Saturday, May 29, 2010
The World In A Minute
by Gary Lenhart
Hanging Loose Press
© Copyright 2010 Gary Lenhart
Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn NY
Softbound, 58 pages, $18
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
The blurb says The World In A Minute is Gary Lenhart’s fourth collection of poetry, along with one volume of selected prose and his book on poetry and social class. But
this is about poetry and it is easy to see his has built on his past publications to achieve an entertaining volume of poetry and prose poetry.
Lenhart presents sly humor, history and personal commentary in an easily accessible manner. In “A Note on Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams” for example
in writing about his wife or girlfriend:
Louise, roused prematurely
yesterday at dawn, groused:
“Have the birds always sung so loud?”
Yes, the little buggers make a racked
these midsummer morns,
chasing each other up and down,
Creating one flap after another.
When it comes to history he expounds on Eugene V. Debs, the ancient Roman port of Ostia and a devastating account of T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism which few poets or critics dare to take on because even though he is not the icon he once was, Eliot remains a pillar of the poetic community. Yet just as Eliot let his feelings be known, so did ee cummings,
W.H. Auden, Ezra Pound and others.
I remember reading an introduction to cummings once in which the writer stated cummings wasn’t really anti-Semitic, it was just fashionable at the time. Sure, there’s always an excuse for that sort of thing those who don’t know better say or write. But Lenhart did not let it go.
Lenhart also, in the title poem, which is a series of prose poem vignettes recalls how the great poet Carl Rakosi, at age 100 suffered a stroke and to check his awareness discovered he did not know the day or the month it was so asked him “Do you know who is president?” Rakosi responded, “Bush...the bastard.”
There is much more humor, some obvious, some more subtle, but all of it entertaining. Lenhart is also very Catholic and some of the poems dealing with his religion are quite entertaining and enlightening.
He also has some wonderful lines like the one from “Footprint On Your Heart” –
Someone will walk into your life,
Leave a footprint on your heart,
Or from “A Robust Homeland”
Yes, we cherish the legends of our parents,
Though glad to live free and a thousand miles
There is a lot of substance to Lenhart’s poetry, but beware, what you think is fluff is not, what you think is humor has an underlying seriousness.
All in all I enjoyed his poetry because it sinks in and when you have finished the book you still think about it, which to me is the mark of success.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Timothy McLaughlin: Writing the Right Way at Bunker Hill Community College.
Interview by Doug Holder
Almost right down the block from me in Somerville, Mass., just across the border in Charlestown, resides Bunker Hill Community College. I have always heard about it of course. Poet friends of mine have taught there, many people I know have taken courses there (including my wife); I heard about their Midnight College, the diverse student body, and the almost 12,000 students they serve. I never thought I would have the opportunity to teach there. But then… well, the recession hits and to use a cliché “other doors open.” As it turns out my fellow Bagel Bard as well as an English Professor at Bunker Hill, Luke Salisbury, set me up with an interview with the English Department head Timothy McLaughlin. And sure enough I was teaching an English Comp. course for the spring 2010 session. Now, I have to tell you I was nervous. I had taught in other settings, but this was a newbie for me. But I did it, enjoyed it and will be teaching again in the fall…and glad of it. Now, McLaughlin has been at BH for over 30 years, and has seen that and done that more times than I can imagine. So being the inquisitive character that I am I decided to interview him for “Off the Shelf,” so he could tell you-- dear reader-- what BH offers, and why you might want to go there, or recommend it to others.
Doug Holder: In the June 2009 Mass. Community College Developmental Education and Best Policy and Practice Audit it stated that 61% of students in Mass. Community Colleges begin with developmental courses. Developmental courses are preparatory courses for college work. 50% of those enrolled will withdraw or fail. What do you see as the root of the problem?
Timothy McLaughlin: I’m not sure there is one root cause. It’s a pretty complex problem that we’ve been struggling with for many years. The simple answer is this: community colleges are open admissions institutions. We accept just about everyone. And as the numbers show, many students are not ready to do college work—which means that, despite our best efforts, many are not successful. Why? Lots of reasons. We have many students who come to us after being away from school for years, which means skills are rusty. Most of our students are juggling family and work commitments. We have students who struggle with English because it is not their first language. I could go on. It would certainly be great if everyone who came to us was ready to do college level work. I don’t see that happening any time soon. I should add that there is a recent trend toward lower numbers of students being placed in developmental writing courses. The biggest challenge for us is to keep students once they register for courses. We’re constantly looking at how we can do a better job of retaining students—through better advising, through more tutoring support, through technology. You name it! We want students to succeed.
DH: Tim, you are the chair of the English Department. If I asked you what the mission statement of the department is--what would you say?
TM: Hey, we have a mission statement! It’s actually available through the college website. Basically what it says is this: that the English department is committed to helping students develop the writing and critical thinking skills that are essential to success in college—and beyond. It says that we’re committed to taking students from wherever they are now and helping them become individuals who can express themselves effectively, individuals who can make better sense of the world out there.
DH: From discussions with you I know that the mechanics of writing are emphasized, as well as "critical thinking." Why is it not enough to be a competent writer? Why do you feel strongly about teaching critical thinking?
TM: This takes us back to the mission statement. For me a competent writer is someone who can understand and express ideas clearly. Almost all the writing a student has to do in college is based on reading the ideas of others; it is based on processing complex information and sorting through multiple and sometimes conflicting perspectives. You have to be able to think critically. Further, almost all writing in college involves taking a position of some sort—staking a claim, making an assertion. In order to back up a point, you have to be able to sort information, synthesize various points of view, and distinguish between fact and opinion. Writing and critical thinking are inextricably intertwined. Someone once said, “How do I know what I think until I’ve said it. “ To me this means that writing is not only a means of expressing one’s thoughts; it is also a way of figuring out what you think.
DH: What are the challenges you face with your diverse student body?
TM: Yes, there are challenges but I also have to say there are many benefits. Students bring an incredible wealth of life experience with them. Getting back to the mission statement, the department is committed to drawing upon this diversity in culture, age and background to make learning a richer experience. The amazing diversity of this place is one of the things that make teaching at BHCC such a great experience. OK, so yes, let’s also recognize the challenges that go along with this. For me this is primarily related to the challenges of helping students overcome writing difficulties related to English being their second language.
DH: Can you give us a brief history behind the innovative Midnight Classes that BH offers?
TM: This was an idea that came from an adjunct faculty member in the Behavioral Sciences department. Her department chair liked the idea and brought it to the attention of our dean. Eventually the president heard about it and found the idea compelling. She saw a need and an opportunity and put some resources into the development of what we now call the Midnight College. We started off with a writing course and psychology class last fall and added a sociology course this past spring semester.
DH: You have a number of satellite campuses, in addition to the main campus in Charlestown. What does the Somerville satellite offer the prospective Somerville student?
TM: As far as I know we are only offering developmental math at the Mystic Activity Center in the fall. This may change in the future. Much depends on demand. BHCC’s Charlestown campus is so accessible to Somerville residents it affects our ability to offer courses at a site in Somerville.
DH: I know you have an interest in jazz. I used Amiri Baraka's essay " Minton's Playhouse" which concerned the famed NYC jazz club in one writing class I taught. There is a lot of improvisation in jazz. One might say this is true in writing creatively, or even in expository writing. What's your take?
TM: Almost all improvisation in jazz is done within a structure of some kind. So while there is great freedom there are also boundaries. Much the same could be said about writing an essay. Jazz players use forms, such as the 12-bar blues, as a vehicle of expression just as poets use forms like the sonnet. Interesting things happen when there’s a creative tension between form and expression. William Wordsworth said that a poem is like a fountain, a sudden bursting forth of creative expression—which seems descriptive as well of a jazz solo. And yet for both writer and jazz musician there is an incredible discipline that is demanded. For a jazz musician this comes in all the hours of practice and study that provide a foundation for that improvisation on the bandstand; for the writer it’s all the hours of writing and rewriting. Even in writing an expository essay you’re always working away at finding a new turn of phrase or just the write sentence rhythm – the same sort of thing you’re trying to accomplish in a jazz solo.
Doug Holder of the Ibbetson Street Press, Steve Glines of the Wilderness House Press, and Paul Steven Stone of the Blind Elephant Press, will run a seminar at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston annual Jewish Book Fair in Nov. 2010. The panel will concern Print-On-Demand publishing and Self-Publishing. Print-On-Demand is a growing technology used by the publishing industry. It allows publishers and authors to print as few or as many books, etc... as the market demands. Instead of big print runs that often end up in the remainder pile; the publisher can publish just what he needs at any given point in time and see what develops later.
The Boston Jewish Book Fair is a series of literary events featuring an eclectic line-up of notable authors. Programs include panel discussions, readings and workshops by some of the best voices in Jewish literature. Some notable authors who have participated are Larry Tye " Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend,"
Elinor Lipman "The Family Man," Chris Bohjalian "Skeletons at the Feast," Zoe Heller "The Believers," and many others. Congressman Barney Frank will be participating this Fall. There is a new biography out on his life: Barney Frank: The Story of America's Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman by Stuart Weisberg.
Check the website this summer: http://jccgb.org/bookfair for complete schedule...
Thursday, May 27, 2010
YET A NEW ISSUE OF IBBETSON STREET
Well in spite of the trials and travails I have been through the last year --- a new issue of Ibbetson will hit the street this June. I hope to have the manuscript in my eager little hands this weekend, when our great, loyal, and fastidious editor ( Who is also a fine poet --don't forget that!) Dorian Brooks will present the manuscript to me at Bruegger's Bagels on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge--our birth place in (1998)-- of the magazine that is. And as always the talented Steve Glines will design and put it together, and send it off to the hinterlands to be printed.
Ibbetson Street has defined a great part of my life, and from it so many things have sprouted. Friendships, The Bagel Bards, The Newton Free Library Poetry Series, The Somerville News Writers Festival, jobs, even some money now and then. I want to thank folks like Robert K. Johnson, Ray and Linda Conte, Richard Wilhelm, Dianne Robitaille, Irene Koronas, Gloria Mindock, Timothy Gager, Steve Glines, Harris Gardner, Mary Rice, and so many more who have supported us throughout the years.
If you have appreciated the magazine please send your donations to: Ibbetson Street Press 25 School Street Somerville, Mass. 02143 Contributions of $100 will get you a lifetime subscription to Ibbetson, and one new book title a year, when they are released. But we will take anything--it all helps!
As always, we have some fine talent in the new issue. Poets like Miriam Levine, Kate Chadbourne, Ed Galing, Lo Galluccio, George Wallace and others grace our magazine. Ibbetson has given a voice too many for the first time-- and many have gone on to other magazines and broader horizons. We hope to be here for our mission in the years to come.
Here is the list of contributors for the new issue:
BENNY GOODMAN 1
JULY FOURTH... 2
Susan Lloyd McGarry
CHILDREN OF THE SUN................... 3
Paul Kareem Tayyar
SMALL VISITORS. 3
SKETCH # 37................... 4
AFTER HAYING.... 5
THE GARDENER, IN OCTOBER 5
ON THE ROAD TO AMHERST 6
THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A MOVIE................... 7
THAT SUMMER.……… 8
HAIR DRESSERS IN HELL... 9
SMUGGLER STOPPED AT THE EGYPT/GAZA BORDER
WEARING A GIRDLE OF LIVE CROCODILES 9
SILENT AS THE DAWN 10
WHAT IT IS 11
How could I learn what to pass on to you 11
DEAR WORLD YOU ARE COURTED TO DEATH 12
VANISHING POINT..... 13
“ON BEAUTY’S BUM”...... 13
Philip E. Burnham, Jr.
THE MAD GIRL WANTS TO SING “GOT ALONG WITHOUT YOU
BEFORE I MET YOU”................. 14
TOO EARLY FOR THIS 14
THE SPIDERS ARE SLEEPING 15
KITCHEN SPIDER... 16
Cheryl B. Perreault
SWEATER ON THE BEACH.... 20
IF ONLY.. 23
TO SEE TREES DIE................. 23
SESTINA WRITTEN IN THE LIBRARY 24
TURTLE SHAPED BOX 25
FROM THE BACK WARD TO THE BLACKBOARD: FROM MCLEAN HOSPITAL
TO THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM 26
LOUIS XVI’S LAST THOUGHT 30
Zvi A. Sesling
THE LOVE AFFAIR... 31
SMOKE IN THE WIND 31
Linda M. Fischer
ON THE DOCK 34
Linda Haviland Conte
THE PERFECT WORLD OF ALUMNI MAGAZINES 35
SILENT GREEK... 35
Richard W. Moyer
MASSACHUSETTS AUTUMN 37
POLE BARN................. 38
WALTZ IN A ROOFLESS CHAPEL.. 39
WAR AND PEACE ON THE PRAIRIE. 42
HOME OF THE BRAVE................. 43
RED CEDAR SWAMP.. 44
Anne Cope Wallace
WRITERS’ BIOS 45
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Poet Jared Smith: Taking a stand for the workingman at Bunker Hill Community College.
Interview by Doug Holder
It seemed fate was against poet Jared Smith. Smith arrived in Boston from Colorado to read at Bunker Hill Community College. Just before he was to take the stage a fire alarm made us evacuate the building, and stand and bake in the unseasonable heat for early May. And if Smith wanted some tap water for his parched throat—forget about it. The Boston area was in the midst of a water crisis, so everything had to be bottled or boiled. Yet Smith, who wrote a poetry book about a large body of water, Lake Michigan, braved the fire alarm, the paucity of clean water and took the stage. And he was in rare form, with his verse of the workingman, and other themes.
Jared Smith is a prominent figure in contemporary poetry, technology research, and professional continuing education. Having earned his BA cum laude and his MA in English and American Literature from New York University, he spent many years in industry and research. Starting in 1976, he rose to Vice President of The Energy Bureau, Inc. in New York; relocated to Illinois, where he became Associate Director of both Education and Research for an international not-for-profit research laboratory (IGT); advised several White House Commissions on technology and policy under the Clinton Administration; and left industry in 2001, after serving as Special Appointee to Argonne National Laboratory.
He is the author of nine volumes of poetry: Looking Into the Machinery: The Selected Longer Poems of Jared Smith (1984-2008,) (Tamarack Editions, PA, 2010;) Grassroots (Wind Publications, KY, 2010;) The Graves Grow Bigger Between Generations (Higganum Hill Books, CT, 2008;) Where Images Become Imbued With Time (Puddin'head Press, IL, 2007;) Lake Michigan and Other Poems (Puddin'head Press, IL, 2005;) Walking the Perimeters of the Plate Glass Window Factory (Birch Brook Press, NY, 2001;) Keeping the Outlaw Alive (Erie Street Press, IL, 1988;) Dark Wing (Charred Norton Publishing, NY, 1984;) and Song of the Blood: An Epic (The Smith Press, 1983.) He has also released two CDs of his work: Seven Minutes Before the Bombs Drop (ArtVilla Records, TN, 2006;) and Controlled by Ghosts (Practical Music Studios, IL, 2007.)
I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”
Doug Holder: Tell me Jared, why is your work often focused on the workingman? Are you a fan of the poet Philip Levine, who also writes of these themes?
Jared Smith: I am very much a fan of Philip Levine. To answer your question: "Why is my work focused on the working man?"-- it’s as Ted Kooser, the former Poet Laureate said to me: “ Poetry is about trying to communicate with other people.” If you are going to be a poet who communicates—you have to talk about the other things you do to stay alive—to earn a living for their family—to put food on the table. That’s why I didn’t go in to teaching poetry. But I held a number of jobs in industry and government. I have taken all of this into my work—all the different kind of experiences people in our society have.
I had to support a family. But if you are really writing poetry it’s got to be as important as putting food on the table. It’s not just entertainment. It is an intellectual exercise—you got to learn something from it that gives your life meaning. Maybe that’s communicating with other generations , developing abstract ideas. Most of the words in our day to day life are used for “commercial communication.” Like words that express how much money you have, or what do you want to buy. That's 99% of the words we use. And poetry gives us a chance to develop words for what we really feeling or thinking about. If you go back to American literature from Whitman, Robert Frost--all these people were trying to develop new and noncommercial ideas that they could bring back into the culture.
Doug Holder: You were involved in the literary scene in Greenwich Village in the 70's. Can you talk about those days?
Jared Smith: Well... it was a wonderful time. I spent all of my time writing, talking with other writers, I was on the screening committee for the New York Quarterly. When poems came into the Quarterly there were 7 of us who reviewed them, and if 5 of us liked the poem, it would go directly to William Packard, the publisher. He would decide what goes into the magazine. Our advisory board at that time consisted of Isabella Gardner, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, Philip Levine and others. I got to know all these people. I got to be a drinking buddy with Gregory Corso. So I got to know the Beat poets as well. I knew both the intellectuals and the Beats because in the NYQ we encouraged excellent poetry of any school. If you did it well, if it had passion, if people experienced it, it would go in. So I got to hang with a great number of people. This was great because I wanted to think like them. This was original thinking. This was not something planted in the textbooks.
Doug Holder: You write a lot about water. In fact one of your collections deals with Lake Michigan.
Jared Smith: In my work in science and industry I was looking for proof of the transcendental quality of life. This was what Walt Whitman was talking about. He would speak of the ocean, the float, etc... I was looking for a scientifically proven metaphor--that all animals and people are very much the same. So I went to Lake Michigan because Michigan has a hundred mile area where every living person, every blade of grass drinks from the same source of water. All of these animals are 88% water. We all consume. There really isn't that many differences from one another. Given this knowledge--that you are almost completely like another person--how on earth can you go to war? How can you kill people---you are killing yourself. Basically it is bodies of water going to war.
Doug Holder. The traditional Blue Collar worker is an endangered species. Do you think there will poetry for the High Tech worker?
Jared Smith: I think there will be. I tried to do some. There are some very creative people in the arts, who are also in the sciences. If you go back to the "The Act of Creation" by Arthur Koestler, you will find that he talks about the creative process being very much the same whether you are Einstein working on the theory of Relativity, or if you are Mozart composing a concerto. So creativity from science will most certainly spill into the arts.
Evening, Yes, But A Man Is Still A Man
When shadows grow from Chicago's alleys
and rattle garbage can lids with gusts of wind
that come in across the heartland,
an old man's attention flickers like a cigarette lighter.
He stubs the morning's sales beneath a worn boot heel,
and looks to stars that have not been seen for generations.
Babies are hung out to dry from fire escapes.
A truck becomes a German steelworker's family
clearing their throats outside a vacant echoing oven in Detroit.
A broken hydrant leaks into the gutter, becomes a flood,
washes years from a plot where the pavement ends.
The man is a newspaper soaked into his own days,
where one page becomes glued onto another indelible
and indistinguishable from the stench of drunken nights.
The bottle to his lips has no name but darkness,
though it was filled from grains growing beneath the sun.
Call him stockbroker, and he will sell you a steer
with a wooden mallet buried between its eyes,
and he will follow you from city to city across our nation
offering up his family on every empty plate you come to.
Call him a tradesman, and he will trade every iron worker
for one closed out steel mill and a teenage soldier.
Tell him he is a product of the Rust Belt
and the infrastructure of every city will come uncoupled.
Do not try to sing his song on the radio.
Hunt for it instead in the loves he has left behind him.
Do not try to tell him what his interests are:
they can no longer be recognized for what they were.
Do not try to buy his wages or his time:
his is the Midwest voice newscasters dream of catching.
Tell him you're from Wall Street and you can offer a better living.
Tell him that, and he'll brick you in.
For more information about Jared Smith go to http://www.jaredsmith.info
Jared Smith's new collection "Looking into the Machinery" is available on Amazon.com