Release Day for PUSHBACK

PUSHBACK: Selected Poems of Resistance by Richard L. Rose (Atmosphere, 2021)

From the Sponsor:

My new poetry collection, PUSHBACK was released yesterday. As a single-minded promoter, I have shortcomings and misgivings—somewhat reflected in the pseudonymous guest-blogs for this issue–and remain up in the air although I now have an author landing site

(:, where you can find more information about my work

If you have a moment and  the inclination, please consider posting about PushBack on social media today. Each post has a cumulative effect and can really make an impact. (And thank you if you’ve already been doing this!) You can also help spread the word by giving the book a star rating on Goodreads or a starred review on Amazon. If you’d like to buy a copy, it’s available everywhere books are sold. You can order directly from your local bookstore or reach your local bookstore through Indiebound. In Richmond, BookPeople ( has signed copies

More purchase links: Amazon , Barnes & Noble , Indiebound .      And then there’s this:
From the Review by Book Life: “Rose’s eloquent collection, subtitled ‘Selected Poems of Resistance,’ touches on a wide sweep of topics with a singular sense of rhythm and musicality that enriches even some of the book’s most inaccessible pieces . . . “


Having a Goal

            A recent post on the Minimalist website* called attention to Instagram’s friendly message to users that they are “all caught up” with scrolling. Obviously, given millions of images to scroll, this is impossible, but the insertion of the message gives the user a goal for scrolling. Giving customers a reason to return habitually to a product is fundamental to advertising. Customers come to believe that they are achieving personal goals by using a promoted product or idea. They have identified with the product. The Franklin Mint encourages them to make their collections complete. The NYT Best Seller list encourages them not to miss what Everyone Else is now reading. Hundreds of other promoters warn their potential customers that Everyone Else is also making the best investment, buying the perfect sofa, sleeping on the best bed, eating at the best restaurant, and going on the most fabulous cruise. Buckets fill with lists of goals to achieve because customers OWE IT TO THEMSELVES to match Everyone Else. Houses fill with commemorative dishes, figurines, gold medallions, pedigreed pooches, and gun racks. Heads fill with cute pooch videos and countless posts by strangers that must be passed on to other strangers so that Everyone Else will know about three-in-one tools for washing, whisking, and wiping, or where to buy enough cartridges and salt pork to outlast the Dark Times that are coming according to Everyone Else. Certainly, this is the time to buy gear, extra firearms, and cartons of ready-to-eat meals. Only add water. But it may be hard to catch up to Everyone Else as they burst through the Capitol doors wielding bats.         —Andante



            There is a kind of parasitic worm, the Acanthocephala, or spiny-headed worms, which live in the intestines of vertebrates. These worms do not really have spiny heads; they possess a muscular anterior proboscis supplied with hooks for fastening into the intestinal wall of their host. The length of spiny-headed worms ranges from a sixteenth of an inch to a foot. They have no digestive systems, relying entirely on the host. The nervous system comprises an anterior cluster of nerve cells and patches of light sensitive retinacula—brain and eyes. Most other body systems are absent or rudimentary, except for the reproductive system. Like the proboscis, the reproductive organs are well developed. Accessory structures, the cement glands and copulatory bursa, ensure attachment during mating. Central to the acanthocephalan way of life, these structures have evolved with maximum quality assurance. Reproducing in large numbers guarantees the survival of a few. As with many other species, this strategy of high biotic potential has proved tremendously successful for the spiny-heads.

            Suited as they are for intestinal living, spiny-heads are presented with a wide array of benefits in their tubular habitat, including a ready source of predigested food, excellent climate-control, a short commute and excellent public transportation system. Passing through the gut, the young acanthors ultimately exit the host on their vision quests to new territories, often assisted by the wings of insect vectors in whose body cavities they develop into new forms, the transitional acanthella and the invasive cystacanth. Occasionally, however, the host may provide such an inviting setting that hundreds of acanthors remain close to home in large subdivisions that cause the intestine to come apart. Such unintended consequences are obviously dangerous externalities, but with their small patches of neural tissue, spiny-heads are not given to forethought.

            I once worked for a man who studied acanthocephalans. He was particularly suited to the work—inquisitive, knowledgeable, admired, and aided with a large federal grant to continue his investigations and pay my salary for many years. His interest was so keen that any time not devoted to spiny-heads—attending faculty meetings, giving lectures on general biology, picking up his mail, travel out of town, eating, talking to his wife—he regarded with good-natured disinterest, provided he could soon return to the laboratory, where he inoculated doves, goldfish, and turtles with thousands of cystacanths and wrote a hundred pounds of monographs.

            Similar in some ways to the spiny-heads he studied, Professor Austin was peculiarly suited for his peculiar interest. Just as the worm could exist within the intestine without being digested or expelled—its flexible proboscis retracting or fastening as needed—so Austin, within a narrow range, avoided absorption or expulsion by probing or withdrawing as the situation demanded.

            Presumably there was a time when most acanthocephalans did not have hooks on their proboscis but did have a digestive system. A minority, with a poor digestive system but stubby hooks, let us say, existed at that time as poor relations on the scraps of detritus siphoned by some unobservant clams. Perhaps a seabird carried one of these clams inland to drop it on a rock and feast. Suddenly released into the bird’s gut, the poor relations with their stubby spines could hold on as their betters perished. Many generations later, their gutless descendants had glorious grappling hooks, in much the same way that other gutless beings often find ways to hang on and hang around.

            Of course, millions of worms died initially for lack of a spiny proboscis and, as time went on, millions more died because their probosces were inadequate. Although their evolved way of life was less independent and their way of getting about was clumsy and uncertain, the benefits outweighed the losses. The fact that they were committed to their way of life, totally dependent on their hosts, and lacking the capability to escape it, would not occur to spiny-heads because they were not given to reflection.

            What about Professor Desmond Austin, who was in a situation with a comparable degree of dependency? His laboratory was designed around the acanthocephalan life-cycle. In the Cuticle Division, where I worked, cubicles were devoted to Extracuticular Substances, Protein or NonProtein, Excreted or Secreted, Functional or Nonfunctional. Each cubicle was inhabited by a graduate student or technician. Working under Protein, a team specialized in Quantification and Identification, Crystallography, Electron Microscopy, Artificial Synthesis, Deprivation Studies, Extra-vital Uses, and Cost-Analysis and Feasibility of Processing. The Cuticle Division was one of thirty units devoted to the body systems of spiny-heads. The mental territory of Professor Austin had become the host for an enterprise employing almost a thousand researchers. The thirty-first unit, called the NonEssential Division, was managed by Mr. Greth, who was also the only employee in the unit.

            The NonEssential Division provided for the nourishment, security, relaxation, medical and mental services of the laboratory’s staff and their families, all of whom lived on site. Mr. Greth was a stooped, balding man who looked like someone assigned to manage nonessential matters. No documents, books, or files were in his office, which was furnished only with a few chairs, a small table, and a recliner, where he was lying on the first day I reported for work—and where he was every time I had to see him over the decade remaining to Professor Austin before his health, marriage, and federal grant simultaneously collapsed. Without getting up, Mr. Greth handed me the keys to my apartment and cubicle and warned me to avoid the construction area for the new division on the Circulatory Disorders of Alternative Hosts, the one extra block in Austin’s teetering project that finally brought it down. As I left, Greth said, as he always did, Flow through but hang on.

            Now that it’s all over, specialization is worth thinking about. I mean, there’s obviously adaptive value to a hooked proboscis if you’re an intestinal worm without much else going for you. And any specialist in a cubicle is dependent upon the kind of information that seems relevant to the investigation. So if you’re studying a worm, you’re dependent upon what he wants to tell you. The worm is like your teacher:

            I am to teach. You are to learn. I am to cover the course. You are to take it—take it all. I am to grade. You are to pass. I submit your grades. You receive the credit. I permit. You commit. I admonish. You can vanish—if you’re not careful. I teach. You learn. I decide. You concede. I assign. You read. Careful now! I ask and answer. You answer. I must teach. You must learn. I’m not a tutor. I must teach everyone in the class. All of you must be led out, induced, inducted, seduced. Don’t ask me to personalize instruction.

             Group work is best. That’s the way we do it in the gut. Don’t ask me how this prepares you for later life. Get with the program. It’s all about hanging on or going with the flow. One of you asked about getting a general education. Well, we don’t live generally, do we? It’s personal and specialized down there in the gut—no generalists need apply. I’m not here to broaden your experience. I’m the proprietor: I’ve got the goods. You’re the customer. But I don’t customize anything. You get what I have to give you. But even though I do the same for everyone, what is received is not the same for all. Every one of you will come out of this course differently educated.

            I don’t have to customize anything because you will customize it on the uptake. Some of you will come out sharp and critical, others limp as an empty egg sac. Some of you will come away with a sense of direction—even a specialty—but most of you will drift back in the dark lumen and let the current decide. I only answer for what I have to deliver. My probings have led to certain preoccupations. You will hear all about them. I get to make the syllabus, after all.

             It’s your route out of here. It will be logical and thorough. Oh, I may sometimes distort logic for special effect or clarity. Or I may be thorough to the point of giving an impenetrable answer instead of clarifying a question. I may indeed be logical in broad designs, but sparing in the explanations of disarticulated details. (One of my academic achievements, in fact, is to have speculatively constructed the nature of an articulated existence. Quite an achievement for a boneless scholar, they say.)

            And yes, I am aware of the abuses arising from the kind of unwonted consistency-of-thought characteristic of preoccupied scholars. Many dismal periods of our history are not so much examples of failed understanding as of chance variations in the strengths of various habitual preconditions, preconceptions, and preoccupations. As consistency-of-thought usually wins out, however, perhaps it has adaptive value. I leave that to your hooks. Oh, you have none. Distortions of all kinds occur in the degenerated forms of humans, owing to the poor quality of their ability to allow life to pass through them and to know when to engage and when to release. But not all of us can be spiny-heads.      —Con Moto