SLANT Forum: News and Reviews

Fall Submission Period Now Open

The submission period for the Fall 2023 issue of Slant opened on August 1 and will continue until September 30. You can submit up to five original and previously unpublished poems to For more submission guidelines, visit Submit to Slant.

New Stories from Jim Ray Daniels

Slant contributor Jim Ray Daniels reports from Pittsburgh that Michigan State University Press has recently published a new collection of his short stories, titled The Luck of the Fall. This is his seventh volume of short fiction since his first, No Pets, appeared in 1999. He has also published more than 30 volumes of poetry. Set in and around Daniels’ native Detroit, these stories are about characters who “get lost; they fall, but the falls shape their lives in ways that might even be called ‘lucky’—if luck is defined as survival, despite the scars left behind.” You can read more about Jim Ray in this month’s retrospective from 1997 in From the Archives.


New Poetry from Ann Lauringer

Ann Lauinger’s third book of poetry, Dime Saint, Nickel Devil, was published this past October by Broadstone Books. Her two previous books are Against Butterflies (2013) and Persuasions of Fall (2004), which won the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry. Fellow poet Dennis Nurkse wrote of Ann’s work, “Her eloquence and depth of experience make metaphysics visceral—you might think of John Donne’s ‘naked thinking heart.’” And another reviewer describes the collection as “a multi-layered, clear-eyed investigation of the human interface with the natural world.”

A Debut Collection by Karen Poppy

Karen Poppy, a San Francisco Bay Area poet whose work has appeared in Slant, recently published her first full-length poetry collection, Diving At The Lip Of The Water, with publisher Beltway Editions. While this is her first full-length collection, Karen has three previously published chapbooks: Crack Open/EmergencyEvery Possible Thing, and our own beautiful brutality. In an early review, Sonia Greenfield noted that “the poems…are wide-ranging…whether they’re leaping off from the lines of Whitman or Plath, exploring failures of intimacy, or gathering animals in a menagerie of the symbolic, their untamed characteristics bristling at the book’s edges and representative of the speaker’s own wild sense of self.”

Valerie Sopher’s First Chapbook

The Orchard Street Press has announced the release of Day for Night, the debut chapbook from Slant contributor Valerie Sopher of El Cerrito, California. That collection contains wo poems which appeared first in Slant: “Calanais” and  “Deckle-Edged Squares.”

About Valerie’s book, Hollie Hardy, author of How to Take a Bullet and Other Survival Poems, writes: “Valerie Sopher’s first poetry collection, Day for Night, emerges like a blossom amid the aftermath of pandemic isolation’s ‘endless loop of living…Here are poems of a life richly observed and beautifully rendered, attending to dailiness, nature, healing, a longing to travel, to connect, and perhaps to love…When you read these poems, ‘you realize you are not watching/the sun rise, but the earth turn.’”

Valerie is a retired attorney and singing quilter who found her poetic voice during the pandemic. Her work has also appeared in Canary, Caustic Frolic, Prometheus Dreaming, Science Write Now, and elsewhere.

Love Letters from an Arsonist – A Review

The following review of David van den Berg’s newest collection of poems, by Slant contributor Claire Hamner Matturro, appears courtesy of our friends at Southern Literary Review. David is a poet and attorney who lives in Florida. He is the founder of Prometheus Dreaming Literary Journal. His poetry has appeared domestically and internationally in a variety of journals, including recent publications in the Cola Literary Review, Saw Palm, The American Journal of Poetry, Poetry South, South85, the Ilanot Review, and others.

In his compelling, imaginative collection of poetry, Love Letters from an Arsonist (2023), David van den Berg treads through a grand old Southern literary campground of gothic, beauty and brutalism, religiosity, and nature—all in the same works. These are intense poems that cry out to be read and reread and absorbed, verses that will not sit calmly in the mind, and yet should captivate readers with their strange rhythms, vibrant imagery, troubled themes, and underlying mystery. The poems are really rather glorious, and they are anything but timid or tame.

The collection is divided into three parts called “Epistles,” each with its own prevailing theme. Epistle I, “Salt River Blues,” reads much as a tribute to the classic Southern Gothic and an exploration of a few things we might not always want to study but probably should. From the opening verse, “Salt River Blues,” the imagery is deftly phrased and powerful. Consider these lines: “cattails rattle on slick grass banks” and “a man made of mud can’t fly too high before / the sun dries him out and he shatters like clay.”

Ghosts and haints wander through Epistle I. The prose poem, “first the ghost sits on your chest,” tells a harrowing story only to offer up this: “Don’t / worry! The water only hurts at first but soon it’s like the womb.” But van den Berg creates far more than regular ghosts in this gothic section of the collection. Here we also find such original specters as the woman who will “drown a cat for a dollar” in the poem “cryptids of the southern waste.” She’s not the only female phantom in the collection. The “portrait of the woman at the bottom of the well” describes a menacing vision of a creature “old as glass / cloudy-eyed / long charcoal hair hangs loose in curls / lips taste of nightshade.” Yet this woman in the well consoles us: “the earth don’t’ make mistakes so we’re beauty to the bone.”

In the poem that gives the collection its title, “love letter from an arsonist,” the dark vision continues with images like “daddy was a wildfire burned himself inside out,” and who “drank gasoline from momma’s breast.”

Epistle II, “The Midnight Gospel,” contains well-crafted poems in which the narrator argues with God, or the gods, or himself. Some of these poems express anger, others puzzlement, but all are captivating. In “the book of lamentations,” the poet observes that “though it’s a long way to heaven it’s six feet down to forever.” In the “ghost of all things,” God would “love us more but / he loved the first of us too much.” Concluding that poem, the narrator observes, “I don’t look / kindly on the…one who’ll use our wings to teach us how to drown.”

Anger is obvious in many poems, and especially well stated in a poem probably reflecting Florida’s shameful history of Dozier’s School for Boys, “on finding another mass grave at a residential school.” In this short yet potent poem, “outrage comes easy like a bull on red.”

Despite the darkness and anger in some poems, there is also remarkable beauty in many. For example, in “like the last few drops of rain,” van den Berg writes:

 tell me why the mockingbird sings


in the witching hour

when the owls are on the hunt?

did they hear what is to come

when the beyond is far behind?

In Epistle III, “Pinecone Son,” the poems feel more personal and a few offer a clear story arc. In “woodman and coldwater,” the poem tells of a troubled woman the narrator picks up when “she fell into me with her life bundled in two / hefty-brand trashbags.” While taking “the 101 west / past strip malls and…the million little ghosts that live in wreckage we leave behind,” the driver sees “the setting sun filled her lungs with glass so / her breaths came raw and ragged.” It’s a heartbreaking story, but ends with this admonition:

be gentle to each other.

the world is too small for our hearts and

there are too many notes left


These poems are rich with emotions and a certain wild rawness, and not just a little weirdness. Much of their sheer power lies in van den Berg’s skillful use of the five senses to evoke a scene and put the reader smack in the middle of a poem’s universe. Readers can sniff the “rusted shotguns that still smell / of saltpeter” in the poem “now that my arms have become spades.” They can hear the sounds of “his bones click clacking like chimes when the north wind blows” in the poem “cryptids of the southern wastes” and see in “the valley of small shadows / my teeth   bloom like wild roses” in the poem “rise, Lazarus.” One can feel the chill and heat in “gethsemane” with lines like “thankful for the cold ‘cause i’m grateful for the sunlight.” Taste is not forgotten either, with lines like “so my fingers taste of / burnt marshmallow and turpentine” from the poem “migrating patterns of the lonely heart.”

All in all, while these poems can be dark and brooding, even brutal, there is no denying the creativity, originality, and sheer talent in their well-crafted lines. These are beautiful, original works. Along with the eeriness that drives the gothic aspects, in these poems often we see and feel humanity seeking some kind of balance or peace: “[B]e gentle to each other.”

Claire Hamner Matturro has been a journalist, a lawyer, an organic blueberry farmer, and taught at Florida State University College of Law and University of Oregon School of Law. She is the author of eight novels, including a series of comedic legal thrillers published by HarperCollins. Her poetry also appears in various literary journals including Slant. She is a long-time associate editor of Southern Literary Review and lives in Florida with her husband and cross-eyed rescued cat.


Share the News

In addition to your poems, we welcome submissions of news about yourself or a fellow poet, reviews of recently published collections of poetry (yours or others), and interviews with poets. As we note above, the submission period for poems is February 1-March 31 for the Spring issue and August 1-September 30 for the Fall issue. However, we welcome your news and reviews at any time during the year.

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