Saturday, December 08, 2012

From the Box Marked Some Are Missing New and selected poems by Charles W. Pratt

From the Box Marked Some Are Missing
New and selected poems by Charles W. Pratt
Brookline, NH: Hobblebush Books, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0-980167283
86 pages


Review by David P. Miller

This first volume in the Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series presents selections from Charles W. Pratt’s three previous books – In the Orchard (1986), Fables in Two Languages and Similar Diversions (1994), and Still Here (2004) – with about half the volume consisting of previously uncollected poems. The first and third of his earlier books center on the lives he and his wife Joan have led as owners of an apple orchard, though the poems spiral out from there to touch a variety of themes. The subject matter of the recent poems range more widely, though several are inspired by memories of family summers and trips to the British Isles. His work is marked, for me, by a keen sensitivity to the metaphors that life itself presents to the observant mind, fresh descriptive power, and an elegant approach to form.

It is difficult to explain, to those who are New England-hostile, the specific attachments this region holds for those of us who do better than tolerate it. In many of his poems, Pratt expresses the distinct sensuality of New England of this part of the world, as in the final stanza of “Harvest”:

Midnight, midwinter. Under the full moon
The trees, like twisting smoke, like rocks
Whorled by tides of air,
Stand stock-still in their shadows
On the new snow, precise and mysterious
As spiders on a linen tablecloth.

Though he writes about the full spectrum of seasons – in the same poem, he describes “the mild October sun / That brings back summer, softened” – he understands winter as something quite other than the dead time too many mistake it for. (And perhaps, as I write this review on the threshold of winter, these images draw my attention most.) In “Prayer for December,” the cold time comes as a blessing after the strained labor of harvest:

Clusters of grapes like udders droop from the vines
And the burden of apples bends down the apple boughs

Till the boughs break from the burden,
As we bend to breaking now.
Thin December, come, with your landscape hardened
By a reticent sun, come with the comfort of snow.

Throughout, Pratt finds the image or event that suggests a greater subject for contemplation. In “Learning to Prune,” though he imagines his poetry will benefit, he discovers life allegories while working with his expert neighbor:

I had it in mind this morning
I’d get a poem out of pruning,
about discipline, I thought, and form,
like Herbert’s “Paradise” –
but Jock has taught me already
it’s not a question of that so much
as of opening up the center
to sun and air, taking out what
grows too upright or crosses,
and keeping the top in reach.

In “Wolsey’s Hole,” Pratt learns that “a hollow carved by an eddy into the sheer / Granite under a fall” was named for his father, who sixty years earlier “slipped into it swimming and couldn’t get out.” His father was rescued, but this sudden knowledge brings an epiphany:

Oh, when I heard,
How there arose from some hole in my heart a magnificent bellow,
Cold and afraid and delighted!

.  . .

And I thought:  Can I learn
To think of death not as infinite contraction,
Curtains closed over midnight, but as curtains drawn back
To let in the moon and the stars, the whole horizon,
To let in the dead and the living–a rope thrown down
To haul me from the hole of my heart, all dripping and shining?

Of the many poems here which reflect on time and its resonance with family generations, I am particularly taken with the brief “In Drumcliffe Churchyard.” As two of his children pose for a photograph by the grave of Yeats, Pratt sees “the shadow / Curling over them like a wave.” This warning of the inevitable, which might paralyze, must nevertheless be lived:

Though our crazy hearts may rave
And insist it isn’t so,
We know there’s nothing we can save,
Mountains fall and children grow.
Snap the picture, then, and go.

This insistence on the darkness as something inextricable from the daily, celebrated life is sharpened to paradox in the final poem, “Resolution”:

When the tsunami draws back its fistful of waters
And crushes the city, let me for once be ready.
Let me be washing the dishes or patting the dog.

. . .

When the suicide bomber squeezes the trigger
And fierce the flames spurt and wild the body parts fly,
Let me be holding my lover or drinking my coffee.

Let us be drinking our coffee, unprepared.

A review can’t cover the range of imagery, the humor and reflection, the rewards of careful reading that fill this volume, and the constant reminders of “all that our beautiful seeing makes beautiful” (“Exercise of the Imagination”).  The reader might find one kind of summation in Charles W. Pratt’s poem “The Words,” where the words that “shape urns that will endure forever” also “float out like blossoms from an apple,” and that “leap out living” when a book’s cover is opened also  “sweeten like squash laid in the cellar” through the winter. Words and world are one body.

David P. Miller is a librarian at Curry College in Milton, Mass.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Mother of God Similar to Fire Fr. William Hart McNichols

Mother of God Similar to Fire

Fr. William Hart McNichols

Orbis Books

$15.36 on Amazon
Review by Rene Schwiesow
Fr. William Hart McNichols is an artist and a humanitarian.  The icons that he brings to life are stunning in print.  One can only imagine the impact of their aesthetic grandeur when seen in person.  In “Mother of God:  Similar to Fire,” an astoundingly breathtaking work, McNichols joins his artistic vision with the poetry of the mystical author, Mirabai Starr.  Starr, an adjunct professor of philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico in Taos, has studied diverse spiritual paths with many well-known teachers.  It is these ecumenical experiences that have formed the universal quality of her work.  She is the author of “God of Love:  A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
 Their joint effort offers the reader Mother Mary’s grace and wisdom as interpreted through the talented hands and hearts of McNichols and Starr.  Mary is diversely and universally portrayed as the Black Madonna, Latina, Bosnian, Greek, Italian and Native.  In 2002, Time Magazine described McNichols as “. . .among the most famous creators of Christian iconic images in the world.”  Fr. McNichols has two previously published books that have won the Catholic Book Award.  Yet, when you meet Fr. McNichols, fame is not evident in his demeanor.  What is evident is that he is a grounded, compassionate, empathetic man who serves the people of Taos, New Mexico with his whole being.

When Fr. McNichols goes in to paint an icon he tells us, “I go in to work like I go in to pray.  Waiting.  Waiting for God to come.”  When I opened the book to the first icon, it was clear to this reviewer that God had arrived.  Each icon whispers its own prayer and the sound is echoed by Mirabai Starr’s words:

Mother of God
similar to fire,
ignite my heart in prayer. . .

lit from within,
let my blazing heart become a sanctuary
for the weary traveler,
until this long night lifts
and dawn unfolds her new radiance.

Two of my favorite icons in the book are “Mother of God Akita” and “Mary Most Holy of All Nations.”  Both of these images include the world.  In “Mother of God Akita” Mary is depicted standing on the planet and in “Mary Most Holy of All Nations” she cradles the world in her arms.  Fr. McNichols has a beautiful way of creating his icons as universal, the spiritual depth of each image accessible to all people so that when we gaze upon “Mary Most Holy of All Nations” and then read the words, “Let the children of all countries of the world be one!” our response is a breathless Amen.

While Fr. McNichols is a Roman Catholic iconographer, the influence of Byzantine icons can be seen in his work.  He indicates that he has no intention of assuming to be Orthodox, but honors and reveres the Byzantine icons. Fr. McNichols has a profound respect for the spirituality of the Orthodox churches.  In addition to the Byzantine icons, he has been influenced by ancient and contemporary Russian icons and finds that he has always been drawn to the beauty of the images we do not have in the West.

“You gaze on the icon, but it gazes on you too.  We need to gaze on truly conversational, truly loving images, images that will return our love.”  Fr. William Hart McNichols.

“Mother of God:  Similar to Fire” will be a library addition that you will turn to again and again for its peace and meditative tranquility.

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue, The Art of Words.  She writes a column in The Old Colony Memorial for the Plymouth Center for the Arts

Monday, December 03, 2012

Time On Its Own By Kenneth Frost

Time On Its Own By Kenneth Frost
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
Charlotte, North Carolina
ISBN: 978-1-59948-404-4
50 Pages
Review by Dennis Daly

Kenneth Frost writes poems with imagery that touches our nerve ends directly and demands our immediate response. His surreal juxtapositions are delivered for the most part with a slow jazzy beat. There is a poem for everyone here. Frost’s subjects range from landscapes to metaphysics, from spiders to theology. I read the last poem in the book first and I’m glad I did. It seems to set everything else up. I think it comes very very close to, in fact I think it caresses the relationship-conundrum between artist and art. Since this is a posthumous collection and the poem is short, I’ll quote it in its entirety. It’s called Suddenly and here it is,

there you are
in the
of a dream.

Who shall I
tell them
you are
with your
long hair,
embodied light?

The poet’s question in the second stanza boasts of creative power and intimates a plethora of alternatives, yet the poem’s feel is weightless and lovely.

The longest poem in the book entitled The Figure Skater delivers enough gravitas to anchor the collection. Frost magically turns a female skater into a creator of universes and an archive of memories. The poem begins with an unstoppable locomotive barreling down the tracks toward the proverbial innocent maiden bound to the tracks by some dastardly evil doer. It’s the train’s headlight that the poet finally focuses on and merges into the athletic performance. The weight of the skater’s momentum changes into pure energy and flashes out little zodiacs. The next movement of the poem crests with a Jesuitical question and then enters Oklahoma in the thirties. Sound a bit strange? Here it is,

…how many angels
On the steel-tipped
Of her skate-blades
While her esprit woos
The fortune
A dust bowl
In the whirlwinds
Till a star leaps
Out of the coils
Of gravity.

The poem ends with the skater “escapading” and scattering apparitions like mercury.  I like the poet’s use of the word escapade (think ice capades) and the hint of danger it introduces.

The poem Buddy Rich on the Drums conjures up a more up tempo beat as it should. Frost pieces together one inspired image after another. He has a personified heart taking dictation from thunderstorms. Those same thunderstorms crumble static in a god’s throat. The poem ends in a holy froth mimicking that fiery drummer perfectly. Here’s the last stanza,

whipping his head
so fast his tongue
stutters his own
drumsticks to point
backward and gulp
the lost divine.

Another poem that deals with the nature of music is He Floats out. To Frost the artist-musician literally becomes his notes and he seeds the environs around him with apparitions. Listen,

… the rooms
around him
and a strange tree
of dreams
takes root
on every

Frost’s title poem, Time On Its Own, drifts through the imagination with mystery and speculation. The poet seems to be in a competition of sorts with an omnipotent and undeterred adversary. The poet searches for himself in the universe and Time also searches for him, sniffing him out from under the world’s detritus. In the penultimate stanza the poet makes an interesting argument concerning risk taking that I found myself nodding to in appreciation. The poet says,

Somewhere beyond
my centipede of echoes
someone insists, “Climb higher, a circus dive
will pull along
cold feet.”  

The poem Girl in a Singles Bar looks through a glass of scotch darkly and perceptively. Frost’s protagonist girl sees her life through a lens of despair and regret. She wants out. An advertisement poster offers a jet plane, which captures her imagination. But reality intrudes and with it comes a heartfelt crescendo of regret. It ends this way,

I put my glass
Against the wall
To bug this ark,
“What have we done,
What have we done
To one another?” 

Year ago I read The Interlopers, a short story by Saki, and liked it very much. Frost’s poem Closing In somehow brought back that memory with its own mesmerizing rendition of the same terrifying image. Saki never actually describes his wolves, whereas Frost draws you inside their killer eyes, through dreamlike tunnels into their essential nature. Of course the poem is about something else—the nature of memory. It worked for me. The poem concludes,

wolves’ eyes draw
their prayerbeads
through whispers
their memories

Well done. And efficacious as hell!  

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Outside the Lines Studio: A place outside the mainstream that fosters outsider art.

Outside the Lines Studio: A place outside the mainstream that fosters outsider art.

By Doug Holder

 At a recent meeting of the Somerville Bagel Bards, I met with artist Anne Johnstone and Tufts University student Libby Schrobe. Both Johnstone and Schrobe are involved with the Outside the Lines Studio near the Tufts University campus. The studio is a sort of clubhouse serving people from Somerville and Medford area with mental disabilities. Schrobe, an intern at the studio said they offer classes in art, cooking, and other activities for members. The studio has hosted shows of various students’ artwork at local coffeehouses like True Grounds in Ball Square, and others.

Johnstone a teacher at the studio, is an accomplished artist and she works with clients often using papier-mâché to create puppet characters. She also works with members through painting and creating structures with chicken wire, and other media.

Johnstone studied at Brown University, and U/Mass Boston. She has had her own exhibits at the Salem Art Association, the Ga Ga Gallery in Swampscott, Mass. and other venues. She has a space at the Mt. Vernon Street Studios in our town, and lives in the Davis Square area.

Schrobe, who has many duties at the studio, told me: “The studio gives folks a place to pass time in an interesting way—rather than just sitting around. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, self-esteem.”

Schrobe said she is a clinical psychology major at Tufts, and often helps running the art classes.

Schrobe has many projects on the burner for the studio including an exhibit at the Tufts University Art Gallery, and a subsequent art auction.

Both Schrobe and Johnstone agree that there is a lot of raw talent among the artists they work with. This is yet another layer of talent that adds to our rich milieu in the Paris of New England.


Review of A CHILD TURNS BACK TO WAVE, POETRY OF LOST PLACES by Peter Neil Carroll, winner of the Prize Americana, The Poetry Press, of Press Americana, Hollywood, California:  Americana, The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture, 7095-1240, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028,, 79 pp., 2012, $15.

Review by Barbara Bialick

This book, A CHILD TURNS BACK TO WAVE, POETRY OF LOST PLACES, which inspired a Hollywood publisher of Americana, is a visual image-filled volume which pivots on the theme of degradation and the fading away of any sign of certain Native Americans and others. This visceral knowledge came from traveling extensively in Western America where he observed how people, buildings, roads, vegetation and rocks crumbled or disappeared under other layers through time, both naturally as well as from the holocaust against Native Americans in the Old West’s history. The ensuing metaphors leave the poet with a deep feeling of loss as he continually came upon remnants of almost magical appeal.

An example of this phenomenon can be seen in a list poem called “Names”:

“Names bleed through dusty brick./HEN & BEN/THE SHOE MEN/MARTINGS DEPARTMENT STORE/Here for you yesterday/here for you today/
And gone last week. Names/that ran the river towns/…Windows in deserted shops post/names of jobless girls who stuck around,/got pregnant, chilled on pills, fell in/and out of love, and too young died…”

In “Waiting for the Moon” he writes, “…Time then to enter shaman country—/gypsum dunes white as snowfall, wilderness of yucca and violet roses/bedded on crests slippery as the sea./The full moon’s expected, first/night after the longest day. How/the ancients marked this celestial/coincidence is lost. I’m on my own…”

As Crazy Horse of the Lakota said, “The Great Spirit gave us this country/as a home. You had yours.”

The author of this collection, Peter Neil Carroll, has written about place in America as both a historian and a poet. This is his second poetry collection. He is also the author of RIVERBORNE: A MISSISSIPPI REQUIEM. He has published in many journals such as Pacific Review, New Mexico Poetry Review and Monterey Poetry Review. He has taught creative writing at the University of San Francisco and history at Stanford University.
He hosted “Booktalk” on Pacifica Radio and edited the San Francisco Review of Books. Born in New York City, he lives in Belmont, California.