Sara Ali

Review of MANSION from Dancing Girl Press

Imagine seeking shelter while trudging through ankle-deep puddles on an eerie, rainy night. The full moon beams above you, shining on a sanctuary for spectral beings and sinister souls. An iridescent purple and orange sheen illuminates your path to MANSION, the Creepypasta-esque book of poems you didn’t ask for but knew you needed. 

Astral project onto the pages and let yourself escape into Slender Man’s world. Don’t bother looking back. Stay a while, and let the words seduce you as you explore the haunted hallways that is MANSION.


Edited by Buffalo-based poet Justin Karcher and Florida native Kristin Garth, MANSION transports its readers to an uncanny and mysterious universe full of horror poetry and childhood fears. Featuring over 20 poets, MANSION triggers that feeling you get when you sense an invisible presence causing the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. 

Reading the anthology reminded me of what it felt like to be a kid watching horror films alone at night while binge-eating candy after trick-or-treating. It’s an unsettling yet welcoming and familiar feeling. You ever have those nights where you fall asleep listening to a Creepypasta and start to dream about the story, as if your subconscious is wide awake still listening? That’s what reading this chapbook is like.

One poem that struck me was “Orbital Abduction” by NYC-poet Juliette van der Molen. It’s a harmonious marriage of “The Harbinger Experiment” and, of course, Slender Man, with a touch of American Horror Story: Asylum. I imagined a woman running out from Briarcliff Manor after escaping the wrath of Dr. Arthur Arden, only to be captured by Slender Man’s UFO and swallowed by its tractor beam. 

Buffalo poet J.B. Stone steered away from the fictional fear and brought on realistic anxieties with “Woodland Anarchy,” a poetic, social commentary on our current political climate. For me, I envisioned a werewolf, “howling at an unforgiving moon,” as Stone put it, living in a dystopian world full of MAGA hats and zealots controlling our bodies and invading our souls, penetrating us with hateful rhetoric.

MANSION itself is a commentary disguised as poetry on all things frightening, inspired by the Slender Man mythology – whether it be Tara Lynn Hawk bringing you on her murderous journey for validation, or Bayveen O’Connell reminding you that in a flight or fight situation, you may just freeze in fear while his silhouette lurks in the shadows, or John Dorsey beautifully depicting every parent’s worst nightmare, MANSION offers something for all readers who have a love for the weird, the creepy, and the darker side of poetry.   

You can purchaseMANSION right now and dive head first into a ghastly world of mythical monsters. No hiding behind your blanket, you’ll find it hard not to keep your eyes wide open as you flip through the morbid pages.

Sara Ali is a Buffalo-based freelance journalist and a full-time social worker. She graduated from SUNY Buffalo State with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies, with a focus in journalism and media production. She is a second generation immigrant and focuses her work and articles on the refugee and immigrant community. Ali has written for Buffalo Spree, Free Inquiry, The Public, and Buffalo Rising. Ali lives on the West Side with her two cats Gojira and Jasmine, and her partner. You can find her wandering the streets late at night, exploring the city.

J. B. Stone

Review of Skyler Jaye Rutkowski’s A Mountain of Past Lives & Things I’ve Learned from BlazeVOX [books]


Skyler’s master collection, A Mountain of Past Lives & Things I’ve Learned, was just released this past winter, yet it feels like this work was a lifetime in the making. A composition of different experiences formed to make one solid collection. The chapbook not only reads as one of poetry, but as one of personal memoir. Reflecting on the heroes and villains that shape one’s self. 

There are many pieces that help cultivate this rocky terrain. The mountain speaks of love, such as the imagery conveyed in “LGBARTWORK,” a poem I first heard Skyler perform a couple of years ago via the viral web poetry series Write About Now:

Did it confuse you when I said
the indigo taste of a man’s tongue
rested just as easily on my lips?
Or how a person with two colors
instead of one check marked box of a 
birth certificate
fit into my palms like artwork?
I’m not a man, but when I see my best friend
look into the eyes of his sapphire lover
I could sing a melody for boys to learn

Skyler paints the reader a canvas built on the foundation of all colors, and shapes, and sizes, and the deep-seeded message within such a portrait: love and acceptance. 

The mountain also speaks to pieces of existentialism as well. In the poem “Borrowed God,” Skyler confesses her disbelief in the god she was taught to believe. She writes:

I’ve learned that you can turn water into wine,
that you can see and hear all that your creations do.
That you are present in all lives but
Have you saved anyone, lately?
I heard that you reward good deeds,
That Satan is the punisher of bad ones,
does that put you two on the same level?
You ignore the damaged of your created,
The ones who breathe sin because
that’s all they know,
The ones who didn’t believe in you
You’re someone else’s God, and 
I’m writing because I was told to,
This wasn’t the best choice.

Skyler illustrates a valid argument for faith itself, by confronting biblical phantoms of the past, and the hypocrisy that continues to this day.

 Although the title is A Mountain of Past Lives & Things I’ve Learned, this mountain is really a valley, filled with different mountains, different peaks, different summits. All composed of mementos; albeit some of despair, some of joy, but always of truth. Skyler breaks down the walls that one often puts up, and tears them down and opens a quarry curtain to unveil personal journeys to the reader.

J.B. Stone is a neurodivergent performance poet, writer from Brooklyn, now residing in Buffalo. He is the author of two chapbooks, A Place Between Expired Dreams And Renewed Nightmares (Ghost City Press 2018) and forthcoming, Fireflies & Hand Grenades (Stasia Press 2020). His poetry, reviews, and prose have appeared in Five : 2 : One Magazine, Crack the SpineYES PoetryMaudlin House, Peach MagGlassEmpty Mirror and elsewhere. He is the Reviews Editor at Coffin Bell Journal. the newest contributor for Step Out Buffalo and a street team member for Just Buffalo Writing Center (JWBC). You can always check out more of his work at jaredbenjaminstone.comand he tweets at @JB_StoneTruth.