Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Orleans Suite by Peg Lauber
Marsh River Editions Chapbook
48 pages, 2006 $10.
Review by Lo Galluccio

Over the course of five or so years, writer Peg Lauber – practically a Wisconsin native, though born in Michigan – gives us her flow-chart of journeys north and south: her main destination., the misgiving and magical city of New Orleans. Like Demeter to her daughter’s Persephone, Peg is pulled into the seasonal work of a mad bird lover, a woman who raises non-migratory sandhill cranes. We see Meaghan with a wild sweet smile in a photo early on in this collection, holding a large feathered animal, who seems settled in her arms but somehow unwieldy and otherworldy. It is an appropriate image to introduce the book’s heart and soul. For in Meaghen --Peg’s own offspring-- lies something beyond the normal, something a little saintly, a little out of control.

“Finally turning east we see
New Orleans on the horizon
Where our daughter waits
To help us unload, get ready
For the Christmas party
At the place where she raises cranes,
Where I’ll wear my Christmas crane shirt.”
On Our Way: December 2001

Perhaps it is transference, but Peg –while her daughter is enraptured by her cranes – scans the landscape to behold many birds, the birds of winter and summer, the birds “of the intercoastal waterway.” And the birds are as variegated in temperment and look as they can be; sacred, scary, mystical creatures of flight. Some are trapped for their own good and fed cuts of fish-meat. Some are “Muscovy ducks gone wild/living on the golf course, steam rising from water traps early….p.2

There are many good poems in the New Orleans Suite, and I detect in Peg and her work, a love and trust for progressions, for sequences, for the simple plot of how we get from here to there. While the birds do dominate much of the book’s story, it is also a book about the city of New Orleans itself. In “The First Parade: Mardi Gras, January 2002”
she takes us from the start of the parade with its police and shriners, though the floats of “gigantic glitter” whose plastic medallions litter the streets in purple, red, gold and green, to the underside of the event; its aftermath:

“At the end march more police – policing convicts dressed in yellow, who scoop piles of garbage into trucks. “Strange parade…” the author comments. And, in the end, as with her Christmas crane shirt, and like the scavenger birds with less discriminating taste, she reaches into the dirt to find, “a plush toy, a red Tabasco bottle with arms: my treasure to remember in the northern summer.” P 5

Unlike Meaghan’s cranes, Peg is herself a migratory creature. In “Feeding Storks” she vividly describes the kind of butchery necessary to debone fish and cut the symbol of Christ, fish, for the birds. She writes”

“It’s a mean thing, taking apart large fish
who bleed as I do, but gleam as I don’t:
silver beauty, slippery bracelets, gigantic rings
but here just daily gifts for those large
ungainly, yet beautiful birds.” P 6

There are also more pedestrian poems concerning the humans around and how they come to bloody ends in the badlands of this City…

“Stray bullets are common in New Orleans, that other country
where almost every day
someone’s child gets in the way
of a bullet intended for someone else,
while someone’s child, in a drive by
shooting, celebrates the phallic power
in his hand, the money in his pocket,
the drugs in his bloodstream –
those, the only things that matter.”
“Coda: Other People’s Guns” p 13

And so, like the weather north to south, we are introduced to the polarity between the sacrifices made for the birds and the surrounding human territorial wars for money and drugs in New Orleans. Side by side these universes co-exist.

There are wonderous snapshots of different birds, as in “Night Bird” whose imagery is almost classical, pitched to opera: “The filthy night is laced with streaks of dawn/ like cream in tea/as the caged night bird stops shrieking./…..She works quietly and with a hard joy, tearing strips from the meat, suddenly bursting into shrieks that carry to the still shore, to the horizon, persisting, persisting, persisting…”

New Orleans is a town rife with holiday parades, history and murder. And Peg describes in her acute and elegant poems these spectacles close up; one can smell the muck, the oil, the blood, the incense. But it is also a City surrounded by these miraculous birds who are fed, and caged, and fretted over. This is the jewel-like secret of Peg’s journey as a writer and mother, shared with us in “New Orleans Suite.” We are treated to visions and flights of many degrees.


Lo Galluccio
Ibbetson St. Press

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Jennifer Matthews--“Sunroom Sessions” Release and @ The Tir na nOg with her Talent September 10th
By Chiemi

Yes --after tours of England, Southern California, Alaska and other accolades and exciting appearances, the beloved Jennifer Matthews is coming September 10th to a venue near you! She is honoring her Somerville fans as part of the News Poetry and Music Series. Indeed, she is well-known and accomplished in both of those arts.
Since Matthews moved to Boston in 1998, her solo career has brought her icon status. She is a rocker with a Suzanne Vega-like toned down side. Also, her lyrics, whether published in books or albums, ring with an unrelenting realness.
This past June, Matthews released “The Sunroom Sessions” (Thundamoon Records 2006), her self-produced solo follow-up to last year’s “The Wheel.” It was recorded by Jerry Bates at Sunroom Studio in Norton, Mass., with Matthews on vocals, piano, baritone guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin. Part of Matthew’s style is defined by her signature baritone electric guitar, with which she creates her own special funk and jazz. She also tunes in on her blue Martin.
“[J]ove” (no.1), begins the “Session” with virtual discordance artfully cast by Matthews as a chopping river of guitar over which her serene voice floats like a still sky. The last lines, “lost under the stars again” aptly describe where I am left at the close of this song. The layers of Matthews’s soft singing with Bates’s backing vocals and the underlying light thrumming instrumentation in “1000 miles” (no.2), enfold the listener in a marvelous, textured tapestry comprised of few choice strains of subtly colored feathers laid over one another. “[W]rote u a song” (no. 3) has a self-described catchy rhythm “to increase your heartbeat” coupled with folksy lyrics, while “gospel of love” (no. 4) and “revelation” (no. 7) soothe. “[F]loating” (no. 5) is ethereal and spooky, with a Middle Eastern flair, as Matthews describes longing, waiting and dreaming. The intricate slurs, crafted chords, grace notes and intense cries at the apex of “[D]ogs at the door” (no. 6) demonstrate Matthews’s vocal diversity and musical ingenuity. “[C]onfess” (no. 8), “them bones” (no. 9), “little sister” (no. 10), “[L]emon peels & tangerines” (no. 11) and “sweet as rain” (no. 12) are sighing lullabies. Matthew’s begins “trees in december” (no. 13) with haunting plucked tones and distributes thought-provoking phrases throughout, such as “there’s a wheelbarrow sitting with its heart wide open.” “[W]estern skyline” (no. 14) and “if I ever” (no. 15) gently round out this intimate and sometimes sweetly evanescent experience.
Matthews studied music at the University of Colorado in Boulder and at Denver's School of Music. She began her career as a solo artist while in Colorado, performing in local venues there. This experience led to several awards from the Rocky Mountain Music Association. She then toured Japan, Korea and Hawaii for three months and relocated to New York. "Beautiful Mud," the five-piece band Matthews started, separated after their well-received debut release and performing for several years in New York City.
In 2003, Matthews was nominated for a poetry award by the Cambridge Arts Council for her book of poetry released under Somerville's Ibbetson Street Press, Fairy Tales and Misdemeanors.
May of 2005 brought the release of "The Wheel" (Thundamoon Records )--recorded and mixed at Windham Studios in Vermont. Matthews and producer/engineer Brian Brown took the 13 song record to new levels by adding some electronica and loops to her roots rock sound. "The Wheel" reveals the mystic in Matthews and showcases her guitar talent.
The rest has been Matthews in continuous motion, including a publishing deal with ACM Records, Inc. For more on Matthews check out:
Jennifer will be reading from her poetry Sept 12 2006 7PM at the Newton Free Library, along with Mark Pawlak, and Ifeanyi Menkiti.