FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
fireflies the synchronicity of it all
(Won 1st Prize, 2021 Irish Haiku Society Int'l Haiku Competition and was previously published on the Haiku Society website)
Debbie Strange (Canada) is a chronically ill short-form poet and artist whose creative passions connect her more closely to the world, to others, and to herself. Thousands of her poems and artworks have been published worldwide. Please visit Debbie's archive at https://debbiemstrange.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter @Debbie_Strange.
Tissues in the pocket of
My mother’s sweater
Jennifer Gurney lives in Colorado, where she teaches, paints, writes and hikes. She is a newly published poet. Her first 42 poems have just been published in late 2022/early 2023, at age 59. During the pandemic she joined the online poetry community of The Daily Haiku. Poetry has been a lifeline.
green spring unfolding
I am intoxicated
buds swell after rain
Ann Wehrman is a creative writer and musician living in Northern California. She teaches English composition online for the University of Phoenix and the University of Arizona Global Campus. Ann's poetry has appeared in print and online journals, including Tule Review, Blue Heron Review, Medusa's Kitchen, Pirene's Fountain, and Poetry Now, and her literary reviews, in The Pedestal Magazine. She can also be found teaching yoga, reading, cooking, and playing her flute.
dappled orange the
color you cheated. eyes grey
with terminal chatter. reckless.
the load proffering
The originator of Hinge Theory, Heller Levinson lives in New York. His most recent books are Dialogics (Anvil Tongue Press, 2022) LURE and JUS’ SAYN’ (Black Widow Press, 2022) with QUERY CABOODLE & SHIFT GRISTLE scheduled for a spring 2023 release.
a love scene
in a horror film
in the spider’s negligee
Robert Witmer has resided in Japan for the past 45 years. Now an emeritus professor, he has had the opportunity to teach courses in poetry and creative writing not only at his home university in Tokyo but also in India. His poems and prose poetry have appeared in many print and online journals and books. He has also published a collection of haiku titled Finding a Way. A second book of poetry, titled Serendipity, should be published later this year.
“Hey, what happened to everyone?”
“We don’t know,” said Dad, standing on my head.
“We don’t know,” said Mom in the cuckoo clock. “We don’t know. We don’t know.”
“I know,” said my sister.
Mike Topp was born in Washington, D.C., and currently lives in New York City unless he has died or moved. Recent books include The Double Dream of Spring: A Peg Sluice Mystery with Sparrow and Born On A Train with Raymond Pettibon.
Stole fire from the blacksmith and fire from the baker and fire from the woman who tended the altar. Stole water from the machine that created the lake and earth from the place where the priests were buried. Stole air from the lungs of the tired horse. Stole a tree that never grew old and a snake that spoke only lies. Stole books from the well where they had been hidden and a bowl from the museum of promises. Stole the caption that would have let this all make sense and the number that gave it a place in time. Stole the only name by which it would be known.
Bob Heman's prose poems have been collected recently in the Australian prose poem anthologies Alcatraz and PLAY, and in the anthology Contemporary Surrealist and Magic Realist Poetry: An International Anthology, published by Lamar University Literary Press.
Gifts: Three Senryu
Intact and scented
the gift box that held
now non-existent candles
my “bookworm” paperweight
I would never buy something
like this myself
I still have the candy box.
You gave it to me.
David Francis has produced six music albums, one of poetry, Always/Far: a chapbook of lyrics and drawings, and Poems from Argentina (Kelsay Books). He has written and directed the autobiographical films Village Folksinger (2013) and Memory Journey (2018). Mr. Francis lives in New York City.
What is the heart most like?
- fax machine
What is heartache most like?
- the arms of Sophia Loren
- the medical history of Veronica Lake
What is the beloved most like?
- pale orchard
- dark ocean
What is love most like?
Bill Yarrow's most recent book is Accelerant (Nixes Mate Books).
I wish I knew
the quiet chaos
their swirling world among flowers
and wildgrasses, where water-painted wings
flutter their stained-glass colors and speckles of light
peek through the kaleidoscope eye of the sun.
My world is one where feet stomp,
voices blare, and fast is never fast enough,
where silence is scary, lights glare with fear,
and no one takes the time to catch the breath of wind.
I wish I knew
the quiet chaos
Shelly Blankman and her husband, Jon, live in Columbia, Maryland. Their two sons, Richard and Joshua, live in New York and Texas, respectively. Jon and Shelly have filled their empty nest with 3 cat rescues and a foster dog. Following careers in journalism, public relations, and copy editing, Shelly now devotes time to making memory books, cards, and writing poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, and Muddy River Poetry Review, among other publications. Richard and Joshua surprised her by publishing her first book of poetry, Pumpkinhead.
All Things Gone
I dream the children young again,
breathe in the peony-scented air.
They roll down the hill, laugh,
climb up, roll down again
until fireflies light the yard
and we go inside, baths,
bedtime, sleepy heads, the fairytale.
Then I wake to feel the pain
of all things gone-the small hand
in mine, metronome’s parceled time,
white-finned dolphins missing
from the sea, Xerces butterflies’
iridescent wings no longer lingering
like chicory petals over the sand.
The experience of growing up in rural North Yorkshire, UK, along with her science background and love of nature informs and inspires Patricia Hemminger’s poetry. Spillway, Streetlight Magazine, The Write Launch, and Peregrine Journal, among others, have kindly published some of her poetry. Her chapbook What Do We Know of Time? was published by Finishing Line Press in October 2022. She lives with her husband in Sussex County, NJ.
On the Edge of Color
On the horizon evergreen trees
promise a row of green
and maybe blue sky fitting
puzzle pieces between branches.
Wrinkled brown trunks sink
roots under pine-needle rust,
and in the foreground
a meadow waves grasses
to the giggling world of color.
Diane Webster's goal is to remain open to poetry ideas in everyday life, nature, or an overheard phrase and to write. Diane enjoys the challenge of transforming images into words to fit her poems. Her work has appeared in El Portal, "North Dakota Quarterly, Eunoia Review, and other literary magazines.
Outside the Zone
We didn’t see the Aurora, but stood transfixed by clouds, in an awkward embrace that might have suggested a nuanced iteration of love, but could just as readily be interpreted as learnt response to such rare disturbances in the magnetosphere. We were an old couple snatched from the periphery of a Brueghel kermis and dropped front and centre in Friedrich’s sublime. Trees like abject limbs thrill in the copper light of thousands upon thousands of years and a mountain we’ve never noticed before stoops to impart the truth of that one thing which can’t be owned. And then the present tense was gone. Your shoulder was perfectly awkward against my arm. It might have been raining but I didn’t notice.
Oz Hardwick is a European prose poet, whose latest collection is A Census of Preconceptions (SurVision Books, 2022). He has won many prizes, mostly in fairgrounds, but some for poetry. Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University (UK).
The Color-Field painters, Rothko,
Newman, and Still, found transcendence
painting abstract shapes of contrasting
and complementary colors—squares,
thick lines—forms like sun-melted
crayons—all calmed their fevers.
I paint with words, hoping to convince,
that scarlet is a sermon of blood,
whereas cardinal says “fly away.”
My favorite hues are viridian
and azure, but the odd thought
sliding into my brain, is the
resonance between light and emotion,
and whether love is a particle or a
wave, or somehow complete only as both.
Gary Grossman is Professor Emeritus of Animal Ecology at University of Georgia. His poetry has been published in 37 literary reviews. Short fiction in MacQueen’s Quinterly and creative non-fiction in Tamarind Literary Magazine. Gary’s micro-fiction piece “Mindfulness” was just nominated by MacQueen’s Quinterly for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions Anthology 2023. For 10 years he wrote the “Ask Dr. Trout” column for American Angler. Gary’s first book of poems, Lyrical Years (2023) was published by Kelsay Press, and his graphic novel My Life in Fish: One Scientist’s Journey is available from email@example.com . Website: https://www.garygrossman.net/
To See Paris and Not Die
Oscar Rabin in 1998
Art is a shredded ticket
The boiled air of boulevards,
“The Fish” — “Rybina Rabina” —
hidden behind other paintings.
I avoid visitors
with cash in their eyes, Rabin said.
I was so young I could dream
with my muscles.
We had a gouache cocktail.
We were watching
the sky turn inside out.
Always depluralise, Rabin said.
The moon halted its eyeball movement.
Tony Kitt lives in Dublin, Ireland. His poems by him appear in multiple magazines and anthologies. His collection entitled Endurable Infinity has been published by Pittsburgh University Press, in the Pitt series, in autumn 2022. His other collection, Sky Sailing, is due from Salmon Poetry, Ireland, in 2024. His chapbook The Magic Phlute has been published by SurVision books in 2019. Another chapbook, Further Through Time, was published by Origami Poetry Project. He edited the anthology of Ukrainian poetry about the war in English translation entitled Invasion (SurVision Books, 2022), and was the winner of the Maria Edgeworth Poetry Prize.
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)*
It’s morning. Dogs let loose from leashes bark.
She treads well through the artless house.
Curtainless illumination flaunts her nakedness
to anyone who might look in. He takes
the loveless mandolin to her fine flesh.
She shucks a muscle at each step.
Magnificent as an axe, her limbs flash.
Heavenly forward. Earthly plunge. At the end
what will be left of her descent?
The sunlit kitchen where she will sit
at a pine table on a wooden chair, coffee
varnishing her morning umber, at last unhinged,
cup resting on her thigh until a faint red ring
appears, voiding his mechanics, her inoculation against
what he must have found too beautiful.
—Ellen White Rook
[This ekphrastic poem references Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2]
Ellen White Rook is a poet and teacher of contemplative arts living in Delmar, NY, and South Portland, Maine. Retired from a career in information technology, she now offers writing workshops and leads retreats that merge meditation, movement, and writing. She also teaches ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. Ellen is a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at Lindenwood University. Her work has been published in The New Verse News, Red Rock Review, Rock & Sling, Black Fork Review, New Note Poetry, Trolley Literary Journal, and more. In 2021, two of her poems were nominated for Pushcart Prize. Read more of her work at ellenwhiterook.com.
The girl Elsa (in some of those Welsh towns
you’d be a girl till you were eighty)
had been working in Selwyn’s since the thirties
(just the one wartime boyfriend, they believed),
but when I went there, a student, in the sixties,
she’d regularly do her dance steps in the shop,
crossing to the bacon slicer, behind the counter,
little shuffles of quickstep, foxtrot,
one neat little number with a stamp
which I fancy was a tango or a pasodoble.
She’d hum and sing a little sometimes,
Astaire and Rogers stuff, Singin’ in the Rain,
once, reaching across for my Golden Virginia,
Dancing Cheek to Cheek.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet living some 30 miles down the coast from Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse. His work has appeared widely in Britain and the USA, where he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (four times) and for a Best of the Net award.
Soft night. Buds like a cape of cool air stroke my cheek. The tree leaves turn; this is the
unstoppable way of the world. The shush of my shoes tramping through fallen leaves, white
branches brush the craters of my face. The trees have it: birth, death, regeneration ...
In the nursery, gnarled stumps feed newly green shoots. Only trees serve us in real time.
Five o’clock sun going down on pines, oaks, evergreens; that’s the time we ought to live by.
What use are skyscrapers and honking traffic? Praise the ticking and cooling of nature’s engine.
Here, I look up at blackening trees. Here, for a brief flash, before I vanish.
—Alison Carb Sussman
Alison Carb Sussman, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has garnered numerous awards and publications throughout her writing career. Her first full-length poetry book, Black Wool Cape, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2022. Her poetry chapbook, On the Edge, was printed by Finishing Line Press in 2013. Sussman won the Abroad Writers’ Conference/Finishing Line Press Authors Poetry Contest in 2015. Her poem “Dirty” was a finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 11th Annual Narrative Poetry Contest. Her poem “Anhedonia,” now “Anhedonic Woman,” was a finalist in the 49th Parallel Award for Poetry in Bellingham Review’s 2016 Literary Contests. Her poems also have appeared in Atlanta Review, Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts, Gargoyle, The New York Times, Rattle, Southword (Ireland), and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.
How intriguing your words appear. They
form nuanced phrases, intentional enticements.
A vortex spins your words into Ether’s cobwebs.
I recognize that the words are yours when I drift nearby.
Ether knows to reinterpret your words into an intricate
language one of hope, song, sun, moon, twinkling starlight.
The strength of my soul echoes its response, a coherent
transformation, an existential wonderment.
I readily accept Fantasy’s invitation- time travel. I want to
discover causation, explain anomalies, share it with you.
One soul cannot endure this alone. We shall seize all challenges.
Wrapped in silk, enveloped together, we travel unknown stratospheres.
—Linda Bratcher Wlodyka
Linda Bratcher Wlodyka resides in Western Massachusetts in Berkshire County. Writing poems is important to her and fulfills her soul.
the years of my life have fallen away
like flesh falling off a bone
the only thing that mattered was the stone
you will ask about the stone
but it was just a stone
it's just that to me it glowed
I knew it was all I would need
if I would only plant it, tenderly
I hurled it into the river
you ask why but you already know
because that’s what we do to our stones.
Raised in Virginia, Charlie Espinosa lives with his partner and two cats in California. His creative writing is published or forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Naugatuck River Review, and The Fourth River. A consultant for environmental NGOs, he is inspired by the humor and mystery of the natural world.
Once More with Anaphora
For Cindy Hochman
I’m the girl who reads the last sentence first.
I’m the boy who reads from the middle of the book.
I’m the girl who saves cherry pips to wish on and chicken wish bones to play jacks.
I’m the boy who saves champagne corks and wonders whether they’re phallic symbols.
I’m the girl who fogs up your car windows and puts her bare feet on the dash.
I’m the boy who wipes his car windows every week until they shine like faux diamonds.
I’m the girl who loves sex on top, underneath and from behind.
I’m the boy who overthinks his relationships, morning, noon and night.
I’m the girl who loves sex from behind, underneath and on top.
I’m the boy who has neglected his lovers even while having sex.
I’m the girl who fogs up the dash and puts her bare feet on the car’s windows.
I’m the boy who scrubs the dash, wondering what that heart-shaped mark could be.
I’m the girl who plays on cherry pips for jack and saves chicken bones to wish on.
I’m the boy who rolls die obsessively and never believes it when he throws a double six.
I’m the girl who reads the first sentence last.
I’m the boy who reads this sentence first.
—Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington
Cassandra Atherton is a widely anthologised and award-winning prose poet and scholar of prose poetry. She was a Harvard Visiting Scholar in English and a Visiting Fellow at Sophia University, and is Professor of Writing and Literature at Deakin University. Her books of prose poetry include Pre-Raphaelite (2018) and Leftovers (2020) and she is currently working on a creative book about the atomic bomb. Cassandra co-authored Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton University Press, 2020) and co-edited the Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (Melbourne University Press, 2020). She is a commissioning editor for Westerly magazine, and associate editor at both MadHat Press (USA) and Axon: Creative Explorations journal. She has also been invited to edit numerous special editions of leading journals and is the successful recipient of many national and international grants.
Paul Hetherington has published 17 full-length collections of poetry and prose poetry, including Ragged Disclosures (Recent Work Press, 2022) and Her One Hundred and Seven Words (Massachusetts: MadHat Press, 2021), along with a verse novel and 12 poetry chapbooks. He is co-author of Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton University Press, 2020) and co-editor of Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (Melbourne University Press, 2020). He has won or been nominated for more than 30 national and international awards and competitions, recently winning the 2022 Ballina Region for Refugees Seeking Asylum Poetry Prize and the 2021 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize. He is Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra, joint founding editor of the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations and founder of the International Prose Poetry Group.