Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mid Drift by Kate Hanson Foster

Mid Drift
by Kate Hanson Foster
Loom Press
Lowell, MA
Copyright © 2011 by Kate Hanson Foster
ISBN: 978-0-931507-27-4
Softbound, 62 pages, $15

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

So let me start by saying I truly enjoyed Kate Hanson Foster’s Mid Drift for its simple complexity – or is it complex simplicity. This book breathes language, image and sun breaking through an overcast sky. It is about Lowell, MA, love, failed love, about prayer for what was, is or will be, it is a memoir of failure and of hope. It is very accessible and a joy to read.

In the opening poem, “Prayer” Ms. Hanson Foster tells us what her life is about:

Dear God:
what should we make
of what has gone wrong with my life?
All day I could watch
dead water. I’m in love
with a lunatic, I drink too much,
and I no longer believe in recovery.
I want back what disappears
into the crook of the canal.

But unhappiness can be combined with a touch of humor that masks a depressed state as in “Riverwalk”

He tells me about his drinking
problem, the prostitute,

his unhappy marriage.
A stickler for facts, he informs me

this is the longest lenticular
truss bridge remaining in the United States

I tell him I can sometimes still see Tom
hanging from the cast iron.

This book reveals people as they are, gloss removed, myth burned off, the fake outside the stadium. It shows urban depression as it really is, not the gleaming glass and steel, but the “deserted floor of that mill building”, the “whorey smell of big cities/a strange flower in some moth/eaten cow town” or she can relate personal sorry when she wants to “...tell you how it feels to be forgotten.”

Hanson Foster gives us images clear, stark, indelible. People are alcoholics, depressed, driven to compulsive or inevitable ends. Yet this is a poetry book that leaves a discarded past and a half acre of hope. Well worth reading.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Almond Town: Poems by Margaret Young.

Almond Town: Poems by Margaret Young. ( Bright Hills Press 94 Church Street POBOX 193 Treadwell, NY.) $16.

Review by Doug Holder

Margaret Young, a fellow faculty member at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. can define with a skillful selection of words the worlds of sadness and gladness. She can marvel at her youth, but at the same time see the blush turn to a bloom, and foresee its preordained wilt.

I am most struck by her poems about her days in a theatrical troupe she formed decades ago. Here she captures the visceral feel of being young, creative, and supremely alive—but still with a gimlet eye toward the future. Case in point: her poem “Theatrical Residency, Pennsylvania Mining Town,” concerns her life as an actor in a down-at-the heels burg:

“Knelling in the bingo hall

smudges tights with cigarette ash:

this is a church but I’m down

here to rehearse the Wacko Song

as Prince the Wonderdog or plead

that Capulet not marry me to Paris

and its old nunnery next door

is where I knelt once just

inside the entrance to my small

pink room to suck my lover

off: when you’re twenty-five

you think your knees and love

will last forever so you run

up and down slag heaps

in ten dollar sneakers, each tree

younger than you, and back

through street of this slow-

dying town where recorded

Bells wake us every blessed day.”

I loved the image of a young woman running, and running by even younger trees. Fleeting youth framed by a strip of seminal trees-- now why couldn't I think of that!

And in her poem “Movie Set, Pittsburgh” she show us the high holy in the lowly pedestrian:

“Waiting for fake rain


we pull blossoms off

the parking lot’s


skinny tree.”

Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brook Batteau and the New Cosmology: A review (and preview) of a unique “rock/soul/tribal dance” band.

Brook Batteau and the New Cosmology:
A review (and preview) of a unique “rock/soul/tribal dance” band.

(Last seen in April at the Precinct Bar in Union Square; next to be seen on Friday, May 27th, at “the Loft” at Tommy Doyles, 96 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square. FREE admission before 9:30 pm., when Brook’s band is scheduled to hit the stage.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, the three people in this band are friends of mine. The fuller disclosure: they became friends only after I went to a bunch of their shows, hanging around afterwards to ask questions like, “how the heck do you guys do that?”

For me, the most important “that” that they do, is unleash—in every audience I’ve seen—an uncontrollable urge to dance in an energetic state of bliss.

First, some quick history. Brook Batteau was raised in Cambridge, one of four musically gifted siblings. (That’s a whole other story.) Brook developed a utterly unique, compelling lead vocal style while fronting bands in Boston, L.A., and New Orleans. Some compare his singing to a cross between David Byrne and Roy Orbison. There is some truth to this, but it’s more accurate to say that he sounds like someone from another planet. (I mean this as a real compliment to the other planet.)

Brook is also a very fine, original songwriter and guitarist. His wife Kate Hennessey, with whom he’s performed for years, is the “drum goddess” of the group. Rounding out the trio is veteran bassist Frank Rozelle. Frank reminds me of Keith Moon—the legendary drummer for the Who—who had an uncanny ability to anchor the beat of any song, while simultaneously incorporating constant, brilliant embellishments.

I asked Frank how he manages this. “I used to play with a group that had a wild, wild lead guitarist,” he explained. “It took a lot of work and practice, but I figured out how to hold my own on the bass. It was a matter of pride.”

Fortunately, people with credentials (I’m a musician, but usually write reviews of poetry books) also offer glowing comments about this group. “I felt all my cares floating away,” writes Josh Glenn of the Boston Globe. Lucy Holstedt, prof. at Berklee College of Music, exclaims, “I immediately started dancing and didn’t stop. This is GREAT band.”

I moved to Boston in the 1980’s. There have been a handful of bands that I’d always go to see. First, it was “O Positive.” Later, it was “Morphine,” led by the late, great Mark Sandman. For a few years, no one in particular, Now, thankfully, there’s another group that literally makes me jump and gyrate with joy. After each show, I feel I may have added years to my life.

Brook Batteau and the New Cosmology is based in Western MA, so they’re not in the area as often as I’d like. Whenever I hear they’re coming to town, I cancel any previous plans. I explain “something critical” has come up, and it’s “essential” I be there.

And in all honesty, I’m telling the truth.

Kirk Etherton, Union Square, Somerville, May 23, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Deep Landscape Turning Poems by Ann Hutt Browning

Deep Landscape Turning

Poems by Ann Hutt Browning

Ibbetson Street Press


Review by Fred Marchant
Oct. 23, 2009

It is a haunting title, this Deep Landscape Turning, and as we read this book of poems, it is a title that encourages us to meditate on each of those three words.

Let us begin then with the middle term. There are many literal landscapes in this book. There are poems set in the Dordogne and Macedonia, in Prague, London, and Chicago, and one 67 Knollwood Avenue, an address that sounds so quintessentially American, one can easily imagine it as the poet’s home. And as these poems ground themselves in place, there is also a wonderful sense of the peripatetic poet. Many of these poems present us with speakers walking across and sometimes deep into these landscapes. “A Day in the Dordogne, France”—the opening poem in the collection—sets the tone overall:

Dodging the shade we stay in the light air;
Then we plunge into the cavernous cave.
Damp with living walls, exuding mysteries
Of a people gone, but our brothers still,
Who breathed startling beast detail with sure strokes,
Startling sufficiency, quiet observers.
In a way, the aesthetic principle Browning ascribes to the ancient cave-painters also applies to her own work. She too writes with quick sure strokes, breathing startling life in each detail that she observes as she walks, strolls, plunges, slips, gets up again.

But this cave passage from the Dordogne also brings me to another word from the title of the book, deep. There are of course some literal caves in these poems, but the deep landscape is also the landscape of memory, and of our earlier selves, our souls in their idiosyncratic evolution. Browning’s poems invariably head toward that inner life, sometimes wryly, sometimes sadly, but always with a sure-footed sense that what resides there holds the key or keys as to what makes us human. Here is “My Younger Brother,” one of these memory poems, short enough to be quoted in full:
He held our mother’s hand,
His thumb rubbing back and forth
Across her knuckles.
He and our mother strolled in the garden,
Small chatter about food to eat growing well.
He filled her skirt with ripe tomatoes,
Laughing as he dropped each one
Into the billowing cloth,
His opened fist a fat starfish.
My mother walked, her loaded skirt swaying,
Back to the house, my brother following.
Her skirt was stained with red juice,
Her eyes like stars.

The precision of image in that child’s thumb moving across the adult’s knuckles, and in that skirt stained and swaying, these are typical of Browning’s art, but also typical is the cumulative effect of such images. One feels in this memory a joy and sense of abundance, so much so that we believe fully that the mother’s eyes were like stars in the sky to these children.

But of the three words in the title of this book, none is more important than “turning.” In one sense it points to the turning of seasons, perhaps especially to autumn and leaves turning colors and then falling. But it is the deep landscape within us that is turning also. It is our mortal participation in that larger turning of the seasons that is at the center of this book, grounding it, and at the same time inspiring language and imagination to intense feeling. There are arrivals and departures scattered throughout, and each time they remind us of the “turning,” the way nothing stands still, not the self, not memory, not others, not the world around us. In these poems, there are, for example, several hints of mortal threat posed by illness. One poem has a speaker who has says that death “has walked through our bedroom/ Touching his ashes to the lips of my wife.” There are also separations and yearnings and the rueful recognition that our ways of bridging the distances between us—even between loving partners—are in the long run as fragile as can be. The poem that gives the book its title is “Macedonian Autumn: Deep Landscape Turning,” the final poem in the book. It seems to be about a time of physical separation between the poet and her beloved. She has withdrawn from talk and “lived close to my secret-turned space.” She has written a letter, one t hat has been unanswered for a month. Then when the reply comes she is “split in two by joy.” But all this falling and rising emotion seems to suggest other and more permanent separations, where all that can remain between the most profound of lovers is but the “paper self” of words, poems, books, the signals we make to one another over great chasms.

In sum, Deep Landscape Turning has the feeling of elegy, but not despair. It has the feel of someone turning to face difficult, unyielding truths, and even if they are painful, there is the satisfaction of finding the words that will say those truths, and let us hold them, maybe even share them, as long as we can. In these poems, therefore, there is a great and lasting affirmation of our capacity to know and love. Such is the beautiful signal that emanates from this book in the end.

----Fred Marchant is the director of the Poetry Center at Suffolk University in Boston.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Endicott Review Volume 28, Issue Spring 2011

(The Undergraduate Literary Review of Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.

The Endicott Review
Volume 28, Issue 1
Spring 2011
Copyright © 201 by The Endicott Review
80 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

The great thing about The Endicott Review (Endicott College in Beverly, MA.) is that there is always something for someone. Pardon the cliché, but it is true. The magazine has several sections entitled College, Nature, Childhood and Family, Love, Self, Death, Artwork, Dream, Miscellaneous. Each section provides writing by, in some cases, young, enthusiastic writers with promising futures and lots of talent. If the magazine has any weakness it is that there are no biographies of the authors and artists, which, of course would probably add another 20 or so pages. I would also like see a larger type, but with limited budgets. But that is all incidental to the terrific poetry, short stories, photographs and artwork contained in the Review’s 80 pages.

Richard W. Moyer is back with more nostalgia about Youngstown OH in 1940 and what intrigues me this time is that he went to Youngstown Rayen High School, where I attended the ninth and tenth grades. Sadly, his poems will have to serve as nostalgia because that venerable high school was torn down a year or two ago, an odd parallel to the demise of a once proud city. Personally, I hope he puts out a poetry book on the city.

So let’s look at the poetry where Emily Braile’s First Apartment takes us all back to those first days on our own, with or without roommates.

First Apartment: the opening lines of which remind me of the day I opened the refrigerator door and found a cold hamburger and beer, nothing else. Ah, what a breakfast, and I still can’t stand beer.

Cold beer and a
chicken nugget salad
eaten with chopsticks
by allies.

Or you can laugh with Tim Gager’s reminiscence When I’m Drunk I think About Phoenix which starts:

The time I just drove there
with an American Express
in my pocket but no coin
for a pay phone I found

by accident, a sunny bar
with green velour drapes frosted
with dust, must be dumb luck
Ma Bell’s out of order

Among the better poems in the journal is Endicott College Professor Doug Holder’s Portrait of My Mother At 85; Mark Pawlak’s short reminder of our high school or college courses, Teen Transit Talk; Johnny Clarke’s Angry Poetry For Self Loathing Lovers; Larissa Burgess’s Shoes; and Abigail Bottome’s Observing Couples. Before any other contributors think that not being mention mean their poems are not held in the same esteem, fear not, the all the poems are quality, it’s just that these poems were among my favorites.

The short stories are all worth a read as well, though Luke Salisbury’s Tell It Not, Paul Stephen Stone’s How To Train A Rock (as well as Parts 2 and 3), The Woman In Boston With Pamphlets by Lauren Peterson and Love On A Cold Sunday by Sara Peterson [any relations to Lauren??] were personal favorites, though readers may find others to their preference.

The magazine also contains excellent artwork and photography, the favorites (again, those not mentioned should have no thoughts of being less talented), being Avery Hopkins photo of a tree like a donut (or other thoughts), Melissa Paiva’s playing cards (a straight in poker) and Caitlin Cawley’s leaf with water drops. Doug Rosenberg had a number of interesting photos of which the black and white of a dog was my personal choice. Finally, Ruth Henderson’s photo montage was another favorite.

All that said, The Endicott Review presents a wide array of talent and I highly recommend to readers seeking new and established writers, as well as talented photographers. Take the time to get a copy to read it and enjoy it.

******** Zvi A. Sesling has published poetry in numerous magazines both in print and online in the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Israel. Among the publications are: Ibbetson St., Midstream, Poetica,The Deronda Review, Voices Israel, Saranac Review, New Delta Review, Plainsong, Asphodel, Haz Mat Review, Istanbul Literary Review, The Chaffin Journal, Ship of Fools, Chiron Review, Poetry Monthly Interational, Matrix, The Tower and Main Street Rag. He was awarded Third Place (2004) and First Prize (2007) in the Reuben Rose International Poetry Competition and was a finalist in the 2009 Cervena Barva Press Chapbook Contest. In 2008 he was selected to read his poetry at New England/Pen “Discovery” by Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish. He was a featured reader in the 2010 Jewish Poetry Festival in Brookline, MA. His poems have been published in the U.S., Canada, England, Israel and New Zealand. He is a regular reviewer for the Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene and he edits the Muddy River Poetry Review. He is author of King of the Jungle, (Ibbetson St., 2010) and a chapbook Across Stones of Bad Dream (Cervena Barva, 2011) and a second full length poetry book, Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva) is scheduled for 2011.