Saturday, April 14, 2012

Performance of Berryman’s Dream Songs To Be Part of Grolier Benefit

Performance of Berryman’s Dream Songs
To Be Part of Grolier Benefit

An upcoming benefit for the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square will include a performance of Homage to Henry: A Dramatization of John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. The one-act, one-person play, adapted by Jim Vrabel, will be performed on Wednesday, May 16th, at 7 p.m. at the Oberon Theatre, 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge. The performance will be followed by a Poetry Open Mic, hosted by Harris Gardner of Tapestry of Voices.

John Berryman was one of America’s greatest poets and The Dream Songs is one of the masterpieces of American poetry. But its “wrenched syntax, scrambled diction, [and] extraordinary leaps of language and tone” can confound readers. Homage to Henry transforms the poems into a more accessible play and brings to the stage the unforgettable character of Henry, as he encounters wine and women; faculty meetings, fame, and family; old age and God. The play also presents Henry’s portraits of his fellow poets - “expression’s kings” like Frost, Stevens, Williams, Schwartz, and Plath. Poet Paul Mariani, Berryman’s biographer, calls Homage to Henry “a sad and very human story, as stark in its way as anything in Samuel Beckett.”

Admission to the event is $15. All proceeds go to the Grolier, the oldest continuously operated poetry book shop in the United States. For tickets online: In advance: Grolier, 6 Plympton Street, Cambridge. On the night of the show: Oberon Box Office beginning at 6 p.m. For more information, call the Grolier at 617-547-4648.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam: Selected and Translated by Christian Wiman

Stolen Air
Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam
Selected and Translated by Christian Wiman
Copyright 2012 by Christian Wiman
Softbound, 81 pages,  $15.99
ISBN 978-0-06-209942-6

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Translations of poets, particularly Eastern European and even more particularly Russian poets are often difficult for any number of reasons: circumstances under which the poems were written, the difference in language and idioms and most often as we read in English translations of poets like Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and Mandelstam we are reading the translator’s version of what he or she thinks brings an accurate representation to us. I have read such complaints in the past about Rilke’s poetry and Neruda’s. Often I dismiss these complaints because I would have no access to the poet and the poems were they not translated by enterprising translators willing to take on such daunting tasks.

A number of years ago I purchased The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin. (New York Review of Books, 1973). These renderings I often found sparse, harsh the way I imagined Mandelstam may have meant them. However, Brown in his introduction makes clear that Merwin has translated Mandelstam into Merwin in the same way Lowell and Nabokov translated Russian poets into Lowell and Nabokov.

So here I am with Wiman’s translation, Stolen Air, Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam accompanied by Ilya Kaminisky’s introduction, which by way of personal preference I find more interestingthorough.  For example, Kaminsky calls Mandelstam a lyric poet which Brown and Merwin clearly did not. Plus Kaminisky spends far more meaningful time on Mandelstam’s Jewish background. 

But all that has In the Merwin version, for example, the poem Black Earth begins thusly:

            Manured, blackened, worked to a fine tilth, combed
            like a stallion’s mane, stroked under wide air,
            all the loosened ridges cast up in a single choir,
            the damp crumbs of my earth and my freedom!

Wiman, however, first changes the poem from four line stanzas thus his opening lines read as follows:

            Earthcurds, wormdirt, worked to a rich tilth.     
            Everything air, star; everything earth.

            Like a choir acquiring one clean sound—brief ringing
            These wet crumbs claim and proclaim my freedom.              

Clearly there is a difference, not only in style but in language, Wiman making, I believe, Mandelstam not only lyric, but more accessible to those who have either not read Mandelstam previously or have struggled with previous translations.

In another poem Wiman brings American sensibility of beauty to stark Russian language which, we must remember, was in its original written in the worst of times for many Russians.  Czarist Russia was not a happy play land, especially for Jewish poets, and Stalinist Russia was certainly not an improvement, and in fact for Mandelstam, his poetry proved to be his undoing, sent off to Siberia he died at the age of 47.

Here is one of my favorite versions by Wiman:

Bring me to the brink of mountains, mystic
Dread, rapture of fear I feel and …fail.
Still: the swallow slicing blue is beautiful.
Stil: the cloud-tugged bell tower’s frozen music.

There is in me a man alive, a man alone,
Who, heart-stopped above a deep abyss,
Can hear a snowball grow one snowflake less,
The clock-tick accretions of dust becoming stone.

No. I am not that man, not that sadness
With its precise ice, its exquisite rue.
The pain that sings in me does not sing, and is true.

O whirlwind, O real wind
In which the avalanche is happening,
All my soul is bells, which will not ring.

With Stolen Air Wiman brings a modern sensibility, a beauty of language previous editions of Mandelstam may not have attempted or succeeded in fulfilling. Yes,Wiman’s is a new Mandelstam, a revision of what has come before and a pace setting for what may come after.  Highly recommended.


Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle and  Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Attention Somerville Poets and Poetry Lovers: The Mass. Poetry Festival!

By Doug Holder

 Well it is poetry month, and although T.S. Eliot characterized it as the cruelest month, it is not for poets. I mean our landscape is littered with poetry events. For the past few years I have been on the Advisory Board for the Mass. Poetry Festival, that started in Lowell, Mass. and since has moved to Salem, Mass. Mike Ansara , who founded the festival, January O'Neil and Jennifer Jean as well as countless others have nurtured the festival in impressive ways. From April 20 to 22 there are a plethora of events in Salem that you can enjoy: readings, music events, slams, a  small press fair, and the beat goes on.  The website for the said Festival is: Below is an article from the website of the Mass. Poetry Festival that gives you valuable information. Hope to see you there!


The fourth Massachusetts Poetry Festival will be held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 20–22, in historic Salem. The three-day event, which will bring 1,500 poets and poetry lovers to the city, will showcase a variety of extraordinary local and regional poets, and engage the public through poetry readings, interactive workshops, panel discussions, music, film and visual arts, and performances geared toward a diverse statewide audience.

  • Readings by emerging and nationally recognized poets including:
    • Friday Night: Robert Pinsky, Major Jackson, & Maggie Dietz
    • Saturday Night: Sherwin Bitsui, Nikky Finney, Wesley McNair, & Joy Harjo
    • Sunday afternoon: Frank Bidart, Martha Collins, & Stephen Dunn
  • An exciting lineup of programming created by the Peabody Essex Museum
  • An expansive Small Press Fair
  • A Literary Magazine Fair
  • Poetry slams
  • Poetry-inspired music performances and visual arts
  • A poetry train from Boston to Salem to provide both transportation and another venue for poetry
“The Massachusetts Poetry Festival will bring a blizzard of verbal beauty to Salem, a city with a rich literary history and vibrant writing community. It will connect generations, and it will give the city and the university a leadership role in building culture in the Commonwealth,” said J.D. Scrimgeour, poet and professor of English at Salem State University. “The Poetry Festival is evidence of the vitality of the fundamental, central art of poetry,” said Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States and the honorary chair of the poetry festival.

This year’s festival follows a variety of small events across the state organized by schools, libraries, and bookstores in April as part of National Poetry Month.

For National Poetry Month, Mass Poetry will:

  • Produce Common Threads, a set of poems by Massachusetts poets to be read throughout March and April by schools, colleges, public libraries, book clubs, community poetry reading series, etc.
  • Produce a kit that includes the poems in text form, in audio form, a guide to reading and discussing each poem and several essays about each poem

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Court Green Columbia College Chicago

Court Green
Columbia College Chicago

Review by Rene Schwiesow

At home she lives happily
on yoghurt, Diet-Pepsi and
the occasional celery stalk.
But take her out to diner
and, Boy can she eat!

“Miss Blank,” appears mid-way through “Court Green 9” and caused me to grin, then to chuckle with recognition.  “Court Green” is a poetry journal, founded in 2004, that is published in association with the English Department of Columbia College in Chicago.  “Court Green” is named for the property in Devon, England that was home to Sylvia Plath.  Plath wrote many of her most well-known poems at Court Green, including the Ariel poems.  The journal was awarded an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award.  This is easy to understand given the work that Court Green publishes.

In a section entitled, “Poems and Fragments,” Elise Cowan says:  “I don’t want to make your poem out of dead jonquils & stored crocus bulbs that may never bloom again but the shocks of memories that will live again.”

Court Green is filled with shocks of memories, of words that breathe through lines such as:

Dear God of the bent trees of Fifth Avenue
Only pour my willful dust up your veins

and in

At the acting class
The perfect paper daffodil
Upstages us all.

Throughout the book the work references iconic poets like Anne Sexton and speaks to mythological concepts as in “Take it With You,” where Charon receives a nod:

In ancient times, the dead carried
two coins into the Underworld. . .

. . .no one asked what the ferryman did with all
that cash, emptying his wallet before bed. . .

I had to admit that I had never considered what Charon did with all those coins.  And indeed, as the poet concludes, the trip is “a one way ticket across the river to where/there is nothing the dead could buy.” 

“Court Green 9” contains works of varying lengths from extremely short poetic snippets a few words long to lengthier, narrative poems.  Each issue of “Court Green” includes a dossier on a specific topic.  The theme of “Court Green 10” will be sex.  The submission period is March 1, 2012 until June 30, 2012.  Submission is snail mail only.  For complete guidelines visit the website at:

*****Rene Schwiesow is a co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue The Art of Words.  She writes a monthly arts column in The Old Colony Memorial and enjoys reading her work as feature poet and at open mics.