Monthly Archives: April 2011

Mission Statement (ish)


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Easter Weekend Outlaw Reading

Flipping through some back issues of Tree Killer Ink. Really like Todd Moore’s essay that kicked off Issue No. 1. “The Sign of the Outlaw” is a treatise on the ritual of “the middle finger” – and a light paean to the Outlaw School of Poetry, of which Moore was a key figure.

The anecdotes guiding the essay are sharp. The mixture of edgy poems with scholarly-tinged analysis is an effective form for the subject matter. And you’ll actually learn something before it’s done.

(Works as a good mission statement for publisher Epic Rites as well.)


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A (Quick) Read of Kryss’ ‘Print Shop’

‘Print Shop’; a poem by Tom Kryss (4 pages, Bottle of Smoke Press)

‘Print Shop’ is a (very) small, elegantly produced chapbook that simultaneously eulogizes, mourns and celebrates the printed word, and does so in a neat little package.

This chapbook is a vehicle for Kryss’ obit on the slow demise of a family print shop, and with its passing, much of that family’s legacy. The bulk of the low-rumbling, very prosey poem is a description of how the mechanics of the press were at the core of the rhythm of the family’s existence: “…life flowed/both ways between kitchen and shop”, Kryss writes. He notes, with practical sentiment, how the “words flung at warm steel were constant,/recognizable, from generation to generation, and never,/right up to the end, changed.”

But things did change. The poem reflects, in low-key but densely-packed description, what disappeared from the business and the family when the shop lost its main job producing a local newspaper and was reduced to printing “invitations and waybills.”

There’s not much more to the text of the poem, but the whole package makes a fine point. The chapbook – produced in a limited edition of 76 copies in letterpress printed text, hand bound, and with a lino block cover – gives off the feeling of something produced by “warm steel” rather than just coded and posted. The act of placing so much value in, and putting so much work into, a single piece of verse in this day/age is a confirmation of the value of craft over the ephemera of the digital – at least to the dedicated. Swimming in the ether may expose you to a greater potential audience but – this cottage industry of micropresses seems to cry – dry land offers a certain solid permanence.

(And, for a nice piece like this, a prime spot on the bookshelf.)


Find this, and some longer works at:

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A Read of Tree Killer Ink, no. 10

Tree Killer Ink, Epic Rites Press; no. 10 (12 pages)

Tree Killer Ink is not an arts and literary mag that invites calm reflection; it is meant to engage the reader enthusiastically and aggressively. Flip through the short prose and poetry that, on some pages in this issue, almost literally spears out from the backdrop picture of a dead, gnarled tree, and you’ll quickly realize that the subject matter isn’t meant for the delicate.

Issue 10 of the publication certainly shows great stylistic attention to presentation on the part of the Epic Rites folks. The dark shades and creepy fonts give the layout an almost Doom Metal feel. And that feeling also permeates many of the pieces themselves – Nahshon Cook’s ‘Last Night’ being a nice, compact example of dread and inevitability.

Darkness aside, there is a still a level of depth running through the work, as well as good variety in theme, and narrative or poetic style. John Dorsey offers some absurd humor in ‘An Excerpt from Stringer: The Love Song of Melvin R. Danforth’. R L Raymond and Wolfgang Carstens offer pieces tinged with a bit of a softer edge (although the edge is still quite capable of drawing blood).

And with John Yamrus, Rob Plath and Lyn Lifshin also included here, there are works that will still engage a casual reader, while also offering, perhaps, a gentler way home.



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A Read of Monty Reid’s ‘In the Garden (jan unit)’

“In the Garden (jan unit)” Poems by Monty Reid (20 pages, The Red Ceilings Press)


In 12 brief poems (1 for each month on the calendar) Monty Reid spins a cycle that mixes mythology, science and confessional into a cautiously metaphysical package.

He doesn’t work the garden/gardening conceit itself too deeply, refraining from easy and obvious metaphor. His objective seems much looser and consciously ambiguous.

The cycle could be a conversation between friends or lovers planning to tend a patch of earth. It could a god engaging its creations on their mythology. It could even be read as a dialogue of the mind with itself and its own processes, played out in a slight, suburban pastoral.

What certainly is at work is a look at how we struggle to build the meaningful and the lasting in the face of existential doubt. “Maybe the snow/won’t melt” says the narrator in “February” alluding to this comfortable hesitation at even starting towards a goal.

Reid’s own creations are little more than loose collections of sentences – not the most rhythmically satisfying poetic form, but appropriate for a work that is more about struggling with the act of creation rather than fully inhabiting the role of progenitor. Which, to force a little conceit of our own, does make for an interesting crop of thought.




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Bricks & Mortar, Paper & Binding

The arrival of the first big box bookstores seemed, to bibliophiles, like utopia on the one hand and a nightmare on the other. Utopia because, suddenly (and at least at first) many of the works of literature or otherwise that they craved were now at their fingertips. A nightmare because the arrival of these mega-chains sounded the death knell for many of the little stores that had sustained and nourished the literary culture in the first place. And it was easy to predict that when, inevitably, these behemoths eventually fell, there would probably be a bare cupboard left to take their place.

As that event is now coming to pass (at least in the U.S. with Borders, but surely to Chapters/Indigo in Canada before too long) we do have e-books and Amazon to cushion the blow – although these new institutions are also part of the problem. And there is still a ravenous, if smaller, appetite for the physical culture inherent in visiting real bookstores rather than just clicking through PayPal, and in owning well-designed collections of words rather than merely holding a license for an electronic file.

Well, coming to the rescue (or at least what seems like the first idea along the right path) is Fleeting Pages, what’s being billed as a “pop-up book emporium” by those behind the project. It’s an effort to literally fill the space left behind by an abandoned big box bookstore in Pittsburgh with small press as well as self-published works and turn it into one of those places we’d left behind. Once stocked, the store will only be open for about a month, largely as an experiment.

Now, who knows if this “pop-up” will end up as much more than an extended small-press book fair? But it certainly seems like a neat test-lab, and an experiment worth watching for those who still prefer bricks and mortar, and paper and binding.

Get the whole story at:

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A Read of the new John Yamrus collection

can’t stop now! poetry by John Yamrus (133 pages, Epic Rites Press)

It seems standard to begin a look at a John Yamrus book by noting how deceptively simple his poems are. Very short, clipped lines. Spare imagery. Microscope on the everyday.

But that deception is critical. Anyone can try to write like him. Few will do well enough that anyone else would want to read the result.

What shapes and makes a Yamrus poem is his narrative voice, a poetic mask uniquely his own – even if what characterizes it is just the edge of dry wit, with a little sympathy stropped in, too.

In this collection, that voice can relate the stories of a cast of everyday characters to comedic, but empathetic, effect; or take the piss out of the pretentious; or, in the specific case of “twenty four hundred years ago”, contrast the grand with the plain in a way that gently humbles both reader and poet.

Yamrus even takes a self-deprecating turn in “on reading some of”. In this poem, he writes of how a friend, unimpressed with his poetry, whips off his own Yamrus-style verse. Yamrus then neatly incorporates it into this, his own poem on the event -proving again, in that subtle yet cutting way, that many can try but few can do.

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