Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Full Life Selected Poetry of Joseph A. Cohen

A Full Life  Selected Poetry of Joseph A. Cohen 

Review by Pam Rosenblatt

In 2005, Joseph A. Cohen published his first collection of poetry called A Full Life  Selected Poetry of Joseph A. Cohen by Khoni Bindery, Lowell, Massachusetts. And it is to the advantage of people young and old that his book has been published! It was reprinted in 2011.
            Poet Joseph A. Cohen is currently 95 years old, lives in the Metro Boston area, and has lived a life that makes books, so it was probably a natural step for him to take to write these poems that tell us the readers about his family, his friends, his acquaintances, his places where he lived and/or visited, and the war in which he was a soldier.  In a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact, musical and lyrical style, Cohen has written an autobiographical poetry book that many people can relate to and/or learn from.
             The first poem in the book’s opening chapter named Jewels is about Cohen’s wife, or as he writes in the beginning of the book “his lover of 64 years”. It’s titled “My Sonia”:

To see her is to behold a flower in bloom.
Radiating, glowing with charm and beauty,
her smile reflects the song of a sunlit rose garden.

Music has nurtured her being
from early childhood. Now still composing,
teaching and playing piano with one
hand, her quiet hours are spent listening
to the classics as she did when she was young.

Her eyes reveal all that she is.
A serene smile upon awakening,
a gleam at breakfast time,
a flash of energy as she
speaks by phone to friends,
her solid determination when
doing endless post-stroke exercises.

Her home mirrors her taste in art whether
paintings, sculptures or exotic vases.
Surely, this sustains her will to live.
On awakening, the blinds are flung open to sunshine
and a view of tall trees shading a lush lawn.
Schumann’s “Davidsbunder Tanze”
pours forth to give harmony to the sunrise.

She has shown that health problems need
not be the end, but rather the start
of a new and still creative life.
With years to go, her current birthday reveals
that growing old does not always
dull the spirit, the thirst for the good life.

In “My Sonia”, Cohen has let us into his private world. A world filled with a loving wife whose “smile reflects the song of a sunlit rose garden”, whose music is vital to her as “her quiet hours are spent listening/to the classics as she did when she was young”, whose “eyes reveal all that she is”, whose “home mirrors her taste in art whether/paintings, sculptures or exotic vases”, whose “health problems …/[and] her current birthday reveals that growing old does not always/dull the spirit, the thirst for the good life.”  Such wonderful descriptions for a woman who seemed to love life as much as her husband still does, as seen in the one hundred and four pages that follow.
Just as Cohen writes about the happier times in his life, he has the ability to write about his not-so-happier experiences with war as well. His versatility shines in the poem “I Promised to Write” found in the chapter At The Touch of Love:

Waving adieu from the bus window,
I pledged to write daily.
How was I to know that daily
was to be for three whole years.

War swept me oversees
into holes of mud and clay.
Fear of the unknown unsettled
and scattered my thoughts.

Here was no spacious and gracious
desk to write on.
With only stubby pencils to use,
I wrote on scraps stained by the earth,
dyed by green grass.

The beat of thunderous gunfire
tapped  a somber cadence
as words formed for the V mail.

The old world was fresh to my eyes.
Olive and free trees bent low
by the weight of luxuriant yields.
Farms, fences, foliage
lay in pastoral settings.

From afar, words served poorly.
Amatory moods can best be woven
by presence.
Colors and hues of dawns and sunsets
fill the pages with painterly images.
Always, intimacy and passion
are chilled by censors scanning the mail.

The first letter was written on a
ship pointed east,
the last on one headed west.

In “I Promised to Write”, Cohen writes with wit and a freshness of style.  He shows how love for a woman can pull a male soldier through hard times, as he remembers years later, “I pledged to write daily./How was I to know that daily/was to be for three whole years.”
The troubles a soldier who is a writer of letters has during wartime is depicted in the lines: “Here was no spacious and gracious/desk to write on./With only stubby pencils to use,/I wrote on scraps stained by the earth,/dyed by green grass” But at the same time Cohen overcomes these technical problems through a love of words, art, and a solid relationship with his one-true love, a love that lasted “64 years”.
            Cohen writes not only of his relationship with his wife, but he has created poems about each one of his children – and his parents and his grandchildren as well. In “Andrew”, “Beth”, and “Fathers and Sons”, Cohen describes his three children in a kind, loving, and understanding light. His son “Andrew” is  “Now in his early fifties,/mature with graying temples,/ he shares California’s love affair/with cars of every horsepower.//Dashes to auto markets in Europe/and American car shows rate high/in his schedule of appointments./Tennis along with biking on the/Pacific Coast Highway keep/him fit and ruddy.” While his daughter “Beth” often “As a child she held my hand/swinging as we walked./We skimmed flat rocks over water./She read poetry to me./Holding her half-size violin proudly,/she played music from her last session.” And in “Fathers and Sons”, Cohen writes that he “pushed for cello, he wanted drums./We wanted David to be a brain surgeon,/but playing with a jazz combo/was more his thing.”  What wonderful memories Cohen has described in intricate detail without creating embarrassment.
            Joseph A. Cohen’s A Full Life is a pleasure to read not only for its fine poetic qualities but also for the way that the readers can understand with clarity what makes this poet’s life click – his parents, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his friends and acquaintances, the war he fought in as well as the places that he lived and traveled to.
A photographer and a poet, Cohen has given us the readers “pages with painterly images” that will remain in the minds of his readers for a long time after reading A Full Life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A. D. Winans’s Wind On His Wings


A. D. Winans’s Wind On His Wings 

Reviewed by Pam Rosenblatt

A.D. Winans is a poet who tells life as he sees it, as he lives, and as he knows it. Mr. Winans has published over 50 poetry books over the past 50 plus years.  His name is well-recognized around  United States poetry circles. It’s no surprise that Wind On His Wings is another successful read by A.D. Winans.
                Published by Presa Press in 2012, Winans’s Wind On His Wings is a 41 page chapbook that contains poems that are easy to understand, to the point, and reflect what’s on the poet’s mind at the time of the write. Often times his words are humorous, often times his words are political, and sometimes his words are distasteful. But all the time, Winans has maintained his status of “poet”.
                In his opening poem, “Aladdin’s Lamp”, Winans speaks his masculine mind in a light, sexual tone that carries the reader’s interest – that is up until the final stanza that reveals his ability to show the distastefulness of the aging process in a humorous light:

I push my way through the old
Wild West barroom doors
at the Saloon
the oldest bar in San Francisco

I order a boilermaker
eye the swamper with a wheel barrel belly
who pays me no attention

I down a shot and beer
in less than five minutes
pull out the key
to the upstairs hotel room
walk up the stairway
fit the key in the lock
the young woman I picked up
the night before
still naked on the bed

I climb in beside her
a fire lit in this old man’s body
as I rub my cock
like Aladdin’s lamp
hoping there is one more wish left

Winans has the ability to write in a sensitive, more caring tone as well, as can be read in his rather political poem, “POEM FOR ROBERTO VARGAS AND THE NICARAGUAN FREEDOM FIGHTERS”:

this poem is for you Roberto
and for Ed “Foots” Lipman too
this poem is for every poet
who ever paced the cellblocks of San Quentin
Folsom, Attica, and Neil Island
or fought the people’s struggle in Chile
Cuba or Nicaragua

this poem is for those who walk
the dream of freedom
with guerilla visions
in their hearts and eyes

this poem is for those
who gave their lifeblood
to wash the streets free of oppression
for those who rest in heroic
and not so heroic graves
in the  struggle for human dignity

I sit here in my seventy-sixth year
thinking of young boys
who have fought the real war

thinking of grieving mothers and widows
of young women in black suspender belts
and knee high leather boots
with revolutionary roots

thinking of how the words come too late
and never say enough
knowing that in the Buddha Temple of life
all things must die
knowing there is no survival
no tarot cards horoscopes or incantations
to bring back the dead

I walk the midnight supermarket of death
thinking of Lorca and that long dirt  road
thinking of the execution wall
the hangman’s noose
ethnic cleansing ovens and genocide
hearing the gypsy ballad
that sings to the heavens knowing
there is a strange code
to this language we are addicted to

as Gene Fowler pointed out  to me
evil spelled backwards is live
being made into a State automated
robot is evil
but dying is not evil
for it is in its whole
the disintegration
the bacterial feeding
which in turn is a live process

and so the fight goes on
and must go on until
every street has been cleared
of assassins until
every newborn
in encircled in a poem

the spirit lives on
in those who passed the baton
the vision cannot be killed
even as we retreat into
the depths of our being
listening to the blood
beat solid against the walls
of the heart knowing
there are secrets in the bones
that cannot be denied
or sold out to the whims of others

sleep well my comrades
only the flesh is gone
your strength lives on
in those who dared
to reach out and kiss
the sun

A.D. Winans has written a complex chapbook that reads easily, though sometimes he makes the readers painfully aware that “the spirit lives on/in those who passed the baton/the vision cannot be killed/even as we retreat into/the depths of our being/listening to the blood/beat solid against the walls/of the heart knowing/there are secrets in the bones/that cannot be denied/or sold out to the whims of others.”
In his aging years, Winans seems to have come to the conclusion that “your strength lives on/in those who dared/to reach out and kiss/the sun”. If these words are true, then A.D. Winans has lived a full life, and his poems reflect his own inner “strength”.  
A.D. Winans’s Wind On His Wings is an excellent year 2012 read!

Sunday, November 18, 2012



                              MARGE PIERCY AT ENDICOTT COLLEGE

     By Emily Pineau

   "These are the tracks I have left on the white crust of time."  This is a line that poet and novelist Marge Piercy read from her poem “Tracks”.  It is true that Piercy has, in fact, left many tracks along her way throughout  her career as a writer and as a social and political activist.   I had the honor of  introducing Piercy  at her reading at Endicott College, Nov. 13,  2012.  Prior to Piercy’s appearance at the college's chapel, I had conducted an online interview with her for the literary magazine,"Ibbetson Street," which made it possible for me to gain insight into the inspiration behind her writing and to obtain an understanding of how she came to be the successful writer she is today.  

            Many of the poems that Piercy read contained humor, ideas about body image, and nature.  When Piercy read her poem, “My Mother Gives Me Her Recipe”, many people were laughing in  recognition  because of how  universal the subject matter is.  In the poem, the mother is not giving straightforward instructions when she is describing how to make something, and is instead adding in her own little commentary to every detail.  Piercy read, “Take some flour. Oh, I don't know, like two-three cups, and you cut in the butter.”  This poem truly captures what it is like to try to get a recipe from a relative.  Also, in Piercy’s poem, “What Are Big Girls Made Of”,  Piercy uses a  familiar subject, although this one is more on the serious side.  The media puts so much emphasis on the importance of body image, and Piercy writes about the effect that has on women.  “Here is a woman forced into shape,” Piercy reads.  It seems to have become natural for women to hate their bodies, which is a very unfortunate occurrence in our culture.  Piercy also writes about things in nature that she finds to be intriguing and comforting in her life.  In her poem, “Colors Passing Through Us”, Piercy says, “Orange is my cat running live through the high grass,” and “Blue is the eyes of a Siamese cat”.

           After Piercy finished reading, Professor Doug Holder asked her what it is about cats that draws her to them.  “They are very sensual,” Piercy explained.  I can relate to this because I am also a cat person, and I feel like they are very inspiring creatures.  Their mysterious, yet calming demeanor is extremely captivating.”  Nature in general influences my writing as well.  I hope that one day I can incorporate humor, and brilliant metaphors like Piercy’s into my own writing.  

EMILY PINEAU--is an English major at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Ibbetson Street, Muddy River Review, Lyrical Somerville, Endicott Review and elsewhere.