Sunday, May 19, 2019

Understanding Hans Hofmann: Reflections by Sam Feinstein edited by Sascha Feinstein

Hans Hoffman

Understanding Hans Hofmann: Reflections by Sam Feinstein
edited by Sascha Feinstein
Provincetown, MA: Provincetown Arts Press, 2018
112 pages; $25.00
ISBN 978-0-944854-64-8

Reviewed by David P. Miller

Sam Feinstein, artist and writer, lived from 1915-2003. Beginning in 1949, he studied painting with Hans Hoffmann, the renowned 20th-century painter and teacher (1880-1966), in Provincetown, Mass. His relationship with Hofmann developed into a collegial friendship. This book, Understanding Hans Hofmann, began life as a series of conversations between Feinstein and his son, Sascha Feinstein, recorded between December 1989 and January 1990. Nearly thirty years after those conversations took place, we are gifted with a volume of remembrances and insights into Hofmann’s life, work, and convictions. The text of the original conversations have been edited and organized into chapters with thematic focal points. The unity between Hofmann’s approach to teaching and painting is a persistent emphasis, as is the need to see Hofmann’s work in relation to his root principles and personal nature. As the son states, “Our mutual goal for this book was to present several sides of Hofmann: teacher, painter, friend, critic, writer, and delightful abuser of the English language” (11).

For years, Hofmann was commonly regarded as a “great teacher [but] bad painter” (9). Although this has gradually been overturned, and the value of Hofmann’s art increasingly understood, there remain gaps in the Hofmann literature. Sascha Feinstein states that “Even the best accounts of Hofmann and his painting fail to deliver a sense of who the man really was” (9), in part due to conceptual/theoretical emphases that obscure the relationship between his personality, humor and spirit, and the art itself. Despite Sam Feinstein’s close involvement with Hofmann, his “retreat from an overly commercial art world” (10) meant that he removed himself from arenas where his understanding of Hofmann could have reached a wider audience. The conversations between father and son eventually served as the medium to bring these observations to light.

Hofmann’s teaching is mainly addressed in the chapter titled “The Summer Classes.” Sam Feinstein discusses how his understanding of Hofmann’s teaching changed over time. At first, he strongly resisted Hofmann’s approach: “his methods seemed to me to be the most imposed, absolutely dictatorial, arbitrary approach to the whole process” (16). This included drawing on top of the students’ drawings, or tearing their drawings into four pieces and rearranging them. This “forceful and seemingly arbitrary approach to teaching [was one] that many students either misunderstood or were unable to get past” (14). As time went on, Feinstein came to understand Hofmann’s teaching style to be based on valid principles, and partially motivated by the older artist’s characteristically awkward English. Physical demonstrations, supplemented by verbal remarks, seemed the most direct and necessary method under these circumstances, however unnerving. (His often amusing and memorable struggles with English are recalled in the “Hofmannese” chapter, where Sam Feinstein mentions that Hofmann’s own writings on art could be misunderstood, given his idiosyncratic word choices and resistance to revision.)

The “Summer Classes” chapter also introduces the reader to some of Hofmann’s critical principles, particularly the interplay between space and form. He regarded it as essential to transform the two-dimensional space of the canvas into a work possessing three-dimensional force, rather than representing three dimensions pictorially. In response to the discoveries of Einstein, he regarded “space as form … contain[ing] forces that ultimately made the forms that we see” (18). Forms are not merely static presences but contain “driving energies.” His students attempted to grapple with this by, for example, “[shifting] forms across a flat rectangle to create pictorial space rather than illusionistic space, to create depth consistent with the flatness of the medium” (20). This extended to figure drawing, in which elements such as kneecaps or elbows were not regarded “as fixed locations but as accumulations of vital energies thrust outward by inner forces” (21).

This discussion is elaborated in the chapter, “Hofmann’s Principles.” These had to do with what Hofmann considered as “three kinds of natures”: the nature of the individual artist, that of the encompassing world, and that of the art medium (72). Hofmann’s commitment to the dynamic nature of two-dimensional space manifested, in particular, in what became known as his “push/pull” approach, where the interplay of planes and other forms evoked a sensation of backward and forward movement. “This would replace the old idea of perspective as being an illusion of distance” (74) and was complementary to the movement of the human eye perceiving different layers of depth. Sam Feinstein again emphasizes the difficulties Hofmann’s English presented for some students; his teaching could be distorted, in that “a lot of what got repeated simply emphasized Hofmann’s personality rather than his concepts” (71). This chapter also touches on a theme elaborated elsewhere, that of Hofmann’s “two natures.” In his work, he gradually found ways “to reconcile certain splits within his own makeup between what he called a dramatic, or lyrical, aspect to his nature versus what he called a scholarly side” (79). His active use of squares and rectangles, for example, were positioned in relation to freer “sweeps and flows of color” (37).

In the chapter, “The Film,” Sam Feinstein discusses his work shooting the material for the documentary film Hans Hofmann, showing the artist at work teaching, painting, and discussing his ideas about art and the creative process. Although filming began in 1950, and the final script was developed in 1964, the first showing, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was delayed until 1998. Hofmann made a new painting, “The Window,” during the process of filmmaking. Sam Feinstein discusses the painting, as an element in the documentary, from several perspectives. He describes the physical items in Hofmann’s studio that served as the painting’s material basis and details how Hofmann’s process moved from direct representation to dynamic spatial relationships. He notes that, at the time “The Window” was painted, Hofmann “was still working with colored form rather than forming with color” (42). Feinstein compares it to the artist’s later, more mature work, the painting “Rhapsody” in particular. These are both reproduced in the book’s fine color plates, making it easy to follow the discussion. Feinstein points out that his film put emphasis on Hofmann’s teaching principles, as exemplified through his painting activity, and compares it with other films about Hofmann, where Hofmann only appears to paint: “you can see from his brush that he’s not doing anything” (44).

Sam Feinstein compares Hofmann’s work with that of other painters, particularly the Abstract Expressionists with which he is often associated. He finds it “ironic that Hans Hofmann was being called ‘the father of Abstract Expressionism,’ only because he was so much older than the other young men practicing it” (58). Feinstein draws contrasts between Hofmann’s painting and that of Kline and de Kooning, and does not regard Hofmann as an Abstract Expressionist. For example, in contrast with the latter group’s typical relationship with the canvas, he quotes Hofmann (preserving his diction): “It is not what you do to the canvas. It’s what the canvas doos back” (95). Feinstein regards Hofmann’s work as having much more in common with the Fauves, and perhaps unexpectedly compares the painter’s work to that of Mondrian. Similarly, although Hofmann’s ‘”push and pull” has been discussed in relation to Cubism, “it actually related more to what C├ęzanne started with his planes of color” (75). These discussions are found in various chapters, particularly “In the Context of Critics and Painters,” where Feinstein also reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of critic Clement Greenberg’s evaluations of Hofmann.

Integrated with his reflections on the teaching, artwork, and principles of Hans Hofmann, Sam Feinstein also recalls a great deal about the artist’s personal relationships and the scenes of his times. These are found in the chapter appropriately titled “Intimacy and Jealousy,” as well as “An Opening of Landscapes,” which centers on a 1953 show of landscape paintings done between 1936-1939. The chapter includes Feinstein’s original catalog essay, and a brief review he wrote for that show.

In the conclusion, “A Final Look,” Sam Feinstein states, “There is a direct, primal drive that comes through in [Hofmann’s] work that is not simply gymnastic, not merely optical; it’s a certain intensity, a life force” (105). Sascha Feinstein’s presentation of his late father’s memories and insights makes this clear and is a tribute to both elder men. He and the Provincetown Arts Press have done us a valuable service with this book.

Friday, May 17, 2019

3rd Annual Young Writers Workshop--Endicott College-- June 27-29

( Click on Pic to Enlarge)
For more information and to register, go to

Endicott College (Beverly, MA) will host its Third Annual Young Writers Workshop at its seaside campus, June 27-28, 2019, for area high school students interested in creative writing. In addition to sessions focusing on poetry, fiction, and playwriting/screenwriting, this year’s 2-day Workshop will feature new sessions on humor writing, young adult writing, and “Improv for writers,” a session taught by one of the College’s theatre arts professors. Participants, who must be entering grades 9-12 in fall 2019, will create and refine new work, learn how to give feedback to their peers, and receive tips on how to promote and publish their work. They will develop their skills in a fun, supportive environment. The Workshop welcomes both novice and advanced creative writers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Little Creatures: (Poems by Julia Carlson) Review by Renuka Raghavan,

Little Creatures (Poems by Julia Carlson) 

By Renuka Raghavan, Author of Out of the Blue (Big Table Publishing, 2018)

Meditative, vulnerable, and elusive, the poetry of Julia Carlson’s Little Creatures thwarts the conventional doggerel, composed instead to develop significance from contemporary-themed narratives. Replete with thoughts concerning the world around us, be them natural or political, Carlson’s poems illuminate a world charged with the delicate vulnerability of quiet rage, past relationships, and ongoing remembrance.

The book opens with an untitled, short quip where the narrator finds satisfaction in sweet candy to compensate for life’s other unsatisfactory uncertainties. An interesting, if not, an offbeat choice to launch Carlson’s second poetic collection. After all, it’s always the little things in life, right? It does, however, segue into a poem that appears to be the real heart of the book.

Black Hole” juxtaposes the worries that seem to burden us only during the darkest hours of the night, amidst the cacophony of neighborhoods, homes, and lives searching for rest and peace. In reality, the poem attempts to explore something much deeper, and something that the overall collection drives straight into—existential meditation, au courant.

As a scholar and clinical social worker, Carlson has dug deep into her rich life and presented us with poems that transition from page to page as the timeline of a seasoned narrator’s life story. Poems like “Children Of War,” “Tithe,” “Emergency In The Tombs,” and “Thin,” carry with them the burden of darkness and while the pain they seek to assimilate is evolving and universal, the historical background is wholly personal.

Get drunk…obsess…think about Jesus,” oddball solutions presented in “Methods To Put The World Away,” one of a handful of poems that evoke comical whimsy, perhaps to break the heaviness of somber obligations in poems like “Room 512,” “Letters From,” and the aptly titled, “Girl Gives Birth In Her Room While Her Parents Watch TV.” In “Sex,” two lovers appreciate the act of physical emotion, surrendering completely and unabashed.

Then there’s the title poem, “Little Creatures,” a villanelle that meditates on the book’s larger, over-arching theme of metaphysical existence. The lines and stanzas of the villanelle fold into each other, mimicking the way life’s knowledge folds into itself, one way or another, regardless of the type of creature. The lyrical language tenderly implies violence is a part of that knowing:
“…sharpened talons can only maim…things that never change…the hawk’s within hunting range.”

Carlson’s Little Creatures exhibits a contemporary, tactile, and corporeal poetic voice that opens a way to understand the duality of a world capable of producing appalling travesties of life as well as awesome feats of beauty.

 Renuka Raghavan’s previous work has appeared in  Boston Literary Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Blink-Ink, Star 82 Review, Down in the Dirt Literary Magazine, Chicago Literati, and Gravel, among others. She is the author of Out of the Blue (Big Table Publishing, 2017), a collection of poetry and prose. She is a co-founder of the Poetry Sisters Collective and serves as the fiction book reviewer at Cervena Barva Press. She writes and lives in Massachusetts, with her family and beloved beagle.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Review: Captive in the Here by Gary Metras

Review: Captive in the Here by Gary Metras ( Cervena Barva Press)
--reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos

If only, Gary Metras seems to ask in the poems of his latest collection Captive in the Here, if only we could stand outside of time and fully engage with the experience of each moment we inhabit. There is so much beauty in the world, so many beautiful moments. But, we are humans, after all, we have memories, we have histories, we are aware of time and our obligations, and we leave tracks we can’t escape or ignore.

The titles of the three sections of this book, “History as Good as Fictions,” “Weather and Such Deceptions,” and “The Real World, As They Say,” imply the difficulty of accepting life as we find it, and the poems contained in each bear out this qualification. The collection’s first poem, “Confrontation with What I Have to Do,” establishes the poet’s mission and dilemma: to be both observer and victim of time. “The wall clock,” Metras writes, “escorts without kindness, / nor hatred; it has its own life / without us.” Our awareness of time imprisons us, not only in the past we can’t escape because it is part of us, but also in a future full of worries we can’t help but be aware of: “my father’s death approaches, my wife’s cancer blossoming years from now, / . . . A daughter . . . new to mortgage/ and waiting for time to bring a holiday/ so she can finish painting a spare room.” But though the poet cannot overcome the troublesome backward-and-forward relationship with time, at least he is capable of recording this awareness in his “cadences,” his poetry, and though he unable to protect “those I love,” he can at least preserve them in a poem: “captive in the here, the now.”

If we are the victims of time, what are we to value? In “The Tree House,” Metras depicts a boy mastering skills that enable him to build something permanent, a tree house that takes shape in his mind first. After he actually creates the tree house, his “new world/ . . . his hands smiled their cuts.” This value of work, especially physical work that confronts and transforms the natural of world, is also reflected in “The Hooded Men.” The workers the narrator observes “digging foundations in the snow/ . . . keep a schedule despite the season” and “earn the evening paper / and cup of whiskey-kissed coffee / in a cozy room each night.”

But is it enough to admire the work of creators? Metras suggests that the admiration of that which we don’t personally create ourselves, what we don’t generationally “capture in the here” on our own, has a diminishing value. The poem “Goshen Stone” captures the detailed care a father takes to build a stone wall, which he later shows to his son “when he thought he was old enough” to appreciate it; yet the father can only describe the structure in words, and when that son, years later, pauses with his own boy to admire the stone wall “your grandfather built,” he can only say “a few things about stones / as if his own soft hands knew what that meant.”

Is there the same kind of futility in a poet’s effort to preserve a moment in time for the reader? Is the act of creation of value only to the poet? “My Spider” begins, “I’ve invented a spider, / the green-backed spider.” The new spider, it turns out, was created by accident, “brushed . . . aside with the paint brush that left its back green.” There will be no future generations of new arachnids—it is the green spider of the poet’s moment.

And if not only accidental spiders, but also solidly built structures like the wall of “Goshen Stone” lose their value over time, what is the legacy of literature and its forms?
Metras dips into the past, parodying Eliot’s “Prufrock” as he laments the role of the teacher of literature in “Imagine Huck,” which envisions Twain’s young adventurer rafting down a modern polluted river: “I am no Huck Finn,/ was never meant to be/am a lone child scribbling this down . . . after years/ of kidnapping children and torturing them with . . . Homer, Shakespeare and Dickens,/ so they can keep the cycle afloat, if only in a dream.”

Yet it remains possible, Metras seems to suggest, for literature to help us transcend time, bringing depth of appreciation to the moments in which we are “captive.” It’s possible a poet, reflecting on old forms, or using them as a lens, can place that moment in a greater context. In “All the Futures,” there are echoes of Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan” and that poet’s gyres of history and artistic forms, as the narrator, playing with his granddaughter thinks, “how one thing builds upon another, how the golden walls/ of Troy lasted a thousand years, as flesh/ fell.” And, while Yeats wonders if Leda absorbs Zeus’s “knowledge,” of the eventual fall of Troy during their violent interaction, Metras contemplates the “blue rubber egg filled with pebbles” his granddaughter hands him and wonders at “all the eggs she carries, all the futures inside her, waiting.” Metras uses the frame offered by the Yeats poem to preserve his experience with his granddaughter. Though grandfather and granddaughter are “captive in the Here,” as we all are, the poet offers an opportunity to contemplate the future as he reaching into the past and, re-figuring an old poem, guides the reader into a vital, new experience.

Metras, finally, offers the reader a vision of the poet as a creator who transcends time by interpreting and preserving what might otherwise be only mundane experience. In the longest poem of the collection, “Thrust Reverser Actuator Access,” he records the experience of a jet flight from Cincinnati to Hartford; during his descent, the narrator’s attention is drawn to “small words printed white on blue metal,” words which the reader must take for granted are the words of the poem’s title. Metras understands that his purpose as a poet is to give this experience meaning: The words, as he sees them, “seem almost magical, almost un-human, unearthly, even/ words I could never use in conversation,/or anything else, except,/ perhaps, in a poem.”

And so, as with so many of the other poems in Captive in the Here, we join Metras in his contemplations, accepting him as our guide as he fills the time and space between Cincinnati and Hartford; we are resistless “captives” in the “here” these poems re-envision.

Gregory Wolos lives, writes, and runs in a small New England town. More than seventy of Gregory’s short stories have been published or are forthcoming in print and online journals such as Glimmer TrainThe Georgia ReviewThe Florida Review, The Baltimore ReviewThe PinchPost RoadThe Los Angeles ReviewPANK, and Tahoma Literary Review

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Mudanca: Poems by Kevin Cutrer

Kevin Cutrer
Poems by Kevin Cutrer
Dos Madres Press Inc.
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-948017-31-2
35 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Never underestimate the power of exuberance. Never, never underestimate the creative power of love’s exuberance. Kevin Cutrer’s new book Mudanca sings a melody of love like nothing I’ve heard in years. Can this be the return of courtly love? The poet’s words radiate authenticity as they reel through an emotional cross-cultural ether. Art, metrics, all of it fade into the distant background as Cutrer pulses out his evanescent, barely containable, joy.

Mispronunciations and other verbal missteps made by Cutrer’s persona in the opening poem, To the Woman for Whom He Is Learning Portuguese, become gentle love tokens as the poet woos and assures his lover that she is indeed his muse. Hilarity and amorous self-deprecation rule as the poem begins,

You must write about me. I’m your Moose!

O Moose, sing to me of the man who ordered pizza
by asking the waitress for a spanking, extra cheese.
The man who said, when introduced to your mother,
I am so pleased to meet you… Carrot.

Those are garlic bulbs that were my eyes.
The cheap dictionary turns roach faster
than you can say Gregor Samsa, scurries off,
and with it any hope of telling the barber not to short.

Cutrer, like all true lovers, considers separation from his lover anathema. His world also shrinks into the original garden, where he as Adam and his lover as Eve reign again as the center of the animate world. In the poem entitled Sepatos Cutrer laments the loneliness, even if temporary, which often plagues new-found love,

I can’t help feeling like some article
you didn’t need and didn’t pack,
like this pair of sneakers you abandoned
to the cold tiles of the bedroom floor.
At least they make one pair. I’m only one.
What will you wear on your bakery walk,
your morning quest for pao doce?
Will I have the appetite to breakfast alone?
I sit on the edge of our bed staring
at the blue canvas, the laces gray
with street dust, and my slouch deepens.
I touch the laces and say sapos,
my apprentice tongue transforming shoes
into toads, and off they hop…

With love comes magic. Cutrer, given a mango by his beloved, discovers its inherent enchantment. His lover as a child would race her sisters to the mango tree, then climb to its heights in an effort to win nature’s succulent prize. The poet succumbs to his muse
and imagines it in this charming way,

I see you perched on a branch
the marmosets fled in fright of you,
gloating as you hold your trophy aloft,
Stone-hearted tear larger than a heart,
And your sisters grunt their way toward you.
With a shining blade you trim off
whirligigs of mango peels
letting them drop…drop…your eyes falling
after them, past Eva, past Alba, landing
on roots that spill like the tresses of a witch’s
head of hair, root twining over root,
sprawled on the earth like petrified fire.

Perfect love songs say nothing. They simply tag an internal, searing need to available words that provide life-enhancing rhythms. Those rhythms can convey insuppressible joy or unendurable sadness. In his wonderfully written poem entitled Yes, Cutrer does both. He takes his reader from the rarified freedom of physical health through the flickering whispers of sedentary illness. Or from timelessness to a ticking clock. Here are a few of the poet’s more joyous lines,

Something in me said say yes,
say yes, and so I said yes, yes, let’s dance.
On the floor you giggled at what I called
my moves and kissed me for pity’s sake.

Can I see you again? Yes. Move in with me? Yes.

Yes to Brazil and the dilatory days.
Yes to Boston and the deciduous years.
Yes to anywhere and anywhen with you.

A lover often adores items associated with his beloved. Cutrer praises his Brazilian lady by lauding her birth county’s currency. Each detail seems in bas relief. Each color nourishes a new beginning. He marvels at the wonders provided to him in compensation for his simple teaching chores,

And like a stall in the ark each bill houses
a subject of the animal kingdom.
A macaw peers with piratical eye.
A jaguar drapes her arm across a branch.

Sea turtles soar in a blue bay, frayed
in the interchange from hand to hand,
folded three-fold upon itself and stuffed
into a man’s shirt pocket, showing through the white.

I earn my weekly menagerie
preaching the verb to be.

Mudanca, a Brazilian word for change and this collection’s title poem, chronicles love’s transformative powers. Cutrer conjures up grade-school embarrassments and subsequent long-standing fears. Typical stuff but, nevertheless, traumatic. An early attempt at dancing takes a disastrous turn. Even his school teacher shows distain. Ouch! But all of this is a setup to showcase love’s exhilarating intervention,

You ask
if I like to dance. Something in me
says say yes, say yes. So, I say yes.
It is all happening now
all in one moment
my first disastrous dance
our last I cannot see
in whatever catastrophe
awaits us to part us
some other where in time
I try not dare not think
but how can I not when
I awake and wake you
kiss the dark spot
on your finger one
more time one more turn
in the dance we began
that evening in Somerville…

Yes, dear readers, there are still troubadours among us. Cutrer, with this short, lovely collection, confirms it.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

A Review of Layla and the Lake By Marcia D. Ross

A Review of Layla and the Lake
By Marcia D. Ross
Pelekinesis Printing, Claremont CA. April 2019
Review by Tom Miller

This is a work of fiction. The lake does not exist except on these pages. Layla does not exist except on these pages. None the less they both are real. They are recognizable. This is because the author, Marcia D. Ross does an excellent job of creating place and person in her story Layla and the Lake. The lake, unnamed in the book, could be one of hundreds that exist in Maine not unlike those that one finds in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. It is a pleasant place to be as is the forest that surrounds it.

Layla is a thirty something single mother with two children - a 14 year old son who is pushing limits and beginning to try his wings and an eight or nine year old daughter who still needs her mother in her life. Layla is a poet and an editor for a publisher of classical and academic works whose current project is an analysis of Milton's Paradise Lost , scenes of which pop into Layla’s internal narrative throughout the book. Layla is also everyone who has ever stumbled, erred, made bad choices in life and punishes themselves with constant recrimination and self-doubt. Her self-view is jumbled as is her life. She is confident in her competence with her work but less so in relationships with others, her children, her former in-laws, her ex-husband, and her somewhat mysterious lover whom she meets at the lake.

Layla has brought her children to her former in-laws’ summer home at the lake so they can spend time together as a family, (which is no longer really a family) in anticipation of her ex-husband and his current wife’s arrival the following week. Layla will then depart to give family time to that particular portion of the family, after which the children will return to their mother in Boston. At least that’s the plan.

The Lake is the setting but also a main character in the story. It is peaceful, relaxing, welcoming, beautiful and most of all…away. But it is also challenging and while not threatening, none- the- less --it is to be respected as at times it can be unexpected and tumultuous, potentially dangerous. This is unlike Bobby, the man who lives alone across the lake and with whom Layla engages upon a journey of discovery. Bobby is kind, caring, and gentle but a man with secrets. Layla who constantly berates herself for her impulsive actions and unthinking decisions follows her normal behavior pattern as their relationship evolves.

Of course this adds another layer to Layla’s constant self-derision and her search for indicators in others’ behavior that validate her conviction that they have judged her and found her wanting, but are too polite to be overt in their assessment.

In this her first novel, Ross portrays both Layla and the lake with excellent depth. Her ability to describe both place and character immerses the reader in them. You are there. You experience the lake and its surroundings. You come to know Layla and root for her. The cast of characters are each introduced as one dimensional, but as Ross peals away their layers they prove to be far more complex and real. The tensions between Layla and the in-laws build and are in flux. The same is true in the relationship with Bobby. And the arrival of the ex-husband presents another set of tensions which are resolved, more or less, in an interesting way.

And Layla’s self-esteem? Well, therein lies part of Ross’ artwork. You need to read the book in order to find out how that progresses. Ross is an excellent story teller and the reader will find themselves engrossed.