Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper is the author of six published books of fiction and poetry. She lives in the NY area with her husband and her dog Otis.  She has been a writer for twenty years.

AFTER/DURING for Chris Nguyen

In a pleasant corner of the garden
we sip tea and crunch biscuits

Each telling what we remember
about that war

You what you remember
After— when
our country conceded
to that split country: North & South
leaving it in ruin

Once divided as we are now
but only by a garden wall
shared and tended,
slathered in honeysuckle,
primrose, vine.

I didn’t see that country
when you saw it
Not nearly one percent
of what you saw.

I saw it during the
loading of soldiers and
the half dead onto planes
then from the air where
everything’s small and
smudged like in a painting

While what you saw were
beginnings of a level plane
on which to finally land.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DeWitt Henry Reminisces on the 45th Anniversary of Ploughares Magazine

DeWitt Henry

DeWitt Henry Reminisces on the 45th Anniversary of Ploughshares Magazines

***Ploughshares Magazine, based at Emerson College, is a much lauded literary magazine that was founded at the Plough and Stars Pub in Cambridge, Mass. some 45 years ago. I asked DeWitt Henry, a founder of the said journal, to write a small memoir piece about his life and times with the magazine. I had Henry as a guest on my Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer show on Somerville Community Access TV, and  as a visiting author at Endicott College where I direct the Visiting Author Series. Henry proved to be a fascinating conversationalist, full of  anecdotes about the literary world in Cambridge in the 60s and 70s, and his own development as a writer and editor.--Doug Holder/Ibbetson Street Press /Somerville, Mass.

I’ve just received the fall issue of PS, edited by Claire Messud and James Wood and marking 45 years of publication. Meanwhile, I’m still savoring last spring’s issue, edited by Alan Shapiro and Tom Sleigh, not to mention the series of “Solos,” begun by editor-in-chief, Ladette Randolph, three years ago—long prose works first published in digital form then collected annually in a print “Omnibus.”

Co-founding Ploughshares with Peter O’Malley, in 1971, began the adventure (along with marriage, parenting, and my own writing) of my youth, mid-life, and then some. The original volunteer group met in the Plough and Stars pub, as outsiders to what we thought of as the literary establishment, namely people who were paid for writing and editing. We believed in common readers, especially those of our own generation, who would explore the different aesthetics and passions we debated. Our mission was to discover, showcase and cultivate “tomorrow’s classics today.” In time, more and more writers and critics rallied to our cause and helped to broaden our network, and to build our reputation and readership. And some of the writers we discovered or published early on have, in fact, continued to grow in career and their contributions have become classics. 

The idea of such a magazine, and especially of its editorial democracy, has so far engaged three generations of editors, writers, and readers, and led, if not to the world we had dreamed of (where poetry, fiction, and non-fiction would thrive outside of the mass-market system and where all readers would respect the role of literary magazines), then to a world vastly more hospitable to both emerging and established writers, one in which they are served by many literary magazines, small presses, reading series, writing programs, and institutions. The limitations of commercial publishing are better understood today, and with new technologies (social media, the internet, blogs, digital and on-demand publishing) and more independent presses, more writers than ever seem to find audiences and sustain careers.

During my twenty-four year tenure, Ploughshares grew from a local to a national base and from print circulations of 1000 to 3000. Support from grants gave us operating capital, which I turned into renewable earnings, enough so to start paying staff. The workload outgrew volunteerism. We found office space and support at Emerson College, which was starting an MFA program and where I had been hired full-time; and when I became chair of the writing department, I negotiated a full-scale affiliation, making Ploughshares an Emerson publication in 1988. My teaching and administrative duties then pulled me away, and I relied on our first MFA graduate , Don Lee, to manage the magazine. He was a gifted writer and computer-savant , who had grown from intern to Editor, who secured a major development grant from the Readers’ Digest Foundation for promoting the magazine, and then took over entirely in 1992, while I continued as an advisor. He ran the magazine for the next 15 years, computerizing operations, tripling our circulation by direct mail campaigns, broadening the guest editor pool, and increasing Emerson’s support. In 2007, having published his own story collection and first novel to critical acclaim, he left to teach and write full-time (his fourth novel is due next spring). I returned for an interim year-plus and led the search that brought Ladette Randolph from the University of Nebraska Press as our new editor-in-chief. For eight years so far, Ladette has shaped and connected Ploughshares to new generations, new readers, and an even wider community. I was proud to guest-edit the 40th anniversary issue at her invitation. She has also flourished with her own writing: a story collection, two novels and a memoir. If the past is prologue, I hope Ploughshares proves to be a never-ending story. 

I retired from teaching last winter in order to write more. I’ve placed work recently in Brevity and the Massachusetts Review and have work upcoming in the Wilderness House Literary Review (I’m also rejected by other places I admire). My two memoirs were published by small presses, Red Hen and Hidden River Press. My writer’s website ( has registered some 9000 hits. I’ve published my first story collection, Falling: Six Stories, with Create Space. Meanwhile, I send around my third memoir and a novel. I review books I love. Would I start another magazine or press at this point? No. It doesn’t seem as culturally necessary as it was in the 1970s, if only because there are so many good ones. However, I have joined two on-line magazines as a contributing editor: Solstice, edited by novelist Lee Hope ( with a mission to promote diversity, and Woven Tale Press ( edited by novelist Sandra Tyler and vested in showcasing graphic as well as literary arts. I still have opinions. I still find writers and writers find me. Literature is a living process and I am passionate about “what I will not willingly let die.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vigil the Poetry of Presence by Pamela Heinrich MacPherson

Vigil the Poetry of Presence
by Pamela Heinrich MacPherson
Red Barn Books
Shelburne, VT 05482
Copyright 2015
ISBN: 9781935922964

The collection’s title, as Pamela Heinrich MacPherson says in her introduction, comes from the “Latin, viglio, ‘to be awake,’ be vigilant; a period of watchful attention; wakefulness that holds calm; bearing quiet witness." The poems were produced from her diary entries accumulated over 30 decades of sitting in vigil with the dying. She was drawn to end-of-life issues while in nursing school in the 60s and eventually would serve as Hospice Volunteer Coordinator for the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties in Vermont between 1988 and 2004. She has continued to sit in vigil following her retirement.

These poems have an artistic innocence; they are what she wrote in the moment and their meaning and much of their power comes from that immediacy; they do not seem to have been worked on, shaped or changed in search of meaning. Here are a two examples the first is a good description of what, in my experience, the approach of death may look like.

Endings and Beginnings

Cold hands
Mottled on their undersides.

As you rhythmically breathe
Your seven breaths
Ascend and descend
And then give way to
Thirty seconds of apnea,
A transition
Not unlike labor and birth.
The intervals of labor
Grow shorter with each contraction;
The intervals between breaths
Grow longer in dying.

This second example should disabuse you of the notion that the process is always peaceful:

Nothing Dignified

There is nothing dignified
About teeth being out,
The urgency of a bowel movement,
Flatulence released,
Ecchymotic hands that are
The extension of tissue paper arms.

The poems are not arranged chronologically but in nine thematic chapters. One is devoted to "Quality of Care," which has a poem, "Mediocre," that begins with these lines:

A level of nursing care
Not without polite exchanges
Or meeting basic needs.
Absent was a lingering touch that knows.

Mediocre care can be compounded by indifferent or unaware families as "Care: Acceptance on My Part" illustrates. Pam arrives to sit with a woman who is,

Tiny and frail and barely a shadow of who she was,
This nonagenarian's petite features
Are immersed deeply in somnolence.

The woman has discolored hands, which "tell of medical misfortune." She then discovers the woman has a swollen arm because of a leaking IV. With some difficulty she is able to get a nurse to inspect the patient.

He arrives in the room,
Examines her arm and intravenous site.
"Another must be placed," he announces.
"Her family wants it," he defends…
The sentence is hard for me to hear;
My heart questions.
Her family? What about her wishes?

That question, "What about her wishes?" Is an example of the utilitarian importance of these poems; take heed to be sure that your wishes are known.

            These poems are strongest when they are detailed and specific. My reservations (I always have my reservations – in spite of all the Robert Frost I have memorized I still think some of his poetry is flat) are for the times when they stray from the particulars and a good poem ends with lines of greeting card verse such as these, "May your soul have a gentle landing/In a peaceful place of contentment." But, if you will ignore those lines, Vigil the Poetry of Presence will serve you well; the wisdom these poems share should be of use to all of us when we support family and friends as they are dying and we can only hope that our family and friends will have access to their wisdom by the time we need their support as we begin our near death experience.

By Wendell Smith MD, ret.

The Sunday Poet: Barb Ariel Cohen

Barb Ariel Cohen

Barb Ariel Cohen lives in Watertown, Massachusetts. She is a scientist and entrepreneur who also practices the complementary discipline of writing poetry. She has been published in "The Penmen Review.
 *      *      *

A scientific love poem

Let it play
What is known and barely believed
The faintest trace of a scientific sign
Beckoning vibrating soft rhythms
Barely a butterfly breathing

I will follow
So long as I go with soul mates
Chasing the faint heat waves just as dawn rises
Mixes the air to the turbulence that awakens the world
Rub sleep from the scientific mind and see!
Miracles permeant and surrounding
With each breath you breathe them in and out

Who would miss this wild nonexistent support
Beneath my feet--skies!
Over my head--stars!
Take my hand, my friend
Nothing but graceful revelation awaits
How the universe will kiss our sun-washed faces
In benediction for the craft that brings truth forward
In worship and the bold dance of moving just that much closer
To understanding
To seeing
The beloved world
Just that much more clearly
Tears of happiness aside
In this moment
Where all pain and joy
Meet to form our heartbeats.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jesus Was A Homeboy by Kevin Carey

Kevin Carey

Jesus Was A Homeboy by Kevin Carey

CavanKerry Press 2016

When you reach a certain age--say sixty or so, things start to haunt you. You are well into the second half of the roller coaster ride, and you are looking back at what you left behind. Poet, documentary filmmaker, and Salem State University professor Kevin Carey is familiar with all this and brings it home in his evocative and expertly crafted collection of poetry “Jesus Was A Homeboy.” Carey, who is a native son of Revere, Massachusetts-- a working class, beach town with its share of rough-trade, hash houses, and dead-ends, often uses this city-on-the-sea as a setting to explore the themes in his collection.

Carey wonders about the child he once was and the adult sensibility he grew into. In the poem, “Summer Storms,” he crosses his wonderment as a child, with his fears as an adult, while he contemplates his own mortality. Here a bolt of lightning gives the reader a charged insight:

...When did the lightning start to scare me?
As a kid I loved the summer storms
hunkered in my room by my closet,
the walls of my mother's house
much stronger than my own.
There are days now when everything
frightens me, my own impending death,
the quick dark skies
and their wild bursts of life,
the violence in everyone waiting to erupt,
the randomness,
the wrong step on the wrong highway,
the wrong movie theater on the wrong night,
the empty street in a lightning storm,
where a young kid stands
under the open sky expecting
his mother's arms to hold him,
going dark, never knowing what hit him...

In the poem “Looking at an Old Man in the Pleasant Street Tea Room,” he captures his late mother's dementia in a stunning stanza:

My mother remembers things
she can't tell me
she said: Did you hear the good news?
And then grows quiet trying to think what it was.
The other day she wrapped half a sandwich
in a napkin and asked me
to give it to the man in the television.
She doesn't know it's hard to see her this way.

From reading the works of Carey I am well aware that he always has a knack for setting. William Carlos Williams had Paterson, N.J., Carl Sandburg had Chicago, Ferlinghetti has San Francisco , but Carey has Revere. And as the reader discovers that Carey is intimately acquainted with the metaphorical night, he is equally enamored with a Revere Beach summer night. In this case it is outside a fast food joint on the beach. If you have been there and done that, you will see the portrait he paints is spot on in the poem “Revere Beach After Hours”

“The crowds swell after the bar breaks
and the people are more drunk
with each order and a girl and a guy
make out in the front of the line
and someone yells, Get a room,
and a white Cadillac pulls up
to the curb and turns a radio loud.
They all start dancing, long hair,
tight pants, hips moving to the disco beat,
boogie oogie oggie, and a plane
flies overhead on its way
to east Boston....

In this collection Carey explores his vulnerabilities, the dreams that headed south—yet there is always a deep appreciation of life-- a sweet/sadness, a taste of honey-- a touch of bitterness—that we all can relate to if we are being honest.

Highly Recommended.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Columbia Poetry Review Spring 2016

Columbia Poetry Review
Department of Creative Writing
Columbia College
Chicago, Illinois
Copyright © 2016 by Columbia College Chicago
ISSN 1930-4900
92 pages, softbound, No Price Given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Too many poems that are “accessible” are far too simple. Other poems are labeled “experimental” and are mostly incomprehensible.  Yet a third group, a hybrid of the accessible and experimental seems to thrive in journals that are willing to publish such hybrids.

Based on their latest edition (No. 29), the Columbia Poetry Review published by Columbia College of Chicago is at the forefront of this cutting edge poetic endeavor.

For example C. Violet Eaton’s “Poor Onion”

Some suckers live lyrically
By looking in the body. Poor suckers
Poor math, pure omen. Other folk
Look to the outside, clutch at huff rags &
Try just to get to be nothing: maybe
Score a job down at the chicken plant,
Pulling feathers, cutting throats, best case.
Take a half a year living six to a room
Just to make on an offer on a thirdhand truck.
Poor number.  Hail the great conflicts:
Man vs. the Stankin Ass Pit Void, or
Las luchadoras contra la momia. We could
Find suckers, stake them, pit them against.
We could take bets. A crowd could form,
Thrash its paltry capital, then as quickly
Disperse. They fight hard but non panther.
Their own truth hold out just one flower.

Me, I’m more sensitive than most.
I have a bouquet. Not truth.
I have not a bouquet. I have a bucket.

What the poet is conveys is the pathos of survival, living in squalor, saving money “Just to make an offer on a third hand truck.”  work in  a “chicken plant” where the dirty work is assigned to immigrants and the possibility of having these “suckers” fight each other.  Is she talking about street gangs? Is it Latinos vs blacks?  What it is is left for the reader decide.

On the other hand Craig Santos Perez’s finale, from understory is a clear expression of his worries for the future of a daughter not yet born:

when [our]

daughter is
born, will

her eyes
open to

irradiated light?
when she

takes her
first breath,

will she
choke down

poisoned wind?

How many soon to be parents and parents with young children have not at least thought, if not expressed such fears for the future given the potential for nuclear war, concern about ongoing climate change and even added media fears of a space object’s collision with Earth that might radically alter or change life on the planet. Perez presents a summation of many fears.

Of the poets in this volume, Felicia Zamora, Justin Phillip Reed William Brewer, Sarah Dravec  to name four, present challenging poetry that some readers will find exciting and forward looking.

Zvi A. Sesling

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

Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Chad Parenteau

Chad Parenteau

 Chad Parenteau moved to  Boston in 1995, he obtained his MFA at Emerson College, studying with Bill Knott, Gail Mazur and John Skoyles. His involvement in the small press  continued, publishing poetry in Meanie and Shampoo and profile pieces  for Lollipop, Comics Interpreter and Whats Up. He was also an early contributor to Boston's Weekly Dig, focusing on artistic and activist groups and reporting as one of a the few print journalists present for the events during and after the 2000 presidential debate at UMass Boston.

In 2003, Chad self-published his first chapbook, Self-Portrait In Fire (based on his MFA thesis) and won a Cambridge Poetry  Award. He continures to appear in numerous print and online publications, including anthologies such as French Connections: A Gathering of Franco-American Poets. In 2007, his poem "Moonlighting" was on display at Boston City Hall as part of The Mayor's Prose and Poetry Program. 2008 saw the publication of his third chapbook, Discarded: Poems for My Apartments from Červená Barva Press.  In 2011, a catalog of his work was added to Framingham State University's Alumni Collection at the Henry Whittemore Library. Recently, his light verse has appeared in such venues as Salon. His first full-length collection, Patron Emeritus, was released in June 2013 from FootHills Publishing.

No Good

Karma has

use-or lose points

dogma always

leaves mess to clean

enemies made

doing what they want

winning way

claiming no one wins

nothing made

out of vacuum

reason cartoons

have "Welcome"

writs traps doors

silence be

comes only

one’s safe word.

––Chad Parenteau, 2014

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Keeping the Kerouac Flame Alive in Lowell by Steve Edington

***About a decade ago I interviewed Steve Edington about the Kerouac Festival in Lowell, Mass. He has been involved with the festival for many years, and has written extensively about the Beat Generation and Kerouac. So I asked Steve to write a piece for the BASPPS, and The Somerville Times. Somerville is a very literary town, so I want to remind  Somervillians  about this festival-- a short distance away, and also tell others about the great work these folks are doing in keeping the "word" alive..

Keeping the Kerouac Flame Alive in Lowell

By Steve Edington

When it comes to preserving Jack Kerouac’s literary and cultural legacy, there is probably no greater band of hearty and dedicated souls than the people who have made up the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee during the past near-thirty years.

We put on an annual 4-5 day Kerouac Festival in Lowell every October, with a smaller scale observance of the author’s birthday in March. In October it’s a weekend of literary tours, open mikes, theme speakers, art exhibitions, and musical events—with an overlay of high comradery among Kerouac devotees of all ages.

For many years now the wrap up event has been the annual Amram Jam with composer, jazzman, and Kerouac collaborator David Amram providing the back-up for all who wish to read their favorite Kerouac passages or their own Kerouac inspired work. Now at age 85, David continues to bless us with his wonderful presence each year as he lends his amazing musical skills to many of our October and March happenings.

Over the years a number of “beat luminaires” and scholars (some still with us and some not) have come to Lowell to be a part of the scene and to help us honor and celebrate Jack Kerouac’s roots. They include, in addition to Mr. Amram,: Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Gregory Corso, Ray Manzarek, Henry Ferrini, Ed Sanders, Willie Alexander, Regina Weinreich, Ann Douglas, Diane DiPrima, Rhoney Stanley, Douglas Brinkley, Ann Charters, Joyce Johnson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Sinclair, Anne Waldman, Ann Charters, and Robert Creeley, to name a few.

LCK had its origins in the mid-1980s in the effort to build the Jack Kerouac Commemorative in what is now Lowell’s Kerouac Park. This arrangement of triangular marble pillars, with works of Kerouac inscribed on them stands at the corner of Lowell’s Bridge and French Streets. Following the Dedication of the Commemorative in the summer of 1988, LCK continued on as the producer of the annual Kerouac Festivals and Kerouac Birthday Celebrations. The Commemorative is the site of our annual “Commemorative at the Commemorative” event each Saturday morning of the LCK Fest.

One of LCK’s founding members, Mr. Roger Brunelle, remains a member of the Committee and conducts the annual Kerouac Tours each October. His tours include many of the sites Kerouac refers to in his five Lowell-based novels, as well as the author’s birthplace and gravesite. Many of the neighborhoods Kerouac describes of the Lowell of the 1920s and 30s have remained remarkably well in place, bearing many of the traits Kerouac portrays. The tours also reflect the basis of much of Kerouac’s spirituality, especially the neighborhood in and around the St. Louis de France Church and School that Jack writes of in Visions of Gerard.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the LCK Organization is its resilience and its perseverance. Over the near three decades of its life it remains an all- volunteer organization with no paid staff or office. The Committee meets monthly year-round to plan the October Festivals and March Birthday Celebrations. Its support comes from an annual donor appeal, occasional modest cultural council grants, sales of merchandise, requested donations for certain Festival events, and the like. Our largest major donor to date is Mr. James Irsay, owner of the NFL franchise Indianapolis Colts, and the high bidder for the original “scroll” manuscript of On the Road when it was sold at auction in May of 2001. In the fall of 2014 Mr. Irsay made a donation of $10,000 to LCK.

Over the course of its life, seven persons have served as LCK’s President: They are: Brian Foye, Richard Scott, Mark Hemenway, Steve Edington, Lawrence Carradini, and Mike Wurm. The current President is Judith Bessette of Dracut, MA.

There is an interesting parallel between the Kerouac Renaissance that began in the mid-to-late 1980s, and the Lowell Renaissance of roughly the same period. Lowell has staged a remarkable civic and cultural comeback over the past 30+ years following a period of drift and decline, with the creation of the Lowell National Historical Park playing a significant role in that comeback.

Over that approximate same period of time the Kerouac literary star has risen to scarcely imagined heights. He is now recognized as a major American, and global, literary and cultural figure of the latter half of the 20th century; and that legacy now strongly continues into the 21st.

Standing astride these twin renaissances has been, as previously noted, a hardy and dedicated band of brothers and sisters known as the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee. With the donation of countless hours of their time, and making it all work on shoe-string budgets, they keep the Kerouac flame brightly burning in Jack’s hometown.

Readers can keep themselves abreast of LCK happenings by checking out its website at

Steve Edington is a 25 year member of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee and a past President. He currently serves as the LCK Treasurer. He is a Unitarian Universalist minister, residing in Nashua, New Hampshire, and currently serving as the Interim Minister of the First Church, Unitarian of Littleton, MA.

Steve is the author of Kerouac’s Nashua Connection, The Beat Face of God—The Beat Generation Writers as Spirit Guides, and Bring Your Own God—The Spirituality of Woody Guthrie. He is in the early stages of a book on the above described parallels between the twin renaissances of the Kerouac legacy and the City of Lowell, Massachusetts.