Friday, February 13, 2009

Elizabeth Kirschner: Poetry Amidst the Madness.

Elizabeth Kirschner: Poetry Amidst the Madness.

With Doug Holder

Poet Elizabeth Kirschner is alive. She has survived a childhood heavily peppered with physical, verbal and sexual abuse. She has lived to write about it in her new collection of poetry “My Life As A Doll” (Autumn House Press), and a forthcoming memoir “Walking With Winter.”

Kirschner is an accomplished poet and lyricist, and has published a number of well-received poetry collections. She has collaborated with many composers both here and abroad. She set her own poetry to Robert Schumann’s “Dichterliebe.” A CD of this music featuring soprano Jean Danton and pianist Thomas Stumpf was released in the fall of 2005.

Kirschner has taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, Boston College, as well as the public schools in New Hampshire. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You have collaborated with composers in your work as a poet. You most recently wrote lyrics to a Schumann composition.

Elizabeth Kirschner: The piece by Schumann is now titled “The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons.” It is a sixteen-song, cycle. It concerns a tragic love affair. I wrote poems for each season. I had a CD and a score, and I would listen to the composition over and over again to help with the process. Composer Thomas Oboe Lee helped me enormously. I also collaborated with a young, up and coming Cambridge, Mass. composer Carson Cooman.

DH: What was the germ of the idea for this project?

EK: It was the idea of the composer Thomas Oboe Lee. It never entered my mind before this. I loved the marriage between poetry and classical music. He was the one who encouraged me. It was a very difficult undertaking. He was a real taskmaster. He stayed right on me. He made sure every note was precise and sing able.

DH: Can you tell us about your new poetry collection “My Life As A Doll?”

EK: It is about my relationship with my late mother, who was very abusive. It is also about the mental illness that came out of it. Between the physical abuse of my mother and the sexual abuse of my father it is really amazing that I survived.

DH: Was the book therapeutic for you?

EK: I couldn’t express my experience If I didn’t have my art. I don’t view it as art therapy. Poetry is too complicated for that. It all came ripping out of me. I feel it can be a tool for healing for people who are reading it.

DH: What have you learned about abuse from your experiences and writing?

EK: What is interesting about abuse is when, where, and how, you retrieve a memory.
When I wrote “My Life As A Doll” I retrieved the key memory of my mother striking me with a baseball bat. That was after my hospitalization. I was in my late 40’s or early 50’s before that memory hit me. The memory came back to me when I was driving back from Cambridge to Newton, after my visit with my therapist. In my memoir I talk a lot about living in a sort of coma—a perpetual out of body experience…I just wasn’t there. I was gone. I have moved from this state thanks to all the difficult work I have done. I have learned that you don’t get the memories until you are ready to retrieve them.

DH: The reviewer Mignon Ariel King said that she felt that you fell in love with your madness. What’s your take?

EK: To me that comment was horrendous. My experience with mental illness has been so excruciating. Mental illness is traumatic. I have been curled up in a ball in my house screaming my head off—out of pain and psychosis. There is no way you can love that. It is a pain so profound that you think you can’t survive it.

My life as a doll

was a life of waiting__hours
reeled like pinwheels, days
passed like wind blown
through black holes, weeks
hung heavy as headstones
The God took a knife
cut me into pure pain,
alive amid birds
wilding in the grapevine
while my dreams angled
into me like hooks, dragging me
away from Mother
into a world
he forget to bless.



By Portia Brockway

Whimsy is a monthly performance venue organized and MCed by Markus Nechay (Surrealius), a local artist, at the Outpost 186, a small art gallery in Inman Square, Cambridge.

Markus recruits various types of performers, including musicians, poets, rote and improvisational actors, and dancers. He interweaves performances with his whimsical oratory.

He sometimes centers the night around a theme: such as this coming Sunday’s Valentine’s Day Special; or Edgar Allen Poe’s 200th birthday, on our January evening together.

In addition to Whimsy alternatives, OUTPOST 186 “hosts series of experimental music and performance events Wednesday through Sunday, and special art exhibits. It also serves as a node for progressive and experimental media. Open 1-4pm Tuesday-Sunday or appointment.” Contact: Rob Chalfen -

About the history of Outpost 186: Have you visited the Outpost 186 yet? You may have enjoyed its antecedent, the Zeitgeist Gallery hot node in Inman Square; preceded by their original location on Broadway, in Cambridge. Egg Al (Nidle) cultivated it to be a place where people could come, and sleep, or lie on the couch, or just gaze in to space at all the art around them, from Nick Wynekin’s comics to Mick Cusimano’s animation, and wander about the heart.

Whimsy is as Whimsy Does

Whimsy is
as whimsy does.
It’s full of imagination
and light and love.

For Poe’s 200th birthday,
in a pretty room:

We tune
at the Blue Moon.
Clara Neelands
tremolos harmonic howls.
We re-iterate: Owo-o-o-o-o- -

Josh Putnam is astute:

“I am a puzzle and a lock
and a bomb and a dangerous drug.
She is the glass key to unlock my sky.
Let her in; everything changes.

Let it out!
It never hurts
so much as when hurting has no voice.
Why does it take so long sometimes
to remember what can never be forgotten.”

On guitar Ed Ayoub
sings from his original place,
bearded with a Semitic face,
this Fertile Crescent
runneth over.

Ben Beckwith plays
with his great nose down,
grinding notes from
boogie woogie goods,
our right hand of God, Ben,
Ground, Tree, Water.

Jane Chakravarthy
offers us Neruda’s penchants,
the sought smooth skin,
forms, human fondues,
cherries, the peach.

Markus Surrealius (Nechay)
in his top hat, black, and ascot,
Poe, raps at Lenore’s door.
What did the Raven say to Lenore?
“Never more!”
Nicole Edgecomb (Lenore)
stands fraught in her hood,
silent, grave.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Circulation. Tim Horvath. (sunnyoutside. POBOX 911 Buffalo, NY 14207)

Circulation. Tim Horvath. (sunnyoutside. POBOX 911 Buffalo, NY 14207)

Tim Horvath, a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire MFA program, has penned a short novel “Circulation.” It deals with a young Circulation Director at a town library, and his past relationship with his late father. His father was a dyed-in-the wool eccentric with a capital “E”, who held close to his breast a never completed opus: “The Atlas of the Voyager of Things.” It is described as an impossibly all encompassing work: “That documents the marvelous, intricate, globetrotting chain of events by which things come to be what and where they are.” The father did complete an arcane book “Spelos, An Ode to Caves” that had a small, but loyal cult following.

The father in this novel reminds me of a character in Joseph Mitchell’s nonfiction account of eccentric New Yorkers “Up at the Old Hotel,” Joe Gould. Gould went to New York City and worked as a reporter in the 1920’s for the New York Evening Mail. During his time at the newspaper, he had his epiphany for the longest book ever written. He would title this book An Oral History of Our Time. The book was supposedly based on a word for word account of people’s lives, which Gould had listened to. The book never existed, but Gould insisted, often raving in the streets of Greenwich Village, that he was feverishly working on it.

The casual reader and the bibliophile will love this book. It traces these men’s lives through their obsession with books and arcania. Here is an inspired passage that describes the son putting himself in the place or, well, the jacket of a old, underused, book:

“… likely it has sat on the shelf next to its companions, growing old, peering out at the movements of patrons, sizing them up perhaps just as readily as they are sized up. Yes, I know it sounds strange—you might conclude that I, and not my father, was the one suffering from delirum, but I have occasionally tried to take the perspective of the books on my shelves, imagining that they choose their recipients as much as they are chosen. Like animals in the wild, they can, I suppose, camoflauge themselves such that at times they blend in with their surroundings as readily as a tree frog, hugging the walls of the shelves around them, appearing less palatable than the plump bestseller they lean against… Or like abandoned puppies in a pet store… perhaps l, like these books, can only hope to make an impression—they can poke themselves out just a bit further, than the nearest competitor, jutting forth an irresistible moist black nose between pouting eyes.”

And here is a description of a library in Borge’s fiction “Library of Babel” that describes the life of the book, and thusly the life of man:

“One of the most striking stories I read when I was in college was Borge’s “Library of Babel”, and on occasion I have thought myself the proprietor of that very library. Borge’s
library is a metaphysical marvel, a library that essentially comprises the whole of the universe—the universe as library… Within the library that Borges conjures, not only is every book written shelved somewhere but every possible book is shelved…The conceit is too dizzying to think about too long, but it serves as a good antidote to certain fundamental realities: funds are limited, books go unread, tumble out of print, serve as doorstops—all too effectively I might add; the greatest libraries of civilizations burn down, suns collapse…And each life is limited…there is only so much reading that one can consume in the course of a lifetime…”


Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/Somerville, Mass/Feb. 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From the Paris of New England: Interviews with Poets and Writers by Doug Holder (click on to order)

From the Paris of New England: Interviews with Poets and Writers
Print: $18.50
 to order

A series of interviews with poets and writers that took place in the "Paris of New England," (Somerville, Mass.) Doug Holder the founder of the small literary press "Ibbetson Street" conducted interviews on his Somerville Community Access TV Show "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer," as well as for his literary column in The Somerville News, and at the Wilderness House Literary Retreat, founded by his friend Steve Glines. Poets and writers included in this volume are Mark Doty, Tom Perrotta, Pagan Kennedy, Claire Messud, Lan Samantha Chang, Afaa Michael Weaver, Lois Ames, Steve Almond, and many more... There is also some striking photography by Elsa Dorfman and other photographers in this collection. Included is an introduction by Michael Basinski, curator of the University of Buffalo Poetry Collection...

Renowned African American poets Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson to be in a filmed public discussion at Somerville Community Access TV

Major Jackson

Afaa Michael Weaver

Renowned African American poets Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson to be in a filmed public discussion at Somerville Community Access TV April 2 7PM Channel 3
MODERATOR: Gloria Mindock

Renowned African American poets Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson to be in a filmed public discussion at Somerville Community Access TV. It will be moderated by Gloria Mindock of the "Cervena Barva Press"

( Somerville, Mass.)

Doug Holder, founder of the independent literary press “Ibbetson Street,” and the host of the Somerville Community Access TV Show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer” has started the process of organizing a public discussion featuring renowned African American poets Afaa Michael Weaver ( and Major Jackson ( on April 2, 2009 ( Poetry Month)

Somerville poet Afaa Michael Weaver has won the prestigious PUSHCART PRIZE (2008) for his poem “American Income,” published in POETRY magazine and in his collection "Plum Flower Dance" ( U/Pitt Press.)

Henry Louis Gates, historian and professor at Harvard University writes of Weaver:

"Afaa Michael Weaver is one of the most significant poets writing today. With its blend of Chinese spiritualism and American groundedness, his poetry presents the reader (and the listener, for his body of work is meant to be read aloud) with challenging questions about identity, about how physicality and spirit act together or counteract each other to shape who we are in the world. His attention to the way language works is rare, and the effects of that attention on his poetry are distinctive and expansive."

Major Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry: Hoops (Norton: 2006) and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia: 2002), winner of the 2000 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Hoops was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literature - Poetry. He has received critical attention in The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Parnassus, Philadelphia Inquirer, and on National Public Radio's 'All Things Considered.' His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Callaloo, The New Yorker, Post Road, Poetry, Triquarterly, among other literary journals and anthologies. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Last year, he served as a creative arts fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and as the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence at University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Major Jackson is an Associate Professor of English at University of Vermont and a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. He is the current poetry editor of the Harvard Review

A description of the discussion is as follows:

“Two Generations of Black Male Poets/
Two Sets of Eyes on the Urban Landscape

Afaa Weaver & Major Jackson

In a public chat in the SCAT television studios in Somerville,
these two poets share the experience of their lives as black
men who came of age in large American cities, Baltimore
and Philadelphia. They discuss the music, visual art, and
literature that were influential in their times, from The Temptations
to Grandmaster Flash and Chuck D, from Ron Milner
to Susan Lori Parks, and more. They share intimate moments
in their lives and some of their own work as well as that
of poets they know and admire in an evening setting in the
burgeoning artistic community north of Cambridge to be
recorded in front of the live audience.

Contact: Doug Holder: for more information.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Reviews of two new poetry collections by Suzanne Owens

Over the Edge by Suzanne Owens
Pudding House Publications, 2007

Reviews by Barbara Thomas

Suzanne Owens first poem is a poignant reflection of her childhood and the event of her father’s betrayal greatly influences the trajectory of her life. “This is what I remember…I keep hidden, as silent as a pocket knife, trying to carve the truth”. She brings back the anguish both she and her mother feel and continues this theme in “Keeping My Mother’s Tears” using the symbol of the music box. “I don’t want my mother’s tears to reign on me…I have my own box now, a strong box, hidden away. “ Her poetry is evocative without being sentimental. She tells the truth of betrayal and tragedy as it is. Other poems document her mother’s decline and the continuing tone is a deep sadness. After her mother’s death, she writes about her son in “Mites versus Pee Wees”. In this poem about a mother’s concern, the metaphor of a hockey game adds a new vigor, “Did I forget your white horse…Have I dressed you in armor too soft for this battle?” The reader is in the game too hoping he wins. In the wonderful last poem the poet takes us to another sphere as she reflects on life and death. “But if the history of the earth is an hour, and we have existed no longer than a millisecond…I ask you why, why do we unlock our souls to write of it with music.” And in this book Suzanne does write about her deepest experiences with music that invokes us to listen.

Harvesting Ice by Suzanne Owens

Finishing Line Press, 2008
In her latest book ‘’In Harvesting Ice”, Suzanne Owens reveals at this stage of her live, she is open for love, but reluctant. “I am territorial, and I don’t find it easy to give away my heart.” In “Thirst” she faces her fear when she finds “her files trashed and her life suddenly empty. ‘’ And then takes us on a journey thru various relationships, and moves before she finds home again.
As in her first book, she writes without sentimentality ; her language precisely capturing intense emotion. She is skillful in weaving imagery and form which make the poems memorable. Many times her imagery startles as in “Gone The Cross-Country”. “ I will be grass growing, and water. Even now, a tree is pumping my blood. ‘’ “Matinee”, captures her ongoing spirit of hope in spite of adversity and this thread of optimism resonates throughout the book. “ All we can keep, small splendors sealed in our heads: a few words voiced or read: the bridge of flowers, thunder, arms thrown out in a welcome gesture. “

*Barbara Thomas is a writer residing in Cambridge,Mass. She worked for many years as an English teacher in the Boston Public Schools. She is a member of the literary organization the "Bagel Bards" that meets in Somerville, Mass.

Barbara Bialick's Review of Carol Frith's, Looking for Montrose Street

Barbara Bialick's Review of Carol Frith's, Looking for Montrose Street (Finishing Line Press of Georgetown, Kentucky

Carol Frith’s chapbook, Looking for Montrose Street, is a good and powerful little work, that expresses how memories of those we love who are gone stay with us. “The mind will go back to the stream it’s used to.”

Using both poetry forms and vivid imagery, she reveals how memory is both a constant part of and disconnected from the present. Parents, aunts, and relatives like David “pursue” her. Indeed, even the 1950s are awake and alive in her mind.

I got déjà vu reading“Waxed Linoleum”: “The plaster is delaminating on the wall,/ blue flicker of a fifties’ television set/…shining blue as the Honeymooners at 8 P.M.” as her father “rigid” (like someone dead) sits in his “Naugahyde recliner…”‘The poems highlight both the power and fragility of memory, in such phrases as a “Ferris wheel of air…” or “I feel my skin remember you in fragments”. The theme of this book could be: “the mind will go back to the stream it’s used to drowning in…”

Carol Frith, of Sacramento, California, is co-editor with poet Laverne Frith, her husband, of Ekphrasis, “which publishes poems addressing individual works of art.”This chapbook is part of the New Women’s Voices Series of Finishing Line Press of Georgetown, Kentucky. She may be “new”, but she is also an ancient and wise voice I recommend you read.

* Barbara Bialick/Author of Time Leaves,from Ibbetson Street Press

Reversals in Love: On the Platform/Sur Le Quai, a one-act play by

Reversals in Love: On the Platform/Sur Le Quai, a one-act play by
Denis Emorine, translated by Brian Cole

Article by Michael Todd Steffen

The Princess in the fairytale is playing with a ball and the ball rolls into a well.
A Frog hops up onto the well and announces that he (grnouille, “she” in French) will retrieve the ball for the Princess if the Princess will take the Frog back to live in the King’s palace with her. I may restore something precious for you (no less than your whole world in the globe of the ball), but for a promise. Once the Princess has her ball back, she doesn’t want to keep the Frog hanging around, though he follows her back to the castle to make things miserable for her anyway.
This see-saw up-and-down and back-and-forth shift in roles between lovers is enacted in the very strange play On the Platform by Denis Emorine.
At their initial greeting at the station waiting for a train from Paris, the young lady Laure holds the upper hand, with her youth and engagement to the young man she awaits. Marek is a middle-age man who appears to want to dissuade Laure of her certainty in young love in order perhaps to have a chance at a romance with her himself. The situation is classic, Samuel Beckett in Sunday clothes. Marek is 45ish, uncertain of his profession, expressive of a desire for a less certain set of circumstances—for the incredible intervention of love?
Laure is not yet 20 years old, awaiting her fiancé to arrive on a train from Paris, quite happy with life’s uncertainties and serendipity, possibilities and adventures.
Another twist: Laure is a native French person (Western European). She has an enthusiasm for her freedom and its potential to blossom.
Marek is “of Polish extraction” with some bitterness. He despairs of or disdains her idealism, and appears to want to undermine Laure’s commitment to her fiancé.

MAREK: …By the way, who is Julien?

LAURE (smiling): I already told you. The man I love.

MAREK: You didn’t say that. You said “my fiancé”.

LAURE: Well?

MAREK: It’s not the same thing!

The delayed train from Paris arrives. Julien is not on this train. Laure claims that her fiancé is only late, that he must have missed this train and will be on the next one.
When the play takes a bizarre turn.
Enigmatically Marek announces to Laure that he is “The Messenger.” Laure is baffled. As Marek insists that he is “The Messenger” we sense the strange shift. Laure loses confidence:

LAURE: I really do not understand you. Now you make me
afraid! Don’t look at me with those eyes!...

The advantage of the situation has shifted with his strange announcement and her fear. The Princess doesn’t want the Frog to come home with her.
As we read to the end of the play, we find that Marek is possessed of a prophetic gift, he is an angel or Orson Well’s third man. He knows already that Julien has been killed trying to jump onto the train back in Paris. Laure has been called to a window in the train station as the play ends. In the background she can be seen slumping and falling into the arms of “two men.”
On the Platform is written in choice demotic French—Y’ en a marre…Fusillez-moi tout ca…But also, Les années bien remplies passent si vite. D’autres comptent double sur l’échelle du temps… Emorine is a prize-winning poet who has attained a wonder theatrical patience for timing. The translation by Brian Cole, another award winner from London, is superb.
Everything the play offers is fine, yet strange, strange in a way I believe which announces a silence. Works of art now and then use little tricks to get what is an invisible idea to the public in an acceptable way. It is Emorine’s prop of the surprise of “The Messenger” that leads us to wonder at a fecund silence. Did Marek have Julien killed? I like better to wonder whether Laure isn’t an escapee from a psych ward and Marek is playing the situation ever so delicately and roundly to bring her back in. But ultimately the author has left something personal to each reader with this wonderful play, their curiosity to decide what happens next. It is a well-hosted read, and don’t miss the choral effect of the other three passengers waiting on the platform.

On the Platform/Sur le Quai by Denis Emorine and translated by Brian Cole includes the French text. It is priced at $14.00 from Cervena Barva Press/
P.O. Box 440357/W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222/
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