Friday, September 23, 2022

Two Poems by Allison Whittenberg


my dry wit
held its own
as the rain came down
in spits
then a geyser
we kept talking and talking at the outside table
al fresco -- all wet, oh
your zingers
in the dampness
left us
talking about every little
The Hard Way

You never know people
till they die
you gingerly page
through their privacy

Those fresh, fateful photos:
mothers in mauve miniskirts,
fathers frying hash browns, wearing floppy hats

After there is nothing at stake,
you find out all that you could have given

A little air comes in,
combats the forming mold that corrupted keepsakes,
contaminated these attic memories

This knowing threatens to sun the was
the is, now, will be more forgiving

  Allison Whittenberg is a poet, playwright and fiction writer. Her lastest collection of short stories Carnival of Reality came out April 2022.

Instagram: therealallisonwhittenberg
Twitter: @allisonwhitten6

Monday, September 19, 2022

Neither Weak Nor Obtuse: an Interview with Author, Jake Goldsmith

By Valois J Vera
Interviewer, Handy Uncapped Pen

"I am very ill. That would be the first and most obvious thing
to know. I have something of a haughty and self-important mo-
tivation for writing a memoir, being relatively young, as I have the persistent weight of illness stunting my time to speak. I need a model of myself—to have a promotion of my worth— and so here is no small attempt at a testament to my life and constitution. This work is a show of my growth, of what I love, and some diagnosis as to why I would love those particular things."

The introduction to Jake Goldsmith's Neither Weak Nor Obtuse reveals a glimpse into the raw and genuine pages of this striking memoir. We certainly wanted to learn more about Jake and his book.

Handy Uncapped Pen: What inspired the idea for Neither Weak Nor Obtuse?

Jake Goldsmith: I’m a memoirist, if I’m any sort of writer. I’m very weary and anxious about my life and health and I felt the (indulgent) need to hint at something of a last testament. It’s morbid, and I don’t think it means I will have nothing else to say, but I think the book does hint at fundamentally what my state of mind is as a chronically ill person—my thoughts, perceptions, how I have come to be, who I am.

HUP: Tell us about your writing process.

JG: I normally write notes on an iPad, or paper that I then transfer to an iPad—on Pages or Word. It’s much easier for me than sitting at a computer or desk and I’d normally have some inspiration to write, say, just a paragraph on a particular subject—which I would then expand on or polish later. I rarely rewrite anything substantially but rather make additions or renovate what I’ve initially put down. It is liberating, though, to cut large swathes of text if I have something better. I don’t think my process is too interesting and I don’t have much good advice for anyone I know who wants to write; I write organically, at whatever time it comes to me, and without any real discipline. As my life, it affords something, means I don’t need to be so disciplined or regimented.

HUP: Tell us about your publication experience.

JG: I originally self-published my book. I didn’t care too much about wider ramifications and just wanted something for my parents or friends to point at. It was too difficult to ask publishers anyway, out of embarrassment or just by being a stranger. When I later founded The Barbellion Prize, I was noticed by literary people, who are a closer knit community of people I was outside of, and that lent me a gateway to people with links to independent publishers. Before I would have to knock on the door of publishers as an unknown entity from the outside if I wanted anything, but if you know someone then it’s friendly. It’s unfair, in many ways; cynically it’s nepotism that means anyone can get anywhere—knowing people at the right time and place means a lot more than raw talent or expertise individually (if I have that). But I’m thankful to have made friends, first online, just by being noticed after creating The Barbellion Prize and allowing me some access into an alien literary world. I’d be aware of the literary world, of course, but it’s very much a selection of (often metropolitan) cliques and cultural niches most are not in.

Otherwise, my publisher has been very personable, personal, and entirely receptive of me. This would, I gather, be more difficult with a larger publisher—with its own obtuse marketing directives or other pursuits. I was seen for what I am and given the editorial help I needed, or anyone really needs. It may be a harder world to access if you’re not initiated, but it certainly has its necessary advantages. Purely as a framework for editors, anyone needs a good editor to be anything worth looking at—and that’s harder if you don’t have the means or you’re self-published. Most self-published works will be rougher simply because of the lack of good editing, clearly.

HUP: Looking back at both the writing and publication process, is there anything you would have done differently?

JG: Not particularly. I had regular calls with my editor to go through the text bit by bit and polish it (often while I was in hospital). It was a rewarding experience and I had no real trouble with it, and I’m grateful for it.

HUP: Will there be a sequel, or what projects are you working on now?

JG: I may try to have some shorter articles published. I’m afraid of being one note. I’m strongest when writing this very blunt, frank, open confessional. I have a few thousand words of something that’s akin to Barbellion’s journal. It’s an apt comparison to me. It also rewards writing in short disjointed essays or paragraphs and could be published as a short journal or a collection in a magazine. I have a few brief essays published in the quarterly magazine Exacting Clam, from my publisher Sagging Meniscus, about my experiences in hospital and with people's behaviour and thoughts regarding illness—more phenomenology of illness. I detail less of the basic physical facts of illness and more any thought or philosophical processes, which are more important to me. Coping with the facts of illness are more important to me than simply what those facts are—which are obvious or boring. I don’t need to write down, as much, what my hospital notes are. I need to think about what they implicate, what they mean exactly, what fate I then have and how I am going to reconcile or deal with those realities—if I even can. My emotional or philosophical reactions to my health are more important to detail than my BPM or oxygen saturation.

HUP: Tell us about the Disability narratives in your book.

JG: The whole thing, any political thought, any perceptions I have, are from my reality as an ill person. Through the lens of illness. It’s the defining characteristic and I think it’s a lie, and insulting, unwitting or not, to say that illness or disability isn’t so utterly defining. It’s not shameful, it’s fine for disability to define what you can do and it will define how you think. I’m not sure how that’s escapable without lying about or underestimating what disability and illness is. I can’t be ashamed of it, of course it’s going to shape everything and I’m not sure how it couldn’t.

Otherwise, I talk of how healthier people don’t reflect on or comprehend disability, and illness as a means towards philosophical or psychological evaluation. I don’t portray disabled people as soothsayers, but rather more immediately faced with a reality to confront and think about—while others, self-admittedly, are more blithe about things.

HUP: As a Disabled Author, what is your perspective on Disability representation in literature?

JG: Many of our best historical writers were disabled, in some way. Academically or as laypeople we care not to notice this or appreciate it. We will either not know of it, or if we do we distance it from our daily lives.

Despite historical representation from the likes of Kierkegaard, Samuel Johnson, Emily Dickinson, or any other number of renowned and canon authors, modern publishing is limited in the number of openly disabled people it elects to publish—as much as other industries are also very impoverished when it comes to disability representation, or class representation, etc.

The Barbellion Prize is only a small effort to reward disabled authors (at least I say that, while others say it can be more), and to me it’s still unjust that disability isn’t perceived as a fundamental or primary subject, and we neglect disabled people in literature as much as we do in everyday life—even if we want to pretend we are more cultured and worldly in literature.

It’s common to quote Virginia Woolf, but she rightly expressed in her essay On Being Ill, “ . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature."

It is indeed strange and insulting that this is still true.

Friday, September 9, 2022

At Last... by Jim Tritten

I woke up suddenly at 3:00 a.m. The cats went flying from the bed. My eyes strained wide open, jaws clenched; I sat straight up in bed and was instantly aware of my surroundings. I closed my eyes, exhaled, rubbed my temples, and took in a bushel of the stale night air. Maybe tomorrow it would be better.

The next night, I woke up at 2:00 a.m. Not so abruptly this time, but still, I went rapidly from an active dream state to being fully awake. There was no point in staying in bed, so I slowly extricated myself from the covers and cats and crept out of the dark bedroom, trying not to wake my wife, Jasmine. The following night, I woke up gasping for air at 4:00 a.m. I sat up and coughed. The cats and my wife stirred and looked at me.

“Bad dream?” my wife asked.


How long has it been since I had a good night’s rest? A night without dreams about places, situations, and things that I had tried very hard to forget. How long had it been since I could look forward to waking in the morning feeling refreshed? How long had it been since I had a “sweet” dream? Years—not days nor weeks nor months, but years. I enrolled in a sleep betterment group and began to learn techniques about what to do when I suddenly awakened in the middle of the night.

My recent dreams varied in bizarre content but not in the essence of their character. They always involved some sort of conflict and problems that could not be solved. Often there was violence and threat to life. These dreams were not pleasant, and they caused me to view sleep as something to fear rather than welcome. How many years can the body tolerate abnormal sleep?

The dreams also bled over into the daytime in the form of intrusive thoughts. These were not the same bizarre scenes that filled my brain during my troubled sleep, but unwanted memories of particular events and situations that had actually occurred in my past. The recollections that I tried extremely hard to forget. Real unresolved problems that still lacked satisfactory endings. Circumstances for which there was not, and would likely never be, a happy ending. All revolved around the unanswered question of “why?” I enrolled in various groups that helped veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Then, too, I often “woke up” in the middle of walking in a building or driving on the road in my car. Not the return-to-consciousness wakeup that comes about when your mind wanders from what you are doing, but rather the abrupt kind of shocking wakeup that occurs when an incredibly annoying alarm clock buzzer goes off. Unlike the wakeups after my bad dreams, these wakeups during the day were typified by a total lack of awareness of my own self and my immediate surroundings.

I was subjected to a wide variety of medical tests that attempted to establish the cause of this abnormal brain behavior. I was told there was nothing physically wrong and that I likely needed to process things and situations from my past and resolve them. As if that were easy.

The two most challenging things I have ever done, and I used to land a jet on aircraft carriers at night in the stormy North Atlantic, were to say in public that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness and to swallow the first medication that would help me deal with PTSD. After all, people like me did not have mental illnesses. And once I took that first pill, I would never again be allowed back into the work world that once was my escape and in which I excelled. That pill was the first step down a one-way road into the unknown, portrayed on the silver screen in ignominious screenplays like The Snake Pit and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

It was hard to keep taking those pills once the side effects kicked in. Remember, your physician has determined that the positive effects of your medication outweigh the adverse side effects. Easy for someone who has never taken mind-altering drugs to say. Equally challenging, I was about to learn, was to agree to meet regularly with a stranger and enter into a conspiracy by which we would pick at the scabs of my life and expose those wounds to the air — and pain. After all, they were scabs because I had tried to cover over the damage and put an end to the pain. No, this was not going to be easy. Why can’t there just be a shot that would make it all go away and restore my life to the way it was? This process hurt. My hands trembled as I described things that I had never told anyone.

Finally, there was a session during which we got to the critical issues that needed to be resolved. The center of gravity had been identified. An explanation was provided. The “why” was answered. “Not so,” said I. But ... it was so. Now there was an explanation that could account for all the things that had been done, resulting in all the pain I had felt. I left the session totally drained and sought solace in meditation.

The following day, I woke up suddenly at 5:00 a.m. The cats again went flying from the bed. My eyes strained wide open, jaws clenched; I sat straight up in bed and was instantly aware of my surroundings. I was drenched in sweat and could hardly breathe. I had awakened suddenly from a dream. All my issues and unresolved problems had been squarely addressed and resolved beyond my wildest expectations in this dream. The dream included a most satisfactory alternate future. I smiled, got out of bed, and went into the living room to sit in a chair and repeatedly think to myself, “Wow.”

The next day, I woke up again at 5:00 a.m. My new dream had been one of telling the story of the previous night’s dream. It felt good to dream about recounting the alternate history story with a happy ending. It was an enjoyable dream. I did not have another dream for several days. When I finally did, I woke up at 6:00 a.m., calmly and without disturbing the cats or my wife.

I had finally dreamed about something else, something new, something not at all involving my troubled past—just an ordinary everyday dream of no real importance.

At last…


  Jim Tritten is a retired Navy pilot diagnosed with PTSD. He writes for therapy and lives in a semi-rural village in New Mexico with his Danish artist/author wife and four cats.

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Friday, September 2, 2022

Abandonment by Samir Knego

A large, rectangular image. There are black, swirling lines throughout the white in no particular pattern. The words of the poem are in black print in white rectangles. The poem reads: We're at that liminal point/where I settled down deep,/I wanted everything deep/sleeping,/"health"/consent/it's just that/without/a miracle/we just/mend/and I saw him/abandonment/barely personified/cursed/dry/Gorgeous?
Artist's Statement:

My submission includes a poem told in cut-out words over lines meant to resemble some combination of fingerprints and topographic maps. I found the words for the poem while cutting up an old literary magazine I found in a Little Free Library, and so while the poem in some ways reads as quite personal, I also feel a certain distance from it because the individual words are not purely my own. I think the lines in the background reflect this—the fingerprints of other people and their work are on this poem, but from where the reader sits they have all blended together into something more like a landscape.


BiographySamir Knego is a multidisciplinary artist and zinester. He was LEVEL’s Spring 2021 Local Artist-In-Residence and is currently part of Socially Distant Art’s 2022-23 residency program centered around accessibility and Disability Justice. When he’s not making art, he works in a library and listens to lots of heavy metal. Find him online at or in person at the Eno Arts Mill in Hillsborough, NC where he is a resident artist.

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Life Aquatic by Cameron Morse

New baby and no function in my left hand
means I may not hold her. No wonder
The Life Aquatic makes me cry in my laundry
basket and I write down, “Infra 5 Orchestra
Version,” in a red marker. Paint swatches—
“seaside villa, sunbaked brick, incredible
white …”—a deck of cards arrayed before me:
“Pick a card, pick any card.” I should have
been killed as an undergrad in Grand Rapids,
crossing some black parking lot. How many
times had I walked to Celebration Cinema
to sit alone in an empty theater and weep
during The Darjeeling Limited? Samples
of paint bloom on the dark wall of my bedroom.

  Cameron Morse (he, him) is Senior Reviews editor at Harbor Review and the author of eight collections of poetry. His first collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His book of unrhymed sonnets, Sonnetizer, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. He holds an MFA from the University of Kansas City-Missouri and lives in Independence, Missouri, with his wife Lili and three children. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website

Friday, August 12, 2022

John Sinclair and The Chair by Su Zi

John is a white man with glasses. He has salt and pepper hair with a full beard to match. He sits in a manual wheelchair with hands clasped near his lap. He has on a white Saints sweatshirt and dark pants. A younger woman is behind him looking down at him; she is wearing a sweater and has brown, curly hair. A man on the right appears to be talking to Sinclair and there is camera equipment to Sinclair's left. Farther left, a black woman exits a building looking at Sinclair. Everyone is outside. A street is seen with homes and vehicles.

John Sinclair is a cultural icon. An author of so many books he has “no idea” how many, saying “why would I count them?”; a sonorous baritone of the radio waves, including formerly on WWOZ New Orleans, and now via streaming on Radio Free Amsterdam; John Sinclair has presence. In fact, one rainy night in New Orleans, there was a show at Snug Harbor featuring John Cleary on keyboard with Michael Ward on congas; after the opening piece was performed, the theater doors opened and in walked John Sinclair: he walked with a cane then, wore a beret against the rain: everyone stopped, turned, Cleary and Ward brightened considerably from the stage—John commanded the room, and everyone waited for him to be seated.

Back in 1991, Sinclair spent six months in a wheelchair when “I tore the tendons in both knees” (personal interview, 2022). Of that time, he says “I was crippled. Painful. It was a drag. I never had anything like that before. It was a new experience. It was terrible.” At that time, Sinclair lived in a rental in the upper Marigny, which had doors at street level. Still, to go out, he says it took “a lot of nerve. It was mental, it was challenging. When you can’t control your leg, it's challenging, you know”. At that time, there was unofficial assistance “oh yeah, I had helpers” by family members Penny, and daughter Celia. There might have been a van. Anyone who visited Sinclair then would find themselves in the front room, which shared two walls with the street and was lined inside with wooden crates filled with records albums. There was always music. After he got past the point where he needed to keep his leg extended horizontally, the wheelchair became occasionally just a chair to sit in for guests, as John pulled albums for his radio show.

Thirty-one years later, John Sinclair is still broadcasting the blues. Although he currently finds mobility with a walker, he has again done time in the chair.

Of that time again in the chair, Sinclair says: “ooo hoo hoo”.

Acknowledging being formerly abled, Sinclair says, “it’s a whole different life now.”

Back when, in Chicago or New Orleans, John Sinclair stood large—tall and wide across the shoulders. He would have been seen smoking outside some pishposh auditorium before a reading by Gwendolyn Brooks, he would be seen strolling the Irish Channel during the street party that second-lined the St Patrick’s parade, he would be seen taking up an entire comfy chair in Bob Rudnick’s Chicago apartment: John Sinclair was seen out.

Now, John says, “I just go to the doctor.” His assistance consists of “a live-in caregiver, one of my daughters come everyday—cook, clean up, it’s a beautiful thing”. He has a porch.

But John Sinclair no longer goes out: “I don’t go anywhere…too much work. I gotta go up and down 22 stairs, so I don’t go anywhere if I don’t have to.” He prefers the walker, because he says, “I have no balance, so when I walk, I am terrified that I am going to fall.” Unfortunately, also, “One time, the walker collapsed…fell on the sidewalk…broke my shoulder in three places.” Yet, there’s still recent releases of books, his voice can be heard by a few touches from a media device, and the laziest research will have him among cohorts like Abbie Hoffman and Marshall McLuhan. Sometimes, the TV will broadcast a John Lennon documentary, and suddenly there’s the voice of John Sinclair—of which, Sinclair himself says, “oh, yeah, that’ll always be there”.

As we go through our lives, we might become aware of decisions about how we want to live; in this regard, we have The Blues—a lifestyle choice that acknowledges both deep sorrow and spiritual uplift, and can perhaps be most easily seen by a No-Longer-Young Mick Jagger rising from a COVID-positive to performance dancing in a fortnight’s time. The Blues is more than a style of music, it’s a way of life; a way of life that encompasses a career of recordings, publications, broadcasts, appearances, public support, activism…and now, Disability, which is, in Sinclair’s words “no bed of roses”.


Biography: Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.

Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Privileged by F.I. Goldhaber

You labored hard to get where you are
            did the work,
            you earned it.

You ignore others who labored just as hard
            did the work,
            got nowhere.

Because of their skin color, gender

Because systemic racism, misogyny,
            neurotypicality, and racism
            deprived them of
            the same opportunities
            you took for granted.

Because authoritarian governments
            deny them education,
            jobs, housing,
            civil rights,
            health care,

Not all those who
            did the work,
            reaped the rewards.

If you never had
            to wait for a court
            to decide if you've
            the same rights (or not)
            as everyone else,
            you have privilege.
Biography:  F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, plastic, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays. Left Fork press will publish What Color is Your Privilege?—a collection of political statements in poetic form—this September.