Friday, August 05, 2011

"Night Flight” by Kenneth Frost

"Night Flight" Kenneth Frost
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
Charlotte, North Carolina

Reviewed by Alice Weiss

Kenneth Frost is a native of crowded New York and environs who in moving to Maine and staying there, has become a poet of solitude. His chapbook, “Night Flight,” is a publication of the Author’s Choice Chapbook series and the recommending author is Jonathan K. Rice, the editor and publisher of the Iodine Poetry Journal. Frost’s poems of winter and night, darkness and transformation compel by their play of syntax and metaphor. Everything is chilly, drawn through a winter’s night and the source of light is reflected or occasional, the moon, or fire or lightening. The poems are brief, the lines are short. Many of the poems exhibit an underlying grim humor in their syntactical games.

“When the forest had burned down
to a cathedral


one branch kept falling
whistling to itself in the dark”

In a poem about trains, “Country Crossing”, he identifies train tracks as “last century’s flat ladder/to paradise.” Indeed upending natural and human things that ordinarily operate in a horizontal universe is one of the constants of his poetic imagination. So coyotes float out of the trees, a flotilla bowing and twisting, “A heartbeat walks/on the moon’s plague of eggs,” or “The heart jumps over the moon/time and again trying to teach/a cow to be a hundred sheep.”

Not content with nature only, he peoples the poems taking us into glimpses of the imaginative worlds they inhabit for him: Mandelstam in the gulag, Wittgenstein in Norway, a senile aunt who does not recognize the figure in the mirror as herself and waves.
Take this example of concise exploration of a dark figure in our cultural life:

The Assassin


The simple comparison of the minute hand and the dagger is transformed by the picture of the assassin petting, suggesting an attachment both sexual and affectionate and reflecting an important aspect of what is strange about our current moral universe.

The poems do indeed take us on “Night Patrol” sifting through images of loss and disfigurement and moral distress. He grieves that “Extraterrestrial life/is answering terrestrial life/ No one should be here or there.”

And yet the bleakness of this last quoted line does not, in fact, operate as the last word. Frost takes us into darkness with a commitment to an operating ideal of call and response. Images act on images, everything is connected by the interplay of language. Verbs are especially empowered to conflate disparate objects. Take the poem “Blizzard.”

Snowflakes tear
their rags deep
inside alphabets
searching for vowels
to beat into

long hollow notes
finding a home
in a wolf’s throat
where the wolf
before a bleeding
mirror drinks
each crack.

The verbs: tear, search, beat, find, bleed, drinks take us in surprising ways from unnatural nature through language into sound, finally expressing its mournful howl in a bitter synthesis of matter, animal and mineral.
Frost creates small dramas that have a large reach but not everything works here. There are poems in which the structure is rickety or the images banal, or the poem should have ended sooner. Sometimes the poet appears to wish the language worked better than it does. Writing for example about spiders he refers to their “tutu/ legs en pointe,” which I found coy rather than arresting. But the truth is the tiny forms he uses throughout the book exact a hard discipline which he often turns to good use and the larger impression is that the book succeeds.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


Write Bloody Publishing, Long Beach, California,, 97 pages, $15

Review by Barbara Bialick

I think all you small press readers should buy a copy of this book SUNSET IN THE TEMPLE OF OLIVES so the author, Paul Suntup can impress on the public that he is worthy of fame in the greater poetry world. Billy Collins already took note of him in his book 180 MORE EXTRAORDINARY POEMS FOR EVERY DAY, 2005, by choosing “Olive Oil”, which also appears herein: “If there were olive oil cologne, I would wear it and if/there were olive oil goldfish, I would have two in a bowl on the/table For some reason, it is also a man swallowing lighter/fluid because the pain in his belly is bigger than the Kalahari/Desert….and sometimes it tastes like Brigitte the scene where she is sunning naked in Capri, an impossibly/blue ocean wrestling with the sky in the distance.”

Paul Suntup’s voice has elements from Billy Collins, Charles Simic and others who are even more surrealistic and bizarre, who I can’t quite name. The voice he is most like is himself, which includes funny, weird, dangerous, and surrealistic. His little “stories” remind me of those bizarre little John Lennon books we of a certain age used to covet. In “Amputee”, he writes, “Judy was born with a tiger at the end of each finger. When she was six, the tiger on the tip of her right index finger bit off the two middle fingers of her left hand one night while she was sleeping…” For the upshot of the story, I say, buy the book.

Here’s another one, “In a Black Sky”: “There’s no relaxing here. The one they call Van Gogh empties the/salt shaker for the second time today. Small white planets are counted,/then arranged in miniature orbit around a Medjool date…The first thing I’m going to do is think/the world out of existence. I’ll start with the trees, then move on to/animals…Water can stay until I swim to Africa…find the bones of my ancestors, then I’ll/make them disappear too. I’ll keep going until there’s nothing left/but orange swirls in a black sky.”

I hope u can get a general idea from these clippings from his literary plant. He seems to have had some interesting life experience as well. Originally a native of South Africa, he currently lives in Southern California where he is a freelance web designer. Oh did I mention this book was nominated for a National Book Award? In our world where money is so hard to keep, I would like to think Paul Suntup’s book is worth the fifteen dollars

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Friend Request: Garden XV Literary Journal of the Boston Conservatory

Friend Request: Garden XV
Literary Journal of the Boston Conservatory
A SGA project

Review by Rene Schwiesow

When you think Boston Conservatory you probably think: music, dance, theater – performing arts. But at The Boston Conservatory the students are looked at as “whole artists.” For this reason the Conservatory offers its students a wide range of programs both in and out of the classroom designed to enhance their lives. A student literary magazine is one example. Recently, I spoke with Judson Evans, advisor for “The Garden.” Judson has an affinity for the Japanese poetry form “Renku” and he teaches the form to his students. But in keeping with the ideology of the “whole artist,” Evans does not leave Renku in a classroom. I was intrigued by the fact that the students often have Renku ongoing in their dormitory rooms.

What is Renku? It is a series of linking Japanese verse. Each can stand on its own, but also links with the next verse. Typically a Renku is a 5-7-5 verse followed by a 7-7 verse. When a student in the dormitory of The Boston Conservatory begins a Renku, other students may drop by at any time and add a consecutive verse to the string of poetics. Traditionally Renku is a collaborative work.

The 15th anniversary edition of “The Garden,” entitled “Friend Request,” contains examples of this Japanese poetry form as well as other poetic works. A poem entitled “Fourteen Days After Treatment” addresses hair loss as a result of chemo treatments. A friend of mine recently finished a round of chemo. This work hit home for me:

And when people ask, I’m always honest.
What did we do this weekend?
We shaved my mom’s head
and then got ice cream.

Several pieces speak to the social networking aspect of the title. A work entitled “Logged In” is one of them:

I live in mini-feeds,
friend requests,
event invitations,
status updates,
video links,
profile pictures,
chat sessions,
and game requests.

The connections people can now make over long distances gets a nod in “Skype:”

wanting to grasp
the person I can’t touch
one click brings
a pixelated bond

For students living in dormitories far away from their homes, today’s social networking offers the opportunity to remain in touch with family and friends and, as “Friend Request” shows, social networking can lend itself to inspiration. Judson Evans offers the opportunity for Conservatory students to express themselves through the written word in addition to their music and dance. “The Garden” helps to fulfill the Conservatory’s commitment to the well-rounded and articulate student.

For more information contact Judson Evans/ c/o Liberal Arts/ The Boston Conservatory/ 8 The Fenway/ Boston, MA/ 02215

Rene Schwiesow is the co-host of the popular South Shore venue: The Art of Words. Rene can be contacted at:

Monday, August 01, 2011

Somerville Poet Harris Gardner: Bringing his poetic passion to the Paris of New England

Somerville, Mass. Poet Harris Gardner: Bringing his poetic passion to the Paris of New England

By Doug Holder

Somerville poet Harris Gardner is many things. This fairly recent transplant to our town is a substitute teacher at Somerville High, a real estate broker, and founder of the much lauded poetry organization “Tapestry of Voices” that has put on the Boston National Poetry Festival for the last decade at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

Many of Gardner’s students at Somerville High refer to him as Einstein because of his curly halo of gray curls, and he is a genius in his own way. Since 1999 he has created a literary community of readings that span from the soon to be defunct Borders Books in downtown Boston, to the Liberty Hotel, the former home of the infamous Charles Street Prison. Currently he and Somerville poet/publisher Gloria Mindock host a poetry series that meets every third Tuesday of each month at the Arts Armory on Highland Ave. ( 6:30 PM) in our burg. The readers of the series has included many Somerville poets like Lloyd Schwartz, Ifeanyi Menkiti, yours truly, and others.

Gardner who has lived on Beacon Hill for many years has not only organized poetry readings but he is a well-published poet with credits in the Harvard Review, Midstream, Ibbetson Street, Aurorean and many others. He has a number of collections under his belt, the most recent: “Among Us” published by Somerville’s Cervena Barva Press.

I asked Gardner what he thinks about the lack of interest of the powers-that-be about creating a Poet Laureate in Somerville. Gardner opined: “I think Somerville is slow to pick up on what 23 cities in Massachusetts have already. I was on the Committee for the Poet Laureate in Boston that selected Sam Cornish, as well as working with the city of Cambridge to establish their Populist Poet. This is a very worthwhile… to bad the city can’t realize it.”

Gardner, like me, bemoans the fact that a number of independent bookstores have closed in our city—most notably McIntyre and Moore Used Books—a long time icon in Davis Square. Gardner believes that Porter Square Books is a great store, but it is really in Cambridge, and they don’t sell used books. “I really think we could use a bookstore in Somerville that sells new as well as used books”, he said.

Gardner is also a co-founder of Somerville’s Bagel Bards, a literary group that meets every Saturday at 9A.M. at the Au Bon pain in Davis Square. I asked him if he writes when he is at the group. Gardner smiled: “I wrote a poem while coming up from the Davis Square subway. I write everywhere. If I did write in a café regularly I think Bloc 11 in Union Square would have the right atmosphere.” I pointed out that Sherman Café in Union square was equally as good a writing spot—he took notes.

Gardner has recently been appointed the Poetry Editor of Somerville’s Ibbetson Street Press, and in that capacity he has attracted such noted poets as Diana der Hovanessian, Richard Hoffman, X.J. Kennedy, Maxine Kumin and others. So even though Gardner has been in the Paris of New England a short while; he has already accomplished more than some have in a lifetime in our city—welcome aboard!


This stoned cat puffs fragile rings
in my face. He’s pretty pushy, he is.
Asks imperiously, “ Who are you?”
You better believe that stops me on the spot !

Who am I? Starts right off with the tough question.
Am I in jeopardy if I reply? I stall to buy a number.
He starts to do a fade, already bored.
He blinks, yawns, ready for a snooze.

I volley it right back, barely clearing the net.
Who are you to ask who am I?
What’s next, “where are you?”
That should be my question.

Only his face hovers, can’t see the strings;
the rest is buried in a billow
of deconstructing rings.
Aging memories bruise like pinched fruit.

“Who are you?” Seems simple enough;
however, it’s complicated.
Who will I be when I remember?
If I could answer that riddle,

It would prove my genius,
like solving the sphinx..
Whose family lives under my roof?
What is my proof?

Who am I, a part of your dream?
When I pinch you awake, I fear
that I, a wraith, shall simply disappear.

Harris Gardner

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review of IN THE CARNIVAL OF BREATHING, a poetry chapbook by Lisa Fay Coutley

Review of IN THE CARNIVAL OF BREATHING, a poetry chapbook by Lisa Fay Coutley, Black Lawrence Press, Aspinwall, Pennsylvania,,, 31 pages, $9, 2011

Review by Barbara Bialick

Every now and then I read a baffling book that has the unique complexity of a droll and yet lyrical voice. This volume, winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition, is composed of 24 poems whose lines transform into disparate oppositions of themselves, from the beginning of each poem to the end. You may think you got it right away, but don’t be disappointed that you didn’t. This is a book that would appeal to people who like demanding poems you have to figure out, yet which has poems with such interesting images, you can also just like it as it is.

For example, the poem, “Transplant”: “These aren’t his slippers, and this isn’t his/robe or his morning, its dark shade hung/against wet brick, against a TV’s low-sung/story of an uptown subway burning/…Let my wrecked lung be swaddled in hay./In this chest: tangerines, a fistful of lilacs./Today is purple, today is orange. Today/a subway caught fire and I wasn’t on it.”

I also like the imagery in “Errata”: It begins “As the story goes, the raven’s wings/aren’t black. They’re waves, capping /dark omens. Crows with curtained throats/…and continues, “I’m sorry you won’t see your son, his skin/peeling its white scarf through blizzards…” and ends up as: “Listen: my heart’s a gutter of ravens tugging at the firmament.” Interesting book. You may want to read it…

And one last example: The poem “My Lake”, which was included in BEST NEW POETS 2010, and begins: “My lake has many rooms and one, which is red/with a door that’s always open but chained./My lake owns boxing gloves. She owns lingerie./…She has been classically trained in lovemaking./…She freezes just before she murders her own shore…”

Lisa Fay Coutley had another award-winning chapbook from Articles Press in 2010,
BACK-TALK, in the ROOMS Chapbook Contest. She holds an MFA from Northern Michigan University, where she was poetry editor of “Passages North”. She lives with her sons in Salt Lake City, where she is a doctoral fellow and poetry editor for “Quarterly West” at the University of Utah.