Monday, April 29, 2013

Claudia Serea, Angels and Beasts

ANGELS & BEASTS by Claudia Serea
102 pages; $13.95. September 2012. Paper.

In this largely autobiographical collection of 74 short prose poems, the poet presents her life in three sections. “Angels & Beasts” recalls her early years under the regime of Nicolae Ceasescu, a world of secret terror in which the child interweaves reality and malevolent creatures from Romanian folklore. “The Little Book of Answers” covers the years between the Romanian Revolution (1989) and Serea’s emigration to America in 1995. Finally, “The Bank Teller’s Name is Jesus” involves the immigrant’s impressions of her new home, always colored by the past she carries with her. Serea’s masterful use of brevity, surrealism, irony, and black humor allow her to express — and the reader to
confront — unspeakable horrors. She is a survivor, but a survivor with wide-open
eyes, determined to move forward holding the darkness and light together.


Serea’s Angels & Beasts manages to perfectly blend quirky surrealism with expert minimalist craft: her sentences are woven with a stunning attention to detail, seemingly stitched with the same blood, fruit and tears that she writes about. When she writes, “The pears were small red tears we weren’t allowed to eat,” the reader cannot help but to feel as if she devoured something forbidden. The body is on high when reading Serea.
—Lisa Marie Basile, MFA, author of Andalucia and A Decent Voodoo, and editor of Patasola Press, The Poetry Society of New York

These prose poems are as sharp as the shrapnel from a nail bomb. They leave you shaken and bloodied and awed that anything so small can be so powerful.
—Howie Good, Ph.D., professor of journalism at SUNY New Paltz, author of Dreaming in Red (Right Hand Pointing, 2012)

There is so much to admire in these firecrackers from Claudia Serea: the simple elegance of her language, the deep mythos of her vision, the sheer architecture of each narrative, and—most dear to this reader—the startling brilliance of her endings, which teach us to leap from the ruts of our own expectations and see our world anew.
—Jeff McMahon, editor of Contrary Magazine, Lecturer, Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, Committee on Creative Writing, The University of Chicago

Claudia is heir to horrors, and she whispers her inheritance to children, who run delighted through sunlit fields. Read her poems and become those children.
—Don Zirilli, editor of Now Culture

Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. She is the author of two other full-length poetry collections, To Part Is to Die a Little, Cervená Barva Press, and A Dirt Road Hangs from the Sky, 8th House Publishing, Canada, and
two chapbooks, and her poems and translations have appeared in many journals. Together with Paul Doru Mugur and Adam J. Sorkin, she co-edited and co-translated The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (Talisman Publishing, 2011). Ms. Serea lives in New Jersey and works in New York for a major publishing company. A rising star in the world of contemporary surrealist poetry,
she received two Pushcart nominations in 2011.


Some angels walk among us looking just like regular people. Sometimes they even play football, like this guy with a sweaty t-shirt. He takes a long drink of water and looks at me knowingly. When he pulls his shirt overhead, I can see the scars where the wings fasten. I bet he has them neatly folded in the duffle bag he carries after the game.

The chicken bones

Some people could roll over three times and turn into dogs. There were a lot of stray dogs around. They traveled in packs, following us on the sides of the road. Mother always threw them some chicken bones, which bought us just enough time to escape.
There was no escape. Soon, we were the chicken bones that another family on our street threw at the dogs. They, too, were trying to buy time to escape but stumbled, fell, and accidentally rolled over three times, turning into chicken bones that someone else threw at the dogs. That went on for a while, and is still going on today.

Her back is turned. The head kerchief covers her hair as if she should be ashamed she has any. She keeps stirring the pot  on the stove, but I know only chicken feet float in that soup.  The dust in the room is a thousand years old and keeps rising to her ankles, to her knees.

White as milk, the stag carries the souls of dead children. He drinks the tears from their mothers’ eyes and grazes on thin memory grasses. He stops at the abandoned house to rummage through the rubble, looking for small clothes. The children’s souls are nestled in silk swings hooked on the stag’s antlers. He carries them gently over treetops and roofs, and into the moon.


Gaia’s wings could turn the day into night. Circling the sky, it followed Grandma everywhere as angels follow people. When time came, Grandma saw Gaia waiting outside the window. She tried to warn me, but her voice was garbled. In an instant,
Gaia was inside the room. It swooped down, grabbed Grandma’s breath and flew off, leaving behind a whirlpool of red petals.

I send you transparent love letters that barn swallows sow in the sky  when I miss you.
The swallows are great mail carriers: they fly fast and low, preserving the letters’ sentiments. Sometimes their job makes them late for school, and they get punished: they have to sit
for hours on a wire and sing in unison.

Dearest little one,

a hummingflower flies from bird to bird,
sipping sweet songs from their throats.

Taste me later rather than sooner, sings the bone in the stew.
Suck my marrow for a taste of spring grass. By tomorrow, I’ll hum,
and fire will bring out the choir.
Dip a wooden spoon inside me, answers the stew.
I have the fragrance of roots and of the life of the lamb. Lift me to your lips,
and take it all in.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dick Jones, a poem from "Ancient Lights"

There is a fine intelligence at play here: the imagery is star-bright and startling in its originality.
Many poets, sadly, go unread, ignored even, but in Dick Jones’ case the exception should be 
the rule:  his writing is essential reading. Miss it not.    -Wes Magee

All Phoenicia Publishing books are on sale
for national poetry month. See the small,
select catalogue here, with links to book pages.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Scott G. F. Bailey's "The Astrologer"

Moses Lake, Washington: Rhemalda Publishing, 2013
Where to buy your very own copy...


Denmark in 1601 braces itself for a hard winter. King Christian IV has moved the royal court from Copenhagen to the remote castle Kronberg, from where he will launch a military campaign to purge Denmark of rebellious factions. What the king doesn’t know is that he’s brought his bitterest enemy with him to Kronberg. Soren Andersmann, the Danish royal astrologer, has smuggled a trunk full of poisons, daggers, and a venomous snake into the castle. Though Soren knows nothing of the assassin's trade, he has sworn to be the instrument of justice. The king has murdered Soren's mentor and spiritual father, Tycho Brahe, the most famous astronomer the world has seen. Soren will have his revenge.

Inhabited by the spirit of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” while set in historical Europe at the threshold of the Renaissance, The Astrologer is at once a tale of vengeance and an exploration of the unfinished battle between deeply-held tradition and newfound ideas of progress. The man of science and philosophy must choose between conflicting loyalties to science, to family, to God, and to Denmark.
Visit Scott's web page for the book here.

Praise for a debut

The Astrologer is a marvelous story of fierce revenge and murder as staggering as the constellations above. I simply couldn't look away. A vivid debut!
--Michelle Davidson Argyle, author of The Breakaway and Monarch

It's elegant, it's sly, it's funny as all hell, and the unreliable narrator is both heroic and heartbreaking; a poignant embodiment of the Enlightenment fairytales our society likes to tell itself.
--Tara Maya, author of The Unfinished Song and Conmergence

A philosophic stunner that evokes the wintry islands of Beowulf and the castles of Hamlet. Set in the predawn of the Enlightenment, Bailey's stargazing protagonist struggles against the dark forces that forever keep us ignorant. Haunting, expansive, poetic, and it has sword fights.
--Layne Maheu, author of Song of the Crow

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Melanie McCabe, History of the Body

WordTech Communications, 2012

In her stunning first book History of the Body, Melanie McCabe explores the shared, often uneasy narratives of house and body. Brilliant admixtures of imaginative wildness and lyric control, her poems seem an inevitable part of the “industry of the heart and lungs”—and the collection as a whole, beautifully sequenced...”
--Claudia Emerson, author of Late Wife and Secure the Shadow

Melanie McCabe
Formally exquisite, the lucid poems in Melanie McCabe’s History of the Body remind us that everything we know is embodied—language, memory, pleasure, loss. This debut will delight the reader with the poise of its intellect and the supple playfulness of its imagination.—Eric Pankey, author of The Pear As One Example and Cenotaph

The poems are dazzling and they are shadowed with grief.  They are achingly human and, at moments, witty…Sensuous, sensual, and reflective, this book (a poetic page-turner!) tells the living history of a body—a female body—inhabited by a fierce, fiery mind. --Jennifer Atkinson, author of Drift Ice and The Drowned City

McCabe conjures the lush world of suburban adolescence, and leads us, with her unflinching eye, through the bloom and ache of desire, and the inevitable loss that shadows any kind of want. These astonishing poems smolder, glitter, then blaze. --Erika Meitner, author of Ideal Cities and Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls

 * * *

The poems in this debut volume are focused in some way on the idea of the body—as it is inhabited in childhood, in adolescence, and into middle age-- and as the means through which we experience desire, love, children of our own, and growing older.

In the book’s title poem, that relationship of one’s self to the body it inhabits is explored as it changes over the course of a lifetime.  In childhood,

            “...there was no body separate
            from the self.  It was simply the border, the quick sketch,
            the outline that made us visible.” 

In adolescence and adulthood, however, that lack of self-consciousness is lost, and the body becomes “an accessory.  And later still,/ a blemish to conceal.”

Another poem, “Paperboy,” describes an adolescent girl’s first experience of her body as she moves beyond childhood:

            “…I dawdled along the yard’s perimeter, knowing longing
            without knowing what I longed for.  The voice

            that rose in him was bass – my own voice,
            vibrato.  I was reedy – a flute.  A straw.  Desire

            outstripped my body…”

Although not purely autobiographical, many of the poems in the book deal with powerful and life-altering events: the loss of love; a mother’s relationship with her daughters; a struggle with illness; the impending death of a loved one.

In “Invention,” the speaker struggles with the difficulty of disengaging from a relationship, of learning how to begin to see the lover, not as the fantasy she created for herself, but in a more realistic way:

            “It is so much harder to disassemble you.

            A fool, I tinkered and nailed without
            instruction or blueprint, let construction
            happen in this one small space, and now
            there is no window or door to shove you
            through.  You and I within this place
            take up more room than the air…”

The poem “Exile” offers a poignant look at the body and mind of the speaker’s mother as it begins to fail her near the end of her life:

            “Her bones still hold her and so she lives in them, but my mother
            misses the old world, meridian, noon’s hot rum to loosen her limbs,
            her tongue.  She cannot carry the sharp sounds of this place

            in her head long enough to say them.  One day does not tether
            to another, and stories gallop off without their bridles.  The ground
            is dangerous with fruit and so she gives up walking…”

Though the subject matter here is often loss, even heartbreak, the poems at times have an element of humor to them and are balanced by a kind of wry observation of the world. There are references to all kinds of popular culture from the ‘60s and ‘70s.  In “These Songs,” the reader encounters Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Supremes, and Martha and the Vandellas; in “Beneath the Code,” Gilligan’s Island, Rob and Laura Petrie, and I Dream of Jeannie all make an appearance.

To read some of the poems in their entirety, please click below:
To purchase the book on Amazon, please click here.