Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Hadja Bangoura

Hadja Bangoura

Hadja Bangoura joined Teen Voices Emerging (Boston's teen girls' writing and empowerment program) to challenge herself to try something new like creative writing. Bangoura feels taking this risk had a great impact on her as she is now confident with writing poetry and personal essays, along with public speaking. Her work has previously been published in both film form and written form in Northeastern's Woof magazine and Wilderness House Literary Review. She has appeared on Somerville's SCAT TV's "Poet to Poet, Writer to Writer" show. 

She and I: My Battle Within 
By Hadja Bangoura

My insecurity is my best friend 
and at the same time my worst enemy. 
I carry her with me everywhere. 
And she’s something I can put away 
for awhile,
and then she comes out 
without my consent 
and tells me things that play with my mind. 
I’m never able to control her. 
She lives and breathes inside of me,
blinding my eyelids,
crushing my spirit
tying down my tongue, 
tearing apart my words, 
shutting down my heart,
pulling on my veins,
choking on my emotions. 
I am gasping for air.

She sleeps inside my head -- keeping me up all night
and demands that I push others away from me 
so she can have my undivided attention. 
She tells me that I am not worth anyone's affection, 
I am not beautiful enough for someone to love me, 
I don't look like the other “typical” girls 
so who would accept me in these conditions? 

Soon I watch myself distancing my loved ones 
as I moved from city to city, country to country.
My shame seeps outside of me,
growing out of my pores.
I am afraid others can feel its aura.
I try to hide it with jokes 
and distracting myself with laughter. 

But when I get home, I tear up 
as I peel off the mask I wore all day.
With every tear I wipe away,
I begin conquering her,
opening my eyelids,
lifting my spirit
releasing my tongue, 
declaring my words, 
resuscitating my heart,
untangling my veins,
breathing my emotions.
I am victorious with my battle within. 

Poet Kathleen Spivack and Doug Holder at the Bagel Bards Meeting at the Au Bon Pain, Davis Square--Somerville

Poet Kathleen Spivack and Doug Holder at the Bagel Bards Meeting at the Au Bon Pain, Davis Square--Somerville

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Susan Tepper Interviews author Alex M. Pruteanu

Susan Tepper Interviews author Alex M. Pruteanu

Susan Tepper:  Every book of note that I’ve ever read has one line that cements the heart of the story.  In your new novel The Sun Eaters it is this line:
Everything that was alive was hungry, always.

Alex M. Pruteanu:  I can certainly speak to that. Hunger gives a certain kind of clarity and awareness of everything around you. The senses, all of them, are almost working overtime. You’re ultra-aware of your biology and how it’s changed, of your digestive system in particular.

To get back to this idea that everything that was alive was hungry, always. If you look around at whatever is left of nature, you’ll see that every animal is engaged actively and aggressively in finding food. Everything about an animal’s life from the time it opens its eyes involves hunting/gathering/scavenging for food. It’s daily warfare. Finding food is what they all do every day of their lives.

ST:  And, conversely, warfare brings hunger to those who manage to stay alive.

In the narrative you wrote:

Our hunger was chronic… Every spring we would forage for dandelions and nettles. Dandelions were bitter in the summer and autumn, but if we plucked them while they were young, in the spring, they had a sweeter taste… We ate everything from the flower all the way down to the root… Nettles were tricky… Their leaves bit back…

AP:  I thought about the immense difficulty a person has to face if he or she is engaged in the never-ending battle of finding food on a daily basis. Food that doesn’t exist or isn’t much available. Imagine living a life like that. Being in competition with not just your fellow humans, but every living thing around you, every animal, to merely find food for the day.

ST:  I’ve read tidbits about your own life, from time to time, in other interviews.  I know you were born in Romania and emigrated to the states at some point.  Can you tell us how your origins helped craft The Sun Eaters.

AP:  I was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1969. My mom defected to the States in 1979 and after close to a year of working to obtain our passports, my father and I were let out of the country to come join my mom here as political refugees. I arrived in the States in late January, 1980.

ST:  You were eleven years old.  How did it feel to leave your homeland?   Was it easy for a boy just entering puberty to connect with American kids?

AP:  It felt wrong to leave, initially, and beyond. I was basically told that we were leaving, not asked. And I was kept in the dark about the plan of my mother's defection, so it came suddenly for me. As I knew it, she had taken a trip to the United States as part of an economic delegation, and she never returned. In Romania, I had social connections and a lot of friends that I was told I'd have to leave behind. Plus, from the time my father applied to have our passports released and get permission to leave the country for good, I became sort of a cancer. People didn't much feel like being associated with both my father and I.  Everyone was being watched/monitored by the secret police, so being associated with someone who was applying to leave for good and join a person who had defected— which officially meant that treason was committed by the defector— was not in the best interest of those staying behind.

ST:  It must have been terribly strange and stressful for a child.

AP:  When it became official that my father and I were trying to leave the country, my friends backed off. It was a strange period. At one point, I didn't even have to go to school. As I remember it, I went anyway, but I wasn't really part of the class anymore. I wasn't given tests or projects to complete. I didn't get any more grades on anything. I would just go and sit in class. It was all surreal.

ST:  Extremely.  There are points in The Sun Eaters that are also quite surreal.  The two brothers live with their mother in a decimated Eastern European village populated by women doing the labors of men.   The men, including their Da, have gone to war and not come back.  An exchange between the older brother, Vladi, and their mother begins:

“I dreamed of bird-fish, Ma. They howled and wailed and whistled hot flames from their lips. There were so many it got dark. I couldn’t see.”

“Those are airplanes, Vladi. Don’t be scared. Come to me.”

This dialogue, I believe, is unconsciously lifted, part and parcel, from your own uncertain path as a child who was forced to leave home and country.

AP:  Probably.  I recall vividly the times I spent (vacations/holidays) at my paternal and maternal grandparents’ homes, which were both in villages in the countryside, although my maternal grandfather had a country house, but just on the outskirts of Ploesti—a town that was bombed by the Allies in WWII due to its several working oilfields (for some time during WWII Romania was allied with Germany).

ST:  Perhaps that is what stirred up the section of the book that concerns their visit to the enigmatic and mysterious Uncle Miki who does have food and other luxuries. 

Your narrator tells us:

Because of its oil fields and refineries, Uncle Miki’s city was under siege nearly the entire duration of the war… bombed from above by bird-fish every day, so Uncle became part of an invisible force of resistance… Vladi said he was a resistance administrator… he would shuttle very important papers sewn in the lining of his coat…

Secret agents, another dark unfolding in the plight of humankind.

AP:  A lot of material in the novel is written from recollections of “adventures” I had as a young boy with friends I had made during my times spent in the countryside. As I recall, one of the toughest inconveniences was having to use an outhouse quite some ways away from the house, and in winter. Winters in Romania are notoriously tough; the country lies on the same parallel as Montreal, Canada. But having to get up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse in the dead of winter was particularly brutal. We also didn’t have running water, so bathing was not a pleasant experience, even though the water—brought in large pails from the well by my grandparents—was boiled on the wood stove first, before being dumped into a wooden tub.  Other events in the book I simply made up.  Some parts are influenced by stories I’ve heard from village friends, and some are re-imagined and re-told from stories my father recounted about his own life with his brother in the village of Blagesti, in northeastern Romania. It’s all spun into fiction.

ST:  The Sun Eaters is a brilliant and intensely readable novel that deals with hardship and extreme resiliency when faced with the devastating realities of life after war.  Whether or not deliberate on the part of its author, this story stretches well beyond, sifting into the political environment of hunger and deprivations the world is facing now.

******Susan Tepper is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. Her latest title 'Monte Carlo Days & Nights' (Rain Mountain Press, NYC) is a novella set on the French Riviera.  More at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Contrarian Voice and other poems by Ernest Hebert

The Contrarian Voice

and other poems

by Ernest Hebert

Bauhan Publishing

P. O. Box 117

Peterborough, NH 03458


What a pleasure to pick up a book of poems and find myself well into it without once halting in puzzlement, encountering poems clothed in obscurities of diction, syntax and metaphor. Poems that seem designed to make you feel as if the appreciation of poetry requires membership in a cult of superior sensibility, from which you, philistine, are excluded for your unfashionable taste. I feel that such poems, like the emperor, have no clothes, while these poems of Ernest Hebert are made of solid, worn from labor, denim, because, from the beginning lines of the book,

I loved what I could compare to what I loved.

The surface of a pond is slightly curved

as is music from a violin and the violin itself.

as I tried them on, one after another, they fit.

Twenty minutes later, when I finished the first of the book’s four sections, “Septuagenarian Look-Back,” I felt that Ernest Hebert deserves as much attention as Billy Collins. His poetry shares a sardonic perspective with Collins. Here is “The Dogs of Tunapuna, Trinidad” from this section in support of my thesis:

The streets are full of them,

big-balled dogs with torn up flanks

and limping bitches with prominent tits.

They sleep the day and roam the night

to mate, quarrel, and carry on.

for a couple of hours you hear

only an occasional bark or yelp,

then all of a sudden half a dozen will start in.

Soon the entire island is howling.

It all sounds comic,

until you realize that these creatures

are killing and maiming one another

over useless territory and loveless fucking,

just like the rest of us,

a response to evolution,

spittle from the God Roar.

The last three words of that poem reappear in the long title for the second section: “Poems Inspired by, The God Roar (a novel I never wrote, which in turn was inspired by a sculpture by Brenda Garand.)” The section begins with “Hypothermia,” when “I” discovers “You” in a snowdrift, near death from the cold. “I” rescues “You” and undresses “You’s” unconscious body and warms it with his and “You” recovers as they share his sleeping bag and have this conversation:

"Come to consciousness, I said.

"Do I know you?" You said.

"I hardly know myself," I said.

We lay quiet and still for an hour,

then I asked why you came into these woods.

You said, "Listen."

"I don't hear anything."

"Yes you do – listen."

"I hear it now,

the tick and scrape of tree branches."

"How nice when the wind blows through the tops

of the trees and underneath it's still."

"You came for that, a sound?"

"Yes, the God Roar, to record it for posterity.


However, the possibility of intimacy contained in this beginning remains unfulfilled in the seven poems of this section that are the fragments of a strange and dreamlike story told by "I." The plot elements sketched in these poems left me intrigued but dissatisfied. They are analogous to Sargent’s studies for the murals in the rotunda of Boston’s MFA, which are engaging in reference to the complete work, but of marginal interest without it.

Fortunately, with the third section, “Poems and Songs in the Darby Chronicles,” Hebert is back in full voiced empathy for the Yankees and French Canadians who worked in the mills and were abandoned when Capital moved their work south to our Free Trade Zone with the Carolinas. The “Darby Chronicles” are a series of seven novels Hebert has written about a fictional New Hampshire town and the inhabitants of the surrounding hills; each poem in this section is attributed to a character in one of those novels. This one, “Untitled,” is belongs to Hadly Blue in A Little More than Kin:

This sea in her gift for composition

has made a place, if not self,

for that rock, that kelp.

Thus I am unconcerned

that my hat has blown away,

that the gulls are laughing:

"There is less of him than usual."

By the fourth section, "Howard Elman: An Old Working Man's Meditations," the sardonic humor of Septuagenarian that is the muscle in the voice of the first section has matured by 10 years:

Plow Guy's Lament

…[four lines]

Octogenarian walked over to the truck.

Junior rolled down the window.

"How come you, not your dad?"

"He bought the farm yesterday,"

Junior said, just as calmly

as one talking about the weather.

…[14 lines]

Junior's only emotion

at the moment was glee

at the thought of inheriting

an almost new truck.

The grief would come later.

The concluding and title poem of the volume, "The Contrarian Voice," that follows, begins as Elman, now a widower, gives us a catalog of grieves that for him came later:

Munch on a village store grinder

while you imagine Wife

standing at the sink

and gazing out the window

at her birdfeeder,

just as she had done in life.

Tell her how sad you are:

connections and conniption fits

that enriched your life,

the Centenarian’s stew pot,

involuntarily memorized glimpses

of trees, stone walls, ledges,

old mossy gravestones,

fences and hosses and cows

This poem of 309 lines is a collection of more catalogs; some are angry; some are nostalgic (and of those some are regretful); and some are playful and speculative, as when he sends an email to his Sane Daughter:

Saint Peter, cranky gatekeeper of Catholic heaven

and frequent lurker on the Internet,

intercepts message to Sane Daughter.

Checks it off as a venial sin

and files it in the database.

Saint Peter is tired. This job is a lot of work.

Slips a note in the Judgment Day Suggestion Box:

How about an honorable mention

for the lab mice who did more

for the species who enslaved them

than the species did for themselves?

This introduction of Saint Peter is followed by a catalog of possible ways that Elman might die framed as an argument with himself. At its conclusion, “You don't have a prayer./‘I don't have a prayer,” Hebert reintroduces Saint Peter to answer Elman's assumption of damnation with one final catalog, which suggests that redemption will be granted to Elman and to all working stiffs just for the virtue of their being working class:

You don’t have a prayer.

I don’t have a prayer.

Saint Peter doesn't have a prayer,

so he checks the historical record,

bumps his forehead with his palm,

and calls out in Octogenarian’s voice,

talking in his sleep,

“Jesus, I get it now:

the ones with no education,

the ones who made mistakes in youth

and paid for them over a lifetime,

the ones who built the idiot pyramids,

and the useless cathedrals,

and that stupid wall in China,

…[seven lines]

and who appeared in apparitions in the minds

of soldiers calling for their mothers

as they lay bleeding out on the battlefield,

and who fucked the bosses to save us all –

they are all fucked.

And fucked again.

And fucked over.

And fucked forever,

us, the working people.”

After speaking this I think Peter should exchange his mythic robes of white silk for working ones of denim, faded from hard use and many washings.

                                                                                    -- Wendell Smith

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tenth anniversary of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America

Peter Thabit Jones/Aeronwy Thomas

On the tenth anniversary of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America, featuring Aeronwy Thomas, his daughter, and Swansea poet and dramatist Peter Thabit Jones, a commemorative book will be published by The Seventh Quarry Press, UK, and Cross-Cultural Communications, USA.

The Tour, which was organized by Peter’s and Aeronwy’s American publisher Stanley H. Barkan, in consultation with poet and emeritus professor Vince Clemente of New York, saw Aeronwy and Peter travel from New York to California, whilst taking in many other states and reading at prestigious venues, such as the National Arts Club, New York, the Chrysler Building, which was then the home of the Welsh Government in New York, the Walt Whitman Birthplace, Knox College, Illinois, and the Monterey Peninsular College in California. At the end of the Tour, Peter and Aeronwy were commissioned by Catrin Brace of the Welsh Government in New York to write the first-ever Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greewnich Village, which is now available as a pocket-book, a smartphone app, which was developed especially for the 2014 Dylan Thomas Centenary, and a guided tour by New York Fun Tours.

The forthcoming book, entitled America, Aeronwy, and Me/Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America, which is being edited by Peter Thabit Jones will contain the Tour schedule, prose memories by Peter of each event they did and other prose memories, some poems by Aeronwy and Peter inspired by America, relevant Tour photos, and contributions from those who hosted them at universities and venues across America.

Stanley H. Barkan will write the Preface to the book, which will be in memory of Aeronwy who died in 2009. The book, which will be published this autumn, has had the blessing of the family of Aeronwy Thomas.

Peter Thabit Jones
Author, with Aeronwy Thomas, of the Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greenwich Village

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Unquiet Vigil New and Selected Poems By Paul Quenon

 Unquiet Vigil
New and Selected Poems
By Paul Quenon
Paraclete Press
ISBN 978-1-61261-560-8
171 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Out of great silence and temporal restraint comes an exquisite rush of words and, in turn, transcendental passion. Paul Quenon, in his latest book, Unquiet Vigil, belies the conventional understanding of repetitive monastic rituals, mystic self-abnegation, and meandering walls that delimit (at least metaphorically) wandering monks from worldly desires and ambitions. Quenon’s words soar with freedom’s exhilarating ardor, sustained by the fearlessness of his faith and the innate disposition of his environment, an unusual combination. Or, perhaps not. His poetry does not filter; it simply records quiet rhythms and perceives the essential forms of nature in compelling ways.

Born in West Virginia coal country, Quenon entered Our Lady of Gethsemani Trappist monastery, near Bardstown Kentucky, in 1958 at the age of seventeen. His novice master, spiritual advisor, and poetry mentor was the renowned Thomas Merton. For the last twenty or so years the monastery has supported Quenon’s artistic endeavors (he has published five previous books of poetry and produced some extraordinary photography).

Opening with coy flirtation, the collection draws the reader in with a potent dynamic, a mini morality play entitled Gone Missing. Poetry solicits the poet. At the same time the poet seeks his poems-to-be through the forest of life, using his senses, following tell-tale signs. Does the quest enable the art? Consider these personified lines,

… I am a poem without a poet.
He has gone missing for weeks
and my house is empty. Suffer me awhile,
or go, and if you meet him—
he with the distant look and shambling gait—
tell him the hearth is cooling down.

I won’t know a thing for days,
He takes to a walk-about
And never pays me notice.
What kind of life is that?

Yet I’ve never expected different—
I’m glad he just comes back at all.

Quenon at his best conjures up natural images after internalizing them into a spiritual duality of connection and timelessness. The meditations that result are breathtaking descriptions of the human heart, a calming existentialism of sorts. Here’s a selection from Quenon’s piece entitled Transpiration in which the poet melds “white ranges of cumulus” with the “leafy hoards crowding below” into a single awe-inducing process, both metaphysical and natural,

Two solemn masses, two summer throngs
Breathing one sunlit worship.

Two transfigurations:
Vapor heaving updrafts to evanesce into light;
Groundwater exhaling into wind through roiling foliage.

Transubstantiation—that’s all
Of you and me. We vanish into light—

Erwin Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment, Schrodinger’s Cat, testing quantum physics takes center stage in Quenon’s poem The Un-Named Cat Merton. The source of the piece is an unpublished photograph showing a dead Thomas Merton being prepared for burial. The poet observes the scene through a sub-atomic indeterminacy perspective. Here the quantum world becomes the spiritual world metaphorically (or not metaphorically). Observation determines reality. The subject of the camera is both dead and alive. Of course Merton still does live through his books, his faith, and as part of a brotherhood. In his case, faith and brotherhood are inseparable.  Quenon, in the heart of the poem, introduces the concept’s universality by alluding to ancient Sri Lankan Buddhist sculptures,

Two stone Buddhas at
the one awake, standing,
the other lies asleep.

Both, when you are jerked clear
Out of the habitual,
Half-tied vision of things
Are one Buddha
Asleep and awake.

In his poem Restless Silence, Quenon discovers anew many of the questions that emanate from observational and audacious simplicity. Both poet and object engage in a kind of silent dialogue, a dialogue on nature, humanity’s mutability, and alienation. The poet elegantly concludes this way,

A pigeon leaves a tree for another tree.

I can hear the sun
grazing the dusty grass,
until a breeze interrupts briefly
then settles for … a something…

Was it here already and gone?
Or was it only here
so I would come and wait?

Why this sadness when,
yielding to restlessness,
I rise and abandon what
never knows abandonment?

Just for its title alone, Confessions of a Dead-Beat Monk, would be my favorite poem in the collection. However, the piece offers quite a bit more. As the poet describes the routine and sameness of a monk’s life, excitement sneaks in. Words such as prodigious, bitter, sweet, gold, treasure, secret, and enigma appear. Even humdrum chores are punctuated by exclamation points. Quenon, sly and skillful poet that he is, turns the piece into a celebration of monkhood and a lingering celebration at that. The piece begins thusly,

Of course, I’ve sat the same bench
brushing off flies and thoughts,
how many years? What winters of
silence and summer variations,

what prodigious mockingbirds
I’ve heard! And that kitchen job!
Broccoli and spuds on Mondays,
rice twice a week, and Oh,

toasted cheese sandwiches,
Fridays! This diet of psalms,
fifty and hundred, runs ever
on from bitter to sweet …

Quenon’s delicately phrased poem, Mountain Climb, goes way beyond the obvious metaphor into a meditational understanding of self and its concomitant contentment.  He notes, perceptively, the constant change inherent in sameness.  As his dream-time vision fades, he commits to memory what he can, and that is enough. The poet reminisces,

I have been here before,
explored alone the route
that only I know. It is familiar
though changed—
always familiar, though
never twice the same.
I have the energy
to take the long irregular climb.

I arrive at the summit
totally alone. Something absolute
grips my senses. I all but breathe it in.

Breathing in Brother Paul Quenon’s poems rewards with revelation after revelation. This soul-shaking writer turns solitude into wonderment. Quenon, unlike most poets, is not much of a self-promoter. Too bad. He deserves a much wider audience. Think world-wide. Get his book. Spread the word.     

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Ibbetson Street Press and Ibbetson Street magazine celebrate the new release of issue 42 and their 20th Year.

Ibbetson Street Press and Ibbetson Street magazine celebrate the new release of  issue 42 and their 20th Year.

( Somerville, Ma.)   Mary Buchinger Bodwell--president of the New England Poetry published her first poem in Somerville's literary magazine Ibbetson Street, Robert Pinsky ( Former U.S. Poet) and Mike Ansara ( Founder of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival) have used adjectives like "impressive" and "distinguished" in describing this literary journal. Sam Cornish ( Former Boston Poet Laureate) opined about the press, "Ibbetson Press books are as varied and more provocative than most publications of poetry." The press, founded by Doug Holder, Richard Wilhelm, and Dianne Robitaille in 1998 will be having it's 20th Anniversary Reading at the Central Branch of The Somerville Public Library--  Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

  Now affiliated with Endicott College, Ibbetson Street has highlighted emerging poets as well as established poets like Afaa Michael Weaver, Ted Kooser, Marge Piercy, Andrea Cohen, Jean Valentine, Brendan Galvin, Cornelius Eady, and many more. It has also has published over 100 books of poetry, and memoir. In addition it has started a Young Poet Series at Endicott College that publishes the work of talented undergraduates. The potluck supper will start at 6 PM, and the reading at 7 PM. Hope to see you there!