Bryan R. Monte – The End of the Beginning

Bryan R. Monte
The End of the Beginning

             in memoriam Kevin Killian, 1952-2019

Most of Amsterdam Quarterly’s readers are probably unaware that AQ is not my first foray into literary publishing. That would be No Apologies, a magazine of gay writing, which I published from 1983 to 1985. No Apologies or NA was the result of my contact with a group of gay writers in San Francisco from the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1984. They met weekly at Small Press Traffic Bookstore (SPT) on 24th St. in Noe Valley. SPT was housed in a railroad style flat: all rooms to the right of a central hallway, the bookstore in the front parlour and bedroom, the toilet, kitchen, and living room, where the group met, in the back.
      It was here that I first met Kevin Killian, who immediately stood out from the others. Instead of the usual, short, Castro-clone, haircut and moustache, Killian wore a curly mullet, similar to Brian May’s, and was clean shaven. In addition, he always had a cloth bag with him. It held several newspapers and/or magazines, usually about television and film stars, and two books. The first was usually a Hollywood star’s biography and the second, a volume of literary criticism. Killian was as conversant in French semioticians Derrida’s, Foucault’s, and Lacan’s literary theories as he was in the lives of celebrities such as Joan Collins, Lynda Evans, Debra Winger and especially Michael Jackson, who appeared frequently in Killian’s poetry, fiction, and essays. Furthermore, Killian was also no wallflower: a gifted conversationalist—charming, deft, and diplomatic with criticism—he was an active participant with helpful feedback. He was one of the few people who attended religiously as I did. And his output was prolific: he brought in something new almost every week.
      After workshop the group would sometimes go out for a drink and a bite to eat. It wasn’t long before Killian invited me to his large, ground-floor flat in a green, four-story, Queen Anne Victorian frame house between 23rd and 24th on Guerrero (just the other side of the hill from where I lived). He shared this flat with a sister and her friend. I stopped by frequently, and I remember spending the night there once on the couch reading Killian’s copy of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. Killian’s first appearance in my journal is on 4 May 1983 after I unknowingly got high at a Channel Magazine reading on those infamous mushroom-laden brownies, (I had come straight from work, was very hungry, and didn’t know what was in them), at Newspace on Valencia Street. At the interval, Killian found me outside addressing a parking meter. When the reading ended, he delivered me safely to my partner Harry Britt, at our 20th and Guerrero St. flat.
      At the gay writers’ workshop, I frequently heard many good stories and poems about gays. I wondered aloud why none of these pieces had been published. I was told by the writers in this group that their style and/or content was too radical for mainstream publishers at that time—a time in which you could put all the gay & lesbian books published by mainstream presses on one shelf and still have room left for many more.
      I also noticed that Killian had typed up most of his pieces on continuous, green-and-white striped, computer paper, the kind used at the beginning of the personal computer revolution. I began to ask Killian questions about his computer’s and printer’s formatting and typesetting capabilities. Could they produce pages with right and left justified text columns? What was the highest quality they could print? Could they print in italic and bold? Killian confirmed they could. In addition, he told me about the printer’s NLQ (near letter quality) function. This took a bit longer to print, but it smoothed out the normally rougher-edged, rastered letters produced in the draft and normal modes.
      With this information, I suggested to the group that we could use this technology to create our own literary journal, something like the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film trope of ‘put(ting) on a show in our backyard’. Initially, this idea didn’t receive much support from the group. Nevertheless, I continued to consult with Killian.
      By mid-May 1983, I had gotten to know Killian so well he hosted my UC Berkeley graduation party that June at his flat. My mother was in town for the occasion, and she took photos of the party guests including Paul Melbostad, a friend from the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club, and Steve Abbott, Roberto Bedoya, Bruce Boone, and Bob Gluck, from the gay writers’ workshop.

Mary M. Monte, Bryan Monte’s Graduation Party, Killian flat, photograph, June 1983.
(L. to r. Robert Bedoya, Bryan Monte, Bob Gluck, Kevin Killian, Steve Abbott, and unknown man).

      Sometime thereafter, Killian introduced me to his future partner, Dodie Bellamy. She did paste up and art direction downtown for company publications and annual reports. Bellamy showed me how to use a waxer, blocks of typeset text, a lightbox, and an Exacto knife to paste up pages. Bellamy also put me in touch with a colleague, Mike Belt, who had heard of my gay literary magazine project and wished to contribute something. He created a low-cost, mesmerizing, minimalist cover composed of alternating, thin, white and dark straight lines. This easily recognizable cover could be reused to save money just by changing the darker colour and the headlines plate for each issue.
      A page, half the size of a legal page, was chosen to save money. Four pages could be photocopied, instead of offset, on one, double-sided sheet. Collating the pages at home could also save more money. The biggest, unavoidable production cost, however, was the printing of the covers and the binding of the covers to the pages, which had to be sent out. The cover and binding costs were about $600 per issue, and copying the pages cost $400 for a total of $1,000 to produce one issue of 250 copies of approximately 60 to 90 pages.
      According to my journal, by July interest in my proposed gay magazine among the workshop members was increasing. I wrote in my journal on 3 August my very idealistic reasons for publishing the magazine were ‘to show gay people how to cope with oppression’ and ‘to teach them how to recognize and it and how to deal with it.’ I also kept my college guard job after graduation at the weekends to save money to pay for the magazine.
      By 18 August, I’d given the magazine a name, No Apologies, a phrase used by Britt in a speech after the White Night Riots when Dan White, who had assassinated Mayor George Moscone and the first gay City and County Supervisor, Harvey Milk, was convicted only of manslaughter and not murder. In response, a predominantly gay mob smashed some city hall windows and burned several police cars parked out front. Britt was asked to apologize for the damage. However, in his famous quote he said: ‘We will make no apologies for our rage until straight America apologizes for the history of oppression that enrages us.’
      By September, I had assembled enough material for a first issue. In addition, Killian and I were scheduled to read together at Modern Times funky, leftist Mission District bookshop on Valencia. I made two reading posters from old magazine photo backgrounds that Killian had purchased at a thrift shop. I added newspaper headlines, No Apologies’s name, and our reading details.

Bryan R. Monte, Monte/Killian Modern Times Reading Poster #1, collage, 1984.

Bryan R. Monte, Monte/Killian Modern Times Bookstore Reading Poster #2, collage, 1984.

      We read on Monday, 12 September 1983 at Modern Times. I noted in my journal the weather was unusually warm that evening, so I bought cups, ‘a jug of white wine and a large bottle of 7-UP’ for refreshments. I read first to a very attentive audience of approximately 25. After the break, Killian began his reading with a porn excerpt, something I’d noted Abbott and Gluck had also been doing at their readings lately. The issue of how sexually-explicit gay writing should be was a perennial issue. Some people preferred the level of disclosure in most mainstream, straight publications, but others preferred including all the details.
      During September, Killian delivered the final pages. To finance the magazine, I worked seven days a week, keeping my weekend security job I’d gotten whilst I studied at Berkeley and worked temp jobs during the week. In October, I photocopied NA’s pages at Krishna Copy in Berkeley because they had the cheapest rates. Then, I brought two large, legal paper boxes of ‘printed’ pages back to my flat via Bart. Here, the sets of pages were collated during a party.
      Then I took the collated pages to West Coast Printing in Oakland, which printed the covers. Next, 150 sets of pages were bound to their covers. (I optimistically had 300 covers printed, planning to reprint more copies at a later date, and have them bound once some money from sales came in). I brought these bound copies back to San Francisco by cab since they were too heavy for me to carry alone.

Robin Blaser Reception, Monte/Britt flat, San Francisco, November 1983.
L.-r.: Kevin Killian, unknown man, Bryan Monte, Lewis Ellingham, Roberto Bedoya & Steve Abbott.
Photographer Unknown. Copyright © 2016 by Bryan R. Monte. All rights reserved.

      On 10 November, I hosted a reception for Robin Blaser, No Apologies’ first issue’s headliner, at my flat after his reading at New College. My guests, in addition to Blaser, included Bedoya and Joanne Kyger, who arrived early to help me set up. Also present were Abbott, Angela and Tofa Beauregard, Sam Blaser, Boone, Don Ebbe, Ellingham, Gerald Fabian, Gluck, James Justin, Tobey Kaplan, Duncan McNaughton, Ed Mycue, Aaron Shurin, Sky (Mike Belt’s partner), Tom (Bedoya’s friend from Bolinas), and Jack Winkler.
      The No Apologies #1 launch party and reading took place in December at the Intersection for the Arts in North Beach. Readers included L.R., a fellow student from Thom Gunn’s Berkeley writing class, Abbott, Boone, Ellingham, Gluck, Tobey Kaplan, Killian, Paul Shimasaki and myself among others. Jim Hart, the reading series organizer, was astounded at the turnout and NA’s popularity. He said it was the first time a literary magazine had sold out at an Intersection reading.

Bryan R. Monte No Apologies #1 audience reception, Intersection of the Arts, San Francisco, December 1983, photograph. (Ellen (last name unknown), far left, Steve Abbott and Sam D’Allesandro at back, Aaron Shurin, arms crossed).

      I was happy to be part of this hive of activity during the holiday season, which always got me down. Britt had left for Texas to be with his family. Luckily, due to an extended absence by Denise Kastan, I got extra shifts at SPT from November through December, which kept me busy. I also temped downtown to finance NA #2.
      After this, I was switched with Paul Shimasaki, who had clerked at Charles Gilman’s Walt Whitman Bookstore on Market at 15th Street. The Whitman was much busier than SPT, so I wasn’t able to get much magazine work done, though this is what Gilman had promised. However, I did meet more gay authors and editors. My journal notes that Donald Allen took me to lunch on 11 January. He said he liked the poems in No Apologies and two days later he brought John Button’s essay on Jack Spicer over to my Guerrero Street flat for publication in the No Apologies #2 due out in May. This I would add to Killian’s Stazione Termini symposium and Abbott’s and Bellamy’s Judy Grahn interview to form the core of that issue.
      In the meantime, two things happened which turned my life upside-down. First, on 28 March I received an acceptance letter with a fellowship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. I rang Killian to come over and read the letter to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I asked him: ‘What should I do?’ He said: ‘I’ll help you pack.’ The second was my appearance in The Advocate on 1 May, in Dick Habany’s article ‘New Writing and Erotica’ about the ‘Tensions of the Two Traditions’ in gay writing—literary and erotic/pornographic. Many people, including Killian, were happy I had won an Ivy League university writing fellowship and been mentioned in the gay press. Others in the writers’ group, however, were a little less supportive. According to my journal, one key member remarked to our circle that he didn’t understand ‘why anyone would give me $7,000 to study writing.’

Bryan R. Monte, No Apologies #2 reading poster, collage, 1984

      NA #2 appeared on 11 May 1984. The publication party and reading was held that evening at Newspace, an art and theatre space across from New College and next door to The Valencia Rose, one of the first post-Stonewall, gay and lesbian comedy clubs in San Francisco. However, the reading was very tense and troubled from the very beginning. First, when I arrived to set up the chairs, I found a dance troupe with drums dancing in the space. Even though I told them they were occupying the space in my time slot, they kept dancing. The only way I got them to stop was to start putting out chairs in rows, taking up more of the space. (Killian said he’d also arrived early to help set up, but had seen the dancers and assumed he’s got the night wrong, so he’d gone for drink).

      The next source of tension was that Norse had demanded a microphone in order to read and that no one be permitted to enter or leave whilst he read. I got the microphone set up and working, but just as Norse started to read, a homeless man started rattling the door handle. I went outside and tried to reason with him and several times turned him away before he circled back and walked up to the door again. Fortunately, I was able to keep him from entering Newspace whilst Norse read, but unfortunately, I didn’t hear a single word of what Norse said.

Bryan R. Monte, No Apologies #2 audience members, (l. to r. Steve Abbott, John Norton, Sam D’Allesandro and Lewis Ellingham, photograph, May 1984

      Moreover, NA #2’s print run, completed just that afternoon, had not yet arrived from West Coast Printing. In the emergency, Kaplan had volunteered to collect the magazines and to bring them over the Bay in her pickup truck. She arrived one reader before the interval. When I started to open up the box, however, a sudden flurry of hands descended like pigeons swooping down upon an accidental birdseed spill. I quickly resealed the box, put it under a table, and waited until the interval for the sale and distribution of the copies. We had soft drinks, beer, and wine to drink, and home-made treats such as cakes and brownies (but none with magic mushrooms or marihuana), and pretzels. Someone even brought a few pizzas.
      Lastly, it was difficult MCing my first reading with seven readers, keeping track of the time, and trying to get everything packed, cleaned, and locked up so I wouldn’t lose my deposit. Afterwards we gathered at the Mirage, at 22nd and Guerrero, to celebrate.

Photographer unknown, No Apologies #2 reception, Mirage Bar, San Francisco, photograph, May 1984. L. to r. Dodie Bellamy, Steve Abbott, Sam D’Allesandro, Bryan R. Monte, unknown woman, and Tobey Kaplan.

      Unfortunately, a fight broke out that night at the bar, and in the scrum, I didn’t realize until the next morning that I was missing No Apologies’ receipt book. Thank goodness Doug Murphy went dumpster diving for me in front of New College to retrieve the book, which had a big, red, tomato stain on it. I wondered why anyone would discard it.
      Since I anticipated being very busy finding a flat and attending classes in a town and at a university I’d never visited, I asked Killian if he would finish No Apologies #3 as its guest editor. I gave Killian some seed money directly after from the second issue’s reading to begin production and also six poems and two very short stories I had already accepted before news of my fellowship. From August to October, we corresponded almost fortnightly and telephoned monthly. Killian wrote about the weather, readings he’d attended, books and magazines he’d read, and the men he was dating. He also complained he had no one to accompany him thrift shopping. During this time, we exchanged and commented on manuscripts.
      Unfortunately, logistic as well as communication mistakes and strains soon appeared. On 8 September Killian wrote he’d held a benefit party for NA #3, in San Francisco, joking that this time, however, that there were ‘no conga dancers to break up’. However, it was a month to five weeks before I received any copies. During this time, Phil Willkie, editor of The James White Review, wrote me twice that he that was still waiting for copies he had requested from Killian. In addition, I had a 12 October reading in Providence. On 15 October Killian wrote that he hoped I’d received the copies in time. I can’t remember if I did, but I do remember the stress. Eventually, 47 copies arrived via book post, two of which were damaged.
      Unfortunately, 45 copies, less than one fifth of the print run, weren’t enough to satisfy No Apologies standing orders with the East Coast gay bookstores, libraries, and subscribers. In an undated letter from mid-October, Killian apologized for having sent ‘so few copies’ even though he wrote later that he still ‘had $400 towards the next issue’. I immediately wondered why he hadn’t printed any extra covers as I had done with the NA#1 to meet any unexpected demand for #3. (Printing twice as many covers and holding half in reserve would have cost not twice but 20% more due to economies of scale). Killian could have used the $400 to photocopy more pages and bind these to the extra covers. Moreover, I was disappointed to discover that Killian had segregated the work I had accepted before I’d asked him to guest edit in a separate section at the back of NA #3 with bold cap headers across facing pages —SPECIAL SECTION— — EDITED BY BRYAN MONTE—. Lastly, Killian disagreed with my suggestion of a moratorium on pieces about the Spicer/Blaser/Duncan circle.
      The reason for the final break came in December 1984 as I walked Dennis Cooper down College Hill after a reading I had organized for Brown’s Gay and Lesbian Union, which had also featured Olga Broumas. As we descended the steep hill on Waterman Street, past the large, white, wooden First Baptist Church in America, (which Cooper was amazed to discover dated from 1775), I asked him to send some work for the next issue to accompany his interview. There was an awkward silence as we walked a few steps further. Then Cooper said he’d already sent Killian work.
      On New Year’s Eve, Killian or I telephoned and I told him how upset I was about the late delivery of too few copies of #3, the miscommunication about the work he had accepted and my displeasure at his placing the work I had chosen for #3 in a separate section at the back of the issue. Shortly after our conversation, I wrote Killian that we should go our separate ways. I sent him a list of work he could publish in his own magazine from the typeset pages he’d sent. I would retain the No Apologies name, the distinctive striped cover and logo, and the pieces I had accepted, including Norse’s second instalment of his ‘The Honeymoon’ memoir. Later, Killian did create a magazine called Mirage, named after his favourite San Francisco bar.
      I typeset and edited issues #4 and #5 on Brown University’s VM/370 mainframe, and had the magazines printed in Providence. These issues featured interviews with Cooper and Picano respectively. Issue #4 included poetry by Broumas and Donald Vining’s WWII New York City memoir. Issue #5 included a short story, ‘Telesex’, by Stan Leventhal, which featured full-body condoms and Michael Jackson as US president.
      Interest in No Apologies increased nationally and internationally. A Different Light Bookstore’s standing order went from 10 for issue #1 to 50 by issue #5. NA was ordered by bookstores and universities in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. My writing also gained national prominence again when my essay, “Living with A Lover or How to Stay Together without Killing Each Other’, was published in the 1986 Doubleday/Dolphin anthology Gay Life. Unfortunately, due to my graduation, the loss of my university mainframe access, my student and car debts, and my first job as a New England high school writing instructor to begin to rebuild my finances, I was unable to continue NA’s publication. This scuttled plans for a sixth issue that would have included poetry by James Broughton.
      When I returned to San Francisco in July 1987, I found it surprisingly difficult to re-establish myself. In three years, the rents had more than doubled and there were double pages of obituaries in the gay newspapers due to the AIDS epidemic. The job market, which had seemed healthy when I had visited in February, had dried up. So, as when I graduated from Berkeley, I dove back into the temp pool. Fortunately, one of my former bosses fished me out, offering an insurance job with health benefits. Around this time, I attended a reading, where Killian was seated in front of me. Just before the reading began, he turned around and asked if I was still angry with him. I didn’t respond, the only answer I felt I could give with everyone listening.
      Ironically, my return to San Francisco with a graduate degree in writing meant the end of No Apologies. With every paycheque going towards paying the bills, I had no money left to resume publication. Moreover, I was required to attend after-work insurance classes for two years and take three, four-hour, weekend, written exams to become certified to keep my job. Thus, I had no time, money, or energy to spare on a magazine. During 1987, I visited Abbott and Gunn in the Haight, but I didn’t become re-involved in their writing circles. Instead, I worked on my own projects. The first was Neurotika: a tale of the AIDS epidemic, with vignettes from my life and the lives of those I had known who had died. My text was accompanied by a beach audio tape loop, a wave breaking for each name. I performed this at the Whitman Bookshop in November 1988.
      The second was as a reporter, interviewer, and announcer for Lavender News on the weekly, gay Fruit Punch radio program on KPFA-FM in 1989/90. This way I spent what little time I had keeping the gay community informed of legislation, protests, new AIDS drugs, readings, films, openings, and events. Occasionally, Killian and I saw each other at gay events, such as The James White Review’s annual reading or the 1990 OutWrite Conference, but we didn’t converse.
      When Abbott died in 1992, Killian selected my Berkeley honours essay: ‘Robert Duncan, Aaron Shurin, Steve Abbott and the Gay Poetic Tradition’ from Abbott’s papers for the San Francisco Library Archives.

James Poole, Amsterdam Quarterly 2013 Yearbook Readers, Smack Dab, San Francisco, photograph, January 2014. L. to r.: are Rink Photo, Bryan R. Monte, Adam Cornford, Andrea Rubin, Ed Mycue, Tobey Kaplan, Marvin Hiemstra, and Don Brennan.

      My last contact with Killian was on 14 January 2014 at the AQ 2013 Yearbook reading in San Francisco at Smack Dab on 18th Street and Castro. Readers at this event included two former No Apologies writers, Mycue and Kaplan, who I had also published in AQ. Killian attended with Ellingham. I took their photo together and Ellingham took mine with Killian. I signed their yearbooks with something like ‘Good to see you again’ and ‘Enjoy’. Unfortunately, it was the last time I saw Killian.       AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ27 Spring 2020 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ27 Spring 2020 Book Reviews

Claudia Gary. Genetic Revisionism. Loudoun Scribe, 24 pages.
Erin Wilson. At Home with Disquiet. Circling Rivers, ISBN 978-1-939530-10-3, 127 pages.
Margaret DeRitter. Singing Back to the Sirens. Unsolicited Press. ISBN 978-1-950730-28-5, 100 pages.

After my Augean task of compiling, editing, and posting the AQ 2019 Yearbooks to contributors, libraries, and friends, I finally had some time at the beginning of February to do a bit of reading, between selecting pieces for AQ27. Three poetry collections (two books and one chapbook), which really stood out were Claudia Gary’s Genetic Revisionism, Erin Wilson’s At Home with Disquiet and Margaret DeRitter’s Singing Back to the Sirens. Two are by previous AQ contributors and one was so interesting, due to its cover, subject matter, and author’s bio, I felt compelled to explore it.
      The first is Claudia Gary’s (AQ7, 11, 15, 26, & 27) chapbook, Genetic Revisionism, subtitled: Poems Inspired by the Sciences and Mathematics. True to its title, this is a brief collection of 24 pages with poems about intellectually engaging subjects such as medicine, maths, physics, acoustics, intrusive new communications technology, and humanity’s nascent ability to design its own future through genetic manipulation. The first seven pages are concerned primarily with medicine. The collections first poem, ‘Antiseptic’ is very engaging because it presents how the speaker first learned about the subject from her Air Force veteran father. ‘“…You will never be without / an antiseptic, if you use your urine.”’ Her mother, who wants her to be ‘pretty’ quickly objects with ‘“Hey! / Don’t tell her things like that!”’ as her father ‘dabbed peroxide on her foot’ to disinfect a wound. This juxtaposition of prettiness with science also makes the prescient, young speaker wonder what’s buried under the ‘bumpy-textured’ paintings by an alcoholic aunt, ‘what’s wedged below the prettiness’ and whether it was ‘buried too deep to tweeze it out and cleanse the wound?’
      The poems ‘Kidney Stone’, ‘Aloe Barbadensis Speaks’, ‘Toxoplasmosis’ and ‘Transcribing an ER Report’ continue this medical theme, but unfortunately, not with the same personal attachment. For example, in the last poem, when the transcriptionist hears the doctor say the patient ‘has a real bad cold’, she wonders if he’s being ironic or maybe just suffering from ‘long hours of work’. However, the poem ends with a note of detachment. ‘She never learns the end, which seems a shame. / But he’s the one who has to sign his name.’
      The maths section, pages 10-11, includes a long poem ‘In Binary’ about a couple attracted to each other because they can count in binary and a very short two line poem which mentions thinking about imaginary numbers to fall asleep called ‘A Cure for Insomnia?’ Other scientific poems include ‘One Small Step’ and ‘Music of the Missing Sphere’ about the 1969 moon landing and the NASA January 2018 video of the ‘Super Blue Moon Eclipse’. ‘Higgs-Boson Moments’ is about the observable six stages of this particle. Gary’s truncated villanelle, ‘Ripples in the Fabric’ compares waves in space-time to poetry: ‘they spring from meter and inherit rhyme.’ She compares ‘our galactic spiral’ to a ‘growing nautilus’s climb’. In ‘Ex Nihilo’ she uses Frederick Hart’s stone carving in the Washington DC National Cathedral of ‘”half-formed figures of men and women / appearing from the void”’ as an image of how the universe and human consciousness came into being. She uses a similar technique in ‘An Illumination’, where also in the epigraph, she compares Jan Beerstaten’s ‘The Castle of Muiden in Winter’ scene with skaters, a moat and a great castle to the cosmos and mentions ‘the Muiderkring, which was this heaven’s source.’ Her poems address the positive as well as the negative sides of technology: NSA surveillance, video calls, CRISPR (in the chapbook’s title poem), and the upcoming Singularity, when human and machine/computer consciousness shall merge. It is a short chapbook, which addresses a number of subjects in science, mathematics and being human.
      Although most of these poems present a somewhat detached, objective, philosophical or scientific perspective, some also relate back directly to the poet’s experience as in ‘Antiseptic’ and ‘Aloe Barbaensis Speaks’. These along with her poem ‘Guidance’ in this issue (AQ27), represent Gary’s work at her best: when theory and scientific observation are united with personal experience. I hope that Gary continues to write more poems in this vein.
      All in all, Gary’s Genetic Revisionism is an impressive, short collection of formal poems, (rhyming couplets and quatrains, sonnets, villanelles, etc.), about the sciences and maths, remarkable in its scope and artistry.
      At Home with Disquiet is a poetry book by Erin Wilson published by Circling Rivers Press. The collection’s setting is primarily the speaker’s rural Canadian home and it is divided into seven sections, the first six of which are introduced with a explanatory phrase about the activities of a jackdaw, which seem to intersect philosophically with Wilson’s own life. Many of these poems contain Wilson’s close observation of the natural and domestic worlds related to the weather, tending her garden, and her ancestry. Her revelations come not only from her observing the natural world, but also through raising her children. In ‘It’s Late’ her son records his sudden growth by saying: ‘remember when your moccasins were too big // for my feet? Playfully he demonstrates he can’t even / squish the width of his toes inside them.’ In ‘Lines from Movies—II. Spit from the Top of the Stairs,’ her daughter, who hadn’t been good before Christmas even though her mother had threatened to withdraw her presents, is surprised by the abundance of those she still receives repeating the phrase: ‘More than enough’.
      In the fifth section, Wilson also includes two poems called the ‘Cancer (Suite)’. The first one ‘Healthcare’ is about the experience of undergoing an MRI, a scan this reviewer has experienced many times over. In order to release herself mentally from the confining, narrow, noisy, hot space, (my words, not hers), ‘I visualize the swamp / I was in front of yesterday…visualize some / stable ice for those / starving polar bears…do what seems impossible, imagine a future for our kids.’ The next poem ‘RADIANCE’ innovatively narrates an internal medical examination in reverse order: first with the results, then the examination and lastly the symptoms that brought the speaker to her GP’s surgery.
      However, Wilson’s book is more than the usual combination of genealogy, cultural heritage, the creation of the self and a family, and mid-life retrospection. Reflections on her rural Canadian surroundings include also narrative forays into the art world such as ‘Lines from Movies (A Letter to Van Gogh)’, a shop in which a copy of Georgia O’Keefe’s Black Iris, 1926 in ‘Jacquard’ is being framed, in ‘An Untitled Rothko’ from the ‘Fishing Suite’ in which a river bank is compared to one of Rothko’s paintings, or the book’s penultimate poem, ‘Almost’ in which the speakers ‘reminiscing about the Chicago Art Institute’ as ‘Whistler’s muted Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southhampton Water, / still washes up at our feet),’ at ‘Misery Bay in May,’. Her poetry is also replete with epigraphs and references to well-known, maverick poets such as Constantine P. Cavafy, Bashō, Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Gilbert, William Everson, Charles Wright, or even Galway Kinnel’s little boy Fergus in ‘Statistics, 2012’.
      Her poem, ‘Gentrification’ about an old downtown, with its derelict shops boarded up windows next to hip, ‘Vegetarian fare and fair trade coffee shops, / a stripper’s club’ brings her poetry right into the present, now decade-long, economic malaise. The book’s final poem,‘Agrarian Landscape with Fanbrush’ in the eighth, and last untitled section, is set in a windy, March scene, with the poet: ‘Walking along between / the parcelled farm fields, / the windows of heaven / keep passing over me,’. The poem includes images of birches, a crow, and quote from Mahler, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, which close this book masterfully. It proves that Wilson is not just a poet of the Canadian countryside, but one deeply rooted in many poetic and artistic traditions. At Home with Disquiet is an excellent addition to Circling Rivers’ growing collection.
      Singing Back to the Sirens is a poetry book by Margaret DeRitter (AQ24), published by Unsolicited Press. The book is divided into three parts: Part I, ‘So Many Sang to Me’; Part II, ‘Singing Back to Her’ and an ‘Epilogue’, one poem entitled ‘Funeral Directive From a Serial Monogamist Who Never Stopped Looking for the One Who Would Last’. The first section begins with an epigraph by Walter Copland Perry about Homer’s Sirens, whose songs ‘though irresistibly sweet / were no less sad than sweet’. The poems in this first section are about family, her mother’s illness, childhood friends, mistaken gender identity based how she dressed and what she did with friends, and her introduction to a gay support group via a college newspaper—a lesbian Bildungsroman. These include the momentous experiences of her first entrance to a gay bar, her first girlfriend, and sexual experiences—one hot and sweaty and another with a woman who keeps saying she ‘likes boys’. The Siren motif is mentioned again in ‘Singing Back to the “Straight Girl”’, about ‘girls who fall for girls who / never look their way when it’s time for love, who keep on chasing them / anyway’, a common, LGBTQI experience of unrequited love.
      The form of DeRitter’s poetry varies from short to long lines, and includes prose poems such ‘Susie and Me and the Line in the Road’, and ‘Dream Sequence: The Roof Leaked When You Moved Back In’ and ‘After the Confederate Flag Came Down’ (the latter two poems both in Part II) and also a poem arranged around one colour, ‘Blue’, referring to the colour of ice cubes rolling down her belly, the colour of her girlfriend’s dress, and the azure skies of Arizona.
      In ‘Paddling the Wilderness’, she uses geographic and meteorological metaphors to describe her strained relationships. At the end of a summer holiday after enjoying a canoeing trip together, their close relationship falls apart. One ‘locked… (the other) ‘out of a hotel room’ and the other ‘threw a telephone at the floor’…‘like Michigan’s winters, your moods / turned gray and I drew stormy.’ In ‘Gone’ DeRitter describes her feeling of being deserted by a partner she’d kissed that morning before leaving for work and then coming home to find her partner’s belongings gone. The poem is most effective because instead of describing the speaker’s emotions at being abandoned, it is a catalogue of the missing possessions and the signs of their removal, such as the poem’s last lines: ‘The scratches on the wooden floor/ the only sign of your tall oak dresser.’ In fact powerful closing lines are one of the best aspects of DeRitter’s poetry. In ‘Shooting Angels: Mendon, Michigan’, the poet writes about her frustration at not finding someone with whom she can settle down.

      Nesting was her specialty, her safety net,
      her terror. She flew back from California once.
      We sat in a car outside my house.

Other geographic and outdoor images include Lake Michigan, its dunes, winter snow, rivers, and hiking. Like many later-in-life poetry collections, this first section is a list of regrets, a list of loss about those who died, and those who disappeared, but also the maturity that comes with surviving these losses.
      The second section begins with an ode to a former partner in ‘The Alchemists Had Nothing On You’. It’s one of only a few outtakes from the speaker’s primarily North American and specifically Michigan settings. ‘Novices at Sacré-Coeur’ describes a happy visit to a prominent Parisian landmark and ‘We Left our Love in Lourmarin’ is about being haunted by her ex- and her memories of their holidays. In ‘Wedding Cathedral’ the speaker describes her outdoor wedding under arching trees, with a flower in her partner’s hair, just like ‘that San Francisco song’. ‘Avalanche’ is about personal tragedies coming in threes: the deaths of her mother and her dog, and the loss of her job, all in quick succession. ‘Dateline: Kalamazoo’, (I assume about the job she lost), was first published in AQ21 in its Media issue. It’s about the struggle to keep a local newspaper alive, an issue common to most towns in the early 21st century, as younger readers turn more to digital instead of print media. In ‘Thanksgiving Explosion’ the speaker describes her emotional outburst after she asks her partner to call her family, who had not attended their wedding. The speaker becomes angry and vents in front of her partner’s family, all present for the Thanksgiving dinner. The speaker imagines ‘every grievance splattered on the kitchen’s walls / the stove, the floor, the cupboards’.
      In the next poems, the speaker relates her feelings of loss due to their breakup. In ‘That Day In January’ she describes the feeling of waves crashing against her chest, when her partner told her, ‘I have to leave’. In ‘Uncoupling’ the strangeness of her partner ‘coming in through the front door,’ when they’re no longer together, and in ‘I Had a Granddaughter for Seven Months’ the loss of a briefly shared feeling of progeny through caring for her partner’s granddaughter—the physical contact, photobook, and FaceTime, which ended when her partner broke up with her. And finally, the tears in ‘Closing Our Account’, when she and her ex- went to the bank to close their joint account—‘the paper all wet / and see-through’. It is this attention to detail, the use of just the right metaphor to translate her feelings, which makes DeRitter’s poetry so striking and arresting.
      Stylistically, DeRitter’s poetry takes a turn when her poems talk about digital media. In the Whitmanesque long lines of ‘If Friend Had as Many Variations as Arctic Snow,’ she takes exception to Facebook’s ‘Friend’ designation. The poet writes: ‘I’d have a word for the friend who shows up on my Facebook list / but never on party invitations…(who) tells me Happy Birthday online, but never in person.’ A few poems later, in ‘Awaiting Word at Mission Control’, her thoughts are separated structurally by days and smartphone ‘dings’. On the first day, there’s a text to her ex- about a movie she’s just seen, the next day, another saying she ‘heard you were having surgery / at Mayo’. On day three there’s a report on millions of ‘women marching / all over the world’ and a photo of the ‘ex-granddaughter’ she hasn’t seen in four years’. On day 5, a message from an old friend, who watched the moon landing with her in her living room 48-years ago, and then disappeared, and on day 6, the poet wondering when her ex- will stop resenting her and get in touch again.
      The epilogue poem, the book’s summation, ‘Funeral Directive from a Serial Monogamist Who Never Stopped Looking For the One Who Would Last’ reminds me of the ninth of W.H. Auden’s ‘Twelve Songs’, at least in its refreshing combination of details. Mourners are instructed to bring their ‘boxed-up / photos, useless house keys, sad CDs’ and lay them at her feet, to place their ‘grievances on pure white / paper, fold them into mourning doves / or cut them into snowflakes and let / a blizzard fly’ and to pile a column of rocks to express their sorrow. The speaker also asks for ‘a preacher who’s heard of Meg Christian / or at least the Dixie Chicks’. Lastly, she asks the mourners to ‘take off my glasses and lay them on the casket’ as they sing her to sleep. Such a moving poem, such a moving collection from birth to death, such an ending.
      There is much to praise and recommend here. Singing Back to the Sirens is an excellent poetic compendium of the joys, sorrows, and wisdom gained through this lesbian poet’s experience in the post-Stonewall/pre-Marriage Equality Act generation.         AQ

Mantz Yorke – Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

Mantz Yorke
Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

          After Manet

Below the drystone wall, the hay
is near to cutting. A tablecloth, lightly sprung,
undulates between crumb-strewn plates,
empty cans, and the apples you brought
but we didn’t eat.

Across the fields a tractor’s puttering . . .

                                                                    Still time,

lying by your shadow, feeling
grass scratching on my skin;

                                                                    still time

before a school bell rings
and a triple-seven comes home;

                                                                    still time.

Yet the grass is trembling                      silently

                                                                    and softly

                                                                    I am crying

                                                                           and you are crying:

                                                                    how close,

                                                                           how very close,

                                                                    the sense of an ending.

Meryl Stratford – Elegy with Vanishing Sun

Meryl Stratford
Elegy with Vanishing Sun

The child killed in a car crash on the first day of school—
what did she learn? Seat belts save lives
if you wear them. She will not be allowed to repeat

this safety lesson. For the child killed on the first day of school,
A is for accident, Z is for zero, the time she has left.
The desk with her name on it will be empty.

The attendance book will testify, she was not here.
All she wanted to learn—why stars twinkle,
how clouds make rain, and today’s eclipse,

this astonishing collision of sun and moon,
bright banana in the lunch box of the sky,
celestial kiss—will remain a mystery.

Thomas Stewart – Boston Grindr, 2012

Thomas Stewart
Boston Grindr, 2012

Virginia Wolfe
sat beside

your bed
when you stuck

your tongue
in my ear,

I watched the
gleam from

your stethoscope
and asked

if you’d seen
someone die

no was the
answer as

you fell
to my nipple

your hair like
grass cut with

a scythe, your
glasses reflecting

the ghost over
my shoulder.

Kevin Reid – Pregnant Woman

Kevin Reid
Pregnant Woman

Kevin Reid is a graduate of the University of Dundee with a First Class Honours in English Literature. He has worked as a museum and art gallery assistant and is a qualified librarian and an English Language Teacher. Reid is a creator in various art forms: drawing, painting, poetry, and photography are all mediums he chooses to work with. Self-taught in drawing and painting, he is primarily an outsider in his visual art. In all its forms, his work leans heavily on emotionalism. Communicating and evoking moods, feelings and ideas are primary to his work and Pregnant Woman, one of a kind, is a fine example of this. His drawings have been published in Three Drops from a Cauldron, 2018 and his photography in Wordless (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press, 2013).

Kevin Reid, Pregnant Woman, charcoal drawing, 2006

James Penha – First to Last

James Penha
First to Last

I recently replied to a tweet from someone I follow but otherwise don’t know except that we like each other’s politics. I had no idea he was a teacher until I read: ‘First day of school tomorrow. 3rd year teaching. I’m still nervous.’
      Oh, do I know what he means! I had forty-five first days over the course of my career. I was anxious on every one … and during the 1600 restless Sunday nights before Monday mornings … and on many other days among the 72,000 for which I prepared lessons so meticulously that I could belt them out like a Sinatra doing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ at Carnegie with syncopation, improvisation, and a particular spin rolled out for each and all of the students in front of me.
      ‘It means,’ I tweeted back, ‘we care.’
      But caring for the education and emotions and expectations of young people is exhausting—like parenting in some ways, but not in others. Although students regularly left the nest of my classroom, new hatchlings, their mouths and (I always hoped) minds open, appeared every new academic year. Despite the exhaustion and the anxiety, I loved the process because I learned as well—more from my mistakes than from my successes—to become a wiser and increasingly effective teacher with every brood.
      And my students, each successive year more junior than I, kept me young long after my youth was gone.
      By the time I reached my sixtieth birthday, I experienced neither ennui nor burnout, but an aching, physical weariness disabusing me of the dream that I would one day drop dead in the middle of a lively discussion of ‘Do Not Go Gentle.’ I had to admit that I was growing too old and too tired to teach until I died. Nonetheless, I struggled to continue, postponing retirement for another seven years.
      But my last day did finally come. The department party and the paeans by administrators at the final faculty meeting had taken place. On my last day, I discussed semester exam results in classes and delivered report cards to members of my homeroom. Their goodbyes and godspeeds were sincere, but they only knew me for a year or so and had a summer vacation to get to. I soon found myself alone in my—no, not my any longer—the classroom. The cleaners arrived with brooms and mops and emptied the last of my refuse from the trashcan to a big black plastic bag. I made my way out the door, down the stairs, on the path through the quadrangle to the street, and I felt a perturbation more disquieting than any anxiety I had ever known on a first day of school.     AQ

Antoni Ooto – Tomorrow

Antoni Ooto

the sky steals a groaning tenor
a great poplar kneels to a fall

confusing peace as light bares itself down

arms broken, a nest scatters,
roots forget their business…

webs of lost resolve

the work of grass begins

Sharon Lask Munson – First Apartment

Sharon Lask Munson
First Apartment

          Woodbridge, England

I recall my studio apartment,
sparsely furnished—
brass bed, two drawer dresser,
stand alone oak wardrobe,
one reasonably sturdy lounge chair,

acquiring other essentials:
electric burner, tea kettle,
mismatched cups, saucers, plates,

and a nearly new record player
along with a small collection of LP’s—
Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn,
from a secondhand shop on Sudbury Hill Road.

Even today, yellow mums bring to mind
the flowers I bought at Ipswich Market,
the earthy scent that lasted for days.

I look back on my friend next door—
Faith’s Arabic coffee
infused with cardamom, penetrating walls.

On winter afternoons
branches from a horse-chestnut tree
brushed my window, cosy in the rustling.

Warm summer days found me outdoors
under the tree’s dappled shade,
poring over Anya Seton’s latest novel.

At night I’d listen to strains of Mozart—
warm rich sounds of Dennis Brain’s French horn
lulling me into slumber.

Shawn Aveningo-Sanders – Our Last Vacation

Shawn Aveningo-Sanders
Our Last Vacation

Sun rays beat through the blanket of blue,
as we lounge by the pool, estranged.

Steel spokes support a web of canvas
shielding aging alabaster from the burn.

Mojitos can’t quite quench your thirst for something new,
your mouth agape as you stare.

I can feel you yearn for the young bronzed beauty
sauntering by in her turquoise sarong. She

casually glances your way. Your reply: a wink
and a not-so-subtle, flirtatious smile.

I reach over to pluck the mint leaf stuck
between your guilty teeth.