Friday, March 18, 2016

A Review of In the Oneness of Time: The Education of a Diviner, by William Douglas Horden

A Review of In the Oneness of Time: The Education of a Diviner, by William Douglas Horden (Burdett, NY: Larson Publicans, 2015). ISBN: 978-1-936012-76-3 (paperback)
By Joey Madia
It is said that, when you are “following your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say, or walking the Good Red Road of Native American spirituality, the teachings you most need in the moment will find you. Six and a half years ago, this maxim was made manifest in a book co-authored by William Douglas Horden titled The Toltec I-Ching (also from Larson Publications). When it arrived in the mail with a request for review, I was in the midst of opening an arts education center that would house the social justice theatre company of which I am the founding artistic director. As with any big endeavor, there were endless meetings with political and community leaders, business groups, educators, potential donors, and prospective teachers and it seemed that everyone had a different idea of what the arts education center should be, including its interior design, programmatic content, and even hours of operation.
Looking for answers deep within, in order to honor (and protect) the mission of the theatre company and our other arts programs, I found The Toltec I-Ching to be an invaluable aid.
A great deal has happened with my arts mission since that time, including closing the center and leaving the state where it was founded, and changing the name of the theatre company, all in part to honor the messages gleaned from The Toltec I-Ching. In recent months, I have begun to lay the foundations in our current home to create new material for the company, hire administrative staff and passionate creatives, and set up classes and auditions. Not long after the process was begun, I received for review Horden’s newest book, In the Oneness of Time. It has proven to be just the guide I needed to find clarity and strength for this new journey.
Perhaps, upon reflection, it is more accurate to say this stage of a continuing journey, because this book is unlike any other I have read. It consists of two parts: the first is called Teachings and the second provides Commentary on the Teachings. The interesting thing is that the Teachings are each titled by year, but they are not sequential. At times they are grouped by loose themes, such as geography or stories about specific flora and fauna, although, with each turn of the page, I found my default need to analyze and categorize (to “make sense of”) the structure slipping away, and I increasingly took each Teaching as it came, as its own opportunity for engagement, contemplation, and meditation.
Horden’s Teachings vary widely in their content and also in their style (some report the facts, while others are a poetic prose that recalled to me William Blake), although all share a surface simplicity that belies their true depth, leaving the reader to explore as deeply as he or she will. I chose not to read the accompanying Commentary for each Teaching, instead reading all of the Teachings and then the Commentary section. This allowed me to do the good work of engagement, contemplation, and meditation “on my own” and then, when I felt it was helpful, revisit the Teachings after reading the Commentary for each.
I encourage you to explore the book however your intuition guides you. I plan on re-reading it yearly, taking a different approach each time. As I change, so shall the methods I use to glean the treasures of the Teachings and Commentary.
Although In the Oneness of Time covers many topics, its “spine” or “through-line” as a writer might say, is the bridging of the two Realities: the tonal (“ordinary consensual reality”) and the nagual (“the non-ordinary reality of shamans and mystics”). The methods of moving between them, and of entering the In-Between World, are the most resonant aspect of the book at this point in my focus and learning, and the Teachings reflect the exquisite balance I mentioned earlier that Horden’s writing styles maintain between these two realities. These dual perspectives consistently at work in our lives demonstrate the value of widening the overlap between the tonal and nagual, for this sweet spot of the In-Between World is the creation-space for Meaning and Healing—of ourselves, our immediate community, and our world.
Another aspect of the book that has high resonance for me (and why I think it is prominently compared to Carlos Castaneda’s books about the brujo Don Juan Matus) is the wisdom Horden’s teacher passes down about the nature of teaching and learning. Teaching takes time to be absorbed, before the student can go off and become a teacher him- or herself. Rushing the process creates a great deal of mis-learning that then translates into misunderstandings as opinion masquerading as wisdom is (inaccurately) passed on. This is akin to the idea of the 10,000 hours that one must put in to achieve mastery in any area; when Horden’s teacher, Master Khigh, says that he took a vow to wait thirty years before teaching, it reminded me of what the actor Eli Wallach said about learning the Sanford Meisner technique: it takes 25 years. Perhaps that is the time it takes for the ego to recede sufficiently to not mar the process.
Alongside such powerful books on the nature of living and dying such as Neil Donald Walsch’s Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends and Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief, In the Oneness of Time provides comfort and clarity on the nature of the soul and its experiences on Earth and elsewhere. Horden’s experiences with life after death are highlights of the book.
For those interested in this material in a multi-media format, either when deciding whether or not the book is for them, or as value-added after/while reading the book, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgd432XGX0w
In this age of divisiveness, Horden’s message of Communication and Communion is a blessing; it will no doubt illuminate many a reader’s path.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Review of Terror’s Identity, by Sarah Maury Swan

(published through Sable Books, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-9968036-3-2 (paperback)


Young audiences (YA) is a hot market. From Maze Runner to Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments to Divergent, stories that can hold interest, empower the reader, and provide a satisfying ending or intense cliffhanger are not only guaranteed to sell (and often secure a film deal) but they serve a much more important purpose: in the age of cyber-tech and video gaming (often the same thing), they keep traditional book-based storytelling alive.
Terror’s Identity, by Sarah Maury Swan, delivers the best of YA in all the right ways. From the very first page, the story of a sixteen-year-old boy’s navigation of a no-less-than life-threatening situation for him and his family kept me engaged and eager to find out what would happen next. The characters, both teenagers and adults, are believable in both their actions and dialogue, and the story itself is told with insistent pace and an elegant simplicity while the plot is rich, complex, and full of interesting clues and misdirection.
The main character, Aidan, is your typical high school kid—struggling to find his place, awkward with girls, into his pets and hot and cold with his family and keen to know about life. His father, however, works for an anti-terrorism unit—a situation that necessitates the family leaving their home in the middle of the night as the book opens as their house burns to the ground and their former life with it.
Have you ever been the new kid at school? Not an easy thing under the best of circumstances. Having started my first day of freshman year in a brand new town 2 hours from where I had grown up after a series of events that, although less dramatic than Aidan’s, were easily as traumatic, I immediately felt for him and his sister Maya as they tried to make the best of their thorny situation. Saying goodbye to the family pets, their father, and their names/identities all in the course of an action-packed night, Aidan (now Brent) and Maya (now Angie) struggle to fit in among queries about where they’ve come from by students and teachers, neither of which are always kind about it.
I particularly appreciated the trouble Aidan/Brent had keeping it all straight. From computer log-ins to lies about his father being dead to mistakes about the little details we don’t think about under normal circumstances, he finds himself almost outing the truth of his situation numerous times. This makes sense, given that teenagers are, by nature, curious about new people who come into their lives and there is nothing that takes more energy and focus than being consistent in your secrets and lies.
Another strength of Terror’s Identity is that Swan has approached Terrorism (a word that has always been a battleground of definition among scholars) with all the complexity that it deserves, which serves the story by keeping the reader guessing about who the true terrorists are—what should be safe harbors often are not and those we are conditioned to distrust turn out to be more like us than we know—and also sends a much needed message to young readers that nothing should be taken at face value when it comes to terrorism, whether it be religious, economic, or political. I also appreciated that the terrorists were so full of their own self-righteousness that they made plenty of mistakes along the way.
Structurally, the book has everything one would expect for the target audience and genre—short chapters that are briskly paced; a mid-point complication that sets up an even brisker pace toward the climax; and an accessibility of language and syntax. There are effective emotional moments and the books dwells on relationships without becoming saccharine.
I recommend this book for early teen to mid-teen reading groups in libraries and classrooms. According to the acknowledgments, the first eight chapters were critiqued by a class of students during the development process, which shows the author’s commitment to being authentic as possible without being a modern-world teenager herself.





Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Review of The Jack of Souls, by Stephen C. Merlino

 (Tortoise Rampant, 2014). ISBN: 978-0-9862674-1-3

Fantasy writing is in many ways akin to a Jackson Pollock painting—at first glance, it seems like a simple enough art form to execute. Swirl a stick, drip some paint, and let dry. Or, in the case of Fantasy, create some countries (include some islands) engaged in political intrigue; brew some cultural misunderstanding; have some opposing armies; throw in a few dragons and/or magic, a little bit of romance, just a dash of sex and rough language, and publish.
Here’s the problem with these ideas. Have you ever tried to replicate a Jackson Pollock? It’s not at all easy. It’s the same with Fantasy.
Just as Jackson Pollock combined uniquely individual instinct, symbolism, and technique to create canvases rich in meaning, a successful Fantasy novel takes the well-worn tropes of the genre and reconstitutes them through the (hopefully unique and powerful) vision and voice of the genre. Tolkien, Martin, Rowling—perhaps the Triad that will forever be the Standard by which all future Fantasy is judged—all created distinctive works within the confines of the genre.
Stephen C. Merlino’s The Jack of Souls fares well against the Standards of the Fantasy world. His set-ups, characters, and stakes combine to create a rich tapestry of details and plot points that keep the reader turning the pages, chapter after chapter. While starting with stock characters, such as the book’s (anti-)hero, Harric—a young vagabond with a mix of street skills and attitude—he quickly takes them to new places through a universe that mixes black magic, chivalry, and political maneuvering in ways similar to Game of Thrones, but with far different emphases.
Each chapter opens with a quote from a song or book that exists within the world (the Arkendian Isles) Merlino has created with such obvious love and care. This device anchors the action in a much larger, older environment of factional histories without bogging down the plot with Biblical lists of families and war chronicles—a strategy that makes Merlino’s book far more readable than any of Martin’s.
Another area where Merlino succeeds at least as well or even better than the Standards is in his use of magic, which is deeply integrated in the cultures he’s created and rarely used as a Deus ex Machina to get the author out of otherwise inescapable scenarios. This magic-to-Machina ratio is a sure tipoff as to the ability of a modern author to deliver something new and compelling to the reader of Fantasy, and Merlino comes out on the winning end of the equation.
Closely related to the magic is the darkness of many of the characters, including a priest. Pulling from such tropes as vampires, wraiths, and gargoyles, Merlino adds his own dark originals to create a tapestry of evil that goes deep instead of over the top—a device that allows his heroes to be plenty flawed and non-heroic at times, since, by comparison with the forces amassing against them, they are still the group we’d like to see win.
In the final analysis, it is clear that Merlino has practiced his craft and honed it to a fine point. The prose is exquisite and the plotting well-crafted and devoid of filler.

Book One of the Unseen Moon Series, The Jack of Souls is a winner of the 2014 PNWA and SWA Awards for Fantasy. There are two planned sequels:  The Knave of Souls and  The Prince of Souls.

Monday, February 8, 2016

“Of Dreams and Dogs and Jazz”: A Review of The Plays of Jon Lipsky, Volume Two

 edited by Bill Barclay and Jonah Lipsky (Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, 2014). ISBN: 978-1-57525-893-5


If the plays in Volume One of this collection are like a sprout bursting through the soil from a carefully cultivated seed, the four plays in Volume Two are the unfolding of a complex, beautiful patch of flowers, quite unlike each other, or any other, yet recognizable all the same.
I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on what is now the third book containing the works and ideas of Jon Lipsky. His Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications), has had a considerable impact on my theatre education and play-making career, and two of the four plays in Volume Two are directly related to Lipsky’s ground-breaking dreamwork.
The Introduction to this volume, written by Bill Barclay, provides answers to the questions of how Lipsky worked and why these four plays were chosen for this volume. I encourage you to read the introduction a few times before embarking on the journey of the first play, and to return to it before reading each of the others. The following quote sums up the editors’ intent and what this review will explore: “We hope through reading these plays and their introductions that Jon’s unique methods will inspire the artistically inclined reader to engage in similar voyages of their own. Whose story needs to be performed?” (24).
I have certainly been (re)inspired reading these two volumes of plays, and, in answer to the question posed, we ALL need our stories, if not performed, then told, which is the subject of my latest book in the field of theatre education and storytelling, and this is the lens through which I want to discuss the four plays in the volume, starting with Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, based on a book by Robert Bosnak, a world-renowned Jungian psychoanalyst and practitioner of dreamwork (I have had the pleasure to communicate with Dr. Bosnak on several occasions on the benefits of dreamwork in storytelling). Finding the universal in the ultra-personal has been a focus of my work for over a decade, and this play demonstrates its full effect. In the play, both Robert and his patient, Christopher, are played by the same actor, a decision that is out of the box and wholly apt, given the theory that all of our dream characters are aspects of ourselves. This play is full of unabashed truths about the depth of human feeling and having two actors play the main parts would have, I believe, created an unnatural boundary that would have prevented the seamless intertwining of doctor and patient that brings forth the vibrant resonance that the latent story holds. True to form, Lipsky creates a world where image and word are as seamless and re-enforcing in tandem as the play’s subjects. Humanity shines above all in this play; having developed and directed a play a few years ago with an HIV-positive actor, I have a personal sense of what is at work in Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, although any playwright, director, or actor will easily intuit the same after reading the script.
The next play in the collection is Call of the Wild (“A musical adaption of Jack London’s novels, Call of the Wild and White Fang”; written 1997; revised 2011). This is perhaps the most potent example of the derived work at which Lipsky excelled. According to the Foreword by Bill Barclay, the play began as a “class project at Boston University … devising a visceral adaptation.” Visceral, it is. Lipsky and his collaborators have captured the atmosphere, violence, and dark beauty of the lives of humans and dogs in London’s enduring novels. Like the plays in Volume One, Call of the Wild uses an ensemble of actors playing numerous roles, minimal props and costumes, and a tapestry of songs and sounds. The audience is “‘fresh meat’ just arrived to seek their fortunes.” The transformation of actors from dogs to humans is outlined in the ensemble notes and is very much a performance within the performance. If space allowed, I would examine the nuances of the language in the play (e.g., dog/God) and the way sound is used as a character, and the way repetition is used in the lyrics to build width and depth in the playing space that contains the actors, musicians, and audience, but I can only say, if you love theatre, read this play. And then read it again. It is, perhaps, the most purely powerful play in the collection.
Twice in my career I have had the opportunity to develop and direct the life stories of two individuals who portrayed themselves in the debut performances (and I am now writing a screenplay about a third). This is a unique form of storytelling with as many challenges as there are rewards. Coming Up for Air: An AutoJAZZography, conceived and performed by musician Stan Strickland and written by Jon Lipsky, is such a piece. In the introduction, Strickland notes that it was a three year process of conversation and note-taking on the beach on Martha’s Vineyard that brought the play to fruition. Anyone in the fields of storytelling and oral history will find a gold mine of technique and artistic choice-making awaiting them here. Strickland’s experiences and voice—as a person, as a musician—are so unique (the title refers to a near death experience he had in the waters off Hawaii), the ways that Lipsky worked with the text and structure to make them universal provide a roadmap for fellow travelers committed to bringing new stories (and perspectives!) to the world through theatre. Strickland and Lipsky collaborated to show us that everyone has their own rhythm and music—and finding and manifesting them for public performance holds a magic that the modern theatre often lacks.
The last play in this collection, The Wild Place, takes me back to the start of my journey through the processes and plays of Jon Lipsky. In Dreaming Together, he provided the roadmap for creating a work such as this one, which is based on a dream series by Susan Thompson (who was the co-author). Reinforcing a common theme among his collaborators, Thompson, in the Foreword, writes: “[Jon] encouraged performers to find stories within themselves” (301). Similar to the other dream plays in the collection, The Wild Place is deeply personal, taking as its source material dreams from a time when Thompson was “nursing her first child and pregnant with her second child” (Script Notes, 309). It is a moment in time, as the most moving stories are—constructed as a one-woman show with a supporting ensemble. Structurally similar while markedly different in their content and tone, Dreaming with an AIDS Patient and The Wild Place make a strong case for Lipsky’s methods of play creation. And his philosophy that the dreams are presented but not interpreted is one with which I agree. Especially when trying to make the uniquely personal wholly universal.
And that, to me, is what Jon Lipsky did best. Kudos to the editors of the two volumes for making his work available to storytellers throughout the world.




Tuesday, January 19, 2016

“A More than Satisfying Sequel”: A Review of The Journal of Vincent du Maurier II, by K. P. Ambroziak

 (Published by the author, 2015). ISBN: 9781514788370


Sequels, as ubiquitous as they have become in novels, film, and in television (through spin-offs and multiple seasons), are difficult to do well. As evidenced by the critically panned second season of True Detective and the multitude of sophomore albums by bands who come out of the gates with a strong first album, much of the difficulty with a follow-up project has to do with the long gestation period that a first work undergoes. In some cases, it is the culmination of decades of thought and trial and error, which elicits a deep passion and commitment from the artist that translates to the audience. Another reason is the simple fact that sequels are often about the economics of a follow-up rather than the truth about whether or not the main character has sufficient untold story left for a sequel. Often times, the initial Act 3 change in the Hero’s Journey is so profound that further examination of the main character’s life is bound to be a letdown; to feel forced, leading to logic holes and absurd situations.
            I do not know the specifics of Ambroziak’s journey with the character of Vincent du Maurier—how long he gestated before being born into the first novel, or if the first and second books were developed concurrently—but it is no matter, because Ambroziak has made some very smart choices in her approach to the sequel. Although these choices bring to mind Anne Rice’s far-ranging vampire series, there is also a great deal that is unique.
            First and foremost, Ambroziak splits the narrative between Du Maurier and his most recent vampiric conversion, Evelina, whom he professes to love. Creating two such distinct voices is an impressive feat, and makes the sequel a very new experience. The narrative also begins near the end of the story, which adds mystery to the plot as it unfolds. Switching between the two narrators also gives us clues and insights from both perspectives, further richening the mix.
            This book is also different from its predecessor through its locales: while the first book took place as they traveled to different locations, book II takes place primarily on a ship. The use of a single, confined space creates an enhanced tension as Vincent and Evelina fight for survival and to unravel the mysteries before them.
            What remains amid all of the differences is a tight, well-paced narrative, an interesting array of characters (from a millennium-old Aztec warrior to a foul-talking human sea captain), and rich tapestries of history, language, and cultural reference. It is in this area that Ambroziak reminds me most of Anne Rice, although her characters are far less melancholy, while still being complex and emotional, struggling with their lost human form (and in many cases, humanity) and learning to make the most of the physiological and other improvements of their vampiric body.
Another area             where Ambroziak expands upon the tropes of the vampire genre is the characterization of the willing human donors who provide the blood supply for the vampires. Their motivations are examined to a greater degree than usual and I hope that in future installments of this series we get to hear the point of view of one of them.
Ambroziak also has a writing style that produces rich images such as these: “pull the frequencies into one lone buzz, like the synchronized hum of hornets in a hive, until the vampires’ growls and jeers, egging on the two warriors in the ring, faded, and all I heard was the drone of the sizzling air” (40).
At the very end of the book there is a reveal that opens new mysteries and cues for the reader the probability of another book in this engaging series. I for one was pleased to see that the adventures may very well continue.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Review of Savages: A Triptych, by Brendan Ball (Available from Amazon Kindle)

To begin, a definition: “Triptychs” are typically three-paneled paintings or a photograph series that explores a unified theme in different ways.
The triptych of this collection is three short stories: “Long Live the King,” “The Deposition,” and “Lunar Seas.” Thematically, there could be several broad-based connections between the three stories, as they each cover a range of human emotions and relationships. Other reviewers have put forth their own theories. To me, the triptych here is unified as Past, Present, and Future explorations of what is most “savage” (read primitive, archetypal, low-vibrational) in Humankind’s relationships to its dark secrets as they are expressed in both our codified, societal Myths and the ones we individually construct.
The cover design, by Keri Knutson, creates an initial unification of the stories by overlaying key elements from each on a macabre human skull. The chosen symbols could be used as a start, if the reader so chooses.
The first story, “Long Live the King,” opens with a quote from James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a large volume of comparative religion published in 1890 that includes case studies on the world-wide phenomena of tribal kings being ritually killed when they began to show signs of weakness, physically or in the mind.  The story is written with a syntax that situates the reader firmly in the ancient world of ritual and myth, which makes for a challenging read (almost like trying to read the transcript of a dream-in-progress) but well worth the effort expended. 
Frazer’s book also examined rites of passage, which is another unifying element across this triptych.
My biggest takeaway from “Long Live the King” is the idea that the kings of old were all too human in their signing on, knowing the cost, and then resisting the contract to be killed as the time drew near. It’s all too rare that this aspect of these tribal conditions is explored; the only other instance that comes to mind is an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, from the mid-1970s, in an episode guest-starring Eric Estrada.
The second story, “The Deposition,” is a fun read in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, where Hell is situated as a bureaucratic nightmare where managers and case workers struggle to win souls of humans that are just clever enough to sometimes win. Ball’s story focuses on connection through the dream state, where various strategies are employed to keep the Dreamer from realizing it is a dream, or waking up. The story drips with the boredom and frustration of the average worker inherent in so much British writing and music, from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to The Police song “Synchronicity II.”
The third story, set in the Future, is a dystopian tale of an off-Earth colony where education, relationships, and even one’s inclinations toward free thought are carefully controlled by an oligarchy of corporate/government interests even more intertwined than they are today. A little bit 1984, the film Equilibrium, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and Rush’s 2112 concept album, this story evoked the clearest visual imagery for me. It is the stuff of which good film adaptations are made. It has elements of romance, rebellion, and a terrible aloneness made manifest in the main character. This is also the longest of the three stories, taking up half the book.
As I have processed the stories, and further thought about the idea of the triptych, I have come to realize that the stories function like Russian nesting dolls, which accounts for them getting larger as they progress, because the Future contains the Past and the Present and the Present contains the Past, while the Past itself sits alone and often disconnected, distanced from us through its archaic language and rituals.
Which is, of course, not the case at all, as this collection shows.
In Savages, Ball has accomplished a great deal in its forty or so pages, not the least of which is showcasing his ability to write in a wide range of voices, each particularly suited to the position of Past/Present/Future and the needed tonal weight of the tale being told.

If you consider each story carefully on its own, and then together as the triptych, you will find that, in all of the desperate darkness in which the characters of the stories reside, there is a speck of light, which, when followed deeply enough,   becomes Hope.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Review of non-zero-sum, by Jack Galmitz

 (Impress 2015)
By Joey Madia
As Founding Editor of www.newmystics.com, which hosts pages for seventy authors and artists from around the world, I have the opportunity to give the creators of innovative and thought-provoking poetry a forum for their work.
In cultivating the e-publisher/author relationship, I am sometimes asked to review additional work by an author. In the case of Jack Galmitz, in 2014 I reviewed three of his chapbooks—Objects, Yellow Light, and A Semblance. During the course of our correspondence, Galmitz wrote that his poetry is based on “the indeterminacy created by ambiguity—sometimes two words that are joined together when left alone on the page makes one realize there are many ways to take them and this leaves doubt and makes one look and be aware of what is there and this is the purpose I think of art.”
This philosophy brings to mind some of my current favorites in the poetry world—Heller Levinson and Eileen Tabios. They share Galmitz’s ability to create works that require the reader in relationship for them to reach full bloom. One cannot read their poems, nor review them, in a traditional way.
This is especially true after reading Galmitz’s recent chapbook, non-zero-sum, which consists of a few dozen poems, all three lines each, in a 33-page pdf, a total  that includes three blank pages at the end. The book can be “read” in 15 minutes or less—or you can spend hours with it, over time, mining the riches that the brevity and imagery provide. This is what I suggest. Making an interpretation of the title and the blank pages, one might say that non-zero-sum indicates a crucial dependence on outside factors, such as the contributions made by the reader to the process.
Following on from this interpretation, I have chosen half a dozen of the poems to reprint here. After each, I share what I took from them in the way of interpretation and, more importantly, personal inspiration. Like a Buddhist koan or a sutra—or our dreams—what we take from them is unique to the individual experiencing them.
“The room full
of cardboard boxes
empty”

I take this as the collection itself, the room being the book. The poems are the cardboard boxes, left empty to be filled with what the reader chooses to put in them.

“While they're in the air
listen to the leaves falling
there”

Of all of the pieces in this collection, this one operates most like a Buddhist koan or a sutra, similar to, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” There is no right or wrong answer—simply engage your senses on the imagery of the leaves… how do they look? How do they sound? You could spend a great deal of time with just this poem.

“A mushroom cloud
rising in the distance
iphones steady”

A commentary on the ubiquity of cameras in modern life, this poem, to me, also signifies that getting the “shot”—be it still or video—for your Instagram, Facebook, Vine, or Snapchat—is the motivating factor of the moment, not the larger historical/sociopolitical implications of what you are witnessing. The word “steady” is key to me. A major nuclear event happens right in front of modern Techno sapien, and our subject remains unpanicked. As I share in my interactive bullying education and prevention workshops, so much of what our teenagers see is through the frame of a computer, ipad, or phone… and that makes everything look like TV and film, which leads to a dangerous disengagement.

“A glass vase
holds a warped table
& a white rose”

I chose this poem for a few reasons, the first being that it requires the reader to place trust in the craftsmanship and specificity of the poet. Each word was chosen with intent, just as each seemingly random drip and splatter of a Jackson Pollock painting is intentional, or made to be so through further intention.

What is the visual image of a vase holding a table? A warped table, at that? What might it mean? The limitations of physics take us from the literal into the metaphorical. The symbolism of the white rose adds an additional dimension. This three-line, 10-words-and-an-ampersand poem holds limitless possibilities for contemplation, a story prompt, or the raw material for a visual expression through a painting or picture.

“Every Sunday
at the sea
there’s a sermon”

Having grown up at the Jersey shore and lived near the ocean in Maine and also currently in North Carolina, I have known many fishermen and have read more than my share of Conrad, Melville, and Hemingway, so this poem speaks to me of the sea and the hard, dangerous life of those that ply their trade on its treacherous waters, and the role of Faith, Belief, and Prayer in the lore of their lives. And I have also seen enough sunsets and storms upon the water to know that the sea itself  provides its own transcending sermon in the prayer of water and wind.

“At the rectory
under the bare bulb
two men shooting up”

This one resonates like a scene from film noir. It contains point/counterpoint, and could almost be considered what is now called “flash fiction,” an example of which is Hemingway’s “For sale, baby’s shoes, never worn.”

Galmitz’s poetry is provocative through its efficiency, reminding us all of the power of words. In an age of 140-character “tweets” he reminds us that a small number of words need not be mundane nor meaningless.