Friday, April 06, 2012

MAY 20, 2012: Have a laugh at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop’s Expense!

MAY 20, 2012: Have a laugh at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop’s Expense!

By Doug Holder

Who said poetry has to be staid and stuffy? Not The Grolier Poetry Bookshop, which is sponsoring a one-time event filled with poetry, levity and laughter. Laughter at the Grolier cranks up the merriment May 20, 2012, 3:30PM at the brand new Grolier Poetry Room--upstairs at the Bloc 11 Cafe--11 Bow St.--Union Square-Somerville.

You’ll experience a wild concoction of poetry, mixed media, and mirthful merriment featuring hilarious poetic luminaries. You’ll also be helping the famed Grolier Bookshop--a literary landmark--in the heart of Harvard Square to thrive and stay alive!

This will be the second event at Grolier’s Poetry Room above Bloc 11 in Union Square. The first event Madness at the Grolier was a resounding success, and the sponsors promise to please with this one too!

Featured readers will be hilarious local poets X. J. Kennedy, Tomas O'Leary and Dan Sklar. In addition, the event’s curiously titled “Readers of the Lost Arc” will be Lo Galluccio, Doug Holder Paul Steven Stone, Alice Weiss, and the owner of the Grolier himself: Ifeanyi Menkiti.

In addition to the Grolier Poetry Bookshop, Laughter at the Grolier is sponsored by Ibbetson Street Press and Blind Elephant Press. The suggested donation is a paltry $10. So come and support this unique poetry bookstore, and have a laugh, guffaw, or yes, even a yuck—at their expense!

Program: Visual Inverse : Board of the Plymouth Guild

Program: Visual Inverse

Pairing of poetry and Art

Board of the Plymouth Guild

15 Poets interpret

15 pieces of visual art

38 Pages

Program Design: Terry Kole

And Jack Scully

Plymouth Center for the Arts

Review by Dennis Daly

Homer, the poet, conjured up with his verbal art an impossible description of Achilles’ Shield, as created by Vulcan, the visual artist, in Book 18 of The Iliad. Here is a description of characters on a panel of the shield from the translation of Alexander Pope,

Along the Street the new-made Brides are led,

With Torches flaming, to the nuptial Bed;

The Youthful Dancers in a Circle bound

To the soft Flute, and Cittern’s silver Sound:

Thro the fair Streets, the Matrons in a Row,

Stand in their Porches, and enjoy the Show.

This unbroken tradition of ekphrasis continues to this day yielding astonishing insights of one art form by the creation of another. Recently a show entitled Visual Inverse, a Pairing of Poetry and Art was held at the Plymouth Center for the Arts in Plymouth Massachusetts. A large number of lucky attendees

viewed the live performances. I and others (not so lucky, or in my case, not so smart) had to wait for this magnificent program to circulate.

Mike Amado, who died in 2008 and is the inspiration for the successful poetry venue, Poetry: The Art of Words, begins the collection with his poem, Spring Beyond the Door, which matches up with the colored photograph, “The Other Side of Winter” by Barbara Barker. His poem is traditionally descriptive, subtle and true to the photograph. Here are my favorite lines,

…viscous ice

inches its way down the house,

roof tiles to the shingles.

icicles cage in the porch

It brings to my mind Boris Pasternak’s ice house, the lovers’ hideout, in Doctor Zhivago by way of David Lean’s movie interpretation.

Louisa Clerici’s poetic study of Jill Voelker’s drawing, “Pow Wow—One Who Sees Vision,” is a model of aesthetic empathy. Clerici’s piece almost mirrors the dense texture of Voelker’s work. The poem moves from finger painting gods to druid magic, elves, and wizards. Clerici navigates through this wondrous world with unusual adeptness, leaving us with the delightful image of the poet’s words pouring onto her page.

Violent confrontation is the technique of choice used by an unblinking Reggie Gibson in his aggressive take on the oil painting, “Southeast Ridge” by Gretchen Moran. Gibson sees teeth and vermin and razor wire and a heat swollen sky in this expressionistic painting. But Gibson also sees healing here and a hum as soft and spiritual as a prayer, and I do too.

Poet Elizabeth Hanson discovers the essence of a perfect leaf in Bill Brissette’s color photograph, “Fallen Leaf.” Hansen’s touching poem inhabits her dream-life and the leaf fallen is a gift like no other, coming directly from the gods.

Charles Harper also taps into his dream life in order to make verbal sense of Ben Pohl’s acrylic painting, “You Live Inside Their Ideas.” Like the patriarch Jacob, Harper wrestles with the incomprehensible and reaches out toward the texture of a cave wall.

In an interesting approach Lawrence Kessenich’s poem, Brief Vacation, translates Greg Kullberg’s” Block Island Wave” by way of other senses: odor and touch. Kessenich smells the memory inducing brine as

his hands submerge in dishwater. In his mind’s eye children breast the cold surf, whales spout, and sandpipers motor up the sand. All this from a inland distance, and a gifted poet.

“Arianna,” a striking oil painting by Edwina Caci, offers a formidable challenge because of its singular level of excellence. Irene Koronas, with her poem Girl, Wearing A Hat, is up to it. Koronas intersperses her spot on descriptive passages with an impressionistic study, giving the child movement and filling her out with the poet’s own hopes and desires,

…she bends to pick pebbles growing under her…


…on golden horizon her simple reply, mute, oval face

without the lace beside a tea cup…


Thomas Libby’s poem Ovaphobia takes inspiration from Kathleen Mullins Mogayzel’s drawing, “Robin Quartet” and runs with it. He writes a poem on the need for human gentleness using the provided egg metaphor. He deems gentleness essential not just for our persons, but for our posterity.

The black and white photograph, Vuitton, by Richard Mulcahy portrays a large fashion poster on a narrow brick street. Gloria Mindock, in her poem Entrapment, imagines the photograph coming alive and details some profound humor-filled aspects. Mindock speculates that the woman has no teeth and that the young woman’s comely legs might be weaponized and used to trip passersbys. A question then arises. Is the beautiful woman portrayed on the poster from a Fellini movie or a Woody Allen one?

Like an alchemist Tomas O’Leary’s poem Red Rose Tea transmutes the precious reflections in Kathy Ferrara’s watercolor of the same name into verbal gold. O’Leary’s poem becomes the internal conversation of a very astute art critic. His lines in turn crackle with wit and sparkle like crystal. I like these especially,

The ghostly ewer they’d coveted and bought

When Lady Grey’s estate went on the block.

See how the great-eared ewer’s belly holds

Spectral reduction of the teascape,

Doily to vase to solitary tea cup.

Miriam O’Neal’s relates the rules of dream-life in her poem, In case you are wondering, which interprets Terry Kole’s acrylic, pen and ink piece entitled “A Whole New World.” The drawing captures you in a fable and the poem delivers surprising insight. Consider this,

Dreams talk to one another all day


A good dream will never interrupt a nightmare.

Rene Schwiesow’s poem, Shades, fleshes out Ivy Francis’ color photograph “Missing You” with gut wrenching sadness. Schwiesow writes a love poem/ meditation on death set in winter on the ocean shore as affecting as any I’ve read in years. The starkness and the cold permeate through you as you breathe in this piece. She infuses her poem with classical images of shades and coins and, of course, the ferryman. This is really well done.

The fact that Linda Vopat’s oil painting of intersecting colored fields offers no clue as to its source and is titled “untitled” doesn’t stop poet Bert Stern for a second. His poem, Plymouth Art Show, begins wonderfully,

To each her own harbor, his meadow or hill,

this ancient oak, these fish, butterflies, sun-

rise or sunset- each scene born out of


Stern seems to be riding these colors, testing borders, and playing in the texture. His internalized aesthetics hint at the deeply spiritual while continuing to frolic. This poet loves what he does.

Susan Cook Thanas meditates on Amelia Earharts biography in her poem Amelia. She seems to use Edwina Caci’s oil painting called “Amelia Earhart” to charge up. Awe and admiration then carry her through this delightful mini-portrait.

The poem, Boat in Sea Grass After Fishing, by Sheila Twyman attaches a way of life to the color photograph “Skiff on Seagrass” offered by D. Peter Collins. The fisherman in the poem admires the cagyness of the bluefish he is unable to catch. His line is drifting with the tide, but that is not important. He is listening to a symphony of color. And, more importantly, his home awaits his return with his wife, Elsie, whom he loves.

In alated ’12 the poet Miriam Walsh transforms herself into her subject. The watercolor, “Dragon Fly Lady,” by Pat Bianco weaves this magic,

I swim, I sleep, I dream.

nourishing myself upon the black

until upon a lotus root I alight,

rising from it own dark seed.

Walsh then dreams of procreation and a “womb surfaces into the sky” and offers the art of a new creation. A fragile piece, but astounding.

I’m told that the Plymouth Center for the Arts intends to host a redo of this event sometime in the future. If you have any creative spark in your soul, go. You’ll not regret it.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Review of The Collected Poems of Jared Smith

Review of The Collected Poems of Jared Smith

  • ISBN-13: 9781935520702
  • Publisher: The New York Quarterly Foundation

Review by   Ralph Pennel

The Collected Poems of Jared Smith settles deep in the heart of the reader and settles the reader deep in the heart of the heartland. The work in this collection is both intensely personal and of a common language that, at times, expands as wide as any sweeping plain or open field in tenor and voice, and, at other times is equally as singular in breadth. The Collected Poems spans nine books and forty years of Smith’s career as a writer and encapsulates the vastness of his ethic and vision. The works housed in this collection capture not only the visage of Smith’s view of the world around him through careful and thoughtful observations of the land and the people of the land, but they capture the visage of Smith himself, as well.

From the first book (Song of the Blood: An Epic) to the last (Grassroots), and including the “uncovered poems,” Jared Smith’s voice is resonant. Timeless. Unwavering. Each poem is a clear pronouncement, an ideation, and resolute. From word one to the very last intimation, Smith’s poetry is definitive. Each of his books, though singular in content, collectively gives rise to a singular voice.  That is because Smith’s primary concerns are of our humanity and of how we might live better, more meaningful lives, and, in doing so, how we might leave meaningful legacies of our lives as well, and he does so with uncommon restraint and patience.

These concerns rise up throughout Smith’s life’s work. The poem “Evening in the Heartland,” from, Keeping the Outlaw Alive, his first full-length book of poems and a paradoxical look at that which makes us honest and better for honoring that honesty, blemished or not, captures the aforementioned concern as well as any poem in the entire collection and with the same restraint and patience of his later works:

Our chances seem so remarkably small by now of finding anything. Yet, we
carry on. What a remarkable genius man is in his survival, in his ability to
look with amazement at even the darker rocks that will crush him when he
falls, and to find mystery and hope in them. (p. 209)

We are each of us always surviving regardless of our positions in life, of where we reside, or of the luxuries we may or may not have at our disposal. It is in the survival that we are forged by circumstance, rendered accessible, common, humane. And, it is exactly this, this constant demarcation, this remodeling of ourselves toward accessibility, that “makes us [simultaneously]/ An opening into the stars / And as distant as a stranger’s hands” (p. 205).

This exploration, this call to truthfully examine our lives despite the consequences, is further evidenced in the book, Walking the Perimeters of the Plate Glass Window Factory. But in this book there is also a sense of resignation, the poems here as rooted to place and identity as the soil itself. In works such as “He Who Says The Name of God Will Perish,” Smith, with the same patience toward recovering ourselves as “Evening in the Heartland,” asks, “What is life / when we cannot reach out and feel our skin against the cold stone of night / and find the warmth we do not find within ourselves” (p. 260)?
Even the poems about other things are really about our humanity, about identity, about affirmation through acceptance. This is most evident in Lake Michigan and Other Poems, a seminal book in the collection, and a book firmly rooted to the heartland, the Midwest, where Smith lived for much of his adult life. It is a book, however, that marks a more mature (but no more reticent) voice, where Smith’s sense of his own humanity seeps in and mixes in with his other concerns, reflectively.  “When It’s Time to Go,” is a perfect example of this latter development:

            It was quarried deep beneath the earth
                          where it is dark
                                        and light comes only
                                                       with a chisel
                                                                       or dynamite
                                                                                     and is everlasting
            except that some part of the stone retains darkness
            and holds it deep within its heart
                          while the boot soles of other hearts bounce off.
            You wander there
                          after the thanks
                                         and you go home. (p. 354)

We sense this relatedness again, and with no less eloquence and with no less concern for the greater humanity, in “Beyond the Season” from the book Grassroots:

            Winter is a type of entropy
            where the wind socks down mountain valleys
            heaving boulders from frost cracked perches,
            spreading alluvial plains across the heart
            white and then gone as wind boils tarmac.
            If there were time I would say we wait it out . . . (p. 577)

The Collected Poems of Jared Smith is testament to a life of poetry well lived, and we by virtue of Smith’s generous voice, are members of this well-lived life, too. To read the poetry of Jared Smith is to stand beside him, to live with him “in the plate glass window factory, [where] the workers never go home / not even when they fish dark rivers beneath the stars” (p. 261). The Collected Poems is a work that carries with it the weight of consciousness.  It is not the consciousness of glowing embers, but rather, of the igniting breath. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Unselfish Memoirist: Ploughshares Founder

The Unselfish Memoirist: Ploughshares Founder
DeWitt Henry reads at Endicott College

by Michael T. Steffen

This Thursday evening (28 March 2012) the Endicott College reading series, organized and hosted by the founder of Ibbetson Street Press Doug Holder, welcomed memoirist and founding editor of Ploughshares DeWitt Henry as its guest speaker. While Mr. Henry’s seminal associations with Ploughshares, one of the most respected literary magazines in America, would be enough to draw interest on any campus – and Endicott faculty and student turnout witnessed to the occasion – the readings and discussion given by the speaker highlighted Henry’s memoirs, in particular passages from Sweet Dreams a family history (Hidden River Press, Philadelphia  2011). It is a book of great patience and personal research, which Thomas Larson best sums up:

Ranging from early childhood to the death of his parents, DeWitt Henry’s Sweet Dreams is among the more unselfish memoirs you’ll encounter. What’s so engaging about this book is Henry’s kaleidoscope of family mishaps and cultural adventures that involve him in someone else’s becoming, which, in turn, come to be his own. The memoir portrays with warmth and grace how we mature in the crowded many more so than we do in the isolated self.

Reading from a few of the more dramatic passages of the book, Henry spoke of the implicit “contract” between the memoirist and the reader, binding the writer to stay faithful to things and accounts as they were and happened – opposed to any inclination he may have to embellish. He suggested the responsibility of the memoirist, in particular, to confront the damage behind the scenes of the fantasies much of literature’s euphemistic tendencies produce – even betraying the allurement of his book’s title, Sweet Dreams, evoking the candy factory his father owned and operated.

     For those who have read Sweet Dreams, it would be hard to think that much – if anything – had been added or omitted. That said, Henry revealed that his brother Chuck didn’t altogether agree with him on all of the accounts of their childhood.

     I hesitate to give much detail of the book, not only for the reader, but with an instinct that the heavier matter of Sweet Dreams is DeWitt Henry’s to tell. Before the reading, I had a chance to chat with him about some of the book’s memorable marginalia, the hushed nearly sacred aura that banks used to have, the milkman dropping pints of milk and cream off at the door in the morning, bailing hay on a ranch in Colorado… These few instances don’t begin to account for the wealth of detail in the book, yet remind me of the source of pleasure and meaning I received reading it. Henry’s memoir served as a pathway to the things and events of my own young life, from childhood on through to my struggles, fears and modest accomplishments as a college student and then as a teacher and writer.

     Importantly, in our somewhat egocentric society, DeWitt Henry, in his writing as well as in person, conveys the notion that a self, the “I,” is, “unselfish,” composed so much of the things and people surrounding the observer’s consciousness – all we take in dearly, with challenge or discomfort, as encouragement or threat to ourselves.

Listening to Henry, I thought of the poem “Keeping Things Whole” by Mark Strand:

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
To keep things whole.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Instrument of Others Leonard J. Cirino

The Instrument of Others
Leonard J. Cirino
Lummox Press 2012
ISBN 978-1-929878-33-8

“If they had their way” is the first poem in this book
and it lets the reader freely wonder throughout the their
thoughts without fear, because without free thought or
free form, a lot of the contemporary writers and readers
would be boxed in by stricter forms, such as, keeping in
a straight line and if your not into freedom, I suggest,
dear reader, you might want to read another book of poetry,
more suitable to your inclinations, because this book
is about freedom:

“the Bishops would kill me
as would the heathens and heretics,
the Commies, and surely the fascists.

At best, the do-gooders and quasi-liberals
would silence me because
if I were to call myself anything
it would be mystical anarchist;

my thoughts like birds,
always flying free.”

Modern Greeks name holiness as 'bright sadness.'  Cirino refers
to light as, “but a pale sorrow” and my sorrow ebbs in knowing this;
this is the first time I've read Cirino's poetry.  This grieves me, knowing
there is no other way to speak with him, to let him know how inspired
I am by his work, his words, his poems shine on the page. I will
content myself with communing with his poems on the page. “all I can
put in the bag of this poem.” Each and every one of his verses,
leaps over the moon:

“A Sacred Madness

I didn't want to listen but the wind, the sea,
howled the world's blood-stained torments.

I turned my thoughts inside my ears
and there a scarlet madness screamed.

Behind the sky, the moon succumbed
to dawn, the twilight gleamed in pain.

My head bowed to darkness,
life was wretched, struggle dreary.

Years later I lay down in woods
and bloomed among the ferns.”

The cruelty, for me is, he writes the universal truths, the song
we all want to sing but we get caught-up into the worldly net
and then we are left without those few poets who can bring us
into the cathedrals, temples, or the landscape ecstasy, brought
to us through the music, words can and must bare. The poems
are, at times, as religious as they are anarchist:

“In a Church
        for Akhmatova

In a church or another place with music
some men die with a tortured beauty,
but women, women's poems are fire
written into the ash of history.”...

Who else in these contemporary times, can pave the way,
who can purify our thoughts, who can just let the want to write
with night beauty. who writes with true ocean verbs. Do you know
how hard it is for me to write a review for this eminent book?
It feels unbearable, like cutting down a tulip magnolia tree
in full bloom. The book must be read and not reviewed:

“Unaware I'd Fallen

Not knowing where I'm going, I walk
in the dark, unaware I've fallen
and landed on some moss. Soft
and comfortable, it's my bed for the night.
I curl up and pull my dog close. She sighs
and moans in her sleep. Arm for a pillow,
I watch the moon fall off the western edge.”

The reader would be foolish not to have this book on their
shelf or on the floor next to their beds.

“Less is More-Two Geese 
for Ava

Not much nest making left, we've had our share.
Now we're like homing geese, tipped wing to wing.”

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