Review by Aleathia Drehmer: PRYING by Jack Micheline, Charles Bukowski and Catfish McDaris

Prying is a collection of work from Jack Micheline, Charles Bukowski, and Catfish McDaris, which was originally published by Four-Sep Publications in 1997. The book has since fallen out of print and Four-Sep Publications is defunct. Michele McDannold, editor of Roadside Press, is bringing this long-lost collection back in a new light with an updated cover and new artwork by Scott Aicher, which really compliments the 1960s feel of the work inside. Roadside Press received express permission from the Micheline Foundation to reprint Jack’s work and that of Bukowski, since he gave the poems to Micheline. McDaris gave his permission as well, as he is the only one of the three still circling the planet.

The collection starts with five poems by Jack Micheline and they are truly the crowning jewel of Prying. His poems range from the late 60s to late 70s and capture the beat generation in a very musical and eloquent way. His poem “The Song of Kid Willie” from 1968 is the epitome of freedom of that time when youth were trying to break away from the indoctrinated identity given to them by their parents and society of the 40s and 50s. It is a classic struggle to find oneself in an era of upheaval. It is in this poem that Micheline gives us the thrumming beat like wheels on the highway and that feeling of noticing everything and nothing at the same time.

And many nights he wrote his poem on the thigh bone of hearts

Sky, tree, wind, rain, clear skies ahead

His song the open road

His song of love

Jack Micheline also gives a great post-war poem in “My Philosophy” that would have us always choosing the pen over guns. The poem shows how disgruntled he was with the way the world was being governed. His short but darling poem “The City” is a tender look at life unfolding on the edges of a city, including both rich and poor in its makeup.

But the highlight of Micheline’s offering in this collection is “Walking in Kerouac’s Shadow.” It is a poem that works as a summation of any artist’s life in any generation. It expresses the feeling of being disconnected from mainstream society while still having to be mired in it. Having to function within a machine that you hate, being this reluctant cog, but having the eyes of a wolf instead of the blinders of sheep. This poem sees the world for what it is—both the importance and the things disregarded by the masses. It is a timeless poem for a writer who is a junkie for words.

The second section of Prying features Charles Bukowski. In my lifetime, I have had a love-hate relationship with his work. At times, it is both thoughtful and vulnerable, and these moments have always been his best. His fallibility moves me more so than his ability to shock with the recollection of conquering women and being drunk. In my estimation, there will always be two camps of Bukowski that identify with either his brashness or his vulnerability. The four poems in this collection have a little of both.

Bukowski’s poem “extant” has a beat feel to it. I don’t remember coming up much in his work. It uses a lot of sound movement and is erratic. The content of the poem isn’t my cup of tea, but it was exciting to read a poem from him that felt experimental and playful. If you love his horse betting poems, then you won’t be disappointed with the inclusion of “d.n.f.”

For me personally, Bukowski’s best poem in Prying is “to weep in her hair” which is a poem that encompasses mid-life when our bodies fail us and fall apart. He sees himself in this light, examines the dark seed of imposter syndrome that haunts all writers, and how fear can keep us ignorant from the truth. He reaches, lightly, for his youth, imagining he can take the soprano who is the subject of the poem. Bukowski often portrays himself as a lover who takes more than he ever gives.

The difference in the factories was

We all felt our pain


In his poem “help wanted” we see more of the classic subject of women that Bukowski seems to hold on to. He has a love/hate relationship with women. He has a helplessness in their presence that comes out on the page where women seem to be objects who can both save and destroy a man.

I need somebody to pull the

Knife out.

The last section of the book features three pieces of short fiction from Catfish McDaris. He often feels like a bit of a shock value writer putting sexuality front and center in a no nonsense sort of way. Though it often isn’t my sensibility to enjoy this type of writing, I have to hand it to him that goals are achieved. In writing, if you get a reaction, either way, you’ve done your job as a writer. His work can create arguments for or against.

In “Splinter for the Winter,” McDaris starts and ends with a youthful sexcapade that has some elements of humor. I felt the best writing of this story came in the sections that he was describing a young girl’s redneck father. He has a good way of capturing the essence of people, especially when there isn’t any sexual overtone to it. But if you are one that likes stories about sexual escapades and the things that can go wrong when you date three women named Carol, simultaneously, then you’ll love “If This is Love I’m Not Happy.” It has a bit of adventure and definitely some humor.

For me, the shining star of Catfish’s collection is his story “Cobalt” which speaks about his time as a bricklayer, working with his grandfather and his uncle. He really crafts a wonderful short story filled with camaraderie and standing up for people he believes in, even if he might be the underdog in the fight.

A sickening crunch came from his breaking ribs. His nose exploded as I hit him in the face. Standing over him, I held the shovel ready to chop his head off like a rattler. The entire earth was trembling in slow motion.

This reissued collection, Prying, featuring Micheline, Bukowski, and McDaris is a must have for your collection. It is a time capsule of a time capsule to an era that feels so different from the one we are living in today. This is the power of books. It allows us to revisit times we lived before or to imagine ourselves there if we didn’t experience them firsthand. Add Prying to your shelves and go on a journey filled with Beat ideas, women, and mayhem.

—Aleathia Drehmer, author of Running Red Lights and others

a limited number of PRYING copies are available at

Disposable Darlings Anything but Disposable: a review by Julie Valin

Disposable Darlings Anything but Disposable

Todd Cirillo’s new collection of poems, Disposable Darlings, is like a “cosmic jukebox” of the human condition, playing all our favorite songs, depending on our mood. You want a love song? Go to the very first poem, “Magnolias,” and move to the sounds and scents of Spring—a new love blooming. Or flip through the raw mornings-after and cracked sidewalks to get to “A Romantic Gesture,” and feel like its your own heart you’re stepping over. You want to drink with the regulars at your favorite neighborhood bar? Drop a dollar for some Waylon and sit like saints on your chosen “barstool thrones,” admiring the liquor bottles that stand “like Gods under Christmas lights,” drinking down those gifts at the bottom of every glass. Sometimes you’re feeling introspective, and in that case you might shuffle over to “Luckenbach, Texas,” where your life matches your ripped jeans, busted heart, and a country song. Or turn to “The Poet Vs. The Artists,” where all you hope for is to “crawl off” with a free beer and a few lines to craft a poem alone. Feel like thrashing? Move to “Natural Disaster” and “Kick Out the Jams, Motherfucker.” After that, you will want nothing more than to sit on the back porch, humming the Blues. True rock ‘n roll comes through in the poem, “The Deal.” This poem rages against mediocrity and always walks away the cool guy without even trying, a cigarette pack rolled in its sleeve. “Skeletons” might as well be the collection’s theme song. It is everything portrayed in these poems, whether it be Cirillo’s broken bones and loves, self-deprecating wit, places and things he left behind, souvenirs and pirate treasure he collected along the way, bartenders who know his name, or subtle longing for someone to come home to—we all come out asking the question of ourselves: Didn’t you want it to be better?

The poems in Disposable Darlings are anything but disposable, but that’s not what Cirillo means. He is talking about moments. Moments he perpetually seeks that blink the word LOVE in neon lights. These moments are collected and captured for as long as the poem is written. They live by us coming back to the page, like playing our favorite songs.

—Julie Valin, author of Songs For Ghosts


Independent Book Review: Radio Water by Francine Witte

Radio Water
By Francine Witte
Genre: Literary Fiction / Short Stories
Reviewed by Nick Rees Gardner

Francine Witte evokes the sorrow of separation, the fear of alienation, and a
snippet of hope in this flash fiction collection.

All under 1000 words, most of the 44 stories in Francine Witte’s Radio Water have appeared separately before in literary journals and anthologies. Individually each story impresses its emotion on the reader, from the fear of a possible unplanned pregnancy to the denial of a partner’s abuse.

Witte’s collection builds on itself, drawing the reader into various worlds filled with physical and emotional danger and sometimes relief. Whether the reader only has two minutes to speed through a single story or a few hours to power through the entire book, they will walk away still reeling from Witte’s carefully chosen words.

Radio Water begins with four short gestures, all leaning toward the domestic.
“Fishsweat” deals with a mother fileting fish, “thwacking the heads off one by one
and tossing them in the bucket like they were somebody’s father, somebody’s
husband.” It’s a hint at missing husbands, at men who drift away from family.

But these very brief stories merge seamlessly into the more straightforward four-page
narrative of “Mimi Comes to the Door and No One Can Stop Her,” a story about
unwanted pregnancy and a woman who lays claim to a married man. While the under
one-page stories focus on an image or a moment and spiral out from there, “Mimi…”
takes a similar tact before merging seamlessly into the future tense, however dark and
rather hopeless that future may be.

While Witte’s stories often tackle similar subjects of unhappy relationships, second
families, abortions, abuse, and trauma, the collection is far from monochromatic as
each story is a unique case, specifically and artfully handled. Witte’s prose is tight and
lyrical, filled with fresh descriptions like a father’s “snoozy chest” or “The salt lip of
the surf.” Some stories are told in disparately-titled sections like “Then, Thenner,
Thennest,” or “How to Answer a Door” which is split up into sections titled “Slowly,”
“Quickly,” “Asking,” “Not Asking,” etcetera.

With fresh language and unique patterns and forms, Witte explores many aspects of
her characters’ fears and traumas, encompassing a wide range of experiences for the
reader to dive headlong into and come away with a deeper understanding.
Witte tackles the toughest of personal issues, and though, at times, the writing borders
on the bleak, the stories, with all their weight, also offer hope. The ten-line “Middle of
the Night” ends with “the cloud of my father in someone else’s sky.” And “This is a
Secret, So Shhhhh” comes to the conclusion: “we slip secret out the door and into the
world.” Escape, independence, and freedom hover over the page and beyond it. The
very act of writing, and then reading these stories hints at life beyond the trauma, an
externalization of the trouble within. All the tough subjects of life and love and family
are laid bare, treated with beautiful language and reformed into a heartfelt wish.

Radio Water isn’t a guide to healing trauma. It is an acceptance of that trauma, an
owning of fear and uncertainty, and a reminder that we are not alone.

Purchase a copy of Radio Water at  or wherever books are sold online.

Review by Dan Denton: Disposable Darlings by Todd Cirillo

A look at Todd Cirillo’s Disposable Darlings

I have never met Todd Cirillo, and I’ve only read a few of his poems in online zines over the years. He has however been mentioned a few times in conversations with poets that I dig, so I was curious to take a look at his forthcoming collection of poems Disposable Darlings from Roadside Press. I read through it four times in seven days, and the book bears the mark of a good one: it gets better each time you read it.

The book is peppered with many short, punchy poems that snuggle in between the longer ones that read like triumphant anthems, odes and psalms to love, lost love, poetry, friends, lovers, poetic comrades, juke boxes, and dive bars. One of the first things I noticed and appreciated was Cirillo’s knack for humor and self deprecation. He decries the too polished and the too serious poets. He embraces the flawed and the laid back. He eschews signs and omens tossing his luck to the fates of fuckedupness. He sits comfortably with Willie and Waylon, elevates a one of a kind friend to legend status, canonizes the ordinary regulars of no name watering holes, finds adventure on the way to weekday coffee shops, and not only names his skeletons, but drags them out of every closet dancing with them down the streets of New Orleans. He celebrates each drink like it was his first, and his poem “Saints of the Neons” is by far one of the best I’ve ever read about regular barflies. “Here, we are all equal -/equally lost/equally broke/equally off/and we look almost innocent/under the neons.”

His poem “Dear Sweetheart” reads like a modern letter to a young poet from an unlikely Rilke, as Cirillo writes “…and have the sense/to fall in love/again and again/with that moment…”

In the poem “What the Hell Am I Doing Here” he describes a life lived “…like repeatedly/going on first dates/that no one shows up to.” A line so well written in it’s awkwardness that I wish I’d written it. There are other lines that make your heart skip a beat throughout the book like the entire poem “Moving In.” Man, it’ll be a favorite of mine for a long time coming.

And Disposable Darlings will be a book of poems that I’ll read a dozen times more. This is what poetry is to me, and should be to you. Playful. Observing. Saving judgement for those on pedestals and never the ones in the gutter. Poetry that finds company in the alone times and comfort in the ordinary ones.

My friends that told me about Todd Cirillo were right. He’s a poet worth reading, and now I find myself in the middle of one of the most exciting times for an avid poetry lover, that of discovering a writer that I like reading, knowing he has other books out there that I can’t wait to get my hands on. The only thing better than that is a bonafide great first date.

That’s what this book is: the next best thing to a great first date.

—Dan Denton, Author of $100-A-Week Motel and The Dead and the Desperate


2 poems from Susan Ward Mickelberry’s AND BLACKBERRIES GREW WILD

Last Night I Sat Alone

Last night I sat alone waiting for you
on the ground in the sun under the oak,
as I had waited long ago.
The wind rustled the trees and the undergrowth.

I drew with a stick in the sand
what looked like a Mayan temple.
My white t-shirt reflected the last sun.
I waited, but you didn’t come.

A black dog came out of the woods
and caught me unaware. I waited,
but you were caught up in your living
and had forgotten me.

The wind blew over my shoulder.
Near me the raspberries grew.



Everything seems to be
moving toward me.

at a steady speed.

Until it gets close, and
then it slows down.

And then it comes right on in.

It doesn’t seem to be in my body.

Where did it go?


Susan Ward Mickelberry, born in Miami during WWII, has lived around the continental US and in Africa, where she spent several childhood years in Asmara, Eritrea, an event that colored her life. She earned an MA in English Literature from the University of Florida and lives with her cats in Gainesville where she worked as an editor and writer at UF. A lifelong student of ballet and dance, she teaches yoga and participates in regional poetry readings and events, including PoJam, the longest running open mic in Florida. Her poem “The Conversation” was Finalist in the Florida Poetry Contest at the Florida Review. Other poems appear in Blue Moon Review, Via I, Greensboro Review, Florida Quarterly, The Melrose Poetry Anthology, This is Poetry, Volume IV: Poets of the South, AC PAPA No. 3, and others.

Written over a lifetime, these lyrical poems reflect on childhood, early marriage, motherhood, and multiple long relationships in what proves to be rocky going. The author puzzles, attacks, muses, jokes, and meditates, seeking a way through ever-changing personal landscapes situated within the cultural tumult of late-twentieth-century America and more specifically in the strange beauty of north-central Florida. In several poems, she contemplates her nomadic youth as a military kid; born in Miami, she eventually lived in six states and spent two far-flung years in Asmara, Eritrea, Africa. The shadowy but powerful memories of those early years—hibiscus, clouds, elusive scents, radio tunes, flowering gardens and trees—permeate these musings by a poet trying to find some sense and intelligence somewhere in this always disappearing world, looking for grace, finding herself a little at a time. Influenced by authors as diverse as Mark Strand, Charles Bukowski, and the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, Susan Ward Mickelberry presents the outcomes in AND BLACKBERRIES GREW WILD.

purchase And Blackberries Grew Wild here >>

Reading by Francine Witte: “Balance” from RADIO WATER

short interview and reading by Scot Young on JAM Sessions with Joe Mykut

Review by Nadia Bruce-Rawlings: RADIO WATER by Francine Witte

review first published on A THIN SLICE OF ANXIETY (Anxiety Press)

Radio Water, published by Roadside Press, is a beautiful collection of flash fiction from author Francine Witte. Witte writes with such poetry and grace. Every word is thought out, every action flows. The theme is mostly the dysfunctional family, women and children who have been let down, which of course has been overtold, but not in this case. Witte makes it all new again with her sparsity of words and her gorgeous imagery.

Spoiler alert: what follows is perhaps my favorite of her “stories,” the final one of the collection, entitled simply “Sister:”

“She’d follow me, puppy that she was, the two of us new in the bicycle wind. The mist of adolescence just ahead but not just yet. She’d grab the flounce of my jacket, she on her roller skates, me on my bike. She’d squeal me to go faster, go faster. I wanted to slow down to an ooze. Never wanted to get to the part where her daughter calls one night to say she’s gone. How even now, I can’t help but look behind sometimes to see if she’s still there.”

Beautiful. The whole collection leaves one breathless. I honestly want to read it again – I had previously read the title story, “Radio Water” somewhere, and this time I loved it even more. It brought back memories of summers at the lake in British Columbia with a drunk father and codependent mother.

Another favorite (I hate to spoil the collection for everyone, but damn this is good). “Milk”:

“My mother and the milkman, because she is very old, and they used to leave milk in glass bottles in metal boxes and somehow it never went bad. Tuesdays, my mother would lean in the doorway, all sashay and catpurr while my father rattled to work on the 8:15. And my mother and the milkman, later rattling in my brother’s room, and my brother in the Vietnam sun, his shaky grenade hand at the top of his arm. How later, months or even a year went by, before we got the telegram. Mother shaking in the loop of Daddy’s arms. Milk sold now in cartons. In the supermarket. Where anyone could watch.”

Concise and gorgeous, Ms. Witte’s writing makes me want to write more frequently and better. Get this collection, you won’t regret it.

—Nadia Bruce-Rawlings, author of Driving in the Rain and Scars

Review by Steven Meloan: The Dead and the Desperate by Dan Denton

If you’re looking for a tale of personal purgatory but ultimate redemption, The Dead and the Desperate is the book for you. There have been many literary takes on blue collar life in America—dead-end jobs, dead-end relationships, and often mixed with substance abuse or variations of mental illness. But as a deft and brutally honest storyteller, Dan Denton manages to make such well-trodden paths not only compelling and personal, but literally a page-turner. You can’t wait to see what crazy shit will come down next.

And there is an overarching theme in the book of the soul-crushing toll that factory/blue collar life takes upon those trapped in grinding work hours and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Yet amidst challenges and experiences that might have ended a lesser person, Denton manages a wry sense of dark comedy, mixed with an almost educational take on an American middle class that has been ground down by our current corporatocracy.

Assorted short chapters of the book focus specifically on truly illuminating topics like the economics/psychology of sex work, the history of the factory as an institution, economic disparity, the rise of inner-city crack and associated incarcerations, mood disorders/SSRI’s/Big Pharma, the disintegration of “the American Dream,” and the ensuant social fallout of globalization.

But it is the all-too-human ordeals that drive the story—a descent into the depths, the road back, and then a “return with the elixir” (in the form of this book). Denton has come away with a hell of a life-tale, is now many-years clean and sober, and living the life of a full-time writer.

Not everyone has a compelling story to tell. And not everyone with a compelling story quite knows how to tell it. Neither of those things are the case with Dan Denton.

Read it and see!

—Steven Meloan, author of St. James Infirmary

an excerpt from RADIO WATER, a collection of flash fiction, by Francine Witte

Night is a Man

A man without hands, without feet. Night has nothing but eyes and ears and a scrap of heart.

You left ten weeks ago, and Night is what I sleep with.

Tonight, I wake Night up and take him to the grocery store. On the way there, Night looks at the moon, down to a sliver now, but still. If Night had a voice, he would tell me how the moon is his.

I walk up to the doors that whoosh open. Night doesn’t fit. He is sky, after all. He is dreams, after all.

I tell Night to wait, and thank God for his ears.

I walk inside, my slippers back home, and I pad my feet down the aisles towards the bags and bags of chips.

Since you left me, I look at food. It looks at me. I have put on the weight I was afraid to. If you still loved me, you wouldn’t now.

I pay for the chips and slip them into my jacket. They make a bump. They are the child we will never have.

I walk through the doors. The sun has shown up and pushed the darkness aside. I look everywhere, but Night has vanished. All eyes and ears of him. And like you, nothing but a scrap of his heart left behind.


RADIO WATER is Francine Witte’s latest collection of flash fiction stories. The title story was recently featured in the most recent WW Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America (2023.) This story, like many others in the collection deal with Witte’s recurring theme of family in the process of breakdown. Other themes are romance, growing up, and the environment. The stories are all under 1000 words, and are told with Witte’s signature mix of quirk and poetic style. These are short, short stories that have a novel’s worth of emotion.

Purchase at