Review: The Last Refrain by John Abbott

The Last Refrain, Sweatshoppe Publications 2013

Review by Sarah Newman: 

     When you hear the term “family band,” you might think of gleaming white smiles and matching, sparkling outfits hiding an underlying layer of dysfunction. But Shiloh Red is a real rock n’ roll band, and the Mausolf family’s dysfunction doesn’t hide from anything or anyone.

     John Abbott’s The Last Refrain is the story of a family holding on to the dream of becoming famous. Denied a record contract, Band leader, father, and alcoholic Ken Mausolf calls on his devoted daughter Dana, his son Lucas, and his wife Brianna head back out on the road for another tour from fairground to fairground.

     Despite being the story of a man struggling not to be the kind of deadbeat parent his own mother was, The Last Refrain is also about doing what one loves. Ken is so resigned to his musical pursuit that his family has no choice, but to love it as well.

     At drift and at a loss as to what they really want for themselves, Brianne, Dana, and Lucas do everything to keep that dream alive. The siren song isn’t fame, per se, but a need to fit in, be accepted, be loved, and above all be a normal family. Unfortunately, there are a lot of childish things Ken failed to put down, and his family follows an immature man right into the jowls of “celebrity.”

     No stranger to grit, the Mausolfs don’t live in a cookie-cutter Midwest. Place in this story can be wild and inhospitable. It is contrasted beautifully with the organized, civilized, successful Chicago, some kind of diamond in the rough. 

     Music is interwoven with the pacing. Abbott’s characters travel on the wind, like Romani, changing course at a moment’s notice. It’s something informed by the weatherworn patriarch. What Ken lacks in direction he makes up for in focus, in the dogged pursuit.

Besides the usual burdens of the family band, like issues of personal space and individuality, the Mausolf's face a lingering question. Are dreams, like family, something to be both followed and left behind?

About the Author:

John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arcadia, Two Thirds North, upstreet, Midwestern Gothic, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, Poydras Review, and many others. His first novel, The Last Refrain, was just released by Sweatshoppe Publications, and his poetry chapbook, Near Harmony, was just released by Flutter Press. For more information about his writing, please visit

Review: Solecism by Rosebud Ben-Oni

Review by Sarah Rae:

Solecism. Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013

Sometimes there is no place for identity to hang its hat. Instead of a neat space, it finds layers of memories, emotions, cultures and ideals that twist and coil their way up the wall like a mass of vines with no beginning and no end. Rosebud Ben-Oni’s new collection of poetry Solecism is an expression of both rootlessness and the deepest ties that bind us to our heritage.

     The word 
solecism itself has many meanings: nonstandard or ungrammatical usage; breach of good manners or etiquette; or any error, impropriety of inconsistency. You can quickly see this aversive “nonstandard” in “The Reply of Sal Si Puedes”:

               What if I said
               What if I experience—
               Linguistic momentum
               to earn Webster worth?
               Would you call it broken then
               In its 4th edition?

     The daughter of a Mexican mother and a Jewish father, spending much of her life on the Gulf Coast, and studying in New York City, Michigan, and Jerusalem, the poet has a many-sided heritage and a great deal of cultural influences that wash over her work. 

     Belonging to so much and yet being denied membership to all. “For the Mixed Child with Pale Skin” says it best, “your parts don’t look the part in anything.” This existential dilemma leaves us stray, flitting around like birds,
sparrows to be exact.

     It’s difficult to accept, at first, the range of voices in the collection. Then the reader realizes it’s not the voice that changes, it’s only the place. From In essence, Ben-Oni’s work is an example of what a profound affect place has on the psyche. 

     In “Lives of Carrion” we see the poet long for an indelible, identifying mark.

               Later I’ll peel the scab over,

               wanting to scar, and try to tell
               time from patches on the ground.

     It’s incredibly easy to forget we hail from many places, when the melting pot boils us down to something neutral. Ben-Oni doesn’t fall prey to this. And yet, at the same time, her work helps us to zoom out and truly see the cultural repetition, the social pitfalls, and more joyous similarities that make us all one.

See more on the poet here:

Rosebud Ben-Oni

Solecism (80 page) was published by Virtual Artists Collective in February 2013

Review: Running at Night by Ned Randle

Running at Night

Ned Randle’s poetry collection Running at Night often touches upon the most humdrum aspects of life, and yet somehow Randle always manages to communicate the sheer beauty and wealth of possibilities we find in the everyday. His collected poems from 1976-2012 find the extraordinary in the ordinary, even reassurance in the grotesque, and nourishment in both simple and humble spaces.

A keen observer, many of his poems deal with matters as ordinary as the plains in his native Illinois: “I Sit in the Garden and Talk” and “Across the Table She Looks at Him”. But flowing just below the surface is an undercurrent of honesty and pain that is soothing in its reliability.

With muddy rivers full of fish, grassy banks, lazy dogs, and a cat slinking out of the barn, the sense of place resonates vibrantly in these pages. Randle creates powerful images that both dazzle and revolt. For example, the young kids in “Savages” who, like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, lay shirtless in the grass sharing a stolen cigarette:

          we would suck the smoke across our juice stained 
          tongues and silently stare at the cloudless 
          sky thinking about the day in our future

          when we would have to buy our cigarettes
          and secret them in the starched shirt pocket
          of a lost dream dressed nattily for death

The form, its unpunctuated open-endedness, is reminiscent of that endless feeling in childhood of being immortal. Also in true immature form, they muse on smoking without even realizing that in retrospect the beauty of that moment would be where and with whom they were, not the cigarette.

The poet writes of leaving the plains to go to some “gifted” metropolis in “Odyssey”, but much like Odysseus he would only want to return home. Rather than romanticize, the poet isn’t afraid to show Mother Nature’s more grotesque side and knowing that side is a universal certainty to take comfort in. We see this in the repurposed hearts in “Misplaced”:

          by the sight—someone has turned the heart 
          into a dry den of sticks and straw
          and the black bids inside the chambers caw.

Although misplaced, abandoned, or disowned, everything in rural Illinois finds its way back into the circle of necessity. That reassurance often requires the poet to fold a matter back on itself, turning it on its head. For instance, the reader feels the comfort of discomfort within the repetition at the close of “Insomnia”:

          opposing forces of sun and moon
          create in him a fitful soul,
          a foamy neap tide in his heart,
          a rise and fall, a rise and fall.

All these perpetuate the common thread in Running at Night that the most unlikely of places and everyday encounters are both the meat of experience and the reward in life.

About the Author Ned RandleI have published a few short stories, the most recent, “The Amazing Doctor Jones”, in Cigale Literary Magazine, Summer 2012. My poems have been published, or will be published, in a number of poems in literary publications such as The Spoon River Quarterly, Circus Maximus, Seven Stars Poetry, Poydras Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, The New Poet, Hamilton Stone Review (Sept. 2012) and Four Ties Literary Review (Fall 2012). My chapbook, Prairie Shoutings and Other Poems, was published by The Spoon River Poetry Press, Bradley University.