Three Flash Book Reviews: Words from the Unflinching

What I Don’t Remember I Invent

Everyone who knows me knows I adore Miriam Sagan who somehow manages to be both a fine and prolific writer. Bluebeard’s Castle is no exception. In this 2019 collection of essays and poems heaped in wisdom, Miriam explores her father’s life and her life growing up with him and into adulthood, dragging the family baggage along with her.

Miriam is remarkably frank, probing, unflinching. Here are engrossing autobiographical essays laced with poems, a rewarding combination for the reader.

Often lines reverberate within, haunting us even after we close the book. “Death was written all over me,” Miriam admits in the essay “Reckless.” Have I been there, too, I wondered? And who hasn’t felt this one time or other, but couldn’t have articulated it so powerfully: “…let’s not/ Go down the alley of the fucked again” in the poem “Two Chicks in Hell.” Want some good thought-provoking action? Here’s this from “Gone:”

What’s gone—the borderlands of my grandparents in the Ukraine, the Jewish lower east side, a parochial New Jersey, my childhood, the person I was before I got sick, the person I would have been if I’d stayed on the east coast, my first husband who died young…no, this isn’t what I mean. It’s not gone because I can remember, and what I don’t remember I invent and believe to be true.

Over the course of the full-length book, we follow her father’s slow descent toward death. We’re witnesses, and in a sense, as readers now, we sit shiva anew for the man who once would “dance naked in celebration to Beethoven” and who has since died because it was “snowing in my father’s brain” (“It’s Snowing”).

Shouldn’t we also be asking the deep questions Miriam confronted in writing this book? “Is memory fixed, like trauma,/ Or can it shift?” she asks herself—and us—in “Living in the Triassic.” I’m still puzzling that one. Bless you, friend Miriam.

Wisdom people. Wisdom. A wise woman is among us. Her name is Miriam Sagan. Read up!

Copies of the Bluebeard’s Castle (113 p) may be ordered through the publisher: Red Mountain Press, Santa Fe, NM, at; or from Amazon for $8.46 at

My Swallowed Breath

I have long admired Katharyn Howd Machan’s work. We’ve shared pages in Earth’s Daughters over many years. Once I had the honor of being a guest poet at one of her Ithaca College classes, many moons ago. We still pop up together in an occasional journal. So stepping into this 2020 chapbook—it won the Comstock Writers Group’s Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Award, 2019—was like reuning with a treasured colleague.

How fine to encounter Katharyn’s clear-eyed power to depict the human condition unflinchingly, this time laser-focused on a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship which we follow from the child’s inception during a summer romance into an adulthood of addiction. Quite the feat in 31 poems. Katharyn’s lines are sometimes searing as in “Into the Place of Fifty Dragons:” “No and no and stone and stone/ are what you will have to live.” But her lines are also often exquisitely lyrical as in “Comment,” a poem of four quatrains that closes:

            I’d walk out now to buy an orange

            and sleep again past nightmares’ reach,

            tomorrow a prayer, a plane beyond

the pale moon of my swallowed breath.

Then there’s Katharyn’s utter tenderness. In the title poem the speaker recalls the man who was the father of her daughter, the man who was her unforgettable lover. Years upon years later: “All her years the taste of summer rising with his name.”

You will not want to miss “How Not to Write a Poem,” in which she warns us poets: “Your stanzas will disappear into dust.” Totally fab! She’s right.

Copies of the A Slow Bottle of Wine ( 39 p) may be ordered through the publisher:

The Comstock Review, Inc.

4956 St. John Dr.

Syracuse, NY 13215

Or at

(Sorry, cover price unavailable.)

2021 NM/AZ Book Awards Winner in NM History

A Black Hole of Terrible

Jules Nyquist may very well take the crown with her 2020 Atomic Paradise among my trio of unflinching women poets if only for her subject matter. She stands face to face with HISTORY. Yes, all caps. The most troubling history.

I remember visiting with Jules and her not-quite-yet husband-poet John Roche in the summer of 2014 when my then husband Roger Weir and I made our annual “spirit-home” mecca to New Mexico, topping off Taos and Santa Fe with Jules’ Albequerque, staying long enough to teach a workshop on poetic form at Jules’ and John’s Poetry Playhouse.

Jules was then writing some of the first poems that now reside in Atomic Paradise and in deep research mode looking into the birth of the bomb metaphorically in her backyard in Los Alamos, NM. She was reading a biography of Robert Oppenheimer who happened to be one of my Roger’s culture heroes. Jules and Rog had some lively exchanges about our nuclear godfather.

Now: Fruition! Here those poems are, in a full body of free verse that confronts (unflinchingly, most certainly) the 20th-century’s horrors in which humans attempted “to see if it were possible to be God” as she says in the book’s second poem, “Build the Apocalypse Inside Your Garage.”

I admire the architecture of the book, which is divided into four parts plus epilogue, opening with what is essentially a situation analysis of the gestalt of the era. With the stage set, Jules launches us into the development of the bomb, including our romance with radium in the second section. Oppenheimer is center stage, “Living at the edge of mystery” where “The fog of the universe surrounds/ unanswered questions” as she writes in “Poet and Physicist.”

Part III continues the chronological trajectory with the bomb’s deployment as in the poem “Arachnaphobia”—“Then we dropped it./ Twice.” Yep. Then there’s this killer couplet in “Cold and Unremembered Terrible:” Man defecates under the breasts of his mother/ sits in a black hole of terrible.”

By Part IV we’re into the pits of nuclear waste. We’ve become a nation of uranium junkies, warmed and cooled by nuclear energy with little thought to the poison it generates, and which must be stored Somewhere. Here is Jules’ cri de coeur. In “Water Speaks” she wades “into my stream of radioactive rocks” reminding us to “feel the sorrow in your bones.” In the epilogue? Covid-19. What else?

Atomic Paradise is beautifully enhanced by Jules’ haunting New Mexico landscape photography peppered throughout, and with smart notes and a selected bibliography. (Further homework to do!)

Rooted in love of the earth, Jules takes us on a spiritual journey to hell and back again—wiser in ourselves.

Copies of the Atomic Paradise (107 p) may be ordered through the publisher: Poetry Playhouse Publications, Placitas, NM at; or from Amazon for $19.95 at

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