Friday, April 27, 2012

Coyote Bush Poems from the Lost Coast By Peter Nash

Coyote Bush

Poems from the Lost Coast

By Peter Nash

Off The Grid Press

69 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

The beauty of the natural world skulks around the edges of these poems, making inroads here and there. The impressive color photograph of a coyote bush on the cover, almost a montage of direct light and shadow, sets the ambivalent tone as mankind’s sensitivity confronts the indifference of nature.

The poem Sitting Under a Maple Tree portrays the poet’s persona resting under a tree, observing nature and its gorgeousness, and looking up at the sky for yet more inspiration (an upstairs, downstairs effect) . Seems almost perfect, but, alas there are a couple of problems. The poet demands food, warmth, and affection. All would be right he says if

…someone brought me

Bacon and eggs for supper,

Covered my shoulders with a blanket

From November to April

And kissed me good night

But even then he would be subject, like all living things, to the aging process—admittedly natural, but unpleasant for most of us. He says,

…I’d be

No great green tree

From whose branches white birds sing hosannas,

But an ancient horse

All hide and bone

Alone in a pasture

Feet splayed

Bowing to the earth.

In his poem Tracks, Nash lies down in the dry needle imprint left by a doe and her newborn. Is he communing with nature, becoming one with a pantheistic earth spirit? Well, sort of. At first the poet’s soul and the doe’s soul simply merge in a moment of apparent understanding. But there is more (again upstairs, downstairs). High over grounded nature,


stands with his great bow by the River Eridanus.

Beside him the deerhounds

Tense at his sudden whistle,

Then rush down the star trails.

The killers from on high are also driven by natural instinct, lest the poet forget.

The affecting dedication of this book reads, “For Judy, who figures in some of these poems and all of my life.” It occurs to me that the beautiful, yet cruel context of nature only heightens human emotions such as love with tragedy and intensity. One good example of this is the poem entitled After You. The poet details the degradation of his household, the loss of pleasant detail and tasty cuisine. The meditation then turns internal. His thought patterns would change. The light would leave the sky. And finally the essence,

I’d gradually withdraw from the future.

There’d be nothing to look forward to—

No smell of rice pilaf and garlic,

No watching videos side by side,

Nor you breathing when I wake up.

In Judy’s Garden, Nash sees clearly the detail’s of his aging wife: her sore back, her dirty gloves, her baggy jeans, her gray hair. These are now inseparable from their shared life, their memories, and most importantly, his love for her:

“You look the same as ever,” I say.

She’s wearing her father’s felt fedora,

her gray hair in a neat bunch

covering the little hump above her shoulder blades

that doctor Dick said was osteoporosis.

“Yeah, right,” she calls out…

Maybe that’s a sarcastic “yeah, right,” or maybe it is an embarrassed “yeah, right,” but she knows for a moment anyway that he’s telling the truth. Love’s intensity cannot be hidden. It’s impossible.

Young love is expressive and sometimes explosive. Timeless love is more subtle and sometimes depends on subordinate clauses and gestures. The scene is the poet’s birthday party. He’s giving a speech and says,

At this age you can’t expect to run a mile,

I announce, looking at Judy,

and you’re damn lucky to hobble the distance

with someone who gives you a hand…

Later in bed:

she says she liked the part

about giving someone a hand,

then wiggles her toes against my feet—

our old signal…

The scene ends wonderfully with man’s unique or artificial nature resisting the pull of the natural order of things. In the poet’s words,

my bantam cock crows,

another old man yelling at the moon.

Nash expands his vision of man’s domesticity under siege with an extraordinary poem called The Garden. It begins with a description of wildness and beauty,

Once this was the flood plain of a river.

Bunch grass and wild oats fluttered in the silty soil

and poppies followed the sun with golden faces.

Then comes the tale of how this wild was made habitable for humans by art or, to be specific, his wife’s vision of her garden.

She put the garden in by herself,

mixed peat moss with fertilizer in the wheelbarrow

then eased dozens of roses

into the chocolate earth.

She planted the potted salvia,

wrinkled pea-like seeds of nasturtiums,

onions, carrot starts, the chunky eyes of potatoes,

three kinds of summer squash,

and dug iris bulbs in deep.

Once the earth has been defined by her art, the poet marvels at his wife’s closeness to and her understanding of nature,

She loves the feel of dirt between her palms,

the shovel against her boot,

the pull of the hose against her hip,

the heft of buckets dragging her shoulders.

Sometimes he sees her head bend close to the earth

inhaling the rough viney smell of green tomatoes.

There is an end of course. It may be tragic as man’s destiny will end as it began. Or maybe it is a marvel that it took place at all. The poem ends this way

In twenty years they’ll be gone,

the garden a few stalky rose bushes

poking up through the grass.

Plenty of time, he thinks,

for the ragged coyote bush,

the milk thistle,

to come back in.

And then, just possibly, somewhere in time, someone else will plant another garden and human love, so obvious in these poems, will flower again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Philip Larkin, The Complete Poems Edited by Archie Burnett

Philip Larkin, The Complete Poems
Edited by Archie Burnett
Copyright 2012 by The Estate of Philip Larkin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardbound, 729 pages,  $40.00
ISBN 978-0-374-12696-4

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

You get a book of collected poems and think you have everything by that poet. But the new Philip Larkin, The Complete Poems edited by Archie Burnett is the penultimate book that every Larkin fan (and even those not totally familiar with his poetry) will want to have in his or her library. In fact, Burnett points out in his introduction the failures of previous editions of Larkin’s poetry. 

One thing about the British and certain academicians is their ability to dredge up every bit of minutiae on a given subject. And this is what makes Burnett’s Larkin collection complete.  Burnett has seemingly plumbed everything and anything extant on Larkin and crammed it into this volume.

Purists believe that publishing material an author chose not to publish is overstepping because he [Larkin] either had some reason not to publish them or felt they were not of sufficient merit to see in print. Yet, by choosing to do so Burnett has revealed a Larkin who is complete, that is to say, we gather new insights into a poet who ranks among England’s favorites both in his lifetime and after.

Burnett, however, does not stop merely with poems, he adds 339 pages of text notes that
trace nearly every source Larkin can be shown to have drawn on, and even, according to
a publicity piece, may have half-consciously drawn on.

Just published, this book is worth every cent, and includes poems from The North Ship, The Less Deceive, The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows. Also included are other poems published in Larkin’s lifetime and poems not published in his lifetime as well as undated or approximately dated poems.  These are followed by commentary on the poems and appendices which include Larkin’s early collections of his poems, dates of compositions and finally an index of titles and first lines.

Burnett is co-director of the Editorial Institute and professor of English at Boston University.  And this marvelous undertaking will be hard for anyone to improve on and lovers of poetry owe him a grand thank you for this work.

Why is Larkin loved? He had an ability to put class in its place and academicians in theirs, witness the following:

Epigram on an Academic Marriage

You see that man? He has a month-old wife
He married from emotional cupidity,
Hoping she’d ‘put him into touch with Life’—
Now finds all she’s in touch with is stupidity.

Or this view of age:

Long Sight in Age

They say eyes clear with age,
As dew clarifies air
To sharpen evenings,
As if time put an edge
Round the lost shape of things
To show them there;
The many-levelled trees,
The long soft ties of grass
Wincing away, the gold
Wind-ridden vanes – all these,
They say, come back to focus
As we grow old

These are but two short poems in a book full of magnificent poetry, a number of them quite longer. And as you read them remember that he never married and was quite anti-social, according to some sources I have read.  Yet Larkin’s ability to touch cords is what will make you love this book as much as I do.  Very Highly Recommended.


Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010) and Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 20110)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rosie Rosenzweig: Creativity with passion and compassion.

Rosie Rosenzweig: Creativity with passion and compassion.

  By Doug Holder

  Rosie Rosenzweig is a woman who has studied the creative mind for years and has found that creativity is a meditative process that often leads to compassion. She is a Jewish woman with a ravenous appetite for all things Buddhist, and speaks with a rapid fire cadence about many subjects with intelligence and authority.

  Rosenzweig’s early poetry was anthologized in the first gender-friendly American Hebrew prayer book as well as in various feminist anthologies. As the founder of the Jewish Poetry Festival in Sudbury Massachusetts, she hosted outstanding luminaries like the former the poet laureate Robert Pinsky.  Her more current poetry is being collected in a work-in-progress.

Rosenzweig’s interpretations of Biblical women appear in Reading Between the Lines, All the Women Followed Her, and Praise Her Works: Conversations with Biblical Women. Her essays have appeared in Ethical Wills, Making the Jewish Journey from Mid-life through the Elder Years, and the Foreword. Her travel memoir, A Jewish Mother in Shangri-la describes the Jewish Buddhist World of meditation.

Women’s Intergenerational issues have been a focus of her work and a recently completed a play, “Myths and Ms.” At Brandeis for almost a decade, she has been interviewing artists in various media and hosting a yearly panel at the Brandeis Rose Art Museum on the creative process in an effort to understand the psychological and spiritual state of consciousness present at the moment of creation. Defining how creativity can transform the artist, she has currently coined  a term called MotherArtTM.

I talked with Rosenzweig on my Somerville Community Access TV Show:   " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: Your early  poetry was anthologized in the first gender-friendly American Hebrew prayer book as well as in various feminist anthologies. Is there a need for a gender-friendly Hebrew prayer book?

Rosie Rosenzweig:  Who knows if God is a man?  Many women feel the feminine aspect of God has been underplayed. They feel that it is time for equal play. That particular prayer book was titled" Purify My Heart." I was written up in the Wall St. Journal, and other places. It is still being used years after it was released.

DH: Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer or a writer who is Jewish?

RR: Back in 1979 I characterized myself as a Jewish poet. I was publishing in Jewish journals, etc... Then my son, who became a Buddhist, took me to France, India and Nepal to meet his teachers. I started to consider Buddhism and wrote a lot about it and my experience with it.

DH: You have interviewed many artists and writers about their creative process  in an effort to understand the psychological and spiritual state of consciousness present at the moment of creation. You also believe that art has transformative power.

RR: I did a paper on this . It was with mothers and how they involved themselves in the mourning of their own mothers artistically: in films, installations, politically, etc... The Dali Lama says if you meditate compassion naturally arises. So one of my arguments is that creating is a form of meditation. When you meditate compassion arises--you let go of the story of your mother's grief and then the compassion comes into play.  For instance the artists I interviewed did creative work that helped the community in some way or a addressed a societal problem. One did a film on disability, one worked with the homeless, etc... And as you involve yourself in your creativity--you can't help but to be transformed in some way--like the women I studied.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Unguarded Crossing by Bob Brooks

Unguarded Crossing

Bob Brooks

Antrim House


Review by Rene Schwiesow

“Unguarded Crossing” is Brooks’ first full-length collection of poetry. However Brooks is no stranger to the written word or to publishing his work. From the nineties on, Brooks’ work has appeared in magazines such as “The Beloit Poetry Journal, “Mudfish Poetry,” “Poetry Northwest,” “Prairie Schooner,” and many others. He has also been published in three previous chapbooks: “Still in Here Someplace” by Pudding House Publications; “A Story Anyone Could Stick To” through Finishing Line Press; and “Three-season Views” also through Finishing Line Press.

Brooks began his post-Harvard life as an army translator, followed by a long-term career as an editor at a computer systems company before entering the writing/publishing arena. “Unguarded Crossing” has received praise from fellow poets, including Massachusetts born Susan Donnelly: “The poetry of Bob Brooks is both startling and inviting. . .”

After perusing Brooks’ Prologue poems and grinning over “One Reason,” a work that gives us an inkling as to why cats may not write poetry, I tumbled into section II, Closed Circle, to be met with one of my favorite sensory experiences, chocolate, in “Her Body Delectable.”

Like chocolate –

it’s so delicious,

I envy it.

My mind made the leap in those opening lines to Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric:” “This is the female form,/a divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot.” What else is chocolate if not divine? Brooks continues to play on the sensory later in the work with:

tongue to lips,

thinking, “These are her lips” or

“This is her tongue,”

and the delicious experience of licking chocolate from one’s lips like relishing the sweet taste of a lover brings a welcome sigh.

Brooks addresses many human themes. Taking leave of sexuality we also find love, conflict, loss and addiction. He deftly compares addiction to the apple Eve offered Adam in “What I Can’t.”

do is, I

can’t pick up

that first drink.

That’s it. Like

what God said

to Adam:

“Of every

tree may you

freely eat

but this one. . .

And loss in “For the Memorial:”

. . .pulling apart

till only their fingers

touch at the tips

to show the sky

empty, and the dark


There are many more wonderful poetic experiences in “Unguarded Crossing,” making this book well worth experiencing.

Rene Schwiesow co-hosts the popular South Shore poetry venue, The Art of Words in Plymouth and currently writes a monthly column on the arts, which appears in The Old Colony Memorial.