Thursday, February 29, 2024

Su Zi's Review of Valois J. Vera's I, THE REVOLUTION

     The personal library is a testament to an individual’s intellectual life, and the volumes curated sometimes have individuality as entities in that collection. Sometimes the rarity of the edition is more than a volume’s history, sometimes the edition is signed or acquired from the author. Upon the release of his book (2023), Valois Vera had a swag bag that was of higher quality than something snagged from a big five house; happy recipients were sent the book, a book bag, a flag, a jute-fringed bookmark, a pin and stickers. The book itself is perfect bound and standard sized, with three blurbs on the back and a graphic of black background, of white letters and the raised fist logo that is found on the sticker and the bookmark. Also striking about this work’s appearance is the title itself:  I, The Revolution. The appositive comma in the title of the work, also gives title to the pronoun; readers are thus confronted immediately with the social activism nature of this volume of poems.

     The work’s opening poem “That Poet, in Front of the Stage” is directly addressing the audience, from the page, but as if from the stage. The strong sense of direct address is a characteristic of this work throughout, and Vera introduces the reader to the narrative individual with a bluntness that emphasizes immediacy. Vera also uses graphic elements in the text itself—some traditional and some more contemporary. In this first poem, Vera uses double spacing and hanging indentation to emphasize six stanzas of repetition “my soul”, “my nose,” “my skin” before repeating “That poet”, using the italics in the poem a dozen times, title included. In the first stanza using this repetition, Vera self identifies as “diagnosed with a disease and a short life [...} I was crowned a casualty, an anomaly, an unpublished/obituary” (12).  A strong confession that continues with observations such as “because a ramp was an afterthought” (14) and continues with further biographical enumeration. Vera is overt in establishing this point of view, of our times as experienced by the disabled individual.

     Many of the pieces in this volume are intended for performance, but Vera is also cognizant of the poems as existing on the page. There’s an experimental aspect to some of the graphic elements, especially the use of the forward slash:

          We fill our souls with fresh fruits/ from the plantations

          of poetry

          We fill our body-minds with intoxicating wines/ from

          the vineyards of our verses   (29)


The reader will notice Vera’s multiple forms of internal repetition, his use of end rhyme, internal rhyme and alliteration are frequent techniques. There’s a strong, vocal element to this work, but an awareness of traditional poetic elements that gives the poems a sense of physicality, of the narrator’s strong presence.

      The works are contemporary, the Covid poem is titled “Graves of the Unwell and Other Beautiful Things” (23) and a telephone recitation from this reader of a section of “The Revolution Will Not Be Accessible” (17-22) to a friend facing a bad flare day evoked that sensation in the listener akin to a hosannah. Vega uses observations from the repeated and overt realities of disability “You can tell by the tracks of my tires” (51) , which would be a gestural reference to his wheelchair on stage, but which reminds the text reader of the root of this work.

Vera himself makes multiple references to the root as a symbol—the rising fist graphic seems to be rising from roots plant-like, the personal history he speaks of in the poems is often on his family.

     Vera’s poems are an enumeration of his disability experience and might be seen as an answer to Whitman’s Sing of America; however, Vera’s point is a call for justice, a call for inclusion as both a poet and as a physical member of society. If our libraries are, as Franklin said, a wealth between the ears, then the physical realities of disability do not bar accessibility of this book of poems onto the library shelf. If the curator of a personal library keeps books of personal significance, that “opened up a truth” (Dianne, personal conversation, 2024), then poetry from the perspective of disability ought not to continue to be marginalized.

Su Zi is a writer, poet and essayist who produces a handmade chapbook series called Red Mare. She has been a contributor to GAS from back when it was called Gypsy Art Show, more than a decade ago.


Check out her author page on Amazon.


Thursday, February 22, 2024

Su Zi's Review of BEAST BODY EPIC by Amanda Earl


   The narrative arc occurs often enough in individual poems, and is not utterly rare in an entire volume of poetry, but what stories are being told? The reader will be familiar with a narrative poem that offers a protagonist, and the position of the protagonist as a hero is an established one. The hero takes a journey and the literary work that reports this journey is generally called an epic. Of course, there are dialectical uses of that word, but all inferences consider the journey to be iconic, to carry cultural weight sometimes for centuries. If that journey is a visitation of hell, of horror, of torture, then those who lived to tell are heroic by the fact of their survival. Amanda Earl’s Beast Body Epic (AngelHouse Press 2023) is such a journey.

    Elegance is the aim of many an art form, and poetry is not a general exception; however, a binary of the macabre and the eloquent can have an elevated impact, and such is the case with this work. The book itself is trade-sized, perfect bound with a matt-finished, heavy and textured paper—it has a sense of physicality, its near one hundred pages have a slight weight. The cover image of a vispo graphic folding circle is repeated on page 39 as a section graphic; however, each of the eight sections in this volume begin with a vispo graphic. With endpapers of red heavy bond that echo the red and creme cover design, the book itself has a subtle luxuriousness.

   The first of the eight sections is the most narrative in structure, with the protagonist being introduced as Rot. Harking back, perhaps, to Medieval theater, the second character met is Death, “the moocher”, with the third character being introduced by possessive case in the third stanza (and the work often maintains this possessive reference) of that of “husband”. The narrative moves quickly into a hospital, but the voice of the poem as a poem ought not to be swept past. The poems here keep careful tension from the get-go: “Death’s pub stank of onion breath and armpits” (6). The immediacy of the perceptions in combination with the contemporary setting gives the morality play of the narrative a steady energy.

   Perhaps it is still taboo to talk of illness, of infirmity; certainly, vulnerability is not always a welcome guest in cultural discourse. When visions of the grotesque are the prosaic offerings of media, the viewer has to decide what aspect of this vicarious experience to take, and often the default appeal is to other the sufferer. These poems, however, are reports of the suffering, as experienced from the body in torment: “the nurse pulled the stained gauze/ out of me and kept pulling. I was a /hat with a trail of colorful scarves/but only one was red. It stung, its/string of scarlet bells ringing “(34). While the noun phrase of stained gauze is relatable enough, the stanza elevates empathy with the comedic metaphor, before the sensory and alliterative metaphor reminds the reader of pain.

  While pleasure is often both easily called to memory and to the pen, pain exists as amnesia, as metaphor. The narrative’s perceptions are often ones of pain, “[...] I am/ destroyed/ I am vacant/ a light” (58) and this aspect of the work is notable in its dedication to that which we rarely speak. It might be said that work that centers disability is, in its very nature, tackling the taboo topic; Even more taboo is the acknowledgment of sexuality in disabled people. Yet, section five of this narrative has the plot of a sexual encounter. The protagonist has become “a warrior who refuses to die” (63) yet there’s no soft-focus mythology here when “he puts his hand on/ my stomach and winces at the ridges the staples/have made in my once smooth white skin or his// fingers meet the crater of the site where my/ colon once was” (63). This is not a distanced view, it is intimate, physical and specific.


   In previous times, work about illness, work from the disability community tended to be marginalized overall. Realities of vulnerability were shadow banned in favor of the myths of conquering, super-strengthened anti-heroes. The realities of years of sickness and turmoil in our contemporary culture evaporate these weak myths, but their absence ought to encourage us to learn from those who faced a horror we cannot fully speak about, a horror from which we are eager to move away...move forward to the just society we dream about Yet, we cannot think ourselves just readers if we leave such work behind.

Su Zi is a writer, poet and essayist who produces a handmade chapbook series called Red Mare. She has been a contributor to GAS from back when it was called Gypsy Art Show, more than a decade ago.


Check out her author page on Amazon.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

GAS Featured Poet: Michael Lee Johnson

 Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet in the greater Chicagoland area, IL. He has 298 YouTube poetry videos. He is an internationally published poet in 45 countries, a song lyricist, has been nominated for 7 Pushcart Prize awards, and 6 Best of the Net nominations. He is editor-in-chief of 3 poetry anthologies, all available on Amazon, and has several poetry books and chapbooks. He has over 453 published poems. Michael is the administrator of 6 Facebook Poetry groups. Member Illinois State Poetry Society:

California Summer 


Coastal warm breeze

off Santa Monica, California

the sun turns salt

shaker upside down 

and it rains white smog, a humid mist.

No thunder, no lightening,

nothing else to do

except for sashay 

forward into liquid

and swim

into eternal days

like this.


Four Leaf Clover 


I found your life smiling

inside a four-leaf clover.

Here you hibernate in sin.

You were dancing in the orange fields of the sun.

You lock into your history, your past, withdrawal,

taste honeycomb, then cow salt lick.

All your life, you have danced in your soft shoes.

Find free lottery tickets in the pockets of poor men and strangers.

Numbers rhyme like winners, but they are just losers.

Positive numbers tug like gray blankets, poor horses coming in 1st.

Private angry walls; desperate is the night.

You control intellect, josser men.

You take them in, push them out,

circle them with silliness.

Everything turns indigo blue in grief.

I hear your voice, fragmented words in thunder.

An actress buried in degrees of lousy weather and blindness.

I leave you alone, wander the prairie path by myself.

Pray for wildflowers, the simple types. No one cares.

Purple colors, false colors, hibiscus on guard,

lilacs are freedom seekers, now no howls in death.

You are the cookie crumble of my dreams.

Three marriages in the past.

I hear you knocking my walls down, heaven stars creating dreams.

Once beautiful in the rainbow sun, my face, even snow

now cast in banners, blank, fire, and flames.

I cycle a self-absorbed nest of words.


Casket of Love 


This moon, clinging to a cloudless sky,

offers the light by which we love.

In this park, grass knees high, tickling bare feet,

offers the place we pass pleasant smiles.

Sir Winston Churchill would have

saluted the stately manner this fog lifts,

marching in time across this pond

layering its ghostly body over us

cuddled by the water’s edge,

as if we are burdened by this sealed

casket called love.

Frogs in the marsh, crickets beneath the crocuses

trumpet the last farewell.

A flock of Canadian geese flies overhead

in military V formation.

Yet how lively your lips tremble

against my skin in a manner no

sane soldier dare deny.



Thursday, February 8, 2024

GAS Featured poet: Kushal Poddar

Kushal Poddar has eight books to his credit including Postmarked Quarantine. He is a journalist, father, and the editor of Words Surfacing. His works have been translated into twelve languages, published across the globe. Twitter-

Black Monk

Night plays with the outer walls.

Black acts rebellious, defies gravity's reign.

The monks who fed us a dozen oranges

pray in far side dormitory. Hearing is holy.

Forgetting doesn't mean walking away

from a memory. I step into the sleep's garden,

write your names with pebbles - all small letters,

and realise that instead of a name it is a long sentence.

Winter Drones

The death of the bird, lone,

on the winter's clothesline, goes

unhailed even by itself, clandestine.

Sometimes I see it. It poses like

figure 'One', pluse on the upper segment

of the sky bisected by the wire.

Everything below is light and decorative.

Mistletoes drain the old trees.

My drone lips hit yours. The explosion

doesn't vex the curtains.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

GAS Featured Poet: Duane Anderson

 Duane Anderson currently lives in La Vista, Nebraska.  He has had poems published in Fine Lines, Cholla Needles, Tipton Poetry Journal, and several other publications. He is the author of On the Corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, The Blood Drives: One Pint Down, and Conquer the Mountains.

The Shoe Enthusiast
The only mail from today’s delivery, 
a flyer addressed to my wife, 
or the current shoe enthusiast, 
adding the second addressee  
as a precaution in case we had moved 
and did not provide a forwarding address,
hoping one of the new owners 
would also be a shoe aficionado, though I never 
realized my wife was one of the chosen ones, 
though she did have many more shoes than I, 
knowing I could never be called one of the special ones, 
for I waited until one of my shoes became fatigued,
with worn-out souls and heels, cracked sides, 
scuffed up beyond any help from a shoe shine.
It had to be out of necessity before I ever 
visited a shoe store on purpose. 
My feet, had they grown, or shrunk, 
had I met death before new shoes were required? 
There was no need for an extra pair sitting around 
like the spare tire for a car, 
just waiting for a blowout.           

The Most Talked About House
She just had her house painted, 
now matching the color of her trash cans, 
a deep, dark blue.
Was she honoring her garbage cans 
by choosing the same color, 
giving the camouflage it needed to blend in,
or honoring her house, 
making it the most outstanding  
looking dwelling in the neighborhood?
Two things for sure about the change, 
friends looking to visit, would now have  
an easier time finding her house
with its distinctive and unique color, 
and now, definitely the most talked about house  
in the neighborhood by the other neighbors
as they drove or walked by. 
Congratulations on your choice, 
you now have everyone’s attention.