Saturday, March 07, 2009

Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English

Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English
Eva Salzman and Amy Wack, Eds.
Seren Books or
ISBN 978-1-85411-431-0

A review by Mignon Ariel King

The editors of Women’s Work intend to counteract the “glaring gender imbalance” in anthologies of modern poets, incorporating both famous and lesser-known women poets from the US, UK, and Ireland. This admirable and complex goal is combined with a reluctance to detract from the poetry itself by reducing the poets to political pawns in a radical, separatist feminism. In a fair world, Salzman’s introduction assesses, “the writing is all that should count,” but in the absence of such fairness the scales must occasionally be tipped in the direction of “positive discrimination” (8).

These editors are an American whose bio is as vibrant as her poetry and a classic British poet-scholar, both of whom have been working with words for their entire lives. The reader is in very good hands with this pair. Salzman points out that editors who are charged with judging the importance of poets generally know too little about modern women poets to have an informed opinion about which women poets have earned the term “important.” The highly learnéd yet extremely entertaining introduction explains that the purpose of the anthology is not to “take gender politics as [its] main subject” (17); however, the fact that anger and resistance still confront the mere discussion of gender inequalities in canonizing literature hammers home the need for this work.

Separated into fourteen themed sections—rather than being arranged in chronological order—this is no gloomy tome. Remember compare and contrast papers from high school English class? Here the editors make such connections for the reader, helpfully placing compatible poems for the reader’s true enjoyment as well as understanding. This format allows the non-scholar to simply enjoy the poems at will. That is, read from the “Culture…” section at night and save “History…War” for daylight hours, if you please. Read according to your current mood. The diversity of voices represented roots this collection in the 21st Century. It is all quite good poetry, no low-quality work appearing because of a poet’s demographics. Here is a sample of the 283 pages of poetry, spanning one-hundred-plus years and three major English-language locales:

“Please can I have a man…Who when I come trotting in…
opens his arms like a trough for me to dive into.”
—Selima Hill, “Please can I have a man”

“Now, when he and I meet, after all these years,/
I say to the bitch inside me, don’t start growling.”
—Carolyn Kizer, “Bitch”

“What does she do with them all?/They warm her throat like pearls/
They fasten her dress, stud her shoes….”
—Amy Wack, “Tooth Fairy”

“In my dream I take the white man/slap him til he loves me.”
—Diane Glancy, “Kemo Sabe”

“When I am old…I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves/
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.”
—Jenny Joseph, “Warning”

“Here comes another alpha male--,/a man’s man, a dealmaker,/
holds tanks of liquor,/charms them pantsless at lunch….”
--Deborah Garrison, “Please Fire Me”

“…What would we have called each other laughing/
joking into our beer? Where are my gangs,/
my teams, my mislaid sisters?”
--Lucille Clifton, “The Lost Women”

The anthology is an excellent read, a sourcebook for writers and students, and a formal scholar’s delight(with outstanding front and back matter, brief but relevant bios, an index, and flawless organization.

English teachers from secondary to college level could not ask for a better text. It is also good for men who have a clue about modern women’s poetry or for those who would like to get one from experts. Impatient readers who could not be paid to read an intro can crack the book open anywhere and be absorbed. Read it because you are in love, or doing your laundry, or lonely, or truly annoyed. It weighs comparatively little, a fine companion on the train at 8am. For women poets there is almost the urge to be discouraged. Instead, be humbled. Be inspired. Be prepared to throw an “it’s about time” party when this anthology becomes required reading in modern poetry courses. Women’s Work has just begun.

--available on

Mignon Ariel King is an alumna of the Graduate Program in English at Simmons College, a former adjunct professor of English, and a multicultural woman poet

Friday, March 06, 2009

Falling Forward by Rebecca Schumejda

Falling Forward by Rebecca Schumejda

Copyright 2008


PO Box 911

Buffalo, NY 14207

ISBN: 978-1-935613-12-5

Rebecca Schumejda’s titular poem is also the last one in the collection, set off by its own section heading and center justified. It’s a special poem that acts as a sort of afterword and comments, in a fairly direct manner, on the collection as a whole. The image one gets is of a prayer, but not just any prayer—a prayer of supplication in the face of adversity.

Indeed, the collection as a whole works on that level. The section titles are all lines or images from the title poem, “The Truth Is Too Heavy,” “Folded Like Two Hands in Prayer,” “Overgrown with Weeds and Regrets,” and “Falling Forward.”

The first poem begins “This afternoon / I buried your cat / while you were at work.” It is economical language broken into clauses, but the enjambed first line lends a sense of tension, which is borne out through the rest of the poem. The narrator dreads the idea of relating this event when her significant other returns home from a day at work.

Other poems follow a similar theme—two characters with distance between them, avoiding topics that need to be addressed and fumbling through crumbling or crumbled relationships, all in an attempt to maintain grip on the ungrippable.

This tension between the things that ought to be said and things that are not said creates a space of broken relationships and cross-purpose discussions. It’s similar to a Pinter play in that the space between spoken thoughts is as much a character as the actual characters within the poems.

Ultimately, the reader is left with the last poem as an answer to all the problems within. “Falling Forward” is an apt description of the lives of Schumejda’s characters. They don’t so much move through time as stumble, trying to keep their feet in an uneven world. But “[w]hen the truth is too heavy…[t]here’s no way to avoid failure,” says the narrator. This is the very essence, the underlying motif of each poem, that the only thing you can do is “just lean forward / let your knees cushion your fall.”

Very much recommended.

Review by Cameron Mount

Blue Collar Poet. G. Emil Reutter.

Blue Collar Poet. G. Emil Reutter. ( Stone Garden Net Publishing 3851 Cottonwood Dr. Danville, Ca. 94506)

Poet G. Emil Reutter has worked in factories, steel mills, and other hard knock type of jobs across the Mid Atlantic region of the U.S. He makes no bones that he is mostly self-taught. He is not a product of an MFA mill, maybe a steel mill. So when he was dubbed with the title “Blue Collar Poet” he stuck with this designation with pride.

And the poems in “Blue Collar Poet” are solid, tight, workman like pieces that leave you thinking. The poem “sweet inside” has a delicious innuendo,

“sweet center
surrounded by fruit
tongue glides along
slowly entering
tasting sweetness
of all
that is inside
nothing is quite
a creamsicle
on a hot summer day.”

And in the poem “Moment” Reutter captures it and reels it in:

“she sits
on edge of bed
long wavy hair
covering frame
silhouetted by
early morning sun
i sit up
our bodies meet
her head rests
upon my shoulders
a moment frozen
in time
a moment
that will always
be in my mind.”


Here Comes a-ha’s Biggest Fan!

Here Comes a-ha’s Biggest Fan!

The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow Touches Down in Boston/Chicago

Boston - Yes, here comes a-ha’s biggest fan – or at least, that’s how Hobo Highbrow, the main character of Pål H. Christiansen's novel The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow, sees himself.

People from as many as 24 countries have already ordered their copies of the English edition of this light and entertaining novel first published in Norwegian in 2002. The book is finally available to readers in the Boston and Chicago areas through several local bookstores*. It is far from necessary to be an a-ha fan to be captivated by the endearing Thurber-like character of Hobo Highbrow.

Hobo, a newspaper copywriter who writes on the side and dreams of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, believes he is the only one able to fully understand the three band members of a-ha (particularly Paul Waaktaar-Savoy), who hit the top of the U.S. and many other countries’ music charts back in 1985 with their unforgettable hit Take On Me. On his way to revealing his inner self to the genius he believes Paul Waaktaar-Savoy to be, the struggling writer Hobo loses his job, almost loses his girlfriend, and most definitely loses his grip on reality!

The real Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, who today lives in New York with wife Lauren (formerly of Boston) and their son, Auggie, says he enjoyed reading this “funny and charming” book, and even stands by Hobo, saying, “I’m like that, too” when it comes to being obsessed with someone. “I can latch onto people for their energy or inspiration to get me going. And it works a lot of times, too. There’s rarely a time when I’m not obsessed about some amazing musician, painter, or writer, and then I have to know every little thing about them and see if it somehow relates to me.”

The author, Pål H. Christiansen, also has Norwegian-American roots, as his grandmother, Margaret Nannestad, was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois.

Several American book-bloggers have already enjoyed reading The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow. In his review, Michael Lundin of Bent Bindings Book Blog says: “And sometimes characters you love to read about might not necessarily be people you’d like to hang out with . . .. Throughout this book, Hobo Highbrow reminded me of Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.”

German magazine Der Spiegel wrote of the German edition published in 2007: “Pål H. Christiansen has created a wonderful, grumpy hero - a tedious but friendly chap. Christiansen contemplates with empathy how difficult it can be to find one’s place in this big, wide world while the character you are carrying around inside of you is taking up all of your attention.”

When published in Norway in 2002, Drømmer om storhet received considerable attention from the reviewing press. The British translator and writer Jon Buscall did the English translation and gave the book the new title of The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow, which refers to a-ha’s second album of 1986, Scoundrel Days. (Text: schwindt-pr, Ingerid White)
*Bookstores with The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow in stock:
Schoenhof’s Foreign Books, 76A Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 / Harvard Book Store, 256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 / Porter Square Books, 25 White Street, Cambridge, MA 02140 / Out of the Blue Gallery, 106 Prospect Street, Cambridge, MA 02139 / Trident Booksellers & Café, 338 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02115 / Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA 02446 / New England Mobile Book Fair, 82-84 Needham Street, Newton Highlands, MA 02461 / Back Pages Books, 289 Moody Street, Waltham, MA 02453 / Europa Books, 832 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60610

A printable jpg file of the book cover can be downloaded for free use from the author’s virtual press center at

Court Green 6

Court Green 6

Cora Jacobs, Managing Editor
Court Green
Columbia College Chicago
English Department
600 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605

Copyright © 2009 by Columbia College Chicago

ISSN 1548-5242

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Court Green 6 is an annual publication of Columbia College Chicago and a whopper of magazine with 65 pages of poems and another 62 pages entitled “Dossier: Letters.”

Let me begin with the poems. There were so many I liked it is difficult to highlight some. However, Charles Jensen’s poem “Barcelona, City of the Sad Divas” speaks in a language of creativity that fascinates and frightens a reader, while being exhilarating.

Here from the middle of his poem are a few lines, but I recommend you read the whole poem for its full impact:

Where men felt anxious, they offered

two bee-stung lips for company.

Where men felt abandoned, they offered

torn up pictures of forgotten parents

They provided salt for every wound, every corner

of the city was ripe with good junk.

Where they offered junk, they substituted

coffee grounds, homemade breakfasts.

Other poets in this volume include Michael Homolka, Kate Greenstreet, Ron Padgett, and

then there’s Shana Cleveland’s “Chickenfight at the old lake tonight” from I select the second of four short paragraphs:

At the place everyone goes there were

movies and loneliness. There were big pillows for

sitting and popcorn but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This one too is worth reading in its entirety and depending on the kind of poetry you like

there is something in here for everyone.

However, the most fun I had was reading the section entitled “Dossiers: Letters.”

They are poems and prose poems opening with Rachel Loden’s “Dear Question Mark”

which is a poetic letter to the rock singer of 96 Tears. A clever ditty indeed.

Teddy Macker has several letters entitled “The Cockeyed Prayers” which live up to their names such as ‘TO EVERY PRETTY GIRL I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE,” “MARATHON FEELER” and others.

Alice Notely, wife of the late Ted Berrigan chimes in a series of letter poems, one of which she wrote with Allen Ginsberg back in ’82:

I walked past Leven’s window on Mirror Street

I knew it by the sign that said “Leven’s Window”

in wispy old-fashioned script, on a

postcard beneath the window (shade drawn)

It started snowing. When I (slowly)

turned & faced the street I would wake up:

“Come back next year.”

There are many more, most of them clever, insightful or just plain fun. You’ll find the living and the dead here including Elizabeth Savave, Kimiko Hahn, James Schuyler, Albert Goldbarth, Nicole Cooley, Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg (a personal favorite of mine no matter what he wrote), Trey Sager and Lynn Xu to name a few.

I recommend this issue not only for the talented writers, but also for the writing they produce, some of which is unusual yet interesting and, if you seek to learn from reading, you will receive some wonderful lessons.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow by Paal H. Christiansen

The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow by Paal H. Christiansen Translated by Jon Buscall (Forlaget Fabula N-1321 Stabekk Norway

They say, “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast.” I suppose it does, although in my case, a good shot of Dewar’s does the trick. But in Norwegian write Paal H. Christiansen’s new book “ The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow,” the music of the pop group “a-ha” provides solace, and makes the center hold, for this struggling, not that young writer, Hobo Highbrow. Frankly I was not familiar with this group, and based on what was represented in the novel, I had trouble figuring out why the protagonist was so enamored with them. But of course I love Billy Joel, and I have been vilified for that.

It seems that Hobo is in the midst of a nervous breakdown of sorts, after losing his job, later his manuscript (that involves the construction of a birdhouse) and suffering a largely imaginary slight from his girlfriend. The book follows Hobo’s confused journey through his mental maze and haze in which he eventually emerges more or less intact. In this scene the 40-year-old Hobo sees one of the a-ha members on the street, and he swoons like a hormonal teenager:

“ I sensed a strength and joy seeping through my body, through my legs, my arms, across my chest and up to my head. I had met Paul Waaktaar! I had looked straight into the eyes of Paul Waaktaar! And I felt a shock jolt through my body as if for a second I was momentarily connected to an electric network with an unknown power. The power of the massively talented. It was power of those who created art that would last for eternity.”

He later opines about pop music and its purpose—at least for him.

“As far as I am concerned the whole purpose of pop music is to drown out all the world’s misery. Music is all about keeping your dreams alive!”

The book contains interesting literary tidbits and linguistic diversions—as the character obsesses as much about his writing as his music. This short novel attempts to explore the struggle of the artist to maintain, create and stay sane in an often-insane world.

Somerville’s Lucy Holstedt and the Women Musicians Network Connection

( From left to right: Berklee Professors: Lucy Holstedt, Christina Karem, Student Leader: Jenna Hardy)

Somerville’s Lucy Holstedt and the Women Musicians Network Connection

So I am sitting at the Sherman café in Union Square on a snowy Sunday, and two local artists blow my way. In fact, they live a mere two houses down from me on School St, and we happen to be fellow “Bagel Bards” as well. Lucy Holstedt, an associate professor at the Berklee School of Music, and her husband Kirk Etherton, (an artist in his own right), are at it again, promoting and putting on the 12th Annual Women Musician Network Concert March 12, 2009 at 8:15PM at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.

Lucy and Kirk have lived in Somerville for a while, and some years ago we shared the same street in the “ville, Ibbetson Street. (The namesake of that small press Somerville literary magazine.) Lucy told me over a delectable oatmeal scone, not to mention a piece of mouthwatering carrot cake, that she loves Somerville because of its accessibility to public transportation, and it has, as she so succinctly put it: “A small town or village feel to it.” Lucy is teacher of music theory, ear training, and may I say a damn fine poet to boot. She is also a composer, lyricist, and performer. She performed at the sorely missed Jimmy Tingle Theatre and many other venues, and was a member of the “Planet Girls”, a well-known performance group.

Lucy told me that she started the Women Musicians Network in 1998 with Jane Stachowiak. The mission statement of the group according to Lucy is:

“To provide an opportunity for women students to present compositions, compose new work, perform, direct, and learn how to produce a major concert.”

Women are a minority at Berklee Lucy said, and a minority in the music industry at large. So any help is needed. Women are often lead singers in bands, but there are few behind-the-scenes, and in the business aspect itself, she lamented.

Lucy talked about the upcoming concert while her public relations man of a husband handed out concert cards to bemused patrons. The concert will have many special features including Latin vocalist Mili Bermejo, and her husband the bassist Dan Greenspan. There will be performances from students from many different countries including: Israel, Sweden, Scotland, Turkey, etc….

The style of music will be mostly Pop, Jazz and Celtic. There will be an innovative arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” by a Japanese student; There will also be a beautifully performed ballad by Maureen McMullen, who is quite well known in her native Scotland. And don’t miss the violin duo by Julie Kang and Rika Ikeda, as well as a performance by an African drum/dance troupe—to name a few highlights.

Tickets are a bargain at 10 smackers---go to for more info

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Review of: From the Paris of New England: Interviews with Poets and Writers by Doug Holder

From the Paris of New England:
Interviews with Poets and Writers.
By Doug Holder
2009; 133pp; Ibbetson Street Press,
25 School Street, Somerville, MA 02143.

It’s really true, Somerville, Massachusetts, right next to Cambridge, is a kind of New England Paris, all kinds of little eateries and galleries and everything-else-ries, like an Asian market, a Peruvian cafe, you name it. And what Holder has done here is to take the interviews he has done with Somerville (and other fancy-wancy, avant-garde, or no-guard-at-all) writers, book-store owners, publishers, etc. and put them together in a book -- with photos.

Masterfully done, Holder really brings the Somerville lit-world alive, alive, alive. There’s Louisa Solano, who ran the Grolier Poetry Book Shop for over thirty years, talking about Robert Lowell, Philip Levine, Bukowski, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ed Hogan, there’s poet Lisa Beatman, talking about her recently published working-class-centered poetry (author of Manufacturing America: Poems From the Factory ), there’s poet Martha Collins who established the Creative Writing Program at U/Mass Boston and who teachers Creative Writing at Oberlin College, there’s Dick Lourie, poet-musician-publisher (of Hanging Loose mag and publishing house) talking about the old (and new) days in Somerville, Beat poet and organizer Jack Powers, Eva Salzman, who has spent years and years in England, there’s poet Afaa Michael Weaver, a professor of Literature at Simmons College in Boston talking about being an African-American poet in a community that gives you the space to be eccentric, poet Sarah Hannah, a professor at Emerson College in Boston, talking about Ph.D.’s versus poetic creativity, there’s poetic genius Lo Gallucio talking about

psychological problems and creativity, poet-publisher Gloria Mindock who glories in the richness of cultural life in Somerville, filled with writers, painters and actors.....

It would take another book to just write about this book, that’s how rich it is. Interviews with Mike Basinski, Errol Uys, Lan Samantha Chang, Miriam Levine, Mark Doty, Claire Messud, Ed Sanders, Robert Creeley, it’s a veritable Who’s Who of artistic souls in Somerville. You go to the Bagel Bard readings in Somerville, hang around with the Somerville poet-artist gang, and it is like going back to Paris at the end of the nineteenth, the beginning of the twentieth century.

*Hugh Fox is a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize and author of “Way, Way Off the Road: Memoir of an Invisible Man.”

Monday, March 02, 2009

When Performers Swim, The Dice are Cast by Judy Katz-Levine

Review, When Performers Swim, The Dice are Cast by Judy Katz-Levine (Ahadada Books, Ontario, Canada)

Reviewer: Barbara Bialick, author of Time Leaves (Ibbetson Street Press)

There are many different languages a poem can speak in. For Judy Katz-Levine, it’s the language of jazz. Music plays her rhythm and meter, her unusal imagery, and the world of dreams of past lives. For out of jazz and Judaism, her mysticism is born.
It peppers her poems, her motherhood and her marriage. Herself a singer in a choir and a jazz flutist, her husband is an acupuncturist and jazz sax player. (It helps to be told these tidbits in her bio, for saxophones, presumably her husband’s, keep cropping up nameless in her poems.) But where she’s particularly proud is of her unnamed son, who she hailed as a prodigy by age 4 in “Sunset III”:

“trees with leaves like the hands of prodigies/…a son about to redeem himself/…
saxophone moaning its scales…/prodigies who can’t fit in, and talk strange languages/prodigies who wait for the morning’s river./being 4 years old and speaking perfectly/…a boat not quite ready, but we are patiently waiting for that day.”
Near the end of the book her son is attending college orientation in Amherst, Mass.

In “On Mortality”, the first poem of the book, she ends up with a lily, to me a symbol of Easter, “the lily that comes up on the young man’s computer screen” It doesn’t seem coincidental that the book comes out before Easter—and yet it is a Jewish woman’s book…Meanwhile, a young man “whoops it up over the/ universe’s peculiarities. Then he doesn’t eat. You and i, we/talk about what’s hard to talk about. Mortality whispers in/the night rain. The will to survive emerges…” Yet the ones she’s speaking of and to are to me a mystery.

She won’t give up all her secrets. “I get by,” she says in the poem of the same name.
Is that the song “I’ll get by as long as I have you”? Either way, she’s “stern” at a party where she’s had a glass of wine…But musicians are controlling the imagery. “Seagulls float. The sax was smooth,/as delicious as a chili with wine. The guitarist did tasty licks/from his days on the road….?” It takes a woman drummer to get her to loosen up…The woman said “Sometimes you just have to shake your money-maker…”

“When performers swim,” the poet declares in the title poem “Performers”, “the dice are cast.” (You’ve got to keep up the performance no matter what?).”when performers tango, stages turn into bridges, an aster in/a garden blooms…when performers die, the oceans leap up and keen as seals/emerge and fly.” (a vivid and surreal or holy moment?)
Like most of her poems, the title poem is a hard one to analyze. But that’s a poet’s fun.

Poets and English teachers alike can have such fun throughout the book. Try analyzing “The Attributes”: “the attributes of this saintly presence are to be numbered/according to flowers. The initiate will enumerate laughter/according to myths and waterfalls; giant spiders, miners/lost in mines due to seismic tremors. What is lost, and/what can be seen—the white circle above, the woods/below…”

But when she speaks of horses, she is impressed with their power and beauty, like her mother apparently was as in “Games of Survival”: “I remember my mother on lonely days. The gusto/She loved…the stallion that couldn’t race…I am poised to play.”
Or this image in “She speaks of horses.”: “Who will I meet, what stranger, emerging/from the dark wells of the eyes of those horses/what body lit under a midnight crescent?”

And finally, she includes space as if it is the so-called thing to do, which is include a little politics in your manuscript: In “Blood Storms” she writes “they say a storm will come. E-mail the whitehouse on/Darfur, imagine what a youg girl suffers in a camp in/Darfur as the snow starts to fall/to be raped as a child…to starve/…every night we hear about/the limbs of soldiers maimed, Iraqis killed…” A good poem, but it lacks any imagery of music, which surely it needs!

But it all gets somehow connected in the final poem “She has said…”: “that she would be able to sing again, after the hoarseness/subsides/she has said that all belongs to the red shooting twig./she will still mother, trembling in the car/…she has said everything will turn out okay, and she hopes/she is exactly perfectly correct/the guitar responds to her fingers, a strong rhythmic/ cadence, and a lamentation”

It’s always in the music where she finds her meanings, mysteries and explanations, and her uniqueness as a poet

By Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)