Tag Archives: review

Dead Shark on the N Train
by Susana H. Case

Review by Angela Gregory-Dribben

Dead Shark on the N Train
Susana H Case
(2020, Broadstone Books)
$22.50, Paper

Susana H. Case’s Dead Shark on the N Train, proof of a poet’s practice in discernment, demonstrates the existence, and subsequent power of seeing, gender parallels across cultures and time. Poems whisk readers away on global expeditions. We visit a Portuguese colony in India where “churches are full of doves that sound like the ghosts of crying babies.” We hike “uphill from Pokhara to Sarangkot, for a better view of the Annapurnas.” Where Case finds, “women have less, the higher I go.” I feel myself wobbly as a passenger on the wrist of this poet’s long arm sweeping across the world picking up pieces of truths like “Steel bars hang over many a man’s hangover.”

Not only does she string lighted strands joining time to time, artist to artist, murderer to the murdered, lover to lover, male to female but also from the moments within love’s cycles. The immortality grief provides lovers, “he shakes his head—no, misses the woman who, when music played, swayed close to him in moonlight. He likes to imagine she breathes underwater, will know to swim to where the rice floats.” Or the seemingly inevitable end to love, “Because he leaves the way men always leave.”

Case brilliantly provides just the right amount of detail to make each poem work, to connect it to the larger body of work, and to intrigue a reader’s senses to want to take a closer look. She selected such engaging stories that it spurs me beyond its own text to sift through history, spin a globe, become acquainted with other’s beliefs. “Menominee Indians believe the universe started with a drop of water. Every killing. Every poem. Every storm.”

Case plays rough with her camera lens. In the first section, Living Dolls, I often feel as if I am side-by-side with her investigating gender: her own, that of others, similarities in the naming of a woman over cultures. In the section Crime Scenes, Case uses Francis Glesener Lee, who could teach forensics but as a woman could not pursue a career as a detective, as the poems’ oculus. “Glessner Lee wants you to think.” Susana H. Case wants you to think.

She uses the eye of the forensic scientist to write the poem, bringing to the reader’s attention how remarkably similar the observation of a poet is to that of the investigator. These almost-not-quite list poems press observation against the page igniting a reader’s awareness of the way we occupy space in our homes and our relationships. “Observe the rope thin woman, the crosscut saw and peavey, dirty dishes on the table, garbage on the floor, liquor bottles, broken chair, the dead woman curled up in their common bed.”

Even more startling about this work is that the poet’s management of her own attention to detail and universal commonality isn’t accomplished only in the breadth of the collection, it is even within the individual line “We were lizards dreaming like birds.”

Case’s latest collection, Dead Shark on the N Train, due out in June 2020 from Broadstone Books, is alert, vigilant, committed to elevating the details so that we all may see.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 2.

Angela DribbenAngela Gregory-Dribben’s poetry and essays can be found or are forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Deep South, San Pedro River Review, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, New Southern Fugitive, and others. A Bread Loaf alum, she is currently a student in Randolph College’s MFA.

See all items about Angela Dribben

Visit Angela Dribben’s contributors page.

Review of We Make a Tiny Herd
by Lucy Griffith

Review by Angela Dribben

We Make a Tiny Herd
Lucy Griffith
(2019, Main Street Rag)
$14, Paper

Lucy Griffith opens We Make a Tiny Herd with La Reina, the lens with which I will always view the burro lady, a woman “full of thousands of sunsets, and brimming with stars.” It is in the last stanza of this poem that Griffith sets herself a task for the collection, “From you, I only ask respect: do not lay your story over mine.” Speaking for the burro lady in this poem, Judy Magers, this is quite clearly the bar Griffith holds for herself throughout the book. It is evident in her lyrics she feels charged to protect and uphold the memory of this regal and independent woman.

Powerful lines punctuate throughout bringing the landscape and the woman alive for the reader, “Your elephantine shape regal like some rajah moving across the desert,” “tulips pale against a dying thunderstorm,” and “anvil heads of summer storms slip.”

The intimate relationship between La Reina and her burro unfolds beautifully for the reader in poems with delicate lines like “she whispers a wild thing into her life.”

Valediction clearly marks Griffith’s decision to respect Mager’s privacy while still acknowledging a life before Far West Texas. It is a poem that pays homage to the woman as mother and her children, maintaining the sacred through rhythmic verse, “tributaries joining the river of respect pooled in this tiny desert town” and “the bluebonnets will be up soon nodding their azure heads in the bar ditch, looking for you.”

About midbook, Griffith artfully reminds us of how little we know in an aptly named poem, “What I don’t know.” The title line repeats quite often as if to remind us there is so much we never know about others and we must respect that. Even what we think we know is only that, a thought. She reminds us to be respectful of others by keeping their essence safe and intact, to always speak with kindness and reverence.

Griffith’s ancestral and personal history as a storyteller reveals itself consistently throughout We Make a Tiny Herd. While it is not ordered chronologically, there’s never any doubt as to its narrative arc. Unfettered by complicated language, the voice of Griffith, West Texas, and La Reina come through clear and cool to lay this story down so intentionally that I cannot remember ever not knowing the tiny herd.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 4.

Angela DribbenAngela Dribben’s poetry and essays can be found or are forthcoming in San Pedro River Review, Motherscope, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, Cirque, Mudfish, New Southern Fugitive, and others. She works with patients and caregivers in hospice creating legacy projects. A Bread Loaf alum, she was a finalist in the 2019 Bellingham Review‘s 49th Parallel Poetry.

See all items about Angela Dribben

Visit Angela Dribben’s contributors page.

Roberta Feins’s A Morsel of Bread, a Knife

Review by Susan Shaw Sailer

A Morsel of Bread, A Knife
Roberta Feins
(2018, Center on Contemporary Art)
$28, paper

Roberta Feins’s chapbook Herald won the 2016 Coal Hill Review Chapbook Prize. Her extraordinary new work explores the theme of maternity from the standpoints of church, family, and art. Through this triple springboard—the frozen sensuality of the medieval church, the mother whose concern with beauty and style barricaded her from her daughter, and women in art as sexualized objects—Feins creates a 21st-century Boschian carnival that explores the body as trash-rack and, simultaneously, home of sensual pleasure.

The ultimate representation of motherhood, one medieval Virgin offers only “tiny nubs” on a “trunk of wood,” the statue originally having been male, a Roman emperor. This Virgin doesn’t support baby Jesus, who sits “on (her) left knee, must hold himself erect,/ or fall.” A mechanical puppet theatre shows Eve’s nakedness “shielded/ by the Tree, as she reaches for a painted,/ ruby drop.” But in the France of 1971, girls kiss “smooth-cheeked boys” behind a spice bush while Jesus “swings from (the) waist on a beaded leash” of a wimpled nun.

The speaker’s mother escapes into art museums, the realm offering “searing beauty.” Though she recognizes that behind powerful art is suffering, she pretends it is clean of life’s muck. While the daughter explores sensuality through first sex and the pleasures of gourmet eating, the mother, dressed in stylish clothes, seems incapable of bodily warmth. Exploring the sensuality inherent in art, Feins takes her readers through several paintings in the Louvre depicting a sexualized woman. In each poem, a female family member counterpoints the experience of victimhood.

If the choice is between victimhood and frozen beauty, the speaker of these poems opts for a conflicted refusal of motherhood:

What would I do

all the days feeding

nights soothing, sapped. “No,” I said, “I won’t.”

But the pain of this choice registers: “Oh, I am a dull match failing to spark,/ a nightingale singing with her tongue cut out.”

An air of rich vitality permeates these poems, as well as a delicious sense of humor. Riding an old ethnic joke, Feins writes,

In Paradise, it takes an infinite
number of light bulbs to change a person.

Driving through southwestern France, the speaker declares,

I want to wear these hills       fabric woven of sun and leaf
granite and burn

my breasts clothed       in forests of teaseled velvet

To restrictions placed on the body by various religious groups and the doubts women have been inculcated to feel about their own bodies, Feins counters that without the senses’ rich input of messy but rich life, having a body would be a miserably thin experience. Yet the body is mortal. The answer is to embrace richness, accept mortality:

My little trash rack, built
from blood and neuron: daily
braving the rush of the great stream –

I want this rubble burden to end,
I want time to ratchet on forever.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 3.

Susan Shaw Sailer lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, and is a member of Jan Beatty’s Madwomen in the Attic critique group in Pittsburgh. Sailer has published two books, The God of Roundabouts and Ship of Light, as well as a chapbook, COAL. Her recent work appears in KAKALAK 18 and Conclave (“Justifying the Margins”).

See all items about Susan Shaw Sailer

Visit Susan Shaw Sailer’s contributors page.