Friday, February 06, 2015
Stitched with Gossamer: A Review of Jennifer L. Freed’s These Hands Still Holding
Reviewed by Kimberly Pavlovich
In Jennifer L. Freed’s poem “Almost Never” she writes, “But our lives are stitched with gossamer / in any case. Details shimmer / and then drift / away”. These lovely lines from a poem in These Hands Still Holding make memory tangible through subtle imagery and concrete detail. Freed’s poems indeed capture the gossamer—the shimmering moments and details that might otherwise drift away. As she explores themes such as nature, childhood, parenting, and loss, the poet takes deceptively simple moments and transforms them into ones more thoughtful and complex.
One poem that demonstrates Freed’s deft ability to transform the everyday is “Joshua the Basset Hound,” the first poem in the collection. Freed begins with a relatable image of a dog leaning against its owner: he “presses his thick length against my leg.” This image, however, quickly becomes more meaningful. The dog reminds the speaker that “this / is the point of all the rest: to lean / with one’s whole being / into the life of another, / … even if, unlike the dog, / we are afraid of falling.” Freed depicts the basset hound with its owner in order to communicate a message about trust, life, and love.
“Dandelions” also demonstrates the thoughtful quality of These Hands Still Holding. In this poem, the speaker discovers a bouquet of dandelions left by her daughters. Freed writes that the daughters “are still young enough to see / bright beauty in spring lawns flecked with yellow, / to want to clutch that beauty in their hands.” These lines portray the innocent, excited nature of children while at the same time hinting how aging changes one’s perspective. While the children are “still young enough to see / bright beauty” in dandelions, the parent speaker may no longer have this same point of view. In this way there is a quiet wistfulness to “Dandelions,” especially as the speaker later reflects on the dandelion down:
loose and lifting in the breeze,
as though each flower, knowing
the nearness of death,
had spent its last force willing
its whole being
toward its young,
so that some beauty of its life
might yet live on.
These lines reveal the parent’s nostalgic perspective and life’s inevitable cycle.
Freed further gives depth to this theme of parenting and childhood in her poem “Grace.” The speaker describes her daughters helping earthworms from the asphalt: “delicate fingers lift limp strands / of pink and brown, / return them / to sunburned grass, dark garden soil.” As in “Dandelions,” this vivid image demonstrates children’s innate curiosity and concern. The last stanza of “Grace,” “I watch, / and then kneel down / to help,” is powerful in its brevity. The stanza illustrates the simple but poignant moments spent with one’s children. Perhaps there is something for parents to learn from their children’s actions.
“When You Are Not Here” stands out. Freed skillfully turns an “O X” signed in a note the speaker writes to a loved one into oxen: “Let them let you hear, in their broad, barreled chests, / the thrum and swell of their beating hearts, in which / you will also hear / my heart.” This vibrant depiction of oxen conveys the speaker’s love and sense of longing for the person to whom she writes. She transforms the simple letters into something much more, something living and breathing that leaps off the page—something Freed herself accomplishes gracefully in each of her poems.
Although the content of Freed’s poems imaginatively explores the everyday, equally expressive titles would have only strengthened the collection. The titles of Freed’s poems are plain and straightforward without the compelling meaning that might unite them more coherently with the text. Freed’s collection brings to mind the poet Marie Howe, who also reflects upon the everyday. For example, in “Hurry” Howe writes, “Hurry up honey, I say, hurry, / as she runs along two or three steps behind me / her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.” This distinct image of a child running to catch up with a parent evokes Freed, whose own poems elegantly infuse the everyday with unique perceptions that intensify the reader’s own view of the world around her.
Kimberly Pavlovich is a junior at Endicott College majoring in English and minoring in Communication. She is the author of You Carry the Woods (Ibbetson Street Press). Her writing has also been published in FamilyFun and the Endicott Review, as well as online articles affiliated with Small Beer Press and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. She is currently the editor-in-chief of the Endicott Review and plans to pursue a career in the publishing industry.
Wednesday, February 04, 2015
The Dollhouse Mirror
Poetry by Frank Watson
© 2014 by Frank Watson
Edited by Boris Komatina
Plum White Press
Sofbound, $12.95, 105 pages
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
Frank Watson has written a short (and short poems) volume of poetry which are easy to read and comprehend. There has always been something about short poems that has attracted me to them and Watson’s repertoire succeeds where many I have seen do not.
Here are a few examples of Watson short stuff:
not long ago
the midnight smoke
I fade like
the howls of a wolf
on a long, blue night
dust in the wind
on the day
we parted our ways
into a story
of stranded souls
away from city lights
These poems are short, to the point and reveal something of Watson’s thought process and a perhaps unhappy romantic life. It also shows that somewhere buried in the past or present is a touch of depression or insecurity as in these two poems:
in the crevice
to sail out
on a gentler day
he looks around
but the enemy
And the final poem in the volume which I find sad and I prefer happy endings to poetry books:
there is time
enough for weeping
as the dust settles
and all the books
Now while I interpret these poems to be about himself, it possible Watson is observing others and writing down his impressions. Either way they can be so true that a reader
finds himself within these poems.
Not quite haiku, Watson’s micro poetry is most likely eastern based and can be enjoyed as a quick read or a thought provoking set of poems. Though I must admit as one who likes titles, even when a poem’s title is “Untitled” the lack of any titles is a bit disconcerting to me, though probably not to many readers who will enjoy these poems for what they are.
Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson St., 2010) and Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva Press, 2011), Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review,Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7& Bagel Bard Anthology 8.
Monday, February 02, 2015
|( Left to Right: Andrea Humez and Elizabeth Hunter) photo by Jason Merilll)|
There is something to be said about sitting at your favorite table, beside a fireplace, having a bagel, with the requisite smoked fish--tomatoes and onions, and a dark roast. Of course I am talking about my favorite haunt Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. My guest on this cold winter's morning was the founder of Somerville's Theatre@First, Elizabeth Hunter, and playwright Andrea Humez.
Hunter, a gregarious woman somewhere in her 40s, moved with her husband from the hinterlands of Arlington to the Paris of New England a couple of years ago. She lives behind Davis Square, and finds Somerville " An intense city, interactive, with a strong sense of community." Hunter started Theatre@First in 2003, and their first production was " Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," by Tom Stoppard.
Besides producing plays, Hunter and director Andrea Humez have started a new program FirstWorks that provides workshopping opportunities for playwrights to receive feedback on their new scripts from experienced directors and actors, and from the audience itself. Their first staged reading is titled: That Night in the Field, by Christopher Lockheardt , that is described on the website as a play that involves: A black envelope, a visit from a summer fling,... recriminations at a family gathering, etc..."
According to Humez First Works has a reading committee of theater professionals who review and vote on the most important manuscripts. The program provides the playwrights with help with drafting, the play, rehearsals, etc...
Hunter told me that the organization is a non-profit, but the get most of their their funding through ticket sales. They perform at a number of venues in Somerville, like the: Elizabeth Peabody House, the Unity (church), the Somerville Theater, and elsewhere. They have extensive experience performing Shakespeare ( As You Like It, Winter's Tale, etc...), and have received press coverage in The Boston Globe and other media outlets.
Hunter is a graduate of Wellesley College, and has acting and directing experience in college and community theater settings. She had an acting role as the psychiatrist in Equus-- a role traditionally played by a male. Hunter reflected:" Being a woman changed the relationship with the protagonist. It brought in a maternal element-- a relationship with a sympathetic woman."
Humez is an educational researcher, and is finishing up her PhD. She had her first directing experience at MIT in 1997, and has been involved in theatre ever since.
Hunter is excited about doing theater in Somerville. She said " There is a huge explosion of play-- writing--conversation--engagement, and audiences that are willing to pay attention to all of this."
On Feb. 27, 2015 Hunter and Humez will be presenting the play Mousetrap at the Unity ( church).
For more information go to: http://www.theatreatfirst.org
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Keepers Meet Questing Eyes
Poems by John Michael Flynn
Leaf Garden Press, 2014
120 p., $6.00
Reviewed by David P. Miller
John Michael Flynn’s publications include two previous poetry collections, published in 1997 (Moments Between Cities) and 2013 (Washing Apples in Streams), and at least one chapbook, States and Items, published recently by the same publisher as the present collection. Of the 98 (by my count ) poems included in Keepers Meet Questing Eyes, many were previously published in 40 different journals and anthologies. It really not possible, in the length of a review, to survey the different voices and subject matters included in this ample selection, so I will focus on a sample of those poems that speak most directly to me. These feature nuanced, detailed representations of specific people, or a kind of cognitive-dissonant relationship between the present situations of the poems’ speakers and their memories or backgrounds.
“Thanksgiving as L’Ultima Cena the Year I Am Seventeen” presents a suspended moment of family dynamics at what can be the fraught scene of Thanksgiving dinner. The family is compared with Da Vinci’s Last Supper, “Two symmetrical groups of three on each side of my father, / depth of perspective and vertical lines of walls and ceilings accentuating the scene at our table.” In contrast with Dad’s grounding presence – “the serenity he feels centered in his family, his mission / not even looking up, yet so powerful in his fatigue and wisdom” – Mom emerges with the food that moves time forward, animating the painting – “those noises of our meal sustaining a timelessness, each passing second mythical yet true.” It is surprising, then, to learn how the speaker sees himself in the picture: “a high contrast between lighted upper-left walls / and the soft shadowed light and me, / puzzled betrayer and teen seated in his Judas spot, /an angry confused face craving a vision for his shadows.”
This sense of neither here nor there, out of alignment, haunts many of these poems. In “Sanguine in Worcester,” we see a “him” finding himself in the real flow and sense of life in that city, like a Whitmanesque saunterer:
He walks Millbury Street
studies the hard faces of a new tide of immigrants
in the smokestack windows from the Wyman Gordon plant
that like so much of the landscape used to be there.
He watches Kelly Square gridlock trap a blaring ambulance,
laborers bundled for brutal cold with hoods up,
Cor-Tex gloves, Patriots logos and pocket change,
lugging lunch pails and plenty of wishes.
His silent meditations teach him that “he’s still a somebody in the making,” and though he might wish to escape, he can still find nourishment while immersed in this hard-bitten place: “a fortress of blood in iambs, meters and images / resilient as any three-decker on the city’s seven hills.”
However, the ability to align himself in an affectively equivocal setting in one case is challenged in others. In “Class Envy on Constitution Road,” the writer perhaps wants to settle his art into what seems the periphery of an upper-middle-class “mountainside estate”:
I could spend days here hidden behind my sunglasses,
court ways to describe the cleverness of light,
the roseate essence in cedar bark
where they’ve been planted equidistantly
on both sides of an entry road.
With some irony, although that passage itself comes close to actually doing what he says he would like to do, in the end the situation is simply too alien, as he contemplates:
this parcel of heavenly domestication
its white manse seen through a cleft
in a high furry green-gray ridge
each window saying no, no, no,
not mine to covet.
Using condensed images, “Yesterday, Today, City” represents the speaker’s constant movement toward becoming in a more benign light, but still with a full acknowledgement of what he carries forward. Whereas previously he was “a drop of sweat in the scuppers of an oil barge. / Jets thundered out of my temples”, he now finds himself “a white horse / Sunshine fills my modest room.” The room, though, also contains his “losses” arranged “in a straight line …brought out from my private crate of horrors / so many closets, so many other cities.” Still, these are treasured, “each one like it’s a found object.” If he has found some redemption, or positive transformation, it is not at the price of discarding his deeper ground.
As mentioned, many of the poems here give us the texture of specific people, the fruit of close and sympathetic observation. Although “Albert Conant” begins with “Friends warned me he was off his rocker,” this easy judgment is challenged the more we find out about him. Yes, it is true that
One day he just started walking out of the valley,
mumbling to himself. He was on his way back to Maine,
his home-state, the only place he’d ever felt wanted
– leaving his wife “hysterical, missing him.” This is the same man, though, that reverently buries roadkill, calls phlox “a lavender blessing” and knows the natural world in depth:
We watched a hawk one time and he said, Need more hummingbirds.
The whole darn valley is thirsting for flowers.
“Millwood Ennis and Chester Garland” presents two portraits in one, in the course of it unexpectedly flipping one of the pictures. First, a barber and “the mayor of our village, one Don Millwood Ennis / who I always thought of as the original swamp Yankee / told me over his oily and busy and loquacious shears / a story about Chester Garland.” The latter “had blown his brains out with a Winchester 30-30.” As critical as that is, as the poem unfolds we learn something more central: Chester, classmate of the speaker’s mother, meant more to him than a rural suicide story. For example:
He showed me my first bird’s next.
Having taken it gingerly from one of our trees
he’d said to me before looking at it,
A robin will always lay four eggs.
Sure enough, there were four of them.
It’s the simplicity and clarity of these details that tell of the complexities of a real life and allow us to extend ourselves with empathy.
These poems represent only the lightest suggestion of what is available in this volume, but I hope indicate the interest I sustained while reading it. At the same time, I could not help but feel that there is so much work presented here, it was difficult for me to have a sense of the book as a whole – of its particular shape or focus. Too, the book’s title puzzles me. The word “keepers” suggests two things to me – either a person in some position of authority (e.g. zoo-keeper) or a particularly valuable find (a “real keeper”). After finishing the book, I still cannot connect either of these with an image of “questing eyes.” Nor did I find the title included as a phrase in any of the poems, although I may have missed it despite deliberately reading for it. Nevertheless, I am glad to be introduced to John Michael Flynn’s poetry and look forward to more.