2018: A Year in Poetry

Eugène Atget “Place de la Bastille” Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program


2018: A Year in Poetry

By Chase Dimock


In 2018, As It Ought To Be proudly to featured astounding work by many brilliant poets. As the Managing Editor, I can say that my favorite part of the job is getting to know our contributors and building a platform for their voices to be heard. It’s an amazing privilege to work with so many talented writers. You can access an archive of As It Ought To Be’s year in poetry right here. Below are some highlights of the year by our frequent contributors.

Our Saturday Poetry Series editors Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Alan Toltzis, and Anne Graue featured some fresh voices in the world of poetry and provided insightful commentary on their work.

John Dorsey mourned with us in a remembrance of Anthony Bourdain.

Daniel Crocker summoned the Incredible Hulk to discuss bipolar disorder.

Margaret Crocker spoke volumes about the silencing of women.

Mike James gave us a preview of the ghazals in his new book and wrote a tribute to one my heroes, Paul Lynde.

Ruth Bavetta glowed in an illuminated desert

Rebecca Schumejda’s series examined the impact of incarceration on communities and families.

Bunkong Tuon contributed a series on the experience of immigrants in America.

Lynn Houston concluded a series of poems about her relationship with a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Tobi Alfier and Jeff Alfier both whisked us away with their travel poems and intimate landscapes.

Kevin Ridgeway transmitted the golden era of late night television

Tim Peeler wrote a tribute to one of my favorite poets, Hart Crane

Stephen Roger Powers flew us to O’Brien’s Tower on the Cliffs of Moher

Jason Ryberg ruminated on the forms and shapes poetry can take in our lives

John Sweet channeled the pain and brilliance of Jackson Pollock

Sean Karns froze a performance perfectly in time.

Roy Bentley’s pop culture compendium spanned Nosferatu, Steve McQueen, and Ringo Starr

Ryan Quinn Flanagan did the heavy lifting of the artistic process

Steve Cushman reignited the past

Jonathan K. Rice took us on a stroll down the pier

Howie Good reminded us all things are photographable.

Mike Acker charted the cracks in our cultural divisions

Lou Ella Hickman brought new perspective to the Adam and Eve story

David Chorlton explored the mysticism of relics


Thanks again to all our contributors from 2018. We already have some amazing poems waiting on deck for 2019. And, just as a reminder, we are always accepting submissions. Check out our contact/submit page for more information.


About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. For more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.


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By Carole Bernstein:


Sunny with the intensity of dream.
Huge balloony graffiti covered the stone
wall at the end of Avenue M,
where Iris Bloom took me to smoke a joint
and we cut Orchestra, second period.

Avenue M—was that it? some
concrete promontory, secret, above the subway
where it burst up into the light—we watched it
racket a while among the green backyards
like a real train from a real place, not Brooklyn,
and sink again.
The passengers, blinking,
would be headed for work, starting their day . . .

What possessed me that morning? I never cut school.
But we would not play that day,
our oboes lying in cases by our feet and books,
the reeds not in our mouths,
the joint passed, sipped at with the breath,
tentative, a new thing to do.
I took off my jacket, the breeze moved over my arms,
we felt lean as boys, we were
dangerous, unsexual, unobserved.

And then returned to the low building
and entered it,
blinded for a few seconds, believing
ourselves altered—the blackboard fathomless,
the passing bell shrieking.
Dull-lipped seemed the faces of the uninitiated.

By three the sun had faded, but
our smoke, its animal warmth, I thought it
scented the spring wind.


Daughter, delivered by an attendant:
silent and watchful in your orphanage smock
with the cartoon dog, and pilled mended pants.
A smell of mildew came from your shock

of sweaty, cropped black hair. Stuck to your chest,
in English and Chinese a name tag read
Happy Springtime: a name pressed
upon you by no father, mother. Closeted

from the world before you came to us, as if
in an ancient tomb carving of a child
rising from the grave in a flowing shift.
Freed from the humid earth, she almost smiles.

You don’t remember, but love to be told
how they brought you through the doors and you were ours.
But buried in you is that place, still. Were you cold,
solitary, left wanting, maybe for hours…

Don’t go there, I tell myself. Instead,
I grab you and inhale your fragrant head.

Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Carole Bernstein’s second poetry collection Buried Alive: A To-Do List is forthcoming in Spring 2019 from Hanging Loose Press. She is also the author of Familiar (Hanging Loose Press)—which J. D. McClatchy called “an exhilarating book”—and a chapbook, And Stepped Away from the Circle (Sow’s Ear Press). Her poems have appeared in magazines including Antioch Review, Bridges, Button Jar, Chelsea, Light, Paterson Literary Review, Poetry, Shenandoah, and Yale Review. Her work has also been included in three anthologies: American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon University Press), Unsettling America (Viking) and The Laurel Hill Poetry Anthology (Laurel Hill Press). She lives in Philadelphia and works as a freelance writer and marketing consultant.

Guest Editor’s Note: Carole Bernstein’s work carries an honest and relaxed tone, even as she addresses sensitive and intimate personal experiences. Reading her work is like being invited into her world as a close confidante, if just for a few moments. In “Pastoral,” Bernstein describes the newfound and sensual freedom that came from cutting class years ago in high school, allowing her and a friend to be “lean as boys” and feel “dangerous, unsexual, unobserved.” She resists romantic or sentimental treatment of the most personal and sentimental moments of life. In “Back to Life,” she presents, with unadorned comfort, the immediate love for a new daughter that was accompanied by “A smell of mildew came from your shock / of sweaty, cropped black hair.” Both of these poems are part of a new collection of work, Buried Alive: A To-Do List, forthcoming Spring 2019.

Want to read more by and about Carole Bernstein?
Buy Familiar on Amazon
Poetry Foundation
Hanging Loose Press

Guest Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.


After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

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Small Gifts

“Boy Scouts At Bowling Field” The Library of Congress

Small Gifts

By Steve Cushman


Small Gifts

She held the ball of dryer lint out for me
said this will help you start a fire.  It
was the night before my first camping trip
with my son’s Boy Scout troop.  It’s
important, she said, to appear as if you
know what you’re doing. Thanks, I said,
but what  do I do with it?  She smiled,
took me by the hand and led me outside
lit the match and touched it to the lint ball.
She didn’t say anything else, and I didn’t ask,
As we watched the flame catch and grow.


About the Author: Steve Cushman has published three novels, including the 2004 Novello-Award Winning Portisville.  His first poetry collection, How Birds Fly, is the winner of the 2018 Lena Shull Book Award.

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First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places:

An Interview With Poet Mike James

By Chase Dimock

When you read Mike James’ new book of poetry, you realize that the contradiction in the title is the intersection where his creativity dwells. For James, the most interesting subjects are those we either overlook and need to re-examine, or we deem impossible and thus need to invent. These are first-hand accounts, but Mike James has many hands. He is a cartographer of the margins, whether that means the almost-icons sitting just left of the spotlight, or the eccentricities in mainstream society you can only see if you look awry.

Take his series of poems on Grant Wood’s paintings for instance. In them, he teases out the subversive, frustrated eroticism embedded in the denim overalls of Americana. He writes about flamboyance and excess, but with an exactitude of language. At first, you think his ghazals and prose poems wander through their subjects, until you get to the destination, and then you realize he took you on a precisely planned path you had never seen on the maps. These are the made-up places we all live in, and Mike James knows the routes where the dirt roads glitter.

Chase Dimock: Anyone who has been following your work will notice that you have been extremely prolific lately with diverse interests in themes and forms. Last year, you published two books: My Favorite House Guest, a collection of prose poems about pop culture icons, and Crows in the Jukebox, which draws a lot on your family history with an almost minimalist use of language. Where does First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places fit into your evolution as a poet? How do its themes and forms reflect where you are as a writer and a man today?

Mike James: I have very broad tastes. I love jazz and disco, classical and country. I love action movies and documentaries. I mention this because it’s applicable in how I approach my writing. I’m always interested in what I haven’t done and I tend to really run with my passions. The musicians I truly love (Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Arthur Russell, David Bowie) all work/worked with a wide variety of styles. That’s how I approach my writing. So many of the poets who really interest me are ones who don’t have a settled “house style”, but instead work with an expansive scope.

The new collection is divided into three different sections. The first section is a sequence of ghazals. That’s a form I’ve tinkered with for years. The ghazals were the catalyst for this collection. I wrote the sequence in order, excluding the poems I discarded, with the idea that chronology would impose a structure.

The second section is mainly free verse, mostly centered on the work of Grant Wood. The final section is prose poems which are not, mainly, pop culture centered in the way that the poems in My Favorite Houseguest are.  Prose poems are wonderful because they are so liberating in regards to subject matter and expectations. I feel like I’m a different poet when I’m writing prose poems. My prose poems tend to be a more absurdist and chattily surreal.

The new collection provides an overview of my current interests in both subject matter and technique. These poems, I hope, show a comfort level with a wide variety of themes and with a wide range of technique. On a very personal level, the biggest difference between the work I’m doing now and the work I did ten years ago is that I’m much more willing to embrace failure and to follow any squirrel up any tree.  My subjects are more open and more varied now. I’ve let go of the old concepts of the kind of poet I want to be. These days, I enjoy writing more than ever before. I’m certainly much more relaxed about the wrong turns I take. I hope that joy transfers to the reader. Continue reading

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He Brought His Canvases Over

“Two Heads” By Paul Klee (1932)


He Brought His Canvases Over

By Ryan Quinn Flanagan


He Brought His Canvases Over

and he kept hauling these giant paintings
through the front door
so that I began to wonder how he had carried
them all over, the cabbies get mad if you fill
their car with paintings because they know artists
are poor and someone will have to carry the
damn things, and he keeps passing me off to the next
one before I can even really see the last and asking me
if I think it is finished and I remind him that I am
not a painter and that high school was hard to finish
so I am probably not the best judge
and he tells me he quit smoking, hasn’t sucked
a single glory stick in weeks and I put some tea on
to steep because I can see we will be here for a while…  
do you need some help?, I ask.
I can manage, he assures me. There are only
a couple more.
I watch him bring them in like an invading
army making its last entrance
into the spackled bowels of faulty plumbing.


About the Author: Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many mounds of snow.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Cultural Weekly, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.

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By Nicky Beer:


My parents are dead, too.
A dirty, self-cannibalizing Gotham—
I also claim it, its city limits
built by my skin. I slough
and slough, but the city remains.
Tell me, if you’d watched
your mother’s face go
a slow yellow after they cut
off her breast, if you’d watched
your father’s mind get chewed down
to spasms, who would
you fight then? What broken
string of pearls would you chase
into the gutter? Lucky boy
to have an enemy.

Admit it—what bugs you
the most about the Joker
is his drag. You suspect
his crayoned mouth a lampoon
of your dead mother.
But don’t you crave,
sometimes, to be a little
tacky? Doesn’t the all-black
bore after a while?
Even your sweet ride can’t help
but leave a little fart of flames
in its wake.
How many others
glare from the shadows
at a one-man parade
in a loud costume, blowing
glitter kisses at grim Justice?
You just think you want
to kill him for better reasons.
What kind of person would trade
laughter for righteousness?

Every woman goes out
knowing what you think
you alone had sussed:
the world is a dark alley
hiding a gun in its mouth.
It has more than enough
reasons to make you
cover your face.
The moon waxes. The bruise
wanes. Every woman
is Batman.

Today’s poem first appeared in Issue Four of Cherry Tree, February 2018, and is reprinted here with permission from the poet.

Nicky Beer is the author of The Octopus Game (Carnegie Mellon, 2015) and The Diminishing House (Carnegie Mellon 2010), both winners of the Colorado Book Award for Poetry. She has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, and a poetry editor for the journal Copper Nickel. You can find her on Twitter at @nbeerpoet.

Guest Editor’s Note: As with all epistolary poems, this one is meant not only for the recipient—in this case Bruce Wayne—but is addressed to readers located in this complicated and frustrating time and place in history. The first line is reminiscent of a fan letter, choosing a shared experience between fan and celebrity that brings them together in some way, but the feeling that they are kindred spirits stops there. What follows in that stanza are philosophical questions about death and justice in the voice of someone who needs to find an enemy to rail against and a tragedy to seek retribution for in order to feel heroic power associated with that “Lucky boy” in line 14. The first stanza braces the reader for more questions for this hero who everyone has been led to believe fights diabolic evil in the world wherever it rears its head and who seems to have misunderstood what it is he is fighting against.

The two stanzas that follow further distance the hero from the letter writer and anyone who holds him in heroic esteem. The second stanza brilliantly questions Mr. Wayne about what really bugs him about the Joker and suggests that perhaps he harbors some jealousy for the evildoer’s colorful style, reducing the Batmobile to a “sweet ride” that can only leave “a little fart of flames / in its wake.” The speaker uses some cunning psychoanalysis on the Caped Crusader, deflating his motives and weakening his stature as a revered hero. The third stanza reveals truths women have always known about the nature of this “dirty, self-cannibalizing Gotham” we live in and how women cope every day in a world that “is a dark alley / hiding a gun in its mouth.” The final lines are a punch just below Batman’s utility belt that knocks the air out of his alter ego, reducing him to a bruise that wanes.

Want to read more by and about Nicky Beer?
Nicky Beer’s Official Website

Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Gluttony (Pure Slush Books), The Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, Random Sample Review, Into the Void Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, and Rivet Journal.


After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

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Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

“Charon’s Boat” By Otto Brausewetter


Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

By John Dorsey


Anthony Bourdain Crosses the River of the Dead

& there is nothing to eat
a mouse carrying a ham sandwich died
in the corner of the room

its stomach full with pride

but that seems like centuries ago
when mice did things like that
when the outline of a young mother’s thigh
could evoke the holy spirit

when we were all the afterlife of the party

when of all our hungry closets got fed

when love danced around
every corner
of our heart

with no reservations.


Check out our interview with John Dorsey on his book, Letting the Meat Rest.


About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

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