Full disclosure: I had a Little Red Book published years ago by Lummox Press.
http://poetix.net/reviews.htm (see May 2014 for the full review)
Key passages of Eric Morago's review I took exception to (highlighting by me):
Birth Mother Mercy does not feel entirely whole to me, or rather, actualized. I say this for a few reasons: there are poems, and even a whole section, which feel quite disjointed from both tone and theme of the collection’s best work. This results in jarring the reader in a way that I don’t believe is intentional, and undercuts the strength of the really good poems—the weight they give to the collection. And what of those really good poems I speak of? Frankel has a handful of them in this book, mostly all about the passing of his father—his processing of that loss and the anger he feels towards his father’s widow. They’re all quite good. So good in fact that Frankel had them all published already in a chapbook entitled, My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black, put out by Conflux Press. Now there’s nothing wrong with pulling from past chapbooks, or even having a whole chapbook serve as a section of a full-length manuscript, if it fits the collection—especially if the chapbook was published years prior, has long been forgotten about, and/or is out of print. But here’s the thing—My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black was published in 2013…the same year as Birth Mother Mercy.
So upon learning this, as a reviewer, as well as a reader, I’m left asking myself: “What warrants these poems’ being republished so soon in a full-length collection only two-thirds more the size of the original chapbook—a two-thirds which is arguably not as strong.
Follow up questions I ask myself are: “Why should I buy the same poems twice?” Did Lummox not know? Was Frankel trying to pull a fast one so he could get two books out, or did Lummox solicit him for a full-length manuscript and, not wanting to turn the opportunity down, took his already balanced chapbook and flushed it out with some other miscellaneous work, thus creating a lopsided Birth Mother Mercy?
Why do I assume there was no editor for Birth Mother Mercy? A couple reasons. First, there’s no editor accredited, which leads me to suspect no one filled the role. Second, the poems that are in the chapbook, My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black, appear as exact copies in Birth Mother Mercy. This suggests Lummox had no editor to offer possible changes the second time around when it came to publish the poems once again, which only begs the question yet again: Why should I buy the same poems twice? (Even the blurbs on the back of the two books are the same.)
Why is an editor so important? Their job is to help the poet shape their manuscript—to understand and support the poet’s voice, while at the same time offering a fresh perspective in order to ultimately build with the poet a collection that is the best representation of their work. The end result should be a polished manuscript that feels fulfilled—that feels labored over by more than just the poet themselves, but by editor(s) and publisher alike.
Alex M. Frankel is a talented poet and puts good work out there, but Birth Mother Mercy is an awkward representation of his strengths, especially with My Father’s Lady, Wearing Black situated as the more attractive older sibling. Perhaps if some different (possibly editorial) choices were made with Birth Mother Mercy, the collection would stand out more to me as masterful than mishmash.