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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Friday, March 27, 2020

New Release: Scott Wozniak Radiating Like Insanity (Analog Submission Press, 2020) 28 pages

Radiating Like Sanity perhaps represents a transition in Scott Wozniak’s poetry. In the chapbook poems such as ‘Silence Keeps a Heart Beating’, ‘Reality Check’, ‘Spare Change for Flight’ and especially the title poem, Wozniak reveals a more sensitive, vulnerable side to his kickass, drug-addled persona he projected in his earlier collections Killing Our Saints (Svensk Apache Press, 2017), Crumbling Utopian Pipedream (Moran Press, 2017) and Shooting Gallery Vultures (Alien Buddha Press, 2019). 

Sober, Wozniak appears to be coming to terms with his life after addiction and his poetry shows a renewed sense of self and love for his family. He is more hopeful in his art and life, for now.

Here are two poems from the chap:

No Choice

It takes
a bold heart
and healthy dose
of ignorance
to step away
from your lot in life
to obtain dreams
that might not exist.

It’s more dangerous
than most know, and
often highlighted
by low standards.

For some though,
there’s no choice.
it’s more fulfilling
to accept failure
as a minor success
when compared
to living a life
you know
you can’t

Luminescent Lunatic

One of these days
you’re gonna see me
gasping for air
as a million shards
of orange and yellow light
fight their way through
my fractured chest.

My hands will be interlaced,
clutching the light source-
a tattered, glowing heart.

I will be unaware
of what’s happening
‘cause for years
I’ve held it in
And forgot what it meant
To shine.

I’ve ritualistically
extinguished flames
that burn deep inside of me
for so long now
that the fires have become
foreign objects
that feel fragile
in my calloused hands.
When they break free,
suppressed tears
will roll like pepper spray
down my face.

I will know,
As will you,
That it finally happened;
The cage door
Of the luminescent lunatic
Finally swung open.

I will be out of my mind,
I will be shinning,
exploding beauty
I’d forgotten I’d hid
somewhere inside myself.

On the day
I break free
you will see me
take deep breaths,
swallowing wind
by the mouthful
and hording the breeze
like life depends on it,
and in the end,
the only thing left standing
will be a six-foot diamond
ran through with imperfections
and radiating like insanity.

(posted with the permission of the poet)

Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review/ Interview: Brian Rihlmann Ordinary Trauma (Alien Buddha Press, 2019) 214 pages

This is the first full-length poetry collection by the 47 year-old Nevada writer Brian Rihlmann. He started writing seriously in 2016, in part, to help him deal with recovering from an alcohol addiction and has since published in about a hundred small press zines and journals, including The Rye Whiskey Review, Cajun Mutt Press, The Blue Nib, The Piker Press, Yellow Mama, As It Ought To Be, Hobo Camp Review, Winedrunk Sidewalk, Bold Monkey and dozens of others. 

Ordinary Trauma includes a massive 146 poems, mostly first person  confessional which hug the left margin of the page, without much punctuation. Rihlmann writes explicitly about fleeting or dysfunctional relationships, his love of the bottle, mental illness and his young wild years of dissipation. Other predominant themes include the importance of writing in his life, his empathy for the underclass, his hatred of the mindlessness jobs he has endured and the beauty of nature. 

Rihlmann's writing is clear and candid and he adopts throughout the collection a calm, conversational voice, sometimes directly addressed to the reader. The poems are highly observational and often narrative in form. They emerge from his recollections of past experiences, or more recently by way of anecdote, from his frequent visits to the local café, library or park. The poems typically are focused around an everyday incident which provokes an insight or revelation into Rihlmann’s understanding of himself and others and his relationship to the world- both man-made and natural. These aren’t the naïve bleatings from a wanna-be writer, but rather the mature, well considered ponderings of a fucked-up soul wanting to salvage some good out of his life.

The cover is black with slashed diagonal red writing which simply states the name of the author and the title. Asked about his choice of cover, Rihlmann says in the interview which follows, “I'm a minimalist kinda guy, I guess...haha! I just wanted something simple and plain. I thought the work should speak for itself. Maybe I'm naive....maybe next time I'll go for something flashier.”

The title poem ‘Ordinary Trauma’ is perhaps the best one in the collection. It represents a kind of manifesto in which Rihlmann establishes his credentials as an underground writer and hints at themes he will explore in greater detail in the book- his identification with and sympathy for the underclass, the alienation & control of the workplace- including the madness it evokes, how the earth is being raped, how the country’s wealth is being looted, and particularly relevant today, how the “gasoline news” fuels our paranoia and how Americans are compelled to stock guns to protect themselves. 

In a recent conversation Rihlmann says of the poem, “Ordinary Trauma is my attempt at explaining how even an ordinary life leaves scars, and makes us crazy. I think there’s a lot of people walking around with a mild case of PTSD just from the kinds of lives we lead. At a certain age, we’re all pretty much bat shit!”  

Ordinary Trauma

I’ll take nothing
from those who’ve been there
in foxholes and firefights
up to their elbows in blood
their ears filled with screams

but after these lives
where we’re beaten by bigger, older boys
ridiculed by teachers
shouted at by bosses

after the cacophony of machine shops
and construction sites
the jackhammers
the nail guns
the yellow beasts that strip the soil

even the more serene workplaces
have their bells and buzzers
a million notifications a day
bony little fingers that prod us
toward greater efficiency
as we labor under looming robot shadows
and insomniac camera eyeballs

we are goldfish in a tank
surrounded by mad children
tapping at the glass

back at home
the neighbors slam doors
punch holes in the walls
scream at each other
every Saturday night

a drunk wiggles his key
in the wrong door-
at three a.m.
then tries to kick it down

lowrider bass thumps
cars backfire
an occasional gun barks
in your neighborhood
everyone holds their breath

a cop lurks in the alley
with a flashlight
“It’s ok sir…just looking for a guy…”

you lie awake
sleep through the alarm
arrive late for work
the boss yells, again

daily, we watch
as the earth is raped
by sharp dressed men
with manicured hands
in clean glass towers

as the country’s wealth is looted
by those with bloated bellies
their insatiable mouths
still open wide, salivating

are we supposed
to thicken to all this?

I am peeled thin and raw
as a pink newborn
the dust stings my skin

and at the end of each day
we drink down the gasoline news
chased with whiskey
to stoke our fires

we stash guns
at every door-
one in the car-
and tell ourselves
tell others
“I aien’t afraid of shit!”

(all poems in this review are posted with the permission of the poet)

Several of the poems in the collection depict the speaker as a lonely guy who has failed miserably at love before (‘A 90 Pound Ton’, ‘19’, ‘Aftershocks’, ‘Dead Weight’, ‘Exasperated’,  ‘Portrait’, ‘The Home Of The Wind’) and who is in search of a new partner.  He often views women from a distance- either at a café or park (‘Casting Our Nets’, ‘How It Goes’, ‘San Francisco Girl’) or virtually, through a social media site on the internet (‘A Good Girl’, ‘Sing Emptiness For Me’, ‘The Typical American Male’, ‘To No One In Particular’).

Amongst the best of the poems about love and loss is the excellent ‘A Google Earth Poem’. In the poem Rihlmann uses the app to retrace the streets of Springfield, Missouri where he once worked and lived with an unnamed woman. He says of this poem, “The Google poem was prompted simply by me fooling around on google earth one night when I was bored…taking a virtual trip down memory lane, so to speak, with the earth in the palm of my hands.” 

A Google Earth Poem

this night has plans for me
other than sleep
and as Missouri’s on my mind
I go there in a virtual way
with finger swipes
on the looking glass
that lead me
down the 3-D streets of Springfield
the images just real enough
for each building
to cast a spell

I see the neighborhood grocery
the corner store
the pizza joint
and the warehouse
I worked all those twelve
and fourteen hour shifts in

I see the bars
where I drank myself numb enough
every weekend
to forget that Monday exists
and the bars I later drank in
to both forget about
and remember you

I pinch out
fly high and hover
hesitate as I hold America
between my thumb and middle finger
then I dive bomb back in
on our old apartment building
these photos were taken
in the fall
the swimming pool
is covered
and the maples
are starting to turn

I can see oil stains
in the parking lot
and the balcony
where we sat
on summer nights
pretending it was right
hoping it might last
long enough
that we’d break through
and be in the clear

I roam the city
and wonder
if it’s good for me
to crack this open
to peer across
space and time this way
but I go ahead
cuz good’s got nothing
to do with it

A handful of the poems in the collection are focused on Rihlmann’s wild years, his battle with the bottle and his hard won abstinence and his road to recovery. 

The poems of his young dissipated adult life are graphic and realistic in their detail. The best amongst these include ‘A Knock At My Door’, ‘Bar Brawl Enlightenment’, ‘Comparison Is Not Always The Thief Of Joy’, ‘Not One Of Them’, ‘Robbed’, ‘Two Impossible Years’ and the amazing ‘To My Younger Version’. The drinking and drug taking is not glamorized but rather seen in retrospect as blurry, hedonistic and self-indulgent.

In contrast, in the poem ‘99 Blank Pages’ he begins a “new sobriety/gratitude journal/ after another two week bender” and fails to record the subsequent “round the clock boozing” and “blackouts” and “bloated sickness”. He finally straightens out and quits drinking “for good/ on September 12, 2017.” In other poems he recognizes the failed strategies of others to curb their drinking (‘Denial Deep As The lines On His Face’) and upon seeing a man crashed out and snoring on a sidewalk with an empty bottle beside him (‘Black Feet’) he remarks, “how far from that/ was I”). 

In ‘My Optimism’ in assessing his “love affair with the bottle” the speaker reflects on how he tended to down play the negative consequences of his drinking and instead to highlight the good times:

forgetting the shakes, puking
and shitting my pants,
and the agony
of each morning
before the first gulp
of bedside rotgut

and remembering the good times
partying with friends,
wild and uninhibited romps
with strange women met
under dim lights,
the pleasant hazy days
and nights,
when numb time
poured smoothly by
over ice.

In ‘We Tried’ he makes another intriguing insight through an extended metaphor that alcohol was a tool he used to manipulate his emotions. The poem begins:

for many of us
booze was a tool
a monkey wrench
that loosened our bolts
and let us rattle a bit

It was anger management
a friendly face
a kind word and smile
an attempt at compassion
or love

Rihlmann says of his drinking and why he decided to quit, “Yeah, I was a pretty nasty drunk for quite a few years. I tried quitting a few times. Basically you just get to the point where you're so disgusted with yourself and how you're living that you're able to make the decision to quit. That's how it was for me, at least. When I write about it I think I make this point.  That quitting was really a kind of...grace. I don’t know what else to call it. I don’t like all the AA “higher power” talk, but I still do feel like I had some help. Something finally clicked for me, and I was able to stop killing myself.  It doesn’t happen for everyone.”

In writing about mental illness Rihlmann sees himself as a burning man (‘A Burning Fucking Man’), as being nailed to a cross “in petty martyrdom” (‘And Yet’) and who feels “crushed/ beneath the knobby sole/ of a giant boot” (‘No One And Everyone Knows’). He can’t sleep  (‘The Night At My Throat’), the pills only worked for a while (‘That’s About It’) and the psychologists who care for him are bloody incompetent (‘Group Therapy’). His anxiety and anger management issues, particularly early on, drive him to the drink which further exacerbate his condition.

In Rihlmann’s powerful narrative poem ‘Taking My Medicine’, he describes matter-of-factly how while mopping the floor of a pub he hears a “whole chorus” of voices like hailstones “pelting me from inside” and he drives unassisted to the mental hospital. Instead of committing himself, he makes his way to the liquor store and returns home where he later drinks his “medicine down.” Also 
important in describing this slippery slope of mental illness is the extended metaphor poem ‘What Kind Of Soul Today’.  

In ‘No One And Everyone Knows’ the speaker makes it exceedingly clear to the reader the extreme difficulty of him trying to navigate the “soar and crash” of each day of being under the “giant boot”.  And as his rising screams start to resemble laughter- the craziness, and the improbability of a sustained victory over his ailments tend to dissipate.

No One And Everyone Knows

if, on the tail end
of a soar and crash
a week of fever
aching bones
and sleepless nights

if, after you’ve driven them off
and feel yourself crushed
beneath the knobby sole
of a giant boot
your face in the dirt

and if, as you pound your fist
into the steering wheel
the horn sticks
and you scream
and that scream
somehow becomes laughter
that shakes you to the core
and you can’t stop
until it leaves you
on its own

then you’re doing just fine
my friend
you’ve won the day
and it’s a victory
like no other
because no one
will ever know
and yet
they all do

Rihlmann also writes frequently about the writing process and self-rejection (’Do Not Fret’). He writes about why he started writing (‘That’s About It’), the gaps in his education (‘The Autodidact’) and the dangers of exposing his writing to the general public (‘The Impossible Stage Of You’). He sometimes creates meta-poems in which he writes about events as they unfold before him ('A Strange Meeting’, ‘Sing Emptiness For Me’) and about the supreme importance of writing in his life (‘Ghosts Of Flower Pots’, ‘My Tattoos’, Poet, Or Boyfriend’). His call to arms ‘Spill It’ is an appeal to writers- evoked by Bukowski, to spill their words onto the page, however bad, as a form of therapy. 

Asked whether he does much editing of his work, Rihlmann says, “I take more time now than I did in the beginning. I realized I had to step up my game to compete with the best of the small press be accepted into places like Chiron Review and Into the Void. I do quite a bit of editing, usually. I tend to write in short snatches...sometimes going back and forth between three or four poems at a time. My regular routine is up at 4 the coffee shop by 5. Most mornings. And sometimes I'm up that early on the weekends doing it as well...but then sometimes I get have to be lazy, sometimes, or you'll go insane."

You have to look long and hard to find hope in Rihlmann’s collection but you have to admire his ability to face his demons and to put the bastards in their fucking place. The voices of conformity- of schools & bosses, of politicians can sometimes overwhelm us, but Rihlmann has waded through the muck for decades and has finally found his voice.  

In the poem ‘Origin’ he writes:

and then one day
the voices weren’t out there

they were in here
closer than inside

like the ringing
of hammer blows
as a mob of blind sculptors
chiseled a beautiful stone
down to a nub

Similarly, in ‘You Can Only Fall For A Stranger’ he concludes the poem:

Eventually, we drag ourselves
out of some gutter
we’ve wallowed in
for long enough,
and reinvent,
like the celebrities do,
and then fall deeply
for this self we imagine,
brightly painted,
fierce and unafraid,

Unlike those earlier drafts,
stained and torn,
wadded up
and buried in the trash.

And in ‘The Legend Of Butt-Fuck Nowhere, U.S.A.' Holden Caulfield like, he dreams of living in a trailer in harmony with the local coyotes and crows in "sand and sagebrush/ miles from the nearest town”. And when he dies they “will fill their bellies/ with my stingy and aged meat,/ dragging my carcass into the desert/ and devouring me so thoroughly/ I will seem to have disappeared.”

Brian Rihlmann is a new voice in the alternative small press. His writing is compellingly raw and candid. His first full-length collection Ordinary Trauma is highly entertaining and easy to read. Although his primary concern is with his mental health and his dodgy relations with women, Rihlmann understands the plight of the working man, how we are being fucked by a system which smiles at us as they drag us down, slashing our pay, conditions and security.


How long have you been writing poetry seriously? What first prompted you to write the stuff? 

Only a few years for poetry, really. When I was in my twenties I tried to write a novel....then, short stories, and now, an even shorter form. Perhaps the brevity fits my attention span, and my temperament. Also, I think when I sobered up from alcohol, I was kind of overrun by a lot of emotions. I had to do something with all that.

Who have been your early influences?

Hmm...probably more prose writers than poetry. Steinbeck is a favorite. Dostoyevsky...Nietszche...Kierkegaard...a lot of the other so-called existentialists. I studied philosophy and psychology when I was younger.  As for poetry, some of Bukowski’s stuff, but I’ve read more of his prose than poetry.  Dan Fante.  Robinson Jeffers I love. Raymond Carver.  I think I also mentioned in my interview with ABP that I've probably been influenced by the poetry of the lyrics in heavy metal, punk and hardcore music more than anything.  That's the kind of poetry I grew up with.

Your poetry is mostly confessional and autobiographical. Why do you prefer that form? How did you learn to cope with putting your inner most thoughts and feelings out there for anyone to read?

Well, I suppose I know myself better than anyone else, though sometimes I wonder about that, too. It's funny...when I write the stuff I don't think much about it. Like, what others will think of me. I'm completely different face to face. I'll shout from the rooftops what I'd never whisper in someone's ear. It's a strange thing...

What do you consider to be your role as a poet?

Well, I'd love it if I could ever do for someone what the best confessional writing has done for me. That is, to take me off the hook for all the dirty little secrets that I thought were mine alone. In that way, I'm something of a speaker at an AA meeting, and all my writing is a kind of 4th and 5th step....

Do you write poems quickly or do you agonise over every word? Do you have a regular routine? After you have completed a poem, do you do much editing/ rewriting?

I take more time now than I did in the beginning. I realized I had to step up my game to compete with the best of the small press be accepted into places like Chiron Review and Into the Void. I do quite a bit of editing, usually. I tend to write in short snatches...sometimes going back and forth between three or four poems at a time.  My regular routine is up at 4 the coffee shop by 5. Most mornings. And sometimes I'm up that early on the weekends doing it as well...but then sometimes I get have to be lazy, sometimes, or you'll go insane.

You posted a lot of your earliest work on Allpoetry.com 
Why were you first attracted to the site and how did the venue and the feedback you received help you in your development as a writer?

I'd been looking for a place to post my work, and just kind of found it accidentally. I liked the format, the feedback. I was encouraged that a lot of people seemed to like what I was laying down.  I'm sure that it gave me the confidence to branch out and start submitting to journals. I've made a lot of friends on AP, so I'll always maintain a presence there. There's some good poets there, too!

Moving on to your first full-length collection Ordinary Trauma, why did you decide on the plain black cover with stark red words?

I'm a minimalist kinda guy, I guess...haha!  I just wanted something simple and plain.  I thought the work should speak for itself.  Maybe I'm naive....maybe next time I'll go for something flashier.

There is no acknowledgement page in the book. Have some of your previous material in the book appeared elsewhere? If so, where?

I’m terrible about keeping track of that kind of thing. I had everything written down at one point, but I don’t know what the hell happened to it. I’m sure it has....I was published in like a hundred zines and journals in 2019, including yours, Bold Monkey. The Rye Whiskey Review, Cajun Mutt Press, The Blue Nib, The Piker Press, Yellow Mama, As It Ought To Be, Hobo Camp Review, Winedrunk Sidewalk....
I rely on Google’s more impressive memory, ha!  But yeah, I really ought to get my shit together....

How were you able to cut off the booze from your life and incorporate this important theme into some of your poems?

Yeah, I was a pretty nasty drunk for quite a few years. I tried quitting a few times. Basically you just get to the point where you're so disgusted with yourself and how you're living that you're able to make the decision to quit. That's how it was for me, at least. When I write about it I think I make this point.  That quitting was really a kind of...grace. I don’t know what else to call it. I don’t like all the AA “higher power” talk, but I still do feel like I had some help. Something finally clicked for me, and I was able to stop killing myself.  It doesn’t happen for everyone.

You often write about your struggles with mental illness. Is writing a kind of therapy for you?

I've been asked this before, by a lot of my readers. I've said yes...and no. I still lean towards both answers, ha! There does seem to be a catharsis at times....and other times, not so much. Like I'm just muddying the waters even further.

From reading your poetry, you've had many shit jobs and nasty bosses, how has your working life in America shaped your poetry?

Oh it's shaped it inestimably.  It's an inexhaustible source of material, really.  In fact I'm writing about the working life now more than ever.  How can we, as poets, ignore it?  We spend a big chunk of our lives doing boring shit that we'd rather not do, just to survive...most of us anyway....

Regarding style, when did you develop an interest in creating poetry which work as an extended metaphor, particularly when referring to relationships, such as in 'A Stationary Light', 'Aftershocks', 'Dead Weight 'and 'Portrait'?

I'm not really sure...but I do seem to like extended metaphor, don't I?  I use it quite a bit....

In 'Knock On A Distant Door' you rant against 'the saucer-eyed faith/ of the herd' and in 'Good Luck With That' you 'flee/ to practice/ my brand of faith/ in dark/ secret places.' What is the 'mask of spirituality' that you try on now and again you refer to in 'That's About It'?

Well, I'm certainly not religious in any traditional sense, and though many people these days like to call themselves "spiritual, but not religious," I'm not that either. In fact just saying the word "Spiritual" makes me cringe. With me, it's maybe a more vague notion...somewhere between pantheism and atheism, smack in the middle of agnosticism, in the truest sense, of "not knowing." I have a deep sense of wonder about the world, about nature, and human nature especially. I prefer bewilderment to certainty. How can anyone have certainty about any of this?

You sometimes incorporate in your poetry observations about American values, such as the gun culture, racism, the glorification of money and the disrespect for the elderly and the poor. What is your assessment of America and where it is headed?

The way of other empires, I suppose. Of Rome and all the rest. We're a greedy and gluttonous bunch. Clever and innovative, but too short sighted. I still love this country, it's professed values.  Some of its people. The land itself, the grandeur of places I've seen in my travels. Our government is fucked. Well, most are, I guess.

Another common theme in the book is the beauty and precariousness of nature. What prompts you to include poems about nature in Ordinary Trauma?

Well, nature is what we are…what I am, though we’ve forgotten. I love Alan Watt’s vision of how we are not strangers who come “in” to the universe, but we unfold from it, unfurling like a leaf on a tree. I love roaming around the Sierras near where I live, or on some isolated beach in Big Sur. It’s where I find peace, away from what Jeffers called “a rich and vulgar and bewildered civilization.” 

You write about loneliness, online connectivity, dating. What's your success rate on this format and your view on the best way to meet up with a potential partner?

Haha...the success rate is not so great these days...I've sorta given up.  As for the best way, as Ozzy Osbourne says..."Don't ask me....I don't know!"

Thanks Brian for taking the time to speak to me about your work.

Wow, George...I don’t know what to say.  It’s really fantastic. Thanks so much for this....You were really thorough, and I’m so glad you liked the book, and grasped the meaning of my poems.  

Monday, March 9, 2020

Book Review: Wayne F. Burke ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET CROUTON (Luchador Press, Big Tuna, TX, 2019) 110 pages

This is Wayne F. Burke's seventh full-length collection since he began to publish his poetry in 2013 after a major health scare. The writing is characteristically first person, narrative in form and features a wide variety of voices and subject matter. There are 53 poems in this collection which are divided into eight loosely thematic sections, each which begins with a cryptic heading. 

Similar to Burke’s earlier collections, the poems are typically confessional and 20-30 lines in length and use anecdotal detail in simple, highly accessible language. The words hug the left margin and cascade down the page without the relief of stanzas, full-stops, literary allusions or the intricate use of figurative language.  

Some of the poems in the collection have previously appeared in iconic small press publications such as Unlikely Stories, The Daily Dope Fiend, Beatnik Cowboy, Mad Swirl and other fine places.

The title ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET CROUTON is referenced in the poem ‘Dee-Wee’ in section 2 of the book. The speaker says:

I live
on Planet Crouton
in an a.p.t.
with the shades drawn
and doors locked
on the 2ndfloor
of a house
on the back street
in a town
some people avoid

Burke told me recently about the title, “Crouton is without geographic correlative: it is a state of mind, spirit, and emotion. A negative state, standing for all that is crass, loutish, insensitive, and uninspired. Escape from which may be impossible, yet, through great effort, all may rise above the littleness and small-minded provincialism of Crouton and its Croutinians.”

Crouton is most likely a satirical Swiftian reference to middle America and its inane values. This way of life, as represented throughout the book- the shallowness of relationships and the quest for quick gratification through alcohol or sex are mocked by Burke. The people represented in the book aren’t able to escape their environments as they never gain a critical sense of self-awareness.

To give you a better idea of what you may discover in the book, here's a brief overview of the 8 sections. There are between 4 and 10 poems in each section: 

1. These poems take us back to Burke’s childhood in the late 1950s and 1960s, to a time when people suffered from highly infectious diseases (‘Polio’, ‘TB’), kids ran from the cops after wild pranks without being shot (‘M-80’), teachers lived within their own communities and saw the teaching of English as the study of grammar & spelling rather than a practical basis for communication (‘Palmer Method’, ‘Prepositioned’) and it was a time when kids could briefly disappear and not be noticed by their parents (‘Runaway’).

2. This section is comprised of poems from the point of view of a speaker, perhaps Burke, looking back at his adolescence- at dead-end summer jobs (‘Highway’), being given a ticket for speeding (‘Hot Ticket’) and getting fired for arriving at work pissed (‘Tattoo’).

3. These are portrait poems, usually of artists such as ‘Van Gogh’, ‘Pollack’, ‘Al Dugan (1923-2003)’ and Bukowski (‘The Track’).

4. Most of the poems in this section appear to be from the point of view of Dick, a loutish drunk. The last poem adds variety and surprise, reminiscent of Billy Collins’s death poems in which a dead person narrates his own demise:

Another Day

they find me sitting up
in my chair
on the back porch
gray sky
no visitors for weeks,
maybe more;
my head back
mouth open
eyes pecked-out by birds,
holy shit, a cop says.
I hear him clear as day
I can see him too,
eyes or no eyes,
I am in the sky
above the old ash tree,
seems I can fly,
or something
holds me up,
don’t know what,
it is odd
like the sun
in the east
like the blanket
the cops
threw over my face.

(all poems in this review are posted with the permission of the poet)

5. I think this is the best section in the collection. (It is numbered 6 in the book). It appears to be autobiographical in form from Burke’s present perspective. He writes about his insecurities (’Hypnopompic’) and his struggles with Type 2 diabetes (‘Glucose’). More importantly, Burke outlines who he writes for (‘I Write for the Factory Workers’), how the publication of his first book of poetry Words That Burn (BareBack Press, 2013) rejuvenated his spirits (‘1stBook’) and how he is now addicted to the process of publishing more of his work (‘Excavation’). The latter poem recalls his triple bypass, an event which Burke writes in his Author’s Note in his second book DICKHEAD (2015, BareBack Press) as prompting him “to begin writing daily and with a sort of vengeance.”


digging poems out of a 4-foot high stack
of drafts
to try and revive ones
that almost made it,
close but no cigar:
digging down seven years
to my triple bypass
the bloody remnants
of that trip under lights
the doc and other spacemen
and women in blue scrubs, masks
wheeled me into the
cold operating room,
administered the anesthetic;
I woke in the dark,
a death crypt of some kind
it seemed- in bed with a tube
stuck into my chest,
an iron-curtain ahead
moved back & forth
like fate…
Two nurses told me
get up
out of bed
I said, I can’t
one said, yes you can
they made me stand
and walk
to a chair
in a corner
where I sat
and stared out at
the strange world,
a taste of blood
in my mouth,
and wondering when
my next pill was due.

6. This section is about the speaker’s dysfunctional relationship with women, including his wife. ‘The Old Lady’ and ‘Spit’ are sexually explicit and oddly compelling in a grim, dissociative kind of way. 

7 & 8 include an eclectic bunch of poems about a variety of subject matter- baseball (‘Greatness’), travel observations (‘Dublin’, ‘Budapest’, ‘Last Bus’) and alcoholism (‘In Case of Emergency’ and ‘Shut-Off’).

The quirky poem ‘Door-Knob’ may evoke in the reader an unsettling memory of predatory behaviour they may have previously read about in newspapers. The seeming randomness of the narrative has been planned all along by a devious mind, although hugely understated by Burke:


walking through well-lit hallways of
an apartment building trying door knobs
until one turns
and I walk into
a dark room
faintly lit
by streetlights
other rooms
also dark.
A back room
And a girl
Lying on a mattress
On the floor
I kneel and massage her
bare back,
she stirs and moans
a gust of wind sweeps-up the
window curtain and
it or something else
calls me elsewhere
and I leave,
wander city streets
who knows how long or
before I am back at the door
only now locked
and as I tug the knob
the curtain in the window
is swept aside
and a girl, eyes stark
stares back

After seven years and eight full-length poetry books, Wayne F. Burke remains a man on a mission. He writes with great clarity about being trapped by the general malaise and hollowness of contemporary American living, of the underlying discontentment and fakeness of life- and in order to cope- how we drown ourselves in booze, religion, apathy, & in his case, art.

Buy the book here:

Luchador Press is a new venture, off-shoot of Spartan Press out of the American mid-West. Burke’s book of short stories Turmoil & Other Stories is due out at end of year from Adelaide Press (NY,NY).