“A Circle Amuses Itself”: A Review of Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet by R. M. Corbin

“… he clarified his intention, which was “beat” as beatific, as in “dark night of the soul,” or “cloud of unknowing,” the necessary beatness of darkness that proceeds opening up to light, egolessness, giving room for religious illumination.”—Allen Ginsberg

In some ways, Gregory Corso represented a darkness within a darkness: a beat within the Beat. His place within the inner circle of the Beat Generation (those he called the “Beat Daddies”: Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and himself) was undeniable, but he’s frequently left out of the movement’s critical considerations. Who can say why? Ultimately, such critical summations and anthologies often operate as autopsies for literary movements: attempts to articulate some kind of unity or clarity out of the naturally disparate materials of a generation, a life, an oeuvre.

Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet, a new elegiac collection of essays and poetry released by Roadside Press, is at its best when it skirts any attempt to make Corso or his generation sensible. At its worst, it succumbs to a desire to elevate Corso into posthumous order or sensibility.

The collection’s opening essays are perhaps the most egregious examples of the latter, run through with causal platitudes (“We can only grasp Corso’s success by understanding the trauma of his childhood” [11]) and unapologetic psychoanalytic assumptions (“His memory of childhood became synonymous with his memory of defying authority” [18]). It may be that such examples are merely indicative of the biographical fallacy within literary criticism—that the narrative order afforded a dead poet cannot ever map cleanly onto the fundamentally immanent and elusive nature of their work.

This fallacy is particularly egregious in context given Corso’s own living desire to upend logic and explication. Consider the following anecdote from Kirby Olson’s “An Iconoclast at Naropa,” also in the collection:

Someone suggested we walk to a bar about two blocks away. At the bar, [Corso] began to talk about geometry in poetry. He discussed the poem by Jacques Prevert in which the disciples’ plates at the Last Supper are said to have been behind their heads. Corso began to talk about circles, and mentioned a line by Hans Arp. ‘A circle amuses itself.’ He then moved on to a discussion of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem about a moat with shadows that are infinitely deep. He said that nothing finite can be infinite. He looked at me then, and said, ‘You’re going to ask WHY? Aren’t you? WHY? WHY? WHY?’ (119)

The self-amusing circle and the infinite shadows are effective metaphors for the immense risk tacitly present in any posthumous literary-critical effort. The finitude Corso cites may be read as the finitude of life itself, out from which the poet (and his critic) stretches hopelessly toward an imagined infinity. Biographical and psychoanalytic causality are the crudest forms of the circle—uncritical and artless invocations of infinity and totality—and therefore the points at which this collection falls short. Gerald Nicosia said it best in his “Poem for Gregory Corso’s Ashes in the English Cemetery in Rome”:

That only the truly

And forever dead

Would dream of

Digging up

Someone who is still alive

Underground. 

Luckily, these engagements are few and far between. Disinterested historicity soon gives way to something more intimate.

What ultimately makes this collection special are the personal narratives from those who knew Corso and have no interest in making sense of his life or his work. Each of these more effective essays offer a little window into a moment in the poet’s life: his charged visits to heroin dealers, his comical and erudite poetry readings, his world travels, his impromptu lectures on classical art around the dinner table, his insistence on reading the works of young poets… these fragments of a life steeped in art, tragedy, and a tenuous balance of street-level empathy and bon vivant elitism feel the most true to the man himself. More importantly, they feel true to the fragments and paradoxes of his work.

Robert Yarra’s “Gregory Gave Me the World” is a fine example of this even finer mode of remembrance. Perhaps it has something to do with Yarra’s somewhat outsider status within the world of poetry: when he first met Corso, Yarra was an immigration lawyer. Yarra quickly became a kind of patron to Corso, learning to “take the horrible with the sublime”:

I had dough and never turned him down for a fix. I remember walking into the office waiting-room and seeing Gregory among my bewildered clients, head down, sweat rolling off his nose, suffering, junk-sick but very patient. I quickly slid him a twenty and, without a word, he was out the door. (152)

Such an image is important and moving: a remembrance of the criminal and humane aspects of the poet. But this image only finds its higher articulation—its place among a synchronous and impossible whole—in a later anecdote regarding the night Corso met Allen Ginsberg:

Gregory told me that, in his profound innocence, he asked Allen if he would like to watch a man and woman screw. Gregory told Allen that every day at the same time he watched a man and women have sex through an apartment window and would masturbate. Gregory suggested that Allen go with him and check it out and masturbate too. By some fantastic twist of fate, it was Allen and a woman screwing that Gregory had been watching! Allen was gay, of course, but he had been seeing a psychiatrist who advised that he could “be cured” of his homosexuality by having regular heterosexual intercourse. By the synchronicity that brought Gregory and Allen together, Gregory first knew Allen through the window. (153)

One inflection of this synchronicity has to do with the stated nature of the Beat Generation: a movement which Jay Jeff Jones called “a criminal enterprise in itself” (36). It can be easy to forget that a criminal element is always reflective of a larger system of order: the language and culture of the street are always dialects of the state: chaos is simply a different pronunciation of order. The Beats, and Corso no less, brought literary and bio-mythological representations of the material relationships between the part (the lint brushed off a lapel, the ashes of the soldier, the woman screaming in the asylum) and the whole (the epic hero, the whitewashed Whitman).

But this synchronicity transcends materiality, which may speak to our opening inquiry: why is Corso’s name not carried on the same lips that would invoke Ginsberg, Kerouac, or Burroughs? And, subsequently: why does a critical and elegiac work about Corso run up against the risk of banalities of historicity? I feel that Corso’s own poetry, sometimes highlighted in this collection, offers not an answer but at least a meditation in response:

Existence as seen & felt by godhead

manhead analogous to it—

i.e., each part reflects the whole

god mind the mirror-man mind the reflection

each mind is like a cell in god mind

each cell of man mind

 

The whole can never be given whole

part cannot give whole (238)

Arriving at the end of Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet means arriving at the conclusion that there is no clear image of Gregory Corso or his Beat Generation. Biographers can psychoanalyze, literary critics can enact their exegesis, and archivists can unearth new details of a man’s life… but the poet and his works cannot be crucified on a cross of any such design. Read this collection—enjoy it as old friends around a fire relate memories of the dead. At the end of things that is all for which we can ask.

Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet (Roadside Press) is available for purchase at https://www.magicaljeep.com/product/corso/165 or most online retailers.

Susan Ward Mickelberry reviews: These Many Cold Winters of the Heart by Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Ryan Quinn Flanagan’s These Many Cold Winters of the Heart begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson “I am out with lanterns looking for myself,” a perfect depiction of this collection. You will be riveted from the opening poem, “I Grew Up in a Brewery Town,” where the Molson plant closes down but “people survived, they usually do” although “everyone had to pay for their beer now/and they were drinking more than ever” to the powerful “wonderful bloody magic” in “The Butterfly Hunter” near the end. Flanagan has no shortage of acute observations on everything from a humorous pair of crows and the homelessness of tents in winter, to Bob Dylan and Lawrence of Arabia. A plentiful array of humorous, everyday usually irreverent pieces, also stunning moments of awe, and sometimes addressing tough subjects without flinching, from unexpected violence and death, to family mental illness, the loss of a brother, and the suicide of a childhood friend and an uncle and its after-effects. These latter poems will sneak up on you and take your breath away. Stylistically, Flanagan is firmly in control, breaking rules when he feels like it, sliding into a staccato surrealism, and dropping back into more traditional form when he swerves toward the profound. And he does that beautifully. A favorite poem “A Giant Bear Jumps Up the Rockface Outside Sudbury, Ontario,” begins “You never realize how helpless you would actually be/if the cards came calling.” I highly recommend These Many Cold Winters of the Heart and look forward to having the book in hand.—Susan Ward Mickelberry, author of And Blackberries Grew Wild

Cover Art by Shona Flanagan
Purchase your copy at https://www.magicaljeep.com/product/winters/172

Roadside Press Unveils Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet, an Unprecedented Tribute

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Roadside Press Unveils Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet, an Unprecedented Tribute

Release Date: June 20, 2024

Available via magicaljeep.com, Amazon, Ingram, and Major Online Book Retailers

In the annals of American literature, the Beat Generation remains a luminous chapter, resonating with the harmonious blend of rebellion and creativity that defined an era. After Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, Gregory Corso emerges as the fourth “Daddy” of this socio-literary movement. His life, like his poetry, was a tempestuous journey, marked by resilience, defiance, and an insatiable thirst for expression.

Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet, published by Roadside Press, stands as a monumental homage to this enigmatic figure of American letters. Authored by luminaries of the Beat Generation including Anne Waldman, Gerald Nicosia, and Neeli Cherkovski, among others, this book transcends mere biography, offering a kaleidoscopic view of Corso’s life and legacy. Edited by Leon Horton, this collection weaves together the diverse voices of those who knew Corso and his work intimately.

From his turbulent childhood in New York to his sojourns in Clinton Prison, Greece, and Rome, Corso’s odyssey is chronicled in vivid detail. With contributions ranging from memoirs and interviews to literary criticism and poetry, Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet provides a multifaceted exploration of Corso’s enduring influence.

Douglas Field, author of Walking in the Dark: James Baldwin, My Father, and Me, reads the book as a celebration and exploration of “the contradictions and brilliance” of Corso. Victor Bockris, acclaimed author of The Burroughs-Warhol Connection, hails it as a testament to Corso’s dual nature as both a wild man and a serious intellect.

Critics and scholars alike have lauded the book’s comprehensive portrayal of Corso’s life, from its gritty realism to its transcendent beauty. Jim Burns, contributor to Beat Scene, praises its unflinching honesty, while Gerald Nicosia, author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac, heralds it as the most significant contribution to Corso scholarship to date.

Gregory Corso: Ten Times a Poet arrives as a long-overdue tribute to a poet who, despite his towering influence, remains a perennial outsider.

For media inquiries, review copies, or interview requests, please contact Michele McDannold at roadsidepress01@gmail.com.

About the Author: Roadside Press is a leading publisher dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy of the American literary underground. With a diverse catalog spanning poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, Roadside Press is committed to honoring the voices that shape our cultural landscape.

Excerpt from THE DEAD AND THE DESPERATE by Dan Denton

1.

I never intended to live in Ohio again in the first place. After my first divorce, and all the ensuing debacles; a rehab here, probation there, a dab or two of homelessness, or years of barely clinging to a roof over my head, and I found myself drunk and alone a lot, watching the free PBS channel in a shitty apartment, in a shitty southern town that had grown just as tired of me as I was of it. I’d been banned from three of the five dive bars that lived in my desperate subdivision of rotting trailer park, slum lord haven, and the other two bars weren’t making me feel like I belonged anymore. Sometimes when the moon is full, or when Mercury is in retrograde or some shit, just sometimes I can be hard to get along with I guess. I always seem to get tired of somewhere just as they’re getting tired of me, and I was feeling the urge to move again. Seven states in seven years. Might as well find another one.

I was staying home. Drinking alone. So I got the internet in my shitty apartment. I came up with enough scratch to get my phone line turned on, and downloaded one of those 100 hours free CDs.

I was supposed to be a writer someday, and I’d just gotten through 21 of 30 days in another rehab before I had to split. I was working and staying away from the hard shit, and laying low and drinking at home.

I was supposed to be a writer someday, so I’d called this guy some other guy told me about, and that guy came over, and for $20 and an old printer I had, that guy fixed my computer tower up, and debugged it, and got it limping back along again.

I could never afford to keep buying the ink cartridges for the printer, and I hadn’t written shit in a long goddamn time, so there wasn’t shit ever to print.

I planned to write, and save it on these hard plastic disks, and if I wrote anything worth much, I planned to take the hard disk over to the town library, and use their computer, and print it for a quarter a page.

I don’t know what I was going to do with it then, and it didn’t matter much. I had the internet in my rat trap apartment, and I was working and keeping my head down. Plenty of money for 12 packs and half decent whiskey once in a while. Plenty of evening time to listen to music on the radio, and write a little, except I never did write much.

The internet then wasn’t the internet now. It ran through the phone line, and was slow. There were a lot of naked pictures on the internet, but never any videos. Porn then wasn’t like porn now. But there were naked pictures and there were chat rooms. I never wrote much, I just listened to music every night, and looked at naked pictures, and jacked off, and talked dirty in chat rooms, or argued with people in chat rooms, or tried to get women to email me naked pictures if they had a digital camera.

I remember once in high school, this girl I knew sent me a Polaroid picture of her titties in a card once. I had that picture for a long time. But I had the internet in my kitchen-sink-has-been-dripping-since-Reagan was president apartment, and girls could send me naked photos in a matter of minutes to my email, if I could get them to, and sometimes I could.

But jacking off to an unlimited library of nude photos is not the same as fucking, and I could only ever lay low and drink at home for so long before I got bored, and started running around town looking for a good time in all the bad places. I was getting stir crazy.

One weekend I was drunk and bored, and I stayed up all night talking to this chick in a Midwest singles chat room I’d found, and we’d exchanged some emails, and I didn’t have a digital camera, but I could type 50 words per minute and I’d spent a lifetime reading books, and you’d be surprised about how far a Neruda stanza can take you in a chat room. Already into the 21st century and most everyone I knew had never heard about ole Pablo Neruda. Quoting poets no one ever heard of makes you seem learned in a 2am internet chat room, and wait til they have a rough day, and you drop some Bukowski on them.

One thing leads to another and I’d just gotten a cell phone for the first time, because I had some money in my pocket and everyone was getting cell phones. Cell phones then were not cell phones now, and mine was about the size of half a brick and didn’t send text messages or have a high def screen. It just made phone calls, and those phone calls were free after 7pm and on weekends, so me and this late night chat room girl started calling each other and talking every night, sometimes for hours.

She’d had a few long-term relationships, but nothing had ever come of them, and she’d been single for a while. She was back in college and living at home, and she was fierce and independent, but she was lonely, too, and she didn’t really know how to meet people. She was mid 20s and older than most of the college kids in her classes, and her job as an activities coordinator at a local nursing home offered nary a bed warmer, either.

She’d had a few Friday night one-night stands, from going to one of the half-assed dance clubs cities in the Midwest they’re always trying to keep open, but that wasn’t enough.

She liked to fuck she said, and I told her I did, too.

Next thing you know she’s driving down south, and I’m taking a four-day weekend. We drove around to different places to eat every evening, but mostly we drank and we fucked. We fucked and fucked all weekend, like you do when you just meet somebody that likes to fuck in all the same ways you like to fuck, and neither of you have fucked much lately. If you don’t understand that last sentence, I hope you figure it out before you die. It is one of the most magical things I have experienced in my sad ass life, and chasing those weekends has nearly ruined me, and killed me a dozen times over.

Lover girl goes home, and we keep talking late at night, me half drunk all the time, and her just lonely. She drinks, but she doesn’t understand why I need to drink every day, and all the time, but I work hard, and “I miss you” and “I miss you, too” and the fucking, that was some of the best fucking ever, and maybe I’ll just drive up to Ohio one weekend and we can fuck six times a day again for four days. See how quick I forgot about hating Ohio? That’s how women have always worked for me.

I can’t fully explain it, except for the obvious, being a fucked up dude trying to survive a fucked up life. It’s what we do. We drink and fuck and fight. You see us on Cops and Jerry Springer every day.

Before I could get back up there to do all that fucking again, lover girl calls me and says she’s pregnant.


The Dead and the Desperate is coming out in hardcover. Reserve your copy at https://www.magicaljeep.com/product/desperate/169

Step into a world of grit and survival in The Dead & The Desperate by Dan Denton. This poignant novel takes you on a raw and unflinching journey through the life of its main character, who becomes an accidental father while grappling with untreated mental illness, addiction, and the grueling reality of low-paying factory jobs in the heart of the Midwest. Denton’s evocative prose paints a vivid picture of a life under the poverty line, where desperation and resilience coexist in a landscape of broken dreams and shattered hopes.

Amidst the chaos of a struggling existence, the protagonist navigates the shadowy corners of dive bars, forges unlikely friendships with a diverse cast of characters, and grapples with the weight of homelessness, divorce, and the specter of overdose. The Dead & The Desperate is a haunting portrayal of the challenges faced by those on the margins, offering a unique and unvarnished perspective on a world often overlooked.

This book has garnered praise from literary voices and readers alike, heralded as a return to authentic proletarian literature. Critics acknowledge Dan Danton’s unapologetic honesty and courage in baring his soul through this harrowing yet beautiful narrative. The novel’s exploration of life’s struggles and the quest for love and connection resonates deeply, making it an unforgettable read that lingers in the mind long after the final page is turned.

If you’re seeking a powerful and moving tale that delves into the depths of human experience, The Dead & The Desperate is a must-read. It’s a story that gives voice to the voiceless, offers solace to the desperate, and reminds us all of the strength to keep going, even when faced with the darkest of circumstances.

2 poems from ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT IN JUKEBOX HELL by Alan Catlin

Parallel Lives

Every city has one, a block God
forgot, some unofficial war zone,
demilitarized, but alive and active
with all the usual suspects cops roust
on periodic missions to clean up after
some particularly rowdy disturbance,
something so embarrassing, around
election day, even the mayor is moved
to act. After the votes have been counted,
results confirmed, the war goes on as before.
911 calls come in and cars are dispatched,
later rather than sooner, except, in cases
of extreme cruelty, events that make
front page news or, on occasion, CNN;
‘Fraternity hazing involved terrorist
techniques, pledges for unchartered
frat subjected to punishments, not unlike
water boarding, until they were forced
to beg for mercy.’
The cries from basement/ dungeon so loud,
so horrific, even cowed neighbors
could no longer endure the noise, could
only imagine what must be happening inside.
University officials assert they had
‘suspicions banned fraternity was still
accepting new members,’ as they had been,
banding and disbanding time and time
again, for fifty years, only the names
and faces changed.
Over time, the block is modified,
buildings burned out, abandoned,
strafed in territorial feuds, boarded up
or razed, salt sprinkled on the mounds left
behind, for sale signs riddled with bullet
holes, gang graffiti ornamented, relics
no one cares to recall or revisit.
All the former denizens, drug dealers,
and their whores moved on, occupying
new digs that soon resemble the old:
from Odell to Kelton, from Elberon to
Quail to Washington; forsaken places,
reclamation projects so far past due
only those with no future go there.
Time Has Come Today

“You don’t know what pain is.”
Buffalo Bill

Somewhere along the line,
someone had put him in a metal cell,
a kind of prefab hurt locker,
and forgot to let him out. Maybe,
pounded on the sides to like, rattle
his cage every now and then,
never letting any unnecessary light in,
no food, no water, no human contact,
nada for days, so that when the family
business, literally, went up in smoke,
a mobile home, meth lab, defoliation
death trap, only he would survive
the fast-burning fireball suffused with
strange colors, sick smells of chemicals
and bad meat, a black hole where
the concrete pad had been.
He’d feel no remorse for confederate
flag ensemble wearing dad, a former
weightlifting skinhead gone to fat,
not completely weaned yet from his
Rebel Yell and his emaciated, toothless
straw haired, unwashed, skank of a woman,
something like thirty-nine going on
seventy, maybe his mother, maybe not.
Where he was going time was measured
in scorched spoonful’s of street, ampoules
and syringes, black market product mined
from god’s black earth.

Another Saturday Night in Jukebox Hell by Alan Catlin is now available at https://www.magicaljeep.com/product/jukebox/162

The smartass bartender, narrator, is locked in a bar with thousands of uninvited guests. The jukebox is virtual which means it is practically infinite and people can and will play music Loud for hours while the hapless, somewhat hard of hearing bartender tries to make the best of this “disco inferno” ( though the music is rarely if ever remotely disco like). Our bartender refers to the jukebox as the infernal machine and the guests are demons with unlimited credit. Snarky, irreverent and based on actual firsthand experience.

Alan Catlin worked for the better part of 34 years in his unchosen profession as a barman in and around the greater Albany, NY area. He has published dozens of chapbooks and full-length books focusing on his work and the people he met while laboring in the trenches of bar warfare.

“Like a sequel to his previous collection of bar poems, Bar Guide for the Seriously Deranged, Alan Catlin’s new collection begins, appropriately, in Hell, among those condemned to short, sad, violent lives of pain, humiliation, and self-destruction. There are many doors to Hell, he confides. “The one you choose is always / the wrong one.” The whores, the drug addicts, the gang members, the “karaoke killers”: they’ve all walked in through different entrances but wound up in the same place. Fate? In “Maybe it was meant,” Catlin philosophizes: “to be, to end this way, / a life spent on the edge / always playing a loser’s / hand but pretending /otherwise, and fooling / no one.” Another Saturday Night in Jukebox Hell has moments of humor and scenes of poignance, all so familiar, all so human, all so doomed, all so damned. Belly up to the bar, have a seat. Drink it all in!”—Charles Rammelkamp, author of The Trapeze of Your Flesh

“This the kind of place the children and grandchildren of the Dead-End Kids would go. They’d call themselves something like the Wild Bunch or the Wrecking Crew and the bartender, good to his word, would be taking notes and writing it all down. If you see yourself in these poems, it’s your own fault.”—Elenora Fagan, poet, lyricist

“If hell opened up all its’ gates, gave every good citizens a couple of hundred bucks to spend at happy hour; they’d end up at this bar, super-charged and ready to go, making up for lost time.”—Patrick Allen, occasional poet

Review by Alan Catlin: How to Play House by Heather Dorn

Heather Dorn, How to Play House, Roadside Press, 2023, 116 pages $15

“Heather Dorn is a real mom with real life issues. She’s more Journal of a Mad Housewife than Kate Middleton, though she’s not a stuck at home mom going crazy with her kids but a PhD in English Literature who teaches at the University in Binghamton. She has real health issues (a pacemaker to cope with heart failure) whose wild days of youth are way, way back in the past and can never be, even remotely, repeated. She (and no doubt most of us) reveled in crazy, bad choices who made total fools of ourselves during them and Dorn recounts them convincingly with wit and humor. Most of all, Dorn has a strong, readily identifiable voice; a mother we’d like to know, voice.

“Drawing a contrast between herself and the aforementioned Kate Middleton, Dorn is the mom with spaghetti-o’s on her blouse, coffee stains too, no doubt, while Kate looks beauty parlor fresh after giving birth. Heather confesses she looked like, well, she just gave birth after all three of her children. As Dorn says, Kate doesn’t give interviews. She doesn’t speak. She’s not a real person. Heather Dorn is most definitely a real person and it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, a real poet.”—Alan Catlin

first published in Misfit Magazine

Excerpt from Unknowable Things by Kerry Trautman

Because, Brian

I liked you at first, because your dad fixed a flat on my mom’s Pontiac in his robe, and because of your black jelly bean eyes and big-toothed laugh, and because you almost almost rubbed my thigh. But I bought off-the-shoulder homecoming velvet for someone else, because of your seaweed smell, because of the taste of our one kiss—wet with salts of sweat and Fritos, because it was October and you were nothing, because we were sixteen.


Stray

Was it cruel to have lured the stray cat
these weeks closer to my fingertips,
to teach him petting?

It was a new thing—involuntary
joy on skin terms.
Fur can’t help that it’s reached-for.

When I had asked the older boy’s sister
for his number
she warned
he’s sometimes not nice to girls.

The cat cries at the door now
for more than just a bowl of food.

The boy was patient with me,
clasping my button fly.
It was a new thing—him hearing wait.
It was a new thing—me being clambered-upon.

Small bodies should be born
knowing what
love feels like on skin terms.

Nights are long
with only wind smoothing haunches.
Is it worth it to crouch,
inch forward toward the dish of a palm?

If this doesn’t work,
he warned himself and me and unknown others,
I’ll go back to the way I was.

Purring is involuntary, internal.
Claws are internal except
when they are externalized.

What rule did I break by ending it?
What reward did I owe his try at patience?
What continuance do fingertips owe other skin?

Is heartbreak more or less
humane than starvation?


Body as Bird as Body

As a wren, she shrunk into shrubbery.
But not as wren—
no brief wings to shudder skyward.

As a starling, she insinuates herself
into murmurations, a lost-ness of black
on blue on black on blue.

As a barn owl, imperceptible
shadows in rafters.
But not as owl—not sparing the meat.

As a heron, twiggy stillness
sculpturing, obvious above
duckweed and cattails.

As a peahen, beige
full of eggs
behind blue fans of eyes.

As a wren, air barely
exerts beneath.
But not as a wren—of soil.


Store-bought Cookies

She ate oversweet cookies enough
to be ashamed of, thinking,
Damn him. Him just one more thing
to be unsure of—like the false
alarm of foreboding clouds,
the symmetry or not of butterflies’ wings,
the doneness of a baking
breadloaf’s deepest soft insides.

These cookies, she knew.
These crumbs sanding her cleavage,
these chocolate chips re-softened
by her lips’ heat,
these sweet starches brittle
between her teeth,
these things she knew
when confronted with them,

with their uniform rows
nestled in their plastic tray.
She knew how to slit open the wrapping,
knew how many would satisfy,
how many would make her feel ill,
how they felt inside her—
the same each
and every time.


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Ohio born and raised, Kerry Trautman is a founder of ToledoPoet.com and the “Toledo Poetry Museum” page on Facebook, which promote Northwest Ohio poetry. Her work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and journals, including Slippery Elm, Free State Review, Mock Turtle Zine, Paper & Ink, Disappointed Housewife, Limp Wrist, Midwestern Gothic, and Gasconade Review. Kerry’s books are Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press 2012,) To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press 2015,) Artifacts (NightBallet Press 2017,) To be Nonchalantly Alive (Kelsay Books 2020,) and Marilyn: Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas (Gutter Snob Books 2022.)

Unknowable Things is a breathtaking collection of poetry by Kerry Trautman that explores the depths of the human experience with stark honesty and unflinching candor. Through evocative and powerful language, Trautman masterfully crafts the weight of human existence into poetry that is universal, self-reflective, and sincerely beautiful.

Each poem in this collection is a testament to Trautman’s skill at pulling deeper meaning out of the everyday ordinary, and her words are written with a smooth, polished, and tender touch. From start to finish, “Unknowable Things” is seamless, with not a word wasted or misplaced.

This collection is perfect for readers who are looking for poetry that speaks to the human condition in a powerful and relatable way. Whether you are an avid reader of poetry or new to the genre, we hope that these words will resonate with you and leave a lasting impression on your heart. So take a moment to slow down and savor each verse, allowing the rhythm and imagery to transport you to a world of introspection and self-discovery. We hope you will find solace and inspiration in these pages, and that you will return to them again and again as you navigate your own journey through the mysteries of the human experience.

Unknowable Things is seamless start to finish. Not a word wasted, or misplaced. No splinters. Each poem written with stark honesty, unflinching, yet smooth, polished and tender. Trautman masters the art of pulling deeper meaning out of the everyday ordinary, and effortlessly crafts the weight of human existence into poetry that is universal, self-reflective and outright beautiful.”—Dan Denton, author of Finding Jesus & Prayers to my Saints

Unknowable Things reads as if you’re holding a personal notebook that has somehow accidently been misplaced, only to wind up in your hands. Should you be reading Kerry Trautman’s personal notebook? Yes? No? You know, they say that there is excitement and enjoyment that comes from doing things that you know you shouldn’t do…so do it…get excited and enjoy how Trautman writes with a laid bare honesty that’s crafted and at times sharp enough to cut deep to the bone, like a sliver of a broken mirror that we can all see small pieces of our own reflections in. Trust me, it’s a beautiful thing.”—Victor Clevenger, author of 47 Poems

Excerpt from Abandoned By All Things by Karl Koweski

abandoned by all things

my brother phones
late at night,
he’s been drinking again,
asking if I might write
a few poetic lines
in honor of
our dead father
so Richie G can
temporarily immortalize
the words on
his forearm below
the half-finished angel,
a tribute to a dad
he vaguely remembers
from his early youth.

I haven’t written
anything
in nearly a year.
not sure I want
to start now
with this.

brother,
no angel of the
heavenly variety
ever gazed favorably
upon the actions
of our father.
his prayers
never extended beyond
the patron saint of
fast women
and slow horses.

thirty years dead, now,
he lorded over nothing
more regal than
a push broom
and mop bucket.

his navy blue shadow
and watchmen cap halo
have receded into
a dull oblivion
of purposefully
forgotten memories.

I have nothing
more to offer
as eulogy.
he lived and died
as we live and die,
abandoned by all things.


there is no money in coloring for the flipper-armed masses

I learned the correlation
between art and commerce
at the age of seven years
when, having crayoned
through an entire Black Hole
movie tie-in coloring book
I showed my work to Dad
for his artistic critique.

a day later, he gave
a dollar to me, saying
he sold the coloring book
to a lady at his job site.

even so young, my father’s
words struck me as implausible.
why would anyone want
to buy a coloring book that
had already been colored?

my father furrowed his brow,
said something about the
woman’s son having been born
with flippers for arms
unable to color his own.
the explanation was
good enough for me.

I rifled through my room
gathering all my old coloring
books and during a hand
cramping Crayola marathon,
managed to fill every
blank page within.

I presented the eight book trove
to my father the next evening
estimating enough capital
represented by that artwork
to purchase three Star Wars figures.

he returned home from work
empty-handed, citing
market saturation and
an increase in supply
versus a decrease in demand,
there being only so many mothers
raising flipper-armed children.

but I figured he just
took the money he earned
from my artistic endeavors
and spent it on booze,
and I vowed from that moment
on, never again to use an
intermediary to sell any
of my masterpieces, again.


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Karl Koweski is a displaced Region Rat now living in rural Alabama. He writes when his pen allows it. He’s a husband to a lovely wife and father to some fantastic kids. He collects pop culture ephemera. On most days he prefers Flash Gordon to Luke Skywalker and Neil Diamond to Elvis Presley.

“Unless you’re Charles Bukowski (dead) or Billy Collins (alive) the world doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your poetry. Instagram and TikTok poets may be taking the world by storm but I don’t know about it. Karl Koweski gets it. I adore the lack of pretension in this collection. No pretense, no bullshit, no pulpit. These are not the holier than thou words of some hipster poet speaking down to you from the heights of an overturned craft beer crate but the real words of a writer who has fucking lived and loved. A lot of poetry collections I’ve read in recent years have ended up in the free library at the duck park. I’ll hold onto Under Normal Conditions and Abandoned By All Things because several of the poems made me laugh until I cried and as I read I thought, “I have got to share these with my son.””—Misti Rainwater-Lites, Author of Clown Gravy and others

“Karl Koweski’s latest book Abandoned By All Things is Karl at his best. It reads as a poetry memoir, maybe embellished or maybe just fact the way he remembers it. It doesn’t matter it is written with a poet’s eye and it will have you turning the page, wanting more from the very first poem about coming of age with rolled up socks to burning hipsters alive to of course the Cubs losing to the true mission of all cub scouts. It is not always politically correct and that is what makes it good. It is every boy growing up and reflecting back on what was lost and found. It is being honest about the dumb things we did growing up, about being a father. It is the origin, the birth of the Polish Hammer. But most of all, it is without a doubt a great collection of poems that you will be happy to read more than once.”—Scot Young, author of They Said I Wasn’t College Material and others

Review by Lori Howe: Ain’t These Sorrows Sweet by Lauren Scharhag

In Ain’t These Sorrows Sweet, Lauren Scharhag invites readers into her hand, lifts us across space and time, and offers us the nourishment of memory cached in beans and light, in tomatoes and rosaries and barbacoa. She illuminates the crossroads of time and history and inheritance as they culminate in our own mouths and are stitched into our skins. In an elegant handful of words, she invites us inside her life: “I tasted time in each umami bite. I tasted 15,000 years…and though I am not full-blooded,/ I am full.” (“Sorting the Beans,” p. 3)

These are the poems of a woman who feels the weight of the past and the urgency of the now. As she reminds us in the fine poem, “Two Inches,” “We pass through the days like a funnel, not realizing/how it gets smaller and smaller towards the end,” and with this call to living our precious, fragrant lives, urges us to enjoy the treasure of love and intimacy in “Snow, Frost, Moon”: “We must not/waste these long nights./Silver dawn will find the thrash/of the snow angels we’ve left behind.”

This book is a feast replete with cilantro and the ache of women’s laughter, enough to sustain us through any unexpected bleakness, and back into the light, eyes afire, hungry.

—Lori Howe, author of Cloudshade: Poems of the High Plains (Sastrugi Press, 2015) and Voices at Twilight (Sastrugi, 2016). Founding Editor in Chief, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor. Lorihowe.com.

Review by Linnet Phoenix: Ain’t These Sorrows Sweet by Lauren Scharhag

Today, I finished reading Ain’t These Sorrows Sweet and what a journey we have been on, through dark places, wonderfully described: “Burned out encampments in railroad yards give no scent of myrrh.” This book contains beautiful, heart-wrenching narrative poems which it has been a tearstained pleasure to read. I realised that the book was a tour of grief in all its many forms. But it was deeply personal & equally universal. Who of us hasn’t felt: “I want to whisper to this broken bouquet it’s all right, darlings, I wasn’t good enough either.” In-between starting to read this book and finishing today, I suddenly, tragically, lost a very dear friend of mine. Someone who was so part of the furniture of my day-to-day world that it felt like the world had tilted off its axis. I found, as I moved further on in this book, that there came soothing tones: “I wonder what it’s like to live on sweetness and air, to have every branch and sprig a suitable bed for spinning dreams.” But, without a doubt, I was left with overriding feelings that were visceral and clear. I caught Covid for a second time just after the bereavement, and currently am struggling with if I will regain my senses of taste and smell. So, imagine my sense of synchronicity when I found a poem containing that same fear. These poems are indeed as the writer describes: “Now, when I think of poetry, I think it should be like that: hot, gleaming steel.” I would recommend this book to those who have known grief landing as it does, with clawed feet & black feathers. Creaking as it does, with black canine pad-foot and rancid breath; for, in the open, vulnerable, humanity of the writer sharing her personal history and world, you may find comfort and a hand to hold.

—Linnet Phoenix, author of Urban Mustang

Ain’t These Sorrows Sweet can be ordered at https://www.magicaljeep.com/product/sorrows/166