Friday, September 11, 2009

HELLBOUND by David McLean

There are a lot of things one might say about David McLean’s new collection, Hellbound, including “don’t read this before you go to sleep.” But the one word that came back to me again and again was inescapable. There is a setting for this book, based largely on the cult horror movie Hellraiser (1987), and McLean constantly makes references to the movie, its characters, and the overall plot. I’ve never seen the movie; therefore, I felt as if I needed to research it. Which, I did. I have to admit it never would have occurred to me to write a collection of poems so closely wed to a Clive Barker film. Original. But, I wanted to believe that there was more to the poems than references to a flick and I needed to feel that I could read the book without seeing or knowing anything about Hellraiser. So I read the book trying to find the poetry behind the words, without the horror. It was hard, but in the end, I did find what I was looking for.
The first poem that struck me for its meaning and individuality was called the worst hell:
the worst hell for a devil
is one where eyes are sewn shut
so you cannot see the suffering you inflict
on others. the worst hell for a lover
is when the loved one never suffers.
I liked this one, because there were no references to meat, blood, hooks, chains, Cenobites, or Pinhead. This poem easily stands alone and captures a feeling I’ve known. So, there is humanity in the book after all. But, there is also a lot of inhumanity. Many of the poems delve further and deeper into the concept of Hell, suffering, and the reader is invaded by a thoroughly convincing sense of nihilism. McLean is effective in creating this hopeless atmosphere and twists his hooks a little bit more every chance he gets. Again, the theme is inescapable. But, in exposing so much inhumanity, he is making a point. Much of humanity is inhumane. Clever.
And, there are other shining moments.
In a number of poems he explores our concepts of good and evil, then he shuns them as relative terms, and looks harder at topics like innocence, children, Heaven, and God. This book takes on a philosophical bent as McLean dissects who we are and what we are, what moral battles we fight (and ultimately lose) and how Hell is a concept (even an existence) we create, not necessarily a place where we go. In a sense, it is something to which we are literally bound. Interesting. 
To be honest, at first I found it hard to get past the horror hyperbole of the book, but once I knew what to look for, I found and enjoyed the serious thought and observation that went into this creation. It is not a monster read, it is not a cult movie pastiche, rather it is an exploration of humanity’s darker side (although, like good and evil, light and dark are relative, and as McLean might put it, such maudlin introspection and comparison is boring) so I came to appreciate its breadth and scale of thought instead. I personally think the collection would be stronger without the movie references, but that is my small opinion. There is more than enough in there to set the mind in motion and to ask questions about our own perceptions of who and what we seem to be, and even more importantly, where we are going with this thing called life. Oblivion, Heaven, or Hellbound?

Opinion: Fine Read

-reviewed by GJ

48 pages 
color laminated cover

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NEXT to GUNS by Lara Konesky

I often wonder how the feminist icon Sylvia Plath would have written had she been born in the 1970s or 80s. Often lauded as the head of a movement so blinded, that they chipped her name off her headstone, Plath seems rather a saintly figure remembered as an unfortunate “victim” at the hands of her husband. But what about the poetry? Ah, the poetry…
There seems a new generation of American women poets taking up Plath’s poetic mantle, who are writing as though their lives depended upon it. Lara Konesky is no exception. Unaware of her work until this Grievous Jones book, I am glad to meet her acquaintance. This handsome book saddled with an enticing cover of a woman, pierced belly button and holding a gun over her naked crotch, sets the tone at once. These poems are raw, powerful, sexy and cut to the chase. With an impressive conciseness, Konesky powers through the shorter poems like a woman on a mission.
The poem ‘Porn’ is worth quoting in full as it not only highlights Lara’s tone and sense of humour, but I sense an underlying poetics, the poetics of honesty.

I was trying to seduce you.
But you already jerked off twice today to internet
I guess I should be grateful you aren’t cheating,
just beating?
I didn’t even mean to do that.

This compositional honesty is hinted at throughout the book and draws the reader to the poet. From recently ‘meeting’ Lara I feel as though I could happily spend an hour or two cracking open a bottle of Famous Grouse and talking poetry and life and life and poetry.
Making poetry out of experience is nothing new, (see Plath) but making poetry out of these kinds of experiences is I feel, part of the post-post-modern condition of being a woman poet writing in the USA today. Of course, I’d know all about that being a male poet based in Liverpool! What I mean to say is, these poems offer a refreshing perspective of what it means to be young, attractive and talented living and experiencing the world as we live in it today.
Lara Konesky’s strengths run wider than writing poems about her boyfriend’s jerking off over porn, pill popping, texting and sex. The poem ‘Tears’ is beautiful in its simplicity:

I think she has the flu…she has been in the
bathroom for years
I think she fell in love with you
she is busy flushing tears

As the great Puma Perl says in her rear-cover blurb, ‘hot chicks/never die/they watch/and wait’, well, I for one, despite not being a hot chick, will be waiting eagerly to see what Konesky’s next move will be.  As a debut collection, this is as strong and as powerful, and as worthy as they come. Highly, highly, recommended. Sylvia would be proud.

-reviewed by AT
(note: Grievous Jones never reviews any of our books "in house", reviews are only presented by writers not associated with, or published by GJ Press)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

URCHIN BELLE by Jenni Fagan

I opened this book of poems and was immediately put off. The first few lines go...

You are a Celtic Tanaiste,
the first crunch of frost
a whorl of midwinter mist
silently silvering the moss.

You are bracken crackling,
a peaty alchemical gold
a thread of smoke spiralling
a thistle on a pebble shore…

...and I didn't get it. That's because I am a fool who prejudges too easily. Or maybe because I didn't know what a Tanaiste was. I still don't, and I am still a fool. But then I met Jenni for the second time, got so drunk I don't know how I got home, and woke up with the book next to my hotel room bed. I read it beginning to end whilst steaming hung-over, and fell in love. 
I think what had me smitten was the indented text on the back of the thick, heavy, rough paper cover. I won't tell you what it says (buy the book and find out for yourself) but I have to say, it is the best back-cover blurb I have ever read. Also, the poems were good, and got better, and better. 
Jenni can be a prickly person, I imagine. This comes across in the poems. They are about toughness. About a rough life, growing up in ways most can't imagine and about kicking ass, kicking her way out of what WAS into what she is NOW: a very charming, witty, sly, and most un-urbane person. There's something feral in the writing, a derailing of common verse, a story, after story, after story in layers of personal history and actuality that hurt to read at points. I know I am too soft, but hell, this can get brutal and... I love the book for it. 
I'd like to find an appropriate element to compare the poems to, but my lack of knowledge when it comes to the periodic table is lamentable. Imagine something harder than diamonds on the outside with a whisky spiked softness and barbs on the inside. This is how the words come across, a pointed tenderness to their interior with an uncompromisingly stiff lip in their delivery. Nothing is sanguine in this book, nothing trite, just lots of sharp, small bites that, with each read, become more and more comfortable, a pleasurable pain. (now that is trite, but it's my fault, not hers)
It also has to be mentioned, nothing is as nice as holding a hand-made book. How Geraint at Blackheath Books gets the effect he gets (rough brown paper, thick pages, hand-printed type...) is beyond me. The physical presence of the book is lush, forget about the words. But, the words are the point, right?
Few books have guts and even fewer are actually moving. This one is both. 
So buy the damn book and find out what the back says, but hurry, it's almost sold-out. That says volumes right there. 

Opinion: Excellent Read

-reviewed by GJ

MAKE SOME NOISE by Andrew Taylor

The best way to describe Andrew Taylor’s new chapbook is twilight. I felt as if I was constantly in a winter moment, streetlights just coming on, a stray cat wandering across the pavement, and the sun barely there. This book is about moments, private moments and observations. It is a certain kind of poetry that captures the essence of THEN. There is no story-line per se, no real movement or fancy word-play, this is just a book about time and place. Also, it is very British. The title, MAKE SOME NOISE: The Woking Poems, leads one to believe they are based in Woking. Seems logical. So, where the hell is Woking? Well, it is south-west of London. I’ve never been there myself, but the book gives me enough of a sense of what it must be like I don’t really need to go there.
The poems are also about riding in cars, being close to motorways, lights, things, etc. Again, they are all very situational. My favorite poem of the book is a list poem. This one I think is quite clever, because it uses enough archetypical imagery so that I felt like I knew the essence of the poem without having to drive to Woking to understand it (maybe because part of it takes place in New York City, I assume). It is called These are the things that kill me…An excerpt:

Eggs Benedict Washington Square diner, Verte Valee shirts,
calls from Parisian telephone boxes, Amelie, So Said Kay,
Billy's 13,000 photographic archive, Jess and her big brown
eyes, John Miller's paintings, plans to demolish Stanley Dock
and its warehouses.

I think Andrew is being a bit daring with this book. It is dedicated to a specific man and I think that the poems are relative to that individual. In that sense the entire small collection, approximately 26 pages in all, is homage to a period and a person. Since I don’t know the person or the author’s relationship to that person, I had to take the book at its face value; a snapshot. A view inside of a mind as it recorded vignettes that froze in the author’s passing wake. I think this kind of poetry has a certain value and for British readers will be appealing for its common-experiential nature. For anyone else, it will be a peek at a special, personal world, at twilight.

Opinion: Fine Read

-reviewed by GJ

Friday, September 4, 2009


What has Jack Henry done? He wrote a book of good poems. Ok, many people write decent books of poetry and some are lauded for their clever use of words, their sense imagery, etc. and they end up in glossy magazines and win awards and everyone smiles and thinks they are such wonderful poets, again, etc.  Jack’s not that kind of guy. Jack has some serious doubts about his own being, let alone his writing. He’s honest about this in the beginning of his new collection, with the patience of monuments. So why read something that is not on the tip of everyone’s tongue? Because, he wrote it, it’s human, and it’s exactly what a good book of poetry should be. No pretense, a fair bit of introspection, doubt, longing, and some great, great imagery. This small stanza struck me from the beginning:
“but that’s not the point 
i am more like a sea monkey
in a jar of  Vaseline set upon a shelf  
with a dusty lid  
next to a peeling dildo,
the one that hasn’t touched
hot flesh in fifteen years”
I like this because I can see it, I can relate to it, and I think I know what it means. It’s the kind of stanza that lingers with you for a while wondering, am I that dildo? More than likely, yes. Taking it even a step further, he inserts a healthy dose of imagination into his work. Not that his poems are fiction in a cloying, childish way, rather, he plays with persona and place in a way that puts the reader into the mindset of the poet. Although I usually tend to like writers who write straight-gut-shot from the heart, Jack likes to dance a bit with illusions and emotions and in this case, it works. It works, because there is a beating need behind it, a fragile one, a many times broken but still pumping one. I didn’t love every poem, but I didn’t need to. I needed to like the soul of the book, and I can say that I truly do.
If it comes down to buying yet another volume of Bukowski from the mega-book-mart’s meager poetry aisle or getting this book wherever you can find it, leave your barista-spat-in drink in the parking lot and drive until you get to Jack’s place. Say HI for me, I’d like to meet him someday.

Opinion: Good Read

-reviewed by GJ 

NeoPoiesis Press, LLC / 2009
156 pp. / $ 16.95


Rob Plath is a writing steamroller fuelled by vodka, whisky, and vitriol. He chugs cigarette smoke and verse into an already crowded atmosphere of hard-edged, but mostly hackneyed writing. I wish this were hyperbole, but it’s not. His new collection, Bellyful of Anarchy, is a monster. Its over 250 pages literally weighing a ton of angst, reflection, and some dark-ass imagery of a most honestly poetic kind. One of the best things about Rob’s writing, and there are many, is that it’s real. I’ve never felt like I was being sucked into a shadowy morass of metaphor or allusion. His poems are concrete and this is a good thing. Reading one of them is like taking a shot at the local dive, you can hear the blather, the clatter, the fug, the cheap lipstick, it’s all-good.
But that is also part of the problem. It’s a lot to read and the theme is unwaveringly consistent. Down and out, a broken past, too many scars to count. There is something of redemption in there, somewhere, I know it, but good luck finding it.
Aside from the constant slide into a bathtub of blood and razor blades, this collection is one of the best ones out there today. It’s not cheap in any sense of the word. At $25 it’s a lot, but, it’s worth it. Why? Because, it is a hard kick in the nuts to a paradigm of poetry that has little-to-no guts and I applaud its necessary audacity. This book proves that there is beauty in repulsion and pulchritude in the plainly rude.
This is the kind of book I want to literally hit people with and scream, “Here, suck on this for a while and when your head stops spinning, tell me you’re not moved to look at poetry in a different light.” It’s a great book, because it is a catalyst, it will hopefully move people to use poetry as a mirror, a reality check, a reflection of what we are past the façade and flesh. Now, read it and tell me if you find hope in it. Then again, who the hell needs hope?

Opinion: Good Read

-reviewed by GJ

302 pages
perfect bound
full color laminated cover

FROSTBITTEN by Mark Walton

I bought this book. Actually, I needed to buy it. It was shipped to me over 5000 miles from the depths of Canada (even though Mark only lives 150 miles from me.) I wanted to have it in my palms, on my flesh, because from the moment I read a few of the poems I knew this was something special. I don’t often feel this way about books and if I am going to spend money on the damn things, I want it sitting next to my bed so I can look at it, read it, feel it, often. So why is Mark’s book special? Notice I didn’t say great, lovely, amazing, whatever, I said special. Because, these poems, and there aren’t many of them (only a large handful really) are about love. Not love in the LOVE sense with flowers and kisses and downy skin and soft eyes and fuck, but rather love in the unshaven, rough handed, tender soul under the tattooed heart kind of sense. Long before I ever met Mark in person, I could tell this from the words. There’s a love of life in the book, an honesty of emotion and there is never any wondering who or from where the poems are speaking. It’s him. In a world of poetic bitching and cathartic rants, this collection is written with finesse and confidence. Even better, the poems are NOT written in the sometimes dysentery-like flood that some poets seem to favor. In fact, I would even go so far as to say some of the poems are downright heart wrenching, and although I despise the general use of clichéd terms, I can’t find another one to capture that essence. Heart wrenching.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this book is not a sob story. It’s not a “play on your emotions with platitudes and banalities weep in the bathroom” kind of book. Instead, Mark’s work is something that I can read without criticism, cynicism, or competitive rancor. I couldn’t write these poems if I tried. I haven’t lived them, he has. And that is what is so special about them. No one else could do this. His voice, experience, and tone are uniquely his. Long after he is gone, this work will speak, because he’s not grinding the same stones and sleeping in the same bed as everyone else. He lives on a houseboat for Christ’s sake. I envy him, but in the way you love someone just for being them. I love this book for being exactly what it is: worthy. 

Opinion: Excellent Read

-review by GJ

48 pages
saddle stitched
$7.50 USD

Thursday, September 3, 2009

DEAD END ROAD by Richard Wink

Some books have atmosphere. As if a collection of poems could be wrapped in fog, sun, pain, etc. This was my first impression of Richard Wink's new work, there is an atmosphere here. I couldn't put my finger on what it was and to be honest, it took me a while until I could get a grip on it. I think I had a hard time placing it, because this work is delicate. It has a quiet sensibility who's richness and finer points blend into the grey of the English backdrop from which he carefully pulls his punches. Many of the poems are observational, people eating sausage-rolls, mothers smoking over their children, old people scared of life around them, these poems have real texture. And then, planted like rocks in a gently undulating field, there is a real glimpse into Richard himself. A poem about a love, about a sadness, about a dodgy summer job. These vignettes reflect the personality of the author and are handholds throughout the book. They give the reader a geographical hard point amidst the East Anglian verse that rolls, and rolls, and rolls.
Richard's book is best read slow, listening to it's quiet observations and looking into the words. Nothing will hit you over the head in this book, but if you reach your hand in just that little bit further, into the poems, you might just get bitten, in the good, do that again kind of way.

Opinion: Good Read

-reviewed by GJ

126 pages
Perfect Bound
Be Write Books

ANTISOCIAL by David Blaine

Now this is my kinda’ book. With “Antisocial” David Blaine has tapped into something that I can get, really, really get. As soon as I read these words in the first few pages, let’s piss on the rules, blow the door off this shit house, and open a window, on our own potential…” I knew I’d have to read the whole damn thing straight through. This book is about me in a lot of ways, a guy getting older, trying to figure out the tangled wires of life experience, getting closer to an unknown end, and mildly, quietly shitting himself that God might just not be there, or even worse, he might. I cruised gladly through the quick-witted and visceral poems until I came to “Glitterati” and I was stopped right there, in the moment, in the reflective emotion, and even better, he mentions a Cadillac El Dorado (my dream car) and it was all perfect. But then, holy crap, it got better. I read “They Looked Like Trash” and tumblers clicked, mental locks dropped their panties, and this was a poem that defines what modern poetry should be. It’s simple, smooth, but chipped on the surface and on closer inspection it goes miles and miles down into the soul of the matter. It’s a poem about humanity, about the faces we are stuck with and our supposed creator, it’s about crap you find at yard sales. I had one of the “those” moments reading it that made my day better. I can’t ask for anything more than that. I’m grateful Dave asked me to read his book, it’s let me know for a little while at least, until the buzz wears odd, that I am not alone in this mess of being. Thank you David Blaine.

Opinion: Good Read

-reviewed by GJ

Print edition: $6.00
Perfect Bound | 56 pages
5.5″ (14cm) x 8.5″ (21.6cm)


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