Tuesday, October 20, 2020

October Virtual "Open Reading" for Issue 46

On October 18, 2020 eight of the poets in Issue 46, edited by Cynthia Anderson, came together in a private Zoom meeting with the intention of having all of you share in this adventure. A special shout-out to Bill Dahl for sharing this beautiful cover! As usual in Cholla world, we also will include videos sent in this month from others who live their creative life in the spirit of Cholla. The very first video is a special collaboration, and will be followed by eight of the poets from Issue 46, and after that, the script gets thrown out the window, and we'll open the floor up to YOU!!! As always, you are encouraged to submit your work via video and be included here. And you are also encouraged to submit work for our print issue. And now - enjoy!!!

Symbolist painter Zara Kand and poet LI Henley
read from their new chapbook: From the moon, as I fell.

Erica Goss reads Mojave Desert Notebook

John Brantingham reads Three Poems

Phil Taggart reads Three Mothra Poems

Penelope Moffet reads Birds and Water

Mary Fitzgerald reads Two Poems

Enid Osborn reads Two Poems

David Oliveira reads Misericordia

Maía - Vanishing

David Chorlton reads from After The Rainforest

John Sierpinski reads Leaving La Grange

Romaine Washington reads Incident In Blue

. . .more to come soon! Stay tuned. . .

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

New Book! Mary's Confession by Kurt Schauppner


Kurt Schauppner has written the novels Shards of Broken Glass, The First Book of Exile, and Ghosts of Ide County and the plays April, Feral Dogs, Unbroken Chain, The Memory Jar, and Mary’s Confession. He is also writer/director of the independent motion picture, Once Upon A Dirt Road. In his spare time he edits The Desert Trail, the weekly newspaper for Twenty-Nine Palms, California. This is his first collection of poetry.

Mary’s Confession was originally staged in December 2019 at Arttrap Cultural Arts Center in Joshua Tree CA by Thought Theatre Morongo Basin.  It was directed by Miri Hunter, The Artistic and Producing Director for Thought Theatre.The production featured the following actors: Rainbow Casey, Miri Hunter, Marty Nelder and Katherine Wehler.

During the pandemic our only local distributor is Rainbow Stew.
Mary's Confession is available seven days a week at Rainbow Stew in Yucca Valley.

Support our local distributors!

After the pandemic restrictions are lifted the books will also be available at Space Cowboy in Joshua Tree and Raven's Books in 29 Palms.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Review: Lucille Clifton - How to Carry Water (Boa Editions)

We've been reading Lucille Clifton for many good years. Ten years after her death from cancer is a good time to see a new collection of her work - 280 pages of selected poems from her books, along with a few poems that had never appeared. Her Collected Poems remains in print, for those who are completists. 

My first exposure to her work was the tightly constructed "an ordinary woman". This new book gives a good sampling from this book, and does the same for her other classic books, such as "The Book Of Light" and "The Terrible Stories".  Lucille had a very specific style so when the poem appeared on a page you could smile with the familiar tones and say: "yes, I know I will learn from this word master." If you have many of her books, I could still recommend this one for carrying around to quite from, along with the uncollected poems which are included. Breaklight is a favorite from "an ordinary woman:"


light keeps on breaking
i keep knowing
the language of other nations.
i keep hearing
tree talk
water words
and i keep knowing what they mean.
and light just keeps on breaking.
last night
the fears of my mother came
knocking and when i
opened the door
they tried to explain themselves
and i understood
everything they say.

A weaker poet would have called this breakthrough. "Use the common language of the day" is a common MFA mantra. By choosing breaklight Lucille allows us to go so much deeper into the psyche, and into our own past and learn through her language that we can begin to understand ourselves deeper just by listening to these times of light. You'll see her throughout her career in this book selecting exactly the right words to help us as readers understand ourselves, as well as those we come in contact with much better. As with any great poet, I do recommend reading Lucille Clifton aloud - so your eyes, mouth, and ears learn to appreciate her perfect manipulation of language. This is also a book I would recommend giving as a gift to friends who are looking for what poetry can do for our world.

from Terrible Stories:

dear fox

it is not my habit
to squat in the hungry desert
fingering stones, begging them
to heal, not me but the dry mornings
and bitter nights.
it is not your habit
to watch. none of this
is ours, sister fox.
tell yourself that anytime now
we will rise and walk away
from somebody else’s life.
any time. 

Click here to purchase How To Carry Water

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Review: Vijay Seshadri - That Was Now, This Is Then (Graywolf Press)

As an editor, I've read thousands of Covid poems in the past few months. This is the first full book full of them that I've read. Vijay portrays it as "thinking my quarantined thoughts, nursing my mortified body."

If you read poetry as a reflection of our current society, the full book may be right up your alley. For me, the pessimism was just too much. Sure, I'm not happy with the current reality either, but as a reader, perhaps as a shallow person, I prefer work that keeps me enlightened and not angry enough to wish suicide over isolation. 

The first poem opens with "I could complain. I’ve done it before. / I could explain."  And then goes on for many more lines doing both. Complaining and explaining. The second poem, just as thick with anger, does have some poetic moments that at least help me appreciate Vijay's approach toward language: "Today is the day the self’s / whispering to itself in its hundred endangered languages merges / with the sound of water running and scoring grooves in the damp, / lithic, adhesive interiors". The third poem returns to the openly non-poetic complaining and explaining: "I’m fine with hatred. Pure, precise, self-modulating. / Waxing while the world wanes."

So, as my mother would say - if you have nothing good to say, don't say anything. The fourth and fifth poem are fun reads. Unlike most poets, who "pretend" that haphazard line breaks have deep symbolic meaning, Vijay openly plays with the same words in two different line breaks to prove neither change the meaning. This "playing" with the minds of poetry readers is exactly what we need. Someone willing to put together an essay of the meaninglessness of the way poets "pretend" they are saying something special. One only needs to listen to a poet read aloud their own words to discover they didn't really mean the line breaks to be there. They simply put them there so someone reading the work in the magazine thinks - it looks like a poem, so it must be a poem. I admire Vijay for taking the initiative to demonstrate how utterly meaningless the line breaks are. The poem (both poems are the same, one "thick", one "thin") is just as world-weary and pessimistic as the others: "I’ll meet if you really want to meet." It's the risk that he takes with form that I admire. 

Poem seven has form and rhyme & as such make the poetry of the poem stand up and say: "I've been composed as a poem".  Even so, the playful language keeps the book as dark as Vijay intends:

"He wants his mind relieved of you.
He wants his gun to talk to you,

embracing the murderous dialogue.
He doesn’t care that you’re just a dog."

Once in awhile Vijay creates a work that - while keeping the pessimism alive, at least raises a giggle:


You keep complaining that there are two people inside me—

the one confident, decisive, ironic;
the other a raging cripple
who never took to the nipple,
whose life has been one long
episode of colic.

Just admit you don’t know which one you like better,
which one rings your bell.

I happen to like them both."

I hope I've given you enough to decide for yourself if this is a book for you. I can picture certain stages of my life when I would have enjoyed this volume. For myself, in October 2020, when this book was released, it's not a book I'd give to a friend. I don't regret reading it - it is a quick read, and doesn't pretend to be a book you'd want to return to many times. I do appreciate it when a poet lets it be known - I'm getting this out of my system, and if you have any of it in your system, I hope my words will help you purge too. There is value in that for the folks who need it. 

The final poem includes this:

"Talk about
being one with others!

We correspond 1 to 1, and there is a grandeur in this."

Click here to purchase this book.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Review: Every Day We Get More Illegal by Juan Felipe Herrera

Every Day We Get More Illegal by Juan Felipe Herrera
Reviewed by Greg Gilbert for Cholla Needles

With all books, but particularly poetry, titles matter. Who is this “We”? What is meant by “More Illegal”? More illegal than what? The publisher is City Lights Books in San Francisco. Think of City Lights, and various writers of note emerge: Ginsberg, Bukowski, Kerouac, Burroughs, and the eternal Ferlinghetti, now 101 and still writing. With City Lights, there arrives a question of audience. Who is the poet addressing? Published in 2020, this is a contemporary work, perhaps even an urgent appeal, so let us go and make our visit.

The cover offers a clue, suggestive of a high resolution photograph, the dark areas assembling into a partially obscured face, half in repose, half vigilant, perhaps an indigenous visage, a countenance for the reader to assemble. The art is titled “Detention X,” and is by the author, markers on found cardboard. The dedication begins “for all the migrants, immigrants and refugees suffering from the border installations within the United Sates, at the border crossing and throughout Latin America.” The dedication is “for a borderless society and world, made of relentless unity and giving.” Is it likely that refugees suffering at border crossings are the intended audience? If not, then whom?

Herrera’s book is as much a study of text as of white space. Pages that are haiku brief, “Your consciousness / is ever expanding /                onto infinity.

Other pages give us short prose poetry paragraphs, journal entries, one titled “America We Talk About It.” “ . . . First I had to learn. Over decades – to take care of myself. Are you listening.” The entry describes the “pebble by pebble” discovery of his “true inner self.” In 120 words, he pushes away his heritage only to learn “too late there was no way I could bring them back I could not rewind the clock.” It concludes with a quiet finality, “Now we – are here.” This is a book about discovery, passages that appeal to our better natures, our affluence, our complicity, and our common humanity. The poem “Basho & Mandela” sets out two paths that converge on a single destination: “freedom.” [See the poem, and hear Hererra read this poem by clicking here - source: The New Yorker]

As we follow Herrera’s journey, his love of poetry and language is a given, and an appeal to pay attention. Some readers may take offense and feel unfairly indicted by his words at times. A 480 word prose poem, “You Just Don’t Talk About It” employs the “You” that can only be the reader, perhaps those who would purchase a book from City Lights, and offers a litany of sorrows. The poem begins “Lissen: you just don’t,” and sets out the horrors and vanities that frame our lives, “. . . you prefer the holiday merchandise the rational vacuum you just don’t care about the pushed out the stopped out the forced out the starved out the fenced out the shot down the cut back the asphalted out on the other side of the track the suicide the hanged w/ a bedsheet . . ..” And then in direct address, “I know you heard this all before you have the smart language your lawyers lawyers for your lawyers you have your corporate privacy but you do not notice you do not walk you do not enter you do not get near you stay there where you are at this moment you do not care about the coldshot murder in the car at the tip of your open mouth gun you do not care . . ..” Indeed, one may read blame, and/or one may read a voice crying in the wilderness.

In “Don’t Push the Button,” Herrera equates the button to “wall of Patrols,” to a “30 billion dollar aircraft carrier,” and references an “off-kilter” that is “beyond Milton and Sappho / it is beyond Pas and Ko Un it is beyond all the African / drummers . . ..”  Following this are pages where the importance of isolated lines are framed by expanses of white space. “underneath the code of the wall things are always / in motion /                              while we wait to cross.” And several pages later, the poem “Ko Un Says,” concludes, “there is a line of quail leading to the meadows / outside the city the persimmons are exactly / the color they should be.”

This is the point where the poet, having made his “pebble by pebble” discoveries and given voice to the twin forces of inhumanity and economic division and the color of the perfect persimmon, shifts his focus to labor, “Touch the Earth (once again).” Here he invokes the “we.” “This is what we do:”  Here are the cotton truck drivers, tobacco leaf rollers, washer women, cucumber, spinach, beet, and poultry workers, the services too numerous to list, “the winery workers & the lettuce & broccoli / & peach & apricot & squash & apple & / that almost-magical watermelon / & . . ..” And “notice: / how they touch the earth – for you.” At last, you & we find common ground.

Now the poet speaks of his journey, his family in “Enuf.” He describes how he used to think that he “was not American enuf.” He describes his “hobo torn-pants get-up with my Shinola sideburns.” He tells how he was “an expert at signing my mother’s Alien Registration Card.” He writes, “this is not a poor-boy story / this is a pioneer story / this is your story / America are you listening.” After an introductory four line stanza, a main body of 57 lines, the poem concludes with one couplet: “used to think I was not American enuf / now it is the other way around.”

     Address Book for the Firefly on the Road / North #3

     when we reach
     the family shrine
     made of twigs bitten cloth
     shrubs & dirt

     we bow

“Interview w/a Border Machine” describes a guard’s questioning of an Indian woman, Xochitl Tzompantli, and demonstrates the gulf between the keeper of the border and a woman whose name translates to Skull Rack Flower. This is the poem that says everything that matters. It is the reason to purchase this book. The next poem is in many ways what follows the border crossing, “Color Tense,” which describes the loss of color, the loss of bronze, sienna ochre, and then the faces, noses, scarves, stories, the long abiding dreams of a culture. “I am not a paid protestor” invokes a call and response approach to poetry that with comic overtones sets out the absurdity of an interrogation. In other poems, friends leave to avoid capture. In another, tears are shed for “there is a girl          up ahead / made of sparkles       is she                me or / is                                she /       dead / / On the custody floor /                                         105.7 degrees.”

And then the book dreams of tomorrows. The “we” is employed, “after we unfold and lay upon the carpets after the waters / wash away our wounds and scald our scars / we will speak of our mother and fathers who . . ..” From here the book frames dreams of a cultural heaven surrounded again by vast avenues of white space.

     we will chant our many births
     about the abyss and the aurora
     about the sacred dizziness as we broke
     through all the cries of wars and redemptions of being

             — this blurred world

The politics of the present epoch and the personal views of “you,” the reader may interfere with the reading of these poems, but the voice of “we” is an appeal to reach beyond the walls that encircle and glimpse the hearts of those seeking redress from war, famine, and despair by fleeing to America. This is a work that moves through phases to a longed for Promised Land. The postscript offers a final hope: “We must develop a sense of oneness of 7 billion human beings” – Dalai Lama.

                Every Day We Get More Illegal is not about a people breaking more laws with each passing day, but of a people who see their dream of America withering. While they, their children, their grandmothers and grandfathers, their families become more illegal, the poet Juan Felipe Herrera uses his considerable poetic talent to reach out to “us.” This is a beautifully expressed call to our common humanity. 

One additional comment: Nearly 20 years ago, I read
Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives by Juan Felipe Herrera with linocuts by Artemio Rodriguez. The poetry was wonderful, and the woodcuts equally wonderful. Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed U.S. Poet Laureate for 2015-16, the first Latino to receive this honor. I recommend both books.  - Greg Gilbert

- - - - - - - 

Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library has the following books by Juan Felipe Herrera available locally in our library for your enjoyment:

Border-Crosser With A Lamborghini Dream
187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border
Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives
Love After The Riots
Notes On The Assemblage
Mayan Drifter
Half of the World In Light
Every Day We Get More Illegal

Books in our library are donated by individuals to share with our entire community. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

October Issue Released - Cholla Needles 46!

Guest editor for Issue 46: Cynthia Anderson

The beautiful cover and inner photographs are by Bill Dahl

The moving poetry is written by:
Ginny Short
Erica Goss
John Brantingham
Phil Taggart
Penelope Moffet
Mary Fitzpatrick
Beate Sigriddaughter
Carla Riedel
Enid Osborn
David Oliveira
with a special introductory poem
by Edwin Shaw