Summer 2016: Nothing Stranger
Jake Hills

Jake Hills

Dearest readers,

Who are we? Do we not ask ourselves this question everyday? Are our identities not always in question--not always changing and morphing? These poems call into question our existential bodies--the bodies that live in the spiritual and ethereal realms of our universe--not just the ones that transport us to work and back. I ask myself these questions everyday--and everyday my answers are always a little different. 

Joanna C. Valente
Founding Editor

Hannah Lee Jones’ poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Superstition Review, Literary Orphans, Apogee Journal, and Orion. She edits Primal School, a resource for writers pursuing their craft without an advanced degree, and lives on Whidbey Island in northwest Washington.


Suppose you’re the one  

newly over a wall of ill,

its iron gate closing on a boy in a lit corridor.


He’s barefooted,

ash coating his teeth,

a spray of lilies in his outstretched hand.


Suppose something dark once broke

you into a canter

through a petrified wood,


a tunnel of hollowed snags

just wide enough to pass through.


That the first of these was your father  

in a straitsuit of knives,

another was his father

with a scythe made of moss,


and together their sharpening

was a blaze you’d outrun.  


That all beneath you were kings

who’d been struck

from their thrones, 


and always it was autumn,

which meant

spring and winter were at war,


the other trees dyeing gold,


and so how could it not dim

you to unname him as you named him,

his heart scraping

in you like a fistful of leaves.



As when once at dawn two dragons duel

                  in a meadow, their keepers mad.


                  Blood stains their scales black and yellow.

A temple bell rung by the moon’s marked climb  


hangs like the dead, and a king rises

                  from slumber to read his scrolls by its light.


His queen: the captive scribe who grinds his ink.

                  Their servants the exploded rays


                  of every hour they keep their robes.

How whitely they whisper to one another 


in notes of bitter herbs – their lips bearing

                  all that’s been writ large


                  or small in the shallows of their skin.

His eyes aloft on the wind.


Her fingers weary with language.

                  Their silences poured along the ground


                  like so much pine smoke

while their burning brims over, labors long.


As when once at dusk I go to a grove

                  to meet my life’s two takers,


                  and they come to keep their vows,

and death sends word.  


                         Indian monster of Alsea lore 

No children for her, or a husband,
or even friends, they were all too unbearable.
She wished to be free so she fled,
stole water from wells in the blaze before dusk,
ate roadkill raw, their gore on her face,
wrestled bears in the night,
tore through tall meadows after bolts of lightning.
She made love to lone fishermen
and abandoned them, weeping;
snatched children and hid them in emptied fox dens
then banished them homeward with berries and nightmares,
lawless as ravens and stubborn as weeds.
All this she did as she wailed and ran;
when the wind changed key, it was her;
it was her when the clouds


wept their storms into buds in spring.  
And it was surely her who shook
the windows of your house to near-breaking,
when you said I want something but I don’t know what it is,
                                                           and so had nothing.  


Interview with Hannah Lee Jones with Founding Editor Joanna C. Valente

JV: What is your ideal breakfast and morning? Describe a typical start to your day. 

HJ: My ideal morning would include an early rise and a walk followed by writing over a cup of coffee, but I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and so am rarely awake before 9AM. I try to do my most important tasks using the day’s peak brainpower. Real food, work for pay, email and social media rarely happen until after noon on the days when I write…working from home gives me the freedom of setting my own schedule.

How do you know when a poem is done?

I don’t. The closest I get to gauging a poem’s doneness is knowing if it feels true to me; whether it passes a kind of lyrical lie-detector test I’ve set for myself. I check for an absence of BS in the associative weft of the words, in their movement as sound. And the test is most effective when I’ve put away the poem for a while and returned to it with a shrewd ear and without my ego running interference. If I’ve done my job, a poem’s images and metaphors will render as an array of emotions I can feel inside my body – and if I’ve really done my job, the words read aloud will possess the feel-good rightness of music. I tend to like poems of mine best that rise gradually, like a drum-cadence that builds and resounds. But they’re more abandoned than finished, always.  

What were you listening to and reading and watching while writing these?

Since I don’t watch television and most of my entertainment comes from reading, the inspiration for nearly all of my poems comes from books or encounters with people. I was gnawing my way through James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and The I-Ching/Book of Changes (Bollingen Series) at the time that I wrote “A Marriage”. “Asin in the Desert” was inspired by one of Brian Doyle’s references to Oregonian Alsea legend in his novel Mink River. I can’t seem to muster a pertinent comment on “Sister Star” and so will have to let that one fly solo, but I have a colorful and active dream life from which some of those images were drawn.

How do you know when to break a line?

For reasons of sound and sense this is easier with some poems than others. I find a poem with a stricter metrical contract easier to lineate than one that runs roughshod over the page, so to speak.  In the latter case I give greater attention to the emotional weight of words and their specific placement at the end of a line. Though there’s the unit of breath to think of, as well. And does the poem’s speaker have a specific kind of voice? Does the energy or subject matter of the poem call for a slower or faster -moving surface, with longer or shorter lines? I also try not to shy away from uneven lines, uneven stanzas, or letting chaos enter the making of a poem when and where it wants to…each piece breathing and moving in its own way. At the risk of sounding woo-woo, the poem usually tells you what it wants. If you’re listening carefully enough.

What part of you writes your poems? What are your obsessions?

My poems are written from many different parts of me, as I think they should be. If they came from only one part of me they’d probably live in a kind of echo chamber, an effect that’d only be useful for a group of poems or maybe a collection of them.  It takes a fair amount of introspection and receptivity to hear the many voices of the self asking to be let out, but those voices contain a profound measure of wisdom and often know more about our inner lives than we do. For me those different voices tend to be archetypal and therefore familial.

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with questions of history and belonging. I was born in this country to parents who never loved each other, and I grew up knowing only half their story, my mother’s. And so naturally, paternal themes tend to figure rather large in my poems. I write a lot about brotherhood. I write a lot about men. Domestic abuse, and my relationship with my brother through his years of depression, cast long shadows over much of what I write. So does my relationship to the beloved – not the same thing as a lover, but the eternal Beloved that appears in the work of poets like Li-Young Lee or Gregory Orr. That Beloved is important to me because I think it’s a side of human nature that we’re all trying to reclaim – a wild and hidden and undying part of the psyche that wants to care for us, and again, knows far more than we do about how and where we hurt and why, and what we love and fear and long for. 


Katie Longofono received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder of Dead Rabbits Reading Series, a monthly literary salon that takes place in NYC. She is also a producer of AmpLit Fest, co-produced with Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson. Her first chapbook, The Angel of Sex, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2013. Her chapbook Angeltits is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tinderbox Poetry Journal, BOAAT, South Dakota Review, Juked, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She may or may not be on Twitter. She lives in Brooklyn.

The Virus Tries Online Dating 

I don’t want to date anymore but I logged on

to tinder to use a line my best friend and I coined

Dan is the first person to ask me out

since The Virus            lucky Dan        I write back

“well I have herpes for the rest of my life

but other than that I’m free”


he does not respond for thirty three minutes

my heart goes still even though this is a joke


Dan says it’s good to get things out in the open

Dan just got out of a seven year relationship

  doesn’t know how dating works          I do

but nobody wants to commit to The Virus


I walk to a wooden bar and Dan is smoking outside

waiting for me    he’s not as cute as I thought


we talk for three hours             I smoke all his cigarettes

and he buys more.     we don’t leave

until one am when I ask pointedly what train

he needs to take     time to go, Dan     instead we break

into a construction site where he kisses me

on a pile of bricks        we climb dismantled staircases and later

he puts my nipple in his mouth            and on our next date we have sex

and the next     and the next

we do this for months    art acid brunch fuck     repeat

he calls his ex Voldemort      tells me about her

until I ask him to stop we don’t discuss the virus in fact

we don’t except that first time

eventually we take a walk he goes
I’ve been irresponsible
with your feelings
    I don’t cry    say ok
and,    I should go now
squeeze out a tear on the subway–

The Virus Introduces Itself

so you want to write a poem about The Virus

but the virus has written you into every cell,

not just the sex ones, you are behind bars and the guard

grazes your breast – you’re certain

he meant it – your mouth forgets

how to say no. Is there a statistic

for how many words a woman loses

with each passing year? You want to bury

the virus, just not in a bed

of skin. How to unblanket

your torso, how to redress

“sin.” You’re sorry you touched, sorry

you let him in.


The Virus Has An Affair



The Frenchman peels sunburnt skin
from my shoulder and eats it     inhales the sweaty
caves of my body      puts one toe   then two
in his mouth      he is trying to consume me
by the inch   even as he holds me he vomits
at my prickling legs    he hates

when I skip showers    likes to hold me at his apartment
for entire weekends at a time   I have to go   just stay
another hour he says    I become a quilt of smoke
and champagne   he leaves porn up on the bigscreen
I stop noticing     he tells me about his affair
with an older married woman    how cosmopolitan  so French
I act very impressed   I guess she wears twelve inch heels
and they fuck    once she pissed in a glass   they toasted:
to new york    to wives     the sanctity of marriage
he texts me when he’s with her     I say hi, Alexa
she says hey little girl    The Frenchman thinks it’s hot      we both think
it’s gross     finally I leave and don’t come back
The Frenchman is upset   The Frenchman calls me on repeat
won’t stop texting    The Frenchman is getting out of control–



I don’t know why I’m doing this we both know
he’s disgusting
   Alexa texts me from her burner phone
her husband doesn’t know      or pretends     he’s inconsolable
wants to know where you go
when you’re not with him
   I tell her I’m not going
over there anymore I don’t want him      he’s mean
and small    takes pleasure in the mortar     pestles me
to a fine herb    Alexa understands but asks
why now     why not I say        if you knew
you would see why     try me
ok fine    I have The Virus   are you happy
no I am not    five minutes pass The Frenchman
blows up my phone     you’re a whore how dare you
slut       are you accusing me
of something      I’m not the one
getting fucked by all those guys    whore
whore whore whore whore whore   you’re stupid
fuck you did I mention     you’re a whore –


The Virus Googles Itself 

for three days I’m in bed under the fever
of The Virus     did you know it hurts to lie
still for that long    all of my google searches  are hsv  
I read for hours    everyone is aching 19 million
many of them women    wrapped
in an excruciating blanket   I call
out of work for the week say it’s the flu
Tori sends me articles and forums to read
it’s hardly herpes if everyone has it
I laugh     it’s easier than holding the razorache
so close    except it sends a twinge
straight through my center   I can’t get away
from the pain


Interview with Katie Longofono with Founding Editor Joanna C. Valente

JV: What is your ideal breakfast and morning? Describe a typical start to your day. 

KL: My ideal breakfast is a pastry (usually a chocolate croissant or blueberry scone), a small yogurt, and a bucket of coffee with cream. I'm also partial to diner breakfasts, at all times of the day. My ideal MORNING includes all of the above, but stretched out over a few hours... I really like to take my time in the morning. I used to have an amazing routine where I would wake up two hours early on purpose so I could drink my coffee, do the crossword, and catch up on reading blogs/internet trash before I even got dressed.

Now I am lazy, so my typical morning is me testing how quickly I can get ready and still make it to work within an acceptable margin of tardiness. I still get to do the long, slow mornings on weekends, tho, which is the best. Oh, also, I'm a morning person, so even when I'm running late because I was sleeping, I'm all spazzy for the first few hours. I know. I'm sorry.

 How do you know when a poem is done?

Oof. When I get tired of working on it? I'm not convinced of the finality of anything. Mostly, there comes a  point where I can't bang my head against the wall anymore, so I just step away for a while. Sometimes a long while. For example, when I was in grad school I had to put together a thesis, a manuscript of about 40 poems.

By the end of the year I loathed it. I thought the poems were so bad, and so overwrought, and I had ruined them with edits. That was two years ago, and last week I just opened them back up for the first time (really! I hadn't looked at them since!) and had this unexpected moment where I was like "huh, these don't suck as much as I remember." Not that they're GOOD, but you know, I can see some good in them now, and I think I want to go back in and rework some of it. So I guess those poems aren't done now, but they definitely weren't done back then, and maybe they'll be more... done.... soon? 

What were you listening to and reading and watching while writing these?

So these Virus poems I wrote during a residency at Sundress Academy for the Arts in Knoxville, where I deliberately didn't watch anything. I spent my time writing like crazy, reading, and I guess listening to Spotify. I don't remember what, sorry. I was reading Madness, Rack & Honey  by Mary Reufle, I remember that. And I think Catch 22 (I've been reading it for over a year now. I'm so bad at getting through big books). 

 I was reading Tommy Pico's Nature Poem ON REPEAT because I was (and still am) so, so in love with them. Those poems were a huge influence on these poems. I ended up cutting out a lot of the attempted asides, the internet speak, the really conversational stuff, but that material was directly a result of Tommy's poems. I loved the tone and sass in his work and wanted to emulate it so badly. It didn't end up working in The Virus, but it freed me up to explore this kinda dark humor that ended up pervading the entire collection.

How do you know when to break a line?

Honestly, it's constrained by the size of the page I'm (physically) writing on when I do it by hand. And then I decide where to break the lines for *real* later, when I'm typing it up. I know as a poet you're supposed to have intention for all of your decisions, and I totally do you guys, but line breaks are primarily a function of intuition for me.

Which is to say, I think my intuition often leads me to go for the wild line breaks, the really sharp ones. I do go back and edit and move around a lot -- it's a combination of the element of surprise for the reader, for intentional ambiguity/word play, and aesthetic reasons (visually, the shape of the poem on the page).

What part of you writes your poems? What are your obsessions?

Oh, my heart, obvi. I am such a "feelings" poet. I'll be like "okay, this [instance] gave me that weird stomach/heart crunch feeling, let's try to put that in a poem" and I just see what happens. Which is not great for material generation because there's like a finite amount of feeling a person can experience, but luckily I dwell on things so I can write about it a lot  ;) As for obsessions, well, I think my work speaks for itself. SEX.

There's so much sex in them. But not in a porno way. I guess sex is an obsession because there's such a power struggle inherent in it, and it's just this crystallized representation of relationships in general. All that tension. How could I not write about it? So yeah, I return again and again to the body, to relationships, to how we love and hurt each other. I am obsessed with feminism in my poetry. I write a lot of angry things. I think my poems want to hurt men. I don't necessarily agree with that, but there's a lot of resentment that has been processed through these poems. The Virus poems are an extension of that, certainly.

Those are poems obsessed with this impossible space of desirability, what to do when your one form of power as a woman is stripped from you, but simultaneously feeling guilty, like you're not a "good feminist." I tried to write an essay about everything in The Virus but I couldn't do it, I can't write "on the nose." These poems let me approach everything I wanted to say from the edges. I guess I'm better at peripheral poetry, or something.

Joseph P. O’Brien is the managing editor of FLAPPERHOUSE. Fiction has appeared in Matchbook and The Alarmist. Non-fiction at El Jamberoo. Lives in Brooklyn with his lovely wife & their very popular dog.

Dorothy Parker Will Have Her Revenge On Manhattan

Sipping gin & mercury at dawn's bloodthirsty

light, she hears the harlequins
throb inside their wombs, 
and she whispers: "God have mercy."

Below the maddened crowd, she feels the fires teething.

Ten million budding mushroom clouds
wait patiently in mud-rooms

of vacant luxury pied-à-terres, just breathing.

She quips, "How I'd love to flog their sanctimony
like a feral circus pony, 
and strangle their oblivion
as if my name were Vivian!"

She'll curse you with the restless
sleep of refugees; you'll jitterbug
as clumsily as starving amputees.

And for her final review: 

She'll come back as acid
to melt leisure classes, 
leave a river of sludge in the streets
from the Ritz-Carlton to Battery Park. 

It's so soothing to know
you'll miss the comfort in being poor.


Greta Garbo Behind the Counter in a Small Town

I swear I recognize those eyes
shy behind her giant sunglass shades
little gestures blow like gale-force winds
drifting, familiar, yet

never dreamed she'd eat here.


Diamonds in her bones

glimmer through her pores

she wants to be alone, I know,

so her face may cast its spells

yet I just want to scream,

"Happy anniversary of your eternal sorrow!" Or,

"Let's fall in love, and you can be the boss!

I could be your housekeeper
and your walking companion!”
But now here comes her check…

She leaves a hundred
for coffee and key lime pie,
and walks out of my life forever.
Glamour & glory, they fade;
mystique never dies.


Sometimes Zelda Fitzgerald Gives the Creeps Herself

Sometimes she plays tricks on her mind,

    adding up cracked shadows on the wall. 

Sometimes she goes to parties just to nap,

     dreams of sleeping pill overdoses. 


Sometimes she's locked up in the house for speaking

     the word 'divorce,' or the name of that dashing French pilot.

Sometimes she finds pages missing from her diary

     reappear in her husband's best-sellers. 

Sometimes she dares to exercise her life-rights,

     and he accuses her of plagiarism.

Sometimes she tumbles down the staircase

    if he looks too long in Isadora's eyes.

Sometimes she pirouettes until collapse,

     though she knows, deep down, her ballet days are done.


Sometimes she talks to Jesus & Apollo,

     smashing silent screams of self-delusion.


Sometimes she prays so hard her baby girl

     will grow up to be a beautiful fool.


Acknowledgments: “Dorothy Parker…” is indebted to Nirvana’s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” lyrics by Kurt Cobain

“Greta Garbo…” is indebted to Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” lyrics by Eddie Vedder

“Sometimes Zelda Fitzgerald…” is indebted to Green Day’s “Basket Case” & “She,” lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong



Interview with Joseph P. O'Brien with Founding Editor Joanna C. Valente

JV: What is your ideal breakfast and morning? Describe a typical start to your day. 

JO; On an ideal morning, I'd wake up around 10 AM & enter my living room to kiss my wife & hug my dog & find a serving of fried chicken & waffles delivered fresh from Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens; then I'd I turn on the news to hear that war is over, & also I won a MacArthur Genius Grant. Typically though, I wake up between 8 & 9, hug my dog (my wife's already gone to work), record my previous night's dreams in my dream journal, perform my daily third-eye-opening ritual, do some light exercise, turn on NY1 to hear all the madness in the news, drink a couple mugs of coffee, turn off the news, meditate, make a bacon-&-egg sandwich & eat it while checking my email, shower, then I'll either head to my day job or, if I have the day off, I'll head to Prospect Park to embark upon an invigorating multi-mile constitutional.

How do you know when a poem is done?

Normally I wouldn't have a more interesting answer than, "After I've read it a hundred times and it doesn't feel like it's missing anything, or that it's saying too much." With the poems here, though, I was generally trying to tell a very short story or paint a portrait of a specific real-life person, and on top of that I was more or less following the templates of well-known pop songs. Parameters like that made it so easy to know when to stop writing that it practically felt like cheating. 

What were you listening to and reading and watching while writing these?

These poems are from a forthcoming collection inspired by famous women of the 1920s + music of the 1990s, so I listened to a lot of my favorite 90s artists while mentally preparing to write: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, & Green Day, of course, but also R.E.M., PJ Harvey, Guns N' Roses, Smashing Pumpkins, Wu-Tang Clan, Faith No More, Weezer, Beck, Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden, Salt-N-Pepa, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos, Ice Cube, Guided By Voices, and Radiohead, to name a few.

I was looking for songs that would pair well with the various women I wanted to write about; I was picking out lyrics I could reference & twist into my own thing, kind of like what DJ's & producers do with sampling; and I was trying to absorb as much of that sardonic & subversive '90s spirit as I could, in the hopes that I would subconsciously invoke it later in my work. While I'm actually writing, though, I have to listen to purely instrumental music, or music with lyrics in languages I don't understand, so I tend to put on lots of Miles Davis, Brian Eno, or Cambodian rock n' roll.

Reading-wise, at the time I was writing these poems I was re-reading a lot of my favorite poetry by Dorothy Parker, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Ishmael Reed, Jennifer MacBain-Stephens, and Jessie Janeshek, praying that any shred of their magic, however small, might rub off on me. I was also reading, for the first time, David Mitchell's novel Slade House, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman Overture graphic novel; I read those two books entirely for pleasure, and not necessarily to try to influence my own writing, yet they were oddly appropriate choices in hindsight, since they're both stories where time is quite malleable, and different eras often overlap.

How do you know when to break a line?

I've been writing songs much longer than I've been writing poems, so my line breaks generally depend on the musicality of the piece, the rhythm, the tempo, and if necessary, the rhymes. I often try to keep it simple and just break the line where an idea or phrase or sentence ends. But sometimes it's fun to break a line in a way that might splinter a phrase's meaning into other dimensions, merely by adding that slight space-time pause. Also, I have no problem using end-rhymes, just like Parker & Dickinson & Cobain & so many other great poets have. But other times I like sprinkling the rhymes internally instead, just to mix things up & create some syncopation.

What part of you writes your poems? What are your obsessions?

I do actually feel like I often have a kind of alter ego writing my poetry. She's gothier than me, and more sarcastic, less anxious, gives fewer fucks. Somewhere between PJ Harvey & Aubrey Plaza on Parks & Recreation. 

I'm obsessed with flappers, crossword puzzles, Stanley Kubrick films, The Ramones, the first 12 seasons of The Simpsons, and starting tomorrow (July 13) through the rest of this summer I'll be obsessed with the second season of Mr. Robot.