REVIEW: Slant Six

BY ROMAN GLADSTONE

Author: Erin Belieu

2014, Copper Canyon Press

Filed Under: Poetry

Slant Six is an apt metaphor for this collection. The Slant-6 was a power engine in Chrysler automobiles manufactured in the 1960’s-1980’s (Valiant, Plymouth, Dodge Dart), and it makes its appearance in Belieu’s collection in the poem, “Time Machine,” when the speaker remembers, in flashback, the anger she felt at the driver of a Mercedes who had flipped her off. “It should be harder to feel/this angry all the time.” The speaker feels enormous satisfaction as her Slant-6 guns up the Mercedes’ rear: “the Wild Kingdom death scene/ of her composure as she scrambles/ to get away….” Belieu is the woman behind the wheel throughout these often hilarious, fresh, imaginative poems. She’s as unbridled as that other wild Floridian poet, Denise Duhamel.

The Slant-6 was a component of down-market automobiles, unremarkable, unadorned, and so emblematic of the lovable character Belieu creates for herself, an unremarkable, not-necessarily-over-the-hill-but-certainly-approaching-the-peak woman, from the Midwest, who feels uncomfortable in New York social circles (“When at a Certain Party in NYC”: “Wherever your from sucks/ and wherever you grew up sucks.” Or, a little differently at the conclusion of “Love Letter: Final Visitation”: “Peace, peace, I free and undream you./ The priestess of nothing, / I am pleased to be plain.”).   Continue reading

REVIEW: Watch Me Go

BY CHARLES RAMMELKAMP

Author: Mark Wisniewskiwatchmego

2015, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Filed Under: Literary

At the end of the Prologue to Mark Wisniewski’s Watch Me Go, a noir meditation on love, families, guilt and forgiveness (not to mention an eerily relevant contemplation of race in contemporary America), Douglas Sharp – “Deesh” – one of the two narrators of the alternating chapters that follow, offers to affirm his innocence, “Ms. Price, you’re asking me to tell you a very long story.” Jan Price, the other narrator, replies, “Not necessarily, Deesh. I’m asking you to tell me the truth.” What follows in over sixty chapters, in a breathless, headlong prose style that is the very essence of the urge to spill, is a complicated tale that nevertheless seems intent on distilling certain bedrock truths – about friendship, betrayal, ambition, the tug of the heart.

Deesh is an African-American living below the poverty line in the Bronx. He is in Riker’s prison for the murder of a policeman but also the chief suspect in two other murders. Like Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and millions of others like them, he is also guilty of being black in the eyes of racist white America.

Deesh is consulting with his court-assigned defense attorney, Lawrence Gerelli, who basically regards him as guilty, when he receives an unexpected visitor, Jan Price, an attractive young white woman who has come to forgive him for one of those murders, to testify in Deesh’s behalf, bur she wants some straight answers, in case Deesh has other blood on his hands. Continue reading

REVIEW: My Very End of the Universe

my very end of the universeBY ROMAN GLADSTONE

Edited by Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney

2014, Rose Metal Press

Filed Under: Literary, Short Stories

Writers of flash fiction sometimes seem to be cult-like in their devotion to the form. Though short fictions have been around for as long as fiction has been written, flash fiction as a distinct genre is fairly recent, dating to around the 1980’s, when the very title of the category was still in dispute (in some corners it still is) – sudden fiction, lightning fiction, quick fiction, etc. (at The Potomac http://thepotomacjournal.com — we call this category of stories under about 1,000 words “quictions”). Thus, there is a certain novelty associated with flash fiction, and writers of flash often appear to feel a need to justify and explain what they are up to, almost as if representing a cause. Anthologies, panel discussions, college courses have proliferated in support of the mission – and it does feel like a “mission,” all right!

As the various names suggest, the best of these stories are not just brief but are more like “revelations” or “epiphanies” – of scene, character, situation, relationship, etc. The more blah, ordinary flashes are usually nothing but jokes and anecdotes without much insight, but even the less successful suggest how electric the form could be if properly executed. Continue reading

REVIEW: Each Day More

BY CHARLES RAMMELKAMP

Author: Elisa AlboCvrEachDayMore_BookStore

2014, Main Street Rag Publishing Co.

Filed Under: Poetry

There is nothing quite so heartbreaking as the death of a child, nothing more cruel than a parent surviving his or her own offspring. The tension between the fragile hope and joy of children and the finality of death is potent throughout the sixteen poems that make up Elisa Albo’s new collection, Each Day More..

From the opening title poem, an elegy for Alexander Standiford, a young man who died at eighteen, way too young, to “Hurricane Sandy,” a poem about two boys swept away from their mother to their deaths, at Staten Island, to several poems involving two young people, the poet’s cousins, Janet and Robert, killed in a Florida motorcycle accident, these poems ooze with the pointless tragedy of young death, including the anonymous deaths of the boy-soldiers in Iraq and the Middle East. Continue reading

REVIEW: Mimi’s Trapeze

BY ROMAN GLADSTONE

Author: J. Allyn Rossermimi

2014, University of Pittsburgh Press

Filed Under: Poetry

If John Updike was the Fred Astaire of poetry – nimble, dexterous, witty, graceful – J. Allyn Rosser is the Ginger Rogers – witty, nimble, graceful, seemingly doing it “with the greatest of ease,” as though soaring on a flying trapeze. As they said of Ginger Rogers, she could do everything Astaire did, and on high heels and backwards. There’s an element of Erma Bombeck’s sardonic humor in Rosser’s poems, but add to that the graceful, seamless use of rhyme, meter, poetic form, and she has you waltzing from page to page, speaking Tagalog in Manila or “wiseguy” in New York, pirouetting through museums, cemeteries, malls, with odes to loss, failure, futility and break-up that evince just enough metaphysical speculation to make John Donne and Andrew Marvell drool; odes to a comforting, comfortable old shirt, pelicans and Canadian geese, seemingly almost any old thing that captures her attention.

Two poems stand out as particularly impressive tours de force, if only for their sheer length as lyrics. Rosser’s wit and insight are on display in the title poem, a five-page narrative about the speaker’s great-grandmother Mimi, who ran off to join the circus, leaving her son Louis behind. The narrator relates the tale to a friend while giving her a tour of her home. In the study they come upon the trapeze. The tone is conversational, confidential, even as the story is a bit jaw-dropping, not to say scandalous. Mimi does return to her family, briefly, but then disappears again, this time for good, though she leaves the trapeze for her son. Continue reading

REVIEW: One Nation Taken Out of Another

BY CHARLES RAMMELKAMP

Author: Zackary Sholem Bergeronenationtakenoutofanother

2014, Apprentice House

Filed Under: Poetry

At the outset, I need to say that I am only reviewing half of this book. Half is in Yiddish and half in English, and I don’t read Yiddish! However, the themes and the tone — whimsical, urgent, mystical, fond – are consistent throughout and display Berger’s talents as a poet, his sharp intellectual curiosity and his scholarly depth. His immersion into all things Jewish is evident throughout.

The poems address Biblical themes, many of the titles taken from the parshe, the weekly Torah portions read during Shabbat services, and riffing on those. For instance, the poem “Korach” refers to a portion beginning at Numbers 16, in which Korach rebels against Moses (“WE ARE HOLY! they burst out together…”), but it’s not a simple narrative, more free-associative meditation. “Vayikra” (Leviticus 1), “Vayeshev” (Genesis 37), “Vayigash” (Genesis 44), and “Acharei Mos” (Leviticus 16) are others. Continue reading

REVIEW: The Americans

BY CHARLES RAMMELKAMPamericans

Author: David Roderick

2014, University of Pittsburgh Press

Filed Under: Poetry

The title of David Roderick’s new collection, The Americans, points us to what he is up to here, a snapshot of the American psyche – a picture of a kind of rootless despair that pervades everything, but this despair feels both universal and personal, not necessarily “American.”

Still, it’s an arresting title, and the poem, “After de Tocqueville,” in reference to the nineteenth century French sociologist/historian who famously analyzed American society and politics, reinforces the conceit. The epigraph, attributed to former French president Jacques Chirac, does too. “Nous sommes tous Américains.” The phrase, an echo of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner,” appeared in Le Monde two days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

So the whole world is American? Fair enough.

Indeed, there is a potent theme running throughout the collection of lives adrift in a material world, hoodwinked by a pervasive mythology that doesn’t stand up to examination and actually blinds us to “reality.” Five poems addressed to “Dear Suburb,” punctuate the collection.

                        Though you live

inside me, though you laid eggs

in the moisture at the corners

of my eyes, I still dream about

your sinking empire twenty feet above

sea level, and the many things

you fail to see: beautiful bleached

gas can, tomato posts bent into art,

how half of a butterfly, cut crosswise,

still looks like a butterfly, etc.

The book title is also an homage to the photographer, Robert Frank, whose similarly titled collection of photographs earned him a comparison to de Tocqueville. Interestingly, Frank’s book, ultimately published in the United States by Grove Press in 1959, was originally published in France with the title, Les Américains. The introduction to Frank’s book was written by Jack Kerouac, and the poem, “After de Tocqueville,” concludes with the lines:

Even in religious fervor, said our prince

Walt Whitman, there’s a touch of animal heat.

Maybe only a truly great stranger can see it.

Said Kerouac to Robert Frank, You got eyes.

 

What are we seeing? What are we not seeing?

The poet asks in “After de Tocueville”: “Must nostalgia//walk like a prince through all our rooms?” Must we be held hostage to a vision of “the good old days” that never actually happened? Roderick’s poem, “New Directive,” is a reply to Robert Frost’s 1947 poem, “Directive,” in which Frost mourns the loss of the simple joys of long ago. The epigraph is from Frost’s poem – “First there’s the children’s house of make believe…” Frost’s poem goes on: “Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,/The playthings in the playhouse of the children. Weep for/what little things could make them glad.”

Roderick writes:

            Look for them

You’ll never find their dishes,

their goblets or knives.

You gape at screens.

You’re dreaming up places

where the real news is made.

Nostalgia: inventing the past. Poems like “On the Bullet Train from Hiroshima,” “Love Field” and “Ambassador Hotel” point to other, sad, tragic versions of the American past. The latter two are about the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, and perhaps hint at “where America lost its way.” If he is indeed making commentary here, note that Roderick was born in 1970, after these events took place.

But I don’t want to quibble about “messages.” Roderick’s poems are frequently beautiful, eloquent, original expressions. Take that line, “Must nostalgia walk like a prince through all our rooms?” Wish I’d written that! Indeed, the collection is divided into two parts, and certainly the first part seems to be more about “the Americans,” whereas the second part seems much more personal, to me, at least. There’s a 5-part poem called “Green Fields” that partakes of Irish nostalgia, legends of the diaspora from the emerald isle, and Roderick also includes a couple of poems inspired by the Japanese Zuihitsu form, sort of stream-of-thought expressions without a form (the word means “follow the brush”).

There’s also a lot of noticing things in the world, the flora and the fauna, the stuff of the real world. As he writes in “Letter to Shara in Amman”:

                                   I can’t explain what

I was looking for beyond the animals –

God, maybe. It had something to o with

my divided self. Crazy Hart Crane had it right:

My only friends – the wren and thrush,

            Made solid print for me across dawn’s broken arc.

It’s as if these living things in nature – the Passionflower, the locusts – are the only “real,” unmechanical manifestations of “reality.”

The Americans is a collection of poems that gives pleasure from any of a variety of perspectives or intentions. Pick one.

Similar reads:  Howl, Allen Ginsberg; Collected Poems, Langston Hughes

REVIEW: Marvel Comics: the Untold Story

BY AARON BLOCK

[This history of the celebrated and reviled comic book publisher is a C4 Great Read.]13623814

Author: Sean Howe

2012, HarperCollins

Filed under: Historical, Nonfiction

Find it at Goodreads

I suspect many people who grow up reading comics have had roughly the same relationship with Stan Lee as I have: at first he is the face of Marvel Comics, beloved for his role in creating the X-Men and Spider-Man; then, as I grew up and learned to appreciate Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Stan Lee seemed less important, more hokey uncle than genius storyteller; finally, when I began to learn about the company’s history and the disputes over credit and iffy work-for-hire contract claims, Lee became a traitor, representing the company’s business interests while masquerading as an enthusiast for the medium. In a plot twist that could’ve come out of an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, the once friendly father figure turns out to be the villain.

But classic Marvel villains are always somewhat sympathetic, and though Sean Howe’s superlative Marvel Comics: the Untold Story, recently reissued in paperback, doesn’t exactly reframe that narrative, it does find gray areas, caveats, and compromises to complicate my rather simplistic take on Lee. Still a company man through and through, the version of Stan “the Man” offered in Howe’s history is wracked by guilt, frustrated by unrealized ambition, and ultimately reduced to a figurehead role in a company he planned to one day escape. Continue reading

It’s Almost Time To Say Goodbye

Dear C4 friends and supporters,

After months of deliberation, we have made the difficult decision to shutter Chamber Four at the end of 2014. We would like to thank each and every one of you for your support for and contributions to the many evolutions of our endeavor over these past five years. We are sad to say goodbye to the site, but life has pulled the staff in too many directions and we can’t bear any longer to allow our pet project to limp along like it has been of late.

Most of the content we’ve published will still be accessible, as we’ll be archiving ChamberFour.com on a free WordPress site in the coming months– and the Page Count podcast will continue for the foreseeable future–but unfortunately the magazine site won’t be able to come with us. Hopefully, the digital press page—where we host copies of all the lit mag issues and the anthology—will still exist on the archived WordPress site. But we can’t guarantee that just yet.

Ebook copies of all four issues and the anthology will still be available at Smashwords at this link, but we encourage you to download the handmade PDF that you can find through our digital press page. That page will be up at least through the end of September, but if you miss it, feel free to email Sean or Nico at clark.sean.p AT gmail.com or nicovreeland AT gmail.com. Thanks again and keep being awesome. .

The C4 team

Albums as Texts: the Misfits, Static Age; Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Punk is Undead)

By PAuL-NEWELL REAVES
“Come sweet death, one last caress”—the Misfits
Althusser, Louis; On Ideology
the Misfits, Static Age
Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism

 [Are you thinking enough to be reading this webpage?  Start:

This is a column about album lyrics as text, not a music history column.  We will analyze album lyrics for meaning, examining with close readings album titles, song titles and close reading of lyrics.  How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture?  We are looking, reading and listening for the microcosm of the album, and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the 1970’s, 80’s and more recent decades.]

The misfitsWhat kind of television was Glen Danzig of the Misfits watching in ‘70s New York?  Where can I get some?

The Misfits’definition of Ideology is simple: television.  “We are a static age…a T.V. Casualty.”  This televised Ideology could be broadened to include: schooling systems, religious systems, medical/psychiatric systems, family systems and governmental systems.

Louis Althusser begins his writing on Ideology like this, “As Marx say, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time…”  Break it down, now, Althusser:

In Althusser’s fully developed document, On Ideology, he simplifies, “Ideology, then, is for Marx an imaginary assemblage…the pale, empty and inverted reflection of real history.”  Althusser implies that Marx underemphasizes the importance of Ideology in framing, indeed creating, real history.  But what is real history?  He explains, “The Communist Manifesto defines history as the history of class struggles…class societies.”  In a Marxist and post-Marxist understanding, it is the exchange of goods, money and shifting of people across classes that marks real history. Continue reading