Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Hypnagogic Whispers of a Modern Berserker

The Hypnagogic Whispers of a Modern Berserker
by Michelle Lyons

A review by Mignon Ariel King

In case the title hasn't tipped you off, it needs to be emphasized that Lyons' voice is that of a nonconformist 21st-century woman. She slams the girl- and woman-crushing formal institutions with which she once had the displeasure of dealing, in addition to one loser of a lover. Intelligent, gut-wrenching observation and sarcasm are her friends. Simply put, if you love Anne Sexton or are drawn to Plath, you'll love Lyons. Girl, Interrupted fan? Well, hold onto your vodka.

The first poem in the collection, "According to the Magazine I Found at the Gym", is a neo-feministic anti-media riff. The tone is unusual in that the narrator slams the stupid mainstream rules and media that assault young women's self-esteem by imposing rules about how women are supposed to look, yet she is reporting more than ranting.

That's her name.
Some bombshell with an orange tank top
Graces the front page. The cover. The color doesn't suit her...
But she's the poster child anyway, for Health (2).

The narrator reads the magazine while working out, using the sidebar to a 'Diet Now!' article to calculate how much time she has spent dieting. She concludes, "The average woman spends a decade of her life trying to lose weight. ...How many years do you think I've wasted/So far?" (3). Her edgy, screw-the-world tone chimes in for "Boy, Interrupted".
The narrator reminds her lover that he promised to visit if she became an inpatient in a mental health facility. She explains, "Well, they've caught wind of me honey...They've locked me away, again (4), and she fantasizes about having sex with him on the floor, "And I have to let myself wish that you would/Come remind me who I am/...Listen to me re-read my old poetry" (5).

"Black Widow Sunshine" reveals Lyons' astoundingly fresh metaphors. "I remembered a boy today/His soul was an empty walk up..." (10). This poem follows one about moving (on):

I guess you could say I've left his chambers
I've crawled out a hidden fissure
--a crack in the hardwood floor
I guess you could argue, I'm free (11).

There are many poems in the collection that compare and contrast sex:violence, sex: loss, lubricant:tears, restraint:spiritual escape, love:loathing, self-awareness: confusion. Not new concepts, but delivered by a very engaging new voice. This is confessional work at its best, with only a few poems being so personal as to elude the reader. Most make larger statements about people in general, regardless of how the monologues are set up. "The Turtle", by comparing turning over a turtle to mistreating a woman, chides how casually one lover destroys another: "You, my friend/Are merely a school boy./A sophomoric narcissist, soaking wet behind your ears...And you are the boy who had nothing better to do...(19).

"Annabella Returns" mocks the worship of plastic images of women: "I want to be a modern day pin-up girl" (24) ...Be a pin-up flapper, upon request./I've got the hair, the dramatic flair" (25). "The Little Black Sheep" invokes the same voice in a pseudo carpe diem poem, with amusing innuendos such as "But, I aimlessly follow your staff" (28-29).

The collection is rounded out with the narrator's responses to other people as they react in various ways to her previous addictions to alcohol and drugs. She mock-responds to her sister's "So what have you been up to lately?" with "I've been having long talks about things like/Method acting. And John Locke. Pantheism..." (33). "My Valentine" begins: "Hello sweet sedation..." (42). The collection comes full circle, the narrator getting the upper hand in a dysfunctional relationship this time, in "The Stolen Mannequin":

Yes, I found myself a new man.
He's not much yet, but...
Wait until I dress him up!
He doesn't even know words like yes and no
Like leave or go... (47)

In the acknowledgments Lyons thanks her insurance for becoming so expensive that she went off her medication. Perhaps medication makes some people better, others just temporarily calmer. This is not wounded-inner-child diary poetry. There is nothing calm or complacently wallowing about this work, and it is just as cathartic to the reader to allow this poet's fantasies, rages, and shouts to tap into one's inner berserker.

Mignon Ariel King is a womanist writer, the editor of two online journals, and a former adjunct professor of English

BLACK AND BLUE,a new DVD by Lo Galluccio

BLACK AND BLUE,a new DVD by Lo Gallucio, gallucio Lo Galluico-singer/ (piano) Eric Zinman,6-26-’09.

Lo Galluccio's CDs are available on

Everything that Lo Gallucio touches turns into magic. The songs here aren’t that avant-gardish and outer-space-ish, but the pianist, Eric Zinman, is a wildman piano-banger/experimenter, and Lo’s performance throughout, both with wild and more traditional backgrounds, hits you right between the eyes.Lo is Ms. Experimentalist, mistress of all and every kind of pop expression, and once you start listening, you can’t stop. She brings you back to Chicago, New York, New Orleans, from the 30’s to the 80’s to Infinity.Another amazing thing that reveals the depths of her musical talent is the fact that she did the arrangements of half the songs, including “You go to my Head,,” “Mona Lisa/Mozart’s Wife” and the ee cummings tune “The Boys I Mean are no Refined.”Everything on the edge of wild experimentation, avant, avant garde and then some, but at the same time loaded with old-time Jazz power. The main thing here is total mastery of sound, nothing normal, ordinary, deja vu, everything fresh, new, never-before-heard, and Lo Gallucio totally in charge of the sound. A trip into outer musical space!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Somerville Writer Steven Ford Brown: Explores the Punks Among the Brahmins

Somerville Writer Steven Ford Brown: Explore the Punks Among the Brahmin

By Doug Holder

I got an email from Somerville writer Steven Ford Brown recently inquiring about an alternative school in Cambridge in the 70’s called “ Trout Fishing in America” the title of a Richard Brautigan novel. I wondered why Brown was interested in such a piece of arcane information. Brown, who is currently in Barcelona, emailed me back that he recently edited a book on the work of American poet John Beecher, a political activist and great nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Brown wrote: “As far as the Richard Brautigan and what I am up to, I have been working on a book for a long time: ‘Punks Among the Brahmin: A Cultural, Political and Social History.’ It is about change in Boston and Cambridge. How the cities moved from small conservative Irish Catholic enclaves to what is seen as some of the more liberal cities in America.

Brown has decidedly eclectic interests and his book will include the communes, the alternative schools, the head shops, the gay and feminist bookstore, the music venues, the alternative presses, newspapers, and the literary small presses form 1950 to 1980. Brown continued: “ Add to that the counter-culture protests of the era, the demolition of entire neighborhoods, the forced busing and segregation issues.” Brown wrote that he has been talking to everyone including a cabdriver who told him about a group of girls in the 60’s/70’s from the Cambridge housing projects called the Easties. The Easties were notorious for kicking, well…. you know what, out of any guy who had the temerity to mess with them.

Brown is also interested with the writers of this era who pounded the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville pavement. Folks like Richard Yates of “Revolutionary Road” fame, George Higgins known for his novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” as well as John Cheevers. And if any folks out there have a list of literary presses in the Cambridge/Boston/Somerville area from 1950 to 1975, well Brown would be much obliged for access to them.

When I read this I was all over it like a cheap suit, a dog on a meat truck, I was on it like a hornet, like a fly on that proverbial mound of… For years I have discussed with friends of the need for a book like this. I have even entertained the thought of writing about the small press poetry scene in the 80’s and 90’s. So hopefully when Brown gets back to the states we will have a chance to talk, and maybe I can help in some small way.

Brown has lived in the same apartment in Somerville for the past 22 years. He cut his teeth as a journalist in 1973 writing for alternative magazines down South. He profiled artists and writers like Diane Arbus, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Hugo, etc. Looking him up on Wikipedia is an eye-opening experience. He has extensive experience as a rock music critic, he founded his own small press Thunder City Press (Later becoming Ford-Brown&Co), and has published folks like Richard Brautigan, Bei Dao, Mark Doty, Paul Zimmer, and the list goes on. He directed/managed research for George Plimpton's PBS TV interview series "The Writer in Society." He is an accomplished translator, and a featured writer at Boxing Herald.Com And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Brown has actively been involved with the Somerville arts scene of the years, but has had a lower profile recently. After his extensive travels are over, he may be spending some more time in the ‘ville, and who knows I might convince him to come to a Bagel Bards meeting at the Au Bon Pain. Can’t blame a guy for trying, now can you?

Between Compassion and Self Preservation : Toxic Environment poems by Kelley J. White, M.D.

Between Compassion and Self Preservation
Toxic Environment
poems by Kelley J. White, M.D.

article by Michael Todd Steffen

Poetry learns to read for this and that. Readers of poetry are keen and curious. On one hand we heed the literal register, the words used outright, and look for the presence of the poem, its urgency, its statements. Under this light the title of Kelley J. White’s Toxic Environment strike home to us here and now, in an age of unprecedented waste, of production and disposal of so much noxious chemical material, of landfilling and dumping in our resources including our vast atmospheric reserves of ocean and space.
If it is loud and in your face, the book’s title sounds familiar and resonant notes in the dissonance of late 20th and early 21st century life on planet earth.
The poem bearing the title demonstrates, moreover, a powerful poetic mind at work, as Dr. White compresses this environmental crisis with other pressing dilemmas of the day, hunger and violence. A child has been brought to the doctor, with a laceration on his neck from a thrown paint scraper.

“The kid has lead poisoning.
I was scraping the wall
to repaint and he walked in
and started eating from
the pile of scrapings
on the floor. I lost control…”

Here and throughout the book Kelley White adheres to a fidelity for harsh realistic subjects, depicted with everyday language, sensibly lined by breath and phrase. The eye is voracious, what is more, for the poverty of the inner city, its squalor and degradation, its grit, shortcomings, shame and suffering humanity. It is not reader-friendly, in this way, but neither is Dante’s Inferno, though White holds no didactic purpose in demonstrating this suffering. She is not out to explain to us why the people she meets are where she meets them. Her journey inclines toward compassion for others and preservation of herself. In that latter sense the title takes on a modulation. The environment White confronts is not only physically toxic but psychologically corrosive.

I have come back to violence, its work eternal,
“Seven Found Dead in Drug House,” already this winter,
a murder spree; bloody horror, screams the corner

tires crunching snow, purposefully moving,

steady, and I have to go to work, I must keep moving,
force myself to work against despair, to hope, eternal…

“Cadaverine” (p. 23) reels with such harsh mundane details that only after second and third readings do you realize that the same words are being repeated at the ends of the lines of the sextets, that this is a popular form-poem derived from the medieval Troubadors. Admirably White buries her cultural technical scaffolding in such unseemly garb as a drive to work on a cold winter morning with her mind racing over the bad news headlines and the riff-raff on the sidewalks.
White is sly in this way. I felt set up, having struggled through the poems at first, complaining that there was no rime or reason (except for the title page that shows the poems are arranged in alphabetical order, lest the world appear haphazard). But then I had to recant my grouse as consecutive readings unveiled more subtle work at form and suggested metaphor.
Look at the book’s title again. There’s an ox in Toxic, the burdened farm animal driving the plough. Am-scram “Environment,” the metal in that word, and you come up with “nerve” and “teen” and “norm,” etc… It’s a game the word puzzles in the daily paper teach us.
Here is the book’s first poem:

After Performing CPR

like skiing the white hills of sleep
following mountains all the bright chill
day the rhythm of falling in time with
a wind singing above the flight falling
yet never touching ground sweet sore
muscle learned and the child will breathe
will open her eyes this time will breathe

The imagery, almost ethereal, is birthed back through a technical act (necessary, “muscle learned”), CPR, a little theft from Avernus, or Mount Purgatory, that further realm so many of our greatest artists cite as the source of human inspiration, so modestly pulled off by White. On reading it, I thought this is going to be an amazing book. Yet this is it
as far as displaced or metaphorical or euphemistic imagery is going to get in White’s book. The rest is hard stuff under a harsh light in abrasive terms. Have we gotten truth instead of the graces of poetry? If so, it’s not that White doesn’t understand those graces as this first poem so deftly illustrates. Maybe the proportions between the truths she confronts and the grace she witnesses are honestly weighed out in this book.
Kelley White’s poetry has been widely published, and she has been selected to read from by Garrison Keilor on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac. Toxic Environment is a trying yet rewarding read, full servings for content, silent side-glances of know-how for the reader especially interested in poetry as an art and tradition. Hats off, thumbs up, shakes of the umbrella, bitten palm of envy for a fine book.

Toxic Environment by Kelley J. White, M.D.
is available for $13.95
from Boston Poet Publishing
19 Oakridge Drive
Londonderry, NH 03053

Monday, July 06, 2009

It's Not Enough of Elvis by Paul Fericano

It’s Not Enough of Elvis
Paul Fericano 2009
The Shave and a Haircut Poetry Series
Poor Souls Press/Scaramouche Books
POBox 236, Millbrae, Ca. 94030 USA

“we dig up the grave
and sell little envelopes of Elvis plots
we pulverize the casket
and market little vials of Elvis coffins
we auction off the corpse
and sell every last bone to the highest bidder”

Fericano gives us one hell of a poem for 25 cents in a hand held
3”x5” chapbook. like the dust being sold, as Elvis’s testicles
lay limp on some fan’s hand. you gotta love this guy for writing
about, “enough is enough.”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor
Ibbetson Street Press

REVIEW of GUD issue 4 by Anne Brudevold

REVIEW of GUD issue 4, Spring 2009 by Anne Brudevold

Reading the latest GUD issue 4, Spring 2009 inspires the disjunctive in me. I am full of admiration for its editors who aim for the deep-seated healthy shock value of wildly varying essays and stories, each one completely unique and surreal, yet creating its own world that connects to the worlds before and after it in subtle ways. The structure of this issue of GUD totters the lines of the huge, insane no-man’s land between life and death, good and evil. Sometimes, as in “Unfinished Stories” by J(as)D Brames, life, death, good, and evil become as knotted together as lovers killing each other with calculating, hopeless, eviscerating love, love that could be called hatred. This harkens to the tradition of Becket, Albee, and The Silence of the Lambs, horrifying, unimaginable, yet here vividly imagined and unforgettable.. The story incorporates a parable of Hans and Gretel and the Wicked Witch, who eats Hans and loves it, in this version, and by eating him, grants him a new life as a bird.

The story is preceded by an astute analysis of Kafka, who “believed that we are only a bad day of God’s.” (“What Kafka Knew,” Nonfiction by Christy Rodgers. Kafka, the first postmodernist who gave us a “parallel symbolic world” that not only literature, but also politics adopted. “The system chooses to punish you not for the specifics of your individual actions but merely to demonstrate to others that its authority is absolute. This idea is incarnate in military invasions and occupations, in racial profiling and ethnic cleansing, and in the punishment of dissenters; it is not a fictional exaggeration or a phenomenon of a particular society in the historical past, but a pretty accurate description of how power continues to operate all around us, right now.” The battle for the power of definition of good and evil is summed up in the title of the poem, ”Jesus Fucks an Atheist and calls it Love.” By Lisa Feinstein.

Reality as we know it walks a thin line in GUD. In “Unbound” by Brittany Reid Warren, one moment a family is having an almost unattended birthday party of the twelve year old son, the next, the world ends as the parents argue. “There was something like the low stink of a relentless predator….My mother stood at the sink, running her hands under the water and humming. As I watched, the water grew into strange shapes on her palms: now a tree, many-branched and reaching’ now a snake, curling over a tangled rope. Now my father’s face. Now mine. “ Reality curls and tangles.. People from another dimension appear and eat pizza.

Acceptance of evil. death, contradiction and the slippery slopes of reality brings hope at the end of many of these essays and stories. It’s a psychological healing. Confess your sins, your doubts, your addictions, your deceptions and you will be healed, if only momentarily. “Lifthrasir , I thought. I formed the name with my tongue. It tasted like life, like growth, like order out of chaos. /It tasted like…hope.” (Warren). “If there are days when I feel that life on earth will be reduced to two idiots battling to the death on a charred cinder…I read Kafka. I feel the suffocation of nightmare, but I feel the possibility of awakening from nightmare as well.” (Rodgers)

Humor noire abounds. In the succinct poem “Quack” by Brian Beatty, “The mystic said/my spirit/animal/was a duck/because---/I forgot to ask why,/I was so distracted/by her/week-old loaf of bread.”

Sentimentalism is nowhere to be found. Death is an interesting object, examined from astonishingly imaginative angles in this issue of GUD. Death, Life, Good, Evil. If there are more crucial issues than these today, let me know. I am caught up by GUD’s passionate and unimpassioned examination of these subjects. A read-through is impossible, so intense are the language and subject matter. I read and reflect, read, am shocked, examine my shock, am fascinated by my shock, absorb it and look for other angles to be shocked and intrigued by. GUD will wake up your sensibilities, will challenge the things most precious, most sacred to you (your pet cat, your love, your belief in order) and turn them upside down, inside out, splay them and return them to you, intact, and glowing with new possibilities. Read GUD and you’ll never be the same. And that’s a good thing for the world, a necessary thing, if the world at present is ever to regain its sanity, which GUD, I think rightly, assumes it has lost. You must lose your mind to find it. You must deconstruct the world to understand and recreate it. A Must Read.