2015 YCR Chapbook Winners

This competition has been a rollercoaster of emotion as I dove so deep into so many of your worlds.  The most difficult emotion of course was choosing what work to send on to Kai for final consideration.  Every single chap that was submitted was gorgeous and necessary in our world.

We are happy and excited to announce our winner and to also announce that we’ll be offering publication to our runner up as well.

2015 YCR Chapbook Contest Winner:  A Clock of Human Bones by Matthew Borczon

2015 YCR Chapbook Contest Runnerup:  unraveled by Elizabeth Vrenios

2015 YCR Chapbook Contest Honorable Mention:  Wake Dreams by Joe Nicholas


From our Judge Kai Coggin:

“It was my absolute honor to be the final judge for Yellow Chair Review’s first chapbook contest. The competition was fierce and the ten finalists that came into my heart were super talented. I want to start by congratulating all ten of the finalists. You are AWESOME.  You should all be very proud of the work that you have done. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Don’t see this as a rejection, but as a stepping stone to your book.  You are all doing the beautiful work; the responsibility we have as poets to find the light in the darkness overtaking. I see that in all of you.

In the end, there were two voices that came into my heart and stayed, though. The voice of a mother, and the voice of a soldier.  Two poets who have faced unimaginable suffering and endured, manifesting a fire of creativity and poetry with their memories and experiences. Two testaments to healing.

Runner Up: Elizabeth Vrenios, “unraveled”

I am so thankful to have read the work of the mother, Elizabeth Vrenios, author of “unraveled.” What a gripping and heart wrenching account of a mother’s loss of her beloved son. I was moved to tears with the beautiful language and softness of a mother reaching out into the abyss to find the only thing she never wanted to lose. I know December 21st is a special day of remembrance, and I hope that Elizabeth sees the full circle made in the Heavens.

Winner: Matthew Borczon, “A Clock of Human Bones”

What a POWERFUL and NECESSARY VOICE, the voice of the soldier back from war.  I cannot say enough about the power and images left behind in my mind as I read “A Clock of Human Bones.” Matthew’s work portrays the broken voice of what our veterans feel everyday. His poems are sharp and deliver a punch in the gut, an M-16 of words that knock you over with realization. His work stood apart from the pack, I just knew… this is the one. This book will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you for your service and your story, Matthew. Congratulations.”

Jedi Kiss by Jon Riccio

1. A fourteen-year-old seducing
who I’ll be on a bed at age six

in the spring of ′84, our old house,
the guest a friend of my brother,

flannel rolling across his skinny body,
bowl cut eliding his face, Star Wars

fanatics during their eighth grade alliance.
Tagalong in apogee, I’m open to roles,

reenactments for the window to see.
Open to impersonating a princess,

action figures switched one life after
another, thumb running down and up

a vinyl cape, Empire converging on
twin sheets. It’s a conference day:

early dismissal, my father at work
inspecting postal collection boxes.

This was the year he found a pipe
bomb at the corner of Portage

and Alcott, a heroin needle
in outgoing. Mother – the two-for-

one scheduling of sons, art teacher
impressed with the older’s pointillist

sketching of a shoe, caretaking of me.
Leia I’ll be in this carbon-freezing

scene lensed through a chest kiss,
flannel where the horizon cued,

teenager who became a paralegal
coaxing a suckle over sinewless,

ransoming the breath that ages
the mouth, metamorphosis Riccio Page 1
smoldering the royalty
out of me.

2. Yesterday: browsing for costumes I glide through doors indifferent to making do. Contamination fears and I’m not touching that jedi. That one. That one either. Culpability: The family that blames together blurs together. Agoraphobia: Schadenfreude on a full stomach. worries, All other: Gird a tourniquet for your Loch Ness. The penalty for synthesis rendered moot. Autobiographical

Salmonella Olfactory
Recall: His name was Mike.
He smelled like the cape at BoRics.

Jon Riccio studied viola performance at Oberlin College and the Cleveland Institute of Music. An MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, current and forthcoming poems appear in Really System, Split Rock Review, Futures Trading, Cleaver and Hawai’i Review, among others. A 2014 Pushcart nominee, he resides in Tucson.

Drag by Nick Gregorio

First it’s heat. Blacktop rubbing against clothes, clothes rubbing against skin. Then it’s skin peeling off in tiny white rolls. Layer, layer, a third, fourth. Then blood. A trail of it on the road.

The chain doesn’t make a sound, pulled taught, clamped to a trailer hitch. It pinches off the windpipe, eats further into skin the louder the engine gets. The more red, pink, and white left behind.

It’s the spots, next. Bursts of light, stars in the periphery. It’s one, two, four, eight. A thousand. And they’re all getting bigger, more intense. Old-timey camera flashes popping, crackling now. Now. Now, now.

The pain stops, but the screaming keeps on keeping on. Gulps of air mixed with exhaust, bits of the road. There’s the feeling of spitting that shit out, vocal cords grinding, lungs voiding. But there’s no sound over the macadam erasing kneecaps, beer gut, ballsack and hips. Just a raw damn throat and an image of rubber shavings on college ruled paper.

Hands are mostly red strings and bone. But they go at that chain like they could unknot the atoms holding the fucker together. Busted nails, crooked fingers, none of it matters. The chain’s going to break. The truck’ll get smaller as it speeds up from the lack of drag. People will stop, ask if they can help, call an ambulance, get off their asses and goddamn do something. They’ll say, “It’s amazing you’re alive.”

Or, “Jesus, how did you keep your wits about you?”

Or, “Grace under pressure, man. Fucking grace under pressure.”

And what else is there to say than, “Once I regained control of the situation, it was nothing.” A gummy smile, face all blood and exposed bone.

But no one can unmake a chain with their bare hands.

No one can stop four hundred some horses by digging their heels into the street and wishing.

No one can change anything when shit’s this bad.

But eventually it’ll be over.

Eventually there’ll be nothing.
Nick Gregorio lives, writes, and teaches in Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in Wyvern Lit, Pantheon Magazine, Driftwood Press, and Maudlin House. He writes for the arts and culture blog, Spectrum Culture, and currently serves as guest fiction editor for Driftwood Press. He earned his MFA from Arcadia University in May 2015 and has forthcoming publications in Crack the Spine and Zeit|Haus.

Fifteen by Tammy Robacker

I stopped
Kissing my father

Goodnight. My Father,
Who art so sorry

But could never say
Why. I slashed

Ungodly black eye-
Liner in scratches

Around my lashes.
Banshee mean

Lid slits for his Siouxsie
Q decked in a crucifix

Dangle.  Felt dead
Wooden like beads

kiped from thriftstore
Junk bins. Hidden

treasure pill hits
Of Dexatrim mixed

With little Debbie’s
Downers. Coming

Apart, but still somehow
Strung together

And counted off
In the father’s custody

Arrangement days.
In hail Mondays

He picked me
Up. We did not speak.

I hung utterly obscene
Quiet from my lips. Sour

Cherries in the snow,
Hotboxing his cigarettes.
Tammy Robacker won the 2016 Keystone Chapbook Prize for her manuscript, Cuttings. Her second poetry book Villain Songs is forthcoming with ELJ Publications in 2016. Tammy published her first collection of poetry, The Vicissitudes, in 2009 (Pearle Publications). Tammy’s poetry has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Chiron Review, VoiceCatcher, Duende, So to Speak, Crab Creek Review, WomenArts, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. Currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program in Creative Writing at Pacific Lutheran University, Tammy lives in Oregon.

A Leaping Dog by C.W. Bigelow

Missile launching
to a zenith,
snapping like a whip
up, up, up,
before the Frisbee
is firmly
yanked from mid-air
in your jaws.
Never a fear
of landing,
or a doubt
I’d fling it
again and again
until I grew bored
and you’d follow me
home, head down,
tag wagging,
disc secure
in your mouth.
the leash was
an experiment
in empowerment –
a caustic combination
of youthful
and laziness –
as myths often do
when your natural curiosity
and thirst for freedom
became our undoing.
Ignoring my late command,
the collision
with the racing car
shot you spinning
across the road,
visions of our
life together flickering
like lightning
etching a stormy sky.
Cradling your
broken body,
new wrinkles of guilt
chased away
my carefree youth.
your final leap
into the sky,
I’m rushed through
an introduction to
the cruel reality
of life.
After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow lived in nine northern states, both east and west, before moving south to the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in The Scrambler,The View From Here,The Shine Journal, The Gloom Cupboard, Indigo Rising, Litsnack,Sister Ignition, Full of Crow, FeatherLit, Curbside Splendor, Literary Juice,The Dying Goose, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Potluck, Dirty Chai,The Flexible Persona, Literally Stories and Compass Magazine,FishFood Magazine, Poydras Review and a story forthcoming in Five2One.

REVIEW: Benediction (Alice Notley) – REVIEWED BY CLARA B. JONES

Alice Notley
256 pages
Letter Machine Editions
Tucson, Arizona

Reviewed by Clara B. Jones

This month, Yellow Chair Review features poems on the theme, “Popular Culture,” a fitting category for the poems of Alice Notley, a brilliant associate of the New York School of Poetry. David Lehman’s book, The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (1999, Anchor Books) presents the movement as part of “popular cultural history” whose members (e.g., John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, Ron Padgett, Notley’s first husband, Ted Berrigan) drew creative energy from “the bliss of being alive and young.” According to Lehman, these poets sought authenticity in their lives and speech and were subversives and “non-mainstream.” The New York School extends from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, originally including visual artists, writers, and their admirers whose early members gathered regularly in New York’s Cedar Tavern. Lehman proposes that these “playful, irreverent, tradition-shattering” innovators created a “New Aesthetic” that made New York City the “culture capital of the world.”

At age 70, Alice Notley, who has lived in Paris since the 1990s, is considered one of America’s foremost poets. She has described her writing this way: “I think I try with my poems to create a beginning space. I always seem to be erasing and starting over, rather than picking up where I left off, even if I wind up taking up the same themes. This is probably one reason that I change form and style so much, out of a desire to find a new beginning, which is always the true beginning.” Notley, who has more than twenty-five books in print, some of which she illustrated, is particularly noted for her “epic poems,” and Benediction, dedicated to her second husband, the late British poet, Douglas Oliver, is a blessing to him in long-form. Divided into two untitled parts, these poems are an homage to common, but, not, arbitrary, speech, intimate “prose essays” that I did not want to stop reading. In the poem, “City of Tingling,” Notley writes, “my hair tangled and hangs down is it is hair real hair, understand? Is hair real hair.” and, in the poem, “Memory,” “it only takes a moment to have been in such a past all along…” Using copious white spaces and repetitions, as well as, diverse forms, Benediction’s contents treat feelings as real entities and generate a sense of free-association and improvisation. What makes these poems remarkable, however, is that the language is, nonetheless, controlled and non-random.

Notley and her work deserve to be taken very seriously and will be of particular interest to serious readers interested in experimental poetry by females as well as of particular interest to historians of poetics and aesthetics. Additional information about Notley, including, an informative interview, can be found in Frost EA, Hogue C, Eds, 2006, Innovative Women Poets, University of Iowa Press. Alice Notley has been called “one of America’s greatest living poets,” and Benediction will show you why.
Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in many venues, and Clara’s collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition, available at amazon.com.

Hypervigilance by Matthew Borczon

I thought
it was
enough to
believe that
I would
go to
to help
people not
hurt them
felt right
I could
separate myself
from the
only that
doesn’t work
and death
ends up
in your
bunk and
in your
shower stall
its on
the airfield
and in
every room
you walk
and you
taste it
on your
food like
feel it
on your
skin like
you can’t
wash it
off your
hands like
use soap
use bleach
use God
use anything
you can
get them
to send
from home
because you
only thought
of the
ones you
could save
but its
the weight
of the
ones who
die that
climb on
you like
60 lbs
of Kevlar
and its
their deaths
that keeps
you scanning
every room
for trouble
keeps your
back against
a wall
and it’s
their voices
that will
tell you
when its
time to
Matthew Borczon is a writer and nurse from Erie, Pa he was stationed in the busiest combat hospital in Afghanistan from 2010-2011. He writes about his time on Camp Bastion and all he saw there. His poems have appeared in Busted Dharma, Big Hammer, Dead Snakes, Dissident voices, hanging loose and other small press publications.

Dear Samuel by Manuel Camacho

I will love you forever

Your brother saw you
Or did he see Death?
He stared into that dark empty
Room whimpering scared, scared

The next day they told us
Your heart had stopped
You were floating inside
Your mother, loose weed
In a fish bowl
Her cervix the dirt
Above your coffin

She and I held hands
Through a Hades of beige
Halls and white laser lights above
To watch you born
A floppy salamander
The clammy skin, the squishy chest
Startlingly hard bones
The bud of your penis, the open
Mouth, your little tongue

The placenta that failed
You picked apart, immortalized
In the literature, your mother as well
A curious case! 300 AFP!
And I’m another father
Of a child like you
Initiate to that grim fellowship

Where is God? God has a reason
That’s what people want to say
God was your mother
Wrapped with me in the shower
Her head at my back as I wept
Into the sink.


Manuel Camacho is a writer and musician who lives with his wife and son in the San Francisco Bay Area. A graduate of the University of California at Davis, Manuel’s poetry and short fiction have been published in The Suisun Valley Review and Talisman.

Pushcart and Bettering American Poetry Nominations


Donna Snyder – Voices from Issue 1
Kai Coggin – Every Black Boy Is A Lion from Rock The Chair
Emily Jalloul – When A Woman Makes Herself Come from Issue 1
Manuel Camacho Jr – Dear Samuel from Issue 5
Meggie Royer – Excision from Horror Issue
Ashlie Allen – Back Demon from Horror Issue

Bettering American Poetry:

Allie Marini Batts – Origins from Issue 2
Kai Coggin – Every Black Boy Is A Lion from Rock The Chair
Ryan Summers – Who Knew That Man Could Stop Bullets? from Superheroes Issue

Review: The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson) – Reviewed by Clara B. Jones

The Argonauts
Maggie Nelson
Graywolf Press

Review-Interview by Clara B. Jones

In her 1983 book, Writing Like A Woman, Alicia Ostriker described contemporary female writers as “unorthodox,” “path-breaking,” “rule-breaking,” and “exciting.” Ostriker’s essays investigated the psyches and writing of five female poets, two of whom, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, committed suicide, and, one, Adrienne Rich, who became the foremost feminist poet of her generation. These women wrote at a time when American females were emerging from the constraints of hetero-normative roles. Plath, Sexton, and Rich were mothers and wives who rebelled against traditional roles to develop their talents and to define liberation on their own terms. Some critics have suggested that the current generation of educated women take freedom of choice for granted, struggling with “work-life” balance rather than the social stigma accompanying the dubious fame of sexual pioneers. In her new book, poet Maggie Nelson records the continuing struggles of women mapping identities in uncharted territory, with choices now socially-sanctioned but no less challenging than those faced by their predecessors.

In The Argonauts, Nelson writes of the specific and the general, personal events as well as societal ones. A central experience driving Nelson’s volume is her relationship with the artist, Harry Dodge, and their complex, multi-dimensional, relationship that includes parenthood and Dodge’s transition from female to male, what one critic has called, “male-passing.” The Argonauts does not disappoint as an intense and riveting record of one woman’s love for her partner and her role as mother and of a scholar-poet’s rich intellectual life through which experiences are filtered. After reading the book, I found myself focused on one sentence, “Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people.”, an interest leading me to contact Nelson, a professor in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts, requesting a brief interview that was graciously granted.

I have been influenced for some time by “queer theory,” especially, as developed by the Post-structuralists, Michel Foucault and Judith Butler. In brief, Post-structuralists conceptualize human behavior as “construction” and “performance” rather than “essential.” For example, Butler suggests that gender is “performed” and, thus, is continuously changing (constructed), rejecting essentialist (inherent) treatments of gender based upon the Male : Female dichotomy or “binary.” Gender, then, is continually being practiced and is not a stable construct. Similar to these views, Foucault presents the idea that gender is “discursive”, something negotiated between and among individuals, not necessarily imposed by authorities (e.g., the law, parents, the government, the police).

Nelson has been called a “political queer,” and I asked her to respond to this description. She communicated (via e-mail) that she would not use the term as a “self-identifier” and that The Argonauts “makes clear” that she wouldn’t use many adjectives or phrases to describe herself (or, I would guess, Dodge). She goes on to say that, “the terms ‘political’ and ‘queer’ are quite contested right now, and often mean something quite different depending on who is speaking them.” This comment clarified the sentence from her book upon which I had been fixated, suggesting a Post-structural perspective that language is in a continual state of flux. Wisely, and, cogently, Nelson continued, “Part of writing books entails allowing others to talk about you in discursive terms that one wouldn’t use oneself, so, so be it!” This same reflection and self-awareness permeates The Argonauts, currently a well-deserved best-seller.

In a future review I will return to the topic of Post-structuralism and poetry by American females, sharing more of my interview with Nelson at that time. Readers of this blogpost are strongly encouraged to read this book by a leading voice of contemporary radical feminism expressed in another quote from our correspondence: “I would, of course, be inclined to think that we all have much to gain by turning away from gender normativity, be it in art, life, or any other sphere.” Like the poets about whom Ostriker wrote more than thirty years ago, Nelson is a “path-breaking” and “exciting” writer whose themes deserve a broad and serious audience.
Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in many venues, and Clara’s collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition, available at amazon.com.