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"Walter's Books" My Short Reviews of Books I'd Recommend




When I go to my local branch of the New York Public Library, I always make sure I check the “New Arrivals” shelf for the most recent titles in Fiction and Non-Fiction. Unfortunately Poetry is mixed-in with Non-Fiction and seems the lonely, forgotten stepchild. You need to look for 811, which is the Dewey Decimal classification number for poetry.


Anyway, I try to browse all the most recent titles for all kinds of books from the current year and take home one or more that particularly interest me. Sometimes I’m intrigued by the first line of a poem or the particular topic of a non-fiction work, or I spot a book for which I’ve already read an interesting review.


I thought that I might write some “flash reviews” on my Blog site in the hopes I can draw attention to some books which I have found of interest. Mind you, this is a random process and is often the result of my own haphazard reading habits and of course is often biased by a particular love of poetry.  


The great advantage of living in New York is its fantastic library system as well as its many bookstores. I encourage everyone to give whatever monetary donation you can to  the NYPL which of late has seen severe budget cuts. It needs our help, as do independent bookstores.


While it’s true that I often receive advance reader copies of new titles and for that I’m very thankful, there’s something about browsing the library shelf just as there is in browsing the bookstore stacks in a small shop, that still thrills me. It adds to a sense of discovery. With so many titles coming out each month, especially in the case of poetry, and so many talented poets, I sometimes like to rely on this random browsing as a way to decide my next read.


Non-fiction, fiction, and poetry are all my interests. Additionally, I have friends who are poets and writers of all kinds. Their books are very much on my radar. I like to review books and share my thoughts. I’m by no means however a great reader, a solid critic, and certainly not extensively well-read. I just like responding to what’s there on the page in the moment, putting into words my first initial feelings, and then going back to understand better what has excited or moved me. I suppose I’d like to think that this puts me in quiet dialog with the poet or writer. Writing is such a difficult process and so I like to recognize, in any small way that I can, the great effort that has gone into a book.


To publish a review in a journal is a difficult process and there are often strictures on the reviewer: have you maintained absolute neutrality? is your judgement impartial?, can you assure you’ve had no contact with an author or a press? As in any writing venture, as there should be, there is much competition and a high bar as to the quality of the writing and the critic’s insight. And as we all well know “everybody’s a critic.” Everybody has an opinion and most wish it to be heard or valued in print.


Add this to the fact that many books go by without an eager audience. Most poets I would guess are surprised when they hear directly from a reader and sometimes have no idea that a review has been published about their book, as there can be silence out there even for the most celebrated or accepted writer.


The length requirements for a review can further be an issue. Often, a small word-count due to space constraints can sacrifice nuance, but it also can be a blessing at sharpening the critic and focusing their observations.


So, I’d thought I’d jot down my occasional impressions on my blog site. It will help me keep track of book titles and the writer’s names that I’ve especially enjoyed. I suspect this will be a rather sporadic process with entries far and few between. And please note, that a great number of these “reviews” are taken from ones I posted on for the books in question.



Thoughts on Poetry


In poetry, at least in the contemporary personal lyric, the movement has been toward prose poetry and the distinctive declarative “I.” Just as Ginsberg in “Howl” returned us to the highly Whitmanesque “I” of early American poetry, the 1990s built upon this rhetorical emphasis with multicultural, gay and lesbian, and feminist poetry. True, an uneasy dynamic has always existed between the “declarative I” and the more indeterminate experiential focus on “language” alone, i.e. the poem as “object” or “theoretical construct” or “meta-text” at odds with any “essential speaker.” While these poetic skirmishes enrich and shall continue to enrich the pleasures of reading poetry, I’ve always been pretty eclectic in my reading.


It is because of this that sometimes I am drawn more to the originality of the “voice” or the “I” in the poem. The poet’s diction and rhetorical surprises and unique rhythms all wrapped up in the “I’s” sense of agency and individual authenticity become then the focus. Other times it is the style or form on the page and the length of the lines and the line breaks as well as the grammatical finesse of the poet to draw attention to the pure materiality of language. In that case it becomes a fascinating theoretical display of concept over content—however that’s not to downplay or dismiss altogether the content! And then there is the political or historical tenor of the poet, their forcefulness and argument and depth of fury, insight, or revelation, be it moral, ethical or some novel challenge to an old way of thinking. Epiphany and poetry with a more spiritual emphasis along with sensitive lyricism I have always liked due to its unknowns. In these meditative poems the poetry becomes more experiential if you will, disarmingly quiet.


But the fact of the matter is from the start you can’t separate the poetic experience or poetic practice or poetic enjoyment into discrete parts and elements. Form and content, language and form, subject and object, style and diction, grammar and metaphor and image or symbol are all joined in a quantum dance of indeterminate wonder and all subject to strange unfathomable forces.  




 David Groff’s “Live in Suspense,” Trio House Press, Inc.  July 1, 2023. Poetry.


Groff is a poet of deep self-examination and scrutiny of the personal world. He never flinches in looking at the tragedies around us, the complexities of a minister father, a caring but distant mother, a passage as a gay man from joy to plague to miraculous survival. He knows the mortal cruelties of an ever absent and silent world. He is haunted by the biblical narratives he heard in his youth which no longer supply enduring hope or absolute salvation. There is no other poet I know today who is as daringly brave to look into the heart, to speak to grief, loss, and reexamine the past with such acuity. He speaks of those loved and no longer with us. Groff finds in the sudden shock of a bird colliding in full force against a window, or a deer hit by his car at high speed, the odd nature of life and fate. We are indeed always living in suspense, but most of us choose to ignore it, to look away, to distract ourselves. These beautifully crafted soliloquies are never maudlin however, or bleak, for Groff tempers his work with a magnificent honesty, a clear heartfelt sense of inquiry and biting irony. He is a remarkable apostle of our modern moment and witness to the mysteries of the human heart.



“Assotto Saint, Sacred Spells, Collected Works.” Nightboat Books, August 29, 2023. Poetry, Plays, Essays.


The collected works of Assotto Saint, the Haitian-American-Gay Writer (1957-1994) are as powerful today as they were in the 1980's and early 1990's. These poems, plays, essays, and short fictional pieces, burn with fierce compassion and political acuity. Saint's imagination dazzles as it weaves the written word into lyric incantations and spells that mesmerize, cajole, and persuade us to be forces for change and forces for love. To read Assotto Saint is to return to the generation of Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, Melvin Dixon, and so many others who sought cultural liberation and showed bold courage as pioneers in the LGBTQ activist movement. This is an authentic life to be treasured.



“Invisible History: The Collected Poems of Walta Borawski.” Edited by Philip Clark and Michael Bronski. The Library of Homosexual Congress, Rebel Satori Press, December 1, 2022.


As Chris Bram, the novelist, says so smartly, Walter Borawski "could be as witty and sly as Frank O'Hara, but he was wiser, more passionate, naked and liberated." Even Ginsberg praised Borawski and his "sparky mind" with his ability to be sassy and romantic and display "Lots of intelligence in the line, mindful measure of spoken speech music." Borawski gives us a glimpse of a sexually liberated poet in Boston who lived in both the intellectual bohemia of the city and its post-Stonewall era gay underworld. Borawski gives us a "Tea Party" in verse, full of eclectic influences and dazzling allusions, a brew of humor, elegance, pain, and camp, his is a mind that throws overboard the taxing constraints of conventional life. A diva of the night, a reclusive intellect, lover, social loner yet witty conversationalist, Borawski joins the roster of other gay revolutionaries who led the charge, young men from the provinces who enlisted in the cause of raucous liberty.

Allen Barnett’s “The Body and its Dangers & Other Stories,” Dec 1, 2023, Library of Homosexual Congress, Rebel Satori Press, Ed. Tom Cardamone.



Allen Barnett is a writer who captured 1980s life with smart and wry observation. His characters and their conversations emerge in ironic tones both urban and suburban in scope. His stories are told with tenderness and savvy, but also with great honesty and heart. They both entertain and engage us by Barnett's keen introspective narrative style and his sense of what it was to be a gay man in the topsy turvy world of those times. It was a time when death, life, sophistication and youth kept close social ties and hope was the flighty friend next door. Barnett travels with bemusement, but also with honesty and care, giving us these skillfully self-aware studies of human weakness and his own mortal intimations. The fact that he would die of AIDS in 1991 only makes the frame of these small ardent masterpieces glow ever more golden and tragic.



“Bedroom Vowel” by Zoe Tuck, BUNNY, an imprint of Fonograf Editions, 2023.


 Zoe Tuck is definitely a poet to keep an ear out for. Her wonderful voice is quirky as it is spontaneous, full of brilliance and smarts that demolish any reader’s preconceptions. Tuck mixes the day-to-day about relationships and shared social domesticity with an amazing erudition and quicksilver intellect. Her trans, lesbian, working-class narrative voice and her Amherst, Massachusetts proximity offer up a subtle refute against sister-school-lesbian stereotypes or really any gender or class stereotypes a reader might bring with them. This freedom to just be herself in all her complexity is truly wonderful. Tuck’s rebellious zeal and distinct originality zig zag down the page, and at any moment can pause for a kitchen break, counsel a love-lorn friend in need at the door, or contemplate the Russian-born psychoanalyst and renegade Lou Andreas Salomé. What is it about Texas-born poets transplanted to northern climes (via California) that they can so perfectly maintain their wily independence? Tuck is the real-deal rebel poet, one who easily matches the bad-boy cliques of before. One easily hears in Tuck a radical trans feminist and brilliant poet. I delighted in her effortless meandering from the “pink cloud in Watteau’s ‘Embarkation for Cythera’” to “Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Your Freak On.’” While joining her girlfriend partner to see a fertility doctor about IVF, she can label the French poet François Villon as “a thief” and the philosopher Georges Bataille as “a pervert” as she compares them to the “red raw excellence of Kathy Acker.” Reading Tuck is a true joy. One might drink a beer and wish to take to her worn couch to listen as she discusses Nietzsche, Dawson’s Creek, and her efforts at “quitting Spotify.” 

“Poems: Imperative to Spare.” by Scott Hightower. Rebel Satori Press, November 7, 2023.


Scott Hightower, born on a Texas ranch and long a literary maverick in the poetry world of New York has over the years managed to exquisitely blend the grit and pluck of his rural upbringing with his wide breadth of knowledge. In this, his fifth book of poetry in the US,  Hightower presents a series of elegiac poems which address the sudden death of his long-time partner. These personal lyrics are meditations charting his journey of grief as he goes about his days now cut loose and on his own. Hightower captures the strange dislocations and tender ironies of loss with the odd contradictions of mourning. His intelligence and long-life-in-letters are now confronted with sobering realities, the slow pace of estate lawyers, the awkward pursuit of dating, and the constant need to reenvision both future and past. Hightower’s writing resonates with other works of loss such as Isherwood’s “A Single Man,” Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” and Paul Monette’s “Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog.” With heartrending honesty he speaks of the eternal questions of aging and absence. And as he so eloquently suggests, the only true memento mori “we’ve really got” islanguage. Hightower’s words in this beautiful collection shall long remain an enduring testament to his abiding love.

“Gay Poems for Red States” by Willie Edward Taylor Carver, Jr.

University Press of Kentucky, 2023.

“Gay Poems for Red States” is a quiet but forceful collection of narrative poems, that  show-not-tell the trajectory of Carver, Jr.’s life in Appalachia. Carver, a gay man in Kentucky, suffered in his youth the blatant homophobia and the economic discrimination of his community. This book clearly teaches us how Carver, Jr. persevered to become an educator who has made it his mission to advocate inclusion for LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and Appalachian students. Though he and his husband fled Kentucky to Vermont after an especially threatening conversation with a school administrator, Carver, Jr. returned eventually to his roots. He did so with renewed purpose to fight discrimination and lend his support to mentor young lives very much troubled and vulnerable as his was. This collection is essentially a memoir in verse, and reminded me of the power and eloquence of such poets as Robert Hayden, Dylan Thomas, Rita Dove, Jericho Brown, and Natasha Trethewey. This book is a true labor of love, a one-time work perhaps, beautifully written and singularly devoted to empowering through sharing one’s truth. Young and old alike will find healing remedy and courage by taking a front row seat in Carver, Jr.’s awe-inspiring classroom.



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