Thursday, November 01, 2007
POETS AGAINST THE KILLING FIELDS
(Anthology); Trilingual Press; Cambridge, MA; $12.95
Review by Richard Wilhelm
If you can turn off “American Idol,” forget for a moment the Red Sox and the Patriots, and take a hard look at the phase of late capitalism in which we find ourselves here in America, in 2007, you might just want to vomit. More likely you would have tuned back into “American Idol” long before you got to that point. The various poets of this anthology are not going to let you do that. They have your head in a vice and toothpicks propping your eyes open. And you are going to look. And you WILL see.
They shouldn’t have to do that to you. You could have seen for yourself. It’s a matter of record that Al Gore won the 2000 election. It’s a matter of record that the United States invaded Iraq for reasons having nothing to do with America’s security. It’s laughable that Saddam Hussein would have anything to do with Islamic jihadists like al-Queada. Contrary to the blatant lies of George W. Bush, the US has introduced torture as a standard operating procedure in interrogating detainees regardless of how much evidence there may or may not be that they are involved with terrorists. Waterboarding is a method of torture used as far back as the Inquisition. How interesting that torture is instituted by a President that used to enjoy blowing up frogs as a kid. But I digress.
The US turned Iraq, which had a large middle class and was a developed nation, albeit under dictatorial rule, into a nightmarish hell-hole. And the US will not leave even when Iraq’s oil is in the hands of American oil companies. Iraqi families have seen their loved ones gunned down or imprisoned almost at random by either rival militias, gangs of thugs or US troops.
My point here is that all too many Americans are oblivious to the suffering of others around the world even when that suffering is directly caused by the US or its client, Israel. All too many Americans are oblivious that our country is moving closer to authoritarianism every day. And this anthology may make you uncomfortable if you are one of the oblivious. And if you are, read deeply then throw your TV remote in the trash; become a citizen of the world. Let yourself address the “small girl playing with bullets found on war ground” as Aldo Tambellini does in “March 14, 2005.”
has the killing bullet
replaced your toy doll innocence
after your baptism by fire
did your parents survive
“In A Shout for Yusuf Hawkins,” Jill Netchinsky writes:
cardboard theater figures
drunk Italian inlaws
a gun on New Year’s Eve
“Let’s go beat up some nigguhs”
The Poets Against the Killing Fields are here to tell you that the world is experienced very differently by third-world people under the thumb of US imperialism, and by working people and people of color here in America, than the unfair and unbalanced networks like Faux News would have you believe. Perhaps as you peruse these pages the scales will fall off your eyes as well and you too will find your clenched fist beginning to rise. Now say it with me: Fuck “American Idol!”
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
REVIEW OF SIGMA & THE CAVE by D. H. Melhem
D. H. Melhem, STIGMA & THE CAVE (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007)
This is a pair of short novels comprising the second and third parts of a trilogy called, collectively, Patrimonies. The first part of this trilogy. which is not being reviewed here, is called Blight, a delightful and sexy little fantasy involving a bunch of erotic little vegetable people and the moral quandary and sexual adventures they put the gentleman through on whose little property they grew. This was published in 1995 by Riverrun Press in New York and Calder Publications in London.
Before us now is a very handsome volume published this year by Syracuse University Press containing two short novels (or novellas? I am not sure of the difference), also fantasies with a great deal of sexual, psychological, sociological and political content.
The first novel, Stigma, is about a family caught up in a ploy by a future (fairly logically predicted American (the author has through the magic of language and tone created a place that could be both 21st Century America and any place and any time) government to cope with problems set up by its Orwellian policy of endless war. They have been selected as “volunteers” to leave their home for a period of several years to work in the war effort. The couple, Joseph (think Kafka’s “J” or “Joseph K”) and Serafina wind up in a very concentration camp setting where they are separated and made to room (or share cells) with other partners, and are set to work on something like instruments of germ warfare. They are repeatedly told they are honored by this situation and had better acquiesce. The couple are rather resistant (hence a story) while their new partners are more complacent, somewhat liking the relief from more normal responsibilities and the apparent novelty of new sexual opportunities as clients of the funhouse mirror image of the “military-industrial complex”, or its progeny the “prison-industrial complex” well represented by the emotionally entangled camp directors, General Gutsby and Mr. Blossom, who heads the Blossom Foundation to Study War. “Our goal of global peace, he tells the new recruits, “is in sight. We need your absolute cooperation. We have a Government of Rules, not of men and women. And the Rule of Rules is TRUST US.” The couple has two sons, the younger sent to an orphanage, and the elder sent to a training camp where he learns how to kill for the regime, and signs his occasional brief missives to his parents “Hail to our country.” The plight of this family is all too reminiscent of the plight of the family in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America about a New Jersey Jewish family caught up in a 1940’s America in which Charles Lindbergh, rather than Franklin Roosevelt, is President. They also have a gung ho son who is all too happy to be Americanized in a program run by a “patriotic” rabbi.
In spite of her use of the fable as the style of her fiction, which brings her close to Kafka, and the grim, fascistic worlds with which she surrounds and entraps her characters, which remind one of Orwell’s 1984, the novelist she most resembles is Roth. Melhem, like Roth, is concerned with the family; with familiar relationships positive and negative; with marriage—its strengths and weaknesses. The characters of all three of these little novels are members of families (in the case of the protagonist of the first novel, Blight, a widower with an estranged grown son with a family of his own). Melhem is a first class psychologist and maybe even a better sexologist. And she can sure tell a story. Her characters are the characters of fable—necessarily consisting of a certain unreality (they are, after all, intentionally prototypical)—but she manages to seduce the reader into a full identification with them, with their suffering, with their adventures. This book is a page turner. If the characters, the landscapes, the action, in these novels lack the development expected in the classic novel, it is by design. Melhem obviously has the talent.
The second part of the book under consideration, The Cave, is about extended families intending to escape impending nuclear holocaust by taking shelter in a cave. Again, page-turning drama and social and sexual stresses and traumas and sharp political analysis. This reader’s ability, here, to suspend disbelief, aside from the demands already necessitated by the fable genre, was at times a bit too much stretched; though this did not much diminish overall enjoyment. Melhem is a very good writer. She is a poet of canny observation and humane truth, a scholar and literary biographer, a political activist, and a fabulist who knows how to seduce a reader.
Editor, Home Planet News
Monday, October 29, 2007
Of All the Meals I Had Before;
Poems About Food and Eating
By Doug Holder
25 page chapbook at $7.00
Cervená Barva Press
P.O. Box 440357
W. Somerville MA 02144-3222
Review by Laurel Johnson
This chapbook of poetry is savory fare from a serious poet, with a side order of whimsy and social commentary. An eclectic range of topics delight and intrigue here, everything from the fears of an anorexic woman to cannibalism to the guilty pleasure of Milk Duds and the pornographic rotation of rotisserie chickens. Whatever the topic, Doug Holder reveals through words the joy, loneliness, and sensuality of eating.
“Eating Out” is aesthetically pleasing to the senses. Readers can see and anticipate the meal:
its silver set off
by the muted light
the tender white flesh
the brittle ribs
with their offerings.
Holder considers his mother eating alone in “Portrait of My Mother During Her Solitary Meal.” The days of arguing with her late husband are over. Now, all she has left is food, and silence:
And the photos of him
held tenuously by a cheap magnet
on the refrigerator door
an inanimate taunt
a ridiculous happy, frozen
moment of time --
She is now
a prisoner of
“At Benson’s Deli” is Holder’s powerful reminiscence of the days his undemonstrative father took his sons to the deli for lunch. Relationships thrived there, over hot dogs, knishes, and Doctor Brown’s fizzing vanilla creams:
And for me
that warm, nostalgic
is all that
“Fat Ladies of the Matinee” is a fine mix of humorous and sad, a brilliant word picture of what it means to be fat in a world that values only the lean and beautiful among us:
Floating toward corners
graceful only in the dark
like the slow
clandestine drift of clouds
Lofting their billowing
dresses like pitch tents
on cushioned seats.
to the side of
flickering projector light.
Corpulent, spectral figures
munching in their hungry seclusion
savoring the buttery kernels
shrouded from the thinly
veiled looks of disgust.
These examples of Holder’s work reveal a poet who crafts each poem carefully. He says exactly what he means in few words, but each word and line communicates, reveals, speaks clearly to readers. If you haven’t discovered Doug Holder’s poetry yet, I recommend you start with this chapbook.
Review by Laurel Johnson for Midwest Book Review
Blood Soaked Dresses
Ibbetson Street Press
Blood Soaked Dresses
Review by Irene Koronas
“Every second the crying of a wolf emerges inside one of us.” Mindock places humanity in a position of responsibility. not necessarily a response to humanity as a whole; she asks us to eschew our own idea of what violence is, this violence is also part of who we are. Who are we in any given situation? Who are we during crisis? These poems beckon, seep into us, “hoping for flesh, heart, voice, and tongue…” Gloria is an important poet. These poems do not yell at an audience, they do not beat us with their rifle words, instead these poems are prayers, a submission to what humans may become, not just negative reactions, but all the inbetweens. “my spirit accelerated into the sky. the mountains were happy by the sea. the enemy was not around.” the reader is faced with an inner reality. “at church, communion was red wine. a sip - I wanted it all. to drink would make my life last. make me immune…” the loss the pain, letting go of constructs, then replacing the known for what is present.
It is almost impossible for me to review this book because the beckoning is so strong, I’m drawn in and get lost and find it difficult to give words to what might not be in my capacity to give in this particular circumstance. Mindock says what most poets cannot write. Her approach is done with great humility and grace.
This book is a must, a collection of poems that rips off the page and settles into the heart. “this is not pleasant - we are both victims.”
Wilderness House Literary Review
Parsifal press 2007
Review by Irene Koronas
This book of poetry shifts back and forth, time tides, small ocean pools we can gaze into for small bits, living matters. “you can hear the dirt, the shallow foothold, the hand to hand.” The poem’s relationships have a natural commitment with family - lovers as close as trees. “and nothing underneath but this orange this half brother, half sister, head down-there’s still room, the healing bigger than ever, returning from a pasture and covered with wet grass.”
The intimacy of Simon Perchik’s poetry astounds, the reader immediately recognizes and identifies with the persistent struggle to identify with all around oneself. “it’s a scary scratching, squeaks right through the heart as when falling stars cry out the light that is not morning and leaf by leaf, surrounded by a fence.”
Mostly, this collection of poems, melds into an epic like Homer, but not Homer, like sublime, but not sublime; these poems are narrative sublimity in that they also capture, take us on the journey. and what is the journey? is it simply in narrative in nature, the going forth, coming back? perhaps. “anything is possible-they hatch til the stones whose common ancestor in the moon…they keep the dead company.” we carry his words up the hill. pile them in neat piles, then the phrases tumble down and find another configuration. Rafts is a poetry book which dares to be its own. “once you reach the emptiness it will still answer…”
Irene Koronas is the poetry editor of the Wilderness House Literary Review, and a member of the "Bagel Bards," a writers' group in the Boston area.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Abbott Ikeler is the author of the poetry collection “Outpost” ( Ibbetson Press 2007) Ikeler , a Harvard graduate, with a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, has taught literature and writing at Bowdoin College, the University of Muenster, and Rhode Island College before joining the corporate world. His academic credits include a Senior Fulbright Fellowship, a book on nineteenth-century aesthetics, and numerous articles on Victorian literature. He currently teaches Public Relations and Advertising at Emerson College in Boston, Mass. I spoke with Ikeler on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: In a book you penned some time ago: “Puritan Temper and Transcendental Faith” you dealt with the Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle and his early lyrical style that was later tempered by religious thought. Do you think that fundamentalist religion or political polemic can undermine poetry or creative thought?
Abbott Ikeler: Carlyle was moved back to his father’s fundamentalist religion because of the guilt around his death. He was also by the death of Goethe who was his mentor. His father used to say you need to work with your hands and the only book you have to read is the bible.
When I think of poetry in the political sense I think of Auden who wrote that poetry makes nothing happen or Yeats who wrote that even as bombs fall around us the poet just smiles and goes on. The poet doesn’t get involved in politics. But of course Yeats contradicts himself later.
DH: What made you switch from an academic setting to public relations in a corporate setting?
AI: You want to know frankly? It was 1984, and I was making 20,000 a year. I was tenured and I had my PhD for fifteen years. A friend of mine, whose wife was a business secretary, told me that she was making a better salary than I was with a degree from Katherine Gibbs. I though there has to be a better way to make a living. A friend of mine who worked at WANG said if you come to us we will give you a position where you will travel all over the world. They put me in charge of Advertising and PR for their Asian subsidiary.
DH: Where you interested in PR writing?
AI: Yeah. One of the things about being an academic, particularly in Literature, is that you have to find romance in engineering. I read Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine,” that dealt with the romance of building the first 32 bit computer. The one problem with teaching is, if you stay in the same discipline, there is a repetitiveness to it. There is a tedium grading over twenty to thirty thousand papers during a lifetime. Most of the academics I know have left their positions for the money issue or because of the weight of repetition. But now I am back in the classroom and I am loving it. I teach graduate students so I don’t have the weight of repetition.
AI: The poet Wallace Stevens, who was an insurance executive, would never talk about his poetry life at the office. He felt once he did he would be viewed as a poet and not a businessman. How was it for a former academic in the corporate world?
DH: In the corporate world I kept my academic credentials and my literary ambitions pretty much under my hat. It is a world where the academic frame of mind is viewed as too abstract, and not likely for a company to make a profit from.
DH: How has your business experience helped or hindered your writing?
AI: It has helped me be much more succinct. My style has gotten much leaner.
DH: You titled your latest poetry collection “Outpost.” The poem looks at the world from the vantage point of a fort or an outpost.
Do you feel it is the poet’s job to look out from an outpost, on the expanse of life, and remind us all to live now for we all must die?
AI: To remind them certainly how precariously short our time is. Poets use ordinary moments and hopefully derives something sublime.
DH: It seems that you feel you are in a fight against encroaching age, infirmity.
AI: Yeah. It is a fight against the dark. A friend said if he described the overall mood of my poems it would be optimistic melancholy.
DH: Can you experience a “sublime” moment right here in Union Square Somerville?
AI Absolutely. Often we find happiness in the most mundane places. Often my poems look at that.
They happen on a subway platform
in the midst of mild debate,
hardly heated, on the merits of a film.
Or between courses at a restaurant
unrated by Michelin
over the indiscretions of a distant friend.
An old incompatibility
of taste or moral vision gathers
in an unremarkable moment in a quite prosaic spot
to a settled recognition on one side or the other
of a wall that can’t be climbed.
The rest—days or decades—is merest epilogue.
-- Abbott Ikeler
To order Outpost go to: http://www.lulu.com/content/876211
Diminishing Returns, by Karl Koweski
38 pages, $8.00
Review by Eleanor Goodman
Mr. Koweski clearly enjoys telling stories, and he is good at it. In Diminishing Returns, most of the poems involve a narrative structure: a family road trip, an interaction between lovers or friends, an anecdote about the foibles of child-raising. These are not philosophical forays, nor art objects concerned with their own beauty. Rather, they are snapshots of people’s lives, full of humor and an offbeat view of our daily experience.
In “fiberglass dinosaurs,” a family visits an amusement park where “frozen monstrosities / hulk in the Tennessee woods / like junkyard Camaros.” Each member of the family responds differently to the scene, but the speaker, the father, is disappointed: “For me it’s another / wasted fifty dollars, / another bead on a / vacational string / of wasted fifty dollars.” Anyone who has brought a child to an amusement park or watched a kids’ video for the hundredth time can relate to this. But the father’s jaded eye is tempered by the reaction of his son, who “sees....the most awesome beasts / the world has ever offered / tamed only by his father’s presence. / And that alone / makes everything worthwhile.”
Mr. Koweski also looks into the darkness of families, and the potential for devastation when the family unit is dysfunctional. In his painful and humane poem, “the cat’s in the cradle and the kid’s in the litterbox,” he tells the story of two children, two years old and six months old, who are stranded in their trailer home for days after their parents die from drug poisoning. “The children sickly, but alive. / The two-year-old, perhaps / unaccustomed to a lack of / adult supervision, kept his / sister and himself fed / and watered with what he / found in the cat bowl / while their parents / decomposed in the bedroom.” There is little poetic cadence here; like many of the pieces in the book, the lines read like prose. It is important prose, however, and we need more stories like these in written form. Writing solidifies experience, and creates something more lasting and important than a tale to tell at a backyard barbeque. “Usually when I tell this story, / I’ll add a little levity. / I’ll say they were found / in the litter box, or, / at least they didn’t / scratch up the furniture. / But the jokes / are only tiny horrors / meant to obscure / the horrible truth.” Poetry makes casual joking more difficult, and “the horrible truth” becomes a bit more accessible.
Humor is a powerful coping mechanism, however, one which Mr. Koweski employs to good effect throughout the book. “Dancing with diane” is an amusing yet biting romantic history. The speaker describes being eight years old and being told by his parents to ask his cousin Diane to dance. Not knowing which girl in the room is Diane, he asks the drunkest blonde he can find instead.
She set down her
Long Island Iced Tea
and obliged me,
afterward asking the
“Who are you?”
I’ve yet to answer
but I’ve been dancing
with the wrong women
Romance and sexuality are fertile topics for Mr. Koweski. He approaches both with verve. In “computer porn sabotage,” the speaker bemoans the erasure of “Northern Indiana’s largest / privately owned collection of porn” by his wife. “All those hours spent amassing... / the blondes, the brunettes, the redheads, / the midgets, the transvestites, / the double amputees.../ kilobit by painful dial-up kilobit.” The mind boggles trying to picture it – or trying distinctly not to picture it. But Mr. Koweski never flinches. He writes of the ugly, the ridiculous, the absurd, and the disturbing. We should all have such bravery.
Eleanor Goodman. Ibbetson Update. Nov. 2007. Somerville, Mass.