Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Book Review - This Side of the Fire by Jonathan Maule

This Side of the Fire by Jonathan Maule

Reviewed by Greg Gilbert, Professor Emeritus/Trustee, Copper Mountain College, Joshua Tree, California


How many times did I set this book down, mid-poem, at a phrase, an image, and stare into my own depths, lost within the sharp profundity of the moment? Page after page, no decorative contrivances, but poetry as scalpel, filleting layers of memory to translucence. Maule does not spare himself nor the reader. His poetry is a stunning mix of self-evisceration, absurdist humor, beauty, and insights. He asks, “Have you ever witnessed the death of your ego? / a complete oyster-shuck detachment of self?” He convinces himself “that everything abandoned / is kin,” and we, the audience, are drawn into his complex singularity, a dynamic unity as varied as a clenched fist or an instant of exultation.


This Side of the Fire is comprised of four sections and opens with “Letters to Red,” epistolatory poems that strive to fill the negative space left by his sister: “my mind is not a cage / I can render you here.” He can see her “bringing water to a child / or tucking bullets into the sleep of a magazine.” The author asks, “would I trade you being gone / for what I’ve written?” He says, “I never gave you […] a poem you may fold / into a star.” “Letters to Red” are at once penance and absolution, poems that broke my heart and spilled love into me.


Section II, “Idaho,” serves up the artist as a young man “who blew up mailboxes [and] said so many / stupid things to young women.” The poetry is spare and unsparing while recalling the suicide of “S,” “Anyway, we’re all headed for more death and words.” Maule recalls the summer his father came home after flying over “oceans of Sitka spruce” looking for oil leaks, their days cutting linoleum, roofing, and then the separation, how he “watched him fly away / a coin sinking into the well of the sky.” He writes of his mother who “sang hymns / stirred butter into macaroni / and with the same wooden spoon / played him like a drum.” Memories unspool, truancy from Boise High, boys being boys, nights “pitching empties like sardines,” “a fur of cannabis and pills.” And young Jonathan Maule performing his music at the white Baptist church, “no backbeat, nothing in the shape of a gift / for women and their hips.” The first two sections move us through time, a retrospective of loss and of a young man trying to find his way.


Section III, “California,” and the author has migrated to Hollywood where he waits tables, where “Truth is whatever gets repeated,” and “Every scar is a story.” In Hollywood, he finds himself “fighting upstream with trays of sloshing martinis,” and he finds himself in Wilcox Station, “In a jail cell” and, perhaps once again, invoking his sister, “Suppose I thought of you then / in the falling.” In these moments of samsara, the memory of his sister, or perhaps of “the young man / I nearly killed,” brings him to himself, a theme symbolized by the “stillness” of another prisoner, an unknown helper who “reclines on his bunk / with a copy of the Times.” Maule writes of a stone basin, “the idea of water,” and life where one subsists on “the food of a simple lie: we will be ok / we will be ok.” This mantra to survival, we learn, is a preamble to his subsequent confinement in the Twin Towers, the twins being the world’s largest jail facility and the world’s largest mental health facility, a place where “there are no clocks / so time dies the way it does in a casino.” There, his poems evince a hunger for drugs, “…the wrinkled flag / of a wrecked balloon,” the abyss that must surely fuel the author’s rebirth.


The California section shifts from the Twin Towers to the Hi-Desert, an abrupt transition employing the deus ex machina like miracle of a graduate degree. Maule is teaching composition at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center where he asks “young Marines to imagine their enemies.” He has made a home “next to a blown-out chicken coop.” His proximity to the Base recalls Hollywood, “the night after we carry a / sidewalk couch back to our apartment / we wake to a helicopter / and god’s swinging eyeball.” And he asks the irreducibly poignant question, “what does it mean / that I never know / where the shooting is coming from?” He writes of “the worn logo on god’s gunnysack,” and declares, “The next time I’m arrested / may it be for corrupting the youth.”


The fourth and final section is appropriately titled “CODA,” and leaves us experiencing the final circle of his, of our, shared journey.

This Side of Fire is a hero’s journey, departure, initiation, and return. Jonathan Maule returns to discover his higher innocence and the gift of the goddess, the first-person-plural that remains grounded in the world, “waiting for our dogs to urinate.” While at the Marine Base, Jonathan has become the teacher, the guide for others, the logos for those who are experiencing their own departures.


This Side of the Fire is the winner of the 2020 Hillary Gravendyk Regional Poetry Prize from the Inlandia Institute. His work is available at https://www.jonathanmaule.com/books. Jonathan lives in the high desert with his partner, writer and visual artist L.I. Henley.

Other work from Jonathan Maule: Dog Star, Poetry (2015) and Whole Night Through, Soundtrack (2020)

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Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Book Review - "Poems for the Lost Because I'm Lost Too by Exurb1a"

Poems for the Lost Because I'm Lost Too by Exurb1a

I'll get the prejudices out of the way. I hated the title. Turns out after reading the book, it's okay. I started off hating the presentation. After reading it I want to share it with everyone. Goes back to the old war horse: "don't judge a book - read it." 

Poetry? Well, if you accept that the poetry of the 70's is poetry, then yes. Hell, I've always loved Greg Wyss, Sam Schraeger, and Dave Maresh - so damn straight, I should (and do) love this work. 

I've learned to read three poems before tossing a book in the trash, and yep - it works! This second poem hooked me   - because I've been there - especially when I was "in college" - afraid that others would see my thoughts as "stupid" - realizing only much later that I was the only one who saw true thoughts as stupid, and abstract, made up, forced inane thoughts as interesting. Here's how Exurb1a puts it:

"when I first started

I used the fractured
line structure
I saw
clever poets employing in
their work; threw in semicolons,
wrote vaguely and incomprehensibly like a
banana in autumn mist
so I wouldn't get
stupid or

That got boring way quickly and I cut it out for the most part,
It felt terribly inauthentic, forever wearing one of those elaborate Venetian masks,
Not to knock style in general,
The thing just wasn't for me. . ."

So, is it, as Ferlinghetti once said, "all modern poetry is prose"? Perhaps. Doesn't matter in the end, because I was hooked and ended up reading every word in the book. Twice. Exurb1a is, quite simply, a writer who is fun to read. That matters. If he wishes to be called a poet, well - too bad for him. He could make a lot more financial gains by being a prose writer or a comedian. It's obvious though - financial gain is not his goal.

I laughed - a lot. Was amused. And even from time to time felt sad - because I saw myself in some of the people he pokes out at. And that's good - I may find myself being changed by a small book of poetry. And isn't that what reading poetry should be about?

Gate 3 Flamenco belongs in the New Anthology of 21st Century poetry:

"Two women dancing at the airport to no music, maybe a mum and daughter,
The departure lounge is wicked busy and the rest of us sit trying to pretend we don't see them,
They carry it on for half an hour, way past the point of performance,
Is this cringe? I think to myself,

Kids yelping and old men and women checking their boarding passes as though they might be in the wrong airport,
I give in to idle worry, that the plane will crash, that my best years are behind me,
All grey porridge and pretending now,
Strange wrinkles around the eyes,
Knowing anxiety will fix nothing
and only getting anxious about being too anxious,
Oh they're still dancing,

Hey, aren't we supposed to dance all the time?
Maybe we forgot to dance all the time?
I'd rather be them than me."

Yeah, the constant commas make me a bit nuts, but that's part of his "style" - - keep the reader uncomfortable with his prejudices. Yep, yep, yep, I liked tis book so much I actually decided to read four more of his books. If I survive the beating I'm given by the words, I'll come back and let you know if those books are worth the effort to find. This one, for sure - if either of the short excerpts made you smile, trust me - the whole book works just the same. Good times!

Click here to find your own copy to carry around!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

New Issue Release! Cholla Needles 73!


cover and inside artwork by debora Ewing

The courageous writing is by

debora Ewing
David Chorlton
Charline Lambert
translated by John Taylor
J. Malcolm Garcia
Miriam Sagan
Bonnie Bostrom
Chase D. Spruiell
Kent Wilson
Marlene M. Tartaglione
Peter Nash
Jonathan Ferrini

New Book! Border Line by Miriam Sagan

border checkpoint
my grandmother tenses up
inside me

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Miriam Sagan is the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her most recent include Start Again (Red Mountain, 2022), and Star Gazing (Cholla Needles, 2020). Her haiku mentor was Elizabeth Searle Lamb and Miriam edited Elizabeth’s collected work, Across The Wind Harp (La Alameda Press, 1999).

Miriam has been a writer in residence in four national parks, Yaddo, MacDowell, Gullkistan in Iceland, Kura Studio in Japan, and other interesting places. She founded and directed the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College.

Click here to purchase Inquire Within on-line ($6)