Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Read of Hemmings’ Cat People

Cat People by Kyle Hemmings (poems, 15 pages, Gold Wake Press)

Cat People is a messy bit of surrealistic fun. The chapbook is either: a collection of prose poems with an overriding cat conceit; the brief fictional biography of a woman named Kat told in a lyrical style; or a mix of all or some of the preceeding. Throughout, Hemmings keeps the reader bumping around in a pinball game of flashy images, metaphors and language.

Image-wise, it’s a real zoological potpourri, although the cat (and metonymic use of the cat body) is, quite rightly, front-and-centre. Here, the feline can represent everything from superstition and mystery to sexuality and slyness to a seething ferocity. Verse-wise, Hemmings can be playful and musical, as in “Star Mother”: 

“Running your hands over walnut wood, its veneer and lacquer, you traced the curves of scallop shells, scrolls in Braille, Ping dynasty servant girls serving tea.”

Or, in “Blue Hearts”, ostensibly a lover’s quarrel between “Kat” and “Pixie-Bob”, he does dry very well, observing how “[t]he rain is not logical, and contrary to popular belief, has no musical sense.”

The narrative thread taken up in the second half of the chapbook, though, is not tightly tied down. What seems at first to be a collection of disparate poems abruptly develops more solid characters and scenes – but doesn’t quite hold together in the process.

No matter. With its energy and music, the chapbook may best be read as a work meant to encourage the reader to luxuriate in language, like a cat bathing in the sun.


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A Read of Moulthrop’s Selected Stories

Grace: Selected Stories by Robert Moulthrop (49 pages, Wordrunner E-Chapbooks)

The first impression made by this short but rich story collection is quite contradictory to its title. Perhaps it should be called Transformation rather than Grace.  Many of the main characters within are experiencing a radical metamorphosis  – in lifestyle, consciousness, physical well-being or otherwise.  A state of purity is not what comes to mind after you’ve clicked through its pages.

In “Mrs. Mellors”, the title character suffers both physical deterioration as well as a mental decline that keeps shifting her in and out of her life and herself. The narrator of “Elvis’s Dog, the One Named Moonbeam” seems headed for a transformative moment of disappointment over a long-held (if trivial) belief. The main character of the title story is also at a tipping point. His consciousness has come unstuck in time, pirouetting around a professional tragedy that threatens to swell into a larger personal one. And the “grace” of the title is the small kernel of peace he finds while watching his children sleep – a moment of rest in his turmoil when “no one else is talking, and there’s only the silence of breath.”

The stories are charged by a roiling disorientation that marks most of the narrating consciousnesses. Moulthrop works that device with ambiguity. He doesn’t lead the reader directly towards the transformative experience but forces him or her to actively dig around to figure things out – that is, to piece together exactly what the heck is going on from the bits of madness.

The exception is “Uncle Louis”, the straightforward reminisence of a nephew looking back on a family member from his childhood, and evaluating his whole family in the process. Initially, he found his Uncle Louis “boring and scary”. But that changes once Louis, suddenly widowed, morphs into an aspiring Beat playwrite, something the nephew finds inspiring in his otherwise conservative, straight-laced family. When Louis puts on a reading of his ‘play-in-progress’ in the basement of City Lights Bookshop the family is invited to attend. Predictably, they storm out, sensibilities shocked by Louis’ new life, look and crowd. “And that was really all”, the nephew notes. “Change happens and then it stops, and for a while – sometimes a long while – things are a new same.” Such an ending does seem a bit pat, especially since, length-wise, this story is the centre-piece of the collection.

But perhaps that’s the point. In “Uncle Louis”, Moulthrop is suggesting that change is no unnatural state, and lightens the existential load of the melancholic reflection found in the other stories. Our best hope may be, he signals, to live neither in grace nor entropy, but through the recognition that there can be some occasional balance in-between.



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Literary Archaeology Pt. 1

What a disappointment. You’ve clicked through to a great looking site that has gobs of reviews, links, news, free e-chaps and more. But the links don’t work. The .PDFs have evaporated into the ether. The last issue from the RSS feed went out 17 months ago.

Such seems the case with The Agora Review, an electronic journal with a sparse but compelling green-o-chromatic schematica layout and linked full of interviews, reviews and printable broadsheets and chapbooks.

Well, the reviews, essays and interviews are still accessible. Check out “The blort of the Matter”, an entertaining poetry/essay hybrid by Clare Lacey, for example. Or dig through the big archive of small press reviews to discover buried treasure from the last three years or so.

Unfortunately, promised broadsheets and chapbooks now only get you a 404 page, and the last addition to the site of any kind seems to have been from June 2010.

Still, worth (slightly) dusting off at:

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A Cuppa PigeonBike

 PB & Coffee”:  Six Cups of Poetry is an experiment in flash publication. With a recent half-day call for submissions lasting from about morning until noon and a quick editorial turnaround resulting in a little e-chapbook released by the end of that day, the latest from PigeonBike Press is certainly a rush, in more than one sense of the word.

As one would expect from such a quick production, the poems are a bit thin on the structural side. However, they make up for it in spontaneity and energy, especially ian hanna’s very free-wheeling “smooth texture warm” and Fran Lock’s  “A Missing Person’s Report in six cups of Coffee” (which also showcases a well thought-out frame).

For a quick sip of this brew, go to:

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A Read of Lifshin’s A Taste of Hitchcock

A Taste of Hitchcock; poems by Lyn Lifshin (13 pages, Ten Pages Press)


Poems that celebrate other art forms are interesting not only for what they bring to the art under investigation, but for how that gaze can shape the observing eye. Think Williams on Brueghel or Kerouac on Bird. In those cases, the poets analyzed innate characteristics of the work of their subject while also drawing influences back to re-shape their own verse.

That’s not quite the way things work with Lyn Lifshin’s look at Alfred Hitchcock. The poetic mode of choice here is her standard short, iambic dimeter-ish lines which are driven by constant enjambment. Also, Lifshin’s concentration is less on Hitchcock’s artistic vision and craft than it is an imagination of the man behind the camera. Is that an ironic wink to the way in-depth analysis of film takes a backseat to celebrity culture? Or just her doorway into his work?

Either way, the poems are still inquisitive. “Fantasy Voyeur” imagines Hitchcock possessing a lurid sense of humour that makes up for some other key inadequacies. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” posits a symbiotic relationship between the director and his leading ladies that speaks to the raw power of the creative urge. Lifshin does, however, finally move a bit past the man and to his work in “As a Child”, noting that:

“He once said telling

stories to a captive

audience you have

to make believe,

imagine they can

come to love murder.” 


Well, maybe not love, but through Hitchcock’s vision, we certainly do come to a dark appreciation of its consequences. 

And while this idea is a door that Lifshin only tentatively steps through, it may be just the first step towards a more traditional inquiry. If, as noted inside, this e-chapbook is a selection from a promised longer work, let’s consider it the trailer for a full-length feature to come.


Interrogate it at:

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