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Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon

Source: Purchased
eBook, 108 pgs.
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Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon creates its own gallery of art in which human interaction with artists’ work, ranging from Andy Warhol to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, is on display for readers to generate yet another level of interaction and interpretation. These poems are similar to the recursive style of painting in which a painter is seen painting himself inside of painting, etc., or something similar.

Agodon leaves readers with a number of verses to think on, including: “You said, Sometimes I still want to be needed, so I let our kitchen become a flood of time and you” and “To be master of your own fate means sometimes you have to rip up the instruction manual” and “to know the theme parks in our minds are really just a hall of mirrors.”

Even as she explores art that is recognizable, she’s also exploring human behaviors and how in some ways we self-sabotage and in others we seek solace and find little. I found many lines rang true, especially: “Poem: a form of negotiation for what haunts us.”

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon has an apt title in which human interaction with art is explored and the reality remains that our time is finite. She raises questions about societal norms, including the urge to thank fathers for taking their daughters by friends and teachers as if those fathers are not related to their children and not equally responsible for their care. Such innate reactions to simple acts of parenting bring this collection to life, grounding it in the personal.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014). She lives in the Seattle area and is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press. Visit her website.

Poe: Stories and Poems adapted by Gareth Hinds

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 120 pgs.
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Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is gorgeous from the cover to the very last page. Hinds has a firm grasp of Poe’s macabre style and his illustrations are complementary to Poe’s prose and poems. In many ways, Hinds’ dark imagery enhances Poe’s words for the modern audience. I loved that there were several poems included and not just Poe’s stories. While Gothic horror is often thought of in prose form, many of Poe’s poems are just as haunting and macabre.

Hinds also includes a checklist of Poe’s favorite themes and corresponding images — from death depicted as a skull to insanity depicted as a straitjacket – -that he uses as a key for each story and poem. Hinds also offers some insight into his selections for the collection, which is by no means comprehensive. I loved that he included my favorite story — The Masque of the Red Death — which he says is the least well-known. I’ve always felt that in some ways, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Mask of the Red Death scene in The Phantom of the Opera was in some ways inspired by this story.

Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is a welcome and permanent addition to my personal library. I’ve loved Poe for most of my life, and this volume breathes life and vibrancy into these classics. I cannot recommend this enough, and I’m looking forward to getting more of his graphic adaptations.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Illustrator:

Gareth Hinds is the author and illustrator of critically-acclaimed graphic novels and picture books based on classic literature and mythology. Through his work he shares his love of literature with readers young and old. His recent adaptation of The Odyssey received four starred reviews, and he is the recipient of the Boston Public Library’s “Literary Lights for Children” award. He lives in the Washington, DC area with his wife. When he’s not working on a book he enjoys painting landscapes and practicing aikido.

PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey

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Paperback, 228 pgs.
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PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a comprehensive resource for poets who want to gain a wider audience for their work. For novice marketers, Gailey includes in each chapter an overview of marketing terms and set of action items that poets can tackle within an hour to get themselves started.  What’s beautiful about this book is how well various aspects of marketing are explained from the platform to website to social media interaction.

It’s clear that she’s taken her experience marketing her five poetry collections to create this guide, which poets who have a website or don’t can use to market their art. Overall, much of poetry marketing begins with community. Creating a community online, creating a community in your neighborhood or city, and giving back to those communities through helping other poets with reviews, sharing their books, and even smaller things.

I cannot wait to start putting PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey into action when my manuscript is done and publishable. There are some really challenging parts for me in this book, particularly reaching out to libraries and others to promote my future book.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter and, Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Press Book Award and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She also wrote a non-fiction book called PR for Poets to help poets trying to promote their books. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She was awarded a 2007 and 2011 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry and a 2007 Washington State Artist Trust GAP grant. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez

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Paperback, 28 pgs.
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Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an eye-opening chapbook of poems and essays about what punishment actually is — beyond the concrete walls and bars on the windows and doors. This is a chapbook that packs a serious punch in the gut from the title poem, “Punishment” to the essays on how poetry not only taught the prisoners how to see beyond their four walls but the poet how to see things and people differently.

From "Punishment" (pg. 7)

The men tossed entire libraries. A rage of books.
Lobbed in high arcs like footballs,
or pitched overhand like grenades.

When caged like an animal and treated inhumanely how would you react if you did not have a blanket and the prison was unbearably cold? Would you have an ability to make a reasonable argument with the prison staff, or would you resort to the basest of reactions? Would you give up that which is most precious to you, like a family bible with calming words or a photo album that comforts you in darkness when your family cannot be near? Readers are asked to think about these questions and to see beyond the crimes and the violence of these men to see the humans broken here.

Gomez deftly places readers inside the prison with her students who still tentatively work on poems and show small kindnesses to one another even as they know once outside the classroom they must return to their “hard” selves — no longer showing emotion or kindness. Even though she is given permission to teach poetry to the prisoners, the staff make not effort to welcome her, but in fact remind her in the least subtle of ways that she is under their control and direction and that her freedoms are left outside.

From "Echo" (pg. 15)

by rain and wind. Absence
expands inside him like smoke.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an exploration of how poetry and words can provide hope and satisfaction to those who have none. It can help them explore what is good without compromising their prison personas. Gomez is asking the reader to see these men as human beings — men with hopes, deep losses, and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Nancy Miller Gomez grew up in Kansas but currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Rattle, Bellingham Review, Nimrod, and elsewhere. She has a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University. She has worked as a stable hand, an attorney, and a TV producer, and volunteers as the director of the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, an organization that provides poetry and writing workshops to incarcerated men and women. For more information on the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, visit their website.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell

Source: Free on Lulu.com
Ebook, 139 pgs.
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Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell is a collection of poems that span about 20 years, beginning in 1986. Through careful, detached observance, the narrator of each poem takes an unfettered look at humanity — it’s fruitless hopes and desires and the inevitability of death.

From "City Opus" (pg. 47)

The buildings are like dead gods, and where a
god lies dead, no one speaks, but shadows of
shadows, dreams of dreams commiserate.

Many of these poems read like stories, dark tales of harm and sadness. The beautiful daughter, the well-liked cop, the mountain climber, the lunberjack — no one is immune to the darkness of life. There is a distinct New York city atmosphere to many of the grittier poems, like “Vision of God” about the struggle with addiction and the need for the next fix.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell is not a collection for those looking to escape the dark city streets. It’s a reflection of reality amped up on its drug of choice — cold hard reality.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Poet, Playwright, Performer; multiple appearances at the Nuyorican Café including the Proofrock Festival, Knitting Factory and numerous other venues. As a performer combines Urban Poetry with rock jazz and performance. Collaborated with Jazz Musician, Conductor Composer, Butch Morris on Musical Theatre Play “Fire” produced by the Medicine Show Theatre.  Composed Poetry Radio Play “Times Square” in Collaboration with Jazz Composer and Band Leader Joe Gallant which was performed live on WBAI.  Also appeared in numerous venues with Joe Gallant and Illuminati and the Body Electric Fusion Jazz Band.  Collaborated with Blues Musician Popa Chubby on Poetry Play “City Opus” produced at Medicine Show as well as producing “City Opus” Blues Rock Poetry CD Popa Chubby. Numerous individual readings in NYC, Woodstock, and NY State venues.

The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers

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Paperback, 85 pgs.
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The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers explores the uninhabited emotional landscapes scarred by loss and trauma. Many of us live our lives as best we can even if the past haunts us, but those memory ghosts are not the places where we live in the now and they are not the places we choose to remember. These are the places that shape us into who we are, determine our strength, and force us to reassess our own outlooks and life paths.

From "A Photo of the Euphrates" (pg. 16)

Since then, his tongue has changed
the river's story. He's killed strangers
on its shore. I imagine him lying
on the dusty floor of a marble palace
at sundown, breathing red air,
waiting for the comfort night gives.
"When Asked to Say Something Nice About My Ex-Husband" (pg. 59)

I recall his chest, how sometimes he tolerated
my head on it, strong as a door
skimming the surface of a dark ocean.

In a deeply personal collection in which she shares words from her own daughter about her absent father, Sellers explores the pain deeply, attentively until a hope emerges, whether in the comfort of the night air in a war zone or the smell of yeast while baking bread and waiting. Her images are vivid and juxtapose the emotional ups and downs of being in love with a soldier and finding them changed after war. Mourning the loss of the person they used to be and yet loving them still. Moving forward in life without them because you must to emotionally survive. Sellers’ poems are love letters filled with heartbreak, love, and so much more — forgiveness.

The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers is a story told through poems and like all stories leaves a powerful impression in the sand, but it is one that cannot be erased by the tides of time, only partially worn down.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Danielle Sellers is from Key West, FL. She has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of Mississippi where she held the John Grisham Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, Smartish Pace, The Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. Her first book, Bone Key Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag. She teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas.

Drift by Alan King

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Paperback, 102 pgs.
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Drift by Alan King, who read at the 4th DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, has a musicality that is distinctly urban and young male, but it transcends these characteristics in the interplay of images he uses to describe not only lovers, but also friendships and hardships. Some of his lines will have you squaring up for a boxing match, while others will have your mouth watering.

from "Translation" (pg. 56)

That evening, when you climbed
on the back of my mountain bike, I might
have been rickshawing a dignitary the way
the hummingbird in my chest fluttered
with your arms around my waist;

King has the distinct ability to put readers in the moment with him, whether his narrators are teenagers unsure of romance or college students unable to stay away from trouble. Some of my favorite poems in this collection are in the voice of Pinky and the Brain on how they’ve become who they are and why they act the way that they do — you even get a little insight into why they are still friends, despite their differences.

Another of my favorites includes an insider’s look at AWP in which a young writer sees the idols of his book spines acting like fools. Some of these poems are very tongue-in-cheek, including a pep talk a poet receives during the month-long write a poem a day challenge. But many of them tackle serious issues adolescents face, particularly young black males.

Drift by Alan King is musical, funny, and serious. It asks questions about identity and fitting it, particularly what it means to be a “brother.” But it’s also about growing up in an unforgiving urban landscape.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his wife and daughter in Bowie, MD. He writes about art and domestic issues on this blog.

He’s a communications specialist for a national nonprofit and a senior editor at Words Beats & Life‘s global hip hop journal.

As a staff writer for the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper, King often out-scooped the Baltimore Sun when covering housing and the Baltimore City Council. His three-part series on East Baltimore’s redevelopment and the displaced residents brought together stakeholders (community leaders, elected officials and developers) to work out a plan that gave vulnerable residents a role in helping to build up the city’s blighted neighborhoods.

He’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. His poems and short stories appear in various literary journals, magazines and are featured on public radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee

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Paperback, 44 pgs.
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Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee, who read at the fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a short collection that explores the nature of family and how oftentimes as children we can feel like we’re on the periphery of others’ lives. Even as the narrator in these poems laments the life and relationships that she did not have with her father and sister, for example, it is clear she still views them as positively as she can.

From "Taraxacum" (pg. 19)

the passenger window of a police car
three little girls innocently giggling,
talking to someone who's vowed to be impartial,
to defend, nothing menacing in that scene,

I felt afraid. At that moment I remembered
being nine or ten, learning that to some
I was cute for a brown girl and to others
I was no more than a weed needing to be pulled,"

Through juxtaposition of innocent scenes, she clings to the good, but the darker memories of hate and racism creep in. The narrator also strives to remember relatives as they would like to have been remembered if war had not harmed their psyches — a war in Vietnam and a war with drugs.

“Elegy for My Sister” is a poem that will evoke deep sadness. The narrator’s sister, an artist who captured faces in charcoal beautifully, realistically, is dies long before she ages. “But somewhere deep in the District/my sister haunts hallways and vacant lots,/never taking flight,” the narrator laments after watching red birds fly. A moment she wishes her sister could have. She also speaks of a father who was proud of her as the new beginning he almost made. The narrator is “almost” invisible in her own life with these larger than life relatives, but she also is a reluctant pessimist.

Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee is a daring and deeply emotional collection of poems that lament what was, wishes for a better beginning, and has made peace with how it has arrived. Lee has a strong voice that echoes throughout the shadows of the District.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Kateema Lee is a Washington D.C. native. She earned her M.F.A in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland at College Park. She’s a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, and she’s a Callaloo Workshop participant. Her work has appeared in anthologies, print, and online literary journals, including African American Review, Gargoyle, Word Riot, and Cave Canem Anthology XIII. When she’s not writing, she teaches English and Women’s Studies courses at Montgomery College.

Ache by Joseph Ross

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Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Ache by Joseph Ross, one of the readers at the fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a collection that will gnaw, get under the skin, and force readers to review the world around them through new eyes. Whether taking on the persona of Nelson Mandela or John Coltrane, Ross has a knack for demonstrating the persistent, dull pain alive in this country and throughout the world. It is not just the pain of racial bias, but also the pain of immigrants searching for better lives and crossing hell to get there.

from "Nelson Mandela Burns His Passbook, 1952"

You thought you might eat
its ashes for dinner. The blue

flame, tiny and cautious at first,
crawled up the paper like a 

well-dressed thief, about to steal
what is already his.

Ross demonstrates a deep empathy with his subjects and begs readers to understand the point of view of others, even if they are vastly different from their own. He pinpoints the absurdity of violence that erupts from fear and the lasting ache it leaves behind for not only mothers and siblings, but for those yet to come into being. The history of their lives informs our present, and should be remembered.

from "When Your Word Is a Match"

When your word is a match-
head, hissing into flame,

testifying aloud but blown
out as soon as you speak.

Ross leaves readers with powerful images that speak for historical figures, those lynched in Birmingham or bombed in a church or even those who merely followed their dreams to make music. Listen. Can’t you just hear the Coltrane in these lines:

from "On John Coltrane's 'Lush Life'"

A saxophone needs
supple, lush. When human

breath swims through its
golden canyons it sings

only if the player bends.

Ache by Joseph Ross is a balancing of both sides of ache — a deep-seated, persistent pain — running through the country’s past, present, and future. Unless, we’re able to absorb the beauty around us, forget the misconceptions we use as shields for poor decisions, and move forward and “believe everyone/deserves forgiveness.” (pg. 89, “For the Graffiti Artist Whose Tag Covered the Last Cool ‘Disco’ Dan Tag in Washington, D.C.”)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together; Imagine Peace. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

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Paperback, 199 pgs.
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The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace is a debut collection from another Instagram poet, but unlike the poems of Rupi Kaur, Lovelace’s poetry is more like the diary entries of a teenager or merely the instant reactions and out bursts of a teen who has access to social media.

This is not to say that her poems do not seek to empower young women with self-esteem issues or those who have been abused and are feeling emotionally drained. They do those things in a simple way, but the lines of verse lack the imagery and substance of Kaur’s poems. Even so, this collection does have some poems that will have readers staring in awe at the “drop the mic” moment.

sticks & stones
never broke
                 my bones,
but words
made me
starve myself
until
                 you could
                 see all of them.
-skin & bone.
i was the one thing
he had to deny-
the beautiful truth
within his
terrible lie.

-who knew such a young heart could shatter?
when your mother
begins to forget
your name,
you begin
to wonder
if you exist
at all.

-stage 4, terminal

On the other hand, taken as a whole, Lovelace is telling a story and it happens to be in a form that straddles verse and prose in a way that captures the readers’ attention. The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace is a product of today’s social media 24/7 world. Whether or not it is your cup of tea, it is good to see that poetry is gaining attention.

RATING: Couplet

About the Poet:

growing up a word-devourer & avid fairy tale lover, it was only natural that amanda lovelace began writing books of her own, & so she did. when she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found waiting for pumpkin spice coffee to come back into season & binge-watching gilmore girls. (before you ask: team jess all the way). the lifelong poetess & storyteller currently lives in new jersey with her fiancé, their moody cat, & a combined book collection so large it will soon need its own home. she has her B.A. in english literature with a minor in sociology. the princess saves herself in this one is her debut poetry collection & the first book in the women are some kind of magic series. the second book in the series, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, will be published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Insomniatic by Valerie Fox

Source: the poet
Paperback, 36 pgs.
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Insomniatic by Valerie Fox is a unique chapbook in which readers are subject to a disjointed world where reality creeps into dreamlike sequences and hallucinations. An insomniac generally does not get a lot of “good” sleep, and these poems illustrate that electric energy of someone on the verge of exhaustion and their scattered thoughts. These thoughts are sometimes dark, but also playful and absurd, pushing readers to wonder if one could get addicted to such oddities of sleep deprivation.

From "Incorruptible" (pg.24)

On nearby Hanover Street a once inviting and
cared-for house has been recently demolished. An upright
piano stands slightly elevated at the top of the front
steps. Someone should remove it, but it looks nice there,
surrounded by blue skies and summertime.

Fox crosses the line between wakefulness and dreaming and re-crosses it again and again. A bewildered reader needs to commit to simply being along for the ride, rather than parsing out reality from dream. Insomniatic by Valerie Fox is a search through the dreaming wakefulness that is playful and disconcerting all at once.

Some recent poems can be found here.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Valerie Fox’s books of poetry include The Rorschach Factory (2006, Straw Gate Books) and The Glass Book (2010, Texture Press). She co-wrote Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets with Lynn Levin. Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (2011, Texture Press) is a collaborative book with Arlene Ang. “Scarecrow Lists of Failures and Grocery Items” (a collaboration with Ang) may be found here, at Thrush.

Her work has appeared in many journals, including Thrush, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hanging Loose, Apiary, West Branch, Sentence, and Qarrtsiluni. Originally from central Pennsylvania, she has traveled and lived throughout the world, and has taught writing and literature at numerous universities including Sophia University (in Tokyo) and currently at Drexel University (in Philadelphia). Visit her at Texture Press.

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock is a collection of poems broken up into sections named for the planets and the sun in the solar system. Blending scientific fact about the planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — and the Sun, and grounding it into a more personal experience is a balancing act that Chertock does well. But her poems also have a child-like wonder and humor to them that many can appreciate, especially as she tackles some tough issues.

From "70 Million Years Ago" (pg. 10)

The Milky Way spat out 
the Smith Cloud
from its edges,
a brussel sprout it couldn't swallow.

Now that unwanted green
is on its way back, a giant fart
of gas hurtling towards the galaxy.
From "Find Us" (pg. 19)

When they find us
we'll be long dead.
When they find us,
the chosen or rich frozen,
faces intact,
they'll wonder why
we're a people that don't move.

From those who were split from families by an invisible demarcation line after war in “An invisible middle” to a struggle with prematurely decaying bones in “Short curve II” and others, Chertock inserts wry humor to ease the hurt. In “On that one-way trip to Mars,” the narrator speculates about how to apply to become an astronaut and turn her disability of decaying bones into an asset:

"Don't worry
about my bone deterioration rate,
I had arthritis at 13. Walked like an old lady
at 20. It'd be nice to float
and give my bones a break." (pg. 42)

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock begs readers to look beyond the visible to see the potential inside. Remove the bias that comes with the outer surface of someone and rely instead on the inner strength and power of the person. Chertock’s poems explore both inner and outer space; take a trip on this rocket — you won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.