Chasing Down the Storm – by Charles R. Castle, Jr. reviewed by Joy McDowell

Improbable Press, 2019, 110 pages   $20

ISBN 9781088457542

Available at –

Fluidity is the word that came to mind as I read Charles Castle’s latest collection of poems. Divided into seven sections, Chasing Down the Storm does indeed chase a panorama of personal pathos and characters that utilize a bridge between nature and the human struggle to comprehend life.

The author’s images enhance the combined fabric of those two elements. In “She Comes Like Candles,” his lines demonstrate this relaxed connection:

                                    My lover

                                    comes like candles

                                    on the snows

                                    of Christmas Eves.

The reader moves inside the poet’s head in “Under a Green-leafed Sky,” with verse that celebrates the bliss and brevity of summer—a universal view that floats the lines:

We count the days of June

As if they could not end.

We sleep our morning slumbers

Rich as momentary thieves.

In the poem “Hiking Sweet Creek,” the reader is moving through the countryside before making the hike up a route carved with waterfalls:

                                    A narrow road competes for space

Where the creek flows between foothills

Through what is less a valley

Than a series of hollows

Of pastureland and small farms.

Having made this hike myself, I could not help smiling at the line All manner of dogs on

 leashes …

Even a hint of malevolence is folded discreetly into an amusing scenario in the short seven-line offering “When the Truth Hurts. I found my head nodding in agreement.

                                    Load the gun son

                                    We’re going to shoot the messenger

                                    He’s hunting quail up on the Bixbee Road

                                    Accidents happen all the time

                                                and his turn’s overdue

                                    Load the gun son

                                    I never liked what he had to say

Castle is a romantic. On the couch we speak of things/ like fruit we cannot reach. This line from “Divine Therapy” turns over in a languid manner familiar to lovers. Hinted rhyme keeps the physical ardor in pace with the intellectual statement about the complexity of attraction and a reluctance to embrace love fully.

 Readers will find entertainment in tales about wild places, such as “Tequila up the Trapline.” This poem inserts the reader smack into the dysfunction of a Montana character. Imagine if you will, a Montana trapper singing Patsy Cline and driving through the snow while he tells the reader his hard luck story without complaint, just stating his facts. Image upon image dress the stage.

The snow blows deep, it’s ten below

The upper road ain’t clear

My truck is totaled in a ditch

My wife’s down south of here

She’s shacked up flush in Bigfork

With a Bozeman friend of mine 

From the section titled Clouds and Clarity, Castle gives us a longer poem, If You See My Brother.” It takes the reader on a touching and timeless search for the lost portion of each family, each relationship pursued, each disappointment weathered.

He might have joined a union once,

    mining coal or in the Merchant Marine,

    or packing alongside migrants

    pickin’ in the San Juaquin.

Someone said they saw him in Alberta

    during Vietnam.

I found Chasing Down the Storm delightful to read, worth rereading, and totally unpretentious.

Charles Castle supervises the building of Conestoga Huts for the homeless. He donates all proceeds from the sale of his book to this cause. What a wonderful opportunity for OPA members to enjoy a good read and support a pressing need.

Reviewer Bio:

Joy McDowell is a poet who writes from Sky Mountain outside of Springfield, Oregon. She has been published by Uttered Chaos Press. A fourth chapbook is moving toward publication.

And if the Dead Do Dream by Anita Sullivan, reviewed by Gigi Cooper


Uttered Chaos, Laura LeHew

ISBN# 978-0-9889366-6-9

2016, 35 pp., $10.00

In And if the Dead Do Dream, Anita Sullivan draws the reader into her personal realm: her house, her walks in the woods, her family. She answers “Where Did You Grow Up?” and signs her “Dear Baobab” letter “Love, Anita.” Fully two-thirds of the poems in this collection are in first person. Even the handful of poems told in second person are an interior dialogue, as in “Critical Mass” where Sullivan writes,

Upon an early January afternoon/resolve to leave this house/ / you’ve stayed in far too long.

And as much as she is trying to communicate with herself and her environment, Sullivan also attempts to interpret the world’s messages back to her as a way to exercise control. Even t-shirts on a clothesline in the aptly named “Messaging” do not escape scrutiny:

               And I am the one

                                             to decide

if they have something to say

for themselves in a way we are able

to hear.

               And since, at length

I can discern no essentials to convey

                                                                           for them,

a vacancy remains.

In these poems, mundane acts like planting seeds, twirling a leaf, and driving to the store perforate our plane of existence to reveal domains with different physical laws where trees are mobile, the sun is rigid, and the deceased drive. For example, in “Common Ground,” Sullivan says:

This time the tree steps forward

half a dimension or so, and I spill

into that framed unlidded vestibule

And in “I Petition the Leaf” she contends that

If we slipped a knife around all sunlight’s edges,

lifted out

the surrounding darks

we too would know

               sunlight as a shaped thing,

For Sullivan, the baobab tree is the symbol of this reversed or upside down version of reality. She dedicates three poems to the tree. “Baobab: An Elegy,” is not so much a requiem as an endorsement of an alternative and ancient way of life. The trees’ inversion causes both amusement and bewilderment in her “Dear Baobab” letter. In “Prayer of a Refugee,” the baobab shelters the refugee from not only death, but the limbo of being displaced.

These literal upendings make the poet not quite at ease in a natural setting. In her encounter with a squirrel in “The First Bridge,” her footsteps are “clumping,” and she cannot sense when the creature moves along. In contrast, the squirrel belongs there, where … everything/squirrel size down there, the stones arranged for his rummagings.

Sullivan is an intruder into the natural world, even when it is just outside her doorstep. Her poems provide a roadmap to appreciate these microcosms, even though they are unpredictable.

Death and grief also punctuate the collection. Sullivan’s notes on “A Taxonomy of Grieving” elucidate the transformative role of language in her grieving process. After her husband died, she realized that the cauldron ingredients in Macbeth are plants, not animals. She finds solace in the ability of words to have double meanings. Although it is only the fifth poem in the collection, “Taxonomy” feels like the lynchpin of the book. In a mere 16 lines, the poem culminates in the common elements of the collection: the poet as observer, the uncertain human-nature interface, finding meaning in the mundane, and processing grief.

…Mortal peril steeps the air, yet air

being fickle, frequently slackens

                              (Bear to Lady)

Question: How can a plant and an animal

share the same parts?

Answer: On a roof

How far I have come after you stopped!

               Sliding past you on my allotted track

               I ride the soft yellow

                              toe of frog

(I pause often, looking back).

You carry my seed.

I carry your eye.

And if the Dead Do Dream is a guidebook for a path through loss, to reconnect with our surroundings. It shows us a way to encounter the world fearlessly, even when we face the unexpected.

Reviewer Bio: Gigi Cooper is a transportation and environmental planner and writer in Portland. Her poem “Field” was an honorable mention in the spring 2013 OPA contest.

Litany for Wound and Bloom by Judith H. Montgomery, reviewed by Catherine McGuire

Uttered Chaos Press, 2018, 80 pages, $19

ISBN 978-0-9998334-1-4

As I often do when I start a book of poetry, I opened Judith Montgomery’s Litany for Wound and Bloom at random and dove in. The poems are startling and beautiful, standing on their own even without the arc of the arrangement, though that had its own pleasing form.

“Listen” drew me in first, repeating some lines like a refrain (if the moon had been tatter and fogif I lived in green valleys of wheat), making the unfolding story even more appalling, like a lullaby turned horror story.  

In the three evenly-divided sections – (Womb), (Word), (Witness) – which concern motherhood – all the joy and the pain, especially in our violent world, I found many deeply moving poems, some difficult to read because the pain is so vividly communicated.

While most of the poems are free verse, they are consciously shaped: often couplets, triplets or quatrains, with clearly much thought given to shaping lines in complement to the content.

A poet works to make form, word choice, and sound fly under the radar as we read, and yet it is a big part of what makes a poem memorable. Throughout the book, Montgomery creates musical arrangements (if the moon had been tatter and fog rather than if the moon had been tattered and foggy) in what seems an effortless, but very skilled, technique of creating rhythms and music in the reader’s mind. A mother’s tragedy seems more horrific for being described in this elegant way.

The first section (Womb) speaks of the longing for motherhood, the failure to achieve it, the success at last which carries its own fear and wounding. The poems helped me, a childless woman, to get a better sense of motherhood. I am sure it will resonate even more deeply with mothers. But more than that, these poems speak to how life wounds all of us, often in a place we’re most vulnerable:

                                                each scar’s a scarlet witness on or

                                         in the body, inscribing its stubborn

                                               devotion: Hurt. Hurry. Heal.

                                                                  (“Yet Praise the Scar”)

The details of menstruation, ovulation, conception are presented in lyrical terms:

                                                …one packed golden drop releases, lit seed

                                    slipping down the sleek chute until that fortunate

                                    fall into the womb’s open heart…


Poems like “Expectant: I,” detail a different kind of anticipation and contribute to the deep exploration of this timeframe in many women’s lives. In addition, Montgomery explores this timeframe’s parallel to writing, summed up with the last line in this section: “All words uncoil to bloom in the womb of the poem.” Say that line out loud and you will hear some of the musicality this book contains.

The second segment (Word) concerns many different women, individually and in groups. It is in this section that the title of the book seems most appropriate, because this is indeed a litany of wounding and also the blooming of women, real and mythological. For example, in “Black Seed,” the poet describes Persephone in haunting and multi-sensory triplets interspersed by strong single lines:

                                                My right hand, reckless, sought a second

                                                 flamed bloom, its dab of deckled gold, its

                                                 bottomless black velvet cup. Dragon-

                                                flies were gilding river air…

The poems describing the poet’s mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s employ symbol and detail to move the experience beyond the mundane. In “Sometimes,” she writes:

                                                An indigo cloak clasped at her paper throat,

                                                my mother is stepping

                                                deep and deeper into a mute forest wing-lit with

                                                birds, a basket of seeds

                                                clutched in her hand. Once in a while, she


The last section (Witness) contains both poems of a deeply personal nature and those that touch on wider themes like war from a mother’s point of view. The section moves from a poem about a family’s pet burial ground to a courthouse where a teen is given into state custody to the speaker examining an oil painting about WWI. It links feelings of love and fear that mothers can’t separate. In “Bearing/Bearing Down,” the speaker says:

                                                to be turned inside-out,

                                                laid open for the universe to witness bairn emerge

                                                from a body that was barren …

and in “A Blessing”:

                                                                 … Child who

                                                tore from my body, who blooms

                                    now most beautiful…

The narratives in this section are gripping. “But You My Son” had me speeding through the first time as if it were a thriller. I was holding my breath as the nurse raced to the son’s apartment to try and revive him, not knowing if this poem was addressed to a living or dead son.  

she gears through stop and flashing lights

to thrust the fail-safe key

into your apartment

lock, she bursts into the tossing dark

where the great factory

of your breath…

I appreciated the end-notes Montgomery provides as they give some background, and confirm some of my guesses, and also the acknowledgments. The latter offers a glimpse into the community of poets within which she works.

All in all, this is a rich collection of poems celebrating and lamenting women’s lives, with intimate glimpses into some of the deepest pain women endure, and full of vivid wonder at the miracle of birth, of life.


Catherine McGuire is a writer/artist with a deep interest in Nature, both human and otherwise. She’s had four decades of poetry in publications such as New Verse News, FutureCycle, Portland Lights, Fireweed, andon a bus for Poetry In Motion. She has four chapbooks out: Palimpsests (Uttered Chaos) and three self-published ( She also has a full-length book of poetry, Elegy for the 21st Century (FutureCycle Press) and a deindustrial science fiction novel Lifeline (Founders House Publishing). A new chapbook, An Inner Quicksand, will be published next year by Finishing Line Press, and more short stories and Lifeline’s sequel are due out from Founders House Publishing.