Saturday, February 09, 2008
Poems From the Factory Floor
By Lisa Beatman
61 pages at 14.95 soft cover
Ibbetson Street Press
25 School Street
Somerville MA 02143
Review by Laurel Johnson
Historically, since the America’s beginning, factory jobs have been held by immigrants hoping for a better life. Today those jobs are disappearing at a disturbing rate. With each manufacturing plant closure -- or relocation to foreign soil -- workers find themselves without jobs or income. Lisa Beatman’s second book gives readers a view of immigrants we won’t find on the news. Ms. Beatman’s hopeful immigrants come to us from the Mekong Delta, from south of the Rio Grande, from Europe, and every corner of the globe to become scrub women, fruit pickers, factory workers, meat packers. Immigrants today look to the “New World” for the same promise sought by our parents and grandparents:
This new world
was all coal-stink and pandemonium,
the shouts of men caught
by low ceilings and careened back,
twofold in strength.
In “Rainbow” young Chileans with calloused hands pick fruit while working their way across country to Boston, where they learn their colors and numbers making folders for a children’s hospital:
Juan is mute as a lake, but he knows
his colors: purple is A-F,
blue is G-K, yellow is L-P,
red is Q-T, green is U-Z.
His calloused hands, tattooed with paper cuts
sort the folders that will hold each child’s story.
In “Manufacturing America” Russian Jews come seeing a Cossack-free world. Regardless of what their profession was once, they work in factories so their families can eat:
These Russian Jews
conjugate each Wednesday
in class at the paper factory.
They bite their lips to say ‘visa’ and ‘vinegar’
They purse them to say ‘want ads’ and ‘why.’
For every worker in America, immigrant and non-immigrant, life has changed. “Hack Job” is a powerful poem that shares truths both painful and poignant. How will American workers -- and our country -- survive outsourcing and downsizing?
The bones of the body
one by one
their marrow sacked
in a welter
one machine operator
on the dole,
shopping with food stamps,
hack hack hack,
How will the body live
with no framework
to hang its flesh on?
The boss just twists
so we don’t bleed dry.
Who will stay the axe?
Who will trim the stumps?
How will we learn
to walk again?
Neither readers nor Ms. Beatman have the answers, but she presents facts for our consideration through exceptional poetry and prose. This book should be required reading in every school and university in America because it shines a kindlier light on immigrants and their struggles, a light seldom seen today.
Review by Laurel Johnson . Laurel Johnson is a reviewer for the Midwest Book Review.
By Lyn Lifshin
Brookhaven, NY 11719
Review by Lo Galluccio
You have to wonder when the woman has time to dry her hair….but then you figure she’s just letting that long lavish mane dry in whatever wind comes along. Why can’t I picture Lyn Lifshin with a blow dryer in her hand anyway?
One of the most prolific poets of our time, Lifshin has put out a new chapbook called Novembery, on e.s.p. press. It draws its images and free verse (dribbled like a careful sandcastle in lines usually 3-4 words long) from this time in her life, and a major relationship of her past. – her relationship with her mother. At first, Lifshin writes as if she’s managing a time lapse photo, each poem a slightly different unfolding of the themes of the one before, each one contributing to our deepening sense of the entire subject. Thematic and lyrical – as many but not all of her works are – Novemberly starts with a “night drive from Austerlitz/an hour north to bring in my plants/early September….” The poem introduces the geraniums which are recast in the succeeding poems, as if they were so real as to be animals….”geraniums under a quilt last night, a blotch of red opening/on the front steps what looked like lint/ has small pink claws and feet.,” from the first poem of the collection: Today, Longing for Upstate, Unseasonably Cold, Highs only in the Mid Thirties.”
She draws from Greek mythology in the poem, “Maybe but it Feels More Septemberly” in writing about herself as Persephone, the goddess who must spend six months in the underworld before her mother Demeter draws her back up into the earth’s arms: “under my hair I’m /Persephone, not quite/ up for so much bloom,/ I feel more like some/ thing dark under layers/ of night, the brown/ seeds of silver dollars…”
Something like a swift and deftly traced travelogue of that fall-time, she includes poems about her sister as well at the time of her mother’s death – the recriminations one can feel within a family in “The Images, the Faces, My Sister’s Eyes,” when there are “15 years no truce, no phone.” Furthermore she writes, “I stopped the cards. ‘You murdered the victims twice’ she squealed at a last funeral. Someone said my face turned snow.” We can feel the sting of reproach in the compactness of the last sentence. Again Lifshin turns to the oncoming season of winter, her face turning into snow to match it.
Like a Bergman film clip, she repeats the scene in the next poem, “Another Woman who Looks like my Sister,” “dove grey eyes or/ maybe the sea/ruby birth, the same blood we share /but of course don’t/It made it easier,/ what you said, /knifed what I’d /have needed /to go on/….Your /scream shriek,/ then, face distorted/ I didn’t know you.” Her sister, in her hateful and shocked explosion, literally becomes something else, an abstraction, another woman to Lyn Lifshin.
She documents the turning points in her mother’s aging. “I Lift my Mother to the Commode,” describes a heart-wrenching moment when her mother losses mobility and Lyn and a stranger help her. “Our/ awkward dance to lift /her hopeless as prayers/ for mercy, a reprieve/ but I try to not show my/ fear and now see her/ tremble as the doorbell/ rings, Verizon, to install/ a private line she’ll be/ alive less than a week to/ use. Still on the commode,/ my stranded mother is/ lifted by the smiling man /as if it was part of every/ day’s phone service,/ gently as if carrying /a bride over the threshold/ for a new life.” In this way, Lifshin again conjures an elegant travail – like a dancer on a beam of light.-- out of a moment many of us would find humiliating and awful.
The arc of the book, from Lyn’s remembering her mother alive, her funeral scenes that flash by with her estrangement to her sister, and Lyn always seeing herself a figure in the midst with emails and boxes to pack and feelings to explore like her plants, we come back to a poem about Lyn’s illustrious mane of hair, as if it were part of the trademark of her many extensions of living from roots to fly-away ends. In “The Mad Girl has Butterflies in her Hair,” she writes, “not just Monarchs/ but owl butterflies, swallow/ tails, mourning cloaks,/ viceroys and painted/ ladies. Wings brush/ her skin….”
The chapbook includes several lovely photos of Lyn’s mother and herself, as both child and adult.
It is a book like the sign of Virgo, entreating us like a deceptively small white rose.
I am always a fan.
Ibbetson St. Press
Friday, February 08, 2008
An Interview with Jared Smith
with Doug Holder
Poet Jared Smith’s latest collection of poetry is ‘Lake Michigan and Other Poems” (Puddinhead Press). His other collection include: ‘ Walking The Perimeters Of the Plate Glass Factory” (Birch Book Press, NY 2002), “Keeping the Outlaw Alive” (Erie St.Press, Chicago 1988), Dark Wing (Charred Norton Publishing New York, 1984), and “Song Of The Blood” (The Smith Press, New York, 1983.) He has published hundreds of times in a wide number of literary journals and magazines over the past 25 years. I met with him after a reading he gave at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.
Doug Holder: You said at your reading that you don’t have much of an affinity for the academy or academic poetry.
Jared Smith: That’s not quite what I mean. I had an academic upbringing. My father won scholarships to Harvard and Brown. He was the Dean of Continuing Education at New York University. I grew up knowing an awful lot of literary types…intellectuals. I mean there is a real difference between shallow, stylized academic thinking and hardworking people who build a culture.
Holder: You seem to have an affinity for the workers. You said not enough people are writing about them these days.
Smith: It is not popular to write about them in media circles. But the workers themselves are writing. You have tremendous energy on the open mic scene. Many of the participants are dishwashers and such during the day. In Chicago we have active poets from all walks of life. There are a lot of people with raw literacy, and it is important not to loose touch with that.
Holder: Can you tell me about your friendship with Donald Lev, the founder of Home Planet News, a respected independent lit mag started in Greenwich Village in the 70’s?
Smith: Home Planet News has been around for 28 years, but Don has been editing magazines before then and I had the honor of having a regular column in one of them. I met Lev through a wonderful poet around my age named Paul Henning. Paul was writing an epic poem—a science fiction poetry epic called La Via Del Tren Subterraneo es Peligrosa—or “ Subway Tracks Are Dangerous.” He had no money but knew how to take advantage of the system. He share a loft in NYC with a slightly older, wiser and somewhat humorously grumpy Bohemian poet, Donald Lev. We would sit around the studio and talk poetry. This was around 1977, after he had finished publishing HYN and was starting up POETS with Mike Devlin and Philippe Chaurize. I was honored when he asked me to be guest columnist. Paul was involved also, and he also wrote reviews under the name Wergild Krank. My column ran five times and then in the first issue of Home Planet News. I was also on the screening committee of the New York Quarterly.
Holder: You say you are a Transcendentalist. How do you define that?
Smith: If you study objects closely, you discover that all things are basically of the same nature. Whitman and Emerson felt that there was a life source or awareness that people can reach into. I feel it differently. I feel an affinity to animate and inanimate objects, as well as to people. If you open your awareness of what is around you, that which is outside your body, you realize there is something much bigger than you are, but you are part of it. I try to push that---feel what the human experience is about, rather than what my body is about.
Holder: Where did the germ of the idea for your poem “Lake Michigan” come from?
Smith: Who really knows what triggers a poem? It was a very intense learning process. It started with my walking the dog under the stars along the lake one night. I started thinking, “Why does the Lake—Lake Michigan—fascinate me so much? Why does the water fascinate me and everyone so much?” So I started out on a personal level, then on a human level, and then beyond all that. I wanted to know why water is so important. And the ideas and visions just kept opening outward.
Holder: You are not afraid to write political poems. You have strong views. Some say political poetry is polemic, not art. What do you say?
Smith: I have an awful time saying what poetry is. If you read someone like Robert Lowell, or you read Allen Ginsberg, they’re quite different from each other. It is totally different than an open mic rant, if you will. In all these cases, though, poetry is a condensed rhythmic language. You bring things down to a few words—to explore something that cannot be talked about in commercial terms. Poetry should be a language of ideas. There is no taboo for art.
Holder: You left Greenwich Village and went back to your home in the Midwest why?
Smith: Life does strange things to one. And it did it to me. You have to be flexible—you have to respond. I was in graduate school, my father passed away, and my family was in debt. I was busy writing poetry, but as you know you don’t make much money. I started consulting for an energy-consulting firm. I just walked in and said;” You write bad promotional copy.” I can do better.” So I built a career. When you put in 16 or 17 hours a day at a job, you don’t have time to write poetry. I gave up the job 5 years ago.
Holder: How do you make a living now?
Smith: I write, think, travel and invest. I live frugally. I really wanted to return to writing from the beginning but I had two children to raise.
Holder: You are a small press activist. You are also friends with small press icon Harry Smith?
Smith: I love the small press. Harry Smith is a very significant figure. He was a giant at the time when he took me in. A big reason we have the small press is because of people like Smith. Smith felt there had to be a place for independent thinking. He published folks like Studs Terkel—a whole host of writers who were published under “The Smith” press.
Holder: What did Smith do for you?
Smith: He published me in an anthology: "Eleven Young Poets.” On the back of the book he wrote: “Will poets conquer the world?” He published an epic poem of mine: “Song of the Blood.” That was the first book I had published (1983) It lead to a number of interviews (NPR) and parts were adapted for a modern dance at Lincoln Center. Smith is a monster intellect. He graduated Brown University. He is a great believer in democratic ideals. He was a voice of Greenwich Village.
Holder: Are there any folks like Smith out there, like Eric Greinke of Presa Press?
Smith: Greinke has a press in the 70’s “The Pilot Press.” He published some amazing poets like Denise Levertov, Robert Bly—he knew all these people. But like me, for whatever reason, he dropped out of the publishing scene for 15 years. Then he started publishing again. He started Presa press to remind today’s young poets of what Avant-Garde poetry was in the 70’s and 80’s. He wanted to remind people of Lyn Lifshin, Harry Smith and others.
Holder; Any advice for novice poets out there?
Smith: Keep learning. Try on new things. If you don’t the magic will die for you. Remember the excitement of creation—don’t get stale.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Errol Lincoln Uys: From James Michener to "Brazil"
Interview with Doug Holder
Errol Lincoln Uys is the author of the novel “Brazil,” “Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move in the Great Depression”, and many other works. Born in South Africa, Uys has been a journalist, International Editor for Reader’s Digest, as well as a salesman, law school dropout, and youthful vagabond. Uys, who was a featured reader in The Somerville News Writers Festival last November (2007), worked with the renowned writer James Michener on his novel about South Africa: “The Covenant.” I talked with Uys on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: The English poet Philip Larkin wrote: “It’s very difficult to write about being happy. Very easy to write about being miserable.” Yes, despite your hardscrabble background you wrote your first article in the Johannesburg Star: “ Happiness Is An Unprejudiced Mind.”
Was this hard to write in light of your early life?
Errol Uys: It was fairly difficult growing up in South Africa. I was the only child of divorced parents. I dropped out of law school. I tried to start a business that was a total catastrophe. I was going to make cane furniture of all things. Don’t ask why! I used to sell things early on. I sold Hula-Hoops in the streets of Johannesburg. I also sold Teddy Bears. Throughout this time I had always been writing. By this point I had written two unpublished novels. I was living in an apartment that was infested with roaches. So here I was with absolutely nothing. I saw a small ad in the Johannesburg Star that read: “ Apply for a job as a journalist.” I gave the Star a manuscript I had written. In those days you didn’t need a M.A. in Journalism. I was lucky. I got a job at the Star. They sent me to a “cadet” school. This was a fantastic way to learn to be a reporter. While I was waiting to go to school I wrote this article” Happiness Is An Unprejudiced Mind.” And I got it published on the editorial page. So that’s the way to get started through happiness! But I always have had a real feeling for the underdog.
When I worked for the Star it was during the 1960’s, and it was a very volatile time in Johannesburg. It was an exciting time to be writing.
DH: When you were very young you “hit the road” and hitchhiked around South Africa. Did Kerouac influence you?
EU: No, not really. Later when I wrote, “Riding the Rails,” I had obviously read Kerouac. In those days I was just a 15-year-old kid out to see his country. I have been lucky since then. I have traveled all over the world professionally and personally.
DH: So many writers from Crane to Hemingway have gotten their start as journalists. Is working as a journalist a good training ground to be a writer of fiction and nonfiction?
EU: It is and it isn’t. There are two schools of thought. From journalism to nonfiction there should be no drawback. To go to fiction there is something of the muse that might be affected. What you have to keep alive in that transition is spirit. That magic and enthusiasm.
DH: You worked closely with James Michener on one of his sprawling historical novels “The Covenant” You did a huge amount of work: research, editing, and writing. Yet you say he failed to acknowledge you as a coauthor. Why?
EU: I remember I said to Michener when we were working on ‘The Covenant,” “ Hey look, you might want to take a look at this and possibly use it.” He took what I gave him, closed the door, and I heard him type it up.
Someone said he really couldn’t acknowledge me on a collaborative level. Publishers back then would not put up with it. On the front page of the book there is an acknowledgement that I read the manuscript over seven times with him for errors. Today there would be no question about a full acknowledgement.
DH: Michener was obviously prolific and famous. Do you think he was a good writer?
EU: He was a brilliant researcher. He was great at blending fact and fiction. He criticized my work as being too “novelistic.” To me this is great praise. It is hard to criticize his work. His characters are very different from literary-driven ones. His is a huge tapestry. I feel the characters in my historical novel “Brazil” are more fully fleshed than his.
He has an enormous following. Especially amongst the older generation. Books like “The Source” were highly respected. Today the idea of these huge novels is combated by the Internet, and the byte world. Whether he stands among the literary greats is questionable. Remember though he won the Pulitzer for “South Pacific.” That is a work apart from the rest of his writing.
DH: You authored a book “Brazil” that spawned five centuries and two fictional families. Why would a South African take up a country like Brazil?
EU: After working with Michener I had to do my own historical novel. Having come from South Africa to the United States in the 1970’s when the whole racial thing was exploding, I became interested in comparing the two countries. I wondered how did these two countries develop? How did the racial climate in Brazil become so different from South Africa? Coming to live in America I realized how little people new about Brazil. It was amazing. They are our neighbors to the South.
DH: Tell me how you came to write, “Riding the Rails,” your book about the Great Depression, and the teenagers who hopped boxcars traveling the country looking for work. Was it partially due to your wanderlust as a kid?
EU: Partially. I was doing research on the Great Depression era, when I came across this book by Thomas Minehan. Minehan was a sociologist. Minehan rode the rails with the kids who rode the boxcars. My son and daughter-in-law had just finished film school at N.Y.U. I said the subject would make a great documentary. The essentially filmed the documentary for “The American Experience” on PBS. I wrote the companion volume.
DH: What are you working on now?
EU: I am going to write a book about Boston. It is going to be about Irish immigration in the 1840’s. The population of Boston during this period went from 100,000 to 135,000. 35,000 were Irish. Can you imagine what Boston was like? What the waterfront where the Irish lived was like? Thousands and thousands of penniless immigrants came here. Yet writers like Emerson and Thoreau and the rest have barely mentioned them. And when they did in the most stereotypical way. This will be a much smaller and compact novel than “Brazil.” I want to examine the relationships between the Irish and the Beacon Hill Protestant elites.
DH: Can you tell me about your trove of Michener papers?
EU: I put all the Michener papers on my website. I want to make sure the papers get to the right places. I kept everything. For some reason something told me to keep all those drafts of the Michener book. They are all in binders.
for more information on Uys go to: www.erroluys.com
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Blue Ribbons at the County Fair. Ellaraine Lockie. ( PWJ Publishing POBOX 238 Tahoma, CA. 96090) http://www.wellinghamjones.com $10.
Ellaraine Lockie is a well-known and respected poet in the big world of the small press. She has been nominated for Pushcarts numerous times, and has a plethora of publication credits on her long resume. This California poet’s latest collection is “ Blue Ribbons at the Country Fair.” Lockie writes about her conflicted relationship with her religion, infidelity, and her early years in the hinterlands of Montana, to name a few subjects.
Lockie is a keen observer of human character—its many flaws, warts; and is unafraid to put a bright light on her own. Being a cat lover, and the owner of a frisky feline MENOW, I enjoyed Lockie’s poetic tribute to her cat “ Cat In Her Empty Nest”
Here her cat replaces a daughter who left the familial nest. Lockie showers as much love on the scamp as she would a child or her child as in the case here:
“ He laps up baby talk
All my mother smother
A symbiotic pair
Only I can feed him
In return he muzzles
Lap dances into my void…”
And in “Man About Town” Lockie notices an attractive down-at-the-heels man partaking in a buffet at a garbage bin:
“ Black leather blazer
Body cigar-straight blue jeans
tucked into boots
Dark hair growing out of his halfway
unbuttoned tan shirt
Two-day stubble and longhair look
Of a GQ model
Five sips of coffee later I look up
And he’s ransacking
the four trash cans out front
Toasting other people’s excesses
with paper cups
In moves as fluid as the lattes
chai and chocolate milks
that slide down his throat
He’s become a fine wine connoisseur
Who couldn’t be bothered to replace
hiking boots with soles wallet-thin
Whose domestic help forgot to hem
The lining that hangs below black leather…”
Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update
Monday, February 04, 2008
Wilderness House Literary Review
Edited by Gloria Mindock
248 page anthology at 24.95 paperback
145 Foster Street
Littleton MA 01460
According to the book’s Forward, the Wilderness House Literary Review began as a collaboration between a group of poets and writers -- the Bagel Bards -- and the Wilderness House Literary Retreat in Littleton MA. Edited by Gloria Mindock of Cervena Barva Press and presenting the work of seventy writers, poets, and artists, this anthology is excellent in every way. Readers will recognize many of the names included in this anthology because of their frequent contributions to literature and the arts in journals and e-zines.
Poetry contributions include ekphrasis -- poetry inspired by viewing art -- and word explorations, free form, post-modern, and translations. Prose includes fiction and non fiction, social commentaries, essays, letters and novel excerpts. Readers will find here what writers and poets do best: provide humor in times of trial; lighten the burdens of everyday life through imaginative prose; create order out of chaos through well-constructed words and cadences; and shine an illuminating light on the good and bad we see around us.
This anthology represents the work of talented editors, writers, poets and artists who are “like the flash of fireflies that burst into view…” Each page is a new adventure, encouraging, uplifting, informing or intriguing the reader. This sampling from many gifted writers is top notch and highly recommended.
Review by Laurel Johnson for Midwest Book Review
FROM SOMERVILLE TO THE BOWERY
By Doug Holder
No matter where you go Somerville is not far behind. I found on my recent literary related trip to NYC all kinds of Somerville connections. I had planned to visit my mother in New York the first weekend in February, and it just so happened that poet Charles Ries from Wisconsin was reading at the KGB bar in the Bowery and he invited me and other folks to attend. Charles was attending the “Association of Writer’s & Writing Programs” conference in NYC. It was held on 52nd St. at the Sheraton so I figured I would make a pit stop there. Unfortunately you have to register to get in, and they were booked, so I was unable to attend the book fair segment. You figure they would let the general public in for the book tables. As a publisher/poet I would want as many folks as possible to be exposed to my books, not just our arcane world of small press people. But being the small press guerilla that I am to the bone, I left “Ibbetson Street” magazines strategically appointed around the lobby. Hopefully they got a receptive audience… a literary minded bellboy, or perhaps a luminary like Sue Miller picked it up in an afterthought.
Interesting enough earlier that day I received an email from a British poet Eva Salzman, who was a good friend of the late Poet Sarah Hannah, an acquaintance of mine who committed suicide last spring. She wrote me that she saw the interview I conducted on “Somerville Community Access TV” with Sarah, and was going to excerpt it in the current issue of “Dark Horse” a well-regarded literary magazine in Scotland. She told me she wrote an essay about Hannah.
After this, inspired by Kazan’s “A Walker In The City” I walked in the rain from 52nd Street to 4th Street in the Bowery. I was surprised what this 52-year-old body can do when inspired. The city is a source of constant fascination: the ancient tenements amidst the eruption of post-modern edifices, the unexpected arcane little shops, the dark mystery of gone-to seed Irish pubs, the protrusion of plantains from street side Bodegas, and the cacophony of Salsa, and car horns. Charles Simic our new poet/laureate wrote that while walking the city streets many years ago he tried to help find a pearl lost in the gutter for a tearful woman. He never found it but still looks for it after all these years. Needless to say a poem was birthed from this. There were no pearls before this swine however on this trip.
Anyway when I hit the Bowery for some reason Sarah Hannah’s name came up in my head. During my walk I came across the Bowery Poetry Club. So like a dog (one with a Somerville-pedigree, mind you) on a meat truck I rushed in. I ran into Jim Kates the founder of the Zephyr Press (founded in Somerville) and he introduced me to a young poet from Somerville. We chatted and I gave her a copy of “Ibbetson Street” that had an interview with Hannah. It turns out she was a student of Hannah’s at Emerson College, and loved her as a teacher and person, as many did.
Later I spoke to a young man from the famed avant-garde small press “New Directions” founded by the late James Laughlin. One of our first books “The Life of All Worlds” by Marc Widershien had a blurb from Laughlin.
The KGB bar was a down –at-the heels, hole-in-the wall, and a perfect spot for a reading. It really did have a lot of boheme charm. In the two hours I was there I got to talk to Charles Ries, I met the publisher of the “Mad Hatter’s Review,” a freshly-minted MFA student from the south coast of Florida, Michael Ditusa, and a professor of Literature from Miami University in Ohio.
What a crowd, a lot of hip young poets. And although I am married I am not blind, and some were not only talented but quite striking in other ways as well.
The next day I had the chance to meet my brother Donald Holder and my mother for dinner. Don is a Broadway lighting designer and he told me he is going to be working on a revival of “South Pacific” by James Michener. Just the other day I interviewed on Somerville Community Access TV Errol Uys, the author of “Brazil” who worked extensively with Michener . Hopefully the two will talk soon.
On the Greyhound back to Boston I ran into my neighbors Tam Lin Neville and Bert Stern. Tam and Bert are Somerville poets and publishers (“Off the Grid Press”), and we talked shop and talked “Somerville” One from this talented couple will be reading at the Somerville News Writers Festival.
So from start to end Somerville was present on my trip. Just goes to show what a great literary community we live in, and it has legs, man!
"A Handful of Bees" Poems by Dzvinia Orlowsky
Carnegie Mellon University Press 1994
A Carnegie Mellon Classic Contemporary 2008
Copyright © 1994 by Dzvinia Orlowsky
Review by Mike Amado
Recently, I read on the website, "the drunken boat .com" an introduction by
Dzvinia on her poems published there. The on-line pieces bring to light
Mrs. Orlowsky’s ordeal with breast cancer, but more importantly, recovery
and survival. I quote from that intro:
"I recall, after completing my 6 months of chemo treatment, the utterly strange sensation of crying into my goggles as I swam laps. Moments of helplessness coupled with moments of great faith and resolve. One eye laughs while the other weeps. Poetry, thank God, allows that—it makes room for all of that, for all of us."
This very thesis is also the lode stone of "A Handful of Bees".
Originally published in1994 by Carnegie Mellon University Press,
this book has been republished as a classic by Carnegie Mellon and
is truly a classic. The collection embarks with poems reflecting
on the passing of Mrs. Orlowsky’s father ( to whom the book is dedicated).
Orlowsky raises the tragedy of losing a parent to a universal plane that’s
both earnest and cathartic, where, even simple belongings of the deceased are
imbued with power and testimony. In "Barn Lumber", both speaker and mother of
the speaker feel a commingled remembrance of the father through regular objects
that the he himself has made:
"I understand now, these reminders she keeps.
One, a barn lumber table
on which she burns a hurricane lamp.
Another, a rifle propped
against the window of her bedroom,
bulletless, but labeled with tape
There is a thread of sadness that plaits its way through this volume.
Even through the poems on life with immigrant parents, there is a stark,
visible yearning. The world of home and the world outside and
the conflict of the two to coexist. A situation that many Americans
of any given ethnicity can immediately grasp. "First Generation" starts off:
"It was good to be first at something
even if it meant parents
who by speaking
shut out the world
except for my sister, and me
and Bimko, our dog,
who understood bilingual commands."
Imagery in "A Handful of Bees" is never random, but lucid, in the moment like
hot glass forged into a sharp gem. In "To Our Cosmeticians", Orlowsky examines
with knowing clarity the disparate perceptions of women.
(She defines the "Before Woman" in this poem as having, " . . .no lips to speak of",
and the "After Woman" as being, ". . .known to bite.") Ultimately, the speaker declares:
"If you ask me what season I am,
I would say late fall -
just at the time
when trees give up
and drop their leaves."
"A Handful of Bees" is immediately personal, international, and, filtered through
the prism of the heart, these poems come forth universally. Dzvinia Orlowsky
films a screenplay for the intuition. In just this one volume of sixty one pages
she undefeatedly answers as many life questions as she has conjured.
With stealth, imparting the reader a sense of "being there" in the human condition.
Mike Amado/ Ibbetson Update/ 2008/ Somerville, Mass.
ACTOR’S SHAKESPEARE PROJECT CONVERSATIONS
Henry V conversations: What is a Just War?
An Evening of Scenes from ASP’s Henry V with Responses
In the Basement of the Harvard Square Garage
January 28, 2008
A Review by Lo Galluccio of Ibbetson St. Press/The Alewife
Coordinated by Coppelia Kahn, including panel members:
Diana Henderson, Fred Marchant, Normi Noel and James Siemon.
"Henry V" conversations: What is a Just War was the fifth in a series of remarkable discussions that Ben Evett (Artistic Director) and Bobbie Steinbach (Company member) have put together to achieve a community response that expands upon Shakespeare’s themes and show their relevance to modern times.
I last attended and wrote on, “Entertaining Violence” a forum tied in to a marvelous all-male production of “Titus Andronicus.” ASP should be given credit not only for a top-notch acting company but for ingenious marketing, grant endowments and a genuine desire to give money and intellectual capital back to the community
So it was that on the evening of George Bush’s last State of the Union address, an avid audience of about 60 gathered at the performance space of ASP in the bottom of the Garage in Harvard Square. Opting out of the President’s final major speech of his at best controversial career in office – one marked by a costly and unpopular War in Iraq -- the fans of this theatre troupe settled in to watch three scenes from the production and to hear a distinguished panel talk about Shakespeare and issues of warfare. While I feel strongly that the first topic was discussed fiercely and elegantly, I came away wondering why the main question of the evening had gotten a bit lost in the shuffle of eloquence and intellect. I really wanted to hear a rousing discourse on the subject of a Just War, some typology, some philosophical or humane resolve. What better time, I thought, making my way through the holiday lights and snowy streets of Mass Avenue to discuss this issue, than now?
Not only are we $530 billion dollars in debt to a war that is being fought mainly by poor, rural men with few options, we’ve succeeded in an evolution of war devices/terminology that suggest an even colder and possibly more brutal, detached and inhumane way of dealing with our war, than before. We now call civilian deaths,”collateral damage, ““Water boarding” (a form of torture used against those suspected of terrorism, and many believe in violation of the Geneva Convention) was discussed for weeks on NPR recently in connection to the FBI’s “War on Terror.” And, of course we have seen the inception and rise of suicide bombers/bombing unprecedented in history. The latter is not an invention of the Iraq invasion, but certainly given the disturbing justification for this War—the doomsday destruction against U.S. Capitalism we call 9/11-- suicide bombing is on the rise as both cause and consequence. One example of this is the recent assassination of Opposition Party candidate Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan on the eve of elections there by another young suicide bomber. The fact is we have, what several of the academic panelists called, a “surround” to this subject which is reality-based and not entirely embedded in the various interpretations of text or acting of Henry V which penetrated the evening most, though that is the groundwork from which we this event started. Shakespeare’s prism of language, perspective and context was the guiding light.
This panel was as exciting and informational as the last – Diana Henderson added animated conceptualizations of the scenes in historical terms, Fred Marchant, equally astute lent his a poetic ear to the proceedings, also a former marine who was given a conscientious leave after Okinawa (though he didn’t speak much about this.) The play’s director, Normi Noel, spoke humbly and provocatively of what a patriarchal war drive can do to twist and denude young men of their hearts and James Siemon, a Professor of English at BU, contributed many keen philosophical observations. The evening was moderated by Coppelia Kahn who is poised to become the incoming President of the Shakespeare Association of America. She introduced each scene and led the discussion with a cool and even-handed approach, adding a theoretical context to the evening.
The first hint of discussing war’s brutality came as several panelists used the term “atrocity,” after the enactment of Henry threatening a village in France with complete annihilation unless they succumbed to his forceful verbal “battering ram” to disarm. Coppelia then invoked a paradigm of Henry V which described its duality or Janus-faced nature – that is either to interpret it as the rise of a warrior King who wins, or the rise of a Machiavellian King who deceives and pillages for the sake of power. Both seem to work depending on one’s point of reference. And it was only at the tail end of the evening that the panelists acknowledged that Henry V calls for the killing of prisoners three times during the play. This other brutality seemed a significant detail, not to be overlooked in making a judgment of whether this or other wars constitute a grave injustice against humanity.
As always Shakespeare beguiles and entertains us with his pitched language and the subtle interplay of the intimate and epic: i.e., relations between a man and woman (who happen to be rival monarchs) in the famous “courtship” scene of Katherine of France or the King’s incognito meeting with his subjects in a dark wood on watch where they debate what they actually do owe this King as they are lead into bloody battle. It is against these specific, human moments that we experience the larger forces of a looming nationalism, tribalism and vengeful warfare that have marked thousands of years of history. In acknowledging Shakespeare’s own humanity, do we then make an assessment that because humans have consciences and can fathom issues of justice, there may be both Just and unjust wars? Are we able then to make judgments without some sort of God-like referee about this play or the current war in Iraq? And I had to ask myself-- wasn’t that the question posed for us to somehow answer.
I would have liked the topic explored in more concrete terms, without the heavy gloss on this particular play, its wonderfully acted scenes, and the high-brow panel. It would have given the evening a bit more grit and purpose; however, the aura of academia and the emphasis on the drama held sway during the night. And that was probably as it should be, given that the production was its centerpiece.
Some noteworthy remarks emerged from the audience (finally unleashed) at the evening’s finale. One British soldier in the audience, who’d been stationed in Afghanistan, spoke robustly of how well the war was going and how important Henry V had been to him in the field. I countered by questioning his extreme patriotism for the US at time when, to many minds, we were, in fact involved in an unwarranted war, started by a leader many consider to be inadequate, if not immoral in its undertaking. At another juncture, a young woman described a scene in Iraq that her friend in arms relayed, of men being whipped into a killing frenzy. This she related back to Henry V’s desire to kill. Another woman gave a feminist review of the “wooing” scene, remarking that Hal may have put the charm on, but Katherine was still but a pawn in his game. I could have used a bit more of a controlled free-for-all, so the audience had a chance to present their reactions and views as much as the panel – to let it rip, so to speak. Still, the evening gave a richly balanced discourse.
I urge you to go see Henry V and to support Actor’s Shakespeare Project’s ongoing evolution. Tell them next time they have an audience feedback event, to stay on track with the question of the night and to let the talk fly a bit more. We may be in Harvard-land but that doesn’t mean that academic theory must dominate the landscape of Shakespeare’s garden of beautiful and brutal delights.