Sebastian Matthews

Making It Stick:

A Scattershot Overview of Six New Books

Radiogenesis, Thomas Rain Crowe (Main Street Rag), 79 pgs.,
ISBN 1599480824, $12.99

All-American Poem, Matthew Dickman (Copper Canyon Press),
96 pgs., ISBN 097763954, $11.20

More than Friends, Sarah Holbrook & Allan Wolf (Wordsong),
64 pgs., ISBN 1590785874, $16.95

Under the Sun, Glenis Redmond (Main Street Rag), 100 pgs.,
ISBN 1599481332, $14.00

Body of the World, Sam Taylor (Au Sable Press), 120 pgs.,
ISBN 1931337268, $14.00

Capturing the Dead, Daniel Nathan Terry (NFSPS Press),
Rochester Hills, MI,


An impartial reader of poetry I am not. Too busy and too lazy to
make an honest attempt at being a cultural gatekeeper, I dip into
the books that come across my desk, that people hand me, that
catch my eye on bookstore shelves. I give them all my best attention,
but a few grab me by the lapels, sit me down, exhort me to
slow down and read cover to cover. I chance upon a book of
poems before I fall into it. I can’t pretend to have the authority to
grade a book of poems or rank a poet. As a reviewer, I could care
less what school’s boulevard of trees a poet walks under. Instead, I
try to report on a book’s features, point at some of the highlights,
loft up a few lovely sets of lines. My hope: to inspire that rare
breed, the poetry reader, to pick up the book and find a way in.

The editor Don Marquis once likened the publication of a first
book of poems to a feather thrown into the Grand Canyon. That’s
about the volume of noise it will receive, how small and far off a
splash it will make. On the other hand, it has also been said that a
volume of poetry has a two year shelf life before it falls out of circulation.
It’s one of poetry’s few publishing perks (along with being
called a “young” poet into your forties). Tortoise to the novel’s
hare, a book of poems must run a marathon in order to win its
readers, its reviews. If a success, the book sells a few hundred
copies and accumulates admirers. Most poetry collections never
find their way into readers’ sweaty hands.

That said, here are a few books that caught my attention.


Sam Taylor’s Body of the World has been on my shelf since it was
sent out for review nearly three years ago. Despite a cool title and a
killer Paul Klee painting on the cover, I somehow never took
notice. But a few small coincidences later and I had the book on
my desk. Once in, I quickly came to love Taylor’s raw and passionate
poems—for their earthy immediacy, their charged language,
their sense of the importance of the image and its events, their mystical
leanings. The voice is so commanding, it’s hard to believe it’s
his first!

Joseph Stroud says it this way: “Taylor’s poems enact, they do not
simply describe or reflect.” I whole-heartedly agree. Take, for
instance, “Accident,” which begins:

          A beacon moving through the darkest crime scene,
          my friend said when I told him I didn’t know
          what love was. Two months later, Joel woke up
          reclined in a truck that had no doors or windshield,
          his left shoe missing, the driver’s seat beside him
          empty. Somebody was calling his name—

The friend’s love has died in the accident and the friend—as well
as the poem’s narrator—struggles to comprehend the fullness of
this reality. The poem moves forward, one shocked and shocking
step at a time; the friend returns a few days later to the scene of the
accident to find:

          …on a sun-washed hill, beneath a tall pine
          her boot, standing upright, still laced and tied.

Some poets write strong openings, others gather their forces for the
end, and a few, like Taylor, manage both. In “Postscript,” he
begins: “It’s not words we need tonight, but the antidote/ to what
has already been said.” Here’s one of his clever endings, this one
concluding the directive-laced “Coda: For Whom the Bell Tolls”:

          This message will now be repeated twice.
          You may exit at any time by pressing zero.

At the start of “Human Geography,” Taylor proclaims “Today I
walked over a real mountain. /With real feet.” He’s not just being
cute. Throughout Body of the World, Taylor brings the reader back
to the body and, through the body, back out into the world.

You don’t have to look far; the book’s opening salvo, “Surfacing,”
makes this preoccupation—his own private epistemology—abundantly

          Turning over in sleep, the wavering edges of a body,
          delicate as filo dough, the folds
          that endlessly encircle—
          made of four story buildings;
          the hills of San Francisco;
          construction workers pacing with orange cones…

What seems a solitary sleeper morphs into a general landscape that
solidifies into a cityscape that soon becomes peopled and, by
poem’s end, includes “the man asleep/ on a grate, Lycea and
Grand, where the merciful steam of hell escapes/ to keep him
alive…” True to his code, Taylor chooses to extend this mythopoetic
ode to include

                              …also the waning moon,
          the paper napkin in the wind.


Daniel Nathan Terry’s Capturing the Dead is an ambitious book,
made more so by it being this young writer’s first. As with A. Van
Jordan’s M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, this novelistic collection speaks in a
chorus of voices, seen through a battalion of eyes. By conjuring the
war photographer Noah Williams, a “composite of the hundreds of
unknown photographers,” Terry has found a way to re-enter the
Civil War—as an embedded journalist, as an angel:

          I can see nothing
          as it is without grieving
          for what was

It’s no coincidence that Whitman makes an appearance in these
pages. In “The Good Gray Poet,” Whitman

                                        …walks among the wounded
          gathered at the commandeered mansion that serves
          as a field hospital. He looks like a farmer—wide brimmed hat,

          baggy clothes, a beard like pipe smoke…

With a “well-worn copy” of Leaves of Grass in his pocket, the
young war photographer leaves the poet to his nursing work, allowing
“this moment / fall away.” Both Whitman and Terry recognize
the different ways to capture, and console, the dead and dying.


Is it a new trend that books of poems are now in need of explanatory
intros, end notes and bibliographies? Hard to say, but I for one
enjoy this brand of biblio architecture. A book like Capturing the
Dead definitely needs it. Terry frames his series of war poems by
titling his sections to convey the step-by-step photography process—
“exposure,” “developing the negative,” etc. Even the first poem
(“The First Lincoln Portrait—February 27, 1860”) provides historical
perspective by showing Abraham Lincoln being manipulated by
master photographer Matthew Brady into a “presidential” pose:

                              …Finally, I asked if I could arrange his collar.
          Lincoln laughed: I see you want to shorten my neck.
          He pulled the collar up beneath his chin.
          It did the job…

Because this is as much a book about photography as it is about
war, Terry uses a variety of poetic and narrative techniques to fix his
images. Many of the poems are written as persona poems, with a
variety of voices speaking their truths, while others show themselves
visually. Here, in its entirety, is “Still Life Outside the Surgeon’s Tent
(Fredericksburg),” Terry’s literary version of a snapshot (both a tip
of the hat to Dr. Williams and a leap into the technological future):

          A white-enameled
          wash pan—

          the kind you bathe
          babies in—

          with severed feet.

There’s a growing power to the book’s accumulation of poems and
images, an exciting inevitability to history, so that “Freed Slaves in
Richmond, Virginia—1865” carries the promise of all the captured
moments before it. Here’s the poem’s speaker, Mrs. Athena
Thomas, closing the poem:

          No white man gonna make them
          be still. They ain’t even waiting

          for the camera. They already
          movin’ on.

With the publication of Capturing the Dead, Terry has become one
of our generation’s literary seekers: walking among the wounded,
doing his best to attend to the living and the dead. Read together,
Taylor and Terry, can be seen as a part of a larger wave of poets
turning from the post-post-modern trap of overthink and spun
arabesques that most younger poets find themselves in. Theirs is
the “new sincerity,” as Matt Hart has called it. Let’s hope so.


Matthew Dickman’s debut collection, All-American Poem, will be
out by the time this issue comes out. A winner of the prestigious
American Poetry Review/Honickman first book prize, All-
American Poem will be available from Copper Canyon Press.
Dickman is a fantastic, open-hearted poet. His poems sing and talk
and babble and seduce and brag and yodel. They’re usually two to
three pages long with long lines, ample images and wild metaphors.
He talks about Lowell and Herbert and Sappho and Byron alongside
Jay-Z and Patti Smith and Elvis and Willie Nelson. The poem’s
voices are colloquial and open, smart and generous. And, man,
these poems swing! Here is the opening to “Amigos”:

          When money will have nothing to do with me,
          when the only voice I hear is my own
          and all my books are having a laugh at my expense—
          especially Lowell
          who doesn’t think I am a man at all—
          I go to the café and sit among my amigos.

I hear a lot of O’Hara in Dickman—Koch and Ginsberg too. The
associative jumps, the pop references, the Whitmanesque litany.
Check out the last lines to his virtuosic “Love”:

          I know a man who loves tanks so much
          he wishes he had one
          to pick up the groceries, drive
          his wife to work, drop his daughter off
          at school with her Little Mermaid
          lunch box, a note
          hidden inside, next to the apple, folded
          with a love that can be translated into any language: I hope
          you do not suffer.

You can hear the same wild mind at work in “The Black Album”:

          The more I listen to Jay-Z
          the more I’m reminded of Led Zeppelin,
          The Stones, how they begin to live
          the same life. How they need each other like organs
          from a greater body. And then there are the black
          keys Mr. Mozart bent into sound
          so the people in the castle would have something
          to move them, when outside the sky was black
          and so was the moor, someone walking
          across it, lost in his own suffering,
          but a part of everything, the bog, the moon, the man
          on the moon with his black dinner jacket, his teeth
          bright-black and earth below with its factories
          pumping like a dog’s heart pumps after its owner
          drives up, opens the door, calls out its name.

But Dickman’s not just a fantastic rapper of the Word. He’s also an
old school romantic, a gentle soul, a lover not a fighter. Here’s
Dickman crooning at the end of “Slow Dance,” one of my

          When the woman I’m sleeping with
          stands naked in the bathroom,
          brushing her teeth, the slow dance of ritual is being spit
          into the sink. There is no one to save us
          because there is no need to be saved.
          I’ve hurt you. I’ve loved you. I’ve mowed
          the front yard. When the stranger wearing a shear white dress
          covered in a million beads
          comes toward me like an over-sexed chandelier suddenly come to life,
          I take her hand in mine. I spin her out
          and bring her in. This is the almond grove
          in the dark slow dance.
          It is what we should be doing right now. Scrapping
          for joy. The haiku and honey. The orange and orangutang slow dance.

Tony Hoagland says it best: “Among young American poets,
Matthew Dickman has some of the deepest pockets—into which
he reaches, and pulls out trenchcoat mafias, sex toys, gorillas,
Barnes and Nobles, Lord Byron, soul songs, declarations of love
and hate. It is his big, encyclopedic New York School heart, and his
understanding that poetry is about giving away, that makes his
poems seem like a cornucopia of human nature, and vice versa.”


Both Sarah Holbrook and Allan Wolf have made strong careers as
writers for Young Readers. They are also performance poets who
have been writing and performing for years. Both have authored
books about community-based, slam poetry and poetic forms. This
is their first collaboration, however, a terrific collection of back-and-
forth poems written by fictional teenagers who fall in and out
of love.

The book starts off, appropriately, with the paired poems “What
Do You Do When She Looks at You?” and “What Do You Do
When He Looks at You?” Wolf’s young Romeo goes first:

          Become unglued
          and crimson-hued?
          Turn away,
          afraid to stare?
          Bury your face
          in a biology book?

          Or return the look?

The poem goes on this vein, using “Or return the look?” as a
refrain. Then Holbrook’s ingénue takes her turn:

          For sure, if he’s looking here’s the rule:
          Stand tall, inhale and tummy-hold, then try
          to sneak a peak but still main your cool.
          Be subtle, private, ask your friends to spy.

As you can hear, Holbrook is countering Wolf’s free verse with the
sonnet form. These back and forth voices—and forms—create not
just a dialogue between the two lovers but also invites the reader
into the conversation. This is a romance on one level, a guide to
teenage manners on another, and a poetry primer on still another. At
the end of this succinct read, an aspiring teen poet will have encountered 
a variety of forms, including the tanka, the villanelle and terza rima. 
(There’s even a brief guide to poetic form in the back!)

More than Friends is a handsome book, with many of the poems
accompanied by candid photos. The layout is creative and adds to
the book’s teen vibe. More importantly, the simple, straightforwardness
of the poems matches the teenage “authors,” as in “I Can
Only Hold My Breath”:

          I can only hold my breath
          When he comes to meet Mom and Dad.
          I’m about to choke to death.

Or in these lines:

          I’ll be just as cool when I see her today.
          It’s time!
                           You think my outfit looks okay?

The challenge is this kind of book, of course, is to write good
poems that sound like the work of smart teens. You don’t want to
sound like an adult pretending to be a teen, nor do you want to
reproduce the kind of mushy, vague poetry that crams hundreds of
thousands of high school notebooks. To my ear, the poems work
best when they tightrope walk this line and the adult authors press
up like generous angels behind their characters. I’ll leave you with
“The Truth Revealed Between the Lines,” a sonnet that comes near
the end of the book:

          I try to make us fit between the lines.
          I try to make some sense of what I FEEL.
          I’ve tried to write it down a hundred times.
          Our rhyme and rhythm’s right, but are WE real?
          I try to make us fit between the lines
          And still stay true to who I want to be.
          Is this verse yours to save or is it mine?
          ARE you the one who’s changed, or is it me?
          We’re MAKING an illusion that conceals
          the easy lunchtime friends we used to be.
          This sonnet’s form is perfect yet reveals
          a free-verse frenzy DEEP inside of me.
          Make no MISTAKE— I think you’re really great.
          It isn’t you; it’s us I sometimes hate.


Glenis Redmond has been on road sharing her work and her
insights on poetry and life for a long time: performing in front of
crowds of all sizes and sorts, leading workshops and visiting college
classes, performing throughout the United States, England, and Italy.
So it feels strange to say Under the Sun is only her second book.

At the start of many of her readings, Redmond tells a poet’s creation
story. It’s meant to bring the audience closer into the often
intimidating creative act and to give context for the poems themselves.
Redmond writes in an autobiographical essay:

          Somewhere in my twenty-eight years of living, I handed over
          my desires, wants, and power to anyone and everyone. A mask
          of shoulds obscured my true self. I thought I should be a good
          wife and mother, a serious student, a caring clinical counselor,
          and a devoted daughter. What is so ironic is that all my life, I
          felt I ordered my own steps, being of both stubborn mind and
          will. I thought it had not been a great life, but I believed that I
          fought the good fight and was making do with what God had
          handed me.

          Burrowed beneath my skin, was a boiling soup of my own
          cosmic discontent. I wanted my life to have meaning and as a
          mother, I wanted to give my daughters an intangible sustaining
          substance that would fortify their spiritual, psychological, and
          creative growth. I wanted to hand them a sense of well being
          that they could carry into their own lives. But life was telling
          me that I had to find my own heart and soul first, before I
          could nurture anyone else.

Her story brings her to Asheville and, among other things, deep into
its burgeoning slam scene. Redmond learns from her performance
experience and by her time with the non-profit touring group, Poetry
Alive! Later in the essay Redmond describes her new situation:

          Poems were generated in many different ways. Some poems
          swam to the surface of my subconscious, while others forced
          me to hold my breath and take a dive to unknown depths.
          Some just arrived at my door, announcing themselves like old
          friends, and others were commissioned. In Asheville, different
          groups approached me to write poems that spoke to their particular
          mission. I felt honored to provide this service in my
          own community.

          All my life, I have been an edge dweller as a military kid, a
          poet, a loner, and a survivor. The healing that continues to
          take place has allowed me to reach out and offer my gifts.

There is a power to Redmond’s presence on stage, a resonance in
her voice. She’s as much actor and dancer as poet. Redmond performances
are projected at the audience, aimed at turning young
writers (and the young at heart) on to poetry. But Redmond has
grown from her slam days and knows that the poems have to hold
their own on the page. A refrain in an auditorium carries a crowd;
on the page, it can ring false after one repetition. Her poems now
turn inward as well as project outward. The language is doubledipped,
so to speak.

And thus Under the Sun presents Redmond’s mature work. These
poems get the audience on their feet, sure, but they also bring this
reader in. She has lowered her voice a little; she has dug deep.

Here are the openings lines to “Burying the Dead”:

          Through Kenilworth
          runs an Indian trail,
          a forested hill
          I could call my own,
          I don’t.
          Not too far from downtown
          living beneath the tangled brush
          a cemetery of slaves merge with the Cherokee and their trail
          unmarked lines carrying both streams of blood
          that courses unceasingly through my veins.
          Both trails have found my heart
          intersecting where spirit meets bone
          and I have taken to walking the block
          putting down feet and prayer
          on both foreign and familiar ground.

Redmond is at her passionate, clear-eyed best in poems like this,
where she addresses a loved one and speaks her truth both as a
daughter and as a wise woman. There is a confessional side to the
work, a sense of healing, but there’s also a public side. Redmond is
taking what she has learned from pain and converted it into wisdom.
The same restraint and power is true for “Sacrum”—a love
song for, and an ode to, Redmond’s military father. Here are the
last lines of the poem, which starts with an evocation of a children’s
song and moves on down her father’s injured spine to tell a
story of the man that both echoes and embodies broader African-
American history. The poem eventually returns to the family and its
own struggle:

          We were hemmed in by heavy handed creases,
          lost in the spit-shine of shoes and brass,
          living between the stiff finger salute,
          standing at attention for inspection.
          Our straight backs gave way
          to the gradual wear and tear
          of being never at ease.
          Our familial bones breaking, a slow de-ossification.
          If this poem was about forgiveness,
          our foundation would begin to mend,
          where it never took hold;
          our sergeant in charge
          leading the way,
          a crooked man walking with wings.


If you live in Western North Carolina and have anything to do
with arts culture, or local politics, or environmental issues, you
can’t miss Thomas Rain Crowe. Thomas runs his own press, New
Native. He engages deeply in the WNC literary community and
fronts a band, The Boatrockers. He writes letters to the editor,
attends or puts on community events and political protests and has
authored dozens of books of both poetry and prose. He has translated
the poems of Hafiz and Yvan Goll, among others, and written
the award-winning memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the
Appalachian Woods.

Add to this Crowe’s identification as a Baby Beat, and his deep
connection to and past association with important literary figures
such as Jack Hirschman, Jonathan Williams, Gary Snyder and
(WNC’s own) Jim Wayne Miller, and you get an idea of how much
Crowe brings to the table. The music and spirit of his influences
run through his poems in a current.

A writer connected to nature and spirituality, Crowe also writes
out of a clear outsider politic. From the beginning, he has been
writing outside of the academic arena happily and aggressively. His
reads are as much music events and political events as anything
else, a stage onto which Crowe invites other poets while urging the
listener to get out of his or her seat.


It seems fitting, then, that I first came to appreciate Crowe’s work
through his performances—on stage, on CD, on the radio—and
by way of my encounters with him out in the world. It took reading
his poems at the end of the chapters in his memoir, Zoro’s
Field, to jump back into the body of printed work. How nice, then,
that his new book, Radiogenesis is essentially a New & Selected,
with poems written from as far back as the mid-1980s.

Radiogenesis is arguably Crowe’s most accomplished work. As Jack
Hirschman puts it in his informative introduction, “Crowe has
cleared a lot of his youthful surrealist murkiness from his lines….
There is a strong realist tension in this book, and such realism gives
the sur in surrealism a grounding drive toward love that provides
the clearing that illuminates the paths of his images with the honest
feelings that surrealism often shrinks from or covers up.”

The first section opens with an eponymous poem that serves as the
collection’s true north, the key to the map of the poems:

          The mind is a car radio. The body is Cocteau’s Orpheus.
          The sexual attraction is toward the car. The car as Delphic lover.
          The love is for the radio, which is the spirit of the lover.
          The love act between radio and Poet is radiogenesis.

A cool idea. One borrowed from Cocteau’s justly famous movie
and its powerful scene of a car radio pouring out “a cascade of
metaphors and mysteries of the magic of metaphor.” (Hirschman
again. And again: “The Radiogenesis is an extension and refinement
of that Cocteau event.”)

The book moves forward from this utterance, and artistic stance, in
a series of short love and erotic poems. And by this I don’t mean
your garden-variety love poetry or erotica. These are also poems
about work, about literature and history, place and people. They
are love poems because they are written to and about the Beloved.
(The body of the lover serves as a stand-in for a more refined
body.) And they are love poems because they are written about,
during or just after the sex act. Here’s an example of what I am
trying to get at, the opening of “Translation”:

          “I am leaving,” she said.
          It was more like code
          than conversation.
          More like sun talk than
          anything that might have come from the moon.

Crowe is bringing us the charged moment between lovers:

          I just sat there
          counting the letters in those three words
          and I never got the same count twice.

This is a typical Crowe move. The lover provokes the speaker with
words; the speaker either reacts or feels the need to respond in
kind. (“She said sex is not sacred, / not some hot bleeding kiss…”;
“’I can’t think with an open door,’ / she said”; the title of “After a
Quarrel.”) But in “What She Said” the speaker keeps quiet, listening
attentively as the lover gives him a piece of her mind:

          Believe any drunk, she said, who looks like haute cuisine
          & has desire or dinner on his mind…


Crowe often seems too serious or too busy to push the form or
style of his poems very hard. They often present themselves as fit
and ready for digestion, their path clear as early on as the title and
first line. I may not know what will come next, but I have a good
sense of the trajectory. So it’s exciting to see, in many of these
poems, and especially in “Somebody,” such bursts of playful inventive-
ness. In the opening lines then straight on through
“Somebody,” Crowe carries life’s rapid changes, its ever-shifting
truths, inside his own lines and at their breaks:

          I live in a land,
          where somebody made love to some somebody
          who sang softly to the heart of
          somebody, who got up and turned on
          the light for somebody who…

We get the game he’s playing here but are not fully ready for how
he manages to come full circle, deepening the stakes of all this

                              …who was the mirror of
          not-knowing that she looked into and saw
          somebody else we’d never known who wanted to
          run off with somebody to Corfu or Crete where they
          could drink wine made of dates with somebody that
          at night would read to them of the future of forbidden wars
          which were no longer fought with somebody who showed up
          to fight but was at home in the woods with somebody
          making love.

I’ll leave you with the opening lines of the first poem in the first
section. (“Hard Work” would be an apt title for Crowe’s poems in
general.) What I like about these lines is what I like about the best
of Thomas Rain Crowe’s poems. They’re straight-forward, true,
visual and visceral. Their music is catchy and expedient. And, best
of all, they emanate entirely from the mouth of Mr. Crowe:

          It’s like driving nails into the snow
          to postpone the coming of spring.