Friday, August 22, 2008

Reviews of poetry collections by Taylor Altman and Alan Catlin

(Alan Catlin)

( Taylor Altman)


Over the years I have seen many poets, writers, and publishers come and go in the city of Somerville. In my mailbox at the office of The Somerville News I found two new titles from publisher Dave McNamara of the “sunnyoutside” press. Now “sunnyoutside” and McNamara used to happily reside in our environs, but McNamara shuffled off to Buffalo, NY, a year or so ago. And as it happens McNamara has published a poetry collection by Taylor Altman, who was a member of the Somerville-based literary organization the “ Bagel Bards.” During her years in the Boston-area she finished her MFA at Boston University, and now teaches English at the College of Southern Nevada. McNamara also sent me a new collection of poetry from a well-known and respected small press poet Alan Catlin.

Taylor Altman’s collection is titled: “Swimming Back.” The poems are set in the broad lawns and narrow minds of surburbia, ( perhaps Long Island, NY where the poet spent her early years). Altman writes of trying to make sense of her world after the early loss of her Dad. Much of the work takes place around or in water. A good conceit I guess since we are mostly made up of this ubquitious fluid. Having grown up in Long Island in the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, I was intrigued to find the poem “Point Lookout,” a Long Island beach of my sun-blistered youth. Here the young Altman gets a taste of the allure and danger of looming adulthood represented by the oceanic call of the sea:

“Our skins slick with oil, we lay
side by side on candy-striped towels that day,
the only thing that mattered was his number,
written on the back of my hand. Jealous,
weren’t you—that I, never the pretty one,
was noticed first at the hamburger stand?
And the sea was always there, hissing,
and roiling in the background,
calling to me in a language only I could understand. “Come closer, come closer,
it said, let me pull you under.”

Altman has written a lovely first book of verse. I expect that we will see a lot more from her in the future.

Now Alan Catlin is no graduate of an MFA school. He is a retired bartender from upstate New York, and he has been published in more journals than most anyone I know, save Lyn Lifshin, A.D. Winans, and perhaps Ed Galing.
“sunnyoutside” had the good sense to publish Catlin’s poetry collection: “Bus Stop.” This takes place in the less than tony setting of Albany, NY, and if you ever been there you’d know what I mean. It is a generally down-at-the heels city, that Catlin has spent most of his working life tending bar. Like the novelist William Kennedy Catlin knows the town, its dark underbelly, the stumblebums, the dandies, the psychos, the grifters, the poseurs, and politicians, who are denizens of this city. In his poem “Only the Dead Know Albany,” Catlin captures the subversive soul—the poetry of the “Other America,” a term and book title the writer Michael Harrington coined years ago.

“ and the side-alley, cock fought
streets, high-stakes crap games
decided by blade and a motorcycle
chain, brass knuckles and steel-toed
boots, row-housed tenement blocks
long,Clinton Avenue to Arbor Hill,
where no trees bloomed, buildings in
full flame, cops and robbers….
The Black Maria and a banshee
wail long summer nights before
Urban Renewal razed the earth
and only the dead knew Albany.”

Highly Recommended.

To order go to

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Love, its Wrath And Others by Jane Chakravarthy

Love, its Wrath

And Others

A Collection of Poetry

and Artwork

by Jane Chakravarthy

Self-published in hardback


A Review by Lo Galluccio

The cover of her book is the painting that perhaps held me most spell-bound: a swirling mass of flame-colored scarves, ensconsing the round earthy tones of an eye. It’s a magical eye – Kohl black with one black pupil at its center. Also on exhibit at the Lilypad opening this Saturday in Inman Square were other cosmic collages of bold, saturated colors, and floating or embedded objects, all framed rather thick gold or silver. There was a girl with black shoulder-length hair, a simple sweet face, a magnetic portrait. There was a trilogy of paintings depicting the migration or amalgamation of souls. I saw thick white crosses, but made no assumptions of their being Christian. Sufi, Pagan. These are the words that crossed my mind as I breathed in the aura of Jane’s work. I asked the artist if the crosses signified anything. “Souls,” she said to me. “I’m not religious.” I forget the word she used. Was it “constraint?”

What can I tell you about Jane? From the U.K, originally. Avid smoker. A socialite of sorts. Not afraid to get in your face and hold you with her eyes. Married to a mysterious Indian man we’re all wondering about. A Taurus – sturdy and generous, with water and fire signs in the ascendant nonetheless. It seemed somewhat comical to me that when my boyfriend wanted to buy her painting, entitled, “Birthing” – a dark blue and purple mass with tiny eyes peering out – he was blocked. Later he confided to me that Jane told him the source of the painting had been a suicide attempt. Well, I offered, maybe she felt too emotionally close to the work. Or, maybe you…needed to wait a few days to make an offer. Jane’s fun and intense. Jane’s generous. Jane’s a talented, I’d even say, visionary painter. There’s something that is Sufistic about her work. There are elemental forces of darkness and light. There are eyes, hearts, fire and earth, a yearning upward and inward to the heart. Then, also, a kind of mysterious darkness that carves out its own space. A kind of purging to get to the core, a backing away from the concrete transactional or the “real.” You won’t find a street address or a contemporary cliché in her work. Of the imagination and the third-eye. Of dreams, they mostly are. I’m not in love with it all, but some in this collection are really special.

I’ve also hankered to buy her book now for a few months and went to the opening knowing it would be on sale. There was an open mic. I missed it and yet Jane led me to the piano and I played and sang without too much fanfare. Funny, I would say the song did capture some attention but and it was a kind of Sufi song about a child whose love is God. A loose phase in the four hour event, I was followed by Ian Thal’s bravely hilarious shtick as Harlequino, the Commedia character My beau bought “Love, its Wrath And Others” for me and Jane scrawled something in a drunken magenta pen as a dedication. All I can make out is “Take care” - Jane. Tonight, I had the chance to read her poetry through. The book is handsomely produced on glossy paper and pages juxtaposing her art with her poems.

Next to a photo of orange fall leaves in a forest, Jane writes in Atonement,

“but you only learn

when you can discern

the actions

and change your way

someday, someday

you will start to pay

for you forgot what sins you chose

but remember the pigs and the firefly too


because they will not forget you”

And further on, next to a molting galaxy of red, yellow and deep blues, she writes in Pattern Of Life:

“blindness of winter

our senses lose track

white blankets surround us

cleansing our souls

another journey we have made

shooting stars explode;

our sleeping friends awaken.”

In her artist’s statement on her website, Jane explains her impulse or compulsion ot create art thusly:

I rarely have a preconceived notion of what I will write or paint, my creativity comes from my life or vicariously from other people. I focus my energy to create images or scenes which guide me to purge and create a tangible expression; something I feel.

Given this deeply intuitive mode of creation, I must then overlook some of the details of grammar and punctuation askew that irk me. Why can’t an ellipse have three dots to be consistent in the course of two lines? Why confuse “too” and “two”? Isn’t it a bit strained to say, “I have been the down-pour of a hailstone on a hot spring day.”? Nevertheless, I’d rather not quibble the weaker details. Her poems strike with a strong emotional force and have an organic logic, for the most part, that holds sway. If she were purely Goth, there would be no tension between dark and light, because the glamour of the night would always win. We’d have her fangs and not her broken heart. She gives us both. In Prince, it’s written:

“the freeness of your mind

the odd way you behave

so different from my constraints

you take my mind and blow it away.

you say that i’m protected

if i follow my path of choice

with or without you, you say

we must never forget our voice”

And this last line is profound for all beings who are striving for authenticity and expression. Obviously, she lets others affect her and there is a value and a cost to this open stance. Yet, I see, also, the Jane that can turn down a buyer, and not bother with what she simply doesn’t like. That’s an artist’s ego. In Crystal she writes:

“i drink the water

afforded me

claw by claw i rise

to the translucent corner

now I see through

the glass of contempt

i know I have arrived”

Check out Jane’ s website at and her Myspace page.