By Abriana Jetté, Ph.D.
Sayreville, NJ, USA

When the sun beckons, all sorts of people answer its call. They slip on their shoes, leave their homes, and set off to explore. A park. A beach. A walk in the neighborhood. Outside, with strangers and friends and various forms of animal life mingling in the same space, stories uncover themselves. What happens when opposites collide?

This curiosity is what draws me to curating, editing, and creating anthologies. With 
each new day I am more intrigued with the collaboration and combination of unique
Abriana Jetté
and (sometimes) opposing voices. When it comes to poetry, the unification of contrasting voices has the potential to sharpen the impact of each poem’s and poet’s rhythms, forms, and narrative turns.

Sharing my belief in the pursuit of putting together varied voices in a shared space are the editors at Upper Rubber Boot Books. Founded in July 2011, Upper Rubber Boot Books have made it their goal to publish work that may not generally find a home in mainstream literary venues. The press pays special attention to the publication of speculative writing, especially through the forms of poetry and the short story. For the past eight years, Upper Rubber Boot Books has published the Floodgate Poetry Series, a one-stop source for readers to devour multiple chapbooks in one place.

Edited by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, the spirit of the Floodgate Poetry Series links together poets who may not have otherwise been connected, expanding the literary community. This type of positive-driven literary energy excites me. These days, I’ve been even more taken by Vol. 5 of the series, which features Price of Admission by Sarah Rebecca Warren, On All Fronts by Derrick Weston Brown, and Dark Meter by T.R. Hummer. These distinct, haunting, and varied voices touch upon themes meandering between the forbidden, the real, and the dystopic. When put together, readers experience potent mixtures of tone, form, and content.



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Floodgate Poetry Series, Vol. 5 opens with Sarah Rebecca Warren’s ominous work, Price of Admission. The title is a nod to the multiple ways one might approach understanding the chapbook. Largely conceived in places that at once appear carnivalesque, fictionalized, yet also painfully real, the “price of admission” might refer to the entrance fee into the speaker’s whirlwind of a world, or it might be understood more metaphorically. Narratives found throughout the chapbook weave an understanding that the price of admission the girl must pay for the transformation of her womanly body comes at an extravagant cost. Price of Admission draws connections between Mexican myth and tradition alongside struggles of addiction and emotional assault. The opening poem “Chimayó Milagros” cultivates all of these themes. It begins:

                     In the room of miracle dirt, women weep,
                               rock back and forth over a decades old pit.
                              One bends down to scoop cinnamon brown
                     granules, and she eats. She sobs, chews the grit.

Warren’s delivery of place erupts with tradition and sorrow. Through the mention of the “decades old pit”, readers understand the impact heritage and tradition have had on the speaker. In the poem, tradition means taking from the earth, using what one has, and mustering all of that strength to carry on. The “cinnamon brown” dirt is the dirt of miracles. The women who surround the speaker embody what it means to survive. Readers are made aware of all of this from the first four lines of the book.

It seems important to me that Warren begins on the notion that women have transformative powers, as the speaker struggles to use her voice while navigating the world as an object of lust. In “Chimayó Milagros”, the speaker is taken when “the man outside sings” to her. Compelled, she goes. He feeds her pistachios. With the bite, the speaker snaps readers into poem’s reality of “blood shot eyes / wild-running children and graffiti splashed / on sacred walls.” Accepting the body as a burden and a blessing compels many of the poems.

The speaker of Price of Admission searches for her voice. In “Sunday Best”, she confesses to knowing that “the greatest sin is Woman’s hunger” when she lines up at the altar. Dark undercurrents of feeling silenced also permeate throughout the book.

All of the anxieties of the speaker’s past and present come to boil in “Sunday School Lesson”, which recalls a time when the speaker calls a boy, who touches her “more than” she “wanted”, a bastard. Teachers and parents react dramatically. The boy howls: “she’s mean.” The speaker remembers that “no one asked why” she had called him a bastard, so she never explained. Instead, she hid between her father’s legs as her “mother publicly grieved / my words to such a nice boy.” The poem that follows “Sunday School Lesson” bears the name of the chapbook. “Price of Admission” begins

                    “My first kiss was not planned, but an uninvited
                              rum-soaked plunge through my numb, untrained lips.”

A distinct quality of Price of Admission is its ability to walk readers around each poem’s specific scene, situating readers into multiple worlds of internal and external significance. Warren also seeks to keep her readers interested by, at times, experimenting with aesthetic form. For instance, the structure of “Passover” mirrors its content. The poem, which describes how each year “twisters rewrite the landscape”, is shaped with purposefully indented lines that mimic the form of the tornado.

Sarah Rebecca Warren is a writer, editor, and musician. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma, and teaches for Oklahoma State University. Warren has received scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and her writing has appeared in Oklahoma Today, Gravel, Luna Luna, and other journals. She is a regular contributor for World English Today.

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What follows Price of Admission is a chapbook that pushes the boundaries between traditional poetic form and everyday minutia. If the speaker’s eyes in Price of Admission look everywhere all at once, monitoring the traditions of strangers and family alike, then the speaker’s eyes in On All Fronts look squarely in the mirror. On All Fronts concerns itself with investigating multiple types of fronts – or appearances – and relays varying definitions and quotes including the word “fronts” throughout. The chapbook begins with the Urban Dictionary definition of “Front Street”, meaning to “call someone out or put the unspoken out into the open.”

The speaker mostly puts himself out in the open, recalling moments of cultural influence that range from music, fashion, television, and sexuality, to explore all he has not been able to say. The poem that opens the collection, “The Root: A Haibun for D’Angelo”, is an open letter to musical artists D’Angelo, Maxwell, Prince, and others, and also poses as a quiet Ars Poetica. The speaker travels through the 1990’s, offering parallels between R&B and hip-hop artists to coming-of-age moments in the speaker’s life.

In “The Book of Shonda Rhimes, Chapter 1, Verse 6”, Derrick Weston Brown takes the attention off Japanese form and music and turns to the presence of black artists and community. He does so quietly. The prose-poem locates readers on a Thursday night during which “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” are back on television. But a dystopian scene resonates throughout much of the poem, whose tone meanders between celebration and mourning. Towards the start of the poem, the speaker remembers how “those of us who knew trembled at the loud silence of the inevitable truth.” By the end of the poem the speaker and his people are “weeping” for the “black womanless streets." Whether or not it is because they are inside watching television, the absence of women outside is cause for alarm.

Brown has a knack for the telescopic. “Girl Reading the Book” or “How Lina Reads the Word” starts with the speaker’s inspection of the body, Lina’s legs “long         slim and / sculpted. Her feet yawn out”, and continues to pay homage to the figure, like how her “bare knees form / the steeple of her / body church.” The presence of a woman plays an important role in influencing the speaker. Form and the female unite in the “The ‘Risk It All’ Senryu / Thighku Series.” Throughout the series, the form unfolds from the senryu to a “thighku”, a form created by Brown that imitates the senryu, though the “thighku” influenced by a specific memory involving his mother burnt into the speaker’s brain.

The “thighkus” are unhinged. Five in total, the series begins with Thighku #4, but ends with #5, taking on the order of 4, 3, 2, 1, 5. The organization mirrors the dislocating nature of memory. The thighkus ooze with anticipation, desire, and move from the accidental, “a platonic hug”, to the rapturous, “her slight squeeze punctuation”, to the Freudian, “his hands resting unguarded / on mom’s thighs.”

On All Fronts addresses prominent cultural issues crippling the black community, like in the poem “Meanwhile, at a black funeral home in Chicago, a mortician explains why he mourns, weeps at his expanding profit margin”, which reads, in full:

                     “We running out of coffins.”

Brown’s use of vernacular alongside pop-culture references work together in On All Fronts to undercut the severity of the speaker’s suffering, which, at the root, stems from acceptance and love. Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. He is a graduate of the Cave Canem and Vona Voices summer workshops, and his writing has appeared in The Little Patuxent, Review, Mythium, The Tidal Basin Review, and Vinyl.

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Two engines steer the narrative of T.R. Hummer’s Dark Meter: the speaker’s dexterous attention to and control of meter, and the tension that such discipline towards rule and form creates when situated within the current American political climate. The titular poem, which begins the chapbook, recalls a memory in which something happens and doesn’t happen at the same time. The first half of the first sentence of “Dark Meter” reads:

                    “A grey horse came to me out of the fog,
                     not my horse, but the fog was mine,
                     And the horse was lost in it, or I was;…”

I can hear echoes of the horse’s hooves through the iamb of “A grey horse came to me”, and it is this echo that is especially significant. The scene is disoriented. The only thing the speaker claims is fog, which is water suspended in air, distorting one’s ability to see clearly. If the meter were dactylic, a sound-pattern more accurately representing a horse galloping, there would be no question or bewilderment about the scene. The horse would not be lost. The speaker would hear her coming. In manipulating the familiar tones of stressed and unstressed syllables, Hummer creates an ominous, dark meter.

The poem continues, describing the brushing of the horse’s coat, which was “filthy / with sulfurous ooze”, though it isn’t necessarily the speaker who grooms her. Or maybe it is. Readers are reminded again that the horse was not the speaker’s horse, and that this dream “happened ages ago, in another / country.” Nothing so dramatic ever happens to the speaker, who is “too busy” in the fog “living forever.”

Throughout Dark Meter, the speaker seems protected, above the consequences and effects that the world around him experiences. He observes, but he does not consume. No poem demonstrates this better than “Citizen”, which pays homage to books – not to the reading of them, but to the admiring of them. The speaker describes that he is “visiting the books … / not bothering them” for “they are at peace”, and that “a person can be a burden to a book.” Prolific writers responsible for essential foundational theories of western civilization, like Plato, Diderot, and Rousseau are mentioned, but their ideas are not revisited. In a poem glorifying the presence of the book, the speaker does not read.

One must accept the satire at play. A book’s life is determined by the people who read it. If Plato’s words sat on a shelf, what good would they be? Left alone, though they are, there is great power in an unread book.

For some, an unread book means the ability to retell, reshape, and rewrite history. If we are unaware of what has happened, if we have not read about it, we fall into the danger of accepting only what we have heard – not news or history, but opinion. If the act of reading a book opens up imaginative trajectories and creates neurological connections imperative to brain development, then the act of not reading a book will do the opposite: cut down originality, artistry, and history while dulling our minds. In the final moments of “Citizen”, the speaker acknowledges this when he compares himself to a book “left too long / on a table in the sun.” Like the pages of the book, the speaker too is “coming a little unglued.”

Poems like “1%” and “Per Capita” engage with daily trivialities similar in nature: the speaker engages in foggy mornings spent walking the dog or murky mornings watching carpenters set off to work. Yet, juxtaposed to their titles, the poems transform the deliberately ordinary into political statements. In all of its oblivion, the dog guides readers to deciphering the reason for each title.

“Amber”, the final poem in the chapbook, describes a flock of geese preparing for flight before the “first glow of sunlight.” In one of the most sentimental moments of the book, the speaker confesses that it breaks his “stupid heart not to have known the clear beginning.” What does the speaker know? What has he learned? Dark Meter leaves readers with these final lines:

                                             “…Ignorant as we are, we know
                  the unknowable particulates of living: soap scum,
                   ash, hair, crow shit: dust and the fractal dust of dust.”

Dark Meter is a haunting, lyrically agile collection, a fast-paced yet intimate read that veers between subtle political commentary and moments of unapologetic self-reflection. T.R. Hummer is an American poet, critic, and professor. His most recent books of poetry are After the Afterlife and the three linked volumes Ephemeron, Skandalon, and Eon.

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In his editor’s preface to the series, McFayden-Ketchum describes the 18th and 19th century British and American traditions of literary annuals gift books and keepsakes, which featured multiple authors and were published annually during a time when literature was considered a source of pleasure, knowledge, and entertainment. The Floodgate Poetry Series carries the torch of this literary tradition proudly, and has united three unique, diverse poets in Vol. 5, a collection well worth your time.


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Abriana Jetté is the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling women's poetry anthology 50 Whispers. Her newest poetry anthology, Stay Thirsty Poets - Vol. I, was released in February 2019.