[REVIEW] Standard Loneliness Package by Michael J. Seidlinger

Broken River Books, 2018



Author Michael J. Seidlinger has entered the poetry arena with a book that, although he mentions in its pages might be his last foray into the genre, will leave a mark with readers. Standard Loneliness Package is a collection of epistolary poems, a recipe book for loneliness, a bestiary of errors and regrets, and a deep, personal exploration of our innate ability to fail at connecting with others or sabotage any meaningful connection we someone manage to achieve.

What makes Standard Loneliness Package especial is not the people that are at the center of every poem but the way Seidlinger processes his role in the time period he spent/spends with that individual. His faults are at the core of the collection, exposed and raw, aching to be deconstructed and understood, blatantly questioning themselves, and wallowing in a combination of regret, loneliness, grief, and even a touch of sarcasm.

The poems in this collection are about every conceivable element of human interaction. In some, Seidlinger appears as victim. In others, he is clearly responsible for everything that went wrong. The result is a narrator that is constantly asking why things went wrong and answering his own questions (sometimes); a narrators that is at once victim and executioner, that confesses and apologizes before asking a rhetorical question and smirking at his own mischief:

Do you know, I bet you don’t

But do you know that every single time

Every single time

You knocked on my door

Or tried to use a credit card

To get into my room

I was there

Did you

I bet you didn’t

Standard Loneliness Package makes it easy to see that time is the great healer, and that it also sometimes acts as a microscope that allows us to study every small mistake we made. Seidlinger navigates the space between the past and the birth of every poem with grace, showing that he understands his own shortcomings but also explaining why some of the results he got were inevitable, and we this might just continue to be so. Furthermore, there is a hunger for change that pops up now and then, a realization that, once an error has been deconstructed and understood, there are ways to change it. However, there is something deeper, some profound understanding that we are the way we are and sometimes significant change is something that’s forever lost in the a sea of agitated stagnation. In “To Unknown (3),” we see this line of thinking clearly (and depressingly):

Why do I worry if these poems will be published

Do I quantify every single thing I care about

It is true

Every poem is an apology

It is true

Every apology is a poem I have trouble reading aloud

It is true

Every time I apologize

What I’m doing is hiding behind

The fact that I don’t know how to change

How to heal

How to show you that I can do better

It is true

This is the best I can do

It is true

The best I can do is never enough

It is true

To keep those I want close

It is true

To distance myself from those I shouldn’t keep

The last part of the book, which is a creative nonfiction piece retelling the month-long trip the author took across the United States as a social media experiment, breaks away from poetry in form but retains some of the preoccupations that plague the poems that precede it. Alone in a car for a month, moving from state to state and meeting people, Seidlinger was immersed in social media (even more than usual), and the writing that emerged from that experience is rich, deep, and breathtakingly personal. What is our relationship to social media? How is mediated communication processed in the soul? What is the true meaning of a “like”? What happens to those messages we send and are never answered? Why do we sometimes refuse to reply to a message? More than offer answers to these questions, the author delves into his own experience living for them in the confines of a car, the context of the trip, and the frame of his shattered life at the time the trip began. It ends up being a strange, somewhat touching finale to a book that celebrates the beauty that can come from writing about horrible things.

[REVIEW] The Möbius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone

Tin House Books, 2018



Bianca Stone’s The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is a tricky, multilayered poetry collection that lures readers in with its ease of access and wild, entertaining premise before slashing their throats with sharp doses of pain, truth, and a its pull-no-punches exploration of grief. The books door open into the loud, colorful immediacy of a burlesque purgatory where everyone is either watching of being watched, judging of being judge (by other and by the inescapable self), performing or being part/witnessing a performance. It looks, sounds, and feels like a festive place, but the underlying pain is as present as a bad rash on the face. Take, for example, the stripper in “Lap Dance”:

I think everyone’s glad I’m dead, said the stripper

with the caved-in face. Her fingers were bone and no

sinew. She flapped her arms at the two wrens

caught up in the rafters, staring down

on the empty dance hall. Chirps rained like sparks

from the electric saws in their hearts.

No one here is glad anyone is dead. But

there is a certain comfort in knowing

the dead can entertain us, if we wish.

The vivid, somewhat chaotic first third of the collection is an illustrated map of the place. However, the spatial specificity begins to fade away as the writing begins to tackle a plethora of themes that reach beyond the confines of the imaginary place. Soon death, math, pain, Emily Dickinson, memories, insecurities, and even murder show up to make the universe of the place richer and to obliterate any sense of safety the imaginary walls may have granted the reader. Eventually, the writing inhabits different spaces that range from pure memory to poems that read like (de/in)struction manuals for loss, which is the case with “How Not”:

Be completely dispassionate about the theoretical five stages.

This is an old death, but it’s your death. Complete the stages

in blurring fits of inebriation. Eat everything in sight. Fight

with your mother. Marry Ben in the woods. Fly across

the country. Stand in the street with the raging legless

angel. Hold a brick wall very close to your face.

The success of The Möbius Strip Club of Grief comes from Stone’s ability to constantly surprise and entertain. Her mother, memories, literature, (self)destruction, grief, and confusion are some of the elements that give the collection cohesion, but they are always dealt with differently, so turning the page is always a new adventure regardless of the elements being dealt with.

As the poems progress, the reader becomes discovers the mother as an almost omnipresent figure, the poet’s knack for phrases that turn around and loop themselves, the brevity of some of the strongest poems, and even the bizarre, chameleonic nature of the collection. Then reader becomes part of it. Part of it comes from the fact that there is only so much grief we can deal with before starting to feel it ourselves. The second reason is that, toward the last third of the book, the writing touches on the universal, on the hidden realities that affect us, inhabit us, and shape us. The perfect example is “Apes,” probably my favorite poem in the book:


If it happened at all

it was the apes who won,

shimmering stark-naked

and sitting a little apart from Adam,

who was deep into his clothing

the cuff links and soft leather,

pulling the zipper up Eve’s back

and she, clasping the bra shut like a jewelry box—


What to do with this mind?

Throw everything

into the fire and scream

into the internet

that there’s nothing to do

but stand in the dark recesses

throwing a bright red dodge ball

against the bone facade

and fall in and out of love

with suffering?

The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is unique in its structure and execution, and proves that Stone is a voice to be reckoned with, a writer who’s not afraid of suffering and blood, naked flesh and exposed emotion, weirdness and ennui. Now enter the club…if you dare.


Salt Houses author Hala Alyan talks Immigration Through Poetry and Her Upcoming Collection of Poems


Hala Alyan is an award-winning Palestinian American poet, novelist, and clinical psychologist and most recently, the author of Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). But after the long-form fiction, Alyan’s already back to working within poetry, a place she knows well–past collections include Atrium (2012), winner of the 2013 Arab American Book Award in Poetry, Four Cities (2015), and Hijra (Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.

I talked to Hala about the work, its thematic concerns, and her poetic process.

Laura Metter: Why poetry after a novel?

Hala Alyan: These pieces came organically after I was finished with Salt Houses and had sent the novel off to my publishers for editing. I wrote many of them during a trip to Marfa, Texas last year. I don’t usually plan which genre follows the other; actually, most of the time, I’m working on several projects at once. It helps me stay excited about what I’m working on.

LM: Is there a connection between these poems and your novel?

HA: My new collection is a meditation on the transforming landscapes of womanhood, wifedom, loss and exile. To a certain extent, both the collection and the novel use language as a cultural vehicle of sorts, trying to create a dialogue between two worlds: my American existence and my Arab one, exile and the rebuilding of life in its aftermath.

LM: What went into your process of selection or sharing?

HA: They were painful ones to write, but completing them felt particularly cathartic. Given the legacy of immigration and war in my ancestral homelands, I wanted to share poems that examine that migration, both literally and emotionally.

LM: How do these poems connect to yourself?

HA: They were all written during my actual twenty-ninth year, which was a strange and difficult and marvelous one. In many ways, this collection is my most honest, the one in which I am most transparently myself.

LM: Is there a theme?

HA: If I had to pick one, it would be—the creation of home when all one knows is exile and flight.

LM: What were some of your biggest challenges getting this book finished?

HA: In terms of Salt Houses, I would say discipline when it came to editing was particularly overwhelming. I would keep losing interest and want to start writing something new. I have the easiest time with the “freeflow” part of the writing process, and am most stumped by editing, rereading the same passages over and over. I get so bored…

LM: What helped you finish this collection?

HA: I was lucky enough to secure a couple of residencies over the last year that gave me enough time and space—not to mention access to nature and inspiring artists—to put the final touches on the manuscript.

LM: Do you see yourself continuing more with novels or poems?

HA: Hopefully both. The one thing I’m really excited about experimenting more with is non-fiction, especially personal essays.

LM: What do you want your audience to take away from this collection?

HA: Honesty requires a little fear, at least the way I do it. I’m hoping readers can recognize the truth in these pieces, that they felt urgent and necessary to write. Also, I hope I’ve done the narrative of immigration—as I experienced it in my family—justice.


Laura Metter is a young fictionist and poet based in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her poems and essays have appeared in Adanna Literary Journal and The Artifice among other magazines.


Below is an excerpt of Hala Alyan’s forthcoming poetry collection:


Dirty Girl


See, I knew I’d make my mama cry if I stole the earring and so into my pocket it went. I asked America to give


me the barbeque. A slow dance with a cowboy. Pop goes the grenade. Pop goes the Brooklyn jukebox. Give me male hands, oleander white, hard, earnest, your husband in the backseat of his own car, my jeans shoved down, the toxic plant you named your child after, a freeway by the amusement park that jilted girls speed across, windows rolled down, screaming bad songs at the top of their lungs.


After the new world. Before the New one. The Peruvian numerologist told me I’d be trailed by sevens until the day I died.

Everything worth nicking needs an explanation: I slept with one man because the moon, I slept with the other because who cares, we’re expats, the black rhinos are dying, the subway pastors can’t make me tell the truth. Tonight Z isn’t eating and five states away

I’m pouring a whiskey


I won’t drink.


I count the green lights. Those blue-eyed flowers your father brought when I couldn’t leave my bedroom. The rooftop, the weather, the subway empties its fist of me, the red salt of my fear. A chalky seven stamped on the pale face of the sleeping pill.                          What I mean to say is


I’m divisible only by myself.



Gospel: Texas


Poison ivy I

never got. My grandmother


asking the Burger King cashier

for pommes frites.


First shooting

star. First silverfish. First carrot


in snowball. Kansas on the

weekends, the blade


of I-35. Permission slips.

My mother


dressing me as a

pilgrim for a school trip.


Arabic word for girl

longer than


English word for

no. First valentine card.


First grasshopper.

The seventeen windows


of that simulated

colonial town,


peering in every

single one. Pretending


the air we churn

is butter.



The Female of the Species


They leave the country with gasping babies and suitcases

full of spices and cassettes. In airports,


they line themselves up like wine bottles.

The new city twinkles beneath an onion-moon.


Birds mistake the pebbles of glass on the

black asphalt for bread crumbs.




If I drink, I tell stories about the women I know.

They break dinner plates. They marry impulsively.


When I was a child I watched my aunt throw a halo

of spaghetti at my mother. I’m older than they were now.




In an old-new year, my cousin shouts ana bint Beirut

at the sleeping houses. She clatters up the stairs.


I never remember to tell her anything. Not the dream

where I can’t yell loud enough for her to stop running.


And the train comes. And the amar layers the stones

like lichen. How the best night of my life was the one


she danced with me in Paris, sharing a hostel bed,

and how sometimes you need one knife to carve another.




It’s raining in two cities at once. The Vendôme plaza

fills with water and the dream, the fountain, the moon


explodes open, so that Layal, Beirut last daughter,

can walk through the exit wound.

Best Books of 2017

The year is almost over and it’s time to revisit some of my favorite reads of the year. As with any list, this is not as extensive/inclusive/comprehensive as I’d like it to be, but having to do other things besides reading severely cuts into the amount of time I can spend inside books (if you have any leads on a gig that pays you to read whatever you want, get at me). In any case, this was a fantastic year. I made a list of best crime reads and one of best horror books, but some of the best books were in the enormous interstitial space between genres. Anyway, here are some books I hope didn’t fly under your radar:

Where the Sun Shines Out by Kevin Catalano. I was ready for this to be great, and it was, but the pain and violence in its pages blew me away. This is a narrative about loss, guilt, and surviving, but the way Catalano builds his vignettes allows him to show the minutiae of everyday living and the sharp edges of every failure.

Absolutely Golden by D. Foy. Funny, satirical, smart, and packed with snappy dialogue and characters that are at once cartoonish and too real, this is a book that, much like Patricide did last year, proves that Foy is one of the best in the business and perhaps one of the most electric voices in contemporary literary fiction.

I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) by Tatiana Ryckman. I met Tatiana when we read together at Malvern Books in Austin in late 2017. She read a chunk of this and it blew me away. I got the book that same night. Imagine your favorite philosopher deconstructing weird relationships while trying to simultaneously make you cringe in recognition and laugh at yourself. Well, this is what that philosopher would write. A short, powerful read that I will soon be reviewing here in its entirety, this was a blast of fresh air.

Itzá by Rios de la Luz. This short book destroys patriarchal notions of silence, abuse, and growth. Rios de la Luz wrote about a family of water brujas and in the process redefined bilingual bruja literature. This is a timely, heartfelt book that celebrates womanhood in a way that makes it necessary reading for every gender.

Pax Americana by Kurt Baumeister. With Trump in the White House, this novel is more than an entertaining look at the dangers of unchecked religion and politics. Yeah, call this one a warning that should be read by all. It’s also very entertaining and a superb addition to the impressive Stalking Horse Press catalog.

The River of Kings by Taylor Brown. I don’t want to imagine the amount of research that went into this book. However, I’m really happy that Brown did it, and that he turned everything he learned into a novel of interwoven narratives that is a celebration of a river, of people, and of language. This was so stunning that Brown immediately joined the ranks of “buy everything he publishes authors” before I’d reach the tenth chapter.

Human Trees by Matthew Revert. If Nicolas Winding Refn, Quentin Tarantino, and David Lynch collaborated on a film, the resulting piece of cinema would probably approximate the style of Revert’s prose. Weird? Yup. Smart? Very. Beautiful? Without a doubt. It seems Revert can do it all, and this is his best so far.

In The River by Jeremy Robert Johnson. The simple story of a father and son going fishing somehow morphs into a soul-shattering tale of anxiety, loss, and vengeance wrapped in a surreal narrative about the things that can keep a person between this world and the next. Johnson is a maestro of the weird and one of the best writers in bizarro, crime, and horror, but this one erases all of those genres and makes him simply one of the best.

The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan. A slice of Americana through the McClanahan lens. Devastating and hilarious. Too real to be fiction and too well written to be true. Original, raw, and honest. Every new McClanahan books offers something special, and this one might be his best yet.

In the Distance by Hernán Díaz. This is the perfect marriage of adventure and literary fiction. The sprawling narrative covers an entire lifetime of traveling and growing, and it always stays fresh and exciting. At times cruel and depressing, but always a pleasure to read. I hope we see much more Díaz in translation soon.

Beneath the Spanish by Victor Hernández Cruz. Read the introduction and you’ll be sold on the entire book. Multiculturalism is fertile ground for poetry, and Hernández Cruz is an expert at feeding that space with his biography and knowledge and then extracting touching, rich poems and short pieces that dance between poetry, flash fiction, and memoir.

Some other outstanding books I read this year:

Dumbheart / Stupidface by Cooper Wilhelm

Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools by Peter Markus

Something to Do With Self-Hate by Brian Alan Ellis

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi



[REVIEW] Theia Mania by Dallas Athent

Words in a book are more useful than the sentences they spell out. They can make beautiful shapes and patterns on a page that greatly enhance the messages they convey. Set those printed shapes and patterns beside hand-drawn artwork that compliments them, and you get a dynamic home for great poetry. Such is the construction of Dallas Athent’s new 66-page poetic tome, Theia Mania, with illustrations by Maria Pavlovska, and book design by Eve Siegel.
The book’s launch event was recently held (April 30) at Pavlovska’s well-lit high-ceiling studio at Mana Contemporary in uptown Jersey City, New Jersey. There, visitors got a closer look at the original abstract sketches used for her art/poetry collaboration with Athent. Those buying the book online via the publisher, AntiSentiMental Society (an imprint of Off the Park Press), will find a short paragraph describing the sketches as “delicately scrawled thread-like drawings that seem to mimic the internal landscapes described and experienced in these poems.”  The original studio wall-hugging illustrations range from toweringly large to book-sized in scale — an appropriate setting for the event’s lineup of poetry-reciting authors, which included Athent, AntiSentiMental Society editor Ronna Lebo, Brooklyn writer and filmmaker Prospero Vega, PANK senior editor Chris Campanioni, and culture chronicler Anthony Haden-Guest. It was the title of Haden-Guest’s memoir about Studio 54 (The Last Party) that helped inspire the launch event’s title: “Theia Mania: The Last Book Launch on Earth.” Indeed, the theme of Athent’s poems echo Studio 54’s long-ago aspiration to host a mix of the sublime and the profane in one swirling space. Hence the the English translation of the book’s ancient Greek title: “divine madness.”
A clue to that aspiration is the oversized presence of thick black words “Degenerate Deity” on page one. Flip a few leaves, and page 5 holds perhaps the most succinct poetic expression of that enigmatic opener:
i am a venus rising.
a venus rising
from the rain fell
to the gutter.
i pick pennies off
the ground
and buy keebler 
wafers from the
here we call them
i am a scumbag
The shapes of such paragraphs live on the book’s right-hand pages — with designer Eve Siegel intuitively moving and morphing word groups around the white space to mimic Pavlovska’s left-page illustrations. Only on page 58 do the words finally cross the spine to stand beside a slim vertical illustration that resembles a dark tower of smudged letters. Siegel situates the nearby poetry lines in similar tight paragraphs, including Athent’s mini-ode to English artist friend Natascha Young:
SO I go to England. Where I belong. I see
the gray and brick and towers of mirth and
gloom. I feel the powers of nations rolling on
history and the river Thames, bones washed
ashore and discarded. And I feel rich. Richer
than a Sulton. There are clocks that could
have paid for my college. There are canes
with marble bells for handles that only a
diplomat could be seen with. We’re so drunk,
Tascha and I. My spirit: Tascha. The mother
of this earth and then some: Tascha. Project
Venus: Tascha. We had all the wine in the
world. All the wine on the table. And then we
had cheese.
“those were dark days.”
“those were dark days.”
those were dark days,
we speak of Wolverhampton.
Yet, Theia Mania’s recurring flirtation with dark themes is not of the naval-gazing goth variety — rather, they revel in electric-lit cityscapes of buzzing shadows, where the liquor-infused nightlife drives a writhing kinetic energy that is intoxicating and addictive. Athent emphasizes her modern urban themes with a sprinkling of smartphone shorthand, the text-worthy symbols seeming like printed sisters to their spoken siblings:
Pictures of an Atlas
playing baseball with a
semi-automatic weapon and the ball = my <3
This is what it means to be Atlas
This is what it means to be Dallas
The divine madness of Theia Mania’s many poetic meanings are allowed to swirl and soar thanks to a very effectively-structured trio-collaboration between author, artist, and designer. The artwork by itself is resonant but abstract. The poems, powerful but shaped as sentences. Together, and jointly reshaped with every turned-over leaf, the resonance and power of the combined product jumps across the pages… and off of them.
Christian Niedan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. He is co-coordinator of Brooklyn events for literary nonprofit Nomadic Press.

[REVIEW] The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi


Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017


Chiwan Choi’s The Yellow House is one of those rare poetry collections that simultaneously serves as a manifesto of Otherness, a heartfelt and brutally honest journal of the most crucial moments of the poet’s life, and a celebration of the feelings, moments, and places that great poetry can invoke even when the writing itself is rooted in earthy, memory-tinged simplicity. As if that wasn’t enough, the collection is also an enjoyable recounting of how Choi found himself; a surprisingly cinematic series of vignettes that present the reader with loss, love, desire, friendship, family, and the city of Los Angeles.

The Yellow House opens with a simple three-line declaration that manages to set the mood for the rest of the collection while also proving themselves contradictory:

i chose poetry
over honesty
then lived this unremarkable life.

On one hand, Choi lets us know that there was a point in the journey of his life where a decision had to be made, and poetry won. However, the second line attempts to extract honesty from the process, and the poems that follow it prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Choi’s writing is very personal and honest. Furthermore, the word unremarkable is the exact opposite of what’s presented in this collection; poems filled with the agonies of every coming-of-age tale, the magic of a childhood spent navigating different cultures, and nights spent in a massive, violent, strange city that tends to become part of those who spend enough time in it. After reading the book, coming back to those three lines is crucial because they reveal the playful man behind the poems and let us know that we were on a sad, humorous, carefully constructed trip from the very first page.

Choi’s style is a mixture of sincere sharing and words being used to deal with certain memories. However, more important than his approachable, enjoyable style is the vulnerability Choi brings to the page. From dealing with death to plucking pieces of life that were happening in 1980, Choi treats his subjects and his writing with the same openness, and that candor translates into beautiful poetry:

this is stupid and emotional
and not poetic at all,
but life is so weird and beautiful
and i can’t tell whether it’s slipping away
or if it’s drowning me.
i can’t get out of bed
and if there was skin next to me
i would bury all the feelings in it
to some 80s soundtrack
like a non-stop loop
of the best of the church.

There is a yellow house in The Yellow House, and its appearances are just one of the many elements of cohesion that make this a very complete collection. The other cohesive elements are love, loss, memory, dreams, the role of parents, and the equal importance of things said and things left unsaid. Ultimately, the beauty of The Yellow House is that is personal and universal, and that allows the reader to recognize Choi for what he is: a survivor who’s seen many things, a son, and a man concerned with recognizing the things that came before and made him who he is now:

on the porch
drinking barley tea so my legs won’t fail
(that’s what mother says)
and, for a moment,
looking at my hand.
it is still.
sometimes it shakes,
sometimes it holds
the world.

On the most basic level, The Yellow House works because it is, simply put, beautiful poetry. Devastatingly beautiful. However, for those who care about the details of the genre, Choi also demonstrates a unique understanding of the way blank space can affect his message as well as a sense of rhythm that gives his work a particular flavor. These last elements make this collection a must read for fans of language and poetry and a superb addition to the Civil Coping Mechanisms catalog, which already includes some of the best contemporary poetry collections: There Should be Flowers by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Lady Be Good by Lauren Hilger, and The Book of Endless Sleepovers by Henry Hoke, to name a few.




killerWhether she’s writing about the endless curiosity of the body, the challenges that accompany being a feminist who isn’t afraid to defend her autonomy, the humor of living in a semi-rural area, or the wisdom of dogs, Kimmy Walters will delight you.

Walters is young—26, to be precise—so Millennials especially will recognize themselves in Killer’s pages. Walters’ debut poetry volume, Uptalk, was published in 2015, also by Bottlecap Press. At this rate, poetry connoisseurs will have much to look forward to.

Walters’ is the kind of poetry you can’t help but want to read, even when you’re falling asleep with the bedside lamp on. It’s the kind of poetry you read aloud to your friends because you just can’t keep it to yourself. The kind of poetry you want to read at stoplights even though it would pain you to be caught in the midst of a poem when the light changes.

While some modern poets default to snark, Walters is confident enough in her poetry to let each piece speak for itself rather than forcing the reader toward a quick, easy, often moralistic conclusion. Killer asks the reader only to observe and acknowledge—what readers glean beyond that is entirely their own.

Though the entire volume is captivating, the standout poems are “Good Morning, I Am Not Going to Commit Suicide Today,” “Does Your Soulmate Speak English,” “Marrying a Husband,” “Poem About How Little Affection I Had for Him,” “Giving Blood,” “The Water Was Filled With Swans,” “People Person” and, of course, the namesake, “Killer.”

I talked to Walters about her writing process and how her life experiences have informed her work.

Shunnarah: One of the things I most enjoyed about Killer is that while your poems are flush with meaning, they’re also extremely enjoyable on the surface level. Was the accessibility of your work always important to you? Did you ever have a memorable moment of throwing your hands in the air in frustration while reading a poem and think, “What does it all mean?” and vow not to make anyone do that?

Walters: Thank you! I’m not sure I ever consciously decided I wanted my writing to be accessible–I just didn’t have any interest in writing anything super opaque. I don’t get frustrated with needlessly complex writing so much as I get disinterested. I start looking around like “What else is going on?” I’m not going to spend a lot of time with a page that’s not really trying to communicate with me, and neither are most people.

Shunnarah: In the poem “Killer,” for which the collection is named, you speculate there may have been a killer who previously lived in your residence. Have you learned more about the house’s history since writing that poem?

Walters: I just looked up the house that poem was based on in Google Street View and there is a single black folding chair on the porch. Seems ominous…

It’s possible a killer lived there. That whole town was haunted as hell. One time my roommate and I slept downstairs in sleeping bags so we could try to get an overnight audio recording of the upstairs ghost. It was inconclusive.

Shunnarah: A number of the poems in Killer have a dark, subtle humor that is rendered sublimely in the text. I also noticed the recurring theme of dogs, creatures who manage to be simultaneously sage and goofy. Tell me more about your sense of humor and how it has developed in your poetry.

Walters: I’ve been depressed for a large portion of my life, and I dealt with it by constantly telling myself jokes. For a long time I thought that’s what everyone’s interior monologue was like. My sense of humor comes from years and years of trying to distract myself from being sad.

Shunnarah: You studied linguistics in college—deviating from the more common path of studying English literature or creative writing. Tell me more about how the study of linguistics gave you insight into language and influenced your poetry.

Walters: I didn’t have a lot of direction when I entered college, but the adults around me warned me against pursuing an English degree because they thought I wouldn’t be able to get a job. (I later found that it’s not easier to get a job with a linguistics degree, and a lot of people don’t know what linguistics is.)

It’s kind of an accident that I ended up with this degree, but it was a good course of study for me. I’ve always been interested in what language is capable of, its history, and how it changes. Studying linguistics definitely encouraged me to be more playful with language. The first thing you get taught in an introductory linguistics class is that you need to stop being such an asshole about language, which was true for me and probably all of my classmates.

Shunnarah: You’ve talked extensively about your use of social media as a poetic medium—namely making poetry out of the tweets from the now defunct horse enthusiast bot account, @horse_ebooks—so here’s the obligatory social media question. Many fans of your poetry found you via Twitter and Tumblr. Do you think blogging and social media, particularly Twitter because it requires brevity, have helped guide people to modern poetry?

Walters: When I was a tween, the thing to do at my school was to keep a blog, so I’ve been writing online for about 13 years. Connecting with people online is easier and makes me less anxious than trying to meet people other ways, and the way I’ve connected with people is by sharing writing or art.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of practice creating things that I want people to see. I took to Twitter quickly because I’m usually brief anyway. Twitter’s character limit is a constraint on writing the same way that the rules of haiku are. I mean, like anyone, I’ve tweeted “who up?” but hella old poems essentially boil down to “who up?” too. It’s one of the Big Questions.

The internet is a buffet and I am going hog wild on it. It’s so easy to sample things—I read articles online about subjects I’d never think to actually buy a book about. That may be where some of the interest in poetry is coming from. Someone who’d never browse the poetry section of a bookstore might have a poem come across their feed on Twitter or Facebook and find that they like it. Then they’ll come across a tidbit about food science or body language and like that too. We take in so much information; some of it’s gonna be poetry.

Shunnarah: Killer is your second collection of poetry, the first being Uptalk, which was also published by Bottlecap Press. In what ways have you evolved as a poet from Uptalk to Killer?

Walters: I think I was more focused while writing Killer, and generally had a better idea of what I was doing. I felt more confident writing, because I knew that people had responded positively to my work, and made quicker, less self-conscious decisions. The style is similar, but tighter, I feel.

Shunnarah: What are you working on now?

Walters: I’m figuring that out! I’ve just been writing poems and waiting for some theme to hijack my life so I can write another book.

Mandy Shunnarah is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio, though Birmingham, Alabama, will always have her heart. Her creative nonfiction essays and book reviews have appeared in The Missing Slate, Entropy Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and The New Southerner Magazine, where she won Honorable Mention in their 2016 contest. You can read more of her work at her website, OffTheBeatenShelf.com.





Last year was such an outstanding year for literature that a top ten list just wouldn’t cut it. Horror, literary fiction, poetry, nonfiction, noir; every conceivable genre produced at least a couple of gems that deserve to be on this list. I started the year aiming to read 200 books, which is something I try to do every year. Work, looking for work, too many long books, and writing a dissertation were all elements that got in the way. That being said, I managed to read about 110 books, and here are the best 21 in no particular order:


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21. Floodgate by Johnny Shaw. This was fast, fun to read, packed with more action than a superhero movie, and showed a level of worldbuilding that makes it a novel that should be used to teach it. Shaw can do crime, violence, intrigue, and comedy, and all of those can be found in spades here.




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20. Death Confetti: Pickers, Punks, and Transit Ghosts in Portland, Oregon by Jennifer Robin. Robin is a performer, writer, and traveler whose life definitely belongs to the small group of those that should be written about. This collection of nonfiction takes place mostly in the streets, on public transportation, and in bars across Portland. The people and situations the author encounters are enough to make it a recommended read, but the outstanding and commanding way in which Robin writes about them make it an absolute must and earn the book a spot on this list.

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19. Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes. One of the first authors to come to mind when thinking about writers who can move in and out of a plethora of genres while simultaneously sounding fresh and unique, Beukes has become a household name thanks to novels that are a bizarre, scary, wildly entertaining mix of science fiction, crime, and horror, and this collection offers more of that.

Image result for bruja wendy ortiz18. Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz. What Ortiz does for the memoir here is comparable to what Flaubert’s Madam Bovary did for modern realist narration or what Capote’s In Cold Blood did for the nonfiction novel. Simply put, Ortiz’s “dreamoir” is a new thing and this book will be the starting point for a movement as well as the go-text for all upcoming memoirs that inhabit the interstitial space between reality, memory, very personal surrealism, and dreams.


Image result for magic city gospel17. Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones. Going into a poetry collection without being familiar with the author’s work is always an adventure. With this book, the adventure yielded a treasure trove of southern imagery, a screaming celebration of roots and culture, and an unapologetically raw view of the female African American experience. This is brave, beautiful, necessary poetry that should be taught in schools and that undoubtedly becomes more important with each dumb step the country takes backwards.

Image result for a collapse of horses by brian evenson16. A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson. Evenson is one of the most talented living writers in the world, and this collection is full of stories in which he proves it time and time again. Sad, strange, creepy, touching, surreal, scary; if you can think it or feel it, Evenson does it here. The best short story collection of 2016 and yet another superb entry into the oeuvre of a man who seems to only get impossibly better with each new offering.

Image result for black wings has my angel15. Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Haze. The folks at the New York Review of Books know how to pick their classics, and this one is my favorite so far. A narrative that still resonates in modern noir’s DNA, this is a dark, twisted tale of love, violence, secret agendas, and the way plans have a tendency to crumble.

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14. Witch Hunt by Juliet Escoria. This book is full of the kind of poetry that reaches deep inside you, pulls out the ugliest things you have to offer, and then slaps you in the face with them, and Escoria does it all just by sharing her own life. Full of heartbreak, broken relationships, and crippling realizations, this book is what happens when a talented author decides nothing in her past is sacred and exorcises the demons by writing them out.


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13. The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Scott McClanahan and Ricardo Cavolo. This is the only graphic book on the list, and it’s more of a surreal biography than a novel. Touching and magical, Cavolo’s art and MacClanahan’s words combine perfectly to offer readers a look inside the brain and soul of an outstanding artist tortured by mental illness and haunted by demons most of us can’t even begin to fathom.

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12. The Book of Endless Sleepovers by Henry Hoke. Sometimes a poet is capable of stuffing his entire life into a book, and that’s exactly what Hoke did here. The pain, awkwardness, drama, and discoveries of a child transform into the suffering, joy, and blossoming sexuality of a young man, and all of it is filtered through the author’s sharp mind and tender heart. By the time I was done with this, I wanted to ask a million questions, congratulate Hoke a million times on his accomplishment, and give him a million hugs.

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11. Chicano Blood Transfusion by Edward Vidaurre. El barrio has a heart that spans the globe, and Vidaurre taps into it to write poesía with a lot of truth and feeling. Readers will find the usual themes here, but also a range of new ones and different, unique experiences and memories. La poesía del barrio has a new voice in Vidaurre, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.



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10. Albina and the Dog-Men by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Just like no film director can compare their work to the bizarre visions created by Jodorowsky, no author can claim to bring together poetry, love narratives, and surrealism to the page the way he does. This is a long, sexualized, mythological fever dream that fits in perfectly with everything Jodoroswky has given us in his long, illustrious career.

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9. Glue by Constance Ann Fitzgerald. I read this book on my phone while sitting in my car. I didn’t plan on that, but the first few pages hooked me and the rest is history. This is a powerful, autobiographical narrative that deals with loss and coping. Fitzgerald shines at showing us that being broken and not knowing how to handle things is a perfectly normal part of being human.
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8. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones. Sure, this is a werewolf novel, but it’s also an outstanding noir, a fantastic YA narrative, an emotional family saga, and a great road trip tale. Jones has always managed to work in many genres at once, and this one stands amongst his best work to date, which is saying a lot.


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7. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay. Anguish and loss are at the core of this creepy narrative. The disappearance of a young son is the vehicle Tremblay uses to scare readers, but it’s also the event he uses to deconstruct the way humans (re)act under pressure and how an event can make people collapse. This is another author than only gets better with each new book, and I eagerly await whatever he puts out next.



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6. The Fisherman by John Langan. I’ll keep this one short: the mythos book that will be talked about and discussed twenty years from now? This one.

Image result for Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

5. I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas. A scathing academic deconstruction of the Lovecraftian scene and its problems would collect dust in university libraries across the country, so instead of doing that, Mamatas wrapped it all up in a wildly entertaining and surprisingly funny novel about a murder at a Lovecraftian convention. If you care about the destruction of racism and misogyny but don’t mind doing it with a smile on your face, this book is for you.

Image result for Novi Sad by Jeff Jackson

4. Novi Sad by Jeff Jackson. Post-apocalyptic fiction done right. Tense, gloomy, strange, and poetic. This is the shortest novella on this list, and it packs as big a punch as anything else on this list.




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3. Patricide by D. Foy. The best literary novel of 2016. Smart, fast, violent, philosophical, and possessing a depth that most literary fiction can only dream of. Foy is an author whose work will be talked about a lot in the near future. I suggest to start reading him now.





Image result for Swarm Theory by Christine Rice.2. Swarm Theory by Christine Rice. I could write ten pages on the way Rice weaved together a narrative about a whole town and all its denizens, but that would probably bore you. Instead, I’ll say this: Swarm Theory is the most impressive book about a town/plethora of characters that I’ve read since devouring Camilo Jose Cela’s The Hive, and remember that Cela got a Nobel in Literature in 1989.

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1. The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock. Along with Jones and Evenson, Pollock is a national treasure whose work constantly mesmerizes readers. Hilarious, vicious, filthy, and smart, this story of brotherhood, death, and crime was one of the few true literary gems published by one of the Big Five in 2016.




Artist’s Statement: 

Changing the format of a poem from visual (reading) to visual (video) and auditory (spoken word) stretched my imagination and forced me to rely on intuition, friends, and my theatre training. My poetry writing tends to start with a small idea or phrase, and then goes onwards with no clear direction in mind, mixing metaphors, and ending eventually when there is not much steam left to go on. In my everyday life, I tend to have more direction with the same result- stopping when I run out of steam. In this case, I had already completed this step because the poem, which acted as the foundation, was already written. The small idea, identity and identifiers/labels, had coal thrown on its fire, and the steam powered it on for 5 pages. I finished the poem, reflected on its exploration of how one identity for an entire person is minimizing because people are inherently intersectional–“i am at the intersection of all my identities”–and set the poem to rest. So, how did I find a way to further explore a piece that I felt was finished?

In a class I’m currently taking, we spend a lot of time discussing media as a form of performance, and how this type of performance, in a Warholian way, either is or is not a reflection of our truth. So, my first idea was to film myself looking in the mirror in order to turn a private moment of performance public. Publicizing intimacy normalizes it, and allows an audience to feel personally understood. Next I thought of writing my identity labels on my body. Originally I wanted them to circle my neck like a noose, and then up onto my face like a tool of asphyxiation. However, I ultimately decided against that idea because of simple practicality and the worry of breaking out even more–maybe “vain” should have been a title in that list. In any case, I now had a new idea to further my work: the inability to change how others perceive you visually i.e. based on skin color, acne, etc.

With this idea in mind, I mapped out what the camera would be showing the audience for each beat of the poem, bringing out images in the poem more clearly and concretely. Once I had planned each beat, I knew I could not do this project myself. I am not a drawing artist, and I couldn’t pan around my own body. I reached out to 2 friends of mine who do have these talents, and they were extremely helpful, doing their best to help me achieve my vision. The process mirrored my theatre work, meaning that it was collaborative. I gave Ray a lot of liberty to draw the pictures however she wanted, which ended up with a beautiful result going down my spine. The filming went a similar way. Jen apologized for her shaky hands and not getting the timing exactly right, but I assured her that all small flaws could be embraced because the poem is not about being perfect, but rather about falling apart at the seams. The video both adds to this idea, but also contrasts it: showing me free of labels in the end, no longer dictated by the text of the poem. The last shot is very similar to the first because the text mirrors itself, but at the end the “i” words do not make me blink because I am controlling my own identity and what you see of me when.

The audio experience of the poem–my harsh assonance and stabbing pronunciations, contrasted with the Chopin piece–are used to further the contrast of the visual with the text. My voice reflects the uncontrollable spiral of self-doubt and the overwhelming power of others’ impressions. However, self-doubt is often internal. The most seemingly stable, happy person can be torn apart internally. And that is the function of the song- to reflect the external performance of someone struggling to come to terms with their identities’ intersections.


Jamie Lowenstein is a poet and actor based in New York City currently at Pace University in its International Performance Ensemble. He’s interested in diverse stories, especially within the queer community.