The Editors Write: There are a lot of currents running through Steve Ramirez’s poetry, not the least of which is an omnipresent sense of gentleness, even when he’s training his eye on the roughest of subjects. Ramirez’s diction and the languid beauty of his lines draw the reader in easily, from image to image. In this way, the effortless juxtaposition of themes from both classic literature and popular culture, the fused elements of the far-flung past and the day’s television screens, come to seem natural progressions. There’s something inherently trustworthy in his narration. He makes the reader want to follow along.

Cassandra Addresses the Nation, Regarding Its Question About Kool-Aid
By Steve Ramirez

In the house with columns,
on the hill, at the end of the avenue,
where incense burns like a cigarette,
like the city was burning down,
or had burned down/would burn down/could burn down―
will burn down ― though the city doesn’t remember burning down yet,
the mayor might have learned social skills aren’t worth a damn when you’re on fire,
though they could have prevented the match from being lit or gasoline from being spilled,
if only the echoes in my ear,
the shallow drop of a stone in the underground pool of my skull,
had found a better place to fall, to rest, to spread words like a blanket across a sleeping audience:
somebody with a better translation of the text,
a brighter flashlight to show the cave drawings in my head,
if the city knew somebody who could draw pictures for the idea of fire
without making it look like a Disney movie,
or if my father had learned to load his shotgun when the traveling salesman first knocked on the door,
a sound like a wooden bell being rung, like a hammer pounding ten-penny nails into a coffin,
or a book closing a chapter on mathematics
that you didn’t understand/couldn’t understand/wasn’t understood
because the editor forgot to include the primer
… much like the story of my life in this house with columns,
on a hill, at the end of an avenue, where I will/would/did learn how to mourn as if it were my job,
which it was, though I was hired without agreement, without wages,
without health insurance or any other worthless piece of paper,
in this place where the serpent licked my ear clean of preconceptions,
where I learned the three great lessons of my life:
guilt and regret are not related,
foresight and hindsight mean the same thing to Congress,
and God was an angry child with a gun,
though he’s grown up now,
even if the gun hasn’t.

Writes Ramirez: When people ask me about Brendan Constantine, it makes me think about the first time I watched Way of the Dragon. The scene where Bruce Lee fights Chuck Norris. The part where they slow the film down and you see the small details, the minute adjustments they make, circling one another. Bruce is making these small movements with his feet, his hands, even his eyes, constantly. He’s about two steps ahead of Chuck and completely relaxed. He’s got his mojo going. I remember watching that moment onscreen and thinking, “Oh, Chuck. You’re about to get your ass handed to you.”

This is how I feel when I see Brendan read, or when I flip to a page in one of his books. Brendan lives about five minutes in the future (always). He twists and turns his way through poems, pushing at the limits of our expectations. He sends his poems to us as road maps: inventive, playful, heartbreaking.

The Inquisition
By Brendan Constantine

I know a vegetarian who won’t

give his money to the homeless because

he says they’ll only use it to buy meat.

I know a junkie who says she just wants

to smoke crack like a normal person does.

For my part I would like to cross the street

without a rush of guilt for my dead cat,

my gentle hostage who ran from her name.

But how the hell are we supposed to live

with mercy when judgment is exquisite;

find us a better drug than laying blame.

I know a little girl who has to give

one punishment a day to all her toys.

She hates it, but they don’t give her a choice.

Writes Ramirez: When Samuel Rees talks about poetry, he often uses boxing terminology. He speaks of jabs and counter-punches, body blows and shots to the jaw. Writing is a visceral experience with him. He won’t have it any other way. He will not allow it to be anything less.

In my time watching him work the stage at the Ugly Mug, I’ve had the privilege to see him experiment and grow. He doesn’t come at things straight on; he’s a boxer, a technician. He can (and does) stand toe-to-toe with the language, but crafts his poems with rhythm and a viciously controlled pace. Always fluid, always changing, utterly fearless.

Luxury Liner
By Samuel Rees

Saw my self the other day.
the Lusitania all over again.
A harpoon at every turn.
I’ve been working on my footwork.
they’ve got me dancing on a wire.
They’ve got me juggling in a clown suit
with a red nose like Rudolph.
I am a carnie trapped in a little kid’s Christmas carol.
I don’t want to play their reindeer games,
so unroll the gangplank.
I am ready for my close-up.
Come here, give us a kiss.
It’s just a movie.
Don’t worry, I don’t love you.
it’s cold off the coast of Ireland this time of year
and not at all pretty like the picture in the brochure.
Baby, I’m sorry.
I don’t know what is wrong with me.
I have been giving it some thought
and what I’m trying to say is ―
wait ― this isn’t right.
Let me get down on one knee.
Will you be my pallbearer?
Won’t you, please?
I promise not to tell.
Cross my heart, hope to die.
Have you seen me?
how stern the nose that the plows the steely brine.
The studied brow has taken on the maelstrom.
The jaw drops the anchor.
I’ll not navigate such tawdry recourse.
Into the drink then, and all it’s increase.
I said I’m sorry.
Next time, I’ll remember to brush my teeth.