which Exley provided five bottles. It made for a treacly potion.
No fewer than four meatheads were playing hard-to-the-body beneath a trellised arch with plastic ivy and a hose mister woven in and through the latticework—another attempt to outglitter the neighbors, Ex figured. The louts ordered up two rounds of the sticky elixir. Womack poured into their Solos; Exley collected the profits.
They entered the sunroom through a screen door that thwacked shut after them. Exley was unhappy to see Adams in there, sunk into a well-pillowed patio sofa with his feet on a glass table.
“DeGroat,” Adams started, “how’s the meniscus?”
 Nelson Adams played JV with Exley, but—unlike Exley—sat varsity. They’d played rec together in middle school and even went further back to elementary. Adams used to inside-out his eyelids, and Ex would shudder at the pinkness. Exley hated much of what Adams did or said.
“Healing, but still hurting like a motherfucker,” Exley answered. 
“This guy,” Adams said, smacking Hitch’s chest, “shreds his knee to shit the last game of the season—the last two minutes!” 
Hitch toadied to Adams. He paid for his dextro and removed the cancer paper from his Black & Mild.
“Good looks on the jungle juice, DeGroat.”
Adams tried to palm the three-legged floor globe next to him and—thanks to the raised-relief landmasses—did. He made a show of it. Hitch worked on a blunt with the slow delicacy of an entomologist dissecting a chrysalis with a scalpel. 
“Hitch, what the fuck—,” Adams said, “let DeGroat, my Injun, roll that shit and light it up. Your people make them good fires, am I right?”
Aubrey, whose house it was, staggered through the screen door, freaking.
“No smoking in the solarium!” she clamored. “What the fuck is wrong with you people?” She ran into the house.
“Fuck’s a solarium?” Womack said.

They reconvened by the storage shed. Kids were stacked on shoulders, splashing, fully-clothed in the pool. The reek of chlorine was still strong. Someone had killed a koi. Exley flame-sealed the blunt with a white lighter. “Check that!” Adams snatched the lighter and tossed it into the pool. 
“What gives, Nelson?” 
“Bad luck, DeGroat—white lighter. You should know that shit.” 
Exley stared at Adams as though he could see the pink under his eyelids.
            The cipher proceeded but with Adams speaking ceaselessly on all matters of bullshit. About assist-to-turnover ratios. About copping feels. About—as Adams put it—Exley’s people in the hills. Ex tried to toke and to ignore.
            “What you pulling on, DeGroat? That a calumet?” Adams doubled over, stomped his feet. Exley passed the blunt to Womack.
            “Your shit ain’t even funny, dude.”
            “Relax, DeGroat,” Adams coughed and smiled through it. “Don’t get all big brother on me.” Adams smacked Hitch in the chest again. “You know about DeGroat’s brother back in the day, right? Big goth-looking motherfucker. Dude went off the fucking reservation at school. Some dude called DeGroat’s brother a fucking ogre or Grendel or Swamp Thing or some shit like that, and this guy pulls the fucking porcelain water fountain from the wall and smashes it over dude’s head, nearly kills him. Fucking brains leaking out. DeGroat’s brother got expelled a week before graduation.”
            Exley’s eyes burned like he’d been swimming underwater.
            “Retard strength, yo.”
            The crowd gathered just as fast as Exley stepped to Adams. Womack was as quick to split them apart, stretching Exley’s t-shirt collar in the process. A siren bleeped and the side of the house lit up red.
            Aubrey came running out of the solarium, bawling, “Hitch!Can you come?”
            Hitch’s father was Mahwah police captain; his uncle was a municipal judge. He headed to the side gate with the blunt still in his hand.
            Haggard and reasonably high, Exley parted the privet hedges, hopped a composite split-rail, and circled back toward his car. Sue was just arriving, still in her CVS polo, albeit untucked. She waved stiffly with her sprained wrist.
            “Party over already, Ex?”
            “Maybe not,” Exley pointed to the cop cars parked pell-mell a few houses down. “Hitch is talking to them. But I gotta be out.”
            He reversed down Masonicus Road until he hit the intersection he’d stalled at earlier. Then he headed for home. 

Bio: Joseph Rathgeber is an author, poet, high school English teacher, and adjunct professor from New Jersey. His story collection is The Abridged Autobiography of Yousef R. and Other Stories (ELJ Publications, 2014). His work of hybrid poetry is MJ (Another New Calligraphy, 2015). His debut novel is Mixedbloods (Fomite, 2019). He is the recipient of a 2014 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship (Poetry) and a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship (Prose).


Book description:

Cops don’t respond to calls on Stag Hill. Neither does the fire department. The Ramapough Lenape, a destabilized people—origins uncertain, debated and mythologized—are struggling to survive in the face of an ecological devastation visited upon them by the neighboring Ford plant, which has dumped paint sludge in the abandoned mines for decades. The EPA hasn’t lived up to its promise of a cleanup, and the woods in which they hunt and play are toxic.

Exley DeGroat is an apathetic Ramapough teenager trying to define himself and his people, wrestling with the revenants of his past and the horrors of his present. Mixedbloodsis a story of identity, of a cultural history under attack, and of destructive—often violent—behavior. It documents a class struggle between the rich and poor, but also between the organic and the inorganic, and thus between the forces of life and the forces of death. 

Find out more about the Joe’s novel here:

Check him out on Tumblr: