Better Than Starbucks
Poetry and Fiction Journal
. . . if you love diversity and creative writing in any and every form, then you’re in the right place . . .
Vol VI No IV
February, May, August,
Regular Feature Pages
Formal Poetry with Vera Ignatowitsch
Poetry Translations with Susan McLean
Poetry for Children with Robert Schechter
Experimental, Form, & Prose Poetry
Better Than Fiction (creative nonfiction)
The Storm by Christopher Hadin
beyond the black stump by Taylor McCarthy
The Barn by Riham El-Ashry
The Shawl by Marc Alan Di Martino translating Trilussa
The Truth is a Jar of Snakes by Ndiritu Mwangi
Five Featured Poems
Fresh footprints down the snowclad stairs.
The air in the doorway where you paused to look back.
The dip in the pillow where your head lately lay.
Your wetness on my inner thighs.
This hollow in my heart.
Janice D. Soderling has published poetry, fiction and translations in many print and online journals. Her most recent collection is Rooms and Closets.
I’m Only Here Because You Called Me
When I forced them to walk a thousand miles
I scattered their bones into frozen piles
and still, they come to claim those tears
and grieve the dead from all those years.
But, I was only there because you called me.
I loaded the boxcars, I guarded your camps,
I turned gardens to graveyards and skin into lamps.
I dropped hell from the sky and watched it all burn,
I took pleasure in knowing you never would learn
that I was only there because you called me.
Now I bury your ashes while I am covered in gold
and I am dripping in love from the lies that I told.
I gave you a spark and you blew on the flame
and the fire keeps burning till nothing’s the same.
But dear, I am only here because you called me.
Connie Carmichael is a former mental health care worker, now retired and living in Columbus, Ohio. She has published a chapbook titled Driving to Wellsville. She lives with a loving wife, a loyal dog, and a head full of poems.
Babalawo Ceremony in The Central Dome
They are plucking the sins from the caged dove,
And grinding the dead rooster
To accelerate the trickle of blood
That crashes on the methodically polished linoleum,
Whose soul’s whispers echo against the vaulted
Ceiling, and whimpers before the horror of rotten pig’s
Ears, and Jesus floating in a cup of spiced rum.
The black Madonna shakes her ass.
The white dresses are stained rough in gashes of blood.
The figures move back and forth
In a trancelike formation, releasing the ashes of cigars
That had orgies in their mouths, out to the world,
Rushing every corner and rubbing against every
Mortar saint, leaving no one and nothing, untouched.
Juan Parra is a Cuban American poet whose work has featured in The Indiana Review, Flapperhouse, Pear Drop, The Cimarron Review, REAL, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Lake, 4ink7, Basalt Review, and Driftwood Review.
in memory of Mark Fields
Unlike a few whose dear departed
return to ease their grief to peace
with subtle signs vaguely imparted
through faulty lights and billowed sheets,
I’ve seen no shoots bloom out of season
or rare, endangered birds alight.
No phantom scents boggle my reason.
No shadows shrink beyond my sight.
And I have felt no calming presence.
No throatless voice disturbs my sleep
to broach goodbyes or final lessons.
No floorboards creak. No footfalls creep.
There are no signs of life’s defiance,
just absent laughter’s booming silence.
Richard Porter is but a lowly reference clerk jumping rope with the Kansas/Missouri border. His work has appeared in The Asses of Parnassus, Better Than Starbucks, Grand Little Things, and Wine Cellar Press.
The Interview — Sam (R.S.) Gwynn
by Luke Stromberg
Sam at Lamar U
R.S. (Sam) Gwynn was born in Leaksville (now Eden), North Carolina, in 1948. After attending Davidson College, he entered the graduate program at the University of Arkansas, where he earned his MFA. From 1976, he taught at Lamar University, where he was Poet-in-Residence and University Professor of English. He retired in 2016. His first two collections were chapbooks, Bearing & Distance (1977) and The Narcissiad (1980). These were followed by The Drive-In (1986) and No Word of Farewell: New and Selected Poems 1970-2000. His latest collection is Dogwatch (2014) from Measure Press. His criticism appeared regularly in the Hudson Review and other publications, and he was editor of the Pocket Anthology Series from Pearson-Longman. He lives in Beaumont, Texas, with his wife, Donna. They have three sons and seven grandchildren.
LS: Just to begin, what’s the deal with your name?
RSG: I am Sam; Sam I am. But when I first began to publish, there had been T.S. and were W.S. and X.J., and there are two A.E.s — one old and one young. Throughout my childhood I was “Sammy,” which just wouldn’t do. So I used R.S. Gwynn, thinking that run of consonants would make me look thinner.
LS: Do you remember your early experiences with poetry? How did you get into it? When did you start writing it?
RSG: Pretty late. There was no model for it, and few of the poems we studied in school made much of an impression on me. I was a movie nut, and the first writer to make a deep impression on me was Pauline Kael. Of course, being a film critic in Leaksville, North Carolina, seemed about as remote as being a poet, but I wrote some reviews for the school paper. So let’s say that I have some history in wanting to write but not as much early history with writing poetry.
My second year of college opened a door. Davidson, despite being a liberal arts college, had no literary magazine, and a senior named Charles Vick decided to start one, The Miscellany. A slightly older friend named Kemmer Anderson had some things in it that I liked, and it was a “Hey I could do that” moment. Over a half century later, Kem and I still correspond. We had a writing award, the Vereen Bell Prize, and I won it twice. By the time I graduated, I knew that I’d go for the MFA, which was a relatively new degree at the time. I’m not sure that I’d advise that route to a contemporary graduate, though.
I should add that while I’m very happy with my undergraduate and graduate education, nobody taught me much about the nuts and bolts of poetry. I remember the summer before my senior year. I was a manager on the football team, so I got to the campus a couple of weeks early. I went to the library and checked out about 30 poetry collections, all relatively new, and I spent those weeks in the dorm in front of the fan, reading. I read a lot of Lowell and Hecht and Wilbur and a bunch of people you’ve never heard of. I was puzzling out their forms and meanings and got the hang of pentameter and other meters. I was pretty well prepared when I got to Form and Theory of Poetry, taught by Jim Whitehead, in grad school in Arkansas. I sympathize with a lot of my peers, who claimed that they entered the class with pretty much a blank slate.
Gather The Redwood Forest
I sit upon sorrel in a redwood forest,
hands cupped before me
catch a dewdrop.
Maybe I’ll hear God appear
in a thousand years of silence
beneath fire-blackened bark.
I have become Deciduous Me —
same as the tree where Jesus hung.
Every leaf said, God will miss me,
every leaf, Forsake me not.
Now the litterfall fills my heart —
only epitaphs remind me:
Gary was here,
Christ was here,
and The Missing here inside.
From redwood cones and trillium flowers,
banana slugs and purple shadows,
I’ll conjure me a helpmate so I won’t be alone.
She’ll be recognizable:
She’s been inside me all along;
Enter me, Dear Forest,
I am earth like you.
Gary Lee Barkow studies mathematics and practices Tai Chi. He walks around feeling loved. He keeps a flashlight by his futon in case he has a brilliant idea at night. He enjoys the mystery of where math and poetry originate.
Yair Mejía on Unsplash.