Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Deborah Leipziger

Deborah Leipziger

Deborah Leipziger is an author, poet, and professor. Her chapbook, Flower Map, was published by Finishing Line Press (2013). In 2014, her poem “Written on Skin” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the co-founder of Soul-Lit, an on-line poetry magazine. Born in Brazil, Ms. Leipziger is the author of several books on human rights and sustainability. Her poems have been published in Salamander, POESY, Wilderness House Review, Ibbetson Street, and the Muddy River Poetry Review, among others.

To S

Draw me a map of your body,
its crevices and precipices
your tender places of longing.
Guide me through the unexplored places,
your Atacama desert
and singular oasis.
Let me trace the river veins
with my fingers.
Where are the bruises,
the disbelief,
and the fingerprints
of those that caused you pain?
Take me behind the waterfalls,
through the caves into the deep canyons.
Help me navigate the hollow places
of the space between us.

 --Deborah Leipziger

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta. Scribner, 307 pages. $26.

By Ed Meek

A summer read that pushes our buttons and makes us laugh.

Tom Perrotta, who lives in Belmont, is one of a select group of successful American novelists and screenwriters. Dennis Lehane is the other local writer who has made it big.  Where Lehane’s work is dark and edgy and focuses on crime, Perrotta is a satirist who likes to make the reader a little uncomfortable by having his characters engage in behavior that flies in the face of political correctness. In one famous story, “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face,” a father who is having trouble dealing with his son’s gayness, breaks his son’s nose when he slaps him. But then, Perrotta creates sympathy for the same character when his wife divorces him, he is shunned and he feels terrible about what he did.  By zeroing in on political correctness in his writing, Perrotta is able to make fun of many of our current cultural obsessions. At the same time, Perrotta is an accomplished writer who knows how to plot and how to withhold information to keep us reading. Finally, he can write with fluidity from a number of different points of view. As a grad student at Syracuse, Perrotta worked with Tobias Wolf who is also adept at all those facets of writing (Our Story Begins, This Boy’s Life, etc.) and Perrotta appears to have learned quite a lot from his teacher.

As the title suggests, the main character in Mrs. Fletcher is Eve Fletcher, a 46-year-old recently divorced woman who runs a senior center.  The novel shifts between third person sections from her point of view and first person sections from the perspective of her son Brendan. Brendan is a “bro” who is starting college at a local university.  These two characters enable Perrotta to take on the older single woman looking for love and self-affirmation and the shifting sexual and identity roles in the current college scene. 

 Because her son goes off to school, Eve decides to expand her horizons. She takes a class at a local community college in gender studies taught by a former male basketball star who has transitioned into a woman. When Eve receives a mysterious text calling her a MILF, she begins exploring porn and becomes obsessed with amateur lesbian encounters. Meanwhile Brendan, who has left his cheerleader girlfriend behind, falls for a beautiful college female softball player with swimmers’ shoulders who is running a club in support of autism sensitivity.  She and Brendan have much different ideas about sexual roles.

When Brendan first gets to college he meets with an insipid advisor who reminds him that “No means no.” I thought Perrotta might venture into the quagmire of rape on college campuses where a female victim might drag a mattress everywhere as performance art but he stays away from that touchy subject.  There are points in the novel when the characters come close to going right over the edge into wildness and the plot threatens to blow up, but Perrotta knows his audience or perhaps he has a prudent side. In any case, he pulls his characters back from the brink of disaster and into what we used to refer to as normality. In other words, it’s no Wonder Boys. It is the kind of novel you want to share with someone else and it will have you laughing to yourself as you’re reading and after you put it down.

With Eve working at a senior center, Perotta also gets to poke fun at the old (with a light touch) when Eve’s transsexual professor comes to the center to give a talk about her life, and when the young woman Eve has hired as an assistant sports  hardcore tattoos. Eve’s husband, who left her for a younger woman, gets more than he bargained for with an autistic son. In each of these cases, Perrotta upends a stereotype, playing with our preconceptions by developing his characters.

Mrs. Fletcher will make a funny movie. Will it be as good as Election? (one of the best satires of high school ever).  Admittedly, it isn’t easy to maintain a satirical tone throughout a feature length movie, and satire only works with actors who aren’t afraid of looking a little silly like Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick in Election or Francis Farmer and William Macy in Fargo. If we’re lucky Mrs. Fletcher will be out next summer.  That should be plenty of time to think of a better title.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Poet Malcolm Miller Brought to Life at Endicott College

Malcolm Miller

REVIEW BY    Caroline Moll

Too often, we see stories of poets work going undiscovered or underappreciated until they have passed. A variation of this cliche is reflected in the style of a documentary titled, “Unburying Malcolm Miller.” This documentary concerns the late Malcolm Miller, a Salem, MA. eccentric, and often homeless poet, who was well-known character in his native city. I attended a screening of the film, and was able to sit down with director Kevin Carey (a professor at Salem State University), along with writer and friend of Miller, Rob Kessler. Each showed obvious passion for the film they created, saying the poetry sadly was overlooked during his life. This particular screening of the documentary showed 45 minutes of the full 60 minute film.

Before the viewing, Kessler gave me some background on his relationship with Miller, and what inspired him to make the film. He told me that he had been receiving poetry in his mailbox, with a note attached reaching “send $5 if you like this”. His reaction was to send the money, but never thought to read the books. Later he took the time to read them. He mentioned feeling that his biggest regret around it was not reading them earlier. Despite a questionable mental stability, the poet’s talent stood out. On multiple occasions, he asked Miller to to speak to students, all of which he declined. His death prompted Kessler’s reaction to take Miller’s work and get it noticed on a wider scale.

The feeling of honesty and divided views of a single person really drives this film. With a dichotomy of modesty and vanity as traits, interviewees on screen familiarize the audience with Miller’s character, while also showing him in different lights. Before the screening, when I was able to speak to Kessler (recently retired as a professor of English at Salem State University), he mentioned that Miller never wanted to be a coffee table poet. It was always about the writing, it seemed, and not the profit. The raw format allows for the ones in his life to tell their story fully and honestly. The shots also visually went along with Miller’s work. His poetry is satirical in tone, but he focuses a lot on nature in his topics, describing its beauty. Especially during moments where poetry is being read, multiple wide angle nature shots are used. However, other poems are read on location and on screen, including my personal favorite entitled “Tea”.

One specific quote stuck out to me. It is subtle, yet I find it one of the most important lines in the film. “There is beauty in everything”. In retrospect, I wish this quote was emphasized even more. In a way, it encompasses everything the film stands for; it takes an unusual subject and through his legend, creates something beautiful. The beauty in the film exists in its honesty, ditching flashy cinematography or over-the-top drama. It is truly the good, bad, and ugly, of the life this man led. We, as the audience, see Miller as the sketchy man hanging around Salem, the talented yet humble poet, and everything in between. The readings of his poetry are not anything exceptionally hitting, yet are true to the tone of the writing. You can openly hear the words as he means them, in his own idiosyncratic way. Carey explained that there reasoning to filming the readings outside. He had been hoping to add a sense of authenticity, which this technique achieved. Often times music plays in the background of scenes, perfectly selected for a beautifully simple aesthetic.
We are typically judgmental culture. I find the angle this film took admirable, as it shows Miller from different points of views. Carey took a subject that the public may have viewed as crazy or absurd, and uncovered an idea of his true personality and the life he led. This Caulfield meets Thoreau type of character/writer’s story unfolds through his own poetry and other’s reflections of him. Mentally ill, or too eccentric for the world to relate to? This documentary subtly criticizes those who can not see past a person’s intimidating front, to admire the art they create. 

 Caroline Moll is a first year undergraduate student at Endicott College, studying marketing communications/advertising. She has a passion for writing that began as a kid, and has stuck with her ever since. Looking to pursue a career in advertising, she hopes to be able to combine her love for writing and visual art.