Saturday, October 24, 2009

MEETING M.F.K. FISHER by Leo Racicot

*** M.F.K. Fisher is the author of more than 20 books
most of which deal with the subject of food, its philosophies,
its mysteries and the memories induced by it. Her books,
among them "How to Cook a Wolf", "Consider the Oyster",
"The Gastronomical Me" and the now classic "Art of Eating"
act as autobiography and memoir and treat the reader to
a glimpse into the author's own life and mind. No less than
W.H.Auden said of her: "I do not know of anyone in the
United States who writes better prose."


by Leo Racicot

"Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly." M.F. K. Fisher

Some books (sadly very few) cast a magic over us, and over
the time and place we read them, that lasts a lifetime. One such
book for me, the memory of which even now resurrects a certain
summer many summers ago, and the front porch I read it on,
during what seemed to me the most beautiful of weather days,
was "As They Were" by an author I had never heard of: M.F.K.
Fisher. The title still has the ability to thrill.

I liked the book, in fact, so much that I set off, after, in search
of another of the author's titles: "A Cordiall Water". I had no luck
finding it (all library copies were marked 'MISSING'). The book was
out-of-print and a friend suggested I write the publishers to see if
a copy could be had from them.

A month or so after, a package, brown-bundled and tied
with plain, brown twine came in the mail. It was from the author
herself, accompanied by a note thanking me for my interest
in her books with a wish that I enjoy this one. Thrilled, I dashed
off a "thank you" straight away. She wrote back -- a longer, more
personal reply, and so developed between us (me here in Lowell,
Ma; she, in California) a regular correspondence that evolved into
years of indescribable joy in visiting her, knowing her, loving her...

I can tell you many good stories about her and her open-door
policy salon, her family and friends but will start here with the story
of the first time I made my way, at her invitation, to her fabled
Glen Ellen and 13935 Sonoma Highway because the first visit
was a real adventure but not, as you will see, the sort I expected.

The flight out to San Francisco was, as I recall, fine but I hit
the city during one of the most relentless rainstorms to swallow
Northern California in twenty years.!!!

I can still picture being soaked to the skin as I wedged myself
into an equally wet phone booth at the airport where I tried to
summon the courage to call Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher
and let her know I was here. I was more than nervous. The voice
that answered the other end of the line was a shock and a delight,
both, and remained so for all our days together, for what I heard
emerging from a woman in her late 60s was the voice of a little
girl, musical in its pitch, like little, silver bells ringing. "This is
Mary Frances", it said. I said it was Leo calling and that I was
in San Francisco and what I heard next was not what I wanted
to hear: "Well, dear. I'm so happy you came but I'm afraid we
are completely flooded up here. We needed the rain but not this
much of it. The roads leading up here are all washed away. I'm
sorry, dear, but you'll have to go back home. There's no way
up. Maybe some other time..."

"Maybe some other time???" I was not hearing this!! I
had come 3000 miles to be told, "Maybe some other time"?
I heard her start to hang up and so I hollered, "No! Wait!
I'll find a way. I want to see you. I've come all this way.
I......I....." There was a pause, then the child-like voice
replied, "Well, Leo, if you think you can get here, I'm here..."

No one at the bus terminal ticket booth knew Glen Ellen,
the tiny cow town about 60 miles north of San Francisco
where M.F.K. Fisher lived. They kept shrugging and sending
me from booth to booth. I was mad. I was sad. I was wet.
Good luck came in the form of a bus line, Fedora, no longer
extant (nowadays, you must take an airporter limo to get to
Glen Ellen, if you can get there at all). Feeling relief, I bought
my ticket, found the bus dock and boarded a rattle-y, old
coach bound for Santa Rosa. Much to my dismay, and perhaps
due to the recluse in me, my delight, I saw that I was the only
passenger on the bus. Or should I say the only person crazy
enough to be riding a bus in weather this vile? And so we set
off into the deluge: one bus, one bus driver, one killer storm
and me.!!!

The further out of San Francisco we went, the more I could
see what Fisher had meant; all roads were beyond-belief bad
and the rain became more and more like an iron wall of water.
We could not see very well but we could see that a major road
had been washed away and that we were banned from continuing
on by a battery of workhorses. During the ride, I had told the
driver whom I was going to see and how determined and excited
I was about seeing her. Pshawing the washed-out road, the driver
became suddenly imbued with a do-or-die John Wayne spirit
and grabbing the wheel with the hams of both hands, he yelled,
(I kid you not!), "I'll get ya there, come Hell or High Water!!") and
veered the giant bus into the middle of a mud-filled field as if
he were re-directing a VW bug or a Cooper. Once again --!!! I thought: I am not going to meet M.F.K. Fisher
because I am going to die.

But the shortcut led to the highway we needed and soon
we were back on pavement, at least, and not mud and before
long, as if in a dream, the kindly driver was depositing me
in front of the Jack London Lodge in the center of Glen Ellen.

It took me the whole night to dry off, and I don't think
I slept an hour, if that. I was restless with all kinds of
emotion not the least of which was shyness at having
to call M.F. in the morning and actually meet a writer
who had become, for me, the greatest living writer of all.
I was a wreck when I dialed her up and heard her girl's
voice again. "Well, I don't know how you managed to
make it", she said, incredulously, "but I sure am glad
you have. I'll send Pat Moran up in my jalopy to fetch
you. He'll be round in an hour or so."

Pat arrived right on time, a cheerful, mustachioed,
30-ish fellow, tall like a tree, and just as cheerful. We
had a good chat as we made our way up and over some
of the wettest country I had ever seen.

Soon, we came to a gate leading off Highway 12,
to a path lined with wildflowers of every color and kind,
flattened by the weight of the rain but oh, so fragrant,
and a tiny, white bungalow, stucco, hidden carefully
amid a clutch of trees, and a pond, and a belltower
and cows, and oh it was lovely until, as we reached
the house and parked, Pat turned and said to me,
"How many times have you been out here to visit
Mary Frances?" And when I told him this was the
very first time, that I had never met her, he gasped
asthmatically and said, "Holy Jesus! You must be
SCARED SHIT!!!" This, I can tell you, did nothing
to relieve my fear and once more, dear reader, if I
may be permitted to repeat ---!!!

But she, the Mary Frances of my dreams, was
lovelier than words can describe and more warm
and welcoming than the sun that had finally come out
from hiding. The years ahead would be filled with
the rich and endearing gift of her friendship, her letters,
her love. Not a day goes by that I do not miss her
and wish she was here and I think, in some animistic
way, she still is, and surely is with me now as I write
this reminiscence of the first time we met.

Leo Racicot's work has been featured in "Co-Evolution Quarterly","Utne Reader", "Spiritual Life", "Gay Sunshine Journal", "First Hand","The Poet", "Ibbetson Street Press", "Poetry", "Shakespeare's Monkey"and "Yankee". Two of his award-winning essay-memoirs appear in "Best of..."anthologies, and he is the recipient of the Antonio Machado Poetry Forum Award (1992). His holiday story, "The Little Man" is being published by Snug Harbor and will be available in audio and animated form on He has been a schoolteacher/librarian/cook/counselor/poet/actor/clown.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Editor, Tara L. Masih

Review by Timothy Gager

· Paperback: 208 pages

· Publisher: Rose Metal Press; First edition (May 13, 2009)

· ISBN-10: 0978984862

· ISBN-13: 978-0978984861

As a writer of flash fiction, I found this field guide extremely interesting, pertinent and useful. It is full of surprises and mind opening essays for those who only look at flash or very short fiction in a limited way.. The essays included in this book read like a who’s who in the form of very short fiction. These are authors that I’ve read and admired for either their economy of language, their punch of prose or their paint strokes of fast and deep emotion. Included are many personal favorites of mine such as Randall Brown, Rusty Barnes, Kim Chinquee and Pamela Painter whom are only a small piece of this literary all-star team ripe for the reading.

Inside the pages of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction you will receive twenty-five short written lectures; points of view of what comprises great flash fiction. There also are writing exercises intended to help writers of various skill levels create work from each point of focus. This is very helpful if you like to write from prompts. Each author also pick examples of flash fiction pieces they feel back up their points.

Fiction today, especially what you may read on-line tends to run shorter in length than ever before. Whether it is the short attention span of readers, the need for something quick and hard hitting and grabbing as a computer read. Whatever the reason, flash fiction has become increasingly popular to both writers and readers. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction demonstrate this phenomena in great detail by the varying theories from each author, whom all have different focuses on the same point.

The book is aptly presented as a “field guide”, and I couldn’t agree more with that descriptor. It is user friendly, can be picked up and read at any chapter point break by any individual, writing group or classroom. The book also presents historic references of fiction, short fiction, micro-fiction and flash. Shouhua Qi points out the early origins from the Chinese short short or what is called a “Smoke-Long story”. (note: Randall Brown, the editor of Smoke Long Quarterly is also included in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction) TRMPFGTWFF also distinguishes between narrative/prose poetry and flash fiction---often viewed as interchangeable. Robert Olen Butler says on the form, “it may not have a fully developed plot, but it must have the essence of a plot, a yearning.” Steve Almond instructs as on how to turn your bad poetry into fantastic flash, which was an essay I found to be extraordinarily useful and entertaining.

Jennifer Pieroni’s thoughts on the purpose of images “smart and surprising” was also useful, not only to those whom enjoy Jennifer’s writing but also whom read her and her well know magazine, Quick Fiction (TRMPFGTWFF indirectly shows you what certain editors like). Kim Chinquee presents us with examples of five distinctly different stories based on the same event. Rusty Barnes, author of Breaking It Down and Editor of Night Train, takes you on a journey in the revision process. Randall Brown points out ways to “make flash count’ for the aspiring author.

I highly recommend this book as a learning tool and prompt generator. It pulls from the insight of today’s very best writers of short shorts, many whom are the editors of some of very well known anthologies, magazines and journals of fiction.

For more information about Timothy Gager go to:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poppin' Johnny: new American Poems by George Wallace

Poppin’ Johnny
new american poems by
George Wallace
Three Rooms Press, New York
Copyright © 2009 by George Wallace
ISBN: 978-0-9840700-2-2
102 pages.

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Poets like to be compared to great poets, so when I read George Wallace, the late Charles Bukowski wormed his way into my brain. Fortunately, this George Wallace isn’t the former governor of Alabama, whose non-poetic bigotries are not soon forgotten. Fortunately, the George Wallace who authored Poppin’ Johnny is an uncommon poet who goes non-stop from cover to cover with poems that not only conjure Bukowski, but some of the Beat Generation poets like Allen Ginsberg. So now you know a weakness of mine for Bukowski and Ginsberg and I may well add Wallace after I read more of his 18 chapbooks of poetry and, if I can find them, full length efforts. Maybe he should publish a Selected volume. I’ll bet that would be great reading.

Of the more than 70 poems in this volume my favorite was easily That Girl’s A Chevrolet. For a guy (me) who for many years had a romance with fast cars and the women who liked the front and back seats, this poem has it all. Read it fast, like
a ’58 Impala trying to separate a highway like it’s the Red Sea. Read it fast because that’s the way this poem is meant to be read. Fast. Just try the first few lines:

she’s got celebrity
she’s got greed
she’s got ammunition
& she’s got natural selection
i tell you she’s got erudition
palimony free & easy patricide
she’s got manifest destiny she’s got
motorized magic she’s got the tar & feather

Just the first few lines and I was reaching for the four-on-the-floor, listening for the GlassPaks and the 8 Stromberg Heads. and there are more lines:

[that] girl’s a chevrolet, boy she’s
a chevy she’s a chevy she’s
taking to the streets

There’s also the Bukowski-like toughness of :

I’m Just An Ordinary Guy
I’m Feeling Like Pittsburgh Tonight

i’m just an ordinary guy i’m feeling
like pittsburgh tonight buy me a
beer says choochoo charlie to steel
eyed dick and make it american
he was a little older than dick an
old goat a little bit colder to look
at straight in the eye tough old bird

Ah, read on. This is another poem to enjoy, fast or slow. Nitty-gritty, down in hole,Wallace rips life as if it were a piece of paper, leaving the edges jagged and the paper crumpled like so many lives he observes.

Yes, Wallace writes lower case. Yes, Wallace doesn’t use much punctuation, an occasional comma or period, sometimes in a poem that has no other punctuation, but
it works well. Even though many folks say poetry to should be read slowly, sipped like wine, Wallace is meant to be read fast, like Paul LeMat’s yellow hot rod in American Graffiti.

I’ve read many of Bukowski’s books two or three times; Ginsberg too. I know I am going to go through Poppin’ Johnny few times too.

This is a book of poetry I am pleased to recommend.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Misplaced Joan of Arc by Leah Angstman

Some Misplaced Joan of Arc by Leah Angstman (Alternating Current Press $5

Review by Doug Holder

Leah Angstman, founder of the local Alternating Current Press works as a bartender at an aptly named place for a writer to work in: "Bukowski's," a bar in Inman Square, Cambridge. She puts out a neat little magazine Poiesis and a slew of mini-chapbooks of poetry. Her latest project is a beautiful looking small chap titled: "Some Misplaced Joan of Arc," written by Angstman herself. Now Angstman always has an original take on things. And here is a signature poem that you might want to keep "abreast" of:

"seventy something percent of women have mismatched breasts"

perhaps some genes or
parts switched around at birth
and yet
there are no bras mismatched

dressed in discomfort
with the dilemma of the d
or the c

flapping like a jaw
inside d
too roomy on the left
chaffing against pudding

or squished into the c with
right nipple perched
across fabric's edge
bunched to the inside
appearing a cyclops breast
fighting for air
squirming to wink.

If I were you I would get this hot little pocket book of poetry and squeeze into your c or d cup.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update