Spotlight on Broadstone Books
“Tell us something interesting, or tell it in an interesting way – or better yet, do both.”
Reviewed by Nettie Farris
Broadstone Books was founded by Larry W. Moore and Stephen L. Taylor in 2003 with the publication of Home Place and Other Poems, by Sheila Bucy Potter. The press is an imprint of Broadstone Media LLC, a company whose mission is to “promote cultural activities generally.” In addition to publishing books, the company curates the Jane Chancellor Moore Gallery, located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The Gallery (named in honor of its former curator, who died in 2012) exhibits work by contemporary visual artists. The name Broadstone is a portmanteau of Broadway and Limestone, the streets of the two men’s colleges: Transylvania and the University of Kentucky. Naming is a significant act at Broadstone, where the use of language is highly regarded. Submission guidelines ask for poetry that uses “fresh and compelling language,” and fiction that “uses language in an original and compelling fashion.” In an interview with Nin Andrews, Moore reveals that, in a manuscript, he looks for “interesting theme, interesting language. With the emphasis on language.” In sum, the press is “far more interested in how you write than what you write about.”
Annually publishing about four full-length books per year, Broadstone Books requires no manuscript fees, and promises that each submission will be read by a minimum of two readers. In addition to Moore and Taylor, staff now includes Sheila Bucy Potter as a principle reader and Christopher Taylor as an Associate Editor. Jeremy Dae Paden, author of ruina montium, reports that “working with Broadstone has been a very good experience.” Paden describes Larry Moore, who suggested his full-length manuscript be whittled down to a chapbook, as being “quite honest.” Moore himself confesses that experience in publishing has taught him to be realistic about the slim market for poetry, and suggests that “the most effective way of selling poetry is through the one-on-one connection that poets make with an audience through readings.”
ruina montium (Broadstone Books, 2016), by Jeremy Dae Paden, is a chapbook of twenty-seven poems that pay homage to the 2010 Copiapó mining collapse. Thirty-three minors were trapped for sixty-nine days in the San José copper and gold mine (located in the Atacama desert region of Chile) before rescue. The collection’s title, ruina montium, is Latin for “the wrecking of mountains,” an ancient Roman mining technique using hydraulics, and is documented in the historical record by Pliny the Elder. The second poem in this collection, “ruina montium i,” ends with a quotation by Pliny: “how dangerous we have made this earth.” This poem, and also the first poem of the collection, “the harrowing,” (with their use of corporal images) compares the mine, the bowels of the earth, to the human body. So, in effect, what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.
Paden is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Transylvania University (located in Lexington, KY) where he also serves as Program Director for Foreign Languages. He has recently published his translation from the Spanish of the chapbook Delicate Matters, by Juan Carlos Mestre and Alexandra Dominguez (Winged City Chapbooks, 2016). In addition to his time spent in Italy, the Caribbean, and the United States, he has also spent time in Latin America, so this place of the earth is no stranger to him.
The sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases in this collection is like the sprinkling of holy water, and Biblical references are numerous. “the taken & the left,” for example, (fluently) references the fall from the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, the Wedding at Canaan, and the Rapture after the Apocalypse in just twelve lines. Other poems provide images of baptism, burial, resurrection. Eight of these poems are dedicated to specific miners involved in the tragedy. Most of these address the miner directly through the use of second person. These are the most heart wrenching poems of the collection. Reading these particular poems, I was reminded of Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It may be the closest I’ve come to feeling my heart pierced by the arrow of a poem.
“holding cell,” dedicated to Mario Gómez Herrera, demonstrates the sense of movement that permeates the collection. The poem begins at this miner’s introduction to the mine as a child:
twelve when you first descended
holding father’s hand.
The skillful use of nouns and spacing suggests the movement of both time and distance:
The poem ends with the tragic accident, when the miner is sixty-four, and the use of a periodic sentence intensifies its closure: “but there, above & below you, like a dead / & dying star, bright, the collapse.”
“icarus” grounds the collection in myth and ancient history, and, perhaps, introduces the sin of pride. It flows out of the image of burial. The poem begins:
there is a moment when the revelation darkness
brings, being buried seven hundred meters below, shines
brighter than any molten ball of metal in crucible[.]
The poem then contrasts the loved ones grieving above ground—
A major strength of this collection is its rich multiple contexts, a series of widening concentric circles, like a set of nesting Matryoshka dolls: trapped minor(s). . . loved ones . . . mining industry . . . Presidents of countries. “matters of state” narrates the rescue of the only Bolivian minor, Carlos Mamani, who arrives above ground to greet, not only wife and children, but cameras and diplomats at odds with one another:
& you will be brought up from the depths,
from volcanic warmth to frozen night,
from the darkness of the earth to lights
blinding & you will be whisked away
to triage & before cameras, before
wife & children wanting to smell you,
to climb on your lap to kiss you, to lie
against your chest & try to match
their breathing to yours, to certify
through touch that it is you; presidents
will come, stand over you, each choosing
As indicated by its epigraph from the Book of Job, ruina montium is a collection about suffering, but is not without hope, for it is also graced with images of birds, glints from copper and gold, and a series of resurrections.
Aleph, broken: poems from my diaspora (2016), by Judith Kerman, traces the search of a secular Jewish woman for heritage through ancestry, history, and culture. The title of this full-length collection of poems refers to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; and, from the mystical Kabbalah tradition, origin. The title poem, one of the saddest poems in the collection, begins:
slides from her
warm soup into bitter air;
breathes but does not cry,
of a life without promises[.]
Invoking the image of alphabet soup, this is one of several poems associated with food. “Cholent,” the opening poem of the collection, depicts a break in Jewish tradition:
Fridays, women in other houses
rush about, cleaning and cooking,
heating the oven to keep the cholent hot—
meat and fruit, a stewing sweetness
I’ve never tasted.
It came home with Daddy
on the train from New York,
round and heavy
with a hard mahogany crust,
knobbly as stone.
The crux of Aleph, broken focuses on the dead. The frontspiece poem, “Liminal: After the Funeral” begins:
A book tells secrets
it’s dying to share
once the mourning ends.
The poem ends: “I don’t need anyone’s permission to tell the story.” “White Light” subtlety suggests the lingering presence of the dead among us by describing “an empty recliner” stained with body oils. Similarly, “White Light Again” reflects on the absent voice of a departed mother. “Conundrum” calls forth a similar, though more emphatic, absence:
Someone is required to identify
the body before burial,
the golem without the sacred Name.
In the open coffin, red lipstick my mother
might have worn, white hair sprayed stiff
as she would never do,
only the bones of her face
“Conundrum” is one of several poems using the structure of a definition. These poems begin by identifying the title as a noun, then provide a numbered list, which not so much defines the word, but describes it, using association. For example, “Israel” is aligned with “2. Dreaming” and “3 Jacob after he dreamed.” “Diaspora,” the concluding poem, begins with the following image: “1. A woman with a kerchief over her hair sits on a suitcase. Somewhere, going somewhere else.
A glossary of Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and Spanish terms appears at the end of the book. Following “Diaspora,” and within the context of the collection as a whole, this glossary nearly appears as a poem itself. Developing its own alphabet and language of diaspora, Aleph, broken is, ironically, very cohesive in terms of absence, fragility, and brokenness.
As indicated by its title, Brain in a Jar: A Daughter’s Journey Through Her Father’s Memory (2013), by Nancy Sterns Bercaw, is a memoir. Like the various published memoirs of both Susanna Sonnenberg and Mary Karr, the autobiographical material of this book is intelligently pruned toward a keen sense of focus: the Alzheimer’s of Bercaw’s father, Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw. The book is divided into three chronological sections titled “The Beginning,” “The Middle,” and “The Ending.” Each section consists of individual chapters titled for names of places.
“The Beginning” spans the decade of the 1970’s. The opening chapter is titled, “The Public Pool.” Nancy Bercaw, who will become a national championship swimmer, is five-years-old, and her father is teaching her to swim. Bercaw narrates this book in present tense, providing a sense of immediacy. The voice of young Nancy Bercaw sounds remarkably similar to the voice of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She, in fact, references Lee’s classic novel in chapter seven. At the age of fourteen, Nancy strikes a deal with her father. Instead of getting a summer job, she will voraciously read, earning a penny from Dr. Bercaw for each page read. Having read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness previously, she forms a conclusion after reading To Kill a Mockingbird: “The book makes me think that Beau is more like Atticus Finch than Colonel Kurtz. However, the relationship between Dr. Beauregard Bercaw and Nancy is not the relationship between Atticus Finch and Scout. This is a relationship fraught with conflict.
I wished my biology teacher were my dad.
I wished my swim coach were my dad.
I wished Ernest Hemingway were my dad.
Anyone but the silent man who had the job of raising me and who worried more about locked-in disease than his own daughter’s suffering. I had an acute case of locked-out disease.
A neurologist, Dr. Bercaw is a man obsessed with his work. His specific obsession: finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. He keeps the brain of his own father, who succumbed to this disease, in a jar of formaldehyde on his desk. He knows that he will likely succumb himself, and he is determined to prevent it. Unfortunately, his obsession absents him from his daughter. The Middle section of the book spans the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. The word journey in book’s title is not just a metaphor, for Nancy Bercaw travels the world in search of the man who is her father: the Serengeti, the 38th Parallel in South Korea, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia. What she discovers is herself.
Despite its tight focus, Brain in a Jar is not just about Alzheimer’s. Peppered with letters. as well as other forms of written text (the engraving on a tombstone, for example), it’s a story about familial relationships, world history, communication, love, and suffering. It’s a story about the power of the written (and spoken) word. And a beautiful story it is.
The Bounteous World (2013), by Frederick Smock, is a collection of poems that works as a series of still lifes. However, the best of these poems point us toward a scene outside of the poem. As Jane Gentry remarks on the book’s back cover: “Like the ophthalmologist’s just-right lens, Smock’s poems bring the blurry world into focus so that sight and insight become Vision . . . helping us see, doing the real work of poetry.” The world of these poems is, like the nature of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world mediated by the mind, more specifically, the mind of the poet. “A Short Film” sets the scene for many of these poems. It presents “the poet sitting by a window.” The work of the poet seems rather a quiet meditative act:
The action would really get going
when the poet looks
out the window and then
looks down again,
pen in hand.
A similar act occurs in “The Archer:” “The archer sits in meditation.” She is seated in lotus position. Her straight spine is compared to an arrow. However, the result of this action is not a poem, but something more cerebral:
Across the way,
is being reached.
Windows abound. In “Morning,” (vaguely reminiscent of Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” with its oranges) there occurs a window beside a table:
The window looks down
into a courtyard,
and sometimes up
into blue sky.
Another window appears in “Malmö.” This one presents us with an optical transformation. After visiting Malmö and having returned home, the speaker of this poem sees not what is outside the window, but an imagined scene:
And today, back home,
at my writing table,
it is Sweden that I see
out my window,
the sun a small flat kronor
in the sky.
The title of the collection comes from its opening poem, “The Gift”: “The less you want / the more bounteous the world becomes.” The collection as a whole plays upon a similar irony: that of largeness contained within the small. “Tranströmer,” a poem about the Swedish Noble Prize winning poet, ends with a description of a film “about a small Chinaman / who sets up a small tent / on the edge of town, / but step inside that tent / and it’s a three-ring circus.” The minimalist aesthetic of these clean, largely regularly-lined lyrics serves as a fitting vehicle for these ironies. As the poem “Meditative,” a mediation on a chair, suggests: “In its emptiness, it seems the seat of all wisdom.”
The Porcupine of the Mind (2012), by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, is a meditation on language and love, on the language of love. The short poem, “My name is Ov” from the middle section of the book entitled “The Ending of Slavic Names,” serves as a representative snapshot:
My name is Ov,
like the ending
of Slavic names.
I used to be called Love,
but as it turned out,
L was silent.
The word love appears repeatedly throughout these poems. Again, in the same section, it appears as a word: “You’ll Never Pronounce the Word / love the same / after you’ve kissed / a foreigner.” The beginning of the collection is inundated with kisses, as seen by a few titles: Kissing the Shell of an Egg,” “When You Kiss a Grape,” “Kissing the Tide, As It Pulls Back,” The Kiss of the Stone,” Kissing the Lips of Really Bad News.” Of course, all these kisses are not joyful: “One Should Exercise Caution / when kissing a daffodil. / Somebody could get hurt.” Similarly, “Kissing a Snowman” opens: “He loves you not,” and ends: “He loves you not. / Under his tin-pot hat / lives only ice.”
The poems in this collection playfully juxtapose the ordinary with the extraordinary. The opening poem, “O & I,” recounts the love story of a one cell organism (O), who befriends the speaker of the poem. After being rescued and placed in a glass of water, he spends the night on the speaker’s nightstand:
He pressed his tummy flat
against the glass and didn’t take
his eye off me until next morning
when I opened mine and saw him
The story ends happily: “You mean the world to me, I told him.” “Mermaid in the Cornfield” narrates a similar rescue: “We found / a mermaid in the cornfield.” The mermaid is in need of care: “She had bite marks of animals, / fat lips and scabs.” The poem’s speaker takes her home, places her in the bathtub, “and drop[s] in a yellow rubber duck.” A similar sense of magical realism pervades “The Superhero Is Moving Out,” which recounts loss rather than rescue. The poem opens with the superhero packing “a toothbrush” and “a change of tights.” “His children stare at him” “with boogers and tears smeared / across their cheeks.” As he eats his last meal with his family “in silence,” “The dishwasher hurls / water from side to side.” When his wife asks if he needs a ride, he replies, “I’ll fly.”
The third, and final, section of the book, entitled “The Downside of Lucidity,” concerns prayers: Moth Woman, / turn off the light and pray. In the dark / you can ask for / just about anything.” “The Way I Used to Pray to St. Catherine” is one of the most beautiful poems in the collection. The poem opens with the lighting of a candle. The speaker of the poem, perhaps recalling a scenario from childhood, stands staring into the eyes of a statue of St. Catherine: “I’d look at her, / she’d look at me, / and we would stay this way / until she knew everything.” The final poem, “Food,” spreads the intimacy of the earlier poems outward, for “Corn is a generous mother”:
You cannot love thy neighbor
without eating your vegetables.
You can stop world wars
with the kindness of a single fruit cup.
Katerina Stoykova-Klemer has a gift for metaphor, for personification, for making the abstract noun concrete and particular. And she is blessed with compassion. It would be difficult to read these wise and delightful poems without feeling loved.
Although the “primary mission” of Broadstone Books “is the promotion of poetry,” the press also considers manuscripts of fiction and non-fiction. Nancy Sterns Bercaw, author of the memoir Brain in a Jar, offers that she heard about Broadstone through word of mouth, and that she thought her story might appeal to the publishers, despite the percentage of poetry books in the catalog. Manuscripts are accepted in hard copy only, though queries, which include sample work, are accepted electronically. Published authors are under no financial obligation, but are encouraged to promote their books. According to Bercaw, production of her book was “a true labor of love by both sides—publisher and author. We are a family now, brought together by story.” In the words of Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, “What Broadstone books does is rare and beautiful.”
Nettie Farris is the current reviews editor. She is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the mini-chapbook Story (Origami Poetry Project, 2016). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has received the Kudzu Poetry Prize and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences University of Louisville. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.