Friday, October 12, 2012

R.D. Armstrong and the return of the LUMMOX Magazine

 When I first started the Lummox Press back in 1994, I still had my health and a job as a self-employed handyman. At that point, Lummox was a way to offset the costs of submitting poetry to magazines, etc. The Internet hadn’t really caught on yet and the idea of submission via email was still in its infancy. Now, it’s nearly twenty years later and I can’t imagine life without email or the cloud or all the other amazing things that we take for granted now, but that seemed so incredible back then, granted, there are still no flying cars, but…

Now, what defines my health has changed and I don’t really make much money as a handyman anymore, but the one constant in my life is my Lummox Press. It is my primary source of income and I feel as if I am on the verge of something incredible: a chance to actually make a living publishing what I love and want to – POETRY. Is it so far-fetched to think that this is possible? Most people I talk to about it seem to think so. But, maybe because I’m a dreamer, I think it can be done. All I know is that at the moment, the Lummox Press is working, and so am I.

LUMMOX magazine or LUMMOX, the anthology (I’m still not sure what to call it), is the latest in a series of attempts on my part to showcase the poetic talent that is thriving in this country and beyond. Back in the mid-nineties, I used to publish a little magazine (5.5 X 8.5 inches), with between 24 and 56 pages, which “explored the creative mind.” I did it monthly for eight years and bimonthly for three more. I’m still proud of my commitment to that monthly schedule…not bad for a slacker! The Lummox Journal paid for itself and even showed a modest profit, but eventually I lost interest in it. So at the end of 2006, it ended.

I felt bad about that, though most of my subscribers seemed to understand. I was burned out. I wanted to do something else. I needed a break. It was time to move on. Which I did. A few years later I began publishing a series of trade paperbacks by up and coming (mostly) poets. At the end of that year, my health took a dramatic turn and my life began to fall apart. But the one thing that held together was my belief in the Lummox Press. It has been my rock to cling to in times of self-doubt or when others have turned against me.

Over the past 4 years, I have put together an impressive catalog of over 30 titles in this particular series (with many more on the way). The jewel in this particular crown is the new annual magazine called LUMMOX. It is like the old Lummox Journal but on steroids! It has interviews, and essays, and reviews, and artwork, but mostly it has poetry…lots of poetry from all over the world! I hope the next issue will have even more from other countries world-wide and that LUMMOX will truly become a vehicle for poets worldwide to share their visions with each other.

RD Armstrong

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jim Vrabel: Putting Berryman's The Dream Songs on Stage

Jim Vrabel is a local historian and the author of When In Boston: A Timeline & Almanac (Northeastern University Press). He is co-author of John Paul II: A Personal Portrait of the Pope and the Man (St. Martin’s Press).

A long-time neighborhood activist and former city official in Boston, he now lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Jim attended the Graduate School of English at the University of Iowa, which is where he first encountered John Berryman’s Dream Songs. After expecting others to do it, he composed Homage to Henry: A Dramatization of John Berryman’s The Dream Songs, an 80-minute one-man play by taking some 90 of the most brilliant and autobiographical of the songs - in whole or in part - re-ordering them and adding a very few lines of connecting text.

The play received a staged reading at the Charlestown Working Theater, and has been performed for the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers at Boston University and at the Oberon Theater as a benefit for the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge.

Paul Mariani, Berryman’s biographer and a poet himself, calls Homage to Henry “a sad and very human story, as stark in its way as anything in Samuel Beckett.”

I talked with Vrabel on my Somerville Community Access TV show: Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.


Doug Holder: You are not a poet--yet you wrote play based on the character of Henry from John Berryman's poetic work The Dream Songs. And you made this play accessible. Do you think that is a problem with poetry--that it is not accessible for the non-poet?

Jim Vrabel: Well I think so. A lot of modern poetry, like modern art, is very inaccessible to the layperson. And this is a problem. It cuts your audience down.

DH: Does it have to be inaccessible to be good?

JV: No, Billy Collins and Sharon Olds, two very celebrated poets, are very accessible. And again the problem may be the academic business. The way to make a living as a writer is through teaching and the academy, and then you before you know it you are down that path.

DH: How did you decide what to keep and what not to keep from The Dream Songs in your play Homage to Harry?

JV: I wanted it to work as a play. Originally I had another character from The Dream Songs but I couldn't make it work. So I put all the poems on the wall and started to arrange things and saw what worked and what didn't.

And this is what I came up with.

DH: Was Henry Berryman's alter ego?

JV: I can't figure it out--but I don't think you need to figure it out. I think you should first appreciate Henry and the character just for what they are. It's the words---it is the way he uses words that is important.

DH: Well if Henry was an alter ego for Berryman--then like Berryman he might be in his early 40's, the age in which Berryman wrote this work. Henry talked as if it was all over--although he was a relatively young man. Do you think Berryman depression came into play?

JV: I think it was his depression. He could have had many more years ahead of him. There were many references to suicide in the poems.

DH: Why do you think so many poets and writers are afflicted by this?

JV: I think they see more and feel more than the rest of the world. And sometimes that is too hard to take. The gift is if they can write about it well.

DH: Henry like Berryman seemed to be very competitive with other poets.

JV: Yes. He mentions other poets in the poems. Take Dylan Thomas, he describes him as: " The doomed bard roaming down the thirsty West." And Eliot: " The subtle American banker man." And Pound: " The lunatic." Robert Lowell: " The Bostonian, rugged, grand, and sorrowful." And of course Frost: "The sage." I think Berryman would like to put himself among these guys.

DH: Jim you are a historian as well. In fact the abridged version of your historical timeline of the City of Boston When in Boston is coming out soon. What was one of the more interesting events you covered in the book?

JV: Yes it is a timeline from before Boston was founded to the present. One of my favorite events was when Whitman came to Boston and Emerson tried to convince him to take all the explicit references out of Leaves of Grass. They walked around for hours but of course Whitman was not convinced.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Briar Patch Selected Poems & Translations By J. Kates

The Briar Patch

Selected Poems & Translations

By J. Kates

Hobblebush Books

Brookline, New Hampshire

ISBN: 978-0-9845921-8-0

99 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

These poems by J. Kates pay attention in an unblinking way to the human condition. Their sometimes prickly, sometimes witty observations on life and art dance with stark, often startling insight. Kates uses rhyme, off-rhyme, and other formalist techniques with a light touch, bringing out the poetic moments, not overwhelming them. His dramatic details strike honest notes, whether he is bemoaning democracy’s wasting effect on artistry, recording the passionate violence in a lovers’ quarrel, or looking down a gun’s barrel. The poet’s introductory title piece sets the tone and it is, in its way, too true. He says,

… Everything’s attached.

In the briar patch whichever way

you turn, somebody gets scratched.

From the beginning of this book Kates seems to inject a bit of old time religion. The concept of predestination is trotted out front and center. Universal creation cues ennui. Even human tragedy and evil one generally expects as part of life. As you are slowing down looking at the next horrendous crack up, you hear the poetic traffic cop exclaim, “Nothing to see here; move along.” In the poem Six-Day Wonder, Kates describes the humdrum,

… The celebrated night-

and-day dichotomy had praise

from man, the delegate, whose chief end

was to make glory of all this

orderly chaos and pretend

that a small part of it was his.

The sun in place, nothing was new

under it. The stars were moved

because there was nothing else to do

but love, and be loved.

Notice the word pretend. In the poet’s predictable world, man must still pretend that he controls something, anything.

The poem entitled Range nicely connects the moving parts of our world. The author explains,

arrow and bow are not estranged—

archer and target shaft and field are brought

together by letting go,

and what the bowstring whispered in my ear

at that one instant they all know.

Life and art are part of the same picture. The whispering bowstring suggests the artist’s muse. Almost a companion piece to this poem is If Achilles Were a Point, another poem with movable parts. Here Kates portrays his version of Zeno’s paradox. He shows Achilles chasing his tortoise over the impossible infinite distance he must traverse by halves. The twist comes when the poet lets love into the equation and love conquers yet another man-made logic. Achilles, according to Kates, wants the tortoise shell as a love offering. The poet puts it this way,

{Achilles}, as the distance

narrowed by halves,

plunged his arms forward

into the illogic of victory

Pre-Christmas jingling songs depress this writer as it does many others. He wants relief from the predictable and the humdrum. In the poem Advent he even cites Yeats’ Second Coming—the beast slouching towards Bethlehem to no avail. But he still hopes. Here is how the poem ends:

The jingling songs we’re sick of,

not even a rough beast slouching

unless the wet cats

crying to be fed

or a special election

with no one special running.

Nothing is dry enough to burn.

We wait on the event

to make a season of these days:

a drop in temperature

crystallizing rain

to the snow it started out as,

that we had given up expecting.

The poem entitled The Genuine Monets compares the original paintings of the French impressionist that are kept in secure museums under scientific light to cheap prints of the same artist hanging presumably in the poet’s bedroom. Kates describes his cheap print this way,

…I have a poster

Of the pond with waterlilies

That I picked up at the Coop

For a dollar fifty.

And moving sunlight dances

every hour a different dance

around my waterlilies.

The shadow of the wooden bridge

alters with each cloud

outside my window.

A statue falls to begin the poem In Interesting Times. The falling statue of course represents liberation and the benefits therein. Kates suggests that liberation is not always conducive to the dynamic of art. In fact quite the opposite. Other things capture the imagination in a newly freed society. Porn for one. The poet complains,

…liberation wore thin

as the new flood of sleazy magazines

that showed nothing but skin, always more skin—

where was the blood?

Kates has a way of turning passion into detail and interesting detail at that. Two poems especially struck me: Weapons and Man with a Gun. In weapons the poet describes the household item thrown during a fight. He lists books and food and facts and ideas. Each item is hurtful in its own unique way. The poet makes that clear in his last stanza,

of all our effects

none is harmless.

This axe I sharpen

Is an eight-pound maul.

During the free verse piece Man with a Gun the man vanishes. The gun speaks , the gun threatens, and the gun controls. The poet records each detail,

The gun says

Give me all your money.

I have none.

Except for the jagged hole

The gun is speaking through

The window shows nothing

But my own reflection…

The poetic force here powers over fear and delivers.

The last section in this impressive book includes a set of translations. My favorite is Lamentation In Captivity by Richard the Lionhearted. Richard complains that he has not yet been ransomed by his brother King John et al. The verse is tightly structured, metered, and rhymed--almost a prison for Richard. He tries to be witty and subtle but teeters on the edge of losing it. This is a very, very well done piece. Great book!

Monday, October 08, 2012

New Ibbetson Release: Shorelines by Philip E. Burnham, Jr.

Oct. 2012.......  $15   go to to order

"Burnham’s poems of sea-washed peace are formal, precise
in description, and elegant. His care for language and his
exquisite ear make the poems a gift for any reader."
Bert Stern, Off the Grid Press

"Why Read Poetry? Because poetry is singing on paper and it
soothes, stirs, opens the eyes and heart of the reader. And
Philip Burnham’s way of seeing and singing is the canny
sailor’s way…whose heart is lifted sailing into New York
harbor (in “Good Morning, Alice”) lifted only to be broken
“On Pemaquid Beach” and healed with ”After Isaiah.”
Burnham’s poems will also win admiration for their subtle
classic forms."
Diana Der-Hovanessian, President,
New England Poetry Club

"Philip Burnham’s poems have a slow-building intensity to
them, a quiet meditative force that gathers from the first
few lines and takes the reader into the heart of his experiences
of nature, love, history, and place. Shore Lines is a
rich trove of the well-observed and the deeply felt."
Adam Haslett,
Author of You are Not a Stranger Here
National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize Finalist