Tag Archives: christine hamm

Poetry Crush Valentine 2016, vol 3

14 Feb

Here is the 3rd of 3 Valentine Issues. Thanks to contributing intra&inter-special lovers:  Todd Colby, Joanna Penn Cooper, Bianca Stone, Christine Hamm, Christine Kanownik,  Kyle Erickson, Jackie Clark, Sara Lefsyk, Leah Umansky &  Joe Hall.


♥♥♥ Todd Colby


I love the river  ♥♥♥ Christine Kanownik

I love the river
I love standing by the river
I love a night, afraid, by the river
I love the sunset over the river
I love a man, truly dead, over the river
I love it when there are so many pretty girls by the river
I love a starry night with a cup of coffee by river
I love being a traitor to my own kind by the river
I love being a disgrace to my family by the river
I love being a blight on my gender by the river
I love being considered an enemy of the state by the river
I love balmy evenings by the river
I love long walks by the river
I love a fast song, too fast for me to understand, by the river
I love the river that rivers myself to the river that rivers me
I love the regrets that make you my river
I love all the rivers that you have become
I love you when you cry me a river, becoming a river
I love the river that I would swim but unfortunately it is a river



I Want to Cry  ♥♥♥ Sara Lefsyk

I want to cry, pronouncing the names of all my dead pets, I said, in the Quaker’s garden, in February, burying a mouse. His little yellow teeth were needles in the circles of my memory and I wore the mask of a small blind mammal in a landscape of frost and daggers.

I refuse to leave this garden as a tourist, i said, and pushed the dirt with my ugly fingers.

“My true grief is as deep and as heavy as this thimble full of snow,” said the Quaker, “it puts the mask of a knife on a feather, but some people wear it as a gown.”

I handed the Quaker a Valentine made of ribbons and dust. It said, “My true grief is a Valentine made of ribbons and dust. It is a roof over a river, but some people use it as a spoon or as a chandelier.”

Then we ate sandwiches and practiced disproving each other for ten hours. The Quaker said, “love is tugboat full of pigeons and rust. If we fashion it into a crown, we fail to know the difference.”

I handed the Quaker a Valentine made of mouse teeth and dust. It said, “My true love is the dream-house where I wander the rooms alongside other strange animals. Though covered in the pure shadow of a moon, we fail to know the difference.”


Peacock Crossing ♥♥♥ Joanna Penn Copper & Todd Colby

We have no photographic evidence of our time together, save that one picture of you looking stunned at the border. You always were so fussy about your papers.



(love poem) 1 ♥♥♥ Christine Hamm

When the small gray wolf sees me at night, she slips her ears back, and lowers her chin onto the ground, then gets back up. She does this in a circle around me, a dance. I sit cross-legged in the weedy part of the garden as she locks and pops. She licks my chin.   She jumps up so her forelegs are on my shoulders: face to face. She turns her snout and looks at me with each eye. Her irises are bluish-white with navy edges. She whines and yips. Quick bite, a tiny piece of my eyebrow goes missing. Her breath smells like beer and squirrel. I wipe the blood from my eye and throw her down onto her back, loom above her. She wriggles and I bury my face into the gray and white ruff on her chest, into the fleas and mud. [1]


(love poem)2 ♥♥♥ Christine Hamm

A grey moon shining from the bottom of a river. On the field trip to the Natural History Museum, a sleek wolf pelt hung from the wall like a lost and found jacket. I pictured Shelly in that skin — Shelly the carnivore with a Peter Pan collar and Mary-Janes that had lost their shine. At 14 and a half, we still swapped beds and underwear. I told her everything as it happened — the blood on my chair during library hour, the yellow vomit on my hands on the way to the nurse’s station.

Under the kitchen table, I asked Shelley if I was still considered a virgin. A bag of useless cotton in my back pack. An invisible cross of blood thumbed on my forehead. She told me, “You were never a virgin.” She blushed and picked at the diamonds in the floor.

I agreed, “I’m disgusting”, and smiled through the ache of new teeth. One of us: the lamb. The other: the wolf. [2]


(love poem)3 ♥♥♥ Christine Hamm

“I’m just wondering, does it ever end?” he says. It’s still raining. I lick the scabs on my forearm, the neat thin lines. I close my eyes and replace Freud with a better Freud, a shorter Freud, a happier Freud, a Freud that pulls my hair only when I beg. A Freud who loves me so much he asks me to stop with my roommate’s scissors.

The real Freud kisses the dog’s black nose and giggles. “I wouldn’t”, the shelter volunteer says. The dog struggles, pulls away. Freud shoves the dog down. The dog shudders and hides behind the volunteer. I seize Freud’s hand and bite his thumb. He yanks at my teeth, wipes his hand with the hem of his shirt. “Awful child,” he says. I can feel him rolling his eyes. Later that night, he will write a sonnet about a girl like me, but with bigger breasts and intellect. The dog shelter will turn down our application.[3]

[1]          The incubation period ranges from 2 to 8 weeks… The disease begins with a feeling of anxiety, cephalalgia, and slightly elevated body temperature…The excitation stage that follows is characterized by… enlarged pupils, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and increased salivation. As the disease progresses,… many experience spasms at the mere sight of a liquid, a phenomenon known as hydrophobia.

Pedro N. Acha, Boris Szyfres. Zoonoses and Communicable Diseases Common to Man and Animals: Chlamydioses


[2]          Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see that some white wolves were sitting on the big walnut tree.

– Sigmund Freud. “The Wolfman, A Case History.” (1942)

[3]          The wolf then dashed into a party of ladies and…bit [the] Private in two places… [T]he animal left the marks of his presence in every quarter of the garrison. He moved with great rapidity, snapping at everything within his reach, tearing tents, window curtains, bed clothing, etc..

–Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. (2012).



♥♥♥ Bianca Stone




Prank Call From Fish ♥♥♥ J Hope Stein

] It begins with an ] UN-Beastlyknuckle
] If you see yourself
] in a dream sucking a bald-thumb:

] good: you are human
] Hide what’s human under/over
my UNlazy tongue ] there is no animal like you

] If you see yourself
on a wood bench fingering
today’s newspaper ] Hide

UN-quiet with lunatic
accuracy ] Thumbme UN-Beastly
dumb]   Champion

of all tickle-attacks everywhere
There is no animal
like you]

Hook in the eye, apologize
Apologize, hook in the eye

I have seen them disappear
] One by one
and all at once

] Raise them up
to the NOTHINGplace
] There is no animal like you




]     who am i?

i am ] littlefishnobody
] i am the poor fish who found your phone

] hello I’m a fish I’m a fish
] hello

] if you are listening

]]] if you
] breathe through [ your skin:
if you are prone to spasming: ]

] tool
]     what teethes
] gums

] I beg you be thumbs

Deputy of bath toys
and tugboats everywhere] tackle me up
] to the WORTHYplace

There is no animal like you


Hook in the eye, apologize
Apologize, hook in the eye


damn phone
]There is no animal like you

] Hello I’m a fish
]] hello





The Way Time Crows ♥♥♥ Leah Umansky

one tart interpretation       the slender of a girl
there were moments, molten, terrible, and lost.
the untidiness of life         a fresh scope
the lens: a storied equivalent to what is imaginable
that solving, or careering,             a secreted calibrated hope
growing sharper and sharper still
even the modest steps are full of worth
even the finely-drawn is sequential
one doesn’t control much when they are young
but, isn’t it a relief now, to watch the chilled, thaw?
to know the equal parts?   to know the weighted whole?
not everyone makes it back


The Lost Poems ♥♥♥ Jackie Clark

It is breaking instead of it breaks
Or it has already broke and it is breaking again
You have an image in mind
It is a car moving forward
It is sunlight on the dash
Souring is the last thing that you would expect
Except it isn’t really the last thing that you would expect
You have expected it all along
You wonder how there could be nothing else
to write about but this disconnect
Choosing to meet your gaze or choosing to sit blank
There could be meditations on any number of subjects
Only there is not
It is just this one



Screaming in Middle School  ♥♥♥ Bianca Stone

What we wore was very revealing back at the middle school dance
at the town office gymnasium above the police station
I wore a crushed purple iridescent velvet mini dress
with deep V—my boobs were like a pair of shoes that still
hurt and we all got our hair done
at the local beauty salon full of oldies under domes of heat in plastic curlers
while we squawked and fluttered around one another
hours of looking through the hair style books
I chose a ‘do one with a lock of hair
curled with an iron
as the finishing touch on the side of my face.
It was my first time in a salon
Mom gave me some spending money
and I bought a bag of penny candy at Ben Franklin’s
and we shrieked all the way to the gym.
I wore mom’s stockings and her jelly heals.
No one could stand to ask another person to dance
so we just stood under the basketball hoops, the guys in clean button-up shirts
and some took their tie’s off the moment they arrived
and stuffed them into their back pockets.
The pictures we took were terrible pictures without enough light—
but I remember afterwards, we all went to Mr. Ups
and got virgin strawberry daiquiris
driving all the other patrons away with our screaming.
I can see it so clearly in my head when liquored up
and moving around the room like a zombie on a Tuesday night:
the crushed-ice with its red dye, left over in the chilled hurricane cocktail glass,
the huge mess we made;
I can feel my hairspray loosing its hold; calling mom 1-800-Collect
on the payphone down by the restrooms to come pick me up
my face blazing like a hyena
who has just tasted human blood for the first time.



Encore for Leslie Goshko ♥♥♥ Kyle Erickson

While black vines of arms spiral
around a guitar that chug chug chugs
a broken moan, a vibration
through the rush hour commuters in the
darkness under Grand Central,
a tall boy lowers his pelvis,
with a wide stance, to his girl’s,
crotch to crotch,
soft chest to hard chest,
and wraps his hands around her ass.

Remember summer nights in our Tulsa apartment?
We were wrung out and wet, filling
the room with the aroma of sex, exhausting
the ritual of love grip wrapped ’round hardness.

Two nights ago my dream was shattered
with your sobbing. Your voice
echoed the hollow of our bedroom,
and I saw New York descending into you,
the spotlight of a thousand comedy basements
penetrating and filling
you with restless shadows,
swelling you with sorrow.

Remember when I’d blush
at your public kiss? In the hum of Brady Theater
when I dared to touch your hand, colors
spun out the speakers.
I got hard just smelling your hair.

Tonight alone outside Whiskey Sunday,
the spirit of New York
is a ghost of a ghost,
sprawled, aching, crawling
over the tree tops of Prospect Park.
But—uno, dos, tres and the dishwasher’s
apron twirls as he lifts and spins his girl
in the street light of Lincoln Road.

This morning you told me I fondled
your breast in my sleep till I
turned over on top of you—
you said, “Baby, I don’t think you’re awake,”
and I relaxed, covered you,
pressed you into the mattress.

The long winter is over, baby.
Spring is here.
And you’re wilting
among the applause
of tulips in the park, the applause
of footsteps off the Q, the clatter
of early leaves . . .
and the laughter, the laughter
amplified by your own microphone.

And I’m here. I’m applause, too.


E observes The Anti-Solo ♥♥♥ Joe Hall

I watch the room move through a final anti-solo.
They relax into their seats, relieved to be told
that the five proceeding minutes of willful
distortion hadn’t been meant to mean anything.
I know that under the stagelight, running a thumb
under the guitar strap where it bands his shoulder,
that the sound of no one clapping, of no glasses
clinking, of no words between a set designer
or dog walker or punk bike co-op member, no sound
at all, was his compensation for the impossibility
of ovation. Yesterday, Jean told me
about a dream in which they were in a field
Around a little pyramid of horse excrement
like briquettes of charcoal in the bowl of a grill,
and they were taking the horse briquettes into their hands
and painting each other’s faces with them and rubbing
it, like paste, into their gums until the pile was gone.
Jean ended the conversation with me on the
corner of Linwood and Bryant. We had our hands
in our pockets, were ducking into ourselves
in the cold, but before Jean did Jean said there was
another thing: it was in early middle March
in the dream, and they walked down with their faces
to a pond and sat down. The pond was mostly
frozen, there were still patches of snow where there was
afternoon shade, and they could hear the traffic
of unseen cars and the sound of water trickling
through ice. That was when they were hanging out with the art
instructor. I don’t want, the art instructor said,
to read a piece about your grandma. I want a piece about
her cock. That was the other thing Jean remembered
and told me that day, after I got the call about
J and how he could only sort of pay to have
his sore tooth pulled, and I thought I’d buy a red cabbage
at Guercios, make borscht in solidarity.
The anti-soloist is folding a guitar
in its little casket off to the side of where
the stage light had just been shining—the scene seems
drenched in an inch of lacquer, so I step
outside the bar, alone, into the cool night,
close my eyes, and remember how I used to look
into the darkest spaces between the stars on a
rooftop in South Texas with Jean who I don’t understand
anymore. I thought I was that big then. I thought
this body was climbing with my gaze into the
night whose poles were spreading until they were gone,
that I was that vast—I never believed I’d have
a door with my name on it but all that happens
is people tell me their problems because they
believe no one else will listen. I was there
on the border of South Texas and
Mexico touching the moon, pressed against Jean
in the cold on the roof, and I didn’t realize Jean,
too, was stretched thin as a curtain, Jean was touching
the moon, and we were humming that, cross waves—I am walking
home, across Sumner, and you, reader, should know
I don’t want your friendship. I don’t want friends
or an artisanal cocktail or a can of beer.
I don’t want to kiss any orifice right now
or to be dazzled by your capacity to negate
what I’ll realize tomorrow is good. It’s two
in the morning, back in the bar, and the anti-soloist’s guitar
is packed stage right. He’s talking to someone with
botanical tattoos who sort of liked his music
as much as the night is sort of sleepless and lonely.
I’m glad I’m not there. I do not want to laugh. So
his anti-solo, I think, walking home across Sumner,
between the stooping houses, I guess it
was ok.



♥♥♥ Todd Colby

Triple Book Crush: Jenny Zhang, Rena Mosteirin, Christine Hamm

14 Jul

Forgive my extreme turtleness!  It has taken me too-too long to get these reviews up & out of my shell–  & apologies to those authors who have given me their books who I have yet to review.  Within the area of book review, I struggle with what I could possibly add to the discussion– poetry book reviews seem quite intelligently covered & I have no intelligence other than emotional.   So reviews on Poetry Crush will basically ask the question – did this poet make me feel anything?  – j. hope stein

Dear Jenny, We Are All Find by Jenny Zhang (Octopus Books) 

There is such energy in Jenny Zhang’s debut, DEAR JENNY, WE ARE ALL FIND – from start to finish it just goes.  There is just no containing such energy.   From the first poem titled, “Relish this moment.  Hope it will comfort on this raining day” — to the last poem titled “My mother leaves a message where she pronounces all Romance languages in a deep voice” –- which ends with this line – “I nearly faint from the love I nearly was capable of.”

The book itself is confessional in nature with a very intimately personal feel, as the title would suggest.   Jenny Zhang was born in Shanghai and raised in New York and so there is much about embracement and dislocation of family and culture (also very much in the title).  The book is arranged in 3 sections — “Motherlands,” “New York” and “La France” –Which suggests our environment brings out certain aspects of our inner monologue and experience– Jenny expresses this through a shift in language and storytelling in the poems.  There is also much to be admired in the language (again, reflected in the nifty title.) – there is craft in these poems and word play, but it feels natural and effortless—doesn’t call attention to itself.  There is rhythm and breath and passion, but she never lets poetics get in the way of the poem, which spills onto the page– Jenny feels private and necessary.

This is all very wonderful. But for me personally what is so profound about “DEAR JENNY” is how she handles the profane.  Where there is profanity there is nudity in the realest sense of the word. Jenny Zhang is an exciting and refreshingly honest new voice in American poetry. Dear Jenny, thank you for writing this poem, it is quite moving:

I show you my virtue when I come farting
and fiscal responsibility has the same verdure as some ventures
you play like a donkey with six legs
each leg clasped to a tree
and we drag a forest through the forest finally
you are farting
compare the time I shat my pants at the library
because I could not be bothered to stop reading
I was wet from the non-solids I excreted
I was wet from the rain that followed me into caves
I was wet because I was wet
I was wet and you asked to touch it
I was wet and you didn’t notice it on your leg
I was wet and I sat on fine china
I was wet and I was born in China
I was wet and a horse kicked me in the face
I was wet and in my dreams I was wet
I was wet and asked a stranger to jerk off onto my face
I was wet and I hurt my back trying to reach
I was wet and I farted dead sperm from a butthole that doesn’t want to poop
Except in libraries
Except in bus shelters
Except on my neighbor’s lawn
Except in rooms where everyone is standing
Except in underwater with my grandmother
whose nipples I found when rubbing her stomach
“You must know everything!”
I comefart in secret and feel truly
as if I do.

Nick Trail’s Thumb:  A novella by Rena J. Mosteirin (Kore Press)

“Nick Trail is explaining how to make jailhouse acid to the boys who wash dishes in the back of the steakhouse.  Talking loudly, he waves his right hand in the air for emphasis—four fingers and a stump where the thumb once was.”

This is the first line of Rena Mosteirin’s novella Nick Trail’s Thumb described by Lydia Davis as “A fresh and engaging story….With its unusual setting, interesting form, arresting specifics, captivating insights, strong dialogue, and rhythmic prose.”

The backdrop of Nick Trail’s Thumb is Hawaii and like Alexander Payne’s The Descendants,  the impossible beauty of the island combined with tragedy make for some colorful irony.  The story follows a group of 20-somethings friends who are backroom staff at a steakhouse.  You get the sense, as in life, some of these characters will move on and be alright- for instance, our narrator, and some will not.   We find out Nick Trail, a shady character that the group of friends tolerate, lost his thumb working on a construction job but didn’t have the health insurance to reattach it so he keeps it (the thumb) in a mason jar.

The thumb in the mason jar, and the absence of the thumb on his hand, is a symbol for loss in Nick Trail’s Thumb which is full of loss—In a touching scene we find out one of the main characters lost his father (suicide)— There is also a girl who is missing a leg (shark).  And most significantly, in a tragic scene, one of the friends is killed by a shark.

When reading Nick Trails Thumb, I was reminded of the way TC Boyle’s short stories unfold and the way his characters navigate life.  Mosteirin also breaks form and uses “post cards” which read like lyric poems.

Postcard 3
The morning birds do not sing as they rise across the ocean
And the pill on your tongue is not my name.
I am big as the sky and twice as silent,
I am four fingers and a stump where a thumb once was. 

The image on the cover of Nick Trail’s Thumb is a thumbprint, further suggesting something painful & true– we often identify ourselves more by what is absent than what is present.

Echo Park by Christine Hamm (BlazeVOX)

“Echo Park” sounded familiar. So I googled it and here’s what I got:

Echo Park is a hilly neighborhood in Los Angeles.  Echo Park is an indoor pool & fitness complex in West Hempstead, NY.  Echo Park is 1986 comedy-dram film, set in Echo Park, Los Angeles in which the plot follows several aspiring actors, musicians and models.  Echo Park is a recording studio, which describes itself as “rich and deep analog tape recording with a huge collection of well-maintain vintage gear.” Echo Park is an urban oasis close to (or perhaps in?) Chicago.  Echo Park is the 17th novel by American crime-writer Michael Connelly, and the twelfth featuring the Los Angeles detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.   As I read the collection, I realized Christine Hamm’s Echo Park is all of these places and I intend to draw metaphorical comparisons to each …

What is so remarkable about Echo Park is that its essence which is captured cleverly in its title, is able to fulfill this broadness, yet the individual lines and poems use a mastery of language and the senses to evoke a specificity of experience.  The collection is broken into 2 sections:  “Horse Names” and “Swimming Lessons” — A benign and fun way to remind us that things learned in childhood, cannot be unlearned.

we gave each other horse names
and galloped around the edges
of the soccer field during recess
I held strands of our long soft pelt
behind you as if they were reins
we clucked to each other when
we wanted to move, the clicking
of the tongue riders use along with
their hells, a sound like stuttering
cicadas, when the boys hit you and
made you fall down I hit them back
you were twelve and you used pills,
not very many, the first time you tried
to unravel.

Notice the rich sounds, images and sensations from childhood that seem to ricochet in the adult mind.  In this sense “Echo Park” is another way to say “the mind”.  There are also hints at death in this poem.  In this sense, “Echo Park” is another way to say “graveyard.”

Hamm’s gift in illustrating this lays in her descriptions, which are alive with all the senses and varied in textures mixing searching dialogue, winding dream-like and child-like logic – The speaker in The Dad Parade
 describes the mystery of dads leaving for work in the morning — “How they disappeared each morning
/In silver or blue cars smelling/
of old newspaper
”  In Every Child, a Happy Child the speaker describes a conversation – an exchange between two young siblings  “…He asks if I know/ where our parents have gone, and if I know how to make/ pancakes.  I ask him how he got the scratch on his nose / and why he is still wearing the Bart Simpson t-shirt from last night.”

This poem has a wonderful ping pong quality of dialogue going back and forth and while the two children are not quite answering each other they are managing to find a communication the way a child does about the state of things.   Here there is also the child’s curiosity about the parent.  This is also present in the poems Territory  and Pool.

From Territory:  “On her right foot /where the tan
/ seemed erased drew./ my little girl kisses
/ because that part, that most naked pale skin,/ was on my own foot in the same frog-shape
/ and it was by that mark I knew
/ she was my mother.”

From Pool:  “Our sun-whitened/ hair spreads across the stones,
/ green as new corn, fragrant
/ as beach trash, as your mother’s/ stolen perfume.”

Here I would argue is where Hamm’s Echo Park is the town in LA and the 1986 film about the pursuit of childhood dreams.  It’s the town of Chicago and the pool and exercise complex in Hempstead, New York.  It’s whatever town we grew up in.  It’s the pool or swimming hole we swam in.  It’s the horse names and swimming lessons from childhood—our individual and collective childhood memories– In this sense “Echo Park” feels like an attic of sorts reminding me the Echo Park recording studio where they have analog tape and vintage gear.

There are also poems which give clues to a disintegrating romantic relationship (Our last Big Fight, Watching Porn with my Boyfriend), which highlight the small crimes that are done to us that stay with us as we develop our sense of self.  In that sense, Hamm’s Echo Park resembles the crime novel where we build a case from our memories and our experiences to inform and attempt to define the mystery of ourselves.

And that concludes my metaphorical parallels for today—Nah, wait, 1 more–

In Christine Hamm’s Echo Park, the “park” can be seen as the mind and what “echoes” for us all in the form of memory, child logic, voices, moments of rejection and imagistic dream— is time.  This all reminds me of Eliot’s Four Quartets

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

What might have been is an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

Only a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened
 into the rose-garden.  
My words echo

Thus, in your mind.