Prose Toad Literary Blog

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006


· Nancy Guaquier: Words
· Oren Wagner: The Last Redcoat
· Steve Henn: The Seedy Underbelly of the High-falutin’ Oversoul
· Mark Gaudet: Just Another Adolescent Braggart

By: Charles P. Ries
Word Count: 2,189

I was thinking: What constitutes a new or emerging poet? Who fits the definition of young talent? Is it a function of age or how long they been writing; or maybe how long they have been actively submitting work and proving their worth in the market. I see names of many new poets pop up as I read print and electronic magazines. Those with talent and persistence will become as recognizable as Alan Catlin, Justin Barrett, Michael Kriesel, John Sweet, Ellaraine Lockie, AD Winans and Lyn Lifshin. Those who lack talent and persistence will tire out and blow away. It’s the rising and falling breath of the small press. But I wanted to know, what is new, who is young and what is emerging? I thought about this as I reviewed the work of four poets who all began submitting work a few years ago, and who, on average, have fewer then eight publication credits. One is in his 20’s, two are in the 30’s and one is in her 60’s; and for the sake of this discussion I will define all of them as new faces and emerging voices in the small press.

By: Nancy Gauquier
12 Poems / 29 Pages / $5
Weird City Publishers
P.O. Box 8245
Santa Cruz, CA 95061

Words by Nancy Gauquier is mind blowingly clever, fast, nimble, insightful and fun. As I read Words, I thought how such new talent could write with this great range and agility? But then I found out this emerging talent was sixty years old and learned she, “flirted with theatre, tried stand-up comedy for a year or two on the gay circuit in San Francisco. They had the best comedy! And they actually let me on the stage!”

She has not been published much in the small press. “I have been published in several mostly local, now defunct, very small circulation literary magazines that very few people have ever heard of. And three publications that are still alive and functioning.” I than asked her how long she’s been writing, “I've written poetry off and on since adolescence, but only in the last few years have I decided to take it "seriously" (only I don't know if that's the right word). To commit to it. To trust myself to just keep writing. To not lose heart.” I asked her how she developed poems in this collection, “Words, Men, and Worried were all developed when I was doing comedy; Get Used To It and Angry Old Women were developed as spoken word at the New College Experimental Performance Institute. Aging Dysgracefully was the first poem I ever read at a slam (The Berkeley Slam, which is totally gung-ho and can be incredibly intense) and it was the first slam I had ever attended (out of curiosity) and I went way overtime, but it was still voted the best poem of the night. So I got reeled right in, and How Are You, The Fence Sitters Ball, My Muse, and Blues for Paul were all performed at slams (along with the other funny stuff, which the slammers love). The thing I love about the slams is -- it is so great to see so many young people caring so passionately about poetry. Any kind of poetry. Or spoken word or humor. It feels so vital and important. I think it has injected some energy into my work.”

Here is one example of her work from Words, it is titled, “Men”: “I just could never understand men! / But then I moved to the Castro, / and I discovered gay men! / Gay men are way easier to understand. / Most gay men actually want their partners / to have equal rights. / Most straight men say, “Oh, I’m all for women’s rights, I just don’t like feminists.” / That’s like saying it’s okay / if you want equal rights, / as long as you don’t think of any way / you might possibly get them.” And further along in the same poem, “I did crazier things than that / when I was young. / I used to wear this black fake-fur mini-dress / with these tight brocade bell-bottoms / and purple high-tops. / And hair down to my ass. / It was so thick, when I wore my glasses, / I looked like It! / I took acid every week! I danced naked in a graveyard in Bolinas. / I lived with a musician. / I fucked a perfect stranger / under the psychedelic puppet stage / at the Avalon Ballroom. / That’s what youth is for! / I should have said, “Yeah, I’m gonna die my pubic hair purple. Why not? No one’s gonna see it. ‘Cept me, and I could use a change.”

Not bad for a young, emerging talent with only a few publication credits


By: Steve Henn
15 Poems / 15 Pages (30 Page Book) / $4
By: Oren Wagner
21 Poems / 15 Pages (30 Page Book) / $4
Platonic 3 Way Press
P.O. Box 844
Warsaw, IN 46581

Oren Wagner and Steve Henn are close friends. They are also co-editors along with well known Small Press poet, Don Winter of the new Platonic 3 Way Press. They are 28 and 30 years old respectively. They have been submitting work for about three years and have an average of eight publication credits between them. This is their first book of poetry. They divide the space between the covers; half the book entitled, The Last Redcoat is devoted to Oren Wager’s work and the other half entitled, The Seedy Underbelly of the High-falutin’ Oversoul is devoted to Steve Henn’s work.

I asked Henn about his background, “I don't know that I've started writing in earnest yet. I've been writing a lot more these past three years than ever before, but really I started in high school. There were several years of awful stuff, tho, and then after that several more years of mediocrity. For quite a bit of the last three years I've been thinking of myself as a prose writer who is too busy teaching and schooling to get at the novel I've got about 4/5ths of a complete rough draft of, but lately I've been thinking of myself more as a poet, intentionally trying to expand my abilities and come up with creative subject matter in verse. I don't buy that "find truth and beauty in the mundane" crap. I've always written to entertain, and primarily to entertain myself. Novel subject matter, taking risks with what I write about are what I find stimulating.”

Henn’s poems are direct, narrative, and clear. They are warm hearted and good natured. Here is an example of one of his poems entitled, “Church League Softball”: “Oren and I love softball but we don’t / believe in God, so we decided to collect / a team of atheists to join the church league. / We filed for entry, marking “other” / in the spot for affiliation. Our fake name / was The Church of One, as in one life, / one chance, no soul, nothing to pray / to or for but today and tomorrow until we’re dead. / The rumor spread that we were eastern mystics, / that our experience of Him bordered on the sexual. / Janice, our token woman, got a lot of attention / from opposing men. She’d wave her tight ass / back and forth in the batter’s box, and they / served ‘em up with a slight arc, aiming / for her sweet spot.”

Oren Wagner’s work in The Last Redcoat is equally well written, but has more edge and bite to it then does Henn’s. Wagner writes impressionistically. This may be a bi-product of his years as a musician where song lyrics by their nature are often not linear in structure. I asked Wagner when did he begin writing poetry in earnest? “I've been writing for about twelve years, I was 15 or 16 when I started, you know, sad teenage poetry kind of shit. I was about 21 when I started writing stuff that doesn't make me recoil in shame (retrospectively speaking.)” I asked about his education, “An honor roll student in the school of hard knocks. After high school I was in a couple of touring punk bands. I've lived in Detroit MI, Warsaw IN, Seattle WA, South Bend IN, North Manchester IN, Colorado Springs CO, Zionsville IN and now Indianapolis IN, six of those cities have been in the past eight years, so moving around has been very formative or educational...I spent a year in college in Colorado, and have spent the last three years at a university in Indianapolis. Since I can't go to school full time, I am on the eight year program.”

Here is an example of one of Wagner’s poems entitled, “icons of the virgin”: “icons of the virgin are painted in the etceteras on the wall / surface, texture, erosion. / you don’t know that I can hear assembly line / efforts in your voice. / midnight sky of Braille and Arabic numerals / counting, falling. dot dot dot dash, / immaculate Morse code for V,/not for victory or for varsity / or for virtue. /latitude lines on an uncreated earth / still have their degrees and intervene with longitude / baby born into a cartilage cage / a metaphor for the unspoken / benedictions for the perishing apostle / zodiac, monkey pox , increased rations / assembly line icons of the virgin / etcetera etcetera written on her face.”

This is a very fine set of poetry. Well crafted, clever, mature, visual, surprising – from the minds of two friends, editors and emerging poets.

By: Mark Gaudet
28 Poems / 41 Pages / $6.43
Order by going to:

Just Another Adolescent Braggart is Mark Gaudet’s first print poetry collection. He is 36 and started actively submitting work to small press publications about a year ago. He has a degree in fine art, but no formal training in writing. In his bio he notes his major influences to be Charles Bukowski and William Carlos Williams. His poems are word light and earth bound. I was curious about his use of light-up words such as fuck, sex, cigarettes, booze, blow job, vomit. He told me, “I try not to use a lot of symbolism; usually what you see is what you get. I like it simple, to the point. I want my poetry to stand up, grab a hold of someone and slap them across the face. I like it hard and with an edge, but I also like to mix in some humor.” He went on to tell me, “But my first love is Bukowski. He told it like it was. For some reason his words hold my attention. I'm not reading something and saying to myself what does that mean? Or trying to understand the hidden meaning behind him screwing some woman while watching cockroaches scattering across the floor.”

I asked Gaudet if he could determine a writer’s age by their writing style or themes. I wondered if there was such a thing as young poetry and old poetry. Here is what he told me, “Its hard sometimes; I don't try to make judgments on someone's age. Hell there are kids in High School who write wonderful poetry, and people who've been writing poetry for 40 years, and their stuff is just plain shit. At least that's my opinion. Poetry's a funny thing you could write something half assed in the bathroom stall, and someone can think it's the next Jack Kerouac.” Maybe so, but good or bad writing does not seem to be a function of age.

Here is an example of Gaudet’s writing a poem entitled, “Replacement”: “We met / I found another / cute, naïve, innocent // happy? // Let me peel / her face back / probing through / bone / tissue / bloody pulp // Are you hiding in her?” And here is another example, “Killing Degas”: “Paint / on my pallet // Pretty / yellows / cyan /burnt / sienna // Mash together / biting the brush / not knowing / waiting // Horses over steeple chase / pretty ballerinas glide / across / his paintings // Bourbon and pills / hues / of vomit / green / and yellow / spew / across my / canvas // Voluptuous / women / bathing / in a tub // Slit / wrists / grasp / the shower tiles // French / Impressionist / American / Depressionist “

Gaudet writes in a non-narrative, impressionistic style that is more difficult to master. Some of the poems work and some nearly do. His best work are those poems that don’t push so hard and where he backs off the adverbs and elevator words, allowing his curious world to unfold before us – just as it is. All in all, a solid first book of poetry.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Review: Baby Beat Generation & The 2nd San Francisco Renaissance

Baby Beat Generation & The 2nd San Francisco Renaissance
Publisher - La Main Courante // France
Editor and Translator - Mathias de Breyne
272 pages / $20
ISBN: 2-913919-24-3 Photo: Kaye McDonough

Order via:
Small Press Distribution
1341 Seventh Street Berkeley, CA 94710-1409

Review By: Charles P. Ries

If you want to taste the Beat Poets and sample the writers who followed them, Baby Beat Generation & The 2nd San Francisco Renaissance is about as good as it will get. The work in this collection is of high quality. I’m not sure why this surprised me. I have read many anthologies and usually come away with a 50% sense of satisfaction, but not this time so I asked Thomas Rain Crowe whose work is featured in the collection and whose preface helped to established historic context. He told me, “Looking back, now I think the poetry that came out of the 2nd San Francisco renaissance is still some of the best, and most interesting, poetry of the last thirty years. These were talented, dedicated, and extremely literate poets, some of whom were 'well educated', but all of whom were very well read and had been writing for quite a long time, even though many of us were only in our mid-late twenties. This was a very diverse group of poets, who wrote in uniquely different styles from one another and from their beat friends and mentors.” The book includes poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Jack Micheline, Jack Hirschman, Harold Norse, Diane Di Prima, Nanos Valaoritis, Michael McClure, Bob Kaufman and David Meltzer on the beat side, and poetry by Thomas Rain Crowe, Ken Wainio, Neeli Cherkovski, David Moe, Janice Blue, Paul Wear, Luck Breit, Kaye McDonough, Philip Daughtry, Kristen Wetterhahn, Jerry Estrin, and Roderick Iverson, as well as pictures and an attached CD which includes readings by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane Di Prima, Bob Kaufman, Jack Hirschman, Jack Micheline, Thomas Rain Crowe, Michael Lorraine, Cole Swenson and Ken Wainio.

I sensed Crowe’s significant presence in this publication and asked if he was the driving force behind it and how the hell did a French Press become the publisher for an anthology focused on American poets? He told me, “While it's true that I was the main contact and the supplier of much of the raw material that made its way into the anthology, this isn't a "Thomas Rain Crowe" production. Mathias de Breyne was the catalyst and initiator of the project. This anthology was his idea. He contacted me and asked for material--which he then chose from and translated into French. He was familiar with the publisher of La Main Courante, Pierre Courtaud, and it was Mathias de Breyne who contacted Monsieur Courtaud and proposed the idea of such an anthology. M. Courtaud's press, La Main Courante is primarily a press that publishes contemporary French poets. It's a relatively small literary press, and so this project was the largest project that he had undertaken to date. I did write a preface for the book, since Breyne wanted something that would allow readers to get a glimpse into the whole scene in San Francisco during the 70s. And I did assist with problem areas of the translations. But this book was generated in France by a French poet and a French publisher--which is ironic in one sense and appropriate in another.”

All the content in this collection appears in English and in French. As I counted up the contributors to the anthology I totaled 29 men and 7 women. So where were the women? It was the 70’s and feminism was coming of age, yet an anthology focused on the 70’s features mainly male poets. I asked Kaye McDonough whose work is featured in this collection to comment on the state of women’s poetry in the 70’s, “I think the North Beach lifestyle itself was hard on women. You had to be able to live poor and like it -- handle yourself in a bar, walk alone on the street at any hour, and rely on no one. You had to take care that you weren't an alcohol or drug casualty -- and that you could keep up with all those poets and what they read, and they read plenty. You had to be able to read your poetry to rooms full of mostly men who were not shy about giving you feedback. The womanizing was a definite minus. Where I came from, women did not go about unescorted at night, let alone into a bar, so North Beach wasn’t exactly a place to settle down and start a family-- I'm not sure I knew what in the heck I was after – alcohol certainly played a role. I think I wanted to live like a man – a man who was a poet.” (An extended quote from Kaye McDonough can be found at the conclusion of this review.) This excerpt from her poem, “Talk To Robert Creely About It” is telling, “Breast are your bonbons / You suck a lemon fondant / spit out a chocolate-covered cherry / You try on vaginas like finger rings / The pearl cluster is too loose perhaps / the gold band too tight / You collect hearts like paintings / They are nailed to your walls / Skulls ring your house / They are the ivory necklace / fallen from the throat of your latest lady // Women lie around you like mirrors / You pick up one, then another / comb your hair, adjust your features in their glass / Do you see, you grow thin / from wanting some love on your bones?” (Beatitude #24, 1975)
I wanted to hear a male’s take on this gender imbalance and asked Thomas Rain Crowe if he would comment. “No one was counting in those days. There were a lot of women writing and involved in the 70s scene. Not all of whom got into the anthology, just as not all of the male writers in the bay area got into the book. It always felt like there was an equal balance of men and women (masculine and feminine energy) involved in everything we did. There certainly was a very strong feminine voice in North Beach and in the issues of Beatitude during those years. As I say, who was counting? If you look at the posters for Beatitude events and at the issues of Beatitude during those years, you'll see that there were always a healthy, if not equal, number of women represented. It didn't feel like anyone was fighting for position, etc. those that were on the scene and who wanted to take part publicly were the ones that ended up on the reading posters and in the many bay area publications during those years.” I am sure the answer lies somewhere between McDonough and Crowe’s perception of the time, but it presented an interesting back story and sent my mind rambling to today’s small press scene where I often sense a lack of female poets and editors, yet realizing women write more poetry. So why aren’t they publishing? Why aren’t they fighting for an audience?

I needed to find out about Beatitude. The small press magazine started in the 1950’s and picked up in the 1970’s which became the glue for these new post-beat poets. Again here is Thomas Rain Crowe, “Beatitude was the glue as you put it, for our group, and also for this anthology. Since Beatitude was at the center, the core, of the 70s renaissance, and a catalyst for the renaissance, the editor and publisher of Baby Beat Generation & The 2nd San Francisco Renaissance decided that this anthology would hinge on the Beatitude poets--since we were in closest proximity to the Beats and were working and playing with them constantly during those years, and since Beatitude was the first beat publication during the 1950s. It was us babies that resurrected the magazine. The publisher and editor wanted to cite and establish a viable tradition, with the passing down of the Beat heritage and the Beat "torch" as it were, to the next generation. This book establishes that tradition and documents the history of this "rite of passage." We published usually 500 copies of each issue of Beatitude. It was done in the mimeograph format of the former 50s Beatitude, and was distributed to bookstores all over the bay area, as well as to select bookstores all over the country--including LA, the Northwest Coast, Chicago, New York, Canada, and England. I was in charge of the distribution during those years, and the emphasis was not to make money, but to get the magazine out and as far-reaching as possible. We usually sold enough copies to pay for the next issue. But mainly is was about the poetry and showing others in the states and in other countries what we were doing. The magazine came out as often as was possible. There was no concrete publication schedule, as there is in most literary journals these days. In other words, it wasn't biannual, quarterly, etc. since we used a rotating editorship policy; it came out as quickly as each different editor could accrue text and get it through production.”

“Finally, I asked Crowe to tell me what he viewed as the key style and content distinctives between the Beats and Baby Beats? “While there would be some inevitable similarities, there are also some very distinct differences between us (the baby beats) and the beats. I think that, in general, our writing is much more imaginative and experimental--reflecting the values and cultural politics of the 1960s. I also think that the general oeuvre of the Baby Beats has a much wider arc. Our major influences tend to be more international--since there were more translations of foreign poets available in the 60s and 70s than there had been in the 40s and 50s. Also, we were more politically active, I think, than the beats. Our generation had a history of taking the issues of the time to the streets. We continued that during the 70s in San Francisco, and afterwards. Much of what we did, publicly, was usually for some cultural or political cause outside of the purely literary. I also think that we tended, and still tend, to be more inclusive. Inclusive of women. Inclusive of foreigners, inclusive of different literary styles and persuasions, inclusive of class and race, etc.”

As a reader of poetry, I can often say, I enjoyed that, but not as often say, I enjoyed that and I learned a lot along the way. This is a great collection for many reasons and on many levels. The poetry is outstanding, the bio’s, photos, preface and CD provide wonderful historic context. It also made me reflect on women’s role in poetry in the 1950-1970’s in a wider framework. $20 plus shipping is not too much to pay for this very good, very enlightening read.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oil Independence -- Are You Kidding?

Occasionally we comment on political goings on, but the cry heard around dinner tables and State of The Union speeches Dem & Goper alike, the cry for energy independence would destroy us. That's right. Read below:

Analysis from FORTUNE: Plugged In

Energy independence is a disaster in the making
It's been a rallying cry since the 1970s -- but it could doom the economy, the environment and our position in the world.

By Justin Fox, FORTUNE editor-at-large
March 1, 2006: 11:24 AM EST
...Tom Friedman of The New York Times, who has been arguing for a while now that the president should make energy independence our generation's Sputnik -- an excuse to spend tons of money on scientific research and education.

Investing in R&D and handing out scholarships for science and engineering students are good things, mind you, and many of those calling for energy independence are driven by similarly wholesome motives. But I'm a big believer that words count, and the words "energy independence" are potentially disastrous ones.

To put it most starkly: We could have energy independence tomorrow if Congress simply slapped a huge tariff on energy imports (would $250 per barrel of oil do it?). Meanwhile, skyrocketing fuel prices would shift the economy into reverse, throw tens of millions of Americans out of work, and what oil and natural gas we have left under our territory would be rapidly depleted.

Yes, homegrown energy alternatives like wind, solar and ethanol would get a big boost. But the biggest boom would probably be in mining and burning coal -- the dirtiest and least efficient of the fossil fuels, but one the United States possesses in abundance. Meanwhile, the other energy-importing countries of the world would go their merry way, paying vastly lower prices for oil and natural gas and gaining a huge competitive advantage as a result....