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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 www.ithacalit.com)


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



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.

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.


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: www.poetita.com.

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 www.onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com.


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.

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.”


Michael T. Young: Thank you, BJ, for agreeing to an interview.

Your newest collection, Jackleg Opera, is your fourth, and is a new and collected poems. Could you comment on putting it together: how and if you worked on the new poems to connect thematically in any way to the whole or just worked on the newer poems independently of any overall cohesion?

BJ Ward: I worked on the new poems as they came to me, not concerning myself with how or where they connected to the other work. Once I had about sixty poems that were publishable or had already been published somewhere, I chose and arranged the thirty-three new poems that make up the first part of the book. The thirty-fourth new poem I placed after my 2002 book, Gravedigger’s Birthday, as it serves as a coda for that manuscript. One of the best aspects of releasing a collected poems is the opportunity to revise some of the earlier work, an assiduity I have admired in poets such as Justice and WCW.

Michael T. Young: I love the title of this collection. Of course, “jackleg” means “unskilled or incompetent,” and yet your work is so wonderfully skillful. Also, much of the collection seems to be about embracing our imperfections. For instance, “The Noises I Make” declares “I rejoice in my imperfections.” Could you talk about that a bit: if you see this kind of embracing as important, or what its significance is in your poetry, or, perhaps even for one’s sanity?

BJ Ward: Although that line asserts that I rejoice in my imperfections, I actually have spent the better part of my life wrestling with them. I suppose I’ve come to live with them. Why did I write that line? I think of two things: Frost’s maxim that a poem is a momentary stay against confusion, and that final line in James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”: “I have wasted my life.” It’s reported that when Wright was later asked about that line, he said it was just how he felt in the moment of the poem. Supposedly he joked that after he had a sandwich he felt better.

Yet I hope there is also some kind of truth in my line, as your question seems to imply. I’ve always loved these James Joyce lines from Ulysses: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

Michael T. Young:  The poem “Filling in the New Address Book” ends saying, “why threaten any miraculous history,/any great testament, with knowledge/of how empty our current book of stories is?” The poem “And All the Peasants Cheered for the King. The End” which is a fatherly effort to preserve a child’s imagination against the harsher elements of reality and concludes, “The astronauts are still fastened in their flotation /The soldiers still guard the fairytales.” How important do you think it is for people (children and adults) to preserve some sense of mystery and wonder about life? In what way is it important?

BJ Ward: I don’t think we have to work too hard to preserve some sense of mystery and wonder about life. It’s always there. What we might have to do is learn to be comfortable with it. I question, even as I embrace technology, what we have lost in this age of information. I suppose my embrace is guarded. And somehow forced through my employment. Sure, the ready access of information is useful for many reasons, particularly in terms of a greater accountability of authority and the resultant effects on issues of social justice. But there is this thing in me that feels our urge to be connected through our devices might lead to an unquestioned, or at least implicitly sanctioned, “irritable reaching after fact and reason.” I know I am not alone in this. And because of this, I am very protective of the silences with which I’ve tried to surround myself. In a different age of industry, Whitman had it right: he loafed in order to “invite (his) soul.”

Michael T. Young: The poems “Bandages” and “Upon Being Asked Why I Dedicated My First Book To My Mother When There’s Not A Single Poem In It about Her” portray instances of breaking rules for a greater purpose, a kind of reaching out to others when it breaks with laws or social norms. This comes up in your other poems in different ways. I wondered if you might comment on this: do you see this as important in the greater context of our society and world? Why?

BJ Ward: So many heroes of mine were criminals in the eyes of those who were in power. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela. When you live in an unjust system, it may be morally imperative of you to break the rules by using the artillery of resolute compassion.

Michael T. Young: In “After Googling Myself. . . “ you write, “I toast all the engines/I never controlled.” And “Development,” ends with “But the houses/were just fields then./And we were wild.” A number of other places in the collection seem to quietly suggest an embracing of a wildness in ourselves, the uncontrolled. Do you feel this is significant and if so, why?

BJ Ward: I love Donald Justice’s penchant: he wanted the maximum amount of wildness a poem could bear. An artist should be aware of this wildness. I don’t mean to speak for others’ creative processes, but perhaps someone reading this can relate to it: in the act of composition, I’m riding the wildest form of the poem, almost as if seeing where it takes me. A term for this is “transport.” In revision, I’m taming it. If I do it right, what I’ve produced still has wildness. If I do it wrong, it either remains all wilderness or becomes too civilized, too “broken” (in horse-trainers’ lingo). I aim to have just a little more body in the poem than brain—a little more beast than math.

Michael T. Young: The poem “Delaware Water Gap, NJ Side, Election Year, Rush Hour, Hungry Again,” opens with “The sun slips like a tongue/down the sky’s neck/and the flowers within me//open to it all.” This recalls to my mind a moment in Rilke—I can’t remember where—a flower opens so wide to the sky it’s unable to close at night. I wonder if you see opening or exposing our heart to the world, to the greater reality around us, as necessary and if so why. What is gained?

BJ Ward: We create in a time when new houses are more likely to have back decks than front porches. A time of intentional obfuscation, with language that is deliberately imprecise. (In Oxford, NJ, close to where I live, the garbage incinerator and landfill is called a “Resource Recovery Center.”) Greed no longer seems immoral to us, but something that makes one admirable. How revolutionary an act writing a poem in America seems. By doing something so earnest and so outside the expectations of Western culture’s sense of “industry,” you are deliberately engaging in a deeper economy. The first gesture toward engaging in it is what you point out: opening ourselves to the outside world, like Rilke’s flower. The second is to protect that heart you mention, for the world is acidic, and it is drawn toward your compassion and your imagination. It wants to extirpate them. And the third part is to commit to a deep happiness, much deeper than the exchange of money.

Michael T. Young: “Aubade” says, “I want to be as precise with my joy today/as all those poets are with their suffering.” Even in your poems that deal with suffering or difficulties (I think of many of your poems about your father), there seems an effort to find joy and beauty, to be precise about it more than the suffering. It is also evident in the linguistic playfulness of so many of your poems. I wondered if you feel seeking out joy in spite of suffering is important, looking for the beauty rather than the ugliness that is surely always there.

BJ Ward: Langston Hughes viewed his role as a poet as having three important aspects: celebrant, performer, and seer. Although Hughes approached them differently than I do, I aspire to these three myself. (The third one is by far the hardest.) I don’t have to look hard for misery. It’s always waiting for me when I open that door. The writing of a poem is what helps me step past it. I’m lucky in this way; I know a lot of people who get stopped by the misery, and they have my sympathy. I’ve come to look at joy as an act of creation. Experienced fighters know that, when your opponent has a terrific defense, a tight guard that is hard to slip past, you have to “make your own hole,” usually with a combination technique. I find myself almost every day making my own hole in the ugliness that’s out there.

Michael T. Young: Which is your favorite poem from Jackleg Opera and why is it significant for you?

BJ Ward: I don’t mean to be evasive, but I don’t have a consistently favorite poem from the book. Right now I suppose it’s “Wolverine The X-Man Kisses” because I just received a generous email from someone saying how much it meant to her. How it helped her understand her marriage. It was generous of her to thank me like that, and it was a powerful moment for me to receive her message.

Michael T. Young: Are there any prose works that you feel have significantly influenced you as a poet?

BJ Ward: My first inclination is to say, “Too many to name,” but I’m always disappointed when other authors say that to this kind of question. It seems like a cop-out. So I’ll just name the first ten works that come to my mind. I’ll limit the list to prose by writers who are no longer alive.

Shakespeare’s tragedies, particularly Hamlet when I was younger and King Lear now; the great plays of Tennessee Williams. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and The Brothers Karamazov. The letters of both Emily Dickinson and John Keats. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. All of Hawthorne. The short stories of Flannery O’Connor. Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugene Herrigel. The Bible. And the short stories of Raymond Carver. I am sure there are dozens of others I could have listed, but these came to me first, and even now I couldn’t limit the list to ten.

Michael T. Young: What are your favorite activities that have nothing to do with poetry or writing?

BJ Ward: I love baseball—watching it and playing it. Also, I’ve trained at a traditional karate dojo for 36 years now. But, given your question, I should say that the men and women I train with have absolutely influenced my poetry, although they wouldn’t know that unless they read this. Right now I train with a mechanic, two cops, a pharmaceutical executive, former junkies, a Shop-Rite cashier, a postal worker, two engineers, a church cantor, and a lumberyard worker, as well as hundreds of others over the last 36 years. The lessons I’ve learned from them have influenced not only my writing process but also many individual poems.

Michael T. Young: Thanks for your time, BJ. Let’s close with your favorite poem from Jackleg Opera.

BJ Ward: Thank you for the interesting questions, Michael. Here is the poem I mentioned earlier. A note about it: as far as I know, the Marvel superhero Wolverine only has one real superpower–the ability to heal instantly. That’s what allowed surgeons to line his skeleton with metal and place those retractable claws in the backs of his hands. The title notwithstanding, this poem is as much about loving someone who has (almost) stopped being vulnerable.

Wolverine the X-Man Kisses

His bones, lined with adamantium, are unbreakable,
. . . . . . . so his lover is just licorice and moth wings
in his careful palms.

And tucked within each open hand
. . . . . . . lie three knives, retracted,
but one thrust and snickt

(x, x, x)

whatever he holds could die.
. . . . . . . What delicacy is in his hug,
but is this a fair relationship?

Before you answer, know this:
. . . . . . . he is a mutant, able to heal
from the deepest of cuts,

and so to hurt him
. . . . . . . she must kiss him.
Look at his trembling lips

as he leans in to hers–see the nervous animal
. . . . . . . in his eyes, how it paces back and forth (x, x, x)
knowing there is no way out of love

but to suffer. He’s a mutant, but is he so different
. . . . . . . from you? Have you ever folded yourself
into someone’s arms, unsure of yourself,

knowing what you have learned in your life
. . . . . . . contradicted such tenderness, leaning in anyway,
lips separating, closing in,

the potential of blades
. . . . . . . running along your bones
just in case?

            (from Jackleg Opera, Collected Poems 1990-2013 [North Atlantic Books])


You can learn more about BJ Ward and his poetry at his website: http://www.bj-ward.com/.



Amorak Huey


Your breasts at the surface of the roiling water. The smell of chlorine
and desire. We divide and assign the space between us.

Your specialty is keeping score, mine is pretending not to.
We are not supposed to stay in water this hot

more than 15 minutes. Plenty of time to pretend
we could not drown here or anywhere

in the middle of our own lives. Three walls away
our children dream of life without us,

your parents sleep with their television on. One of us
slides closer. One of us places a finger in the other’s mouth,

one of us stands, dripping, to reach for a towel.
The tub’s motor falls quiet. The air suddenly cold

against overheated skin. Absence swells to fill absence,
water closes in over the holes our bodies once filled.

Amorak Huey is author of the chapbook The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014) and the forthcoming poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015). A former newspaper editor and reporter, he teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems appear in The Best American Poetry 2012, Gargoyle, The Southern Review, Baltimore Review, Stirring, and many other print and online journals. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.

Jen Stein

The Size of Things, Decreasing Scale

1) An invitation
2) The gap between the door open and latched
3) Your open hand resting on my hip
4) Kittens past weaning
5) This human heart quickening
6) A young fist full of garden dirt
7) The curve of your lips
8) The tip of my finger brushing your ear
9) Flat headed worms aerating the soil
10) An avian heart beating
11) Your pupils grown wide soaking light
12) A bean seed to be planted
13) My pupils when fixated
14) The distance between your thumb and my neck
15) Bristles on my paint brush, dried slate clinging
16) Strawberry seeds set to germinate
17) How close my lips hover above yours
18) Capillaries dilating
19) Rushing red blood cells
20) A droplet of sweat drawn from the pores
21) The width of a strand of spider silk
22) The wavelength of an x-ray
23) The distance between nuclei in a white dwarf star
24) Any hope that the children will sleep for just fifteen more minutes

Jen Stein is a writer, advocate, mother and finder of lost things. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where she works in family homeless services. Her work has recently appeared in Rogue Agent Journal, Menacing Hedge, Luna Luna Magazine, Nonbinary Review and Stirring. Upcoming work will be featured in Cider Press Review. Jen is currently serving as assistant editor for Rogue Agent Journal and for ELJ Publications. You can find her on the web at jensteinpoetry.wordpress.com.

Brash Ice. Djelloul Marbrook.
Leaky Boot Press, 2014. 104 pages, ISBN: 978-1909849150

The boundaries of an identity become less distinct the closer they’re analyzed. It’s an existential nuance encountered by everyone from scientists defining an atom to Zen students contemplating a koan. Djelloul Marbrook’s latest collection, Brash Ice, explores that vagueness and various tangential elements such as memory, history and the way the nature of transcendence alters with the self as it encounters the harsher elements of life. The opening poem begins

So this business of being you
is about handling plutonium.
(“handling plutonium”)

The self is radioactive, dangerous to handle. It is not easy, in spite of the ubiquitous exhortations, to simply “be yourself.” There is much to fear. But it must be faced full on if to be realized. So the poem concludes

. . . let
intellect’s luminol reveal
what fears can’t bleach,
to stare at the consequences
even as they throw dirt on your face.

That dirt can cast a terrible shadow over life. The self, in defense, seeks a kind of transcendence, a way out. “To bear such loss we vanish” (“to ease life’s rush”). But that transcendence is not genuine since born out of fear and the desire for escape. “Even angels can’t count the cost of invisibility” (“two dark wishes”). Such an angel can’t help but gently recall Rilke’s angels, fragile in their desire to desire, as some other elements of this collection recall other qualities of that most transcendent of German poets. So, additionally, it’s not surprising that confronting the suicide of a friend and the various dead populates the book. Where the boundaries of the self become fluid, both the dead and living inhabit us and never completely pass away. Loves are lost and our friends die in the context of knowing that

we come off on each other
stains of our encounters
wranglings of our tied dyes
batiks of our fondest ties
(“batiks of our fondest ties”)

Or, with a more sinister tone, “everyone is a ghost of someone else” (“the ash tree’s scrawl”). Where we seek invisibility in the face of loss and pain, suicide is confronted as the ultimate vanishing and love as a kind of false hope. Thus even in a poem about beauty, we read

everything that scuttles
across your headstone
rings in my ears.
(“beauty and unrest”)

And elsewhere we read “whoever sees how populous we are/knows how futile it is to love” (“after image”). This is not the resignation of a depressive but the slow progress of a self defining its cohesion in a world that fragments the psyche.

This has been the psychic battle for every modern self since Mathew Arnold cried out in a letter to his sister, “I am fragments.” It is the nature of the modern dilemma and was the founding assumption of nearly every existentialist writer in the early twentieth century, and also lead the poet George Oppen to write, “We have chosen the meaning of being numerous.” But the grasping of that fragmentation has never been easy. It can be a torturous journey but a great awakening when realized. That is the progress charted by Brash Ice and the meaning implicit in the title: ice that is broken and appears scarred after freezing again. The fragmented self is reconstituted but scarred. In that scarred state it has realized an actual life lived.

. . . my job
is to hurt you into life so that you may say
something happened to someone
even if you can’t remember where
or to whom it may have happened.

This is a poetry asserting with linguistic beauty Goethe’s comment that “color is the deeds and sufferings of light.” This is quoted in one of the poems. But it’s important to shed light on this quote with another Goethe quote. In Book II of Faust, Goethe also said, “Life is not light but the refracted color.” Marbrook’s collection plays on this meaning of light and life throughout and especially in the concluding section. Life is a difficult, sometimes torturous, journey, but it is also dazzling and beautiful when embraced, just as refracted light, in its colors, is beautiful and dazzling. So the poem “habitué,” says “what is precarious is exquisite.” Or, at the beginning of the collection, we are told:

i like inspired mistake,
a peripheral glance that jars
our nerve ends loose,
diseases that best define
our escapades at being well.

Since the self is radioactive, we are all, by nature, suffering from radiation poisoning. The cure is a kind of resolving of those suffering colors into a single white light, the dying of the self into its doings, and expressed in the final section in which there is “a light without its maddening colors.”

It is a long, muddy journey to this point. By that I mean that this brief review can only touch on a small piece of the overarching journey of the collection. It is difficult, if not impossible, to tease out the many nuances and threads that are woven throughout. Much of the collection reminds me of the kind of progression and complexity one finds in Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus but not as didactic. In this version of the journey, the self is stripped to its bare phenomenology. So the style is compressed both in its linguistic and metaphoric usage. No capital letters are used throughout and most metaphors carry an immense weight, sometimes to the point of incomprehension. But those moments of incomprehension are so few that the risk is worth the larger success of how often this language sings in its epiphanies. And for you, the reader of this review, to fully realize the wisdom and aesthetic virtue in this book, you must experience it directly, live it through line by line, come to it as any awakening: that is, firsthand.

My own obsession with the nuances of identity have been with me since I was eleven years old, reading Alan Watts and Krishnamurti and every version of the Tao Te Ching I could get my hands on. Among the poetic explorations of that vague thing we call the self, Brash Ice may rank among my favorite books. It is aesthetically pleasing and thematically intriguing. It manages to bring together threads of existentialist thought and insight, and weave it with hints of Eastern subtlety and Western life in a beautiful and urgent language that is relevant to the 21st century. There is enough grit that it doesn’t float off into metaphysical abstractions and enough thought that its images are weighted with meaning. It is a collection that not only holds up against multiple readings, but calls one on to them with the joy of renewed discovery.


A lifetime ago, I sat with some dear friends in their apartment discussing literature, music, and art as we drank wine. We gathered like this as often as we could. A small group of poets, novelists, painters, and musicians; we composed our own little salon. Elizabeth Bishop was the topic of conversation that night, and we grabbed her collected poems off the shelf. We passed it around for each person to take their turn reciting the poem “One Art” out loud. It was a marvelous time. Each brought their own voice, their own character to the poem and then uttered it forth. It was a night of joy connected through art but also a deepening insight into the subtlety of the poem itself. “One Art” is not easy to recite well. One has to be almost inspired to get it right. This is not a fault in the poem but a consequence of its precise insight and power, a result of its very success.

“One Art” was written in response to the suicide of Lota de Macedo Soares, Bishop’s longtime lover. Lota was visiting NY with Bishop, who came home one day to find Lota had taken an overdose of tranquilizers. She died several days later. The loss was devastating to Bishop. The depth of her love for Lota was profound and can be seen in Bishop’s letters. Although “One Art” does not identify the person it is about or even indicate the relationship of that person to the speaker, there is more than simply Bishop’s famed reticence in the absence of personal information. The absence is part of an overall effort to avoid the pain of loss. It is also part of why it’s not easy to recite the poem correctly. If one recites it as though every word were a mere statement of fact, it falls flat. If one recites it as though the art of losing really isn’t hard to master, then the most important part of the poem is itself lost. That’s because “One Art” is a kind of spell cast in the hope to dispel pain.

It’s fitting that this poem is made in the incantatory shape of a villanelle with its repetitions and rhymes. An incantation should be deeply lyrical and repetitive. Perhaps the music will distract the caster from the pain; perhaps the repetition will conjure belief and thus be successful. Its central hope is: if I say enough times that losing isn’t hard, maybe when I finally admit the real loss, it won’t hurt. But the overwhelming power of the poem, the source of its potency is that words are not strong enough to disperse such pain—the death of one’s most cherished person.

The speaker is shaken to the bottom of her being and does not believe a word of what she says. The pain in her refuses to be denied and rises against the utterance of the spell. To recite this poem aright, one must allow oneself to feel that pain, to feel at odds with every word you speak, desperately wanting to believe it but knowing it’s all fallacy and the pain of admitting that tenuous phrase, “even losing you,” is a shock to your foundations. It cannot and never will be easy. As you recount the ease of losing so many other things along the way: the watch, the keys, the house, rivers, a continent—each loss trying to be as big as the one you are terrified of admitting—as you recite all those other losses, the focus must be on “even losing you,” that must remain ever present in mind because every loss is about “losing you,” that one for whom all these loses are merely symbols and mean next to nothing, no matter how big they are. In addition to the failure of incantation, of words to dispel pain, this is another reason for the spell’s failure: “losing you” is not a symbol. It’s not an idea or a theme. A real living and loving person took their own life and each of the gestures and nuances of that life are gone. You can’t go out and have another made like a set of keys.

Perhaps I connect to this poem because I can picture certain people in my own past who died: my father, a coworker. I can see in my mind’s eye a particular gesture my father made: stroking his finger down his long nose and chuckling. Or I can hear that coworker’s way of articulating a particular joke he once told me—the way he arched his back and swayed his head as he uttered the punch line “Oh, baby, baby,” drawing out the a’s as though they were small hills his voice traveled over. It was unique. I can hear it and see it in my head, but I can’t imitate it to anyone because it’s not who I am. That loss is permanent. “One Art,” is an attempt to counteract the pain of the irreversible loss of that uniqueness. Of course, the attempt is doomed to failure. The same failure torments the speaker of “Ode to a Nightingale,” where the speaker wants to “cease upon the midnight with not pain.” But for him too, “the fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to do.” Both poems are an effort at self-deception.

Even including Jonathan Swift’s celebrated essay, A Modest Proposal, I don’t think there is a work in literature that is a better example of irony than Bishop’s poem “One Art.” Swift’s essay is more accessible because its central emotion is outrage. None of us are afraid to feel outrage. In fact, we sometimes indulge in outrage because it makes us feel smart or better than others. We like reading A Modest Proposal for these emotional reasons as much as the literary ones. I don’t mean to slight the accomplishment of A Modest Proposal. It’s a magnificent work. But “One Art” is more complicated because it requires that we access our own vulnerability to the incredible pain of loss, a pain that is inevitable for all of us. Everyone we love is going to die. To allow ourselves to face that fact is what this poem requires. It is terribly hard. It’s easier to admire the poem’s craft and travel its surface. It’s easier to pretend it’s a stale poem because it’s written in a fixed form, that it’s boring or outdated because it rhymes or has an almost singsong music. But these are excuses or failures of our ability to face what it embraces: that “even losing you” is an art that can never be mastered. Though so simple a word as “even” in the phrase “even losing you,” is weighted with the effort to add “you” to the catalogue of easily lost things, it fails. We are forever inept before the pain of losing those we love. That pain is felt profoundly because the form of the poem endeavors to create the illusion of control. It is why that parenthetical “(Write it!)” is so tormented and desperate, a kind of emotional paradox in the conflict between the power asserted by writing and the underlying emotional impotence.

In that other lifetime, reciting “One Art,” I was probably insulated from the full blow of the pain because I was surrounded by my friends. Then, I was also younger: my father was still alive; that coworker was still alive. I had experienced death, to be sure. But every death makes all the others resonate and makes a poem like this ring, gradually over a lifetime turning a single instrument into an orchestra. Emerging from my own recital of it that night, I was immediately in the presence of my friends and our discussion of the poem’s perfections. Of course, the emotional power simmered under the words and we could all feel it and talk about it. It was like a rip current just near enough to feel its drag but not pull us out, a power that could sweep us instantly out to sea if we let ourselves be taken by it. And that is what the poem needs to be fully understood and realized. The force of it requires we allow ourselves to be that vulnerable, that open to the inevitable death of those we love. Feeling this fearful reality is part of what the poem means. Without it, it is only half a poem, and we only half comprehend it. To read it aright is to be absolutely exposed to the worst pain we are likely ever to feel.



Lee Ann Roripaugh


tsunami as misguided kwannon

her hypervigilance such that

everything becomes a piercing

a harrowing she can’t turn off


her superpower a wound

a lightning rod / and sponge / speaking

the language of wounds to wounds


like echolocation that dopplers

the contours of another’s sorrow

against her own ricocheted song


or touch subtle as the naked push broom

of a star-nosed mole’s tentacles

nuzzling the bruised flesh of worms


or a nose for muscling out fresh blood

old ghosts / the sweet fat of lost dreams

like a winter-lean bear come spring

or feathery antennae’s raw quiver

pinched to ash by the hot sparks

of disconsolate pheromones


her nervous system a glitter

of neurotransmitters on fire


an electric-chaired switchboard

short circuited / fuse blown


she’s the exposed nerve:


exuviated snake / hulled bean

husked cicada / chaffed seed

peeled grape / shucked clam

she’s the conduit / aperture / cracked

mirror to all that’s scintillant and broken


until her compassion mushroom clouds

and swells like a fever / a red infection

a rising tide of salt tears

for the world’s fractured core


how could she possibly stop herself

from sweeping it all into her broken cradle

to soothe and rock and weep over ?


(her fingers itchy to pilfer and spare

what’s plush and tender

like the rabbit stolen by the moon)


how could she possibly stop herself

from the mercy of washing it all clean

in her terrible estuary of lamentations ?

First appeared in Sugar House Review.

Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which, Dandarians, was released by Milkweed Editions in September 2014. Her second volume, Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press), was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and her first book, Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin Books), was a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. The recipient of a 2003 Archibald Bush Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship, she was also named the 2004 winner of the Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, the 2001 winner of the Frederick Manfred Award for Best Creative Writing awarded by the Western Literature Association, and the 1995 winner of the Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize.


Her short stories have been shortlisted as stories of note in the Pushcart Prize anthologies, and two of her essays have been shortlisted as essays of note for the Best American Essays anthology. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Roripaugh is currently a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review. She is also a faculty mentor for the University of Nebraska low-residency M.F.A. in Writing, and served as a 2012 Kundiman faculty mentor alongside Li-Young Lee and Srikanth Reddy.


People I’d Like to Meet

Ken Singleton & Emerson Boozer. Wait, I already met Ken Singleton &
Emerson Boozer signing autographs at some kind of auto show when I was a kid.

Haixia Zheng, Otis Birdsong, World B. Free.
Nancy Kerrigan & Tonya Harding. Surya Bonaly.

The Flash. Lucille Ball. Rosemarie Waldrop.
A helicopter. A litter of kittens. A pair of mittens.

A bolt of lightning. Ellen Page, Kesha. Martellus Bennett.
Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, & the Blue Marvel.

A raindrop. A footprint. 2,000 years.
An image of an image of Billie Holiday.

Yayoi Kusama, Robert Smithson, Jenny Holzer.
(I already met Henry Rollins & Mike Watt & Vincent Price in bookstores.)

Jane Freilicher. James Schuyler.
A dozen roses or slices of bread.

The He & She from the That’s What They Said jokes.
The They & Them from They’re Making Me Do Things statements.

Kathleen Hanna. Ian Curtis. Yolandi Visser. MIA.
Lana Turner, named after the journal. After Frank O’Hara. John Cage.

Vanilla, almond, cardamom, & coconut.
A poor excuse. A field of wheat.

Edward Field. Some kind of statement. A lemon tree.
Kafka. An undocumented week.



Bruce Covey’s sixth book of poetry, Change Machine, was published by Noemi Press in 2014. He lives in Atlanta, GA, where he publishes and edits Coconut magazine and Coconut Books and curates the What’s New in Poetry video reading series for the literary web community Real Pants. He also serves as Small Press Editor for Boog City and has taught at Yale, Emory, and the Atlanta College of Art.