Saturday, September 17, 2005



Poems out of the ordinary
By Philip E. Burnham, Jr.
63 pages
Ibbetson Street Press

One of my mentor poets told me as a precautionary note, that writing a poem is a thankless task. He wasn’t bitter about creating beauty, just realistic about how much the world might care. In Philip Burnham's book, "Housekeeping" –"Poems of the Ordinary" we find a poet who is exquisitely thankful for the world and the poetry of it.
For an elegiac book, it is full of warmth and cheer. For a cheerful book, it is remarkably profound about loss, but never tragic. And for a book about the ordinary, Burnham exerts himself to write in extra--ordinary ways.
Thought I tend to like the jagged and surreal, I was easily taken up by the consistently elegant tone of Burnham’s poems. His rhyme schemes and imagery, if sometimes conventional, never fail to inspire. In "How Much Love is There in Laundry?" his last stanza reads:
"With affectionate, gentle knowing hands
Turning each article a careful smooth,
Arranged, drawered away in bureau stands
For naked morning to disclose as love."
There is a lovely ghost in this collection, Burnham’s lost wife, and much of his tribute to the ordinary and to the ethereal is channeled by her memory:
"But you songs for children and for love were
never recorded to be replayed when
You were out of touch, time; their echoes bear
On my hearing as ocean waves wear through
The icy gates of great December’s end
And winter’s opening, songs whisper in
My heart’s good ear where I may often spend
Time’s purse to recall you as I listen."
--Voices of the Dead
We hear inflections of Shakespeare in a poem like this and are captivated.
Perhaps my favorite poem is called, "Birthday Greetings III" which takes its melody from a Mexican Christmas Carol, "Fire in the snow and snow in the fire."
Where I will light small celebratory fire
Candles for you, each one a measure of desire
To hold you, to have kept you still closer to me
So I might not know you within the contraries
You are, fire in the snow, snow in the fire,
You melt, you cool my heart as each season requires
My presence here before some final letting go
Of earth, snow in the fire, fire in the snow."
In his world, there are divine powers in nature and an underlying sense of God. Being a true Boston poet, and on a less serious note, Burnham challenges himself to write about Baseball and God. It reminds me that wonderful Calvinist preacher who described how the world was made with bowling alleys and well, sundry things exalted and mundane I can’t now recall:
"And on the ninth day, God
in his infinite playfulness
Grass green grass, sky blue sky,
Separated the infield from the outfield,
Formed a skin of clay,
Assigned bases of safety
On cardinal points of the compass
Circling the mountain of deliverance,
Fashioned a wandering moon
From a horse, string and a gum tree,
Tempered weapons of ash,
Made gloves from the golden skin of sacrificial bulls,
Set stars alight in the Milky Way,
Divided the descendents of Cain and Abel into contenders,
Declared time out, time in stepped back,
And thundered over all of creation:
"Play Ball"
Yes, indeed. This is a masterful collection for which we should be very thankful.

Lo Galluccio Lo Galluccio is the poetry editor of the Cambridge Alewife. Her work has appeared in Ibbetson
Street, Lungfull, The Somerville News and many others.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Harris Gardner (Tapestry of Voices) and Ellen Steinbaum ( Boston Globe Columnist) have organized a reading in support of Katrina Relief. It will be Oct 18 at the Old South Church in Copley Square, across from the Boston Public Library. 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM. There will be quite an impressive lineup of readers:

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino
Mel King
Alex Beam ( Boston Globe Columnist)
Frannie Lindsay ( May Swenson Award Winner)
Dianna Der-Hovanessian ( President of New England Poetry Club)
Elizabeth Lund ( Christina Science Monitor Columnist)
Doug Holder ( The Somerville News/Ibbetson Street Press)
Brother Blue
Leslie Epstein ( Director of Creative Writing-Boston University)
Charles Coe( Mass. Cultural Council Award Winner)
Don Share ( Curator Lamont Poetry Room -Harvard)
Steve Cramer ( Director of MFA program Lesley University)
Fred Marchant ( Director of Creative Writing-Suffolk University

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Watermark by Jacquelyn Pope (Marsh Hawk Press PO BOX 206 East Rockaway, NY 11518 2005) $13. Jacquelyn Pope's new collection of poetry "Watermark" ( Marsh Hawk Press) is an undeniably melancholy, haunting, and accomplished collection of poetry. Pope's use of language is fine-tuned, clear, clipped, concise and most of all evocative. I was most impressed with the poems that dealt with human relationships. Her imagery beautifully defines estrangement, and the ultimately unknowable entity the "other." In "Mrs. Robinson," ( I'm assuming modeled after that disaffected, booze-swilling cipher of "The Graduate" fame), Pope paints a portrait of an empty woman with chilling precision: " He's fixed her off the page, where she'sabandoned: mid-century,semi-continential. Cold sunlightstabs the medicated air.Too bored to sitand suck the mentholated tipof her malaise, she wondersat the nerve that led him on" (41) In " By Light," Pope skillfully traces a woman's realization that even in what we feel are the most intimate relationships; we are ultimately strangers to one another. It is impressive how Pope uses the most banal of things such as: lamplight, and shadows on a wall to bring the poem home: " ...I sat/ in my own pool of light,/ still wholly/ untranslated into rooms that had/ learned you long ago. Our shadows/ hovered on their walls, dark forms/ drawn across the future./ Time flickered,/ fading from the room the night/ I saw our boundaries were drawn..." (39) When I read the work of some contemporary poets, often I find that the poems are obscure, inaccessible, and I simply can't relate to them. And just as often when I read small press poets whose work is accessible, I found that the poems are too facile and lack the heightened language a poem requires. Pope has written a collection that most of us non-academic poets can understand, relate to, and go back to in years to come. Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Mass. 2004/ Sept. 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

"The Art of Writing Poetry." I will be running this workshop starting Oct 18 2005 for six Tuesdays. $105 for single $105 for couple. Call Newton Community Education. 617-559-6999 to register.

Description: Poets want two things: to write compelling poetry, and too see it in print. In this participatory workshop we will develop poetry through creative brainstorming. Feedback will focus on the effective use of language, imagery, and metaphor in the construction of a poem. The instructor will provide leads for publishing and contacts at small presses. Many former students have published their poems for the first time in the course of the workshop. Please bring three poems to each class. Make 5 copies of each. You will have the chance to read your work aloud, and get feedback from other class members.
*** Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, Mass. He is the Arts/Editor for The Somerville News. His own poetry and articles have appeared in: Buckle, The Boston Globe, The Harvard Mosaic, Arts Around Boston, Poetry Motel and many others. His interviews with Contemporary poets are archived at the Harvard University poetry room at the Lamont Library. He curates the poetry series at the Newton Free Library, and is on the faculty board of "The Wilderness House Literary Retreat."Doug Holder

McLean recognized as literary landmark * This article has appeared in the McLean Hospital Newsletter

McLean has often been the subject of works of art, including novels, films, poems and song lyrics. Earlier this year, the Academy of American Poets recognized McLean for its contribution to literature, naming it a national literary landmark. The hospital is one of 31 landmarks to be included on the Academy’s list. Other landmarks include poets' birthplaces, poetry museums and libraries, places of poetic inspiration and sites that commemorate poetry.

"We tried to identify places where people can literally walk in a poet's footsteps," said the academy's executive director Tree Swenson. "We received hundreds of poetry landmark nominations, and we heard from people in all fifty states. We are excited to recognize points on our country's physical landscape, from Maine to Georgia to Montana, which are important to the cultural landscape."

McLean was chosen for the inspiration it gave to poets Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton, all of whom had ties to the hospital.
Plath’s The Bell Jar and Lowell’s Walking in the Blue are two works most notably inspired by their time at McLean.

"…This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean’s;
the hooded night lights bring out ‘Bobbie,’
Porcellian ’29,
a replica of Louis XVI…"
~from Lowell’s Waking in the Blue

"The use of poetry and writing can be beneficial for those battling a mental illness," said published poet Douglas Holder, a mental health counselor at McLean. "What you bring to the paper can clarify things." He added that poetry allows a person to see behind the surface and to explore humanity instead of the label of "psychiatric patient."

"In spite of mental illness, creative work can be done," said Holder. "McLean is an inspirational place for many. I’m not surprised it has been named a literary landmark."
The 31 literary landmarks are part of a larger project by the Academy of American Poets called the National Poetry Almanac. It can be viewed at
Doug Holder