Tag Archives: Spring 2016

A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us

taxonomyCaleb Curtiss
Black Lawrence Press ($8.95)

by Robert Manaster

"Even now, I know I could use this moment, / / this dying thing to remember her with, / but I don't want to." Thus, triggered by a dead bird, Caleb Curtiss in A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us resists (yet retains) the memory of his sister's death from a rural car accident. Throughout the chapbook, tension surfaces between presence/memory and absence/forgetting. "Self-Portrait without My Dead Sister," for instance, ironically remembers his sister's absence; in several poems, a left parenthesis without a matching right interrupts a strain of thought, which seems soon forgotten with each successive strain becoming a strand of memory both uncontained and unending:

(a presence that will burn

(long after it's passed

The poems weave details and reflective moments well. The language is plain and effective in resisting the urge to elevate (and overdo) a grief that seems akin to

. . . the chassis
of an overturned car

steadying itself beside a corn field,
a stop sign.

Powerful insights are rooted throughout, often bolstered by Curtiss’s technical skill, which can be seen in the effective enjambment between these stanzas:

I have even learned
to grieve formulaically,
while the function of your absence
has grown less and less

integral to my algorithm: you
aren't even you anymore.

While the book coheres through Curtiss's sister's death and his struggle to contain (or not contain) memory and grief, in some poems, the death's unmentioned. The ghost of the other poems, though, seeps into these "breaks." Only a few parts seem to border on being overdone, as here:

This time you're asleep

and there's nothing I can do to wake you up.

This time you blow by the stop sign and everything's fine.

This time you blow by the stop sign and everything's fine.

This time you blow by the stop sign and everything's fine.

This time you say how tired you are.

Curtiss repeats not once but twice, as if to convince himself things are ok. Absorbed, he seems to forget the reader. The last line, though, redeems this part—his sister, or her spirit, being woken up by the conviction of his wish.

There are poems in varied stanzas, including couplets and double-spaced stanzas, and even an experimental poem with footnotes. One poem employs a definite spatial quality, which proves all the more powerful for its uniqueness in this volume:

the house
the room

. . .

In the mind
Be still
be still

Curtiss (and perhaps the reader) needs the silence between these words. This poem takes chances in filling a poetic void between memory and forgetting, "where there could have been / more than a body fallen, / a body fallen from."

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2016 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2016

Evidence of What is Said

evidenceThe Correspondence between Ann Charters and Charles Olson about History and Herman Melville
Ann Charters and Charles Olson
Tavern Books ($17)

by Patrick James Dunagan

In 1992, Penguin Books published The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters. Through the rest of the decade and beyond, the book has served as a gateway for countless readers to writings by numerous members of the Beat Generation. That Charters served as editor of the volume is no surprise; ever since her 1973 biography of Jack Kerouac she has been writing and editing books on the Beats. Before making her mark as Beat scholar, however, Charters published her slim yet meaty Olson/Melville: A Study in Affinity with the small press Oyez in 1968. Unlike her books on the Beats, which provide a beginning point of entry for nearly any reader, Olson/Melville is a rarer breed of book best appreciated by readers already dedicated to exploring the work and life of poet Charles Olson (1910-1970), rector during the final years of the now legendary creative arts-focused Black Mountain College and author of The Maximus Poems.

Olson’s 1950 essay “Projective Verse” is the most widely read and recognized of his works; it’s commonly taken to represent the defining statement for those post-World War II poets writing in the outside-the-academy vein as presented in Donald Allen’s anthology New American Poetry: 1945-1960. Yet Olson’s 1947 study of Herman Melville, Call Me Ishmael, is arguably a far more vital and groundbreaking piece of writing. Olson wrote his M.A. thesis at Wesleyan on Melville and began tracking down Melville’s dispersed library, locating volumes in secondhand bookstores and attics throughout New England and New York. He continued his studies towards a doctorate on Melville at Harvard only to abandon them in the process of writing his dissertation. Olson’s primary area of focus was upon the influence that Melville’s reading of Shakespeare played in shaping Moby-Dick. Olson understood that Melville’s discoveries while reading Shakespeare had drastically altered Moby-Dick, and he felt his own writing stymied by the formal expectations at Harvard. He wanted to convey the disruptive connections he’d discovered and knew accomplishing that meant leaving the university. Within the following few years, Olson turned the material gathered for his dissertation into a book which moves freely between the author’s creative will and analytical endeavor.

With Olson/Melville: A Study in Affinity, Charters looks at Call Me Ishmael and how Olson’s work stands in relation to Melville. Compared to more academic studies on Olson there’s a touching quality, an inviting aura of sorts, surrounding this book; used copies regularly pop up for sale around the San Francisco Bay area, offering a reassuring reminder that not all studies of poetry must tidily fit into the rubrics of academic writing. It’s a compact book as well, possessing a personal feel which mellows out the more scholarly passages. This effect is due in large part to the inclusion of photographs Charters took of Olson in and around the environs of his hometown, the one-time fishing mecca of Gloucester, MA, which serves as the inspirational locus for The Maximus Poems. In fact, the photograph of Olson on the beach used on the cover of the University of California Press edition of The Maximus Poems is from this same set—a cropped version decorates the covers of Olson/Melville. On the front are the rocks along the water’s edge while on the back Olson is seen gazing upwards off camera, his beefy fingers holding the ever-present filterless cigarette to his lips.

Over forty years later, Evidence of What Is Said revisits the period of time surrounding the writing of Olson/Melville. Although billed as presenting letters “about History and Herman Melville,” the book contains a good deal more than just that. There’s an introduction by Charters, a nifty memoir that reviews matters arising in the correspondence just before, during, and after the writing and publication of Olson/Melville, including details in regard to her visit with the poet in Gloucester. This is followed by the correspondence itself. Any reader familiar with Olson’s letters will find them much as expected: bombastic and energetic, often fragmentary, never dull. Disputing a claim Charters makes regarding a similarity of argumentative purpose between Olson’s handling of the Freudian trope of killing the father in the “Moses” section of Call Me Ishmael and cannibalism in the opening “First Fact” concerning the travesty of the sailing ship Essex, Olson drives home a clear message: “creatively, one does not repeat.” He would have completed his book as a dissertation if he intended using such rhetorical structure to prove his argument. Charters also includes her brief personal essay “Melville in the Berkshires,” written during the same period as the letters with Olson and undertaken with the “creative freedom and imagination” she found within his work.

In addition, an expanded number of the original photographs, many of which appear to have been previously cropped, are included. It turns out that Olson scholar George Butterick, who edited the complete edition of The Maximus Poems after Olson’s death, was staying with Olson at the time, helping to order the poet’s papers and gathering material for a never realized biography of the poet. In these additional photos he is seen walking with Olson on the streets of Gloucester. The description given by Charters before the trio heads out for a walk is a classic Olson scene:

That afternoon, Charles, George, and I never budged from the kitchen table while our talk went on and on. We consumed endless cups of coffee and, as the hours passed, quite a few shots of Cutty Sark. Late in the afternoon the weather turned chilly. Olson put on an old brown corduroy jacket and George disappeared briefly into his room next door to put on a shirt before we went outside for a walk. Olson had agreed to let me take photographs of him in his Gloucester neighborhood, and I was eager to take advantage of the light during the late afternoon sunshine. . . .
. . . Olson had met the choreographer [Merce Cunningham] at Black Mountain College in 1955, and he gracefully demonstrated the way that Cunningham had taught him to walk with his weight distributed evenly on his two feet.

On the opposing page a snapshot taken by Butterick following behind Olson and Charters shows the pair strolling along a waterfront walkway, the poet’s 6’8” frame towering over the rather petite Charters in a light dress and sandals as Olson firmly plants his feet flatly down one in front of the other, legs slightly crossed, with his arms jetting down and out from his sides. The image is of a monsterish ballerina moving light as air. Added to the essays and letters, such photos make Evidence of What Is Said a book to be cherished by readers interested in all things Olson.

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2016 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2016

Moon Up, Past Full

moonupEric Shonkwiler
Alternating Current ($11.99)

by David Nilsen

Eric Shonkwiler’s debut collection Moon Up, Past Full takes up the harsh beauty of the midwest and the gentle misery of its rural working class in a series of stories exploring family, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and the mere struggle to survive. Occasionally these stories slip into the clichés of the burgeoning rural noir genre, but what distinguishes the collection as a whole is Shonkwiler’s strong narrative sense, his patience in developing the internal tension of his characters, and the roughhewn grace of his prose.

In these fourteen stories, including two pieces of flash fiction and one novella, Shonkwiler begins with simple set-ups for his characters, then tugs at the strings that hold their worlds together until each man or woman is ready to break apart or fight to survive. Often they do both. The slow fuse burning through each story slowly ratchets up the anxiety and tension at the core; Shonkwiler is much less concerned with the outbursts of violence that often define fiction of this type than he is with the fragile strength at the heart of his weatherworn protagonists.

In “Last Snow” a mother takes her young daughter to a state park on a mountain to witness what might be the first and last snow the child ever sees. The story is set a few years into a future when global warming has taken this beauty away from us, and the mother doesn’t want her girl to miss it. The quiet poignancy of the story comes from its whispered specificity; there is no politicizing, and this imagined future is not overrun with zombies or global famine or war. The simple loss of the seasons is enough.

Shonkwiler does give us that darker future, however, in “GO21,” the longest story in the book. An asteroid has hit the earth, and all forms of broadcasting, including cell phones, have been knocked out; the ensuing tale of a small group of adults trying to get to and defend a remote cabin starts out quietly and builds to a terrific crescendo. The story’s genius lies in its subversive ending, which of course can’t be revealed here—suffice it to say this is not the story you think it is.

“Rene” tells the story of a young woman trying to find help for her mother, who has had a bad nosebleed for days. The hospital is useless in helping her; the rumored witch that lives by a river many miles away might not be. Their truck has given up the ghost, so they set out on horseback. Along the way Rene comes to grips with the burdens her mother has laid on her since childhood.

There is a recurring theme in these stories of adult children facing up to the human failures and relational wounds of their parents. Shonkwiler’s characters are often fractured from their families, struggling with loyalty to their parents and siblings while defending their own identities and ethics. This coping with the frequent failure of the endeavor of family is a central and defining characteristic of his writing.

Moon Up, Past Full is a promising debut from Ohio native Shonkwiler. It’s refreshing to read stories like these that aren’t set in the West or the Ozarks or some other well-worn territory of rural noir, but in the heartland states of Ohio and its neighbors. We have stories around here you wouldn’t believe, so Shonkwiler isn’t likely to run out of muses any time soon.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2016 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2016

Spring 2016


To Carry C. D. Wright’s Work Forward, Shining
The loss of a great poet spurs this moving tribute to the necessary work that “puts the self in the now and on the page.”
Essay by Jill Magi


Turning Teaching into Writing: An Interview with Wendy Barker
Poet and professor Wendy Barker discusses her new collection of poems, which focuses on her experiences as a teacher.
Interviewed by Alan Feldman

Surging toward Abjection: An Interview with Alan Sondheim
Two colleagues team up to ask a renowned new media artist, musician, and writer about his work in the virtual world. Interviewed by Maria Damon and Murat Nemet-Nejat

The Pleasure Principle: An Interview with Alfie Bown
Alfie Bown discusses his new book Enjoying It, which addresses the profound question of pleasure and the trend of video game apps with wit and wisdom.
Interviewed by Catherine Wong


Liner Notes
James Brubaker
These thirteen stories explore a fascination with music and pop culture. Reviewed by Alex K. Hughes

Camp Olvido: A Novella
Lawrence Coates
Set in early 1930s central California work camps, this novella follows the tragic lives of migrant workers, their families, and their bullying bosses. Reviewed by Richard Henry

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
Edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown
Two reviewers discuss this anthology of stories inspired by SF master Octavia Butler, taking on matters of race and gender. Reviewed by Jane Franklin and Folake Shoga

The 6:41 to Paris
Jean-Phillippe Blondel
This so-called “psychological thriller” grinds like a bullet train on 19th-century tracks, but despite the historical dynamism that propels the novel, it remains inescapably static and small in its design. Reviewed by Justin Goodman

Moon Up, Past Full
Eric Shonkwiler
In his debut collection Moon Up, Past Full, Shonkwiler takes up the harsh beauty of the Midwest and the gentle misery of its rural working class. Reviewed by David Nilsen


The Coyote’s Bicycle
Kimball Taylor
In The Coyote’s Bicycle, the U.S.-Mexico border transforms into both a living creature with a pulsing magnetism and an imaginary architecture of the mind. Reviewed by Emily Loberg

Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century
Daniel Oppenheimer
With a wealth of research and emotional obedience, Oppenheimer brilliantly traces the pre-conversion stories of six of 20th-century America’s most impactful political creatures: Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens.  Reviewed by Mark Dunbar

Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life
Jonathan Bate
Bate’s new biography challenges the traditional narrative that paints Hughes as one of the most hated men in literary history. Reviewed by Katie Marquette

War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony
Nelson A. Denis
In this chronicle of horror, Denis recounts the history of America’s oppression of the Puerto Rican people. Reviewed by Spencer Dew

Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese Internment in World War II
Richard Reeves
In his book on one of the dark moments of American history, Reeves traces the racism, discrimination, and hate-mongering that led to the infamous internment camps. Reviewed by Douglas Messerli

Evidence of What Is Said:
The Correspondence between Ann Charters and Charles Olson about History and Herman Melville

Ann Charters and Charles Olson
Over forty years after publishing her slim yet meaty work Olson/Melville, Charters revisits that period of time with Evidence of What is Said through letters and pictures. Reviewed by by Patrick James Dunagan


Latest Volcano
Tana Jean Welch
Welch reveals the gift and power of story with poems lyrically defined by both narrative structure and the convergence of abstract and concrete. Reviewed by Greg Bem

Quiet Book
Pattie McCarthy
Quiet Book considers individual moments of motherhood, moments that have shaped the parameters of history, language, and Western art. Reviewed by Jenny Drai

Emily Bludworth de Barrios
These poems delve into defining a life through the prism of envy, ambition, love, and privilege. Reviewed by Ashleigh Lambert

Futures: Poems of the Greek Crisis
Edited and translated by Theodoros Chiotis
This anthology teems with the anger and bitterness that resulted from Greece’s economic turmoil. Reviewed by John Bradley

Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner
Edited by Diane Goettel and Anneli Matheson
Feast brims with delicious recipes and poetry to match, giving us a glimpse into the various regions of the world of the human spirit. Reviewed by Rahel Jaskow

Rabbit Ears: TV Poems
Edited by Joel Allegretti
The first of its kind, this anthology of TV poems presents a diversity of poetic voices addressing the medium of television from every angle. Reviewed by M. Lock Swingen


Vox Populi
Virginia Konchan
From the moment the reader embarks upon this poetic voyage of the alphabet, it becomes clear that this poem is a celebration of the various. Reviewed by Larry Sawyer

A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us
Caleb Curtiss
In this stirring collection of poems, Curtiss explores the death of his sister through tension between presence/memory and absence/forgetting. Reviewed by Robert Manaster


The Fireman: a video interview with Joe Hill
Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer met with Joe Hill to discuss his new novel, literary influences, and comics.

Dark Sparkler: a video interview with Amber Tamblyn
Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer sat down with poet Amber Tamblyn on a book tour for her collection Dark Sparkler to discuss how the dark side of fame can be expressed through poetry and art.

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2016 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2016


Spring2016coverChristopher Atkins is a photographer, writer, and the Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, Minnesota. He holds an MA and M.Res degree in visual cultures from Goldsmiths College at the University of London, and has taught museum studies and contemporary art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Macalester College.