Monday, May 30, 2011
Review of CRACK WILLOW, POEMS OF TRANSFORMATION, by Shelby Allen, Cherry Grove Collections, PO Box 541106, Cincinnati, Ohio 45254, cover art also by Shelby Allen, www.cherry-grove.com, 82 pages, 2011
Review by Barbara Bialick
The poets who wrote back cover lines for this book, speak of nature, survival, metamorphosis…that’s all there, but the poem I want to zoom in on is one about her father in a photograph.—“In an Old Newspaper Photo”. Like this photo, this is a book full of secrets, family secrets, that she tells but doesn’t tell, knows, but doesn’t know:
“…my father stands straight/at the center of men and smiles/…he’s completed a deal/…But I know my father had another smile,/thin as string, bent/like the curve of his hat,…/a smile below sad eyes/the same look his father had/in the photo on my parents’ bureau/My father used to say his father/always wanted to…I don’t remember what…He never did it,/My mother said my father/always wanted to do something too…/I recognize/the little tell-yourself-it-doesn’t-matter smile,/our family caption…”
Allen probably has this smile, too, one of the Radcliff girls overshadowed by the Harvard boys, in the 1966 Yearbook, or the smile of the FAO Schwartz “three-ton teddy bear” in Boston. “Am I still (my mother’s)toy?/Do Not Climb, the sign says,/but children are climbing,/right up to the steel scarf and its fetching bow/…giant F, giant A, my mother’s silenced initials./an O on the third block as wide/as my buried scream.”
I would call this book “a good read,” but I am also waiting for its sequel when she tells me what is going on here and that she has even more fully transformed the past.
Like the skater paper doll, in “A Closed Shop”, captured “in your groove, the slot cut for you/in the lid of the box/Stop, little skater/You don’t even have ice./How will you learn to fall?”
But the poet does tell us what to do in “Any Tree Will Listen”: “If you can’t speak of it,/stand in the embrace of a Norway spruce:/all of Norway will shelter you/in a cloak of boughs filled with fjords of light./,,,If you can’t find a tree/when you need one, all you need/is a crack in the concrete: one green shoot.”
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Somerville Poets Patrick Sylvain and Kim Triedman: Words as a balm for disaster.
Interview with Doug Holder
Poets Kim Triedman and Patrick Sylvain joined me on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer,” to talk about the acclaimed poetry reading they were part of and the subsequent anthology “Poets for Haiti.” All this was in reaction to the tragic earthquake that brought Haiti to its knees. Triedman, managing editor for the Ibbetson Street Press in Somerville, Mass, edited the anthology and was instrumental in organizing the reading. Sylvain is originally from Haiti and now lives in Somerville. He is a well-regarded poet, educator and activist.
Doug Holder: How do you think poetry has helped people connect with Haitian culture? Did your readings and others like it help people realize what was lost during the earthquakes?
Kim Triedman: I think the enormity of the disaster was enough for people to stand up and take notice. Poetry, at least to my knowledge, had not been used in this way significantly before—in terms of the way the poetry community supported us. I think it was a very valuable model if nothing else. The fact that so many people came out and responded to the poetry, responded to the situation, responded with donations, made the reading a tremendous success. We had five Haitian American poets. I think the situation in Haiti demanded this attention.
Patrick Sylvain: I agree, I was thrilled with it, and when I saw the lineup of all the other poets, I knew it would be a success. But I did not think it would be as successful as it turned out. Even the reading we did at Porter Square Books in Cambridge was great—I think we sold 170 books.
KT: Yes. It really excited us. There was tremendous energy. The whole thing took over two hours. And no one got up to leave.
PS: What impressed me was all the generosity of the poets and Kim in putting it together.
The Arts have been central to Haitian culture. Whether its poetry, fiction, painting, etc… Haiti is known for its artistic expression. After the earthquake we sort of made a pact with the devil. It brought us attention, but also destruction. Haiti has been demonized in so many ways. So I think an event like this to counterbalance that image—is so good for an alternative way to look at things. It provides a way took beyond the fact that Haiti is the poorest country. The language of poetry is universal. And poets speak with one another. The readers at the event and the poetry lovers interacted in a very warm and heartfelt way.
DH: Kim-- there is always a litany of disasters-so why did this particular one—light a fire for you?
KT: I can’t say exactly. But I happened to be in my poetry workshop a couple of days after the incident and one of my colleagues said as we were leaving: “I wish there is more that we can do.” We had all written checks; we all watched the footage. For some reason I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. And that night it occurred to me that I had a friend who was a poetry organizer. She made me realize I could put something together with poets and artists. I ended up working with Jim Henle of Harvard University who had the same idea. I think what prompted me was that line from my group: “I wish there is more that we can do.” Once we asked people to be part of our reading etc…we had a full roster of poet in two days, etc…
DH: The reading took place Feb. 23, 2010 at the Harvard Ed. School. It has been said that the “Poets owned the evening.” What does that mean?
PS: Our words and emotions took us someplace that was unexpected. It was not a catastrophe reading so to speak, nor was it overwhelmed with emotions. It was sort of a heartfelt literary event that took us to a spot where we understood human frailty, human resilience, but at the same time we talked to each other. Fred Marchant (Director of the Suffolk University Poetry Center) read a poem by a Haitian poet. The poem he read was connected to one of his own poems. There were many of these “interconnections.” Fred read the work of a poet he never met. We had 13 poets, and the audience wanted more!
KT: It almost had a spiritual aspect. People were elated. It was an incidental reading forum. There was no grandstanding. Robert Pinsky (Former U.S. Poet Laureate), as well as an award-winning Haitian High School poet read. Other poets like Rosanna Warren, Gail Mazur read—so we had an amazing group. It took its own shape.
DH: Patrick—in your poem “Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines” you write of this famed street in Port-au-Prince. Tell us a bit about the street in its salad days, and how it is now. Who was the man it was named after?
PS:When I grew up was you Port-au-Prince was very small. I left Haiti in 1981. The Boulevard was like Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, Mass. It was a central artery. It had a lot of business going on, and two hundred yards to its right you had the seaport—so literally you could see the sea. I remember when I started to go to school you could see the increase in merchants. And when I went back to Haiti in 1990, I wanted to see some of these places. I wanted to look at people. To me Haiti is theatre. The merchants pressing against each other, all the theatrical battles that took place between them…I wanted to witness this yet again. I had a very specific memory of a very chaotic place. So when I went back, I could see the street was overwhelmed by vendors, and the poverty and desperation was very evident.
Dessalines was one of the founders of Haiti. He became a liberator and later ironically a dictator. Later he was murdered, a little outside Port-au-Prince. So this same thoroughfare named after the great liberator is full of chaos and poverty.
DH: Kim—in your poem “Toil” you write “Spring will come.” Has spring sprung in the aftermath in Haiti?
KT: It’s going very slowly. I hope it will. There is just a relentless of catastrophes these days.
PS: I think we can only be hopeful. People in Haiti don’t believe in suicide—as long there is hope there is life.
Presa 14, spring 2011
Tributes to Hugh Fox
Presa Press, PO Box 792
Rockford, MI 49341
Copyright 2011 Presa Press and Authors
Editor – Roseanne Ritzema
for Ibbetson St. Press
Review by Lo Galluccio
Hugh Fox never stops writing. Right now he has four novels out: “Depths and Dragons” (Skylight Press in the U.K), “The Lord Said Unto Satan” (Post Mortem Press), (On Line) – 'In the Beginning” (Muse it Up Press in Canada) and “Reunion” by Luminous Press. In addition, he's released a Journal of Archeological musings called “Immortal Jaguar” (Skylight Press.)
As stated in the introduction to this tribute issue to Fox, Hugh has been the longtime editor of Ghost Dance and exerted his influence as a founder of COSMEP and The Pushcart Prize. He has written books about Charles Bukowski and Lyn Lifshin and his reviews in the Small Press Review outnumber those of any other reviewer.
For this issue of Presa, Hugh was asked to select favorite poems, including Fox's 180 line collaboration with Eric Greinke “Beyond Our Control.” It's currently under nomination for a Rhysling Award. The issue also includes poems and memoirs about and to Hugh from grateful friends and fellow writers: Kostelanetz, Greinke, Lifshin, Luschei, Lockie, Smith and O'Hearn. Also included in the issue are poems by 30 other poets various subjects.
Word play, striking juxtaposition, musings on the nature of the universe and consciousness, the emblematic presence of mysterious gods – all pervade Fox's verse. A time and space traveler, he leaps from situation to situation, from cultural purview to personal episode like an acrobat. In Section 11 of “Apotheosis of Olde Towne” he writes:
eye to eye under glass grass,
color upflung - - pipe in birds!” p. 5
Broken up into four jagged stanzas, Hugh begins and ends with Unity: “green, the curved eye and the curved mind.”
In a self portrait poem, “Who am I?” from Once, Fox asserts:
“Who am I?,
musico loco/crazy musician
Buddha snapping up
the snake twisting of
dragon king Melech-Moloch
God.” p 6
Having been raised staunchly Irish Catholic and then realizing his Jewish lineage, Hugh uncovers and seemingly vaunts many spiritual icons in his poems to form a rich cosmos in which many spirits are at play.
He is equally comfortable in the urbane setting of the Allerton Hotel in Chicago where he would encounter “Le petitie Gourmet where there was this blonde piano player who'd always play “Clair de Lune” when I'd come in after the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Saturday nights....” This was years before and now Fox, rummaging around for old ghosts, finds at the Drake “a beautiful naked-armed harpist (statistically impossible!) playing “Clair de Lune” in the lounge.” Such snapshot moments of coincidence or synchronicity also activate Fox's poetry.
He pays tributes to relics collected on journeys in his Amsterdam ranch house in “Flea Markets.”
“I buy a bunch of Mochica masks
of Hercules, me the only one in the world who
knows that's what they are, my whole house a
flea market museum...” p 8
Comparing it to the garage sale flea markets inhabited by “Koreans and Japanese, Indonesians, Hindus from India” where one finds “a wood carved statue of dancing Siva, a marble carving of Ganesha, the elephant God, my whole sanity/identity revolving around the walls of my rooms that are more me than me these days.”
In a whoosh of hedonistic pleasure, Fox, in “Everything” from Approaching/Acercando, runs down the everything of that moment.
“....NOW, NOW, NOW, slender reed legs
that arrive at almost full-time
rapturous friction, take Crack, dance
in the street, the voices in the internal Caverns
always whispering higher heels, shorter skirts....”
All, it seems the enigmatic feminine presence in humanity “without thinking about death or its equivalents or alternatives.” p. 10
In the brilliant collaboration with Greinke, Fox ebbs and flows in each stanza with a longing for “now defunct deities” and “greasy abandoned keyboards and feeble mountain peaks.” p 11. He writes:
“Trying to slide back into pre-everything
but slipping instead into black holes of
memory, Polish sausaging and
potato-pancaking through memorial
masquerades that mimic lost moments...” p 12
And in the final stanza:
“The spirits of our ancestors waft around us
haunt our whys and why-nots, wherefores and where-nexts,
remind us that soul music is in us all.” p. 15
There is an interlude of poems by Ellaraine Locke, John Mervin, Guy R. Beining and one I'm particularly fond of by Mike Spikes which ends:
“when you are away from me
too.” p. 24
Juxtaposed nicely are two by David Bloomberg and Dean Phelps: “My Dream of Being Pregnant Was” and “The Child Inside,” respectively.
Then the small press luminaries weigh in on the unique and magnetic character of Hugh Fox, part mystical unicorn, part work horse.
“No one else reviewed as much small-press produce as Benny. If only because he acknowledged books and writers ignored everywhere else. Some small press should produce a CD-RROM reprinting those reviews not only to respect him but our movement.”
Eric Greinke pens one for Hugh:
“With blue eyes
Your distinguished self
In the muddy mire?
I turned my back
On poetry, but
Poetry wouldn't tun
Its back on me,
Nor on you, Hugh.” p. 37
The notoriously prolific Lyn Lifshin, in a tribute titled “Amazing” gives gracious thanks to Fox for years of friendship and support as a poet:
“It is hard to believe that the book he wrote about me, “Lyn Lifshin, A Critical Study” was published in 1985. I've always been amazed at the imaginative, perceptive plunges he keeps taking into my work. If I ever feel down about my writing or discouraged, his words always make me feel better. He is one of the sweetest, warmest people I know.” p. 38
Ellaraine Lockie pens a five page travelogue about a week with Hugh, who she dubs Foxy, well worth reading and Jared smith puts one in called, “Do We Not” with the refrain “We get older, do we not?” in three stanzas replete with many beautiful nature images – a serenade to vintage aging and the eyes' inscrutable ability to see on through it all.”
Viva Hugh Fox!
Lo Galluccio, author of “Hot Rain,” “Sarasota VII,” and “Terrible Baubles.”