Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Boston Poet: Mignon Ariel King

A Boston Poet: Mignon Ariel King ( Click on highlighted title above to get WGBH site)

Mignon Ariel King is making poetry for the page. Aside from the fact that she knows it's not cool, she's been writing poetry for most of her life now. She's born to log iambic pentameter-like script, and evoke verse like the dozens found in her first book of poems called "The Woods Have Words." Published by Ibbetson Street Press, the 78-paged collection introduces readers to a Boston that is not often documented in books, on television, and in film. Born in Boston City Hospital, and raised at the intersection where Roxbury meets South Boston, Mignon grew up in a neighborhood where black, Irish, Puerto Rican, and Cape Verdean people lived side-by-side despite forced busing.

"My favorite spot growing up was the Dudley Library," she recalls.

Reading and writing were anchors for her and the poetry mattered the most. Today she is startled by the small number of black women poets who actually participate in Boston's "real" poetry scene, which includes
a good number of open-mic venues, social groups and workshops. "You walk into a group of poets," she exclaims, "and there will be thirty people there, and there's usually a maximum of three black poets and you're the only female one. There are like 5 of us, apparently, in the whole state."

Though Mignon will do a staged reading of her poems, she says, "It's different if you're a spoken word artist, but to be a written-word poet in the Twenty-First Century is incredibly not cool."

Mignon isn't aiming for cool anyhow. "I would rather just a community of writers focused on publishing rather than friends," she jokes. This is why in 2008, she launched the online journal of black women writers called "MoJo!" where she hopes to build and strengthen a chorus of new century black women writers. She also just finished a trilogy in three genres after twelve years of hard work. When asked if she would ever accept the honor of being a poet laureate, she immediately declined and said, “I’m not a people person.”

Laissez-Passer by Ricky Rapoport Friesem

by Ricky Rapoport Friesem
Kipod Press
Israel 2009
Softbound, 115 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Israel has always produced good poets, starting in biblical times. In the more modern era many began writing in their mother tongues: Russian, Polish, German, French. Eventually Hebrew became the language of their art. Today there are many Hebrew poets and almost as many who write poetry in English. Voices Israel is one organization in Israel that promotes English poetry with a newsletter, annual poetry competition as well as a yearly anthology.

One Israeli poet writing in English is Ricky Rapoport Friesem whose latest book Laissez-Passer, Poems 2001-2009 was recently released. Friesem is a poet and documentary film maker who has written two cookbooks, an award winning poetry collection and has had her poetry published in numerous magazines.

Friesem’s poetry is often ironic, honest and short. She writes some great lines like the opening to “Frequent Flyer,” In a strange city/where no one knows my name/I can ignore the sights.

There is also the entirety of the title poem “Laissez-Passer”

Only words
can grant me freedom
let me break through
love’s tight bonds
slide me through
restraint’s barbed borders
turn me loose in the beyond

Friesem notes about the words laissez-passer, “In French, literally, ‘let go.’ Usually used to refer to a special travel document issued in lieu of a passport. And so we see her travel document within the seven lines of the poem that will help her find her freedom.

In the clever “Book Collector” Friesem sees herself as an overlooked book by a potential lover, or perhaps just scanned but never fully appreciated. Even the final line might be a double entendre:

I am a book
you’ll never read.

You’ll stroke my cover
run your fingers down my spine,
riffle through me, feel my heft
and nod with satisfaction.
But read me? Never.

I make a nice addition
to your bookshelf.
Great book.
In good condition.
Barely used.

In a book of more than 100 poems there are many to chose from and quite a few you will find worthy of a second read. Ricky Rapoport Friesem has written a personal and enjoyable poetry book.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Somerville poet/artist Celia Gilbert: A Poet who paints with the brush and words

Somerville poet/artist Celia Gilbert: A Poet who paints with the brush and words

Celia Gilbert is a Cambridge/Somerville based poet and artist with a new collection of poetry out: “Something to Exchange.” (Blaze Vox) She studied with the noted poet Robert Lowell, as well as Anne Sexton and Robert Fitzgerald. She was the poetry/fiction editor at the Boston Phoenix and interviewed both Mary Daley the late feminist scholar, and along with fellow poet Ruth Lepson, the renowned poet Robert Creeley. She is the winner of a number of awards from prestigious organizations like the Poetry Society of America and the 92nd St. Y. I talked with Gilbert on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”

Doug Holder: You studied with Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton. You were in Lowell’s famed workshop. Where was this? Can you tell us about the workshop?

Celia Gilbert: The workshop that I was thrilled to be in was at Harvard University. Robert Lowell was very generous about poets entering his seminars. I submitted poems and was excited when he said I could be there. I was there with a lot of people like Lloyd Schwartz, Jean Valentine…it was very exciting. The procedure Lowell used in class was he picked a poem that the students would submit. The student would read his or her poem and then he would read it. That was very exciting because you had your poems read by Robert Lowell. I learned a lot.

DH: Were you aware of his bouts of mental illness?

CG: It was well-known that he had a sort of seasonal illness. Most of the classes were fine. But when December came around that’s when the disorder came on. We didn’t understand seasonal affective disorder then like we do now. But at this time of the year he became more excitable. We didn’t have words like Bipolar back then.

DH: I read that when Anne Sexton was in his class at Boston University—she knew when he was headed to McLean Hospital.

CG: Yeah—but we concentrated on the poetry. Frank Bidart was in the seminar, and Frank was very much the person who helped him through the hard times.
DH: You interviewed the late poet Robert Creeley. He told me he never revised his poetry; he just threw it out if it didn’t work.

CG: I think whatever he said is true. I want to say that Robert Creeley was extremely generous. When I interviewed him with Ruth Lepson for the Phoenix, he just gave us so much time. He was very approachable. He would talk on and on. Yet his poems were so crystalline.

DH: You have a space at the Brickbottom Studios in Somerville. You are an accomplished artist as well as a poet. Can you talk about this?

CG: For most of my life I have been a poet. But I had a yearning to make art. I just never had time to explore it. About 20 years ago I took a watercolor class at the Cambridge Adult Education Center--which is a wonderful resource for people. Inspired by this I found out about a workshop at Brickbottom for monotypes.

DH: How does this fit in with your work as a poet?

CG: My poetry is not philosophical, but very visible. It is gratifying to work on visual images-- even abstract ones.

DH: In your new collection of poems "Something to Exchange" in the poem "The Meal" you write about the absence of your husband at an evening meal. I always write about food--it reveals a lot about the texture of our lives.

CG: Meals are very fraught. There was an absence of my husband at this particular meal. In the living world we create a world that we feel is safe and good. We delude ourselves that nothing bad is ever going to happen. This is how we survive. So in this poem his absence was a foreshadowing; it is a poem about how fragile life is and how lucky we are to have any happiness.

Eve Leaves Eden

The rose that bloomed at the gate
she stole for a garden of her own,
a cradle of seeds enclosed within its fullness,
defying Him the tyrant who
made the rules to keep them in.

She looked behind, one last look.
A bird sang, neither happy nor sad.
The time had come, and with that word
she understood the penalty they paid.

In her new garden,
the rose flourished along the palings,
not an aristocratic species
that would shine a week or two and fade—
a simple rambler blooming
throughout the spring and summer,
in autumn the last to go.

Winter months she brewed
the rose hips for nourishment
and saw in the curling steam
the serpent rising from her cup.

Copyright © 2005 Celia Gilbert All rights reserved
from Southwest Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

Monday, January 25, 2010


Review of GIVE OVER THE HECKLER AND EVERYONE GETS HURT by Jason Tandon, Black Lawrence Press, Brooklyn, NY, 2009, 82 pages

By Barbara Bialick

It seems to me that the poet takes on the point of view of the new American everyman,
who “heckles” the weird guys in a bowling league as he travels around through obscure towns, and treasures his buddies, dog and girl. He intimates that he may be a black man, but doesn’t seem to make much of race. He also doesn’t seem to make much of high technology for that matter. He doesn’t provide a photo of himself to psych out, but leaves the reader with symbols, allegory, and details that aren’t so much imagery, but the observations of a keen eye, a poet’s eye.

In “League Night” the scary league bowler says, “give up, Heckler…with an air of onions and bourbon/a six-shooter plugs my ear/we end up outside…” (Fortunately the guy parts the circle and the author survives.)

In the next odd scene, “Easter Special”, he records, “In honor of Christ’s resurrection/Mister Donut tops a traditional glazed/with yellow frosting and jellybeans”
as the woman’s “cell phone rings ‘La Cucaracha’…”

And then there’s his dog in a great poem called “Dog Days”: “my dog…with a bout of jazz head,/…with his tongue lolling, eyes half closed, digging the mellow rhythm…”.

Another good one is called “Thanks for Nothing” in which he recalls stopping at a burger joint “north of Albert Lea, Minnesota” where he and his friend Bill neglected to tip the waitress. “She would come up short that day,/worse, get chewed up by her boss, worse than that/asked to turn in her name tag…”He continues: “That meal was the only thing I’ve ever stolen. Except for some time later, back on the east coast in debt…/I swiped two pocketfuls/of spice jars from a Grand Union../indignant/that I should pay so much for flavor.”

Less funny, however, is the poem, “Behind the University”, “It was a confederate flag unfurled/three stories down a brick face/on fraternity row/that took my eyes off the road…I pictured a little girl/praying before bed tonight. I was late to teach a class/and my reason felt like an excuse.”

Speaking of teaching, Tandon teaches in the writing program of Boston University. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, he got bachelors and masters in English from Middlebury College, and his MFA at the University of New Hampshire. This is his second collection of poetry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Benefit for Haiti: Poetry Reading: Longfellow Hall Harvard; Feb. 10, 2010

On February 10 at 7:30 pm, Robert Pinsky, Rosanna Warren, Jorie Graham, and a dozen other Boston-area poets will join together for a collaborative reading to benefit "Partners in Health" and the people of Haiti. It will take place at Longfellow Hall/Harvard, Appian Way, Cambridge, MA. I ( Kim Triedman) have been organizing this benefit with Jim Henle from Harvard, and we will be co-chairing this event. As of today, the confirmed readers are:

Robert Pinsky

Jorie Graham

Rosanna Warren

Afaa Michael Weaver

Fred Marchant

Christina Davis

Daniel Tobin

Barbara Helfgott-Hyett

Jean-Dany Joachim

Patrick Sylvain

Wendy Mnookin

Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell

Nadia Herman-Colburn

Kim Stafford

Tom Daley

Jericho Brown

Franny Lindsay

Requested donation will be $10, with all proceeds going to Partners in Health (PIH). Poets' books will also be on sale, with all proceeds after cost going to PIH. The event is being co-sponsored by the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard and Harvard's Technical and Clerical Workers Union, which is providing much-needed logistical support.

I have to say it’s amazing how responsive people have been – the poets themselves, Harvard, individuals donating time and resources of various sorts. We’ve got people from so many institutions around Boston working on this. It’s going to be an incredible event on so many levels -- a true collaboration. Please support us in any way you can!

All best-
Kim Triedman (with Jim Henle)