August 18, 2008

Review: Poemergency Room by Paul Siegell

Before I even held Paul Siegell's Poemergency Room in my hands I was impressed by him; if anyone wants you (yes, you) to read their book, by god, it's Paul Siegell. The Facebook group alone for his book has over 700 members and is constantly being updated with events, news, and articles.

There is a high level of energy here -- sometimes an almost manic one. Siegell bounces from word to word, line to line with a fantastic momentum, and this momentum often manifests in repetition emphasized by italics or capital letters. His poetry feels as though it almost literally pulls you from one line to the next, from one poem to another.

Poemergency Room is full of short statements, fancy line-work, and carmen figuratum or shape poems. The language is a mix of the high and low cultures, making a pop culture reference juxtaposed with a literary one. There are many places where Siegell pulls this mix off brilliantly.

Siegell utilizes the visual in his poetry throughout Poemergency Room -- and again, there are places where this works to his advantage - the poem Zephyr Kayak Embryo is a lovely example of this - and others where I personally do not feel as though the visual added to the poem.

All his poems do not contain this shaping element to them, however. In fact, one of the pieces I came back to a number of times in the book, a found poem titled Suicide in the Subway, is simply centered on the page, so I was not left feeling that Siegell relies too heavily on the visual.

One of the things I appreciate about Siegell's writing is his willingness to take his chosen style and push it to its limits. Pushing his chosen style as far as he can does, every so often, make his writing uneven, but it is clear that he is conscious of what he does and that he takes care in crafting his work in such a way that he steps up to the boundary, and sometimes even beyond it. I firmly believe that it is only by doing this that a writer may discover what they are truly capable of in their craft.

Siegell’s book was a crash course for me in his style. I am very glad I got the chance to read it. Poemergency Room may not be the best place to start if you are not familiar with the style that Siegell works with (to get an introduction, I might point a Weave reader to Coconut Poetry, who, Google has revealed, published Siegell in their 10th issue), but for anyone who is perhaps even a little bit familiar with his style, Siegell’s book is a fun ride.

Poemergency Room by Paul Siegell was published by Otoliths in 2008 and may be purchased here
Paul's website, where you can also order copies directly from him, may be found at

August 6, 2008

Review: Threat of Pleasure by Phil Memmer

Threat of Pleasure, Phil Memmer’s second book of poetry, expertly showcases his range of voice taking the reader on a journey from the personal to the mythical and finally, the philosophical. He begins with the title poem which encompasses aspects of all three of these themes and poses the question, “Isn’t it enough?” It’s as though he opens the front door to a familiar home where we are compelled to sit and chat with him a while.

Threat features three distinct sections of Memmer’s poetry; the first subtitled “Swelter” mostly tackles the often seemingly uneventful moments of home and family life. However, the juxtaposition of the soft and gentle against the harsh realities of the outside world makes this section stand out and keep its pace. A perfect example of his stealthy imagery is the poem “Watching the Baby Sleep” which begins,

As each just-audible breath
lifts the small weight of his chest

A militia-man’s bayonet
throws him into a ditch.

This positioning of the unexpected continues when comparing the theme of the first section with the second, subtitled “The Ventriloquist’s Ex.” Here characters are created and a voice is given to those often without. The voice heard most often is wife or former lover, giving us a glimpse of their partner through their filter. His characterization is clever and haunting, particularly in poems such as “The Murderer’s Wife” and, my personal favorite, “The Magician’s Assistant”

In his third and final section “Speeding and Lost” Memmer tackles bigger ideas such as the religious and philosophical. Themes such as losing one’s faith God - or questioning whether one’s faith ever existed in the first place – are grounded in real life images. These poems stay true to Memmer’s style; they transport you to a specific time, place or conversation and take you one step further. Whether his characters are pondering a pro-life bumper sticker or having a beer with a friend, through this universal imagery Memmer reveals the layers hidden beneath.

With each poem, the reader is compelled to see what trick Memmer has up his sleeve on the next page. In case you can’t tell by now, I really enjoyed reading Threat of Pleasure and I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.

Laura Davis

Threat of Pleasure is available for purchase at or by contacting Phil Memmer directly through his website: