Category Archives: reviews by todd moore

the gold cane, van gogh’s ear, and the gun in the casket: wandering down this crooked road

This is the age of Lummox.

Granted, there are many fine publishers out there, some of them even legendary. Grove Press, City Lights, and Black Sparrow not only published great writers but somehow went on to define an age. Scribners gave us Hemingway and Fitzgerald when we desperately needed them. Now, it is Lummox’s turn. Lummox reminds me in some ways of Warner Brothers back in the black and white thirties when Bogart and Cagney were staples and gangster movies were pushing the cultural envelope everywhere. I could be wrong but I think Raindog is pushing that cultural envelope now with poetry. Raindog is not just a good editor but he is also maybe one of the savviest readers of the culture that I know of and by coediting DOWN THIS CROOKED ROAD, MODERN POETRY FROM THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED he is giving everyone a peek at the next generation of poets. Certainly, this anthology does not represent all new and promising poets, but it is a very generous sampling.

If Baudelaire taught us anything it was how to be good flaneurs, walking urban voyeurs who couldn’t stop looking at everything from a crowded farmer’s market to a grungy crime scene where a bloody sock was all that was left of a murder. DOWN THIS CROOKED ROAD, the new poetry anthology published by Lummox Press and edited by RD Armstrong and William Taylor Jr. is the perfect gift for any serious voyeur anywhere. Even Baudelaire, if he were alive. Or, barring that anyone interested in some of the best poetry to appear for awhile.

Heart like the train station in Amsterdam
in the winter, even the birds listen to
the ting, ting, ting of time, blind. Time is black…

from Love, My Monster of Grace by M. K. Chavez.

I love the dark urban ennui of these lines. Chavez knows just the right notes to hit to give you the feel of existential darkness, erotic longing, and motel emptiness that lies at the center of the american scene. And, from the same poem, these lines. “Light/ surrounds the mundane and muted air.”

I pour the gasoline
You light the match
and we stop
take in the view
a red sky burning
the sun coming
to an end
as we touch.

from The Baptism of the Alchemists by M. K. Chavez.

Chavez commands us to watch this poem. These days we don’t so much reach poems as we watch them. The best contemporary poems are like movies that suck us in, keep us in, and then kick us out. We long to be held captive by poems that conjure us even closer and closer to an oblivion someone else dreams of. M. K. Chavez has fallen in love with the dark side.

Suicide Poems

Let them be read the way that I wanted to be loved.
Let them sink into the fibers of unbound paper.

Let them haunt the capillaries of each vein.
Let them be ether. Let them be death.

Let them be immortal, let them be porcelain.
Let them be young girls and old men. Let them be
let them tell lies.

Let my poems be a sparrow traveling
from the façade of Brownstones
to the faded pastels of Victorians.
Let it not matter if anyone believes in the lungs of
one little bird.

Christopher Cunningham’s poems are not quite so bleak but he comes close to the same kind of modern despair and apocalypse in his poem, “a sure thing.”

pour another
of Bordeaux
at four fifty-five a.m.
and listen
to the wind.

leather and rubies
and smoke
on my tongue
with the breath
of winter
on the glass
of my small window.

they say there may be
bad weather
on the horizon.

I am sure there is.

the wind speaks
of strangers dressed in black
of loaded pistols
of broken guitars
of failed attempts
and worn boot heels

I am listening
to the harmony
of violence and wine.

I keep one red eye

and one on the glass.

This poem reminds me of that evocative first paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s classic short novel RED WIND where the hot dry Santa Ana’s are blowing in across the mountains and the wives are testing the edges of their butcher knives and thinking of their husbands’ throats. At the same time I am also thinking of Hemingway’s great short story The Killers in which Ole Andreson has curled up into a fetal position while he waits for the hit men to come and put a bullet in his head.

What I like best about Miles Bell’s poetry is the kind of street lostness he brings to his work. Almost all of the poems included here take place in an urban setting and nearly all of them carry that flaneur/walker sense of desperation in them.

2 kids pass
striding into town
I know that feeling
nowhere to be
a twenty in yr pocket
& some real cigarettes
ready to murder the darkness
with laughter & stories

from Love the night by Miles J. Bell

Icarus Rex is arguably the best poem included in the Bell section. It is a long poem, just short of three hundred lines, about urban despair, that sense of becoming so lost you really don’t know who you are or where you are going.

I’ve felt shivers of wonder at the alien spires
of the church of the Sagrada Familia
I’ve seen a grown man punch a five year old
square in the face for dropping an ice cream
I’ve drunk tequila sunrises at 5 pm on a pub bench
winking at the businesswomen
I’ve spoken with the ghost of Primo Levi
and asked him how he made it and he said
I didn’t
I’ve chased a sunset for hours on a plane to New
York while trying to forget I was on a plane
I’ve seen the new every day every day every day
I have loved the stars too well to fear the night

That last line is one of the great epiphanies that this poem offers. Bell’s poetry hints at something longer, more ambitious. The wager is his, he needs to give it a try.

William Taylor Jr. is well acquainted with big city streets, bars like the ones where Bukowski used to hang out, and the entire urban milieu of the smartass hustle and the always present sense of someone on the verge of going over the edge as in Edvard Munch’s famous painting THE SCREAM.


It is much easier than
we imagine;
a door left ajar
a thread about to snap
a string to be pulled
a black core at the heart
of the sun
a simple giving in
a little letting go
a tapping at our window panes
at 4 a. m.
we are closer to it
than we recognize
we understand it
more than we will say
we long for it
in dreams we will never
speak of.
It speaks to me now
in a language that smells
of winter rain
and of all things lost and
dreaming to be

What I especially love about Taylor’s poetry is the way he works the poem into his own particular version of the city, his sense of the bars and the people who inhabit them. Taylor is the consummate street wanderer. He also has this built in sense of understanding that what the poet does is sit and drink and watch. This is what he does, this is what he has to do. He knows how to waste time for the poem. He knows how to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Rainy Afternoon

The rain comes down
on a Sunday afternoon
in San Francisco.

It’s as good a day as any to sit in a bar
and watch the world go by,

as good as any

to take back just a little bit
of what the world forever steals.

Me, I get drunk at the Gold Cane
as the tourists and the hipsters
drift up and down
the avenue.

A true smile from a stranger is enough
to set things right
for a little while.

I drink it in

and let the bitterness slide off
like rain down a windowpane

that looks out on Haight Street
on a rainy afternoon
in San Francisco.

Christopher Robin’s underground classic FREAKY MUMBLER’S MANIFESTO keeps looping through my head like some crazy street dance a blind man is doing for a hat full of quarters and nothing. The title poem is included here in this anthology.

I’d like to tell you I stayed
up all night
shadow boxing with the Muse
rock and roll poems
that will topple empires
or that Oprah called to say
I wasn’t just a fat
hairy loser
and asking how
did I ever transform
the misfortune
of my birth
and my own profound
to become the artist
I am today

from Freaky Mumbler’s Manifesto

Freaky Mumbler goes on for several more pages but this should give you a taste of what Christopher Robin can do. Of all the poets in this anthology, I think he takes the most chances because with him everything is on the line and in my opinion poets who take chances, especially with risky subject matter are among the bravest of all.

I don’t know what to do
should I write a poem?
should I kill myself?
or should I just figure out
how to wipe my own ass first?
there’s just no key
for this sort of thing
no cosmic blueprint
nothing extraordinary
about this day
this life
this poem
Freak Town is not a tourist destination
it’s the end of the line
nobody’s giving out any prizes
it’s not hip
and no one’s cleaned the bathroom
in 6 years

Christopher Robin’s Freaky Mumbler is one of those archetypal underground characters in poetry who just seem to haunt you. I know he haunts me and he deserves a place right next to Bukowski’s Chinaski and Ginsberg’s mother in KADDISH as being as marginal and memorable as it gets.

Being down and out is a familiar theme in underground poetry. Finding yourself either out on the street or in a lousy apartment wondering where in hell you are going to find the rent money.

It Will Never Be My Turn

once again I’m facing the end of the month without
a job and without rent money.

I’m listening to music in my hotel room.
I feel a coastal breeze,
and taste the salt in the air.

I’m nearly 50 years old
and I’m beginning to

it will never be my turn.

Father Luke’s bio informs the reader that he is waiting along with his woman for the perfect world. He’s probably going to have a very long wait, but in the meantime if he keeps writing poems like this, it won’t be for nothing.

Throw a Gun on the Casket

Grimes Patterson sat in a motel in some horse shit
town on the California coast. He waved a fly
from a piece of toast, and read the newspaper.

He’d been somebody. He’d robbed banks, kid-
napped for ransom. He was among the baddest
motherfuckers you’d ever seen.

The linoleum on the kitchen floor was ripped, and
coming up in more places than it decently
covered. What little was left was covered with
a smooth, brown and yellow greasy dirtiness
that wouldn’t let his socks slide as he walked.

Grimes Patterson took a bite of the toast, and he
folded the newspaper, and put it down on the
red formica table. As he chewed he flicked a
cockroach off the wall. He watched it walk in
circles on the floor. Then he stepped on it. The
bug made a little snap as he put pressure on it.
He took another bite of toast.

The water in the tea kettle began boiling. Grimes
adjusted his bathrobe, and stood up to pour
some water into a white cup over a spoonful of
instant decaf.

The water mixed with the instant coffee, and made
brown foam. Grimes leaned against the cracked
enamel of the sink, and looked into the cup,
and drew a heart in the foam with a spoon. He
let his mind drift to nowhere, then he stirred
the heart into the coffee, and sat back down at
the table.

He sipped the coffee. Hot. Too hot. He blew across
the top of the cup, and watched the steam make
paisleys in rays of light filtered through vene-
tian blinds.

When I’m dead, throw a gun on the casket, he said
to no one.

The fascinating thing about this Father Luke poem is that it reads like a good short story, something out of Hemingway or the late Borges. The setting for this poem reminds me only too well of a joint I used to live in when I was a kid, right down to the toast, make that burnt toast and the cockroach on the wall. It got so they could have been found art that moved.

They’re Feeding The Pigeons In Venice,
& Someone In Amsterdam, In Paris,
Is Standing In Front Of A
van Gogh

…because they understand it,
understand that there’s just
not much
understand that almost everywhere there is an
inescapable ugliness
& that the soul grows tired of its shell,
of being told not to scream
when all it wants to do is
sing of this
that surrounds it, this
that stumbles through
hours & decades & drunken midnights,
loveless, wallowing, begging condolence like
scuffed pennies.

We should be sick of desperation,
sick of stagnation & lifelessness, joylessness,
sick of all that are content to be left
to this plague and pitter, content to just
dangle about like
spiders & cheap

Amidst all we push around & carry,
all we imagine & invent,
all we kill ourselves to garner,

There, once again,
begins the

— though the

Hosho McCreesh knows that they are always feeding the pigeons in Venice or in Manhattan or in Paris or in Albuquerque while someone is weeping before a van Gogh and a bomb is going off in Iraq and everyone keeps garnering things and inescapable ugliness is everywhere. Still, someone keeps writing the poem. McCreesh says it best.

The clean living through is all. —Todd Moore

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saturday night desperate, don winter, and the black mitten of poetry

I remember getting hit once with a baseball bat right in the middle of the back and the force of that blow spun me around toward a girl who was laughing. Sometimes a book will have that same effect on me. Reading Tom McGrath’s LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND was like that. It was years ago. I was sitting in a shot and beer joint, some back booth, eating a burger with the blood and grease pouring out on my plate, and the beer tasted good and cold and I read that first page of LETTER and was hooked on McGrath. For me, reading poetry is personal and visceral, up close, in your face, mano a mano, like a fist in the eye.

Don Winter’s poetry hits me like that. I didn’t know much about his work until I read NO WAY OUT BUT IN, Working Stiff Press, 2008. The format itself is nothing to speak of. Maybe twenty pages or so, eight and a half by eleven, the print font is typewriter graphics, the cover a color snapshot of I assume his mother and father sitting on a sofa with Winter in the middle. She has her head cushioned affectionately on his shoulder. The chapbook is side stapled and then duct taped over. Something about the unpretentious way it was put together made me like it immediately. I liked it because it was a kind of fuck you way of saying I’m a little beaten up but I am still standing. I reviewed that chapbook the same day I got it because I had to. There are some books and that just seem to reach over, grab you by the shirt front, and there is nothing you can do but read them.

The same thing happened to me when I grabbed SATURDAY NIGHT DESPERATE out of the mailbox. The second I ripped the envelope open I knew I had to read it. I not only knew I had to read it, but I also had to start writing about it even while I was reading because I know Don Winter’s poetry and it’s the kind of stuff I go for. The same thing happens whenever I read a new Gary Goude poem or a new Ben Smith poem or a new John Yamrus poem or a new Ron Androla poem or a new Mark Weber poem or a new Milner Place poem. What I know more than anything else is that this is going to be a poem that is essential, vital, real and when I come away from reading it, it will be like walking out of a really good movie that I hated to see come to an end.

SATURDAY NIGHT DESPERATE , Working Stiff Press, 2009, is a working man’s selected, gathering the best of Don Winter from 1999-2009. It’s not hardcover, it’s not even glossy paperback. Instead, this is folded and stapled and stark black and white, definitely nailgun noir, bar whiskey jagged.


Mornings we ripped
shingles. When air temp topped
body temp we got buzzed.
We sat and smoked.

“I’d get monkeys
to do your jobs
if I could teach them not to shit
on the roof,” boss yelled.

We laughed like struck
match sticks. Down in the street
sheets just hung there on the line
like movie screens.

Winter understands the down and out world of the working man. “In Niles, Michigan, the working class town where I grew up, you were educated (euphemism for ‘socially managed’) for docility: conformity to the rules, obedience to authority, and receptivity to rote learning.” From Press of the Real: Poetry of the Working Class. Author’s Introduction.

Dressing Burgers at Wanda’s Grill

During his 23 years here,
on each one
he curls ketchup
into a mouth,
places two pickles
for eyes, two lines
of mustard for eyebrows.
The onion bits,
he says,
are pimples.

We watch him
leave alone after
work, come in the same
time each morning,
take his break
by himself, always the same
station blaring.

We watch him
finish off
each face with a top hat, mash
the condiments together,
bury each one
in a thin, wax box.
All those little white caskets
on the greasy steel rack.

As far as the academic world is concerned, the low life world of work and sweat and angst and going without and living with those impossible power ball dreams and getting laid off and getting fucked up and going out from a heart attack, cancer, or stroke should have no room for poetry in it. After all, isn’t poetry the private reserve for the MFA elite? The university professors? What about the poetry of Charles Bukowski? What about the poetry of Kell Robertson? What about the poetry of Fred Voss? What about the poetry of John Yamrus? What about the poetry of Gary Goude? What about the poetry of Mark Weber? What about the poetry of John Macker? What about the poetry of Ron Androla? What about the poetry of Gerald Locklin? What about the poetry of Tony Moffeit? What about the poetry of Raindog Armstrong? I wouldn’t trade one line of any of their work for all the academic poetry written in the last thirty years.

Breaking Down

I bought that car for $50.

To open the door
you had to pound
just below the handle.

When you turned a corner
the dash lights flickered
like a busted marquee.

The rolling noise
that charmed Vera
was a can of Budweiser
under her seat.

Night we split up,
she held my erection
& looked out the window
like someone
with a hand on a doorknob
stopping to say one last thing
before goodbye.

On the inside of the back cover there are these words:

From 1999-2009 Don Winters’ poems appeared in most small press (and many academic press) journals. He is off to discover a new path.

I could be very wrong and totally off base, but my take here is this book is Don Winter’s path, past present and future and he would be betraying himself along with Tom McGrath and Charles Bukowski and Gary Goude and John Yamrus and everyone else who put his own blood on the line for the line if he strayed from it. In his introduction, Winter tells a story about McGrath dying in a single room wearing a black mitten on a hand that he could not keep warm after it had received surgery. In some larger more important way, once you start writing poetry you put on that black mitten and you can never take it off.

Much more on Don Winter can be found here… and here…

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the sea, the poem, and the house of all possible myths: the poetry of milner place

The sign of a good poet is that he lives in the House of all Myths. His walls are plastered with ancient stories the way some houses are decorated with paintings of the old masters. The stories are concocted of known and unknown signs and on dark and stormy nights the poet has the power to make those signs move, shift the stories around like the chapters of an endless book and if he does it with speed, clarity, and genius, the walls of that house will soon begin to sing with the power of the universe.

When I start to read a book by Milner Place I get the same feeling. I know I am entering into the house of a poet who knows all the best old stories and it almost feels as though I am leaning over the beer of all beers while he begins. With me the reading always gets tangled up with the sound of the poet’s voice and if I don’t know what he sounds like physically I have to imagine that because the sound of the voice and the texture of the story have to somehow mesh together to weave the magic of the man.

It happened exactly that way when I read the first poem from CAMINANTE called The Man Who Had Forgotten The Names Of Trees. I hadn’t even read the poem but I already loved it because I loved the title. It hit me the way a hammer hits the best part of all of my dreams but doesn’t shatter them. Instead, that hammer wakes them into some different kind of awareness.

And, if The Man Who Had Forgotten The Names Of Trees is about anything, it’s about movement. Movement on land, movement across water, everything happens quickly in a Milner Place poem. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Place had somehow tapped into the secret vision of Heraclitus.

I am not ashamed of dying
nor of arguments with the sea’s skin
that are quickly resolved, nor of ignorance
of the ancestry of unlikely fish, teeming
where the rocks wedge the cold currents,
stem their appointments with dissipation.

Here, the word ‘teeming’ is a key word for both this poem and for much of Milner Place’s most important work. Milner Place’s poetry literally teems with life, with movement, with a geography of words that shift with the voice. This stanza from The man Who Had Forgotten The Names Of Trees proves the point.

Tonight I prefer mountains,
stumble ashore with a machete
to hack a path through the sea-grapes
and the poison-wood thickets
to the pampas. Having no fear
of gauchos, I rope a passing horse.

Place writes with great knowledge and intimacy about both the sea and the land because he has lived in so many cities and countries around the world. His great love, however, is with the sea because for so many years he had been a sailor and sea captain only retiring at the age of fifty seven to a small village in England where he has been writing poetry ever since. However, when I say poetry, I don’t mean to suggest that this is poetry in the tradition of Ted Hughes or Philip Larkin. Rather, Place’s work belongs more in the line of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas. And, it has also been strongly influenced by Federico Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda partly because Place has lived in so many Spanish speaking countries. Still, Place’s poetry is anything but derivative. I know of no other poet working in the English language who writes like Milner Place. His work is just simply unique, one of a kind, and in a class all by itself. Even though Place writes in a Post Modernist world there is nothing PM about him. Instead, his work, for me, is that of a scop, a maker, an ancient storyteller. All of his poems are narrative and all of his longer poems embody an epic grandeur in the way the old stories were told. This, from Costalago:

The shadows were still long when Henrique moored
his horse
outside Juan’s store, and, as it was too early for cockfights,
the street was deserted, even by dogs….

Place has a rare talent for setting a scene. However, his genius is for moving a poem at breakneck speed from scene to scene and in some poems the scenes all seem to melt into each other. And, it is in this way that they become dream like, in certain ways nightmarish. In Charlie Ottoway, a poem from IN A RARE TIME OF RAIN, the poet writes, “To hell with reality,” which may also be a subtle key to Milner Place’s work.

In a larger and very important sense, Place’s work deserves more attention than it has apparently received so far simply because it carries within it great resonances of buried legends and myths. In fact, Place the poet almost reminds me of the ships captain in The Legend of the Flying Dutchman due to the fact that by writing poetry Place is still out there at sea, still trying to sail around his own personal Cape of Good Hope.

What is so fascinating about Milner Place’s sea poems is that they conjure so much beyond themselves. When I think of Place’s ocean, I also think of Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, I think of Melville’s MOBY DICK, I think of Conrad’s LORD JIM, I think of Richard Hughes’ A HIGH WIND TO JAMAICA.

The ocean was little changed. It stretched and stretched;
it rolled and rolled and like a whale oblivious to sea-lice

and barnacles, ignored the self important wriggling of ships….


While I was writing this essay it occurred to me that Milner Place might have met Hemingway somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico while captaining a yacht. Maybe they had a drink together in Havana. Or not. Maybe Place recognizes Hemingway but decides not to intrude on his privacy. It’s some joint with rifles and harpoons and bayonets and gaffs decorating the walls along with nets, ropes, spikes, belaying pins, and old snapshots of big catches, huge marlin, the stuff that legends are made of. And, Hemingway is telling the bartender that he has just finished writing THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and is tired and also happy and the bartender pours him a free one and then honors Hemingway’s long silence with a silence of his own. And, Place just sits there enjoying his beer and Hemingway’s silence and the feel of the sea which is just a short walk from the doorway toward the House of all Myths and the poem to end all poems. And, Place knows he will write it and then swim with the whales.

Some of Milner Place’s Books

  • IN A RARE TIME OF RAIN, Chatto & Windus.
  • CAMINANTE, Wrecking Ball Press.
  • ODERSFELT, Flux Gallery Press.
  • THE CONFUSION OF ANGLES, Wide Skirt Press.
  • WHERE SMOKE IS, Wide Skirt Press.
  • PILTDOWN MAN & BAT WOMAN, Spout Publications.
  • THE CITY OF FLOWERS, Spout Publications.

Milner Place’s latest collection, naked invitation, has just been published by Lapwing Publications (Belfast). Copies can also be obtained from the author at milnerplaceATmsnDOTcom ($18, £10, Euros 13, signed or unsigned, prices include p&p to appropriate country)

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las montanas de santa fe: visions of the spirit country

John Macker

lives in a fabled old roadhouse on the Santa Fe Trail. His back yard is a labyrinth of boulders, cactus, sagebrush, blown sticks, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. In fact, there is a story that a monster rattlesnake guards an old conquistador horse path leading from the edge of Macker’s yard right up into the Sangre de Cristos. And, closer to the house is a small stone slab holding a wrecked typewriter. Macker calls it Peckinpah’s typer. The machine is a chaos of rusted keys all mashed together. I’d like to think that Kell Robertson used it when he wrote Pretty Boy Floyd and in one of Robertson’s many travels the typewriter bounced off the back of his old green pickup and landed not far from where it rests today.

LAS MONTANAS DE SANTA FE or THE MOUNTAINS OF HOLY FAITH is a collacoration of John Macker’s poetry and Leon Loughridge’s art. There are books and there are books. Some are like lowdown dives where you enter at your own risk. Some are like cathedrals, pure works of art. LAS MONTANAS is a pure work of art. I am looking at a reduction woodblock of Diablo Canyon by Leon Loughridge. The title under the woodblock says it all. “An exploration in woodblock and poetry of the faith and culture of Northern New Mexico. A hand printed book with poetry by John Macker and woodblocks by Leon Loughridge.”

Working with images of the american southwest is a tricky business simply because that first wave of Taos and Santa Fe artists really tapped into something almost other worldly as far as painting and visual art are concerned. And, of course, Georgia O’Keeffe followed them brilliantly with her stark visions of New Mexico. However Leon Loughridge’s work is both epic and personal when it comes to a unique way of seeing in the spirit country. Because, whatever you see in the spirit country, you see with your soul.

The pairing of Leon Loughridge’s art with John Macker’s poetry is like making sparks fly up into the air. Macker understands the outlaw shamanic feel of life in the desert southwest and he demonstrates it in LAS MONTANAS. I am always astonished by the best of his poems in WOMAN OF THE DISTURBED EARTH, BURROUGHS AT SANTO DOMINGO, THE FIRST GANGSTER. One of my favorite John Macker poems is “Call Me The Doc Holliday Of Language.“ “I am the voice of the wasteland/The wasted, the outgunned, the/Disenfranchised…” There is no doubt that Macker is the Doc Holliday of language, because he understands better than most New Mexican poets that both the gunfighter/outlaw and the outlaw poet are flawed tragic heroes wandering through some gorgeous lunar landscape just before setting out on the Jornado del Muerto.

beyond geography

I thought of the Sangres
like a lover,
low green graceful range
a nativity
beyond geography

we are this open work
between words
just a pair of stone desert
sipping cervezas,
chatting up Borges, the
blind Argentinian
underneath the imaginary virga

this I learned:
when faced with forked paths
choose both
no book is ever finished
every mountain belongs to another
when we read each other across this
twilight softened range, we are,
become one,

beyond one.

Macker’s sense of storytelling is really what holds these poems together. When he writes about Mount Taylor or Black Mesa or Holy Ghost Creek you are there. You can see the mountain, you can hear the water. The feeling that Macker conveys in these poems is that he is the keeper of all the best stories. He knows where the old bones are. He can lead you to Folsom Man’s footprints or the cartridges left on the ground from the Lincoln County War.


Coyote blitzes across the mountain highway-
I miss him by this much, but I could still see the wind

blowing through his crooked smile as he vaulted
the guard rail in the tapioca snow.

It’s no secret he gave birth to thunder in his trickster
youth, no secret he resents the world’s loneliness.

He harangues the moon because it’s
there and always defers to its precocious melancholy,

prefers to watch the pollen-streaked sunrise from the
summit of Penitente Peak, gorges himself on

wild datura and in a dream blames global warming
for the creeping fungus stains on the cave walls at Lascaux.

As sensate as he is promiscuous, calls out my dogs like
a gunslinger and then yips a litany of excuses until he’s long out of sight.

During the drought, he wanders the mountains twice as far for food,
and squats like a bodisattva under a virga waiting for rain.

In his more blissful moments he’ll tell you his diurnal wanderings
leave footpaths on the chambers of the heart, deep in the heart of

New Mexico. In the spring he paddles far up the Pecos until ravens
peck his shadow off the surface of the still river and he locates

a drawing of himself on a wilderness cave wall where he’ll wait
with belated breath to be reborn again.

John Macker’s work in progress masterpiece is a three part long poem. The first section called ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE was published by Turkey Buzzard Press about seven or eight years ago. All by itself, GUNTRADE is unique. The second section, UNDERGROUND SKY, is due out in 2010. I have read long fragments of it and they hint at something as darkly epic as GUNTRADE.

While ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE and UNDERGROUND SKY are glimpses of John Macker’s large outlaw vision of the american southwest, LAS MONTANAS DE SANTA FE should be seen as his stories, songs, and dreams coming out of the spirit country. This is a book of private chants and conjurings.

John Macker

lives in Northern New Mexico with his wife in an old roadhouse on the Santa Fe Trail. Books and broadsides of poetry include For The Few, The First Gangster, Burroughs At Santo Domingo, 2 +2=1, among others. In 2001, won the James Ryan Morris Memorial “Tombstone” Award for poetry. Has given public readings with writers such as S.A. Griffin, Frank Rios, Tony Scibella, Gregory Corso, Andy Clausen, Ed Dorn, Linda Hogan among others. Has had essays and poems published in journals and magazines throughout the U.S. including, most recently, Manzanita Quarterly, Sin Fronteras (Writers Without Borders), Pitchfork, Black Ace Book 7, Mercury Reader, A People’s Ecology: Explorations In Sustainable Living and a large section from a new manuscript Adventures In The Gun Trade (considered to be a seminal Outlaw text), was featured in Mad Blood #2, October 2003. In Colorado, in the early-mid 90’s edited the award-winning literary arts journal, Harp, which featured interviews and poetry by Robert Bly, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski,Tony Scibella, Diane DiPrima and many others. Has two dogs and when time permits, listens to the wind.

John Macker’s most recent book of poetry is Las Montanas de Santa Fe with woodcuts by Colorado artist Leon Loughridge. He is also the author of Woman of the Disturbed Earth, (Turkey Buzzard Press, 2007), among others. He has recorded 2 spoken word cd’s: black/wing w/John Knoll and Reading at Acequia Booksellers. He is the editor of Desert Shovel Review and was co-editor (with S.A. Griffin and Marsha Getzler) of Black Ace Book 8, a tribute to the late L.A. poet Tony Scibella. His work is currently included in Mile High Underground, an exhibit of art & literature at the Evans/Byers Mansion, Denver, Colorado, sponsored by the Colorado Historical Society.

Much more on John Macker can be found here…

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doing shots with ben smith in air à boire

Ben Smith’s AIR A BOIRE, roughly translated as Drinking Songs, isn’t so much a book of poetry as it is a dramatic gesture, a kicked open door, a drink thrown in the face, a stiff shit of the best boiling down the throat. What got my attention right away was the cover with that sleeping cat in the foreground and the hyper realistic painting behind it of two lesbians with their mouths wide open teeth showing tongues just touching tip to tip. For me, the cover really makes this book pop and the photographer, D’Arne Julia Jamieson, Smith’s girlfriend, really knows how to work that lens.

The back cover blurb, from a review by Bill Chinaski, names Charles Bukowski as Ben Smith’s influence. “Like Bukowski, Smith delves into the existential aspects of everyday life with much humor and pathos….” Bukowski is obviously part of the influence. If you are twenty five years old, you love to drink, you love to get laid, you’ve discovered poetry and it sort of comes easy, and you think you are tough and will live forever, then Bukowski is your man. But a brief word of warning right at the beginning. Bukowski makes it all look easy. When it isn’t and never will be.
However, Ben Smith is no Bukowski wannabe. Buk’s influence might be visible in some of the poems, but Smith is his own man and is capable of probing feelings that Buk, more often than not, hadn’t attempted.

Don’t be mad at me for saying this.

Even to this day,
they were the coldest eyes I ever saw.

All pissed on
with a red wetness,
from the center of her face.

Pinned back by the fury –
of her temper,
with a skull,
attempting to escape its skin

saying something cruel,
underneath her breath.

knowing that nothing can break your heart more
than the snotty bubbles,
at the end of your girls nose.

What I love best about this poem is its sheer viscerality. The cold eyes looking pissed on, the fury where the skull is attempting to escape its skin. Who knows what caused the trouble, a lover’s quarrel, maybe a fight over money or sex or another girl. Whatever it was, it doesn’t really matter. Most minor poets would go all soft and sentimental here, but not Smith. This is the tell tale mark of a real talent working. Instead, he kicks all sentiment aside and gives us what his girl really looks like, all of it, the warts showing, including the snotty bubbles popping at the end of the his girl’s nose.

Smith also possesses the ability to get at the utter, disgusting truth about himself. It almost seems as though he strips himself bare so the reader can get a good look of both the outer and the inner man.

Clean like a fox

The bath water starts to drain
Grey swirls,
With blue bubbles.

It tickles me as it sinks,

Past my nipples,
Past my ass.
Past my balls.

I’m drunk –
to drunk to even finish this beer.

So I pour it in the bath
And mix it up with the water.

Let it swirl all around me.
Around my ass.

The whole beer,
Every thing –
My filth, my stink.
All awash and then down a hole.

Like having sex –
with a virgin.

Who wanted her first time
to be something special.

Smith’s poetry works best when it gets down to this level because it’s right here where he reaches an essential honesty about himself. My filth, my stink. All awash and then down a hole. Right in the middle of mixing beer into his bath, Smith realizes drunkenly that all of life is awash and then down a hole, right down into oblivion.

Party time has some of the grungiest and best descriptions of the left over shit of a party I’ve read in a long time. “One guy vomits,/chunky hurls of stomach gravy.” Buk would be jealous. Peaking duck, a very darkly funny poem, begins with these lines:

We lug a dead duck around,
all day;
stewing in its juices.

For sheer grotesque black humor, this is as good as it gets. One slight sidebar note. Not all the poems in this collection are this good. Some are just filler, throwaways that could have been edited out. Some like Sleeping like a vagina promise more than they actually deliver. But, the poems that are good, are very good, well worth the unknown price of the collection.

Like all first books of poetry or near firsts, the poems could have been edited in a slightly tighter way. I’m not sure if Smith intended all the glitches and misspellings. In some peculiar and just off center way they work this time. But, they also stand out. The darkness and the humor can just as easily be achieved with some tougher editing. Still, who am I to quibble? I love these poems. They hit me in my dark place.

cavity | the cars at the front of dave’s | dont be mad at me for saying this | the holiday tan | bed head (oh, how cute) | your twenty one | get over it cassanova | her popcorn hair | untitled (1) | clean, like a fox, |reprieve, amoment from the glare | untitled (2) | growing into a beautiful flower | lifes a beach | untitled (3) | untitled (4) | party time | sleeping like a vagina | black and white | father and sons | twelve weeks of winter | untitled (5) | god might remember | without | pealing duck | cork sandels | I dont want to dissapoint you | the woman with the wagging finger | the same | no more footsteps | 29 poems in total.  Aire à boire is available via and much more on Benjamin Smith can be found on his web page horrorsleazetrasch

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patrick mckinnon and the drunken shamanic


being an Outlaw Poet means just simply doing the right thing. Which is both a cliché and a quiet act of humanity. What happens in the poetry world is that we get so caught up in our own legends, mythos, and desperate stories that we forget or neglect or avoid our friends who suffer through disease, money troubles, divorce, or madness.

I personally wish I had written more often to Dave Church and never expected to hear that he had died in his cab. The news of his death still leaves me somewhat shaken. At the time, I had poems of his that I’d planned to send as an attachment to my son and the co editor of St. Vitus, Theron Moore. But, I’d put that off way too long.

But, I’m not going to do that with Pat McKinnon. Recently, McKinnon went through surgery to remove a large benign brain tumor. He survived with all of his faculties intact and discovered that he can still write poetry. Which is probably a miracle in anyone’s book.

I’ve known McKinnon for at least twenty five years, if not longer. For years, McKinnon edited Poetry Motel and presided over the Duluth literary enterprise called Poetry Harbor. Poetry Motel, in my opinion, was one of the truly innovative zines of the eighties. McKinnon had been largely influenced by the style of Dennis Gulling’s magazine Crawlspace which began in the seventies. Gulling had an eye for what I call invasive collage. Along with the poetry that he published, Gulling’s style of collage was visceral, aggressive, and absolutely in your face. And, this influence definitely shows up in most of the issues of Poetry Motel.

McKinnon’s eye for poetry as well as collage also shows up in the kinds of iconic poets he published during the heyday of Poetry Motel. Just scan the pages and you’ll find such poets as Ron Androla, Antler, A. D. Winans, Kell Robertson, Albert Huffstickler, and A. D. Winans. Poetry Motel defined the small press in the eighties the way that Raindog’s Lummox defined the small press in the nineties. And, I don’t think I would be too far off the mark if I said that Raindog was also influenced by the collagic style of Poetry Motel and adapted that look for his mag as well.

Pat McKinnon the poet has always struck me as someone in love with a kind of wildly exuberant or celebratory anarchy. A little over twenty years ago McKinnon, Gulling, Jesse Glass, and I decided to do the Outlaw Tour of southern Wisconsin. What it really amounted to was driving to Milwaukee to read at an art gallery. That was on a Saturday. Then Sunday we drove down to Chicago to read at a rather seedy bookstore on Belmont Ave. where the owner of the store barred the poets from using the restroom and suggested we walk six blocks to a fast food restaurant. I asked him why he didn’t want poets pissing in his crapper and he replied that he had nothing against our poetry but didn’t want our piss going into his stool. It might get contaminated. I remember Pat standing a little off to the side of the store. He was a little high, maybe drunk, too. He yelled, fuckit Todd, I ain’t giving him any of my shit. Then he walked down to Lake Michigan and pissed into the breakers while some sun bathers were yelling obscenities and throwing empty beer cans at him.

Most of Pat McKinnon’s work is out of print now which is really too bad. His best known book is CHERRY FERRIS WHEELS. If you are lucky you might find it at a good second hand bookstore or on the web, maybe at Amazon. Buy it if you run across it. CHERRY is definitely worth the money. Because, McKinnon’s poetry is the drunken shamanic shouted into the void.

the first seizure poem

coming slightly awake after total blackout
like blinking but only secondary chips of it
biting one side of my tongue right off &
hitting somehow the delivery truck brakes &
stopping 3 tiny feet from the half-frozen lake it
would’ve eaten that semi easily &
never given even the trailer back a
massive brain-tumor seizure on highway 2 at
45 mph even w/out traffic around me how that
truck didn’t tip or jack-knife when jumping that
curb didn’t falter down didn’t try to pass itself on that
football field hill to the sludgy ice that
undeniable slant toward chunky 34 degree water that
is bottomless in february is w/out forgiveness i
was running on full mercy you see i
was completely w/in the power of my spirit animal i
was ready to die i was ready to live i
was passed out for 20 minutes a
broken part of the steering wheel my
mouth spilling blood & a
fist-sized tumor as tho my bed had
been loaded w/death instead of
donuts 13,000 pounds trying to eat me alive like a
wonderful delivery-driver breakfast seizure-dumped into that
gnarly jagged-toothed wisconsin shoreline

This poem is currently unpublished.

I remember Pat McKinnon and Bud Backen sitting out on my deck porch in Belvidere one cool evening over twenty years ago. McKinnon and Backen were rolling some smoke and I was sipping a tall rum coke and we were talking about the way the night brings you things like a wolf carrying impossible dreams as though they were big chunks of meat in its mouth and that those dreams are the poems you are going to write only you have to find it in yourself in the darkest blood of yourself to be able to get them down on paper. McKinnon, whose face was obscured with night and smoke and talk and blur, said I keep running toward that wolf but it never stands still. I took a long chug of the rum coke and felt it get very warm in my throat and said, you crazy bastard.

Don’t you know, don’t you realize that the wolf is you.

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gary goude and that crushed rotting dawg


significant poet is surrounded by a cluster of unyieldingly savage images which define both him and the age. Gary Goude is a compelling example. When I wrote the introduction to his first chapbook, A CRUSHED ROTTING DOG published by Fine Human Wreckage Press back in 1995, I was drawn to both the honesty and the violence of his work. The cover of DOG reveals a snapshot of Goude drinking from what looks like a bottle of vodka or possibly gin. He’s sitting on a white bench in front of a house window which sports the sign, Beware of Dog.

Monday Afternoon Rush

sitting in four o’clock traffic
gloria allred on the radio ranting
this time about men
who grope women on buses
my car is not moving
snarled in the endless stupid chain
the odometer says 164385.7 miles
there’s a crushed rotting dog
off to my right
and the woman in the red porsche
next to me
just rolled her window up
disgusted to find my
filthy factory face
looking her way
the air is hard to breathe
heavy with the exhaust of the thousands of cars
stretched out for miles
and the bloated dog
is staring at me
and seems to be smiling

I love this image. It’s the kind of image that Baudelaire could easily have used in FLEURS DU MAL. It’s the type of image that could just as well been found in Hemingway’s The Killers. It’s something that Chandler could have had Philip Marlowe discover in THE BIG SLEEP. I love this image because it’s so urban, so disgusting, and yet so beautifully fitting for the traffic snarl and the angst of the man with the dirty face staring at the woman in the red Porsche. In just twenty lines, Goude has summed up modern sexual, longing, revulsion, desire, and death. This poem is undoubtedly a classic outlaw poem

Black Hood, Dead Eyes

Everyone wants
a key
into heaven
since it’s hard to die
and harder
to live.
We’re doing
a slow burn
and don’t you
ever think
you are not strapped in
and the juice
is ever

Goude has that uncanny ability of catching the remorselessness, the futility of modern life played out along the margins. He knows what blue collar is, he understands that the eight to five is really a death sentence for most people though they usually choose not to think about it. Goude is at his best when he is using a jack knife to cut the rubber off the bare wire so that he can expose the raw pop, the blue volt.

My Old Man Used To Say

after he got laid off
from his latest
low paid job
“better days are coming
better days are coming.”
Then he’d pass out
at the dinner table
while my mother
that life was just fine.

The world that Goude knows has that noir feeling to it. You go to work but you are dreaming of the big one, hitting the lotto, robbing a bank, finding a van full of drug money out in the desert the way that Josh Brolin does in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Or, if that doesn’t happen, then just getting wildly fucked up as often as possible.

Drunk Poet

So one night I‘m watching this movie about
henry chinaski and he’s always drunk just like
I want to be and he’s a bum just like I am and
he’s got a special kind of nobility about him
because he knows more than most just how
useless life really is and I admire the guts it
takes for him to stay drunk like that. Most men
could not stand up to the effects but he did and
lived to write about it and they even made a
movie about a drunken poet, and that will never
happen again.

blood1.jpgLike so many poets from the eighties and nineties, Goude has hooked deeply into the meat of the Bukowski mythos. The only honest way to write is to write wasted. Because that’s when you are the most honest and the most wrecked. The irony here is that while Goude has caught the Bukowski infection, he doesn’t write like Buk. Goude’s work is even more lost than anything that Bukowski ever wrote.

Most of Gary Goude’s poems read like dark movies. Something out of Raoul Walsh or Michael Mann. Like maybe a film starring Mickey Rourke or Steve Buscemi or Sean Penn. Sean Penn going stark whiskey crazy like he did in MYSTIC RIVER. These are the kinds of actors who could portray a Gary Goude character, someone who has lived life right at the shaved raw ends of all his nerves.. In my introduction to his half of BLOOD ON BLOOD, a chapbook from St. Vitus we both appeared in, I compared Goude to Mickey Spillane but that really wasn’t accurate. Goude’s vision is bleaker. Imagine Jim Thompson writing THE KILLER INSIDE ME while doing Jim Beam and coke. When Goude goes into a poem, he knows that everything is fucked right from the start. And, that’s what I like most about the poetry he writes. His best poems are noir classics, right in the vein of HEAT or IN BRUGES.

Goude knows that the real promise of this life is a tumor, a bullet from a driveby, or taking a piece of metal through the head in a car wreck on the freeway. He probably put it best in a letter he wrote to me about fourteen years ago.

“Like what you said about head on collisions and drunkeness in poetry. Not too long ago I found myself in a bad situation. I had been drinking a lot of beer and whiskey in some bar and somehow ended up in a cantina with this mexican woman. I was the only white guy there and I was fucked up. I remember this guy stuck a pistol in my gut when I fell over and knocked a pool cue out of his hand. All I wanted to do was get out of there. A couple of guys followed me out to my truck. I stood there and looked at them, then got in my truck, backed out and got away. I had to puke the whole time but managed to drive a mile or so before pulling off the side of the road and heaving my guts up. I think I was close to death. Somehow I made it. It has been like that my whole life. A lot of close calls and a few tries at suicide. Somehow I am still alive.”


time I think of Gary Goude I remember that dog.

grave2.jpgGary Goude

is a machine shop worker in Los Angeles. He’s also a Vietnam vet. And he happens to write the most gut-wrenchingly real poetry you’ll have read since the death of the originator of blood and guts poetry Charles Bukowski, who interestingly enough, found an audience among the uppity poetry folks when he was first published in the NYQ back in the early ’70s. Well, folks, Gary Goude is the new Bukowski. His stuff is about the real everyday hell we all go through. He is an every man. Married. Divorced. On the outs with one son and now the other. He can’t maintain a a relationship with a woman. He has few friends. His trust in his fellow man all gone. And he self medicates with alcohol. He’s nearing 60 and his words should be read by everyone who can’t stand regular, dull, lifeless, having nothing to do with anything poetry, you know, the flowery bullcrap that makes no sense and means even less than the next word out of President Bush’s mouth.

nycqAlso, his interview in this issue is his attempt to plead the case for a better poetry product, one that is of and for the people and not the green hedge blocked view of the campus poets, the dull bark of a human shells sitting at a machine knocking out their latest volume of poetry gunk, that won’t be read, that won’t sell a single volume but will be hailed by the New York Times book critics as the best poetry anyone, even the cellar dwellers like us, can and should read. BUNK. Gary Goude is the man people should be reading. You’ll identify with his short, understandable rips on ex-wifes, the job, the life of hell we all exist in and survive through…and for what, we don’t know. And neither does Goude. But we know a fellow survivor when we read him and Goude is a survivor and an artist who can chew it up and spit it out better than anyone you’ve read since Bukowski left this green Earth for poetry readings alongside Jesus H. Christ. by Robert W. Howington

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into the open madness: the poetry of kell robertson

Maybe you are sitting in a bus depot waiting to catch a Greyhound to L.A. or Denver or El Paso or Seattle and you need something to read and you know you don’t want to do another four hundred pages of Michael Crichton and Tony Hillerman is dead and you are already missing the latest adventures of Jim Chee and you have read all the tea cozy mysteries you can take for awhile but you need something different something that will take you out of yourself, something you can read while crossing that huge american emptiness known as the Great Divide, something that will take you away from the stink of the city, the neighborhood grit of Rockford, Cheyenne, Dodge City, San Antone. Something with a little dream in it, something with a little song in it, something with a little land in it, something with some horses in it. You look down at the book that has been tossed under your chair and discover it is called POEMS by Kell Robertson. You open it and notice it really is poems and the last thing you actually want to read on this trip is poetry then you find yourself reading that first poem which is untitled.

In Albuquerque
a sea gull
on the Rio Grande
dove under the bridge
came out the other side
two sparrows

This is the ideal way to be introduced to the poetry of Kell Robertson. It’s best done accidentally, on the sly, almost subversively; what is important about Robertson’s work is it’s accessible. It speaks directly to you and it doesn’t sound like something you’d be assigned to read in a high school literature class or a university intro to lit one oh one. Kell Robertson’s poetry is just there the way that a river is there, the way a mountain is there.

A Fine Place To Be

Popping open a hot beer at dawn
out on the desert, coughing up
and spitting remnants of
tobacco stained dreams,
very real granite gravel
grinding into my knees as I
fry stolen bacon in an iron skillet
over a fire made of dry
popping driftwood, my friend’s
gentle mare chomping, snorting
down the dry wash where
I tethered her. If I climb
that ridge there I can see
the cars whipping along
the highway from Albuquerque
to Santa Fe, hear the huge trucks
gearing down the hill.
But this morning
I don’t have to hear that
don’t want to eat
hamburgers at Burger King
or have lots of strong shots
of tequila in your
imitation leather cocktail lounges
or discuss literature with
the university poets
or listen
my love
to your lyin tongue

I want to saddle that horse there
and ride right up
through the Sangre de Cristos
into the open madness
where the outlaw fires
still burn.

What I love best about this poem is that it reads like a movie. Or maybe the notes for a Max Evans novel. It’s definitely not Eastern. And, it’s definitely not Post Modern. Or even Modernist. Kell Robertson’s work doesn’t fit into any literary category easily. Personally, I choose to call his work Outlaw, not just because this word is contained in the poem I just quoted. Robertson’s poetry is Outlaw because it resists all attempts to place it in any safe literary niche. And, in some primal way, Outlaw Poetry does resist easy definitions. Outlaw Poetry is Outlaw because it stands at the margin, and by reason of its authenticity, drags the center of american poetry back to it.

Kell Robertson’s work really isn’t Cowboy Poetry though it might have some horses and some cowboys in it. The one thing that can be said about his poetry is that it isn’t what you would find in a Norton Anthology and it wouldn’t be taught in an MFA class. It’s not polite, it’s not refined, it’s not sophisticated, it’s not politically correct. But, it has the raw, primal power that poetry should have if it is going to be read again and again over time.

POEMS, published by Dave Roskos’ Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, is a compilation of three of Robertson’s early chapbooks – Toward Communication, Between Standing Up And Sitting Down, and Outlaw Fires. Roskos is one of the really fine small press editors, the kind of editor necessary to keep the small press vital and viscerally real.

And, publishing Kell Robertson is vital. There is no doubt in my mind that Kell Robertson is an important american poet. Not every poem he has written is a masterpiece, but he has written enough masterpieces to qualify him for greatness. His book A HORSE CALLED DESPERATION is a major book of american poetry. POEMS is an essential read for anyone interested in Kell Robertson’s work.

Kell Robertson

Iniquity Press / Vendetta Books

This chapbook consists of 3 out of print chapbooks by Kell Robertson. His first 2 books from the 1960s, which were published by Ben Hiatt on his Grande Ronde Press, & Outlaw Fires, which was published by Tom Kryss, on his black rabbit press, in Cleveland in 1989. There are 20 copies of this chapbook with black covers w/ art attached; 11 copies w/ white covers w/ art attached; & 96 copies with tan covers. January 2009. all rites belong to Kell Robertson. ISBN-1-877968-43-9 Silk sreened front cover art by Tom Kryss.

In memory of Ben Hiatt.

I did write you some stuff about Ben Hiatt didn’t? He was the first guy who really believed in my poetry. Got me started on my magazine…DESPERADO. Anyway man, give him credit for that. Maybe I should dedicate it to all the folks who gave me a shot with my writing. There have been damn few over the years. All the “fugitive” publications. And I’m honored to have Kryss doing the cover. Ride Easy. Kell Robertson, November 20, 2008

[quickshop:Kell Robertson – Iniquity Press:price:8:shipping:0:shipping2:0:end]8 EURO incl. shipment cost world-wide

More on Kell Robertson can be found by clicking here…

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dave roskos, the editor’s editor


you are a small press poet and you haven’t heard of Dave Roskos or read anything published by Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books, or, at least settled back in an easy chair with an issue of Big Hammer and a drink, then you are so far behind in the game you may as well collect your chips and leave quietly, preferably by the back door. Roskos has been writing poetry since 1979 and publishing Iniquity Press since 1988.

I knew about Roskos and Big Hammer for many years and when he stopped on his way through Albuquerque a few years back, I had lunch with him and Mark Weber and we talked about tire irons, doing shots in the front yard, furniture thrown out of second storey windows, survival when survival did not seem to be an option, writing poetry in the dark booths of working man bars, Kell Robertson, listening to all the best street talk, and publishing it all out of pocket, out of the soul because that is where it all starts and ends. The soul of a poem isn’t worth a dime but it demands so much of the blood of your blood, the way that you breathe, the way you dream.

I’m looking at Big Hammer 12. The title page is covered with the images of hammers. What else? I flip through the issue at random. Page 118, Blow Out Siesta, the poet is Boni Joi and this is the first line. “She went out for a smoke and got an explosion….” The poem is like a quick shot of bar whiskey, raw all the way through and every word right where it needs to be. This is the kind of poetry that Dave Roskos looks for. This is the kind of poetry that I require while waiting for the next bus to the apocalypse.

Or, lets try this one. Big Hammer, same issue, page 60. The poem is Wild Bill by the late Dave Church. It seems that Dave and his friend Wild Bill go to a bar called Muldoon’s Saloon, get liquored up and go home to make some tapes. On the way,

Wild Bill decided to scale the railing
Of the bridge we were crossing.
He said he wanted to test his nerve.
Suddenly the Devil rushed up behind me—
Made me push Wild Bill right into the river.

As a result of that stunt both Church and Wild Bill are committed to the Institute of Mental Health for a month of observation to see if they really are suicidal. A few months after they are released Wild Bill does kill himself. “Stuck a knife in his heart/Right in front of his mother.” These two lines are what really make the poem, but it’s that last line that blows it all to hell. “He must have really wanted to fuck her…” It’s this kind of poem that makes Big Hammer sing.

If you hang around the small press long enough you will become an editor, even if you don’t want to. It just happens because sooner or later the juice to edit and publish just gets in your veins and pretty soon you are hooked. In my opinion Roskos is one of those rare poets who is a first class editor and publisher. Forget about perfect bound, slick publications for a moment. Those kinds of books are the products of money and hype and bullshit and bean counters. And, yes, there are great ones out there. But, I have looked at far too many really badly written, badly edited slick perfect bound books in my life to know when I am staring at a piece of pure crap. There is no heart, no soul in them. And, if there are genitals, they hidden away from the delicate sensibility.

However, all you have to do is open Andrew Gettler’s Footsteps of a Ghost: Poems from Viet Nam or Ed Galing’s Burlesque or The Goofy Goddess on the Wall by Kell Robertson and you’ll discover the care that Roskos takes in making these books. Roskos prefers to call it building and it actually is a process of building something. Putting it together with your hands. Good editing is almost like dreaming. You have to get yourself in the zone where Andrew Gettler or Kell Robertson live. I have yet to see an Iniquity Press book that has been thrown together. Each one is a work of love and care. You won’t find handmade paper or special print fonts here. Still, the printing is bold and crisp. And, the books like the poems that Roskos publishes, are strictly visceral, the stuff of the shot and beer tradition in poetry. If Roskos had been born say around 1910, he would have been an editor for Black Mask or Dime Detective in the thirties and forties. I can just picture him using a lurid shoot em up cover featuring a Raymond Chandler novelette, say RED WIND. Or, plenty of pin up leg featuring a Paul Cain story.

Building a book includes knowing just how to edit a chapbook. Mark Weber once called chapbooks the equivalent of classical music that string quartets play. Naturally, the world has always been geared toward the big works of art, symphonies by Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Copland. Novels by Faulkner, Melville, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. And, the ambitious long poems of Olson, Pound and Williams. But, the standard collection in the small press world is the chapbook which can be as brief as two or three poems and as large as thirty for forty poems. It takes a special kind of editing skill to pull off the publication of a good or even a great chapbook. Lets face it, THE WASTE LAND really appeared as a chapbook. And, the same goes for HOWL. Chapbooks are the life blood of the small press world, the place where the real action is. And, when you stop to think about it they are almost always quick reads. Roskos knows this fact as well as almost any editor and that’s why his publications are the equal of any around.

I have heard the term writer’s writer thrown around the writing world most of my life. But there is also that rare person who is an editor’s editor as well. Dave Roskos is an editor’s editor. Not only does he know how to design a book well, but he also knows how to read a manuscript as a book before it really becomes a book. And, that, in and of itself, is unusual.

Keep this in mind, there are no Maxwell Perkinses in the small press world. Perkins, who was an editor at Scribners during the twenties and thirties played no small roll in building THE SUN ALSO RISES and THE GREAT GATSBY. That kind of editor is an extreme rarity in contemporary publishing. But, I think Roskos comes close in the way that he works, simply because the books he edits and publishes always have a very stark clean look to them. Clean and spare. He is the master of the simply designed cover. And, he has the eye for that lean black and white effect. He gets it that stark is also beautiful.

Last, but maybe most important of all, Dave Roskos has a feel for what really is important in small press poetry. When you take a look at almost any issue of Big Hammer, what you will see is something that comes close to the honor roll of the best poets writing in the small press world. A. D. Winans, the late Lorri Jackson, B. Z. Niditch, Tom Kryss, to name just a few. If it weren’t for Dave Roskos, who would publish the work of the late Andrew Gettler? And, this is my little sidebar, Gettler’s work needs to be collected and published in one book. And, if it weren’t for Roskos and publishers like him, Kell Robertson’s work would not be as accessible (if that is the right word) as it is. Robertson is, in my opinion, a major American poet whose work so richly deserves to be read again and again. If there ever is a small press editor’s hall of fame, Dave Roskos should be among the first ten editors to be inducted.

What he does and the way he does it takes heart and guts.

Todd Moore, 27 January, 2009, Albuquerque, NM

a first part of Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books are available now in THE SHOP here… and as well on the Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books web page here… More books will be added soon.

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skull highway by lawrence welsh


a review byTodd Moore

In a sense, every highway in America is a skull highway. Every back road is a splintered piece of that brainpan, a sheared off part of that bone. Lawrence Welsh’s SKULL HIGHWAY, La Alameda Press, 12 dollars, in certain ways reminds me of nineteenth century instruction manuals for settlers traveling west. The major difference is that Welsh has somehow codified the instructions into rituals for encountering the west, specifically the Southwest. But, most of all, Welsh has given us perilous ways of seeing.

Imagine Ikkyu condensing a chapter on how to read the clouds on the Santa Fe Trail down to two lines.

lone moon no clouds
we stumble through the night


Welsh’s poems aren’t that spare, but they work toward that kind of spareness.

New Medicine Stick

what flames
through coyote


or pit-bound spirits
hold the heat
and calls
from the west

those who walk
cry too
or howl tonight
for beauty
for all the
on the


A poem like “New Medicine Stick” conjures the energy for the entire book and announces a set of pared down rhythms that Welsh skillfully employs throughout these poems. I can’t help but be reminded of other voices here. First, that of Robert Creeley. While this poem and the ones that follow don’t have that totally shortline Creeley look, they somehow carry his signature echoes. However, they are also a step away from Creeley heading toward something else. Some idiosyncratic style that really belongs to Welsh. It is also interesting to note that Welsh’s reverence for the land, especially the Southwest, reminds me of Gary Snyder’s feel for the Pacific Northwest. We all have our poetic fathers; we can’t escape them. And, anyone who adopts such a way of seeing the land invites comparison with Snyder. Beyond this superficial comparison, there is something uniquely Welsh’s which is demonstrated in the title poem.

Skull Highway

get it and know
from the bridge

the vestiges of bone
scattered off
the interstate:

hands and heads
stuck in steel

the cutters cutting
the blackened holes:

lanes of regret
lanes of possibility
lanes of eternal light

This poem really is one of the keys to the entire book. Skull Highway is not just a place on the grid. It is the grid. When Welsh writes, “get it and know/from the bridge” he is letting us know that he not only understands the topography of the landscape but he also knows the topography of poetry as well. You can’t write ‘the bridge’ without somehow also invoking Hart Crane’s THE BRIDGE. And once you understand that kind of resonance in this poem, you ‘get it’ about everything else, too. Both SKULL HIGHWAY, the book and the poem, become ways of traveling into a mythic interior, ways of comprehending the Southwest as something more than just a place on the map, a destination. By closing this poem with these three lines, “lanes of regret/lanes of possibility/lanes of eternal light,” Welsh is announcing that this poem is a signal for larger intentions.

Welsh’s Skull Highway takes the reader on a roundabout route to the West Coast, in this case, surfer country with poems like “Culver’s End,” “For Robert Peters,” “New Years’ Eve 1978,” and “Hoover & 48th.” While these are good poems and demonstrate how a highway can be circuitous, they feel like a distraction, a disruption in the flow of the book. They might have been placed at the beginning as a kind of prologue or even at the end as Welsh’s way of looking back at where he had been. Even so, SKULL HIGHWAY opens up all kinds of possibilities for Welsh. Poems such as “Adobe,” “Mesa Hill,” “Gone Rattler,” definitely suggest wider horizons, longer dreams

“Preparing For Maximus,” is one of maybe half a dozen poems in this collection which speak dramatically to other poems. Because both Olson and Duncan are mentioned in the poem, it conjures Black Mountain, it calls strangely for the energy of THE MAXIMUS POEMS, and it teases the reader with the idea that Welsh is working toward the kind of long poem that both Charles Olson and Robert Duncan also worked at. Just who is “Preparing For Maximus?” The answer is obvious. I think Lawrence Welsh is.

The poem “A Light,” also teases with its slightly longer format. At a hundred plus lines it hints at becoming even longer. It is haunting with its shape shifting doves, its gone buffalo, its ritual of tobacco and sage, owl eyes, dancing crow, bear tooth. This short catalog might be the contents of a medicine bag. At any rate, the poem works both as mystery rite and healing ritual. I love it for the visceral feel of these things, its minimal look, and the way it remains mysterious, undaunted, unexplained.

If “New Medicine Stick,” the first poem in the book, is a conjuring of energy, then the last poem is a letting go of that energy.

In The Desert
Dead Things Go Away Quickly

i’ve seen coyotes
under the moon
or a puma
at noon
or the hawk and vulture
who really
own this land

what a great
to end
i thought

so clean
so little blood
the gone bones
by sunrise

This poem has a cleanness, a spareness, and a stark simplicity that, as far as I am concerned are unequaled in most poetry about the Southwest. In fact, it transcends most of the poems that so patently try to be Southwestern and by reason of its quietly simple way of seeing things becomes universal. It has as good a feel to it as any of the shorter poems by William Carlos Williams. It reminds me of the beautifully minimal way that Georgia O’Keeffe painted buffalo skulls and doorways. I can get lost in her doorways, I get lost in her mountains.

And, this is where SKULL HIGHWAY leads.

Todd Moore

SKULL HIGHWAY by Lawrence Welsh. Some of these poems have appeared in the following magazines: Arson, Big Bridge, Chiron Review, Chrysalis, The Higginsville Reader, Joey and the Black Boots, Lummox Journal, Message of the Muse, Pitchfork, Puerto del Sol, Sin Fronteras: Writers Without Borders Journal, The Texas Observer, Frontcover image: Pictograph / Hueco Tanks Jornada Mogollon circa 1200-1400 AD. Copyright 2008 by Lawrence Welsch. La Alameda Press, 9636 Guadalupe Trail NW Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114

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Lawrence Welsh

born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Lawrence Welsh first hitchhiked to New Mexico and Texas in 1989. Five years later, he moved to El Paso, where he still lives. A first generation Irish-American and former award-winning journalist, Welsh has published six collections of poetry: Walking Backwards to Santa Fe (Pitchfork Press, 2007); Believing in Bonfires (Pitchfork Press, 2003); New Shouts at Broken Dreams (Lummox Press, 2001); Rusted Steel and Bordertown Starts (Sundance Press, 1999) and Lenny Bruce in El Paso (Non Compos Mentis Press, 1997). A new book, Skull Highway, was released from La Alameda Press in 2008.

Poet and editor Naomi Shihab Nye has featured his work in The Texas Observer, and the Los Angeles Daily Journal has called him “one of America’s leading writers on life in border towns.” Kathleene West, poetry editor of Puerto del Sol, has also lauded his work, noting: “It’s getting harder and harder to pull off poems with Southwest imagery, but Lawrence Welsh has worked form, content and diction to make it all new again.” Welsh has served as a writer-in-residence at a wide range of schools and organizations, including the Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and at the Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Dallas.

His work has appeared in about 200 national and regional magazines, including Puerto del Sol, The Louisiana Review, Hawaii Review, Onthebus, The Wormwood Review, Nexus, Chiron Review, The Café Review, Poetry Motel, Poetry Now, Pearl, Big Bridge, Flipside, The Raven Chronicles, The Santa Fe Poetry Broadside, Main Street Rag and the book Das Ist Alles–Charles Bukowski Recollected.

A winner of The Bardsong Press Celtic Voice Writing Award in Poetry, Welsh is an associate professor of English at El Paso Community College. A former guest lecturer at UCLA, he has also taught at the University of Texas at El Paso and the Southern New Mexico penitentiary. From 1995-97, he served as poetry editor of the Rio Grande Review. A nationally known spoken word artist, Welsh has given more than 50 readings during the past 10 years in Mexico, New Mexico, Texas, California and Kansas, and he continues to conduct writing workshops throughout the Southwest. He has won numerous journalism awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists Bill Farr Reporting Award, the Copley Los Angeles Newspapers Award, the Women in Communications Endowment Award and the Jessie Steensma Scholarship. In 1992, the YMCA named him man of the year for his community service in South Central Los Angeles. Welsh is married to Lisa McNiel, a poet and teacher, and they have two young children, Megan and Patrick.

More on Lawrence Welsh can be found on his web site by clicking here…

Poet draws on music, ancestry and desert

By Donna Snyder | Lawrence Welsh (Photo courtesy Richard Baron)

The highway first brought Lawrence Welsh to El Paso in 1989, when he hitchhiked to New Mexico and Texas from Los Angeles, where he was a prize-winning journalist and had co-founded the punk rock band The Alcoholics. Five years later, he moved here and embraced his dream of working as a poet.

His newest book, “Skull Highway” (La Alameda Press), features the austere beauty of the Southwestern landscape he now calls home, and the highways, both actual and metaphysical, that cross the Chihuahuan Desert, as well as the grittiness of the streets of Southern California.

In the poem “Norton Flats,” Welsh’s vivid imagery evokes desert life in recognizable terms: “… just sand, yucca / rambler’s stone // a ’38 chevrolet … the sun / the bullets // on blackened glass.” The poem “Skull Highway” resonates like a mission bell tolling news of a death: “… the vestige of bone / scattered off / the interstate: // … the blackened holes // lanes of regret / lanes of possibility / lanes of eternal light.”

Born and raised in south-central Los Angeles, Welsh is first-generation Irish-American, and the musicality and passion of his poetry are true to his roots in a culture that has revered and respected word weavers since prehistoric times. Welsh’s place in that tradition was recognized when The Bardsong Press awarded him the Celtic Voice Writing Award in Poetry.

His work with the band The Alcoholics made him a seminal member of the Los Angeles punk rock community. Artifix Records has recognized this by releasing a full-length 30-year retrospective of the band this year titled “The Alcoholics: East of Sepulveda, West of the Row.” His experience as a musician, including a deep love and knowledge of jazz, informs his poetry, which has a rhythm and musicality reinforced by Welsh’s delivery in his live performances, again marking his place in the oral history traditions of Irish poetry.

Welsh’s poetry is firmly grounded in the geography and vernacular of the Southwestern United States. In “Milagros,” he writes, “… we become / vestiges / of pictured / fate: rusted steel / too gone / for the polisher’s knife.” Welsh, now 50 and an associate professor of literature at El Paso Community College, has said he never expected to live past 25. His book recognizes his own eventual mortality, and the loss of friends along the road.

In “the eve,” Welsh writes: “those flown / become // birds // a blood’s religion / an inspired knife.” In “Troubadour West,” he recognizes the dead end he may have faced but for going to college and becoming a writer: “… old punk pedigree / speaks / tales. all / (now)? / faded / smoking // transient’s pipe / and song.”

“Skull Highway” is the sixth of Welsh’s published collections; the earlier ones are “Walking Backwards to Santa Fe,” “Believing in Bonfires,” “New Shouts at Broken Dreams,” “Rusted Steel and Bordertown Starts” and “Lenny Bruce in El Paso.” A seventh book, “Carney Takedown,” is forthcoming in 2010 from Unlikely Books.

Note: Donna Snyder, the founder of Tumblewords Project, is an El Paso writer and poet whose works have been widely published. This Donna Snyder article first appeared in the EL PASO TIMES on May 31, 2009.

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