[REVIEW] Dowry Meat, by Heather Knox

Words Dance Publishing
$15, 81 pages

Review by Corey Pentoney

What, exactly, makes a poem? A hotly debated topic, surely, but one that always deserves a little attention. Can a poem be a single line? Absolutely. Alberto Rio published a great piece about that on Poets.org. A poem that takes up an entire book is often called epic, and usually contains men in armor slaying each other with blood-ripping swords. After my third reading of Heather Knox’s first book, Dowry Meat, I’m starting to think that it is an epic in a sense, and I will say that it is best enjoyed in its entirety. That is, perhaps one of the most interesting things about this book—besides the poems themselves, or itself—is that it feels like one whole, living, breathing beast. And what a beast it is. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Dragon’s Breath by MariNaomi



386 Pages, $24.95


Review by Corey Pentoney


Before I dig into this review, I want you to imagine what loss looks like. If you saw it on the face of a friend, would you recognize it? Are their eyebrows angled in a certain way, the corners of their lips turned down just so? Now separate that feeling from the person, from a human face. What does it look like? A swirling mass of black and dark colors? An empty beach? Take a minute and close your eyes and try to imagine what each and every emotion looks like—fear, hatred, love, happiness—when it’s not attached to a human being. Imagine the space it would fill.

In Dragon’s Breath, MariNaomi, the author and illustrator of Kiss and Tell (print), and Estrus Comics (online), as well as numerous short comics spread across the fathoms of the internet, tells the story of loss. The story is broken into many small vignettes, ranging from two or three pages to twenty or thirty, and all of these tiny events—the loss of her home, the loss of her grandfather, the loss of friends—are laid out in such a way that by the time you chew your way through the entire book, it will be hard not to feel in some way intimate with its author. You were there with her at the party with the members of Duran Duran; you screamed at her boyfriend when they didn’t get along; you stared at the bites from the bedbugs on your ankles and shins. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Thieves in the Afterlife, by Kendra DeColo


Saturnalia Books

82 pages, $15


Review by Corey Pentoney


I was drawn in to Kendra DeColo’s collection of poetry, Thieves in the Afterlife, as soon as I heard the title. Who could turn down a title like that? If I had to choose one word to describe this collection, it would have to be raw. Raw in every sense of the word. Raw emotion. Raw bodies. And, perhaps most importantly, raw language. In her own words, she makes “each breath/poignant, a rawness/cutting.” Thieves is racked full of lines that stop you in your tracks, and make reading a single poem difficult as you have to deny the urge—or not—to stop and relish the feeling of the line on your tongue and in your head. There are images that will leave you to your imagination:

In the dark he turns
to his wife one last time
and asks her to pull
his heart inside-out
like a sleeve. Continue reading

Books We Can’t Quit: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
311 pages


Review by Corey Pentoney



When I first picked up A Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago—I know, I’m behind the times, here—I did so because it was a classic and had been recommended to me time and time again. As the familiar story goes, I fell in love with it, and have read it every year since, my already slightly ragged copy all the worse for wear for it.

The first time I read the book, the craft of Atwood’s writing was what kept me going, her ability to get into the head of her character, Offred, and stay glued there, is impeccable. With very little else to do as a woman in the Republic of Gilead, Offred spends much of her time scrutinizing every detail of her surroundings and remembering what she can of the past. “A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place a in a face where the eye has been taken out.” So she describes her living quarters with Fred, from whom she takes her name. Offred’s attention to detail is second to none, and the way she fleshes out the world for the reader keeps you hooked from page to page. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson



CCLaP Publishing
143 pages, $23.48


Review by Corey Pentoney


The world has been torn asunder by some untold event, and the entire human race has gone extinct.  All that stands on the face of the Earth are ruins and robots.  Robots of all shapes and sizes, makes and models, colors and consistencies wander the streets—or just sit around—as they have lost their purpose: to build things for humans, to take care of humans, to do what they were programmed.  Except for Robot, who finds the world too quiet now, the robots seem happier without humans.  Robot misses them, their noises, their smells; and not only humans but the plant and animal life that once lived on planet Earth.  “Robot missed the toilet sound that was the human race,” we are told.  This is where Sad Robot Stories drops the reader, and it is Robot’s adventure that we follow. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Infinity’s Jukebox by Matthew Burnside



Passenger Side Books

32 pages, $4


 Review by Corey Pentoney


Matthew Burnside’s newest collection of short stories is, in a word, a trip.  A trip into the tentatively constructed heart of a boy who’s trying to understand his father, a trip into the remnants of what love means to a man who lost his wife, a trip to the very heart of literature.  The beautiful thing is that you’re not alone on your journey.  You have the jukebox to guide you.  It wasn’t until I finished the last story, “Literary Short Story: A Mad Lib,” that I began to understand the purpose of the inward-spiraling epigraph and the nickel that is glued in the center.  “To replay human existence—fine.  But to replay it in the way a drunk replays a corny tune pushing coins over and over into the jukebox?” he writes.  Almost every story in this collection felt strangely familiar to me, but with an odd and often beautifully compelling twist.

For example, the first story, “Passengers,” quickly calls to mind the drug-fueled rambling adventures of Hunter S. Thompson, but just when you begin to say “I’ve heard this all before,” Burnside hits you over the head with an iron skillet to remind you that you haven’t, to take a closer look.  Sometimes he achieves this with sentences as blunt instruments, the proverbial punches at the end of the story to make you rethink what you just read. Sometimes, and I believe more successfully, he brought me around with a stunning turn of phrase or detail that left me spinning like a coin on the countertop. My favorite story in the collection, “On the Benefits of a Lego Heart…,” achieves this by offering a unique glance into a familiar landscape: the heart of the abandoned child. This phrase at the end: “the way anything good could only ever be bought with equal but opposite suffering,” forced me to pause and re-evaluate the entire story. “Revival” does much the same for a man who has lost his wife, and is looking to escape his pain with a woman with “tarantula eyelashes” and a “tomahawk gaze.” Continue reading