Saturday, April 09, 2011
A Review of Arthur Winfield Knight's Chapbook: CHAMPAGNE DAWNS.”
by L. E. Bryan
In his opening poem, “A Simple Life,” Arthur Winfield Knight conveys an easy eloquence that threads its way throughout his latest chapbook, “Champagne Dawns.” His poetry transforms rituals and routine pleasures of everyday life such as walking his dog, Happy Hour at a local bar, or his wife bringing him coffee in bed into an equally relaxed and unadorned reality. Within that reality he also includes interweaving themes of love, desire and devotion. Knight welcomes the reader with understated words into an intimate world of joy and pain he shares with his wife and writing partner, Kit. Like scenery in a play, Knight's poetry is set against a West of the past and theever-changing West of today.
He evokes pain with casual lines in the poem, “FEBRUARY 1st, 12:01 A.M.”:“Thirty-eight years ago,/you were hit by a car/on a rainy January night./The doctors gave you a two percent chance/
His poem, “ON THE ROAD, begins with a graphic leap into lust with the lines, “We don't make love/in Las Vegas,/ although I'm always hot on the road,” and halfway through the poem, “I have a hard-on/and the beginning/of a headache.”
Knight ends his chapbook by returning to its title, expressing love and devotion in the opening lines,
“I open a bottle of champagne/shortly before dawn./Kit and I drink it/from lead crystal glasses/as we watch the dark fade to amethyst.” He then closes both the poem and the book with acute observation: “Everything is different/but not much changes.”
Born in San Francisco, December 29, 1937, Arthur Winfield Knight grew up in Petaluma, California. He graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College with an A.A. Degree in 1958. While at San Francisco State College he received a B.A. in English in 1960, and an M.A. in Creative Writing in 1962. He taught English at University of Pennsylvania from 1966 to 1993. He also taught at San Francisco State University and has written for various California newspapers. On August 25, 19776, he married Kate Duell. They have a daughter.
Knight and his wife co-wrote, “A Marriage of Poets,”published in 1984. In his Western poetry chapbooks like, “Wanted!/Basically Tender,” “Outlaws,” and “Prairie Village, KS,” his novels, “Blue Skies Falling,” “Darkness Starts Up Where You Stand,” and “The Secret Life Of Jesse James,” also a nonfiction book titled “The Beat Vision,” as well as, his only play, “King Of The Beatniks,” Knight incorporates not only the West of today and yesterday, but, as its chronicler, the literary sensibilities of The Beat Movement, which had its Post-WW II beginnings during what was called the San Francisco Renaissance, and included writers such as Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Spicer, and Michael McClure.
Knight is currently adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco. He lives in Yerington, Nevada.
Friday, April 08, 2011
Ghosts and Whispers
Krikor Der Hohannesian
Finishing Line Press
“...From the refuge
of America, it is left to you
to hold those birthplaces with
strange names, to pass on the tales
of those whose histories survive
only as faces in grainy sepia or a gold
ring engraved with a name, a date...”
A long time coming, 'Ghosts and Whispers,' is the culmination of many years
of publishing in various magazines; his poems are now in one book; this
chapbook by Krikor graces our minds with his profound implications,
poetry written from those hidden places, brought to light, they dare line
dance across the pages. The poems are cohesive, interspersed recollections
and historical truths:
“...With no forewarning
it sneaks through a side door
in any number of disguises
a sidelong look
and yes, sometimes,
even a smile
wry at the edges,
sly in the knowing.”
Der Hohannesian manages the present tense with the past tense in ways
that captures the readers attention and preserves recognition. The poems
impart, “the honed stick is transformed-bone white, smooth as a sliver” he
regales us with portraits of people and place:
“What do you do
with the ghosts of melancholy
that lurked in dark, dusty niches?
What do you do
with lies that lay hidden
like a smoldering peat bog?
What do you do
with a thirst for what was lost
hanging like beads of fog on the skin”
What do you do
with the weight of the unspeakable,
the grief which you could not lift?
These tears I shed,
that fall on your headstones
under the weeping willow,
these tears are for you.
Wilderness House Literary Review
Ibbetson Street Press
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Michelle Hoover writes a tale of two women.
Interview with Doug Holder
Michelle Hoover is a petite woman but her writing is anything but diminutive. In her critically acclaimed novel “The Quickening” she writes of the friendship of two farm women during the early part of last century. These women and their significant others speak plainly, but the subtext of what they say is loaded. Hoover, who was born in Iowa and from a long line of farmers, captures the hardscrabble life of these straight-no-chaser women. Hoover currently teaches at Boston University and Grub Street in Boston, Mass. I spoke with Hoover on my Somerville Community Access TV: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: Your first novel “The Quickening” was a huge success. You ever worry that your second book might not measure up to your first—you know the sophomore jinx?
Michelle Hoover: I do. You want to do something different. It’s hard. I am excited about my new book—but certain aspects of it will be totally different from the first. I think the next book has a lot of promise though.
DH: What is the next book about?
MH: It is about two of my great aunts who disappeared from the family right after WW II. They were quite young. They were never heard from again.
DH: Like poetry, every word counts in your writing. With an economy of words you write a very evocative novel.
MH: I am a terrible poet. I grew up in a family where simple language was preferred. When I took my GRE to get into grad. school my vocabulary was got the lowest score. So I had to work on that. This stripped down language works with these two ladies in “The Quickening.” I wanted it something like the landscape—very plain and flat. Gertrude Stein wanted her sentences to evoke a certain message and so do I.
DH: “The Quickening” sounds authentic. How much research did you put into this--to get it just right?
MH: My grandmother’s journal that I used was only 15 pages long. In the beginning of the book one of the ladies, Mary, almost kills her husband Frank by feeding him chicken when he was sick. And that really happened. But that was only a few sentences in a long book. For instance, pigs are slaughtered in the novel. Now I never slaughtered a pig, but my uncles told me how it was done. My family gets together every February in Arizona and tells stories and sings songs- all that kind of stuff. They are a bunch of old farmers. That’s how I got the story right, by getting all these oral histories from my family. I wanted to get personal stories which were the basis of my research. I did historical research but I found it went against what I was doing.
DH: In the harsh and unforgiving lives that Enidina and Mary lived there was the church. The church offered a respite, the one place where these women would have the chance to address spiritual concerns, to transcend their day to day grind. However, the minister Borden had a major lapse in his ministry, as he was brought down to earth by the loneliness of his calling. Do you view religion as a front, offering the illusion of an afterlife for people with a very unsatisfying real life here on the material plain?
MH: I don’t think religion is always a bad thing. A lot of my family is religious; I am more of an agnostic. I am suspicious of the self-righteousness that religion can take on. A sort of “I am better than you because I believe in God.” Borden has a lapse. Bordon is human. Mary uses religion to prop herself up. I don’t think it is bad that people have religion if it helps him. I don’t like people who use their religion against other people.
DH: No one could accuse you of writing a Chick Lit. novel. There is nothing glib, or superficial about this work. Do you think you can reach a wide audience with these straight-no-chaser women?
MH: I would hope so. I was hoping to create a new woman heroine with Enidina. She is very different from me—big-boned and awkward. Mary is the more typical character you would find in Chick Lit. She has her own darkness too. But both of these women are very stoic, no navel-gazing—the type that if they have problems they would keep it to themselves. I admire this but I can see how it can be harmful.
DH: You said in an interview that your characters are like the landscape. Don’t we all take on characteristics of the landscape?
MH: I think so. I am part of my characters' landscape. I find the farmland of the Midwest beautiful—other people may not.
Interview with Spoken Word Artist Lauren Whitehead
By Doug Holder
Spoken word artist Lauren Whitehead will be a featured guest for Somerville's acclaimed, youth-targeted Books of Hope Project on April 14th 7PM at the Main Branch of the Somerville Public Library (79 Highland Ave.) She will conduct a reading and a workshop that deals with performance poetry and the new generation of poets commanding the stage! This event will include an open mic,refreshments,is free, and open to the public.
Lauren Whitehead is a University of Michigan graduate and multi-time U-M U-Club Poetry Slam Champion. She is a founding member of Ann Arbor Wordworks, has been featured on National Public Radio and in HBO’s Brave New Voices documentary series, has worked as a mentor for young writers at Youthspeaks in San Francisco, and has toured the country as a member of Robert Redford’s Speak Green poetry squad.
I interviewed Ms. Whitehead--and here is what she had to say:
You are a performance poet--Doesn't every poet give a performance of sorts when she or he reads?
You might be right. There is a performance in all of it, right? The reading, the slam, the open mic, right? But I think the main difference between what you're describing -a poetry reading- and what I am (and other performance poets are) doing is that we are working for, banking on and in need of participation from our audience in order for the thing to work. And so, what is perhaps quiet/reserved/tame at a reading is intentionally stirred by the performance poet to create noise/community/excitement in the folks we are performing for. It's much more of a give and take, and it involves the body in a way that a podium, perhaps, doesn't always allow for.
What do you plan to tell the kids are the elements of a good poetry performance?
I will tell them that the best poems are honest poems, are poems where we can tell something is at stake, are the ones that are more confession than fact, the ones that are urgent, are waiting to be written and said and heard. I will tell them that reaching their best performance is really only possible if they reach toward their best and bravest writing.
We know a lot of poetry sounds good on the stage--but how about the page?
I think this is a dichotomy that some poetry god must have a ton of fun stirring up over and over. The truth is I think good performance poets are, at base, good poets and that means on the page, on the stage and everywhere in between. One of my Poet Mentors Jeff Kass says that poetry is about playing with sound. Some poets do that by the sound of the voices that in their heads, others need to say it out loud to really hear it. I fall into the latter category, but we're all poets just the same.
Can you tell us about the Youth Speaks program that you were involved with?
Youth Speaks is a literary arts organization in San Francisco that, in short, seeks to change the perception of youth by offering them the tools they can use to speak their own truth to power. So, we (and I say we because even though I'm not there, I'll never be gone) offer young people writing workshops and performance opportunities so that they might have a chance to say what they feel without being measured against a standard - we believe the standard is yourself and without being told you are wrong - in our workshops there are no wrong answers. I think the goal is a safe space for self expression in whatever form in comes in. And young folks want that. It's clear.
Youth Speaks also programs Brave New Voices, and international youth poetry festival that connects young people from all over the country who are interested in performance, poetry and community. It's really a beautiful place. www.youthspeaks.org see for yourself.
I know from experience that poetry can make changes in the lives of people, especially kids. Any anecdotes?
I have so many moments in my short life of young people -and old people come to think of it- who have found some part of their selves in a poem. On any given day at the YS office. I remember one kid, Dominic, who is now a student at UW Madison. He used to just come to my workshop because his friend was coming, and he would never write and when he did, he certainly wouldn't share. But the group was forgiving and patient and welcoming, really. So he came every Wednesday, or whatever, until one day, before the workshop started he said to me, "I think I wrote something last night off that prompt you gave us before, can I read it." And that initial share, that first sound, really transformed him. He believed he could say it now, he believed he had something to say, and it's really quite beautiful to see as it's happening.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Review of IMAGINING THE SELF, Poems by Laverne Frith, Cherry Grove Collections, an imprint of WordTech Communications, PO Box 541106, Cincinnati, Ohio 45254-1106, www.cherry-grove.com, $18, available on Amazon.com, 88 pages, 2011
Review by Barbara Bialick
Laverne Frith, of Sacramento, California, is the husband of poet Carol Frith, who has also been reviewed on these pages. He is co-editor of “Ekphrasis”, a journal of ekphrastic poems, each of which focuses on a single work of art. He’s also a monthly poetry columnist for “Senior Magazine”, among other accolades to be mentioned later.
Many of the poems in this book rest on abstract ideas and images of life experiences writing poetry about art and about poetry itself. To read the poems is to define them, such as in the following examples:
In “Why Poetry?” he writes “I rather think we challenge/imagination, capability/that we drive the mind/into fields of metaphorical/horrors and joys/that there is something/redemptive about process,,,”
He even defines his own self this way as in “Exhibit Me in a Well-Lit Window (after ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin)”: “as exotically as I command/in my musings/flaunt my patina/changeable as a chameleon’s/…reveal the unfulfilled/dream/in my hidden eyes.”
And further delving into the mystery of the arts in “The Hotel Window” (after Edward Hopper)”: “pure loneliness…/something she sits and endures each time anew,/relearning the bitter lessons of regret…”
As Judy Halebsky says on the back of the book, “Frith reads our emotional lives through the natural world and captures moments of insight…The poems…are in equal measure brave and gentle, facing up to the imperfections in our lives and finding in them points of illumination….”
Frith has also published chapbooks from Talent House, White Heron Press, and Finishing Line Press and a photography and poetry chapbook from Rattlesnake Press. He is a Grand Prize winner two times in the Artists Embassy International Dancing Poetry competitions. He and his wife wrote “Practical Poetry—A Guide for Poets.”