Thursday, January 17, 2008

New title from Ibbetson Street: Time Leaves by Barbara Bialick

“Barbara Bialick’s poems leave the reader with a sad/sweet acknowledgment of the passage of time. Her work is generously laced with humor, irony, and a peaceful acceptance of what is, and what is to come. This is a poetry collection for all seasons; to read when you are old and when you are young.” — Doug Holder, Arts Editor, The Somerville News

To order:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Death of a Mexican and other poems by Manuel Paul Lopez

Death of a Mexican and other poems
By Manuel Paul Lopez
winner of the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize 2006 Bear Star Press

Reviewed by Anne Brudevold


Poet Manuel Paul Lopez’s first chapbook, consisting of a short preamble, a half dozen poems in different lengths and narrative voices, and a glossary of Spanish words, is truly engaging. In a varying poetic tone of different narrative voices, the poet shows shows us what coping with two cultures at once is like, from various person’s experiences. In the first one, “Mi Cantita,” is the speaker’s bi-lingual family and culture, prejudice cuts both ways. This poet’s lively metaphors and ability to put us in his place is so simple and natural that I was just taken in – welcomed to the poet’s world where he can speak no language, so his grandmother/nana used to massage his “sluggish tongue.” Without preaching, without taking sides, without self-pity---and with a great deal of humor, brilliant combination of Spanish and English, lively metaphors, and unpretentious use of language, we are there, in a world at once painful and funny, where:

“Spanish trembles beneath my Nine Inch Nails tour shirt/like a beaten mutt,/a crackhead in church.” The poet says: “I was just miming Mexican.” Being darker than other Mexicans, he gets beat up by both Mexicans and Americans as he grows up, and teased by his family and community. “Angel’s mom was funny about my lengua’s white man’s disability/ When she answered the door, she’d say, ‘Buenos dias.’ And I’d say ‘Hola,’/but no more, already taken too far out of myself. But her eyebrows would become/ two magnets attempting to yank out the planetas, estrellas, and saltelites from my mouth from my/mouth so she could contact the great shy sol that for some reason slept too comfortably/ within the arctic of my gut/as I stood shivering pale and naked as a white plastic cafeteria spoon….And with the silence she’d laugh, taking me in with the warmth of her tone,/like the Our Lady of Guadalupe church bell/bringing everyone home on Sundays.”

It’s difficult to critique these poems – why not just quote them all? A common theme is the inability to speak either language: “I knew Spanish words, but they were all different colored marbles/in the jar of my mouth/and I couldn’t pick out the right color.”

In the end, he embraces them both, ardently. With exuberant language, the poet speaks in the voices of characters of his family. In “Death of a Mexican” the poet speaks of his desire to be at once like and unlike his poet cousin, who “made a habit of chewing on paper, because he said that it would feed/ him Lorca, Rulfo, Hamsun, but times when he drank a little to much of his wine, he’d cry/like a drama queen, while chewing on Danielle Steele.” In “Mundo Meets the World,” a retarded cousin is in love with Denise Levertov. In Go, Nijinskym Go” an uncle plays over-indulgent parent to his little girl, even as he tries to express his own failure of poetic, mimetic, and dance experience. “There is a hole in my living room” depicts the glasses of grief left around a symbolic grave, a hole in the poet’s living room. Emotions are expressed in real objects, in real experience, in trances away from reality. It’s not the fluid, poetic unknowing transition, as in, say Mistral’s fiction, between fiction and reality; it’s the poet’s ironic knowledge, even as he expresses each character’s emotion sincerely, that something is out of kilter, and that there is something rich and wonderful about it.

At the end, that something is the richness of language itself. In the last lines of Generationes, Saint Peter says, “Not to question./Because you need to think about this,” he’ll say, pointing at his tongue.”

Generously invoking fear, anger, disgust, lust, loss of self-control and love with eloquent disregard, this small book, “Death of a Mexican” by Manuel Paul Lopez is a jewel.

--Anne Brudevold is the founder of the Eden Waters Press of Allston, Mass.

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney (Seamus Heaney, translator)
W.W. Norton 2007
An Illustrated Edition
Illustrations edited by John D. Niles

Reviewed by Anne Brudevold

BEOWULF: Power, divinity, heroism, terror, horror, despair, disgrace, and fame: all the ingredients of a modern-day horror movie are present. The basic plot is Beowulf, Swedish hero from Geatland, Southern Sweden) sails to Southern Denmark to save the Danes from a man-eating monster named Grendal who attacks them night after night. Beowulf kills Grendel in a gory battle scene in Hrothgar’s (the kings) castle. (Castle battle scene). Grendel’s mother returns next night and, although pursued by heroic Beowulf to the bottom of a swamp, supposedly dies in her attempt to avenge her son.(Underwater battle scene, depicted in the book, but not the movie) Years later, a monster comes to Beowulf’s castle from the sea to kill Beowulf, now an old man. Both the monster and Beowulf die. The book ends with Beowulf’s blazing funeral boat set sailing honorably afire into the sea.

After reading Seamus Heaney’s remarkable translation from the Old English of Beowulf accompanied by illustrations of John C. Nies, I waited to write a review until I had seen the recent movie by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery, accompanied with their concepts of writing the script. I’m glad I waited.

My first reaction upon reading the Heaney translation was awe and admiration. The edition is beautifully illustrated with pictures of relics from the time the manuscripts was presumed to be written, between the seventh and tenth centuries, in the “dark ages.” Helmuts, daggers, jewelry, medals, chain mail, swords, stone inscriptions, and reconstructed architecture set the scene for the reader. Modern photographs of the Danish landscape where the drama took place and artists’ illustrations from different periods of varying Beowulf’ scenes complete a visually elegant coffee table book meant in the most complimentary way. The translation of the text is equally dramatic and impressive, as I had to convince a friend who saw me reading “the most boring book from high school.” He, like me, had had to read the text in the original Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. The translation of Seamus Heaney’s version captures the poetry of the text with its natural accents and verve, and speaks with the authority of an epic. No cheap excitement needed.

The natural rhythm of Scandinavian, and also of Old English, to which it is closely related, in which the poem is written, is four-square, which Heaney keeps as a ground rhythm. “Down to the waves then the broad hull was beached upon the sand/to be cargoed with treasure, horses, and war-gear/The curved prow motioned; the mast stood high/above Hrothgar’s riches in the loaded hold.” (p.129)

Or, “Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke;/’wisest of kings, now that I have become/ to the point of action, I ask you to recall/what we said earlier, that you, son of Halfdane/and gold-friend to retainers that you/if I should fall/and suffer death while serving your cause, would act like a father to me afterwards.”p.(101)

I made a survey of the translations of Beowulf available at the Harvard Book Store. Of these, one was a dreary prose translation (odd, considering that Beowulf is a poem with strong poetic accents) and three were children’s adventure stories – primitive Harry Potter’s. (Please excuse any adult translations—and I know there are many, which I have left out). The period recorded in Beowulf took place (and this must have earlier than the tenth century, since the events are spoken about “once upon a time) was an adventurous. fearful time. Numerous familial revenge wars and also intermarriages wars took place during the Beowulf period – and, I may add, with still on-going consequences. Perhaps because the gene pool was relatively small, people kept a close eye on the family tree and grudges were remembered. My Norwegian parents were upset when I married a Dane.

Scandinavian nature is harsh, life was harsh, and isolation of farms and people made for wild parties at the occasional gathering. Family and clan alliances frequently shifted. Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are so similar that I can understand all three. In fact, it was discovered that I was related to my husband during the tenth century, and that around 1200, my husband’s family executed members of many of my uncle’s clan.

Sesame Street’s Swedish sing-song cook not withstanding , the sentences have square, declarative grammar, usually in four accents, especially in speeches, of which (at least in my family) Scandinavians are very fond. I cannot remember a single family get-together when the oldest male would not make a speech, during which much toasting, laughter and solemn moments occurred. The word skal comes from skull from which the old warriors drank their mead.

The Heaney translations makes this way of life unsentimental, vivid and as close to historical truth as we can know it. Peter Brooks made a film of King Lear that approaches the conditions and emotions of that era.

Death, divine power, heroism, horror, devotion, disgrace and fame are modernized and part-comedic in Beowulf, the movie. The grandeur is gone, but a new Freudian explanation gives us a reason for all three battles, and for Angelina Jolie to be lifted, gilded, from her diabolical pool of chocolate pudding.

It’s very simple. Grendel’s (the monster’s) feud with Hrothgar(the Danish king who has been living on un-earned riches) is fueled by unconscious, ancient Freudian jealously. Grendel wants to defend and better his old ancestor, the long dead Schield Sheafson. Beowulf kills Grendel, who no one realizes is his half- brother. The text infers why when Beowolf goes down to fight Grendel’s mother , he succumbs to her charms, and emerges with Grendel’s head, not hers. He hasn’t really killed her, the text clearly infers. Once Grendel’s mother finds Beowulf, at the pool bottom, there’s air aplenty from an ancient kingdom. Grendel’s mother becomes beautiful, irresistible, and seduces her prey. She’s a shape-changer. Thus she did before, with Hrothgar’s ancestor, Schield Sheafson, and begat the monster that now attacks his own ancestors. Now Beowulf spawns the monster who will come, when he is mature, to Sweden to kill Beowulf, his own father. Oh those feminine wiles and never-ending Freudian theories.

When it all began, Grendel’s mother, who seems to have had a very long life, seduced Schield Sjeafson in exchange for money and fame. The movie explains the beginning of the whole terrible cycle as a punishment for ill-gotten gains.

It is not a long way from children’s story to epic to comedic effect story. The great themes remain the same. The style, consciousness, and language make the difference.

Seamus Heaney’s translation is dignified and approaches the sparseness of a Greek epic. While I appreciate the psychological interpretation given by Avery and Gaiman, I think this approach is already latent in the epic story, and need not be as spelled out as it in the movie. Nevertheless, I think Avery and Gaiman have a good point in their theory of the constant revenge that seemed to plague Scandinavian history. It may not be particularly Freudian, but it is familial, and underlies the text as a constant subtext.

So who is your audience? Read a good Beuwolf to your kids. Read Heaney’s Beowulf on an evening with a strong cup of coffee. Go see Beowulf with the kids, if they absolutely demand it. I did, and I think it’s a cheap version. Buy the Heaney Beowulf. You will find hours and hours of enjoyment and wisdom in it.

* Anne Brudevold is the editor of the Eden Waters Anthology.

David Surette: A Poet who finds it “Easy to Keep: Hard to Keep In.”

David Surette: A Poet who finds it “Easy to Keep: Hard to Keep In.”

David Surette is the author of the new poetry collection: “ Easy to Keep, Hard to Keep In.” Surette is also the author of the poetry collections titled “Malden,” “Good Shift,” and “Young Gentleman’s School.” Surette, co-hosts the ever successful Poetribe Reading Series in East Bridgewater, Mass. Award-winning poet Frannie Lindsay writes of his new collection: “ David Surette is a steward of humility in its many forms: from his blue collar Arcadian roots to his lowly yet noble farm animals. With charm and affability, yet neither of these at the cost of implicit depth, this collection impresses…” I spoke with Surette on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: David, you often write about your Arcadian roots. Can you talk about this ethnic group that many people may not be familiar with?

David Surette: It is interesting that it is such a big secret since it is the second biggest population in the state besides the Irish. Part of it has to do with how we ended up here. Longfellow wrote a very famous poem about us: “ Evangeline.” I don’t know why people don’t put the two together. Longfellow, Arcadians, etc… We were all expelled from Nova Scotia in 1775. The Arcadians had a beautiful life in Nova Scotia. They had beautiful farms and they wanted nothing to do with the English war with France. They just wanted to be. Even when England controlled the area they signed treaties. We were a different people, not loyal to England or France. The English weren’t happy about this and they expelled everyone they could get hold of. They shoved people on slave ships. Three leveled ships. 10,000 people drowned on the way out of Nova Scotia. The rest wound up all the way down the coast from Maine to South America. Most famously New Orleans. They are known as the Cajuns, short for Arcadians. So Longfellow wrote about us, everyone knows the Cajuns, but the Arcadians of New England are not known. Probably because they came here poor and with the French language. They became the “other.” Shame became part of their existence. They just hid. They took jobs, like most immigrants, that no one wanted. I eventually learned to get rid of the shame and to write about it.

DH: You wrote a collection of poems “Malden.” Unlike Paris or Rome you would hardly think that Malden would inspire a book of poetry. (Certainly Somerville would!) But it did. How are you in a Malden frame of mind?

DS: Malden is a place where people think that nothing happens. I think my poetry addresses that. It is about ordinary life, a “ Malden kind of life.” But there is till poetry there. I have to write about where I come from.

DH” In your poem “Smoking Ban,” you write about the patrons of a bar.

“ I watch them believe / that tonight’s the night/ and we never have to wake to/ the morning’s bitter truth.”
The Bar, from Bukowski on has been a sort of stale beer, boilermaker and smoke-ridden muse for many a poet. Why do you think it is so inspiring?

DS: I think it seems like a good idea at first. When you grow up among working people, and you are a working person, it seems like a really good idea. There is music, there are women, there are your friends, and it seems like a natural place to entertain yourself. But there is a line there. In the poem you read, I try to convey that it is one thing to go to the bar, and it is another thing to go home. But there are people who never leave.

Anytime you have two things that don’t seem to fit together, that for me is my poetic moment. I think barrooms have that quality. These are places you go to get away from things. Everyone who goes to a bar brings his or her “stuff” with them. So it makes for a lot of material. In the poem I quote Van Morrison’s “ Brown-eyed Girl.” That’s one of those songs that when you sit down in a bar, you might think, “How can it be better than this?” But I think that it is a pretty false promise.

DH: You are an English teacher on the secondary level. How important is poetry in the “kids” lives?

DS: I am a teacher of English and Creative Writing in East Bridgewater, Mass. It is not an important part of the kids’ lives at all. This is where my job comes in. We read a poem in class everyday and we write everyday. I think the kids are surprised about how much they like poetry. And I will venture to say they are dying to write it. I think everyone in the world wants to write poetry. You don’t want to squelch the kids’ desire to write.

DH: How about your own creative process?

DS: I have a poetic moment when I have something in my head and I can’t get it out. It usually when two things are together that doesn’t fit together. Like hope and a barroom. If it stays in my head for a couple of weeks I write it down. I put it on a scrap of paper and drop it in my pocket. Later I will type it up if I feel it is worth it. I could make up to 30 drafts. Then I have a person I trust, in my case my co host at Poetribe Vicky Murray. She likes my poetry enough to be hard on it.

DH: I know I like to write at the Sherman Café in Union Square, and to a lesser extent Bloc 11 in my hometown of Somerville, Mass. How about you? Where do you write?

DS: I like to write in secret. Usually I write from boredom. I might write during an English faculty meeting. I don’t have a place. I don’t do in front of anybody. I don’t go to a regular workshop.

DH: Any Franco-American, Arcadian writers you really admire?

DS: Mark Strand for one. He was the former Poet/ Laureate of the United States.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Looking For An Eye: Poetry by Peter Krok.

Looking For An Eye: Poetry by Peter Krok. ( Foothills Publishing POBOX 68 Kanona, NY 14856 Looking For An Eye: Poetry by Peter Krok. $15.

Peter Krok writes in the introduction to his new collection of poetry “Looking for an Eye” that, : “ the process of self-discovery involves looking in two directions, both inwards and outwards, and these poems are meant to reflect that search.”

Krok, an editor at Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Valley Journal, encapsulates his search in the title poem: “Looking for an Eye.” The poet writes about his fumbling search to find his third eye, or poet’s eye: “ Fumbling in the dark, always looking/ for an eye, he hurls stones/ at his shadow. Voices startle him. / A stranger keeps stalking/ Each time he seems to see, /a finger pokes his eye. / He sits on beach steps, head against hands. / A child comes up to him. / Can I help you, Mister? /Saying No thanks, / he stares at the Atlantic…”

And since I have worked the 3 to 11 shift at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital just outside of Boston noted for its resident poets Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, I was drawn to the poem “Second Shift.” It is a poem that speaks beautifully to the relentless march of time, the “dull decline of days,” and tired resignation mixed with quiet desperation.

“ You come home drooped and hungry
Night yawns The wife sleeps…
Slump on the couch. Stare
like a disheveled store mannequin
toward the rooms in your midnight…

Do you know what it is What I mean
You want to break
the dull decline of days slipping
through the stubborn hole in life
but your knuckles are not strong enough.”

Highly Recommended

More Voices Israel Picture

1-- Doug Holder with Voices Israel poet Gretti Izak

2-- Doug Holder with Israeli poet Donna Bechar

Richard Kostelanetz PO/EMS Review by Irene Koronas

Richard Kostelanetz
PO/EMS 2008 $6.00
contemporary poetry series
Presa :S: Press
PO Box 792 Rockford, Mi 49341

Review by Irene Koronas


po/ems by Richard Kostelanetz give us the reader
chances to see ordinary words in a new configuration,
and new connotations. once we decipher these poems or
this sparse collection of cut up cut off cut from
original meaning, word play word talk, we are left
a/lone up/on a/cross

Kostelanetz challenges our perceptions, ideas of what
a poem can offer. a few poems do this very well, a few
fall open, askew of the original intention, which I’m
presupposing to be profound, humorous, clever or
disco/very, or absolutely nothing, devoid of emotion,
(again this is my presumption. ) I except his
punctuation, his deconstruction; he influences many
contemporary poets, including myself.

I’m partial to his poem on page 23 because the visual
works within the small open framed space. my criticism
would be the bold fon the like so much. I feel like he
feels like we won’t get it unless we are presented
with flash recognitions, unless the page space is
filled with bold strokes like a neon sign on the
highway and those little emphatic symbols gotta go.
infinity or not. there is a sentimentality to those
two symbols and in a book like this it don’t make it.
even though i’m impressed with his tan/gent, I soon
return to his (Kostelanetz’ s) 1993 book, ‘word works,’
a master piece in experimentation. in that book on
page 193, ‘preface xii partitions,’ Richard says, “the
idea of imitating what is taught in school - or either
proving myself or establishing my credibility through
the mastery of classroom exercises - has never
interested me.” then he continues further on, “…I
think it can be seen that my poetry belongs to
tradition, mostly American, that is concerned with
radical inventions within the machinery of poetry…”

po/ems is worth the six dollar entrance fee.

Irene Koronas
poetry editor
wilderness house literary review