Monday, March 25, 2019

Memento Mori: Poems by Charles Coe

Memento  Mori:  Poems by Charles Coe (LEAPFROG PRESS) $15.00


I ran into Charles Coe at the Cambridge Public Library the other day. He is a man about my age, who was roaming the space with his signature causal gait, taking in the whole scene.  I did't see him hooked to the usual digital hardware, no texting finger dances,...he was there... in the moment. As fate would have it he gave me his new collection of poetry "Memento Mori." It starts out with a quote by Marcus Aurelius, " Use your numbered days to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun.  If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it."

Coe, an accomplished writer in his sixties and holding--marks the passage of time and accepts it. He has conversations with his brash younger self--the shadow of death and the joys of life are in close proximity. He appreciates the simple beauty around him-- he is forgiving--he remembers grudges, but they take on different dimensions. He often laughs at us,but just as easily laughs at himself.

I was touched by his piece " Poem for an Absent Friend." The poet is in the Boston Commons with a friend who has a grim diagnosis of cancer. And it seems that the Commons in my life, and I am sure others-- has often been a stage for any number of dramas. In these three stanzas Cole populates his poem with "things," that infuse it with deep layers of meaning,

" So we walk across the Common
past pigeons pecking in the grass,
that scatter before the lion-hearted toddler's
charge, past the piper who whose ancient call to battle
bounces unheeded off the blank faces
of high-rise condos, past beautiful young women
in spring finery who will offer their bodies
as gifts  for someone else to unwrap
and your taking it all in on this farewell
tour of the world, taking it in and letting it go.

A young couple near the fountain holds a baby.
An older woman with a camera clicks the shutter
as we pass and we are captured in a frame.

Perhaps 100 years from now
someone flipping through a dusty scrapbook
will pause a moment to contemplate our faded images,
tow ancient and mysterious ghosts..."

Coe, also has a fair number of haiku in this collection, and one in particular made me think twice before I petted by beloved feline,

"if i were bigger
i would be licking your bones
sweet and gleaming white."

Coe's poetry is peppered with humor, and wry observation. He is a walker in the city, a flaneur--taking in the blues, a long lost dive bar,  and the finery and scent of  young women now out of his reach. Like the great photographer Walker Evans he stalks the subway-- he takes it all in, and knows one day--he will have to let it go.

Sunday, March 24, 2019




In Lee Varon’s first chapbook, Letters to a Pedophile, she creates a true relationship between the abused and the abuser. It is complicated and Varon expresses that complication through images and line breaks. Her poems are formal—they are written in a series: the title is also the first line and they all attribute to you—the receiver of the message. This pattern is very insightful. She is showing the reader a sense of compulsion that is a symptom of the you in her book. This makes the poems even more heartbreaking and at times we feel sympathy as she humanizes the you:

I was desperate
to guard my own light.
I could never have stopped

on the highway
even if I saw your thumb
raised, even if I saw

the shattered stars at your feet.

Her repetition of the word small and images of small is impactful. “children sprouted like mushrooms / soft and combed inward;”, she never states fact but abstracts the ugliness of her concept and makes it into beauty—devastating. At some points Varon is speaking as a child, “as if we were going to a good day at school / and subtraction was just math…”, and others she is speaking as her present-day self in recollection. “…a wafer near nothingness.” when describing memory. This back and forth strengthens the series making the reader trust the poet as she guides us through the chapbook— she knows without abstractions it would be too disturbing of a text for some readers, but by using the form of poetry we let go of the unbearableness of the subject. Varon has written it in a way that lets the subject become bearable. The chapbook is the fluidity of self and how many ways one can look at trauma. Varon takes trauma and shows us through poetry how to survive it:

I thought it was only a matter of
packing different clothes,
diverting a tornado,
breathing the correct number
of rescue breaths against blue lips.

Letters to a Pedophile is a stunning collection. You feel the truth and pain it took to write each poem. Art is how to transform trauma. Varon shares with us a topic that is hard to face. She has shown us how she processes trauma by using the technique of poetry. She has made this subject not only approachable, but brilliantly moving.

Alexis Ivy is a 2018 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in Poetry. Her first poetry collection, Romance with Small-Time Crooks was published in 2013 by BlazeVOX [book]. Her second collection, Taking the Homeless Census won the 2018 Editors Prize at Saturnalia Books and is forthcoming in 2020. She is a Street Outreach Advocate working with the homeless and lives in her hometown, Boston

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You're Still Alive! Live from Somerville: The Saturday Morning Bagel Bards!

Sketch by Bridget S. Galway

You're Still Alive!   Live from Somerville: The Saturday Morning Bagel Bards

By Doug Holder

Often we greet our members of the Bagel Bards group (that meets at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square, Somerville ) with the refrain, “You're still alive!” This group of writers, playwrights and poets take nothing for granted. But this reflects on the group's informal nature, and the gallows humor that we have refined into a high art.

It is a bit like being in a play or a Marx Brothers movie. I sit back and enjoy the humor and drama that unfolds every Saturday morning. Yes—we discuss our writing, but is more than that. We have a member who regales us with stories of union corruption, corporate greed, and his clandestine forays into Afghanistan. Two of our millennial members often stop by to fill us in about their jobs, their navigation of the world, and their writing. Some of our member sit back and take it all in-- while others compete for center stage to make their pitch, plea, joke, gripe, only to be drowned out by other hungry voices.

In some regards it is a madcap dysfunctional family. Many of our members are accomplished writers, and they bring a wealth of experience and talent to the group. No one takes themselves too seriously, and if they do,they will be brought down to the earth quite quickly.

Some times you need to take a deep breath to try to get a hold of the topics our public intellectuals bring to the plate. We can start out with a discussion of Botticelli and it could easily morph into a heated conversation about Donald Trump, or the meaning of meaning.

Most importantly we are a Saturday morning band of friends. We have a spot to discuss the writer's life, present our own work on occasion, and revel in our own eccentricities. We linger, we schmooze, we pontificate.. . And when it comes to the time for our last cup of coffee , and we leave for all points—we can expect to be back next week greeted by the Greek Chorus, “You're still alive!”

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Celebrate National Poetry Month: The Newton Free Library Poetry Month Festival:April 9 7PM

Click on pic to enlarge

Like Poems by A.E. Stallings


Poems by A.E. Stallings
Farrar Straus Giroux
175 Varick Street, New York 10014
New York
ISBN: 9780374187323
137 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Alexander Pope famously defined “true wit” as “what oft was thought, but n’er so well expressed.” More than any other contemporary poet, A.E. Stallings, an American expatriate living in Athens, Greece, exemplifies this pedigree of versifier. Her poems make that which seems quite ordinary or just everyday sing.

Stallings’ new book, Like, doubles down on what she has done before in her three earlier volumes of original poetry— identifying and, on occasion, inviting irony, tragedy, and most of all, a deeper understanding of human nature into her formalist domicile. Her narrative conclusions can be biting.

The meditations of Stallings often include domestic objects such as a pair of scissors, a cast iron skillet, a pencil, a pull toy, and colored Easter eggs. Her descriptions for each of these sedentary items or groupings create both a great depth and an array of un-tranquil perceptions. For instance Stallings describes the common careening of a pull toy this way,

It didn’t mind being dragged
When it toppled on its side
Scraping its coat of primary colors:
Love has no pride.

 Or consider Stallings’s piece Dyeing the Easter Eggs, the pun firmly placed on “Dyeing,”

… Resurrection’s in the air
Like the whiff of vinegar. These eggs won’t hatch,  
My daughter says, since they are cooked and dead.”
A hard-boiled batch.

I am the children’s blonde American mother,
Who thinks that Easter eggs should be pastel—
But they have icon eyes, and they are Greek.
And eggs should be, they’ve learned at school this week,
Blood red.

Other sorties into nature, the classics, and even current news headlines by Stallings amass a hoard of well-expressed insights.  With her poem Little Owl, the poet engenders a world of predation observing human organisms stroll through their habitual landscapes or seascapes along life’s way. Danger also exhibits its warnings in equal measure. Stallings, speaking of her subject owl, says,

A drab still vessel attuned to whatever stirred,  
Near or far:  
Hedgehog shuffling among windfall of figs,
Gecko, mouse.
Then she swiveled the orbit of her gaze upon us
Like the Cyclops eye-beam of a lighthouse.

Pure irony flows, line by line, out of Stallings piece entitled Parmenion. The title is taken from the name of an air raid test. Originally, however, Parmenion was the second in command of Alexander-the-Great’s army. He was wrongly accused of treason by his own son and executed. Stallings connects the false alarms, which in turn excite and puzzle the populace, to this historical breach of justice. The poem begins as if describing a god’s pontifications and builds into very earthly anxieties,

The air-raid siren howls
Over the quiet, the un-rioting city.
It’s just a drill.
But the unearthly vowels
Ululate the air, a thrill

While for a moment everybody stops
What they were about to do
On the broken street, or in the struggling shops,
Or looks up for an answer
Into the contrailed palimpsest of blue.

Centered by serendipity (The poet arranges her titles in alphabetical order), the collection’s masterpiece, Lost and Found, sprawls over eighteen pages and thirty-six stanzas. The poem is wonderful. A mother, frantically and unsuccessfully looking for a child’s plastic toy, continues her search into a metaphoric dreamtime. Arriving in the Valley of the Moon, she peruses continuous landfills of mindlessness and lost opportunity. Along the way this protagonist-seeker and Stallings’ persona is guided by the mother of all muses. Here the poem becomes a parable on creativeness and artistic choices. Some stanzas have a very specific point to make, like this one,

Not water, though, I knew as I drew near it—
It was a liquid, true, but more like gin
Though smelling of aniseed—some cold, clear spirit
Water turns cloudy. “Many are taken in,
Some poets seek it, thinking that they fear it,
The reflectionless fountain of Oblivion.
By sex, by pills, by leap of doubt, by gas,
Or at the bottom of a tilting glass.

Empathy, the most emotionally efficacious poem in Stallings’ collection, rewrites the plight of today’s northern African emigre into a more familiar interior venue. Stallings’ family-centric verse is as personal as it gets. The poet concocts a thought experiment with her own lineage. She posits them precariously adrift and then gives cosmic thanks that this scenario is not so. She explains,

I’m glad we didn’t wake
Our kids in the thin hours, to take
Not a thing, not a favorite toy,

And didn’t hand over our cash
To one of the smuggling rackets,
That we didn’t buy cheap life jackets
No better than bright orange trash

And less buoyant.  

Amazing as a poetic tour de force, perfect as the title poem, and outrageously funny as an angry rant, Stallings’ Like the Sestina moves determinedly to its droll facebook-like conclusion. The ride alone is worth it. The poet ends each line in “like.” She enumerates every cliché type (or most) that uses “like” as a space filler. And finally she initiates a versified crescendo,

…Like is like
Invasive zebra mussels, or it’s like
Those nutria things, or kudzu, or belike

Redundant fast-food franchises, each like
(More like) the next. Those poets who dislike
Inversions, archaisms, who just like
Plain English as she’s spoke—why isn’t “like”
Their (literally) every other word? I’d like
Us just to admit that’s what real speech is like.

But as you like, my friend…

For those readers who, incongruously, still believe that the medium is the message, or at least a good part of it, don’t miss this Stallings’ collection. Like may be her best book yet, her opus supreme. For those others, who aren’t formalist aficionados—read it anyway; you’ll more than like it, you’ll love it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Doug Holder Interviews Kirk Etherton about the Boston National Poetry Mo...

P O E T R Y R E A D I N G S Presented by The Hastings Room Reading Series Wednesday March 27, 2019 at 7pm

P  O  E  T  R  Y    R  E  A  D  I  N  G  S
Presented by The Hastings Room Reading Series

Wednesday March 27, 2019 at 7pm
At First Church Congregationalist, 11 Garden Street, near Harvard Square

f e a t u r i n g

Joyce Wilson, who has taught English at Suffolk University and Boston University. Her first poetry collection The Etymology of Spruce and a chapbook The Springhouse both appeared in 2010. She is creator and editor of the magazine on the Internet, The Poetry Porch (, which has been on-line since 1997. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, among them Poetry Ireland, The Lyric, and Salamander. Her profiles of the poets Eavan Boland, Julia Budenz, Etel Adnan, and Diana Der-Hovanessian (TBA) can be seen at the Women Poets Timeline Project at Mezzo Cammin ( Her chapbook The Need for a Bridge is just out with Finishing Line Press in 2019. A full length collection Take and Receive is scheduled to appear with Kelsay Books in August 2019.

Ben Berman, the author of two books of poetry, Strange Borderlands and Figuring in the Figure, and the newly released small book of short prose, Then Again.  Ben has received awards from the Mass Center for the Book and New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He writes a regular column for Grub Street about Writing While Parenting, and teaches in the Boston area, where he lives with his wife and daughters. Visit him at

Steven Brown, cofounder of The Hastings Room Reading Series. Steve will be giving a presentation of the poetry of his friend Henry Morganthau III, who died in July 2018 aged 101. Morganthau graduated from Princeton University in 1939. He served in the US Army during World War II. From 1945, he was involved in the television business, at various times working as an author, producer and manager for the larger national institutions like NBC, CBS and ABC. From 1955-77, he was a chief producer of WGBH (Boston). Morganthau came into his poetic gifts at the age of 98.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Peaches Goes It Alone by Frederick Seidel.

Frederick Seidel

Peaches Goes It Alone by Frederick Seidel. $24.00.


Frederick Seidel is now in his eighties so he can’t be an infant terrible anymore but he still has the ability of shock, delight and offend. He is a wit and a skillful one. He is urbane and well-read. He is sometimes a little silly and his use of easy rhymes can be annoying but he isn’t afraid to tackle big issues. He is in the group of those poets who, as Frost said, want to be understood. That is, he is accessible. From “November 9, 2016” (you remember what happened that November):

I’ll use a cleaver to cut my hair.
I’ll wear asparagus for underwear.
I took the elevator to the thirteenth floor
To find the fiends.
They opened the door.

A couple of stanzas later:

My country, ‘twas of thee.
Sweet land of one, two, three
Into the swamp…

Trump ran on cleaning up the swamp. That’s kind of like a pathological liar promising to tell it like it is. Oh, wait… So, Seidel is not afraid to take on Trump and those enigmatic followers of his. He really is not afraid to write about anything. He seems to enjoy the role of provocateur. Here is the beginning of “Abusers”:

Every woman who wants to be spanked should be
Spanked for wanting to be.
It’s for excitement and as punishment for her ascent.
She should be put on a pedestal so you can look up to her

From below and get outstanding news and views
From beneath and see what you want to see.
Look at her clean machine, her beautiful guillotine!

A few lines down:

I’m interested only in the power of their flesh.
I turn the fire hose on them when they protest.

Seidel is happy to dive into the #metoo movement in a way that is at once supportive and offensive. He appears to be alluding to the civil rights movement and making fun of the #metoo movement in comparison, but doesn’t that make light of the civil rights protests? He’s also not afraid to confess his own transgressions. This might be the time to note that one of the roles of art and comedy is to go after taboos. Our current era provides plenty of material to work with including the oppressive aspects of political correctness, trigger words and personal pronouns of choice. Is there anything more ridiculous than someone choosing z’s own pronoun? Well, maybe professors who kowtow to students who choose their own pronouns. Seidel’s poem ends surprisingly with:

The world is nearing war.
The homeless clog the streets.

It certainly does feel that way, doesn’t it? With our trade wars and our corruption and conspiracies and the rise of the strong men! Or is he just talking about the war between men and women?
Most often though, Seidel is self-deprecating and funny: “I had a girlfriend who dumped me for a better job---Which, frankly, made me laugh so hard I started to sob.” He writes poems to Athena and to Aphrodite. He quotes Sappho in Greek. He knows French. Here is another poem about “Trump”:

I look past the big face of my computer
At what was once New York
Outside my window
And now is a plateau
Of smiling bra-less
Breasts of the contestants.
It’s time to wake
From this cryrogenic sleep
In which I’ve been preserved, and vote.

The endlessness of America ends.
And what an ending.

A few lines later:

I turn the TV off
Which comes back on
All on its own.
It’s all about climate change
And fracking girls.
And every bidet is transgender
Or ought to be.
Trans is the time of day.
Many people these days are Trump or trans or gay.

On Emotion Avenue in Queens—
Near Trouble Street—
Cops on horseback clatter
In their yellow slickers
through the springtime drizzle
Toward Black Lives Matter.
White Working class
Clouds of tear gas
Cloud emotion.

You can see how Seidel got into trouble offending various groups. He has had prizes taken away. He’s been accused of being anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. Jesse Smollet will accuse him of being anti-gay. Andrea Dworkin would call him anti-women. Or you could just call him funny. His lines are often surprising, his word choice imaginative. In any case, he provides an artist’s perspective. He combines wit and non-sequiturs a la John Ashbury with a taste of the erudition of A.E. Stallings and his poems are about something. They have content. In the age of truthiness, Seidel is a welcome voice.