Saturday, February 11, 2006

Review by Carolyn Gregory

Doug Holder’s Wrestling With My Father, Yellow Pepper Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2005

In the Boston small press scene, Doug Holder is a major mover and shaker. Founder of the Ibbetson Street Press located in Somerville, Massachusetts, Doug and a rotating group of editors have published the Ibbetson Street journal twice a year for a number of years. Additionally, Doug has organized a number of local poetry venues in Newton, Somerville and Cambridge. He is on the editorial board of the Wilderness Literary Review, edits the poetry page of the Somerville News, and is the Boston editor of the national poetry journal, Poesy. His efforts have helped expand the Boston poetry scene, both locally and nationally, and he has managed to accomplish all of this at the same time as he has worked for many years full-time at a psychiatric hospital.

Doug Holder’s new collection, Wrestling With My Father, is a series of twenty five poems dedicated to the memory of his father, Lawrence J. Holder. The collection holds together cohesively as a unit through its consistent narrative point of view and emotional location. Holder anchors these poems in the place of his childhood, growing up in New York City and Jewish, poignantly suggesting the close and sometimes difficult bond between his father and himself. All the poems consequently are personal and sustained through a rich brocade of landscape. He writes about weekends spent as a family, driving along a bridge to the Bronx or watching matriarchs kvetching amongst themselves in Yiddish:

“Rows/of ancient Jewish mothers/like ancient crustaceans/packed on lawn chairs/claws out/pinch at the peach fuzz/of my flushed cheeks.” (Wallace Avenue, Bronx, 1965)

Stylistically, these poems use short line breaks and are vivid with physical details, helping the reader quickly enter the poet’s emotional territory. It is easy here to visualize the poet’s family with their blue eyes, strong opinions, and hard work ethic, the enjoyment of pleasures like shared knishes:

“And my brother and I/broke through the brittle yellow casing/of a meat knish/as if we were/prospecting gold diggers.” (At Benson’s Deli With Dad)

There is a range of emotions in this collection, varying from the elegiac and meditative (Morning Gulls at Day Break) to the tongue in cheek and somewhat sarcastic tone of Father Knows Best, Mother Does the Rest. Holder successfully invokes physical objects to sharpen his focus, viewing his father’s fedora, coat of arms, navy blazer, wing-tipped shoes. Some of the best writing in this volume occurs when the poet sees the reflection of his father in himself as a middle aged man:

“Do I find myself/praying over/The New York Times/like a scholar/over a sacred text?”
(A Thought On Father’s Day)

As a writer of the same generation as Doug Holder, I admire his ability to re-create growing up in the 1950’s and in New York City. My father, too, was a native New Yorker born in Brooklyn though of an earlier vintage than Doug’s dad, nonetheless making it easy for me as a critical reader to enter poems tracing his father’s workday in Manhattan and his emotional response to World War II and in connecting with the stolid paternal qualities Holder suggests so well in lines like the following (from the poem, Ladies and Gentlemen, Take My Advice, Pull Down Your Pants and Slide on the Ice):

“And even now/I feel the lines on his face –/I hold his hand/and we begin to trace.”

This is a strong collection written by a seasoned writer, very much deserving attention. It comes from a keenly observed world and contains emotional authenticity. I highly recommend it to all readers.

--Carolyn Gregory

Carolyn Gregory lives in Boston and has been working in hospital research for twenty years. her poems and classical music and photography reviews have appeared in the following: American Poetry Review, Seattle Review, Bellowing Ark, Slant, South Florida Poetry Review, Ibbetson Street. she has published two chapbooks and was featured in an award winning anthology (For Lovers and Other Losses). her second book, Open Letters, will be published in 2005. her hobbies include hiking, swimming, travel and collecting antique pins

No comments:

Post a Comment