Saturday, July 09, 2011

Counting Blessing by Morris Berman

Counting Blessings
Morris Berman
Cervena Barva Press

Review by Rene Schwiesow
As a general rule I am a believer in things happening for a reason. On the day I received “Counting Blessings” for review there were two books on the table. Doug Holder handed me “Counting Blessings.” Considering the way in which the work spoke to me, I know I was given the right book. The cover of “Counting Blessings,” is a peaceful courtyard that invites the reader to sit for a while and to become immersed in the poetry. But the real meat begins when you start to read the in-depth and informative forward by Paul Christiensen. I was hooked in the first paragraph and knew I would not put the book down until I was finished. And I didn’t.

Christensen talks about how Berman’s work “The Reenchantment of the World” became a guide in his classroom. After reading two more intriguing paragraphs that included such things as “Einstein’s relativity and the mysterious interactions with quantum physics” and a nod to James Hillman’s work, “Healing Fiction,” I was ready to dig into the poetry. Then just when I didn’t think Christensen could say anything to inspire me further to begin the book, I read this quote by Bob Herbert: “. . .A country that refuses to properly educate its young or to maintain its physical plant is one that has clearly lost its way.” “Berman,” Christensen says, “had already been there, said that.”

Morris Berman is an essayist, novelist, social critic, and cultural historian. He writes a fine blog, entitled “Dark Ages America,” which you can find at: In “Counting Blessings” he has penned his gratitude for a “life lived away from the maddening crowd.” Berman now resides in Mexico. It was in Mexico that he found the stillness necessary to rejuvenate his creative spirit.

They told me to stop and smell the roses. . .

A complicated, delicate insect
crawling along the edge of a pot in my garden
delicate feelers, large green eyes
absorbed in what it was doing.
I can do that, once in a while:
three seconds every month, perhaps.

It is clear that Berman has taken more than three seconds a month, however, to become absorbed in the observation of the world around him. In “Light,” Berman makes note of observations over a lifetime, including a “cosmic” moment at the age of seven:

and the light was all around me
as though I were in heaven

“Light” ends with these powerhouse lines:

Exodus says it guided the Jews through the desert,
but I’m not looking for the Promised Land,
Oh no –
wandering in the desert is the Promised Land.

I could quote more stop-and-ponder lines from wonderful poems like “The Dodo Bird,” “Ahora,” “Lalo,” and “Doctora Susana,” but I will leave the discovery to you. “Counting Blessings” is a book well worth your reading. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today!

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue, The Art of Words, held in Plymouth the second Sunday of the month, October through June

Friday, July 08, 2011




Somerville artist Barbara Cone met me one recent morning at the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square to wax poetic about her work as an Encaustic artist. I say poetic because the woman apologized more than once about being too enthusiastic about her art, and it was evident she was brimming with passion; something you have to bring into play in writing a good poem, or working with wax as she does.

Cone has a studio in the Davis Square section of the city and recently moved to the Republic of Cambridge—but I won’t hold that against her! Encaustic Art is one of the oldest art forms, dating back to the ancient Greeks, and was often used by contemporary artists like Jasper Johns. Cone told me artists of this ilk use beeswax infused with pigment, resin and other substances.

Cone said her process involves procuring melted beeswax which comes pigmented in a vial. Melted wax has to be spread on something that is strong enough to hold its weight like a wood panel. Cone said she use metal and natural bristle brushes to apply the wax and uses a heat gun to fuse the wax into layers. She often creates many layers of wax that become semi-translucent.

Cone, who trained at the Museum School in Boston has been inspied by her studies of molten lava and water as represented in her Aqueous Series. She is also an accomplished printmaker, and co-leads the professional association Mass Wax-a home for encaustic artists of all stripes.

Cone’s work has been widely exhibited and critically acclaimed. Most recently her work has appeared at the Fort Point Art Association Gallery in Boston, the IEA National exhibition Art Center Morro, Bay, Ca., Fairfield Arts Council in Fairfield Connecticut, and elsewhere. Her work is also well-represented in private collections.

Cone said Somerville reminds her of her old haunt Berkeley, California. She reflected: “I think Somerville is like Berkeley in that it is open to artistic experimentation, and it is a vibrant arts center in general with movies, open studios, and festivals held on a regular basis.” Cone concluded by saying that she wants her work to touch people deeply and to be technically challenging. After petting a friendly canine, Cone left Bloc 11 and disappeared down the long winding streets of the Paris of New England: Somerville, Mass.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Emergency Room Wrestling by the dirty poet

Emergency Room Wrestling
the dirty poet
Words Like Kudzu Press
ISBN 978-0-9753862-1-7
$10.00 2011

The reality of this poetry book is…, all the phrases that come to mind
have been said so many times that they have lost their meaning…I'll say,
the poems are profound in a wrenching sort of way, 'sort of way,' is not
how these poems come across, it's more like…lifting, "400 pounds." And
I for one, have not been trained to lift 400 pounds. My superhuman
abilities are pushing too many abstract thoughts through a straw… "oh
no-the rectal trumpet popped out again, there she blows"…:

"hospitals exist; misery is real
this book is imagination
driving a lamborghini of experience"

Hell, I didn't know what was going on beyond my safe haven, behind
the door where I sit, writing on paper…after reading a few poems from,
"Emergency Room Wrestling," I'm ready to slit open a vein and bleed
on the rug where the cat took a leak. The reality in this book leads to
the 'truth' and the truth is humor helps when nothing else doses (does):

"as these things go, it's a happy ending
he tried shooting his girlfriend in the face
the gun jammed so he turned it around
aimed it under his chin and pulled the trigger
surprise -- it unjammed
the bullet tore through the mouth
and exited the left eye, missing the brain entirely
and even though he arrested thrice
before we got a breathing tube in
a week later we're shuffling him out of intensive care
"hey look, Sure Shot's leaving," I say to my partner jeff
to which he responds, "you mean Old Dead Eye:

How does the dirty poet fit into the books I live in or the life I live as
a reviewer? We already have Bukowski, Rimbaud, and now we have to
try to get through the backroom door into the alley where the dirty poet
remains faithful to his own existence. I'm operating on what is present but
I get to put my feet up, sip my latte and make choices about what to say…
and so does the poet and he does it so well it takes my breath:

"in the ICUs people are so fucked up
so gone, ventilated, sedated, deficit
that they're ghosts lying there
only afterwards, if they survive
are they reborn as people
strolling though the units
thanking medicos they don't remember"

The book would be impossible to read without the poet's sense of humor.
His humor saves the poems, lifts like a limp noodle gone stiff after days
on the floor. I say halleluiah and praise the Lord. Even though the author
might not enjoy reading that praise, I repeat, raise your glass, clink praises
for a work well done. I'm voting for the dirty poet for president or a
book award, but I don't have that kind of power:

"holy shit"
"heard about the doctor running for the hospital elevator?
the doors were closing so he stuck his head in
which is shocking enough
but imagine the folks inside the elevator"

"an easy night"
"last night I got my ass kicked in trauma
juggling bodies, crises, bloody tracheas
wall-to-wall patients gasping for air
tonight's different: seems like a light evening
i'm rendering treatments to acceptable ill folks
go in this room here, full of family
it's a cheerful scene
the old fellow seems fine
oh shit
no toes on either foot"

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor:
Wilderness House Literary Review
Ibbetson Street Press

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Review of CTREVIEW, Spring 2011 edition

Review of CTREVIEW, Spring 2011 edition, Vol. XXXIII No. 1; 204 pages; send submissions September 1 to May 15 to Connecticut Review, Connecticut State University System, 39 Woodland Street, Hartford, CT 06105-2337. Check their website at

By Barbara Bialick

The CTREVIEW, a perfect-bound literary journal from the four universities in the Connecticut State University System, has a board of several editors, including one editor from each university: JP Briggs (Western Connecticut State University), Mary Collins (Central Connecticut State University), Jian-Zhong Lin (Eastern Connecticut State University), and Vivian Shipley (Southern Connecticut State University). There are also several other editors and a group of eight interns who put together this twice-yearly powerhouse of sophisticated poetry, fiction, essays, translations, an interview, fine artwork, and four award-winning works.

Acknowledging their own opinion of this quality journal, the editors note on their website: “The journal publishes the best in contemporary literature and essays. The selection process focuses on bringing to general readers cutting edge work that is both thought provoking and accessible.”

The first thing that captures the reader’s attention is the colorful, surrealistic cover art, “Kwanzaa Mothers, 2010” by Jerry Butler. He is also featured with two other fine artists on the inside of the book—Peter Selgin and Tino Villanueva, who is also a noted poet from Boston University.

There are so many good poems, it’s hard to pull quotes. While reading especially the second half of the book, the poems followed strongly one after another. Here are some lines from a few of them: “Indigo”, by Will Wells, “…one evening in Santa Cruz, you/led me to a bin of Moroccan cloth/and traced my fingers over dust devils/of dye until they were smudged with musk, an aromatic print of North Africa./Wedded to desert sweat, indigo rules/the pores in ways no French soap can subdue—a nomad’s irreducible essence…”

“Frankie Minh” by Susan Kinsolving: “In the Vietnamese orphanage, her eyes became infected; without anesthesia they were gouged out…At age five, she was adopted/by an American acress and renamed to honor Sinatra./…once at a grand house party full/of adult celebrities, she wore the (glass) eyes. When one fell out/and into a bowl of caviar, kindly laughter filled her ears/…She was…a star/…After the eye was /washed off, she held it in her hand, perceiving its elusive/charm and how clearly she could be the life of the party.”

Jennifer Purrine’s “I’ve Never Swum with Dolphins”: “But once I plunged headlong into a pool/of jellyfish, ten million pulsing medusae/ushering me under the waterline,/where I buried my face in the sheer miracle,/…a living garb/that kissed my skin with its milk, with its sting.”
Instead of having a pizza for twelve dollars, you might want to buy this book. The featured award-winners include:

CSU Essay Award, “Blackberry Redux” by Jan Tomas: “The last time I ate a blackberry pie, the wild, tangy flavor transported me into a thorny bramble buried deep in a forest of Missouri scrub oak…”.

CSU Fiction Award to Nancy Antle for “Waiting”: “What a beautiful necklace,” a stranger exclaims. “Thank you. My mother made it for me,” I say. “Years ago.” I am in the airport waiting—on my way to visit my mother across the country. I always wear her gift to me when I go. The necklace is my talisman…”

Pat Mottola won the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize for “Room in New York, 1932.” Christine Beck won the Leo Connellan Poetry Prize for “Sometimes He Comes Home Bloody.”

I think the Connecticut Review is certainly fulfilling its stated purpose: “a public service contribution to the national literary and intellectual discourse.”

Monday, July 04, 2011

Rosie’s Place founder Kip Tiernan dies at 85

Kip Tiernan Died at 85. I met her once--a thoroughly charming woman, at a 70th birthday party I helped organize for the late poet Jack Powers (Founder of Stone Soup Poets) with Sidewalk Sam and others. Here is a picture:


(Left to Right) Doug Holder, Deb Priestly ( Out of the Blue Art Gallery), Kip Tiernan, Rose Gardina ( Boston Girl Guide)

Excerpt from the Boston Globe:

Rosie’s Place founder Kip Tiernan dies at 85

“The lives she saved were untold,’’ Mayor Menino said of Kip Tiernan, who died Saturday. “The lives she saved were untold,’’ Mayor Menino said of Kip Tiernan, who died Saturday. (Bill Brett/ File 2005)

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / July 4, 2011

Kip Tiernan, who founded Rosie’s Place, the nation’s first shelter for homeless women, and whose persistent, raspy voice echoed from the streets to the State House as she advocated for the poor, died of cancer Saturday in her South End apartment.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Jodi Colella: An artist who is never at a loss for new material.

Jodi Colella: An artist who is never at a loss for new material.
By Doug Holder

While I was intensely reading a book at the Sherman Café in Union Square, Somerville artist Jodi Colella startled me when she simply stated,(behind my back) “Hello.” She laughed as she brings the same intensity and focus to her own work as I did to my book. And a big part of this work according to the Somerville artist's mission statement is to transform ordinary material into “unexpected expressions.”

Colella has moved to Somerville from Wellesley, Mass with her husband. She now has a studio at the Joy St. Studios situated in Somerville as well. She has a home in the Winter Hill neighborhood; so she has established firm roots in our burg. She said she feels right at home, “The city is vibrant, diverse and full of fresh ideas.” Colella also added that she is pleased with the support she has received from the Somerville Arts Council.

The artist, who has a degree in Biology from Boston University was originally a researcher at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, but did not feel the career was the right fit for her. She got a certificate in Graphic Design in 2000, and worked in the field for a while before she gave that up to pursue her own art. Colella describes herself as an intuitive artist, and trusts that intuition implicitly.

I joked with Collela that we would have plenty of material to write about. And indeed Colella has worked with everything from plastic newspaper sleeves, fleece, an assortment of textiles, and she is even considering using sausage casings.

One project that Colella told me about was based at the Fiber Arts Network at Eastern Michigan University and the Textile Center in Minneapolis. She worked with plastic newspaper delivery sleeves. Now—I was a paper boy at one time, slinging the old Long Island Press from door to suburban door, but I never thought of them as fodder for artistic projects. But Colella pulled the sleeves apart, shredded them, and spun them into plastic yarn—“plarn.” The sleeves took on various colors and other depths when they were stretched and compressed. So beauty is evidently in the banal.

In her project ‘Undercurrent” she uses fleece in the development of a window screen—the work she said deals with: “Barriers and duplicity."

Like many artists in our creative environs she wears many hats. She teaches at the deCordova museum in Lincoln, Mass, working with students with fiber art and sculptural jewelry. She loves teaching, although it can be exhausting, she related.

Colella left Sherman’s with a brisk gait, undoubtedly anxious to get a firm grip on her next batch of material.

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