Letter Beginning with Two Lines from Tomaž Šalamun

by abigail zimmer


Fucked by the Absolute
fed up with virgins and other dying sufferers
I take to walking the lengths of neighborhoods
taking longer if there's snow or traffic lights or—
haha! an Energy flowing for somebody else.
To disappear without a trace is a thought
I have had or read about in books.
Yesterday on the train a boy thought it cute
a girl rode for the first time
(please, it is not the virgins I am fed up with)
and oh my not-god
another chained up bike is missing its tire
I am missing you
and the country is missing absolutely
a kindness toward another body.
Am I the god of my body? I give it again
and again to people I might or did love.
(Now I pass a dog missing its back legs
a child missing her hat
a woman saying to a child where did you put your hat?)
Forget bodies! In my mind I create a space
where you are healthy: whole and imperfect
in the way we love imperfection. Inexplicably.
Snow sometimes as rain sometimes as ice.
You are here because I think of you.
I am awake because I think of you.
The dog wears a sweater that is red or pink.
The child doesn't know where she put her hat.

Ghost Ocean 20

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Abigail Zimmer is the author of girls their tongues (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2017) and the chapbooks fearless as I seam (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and child in a winter house brightening (Tree Light Books, 2016), which received the Chicago Review of Books' 2016 Poetry Award. She lives in Chicago where she is the poetry editor for The Lettered Streets Press. Her work has appeared in NightBlockThe New Megaphone and alice blue review, among others.


The Anatomy of Energy

BY Katie Jean Shinkle


The ways we are electric is this:
how I put my finger inside a socket,
how an entire rewiring is actually a type of haunting,
a ghost who will not leave.
How can I reconnect the parts of me
that are lost if they forget,
and in the forgetting
we long, such nostalgia.

This is the year of my leave-taking
of my wandering, of the absentia
that is the way you once
looked at me or how
you kissed me on a bridge overlooking
a river in winter: do
you remember, too? It is so sticky
this way to remember.
I am astonished to find
it ever mattered to begin with. 


Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of The Arson People (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015) and Our Prayers After the Fire (Blue Square Press, 2014), as well as four chapbooks which includes There Are So Many Things That Beg You For Love (Damaged Goods Press, forthcoming.) She is co-fiction editor of DIAGRAM and creative nonfiction editor of Banango Street. 

from The New Promise

BY J River Helms


Unexpectedly he gathers strings, sticks.
Room to room & who comes the closest.

The rare case, how the murmured flash
surfaces: a compulsive blur of gray.

A joke about vulnerability, realization.
How a bird lands in my throat

& the itinerary shifts. Between the narratives
he sits, gnawing. Our hidden audience drawn.



Every month is April & every breath a snag
in the larynx. A moth replaces every organ,

the quantity of which remains unknown.
All fluttering, always fluttering. If breakage.

If dying. If sky turned steel, retching. Out of
our bloodied nothings the absolute unloosening.

No grave, no brick, no flaming hair. He goes on
& I go on & we go on. Never summer.


J River Helms is a nonbinary queer person from the South. Their work has appeared in Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, Fairy Tale Review, Gertrude, New England Review, Redivider, and Sonora Review, among others. Machines Like Us, their first collection of poetry, was published by Dzanc in 2016. Their chapbook, The New Promise, is forthcoming from Tree Light Books. J currently lives in Brattleboro, VT. 

what did you know in advance

BY tony mancus


the goat would
eat everything
             its friends swathed in grass/stained
                                      a strong jaw
                                what limits there are

head titled with horns
tilts then like it wants
the jays to shout more
                                      wants the billboard’s promised                                                       anything
                                      mulched up into a parable

equal bulbs on the chewed
this bright and bright everywhere


Tony Mancus is the author of a handful of chapbooks, including Bye Sea, City Country, and apologies. He currently serves as chapbook editor for Barrelhouse and some of his recent work has appeared in 7x7, Devil's Lake, and Territory. He and Shannon and their yappy cats are relocating to the Denver area shortly. 

In Conversation

political poetry & The power of contrast: ghost ocean talks with john andrews


GHOST OCEAN: How long has Colin is Changing His Name been in the making?

JOHN ANDREWS: A few poems in the book came from my MFA thesis, but the real work of Colin began in Fall 2013 when I moved to Stillwater, OK to start my PhD. I met my now fiancé, who’s legal first name is also John (luckily he goes by Randy) and got the idea to play with lovers going by the same name. At first it was meant to be a fun project pushing on form and meaning, but then it kept evolving into what became this book. I ended up with a full draft of it in 2015 and started sending it out to book contests and presses that spring.

GO: Sandy Longhorn has said your book investigates “what it means to come of age as a gay man in the south,” and these poems seem to span close to (more than?) a decade of seclusion, growth, and heartache. In what ways do these poems challenge southern assumptions and ideas about masculinity and strength?

JA: I love that blurb, and can’t thank Sandy enough for those kind words. I’d say you’re spot on in that question. For me, the book feels to span from around a thirteen-year-old to twenty-seven-year-old perspective moving through feelings of shame, guilt, and otherness. There are a lot of assumptions about how gay men act and present themselves, and often southern gay men aren’t visibly or openly understood to be gay. Often this is a choice, to “pass” as straight for safety. Other times though this is just who they are and I think the work here tries to show that there isn’t a prescribed gay identity.

GO: How does living in south inform your own views on what the role of the artist is in 2017? Do you consider your poetry to be political?

JA: Honestly, I didn’t consider this work overtly political until I did my first reading for it. The opening poem has a line “say the pledge of allegiance, least sexy words you know” which now seems to scream politics. Any work with identity and acceptance is going to be political and with that I hope the book speaks to a different kind of coming out, a coming out to oneself. Sometimes I think people forget that coming out isn’t a one-time thing. You have to come out to new co-workers, friends, neighbors, doctors, who ever you meet. For me these interpersonal coming outs have been fairly smooth, and I feel very lucky in that. In the age of interconnection, my friends, mentors, and family have been nothing but accepting, but when the world you grew up in and the church billboard just off town square still reads “God meant Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” in 2016, it is hard to imagine an existence in the south you survive. Having grown up in the South that is unintentionally (or intentionally) ambiguous about acceptance, I worry about people coming out to themselves wherever they are or whatever their circumstance and hope this book speaks to them.

*GO: One of the first poems I recall reading from this collection was “Little Rock Rain,” originally published in Eunoia Review. The poem includes one of the book’s most memorable lines: “No one is meant to live / like this: afraid to kiss.” Could you speak to how the poem touches on the recurring themes in the book?

JA: Specifically, this poem speaks to fear of the physical consequences of being gay. Mundane things like kissing or holding hands in public can sometimes invite persecution and violence for gay and lesbian people everywhere, and I don’t want readers to forget that. I don’t want anyone right now to forget that.  

GO: Your poem “The Book of Colin” has biblical roots in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Book of Revelations; church and God find their way into other poems in Colin is Changing His Name. How does religion influence this book and the many Colins we’re introduced to?

JA: Kind of returning to the political question, for me the harder coming out was more internal. My family isn’t extremely religious but growing up immersed in a highly religious culture I found myself more afraid of admitting to myself that I am gay because of the larger religious implications. In this sense the internal struggle with religion really boils down to coming out to oneself.

GO: One of the poems in Colin is Changing His Name that has stuck with me is the title poem, which appears in the book penultimately. In the poem, you intersperse several recognizable phrases from earlier poems among new material, which creates a thrilling energy and momentum, despite the poem seeming relatively quiet at times, pensive, while painfully direct. Can you give insight into this poem, your approach and, possibly, inspiration?

JA: When I started ordering the book I was actually watching a lot of project Runway and I loved how when the designers put together their collections they thought of the story arch. Tim had said something along the lines of “you can see each girl as her own person, in her own look, and yet together their looks tell a story.” I love that metaphor for a book. Each poem existing as its own outfit, an individual Colin and yet together they tell a story with similar colors, threads, fabrics, and stitching styles that flow through and hold the collection together. With that, the final Colin poem was written after a majority of the Colin poems. Most fashion shows end with some showstopper gown that often pulls together the elements used throughout and I wanted to try and do just that with the collection.

GO: The cover art for Colin depicts a blurry figure, seemingly male, undressing. Can you speak to how you see the artwork interacting with these poems? In what ways do you see the two in conversation with or informing one another?

JA: Bradley Phillips’ work is hands down amazing, right? When I first saw the piece I couldn’t shake it, the way the figure seems to transform into the word “change” itself.

GO: The poems in Colin are often understated, closing on harrowing and captivating moments instead of indulging or stretching them further. Can you talk about your tendency toward restraint in the book (or with your writing in general)? Is it a natural modus operandi or did these poems become more and more distilled through editing?

JA: I’ve always been drawn to poems that cut straight to the point (Jean Valentine is a master of this / idol of mine in this sense). When a poem can live in that restraint, I often think it allows those moments to resonate even louder. Kind of like the way an empty room carries more sound or a painting on a solid white wall stands out more vibrant, I’ve always been drawn to the power of contrast.

GO: This is your first full-length collection. How did the process of putting together a book and then working with Sibling Rivalry to see Colin published surprise you?

JA: Probably the most surprising thing has been the amount of care Sibling Rivalry put into bring the book into print. I’d heard stories from others who published books about things going wrong with layout or editing or cover art and how it can be an extremely stressful process, but that was not the case at all with SRP.  Bryan Borland is hands down one of the most supportive and helpful people I know and Seth Pennington is a layout god/magician. All in all the most pleasant of surprises.


John Andrews’ first book, Colin Is Changing His Name, was a finalist for the 2015 Moon City Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in 2017. His work has appeared in Redivider, The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South, Columbia Poetry Review, Burnt District, and others. He holds an MFA from Texas State University where he served as managing editor for Front Porch Journal. Currently, he is PhD student at Oklahoma State University and an associate editor for the Cimarron Review.

In Review

we cry out against isolation: a look at glamourpuss

Glamourpuss by Cat Fitzpatrick. New York, NY: Topside Heliotrope, September 2016. 106 pages. $10 paperback.

As poetry editor for Topside Press’ Heliotrope imprint, Cat Fitzpatrick has published work from a number of remarkable trans poets over the past two years, including Charles Theonia, Lilith Latini, Tyler Vile, KOKUMO, and Kay Ulanday Barrett. Fitzpatrick’s first full-length collection, Glamourpuss, recounts fragmented moments from the author’s life in playfully structured verse, and her voice is a strong addition to the growing Topside Heliotrope catalog.

Through varied experiments with form – the ballad, the ode, the sonnet cycle – Fitzpatrick maintains a consistently musical tone. These poems should be read aloud, and loudly, their lilting rhythms given voice. Style is not separate from content but an integral part of the stories Fitzpatrick tells. In Glamourpuss, the present converses with the past in terms both poetic and personal.

Specific to place and moment, the poems in this collection meander through the crumbling ruins of Roman forts and romantic relationships, down country roads and dark city streets. In all of these places, Fitzpatrick finds herself: a trans woman inhabiting a world that wasn’t built for her. She finds me too, uncomfortable in my metal chair on the patio of a local bar, in my office typing out disjointed notes, crying on the couch in my living room. I make a place for her poems, and her poems make a place for me. We find some common ground in the mess of our respective pasts.

Glamourpuss centers Fitzpatrick’s experiences as a trans woman. She reflects on her relationships to other trans women, to cis people, to work. She recounts her mistakes. She looks back at connections made and severed as a way of finding new connections and new patterns. I reflect on my own past as I read, holding these poems up like a mirror, looking through them like a lens. Fitzpatrick’s experiences differ greatly from my own, but they resonate in places. This is no small thing for me as a trans woman who grew up reading poetry written by cis men and wondering why it so often seemed dead on the page. Glamourpuss feels real and alive, even as its settings are unfamiliar.

In a triptych entitled Fuck You Amy, Fitzpatrick writes:

Never fuck another trans woman
They are all crazy bitches
They bite scratch hide hate things
Just like I do oh my god

I recognize this feeling, the feeling of finding and losing myself, resentment and longing and reluctant self-realization. I hold on to it, let it guide me through the rest of the book.

In Truck Stop, part of a series of short poems that make up a kind of travelogue, she writes:

They notice us in packs but let them look,
Sometimes you need to take that risk. Every
Truck stop should have a few of us, stealing
Wasabi peas and telling noisy jokes,
Demanding very complex sandwiches.

I recognize this feeling, too. Let them look. I’m not sure if it’s real confidence or something else, but I wrap it around myself like armor. Let them see us. Let them hear us. We exist, not alone but in packs. We cry out against isolation. That cry is the beating heart of this book.

Every truck stop – and every literary magazine – should have a few of us.

Sarah M. Bess


Sarah M. Bess is a neuroqueer poet from rural southeast Missouri. She is a 2017 Lambda Literary Poetry Fellow and a 2016 Topside Press Trans Women Writers Workshop Fellow. Her poems have been featured in The Wanderer, The Fem, and Matrix. She is a contributor to Resilience, an upcoming anthology from Wormbook Press. Follow her on twitter @smbess.



In Review

Poetry as life science: a look at the other house

The Other House by Ting Gou. Delphi Series Vol. 4. Blue Lyra Press. 2016. 108 pages. $12 Paperback.

Ting Gou’s debut chapbook collection, The Other House, brings new insight into what we talk about when we talk about home. In these poems, home is organic, home is in our gut, and we are home only when we see and acknowledge our visceral connection to the natural forces that hold and enfold us. The relentless, lyrical precision with which Gou compels her readers to be connected to the natural world, the world of other creatures and the bodies they inhabit, confirms my long-held conviction that a scientist-poet has a great advantage over those of us confined to the imagery of the external: Gou’s poetic instrument of choice is the scalpel.

The collection focuses on childhood—but this is a childhood remembered organically. In life there is always decay; the relationship is symbiotic. “Excavation: Mobile, Alabama, 1996” illustrates this dramatically in the detailed description of a mother cleaning and gutting fish. “She deroofed the scales / from spiculated skin” exactly illustrates how Gou uses her knowledge to elevate detail into a synthesis of rich and strange, and yet surgically exact, images. A mother making dinner out of “eggless pouches” is not only harrowing, it compels us to consider intimately our relationship to other creatures.

In “Frankenstein,” we meet (again) a speaker whose childhood home, whose parents, are both alive and dead in an overgrown past, glimpsed through long grass or behind loose shutters, existing in heat that is “the exothermic tug of a mad voice.” We are first asked to “Think of / a fig swarming with larval / bees . . . ” before we experience mom and dad as toilers in nature, amid their own litter of human artefacts. Where does one end and the other begin? Where does the child fit?

We already know a thing about figs; they are home, sweet home, a living home, giving life to life. In “Fig Wasp,” the relationship between speaker and “home” is not stitched together—it is thick and sweet as blood. The poem is deeply gendered. The fig contains a wasp-world of wingless males enabling their sisters’ escape—and yet all is sweetness. What mythology, the speaker asks, does the male wasp “invent / to explain a life so dark and sweet?” Here Gou gets to the heart of fig(ure) and myth, twisting classical expectations into a different question—and yet never shaking the reader’s faith in the exact science of her art.

Childhood, home, memory, life and death—such is the raw material of many a poet. Ting Gou’s special gift is to own the science of life-in-death, of heat released, of rot reanimated—and to gain our trust as she makes her images sing, because they are truth.

This enriching volume in the Delphi Series from Blue Lyra also contains chapbooks by accomplished poets Claire Zoghb and Erin Redfern. Altogether a treat.

—Jude Marr


Jude Marr's poetry has appeared in many digital and print publications, including Panoply and Cherry Tree. She is a PhD student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and poetry editor for r.kv.ry. Her chapbook, Breakfast for the Birds, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press early in 2017. More on Jude’s work at www.judemarr.com.



In Review

pursuit of a messy, complicated fulfillment: a look at The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová 

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová by Kelcey Parker Ervick. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal Press. November 2016. 348 pgs. $17.95 Paperback. Nonfiction. 

Before I became acquainted with Božena Němcová, I had come to think of fairy tales as synonymous with happy endings. I knew about their historic darkness, but I thought of that darkness as either a moralistic warning or a simplistic good vs. evil. Behave, young children, or you’ll be eaten by the wolves of gluttony, etc. I was bored by that simplicity, but then Kelsey Parker Ervick introduced me to Božena Němcová.


She wanted
 to live only by the pen
 and perhaps even paid for it with her life,” Karolina Světlá (230).


Božena Němcová is remembered as the mother of Czech literature and the collector of Bohemian fairytales and folklore. Neither her writing nor her life could be described as simplistic. For a storyteller who is credited as an inspiration to Franz Kafka, and whose likeness appears on Czech currency, very little seems to be known about her short and incendiary life.


“I wont repeat to you how men judge my personality, they normally lie to us and sometimes make us into angels, and sometimes make us into devils” Božena Němcová (88).


In The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, Ervick unearths her story by way of biographical collage. Through letters, images, and secondary texts, Ervick made me reflect on my own relationships with men, with writing, and with idealism.  While I do not personally have any fiery nationalistic lovers or beloved children dying of consumption, I related completely to Němcová’s unresolved search for happiness. As a newly married woman who volunteered for the Clinton campaign and left a salaried job to travel and write, I recognized Němcová’s questioning as my own. Ervick made me see the supposedly modern dilemma of “having it all” anew. She made me fall in love with Božena Němcová.


“Oh, who could plumb the depths of this unfathomable ocean with its cliffs, its rich treasures, terrible monsters, this ocean called the human heart!Božena Němcová (100).


The collage of these texts looks like poetry, in that the words on the page can be sparse, and erasures of original text help to highlight the many contradictory aspects of Němcová’s life. The book reads like biography, depicting her as a writer with revolutionary ideas, a devoted mother, and a passionate lover of men and of other women, everyone other than her own husband.


“a beautiful sin has its moral dignity and merit—what is not beautiful about it contains its own punishment” Jan Helcelet (84).


The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is at once an escape into a beautiful and culturally rich past and an intensely modern text. Ervick relies heavily on personal letters to, from, and about Němcová. The 19th century language dates these letters, and the obstruction of the Czech language further veils Němcová’s reality, like a sepia faded photograph. Yet Ervick gives us these voices in short gasps that, together, form a chorus. The result reads like the scroll of a Twitter feed populated by Czech nationalists at the turn of the century, deepening and complicating Němcová at every turn.


 “There is not a drop of bitterness in her heart”  Žofie Podlipská (236).
            “Life is very bitter to me” Božena Němcová (237).


The Bitter life of Božena Němcová is a fairy tale because there is a noon witch, and a grandmother who saves almost everyone, and a peasant girl who is in love with a soldier. It is modern because the girl in the fairy tale is both admirable and unlovable. She is caught in the double bind that is still all too familiar to women. The thing that makes her wondrous also makes her impossible to hold close.


“As though she wants to perish in the wild swirl,
As though she wants to escape from herself” Božena Němcová (54).


Throughout this collage, Ervick embroiders herself into the text. In the introduction, she admits that during the time she was discovering Němcová she was also in the process of dissolving her marriage of 17 years. The biographer’s present day dissatisfaction underscores the relevance of the biographed’s unrelenting hunger. The fairytale of marriage as happy-ending has always been too simplistic for the vitality of women.


A shiver runs down her, she forgets that she is ornamented with a crown of myrtle, and she says defiantly: I will not go!” Božena Němcová (49).


I loved this book, unequivocally. It should be stuffed in the stocking of every feminist on your holiday shopping list. It should be the second night of Channuka gift for the revolutionary in your life who still needs a pocket constitution (on the first night). It is the perfect way to tell your lover you adore them, but you know that your mutual passion is only one of the mediums necessary for a full and beautiful life.


“The days run like waves, as many drops of water as there are in a wave, so many thousand thoughts run to you, dear Ivan!” Božena Němcová (74).


Božena Němcová is fascinating enough on her own to demand our attention, and Ervick is the right artist to guide us. Her dedication to Czech history and language gives this literary matriarch her due, and because Ervick also shares her own lows openly, she invites readers to be vulnerable and collage themselves into Němcová’s story as well. Ervick knows exactly how much space to provide each voice in this chorus, including her own. She engages with the text and then creates the space for readers to do so as well.


Dear B,
Your husband, whom no one remembers, once told you: ‘No one will ever remember you.’
k” Kelcey Parker Ervick (323).


In this review I’ve named Němcová 18 times, and I can bet that most readers would have skimmed over her name without hazarding a pronunciation. Ervick begins the book with an explication of Czech phonetics, of Němcová’s decision to change her name, and the proper pronunciation of the words Božena Němcová, as if to demand our attention and respect.


I know in Czech (with my limited knowledge) only one music of language, that of Božena NěmcováFranz Kafka (105).


Ervick closes with her own letters to Němcová and the unanswered question—was she happy? Is Ervick happy? Are we? Do we want to be ever-after? This biographical collage confirmed at least one belief I held, that happiness, and fulfillment are a messy and complicated jungle. That the arc of history is very, very long indeed. At times the bend appears so subtle, it hardly seems to be an arc at all. All this and nevertheless, she persisted.


“BO-zhena NYEM-tsovah” Kelcey Parker Ervick (7).


Tovah Burstein


Tovah Burstein is a freelancer working out of a camper currently parked in Beaumont, California. Her writing has appeared in MAKE, Defunct, Hobart, The Butter and the Chicago Reader. She is co-editor of TRUE, Proximity Magazine's weekly blog.