Monday, September 6, 2021

Sarah Nichols' "Press Play for Heartbreak"



Sarah Nichols uses the alternative music albums she invokes in Press Play for Heartbreak—by Depeche Mode, The Cure, Joy Division, Radiohead—as a conduit, incantation, exorcism, an archive of obsession. Reading about her experiences with these songs is “like finding a diary after the end of the world…. You can’t say you weren’t warned. This comforts me somehow.” But comforting in the way that the tongue constantly seeks the wound from the pulled tooth. The effect can “make guilt sound like something you’d want,” a mix of pain and pleasure, high and withdrawal, regret and relief. These pieces emphasize the ache, the -algia, of nostalgia for which there is no analgesic except listening to more music, preferably in a dark room.  

  Heidi Czerwiec, author of Fluid States

I challenge you to find someone who blends pop culture with craft as seamlessly as Sarah Nichols does. Press Play is the newest example of her brilliance in this subgenre. “I guess I’ve never cared for reality that much,” she writes in “A Life in Nine Songs: Depeche Mode’s Violator.” Who does? And why bother? Living in the glow of music you love is the far better alternative, and Sarah will tell you why with the expertise that comes only from loving something fully and without remorse. 

Kolleen Carney Hoepfner, Editor in Chief of Drunk Monkeys and Author of A Live Thing, Clinging with Many Teeth


Sarah Nichols lives and writes in Connecticut. She is the author of ten chapbooks, including Hexenhaus (Milk and Cake Press, 2020) and She May Be a Saint (Porkbelly Press, 2019.) A poet and essayist who writes frequently on popular culture, her work has been widely published. Press Play for Heartbreak is her first collection of non-fiction. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Christen Noel Kauffman's "Notes to a Mother God"



In “Notes to a Mother God,” Christen Noel Kauffman’s brilliant new lyric essay collection, the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, the human and the animal, sound and love, are revealed as illusory.  In this gorgeous act of evaporation, a fresh engagement of motherhood is illuminated, one that miraculously manages to interrogate not boundaries, but exhilarating overlaps: this book dares to examine the spaces shared by the cleaving body and the spider’s web, a whale’s eye and the birth of a daughter, the Luna moth and guilt, the giant squid and empathy, memory and the seabed, death and a dream of an orchard. Throughout, Kauffman’s sumptuous essays do the essential work of exposing the plants and animals that many of us have ignored or mistakenly deemed as merely quotidian, as innately incantatory.  And here, that incantation is howled by mothers actual and ghostly, sung, essentially, to quote Kauffman, into “the crevice of your neck.”  This is a beautiful and breathtaking debut, as expansive as it is intimate.   

  Matthew Gavin Frank, author of Flight of the Diamond Smugglers

Notes to a Mother God gorgeously captures the contradictory moods and modes of new motherhood. In these exquisite pieces, Christen Noel Kauffman helps us understand the familiar and the foreign, the surprise of loneliness and the hunger for intimacy, and the magnetic tides of both desire and despair. Like motherhood itself, Notes to a Mother God is powerful, raw, and often dark, but with a marbled beauty that is as wondrous as it is undeniable. 

Randon BillingsNoble, author of Be with Me Always


Christen Noel Kauffman lives and teaches in Richmond, Indiana with her husband and two daughters. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays (University of Nebraska Press), Nimrod International Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, Willow Springs, DIAGRAM, Booth, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and The Normal School, among others. You can find her at 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Marc J. Sheehan's "The Civil War War"



What do Rat Fink tattoos, porta-potties, holograms, Jeopardy!, zombies, Chatty Cathy, Lysistrata, replicant angels, and sorrow vendors have in common?  They all play a role in Marc Sheehan’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink absurdist flash fictions about men who re-enact the Civil War in real time (!) and the women who refuse to have sex with them. The chapters are simultaneously whimsical and moving, wry and rueful, laugh-out-loud funny and searingly serious. Sheehan’s humor is dry, yes, but it burns like dry ice.  What a marvelous book—and given the uncivil war we’ve been enduring—what a timely one, too. 

  David Jauss, author of Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories and Nice People: New & Selected Stories II

Part George Saunders and part Borges but wholly in and of itself his own, Marc Sheehan's The Civil War War is daring, inventive, startling--and so prescient and prophetic it feels like the vivid soul print of America now in its ragged and torn state but somehow as it has always been. Somehow this small but searing book speaks to the tragic fact that America is still at war with itself even as this brilliant work offers a kind of miraculous healing through the power of art, truth, humor, and compassion. 

Robert Vivian, author of All I Feel Is Rivers: Dervish Essays

Marc J. Sheehan is the author of two full-length poetry collections, along with two chapbooks of poetry and one of flash fiction. His short story “Objet du Desir” won the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Contest sponsored by the public radio program Selected Shorts.  His story “The Dauphin” was broadcast on Weekend All Things Considered as part of its Three-Minute  Fiction  series.  He  has stories, poems, essays and reviews in many literary magazines including Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Pank, and Michigan Quarterly Review.  He lives in Grand Haven, Michigan. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Ja'net Danielo's "The Song of Our Disappearing"




These are poems of quietly devastating grief, life-haunted poems of absence, breath-taking for their clear, lyrical language, their precise and loving rendering of the physical world, their nuanced explosion of image into image, poems that move beyond elegy toward a deeper imagining. Here, death is a kind of disappearance, yes, but also a mystery, a transformation, “the swarm of cells rearranging themselves/ into something other/ … of never before;” here, each existence, human and otherwise, is “a brief but holy thing.” Reading these poems I was reminded of how, while the shape of our grief changes over time, grief also changes us, alters us permanently, becoming part of who and what we are, deepening us, making us also more holy in its wake.

Cecilia Woloch, author of Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem


Grief recasts everything, suddenly and sharply. It uproots the ghosts—of our childhoods, our ancestors, our collective and private memories—and transforms the concrete world we thought we knew into one now fluctuating and liminal. The Song of Our Disappearing navigates the bewildering aftermath of a father’s death, finding a clear and rising voice somewhere between the stark hospital room that holds the ventilator’s sharp hiss and the remembered dust of the racetrack where hooves pull clouds from the ground. Elegy becomes an act of metamorphosis as Ja’net Danielo excavates both past and present to reveal a song unearthed from the ash of the heart—a lyric guide for walking with, listening to, and being transformed by the losses that haunt us most. 

Julia Bouwsma, author of Midden and Work by Bloodlight

I can’t helped being knocked out and also deeply inspired by the summoning voice and vision of Ja’net Danielo. The poems in her debut collection The Song of Our Disappearing are breathtaking in their rich and fulsome physicality, their deft shaping of personal, familial, and corporeal landscapes around her, and the pitch-perfect songs that burn brightly through crucial and complex human concerns of death, grief, longing. So much to admire here, and to look forward to in this poet whose generosity of spirit and breadth of imagination match the vibrancy of natural and lived in worlds she observes so carefully, inhabiting desire through poetry that honors “the language of horses […] “those beautiful machines […] Not of blood, but of dust—a song unearthed from the ash of the heart.”

Michelle Bitting, author of Broken Kingdom

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Jason B. Crawford's "Twerkable Moments"




Twerkable Moments is a summertime Michigan house party in the early 2000’s, and a Springtime cookout from just last week. Jason asks “Who among us is not built of a party” while moving from a sweaty dancefloor near the bar to a backyard, reclaiming space and self along the way. Who among us hasn’t tried to learn a dance from someone older and failed? Who among us hasn’t done the dance with all the confidence we could muster, anyway? These poems are a teaching, an invitation to remember and to learn. A celebratory invocation of joy in spite of, joy that survives and traverses, and joy that for damn sho’ twerks.

- Darius Simpson

Twerkable Moments pulsates with rich sounds and searing imagery, transforming the page into a three-dimensional universe that takes all of our senses to navigate. I am enamored with the magic Crawford has woven in these poems, where dancing is not merely dancing, but world building. In these stanzas exist a mythic space without limitations, where dancing boys could be wolves or “glitter could cast a spell and bring all my dead/ loves back to life”. Twerkable Moments does not turn its gaze away from the omnipresent dangers that lurk just beyond the page, “The hunters/ or their arrows/ or bullets”. Rather, it celebrates the body’s survival despite. At the center of these poems lies the question: “What joy have you brought for us to/ feed on?”. I leave this collection well fed and breathless.

- Jihyun Yun, author of Some Are Always Hungry

In their collection Twerkable Moments, Jason B. Crawford populates these pages with beats and bodies, music lyrics that take over us before we realize we’re even singing along. To read these poems is to wade through a night club where the music works like a hex, where in the midst of the dancing crowd our speaker gropes for love and acceptance. And the dancefloor serves as a perfect metaphor for the Black and queer body trying to survive in these poems; surrounded by chaos, violence, and cultural appropriation, the speaker of this collection gives in to the corporeal joy of dance. But dance is not only about joy or survival, it’s also about reclamation. Crawford writes, “This is mine / and I will take it back / one        ass     cheek / at a time,” fashioning the Black, queer, and dancing body into a weapon. And whatever is slain in their wake, Crawford reminds us to always look back at it.

-Taylor Byas, author of Blood Warm 



Friday, March 19, 2021

Juliana Chang's "Inheritance"



Juliana Chang’s Inheritance tells a deeply moving tale of immigration, love, and family, in poems taut with a longing that spans oceans, and decades, and generations. “Dear god,” Chang’s speaker pleads at one point, “give us a new story,” and in these poems, lucky for us, she has written exactly that. This is a soulful, serious debut.

           —Patrick Phillips, author of Elegy for a Broken Machine

This admirable debut volume of poems speaks to the many complex legacies of the immigrant psyche: those of language, of longing, of unspoken traumas and unlikely joys. These vivid tableaus, ranging from girlhood to womanhood, reveal a young writer of great empathy and discernment, and invite us to join in the redemptive act of wonderment. 

 Chang-raeLee, author of Native Speaker



Monday, December 7, 2020

Sonya Vatomsky's "And The Whale"



“A lyrical, haunted shipwreck of a book you won’t soon forget.”

amanda lovelace, bestselling author of the princess saves herself in this one

 “Vatomsky is a poet with history, which is to say a poet with a Russian soul that never rests. Here, the soul is haunted and haunting, is pouring tea into your cup until the whole thing spills over and burns. The soul in these poems isn’t interested in pain but the shadow of pain, the mark of it; the edges of a burn and the dregs of tea leaves, what each one confirms about time. If it’s true that what’s hysterical is historical, then what Vatomsky offers us is a universe where madness is fleshed out and relieved of flesh. Here, the body is a palimpsest and gender is a veil, the kind you wear in mourning, the kind that hangs between this life and everything else.”

Gala Mukomolova, author of Without Protection