Friday, April 29, 2016

From Drums to a Pulitzer Prize: Interview with Paul Harding


******** Endicott College student Nicole Cadro interviews acclaimed novelist Paul Harding


******************************


Endicott College had the pleasure of hosting 2010 Pulitzer Prize- winning novelist Paul Harding on April 7, 2016. He was a speaker in the Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Press Visiting Author Series. His prize-winning novel Tinkers deals with a dying father and a son who returns to tend to him.  Laura Miller, who was on the selection committee for the Prize wrote, " I think sentence for sentence, it was the most beautifully written and  had the most gorgeous use of language of any books that we looked at."  At the event Harding captured the audience’s attention as soon as he uttered the first word. His poetic prose, had a rhythm that kept listeners buckled into the roller coaster of  words that came together to create this lyrical literary piece. It was a distinct pleasure  to have been able to have a conversation with an individual as engaging as Paul Harding. 

Nicole Cadro: I read that Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra was the work that you read that flipped the switch and helped you decide you wanted to become a writer. I was hoping you could elaborate on that, what specifically about that work made up your mind?


 Paul Harding: When I read that book it was a time in my life that I was an avid reader, but my own reading was not self-directed very well. I had not found the kind of books that I wanted to read. So I was reading other books, the ones I read in college, but I knew somewhere there was the headwaters or the writing that I could really dig in and relate to. So actually, the most intuitive thing that I would do is just go into the fiction section of the local bookstore, in Amherst or wherever (I went to UMass Amherst), and I would look for the thickest books I could find that weren’t just “pop” novels. I would just pull them off the shelf and look at them; that’s how I ended up reading Thomas Mann and Tolstoy, and I just found Terra Nostra because Terra Nostra is just like a brick, it’s like a doorstop.  And I was like, “I want me some of that.” That is what I want to do. First of all, it’s like I want to be in conversation with works of art that are that large in scale. I write actually quite small books but I think of them as being really dense, they are one hundred and fifty pages long but hopefully they are seven hundred and fifty pages sort of dense. Just that vision and just the fact the license he had, I didn’t know you could do that. You get to write about all of this wild stuff and his vocabulary was just really exotic and really, really esoteric. It’s funny because I don’t write like him at all, or not so much anymore. In subsequent years I am almost afraid to go back and read that again because I don’t think I’d like it as much. It just set me off on that trajectory. It was one of those funny things, the old version of that book had an afterword by the novelist Milan Kundera and he wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I read that, and then I read some of Fuentes’ essays and he talked about how much he loved Thomas Mann. So then, kind of from that one book and just that one author I just started finding all of these other authors until now it’s hopeless. But I take comfort in that: that I’ll never be able to read all of the books I want to read, it will never run out.


Cadro: To stem off of that question, once you started to delve into your literary career and your schooling, specifically college, I know that I look for things to take away from every class. I think, “Okay this might help me later on in life.” What was a big thing in your schooling that you feel really affected your career and your path?


Harding: Well, undergraduate was a little bit of this and that. I was an English major so I kind of cut my teeth and worked up my chops by reading a lot of Shakespeare and all similar works, which I spend all of my time doing now too. But sort of circumstantially all the while I was in college I played drums in rock bands and that’s what I ended up doing ten years after that. So I was thinking about music a lot but also thinking of it as art. A lot of it was musical and I just so happened that UMass Amherst had a really good AfroAm (African American) department and studies program, and at the time I was there they had really amazing Jazz musicians there too. So I was able to listen to lectures about art and about music by people like Max Roach, a very famous Jazz drummer. I was able to take a yearlong course called Revolutionary Concepts in African American Music with a Jazz sax player named Archie Shepp who was just a really extraordinary guy. So anyways, I found that all of the guys I hung out with were these pretty radical music dudes from New York City. I grew up in Wenham, and so I had these informative experiences about art but also social justice and race in America, and art forms that arose out of that in the black community. It really furnished a context for thinking about art for the rest of my life that has never changed, I still feel that initial thing and that is what is still evolving.


Cadro: Our English 101 class just had a guest speaker, Robin Stratton, and she talked a lot more about the writing process itself versus the actual works. When you were writing Tinkers was there page ripping, fingernails flying frustration? Then, if there was this frustration how did you know you had “it”?


Harding: That’s a good question because with me it’s very intuitive. I don’t write things in a linear way. I sort of collage. I have all sorts of weird, mixed metaphors that I use so I sort of think of it as a big painting. I add layer after layer then scrape layers off and adding more layers, and just sort of collage and move things all around, very improvisational and musical. So all I can report that there was one day that I finished writing whatever the passage was that I was working on, and I sat back and I realized, “I’ve got the whole thing, the whole thing’s here. I’ve told the story.” But then I had to go back and put it all in order because I had written it in such a crazy way, sort of a mess.


Cadro: So it was kind of like putting all of the pieces into the timeline?


Harding: Yeah, basically, more or less it was doing it chronologically. But  in Tinkers the point of view is a guy who is in his final illness and his consciousness is starting to dissipate. So it [Tinkers] it’s just the way his memory sort of works and doesn’t work, and the way the ideas sort of surface and then sink back down and then recrudesce in a sort of weird refracted ways. So I had to fool around with that and get it so it was almost prismatic, I had to make it so it was a cohesive whole. But chronologically what I did, I printed it up and I cut the whole manuscript up into all the different scenes and pieces. I put them all out onto the floor and I spent a weekend rearranging them into the prism. The published novel is forty-thousand words and the original manuscript was probably about seventy-thousand words, so I cut about a third of it. There is not a sentence in that book, anyways, that I didn’t rewrite thirty times.


Cadro: How long did it take you?


Harding: It took me probably four years to write it, to really get to the point where I felt I could show it and try to get it published. But then nobody would publish it; so I had it on my hands for another five years. During which, once in a while I would take it out on a Sunday or Saturday night and just fiddle around with it and just keep trying to get the language as precise and lucid as I could make it.


Cadro: I bet those publishers are kicking themselves now.


Harding: Chuckles. There are a few who wrote me nasty rejection letters, who when it won the Prize, I  thought, “Told you.”



Cadro: So my last question for you is a two-part question. Tinkers, I know is mainly focused on a man dying and going through all of those ideas and memories. He’s kind of facing reflecting on his life and also facing death; you must have had to ponder a lot of that on your own. So with that, what do you strive to take out of each day?



Harding: It’s funny, that’s a good question because I don’t approach each day with the idea that there has to be a “take away” from it.. It’s to be observant, it’s just that idea of being as fully engaged and conscious and aware as possible. It’s inextricable, because I’m always thinking in the context of writing. I think of my writing as having no lessons to be had from my writing, my writing is experiential, it’s descriptive, so what I mean to do is make my prose. Whatever I’m working on I have something of the density of lived experience so when other people read it there will be just recognition, they’ll recognize.




Cadro: So every day is an experience, adding on to what could come out of your literature?



Harding: Yeah, yeah. Then I mean there’s always is, because I’m preoccupied with theology and I read tons of philosophy so I’m always thinking about morality and ethics and just  “loving your neighbor” and all of that sort of stuff. So often the “take away” is that I’ll try to do better tomorrow. It’s sort of like falling short of your own ideal, just being mindful in that way and just trying to be honest. As a writer, one of the principle things is that everything you write needs to be true.



Cadro: The second part of that question was you also deeply explored the possibility of death, do you think this made you more comfortable with it?


Harding: I don’t know, you know it’s funny, I don’t think of it as death I think of the subject as mortality. Because that’s philosophy and religion and all of that sort of stuff. Artistically and aesthetically too, it’s kind of the ultimate counterpoint. It’s the ultimate juxtaposition, it sets in relief being, the whole idea of non-being or the whole idea of why is there something instead of nothing, metaphysics. Because just by disposition I spend all my time thinking about metaphysics and consciousness and the nature of consciousness, and out of what does consciousness precipitate? Some substratum? Or is it a function of complexity, like biological, something that gets complicated enough so it’s an emergent property. It’s a great mystery. A lot of times too I just get cranky because popular writers like celebrity science writers or celebrity philosophers give people a portrait of the human mind and of the human life that is so impossibly simplistic and simple minded that it just makes me crazy. They explain everything a way, and really what it is rhetorical, just slight of hand with grammar, language games. Partly, I just think of it as my, (and again this is an idea), but just that if that art stands for anything it stands for a corrective against simplifying human experience, taking away the dignity of each person’s human experience by presuming to tell people of what it is that their lives in fact consist of because it’s been empirically demonstrated by some positive-esque “jerk off”. Just that idea that what your art does is that it bears true witness to the experience of life, and that’s the key because if there is  that authenticity and you can get that authenticity on the page that’s the deepest connection you can make with the reader, which is that the reader will recognize herself in your art. Very humanistic, very old school humanism.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Yellow Vest-- A Poem for Craig Sampson by an Endicott College Student






** This is a poem  for Craig Sampson, the Endicott College student who tragically died in a car accident.  The author, Julia Gilloran, a student in my Introduction to Creative Writing class knew Craig and offers us this poem. 


The Yellow Vest


The yellow vest
A light jacket
worn during all seasons
The one with that fluorescent yellow glow
detected from even the furthest of distances

The yellow vest
Never without the infectious grin
of its jubilant owner
A smile so warm
filled with peace and serenity

The yellow vest
Its neon color
warned us that trouble was soon to follow
As the car turned the corner
to the battered old Freshman dorm
The one right up the hill

The yellow vest
"He never takes that off,"  we’d complain
Acting as if that flamboyant shade
was the utmost form of embarrassment
But secretly loving every stitch of its being

The yellow vest
Craig’s favorite
Paired with that devious grin
he mastered so well
You’d think it came
with the coat

The yellow vest
those carefree vibes of the boy
we once laughed with
Talked with
And even cried with

The yellow vest
Its doofiness that we would all kill
to see just one more time
Not on the back of his defeated best friend
But on the back of Craig himself 

The yellow vest
Brings me back to all the laughs
Like that time he dressed up as Zeus for Halloween
His long, lanky figure unable to fit in the small white sheet
Or how he’d always knock on his neighbor’s door
Only to sprint away in a fit of laughter as it slowly creaked open

The yellow vest
It's soft puffy fabric
Like a hug filled with love and warmth
That we always found ourselves wanting
And sometimes even needing

The yellow vest
It’s just a jacket after all
colors will eventually fade
And stitches will begin to loosen

But that’s the greatest thing about the yellow vest
Clothing can age and become battered
But its owner’s spirit
can live on for eternity
Forever...
tattooed
in our hearts.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MASSACHUSETTS POET TRANSCENDS A TROUBLED UPBRINGING

Joshua Michael Stewart







MASSACHUSETTS POET TRANSCENDS A TROUBLED UPBRINGING

Break Every String, by Joshua Michael Stewart


Hedgerow Books shines its spotlight on poets from its very literary valley in Western Massachusetts. This includes Joshua Michael Stewart, whose debut book chronicles a gritty childhood in the Midwest transcended by music and art. Tony Hoagland lauds Stewart’s fearless work as containing the hardscrabble humanity of some of our best poets, where “courage of the truth telling takes the revenge of real poetic craft.” Hear Stewart read:


Dire Literary Series

Friday, May 6, @ 7PM

Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery & More

541 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA
02139


 ____________________________

Monday, April 25, 2016

To The Left Of Time Poems by Thomas Lux



Thomas Lux





To The Left Of Time
Poems
by Thomas Lux
Mariner Books
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston, New York
Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Lux
75 pages, softbound, $16.95

Review by Zvi A. Sesling
Cow Chases Boys

What we were thinking
was bombing the cows with dirtballs
from the top of the sandbank,
at the bottom of which ran a cave-cold
brook, spring-born
We knew the cows would pass below
to drink, and we’d pried our clumps of dirt
from a crumbling ledge. Here,
August last a million years.
There was no we, I can tell you that now.
I did this alone. At one cow
I knew as old and cloudy-eyed,
I threw the dirtballs as if it were a sport
at which I was skilled.
Boom, a puff of dust off her hip, boom, boom: drilled
her ribs, and neck, and one more
too close to where she made her milk.
She swung around and chased me up an apple tree.
Her rage surprised me, and her alacrity.
She looked up. I looked down at her.
As such with many things, I did this alone.
We both knew we’d soon be called home.

So opens Thomas Lux’s newest poetry volume To The Left Of Time which is being released this April. Lux is the author of thirteen books of poems, and perhaps rates in a class of his own as a unique, entertaining and slyly serious and satiric poet. Many of his poems leave you feeling you have been had, wondering if what you read is either real or not.

Take the above poem, in the tenth line of this twenty-two line poem Lux writes, “There was no we, I can tell you that now.” It is now his solo trip, the poem about him – and a cow. Then he tells us the cow chased him up an apple tree. Did this really happen or is it a take off on George Washington and the cherry tree a myth created by Mason Locke Weems in 1799? In Lux’s version he does not have a hatchet nor does he answer to his father, but rather an old cow whose age may be a metaphor for a father. However, the poem ends with Lux offering his own confession: “I did this alone.” And then it is finally  left for the reader to decide if there will be retribution for his act, “We both knew we’d soon be called home.”

In the press blurb that came with the book the publisher states Lux’s poems are semi-autobiographical. The “semi” must mean that somewhere in the poem is a modicum of truth, like a reality TV show there might be something real. That is what makes Lux a compelling poet. He entertains. His humor is on the surface, but his meanings go deeper.
Here is another example of how Lux brings a reader into his peculiar world.  You wonder about his acts and those of the others, and what parts, if any, of the poem are real.:

Grade Schools’ Large Windows

weren’t built to let the sunlight in.
They were large to let the germs out.
When polio, which sounds like the first dactyl
of a jump-rope song, was on the rage,
you did not swim in public waters.
The awful thing was an iron lung.
We lined up in our underwear to get the shot.
Some kids fainted; we all were stung.
My cousin Speed sat in a vat
of ice cubes until his scarlet fever waned,
but from then on his heart was not the same.
My friend’s girlfriend was murdered in a hayfield
by two guys from Springfield.
Linda got a bad thing in her blood.
Three times, I believe, Bobby shot his mother.
Rat poison took a beloved local bowler.
A famous singer sent condolences.
In the large second-floor corner room
of my fourth-grade class the windows are open.
Snow in fat, well-fed flakes
floats in. They and the chalk motes meet.
And the white rat powder, too, sifts down
into a box of oatmeal
on the shelf below.

There is so much of  the real from the description of reactions to polio to the unreal of a cousin who sat in a vat of ice cubes and whose “heart was not the same.” Is Lux writing about the heart’s health or the person who was not the same kind of person after the battle with scarlet fever? Is it true or not? Is the murder in the hay field real or not? Did Bobby really shoot his mother three times? Do teachers open windows in winter and does “Snow in fat, well-fed flakes float in?” Or do they drop. And what of the white rat powder that resembles both the snow and chalk that “sifts down into a box of oatmeal,” is that at school or home? Who will die from eating it?

In Part II of the book Lux turns to odes in which some, like the late James Tate, are both fictional and satirical.

Ode To The Easting Establishment Where
The Utensils Were Chained To The Table,

much like the pens at the post office
or a bank. I’d never had a reason to enter a bank.
I bought stamps once. I stood in line
with two dimes
and some pennies,
though no many.
More than a stamp,
I wanted a pencil
so I’d feel like I went to school.
Those were difficult times.
There were different rules.
Often I dined
at the above establishment.
One was permitted to bring one’s own spoon.
I didn’t have a spoon but hoped to soon.
Nevertheless, I ate my belly full.
I was a young man
and I walk out into the green corner of morning!”

If you are thinking of odes like Shelley or Keats, do not bother. Lux is in a class of his own. And with titles like “Ode While Awaiting Execution,” “Ode To What I Have Forgotten,” “Ode To The Fire Hydrant” and “Ode To Pain In The Absence Of An Obvious Cause Of Pain” we know we are in for some enjoyable and humorous poetry which will spring a few surprises along the way.

In the final section of the book there are more poems to delight the reader and which suddenly become serious as you reach the conclusion. Check out “Attila The Hun Meets Pope Leo I.” There is humor that is reflective of love and sex as in “Along The Trail Of Your Vertebral Spine.” Or sadly serious “For Second Lieutenant J. Wesley Rosenquest” which relates a bit of western history and whether any of it real or imagined is something left for us to research.

Lux has always been a particular favorite of mine, yet peculiar I say because I find him quirky, full of trivia that make his poems nontrivial, with a satiric vein like the way a vein of silver shines in a mine. So I find that reading Thomas Lux’s To The Left Of Time not only entertains, it educates. Two great reasons to purchase and read Lux’s latest offering.

__________________________________________
Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva Press, 2016)
Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva Press, 2011)
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Press, 2010)
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies 7& 8

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Sergio Inestrosa


( Sergio Inestrosa--Right)


My colleague Sergo Inestrosa at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass has provided me with four haikus in Spanish and translations in English.  
Sergio Inestrosa received his PhD in Literature from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, Mexico in 1998. Sergio was a Jesuit student for 8 years in Central America, living in El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua. While in El Salvador he studied with Ignacio Ellacuria, a well known Jesuit scholar who was killed in 1988 by the military. When Professor Inestrosa returned to Mexico, he studied to receive a Masters in Communication and became a professor and researcher in the Communication field. He has presented many research papers in Mexico, Latin America, USA and Asia, and has published 6 books in Mexico. In 1999 he taught Spanish at the Estrella Mountain College in Avondale, Arizona, and in 2000 he conducted Postdoctoral research at Harvard, focusing on the works of Octavio Paz. Since coming to Endicott, Professor Inestrosa has been teaching Spanish and Mexican Culture and has been busy organizing a Spanish Cine Club on campus. He has also developed the Spanish minor and designed many new courses, including Spanish for Professionals, Spanish Cinema, Spanish Translation, Spanish Composition, Latin American History and Culture, and a Latin American literature course. 
Sergio Inestrosa's area of expertise includes: US/Mexico relations. His recent collection of poetry is Los Bordes del Placer


toda frontera
en sí misma un prejuicio;
el río Bravo.





any border
it 's itself a prejudice,
The Rio Grande. 

corta mil rosas
del jardín encantado;
en primavera.

Cut a thousand roses
of the enchanted garden;
in the spring time.

es casi nada,
el fuego en tus caricias
es casi todo.

It’s almost nothing,
the fire of your caresses
is almost all.

aceite hirviente,
cebolla luz de luna
oro serás.

Boiling oil,
onion light of the moon
gold you will be.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Doug Holder will be the guest poet for a guided tour of the surrounding and former grounds of McLean Hospital May 22, 2016


Poetry Walk at the Lone Tree Hill Reservation In Belmont

                                             



From  Ann-Marie Lambert/Belmont Citizen's Forum

Hello friends, colleagues, neighbors, and participants on previous Nature Walks:

I invite you to join a guided nature walk through the Lone Tree Hill Reservation in Belmont Sunday, May 22, 1:30-3:30.  I am delighted to be joined by special guest poet Douglas Holder, who has served since 1982 as a Counselor and Poetry Workshop Leader at the adjacent McLean Hospital.  Mr. Holder also plays many roles in the local poetry scene, including:  Host of “Poet to Poet, Writer to Writer” on Somerville Community Access TV; various roles at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., including Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing, Director of the Ibbetson Street Press and Associate Faculty Editor of the undergraduate literary review Adjunct Professor of College Writing at Bunker Hill Community College; Senior editor at ISCS Press in Littleton, Mass.; Book Review Editor, Wilderness House Literary Review; Poetry Workshop Leader at Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston; Curator of the Newton Free Library Poetry Reading Series; Arts Editor of The Somerville Times; and Advisory Board Member--Tapestry of Voices/ Boston National Poetry Festival.

Mr. Holder will help us enjoy poems which reflect on the drama and awakening taking place in this season, both within McLean and without, in Nature.  We will explore the forests, meadows, and trails in the gem of a landscape which surrounds the "Lone Tree Hill" and McLean.  We will stop along the way to read short poems from a variety of cultures, each with their own perspective on human and wildlife activities of Spring. We will meet at Belmont's Highland Meadow cemetery, stroll along the famous Pine Allee, take in stunning views of the meadow and surrounding forest from Lone Tree Hill, explore the forest habitat surrounding the old Coal Road, and discover the mix of clues that nature and civilization have left for us to learn about the history of this land. People have been strolling here for centuries, healing and gaining inspiration from this beautiful home to wildlife such as red fox, coyote, cottontail rabbit, voles, chipmunks, bees, dragonflies, and many residential birds such as wild turkey, red-tailed hawks, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, tufted titmouse, and goldfinches.


Come reconnect with the land through poetry from New England and around the globe.  Poets are keen observers of nature and human nature, of the drama and rebirth of Spring, and of the importance of land and place.   Find inspiration from those whose poems express love and concern for the natural landscape, and for oftentimes more mysterious internal landscapes. Let the poets help you appreciate this nearby gem, with its rich history as a part of the grounds of the McLean hospital of Belmont.

What: Listen to poetry as we stop along a one-mile nature trail in Belmont with a special guest from McLean
When1:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2016
Where:  Highland Meadow Cemetery, 700 Concord Avenue, Belmont.  If you are already familiar with the area, town officials strongly urge you park early at the parking lots by Rock Meadow on Mill Street and hike 10-15 minutes to the cemetery location. If not, park cars along one side of the cemetery driveway loop across from Somerset St. (stay on the pavement). 
Who: Anne-Marie Lambert is a Belmont Citizens Forum board member who has been leading local nature walks and writing Newsletter articles about Belmont history and storm water.  This is her fourth guided nature walk to explore the four seasons at Lone Tree Hill.

Bring/Wear: water to drink, closed shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, and, optionally, a walking stick for uneven terrain.
Rain: Only thunderstorms will cancel.
Trail Map: Lone Tree Hill Map

Friday, April 22, 2016

Fire Tongue By Zvi Sesling




Fire Tongue
By Zvi Sesling
Cervena Barva Press
Somerville, Massachusetts
www.cervenabarvapress.com
ISBN: 978-0-9966894-4-1
87 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Dark, darker, darkest. Zvi Sesling’s Fire Tongue descends through heat and mist and dust into a black oblivion of verbiage, both tellingly vacant and skillfully wrought.  Each geography, whether internal or external, hesitates in its own claustrophobia, offering up a hellish reality of bleakness, alienation, and tortuous terrain. There is no exit save death, and even death’s freedom leaves not a little doubt. This poet does not mince his words. For Sesling memory alone brings clarity and a measure of calming surcease.

The title poem, Fire Tongue, opens this collection with zeal and sear. Sesling describes an ill-fated priestess as damnable and fierce as an Apache warrior or the tempestuously saintly Joan of Arc. Her auguries embarrass and sting, but somehow convey the bloody truths of humanity. The poet addresses her this way,

O priestess of the mad, why did
they take you from us, your tongue
prophesied, even in anger or hate
your tongue spoke the truth, a prophet
they called you, others said you
were simply mad

An isolated heart pads through the barrooms of night seeking companionship in Sesling’s poem entitled Long Night of a Lonely Heart. His short lines create a pulse, a modulated beat which intensifies and then recedes in a dreamlike pattern leading to despondency first, then flickering hope. One wonders at the ambiguous conclusion,

street lamps are broken
or dead of old age
the heart beat increases
the blue veins of night
offering no comfort no hope
no desires fulfilled
the rotted gut of the streets
leaving the heart empty
each chamber compass points
to the oblivion of night
the heart expanding with hope
receding in despair receding
in loneliness stopping at last
beneath a lonely light
under a window

Consider the curious use of the phrase “stopping at last” referring to the movement of the human heart. That “lonely light” now seems a bit more ominous.

Sesling’s piece Gothic Fog strikes the right chords and adds some nice atmospherics to this collection. It begins typically in a graveyard filled with musty odors rising into the night. Then the poet imbues life with death’s nature under the lunar commander hovering above. Here’s the heart of the poem,

Queen of the Entombed

She gives them the night to waft
across fields and roads into the
windows of houses and to dance
their nightly gavotte

They enter the unsuspecting
who make love or dream
or enter into the bones of
the growling dog

Only a red ball held by a child breaks the urban gloom in City of Gray, a poem in which Sesling’s vision of a joyless civilization on automatic pilot plods on and on. Gregorian chant pervades the airways. The poet uses images from our waning industrial society. He opens the piece with newcomers pursuing in vain their dreams of felicity and joyfulness,

Like blind people they grope through
alleys and narrow streets of the city
of the lost—a purgatory of gray
buildings and gray walls, gray alleys
and streets where gray people lead
gray lives and the wanderers seek
happiness in a city that has none as
people in gray uniforms enter and
leave factories with high gray walls
like a prison and their children run
through the streets and never laugh

In Collector of Calamities, my favorite poem in this collection, Sesling sketches out a very human, if unattractive, trait of contrasting each other’s misfortunes. No matter how bad it gets, someone is worse off, that’s the beauty of life. Black humor does work after all. The poet chooses mortality as his subject and picks particularly gruesome episodes. It gets morbid and uncomfortable. But that’s the point—isn’t it? Sesling sets his details,

In Montreal, a brick from the 17th
floor of a building falls and hits a
woman eating lunch with her husband
at a sidewalk café

A car goes down a highway the wrong way
plows into a family of seven riding
to the beach, all die

Someone does not see a stop sign and strikes
a child in a crosswalk who is walking home
from school

Black and white newsprint cut out, placed
in a bowl, a record of lives extinguished
like flames, a history of calamities by a
collector who has survived…

Delusions and obsessions exist for a reason. The poet pushes the vulnerability of mankind to the fore in his piece entitled Paranoid. For one to sleep at night a lot must be ignored or pushed aside. The banality of evil needs to be hidden from sight. Predators denied victims. In fact security demands closure of all portals. Sesling explains,

The window is shut at night
To keep out the heat of stars
Shades closed so the wolf
Does not see the vulnerable

The window is shut at night
So the long fingers of trees cannot
Ensnare in their master plan to
Enslave humanity

This poet serves his poems neat like good whiskey, but, unlike good whiskey, they do not comfort. They afflict their readers with god-awful truths and disconcerting candor. Society needs both badly. Sesling accommodates with his dark, deft, declarative poetics, and we benefit. Heaven (or hell) help us.