Shavonda Robinson’s book, I Am a Free Woman: Poems For a Little Girl uses poems to chronicle the struggle of women who have suffered abuse, often at the hands of their own family. Shavonda describes herself as a “poet activist for abused women.” Poetry is a useful medium to deal with the subject of abuse, because it allows for people to discuss subjects they might otherwise be uncomfortable expressing in straightforward conversation. While the subject matter of the book is somewhat dark, Shavonda Robinson wisely choose to give the book an inspirational tone. Her poems serve to motivate these women and help them to reclaim their confidence.
I Am Beautiful Like Me
By Shavonda Robinson
I am not beautiful like you
I am beautiful like me
And what makes me beautiful
My scars, My mistakes, My opinions
My struggles, My fears, My insecurities,
My Confidence, My learned lessons
Skytrain to Nowhere is an imagination driven and esoteric volume of free-form poetry. The book documents the author’s experiences, thoughts and observations while riding the skytrain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the period of several weeks. Since the skytrain is only designed to transport travelers between various terminals and parking facilities at the airport, someone spending nearly 50 hours riding it purely for recreation and artistic inspirational purposes is highly unusual (to put it mildly.) Aside from occasional quirky anecdotes about various passengers, the poems mostly deal with themes of motion, the passage of time, and nostalgia. The author grapples with these issues from a retro-futurist perspective. Skytrain to Nowhere celebrates the realization that our vitality hinges on our ability to always keep moving, while recognizing we are unwilling or unable to leave some things behind on the journey.
For those that might be unfamiliar, Ben Arzate is well known in certain circles as a prolific reviewer of alternative literature and edgy political books. In fact, he may be the most prolific indie book reviewer in contemporary times. Yet, he manages to find the time between readings to author some lit of his own, such as his recent poetry chapbook, the sky is black and blue like a battered child.
At only 25 pages (with some poems only making up a fraction of a page,) it is a true chapbook. Though brief, the book somehow manages to retain enough fullness to pass as a complete work. As a minimalist, I appreciate this in a way others may not. It’s always a good sign though when a poetry book leaves you wanting more, which is the case here. Despite the mildly disturbing title, there is nothing particularly offensive in the book’s contents, save for a couple of lines (you’ll know them when you see them.) If there are observable themes in this work, they would seem to be loneliness, regret and despair…peppered with a touch of apathy.
I found it interesting that in several places, analog “tv static” (also known as white noise and famously depicted in the film Poltergeist) is referred to as being something desirable to watch (though it is unclear whether the author approves.) I can relate to this in that I used to love watching TV static. There is something very calming about it. In fact, back when I used to work in Cubesville, there was a youtube video that simply played 10 hours of tv static, which I would blast into my headphones to drown out the sound of my chubby co-workers making disgusting noises as they gobbled up the unhealthy snacks provided to keep them happy, well-fed and productive cubefarm animals.
From the poem, good night day dreams:
the radio plays mozart
the tv plays static
while she sits on her bed
and reads flowers in the attic
That’s actually my favorite line from the book and sounds like my kind of afternoon.
Arzate frequently makes use of unconventional structuring in his poems, the sort of which would annoy reactionaries and traditionalists in the lit world. Being that I can’t stand those types of people, I perversely enjoyed these deviations all the more. Some poems consist merely of a single sentence, phrased as a question. There is also a poem titled “Reflection Text” in which all of the writing is reversed, requiring a mirror to read unless you’re one of the doppelgangers in Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. Another poem I relate to in this collection is Brad, which briefly chronicles a person receiving wrong number phone calls from a woman and being disappointed when the calls stop coming. There are lonely points in a man’s life (particularly a reclusive writer or artist’s life) when human contact is so minimal that even the slightest, superficially pathetic “romantic” interaction or empty fantasy can be gratifying.
the sky is black and blue like a battered child very much reminds me of 90s zine poetry, both in tone and style. It has a pre-internet quality to it that’s difficult to put into words, but one which someone my age will instantly pick up on. Even though Ben Arzate appears to be about ten years younger than me and firmly within the millennial demographic, this strikes me as a precociously Generation X book. Arzate’s refreshingly not trying to save the world, fight social injustice or do much of anything here. Still, the sky is black and blue like a battered child succeeds in punching above its slim weight.
“Feather Haiku” is one of Marie Helen’s most recent poems. She is becoming known for her seasonally themed poetry. Though short in length, this haiku is nonetheless thought provoking, offering the reader a silver lining in the changing season as we head toward the coming winter. The remnant from a bird gives a subtle reminder of summer memmories and that spring will appear once again.
Marie Helen is also a songwriter who founded the Los Angeles based band “Lyrics of Two,” (which consistently held the #1 spot on the Deli Music Charts in the category of mainstream pop in Los Angeles.) She has recently completed a book of poetry titled “Celebrating The Holidays And Seasons With Poetry And The Smaller Things In Nature.”
Known for her songwriting and poetry, Los Angeles based artist Marie Helen Abramyan is a creative force. Her poetry frequently explores seasonal themes. “A Summer’s Beach Day” is one such example of this. It’s an upbeat, optimistic poem which captures a the carefree and innocent ambiance of summertime at the beach. It takes you to those seemingly endless summers that make you forget about all the struggles of modern life.
A Summer’s Beach Day
By Marie Helen Abramyan
Unleashed, the sun’s glorious rays, blaze out from the summer’s blue sky, crystal clear
All year, it has saved it’s magnificent energy, to impress, at this time of year
Snow storms, are a distant memory, and there’s no cold weather, left to freight
Just long, hot, sun filled days, that gently roll into short, warm, starry nights
Leisurely beaches, wrapped with cool breezes, kissed by the bright sun
Welcome, lighthearted visitors, to make memories, for nostalgic fun
Fragrant warm winds, brushing the full leaves of the palm trees, as they sway
While rolling waves, keep busy, with joyous thundering clashes, on this sweltering day
The sweet aroma of watermelon, from picnics, fills the fresh, open, summer time air
As the iridescent sunset, colors the sky, with a crimson display, no other season can compare
Frolicking in the hot sand,wading the refreshing sea water, and soaking up the sunshine
Blissful, carefree, moments are scattered like seashells along the sprawling coastline
Delighted visitors of the beach,seeking respite, renew their energy with the sun’s power as the source
With the graciously, hospitable ocean serving as host, summer’s charm has come in full force
New poetry book is available, “Beatnik Fascism.” It’s a collection of wild verses for the non-conformists in today’s world who refuse to go along with the globalist, blank slate program. It’s an offensive little chapbook that’s guaranteed to blow your jets if they blow easily. The poems deal with futurism, nationalism, anti-capitalism and race realism. In other words it’s a blast for the whole family.
On my experience living in Los Angeles 15 years ago, I wrote this longish piece: (which later appeared in my book “SideQuests“)
Have a look at the havoc of this place.
Oh, I bet it used to be great,
but just look at it now.
It’s a scumtown.
A long time ago, while watching the James Bond movie
“Goldfinger,” in a studio apartment in
what was once West Hollywood,
during an opening sequence, when the camera closes in on
a spectacular resort in Miami
(always notice the beautiful dive),
I uttered this seemingly obvious remark,
“I bet Miami was a great place back then…before all the immigrants.”
My friend whom I was with seemed mildly irritated
by the comment for what he perceived as it’s implied
“subtle racism.” And maybe he was right,
but it’s something one could go on to say
about a great many once great places.
On my first full day in Los Angeles,
my first impression was a Sears on Santa Monica and Western
which I would come to refer to as “third world Sears.”
There were hordes of people stampeding throughout the place,
and clothing strewn about everywhere, with reckless disregard
for the generally accepted and often excessively anal standards
of your average department store. This is not your average
department store, but as the US continues its transition toward
becoming a third world country,
where such refugee camp swap meets represent normalcy,
it soon may be. I wasn’t thinking about that, though. All I could think of was that at one time it must have been a wonderful store,
and anyone involved in the building of the building
or who had worked there in it’s heyday
would be appalled and saddened
at the looted corpse of an establishment it had become.
More comically, there is a place on Sunset called “The All American
Burger,” where there literally did not appear to be one American working there.
But of course appearance isn’t everything, so there may have been.
The Los Angeles experience is one that can be summed up
in the episode of “The Simpsons” where they go to Hollywood,
and as the tour bus passes a famous landmark, the tour guide
points toward a seedy vacant lot with a few bums milling about
and says; “Uh, for those of you who always wanted to see the famous Brown Derby restaurant…that’s where it used to be.”
When I was a kid we lived on a street with a string of townhouses, where everyone knew each other, and all the kids(and often parents) played together in each other’s yards.
Everybody on the block was like your family, and every house was like your house with the only difference being that yours was the one you slept in at night.
There’s no question that there are thousands of neighborhoods as yet unaffected, where all that stuff still happens, new places being
constructed where in the future it will happen, and of course it probably already didn’t happen back then in places where it had once happened.
Still, it’s always sad to see something doesn’t happen and will never
again happen somewhere that it used to happen.
It’s like in “Back to the Future II” when
Marty Mcfly travels to 2015, and is elated to discover
he will live “Hilldale,”(a lush neighborhood in his own time)
until he learns it is really just a future ghetto,
just as in the first film when he goes to 1955 and sees
how “Lyon Estates” was a promising new development in the 50′s,
but would become a subpar subdivision by the 1980′s.
That’s about enough lenses to desensitize more than one of one’s senses.
After all, it’s tense enough even without all the tenses.
These days it seems one can’t walk 50 feet without being harassed by an aggressive bum asking for money, or some self entitled hurricane Katrina refugee who responds with threats and belligerence no matter whether
his request is politely declined or even accepted.
For those with number counter syndrome,
they can never have enough
They always want more numbers to count.
To them, the ambiance doesn’t.
But to some of us, ambiance matters!
and there’s no arguing with the feeling of an experience.
It is what it is.
Spending an afternoon watching Cary Grant
mountaineering about Mount Rushmore in “North By Northwest”,
and directly following that by a trip to one’s nearest
gihugic mega mall (and I say “nearest” because these behemoths are not worthy of the term “local”), one can intuitively, inductively, reasonably observe, this place has gone down the tubes. And if not,
then they don’t know or don’t care what they won’t miss.
To that people always say something along the lines of
“the 50′s and 60′s weren’t really like the way they were portrayed in
movies.” And yes, it’s true that life for all wasn’t exactly as depicted
in old Rock Hudson and Doris Day films,
(after all Rock Hudson was gay!)
But so what?!
It may not have been entirely like that, but whatever it was,
was certainly nothing like this.
Either wall it off, or wall me in.
There’s nothing out there.
Nothing left but to be left
to the sanctuary of one’s own imagination within.
Have a look at the havoc of this place.
Oh, I bet it used to be great,
but just look at it now.
It’s a scumtown
I still think about that Sears a lot. It was a beautiful old building in the heart of the city. I thought about how proud the people must have been the day they finished building it. I went there to buy some jeans thinking it was going to be a normal department store, but when I walked in, there piles of clothing and products literally everywhere. You couldn’t even walk through the place….just a total disaster and it was as if the employees and the swarms of Spanish speaking customers were completely oblivious to it, like it was a standard for an establishment that they were just fine with. I was somewhat against it before then, but that was my red pill moment on immigration.. where I just said to myself “hell no, I’m not down with this.”
Most people think of California as liberal, but Southern California was once a bastion of Barry Goldwater conservatism, and look at it now? Look at Anaheim, where Disneyland is. It’s garbageville. Same with the high desert, the San Fernando Valley, Riverside, I could go on and on.
Here is the telling Urban Dictionary entry for Pomona, CA:
a ghetto ass place, where it use to be such a popular and lovely place. it was an attraction for stars, but not anymore.. now its an attraction for the cholos and shit. its mostly hispanics, some blacks and cambos, and fewww whites.
aye foo, where’d my homie go?
he went to some kickback in pomona.
That’s the new California. If you’re super rich you can live in one of the pockets of gated communities and price out the riff raff and isolate yourself from the richness of mass immigration…for a while, until they vote away enough of your money or the public schools become so ghetto that you decide to move.
We don’t need to import millions of impoverished people from ragtag third world countries. We have all that we need and then some.
Written by one of a generation raised on “choose your own adventures,” Sidequests is one person’s chosen adventures, a somewhat oxymoronic search for mutual understanding in the confounding world of our time. Though nonlinear in theory, Sidequests is actually more along the lines of a loosely linear hodgepodge of poetry and philosophy, one which vaguely explores the ever blurring line separating man and machine, reality from dreams, past, present, future tenses, the world above, the great beyond, and various random things in between. A nostalgic piece of pop culture analysis, heavily influenced by 70′s sci-fi, and which contains a plethora of vastly obscure references, Sidequests is a book written for escapists by an escapist artist, a fugitive from one’s generation, fleeing to the sanctuary of an overactive imagination. The author, a self described “bard out of time” somehow finds enough with which he (among other things):
-ponders the struggles of what to do with one’s life once redemption appears highly unlikely
-attempts to reconcile race relations through the “Return to the Planet of the Apes” cartoon series
-manages to intertwine states’ rights politics with the classic 8-bit Nintendo game, “North And South”
-periodically delves into romance, misogyny, and love affairs with humidity. -introduces a new line of cologne called “Despair”
-makes the case for considering the remote possibility of intelligent design (while not openly advocating it)
-pontificates on the ambiance of illegal immigration and overpopulation -includes a passionate commentary on how The Monkees are “better” than The Beatles.
-Uses hamster science experiments as an analogy for long distance relationships.
-fantasizes of being able to time travel and live out the remainder of his life in the mod days of the sunset strip in 1966 Los Angeles.
-claims to deeply identify with “The Pink Panther” (the cartoon version)
“I was a gull once
way back then
way back when
and if I hadn’t
much to do now
I’d be that again.”
-Keith Gunderson from “A Continual Interest in the Sun and Sea”
Looking around at all the neat stuff today that goes
unappreciated, while the most uninteresting and uninspiring
works get hailed as genius and trumpeted from every orifice of society….I often seek out obscure older books, records and films curious as to what classics may have unjustly went largely unnoticed in another time.
While at Bard’s Books with Ace one day, a book caught my eye called “A Continual Interest in the Sun and Sea” by Keith Gunderson, 1971. It’s a collection of untitled poems(the author hints it is really just one long poem) which as you might ascertain from the title, all relate to the experience of the sea in some way. They aren’t all about being on a boat in the ocean of course. Some relate to romantic beach adventures, the cheap amusement park atmosphere on the Santa Monica Pier, taking baths, gazing out at the stars, or merely the sea as somewhat abstract idea.
The author manages to capture the ambiance of the sea perfectly. I read this book in the bathtub in Phoenix, summer 2011… but I might as well have been sailing out of Marina Del Rey in 1965. If you have the slightest bit of imagination at your disposal, and harbor an escapist’s longing for the wonders of the sea, this book can really take you there.
25 cent photos while you wait.
I’m pleased to say also, that the author, Keith Gunderson is still alive and well teaching philosophy at the University of Minnesota, and more importantly still writing. His bio on the back of the book says that he taught philosophy at UCLA from 1964-67. With his young family he spent a good deal of time exploring the oceanic environs of southern California, picnicking by Zuma Beach or wandering around the Santa Monica Pier absorbing its circus variety of sights and sounds. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! He also apparently wrote a follow up called “Inland Missing the Sea” which appeared together with it in a later version.
[Edit: Since this review was published in 2011, Keith Gunderson passed away in 2013 at the age of 78. RIP]
The Beginning of the End of All That is Good
By Brandon Adamson
When I was a child,
things in life would be good for a long while,
and then it would end(my goodness!)
As a young teenager,
things would end just as they were getting good,
or so my feeble mind wagered at the time.
In my young adulthood,
things tended to end as I thought
they were about to begin to get good.
Amidst the present tensions,
good things seem to end even before they begin
leaving little time to wonder
what might have been.
In the future then,
all things will begin to end.