Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Powow River Anthology
Edited By: Alfred Nichols
Ocean Publishers, 2006
Soft cover ISBN 0-9717641-0-7 $11.95
reviewed by Amy Brais

The product of over a decade’s worth of meeting, collaboration, and creativity centered in Newburyport, The Powow River Anthology accomplishes one of the great feats of any anthology of poetry – while each poem remains a strong entity of singular import, the pieces all fit together to form a cohesive whole, joined not only by thematic similarities but by their painstaking attention to language and structure, with no one poem eclipsing another. And the best part about that whole is that it’s a book you can live with, think about, and share. Perhaps the most notable experience I had with the book while carrying it around was when I passed Rhina Espaillat’s "Weighing In" to a co-worker, who had been complaining about recent weight gain, in what was admittedly an overly dramatized effort to comfort her. Espaillat writes:
"What the scale tells you is how much the earth/has missed you,
body, how it wants you back/ again after you leave it and go forth/
into the light."
In a final stanza that is both warm and dark, the speaker concludes:
"But look at you now, body, soft old shoe/ that love wears
when it’s stirring, look down, look/ how earth wants what you weigh,
needs what you know."
It’s no surprise that the poems in this anthology deal with the themes of love, death, and spirituality, but the ways in which the poems explore these familiar subjects are inventive. Brian T. O’Brien’s Pantry Mouse takes a seemingly mundane encounter between a man and a mouse in his kitchen and applies the dynamic of the encounter to the loss of love:
"You slid with whatever dignity/you could muster down a vertical/
partition, and I threatened and swore/ like a man—though without
conviction. / It was very much like when love departs. / There will be
no traps or poisoned bait. / I put a brick in front of your hole, / as I did
another time with my heart."
A. M. Juster’s Cancer Prayer is a modern sonnet that beautifully captures small wishes to make a terminal situation more bearable. The speaker prays:
"Please smite that intern in oncology who craves approval from
department heads. / Please ease her urge to vomit; let there be/ kind but
flirtatious men in nearby beds. /…Surround her with forgiving family/ and nurses not too numb to cry."
Len Krisak’s What of the Night? recalls a scene of love often overlooked – a father’s nighttime ritual of locking the house to keep his family safe, and wonders of the father, "When he’s townsman of the stillest town,/ Who will I be to set his burden down?" Noah’s Wife by Nancy Bailey Miller tells the Genesis story from the wife’s perspective and shows how, in the midst of all the other animals boarding the ark two by two, she boards alone. And James Najarian evokes loss and the passage of time through reminiscences of life on a goat farm, in his at times whimsical Goat Song.
Countless poems in the anthology are replete with striking, sensual imagery and language. Of particular note are Bill Coyle’s Anima, Alfred Nichol’s Sunday, Robert Crawford’s The Whole of It, Michele Leavitt’s Ladies Night, Karen Nelson’s Flamenco Dancer, and Deborah Warren’s Elizabeth’s Dress, which cleverly describes through claims of not describing.
With a blend of appropriate gravity and wit, the poems of The Powow River Anthology have tremendous resonance with the reader, long after the anthology has been put down.

Reviewed By: Amy Brais /Ibbetson Update/ April 2006/Somerville, Mass.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why I’m Still Married. Women Write Their Hearts Out on Love, Loss, Sex and Who Does the Dishes. Edited by Karen Propp and Jean Trounstine.

Although the title of this collection of essays: “Why I’m Still Married,” is not posed as a question, it would be a good one to ask. And the writers in this evocative anthology answer it with a warts-and-all account of their “successful” relationships. When we are young, and even not so young, we let ourselves imagine that marriage will be angst- free, a union of undying love with our much desired mate. Ah! But then reality rears its ugly head! The ladies in this anthology, expertly edited by Jean Trounstine and Karen Propp, have a wide range of stories to tell, and they ain’t always pretty. Often many of our partner’s flaws reveal themselves after the wedding ceremony, and tolerance, compromise, compassion, and accommodation have to come into play. According to statistics many couples today are quick on the trigger for divorce as soon as they see a few red flags. The testimony of the women in this book is that in spite of the problems a relationship can present; it is worth it to try to make a go of it.

The celebrated poet Marge Piercy has had multiple relationships, open relationships, affairs, the whole spectrum of liaisons. Finally, in her later years, she married a man 13 years her junior, the writer Ira Wood. Piercy writes about what she feels is the secret of a good marriage, and how it often fits us better as we age:

“I need to know that my partner has my back, is on my side, can be trusted out of my sight; Ira needs that also. He had to learn to live with cats in order to live with me. I had to learn to follow and understand football in order to live with him….

“You learn where your real boundaries lie as you make your way through a marriage, where you can give away, and where you cannot. When you are young, it’s no particular advantage to be married unless you are having a baby and want help and support. When you’re older, it is much more valuable to be in a marriage. Who has time or patience to date over forty unless you absolutely have to. We need each other more as we age, not less. Growing old together is, in part not forgetting to grow.”

Kathleen Aguero, a poet and educator, writes about her relationship with a man who had a very hard time controlling his explosive anger. But she stuck by him, and has not lived to regret it. Aguero writes:

“Describing the tender disciplines and pleasures of marriage is difficult for me. The pleasures of our relationship are mundane—shopping together for kitchen linoleum at the Home Depot, reading together in bed… He buys me flowers for no particular occasion. I buy him espresso beans covered with dark chocolate….All that anger and shouting, all those tears had bound us in good ways as well as bad. We’d seen the worst of each other and still on balance wanted what we saw. We love each other. But that’s not it, not enough. In the end I can’t explain why I didn’t divorce any more than I can explain why I married. I wanted to/I didn’t want to. At the core of my deepest commitments is something mute, a koan.”

This book is written by women, but this man got a lot out of it. I saw myself in many of the men portrayed here. When I read some passages to my wife of 12 years, she laughed in recognition. The women in this book are not pointing fingers. They admit to flaws and multiple mistakes themselves. What this book provides is a “true” account of what a relationship is: its ups and downs, its ying and yang,

For these women the right move was to stay in their marriages. But the point is clearly rendered that there are no definite answers in matters of the heart. In the end it is your decision to stay…or go away.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ April 2006.

The book is $25 from Hudson Street Press. ( Penguin Group)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

David McNamara: For this Somerville, Mass. publisher it is always: “sunnyoutside.”

David McNamara founded and operates “sunnyoutside,” ( ), an independent literary press located in Somerville, Mass. McNamara studied literature at Long Island University, Ohio State, the “Poet’s House,” in Ireland, and Farleigh Dickinson University, where he earned his B.A. David has been widely published in the small press, as well as being the director of the magazine “ism,” that was based in Seattle in the late 90’s. He still is writing and has a collection of poetry coming out “Or,” from Hemispherical Press.

Doug Holder: “sunnyoutside” was founded as an online literary journal in 2000. In 2004 you went to print. Why did you decide to make the change?

David McNamara: “suunyoutside” online folded because I was unable to keep up with submissions. I basically just submitted and wrote for awhile. Later the creative urge to start publishing came out. “sunnyoutside” had a logo, a website and somewhat of a following. It just seemed logical to stay with the name.

DH: Can you tell me about the Emerson College (Boston, Mass.) publishing program you graduated from?

DM: The program is basically 12 months. They break it up into four modules. It is a crash course for publishing in the ‘real world.’ Most of the people in it are looking to get editorial and publishing positions with trade publishers. The modules were editorial, marketing, business and production. I’ve been working in publishing for 10 or 12 years. I really didn’t have a good grasp of the business side of things. So the program prepped me to run a business and to market it.

DH: Small press publishers of poetry rarely if ever make a profit.

DM: There is a couple out there. One is the University of Pittsburgh Press. Of course they have university funds to depend on. “Black Sparrow,” made money on Bukowski and other authors.

I hope to expand from poetry to fiction. I also have an interest in non-fiction.

DH: Is there a mission statement for “sunnyoutside?”

DM: That’s a tough one. I think I changed it a few times. I want to publish works that are crafted and skilled on the contemporary literary landscape. From a production standpoint we really emphasize the quality of the product. We want to create a visual format that represents the text well. The presentation should not detract from the text. It should accenuate it.

DH: You describe your press as a “Fine Book,” press. What is that?

DM: We are an ‘aspiring’ fine book press. Fine presses usually work with a letterpress. They are not going to use digital reproduction. The technology that I use goes back to Gutenberg.

DH: Do you think the physical book is threatened by the internet?

DM. Threatened? I can’t dispute that. Readership for books has and will go down. I don’t think extinction will happen. There is too much value with holding what you are reading. We are still seeing more and more books on the market.

DH: Are production values as important as the actual content of the book for you?

DM: Yes and no. Only once did I publish something based on what I thought I could do with it. The text really has to stand out by itself. It still has to be good.

DH: Reviewers don’t often comment on production value. Is this frustrating for you?

DM: It’s at times loveless work. It is kind of frustrating. I put in a lot time into something like paper and soliciting an artist to do the work. Then the review comes out and says what a great job the artist did. And the artist did do a good job, but the reviewer doesn’t see behind the scene. There is a part of me that wishes I got more attention.

Dh: You just published a book by the San Francisco poet William Taylor, Jr. titled: “So Much is Burning.” What attracted you to his work?

DM: Everything I accept has to be accessible and more than one dimension. With Bill’s work, anyone who reads it, can appreciate it. He writes about the downtrodden of society in a way in which anyone can enjoy it. He explores the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness in a skillful way.

DH: Where are your books carried?

DM: “Powell’s” in Portland, Oregon, hopefully the “Trident,” in Boston, hopefully “Porter Square Books,” in Cambridge, Mass. and “City Lights,” in San Francisco. The cover of William Taylor’s book is modeled on the “City Light,” books style. We also have books at “Logos Books,” in Santa Cruz, California.

DH: You publish in other formats, right?

DM: The first publication we did was a broadside (one sheet of paper- published on both sides) I am going to start a postcard series, and we also have produced mini-chaps.

DH: Talk about the writers you published?

DM: We have done a few things by William Taylor Jr. We have published a couple of things by the poet Nate Graziano. I have four essays by A.D. Winans that might be our first work of non-fiction. Winnans founded the “Second Coming Press,” in the 70’s in San Francisco. The press was well-known for publishing Bukowski, among other things.

DH: What do you think of Bukowski’s work?

DM: I respect it. Bukowski is Bukowski. There are a lot of spin-offs in the small press by people who are trying to write like him. This is a paradox because, again Bukowski is Bukowski. He was one-of-a-kind.

DH: Do you need a formal education to be a poet? Do you need an MFA?

DM: Not necessarily. My education has definitely helped me as an editor. There are a lot of writers out there whose work I like, who don’t have their MFA. On the other hand there are a lot of people who have them whose work I like. I think if you are going to write novels what you learn in an MFA program is invaluable. This is being said by a person who does not have one.

DH: What are your ambitions for the press?

DM: I’d love to do trade publishing. It’s hard when you are dealing with relatively obscure writers. I would like to transcend the small press yet still be in it. I want to do trade publishing as well as fine press publishing.

Doug Holder for more info. About sunnyoutside go to: