Saturday, July 14, 2007
For The Living Dead, poems by Eric Greinke, Published by Free Books, Lowell, Michigan
This collection of poems is organized thematically and visually. The poems are meditations on The Living Dead – from the metaphysical questions in the first poem, “Lonely Planets,” to the horrific physical details of physical death and its consequences in “The severed head of Orpheus,” to the questioning transcendent yet dubious final “I feel the spirits of the dead...I hear the call of light...through the neutral rocks/ the stale bread that feeds/ the dreams of the anemic world” the reader is led through rooms of death arranged like an art exhibit. The title For the Living Dead evokes robots, a lifeless planet, and the horrors of nonfeeling, inhumane humans. It is a spare picture, described unemotionally but with a subtext of nostalgia for a time when humans were connected to their natural place in their environment. The poem suggests that inattention to the health of planet Earth is intimately connected to the health of its human inhabitants, and as such, For the Living Dead is an elegy to a dead planet. However, Greinke reminds us in the first poem, “Exploding supernovae/Spread particles/Across the galaxy. /We still live/ in that ocean, we/ Carry it around/ in our cells.” The first poem ends “Our eyes are the water/ In the ocean of stars./ We can taste it our tears.”
“In Space” reminds us that “the faster you go/ the more energy it takes.” In the nostalgia for a time of past imagination and boyhood that is one of the book’s theme, the poet asks, “’But what about the spaceships?’/You ask, remembering a time.”’
In the world of Greinke’s book, natural phenomena are strange and upside down. “What have you done/ to my moon, mother?/ Why does it seem/ To snow forever?”/ (“Initial Contact”)
“When the naiveté of the poet begins to seem unreal and dreamlike. “With all the universe/ behind me/ and only the blue sphere / of planet earth/ Floating before me/ I’d never worry/ That we might drift apart? (Perspective), Greinke balances such scenes of wistfulness with humor. “When the soaked house/ dries in the sun,’
clouds of steam rise up,/ & naive strangers alert the firehouse.”
The power of innocence attempts to balances the cynicism of this book – eloquently stated in “Garment,” where the poet acquires the Platonic power to see reality. “My coat of fool’s gold/ Wiser than the stars/Like the dark heart/ Hidden in a bright cave/ Hidden in infinity/ So far out in the open/ That little fish/Swim through its fabric.”
Greinke’s work is a testimony to the power of close observation of nature as a way of redemption becoming one of the Living Dead. However, he is not optimistic. He is in fact, shockingly pessismistic. “Political agendas/ Stink up the galaxy/ Stalked in Stockings/ Born to run away/ Lost civilizations/In the tired sky/ I blink/ drink water/ Fish disappear?”
Greinke’s language is plain, eloquent, original, and occasionally gorgeous as in “Crop Damage” where “desperate fields wept/Red with wounded tomatoes.”
In the title poem, the poet grovels in an awful vision of the Living Dead. He sees zombies everywhere; having been one and having experienced an awakening, he is sensitive to the terror of living like a zombie, “mesmerized by fireworks/ They like to run amok/ When they aren’t milling aimlessly/... Zombies have no sex lives/ They share the despair of the wolfman/ Drunk on power under full moon/ soaked in gasoline waiting for a light/ Enflamed by love & hate/ Counting down to the final insult.... They are the human furniture/They are the living dishrags...fitted with artificial hearts.” The truly terrifying picture of the Living Dead would overwhelm the reader with despair, were it not for the fact that the poet has flashes of inspiring language. Near the end, we have a kind of prayer. “I hear the spirits of the dead/They explode like seedpods/A thousand downy spheres/Doors that won’t stay closed/Locks meant to be broken/ Dandelions born in the wind.”
Reviewed by Anne Brudevold
* Anne Brudevold is the publisher of the Eden River Press.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Boston Street Icon “Mr. Butch” Dies at age 56.
It is poetic justice that Mr. Butch died on the streets of Boston in a motor scooter accident. He was a true creature of those streets for so many years.
When I first moved back to Boston in the late 70’s I was living in a rooming house on Newbury Street (yes there were rooming houses there!) and working at a grocery store at the corner of Newbury and Mass Ave. I worked the 3 to 11 shift, and I had a wonderful but unsavory cast of characters who frequented the store. There was a buck-toothed African-American prostitute who proudly told me: “I only give head to my man.” There was a middle-aged security guard Maynard, who reminded me of a uniformed Noel Coward; his hat tilted at a rakish angle, an ever-present sardonic smile, and a cigarette dangling elegantly and effeminately between his fingers. He would tell me of his sexual encounters during his shift. It seems he was always approached by a handsome young man who insisted on doing “favors” for him. “I mean what’s a girl, I mean…a guy to do!” The famed rock group “The Cars” recorded a few buildings down and they all had sophisticated tastes, requesting a variety of Drake’s Cakes.
But one of the most memorable characters was a tall, lanky, Blackman with dreadlocks and an infectious laugh, who always tried to cop a cup of free coffee and a snack. Sometimes he would have a bright red guitar strapped to his back. He often smelled of booze, or the sweet smell of marijuana would waft my way when he approached the counter. One very cold winter night I let him stay in the store, forgetting to let him out when I locked up. He spent the night there, and I am sure he had a nice meal, and an undisturbed, peaceful sleep, much to the manager’s chagrin. Suffice to say I wasn’t long for that gig.
Over the years Mr. Butch was like a welcomed Beacon to me. I used to run into him in Kenmore Square outside the now defunct Punk Rock club the “Rat” during my pub crawling days. He was such an enigma. He survived the streets by choice for so many years, and 56 is a ripe old age for a street person. At times he was a living statue, standing squarely and straight, strumming his red guitar amidst the maelstrom of all the Brooks Brother suits that detoured around him. He gave his long, callused finger to conventional society--the cell-phoned hordes rushing to make the almighty buck--or a killing.
In some ways it was a comfort to see him. He was a memory of my seminal days in Boston, a simpler place, more accepting of “eccentrics,” a place where you could rent a cheap room in the Back Bay and start your life in the city. You could actually afford to live the life of an artist for a while. I used to sit out on the steps of my Brownstone in the summer and slap the hands of all the beautiful and not so beautiful street people who flowed by in the humid breeze.
Butch was known by many generations of students, rock bands, hucksters, ner-do-wells, and poseurs--the whole maddening crowd that made this city so attractive to me when I cut my teeth here. I will miss passing this man on the street, how we nodded to each other in our world-weary fashion, saying: “Hey, man, what’s happening?” He has passed and so has another phase of my life.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Poet Michael Mack Brings His Art to Mental Illness
In many cases it is said that “great pain brings great art.” In the case of local poet Michael Mack it has a brought a performance piece “Hearing Voices: Speaking In Tongues” that deals with Mack’s experience of growing up with a schizophrenic mother. Mack’s evocative and heart wrenching performance piece engages his genius for words and dramatic
portrayal in dealing with a very tragic disease. He has also penned a poetry collection “Homework” that deals with his less-than-ideal childhood.
Michael Mack served in the Air Force, and later worked a number of factory and general labor jobs before going back to school and completing a degree in Creative Writing from MIT. His poems have appeared in such journals as: “Beliot Poetry Journal,” “The Cumberland Poetry Journal,” as well as being aired on NPR. He has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and other organizations. Mack has performed at New York City’s Midtown International Theatre Festival, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and the Austin International Poetry Festival. Mack regularly presents his one man play “Hearing Voices…” for consumers and providers of mental health services and for faculty and students of Harvard Medical School.
Doug Holder: Do you think your mother’s mental illness was responsible for you becoming a poet?
Michael Mack: I think I would headed somewhere in an artistic direction eventually. But it clearly gives me material to work with. It was certainly the first larger issue that I was writing about. It was compelling for me to delve into it and find some kind of creative expression.
DH: You are not schizophrenic yourself. How were you able to create this psychotic environment on stage?
MM: I think that was one of the gifts my mother gave me. A sense of her interior world both by her talking about it and seeing her experience it. I could have sufficient empathy to understand her experience without going through the grueling life of a mentally ill person.
DH: Do you feel artists are affected to a higher degree by mental illness in comparison to the general public?
MM: Yes. I believe there is a book out by a psychotherapist Kay Redfield Jameson “Touched With Fire.” Redfield, who is herself afflicted with a Bipolar Disorder, explores the relationship between mental illness and the arts. In this book she looked at the relationship between mental illness and poets. She found there is a higher percentage of poets than other artist who suffer from mental illness.
DH: You studied with Maxine Kumin, the celebrated Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, when you were at MIT. Can you talk about this experience?
MM: She saw something in me that I wasn’t able to see yet. Her’s was the third poetry class that I ever had and she gave me a tremendous amount of encouragement. She saw something in my writing that was worth tapping into, worth pursuing. She saw it as rich terrain, and saw the possibility of me doing something with it. She took me under her wing and we developed a friendship. Sometimes I would go to her farm in New Hampshire and help her out with farm work. I think of her as a mentor. She gave me guidance where and when I needed it.
DH: I have run poetry groups for psychiatric patients for years now. I found the reaction to it often positive and sometimes visceral. And when you perform in state hospitals what ha been your experience?
MM: My experience I am pleased to say has been tremendously positive. I have presented in a number of state hospital settings, and as you know in these setting folks have been there for a long time. I was really concerned about presenting this work. It is so close to home for them. I was pleased to see the response was positive because it gives voice to their experience.
Before I was to do a show at two hospitals recently I was told that the patients were up and down and easily distracted. But this wasn’t true when I presented this work. It must have been rewarding them to have their experience reflected back to them.
I present the material in a very loving way. I am very respectful of my mother’s life. I think my mother and father acted heroically in the context of their lives. Neither of them ended up with the life they envisioned for themselves. My father stuck by my mother for longer than most would.
DH: Did you resent the childhood that you were given?
MM: When I first wrote about these years ago I experienced a lot of anger. I was angry that I was cheated out of a childhood. But the more I explored the experience I realized that they had a heck of job. All things considered they pulled it together remarkably. It was through the writing of this work I understood both my parents in a much deeper way.
DH: Were you influenced by Plath and Sexton’s poetry?
MM: Plath was really my first love. She was the poet I responded to most. Partly because of the experience she was writing about. But also I found a tremendous amount of energy in her writing. I was drawn to both of these poets.
DH: In your poetry collection: “Homework” you write in the poem “Tardive Dyskinesia” about the involuntary movements of your mother caused by psychiatric medications:
“On the twigs of her wrists, my mother’s hands
bobolink, titmouse, linnet, finch
Flutter in her lap, peck her blouse’s buttons
Wagtail, waxwing, solitaire, brambling
Curl into nests, shivering fists
rose finch, siskin, tanager…”
This is almost like a beautifully choreographed dance with mental illness. Do you much unexpected beauty here?
MM: In a word yes. I think one of the things about my mother’s mental illness that she had insights and a wonderful use of language. It gave me a chance to appreciate the beautiful and surprising ways she used it. The words I used in the poem you mentioned were names of birds. I thought there was something bird-like in her tremors from Tardive Dyskinesia.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Duende (poems) by Tracy K. Smith
$14.00 US/ $17.50 Can. paperback
Review by Mike Amado
At first reading of Duende, by Tracy K. Smith, I found her work to be
uber-academic; implying all the MFA tools at her disposal.
In all truth, this collection is "deep" on an outside level if that makes sense.
I initially stayed engaged with this book solely due to the title.
I'm not certain that the concept of duende had originated with Garcia Lorca but it weaves its way through this collection in a dark undercurrent.
Unfortunately, this review is not the place to pontificate on that concept.
Duende travels with an even keel through the hurt of forgetting
to the vacancy of memory, fraught with the want of what is lost ,then
to an encompassing forgiveness that leaves the speaker and the reader intact, and still following.
All the elements are there: loss, desire, ennui, acceptance.
There is basic, everyday information within Smith's work, however it's varies into a mystic shroud. Hard as a brick wall - in other words, it is real and apprehensible like the head-spinning conclusion to a cross-cultural whirlwind romance with a married man that ends in a bar somewhere in Portugal, in which a beer thieving woman writes Macumba, (witchcraft) on the napkin of the jilted. She is now left to
ponder how, "Love is a momentary lapse of treason". That's just my impression of the information. The mystery works.
This reader wonders if this is a poetry volume or a travel log at times.
Some poems embody a harsher tone. In "Letter to a Photojournalist Going-in", Smith paints an affecting scenario, both general and personal, of war documented by embedded cameras. Asking:
"Who can say the word love when everything - everything -
pushes back with the promise to grind itself to dust?"
In "I Killed You Because You Didn't Go to School and Had No Future"
she brings to fruition a brutal reality of extreme poverty.
In "Slow Burn" Smith writes:
"We tend toward the danger at the center.
Soft core teeming blue with fire. We tend
Toward what will singe and flare, but coil
Back when brought near. Sometimes we read
About people pushed there and left to recover.
They don't. Come out mangled or not at all,
Minds flayed by visions no one can fathom."
There's no question that Tracy K. Smith possesses a strong voice
and is accomplished. Duende is the winner of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.
Aside from that, if a reader prefers works of dark elegance, Duende gets the approval stamp.
Mike Amado/Ibbetson Update/ July 2007
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Limbos for Amplified Harpsichord
by Stanley Nelson
Pub. Date: September 28, 2007
Review by Irene Koronas.
Stanley Nelson’s poetry, at least in this volume of work, ‘limbos for amplified harpsichord,‘ is at first startling in his use of space. otherwise, he uses the typical constructs that most poets use. his takes his subject and plays it throughout the book; Couperin is his fusion between the rhythm of the poems and the repetition of images (cherubs). fraught with intellectual references to historical figures and painting, he is able to bring the past into this present rendition of a musical score. cage he is not. he brings his own sensibility to writing poetry.
the reader maybe entranced by his cherubs; I find them to be an overused metaphor for whatever the winged creatures may represent. he poses many question: “how to become the lonely one? how to know the solitude of the patient one?” these question do not lead me to any conclusions or answers about myself, they only reflect the writers intentions at questioning himself. in understanding these questions I am left with the same question. what is experimental about this work, other than the form? perhaps he deems it experimental in breaking up of some words or scrambling the theme?
the poems would reach a wider audience if he used a more standard form. this would then allow the reader an easier access to his poetry without having to figure out the score (even though the poems are suppose to look like a musical sheet.) I’m not convinced by his fairy tale or classical approach. “the artist-cavalier meets his brother-self the composer-artist as objects breathe in air like sound; dead leaves and powder horn, herring on polished pewter, lutes and lobsters.” these images are classical Dutch paintings trying for a modern day appeal; the experimentations of the present day writer?
this is a well written book with obvious well read references that will appeal to many people. there are some experimentation but not enough to be called experimental. “how to carve in the cherub in the wood of the harpsichord?” ‘limbos for amplified harpsichord,’ is a throw back to classical poets and if read as such the reader will enjoy and be enthralled by nelson’s writing.
>rene koronas. irene Koronas is the poetry editor for the Wilderness House Literary Review http://whlreview.com. and the author of "self portrait drawn from many..." ( Ibbetson St. 2007)