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Accents Publishing Chapbook Omnibus Review

Work by Brandel France de Bravo, Barbara Goldberg, Jay McCoy, and Frank X Walker

Mother, Loose
Kingdom of Speculation
The Occupation
About Flight

Accents Publishing is the epitome of the independent press. With a mission “to promote brilliant voices in an affordable publication format,” the chapbook is the heart and soul of this literary enterprise. Even a visit to the press’ website makes one feel as if they are wandering through a book fair, fingers running over the rough covers of hand-sewn, artisanal books crafted in small batches and born of that greatest of aspirations and inspirations—a love of poetry.

When considering Accents’ dedication to publishing “brilliant” voices in the context of the chapbooks at hand, I am wont to look beyond the straightforward notions of brilliance as intelligence, radiance, and talent. Surely there is plenty of that within, but these poets are pushing far more interesting boundaries. These works are the synonyms of brilliant; intense, glaring, bold.

The most striking element these collections by Brandel France de Bravo, Barbara Goldberg, Jay McCoy, and Frank X Walker have in common is storytelling. While each poet takes the practice in a wildly different direction, there is at the heart of each of these works a dedication to a tradition as old as human connectivity itself. Whether the stories told are confessional or fantastical, whether they read like reclaimed nursery rhymes or breakthroughs had in group therapy, each carefully wrought chapbook whisks the reader away into a world of stories as engaging as fiction and as evocative as poetry.


Review | Mother, Loose, by Brandel France de Bravo
Accents Publishing, 2015

Mother, Loose begins at the intersection of Mother Goose and Sylvia Plath. The poems that grow from within this deliberate space do so with the determination of vegetation pressing, purposeful, through sidewalk cracks. In this act, a new kind of nursery rhyme emerges. At times dark, twisted, deranged, at times lyric, confessional, heartbreaking. Dressed in the sheep’s clothing of the familiar, the wolf of these poems is born of the darker horrors and deeper tragedies of a lived life.

The book opens with Plath’s declaration, “Mother, you are the one mouth I would be a tongue to,” and then, in the poem “The Old Woman in the Shoe,” France de Bravo makes that organ her own when she writes, “my tongue will take me where I want to go.” In this act of reclamation the poet sets the tone and stage for the collection, ensuring that everything that emerges thereafter is the poet’s own golem.  

This is a collection that explores the other side of things. Of nursery rhymes and the objects within them. The familiar carving knife, for instance, is

stirred by the glint of memory:

the firm grip of the farmer’s wife,
the three tails writhing,
the mice who never saw what was coming.

But so, too, are lived experiences considered through a distorted lens. In “Ladybird Ladybird Fly Away Home Your House Is on Fire,” the poet faces her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Her own reaction is depicted as the need to shed the exoskeleton of the familiar and fly home to face disaster. In this very real moment, it is lyric language and metaphor that might save the poet:

I welcome the blaze
that turns our one room
into an eyelid.
Only then can I
pull my dreams
over me.

Here, and pervasive throughout the collection, is the notion that the unsaid is as powerful as the overt. There is thoughtful but hazy meditation on the themes of abuse, illness, failed relationships, and the disconnect between promise and what remains unfulfilled, between dreams and a waking life at once too twisted and too real to be anything but reality:

I regret knowing, the way it changes
everything and nothing. I regret
cell death and its absence. I regret I am
the person you think I am.

. . .

I regret this broken
mask and I regret your looking.
I regret waiting until now
to wait on you, not anointing your feet
with oil sooner. I regret the raspberries
I failed to feed you with a spoon.
I regret that after our meal
I will be left to clear the table.

But it is most often the way the poet re-wrights nursery rhymes that makes this collection shine brightest. Of Humpty Dumpty, the poet writes:

Mother always said
there’s no failure
in it. Success
is getting up again.
She would have wept
to see me: scattered
white lies, a viscous
pool of self-pity,
all the horses . . .

Finally, at the book’s conclusion, we are left not to ride off into the sunset, but abandoned on a merry-go-round that serves as a metaphor for life:

I fall into an empty horse-drawn carriage that no one wants, cradling my mother, weightless and soft as a withered peach . . . but my mother’s horse glides up, up, up. She is holding on, rising above the others, stirruped Mary Janes out of reach, her horse’s blue mane rippling like a hoisted flag. No one can hear me shouting, Stop! Stop the carousel! My mother’s head is about to touch the canopy, which I see now isn’t a painting of clouds.


Review | Kingdom of Speculation, by Barbara Goldberg
Accents Publishing, 2015

Kingdom of Speculation effortlessly blends the worlds of poetry and fiction, revealing a collection of stunning and incredibly imaginative fairytales written in verse that emerge from the union of lyric and storytelling. This is a collection as magical and fantastical as it is imaginative and captivating in which the poet conjures a new world and all the players therein.  

In the Kingdom of Speculation,

are revered, the most popular tunes
being hymns composed in their honor.
In this Kingdom only the weather is fair
and the air holds the scent of cardamom.
Overhead birds fly ignored, singing
an ostinato: what if, what if, what if.

An otherworldly tale unfolds across this chapbook, urging the reader to read the collection from beginning to end. The story begins when the King pricks his thumb on the thorn of a white rose and dies. The Queen takes to her bed. The kingdom languishes. But out of the desolation a flower thrives, which the Princess, a botanist, names “love-lies-bleeding.”

The story then follows the adventures of the botanist Princess as she heads out on a journey “to collect and classify each plant for the royal archives.” As one poem flows into the other, a comprehensive narrative unfolds, at times giving way to pure lyric, to language that in and of itself makes this collection shine:

and there defiled by false iridescence, the barter,
the intrigue, the back and forth, that rough

exchange, the petty puffery of fame,
the flat inspection of their malachite eyes.

Page after page and poem after poem new characters emerge and cross paths with the Princess along her journey. Characters such as Deep Conviction, Chance, and the Great Lord Chaos. Along comes a crone who promises a spell in exchange for the Princess’ sacrifice. But the Princess refuses, for “On further reflection / the Princess has no wish to forfeit // her dreams, not even the most appalling.” This is a pivotal moment, for the poet reveals this to be an empowered Princess, a heroine for modern readers.

Passion and Reason take the stage as characters pitted against one another in a contest, then “they hold a secret // rendezvous, where they kiss and / make up, tending to each other’s // wounds, as they are wont to do.” And “from the loins of Reason and Passion / springs Grief,” thus creating a space to contemplate the idea of sorrow:

for surely there is enough
sorrow in this world to dwell in. If we
could earn a crown for every soul

we found shrouded in despair, why
we’d be richer than a dozen kings!

Grief dies, however, and is born again as Compassion:

And in the very act of singing Grief
expires, dissolves into that grander
scheme called Melody. Now christen

him Compassion, a sturdy, upright boy
whose heart quivers to the pulse
of every living thing, once

it’s free from the stranglehold
of private past . . .

And why
does the Princess feel her knees
grow weak? Perhaps because even

an ode to sorrow makes a joyful noise.

In the end, Barbara Goldberg proves that she is as expert at wordsmithery as she is at wordplay. The story that is told across this collection is not only a riveting and empowering new fairytale, but the characters encourage us to contemplate deeper meanings and a hidden world within. There is something of The Autobiography of Red and something of The Descent of Alette in this effort, which is to say that to enter this book is to step through a looking glass that is both masterful and finely wrought.


Review | The Occupation, by Jay McCoy
Accents Publishing, 2015

The storytelling that unfolds in The Occupation is narrative, confessional, overt. Jay McCoy holds nothing back, making poems of brutal honesty. If poetry could leave bruises—whether born of impact or empathy—this chapbook would thereby leave its mark upon the reader.

Exploring themes such as love and relationships, abuse, and illness, these poems are unafraid, their fearlessness emerging from a space that does not glorify trauma, but humanizes it:

During our first
fight, you lost
your temper—your fist
found my eye. Over
two years, two times

I moved out; twice, you
persuaded my return.
This time you beg me,
Don’t leave—threaten
the worst. I do.

So, too, are these poems unafraid of their own delicate vulnerability. In “Keeping Count” the poet writes:

you don’t know
that strong is the right word,
so you don’t speculate
on tomorrow, let alone

next year.

While in “Why I’m Positive” he posits:

maybe it was the gaping loneliness
waiting on the other side of you . . .

to the frenzied weight of a stagnant
August afternoon or maybe / just
maybe he did love you

In “The Pursuit of Happiness” the poet is even unafraid to confess a fear of domestic bliss, an act that could read as trivial following the heaviness that precedes it, yet reads instead as a refreshing admission of a fear of intimacy:

Some days end

                        in your brownstone
on the couch holding hands . . .

A certain
First Lady once said you should
do one thing every day
that scares you,

                        but I don’t
think this is the scary
she had in mind.

Together, the poems in The Occupation do not tell a whole story, but, rather, serve as vignettes, offering the reader insight into a life both external and internal. We are given glimpses as if watching though windows or being confided in over coffee with a dear and troubled friend. In the end, we may feel we know the voice that tells these stories and speaks these truths, but after the moment of confession has passed, it is the emotional resonance that remains.


Review | About Flight, by Frank X Walker
Accents Publishing, 2015

The stories Frank X Walker tells in About Flight are not easy stories to read. These are tales of lives giving way to addiction, incarceration, ruin. Of families torn apart by the same. Brotherly and sisterly love devolves, inevitably, into betrayal and disappointment. This is a world in which no good deed goes unpunished. There is a constant undercurrent of mourning for souls still living, be they lost to drugs, holed up behind bars, or the forsaken children of the same.

Of the struggle to overcome addiction within the family, the poet writes:

Regret is for families forgiving enough
to break their own promises . . .

We might have understood revenge
and even obsession, but addiction
is more unforgiving than the sea.

While of the hope and heartbreak inherent in his relationship with his siblings he writes:

Brother poet, your words
continue to instruct us
even from the grave

But I pray that death
is not the only way to
bring my siblings home

Yet, via the lyric act, the poet manages to cast a beautiful sheen over his family’s struggle:

the anxious look in your eye

is as heavy and hard to hold as your hunger

And in this same way he compares his own relationship to poetry to the addiction his family faces:

I want to be that hungry in search of a poem.

So, too, does an optimism—if not a plea for a better life—pervade these confessions:

let us love the children we invite
into this world . . .

Remember    that our fathers
are who they are,
and we      are only their names,
not their bad habits,
not their wrong choices.

If your child is a son, give him more
than your name.

The hope the poet fights for is cast against the brutality of the demons he and his family must face. In “Mother’s Day,” for instance, he divulges the devastating consequences for a baby born to a drug addict mother:

the staff deposits the tiny ink footprints
a dead baby and a pink blanket near her bedside
where a white woman’s red roses would have been

Such moments of addressing race head on are rare in this collection. More often race is the orchestra of the book, playing off stage, a critical, driving force, unseen but ever-present.

At the book’s conclusion the poet revisits the overarching theme of the collection. In “Worse-Case Scenario” Frank X Walker tells a story wherein he is his brothers’ and sister’s keeper. The one who, inevitably, picks up the pieces:

I open the door to the drug den
where my brothers and sister
have taken their rent, child support,
utility and food money . . .

forge their names on love letters
addressed to their children . . .

I hug and squeeze them as hard as I can,
then usher them all—dealers and users alike,
into the afterlife, with the courage
and conviction of a suicide bomber.

In these final two lines the poet complicates the book’s narrative, admitting outright, for the first time, that to care for his siblings in the face of their self-destruction is a voluntary act through which he saves no one, but destroys


Sivan Butler-Rotholz is the founder of Reviving Herstory, editor of the “Saturday Poetry Series” on As It Ought To Be, and a columnist for iPinion. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and teaches creative writing, composition, and feminist biblical interpretation in New York City and abroad. Sivan’s many hats include writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita.