Tuesday, October 06, 2015

House You Cannot Reach Poems in the Voice of My Mother And Other Poems by Tom Daley

House You Cannot Reach
Poems in the Voice of My Mother
And Other Poems by Tom Daley
Futurecycle Press
Lexington, Kentucky
ISBN: 978-1-938853-68-5
89 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

A respected local poet and esteemed (some would say, “beloved”) teacher of poetic craft pens his first full length book using his deceased mother’s voice in fashioning a persona that vents from deep within his (and, perhaps her), now unbridled unconscious. What could go wrong? If the reader answers to a highbrow persuasion he or she may consider the fate of Oedipus. Others may think with some trepidation on Norman Bates.

Well, be at ease. What Tom Daley does concoct is remarkable. Many of these penetrating pieces, taken together, stake out a claim for a new genre of modern poetry—certainly personal, decidedly expressionistic, but pointedly anti-confessional. While Daley clearly uses elements of Browning-esque dramatic monologues, his persona’s manipulation of daringly personal details and the self-referral direction of its singular voice verges on unique. It’s as if each page of poetry utilizes a palimpsest of Ouija board insights from the skinned souls of past and future ghosts. Daley’s invented persona speaks back to his own receptive ego, among other parties, with a profound sadness, a targeted truth-telling and, above all, toughness. 

My Mother Revisits the Scene of a Tryst with My Father at the Great Falls of the Potomac, the first poem of the “Mother” series and the second poem in the collection douses the reader with a romantic remembrance of early love. Daley words the scene lovingly, and adds in resistance and complexity of feeling with a seamless touch. The piece concludes with not a little narrative tension.

I still buckle
under the old taste
of your tongue’s slow bruise;
still fret, marking your hand,
mute and sly,
where it once worked its furious glee

I still listen for your torso
tuned square as a suitcase,
for the vows we soothed
with crossed fingers.

Here, in rapids
jostling a bilious remorse,
I drag back to your rampages
tricked out
as accomplice with scar.

Family tragedy generates unanswerable questions and opens the eyes of survivors to strange ironies and everyday absurdities. In My Mother Speaks with Two Police Officers Who Arrive at Her Door on Good Friday Afternoon Daley’s persona deals with the suicide death of one of her sons. Here’s a bit of everyday detail that the poet’s persona uses to absorb the oncoming waves of grief,

Gentlemen, come see our piano,
its black keys all stooped
by the weight of his knuckles.

Here’s a hope chest
where mothballs
seal the rot in his slapstick.

They hoard the stains where his T-shirts
sweated out Trotskyist proverbs.
Here’s a cruet for his chrism,

a vat for his vinegar.
See? That sticky flytrap
dangles his tear salts

with the smut of his incense.

Notice that the presence of the police officers turns an excruciating private interval into an almost public tour. But isn’t that what funeral rites do?

Daley shows his poetic range in a piece entitled My Mother Calls Her Portfolio Manager in the Middle of a Bad Week on the Market. The poet provides a comedic antidote for those who have lost their 401k and IRA savings in the manipulated and unsavory machinations of the stock market. His persona-Mother shows her laugh-out-loud archness and biting anger in a good cause. She complains,

What do you mean by subterranean economies?
If these dips are mavericks,
are they thirsty calves, then,
bleating for their brands?
I am wise to your feints, to your doping indicators,
to your tribe of tyro soothsayers who teethed
on their own sound bites.

Sir, I am proud
of my prudent weather. I never swore
off my sweeteners completely,
but I know how to stretch the dregs
in a bottle of ketchup. I cancelled the milkman
long before you cashed in your Krugerrands.

But, my man! This is slapdash, this is kidnapping!
This is all my collectables cheek-cheek
with the ukuleles
in the pawnshop window.
This is a deadletter box destination
for a mail-order bride.
These are the decades of tinned pilchards
against which you said you had me inoculated.

My favorite poem in this collection Daley entitles After a Stroke, My Mother Speaks to a Stuffed Pheasant in her Son-In-Law’s living Room. At first reading I thought the poet’s engagement with the stuffed bird bordered on the surreal. After a second read I realized my mistake and saw absolute logic in the poet’s monologue. Daley’s persona waits for death to make its move. In the meantime she marvels at the bird preserved beyond its time. During a peculiar set of stanzas the persona delves into the (D.H. Lawrence-like?) motivations of the pheasant’s killer and the kindness of his wife, the persona’s daughter. The poet says,

Give me back my girl’s ministrations.
Yes, her husband’s backbone is maimed,
but let her attend to my squalor,

my blatant and durable envy.
If her man is courteous,
His pockets are bulging with buckshot.

His hands are forever tying tiny lures.
His hunt fills my girl’s need.
He fishes her and fills her.

Throughout this book Daley peppers in non-persona poems which act as a sort of terra firma to the conjured up and versed metaphysics. One entitled Benediction especially caught my attention. Very much a tone poem, this piece signals a reconciliation between the poet and his dead brother. Daley couches all emotion in narrative, a detailed description of a snapshot on a bookshelf. It ends in an affecting prayer, with echoes of Francis of Assisi’s exhilarating canticle and the confessional. The poet concludes his piece this way,

Afternoon light honors and disturbs you.
Your smooth skin, your blue shirt have absorbed
their portion of the light.
What they shed is what I am given.

Bless with me now, brother,
the good ministrations of the daylight
that swaddled you then
and still frames
an unmendable chaos of loss.

No, nothing went wrong in this collection. Quite the contrary.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


By James DeCrescentis
Igneus Press
Canyon TX    $10.00

     Joan Didion has spoken of how writers impose “a narrative line upon disparate images” in order to “freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”  That is to say, writers generally impose a narrative, impose ideas, to create an aesthetic whole.  James DeCrescentis’ recent chapbook of eleven prose poems takes a wrecking ball to that model.  He does away with narrative, or at least with imposed, plotted narrative, to allow the free reign of what Didion calls the “shifting phantasmagoria” and the free play of the imagination. 
     DeCrescentis uses streams of images, many of them surreal, that come fast on the heels of the preceding ones, often in run-on sentences that serve to build the intensity of the poem.  But most images are striking enough to put the brakes on just a little, so the poem does run off the tracks.  DeCrescentis is very much in control of his material.  And though the poems present a shifting phantasmagoria, meaning nonetheless erupts like crocuses in early spring.   A strong moral tone is evident as well in certain of the poems.  In “The Italian Haircut,” a man barred from a neighborhood club in 1948, because of his race. dreams of opening his own club, which he eventually does.  The concluding stanza reads:
     And I’ll make it born into the same year, watching those
     victory gardens burning up one by one the children must
     change racism without money or violence, or catchy bumper
     stickers on foreign cars—-let everybody in.
     The opening lines of the next poem in the collection, “We Put Transistors Everywhere,” also burn with moral fire:

     And forget the places as they get razed by bulldozers
     with cranes flattening to dirt what took so long to be
     born a religion of death so far out of touch flames bring
     candles lining small squares----

     DeCrescentis spent much of his working life as a counselor in psychiatric facilities and his experiences enter into or color several of the poems.  “The Shift” is short enough to be quoted in its entirety:

     I walk up and down the halls of the ward and see a
     two-tone paint job clogging my lungs, which hoard all
     pollutants like back room meetings, terrible colors
     walking the straight line around a bend of ladders on
     fire, even the paintbrush loses direction.  I do this
    long walk because the zombie wants some shuffle.

POUNDING THE DOOR INTO GRAY is a nicely designed chapbook that features a cover painting by the author titled “Wally’s CafĂ©.”   The book is available for $10.00 from Igneus Press, 1301 Eighth Avenue, Canyon, TX 79015 or at www.igneuspress.com.

                                                                                             --Richard Wilhelm

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Almost Too Much Barbara E. Murphy

Almost Too Much
Barbara E. Murphy
Cervena Barva Press


Should I be able to skim a poem?, I ask myself, as I look through Almost Too Much, a collection of poems by Barbara E. Murphy. Oh, why not? I can get an overall impression and then read and savor each poem more slowly. So I did. I found Murphy’s poems truthful and enjoyable—the right stuff of poetry—and yet not impactful, as the title of the collection suggests, nor especially transformative, as poetry aims to be. Something was right—a lot was right—but something was off. On re-reading, I did feel that she made powerful use of images, in short phrases or long stanzas, to evoke significant moments and strong feelings. Her language, too, often had the impact of simplicity and informal speech. Unfortunately, her language could become too conversational, diluting any potential impact.
Murphy’s poems do have a casual quality that invites you inside. While the usual poetry suspects, like metaphor or alliteration, are there, they do not press themselves on your attention. For instance, you might well conclude from the poem “Behind the House” that Murphy’s father’s row of tomatoes is nothing like the Garden of Eden, but she does not say that. The metaphor can easily be inferred. Or, the poem “Bedtime Story” features an appropriately somnolent sibilance, but the device does not leap out at you as if to exclaim, “Admire my artfulness!” The resulting accessibility—which permitted me to skim—is a welcome surprise in a literary genre that leaves many, unfortunately and unnecessarily, mystified.
Murphy even dares to use dialogue, not common in poetry of the present or past. A very few of Robert Frost’s poems are dialogues. T. S. Eliot wrote plays in verse, as did, of course, Shakespeare 400 years ago; their verse, however, is not in the form of dialogue. Murphy’s particularly striking use of a dialogue comes in a mother-son poem called “First Words, Old Story.” On first skim-through, the dialogue is touching in a way that a summary of a dialogue could not be. The son’s words indicate childishness; the mother’s words, corresponding playfulness. On re-read, the dialogue is bringing out contrasts and memories that take the reader on an odyssey, from a fairy tale world of “spell-breaking words that had to be guessed” to the mother’s experience of a “language/I had been born to, and lost.” (43)
Above all is imagery of photographic vividness. Indeed, quite a few poems involve photo timers or photos, such as the third poem of the collection called, straightforwardly, “Waiting for the Timer.” In that poem, the camera captures, among much else, teenage children that “dazzle/their hot skin and white teeth/ready for almost anything.” (5) These teenagers launch from the page like human jets. Yet another vivid poem featuring a photo timer is “Women’s Group: 30th Reunion.” The image of a boat of “less primary versions/of ourselves” surprises and then stays in the mind. (16) No question, such powerful imagery recurs.
Nonetheless, a fundamental flaw also recurs. Murphy tends to say too much, as if she is chatting with a friend or filling a gap in a conversation. You feel that, if she cut extra verbiage, like so much fat, a moment would emerge even more strongly, like muscle. For instance, in the poem “Heat,” the phrases “this limited view, her lousy sexual politics” seem redundant and cluttery. If she cut one of the phrases, the moment of complicity in the body’s truths would come forward. Other phrases in other poems come across as similarly redundant or somehow excessive, adding nothing new. 
Then there appears a tightly formed poem with intense impact on the eye and the soul, such as “Losing Heart,” a short poem of four stanzas. Of the four stanzas, the last three have four lines, each devoted to a sound: o, a, s. Her imagery—especially, “the dry throat/ of nightmare”—packs a punch. The contrast is clear. You might call the poem a lean, mean fighting machine. But—even a fighting machine can have a flaw. It is unaccountable that loosed bricks in one direction become small round pebbles on the way back. In what world can this happen?
Still, there is more right here than not. Murphy places the reader in the poem exceptionally well, from her first poem onward. Certainly, we learn more than—to borrow Murphy’s phrase—prayers of petition.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Film Review of Black Mass by William Falcetano

Scene from " Black Mass"

Film Review of Black Mass
William Falcetano

Watching this film was a unedifying experience, though I think that was the director's purpose – not to glamorize, but to cast a cold light on crime, brutality, venality.

The actor who played John Connolly – Joel Edgerton – almost stole the show from Johnny Depp.  His performance was nothing short of amazing; he captured the swagger and the arrogance of the real John Connolly – as well as the look, the hair, the suits.  At the core of this sad story is the star-struck hero-worship Connolly has for Jim Bulger (a boyhood friend from the Old Harbor Village projects of South Boston).

Edgerton shows us not only Connolly’s admiration for the Irish-American mobster (tinged by a bit of tribal rivalry against the “damned dagos” running the mafia in the North End), but also his venality: “I can help you and you can help me”, he says in his pitch to Bulger when they first meet on a lonely pier overlooking Boston Harbor.  Later they drink a toast to “success”: two Southie boys, “project rats”, make it big.

They all had “The Look” of their real-life originals, even the strange but mesmerizing face of Jesse Plemons captured something of Keven Weeks, a professional pugilist and Bulger’s feared driver and bodyguard.  The unflattering banlon shirts, the state trooper sunglasses, the cowboy boots – these were all copied faithfully from their real-life originals like a Dutch master painting.  The accents too passed muster by my ear.

Benedict Cumberbatch played a sly, deft, and clever William “Billy” Bulger, just as decisive and just as cold and tough as his brother.  Again, few liberties were taken; it was a spare performance but all the more effective due to the economy of word, action, movement.

Depp's portrayal of Bulger was nothing short of a masterpiece of acting.  Icy, menacing, tightly coiled violence, yet undeniably charming, but in a deeply unsettling way.  It might prove to be the highpoint in his brilliant career so far.

    They were all believable – even Kevin Bacon, who manages to get into all of these movies (he was in The Departed, and Mystic River).  He had the gray-on-gray look of the slouch-shouldered, overworked government bureaucrat just trying to get the job done but finding himself outfoxed by a Southie boy who played the game by his own rule book.  All the FBI scenes take place in a brutalist concrete maze of offices and hallways lit by the harsh glare of florescent lights, while the Winter Hill gang is embedded in smoky pubs and triple deckers, hemmed in by claustrophobic, narrow hallways.
Of course the dinner table scene in which John Morris gives up the family secret recipe was stolen from the famous Goodfellas original, in which Joe Pesci asks Ray Liotta “How am I funny?”  Even the killing of John Callahan in Florida steals from the scene in Goodfellas where the camera moves in slowly on the innocent-looking Cadillac in the early morning light only to reveal the dead body inside.

The whole movie was like a Dutch masterpiece – a brilliant copy of an Italian Renaissance original – but clearly in its own distinctive hand and subdued style.  The director, Scott Cooper, has been credited with making an "elegantly understated" crime drama.  I agree.  The documentary style was justified by the fact that this was not a fictionalization of the Winter Hill gang, as previous movies had been, but a dramatic depiction of real events that were known to have happened, down to the nap Bulger took after he strangled Deborah Hussey, the girlfriend of his confederate Steven “the Rifleman” Flemmi – who stands by helpless to watch his partner in crime ring the life out of her.  Then he’s told to bury her in the basement.  Everything in this movie was carefully lifted out of the public record and was served up without much embellishment.  It was as if the director had said: Just the facts will do – the facts will tell the story; you can't "improve" on them, so let them speak for themselves.

The film also managed to capture the US versus THEM (South Boston vs. "Cambridge") dynamic in the thinking of John Connolly and the brothers Bulger – the Southie boys.  That "townie" attitude, which was so in evidence in the busing fiasco of the 1970s, still managed to fuel the Bulger story from the 1970s into the 1990s.  It’s as if it were the price – a price – Boston had to pay for its long history of discrimination against, and ghettoization of, Irish Catholics (and no one paid that price more than the Irish-American communities in places like South Boston, Charlestown, and Somerville).

Finally what about the actress with the improbable yet beguiling name Juno Temple?  Wasn't she channeling Marisa Tomei from My Cousin Vinny?  And the other women – all brilliant, including the actress who played Ma Bulger – but all had minor roles in what was essentially a movie about men and their misdeeds.  Women’s roles range from mother (Erica McDermott) to wife (Julianne Nicholson as Connolly’s wife Marianne) to mistress (Dakota Johnson plays Lyndsey Cry, Bulger’s mistress and mother of his son) to whore (Juno Temple).  All of these performances were strong to excellent, as were those of all the male supporting and minor roles.

There were inevitable omissions – but these are not critical; the violence was graphic but not dwelled upon (as other directors have done in previous efforts to treat the same material).  The criticism of Jay Carney, James Bulger’s brilliant defense attorney, that the movie failed to tell the story of the widespread corruption of the FBI (there being many more people on the payroll than the two miscreants who had speaking parts in the movie – John Connolly and John Morris) is allayed somewhat by a brief reference to all the many people who had to be paid off to keep things running smoothly as thick wads of twenty-dollar bills are run through counting-machines and stuffed into envelopes.  This is the closest Scott Cooper gets to explaining why these terrible things happened.  Instead he opts merely to show us how they happened, and leaves the deeper question of the ultimate cause of such abominable evil an unsolved mystery.

**** William Falcetano holds a PhD in Philosophy from Boston University. He has taught at Curry College, Endicott College, Merrimack College and elsewhere. He is a  member of the literary group the " Bagel Bards" in Somerville, Masas

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Noted Boston Historian Anthony Sammarco reviews " Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur"

  Noted  Boston Historian Anthony Sammarco reviews " Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur"

Historian Anthony Sammarco

In his new book Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur Boston 1974 to 1983 Doug Holder takes us on a literary journey to a not too distant past to lost sections of the city of Boston that includes Newbury Street, the North End, the Combat Zone, Chinatown and my favorite-- Ken's Deli at Copley Square, which I often patronized with my friend Bob Stone.

In each of these fascinating writings, with sixteen entries, Holder takes us back to Boston some forty years ago to its grimy, gritty and decidedly outrĂ© world that included the Combat Zone, cinemas, mad houses and joke shops which combined in these poems let us return to a special place and time in the city before the onslaught of  urban renewal and gentrification, which would sadly see a thin veneer of respectability overlaid on the richness and often hilarious recountings of these now lost places in time.

In vivid and insightful detail, and in a conspiratorial tone that Holder shares with other Bostonians "of a certain age," he has woven a series of stories that dispel the stereotype of Boston being a staid and proper city. If anything, the memories evoked in Part 7 "Copley Square, Ken's Deli" takes us back to a time when it was the place to be seen at 2:00 AM, waiting in line to finally eat a gargantuan sandwich, with french fries, in a carnival-like atmosphere of bar-weary patrons, leather clad men, college girls trying to act soignee, and at Halloween time the ubiquitous Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz," replete with her wicker basket. This book by Doug Holder is a keeper, a veritable window into the recent past that allows us to glimpse a Boston that has somewhat changed beyond recognition but which allows us to return to revel in the splendors of Boston.

--Anthony Sammarco  -- author of "Lost Boston"   Anthony Sammarco is a historian and the author of 57 books on the history and development of Boston. He has taught history at the Urban College of Boston since 1996.

To purchase "Portrait of an Artist..." go to Ibbetson Press