Friday, January 20, 2006

Mauled Illusionist. Jean Monahan. ( Orchises Press. PO BOX 20602 Alexandria, VA. ) 22320 $15

I first read Jean Monahan’s poems in “The South End News,” a community newspaper in Boston, Mass. I was impressed with her work, and later a poem of hers appeared in one of the first issues of “Ibbetson Street.” Recently I booked her to read in the “Newton Free Library Poetry Series,” in the Fall of 2006. And later Monahan sent me her new collection of poems: “Mauled Illusionist.” After selectively reading it, I was again reminded of why I chose her to read in the series. Her poetry has a sense of play, it slowly draws the reader in, and goes deep; behind the obscuring scrim of everyday life. In a very clever poem: “ Humpty Dumpty,” the poet taps into the thoughts of the fairytale character as he sits on his tenuous perch, and gets to some larger truths: “ Though I straddle a wall between hope/ and sorrow, I find a kind of peace/ between them. / The fragile/ must be above it all, / self-contained, potential / cracked open by surprise – and life -/ a lake within herself, a sun,/ The shell is delicate, but it will mend./ Nothing in this garden has not been broken./ Even the promises of Kings.” In the poem “Mauled Illusionist Goes Home,” Monahan writes of the plight of the trainer and illusionist Roy Horn, who was mauled by his own tiger. The poet turns the table on the trainer and explores the illusions he creates for the audience, and the illusions we all create for ourselves: “ I was hauled/ from the glittering ring,/ beaten at my own game, tamed./ Offstage /I healed/ myself, away from the crowds/ who passed to close and loud, / heart-in-mouth / for my throat in the maw,/ my whip on the back/ of what we feed and love and pretend / loves us back.

Highly recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Mass./ Jan. 2006

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


The article is written by Hugh Fox; a poet/archaeologist who has taught at Michigan State University since 1968. Author of 66 books, he is a major figure in the U.S. small press world, serving as editor of Ghost Dance: the International Quarterly of Experimental Poetry from 1968-1995. Ibbetson Street published his "Angel of Death," and "Boston: A Long Poem." I consider Hugh a friend and a mentor. He definitely thinks "outside the box." He makes me feel like my fly is perpetually down, a good thing I think!-- Doug Holder

Born on December 11, 1941 in San Marcos, Texas, Tino Villanueva worked as a migrant worker, assembly-line worker, and an army supply clerk. He is the founder of Imagine Publishers, Inc., and editor of Imagine: International Chicano Poetry Journal. Author of the book length poem Scene from the Movie GIANT (Curbstone, 1993) Villanueva has published three other volumes of poetry, Hay Otra Voz Poems, Shaking Off the Dark and Chronicle of My Worst Years/ Crónica de mis años peores. Villanueva won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for Scene from the Movie GIANT in 1994. He teaches at Boston University.


Tino Villanueva is perhaps the biggest fake on the current literary scene. I mean he comes on primarily as Mr. Poor Chicano from San Marcos, Texas, but look again and there he is, Doctor Professor teaching in Boston University (where he got his Ph.D.), a master’s from SUNY-Buffalo, and before that a graduate (in letters) from Southwest Texas State University. And if that’s not enough, he’s also a painter, kind of cubistic, Picasso-ish, very impressive. When he start reading his work, does he sound like some kind of border Chicano slurring through his Spanish? More like Cervantes, or, in more modern terms, Pablo Neruda. His Chronicle of My Worst Years published by Northwestern University/TriQuarterly Books in Evanston, just north of Chicago in 1994, OK, so he talks about his early years suffering as a prejudiced-against Chicano in Texas, but even here, although the message gets across, you’re still in the presence of Doctor Literato. I’ll give the translation here, but put the Spanish in just to show those who know about these things just how literary Dr. Villanueva is:
2. I give more thought now to how prison like that childhood was in the abhorrent world of cotton-field work. Who gave the order in the ‘40s the furrows had to be so long, and the time that dragged in picking them should slaver to devour me?

(“Promised Lands,” p. 67)

(con más razón ahora considero,/cuán presa estuvo aquella infancia/en el dominio aborrecible/de las labores de algodón./Quién mandó que en los 40/fueran tan largos los surcos,/y que el tiempo/que/que tardé en piscarlos/fuera voraz para mi vida?, p.66)

He’s very careful here, isn’t he, to stick in a little “Chicanismo,” using cuán instead of cuánto, in order to capture the real peasant-slang of the workers, but....pure affectation, n’est pas? And when we move to another book of his Primera Causa/ First Cause, (Cross Cultural Communications, Merrick NY 2004), where are we but in the depths of Jungian caverns trying to figure out the whys and wherefores of existence:

In memory is my beginning, and so, here am I, face to face with this page and this predicament., with this vice that is a virtue the whole afternoon. Oh quest for distant memory and this equidistant longing with words. Finally, in the end, I write down what I’ve seen and all that is true. (I. “Memory That Never Ends,” p. 7) 3.(En el recuerdo se encuentra mi comienzo,/por eso heme aquí/ante un papel con este apuro,/con este vicio que es virtud toda la tarde./Oh costumbre del recuero/y el equidistante deseo con palabras./Por ültimo y al cabo” pongo lo que he visto y todo lo veraz, p. 6) Sometimes Doctor Villanueva Scholar pulls you out of the twentieth century altogether and brings you back into 17th century neoclassicism, like in this poem about Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory: Now, Mnemosyne, I’ve got you, and what pure pleasure to caress your name, to savor it, letter by letter, between my lips. I say it over and again and get swept into life because I’m me and my word and it’s autumn and with you I can be what I please. (p.27)

And the English translation by Lisa Horowitz is good, but somehow it lacks the antique flavor of the original Spanish: “Ahora aquí te tengo, Mnemosina,/y es hermoso acariciar tu nombre,/deletrearlo letra a letra entre los labios. Lo vuelvo a repetir/ y ya estoy viviendo,/porque soy yo y mi palabra y es otoño/y contigo me hago a mi manera.” The translation is accurate, but the original isn’t twentieth centuryish (much less “Chicanoish”) at all, more like a piece encountered in an ancient notebook in some antique collection in the national library in Madrid. What makes Villanueva even more challenging is that he can also jump totally into the twentieth century and write experimental poetry that is very much like his experimental cubist art.
4. There’s one book of his, Escena de la Película GIGANTE , originally published by Curbstone Press in Connecticut in 1993 and translated into Spanish and published by the Editorial Catriel in Marid in 2005, which is pure, beautiful experimentation, a long “meditation” on the gringo American film Giant, a 1956 film starring Rock Hudson, all about the huge gap in rights betwen Chicanos and gringos in old-time Texas. And again we’re back into racial/national disequality class meditations totally divorced from any Mr. Chicano prejudiced-against in what now seem like ancient, ancient times:

I am cast in time forward,wherethrough runs the present --- on track of light triumphant, the sum of everything that ignites this room with life, vida que no olvida,* calling out my name...(“...en el acto de contar/me lanzo hacia adelante en el tiempo, por donde transcurre/el presente -- una franja de luz triunfante,// la suma de todo lo qe enciende este salón/con vida, vida que no olvida, y que me está/llamando...”) (“The Telling,” pp. 88-89.) I suppose that Villanueva represents a real triumph of the underdog becoming the overseer, but after having lived in a world of affluent Latinos, and Brazilians most of my life, I don’t see him as that much of an exception. But triumphant he is, especially in the classical, profound impact of his art. _____*Life that doesn’t forget.

Hugh Fox /Ibbetson Update/ Jan 2006./ Somerville, Mass.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"the new renaissance" literary magazine

the new renaissance. 26 Heath Rd. #11 Arlington, Ma. 02474 $14.95 editor: Louise Reynolds

I am on the advisory board of tnr, so I guess I am biased. But let me tell you, Louise Reynolds puts out one hell of a magazine from her cramped apartment in Arlington, Mass. It is a glossy-covered, perfect-bound affair with high quality paper, artwork, prose, poetry, fiction, etc... Reynolds has been putting it out since the 70's. Whenever I talk to her she's scrambling for funds or such to keep this publication alive. In the current issue #37, there is an informative article by H. Gyde Lund and Ashbindu Singh titled: "Reining in on Rainforest Destruction," and some arresting etchings by Zevi Bloom. There is of course a fair sampling of fiction, essays,and poetry to be had as well. Being a poet I of course gravitated to the poetry section and the impressive roster of tnr poets. Daniel Tobin, the head of the Creative Writing Dept. at Emerson College in Boston, has a poem: "The Scream," that is a wonderful study of Munch's famed painting. Jay Baron Nicorvo's "Hot Knives," has a beautiful description of a heroin high that will send chills down your spine, and perhaps peak a perverse interest: " That high was/ walking a road/ through a dense wood, under a full moon, with cobwebs catching/ in our eyelashes/ without the wish to swat/ at the spider or shear/ the silk that wove across our vision." This is a magazine that is true to its mission of presenting ideas and opinions, with an emphasis on literature and the arts.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan. 2006/ Somerville, Mass

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Somerville Poet Rebecca Kaiser Gibson: A Shy Woman Who Is Passionate About Poetry.

Rebecca Kaiser Gibson may describe herself as basically a shy person, but there is no paucity of words when she describes her passion for the arts. I first became aware of Gibson through an article in that “other” paper in town. Later while I was scribbling at a local bagel shop in Porter Square, I noticed her scribbling there as well. Our paths crossed again recently, and I invited her to join me on my Somerville Community Access TV show ‘Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Gibson is a lecturer in poetry at Tufts University, and has an eclectic background in both theatre and poetry. Her work has appeared in such publications as “Northwest Review,” “Field,” “Harvard Review,” and others. She has also been a managing director of the “New Voices Theatre Company,” in Boston, and assistant to Tina Packer, the artistic director of the “Boston Shakespeare Company.” She has an M.A. from the “Boston University Creative Writing Program.”

Doug Holder: I notice as a poetry editor, I get a lot of poetry about coffee shops, or experiences in them. You wrote a poem titled: “Dunkin’ Donuts. Somerville, Mass..” What is it about these places that spawn poets, poems, etc… And what’s your favorite java joint in the “Ville?

Rebecca Kaiser Gibson: With the donut poem, I didn’t actually sit there , in a Dunkin’ Donuts. It was really a poem about class. I had moved from Newton to Somerville. I felt I had a much wider range of what I could see and understand in Somerville, as opposed to the city of Newton, where I moved from.

My favorite coffee shop these days is the “Au Bon Pain,” in Davis square. Coffee shops create an atmosphere of things going on that you don’t have to do anything about. There is a low-grade noise that you aren’t responsible for, yet it seeps into your work. If fills a space that might be too empty if you are all alone. It’s kind of a friendly drone.

I find lately that I can’t work at coffee shops any more. I work at home alone now.

DH: You have four degrees in Creative Writing, Teaching Theatre, English Literature, and Theatre Arts. Did you like the life of a student? Do you still have a student’s sensibility?

RKG: I’m now longer student. But I am still a library person. I like to research. I am much happier doing that than almost anything else.

I hated being a student, until I went to Boston University to study Creative Writing. I was very shy, and I couldn’t talk in class. Being in the poetry program was my best experience.

DH: Now you are a teacher. You have to get up in front of a whole class.

RKG: For some reason that’s really easy. After the Creative Writing degree I could suddenly talk for some reason. I think because I was surrounded by people who understood me, and I understood them. I care a lot about what students are thinking. I feel like we are connected by some strange truth. It’s just fun.

DH: Can you tell us about your experience at the world-renowned Boston University Creative Writing Program where you earned your M.A.?

RKG: The way I got into it was bizarre. I was at the train station waiting to go to Concord when I saw the former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who teaches at B.U. I really didn’t know much about him at the time. I said to him:” You are a poet aren’t you? Can I send you some stuff?” I was fearless and naïve. He( thank heaven) read it, and invited me to sit in on the program. I was a secretary at MIT at the time. I would go to MIT at 7 AM, then go to class, and then back to MIT. He suggested I apply for the program. I was there for a year and a half…a year as an official student. For me it felt like magic. Pinsky’s integrity about poems really having to be about something was an influence on me. I studied with Derek Walcott, the Nobel Prize Winner. It was wonderful.

DH: You have an extensive background in the theatre. How do you incorporate that into your poetry?

RKG: I was essentially a director of theatre. Actors make physical something that is on the page. I think this “physicality” is what appeals to me in both.
DH: As a poet, who is your favorite playwright?

RKG: I was heading towards saying Harold Pinter as my favorite playwright. Samuel Beckett is the other one.

DH: You have read at the “Bay State Correctional Facility” How did you get involved with this and what was the experience like?

RKG: I got involved through B.U. I read “Dunkin’ Donuts…” there. It was a strange experience. I was outside, inside and outside again. I felt disconnected. But they were a very interested audience.

DH: Close observation is an important tool for poetry. How do you focus in a world of distractions?

RKG:. When I write poetry, I’m not exactly focusing, it’s just coming in. I don’t know where it comes from.

DH: You have been a resident in a number of prestigious writers retreats like the “MacDowell Colony,” and “Bread Loaf.” Do these settings foster good work?

RKG: At “MacDowell,” I lived in the cottage where the composer Aaron Copeland stayed. It was a little too quiet for me. I had to get out to meet people. I love being in the mountains but I still neede the company of other people. This environment fostered some good work for me. “MacDowell” is a deeply supportive place for artists.

“”Bread Loaf,” is very social. You have conferences; you talk to people, etc…