Like a Penny

The silence of the machine paralyzes me as

denial set to embed itself firmly in my mind.

My family was collected, but they came

too late to bar the door from dread.

Fear arrived, pushing promise aside, disregarding

my pleas to stay at bay.

Moving in without invitation or welcome.

The last shards of hope strangled by its arrival, 

slowly building to suffocate me

with a grip that refused to loosen.

They squeezed my hand but only 

my heart felt the grip.

Nestled within my mind

I concealed a scream that was

suppressed by words

not spoken,

truth not yet told.

And like a penny on the tracks

I lost my shape

as despair pushed inside the room.

Without a chance to inhale

his words spilled into the air.

Silence sliced by reality

with the whisper of

She is no longer

and like that penny,

I felt worthless.

They Wait

In line, they wait. Their souls offered up for money that has touched the lining of too many unwashed trousers. Out of fear they trade favors with a god they know doesn’t exist, make promises they never intend to keep. Biting filthy nails, picking at half-healed sores or chewing on their darkly painting lips, they wait. Marking time with the song on the stage that provides their next meal.  Adjusting what little material covers their oiled skin while shifting from stiletto to stiletto in an effort to forget a family they no longer know.

Unlike cattle headed for slaughter, they know their fate, their unexpected destiny. The music stops, the microphone booms. Collectively they inhale, lifting their chins. The next girl goes on as the other descends the metal stairs, bare, belittled and destitute as the owner extends his grimy hand before allowing her to pass. Head bowed she delivers the bills to him like a child at the candy store, wrinkled and damp. He slaps her and the surprise sends her reeling against the metal stage and she crumbles to the floor, “Next time do better” he says and steps over her naked body without pause.  The girls dissolve into themselves, blind to their reality for the sake of self-preservation.


Review | Octopus Literary Magazine

Octopus is an online poetry magazine that is currently in its 12th year of publication. The magazines founders are Zachary Schomburg and Tony Tost. The editor of this particular issue is Joseph Mains. The listed editors work on a rotating basis. Designers of the site also rotate. This issue is designed by Travis Meyer. In an attempt to find out more about the designer you only need to click on his name, however, in this case I was re-directed to a giant “?”.

When reviewing an online or hard copy edition of a literary magazine I always start with the ABOUT section. This usually gives the reader, reviewer or possible future submitter, an idea of the theme, content, or idea behind the editor’s vision. Octopus has decided to keep it basic by stating, “Octopus is named after a sea creature that is intelligent, lives in dens, and uses ink as a defense mechanism.” So, it seems, they have decided to let the reader explore the contents and judge for themselves. To be honest, the magazine has already perplexed me as a reviewer.  That being said I decide to dig right in and consider content since at this point, I find that navigating the site is quirky and complicated. The designer has “hidden” the menu for the page within a long black rectangle at the upper right of the page that I only stumbled upon by accident.

Octopus is a poetry magazine but it also has additional categories which include Reviews, Recovery and Notes. I click on Notes with excitement in thinking I will perhaps fall upon some history or idea behind the title, the contents, something! But nope, the Notes, category is not notes at all but the list of contributors to the mag with short bios.  This list is extensive and the bios reveal that the majority of the writers showcased are well-educated, seasoned writers with vast publishing credits, not of which all are poetry. Noted, however, is a couple of new writers.

These new writers are Marshall Walker Lee and Nico Alavarado. Mr. Lee is from Austin, Texas and contributes his writing skills to this magazine with a well-written review of Knox Americana: The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway by Jennifer L.Knox. This piece reviews a poetry collection which I only discovered after reading it in its entirety. A quick summary of what was about to be reviewed would have, in my opinion, been a better opening to this write up. This point brings us to our next newcomer, Nico Alavarado, whose addition to this issue was a recovery piece entitled,The Enormous Chorus Pressed Wafer, by Frank Kuenstler. If you are not familiar with what a recovery is, here is a great explanation from the issue itself, under the tab SUBMIT:

Recovery projects are brief essays celebrating a single book that you feel people should be reading but are not reading. The recovery should be about 1000 words, about a book that is at least 20 years old & out of print, but all those are flexible. The only real requirement is that the recovery inspires a reader to want to track down that book and read it as soon as possible.

Bravo Mr. Alavarado, I did want to read this book after your recovery and rushed right to my library’s website to request it. Sadly, it was not in our system but I work for the library and I have my ways. But back on task, this recovery was very well-written, concise, persuasive and thorough. I hope to come across this writer’s other work soon. Alavarado’s opening summary of what he was attempting to “recover” was appropriate.

Despite the diverse and varied backgrounds, as well as publishing credits of the poetry contributors, I had a difficult time finding any of them to my personal taste, although some held merit for writing structure, formatting and quirkiness. Several of the poems, including one by Elaine Kahn, however, were just difficult to read. Her “Name like an Empty Bag” was jagged, disconnected and far too obscure for me to even try to extract any feeling from it.  However, I found that several of her poems held promise if only for one or two particular lines from a stanza. For example in the poem, “Reality Steve,” the second stanza is brilliant. She writes:

I’m going to send you a drawing and a letter.
The drawing is going to have spit all over it
and the letter is going to say
I don’t want to be your friend.

I love this particular stanza and the rest of poem is good but it quickly lost momentum for me when the poem became repetitive:

The feeling of being with you, 
in the sense that 
being with you feels,
is being nowhere…

Another poet, Ashley Toliver is from Portland, Oregon and obtained her M.F.A from Brown University.  Her contribution to the magazine is a set of four prose pieces, all entitled, Housekeeping.  This poet’s work was relatable and stood out for me for quality content and well-written prose. The fact that all four works bared the same title made it all the more interesting to read and I will say it again, quirky. Perhaps there is a theme here after all.

In general, the poetry of Octopus is free-verse and diverse. I don’t sense any definitive theme with this particular edition or that the selection of poems is in any way relative to the visual design which has a basic black and white hand-drawn feel to it representing a cityscape in the background and loading dock in the front. The drawings show great talent and I would compliment the artist if the name was posted. It is possibly the designer, Travis Meyer, but that is just a guess on my part.  It also has a sliding feature that I found to be obtrusive when you attempt to navigate the site. From researching past issues, I did take note that each issue has its own unique design and varied from very manageable to difficult for a visitor to the site.

Note to writers, both new and previously published, considering submission: Research some of the former issues on the site. Several of them had excellent content, varied contributors and were exceptional reads from start to finish. The submission guidelines are well laid out and straight forward.

This online poetry magazine gets a 2-star rating from me for many reasons. First, it feels like it was put together under a tight deadline. It is not edited appropriately for spelling, sentence structure or content in what should be the basics of each issue. My second problem was with the entire layout and design of the website. It was not user friendly at all. The moving opening page made navigation difficult and the mislabeled (rather hidden) menu bar made searching the site for content virtually impossible unless, unlike me, you found it rather quickly. Then there was the content itself. Some good poetry here but since the overall feeling of the magazine itself leaves you perplexed, the reader’s desire to continue on lessens with each entry.  Consistent good poetry and content is what makes a reader delve in. If there is a struggle to find anything worthwhile the reader will move on.

As I stated before, I did take the time to look at other issues and I suggest that interested readers do the same as I found the majority of the past issues to be very good in content, visually pleasing and user friendly, as well as properly edited. Taking into consideration that this magazine is well established I can only hope that this particular issue is just a fluke.  I intend to take an interest in further issues and perhaps will get the opportunity to review it again.

Review | Room Volume 38.1 In Translation

Room is Canada’s oldest Literary Journal dating back to 1975 when a collection of like-minded woman decided to gather the female voices in literature and give them a place to showcase their work. Currently published by the West Coast Feminist Literary Magazine Society, the journal prides itself in being a “forum for women writers, including trans* persons, gender-variant and two-spirit women, and women of non-binary sexual orientations.”

Room accepts original submissions from woman only and frequently chooses to keep their editions attuned to a theme so be mindful of this when considering submitting to them. Because they publish quarterly, adequate time to research what they are looking for in regards to future editions is not difficult to ascertain.

In Translation, Volume 38.1, is Room’s first publication for 2015 and they have come out strong. Without reading a word I had a good feeling about it as it sat in my hands weighted with the promise of a lot of material along with a striking cover that had the art lover inside me clapping. This particular volume has a theme, as explained by Rachel Thompson in the Editor’s Letter, she writes:

“In this issue of Room we explore literature translated from languages other than English, and the act of translation in all its senses.”

The journal is sensual in its obscurity to define language as something separate yet oddly exactly the same in the sense that it is the one thing that binds us as humans together. In other words, through communication, no matter the language, we are one despite the varying degrees the translated words spoken in various dialects, accents and tongues. The journal conveys this with its memorable artwork, interview, fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and a play written by Erin Moure, a Montreal based poet and translator.  I will get back to this little nugget which was probably my favorite piece.

The look and feel of it right off tells you the pages within won’t disappoint but lets start with the look. Visually the journal is truly a work of art in and of itself. The benefit of this particular volume is that throughout its pages you are graced with delicious appetizers for the eye in the remarkable, even breath-taking imagery provided by Meryl McMaster, an Ontario based artist whose digital prints not only graces the cover but is sprinkled throughout the journal. Along with Ms. McMaster’s  work, the eyes are fortunate to enjoy the work of Amy Goh, originally from Singapore she specializes is black and white illustrations and Christina Tjandra, a free hand artist whose Indonesian culture is expressed magnificently as well.

Now let’s dive right into the feel.As I mentioned before, the journal has a little bit of everything. The poetry is strong and mostly written free-verse and juxtaposition-ed nicely with several works of art, almost to give visual aid to the words on the counter page. The opening poem, “Pregnant”, by Souvankham Thammavongsa sets the theme to the entire work by showing us that the word pregnant in the Lao language opens up the mind to a different way of seeing the word through this interesting translation leaving the reader to ponder the translation if only for a moment as it leaves you anxious to turn the page for more.

As mentioned before, the Room, has a wide variety of well written material. The read in general is easy, slows well and while diverse in the writing level with seasoned to beginning writers throughout, the collective is obviously chosen with care and consideration of the theme of the volume in terms of context. Two standouts for me personally was the poem entitled, “Notes From Across the Atlantic”, by Jane Iordakiyeva. She takes you into her personal world of the unknown in a different country than her native one and you truly feel her “voice” when she says “I miss the conversation, but I cannot say that I need you”,  with a matter of fact tone that is telling of her underlying true feelings of being just fine in the foreign country she writes from.

The gem of this particular volume for me was “from Kanycta” by Erin Moure. A play that is written in both french and English in a way that the two languages seem to battle for stage presence, leaving the reader breathless between feelings of sadness and utter joy with the banter of the cast of characters (living and not) and there is no winner in the battle, they equally share the spotlight.  I found it to be refreshing to read and also challenging and I love a good challenge, especially one that pays off in the end.

The 128-page journal consists of more that just the written word for creative purposes but also has a section that reviews books of fiction and poetry collections. Following this, the reader gets a treat in a section called Book Mate where the reader gets the privilege to get a behind the scenes introduction to part of the Room team. In this issue we were introduced to Sheida Azimi, Room’s poetry coordinator via a short question and answer section I enjoyed.  This is a true bonus to writers reviewing the journal for possible submission as it gives you a connection to someone on staff.  There is also a few pages of advertising and contest announcements. This particular issue reveals that Room itself is holding a contest for cover art and a call for submission from woman of color.

This journal gets a well-deserved 5 star rating without a bit of hesitation. With forty years behind them and no doubt some high hills and bumpy roads to overcome in the past, they have certainly mastered the art of a good literary magazine in my opinion.

Overall, this journal delivered some damn fine writing by talented and diverse female contributors and kudos to the editors with regard to choosing just the right work to fit this puzzle together in a way that results in a fine collective.

Joanne C. Spencer

A Death in the Family

Underneath the box is a stand

Upon the box there is a polish

An engraved flower

Around the box is a cold gray

Beyond that box is a chapel

Inside the chapel there is another box

On a stand like the first

Within the same cold gray

Beside the box is nothing

But unhappiness

Aside from the box

There are no important features

Of the onlookers who grieve in sorrow

With the people who loved him dear

Throughout the day people cry

About the boy they knew so well

Above the ground he lays now

Under it he will rest soon

Among the people that grieve

There is someone who sticks out

Except for the preacher

He is the only one who didn’t know the boy

Between the Mother and the Brother

Stood the Father he never knew

Until the day the mourners move on

His face will be ever present…

By Dylan Spencer




Maybe it was your footsteps slowing

as you drifted into the bar that

caused the hair on my neck to bristle.

Or the way you tapped your class ring against the

bottle in tune with the music

as you sat on the stool beside me

that caused my heart to race.

I suppose it could’ve been the way you ran

your  fingers through your dark wavy hair

that caused my skin to flush.

Although it might have been your warm breath

upon my neck as you bent down to whisper into my

ear that melted me deep within.

But it was probably just

the thunder.