Friday, June 25, 2010

Deborah Noyes’s CAPTiViTY

Deborah Noyes’s CAPTiViTY

CAPTiViTY (US $25.95 / CAN $29.95)
(Unbridled Books)
Published 2010
By Deborah Noyes

Reviewed by Pam Rosenblatt

Fiction writer Deborah Noyes has written a most intriguing, suspenseful, and captivating story that begins with Captivity’s eerie green, black, and white book cover with a double image of a young girl in a sheer white dress. Immediately the reader’s imagination is captured.

Then, through detailed imagery and articulate, often lively and clever language, she draws the reader into Captivity, a three hundred and forty page read based on a real life paranormal drama surrounding the Fox sisters, mainly Maggie and Kate, who lived between 1833 and 1893. They lived in upstate New York. Noyes’s Captivity was recently published through Unbridled Books.

Maggie and Kate Fox became famous for practicing spiritualism and being very good at it, so good that many people around them considered them legitimate Mediums.
In Microsoft Word’s Encarta Dictionary English (North America), there are actually fourteen different definitions of the word “Medium”. But only one, number 5, discusses the word “Medium” spiritually, as “somebody supposedly communicating with dead”, or more explicitly, as “somebody believed to transmit messages between living people and the spirits of the dead”.

Captivity lifts more than the spirits. Questions raised include: Are the young Fox sisters legitimate mediums? What is imagination? What is reality? What is life? What is death? What is “madness” -- is it simply a state of mind or is it simply a way that one perceives life?

And, of course, is there a spiritual world? And if there is a spiritual world, what does this mean to the Fox family, to the Gill family – mainly to Clara Gill, another main character, who is a woman in her forties, a recluse, and befriended by Maggie as soon as they become acquainted; to the neighbors; and, finally, to the reader? And, as the reader reads on, even more questions abound. Noyes has written Captivity to be a thinking person’s novel.

The book begins with “Chapter 1 ** Machinations” with Clara Gill thinking, “A bell is tolling for me,….Or in spite of me.” She isn’t in a happy state. She thinks that her father is about to announce his engagement to Widow Bray and Clara feels that she has lost her status as matron of the house. Besides this inner conflict, Clara doesn’t like to leave the house, and doesn’t take kindly to seeing visitors, especially those people currently entering the house for a party:

If she could she would stop the voices, the laughter, rising around her like bars. Her breath is feathery, her life a crushed bird. Who are these people? Who’s playing the square piano—unplayed all these years? Who thought to tune it and unseat the dust? Not Father.

Why has he exposed her this way? He owes Clara her privacy, and more. What else does she have? What more could she want? To die, maybe, or live. To leave the place between.

Clara seems to be in limbo, uncertain whether she wants to live or not, uncertain that life is worth living.
The characters of Maggie and Kate Fox are first introduced in “Chapter 2 ** Mr. Splitfoot, Do As
I Do” when:

[they] are giddy with fear and on the mattress when Ma comes running
with the candle. ‘We’ve found it out,’ they cry, and Ma’s monstrous,
flickering shadow rounds the bedroom wall. She nods hard, poor soul,
hefting the candle higher, and her hand shakes.

“It” is the rapping that’s robbed them of sleep and peace for so long,
a hellish business, and who can hear it? Not Ma, surely.

In this second chapter, Maggie and Kate appear to have contacted the spirit of a deceased man, Mr. Charles B. Rosna. His spirit has reached the two young girls through a “Rap. Rap. Rap.” series. Her mother was witness to this paranormal occurrence where the two younger sisters, Maggie and Kate, were “believed to transmit messages between living people and the spirits of the dead”.

But Maggie and Kate’s mother understands that her two children may have a gift of communicating with the beyond. At the end of “Chapter 6 ** The Invisibles”, the suspense has built up. Noyes writes, “Can it be possible?” pleads Ma, in the dark. “How will we live and endure it?”

While the mother is uncertain and afraid, the two Fox girls are not. In “Chapter 2 ** Mr. Splitfoot, Do As I Do”, they even accept their neighbors into the séance room, upon the request of their mother:

“Will you continue to rap if I call my neighbors in?” Ma trembles. It’s a terror to see her this way. And a thrill beyond reckoning. Pity and fear catch like a bone in Maggie’s throat, but she has no shame, evidently. It’s too late for that.

“That they might hear it also?” Ma pleads.

Maggie imagines the men and boys out night fishing by Mud Creek. They’ll mill and murmur with eyes full of moonshine. They’ll listen intently, blow into strong hands with icy breath. She will have them in thrill.

Rap rap rap.

Ma stamps out into the darkness of the hall, clutching her shift close round a spacious bosom, Pa stumbling at her heels.

Kate leads their visitor up and back in a hypnotic square, the walls resounding. Doesn’t she see there’s no one left to impress now? Where has she going to in mind? Her eyes shine like ice.

Rap. Rap. Rap.

Had the river burst its banks and come swirling in under their roof this night, Maggie understands, the Fox sisters could not have seen their way clear.

We were born for this, she thinks.

Neighbors and people from afar have quickly heard of Maggie and Kate’s supernatural talents and begin flocking to the house. At this early point in the book, Leah, their older sister soon arrives and wants to split the two young girls up. (Leah eventually quickly takes Kate to the Rochester, New York, and Maggie ends up meeting and befriending the distraught Clara Gill.)

Obviously, the two main characters Maggie and Kate are enjoying themselves. But not everyone is convinced that these two young girls are actually contacting the dead. Some of the local neighbors, men, wonder about the feasibility of such psychic connections while shoveling out the Fox basement in search for the skeleton of Mr. Charles B. Rosna:

“There’s that cobbler fellow down the way. Might be an insomniac hammering his leather all night.”

“He’s outside now, taking his nips on Obadiah’s wagon whole we dig.”

“Waste of a night’s rest.”

“Why does the spirit rap only with those girls present? It’s fine sport for them.”

“These children were the first to befriend it. Maybe it trusts them.”

The feasibility of the Fox sisters reaching the beyond is questioned by a lot of folks. But more people want to believe that these two young girls are that spiritually gifted. Leah worries about what her two siblings have done. She seems to recognize the responsibility that the three of them have:

“You’ve unearthed something here in Hydesville,” Leah says, “Besides your Mr. Charles B. Rosna, I mean….You’ll open up a passageway between the mortal and spirit worlds,” Leah adds, nodding as if to reassure her, This is true. “Know what you’ve been given. You and Kate and me. The Fox sisters,” she adds slyly. “We’ll outwit death. We have that duty.”

People like Amy and Isaac Post, friends of the Fox family, and Mrs. Lyman Grainer, whose husband is a “skeptic” want to believe in Maggie and Kate’s spiritual abilities. They hold séances where:
“Only then can they enjoy the spectacle of Maggie and Kate being magnetized and slipping, with closed eyes, into a half-conscious trance state. Soon faint, eerie raps resound. The guests shift soundly in their chairs, anticipating ‘manifestations.’ The raps grow louder, questions are called out, and Leah painstakingly translates the raps of reply.”

Eventually, people in western New York want realistic answers from the Fox sisters. Can the said psychic occurrences really be true? Are the Fox sisters legitimate? And even Lizzie, Leah young daughter, reveals to Clara, the recluse, that even she doesn’t believe her aunts are legitimate Mediums:

“It’s plenty of humbug.” Lizzie savors the word clearly, which has no doubt served her well of late.
“I take it you don’t believe in the spirits?”
The girl bristles, stands taller. “I don’t suppose you do, so why should I? Am I any less wise?”
“Am I so transparent?”
“I wager someone like you doesn’t believe in much anything.” Lizzie waves at the scientific drawings everywhere. “Except what you see.”
Noyes’s Captivity is a suspenseful novel filled with mystery; drama; the supernatural; and, though not addressed in this review, love affairs and murder.

Noyes has written an imaginative, stimulating book based on factual events. Everything flows along nicely; even the chapters are integrated and connect together well. It’s almost as if Noyes is taking her reader on the same amazing psychic journey that the Fox sisters may have experienced. Who knows? Maybe the Fox sisters’ mind-boggling trip has been replicated!



Carlson, Suzanne. “The Door Opener Articles: The Fox Sisters”, pp. 1-2.
First Spiritual Temple Mediumship, “The Fox Sisters”, pp. 1-7.
Microsoft Word Encarta Dictionary: English (North America), “Medium” (definition).
Summie, Caitlin Hamilton. Press Release, Captivity by Deborah Noyes, Unbridled Books, May 14, 2010.
Taylor, Troy. “The Fox Sister: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualism’s Founders”, pp. 1-2.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poets House: Touring the Spanking New Home for Poets and Poetry Lovers

Poets House: Touring the Spanking New Home for Poets and Poetry Lovers

By Doug Holder

Over the years I have attended Poets House showcases in their previous home in the SOHO section of NYC. Recently, Lee Briccetti, the director of Poets House contacted me when she heard I was doing a reading at the KGB Bar in the East Village. She wanted me to give me a private tour of their sprawling new facility in the Battery Park section of New York.

Poets House is well-situated in Battery Park City. In a New York Times article (Sept. 2009) it reports that Poets House has had a number of readings in the Park over the years, and some the ferries that navigate the nearby Hudson River are adorned with poetry from poets who participated in those readings. The Times reports: "...just a few yards south of the lily pond in Rockefeller Park, poems are engraved on the stones: Seamus Heaney's "Death of a Naturalist" and Mark Strand's "Continuous Life." The area was also the home to Herman Melville, Eugene O'Neill, and other acclaimed writers. So Poets House seems to be the perfect appointment.

Briccetti was called out of town on family matters, so Mike Romanos, the head of Children's Poetry at Poets House, was my guide for the afternoon. I also had a chance to speak with the librarian Maggie Balistreri. Accompanying me was Dr. Philip Segal of Queensborough Community College, and another distinguished guest: my Mom. Romanos reminded us that Poets House was founded in 1985 by poets Stanley Kunitz and Elizabeth Kray. Poets House has a great deal with their new space. The venue at 10 River Terrace comes with a lease of sixty five years, and it's rent free. They raised money from private and public sources in order to construct the interior. They share their first floor with the rest of the building at the ground level, and the second floor houses the poetry library and the other facilities that Poets House offers. Romanos told me that they have doubled their space.

There are many nooks and crannies to read, research or daydream. From the staircase, (which is wired for sound) you might trigger a spurt of verse from Robert Frost or a poet of his stature. And you might wake up from your daydream to see a photographic portrait of a favorite contemporary poet staring at you with probing eyes, like Robert Pinsky, or Robert Creeley (without the eye patch). These portraits are compliments of the photographer Lynn Saville.

Romanos, who has worked at Poets House for six years, told me that their first home was in the spartan digs of a home economics classroom in a public school in the city.

Poets House is beautifully appointed with mementos of the former Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz, paintings by Philiph Guston ( a friend of Kunitz's), paintings by poet Basil King, a collection of postcards with people's favorite lines of poetry, and other points of interest.

Poets House has striking wood floors, glass walls, and a floating Calder mobile in the entryway. There is a fresh, transparent and welcoming sensibility to the whole environment. I had a chance to view their extensive chapbook collection, easily accessible to the public and housing up to 10,000 titles. One of the first titles I saw was by my old pal Connie Fox, Hugh Fox's drag counterpart, with his/her poetry collection "Blood Cocoon"

There is also a "New Book" section in the front part of the second floor. Books that were in the Poet's House Annual Showcase are on the shelf, and of course I checked to see if my collection " The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel" was there... and sure enough there it was. Also on the stand was Boston's Salamander Magazine, a few titles from Gloria Mindock's Cervena Barva Press of Somerville, Mass. to mention a few.

In the main collection there are 50,000 titles--quite a difference from the 1,500 titles they had in their early days.

Poets House has an ongoing schedule of workshops, events, readings, and classes throughout the year. They hold an annual poetry walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, where comedian Bill Murray reads some verse every year. Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" seems to be a favorite poem for this event.

During our time at Poets House I noticed the patrons ranged from mere babes, to folks in their dotage. There were tours of the facility through out the day. I saw one group of elated school kids from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn as they departed the building...bubling over no doubt about what they saw, read and heard.

Romanos showed me an old and very large Webster's International Dictionary that was owned by the late Stanley Kunitz. Romanos said school kids are amazed when they see this book. Unlike other generations books more and more play a secondary role to computers, etc.. A book this size, to them, is a relic of an ancient civilization!

After I presented Poets House with some new Ibbetson Street titles such as Zvi Sesling's " King of the Jungle," Kevin Gallagher's " Gringo Guadalupe," "Ibbetson Street 26," and "The Endicott Review" (the undergraduate lit. mag of Endicott College where I teach)I gave myself time to look through the impressive Poets House collection of poetry books. I ran across many poets I have met, corresponded with, interviewed and read. I felt like I was home--like I belonged there. Billy Murray, a great supporter of the House said "Poets need a refuge--they need a hideout, a clubhouse." And I think this is what the current director Lee Bricetti, Stanley Kunitz,(who died at 100 in 2006), and Elizabeth Kray envisioned. Poets House has been beautifully realized.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Charles Plymell : Eat Not Thy Mind Review by Paul Hawkins

Charles Plymell : Eat Not Thy Mind Review by Paul Hawkins

French translation by Jean-Marie Flémal in Bienvenue à Interzone

Eat Not Thy Mind is a piece of art. A collage by Claude Pelieu on the front cover and a foreward written by friend and bass spanker Mike Watt. This book comprises of 18 contemporary poems by the Outlaw Poet that is Charley Plymell. With love and care Glass Eye Books/Ecstatic Peace Library series editors Byron Coley and Thurston Moore have produced beautiful artifact. And that`s just the outside! Charley Plymell is rightly thought of as one of the best poets within the Amerikan literary underground. He has seen a lot since his birth on the Kansas high plains in 1935 and the early memories of the sound of the wind in the cab of an Reo Speedwagon truck. His father was a cowboy, his mother once a stunt car driver. He stormed out of Kansas with the likes of Bob Branaman, S. Clay Wilson, Michael McClure, Bruce Connor and the Wichita Punks speeding through the vortex, wailing and roaring north, south, east and west. Plymell and the Wichita Punks had road tested speed, dropped LSD, held mescaline rituals and experimented with art and other creative forms in the 1950`s. All trail blazers. He already had two volumes of poetry, Neon Poems and Apocalypse Rose out when in 1971 City Lights published his seminal novel, Last of The Moccasins. This novel grips, gleams and glistens with his hobohemian prose-style; spinning tales of his life in and around Wichita, his road trips to and from the West Coast along the Rt. 66 Benzedrine Highway and beyond, his crazy Hipster years and the boho life of his elder sister Betty. His words became sparks of energy, sparring partners to the mind. Eat Not Thy Mind`s lexeme glows incandescent in 21st century dark consciousness becoming the lubricant on which the freaky brain clouds part to reveal a head-on, vibrant and astute engagement with life. Charley`s words at once heady, seductive and intoxicatingly descriptive. His Hipster years melded into his psychedelic ones and he hit the handbrake in San Fransisco. Charley lived with Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, printed the first Zap Comix by Robert Crumb, wrote and wrote and wrote some more. Having burnt rubber and seen through the Beats Inc. Charley licked his wounds and wound up in Cherry Valley. He condemned the National Endowment for the Arts and his sharp and intelligent analysis appeared in the NY Times and other print outlets, spilling the beans on the NEA`s inbred favoritism. With his wife Pam they started Cherry Valley Editions publishing Herbert Huncke, William Burroughs, Roxie Powell, Claude Pelieu, Mary Beach to name but a few. Charley still and always will remain very firmly a poet. And what a poet. Always sensing where to cross the tracks from an early age, Charley`s Eat Not Thy Mind sends energy pulses soaring round the readers mind, birth pooling a new view on the present day madness, anutha zone of interrogation, a fresh windblast for the head and heart to get tanked up on and soar. Charley Plymell`s Eat Not Thy Mind is supreme.

Poet Marilyn Jurich: A poet interested in all things bizarre and unremunerative.


Poet Marilyn Jurich: A poet interested in all things bizarre and unremunerative.

By Doug Holder

Marilyn Jurich is a poet after my own heart. She is interested in the bizarre, and she doesn't make much money. Jurich, a winner of the Ibbetson Street Press Poetry Award, and a professor at Suffolk University in Boston, has written about lusty wenches, and rogues in literature, as well as other characters of this ilk. In 2009 she released a collection of poems "Defying the Eyechart" ( Mayapple Press) that deals with her near brush with total blindness, among other topics. In spite of her condition Jurich continued to teach and live her life under severe duress. Marilyn is a scholar/poet and has written about children's literature, the Jewish experience, Science Fiction, to name just a few subjects. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: You had an harrowing experience with the eye condition Macular Degeneration,that was the theme of your poetry collection "Defying The Eye Chart." How has your experience with blindness affected your poetic vision?

Marilyn Jurich: First, the poetry collection DEFYING THE EYE CHART is not really about my own visual disability / "challenge" as people might say more euphemistically or favorably. Only the first three poems in the book discover the condition, and that "discovery" is slant (as Emily Dickinson might say). I dislike confessional poems -- unless they are wild like Plath's or recognize something outside of the eternal self and that pain and misery so associated. Thus, in "Resisting Blindness" I look at sightless scorpions, Cyclops who only had a single eye, at how a landscape painting looks to one visually compromised. I end this poem with this stanza:
Ghosts created by imperfect eyes
lift us into others' memory
connecting who we are.

There are several other poems on eyesight -- one concerned with madonnas and children in paintings, for in most the Virgin Mary and Christ child do not look into one another's eyes. There is a poem about my mother's death and the funeral director who wanted me to give her eyes "away," another poem called "Oedipus Visits the Ophthalmologist." And, of course, having a certain affliction makes you more aware of many circumstances that you might never have considered.

You ask how my poems, my poetic vision was affected by my loss of sight (now regained in one eye as a result of cataract surgery). Well, of course looking at eyes, creating imagery related to eyes and to vision was a fairly direct response. Other responses (at least consciously -- may be more unconscious ones) numerous: I actually saw things with limited vision I would not have seen before --totally ironic and rather wonderful; I developed an ear (my hearing always keen, this not a result of vision loss) for voices -- dramatic monologues; I am a failed musician and transferred a musical sense to the poems; I felt a keen sympathy for handicapped people, a need to be angry and strong for them; the fantasy of sight (especially when I was hemorrhaging) and the fantastic encounters with those I consulted, both conventional doctors and atypical healer types, gave me a new perspective on the world -- total insanity and vast incompetence. Of course, I was also angry -- that gave me a strong voice and a courage I never had, INCLUDING the courage to write poems.

DH: How did you manage to teach with this disability?

MJ: I managed to teach classes with little sight and with no ability to focus or to see faces. (Nor could I make out the letters on the front of trains and frequently arrived at the wrong destination.) Well, when I look back at this "adventure," I don't know how I did it. I think I must have been crazy. I also feel very smug about this. Not one student knew that I couldn't really see. I distinguished students by gesture, by curve of body, by voice (though lots of students do prefer to remain silent). I graded papers by an accumulated 1000 watts. I read slowly and painfully, frequently adjusting the angle of chair, lamp, my own posture. Hardest, and still hard, are walking down stairs. I edged along each stair, surreptiously feeling for a decline, frequently counted the number of stairs in the buildings I frequented. Often I felt that I was ignoring someone in the hall or on the street who may have been smiling or nodding a "hello." Social contacts were very difficult. Some still are, as the right side is often too blurry for me to make out the face I should know.

DH: How do you feel about the academic world and book biz and how it promotes, interferes with creating literature, art, and honest expression?

MJ: Well, if I were the out-going, well-adjusted, uninhibited, at-ease, "hail female, well-met," I might think differently. Since I not the person just described -- nor was I ever even with "normal eyes -- I cannot self-promote, make contacts, network, market, push. While I often like to read some of my poems -- like to dramatize -- I am frequently uncertain of my own delivery. I am also over-nervous. It all depends on the group, of course. At the sessions at the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts (a member for umpteen years), I am relaxed. All the others are as zany as I am -- we share the same interests and we trust one another. They are interesting in forming meaningful, well-expressed poems and in sharing ideas and criticism. We know we are not "getting ahead," filing up credits, appealing for distinction, awards, position. Also, we are all basically "poor" -- won't make anything on what we do. What was absolutely appalling to me was the absence of ANY response to my collection of poems. It did receive an honorable mention from the New England Poetry Club; it did receive a very few nice comments from e-journals. That's it. No one else commented -- no accolades desired here, just a "Oh, I really could feel . . ." or "Why did you use-----in that poem?" or "You know, I think you should have ended that poem at. . . ." Actually, I wrote to several critics and urged them to HATE the book. Absence and indifference are apparently worse for children than cruel parents or parents who are argumentive with one another. I want a community of writers / poets who are not solipsistic, narcissistic,contemplating their next cocktail party in between contemplating their superlative navels.

DH: In 2005 you got a faculty development grant to study English chapbooks of the 18th century. Can you tell us a bit about your study and the history of the "chapbook."

MJ: True to my tendency of being interested in all things bizarre and unremunerative, I am infatuated by chapbooks (which, by the way, exist all over the world and are kept in archives). My answer will have to be abbreviated here. Chapbooks have a very long history; these are unbound books are a variety of subjects both factual and fictional, prose and poety. They were carried in packs on the backs of chapmen. (Chap comes from ceop, middle-English for "cheap.") Costing several pence, they were affordable by the lower classes who could also understand the plain-spoken words and the subject matter. Of course, since literacy was limited, many had to be recited by several in the village who had the skill of reading. In fact, it is widely thought that the very existence of chapbooks led to literacy. Also, many of the stories told of small men who "made good"; in this sense, the chapbook encouraged a spirit of advancement, praised effort and ambition over class privilege and aristocracy.

The books are often humorous, satirical, sexy; chapbooks also preserved all the old fairytales and myths -- are considered the first form of children's literature. They also reprinted versions of Defoe and Swift, works of Tom Paine, as well as take-offs on Shakespeare. While conventionally, such materials are printed as 8 page sheets, there are chapbooks that exceed 100 pages (as The Life of Mahamet ). Especially interesting for me are the rogue tales, the depiction of other cultures through some of the travel adventures, the strong images of women who are capable and speak their MINDS.

I have collected what I consider the best of these materials (though frustrated by the many more that I know must exist); I need to write a book, but what will happen to the POEM??? If anyone is interested in doing such investigatory work in this field, let me know. And there is also the 17th century English chapbook and the American chapbooks of the 19th century!

DH: I know you have a new collection planned. What are we in store for?

MJ: I'm a little superstitious here and that mums me; but I am also uncertain about what I am doing. I have several long poems I may want to include. I'd really like to write a verse drama for the book. I also have children's poems and some more to write. I used to write a lot of funny poems and want to gain or regain this facility. Also, there is the "personal life" and how this can / will fit in. All this in the stage of unknowing -- and sometimes thinking about writing a poem in a world that is unworlding or at least stumbling in that direction seems pointless and conceited. I need someone to tell me "It's okay."

Reading the Eye Chart

by Marilyn Jurich


Trick the gullible eye --
Lines stick out their tongues, diagonals curve.
Vipers hiss from Druid stones under a white sky.
Advancing shadows dance or die,
trick the gullible eye --
embracing fitful ghosts, longing to tie
circle-line to sense before they swerve,
trick the gullible eye.
Lines stick out their tongues, diagonals curve.

This is the alphabet of ferns
singing between the passages of wind.
Dream language of the lover who yearns
for echoing syllable as he gently turns.
This is the alphabet of ferns.
Whoever learns to see one code, design… listen and rescind.
This is the alphabet of ferns
singing between the passages of wind.

Unraveling my soul by what I see
you count how close I come to hold desire,
gauge my level of normality
according to whether I call the shrinking letter E,
unraveling my soul by what I see,
convinced the eye uncovers mystery --
omphalos to everything we can aspire.
Unraveling my soul by what I see,
you count how close I come to hold desire