Saturday, September 17, 2011

If I Take You Here by Martha Carlson-Bradley

If I Take You Here
by Martha Carlson-Bradley
Copyright 2010 by Martha Carlson-Bradley
Adastra Press
Easthampton, MA 01027
Softbound, 34 pages, $18.00
ISBN 10: 0-9822495-9-4
ISBN 13: 978-0-9822495-9-8

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

In reading chapbooks from Adastra Press, Gary Metras’s publishing house in Easthampton, MA, I have never been disappointed by the poetry they contain and If I Take You There is no exception. Martha Carlson-Bradley has woven together poems of appealing and clear images that churn up visuals as you read.

If I take you here
what do I hope?

that our eyes will focus
in the same direction –

low hills, for both of us,
edging in the field?

Or here, inside:
why should you

witness the sofa
too formal to sit on
Victorian horsehair –

or the Times watch
as it ticks on the bureau
the tips of its hands

green with radium?

My grandfather’s bedroom
narrow, long as a freight car,

holds its one note:
half warning, half lament

Here is another example:

Something broken grates underfoot.

Chilled, with my hands in raincoat pockets,
I study the Last Supper

my family discarded.

Disciples hold their sudden gestures –
fist on money bag, a finger point.

Tender flesh of a palm

Here, like DaVinci, the moment is captured, the action frozen as today, money is the key to the moment, the trapdoor of action, the sale of life. Religion broken down to its monetary base, its evil. Even at the end of a life, someone must make a profit, though not the victimh.

Here are scattered lines from other poems:

• A drip from the faucet; a tick of the clock
• Only winter birds a speaking
• a shot glass is lying; knocked on its side
• Exactly the hue of old photographs
• the world outside like flame

These are just five examples of what I think are creative images, clever use of what might be everyday things that we tend to overlook, even as poets, because we are too busy with our own lives, our own language to notice the obvious and make it not only creatively accessible to a reader, but provides a quick, Oh, I wish I’d thought of that. It is this kind of “fun reading” one can usually find in a Metras published volume of poetry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011




11 Bow Street, Somerville
November 6, 2011 at 3:30 P.M.

Madness is the theme, poetry the vehicle, enjoyment the promise when the Grolier Poetry Book Shop inaugurates its new poetry room above the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square, Somerville. Billed as a “wild concoction of poetry, mixed media and twisted genius”, “Madness” is a celebration of the borderlands where madness brushes against artistic genius, as evidenced most notably in the community of famous poets—Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and John Berryman—whose lives and writings cycled tortuously through McLean Hospital in Belmont.

Not an ordinary fundraiser, nor an ordinary poetry reading, “Madness at the Grolier,” is a kickoff fundraiser for the Grolier Poetry room, a fledgling satellite of The Grolier Book Shop, an all-poetry book store that has become a Harvard Square literary landmark. “Madness at the Grolier” will be the first of an ongoing series of thematic poetry events.

Well-known local poets and writers who will read from the works of the McLean poets, as well as their own, include Doug Holder, himself a counselor and poetry workshop leader at McLean for almost thirty years, poet and singer Lo Galluccio, novelist Paul Steven Stone and Alice Weiss. Robert Clawson, manager of Anne Sexton’s band will present poetry and anecdotes, Kathleen Spivack will share her memories of Robert Lowell, soon to be published in memoir form, and Lois Ames who wrote the introduction to Plath's "Bell Jar," will talk about her friendship with Plath and Sexton.

Last but far from least, local poet and performer Michael Mack will offer powerful vignettes from his wrenching one-man show chronicling the pain of growing up with a schizophrenic mother.

“Madness at the Grolier” is a joint presentation of the Grolier Book Shop, Ibbetson Street Press and Blind Elephant Press. Like madness itself, it promises to be both dramatic and unforgettable.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Headstone: October 27, 1915 to August 30, 1984 bY Brian James

October 27, 1915 to August 30, 1984

Review by Alice Weiss

Brian James’ account of his relationship with his “non-traditional” father bills itself as part truth, part fiction. Which is truth and which is fiction? The bare facts of the father’s life are: he was short, earned his living at a job where he worked the midnight to eight shift (that shift, it seems, so he could pretend not to have a job when he hung out at Drake’s Bar from 8 AM to 3 P.M. every day). He had a wife, one son, Brian, died at the age of 68, drank vodka, worked just enough hours to support his family and his drinking and gambling habit.

What may well be fiction, or put together from the stories his father or his father’s friends told, is the most interesting part of the book. This is because James takes us into Drake’s Café, “a happiness hangout and conduit for anything except drugs,” and introduces us not only to his father, Junior, but to all his father’s buddies, their nicknames and their various activities. He tells us Junior who drinks “more vodka than Rasputin” typically comes out of work at 8:00 A.M. passes Spike, the bookie, and says ’give me the zero for twenty dollars, Soldier Boy in the Fourth at Rockingham and Cincinnati in the series for my limit.’ Spike without so much as breaking his stride says, You got it Junior.”

James describes the hourly doings of this cast of characters devoted to hanging out in the bar, but who seem to be also secretly working at their eight hours, five days a week jobs, among them, Dad, a night watchman, ‘Mickey Mantle’ half the municipal waste management crew, the big “O” a retired state police officer, Carrier Jack, the mailman. The guys form a community based on all the illicit activity they think is going on and they can pretend they are really a part of. There are two real numbers runners, Spike and Whirl-away but what the rest do is talk trash to each other in the way of 1940’s gangster movies, drink, and have tournament bouts of Name that Tune, oh yes, and fix one another’s cars.

This book is also fun because of the swagger that Brian James has when he talks about his father. There’s a Tom Sawyer scene where Junior gets Brian and all his buddies to paint the house (his mother is away) for a keg of beer. The neighborhood kids, James says, loved Junior, “the highlight of every visit by Tony, Rocco, Paulie, Cedge and Big Kid was an exit via Dad’s cellar gallery of stars. Dad would attach celebrity heads to generic centerfold torsos. Famous persons, the likes of Queen Elizabeth and Mamie Eisenhower, never looked so good as in his collage.” You can feel the rhythm.

The thread that holds the book together, though, is that whatever else his father was he dearly loved his son and his son grew up feeling loved by his father. In one of the last short chapters (and they are all very short) Brian is grown up and working as a law enforcement officer, and discovers that the names of two of the Drakes Café characters, Hughie and Las, appear up in the evidence of one of Brian’s criminal cases. He fears his father might be involved in some way, so he tells him what’s going on. It’s an interesting account because you know he is risking a great deal in exposing his investigation to Junior. Junior brushes him off, tells him not to worry, but what becomes clear to the reader, if not to James himself is that Junior has never really been involved in any criminal endeavor, and, is embarrassed that he has to reveal that to his son, so he doesn’t quite. But you can see the tenderness and care.

All that being said, this is a book that could have really used an editor. The stories are fun but given the half jokey, back hand way Brain tells them, you have to go back and try to figure out what is going on and sometimes you just can’t. At times I got very confused as to what was happening when. This guy has great material. It could have been told much more clearly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ibbetson Street Press to release new poetry collection "Choir of Day" by Robert K. Johnson

"Choir of the Day" a new poetry collection by Robert K. Johnson, (a long time poetry editor of the Ibbetson Street Press) will be released
this October (2011).

***** To preorder send a check or money order for $16 to Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143

"Robert Johnson writes poems I wish I had written

and read — again and again. He’s a real underground

American poet with a strong, mature poetic voice

in the tradition of writers with a commitment to

a realistic, honest life experience. Forget The New

Yorker, The American Poetry Review, books from

Copper Canyon or Graywolf Press. Finding Robert

Johnson is hard work, but it’s worth the effort. — Sam

Cornish." (Boston’s first Poet Laureate)

"Robert K. Johnson’s poems read like little stories. This

collection of beautifully written poems captivates,

seduces, and transports the reader on a journey of a

life traveled. I was deeply moved by these poems."

Gloria Mindock, Cervena Barva Press