Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wild Women of Lynn Writings from the Walnut Street Coffee Café

Wild Women of Lynn
Writings from the Walnut Street Coffee Café
Ring of Bone Press
ISBN: 978-1-4834-0596-4
Edited by Blaine Hebbel and Elizabeth Gordon McKim
128 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

When Lynn women, especially comely, talented Lynn women, misbehave, look out. Somewhere in this cacophony of curses, crack whores, drunken teenage soldiers, absentee slumlords, belches, cherry cokes, and mooning, beauty and art surface, somehow finding an outlet and these wild street sirens from that sinful city have their way with us-- “us” being the hot-footed, fleeing males and failed logicians overwhelmed by a flood tide of cresting emotions and feelings.

Of course mere reviewers, like me, have never been admitted into the orgiastic mysteries and Dionysian revelries. Oh, I’ve heard tell of the bacchanal gnashing of teeth and the screams, the horrid screams, of the confused and fallen victims, but that is all. Therefore I must report to you, dear reader, in a circuitous manner based on my biased and sheltered background.

Even the publisher of this collection seems bewitched. He ends his introductory paean to the these literary Amazons in a worshipful manner, He says,

…I stood open mouthed in awe
At the power of the words
From five incredible, beautiful women.
Wild Women of Lynn
Their words are the American Voice
All I needed was to hear them once
To know I could never get enough.

Irony loves the mean streets. Kerry Zagarella’s well-wrought piece, Cardboard soul, exudes irony from the title to the last line. A boy with worn sneakers becomes a mythical god before our very astonished eyes. Here is the heart of the poem,

his body breaks the tape
jumps through the hoops
hurdles over roll of barbed wire and broken glass
cans full of tetanus

Along the sidewalk he kicks broken glass
into piles of neighborhood
cans soar towards the sewer convinced by sneaker
his shoelaces decorate high-tops like Christmas tinsel
their importance forgotten
Like Hermes his feet carry message

One of my favorite pieces in this collection is a short prose poem by Alicia Churchill. The poet’s persona waits outside the psychiatric ward at Beth Israel Hospital. It seems that her friend, a speaker of Kikongo, a Bantu language, is a practicing Shaman and, reasonably enough, had been talking to trees or some such thing. Churchill describes her experience,

…What I want to say is do you speak Shaman? Because
if you did, you would not be holding my friend prisoner. The locked
unit is where they put us, in this culture, if we open our mouths
and admit that we talk to trees…

In her poem Yeahyeahyeah, Jocelyn Almy Testa enumerates her in- your- face straightforward approach,

…I resort
to writing about
everyday bullshit
and its flies
and its stink
and it’s necessary.

The apostrophe in the last line makes the poem with its surprisingly logical, dare I say artful, upturn.

Testa’s poem Alternative Ending portrays the feral-like instinct to survive no matter what life throws in a woman’s way. She begins her primitively carved piece this way,

Lost somewhere between
between innocence
and blame
between cold beating
and fiery pause
she stands
with strangled posture,
musters liveliness
and bites

Kato Mele knows how to tell a story by starting from the middle and branching out into the iniquitous past and foregone future. She’s also canny enough to avoid dimly lit parking garages. Mele explains,

…I must have circled the block 5 or 6 times and it’s raining nails and I’ll
be damned if I’m going to pay the 6 bucks those thieving bastards want up at the garage with the urine-soaked elevators and the questionable lighting in the stairwells.

Mele also has some rather strong opinions about fellow patrons sitting at the bar in a Chinese restaurant. The writer philosophizes over her clearly detailed leanings this way,

…who do I see sitting at the bar but my old pal, A. (I can’t use his full name here because he has since been elected to public office and that lot doesn’t know that he used to be a bottom-dweller like the rest of us.) Sitting next to A. is a conspicuously clean fellow who, upon opening his mouth, revealed himself to be a German. Not your average “Oh, look at us, we’re so great. We’ve got 8 weeks paid vacation a year so no matter where you go on this fucking planet you’ll always be surrounded by fucking Germans” kind of German. No, this guy had an aristocratic bearing. I believe he told me his name was Something Something Wittgenstein.

The roots of Elizabeth Gordon McKim, often called the Jazz Poet of Lynn, run deep. Her modulated verses dance over the page, weaving, bending, circling, and ever jubilant. Her performances at The Walnut Street Coffee Café are legend.  Here’s a taste of the music.

I am
an oily pelican
From deep down deep down on the gulf
I can tell all of you brothers and sisters
aint feelin brave
and aint feelin tough
I got oily feathers
And got my oily stink
I can’t remember how to fly
And I’m feelin strange and weak

Even a dirge by McKim soars with positive implications. The poet laments,

I remember 2 weeks before you died
When your mama moved in with us
How you said to me:

The earth
Has no beginning
And no end
The earth all ways

And I’d heard you say it before
And now it was more important
And I knew
You were also talking
About you and me and all of us
And the big eee
Forever and ever
Even though you were going
To the faraway country
You would still be here
Part of eee

The strength of contemporary literature continues to surprise me. Who could predict this level of consistent quality from Hebbel’s new publishing house right out of the box. Surrender to sin, if only for a night, and read this book.


  1. Excellent, Dennis. You've got good dance moves around the numerous and shifting floors of po/e/try. Liz McKim's been telling me for ages I gotta check out the readings at that infamous cafe. Lynn's barely south but seems so far. Do I fear for my soul?

  2. Absolutely, Brother Tomas. I beseech thee--enter not the environs of that City of Sin, only iniquity and perdition await. Consider my wretched example. At a young age I gave myself up to those pleasure palaces of sex and rhyme and coffee, and now face hellfire on the eternal gas grill. Save yourself, bro.