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Review: In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson

Frank Watson’s collection In the Dark, Soft Earth is filled with haiku-like moments, distillations of nature into short, punchy poems. In the zeitgeist there tends to be a lot of hand-wringing over concepts like nostalgia, as though looking at things through the haze of past experiences is the wrong way to go about life, but I don’t share the zeitgeist’s distaste for it[1]. And it seems that neither does Watson.

There’s a seemingly gossamer-hazed shimmer between narrator and the scenes being described that I quite like. The poems are direct and not lost in the poetic-for-poetic sense of language, but the emotional distance is both far away and close to home, much like the haiku I hold in highest esteem. Disconnected but utterly present. That’s what I mean when I say “gossamer-hazed shimmer.” It is at once touchable and also just outside of reach, the word on the tip of your tongue that you had available to you just before you actually needed it. You know it’s there, that if you could roll back just a second or two into the past you could get it, but physics does not allow for such time travel above the quantum state, so you sit in a pool of cognitive dissonance. This is the haiku moment for me, and this is the area where most of Watson’s poems take me. It’s why I have zero reservations recommending you buy this when it releases in July.

My favorite lines and stanzas in the collection come earliest on (perhaps because what I describe in the next paragraph shades my overall enjoyment just a touch), as in the poem “entangled,” “those eyes that flicker / like sunlit grass between / the fallen leaves.” I love this stanza because I could have written it, but somehow never put that connection together. In fact, I think that’s what I most admire about the collection as a whole. It’s real language and relatable, and just at the point where a poet reads it and thinks, “Dammit, I wish I’d written that.”

There are a few times when some of that personal connection breaks for me, but that says more about my distaste for rhyme in poetry than it does about the craft of the poem or poet. It’s definitely a personal taste problem, but just like some people dislike bitterness in coffee or beer, I find that rhyming is cloyingly saccharine to my ear. Again, this is not Watson’s problem as his poems are well-written and still have that haiku-like sense of timeless immediacy[2]. It’s entirely about me.

Later on, in the fourth section of the book called “Percussion Mind,” there is a perfect haiku slap-dab in the middle of the poem “rhythms.”

in the dark
rhythms of the night
a cricket’s cry

In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson, pg. 57

This is without question my favorite moment in the entire collection. I would change not a single word in this haiku, and if it had stood on its own in any issue of Frogpond or Modern Haiku or Red Moon Press I’d have bookmarked it for future reference. I believe I will even pull it in as an example the next time I teach my creative writing course. That line break from “dark” to “rhythms” just floors me.

This is a collection well worth a spot on your nightstand. Even more than that, it’s a collection well worth a spot in your brain. The book is available to pre-order at Amazon right now – https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Soft-Earth-Poetry-Spirituality/dp/1939832209/


[1] Indeed, I named my latest collection Nostalgia and Ruin.

[2] Yes, oxymoronic in phrasing, but I don’t really know how to express it better than that two-word phrase. The best haiku are both immediate moments personal to the poet and immutable truths universal to all readers.

(I was provided an e-ARC to review, but I will buy it when it releases just to show my support.)

With a Bang: Issue 12 Release

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Cover Image of Issue 12

Issue 12 will be the final issue of Broadswords and Blasters for the foreseeable future. Both editors are old enough to know that never is a really long time, so we aren’t permanently closing the door on it ever coming back, but we both acknowledged earlier this year that we were starting to get burnt out on the endeavor. We wanted to end while it was still fun and entertaining instead of trying to drive it down into dust. When will we be back? We can say with all honesty: We don’t know.

That said, we decided to go out in style with a tremendous double issue to celebrate three years of awesome New Pulp fiction. Because why go out with a whimper when you can go out with a bang?

J. Rohr returns to Broadswords and Blasters (he was last seen in issue 5)…

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Pulp Consumption: The Mandalorian

“I have spoken.”

Broadswords and Blasters

I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember, but I’ve actually never been a fan of the Expanded Universe books and shows. Maybe it’s my character flaw, but nothing outside of the self-contained movie series has ever really captured my attention. I mean, I’ve read the Admiral Thrawn books and some of the New Jedi Order. The book Kenobi was decent enough, as have been some of the short story collections, but even those didn’t excite me the way the original trilogy did. People kept telling me to watch the CGI cartoons like Clone Wars and Rebels, but I can’t stand that kind of animation outside of video games. And, yes, I’ve played a lot of the games, but again they are sort of stored in a separate vault in my brain, alongside the tabletop RPG versions. They’re fun, but if they didn’t…

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Issue 12 Cover Reveal

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Early on we were so excited about the cover art we had blog posts that were just cover reveals. We never lost the enthusiasm for the cover art, but somewhere along the way we just forgot to highlight it on its own. Well, let’s rectify that with the end of our third year of production, Issue 12. As always, Luke Spooner/Carrion House has knocked it right out of the park. This cover illustrates a scene from Anthony Pinkett’s “Aces and Rogues.” Issue 12 is scheduled for release around January 15th. Stay tuned for Kindle preorder information.

Cover of Issue 12, shows two starfighters roaring in from the top left.

Make sure you save a few dollars/pounds/yen/shekels/euros/etc from your holiday shopping. You’ll definitely want to get your hands on this beefy boy. You are reading that cover right: there are 18 authors listed, meaning this is indeed a double issue! Yes, we may be biased, but as a standalone issue, this really may be…

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Pulp Consumption: Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” (Guest Post by Anthony Perconti)

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Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums.  His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.

I was introduced to the writings of Jorge Luis Borges through the recently departed American fantasists, Gene Wolfe. The two authors shared concurrent interests in exploring grand themes and big ideas in their respective works. Borges is the type of writer that is at once easily accessible and like Wolfe, highly perplexing. His stories are only a few pages long, yet they are densely packed with such information that relates to the metaphysical. One such tale is his 1941 offering, “The Garden of Forking Paths”. Published in English in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in August 1948, “Garden” is a ‘metaphysical detective’ yarn…

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Pulp Consumption: Pulp Modern Tech Noir

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Yes, this actually captures the mood quite well.

Pulp Modern Tech Noir is the second barrel of bleak dark futurism that came out this fall (the first being from Switchblade which we covered last week). As it turned out, it was originally supposed to be a Switchblade only venture, but Scotch Rutherford had so many quality entries, he was able to talk Alec Cizak into taking some on. If Switchblade’s theme was the deal gone wrong and plans upended, this volume focused on the sex trade of the future because if one thing is true about humanity, it’s we haven’t lost our interest in the prurient, and the writers here don’t think we ever will.

Ran Scott provides a fantastic Blade Runner by way of a red-light
district wrap around cover, as well as lead in illustrations for each story to
set the tone.

C.W. Blackwell kicks things off…

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Pulp Consumption: Switchblade TechNoir

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By now most of the New Pulp and PulpRev folk must have been exposed to the advertising for the crossover event of the year. Yes, I’m talking about the TechNoir special editions of Switchblade and Pulp Modern. Maybe Matt or I will cover the Pulp Modern issue next week, but today I’m going to focus on Switchblade.

First off, the covers for Switchblade are amazing. Editor Scotch Rutherford and I had a brief Twitter exchange this past week discussing good art–prompted by A.B. Patterson‘s tweet about putting together a collection of his stories. I said something about needing to pay good money for good art, and Scotch replied that good covers don’t always have to cost a lot. While that may be true for those with strong visual arts skills, I don’t think either Matt or I have the artistic eye to capture photographs quite the way…

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Pulp Appeal: MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY

I agree with everything Matt said here. This is good stuff.

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Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski
You wish your cover popped like this.

Nick Kolakowski (Boise Longpig Hunting Club, Slaughterhouse Blues, Main Bad Guy, et al) dropped this bomb of a book in our laps with a mad cackle before leaping into a stripped down war buggy with a fifty cal mounted on top…

Okay, so that’s not quite true, but this is one hell of a ride of a book packed with gun fights, snow plow thefts, rogue AI, car chases and crime. It’s a twenty minute leap into the future when the world (or at least humanity) is shuffling a bit closer to the edge of extinction, where all the current problems we’re seeing now (rising sea levels, crumbling infrastructure, corporations at the expense of people) is turned up to 11.

Enter Maxine, a born-loser, born into poverty and crime and with no clear way out. Her mother is reliant…

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Pulp Appeal: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

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The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Netflix title card
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Netflix title card

Last week Matt tackled the 1982 film The Dark Crystal, one of the most impactful movies of my childhood, right up there with Stand by Me, Labyrinth, and the hundreds of action movies I devoured in the 80s and early 90s. I could easily overstate The Dark Crystal‘s importance in my life because as much as I am a fan, I’m not diehard enough to have sought out the various comic book and novelization follow-ons. I do have some Brian Froud art books because I like those, but I never felt like I needed more from The Dark Crystal than was presented to me in the film.

I still felt that way when Age of Resistance was rumored to be in production a couple years ago. I figured it’d be some CGI laden crapfest seeking to “correct”…

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Pulp Consumption: The Dark Crystal

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Image result for jen the dark crystal
The hero of the Dark Crystal.

“The Dark Crystal,” for anyone that doesn’t know, was a 1982 film by Jim Henson that follows Jen, the presumed last of the Gelflings, as he tries to fulfill a prophecy. The prophecy in question relates to the titular Dark Crystal, and how a Gelfling would be the one to heal it after it had cracked. The original split of the crystal, which happened one thousand years before the events of the film, caused two races appear on the planet Thra, the evil and scheming Skeksis and the peaceful to the point of doormats Mystics.

As a result of the prophecy, the Skeksis engage in a
genocide against the Gelflings, including Jen’s family. As a result, he is
taken in by the Mystics and raised by them until the day he is told about the
prophecy. Along the way, he encounters another Gelfling orphan…

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