Saturday, February 04, 2012

Kathleen Bitetti: An artist with one eye on public policy and another on her art.

(For You..., Dec 18th 2011: Airport site, performative action done on Dec 18th to commemorate International Migrants Day by Kathleen Bitetti)

Kathleen Bitetti: An artist with one eye on public policy and another on her art.

By Doug Holder

Like T.S. Eliot who wrote in his famed poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"--I have indeed "measured my life in coffee spoons"...and interviews I might add. So over coffee at the Au Bon Pain cafe in Harvard Square I interviewed artist, curator, Public Policy Advocate, Kathleen Bitetti. Bitetti originally from Quincy, Mass. is a slim, energetic woman who for over twenty years has been advocating and advising on the local, national and state level for the rights of artists. She also happens to be an accomplished visual artist in her own right.

She describes her work as "Conceptually based sociopolitical objects, installations and community based projects.” According to her website "Her work deconstructs the American Dream, fairy tales, nursery rhymes...her work also addresses race/gender assignments, the fragility of family dynamics, domestic violence..." Her art has been displayed in such venues as the permanent collection at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass. and the New Bedford Art Museum.

If that is not enough Bitetti is currently an artist in residence for the city of Quincy, Mass. through the Quincy Historical Society and was in residence at the Gozo Contemporary Art Museum in Malta.

Bitetti, who headed the Artist Foundation in Boston for many years, was a project leader for a fall 2009 report titled: "Stand Up and be counted--A Survey on Massachusetts Artists’' Work Lives, Socioeconomic Status, Access to Healthcare and Medical and Non-Medical Debt."

She described and brought attention to the many way artists were falling through the cracks. Even after landmark healthcare legislation was passed in the state, and later nationally, she found that artists did not have access to healthcare, as they are often freelancers and contract workers, with limited incomes and benefits. Bitetti told me: "We found that artists were often paid inadequately. And it seems that people expected that artists would produce work for free." (God knows I know how that works in the poetry world!) Through her strident activism she was appointed to the State House's "Creative Economy Council" in Jan. 2012 that will work to solve inequities in the Independent Contractor Law passed in Massachusetts in 2004.

Bitetti is also involved with the “Medicine Wheel" project in South Boston started by her friend, the visual artist Mike Dowling. Bitetti works as a curator for their art gallery. The program helps connect low income inner city kids with the arts, and artists through poetry, and other creative media to broaden their horizons and enrich their lives.

Bitetti is a rare bird--a talented artist with acumen for public policy. Usually, at least in my experience-the two don't often mix. As we were leaving the cafe Bitetti told me she would soon be leaving for Malta to continue her artistic work linking that country to Massachusetts.

Out on the street
I felt a blast of cold air,
I turned
-- and she was no longer there—
I saw her rushing figure blur and merge,
into the hustlers and bustlers-- of Harvard Square.

go to for more information.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


By Bruce Dethlefsen
101 pages / 81 poems / $16
ISBN: 978-0-9846568-0-6
Cowfeather Press
PO Box 620216
Middleton, WI 53561

Review by – Charles P. Ries
Word Count = 514

I was thinking as I read Bruce Dethlefsen’s Unexpected Shiny Things, what makes a poet great? Certainly they have to find the poetic form effortless and created their own distinct voice. They must be able to reveal mysteries, or prompt the creation of more mysteries. And most capable poets can certainly do all or some of that. But as I read Dethlefsen’s latest book of poetry I found myself smiling in bemusement, or nodding in agreement, or amazed at his wisdom, or saddened at his heartbreak. I wondered how does he do that? Not many poets have this effect on me. So how is it that he does? I believe it is a coupling of awareness and deep love of mankind. Awareness without love is tyranny, so too is love without awareness. The great yearning depth I feel in Dethlefsen’s work is his long-lived, hard-earned, deep-hearted wisdom. Not all good poets have this, but all the great ones do.

Unexpected Shiny Things is broken into five sections that broadly define the thematic mood of Dethlefsen’s mind: Stars on Strings, Golden Coffee Sunlight, Sifting Starlight, Unexpected Shiny Things, and Chasing the Moon.

Again and again, he takes us from the common to the sublime, from the ordinary to that transcendent and numinous. There are great and important poems in this collection: Forgotten, Lily Pads, Mountain Dreams, Hummingbirds, Crows Mate for Death, How I Hang On and 1950 to call out just a few. Some of these mind blowing masterpieces. Here is “1950”: “at night / my mother bathed me in a white tub / scrubbed me with white soap / rubbed me in a white towel / hugged and plugged me / into pajamas and the white sheets // an act to kind / so common / it barely even happened”.

His poem “Hummingbirds”: “ flagella move so fast / they think that hummingbirds are dead / hummingbirds know that we are dead / we mostly think that trees are dead / the trees think the water’s dead / the water things the rocks are dead / the rocks thing the mountains and the world are dead / the world thinks the universe is dead / the universe thinks that god is dead / and god who knows what god thinks // you know sometimes though / I think / I make the world go ‘round / simply by walking on it / and pushing backwards just a little / with each deliberate step”.

In Unexpected Shiny Things, Dethlefsen flows from the concrete to ethereal. He orbits around the collective unconscious like a Jungian astronaut - his interior radar big enough to find meaning in both the great moments and the small nuances of life. This is the blessing of the mature poet – one who has lived hundreds of lives and can bring this diversity of experience to us as a cascading pool of images for us to soak in. Dethlefsen is an exceptional poet. His writer’s voice is so common and plain spoken that it lulls the reader down his rabbit hole and out again with a winter fresh mind.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes ( You may find additional samples of his work by going to:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Joy of the Nearly Old by Rosalind Brackenbury

The Joy of the Nearly Old
By Rosalind Brackenbury
Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street
Brooklyn, New York 11217
98 Pages

Reviewed by Dennis Daly

Rosalind Brackenbury delivers a movable feast of poems in her new book, The Joy of the Nearly Old. These are poems of privilege set in Paris, Nice, Key West, New York, England, Peru, and places in between. A sensuous joy of life drives the poetic movement through themes of aging with its anonymity and uncertainty, emotional pain with its dark moments, and death with its hard questions and seeming finality.
The title poem sets the tone. In it the author mourns a dead poet, who succumbed to a weakened heart. She identifies with him and worries, especially since he was her age,

…a poet
my age exactly, who died this year
on a table in a hospital in Texas
while they were jump-starting
his heart…

Later on in the poem Brackenbury lauds the anonymity that aging bestows,

The world can’t see us.
We are too old to be noticed:
nobody watches us pass.
The nearly old live cloaked in privacy.

Age anonymity, Brackenbury shrewdly observes, can also sharpen the senses,

Alone again in the corner of a café,
invisible, crazy with joy. Oh the taste
of coffee! The sunlight
of this morning, this one day.

The Space Between Years, a poem which deals with the nature of aging, serves up a compelling, echoing image painting an in-between time that

Runs deep like a canyon,
a corridor of dreams;
waking, I wonder
who called me.

Of course, it is in the space between years that life and everything else happens,

In the space between years,
oranges in a white bowl,
black walnuts in a basket,
letters on the table,
flowers, red and white
in a jug.

Mid-life runs at a slower pace. In A Man and a Woman and a Blackbird the young are in a hurry; older people try to conserve time,

It’s so much easier now,
not being young and in a hurry.
Nobody waits, nobody notices,
our time is our own.
It takes a lifetime to get here.

The theme of slowing down time combines nicely with the time in-between in a beautiful poem called The Handkerchief,

we pause to hear the quiet movements
of its shallows.

Small, small the difference
between perfection and what is not,
all the difference there is:

when the world stills,
the center holds…

The poem ends with a comforting and stunning image:

the way his hand,
dragonfly over water,
nearly skims mine.

Very, very nice.
In Vert Galant, another poem delving into the mystery of age, the poet returns to the Paris that she had visied in her younger years and wonders how time changes reality,

I sit on a green bench
and wonder, is it the same
willow fingering the water

and am I the same
girl in love with it all,
who said, one day she’d buy lunch
for herself in a Paris restaurant
not counting the cost
and has just done so?

The poet in her poem Goodbye paints a picture of her father at an advanced age handling his years with almost an athletic grace,

He quit at eighty-six
angry with age, annoyed at each small ache;
stumbled a little on the tennis court but dealt
that half-blind lethal serve, the way

old Chinese painters draw their single curve
of black on white, the brush a thousandth
time trailing its ink exact as grace…

My Parents in the Rose Garden presents a near idyllic remembrance of the poet’s parents. It is the way we all want to remember our mothers and fathers, but only a few actually do. This poet is not only privileged, she is lucky. Her poem works because she shares the joy of this in an honest, unselfish way,

They walk a rectangle, hand in hand,
looking at the roses.

They pause to look, talk, I see
him smile, she straightens
her spine to be up to it, to him,
to their continuing daily
stepping out.

Forever now, or for as long as I
shall live, I see them…

There are also some very memorable love poems in this collection. One of them, Ferry Across the James River, stands out. It creates an interesting metaphor with love happening on a ferry between two banks. The point, of course, is the intense and temporary nature of love. These lines are pitch-perfect,

It wasn’t a dream, but now I see this
again and again, our brief life
together between two banks:
back there the quiet beach
where we searched for scallop shells
and driftwood to carry home,
before us, soon, the landing place
and above us the gulls, their feathers
fiery as angels.’

Three of the poems in this book are essentially anti-war poems and I think that they work less well than most of the others. But I’m quibbling: these kinds of poems are very difficult to write, especially in anger. The poet rages,

the boats rise and fall like breath.
This morning, this Sunday morning,
we heard Falluja was taken.
A thousand dead; they called them all

You can’t, however, argue with her rhetoric and logic.
My favorite poem in this well balanced book is Who Has Seen Our Original Face. It portrays a mother’s first eye contact with her child after birth. Here’s the image:

Startled into air,
your first stare after birth, for me.

That first sharp glance
and afterwards, each time we met,
the recognition.
Is this love, could this stunned meeting
possibly become love?

Poetry lovers, who seek calm reassurance in this troubling life and timeless (if not pain free) joy from the written word will like this book a lot.