Monday, December 31, 2007

Voices Israel Trip-- Pictures--2

More pictures from "Voices Israel Trip" I was a guest of the "Voices Israel" literary organization. ( Dec 2007)

Photos courtesy of **John Michael Simon

1 Workshop- "Residence Hotel" Netanya

2 Workshop - ......................

3 Mediterranean Sea-- Netanya

4 Metula

5 Workshop-Netanya ( Group)

6 Sea of Gaillee

7 Workshop-- Netanya

Saturday, December 29, 2007

From The Heart of Union Square, Somerville to the Heart of Israel

Up until this December (2007) I had never been overseas. I’m not a kid. At 52, I have arrived at the second half of the roller coaster ride, or as Camus put it by now I am “responsible for my own face.” I have never been the adventurous type. I have been content to travel back and forth to my ancestral grounds of New York City, or to my favorite isle in Maine, or perhaps the rare trip to the heat and swamps of Florida to visit an old friend. I was well traveled in Somerville of course: from the tony environs of Davis Square to the hinterlands of Sullivan Square. But when I had the offer to judge the “International Reuben Rose Poetry Award” sponsored by the “Voices Israel” literary organization, and to travel to Israel to run workshops and read from my own work, I was like a dog on a meat truck. I knew my time for travel had finally arrived. Mind you, for my maiden voyage, I was not traveling to a relatively benign England or France; I was heading to a part of the world that has seen its share of strife. But I never really had any doubts that I would undertake the trip, and I am glad that I did.

Say what you will about Israel’s foreign policy, it is none-the-less surrounded by countries hostile to its existence. Traveling the country from the mountains in the north, to the south and the Mediterranean Sea, there is a strong sense of a country under a siege. Soldiers, young women and men, with M-16s slung over their shoulders are a ubiquitous sight. Conducting workshops in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, it seemed that everybody had been intimately and recently affected by violence. I often stayed in homes or apartments complexes that were hit by SCUD missiles in the last Lebanese incursion. Security checks are common in restaurants and shops. But in spite of this the people I met were vibrant and alive.

The city of Jerusalem where I spent a little time in is a mosaic of ethnicity, architecture and intrigue. While in the “Holy City,” I was guided by “Voices” member Adrian Boas, a senior lecturer at Haifa University in Archeology. He was an expert guide who gave me some of the history of the city, took me to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Wailing Wall among other places. I placed a book of my poems “ Poems from Boston and Just Beyond: From The Back Bay to the Back Ward” in one of the many cracks and crevices in the wall. It kept company with the many folded notes people slip in. It was my own message in a bottle drifting out to sea.

Mike Scheidemann, the president of Voices, and one of the co-founders of the “World Congress of Poets,” sponsored by UNESCO, ferried me to many of my destinations, and I stayed on the kibbutz he resides in called "Yizre'el." "Yizre'el" is located about 60 miles outside of Tel Aviv. A kibbutz is an Israeli collective community. It combines socialism and Zionism in the form of practical Labor Zionism. The original kibbutzim developed as a pure communal mode of living.

"Yizre'el" is one of the last purely socialist kibbutzim. I ate some of my meals in the communal dining hall. The food was nothing fancy, but they had excellent produce, sardines, eggs, etc… A lot of their food is grown on their own farm. I was also told the kibbutz has its own fish farms, and produces internationally acclaimed pool filtration equipment in their factory. Schiedman told me that everyone on the kibbutz has their own house, everyone from plant manager to dishwasher gets the same pay, and they all share a small fleet of communal cars. Each resident is required to have some type of job in this community.

Later in the trip I stayed in Metula, the most northern city in Israel. Metula is right next to the Lebanon border, and the neighboring town was hit over 100 times by Katyushas rockets during the Lebanese conflict. I stayed in the home of Helen Bar-Lev and Johnmichael Simon. Bar Lev is a well-respected landscape painter in Israel and abroad. She used to own a successful art gallery in Jerusalem. She is the current editor- in -chief of the “Voices Israel” anthology. Her partner, John Michael Simon is a published poet, and a collaborator with her in many projects. Recently Bar Lev and Simon published a poetry collection “Cyclamens and Swords” with the Ibbetson Street Press.

There was an informal poetry workshop at their home. It included a female Rabbi, an art therapist, and an English teacher—in short an interesting mix. Like all the workshops I ran I found the participants as passionate about their poetry as they were about their politics.

Being the urban and hopefully urbane man that I am, I was anxious for more of a taste of the cities. One night I stayed at the home of Voices members Susan and Richard Rosenberg who have an apartment in Haifa. Susan is the secretary of the Voices organization. It is situated high up on a hill above the city, with a striking view of the Mediterranean. Wendy Blumfield, a journalist with the Jerusalem Post, and her husband David, were my guides around the city the next day. They showed me the old Arab Quarter, and the Jewish section that was peopled with many Hasidic Jews in full traditional garb.

Haifa is the third largest city in Israel. It is situated in the Carmel Mountains, and it has a terraced landscape with some breathtaking panoramas of the sea and the city. I had the chance to see the Bahai Shrine—a golden-domed spiritual center for the Bahai religion. The Bahai Garden around it is artfully manicured, making a striking picture for a legion of tourists’ cameras.

From Haifa the Rosenburgs escorted me by train to Tel Aviv. I had judged the “Voices” poetry competition so I was expected to help present awards, make a speech, and read from my own work at a venue in the city.

Tel Aviv is the second most populated city in Israel after Jerusalem. It is located on the Mediterranean coastline. As we took a cab and traversed the downtown I got the impression of a sleek, modern city with little of the traditional trappings of Haifa. The award ceremony was held at the ZOA House. ZOA House was founded in the 1950’s. by the Zionist Organization of America. It has established itself as a cultural center for the city that operates 24 hours a day. In this center there are three auditoriums for theatre performance, a movie theatre, workshop, course facilities, an art gallery, etc…The ceremony took place in of all places “Douglas Hall” and was well-attended. The award-winning poets Zvi Sesling and Celia Merlin were announced and Merlin read from her work. The honorable mentions also read from their selected poems.

The last part of my trip was in the seaside resort of Netanya, on the seashore between Tel Aviv and Hadera. There is a long stretch of beach along the seemingly placid blue/green waters of the Mediterranean that I had a chance to jog on. There are a bunch of cafes, with relatively cheap food on the beach. I love hummus so I savored this creamy delicacy while enjoying the balmy weather and the ocean view. In fact it was so warm in this southern city that a few folks were swimming. What a contrast to the chilly environs of Jerusalem! Many Russian immigrants hang out at the beach, playing chess, cards, and down more than a few shots. There was a huge influx of these immigrants in the 1990’s I have been told.

The Hotel I was staying at was named the “Residence Hotel” It overlooked the beach, and my room had a tremendous view of the ocean. I ran two workshops at the hotel during Friday and Saturday. In attendance were a number of fine poets from Voices, many of whom won awards and honorable mention in the contest, including Celia Merlin the author of the second prize-winning poem: “Paris Unsaid.” It turned out that Celia’s sister Peri works at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., the very place I have worked at for the past 25 years. I used to work with Celia’s sister in the early 80’s, on the inpatient ward of McLean; which is world-renowned psychiatric hospital outside of Boston. For you poetry aficionados out there Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, were all hospitalized at the hospital at one point. Sexton was most noted for the poetry workshops she ran at the hospital. Other poets in attendance at the workshop were Donna Bechar (who grew up in a neighboring town on Long Island, NY around the same time I did), Rena Nevon, who won a record of four honorable mentions in this year’s contest, and noted literary critic, Saul Bellow scholar, and peace activist Ada Aharoni. Aharoni, 74, has taught Comparative Literature at Haifa University, and she founded the group: “ The International Forum For Literature and Peace” of which she still is president.

Also in the workshop was actor/poet Amiel Schotz, who wrote a groundbreaking book for theatre training: “Theatre Games and Beyond: A Creative Approach for Young Performers.” Dara Barnat, a poet and faculty member of the English and American Studies Department at Tel Aviv University where she teaches creative writing and poetry was also an active participant.

I had my fears traveling across the world to the Middle East, especially in these troubling times, but I faced them. I was challenged on many fronts: the jam-packed schedule, finding relevant and helpful things to say about scores of work-shopped poems, and dealing with an unfamiliar culture and environment. But I am glad to say I have arrived back at my usual seat at the Sherman Café (and occasionally Bloc 11) in Somerville in one piece, and I am a much better man for the experience.

A Review of Sonatina by John Michael Simon

By Johnmichael Simon
2007; 86pp;Ps; Ibbetson
Street Press, 25 School
Street, Somerville, MA

The first thing that strikes the reader of Johnmichael Simon’s exquisite collection of poetry, Sonatina (published this fall by Ibbetson Street Press), is the ubiquity of the musical metaphor—in the title, the cover design, the illustrations, the musical notations that mark off separate clusters of poems and run across the foot of every page, and, most tellingly, in the substance of almost every poem.

It’s there on page one in “To Hold the Notes,” which takes us through the technical revolution in musical reproduction from handwritten scores to MP3, only to land us at last beside a shack in the woods where “seated on simple wooden chairs four youngsters sat/ at cello, viola and two violins/…and as we smiled and listened on/ we knew the notes had found their home.” Eighty-five pages and sixty-eight poems later, it still haunts the poet’s consciousness. In “Unbearable Silence” he envisions first the subtraction of sound from street, mall, market—even Mecca during Ramadan—and then, perhaps a bit portentously, from the earth itself at the end of history:

“When the last page is closed
an empty world
longs for a sound,
an orange, or even
a chanting mob
to lighten the silence.”

The musician or composer, faced with a lifeless world, craves not so much human contact, as anything audible, even a few scraps of proto-music.

Elsewhere, Simon’s touch is sure and light—in “Toccata and Fugue,” where a bellringer wishes he could capture the “fluttering of pigeons” in the belfry “between the five lines of the stave,” or in “Oboe d’Amore,” where the instrument’s reedy, melancholy sound evokes memories as achingly untouchable as a “melody played on/ the wings of a blackbird/ pecking at a plum.”

There are, in fact, many of Simon’s poems that dwell on subjects only obliquely related to music—“Listening to the Voices Inside,” “To Aid the Words”—or ostensibly not at all, like “Age is Heavy on the Ground,” that celebrates a grandmother’s indefatigable beauty: “from flower to fruit / to candle glow on silverware and china/ Age is heavy on the ground/ weightless as a butterfly.”

Several of the best poems have a lovely, equivocal turn at the end, like “The Couple”: “It’s difficult/ to understand/ how these things/ work” and “Country Rose”: “lost in the crowd she’ll wrap herself in anonymity/ cross her legs, perhaps smile a little less,/ but that’s alright [sic] too” and “A Gift from China”: “Perhaps some Beijing worker/ dreaming of a rest-day in the park/ packed her in there by mistake/ an unintended New Year gift.”

In the end, however, one is reminded by almost every piece in this rewarding collection that the best poetry is musical thought, and that, in Walter Pater’s words, “all art aspires to the condition of music.”

--Abbott Ikeler/ Ibbetson Update

Abbott Ikeler

* B.A., Harvard University; M.A., University of Pittsburgh; Ph.D., University of London, Kings College

Abbott Ikeler taught literature and writing at Bowdoin College, the University of Muenster, and Rhode Island College before entering the corporate world. His academic achievements include a Senior Fulbright Fellowship, a book on nineteenth-century aesthetics, and numerous articles on Victorian fiction. From the mid-eighties to 2001, he held public relations and advertising positions with three multinationals and a full-service agency. Immediately before coming to Emerson, Dr. Ikeler was Director of Communications and Public affairs for the Internet and Networking Division of Motorola, a post he held for three years. The focus of his current research is global public relations, especially the impact of non-media influencers, such as industry and financial analysts.

Voices Israel Memebers Metula, Israel Dec. 2007

Far Right: Helen Bar Lev ( editor-in-chief Voices Israel anthology) Doug Holder ( Ibbetson St. Press)

Here I am in Metula in the home of Helen Bar Lev and John Michael Simon, with other workshop members. Helen Bar Lev is to the right of me. Best-Doug Holder/Ibbetson Street

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Blood Soaked Dresses by Gloria Mindock

Poet Gloria Mindock

Blood Soaked Dresses
By Gloria Mindock
Ibbetson St. Press
2007, p. 62
Reviewed by Lo Galluccio.

I was eager to read the entirety of “Blood Soaked Dresses” after hearing Gloria Mindock read several of its poems at the Somerville Writer’s Festival in November. Surprised to hear one friend, a yogi who I would have expected to have a stronger stomach and willing imagination, declared the poems “ too dark,” She left the hall, and upon hearing this, I had to strongly disagree.


“Swimming in a stream of nothingness,
There is no line
to grab me.
My speech comes out in a scream.

Must I wrestle with these borrowed dreams?
Convince myself of song?
Do I really have the gift of breath?
Tongue is cursing throat –
Fingers flicker out –
Eyes desire teeth---
Life of the petrified dead
remind me of my torment.


El Salvador is crazy.
It has abandoned me and blessed me
With nightfall.”

This work is a complex requiem to war and the death that war bequeathes. One could read the poems, each like a short musical movement or song, and know there is morbidity there, but somehow Gloria also evokes beautiful melodies, laments, echoing patterns of loss. The elegance and metaphysical depth of these poems, often inhabiting a negative space between sky and grave, more than redeems this morbid look at the brutality of war’s butchery-- its bones, blood, its pain and its terrible attempt to render human life, “nothingness.”

This book is not a journalistic or factual account of the El Salvadoran Civil War which lasted from approximately 1980-1992.
Once the Christian Democratic Party lost control, under Jose Napoleon Duarte, there were repeated coups and protests in the early ‘70’s. And beginning in 1979 --- after Duarte was exiled -- a cycle of violence and guerrilla warfare broke out in the cities and countryside, initiating what became a 12 year civil war. A key signpost for those in the United States, was the murder of Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero after he publicly urged the US government not to provide military support to the El Salvadoran government.

In such a Catholic country, it is only natural that God is invoked as being absent and yet also, in his many forms, a longed for salvation. But there is also an almost dream-like thirst for retribution. In “Archbishop Romero” she writes:

“Sin has formed on their mouths, and they
assault us.
We are silenced into a void.
Souls singled out for torture.”

“Oscar Romero created a heaven,
carried us in his arms of prayer.
In church, we drink Christ to free ourselves.
Decapitation was not a devotion to believe in.
The soldiers will burn in a red sky….”

The contours of the book follow Gloria’s journey into the massacres and eclipsed lives of the country’s citizens through imagined portraits of its people and by capturing the way death can permeate a landscape, while angels and memory and rosaries and love haunt it as well. Her insight and identification with the people of El Salvador, the reveries she channels about the sheer madness of the War, are nothing short of astounding. We walk with her in a shroud of language that gives dignity and concreteness to the way these people both surrendered and remained hopeful about their fate at the hands of the death-bearers – soliders, campesinos, assassins. Yet we still know almost nothing about the logistics and politics of their deaths. In fact one of the key and tragic notes is the mystery which envelopes the war -- not unlike many wars fought in small, “developing” or “third world” countries where the United States does not intervene to end violence, or in fact, as in Iraq, has a strong hand in engendering it.

Gloria does not choose to point fingers. She writes to mourn and to give voice and magical imagery to the victims. I think it would be correct to say she goes one step farther; she actually becomes the El Salvadoran people caught in a looming death-trap.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Rufina Amaya, “the only survivor of the massacre of El Mozote.” Gloria writes, “She lived her life speaking about the atrocities committed so no one would forget.” The epigraph reads: “But she had so rubbed her eyes from grief that all she had seen could be seen in them

The book is divided into five sections: THE ATROCITIES, COUNTRYSIDE THOUGHTS, HEARTS, EXILE, and LOOKING BACK.

In “Waiting for Execution” (from ATROCITIES) she writes:

“My spirit accelerated into the sky,
The mountains were happy by the sea.
The enemy was not around.

At church, communion was red wine. A sip – I wanted
it all. To drink would make my life last, make me immune,
God of God, this air is hot.
I’m heaving from the stench. These are the bodies
in your hands. How many can you hold?
Will you hold me?”


This pain waits for an entrance.
If they shoot me, I conquer, and you God,
Unseen in your cage, cry escaping from my rusted dreams.”

This book is not about religion, not about God. It is more about angels and their various manifestations, as people, as hearts, as memory. In “Befallen” (COUNTRYSIDE THOUGHTS) she writes:

“The one last heart to remain in
this world circles around me.

Angel, I have a good perspective about this.
A heart is on my doorstep, and it is haunting,
Figuring out who it will go to.
I have courage. The dead love me.”


Angel, I am devoted.
Bury me in your wings.
Enfold me for safe-keeping.
I need to be warm.”

There are many many poems one could quote. Gloria has inscribed many deaths into this book with her soul’s quill and that does make it challenging to read. Yet, like a gorgeous elegy, she also renders these deaths and the unspeakable brutality of their killers, into a kind of otherworldly music we can all find cadence with, and drink in. One other point to be made, “Blood Soaked Dresses” is dedicated to a woman and the dresses could just as well be pants, given the boys who were also murdered, but significant to note that this is a woman’s quilting a shroud of beauty against violence. In an North American world where we are growing more and more habituated to its glamour – in TV and movies – I am thankful for her devotion to life.

Lo Galluccio
Ibbetson St. Press Update

Robert K. Johnson: Writes “From Mist to Shadow.”

Robert K. Johnson: Writes “From Mist to Shadow.”

Robert K. Johnson is a retired English professor from Suffolk University in Boston. Johnson has been widely published in the small press. He is the author of nine collections of poetry, his latest being: “From Mist to Shadow” ( Ibbetson 2007). Johnson has also written two critical studies, one of Francis Ford Coppola, and the other of Neil Simon. He is a winner of the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award along with other notables such as: Robert Pinsky, David R. Godine, Louisa Solano, and Jack Powers. He is currently the submission editor for the literary magazine: “Ibbetson Street.”

Doug Holder: Bob, I read somewhere that you do anywhere from 10 to 30 drafts of your poems. The late poet Robert Creeley told me he did very little revision. If a poem didn’t work he simply trashed it. Your view on that?

Robert K. Johnson: That kind of response to work habits run the gamut. Thomas Hardy would refuse to go over a certain low limit of revisions. He felt if he didn’t hit it right after a certain amount, well that was it. E. E. Cummings I read revised almost endlessly.

DH: I hear constantly from writers of all stripes, “Revise, revise, revise.”

RKJ: Yeah and that’s what I do. It gets up to a lot of drafts. I make just a few small corrections and type it up again. That’s in order to keep the whole poem fresh in my mind. If you bog down in just one section, and then suddenly reintegrate, you can have all sorts of problems. Dylan Thomas is the one who tipped me off to this particular work habit. He revised all the time. So I can have up to 20 or 30 revisions before it’s done, sometimes even more.

DH: The title of your new collection “From Mist to Shadow” sounds rather ominous. How did you come up with it?

RKJ: Well its not meant to be ominous. It’s meant to dig deeper from say “Morning to Night” or from “Sunrise to Sunset.” There are just more connotations with shadows and mist. The phrase or title comes from the poet Dorian Brooks. Dorian is an editor for the Ibbetson Street Press and an accomplished poet.

DH: How would you describe your style of writing?

RKJ: My style is: you read it through and you think you have the whole poem. On the first level it’s totally comprehensible. If you reread it you find that it is more than some kind of narrative. There is usually something else I am going after. Sometimes the narratives are parables, such as my "Prodigal Son" poem which centers on the deepest kind of love.

DH: You have been the submission editor at the literary journal “Ibbetson Street” for years. What do you look for in a poem? You are known as one tough bird.

RKJ: We get mostly free verse, or accentual verse. We get very little traditional verse. I don’t get a lot of poems that are blank verse; we get very little traditional verse. So I look for something that lifts the material above chopped up prose. When I get stuff that doesn’t lift above chopped-up prose, it doesn’t make the cut. A lot of poets feel that if he or she uses irregular right hand margins that they are writing a poem. You have to have some kind of cadence and rhythm. I look for some kind of sound lift. I sometimes look for alliteration. Poet Ellaraine Lockie is wonderful with this. I like loose rhymes and internal rhymes. I also look for fresh phrasing and fresh language.

DH: You have written books of criticism of Francis Ford Coppola, as well as playwright Neil Simon. As a poet do you have any favorite playwrights who are similar to poets?

RKJ: Tennessee Williams certainly. Wonderful lyrical stuff. Eugene O’Neill had to strain to get his lyrical stuff. Williams did it with great ease. And of course Shakespeare.

DH: You have the handicap of hearing loss. How has this hindered your work?

RKJ: It probably has an adverse effect in only one way. I use less descriptions of sound than other poets might. I use visuals all over the place. And of course I use some sound because of a hearing aid. It has its advantages—I listen more attentively. I have to.

by Robert K. Johnson
Day after late-spring day,
from my maples’ lowest limbs
to the tips of their top branches,
swarms of caterpillars

eat the leaves’ green spans
with so much passion that I,
almost asleep, can hear them
in the darkness. And my greed

matches their hungry mouths.
I want to taste every food
and wine, book and film,
mountain, city, ocean—

devour everything displayed
on the long buffet of riches
the dawn light offers me
day after day all year.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Inside the Outside: An Anthology of American Avant-Garde Poets.

Inside the Outside: An Anthology of American Avant-Garde Poets. Reviewed by Laurel Johnson- Midwest Book Review

To order:

By Laurel Johnson

According to the Farlex Free Dictionary online, avant-garde is a term describing an innovative group applying new techniques to produce fresh and unusual work. The last group of poets to earn the avant-garde label was the Beat poets of the 1950s. This book represents a subsequent generation of poets who craft their work in experimental formats and unusual patterns, or simply give voice to women, downtrodden city dwellers, or social dysfunction.

Most, if not all, of the thirteen poets featured in this book are well-known both inside and outside the world of poetry. Individually and collectively they represent an amazing body of award winning work that encompasses decades. All have been active in the small press, breaking established rules of vision and perception in poetry: Stanley Nelson; Hugh Fox; Kirby Congdon; Richard Kostelanetz; Lyn Lifshin; Harry Smith; Eric Greinke; John Keene; Lynne Savitt; A.D. Winans; Doug Holder; Mark Sonnenfeld; and Richard Morris.

This book represents is a stirring exploration of words and meanings. Some poems flow like word pictures with soft whispers, while others stand out like mysterious petroglyphs hacked into stone. Some celebrate rhythm and cadence; still others perform a visual dance with letters and words. The infinite amorality of our times is represented in poems about politicians and 9/11. The schizophrenic ecstasy of modern society comes to life behind surreal masks. Raw nerve endings and harsh truths are revealed in thought and word through dissassociative fugue states and word salads. The experience is often dizzying and exhilarating.

With only a few exceptions I can think of, Inside the Outside features work of the best avant-garde poets of the last fifty years. Whether you appreciate experimental poetry or not, this book is invaluable for the history recorded in it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Allston, Mass. Press releases poetry and prose anthology "HOME" edited by Anne Brudevold

(Eden Waters Staff --Anne Brudevold second from left.)

The Eden Waters Press of Allston, Mass. has just released their first anthology: “HOME,” edited by Anne Brudevold.

Luke Salisbury, Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College and author of “Hollywood and Sunset,” writes of this book of poetry and prose:

The Eden Waters Press HOME Anthology is an excellent display of mature but diverse talent. These poets know what they are doing. Whether it’s Doug Holder and Harris Gardner demonstrating that humor and precision may be the most effective weapons for dissecting the world, a fresh voice like Eleanor Goodman plumbing the mysteries of paternity, Barbara Bialick evoking soil and soul in her mother’s Detroit past, or Judith Barrington’s terrific poem “The Questionnaire” putting a brutal but human spin on the old questions: “Where is home?” and “Do you know how to get there?’—this collection is a winner.

The prose selections should not be overlooked. Abbott Ikeler is eloquent about his English grandmother. Barbara Beckwith writes deliciously about walking to Harvard Square, and Lo Galluccio searches for home in all the wrong places. Katherine Adam’s memoir about her parents’ eight-foot statue of a naked woman planted in their 1958 North Carolina backyard is a classic. The poetry, photography and too-few Martha Boss drawings make this fine little book a must.”

Eden Waters Press
14 Farrington Ave.
Allston, Mass.

The Art of Writing and Others by George Held

The Art of Writing and Others by George Held
Finishing Line Press, 2007, 26 pages, $12.
ISBN 978-1-59924-185-2

Review by Eleanor Goodman

In his tenth book of poems, The Art of Writing and Others, George Held’s erudition is evident on every page. Melville, Van Gogh, John Donne, Bishop, Spenser – his topics range widely, yet his language and angle of approach is always intelligent and sensitive.

When Held writes about other poets, his work often not only comments on but also imitates his subject. These imitations range from the serious to the humorous. One of the most successful of these is a villanelle patterned after Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem “One Art.” Where Bishop’s tone is mournful, Mr. Held’s poem, “The Art of Writing,” is an amusing take on the frustrations of teaching.

The art of writing isn’t hard to teach:
Tell your students to welcome the blank page,
To pick a subject well within their reach.

“Put your words in the best order,” you beseech;
“Be clear as glass and cogent as a sage.”
The art of writing isn’t hard to teach.

“Moreover, make each sentence seem to reach
From one to another as you engage
With a subject that’s well within your reach....”

The rhymes here are simple, but nicely unforced. Mr. Held succeeds were many poets fail, managing to use the form to his advantage, instead of finding it to be a straightjacket.

Mr. Held’s sense of humor is apparent elsewhere in the book, as in “Love Without Sex,” “Brand Name,” and the three line “Poets”:

Poets are gardeners –
Planters, pruners, gleaners –
Till they are mulch.

But there is more to this collection than light verse. The ekphrastic poems, for example, are for the most part serious explorations of the import and effect of art. In “30.12.2006: At the Guggenheim’s Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History,” Mr. Held views an important political event through the prism of a Goya painting.

The tyrant is dead, long live the martyr,
His defiance with noose round neck
Recorded via cell phone
And broadcast round the world
With the taunts of his Shiite lynchers.

Seeing Goya’s Cannibals Preparing Their Victims
The same day that Saddam hangs,
I marvel at the artist’s audacious depiction
Of naked cannibals in a cave
Carrying out their rites....

The political implications of this comparison are left for the reader to intuit, which is one of the hallmarks of a confident writer. The reader has both the pleasure and responsibility of drawing her own conclusions.

Although the endings of some of the poems may leave the reader wanting, Mr. Held’s work is full of liveliness and observation. He more than deserves the beautiful typesetting and careful editing that the well respected Finishing Line Press offers.

--Eleanor Goodman *Eleanor Goodman lives in Boston, where she writes poetry and is working on a second novel manuscript. Her work can be found in New Delta Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Amherst Review, and Ibbetson Street, among other literary magazines. A collection of her translations of the Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei (王维) were published in Seneca Review.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Poetry, Community and The Small Press

This is the speech I will be giving in Israel to the "Voices Israel" Literary Organization this month.

Poetry, Community and The Small Press

By Doug Holder

I am not an academic poet. I am not a part of a faculty of a major university, nor on the board of a prestigious literary organization. I always have been a part of that great eclectic sea of the small press. In fact my activities have mostly been outside of the gated communities of the Academy. I started the Ibbetson Street Press with my wife Dianne Robitaille and my good friend Richard Wilhelm in 1998. For years I had been published in small presses, and I came to realize without a vibrant small press community talented poets would not see the light of day. A student of literary history will realize that many of our great poets from: Whitman, Frost, Ginsberg, etc… got their start in little magazines and small presses.

In the immediate Boston area we have over 100 colleges. And in Somerville, my hometown, there are more writers per-capita than the isle of Manhattan. Many writers in the area have told me how cliquish and exclusive they feel the community can be here and that there were few outlets for their work.

So Richard, Dianne and I decided to start a small literary magazine the “Ibbetson Street Press” that eventually morphed into “Ibbetson Street.” ‘Ibbetson Street” was named after 33 Ibbetson Street in Somerville where I lived for 7 years, before moving down the block to 25 School St. in 2001.

We started slowly, with just a few local poets in our first editions. But over the years the production values improved and we started to get submissions nationally and internationally. The Press has been included in the highly selective “Index of Periodical Verse.” We have published such accomplished poets as the late Sarah Hannah, Danielle Legros Georges, Diana Der Hovanessian, Jared Smith, Robert K. Johnson, and Afaa Michael Weaver, whose face graced the cover of a recent “Poets and Writers” magazine.

As we got more confident we started publishing poetry collections, and now have a list of over 40 books and chapbooks. One of the first books we published under our imprint “Singing Bone” was “City of Poets: 18 Boston Voices.” (2000) We also have published books by Israeli poet Helen Bar Lev and John Michael Simon, members of the “Voices Israel” organization.

To increase the sense of community, about 3 years ago Harris Gardner (a well-known poet and poetry activist in Boston) and I started a writers’ group “ Breaking Bagels with the Bards.” It started in the basement of a local bagel shop in Harvard Square and eventually moved on a rotating basis to two Au Bon Cafes in Somerville, Mass. and Cambridge, Mass. Every Saturday we have up to 25 poets and writers of all stripes chatting, networking, and making new friends.

And even more publishing opportunities have opened for our folks. One of our members, Steve Glines, started the Wilderness House Literary Retreat” in Littleton, Mass, that featured such poets as: Robert Creeley, Lois Ames and Afaa Michael Weaver. Later Glines founded the “Wilderness House Literary Review” Many of our bards are on staff and many more have been published in the magazine.

Another member Gloria Mindock is a small press publisher. Her press the “Cervena Barva Press” has published chapbooks and poetry collections of many of our members as well as national and overseas poets. And of course the Ibbetson Street Press has tapped the talent pool for talented bards.

And since the Internet now offers unique possibilities in writing and publishing I established the “Ibbetson Update” that has reviewed hundreds of books from the world of the small press. Many of our writers got their first experience in writing reviews and more than a few have gone one to more lucrative writing gigs. We have reviewed chapbooks, and books from major university presses to mom and pop small presses. We treat every book be it perfect bound or saddle-stitched with the same respect. The book is a sacred object in our view. The “Update” has been been cited in an award presentation for the “Connecticut Book Award,” has been cited on many websites and resumes and has been praised by New England Pen, as well as award-winning small press poets to university professors.

I also host a TV show on our local TV station “Somerville Community Access TV” Here I present to the community the rich mother lode of poets and writers we have in the Boston-area. Over the years I have interviewed local poets, well-published novelists, and sent many of these tapes to be archived at major university libraries. In fact at one point the curator of the Harvard Poetry Room expressed an interest in buying the tapes, but I donated them; knowing they would have a good home.

I have always believed that poets need to have space on the page as well as the stage. So I have hosted a number of poetry venues over the years. The longest running one is the Newton Free Library Poetry Series in Newton, Mass. This has proved an important venue to introduce new and established poets into the community. I also have an open mic for “emerging talents” to strut their poetic stuff.

I am also the local arts/editor for our city newspaper “The Somerville News.” In that capacity I feature mostly local poets in my column ”Lyrical Somerville.” But I had even greater ambitions for my grassroots efforts. Writer and Bagel Bard member Timothy Gager and myself started the “Somerville News Writers Festival” that has featured local writers and poets as well as nationally and internationally known heavyweights like Robert Pinsky, Robert Olen Butler, Franz Wright, Afaa Michael Weaver, Lan Samantha Chang, and many more.

What I hope I have achieved, along with the many folks who have helped me along the way, is a “community of poets.” We are open to everyone. Just make yourself known, and eventually you will be participating, reading, and may even be publishing.

I am not getting rich on this. In fact I lose money on my publishing efforts, etc… But though I am poor in currency, my life is rich because I am immersed with what I love.

I encourage everyone to build a poetry community wherever you may reside…you won’t regret it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Some Natural Things. Glenn W. Cooper.

Some Natural Things. Glenn W. Cooper. ( Kamini Press Ringvagen 8, 4th floor SE-117 26 Stockholm, Sweden)

Gerald Locklin writes of Glenn Cooper’s work: “ I have thought very highly of Glenn Cooper’s work for many years, he’s a throwback to the glory days of the Wormwood Review. A first-rate poet in the debut of a very attractive series.”

This mini-chap “Some Natural Things,” by Glenn W. Cooper that is published and illustrated by Henry Denander, has poetry that is flooded with evocative images. “Flooded” is the key word here because many of the poems deal with rain and water in general. And since we are all made up of 70% or more of water, these poems should provide us with a heightened “stream” of consciousness.

In the poem: “Small Room” rain settles, paints and haunts:

“ A little bit of rain settles,
the summer dust, fills

the night time with memories
of people long gone,

as lightning paints
the walls
of this small room

with images I don’t want
to interpret.”

And in “No Contest” the poet bows to a superior bard:

every time
it’s raining I go

inside to write
a poem

about the rain
but nothing

measures up.

the rain always

I go
back outside.

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

Selected Poetry of Susie D by Susie Davidson

Selected Poetry of Susie D
By Susie Davidson
40 page chapbook at $5
Ibbetson Street Press
25 School Street
Somerville MA 02143

Review by Laurel Johnson

Susie Davidson is an award winning poet, writer, journalist, and social activist. Her credentials are impressive. Between the glossy covers of this chapbook, readers will find the meat and marrow of her life and work. Whether free verse, prose style, or iambic pentameter, this poetry shines. Consider, for example, this excerpt from “For Sorrow or Verse:”

to rewind the pastures of billowing sunsets
to frame the experience tearing through stone
we walk ever bent upon burnishing sadness
toward the cool daybreak, the pain echoes low

“Six Million Souls” is an exercise in rhyming verse. Few poets can rhyme and communicate their message in effective, focused style. Ms. Davidson accomplishes both with apparent ease:

Six million souls are the soul of us all,
the darkest of ages, humanity’s fall.
Children and innocents tortured and killed,
Six million visions and dreams unfulfilled.
Herded like cattle, stripped of all worth,
hungry and sick in the dregs of the earth,
parents and siblings shot down in full sight,
boxcars of bodies transported at night.

“Barred in Bosnia” recalls the attempts of Croatian women to block U.N. convoys providing aide to Muslim infants. Why would any woman anywhere deny food and health care to a child, regardless of creed or nationality? The answer is ages old -- hatred and consuming grief:

How could such horror exist in this day
Where countrymen feud in eternal dissent,
With dry milk and baby food weapons and ploys,
Where conflicts unveil genocidal intent?

Ms. Davidson has traveled to places most of us will never see. These travels are documented by a skilled wordsmith in the “Travel Poems.” I quote “Jerusalem” which was the first of sixteen exceptional poems:

repentance lines this path, desert wind tugs tired
heartstrings and o! such a blip in eternity is life
in this holy ground in this time in time
like so many grains of this sacred sand
are we and always will be here now here always
in a word shalom.

The poems in this not-for-profit chapbook are from It’s Only Life: Rhythmic Forays into Life and Human Nature (1992); After Gary (1994); and a new work. If you aren’t familiar with Susie Davidson’s work, this chapbook would be an ideal introduction. If you enjoy rich poetry, fertile with meaning, Ms. Davidson will not disappoint.

Review by Laurel Johnson Laurel Johnson is a book reviewer for the Midwest Book Review.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New Executive Director at Cape Cod Writers’ Center, starting in January, 2008

Anne Elizabeth Tom, who is in the current Issue of Ibbetson, has been appointed director of the Cape Cod Writing Center.

New Executive Director at Cape Cod Writers’ Center, starting in January, 2008

Anne Elizabeth Tom, who will become the new executive director of the Cape Cod Writers’ Center on January 1, grew up in Boston, spent summers on Cape Cod, and received a Master of Arts in Fine Arts from Tufts University. She has had a long career as a writer, cultural educator, and executive director. For several years she was corporate writer/editor for the MITRE Corporation, producing publications, exhibits and conferences; next assistant director of a professional extension program at the University of California, Los Angeles, designing curriculum, selecting faculty, and marketing and implementing over 400 professional courses and public programs annually. Later, as executive director at The Lee-Fendall House Museum in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, she created and brought educational programs to the Greater Washington, DC community.

A former grant writer for Pratt Institute in NY, and instructor for New England Literary History at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at Cape Cod Community College, Anne Elizabeth also has a background researching and writing for museum exhibits, and for feature articles on architectural history and art published in numerous magazines and newspapers, most recently as contributing writer for Summerguide magazine. A published poet, she produced the Grange Hall Summer Poetry Series, the Cape Cod Winter Poetry Series, and original plays of Cape playwrights, for several seasons. Her poetry is published in small literary magazines (such as the Aurorean, Poesy, Ibbetson, and many others), and is anthologized in Out of the Blue Writers Unite, 2003 (ed., Gager and Priestly), Summer Home Review, II, 2004 (ed., Loring), and Bagels with the Bards, II, 2007 (ed., Weaver and Watt). She has featured at many New England poetry venues, including the National Poetry Festival, Boston Public Library, 2004 to 2006.

Upon returning from living in Hawaii, where she earned a certificate in Intercultural Leadership, Anne Elizabeth took on an entrepreneurial endeavor: establishing Cape Cod Cultural Tours, LLC, specializing in small group and custom excursions focused on the history, architecture, art, and literary history of Cape Cod and the Islands, for domestic and international visitors to Massachusetts. She says her research on Cape culture has given her much new writing material.

President of the Cape Cod Writers Center, Sheila Whitehouse, explains that the Board of Directors selected Anne Elizabeth as the Center’s new executive director for her broad professional experience and commitment to Cape Cod’s cultural presence. She says that the new director’s goal is “to take the legacy of the Cape Cod Writers’ Center to the next level, making it an even more effective, nationally and internationally renowned, mecca for writers.”

Anne Elizabeth and her husband Steve reside in Sandwich.

The Cape Cod Writers’ Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing and promoting emerging and established writers. The office is located in Osterville, and the annual conference, in its 47th year, has long been held at the Craigville Conference Center during the third week of August. For further information about CCWC Breakfasts with Authors, Books and the World TV show, Pathways to Publications Workshops, and more, see:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Somerville Writers Ethan Gilsdorf and Ted Weesner Jr.: From Paris, Prague to Somerville.

Top: Ted Weesner Jr.

Bottom: Ethan Gilsdorf.

Somerville writers Ethan Gilsdorf and Ted Weesner Jr. have a lot in common. They both grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, both their mothers were teachers, their fathers were both professors, and both writers lived abroad; Gilsdorf in Paris and Weesner in Prague. And both of these writers with serious cases of wanderlust will read from their works-in-progress at the Willoughby and Baltic art space at 195 G Elm St. Somerville on Dec. 14 at 7PM.

Gilsdorf, 41, and Weesner, 43, told me over coffee at the Sherman Café located in my stomping grounds of Union Square, that both are working on books they hope to complete later next year. Weesner will be reading an excerpt from the novel he presently is working on: “ Left Prague for Good” and Gilsdorf will read from his memoir/ travelogue: “ Escape Artists: One Man’s Quest To Find Reality Among Role Players, Freaks, Online Gaming Geeks, Fandom Addicts, World- Builders, and other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.”

Both Gilsdorf and Weesner moved from their respective romantic European cities to Somerville for a number of reasons. Gilsdorf, who lived on the Right Bank of Paris for five years was a freelance marketing writer and a European correspondent for The Boston Globe, felt a need to come back to the States after his extended stay in the “City of Light.” Somerville is a city near his familial roots. One day he was in Davis Square, browsing in the now defunct store “Planet Pluto,” when he asked the store manager if Somerville would be a good fit for him. She answered in the affirmative and Gilsdorf was in like flint. He now lives in the Davis Square section of the city, and makes his living freelancing for The Boston Globe and other publications, as well as teaching at Grub Street.

Gilsdorf, like Weesner, said that he finds the Somerville community committed to the arts, ideas and dreams. Both men traverse our burg on their bikes. Weesner who teaches Creative Writing at Tufts said he loves the diversity of the city, and the accessibility to the museums and other cultural institutions the area offers.

Gilsdorf’s work-in-progress “Escape Artists…” is based on a series of articles on “Fantasy Geeks” that he has written about over the years. Like Steve Almond in his book “Candyfreaks,” that explores the subculture of candy fanatics, Gilsdorf submerges himself in the strange world of video games, online gaming, and the otherworldly denizens of these fringe societies.

Weesner, who moved back to Boston to attend Emerson College for his MFA is working on a fictional book that examines a young man’s flight to Prague from the U.S. to escape personal conflicts at home. Prague, in the 1990’s, when the novel takes place, was a cultural Mecca for disaffected young artists and writers.

The choice of the venue of the art gallery Willoughby and Baltic seemed a natural one. Gilsdorf said: “ It’s like an arts center and they are very open to all mediums and activities. I tracked the place down and chose it for a venue for the reading.”

Gilsdorf, now a resident of the “Paris of New England,” said he has no regrets about his move to Somerville. “ In Somerville there is nothing fancy. But inside these three- decker homes there is some creative energy happening.’ Hopefully this font of creative energy will be present at the Willoughby and Baltic Gallery Dec 14.

French Memory Stick

by Ethan Gilsdorf.

She replaced my memory.
I was running slow. Thinking too much, to boot.
Those five years had to go.

First, replace the keyboard,
aka, clavier, harpsichord,
everything you ever touched.

Sure, I had to abandon old habits,
teach myself fresh strokes, techniques.
The bed no longer the Seine, but the Charles.

Adieu cedilla, accents grave and circumflex,
bonjour QWERTY, Caps Lock, Shift.
Home and Escape remain the same.

Meanwhile, battering with my new RAM
I attacked the crumbling castle. My speed increased.
I resisted looking back not even for old files
said to have been circuitously misplaced,
still linked to a landmark not far from my desktop.

You might want to keep that French memory stick,
she said. Shtick. Could be worth something, some day,
snapping shut the gunmetal panel
and tightening the screws.

I’m moving on now. I’ve already
lost my shortcut to the saved emails, the bowling party,
some French-sounding place like Monet-sur-Quelque Chose.

My keys, they don’t stick.
Memory, she is cheap.

From "Left Prague for Good"

By Ted Weesner, Jr.

One full decade earlier a black limousine pulled up in
front of my empty apartment. I lived on the top-floor
of a triple-decker on a street lined with them. The
limo driver, I could see from a window above, was
examining the statue of Mary Magdalene in the front
yard. Though faded to seafoam green and flecked with
soot, she was shielded from rain by a half-buried
clawfoot tub, a custom of the local Portuguese
immigrants. The driver draped a pink newspaper across
his steering wheel, then pulled something shiny from
the glovebox. He held it inches from the pink paper.
A magnifying glass! How very appropriate. This was
just the sort of scrutiny I needed to escape. To get
out from under. Thus the limousine, even if it cost
more than I had.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Intimations of Survival in the poems of Richard Wilhelm

Intimations of Survival in the poems of Richard Wilhelm

Review by Michael Todd Steffen

A thread of tradition in the cycle of the calendar year weaves the sequence of Richard Wilhelm’s book of poems, Awakenings (October 2007, Ibbetson Street Press), beginning with death in dull winter, proceeding to rebirth and awakening in spring, maturity and confidence in summer, ripening to harvest in autumn with premonitions of death again, still with the poet’s affirmation in the final line of the final poem,
A PASSENGER, “seeking yet another rebirth.”
Yet Wilhelm’s year is incomplete, denoting a sense of loss that resonates throughout the book. If William Carlos Williams tells us to invent “not in ideas but in things,” Wilhelm’s opening poems argue persuasively that intuitive invention is not so much in things, but in the resonance of things after their moment,

tree after Christmas tree,
put out with the trash,
some still decked in tinsel,
still fragrant with all that is over. (WHEN TOMORROW’S TRUCKS COME)

Perusing the first five poems the reader of the mainstream American poetic confidence has to ask: Where is the song of himself? By WINTER (p. 4) it is Wilhelm’s absence that has become most present. It is the world around him, the poems softly protest, in this early 21st century of aerodynamics subtly suggested in the book of nature by the creatures of the air:

An array of starlings
settles down on the Norway
maple’s snow-dusted branches.
Several birds,
as if by script,
change positions.
then a few more birds
flit to other branches.

Down from the same atmosphere of maneuvered flight, snowflakes are described as “sputtering,” as though from a mechanical sky, a sky that has overextended its patrol and interest:

copper leaves
cling on well
past death.

This intense awareness of things present in their denotation of “all that is over” (over, also “above”) conveys a sense of oppression, typified and announced in CRUMBLED BRICKS AND BROKEN GLASS, where Wilhelm feels “bored to a muted nausea,” more or less bound to follow his father around on a Saturday in an overheated Studebaker, fidgeting in a hardware store, riding along out past an abandoned railroad, places where his father’s memories are stirred, but the child’s are not. The visions are described point blank as seen, ominous in their state of dilapidation:

Rusted rails led past stands of sumac,
a chain link fence devoured by vines,
to an empty factory, its painted logos all but faded
from brick walls.

As if we lived in a super-constructed world already, the poet’s great fear is that demolition and deterioration are all that remain for the future, a ghetto-ization of housing and industrial parks that were erected and used up too fast:

this is all there is, this is all
there will ever be. Crumbled bricks
and broken glass…

The poet is unique in his subtlety of communicating things present, yet liberation of consciousness from the determined Now begins in the imagination, finding its first avenue to something possibly different, some change, in memory, the source of the shift in voice in AWAKENINGS where,

My senses soon whisk me
to my rural boyhood—

and in the rejuvenation of his mind, Wilhelm plays again:

We were soldiers or
Indians or desert island-
survivors. We’d crouch
in bushes, sneak up a hill
then hurl our spears into
a gully of soft wet earth…

The spears the boys hurl into the wet earth, the poet’s primary sense of manhood, only in the prior poem, NONES OF FEBRUARY, Wilhelm had discovered, “a fallen branch, dead but strong,” from which with his penknife he begins to carve out his poems, “smaller branches and knots” and a staff to sustain him walking “like a wandering monk.”
In the space allowed in this article I have touched on only a few poems, to make a point about Wilhelm’s sensibility: it is subtle, careful in the placement of word and line for connotation, and powerful when given a patient appreciation. The death of Christmas and rebirth and awakening to spring is so critical and vital to human survival, and Wilhelm has not failed to acknowledge this wondrous operation, however great the struggle against these birth pangs, however great the obstacle posed by civilization in our day which demonstrates its reliance on aggressive technology rather than on our curious communion with the earth and its plants and creatures, the suggestion of its cycles, so carefully heeded and portrayed in these poems.

We are given Wilhelm’s wide range of acceptance, from the beautiful and hopeful WE’LL GROW NEW FACES, where

If the dream comes again—
Sweet May will scent the air,

to the foreboding visions, in NIGHT OF THE BLOOD RED MOON, of an equilateral moon rising through sunset red, with the poet’s senses overcome by an equally unusual

from somewhere deep in the blood,
yearned for one I had not yet met.

Well worth reading and rereading, Richard Wilhelm’s Awakenings does the work of piercing through our superficial civilization, relating us to the cycle of our source and mother, the earth and her bearings, using familiar settings and images, set out in simple yet striking language.

Ibbetson Update/ Michael Todd Steffen/ Dec. 2007

* Michael Todd Steffen is the winner of the Ibbetson Street Poetry Award (2007)

Confessions: Selected and Edited by Lynn Clague

Confessions: Selected and Edited
By Lynn Clague
ISBN 978-097953133-0
41 pages at $10 paperback
Ibbetson Street Press
25 School Street
Somerville MA 02143

Clague’s Confessions is a delicious six-course feast. As a poet, he’s approachable; readers can relate to Clague and the life experience he shares. As a man, he’s vulnerable, humorous, and self-effacing. As a reader and reviewer who enjoys poetry, I found the combination of humor and vulnerability to be delightful.

Clague admits in the introduction to being “distant, cool, thinkerish” at times, but in the section titled “Love” he shares this telling self-description:

My most endearing quality is sincerity.
I am tender as a baby’s bottom,
lyrical as a loon.

This excerpt from “Growing Up” describes a typical extended happy hour at home. In this section, Clague details life with his parents and their quest for gracious living, their careers and foibles, and hints at the facades we create to survive:

Occasional contretemps
(pardon my French)
drifted into the post-hour hours
if maybe Dad had one too many
or Mom, tacking like a schooner
in a gale, nagged him ragged,
but the disaster behind the façade
occurred only decades later.

In the early years of his “Career” he becomes the master of camouflaged compromise and games of pretend. Such games drained him, but he played them nonetheless:

As the years accumulated
and the paths to profits proliferated,
I tempered my grin
like a blade of steel
into measured smiles.

Harsh tolls have been taken from a lifetime of pretense and denial. In “Recovery” comes the sudden insight that changes his life:

Unstruck by lightning,
unvisited by a vision of a burning bush,
I had been changed.

Clague and his Confessions deserve high praise. I cannot do justice to this fine book and Clague’s skill with words in a few excerpts. His poetry must be savored, read and reread, celebrated. This book is highly recommended.

Review by Laurel Johnson---- Laurel Johnson is a reviewer for the Midwest Book Review

Friday, November 30, 2007

Manufacturing America by Lisa Beatman

( Somerville, Mass.)The Ibbetson Street Press will have a new title coming out this winter. It is a collection of poems by Roslindale, Mass. poet Lisa Beatman. Beatman had taught English As A Second Language to immigrant workers at the Ames Envelope factory in Somerville for a number of years. Susan Eisenberg author of "Blind Spot" writes of Beatman's book:

" Manufacturing America bears witness to the lyrical life of a factory and the individuals who inhabit it at the start-up of the 21st Century. Lisa Beatman adds the stories of immigrant workers, heard through the ear of a poet on site to teach literary skills, to the growing literature of work poetry."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Somerville Writer Nick Mamatas pens “Under My Roof"

Somerville Writer Nick Mamatas pens “Under My Roof"

Somerville writer Nick Mamatas is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His work has appeared in the Village Voice, the Mississippi Review, and numerous anthologies. His most recent novel is: “Under My Roof” (Soft Skull Press). In an article about Mamatas the book is described as: “… a short novel told from the point of view of a young telepath who lives on Long Island. His father has declared his independence from the United States and planted a nuclear device in a garden gnome on the front lawn.” I spoke with Mamatas on my Somerville Community Access TV show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: I’ve read a lot about the “Soft Skull Press.” a small press that publishes a lot of non-mainstream and innovative writers. Can you tell me a bit about them, and how you got involved with the press?

Nick Mamatas: It happened years ago. I was in a political group. I was thrown out of it. And I happened to see on the Web that the previous owner of Soft Skull Press was thrown out. So I wrote him a letter. I went to a party at his place, which at that point was a basement in Manhattan, where he worked as a janitor. He sort of roped me in to do work for them. I read the slush pile etc…Then a book came out “Fortunate Son,” published by St. Martins, which was a biography of George W. Bush. It was the infamous one that dealt with his drug abuse. Soft Skull republished it and it put them on the map. When I finished “Under My Roof” Soft Skull went under new management and I published with them, after being rejected by more commercial publishers. From the mainstream publishers, we got interesting rejections. I should mention “Under My Roof” is a book about a kid whose father makes a nuclear bomb. We would get letters like: “This is a really good book. You got the kid’s voice. Fantastic. Instead of a nuclear bomb can’t the kid have a girlfriend?” So we had to go an independent press like Soft Skull.

DH: If “Soft Skull” had a mission statement what would it be?

NM: Oh it has changed over the years. It started out primarily with poetry. It eventually moved to political nonfiction. 9/11 politicized it. It has gone back to fiction, innovative poetry, and graphic novels. It also has been sold. It is the imprint of a larger small press company “Counterpoint”

DH: Long Island seems an unlikely place for “Under the Roof” to take place.

NM: The most likely. Long Island is a very strange place. I grew up there. On some levels it is very suburban, with a shopping center, and a Starbucks in every town. But there is also an older Long Island that exists. That Long Island has local color and weird local traditions. There are people who are farmers and independent minded. Long Island is crazy both in the right and left wing. Long Island is a place where you go when you can’t deal with Manhattan anymore. There is a lot of high technology there, so to have a nuclear device somewhere can be a probability
DH: Would Somerville be a good place for the novel to be set?

NM: I don’t think so. Somerville has an idea of being free. Somerville probably has different countries in different apartments.

DH: The book has a very comical conceit. It reminds me a bit of Woody Allen. Have you been influenced by him at all?

NM: I like Woody Allen. But not this. Kurt Vonnegut would be more accurate for this. This book is really an adaptation of a play by Aristophanes.

DH: The kid Herbert Weinberg has a father who goes off the deep end. He has a lot of keen insight into the hypocrisy of the adult world; much like the protagonist in “Catcher in the Rye.” Could this be a 21st century version of the book?

NM: On some level. I am very interested in the idea of “Cult”fiction. I very much want a “Cult” audience, and have it replicate with every generation. The character in “Catcher…” has been crushed by hypocrisy. Herbert succeeds against hypocrisy. I wanted to raise the “freak flag” as cult fiction often does. My previous novel was about Jack Kerouac and H.P. Lovecraft, two other cult figures. I am really obsessed by cult figures and cult authors.

DH: What interests you about these disparate writers?

NM: On some levels they have similarities. They are both New Englanders; both tortured, and both lived with their mothers a long time. Both started movements. Kerouac the “Beats.” Lovecraft, the horror genre in the 20’s and 30’s. Kerouac was influenced by pulp or horror novels.

DH: I read in an interview that the Internet was instrumental in your development as a writer?

NM: I grew up in the Internet. I started using it in 1989. It was all text based. But there were a lot of people out there that I was exposed to. I learned a lot and I was in a good position to write about issues of emerging technology.

DH: How is the life of a freelance writer?

NM: It’s either feast or famine. There have been days when I made 6,000 dollars. There have also been years when I made 6,000 dollars. I live very humbly. I don’t have a car. I also teach at Grub Street. I write corporate copy for Websites. You can’t turn down anything. When you have to pay your bills writer’s block vanishes. I tell my students you have to be on time. It is more important than talent sometimes.

Dh: Do you think the ascent of the Internet spells the end of the book?

NM: The book is still revolutionary. It is infinitely tradable, and portable. It doesn’t break easily, easy to ship, and it is easy to learn how to use. The Internet will augment book sales.

Breaking It Down. Rusty Barnes. ( Buffalo, NY) $12.

Breaking It Down. Rusty Barnes. ( Buffalo, NY) $12.

Look—Rusty Barnes lives in Revere, Mass. but don’t expect his fiction to reflect the drama of the urban environs. Barnes was born and raised in Appalachia. De Witt Henry, founder of “Ploughshares” magazine writes of Barnes: “ His characters like Robert Frost’s are mostly rural, poor and farm-bound…Voicing these inarticulate characters with image, gesture and narrative eloquence, Barnes opens the core of their imagined lives.”

In the first story in this collection of flash fiction, a rural, long-suffering wife starts the day snapping green beans with her mother-in-law, and later winds up rollicking in the carnal hay with a farm boy many years her junior. In this scene she prepares to make love to the young “Purl”, one of her mother-in-law’s younger “boys”. Barnes has the boy’s penis rise in accusation:

“Purl had laid the blanket out already, wisps of hay stuck to his hairless chest. As I loosened his jeans, it wagged like a finger, an accusation I could never answer to anyone’s satisfaction but my own.”

But this woman understands her life of quiet desperation had to be addressed:

“ Thirty years of snapping beans, of lying placid while drunken Robbie poked away at me occasionally in the dead of night…”

Barnes portrays the tragedy of this woman’s life, and perhaps in small part her redemption, in plain language. The woman justifies her affair with the matter-of- fact
attitude she would employ to shuck an ear of corn. She says:” I was doing what needed to be done.”

And in “Certitude” Barnes focuses in on a couple: Mathilde and Warren. Barnes writes of the woman:

“Mathilde knew that Warren wanted to be nothing more than to be feral… a man who might chase down a kill with great loping strides like a wolf, neatly hamstring it, and howl his success to the stars.”

It seems that Warren is in the midst of a Robert Bly moment or a bad mid-life crisis. And like some scared, wounded critter, he is licking his wounds in some warren, or in this case a finished basement. In a beautifully rendered scene Mathilde comes to him and reaches out in a primal and touchingly vulnerable way:

“ Naked, she stood before him as a sob rose in his chest. She took the phone from his hand and lowered herself onto him. Even in his pain she could feel him stir beneath her, and it was no trick at all after so many years of marriage to put him inside her with minimal effort, and less a trick to take his head and firmly press it between her breasts as he convulsed.”

Barnes writing shows a true understanding of the human condition. And what happens in these gone-to-seed, rural burgs happens, with better props in the tony homes of the Back Bay and Beacon Hill sections of Boston or Central Park West in New York city.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update ing It Down. Rusty Barnes. ( Buffalo, NY) $12.

Look—Rusty Barnes lives in Revere, Mass. but don’t expect his fiction to reflect the drama of the urban environs. Barnes was born and raised in Appalachia. De Witt Henry, founder of “Ploughshares” magazine writes of Barnes: “ His characters like Robert Frost’s are mostly rural, poor and farm-bound…Voicing these inarticulate characters with image, gesture and narrative eloquence, Barnes opens the core of their imagined lives.”

In the first story in this collection of flash fiction, a rural, long-suffering wife starts the day snapping green beans with her mother-in-law, and later winds up rollicking in the carnal hay with a farm boy many years her junior. In this scene she prepares to make love to the young “Purl”, one of her mother-in-law’s younger “boys”. Barnes has the boy’s penis rise in accusation:

“Purl had laid the blanket out already, wisps of hay stuck to his hairless chest. As I loosened his jeans, it wagged like a finger, an accusation I could never answer to anyone’s satisfaction but my own.”

But this woman understands her life of quiet desperation had to be addressed:

“ Thirty years of snapping beans, of lying placid while drunken Robbie poked away at me occasionally in the dead of night…”

Barnes portrays the tragedy of this woman’s life, and perhaps in small part her redemption, in plain language. The woman justifies her affair with the matter-of- fact
attitude she would employ to shuck an ear of corn. She says:” I was doing what needed to be done.”

And in “Certitude” Barnes focuses in on a couple: Mathilde and Warren. Barnes writes of the woman:

“Mathilde knew that Warren wanted to be nothing more than to be feral… a man who might chase down a kill with great loping strides like a wolf, neatly hamstring it, and howl his success to the stars.”

It seems that Warren is in the midst of a Robert Bly moment or a bad mid-life crisis. And like some scared, wounded critter, he is licking his wounds in some warren, or in this case a finished basement. In a beautifully rendered scene Mathilde comes to him and reaches out in a primal and touchingly vulnerable way:

“ Naked, she stood before him as a sob rose in his chest. She took the phone from his hand and lowered herself onto him. Even in his pain she could feel him stir beneath her, and it was no trick at all after so many years of marriage to put him inside her with minimal effort, and less a trick to take his head and firmly press it between her breasts as he convulsed.”

Barnes writing shows a true understanding of the human condition. And what happens in these gone-to-seed, rural burgs happens, with better props in the tony homes of the Back Bay and Beacon Hill sections of Boston or Central Park West in New York city.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Monday, November 19, 2007



By Doug Holder

Writer Adam Pachter may no longer live in Somerville, but he tapped the Somerville talent pool for his second anthology of stories revolving around Fenway Park, “Further Fenway Fiction.”

Somerville writers such as Steve Almond, Jennifer Rapaport, Mitch Evich, Tim Gager, and Lenore Myka contributed work to a collection of poetry and prose that has a focal point of Fenway and its beloved denizen: The Boston Red Sox. Even the front and back covers are graced with the artful photography of Somerville resident Mary Kocol.

Pachter said he hatched the idea for the first anthology “Fenway Fiction,” (2004) when he was inspired by a short story written by his friend Rachel Solar. Pachter originally wanted to compile a literary travelogue with stories set anywhere from ‘Vegas to Venice. But Solar’s story about Sox slugger Manny Ramirez inspired him to edit a collection of writing around the iconic Boston institution Fenway Park.

Like any undertaking it requires talent and not a little luck for a project to grow wings. Pachter put out a call for manuscripts on the Somerville Arts Council email group, and got submissions not only locally but from around the country. Later, while watching the Sox at Fenway with a friend of his, he mentioned he was working on an anthology of fiction with a baseball theme. The friend, a former employee of Rounder Records, told him to “pitch” the idea to the powers-that-be at “Rounder Books,” a publishing division of that company. It seems the owners love baseball, and Pachter had the goods. So after Pachter made that fateful call, it was, as it was said in “Casablanca,” “The beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Besides luck, timing is a very important element of success. “Fenway Fiction” was submitted just before the World Series. Of course that didn’t hurt sales. And now with “Further Fenway Fiction” sales are in an upswing with the Sox happily in another Series.

Pachter felt the work in the first anthology was interesting because it dealt with the history and the tragedy of the long suffering fans and their losing team. But since the Sox became the team to beat Pachter was worried they wouldn’t be as interesting. Happily Pachter has found that victory has it rewards in everyday life as well as fiction.

Pachter, now an Arlington resident, the father of three children, and former Washington, D.C. lawyer, plans a third anthology. “That would probably be the last.” he said. But for now both Pachter, as well as the dyed-in-the-wool local Red Sox fans want to ride on the comet tail of a Red Sox winning streak.

* This article originally appeared in The Somerville News.

a nobody’s nothings ($12.00 U.S.A.) (Bone Print Press, P.O. Box 684, Hanover, MA 02339)

a nobody’s nothings ($12.00 U.S.A.) (Bone Print Press, P.O. Box 684, Hanover, MA 02339) or
By Denis Sheehan

Review by Pam Rosenblatt

Imagination is a wonderful and effective writing tool – when you use it correctly and don’t abuse it. Denis Sheehan’s a nobody’s nothings is a 160 page collection of short stories, poetry, and “Brain Scribbles” that are developed out of Sheehan’s imagination.

Sometimes the works are morally acceptable and other times they’re outrageous, even
repulsive. Usually, the works contain sarcastic humor and wit.

Through vivid and concrete imagery Sheehan writes about ordinary observations and experiences and, while the reader is following his train of thought, something totally unexpected happens, something which may be good or bad. Let me show you what I mean:

In his “Brain Scribbles 6”, Sheehan has the speaker recall a childhood experience.

When I was in the second grade, my pals and I were
running through the woods playing S.W.A.T. While
playing, I ran right into a tree branch. About three inches
of the stick was in my eye socket and punctured the tissue
under it. I remember screaming my lungs out and seeing
through my good eye the look of pure horror on my friends
faces as I ran by them to my pal’s house.

With such graphic description and element of horror, Sheehan draws the reader into his story, which is confessional but may or may not be fictious. The reader is probably panicking for the young narrator too. But all is not lost in the fantasy world of Denis Sheehan, as the narrator says, “I was one lucky little prick, and I got to ride in a police car with sirens on to the hospital. I needed surgery to remove the stick but everything turned out OK.”

A nobody’s nothing is a difficult book to read. Sheehan writes of harsh realities in a down-to-earth style that makes the reader feel like he or she trying to swallow a very large pill. You know you can do it, and you know that it is there, but you wonder if there’s an easier way to accomplish the task. In Sheehan’s work, he has the reader swallow a lot of large pills, but very few of them make us the readers better. The narrator is generally mean and likes to be that way, except when speaking about his four-year-old daughter. He often gives cute anecdotes when discussing his daughter.

Conversation I had with my four-year-old daughter the other day:
‘Daddy, can we go to the store and by a mermaid doll?’
‘Daddy, why can’t we go buy the mermaid doll.’
‘Because I don’t have any money.’
‘Well, let’s go buy some money, then buy the mermaid doll.’

This humorous story is beautifully written and captures the naivety of a young four year old girl. It breaks up the other sometimes silly but yet serious and irking vignettes.

Sheehan’s anecdotes often make the reader uneasy and often repulsed, but that may be just what he wants to achieve. Such can be viewed in “9 Minutes in the Flophouse”, a short story in which an innocent abused housewife meets with unfortunate circumstances when she flees to a flophouse to escape her husband, and in “The Squeeze”, another short story where the narrator describes a sexual experience with his girlfriend with very graphic words.

In a nobody’s nothings, Sheehan seems to raise the question what exactly is the writer’s responsibility to his reader? Is Sheehan taking advantage of the reader’s faith in the power of the pen and word? As a reader, you trust the author to write good material.

In a nobody’s nothings, the writing style is excellent and Sheehan’s twists and turns
of the stories’ plots are intriguing but sometimes the content is difficult to handle. Sheehan’s imagination is at full force.

Sheehan gives the truth as he sees it. As in “Go Away”, he confronts us with negative and often mean observations. He writes about “Jared, ‘I used to be a fat slob’ spokesman for Subway Sandwich Shops” and “Gas Station attendants who are nice enough to clean your windshield, but leave streak marks all over the place” and “Cops who pull you over for speeding and say, ‘You better slow down when you drive through my town’” and “Inconsiderate maggots who invite me over and insist that I don’t bring any beer because they already have beer, but when I get there, mentioned beer is Amstel Light”. Here, in “Go Away”, the narrator is just a moody son-of- a-gun who is complaining and saying “Go Away” to everyone, including “Anyone who likes a second bite of their sandwich before chewing the first.” This is a funny, sarcastic piece, gentler than other works in the book, and makes the reader think about ordinary situations, happenings, and people in a different light.
His list isn’t short. It never seems to “Go Away” as it is seven pages of insightful insults. He even includes Hillary Clinton whom, he says, “has done nothing to help anyone. It’s time we put her to good use.” He mentions “Terry McAuliffe, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Not because he’s a lying, cheating, money hungry socialist, but because he can’t string together more than two sentences without saying ‘at the end of the day.” He writes about “Ziggy, the unfunny, ugly, and bald comic strip character who doesn’t wear pants.” In “Go Away”, Sheehan seems to have stopped degrading woman, something which he does throughout the book, until the end of the piece that is. He abruptly changes his train of thought and reveals he doesn’t like “sluts who fart while fucking.”

While the narrator seems like a genuinely dislikeable character, Sheehan creates a character that is actually meaner than his narrator in “A Death Notice and Obituary”. The character is called “Mean” Russ Taff. “Mean” Russ has just been killed by a lawn mower driven by his brother Chester Taff. Sheehan writes:

My fondest memory of ‘Mean’ Russ was the second time
I ever met him. I was attending a bash at Ben’s (Medved’s founder,
who Russ managed) apartment when I made the mistake of
referring to ‘Mean’ Russell Taff as ‘Mean’ Russell Taffy. Within
a blink of eye, ‘Mean’ Russ charged across the room and got me
into a reverse headlock. This effective hold had ‘Mean’ Russ’s
thick arms wrenched around my neck with my face pointing
towards the ceiling. Russ had my body bent over backwards
which took away all of my leverage and left me helpless
to resistance. As Russ gently squeezed my neck, he looked
down upon my face and told me never to make fun of
someone’s name again.

While every reader may think the “mean” narrator finally got what he deserved,
Sheehan once again offers a creative alternative way of thinking about a pretty
black and white situation. The narrator says,

Some might find what ‘Mean’ Russ did as extreme. I think of
it as more along the lines of a ‘tough love’ thing. If ‘Mean’ Russ
had simply given me a slap on the wrist, his lesson may not have
stuck with me.

Sheehan’s a nobody’s nothings is not for the weak and sensitive reader. If you want to read a book that is filled with sarcastic wit, lots of sex, and skillful unexpected twists and turns of content that may be disturbing, this book will capture your interest.

Pam Rosenblatt/Ibbetson Update/Nov. 2007