Review: Room Studies

Room StudiesRoom Studies by Brennan Burnside
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a high concept collection that succeeds where so many other concept poetry collections, whether based of erasure, flarf or reclaimed text, fail. Each poem describes an imagined space tightly defined and constrained by the walls defining it. The descriptions are exacting and architectural in nature giving dimensions, materials, colors and relative positions of objects in the room. One can easily imagine each space as an installation piece at a contemporary arts museum, where one could wander from sanctuary to sanctuary, workspace to den to broom closet. Working like a Cindy Sherman photograph, no particular poem is stand-alone successful; it is the accumulative effect and growing sense of the uncanny as one incorporates each new entry into the growing collection.

Near the beginning of the collection, many of the rooms are assigned to deceased celebrities who either died unexpectantly young or remained reclusive until death–Andy Kaufman, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kurt Vonnegut and J.D. Salinger. A few still living celebrities sneak in also–Billy Corgan, Mickey Rourke and Ron Jeremy. The color-saturated rooms at first seem normal with books left out, televisions left on, cigarettes still smoldering. But people are absent these vignettes. And quirks start to arise. Andy Kaufman’s bomb shelter’s TV has a Howdy Doody episode on loop. Ron Jeremy’s hotel room TV has Debbie Does Dallas on pause. Jim Jones’ champagne room contains a neon-green Holy Bible with an electric cord. Mickey Rouke’s kitchen has a stack of bibles: 3 red, 4 white, 3 blue. The bibles start to stack up: Ron Jeremy has a red hardcover Heilige Bibel, Hoffman’s bedroom has no bed, but it has 400 green bibles, 400 red bibles, 400 blue bibles. Vonnegut has a red bible. Salinger has an illustrated white children’s bible. As the surreal edge seeps into the rooms, so do noise, odors, and worse.

vase breaks, low shuttering thump from above
[from “Andy Kaufman’s Bomb Shelter”]

rosemary incense seeping / through floor
[from “Amy Winehouse’s Panic Room”]

cigarette smoke, fire alarm / screaming
[from “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s bedroom”]

blood creeping from / under the crack
[from “Billy Corgan’s Den”]

At this point the collection gets downright eerie. Two consecutive poems describe rooms in Sandy Hook Elementary School time-stamped 7 minutes apart on the morning of the mass shooting.

chairs with beige cushions overturned . . .
table with black metal legs, overturned, cobwebs on table
legs, sixty-three small styrofoam cups scattered in
south east corner, shattered Kuerig coffee maker, cobwebs . . .

The collection powerfully ends with five poems from the World Trade Center all time-stamped between 9am and 9:03am on 9/11/2001.

[from “World Trade Center Study Room, 9:02 am, 9/11/2001”]

. . brown and black

alarm clock radio, 9:02 am, screaming behind east wall,
quartz crystals explode.

[from “World Trade Center Bathroom, 9:02 am, 9/11/2001”]

single wooden door, crash
bar, florescent light
fixture 6”X20’, one
bulb burns out,
sound of

This collection is observant, thoughtful and terrifying variously, and worth experiencing.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


Lincoln Park Zoo in Late August

The Eunoia Review has posted my poem “Lincoln Park Zoo in Late August.” Please, check it out and follow them.

Eunoia Review

During the uncertainty—
the lull compressed
between chemo bouts
and stem cell harvesting,
my brother had
a good day.

His eyes were tracking
marmoset acrobatics
and green swamp monkeys
flinging themselves
from leafless branch
to man-made vine.

Pressed nose to glass,
his emaciated face
seemed to curl
an unthinkably big smile;
his eyes –

My brother was once
himself a monkey
climbing, leaping
each ledge and tree.
But not now;
and never was I.

Earlier, when basking,
resting the walking stick
and his neuropathic hobble,
our small talk
was ruptured
by seagull screeching

emanating from a fist-faced
young girl, her eyes
and fists squeezed white
in deliberate mimicry.
Gulls responded and resumed
scavenging the patio’s periphery.

If asked about those tall
days of August waiting,
my story
will be the seagull-girl
with steady eyes, arms
outstretched collecting the wind.

Jaffa Kintigh has previously been published in di-verse-city and Tres…

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Saugatuck, Michigan

The Eunoia Review is kindly posting 6 of my poems over 3 days. This is second.

Eunoia Review

In stuttered movements,
my stiff feet stretch
and flex in the West Shore sands
as I make my way
from the dunes, sheathed
in marm grass and cottonwoods,
to the tide line’s shell crust.
Each step
to the bulkhead pretends
to be limber –

I pause here,
propped on two blocks
of the breakwater wall.
This vantage confirms
the unending mosaic
of gull prints layering the empty
beach. Graffiti is daubed
across one stone asserting,
The nice thing
about telling the truth—
you don’t have to remember
what you said.

Hundreds of lines, mumbled
as I sleep, have washed away.

I abandon
my stony perch.
Ahead lies a gull
brown-flecked in youth
and still
in death. Supine,
with flawless plumage.
Not a feather ruffled.
Her neck craned
almost comfortably.

Jaffa Kintigh has previously been published in di-verse-city and Tres di-verse-city as part of the Austin International Poetry Festival. He received…

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Published Poems and Fantasy Writing Panels

6 of my poems have been picked for publication at The Eunoia Review as I mentioned 3-4 months back and that time has arrived, right as National Poetry Month wraps up. You can follow the link to see the first and follow them. Or, submit your works there. 2 more will post Friday, 2 Saturday and the 6th on Sunday morning. I don’t know what order they will be in, but they are:

“The Cellist”
“Saugatuck, Michigan”
“Lincoln Park Zoo in Late August”
“The Airing-Out”
“Thanksgiving Gathering”
“A Gathering of Four”

The link above leads to “The Cellist” which is about my maternal grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for over 20 years. She appears again in the poem “Gathering of Four” which ends showing my grandfather, her husband of 50 years, who had Parkinson’s at the end. Two more of the poems tie to key moments in my brother’s battle with cancer: “Lincoln Park . . . ” and “Thanksgiving . . .” [He is alive and well minus hips and kidneys.] Clearly, family is important to me. And yet I air our tougher moments . . .

Please support and follow The Eunoia Review.

Meanwhile, as I also delve into the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy when not immersed in poetry, C2E2 is this weekend and I’m going. This is the big Chicago Comic Convention and it has a huge publishing house presence there. And free books! Good ones. Last year, I snagged early copies of Red Rising, Pierce Brown’s debut novel, which went on to be my pick for best novel of 2014. I also picked up Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1) by Joe Abercrombie. Both now have sequels which I have read or am reading and enjoying better than their series opener.

If you are heading to C2E2, feel free to let me know. I will be there with Rick of Rickapedia and a couple others. Very excited to see Patrick Rothfuss again this year on a couple panels. On Friday, he is speaking with Jim Butcher about Butcher’s latest series, a steampunk one.

Review: “Planar Ghosts” by Krystal Claxton

4 of 5 stars.

This post-Apocalyptic tale, takes place on the barren plains stretching between hard-scramble shanty towns that sit on the bones of former cities, power plants and military bases. There are townies that will trade with [or steal stuff from] scavengers and there are those that scavenge beyond the towns, but call no place home. The summers outside of the towns are not survivable due to the lack of water and food, and the pervasive predators, heat and dust storms. The nomadic scavengers try to buy a place in a town for the summer, working to pay their way before setting off again as autumn sets in again. Summer is quickly approaching.

Pup is a scavenger, barely remembering his mother. Though young, he wanders alone except for Ghost, a mute transparent girl that only he seems to be able to see. She first appeared to him shortly after he found himself completely alone, and she has grown in age as he has. She seems to be leading him somewhere, season after season.

After first getting rejected by a town for not having enough scavenge to buy his way in, and then getting robbed of everything he has by the very guard that rejected him, Pup follows Ghost deep into the dusty plains and finds a sanctuary. The leadership of this new place is not convinced that Pup should be brought in, but he has an advocate there in the form of a girl his age that looks just like Ghost . . .

The concept and writing of this story is immersive. The story is illustrated by artist contest winner Amit Dutta. As a quarterly short story contest winner, “Planar Ghosts” merited inclusion in the anthology Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang” by Tim Napper

4 of 5 stars.

This short story expertly displays the stylings of a sci-fi thriller. In a tech-heavy, dystopian Australia of the future, illegal immigration is big business on the black market and a major focus of the government. Police strong arm civilians for leads and control most of the internet connections.

In this quick tale, major players all converge on a single cafe in a rougher part of town heavy with immigrants, legal and illegal. Vu Thi Lynn is a citizen daughter of immigrants who helps Vietnamese escape the oppressive regimes that have Southeast Asia in their grip. She needs Mr. Nguyen’s untraceable internet connection and money transfer abilities to move her latest charges. The entire connection and transfer will take thirty tense minutes, and Nguyen’s last minute “extra” fees aren’t helping. Nor are the immigration police that have tailed him and entered the cafe with just twelve minutes more needed to secure the transfer of funds . . .

The concept and writing of this story is intriguing. The story is illustrated by artist contest winner Quinlan Septer. As a quarterly short story contest winner, “Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang” merited inclusion in the anthology Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” by Auston Habershaw

4 of 5 stars.

This short story is impressively long on world-building. Eliciting echoes of the worlds created by Scott Lynch for his novels The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies and Patrick Rothfuss for his The Kingkiller Chronicle series, this tale brings a flickering light into the darkness of the dystopian underbelly of a war-torn, devastated city.

Abrahan Anastasis lives like a rat in what remains of the ground floor of his former three-story house buried beneath its own rubble pancaked between the abandoned bakery and the bombed-out church. There are worse places in the Undercity of Illin, not that his mother will wander even a mile from the house in the brief hours of light, let alone in the dark. The dark and tumbled places are infested with demons and gremlins and laced with unexploded brymmstones and war-fiends. The denizens of the shining, well-lit Upper City with its mirror men enforcers do nothing to assuage the suffering and starvation of the Lower Illini. Abe’s mother still cries over the loss of Abe’s lawyer father who didn’t survive the war.

The ironically named Brotherhood of Light, a loose band of thieves, sellswords and cutthroats in Undercity, has given Abe a loan heavy with expectation and threat in order for him to procure an arcane book of conjuration to level the playing fields between the two layers of Illin. But Abe is in over his head. The threats to his mother and him are many: the Upper City, the vestiges of the war, the Brotherhood of Light, the book itself . . .

The concept and writing of this story is richly layered and deserving of a full-length novel if not a novel series. The story is illustrated by artist contest winner Shuangjian Liu. As a quarterly short story contest winner, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” merited inclusion in the anthology Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]