Book Review: Slouching Towards Entropy by Lisa Mangini

reviewed by Allie Marini


Slouching Towards Entropy
Lisa Mangini
Finishing Line Press, 2014

Lisa Mangini’s poetic voice is absolutely one-of-a-kind—my first introduction to Mangini’s work was while working at Lunch Ticket (No One Ever Told Me, poetry, finalist for 2013 Best of the Net award) and then later, Mojave River Review (Undressing, Childhood Logic, Phone Call to a Long Distance Lover, Annotated with Kierkegaard’s Diary, flash fiction) .

Mangini is one of those rare birds who works cross-genre and is equally adept in both: her poetry and prose are masterful, powerful, and command the attention of the reader in a way that’s seductive and cerebral. Slouching Towards Entropy, Mangini’s 3rd poetry collection, is immediately recognizable as her distinctive voice, but the subject matter of this collection (to this reader) steers her work into new territory. While the body of Mangini’s work is defined by a raw vulnerability and an intimate, confessional quality expressed in unconventional, memorable imagery, Slouching Towards Entropy takes these qualities even deeper, mining childhood experiences and memories for adult revelations. The main theme explored in these poems in not necessarily the experiences themselves, but the speaker’s having survived these things and how they have come out on the other side, changed.

The tone of this collection is planted as a seed in the first poem, “A Bird in the Hand,” where Mangini writes, “I was ten; I did not know/ names of birds or even painters—I couldn’t spot/ the angle of her neck and call it “Picasso-esque”/as I might now.” The juxtaposition of childhood innocence and adult comprehension is planted as a seed in the reader’s mind with this opening piece, a seed which grows, extending and unfurling from an idea to a unifying theme as each poem builds upon the one preceding it. The crescendo of this collection, is, to me, “Bird Watching at the End of the World (ii)”—the title of the collection, Slouching Towards Entropy, is taken from the last line of this poem, with a sly backwards nod to Yeats’s “Second Coming”, as well as Joan Didion: here, rough beasts can be birds, young girls, women in clubs, or the violence we experience and survive in nature or childhood, the effects of which only surface as understanding, years later. The final pieces in this collection, “The Last Meal” and “Boundary”, serve as a coda: a winding down, the calm following an emotional storm. The final poem, “Boundary,” re-zones the experiences, memories, and connections explored throughout the poetic arc and asks the reader to consider, “How far away is air before it is considered sky?”

Want another take on this collection? Read NonBinary Review contributor Angele Ellis’s review of Slouching Towards Entropy, Weave Magazine.


alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press, co-founder of Lucky Bastard Press, and author of Here Comes Hell; Cliffdiving: Love Poems;  And When She Tasted of Knowledge, Her Eyes Opened; Heart Radicals (co-authored with Les Kay, Sandy Marchetti, & Janeen Pergrin Rastall); Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide To Beasts Of The Southern WildThis Is How It EndsPictures From The Center Of The Universewingless, scorched & beautifulBefore Fire; Unmade & Other Poems; You Might Curse Before You Bless

Book Review: The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood by Daniel Crocker

Reviewed by Allie Marini
The One Where
The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood
Daniel Crocker
Sundress Publications, 2015
Digital Book (PDF download)

The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood delivers on its promise. If you want to maintain your childhood visions of Sesame Street, this might be a collection to skip. The 10 poems making up this tight mini-chapbook delve into some darker themes, using the motif of childhood television (Hawaii Five-O, Hulk Hogan, He-Man, and Thundercats are also explored, as well as A Brief Statement From Kurt Cobain’s Gun). From the haunting “C is For Cookie,” which uses Cookie Monster as a method of discussing the nature of addiction, “I’ve been a bad monster,” to the way that WWE wrestlers like Hulk Hogan unconsciously conditioning a generation of young men to not take violence that seriously; thus ensuring a legacy of real-life violence where people don’t bounce back from body slams (“The Hulkster”). “A Dream of Siblings & Brutal” synthesize this sentiment most coherently: our best childhood memories are the ones acted out in 30-minute segments on television, while the worst ones—the ones we’d rather bury—are the ones we have more trouble believing as real than we do the cartoon characters and choreographed wrestlers reflected back in the TV Eye. “Brutal” is exactly as its title implies, so consider this a trigger warning—the poem covers sexual assault, child molestation, and is difficult to read—but in the context of this collection is the anchor that makes all the poems surrounding before and after come into crystal-clear focus. The coda to the collection, “You Better Fucking Believe There’s a Monster At the End of This Book,” brings the 10-poem cycle full-circle. Even in the most colorful, presumably-safe spaces of childhood—and our own memory—there are dark alleyways where there are monsters.

Allie Batts Allie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press with more than 10 poetry collections in print, including her newest, We Belong Together.

Book Review: Ha Ha Thump by Amorak Huey

reviewed by Allie Marini

Ha Ha Thump
Amorak Huey
Sundress Publications

Language is a kind of hunger. / Do not mistake my silence for absence.

Ha Ha Thump starts out with “Nocturne: Interrogation,” a poem that clues readers in to the central theme that wends its way throughout the curves, turns, and detours of the collection. Amorak Huey is on the hustle — one of the hardest working authors in independent literature and last year, his chapbook, The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl), was probably my favorite collection of poetry of all the books I’d read all year. Though Huey’s voice is distinctive enough to connect Insomniac Circus with Ha Ha Thump, the tone and tenor of the two collections is completely different.

The collection is divided into five distinct movements, with recurrent nocturne pieces anchoring each section and creating a connective tissue of the honest meat of adult relationships. The titular phrase, Ha Ha Thump, itself appears reinvented five distinct times throughout the collection, with each Ha Ha Thump poem individual in its own right, and echoing/foreshadowing the Ha Ha Thump-s preceding and following. Each section has its own distinctive personality, and though different, these sections all feel organically intertwined, as though the blending of these tones is the inevitable result of the portrait of domestic life and our culture’s morbid fascination with celebrity. The titles of these poems are a poem in and of themselves: “The New York Post Runs a Photo of a Man About to Be Killed by a Subway Train and Everyone on the Internet Looks at It,” “Love Poem Totally About Wallpaper and Not at All About Something Else, Like Breasts,” “Mick Jagger’s Penis Turns 69,” “This Is Not a Love Poem for April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and the tour-de-force of “The Poet and the Supermodel (A Rearranged Marriage),” a poem in 4 movements, each entitled with a scrambling of letters: Like Humid, I Hued Milk, Due Him Ilk, Kid Helium. Ha Ha Thump is an honest, painful-but-sometimes-joyful love song to the tedious minutiae of married life: the failure to have sex in the hot tub after the kids and in-laws have gone to bed, the classic rock radio that fills in the silences while driving, block parties and warm beer, of the ebbing of passion and its reinvigoration—“how we replicate our favorite mistakes.” These poems are quiet but forceful; almost like an inside joke in their specificity, and yet, accessible to the average reader — it is almost like being a fly on the wall in someone else’s marriage — someone who you’ve glamourized — and discovering that they also have boring stretches and bicker over nothing, or have perfunctory sex as often as they have mind-blowing orgasms. Ha Ha Thump feels like building up everyone else’s life into something that’s better than your own (all too easy to do in the era of social media) and then discovering that ha ha thump, the joke’s on you — everyone has to work at these things, and that the work of it is also the reward. Life isn’t always easy, and sometimes it’s the mundane things that are overwhelming in this collection — real life isn’t glittery like it is on TV. But it shouldn’t be, and these poems show you how the unexciting times we share are the building blocks for sustained love, which rises and falls, and “stirs ghostly bones” when you let someone in. They may, in fact, just carry you out.

The problem isn’t feeling nothing, it’s feeling everything.
(At The Midnight Garage Sale)


alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press with more than 10 poetry collections in print, including her newest, We Belong Together.

Show Up!

Last Wednesday, I was the only one in attendance at the live recording of Allie Marini’s Drunk Monkeys reading. The reading was excellent, and being the only one there meant that I could ask some questions of Allie that I wouldn’t ask her in the normal course of just hanging out. Then on Friday, Allie and I went to Christopher Moore‘s reading in Santa Cruz. There were about 200 people in that audience.

Why is it that unless you’ve got the track record of Christopher Moore (or David Sedaris, whose reading is too large for the the bookstore where Moore’s reading was held, and so is held in the Civic Center), it’s hard to get a good turnout for a reading? There are some phenomenal benefits of attending smaller readings that shouldn’t be missed:

  • The chance to see an author before they’re so famous that you wouldn’t be able to get within fifty feet of them at a reading until you’re in a signing line where you have about thirty seconds before you have to make way for the person behind you.
  • The opportunity to be present when something goes hilariously wrong. Because that’s always a good story.
  • Smaller authors tend to have cheaper books. At a poetry reading, I can usually buy 5 chapbooks for the price of the single hardback I bought at Moore’s reading.
  • Buying books from small indie presses support an easily-accessible system. Indie publishers are often 1- or 2-person outfits who are excited to meet and talk to their customers.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to find any number of people who have seen a particular movie or binge-watched a particular television show. It’s much harder to find people who have binge-read Asimov or Tolstoy, or who have been to a reading by an author they like.

If you’re reading this, I have an assignment for you. In the next year, I want you to go to at least one tiny indie author reading, and I want you to take someone who describes themselves as “not a reader.” Before you go, talk about the author and why you like their work. It doesn’t even have to be an in-person reading – you could both sit in front of your computer and watch me at the next Drunk Monkeys reading on October 8. Or contact your local independent bookstore and see who they’ve got coming in the next few months.


lise-quintanaLise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press. Although she hates crowds and leaving home, she is also an incredible ham and loves reading out loud. 

Book Review: My Heart in Aspic by Sonya Vatomsky

Reviewed by Allie Marini

My Heart in Aspic
Sonya Vatomsky
Porkbelly Press, 2015

The poetry of My Heart in Aspic is as robust as the imagery of food which makes up the backbone of the collection. Fans of Gunter Grass, particularly the poems of The Flounder, will appreciate this complexity of the pieces in this collection. Like most aspic dishes, these pieces are comprised of the offal and gelatin that are the overlooked byproducts of most cooking: these are the squeaky bits, the innards, the organ meats and the boiled-down bones of experience, of love, of violence, of survival. This is what happens behind the butcher’s counter and a basin of blood from the abattoir—but also like an aspic dish, these unsavory items become a meal in Vatomsky’s capable hands. Also like an aspic dish, these poems can accurately be described as chaud froid, (“hot cold”)—the witch-like invocation of “Vasovagal syncope”: “If not fear, then empathy./ If not empathy, then fear.” to the quiet, longing loss evident in pieces like “Moon Cycle”, “Spidersilk” and the endcap to the collection, “Spring Flowers.” These poems are not always beautiful; that in itself can be beautiful, as Vatomsky demonstrates that even organ meat is nourishing, and that any experience, when boiled down to the bone, is rich and full of marrow.


alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press. She is the author of the forthcoming poetry collections This Is How It Ends (Bitterzoet Magazine/Bon Bon Chapbook), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Cliffdiving and And She Tasted of Knowledge, Her Eyes Opened (both from Nomadic Press), and Here Comes Hell (Dancing Girl Press & Studio).

Interview: Angele Ellis

This week, Poetry Business Manager (providing personal attention for all of your editing and submission needs) named NonBinary Review contributor Angele Ellis’s Shakespearean “Sonnet For Mrs. Scalia” as 2nd place/runner-up in its 1st Annual Scalia Dissents Formal Poetry Contest. First place went to Chloé Cunha’s “Ghazal of a One Night Stand”– for more on the contest and Poetry Business Manager, click here. For this contest, submitters had to use a minimum of five phrases from Scalia’s dissents in their poems. After this week’s Rhizomatic Ideas blog post about why awards matter, we thought the timing was ideal to catch up with Angele and ask her a few questions.

Zoetic Press: So, do you like writing sonnets? Or was this prompt just too interesting to pass up?
Angele Ellis: I love writing sonnets! And I can’t help following politics–I’m a longtime community activist, with seven arrests for civil disobedience to my credit (or debit). My first book, a supplemental curriculum and educational guide called Dealing With Differences: Taking Action on Race, Class, Gender and Disability (Corwin Press), came out of collaborative work in peace education.

ZP: Tell us about the prompt, and how your poem came into being. Was it difficult to write in form, or are you comfortable with formal poetry? Were the phrases flexible, or was the text you were working with restrictive? Did you have fun?
AE: I was immediately intrigued by the prompt. When I read the text of Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land, I was even more fired up. Scalia is terribly cynical and misogynistic about the institution–“traditional marriage”–that his dissent is supposed to be defending. I thought, “His poor wife!” and so my poem was born. 
I’ve written poems in a number of forms–including haiku, tanka, haibun, ghazal, and pantoum–but the Shakespearean sonnet is my favorite. I started immersing myself in Shakespeare when I was nine years old, memorizing parts of the plays and the sonnets, using my father’s college edition of The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. Because of this early exposure, writing a sonnet is almost as natural to me as writing free verse.
Scalia’s prose is both plummy and wacky–he obviously thinks of himself as a wit and a literary gentleman–and it was fun to work phrases such as Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded, Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and Ask the nearest hippie into my sonnet. The opening couplet is pure ScaliaI just broke his phrase into two lines.
ZP: Tell us a little bit about the piece you have coming out with us in the next issue. How does it fit in with your body of work?
AE: “A Pardoning” is an adaptation of a chapter of my novel in progress, “Desert Storms,” which takes place–with some flashbacks–around  the funeral of the matriarch of a Lebanese American family. I thought it would be interesting to have some contemporary Arab Americans in the 1001 Arabian Nights issue. (I say contemporary, although my story is set in 1991, which makes it historical.)
Aside from Dealing With Differences, I’m known–if  I’m known at all–as a poet (and one who has written about being Arab American). However, I’ve published a number of short stories, flash fictions, and book reviews. In college, I studied journalism and nonfiction writing along with English literature, and was a writer and editor for my college newspaper. I spent five years as a technical and business writer, and have done freelance writing and editing for a variety of clients. So writing a semi-autobiographical novel represents both a return and a new direction for me.
ZP: How does it feel to be recognized with this honor? Do you think it’s going to change anything for you, or is it just one of those great, much-needed reminders that you’re doing the right thing?
AE: It’s wonderful to win a prize–I’ve won several–but I was brought back to earth on the same day by yet another rejection of the new full-length poetry manuscript I’ve been circulating. It was a kind rejection, but still… I give my “The Price Is Right” yell every time I receive an acceptance, because my rejections are more numerous. (I live alone, so there’s no one to scare by screaming.) For me, writing is an absorbing compulsion on which I’ve imposed a degree of discipline. I think I’m proof that If you keep on writing and rewriting, if you participate in workshops and seminars, if you develop working friendships with other writers, and if youare persistent in submitting your work, you will have success–however modest.  
ZP: What’s on the horizon for you? Any upcoming events, publications or projects that you’re particularly excited about? 
AE: In September, I’m participating for the sixth year in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do If I Couldn’t Speak My Mind,” an all-day reading involving over thirty writers. It’s sponsored by City of Asylum, an organization that has done amazing work in Pittsburgh, including providing housing and other opportunities for writers who’ve faced persecution in their own countries. In October, I’m reading at Classic Lines, one of the new independent bookstores in Pittsburgh, with two writers who went to the same Catholic high school as I did–Dean Focareta and Bob Walicki. I’ll be reading somepieces written for the occasion. And I really hope that your readers like “A Pardoning, because I keep saying that I’m finishing this novel, and I’m nowhere near done!

alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press. She is the author of the forthcoming poetry collections This Is How It Ends (Bitterzoet Magazine/Bon Bon Chapbook), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Cliffdiving and And She Tasted of Knowledge, Her Eyes Opened (both from Nomadic Press), and Here Comes Hell (Dancing Girl Press & Studio).

Book Review: some prophets by J. Nicole Oquendo

reviewed by Allie Marini

some prophets
J. Nicole Oquendo
Finishing Line Press, 2015

Multimodal poetry is some of the most innovative work happening in the literary community—it is challenging, layered, nuanced, and original in its approach to language, sound, grammar, syntax, and typography, making each reader’s experience of it one that is highly personal and attuned to the tools each reader brings to their reading.

 some prophets is multimodal poetry at its finest: 3 distinct poems comprise the 24 pages of the chapbook, which can best be described as a  poetic hallucination presented in fragmented form. By the reader’s own remediating the content of the poems, each reader’s experience of these pieces has, as the Vulcans of Star Trek would say, “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”—take, for example, movement iii., of carving, of the poem Cassandra’s Eyes—the piece not only contains exaggerated pauses and line breaks within line breaks in its use of / and // to separate specific words for emphasis, but the piece also includes five independent placements of a ______, which allows the reader to literally “fill in the blank” with whatever word feels correct to their own experience of the read, and which, even to the same reader, can change with multiple readings of the poem. This movement, is essentially a poetic “mood ring”, one that changes from reader to reader and reading to reading, while maintaining certain fixed points as poles around which the reader may experience the work.

Multimodal poetry asks the reader for their active involvement in reading; it is not a passive experience, and this aspect can be as unnerving to some readers as it can be exciting to others. The versatility of the work, as well as its ability to expand or contract to meet the expectations of each individual reader, is one of the most imaginative ways that poets who work in this medium are thinking outside of the box. In a world where digital publishing and online content are constantly creating new platforms and ways to experience writing, it is encouraging to see writers who embrace the innovations and see these new modes of presentation as an inventive means of expressing themselves in new poetic forms. some prophets, though presented in print medium, is a creative adventure for both poet and reader, one that pushes boundaries and explores the interior of the relationship between author and audience.

alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press. She is the author of the forthcoming poetry collections This Is How It Ends (Bitterzoet Magazine/Bon Bon Chapbook), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Cliffdiving and And She Tasted of Knowledge, Her Eyes Opened (both from Nomadic Press), and Here Comes Hell (Dancing Girl Press & Studio).

Book Review: The Peace of Wild Things by Ariana D. Den Bleyker

reviewed by Allie Marini

peacetestThe Peace of Wild Things
Ariana D. Den Bleyker
Porkbelly Press, 2015

I’m a sucker for “proems”—that interesting little hybrid that’s leaner than a traditional prose poem and meatier than a standard poem. Ariana D. Den Bleyker’s microchap (Porkbelly Press), The Peace of Wild Things, delivers on being both lean and meaty in one set of poetry. These poems open with a quote from Emily Dickinson, and the pieces that lay within the covers pulse with that same thrum that fueled the poetess to whom they pay homage.

 Dickinson writes, “A wounded deer leaps highest,” and in a movement of 15 poems, Den Bleyker shows us just how high that wounded deer can rise—each poem fuses the beauty and violence of nature, the casual cruelty of the natural order of things, as something that is simultaneously terrifying, intoxicating, and necessary for evolution. Wolves, deer, crows, wild boar, salmon, and all manner of songbirds—from chickadees and thrushes to cardinals and finches—populate the lines of the poems, each of them stitched together with the human voice of “you” and “me”, who at times run together as a pack and at other times hopelessly leap upstream, towards their death and away from each other.

 Den Bleyker’s poems reveal the beauty and necessity of both of these things, the breeding and the thinning of the herd; the spawning and the hunting, the birthing and the dying. The beauty and terror of this cycle is summed up quietly, gently, and powerfully in the final piece of this collection, “Harbingers of What Will Come,” a reminder that everything comes full circle; all the begins—even love and pain—will eventually end, and that all of these things are simply part of the natural order. To begin reading The Peace of Wild Things, one might traverse the cycle of the natural order in reverse, with the lines which close the final poem:

Listen. They spread air, celebrate; dance and flirt,
trail off into the mountains and hide, forming
an avalanche, spreading tragedy all over me,
layer over layer until any crumb of my own
is smothered beneath the weight of mourning.

alliebattsAllie Marini is the managing editor of Zoetic Press. She is the author of the forthcoming poetry collections This Is How It Ends (Bitterzoet Magazine/Bon Bon Chapbook), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Cliffdiving and And She Tasted of Knowledge, Her Eyes Opened (both from Nomadic Press), and Here Comes Hell (Dancing Girl Press & Studio).

Book Review: Pearl Tongue by Cassandra Dallett

Reviewed by Allie Marini

Pearl Tongue
Cassandra Dallett
Be About It Press, 2015

Cassandra Dallett is one of Oakland’s “Beast Generation” writers, a collective who read tirelessly throughout the Bay Area and whose highly confessional, direct, often brutally honest work has a feel and spirit that is both intoxicating and inimitable. Pearl Tongue, Dallett’s newest offering (following numerous chapbooks and full length collections Wet Reckless and Bad Sandy) is everything readers have come to expect of Dallett’s body of work.

The poems of Pearl Tongue are raw and real, while at the same time soft, sensual, almost gentle in unexpected narratives. Dallett, as ever, speaks of sex and gender expectations both candidly and sorrowfully—in “woman’s worth,” she discusses the sexualization of women and her physical response to images of that dehumanization, while at the same time acknowledging that her reactions and decisions have been based in part on the cultural “brainwashing” of feminine gender expectation. In this poem, Dallett laments that these expectations “…remind us silly girls/if we want things we shouldn’t/ grow so large” and brings this lamentation full circle, closing “woman’s worth” with what is tantamount to a prayer: “Oh, I would be so beautiful/ if I just lost weight.”

Pearl Tongue moves effortlessly and naturally between poems that address female sexuality, an unconventional childhood, racial stereotyping, the emotional strains of poverty, the psychic damage of broken homes and broken love, and the gentrification of Oakland—a collection of topics that are as complex and layered as the poet herself. At just 44 pages, Pearl Tongue is a meaty collection that’s also an easy read—perfect for a lunch hour or an afternoon at the park or coffee shop, but it’s also a collection of poems that will stick with you long after you reach the last page. Lovingly hand-bound by the Bay Area’s own Be About It Press, from poem to production, Pearl Tongue is truly a labor of love, delivering a modest-but-mighty emotional wallop that will have your mind buzzing for weeks.


alliebattsAllie Marini is managing editor at Zoetic Press, and the author of the poetry collections You Might Curse Before You Bless, Before Fire: Divorce Poems, and Wingless, Scorched & Beautiful.