Saturday, October 31, 2009

Poet Valerie Lawson: A New Home "Off the Coast"

Poet Valerie Lawson: A New Home "Off the Coast"

Interview by Doug Holder

Valerie Lawson, has the healthy ruddy complexion of a woman who spends a good bit of her time outdoors. This makes sense since she recently moved to the hinterlands of Maine and is editing a magazine "Off the Coast." She has been a mainstay in the Boston poetry scene for years, most notably in the poetry slam scene popularized by her partner Michael Brown. Both Lawson and Brown have taken over "Off the Coast," a well-respected New England journal from the founder, and have made their own unique imprint on it. Lawson was the slam master of the Bridgewater Poetry Slam at the Daily Grind Coffeehouse, has traveled to Europe to perform poetry and help host the Swedish Slam Nationals in 2002. Lawson was a participant in Optimal Avenues, a mixed-media cultural exchange between Massachusetts and Ireland. Her recent collection of poems is "Dog Watch," a book of poems that was released in 2007. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show: "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: You and Michael Brown took over the helm of "Off the Coast" magazine in Maine. What's the back-story to this?

Valerie Lawson: Off the Coast magazine began about 15 years ago. It was an extension of the Live Poet's Society in Maine. It was originally an anthology for the society. It later became a triennial publication. The previous owner's wife got ill with cancer, so he decided to let go of the magazine to take care of her. We were happy that the magazine had a good reputation when we took it over. We had pretty good bios that indicated we could do this. So George, the owne,r handed it over to us. We inherited a list of subscribers but no money.

So far for the first two issues we carried the magazine. This year we are in production for our 4th issue. We are short a couple hundred dollars to put this out.

DH: You guys moved from Massachusetts to Maine. Was that because of the magazine?

VL: Well no. Michael was teaching at Mt. Ida College. They closed the program he ran there. It was the Communications program. So we tossed around ideas about what we wanted to do with our lives. At one point we were looking at buying a small piece of property in Maine as an investment. It was to be a place to retire. But when the closing of the program forced the issue, Maine seemed like a cheaper place to live. We started to look at property up there and off we went. It is a six-hour drive to Somerville.

DH: You were, and still are I believe involved in the SLAM poetry scene. I think you cut your teeth in the Cantab Lounge. Can you talk a bit about your involvement? What is SLAM poetry for the uninformed?

VL: It is a poetry reading that is judged Olympic style on a 1 to 10 scale. It is really fun. It is a competition. It is basically a poetry show.

I started out with the South Shore Poets that was a typical, quiet, library series. I loved poetry. I was going to the library and I liked the series. One time at the Fuller Museum in Brockton they were putting on a poetry slam. I thought: "WOW,” this just brought the level up. It was so much fun. People in the audience were engaged and excited. I said: “I want to do that." I met Michael there.

DH: You were involved were involved with the Doc. Brown Traveling Poetry Show, no?

VL: Yes. At the old Jimmy Tingle Theatre in Davis Square.

DH: Your poem "Evening" in your book "Dog Watch" is a beautifully written piece about the beach. I can only describe it as great tidal drama? Are you drawn to the sea?

VL: Oh yeah. I am a water person. I have to be near water. We can see the bay where we live. We used to live on Cape Cod in Buzzard's Bay, and across from a pond in Plymouth.

DH: Has the move to the isolation of Maine helped or hindered you?

VL: Both. It's tough to be away from the Boston poetry community. I miss the frequent conversations. But I am getting a lot of reading done. I have more time to write.


Boats tethered in their slips,
day captains maneuver trailers—
they've waited years for the chance of a mooring.
Sandpipers and plovers fuss over minnows
and sand fleas, chase receding waves,
skitter from the next wave rolling in.
Sea lavender pokes briny blossoms
above tidal pools. The used tissue of sea lettuce
litters the sand, catches in salt marsh grass.
Terns dive, miss fish, hover
over another target.

A horseshoe crab, empty of life but
shell complete down to spiky telson
marks high tide. The long flight bone
of a gull weathers smooth nearby.
Neither bird call nor blue blood matter.
It always come to this, tossed on the edge,
still waiting for something
as the sun edges below the horizon again.

--Valerie Lawson

Friday, October 30, 2009

When Things are Tight, check out Hanging Loose The Fall 2009 issue

When Things are Tight, check out Hanging Loose
The Fall 2009 issue

article by Michael Todd Steffen

Literary journals as a rule, gathering work from several sources, tend one way or the other: to demonstrate a coterie likeness (in theme or style), or to celebrate like Walt Whitman a grand embrace of variety. The Fall 2009 Hanging Loose sets itself unflinchingly to the latter strategy, giving writers and readers, in this time of economic constraint and hesitation, carte blanche to browse and relish in a range of expressions, from thrift to luxury, from the timid companionship of a calf that follows KEITH TAYLOR’s father around in “The Cattle on the Parthenon’s South Frieze” (p. 84), to KATHY SCHNEIDER’s endearing catalog of excuses not to leave an elusive lover in “Lapigi” (99).

We look through garments, bric-a-brac, we look for others. Between her glassy liberal psychologist and the less forgiving damselflies in “Spooning” (60) JENI OLIN is brought to the surprising consumerist-wit question, “Wouldn’t it be touching/to try on people at a sample sale?”

As shoppers meet limitations, they economize with lists, lists such as the long-lined odes beginning this issue of HL. In “Ode to my Backyard” (19-21) the passage revisiting ‘the so sweet a place” where John Keats is buried in Rome echoes throughout the achieved negative capability of David Kirby’s breathless three-page poem.
Then in the array of vignettes and strophes, a gem by Rosalind Brackenbury, “Ferry across the James River” stands quietly forth in its intimacy and clarity:

the water was carved the bow wave
in a deep almost colorless curve;
you stood at the stern of the ferry
and I came to find you, I knew
you’d be there wearing your jacket,
cap and gloves; and above you
the gulls, their bellies lit by the low sun
from underneath, hundreds of them
following the wake (26).

If HL demonstrates an eye for referential literary talent, it is not blind to the harder experiences, say, of CHRISTEIN GHOLSON’s “Sleep Deprivation,” which records the twists of events in a lidless tenancy building:

One night I heard two drunk kids blubbering “I love you, man” to each other in the hallway. A bit later—fists, bottles breaking… (34).

Still with plenty of play currency for what Nabokov called “unreal estate,” an abundance of cultural acquirements and thoughts for pennies keep turning HL’s pages. We are bargain drivers, says ELIZABETH SWADOS in her poem of anxiety for the critic and author of The Anxiety of Influence, “A Question for Harold Bloom” (85). Look says MARK PAWLAK, a contributing editor, with “Apologies for Rilke,” paying legerdemain for one of the Austrian poet’s most memorable meditations on the spiritual challenge of enduring art. And just why not? Monte Python superimposes wags of a mustache on the Mona Lisa, and as Rolland Barthes has pointed out there is, when all is boiled down, no proof for semantic difference between the pop of film and belles of lettres.

We ask to read as far as the eye sees, and the dreamlike atmospheres of the acrylic paintings by ARNOLD MESCHES, HL’s feature artist for this issue, achieve intensity, volume, through the painter’s method of “unlikely juxtapositions.” Subjects of artifice, acrobats, flame-hurlers, or of sophistication, a white-clothed dinner table, find themselves in the bewildered setting of woods at night. Mesches’ technique of contrasting brilliant colors against deeply obscure backgrounds draws in and offers to swallow the viewer’s eye with enchantments of luxurious baroque ballroom interiors, as well as with the blazes of fire in the nocturnal sylvan scenery.

Mesches leaves us with an overall effect of dark surrealism bordering on expressionism, with the costumed and masked characters of children’s entertainment and nightmares, all befitting the theatrical harrowing of the Halloween season. Lock your doors. Don’t pick up that phone. And cover these paintings!

The Fall 2009 is a well-selected, finely and handsomely bound journal of intriguing and entertaining pen-craft and artistry that makes an apt companion for considerate readers of interest. It is well worth your nickel.

Hanging Loose 95
is available for $9.00
(3 issues for $22.00…) from
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street
Brooklyn, New York 11217
visit their website at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Terrible Baubles by Lo Galluccio

(Lo Galluccio)

Terrible Baubles.
By Lo Galluccio
2009; 56pp; Pa; Alternating
Current, PO Box 398058,
Cambridge, MA 02139,
color photos by Lo Gallucio.

Review by Hugh Fox

Lo Galluccio’s non-sequitur unexpectedness is one of the most refreshing language-/thought-variants on Planet Earth: “Explosions in the open fists of leaves/Over East 4th Street America’s quilt/Drops handkerchief for patriotic infants/Crawling the street/Who don’t fuss about the November moon/Distant fixture of frozen/Niagara.” (“Moonsong,” p. 44). And if you really start meditating on the sequences here, a whole new kind of sense emerges. There’s 9-11 hidden in here somewhere, the whole idea of the U.S. being subjected to international terrorism, all contrasted with totally non-political (moons and frost) Nature.

And behind all the epistemological scrambling there is an underlying philosophy that calls for sane joy in the midst of endless man-made jumblings: “ I had a true love, I had an angry star/He flung me near, he flung me far/No Mecca can survive such an angry star/Will the moon take me back?/Will the moon have her way?/Will it take another century, a year, or a day?/It will rise again, it will rise again/Like a child whose love is God/Shiver me hard.” (“I had a True Love,” p.25). It’s a real aesthetic trip to sail through the world of Lo Galluccio’s poetry. None of the usual 1,2,3’s, but dice-throws of logic that ultimately force the reader to re-think the whole political-psychological structure of contemporary reality. You really get inside Lo Galluccio and let her flow through you and it’s like a trip through the psychedelic Andes.


By Irene Koronas
Cervena Barva Press
Copyright 2010
50 pages, $16.00

By Lo Galluccio

Unlike Irene’s first full-length book “self portrait drawn from many 65 poems in 65 years,” where she explores the formation of poetic language through grids of text which make allusion to various historical figures, including artists and saints, the new book is written more in the style of letters home or journal entries to a travelogue of her visit to Cyprus. In her dedication she reveals her own discovery: that her father never went back to Cyprus because they (the family) were more important to him than possessing the past.

But that has nothing to do with the acute beauty of the island which Koronas details in seemingly mundane lists that obviously transcend the normal, especially the normal American way of life. From April 7:

My own image crosses my path. caterpillar crawls
across ancient mud foundation, mountain’s yellow
wild flower face, I step on dry weeds, the quiver
on dry rock gnats chase each other

There is an unexpected interlude with a villager named John who takes a liking to Irene and invites her to stay in his empty house in back. She carefully navigates the relationship with this strange man, in whom she sees craziness, loneliness and compassion.


after breakfast i walk
the chalk path to john’s farm

we talk for three hours

john loved a five year old woman
with three children. She was jealous,

hooked on amphetamines.

She dreams, she walks, she talks with relatives and neighbors. After awhile sleeping on a single bed in her cousin’s house.


with bag, camera, peanuts and rain,
rain washes my hair, I duck under small tree,
sea merges with sky. on my left on my right,
mountains rub blue. My voice my walking stick
thumps, tender as aging skin, dry earth. gray
sheet hangs over distance. i run back down
full of quick insinuations

Koronas catches the moods of the days, whether she is alone exploring or participating in the village’s events. In the following anecdote the restaurant owner suggests to a group that if they lie over the saint’s skeletal home, their spinal problems will be cured.

saint erogenous

beside an open air restaurant
a small stone chuch fits ten people
wicks in oil, incense illumines entrance
plain sarcophagas dominates space


i unzip my thoughts
spread my body over
his tomb hewn rock

Indeed saints form an overlay or backdrop of a holy tribe in Pentakomo an island which is predominantly Greek Orthodox Catholic.

two nuns

icons kissed right to left. women stand,
men sit. restless children wander. Near the end of the liturgy
some of the men hold an icon of saint Irene, coffin above their heads…

There are rich, but simply told accounts of war stories and village encounters. One senses that Koronas has indeed resolved to feel the rain of this place while seeking
some protection, always wielding her camera to capture the scene-ery.


late day requests more
than i am willing to give

i do not want to leave my father
in olive groves, kourion’s basilica

wednesday night’s soft purple
yogurt on potato.

There are many layers to this work and it deserves several readings. It is fascinating to visit an unknown village on the Mediterranean, to see what of the ancient remains and what of modernity has struck through. Irene balances her own interior life and reactions with the lives of those around her and nature on the island. Her writing is never over-blown or embellished, but broken carefully into poetic lines which always stay in lower-case. Each poem corresponds to a day or a saint, an event, an encounter. It seems that she is democratizing the alphabet this way so no part of speech carries extra weight. Each poem corresponds to a day or a saint, an event, an encounter It is a style that works well with her highly visual and sensual sense. On May 13, she leaves the Pentakomo and in her final poem ends with a recipe for how to make ketheis or meatballs. Like the feminist message a while back that “history is lunch.” --that is a bit how Irene sees things-- close to the earth, the women, the saints, what nature gives us for nourishment and creativity. All these she walks through with grace, and an artist’s heart and curiosity.

I highly recommend this book.

Lo Galluccio

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Fulcra Poems by Richard Kostelanetz

More Fulcra Poems
Richard Kostelanetz
PO Box 792
Rockford, Mi 49341

Richard Kostelanetz’s ‘More Fulcra Poems,’ the literal
word becomes, visible meaning. Single letters jut through
the word form, lending to even more meaning. Meaning takes
on a size and relationship. The relationship of two laid out
on whitespace, layers layered, turning the single word into
memory or recognition:



Kostelanetz, his minimal approach to complex situations,
political or otherwise, allows the reader the freedom of
being influenced:



these are perfect poems the reader can sit or walk around with.
participate; perceptions of meaning, I mean, the poems create
an environment; the environment is yours to build from:



Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor
Wilderness House Literary Review

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review of ANONYMOUS FOX by Naomi Feigelson Chase

Review of ANONYMOUS FOX by Naomi Feigelson Chase, (Turning Point, Cincinnati, OH, 2009)

By Barbara Bialick

ANONYMOUS FOX is a book you can dive right into even though the familiar yet obscure images keep you wondering what deftly sculpted insight you’re about to experience. One thing you’ll notice right away is that the author’s “veins secrete/Ink and tap water” and like “a cat keeps its own couch/I keep mine.”

She’s an individualist and yet, at the same time, just like the masses would, she dedicates this book to her grandson, Matthew, who will read it some day and see both beauty and horror concerned his grandmother, who named this collection after a dead fox Nadia wants to take the tail of, use it for a paintbrush and “bury the rest./It’s my fox isn’t it?/...As for its fur, the author says sardonically, “why not keep it…like Jews’ hair stored/in an Argentine barn/for future use…/Isn’t all death a good riddance,/Lewd providence,/Quitting earth of the useless,/The dirties,/While we expedient managers/Go about our cleansing business.”

All through the book you’ll discover metaphors from nature that turn around and surprise you. For example, in “American Brunhilde” she starts with “Summers, I sleep circled with fans,/In kind Stygian light./Shades drawn./My dreams can’t be spied on/I’ve heard folks in the next town,/So fearful of terrorists,/They’ve painted their doors shut./The mailman puts their letters in the trees.”

On the page previous, the poem “Cold Comfort” is taken from winter, “Those snowy peaks, natures’s scarred darlings,/Comfort me, like Artemis’ one hundred breasts/…Like Pittsburgh winters,/When Zadi pulled my sled up Pocusset Street…/The furred pelf of trees,/Bristling with what./Stark successes now,/ Black matter in a thousand years.”

The person to whom all this is dedicated appears in the book now and then is revealed as a fellow poet or doctor in training… Her grandson wants to know if he can pick the white flowers on the pea plants. To quote her own quote: “How do peas get into pods?” he asks. “Call me when it happens.” A universal concept of where there is youth there is hope… But then again, she reveals in “I Can Tell You Now”: “I can tell you now, I never expected this—to be old and ugly,/To turn away from the beach,/Struggle with the lid of a jar…I took misfortune’s road to the forest./Saw the warlock’s house and walked right in…”

Some of these poems were previously printed in prestigious publications like Harvard magazine and Iowa Review. She won the Flume Press poetry chapbook award and she’s published a variety of poetry books and chapbooks, nonfiction books, and fiction.
The publisher left no obvious note of the book’s price, which indicates what you may agree with when you read it, that this book is priceless…or in any case, certainly worth a read.