Friday, August 24, 2012

The Aurorean Editors Present: A Selection of Favorites from the first fifteen years

The Aurorean Editors Present: A Selection of Favorites from the Frst Fifteen Years

Encircle Publications 2012

ISBN 13: 978-1-893035-14-0

Review by Irene Koronas

'Favorites' is a golden soft cover perfect bound book of poets

from their collection from the past fifteen years, which says

to me the reader that the selection of poets has been care-

fully chosen from the many fine poems that have graced

the pages of this fine journal.

There are almost one hundred poems and seventy one

contributors. In the introduction the reader learns how

this journal got its start in the world of small press. The

journal's, 'Favorites' starts with a poem by Lillis Palmer:

“Observe this

evidence of faith,

the gardener

kneeling on her piece

of earth,

spading the soil with


hands, breathing

the humus-sweet

cold air;...”

And the Aurorean editors, Cynthia Brackett-Vincent & Devin

McGuire, choose to complete the book with Robert M Chute:

“I've never found an arrowhead,

one flinty chip of history.

Young Thoreau, they said, if he walked by

some farmer's fresh plowed field, could just

stoop down and pick up one...”

Between these two poems, there are an array, verse depicting

season, meditations, and New England. Each section flowers

and wanes, crashes onto our consciousness, and sleeps in our bellies.

The book itself illumines our senses with tones ranging from new

gold to old gold. Here Cathy Edgett spills the last drops into words:

“ I drank grief like tea in Tibet,

Holding the cup with both hands,

Steam a womb,

I drank,

Water trickled down rocks,

Ochered in gold,

To the sea.”

There are poems from morning, from each horizon

as it shows itself, just as in a poem by Martha Boss:

“It's so quiet

you can hear

sun working the flowers,

glory opening up the morning,

days from here & there

becoming hybrid

and time wondering

what time is.

It's so quiet

you can almost hear

your mood changing

into a loud outfit.”

These poems are cut long stem roses and worth the price

of the entry. The perfect gift for friends and lovers.

Jim Barton's poem:


heated words

storm out

to sit and cool

then float

(at peace)

back home”

Irene Koronas

Reviewer: Ibettson Street Press

Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Somerville Poet Cornered by Two Novelist Cops

Somerville Poet Cornered by Two Novelist Cops
By Doug Holder

  Yes. I was cornered by two cops. One was Kevin F. Branley of the Cambridge Special Investigation Unit, and the other  Bill Chipman, from the Harvard University police. What was my crime you ask? Have the skeletons jumped out my closet? No. I met both men of the law at the Bloc 11 CafĂ© on Bow St. Union Square, Somerville, where they cornered me for an interrogation at my usual window seat. However in this case the interrogation…I mean interview,  was conducted by yours truly.

  Bill Chipman, the Ivy league cop lives on the border of Somerville and Medford. He said “ I sleep in Somerville.”  Chipman has written a novel Sucker's Dance, a crime story about an insurance scam and murder, and is currently working on another book: Last Seen in the Caribbean.

  Kevin Branley is a native of Medford, Mass and the child of Irish immigrants. He told me:" I grew up in a large Irish family. At 17, you were out of the house and on your own." His novel  Mourning Twilight deals with a disgruntled spirit that wreaks horror through the tunnel system of a psychiatric hospital, modeled after the old Metropolitan State in Waltham. Branley, like yours truly, worked on the locked wards, while earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northeastern University and U Mass Lowell respectively.

  Although both men are not graduates of tony MFA mills, they have had real life experienec that most graduates of the said institutions don't have. Both men have taken courses in Creative Writing however.  Branley , at UMASS Boston with Pancho Savory, while Chipman has studied at the Harvard Extension School.

  Chipman's protagonist in his novel Sucker Punch  is Cole Pierce. He told me his mother once considered naming him Cole or Pierce, thus the name. Pierce is persistent and like all of us flawed. Chipman told me: " We don't start out evil, it sort of creeps up on you one step at a time." Chipman's Pierce starts out as an idealistic cop, but he gets into a car accident, gets addicted to pills, and goes down hill. But as Chipman said: " We all struggle with good and evil--it is the human condition."

  Branley's main character in Mourning Twilight is named Tommy Nevefka. The novel takes place in Medord, Mass. I asked Branley how he got the name. He smiled; " In Medford it is almost like you are either Italian or Irish. Thus Tommy Nevefka." So an Irish first name and Italian last name is in order. And given that Branley is Irish we know why Tommy comes first. Branley's character struggles with the duality of good and evil. And Branley like Chipman acknowledges the fact that each dwells in the other.

 Both men are busy with their professional careers. Chipman,  who holds an advanced degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School, has to deal with the recent rapes that have taken place on the Harvard campus, and Branley  has to deal with illegal drug trade in the Central Square section of Cambridge,  Mass. and other areas. But beware, like any writers worth their salt, they use fodder from all walks of their lives. And as it was once said on  a famous crime TV Show:

"There are a million stories in the Naked City...." And in this case my friends you could be in one of them.

**** Both Branley and Chipman will read from their work at The Book Shop at Ball Square in Somerville...Sept 22..check website for details.



Without a Net By Ana Maria Shua


Without a Net 
By Ana Maria Shua 
Translated by Steven J Stewart 
Hanging Loose Press 
Brooklyn, New York 
ISBN: 978-1-934909-28-7 
128 Pages 


Review by Dennis Daly 

These uncaged micro-fictions claw at their cream-colored context, crouch on the page, oozing hostility, catlike, and insatiably curious, waiting for the next reader, the next fearless trainer to breathe them into existential space and coax them through art’s flaming hoops. 

Ana Maria Shua, via the crisp translations of Steven J. Stewart, unleashes her circus fictions on us with dreamtime logic and dangerous humor. Beware of the clowns; some of them are dead men.  Distrust the trapeze artists; they somersault from one universe to another. And for God’s sake stay clear of the magician; he’ll plunder your dreams to intercept and terminate your most secret wishes. One more thing: read Shua’s history pieces with a jaundiced eye. I don’t believe for a moment that William F. Cody was a happy man. But it would appear that Diane Arbus, before her suicide, was a happy woman.  

The Secret Wish, which serves as the book’s prologue, strikes me as blood-curdling and sociologically accurate. Shua walks us into the heart of darkness of the circus goers. They wish, says Shua, “to see the trapeze artist fall, to see him smash his bones against the ground, spill his dark blood on the sand… to see the lions fight over the tamer’s remains…{and}to see the horse drag the rider around by her foot caught in the stirrup, striking her head in rhythm against the edge of the ring. But even havoc like this can become tiresome. That’s when” the audience’s desires shift: sick of disasters and failures they begin to wish that the trapeze artist’s hands reach it in time, that the tamer keep lions under control, {and} that the rider makes it back to the saddle.” How nice that civilization has progressed! But Shua’s not done. The circus goers now become prideful of their humanity and aware of what a “decent, sensitive, and well-intentioned people” they are. We know where this leads. 

One of my favorite pieces in this big top collection Shua entitles Immortal. The poem drubs poets and other artists who seek fame believing it the logical end to their creation-quest. The narrator, who sews sequins on circus costumes, believes that immortality is the key to becoming a great trapeze artist or acrobat. However two hundred years later, having escaped mortality, he is still sewing sequins and explains that the means to his artistic glorification has now become the end. He confesses to his “always new,” friends: “I don’t want to die.” Most artists realize that art without danger, without some imaginative risk loses its definition and dims away. 

The fiction Magician and Saw captures you with its irony and, finally, with its all-out black humor. Shua takes the usual magic trick of sawing a woman in half and, uncomfortably for us, turns it on its head. The audience for this classic circus act has evolved. It no longer needs proof that the woman assistant is still intact.  The audience applauds the whole bloody event wildly. The author then leaves us with this cautionary ending: “Now everything is easier. Except, of course, finding assistants. 

Many of Shua’s micro-fictions resemble the pieces of Jorge Luis Borges. They aren’t as dense as Borges, but the tone and logical leaps are at times quite similar. Years ago, when I first read him, Borges sent me over and over to the Encyclopedia Britannica to see whether I was dealing with a fictional construct or something with an historical, biological or geographical reality. Shua’s piece The Liger sent me to Goggle.  And there it was.  A liger turns out to be the product of mating between a male lion and a female tiger.  According to Shua, “Bigger than its mother and father, a liger can grow to more than 13 feet long and weigh up to 900 pounds. As the gene that limits growth is transmitted maternally in lions and paternally in tigers, the liger doesn’t inherit it and thus never stops growing its whole life.” Shua’s imagination takes off at this point and she places the universe and its long history within the liger’s enormous mouth. In fact the cover of this book specifically places her metaphorical circus inside the gullet of a liger. 

In Buffalo Bill, the character of William F. Cody comes across as a modern day Borges. After  a lifetime of killing Shua makes him into an omnivorous reader and in the piece Diane Arbus  she brings to life the famous photographer of freaks and monsters, portraying her as childlike in her curiosity and suggests that she joined the ranks of her subjects by her suicide.  

But perhaps Shua’s most thoughtful story, doubling as a cautionary tale is called The Bearded Woman. The author begins and ends her fiction with this sentence: Some stories don’t even give your imagination a chance. Shua sets the story in Mexico in 1854. A circus promoter finds and falls in love (maybe) with a bearded lady. He exhibits her all over the world. Now it gets dicey. The woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a little daughter who has the same odd characteristics as her mother. Both die during birth or shortly after. The husband embalms both and winds up exhibiting them throughout the world. Charmingly the husband then remarries—another bearded lady, and dies insane. I’m shocked! No not at the story’s details as much as my own reaction to them. That’s what this writer, Ana Maria Shua, does. And she does it well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Poet Wendy Ranan: A psychotherapist. A poet. Motivated by beauty.

Poet Wendy Ranan: A psychotherapist. A poet.  Motivated by beauty.

By Doug Holder

  Some people are motivated by love; some are motivated by money, others by power. Poet Wendy Ranan is motivated by beauty. More specifically the beauty of nature.  And there are generous and evocative doses of nature in her work. Ranan has worked for years at a major psychiatric hospital just outside of Boston that at one time housed such poets as Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath.  I met with her at her office, a Spartan hole-in –the wall, to interview her in light of her new poetry collection “The Quiet Room.”  Ranan, like most writers is no trust fund baby and struggles to find time in her busy day to  manage work, raise a family, and keep the creative fires burning.

  Her collection  “The Quiet Room”( Deerbrook Editions) deals with her experience at the said hospital, as well as other elements of her life. Peter Balakian ( Professor of Humanities—Colgate University) writes of Ranan: “ She is one of the few poets now writing in America who uses her professional understanding of psychology  in ways that are inventive and fresh, giving her poetry a unique dimension. ‘The Quiet Room’ is a beautiful and powerful book.”

  Ranan’s  poetic history dates back to grade school . She told me: “ I have been writing  poems my whole life.  In the fourth grade I heard Paul Scofield the famous Shakespearian actor read “adult” poems on T.V.  The poems did not rhyme, and I felt I could write without the constriction of rhyme and meter for the first time. So I wrote a poem and without me knowing it my teacher sent it to Paul Scofield. Scofield sent me  a card back.     For the first the experience of writing was not private anymore.

 Later Ranan attended Sarah Lawrence College and studied with poets like Jane Cooper, and Galway Kinnell-who turned out to be a major influence on her. After college she took a writing workshop with  the feminist writer Erica Jong in New York City. Ranan was also living in NYC at the time and supporting herself with odd jobs.  She decided to attend Smith College and get her Social  Work degree. This gave her steady work, a focus, and she had a long-time interest in psychotherapy and the Human Services, making it a good fit for her.

Ranan who comes from a family chockfull of writers and artists, decided after working for a awhile to get her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Boston University. There she studied with former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, and Derek Walcott.
 Ranan published in magazines like Crazy Horse, AGNI,   The Seattle Review,  The Poetry Miscellany  and Tendril and in 1982 came out with her chapbook “Inside Out.” (State Street Press).

  Nature plays a big role in Ranan’s poetry. Ranan told me she is motivated by beauty. And nature for her is a font of beauty. And indeed in her work nature constantly bumps up against the walls of the institution where she works.  Wildlife at times provides comic relief to what goes on behind the walls of a psychiatric hospital. In short metaphors “bloom” in her poetry. In the first stanza of her poem “Greener” she almost makes a mission statement about her relationship as a poet with the natural world:

“I have always admired a landscape
of simple lines; the redundant
blue and brown of sand dunes, sky.
poets of few words
who could articulate
any lake.
Stars. Condensed fire
made to stay cooling in place,
monument to desire,
 in-vitro grave

 I asked  Ranan  about another one of her poems from her new collection, titled: Anesthesia

“ It was a kind of speeded sleep
I spun through, into
a lack of, blacker
than a moonless lake
and without the lappings of dream.

It was like
intaglio; a zinc plate
unscratched by any shape
and rolled with ink.

It was the epiphany
of unconcern for the body;
whatever they did to me was fine,
for I was away
at time’s beginning
when bones, still feathery, yielded
this way and that
to the will of water
pumping me into existence
layer by layer, not one
speck superfluous.

I wake to the weight of decades,
deflated, a thing
at the mercy of mortals
who bring me back
with a name.”

I told her that I felt the poem talked of anesthesia as an escape—a way to be outside one’s self, a form of transcendence, a limbo where one sheds the heavy baggage of life—a sort of temporary death. In a way it was like a poet’s need to escape into a special mindset to write—to be outside looking in. Ranan commented: “In this poem I was both relieved and scared."   Ranan said from her own experience with anesthesia she has come up with the “Oh-Well” response  to certain clients. She suggests in times of stress they say “Oh-Well”, and accept faith without fear.
Like most writers anything is grist for the mill. In “The Quiet Room” she explores the passage of time, relationships, with her unique gimlet poet’s eye.

Ranan, unlike many of the poets I interviewed over the last decade or so is not a self-promoter. She is not a denizen of social media, and certainly is no computer whiz. This is not to say the poet has no ambitions. But for Ranan the writing comes first—and this purity leaves its imprint on her accomplished body of work.

For a review of The Quiet Room by Wendy Ranan go to:Off the Self: The Somerville News