Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Review: Stefanie Wielkopolan Reviewed by Margaret Bashaar

Stefanie Wielkopolan, Border Theory: Selected Poems. Detroit: Black Coffee Press, 2011. Poetry. 61 pages. ISBN: 978-0982744048.

Border Theory is the debut poetry collection by Stefanie Wielkopolan. Wielkopolan grew up in Michigan, but got her MFA at Chatham University and currently resides in Pittsburgh. In spite of us sharing the same small city and the same small but vibrant poetry community, I had never heard of or met Wielkopolan. We weren’t even friends on Facebook (gasp!), so I went into this collection knowing only what I have mentioned above about Wielkopolan, and excited to read a collection by a young poet living in Pittsburgh.

The title Border Theory is quite apt – the place of each poem is set up in relation to other places in the book. You travel in a relatively straightforward way – from Michigan to Pittsburgh to Germany to Kentucky. While Wielkopolan leads you on a physical journey from point A to point B with little back and forth between spaces, each space is not so often described by what or where it is, as often as it is described by how far it is from another space in the book, or how it is different from another space. Places are measured not in city blocks or square mileage, but in hours away from one another, in miles of distance between the people residing in them.

In addition to a linear progression through space, there is also a distinctly linear progression through time in Border Theory. The poems set in Michigan tend to be about the speaker’s parents and grandparents, about the speaker's childhood. Transition poems from Michigan to Pittsburgh feel like poems that are also about the transition from childhood into adulthood, and so on. This time/space progression deftly reinforces the ideas of borders, with each move from one point to the next almost a rite of passage for the speaker. The only point at which this linear progression of time breaks off is when the speaker visits Germany, at which point some of the poems become about WWII. This is also the only point in the book when the events of the poems do not take place within the speaker’s lifetime or family.

While Wielkopolan brings the reader through a linear journey, the reader often is brought into a poem after the action - poems often seem to be recollections or explanations of aftermath and consequences rather than descriptions of action themselves. When paired with the plain, almost conversational language of the poems, this lends the poetry of Border Theory to a wisdom of careful reflection within the poems’ lines.

I ultimately felt very satisfied by Border Theory upon completion of the book. If you are going to read it, I would definitely recommend reading straight through, from beginning to end in order to truly take the physical and emotional journey mapped out in miles and hours.

Border Theory is available from the publisher website,
Black Coffee Press:
and from select bookstores.

Review by Margaret Bashaar
Co-host of The TypewriterGirls, editor of the anthology Make It So, and author of Barefoot and Listening (Tilt Press, 2009)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pop-Up Indie Bookstore To Inhabit Former Borders

Dateline Pittsburgh:

A new bookstore called Fleeting Pages will inhabit the space of a just-closing Borders in Pittsburgh city limits starting April 30. They will sell books by indie presses and self-publishers; hold book-making workshops, readings, and other events; and are open to other suggestions by writers and artists in the indie community. At this date, they plan to occupy the space for one month and possibly 6 weeks, after which they may regroup and pop up in another space.

Note that the organizers are seeking indie books, journals, and comics from small press folks based all over, not just Pittsburgh. See under Submit Work.

Find Fleeting Pages' website here:

Find Fleeting Pages on Facebook:



Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest Review: Alex Kudera reviewed by Joel Thomas

Alex Kudera. Fight for Your Long Day. Kensington, Md.: Atticus Books, 2010. Fiction. 264 pages. ISBN: 978-0984510504.

Fight for Your Long Day
’s protagonist, Cyrus Duffleman, does not fit the usual literary profile of professors – well-respected educators who juggle natural charisma and artistic brilliance, usually while battling demons available only to the privileged. Instead, author Alex Kudera gives readers a glimpse of the modern faculty majority: adjunct instructors. Like so many adjuncts, Duffleman’s story unfolds as he travels between low-paying teaching jobs and even a few hours weekly as a security guard. A dramatic adventure involving political assassination and dangerous troubled students unfolds around the well-intentioned teacher, but he doesn’t have time to stop and play the hero, especially without health insurance, until the novel comes to its madcap climax.

Kudera himself takes on a tough job with this novel. The writer clearly wants readers to understand the heavy load adjuncts undertake for low pay, and he includes specific details that real adjuncts will recognize as absolutely accurate. Students struggling with mental illness surfaces as a sub-theme, too, and he treats the topic with sensitivity even while illustrating inadequate resources for such situations at most colleges.

The author blends this gritty reality with humorous fantasy, deftly balancing heavy subject matter and an entertaining story. Hilarious caricature illustrates the idiosyncrasies and mounting frustrations for the character he affectionately nicknames “Duffy.” The novelist also cleverly sneaks in countless cultural references. This reviewer’s favorite appears when Kudera describes how Security Guard Duffleman stumbles into an underground punk rock show and gawks through scantily-clad girls’ mesh halter tops: “Duffy X-rays specks of” a body part, a pun that nods to readers who might also be punk fans. The plot involves some outlandish intrigue, with humorous references to a “President Fern,” a Homeland Security official with the surname “Cliff” (substituted for “Ridge”), and the dynamics of on-campus political radicals.

The combination of wordplay, satire, and over the top excitement make for an entertaining read. At the same time, Kudera’s thoughtful commentary reminds readers that Cyrus Duffleman represents many long, low-paying days worked by real adjuncts across America. The elements combine for an enjoyable book entertaining and exciting enough for a broad audience but thoughtful and sharp enough for university literature professors, even those fighting for their own long days.

Recommended for collections of contemporary fiction, academia-related fiction, Philadelphia-based fiction, social and/or political satire, working class fiction, and urban fiction.

Available from the publisher and at select bookstores.
Distributed by Itasca Books (who work with Baker & Taylor and Ingram).
Read more at Atticus Books.

Reviewed by:
Joel Thomas
Midwestern adjunct writing instructor

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fiction Review: THE ABSENT TRAVELER by Randall DeVallance

Randall DeVallance. The Absent Traveler: A Novella and Other Stories. Kensington, Md.: Atticus Books, 2010. Short fiction. 186 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9845105-2-8.

Charles Lime, the protagonist of The Absent Traveler, is a Bartleby for our age. Instead of working for a lawyer on Wall Street, he’s employed by a big box store in a Western Pennsylvania strip mall. Rather than copying legal texts, he rings up electronics. He doesn’t live in an ill-lit corner of his office but rents an equally pathetic space in an unrenovated basement. A 26-year-old college grad who prefers not to have any ambitions beyond head cashier, Charles baffles his peers, enrages his father, saddens his mother, frustrates his manager, and washes over the collegiate coworkers who pass through his workplace en route to different cities and better jobs.

The Absent Traveler, its protagonist, and his “absence” are curiously compelling. Written in third person, though largely from Charles Lime’s point of view, the story offers a window into Charles’ thoughts. But none of what goes through Charles’ mind serves as easy explanation for his scant motivation, and little of his interior bonds us to him in comfortable sympathy. Meanwhile, we learn that Charles has a penchant for daydreaming and a fetish for travel literature. Charles prefers not to travel far in physical reality (he resides a short walk from work and a short drive from his childhood home), but has a strong instinct to escape: When he picks up a book, the dingy walls of the basement fade away. The insults of his father, a young woman’s rejection, his predatory alcoholic landlady: all recede to a safe distance when Charles is in the throes of an overseas tale. As his latest travel book becomes more and more a part of the novella’s text, it slowly reveals the deeply seductive nature of Charles’ will to elude reality--the darker (even destructive) side of his extreme inertia in real life.

Interestingly, author Randall DeVallance, who traveled with the Peace Corps to Bulgaria, has eschewed the instinct to create a traditional travel memoir: the narrative of the “authentic” exotic experience. Instead he weaves his Eastern European memories into the travel tale which draws Charles Lime in so fully, it leaves him absent to his own daily life. Preferring daydreams and alternative futures to actualities, The Absent Traveler sneaks up on us as a dark fable for the age of the internet: In a time when increasing numbers of us spend increasing hours interacting with a pixelated virtual reality, what transpires in the physical lives we're no longer acknowledging? Charles Lime is an anti-hero who makes a virtue of flying under the radar, but whose story won’t easily be forgotten.

Recommended for collections of contemporary fiction, small press fiction, short fiction, and Western Pennsylvania authors.

Available from the publisher and at fine bookstores.
Distributed by Itasca Books (who work with Baker & Taylor and Ingram).
Read more at Atticus Books.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Technology and Literature This Week

I came across a very interesting trio of pieces this week concerning the intersection of (small press) literature and the digital age:

Monday, Exquisite Corpse editor Andrei Codrescu waxed eloquent on NPR about how the Kindle destroyed the sacred silence that exists between a reader and a new book:
"...not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station."

Tuesday, a New York Observer article about Calamari Press/Featherproof novelist Blake Butler talked about how the writer has lived on the internet for the past 10 years, created a blog for other far-flung writers who were alone until HTML Giant united them in conversation, and decries stories that resolve, relationships and sex in literature, and the following: "The idea of the writer at all has become overrated," Mr. Butler said. "To think that you're this orchestrating wizard and that you have to have this story to tell and you have to have lived and seen crazy shit to be able to put it out there is absurd. To me it's just as crazy or scary or fucked up to go outside to the grocery store. You know?"
"Blake Butler and What Happens When a Novelist Lives on the Internet"

Today, Six Gallery Press poet Mike Bushnell blogs about phoning author and Black Sparrow poet Ed Sanders and what it was like to learn about poetry before the age of the internet:
"There are certain things that have happened in my poetic development that most likely would have taken less intimate manifestations if I had such an emoticoning outlet at my disposal."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recent Acquisitions: March Edition

Above left and below, Julien Poirier's new book El Golpe Chileno, on Ugly Duckling Presse. Poems and drawings.

Above right, Amir Rashidd's chapbook of poems, Sweet Blood Call, with drawings by Lois Griffith.
Available at Awesome Books:

Below, I Hotel on Coffee House Press, ten novellas by Karen Tei Yamashita set in the heart of the Yellow Power Movement of the late 60s through late 70s.

Glass City, Poems by John Grochalski is new from Low Ghost Press and will be reviewed soon on this blog.
See a review on Burning River Press' website here:

Below, two new zines from ArtNoose: xXXXx: Straight Edge Erotic Fiction, and the newest issue of Ker-bloom!

Below, issue 54 of Public Illumination Magazine, drawings and short-short stories on the theme of SPICE.

And finally, a beautifully-crafted new book (below pic is a detail of the cover) from Encyclopedia Destructica: Public Record is a book of poems by Justin Hopper, written from 19th Century crime reports in downtown Pittsburgh. Illustrated by various artists.