Thursday, August 18, 2011

Improbable Music: Poems by Sandra Kohler

Improbable Music
Poems by Sandra Kohler
Word Press
Cincinnati OH
Copyright © 2011 by Sandra Kohler
ISBN: 9781936370368
Softbound, 114 pages, no price listed

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Sandra Kohler is an interesting poet for her dreams, which occur with regularity in this book, perhaps explained in the poem “Alpe di Lune.” In v. she reveals “The buildings of childhood live in us,/recur, unchanged, in our dreams.”

Indeed there are recurring dreams throughout this book dreams and realities of death, loss, the violence of war and its resulting deaths, roads of loneliness and failure that do not reach dead ends but continue on through life.

In fact when Ms. Kohler sticks to these themes her poetry seems strong and reality based despite the crutch of dreams. However, when she wanders from her emotional roads into the highways of religion and politics, she will lose all but the most ardent reader and everyone who does not agree with her views on these two subjects that a fraught with failure for one who does not handle them carefully, perhaps delicately, perhaps with more thought for the ones she seems to criticize and the reasoning behind greater things in life
(and death) than she seems to grasp.

Perhaps, as the ending of “The Cup” her poems are written with “The cup of ego, the cup of emptiness.” And, frankly, if you are not prepared it may weigh you down. However, if you like this kind of poetry – and apparently there are many who do – you may really get into this book and find in it, if not joy, perhaps some truths.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Athletes by Kirby Congdon.

Congdon, Kirby. Athletes. Rockford, MI: Presa Press, 2011. Print.

Review by Emily Braile

Kirby Congdon chose an ambitious theme for his short volume of poetry, Athletes. As indicated by the title, most of the poems Congdon has compiled are about athletes and athletics. However, he deviates from this theme in several poems to explore comic book characters and motorcyclists, leaving the volume feeling a bit disjointed and unfocused. His poetry also lacks a subtlety and refinement common to sophisticated poetry, evident in lines such as:

Their leather torsos,
riding iron bulls,
intimate and crouched,
intense in the lover’s act,
copulate with their hot machines.
Blood and oil are one.
They eat and digest
death (Motorcyclist 21).

Perhaps Congdon intended to use such raw language to reflect the raw nature he sees in the athletic world. I understand and appreciate the rugged, even primitive energy of athletics, but I also see a grace and power in sports that I find myself wishing was reflected in Congdon’s writing. At the end of the volume, I’m left unsatisfied, wanting something more, or maybe less.
Within Congdon’s poems are ideas that, again, are ambitious, but could be clearer. The poem “Swimmers” opens with the lines:

Before their oceans,
swimmers inhale,
select their wave
and, charging, dive.

The beginning is straightforward, but then becomes a bit ambiguous in lines five to seven:

The liquid birth
rehearses in reverse
that of death’s flat curse.

Thematic clarity and consistency are aspects generally missing in Athletes. For instance, the poem “Figure” seems to explore the theme of death rather than athletics, comic book characters, or motorcyclists. Congdon again displays a lack of subtlety in lines such as:

His firm figure
is erect
and from that phallic silhouette
the language flows,
free and fertile as a brook…

The poem ends with:

Death does not come to us;
soon or late,
men ready
their manliness
for that final state,
and, walking,
steady and direct,
march straight on
into the end of it.

The idea that people reach a point where they, knowing it’s their time, go to “Death,” rather than have “Death” come to them, is again an ambitious theme. However, the lines quoted above feel a bit over the top, most likely because of the phrase: “men ready/their manliness…” Lines like these, scattered liberally throughout Congdon’s writing, display a romanticized machismo unnecessary in elegant poetry. The lines quoted above illustrate such machismo and an aggressive sexuality, as do lines such as:

burn tire tracks
though my guts;
roar, exhausting,
under rearing buttocks;
cut corners
across my taut chest;
like roving lovers,
leave me, strapped,
silent and stranded (Motorcyclists 28).


Hard helmets and high boots
tumescent in the sun,
got-up in rubber skin
and leather hide,
black, strapped, laced,
buckled with grommets,
chrome and brassy-eyed,
their dress itself is an act of sex… (Daredevil 29).

“Daredevil” is an interesting piece in that it clearly, and more gracefully than many of the others, expresses its theme. The poem is a comment on how men who ride motorcycles for sport entertain a higher chance of sudden, young death, but at least they die with their boots on, as opposed to people who spend their lives behind desks and doors, too afraid of death and pain to really live. The word selection and phrasing could be tighter, but this piece shows promise.

Athletes requires an overall tightening. The many poems that deviate from the stated theme of the collection hinder the effect I, as a reader, assumed Congdon wanted to communicate. The poetry is weakened by the way Congdon presents it with his over-the-top sexualized machismo and loose, unclear phrasing. I would encourage Congdon to write and publish more prose than poetry. He included one piece of prose, “The Speed Track,” opening it with the simple, clean, descriptive statement: “But we saved the machine.” Congdon’s one example of prose is more eloquent than his poetry and was, in the end, what I wanted more of.

**Emily Braile is an English major at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. This is another in a series of book reviews by Endicott College students presented by the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Love Song: playing at the Charlestown Working Theater

Love Song
playing at the Charlestown Working Theater
Presented by Orfeo Group

Reviewed by Amy R. Tighe

The brain, they say, is the organ most useful for sexual pleasure. But what is it in ourselves that calls us to even want connection or desire? What part of the brain tells us we want any kind of intercourse, whether it be social, sexual or spiritual?

Love Song is a terse, fitful and thoroughly enjoyable exploration of a man seeking and finding connection but the play begs the question: with whom?

Produced by Orfeo Group, a local and vibrant Boston-based nonprofit theater company, and playing at the Charlestown Working Theatre through August 27th, Love Song brings you to the edge where the only choice you have is to fall, in love.

Bean is an isolated man with some sort of psychological illness ( the playwright does not tell us which, exactly.) His extreme yuppie sister and her equally extreme husband try to help, tolerate and care for him with various degrees of success. One night a female burglar breaks into his dark room and catapults him on a search for connection.

The uber yuppie couple are wonderfully played by Daniel Berger-Jones and Liz Hayes. Harry is a dream, plying his wife with logic and at the same time, too much wine and Joan, his wife and Bean's sister, shows us that insanity can indeed run in families --it's just that some people are better making a living at it than others. Daniel Berger-Jones doubles as a waiter, and shows us a solid range in his performances. In one scene, Harry breaks down from his rapid fire responses to Joan's neediness and it's one of the better moments in the play--it's a real moment where you experience the beginning of a real falling.

Joan, played by Liz Hayes, has a more limited range. She is believable as a woman stuck on high maintenance and few nuances, and Hayes brings us into the character with humor, skill and ease.

Bean, the brother, is a very complex character and Gabriel Kuttner gives a wonderful performance urging us into the slow, steady and smart logic in Bean's very skewed thinking. Kuttner portrays the sanity and insanity of reaching out while living in a world that threatens you without logic. Molly, the angry and tortured burglar who invades Bean's home and mind, is intense and heated. Georgia Lyman invites you into a harsh character and shows her transformation flawlessly into a love puppy and then a warrior-like Muse, which allows us to hope that even we can find love. Lyman is stunning as a guide to the edge of love.

The acting is strong, the characters are clear and the troupe plays off each other with lemon sharp precision. John Kolvenbach's writing is bright, intelligent and speedy- no sleeping on this road or you will miss entire villages of conversation. The pacing is electric, which was fun for the first 2/3 of the play, but after that, I was getting burnt out. Bean's mental illness, played by a lamp and ceiling, was interesting at first, but by the third episode, was not impressive.

I loved the setting of the Charlestown Working Theatre for this performance. To get to my seat, I had to cross the stage-- talk about intercourse! The theatre itself is an old firehouse, and feels cozy inside a storm. The set design was crisp, and brought an immediate intimacy to the performance.

Orfeo's mission is to "thrill" and maybe I am not sure what that means. This was not a thrilling piece of work, to me-- it was solid, enjoyable, rich and ripe. I loved the message Orfeo sends as a company: Risher Reddick, director of Love Song, announced that every Thursday night was free ticket night, Fridays are "date nights", Saturdays are surprise nights and after Sunday performances, there is a BBQ. Orfeo as a company wants to "reduce the distance between people through shared experiences of audacious art." What I enjoyed most of all is a talented troupe taking on a primal quest and asking us to not be a witness, but to fall with them, into the journey of connection. Definitely go see it.

Love Song
written by John Kolvenback
directed by Risher Reddick
presented by Orfoe Group
at the Charletown Working Theatre
from August 4 to August 27, tix $20, some free tix available
call Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111
Thur, Fri, Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm.