Book Reviews
from Issue 42 (2014)


Between Frames: Poems and Photographs
by Mark Hillringhouse

Publisher: Serving House Books (2012)
98 pages

Reviewed by Kevin Carey

One of the early poems in Mark Hillringhouse’s collection, Between Frames, is called “Moisture” and it recalls a Hopi legend as a way of witnessing a father’s passing, his body, “pale, gray, wooden” (16) transforms into “snowflakes melting into streams” (16). The poem itself would be enough, rich in detail and honest emotion, but on the opposite page we get the poem reflected in a black and white photograph of winter tree branches creeping into the mist. The juxtaposition creates a palpable texture for the reader to feel. A different identity emerges when the words and the photograph are taken in the same breath, each informed by the other. Between Frames is filled with similar subsets of dramatic, black and white images and clear, terse language. Each set is its own unique invention.

Some of the photographs mirror the poem next to it, like “To a Buick Skylark,” alongside a shot of a 53’ Buick, offering the visual subject to the verse’s homage, “Hail to thee O first car! / my father’s beat up Buick/ the car I’d fall asleep in / on long drives home” (34).    

Others like “Penn Station,” with its accompanying photograph of Lackawanna Station in Hoboken, New Jersey, use the image to reinforce the poem’s comment, like in this case, where the shadows of the almost empty station remind us of the passage of time.

            Then the bell rings and you’re called from

recess and the next thing you know you’re

suited up in some weird kind of army,

a leather valise in one hand, the hard facts of life

in the other, a train schedule in your pocket (22)


Sometimes the photograph is used to place a subject in their natural surroundings as in the poem, “Here” about poet Gerald Stern. The photo is of Stern’s study, a curtain pulled open, the sun shinning on an empty chair.

                                    You are forever leaning in your chair,

                                    your head tilted like the prow of a ship,

                                    looking out the window

                                    waiting for the next moment

                                    to crash over you in dark waves

                                    drowning the warm animal

                                    breathing by your side (38)

The poems and photographs in this collection take us on a personal tour of Hillringhouse's New Jersey. The cityscapes are present but forgotten, living and dying at the same time, inviting through the honest eye of a melancholic observer. I was struck by the underlying sadness in these places – the aisle of Woolworth’s department store, sitting in the stands of a baseball game, riding in the front seat of a Buick Skylark, past Paterson and The Passaic River. As I met the people who inspired Hillringhouse - the poets, the photographers, the friends and family - I recognized the people in my own life who had an impact and I felt that nostalgic pang that comes from living long enough and being forced to remember the things that haunt us, the things we can't let go of.

             I know I grow tired of all these angels,

            their lofty absence from this world,

            as they swoop down from their billboards

            with their long faces and flowing hair,

            when I think of how everything disappears…  (74)

                                                                               Route 46


This group of poems is a collection worthy of high praise, the language spare and powerful and hitting the right reflective notes. When you add to that a series of photographs which capture a fading American landscape with an undaunted eye, one cannot help but be moved. This is a unique book, one that should be revisited time and again for both its visual beauty and its real poetic wisdom.  



Mark Hillringhouse is a poet, essayist and photographer whose works have been widely exhibited in area galleries. Between Frames is a collection of his poems and black & white photographs from Serving House Books. He has an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University and he is a member of the English Department at Passaic County Community College.

Kevin Carey teaches Writing at Salem State University. His work has won Best of the Net 2011 and was a finalist for The Million Writers Award and the Black River Chapbook Competition in Fiction 2012. His book of poems, The One Fifteen To Penn Station was published in 2012 (Cavan Kerry Press, NJ) and his 2014 chapbook of fiction is The Beach People  (Red Bird Chapbooks).



Kind: Poems
by Gretchen Primack

Publisher: Post Traumatic Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-9890229-0-3
70 Pages

Reviewed by Susan Lembo Balik

At this year’s AWP conference in Seattle, I stumbled upon poet Gretchen Primack, who participated in an eco poetry/fiction panel hosted by Ashland Creek Press. Primack read from her latest book of poetry, Kind, which bravely takes on animal protection issues such as factory farming, hunting, the circus, fur, and much more.

Her poetry is honest, deeply moving, raw and compassionate.  In one haunting poem, Love This, Primack tells the story of a mother cow that births a boy she will never nurse, because her milk is “banked for others.” Shortly after the calf is born, he is dragged off to auction.

The body floods with chemicals saying, Love this
and she does, and births it; it is a boy
she begins to clean and nose, but he is dragged
away by his back feet.  She will never touch him
again, though she hears him howl and calls back for days.

Another poem, “The Dogs and I Walked Our Woods,” talks of a pair of coyotes shot dead by hunters. 

“The eyes were closed
the fur smooth and precisely the colors
of autumn, a little warm to my touch though the bodies
were not.  The fur was cells telling themselves
to spin to keep her warm to stand
and hunt and keep.  It was a red
autumn leaf on the forest floor, but
it was a blooded brown leaf, and another, because
they dragged the bodies to create a monument
to domination, to the enormous human…

At the end, her poem turns personal as Primack ponders this act of cruelty in the woods, questioning whether to bring a child into a world that often doesn’t recognize animals as sentient beings.

…and if I bore a child who suffered to see this
or if I bore a child who gladdened to see this or if
I bore a child who kept walking I could not bear
it, so I will not bear one.

Kind springs organically from Primack’s passion for animals, her voice powerful and sensitively tuned to the suffering of all—from the tiniest mouse to the mightiest elephant.  Kind is more than a collection of poems; it is a conversation. It is a call to action. 

To learn more or to order her book, visit