Monday, June 30, 2008
My Life as a Doll
by Elizabeth Kirschner
Autumn House Press
ISBN 978-1-932870-20-6 $14.95
A review by Mignon Ariel King
If you are going through a rough time, don’t read this collection. Separated into four parts, each serving as a eulogy to the lost periods of the poet’s life, this is excruciating stuff. Cuckoo recounts in brutal detail the childhood head injury inflicted by the narrator’s mother via a baseball bat; and if you ever wondered what it feels like to lose one’s mind and know it, you will find out. The traumatized adult narrator’s words punish the reader as well as the now-deceased abusive mother. Keep reading anyhow, for although the story never gets better—that is, expect no pretty made-it-through-the-storm ending—the language can be magnificent: “Whatever emerges at season’s end/comes from a harrowing heaven…”(3).
By page six the narrator has disappeared into the basement to hide. In her addled brain, there she is ostracized from a community of dolls. Do not expect her to lead you out of the dark. She does not want to leave as: “[s]alvation was a hardship/I was not yet ready to bear”(6). The concepts of forgiveness and moving on are not part of this narrative.
The adult narrator obsessively fantasizes about confronting her mother with tears that are
“glass splinters.//Let them slice, slice, slice/her dead tongue…”(7). The contradictions that once swirled through her mind were supported by the mixed messages of the only women around her, her mother and nuns. Pages fourteen through fifteen gave me goosebumps—the good kind. One of the narrator’s purely vulnerable moments occurs
when she explains how she tried to appease her mother:
“I hid Dixie cups full of violets
in the kitchen cupboard
for her to find and penny candy tucked
into the mailbox with the mail…”(14).
Despite her anger toward nuns, the narrator constantly calls out to God, asks what keeps him too busy to save her, talks of drowning in demons. The narrator is casually cuckoo at times, like a broken talking doll stringing disjointed phrases together, yet her dark humor does not inspire the reader to sing along to the Itty Bitty Ditty that is the second section. This section could easily be renamed Itty Bitty Deaths, with sexual allusions intended. The alcoholic young adult narrator gets bogged down in too much imagery here, the result of which is that a shift on page thirty-four begins a style that sometimes smacks of flat and ordinary prose. There is death, bird, and burning imagery, but it is combined with so much cutesy nursery rhyme that the poet appears to have yielded to the
child narrator for the first time in the narrative. This appears badly-timed and could easily inspire the old “is this art or mere therapy?” debates.
If the lack of transition to Tra-la-la makes sense to you, my hat is off. Ditto for the recurring “dust baby.” Understandably, the narrator, now wife and mother of a charming 11-year-old son, has had a complete psychotic breakdown by this point, and has better things to do than keep the reader up to speed, but still…. Now, however, come brilliant, snarky lines to describe her talk therapy: “I was a talking tree/and my leaves were on fire”(43). The description of inpatient mental health care is hilarious. Try not to laugh at: “our twitchy fingers/and even twitchier minds/needed something to do”(48). Also in this section is one of the few safe places for the reader to land as the narrator falls in love with her own madness—her compassion for her son.
The final section O Healing Go Deep is mostly as melodramatic as it sounds. Yes, it seems cruel to label the deeply disturbed “melodramatic,” but Kirschner pulls no punches, nor will this reviewer. Perhaps the first section, the weakest poetry in the book, could be summed up by three phrases from the fourth: “Why oh why did she/thunder my head with the bat”(59)? “[I] turned into a mannequin/in rigor mortis”(59). “Can the living/divorce the dead? Hell’s bells, it’s time”(61). This collection is a must read for anyone going through an okay time yet feeling haunted by parental imperfections and childhood memories. Read it. Then call your mother.
Somerville Writer Patricia Wild: A Self -Described ‘Old Hippie’ writes a new memoir.
By Doug Holder
At a recent editorial meeting at The Somerville News Patricia Wild was asked what brought her to Somerville, she laughed and said: “What else, a man.” But Wild’s roots in Somerville run much deeper than that. Her father was born in Somerville, and since the late 70’s this School St. resident has contributed to Somerville in many ways: as an educator, journalist, writer and community activist.
For 17 years Wild was a fixture at the adult education program SCALE where she taught a women’s writing class. Her first short novel was titled “Swimming In It,” that was set in Somerville. The protagonist was based on a young woman Wild taught in a homeless shelter. The girl was in the shelter due to sexual abuse at her familial home. Later this girl tragically died from a heroin overdose. The book created a strong reaction and a lot of feedback. Wild said that 1 in 4 women have been sexually abused at one point according to recent studies, so many were able to relate to this girl’s sad fate.
Wild’s ambitions do not stop at fiction writing. She writes a popular and sometimes controversial column for “The Somerville Journal,” and is currently working on a draft of play about an Alzheimer’s victim, and his caretaker titled: “ Not For Nothing.”
In her new memoir “Way Open” she recounts her years in the early 60’s in Lynchburg, Virginia, where two African American students first integrated her high school. Wild said she was aware that she has lived a life of “white privilege,” and she wanted to revisit those years through this memoir. Wild went back to Lynchburg to interview these students who are now successful professionals. She struggled with writing a book that would not have her as a focus but rather the black community and their struggles with racism. To her surprise and annoyance the students, the black community, and the white community met her arrival with caution and reluctance. Eventually after questioning her own motives with the help of her Quaker faith, she slowly gained the people’s trust.
Wild clearly loves Somerville. She said: “This is a city that makes you feel that you might change something if you attend a meeting.” She used the example of the zoning plans for Union Square that have been modified due to community input.
Wild, who describes herself as an “old hippie,” continues to be an optimist. She feels the Internet is a good thing because it connects people across the world. Injustices like genocide can’t be covered up as they once were because of the accessibility of the Web.
Wild told the staff of The Somerville News, many of whom are in their 20’s,: “ I look to you, to your generation, for the real changes to come.”
For more information go to http://www.patriciawild.net
Sunday, June 29, 2008
by Janann Dawkins
Leadfoot Press, Detroit, Michigan , no price
Paperback, ISBN 10: 0-9817106-1-1, ISBN 13: 978-0-9817106-1-7
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
Every book of poems I’ve read has some poems that are worth reading and some that are not. So it is with Janann Dawkins’ book Micropleasures. An associate editor for poetry at Third Wednesday magazine, Dawkins pursues erotic poetry with fervor and explicitness that can be both exciting and unnerving at the same time as in these lines from “Daydreams.”
I lift a false memory of your cheek
onto a stranger’s face, the stubble
a dull burn, so unlike you, a million
dimples of friction.
There is also an explicit two line poem “Give me your lifeforce,/It will warm me. You can guess the title.
If Dawkins can do one thing, it is to let you know what she is doing and what she feels. Her poems are laced with her obsessions and her obsessions often cross the border of the explicit. Each of her poems is an expression of her micropleasures be they enjoyed with someone else or by herself. Try “Autoerotic” for example for a young girl’s fantasy.
As Third Wednesday Magazine editor Laurence W. Thomas states in his introduction, “The poems step outside their frames, leaving readers to tread among carefully chosen words and interweaving phrases to conclusions suggested by not belabored.”
And, I might add, the suggested conclusions do not leave one wondering what she was up to. If you like the direct, in-your-face approach to sex, try reading this brief, but active chapbook.
Zvi Sesling/Ibbetson Update/ June 2008/Somerville, Mass.
FOR LOVE OF A SOLDIER: Interviews with Military Families Taking Action Against the Iraq War
Lexington Books, 2008
FOR LOVE OF A SOLDIER is a collection of plain-spoken stories of families who have loved ones serving in the military in Iraq. It took me a while to get around to reading it because I thought, yeah, I know the drill: the poor bastards who joined up thinking they were doing something patriotic are getting screwed by the flag-pin-wearing neo-cons whose cronies are making billions off this war. And indeed they are. But once you start reading these 27 individual stories, it becomes up-close and personal. I found myself welling up at nearly every story I read.
The families are of divergent backgrounds. Some are old hippies with a long tradition of anti-war activism. Many others come from a long line of military service. Some are Republicans who were Bush supporters. In some ways, the latter’s stories are the most heart-rending because they recognize they are, to a degree, responsible for their grief and their loved one’s suffering or death.
Nan Beckwith opens her story by saying she used to be a Republican delegate. Her family has a tradition of military service that can be traced back twenty generations. Her son, Ryan, continues that tradition by serving in the Marine Corps. He joined up a year before September 11 and was sent to Afghanistan soon after the attacks. In the Spring of 2004 she got a call from him. He and his fellow marines were starving in the field. They had one MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and a bottle of water each per day. That was all. She sent food, socks and medical supplies to her son and his buddies. Her packages got through with no problem. She writes that Kellogg, Brown and Root had an installation one hour’s helicopter ride away but claimed they couldn’t transport supplies to the Marines because of “rough terrain.” She says: “I live in Virginia. I don’t want to hear BS that they couldn’t send supplies because of rough terrain. My supplies got there. I believe Halliburton/KBR wanted to save a buck.” She adds: “I had no idea the man I voted into office would do what he did, what a corrupt administration it was going to be. I love the military. I love the U.S. Constitution; I’d take a bullet for it. I hate what they’ve done to our liberties. Don’t you mess with our Constitution! That’s where my outrage is. They betrayed my country.”
Joyce and Kevin Lucey lost their son Jeffrey to suicide after he returned from Iraq with severe PTSD and alcoholism. They describe things their son told them he’d witnessed, such as an older family trying to return to their home being gunned down by the Americans, such as children being run down by trucks, referred to as “bumps in the road.” Kevin says: “Joyce and I believed in our government. Even though we’d disagree with the administration, we’d never believe they’d be as bad as all the other regimes in the world.”
Many families talk about the difficulty of getting medical care for their soldiers. The VA often tries to avoid treating PTSD by claiming that the soldier had a pre-existing personality disorder. One Iraq vet was told by a Vietnam vet who’d sustained the exact same kind of wound how much better was the care he had received years ago, with a longer hospital stay and much more therapy. And it’s not only the soldiers who suffer. Anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, radical weight loss, hypertension, heart attack are among the symptoms that many of the parents and spouses of soldiers report.
When the family members joined or started chapters of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) their sons and daughters in the service were supportive. Contrary to common perception, most soldiers and marines know the war was based on deception and that there is no exit strategy. Many officers are supportive rather than critical of their soldiers’ activist families. Claire Andre says: “I thought ‘I’m going to research my way to the bottom of this, I’m going to find out what the point is.’ But there’s not a point….It’s all tragedy, and the government is incompetent.” Anne Chay correctly characterizes the” mission” as impossible; an occupying force cannot bring peace and stability to a country. “If we are the enemy, what are we accomplishing?” she asks. Many of the interviewees express sorrow and compassion for the fate of the Iraqi people whose lives have been made exponentially worse than they were even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.
Jane Collins, who interviewed these families and brought together this book, notes that these anti-war activists are not stereotypical. Most of them have always held the military in high regard and are mostly just middle-aged parents who feel our troops have been betrayed by a corrupt and self-serving administration. So, too, the reader of this book begins to feel their sadness at how these soldiers and marines have been treated by our own government. This book should be read by every citizen and especially by those war supporters who prattle on about how they “support the troops.”
Hip-nogogic Exorseduction: Being Visited by the Queen from Mars
A Review of Lo Galluccio’s “Being Visited.”
By Regie O’Hare Gibson
With her concept album “Being Visited”, multi-talented singer, actress, poet and memoirist Lo Galluccio delivers a velvet pile driver of an offering. In this effort, Galluccio adopts the persona of the “Queen from Mars”—a pink haired, siren-like waif who, like Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” (sans androgyny), is a visitor come to observe our world.
From the first notes of the flagship tune Creamsplit we make contact with the Queen’s world of hip logic. A world infused with funky congas and a bass line tight enough to slit wrists. This kind of scaled down instrumentation permeates Galluccio’s “Being Visited” (a welcome change in an era of over-produced music projects). It would be a mistake, however, to assume in this case, simple instrumentation equals anorexic sound. For each song on “Being Visited” is made much more complex when Galluccio’s voice begins snaking between its rhythmic dialectic and straddling the gap between song and sense.
Galluccio’s voice is breathy as blown incense smoke and sassy as an adolescent girl just getting hip to what her hips can do. Galluccio’s Queen speaks in riddle and metaphor and often weds sharp, clear imagery to those more hidden and obscure. Again, take the song Creamsplit:
“Falsity stuck in my teeth like sourdough
There is nothing to creep up my leg but the condor”
Galluccio’s “Being Visited” is replete with such jarring juxtapositions and demanding tandems that caress the mind with a heightened view of the familiar, then slaps it silly with the fantastic and surreal. It is as though this is the only way the Queen from Mars can communicate with us: she has to translate her thoughts into our language–– and the result is highly charged poetry.
The next track These Diamonds are my Very, features Galluccio’s potent poetry sandwiched between arrhythmic percussion and Galluccio’s own sinewy voice overlain electronically. Underneath it all is Galluccio’s chanting of “These diamonds are my very teeth”. This streamline piece of hypnotica places Galluccio somewhere between Sybil and chanteuse.
Then we are confronted with the dark light of Black Sun. An ode to both Eros and Thanatos that asks us to find ourselves, along with the Queen from Mars, “in the midst of the grave, the grapevine and the rose combined.” This muscular tune drips with its Galluccio’s own poetic duende, even as she nods respectfully (as she does several times throughout “Being Visited”) to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
Smog in Athens I and Smog in Athens II (with Leda’s Swan) complete the first leg of the Queen from Mars’ musical/poetic visitation. Part I invades the head with a cavalcade of voices as an electronic metronome sets an urgent tone that quickens to critical upon entering part II, where the mind is torn between Galluccio’s singing, the metronome, and the simple yet effective drum beat and guitar riffs pushing toward a retro-rock, head-pumping rush. This then trails off gracefully into the Queen cooing us into the next track You go to my Head–– the vintage jazz ballad by Tin Pan Alley lyricist Haven Gillespie. Galluccio wields this standard like an axe in a trembling fist (You never know where it’s going to come down, but when it does––something’s gonna bleed).
But Galluccio’s Queen from Mars doesn’t only wish to slam us against walls and drop us into dark pits (though she enjoys this and I mind it not at all) she also wants to seduce. And she does so with the beautifully delivered Lou Reed classic “Pale Blue Eyes”. In this, Galluccio let’s the Queen’s softer voice (she has many) take the lead in this dance. Galluccio does Lou Reed honor with her airy texturing and expert phrasing.
In the track Mona Lisa/Mozart’s Wife Galluccio’s Queen conjures images of both eternal muse and forgotten woman. As Mozart’s wife she scolds the composer for being “drunk…wet and full of weird chamber music.” At the end of this Galluccio’s Queen (as Mozart’s wife) recognizes Mona Lisa as sister by asking (via the Evans and Livingston lyric) “Are you warm, are you real Mona Lisa, or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?” In this, it seems the Queen from Mars is also asking herself this question. She is, like the Mona Lisa, the perpetual observer forever out of reach.
Next, we come to the eerie title track “Being Visited”. The poetry is, of course, brilliant––and the music brooding and broad. It is, perhaps, something Blake or Bosch might have played to get into the mood to paint. This track is part prayer, part exorcism. To listen to it is to hear the perturbation of dark wings smelling of apples and ash (I love this song).
Finally, we arrive at the dreamy, pulsating Queen from Mars. Interesting that on this track the Queen herself doesn’t speak, but is instead spoken of. It features the sardonic voice of a woman who “accepts” that her lover has been seduced by the Queen of Mars. She sings:
“I can understand why you had an affair with he Queen of Mars.
She’s got pink hair and her teeth are sharp.
You left earth to kiss her and I bear the scars.”
This lyric may as well say to a philandering man: “Yeah, baby, it’s cool. Don’t worry about it. Just go to sleep, now.” Were I her cheating lover I would sleep with one eye open clutching a knife.
This track (like Mona Lisa/Mozart’s Wife) features saxophonist extraordinaire Roy Nathanson of the Jazz Passengers. Nathanson, who has worked with such luminaries as Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello is always the consummate professional. He complements Galluccio’s disorienting, often forbidding lyrics with sparse licks, rhythm, attitude and atmosphere. Also accompanying Galluccio on this album are Miki Navazio on electric guitar, Brad Jones on upright bass, Michael Evans on drums and percussion and a host of other heavy hitters: EJ Rodriguez, Satoshi Takeishi, Chris Bowers, and Khartik Swaminathan.
Lo Galluccio’s “Being Visited” fuses well-wrought poetry, spoken word, song, jazz, rock and funky pop with serious artistry, intellect and an eclectic vision unlike any I have heard.
Don’t buy this album if you need a little mood music to play while you tend other duties (you will only be cheating yourself). But if you are able to carve out 45 minutes to journey with Galluccio’s “Being Visited” it will be a great musical and poetic odyssey.
Regie O’Hare Gibson is an author, songwriter, educator and poetry workshop facilitator he has read taught, lectured and performed at universities, theaters and various other venues in seven countries most recently Monfalcone, Italy where he was winner of the International Absolute Poetry Competition. His work has also appeared in a number of anthologies and journals including The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Iowa Review and Poetry Magazine. He performs with Synesthesia–– a literarymusic ensemble that fuses literature with American funk, jazz and blues, European classical elements, Middle Eastern percussion and smatterings of electronica.