Wednesday, June 30, 2021

THIS IS NOT A STUNT by Cath Nichols, reviewed by Ren Powell


In the afterward of Cath Nichols’s collection This is Not a Stunt, the poet writes about her concern that the poems are not “sufficiently poem-y”, meaning that they are too descriptive and leave little room for the reader to insert their own life experience into the poems. But I don’t believe there was anything to fear. 

This is Not a Stunt, published by Valley Press was published in 2017, but is new to me. It also seemed like a good choice for my June reading, as central to the book is a series of poems about a transgender experience (that of the poet/speaker’s partner). The topics of disability and aging are also broached in the collection, which begins and ends with poems about sleep/dreams. 

Make no mistake, this collection is not a misery memoir in verse, or poems tinged with pity or self-pity. They are relatable, while still offering the potential for cis-gendered or able-bodied readers to gain new insights into the human condition. In a poem discussing Nathan’s request for surgery:

[…] Explaining why
such surgery would be wrong the doctor said

It would be like cutting of the legs of a cripple.

The last line is repeated and referenced in subsequent poems. And discussing possible reasons for cutting off legs in the poem “Life Support”: 

[…] Post-removal the patient 

might not run but they might become more agile.
Some become so heavy in their bodies they attempt


These poems are specific, but certainly touch on recognizable emotions that allow us to empathize without appropriating. A line the poet herself has managed to walk well.

Although Nichols is concerned about the poem-y-ness of the collection, her one formal verse – a pantoum entitled “Reading Would Save Me” – is beautifully written, singing so smoothly, I almost missed the pattern of the repetitions. The first stanza of which reads: 

I thought something would change, but it didn’t.
I thought reading would save me. It hasn’t.
I expected to grow up. I have grown inward.
There are circles and chasing and somebody’s tail. 

The poems about relationship difficulties, about physical disabilities, the poet’s own personal narrative, and her partner’s narrative seem in some ways disparate. For example, there is a poem that quotes a Facebook meme that circulated years ago among academics that was a posted notice with red circles around spelling mistakes, and then a comment making fun of the person with the red pen: a kind of reflection infinitely bouncing between mirrors and pointing fingers. In my mind, this was the most prosaic of the poems. And only made sense to me as a part of the collection on a second read, where I saw it not in dialogue with the other poems, but as a kind of meta commentary. 

The collection didn’t offer me a straightforward, cohesive series of poems. But then… what life is cohesive? As the poet herself mentions in the afterward, there is a challenge in telling a story that can rest comfortably in Keat’s “negative capability”, because we naturally desire clarity. She writes, “A poem may become slippery, and I am fine with that, but if it becomes too unmoored from meaning then I defeat my own purposes.”

These poems cannot be read as a kind of biography in verse. For example, the character of Nathan is referred to as “he” uniformly throughout – leaving the reader to wonder when a transition – if a transition takes place. In my case, this left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable, questioning the relationship of my own prurient curiosity with a genuine desire to become better informed on a very sensitive aspect of our culture. 

That said, I also believe that sitting with what is uncomfortable is probably one of the most valuable things we can do as a reader.

There are also a few poems entirely free of specific narrative but are tied to the subject matter, to nature, and to a conscious, internalized sense beauty in a way that is (dare I say) edifying.

From the final poem “Chiaroscuro”: 

March marigolds hold out their cups
shout, Look at me! Look at me, 

don’t I do yellow exceptionally well? 

Cath Nichols introduces herself in The Poetry Archive:

I've been a queer journalist in Manchester, a poetry events organiser in Liverpool, a life model, and a waitress, amongst other things. I taught creative writing at Leeds University for ten years. I've been chronically ill since 2017 after a genetic predisposition was triggered. This is Not a Stunt (Valley Press, 2017) is my second poetry collection and celebrates the humour and mundanity of disability and trans identities.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

LEFT HAND DHARMA by Belinda Subraman, reviewed by Heidi Blakeslee

Published by Unlikely Books.

Available on Amazon.

This book of poetry is different from any other I’ve ever read.  For one thing, it spans nearly four decades with poems from the early ‘80s through today.  There are collections of poems from long ago that read like they were written yesterday.  The blazing arrow that binds them all together is Belinda’s no-bullshit in your face truth.  You can tell that she found her poetry voice early and stuck with it.  

By far the two most fascinating subjects in here for me were her poems about working as a hospice nurse and a nurse on a psych ward.  “Late night at the psyche ward” from her collection Lummox Press Red Book Series #37 (2001) and “Notes of a human warehouse engineer” from Liquid Paper Press (1998,) are two collections that are not to be missed.  “Notes of a human warehouse engineer” won first prize in the 1998 Nerve Cowboy Chapbook Contest.  It’s easy to see why.  Subraman curates vivid moments from her time there, expertly helping the reader understand the jarring and sometimes hectic atmosphere. 

As a peer support specialist who has seen the inside of a psych ward and a crisis unit, I can say that it was interesting to see things from the perspective of a nurse.  Belinda speaks of seeing people at their very worst and treating them with dignity, respect, and kindness.  She is honest about the challenges of nursing work, teasing out difficult truths from her early morning hours there.  She takes us to the very limits of her own patience with aplomb.  She captures the often thankless moments of dealing with patients who are in psychosis, in the grips of dementia, in the throes of mania or schizophrenia.  She talks about coming to terms with the limits of her own sanity in some of these situations and what comes out is a very humanizing view of mental health care and end of life care.  

Many of her poems about the hypocrisy of religion, sprinkled liberally throughout the book, also really touched me.  I applaud her bravery in writing about such difficult subjects openly and honestly, without fear of reproachment. 

 Some of the poetry, not on these subjects, is beat-like in nature.  It is trippy in the best way, deeply philosophical, esoteric, and always blisteringly true.  The beginning of the book offers an informative, in-depth introduction by the author.  

There are countless reasons why picking up a copy of Left Hand Dharma is rewarding.  Go forth, intrepid readers, and discover this gem for yourself.

From Late Night in the Psyche Ward

Peter is back after only eight days.

He was caught directing traffic, naked,

claiming to be Charlie Manson and Hitler.

He’s sunburned, scratched up.

His feet are cracked and cut

from walking barefoot.

His voice is garbled, sounds like he’s barking

with a mouth full of gravel.

But he continues dropping lists at the desk.

Some lists tell us who he is: “a homosexual and a lesbian

and Zar governor of the Andromeda Strain…”

Some tell us diseases he wants cured: “Soviet’s tongue,

Heineken’s Turmoil, defecation rot…”

Other lists tell us who he wants

at his “ordination breakfast”

where “wurlitzer coffee” is to be served.

He wants Clinton, Popeye, Queen of England,

Daffy Duck, Mortimer Snerd, King Tut…

In the past he’s told me

he sold dope to Jerry Garcia,

shot up with Grace Slick.

Said he likes “combo shotgun”

and rattled off a list of drugs.

He showed me “tracks” on his arm.

But I didn’t see much, two or three red dots.

And I just got his toxicology screen results.

Negative for all drugs.

His problem is his brain.

Schizophrenic for 50 years.

He’s basically harmless.

Claims to be God-fearing


Belinda Subraman has been writing poetry since the 6th grade and publishing since college.  She had a ten year run editing and publishing Gypsy Literary Magazine 1984-1994. She edited books by Vergin' Press, among them: Henry Miller and My Big Sur Days by Judson Crews. She also published Sanctuary Tape Series (1983-90) which was a mastered compilation of audio poetry and original music from around the world. 

Belinda is a mixed media artist as well as a poet and publisher of GAS: Poetry, Art & Music video show and journal. Her art has been featured in Beyond Words, Epoch, Flora Fiction, Unlikely Stories, Eclectica, North of Oxford, Raw Art Review, El Paso News and Red Fez.  She sells prints of her work in her Mystical House Etsy shop.  

GAS Featured Poet: Kushal Poddar


An author and a father, Kushal Poddar, edited a magazine - Words Surfacing, authored seven volumes including The Circus Came To My Island, A Place For Your Ghost Animals, Eternity Restoration Project- Selected and New Poems and Herding My Thoughts To The Slaughterhouse-A Prequel. His works have been translated in ten languages. 

Dining Beneath A Saint

The saint bears her sadness;
she doesn't care a hoot if you glorify it
as a crown, probably of rose-thorns.

In the photograph she looks at something
below your eye-level; you murmur grace and eat;
summer tastebuds always find brine in everything.

The saint estivates in the air and breeze; melancholy's
lazedom dines on these long nights. Sometimes,
you want to follow the eyes of the saint and see
if she stares at the space where your heart should've bloomed
like a gardening gone wrong, like the boy alive within
spat some arbitrary seeds and fell asleep for years to come.

Friday, June 25, 2021

GAS Featured Poet: Cheryl Snell

Cheryl Snell’s poetry collections include chapbooks from Finishing Line Press, Pudding House, and Moira Books. Her work has been nominated seven times for the Pushcart and Best of the Net anthologies. Her most recent collection is called Geometries (Moria Books) and her latest novel, Kalpavriksha. She lives with her husband, a mathematical engineer, in Maryland. Her 2021 credits include poems in Autumn Sky Daily, Eunoia Review, Clementine Unbound, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, One Art, and Words & Whispers.

Dry Spell


Then the rains came.  

She swallowed hard,

and on the way down

the water was everything

blue swells and whitecaps

are not: not fists of diamonds

where bubble plumes persist,

nor rippling limbs tossing up fish;

and by the time she had become

a river, fish leapt from her, boats

lined her shores, fishers reared back

to cast their trawling nets over
the new world she had made so wet. 




We may have dark matter all wrong.

When I read this I wanted to turn off

all the lights in the house. We know
the world through our metaphors

and some truths cannot be seen directly. 
Observations on bending the light,

the way we have of looking at a star
set inside a halo of galaxies we trust


not to fly apart, does not tarnish the star’s

brilliance through time and distance.


It taunts us for our disbelief─ but look at it
still up there, still glowing.


The Tao of Folding

       And after dinner, the maid puts the family away like linens. She creases each member along their wrinkles and angles, edges and curves. The children are folded like origami birds for good luck and sweet dreams, and the parents are stacked one on top of the other tissue thin double thickness. The grandmother is long and narrow and must be rolled, yellow stains turned inward like shame. 
          As time wears on, the shelves in the linen closet give more to the family than a just place to sleep—they are a refuge, a hideaway, a vacation home. The ledges groan with time and from the children’s growing, so it is more and more difficult for the maid to get them up in the morning. She grows old with the effort.
           She must admit now that she does a less efficient job when she tucks them in at night: the children want to be folded into origami computers, and that’s only the beginning. The parents are forever slipping their own neat stack of selves to tangle up in each other. There is slippage and mismatching and nothing remains where it was. This makes it hard for the maid to separate the parents in the morning. As for the grandmother, she has her own problems. She has curled into a stiff ball that cannot be straightened out and refolded, for fear of breakage.  I’m set in my ways, can’t you tell? she says.
            The maid comes to believe she could never leave this family, her family, and get another job, especially since she’s so bad at this one. But a sense of time unfolding pulls at her, and one night, after she’s tucked her people in, she slams the closet door on them and locks it; she opens it again almost immediately, like a last word snatched back. She quickly spreads out a large blanket and wraps the stunned family in it, knotting the corners, east to west, north to south. She slings the bundle over her shoulder. She calls it the past and drags it with her into the future. (first published in Melancholy Hyperbole)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

FATA MORGANA by Joel Chace, reviewed by Hex'm Jai


Fata Morgana:  noun a mirage.

More precisely, a complex form of superior mirage whose etymology derives from Morgana Le Fay, the Arthurian sorceress/illusionist.

Fata Morgana:  A recent book authored by Joel Chace and published by Unlikely Books.

So, my bibliophiles, let’s discuss an ancient concept.  A concept that is, at the very least, as old as our sentient sapien brains.  A concept that is the philosophical basis for most of the world’s religions.  A concept that is continuously imparted through our communication whether spoken or through symbols.  A concept so ingrained into the human psyche that is the very basis of meaning!!!!

The primary operation of this concept is contrast and comparison: Black/White, Light/Dark, Night/Day, Sun/Moon, Male/Female, Down/Up, Negative/Positive, Everything/Nothing; Blue or Red, Round or Square,etc.

Through this operation we are provided meaning, or so goes the theory.

The Dyad.

D=AB or AB = D

Why discuss this?  What could this possibly have to do with Fata Morgana?  Well, let’s address that right now.

In Fata Morgana Mr. Chace provides us a slim potent tome that is much greater than the sum of its parts on multiple levels.   First, though only a total of 81 pages, this packs a powerful poetic punch with the meaning of the individual pieces and their overall cohesion far exceeding expectations.  Second, we are given a flawless execution in experimental form that comes off with the polished shine of an expert and delivers the overall experience through its implementation.


The content of this book is provided by 2 voices, the Dyad.  I do not refer to this as a dichotomy as that would imply diametrically opposed voices relying solely on contrast alone, and though certainly the case in some pieces it is not the defining trait of the relationship of these voices.  More often, the play between these voices is complimentary or they work in tandem, one supporting the other.  Voice A provides us the straightforward poetic narrative that is clear, concise and tangible and in itself well executed.  Voice B (Italicized) on the other is more fluid, sometimes dropping crumbs of wisdom in fortune cookie fashion, sometimes historical foot note or sometimes providing that subconscious lens of perspective.

The third Voice.  Voice D.  The voice of Fata Morgana.  

Though both Voices A and B are by themselves coherent and cohesive the genius of this book lies in spaces in between.  It is in this in between space that Voice D resides.  The tension of Voices A and B, like poles or magnets, is what creates this space and therefore gives Voice D access to the reader and the reader access to Voice D.  Here is the Meta-Voice of Meaning, The Fata Morgana.

Fata Morgana is available at Amazon and published via Unlikely Books.

Fata Morgana

Unlikely Books

Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as Eratio, Otoliths, Word For/Word, and Golden Handcuff s Review. Most recent collections include Scorpions, from Unlikely Books, Humors, from Paloma Press, and Threnodies, from Moria Books.

Monday, June 7, 2021

MANYTHING BY Dan Raphael, reviewed by Hex'm Jai

Dan Raphael, a la Dr. Moreau or Dr. Frankenstein, has brought life to a creature of many facets (It’s Alive! ALIVE!!!!)! Through dense verse that is riddled with detail we are given wolves with a taste for quarter pounders and cashiers (A Wolf Walks into a McDonald’s), caustic visual symphonies derived from living (Living Downtown) and translucent sonic Kaiju summoned from the trans dimensional musical arts/sciences as perfected by Jimi Hendrix (If Jimi Hadn’t Died So Young).

Dan has expertly employed various poetic tools to bring this beast to life: Stream of consciousness, sensual synesthesia, prose poem – free verse hybrid forms and even fractal geometry (So Many Swift Fingers)! All of these and more culminating to create this beatific monster who certainly possesses traces of Beat and Dada DNA.  Disjointed!?!  One would think, but Dan has been artful in his fusion of elements.  It is through these techniques, slices of life, observations, critiques and musings that Manything has become an omnibus for existence.

So, now that many of us free to travel and explore, don’t go alone.  Whether you’re going pool side, park side, beach side, mountainside, East side, West side, on the road, on the bus, on the train, on a plane or just on the couch bring a friend.  Manything could be your trusty travel companion full of pocket dimensions!

Available at Amazon via Unlikely Books:

So Many Swift Fingers 

obscurity is not a virtue where alternative islands & lakes 

harness the monster curves of watershed trees, 

fudge-flake dragons sweep up the fractal hills 

curdling whey streams like the blazing sky effect of an agglutinated universe 

cuts diamonds into stars whose cloudy wake defines intermittent turbulence. 

jets flying through mammalian brain folds percolating clusters 

tame gargantuan knots while sponges & foam split snowflake halls 

into the very substance of our flesh, the lungs bronchial trees 

spread apollonian nets & osculating soap where pragmatic chance, 

from recursive to random, ferments sponge coastlines airport strips & tribology 

in brownian emotion conceives a cup on the devil’s terrace, 

a birth process of unforced clustering & cirraform fi laments in predisturbed lakes. 

the invariant translation of river’s failure to run straight, avoid polygons 

& discontinue prices as lexicographic trees take the temperature of discourse 

into a curdled effective dimension


we go past the immeasurable to what language can barely 

de-obscure enough to distort through the door in my belly 

as i build the stamina to run my intestinal track, 

a personal best between meals without galoshes 

keeps me from sneaking up on angel-headed hipsters worshipping the visible woman, 

knowing which neurons to fondle & which to numb with cold drink. 

64 doorbells with legible names i recognize none of: my ancestors were thrown off ellis island & could only swim down, where the garbage was so dilute, the fi sh so plentiful you could read by their 

fluorescent eggs 

clouding my antigravity hair like radioactive mosquitoes too generous to die without 


as i open the bottle a bone pops, a radius becomes a hemline 

exposing the green palouse of my multiple thighs. 

                                                                                          dinner was half an hour from here, 

we’d drained the biodiesel to make a hundred pounds of french fried curios— 

whatever we could catch, whatever wasn’t thick with feathers or excuses. 

the darkest hour is just before my pancreas’s naps, sending hundreds of photon-sized 


to every antenna too lazy to change frequencies. 

                                                                                         i put half a lake in this balloon 


when i begin to taste the mass of stars, the many times more i can’t see, 

                                                            their potential solar & eco systems, 

my skin wants to separate into blazing molecules deaf to gravity, 

my bones with nothing to hold together but nowhere else to go. 

the beginnings of rivers escape from me, & the beginnings of radio stations, 

with every transmission we apart, as these cliff ’s pasts effects the echo— 

                                                                                               loudest 1st, susurrant infections. 

the holographic landscapes inside each flea from all she’s consumed & copied. 

i get an unmarked jar from the basement & eat whatever’s in it, 

sky full of woven, cloud shadows falling like sanskrit birds i’ll never see again 

folding their wings into their bellies before their thousand messengers disperse 

                                       (Many of the words and phrases in the 1st section come from Mandelbrot’s 

                                       The Fractal Geometry of Nature)


Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, schooled at Cornell University, Bowling Green State University, and Western Washington University, Dan Raphael’s been active in the Northwest for 4 decades as poet, performer, publisher and reading host. He is the author of 20 other published poetry collections, including Everyone in This Movie Gets Paid (Last Word Press, Olympia, Washington), The State I’m In (nine muses books, Winston, Oregon), and Impulse & Warp: The Selected 20th Century Poems (Wordcraft of Oregon, La Grande, Oregon). Dan lives in Portland with his wife Melba and over 400 plant varieties. Retired after 33 years working for the Oregon DMV, he spends non-poetry time practicing electric bass and tai chi, brewing and drinking beer, and every Wednesday he writes and records a current events poem for the KBOO Evening News.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

GAS Featured Poet: Kevin M. Hibshman

Kevin M. Hibshman has had his poetry, prose, reviews and collages published around the world, most recently in Punk Noir Magazine, Rye Whiskey Review, Piker Press, The Crossroads, Drinkers Only, 1870, Synchronized Chaos, Yellow Mama, Unlikely Stories Mark V, Literary Yard, Lothlorien Poetry Journal and Medusa's Kitchen. He has edited his own poetry journal, FEARLESS for the past thirty years. He has authored sixteen chapbooks, including Incessant Shining (2011, Alternating Current Press).He received a BA in Liberal Arts from Union University/Vermont College in 2016. A new book, Just Another Small Town Story will be available from Whiskey City Press in 2021.

trees through the fog

i feel it

a faint tremor

your calling

stirring in my heart chambers

dreamscape of rising mist

roused gently from falling

into soft sleep by a sudden stillness as

something brushes across my cheek

wind cushioning the collapse of reason

i throw open the door in mild distress


a hint of dread

finds me running wet

through sodden leaves 

you had promised that you would find me

i cannot see any form yet when i pause

i can hear you breathe


like water

like mystery imparting a glow

to the fog between the trees

Meteor Shower

It was in the meteor shower that night.

The skies were bright with objects ablaze.

I had such wonderful dreams.

Little alien things whirling and whizzing by.

Ah, youth!

You saw it, too!

I asked you to believe.

They wanted me to.

Mirror universe.

Flexible dimensions.

One swirling, sophisticated, holographic spasm?

It was in the music.

Precise and patterned.

A signal.

A Wake-up call.

I sang it as we swept drunkenly down the halls to sleep.

It has followed me through the years.

Calls to me now:

“Love the mystery even if it turns out to be merely an illusion.”

There are no limits to the imagination.

In the realm of infinite possibilities,

There can be no finite conclusions.

The Thing That Keeps Me From You

Is it politics?

Is it preference?

Is it the pigment of our skin?

Is it science?

Is it religion?

Is it some antiquated concept of grace and sin?

Is it fact?

Is it fiction?

Is it just more inane bullshit?

Someone's uninformed opinion?

Is it language?

Is it geography?

I'd like to believe it is only conquerable distance