Saturday, July 27, 2013
By Linda M. Fischer
Finishing Line Press
Review by Dennis Daly
“Let my voice mingle and drift where it may,” says Linda M. Fischer in her new poetry collection entitled Glory. Well, it turns out that her words drifted over the environs of Somerville Massachusetts and into the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square where Fischer’s chapbook was thrust into my hands by the renowned and bearded Bringer-of-Books.
The collection’s opening poem, Memorial Day Weekend sets out in loving detail the author’s relationship with her mother, her father, and her mother’s garden. Along the way Fischer establishes her bona fides as a nature writer with her apt descriptions, her sensory meditations, and her magical memories. Here is a telling section of that poem,
As I clear away dead stalks, reworking
a weed-blown croft until I can feel its bones,
I think of the gift from my father—a garden to tend—
at five, the scent of stewardship no less sweet
than tips of daffodils and narcissus reaching for the sun.
He contrived the borders that were to limn my world…
Later in the same poem Fischer lives in the moment which she directs according to her own will. Future considerations like ownership are beside the point. The poet explains,
…What I have begun
for her I do as much for myself, to compass
what is possible in the time we have left to us.
She talks about the gardens “enhancing the value
of the property,” glossing over its inevitable sale.
I obsess about the perfect juxtaposition of purple
coneflower with globe thistle…
What’s important to Fischer is not merely the seasons or the anticipation of future blooms, but the memories which fuel her anticipation. Unlike Lot’s wife, she’s not one to look back, her memories are enough. In her poem Leaving she exults,
…I learned to rake—
a seasonal reckoning on the heels of adolescence—
piling up memories to last a lifetime
within a span of only ten years.
when I struck out on my own I never
The poet’s green thumb extends beyond plant life to garden implements in her poem The Benches. She refurbishes two cracked and moldered benches from her mother’s garden. These benches had aged just as her mother had. In one sense it was part of her mother that was being brought back. Fischer describes the results,
…by the time
they fell to me who would imagine them rising
like a pair of resplendent phoenixes—new
red oak burnished in urethane, ironwork
powder-coated in its original color, pieces
fitted with identical nuts and bolts—so by
now I can almost credit The Resurrection.
The poem Frankly Ferns charms with its sexually suggestive language and witty puns. Apparently even the plant industry has caught on and markets the various types of ferns coyly. Consider this stanza,
Now, here’s a tempting number—hart’s tongue,
something of a braggart: a hardy “evergreen terrestrial”
tagged as perennially “fresh and erect.” Bearing
little resemblance to its brethren, it reflects a soupcon
of impertinence, likely, I think, to insinuate itself
into any social situation—its abundant foliage
“neatly puckered” as if it had every expectation of getting
a big sloppy kiss. Who could resist?
This poet not only looks at nature in her gardens closely, she also looks at herself looking. The results can be pretty funny. In Cheating the Deer Fischer’s persona dreams a veritable Garden of Eden with sensual stimulations of lilac scent, wayward breezes, diamond showers, and a rainbow of iris. She envisions Monet’s gardens spilling into place. Then the villainous intruding deer nips her beautiful buds. The plot thickens,
thieves, they slip in from the woods to browse,
their stealth footfalls rumored in the soft earth.
She may dream of her iris emerging from tight
cocoons like butterflies on the wing; foxglove
advancing like an armed battalion, lances held
aloft; the peonies swelling like gaudy balloons…
and well she may dream, among other things,
of dressed venison with a nice Bordelaise and fries.
The last two lines neatly transform the poet-gardener into Hannibal Lector.
Fischer’s poem Hubris deals with mankind’s attempt to control his environment. The poet sets up another humorous situation when she goes to war against weedy grass. On her hands and knees she pulls tufts of it out. Her daughter catches her in the act. Even tiny lawns are afflicted by this lighter variety of invading grass. Trust me. I know. Here is a description of her battle plan,
Doggedly she stalks outlying tufts
like a huntress, shrugging off the likelihood
that someone will think her daft—half
stooped, peering interminably over her toes.
She tries to justify expunging one
unruly invader from a host of others,
and can’t—the thrust sufficient unto itself.
The title poem and the last piece in this collection celebrates morning and rebirth and hope and in a sense immortality. The poet gives a pantheistic view of the waking world. She becomes the fox that coughs in the distant wood, the hawk that feels the earth’s living breath and the snake coiling in the sun. As she observes she becomes part of the rhythm of life and with her human awareness she exults in the music and beauty of it all. She sums it up this way,
… I will cultivate my garden
and I will move to the rhythms of the living earth.
I will listen to my heart and I will sing
when I cannot help but sing, and glory—
glory!—for this is the morning of my life,
and this is the way the day begins.
Read this lyrical wondrous collection first thing in the morning. It will make your day.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Interview with Poet/ State Rep. Denise Provost
with Doug Holder
Denise Provost writes:
"I started writing – mainly, but not exclusively poetry – as a child. I got a full scholarship to Bennington College during my sophomore year of high school, based in large part on a manuscript of poetry. In my senior year, I decided to go to law school, after having decided that I was not suited for a graduate degree in English literature.
I graduated from Bennington in 1971, started law school in 1972, graduated from law school in 1982. I worked as a lawyer for the City of Newton, then was recruited by the City of Somerville, to work for reform mayor Eugene Brune. Working in local government gave me ideas about how government could become more transparent and responsive. In 1993, I ran for Ward Alderman in Ward 5, coming very close against a long-time incumbent.
The incumbent resigned a year and two weeks later, and the Board of Alderman appointed a replacement. I ran against the appointee in 1995, again coming close. After that second defeat, I figured my political career was over. Then, in 1999, the ward 5 incumbent did not run for re-election, and one of the at-large aldermen made the same decision. I ran for the latter seat, and won.
I served on the Board of Aldermen for almost seven years, running for state representative in a special election. I won that election in February, 2006, and have since represented Somerville’s 27th Middlesex District.
As my children got older, I found I was writing more poetry again, and decided that I needed a teacher. I was accepted into Susan Donnelly’s poetry writing workshop in 2010. Since then, I’ve had poetry published in a number of print and on-line journals."
I had the pleasure to interview Provost on my Somerville Community Access TV Show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.
Doug Holder: Are there any canonical Somerville poets worth mentioning?
Denise Provost: Sam Walter Foss. Foss Park is named after him. I believe he was a poet during the early 20th Century. He wrote some good poetry actually. His poem about Prospect Hill is used every Jan 1st when we go up to Prospect Hill to raise the first flag.
DH: In your statement it mentions your poetry manuscript helped you get into Bennington College. What was the theme?
DP: I wrote about ideas, and observations. At one point I did a series of poems about each one of the colors. I wrote about nature. I wrote about ideas I encountered.
DH: What got you started as a poet?
DP: I liked it. And I also think I started because I was very fond of song. One of the things I like about songs is that they have meter. And usually they have rhyme. Early on thoughts would would come to me in the form of metric rhymes' little bits of lyrics. I would make up new lyrics to different melodies. And at some point these turned into poems.
DH: You are a graduate of Boston University Law School. Why did you not stick with a literary career?
DP: I remember the application for Bennington asked me what centuries did I want to specialize in. I was convinced that I wanted to be a Medievalist. And then I got to college and I started reading other material, and I realized I couldn't spend my life with metaphysical poets of the 15th Century.
DH: Do you think you would make a good poetry teacher?
DP: Possible--maybe even probably. I have worked with young people. I have a good eye and a good ear. And I know I am a good editor. I edited professionally for the New England Journal of Law and Medicine.
DH: Are you familiar with any lawyer/writers?
DP: Well of course Franz Kafka was a lawyer for the German Workers Compensation System. Andrew Marvel is a favorite poet of mine. He was a diplomat and in the British parliament.
DH: Do you write political poetry?
DP: Occasionally. Sometimes I am inspired by the newspaper to write poetry. And sometimes it is rather satirical. I love Calvin Trilling. He writes wonderfully, funny political poems. Even when they are not topical anymore they are fun to read.
DH: Has what you write about now changed from when you were young?
DP: No. Every bit of that WOW! response I had as a kid I still have. If my subject matter has changed it is because my world is much bigger now. I have children now, although I don't write about them that much. I write a lot about things I remember. Like once I was at the gym and saw a woman who reminded me of someone I knew years ago. I decided to write a story about her in the form of a sonnet. Sonnet-writing is a challenge for me. I have to say everything I want to say in 14 lines.
DH: The poem is never finished, right?
DP: As Paul Valery wrote: "The poem is never finished it is abandoned."
DH: David Slavitt--a noted poet, author, translator etc... ran against Tim Toomey, a state legislator, and lost by a landslide. He told me that poets would make good politicians because they have built in shit detectors. Your take?
DP: I think that if you are a self-disciplined poet, and you listen very carefully--you have to have one. It helps you hone in on the essence of things.
Crafty Bob, and his good friend, Mr. Wynn,
woo Foxborough. They make a solemn vow
that the great Pleasure Dome that they’ll put in
won’t turn the town to Vegas, or Macau.
“Bucolic” is the way Foxborough will stay.
No high rise buildings, or parades of cars
will spoil its home town feel, or Patriot ways,
but make the tax base plump; leave life unmarred.
I don’t live there. It is not up to me
to trust these wealthy gentlemen, or not.
I’ll watch Foxborough’s courtship, and I’ll see
if the Deal can be marketed, and bought.
I’m certain that the one per cent must know
what benefits the rest of us, below.
– Denise Provost
Water Chestnut Pull, Mystic River
There was a time when every day in June
I woke anticipating summer’s fields;
picking wild strawberries; my good fortune
then to enjoy that sweet and fragrant yield.
But this June day another harvest brings
out on the weed-choked river, where we glide,
dragging up water chestnuts’ living strings
of leaf, stem, root, and seed-pods, dripping slime,
Monday, July 22, 2013
He Looked Beyond My Faults
And Saw My Needs
By Leonard Gontarek
Hanging Loose Press
Brooklyn, New York
Review by Dennis Daly
Lucifer, God’s favorite, now fallen, angel graciously invites us into his looking glass world made up of perfumes, strange sex, strong drink, idols, and impending death. He does this through the imagistic poetry of Leonard Gontarek. Oh wait, I have this backwards. Leonard Gontarek invites us into his emotionally charged and arty version of hell on earth. The poet does this through Lucifer’s angelic, albeit horny, persona. Hmmm… perhaps I had it right the first time.
Although the movement in these poems is linear, the interjection of dreamlike images and surreal logic beckons the reader elsewhere and leads him into cul de sacs, detours, and neighborhoods off the beaten road.
In Gontarek’s opening poem entitled Autumn Sonata the poet considers Jackson Pollock, a fallen angel if ever there was a fallen angel. According to the poet Pollock saw the world as a burning cruise ship. Sounds about right! Pollock’s work also engendered a strange calm into some of his most chaotic compositions. Gontarek sees equivalent natural landscapes, where shadows deepen on autumn leaves. The poet (or is it Lucifer) is onto something here. He cautions rightly against cavorting with the darker powers. Gontarek concludes with some pretty intriguing lines,
Pollock once sat in a field with an elixir,
after selling his soul to the devil.
A mixture of whiskey and dusk.
It looked like the glass was frothing,
but it was ordinary mist.
Recently I looked at a Pollock painting
which, always sacred to me,
looked like a bunch of paint piled on a canvas.
One of the saddest afternoons.
Even angels walking the earth have second thoughts about their nature and their choices. Gontarek details his misgivings after twenty-five years of writing poetry in Hymn, a short poem, which makes the point wittily. The poet says,
I am stepping out, just now, for stamps.
Terrorists pull up in a silver Mercedes—
the newer, American model—spray Uzis in my direction.
I fall to the ground, riddled with doubt.
I bet that there are quite a few poets out there that can identify with those lines.
A little bit of hell on earth can be a good thing. For instance the poet finds God or at least religion between Little Pete’s Diner and the windy corner of Pine and Quince. Nearby hunger spurs patrons into the inferno. Gontarek lovingly concludes,
…I undo your hair. Here the analogy breaks down.
The line is long at Dante’s Ribs. The leaves exquisite, combust.
A fly lands on the heart. Evening follows.
The poet-angel penning these poems contents himself with love and mysteries rather than seeking meaning in life. He interchanges dreams with reality on a whim or rather as part of his artistic makeup. There’s little sentimentality here. Here’s how he puts it,
…God fingers us, all night long.
Cars skirl the wet streets. Brilliant red cars.
Leaves don’t so much fall, as
are dumped into wet needles.
Difficult to tell dream from the other thing.
Inhabit this world when I damn well feel like it.
Compassion is not a requirement.
Gontarek’s poem Loop is a wonderful continuum of imagery praising the seekers of worldly knowledge and the limits of that same knowledge (think Garden of Eden Tree of Knowledge). The poem opens this way,
The trees are infinite. A particle of bird sits on a branch.
The clouds, scum-caked bottoms of boats.
Heart, dog on a 20-foot leash, awake and restless, goes so far.
Praise, infinite. The trees have made us for themselves.
I want to know death, smear of red, understand.
Anonymity can be a necessity in the environs of hell, especially for an angel, fallen or not. Gontarek sets his poem The Summer in a strip joint. The poet’s persona explains,
Nothing to do, but finish
my Absolut, keep to myself.
Take in a show. Nightclub
gone to seed. Erotic act:
Leda And The Swan. Leda
of course, a woman. The swan,
not necessarily a man.
Try not to look at the others,
On the way in, and out.
The poem entitled Email is made up of ten short erotic fragments of varying intensity, some balanced with a touch of melancholy. The theme seems to be the ambiguity (hell, the excitement) that exists in Gontarek’s infernal regions. Consider this one fragment,
Afterward, I go to hell like a bullet from a sad man.
Beautiful nude women, trees, along the way.
Take off my clothes, you said, so they tear.
Sometimes conferring with fellow angels only confuses things, especially while intoxicated. The poem Notebook V expresses some of the poet’s exasperation. Here’s how the poem opens,
The angel asks if we have thought things over. Close, her perfume on you.
God watches on TV.
Karma ran over my dogma.
Vodka, cocaine, Gap cologne cocktail.
Do I know what I mean? My sister in any windy
Garden, cupping a praying mantis like a green flame.
The Buddha hears all prayers with his big ears. buddha error.
Goddamn Sacre Coeur is everywhere.
And later in the same poem you get this riveting and spot on line,
I wait for the rusty factory gate to open. Drinking in dawn, pitching woo
Artistry brings intensity and forbidden knowledge. And with that seems to come a sense of surveillance. The poet as fallen angel describes the sensation as follows,
… A twig snap, just as expected.
A voice, stern and fatherly, hushes the extras, or has he just imagined it.
Moon, cylindrical-shaped in pond. Everything heightened in crosshairs of God.
Brave fire and brimstone if you must, but buy this book. Leonard Gontarek is a heluva poet.