Saturday, March 26, 2022

New Book! The Stardust Mirage by Kendall Johnson!

by Kendall Johnson 

Joshua trees carpet
the desert south of Barstow

praying to their gods
of sun, wind, and quiet
singing arboreal rhythms

gyration, twist, contortion

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Other poetry books by Kendall Jackson:
Click on each cover for more information

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Review: Not On Fire, Only Dying by Susan Rukeyser

Not On Fire, Only Dying by Susan Rukeyser
(Twisted Road Publications, 2015, 277 pages)
Reviewed for Cholla Needles by Greg Gilbert

Boil down Westside Story, Romeo & Juliet, and A Streetcar Named Desire, Jettison the dancing gangs, the Capulets and Montagues, and Blanche DuBois, and what remains are two hearts desperate to beat as one. The question is always: Will love triumph? That’s what matters, after all. Susan Rukeyser’s premier novel, Not On Fire, Only Dying is a love story that doesn’t prettify love. It doesn’t offer flowers and clich├ęd orations. It doesn’t cast anyone in gauzed light or in slow dancing juke box scenes. What the book does is present us with love in its gnarly realness.

Lola says her baby is kidnapped, and the reader soon wonders if the child is real. Only Marko believes that the baby isn’t a figment of her mental instability and pharmaceutical haze. An ex-convict and drug-dealer, he is devoted to Lola and acts as her knight in an effort to right her world. Armored with his love, his honor, and his black oilskin duster, his allegiance to her fragile belief in the child is the great test of his knighthood. Though his eyes, we experience Lola as a fully formed person, at times jittery and ragged, and at times “better.” As for Marko, one may ask if he is an antihero. This is a central question in the story. Is he tilting at windmills, or is there a gallant obligation in his quest? Is true heroism founded in the heart of the warrior, regardless of the rightness of the quest? In a world of artifice, Marko may lack the qualities of a “leading man,” but just as Rukeyser’s depiction of love is cleaved to the bone, so too is Marko’s heroism. His strides are long, his love is true, his duster spreads behind him like a cape. He is all sinew and scars and heart. He is never ridiculous. Even his violence and his moments of confusion and doubt are virtuous – except for when his violence has the final word. And even then, we are inclined to forgive.  

Not On Fire, Only Dying is a compelling novel. Susan Rukeyser is a gifted writer and storyteller. Without relying on sentimentality, she draws us into the lives of her characters, some worthy of our affection and admiration, others deserving of our scorn. Her scene setting is brief and atmospheric, often poetic but never heavy-handed. Her pacing is patient, and her narration occurs from within the story’s interior. This is a streetwise book. Hardcore realities are commonplace, a one room apartment without a closet, bitter icy waters that promise infinite rest, hopes hung on a precarious balance, the world of pharmaceuticals and back-alley sleight-of-hand, and, hauntingly, in the background – the punctuating cries of a lone infant. The story of Lola and Marko is one where love is acid etched onto the hearts of two weathered souls who might become one another’s redeemer. This is a story that will sit in the reader like a personal memory.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Review: Bone Water by Kelsey Bryan-Zwick

 reviewed by Jennifer E Bradpiece

It’s raining. Kelsey Bryan-Zwick’s voice crackles like fire. Not comfortable flames in the fireplace but a controlled burn heading straight for the nape of your neck, then searing through your spine. 

Outside, the rain falls gently. In “Self-portrait -after an Epidural,” the narrator admits they “only ever weep / when it is raining.” The sky’s tears above are no cover for the visceral ravage of bone and flesh this author lays bare. 

Throughout Bone Water, Kelsey goes into her body with the surgeon’s “rapid hands” and “knives.” She stretches the reader as her spine has been painfully stretched and stressed over and over. It is unbearable, yet there is a vicious beauty in how she relates the ravages of her body. Her perspective is at once dissociated and visceral. 

In “Kintsugi,” the narrator “offer[s]” their “broken body, time and time again.” Like the art form the poem is named after, all of these pieces speak to the necessity of constantly creating beauty in fractured spaces. “Everyday a new story …” (“Left Thigh”). This genre is the Art of Survival. 

Kelsey won’t allow you off the operating table or out of bed. But she will gift you the wry absurd humor it takes to live artfully in a pain wracked or ill body. This is a vantage point that is too often invisible in this bustling world. Invisible — like many of us Painlings and chronically ill folx are or feel. These are deep seldom explored waters. And in this time of pandemic, when many who survive are left with lingering or permanent ailments, it’s time to dive in. 

Click here to purchase a copy


Sunday, March 6, 2022

New Book! Words I Dance With by Antonia Richardson

Antonia Richardson was born in Joshua Tree. She lives in Landers, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley with her mom, dad, and grandmother. Her constant companion is her sister. Antonia is homeschooled by her three teachers and moves between homes to learn new ways from each of her teachers. This book has taken her four years to write, and is her graduation gift to her teachers and sister.

"The winds have been powerful this year, telling new stories my sister and I are hearing and talking about. We feel the stories may be guiding us toward a new path. For now we are simply absorbing them while the wind is sharing. Thank you for taking this journey with me." - Antonia


 at noon my shadow hides beneath my feet
the sun strikes my shoulder with a song

 as my dance begins I see my shadow
when I leap from boulder to boulder

Click here to purchase ($6)

Cholla Needles: Young Writers and Artists Spring 2022!


Edited with Mary Cook-Rhyne of the Mojave Desert Land Trust

Featuring the work of these writers and artists who will soon be filling the bookstore shelves with new books and dreams: Albert Alameda, Jazlene Alexander, Sebastian Ayllon, Andrea Avila, Sophie Beltran, Laysha Cazares-Morales, Frania Cinco, Jameson Chappell, Daphne Cook-Rhyne, Rodin Cook-Rhyne, Manny Delgado, Jim Derry, Marie Fleming, Alberto Garcia, Danilo Gomes, Maria Gonzales, Clay Green, Kaylee Harper, Cosette Holcombe, China Jacombe, Sally Jerome, Naomi Johnson, Sarah Lynn Kalen, Charles Kennedy, Kennedy Knight, Kathryn McDonald, Kaleena Lu Martin, Anthony Manalad, Mia Medina, Charles Michaelson, David Michaelson, Ava Nash, Anna Norte, Robert North, Dominic Peders, Eva Ravada, Barbara Ridge, Lucas Ronquillo, Antonia Richards, Ollin Sanchez, Destiny Savelio, Roy Sills, Kyle Somers, Belle Taylor, Dhruti Vargue, Shirley Vernon, Zoey Ryan Amaro Vidrio, Sofia Villasenor, Zoe Wang

New Book! A Boy's Will by Robert Frost


Robert Frost published his first poem on November 8, 1894 in the New York Independent. The poem was My Butterfly, and is included in his first book on page 39. From 1897 to 1899 he attended Harvard College. He then spent nine years farming, and a few years teaching. In 1912 He moved to England where he had his first two books published, A Boy’s Will (1913) and North of Boston (1914). He returned to America in 1915 and bought a farm in New Hampshire. He continued to write poetry, and subsidize his income by teaching.

New Book! The Jingle Poems by Carolyn Wells

Carolyn Wells worked as a librarian. She also wrote 170 books. During the first ten years of her career, she concentrated on poetry, humor, and children's books. The Jingle Poems is a classic collection for young readers. She later began writing mystery stories which became popular and made her a household name. A sample of her fun from this collection:

Betty Botta bought some butter;
“But,” said she, “this butter’s bitter!
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit o’ better butter
Will but make my batter better.”
Then she bought a bit o’ butter
Better than the bitter butter,
Made her bitter batter better.
So ’twas better Betty Botta
Bought a bit o’ better butter.


Saturday, March 5, 2022

Open Poetry Reading! March 6, 2-4 PM


Cholla Needles

Open Poetry Reading

Mar 6, 2022 2-4 PM

The Retreat Center Bookstore Stage
Bring a mask and a lawn chair for comfort!

Come early and enjoy the
Joshua Tree Retreat Center Cafe/Restaurant
located at the large red dot on the map.
There is a bookstore restroom!


New Book! Full Circle by Cynthia Anderson

A California resident and poet for over 40 years, Cynthia Anderson is the author of eleven books. Her poems have been published widely in journals and anthologies, and she has received multiple nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. In 2020, she took up short-form poetry including haiku, senryu, cherita, haibun, and split sequences. Her recent work focuses on the natural world and her family history. Cynthia is co-editor of the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens. She makes her home in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Several of her books are available on Amazon: Waking Life, Now Voyager, Route, and The Missing Peace.

In Full Circle, Cynthia Anderson has created a richly textured collection of quiet and original observations of the natural world, especially desert life. She also turns her poet’s eye to human nature, exploring our foibles with compassion and gentle humor. Full Circle offers the reader many "aha moments” of recognition.
- Annette Makino, award-winning haiku poet, artist, and author of Water and Stone: Ten Years of Art and Haiku

Deeply connected to internal and external landscapes, Full Circle reflects Cynthia Anderson’s keen insight. Savor each poem, as I did numerous times, and experience the world through the eyes of this gifted poet. - Peter Jastermsky, author of Steel Cut Moon and Just Dust and Stone

Other books available by Cynthia Anderson
(Click on cover for more information):


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

March Issue Released! Cholla Needles 63!


 A huge thanks to these great writers
for making this issue special!

Bettina T. Barrett
Ron Riekki
Beth Schraeger
Sam Schraeger
Simon Perchik
Milton P. Ehrlich
Kent Wilson
Edward L. Canavan
Duane Anderson
George Freek
Jonathan B. Ferrini