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March 30, 2017 / barton smock


THEY WERE BEARS, by Sarah Marcus
(Sundress Publications, 2017)

~ review by Barton Smock ~

Absence is not a magic trick. In this book, there are enterings and leavings and a loneliness that says I am home because I am here. In one wilderness, “Cleveland is one big hospital” (from No Children), in another, “The boar closes the distance” (from Damage Ready)

This book will do nothing to curb your addiction to trajectory. As for continuance, I wasn’t sure I could go on after reading the last line of the first poem. Marcus maps her land early.

You will question your body throughout. Body are you wanderer or are you deserter. Are you mouth or are you feast. Body have you devoured my eyesight. Every last bit?

Vastness is local. Ruin, a tourist. Pain a forward thinking journalist still covering the moon as made for man. Bears are here, are moving in and out of a crowd’s exodus from a costume party for symbols. Some bears are not here, but are sick of being spirits.

I wish I could bring only what I need. But what of the other, dragged as it was for being necessary?

Marcus is a writer of both inquiry and finality. She has stones, not for, but from, the stoning. In the book’s last entry (Revival, Revival), this phrase: “Unspell me.” I was broken before I broke. This author, she looks back. This journey had a following.

book is here:


Sundress Publications to Publish “They Were Bears” in 2017


THE CROWN AIN’T WORTH MUCH, by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
(Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press 2016)

~reflections by Barton Smock~

Willis-Abdurraqib is a writer writing letters to a timeline of his unchanged address. In this, excavation happens on the clock and burial, off. I read this and I know what kids I want for the world. One body sells for nothing but makes it to market and a second body is kept from giving itself a hole for breathing. From this book of bodies comes a third. Dear body, skin is a documentary one is born with. Dear blood flow, I received your immediate silence. Dear soundtrack, there’s this movie that disappears but only when I watch it. Dear uniform, tragedy makes a short laundry list.

You need a body to keep you naked, get this book. It, will ghost.

book is here:

what brought me to it, is here:


(C & R Press, 2016)

~ review by Barton Smock ~

Kelli Allen rescues nothing in her book ~Imagine Not Drowning~. Instead, she makes an acolyte of stillness. There is lightning, here, and there are glyph-obsessed waters. Allen says ‘we keep vigil for signifiers’ (from Ghosting), and it feels final, feels already saved. Why follow? What does a named creature understand? I can tell you Allen makes one feel a name is still being said somewhere in a book signed by its readers. The language in this collection goes where it’s called, some borderless upward, some nest made for mouth. This poet can on one hand etch ‘direction only makes us brave the first time’ (from Bravery, you said, is not what it used to be) while on the other tattooing ‘every night is a lifelong sentence about home’ (from Reformation). These are good hands to be in. As a poet, Allen knows the body as a map without a country. She outlines, yes, but knows one need not be dust and is a lover of those stomachs full of eaten chalk. Her disorientations are precise.

In the poem (We name the totems with every morning), Allen writes ‘…If I dive deep into the ocean / and find a camel, everything I know / will cease to matter’. I was wrong. She rescues that camel.

book is here:

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