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.






Monday, December 14, 2015

“Yesterday’s Voices Today”: A Review of The Plays of Jon Lipsky, Volume One, edited by Bill Barclay and Jonah Lipsky

 (Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, 2014). ISBN: 978-1-57525-892-8
I still remember the day, seven years ago, returning to my secluded three acres in West Virginia from a meeting with my theatre company in New Jersey, to find a package from Larson Publications. Inside was a note, and a copy of Jon Lipsky’s Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out, which I promptly read and reviewed. It has never remained on the shelf for any appreciable length of time. I go to it time and time again.
Jon Lipsky passed away some months later, before we could talk. It was not until many years later, in speaking with the publisher, that I found out that Professor Lipsky had specifically requested that I receive a copy of his book for review.
Perhaps it was the name of my theatre company at the time, New Mystics, or my work with a few theatre companies that used dreams to create plays, that led to my name being placed on the potential reviewers list. Like dreams themselves, how it came to be will, in some aspects, forever remain a mystery.
It was half a year ago that I received word that Jon’s son was co-editing a two-volume collection of his father’s plays. I promptly contacted him, including a copy of my review of Dreaming Together and waited in anticipation for the collection to be released.
This review covers Volume One. I Intend to read and review Volume Two this Winter.
It is clear that the editors have assembled this collection as both a labor of love and with a clear mission to promote Jon Lipsky’s work outside of the relatively small world in which he lived and created for most of his life—Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Through the Preface and Acknowledgments, the Biography section, and the introductions that preface each of the four plays in the first volume, one can learn a great deal about Professor Lipsky’s life, training, his highly collaborative way of creating theatre, and why he wrote the plays he did. This is essential reading to fully appreciate all that went into these works. Each play is also prefaced by a production history.
The first play in the collection, Living in Exile: A Retelling of the Iliad (1981, revised 2011), includes an Author’s Preface, wherein Lipsky tells us that the “purpose [of this adaptation] is not to modernize Homer’s text, but to tell a war story.” Lipsky succeeds so well that every young man or woman thinking of enlisting in the Armed Forces should be required to experience this play right before sitting down with the recruiter. In several of my own books and plays I present the truths of war that lay beyond the myths of pageantry and stories of heroism that invite the unaware through the prism of Spectacle into a world of all too much Reality. Living in Exile denies Spectacle, and does so in a presentational way that calls to mind the tenets of Brecht, although without so much Alienation effect.
In fact, Living in Exile was designed to be performed intimately, in living rooms. The cast, like the other plays in this volume, play numerous parts and use props, costumes, sound, and music to produce a great deal of theatricality by marrying these familiar devices with the artistry of voice, tableau, and the powerful words of the playwright.
War is war. This becomes shockingly clear if one were to overlay the change in mindset of the soldiers from the Iliad to, say, the Vietnam War, or the very war in the Middle East that the world grapples with today (indeed, the play being written in 1981 and revised 10 years after the events of September 11, 2001, indicates that this is precisely Lipsky’s process). As the narrator tells us, by the eighth year of the war, “Fragging became a rite of passage. Self-mutilation became a source of glory. Suicide, though despised, was commonplace.”
Are you aware of The 22 Project? It is named for the fact that 22 American veterans commit suicide every day. I recently helped with an event they co-hosted, in conjunction with the VFW at which my father is Senior Vice Commander. Reading Living in Exile was often hard for me after that experience and I cannot help but think that productions of the play in conjunction with such events would open a dialogue too many Americans are unwilling to have.
Lipsky navigates honoring the classic with inserting the modern with a considerable amount of skill. He uses the universal ageless gem of sex to his advantage, and when he drops in a word like “dude” it does not feel out of place. He also dances rhythmically, flawlessly, between the macro of War and the micro of the deep personal wounds and self-reflections of those who wage it. History often sacrifices the second for the first, making plays like this essential.
In the end, it is the micro that prevails. The narrator reminds us that “This is the way the Iliad ends. Begun in anger, completed in compassion,” referring to Achilles giving King Priam the time he needs to properly bury his son Hector.
In the midst of the devastating terror attacks in France and in San Bernardino, CA and the mounting hatred of Muslims, regardless of their individual beliefs, I wonder if any such compassion will be at play when this long war finally ends.
The next play in the collection is called Walking the Volcano: A Short Play Progression (1991–2009). From the note on the script: “The eight ‘inventions’ … are variations on a theme. … we are looking in on a kind of relationship endemic to the generation that came of age in the sixties … from the moment of falling in love to the last goodbye” (p. 124). In an age where 10-minute plays are all the rage, Walking the Volcano serves as both a starter piece for theatre companies wanting to explore this aspect of theatre and a model for more deeply linking 10-minute pieces in more innovative ways than the broadly thematic one typically seen. The pieces that make up Walking the Volcano are edgy and hard-hitting—perfect for classroom use for advanced actors and directors.
My favorite play in the collection is Beginner’s Luck: A play based on the story of King Saul in the Bible (1977). As indicated by the title of this review, Lipsky had the ability to take the classical stories of antiquity and bring them to contemporary audiences with the lava of their core themes bubbling with intensity. Although not staged specifically for a living room, intimacy is as key here as in Living in Exile; the Act One opening notes suggest: “The audience should feel that a group of people have sat down with them on a hill to tell them a story.” Here we have the fundamental origins, purpose, and power of theatre, divorced from the spectacle that Peter Brook called the Deadly Theatre, which has all but destroyed the modern mainstream theatre experience. Beginner’s Luck uses its poetics and music to full effect, taking this biblical story of Saul, Samuel, Ruth, and David and situating it in the clanking machine of political intrigue and ever-shifting alliances. Beginner’s Luck at times has a Pippin-esque feel, with witty exchanges and an underlying current of the power–sexuality dyad. It is a play that requires actors who have trained their bodies, voices, and storytelling ability with equal dedication, for they truly are the fuel that makes this articulate, high-energy engine go.
The last play in the collection is Maggie’s Riff: A bebop turn on Jack Kerouac’s true life hometown teenage romance Maggie Cassidy (1994). Those who love the nexus of fact and legend that is Kerouac and his Beat comrades will enjoy Lipsky’s take on this dreamlike space. Bringing to mind other interpretative pieces that operate between myth and biography, such as Oliver Stone’s film The Doors, Maggie’s Riff gives us layers of interpretation: Kerouac’s, the playwright’s, and, ultimately, the reader/watcher’s. Benefiting from Lipsky’s masterful incorporation of sound and music, and the assigning of multiple roles to a single actor, Maggie’s Riff shows the heartache and darkness behind the sexy legends of the Duluoz/Lowell and big city years that all fans of this group of tortured geniuses ultimately arrive at sometime after their initial all-out love of drunken anarchy in On the Road.
The Plays of Jon Lipsky, Volume One is a master’s class in not only playwriting, but of making the classic contemporary and working with actors and directors and audiences to bring storytelling back to its central place in human communication and community. I look forward to reading and reviewing Volume Two.



Thursday, December 3, 2015

Time Travel Made Easy: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s The Cabin

(Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, 2015), ISBN: 13  978-0-9963884-3-6

As I have made the journey from reader, to writer, to student, to professional writer, to teacher of workshops and writing classes, and then to book reviewer, I have come to believe that there are three kinds of (proficient, “talented”) writers at work in the world.
First, there are the Storytellers. People like Hemingway, that come from the gut, who go fearlessly into the vortexing dream-space of human experience to capture something in the net of their creating, who can spin a captivating yarn without too much verbal or plot complexity but plenty of power and resonance. Then there are the Technicians—those who inherently and through 10,000 hours of practice, understand and apply structure, word choice, syntax, and suspense… who “do the task of writing” at a high level.
The third type of writer is the one who is smart enough, dedicated enough, and capable enough to know that, despite the fact that Storytellers and Technicians can both sell a lot of books and equally move an audience—that the true Golden Ring of what we do as writers is to meet at the stormy nexus of BOTH of these strengths.
These, to me, are the writers worth reading. The writers who, when they produce something new, lead us to drop everything, get a firm hold of their book or e-file, and carve out ample time to dive deeply beneath the waters of their words for as long as the capacity of our mental lungs to hold our breath allows.
Smoky Zeidel, over the past four years, has become one of these writers for me.
I was able to take a little more time than usual in the opening of this review because I cannot tell you much about the story told in The Cabin. Or, more accurately, I choose not to. Because almost anything I would tell beyond the broad strokes in the next paragraph would ruin your experience. Muddy the waters into which you have to dive. And it’s harder to hold your breath with the silt of story give-aways floating about.
I can tell you that The Cabin’s characters are primarily a family who has lived in the same geographical area—the Allegheny Mountains of (West) Virginia for many generations—who have seen the best and worst of humankind through the American Civil War, slavery, and the changes that came with the new century. I can tell you that the story involves fairy stones, and the Power of Belief to defy all temporal–spatial barriers. And I can tell you that it involves, as my title gives away, Time Travel.
What I should have named the review is “Time Travel Made (to Look) Easy,” although that does not exactly roll off the tongue, which would be a particular disservice to Zeidel, because she truly is a Technician: her sentences move like the rivers and winds she often writes about in her poetry and prose. And I say that it is Made (to Look) Easy because, true to her strengths as a Technician, the complex plot, moving as it does between time and space, never carries the thornier burdens of that trope, as it often does with the stories told by, for instance, J. J. Abrams or James Cameron (each of whom are masterful Storyteller-Technicians). I think that is because, in The Cabin, it is not science fiction; it not a clever device employed for jazzy storytelling. It is an inherent, crucial part of the tale Zeidel tells, and, like the audience who brings Tinkerbell back to life in stagings of Peter Pan through the Power of Belief,  we as readers must contribute to making the magic happen. Yes, of course, it ends how it ends, but how much we invest is up to us.
I invested deeply, which speaks to Zeidel’s ability as a Storyteller. She blends her thorough, far-ranging research (once again, the Technician) with exquisitely drawn characters, a beautiful way of describing geography, and a knack for bleeding things down to core emotional values that puts her writing on a mythological level. I felt it in The Storyteller’s Bracelet, in her recent book of poetry, and here in The Cabin. You cannot teach that. It begins as a natural gift, coupled with tens of thousands of hours with pen in hand or fingers on a keyboard.
In a world where jazzy tropes like CGI and gravity-defying fights are the new standard for what passes as storytelling, books like The Cabin and writers like Smoky Zeidel remind us that there is much, much more, if only we know where to look.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“Introductions to Infinity”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’s Invent[st]ory: Selected Catalog Poems & New (1996–2015)

 (Loveland, OH: Dos Madres Press, 2015), ISBN: 978-1-939929-36-5

The arrival of a new Eileen Tabios book has become no less than an Event for me. Not only is it inspiring to see what new forms and source material this award-winning and prolific poet and editor is working with and drawing from, but it inevitably leads to my own experimentation with whatever creative works I am bringing to life at the time. Tabios is very much a writer’s writer, and one of the leading poet-practitioners in the realm of how to make the reader participatory with the experience. In essence, Tabios is such a writer’s writer that she wants everyone to be, if not a writer, than certainly an active author of their own experience and engagement. This is an aspiration that is beyond resonant with me as an artist, mentor, and storyteller.

When Invent[st]ory: Selected Catalog Poems & New (1996–2015) arrived I was particularly enthused, as I have not read/reviewed anything of Tabios’s prior to 2010.

For this reason, I will concentrate on works from Tabios’s early years, beginning with 1996, where, in the very first poem, I read the line “your finger trailing the ragged seam of my stretchmark.” Having read Tabios’s more political work, stemming from issues of Filipino nationalism and diaspora, the condition of the orphan, and gender transformation, among other elevated topics, I found this line a reminder that all art, no matter its purpose, must be personal and evocative. It must paint with words—words chosen with the utmost care and discernment.

An early experimentation of Tabios’s that defines her relationship to the reader that I found fascinating is from 2003, when she published There, Where the Pages Would End, which is a series of “footnote poems.”  The idea was to have one of the poems at the bottom of an otherwise blank page so that the reader could create the story that would generate the footnote. I encourage the reader to do so. For writing teachers, or writers looking for exercises to sharpen their skills, this is powerful practice. In general, there is a considerable portion of Invent[st]ory that could be used to structure a series of workshops or to engage a class of writers with the endless possibilities for our craft that are left beyond the margins when we teach a static poem on the page and ask them to merely imitate.

As I mentioned earlier, much (though not all) of Tabios’s work is closely tied to her Filipino identity and the experiences that have shaped her life through that lens. A piece of her 2005 collection Post Bling Bling is “Letters from the Balikbayan Box,” which evolved from a question that Tabios posted on a Filipino Listserv about the items that those living outside the Philippines put in care packages that they send back home to relatives and friends. The answers become “list poems,” demonstrating yet another way that raw material can be (re)constituted as poetry, while also driving/sustaining a rich discourse. As an Italian American away at college, the times of year when I received a box of goodies and necessary items from one of my grandmothers was quite the event, both for myself and my hall-mates—especially when one of the items was a tin of homemade cookies—and this section got me thinking about ways that I could use this exercise to further explore this family practice, especially given that my wife now does the same for our sons now that they’re living on their own.

Another collection that invited reader participation is 2006’s The Secret Lives of Punctuation, Vol. 1, which features a series of poems where each line is preceded by a semi-colon; an example: “; mistaking science for ‘bathroom graffiti.’” It occurred to me, as I was going through this section of the book, that what truly differentiates Tabios’s approach to poetics is that, while most modern poetry invites us only into the spaces in between the poem’s lines (because, as we know, some poets do not invite us into open spaces at all; they categorically deny them), in her work, the spaces are all around: above, as with the footnote poems, and to the left with the ones using a semi-colon.

One of my favorite sections in this volume is from a 2007 collection called SILENCES: The Autobiography of Loss. It deals with Garbage: lists of the contents of a pile of garbage! Here we see the whimsical and the very real married in a thought-provoking way. The list poems cover December 23 through January 1, when curbs and dumpsters fill to overflowing with the detritus of the Holiday season. What a commentary! And it builds, as so much of Tabios’s work does, from scholarship she’s read, her compulsion toward expression on her Blog or in a Listserv, the poems themselves, and feedback from commentators and readers through the process.

And, in this case, all stemming from garbage. Food for thought.

The last selection I’d like to mention, entitled “What Can a Daughter Say?” from a 2007 collection, could occupy the space of an entire review in and of itself. Combining sobering statistics and a heart-rending list of atrocities committed by the world’s most vicious dictators, this poem examines identity—broadly and the familial—through the lens of the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos. If I could recommend any of Tabios’s works to a newcomer, this would be it.

Invent[st]ory, in closing, is a time-capsule of innovation, passion, and skill. Whether for your personal collection or a writers’ group, the riches to be mined are as endless as the possibilities emerging from Tabios herself.



Friday, October 23, 2015

A Review of Dreamwork for Visionary Living, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2014). ISBN: 978-0-9860778-3-8


Over the past five years, I have reviewed many of the encyclopedias and books on the paranormal by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, one of the leading experts in both the paranormal and metaphysical fields. I have also been able to accompany Guiley on some of her field investigations, and have never been failed to be impressed by her professionalism and scientific approach to phenomena.
Those traits consistently carry over into her books and numerous radio and television appearances, and her dream workshops and accompanying books (this is her eighth on the subject) are no exception.
I was first introduced to the value of using dreams for both self-improvement and as a source of creative inspiration early in the new century, first by a spiritual mentor and then through the books of Robert Moss. Since that time I have kept a dream journal, incorporated dreamwork into my theatre workshops and training of actors and playwrights (bolstered by the work of pioneers in the field like Jon Lipsky), used considerable amounts of dream material for my own creative projects, and used lucid and intentional dreaming as part of my spiritual practice and quest for self-improvement.
There are, of course, a flood of books on the market that deal with dream interpretation and using dreams for, as Guiley terms it, visionary living. And I have read many of them. Their flaws are often numerous, from disempowering the dreamer with lexicons of dream interpretation tables and charts, to making false promises and myriad mis-interpretations.
So, I was pleased when Dreamwork for Visionary Living was published. After having applied many of the 37 practical “Dream Labs” included in the book in my practice in recent weeks, this review will provide an overview of the book’s contents and a few comments on what I found through using the practical portions of the book.
One of Guiley’s many strengths is her ability to break complex practices into their core parts, so you are in a safe zone of experimentation and practice in areas often seen as mystical and sometimes dangerous. Dreamwork for Visionary Living begins with contextual material and moves right into the tools of the practice, before introducing the first of the Dream Labs, which build in complexity as the reader moves through them and the supporting material of the book. Whether you are a seasoned dreamworker or new to the practice, the early Dream Labs are invaluable for (re)establishing the basics.
Another strength in Guiley’s work is her use of science to take some of the needless mysticism out of one’s practice. Her discussion of the body’s energy field, the chakras, is erudite and gives the reader-practitioner a clear understanding of how energy moves through the body and connects us to higher consciousness and the dream realm.
With the basics established, the book moves on to Lucid Dreams, a fertile creative and self-improvement dimension of dreamwork that is invaluable to our journey on this plane, before moving on to the means of moving beyond this plane through Out-of-Body Dream Travel.
For the more skeptical reader, this could be further than you want to go, but I can say from experience (and the feedback from a Reiki master after a session) that this phenomenon, whether “real” or imagined, does exist and it can be used, as Guiley demonstrates, for self-education (in dream libraries), creativity, and healing.
It is at this stage in the book that case studies from interviewees and others that Guiley has been in contact with begin to provide myriad practical material, both in their relating of dreams and the larger stories they tell. These case studies also give the reader a plethora of implanted dream symbols with which to work.
The book then moves on, continuing to mix scholarship, case studies, and Dream Labs, into Psychic Dreaming (there are many fascinating anecdotes of premonition dreams and the various attempts to use dreaming to avert disasters and predict the future, including for financial investments), Experiencing God in Dreams, and Spiritual Turning Point Dreams. This latter chapter, which addresses “conflict, crisis, and inner struggle,” is made up primarily of case studies, which give the reader both inspiration and proof of the power of listening to our dreams. It is followed by the chapter “Calling Dreams,” which is in some sense a continuation of the story of how our dreams provide crucial guidance and direction as we take the journey of this life.
Later chapters deal with such topics as spiritual masters that appear in our dreams and dreaming for creativity. I can personally attest to how life-changing such dreams can be. And using the Dream Labs in these chapters has provided answers, confidence, and an undergirding energy at a time in my life when transition and big opportunities are in equal abundance and, without spiritual and dream tools such as these, I would be easily overwhelmed.
If you are interested in using dreams for healing, or dreams in pairs or with groups, the final chapters are essential reading.
Of all of the dozens of professional writers, teachers, and workshop presenters I have the pleasure of knowing, there are only a few that are as prolific, erudite, and effective as Rosemary Ellen Guiley. It is clear after reading Dreamwork for Visionary Living that her ability to lucid dream and make the most of her other dreams is a major contributing factor to both the quality and quantity of her work and her well-deserved success.

Given this point, Dreamwork for Visionary Living is an invaluable tool in a complex, challenging time in humanity’s evolution.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

“The Passion of the Blood”: A Review of The Journal of Vincent du Maurier

by K. P. Ambroziak (Published by the author, 2014). ISBN: 9781500405359

I love most things vampire. I write about them, have shelves full of movies featuring them, and even more shelves filled with books, both fiction and historical studies, of the vampire phenomenon. I even have a bunch of favorite songs about them.
Amidst all of these myriad materials, my love of vampires has a lot of restrictions and must-haves/must-not-haves—because there is a lot about vampires being written and filmed that misses their core Brutality. Their addiction to Blood is as fierce and all-pervasive as a heroin junky’s—and, when it is well done, the addiction drives them, in the end, to always show their fangs, no matter how much their charm has fooled us. The best vampires are not to be trusted, and they know it. They tell us so, over and over. They are prone to excuses and rationalizations. They are inclined toward boredom, infighting, and existential crisis.
So, when a new book about vampires arrives, I always hold my breath for the first few pages and see just what kind of blood-lusters these new ones will be.
K. P. Ambroziak’s vampires meet my criteria for what makes the best vampires. At times reminiscent of the vampires and their historical–cultural context that populate the thousands of pages of fiction by Anne Rice, at other times like Stoker’s Dracula (employing the device of the journal, and the syntax of one who has existed for hundreds of years), and still others like the Hammer vampires in their lust and prolonged brutality, The Journal of Vincent du Maurier is in many ways a classic vampire novel.
Then again, it’s not. Ambroziak employs the recently popular device of pulling in a post-apocalyptic zombie adversary, but not named as such. In this case, they are called the Bloodless, the way they are called Walkers in The Walking Dead. So yes, if you like vampires, zombies, and The Walking Dead, you are going to love this book. It uses all of these well, and is well-written to keep it all flowing at an engaging pace and in the proper tone for the genre.
But there is more. What I liked best about The Journal of Vincent du Maurier is that it is written with lots of historical context (and some terrific reveals about who is who that I wouldn’t dare reveal) and cultural detail, including bursts of dialogue in several foreign languages (always translated in ways that speak to Ambroziak’s craft as a writer—Cormac McCarthy could learn a few things from this). There is also plenty of smart science. The author has done abundant research, and it shows.
The book opens with a Translator’s Note, which situates the story in time (268 of Post Common Era), and contains the following, which the reader should keep in mind as the book ends: “With the exception of its last few missing pages, the following chronicle…” (p. 3).
The Journal of Vincent du Maurier is a perfect storm of the writer’s talent, new use and blending of old tropes, research, and the mechanism of a found journal. A rarity for self-published books, there were very few grammatical errors, which was appreciated. Overall, the paper selection, typeface, binding, and cover design are of a high quality that independent publishing needs more of in order to be judged more on the merit of the work and less on the often questionable quality of the delivery.
It is hard to tell, with the “missing pages” at the end, if this is the first in a series. I hope that it is, because Vincent du Maurier (whose real identity I think you’ll enjoy discovering) is a vampire I’d like to hear more from.


Monday, October 19, 2015

“From Mothman to the Camazotz”: A Review of Encounters with Flying Humanoids,

 by Ken Gerhard (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2013). ISBN: 978-0-7387-3720-1

The field of cryptozoology, which many consider a pseudoscience, involving the search for and study of “hidden animals” such as Bigfoot, is one that is equal parts fascinating and controversial. In the age of Reality Television (which we all know often has little to do with “reality”), there is a vast array of shows in which cryptozoologists and their teams go out into the woods and other undeveloped geographical areas in search of creatures from the Mothman to the Owlman to the Chupacabra.
For those who follow this field, names like John Keel, Loren Coleman, and Stan Gordon dominate, although there is a younger, very hip group of cryptozoologists out there, doing field research, and gathering reports and doing interviews with witnesses of a plethora of sightings, all over the world.
Having witnessed a few unexplainable entities, and having a number of good friends in the fields of cryptozoology and, more generally, paranormal research, I have stayed fairly well informed about developments in this realm, and I have done considerable research on many of the cases and reviewed numerous books on the subject, for both my own personal interest and for my fictional works in the paranormal/horror genre.
At the most recent Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV this past September, I attended a lecture given by, and got to briefly speak with, Ken Gerhard, who has appeared on such shows as Monster Quest, Ultimate Encounters, and William Shatner’s Weird or What? He is also one of the principle investigator’s on the current H2 show Missing in Alaska.
Gerhard was lecturing on “Encounters with Flying Humanoids,” the subject of his latest book, and this review. Some of what he spoke about was familiar to me, but there was plenty that wasn’t, and I was excited to read the book.
Encounters with Flying Humanoids (with Foreword by Dr. Karl P.N. Shuker) is well organized and written in a well-paced narrative style. After a general introduction to the Flying Humanoid phenomena, there is a survey chapter of humanity’s fascination with flight. This was an unexpected surprise and goes a long way in grounding the fantastical stories and creatures that follow in history, sociology, and science.
There is a sizable portion of the paranormal investigative community that supports the direct link between sightings of various creatures such as Mothman and Bigfoot with the sighting of UFOs, theorizing that they are inter-dimensional beings (a theory to which I subscribe) and chapter two does an excellent job of pulling in this aspect of the phenomenon. The famous Flatwoods Monster of West Virginia, sighted in 1952, is a highlight of the chapter.
Readers will notice that Gerhard uses a journalistic approach, mixing media accounts, field research, and transcripts of interviews from law enforcement to build the profile of each creature, as each is available and applicable. Like Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Gerhard’s use of this multi-dimensional approach adds credence and high standards to a field where they are often absent.
Chapter three, “The Manbirds,” contains some of the most fascinating examples of Flying Humanoids, including the Owlman of England and the Tengu of Japan.
In the next chapter, Gerhard looks at Chimeras and Gargoyles before moving on to what is probably the keynote chapter in the book: the legend of the Mothman. Readers of my book reviews and fiction know that this has long been a fascination of mine, and even having made over a dozen trips to Point Pleasant, watching many documentaries, attending lectures by witnesses, and reading a dozen books, I found new information in Gerhard’s research and he does an excellent job of providing the context of the Mothman legacy, which very much involves the town of Point Pleasant and its history. This is reason enough to buy the book.
I have to point out one error in the chapter, in honor of my friend Bob Landrum, who ran a terrific little shop named The Point for many years before his death several years ago. Bob was the one my wife and I first talked to when we had an encounter with the paranormal coming back from the TNT area one afternoon. In the book, his last name is mispelled as Lander.
The remainder of the book covers numerous flying humanoids in Mexico, recent reports from around the world, and Conclusions. Gerhard lays out the possible explanations, drawing on science in his analysis, although he is not afraid to push toward the more supernatural, inter-dimensional explanations as well. His own theories on what this phenomena might be are equal parts grounded and provocative, which is the closest we can hope for in this elusive field of cryptozoology.
The book ends with an Appendix titled “Winged Beings in Mythology and Folklore” that serves as a rounding-out of the field guide aspect of the book for the interested reader looking for larger context.
I’ve watched a few episodes of Gerhard’s show Missing in Alaska, which also demonstrates his open-mindedness and scientific approach to paranormal phenomena, and intend to watch more.
The field of crytozoology could use more serious investigators like Ken Gerhard to bolster credibility and help to crack the mystery.
Of course, in all probability, we may never know the “truth” of these things, which makes the chase at times even sweeter. I bet Gerhard would agree.


“To Sail with the Heart of a Pyrate”: A Review of Sword of Tortuga, by Sinbad

 (Beaufort, NC: Pirate Privateer Productions, 1994). ISBN: 0-9658878-0-4
by Joey Madia
Four months ago my family and I left the mountains of West Virginia for a new life near the water in the idyllic town of Beaufort, NC, on the so-called Crystal Coast. Without a doubt, Beaufort lives up to its billing as one of the best little towns in America. Its waterfront is packed with quaint shops, excellent restaurants, and an always changing array of sailboats, fishing trawlers, and yachts, and the locals truly do exude the legendary Southern Charm.
Another interesting aspect of Beaufort is how it loves its pirate traditions. Although details are sketchy, it is recorded that Spanish privateers made off with several ships docked in Beaufort Harbor on June 4, 1747. Emboldened by the lack of resistance, they returned on August 26, 1747, taking over the town. They were soon repulsed by a force of militia and never returned. This local triumph is celebrated through an elaborate re-creation each year during a two-day August event called the Beaufort Pirate Invasion. I had the pleasure of dressing up in my pirate gear and joining in the fun this year. It’s a great boon for the town, bringing in more visitors than any other yearly event.
Captain among Beaufort’s many pirate heroes (and the mastermind behind the Invasion) is Horatio Sinbad (his legal name), the author of Sword of Tortuga, who is a commissioned privateer with an official letter of marque signed by a North Carolina governor and President Ronald Reagan. His history is as colorful and adventurous as his name. In the mid 1960s, while an engineer at General Motors, he built a 54-foot, 18-ton brigantine named the Meka II in his backyard in Detroit, Michigan (the story of which is told in his DVD, Boat Building in Your own Backyard or How to Lose Friends and Provoke Others) after having spent time as a sailor in the West Indies when he was sixteen (where he got the nickname Sinbad) and having built the Meka II’s predecessor (which sank in a storm).
Although he’s logged some 60,000 miles on the open seas, from various points all along the East Coast, and in Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands, winning races along the way and participating in countless tall ship and marine reenactment events, for the past 40 years Sinbad has called Beaufort home. A father of four, he’s made his living as a draftsman, boat builder, restaurant owner, charter boat captain, commercial boat operator, sailing school operator, re-enactor, and pirate merchant.
I share all of this biographical information at the onset because, in order to truly appreciate Sword of Tortuga, you have to know something about the author, who took on a new name in reality and then projected and modified his experiences and personality onto a book character named James Cambridge, a has-been film star who played an Errol Flynn/Douglas Fairbanks–like character in the 1950s named Dirk LaRoche. LaRoche’s ship (which James now lives on) is the Black Swan, but her description is a lot like that of the Meka II.
My favorite thing about Sword of Tortuga is the fact that it makes for a wonderful introduction to the history, landscape, and atmosphere of Beaufort. Sinbad’s four decades of getting to know the people really comes through in the descriptions of the places and local population that hold together the narrative, which is a rousing tale of financial sector corruption, intense greed, considerable wealth, and the immorality and bullying they produce.
In other words, as should any rousing tale of pirates, it makes you ask the question: Just who are the good guys and the bad guys—the ones who are up front about their outlaw ways and bucking of the system, or those who mis-use and manipulate the system at the expense of innocents to fulfill their nefarious aims (think Housing Bubble/2008 financial “collapse”)?
Sinbad’s knowledge of sailing vessels and pirate lingo give authenticity to the story, breathing into life an array of colorful characters that play on popular story archetypes, but with their own particular flair. Besides our hero James/Dirk, there is his beautiful niece Julie, caught between her own escape fantasies and the harsh realities of her ultra-rich family and abusive boyfriend; Caleb, the barely-keeping-afloat disabled Veteran and tugboat captain who just might get the girl AND some larger redemption; and the “Big Bad”: John Kensington, a sort of JR Ewing meets Charles Widmore from Lost. His ostentatious yacht has one or two analogs docked at Taylor’s Creek in the real-life Beaufort at any given time.
Also worthy of note is the device that Sinbad employs to give us a full taste of the swashbuckling, pirate-lingo world that the characters in Sword of Tortuga (and so many of the modern-day denizens of Beaufort) are compelled to emulate—Julie is reading the novelization of Dirk’s biggest film early on in the book. This is another case of art imitating life: There IS a film version of Sword of Tortuga—a labor of love years in the making (not unlike the Meka II) that is currently in post-production.
Pirates are as popular as ever—Black Sails and the upcoming fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean attest to that—and Sword of Tortuga and the town of Beaufort, NC clue us into some of the better reasons why.

For information on ordering the book, and more information about the film, Horatio Sinbad, and the Meka II, visit: http://www.pirate-privateer.com or on Amazon

Saturday, September 12, 2015

“Purposeful Poetics”: A Review of Wrack Lariat, by Heller Levinson

(Boston, MA: Black Widow Press, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-9960079-8-6


To engage with Heller Levinson’s poetry is to make the commitment to immerse. To commit. Reminding me of a combination of the visual–typographic poetry of Vernon Frazer, the fractal approach of Ric Carfagna, and the boundary-pushing poetic theories of Eileen Tabios, Levinson’s barrage of words and forms and breadth of artistic starting places (plasticity of language and its meaning, philosophy, music, visual arts) comes forth from the writer’s inner alchemical furnace into a vortex powered by a girding energy of quantum physics and Eastern spiritual tenets that swirl the material together, where it places on the page, not randomly, but in a molecular–textual structure that one could walk the exploratory halls of for days on end.
Given that there is no chance of even scratching the surface of this work in a two-page review, I am choosing a handful of sections (what Levinson terms “modules”) that were particularly resonant for me. One of the joyful challenges of engaging with poetics as approached by Levinson and the other poets I mentioned in the opening is that the keys of the reader’s own worldviews, literary, performing arts, and philosophical background can be tried in the various locks of the poems with varying degrees of accessibility and resonance. Levinson is particularly erudite and complex in the breadth of material from which he draws, and so the locks are numerous and amenable to the insertion and turning of any number of keys.
The first module is called “How Much of / wHoosh.” The energy of this module is motion. Any time a wordsmith can get the immovable type to gather and sustain motion on the page, the entire field of poetics is elevated. All good writing has a potential energy—plays and screenplays, and many forms of poetry. They rely on the actors, viewers, directors, and readers to activate the energy, making it kinetic. Levinson’s poetry is sizzling on the page. Activation is easy. But the ensuing trip, once the vortex is in full pitch, is the reader’s thrill. Using phrases like “Meteoric Velocity,” “momentum,” “rhymetime serpentine,” “eruption,” “seas unwrinkling,” the poems of the wHoosh module exist in mutual states of Being/Becoming and Particle/Wave, with the Reader (or Observer as termed in quantum physics) truly affecting the motion itself, like capillaries in the hand affecting the path of raindrops.
This module also incorporates Buddhic koan-like pieces such as “how much of /stillness/races through motion” and “how much of/ circumstance/is/circumstantial,” which offer a still, quiet space; a respite from the whooshing vortex for contemplation and reflection, before carrying on.
The next module is titled “moreover hardly sometimes of if ever obviously,” denoting the first word used in the poems in that section (first “moreover,” then “hardly,” etc.). These words are qualifiers—they are words that change the momentum, the direction, the content of our statements. Interestingly and aptly, the last word, “obviously” does not seem to be used (setting the meaning on its ear).
Poetics like these give us ideas, like threads or breadcrumbs for the maze-path to new spaces of meaning, to creations of our own, which continues with the third module, “The Corner of __________ & ____________.” Like the mechanism of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” (How the __________ got its ____________) the intrepid writer-traveler can absorb what Levinson offers (using a module created by another “Hinger” named Amy J. Huffman) and make intersectional creations of one’s own. This, again, is movement and momentum. Why should the reader be passive? Why should the journey end with the end of the volume?
The follow-on module is “Gerundial Geist,” which uses a device where the “particle is initialized by a gerund” [which is a noun made into a verb by adding –ing].
Those interested in the history of the Plains Indians will find provoking, challenging pieces in the section titled “Accidentals,” which also holds treasures for those who are drawn to the poets mentioned in the opening, as well as Felino Soriano and Mark Sonnenfeld.
The module from which the book takes its name articulates many of Levinson’s goals and ideas about what art is, and what the artist’s aims and responsibilities should be: “Wrack Lariat is meant to suggest the Artistic Mission. A mission compelled to reject all that is stale, handed down,—habituated… intolerant of falsehoods, of the trivially redundant, of the Uninspired Quotidian” (179). This, to me, is a call to the Alchemical in the art. Seeking the nigredo, the prima materia, which is transformed in the crucible of the process through intersections, the bending of language to change the trajectories of meaning, and cross-arts pursuits (this module consists of poetic intersections with the lives and works of Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Picasso as well as with the music of DeBussey). The line “I should be watching the musicians rather than listening” (217) brings to mind the new approaches to music brought into being by John Cage. 
Levinson’s work launches forward to a new fringe locality from the nexus of quantum physics and Eastern mysticism, the overlaps of which have been well-remarked-upon by Michael Talbot, Fritof Capra, David Bohm, and others—an indication that we need to push much farther than those who have come before if we are to take the active journey with Levinson. Wrack Lariat is the map, with the borders torn off.

Two of the three remaining modules in Wrack Lariat, “Dot Soliloquies” and “Linda Lynch,” also hinge from intersections and inspirations with other artists. The message is clear: this is large-scale, life-encompassing work, and the artist in isolation would be a fool to think it can be done alone.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

“Evidence of Other Realms”: A Review of The Man at the Foot of the Bed, by Josette L. Berardi

(Foreword, Elizabeth Tucker) (2011) ISBN: 978-1-4560-7551-4
A few weeks ago I published my review of Josette Berardi’s I’m Not Dead, Am I? Although that book came out a year after this one, I chose to read it first because the scope was larger, discussing the paranormal experiences of her family, especially her daughter, in the context of her mother’s severe illness and hospitalization.
 The Man at the Foot of the Bed is a much different book, with an appropriately less intimate and passionate voice, which operates on two levels: the first is as a memoir of her daughter Nicole’s experiences, from a toddler to her late teens, as a medium who can communicate with the deceased and who has had encounters with other, darker, entities. The second is as a primer and resource guide for parents and others who have a young person with mediumistic gifts in their life and those interested in obtaining a reading from a medium.
Berardi opens with the following: “This book is dedicated to all ‘Mystical Children’ who grew up without acceptance.” By the end of the book one has to wonder how many children’s natural abilities have been stifled and ultimately faded away with dis-use and initiation into the “reality” of mainstream society, and how that has worked against our understanding of other realms while limiting the true potential of these children.
The idea of mediumship, the ability to act as a mediator between the realms of the living and the dead, is as popular as it is controversial. Television dramas like Medium and Ghost Whisperer enjoyed long runs and loyal viewers; real-life mediums such as John Edward, James van Praagh, and Theresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) have had a great deal of success with their books and television programs, and many people are fascinated with “reality” shows that involve the paranormal, of which mediumship is an often-present element.
Of course, for every person that allows for the possibility of such things, there are many more who do not believe, who dismiss such people and programs as pure entertainment and akin to magicians, and, in some instances, actively seek to debunk them. In fairness to those people, going back to the séances of the late 1800s there have been plenty of con-artists and unscrupulous opportunists who have used people’s grief as a means to make a dollar.
No matter your starting position on the subject, you will find value in The Man at the Foot of the Bed. The opening chapters provide some history of the family, all of which provide a larger context and make Nicole and her mother take form in our minds as real people who also happen to have the gift of experiencing extraordinary things. A dozen or so photographs included in the book help as well.
In the third chapter, we learn a bit about Stephanie, Nicole’s younger sister, who also shares the gift, and we get to know Nicole, who displayed hints as to her mediumistic abilities as early as eighteen months, when she “developed a French accent to her baby babble” (60) while the family was on vacation in New Orleans—an historic hot-spot for the spiritual and paranormal. The accent lasted a few weeks after their return.
As Nicole grew up, she encountered several different entities, which she named like many children do their imaginary friends: The Guys on the Ceiling, Spike (a deceased bulldog), The Indians in the Woods, and the dark, abusive entity for whom the book is named. She may have also been contacted by baseball great Babe Ruth. Berardi relates the encounter in a neutral narrative and leaves it up to the reader to decide.
The Man at the Foot of the Bed is an unsettling figure: a mischievous bully who would visit Nicole and show her dark visions in a hospital and who disappeared as mysteriously as he first showed up.
Berardi should be given no small amount of credit for the way she guided both Nicole and Stephanie in the development of their gifts, rather than dismissing their experiences as overactive imaginations, as many parents do. This is where the family context comes into play, with both Berardi’s mother and grandmother having experiences with the dead.
Nicole was trained in her teens at Lily Dale in New York, which is a prestigious community for mediums, and has since done hundreds of readings (in a way similar to what I have read and seen of John Edward), done house clearings, and appeared on the television show Discovery Paranormal. 
The bulk of the book is comprised of anecdotes from Josette and Nicole’s experiences (Gettysburg, PA and Point Pleasant, WV are highlights), and resources for those interested in mediumship (such as the chapter “How to Get the Best Out of a Reading with a Medium”) or who have a child that may have the gift. There is also a paranormal glossary for those new to the subject.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to Berardi is that she tells her family’s story without trying to convince the reader of the veracity of her experiences, or those of her daughters and extended family. She relates times that she herself doubted, or was frightened by or wanted to dis-engage from what was happening.
Whether or not you believe, The Man at the Foot of the Bed is a well-written, fascinating story of one family’s experiences with the paranormal.
You can find out more by visiting discoveryparanormal.com and psychicmediumnikkirose.com, and you can order The Man at the Foot of the Bed and I’m Not Dead, Am I? at Amazon.com.