Presenting engagements (including reviews) of poetry books & projects. Some issues also offer Featured Poets, a "The Critic Writes Poems" series, and/or Feature Articles.

Saturday, May 2, 2015



portrait of a lesser subject by e. tracy Grinnell
(elis press, Lawrence, Kansas,  2015)


Shade by Jamie Townsend
(elis press, Lawrence, Kansas., 2015)

2 chaps with the reviewer's cat Iris

Wow.  A new press has landed in Lawrence and has issued two new books that look terrific.  A great pleasure to find these two books and to meet  David James Miller the editor/publisher of elis press.  Lawrence has a long and notable  literary past that includes various presses, magazines, zines and sundry other mode of poetic distribution.  We, that’s me, welcome Miller and elis press and hope it is a long time spent.

e. tracy grinnell’s publication portrait of a lesser subject at first glance and flip thru is stunning in a way both familiar in shape on the page (as having seen this layout before but not to identify in any way).  The use of form, to me, a welcome and not just pushing the letters around the page….    This collection is divided into three parts and each are as equal in the pleasure given to reader.  Me that is.   The first section of the frame  made up of 6 “lines” of text made up of 1,2,3 words per “line” and, as example, this: 

                                                                        duration         sits
                                                                        a            drift     in

or this………..

                                                                        against   no   wall
                                                                        no     tide   broke
                                                                        in             thought
                                                                        night     sight    or
                                                                        local       recovery

I am not that person to comment on or make connections with the reference from John Cage or the “title” of this section.  Of course, that said, these small mentions do have a frame and are contained by the font but….like cage says….sort of….we see what we see and hear what we have heard before perhaps.  What works for me and lets me read twice just for the recognition received…simplicity doesn’t have to be obvious or promoted.  Just said.  I really do not want to make this sound like times past and at the same time want to claim no personal or close relationship with what is now the common critical response.   I like how these look and what they say and  how they come together.  Fresh.  A hit…take them in, hold them, blow them out. 

The second section of this book, dear land is a series of poems titled mnemonic [1-12].  Unless something has changed since I Googled it a minute ago…we here are directed to think about the recalled and why not.  All the puns set up by the mention of “land” or  “dear” or “mnemonic” are available for the taking.  Or not.  What is also available is Grinnell’s  skill at a choice of text.  Playful and intent at the twain.  As well…something from I might guess a reading of others:

“…or         the proper distance
from a sentence

is the mode of address

                                                        from that height
                                       the cause of death

                                                                 Is the oath…”

This is text that makes my head rattle and if it does recall, for me, Leslie Scalapino….I am double pleased.

The final section of this book is death/is an/innumerable/accuracy.  That’s pretty funny right there. And again first notice is how these final poems do show on a page….full and spaced across and down each one as if meant to be so and are that…all that.  Every text here seems put together with great experience and sometimes almost in a way remembered.

I don’t have the tech to reproduce ‘exactly’ the layout of these last poems….and deadline looms…trust me…they are to be seen.

 “…abstraction insists because…”  sits as a single line on page 71…opening a page full of text as it does to almost defining the abstract thought.  And even if, to me, again, from the Bay Area past, sounds like RG which is not a bad thing.

All of which continues and can be as a pleasure to a reader who has the time.  Grinnell should be well read and rewardedl of the kind of recognition this book might encourage.


A long time ago………no really a long, long time ago, when I first really tried to read the poems of Ken Irby I thought to myself:  You are really fucked here.  I have no idea what the fuck he is talking about half the time.  He has read so much and is so much ‘smarter’ than I am.  Now that I have known Ken for almost 40 years………it don’t matter anymore.  We talk the way we talk…in the co-op parking lot or over a beer someplace…make up for not talking.  And I still read his poems………as much as I can.  So here with Jamie Townsend book Shade, which I want to read and am.  What goes past is past and then perhaps some thing, some where will make that up.  A lot of “I have no idea..” here.  Yet the same be said by me for many and why not.  I am not asking no one no way to know what the fuck I am referring too in my work.  That’s how it is.  Unless you can find a way, some new secret format that only those with a copy of your key can read it………….what’s the point.  So I will ask…how much does it matter to you, author, if me, the reader, could care less or just don’t know how…to know who you are talking about.  So what if what I look for makes you ill?  Is there really anything more than you write it and I read it?  You put it down…I pick it up?

And that is just from reading the blubs on the back of the elis press production of Shade by Jamie Townsend who I very much doubt is a 74 year old white male cracker like me living out here in Kansas.  And right now I am thinking that I in no way can write any more about this book without making a fool of myself in print.  That said.  Been there and done that.

Often times I read backwards and here discover the final words in this book: 

“…something like romance…”

Standing as it does above an almost full white page.  That seems like a good way to end a book.  A good beginning for a person like me.  It matters to  me that the writer is telling this on the page…something like romance….what that is.  Or not.  Something to think about.

His beginnings as well.  He does begin in sections titled Paradise Now, Propositions and Common People to render and list, in a recognized fashion, almost define, the future.  Descriptive text of times and place and changes of a day and night or more.  The spoken environment of ‘your’ city, ‘your lover’ and/or ‘your language’.  As he says:  “…the utopic kernel beneath the ornate shell of its failure – the body inside the artifice without it…”.

The section Thrown Shade adds to a collection in my world of “poems with comments” to them.  The great Red Monk poems of Lew Welch, sometime by J. Spicer and J. Kyger,  E. Dorn too and I’ve seen others.  Here is nice he begins with one full page and almost 4/5th of another page clean white….no text and a comment at the bottom finally…or perhaps comment the wrong term.  I confess.  Long detailed prose boxes of unpunctuated and unbroken text….the poem again or call it what you will.  Jamie Townsend has a great talent.  I want to read this book more and again.  Will.

These two books are beautifully designed and set and covered and selected.  All good will and success to Elis press and David James Miller.   (


jim mccrary till lives in Lawrence, Ks.  Recent poems in House Organ and Truck.  Having a Beer with Emily D was intrudoced in a limited edition as was Folio 2015, a "write through" of some Shakespeare poems.  New collection due from Theenk later this year.  Other recent publications include Not Not, Es Verdad, Mental Text and Po Doom.  Here he is (left) in a fur vest, late 1960s, a loft in the Bowery, New York City:

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