Saturday, August 11, 2012
When Men Bow Down
By R. Nemo Hill
Dos Madres Press
Review by Dennis Daly
The crafty author of this book of poems, When Men Bow Down, manipulates words, meter, and rhyme into traditional forms, testing his perceptions of reality from odd angles and in unusual ways. R. Nemo Hill seems intent upon capturing flickering moments of inspiration from the heavy texture and weightiness of life’s sordid drudgery and inexorable burdens. He succeeds on a number of levels.
In Looking Glass, the first poem in his book, Nemo recreates Plato’s cave with modern complications. The narrator waits for his plane at the airport, looking out the airport window. Through the window he can see the shadowy shapes of grounded planes in a rain storm, as well as the reflections of people coming and going in the climate-controlled building. This vision begs the platonic question: what is reality? The poet observes,
It’s hard to know what’s here and what is there,
what’s in, what’s out, what’s on or through this glass,
what’s real and what’s a phantom—. Though I stare,
the solid state my eye presumes can’t last.
The focus cannot hold. What then remains?
As the various images transit the window, a voice of the usual kind pages lost travelers, defining even more the ghostly nature of our everyday world. The rain alone provides weight and a sense of gravity. This is a first rate poem searching for an anthology.
The poem Pastel describes the desire of the poet to retreat from the stark heaviness of his reality into a lighter shade of being. He says,
I long to fade from action
slipping through the cracks
that restless fullness lacks.
The poet’s collapse into insubstantiality ends only with death, when his gray suited body is laid out in brown mud.
Hill again emphasizes the primary substance of illness and death in his poem, A Bit of Life. Mother and son catch a firefly, put it in a jar to cheer up the sick man-of-the –house intending to turn off the television illusion box. It doesn’t work out. Reality out of context, in captivity, becomes something else. The perception changes as the fire goes out and with it the original inspiration. The poet puts it this way,
…halfway down the darkened hall she stopped,
and gazing through the glass, sighed with dismay.
“It won’t light up,” she said. “It knows it’s trapped.
I guess the idea’s silly anyway…
I’ll let it go.”
Another poem that pits the brutish world against the weightlessness of inspiration is Men Like These. Hill meditates on the slow and steady men, the quiet men who carry the burdens of mankind on their backs. Besides the usual bundles of ice, furniture and fowl, some of these men carry gold fish, another version of the firefly. The poet describes his discovery as artificial fruits which prove to be
bouquets of plastic bags, filled with water,
then knotted and suspended carefully
like ripe grapes, or trussed animals for slaughter.
They’re drinking water salesmen! one decides—.
Until a flash of orange sparks provides
swift proof that circling endlessly within
each liquid satchel—three bright goldfish swim.
The liquid satchel used to transport them is of course artifice, in the present context: poetry.
The poem Still Life With Weightless Gift offers a seahorse in place of the firefly and the goldfish. This seahorse , original carved from ebony no longer exists as a tangible thing. It has evolved into a dream, a perfect weightless message. After leaving his artifact in the store, un-purchased, the poet says,
I came home empty –handed. I still am.
And yet a gift in dream or reverie,
where purchase is beside the point, may be
of far more value—freed entirely
from its box and paper wrapper, from its baggage
of counted coin, its ribbon and its bow,
and its delivery tax…
But no less real. This is clearly a platonic universe of forms we live among.
In the poem entitled Eggs and Strawberries weightlessness and timelessness are states sought after and ultimately attainable for a lucky few. The poet argues,
Such carnival attractions may deceive.
And yet the evidence accumulates
that while the awful weight of living grieves
all those who bear the burden of brute fates—
yet, some things and some bodies make escapes
quite unexplained by normal means of measure.
Hill poses this argument within the extraordinary measurements of poetic meter. Very artificial, yet very effective! Art, specifically Hill’s art, abets man’s escape from the mundane and awful heaviness of life.
When Men Bow Down, Hill’s spectacular title poem startles with its mythic and religious intonations. The ritual aspect is so strong that the scene could be a mosque, a church or a temple instead of a barroom. The metronomic rites performed by each drinker lends to competing interpretations of community and loneliness. Although captured by the regularity of meter there are bits of subtle inspiration here also. Here is the second of four very strong stanzas,
When men bow down to sip their drinks
in dimmed down day or midnight’s glare,
in common rows or solitaire,
in a silence startled by the clink
of ice on glass—as if in prayer,
their eyes close and their focus shrinks
when men bow down to sip their drinks.
Hours easily vanish in this bar (think Edward Hopper’s Night Hawks with more people or even Van Gogh’s Night Café with its atmosphere of evil), only the iambic scans and rhythms deliver us safely from the boozy brink of despair and dread presented here.
The mix of traditional forms and unsettling weighted themes works over and over again. Hill obviously took some poetic chances writing and compiling this poetic collection and they paid off. He’s top shelf.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Somerville Poet Tara Skurtu: At the cusp of med school to the depths of poetry.
By Doug Holder
Somerville poet Tara Skurtu has followed an unusual path. She started out with ambitions to go to medical school, and indeed she got as far as an interview at UMASS Medical School, but didn’t get by the gates. As the old saying goes: “One door closes and another opens.” So Skurtu decided to follow her old flame: poetry. She was accepted in the very competitive MFA program at Boston University.
Skurtu, who lives in the Union Square section of Somerville, met me at my usual window seat at the Bloc 11 Café. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed, she could pass as a fashion model. This 30 something poet counts as her mentor Lloyd Schwartz, another Somerville poet who won a Pulitzer Prize for his music criticism, and has taught at U MASS Boston for many years.
Skurtu said: “Lloyd has been the best editor I ever had. He has the rare ability of tweaking a poem without changing its essence.” Skurtu also admires Schwartz’s conversational style in his poetry, and she employs elements of this in her own work.
Skurtu likes working either in a café work amidst the white noise, or in a perfectly quiet setting in her apartment. She reflected: " My poems start in memory or visual images or both. I eventually put them together in a skeletal structure. I do a lot of revision. A single poem can take me years to complete”.
And in spite of being part of a generation that did not use typewriters; she still pounds out some of her work on one. “With the typewriter you are very aware of language. You think more of the moment—you feel the typing of the words. I also hand write my poems, but I finish up with my computer,” she said.
Skurtu who has lived in Somerville, Mass. for 12 years has compiled a number of impressive publication credits. Her work has appeared in the Poetry Review (London), Hanging Loose, Salamander, and she will be a guest editor of the online literary journal Amethyst Arsenic started by Somerville resident Samantha Milowsky.
Skurtu expects that she will be spending the fall and winter immersed in writing projects for school. And who knows?
“You may see the young poet /scribbling away/ at the Bloc 11 Café/ on any given day.”
The Art of Craft
(for Elizabeth Bishop)
The art of finding could be such disaster;
if memory restored be cumbersome,
to lose may be a better craft to master.
To conjure those things best forgotten faster:
the fear of death, love lost, an illness from
the past—this craft, it would be such disaster.
If dreams spy memories left in the past, or
startle you, fearful, paralyzed and numb,
their loss may be a better craft to master.
This morning I discovered how at last, or
perhaps it was just why or when you’d come?
Regardless, what I found felt like disaster.
You’ve come and gone. Now I long for vaster
loss—the mind be numb, speech dumb until some
memory loss becomes a craft that’s mastered.
You’ve long forgotten me yet I still clasp, or
scout for strands of your hair like beggar’s crumbs;
The art of finding could be such disaster
—if only loss were easier to master
…. Hiram Poetry Review
Thursday, August 09, 2012
The Only Way Out
by Dustin Holland
Copyright © 2012 by Dustin Holland
Softbound, 119 pages, $10.95
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
The enigma of Dustin Holland is: is he putting us on, or is he serious? My guess,a little of both. He is funny, perhaps experimental, with undertones of seriousness that the reader needs to find for him/herself. For example In Capitalist Anxieties:
handed out on
no one is starving
doctors and food
shoes and warm
property is a
myth in the business
war is over
and the earth
still has room
for the human race
the banks and
the streets are art
bad dreams full of
in what used to be
and television studios
This poem presents what appears as a humorous poem, but as you read and re-read it the
seriousness which may also seem as obvious as the humor, suddenly hits you – Holland is writing about a future utopia, but is that utopia only in Holland’s head? Is it the anti-Orwell utopia. Is it a libertarian view? Is it green? Is post-apocalyptic? What exactly is Holland’s message to us? Is he prophet or fool? Like a law school challenge, any answer might be correct. What do think?
There are more poems of humor intertwined with horror with titles like Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid, Cartoon Villains, Disgruntled, I’m The Child, A Dramatic Think Establishing Elizabethan Liberation/Revolution, 02750, Listening To John Cage’s Fonatana Mix and many others you cannot help but revel in.
Take one of the shortest poems: All
you can call
So much truth in so few words, 13 to be exact, in which he puts down critics, people who speak loudly about art in a museum and the modern gobbledygook art of Pollack, the neo pointillism of Lichtenstein, perhaps even Picasso or any other number modern artists for whom a critic’s explanation is necessary for the average viewer to understand and the ultimate put down of the critics who determine whats is good or great and what is a trash.
In many poetry books you may get interesting ways to use words, or you might be challenged by the poet or perhaps you get political statements buried in verse. Rarely do you get all three. However, Dustin Holland has risen above the ordinary, beyond the dull or romantic, away from the everyday and presented a book you will have to read a few times to absorb the many facets of his writing. In the end, you will enjoy the time spent with it. And at $10.95 it is a bargain (also available as an ebook).
Zvi A. Sesling is author of Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011), King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010) and the forthcoming Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review and Bagel Bards Anthology #7.
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
New Lummox Press--Nov. 2012, Release.... A Collection of the Best Poets from the Independent or Small Presses.
.......I am glad that I have been asked to be a Contributing Guest Editor for this great new anthology put out by R.D. Armstrong's Lummox Press. I am representing the Boston Area Small Press Scene, and I have selected these significant poets: Dan Sklar, Zvi A. Sesling, Timothy Gager, Irene Koronas, Deborah Finkelstein , Robert K. Johnson, Harris Gardner, Gloria Mindock, Dennis Daly, and Sam Cornish. My own work will be included as well . Many of these names you may recognize as significant contributors to Small Presses and Independent Magazines for the last few decades. Best-- Doug Holder
Some other contribtors include:
Doug Draime, Matt Galletta, Ed Nudelman, Aaron Belz, April Ossman, Patricia Fargnoli, Grace Cavalieri, Sam Rasnake, Pris Campbell, Tara Birch, John Macker, Frances LeMoine, Frank Kearns, Frank Reardon, Gary Jacobelly, Tim Peeler, Mike Meloan, Jane Lippman, Gary Moody, Janet Eigner, Joan Logghe, Judith Toler, Mary McGinnis, Blair Cooper, Elizabeth Raby, James McGrath, Yves C. Lucero, Catherine Ferguson,
Jayne Stahl, John Yamrus, Tony Moffeit, Krikor n. Der Hohannesian, Kyle Laws, Larry Rogers, Marie Lecrivain, Linda Lerner, Luis Campos, Lyn Lifshin, Micheal Spring, Mather Schneider, Mike Adams, James Taylor III, Jared Smith, Jerry Smaldone, Karen Douglass, Phil Woods, Captain Barefoot, Mike Grover, Nancy Shifrin, AD Winans, Marc Olmsted, Lynn Hayes, Rick Smith, Sheryl L. Nelms, H.L. Thomas, Guy R. Beining, RL Raymond, Ron Koertge, Sean Dougherty, Simon Perchik, Judith Skillman, Suzanne Lummis, Terry Sanville, John Swain, Larry Gladeview, Tim Tipton, M. Mitchell, Walter Ruhlmann, Adam Walsh, Wanda Clevenger, William Doreski, Will Taylor, Winnie Star, Wolf Carstens, Jay Passer
Monday, August 06, 2012
Author Becca Chambers is Beyond the Great Abyss
Interview with Doug Holder
At one time author Becca Chambers found herself weighing over two hundred pounds, chronically depressed, with a litany of health problems. If you saw her today you would see an animated and fit woman who has left her ills in the dust. Chambers, a Doctor of Naturopathy, has discovered energy therapies that have transformed her. She has a written a memoir of her experiences Beyond the Great Abyss. I talked with Chambers on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.
Doug Holder: Can you tell us about the Whole Body Vibration you practice—the very therapy that transformed your life?
Becca Chambers: It is therapy that involves standing on a platform that visually moves. It sends vibrations throughout your body, and it is enormously therapeutic on many levels all at once: body, mind and spirit. It has changed my life. Vibration is part of everything. Every part of you is made of molecules that are vibrating. It works on the vibrational energy or life force. It is sort of like acupuncture. It works on your energy. The Russians invented this therapy 40 years ago. Astronauts use it—it increases bone density. It is an extensive workout. It has great systemic benefits. It increases serotonin levels in the brain, and gets the toxins out of you.
DH: The cover of your memoir has a picture of a half owl and half woman. What is the idea behind this?
BC: The idea is that I grew up depressed—I had thirty years of depression. I felt hopeless. But the owl is symbolic of wisdom. And the Great White Owl—is very powerful—so watch out! So this was a symbol of my transformation.
DH: So the memoir is about transformation?
BC: Well there is my story in the book. It is also about a man I met. It starts about five years ago after I got divorced. I was married 23 years; it was traumatic. I met this man about a year after the divorce. He too, has been deeply traumatized by things that have happened to him in his past. And I had my own baggage with 30 years of depression. . So we came together and it was rather dramatic and scary at times. But we are changing. We use Whole Body Vibrations, and homeopathy. This is vibrational energy medicine. It is really energy transforming medicine. It helps you overcome your negative energy, fear and anger. I can’t begin to tell you how functional I am now. I’m happy, creative, and have good relationships. I didn’t do anything for years.
DH: You chose the diary format for your book—why?
BC: It is written directly from my journals. I kept a journal through this whole period. A few years ago I was looking through the journals and realized there was the book. I actually had a huge fear of writing. I had to fake my way into this. I really like the diary form. It is so immediate—it has a lot of power. I had to polish it up of course. I had some excellent writing coaches.
DH: Some memoirists have told me you have to exaggerate things to get to the greater truth.
BC: I did not have to exaggerate. My life has been dramatic enough.
DH: Has writing this memoir helped with the healing process?
BC: I would say so. It gets your brain thinking, reviewing. You have a distance. Just the fact that I could write a book was a very healing thing for me.
For more information go to http://www.beyondthegreatabyss.com