Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Prayer For Everyone Poems by Tomas O'Leary

A Prayer For Everyone
Poems by Tomas O’Leary
Ilora Press
Circumstantial Productions
Washington, D.C.
92 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Poet Tomas O'Leary

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti… et vobis fratres. Yes, I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned exceedingly well in thought, word, and deed by reading and enjoying way too much blessed Tomas O’Leary’s sacramental poetry text, A Prayer for Everyone.  And, indeed, in this collection of prayers, sermons, homilies, psalms, parables, confessions, and meditations on the curiosities of religious rites, O’Leary demonically and wittily serves up something for every appetite with sometimes skewed, sometimes laugh-out -loud humor. That is not to say that the poet does not have a serious bent. He does. He confronts “heaven’s vacant lot” and life’s “cannibal convention” with due Kierkegaardian dread. The difference is that he responds with exhilarating wonder and glee—a holy glee.  

The title poem, A Prayer For Everyone, appears as the first poem in the book and establishes the poet’s comic view of life and his all- encompassing philosophy. The poem takes the biblical form of the beatitudes from Christ’s all important Sermon on the Mount and with a twinkling eye expands on them. O’Leary’s version begins this way,

Blessed are the absent, for they are not here;
Blessed are the near at hand, for they would
               seem to be;
Blessed are the saved and the damned, for both
               are born to blessing;
Blessed are the best and the worst, the wisest,
               the most foolish…

This way of looking at the world is comic not in a satirical sense, but rather in a Shakespearean sense. O’Leary unflinchingly accepts the world as it as and prays only for the blessings of inertia. In fact he ends this first poem that way,

And blessed, ever blessed, thrice blest, the unbegun
               And neverending;
And blessed, ever blessed, the blest and the unblest:
May all find rest.

Like a bookend, the last poem in the collection reinforces this world view with the addition of an observant, if detached God. The poet says,

Let it end
as it begins
a pale green flash

in that no-ness
of an eye
calmly watching

with potential
wit and wonder
over all nothing.

The poem O’Reilly’s Rites gut hurts with its hilarity. Readers follow the progress of O’Reilly’s internment by his pub mates and their meditations on the “awful ass” and “slobbering plague” that O’Reilly was. After they plant him O’Reilly’s colleagues engage in a memorable toast to his life’s accomplishments. The poet describes this rite of passage thus,

… as we put him down
with decent cause, him dead and all, and we pause
here ever so briefly in our sorrows
to raise strong spirits to his snuffled flame
and send him winging—egregious, lugubrious, ill-famed—
past the hell he well merits…

The poem ends with an inside joke that I won’t spoil for future readers. I must say however that I’m startled that this poem has not been included in a major anthology of English literature. It certainly merits such an inclusion.

Black humor and irony rear their heads in the poem The Prodigal’s Party. O’Leary takes Christ’s famous parable and poetically takes us though the father’s emotions of love and anger. Nothing is as simple as it seems the poet points out in the versed out subtext. The father intimates,

Let us further assume

that I love you
without condition.
Must be nice coming back

to such a dad
after debauchery failed
finally to deliver…

But O’Leary’s not through with this forgiven ingrate. He concludes,

You’ve been a rotten son.
I love you.
Welcome home.

Balancing the spirit world with the material world can be a tricky undertaking. O’Leary rises to the challenge with the poem The Patient Diners. The poet sets the ritual table with a metaphorical meal of bread and wine. Not original, of course, but quite powerful. He uses this imagery to get at the sacredness of life’s every moment. Then he takes a step back and real practicalities take over. He puts it this way.

But hey, we’ve now romanced the fading thread
of time itself, and pray our spirit  
will turn to matter and be smartly set before us—
not that we’re in a hurry to be fed,
just that we’d sooner eat it while we’re not dead.

The absurdness of life, of which his God is part and parcel, has already been digested by this poet and has become part of his sinew. The poem So How Am I Today seems to reflect the poet’s unease, his loss of center. As in Yeats’ Second Coming the center cannot hold. O’Leary puts it this way,

that thin, mean edge, that hint of ill-repose,
the bother of a psyche spinning fast
in its erratic orbit around lost
evidence of a solar burst somewhere …

Did I mention that O’Leary rhymes with the best of them when he chooses that poetic technique (think X.J. Kennedy). He taunts and teases and sets baited traps for his unsuspecting readers. Listen to this ending sequence from the poem Gnosis,

… as words ascended into rhyme;
himself, psychiatrist in earnest, blinked
a wise and vapid catch of phrase each time,
as if to say: : I’m a sphinx with which your linked,
by virtue of my timely diagnosis;
not that you’re nuts—just that I know my gnosis,
and know it never must preclude psychosis.”

Now consider the first stanza (a veritable Ars Poetica) of the poem Rhymer’s Horoscope,

The point of rhyme
is to catch time
by its streaming hair
and hold it there
the split second
till time is beckoned
back to onward motion
upon the sound’s ocean…

Wonderful imagery like this from a playful but reverent intelligence can’t miss. And it doesn’t! Imprimatur!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jenny Hudson: A literary midwife who helps birth your book and guides it out to the marketplace.

  Interview with Doug Holder 

 Jenny Hudson is a literary midwife—she will help birth your book. Delivery can be painful but Hudson is there like a kind, doting and wise partner. She will even help you name your baby…I mean book.

Jenny Hudson--CEO of Merrimack Media


Jenny Hudson has worked as a graphic designer, art teacher, and has designed and produced a line of outerwear for the boutique market. She became smitten with the Internet while designing a site for the clothing business and went on to study web design.  She has produced websites and graphics through her own business since 2002. 

Now she now publishes print-on-demand books and helps authors market them through her business, Merrimack Media ( 

Jenny has published three of her own novels along the way and written many short stories and poems. She was the producer and host of the cable show about live jazz, Live From Chianti, and is an exhibiting digital artist.

I had the pleasure to speak to her on my Somerville Community Access TV showPoet to Poet: Writer to Writer.


Doug Holder: There are many services out there that publish books. What makes Merrimack Media different? Why wouldn’t I go to them instead of you? Don’t the bigger ones like Lulu and their ilk have more resources available to them?

Jenny Hudson:  Not really. Yes they are bigger. They have more volume. But we have a production entity where books are produced and designed. I don’t think the big guys really promote their books like we do. The author does not get the personal attention. Of course I am local, and I meet with people who are local, but I am not limited to locals because of Skype.
I have a number of writers and artists on staff. I have been a graphic designer for years. I have also been an art teacher. I worked for a number of universities. I was at the University of Wisconsin as a web designer and graphic artist. I moved back to Boston 2 years ago.

DH:  Your business is sort of like a mom and pop literary storefront.

JH: I think our business is like a mom and pop store. I answer phone calls, and I actually speak to my authors. (Laugh) I often meet with them and help them.

DH: You are also about creating community—offering events, classes, readings. You are sort of like GRUB STREET in Boston?

JH: Well… GRUB ST. gets you ready for publishing. I  publish the book and beyond. I have a Meet Up group called The Write Publishing Network. There is over 100 people in the network. There are different events offered. Connected with this we have The Writer’s Table that is a monthly critique group. Authors come to have their work critiqued. Jennifer Kroll, who wrote for the Boston Herald is involved. It is free right now. There are a lot of young writers who really appreciate the help.
We also have something called Merrimack Writers, a program that includes events that you can attend for a minimal charge. Right now we have a series of wine readings on Sunday afternoons.

DH: Tell me the process a prospective author goes through to have his manuscript start the process.

JH: Well the author should go to: http://www. —we have a very robust website. We will want to know what your book is about, what services you will need. For instance sometimes an author will need an editor. We have a total of three editors. After the book is completed we schedule readings. We have had readings at Porter Square Books in Cambridge  for instance. We have had a Mass. Art professor read, a local private eye, quite an eclectic group. We also host something called the Beer and Book Series in East Cambridge.

DH: Are your books Print On Demand?

JH:  All our books are POD. They have good production values. Authors get royalty for each book ordered.

DH: Are you selective in regards to manuscripts?

JH: I have looked at manuscripts that are not ready. I tell the author that he or she needs to work with an editor.

DH: Can you talk about some of your authors?

JH:  I have one author Steve Pinkham who wrote Old Tales of the Maine Woods. He grew up in Maine and is in love with the outdoors. This book has many stories that celebrate Maine, its wilderness and mountains. Hal Marshall, a Boston native, penned a book about a runaway slave. He wrote this book when he was sick with cancer. What a triumph to come out with this book! These are just a couple of the many authors we have helped since our inception.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012


Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012
Farrar Strauss Giroux
New York, NY
© Copyright 2012 by Louise Glück
Hardbound, $40, 634 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

When you consider that the national median age is about 37 years of age in the United States it makes Louise in Glück’s newest book of poetry, a 50 year compendium of her work even more remarkable than the work itself.  More than half of the United States population has not been on this earth as long as she has been writing her long, honored career as one of America’s great poets.

The book covers her career from First Born (1968) to A Village Life (2009). The importance of poetry in Glück’s life, perhaps best summed up in “The Wish” which appears in Meadowlands (1996):

Remember that time you made the wish?

                        I make a lot of wishes.

The time I lied to you
about the butterfly. I always wondered
what you wished for.

            What do you think I wished?

I don’t know. That I’d come back
that we’d somehow be together in the end.

            I wished for what I always wish for.
            I wished for another poem.

And so it is…10 books in this volume….nearly 400 poems.  The only thing better would be to be present when Glück reads them all.  The brilliance of the work is not only in the
sheer number of poems, but in the poetry’s ability to climb inside the reader to put the reader as one with Glück.  Every device is used to achieve this symbiotic relationship with readers, There are familiar stories from ancient Greece, medieval Italy and others. There is autobiographical material as she looks back at her life or why and how she writes poems and ultimately how we discover ourselves through our own poetry.  She tells us how we can be a poet without hitting us overhead or making us feel as if she is didactic.
When Glück writes about lost love anyone can feel the resulting emptiness in both the heart and bed:


My heart was a stone wall
you broke through anyway.

My heart was an island garden
about to be trampled by you.

You didn’t want my heart;
you were on your way to my body.

None of it was my fault.
You were everything to me,
not just beauty and money.
When we made love
the cat went to another bedroom.

Then you forgot me.

Not for no reason
did the stones
tremble around the walled garden:

there’s nothing there now
except the wildness people call nature,
the chaos that takes over.

You took me to a place
where I could see the evil in my character
and left me there.

The abandoned cat
wails in the empty bedchamber.

How many of us, male/female, heterosexual/homosexual have felt these emotions at one time or another: “the heart as a garden” is love as flowers, or if you prefer, the flowering of love.  And who has not thought, the heck with love, this is just lust, revealed in the couplet “You didn’t want my heart;/you were on your way to my body.”

And what could be worse than lost love and lust (“evil in my character”) than the imagery
of “The abandoned cat/wails in the empty bedchamber.”

Each of us has had the wail cat or the howling dog in our life.  Glück has grabbed the animal by the tail, swung it around until love/lust smacks the wall and we are left with
that hollow feeling and for some depression at having let ourselves enter what we think
is the love room only to find it is an empty illusion with no furniture or warmth.

Glück’s ability to turn her personal experience into ours is at the heart of her wonderful poetic powers.

These powers extend to other areas relating to her life and introspection of experience. In the poem of the flower in the family we know most commonly as Morning Glory, Ipomoea she writes:
What was my crime in another life,
as in this life my crime
is sorrow, that I am not to be
permitted to ascend ever again,
never in any sense
permitted to repeat my life,
wound in the hawthorn, all
earthy beauty my punishment
as it is yours –
Source of my suffering, why
have your drawn from me
these flowers like the sky, except
to mark me as a part
of my master: I am
his cloak’s color, my flesh giveth
form to his glory.

Yes, Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012 everyone should own.  By everyone I mean readers, fiction and non-fiction writers, memoirists and most of all poets.  It is ne to keep on the shelf and reread many times.  

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle and  Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Monday, December 17, 2012

An afternoon with C. Michael Curtis The Atlantic magazine fiction editor

An afternoon with C. Michael Curtis The Atlantic magazine fiction editor
By Doug Holder   
Last edited: Monday, June 27, 2005

C. Michael Curtis-Atlantic Fiction Editor
*** I was a founding member of the Wilderness House Literary Retreat started by Steve Glines in Littleton, Mass. Although the retreat lasted only a few years I got to interview and write about a lot of interesting folks. Here is one of them.

An afternoon with the Atlantic fiction editor.

The Wilderness House Literary Retreat Hosts Atlantic fiction editor C. Michael Curtis.

On a sweltering early summer morning Somerville poet Linda Haviland Conte and I were ferried by golf cart up a long and winding forested hill to the “Wilderness House Literary Retreat,” in Littleton, Mass, to spend the day with C. Michael Curtis, the fiction editor of “The Atlantic” magazine. “The Atlantic” is moving from its long-time home in Boston to Washington, D.C. It will now be publishing its fiction and poetry in one large annual issue; rather than individual issues. C. Michael Curtis, who will edit this annual, gave the group in attendance a sneak preview of the issue and an illuminating discussion of his life in the rarefied environs of the literary world.

Curtis was peppered with many questions from an inquisitive audience. He was asked about his relationship with late poetry editor of “The Atlantic,” Peter Davison. Curtis met Davison in 1961 at Cornell University when Curtis was a student. It seems that Davison was in town for an Anne Sexton reading. Curtis managed to arrange a dinner meeting with Davison. He showed him a few of his poems, and the poetry editor took them back to Boston. Favorably impressed, Davison offered Curtis an intern or as it was called then a “summer reader,” position. This lead to Curtis’ long affair with The Atlantic. He left Cornell just shy of his PhD, and never went back. Curtis remained friends with Davison over the years in spite of breaking Davison’s rib in a touch football game one Cambridge afternoon.

In his long career at the magazine Curtis has edited the works of many notable authors. On one rare occasion he had to tell John Updike that one of his pieces “didn’t work.” Fortunately Updike was in agreement. A young John Sayles, (the noted indie filmmaker), was very offended by some minor changes Curtis made in his manuscript. It seems that Sayles had substituted dashes for quotations. Curtis naturally changed them back to standard quotes. Sayles took strong exception; telling Curtis that he does everything for a reason. Sayles was ready to withdraw his work. Curtis left the dashes in.

After a hearty lunch with retreat participants, Curtis talked about what he looks for in a manuscript. Since “The Atlantic” gets up to 12,000 submissions a year, quick decisions must be made. Curtis said there are a few things that will undermine a writer’s chances. Misspelled words, bad grammar, adjectives in front of every noun, putting words in caps, overuse of the ellipsis, and the use of the present tense. Curtis feels that the use of the present often makes the work seem affected. Curtis said that in the cover letter that accompanies the manuscript the writer should never explain his story. This is a sure mark of an amateur. A good writer will realize the reader will discover this on his own. Oddly enough Curtis has received manuscripts that included a number of rejection slips from top shelf magazines. This, he said, is a poor advertisement for a writer’s work. Curtis also made it clear that he is not impressed by trendy writing. But he always likes to see well-constructed and coherent sentences. He also looks for an authentic voice and authentic dialogue in the work he reviews.

Curtis believes that an editor can make enormous improvements to a book. Curtis works on the grammar, syntax, and transitions in a story so it will flow. However, he is careful not to edit out the “voice’ of the writer. He feels that it is possible we may never know the true voice of authors like Thomas Wolfe, who was heavily edited by Maxwell Perkins.

For the aspiring writer, Curtis is strongly in favor of MFA writing programs. He said: “A lot of the stuff we publish comes from writers in MFA programs. Writers in MFA programs are the ones who are going to stay with it.”

As Linda and I left the retreat, we were met by a group of wild turkeys that had roamed on to the grounds. Perhaps they heard about this literary talk. After all, I’ve heard it said more than once that “Literature is for the birds.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Interview with Poet Judith Katz Levine: An eclectic poet and all that 'jazz'

with Doug Holder

Judith Katz Levine is a poet who brings in many elements into her work including the jazz flute. Influenced by Miles Davis, Coltrane and other she finds her lyricism mixes with her sense of musicality.
Judith Katz- Levine
Judy Katz-Levine is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, "When The Arms Of Our Dreams Embrace" (Saru 1991) and "Ocarina" (Saru/Tarsier 2006). Her most recent chapbook is "When Performers Swim, The Dice Are Cast" (Ahadada 2009).  She is the recipient in 1988 of a Massachusetts Cultural Councel Grant and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Her poems have been published extensively in the USA, Japan, England, Turkey and distributed in Mexico and Canada as well. Over the years her poems have appeared in "The Sun", "Fence", "Istanbul Literary Review", "Muddy River Poetry Review", "Blue Unicorn", "The Plaza" (Japan), "Voices Israel" (Israel), "The Delinquent" (UK), "Mother Jones", and many other magazines.  She has been anthologized in "The Dreamlife of Johnny Baseball" and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" -women writers on baseball.

I had the pleasure to talk to her on  my Somerville Community Access TV show  Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: You studied with  Denise Levertov. How did you become with her and her workshops?

Judith Katz Levine:  I originally got involved with her because my husband was at MIT and he got into her class. He invited me to meet her , and I had read her recent collection Soul Dance.  She invited me to audit the class. At this time she was more political. I loved the class. She was a very passionate poet. And she really had me realize that I could be a poet and focus primarily on my art form.

DH: What were the workshops like?

JKL:We found ourselves meeting at each others homes. It was very informal. At one point she was living in Maverick Square in East Boston. She was very kind but really outspoken about the Vietnam War. She helped us see connections between the military industrial complex and the people sent off to war. She wasn't a pacifist but she was very outspoken about the war.

DH: I know you have had a number of health issue. Pain can spur on poetry. How about in your case?

JKL: Actually I use a lot of alternative therapies to deal with my health issues. I actually use music as an emotional charge for my poetry and heightened awareness for the holistic things I do. Yes I have had some health problems. I don't talk about them too much. I mostly try to move forward. I will say though that writing is a great release for any kind of struggle.

DH : Have you taught much?

JKL: Most of my creative endeavors are between music and poetry. I have taught at Bunker Hill Community College one summer.  I haven't done that much work as a teacher because I don't have an master's degree.

DH: What was your life like when you started out as a poet?

JKL: I was married right after college. I worked a lot of odd jobs. I worked at a nursing home, legal services, an early childhood center, and in addition to helping my husband with his acupuncture clinic.

DH: How does your Jewish background figure in your work?

JKL: For the last 10 to 15 years it has become more important. I identify with the male aspect of the Hasidim , with the mens' dancing and singing. I am a Reform Jew. I have done a lot of music with synagogues, and played my flute to accompany rabbis who sing. I am most interested in the link between the link between the spiritual and music.

DH: You have been influenced by jazz, and your poetry is often accompanied by your jazz flute. Can you talk about this?

JKL: I come from a musical family. I had a jazz uncle. He loved jazz-he became an agent at one point. I played flute on my own in college. Then I married my husband who is a jazz sax player--so we just became involved with the music. I feel an affinity for the work of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ellington, etc...We get together with other jazz musicians and jam quite often.

DH:  In one of your poems Noticing-- you write about how the poet has to take everything in.

JKL: think it is an artist's job to function in the world with a heightened sense of awareness. My work as a poet has brought to that height.


I, who notice things, cicada shells, dusk. Eyes gathering into a glance. Who notice the scars on a woman's back. Your DNA spiraling into a stellar map. Child skipping stones in a merengue rhythm. The lake that became an eye and I noticed the dragonfly on your arm. You found a warm spot in the waters. Noticed that cantor picking Wild Susans before a party. I'm the one who notices a vaudeville aside about chopped liver. Noticed the friend named 121, after a psalm. Noticed she was alive, now she's gone. A partner in psychological thinking — a stroke made her fall like an oak. And I went to the funeral and noticed how almost no one was there. So this is the story of noticing her husband weeping, and no wheat. Because he can't eat that wheat.