Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Endicott Review Volume 33, Issue 1



Art by  Lauren Gallagher






The Endicott Review
Volume 33, Issue 1
Faculty Advisor Dan Sklar

Just as Dan Shaughnessy feels compelled to tell us that John Henry owns both the Red Sox and the sports page he writes for, I need to disclose upfront that I accepted Doug Holder's invitation to review this issue with a certain trepidation because he is the faculty editor of the Review as well as the editor of this blog. But my trepidation was replaced with pleasure as, over the last two weeks, I have found myself returning again and again to its pages. At first I was drawn by some of the excellent photographs and art reproduced in it.

Two of the many images worth mentioning are a painting by Lauren Gallagher of the upper torso and head of a young woman who is lying on her side half in water so that we contemplate a horizontal symmetry created by her reflection and a visual joke by Lindsay Silverman that is a photo of an egg cooked over easy lying on a pink plate with a vertical smile sliced across the yolk presumably by the hatchet arranged like an eating utensil beside the plate.
I would have appreciated some information about the contributors to The Review which “consists of creative work from the Endicott Community and other contributors,” because I was left to wonder, if “Tightening,” by Richard W. Moyer, which ends, "Each talk, each pull makes/you look young again,/forget that you are sixty." was a good poem about plastic surgery by an “other” or an astonishing feat of imagination by an undergraduate.

Several poems in the collection give that pleasure which comes from a display of technical facility. The most complex of these,by Alex Munteanu, has six stanzas of six lines ending in the same six words (morning, again, mind, LA, dreams and weekend). The first line of each stanza ends with the word that ends the last line of the previous stanza and the seventh stanza has three lines:

Again I've promised to take your dreams
with me to Denver because we hate LA in our mind.
I'm glad this weekend is finally over, I'm moving on to morning.

Each of which contains two of the line ending words and the poem ends by circling back to make an intriguing exploration of the title "Everything Again" as it concludes with “morning” which ended the first line of the poem

So in contemplating this poem yet again I too am circling back to one of my initial trepidations about doing this review. On my first read through of the collection I had dismissed "Everything Again" because I was too absorbed in my preconceptions about the Review’s undergraduate content to pay attention to its complexity, which now gives me much pleasure.

I had been pulled into the Endicott Review by the excellence of some of the images scattered through its pages because they absorbed me, wholly and quickly. That satisfaction slowed me down so that I then took time to examine the writing and I discovered that while some of it is by undergraduates  whose writing often triggered my editorial instincts and that response was only another of the pleasures to be encountered here. After all a poem that is good enough to leave you thinking of ways it might be better is a poem that has left you thinking creatively and on many days a little creative thinking is the best that one can hope for.



**** Wendell Smith is a Somerville Bagel Bard, poet, retired physician,  and one of the first reporters for the old Cambridge Phoenix (a predecessor to the now defunct Boston Phoenix)



Thursday, June 23, 2016

CLEA SIMON LETS THE 'CAT' OUT OF THE BAG


Clea Simon




CLEA SIMON LETS THE 'CAT' OUT OF THE BAG

BY DOUG HOLDER

Clea Simon is an accomplished writer of mystery/crime novels which feature the object of her affection—cats. Cats play any number of roles with Simon's human sleuths as they experience the unsettling of their worlds and then try to set them right again. Simon is a book reviewer, and often contributes to the Boston Globe, and has written several works of non-fiction including “ Mad House...,” that deals with the mental illness of her brother and sister and the impact it had on her family, as well as an exploration of the bonds that bind cats and women titled, “ The Feline Mystique.” Her latest work in one of her her mystery series is ”The Ninth Life” which is narrated by a cat named Blackie. I spoke with Simon at my usual backroom table at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville.

Doug Holder; A cat named Blackie is the narrator in your latest book “Ninth Life.” My cat Ketz is a great observer—he never misses a trick... and he talks a lot. I would think if he could write he would be a damn good writer. Do you think cats have the qualities that make for a good writer?

Clea Simon: They do. Cats are great observers. But their priorities are not the same as humans. What a cat may choose to tell you may not be about what you think of as motivations, etc... Humans are sight-centric, and cats draw on so many more senses.

Doug Holder. I love cats. So do you. What people that don't own pets can't realize how intense, nuanced, and loving these relationships can be. Can you talk a bit about the relationship between cats and writers?

Clea Simon: Colette talked a great deal about the bonds between cats and writers. This speaks to us—those who work at our desks for long hours. The quiet and contemplative cat is the best companion. It doesn't ask for much. But at the same time you spend so much time with each other, you are free to interpret each others' behavior and motivations. This helps stimulate the imagination. I look at my cat and ask, “ What is she thinking?” “What matters to her now?” It is only one more step for me to write fiction.

Doug Holder: Your third non-fiction book was was “ The Feline Mystique.” In that you discussed dogs vs cats in the context of their relationship to their owners.

Clea Simon: There are differences that people have in their relations with their dogs versus their cats. A dog is something akin to having a child—something that is utterly dependent on you. Owning a cat is liking having a mysterious roommate from a foreign culture. You don't quite understand each other, but you learn from each other and try to figure out ways to get along.

Doug Holder: In “The Feline Mystique” you write about how certain men are threatened by cats because the represent female sexuality.

Clea Simon: Men of quality are not threatened by cats. In many cultures cats have come to symbolize female qualities. This ranges from sexuality—to the mysteries of life. Cats have night vision and can survive falls. So cats in many ways are viewed as death-defying. In certain cultures women were always the ones who cleaned up after the dead. Women are seen as controllers of the boundary between death and life. Cats are associated with this because of their physical qualities.

Doug Holder: I read that cats were sort of a litmus test for men when you were single.

Clea Simon: I think this is true for all pets. If you watch how a person treats an animal (when he or she thinks no one is looking)—you see what a person is really like. Someone who is all smiles to you but then kicks a dog—isn't a nice person. Someone who is petting a cat and talking to it is more often than not a nice person.

Doug Holder: I have worked at the psychiatric facility McLean Hospital since 1982, and I have a lot of experience with mentally ill populations. In your earliest book "Mad House...” you go into your experiences with your brother and sister who were afflicted with mental illness and the impact it had on your greater family. Did you ever check yourself to see if you had signs of mental illness?

Clea Simon: I did for many years. I am the younger sister, and both my brother and sister developed schizophrenia in their late teens, which is sort of classic. I thought it was a normal part of life. I felt pressure to make up for my siblings. I tried to be the perfect child or I acted out. The family can freeze in place. For many years I was afraid that I too was going to develop the illness. Because of extensive therapy I was able to get over this.

Doug Holder: There seems to be a lot of mental illness among writers and artists. Why do you think this is?

Clea Simon: It is also high among Ashkenazic Jews—what I am. Studies reveal that there is a link between Bipolar Disorder and creativity. On the upswing of the manic phase the neurons and synapses. are more active so that may increase creativity. When it is full blown mental illness it stifles creativity because people have so much trouble just coping. Everyone one would like a touch of something that would make them special—allowing their brains to think in different ways—but now one would want to go through the full blown illness.

Doug Holder: You are the author of four mystery series where a cat plays a central role.

Clea Simon: Yes in my different series they play different roles. In my first series—the cat—is simply a cat. The stories deal with real animal issues that are concerns for animal lovers. In another series it features a Harvard graduate student—she is studying Gothic Literature—and the ghost of her late, great cat that speaks to her and helps her solve mysteries. The starring cat was based on my late cat, Cyrus. In my latest book “ Ninth Life,” Blackie—the cat—is the narrator. These are all mystery/crime stories.

Doug Holder: Do you think writing about cats undermines your image of a serious writer?

Clea Simon: I certainly run into that prejudice. At one point someone I talked to said to me, “” I write real books.” My genre, called “Cozy Mysteries” are character-driven novels so they stand with best literature out there. My genre is denigrated because it is largely written by women, and read by women. But the genre is serious and character driven. Any great story has to involve a journey—and in the mystery genre involves the upsetting of the world and setting it right. I think that is literature of the highest order.

Doug Holder: Can you name some of your favorite mystery writers?

Clea Simon: Donna Leon. She is a keen observer of life—Denis Mina—a very dark writer—Laura Lippman, C. S. Harris and others.

Doug Holder: Your husband is Jon Garelick—a noted journalist ( The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, etc..) Are you two guys competitive at all?

Clea Simon: Jon is incredibly supportive. I think it is unfair because he will send me an article and I will give him a 300 page manuscript.

Doug Holder: You have written many book reviews for The Boston Globe and elsewhere. What are the components of a good book review?

Clea Simon: Well, don't judge a book by what you expected it to be. Judge it on the merits of what you feel the author is trying to do. I don't like to read just summaries of books. The critic should look at what the writer tried to do—and determine if he or she succeeded. The critic should offer provide some context for the book he or she reviews.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement by Diane Lockward









The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement
by Diane Lockward
Wind Publications, 2016
101 p.
ISBN 978-0-9969871-1-0

Reviewed by David P. Miller

I laughed out loud – with pleasure – at my first look at the cover of The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, Diane Lockward’s fourth collection of poems. For a start, the title itself put me in mind of religious allegory gone off the rails, like a surrealist Pilgrim’s Progress. And Brian Rumbolo’s watercolor illustration, of a rabbit with two intact carrots in its paws, seemed weirdly hilarious, given its baleful expression. It says something about the complexity of Ms. Lockward’s work, though, that when we read the poem in question, the laugh sticks in the throat. We’ll come to this later on.

Diane Lockward’s verbal dexterity is stunning, evidence of a ceaseless power of image-making. “Rampant imagination,” I said to myself many times, reading this volume. It’s hardly possible to select any so-called best examples, so here are some presented almost at random. In “Thinking Like a Buddhist,” the speaker’s sight of a dead grackle swarmed with flies – a mundane backyard tragedy – leads eventually to

[ …] Where do birds go to die?

Why isn’t the earth littered wrens, their wings folded,
eyes like glass beads? Why has no jogger ever been

pelted with deceased sparrows? Shouldn’t dead crows
be blocking the entrance to the Shop-Rite, blue jays lying

on highways? How do birds arrange their deaths in places
so obscure no one ever finds the bodies, like those corpses

dumped by mobsters into vacant lots and construction sites?

And the avian death speculations don’t end there. “How I Dumped You” might be read as the ultimate revenge/breakup poem, but goes so far beyond in relentlessness that you can barely pause to laugh:

I violated a local ordinance and hurled you like a bagful
of dog-doo onto someone else’s yard, tossed you like
watermelon rind after a picnic, like a brown banana peel,
like a used Kleenex, like a dead chipmunk. I scraped you
from the sole of my sneaker like a wad of chewed-up gum.

At least three poems explicate the nuances of colors. “The Color of Magic” elaborates red in at least two dozen dimensions (though taking a count is somewhat futile) and “Why yellow makes me sad” – the title a quotation from a Geico commercial – presents that color in a deluge of variations. It’s “A Polemic for Pink,” though, that may present the greatest surprise. After thirty-eight lines of praise for this often deprecated color, including –

I like a color that dares to be outrageous, but doesn’t
mind going soft and pink as a watered-down communist,
that eschews the ideological red of marinara
for the creamy compromise of pink sauce.

– we’re brought up at the close by this: “And Jackie Kennedy in the back of a black / Lincoln Continental, her pink Chanel suit like a drift / of blossoms blown across her husband’s body.” This sensibility, where ebullience lives cheek-by-jowl with terror, lies in wait throughout the entire volume, to this reader’s endless delight.

Lockward presents poems where the speaker’s identification with animal and plant life supersedes anthropomorphism. The voice is that of a kind of fusion not reducible to speaking in the Other’s voice. This can be difficult to untangle. In “Where Feathers Go When They Fall,” for example, the speaker imagines herself into a kind of bird consciousness but never declares “now I know how birds feel” or something to that effect. The latter variant on the persona poem is valued by many, but seems a shaky enterprise to me, at least so far. Instead, the poet’s own imagined transformation is given:

[ … ] Home is a tree
now, children hatched

and gone, none to peck
my heart. I do not worry
or grieve, only imagine them

in tall trees, too high for
cat’s paw, and go back
to fumbling for worms.

“Eminent Domain” features a speaker unambiguously human, but so melded with animal suffering that, beyond pity, she takes action almost without thought. A “large and terrifying” dog has killed a daughter’s pet rabbit, “a bundle of white fur, ruined, blood-spattered.”

Slowly she removed her belt, wrapped it around her fist,
buckle end in palm, as her father had done, and whipped
the dog, again and again, made it whimper and cry,
then untwirled the leather and struck with the buckle
until the dog ran, its fur streaked with blood.

You will notice the startling, and fleeting, reference to the father, from whom she evidently learned the practice of beating. You can be grateful, too, for the dog as a scapegoat, as the mother

[ … ] waited for hours on the porch, a mother at last,
waiting to explain to her child that sometimes what we love
goes away and doesn’t come back. She would not speak

of revenge, how it had seized her, how good it had felt,
knowing she could split a boulder with her fist.

A poem’s title has many potentials, including seduction and betrayal. It’s easy to imagine someone scanning the table of contents, spotting “I Want to Save the Trees,” and passing it by with tree-hugger assumptions. Or, maybe, turning directly to the poem with the same assumptions. Neither reader will be prepared for the poem’s eventual dissolving of boundaries between the speaker, the objects of her attention, and the fauna Others.

[ … ] On my knees, I beg the oak’s forgiveness.
If I’d known that the filthy knife wielder was rotten

as a diseased Dutch Elm, I would not have let him
shove in his blade and carve a heart into the bark,

his initials and mine forever locked inside,
my tree wounded, forever tattooed like a prisoner.

It is not simply that the speaker expresses sorrow for the damage done to a tree, but that her own woundedness is locked into the bark; the one-time lover is also condemned to his own tree life, “with his heart // rot and his ring of lies, his roots weak and shallow / as the willow’s uprooted in last winter’s storm.”

The poems already cited here indicate another thread running through this work, that of the permanent ambiguity of human relationships, particularly within the family, with partners and lovers. “Original Sin” puts the book’s title and cover in its (actually shocking) context. Lockward tells how her sister pulled off the tail of their pet rabbit, but that she took the blame rather than defend herself:

I wondered then and wonder still why I took

the blame for hurting the pet I’d loved. I only know
that once Karen said I’d done it and my father
looked at me as if I had, I was guilty,

as guilty as those unbaptized babies
in Purgatory.

The rabbit did not survive, leading us to this: “Her sweet body, already stiff, / lay among the uneaten carrots of atonement.” The mastery is that, 1) the metaphor remains outrageous, but 2) at the same time, the image burns, and there is no resolution.

In contrast, “Your Beard, I Love It Not” is a riotous denial of an ardent lover’s facial prowess, and another instance of the poet’s unstoppable invention:

Take a blade and hack it off—that birdless nest,
that crumb catcher, chinful of tumbleweed, duck
blind, lice hotel, that bugaboo of children, that pile
of leaves I dare not dive into.

Although this poem drives toward one specific possibility — “Let me be / your Delilah, lost in the wild field of your face” — sustained relationships cannot really be surmised, only imaged. The title of “The Seasons of a Long Marriage” suggests one of those “how did we get here, hubby” paeans, but of course it is no such thing. Images of late autumn bend toward the twinning of decay and persistence. The speaker, attempting to clean glass doors shone through by the sun, finds

[ … ] though I’ve squeegeed them
twice in two days, smudges
show on the other side.
Some spots just can’t be removed.
They’re here forever. Like scars.

The autumn and the marriage, not otherwise noted, come together only in a near-glancing conclusion: “Soon the green ground will be covered / with snow. The days turn cold. / My husband’s hair is gray.”

Two final poems are linked in a kind of inverse relationship. “Signs” is written in spacious couplets: the speaker tentatively, perhaps gratefully takes the observations of an outdoors walk and finds in them tokens on a path out of darkness:

[ …] To stand beside the playground
to gaze at the giant concrete turtle, without hating

the young mothers whose children climb across
its capacious back. [ … ]

[ … ] the turtle is now
your emblem, and if you’re lucky, which you are,

those you have shut out, those you have hurt
with the hard shell of your silence will somehow

still love you and you will move toward them,
carrying the ancient notched shell, your back

uncrushed by its weight, the mystery
of its hieroglyphics unfolded and laid at their feet.

The collection’s emblem reappears: “a soft // rabbit still lives inside you and after its long sleep / rubs its pink eyes”. But this is not the volume’s conclusion. The final poem, “And Life Goes On As It Has Always Gone On,” presents endless one-damn-thing-after-another contingencies in one relentless verse paragraph. Here again we have Diane Lockward’s breathtaking verbal fecundity:

Bees built nests under the eaves of your house.
They hunt you down and stab you many times
with their tiny switchblades—even your lips
while you’re eating a ham sandwich.
Blinded by an armful of fresh towels, you fall
down the stairs while rushing to answer the phone.
Your vertebrae shattered, that call from your lover
forever unanswered, sex forever impossible.

“Are you looking for compensation? / A rabbit nibbling the grass—does that console?” she asks later on, and yes we are looking, and no, we don’t know if the rabbit will help. What saves this from ordinary bleakness is the evident reveling in the world as it is, the sustained curiosity that makes such detail possible. “Life goes on as it has always gone on,” yes. And also yes, there are “Signs” infused in every moment. Both are inevitable, and there is not really a choice between them.

The book includes a couple of production errors. Two poems are missing from the table of contents: “In Defense of the Cashew” (page 31) and “August 11: Morning Prelude” (page 55). Also, the tercet structure of “Losing Daylight” is not well served by the break between pages 57 and 58 (compare “Where Feathers Go When They Fall”). I hope that this remarkable collection sees additional printings, or another edition, so that these may be remedied and the presentation of Diane Lockward’s astonishing work becomes immaculate.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Steve Glines: Winner of the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award

Steve Glines  ( Photo courtesy of Joe Cohen)

                                                         



Steve Glines: Winner of the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award

By Doug Holder

The Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award was started back in 2003 as part of the Somerville News Writers Festival that Timothy Gager and I founded ( It ended in 2010). Since the award's inception we have awarded such literary figures as Robert Pinsky, Afaa Michael Weaver, Louisa Solano, Jack Powers, Robert K. Johnson, Sam Cornish, Gloria Mindock and Harris Gardner for their writing, but more importantly for their lifetime of contributions to the literary community.

Steve Glines-- a founding member of Somerville's Bagel Bards, publisher, editor and designer—fits perfectly in this template. Steve has designed countless magazines, and books for the Ibbetson Street Press, the Bagel Bards, and the Wilderness House Press--often donating his time for free—though he now gets a small stipend twice a year because of the Ibbetson Street's affiliation with Endicott College. He has been instrumental in publishing books for Ibbetson Street, the Endicott College Young Poet Series, and has birthed many books for the fledgling and established author. In the 70s Steve had a print shop in Harvard Square, he worked for Sail magazine for a while, and later in the high tech industry-- both writing columns and consulting, and wrote a highly touted text on Unix-- an ancient computer operating system.. He also founded the Wilderness House Literary retreat in Littleton, Mass, which during its short life hosted poets and writer such as: Robert Creeley, Lois Ames, Afaa Michael Weaver, Kathleen Spivack , Hallie Ephron and others.

Steve's participation in the poetry scene dates back to his friendship with Gordon Carnie (the original owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square) that has since passed hands from Louisa Solano to Ifeanyi Menkiti. Steve has been a regular at Stone Soup Poets, and befriended the founder the late Jack Powers for many years.

For myself...I couldn't have done all that I do without the steady hand of Steve Glines. His encouragement, his skills as a writer and a graphic designer, his friendship, have given me the confidence to keep on keeping on. And I think many people in our community of small press writers and poets can say the same thing.

****Glines will be presented with the award July 6, 2016 at 7PM at the Ibbetson Street Press Issue 39 reading at the Somerville Public Library ( Central Branch).

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Poem: A Thought on Father's Day: Lawrence J. Holder 1917 to 2003

Lawrence Holder (Left) Doug Holder ( Right)


I read this poem at my father's funeral on April 23, 2003. Lawrence J. Holder was 86, and one
 helluva guy.



And yes
it has come to the time
when I see my father's face
in the mirror,
my squint is his
the nascent crow's feet
stretching into laugh lines
my angry brow
solicits the always surprising question
"What's wrong?"
"Why--nothing."
Didn't I always ask him the same question?
Do I find myself
praying over the New York Times
like a scholar over a sacred text?
A drink to my side
my legs crossed right to left
just like him ?
Was that him the other day
that reflection in the store window
slightly hunched
arms stiff
swinging robotically
clothed in Seersucker?
I looked back
but he was gone.
Was I chasing a hallucination?
Like him
I am drawn to the sea
to the sound of breaking waves,
on the shore-
to the eternal ebb and flow
to the primal smell of death and life
to the gulls sitting shiva
on the rocks
to the purple death
of the sun each evening
its bright rebirth
from the portals of the sea's horizon.
Who is this man I see?
It is my father
and it is me.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Howie Faerstein

Howie Faerstein






Howie Faerstein’s full-length book of poetry, Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn, a selection of the Silver Concho Poetry Series, was published in 2013 by Press 53. His work can be found in numerous journals, including Great River Review, Nimrod, CutThroat, Upstreet, The Comstock Review, Off the Coast, Cape Cod Review, Mudfish, and on-line in Gris-Gris, Connotation Press et al. He lives in Florence, Massachusetts and teaches American Literature at Westfield State University.






At the Locust Street Dump

Someone from town
grows African Violets
from a mother leaf,

pots up the seedlings
when they measure a kinglet’s heart,
brings them to the transfer station

and places them
on the freebie stand
by the compactor.

I’ve taken a half dozen over the years,
the two in my kitchen bloom
everlasting,

purple, bruised-white, candescent.
Others I’ve given to neighbors,
my love.

Someone from town
raises African Violets
for strangers,

coaxes them from a mother leaf,
puts up plantlets at three months.
But I fear the person took sick,

maybe died.
All that’s on the table this summer:
broken toasters, battered toys.





Friday, June 17, 2016

Unspeakable Things ( Knopf 2016) By Kathleen Spivack









Unspeakable Things ( Knopf 2016) By Kathleen Spivack

Review by Doug Holder

If you like a wild ride—with ample doses of magic realism, eroticism, perversion and poetry—then, perhaps the novel “ Unspeakable Things” by Kathleen Spivack is just the elixir for your staid existence. Spivack is a noted poet, with a slew of poetry collections under her authorial belt, and a few years back she published a much-lauded memoir of her experiences with Robert Lowell—titled, “Robert Lowell and his Circle.”

In this novel Spivack's central character --known affectionately as the “Rat” is both a creature and a human. She is a miniature hunch back with a beautiful face, hypnotizing eyes, and a painful and fascinating past. And despite having her curves in the wrong places, she has been ravished in sulfuric splendor by the likes of a well-endowed Rasputin, and an old Austrian doctor who views Hitler as a great man and an object for sexual release.

This all takes place in the early 1940s in New York during World War ll. It centers around a group of world-weary Austrian refugees. These immigrants struggle with the open and “can do” sensibility of the new world of America, as opposed to their homeland—one of refinement, high culture, and the highbrow—but also dark and festering-- a place with history and deep-seated racism, etc...

Spivack focuses one family—the patriarch being Herbert-- a well-respected bureaucrat in Austria—with connections. Herbert tries to keep his family in one piece and helps the Tolstoi String Quartet, who have lost their key fingers that are instrumental to play their instruments, as a result of the nefarious rise of Nazism. The fingers are in the hands ( pardon the pun) of a warped Austrian doctor named Felix. The way they are secured by the Rat—well, Spivack took my breath away.

The question of the New World vs the Old World is always a subtext throughout this novel. Spivack writes,

“ Home. A different concept in the New World. How to find oneself at home again? Far away, the blanketed cities of Europe huddled, the rust of blood on their stones. All that dark tragic history, that sense of cynicism and fatalism, led to a point of view that would be known in the more dignified sense as “ European Philosophy.” All founded on certainty, fear and the inability to prevent death. Europe reeked of death. As it did of philosophy about death.”(265).

Unspeakable Things' is a book of poetic flourishes, constant surprises, wonderful characterization-- highly recommended.

Amaranth by Robert Carr





Amaranth
by Robert Carr
published by Indolent Books

Review by Alice Weiss

These poems are rhythmic , unabashedly erotic, in the broader sense of Eros, love of body, its joys and breakdowns, unabashedly homoerotic. The populations of Robert Carr’s sensibility cluster in dramatic stretches. They include the “Clay” of his childhood, a molester, an abandonment, and the earth from which he blooms, muscular and wounded. Those who hurt and those who nurture: the difference is almost invisible. Love in “Porch in a Storm” is
blood-lipped, standing flame,
fast wood with tearing eyes

we burn in a forest of distant
beating hands. Collapsed
in our sorries, on the floor

beneath his weight, I understand
why he cries and licks
my familiar salt.

In “Milk Bath,” where the speaker is no longer on “location” when a former lover dies, finds “Behind the desk drawer pull . . . our rings. . . .
Relieved I’m not there to see your body
I run a scalding water in the tub.

The velvet ring box is open on the sink,
bath salts turn a steam to milk.

Once again, a slippery knuckle refuses
your band as I lower myself into a burn.
The vivid sensual imagery in these lines, coupled with the grinding honesty of the speaker and the way the physical images carry the emotional weight is characteristic as is the accurate tradeoff of relief and scalding.
The organizing metaphor, starkly intellectual amidst all the sensuality, is the Amaranth, the flower of the title. The book isdivided into three sections, each named for a particular species of Amaranth: Prince’s Feather, Goosefoot, Wormseed. The three species all contain healing, nutritious, and poisonous properties. The term Amaranth itself comes from a Greek word meaning unfading, or undying. and indeed memories of boyhood and family appear here, sometimes poisonous (as in Clay”) and sometimes healing. Even funny, unfadingly funny, as in “Before you,” which begins, “there was a youth/he jerked off. . .” and goes on in a long phallic shape, but charmingly.
Throughout the poems there are moments that stop you with their wit;
in Hawk, a hawk, “cocky/ as a bar stool drunk/ with a bowie,” a “Valentine,”
White tulips—along one binding petal
We cross a red line

a small streak of mosquito
on our white wall[,]

or in “Two,”

We rarely talk, except through blue jeaned
knees beneath a diner counter.

This collection is above all about a life, family, lovers, disease and healing
but it is a life lived with hands deep in the dough with which we make feeling and muscles, mourn and cure ourselves of mourning, if not of loss. It is a book which does what poetry, I think, is destined to do, heal with the twists and plays of language, that which is otherwise appears to be incurable.