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The journey

Travelling early, we set out while it’s still dark.
At this unblessed hour, we should be wary
of the threat of footpads and of cut-throats,
but we are blithe with optimism, our surprising
sovereigns stinging in our pockets. Our burdens
are as insubstantial as the moon and already
last night has dwindled to a twist of wrinkled
bedclothes. How did we wake so promptly without alarm?
What witchery set us bolt upright in our beds?
Perhaps as the dawn begins to damage
the dark, one of our number will venture:
“Where was it that we were heading? Who has the map?”
Day scarifies the sky, polluting our clarity of purpose.
We will not answer the rank-breaker. We tear off
hunks of bread with hungry teeth. The light comes up
like sadness. We do not want to recognise ourselves

London-based poet Susannah Hart has attended Coffee-House Poetry’s Troubadour readings, classes & courses ( for a number of years. Her work has been widely published in magazines, she was a prizewinner in the 2013 Poetry London competition, & she has had poems commended & shortlisted in several other competitions. Susannah works as a brand consultant & writer, & volunteers as a local school governor.

Dominic Bury

sea lore

Poet Dominic Bury grew up in Bideford in Devon and now lives in London where he works as a copywriter & brand writer. In his spare time he manages front-of-house at Coffee-House Poetry nights at the famous Troubadour cellar-club in London’s Earls Court ( Dom studied Creative Writing at Kingston University & his poems have been widely published in UK poetry journals including Poetry Wales, Ambit and Iota, and in Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt).

Mona Arshi

by Mona Arshi

Never marry an insomniac. You will have
________to mind yourself.
________________Have hem weights
________sewn into the lining of your garments,

cure your skin with almond oil until it’s bloated
________and the pores are brimming.
________________Purchase a large wooden-grained
________trunk and place it near your bed-it’s for

safekeepings. (Obscurely, somewhere deep inside you
________know all this).Very soon
________________you won’t be able to tell
________the days apart, you’ll develop a tic and it will

distill at the centre (within the hive of your other small
________anomalies).You’ll flail
________________in mild wind and when you speak
________minute silver-fish consort in the pit of your throat.

Exquisite wife to the shade: the exact point you place
________your finger-tip on winter mornings,
________________a raindrop will later stop and fret.
________It’s a wonder if you survive at all.

It will all end in the mouth; you’ll blink-
________he’ll stir. You’ll practice lying very very still-
________________peacock feathers
________(your talismans) will blink back in their jars.

…from Small Hands (Pavilion Press, 2014)

Mona Arshi has been a frequent audience-member & workshop-participant at London’s Troubadour poetry events ( A prize winner in the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Prize & joint winner of the Manchester Creative Writing poetry prize in 2014, her Forward-prize-winning debut collection Small Hands was published by Pavilion Poetry (Liverpool University Press). Mona lives in West London & worked as a human rights lawyer for a decade before studying Creative Writing at University of East Anglia.


This Rain

brings with it the scent of rain-soaked lilac, lemon lily. Bruised

skirts of thunderclouds drop their wet hems over this prairie. It rains

and the ditches brim, rains

and the water rises like ire amongst the willows.

What we say and do not say. The heart

incandescent, riverine with distance.




lilt like this: sound

of droplets from leaves


gift   gift         gift



(Shortlisted for the International Salt Prize for Best Individual Poem, 2012

Published in The Salt Book of New Writing 2013, UK.)



Jenna Butler is the author of three books of poetry, Seldom Seen Road (NeWest Press, 2013), Wells (University of Alberta Press, 2012), and Aphelion (NeWest Press, 2010), in addition to a book of ecocritical essays, A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail. When she is not in the classroom as a professor of ecocriticism and creative writing at Red Deer College, she works as a beekeeper on her off-grid organic farm in northern Canada. Her new book of essays on women and beekeeping, Revery: A Year of Bees, is forthcoming.



The hand that draws the bowstring has faith

that the deer will die. The longbow bends,

the arrow points, the deer stands frozen

in the curious pose of prey before its doom.

But Zeno suggests that once the arrow flies,

it covers half the distance to the deer’s heart

first, then half the distance left and half again

and again and half again so the deer will live

and the arrow will never find its one true home.


A woman’s faith is different than a man’s.

She believes his strength is bowstring straight,

his heart like longbow yew, flexible but taut.

A man believes that he is not a beast–

until the string snaps, the tortured bow splinters

and his fist is arcing through the air

toward the faithful face of the woman who believes.


The hunter doesn’t love the prey.

He’s filed the razor edge of the arrowhead himself.

And even Zeno had to eat.  Is there faith enough

to believe in a universe where that fist still hangs

in the half-space in between, and now, a moment later,

half again?

(originally published by


R.G. Evans is the author of Overtipping the Ferryman (2013 Aldrich Press Poetry Prize) and the forthcoming novella The Noise of Wings.



under drying skies, north,

passing fields

the summer has been too wet

to turn brown,

i wait for God

to appear, for poems to rise

like mists, for some sort

of ever


that doesn’t sting.

croon to me like a wild road,

sunlight spider-webbing

across a cracked windshield

across strange arms

across a morning we can all afford

to spend and live

and live.


Joanna Suzanne Lee earned her MD from the Medical College of Virginia in 2007 and a further MS in Applied Science from the College of William and Mary in 2010. Her ppoetry has been published in a number of online and print journals, including Caduceus, Contemporary American Voices, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her second full­-length book of poetry, the river and the dead, is forthcoming in 2015 from unboundCONTENT. She is currently serving her third year on the James River Writers Board of Directors, and, under the big bright umbrella of Richmond’s River City Poets, she makes possible a wide range of poetry happenings from Shockoe Slip to South of the James.


Vital Desert Lesson Number One

Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried. – Henry David Thoreau


Living on beans and bread

in an abandoned cabin no larger

than a tool shed, I’d be happy,


I once said. If I could just remain

immobile, silent. No place to go,

I’d read Dante’s Inferno and ponder


the nature of mass movements,

the building of Babel’s tower,

the steam locomotive.


Dawn and dusk I’d thank sun and moon

that I’d escaped the grinding bustle,

that nothing disturbed my dreams.


Oh, I know it all seems too idyllic,

but one vital lesson this desert’s teaching:

let nothing rush me—not the heat


I try to keep out of, not the man

behind me in the traffic jam

fidgeting with the folds of his gutra*


while he beeps and speeds past me

one nano second after the light changes.

Inshalla shall be my mantra,


the camel my choice over the Arabian horse—

let her carry me ever so slowly

over the course of the dunes as the wind


plays its favorite tunes on them.

I won’t be rushed into talking too much

or too soon, and when I do speak,


my words will flow slowly and sparingly,

like the wind whispering

to the date palm and sidra tree.


*white head covering worn by many Gulf Arab men.


Diana Woodcock’s first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize. Her second, Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale, is forthcoming from WordTech Communications. Chapbooks include Beggar in the EvergladesDesert Ecology: Lessons and VisionsTamed by the DesertIn the Shade of the Sidra TreeMandala, and Travels of a Gwai Lo.  Widely published in literary journals (including Best New Poets 2008), her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award. Prior to teaching in Qatar (since 2004), she worked for nearly eight years in Tibet, Macau and on the Thai/Cambodian border.


John Hoppenthaler

Some Men 


Men who’ve kissed with passion the full lips

of women they didn’t love, men


who’ve grown too reticent for the confessional,

who’ve cleaned public restrooms,


wiped menstrual blood from their walls, who’ve written—

then scrubbed off—vile graffiti from the rusting doors


of shithouse stalls. Men who’ve grown

enormous with disregard, rolls of it bellying over


their wide belts. Men who’ve been barbers

of the dead and were happy for the work,


men who’ve become what they’ve microwaved,

who overvalue the quality of their erections


and fawn over them like the town’s new Wal-Mart.

Men who look awful in suits, who’ve been there


and back yet grew impatient, men who go to wakes

to keep up appearances, who’ve made a deal


with God but can’t remember the terms, men who are old

pros when it comes to hospitals and cracking


jokes at the nurses’ expense, men who’ll be at

your funeral, who’ll kiss your widow with passion


and keep everyone’s lips flapping. Men who’ll move

in and disinfect your bathroom, who’ll trim nose hair


at your sink, conjure mythic hard-ons they’ll purchase

at Wal-Mart. Men who’ll kiss your wife


damned hard on the mouth, take off her dress,

and have your Sunday suit altered and pressed.



From Domestic Garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015


John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Lives of Water (2003), Anticipate the Coming Reservoir (2008), and Domestic Garden (2015), all with Carnegie Mellon University Press. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays and interviews on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company—Jean Valentine (U Michigan P, 2012).  For the cultural journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, he edits “A Poetry Congeries.  He is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at East Carolina University.



The Bride

I met her on her wedding day
Walked up to her, and smiled,
No one ever talks to the bride
I thought it might be interesting to try something new,
Break tradition
Henna patterns wrapped around her wrists climbed up her arms
Spreading blossoms on tender flesh
Her lips were a wilted crimson
Tilted ever so slightly to the side,
A perfect almost smile
The first thing her mother taught her was to wipe the tears before the blood dries,
Shredded knees heal, but shame never fades away,
Don’t climb trees or ride bikes,
That’s how little girls lose their virginity
She sat on a porcelain throne beads and bows holding plastic flowers to the arm rests
“are you alright?” I asked
“I shouldn’t cry” she said, fingers catching tired tears
“it’s fine to cry, you’ll be happy later”
“I shouldn’t cry”
“how long have you known him”
“I don’t”
She was 17 years old, just graduated high school
Her parents sent her to college because and educated girl can earn a bigger dowry
But this mister didn’t mind a country girl
He grew up with her father
Didn’t need an intellectual, just someone who could feed the kids while he raised them
She was a mail-order bride and her father licked the stamp
I cried
How many weddings have I been to?
She just got off the plane twelve hours ago,
Barely left the airport and they already started dressing her
No time to take measurements so they pinned satin to her skin,
Tucked her in to the time tested wire frame
Our ancestors welded
If you put a girl in a steel corset you’ll never have to hear her scream
And she was gorgeous
You could put anyone in her dress and it wouldn’t make a difference
We were guests of the groom and this was his wedding
No one knew her name
She only spoke Arabic
No one knew her name
She danced until the tears came
The middle aged used-to-be brides
Explained it away
“she remembered her mother” they said
“brides always cry when they remember their mothers”
She’d have her fifth child by thirty
My parents protected me, from all the broken men
And their flesh-eating fingers
Said one day I’d find someone who could cook as well as my dad
And who was almost as smart as my mom,
Who’d hold me so close that I could breathe in his memories
when my parents about the bride and all we could do was hold her hand
It killed me.
Tonight he’ll crush the henna blossoms on her wrists
With the same hands the man next door threw at his wife last Thursday
The same fists that taught a daughter to keep her mouth shut
He’ll flatten the ridges of her spine
And she’ll hold her tongue
Bite the screams as they come
Wipe the tears before the blood dries
No one ever talks to the bride


Originating from the war-town region of Darfur, Emi Mahmoud is currently a senior at Yale University. A Leonore Annenberg Scholar and Global Health Fellow, Emi studies Anthropology and Molecular Biology at Yale in the hopes of one day alleviating structural disparities on maternal and child health in disadvantaged communities the world over. Outside of academics, Emi is involved in the Yale Refugee Project, contributes to an international research initiative, and teaches spoken word poetry on campus and in various communities in order to equip youth with the power of voice. Having just returned from the National Poetry Slam, Emi will be competing at this year’s Individual World Poetry Slam in October. Dedicated to the growth and spirit of poetry, Emi has begun collaborating with various artists from Connecticut to her home in Philadelphia. Her aim is to use poetry and other mediums in order to explore the full extent of human expression.


emily vogel


First Words

By Emily Vogel

ISBN 978-1630450168

June 2015

NYQ Books

Review by Brian Fanelli

emily vogel

Though the northeastern winters serve as a background for several of the poems in Emily Vogel’s collection First Words, there‘s a tenderness and intimacy beneath the book’s howling winds and snowfall, a celebration of love between the narrative’s speaker, her husband, and their firstborn daughter. First Words, however, is not simply a collection of love poems or meditations on motherhood. There are larger themes at stake, including language, the metaphysical, and a country increasingly prone to violence and hyper-consumerism.

Frequently, there‘s interesting juxtapositions of images at work. In the poem “First Snow,” for instance, the winter setting is referred to as “a strange euthanasia of gray.” Certainly, the image evokes the loss of life winter causes, but it’s contrasted with the love between the speaker and her partner, who is referred to as “the essence of song/in a warm room.” The husband is something constant and reliable, a foundation, and as the poem says, they will always return to each other.

In another poem, “White Christmas,” the speaker drives home and throws herself into her husband’s arms. Again, the husband—and the sleeping infant in the next room—serve as something stable. All but the closing stanzas contains Christmas images, but the carolers have faces that “reflect dimensions of apprehensions,” and the speaker imagines that that they are pondering “guns/bank accounts, the magic of a blinking digit.” These images cause tension and reflect the capitalistic aspects of the holiday, but by the end of the poem, family is the anchor, something pure and true.

Other poems address larger cultural issues and undertones of violence. “Sequestering,” for instance, references zombies, claims of God as a hoax, and fears of getting shot in the supermarket. It‘s as though these references are threats to the safe domestic space, where the newborn daughter “gasps delightedly,” the husband laughs at old movies, and the snow, too, acts as a protective barrier.

In “Events,” Vogel again employs some apocalyptic imagery to address society’s larger ills. One section of the prose poems reads, “The war proliferated like neighborhoods/like families, like vacations in exotic places. A fire burnt/down the city.” The poem is one of the most biting, in that it also tackles indifference and hyper-consumerism with the concluding lines, “And then everyone involved got into their/warm cars and drove around, with no particular destination/in mind and thought a lot about what happened for a while.”

The end of the book circles back to family, with a poem dedicated to the author’s daughter. “Dear Clare” is a mix of memories of the daughter’s infant years and mediations on her future, and it includes the line, “I wonder if one day you will know/that poetry can often be as basic as a bank receipt.” On the one hand, Vogel has a knack for writing about the ordinary, about images of snowfall and her daughter laughing at images on TV. On the other hand, this collection constantly pushes deeper. Despite the violence that may exist in the world, Vogel illustrates how relationships and love stand as a stark contrast to those ills.



Seaglass Picnic, by Frances Driscoll

Pleasure Boat Studio, November 2015

Reviewed by Cheryl R. Hopson


The late black lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde told us decades ago that silence would not protect us. But what happens when we speak those silences – personal, cultural, generational, familial? If Frances Driscoll’s poetry collection Seaglass Picnic is any indication, poetry is what happens.

Driscoll subtitles her collection with a splash of Post Traumatic Stress, suggesting something of the book’s themes–rape, PTSD, suicide, addiction, love, and renewal. And indeed, Seaglass Picnic has the beauty, vibrancy and whimsy of sea glass, as well as the unpredictability and destabilizing force of rape and PTSD. Driscoll opens the collection with a tribute poem to a lost love, Andy—one of five individuals to whom the collection is dedicated. The poet writes,

Roma historian Sarah Carmona says in Romani

when you want to tell someone you love him

you might say,

I eat your heart


I have eaten your heart,



my beloved,

have eaten mine.

Thus begins the reader’s journey. The poet tells us that, try as we might, there are things that happen to us that can never be forgotten or erased – terrible, torturous, violent things like rape or a beloved’s suicide.

It’s not a rape thing.

I have always loved amnesia.

In the poem He takes off his shirt, the speaker jettisons the imposed/customary silence of rape victims and PTSD sufferers:

I’m a rape victim and

I’m having a small. Little. Well kind of bad


of post traumatic stress and …

There is no reason to be so afraid

when a man says on the telephone

I am taking off my shirt.


I’m as I said having this

little post traumatic stress thing going on

Though I was drawn to Seaglass Picnic, I found myself resisting reading the collection. I know firsthand the havoc and destruction rape and its fallout can bring. I am the sister of a survivor of rape, and I understand by way of my sister—and now, by way of the speakers of Driscoll’s poems—the tenacity and strength it takes to survive what ultimately amounts to the destruction of a person, body and soul. I found myself time and again returning to pieces such as to go properly into the past, a poem in which the poet writes,

Have yourself a little post

traumatic stress episode.

One that comes with flashbacks.

Lots of flashbacks.

And to poems like What Is/What If, part of a series that references the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In What Is/What If, Driscoll revises Law & Order’s subtitle, removing the “Special” and replacing it with “Torture.” Victims are not “special,” as the poet tells us. Rather, they’ve been made fragile and left broken by the experience of rape–as well as by their rapist’s inability or refusal to recognize their humanity, and call them by their names.

Too, in a collection that takes on so many serious, gut-wrenching topics, there is levity – and there were moments when I laughed out loud. Consider the poem The Object #2, in which the poet writes of “a very bright pink very large” penis that “once…followed alongside the car/flying with me / all the way home from school.”

I talk with Donald about it.

This is normal he says.

Jung had visions.

I don’t tell Donald,

do you really think anyone thinks

Jung was normal.

Though at times dark, despairing, and damn painful, Seaglass Picnic showcases the power of poetry to revive, relive, relieve, and break—once and for all—the silences that imprison us and prevent healing. I end my review of Seaglass Picnic as the poet began her collection: Frances Driscoll, poet, teacher, and beloved aunt to Ocean, I eat your heart.



Cheryl R. Hopson, PhD, is an assistant professor of African American Literature at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. She has published essays on Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, as well as on U.S. black feminist sisterhood. Her chapbook Black Notes was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.




Rachelle Linda Escamilla


Father took a hand saw to the rain
gutter, but doubted my garbage bin would

How do I explain that there is no     water?


The bin filled in five minutes and we bought three more
no fancy DIY spout nozzles, just hacked gutters, trash bins
and screen for the worms/leaves/debris


I’ve watched the fog, but it’s more than fog –

I’ve watched the ocean’s selfie, haha, an imprint of itself: imagine the Pacific
CRASHING against rock, the spray, the sonic boom of it all, now imagine that spray
collecting – grabbing on to each other and pulling the marine layer from just above our
heads and running, like bodies screaming for justice on the highway, for the mountains.

I’ve watched the fog crash over the Gabilan range, flooding the crevices of the chaparral,
giving the wiry blue oak a breather from the bleaching sun It looks like a tsunami he
said after he gasped at the sight from the west.


So the fog is water and it waters the grape vines
taste that smokey, cigar, leather jacket she said as she poured the Pinotyeah, that’s from last year’s fire.


it’s enough to make you sick with lust.



Rachelle Linda Escamilla is from San Benito County, California which is one mountain range in from the Monterey Bay. Her first book of poems, Imaginary Animal won the 2014 Willow Books Literature Prize in Poetry and has been nominated for a PEN Open Book Award. She is the co-founder of Mainland China’s first creative writing program, the founder of the Poets and Writers Coalition at San Jose State University, and the curator for the Epazote Reading Series. Contact Rachelle through her website:

Devi Lockwood photo

Rest Stop

We are all the year’s worries
tossed into the dark dustbin of the sea.

Swirling plastic returned, reared on its haunches.

Let’s live slow and die when we do.

Below the mess, kids are walking home from school.

Gash the screen door to let the bugs in––
let them pinch my skin.

I’ll coo investment tips in your ears.

Anchor me to the all of our lives
nestled in the hollow of this lake.

Unbuckle my seatbelt. Unfasten my tongue.

Devi K. Lockwood is a poet / touring cyclist / storyteller currently traveling the world by bicycle and by boat to collect 1001 stories from people she meets about water and/or climate change. You can keep up to date with her travels at


For Emmett


And if you are a boy, you might imagine the hairline that crawls backward without resistance.


The barber was a good barber. Give him a blade

and his grandfather emerges from the palm, like

a slave that was a good slave, raking the weeds

back until all you see is a shaven field of grass,

ready for eyes to bear witness to this marvelous

thing. The barber might’ve talked to Emmett

about his grandfather, the hands that grooms the

America black folk always attempt to believe in.

I’m sure Emmett would’ve cracked a joke, light-

ened the mood for the body to settle in and humor

toughens the skin, I am told. I know he could not

have bled even if the razor wished to carve more

than the patches of wool, resting on the head like a

dark field of grass after dusk.


And if you are a girl, the eyelash might attract your gaze; the beauty in its submissive tilt.


He was a beautiful boy, a lark in the jungle, calling

for a brother or two to share a flight with but wings

don’t work in these southern woods. Flight, like a

myth, are debated for the body. The sky don’t hold

what is too heavy for it and he ate much. Thick and

sturdy as a stump in the plains. The earth here be

coated in wood chippings. The Axe’s swing at what

grows and he stay tall and some forest-like beauty

brews within him like he’d live forever in his vanity.


And if you are a man, you may notice only the blood that lacquers the wounded skin.


We fight like lions, teeth misplaced in the knuckle.

Famished for the meat that crowns the plates. I heard

that Emmett’s snarl slips between the trees. The finger’s

claw clings to skin and he’s Bear-like. Plump and

swollen, gliding through the space with a bag of fish

in his mouth like a king on this side of America. Here,

the bullet flails and fails to miss what it wishes to split.

Boys eat well. Mothers feed wise. Ripe and ready, the

boy makes a good feast for what can swallow him.


And if you are a woman, you’d recall the nail collecting earth, like a shovel would for its grave.

And if you are a grave, you’d know how much you hunger for what does not know how it ends.


Nkosi Nkululeko, poet and musician, hailing from Harlem, NY, has performed his written works in venues such as Apollo Theater, Nuyorican Poets Café, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Oxford University and others. He has performed for National Writers Union, Lincoln Center and Urban Word NYC. He was on the 2014 Urban Word NYC Slam Team for BNV(Brave New Voices) and the 2015 Urbana-NYC Slam Team for NPS(National Poetry Slam). Nkosi is a 2015 nominee for the American Voices Award, a Callaloo Fellow and has been published in Junior Scholars’ Schomburg Review and forthcoming in No Token, The New Sound and is anthologized in great weather for MEDIA’s, “Before Passing,” their 2015 Anthology.


In the Event of Full Disclosure

By Cynthia Atkins

CW Books, 2013



Cynthia Atkins opens her second collection of poetry, In the Event of Full Disclosure, with a meditation on family love by early twentieth century poet, T.S. Eliot, who writes of such unions as “love that’s lived in, but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, the love within which all other love finds speech.” “This love,” continues Eliot “is silent.”

Enter Atkins, the poet/family woman (sibling, daughter, mother, wife), to break said silence and offer something of the same love, by which she herself sees and writes.

In “Family Therapy (I)” the first of five poems demarcating the book’s themes of family, mental illness, love, shame, and centering, Atkins writes,

I hold the secrets. I am the writer.

I am the sister of a schizo-

phrenic. My elder split—


I’m learning how to be a member

of my family, of my society.

I’m wanting a text book

on the matter.


With this framing poem, Atkins shines a light on what it means for her/us to be a part of a particular biologic (and national) family, but she also reveals what is referred to in the collection as the insistence of chromosomes – e.g., doom.

And yet, there is a willingness to construct an alternative experience for herself and the family/love she creates and shelters,

I’m looking for a cure, because anguish

is harmful to live with. And yes,

I am a little pregnant. Set another

Place? Erase another place?

I am my child’s child, doomed

For failure.


Atkins’s poetry has the urgency and righteousness of June Jordan’s, but it is unlike anything I’ve read before. The collection is dedicated to the poet’s siblings, two sisters and a brother; and the sisterly/fraternal connection is felt. In the poem “Picture This” Atkins writes of

Three sisters just from swimming,

bathing caps, fresh cut bangs –

sitting at the pool’s edge. This safe notch

in time hailed like a taxicab in the rain,

and memory makes it sedate

as a lawn chair, quelled

and awash in Technicolor


The poet’s revelation that the three sisters’ girlhood was not easy is underscored, as the poem continues:

At home, two muddy shoes

depressed or manic at the back door?

Life offers possibilities—a kiss with

a fist or a salesman’s pitch? Now tinctured,

with time, bereft of manners


Atkins writes in “Family Therapy (III)” that “the mind’s pain / is the last inconsolable extra gene,” and in “Family Therapy (IV)” that “Our shame is seasoned / and matter-of-fact.” But it is also in the context of family love and its inheritance (e.g. ,mental illness), that the speaker has come to understand the necessity of shelter for herself, her loved ones, and her art. In “Nest,” Atkins writes of home as a “kind of grace / nestled in, to protect us from / the elements and the answers.” Home, in the context of In the Event of Full Disclosure, sits astride a river in Southwest Virginia – it is a place where the poet/speaker can be and not be, a quiet calm where she can “…spend the rest of my days / telling [my] story” in verse.

Atkins is a seasoned and gifted poet, and In the Event of Full Disclosure is a must-read.The collection showcases what nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson might refer to as the white heat (e.g., intense and affecting, often painful, energy) of family and family love: the changeling sibling (or parent); the mother’s/sisters’ speaking and silence; the father’s death; and the mental illness presenting itself time and again in the family as, “Brick and mortar, a nervous disorder / marriage, divorce, work to lay-offs” and “…the one window / light that calls us home.”



Cheryl R. Hopson, PhD, is an assistant professor of African American Literature at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. She has published essays on Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, as well as on U.S. Black feminist sisterhood. Her chapbook Black Notes was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.






Jackleg Opera: Collected Poems, 1990 to 2013. BJ Ward.
North Atlantic Books, 2014. 272 pages, ISBN: 978-1-58394-677-0

Click image to order on Amazon

Click image to order on Amazon

Jackleg Opera is the fourth collection by BJ Ward and is a collected poems gathering together over twenty years of amazing work. It was published at the end of 2013 by North Atlantic Books and should be on everyone’s bookshelf. Ward’s poetry is an incredible blend of wit, intelligence, playfulness and insight. He is a poet that not only loves language and craft but loves humanity, the adept phrasing that reflects the hidden emotional realities, charting what Emily Dickinson called the “internal difference where the meanings are.” His own words describe the accomplishment of his poetry, for his poems are

a net to capture the moment
but release the energy
–Suzuki Dance

This is appropriate for a poet who often writes about poetry, its power and purpose. That’s not to mistake his work for merely academic word wizardry. For his primary concern is with how we connect with other people, and language is one of the essential tools for that connection. So in a clever poem about the purpose of poetry called “Portrait of the Artist as Egg Salad,” the speaker is eating an egg salad sandwich which, of course, the reader can’t taste and in this context, he’s

. . . reminded of the thickest-

headed student I ever had—Debra—
who, when I told her her poem conveyed
nothing, said, “But I really feel this.”

So here we are,
Debra invoked yet long gone,
just writer and reader liaising
in the rectangular dining room of the page,
me still eating my egg salad sandwich,
you beginning to cross your arms and get upset

because I haven’t offered you anything yet
and you’re still hungry and it’s all my fault.

So poetry offers us or is supposed to offer us something that feeds us and nourishes us. In it, we often find the courage to face—or simple the ability to admit—the darker or wilder side of our own nature. It gives us a palatable way to assimilate the unavoidable darkness that is a part of our condition. These are what another poem calls “the molded hollows / in us worn from containing / and releasing, holding and letting be” (A Note to Karen). But those molded hollows are more than simply allowed to exist in the end; they are what make us who we are. Avoiding them is what a life of repression is built on and Blake’s specters are born of. But Ward is a wise poet and tries to guide us aright, for he tells us straight, as a Jersey poet would, “The more rocks we hit, / the louder we sing” (For Those Who Grew Up on a River). This embracing of the forces that wound us or are untamed within us, takes on many shapes in the poems. So in “The Noise I Make,” Ward declares, “I rejoice in my imperfections.” Or in “New Jersey,” it’s “the short, imperfect loveliness of groundhogs.” Or in “Spring Begins in Hinckley, Ohio,” it’s “a wrenching into tenderness.” That last phrase might contain the beautiful power of his poetry, for it is in understanding the deep wounds in us that we come to embrace the full extent of our humanity.

The poem “Compassion,” brings these elements together: that of the difficulty of intimacy in a modern metropolis and the compassion born of the deep wounding that defines a person. The poem opens

Out in this profane city,
sometimes sidewalks
seem the only cement that connects us

As the poem focuses in on a central figure living in this “profane city,” he is in his apartment “checking your scars / which spell your real name.” Later in the poem, the figure gives a dollar to a homeless man, and confronts the various voices that would condemn this compassion since the homeless man will simply “spend it on booze,” and “spend it on his / own death.” But in the end, though the central figure is a dollar poorer and isolated by his compassion from the callous voices that would deny the act,

. . . your inner
walls feel emblazoned by a song
rising from the fathomless depths,
a rosined bow rubbing
its awfully taut body
against catgut

to make music.

Here is one of the rocks that makes us sing from the inner depths. This is the point of it all, the sine qua non of poetry, music—art in general, that, as Stevens put it, makes it a “dwelling in the evening air, / In which being there together is enough.” But, of course, at the other extreme, Ward also explores what separates us and, not surprisingly, it is often technology or symbolized by technology. Don’t presume he’s a Luddite for he does have a website. But, for instance, in the poem “No Job, No Money, No Girlfriend,” a person with an answering machine blinking to let them know he has a call, recites a litany of the various ways this means the world is reaching out to connect to him. But that expectation is destroyed when he presses the button and

a single electronic static train,
its boxcars full of emptiness,
departs from the speaker,
routes through my chest,
and out the front door—

. . . . . . . click

. . . giving me another hang-up.)

A wonderful double-entendre in which the language of our technology multiplies the emotional turmoil of the speaker. And technology has only accommodated this distancing with irony in something like Facebook, something Ward taps into with his poem “Upon Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave on a Smart Phone,” which ends,

My friends are so thirsty with water in their eyes
so back to the well we’ll crawl:
Tell Plato to rise and rephilosophize—
Facebook is the new cave wall—

Our most popular social media for connecting with people is merely a shadow play of reality. Our connections are only phantoms of the truth as in Plato’s famous allegory. It’s also notable that here we find the relation of this disconnection to a thirst, that is, something primal in us that needs to be nourished since “my friends are so thirsty.” What poetry provides is lost in this network of virtual connections. Poetry, by using language in striking ways, reveals the hidden realities within us and provides a real, emotional connection to others across great distances and sometimes across impossible time. Most forms of social media, tethered and defined by the speed and rush of technology, often have a leveling influence on our language and interactions, and create connections that are as often fleeting and superficial as a single electrical spark. It is a problem Ward states with a kind of epigrammatic precision in “After Googling Myself, I Pour Myself Some Scotch and Step Out onto My Front Porch.” In it he says, “What a sum freedom plus apathy have equaled.”

But countering that apathy, that disconnection, is this collection of twenty-three years of great poetry and something to be deeply grateful for. It is among the best antidotes out there and should be marked by that peculiar phrase in his poem “Cross-Pollination,” which attaches to

. . . one of those rare moments in life
one would never get rid of.

These poems will strike you with their humor, their honesty, their emotional depth and their music. Like me, you may find yourself turning to someone and saying, “You have to hear this.”