Issue 12: Refuge—Summary, Contents & Editor’s Note

by on Jun 17, 2017


Issue 12: Refuge (Apr-May 2017) is an unthemed issue featuring poetry, prose, videos, and artwork from writers and artists around the world.

Read online | Read the PDF (click to read online, right-click & save-as to download)


Lenting — Tiffany Grantom

i woke this morning — Neil Creighton

Avoidance — Mary McCarthy

Landmine in a Field of Flowers — Matt Mullins

snow angel — Tom Sacramona

The Island — Barbara Young

Look Both Ways — Jane Williams

The Two Ends — Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy

Song for Awe & Dread— Tommy Becker

long night moon — Deborah P. Kolodji

whiteout — Marianne Paul

Practice Makes Perfect — Elizabeth Vrenios

Enchant(ed) — Misha Penton

highway dusk — Malintha Perera

Sacred Stones — Lawrence Elliott

Trees — Olivier Schopfer

The Spoilt Season — Steve Klepetar

Ode to the Corner of the Drug House Down the
 Gravel Road Off the Two Lane Highway #51
 — Darren C. Demaree

The Stars Are All Dead and Have Fallen
 — Barbara Young

heel cups — Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

usual questions — Christina Sng

crow moon — Debbie Strange

Listen — Ken Poyner

Anatomy — Marie Craven

Refuge — Steve Klepetar

Editor’s Note

This week I took my son to the Bullock Museum of Texas History to check out the Stevie Ray Vaughn exhibit. They had his old Stratocaster under glass, beautiful and beaten to near ruin.

“Why does it look all messed up?” my son asked.

We turned and watched some footage of him performing “Pride and Joy” on Austin City Limits. “He could play like that,” I said, “because he practiced so much that his guitar wound up looking like that,” I said pointing back to the old Strat.

Maybe it’s true, or maybe he bought it already beat up. Still, there’s a good lesson there about practice, I think.

Later, I sat at the table to do a little reading and work out exactly what I would write here, cup of coffee topped with whipped cream on the table beside me. The fly that Simon the Cat has been too lazy to kill the past two days buzzed nearby and then I heard more intense buzzing, high pitched and fast. Desperate.

I glanced at my coffee cup just in time to see the fly disappear beneath the whipped cream to a hideous high-temperature doom, those buzzing notes still ringing in my ears.

Then after a moment of silence for the fly and a quick trip to the coffee pot for a fresh cup, I continued reading Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem, an analysis of one of my favorite albums, Fear of Music by Talking Heads. That album, and their next one, Remain in Light, are the kinds of work that make me want to write until my computer and pen look like Stevie Ray’s guitar.

I’ve a suspicion that pens and computers of many of Gnarled Oak’s contributors must look pretty well-used too. How else does such fine work as appears here come about except through long practice and hard work. And coffee, too, perhaps.

* * *

This issue ended three weeks ago, and so my apologies for the tardiness. But here we are at last.

I especially liked this issue for the number of videos I was able to include (thanks to Dave Bonta at Moving Poems for a well-timed shout-out to Gnarled Oak that resulted in substantially more video submissions than usually come my way).

And, as always, thank you to all who submit to and read Gnarled Oak.

With gratitude and thanks,

James Brush, editor
Jun 2017


Gnarled Oak — Issue 12: Refuge: Read onlineRead the PDF (right-click/save-as to download)


by on May 26, 2017

If sky darkens on a day when you have roamed too far,
if wind picks up, trembling leaves on familiar trees,

if lightning carves its fiery veins above your head,
if thunder explodes, and a fury of rain drenches you,

if you stumble in this wet misery on a street
that all but disappears, I offer you an open door,

and at my table, an honored place. If power lines
lie sizzling and snaking on the wet ground, we will

find lanterns and candles, some crusty bread
and plenty of wine. Together we can ride it out,

this storm that rose so suddenly. Others have already
come, shaken and storm-cursed, but warm now, and dry

in this well-built house, where voices study the daunting
language of hope, and new songs braid and rise, until fear

is sealed away, and a new, quiet courage spreads around
us, a lake glimmering at sunset, or moonlight in the spring.


Steve Klepetar has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, including four in 2016. Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems (both from Flutter Press). Family Reunion (Big Table) and A Landscape in Hell (Flutter Press) were released in January, 2017.


by on May 25, 2017

(Watch Marie Craven’s video “Anatomy” on Vimeo)

Editor’s note: Poem by Dave Bonta can be read at Via Negativa. Full credits at Vimeo.


Marie Craven (Queensland, Australia) assembles short videos from poetry, music, voice, stills and moving images by various artists around the world. Created via the internet, the pieces are collaborative in a way that belongs to the 21st century, with open licensing and social networking key to the process. In 2016 her video ‘Dictionary Illustrations’ was awarded best film at the Ó Bhéal Poetry-Film Competition in Ireland. To see more:


by on May 24, 2017

I hear the voices of the water.  Not mermaid voices.  Not fish, nor cetacean, voices.  A civilization of voices.  The soft, careful voices of warriors plotting.  The bruised, back of the hand voices of lovers who believe for stern seconds that passion is prized more if it is endless.  The battleship-gray voices of mothers disowning their children.  The boastful voices of those who have accomplished nothing.  The red glowing barn voices of those scheming wealth out of poverty.  The gossamer voices of suppression.  One voice that believes there are no voices, shouting.  A voice hidden in a far off lagoon, lingering in the shallows like a rifle shot.  Brute voices and soft.  A community of voices, a society of voices, a civilization of voices, all with mouths at my ear united in one common, tentacled plea:  drown, drown.


Ken Poyner’s latest collection of short, wiry fiction, Constant Animals, and his latest collections of poetry—Victims of a Failed Civics and The Book of Robot—can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, or Sundial Books. He often serves as strange, bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs.  His poetry of late has been sunning in Analog, Asimov’s, and Poet Lore, and his fiction has yowled in Spank the Carp, Café Irreal, and Bellows American Review.  Find him online at

crow moon

by on May 23, 2017


Debbie Strange is a widely published Canadian short form poet, haiga artist and photographer. Her books include the full-length poetry collection, Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads (Keibooks 2015), and the haiku chapbook, A Year Unfolding (Folded Word 2017). She invites you to visit her archive at

usual questions

by on May 22, 2017


usual questions
at reunion dinner
taking the broccoli
for another spin
around the plate


Christina Sng is a poet, writer, and artist. She is the author of two haiku collections, A Constellation of Songs (Origami Poems Project, 2016) and Catku (Allegra Press, 2016). In the moments in between, she finds joy in tending to her herb and bonsai garden. Visit her at

The Stars Are All Dead and Have Fallen

by on May 18, 2017

And with help we loaded the pickup
with all the other things that no longer functioned.

Washing machine that shook itself to death.
Ancient computer, dirty face like city ice.
One stained mattress, upon which no children
were conceived. And so forth. Drove

somewhere. Nothing grew there but hills
someone had burned with cigarettes.

Thorns survived. And kudzu. There was a ditch
where an old Chevrolet dammed the runoff
and buried itself in red mud. There we did
our unloading. Appliances rolled downhill

like snake eyes. Newspaper bundles and slick
magazines fell like bad cards. Sliding down,
the mattress ripped some kudzu cover away,
exposed layers of garbage. Households like ours.

A daughter’s bicycle with glossy mylar streamers
looked to have been almost new, but vines
threaded its spokes and frame,
stitched it to the earth like Frida Kahlo.

We have returned our portion.


Barbara Young hasn’t been writing much this year. East Nashville got too popular, so she and Jim packed up the cats and moved out to White Bluff. A grocery, two hardware stores, and a bakery that only makes doughnuts. Change is interesting. Because writing prompts can be easier than poems, Barbara sometimes becomes “Miz Quickly.”

Ode to the Corner of the Drug House Down the Gravel Road Off the Two Lane Highway #51

by on May 17, 2017

While everyone slept
I set up all of the mirrors
to face against the walls

& I couldn’t be sadder
that nobody realized
& nobody thought

that this was strange.
Come to think of it,
when was the last time

I saw what I look like?
I have pictures of myself.
I was a pretty man.


Darren C. Demaree’s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Dakota Review, Meridian, New Letters, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. He is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly (2016, 8th House Publishing) and is the managing editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. He currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

The Spoilt Season

by on May 16, 2017

This is the spoilt season, the dying land.
Here are weeds and crows and graves.

Trucks growl up our street all night
and in the morning we pull our shades

against another day of rain and tears.
Here are angry men wading icy streams.

Here is their music of broken drums.
Here are drugs and beds with their sheets

torn up, and dust on the nightstand, dust
on the walls and floor. Someone lived

here once, in wind and fading light,
when the kitchen hummed, and the scent

of soup went everywhere. She lived
in a body, painted her image on glass

where it shone in the dark, another star
made of desire, kissing the brow of sky.


Steve Klepetar has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, including four in 2016. Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems (both from Flutter Press). Family Reunion (Big Table) and A Landscape in Hell (Flutter Press) were released in January, 2017.