Joyless House Book Reviews

The Garbage Times/ White Ibis

by: Sam Pink


Soft Skull Press



If you are not familiar with Sam Pink's writing, TGT/WI is as good a place as any to start. If you are already a fan, you will get what you came for here - and more. You want more, don't you? You mad, lustful, garbage-chewing animals... you came to howl at the Moon-God of literary ecstasy! Well in luck we are. 

The Garbage Times follows our narrator through a a few typically shitty months spent in the grimy shadow of the City of Chicago. Our man scrapes along the very bottom of the barrel. His days are defined by dirt, filth and muck. Garbage people, garbage times, shitty weather and crummy luck. Yet he goes about his business with an existential cheerfulness. By lowering himself beneath the worst of what Chicago can dredge up and dish out, he puts himself above, or just beyond, the judgment of the rat-like surface dwellers. The toll it takes on his soul are the wages of a god's war. No less. 

The writing is what we expect from Pink and he's in fine form. He has developed an obvious confidence over all these years and all those books. Pink is able to convey much with the simplest phrase. The trick is, you are invited into his world. And you are not told what to think. At one point the narrator's cat dies and his emotional reaction is left a complete blank. After a certain number of hours he simply pitches the stiff kitty in the trash. And yet this event exists as an obvious emotional centrifuge to the book. That's witchcraft, baby. I love TGT because it represents a culmination of Pink's writing to this point; he has, more or less, described it as such. 

White Ibis is something different and I think it's the stronger half of this here double bill. Our narrator has moved to Florida. He has a girl. He encounters wild life. The weather is fine. His psychic milieu has normalized somewhat. Ha ha! But don't worry; our boy is just as dumbfounded as ever. It turns out that crawling up out of the slime and trying to make it as an artist and functional human being requires putting on a brave face indeed. It turns out the White Ibis, awkward and skittish, is just as queer a gatekeeper as the rats back in Chicago.

I'm reviewing a book (books) here, not the human being that wrote it (them). But at the same time; fuck that. I've had the opportunity to meet and work with Sam Pink. He is doing it right and for the right reasons. He's humble, generous and kind. He's an artist you can be proud to patronize. Not the type of guy to hammer out a classic for his fans, all the while keeping some naive, young acolyte locked up in a sadistic prison of hellish psychological and physical abuse, for instance. That we know of. 

Zeller's Alley

by: B. Diehl

White Gorilla Press



Zeller's Alley is a juicy collection of screams from Phillipsburg, NJ. It will make you feel weird. If you are an old dirtbag like me, it will be shocking and strange to hear the echos of the wails of your own epileptic youth run through the mean power compressor of our modern times.  Diehl writes about love and love lost, boredom, frustration and drudgery. Lust and drugs. It is the stuff of youth's passage, it's passage into... what exactly?... well, death, eventually. It's not a terribly cheerful trip we're taking here. 

But that's okay. This trip is a lot like life in that way. The cheerfulness comes in the will to work. Work will set you free. And Brandon Diehl is one of the busiest poets going today. He's already published another book of poetry since Zeller's Alley. He is co-editor of Philosophical He is active in the greater poetry community, baby. Working.

Diehl's poetry is anxious, vivid and active. It's a healthy reaction to an unhealthy world. What I like best about B's writing is the strong undercurrent of anger to it all. Though Diehl gives in, at times, to boredom, apathy, masturbation, his sense of mortification is never quite stifled. One gets the impression that Diehl is having all the experiences he needs to build up an endless reservoir of mortification that he may spew righteously across the written page for decades to come. That, my friends, is a lot of metaphor. And Zeller's Alley, my friends, is a good book.

Nature Documentary was one of a pile of House of Vlad offerings I brought back with me from a trip down into the testes of the beast (Florida). It sat around for a couple months, as I had a lot of stuff to get to. But I always had my eye on it. One day I picked it up and opened it at random to a poem called I Can't Help You, Dad. It knocked the wind right out of me. Some snippets from that poem:

          You were never a strong man, Dad.

          You never worked hard.


          You never made anything. You didn't love music.


          You are not proud of me. You wanted me to suffer.

          I know that now. You wanted me to marry,

          watch sitcoms, mow the grass and spend

          my days getting into trivial arguments

          while feeling okay about white racism.


          When I die, there will be a procession.

          There will be hundreds of people there,


           But you, your funeral paid for

           by a local life insurance company,

           your children will not even be there.

So clearly, Noah Cicero is not fucking around. His style is direct, economic, succinct. A lot of writers try to pull this style off and few differentiate themselves. Cicero's power comes from his emotional honesty and lack of pretension. He is not about bringing the reader around to some sympathetic conclusion. He does not try to sugarcoat unsavory impressions. He does not try to justify hurtful behaviors.


There is one theme running through this collection, however, that might satisfy the moral strivers among HoV's readership (are you laughing yet?). It is the poet's constant search for higher ground - physically, in the form of mountains, the Grand Canyon, frequent forays into nature; and metaphorically, in the quest to leave human pettiness behind. There's an Eastern yearning to Cicero's migration to the American west.

Read Nature Documentary in a tree or on the edge of a cliff. It will be good for your soul.

Nature Documentary

poems by:

Noah Cicero


House of Vlad