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This Is Between Us
This Is Between Us
by Kevin Sampsell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.58
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic book from the unstoppable Kevin Sampsell, November 27, 2013
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This review is from: This Is Between Us (Paperback)
I absolutely adored Kevin Sampsell's previous book, his amazing memoir "A Common Pornography." It was a mainstay in a bag for years, and I give it as a gift to at least a half-a-dozen writers and friends. Needless to say, I was excited (and nervous -- my expectations were so electric!) for Sampsell's next book. a novel titled "This is Between Us." As it turns out the excitement was completely justified, and the nervousness a total waste!

Echoing the intimacy and honesty of the ultra-brief chapters in "A Common Pornography," "This is Between Us" pulls the reader in by giving us vulnerable and clear-eyed access to an ocean of moments in the five years of a romance. There are moments of quiet lust, lusty confusion, confusing intimacy, intimate comedy, comedic tragedy and tragic silence.

As someone who just left a decade-long relationship, I find down-right miraculous that Sampsell can be so graceful in showing us the spectrum of what it means to be a relationship: the bravado, the romance, the mistakes -- ones you admit to and ones that you hide --the juxtaposition of feeling like you know someone better than anyone else in the world while also realizing you may not know that at all, all the times you watch them silently, the locks you are always trying to pick within the other.

There is a lot of beauty in this book -- a lot of lust and romance -- but Sampsell allows us the gift of seeing beauty even when there doesn't seem to be any: the awkwardness of bumping into an ex's brother in a clothing store, the nervous heat of taking your girlfriend to place you once brought other woman, the parental fear that your leap towards to love might have consequences you can't easily reverse with the kid who didn't ask to brought into this world.

It's addicting, honest and immensely readable book. I highly highly recommend!

The Importance of Being Ernest
The Importance of Being Ernest
by Ernest Cline
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.41
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastically Geeky & Hilarious Time Capsule of the Early Work of Ernest Cline, September 13, 2013
When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer. But growing up in working class Philly, it seemed like an impossible dream. I mean, I knew writers exists, but I didn't understand how they got to BE writers: the years of effort, the steps it took, the rejections & acceptances that would eventually put them on their path. When I began looking into the lives of writers I admired, I loved ones who seemed to have fought impossible odds -- creating wonderful and iconic work along the way -- to get them where they are. And it is for this reason that absolutely adore the Write Bloody Publishing's gorgeous illustrated re-issuing of novelist & screenwriter Ernest Cline's first (and only!) poetry collection, THE IMPORTANT OF BEING ERNEST.

For those fans of Cline's work that were first introduced to him via the (cult) film, FANBOYS, and even more so for those book-lovers who fell in love with Cline via his incredible debut novel, the NYTimes-bestselling READY PLAYER ONE, there is so much for love in this collection. We see Cline in his earliest years as a writer: ranting about his day jobs, railing against unchecked complacency & contemporary idiocy, and -- perhaps most fun -- unabashedly geeking out over the things he loves. Although these spoken word pieces are all over a decade-old, there is a smart freshness to them. Even though I've heard the pieces before -- you can download his spoken word CD for free on his website, and it contains many of the pieces in the book -- I still find myself laughing out loud. And the highly stylized, high-energy Len Peralta illustrations which accompany the pieces just add to the fun.

Feel free to google some of the best known works in the book -- "Dance Monkeys Dance" "The Geek Wants Out" "Tech Support" "Airwolf" "Nerd P*rn Auteur" -- to get a sense of what is in here, but please know that are lesser known Cline gems to enjoy as well. It is a fun & heartening book for any fan of Ernest Cline's, and any geeky writer wondering were a powerhouse like Cline got his start!

Elegy Owed
Elegy Owed
Price: $9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave New Work by a Beloved Evocative Poet, June 1, 2013
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This review is from: Elegy Owed (Kindle Edition)
I am, admittedly, a huge Bob Hicok fan. I have all of his book (some of which I've previously reviewed on Amazon) and have felt privileged to watch his work evolve over the years in real. And in "Elegy Owed," his latest collection, he seems to have taken an enormous leap!

I remember seeing a Mark Rothko retrospective in DC when I was younger, and -- knowing how his painting style was going to end up -- marveling as the timeline the exhibition allowed me to watch the figuration in this paintings getting slighter and slighter, as the evocative color wash backgrounds get bolder and bolder. When he finally removed figures from his paintings altogether, his paintings pulsed and glow with pure color and emotion. You didn't need to understand what he was trying to express with the painting, but rather needed to just open yourself up to what it evoked in you.

I thought of this a lot while reading "Elegy Owed," as Hicok seems to have taken a big step away from traditional narrative work. This isn't to say this pieces don't sing with narrative elements, but images and tones are sometimes allowed to shimmer and glow without full context, and it is scary and delicious to allow this sorts of unmoored poems find a place in our reader hearts.

While the book is infused with themes of death, loss and betrayal, Hicok's stunning lines and turns, as well as his constant self-awareness ("We didn't jump-this is a poem" he writes in a poem titled "To speak somewhat figuratively about S.") still very much electrify. I feel in love with his work again and again with stanzas like "At the funeral, she wore a tricycle being pushed by her father / when she was five, her legs out to the side. // That's only true in this poem, like the cloud I'm looking at / is only true in this sky. / In all other skies, this cloud is a lie."

Or "When my father dies / naturally I'll want to call him / and tell him my father has died, he won't pick up, I'll decide / he's out raking leaves, that leaves are sullen, that I'm hungry / that my father hasn't died, and when he finally answers, / I'll stand in the kitchen wondering why I called, most / of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich completed, / all that will remain is for the parts to be joined, the jelly / to the peanut butter wing, I'll tell my father / I'm cooking, he'll nod and I'll hear him nod."

I mean, my stars, it just knocks me out! And those are just two examples!

Fans of his more narrative and concrete work should know there are a lot of mysteries in this book that won't be answered for you -- but that's a part of its delight, and a part of Hicok's wonderful journey as an artist. With "Elegy Owed" we are given all the bright and dark washes of his every evolving emotions, and it is a beautiful thing.

Blowout (Pitt Poetry Series)
Blowout (Pitt Poetry Series)
by Denise Duhamel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.93
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a wry, honest and human look at divorce, March 26, 2013
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Early in Denise Duhamel's "Blowout," she bemoans the unlucky coincidence that her previous book, "Ka-Ching" -- a poetry book which had a strong theme of money throughout it -- was slated to published just a few months AFTER another poetry book (by the poet Katy Lederer) which also dealt with the theme of money had garnered much praise, critical attention and even a write up in the New Yorker. "Just my luck," she wrote.

I couldn't help but think it must have felt like deja vu when "Blow Out," her latest offering which deals with the aftermath of her marriage ending at 16 years, comes out just a few months after Sharon Olds's critically acclaimed "Stag's Leap," which also deals with the aftermath of the poet's decades long marriage. "Just my luck," she must have thought... again!

But in the same way that everything you love about Sharon Olds sings so brightly & brilliantly with "Stag's Leap," everything you love about Denise Duhamel is radiant and wonder-soaked in "Blowout."

I fell in love with Duhamel's work because its humanity -- its frizzy hair, its stumbles on the side walk, its wild preparation for things that never happen, its ability to find meaning and hope in the everyday. Duhamel always seemed to be capturing her poems mid-stride, and there is a manic, beautiful energy which infuse her work. With other poets, I imagine them writing their poems tucked into a quiet corner in their library, or sipping tea at quiet kitchen table. I always imagine that Duhamel is writing hers on the backs of receipts, tapping them into the notes section of her phone, or creating them in her head as she runs from class to class, hoping she doesn't forget them before she puts them to paper. And I love that about them, and about her.

With "Blow Out," we see Duhamel reaching new heights of honesty and self-reflection. She tracks the dissolution of her marriage, moving both forward and backward through time. We see her identify warning signs, recall last moments, recall first moments after, struggle, weep, stumble, fall and get back up again -- all with Duhamel's trademark tender wryness. "You are attached to your husband by a cord running from your stomach to his," a psychic tells her in one poem, "Everything night I want you to work on loosening that cord before you fall asleep, OK?" I feel like this book is a product of all that hard, strange but necessary loosening, and another incredible book to add to Duhamel's incomparable stable of true, human poetry books about what it is like to be a woman in the 21st century.

We Over Here Now: Poems by Scott Woods
We Over Here Now: Poems by Scott Woods
by Scott Woods
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! Scott Woods Makes His Long-Awaited Debut, February 26, 2013
Scott Woods has been a beloved & respected figure in the American Poetry Slam scene for over a decade; his debut collection of poetry, "We Over Here Now" shows precisely why.

In 90+ pages, Woods shows us the landscape of his America with poetry that is intimate yet open, frank yet subtle, humorous but cutting. His poetry invites to see the world through his eyes, as offers fresh perspectives on topics as diverse as the bible, car thieves, juke joints, crackheads, burgers, Nina Simone and "whuppins." In each poem, he treats the reader as a close friend: telling him his secrets, sharing his jokes, telling it as he sees it. It has an almost intoxicating effect, resulting in you just wanting to gulp down the book, poem by fantastic poem.

While "We Over Here Now" is filled with many of his best known works (including poems previously published in PANK, World Literature Today and New Verse News), Woods fans should know not EVERY poem you love is in here (I particularly mourn the absence of his Luther Vandross poem!), but that just means that we should even more aggressive in demanding our follow-up!

But first things first: snag this fantastic debut! And book Scott Woods are your local book store, poetry slam, arts center, coffeehouse, opera house or library! You won't regret it!

Stag's Leap: Poems
Stag's Leap: Poems
by Sharon Olds
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.77
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars honest, searing, haunting and ultimately triumphant, September 6, 2012
This review is from: Stag's Leap: Poems (Hardcover)
I have been a fan of Sharon Olds since a copy of "Satan Says" leapt from a used bookstore shelf and into my college backpack, and lived there for the better part of a year. As I continued to explore her work through her numerous books, I fell in love with her poetry, how it balances the hard and soft of life. I loved how her sharp, perceptive mind was balanced and embellished by a sensual, love-drunk heart.

Her poems about her husband were some of the most tender and authentic writing about adult committed relationships that I'd ever experienced. Her poetry grew to be an enormous influence on me as both a writer and a woman, and I know that I am not alone in that. When news of Olds's divorce became public, I remember gasping out loud in shock. I had read and reread her poems so much, that I remembered their details of their thirty year long marriage almost as if it was my own. I felt guilty about how I immediately craved to read her poetry about the subject, to see how her mind was processing what seemed so impossible to me.

Fifteen years later, "Stag's Leap" tells the story of this harrowing time in Olds's life. From the first poem "While He Told Me" (which explores with heart-breaking detail the evening her husband told he wanted a divorce, while her eyes darted "from small thing / to small thing, in our room, the face / of the bedside clock, the sepia postcard / of a woman bending down to a lily") to the last poem "What Left" (where she stares back at the fifteen years of cleaving, and the years proceeding it, with marvelous strength and clarity), Olds creates a masterwork of love and loss.

Delicate, intimate and un-self-conscious, Olds explores the landscape of the new world she is stunned to find herself. Much of this work is rooted in the present: the new behaviors she must develop, the new ways she sees herself and her husband, the way her body won't accept what her mind already knows ("All year they have been calling to my departed husband," she writes of her breasts, "singing to him, like a pair of soaking / sirens on scaled rock."). Other pieces are haunted by the past: the signs she may not have seen, the last time they made love, even the sympathy she tried to extend towards the pressure he must have felt being her muse all these years, asking "did he / feel he had to walk around / carrying my books on his head likea stock of / posture volumes, or the racks of a horns / hung where a hunter washes the venison / down with the sauvignon?"

There is a fresh alarm that is echoes through pages. The 15 years it took for these poems to make their way into book form hasn't diminished their urgency or their heartbreak. However, I think the decade and half allowed Olds the freedom to explore the full journey of what she went through. There are subtle sea changes that tracked through out the book, where she experiences true gratefulness about the path she has been forced on, and sees its good and not just its damage. This builds towards the book's concluding section, which staggers in its appreciation of what endures and what falls away to allow for new growth.

Needless to say, I highly recommend "Stag's Leap," an incredible collection by an incredible poet, and a book I'm sure I will return to again and again.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 14, 2013 5:56 AM PDT

For the Comfort of Automated Phrases
For the Comfort of Automated Phrases
by Jane Cassady
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.66
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a debut that was worth the wait!, June 19, 2012
Jane Cassady's wonderful debut, "For the Comfort of Automated Phrases," has been a long time coming. Having been an active part for years in several poetry communities (California, New York, Philadelphia, etc...) those of us who have seen her live have been spoiled by our access to her handmade & charm-filled chapbooks. Those chapbooks were easy to consume as her homemade gingerbread cookies, which she makes with a little cayenne pepper mixed in the dough; her poetry, like those cookies, allow you to really enjoy the sweetness by enduring a wonderful slow burn.

Now with her first full length collection -- loving put together by the always amazing Sibling Rivalry Press -- Cassady's work is now available to the much larger audience it deserves. Each poem unravels like an almost forgotten home movie: vivid and real, and freshly being remembered. Cassady's keen eye frames life as it is: beautiful and quiet as a morning in bed with your wife; or loud and bewildering as a fireworks to a nephew with autism; or as real and true as love letters you write to cities every morning during your commute.

Cassady captures so much in her poems -- love, fear, sex, loneliness, moonpies, tv shows, Lady Gaga & Elvis Presley -- but she does not try to change or distort them to fit her own purpose. What is funny she allows to ring true with laughter; what is sad, she allows to sing its low notes. She sees herself as she was, as she is, and as she could be, and plays these chords wondrously through out all her poems. It is delight to watch this poet shine a spotlight on her world, and not just claim it all, but love it all: the good and the bad.

I hope "For the Comfort of Automated Phrases" allows more people to experience Jane Cassady & her work, and if you have a chance to see her live, I strongly suggest you do... and not just because she sometimes brings cupcakes to share!

50 American Plays (Poems)
50 American Plays (Poems)
by Matthew Dickman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a strange & joyful delight, June 15, 2012
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I am fan of the (very different!) work of poets Michael & Matthew Dickman that has rolled out in the last few years. When I heard about this project -- a series of 52 short plays about the states, written collaboratively by both brothers during their college years -- I was really intrigued. Each brother has a very distinct voice and I was curious how a collaboration between them might sound -- let alone in play form.

"50 American Plays" was much different than I expected -- but a real delight. It suppose I thought the short plays would be more serious or historical in nature, but instead they are almost like wonderfully surreal fever dreams. Some are straight forward, others are more off kilter, still others seems impossible to stage (how does the state of Alaska talk to a Baked Alaska?!), but all of them are sparkling in their freshness. In reading them, you almost get a contact high of the strange delight they must have taken in creating them, to throw such strange ideas against the wall -- poet Kenneth Koch directing Shakespeare plays is a recurring character, for instance -- and see what sticks. But make no mistake: mixed in with surreal & strange are also authentic moments, plays which linger sticky in your heart. The play about Missouri -- which is literally one line of dialogue long -- brought actual tears to my eyes.

I wouldn't necessary recommend this book as an introduction to the work of Matthew or Michael Dickman, but it is a valuable book nonetheless. It will sit on my shelf next to Sandy McIntosh and Denise Duhamel's "237 More Reasons To Have Sex" and Beau Sia's "Night without Armor II: The Revenge" -- both of which are also spontaneous writing exercises which blossomed into strange & wonderful tomes -- and I look forward to return to it whenever I need to lesson about escaping the comfort zone of my own writing!

Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents (Trenchart: Recon)
Tall, Slim & Erect: Portraits of the Presidents (Trenchart: Recon)
by Alfred Forman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.25
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Charming, Informative Delight!, May 6, 2012
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I first read about this book from the lit blog, HTML Giant, and as soon as I read the description -- book about the presidents inspired by tiny presidential figurines -- I knew I had to have it! After all, I'm a presidential trivia buff in the way other people are sports buffs, and this sounded utterly up my alley. When it arrived in my mailbox, I was not disappointed.

The tall, slim book contains a brief biography of each president along side a black and white photo of the presidential figure for that president, as created by the Marx toy company (no relation to Karl). The biographies are wonderful & wonderfully detailed portraits of actual human beings who happened to become president, than the usual pomp and circumstance biographies you often come across. For a presidential trivia buff like me, it was wonderful to see the odder & more human characteristics of these presidents put into the spotlight, instead of the usual facts. You'll find out who was drunk and who was dry, who charmed the ladies and who slept with men, who bathed naked in the river every morning (as president!) and who eat his way through his unhappiness until he ballooned to 340 pounds.

Author Alex Forman did a wonderful job keeping the biographies crisp, interesting and brief, and the numerous "last words" of presidents sprinkled among the bios was also a dark delight. I only wished she had foot-noted or perhaps done a better job dispensing quotation marks to help separate paraphrases from direct quotes. Another criticism I have is for the photographs themselves. Because the book is so narrow in scope, I felt like some of the portraits weren't showcased well, as right-facing presidents had their faces obscured if the framing put them too close to the binding. Also, I wish the pictures were a bit crisper / had more contrast, as some of the images looked a bit muddy.

But all in all, I still recommend this book for any presidential trivia buffs out there. You won't be disappointed, and you may even make some converts out of your friends!

All of the Above
All of the Above
by Jim Daniels
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars strange truths, presented humbly and unadorned, May 2, 2012
This review is from: All of the Above (Paperback)
It is no secret that I am huge fan of the work of Jim Daniels. I love his poetry's ability to illuminates life's larger themes by simply being honest about the seemingly ordinary, taking time to really examine moments we have lived through, events we witness everyday, thoughts the float through everyone's mind, but we are too busy to notice.

"All of the Above," an incredibly beautiful limited edition letter-pressed volume of poetry, follows this tradition, and takes it a few steps further by presenting a collection of ghazals, or at least 24 poems which "loosely follow" a non-traditional definition of a ghazal. Whatever guidelines Daniels used to create these stunning poems -- each containing five self-contained couplets, which Daniels assures readers are not intentionally related -- they thrill and move, shimmer and spark.

"No matter who much I shadowbox" Daniels writes in one poem, "the gravediggers still blow on their hands."

"I scratched my dresser knobs with the initials of my dreams," he writes in another, "G for girls. I forget the rest."

"When I squished a rat in my driveway," he tells in another, "I smiled because it was not my child's head."

Days after reading the book, I found couplets coming back to me as I stumbled upon examples of their honesty in my own day-to-day life. "Sometimes I fall in love / just watching someone chew gum" he confesses for all of us. "The poor heart. All it wants / is to keep us alive." And what writer doesn't identify with Daniels when he writes, "Look at my hands. They are strangers. / And one of them is holding a pen."

"All of the Above" is filled with these strange truths, presented humbly and unadorned. I highly recommend this book, and hope it makes more fans of the work of this incredible poet.

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