Joyless House Book Reviews
by: Joseph Harms
available at: expatpress.com
Bel is a monster of a book, one that won't easily suffer fools. As you might imagine, Bel and I had a rather uncomfortable time together.
Bel is a "sequence of sonnets" according to the book itself. Each one is a brief, dense word puzzle, but trying to solve them is to go about it all wrong. You'll do better to ponder the questions that arise along the way. But first, carve yourself out a nice, quiet space. Don't try to read it in front of the TV, dumbass.
I read a few pages and at first thought it hopeless. But then I brought the book with me for a solitary sit on the beach - on the banks of Old Lady Michigan. The voyeuristic alienation inspired by this scene was the perfect portal into Harms' singular world. I was as hooked. I was moved.
Harms invents words. He revels in obscurity. But it all plays like improvised chords and emotive trills. He creates a palpable mood. And despite the heady word play, the author is fair, even handed and thoughtful. He's not sensational or manipulative. In the words of Harms' publisher, "I know he means every bit of what he does."
So give this one your undivided attention. Find a spot by a cold, merciless body of water, or overlooking a steep cliff. Bel is best enjoyed in the full knowledge of your own imminent mortality. Read it where the sky is big. If you can never enjoy anything that's over your head you might as well be in the ground.
I Want to Feel Happy But I Only Feel ______.
by: Mallory Smart
Oh . . . oh Jesus, I'm such an old man. I'm such an old man and I'll just say it; the omnipresence of social media, computer-phones, etc., and their creeping into our poetry is grating to me. But that's on me. That's an old man's gripe and surely neither here nor there to the legions of millennials who regularly flock to the Joyless House website! The nice thing is, the new poets are quite aware of the creeping virtual menace (that which will be the ruination of all things we hold dear!) and so there's plenty of misery to go around. So that's nice.
Mallory Smart is an accomplished artist. She has four books to her credit (by my count). She's the founder of maudlinhouse.net. She is making things happen, Jack! In I Want to Feel Happy, she's at her best when she is being funny. My favorite part of the book was the epilogue which is laid out as a back and forth between the author and her therapist that reads like a stand up comedy routine.
Smart's talent is obvious here, and I'm excited to see what she does next. If and when she finds the perfect vehicle for her talent we are in for something transcendent. Also, great author pic.
I was tickled to be afforded the opportunity to read Ben East's new book prior to it's release. I plowed through it in a couple insomniac sittings, and I can, with sound mind (in my estimation) and in good conscience recommend it wholeheartedly!
What we have here is a political thriller, not hard-boiled, but character driven. The milieu of Patchworks is, as in East's first novel, the federal bureaucracy - this time in the swamp at D.C. instead of the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The action is gun violence, even when it is inaction. The nation's capital is rocked by multiple shooting sprees, even while the NRA tightens its hold over our "elected representatives".
Patchworks is governed by an ever-present social conscience that lends weight to the existential fumblings of its characters. East has inside knowledge of the inner-workings, or rather non-workings of the fed and this rare perspective makes for an exceptionally credible narrative. It also saves this tale from being a simple polemic. At best, Patchworks is a plea for sanity. At the very least it's an entertaining read. Ben's talent for writing action and drawing characters, coupled with his unique life experience, makes him a good storyteller. His innate sense of humanity makes this book hit home.
Patchworks is another fine effort from an author who will always have a place at the Joyless House table. (Unless he goes right-wing wacko. Then he's kicked out of the family!)
Beautiful book. Beautiful language. Heartbreaking. It's alienating at times to read something so personal and direct for someone who has not had to deal with what the author has had to deal with. An affecting book. It will make you take a good look at yourself and that's something special.
Some very brief, sublime poems and very short stories. They read like life observations as hand/footholds on a sheer cliff face for a person who is too immersed in the process of survival to consciously "be" an artist. It's art in retrospect, I guess. Very stark and beautiful on the page. It's minimalism out of a conservation of oxygen instead of some pretension toward an aesthetic. Powerful stuff.
To get it from the author's own mouth see the Joyless House interview with Ms. Whitten. Then buy God Box as well as Mallory's Collected Poems and Short Stories from Monster House Press. Quit wasting your life!
Fear of a Norb Planet
The complete Maximum Rock n' Roll columns 1994-1998
by: Rev. Norb
For those of you who were still at your mother's teat, or otherwise clueless at the time, for like 5 minutes in the nineties, the epicenter of everything punk rock and cool existed in a most unlikely place: Green Bay, Wisconsin. Even more unlikely, the high priest of everything punk rock and cool was a man who resembled (nay, was a near dead ringer for) a giant grasshopper. Like the incurable geek that he was (is), he chronicled every minute of it.
Oh the 90s. It was a strange and wonderful time for all of us. We did so much and accomplished so little. Kings in our own minds, we were . . . Fear of a Norb Planet comes in at a crushing 206,000 words - a couple sentences shorter than Moby Dick. Most of these words are directly related to the author's member. Although there is plenty of keen music type stuff in here as well. Anyway, I don't see the point in trying to write an impartial review of this thing. I was at that last Rip Offs show man! And the Teengenerate show! It was a great time to be 17, drunk and soaked with sweat, other peoples' and your own! Judging from Norb's old MRR columns, it was also a great time to be 30, jacked on Diet Pepsi and jumping around in spandex and an antler helmet. Party on.