6 Poems are Getting Published

This is a great way to start the day, with an email in the inbox stating that 6 of my poems have been accepted for publication in mid-April. Poetry Month indeed. Submitting one’s work is always a little angst-tinged. This was no different.

So, some time in April, The Eunoia Review will publish the following six poems consecutively at the rate of two per day:
“The Cellist”
“Saugatuck, Michigan”
“Lincoln Park Zoo in Late August”
“The Airing-Out”
“Thanksgiving Gathering”
“A Gathering of Four”

Today is a good day.

Review: “Zombies for Jesus” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

3 of 5 stars.

This very short story is included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran. The zombies in this tale are neither the brain-hungry agents of an apocalypse or pandemic, nor the voodoo [Obeah] variety undead. These are the works of a dodgy Reverend Thomas, a Christian revivalist that has experimented with creating various recipes for an Elixir of Life to reanimate the dead into his Born Agains for paying living customers. The Born Agains that stay with the reverend’s traveling tent city smugly refer to his latest good-looking male “miracle” as Prettyboy, since most of the undead are in a state of rot that would not attract followers. The revivalist camp tends to move on with regularity to stay ahead of Born Agains going bad. The good-looking female Born Agains are called Angels and kept away from the males just in case reproduction could still happen.

The narrator is Zeke, a Born Again that was revived under an older, discontinued recipe of Elixir. While his senses are dulled, he seems to not rot like more recent creations. Also, his body parts, should they fall off, will return to him and fuse back to him seamlessly. This is not true of any others. Even the Prettyboys go bad. But not Zeke, some cannot believe that he is even dead. Zeke is also not a believer in the reverend, and he’s a former death row murderer.

The themes, while not deeply explored, are plain: what is Christian or moral about the actions and characters involved? A murderer is saved and “Born Again,” but does that absolve him of his crime in taking a life? Lives are taken and re-given in this tale like a commodity at the opening scene’s poker table. The miracle witnesses, the reverend, and even the revivalist followers all have ulterior motives. Questions are raised; answers are not provided.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Provider” by Tim Waggoner

2 of 5 stars.

Included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story is a mixed bag: great [4-star] set-up and then it got awkward in an I-don’t-believe-the-character-would-do-this sort-of-way. And I want to believe–

Robert and Kenny are a two-man crew that provide a post-Zombie-Apocalyptic service by picking up the dead zombie trash and chucking them into the portable furnace on the back of their truck named Smoky Joe. Deaders [aka zombies] have been around for at least 3 years. And while fuel is getting scarce, the town provides this service to maintain a cleaner, healthier image. Robert even compares himself to the Monty Python skit with John Cleese pulling a hand-cart and calling out “Bring Out Your Dead.” And while funny, the comparison is apt in that many of the dead they now dispose of were surviving residents that “Went Bad;” the dead are the friends and family of the living. There are some “roamers” that a different crew, the hunters, take care of, but Robert and Kenny are the modern equivalent to funeral services for the citizens.

These two guys see how the living treat the undead when sentiments enter into the picture. They would prefer the deaders already put down [with a head shot] or at least muzzled and hogtied for ease of disposal. Not everyone is able to do that to their loved ones. Robert enjoys his job; Kenny, the newer partner, hates it after recently putting down his own live-in girlfriend. This is a great set-up. The “twist” is properly telescoped and not treated as a shocker, which is also good.

[K:]”How’s he doing? Your kid, I mean. What’s his name again? Bobbie?”
[R:]”Yeah. He’s fine. Just started crawling last week.”
Kenny frowned. “I thought he was already crawling. I remember when we first started working together, you said–”
“Walking,” Robert interrupted. “I meant he just started walking.”
Kenny looked at him for a long moment, his expression unreadable. Finally, he said, “Sure, man . . . There’s gonna be a dance in the basement of the Methodist Church . . . You think you’n Emily might come?”
“I doubt it,” Robert said. “Emily doesn’t like to go out much. She doesn’t feel safe outside the house, you know?”

From here, the story follows Robert home and shows his family and life behind the boarded windows and barricaded doors.

A later scene shows the guys back on the job on a heavy disposal day. It was here that I felt a misalignment between the given motivations [which I didn’t believe] and the actions and dialogue. It knocked me completely out of the story, sadly.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Home” by David Moody

4 of 5 stars.

Included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story would make for a great episode of The Twilight Zone. Told in the first person, present tense POV, the tale resounded strongly with a great pace. The narrator, being just a couple hours from home, thinks back on his 23-day journey to get back this far to his house and his Georgie. With everything that he’s seen, he has no delusions that Georgie might have survived whatever befell society. He has not seen a living human in those 23 days. Not a one.

This is not just a survivor’s story, but a survivalist story and the tale of a journey with a known destination–home. When “it” all started, EVERYONE collapsed in agonizing pain. All at once. Within minutes, the populous is dead. The narrator freaks, holes up in his hotel room, eventually decides to drive the 80+ miles to home, to no avail. The roads are impassable with wrecked cars effectively barricading the roads, so the journey proceeds on foot. On the third day, the dead rise–and totter and stumble drunkenly. Over days, the dead pick up their pace, becoming surer footed and moving with purpose. They sense things again. They feel threatened by his presence and lash out; they are all fight and no flight. The narrator learns to stay in the shadows, move at night, keep the quiet. If they get too close, he puts them down with a machete to the head. He keeps track of the bodies he’s downed, more sure of those numbers than that of the passing days.

Much of this story is the journey, and appropriately so. Some of this story is what he finds when he gets home. He both does and does not know what he will find when he gets there. If Georgie is not at the house, then his search will have to continue–because he needs to know. Of course he does. As a bonus, we get a glimpse of what comes next for the narrator. This story is highly recommended.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Going Down” by Nancy Kilpatrick

2 of 5 stars.

Included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this tale is blessedly short considering that I enjoyed almost none of it. Paddy is probably the last living person on Manitoulin Island which is ironic and a sick joke considering her history of failed suicide attempts. She desperately wants to join “the Deadies,” but they want nothing to do with her. Her psychotropic meds, which she is just running out of, make her smell unappealing to the undead.

The story is a psychologically addled tale as Paddy cannot easily tell her film-inspired hallucinations from the scenes around her. Movie clips and quotes meld with gutted houses and wandering zombies. A pornographic Marilyn Monroe makes for Paddy’s truest companion. Secondly, there is her Daddy, now undead, who instinctively returns home each evening but now leaves Paddy alone after years of ritualized sexual abuse.

There is an enjoyable vignette of Paddy sitting outside shoving Twinkies into her face while watching one of the last living dogs playfully running from and interacting with its undead owners. To her, the image equates to her idea of the idealized nuclear family. But then she masturbates as the owners catch up to the dog and the parties bite at each while the sounds of Dolly Pardon singing distract Paddy. The blatant emphasis on shock value over story detracts from the tale. Yes, Paddy is alone and depressed and psychologically compromised. But reversing the sexual abuse by having Paddy sexualizing her undead-Daddy and considering reverse-cannibalism [the living eating the undead] is not motivationally supported by the dimension-less story.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Half a King

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a richly developed medieval world with a wealth of cultures and characters presenting themselves along the way. The story centers on Yarvi, the reluctant, crippled [one arm is malformed] second prince of Gettland. But, he has his cunning and is aiming to renounce his nobility and position in line for the throne in order to join the Ministry, an esteemed class of adviser/healers. Circumstances quickly shift away from his plans and he finds himself a king, and then a lost king far from his homeland.

Yarvi perseveres through many challenges in the story while guided by the sayings of his many influences: his Ministry mentor Mother Gundring, his calculating birth-mother The Golden Queen Laithlin, his betrothed Isriun, and his battle-happy father the late King Uthrik among others. This is the journey of a boy without heavy responsibilities, becoming a man with people depending on him. His naivety is tested as he gathers a motley band of friends and aims to confront those that wrong his family. His greatest challenge is in determining friend and foe and all the shades in between. His second is getting out from under his birthright privilege to see the world through the eyes of others.

I really enjoyed this promising start to the Shattered Seas Series. I’m almost too embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sitting on this novel for the better part of a year without cracking it. I will not make the same mistake with the sequel that comes out this February.

Highly recommended.
Also check out it’s sequel, Half the World.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “We Will Rebuild” by Cody Goodfellow

4 of 5 stars.

This short story appears in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran. The plot follows the two surviving deputies, Snopes and Bascomb, for one day in the desert village of Ocotillo, California on the third month-iversary of V-D Day, ie Zombie Apocalypse Day. Despite some bumps and battles, the well-guarded and razor-wire fenced hamlet has struck an uneasy balance between its living and deadbeat [undead] citizens while keeping all others [living and dead] out. Many of the deadbeat citizens have been muzzled and chained either at home or at their place of work where they more-or-less carry on with their tasks. Many of the families are now composed of both living and undead members.

Zombie stories are nothing if not social commentary. This tale brings a couple topics to the forefront. Firstly, it challenges the notions of us vs. them. While the living and undead citizens are treated a little differently from each other, most of these differences come down to individual prohibitions and punishments doled out by the town judge/mayor due to bad or mal-social behavior. More striking is the outsider status granted both living and dead that wander up the interstate. After a few bad experiences allowing in a handful survivors from elsewhere, the town has become isolationist. Worse yet is Ocotillo’s treatment and thinking about anyone from Mexico. “Wetbacks” are thought of in horrendous ways without regard to whether they are living or dead. The second main theme is the control of power and justice and how it is meted out to members of the various aforementioned factions.

Pleasantly, the ending held a double surprise, only one of which I saw coming. I recommend this story.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Peter Orlovsky, A Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer by Peter Orlovsky edited by Bill Morgan

Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat WriterPeter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer by Peter Orlovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of poems, letters and journals entries with a few random photos thrown in was not what I expected it to be. That leaves me disappointed, but the fault is mine. Bill Morgan is an archivist and this is nothing if not an archive. It’s just not much more than that.

Peter Orlovsky, as Allen Ginsberg’s companion and lover for over 40 years, was in the thick of the Beat Movement and chronicling his experiences in his journal for much of it. Through his eyes and voice, the travels and musings of many key figures in the movement are witnessed extensively: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, and Neal Cassady. As Ann Charters notes in the Foreward, “For literary historians, Peter’s account of his daily life with Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, and Burroughs is probably the most detailed we will ever have.” Also seen are a lot of drugs, sex and jazz/rock-n-roll/punk. These are the key figures and key subjects that the movement is known for. In a more conservative time, the beats pushed the envelope and were open and experimental with their drugs and their sexuality both in words and action:

[excerpt from a Nov. 03, 1958 letter from Peter Orlovsky to Gregory Corso] ” . . . Jack [Kerouac] has been banging us [Orlovsky and Ginsberg] for being queers–especially when he’s drunk–so I, when Jack comes on like this, go after Jack with outpouring of love and raping him with words. . . . A few days ago . . . [Bach] was playing and such beautiful music that we all danced to it and it was so beautiful I started to blow Allen and Jack [was] sitting there–Allen was so scared and shy in front of Jack that he wanted to go into the other room, but I wanted to blow Allen while he danced to beautiful music, so angel magical it sounded–I’m tired of being afraid of Jack and shying my words up . . . “

Undoubtedly, for those interested in the lives of the Beats, this scrap book of letters and journals will satisfy. It also gives almost equal time to Peter’s letters and journals to and about his family which proved to be illuminating. The book starts with Peter at 21, months before meeting Allen. He’s been discharged from the army as psychologically unfit citing “schizophrenia, paranoid.” His parents have split while each spending time in psychiatric hospitals. Eventually, Peter and all four siblings of his will spend time in psychiatric hospitals. Terms such as frontal lobotomy and electroshock therapy get thrown around. Needless to say, Peter is not exactly stable before he starts to experiment with, use and abuse drugs.

I was disappointed, however, because I wanted to see the letters and poetry contextualized. I did not want this book to be a companion. We see the letters that Peter wrote, but none of the replies, nothing written to him. I don’t want to have to look up the letters to Peter to fill in the conversations. This was especially true of the poetry. I wanted to see the poetics at work. The Beats changed the game with poetry; they broke and re-wrote the rules. Peter was there when Allen wrote and read Howl for the first time. Peter also later lectured on poetry. But, no copies of a single lecture are included. What he had to say on the subject of poetics is conspicuously missing. Charters wrote that Peter inspired Beat writers with his “emotionally naked, loopy, and occasionally luminescent poetry,” while Morgan wrote that Peter “failed to realize that each of those writers had been influenced by knowing Peter and witnessing his free-spirited way of approaching life.” Not one example of another writer citing Orlovsky’s poetry or stylings is included. Morgan also tells the reader that Orlovsky’s handwriting was atrocious and spelling horrendous, leading to much re-editing [and guessing] on his part to create readable text. I think a single image of an Orlovsky original would make that point. But none are included. Finally, in a note on a journal entry deemed a prose-poem, Morgan says that the entry was later turned into verse and then back into a prose-poem. I would have appreciated the inclusion of those later iterations, but they too are not included.

This book does exactly what it sets out to do: be a scrapbook for Orlovsky’s journals and letters. It does not do what I had hoped, but I may not be the target audience. My Master’s is in Creative Writing Poetry, so I am interested in the poetics, the philosophy, the lectures and the process. In particular, my undergraduate thesis was on the “transformations of American poetics” coming out of WWII. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was my main case study. I was not interested in drug-fueled three-ways . . . but that is what this book has to offer. I received an uncorrected first proof of this book and a nice letter from Paradigm Publishers through Goodreads. Hopefully, that did not taint my view.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “For the Good for All” by Yvonne Navarro

3 of 5 stars.

Appearing in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this very short story is barely more than a vignette. Fida is the proprietor of Broxton House, a boarding house. However, the populous has largely succumbed to a zombie apocalypse including all of her boarders. Surprisingly, her boarders all wandered back “home” indicating some sort of residual memory. This is all the proof that Fida needs to maintain her faith and to keep each boarder’s sad life’s story alive until she can save them.

Fida’s goal of providing salvation for the damned and her Catholic upbringing lead her to seek a Catholic resolution in the form of the Sacrament of Communion and a modern day miracle. She has more trouble convincing the local priests that are still around that this is a worthwhile endeavor.

This vignette would not have worked as a full short story. But in its brevity, this tale works. The nicest touch is briefly sharing the stories of the living-dead housemates, from the relapsed heroin addict to the runaway teens hiding a four month pregnancy from parents that would’ve driven the star-crossed lovers apart.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Captive Hearts” by Brian Keene

3 of 5 stars.

Appearing in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this vignette does not rise to the level of being a full short story which is a good thing in this case. With any more length and scrutiny, this set-up would have likely crumpled.

The scene opens with Gina threatening more physical (and psychological) harm to Richard, her one-time boss. His extremities are already handcuffed to all four corners of the bed. He flickers in and out of consciousness due to prolonged captivity–bedsores blossom, his fighting has weakened. She’s removed nine of his ten toes despite his living screams.

This is a scenario of misguided survival and revenge. As the plague raged, Gina stayed behind with her wheel-chair-bound husband, Paul. She quickly descends to great depths of depravity, all to resist accepting the reality of her situation which is not sustainable. There’s no where for this story to go, and it thankfully doesn’t.
[Check out my other reviews here.]