Sunday, May 04, 2014

Eating Grief at 3 a.m. by Doug Holder: Review by Former Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish

 (Sam Cornish-Left  Doug Holder-Right)

Eating Grief at 3 a.m.
Doug Holder
Muddy River Books, 2013

Review by Sam Cornish

Doug Holder is a poet of the old city, the city of our fathers, of the 1950s and later. His most recent chapbook has been published by Muddy River Books, a new literary press. Mr. Holder writes poems like notes in a diary. I found myself struck by their economy, wit and urban melancholy. Holder is also a publisher and lecturer at Endicott College, as well as founder of the Bagel Bards of Somerville. As these poems demonstrate, he has a voice unlike that of any of his contemporaries:

There are no places anymore
Where I can sit at a threadbare table
Pick at the crumbs on my plate...

This poem opens a book with the bleak humor of early Beat writing and it is a welcome change from the evasive realism of current poetry from the mainstream and literary press. It is like reading a newspaper written by journalists who records the life of the city in the poem instead of prose. It’s like reading a white blues poem. From “Abandoned Warehouses”:

Sometimes you must follow
The rat’s path
The vagrant,
The scrawled invective of the graffiti

Doug Holder is a poet of the street and coffeehouses, an observer of the everyday. He writes of old Marxists, security guards and his relationship to his deceased father — themes of the common life. I am drawn to these poems as I am to the poetry of Philip Levine and the prose of James T. Farrell. But Holder’s poetry is deeper than that. He sees the world not for what it is, but on his own terms. He is living in the poem rather than in poetry.

It is late at night
And the fruit
Has gone bad...

These poems are to be read almost as if the reader is observing a photograph, centers the composition and the stories within stories. The poems are not only about what Mr. Holder sees, but how he feels. These are his words and no one else’s. From “Transcendence”:

You see when I am
84 floors up
my feet are still
cemented to
this goddamn floor
and I don’t know
who I am anymore.

This collection, if read slowly, pausing, will break your heart. I recommend it for its honesty and its purity.

— Sam Cornish


  1. I'm glad of the grace that shines from this review -- shines on the poems, on the poet, and on the reviewer who says it so well at modest length. Kudos to all.

  2. Anonymous1:12 PM

    I like "white blues poem." -Linda Conte