Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reviewer Charles P. Ries

Wrestling With My Father By: Doug Holder 25 Poems / 42 Pages / $6Yellow Pepper Press P.O. Box 27010
Pittsburg, PA 15235
ISBN: 0-9762450-1-9 Review By: Charles P. Ries

Not surprisingly the words of a seasoned poet are a mirror of his or her nature. The structure of lines, the choice and placement of words, the use of or lack of punctuation, their application of metaphor, simile and alliteration, and of course the themes of their writing are all deliberate choices intended to lead the reader, not only to an experience of the poem, but of the writer as well. In this sense, a book of poetry is a doorway to a writer’s soul.

In Wrestling With My Father, Doug Holder allows each of us to not only meet his late father, Lawrence J. Holder (to whom the book is dedicated), but to meet the author as well. Such as in this excerpt from Holder’s poem, “A Thought On Father’s Day”: “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 / mounted on the weathered 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.”

Holder’s poems are straight-forward and without adornment. I asked him about his economy of word, “Well ...I am not about adornment, I believe in an economy of words. Too many adjectives, flowery and arcane words take away from a poem's potency. I like to tell it straight, with no chaser.” Indeed, this collection, with its lean verse has the immediacy I find in many A.D.Winans and Don Winter poems. I wondered if Holder had done extensive rewriting as these poems felt so organic. Holder told me, “For the most part no. Most of the poems have been revised to some extent, but not extensively.”

Even Holder’s replies to my questions were to the point and without baggage. Here is another example of his ability to just say it. This is titled, “To Make Time Stand Still”: “Such a desperate fetishism -- / The racks that hold / a beaten band of Fedoras. / The wing-tipped shoes / weighted, in their dark, / appointed corner -- / A dust-ridden chorus line / tapping into a parade / that has long passed. / And what light dares to intrude / meanders to a predestined / dead end. // And we rush out / to be under the sun, / and clearly see the / leather of our skin, / we breathe / deeply and begin.”

I asked Holder over what period of time he had written this collection and he told me, “This collection was brought together after my dad died two years ago. The poems were written over twenty years, and for the most part when he was alive. I had the idea for the collection after his death.”

Holder has also published four other chapbooks of poetry, he is widely published in the small press and his work has appeared in several anthologies. In the immediate future his work will be included in a major anthology of avant-garde poets, "Inside the Outside"
(Presa Press) 2006. He is also the co-founder of Ibbetson Street Press. I asked him about Ibbetson Street Press and what sort of writers appeal to him, “I founded it with Dianne Robitallle (my wife) and Richard Wilhelm in 1998. I like writers like A.D. Winans, Hugh Fox, Donald Hall. Basically my approach to poets and poetry is that if I read it, and as Auden said, it makes me cut myself while I am shaving, then I am sold.”

I have had the privilege of interviewing and reviewing many excellent small press poets. I find reviewing a specific publication such as Wrestling With My Father while interviewing the writer gives me a three dimensional sense of that writer and his work. I smiled when I got such economic replies to my questions, and I smiled again when I asked Holder, what sort of poet he thought he was. His reply was true to form, “A good one I hope.”

In Wrestling With My Father Holder uses language and technique to bring the reader face to face with a theme that is ancient, glorious, and troubled. We experience with him the emotional roller coaster of familial love with words that hide nothing. His book is an excellent demonstration of how beautiful form and function can be when perfectly matched.

Note: If you would like to learn more about Doug Holder and his work, please check out the following web locations:
____________________________________________Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and twenty print and electronic publications. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing and most recently he read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry the most recent entitled, The Last Time. He was recently appointed to the Poet Laureate Commission for the State of Wisconsin and he is the poetry editor for Word Riot ( He is also on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: and you may write him at

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tam Lin Neville: Changing Lives Through Literature.

Tam Lin Neville is a Somerville, Mass.poet, who like many Somerville poets, lives a stone’s throw away from me. Born in NYC, she got her B.A. from Temple University and an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College. She spent 1985 in Beijing, China where she taught Conversation, studied Chinese, and wrote poetry. Her poems have been published in “Mademoiselle,” “APR,” “Ironwood,” “The Massachusetts Review,”, and other publications of note. She has two poetry collections: “Dreaming in Chinese,” and “Journey Cake,” and has taught creative writing at Butler University, Emerson College in Boston, as well as other institutions. Neville currently works for a project that helps clients on parole: “Changing Lives Through Literature.” I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Your work for a program titled: “Changing Lives through Literature.” Can you tell us a bit about the program and the unique population you deal with?

Tam Lin Neville: It was started in 1991 by a judge and a college professor. They were friends, and the judge was lamenting ‘turnstile’ justice, where you see the same people coming through the court system over and over again. They thought there must be a way to reduce the recidivism rate. They thought if they threw literature at these repeaters it just might change them. It might give them a chance to see other peoples’ lives and in doing that they could reflect on their own life. The people who are in the program are on probation. Some have been in jail and some have not.

I teach a women’s’ class in Dorchester. These programs are run through the courts. You need to get a judge who is sympathetic. Not all judges are sympathetic; some people call the program “Books for Crooks.” They feel these people shouldn’t have any perks like this. With my classes, I wouldn’t have known that my students have done anything wrong. They didn’t strike me as particularly dangerous or tough.

It’s a voluntary class. They are asked by their probation officers if they want to participate. By taking the course and completing it they get six months off their probationary period. When they first come in they say they are there to knock six months from their probation, but at the end of the class they wind up saying what a wonderful experience it was. I like teaching because you don’t have to grade. We do a lot of reading, writing, and we talk.

DH: You have taught on the college level. How does this differ?

TLN: I prefer this. There are fewer strictures, and you don’t have to give grades. It is very surprising. You get very bright students and you don’t know what they are going to say. You don’t know how they are going to respond to the literature. In the college classroom they are mostly middle class white kids. I guess I am intrigued by people who come from walks of life different from my own. They are not trained in literature, or school. Often it is a purer or more pristine response.
DH: In a brochure you gave me about the program it says you have “carefully selected” works of literature that you use as teaching fodder. Can you explain how you select appropriate material?

TLN: It’s up to the instructor to pick what they want to teach. I try to teach good literature. For instance I teach “The House on Mango Street,” and other works by folks like Zora Neale Hurston. I am always looking for good things to teach.

DH: Norman Mailer sponsored the prison writer Jack Henry Abbot with disastrous consequences. Do you find working with this population exciting? Do you find prison literature challenging?

TLN: I haven’t read that much prison literature. People who are in prison who have that frame of mind are a captive audience. They have libraries available to them and time on their hands. Someone like Etheridge Knight was a great influence on me. A lot of these prison writers come out with good stuff. They have time to focus.

DH: Perhaps we should lock up all writers?

TLN: (Laughs.) Good idea.

DH: You penned a couple of poetry collections about your time in China. Somerville poet Afaa Michael Weaver told me that he is attracted to Chinese poetry because of its humble sensibility. How about you?

TLN: That’s fair to say. It’s hard to articulate the quality. I found it in Japan as well.

DH: In a poem you wrote “Appetites,” you write of an imagined experience in Haiti where you see kids eating pies made of mud, and other unsavory ingredients, for lack of anything else. Later in the poem, back in the states, you express disgust with yourself and to a degree with our society. Explain.

TLN: I am sure you have heard a lot about the impoverished people who are forced to eat dirt, if they are really hungry. I heard this on the radio about people eating mud pies. The gap between my life and there is so huge. We really live in a decadent society in comparison.

Doug Holder