Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jemeni Interviewed

Born in Grenada, raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, but now lives in Toronto, Joanne Gairy, better known as Jemeni, is a woman of many talents. She is an actress, poet, radio host, and writer. She is also married to "words" and "words" must be infatuated because Jemeni has a way with words:

"I already know you're having an affair with words, but, boo, i'm married to it. My vocabulary leaves most men wary. I need to know: can you get into it?

Would you let me lick you with alliteration and tie you up with
similes? Give you pain and pleasure with soliloquies until you beg me for release. I think we can have the ebonic plague solution. Lace me with your lexiconic seed and in nine months we can start to raise the revolution." -- Jemeni's verse from Esthero's "Fast Lane"


IAI: Is Langston Hughes still your favorite writer in the entire world?

Jemeni: Yes Langston Hughes is still my favourite writer always and forever. His work to me was so poignant and beautifully, unapologetically, heroically black. I love his exploration and celebration of his people, sores and all. Or as he put it:

The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express
our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.
If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not,
it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too.
The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people
are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure
doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,
strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain
free within ourselves.
I LOVE THIS MAN!!! I mean what's f*#%ing with thaaaat???

I also love his story, who he was, what he came through and what he stood for. His swagger was impenetrable, which is not to say that there aren't a great many writers that I also love and admire (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston are some of my favourites). It is just that there is always that one person who stops you in your tracks and makes you silent. For me, that's always been Langston Hughes.

IAI: What poet, dead or alive, is overrated? Underrated?

Jemeni: Honestly, there are poets I don't dig, or don't get but I respect that it's about perception and time and perspective so I can't say they are overrated just because it doesn't speak to me. I guess that to the masses that rate them it means something. Besides who does it hurt to overrate a poet? I'm not mad at that.

Underrated? Tough too...I guess I can speak on poets who I think are dope, but maybe the world isn't on yet. Right now my low pro poet fantastic is my home girl Mansa Trotman; her stuff is fluid and soft... right before it kills you.

IAI: I'm sure everyone has heard, by now, your piece "No More Dating DJs." Would you date a poet?

Jemeni: lol! In my mind, sure, I date poets every day. Dope poems make for great pretend boyfriends. All lyrical and witty and no toilet seat left up. I'd never say no; talent is attractive and words turn me on, but it can be tough dating someone who does what you do. It makes it too easy to see through their bullshit cuz it's the same colour as yours.

IAI: Do you write poems for the stage or the page?

Jemeni: This is weird, but I write them for the page -- by performing them into existence like I would for stage. They write themselves with rhythm, but their true calling is for pages.

IAI: I read somewhere that you said: "I don't ... see myself as a poet as much as I do a storyteller." What's the difference?

Jemeni: That came from trying to figure out exactly what it is that I do -- radio host, actor, writer, poet, performer, and I sometimes pop up in songs. To me storyteller encompasses it all. Even in radio, I was telling the city's story every morning. I wasn't raised on poetry, but culturally storytelling was a big part of my upbringing. We didn't do bedtime stories, but Saturday mornings I remember running into my parents' room to hear ananci stories and tales about jumbies and soucouyants and the dreaded la Diablesse. Poetry is a fascinating form, but I'm not always interested in poems. Stories are different; I've always loved a good story. I love telling them in whatever form is available (acting, recording, poetry). And I love experiencing them in any form (movie, TV, great book, in person).

IAI: What emcee today could have been an accomplished poet in his/her past life?

Jemeni: Mmmmm...emcee…Papoose and Kanye and it'd have to be my girl Esthero -- that's a bad bitch right there; a redhead word gangster.

IAI: Anything else you want to add?

Jemeni: Just thanks for having such an interest in words and reaching out. And to whoever takes the time to read this or check out my work -- I want them to know it means a lot and I'm thankful.

You can read Jemeni's work in Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, edited by Tony Medina, which can be purchased at

You can hear her work on Esthero's latest CD Wikked Lil Grrrls.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Please That Sounds Like Music*

Review by Missy McEwen

Please by Jericho Brown is set up like an album cover -- liner notes, track listing and all. Moreover, the book itself is like the stereo (Please is split into sections: Repeat, Pause, Power, and Stop). And just like the stereo and how it is the medium for music/musicians, the book is the medium for poems/poets.

In Please, music and poetry collide (some poems share titles with songs: "Lush Life," "Summertime," and "Song for You") in a compelling way. Similar to the singer that sings about love, all kinds of love, Brown writes about love and its many forms, such as violent love:

"My mother loves her husband
and his hands
even if laid heavy against her." -- from "Again"

Jealous love:

"Keep looking at my man
and I'll cut you a new eyelid" -- from "Autobiography"

"You see
your man approached by a girl whose hair is longer
than her skirt…
my mother/calm, but close to violence, she-wolf set
to claw and devour." -- from "Betty Jo Jackson"

Man and man love:

"In a fast-food line
one man pulls a penny
from another man's

grins too wide a grin,
and pays the extra change.
The boy standing behind

the register takes my jealous
stare for one of disapproval
and shakes his head at me

to say, I hate faggots
too." -- from "Lunch"
familial love:

"He kissed my forehead
before covering me
on the couch that was my bed…" -- from "Again"

"My father's embrace is tighter
now that he knows
he is not the only man in my life…" -- from "Like Father"
and sexual love:

"And you can hear them
in the next room
planning names for the youngest of us
then making love loud…" -- from "Again"
In Please, love is oh baby I love you and/or bruises. Fists inflict pain, words inflict pain, and so does music. "Nothing hurts/like old R&B" Jericho Brown writes and I believe him because music, just like lovers, can bring you down one minute and soothe you the next. Music is mighty. When "the sirens are on the way" and everybody's hollering, the people in Shreveport, "learn to listen to music" over the noise. Music saves if no one else does:

"The singer seeks an exit from the scarred body
and opens his mouth trying
to get out" -- from "Pause"

"I belt out…this tune…
I should be thankful
I…[can] moan…
so nobody notices I'm such an ugly girl.
I'm such an ugly girl." -- from "Track 5: Summertime as performed by Janis Joplin"

Love, music, hurt are the themes in Please. But music seems to be the inspiration behind most of the poems. Jericho Brown writes, "There is no such thing as background music" and this is true. When music is on, we listen -- whether it be the instruments that move us or the voice. Poetry and music go hand and hand; music can move the poet to write and poetry can move the musician to create songs with lyrics fit for a poet. But whereas music can be felt right away, can hit you instantaneously, poems hit you slower. Some poems have to be read and then reread. But not these poems. The poems in Jericho Brown's Please hit you right away and make you say, "Wow," make you pause, make you close the book to take a break to recuperate from the blow. Please is a strong book of poems -- strong like a man's fist, strong like love, strong like music. Press play and give Please a listen, er, a read.

Jericho Brown's Please, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose (2008), can be purchased at and

*From Jericho Brown's poem "Track 5: Summertime"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Silk Fist Songs

Silk Fist Songs
Review by Missy McEwen

Some poets have been doing for ages what scientists, mad and sane, have been trying to construct forever: time machines (sturdy and effective) and Marilyn E. Johnston's first book, Silk Fist Songs, is a sturdy and effective time machine; it takes us back into her past, her youth, without stalling. All the poems in Silk Fist Songs are well-written; there are no filler poems, no weak put-putting poems. From the very beginning of the book, the machine is well-oiled and revs. The reader is invited to take a ride with Marilyn E. Johnston in her time machine (most of the poems in Silk Fist Songs are about her brother and father; they passed away within years of each other). In her poems, we see them "young again." We meet her brother:

"'Dreamer' you had already dubbed me
with my books and determined study habits.
'Realist' I guess that made you, with your
sleek leather jacket and mirror-chrome
cycle revved and straddled, roaring out of
Belden Street when the sun went down." -- from "Game's End"
"'When you do get a strike' -- her brother's wrist
sweeps up magic like a wand -- 'let the line
unreel loosely -- out -- out -- as far as it will go'…
She only wants to be free with him, here
backing her up the way he does, his arm
raised high above their heads, snapping
high widening spirals over the river." -- from "Fishing Salmon River"
We meet her father:

"He drops forty years, gives
a free and easy rogue's smile, bantering
until he forgets where he is in time,
reverts to a spirited Waukegan
Army Air Corps man on extended leave
from Bradley Field, charming
a local girl…" -- from "The Payback"
"The dark bar/booths you emigrated from…" -- from "Speaking in Code"
"Thick workman's fingers
shuffle, cut, and deal one-handed
sleight-of-hand mystery" -- from "Poker Face"

"With smoke-squint eye and work-roughened
fingers, he bows over me
in pure attention, tending,
carefully tying the short white thread
around the wart sprouted
on the base of my elbow…" -- from "Home Cure"
We meet the younger Marilyn:

"So there were boys in the room ----
what had that to do with wanting
to lie, flat on your own rec room floor
in black tights and pleated kilt
kicking up into shoulder-stands
when you're ten going-on-eleven…" -- from "Power"

"You are not supposed to run with boys
but here you are, dancing foot to foot
in impromptu 'tag,' your side of a boundary hedge..."
-- from "Playground After Chase"

"Second-grade friends fortifying a separate
alliance, turned brusquely away, leaving me
crushed, breathless, confused. I had
to resort to sharing my trouble
with Mother at the sink, saying nothing." -- from "Warmth"

"…up comes that June morning of my life's one wild ambush.
Seizing a last day of summer leave, your parents gone,
I let myself in, tiptoed upstairs and slid into this bed
where you curled, English Leather fragrant, still half-asleep,
my clothed body fast-fused to your half-nakedness
while from its dark depths my ring radiated
rainbow filaments across a dawn-lit wall…" -- from "Taking Down A Bed"
Silk Fist Songs is an impressive first book -- open it, step in and forget where you are in time. Go back in time with Marilyn E. Johnston and let her show you around. It will be a place you will want to visit again and again.

Marilyn E. Johnston's Silk Fist Songs, published by Antrim House (2008), can be purchased at

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Truth

A Day of Presence
Review by Missy McEwen

Some of the poems in Truth Thomas' A Day of Presence are about difficult subjects such as AIDS, racism, parents fighting in front of children, and the homeless, but the poems themselves are not difficult to understand. There is no flowery language to beautify the tough subject matter, yet the writing is not straight, ordinary talk either.

Thomas writes about serious issues, yes, but he also writes about mundane things like the weather, but not in a mundane voice. In "Zero Degrees In Dupont Circle," he shows us his take on the cold weather:

"It's the kind of evening when the temperature
sign on the Sun Trust Bank Building just says
'Damn it's Cold,' the kind of evening where... /water mains spit up

glaciers; the kind of DC evening where the march of
penguins is the march of pedestrians;
where squirrels wear scarves and P street is
an ice road..."

A Day of Presence features, in between the solemn poems, odes dedicated to a mosquito and to caffeine. Things other people might take for granted, Truth Thomas notices and writes about them. Some poems made me laugh out loud as if I were watching a comedian on stage (see the poem above). Some poems made me think. For example, the poem "BET" (BET stands for Black Entertainment Television) deals with the degrading images being fed to the viewers:

"Watermelon glazed fried chicken
fills our screens.
pimps on parade
tattoo 'Bitches'
on sisters.
DJ Overseer & MC Whipping Post
– Buckwheat
Hip Hop, zip-a-dee-doo-dah
night & day.
Money's undies – anointed
and for purchase.
Bootie Entertainment Television
of thee I sing.
Bootie Entertainment Network
no ideas
but in bling"
Truth Thomas tells the truth. He does not hide his thoughts behind euphemisms. He says what he feels. He is not afraid to take the Pledge of Allegiance, the Miranda Rights, John's Lennon's "Imagine" and use it in his own way:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation Under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…

Oh, hell no, I do not.

I pledge allegiance to the fingers, reading goosebumps
on your breasts like Braille….

One black man, under Goddess
with multiple orgasms
for all." – from "A Different Kind of Pledge"
"Miranda Rights for Black Men," is Truth Thomas' version of the Miranda Rights:

"You have the right to remain silent, the right to bleed
out, the right to be a cripple after they beat you.

Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court
of law (where they will be acquitted) after they beat you.

Whether in New York or Philly, you have the right to speak
to an attorney, if you can still speak after they beat you."
"Imagine" by John Lennon is remade and remixed into this:

"Imagine unemployment
it isn't hard to do
a shanty town of trailers
the families with no food
Imagine all the people
sinking in their screams…" - from "Imagine"
Also, Washington DC is an important presence in A Day of Presence. Although Thomas was born in Tennessee, he grew up in Washington DC. When we read, we see what he sees: New York Avenue, P Street, the Green Line Metro, U Street, Georgetown. DC natives will smile in recognition and out-of-towners will learn a little about what the Chocolate City is about – the good (like watching a girl sing while waiting for the bus):

In "Dreamgirl":

"A zaftig sister with iPod ears and a dandelion
dress sings while waiting for the 90 bus
to Congressional Heights as Duke Ellington
hums along from the front porch

of his mural here above the Green Line

At 100 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity
is thicker than grease on chitlins – still
this sister blows – sings like

every stranger passing by is an American
Idol judge – sings as if this urine baked
sidewalk, freckled with…flattened
wads of gum, and crumpled up

McDonald's bags is the polished
stage of the Apollo – sings as if
Carnegie Hall is calling her
And the bad (DC has the highest rate of AIDS in the United States):

In "Visiting Hours are Over":

"There are no gay, straight, down low, get high, protected, unprotected
sex questions for you now. Now, a morphine drip drains its indifferent
bladder in your arm. Now a monitor's beeps get sleepy in the shadow
of your coughs."
Events happening in the world such as the war, Katrina, AIDS, racism can shape poets, can make them want to use poetry as a medium to get these issues heard and Truth Thomas' A Day of Presence features poems that deal with heavy topics such as these. However, this is not a book that lectures or preaches; instead this is a book that tells it like it is.

Truth Thomas A Day of Presence, published by Flipped Eye Publishing (2008), can be purchased at and

Monday, October 13, 2008

I A I & John Korn: The Interview

John Korn began writing poetry around 2002. He grew up and still lives in Pittsburgh PA. He worked in a second hand store for three years and is currently a social worker. John draws and paints on occasion, is interested in digital film making, and would like to attempt different forms of story telling, audio, visual and written word.

IAI: You grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The "P" in Pittsburgh must stand for poet because when I was going to college there, there were poets all over the place. What is it about Pittsburgh that makes one want to be a poet? Why did you become a poet?

John Korn: I guess there are many poets here. I see fliers for poetry readings and workshops and have been invited. But honestly most people I know are not poets. So I would not know why there are many here. I kind of stumbled into poetry. When I was younger I would draw and paint. I liked making things with my hands. Later I got interested in story telling. When I was a teenager I remember writing some poetry, but this quickly developed into writing stories. However, they were not very good, but it did help me sharpen some skills with imagery and symbolism. I tried narrative for awhile, and took a creative writing class in college. Even though the focus in this class was fiction the professor asked us to write some poems which I did. I eventually showed these poems to a friend, and he recommended that I submit them to an online magazine called The Hold. I was published there. After that I began reading a few small press poets. There were a few that really got my attention and I began writing poetry frequently for some time.

IAI: Pittsburgh poets seem loyal to the 'Burgh and write about its streets and bridges and the dialect—Pittsburghese. Is Pittsburgh your muse?

Korn: I can't speak for other poets from this area. Pittsburgh certainly makes an impression I suppose. Yes, there are many bridges and streets crowded with old style homes. Lots of which are set on top of large hills. Streets winding around mountains. Some streets seem to be in urban areas and one turn could send you up some narrow road into a heavily wooded area. The slopes in southside are pretty surreal and scary to drive on. Lots of areas look very surreal -- to me at least. Rich areas and poor areas are often side by side. Also there is a lot of local history. I tend to focus on small stories --things like urban legends and just strange little anecdotes and stories I heard via word of mouth, stories by regular people. It's a small city. Some parts of it feel like a small town. There is certainly a Pittsburgh accent. I don't know if that inspires me, but it is a strange accent. Mostly even the people from here mock it in a cartoonish way. I love Pittsburgh. I wouldn't say Pittsburgh is my muse; I don't think I have a muse, but you can't live in a place for so long and not be inspired by it.

IAI: If you could hang a poster of a poet on your wall—like how teenagers hang up posters of rock stars and actors—what poet would that be? Why?

Korn: Oh man. I don't know. Probably Albert Huffstickler. When I think of Albert Huffstickler I kind of laugh to myself because he has a good sense of humor in his poems even when dealing with brooding content.

IAI: Do you remember the first poem you wrote?

Korn: Not really. I remember a few I wrote in grade school, but it was only because I had to. I remember the first one I wrote for college; it was about a guy taking a walk during the fall season and finding a dead man under some leaves. He took the dead man home and made him soup and fed it to him. The man came back to life. That's all I remember. The dead man's name was Jim and that was the title of the poem -- Jim.

IAI: What do you hope to accomplish as a poet?

Korn: I honestly feel like moving into other mediums often. But before I do I would like to write a series of poems that tell a loose non linear narrative maybe following a group of people in a small city such as Pittsburgh. So I guess your questions about Pittsburgh have come full circle in this interview. It does influence my writing, yes.

John Korn's new book of poetry, Television Farm, is available at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I A I Discusses Poetry With Michelle Sewell

Michelle Sewell is an award-winning screenwriter, poet, and founder of GirlChild Press. Throughout her work as a poet and a social worker, she has maintained that there must be a place for women and girls to develop and express their truest selves. With that in mind she has created open mics, workshops, and writing circles to foster that "sacred space" environment for women. The Jamaican-born artist/activist work has appeared on NPR, in Sinister Wisdom, Other Countries: Voices Rising, Campaign to End AIDS Anthology, Port of Harlem Magazine, and With the tremendous success of GirlChild's most recent book, Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, the press is attracting more projects and writers. Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta! is also doing well. A parenting handbook, centered on girls, is also in the works and will be released in September 2009. * To book Michelle for lectures, workshops, keynote addresses at your college, university, high school or conference please email

IAI: In the Fall-Winter Issue of The Birmingham Review, writer Andrew Glaze is interviewed and he states that "Our best poets today aren't nearly as interesting … as cummings [or] Marianne Moore." Them's fighting words?

Michelle Sewell: I think it depends on how you like your poetry: hard and impenetrable or accessible to the public at large. I think it has been difficult for some “traditionalist” to embrace the fact that poetry has evolved, like all forms of art. Every time a new artist comes on the scene and shares with us their interpretations, their thoughts, we owe it to them to hear them out and consider the merits of what she is brings. Recently, I heard someone say that there is a caste system in the poetry world: academic poets, slam poets, lay poets. I don’t think it serves any of us to have these distinctions. I think the doors on the halls of poetry should be swung wide open, invite everyone in.

IAI: Who would you say is "our best poet(s) today"?

Sewell: For me it depends on the day of the week. What mood I am in. Sometimes I am totally moved by a 14 year old poet from Thurgood Marshall Charter School, another day I can’t stop worshipping at the altar of Staceyann Chin or Sonya Renee Taylor. I recently heard a poem from Billy Collins (former Poet Laureate) and I was left breathless. I appreciate innovation, but also poets that do their homework. Poets that understand that when it is done well it really impacts hearts and minds.

IAI: You do a lot to keep poetry relevant today. Why do you do it? How did you get started?

Sewell: I try to do my part. I do it through GirlChild Press because I believe that girls and women need a place to have their say. The more I learn about the publishing world, the clearer it is to me that there is a gender gap that needs to be filled in the publishing world -- what the publishing industry is willing to publish and how they promote women writers in general. I can’t say that my initial foray into publishing was intentional. During 2004, I took a year off to explore my writing life. During that time I started teaching writing workshops to women and girls in marginalized spaces (detention centers, alternative schools, domestic violence shelters, and recovery programs) and was really surprised by the level of talent and the need to write among the girls and women, not only write their stories, but write in general. In 2005, I received a small artist grant and decided to start the press as an attempt to continue to validate these writings by publishing little known women writers, and introducing them to a larger audience. Ultimately, the press strives to be a champion of women’s literature. GirlChild Press is in its third year and currently promoting the most recent anthology Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta!

IAI: What would the world be like without poets, poetry?

Sewell: I think poetry is a way to record what is going on in the larger world. Poetry in many ways can be seen as a time capsule to inform those who come after what was important during that time period. I think the absence of poetry, like all art, leaves us lacking, wanting.

IAI: GirlChild Press just recently published Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta! And also published Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces. What makes a woman poet special?

Sewell: I don’t know if a woman writer/poet is any more special, but I do think they see the world from a different perspective and that perspective should be fully explored and considered.

IAI: On your blog, in the entry "Bailouts and Book Buying," you write: "… Uncle Sam will not be coming by GirlChild Press anytime soon, and writing me a bailout check to keep it afloat…" Do you think poetry publications have staying power in times like these?

Sewell: Books are definitely a leisure items for many, so in this chaotic financial time I think we will see a decrease in sales as people focus on their Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (food, shelter, and clothing). I think all businesses will have to become innovative to stay alive and prosper.

Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta! and Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces can be purchased at and

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Definition of Place

The Definition of Place
Review by Missy McEwen

Some poems are bigger than the page and need to be brought to the stage. If I had to pick a poetry book that could be turned into a film (or a play), it would be Randall Horton's The Definition of Place. The soundtrack: the blues.

The Definition of Place is divided into six sections: The Backstory, Elvie & Rosetta, Sydney Merrill, First Street: Attalla, Alabama, Colored Water: 1963 and Scrapbook. The poems in this book are meant to be read from beginning to end, like a short story, but each poem can stand on its own. However, you'll want to read it like a story because In The Definition of Place, with each poem, a family tree grows and lives unfold. We meet the Fennels (they killed a white man), Elvie and Rosetta, Sydney and Emma (Rosetta's folks), and others relatives. The Fennels (Percy and Wiley -- related to Rosetta and them) are something like heroes in this book. They killed a white man and got away with it and their story is told in the section titled Backstory:

"Sunday's Defiance
(Guntersville, Alabama, 1912)

I. According to Marshall County Clerk of Court

On June 9, twenty-five peg holes were dispensed into the
body of Major King and he dropped to the ground deader
than a cigarette ash. King was reputed to be a wildcat
distiller from Hobbs Island who believed coloreds to be
no better than coons staring owl-eyed down the tip
of a shotgun. Buckshots were the handshake given when
King, inebriated from honeycomb moonshine, disrupted
a peaceful buggy ride, thought he could square dance
right up to old colored Wiley Fennel and his brother
Percy's wagon and invade family space with whiteness.
For the record: Sunday is when Negroes tote Jesus in the
front pocket and Remington in the back. It is not clear
who shot King as neither of the Fennel's discarded lead
matched the body holes. In the meantime there is unrest
in the Negro Settlement."

The killing of the white man by the Fennels is mentioned in several poems throughout the book. It gives Percy and Wiley's kinfolk a sense of pride and they brag about it every chance they get. Even Elvie, related to Percy and Wiley by marriage, mentions it. In "Elvie Horton Stumbles into Rosetta Merrill, Age 26, 1929":

"It was common gossip how
her kinfolk had shot a white man and escaped death.
Right then I knew I had a thorn of a woman. She come
from that proud stock, straight-backed, never lay down."

In "Dialogue with the Tennessee River," Rosetta's brother Sydney recalls with pride the bravery of his relatives:

"I think back to the day when my kinfolk
told he how they made buckshots softly float
in the air like pillow feathers until
they covered a white man's chest full of holes.

Said, we Merrills come from a special breed
of colored that is too proud to bow down."
And just like family, place can mean so much, too. It can shape you. It makes you who you are. The other main character in The Definition of Place is a place: First Street in Attalla, Alabama. A section of the book is dedicated to it, so you know this street is major. On this street, "gossip is dispensed freely./Everybody is aware of somebody's dirty blues." First Street is where everyone goes after a hard day at work or a hard day at home, or when life in general is just plain hard.

In "The Sanctuary of the Boogie Shack":

"On Friday evenings workers pour
out Republic Steel Mill, make a beeline
down First Street to the Boogie Shack
where malt syrup tastes of home-brew
waits for those who have grinded against
the stone all week…Music
is metal slide of blues on stringed guitar;
the way blown wind streams through a
muted trumpet or curls around a tenor

Thank God for First Street and the sanctuary of the Boogie Shack and Blues music because In Attalla, Alabama, a "soda pop town" where the "front porches…hold history," life is hard; it is where "men…been working since they stopped sucking milk from their mama's tit" and everybody "cries the blues," and everybody "got nothing but the blues," so they go to the Boogie Shack and listen to the blues. What is it about blues music that makes you listen even when you got the blues yourself? I am reminded of a poem by Cornelius Eady "I'm a Fool to Love You." He puts it this way: "This is the way the blues works/its sorry wonders,/makes trouble look like/a feather bed…"

Randall Horton's poem "Town Crier" even sounds like a blues song:

"On pay day, Mr. Fred is dead drunk, pockets
thick like a wash pot full of clothes….
Come Monday morning he can't afford a shoe shine.
Big Friday got his wife and he got nothing but the blues."

And the poems in The Definition of Place are what blues songs are made of. When I read "Rosetta on Her Brother Sydney," ("…my brother Sydney has been/known to tip-toe out the rear door/as husbands walk in the front…"), I thought of the blues song "One Way Out," that goes: "Ain't but one way out baby, Lord I just can't go out the door 'cause there's a man down there, might be your man I don't know." And when reading "Rosetta on Elvie" (he…want to be discovering things don't need finding;/but he always double back--scratch on my door/like a saddle-cat, come in easy-footed…"), Big Mama Thorton's "Hound Dog" came on in my head: "You ain't nothing but a hound dog, been snooping 'round my door." The blues are all over this book.

If you can read and listen to music at the same time, I suggest you turn on Miles Davis' "Tout de Suite," sit in your favorite chair, and enter the world of Elvie & Rosetta. I guarantee by the time you close this book, you will feel as if you've just come back from somewhere else.

Randall Horton's The Definition of Place, published by Main Street Rag, can be purchased at A signed copy can be purchased at

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Weird Sideshow At The Fair

OCHO #19 - Published by Didi Menendez
Review by Missy McEwen

OCHO #19, published Spring 2008, is a fantastic read for Halloween. On the cover, a girl with worms in her hair is screaming. The cover is a forewarning of what's to come: dark and grotesque images in poems so bizarre, they are like something from a bad dream. Didi Menendez' disclaimer mentions that this "issue was taking on a lovely macabre…feel."

The poems in this issue fit together perfectly. Most poems feature gruesome, nightmarish imagery. Even Billy Howell-Sinnard's poem The Butcher, about the day in the life of a butcher, when placed in this collection of poems, becomes scary:

"I split rib cages, sever heads--eyes still open.
Trunks and limbs hang on hooks. Between me

and my customers, ice-breathed freezer chests
stacked with tongues, ribs, rumps, legs,

thighs, breasts, and brains. A femur. A Pelvis.
Sawdust. All the same to me. The rosy flesh…"

Becoming Bull by Kemel Zaldivar, however, is downright strange and leaves me feeling spooked:

"I stabbed a pregnant cow…,
cut her open and tore out her calf."

Another poem by Kemel Zaldivar Meeting People is Easy, is even stranger:

"All that remains of Mercy is her head,
in the freezer, with the

Elena was nice; her Guatemalan eyes
float in a jar on the

Nancy fell asleep under water.
She surfaced with no
limbs and swam
to the pier…

Eating people is easy. They get
cozy in the stomach."


And that's not all. There is more where that came from. Miguel Murphy's Ramona & The Devil Rooster Lover:

"The girl loved her black rooster with the sun under its chin.
When she carried it under her arm…,
it went mad & slashed her

The girl touched her cuts & dreamt knives
flew through the air where she willed them. She was the Carnival Knife-
Thrower-Woman, impaling red apples on weak men's heads."

Ocho #19 is the weird sideshow at the fair, where, when there, you might run into the petrified man from Eudora Welty's story "Petrified Man":

"…But they got this man, this petrified man, that ever'thing ever since he was nine years old, when it goes through his digestion, see, … it goes to his joints and has been turning to stone."

Published by Menendez Publishing (2008). For more information on where to purchase this book, stop by

I A I interviews Anna-Lynne Williams

Anna-Lynne Williams is a poet, a songwriter, and a singer. She sings in: Trespassers William, Lotte Kestner, Anomie Belle, Tunnel-Tunnel.

I A I: On your blog, entry: Great Modern Works, you listed 25 of your favorite novels. That is hard work. Naming 25 favorite poetry books might be harder. I won't ask you to list 25, but do you have favorite poetry books or a poem or poet?

Anna-Lynne Williams: Yeah I'm not sure that I've even read 25 books of poetry. For me it's always been something I've preferred to make than to consume, which sounds kind of selfish. When I first started writing poetry as a very young teenager, Edgar Allan Poe's poetry was really appealing to me and I sort of ripped it off as I tried to develop my own style. Then, around the time I started writing songs on the guitar (age 16) I got really into e.e. cummings. Most of the poems I've read are his. I have read his complete collected works several times, it's marked with about 50 paper bookmarkers on each of my favorite pages. I think one thing I adopted from him is that sometimes one really powerful sentence or beautiful surprise in a song or poem can carry the whole piece, and the rest of the lines can just be these pretty fragments that set the mood. Or at least that the majority of the work can be obtuse and mysterious so long as you reveal yourself at last in the final couplet ("I thank heaven somebody's crazy enough to give me a daisy...")

My next discovery, around age 17, was Leonard Cohens' "Stranger Music". It's predominantly poetry, but there are also excerpts from his novels and many song lyrics in there as well. That's definitely my favorite collection of writing. He knows how to write from the perspectives of utterly heartbroken and utterly insensitive, equally well. There is a simplicity to the way he puts things, but the subjects he tackles are often heavy. I love how romantic it is. Even as a teenager I could sense that Leonard Cohen had grasped the important themes of being a human being, and had expressed them exactly how I wanted someone to.

Recently, the only poetry book that I've been introduced to that I've really loved is David Berman's "Actual Air." Those poems are infectious. Once again, it's a musician-turned-poet so maybe I'm cheating a bit...Rainer Maria Rilke I have always liked as well.
I think that pretty much sums up all the poetry that's really struck me.

I A I : Some poems can be turned into songs and some song lyrics can be read as poetry. If you could do a "cover" of a poem and set it to music, what poem would it be?

Williams: That's hard for me to imagine... I have difficulty using other people's words, I've not really had success with that. My voice sounds different if I didn't write the song. But Peppermill Records is putting together a compilation of Shel Silverstein poems translated into songs by different artists, and I've chosen "Hug-o-war" to record. That one seemed like a good pick because it's innately sweet and emotional.

I A I: And what singer/songwriters' lyrics do you think could be made into publishable poems? For example, to me, Sade's song "Clean Heart," could be a poem:

"He loved his brother and his sister
Luke and Tony called him Mister
They made him feel much more
Like a man

He loved his daddy though he
never told him And how he loved his mama
He loved
He loved her
like an Italian

Little Janet said you look so fine...
Something in his smile
Made them feel like strangers
And then he straightened his belt
With a lover's touch
And he said I'm gonna bring home
The things that are out of your clutch

Seemed like the hottest night in summer
A heat that makes you feel like dying

Williams: Lisa Germano's lyrics read really well. I think she's amazing. She somehow makes so much beauty out of these really awful feelings. And there's always some scathing line hiding in there somewhere that would make for a memorable poem.

And I think the lyrics that Jeff Tweedy writes for Wilco are out of this world. The album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" in particular. ("All my lies are always wishes. I know I would die if I could come back new.")Which is strange because he published a book of poetry and I wasn't that moved by it, but I'm really blown away by his song lyrics. It might be that poetry comes off as more pretentious to me, in general, which is why a lot of my favorite "poets" are actually musicians. It's like songwriters don't TRY in the same way, which happens to be more to my liking. And musicians also have to put things more simply because you're supposed to comprehend it without getting to read it on a page.

IAI: When you write poetry, do you submit it to literary magazines or journals or do you keep them for yourself? Do you turn them into songs?

Williams: Most of what I've written has been made available in some way. I released a book called "Split Infinitive" about 6 years ago that had a good percentage of what I'd written up to that point. I had planned to do the same thing a few years later with what I wrote after that publication, but it's a pretty expensive process to set up a book. Instead, I've posted several of my poems on my MySpace music page, and a couple of them on my personal blog. I did have one short story published on a literary website (Humdinger) and an excerpt from my journal on another site (Identity Theory), but not any of my poems. I'd like to have more of my pieces pop up in different places, but it seems people respond to my music a lot more than the strictly written works. And lately, I've been getting into more journalistic writing.

I have never turned a poem into a song, though sometimes I'll borrow a line from one of my poems. There's a line in the song "What Could I Say" that says "Now I'm so afraid to push you from my mind, like the fear of forgetting what light is like when you close your eyes." That was stolen from an older poem, though I changed it a little to make it fit with the meter of the song.

I A I: What would the world be like without poets?

Williams: My instinctive response is to say that the world would be just the same, I'm not sure that it really needs poetry. But I think that POETS really need poetry as an outlet. Maybe I only think that because it feels like a disappearing medium, but at the same time every teenager who ever felt anything big or beautiful has tried to write a poem. I can't imagine what I would've done without it all through high school and college, but the world would've been just fine with or without what I wrote... I wonder if I'm the only person that thinks that, that poetry is far more for the person writing it than the person reading it.
You can find Anna-Lynne Williams' poems and song lyrics at

To find out more about Anna-Lynne Williams go to: or