Joe Fletcher’s THE HATCH From Brooklyn Arts Press Keeps Us Going For National Poetry Month!

The Hatch cover shot

The Hatch
Joe Fletcher
Brooklyn Arts Press
February 17, 2018
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Joe Fletcher gives you his eyes, ears, nose, and senses. I mean this in a literary sense, of course. In his first full length poetry collection The Hatch Fletcher takes us many places. Some so visceral, that one feels uncomfortable, unsure, and frightened. From international shores to ponds behind trailer parks and holes in garden walls, Fletcher’s mind runs rampant. Reading his work is like being him for a moment. No time is wasted on why. Those thoughts come later, after you’ve read a few poems and attempt to get on with your regular day. That’s when The Hatch strikes! All the little pieces of the puzzle coagulate in your head, delivering sights, sounds, and smells

The Electrical Congress in the Mountains, Rusty Squeezebox, Double Transduction-The titles of Fletcher’s poems are far from the ordinary. Some of them are spikey, others feel like silky fabric, most of them are not an exact label of the poem’s contents. This is refreshing and powerful stuff! Exactly what I want to show people who still think that all poetry is overly ornate, perfectly rhyming greeting card fodder. Stuff that is either so sickly sweet you need a shot of insulin after reading it, or buffoonish in its humor. No offense meant to greeting cards, but poetry should provoke a visceral reaction. Joe Fletcher’s poems will haunt you and make you think.

OTWAY is a nice example of Fletcher’s poetry. A man is fishing off of a funky pier in near darkness. But this is no jolly relaxing evening. There are many portents of evil, such as the child’s pink shoe bobbing in the water nearby. Grimly hanging onto his beer and cigarette, the man notes that there is a scuffle in a trailer and people are having sex in a beat up car hidden behind the bushes. Everything seems tense, waiting for something to happen. We are not disappointed. A sobbing boy wearing a wooden mask and standing in canoe that is being powered by something not visible, glides into view and lands in front the startled couple. While that is strange and disturbing enough, Fletcher fans the coals with an unexpected strike on the fishing rod just as something crashes in the trailer.

Jack Mike paints a vivid, night time surgery occurring under a tent while a storm thunders above. The surgeon is drunk and the conditions poor, but somehow the patient pulls through. When morning comes, the poor fellow leaps from his hammock and gallops off into a field. Temporarily blinded by the surgery, the man falls down and is trampled by a huge pig. So much for a speedy recovery! On life support, the patient exists in the murky territory between life and death. Until he is accidentally killed by his own daughter, who unplugs the cord while sleepwalking. How’s that for twisted horror?

Joe Fletcher’s writing is very original and has qualities that will appeal to many readers. I think that those who enjoy speculative fiction, weird tales, and dark poetry will really enjoy The Hatch! But it’s certainly not limited to just us. Anyone who’s looking for a collection of real poetry that connects solidly with readers will dig it, too. Highly recommended! A definite two thumbs up! Fletcher’s work has been featured in many journals, including: Painted Bride Quarterly, Gulf Coast, and Slope. He’s also a teacher of writing and literature at the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina prison system. If you are hungry to read more of Joe Fletcher’s writing, Brooklyn Arts Press is also the publisher of his poetry chapbook Already It Is Dusk. BAP is a cool independent publisher that has over forty titles available and is still growing. Check them out. You’ll be glad you did!

Keep on Celebrating National Poetry Month with the FIELD GUIDE to the END of the WORLD by Jeannine Hall Gailey and Moon City Press!

Field Guide To End of World cover shot

Field Guide to the End of the World
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Moon City Press
Sept. 1, 2016
Review by Brian James Lewis

With its excellent cover art and survivalist look, one might mistake Field Guide to the End of the World as an instruction manual for the day that horrible event comes to pass. In a way, they’d be right. Writing poetry helps us to cope with a lot of pretty awful stuff. It also celebrates life and living it. Jeannine Hall Gailey uses her poetry to do all of that and makes more than a few social comments along the way.

For those who truly wish to survive the apocalypse, you might want to be-bop on down to your local extreme survivalist store for necessities. Just don’t forget to pack this book to keep you from going insane in your underground bunker while waiting for the “all clear” signal! You will definitely enjoy Martha Stewart’s Guide to Apocalypse Living featuring the line “Now’s the time to get out your hurricane lamps! They create a lovely glow in these last days.” Also remember that, Zombie Stripper Clones: They Are Not Regenerating.

In the Cultural Anthropology section of her book, there is an interesting re-take on Dorothy, the wizard, and the Land of Oz. It makes her much more modern and flawed. There is also an Introduction to Teen Girl Vampires that pairs real issues with the super powers of the undead. Even when Gailey is using scientific terms, the humanity comes bursting through. This fine book of poetry never feels cold or loses the reader. Sometimes we might have to follow markings made on dead trees, but we’re included and encouraged to take a good hard look at ourselves along the way.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is a member of the HWA and the SFPA. She’s also been the poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, and is the author of four other books. Jeannine has been featured in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Verse Daily, and on National Public Radio. Despite MS trying to ruin her life, this amazing poet pushes it back with the power of writing and the love of reading. You can follow her on Twitter and her website:

When I read this book, it felt like home. This is not silly, greeting card poetry. It is sturdy stuff that grabs your attention and pokes you in the face. The horror of trying to continue on when everything is broken and the sci-fi usage of electromagnetic and DNA is a great mix. I really enjoyed this book and definitely encourage all of you to buy a copy if possible. Field Guide to the End of the World is a great read that you can sip a few poems from daily and let them roll around in your mind like fine wine. It’s also a nice bridge to our darker world for people that are unsure. All the elements we like are in there, Jeannine Hall Gailey just takes them uptown.


NO MERCY by Alessandro Manzetti and Crystal Lake Publishing is a perfect choice for celebrating National Poetry Month!

No Mercy cover shot

Alessandro Manzetti
June 8, 2017
Crystal Lake Publishing
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis


This is dark horror poetry at its most intense and elaborate! Taking this poetic journey with Alessandro Mazetti, readers will surely recognize some names, things, and activities. But you will not know it all and that is good. NO MERCY truly offers no mercy! It is an unstoppable flood of images flickering past the readers’ startled eyes at warp speed. A frightening intensity set upon you like an attack of piranhas. I urge you to plunge your head into this waterfall and see what terrifying wonders await you! A magical technicolor nightmare, if you will.

Perhaps my words be too flowery, but I am struck dumb for mere words to explain what I saw in this collection of poems. NO MERCY brings to mind the first time that I read William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. It’s like taking an acid trip without actually dropping any acid! I don’t know about you, but I really like that feeling of being both frightened and yet laughing at the depravity. When you are done reading, the “real” world will seem so terribly normal and boring.

I like that Manzetti dedicated the book to Janis Joplin, aka Pearl, the ugly duckling who turned out to be royalty. The poems about her are beautiful and crammed with detail. But for writing, he chose Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue because the melty tones and textures of jazz are perfect for writing poetry. Jack Kerouac even wrote his poetry to fit how a horn player would blow. This poetry has that Beat quality. You want to read it fast and feel the riffs. Don’t overanalyze because you’ll just ruin it. Great poetry is stuff that you can read multiple times and get something different. NO MERCY is a book that definitely deserves multiple reads!

Some of my favorites in the book are, No Mercy, The Ghost Subway, and one of the longer selections A Dream Of Milk and Blood. The imagery in the last poem is so detailed, yet constantly changing. A coin is required for many of the changes of scene and is inserted in many different receptacles. One of them is even the main character’s forehead. I dig the nod to Gregory Corso for Morning Suicide. I like a lot of things in this collection, especially the beautifying of terrible things. Sometimes the things you need will find you and not the other way around. Instead of eating, you may be satisfied by being eaten and becoming part of something greater.

A little aside about the book publisher: I really like it when you can see how much heart has gone into putting a publication together. Crystal Lake obviously really cares what we readers think. Not only that, but they invite us to get involved. Sharing the good word with friends can mean the life or death of an independent publishing company. It also makes you part of an extended family of sorts, which is cool.

Do I think you should get a copy of this book ASAP? Yes, I do! Unless you are a squeamish uptight person. If that’s the case, this book might not make you happy. However, rest assured that if you just take a look around on the Crystal Lake and Journal Stone sites, you will find a great read that fits you! Alessandro Manzetti is a writer with extensive publication credits who really knows how to grab you and not let go. Recommended!

Let’s Celebrate National Poetry Month by “Standing on the Threshold of Madness” with Benjamin Blake!

Standing on tom BB covershot

Standing on the Threshold of Madness
by Benjamin Blake
Parallel Universe Publications
March 21, 2017
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

If you thought you knew everything about Benjamin Blake after reading his novel The Devil’s Children last year, well…guess again. While that book is a fun romp through the protagonists’ hometown somewhat similar to The Goonies, but with more drinking and swearing, Standing on the Threshold of Madness is a whole different monster. One big reason is that this new book is a collection of Blake’s poetry and no one is laughing here.

Blake’s poetry paints us a world that exists in legends and shadows. It might not be obvious to us, but he knows where to look. Places like The Casting Couch where B-movie queens still exist in the flicker of celluloid and warbling soundtracks. We are in the places Where the Dead Come to Party. No lie! I really dig this poem a lot. Something about the alarming onset maybe. To quote from Blake’s poem:

The record player keeps coming alive at night
Along with the living room lights
And the television set

I don’t know about you, but I’d find that alarming in my own home. Apparently Blake does as well, because he ends with:

Somebody call a priest
And the furniture movers
This is too much for the living to bear

This is poetry for the people. None of that oddly creepy ethereal shit for us! Blake puts it right out there on the line. If you can’t pick this stuff up, then your arms are broken! Ready for another blast? Check this out from Funereal Party:

The typewriter keys
Clack out a rhythm
As skeletal jazzmen
Tap-dance across the wooden floorboards

Damn! As the late Mr. Kerouac would have said, “Blow baby! Blow!” This is the good stuff. The top shelf spirits. All killer and no filler. You got that, dad? Benjamin Blake has a unique way of capturing the imagery of the Beat poets with a wry chill and occult knowledge to sing his own songs. Well done! My hat is off to you, sir!

As a fellow writer, I really liked the final poem in the collection. Rebirth is a perfect setting of how many of us write:

It begins when the door shuts
And the light from the desk-lamp spills out
Onto books and rumpled bed sheets
Sometime in the middle of the night

Am I right? No matter what your preference of writing tool, this is what we do. Late at night, because that’s when the muse arrives, we steal some time back to ourselves and write. It is required for our survival, period.

I don’t think there’s much question as to how I feel about Standing on the Threshold of Madness by Benjamin Blake. But let me just confirm that I really enjoyed reading this awesome collection of poems. In fact, I keep it nearby so that I can dip into the pages occasionally for a fix. If you groove on speculative fiction, the weird, the dark places-You’re going to dig this collection! The flow is great and the subject matter is right. Once again, Parallel Universe does not disappoint. Grab a copy of this rare gem today!

this day in crime history: april 3, 1882

Jesse James who was a hero to many. taken down by “the rotten little coward who shot Mister Howard” According to the song sung by Woody Guthrie

Nobody Move!

On this date in 1882, legendary outlaw Jesse James was shot and killed in St. Joseph, MO by an outlaw named Bob Ford. Ford and his brother Charley attempted to claim a reward that had been offered for James, but the only reward they received was arrest and indictment for murder. They pled guilty and were sentenced to death, but a pardon from the governor spared them the hangman’s noose.

Charley Ford, suffering from tuberculosis, committed suicide in 1884. Bob was killed in 1892, shot in the back by a man named Edward O’Kelley. Sounds like poetic justice to me.

Further reading:

Legends of America: Jesse James – Folklore Hero or Cold-Blooded Killer?

St. Joseph History – Jesse James

Wikipedia – Robert Ford (outlaw)

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HAPPY EASTER From Damaged Skull Writer!



Brian James Lewis

Hey! It’s Easter! A time of renewal, cleansing, and candy! Oh yeah, that’s what’s on your mind! Especially if you are a young person who’s the right age for Easter egg hunts! This is nearly as good as Halloween and you don’t even have to go knock on any doors. Every store you walk into has those fun displays of chocolate Easter bunnies that are stacked just right to catch the eyes of hopeful little guys and gals. You can’t help but smile at these cutely packaged treats and dig those names! “Happy” “The L’il Professor” “Sunny” All made of delicious and nutritious “chocolate flavored candy.” Yum!

Wait, what? Isn’t chocolate flavored candy just chocolate with a snazzy name? Right here at the department of Easter candy consumption, we like to know what we’re eating, so I did a little research. You’re welcome! Okay, so if you read the ingredients carefully, it turns out that the majority of cheap holiday chocolate is made out of stuff that pretty much amounts to, um…WAX! Fortunately, it’s food grade wax (not melted crayons) that is safe for human consumption. They color and flavor it with cocoa, press it in molds and voila! Holiday treats! In short, unless you shell out for stuff that is labelled chocolate, you’ll be consuming what amounts to chocolate flavored suppositories. Yum! Well at least constipation will not be a problem!

Easter for adults isn’t quite as exciting as it is for kids. So unless you are helping out with the Easter egg hunt this year and eating brown wax, you’ll be standing out on the lawn with Dad, Uncle Joe, and maybe Grandpa having an adult beverage and a smoke. There will be discussions of such important topics as whether or not your lawnmower will start this year. That’s one of the major springtime rituals for most home owners, regardless of gender. But for some reason men seem to talk about it more. How much analysis is required? You just yank on the starter rope and curse angrily until your arm breaks or someone points out that there isn’t any gas in the tank. If nothing else, it’s definitely a good excuse for drinking.

Other important spring time tasks are getting the grill going and nearly burning the porch down when all the grease left from last year ignites. Along with my favorite, putting out all the lawn furniture so that giant birds can crap on it. These birds are not the robins, who have the useful purpose of announcing spring. No, I’m talking about giant crows who not only disfigure lawn furniture, but also drop large pieces of half-eaten food in our yard. Without warning, a slice of pizza will plummet out of the sky and land sticky side down on the dog. That’s nice for him but often disgusting to observe. The bonus is that no cleanup is required and you get a happy dog at the end. The hard blobs of smelly white filth on the furniture make no one happy and can only be removed by renting an industrial power washer when company comes. If you are cheap, you can just reserve the worst chairs for people you don’t like very much. “Here you go, Uncle Mike! Have a seat right here! What’s that, you’re leaving? Okay then! Happy Easter!”

But, before you can get on to the high festivities of the holiday of ham, bunnies, chicks, and springtime. The re-birthing of the entire world, if you will. You have to go shopping for all the stuff required. Yep, lucky for you, you’re going to the supermarket! Damn it!

It doesn’t matter which one you walk into, because they’re all pretty much the same. Adults pushing carts grimly along while children hang onto the sides and yell navigational directions at them. This is because the adults can’t see over the huge mound of the comestibles that they’re wheeling in a wobbly old cart. “Watch out for the old guy bent over the oranges! Oops, too late!”

The old people are far from innocent though. They are the worst rammers and cart crashers out there. Mostly it’s because their brains are still at home, probably on the toilet. Meanwhile they’ve driven five miles to the store, parked the car on the sidewalk, and entered the building pushing a large shopping cart in a randomly distracted fashion. They whip around each corner on autopilot while talking loudly on their cell phones about unimportant things.

“I have a RASH on my ASS!” An older woman in front of me shouts while completely blocking the bread aisle. Well good for you, M’am! Now stop showing off and get out of the way. Just as I manage to slither around her, WHUNK! I get T-boned by an ancient old fellow who is draped over his cart like a corpse. For a moment, he just stands there not moving a muscle and I fear the worst. Then with a fierce look in my direction and a disgusted, “Huh!” He wheels away, destroying an Easter candy display that he doesn’t even see because he’s busy looking at the floor again.

To make up for the grumpy, destructive folks, there are the sorry people. They go around the store shouting, “Sorry!” in a very apologetic manner at people they aren’t even bothering. Wait, let me rephrase that. At people they weren’t bothering until they came zooming towards them briskly and yelling apologies into their startled faces. Which causes many of them to go into cardiac arrest right on the spot.
“Let’s see here…bread, milk, eggs and…”
“Ahhh! My heart…” Clunk!

See what I mean? Maybe they’re just sorry they didn’t hit your cart or slam you into a hard, unyielding object. Well, regardless of all these potential bumps in the road, I hope you and yours enjoy a wonderful Easter. Me? I’ll be power washing my chairs.

easter skull eggs

Figures Unseen–A New Book by Steve Rasnic Tem (2018 Valancourt Books) w/ Introduction by Canadian Author Simon Strantzas…

The Sanguine Woods


In the worlds of Steve Rasnic Tem a father takes his son “fishing” in the deepest part of downtown, flayed rabbits visit a suburban back yard, a man is haunted by a surrealistic nightmare of crutches, a father is unable to rescue his son from a nightmare of trees, a bereaved man transforms memories of his wife into performance art, great moving cliffs of detritus randomly prowl the world, a seemingly pointless life finds final expression in bits of folded paper, a nuclear holocaust brings about a new mythology, an isolated man discovers he’s part of a terrifying community, a photographer discovers the unexpected in the faces of dead children, and a couple’s aging dismantles reality.

Winner of the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards, Tem has earned a reputation as one of the finest and most original short fiction writers of our time, blending elements of horror…

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Review of Breaking the World From Apex Books and Jerry Gordon!

Breaking the World cover shot

Breaking the World
Jerry Gordon
Apex Publications
April 19, 2018
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis

On April 19th Jerry Gordon and Apex Publications are bringing you the end of the world courtesy of David Koresh’s prophecies mixed with some cool fictional elements that will leave you hard pressed to identify what is real. Breaking the World kicks off during the legendary 51 day standoff between Koresh’s followers and the combined forces of multiple branches of law enforcement. Many of you probably remember all the news coverage giving us an outside view of the situation. But in Jerry Gordon’s book, we see things from the inside viewpoint of 15 year old Cyrus, a teenager who doesn’t believe in the gospel and would do nearly anything to get away from what he perceives as a bunch of ridiculous behavior. Too many rules, along with Koresh’s rather self-serving approach to marriage, fail to score many points in his eyes or those of his two friends Marshal and Rachel. During this maelstrom of craziness, Cyrus is busy falling hard for Rachel and wants a conventional monogamous relationship with her. All three of the teens are from broken homes and they need each other to stay strong through being attacked by what should be friendly forces.

I like how Breaking the World opens with a bang. Gordon puts us right into the action when Cyrus hears what he thinks are fireworks. As he runs to join the fun, he gets shot by the joined forces of the ATF and FBI just minutes before they shoot David Koresh. The smooth twining of facts and fiction is so well done by Gordon that the entire book feels real. You are there, seeing the world through teenage eyes and experiencing a lot of exciting stuff. I thought the description of Cyrus as part Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s classic work The Catcher in the Rye was well played. That desire to be cool but also afraid of the world is teenage males all over. Falling in love, yet fighting for his life in a situation that he’s not even sure he understands.

I also enjoyed how Cyrus begins to understand David’s prophecies. That is paired with the flip side of “Hey if the only people that get you are rebellious teenagers, how solid is your argument?” Gordon does this a lot throughout the book and I think that’s what makes it such a fresh read. You’re inside the compound being shot at, gassed, and attacked in all kinds of ways by people who claim they’re not trying to hurt you. Yet the self-proclaimed pacifists are armed and shooting back, which kind of throws their claims of being peaceful out the window. When the pandemic gets out of control, so does the government’s approach to defending the U.S. This creates a massive problem that no one except Koresh was expecting, so he’s the only person with a plan. The church is under attack from law enforcement, but something else is coming over the horizon with its eyes on the FBI encampment. Something crazy huge is going to happen!

And that, dear readers, is why you need to order a copy of Breaking the World stat! It’s full of cool cliffhangers and crammed with dope details that I don’t want to spoil. What I can say is that this book gets 5 stars plus for being so engaging. It is obvious that Gordon did a ton of research in order to make things so vivid. I very much enjoyed being able to see the humanity of the people involved, including David Koresh, who is regarded as a religious kook who took things too far. Through Cyrus, Gordon makes some really good observations about what happened. Revealing the redeeming qualities about these people is important.  No one is one hundred percent good or bad. Perhaps some of the ideology was okay, but when put through the filter of Koresh’s mind, turned sour. The desire to be a rock star never produces good results in public figures. Then with the addition of the apocalyptic fiction, I felt like someone who heard Orson Welles read War of the Worlds on the radio for the first time. This is powerful stuff! Another great book from Apex Publishing and stellar writing by Jerry Gordon. Get your copy TODAY!




About Brian J. Lewis

Brian James Lewis is a published poet and writer who enjoys reviewing speculative fiction and dark poetry. With all the great emerging writers, magazines, and presses, it is exciting to be part of this growing community! Word of mouth and keyboard is more important than it’s ever been, because readers want to know about books before they buy. It makes Brian feel great to see writers he’s reviewed become successful and their work go on to win awards! Whatever happens, he’s always glad to offer encouragement and increase visibility of writers who trust him with their work. You can catch up with Brian on Twitter @skullsnflames76 or on his WordPress blog