Thursday, February 18, 2021

Blood Memory by Gail Newman, reviewed by Belinda Subraman

Blood Memory begins with a brief and solemn, “Prayer to Remember” and sets the tone with reverence and appreciation. It is above all a connection of the poet to her family, who were caught up in the Holocaust. Gail herself was born in a displaced person’s camp just after the war where her parents met and married.

The first section shows us what the world was like for Gail’s parents and multitudes of others when cruel manipulation of humanity, through politics, was extreme and fear reigned. There was fear of being labeled, abused, treated like cattle or killed for no valid reason and there was fear to say the leaders were wrong, inhumane and must be stopped. From Breath: …They looked away. They said later they did not see—/in open daylight, at the news stand, /in front of the café—  In My Mother in the Łód ́z Ghetto Gail tells us how bodies littered the ground. Some were children. They had been pushed/to the side or into the gutter, where my mother/stepped around or over them—/their bodies cold, blue, finished/with God.

What can you do when it seems the world has turned against you?  There’s always something. In My Mother Remembers /Hafsstadt Labor Camp: Piece by piece, bending our heads down to the work, we put the wrong part in the wrong hole,/so the guns would not fire. 

Gratitude reigns in section II, Lost language.  After the war, life was beautiful in comparison. From I Came Into the World: People were singing. The floor shook with dance./I came into a house where I was a stranger/and was made welcome./My mother gave me her body, my father/ his voice. I stood between them, faltering./The walls of the house rose up around us. From A Short Engagement:…everything after the war/was beautiful. This was not home,/ but it was somewhere.  Not long after the marriage Gail was born. Her mother works while her Aunt tends her.  The doctor tells her mother her breasts are not giving enough milk. From Everything: It is too soon after the war, and my parents want so much right away./ Everything they own is in my body.”  Gratitude for simple things continues in Braiding…guiding the fabric between his hands,/ the needle dipping in and out like a bee/ inside the honey of a flower. 

In Part III, Living with the Dead, Gail speaks about her father in Elegy: His shoes are still in his closet,/lined up like sentries to guard the past.  When visiting Mount Sinai Jewish Cemetery and she is asked about her own burial plans it is easy to understand her words:  I’ll take the good earth, a simple pine box, dressed in white, barefoot, face scrubbed, my blood intact in my veins—as I am.// …and we will go together,/not led like harnessed horses/ or leashed dogs// but streaming forward like the sun/ when it settles on the fields in summer

On Valentine’s Day her heart swells while visiting her mother. …how when I stand before the mirror combing my hair, I see my mother’s eyes, and happiness wells up like a wave without warning. //…She speaks of the weather,/today being only itself./Her time is reeling in, a line cast/from shore. But how she loves/ the sea, the horizon, the flaming sun! 

The last lines to the last poem in Blood Memory are:  I stood at the gravesites, feet soaked in mugged earth./ I lay down my body in wet leaves./I remembered them. This book is a testament to our never ending connection to history, acknowledgement in the present, and a projection of love, and lessons, into the future. 

Blood Memory is available from the publisher, Marsh Hawk Press and Amazon and bookstores everywhere.

Hear Gail read a few poems and a brief interview with her in GAS: Poetry, Art and Music video show. (Interview starts at 22 seconds).

Gail Newman has worked as an arts administrator, museum educator at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and CalPoets poet-teacher and San Francisco Coordinator. She was co-founder of Room, A Women's Literary Journal and has edited two books of children's poetry: C is for California and Dear Earth. A collection of her poetry, One World, was published by Moon Tide Press.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Look Back At Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics by Kevin M. Hibshman

Those who loved Wendy O. Williams and those who hated her did so for the same reasons. She eternally defines the image of punk rock rebellion from a female perspective. She ceaselessly courted controversy and refused to bow to anyone's standards but her own.

She left home at age sixteen and supported herself by working as a lifeguard, stripper and macrobiotic cook before traveling to Europe, ending up in New York City by 1976. She performed in Rod Swenson's live sex shows there until they decided to form a band that would break all the rules. 

Debuting at punk mecca, C.B.G.B's in the late 70's. The Plasmatics' live shows were a mix of self-described “Wreck and Roll” with the sole aim of shocking audiences out of complacency. Television sets were bludgeoned with sledgehammers. Guitars were sawed in half. Eventually, cars would be blown up as all while Wendy cavorted, sometimes topless, covered in whipped cream. The Plasmatics' early music was simple proto-punk, like a sped up, much more threatening version of The Ramones. The lyrics attacked consumerism, sexism and conformity. The songs had equally provocative titles: “Butcher Baby,” “Sex Junkie,” and “Black Leather Monster” among them. Their third release, Metal Priestess, featured a budding new hybrid of punk and heavy metal with Wendy's androgynous vocals growing from grunts to a more melodic singing style. In 1981, Wendy was arrested on obscenity charges following a performance in Milwaukee. She was reportedly thrown to the ground and kicked in the face, requiring stitches. Rod Swenson was beaten unconscious when he tried to intervene. She was acquitted of all charges. She was arrested in Cleveland on the same charge but was again acquitted. The band wrote a song about the

incident, “A Pig Is A Pig” which appears on their second album, Beyond The Valley Of 1984.

The group made several unforgettable appearances on television on shows such as “Fridays” where Wendy was the first woman to appear on national television with a mohawk. She was also the first woman to be featured on the cover of metal magazine, Kerrang!” in 1984. She made the cover of Vegetarian Times magazine also in 1984. She did a pictorial for Playboy, skydiving nude, in1986.

Ever ahead of their time, their fourth album, Coup d'Etat, was recorded in Germany by Scorpions producer, Dieter Dierks who gave them a more metallic edge. This album included their cover of Motorhead's “No Class.” and demonstrated once and for all that the band could truly deliver their doomsday messages with competent musicianship. This album is also where Wendy's vocals became much more intense and she 's recorded some of the most unrelenting screams from any rock vocalist I've ever heard, male or female, which was, of course, her goal. After each recording session, she had to travel to Cologne to be treated against permanently damaging her vocal chords. Coup d'Etat failed to sell even with a video, 'The Damned” receiving some play on MTV and Capitol Records dropped the band in 1983. This would be the last Plasmatic's record until a reunion in 1987 produced the thrash punk concept album, Maggots:The Record.

Wendy released her first solo effort “W.O.W.” in 1984. Gene Simmons of Kiss produced it and members of Kiss played on several songs. She was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1985. Kommander Of Kaos  followed in 1986 and a rock-based rap album, Deffest and Baddest credited to Wendy O. Williams' Ultra Fly and The Hometown Girls, would be her final release in 1988. She starred in the camp film, Reform School Girls in 1986 and made an appearance on the popular TV show, MacGyver” in 1990. She then disappeared to Storrs, Connecticut to live with Swenson in the geodesic home he had designed. During this time, she worked at a food co-op and as a wildlife rehabilitator. She'd been a staunch vegetarian since 1996. Sadly, she took her own life in 1998 but left behind a legacy that has been highly influential. To quote writer John Patrick Robbins: “She was a bad ass. She lived at a hundred miles per hour.”

Friday, February 12, 2021

Review of Ethel Zine and Micro Press by Su Zi

Book making as an art form has a history of centuries, and even the Victoria and Albert Museum in England has hosted an exhibition of artist books. That exhibition’s curatorial essay, in 2008, summarized the presentation of this work with “In all their myriad formats, books continue as among the most potent means of artistic expression” (Watson). And while this exhibition included work by Picasso and Louise Bourgeois, who are “some of the most influential and respected artists of our time” (Watson), those with more than a passing familiarity with small presses have perhaps had the pleasure of holding a handmade book. The experience of a handmade book is a multi-sensory experience, for artists books are physical entities, they are tactile, visual, as well as thoughtful reading experiences.

As machine printing has become within reach of anyone who can get internet access, our vision of books has become somewhat myopic; so much so that some authors shun any presentation of their work which is not a glued western codex spine with a glossy paper cover. Our idea of what looks like a book has become colonized by a narrow aesthetic of similarity, a type of uniform. Of course, mass distribution and the business model of returnable products have contributed to this toxic view, as unusual trim sizes alone can face rejection by bookshops. 

Opportunities to meet artist made and handmade books did exist before Covid in the small press book festivals, and sometimes in the craft shows, that often connected visiting artists to a community. Additional examples of prosaic handmade books might have been experienced through recipe groups, children’s school projects, and heirloom journals. Information on how to make books, the varieties of binding, of process, are legion through both artist and curatorial sites (Etsy, Pinterest), as well as anthologized in books about bookmaking. Yet, a simple stack of small press books will testify to a certain strait-laced convention of machine production. Of course, handmade books are labor intensive, and the impossibility of triple digit editions might daunt both sales-or-status oriented editors and authors. Another consideration might be the funding and the production of the press itself; a university print shop and a club budget might be cause for some influential decisions.

As Covid influences online investigations, certain forms of art lose representation due to the limitations of two-dimensional depiction; we lose the fully sensual experience of interacting with the work; the tactile nature of many art forms, the sense of scale, the sense of physical presence have been negated. We can no longer be won for a moment in an experience with a hand knit angora scarf, or marvel at the fit of a book in the hand. Small presses have been forced to join the shouting on social media, and while they might be inundated with submissions as a result, too few posts exist of happy new owners of small press books. To those who love books, who revel in their physicality, there are some small presses that make handmade books, and bibliophiles ought to be including these odd-to-shelve art objects in their personal collections. 

  Among the most enchanting of handmade, small press books is the work of Ethel Zine and Micro Press. Each book has a collage cover that itself is sewn, and this quilt is then sewn sidesaddle around the hand collated book pages. As a periodical, Ethel is numbered and contains both artistic and literary work—poems and prose, drawings printed on a translucent paper interfaced in the text. While some small presses do revel in unusual, artist grade, or handmade papers, Ethel includes plastic or mylar sheets as cover pages, with bits of other fiber physically sewn on. The sewn aspect of Ethel is overt, as actual graphic elements of stitch type are incorporated into the book design.

As a micro-press, Ethel has had a prodigious output, listing some 30 titles available on their website. The 2019 release of Gia Grillo’s “The Moon Poems” is so physically charming, that the edition itself requires attention: the image of a cartoon astronaut appears on both covers and as a frontispiece, the spine is blue fiber with gold stars saddle stitched to pages that are hand trimmed, and the book itself is maybe four inches square.  A delight to behold as a book, the twenty pages of text seem accessible and inviting.  In ten poems about the title subject, Grillo’s text includes a meditation from the point of view of an astronaut that contains the horrific notion of people dumping trash onto the lunar surface ( “Poem of the Astronaut”), but also includes a scene where the returning astronaut presents a moon rock at customs 

“Do you have anything to declare?”

I said , “Yes. She wanted to know if the sea

remembers her,

and asked that I bring it this.” (17).

The personification of the moon continues in further poems as an entity forlorn, yearning for “ a home/she could never reach”(20), which is a return to earth’s oceans.  Grillo’s poems here are adept, and her biography lists literary publications. From an editorial perspective, both of Ethel’s zine and micro press attest to a keen eye for a literary excellence that is as captivating as the books are beautiful.

The terribly status-oriented seriousness of some small presses is thankfully absent in Ethel. The online submission guidelines emphasize an interest in “the voices of Women, The BIPOC community and the LGBTQA+ community”, while the biography in Ethel Volume 4 is a poem of four prose stanzas that begins with “When Ethel was the true mother of a solitary fish, dirty and enormous, she wrote this with her tongue in the snow” (40).  The cautious bibliophile can order either the zine or a book for an amazingly modest price, given the handmade nature of these books, sewn one by one; however, full year subscriptions are also available that estimate some twenty books for a hundred bucks. 

Because of its odd size, its handsewn nature, its quilty feel, it is unlikely that the owner of a literary library would stumble across Ethel in a safe distance bookshop. Nonetheless, any true book lover, lover of literary writing, or of art as a crucial aspect of our culture is remiss in not owning anything Ethel. To hold such work is to engage in “the myriad functions of books besides transmitting texts”(Watson); it is to experience the book as art object, to go beyond the text itself into the book as an entity of art, but intimately so.


Rowan Watson “The Art of the Book” V&A. (apparently excerpted from “ Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book” and available as a pdf “Books And Artists”) 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

GAS Featured Poet: Miriam Sagan


Miriam Sagan is the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her most recent include Bluebeard's Castle (Red Mountain, 2019) and A Hundred Cups of Coffee (Tres Chicas, 2019). She is a two-time winner of the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards as well as a recipient of the City of Santa Fe Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and a New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award. She has been a writer in residence in four national parks, Yaddo, MacDowell, Gullkistan in Iceland, Kura Studio in Japan, and a dozen more remote and interesting places. She founded and directed the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College until her retirement.


I know that spring is coming,
desire in our always broken hearts,
chipped and mended so many times
like Japanese teacups
no longer the original color
but gold in the cracks
until the breaks predominate
and the whole cup is precious metal.

Stepping out from the black and white movie
to find the world in color
more vivid than before
or turning the pages of the book
a sudden flush of vastness.
These moments cannot
be possessed, traded for love
or a black slouch hat
but fall through the soft air
as if slipping from bare branches. 
like meteors, wishes, or blossoms.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

GAS Featured Poet: Debbie Tosun Kilday

Debbie Tosun Kilday is a next generation Beat Poet, award winning author, writer, nature photographer, artist and is the owner/CEO of the National Beat Poetry Foundation, Inc. (NBPF), and its festivals.     

She is Special Events Director of Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association, (CAPA), manages the CAPA Bookstore and a Past President.

Author of several published books, short stories and poetry. She has appeared on television and radio. 

Debbie is a Connecticut native and resident.

It was 10am. I was working the day shift at the Kerouac Cafe & Bookstore. 

Not many people read books anymore, especially poetry books. They also have no use for people most of the time, unless they can use them for some reason or another. 

As I sat on an old piano stool that had been there since the beginning of time, long after the old player piano had been sold and taken away by antique dealers, I started to watch the expressions of people passing by the front plate glass window. I was positioned in such a way that I could see everyone passing by on the sidewalk, but also beyond that. 

I saw passengers faces riding by in the cars on the street too. Some sad, some glad, some looking like they were moderately mad.  There was one cute little brown eyed girl clutching her dolly and laughing at what her dolly seemed to say.

 People are funny creatures. They won't give you the time of day. They are rushing to get to nowhere. Worried they will miss something, yet, they don't know what that something is. Most look determined to reach a certain destination. They have no time to stop in the cafe & bookstore, grab a cup of joe, indulge in a little conversation, read some spontaneous prose. 

In the Kerouac Cafe & Bookstore we have some real smooth jazz playing in the background.

Me?  I take my coffee black and when no ones looking, I may sneak a tiny drop or two of fine Bourbon in there just for flavor.  I've read all the books in this place, listened to the extensive collection of jazz available here. 

I'm a thinker. I ponder the reasons why I'm here, where Ive been, where I'll go next.  I used to make plans for a life. I was just like one of those poor souls outside rushing to nowhere. 

Time is cruel. It passes quickly just as the people do in your life. I've determined there's no time worth the time it takes to love someone. 

I used to look forward to seeing my love, rushing to meet them. There weren't  enough hours in a day to spend. In summer we used to go on little picnics in the woods, lying on a fuzzy old blanket, looking lovingly at each other, making love. 

Once a little bird perched above us on a branch, watching us entwined in each other's embrace. The bird flew away just as my love did. 

Life is lonely now. I sit on this old piano stool, listening to sad music, sipping tainted coffee, staring out a window, watching people pass me by. Time ticks away, waiting for no one. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

A Review of Bart Solarczyk’s TILTED WORLD (Low Ghost Press 2019) by Heidi Blakeslee

 Bart Solarczyk lives in Pittsburgh PA with his dog & cat. Over the past thirty-eight years he’s published poems in a variety of litmags & anthologies. His work has recently appeared in Big Hammer, Street Value, Live Nude Poems, Rasputin, Winedrunk Sidewalk, The Pittsburgh Book Review, River Dog & Roadside Raven Review. He is the author of nine chapbooks. Tilted World is his first full-length collection of poems.

When diving into this copy I thought, hmm, “Tilted World.”  Could he mean like, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?” Were bats indeed flying over the windshield?  Or perhaps just that everything in our society is askew?  After reading half the book in one go, I think it might be the former.  I don’t know.  Alcohol, poetry, and smoke have long been bedfellows, and frankly Solarczyk’s work makes me hope they stay that way.  

    Solarczyk’s poetry is a nod to Alice’s little white rabbit with alcohol standing in as the Jabberwocky. We follow him in and out of paisley rabbit holes.  While there, he shows us gritty and honest things.  He shows us quirky things, as in his poem about his daughter eating Lunchables, “My Strange Daughter.”

    Some of the poems are sparse, abrupt, and jarring.  Other poems delivered a depth of thought about the ugly side of life that I didn’t know I was craving.  Although some of the work is playful, there is a bleaker side to some of the lines.  Still, they satisfied the corner of my brain that longs for oddity and edginess. Solarczyk is very much a writing-man’s poet, dedicating a poem here or there to other prominent writer friends.

    His truths about how a body gets through life with the aid/horror of drink and how a mind gets through life with the balm/curiosity of cannabis play prominently throughout.  I enjoyed “Tilted World” because Solarczyk’s meticulous “real deal” writing captivated my interest right away and held it through the entire work.  I had no idea where I was going next and I loved that.

    If you’re in the mood for some imaginative lines from the gut, true poetry, give “Tilted World” a read.  You’ll be glad you did.

Tilted World

For every pair of mismatched socks

there’s a blind man happy to oblige

for every sock lost in the dryer

there’s a weary amputee

I walk in peace, I mean no harm

still the crow shits on my head

such exquisite balance

requires a tilted world.

Hear a review and reading by Bart in GAS video show #3.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

GAS Featured Poet: Mark Saba

 Mark Saba has been writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction for 40 years. His book publications include, most recently, Two Novellas: A Luke of All Ages / Fire and IceCalling the Names (poetry), and Ghost Tracks(stories about Pittsburgh, where he grew up). His work has appeared widely in literary magazines around the U.S. and abroad. Also a painter, Mark works as a medical illustrator at Yale University. Please see

The Sweet Breath of Indifference

Rattles the window panes
on its way to my bed.

I remember its gentle force
dressed in darkness, the way it tapped

my shoulder mid-adolescence,
time travel on its back.

It came up the hill, spring scents
and winter blasts, a blanket that wrapped us

stormy summer evenings sitting
on our grandparents' porch.

Judgments came and went with the news,
professed in classrooms, barked out of relatives'

mouths. I let them dissipate
as that sweet breath of indifference

kept me on my way,
sculpting with gentle caresses

the signature of my self.


Pulling a book off my shelf

because I'm not sure I remember it

I open the cover and find a long inscription

written by a friend. I'd forgotten

this birthday gift from youth,

the sweetness of the message

as it lifted from the page.

It spoke of loneliness, and offered

a balm of Kahlil Gibran.

Two passages, above and below her note,

call for healing. I search the pages

for my customary marks, things

to be remembered, even cherished.

But the book is empty.

Now I'm sure I never read it.

Blinders fall from my eyes;
my heart shifts into reverse.
I'm sorry, I say

to an empty room.