Sunday, December 31, 2017

: :

drowns in the pool or is drowned,
     is found silent and not quite
    peaceful on the bottom

not quite beautiful and open eyes
    staring into the past and no
    sound but the dull hum of the future

no truths but the ones told by
    strangers with something to gain

Friday, December 29, 2017

a forest

growing up quietly,
or this is what you thought

growing up without limitations
and then dying

write your name
in the book of crows

hang a cross in
front of every mirror

religion, yes, and then
and then genocide

all acts
are acts of greed

all apologies are
acts of violence

baby just lies there bleeding
and all you can do
is keep saying i’m sorry


- originally appeared in MORTAL CORKSCREW  




Saturday, December 23, 2017

2nd floor, 3000 miles away

this is how the world collapses

these are the hills closing in,
the sky pushing down,
pulling the oxygen from your lungs

pills, but the pain won’t go away

the proper dosage, and still the
heart remains a broken record

and who is pollock in this
kingdom of despair but a
surrogate father or an emperor in exile?

who is your father but a drunken
stranger in a faded photograph?

or maybe there’s nothing but
dull grey rain all fucking day and
your hands refuse to work

the brushes gather dust and
the colors have no meaning

man with a gun in the doorway of
your sister’s room or
hanging from a greasy length of rope

says believe in hope but
don’t be a slave to it

gotta remember that every age is
the age of murdered children

gotta stand by the broken window
and watch water pool in the
corners of your lover’s heart

wait for the future to arrive and
then hate whatever
small irreversible changes it brings

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review of Leonard Cirino's THE INSTRUMENT OF OTHERS

I’ll tell you up front, this one’s going to be a little biased.  Leonard and I started corresponding around 1997 or ’98, and exchanged thoughts, poems and ideas for the rest of his life.  He did this with a lot of people, and I’m sure it made us all feel special.  Leonard’s generosity was one of his defining characteristics.  He wasn’t precious about his writing, like too many writers are these days.  He didn’t hide poems away, refusing to share them until they was published, as if the act of publishing would somehow increase their validity.  He constantly mailed (and, later, emailed) small unpublished collections to people he knew, just to let us see where he was in his writing.  I saved everything he ever sent, and I’m pretty sure the vast majority of it remains unpublished.

Image result for cirino the instrument of others

But anyway…..

THE INSTRUMENT OF OTHERS (published by RD Armstrong’s Lummox Press in 2012) was Leonard’s last collection, and an excellent representation of the style(s) he was pursuing in his maturity.   He was tired of contemporary “American” poetry, of (I think) the Bukowski-clone sensitive tough guy bullshit, the whiny-ass confessionalism, the semi-illiterate diary breathlessness that has come to define so much of non-academic American poetry in the 21st century.  He read translations of European and Asian writers, writers probably unknown to most of us, and then he filtered their voices through his own ascetic to come up with a wholly unique style.  And he named the authors he was reading, which I love.  David Huerta is mentioned in this final collection, as is Deborah Digges (an American, with similar sensibilities to Cirino’s), as is Harry Martinson, and so on.  The section “Lazy Bones: Listening to the Earth” is comprised entirely of interpretations of works by a wide variety of Chinese poets.  And, in the end, everything on the page is pure Cirino.

Nature images abound in this book (indeed, in work throughout his career).  Nature, for Cirino, is a major aspect of spirituality.  Even his images of decay and ruin are presented with a hushed awe.  Life leads to death (and no one knows that better at this point than Cirino himself), and there is beauty in the entire spectrum of things.  These are the poems of a man who seems to be at peace with where he is, but who still digs up his past with a relentless curiosity.  They are the poems of a mystic with dirt on his hands. 

Anyone who knows Leonard’s story (I won’t go into it here) knows that rage, fear and regret also play large parts in his work.  The regret lingers in these poems, while both the rage and fear have become tempered with the resignation of accepted mortality.  The casual brutality of much of his past imagery persists, but now Cirino seems to see it all as part of a larger picture – it is now a passively observed phenomenon as opposed to a trigger for darker ruminations.  The last section of the book, the one inspired by Digges, seems to turn inward as it approaches the end.  The weight of her suicide weighs heavily on Cirino’s mind.  The ending of the final poem, Forty Years of Nightmares, is probably the best, most succinct piece of autobiography Leonard Cirino ever wrote:

I never had to stay in the dark of my room
or stand in a corner.   Life never punished me
until madness ran amok with my body,
my brain.  I could have been Frida
struck by a bus, or Deborah falling,
jumping from the stadium’s heights.

Let them cast lots among shadows like ghosts.
I know my place in the dark and the light.

After this, what else could he possibly say?

 * * * *  

Note:  while all of Leonard Cirino’s work was uniformly excellent, my own personal pick for his high point is the ’98 – ’01 period, which includes THE TERRIBLE WILDERNESS OF SELF, 96 SONNETS FACING CONVICTION, AMERICAN MINOTAUR and THE SANE MANE SPEAKS.  He was at the peak of his powers here, and these books are all essential reading.


Sunday, December 17, 2017


the new religion

this clear-eyed boy fucking the
corpse of your false king,
puts the barrel of the gun in just deep enough
                                                 to draw blood,
just close enough to heaven to scrape
pieces of chrome from the sunburnt sky,
and then what’s left after the
rapture but addiction?

who talks about love
in the age of slaves?

we will drive golden spikes through
god’s corrupted heart
and laugh at the sound of his pain

Friday, December 15, 2017



EK (Poems of Ekphrasis), the latest collection by Tree Riesener, is a bold series of ruminations on, pretty much, the last 2000 years or so of human history.  Being a skilled writer, Riesener ropes us in quickly and never lets go. The distant past is connected to the here and now by placing it front of the funhouse lens of 21st century.  Rodin is found in these pages, and Breugel, and Chagall.  Christ, the Madonna, Queen Puabi – they all make appearances, as do the victims of Chernobyl, slasher films & fast food (and other assorted signposts of junk culture), junkies, the forgotten, the left behind – in short, the assorted detritus of the world we’ve taken it upon ourselves to destroy.

Needless to say, this is heavy writing.  These are important ideas dressed up in dazzling language.  Not beautiful language, necessarily, but hypnotic.  The imagery is relentless, as is the undercurrent – we are all caught here in a world quite possibly beyond salvation, and so where do we go now?

Again, though, it’s Riesener’s skill that keeps these poems getting preachy or overwhelming.  Quite the opposite, they fascinate and amaze, always shifting from one location, from one perspective, from one age, to another.  She jumps back and forth from the casually observational to the purely factual, from straight-ahead narrative to a beautiful Surrealist disregard for ordinary logic.  There are shorter poems scattered here and there that help us catch our breath, but the majority of these pieces are dense and allusive, thorny with anger, sorrow, mystery and hope.  They surround us, and we succumb.  Wry observations peer out of the thickets of language when we least expect them.  The almost-familiar darts behind the blatantly obscure and then reappears somewhere else.  The language can be quite playful but, on the whole, the driving force behind most of these poems seems to be a carefully controlled rage (and possibly even a sense if disgust).  How have we arrived in the present tense with so little to show for ourselves?  What’s left when the promise of unearned greatness turns out to be lie? 

Riesener doesn’t offer easy answers, she simply shows us where “being human” has brought us.  She’s an excellent guide who wisely refuses to play the part of prophet.  In EK, she hasn’t given us a map, but a mural, a mosaic of words.  Like any work of art that refuses to give up all of its secrets and truths at once, the frightening elegance of EK demands to be returned to again and again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


and so like blood, like water

cathedral of december light,
sunshine through early afternoon fog and
the wide open spaces of
j christ’s trembling mind

the logic of war and
the necessity of silence

dog goes for the young boy’s throat
again and again until there’s not even
enough blood left to quench your thirst and
when you ask the fucker to apologize
he spits in your face

in the age of heroes there can
only be predators and victims

have you forgotten
the basic truths?

money and power are what matter

redemption is an idea best left
for movies and books

picture your life as a race to the
top of a pile of corpses

believe in kings
and in assassinations

in porn star junkies

start with love and work
your way back to slavery

Monday, December 11, 2017


Nebula 4 by Jaime Derringer

Image result for jaime derringer art


You know how it is.  Me with my “Oh, this obscure band deserves some reissues” and “Oh, this obscure band shouldn’t be so obscure!”  Fuck all that.  I like that those bands are obscure, you know?  God I’d hate having to discuss them with people, like sports teams or (the sound of me throwing up in my mouth) comic book movies.  Gah……  Still, it’s nice when they get some recognition many years after the fact so they know that some of us actually were paying attention to them at the time.

And, on that note, you know who’s awesome?  Reactor.  They did a sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet bunch of reissues for Loop around nine years ago.  I still highly recommend them, because they still highly kick ass.  The three main albums, HEAVEN’S END, FADE OUT and  A GILDED ETERNITY all got awesome 2CD reissues with groovalicious bonus tracks, including  their John Peel Sessions, so that takes care of reissuing their WOLF FLOW album, too.  Nice.  And then the good people at Reactor took the singles compilation album THE WORLD IN YOUR EYES and beefed it up with all sorts of good stuff to make it a 3CD set.   FAN. FUCKING. TASTIC.

I remember reading that Spacemen 3 dissed these guys at some point and accused them of ripping off the Spacemen 3 sound, which is a lot of codswallop, since the Spacemen 3 were basically doing an MC5/Stooges/Krautrock mash-up in the first place.   Bottom line is, both bands kicked ass.  Loop were probably more consistent, though, since they only had one visionary in the group, not two who couldn’t stop bickering.

Bottom line, to quote the good people at Ralph Records, BUY OR DIE.