Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bagel Bard 3 For Sale!


BAGEL BARD 3 ANTHOLOGY NOW OUT: With an introduction from Regie Gibson. Poetry from this iconoclastic group of poets who meet at the Au Bon Pain every Saturday in Davis Square, Somerville.

Bagel Bard noun. 1. A poet that is glazed and ring-shaped whose poetry has a tough, chewy texture usually made of leavened words and images dropped briefly into nearly boiling conversations on Saturday mornings often baked to a golden brown. 2. verb. To come together in writership over breakfast. To laugh so hard at an irreverent statement that the sesame seeds of the bagel you've just eaten explode from your mouth like grenade shrapnel. Welcome to the third Bagelbard Anthology. As some of you know (or can guess from the above definition) the Bagel Bards meet every Saturday morning at a designated spot. We breakfast in the original sense of eating, but also, because most of us are so busy working on our writing careers that we often find ourselves starved for great conversation. Well, the Bagel Bards breakfast hang is not only a place in which to do the aforementioned, but also to observe characters who themselves could be the subjects of poems and fiction.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Man In The Booth In The Midtown Tunnel by Doug Holder

(Somerville, Mass.)

Ibbetson Street Press founder Doug Holder will be releasing a new collection of his poetry this summer (2008) through the Cervena Barva Press ( ) "The Man In The Booth In The Midtown Tunnel" ($13)

Here is a review from Luke Salisbury author of the award winning novel "Hollywood and Sunset," and a Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College ( Boston):

The Man In The Booth in The Midtown Tunnel

Doug Holder is a very funny man and a very funny poet, but his new collection is much more than funny. There’s a profound seriousness in this book. Holder deals with his past and sometimes sour present. He doesn’t spare us the intensity and craziness he sees and feels around him. The title poem, a very fine poem, catches the fears and wonders of a New York childhood. I also felt loneliness, fear and a tantalizing feeling of being trapped in a grown-up world riding through the Midtown Tunnel.

Another poem speaks of “A bus full of exiles.” We’re all on that bus and Holder doesn’t let us off until we have shared his feelings of desolation and even madness everywhere from “effete ivied walls” to the wards of McLean Hospital, stopping off for some of “The Love Life Of J. Edgar Hoover (The poem is everything you hope and expect it will be –“Mother downstairs/Off her rocker”), to “Killing Time at The 99” which has the fine lines “And drink/To all/This/Loneliness/Made visible” (Great lines I think), to “hoping/there/is/still/someone/out there” when using the “Pay Phones On The Boston Common” to final observations of a “Rat’s Carcass.”

The collection isn’t depressing. It’s alive. Alive with vitality, ugliness, sadness, sex, even love. It’s all here. This is Holder’s best to date.

Hugh Fox ( a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize):

" If Winslow Homer had written poetry this is the kind of poetry he would have written, at least before he’d been bowled over by French Impressionism, and was still Mr. Sketchman. That’s what Holder is too, Mr. Sketchman, magically-realistically bringing his world right into yours:

“A skeletal man/His torso/Barely supports/A crisp white shirt --/His forehead/Violated by a jet black/Wedge of his toupee..//An old man/Pipes up/And fawns over/A prized cat/Who I think/With such/Suffocating attention/Must be miserable,/And I drink/To all /This loneliness/Made visible.” (“Killing Time at the 99).

Realistic sketches, but almost always with an underlying flow of melancholia. Which super-emphasizes the power of the sketches themselves. Never in the psychopathological abstract,he nicely identifies with the proletarian agonies, looks at the Out There and totally can splice with it and its problems: “The cars stream/Under a frozen/Catatonic/East River./And the man/in the booth/Paces the perimeter/Of his cage...//And we are/Faceless and a blur.” (The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel”)

You read Holder and you take a trip through the total Northeast/especially Boston mind-set as well as his own , personal, intimate world made (deeply) available to all.

Linda Lerner’s Comment on:

The Man In The Book In The Midtown Tunnel by Doug Holder

The man in Doug Holder’s, The Man In The Midtown Tunnel,who “Lost his face / Long ago / In a blue uniform” metaphorically becomes everyone struggling to survive in lives boxed in by a job that robs us of our humanity, by loneliness and the infirmities of aging. It is about the struggle to keep from being more than that “forgotten / Ineffectual man ”who passed away on Boston’s Red line subway, with passengers “On either / Side of the stretcher” watching. It is about clutching an outdated pay phone in a wireless world “hoping / there is / still / someone / out there.”

In a poem about the woman who sat on the toilet for two years, Holder enables the reader to see beyond a news story, to the person stricken with inertia or fear, unable to leave a job, a marriage, a room. That is one of the strengths of a collection which once begun, you will be compelled to read straight through. We see the poet, as an intuitive boy, watching a baseball game at Shea Stadium in 1972 as “Agee / Circled the Bases / In an Arrogant / Home run....” wondering if his “Life would / Ever be / So / Clear cut....

----Linda Lerner/ Adjunct Professor of English /City College of New York

Doug Holder is above all an urban poet, an observer chronicling the everyday sights and absurdities of Somerville, Boston and New York City in plain talk flavored with cool irony and sudden startling bursts of imagery. His settings include hospital rooms, bars, coffee shops, Harvard Yard, the post office, buses and subway trains, the Boston Public Library, Shea Stadium, housing projects, city streets, and the Midtown Tunnel from Queens to Manhattan which is the location of the book’s title poem. His characters are bizarre and ordinary like all of us. Several of the poems are inspired by newspaper stories—about a woman who sat on a toilet for two years in her boyfriend’s apartment, about an old man who murdered his equally aged wife, about a middle aged man who died on a subway train: “the Daily dropped/ From his hands. . . .The trains backed up/ From Cambridge to Dorchester.”

I’m reminded in the pages of this collection of meeting, a year or two before her death, the artist Alice Neel, who painted gorgeously surreal ironic portraits of famous and ordinary people in the 1930s and 40s--and shivering as she looked me over. Doug Holder looks at the world through a similarly sharp and amused set of eyes. Yet there is no malice but a profound sympathy here—for the helplessness of aging and of poverty, for physical and mental illnesses, for the complexity of family relations—and most of all, for the isolation and loneliness lurking underneath tenaciously crowded city life. In the title poem of the collection, the man in the booth in the Midtown Tunnel “paces the perimeter/ Of his cage” while outside the cars whip by: “And we are/ Faceless and a blur,/ Behind thick plates/ Of light-bleached glass.”

However, let me assure you this is not a gloomy collection of poems. There are rich nuggets of humor and wry reflection throughout this collection and, to combat the isolation of urban life, in almost every poem a relationship is forged between the observing eye and the subject of the poem. So, for example, as the speaker of the poem observes a woman nursing in a restaurant in “Private Dining Under a Blouse”:

I saw
The infant emerge
Held in an untroubled

I sucked on my straw
Flattening the plastic stem
Still awake
And troubled.

A few of the poems in this collection, like the one above, segue gracefully in subject from Holder’s last book, Of All the Meals I Had Before: Poems About Food and Eating. Another is a poem toward the end of the book, “The Last Hotdog”: “She brought it/ to his sick bed,/ He bit through/ The red casing/ The familiar orgasm/ Of juice/ Hitting the roof/ Of his mouth”. And one more food-focused poem, “At the Fruit Stand,” which is about bananas and melons and grapes and is too erotic to discuss in a family publication. However, you will enjoy it. And the whole collection.

* Pamela Annas is a Professor of English at University of Massachusetts/Boston and the author of A Disturbance in Mirrors: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Somerville small literary press' score in the Small Press Review

SMALL PRESS REVIEW MARCH/APRIL 2008: Lisa Beatman’s “Manufacturing America… (Ibbetson 2008) a March-April pick for best of the month.

Lisa Beatman, author of “Manufacturing America…” (Ibbetson Press 2008) was a March/April pick of the month in the Small Press Review. Beatman’s poetry collection explores the lives of immigrant workers in a factory in Somerville, Mass., where she worked as an adult literacy teacher. To order the book go to:

Somerville “Off the Grid” press scored a pick as well with Lee Sharkey’s “A Darker Sweeter String,” and Gloria Mindock’s Cervena Barva Press scored a pick with “Bird Scarer” by Glen Sheldon.

The Small Press Review has been reviewing thousands of books for the past 40 years. The Wall Street Journal called it the “bible of the business.” It gets hundreds of books a month and makes about 13 selections for its pick of the month selection…so congrats to all. The Small Press Review is carried at many university poetry rooms across the country. Kirby Congdon, a poet, writes to Len Fulton, the publisher:

“For me, your publication has provided not only a reference point to literary activity in this country; it has given me a literary perspective to my own development. In a world established on commercial success, I have been able through The Small Press Review, to get my feet on the ground, establish confidence in my own ideas, and to connect with people who provide the source of the country’s extraordinary genius for the spontaneous exercise of both poetry and prose for its own sake, despite the odds against its recognition…” For more information and to order SPR go to

Recently Ibbetson authors have been the recipient of many picks of the month including: Irene Koronas, Richard Wilhelm, Gloria Mindock, Robert K. Johnson, and Molly Lynn Watt.

I have had the pleasure of being picked for my collections: “Poems of Boston and Just Beyond: from the Back Bay to the Back Ward,” (Alpha Beat Press) and “Wrestling with My Father” (Yellow Pepper Press)

I would advise folks to subscribe to this gem of a magazine.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rooting, Sinking into the Earth, Surviving with Them in "Up from the Root Cellar", poems by Anne Harding Woodworth

Rooting, Sinking into the Earth, Surviving with Them in

Up from the Root Cellar, poems by Anne Harding Woodworth

(Cervena Barva Press $7.)

Review by Michael Todd Steffen

Anne Harding Woodworth’s peculiar attention, her attention for peculiarity, is drawn to things and situations out of the way, to fleeting moments of curious revelation. The epigraph for the poem “Autumn,” page 29, quoted from Richard Hugo, puts in a nutshell Woodworth’s penchant for the unexpected:

Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it.

The more furtive the subject, the more intense the observation and expression. Yet her subjects, though marginal, remain familiar, the discarded household things on the escarpment of a train track, the message inside a Snapple cap, a homeless woman outside in the window of a restaurant. (The latter prompts Woodworth to wonder, “How do people find each another?”)

Had Woodworth been skeletoning for philosophy rather than poetry, she may have done so poetically by giving this collection the title Dendrology, after the poem on

page 27, which lays the poet’s cyclical thinking barest in terminology:

The rings of a tree show wide

from a wet season, narrow from a dry,

which is difference and balance.

It is one of the few of Woodworth’s poems in the collection that maintain to her silent situations, “creatures” and miscellany of things an illustrative gloss of meanings or abstract language, such as “Like attracts like,” “ingrained/into equilibrium. Nourish and starve,” or “Like repels like, too”… The poem comes toward the end of the book where a vision of life’s things set in a special light of meaning is being dissolved into terms, and from terms of “difference and balance,” into the complete difference of the hidden whence all this music came:

Out of the earth, secrets eventually rise to the surface.

Graves beneath tree roots and granite cave in

begging for rock…

The difference by then is forgetting…

The empty goblet is not always filled again.

Yet isn’t that a trick that the psyche plays on us, atonement once and for all, resolution? When we remember that the collection is called Up from the Root Cellar, and turn back

to the opening poem, it is precisely at the meagerly surviving level, of “Wintering,” hibernating, in “The creatures beside me,” down in the root cellar, “in Obscurity:/ roots

alive [read, cultural roots also], rhizomes,/ tightly wadded leaves, flowerets” where Woodworth began distinguishing these near and intimate presences from the broad sweep of the world’s furtive ambition which drives the sensitive and vulnerable into the earth’s hideouts:

Someone in the light-time

is looking for history, for ore, for water,

for mold that grows on skins and spreads,

for a paw scratching to get out.

The silent powers Woodworth senses, have her ask: “am I safe in the dark-time?”—perhaps to be reassured that “The creatures beside me [the roots, potatoes, carrots

—animate ‘creatures’!] smile in their sleep for not being found.” Of the many poets who have cast animate sympathies onto the vegetable world, Theodore Roethke knocks for acknowledgment. From his poem “Cuttings” comes a memorable strophe enacting evolution from mineral water into the water-life of the human body:

I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,

In my veins, in my bones I feel it, —

The small waters seeping upward,

The tight grains parting at last.

When sprouts break out,

Slippery as fish

I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.

If those “looking for history” have driven the poet’s soul underground “waiting cool, but not freezing dead,” there are those among the mundane world still, children, whom the poet’s persona as the hermitesse “Miss Moore” can intimidate:

If Miss Moore catches them

playing in her grasses,

she yells from the kitchen window.

She’s hunch-backed,

has yellow-white hair.

Children know: she smells of fennel.

She threatens them

with her root cellar…

Children know. They choose flight

over being force-marched into the ground.

Terrible for the children, hilarious for us standing outside the farce, this is a marvelously imaginative passage (with extended meaning from a choice word, “flight,” for how the little playful ones react). Who wants to be force-marched into the ground?

Who wants to be? Who is?

I have taken space to comment on little. The poems are rich and well worth an interested reader’s exploration. To keep in mind some of the latter “philosophical” poems like “Dendrology” and “Northeast Corridor” helps the reader navigate through some of the quieter poems like “Elsewhere, Life,” “Centering the Universe” and “Miklos Radnoti’s Postcards 1946,” where situations speak through things and gestures.

I liked the cashier in “At the Supermarket,” who ostensibly doesn’t know what beets are, and I like Woodworth’s reply:

“Beets.” It’s as if I’m teaching

fresh vegetables as a second language.

I also liked the poem “Famine,” in which a cloth dyer’s work has failed to please his lord. (W.H. Auden compares the poet’s hand to the dyer’s hand.) In Woodworth’s poem, the color “the natural mole’s-back-gray-tan/…peat-bog purple” is not acceptable to the prospective buyer. The dyer therefore has to return home, where his daughter is weak with hunger, without being compensated for his work.

He lies down next to his daughter,

and while she sleeps,

he tries to solve the undyeing of a piece of cloth.

This last image approaches the pathos of the sublime, if not in elaboration or detail, in essence, of such works as Lear’s speech to the hanged Cordelia or of Michelangelo’s sculpture of Mary holding Jesus’ crucified corpse (la Pieta). It is a humbling tercet to read, and must have been so to find in composition. It resonates with the loyalty clutching at the boundaries of mortality down in the root cellar to its struggle for emergence on through the collection.

Hats off to Anne Harding Woodworth.

Michael Todd Steffen/Ibbetson Update/April 2008/Somerville, Mass.

Up from the Root Cellar by Anne Harding Woodworth

Winner of the 2006 Cervena Barva Press Poetry Contest

Cervena Barva Press copyright 2007


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