Book Review: Visions & Affiliations, A California Literary Time Line: Poets & Poetry 1940–2005

[Reviewed by Christopher Bernard]

The Very Rich Hours of Jack Foley

This massive, two-volume (the cover of each volume reproducing a Blakean fantasy painting by Mark Roland) magnum opus of modern literary history puts the California literary community of the last 70 years deeply in the debt of its remarkable author.

Jack Foley, one of our most innovative poets, a superlative critic and illuminating literary theorist, now appears as a brilliant (and astoundingly patient) historian as well in a work that demonstrates his gifts of intellectual dynamism, wide literary empathy, and a seemingly endless capacity for grace. Foley’s deep intelligence and epic sympathies now have an objective correlative fully suited to them in this sweeping (for once the epithet is entirely justified) narrative.

Once one begins to gourmandize on the delights of these rich volumes, one doesn’t want to stop: rarely has such a smorgasbord of intellect and language so succeeded in whetting the appetite with each renewed taste.

Christopher Bernard is a poet, writer, playwright, and essayist (and dabbler in photography and filmmaking), whose poetry and fiction have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. He is the author of the “anti-novel” A Spy in the Ruins, and the founder and co-editor of the literary and arts magazine and website Caveat Lector.

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Book Review: Fire Monks, by Colleen Morton Busch

[Reviewed by Sarah Melton]

In the summer of 2008, the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the U.S. sat nestled among the woods near Big Sur, alongside the tranquil hot springs of Tassajara…and surrounded by the 3rd largest wildfire in California’s history.

Fire Monks tells the story, from the first igniting strikes of lightning to the aftermath and recovery, of the Tassajara monks as they struggled to defend their home from the surrounding flames of the Indian and Basin Complex fires. It’s no wonder that the author, a regular visitor to the Tassajara center, chose to tell the exciting story behind the five (yes, only five) monks that stayed behind.

Firefighting fans would delight in hearing the detailed descriptions of the inner workings of wildfire crews, without an over-abundance of technical jargon to confuse the reader. For those interested in learning more about Zen Buddhism and how it applies to everyday life, there’s a great deal of information on the subject there as well.

Sarah Melton can be reached at You can find a number of Melton’s short stories in the Flash Fiction collections at

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Book Review: The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy

[Reviewed by Nicole Arocho]

‘My father reassured me that it was all right not to know, to remain in a state of awe and mystery. He gave what could’ve been a nightmare “the glory and freshness of a dream.”’

Priscilla Gilman wrote The Anti-Romatic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy with a thousand sentences just like these two.  Because of the personal level of her writing, her emotions flourish throughout the whole book. She delights the reader’s eyes with beautiful sentences decorated with quotes from her favorite poet, William Wordsworth, and her use of imagery aids her to describe so passionately each one of her crossroads. The reader cannot help but feel her tumult of sentiments as if their own. The story of a girl who grew up with divorced parents and dreamt of having a perfect family that turned out to be anything but that, but turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her may sound like a cliché plotline, but Gilman takes the reader into a world full of unmet expectations, disappointments and difficulties with love and hope bursting through each of her words.

Gilman bluntly states at the beginning of the book that “[it] is a love story”, and a tragic one indeed. As her hyperlexic child, Benjamin, is diagnosed and his treatments became the center of her life, her emotions become so real, so bluntly told on the page, that sometimes it made me uncomfortable to keep reading, because her heart and soul were in the page. I felt I was invading her privacy somehow; no smokescreen, no façade to hide her deepest fears, tribulations and quests for answers that she never seemed to grasp fully. Her dedication to her child goes above and beyond anything else, including her career and her marriage. When the rest of her life plummeted, she still had her “Benj”, and thus could find the strength to keep going for him. She intertwines her marriage and family life with her academic life and her own thoughts splendidly with smooth transitions and wonderful insights the reader expects in a memoir, but that she takes to a new level that brings the reader so close to her, it feels as if we actually have met her and shared this stage of her life with her personally.

You can contact the reviewer, Nicole Arocho, at

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Book Review: Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice

[Reviewed by David A. L. Brown]

In my relatively short lifetime, I have seen first-hand the worst of man’s inhumanity towards man.  I have witnessed the sexual slave trade in Bangkok—women trotted out in glass cages like merchandise, sold by barmen to indiscriminating foreigners.  I have heard the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, mercifully drowning out the shrieks of women and children, and trying desperately to fill the voids created and punctuated by gunfire.  I have seen young men murdered and dying, smelled the iron of their blood, and have heard the screams of the fearful falter and give way to silence.  Yet, as I stood on the precipice of all of this darkness, I felt secure in the comfort of knowing that there was a place untouched by so much hatred, mistrust, and inhumanity.  A place I was fortunate enough to call home.  However, Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice takes the same righteous focus the Voice of Witness series is quickly becoming known for, and casts it against the United States’ own government actions, state policies, and the pervasive culture of fear borne in the wake of national tragedy.  Whereas the events I described above affected my perception of the world in which I live, author Alia Malek has constructed a work that shook my very identity as an American.

The book is presented well, in a professional hardback cover with a stylish accompanying graphic half-wrap that I’m beginning to recognize as the visual trademark of the brand.  As a non-profit literary series, Voice of Witness produces a high-quality product worth much more than its monetary cost.  That’s not to say the book is perfect; it could stand to benefit from one more pass across the copy-editor’s desk, but the general structure and integrity of the work is fully intact.  As in other Voice of Witness works, Ms. Malek allows the voices of those who have suffered to take center stage, limiting her input to only a brief introductory paragraph relating each narrator’s background.

David A. L. Brown is a staff writer and reviewer for Synchronized Chaos Magazine. Brown may be reached at

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An Inspired Review: The Oakland Encyclopedia Show

[Reviewed by Suzanne Birrell]

I went to see the Oakland version of the show Encyclopedia.
The topic was “The Future”: The spoken word, the media.

An entertaining evening, profound and wisdom filled
Of rhyming words and meter, the Oakland genius spilled.

To a full house of erudite patrons, who hung on clever words,
Though some did miss a reference picked up by only nerds.

Josh Merchant gave us “Negrodamus”; Political wit and absurd predictions,
Superimposing fact with fiction in humorous futuristic depictions.

In her Alternative History of the Furure, Liz Green entertained with a narrative
A True revolutionary gay guide- a counter relationship comparative,
Where “love is a capitalist construct,”
And where it is “best not to hope, just adjust.”

Colonization of Mars was the topic presented by Toaster
Who gave us insight through eyes of a janitor, a sociological coaster.
Who describes masturbation in the gravity chamber and its many calming effects.
It used to be that everyone used this chamber, our janitor recollects
And in further pondering the present future, the janitor did extol,
“We’re all Fish. It’s easy to be selfish when everyone lives in their own bowl.”

Fearless leader, Jen Jen, extolled the virtue of tourism in space
Where the moon was set aside for theme parks and Disney led the race!
You too can experience every war ever fought on earth in the attraction know as Combat land.
Too young to remember? Revisit California in the moon base place of Fantasyland.
A meaty topic, a tasty narrative, profound insight to whom we are today.
Where meat feels no pain when it’s killed, and we eat it anyway.

All presented facts and all presented fictions.
Dahled checked the facts and presented contradictions.
“God is not a musketeer.” he announced. We were not surprised.
“God is just Goofy,” he then thoughtfully surmised.

Caitlin Girl addressed the nerds but translated first for a stoner.
I laugh so hard, I almost cried, and I was not the loner.
The Big Crunch parallels the Big Bang resulting in dimensionless singularity.
Though I’m not exactly sure for through the stream flowed such hilarity .

Reanimating the Cryogenically Frozen is somewhere between science and fiction
Abdul Kenyatta described facts, figures, anti freeze in the veins, and ice crystal restriction.
Reanimating the cryogenically frozen would create a living dead, Abdul deduced
A new race of men that we can all hate would be to the new world introduced!

Patrick Oshlund presented his prescient predictions of global pandemic
Back to 2112 where boredom bores and other thoughts polemic
What to do in the futuristic dome?
Get back to basics–sexology! and focus on testosterone.

On stage again, Liz Green spoke more of Doctor Who
Whose life is complicated by hearts which number two.

Then Chris Chandler summed up the night with Future verses Past.
Where Hope says what you want hear without even being asked,
Where History always shows up with Regret, Recrimination, and Denial
Where the party always breaks up when Truth walks down the aisle.

I so I spent a lovely evening absorbing East Bay wit.
Entertained and enlightened by poetry and skit.
I highly recommend it to those who sometimes think
that there is more to life than the Television link.


Last Thursday of the month, 8:30 pm, at the Famous Four Colors Gallery

You can contact the reviewer, Suzanne Birrell, at

An Interview with Dulcimer Players Patricia Delich and Wayne Jiang

[Article by Michaela Elias]

It is said that sometimes the greatest pleasures in life are the simple ones. While a guitar has six strings, and a piano has numerous scales, the dulcimer has a mere three strings and a single scale. So why bother? You may ask. What is the appeal of the simple dulcimer, especially when it can only be played in a few keys, making it difficult to play with other instruments? Why would anyone take up the dulcimer when they have the choice of a more complex versatile instrument like the guitar? But in its simplicity, the dulcimer, which resembles the guitar and is basically played in the same manner, is both charming and accessible.

Wayne Jiang and Patricia Delich are two dulcimer players in the process of documenting the Dulcimer Renaissance in the 1970s. “If it was 1940, you probably wouldn’t have heard of a dulcimer because when it first surfaced outside of the Appalachian Mountains, it was rarely seen,” note Wayne and Patricia. But the light, melodic sound of the dulcimer did not go unrecognized for long. As more and more people started playing the dulcimer, the once obscure instrument gained popularity, picking up during the folk revivals in the late fifties and early sixties. “Every dulcimer has its own sound and personality and it’s a joy to see the variations of dulcimers,” say Patricia and Wayne. “The creativity and craftsmanship in dulcimer building is constantly evolving. There is no wrong way to make or play the dulcimer. If it sounds good and works for you that’s what you do.” Wayne and Patricia have seen every shape of dulcimer with various shapes of sound holes from hearts to butterflies to birds and they have their own incredible collection of dulcimers which they have acquired from places like eBay.

To inquire about this article, contact Michaela Elias at

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A Conversation With Sarah Katherine Lewis About Her Self-Published Book “My Boring-Ass Rehab Diary”

[Article by Tapati McDaniels]

I enjoyed reading Sarah Katherine Lewis’ previous books, Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire and Sex and Bacon: Why I Love Things That Are Very, Very Bad For Me, so I was delighted to read her new, self-published book in .pdf format, My Boring-Ass Rehab Diary.* I wasn’t disappointed. It was so engrossing that I felt like she was in the room and I wanted to ask her questions. I’ve become acquainted with her over the last few years online and realized, why not? I can do an interview. The result was a ninety minute conversation by phone where we realized we talk entirely too much. Perhaps there’s a rehab program?

TSM I sent you the first question in advance because as I was reading some of your problems with the paradigm they were operating under I found myself wondering, if you could be in charge of a program, how would you redesign it?

SKL [sigh] Yeah and I thought that was such a great question and I’ve been thinking about it since you sent it to me. I don’t know how I would design a program because I think one of the genius things about the 12-step program is that it’s like McDonalds and there are franchises everywhere and even if what they’re offering is not delicious to everyone it’s at least acceptable. You could be anywhere in the world and you can go in and buy a Big Mac and be pretty sure of what you’re getting.

I think that kind of consistency is really helpful to some people. It’s not something that I seem to need but when people get into addiction one of the things that happens is that their lives become really chaotic and at the same time they feel like they have less control over their lives, and so there’s this thing that you can choose to do wherever you are, you can go to it pretty much at any hour of the day and it’s pretty much the same. It seems to me that would be grounding no matter what the activity was. It could just as easily be, you could come out and go bowling for an hour, or come out and press flowers for an hour. I don’t think the activity matters as much as the idea of control and consistency.

TSM That makes sense. But then in your book you write about how it turns some people off so much that they resist going,

SKL Right, well really what was the main problem that I had with what I was being asked to participate in, the whole ‘powerless’ thing, because it seems to me like what I was doing was being anything but powerless. I had worked really hard to get into rehab. I had pursued the whole thing with Writers in Treatment because I knew I couldn’t afford it on my own, and I followed up and followed up and sent in my tax returns and you know, got with the whole thing while they were trying to get funding and stayed with it and stayed with it…I mean, I felt like for the first time I was actually being powerful…and it was kind of frustrating for me to sort of feel for the first time like I was doing something that was really important for my health and really important to sort of get back on track the way I wanted to be and then as a necessary condition of that I was asked to pretend as if I believed I was not a prime mover in the situation and that I was simply a vessel for the will of a higher power. It did not feel authentic to me at all, particularly after what I had experienced, being powerful for the first time in many years.

TSM As I was reading this a lot of thoughts were coming up for me and among them, that initially people have to admit that they have been powerless over this problem because whatever they were doing before they came to the program wasn’t obviously working for them.

SKL Yes, but what’s wrong with saying it like that? Why do we have to get into who is powerful and who is powerless? Why can’t we just say, you know, we admit that the addiction wasn’t working for us anymore, or we admit that we didn’t like what our lives had become, or we admit that we were scared and we didn’t know what to do and we didn’t know how to fix ourselves–all those things seem like they could be true, but they also seem like they are left potentially alienating to somebody who does not identify as powerless. you know? I never, I never identify as powerless. I feel like I can always do something.

* My Boring-Ass Rehab Diary can be purchased directly from SKL for $20.00 U.S. via her PayPal account: Her website is currently being reconstructed. If you prefer another payment option you can contact her at that email address to arrange it.

Tapati McDaniels is the former publisher and editor of Uppity Women Magazine and is currently writing a memoir. Excerpts can be found at where you can contact her with questions or comments.

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