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Lit Talk

Like the Prairie's Open Hand: Cheryl Unruh's Walking on Water

Shawna Caro

Like the Prairie’s Open Hand: Cheryl Unruh’s Walking on Water

            Emporia, Kansas writer Cheryl Unruh is known throughout the Midwest as the award-winning author of the Flyover People essay collections (Quincy Press), which demonstrate her eye for humor, fine detail, and lyricism at the sentence level. In Walking on Water, her first collection of poems, Unruh brings these strong qualities to bear in meditations on her home state of Kansas. These explorations of place hinge on Unruh’s understanding of her own place within the state: she negotiates with weather, native fauna, and the encroachment of death upon best laid plans. To all of these actions Unruh brings an adventurer’s eye, and an awareness of Kansas history that deepens her appreciation for the state: “Above the knotted grasses, / a summer sky reflects the phantom sea, / where white clouds roll like waves” (“Walking on Water” 3).

            From the outset, Unruh is aware of how humans engage with nature—but rather than disrupt the pastoral, Unruh strives to engage with it. In the vein of other Kansas poets before her (William Stafford, Steven Hind, Harley Elliott), Unruh is an excellent observer. In the poem “11PM,” she notes mechanical sounds blending with a longer-standing chorus:

Cicadas chant evening prayers,
“Whee-o, whee-o, whee-o.”
A freight train slows to a canter
through town, whistles “wo-woooo”
at every crossing (4).

More than a competition of sound, here Unruh suggests syncretism at work, where on the page the cicadas become this train. As the poem suggests, humans and their activities are constantly informed by nature.

            Early in Walking on Water, Unruh affirms her strong allegiance to the Midwest, and to Kansas particularly. Though other states hold some allure for her, such as “in land piled / higher than sky, in canyons / that drenched me with laughing water,” she knows very well that other regions “cannot claim to own me, / cannot embrace me / like the prairie’s open hand” (6). Far from blinding her to other areas of the country, though, this affinity for Kansas helps Unruh to appreciate both her state and others through their complementary and contrasting features.

            Some of Unruh’s focus here is internal, chronicling how the poet negotiates her world and the mindset she brings to her experiences. In the section “Making a List,” she notes a cornucopia of tasks—opportunities?—that she will undertake. This section can also be taken as advice, where Unruh is advocating the betterment of all how follow these strictures. “To-Do List No. 1,” like the other poems here, is sometimes ominous but is also dryly funny: “Act like a very tall city . . . [and] Hold the silence,” Unruh advises. “Recreate the sound of the spaceship / Plunge into the abyss” (15). Other lists here hold different motivations, and “To-Do List No. 6” is surely cathartic: “Release the hostages / Bust ghosts / Pacify the baby,” it suggests. “Confess sins” (20). Others still are whimsical, but they too provoke deeper questions. How should our reality be defined? “To-Do List No. 7” commands the reader to “Restripe the zebras . . . / Incorporate a small town / [and] Become its mayor” (21). Finally, some of these lists border on the surreal, suggesting that one should “Fill [their] living room with sand . . . / Decide: Was it or was it not my fault” (“To-Do List: Winter Beach Party” 25). This sometimes unorthodox advice (to the poet and/or the reader) is beneficial whether implemented or simply enjoyed on the page. Implementation is suggested only under Unruh’s strict supervision.

            Later in this collection Unruh discusses the prevalence of misfortune, and its influence on life and on her perception of the surrounding world. In “Pearl Street” she encounters a woman whom others call insane:

Her old hand with
bent fingers and purple veins
grabbed her ragged skirt,
lifting it to music that only
she could hear.

Even considering the woman’s unusual behavior, Unruh doesn’t side with the accusers, and instead views her as someone with access to knowledge that others simply don’t share. “[H]ow do we know for sure,” Unruh acknowledges, “who is lost / and who is found” (38)?

            In other poems the poet views mishaps with her signature wry wit, as in “No Waiting.” When Unruh sees an Emergency Room sign while driving it reads, “‘E.R. Wait: 0 minutes.’ // If you’re going to / have an emergency,” she notes, “now is the time” (42). This lighter tone balances Walking on Water’s darker poems efficiently, and occurs at various points throughout the collection.

            Unruh also realizes one natural, seemingly unavoidable human tendency: to ascribe one’s own meaning to all things and actions. The poet attempts to break with this tradition, and instead engages teleologically with her world. When discussing deaths she has mourned, for instance, Unruh wonders what death’s inherent purpose is—and where it might lead. In “The End,” this question is pondered even by the poem’s dead narrator: “He had thought // death would end / his fears. // Now what” (55)?

            Toward the end of the collection, Unruh reasserts her dependence on nature and weather to answer these and other questions. In “Rain,” the final poem, she sees how “A soft wind, the breath / of spring rain, pushes the yellow kitchen / curtains into the room.” Unruh hears vehicles on pavement in the dark, and notes how the water shapes their sound. These sounds embellish the poet’s life in that moment, as she comes to an epiphany: “I listen in the dark,” she tells us, “the rain filling a place / I didn’t know was empty” (98). Walking on Water fills many such places for Cheryl Unruh, and shows her to be a skilled observer and chronicler of Kansas and the world at large. I look forward eagerly to more poetry from this canny, nuanced author.

            Readers can purchase Walking on Water from Cheryl Unruh or from Meadowlark Books, as well as from Amazon.com and regional bookstores.  

Unruh, Cheryl. Walking on Water. (Meadowlark Books, 2017. 106 pages, paperback: $12.00.)


Tyler Sheldon is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of First Breaths of Arrival (Oil Hill Press, 2016) and the forthcomingTraumas (Yellow Flag Press, 2017). His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Quiddity International Literary Journal, The Midwest QuarterlyThe Los Angeles ReviewThe Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature,Entropy Magazine, The Big Nasty Press, and other venues. He lives in Louisiana and is an MFA candidate at McNeese State University. View his work at tyrsheldon.wixsite.com/trspoetry.

Dr. Kevin Rabas, Newest Kansas Poet Laureate

Shawna Caro

Dr. Kevin Rabas was named as the Kansas Poet Laureate on April 20, 2017. As a professor and the chair of the English, Modern Languages, and Journalism department at Emporia State University, Rabas wears a lot of hats already. 

I had the opportunity to study under him in various subjects like poetry, publications, playwriting, and screenwriting. I have read his poetry, heard him read, seen him perform on the beat scene, and we've even published some of his short fiction in Tin Lunchbox Review

Poet Laureate is a wonderful distinction and the appointment will last from 2017 to 2019. Below you'll find a review of Rabas' latest chapbook by Tyler Sheldon. This review was previously published in Coal City Review, issue 38. We hope you enjoy this review and the work we've published in our literary magazine. Keep your eyes peeled for future works by Kevin Rabas in Tin Lunchbox Review.


Reconciliation, Heartbreak, Symphonic Moments: Kevin Rabas’s Songs for my Father

 

Rabas, Kevin. Songs for my Father. (Meadowlark Books, 2016. 174 pages, paperback: $12.00.)

            In Songs for my Father, Kevin Rabas’s latest collection of poems and stories, the Emporia, Kansas poet and professor confronts dark facets of his family and life to date with a bravery that appears to be genetic. This newest collection is a deep exploration of three disparate but interwoven relationships, and the stakes inherent in them. These relationships, for Rabas, are father and son, musician and song, and the poet’s relationship with himself (hinging on integrity, self-respect, and the need for personal betterment—especially in the wake of a life-altering head injury). In Rabas’s just-previous chapbook, Eliot’s Violin, he discusses the first of these relationships, lauding the bold ventures of his son and holding up a literary mirror. When Eliot discovers the beauty of music and the cruelty of bullies, Rabas paints portraits of both his son and his own similar moments of discovery, years prior to his son’s.

Here, that dynamic is reversed deftly—now Rabas stewards the perspective of the son, seeing Gary Curtis Rabas as both a loving father and as a thoroughly complicated man. The poet views his father, alternately a mechanic, woodworker, teacher, and construction site worker, as an admirable and hardworking man—certainly as a figure to emulate, and one with whom Rabas shares a mutual respect and affection. The father’s steel resolve shows itself through both his wise and his perhaps foolish moments. In “Knife with a Lion’s Head on the Hilt,” Rabas’s “[f]ather holds a broken knife, tells me / he’s swapped an old stage coach gun / to fix it.” This wise sense for thrift and opportunity avails the poet as well. Yet, in “Buffaloed,” Rabas recalls how that resolve can easily take a turn for the worse:

           

                        My father takes the dare,

                           tees up and aims for the bull

                        down-course, at college, in Golf 101,

                           and hits it, the tail raised, the chest

                        puffed, the legs pistons. My father flunks.

 

Though a fairly benign situation, that charging buffalo serves as an apt metaphor for how life often confronts Rabas’s father. Gary Rabas takes charge of tough moments with hallmark tenacity whenever possible—“My Old Man” shows a succinct reaction to agitators. “‘This is the third time they’ve set fire / to my trashcans,’ my old man says, his first year / teaching in the inner city school. ‘I’m done.’” When prompted to put his resignation in writing, he brandishes a napkin with two words and his initials: “‘I quit. –GCR.’”

Yet at times tenacity alone seems not enough for either the elder or the younger Rabas—they must keep themselves afloat by the blue fire of optimism, knowing things will right themselves somehow. “Night I bent our credit cards” shows that collateral heartbreak is always possible, interweaving the father/son dynamic with Rabas’s personal life:

 

            Julie goes out dancing

               with her ring off. Morning,
                        and I find car tracks across
                           my father’s yard, the garden
                        knocked down, and a vodka bottle
                           in the poppies, all gone.

 

Rabas informs us of his father’s more tender side—how this affront to his flowers is “[t]o my father, like a horse head / left in his bed.” Rabas himself embodies these two intertwined extremes—roughness and tenderness—in his pursuit of music, which he links to family life and to life with his band mates. He sees his own future—perhaps like his father’s life—and an looming foreboding when “Annie . . . moves our drunk world, and I can see the future in / those wine stains . . . turned sophisticate by a night of strained wine.”

            Even so, Rabas shows confidence in himself and his decisions while playing his music, as in “That Last Page,” where he shows that he can adapt to situations beyond his control: “Two months I practiced / that high school timpani piece, / never once looked up.” When Rabas discovers that the piece is longer than he planned for, he drums his way to success anyway: “a blender of beat and note, / and, in luck, I got a ‘one.’” This determination serves both Rabas and his father well throughout the collection—in “The Next Generation,” the poet reaffirms his own proficiency and that of his musical peers, showing a force of will to help others as well as himself. Rabas tells a bandmate to “Keep at it! / Poems run in your family. What the river says, / you, too, can say. Let the words stream through you— / catch them, take them, when they come.” This gentler determination aids Rabas in his life, his music, his writing, and his teaching. Those nerves harden in “Basketball Fall,” a poem that chronicles a head injury sustained during a pick-up game. Against the odds, the poet stays solidly on the court: “When I fell, / I jumped back up, blood / in my brain, and played out the game.” Rabas is well aware, even then, that the long game had been changed: “Coaches say, ‘Leave it all / on the court,’ and I left my easy smile, / each laughing net, that pink crinkle / around my lips, that breezy walk.”

            This collection’s latter half is dedicated to Rabas’s short fiction. The life lessons imbued by the first half’s poems hold true here as well: learning to grapple with doubt, rejoicing in successes. In “Conferencing in Hawaii,” Calvin (Rabas’s alter ego) and friend Zenji deal with respective difficulties. We learn that from hard moments can arrive opportunities: “Zenji’s girlfriend, Haru, broke up with him the day before the trip. So, Calvin had a free room in Hawaii.” As Zenji contemplates Haru’s decision, Calvin’s professional interests generate a mixed response: “Calvin told about his interviews with jazz and blues musicians, what they found in Langston Hughes’s sessions . . . And it ended almost as quickly as it began, with mild applause, a room almost empty, formal regard, a quick question or two, the golf clap of academia, and Calvin wanted to hug someone or to fall into someone’s arms.” In this story, each character grapples with their own internal (occasionally external) struggles, and prevails eventually in their own narrow way.

            In other short pieces difficulty becomes opportunity in its own refracted way. “Dead Battery,” an eight-line flash fiction piece, begins: “I called my ex-girlfriend when my Blazer battery died in the Tuna Shop parking lot”—surely an inauspicious opening for any situation in need of resolution. At the piece’s closing, however, Rabas’s narrator feels “Bea’s hand in my hand again,” suggesting opportunity for reconciliation. Throughout this stellar new collection, Rabas holds firm to that tacit belief in recovery—that the world will work itself to a better position. In “Pool with Dad,” one of this volume’s final pieces Rabas realizes a form of true happiness: “I felt as though my father had just patted me on the back. We played out the game, my father a live wire, once more.”

            Readers can purchase Songs for my Father at one of Rabas’s many readings or from Meadowlark Books, as well as from amazon.com and at national and regional bookstores.

 

Author’s Note: this review was first published in Coal City Review, issue 38.

Demystification, Erosion, and Vigilance: J. Bruce Fuller’s The Dissenter’s Ground

Shawna Caro

         Poet, publisher, and Louisiana native J. Bruce Fuller holds powers of perception that are subtle and unflagging. The helmsman of Yellow Flag Press, Fuller has brought several celebrated collections into the world, such as If You Abandon Me by Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque and Lauren Gorden’s mellifluous chapbook Generalizations About Spines. As a poet, Fuller’s work is consistently crisp and hard hitting—his chapbook Flood received the 2013 Swan Scythe Press Chapbook Award, and several others have been similarly lauded. In the just-released chap The Dissenter’s Ground, Fuller is again at his analytical best, discussing religion and erosion of both landscape and belief at William Blake’s grave. In one memorable moment, Fuller notes how his world has slowly become demystified: “When the sun sets on Rutherford Beach . . . / the oil rigs / on the horizon no longer remind me of God” (Cameron Parish, Louisiana… 2). The conversation with “William” continues throughout the chapbook’s entirety, threading these poems together and harkening to a larger poetic legacy.

            The opening epigraph to The Dissenter’s Ground provides a glimpse into the collection’s motivations: how to mitigate an erosion of landscape and perhaps belief, but also how to preserve life and integrity. Here Fuller gives space to Blake’s own poetry, writing, “Dip him in the river who loves water . . . Expect poison from the standing water.” Presaging the sometimes dark concerns further in, this quote is an important reminder to remain fully conscious of our actions, as they impact more than we assume.

            Later in the chap, Fuller contemplates the fate of his native state, noting that “in fifty years / the sea level will rise . . . and this soupy ground / will be sea bed again” (3). An important observation for a coastal reason, Fuller’s concern also carries the implication that as life has become demystified, perhaps the world’s ruling forces (deities, physics, and so on) hold less sway or interest over the world. A careful balance has been upset, this chapbook muses. The condensed, direct form and tone of these poems also suggests terseness or tension, perhaps related to this theological unease. Most poems here hover around twelve lines or fewer in length, making each word shoulder significant gravity for its poem’s overall meaning. As the clock runs down on Fuller’s Louisiana, words evoke notions of renting, rather than mastering, space: “We live on borrowed land, / Delta mud laid thick / by flood after flood . . . / We will take drowning too far” (4).

            Toward the end of this collection, Fuller notes an important distinction between his home and other parts of the world—prayer is selective, for fear of a wish going badly awry. When he asserts that “Around here, we don’t pray for rain” (6), we become aware of how deadly a blessing like water can become, sanding away the familiar to reveal a palimpsest of unexpected fortunes. While aware of its blessings, Fuller knows how delicate the balance of his world can be. “Farther and farther this doubt echoes,” he acknowledges, but it seems he has found a way to circumvent that lack of knowing, with “palms open” for whatever may come (8).

            All of this compact content is informed well by this chapbook’s measured, sleek design. Margaret Bashaar, editor and publisher of Hyacinth Girl Press, constructs high-quality chapbooks with highly allusive or satisfyingly referential covers designed by Sarah Reck—The Dissenter’s Ground features a foreboding oil rig shrouded in offshore mist. An ivory ribbon binds the book together, both providing an elegant aesthetic and referencing the purity of belief with which Fuller wrestles in these pages. These poems wield powerful observations and affirmations, and through them Fuller, a “born dissenter,” stays alert in our blessed world “forged in heat” (7).

            Readers can purchase The Dissenter’s Ground at one of J. Bruce Fuller’s many readings, or from Hyacinth Girl Press.


Fuller, J. Bruce. The Dissenter’s Ground. (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2017. 11 pages, ribbon-bound: $6.00.)


This review was written by Tyler Sheldon, Kansas poet and regular contributor to The Tin Lunchbox.

Ordinary Magic by Alison Stone: 3 Reviews

Shawna Caro

Alison Stone is the author of Ordinary Magic, her fifth collection of poems. If you would like to obtain a copy of Ordinary Magic, please contact us at thetinlunchbox@gmail.com and we will send you all the details. Happy reading!


Alison Stone is a poet interested in the ways the past possesses the present. The poems in her collection Ordinary Magic revolve around this question in ways both flippant and serious, amused and pained. One of her main organizing schemes is the Tarot deck; she looks to the archetypal figures of the cards and finds everyday counterparts, sometimes counterpoints.  At times the patterning can become overly obvious, but in her best poems, like “King—Love Song For Lou Reed” or “Queen—Lilith’s Daughter on a Date,” Stone manages to illuminate what is most lasting and inescapable about myth. The most primordial of passions and the stories and images formed from them are eternally alive because they are within us, in the lives we are living. Ordinary Magic is a work that encapsulates this understanding from first poem to last.

Review by Kari Bowles


Ordinary Magic is Alison Stone’s latest collection of 78 poems that draw from the tarot. There are a vast range of topics from the archetypal to the every day. Stone draws from the creative roots of the cards, as they were once used for crafting poetry before they became a tool for fortune telling. It is in the Minor Arcana where Stone really shines writing about love, life, death, and everything in between. Stone allows her words to tell the stories and memories, a tapestry that weaves together the details of lived experience that connects all of us.

Review by Lindsey Bartlett


Review of Ordinary Magic, a collection of poems by Alison Stone

In Ordinary Magic, NY poet Alison Stone’s fifth poetry collection, readers are taken on a recast vision of the hero’s journey as presented through the tarot’s major and minor arcana. From a pagan perspective, the tarot represents individuals and our lives in relationship to archetypes, both grandeur and closer to home. It’s less a matter of divination in the idea of telling the future, and more about telling us what we already know about ourselves but that we might easily overwrite or ignore. This comes out quite strongly in Stone’s poetry that reflects equal messages of hope and tragedy, successes and near-misses.

Where I feel this volume shines is in those poems that show Stone’s own story within the framework, rather than speaking of lofty figures that we know in terms of celebrity that seem to affect the world around us in the aggregate. The love of family and the loss of loved ones are the lynchpins that hold the entire work together even more so than the Joseph Campbell-cum-Rider-Waite pastiche. Personally, I felt like Stone did a great service to this exploration of what it means to be human by including Greek gods within the macro-level of the poems. Prometheus brought fire to humans; Persephone brought cold winter. Besides being a familiar pantheon to most people, the Greek gods also act the most human. Their desires are wanton, and their focuses can be just as easily distracted as our own.

This doesn’t make them any less powerful or relevant, which I believe is speaking more to humanity than to the gods. The tale of the journey in Ordinary Magic begins and ends with saying ‘yes,’ first to an unknown, then to a known that only becomes palatable through the eyes of a small, eager, child.  The poems together do such a beautiful job of showing us that growth and failure are a constant up until death – and that sometimes, the young fools we used to be had the right idea all along.

This is an easy volume of poetry to pick up and read through in one sitting, but there are so many details enmeshed within it that it is worth deeper contemplation on the second or third … or perhaps even fiftieth read. There are so many stories within stories in this volume that it is difficult to point to which one is most important or worthy of the most attention – much like our own lives or, more importantly, the lives of the people we love.

Review by Frances Mihulec

Hidden Places: Erica McCreedy’s Red Winters

Shawna Caro

This review originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on January 12, 2017.


Red Winters, the first chapbook by Lake Charles-based poet Erica McCreedy, is a condensed and hard-hitting collection that seeks to show a hidden side of Louisiana through both emotion and poetic form, with form and content often informing one another. Explorations of overarching and personal histories, and of nature and death’s place therein, loom very large here; McCreedy, who holds an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from McNeese State University, knows their places well. She brings formidable poetic knowledge to bear on her subject matter. The first of this pamphlet’s nine poems, “Death and Louisiana,” is a pantoum that muses on the state’s history and traditions. The poem’s opening lines provide abrupt and clear-eyed entry into McCreedy’s home state, showing its veneration of loved ones through long-held tradition: “Death and the dead are never buried here; / we drag their deaths in pied parades and jazz.” That latter line begins the second stanza, making the pantoum form perfect for the subject matter of “Death and Louisiana”; the dead and the lines that describe them are uplifted—unearthed—on the page. More than a conversation between form and content, though, this poem reflects on how that veneration can be drawn out too far: “Sown in hollow homes we raised, they stay. / We keep them with us, locked in stuccoed cells.” Perhaps a lesson here: letting go of physical connections in favor of emotional ones is sometimes wise.

            Continuing this deeper look into our surface world, “Under Porch Lights in Baton Rouge” espouses the focusing virtues of loneliness and finding beauty in the unfamiliar. This piece’s narrow lines focus eyes downward on the page, and here too content echoes form: lighting descends, and “moist wood bends above me. The arching cypress patterns roll down the long porch beams.” Absence here creates new presence of mind; though there “are no pines, / no bitter tangs of salt that swell the lungs, / . . . [there is] the thin pulse of downtown lights / beating slow round empty street corners.” McCreedy suggests the formation of new allegiances, enriching the old: “the lonely call of some shapeless barge / scatters and dissolves down the Mississippi – / its wide hull seeking Gulf waters, black and endless, / and pulling the heart’s core to unfamiliar shores.” That final, powerful image informs the whole poem, showing each preceding image to be a thing at work for the narrator’s good will.

            The poem “Picking Blackberries with Libby” sees this collection take a darker turn, as the narrator explores the woods behind her house when her father suggests they collect blackberries, “our buckets knocking our knees like armor.” The narrator and her sister forge through the “angry swords” of palmetto plants to get to the prized fruits, and Libby strains against “stars of poison oak / and coiled blades of thorns, for browning berries.” The two find a possum thrown there the previous summer by their father, and when Libby touches it, the skull collapses inward upon itself, mirroring the blackberries’ stain upon her hand. Once again, “the sky descend[s]” on our narrator as she learns of what time does to hidden things. Even the berries themselves are darkened by this epiphany: “And beside, those black fists, fierce black like / slowed blood, / more ripe and sweet among the death and rot, / swelling from absent hands.” For the narrator, these reflections on the macabre help elevate the truly sweet aspects of life, and beauty in the everyday, such as when “The peaks of beaded umbrellas, / rolling in ruffled green and violent ribbon, / fall and rise in restless arcs.”

            Erica McCreedy’s Red Winters is a compact, powerful first volume with a low center of gravity: sure to catch you off your guard, it stands steady, rooted in place. That place is Louisiana, and clearer looks at the state are hard to come by in poetry. Wade into these poems, and keep your eyes on the ripples ahead.


Readers can purchase Red Winters at one of McCreedy’s readings or from Yellow Flag Press.

McCreedy, Erica. Red Winters. (Yellow Flag Press, 2015. 22 pages, eyelet bound: $5.00.)


This review was written by Tyler Sheldon, poet and guest writer for Lunchbox Diaries. His work can be found in our very own Tin Lunchbox Review, as well as in various other literary magazines. 

Book Review: The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian

Shawna Caro

This book review originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on August 20, 2016. 


Chris Adrian, author of The Children’s Hospital, is as unique as the novel he has written. Not only does Adrian write books, he also works full-time as a pediatrician, and if that isn’t enough he is currently attending divinity school. Despite attending school for theology, Adrian is rather ambiguous when it comes to his personal beliefs. He is also gay, and finds that this has never been an issue for his classmates at divinity school – a refreshing change for sure!

These themes of religion and homosexuality are all at play in Adrian’s novel. The first part of the novel is excellent, opening as a hospital is preserved afloat atop seven miles of water, after the entire Earth is flooded. Nothing survives except for those who were inside the hospital when the flood began.

This life-altering event sheds light on the struggles of both patients and workers within the hospital. The main protagonist, a medical student named Jemma, often experiences feelings of incompetence both before and after the flood. She is often yelled at for making mistakes or for being unable to remember important medical information. And she is not the only character in the novel that faces struggles. All of her fellow co-workers have their own problems. Much like Jemma, Dr. Chandra is bullied for his incompetence. In a comparison to the author, Dr. Chandra is also gay.

In addition, Jemma is also haunted by death. Her beloved brother committed suicide and is now an angel figure in the novel. Both of her parents are dead, her father of lung cancer, and her mother in a house fire. Lastly, her lover dies in a car crash. It is no wonder that Jemma experiences so many feelings of incompetence, when it seems the odds are always against her and those she loves.

Then strange and frightening powers are gifted to Jemma, and this, in turn, changes the destiny of the hospital and those inside it. Jemma is gifted the power of healing, and goes on a tour-de-force healing spree, healing all those who are sick through her mysterious powers. It is after this second miraculous event that Adrian’s book starts to lose steam. It becomes bogged down in too much symbolic weight with angels and miracle children. As everyone begins to sicken, the tension dies off between characters, and the last part of the book falls short of what Adrian was hoping to achieve.

Despite its short-comings, The Children’s Hosptial is an interesting fabulist read that confronts the moral choices a person must make in a new world.


This review was written by team member Lindsey Bartlett. You can read more of Lindsey’s reviews and other book related content on her blog. Find links to her blog and other team member information here

Book Review: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Shawna Caro

This book review originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on June 26, 2016.


Title: Hex

Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Rating: *****

The original version of “Hex" is very Dutch, according to author Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It speaks to sentiments and culture that he felt would not translate as well to English speaking audiences. In that way, the English version of Hex is more like a Hex 2.0. This particular edition of the book draws upon the Pennsylvania Dutch traditions of hexing and witches, the northeastern region’s history with the witch trials, and the toxic xenophobia that permeates American culture even today.

Like any good horror novel, the real horror is not the immortal witch who haunts the town of Black Springs and threatens to kill them all for revenge, it is the culture and people in the town of Black Springs itself. It is the ruling Council that forces everyone to remain in the town and to never speak of the town’s secret that has caused all the heartache and problems throughout Black Springs’ strange history. What starts as a chilling ghost story progresses into an intelligent discussion about the darkness in the human heart, as well as the evil that individuals will visit upon each other.

I had an upbringing steeped in Appalachian cultural ideas about magic, so I am no stranger to the concept of hexes as presented in the novel. Olde Heuvelt comes from a country where the tradition is even older than it is in America, but he did his research about our country and our various mythos. A hex remains until the blood debt or other requirement is met, which had already been done in the story which was why the witch was a problem. The idea of a hex continuing like a Japanese grudge, growing more in anger and power, was immediately suspect but I couldn’t stop reading because I was intrigued by the concept. The author’s writing is both tightly woven and intelligent in its execution. It’s been some time since I’ve torn through over 400 pages in a day.

This is a novel that will make you feel emotions and feel connected to the terrible events as they unfold. In some ways, Hex is a heavy read for summer, but it should definitely be on your summer reading list. This is a book worth devouring and discussing. With the tragedies that have defined this summer so far, I feel that Hex points out the societal problems that led to them. The question is – we will we stop it or will our entire nation become just another Black Springs? 


This review was written by Team Member Frances Mihulec. Learn more about Frances and other team members here

Poetry Review: First Breaths of Arrival by Tyler Robert Sheldon

Shawna Caro

This review originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on June 21, 2016.


First Breaths of Arrival was written by Tyler Robert Sheldon, a Kansas native. A longer bio and contact information can be found at the end of this review. If you haven't already, be sure to listen to Table Talk, Episode 1, where we interview Tyler and he reads one of his poems from his chapbook. Find Table Talk here

Front cover of First Breaths of Arrival by Tyler Robert Sheldon.

Front cover of First Breaths of Arrival by Tyler Robert Sheldon.

In Sheldon’s chapbook, 16 poems reach from the page to the reader, begging to be read. They attach themselves onto the minds behind the eyes that translate the symbols on the page and they don’t let go. Their fervor is as wild and strong as Kansas anything.

Let’s cut to the chase. These sixteen poems have strong hooks that engage the reader from the start. While the table of contents suggests that some of these selections will only resonate with those who are native to Kansas, there is much more to the material than a simple regionalism. In fact, there is nothing simple about these poems, Kansas-themed or not. They are intricate and avidly demonstrate the sort of spiraling that life often puts us through. He shapes and molds moments from the syntax and creates a fresh experience for us. The poems themselves are intelligent, sensual, kind, challenging, seductive, contemplative, and heartwarming. Sheldon leaves no stone un-turned, no emotions un-plucked.

However, as a Kansas native, these are so strong in their imagery that I felt like my own childhood had been recorded on the page. But it isn’t just the Midwestern ties that make this chapbook wonderful. Sheldon has a strong sense of rhythm that makes each piece engaging throughout. It is impossible to lose oneself in the words when the words so clearly show you the way. The imagery and repeated ideas, phrases, also help to cement the reader in the reality of the experience. And sometimes, as often happens with poetry, the reality too is fictional in the sense that it is not our reality, however much we relate or however much we want it to be our own. This is not a negative by any means—that multi-faceted aspect of Sheldon’s work creates a stronger, more cohesive result. These sixteen poems will not let you go.

There’s another aspect to Sheldon’s work that makes it so enjoyable, but it is harder to name. It is the sensation that you get when you hear a good story—not just a good story, but a GOOD story, the kind that sticks with you wherever you go, weeks and months and years down the road when your life has changed beyond recognition. Sheldon’s poetry is insightful, playful, observant, and not easily forgotten. He shapes and molds moments from the syntax and creates a fresh experience for the reader. The individual poems themselves are intelligent, sensual, kind, challenging, seductive, contemplative, and heartwarming. Sheldon leaves no stone un-turned, no emotions un-plucked. First Breaths of Arrival is an engaging and smart little chapbook that will take you to places you didn’t know you needed to be. If you do nothing else this week, contact Tyler and purchase a copy of his chapbook. You’ll be supporting an upcoming author and bolstering your soul at the same time. 


Tyler Sheldon, poet.

Tyler Sheldon, poet.

Tyler Sheldon earned his MA in English from Emporia State University, where he taught Composition and received the Charles E. Walton Graduate Essay Award. Poems and reviews have appeared in Coal City Review, The Dos Passos Review, Flint Hills Review, Quiddity, and other journals. His debut chapbook, First Breaths of Arrival, was published May 2016 by Oil Hill Press.

Would you like your own copy of Tyler Sheldon's First Breaths of Arrival? You can contact him at tyrsheldon@gmail.com. Happy reading! 

Booo zaaaa! A Turkish Drink in History and Literature

Shawna Caro

This post originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on May 26, 2016. 


Boza in a mug. Photo from ikeskitchen.com

Boza in a mug. Photo from ikeskitchen.com

A Brief History of Boza

Boza is one of the oldest drinks in Turkey, and was first created in the 10th century by the Central Asian Turks. In the 17th century, Boza was both banned and tolerated. Boza was banned by Sultan Mehmet IV; because of its excessive fermentation it had a higher alcoholic level than other drinks. However, during this same century a Turkish traveler, Evliya Celebi, reported that this beverage was mostly drunk by janissaries in the army, and that it contained a low level of alcohol. Due to its warming and strengthening effect on the soldiers it was then tolerated.

By the 19th century a new, sweet, and non-alcoholic version became popular at the Ottoman Palace as well as in society. The founder of today’s most well-known brand of Boza is Haci Sadik Bey, who created the Boza brand called Vefa. Bey emigrated from Albania and settled in the Vefa district in Istanbul in 1870. His version of Boza was thicker, less tart, and became a brand in 1876. This brand still produces Boza between the months of October and April.

Only a few decades ago every Turk was familiar with the cry of Boza sellers shouting “Booo-zaaaa!” on the streets, as they tried to make a living by selling this freshly prepared drink during the winter evenings. Boza would make its appearance in stores in the early 2000s, and during the winter you can find Boza almost everywhere in supermarkets, patisseries, and cafes (The Istanbul Insider).

 

Boza in Orhan Pamuk’s New Novel:

Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author and Nobel Laureate who has written well-known novels such as The Black Book, My Name is Red, and Snow recently published his latest novel A Strangeness In My Mind in December of 2015.

A Strangeness In My Mind follows the life of a street vendor named Mevlut who sells both yogurt and Boza on Istanbul’s streets. It is through the view of this street seller of Boza, that Pamuk is able to explore the city’s politics and history. Despite the character of Mevlut not being an “activist” in any traditional sense of the word, he is still able to go everywhere and hear the voices of both those on Istanbul’s right wing and those on the city’s left, and it is his neutrality that allows him to do this.

 

Boza street

Pamuk, who grew up buying boza himself, tells The Guardian, “the drink was ‘both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.’ This gave it a curious social function at a time when alcohol was nominally forbidden. Even the Ottoman rulers knew that boza contained alcohol, and some would go out in disguise to buy it. Others were in denial.” This made the drink and sale of it a pivotal point for the exploration of right-wing politics throughout Pamuk’s novel.

In his book, Pamuk sets out to explore how the changes wrought by technological development affected the vendors who sold Boza and other food items on the street. “The first image that came to me was this: that because of technological development, a person who sells his things in the street loses his job,” Pamuk told The Guardian. Prior to the 1950s, products like yogurt and Boza were not yet bottled, though they soon began to be sold in ceramic cups and so on. All of these changes had an effect on street vendors like Pamuk’s character Mevlut.

Make Your Own Boza:

Boza, is also sometimes know as Boza Beer due to the low alcohol content in some versions. Making Boza takes at least four days—so be prepared to wait. If you can’t stand to wait that long then you can also buy Boza in many shops around Turkey. You may also be able to find it in Turkish shops in the United Kingdom, United States, or online.

Find the recipe here!

 

This article is brought to you by Team Member Lindsey Bartlett