31 July 2023

Five Prose Poems by Tim Frank

Scattered Ashes  

Lay a man without eyes digging with rotund nails representing sponsors of death and fragrant stones in the land of saxophones, who finance your trips to the windswept TV stands. 

Where do you want to go? Knowledge in habitual cascades, eating dust like a skyscraper. Or maybe the rye bread stuffed in your bellybutton freaks nasty and delightful—you need to cut down on your pork life, man, jump onto the lesions of the marble vein and give Oasis a go. 

I’ve never seen sunflower oil or balaclavas by the sea and now I have a date with my twin sister.

She’s a pizza base topped with a little bit of hexagon and I throw a breaker ball full of salt cellars. 

Walking in black surprising deserters I feel the need for bricks and mortar and an apple with a falling bullet. 

I have bare feet and carry a bundle of carefully crafted insults wrapped in a beating heart rucksack. 

It’s like there’s blood everywhere. 


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised  

Rip the plug, see the light, aim the cross hairs at the grassy knoll. Receipts and tea. Regrets. 

If not me, when? My grandma grasped my tongue and now my stomach is full of snails and electrolytes. To the shops! 

In town, elephants crush stretchmark beer cans in troughs of Gatorade and doubles of Bob Dylan. No more adverts here please. 

Actually, I’ve got a hankering for a dishwasher woman stashed in a car bonnet, so I fall through the cracks of my local elevator and fly through nameless nights in a fluffy net blanket. You’re sick and bored and spectacular. 

Among the pebbles I’m French kissed by the doom-mongers—it hurts when I pee and I see shades of black under a mask of serene white patios. 

A cow in cobwebs marches to a dry heave bump and a magical mystery grandfather clock. Forensics dust for salted snacks. 

The doctor is everywhere—in the ballroom, in the funeral home and on tiptoes. Dinosaurs flip coins and suck on open wounds. I’m on a serotonin fountain in the hospital for frozen chairs.

God, it’s sunny in here. 

But I’ve got to go. I have a date with a serial killer with a stubbed toe and a giant cartwheel headache. 

At the shop, I plonk my elaborate design on the Formica shelf and raise my shrinking bloody eyebrows. My loopy fingernail moons displace water. 

No, no, no, says cashier as a revolution fills a five thousand capacity bread bin.  

Oh man, I need another episode of Seinfeld


Facts and Opinions  

Haroon speaks of ethereal beings with oceans in their eyes. He says they merge with fire, and eat petrol stations. They float high above buildings where workaholic spinsters gaze at fish tanks, wearing coffee stains like smiles. 

They strike! he cries over immortal traffic. It’s all entirely natural! 

He takes another puff of his apple shisha—the diary on his lap fluttering in the snow. 

Haroon needs a a fountain pen, a shovel, maybe even a family.  

Nancy, however, needs long tea breaks. She has torture sessions in the desert, under a funkadelic sun. She likes theories and dead-end junky friends, who scare me with their blackened lips and punctured feet.  

It’s all inside, she says. We must congregate in smoke-filled rooms, tear off our bloody plasters, and suck on the open wounds. This is the way. 

No, it isn’t, I whisper.  

My good friend Ranj is still alive but was buried six years ago in an open coffin. He has designs on political realities. He wants croissants, beer, and the next world war. 

Take me shopping with your private blog, he says, because my flat has been ruined by credit cards. He’s a knowing loon. 

Get a job, I say. 

You get one first, he says with a tooth pick on his tongue. 

Barney knows his way around town—he’s got long fingers and strange hair. He believes in women and his revolutionary fragrance wafts through gutters and porcelain walls.  

I’ve been here many times, he says mysteriously. This is not a test, just reach out and feel the breeze. 

I don’t know what he’s on about, but who am I to argue? I’ve got a halo over my head and bloody dagger eyes. I can’t get enough, it’s atrocious.  

Let’s have a vote. Who here has a thirst for twenty-twenty vision?
Either way I have my eye on you, and that’s a documented fact. 


An Advert Can Be Beautiful in The Right Shade of Death 

Highway billboards pose with aviator shades and subliminal messages, wading through puddles of horror. 

A will, prepared by cutthroat lawyers to fleece my dad’s nearest and dearest, falls flat. He wanted everything; he got nearly nothing—just like in the movies. So, I advise him to settle for a coffin with wheels—the undertaker says it’s the best.  

Standing on the funeral parlour’s mezzanine floor, I gaze at the adverts for the afterlife, and I feel nothing but heartfelt resentment. 

The war is over, so commercials can thrive again. Profit margins soar. Banksy expresses my feelings in a way I cannot—like his mural by the riverside projects. Basically, I’m saying I couldn’t care less. 

Look at the VHS on the dusty shelf—an archive of famous lies; look at the government players, seducing virgins in nationwide broadcasts; look at the shop windows as mannequins fly too close to the sun. 

Did you know psychosis can drown soldiers in the deep sea? Don’t worry, it’ll all be supervised and filmed for the public—and usually only one in ten will die. 

We know this much at least: there is sense in compiling a fortress of well-thumbed books, and there’s safety in numbers, but the clear consumer favourite is the mother’s milk, because it tastes like mirror balls and mosquito blood. 


Alpha Male 

The alpha male has a tattoo of his mother on his arm, inked in fire and thorns, next to a soft-boiled egg. Yet he hardly ever calls—except to leave strange morse code messages when she falls off her skateboard.  

His mum regrets feeding him penny sweets as a child—and the sleeping pills. And she’s sure the men who came round at midnight, posing as supermodels, dashed his youthful dreams of falconry. Were they alpha males too? 

The alpha male hates the way his girlfriend does press-ups in night clubs, how she paints her body with dust and vomit. He sinks into a horrid gloom. It’s like there’s dental floss in his lungs, and teeth in his gut. It must be her fault. 

There are a few alpha males out tonight. They wear venetian blinds and body cams like uniforms. They have pre-rolled chocolate crepes stuffed in their pockets.  

Alpha males don’t look each other in the eye. If they do, they’ll be jinxed, even if they’re pretty boys with passports, painted brown. So, they revel in the neon lights smeared like jam across the sky. They eat, they drink. 

The alpha male is unhappy at work. It’s full of guilty washing machines and primal screams, and his boss has a birthmark like a boomerang. It’s time to quit. 

So, he wants to branch out and embrace new ventures. 

He wants to buy an elite footballer and build a sporting empire. 

He wants to forge a new self in a country he can’t pronounce. 

He wants to swim in a project paperclip wonderland, until he breaks on through to the other side—dreaming big, acting fast, and wiping his sticky palms against the rings of Saturn. 

Tim Frank

23 July 2023

Two Poems by Joe Bisicchia

Calais, 1987

above the beach
magic carpet new blue
new as any Oldsmobile
once was so new

sapphire elevates
and we spread the sky
ride over our crystal ball
of water sparkling

while baby blue
boxing gloves now dangle
from mirror rearview
inside as future toys

while past is so soon rust
of the sands at our feet
as our hearts rush to rush
to stand forever still

and true blue is parked
aside and bleeds antifreeze
as metallic skin mirrors
our passing space

in the tread between
our toes now long ago
we have grown so old
so soon and yet again new

long after that parked car
aftershave and perfume
drifts farther away
ice cold blue like a splash

and we are sure as angels
with wings touching
and we see the seabirds
as the ancients had

Same Old Glass Sliding Doors

So soon alone at supper table.
Yet, not truly alone.
With the just bought canned tuna fish,
you are the old can and the smelly sea.
And then suddenly, out on the deck,

some seabird up from the grass starboard
is speaking now of faraway family.

You listen with your ear at the porthole
as she sadly shares stories of nests.

And you recognize yourself out there.

Maybe now you realize,
hell is a bunch of small fishbowls.

Inside each glass, a fish of gold,
but a fish slow to be vulnerable,
slow to allow the universe within.

Even though the seabird stays
outside upon planks, you are both here.

In the mist of yourself, not alone.

And you finally give in.

You slide the scene to toss toast,
bread, with a bit of fish somehow fresh,
even if old as Gilgamesh.
What goes ancient need not be stale.

Universe stirs within you.
And you feel yourself able to fly.
As if all fish, wet and dry, have wings.

She takes it, and lifts you away. 

17 July 2023

The Movie Version of Your Life: An Interview with Brad Liening

Gregory Lawless: First, I want to ask you about defeat. Michigan Darkness Movies, your terrific new book, may be your best book, but it is certainly different than the others. Death Salad and O Gory Baby, for instance, were moving and tragicomic but propelled, at times, by chaotic, ecstatic energies, but MDM seems almost entirely devoted to the aesthetics of incredibly small consolations bordered by glacial catastrophes. For example, in the book’s title poem, you write, “Eventually we flatten into the flat landscape,” which strikes me as both a specific description relevant to the drama at hand but also a general pronouncement about what’s happening to us. And then later in that poem, the speaker promises to provide both himself and the reader with something “sad and beautiful” but just “for the next few minutes.” Could you tell me 1) if I’m right, that the notion of defeat is especially important to this book, and then 2) if not, what is the emotional/ideological motivation of MDM?
Brad Liening: Yeah, I think you’re right. I might’ve said “resignation” but it amounts to the same thing. The gestation of the book began with that first, title poem you mention. My son, when he was littler, misread the spine of Michaux’s Darkness Moves as Michigan Darkness Movies, and I spent several years just turning that phrase over in my head.
I don’t live there now but I was born and raised in Michigan, in a small town in an area most people would consider rural; we literally had one stoplight. I thought about all the things from growing up that interested me, that still resided in my grown-up person. The landscape, a river I feel particularly attached to, those obsessions peculiar to childhood, like quicksand and grappling hooks and so forth, as well as specific incidents, like the car accident at the center of the title poem. I started to put those events and places and obsessions in poems, which in my mind all took place in my hometown.
So I think that feeling of defeat or resignation is twofold: the powerlessness we feel when we’re too young to control much of anything, including those things of the adult world like regret and loss, and then examining these things from my current perspective, with a certain measure of melancholy that has crept up on me in middle age. I will say too that I miss my hometown and its landscape with a keenness that surprises me. I imagine that worked its way into the book.
GL: Let’s talk about movies a little bit. There are a couple of important ways that movies, or the idea of movies, influence the book. First, there’s both the dependence on and inadequacy of movies as a consumer product that very occasionally rises the level of art. In “The Past Isn’t the Past,” you write, “we go home / to watch movies / we’ve seen 100 times / in carpeted basements.” Here, movies seem like a kind like a drug that’s slowly wearing off, a numbing agent consumed in apparent leisure amidst larger unsettling events. We see something similar in “Church”: “We went to the movies / to see whatever was playing that week,” in which curiosity and the prospect of discovery are undercut by the flatness of the utterance. I know you’re something of a horror cineaste, and a basement movie man of the first order, so could you tell me how the wonders, repetitions, and disappointments of watching movies influence the moods and imagery of this book?
BL: Aren’t movies wonderful and maddening? I love them. I loved horror movies in particular from a young age, much to the exasperation of my poor sweet parents. We’d go as a family to the video store in town to rent VHS cassettes on the weekends, and I’d be drawn to the horror section like a bee to a flower. I had no concept of schlock or high or low art; I took it all at face value. I remember being fascinated by the cover of Larry Cohen’s 1974 mutant-baby masterpiece It’s Alive and my parents being like, “No, absolutely not.” The concept alone of Faces of Death scared me.
This went hand in hand with my devouring of Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz at probably too tender an age, and then I found out about the Misfits, and so I think my aesthetic sensibility was cemented before I could drive.
One of the things I love about horror movies is that they both gamely fulfill genre expectations (e.g., the slasher and his victims, which has been examined and parodied and satirized to death, as it were, by Scream and its descendants, but manages to rise in unique ways again and again) while also providing studios with safe enough ROI that they allow horror filmmakers a long leash to try new things and be creative and innovate in a way that tent pole behemoths which much maximize revenue at all costs simply cannot. Consequently some of the most daring, provocative, and rewarding movies are horror movies, and they famously capture the anxieties of the age. I make no distinction here between cheap exploitation movies and the so-called prestige, elevated horror cinema. They are different expressions of the same DNA.
As to how all this figures into Michigan Darkness Movies…I’m sure it does though I’m not entirely clear how. This may be a case of the poet being the last one to know, you know? Some instances are pulled from life, like the re-watching of certain movies that were cherished for one reason or another, often with friends. Or how we’d literally go to the movies to see whatever was playing that week because this was the analog, pre-internet 80s and 90s, and there weren’t as many options as there are now. Sometimes you were entertained, sometimes you were disappointed, and once in a great while perhaps you were blown away and the course of your life subtly shifted.
But all those experiences with movies, the easy comradery they engender, the sense of possibility and wonder, the sweet letdown that comes when a film concludes because you are back to your regular benign life…these sorts of experiences were very much on my mind.
GL: The other important way[1] that movies function in this book, imo, seems to be in how they can tell a life story but often fail or just pretend to do so (think of just about any Oscar-bait biopic). The three “Michigan Darkness Movies” poems begin with the line “In the movie version of your life…” which is then undercut either by metaphor “you are played by a ditch full of cattails and I am played by the wind that makes you rustle,” or by some role confusion: “In the movie version of your life, you play me and I play you.” Could you elaborate on how movies operate as a biographical or autobiographical artform relates to your poetry?
BL: Mainly as a source of private amusement, I think. I hope that’s not a disappointing answer.
To elaborate with respect to MDM, I was thinking about that old question of who would play you in a movie version of your life, and how those sorts of life stories are told. It struck me as impossible to answer beyond the most superficial manner. Our lives are so intimately bound up with the lives of others, the landscape, fleeting emotions and motivations which we may be only partially aware of. I was definitely thinking of how inadequate movies are in telling a life story, how preposterously they sometimes pretend to do so, and how crassly transactional all that can be. Oscar-bait, indeed, the very worst kind of movie. Those responsible should be punished.
But I considered all those things that make us who we are and tried to fashion poems from them. At one point I made a mental list of everything I wanted to work into poems. Ditches, cattails, deer, apple trees, and so on. For instance in one poem the speaker says he’s played by a potted plant. A silly line, sure. My mother has a Boston fern that grew from a cutting of her mother’s Boston fern, and I took a cutting from my mother’s. That plant has traveled a fair distance across the Midwest and through three generations. And I was thinking about all these things, amused and interested at how much emotional weight this stuff carries. It’s emotionally truer than most biopics, but, you know, at the end of the day it’s also just a plant.
GL: There’s a certain kind of poem in this book, for example “Roomful of Portals,” that uses terminal jokes (punchlines) as a sort of anti-epiphany, or a qualified epiphany. I’d like to quote this poem in entirety so people can see what I’m talking about, and because it made me laugh, but also because it’s a common and delightful mechanism in your emotionally overcast book. So, here’s the poem, and then, could you tell me about this move you make and why you employ it from time to time?

In this room are 1000 portals. 
Some go to silos.
Others go to the woods.
One takes you to the inside of a deer.
The inside of a deer
is hot and dark
but not bad.
The inside of a black hole
is cold and dark.
You’re nowhere in particular
and you contain everything terrible and beautiful:
Beer in zero gravity.
Burning leaves.
All your friends and
a small dog named Shadow
you’re not allowed to pet
because he’ll pee.

(h/t Rejection Letters)

BL: There’s something funny about defeat. Although I’m as guilty of this as anyone we shouldn’t take ourselves and ambitions or experiences too seriously. A failure to appreciate what small consolations life offers is ordinary and terrible and so the failure to appreciate something truly awesome – like a portal or a whole roomful of them – is so stupid it’s funny. Not learning strikes right to the heart of the human experience, I’d say.
I’d like to add that Shadow was a real dog belonging to a friend of mine.
GL: MDM is a political book. In the short poem “The Enemy of My Enemy Is Not My Friend,” you write:
The billionaire begets a millionaire.
The millionaire begins plotting
to kill and eat the billionaire.
I’m on the sidelines. Then I fall
into the river and am carried away.

To unite some of the themes we were talking about above, this poem tells a couple of different life stories: that of the billionaire and his upstart rival, the would-be usurper millionaire, and then, at the margins of history, the defeated speaker, who’s explicitly “on the sidelines” but then has this hilarious exit, which is both passive and tragic. The poem as a whole is a brutally effective microcosm. What irl events give you this “sidelines” to falling-into-the-river feeling? And how can social calamity be so good for your art?
BL: Oh dear. I’ll try not to get up on my soapbox too much. Certainly billionaires and the billionaire class give me that feeling. Their very existence is an affront to common decency and a testament to entrenched inequality. The gruesomeness of politics and our debased, nearly psychotic discourse around it. Climate change and its profiteers. Cops and state violence. I’m not saying anything very original here, I realize. It’s the usual dismal litany of injustices in America. The list goes on.
James Tate said something in an interview once about refusing to walk around in his tears all day despite the very good reasons one could do so (I think this was around when the abuses at Abu Ghraib became known), and I’ve had to limit my news intake lately because I was getting too depressed. It’s a difficult balancing act we must undertake. We should be conscious of our world and strive to make it better in our own small ways while refusing to be ground into dust by its ugliness and corruption. I hope this poetry, the very smallest of ways, admittedly, is a step in that direction. Making art is a celebratory, life-affirming act even if that art is about terrible things. Dean Young said something like this in an interview once, too, and I remember him saying in a workshop that we can’t give in to despair because despair leads to silence. We can try to poke some holes through that darkness, as noted above.
I bring up Tate and Young here because I love their work and it’s meant a lot to me over the years. I’ll take my cue from people who are smarter and more talented than I’ll ever be.
GL: You’ve been around for a minute, publishing poems and books for about 20 years now, and I’d like to ask you about what’s happened in that time. Who were you influences when you started writing and what did you want to achieve in your work when you were just starting out (in school and shortly thereafter) and who and what influences your work now? What do you want to do with your poetry in the years to come?
BL: I started writing in earnest in college because my friend Chris (Hi, Chris!) lent me his copy of Russell Edson’s The Very Thing That Happens. Where he got it, I don’t know, because I’ve not seen another copy since, but it was illustrated with Edson’s weirdo woodcuts and it was utterly unlike anything I was being exposed to up to that point in my life. I was an English major and while I was a good student I was also kind of hopelessly unoriginal in my thinking and writing (some might still say so). I would read Eliot or Dickinson or whomever and could turn out an okay essay on it, but at the same time it meant nothing to me. Edson, for whatever reason, struck a chord. Maybe it was his funny darkness, his deceptively easy narratives. Whatever it was it made me want to write.
He and Young and Tate were my touchstones for years. And you know how it goes – you find out who the people you like read and like, and then you read them, and so on. In that way I moved away from the modernism I found so dry and tweedy and into stuff that felt alive and jangly, that spoke sometimes mysteriously to me and my life. Almost to a fault I gravitated to writing that felt funny and imaginative and wasn’t afraid to take associative leaps and use pop culture signifiers or items and junk from a world I recognized as akin to my own.
What I wanted to achieve when I started, I don’t know. Validation via publishing, which is both stupid and understandable. Mostly the urge to just write a poem that’s really good, I think, to see if I could actually pull off that feat. That’s still a driving force.
Now I draw most of my inspiration from my friends, people who are trying to live righteous lives, working jobs, raising their kids, making art. There’s something electrifying about watching your peers and buddies do cool stuff. I love picking up their books and zines. Some of my friends are musicians and it’s awesome to witness them still making music and cranking out basement tapes. Often this has no real relation to my poetry in that there’s no direct correlation but it makes me excited about making art, you know? It makes me want to stay engaged. And in terms of the years to come, I just hope that my best work is still ahead of me.
GL: I hope so too. But you find some of the great work Brad has already written here and here. 
Gregory Lawless is the author, most recently, of Dreamburgh, Pennsylvania (Dream Horse Press, 2022).



[1] I’m being reductive here. Apologies.

06 July 2023

Two Poems by BEE LB


my mother calls me her own name 

when she praises 

my work. my work, as if it has value. 

value, i mean meaning. my mother 

praises my work

prints it off passes it around the office 

emails me her coworkers’ replies. praise. praise.

and what of it? a mirror can be anything

made of glass or self. i’ve hung 

so many paintings in my home i’m surrounded

by beauty or my face 

waiting to catch it. i must 

love myself. love being another form of

obsession. indulgence. pleasure 

to the point of pain; gluttony. surely i must love 

myself to stare so long and so hard. i didn’t learn

narcissus’ name until it was too late. i was

grown. i’d seen water. i’d covered my home

in mirrors. i’d learned to hide

from myself, who i love so dearly,

whose eyes i never meet.



all my friends are deviants

i want to be alive. i want something steady 

to stand on. i want to be more than i am. to recognize myself 

in the mirror. i want more to recognize my potential in the mirror. 

i dream in fits and starts. i name myself. taste myself. touch 

myself. i keep my beauty like a secret. 

i avoid being seen. i meet the eyes trailing me. i flock to mirrors

then shatter. skirt glances. i make myself small

and cold. i wait until my knees ache. until i’m shaking. 

until my body is begging for me to move. 

i live the legacy of broken boytoy. 

i scrape the mess of my life with my teeth. 

let my stomach acid dissolve my mess. 

let my body make whole my mess. 

i find divinity in the rare silence gifted to me 

by my cluttered mind. yes, i am seeking the turgid sun.

i safeguard what’s little left of my life.

guilt, a swollen tongue. avoidance, a sweat cleanse. 

time, a weight buoying life. i’ve plead. begged.

changed myself to fit into the hole 

left behind.