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New Books We Love

Praise for While the Undertaker Sleeps

Peter Johnson is the poet of the collision of imagination and reality…. [His] prose poems return us to that world where our imagination was the hero setting out almost daily in a series of fabulous adventures under the dining room table, which, we might say, rests on the shaky legs of common sense.…The excitement of prose poetry is that it transgresses the rules to let the reader catch a glimpse of what could be called the true life of the imagination. This is what Peter Johnson gives us. What more can we ask of a book of poems?

—Charles Simic

[Johnson’s] prose poems are comic, sexual, and endlessly inventive; poems of appreciation and discovery; poems that prove there is such a thing as the American prose poem.

—Russell Edson

Because Peter Johnson does not guide himself either by the turns or counterturns of verse or the horizontal urge of prose, he must continually reinvent the wheel and its destination. He writes with a lover’s lavish extravagance and a yogi’s self-discipline. His funny poems are heartbreaking and his serious ones are hilarious.

—Bruce Smith

Whether he’s writing about fatherhood, marriage, aging, the daily drudgery of life, or the Kafkaesque absurdity of our current political situation, Peter Johnson is surprising, witty, and illuminating. He is, to my mind, one of the most provocative and exciting voices in American prose poetry.

—Nin Andrews

Johnson’s prose poetry presents a consciousness that combines the immediacy of personal observations with the darker, inner urgencies of the unconscious. His supremely quirky mind enables him to combine the strange and familiar, the most urgent bursts of lyricism with disarmingly unemotional statements. He leaves the reader with a new appreciation of a genre that, perhaps more than any other genre, makes the ordinary extraordinary.

—Michel Delville, author of The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre


“Wildly quirky, musical, and honest to the bone, the lyrical narratives of Candice Kelsey’s CHOOSE YOUR OWN POEM unfold with ease and stunning clarity: Who hears/your songs echo from lost Alabama factories producing/White Owl cigars for the working man, sweet blend of five/varied nations? Resolutions to existentialist quandaries in the book are offered by way of contrasting laugh-out-loud options: If you’re tired of being hunted, Kelsey says in her instructions after the poem, “The Most Dangerous Game,” turn to page 12 // If you think you can write better than this poet, turn to the next page. In other poems, she delves into the inner workings of the psyche giving us insights into our own foibles. Hands down, Choose Your Own Poem, marks one of the best new collections I’ve read. ” — DZVINIA ORLOWSKY, AUTHOR OF BAD HARVEST AND SILVERTONE

“Candice Kelsey’s highly inventive, sobering, beautiful and remarkable collection CHOOSE YOUR OWN POEM is a triumph. This poetic homage to the Choose Your Own Adventure narratives reinvents what it means to read poetry. The juxtaposition of poems is now partly in the hands of the reader: you are delighted to find yourself rereading a poem in a new way and you choose to do so again and again. Do you keep reading? Do you revel in the dark and sophisticated joy Candice has built here? Yes and Yes. Now turn back to page 1.” — JARED BELOFF, AUTHOR OF WHO WILL CRADLE YOUR HEAD

“Choose Your Own Poem’s deceptively light-hearted premise drops you with a thud into the darkness; each decisively crafted poem asks you to either accept your demise or to, as the author puts it, “cut from the night what’s coming for your throat.” Kelsey’s poetic prowess is demonstrated through these poems that both comfort and confront the reader. She, at times, uses this clever and cogent collection as a medium to juxtapose the concepts of sovereignty and suffocation but, more often, she reminds us of their surprising similarities. This demonstrated ability to sabotage the reader, to leave their fate hanging in the balance while still maintaining their trust, is a superlative skill “which, like verbal rhythm, can’t be taught.” — OLIVIA PIERCE GRAHAM, AUTHOR OF GLOOM OF EXCRUCIATING DESIRES


Praise for The City by Bob Herz

It’s remarkable how cohesive these poems remain throughout, or what a truly remarkable intro poem the first one is, as the first line serves as the powerful and knowing key to unlocking the entire theme. “I came back to my city to feast with death.” And so it had me from that moment on! There is a steady, almost haunting undertone of drollness incorporated into the many deceptively awful things that recur in everyday life; how they flower and go to seed in the course of this thin but rich volume. And by the time I reached and entered the final poem, “For the Day After Election,” I was struck with the almost gleeful despair of the narrator. As one of the “poor wandering bastards” of the remaining world, I looked into my mirror and I read the seismic future aloud.—Sam Pereira, author of True North and Untrue You He doesn't flinch! — Bill Schulz, editor of Hole in the Head Review The poems here are unflinching, shrewd, by turns achingly beautiful and wise. They don’t falsify experience with a promise of insistent order… Herz has the clarity to say perhaps there’s really no such thing but like Breton he can say “beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all.” —Stephen Kuusisto, from the Introduction


These deft, spare poems reclaim the flare of self-ness that has been tamped in women over many generations, and their fresh word-play and inventive forms make their renditions of grandmother, mother, and self-as-girl-morphing-to-elder all the more arresting. Every gesture flies off the page in its caress of language, also evoking the iconic loneliness of women in the speaker’s past and in history itself. The result? A redemptive empathy for self and ancestor, the well-earned gift of a generation of women who have paid the price of breaking free and now step forth to bear honest witness and break old patterns. Such stories cannot be told often enough. These poems do so bravely and in searingly honed phrases and images.

- Leslie Ullman



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