Review of Fledgling Rag Issue 13 Release Reading at Dogstar Books
Dogstar Books, located on West Lemon Street in Lancaster, is one of my favorite places to hear poetry. It actually may be one of my favorite places on earth. On July 30th Dogstar hosted the release of arguably the best local, independent poetry journal around, the Fledgling Rag. And, there is no one you can trust more than Le Hinton, editor of the journal, to bring together poets that are as deft, fierce, and humbly dedicated to craft as are found in its pages. The journal has been put out by Iris G. Press since 2006 and has featured the work of some of the finest local and regional poets, each of them sought out personally by Hinton’s editorial vision.
This is our scene: On Dogstar’s premises, if you can actually make it past each enticing shelf of books, there is an intimate gallery in the adjacent room, walls laden with local art, the front of it visibly open to the street through a generous bay window. The gallery has several rows of mismatched folding chairs. There is the hum of poets and listeners gathering. By 7 o’clock, Hinton takes to the lectern to set the stage for the evening, and in his soft, persistent voice, reveals his passion for the poetry he has come to find all around him. Many of the people he’s published come from in the Triangle’s geographic focus, the York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster areas. Others hail from the greater Mid-Atlantic region, from Baltimore, to Pittsburgh, to Washington DC, among other places in Maryland and New Jersey.
In many ways, this gathering is not just about this issue’s release, but a way to celebrate the poets who have appeared throughout the journal’s near decade existence. Hinton’s standards for poetic excellence includes dedication to craft, humility, high talent, and perhaps most emphatically, that the poet be “a good person.” (Le joked openly, but seriously, a few times throughout the night, that he prefers working with good people: “Why would I work with someone I don’t like?”) Not only is Hinton a phenomenal poet (his poem “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” will appear in Best American Poetry 2014), but he devotes much of his time and energy discovering, reading, and promoting other poets.
Over the course of an entrancing hour and a half, the evening progressed through short 5-10 minute readings from Carol Clark Williams, Jeff Rath, Patricia Hanahoe-Dosch, Brian Fanelli, Heather Thomas, and Joseph Ross after glowing introductions from Hinton. Williams and Rath read as contributors to past issues of the journal and Hanahoe-Dosch, Fanelli, Thomas, and Ross, as contributors to issue 13.
There is no way to deny it—this was a powerhouse reading from all established poets. The level of talent and artistry was simply astounding. Perhaps it is impossible to give you a true impression of the energy of the room, the excitement at hearing words put to such beautiful use, but here are my attempts at giving you a small slice of each poet’s oeuvre:
Carol Clark Williams is a former poet laureate of York County whose work appeared in issue 3 of the Fledgling Rag. She started off the night, reading a series of poems dealing nimbly with diverse subjects—from the Columbine shooting, to motherhood, to aging with her siblings, to July heat, and chaos—giving us pure images and emotional impressions that linger with the impact of her near perfect last lines.
Jeff Rath was introduced by Hinton as “one of the best poets…one of the best men I know.” Rath’s answer to such praise was a side step followed by a wry smile: “I’m sorry to inform you that Jeff couldn’t make it out tonight. So you’re all stuck with me.” Rath was published in issue 7 of the journal and has three collections to his credit, all published by Iris G. Press. He and Hinton have been friends and critics of each other’s work for years, and anyone in the room could tell the camaraderie they share is a thing to be envied. Rath’s reading consisted of several pieces from his first book, The Waiting Room at the End of the World. Hearing him read is mesmerizing; reading it on the page is even better. His poems are viscous, taut, and lucid with a melancholy that uncovers countless fresh associations between words, thoughts, images, and layers of meaning. I watched several people sitting near me hold their breath during a few of his poems.
Patricia Hanahoe-Dosch took to the podium and delivered two poems from issue 13, “Birling” and “The 21st Century Hurricane: An Assay,” and a few other works including poems about Facebook, fairytales, and drivers from New Jersey (where she is originally from). As she read, Hanahoe-Dosch’s work nestled into the audience with a humming, textured musicality and a measured thoughtfulness.
Brian Fanelli, a Ph.D. student at SUNY Binghamton and a resident of Scranton, PA, was next in the evening’s line-up. His soft, fervent voice comes through in every poem, aloud and on the page. His work gains a remarkable forward momentum as each line is delivered, as he leans into ordinary moments with such concentration and clarity that he seems to be constructing the images only for individual listeners. Fanelli’s work was certainly a highpoint of the evening.
Heather Thomas, who lives in Reading, PA, has six collections of verse to her credit. Read aloud, her work is energetic and expressive, each well-polished poem confidently delivered with a slight theatricality of voice. Though I could tell you about it, I wish for Thomas’ poetry to speak for itself, in a few lines taken mid-poem from “Laying Down the Moon,” which appears in issue 13: “We walked out back / to see ourselves, to breathe our smallness / into the space fallen there.”
The night was capped off with the work of poet and English teacher, Joseph Ross. He began by reading Other People’s Poetry, or OPP for short, a tradition from readings back home in Washington DC. He chose a stunning piece titled “Consume/d” by Fred Joiner, another issue 13 contributor currently living in Mali. The four Ross poems found in this issue of the Fledgling Rag are part of a themed series, concerned with the chaos and injustices surrounding the influx of immigrants crossing into the US from various countries in Latin America. The unifying image of the “Immigrant Requiem” series is the Joshua tree. Ross explained the image as a spiny, scrubby, isolated, and somewhat grotesque looking tree that grows exclusively in certain elevations of the Mojave Desert, and that has some mystique, some saintly spiritual significance for immigrant travelers. Ross wraps the immigrant experience tightly around the image of the Joshua tree in his spare, meditative strings of thought: “Eventually, every immigrant/ learn this hourly truth: / No desert tree can be trusted, every root holds / the potential for starvation / the possibility of brilliant / suffering.” His phrases, brimming over with intense moral energy, Joseph Ross’ poetry will restore your conviction that compassion can make a difference in the world. Beyond even this, Ross has the courage to say what we all wish we could, without hesitation. Ross finished his reading with a poem titled “George Zimmerman’s Options,” climbing into the subject’s thought processes on the day of his highly politicized altercation with Trayvon Martin in 2012. It was the last piece he read. It ended with the lines “Pull up next to this person. / Realize he is a teenage boy. / Pull forward as you notice he does not stop walking. / Decide to roll down your window. / Roll down your window. / Look carefully through the rain as he turns to face you. / Decide to ask him if he needs a ride. / Ask.”
These poets have found themselves on the pages of the Fledgling Rag, and they find themselves in good company. Other issue 13 contributors include the issue’s featured poet, Edgar Gabriel Silex (a National Book Award nominee), Joy KMT (a McDowell fellow), Fred Joiner, Christina Springer, Chris Bullard, and Kendra Kopelke.
If you buy just one independent poetry journal in the next week, month, year, it should be this one. The Fledgling Rag, and Hinton’s carefully selected cast of poets, does not disappoint. To get your hands on this (or any) issue of the Fledgling Rag, stop by Dogstar Books or email Iris G. Press directly (irisgpressATaolDOTcom) for more information.