Saturday, June 02, 2012

English Poets Sue Guiney and Ruth O’Callaghan: Popping Over the Pond to Somerville, Mass.

                                                                  Sue Guiney

                                                          Ruth O'Callaghan

 English Poets Sue Guiney and Ruth O’Callaghan: Popping Over the Pond to Somerville, Mass.

By Doug Holder

  Recently on my show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer on Somerville Community Access TV I had the opportunity to interview two accomplished poets who were visiting from London:  Sue Guiney and Ruth O’Callaghan.

  Guiney, a native of New York City has lived in England for over 20 years. She has two poetry collections published, and recently a novel titled A Clash of Innocents that was published by Blue Chrome Publishing in 2006.

  Ruth O’Callaghan, a native of London holds the prestigious Hawthornden Fellowship and is a prize- winner in international competitions. She is an international competition adjudicator, and hosts two poetry venues in London. She is currently compiling a book of interviews with prominent women poets from around the globe.

Doug Holder: Ruth, how did you receive this American poet on the English scene?

Ruth O’Callaghan: Well Sue has a different voice and background. She is such a nice and outgoing person. She is not totally brash as some might expect being that she is from the States, and New York City. Perhaps she has been tempered by the English weather. (Laugh) I’ve known other American poets who have been brash.

DH: Both you and Sue have embraced poetry and writing and aligned it with charitable efforts.

RO: In my case I was at church and I happened to be sitting next to a minister. She told me a group of seven churches were banding together to read at homeless shelters. I became involved. I know extremely well-known poets who could read for free. They attracted an audience to the shelters. We took in money for the shelters and it has been a very successful effort. It is good for the hosting churches and publishers who get a free venue for their poets. A London venue costs up to 600 pounds. We have ordinary poets read with famous ones and some really good things have come from this. Publishers have found some very good poets at my venues and asked me to send them more.

Sue Guiney: Charitable work has not only come from my poetry but from my fiction. I have a novel that has come out of that is the first in a trilogy, Clash of Innocents and it takes place in modern day Cambodia. Cambodia is a country that I have grown to love over the past 5 or 6 years. Through the work I do in writing I have been able to connect with an educational shelter for street kids in the city of Siem Reap. I have set up a writing workshop in English for teenage kids in the shelter. The English program is being taught on-line and on-site, and I spend at least one month a year in Cambodia. When I teach online I give students editorial comments. I use the sales of my books to support the work that I do there. I am now the Writer-In-Residence to the SE Asia Department of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

DH:  Ruth you told me you were fearful about writing poetry at first?

RC: I just didn’t have any confidence. I always wanted to be a poet. I had been teaching Special Education students for years. But I felt I was wasting my time because I wasn’t fully committed. I then decided to commit myself to poetry. It was a turning point for me.

First Time
I didn’t stay with you forever,
although forever started that first night
when you lifted me into your arms
cradling me, not like a baby
but like a swan,
my long neck curling over
the muscles of your crooked arm.

Softly you settled me onto the quilt
your grandmother had wrapped around her treasures
as she said goodbye to home.
I remember the tired strength of the thread between
the panels, the softness of the fading cotton.

The skin around your chest was even softer,
and the tiny hairs that marched straight down, down,
down to where I’d never been before.

You were not heavy above me.
I don’t recall an unyielding force inside.
Instead, your body and mine,
your face, our lips,
the coverlet on top, the wrinkled sheets,
all were soft, safe, soft,
and stayed with me forever.
Sue Guiney

Notes on a Journey              

The Friends’ Cafe closes shortly.
The vending machine needs 50p’s.
Its cups need care, they disintegrate at touch.

                                                             But what is whole?
The crisp-clean touch and turn
                                                             of medics
inserting a catheter –          an addition
to your molecular composition?
                                              Half a mile of corridor
from here
                                                              a man
                                                                                    a body
                                      the slab
another – green capped, scrubbed –
                                       takes a knife
to discover what lies behind death.
He will be particular
in this particular death
from any other
– o, the wound may be the same
but was, is, the journey?


Friday, June 01, 2012

Handiwork Amaranth Borsuk

Amaranth Borsuk
Winner : 2011 Slope Book Prize
Slope Editions $14.00
ISBN: 978-0-9777698-7-2

“...the way
a reader pores over a text she might
fall into: learning their names...”

The poet trusts the reader to come to their own understanding,
their own images, beyond the implication, the shadows words
leave. The words pass from meaning to experience:

“The hand that had its work cut out for it was cut out
for its work. Knuckling down on the desk, it curled
to a tool not there, scissors that might replace pen
with loop and lever, flexed: machinely precision-
potential at rest...”

Borsuk uses gematria, “a clue to the author's procedure lies
in the mystical Jewish practice of gematria, which assigns
numerical value to a letter, word, or phrase”:

“Salt king, for what did you walk,

for war or dreams,

everyone as

nothing to you?

Lake moon     milk tooth,

semaphore      lockdown.”

We know the poems practice a principle, which we may or may
not be familiar to the reader. The poems stand on their own as
poems, experimental, lyrical, and language::

“if a flower confesses its shame in a little book
if fire burns only windows and doors
if fruit turns to stone in your hands
if food turns to dust in your mouth
if the things of this world are more or less beautiful than
you remembered...”

For me the poems read like an objective abstract painting, revising
the form, being partial in its rendering of the objective, these poems
do the same as a painting. We fill in the images and play with colors::

“Fartherking slew the city

and everything

in it – would not spare

even an ear

of wheat – turning earth

cruel with salt.”

The poems are not obscure, they open and close and we participate
in the action,; in not saying everything, we get to experience our own
poems. The reader either enjoys negotiating the implications
or the reader relates in ways that make sense to them because of
their own exposure to new writing::

“Tenders of salt, shaken,

rendered empty,    still.

Harvest's jealously

guarded privilege: naming

a price

in small hard seeds.”

My criticism is not in the poems but in the reviews or the critique
of poems such as these. Yes the poems are intellectual and in thinking about
the word intellectual I find it dismissive of the actual poems and dismissive
of the content of the poems. For me the word intellectual limits the poems. The
poems are as any poem or almost most any poem, that resonates with certain

“Who / make /s/ life / edible
has / the same / / worry / every day,

it's out of date.
That /fear of / getting late
or letting / go,

liver / heavy / in / wonder
at / all / that / promise.”

In the experience of Borsuk's poems, I find the tint, the fallen
words, the replications, the handiwork. I recommend this book.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Western Motel, Wendy Drexler

Western Motel, Wendy Drexler (Cincinnati OH: Turning Point, 2012),
90 pages, paper. ISBN: 978-1936370702. $18.

Review by Joanne DeSimone Reynolds

An Edward Hopper painting captures the essence of human aloneness against an indifferent American landscape, whether urban, rural, or open as a prairie. And so do the poems in Wendy Drexler’s first collection, “Western Motel,” which takes its name as well as its cover illustration from the Hopper painting. With courage and a light touch these poems speak to the personal struggle of shedding one’s past, often one of disillusionment, and of finding, with intrinsic American style, a way to reinvent one’s self. The book opens with this startling and effective poem, “Janis Joplin At Monterey:”

Hoarse with it, coarse with it,

                         the shrill trills and come-on cries,

no slaking that voice, that thirst a saber

               of thistles and pearl,

                       that American way of making it

all up, severing the tyranny

               of home ties, peacocking,

                           packed tight in gold lame

like gunpowder,

                          her colonies rebellious, and all

                       embargoed cargo         dumped

                                                from the dock.

Drexler has chosen well, for Joplin is an icon of the scorched soul in search of a new self, and the poet’s raw and peacocky language hits the right note, grabbing center stage. The implication here is that the American impulse for self- reinvention originated in colonial times when colonists threw off the tax shackles of the paternalistic British in a revolt known as the Boston Tea Party.

The speaker in these poems, who could be the woman in the painting with her direct gaze, wants to tell us about how she got here, about the life or lives she has lived, and where she may be headed.  In the poem, “The City Of The Cruise Ship Valor,” the speaker announces, “I am a little god on vacation / entitled . . . I spend hours steeping/ in a whirlpool, arrange my pedicure . . . I bought perfume / a leather wallet from the poor / in every port.” At the end she offers “Forgive me” to her female steward after she brings her Dramamine, as if the speaker has been trying on a fancy lifestyle but feels a fraud.

In the taut lyric, “Parking Lot,” the speaker likens herself to a starling that “shakes / itself out all over, spangle-singing / into the wind’s wide mouth,” poet bird-song as Anthem.  And “Unemployment” is a waiting line made visible in its column down the page as it describes the people in line. By the end the speaker realizes that she must be her “own second cup / of coffee, strong,” shoring herself in strikingly concise language.

The keen eye behind the poems sees, in “Sunday Morning Bowling League,” that “No matter what happened yesterday / or what might come in the night / they take their strikes, their spares, / seriously, anchored in camaraderie— / high-fives, the slapping of shoulders, / nice ball” as if the league has replaced family, and the supportive banter among its members becomes a prescription for caring about and living with one another. Drexler homes in with great compassion on a contemporary tendency of secular morality to replace that of church-Sunday. And in the poem, “Deluxe Town Diner,” a sense of possibility and of salvation comes across with humor in the ever present staples of a diner: “Refuge of the Dream—Gulden’s / spicy brown on Hebrew National, / honey bear, bottle of Tabasco, / cartel of napkins, … polyglot Reubens and Rachels, Cobb salad, / democratic potpies. … Deep in our duct- / taped booth, we are sated.” 

A long poem in eighteen parts, “Gas Stations, Drive-ins, The Bright Motels” makes up the entire middle section of the book. It is written in the voice of a child of divorce, and is moving in its ability to relay the child’s anguish in direct childlike language: “When / I play, I play alone: separate / into families my trading cards— / horses from flowers from birds.” “Daddy is generous with his ladle / of small talk.” With a life of shuttling between a new home and Mommy’s boyfriends, and visits with Daddy at his home or in motels, the child must “pretend Mommy and Daddy / are married again, and I’m in / the orphanage” waiting to be chosen by her parents as if to affirm that she was ever wanted. And in the concluding part she must “trace [her]self back into being.” With great deft, Drexler makes us feel the tragedy of how early in life this urge to re-imagine one’s place in the world becomes an imperative.

The title poem, part of a series from “Hopper Landscapes,” is in the last section of the collection. Written in the voice of the woman in the painting it speaks of “hills that gather into loaves” as if they are a form of sustenance for her. She laments: “To be the one. To be the only one, / my wrists shapely and disconsolate. / My fingers grip the bedrail hard. / I console myself with light detached / from the empty wall.” Always the desire to be somebody to someone, tinged with the angst of a return to isolation, shown with the solid shapes and deep tones of Hopper.

There are poems here of assertion as well as longing. In “Sun In An Empty Room,” the speaker implores, “Don’t call it empty, call it waiting, / if you are.” In “Riding Bareback,” “I let loose the reins, lean forward, // grip his withers, the cord of his warm neck, //
whisper into his chestnut ear, Keep going. // Finish what you’ve started!” Words, both urgent and wise intended as well for the rider, and for us. Poems about lovers, husbands, and children abound here, affirming perseverance, and written with lyric control in this affecting collection. 

****** Joanne DeSimone Reynolds is a poet working on a chapbook, “Comes A Blossom.”

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Custom House by Dennis Daly --Ibbetson Street Press- New Release!

                                                       To order click on: Custom House by Dennis Daly

The Custom House

By Dennis Daly

Preview Price: $12.95

Again and again, in poems of precision, conscience, and formal elegance, Dennis Daly arrests our vertiginous world so we may see its beauty, horror, and promise. Daly is a masterful poet, whether he is writing in free or formal verse, and the poems in this substantial gathering of his work accrue to a mature vision of our world as it is and as it could be. The Custom House is a book to savor, a book to treasure.

— Richard Hoffman, author of Gold Star Road and Emblem

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Poet Amaranth Borsuk: Talking with a visiting scholar at the Sherman Café

Poet Amaranth Borsuk: Talking with a visiting scholar at the Sherman Café

By Doug Holder

 On any given day at the Sherman Café you can watch a passing parade of poets and writers while sipping your morning cup of java.  Recently I have chatted with Julia Story, Joe Torra, Richard Cambridge, and Bert Stern to name a few. While at my usual appointment in the said café the parade stopped and left off Amaranth Borsuk. Borsuk joined me at my table and we discussed her life and work as a poet. Amaranth is a slight, 30 something young woman, with an engaging manner and an elfin smile. She is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT. She has a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California, and has been published in such journals as Field, Colombia Poetry Review, Colorado Review and others. She has a new collection of poetry out titled Handiwork that was selected for the 2011 Slope Editions Poetry Prize. Borsuk is particularly interested in the use of writing technologies by modern and contemporary poets.

Borsuk has been in Somerville for over a year, and resides in the Davis Square area of our town. She is originally from Connecticut, but has lived in Los Angeles while she studied for her PhD. She feels the poetry community in the Boston area is much more connected to academic institutions than the LA scene is. She regularly attends poetry events in the area such as the recent Mass. Poetry Festival and readings at Harvard. Part of her duties at MIT is to teach and she encourages her students to attend poetry events in the community.

Although Borsuk is a serious scholar she does not feel it has a negative influence on her artistic side. She said:  “My scholarly work makes me more engaged. My deep analytical work helps me forge my own poetics.”

Borsuk is not only interested in the word, but also how poets throughout the years transfer the word to the literal and virtual page. For instance when the typewriter came into play it affected the writer’s style. Lines became more staccato-like—perhaps they were influenced by the insistent, sharp pecking of the keys. She is also fascinated by the way contemporary poets use borrowed texts from newspaper clips, legal briefs, to Holocaust testimony, and other bits and pieces to create poems. The poems are in essence made up by these selected and borrowed texts. Choice becomes part of the art of the poem.

Borsuk also experiments with a hybrid of digital/print forms of publishing. One of her innovative poetry collections gives you a website address where you can view yourself opening the book… talk about the whole reading experience!

Borsuk will be leaving Somerville in the fall but I am glad that she had the chance to bask in the rich artistic milieu our town has to offer.

What Is Withheld

I was entrusted with throwing bread
                                    ahead of the weighlock so the boats
could skim a mealock without being
                                    scenes. The one I loved had sea eyes,
made me green. When I say
                                    boats, I don’t mean goats, but dogs.
Each one had several shames
                                    so we called them Come-you,
from the glottal, a private stutter.
                                    Come-you’s father gave me a letter
to toss across the sands. This was
                                    long after apples disappeared
from shops. I was entrusted
                                    throwing grass into moss. My favorite
thing: to eat book after book while
                                    reading apples. The letter said wait
by the viburnum, which looks
                                    away, then jump. His father paid.
A signist by trade, he rendered
                                    the boards in local idioms
as Come-you changed. This was
                                    many years before we met again
in the hearken, a marked growl—
                                    before the stave and tale. When I say
hall, I don’t mean all or hole: a place
                                    where every empty thing is saved.
Boat, boa, bowie, buoy, beau.
                                    This was before they made the dogs
dig up their bones. Sometimes it is
                                    not to believe. If it wouldn’t
happened to my loved ones I wouldn’t
                                                            believe it

--- Amaranth Borsuk

Women on Poetry – Women, Revising, Publishing and Teaching-- Edited by Carol Smallwood, Colleen S. Harris and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent

“Women on Poetry – Women, Revising, Publishing and Teaching”
     Edited by Carol Smallwood, Colleen S. Harris and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent
          Forward by Molly Peacock – McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
               Jefferson, North Carolina, and London. 2012. Price $45.00.

“All of you are our sisters in ink.”

Review by Molly Bennett

While there are many books seeking to assist the beginning poet, “Women on Poetry”
stands apart by its breath of scope, its diverse and compelling voices and by its exciting
invitation to its readers to join in the conversation.  Much as earlier generations of women
met together in kitchens or parlors to stitch and piece together quilts, this book suggests
that sharing of time and experience as it creates this ‘patchwork’ of ideas on writing poetry.
 Here in one new book is a huge array of topics and approaches to poetry!
These 59 essays discuss almost anything a poet might - would, ask or wonder
about writing, revising, publishing and teaching. The essays range wildly: some
address basic, practical issues; others confront more philosophical concerns regarding
the nature of this creature – Poetry.

Although you can read the essays straight through, I suggest you pick topics that particularly interest you and then reflect upon them. This book follows the trail blazed by earlier women writers, but men are welcome on the journey – to look over their sisters’ shoulders and discover tricks of the trade and perhaps wisdom.

The essays in “Women on Poetry” are structured around four distinct areas of thought:

In Part I “Our Writing Life – A Collective Voice” the fifteen essays explore different aspects
of our writing life. Several of the women tell the story of women’s poetry. In Sarah W. Bartlett's essay  “Women Writing for (a ) Change: History, Philosophy, Programs” she states ‘We write to discover what we are feeling; to connect with our hearts; to work through difficult transitions; to express profound truths, share outrage, elicit support for a cause; to connect with other women; to create a legacy for our children.’ (p.52)

Among the essays that focus upon the practical concerns of women (and men) as they work to find their own poetic voice, I found most helpful Judith Skillman’s “The Fine Art of Revision”
[with 12 suggestions for in-depth revision] and Linda Rodriquez’s “Making Time for Writing Poetry” [including 5 tips for ‘Changing Self-Defeating Habits (influenced by William James).]

Part II “We Who Pass It On – Tips On Teaching” opens with more practical ideas in “Ellen Bass’s Top 14 Teaching Tips.” Three of my favorites among these essential suggestions for any teacher new or old are: #1 ‘Say what you’re going to do and then do it;’ #9 ‘Don’t work harder than the student;’ and # 14 ‘maintain beginner’s mind’. (p.63)

Throughout this section there are many tips for the teacher and practicing poet that offer specific strategies for dealing with virtually any problem that might arise – there are suggestions and techniques for working with meter, beginning and ending poems, presenting at workshops or conferences and more.

Shelia Bender begins her essay “A Few Tips on Effective Line Breaks” by quoting poet Dana Levin, ‘Feeling speaks where the line is silenced.’ As she discusses the line breaks in her poem ‘At My Kitchen Window,’ she moves beyond simple technique and concludes, “Yes I thought, ‘Feeling speaks where the line is silenced.’ It’s our job as poets to find that ‘where.’”(p.73)
Part II concludes with Suzanna E. Henshon’s essay “Teaching with a Vision: Bringing your Inner Poet into the classroom.”

Part III “The Next Step – Publishing Our Poetry” discusses all aspects of publishing including the emotionally complex issues of revision, submission of completed work, self promotion by traditional as well as internet methods, creation of an audience, and in building a supportive writing community. This section presents the work of poetry as a business with the woman poet ‘as entrepreneur’ (Kim Bridgford) in charge of both her poetry and her life! Along with the useful suggestion there is encouragement for the younger writer and that is at times expressed with an ironic sense of humor – “How to Promote Your Poetry in Your Free Time ( While Working 40 Hours, Teaching at Night, and Restoring a Century-Old House)” by Karen Coody Cooper.

In Part IV “Just For Us – Essential Wisdom” the writers share their hard earned wisdom – those things they wished some older poet had told them when they were struggling to a voice as a poet and as a woman. Again there is here a wide and varied offering to aid the younger writer in that search to express the inexpressible in her or his own words. 

Caught up in the rush of modern life, I found especially helpful Diana M. Raab’s “Nourishing Your Muse” with its concrete list: ‘How to Put Yourself in a Poetic State of Mind;’ and with its’
tricks for getting the Muse to help with writer’s block. While this book has much to offer men as well as women, it is primarily written for women by women to assist them on the writing journey.

The essays in “Women on Poetry” seem to undertake to reflect upon all that comes within the scope of women’s writing. It is by way of being a handbook or reference manual – an immense loosely connected guide book of essential, useful and miscellaneous information for travelers, tourists or students on the writing journey.

While I delight in its eclectic sampling of over 50 different women’s ideas, at times I miss getting to know the individual writers’ breadth of thought in greater depth.  However, I recommend this collection of essays for any writing program, serious group of writing friends or isolated writer as an invaluable way to join the ongoing writing conversation. This work takes many hands and there is room for everyone to challenge and test her or his own ideas in the company of these interesting women.

Come join the poetry conversation and at whatever point you enter, you will find much to stimulate your own thought and to help you to move your work forward