Saturday, July 30, 2016

From Yellow Flag Press.

Over the past few years, Yellow Flag Press has been quietly going about their business. That business is poetry. I recently picked up a packet of material from them and intend to do my reviews below. Suffice to say, there is excellent work afoot.

The first collection I read from Yellow Flag was: Katy E. Ellis’s Gravity, 2015. This is a very brief collection consisting of five poems, but it punches above its weight. Each poem deals with the topic of the title. Some lovely lines here: “between the beggar’s cool water and the rich man’s blistered tongue.” There’s a fine sense of heart in these poems. They make you feel.

The pieces arrived in a package with the thinnest work on top, thickest on bottom. For a lark, I read them that way. Next up came In Memoriam, 2015, by Kevin Dwyer. This is also a short work, actually a single long poem. It’s very powerful. Each page was a jewel, with the single exception of page 6, which seemed a bit repetitive. I’m sure there was a reason for the repetition but I didn’t quite understand it. The poem as a whole, though, is highly charged emotionally and left me with a deep sense of the many ways one person can be affected by loss.

Next up came Sleeping with Animals by Ashley Mace Havird, 2013. Particularly beautiful language here. For the emotions they portray, the first two poems, “Sleeping with Animals” and “Daughter 14, With Scissors,” were almost more than I could handle. After that the pieces seemed to take a step back from that level of soul baring and I really fell in love with many of these pieces. “Hurricane: The Brac,” “The Garden of the Fugitives.” These were my favorites. However, there’s not a single piece here without some memorable line: “cicadas sing themselves out of body, slit their own backs, escape with wings of glass.”

 The next collection is Elliptic, by Jack B. Bedell, 2016. This collection perfectly combines pieces that are full of humanity, and pieces full of nature. The very first poem, “First Kiss,” enchanted me. A young girl discovers frogs, becomes entranced. The human captivated by nature’s magic. Later we have the title piece, “Elliptic,” which is about erosion, and yet about more. Nature and humanity are in this thing together. “if we were to lay our dead / here to guard this shore / against new storms / we could not / pile bones quickly enough / to outpace this loss.”

Then I came to Learning to Love Louisiana by Elizabeth Burk, 2012. A very fine collection that resonated very strongly with me. The author is a “city girl,” I believe, who is now married to a Louisiana native and who spends a lot of time here. Here we have appreciations of the local environments but not a blind appreciation. As a whole, the work made me think of my own relationship. My wife is originally from New York City, but moved down here when we married. She too has learned to love the fecund nature of this place. My favorite was “Hush Over Atchafalaya.” “Silvery cypress stumps poke through stagnant waters / like fixed bayonets, ghosts of a forgotten war.” Many of the landscapes and people I know well are reflected beautifully here.

Finally we have Chorus Frog by William Kelley Woolfitt, 2014. My first read through of this collection identified it as nature poems. But it isn’t, strictly speaking—although there is much lovely imagery of nature within it. It was hard to establish a favorite here. Perhaps “Psalm with Sheet-web Spiders as Temple Singers,” or “Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail.” “I found more speech pouring from fragments / of sunlight on the ground, from the lichens, / rotting limbs in the leaf litter, and stones / shattered and upheaved…” I even had to learn a new word for this collection, “orogeny.” That’s always cool.

Overall, I thought this grouping was outstanding and it really put Yellow Flag Press on my radar. Of course, now, I think they should be on everyone’s radar.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Warlocks and Warriors, Two Different Ones

Warlocks and Warriors, Edited by Douglas Hill. Mayflower Books, 1971, 159 pages.

I own and have read just about every anthology of heroic fantasy published in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. But I didn’t have this one up until July of 2016, and I wouldn’t have gotten it then if not for a webpage list put out by the writer G. W. Thomas called “A Reader’s Guide to Sword & SorceryAnthologies.”  Thanks to him for the heads up. 

I guess I missed this book until now for two primary reasons. One, it was published only in England as near as I can tell. Second, there is another book entitled Warlocks and Warriors, which was published in 1970 by Berkley in the US. That probably helped me overlook this one. In addition, the cover is remarkably ugly compared to the cover of the other collection, which I've pasted below.

The 1970s Warlocks and Warriors was edited by L. Sprague De Camp, who did quite a few anthologies around this time while he was also busy editing and rewriting Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales. It’s certainly a good collection, and quite varied, with stories by Ray Capella, Lin Carter, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, C. L. Moore, Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, H. G. Wells, and Roger Zelazny. I’ve already reviewed this book on Goodreads, however so I won’t say more about it here. 

The 1971 Warlocks and Warriors was edited by Douglas Hill, whose name I was not familiar with until after I posted this on Goodreads, whereupon a short biography of Hill appeared on my page. That was rather cool, and revealed to me that he also wrote stuff under the name Martin Hillman, who is included in this anthology. After a short and to the point introduction by Hill, the following stories appeared:
“The Sleeping Sorceress” by Michael Moorcock.
“The Curse of the Monolith” by Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp.
The Ogyr of the Snows” by Martin Hillman.
“The Wages Lost by Winning,” by John Brunner.
“The Wreck of the Kissing Bitch” by Keith Roberts.
“The Unholy Grail,” by Fritz Leiber.

I’d read “The Sleeping Sorceress” before. This is an early Elric story by Moorcock and is quite good. I’d also read “The Curse of the Monolith,” which is a Conan pastiche by Carter and De Camp. Not quite Howard’s Conan but it was an OK tale. I also had previously read “The Unholy Grail” by Leiber. This tale recounts the earliest adventure of the Gray Mouser, of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fame. Not my favorite of the series, probably because I like the Fafhrd character better than the Mouser character.

What were new to me were the tales by Hillman, Brunner, and Roberts, and all three were quite good. Brunner, I know, of course. I’ve read a lot of his SF. This is a story of the “Traveller in Black,” definitely fantasy though not sword and sorcery. The “Traveller” is a kind of mixed angel/devil character, who has the power to grant people’s desires. I’d not previously read these tales. It was beautifully written but meandered a bit initially until it got to the main plot.

Martin Hillman’s “The Ogyr of the Snows” is definitely sword and sorcery, and a well written piece. The hero is Conanesque but it’s to be noted in this tale that he wins the day mostly by wit. According to the introduction, this tale was extracted from a “novel in progress” by Hillman, and I would certainly be interested in reading it. I've found since this post went up originally that Hillman was actually the editor, Douglas Hill, and he has written quite a few books. I'm trying to track down now which of these might feature the character of "Ogyr." 

The greatest treasure in this collection to my way of thinking, though, is “The Wreck of the Kissing Bitch” by Keith Roberts. This is a tale set in the world created by Michael Moorcock for his Ice Schooner book.  The world was already beautifully conceived and Roberts does a fine job of playing in the same universe. This was my favorite tale in the collection, concluding with a tense and exciting chase scene of sailed ships across the great ice seas. It sure made me want to go write some heroic fantasy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Corona Obscura, By Michael R. Collings

Corona Obscura: SonnetsDark and Elemental: By Michael R. Collings, 2016, 78 pages.

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. After reviewing the wonderful work Sacrificial Nights by Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti, I received a kindle version of another ambitious poetry collection—Corona Obscura, by Michael R. Collings. This is a series of linked sonnets, all of which fall into the category of horror and dark fantasy.

Sonnets are among the most popular and most widely recognizable traditional forms in poetry. I guess the most traditional form is fourteen lines with each line having ten syllables. Collings, who knows far, far more about such things than I do, has an appendix (two actually) at the end of his work that explains a sonnet in much more detail, and also explains how, where, and why he varied from the standard. There is also “A Note on the Form” at the beginning that explains the linked sonnet concept and refers to them as “Crowns of sonnets.” This information was all well and good, and was interesting, but I was personally much more concerned with the poetry itself, with the language, the rhythm, the emotion. It’s fine to have ambitions for a piece of work, but does the work live up to those? Well, let’s see.

After an introduction by the poet Linda D. Addison, and the opening “note,” we come to the first piece, “Obsession.” This really starts the collection off strongly. A good ‘story’ gives the reader an immediate sense of place and sets a mood and character. “Obsession” does this for Corona Obscura.  Listen: “Each time I stalk the valley’s graveled road, / Pause near the creek that slits the browning yard / In twisted ribbons, only to explode / White rage beyond the bridge I feel a shard / Of potent loss, as if my life has flowed /

I’m there, walking that road, seeing the creek and the bridge. Poetry is often not so grounding and I was glad to see it, especially for such a complex endeavor as this collection. The last line of “Obsession” is: “Each time I leave, I know I will return.” This is a place we all know, and it reflects the nature of the pieces within the collection, where each ending line becomes the opening line of the next poem. That dovetailing is quite extraordinary. I’ve seen it done before but it doesn’t usually work as well as here.

In a linked collection such as Corona Obscura, story is important, and there is a strong one running throughout, although it is not a simple straightforward tale and there are plenty of places where we slip into what I’d categorize as alternate or dream realities. We always have concrete touchstones, however—houses, tombs, soil, rain, ash. For me, however, the primary reason I read poetry is to see the naked power of language unleashed. Collings does not fail to deliver.

“My flawed blood throbs…”

“In the fragile mind where vampires bloom.”

“Western radiance knits wan clouds to shroud”

“Sheer hunger sated by a crimson mead.”

“Fade with night as sunbright knives invade.”

“Bone-white wolf-moon waits, weary and wary.”

“sable swans glide on lakes as flat as lead.”

These are powerful phrases. They sing. They intrigue. There is one phrase in the collection that I think categorizes it all—“Transfixed by darkness…” This fascination, delight, and fear of darkness in all its forms is why this collection exists. Here we have the transmutation of darkness into art. I highly recommend it. Here's the link on Amazon if you care to take a look.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Raccoon Family Cruise

The baby raccoons first appeared with their mother one morning about a month ago.  They were just over cup-full sized and very shy. They seldom ventured into the yard but would hang out around or in a big tree at the corner, peaking out at the activity with brightly curious eyes. Mom would then come on in the yard, as has been her habit for a while, looking for some of the bird seed that I spread for our winged visitors every day.

Since the cooners’ visit tended to come around 9:00 or so every morning, I’d gotten in the habit of throwing out a few table scraps or some bits of bread for Mom. She’d come right up to the back door to eat, would, in fact, come running when she heard the door open. Lana had even enticed her in to taking bread from her hand.

Over time, the young ones started coming into the yard every morning with Mom but would run for a tree if I opened the back door. They mostly got over that but would run if I stepped out on the back porch with bird seed. Soon, one, and then two of the small ones, would come up to the back door with Mom looking for the bread I threw out. As of today, July 14, 2016, they all came up. One first, then a second, then the third and fourth. And when I stepped out to feed, only two of the little ones ran. The other two stayed right there with Mom while I moved around in the yard and put out seed. 

After I came back inside from feeding, I saw the cutest thing. The two bravest little ones, those who had stayed with Mom in the yard, ran for the tree in the corner where their two siblings had fled. They climbed up and, it seemed to me, ushered their shyer brothers/sisters down and back into the yard to take part in the largess. Right now they are all five (4 kits, 1 Mom) gathered in one spot, hovering up seed as fast as their paws can move.

I know lots of folks don’t like raccoons and they can indeed pose some dangers, but being able to look out at them, and interact with them, makes me feel a little bit a part of nature. And maybe, it seems, I’m giving a little back to the natural world that has given me so much pleasure and always been there for me during the sadder times.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Sacrificial Nights, Bruce Boston, Alessandro Manzetti

Sacrificial Nights: By Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti: Kipple Officina Libraria, 2016, 127 pages.

I always know I’m reading good work when I find myself both challenged and inspired. This is how I felt immediately upon opening Sacrificial Nights, a novella in poetry form, and an outstanding piece of work. The challenge came both intellectually and emotionally. Sacrificial Nights deals with tough subject matter, a city full of the wounded, the wondrous and the strange. It introduces us to several fascinating characters, a man in a coma who dreams of moths, a woman who believes only the rain can save her, a serial killer who senses that he will soon be caught, and a driven detective who is hunting that killer. There are others. Their paths cross and recross. Wounds, and worse, are left behind. Sometimes there is black and white, sometimes only the multi-colored sheen of oil on rain slicked streets. The challenge is to see if you can love these people, understand them. Or will you bury your own raw bones so deeply that the stories  merely pass over your head and leave you untouched. I could not remain untouched.

The inspiration in the work came from the beautiful and intricate word play within the pieces. I’ve often felt this way before while reading Bruce Boston’s work, but I found that Boston’s lines and Alessandro Manzetti’s lines melded almost seamlessly and were as sharp as a shiv. Here are some phrases:

“The python twists her thick / diamond-backed hide / down the dingy third floor / of a decrepit brownstone.

“The moths multiply, / continue to fly in a circle / around the head of the thief, / as if he were the only lighthouse / in thousands of miles of darkness.”

“She doesn’t like to be out this late, but nothing matters as long as it keeps raining. Her nightmare will be caged in the deep furrows of her minds as long as it keeps raining. The rain is her shield. Just the sound of it can wash her mind clean. He will not come for her as long as it keeps raining.”

“She is the ghost of the city’s / corruption made manifest, / a perverse little demon / with sharp young teeth.”

There is much more, and the use of language for effect makes me want to sit at my keyboard and hammer until something nearly as cool forms. I’m not sure it will ever happen but I’m inspired to keep trying.

Both Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti are past Bram Stoker Award winners, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this work up for 2016’s award. There are also some wonderful illustrations by Ben Baldwin, whose work I was not familiar with but who I will keeping an eye out for in the future. Overall, the book works as both art and as psychological study. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Never to Suffer

I’ve been listening to the band Never To Suffer quite a bit of late. This is a heavy metal band putting out very good music but without the wide recognition they deserve. For example, I quite likely would never have heard of them if it weren’t for being friends on facebook with their bassist, Deanna Visalle. (I’ve known her longer than just facebook actually.)

Their latest album is “This Darkness Flows.” It’s only five bucks so is very reasonably priced. Downright low priced, I’d say. There are 8 tracks on the CD—“Black Sheep,” “Spare a Dime,” “3,” “Love Story,” “Cthulhu’s Witness,” “Within,” “Renegade,” and “Don’t Let Go.” All are heavy; all put you to head banging, and I liked ‘em all. My favorite piece was track 5, “Cthulhu’s Witness.” The fact that they know about Cthulhu shows a bit where their inspirations come from. I thought the musical influences were pretty broad, though. It makes for a good listening experience.

 Never to Suffer has a webpage but it looks like it’s still mostly under construction so I’ll refer you to their facebook page, which has more information, including how to order their CD. You go through Paypal, to

I recommend ‘em, and you know I know metal.