Reviews Previously Posted
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St. Cecelia's Daze
By Katrin Talbot
Poetry Book, 62 pp.
Parallel Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-934795-13-2

         As in her first poetry collection, In Which Miss Maybelline Is Introduced To The Honourable Dr. Suzuki, music and poetry are inextricably intertwined in Katrin Talbot's life. Words and images, filtered through musical tropes, come naturally as breathing. St. Cecelia's Daze exhibits Talbot's broadening scope as a poet, indelibly guiding the reader through four segments—Recitative, Scherzo, Modulation to Relative Minor and Standard Rep—as if perusing an actual concert programme. Whether it's a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, a Bartok violin quartet or the award-winning "Sewing With Chopin", Talbot is the gentle, if firm, instructor marrying concepts to its appropriate language. At times, though, this dichotomy threatens to break her life apart, as in the poem "Around the Globe": My head now/tight with Word, or, more exactly, in the final poem she tossed the pearl/slo-mo/into that untidy/treasure chest/I hide in/the back/of my untidy/head. Nevertheless, a primal, even sensuous joy wriggles through each poem, urging the reader to seek out more than the advantages of/a delicate/life.

Review by James P. Roberts

On the Other Side of the Eye
By Bryan Thao Worra
Poetry Book
Sam's Dot Publishing, 2007

         Once one has read several hundred poetry collections over the course of a handful of years, it takes an especially powerful and unique voice to separate itself from the vortex of black ink spilled on white paper. Often these voices come from outside the American experience, yet uses itself to translate that experience with fresh insights. Bryan Thao Worra's first collection, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE, clearly distinguishes itself as apart yet mixed, full of strange devices and exquisitely memorable constructs that leaves the reader immersed in wonder. A Laotian-American writer, he is replete with the memory of his native country, "The Kingdom of a Million Elephants", and uses their traditions of oral story-telling and song in his poetry. Yet his reactions to being displaced cannot be denied or withheld, as evidenced in the poem "Aliens": "As I run down my strange streets/an accidental alien without/ a ray gun." An ardent Lovecraftian scholar, Bryan Thao Worra pays oblique tribute to HPL in "The Deep Ones" adroitly mixing images of things rising from the sea with the ambitions of his native Laos after civil war and despot rule. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE is rife with pop culture references, yet underlying all is a universal truth: that poetry speaks of the human experience and all that it contains.

Review by James P. Roberts

Mandelbröt Room: The Intermedia Art of R. Virgil Ellis
By R. Virgil Ellis
Woodhenge Productions, 2007
Cambridge, Wisconsin

         R. Virgil Ellis, unlike many of his contemporaries, has embraced the technological voodoo of the Computer Age with a vengeance. In his new multi-media DVD, he compiles excerpts from four past performances into an often stunning array of vibrant colors, radically different musical modes, and his own eclectic and passionate brand of poetry. These performances include those with Ellis's groups Fuzzy Logic and the Chamber Rock Ensemble. In the title selection "Mandelbrot Room" Ellis achieves a psychedelic trip through the caverns of the mind. His voice cajoles and captivates, the music ethereal yet contemplative reminding me at times of a little known group of the Seventies called Esperanto who had an LP of early Electric Light Orchestra flavored tunes called 'Danse Macabre'. "Make Me A Shaman" comes over as a trifle melodramatic with the music dissonant and jarring at times. The images are often at odds with the tenor of the poetry. "Derridada" is probably my favorite, an amusing play with language punctuated with a nice score that floats between jazz and hip-hop. After all these attempts to draw the listener/viewer in to a virtual other-world, the last selection, "Formula One", completely baffles with its mundane approach to a single subject matter. I suppose it represents a particular interest of Ellis's but it seems a distinct letdown. MANDELBROT ROOM isn't background noise to a sustained conversation; it requires a practiced effort to view in its entirety. One can imagine this viewed on a wall-sized screen in a living room and be an enjoyable experience, but seen on a computer screen it seems boxed, straining to get out and expand.

Review by James P. Roberts

Obit for the Warehouse
By Jaime Niedermeier
8 pages
Duplex Press
Madison, Wisconsin

         Obit for the Warehouse is a lament for Mierda Verde, a do-it-yourself music venue in a local warehouse, that was profiled in Madison's most prominent yuppie nightlife paper without permission of the venue's caretakers, and, predictably, shut down just after.
Niedermeier has chosen a local event, really the end of a too-temporary local tradition as her subject—or as the object which allows us to focus a poignant, sharp recalling of any scene lost to petty personal ambition and stifling authority. Her opening has a fine balance of irony and earnest caring, letting us feel the fine balances that kept the venue vital and viable, and using the few, raw strokes to remind us of the cheaper irony of how mass-media ambition buried something living:

Beloved and pissed-on
graffiti van-husk
shipwrecked at the door:

it looked sensational in the article.

The rest of her piece has this much bite and vision and more.
Niedermeier does not offer or need any manifesto against the state or any more nebulous manifestation of "the man"—she recalls the ekstasis and pan-ic of the lost venue, by language: always sharp, often visionary, and always taking an ironic turn for every fancy—language that might spark an ekstasis itself—then she tells, in passing, that the venue was maintained against physical fire; against everything but the ambitions of a small-time lifestyle-magazine reporter.
Niedermeier does not have time to bitch: she has a case to make, and more than that, a vision to give to the reader from an experience whose local material medium has been erased. She knows what a poem is, that she has to give the reader something as vibrant—and as pungent—as Mierda itself. She makes her case, and very possibly makes what new life there can be for what was lost.

Review by Benjamin Pierce

Old Reviews: Reviews previously posted on this page.

Chasing Saturday Night
Poems About Rural Wisconsin
By Michael Kriesel
23 Poems / 39 Pages / $10
Marsh River Editions
M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, WI 54449
ISBN: 0-9772768-0-5  

   Let me cut to the chase for all you poetry review skimmers out there. (You know who you are.) Chasing Saturday Night by Michael Kriesel is one of the best books of poetry I have ever read. Go out and buy it right now.
   It is great because, like every seminal work of poetry, it is thematically rich, technically strong, readable, surprising, insightful and entertaining. Michael Kriesel drills for meaning in the middle of no-where-Wisconsin and produces a truly remarkable work of art.
   I asked Kriesel when he started writing, and how the hell he got so good at just 44 years of age. “I started writing poetry at 16,” he said. “It was an outlet for my emotional distress, and I was blessed with not one but two teachers who spent hours every week with me outside of class, critiquing my poems. And there was a small zine that started in my home town in '78, at the same time, and the editor & I became good friends. A classic example of when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The zine was Jump River Review, edited by Mark Bruner.”
   I commented about the thematic richness found in Chasing Saturday Night with its subtle and economic use of words. Kriesel said, “Perhaps some of the thematic depth you mention results from the highly charged nature of some of the images used. For the last 7 or 8 years I've been studying a number of esoteric systems, part of which has involved working with symbols, archtypes-- studying the myths they sprang from, the purpose they serve in our collective unconscious, how we construct our own personal mythologies, creative visualization, striving towards psychological unity & self-balance. Things bleed through. Then you get that economy of words with revision. Tons. Each poem's at least 5 hours, often up to 20. In 2 or 3 hour work sessions each morning. With much strong coffee, a formica table, a picture window, an easy chair.”
   Kriesel writes like the owner of a crystal shop must walk—with gentle, alert attention. Here is one example of such a poem, “Drinking with Your Ghost After the Funeral”: “Sitting in a pickup in the middle of a field / the engine ticking down to nothing / windows filled with rows / of corn stalking into shadow / I drink until you’re sitting next to me / though we both know / you’re really at the cemetery / what was left of you after the accident concealed / by oak and bronze and varnish and miraculously healed / in everybody’s memory / still the whiskey / lurches back and forth between us in the muddy / light until the bottle’s dry / and dark as that smoked glass / we used to watch eclipses through / though tonight / there’s just a wobbly moon / and a few raccoons / stealing corn like no one’s there.”
   His work walks poetry’s razor’s edge again and again, and never falls into maudlin soup on one side or excessive cleverness on the other. He is masterfully aware of the place he is creating. I noted the often fragile, forlorn and wry quality to this collection. How did he acquire this quality? He responded: “Harsh experiences I've had: from growing up with an abusive, alcoholic dad; from my decade in the Navy's paranoid environment, from my own tour of duty as someone who drank too damn much on a regular basis. Plus it's a common reaction to the way the world often is. Especially in the arts, where intelligent, emotionally hurting people often go to heal themselves.” What is marvelous about poets well-schooled in form and word is their ability to take the personal and turn it into a universal. Kriesel excels at this. His poems are as well calibrated as the best poems I have ever read.
   Reading Chasing Saturday Night I could have extracted stanzas that describe place with such economy and beauty, it would have been quite enough for me just to read these stanzas alone. Such as these lines from, “Grampa’s Old Place”: “tar paper shines across the yellow wheat / the basswood siding’s gone // so soft your thumbnail could mark it / but it soaked up paint like sunshine.” Or this one from “Communion”: “ It’s cool / the way a basement is in August / dark except for one small window / floating high above us / like in church / the bottom half cut off by grass // the only other light’s a bulb / tiny as a child’s night-light / mounted on a grinding wheel / bolted to a workbench.” Or this from “Saturday Morning”: “while between the fresh air and the sun / part of me starts to doze / my body grows light as sawdust / far away a chainsaw buzzes / like the season’s first mosquito.”
   I asked Kriesel about place. He said, “A friend recently told me, 'Everybody lives someplace and the work should show it. Homeless poetry doesn't interest me.' I got a good chuckle from that. All poetry is regional poetry, to some degree. Chasing Saturday Night is set in rural Wisconsin, peopled with relatives & farmers. But the poems deal with universal human themes since humans are the same everywhere at their core, despite differences in customs, education. I've also been writing minimalist nature poems for several years. Which have a long tradition in the Far East. And in even these, place plays an important role. Seeping through in an image or two. You see, we live in the world, much as some poets would deny this. Genius loci. The spirit of the place we live in fills us. People in rural environments know this intimately, living it each day. Their urban counterparts exist at a further remove from this. I grew up in rural central Wisconsin. Have always been more sensitive to my natural environment, sometimes preferring trees to people. That's changing as I grow more social. Also as a teen I loved the long descriptive paragraphs in H.P. Lovecraft's weird fiction. Setting really sets the mood, personification of an aura or emotion, again that genius loci that that makes puppets of the players sometimes, other times just coloring our souls.”
   He does not use punctuation and this only serves to accentuate the clarity of these poems. Nothing weighs them or holds them to the page not even a comma. When asked about this lack of punctuation, he said, ”I started doing this in '97 when I started writing short bursts of image-based spiritual poems that were trying to convey the epiphanies, the insights and breakthroughs I was having as a result of meditation & other disciplines. It was hard trying to verbalize these abstractions, ideas of a basically often nonverbal nature; so stripping things down, purifying the language seemed a good idea and did help. Now, later on down the line, it keeps my lines clean, pared. I'm writing longer narrative pieces without punctuation, and to do that you have to write clearly, clean.”
   Retrospection collides with place in Chasing Saturday Night. We find a man at middle age looking back. I asked Kriesel about his childhood. “I lived in my head, and still do, pretty much,” he said. ”I was born in 1961 in Wausau, Wisconsin, a town of 40,000 in the middle of the state's dairyland. My father worked in pre-fab housing construction, and was a foul-tempered drunk. My mother was (and is) a saint, with a heart as big as a duck. But this was 1961, and women weren't independent like today. She was stuck at home with no job or driver's license. I was an only child until I was 10. My brother's a trucker. I was quiet and orderly. Read lots. Played by myself. I wasn't happy or unhappy. I didn't have much for playmates out in the country. But there were a few friends at school. When I discovered comic books at 12 it opened a universe for me. It possessed my imagination. If there'd been comic book teachers in high school instead of English teachers, I'd be drawing & writing Batman today, instead of versifying.”
   Okay, now that all the review skimmers have left us, let me make this offer to you - the good, the true and beautiful reader of this review. You must have a copy of this book; so I will buy it for a few of you—or ten to be exact. That’s right; I will take money out of my pocket in order to put this book into your hands. Here are the rules: since this review will appear in various publications at different times, the first four readers who e-mail me their name and address in November 2005 will get Chasing Saturday Night free and delivered to their door. The first three readers in December 2005 and the first three readers in January 2006 will also get free copies—one per person. Reach me at
   Sometimes a “reviewer” falls in love. Sometimes he gets off the fence and gets swept away into the poems, suspending disbelief and discovering a few hours later that he’s been Chasing Saturday Night.

—Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred print and electronic publications. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing and most recently he read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry the most recent entitled, The Last Time. He was recently appointed to the Poet Laureate Commission for the State of Wisconsin and he is the poetry editor for Word Riot ( He is also on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  You may find additional samples of his work by going to and you may write him at

The Last Time
by Charles Ries
The Moon
PO Box 3444, Tucson, AZ 85722

      Charles Ries has again put together a collection of poems that reflect his ability to examine his surroundings and himself with a skeptic’s eye and a romanticist’s ideals. When he combines the two, he offers readers a rich assortment of perspectives of the human condition—both actual and imagined. He has succeeded in doing that in The Last Time, his fourth book of poetry, published recently by The Moon of Tucson, Arizona.
      With his heart steeped in the beauty, emotionality and the culture of Mexico, but with his feet planted in Wisconsin, Ries demonstrates his progress as a poet and participant in our current society. He has, in the past, been described as failing “to realize simplicity” as the way to reach the state of happiness. In this newest work, he presents several poems that address his understanding of the need to live simply, yet his words acknowledge how the world gets in his way, as it does for all of us.
      “Thin Sip of Ice Water” indicates the changes in his outlook. “And why was I even trying to warm this glacier?/ I guess hoping hot lava ran beneath such cold-weather veins./ Sweet surrender and Patsy Cline might co-habit this vision in black velvet.” /
      In a brief interview, when asked about his love of all things Hispanic, Ries noted “It is a wonderful collision of culture, religion, art and poverty. It has not become bloated with money and stuff as ours has … Mexico is magic to me … The people … don’t need a priest as intermediary (with God.)” His view of Mexico has become synonymous with dreams as in “Fly, Fall Dreaming,” where he admits, “My dream today is for a lover./ My dream doesn’t require her to grow old with me and rub my forehead as I lay dying./ She only needs to fill my dream time./ My moment here and now.// Isn’t that why we dream?/ To have the impossible for just a moment?/ To reach for things beyond our grasp during those times when falling and dreaming live suspended above our kitchen sink, answering machine and dinner table?”//
      Ries clearly knows that life is never predictable. He also knows enough to recognize meaningful bits of time as they occur. In “Red Head,” (about a real mentor/friend/muse), the poet speaks pensively: ”When I am with her, being is like breathing and long silences are as productive as two-hour conversations./ Love often finds us this way—/ Right person, wrong place/ Wrong time, right person/ Right woman, near death.”/ He concludes, “I will be happy to hold her in my heart as a perfect moment when love blew through the right window at the wrong time.”
      The reader understands Ries would prefer to keep these moments close, even when outlined in sadness, rather than not have them at all. With “Anti-Gravity Man,” Ries relates to that empty place in all humans, the part of us that sets us on a path marked by introspection, dreams, wishes and an unending search for the person, the work or the passion that we hope may fill that mysteriously barren space. Ries writes, “ He tried to fill the hole—find/ the center of what fell out of him.”/ He describes the uncertainty of direction that underlies most lives: “Most days he felt he wasn’t even standing on/ earth. But he wanted to.// He theorized that a heart must hold the universe and weigh ten thousand pounds./ It is a heart that keeps feet on the floor.”//
      A man who has lived much—emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, Ries reveals his comprehension of how connection to others makes us real when he states, ”Nothing mattered to this untethered floating pilgrim, but finding a cure/ for his gaping hole. A yearning he did not acknowledge until the day/ he became firmly rooted in her.”//
      Throughout this book of poetry, Ries examines the joys of being truly alive. He frequently emphasizes just how difficult humans find the reach for perfection, as in “Perfect Saint,” where he appreciates a Latin saint, Maximon, who forgives “any transgression.” “He rises with the sun and burns all night long.// How glorious to be naked/ beneath a blanket of forgiveness.”//
      “Bad Buddha” presents Ries’s wish to give into wild emotionality, his desire to spend some time living without detachment and discernment. The reader realizes that beneath his peaceful exterior, odd pieces of anger and indignation roil within his inner self and that even though he had actively sought calm for himself, there are days he would choose to move outside his compassion like much of the rest of the world. “I’d like a few of my old attachments/ back. Wrap a tasty wad of anger/ around my fist and pound it home/ … So come to think of it, I guess I do/ have a few nasty attachments dangling / from my purified psyche …”/
      The range of the poems in The Last Time makes known the poet’s personal growth since the publication of his first book, Bad Monk: Neither Here Nor There. He is less confused about love and more in tune with what love means. He tells richer stories and owns more depth of feeling than in his previous offerings.We benefit exponentially from his development as a poet.
      One of Ries’s poems, “Below the Floor,” underscores how distance between self and others causes isolation, and how he has dealt with that distance one occasion. “I live in the basement/beneath the footsteps./ . . . My ex-wife lives one floor above,/ 10,000 miles away./ My daughters with wings/ sail between heaven and earth./ Getting honey from the clouds/ and iron from the brown soil.// My possessions are ideas./ My lovers’ names all rhyme./ My conquests are fictionalized.// The shadow side of home sweet home,/ where a giant prowls naked beneath the floor …”/
      The title poem, “The Last Time,” is both sadly reminiscent and celebratory of the paradoxes of love. Ries captures the sensuality, the fragility and the wonder of how love begins and how, unfortunately, it may end. He also reminds us that we treasure the fragments that remain because of the delight, the heightened senses that keep us open to opportunity. Ries asks,”Do you suppose love—true love—parts/ the curtain and allows angels and night visitors/ to circle this light? A light that smells like cinnamon/ and sounds like children’s whispers./ We had only to breathe the same air to believe it.”//
      In that poem, as in others in the book, Ries demonstrates his increasing ability to see and describe the Unpredictability of relationships, the pursuit of living fully, and the courage to see life changes with “new eyes,” as Proust encouraged all of us to do. Ries’s attitude shows us how.

Lou Roach (This review was first published in Free Verse)

Catch and Release, poems by Karla Huston
2005, 31 pages, $10.00
Marsh River Editions
ISBN  0-9718909-8-6

  In Karla Huston's latest chapbook Catch and Release, the reader is seamlessly transported all the way from a fourth-grade infatuation to a middle-aged mother dirty-dancing in the kitchen in the hilarious poem "How I Went from Cooler than Ratshit to Lame and Really Annoying."  These poems posess a remarkable immediacy, as if the narrative of each poem were indeed  happening as we read them, from the shores of a  Midwestern lake to deserts filled saguaros—their ancient arms raised/ in praised of great and dangerous things.
   Huston is repeatedly fearless in her poems, veering the reader into bold and unexpected places, as in the poem "Eighth  Hour," a wry musing  on the significance of the number 8.  Aren't odd numbers more satisfying?  The Sacred One, the Three Graces, the 5 W's of reporting … she asks.  After encountering the Beatles and the Beatitudes, we arrive at the eight ladybugs stuck tight to my windshield and the glorious surprise of maples trees swallowed by sun.  
  Several poems explore the absurdities of our daily lives, as in her delightfully fresh prose poem "Run Amok," where the speaker takes to reading the tabloid headlines while waiting in the supermarket checkout line.  She gets carried away—as the reader does with her—in the frenzy of Lizard Man clubbing a woman to death in the South, the Abominable Snowman forming an army in Tibet, and finally, the dire possibility of any minute New York City1s gators will mutate into Republicans.
  None of these poems shy away from sorrow, as the Niagara Falls jumper who does it for the cold cocoon of it/tumbling/throwing me/against every thing/that had ever gone wrong, a pristine and compassionate revelation of how people might respond to the pain of this life.  In her stunning title poem "Catch and Release," Huston wonders about the two boys discovered under frozen ice, the grief that will abide and yet inevitably change form in the families left behind:  a different ache will lure them/and they will know/ there is no getting beyond the pull of the shore.  The dead have their own living presence here—the second rising that always comes in spring—and, thus, a kind of aching consolation for the living.
  Often feisty, funny and always steeped in emotional truth, this chapbook is to be savored and returned to again and again.  With an almost joyful sense of agony, it makes us remember all the selves we were and might yet be.

—Andrea Potos

A report on Hermine Meinhard’s BRIGHT TURQUOISE UMBRELLA (2004,
Madison reading

Hermine Meinhard appears to be in her fifties; soft salt-and-pepper hair somewhat short, cool glasses, a petite frame, very soft-spoken voice. Pauses, lengthy pauses, direct eye contact, and smiles give her reading an authoritative voice that is so very inviting and warm. She is the poetry editor of 3rd Bed, One of their interests is in historical documents. Her MFA is from Sarah Lawrence, and she teaches at NYU and the NY Writers Workshop at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.

Do you revise?

“I am not a heavy reviser. My work is getting the raw language on to the page”

Do you like Russell Edson?

Yes, WAS important; she still likes him but writes more about real experiences than Edson.
Meinhard tries to find ways to the unknown, the unconscious and uses “tricks” to do so, such as taking notes while reading from a book. This helps her to ponder “what is drawing me to this book.” One book, a Field Guide to Insects, she mentioned as an inspiration.

Umbrella draws on her childhood. “I use tricks to generate the language. I’m very organic with how I work with form.” The shape of her poems must fit the form. She is not referring to received forms, except for the prose poem. She started out in fiction and went to prose poems.

Meinhard needs unstructured time—as part of her process—in addition to time for reading and writing. She says she can read all day. Her visit to Madison was a kind of “vacation” and she lolled luxuriously in bed in the mornings reading (at Best Western Inn on the Park). Tricks: free writing, using dreams, more.

Meinhard conducted a workshop at Room of One’s Own where exercises involved handling unrelated household objects; the participants alternated placing them in arrangements on the table, then wrote descriptions or about whatever thoughts these objects/activities stimulated. The second round used the first writings as material for a take-off point.

A student asks where she likes to write: “I like to be home. I write in my bedroom. I think because bed is connected to the unconscious/dream. But one time I was on the sofa during a summer I was not fully well, and a wonderful breeze came in through the window, and it brought me the poem “Shore.” (p.16 in Umbrella) Meinhard also says she was “almost a hermit” for a long time in her life.

Title of the book? Meinhard likes the vivid image it conveys and says the titular poem (p. 32) brings together the themes of the book: ocean, body, food, animals, unexpected meeting…. Her titles ALWAYS come after the writing of the poem—the title is often from discarded scraps of material that went into the process but not the final poem.

The first section of the book, The Wind, is from childhood. The book is “as if the dream self were telling the story of the poet.” In the third section of the book, Portrait of Myself, the titles come from the I Ching, the Chinese book of prophecy/hexagrams. Meinhard also says this section has a heroine going on a journey—the tiny poems have lots of space/pauses that are a part of the journey …. ”you need silence.” Some of the titles from this section are: “The Fox “ (death), “The Lights Like Golden Fish Lead Me Home”, and “And Does Not Return”.

A young student asks what it’s like to be a writer living in New York: Meinhard said it took 3-4 years for her to find community—she thinks it’s important to have a community “to have other people for whom writing is also important and who support your work.” Her new poems are set in an eastern European country in time of war, but a friend says her voice is essentially the same.

—Connie Deanovich

We have recently enjoyed God's Gift To Women, the second book of the Scots poet Don Paterson (his first book, Nil Nil, is not as impressive). These works are extremely varied in form and content, but the title piece is a stunning, wrenching, long poem in metered rhyme, a nightmare with ominous references to child abuse, death camps, and the Brothers Grimm.
     Another excellent poet that no one seems to have heard of is Eric Basso, whose poetry is available in three books spanning 1980-1994: The Smoking Mirror, Catafalques, and Ghost Light. These are consistently imaginative, surreal poems with gorgeous imagery, but increasingly focused on death; beautiful in spite of their darkness.
– F.J. Bergmann