Monday, December 16, 2019

Is(sue) 8 of AvantAppal(achia) and (Yes)Abled Is(Sue)

Dear Kinfolk,

The editors are happy to announce that is(sue) 8 of AvantAppal(achia) is live! We seemed to have dodged, for now at least, those nasty digital bugs which have slowed us in the past. We present a nice shiny new is(sue).

Is(sue) 8 contains work from 6 different countries -Canada, Ireland, Greece, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United States - and five different states - Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. We are proud to publish some excellent work and you should be proud of producing it.

We are also announcing AvantAppal(achia)'s 2nd Special Is(sue) titled (Yes)ABLED! The is(sue) is to be dedicated to the work of disabled poets, artists, and short story writers. Details for submission can be found on the site and the deadline is March 31, 2020.

Sabne Raznik wants me to remind everyone of a recent site upgrade which made it more compatible with mobile devices, but as a result in order to see bylines for the Avant(Art) section, you must click on the image.

Another reminder is that we, the editorial team, are volunteers and any help you can give to defray expenses is greatly appreciated. Find the Donat(ions) link and give us some PayPal love.

Do not fail to check the Arch(ive) tab to see which pieces have been chosen to represent the past is(sue). As we head into 2020, the submission period for is(sue) 9 is open and the deadline for submission is May 30, 2020 with the is(sue) going live on June 15.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support and as a personal note I would like to thank Sabne Raznik for letting me come along for the ride!


David Sykes
Short Story Ed(itor)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

AvantAppal(achia) Deadline Reminder and North/South Anthology Release

Dear Kinfolk,

This is your last reminder that the deadline for the December is(sue) is November 30, 2019. So please get your most experimental art, poetry, and short stories to us in text, video, audio, or html form as soon as possible! Check for guidelines and submission email.

Dave and I have decided to have another special is(sue) in 2020. Information for that will become available as soon as the December is(sue) is live. It will be imperative to follow the guidelines for that is(sue) closely since we will be accepting submissions for it and the regular June is(sue) at the same time.

Also, the North/South Collective, of which AvantAppal(achia) is a partner, has released its first annual anthology. You can get your copy at The submission period for North/South’s 2020 anthology is open and will end on September 30, 2020. See for info on how to do that.

Kinfolk, you are AvantAppal(achia)’s lifeblood. Your donations keep the website up and your work make it the fabulous ezine it is. We thank you for that and for the privilege of sharing your work with the world.


Sabne Raznik
Poetry/Art Ed(itor)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Book Review of T. Byron Kelly's "Poems"

T. Byron Kelly, Poems (Createspace, 2018) 119 pages, poetry, $9.00 USD. On Amazon.

To be honest, there's only so much religious poetry I can take, regardless of which faith. So if that's not your thing, Kelly isn't for you. Another annoying factor is that each poem is dated and often has multiple dates to point to revisions. While that is a valuable tool for a poet's personal manuscripts, it interrupts the flow when transferred to the published book.

But he can turn beautiful, evocative phrases. Kelly's poetry reads like impressionist paintings. For example:

I began by noticing your blue wish day and each black
or white faced cloud seemingly spoke with that other radiant
loving of the air. Transgressing doubt, a music that fills 
my evenings with gentle prayer, this consecration of your endless
gift, orange and gold leaves are lifted and the daydream
continues. How could I forget or be frightened where this
chance began our quiet walk together (though at first I
wanted to run). Dry grass insists it's Winter and the strangely
blithe gestures of women walking alone or perhaps lost
in their rush hour car seats. The completed reaches eternally 
toward the turning soul, where weakness had born belief of nothing,
an insanity of otherness, crashing against our desire for forever.

Where the poems avoid the trap of overt religiosity and devotion, there they are closest to the song of spiritual. There they invite you to dive in and give yourself over to this other-world of Kelly's imagination. There they are true poetry.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Book Review of Rajia Hassib's "A Pure Heart"

LEGAL DISCLOSURE: I was given an advance reader's copy from which to write this review. I was not paid.

Rajia Hassib, A Pure Heart (Viking, 2019) 305 pages, fiction, $17.40 USD. On Amazon.

Some stories are not really about the character who seems the central one. For instance, Arthur Miller's The Crucible isn't so much about John Proctor or Abigail Williams as it is about Elizabeth Proctor. Rajia Hassib's A Pure Heart is similar. It isn't so much about Rose and her family dealing with the grief of losing Gameela to a terrorist attack as it is about Gameela. Gameela, the Pure Heart.

But what is more important than individual characters in this book is what Hassib does best: nuances.
The development and exploration of all the characters are superb. Among the subtleties addressed include differing cultures, differing belief systems, differing places, differing feelings, and differing modes of expression. She even explores how differences can exist in the same person at the same time. Hassib is a master of empathy.

Even the suicide bomber receives this treatment. His story is given in full - his is a full-fledged, complicated, and even relatable personality. If all of us were willing to look at everyone around us with similar context and empathy, violence would cease to exist.

Go read this book and make it part of who you are.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The 1st Annual N/S Anthology Deadline Reminder

Dear Kinfolk,

Just a quick reminder of AvantAppal(achia)’s partnership with the Watershed Journal, Studio Appalachia, and Solitude to create North/South Appalachia.

North/South Appalachia is a collective which seeks to bring together art and poetry from the entire region of Appalachia (from New York to Alabama) in one place.

North/South will be working on its first anthology this fall. The poems and art to be included will be chosen from the N/S blog and deadline for submissions is September 1, 2019. Please, refer to the link above for submission instructions.

It would be fantastic for some of Appalachia’s avant-garde and experimental scene to be included in that anthology. Come and join the collective!


Sabne Raznik

Poet/Art Ed(itor), AvantAppal(achia)
Southern Appalachia Regional Editor, North/South Appalachia

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book Review of "The Happy Mind"

LEGAL DISCLOSURE: I was given a review copy of this book. I was not paid for this review.

Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie, The Happy Mind: A Simple Guide to Living a Happier Life Starting Today (TCK Publishing, 2017) 113 pages, self-help nonfiction, $17.19 US

Book available on Amazon, from TCK Publishing by Kevin Horsley (also on Twitter) and Louis Fourie. TCK Publishing is on Facebook.

"Simple" is the operative word in the title of this book. It is a handy little guidebook of reminders, cliches, and random quotes about how to train your thinking to a mindset of positivity. Many of the suggestions and principles are sound and beneficial. It's an easy, light read. You can breeze through it in an hour or two.

It is written to encourage interactivity. At several points, one is given a negative list and told to rewrite it as positive and then apply that positive list to one's life. Interactivity is a good idea. One is more likely to apply what one learns if one interacts with it on any level.

However, the sentences are usually written in the negative, not just the lists meant to be actively rewritten. The book seems more focussed on what happiness is not rather than what it is, what one should not do rather than what one should do. The negative perspective is subtle but it is pervasive. For a book meant to encourage positive thinking, that negative slant is directly counter to the message and the result is jarring.

Also, I understand that the authors wanted a light easy read, but the complete lack of references or even a bibliography at the end was a bad decision. If an author refers to a study in the text, that study should be referenced somewhere within the book. The total lack of anything to back up the statements within the text automatically discredits that text. It is possible to write a book with scholarly references to scientific and medical studies in a light simple way. This presentation leads me to believe the authors do not trust the readership's intelligence. Especially in the current climate of fake information, references are essential to back up any assertions.

In view of the shortcomings, I felt this book was written as a kind of children's handbook to happiness. (One could argue that the term "happiness" in this context is itself problematic and part of the culture that teaches us unhealthy thought patterns, but that's a whole other subject for a separate essay of its own.) It is helpful; the principles are sound and can be efficaciously applied. The attempt to include an element of interactivity is inspired if poorly executed. But it fails to implement many of its own suggestions in the way it is written and equally fails to back up its "facts" with appropriate references. In that way, perhaps, the authors erred toward writing too simply for this "simple guide".

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Book Review of Volodymyr Bilyk's "ROADrage"

LEGAL DISCLOSURE: I was given an ebook review copy from which to write this review. I was not paid.

Volodymyr Bilyk, ROADrage (zimZalla, 2019) 110 pages, poetry, $6.07 USD.

Available at zimZalla. Except for the opening quote, italics denote a quote from the book itself.

"Do the work." - Anna Strong Stafford

Bilyk urges us to quench the nullity. What nullity? The nullity of language itself in the 21st century. The avant-garde and experimental today seek to expand poetry's relevance in this century by finding new approaches to language, even as the way language is used continues to shift in society. By stating quench the nullity, Bilyk declares against the modern tendency to emasculate language as a semantic tool. To accomplish this, he gathers every technique of the 20th-century poetic canon (Eliot, Pound, Stein, Joyce, etc.), pours them all into one mixing bowl, stirs vigourously, and pours out the batter into a poetics that is uniquely Bilyk. In the book's introduction, he evokes the Mobius Strip as an illustration of what he is attempting to accomplish here. The end result could aptly be described as M.C. Escher in the medium of words.

As suggested by the title, this is a collection of dystopian rage - as in this line: (veer ---/ "seethe"/ there-there// merely.) - and much of it reads like a fistfight on some congested street in garish daylight. There is a theatrical aspect to it - the book ends with CURTAINS. - there is a deliberate winking toward sophisticated campiness here. I say sophisticated because Bilyk has "done the work" as a poet and requires his readers to likewise "do the work". This is a case of the void, flourished.

The separate poems, if indeed they are separate, read as largely one unit due to being untitled. There is a refreshing flow to this collection. This oneness allows the reader greater interpretive freedom: the reader can decide for him/herself where one poem ends and another begins. 

This fluidity of interpretation continues into the entertaining use of punctuation. At times this is reminiscent of computer programming code, old fashioned text emojis, and/or morse code. Since punctuation in writing represents where and how one breathes when reading, one is forced to rethink how one breathes as a form of expression all its own, to rejoice the odd breath. "ROADrage" can be said to be written in Confounded beat,/ Clarion whish - tongue winding:

Bilyk's greatest strength is alliteration, as in ... thunder thwacks,/ ./ rolls wry rebellow:/ speeded up/ to rash; . The book screams to be read aloud. There are some poems where semantics are discarded for acronyms and nonwords, experiments with pure sound as if the poems were WWII era intel code-speak. 

This is one of the most exciting collections I've come across in a decade, guaranteed to shift your perspective on language in the 21st century - both as an art form and its everyday use. This book is the very definition of a literary mind trip with purpose.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Is(sue) 7 of AvantAppal(achia) is live!

Dear Kinfolk,

First and foremost, thank you all for being as patient as Job while we tackled those annoying technical difficulties that delayed this is(sue). Y’all are fantastic!

I’m sure you’ll find the wait to be worth it! Is(sue) 7 features work from 7 different countries – Greece, Spain, India, Ireland, Norway, Luxembourg, the United States – and 7 different states – Minnesota, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey. It also contains 3 languages. Yeah, we’re pretty proud of it – and you! – for accomplishing that!

You will notice two things different about this is(sue). One, the Appal(Trad) section is empty. That is because we are getting high-quality experimental work (just what we want!) and we felt none of the submissions reflected the Traditional Appalachian Poetry genre, which is a really nice problem to have as far as we are concerned. Second, this is the debut of the Avant(Serial) section! Just how the serial section works is explained both in this is(sue) and in the updated guidelines. Yes, you read that correctly. The guidelines have been tweaked, so be sure to check those out.

A reminder: the site was recently redesigned to ensure it was readable across all devices (and little tweaks will continue). For now, that mostly means that to see bylines for the Avant(Art) section you must click on the individual images.

Another reminder: the editorial team at AvantAppal(achia) are volunteers, but there are still expenses to keep the whole wonderfully weird show running, so please go to Donat(ions) and choose between the options of $1, $5, and $10 via the Paypal link. Thank every one of you for keeping the ezine online! This is your creative space, as ed(itors) we merely polish it. It is our privilege to share your work with the world!

Don’t forget to check the Arch(ive) to see which pieces were chosen to represent Is(sue) 6. Also, the submission period for Is(sue) 8 is now officially open and the deadline is November 30, 2019. We can’t wait to see you then! But of course, we will be touching base occasionally in the meantime.


Sabne Raznik

Poetry/Art Ed(itor)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Review of Jimmy Olsen's "Scuba"

Legal Disclosure: I was given a free copy in order to write this review. I was not paid.

Jimmy Olsen, Scuba (Hoffman House Press, 2017) 387 pages, fiction, $24.95 USD.

"Scuba": the title and the cover suggest this book is an epic ride. The truth is, it's a bit phrenetic.

This book reads like an action movie. Events move quickly and the characters are not particularly likable (women, in particular, are not treated well).  This book is a wheel that spins faster and faster until it comes off the axel. Its plot is not entirely believable; it feels exaggerated. It is interesting but overstuffed. There are shipwreck discoveries, political riots, unresolved relationships, and the specter of childhood trauma. Anyone one of those would have made a fascinating read if fully developed, but this book has them all - and the climax is over the top. All of these faults are actually positives in the medium of film. However, books are usually expected to be more meditative, descriptive, and delving.

That being said, Olsen excels when his characters are underwater. Everything slows down and the descriptions become sharp, clear, sublime, and inviting. The reader can feel him/herself rocked in the power of underwater surges, see the otherworldly beauty of coral, and interact with various sea creatures. This is where the book achieves that magic of language one expects to find and when one feels anchored to poetic reality.

If you're looking for a leisurely read for a day at the beach or a cross-country flight, this is your book. It is light, easy to read, and a page-turner with plenty of action. While it is not deep, it is entertaining.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Robbi Nester's "Narrow Bridge": A Poetry Review and Interview

Book Review

Legal Disclosure Notice: I received a free review copy of the ebook in order to write this review; I was not paid.

Robbi Nester,  Narrow Bridge, (Main Street Rag, 2019) 88 pages, poetry, price unknown at the time of this article's publication.

Robbi Nester's new book "Narrow Bridge" sets up a grand theme. The epigraph reveals that the narrow bridge of the title is a metaphor for life and fearless engagement with it. "Trafficking in immensities is dangerous," she says in the poem "Conversation" and in "Giant Manta Ray": "The solidity of earth is an illusion." One is thus set up to enter a quest of breaking life into its "shifting particles," a phrase Nester uses twice.

In reality, the collection is tamer than one would expect. The imagery is crisp as if placed under surgical light. There are a lot of references to science, water, and the moon. At its best, the music is superb with lilting, sonorous alliteration and beautiful phrases that taste like ripe fruit on the tongue:

"...mantis shrimp constant as castanets
booming grunts and groupers."
- "The Making"

At its worst, it comes perilously near the whimsical. Not that there is anything wrong with whimsical, but that particular effect is somewhat jarring in a collection that purports to traffic in immensities. Those immensities live below the surface for the most part.

You will find immensities most in Nester's deceptively plain poems about her childhood and various memories, where she seems to be "searching for the source of sound" ("Blue Wings"), but to find them one must spend some time meditating on them. After interviewing Nester (see below) and learning some of the actual history behind these childhood reminiscences - and sharing some commonalities with them in my own background - I wish for a less gentle, mannered approach, for "a waking dream [that] might shock imagination from its sleep" ("Blueprint").

In the end, the overall emotional impression of the book is nostalgia, like looking at old family photos without knowledge of the gritty, real-life stories behind them. "Narrow Bridge" would have benefited from a less scattered, sharper, rawer approach. The immensities have been washed over by the waves of time and polished a bit too much. That said, Nester has an undeniable way with the music of language that makes this collection a delight to read aloud.

*       *      *      *    *     *      *      *     *


S.R.: What sparked your interest in poetry and what influenced you to publish?

R.N.: I have written and read poetry my whole life. My great-uncle, Isaac Rosenberg, killed at age 26 in WWI in France, was a famous poet and painter. He was born in London, of parents who had immigrated from Lithuania, fleeing from pogroms. His first oil painting, a portrait of my maternal grandfather, hung in our house, and now hangs in my house. It was impressed upon me early and often that I had descended from a noted writer and artist.

As for what made me want to publish, that didn't happen till I got to college. For many years, it was mostly just rejection slips, but my first publication was actually during college, in a journal affiliated with the school, but not a student publication. It took a while before I began to publish substantial numbers of poems, which wasn't all that long ago, starting perhaps in 2000.

All writers want to be heard. I especially have felt the need for an audience. I love reading my work to an audience, and began doing that early, perhaps 30-40 years ago.

S.R.: The overall feeling I got from "Narrow Bridge" was nostalgia. What does the metaphor of the narrow bridge mean to you and how does this play out in the collection?

R.N.: I wouldn't say I am nostalgic exactly. It's more complicated than that. I had a very difficult childhood. Both of my parents were mentally ill to some degree. My father, though he could at times be very sweet and charming, was fairly often violent. His family was embarrassed by his condition, and never reached out to offer help, preferring to hide it.

My mother's family lived abroad, all over the world. They were a faraway refuge I dreamed of. The library provided a closer refuge, right across the street.

But I have always had quite complete and vivid memories of my childhood, and think of them often. Some of these memories are very painful, the feelings still very raw and alive. Others are serene or magical. Both of these varieties of memory are treated in my work. My previous book, Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017) , was full of poems in the first category, though there were a few of the other kinds of memory poems too. This book may have more of the second variety.

S.R.: Many of the poems involve childhood memories and family members. How did these shape your relationship to poetry?

R.N.: One of my first published poem was one about my grandmother. She was mysterious, telling me nothing about her family history. Even the name I knew her by was an assumed one. Anyone who knew those secrets is dead now. I wrote partly to sort out my complicated feelings about these people.

S.R.: How does your sense of place affect your work?

R.N.: It affects me to the degree the memories are attached to particular places--the house I grew up in in Philadelphia, and the neighborhood beyond it, Virginia, the green hills of Western Massachusetts and the dunes of Provincetown, California, in all of its variety, Israel, where I visited relatives on both sides of my family in 2014.

S.R.: Do you have a philosophy of poetry that you try to convey throughout your body of work as a whole and how does "Narrow Bridge" accomplish this?

R.N.: I don't know if I have a philosophy of poetry. I certainly have a preference for strong images, accessibility, poems that strike the note of sound and sense.

S.R.: What do you believe is poetry's role (and/or the poet's role) in modern society?

R.N.: Poets, like all writers, need to tell the truth as they see it, both personally and politically, even if this makes them unpopular.

S.R.: How do you think future generations will see your work?

R.N.: It is nice to imagine future generations will see my work. I am a modest person. I hope that happens. I am not sure how people in the future will read my work. Perhaps it will recall for them places and things from their own experience, or maybe it will read like a historian's or paleontologist's notes on things long past.

S.R.: What advice do you have for young poets who are just beginning?

R.N.: Quell the desire for praise. Read, revise, and listen. Read journals, go to readings and open mics, take classes and workshops. Experience the world and take an interest in everything.

S.R.: Where are you going from here? (Future projects or thoughts on moving forward?)

R.N.: I hope I will be writing many more books. I will continue working on three manuscripts--one a compendium of all the poems I have written about women, one a collection of Ekphrastic poems without their images, perhaps to be published alongside a website or with links to images online, and the next general collection of poems.

Thank you for speaking with me today!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Dear Kinfolk,

The Jim Webb Special Is(sue) was a grand slam success; thank you all! We are back on our regular schedule, so please send your weirdest poetry, art, and short stories for the June is(sue) by May 31, 2019. We do encourage contributions from all of Appalachia and the world! AvantAppal(achia) Website

The AvantAppal(achia) website will be undergoing a complete redesign before the end of the year and at that time the Guidelines for submissions will also change. So stay tuned for that. Until the redesign happens and the changes are announced, please continue to submit according to the current guidelines.

I am thrilled to the marrow to announce to y’all a new partnership between The Watershed Journal (Pennsylvania), Studio Appalachia and Dark Horse Appalachia (Virginia) and AvantAppal(achia) (Kentucky) to form a new initiative called North/South Appalachia (named after the North/South Appalachian Highway). This is an inclusive online journal with a yearly anthology and a podcast available via Soundcloud which will feature work from people who have ties to Appalachia – all of Appalachia, all 13 states included in the region – and seeks to document this unique moment in Appalachian history as it steps out from under the oppression of industrialization and forges a new identity with roots in its proud past and moving into a positive, empowering future that pushes back against the old stereotypes, a documentation of the Appalachian Renaissance as it unfolds. For more information, visit North/South Appalachia

Also, North/South Appalachia is looking for an editor from the Appalachian portions of Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi to extend its outreach to the entire region. This will be a volunteer opportunity. If interested, email my personal email at It is our sincere hope that you will support and enjoy both AvantAppal(achia) and North/South Appalachia.


Sabne Raznik
Poetry/Art Ed(itor), AvantAppal(achia)
Co-Editor Southern Appalachian Region, North/South Appalachia

Monday, February 25, 2019

North/South Appalachia Poetry

So I'm part of this now. One of the editors for the Southern Appalachian Region.

More info: Poetry & Art from Northern & Southern Appalachia. North/South is a publication of Studio Appalachia *Named adopted from the North/South Appalachian Highway Official Website Blog on the Studio Appalachia site Studio Appalachia Facebook Page
North/South Poetry Facebook Page

Monday, February 18, 2019

Jim Webb Special Is(sue) Release!

Dear Kinfolk,

I am ecstatic to announce to you that our first Special Is(sue), the Jim Webb Is(sue), is live! The pieces that everyone sent were beautifully evocative of Wiley Quixote and the whole is a fitting tribute that would have tickled him pink. This is, of course, a completely Appalachian is(sue). References to WMMT.FM, Webb’s most famous collection “Get In, Jesus”, and the devastating effects of mountain top removal abound. There are even beautiful photos awash in white daylight of paw paws. Almost all the contributors were close friends and acquaintances with the poet and that personal true feeling in the is(sue) is powerful and profound. Thank you all so much! This is(sue) will be shared with his wife Katie. Hopefully, it will give her comfort and joy. To access the is(sue), click on the menu bars in the upper left corner and click “Special Is(sues)”. This is(sue) will reside there for as long as there is an AvantAppal(achia) ezine. Here is the direct link.

If you submitted between January and now and did not receive an email on or before February 14th, it is because we feel that your work is more suited to one of the regular issues and we are holding it for the June Is(sue). Speaking of which, the submission period for the June 2019 is(sue) is now officially open. So back to weird, avant-garde, experimental, Appalachian and worldwide. The deadline for the next is(sue) is May 31, 2019. Please read and follow the guidelines posted when submitting.

As usual, you all went above and beyond and made a truly Special is(sue). You are what make AvantAppal(achia) the ground-breaking leading ezine that it is. Thank you for your beautiful magic!


Sabne Raznik
Poetry/Art Ed(itor)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Final Notice of Deadline for Jim Webb Is(sue)

Dear Kinfolk,

This is your FINAL NOTICE that the deadline for the Jim Webb Special Is(sue) is JANUARY 31, 2019. We need poetry, art, and stories about Jim Webb, aka Wiley Quixote. Send us your best, zaniest, most colorful Jim Webb memories. Again, we would like to thank his wife Katie for allowing us to make this special is(sue). You will be able to access it via the menu on the AvantAppal(achia) website by clicking on “Special Is(sues)” where it will remain indefinitely. It will go live some time on February 15, 2019. Don’t miss out! Help us make this the most beautiful tribute to the Godfather of Appalachian Poetry on the world wide web!

The usual guidelines do apply.


Sabne Raznik
Poetry/Art Ed(itor)