Thursday, February 19, 2009

“In the Spirit of Leadership” Cheryl Esposito (Review by Paul Steven Stone)

“In the Spirit of Leadership”
A Vision Into A Different Future By Cheryl Esposito
Plumb Road Publishing, price $18.95

Reviewed 2/20/09 by Paul Steven Stone

“In The Spirit of Leadership, A Vision Into A Different Future”, sounds more ponderous and self-important than this book of poems and insights actually proves to be. Designed (unconsciously, I believe) to resemble a box of luxury chocolates, this elegant book seeks to open minds to their own potential and hidden strengths, sharing through poetry and snatches of prose the author’s many insights gained over years as a leadership consultant to CEO’s, senior executives and world leaders.
The book starts off “on track”, giving you what you’ve been led to expect, poetry and insights focused on creating business leaders and fresh thinkers, teaching them “Being Leadership”—embodying leadership—rather than to wear the flimsy-but-oft-worn mantle of “Being Leaders”.
Soon, however, we wander off into realms farther afield than Applied Business School Philosophy. We are journeying with the author through poetic interludes as she takes wilderness solo journeys, overcomes fears of the unknown, recovers from being badly burned in a fire, pushes herself and her readers toward an ever-opening and never-resolved becoming. We are the chrysalis, the cocoon and the butterfly all in one.
The poems themselves use simple direct language, sentences often chopped up into fragments and stanzas.

A few examples…

There it is again.
That in between.
That place of uncertainty
That place where everything
is possible
and nothing
feels right.

The in between shows up all around me
In this writing I am in between.
The words are in between.
I am so good at seeing
what’s in between —
for others…
hearing the unspoken,
in between the words —
for others…
I listen.
I listen.
The lonely listener is
alive and well…in me.
How do I put her to work for me?
What are the words
from the place
in between
that she will hear?

Or when she is “Connecting with one’s nature.”

Open space. Big sky. Canyons that are endless. There I can breathe. I feel everything. I am alone with my fear, with my joy, with my self.
Out there I understand the insignificance of me…
And the significance of us, the humans inhabiting the earth. We are at once reckless and loving with the mother.
When I am there, I am vigilant with my care. I feel honored to be there.
There. To be there. To be.
I don’t experience “there” during day to day living.
I see and appreciate,
but the “there” feeling is quiet.
I lose the nature within me.
In solo, I connect with my true nature.

Cheryl Esposito is clearly a woman of many talents and the wisdom to pursue them with clarity and vigor. If there is a fault with “In The Spirit of Leadership” it lies in it offering too much for us to consider in a single package, too many themes heading in too many directions. But then again, once one connects with the zen of being leadership—of being our true selves—as Esposito envisions it, choosing what to read and what to leave unread probably becomes a natural act.

And there is much in this poetic enterprise worthy of reading.

Paul Steven Stone is the author of "Or So It Seems" ( Blind Elephant Press)

BREATHER by Bruce Dethlefsen


By Bruce Dethlefsen

83 pages / 59 poems / $15

Fire Weed Press
Send Check or Order To:

Bruce Dethlefsen

422 Lawrence Street

Westfield, WI 53964

Review by Charles P. Ries

Bruce Dethlefsen doesn't write many books of poetry. It has been six years since he came out with his second book, Something Near the Dance Floor by Marsh River Editions. And one doesn't see much of his poetry in and around the small press, but my-oh-my, when he decides to show us his good stuff, he comes out swinging. In this, his third and largest collection of poetry, Dethlefsen does most everything right. He is a master of drawing word pictures that are at once narrative stories, melodies, and free association free-for-alls.

The book is broken into five sections that broadly define the thematic mood of his mind: migrant, knots, poet warrior, secrets, and autopsy. There is great kindness here, and a mind with a very wide reach.

Here are two poems from Breather. Playing the Field: you hover / you say I'm not your first flower / your first lover // you lower yourself / how hoverly / how loverly / then leave // oh bee / my honey boy / oh baby mine / come back to me. And When Somebody Calls after Ten P.M.: /when somebody calls after ten p.m. / and you live in wisconsin / and you're snug in your bed // then all I can tell you / somebody better be missing / somebody better had a baby / or somebody better be dead.

In Breather, Dethlefsen flows from the concrete to ethereal. He orbits around the collective unconscious like a Jungian astronaut - his interior radar big enough to find meaning in both the great moments and the small nuances of life. This is the blessing of the mature poet, one who has lived hundreds of lives and can bring this diversity of experience to us as a numinous pool of images to soak in. Breather is an exceptional collection of poetry.

Charles Ries

Suffering Bastards by Alan Catlin

Suffering Bastards

by Alan Catlin

Platonic 3 Way Press

Warsaw IN

Copyright © 2009 by Alan Catlin

Review by Zvi A. Sesling ( founder of the Muddy River Poetry Review)

I read Suffering Bastards not long after seeing the movie The Wrestler and the movie missed an opportunity to use some of Alan Catlin’s characters – they are suffering and they exist in the rundown, bar infested sections of cities. Some of the characters are of a higher order – or are they?

Catlin’s bio says he is a retired barman and it is obvious he spent his time doing more than mixing drinks or serving beer. His observations of his customers are dead on descriptions written in verse. The poems made me glad I don’t spend time in bars.

What else is interesting to read are his embedded opinions of the people he chooses to write about. No names, but you have probably run into them at various points of your life. Or, perhaps, read them in Raymond Chandler novels or seen them in noir films. In addition to the title poem there are poems with titles like “The Bar with No Name Revisited,” “The Afterburner,” “The Bruiser,” “Double Rapid Eye Movement,” etc. You get the point. And if you frequented bars – the old fashioned kind – not the ones that serve sushi or lamb chops with potato au gratin or fancy named drinks, but the ones with small, dark porthole windows, smoke curling upward toward dim lights and no big screen TVs either, then you get the atmosphere of a Catlin poem.

In “Suffering Bastard,” the title poem, Catlin’s description is right out of a hardboiled detective novel:

Someone had punched

his clock with a jack

hammer, a shot right above

the eyes that left them

unfocused and as hard as

fired clay in a closed kiln....

There is also this excerpt from “Twenty years of hard drink,”

a stretch in county,

two or three times in the tank

and locked down in a ward

with all the full time lunatics

and all he had to show for it

was two knife scars on his chest.....

Having read Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald and seen (never enough) noir film, I found Catlin’s poems of real life people who many people never get to see worthy of a larger volume of poetic sketches than this small chapbook.

---Zvi Sesling.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Allen Ginsberg comes to Pittsburgh by Dave Newman

Allen Ginsberg comes to Pittsburgh

by Dave Newman

Platonic 3 Way Press

Warsaw Indiana

Copyright © by Dave Newman

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Allen Ginsberg comes to Pittsburgh is a fun book of poetry if you don’t mind gratuitous foul mouthed use of language. And while I support First Amendment rights, it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy that freedom. Nor does mean I am prudish because I dislike Dave Newman’s choice of words.

Newman, who forthrightly claims to be influenced by both Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski, does his best to write in the barfly’s style, but Bukowski was Bukowski and Ginsberg was Ginsberg. There was only one of each. So to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen:

I’ve Bukowski and Ginsberg and Newman isn’t either.

Having said all that, Newman is still a fun poet and his stories – true or not – keep the reader interested, often smiling and without the overtones of sadness that permeate Bukowski.

For those who feel inadequate in so many ways: psychologically, sexually, alcoholically, socially, to name a few, this chapbook will strike a familiar chord. For those feeling above failure or inadequacy, enjoy looking down on Newman and his neuroses.

Anyway, once I got past that Bukowski-Ginsberg jig – and the language – Newman’s poetry has a certain appeal despite the flaws and I have the feeling that on his own Newman could be a humorous but more serious poet.

The funniest poem in the chapbook is one entitled “Rick Santorum, For US Senator, Reviews A Reissue of Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman which begins

First, I didn’t understand it. But one

of my kids, who made the mistake

of going to one of these fancy liberal

colleges, said there’s gay stuff in

here, and I believe him and that’s

just wrong. The gay stuff, I mean.

I suppose you can really hear Santorum utter these words and it make you wonder what people elect to office from any end of the political spectrum.

Then there’s the title poem, which opens:

Allen Ginsberg came to Pittsburgh and tickets

were ten dollars at the door, and I figured

if I showed up a couple hours before the reading,

someone, one of my friends, would take pity, ....

And pity is something Newman seems to seek as he takes the persona of a Woody Allen schlemiel, a Bukowski barfly, failure at satisfying sex and whatever else he conjures up. But as I said, his poetry is fun.

Poet Molly Lynn Watt: A Poet Who Embraces the Political

Poet Molly Lynn Watt: A Poet Who Embraces the Political

By Doug Holder

Molly Lynn Watt is a dyed-in-the-wool Cambridge, Mass. poet and writer. She is a founding member of Cambridge Co-Housing, a progressive educator for peace and justice, as well as the curator for the monthly Fireside Poetry Reading Series. She is the editor of the annual “Bagel Bard Anthology,” a yearly collection put out by a Somerville-based literary group “The Bagel Bards,” and she published a collection of poetry “Shadow People,” (Ibbetson Street) in 2007. Watt, and her husband Daniel Lynn Watt turned excerpts from Daniel’s parents’ letters to each other during the Spanish Civil War into a musical CD and performance piece. I talked with Watt on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: The reviewer Hugh Fox noticed in your poetry that you are lamenting the shortness of life. He feels you are constantly grasping at the “Here and Now.” So are you an advocate of Carpe Diem?

Molly Lynn Watt: I think when you are in your 70’s it is a good idea to be. I am an advocate for “We are here now.” My poetry is a celebration of the here and now. But I also think I have a lament for the people who are no longer with us, the “Shadow People.” (The title of my poetry collection). These are the people who are no longer with us, but haunt us. I have a poem about hearing Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit”. She was a great and tragic person, and unfortunately died from drug abuse. Hearing her sing haunted me. She is a sort of “Shadow Person” in my life. She helped propel me to take some of the stands I’ve taken.

DH: You co-directed the Smoky Mountain North-South Work Camp in Blount County for Highlander Education and Research in Tennessee in 1963. Can you tell us about this, and tell us about your involvement with the Civil Rights Movement?

MW: In 1963 our ideal little family suddenly, who knows for what reason, looked at each other and said “ There must be more to life than this.” We packed everything up, gave up the apartment we were renting, and both my husband and I went off to get a Master’s degree in Community Organization. We went to the Putney Graduate School that became Antioch New England Graduate School in Vermont. Part of our work was traveling through the South, doing a sort of Sociology of the South, and studying the Tennessee Valley Authority. During that time we were in an interracial group, restaurants were closed to us, we were stoned, all kinds of stuff. At that time we saw the Birmingham demonstrations, and the children in the street who were being fire-hosed. I decided that there had to be something better. And so we took on a project of building with volunteers a facility that could be used to train voter registration workers. At that time it was illegal in Blount County for Blacks and Whites to live together, and we were living together. We were arrested, everything was burned. We were lucky to be thrown in jail instead of being lynched. Obviously, that’s what a lot of my poetry is about.

DH: Do you think poetry can have a significant role in political activism?

MW: I hope so. I am using it as my form of activism now. Songs have spurred me on. I guess “Strange Fruit” is a poem that is a song. Poems and songs travel where I can’t.

DH: Some people say political poems are just rants.

MW: One person’s rant is another’s rap. It is very subjective. I read that it is a poet’s job to “crack the truth open.” Elizabeth Alexander did that for me at the inauguration. She showed us the value in repairing a tire, a mother standing with her son waiting for a bus, the way we are in the world. It is our job to repair things including our Democracy. Alexander paid tribute to the people who have gone on before us in the Civil Rights Movement. She in essence said,” People have died for this day.”

DH: You wrote that poetry is an adventure for you—you always carry a little book around when you are on the road. You are ready for action, right?

MW: Life is an adventure. I do some of my writing on the subway. I wrote a poem on the Redline.

DH: Do you revise a lot?

MW: Sometimes things come out whole. Other times I can make 70 or 80 revisions.

DH: You have studied at the William Joiner Institute Writers Workshop at UMass Boston for years now. How has that been for you?

MW: Well, it is a community of writers. I have studied with Fred Marchant, Afaa Michael Weaver, Doug Anderson, Martha Collins and others. I’ve been going 6 or 7 years.

DH: You are very involved with music as well as poetry.

MW: I come from a family that has always been involved with song. My father was a sort of Irish tenor. My mother came from the Appalachian Mountains. In the mountains they still sing songs with Victorian words. When I was in high school I became friends with Pete Seegar. This was in New York State (Hudson Valley) during the time of Blacklisting. So Seegar had time to help kids discover song. He brought the idea to me that song can go where a person can’t. A song can travel without a passport. A song can take ideas with it. You can put a poem to music.

Seegar used to stop by our school. I went to his house once. It was a log cabin. His wife had a red refrigerator. This was in the early 50’s, and I had only seen white ones. I asked her where she got it. She said she went down to the hardware store and bought a can of paint. Both of them took control of shaping their lives. I have tremendous admiration for them. Seegar has crept into my poems. When I was arrested in the South he sent me a hundred dollars to get my car repaired to get home.

DH: You have run a very successful reading series in North Cambridge, the Fireside Reading Series. It has been around for a decade, what’s your secret?

MW: I’m lucky. It has to do with community organizing. Harris Gardner, a poet, told me that I should institute an open mic. That helped a lot. We host poets, we feed them, we treat them well, they are our friends—we are they. It’s a neighborhood. We always invite people to read who are in some way connected to the community.

Monday, February 16, 2009

THE WREN’S CRY by Dorian Brooks

THE WREN’S CRY by Dorian Brooks (Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143) $15.

Review by Barbara Bialick

Dorian Brooks’ THE WREN’S CRY, is a great volume of poetry, which deserves to be better known, for it’s in the league of famous poets, far and wide.

She both enriches and breaks our hearts with well-edited, polished lyrics carved out of love, nature and memory. But don’t stop till you read the last poems, which will almost kill you with their powerful anti-war messages, one after another, landing as a dead monarch butterfly on Sitting Bull’s hat…

The book calmly but pointedly begins with memories of her family, first with her grandfather leaving his little girl (Brooks’ mother) his”collection of speckled eggs”
She says, “It’s from him I inherit/my sense of the natural order…” But she’s not so rational that she doesn’t see nature’s transformative power, hinting at reincarnation of the soul, even as creatures or plant life. She says her own mother may have had the “soul of a butterfly” or could be heard in “The Wren’s Cry”. She envisioned herself coming back as tumbleweed…”how often I whizzed past/the little things/…a wavering comb of moments behind me.”

Her memories and creativity help her create such vivid images, as when she imagines her father talking to Bach “On a Cold April Day.” In “The Wish” she wants to be talking with him over a beer instead of waiting as he “finished revising despair’s long manuscript.”

She moves from her parents to her sometimes traveling husband. They share the love of nature. In “The Willows”, she notes. “How beautiful (the willows) are” she writes of the trees, “in their sadness”…/Timeless, they touch the depths of loss…lithe as dancers/mourning whole kingdoms…I harbor sorrow on my own shore, /among my own kind”. Then she brings us to “Ground Zero”, where she just discovered the death of their baby boy happened at the same time as the largest ever underground nuke test in November, 1971 in the Aleutian Islands: “and I can’t help thinking, /No wonder you left.”

People are also expressed as that part of nature in which they get ill…from her breast cancer to her husband’s heart attack. She muses about a neighbor she never knew who apparently died of suicide, but having a view of the same Blue Spruce that she loved. She touches on her academic side with a tribute to a professor who died: “the dark earth yields its shimmering tassels.” She calls on the Celtic goddess of poetry but also reminds us of the death of young girls who used to paint radium on watch faces.

Naturalism deftly falls into politics. In a powerful scene she asks us to imagine a place being named not for a famous man, but for a woman giving birth some time in history on that spot. In “Historical Marker” she writes: ‘On this site, no man/was ever bayoneted/or shot, not battle /fought for God or country./But once , long ago a woman lay here/gasping and straining/…for hours, then lifted/her baby to her breast…”

Keep reading. You will love these poems, such as “Whales”: “the heart/is an open book where/nothing is written except/whom we shall love, whom not/snow on water.”
And you must read the book through to the end where she presents a potent batch of anti-war poems good enough to finish off the book as well as the reader!

She speaks against current wars in “Friendly fire” or” How the Dead Come Back To Us”…to “Tumbleweeds” where she describes herself as an innocent cow girl with her toy guns shooting the imaginary Indians, not realizing then the tragedy of her game. Which leads to “Mariposa”, a Spanish butterfly…being the name of the “U.S. battalion/sent to fight the Indians/who lived in what became/Yosemite National Park…Mariposa. I can’t get/the sound out of my head/as I stare at the famed/black and white photo/of the park’s great Half Dome,/pale moon rising over/sheer rock, no living thing/in sight. Maybe the souls/ of the dead really do/come back as butterflies--/or else maybe as words/that,when spoken, flutter/across time, on wings/brighter than blood.”

Her words are certainly bright. As assistant editor of the literary review “Ibbetson Street”
she is a big part of the “small press” scene in Somerville, Massachusetts. But she deserves to also be a part of the “big press” which oozes out of academia, rarely noticing all the talent the small press finds. She is definitely part of that talent!

--Barbara Bialick is the Author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)

Recurring Dreams by MRB CHELKO

Recurring Dreams

by MRB Chelko


Buffalo NY

Softbound, ISBN 978-1-934513-163-3
Review by Zvi A. Sesling

I have always been a sucker for short poems that

say something to the reader – sometimes on the first

read, sometimes on the second or third time around.

Chelko’s poems are very short, each three lines, influenced by

haiku or perhaps other poets. I tried reading the six poems in

this tiny chapbook as one poem and it could work – almost.

These poems have something to say. After you breeze through

the six of them quickly go back and read them again. Then

again. You will find some hidden meanings (I dislike reviewers

who find things the author never said or intended, so I’ll dispense

with that) or maybe something about yourself.

Whatever, these six three liners are quite enjoyable and I think I would

enjoy reading Chelko’s full volumes of poetry.

Here is poem No. 5:

The dog of my childhood is put to sleep

My parents do not bring her body home –

We bury sticks.

Did you ever have a dog as a child – or even as an adult? Did you have

to euthanize it? I remember several dogs that never came home when I

was a child. Different excuses, but always the same result. We didn’t

bury sticks, but when we drove by a cemetery I always thought of the

dogs. And there was the one pushed into a green garbage bag...well enough

of that.

Let’s say the other five poems brought back different memories. So bring

on more MRB Chelko. I’ll read them.

---- Zvi Sesling is the editor of the Muddy River review.