Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jared Smith reviews "Of All the Meals I Had Before" and "No One Dies At the Au Bon Pain" by Doug Holder

*This review appeared in the July/Aug 2007 issue of the Small Press Review

OF ALL THE MEALS I HAD BEFORE: Poems About Food and Eating
2007; 23 pp.; Cervena Barva Press, P.O. Box 440357, W. Somerville, MA
02144-3222; $7 and
Sunnyoutside, P.O. Box 441429, Somerville, MA 02144; $8

Both books by Doug Holder
Reviewed by Jared Smith

These books have a big appetite, lean with both white breast and dark-meat
muscle, flavored with sad humor and regret, while reveling in all that goes
into a man. Doug Holder is perhaps the most family centered poet to emerge
in recent years, and yet he carries the literary heritage of the small press
proudly, with an awareness of and closeness to the chosen isolation from
which it evolves.

In Last Night At The Wursthaus, without apologies to Harvard or merchants
for his enjoyment of the pun, he observes: “…at the bar/scholars of the
academy/and everyday scholars of life/share the same expanse of polished
wood.” Yes. A whole urban culture dwells here, laid out for inspection and
ingestion. In Rotisserie Chickens, it is “Strange how they are displayed-/a
chorus line/propped on wire/chests out/breasts shimmering/melting flesh/legs
spread/wings/posturing/on their plump hips…Which one will I choose tonight?”

Which one indeed, where no one dies at the au bon pain? But, of course, we
are a marked and confused society. And Doug feels the pain and the pun, the
twist of the knife through bread and flesh. The Au Bon Pain is a chain of
cafes, and no one dies in cafes at leisure. But of course, they do…as every
moment and every bit of flesh taken in works its way down into the bone. In
I Am Not Afraid Of Bones, he writes “I trace them/through a fa├žade of
flesh./ My tongue/is often crowned,/tipped with/marrow…Bones--/they are
what/make us/most human.” Nor are the bones only of the body; they are of
the institutions surrounding us as well. They have a beauty, and a purpose,
and a hollowness—and therein lies our beauty and fragile vulnerability.

These books are printed and produced in the finest tradition of the small
press: well laid-out and speaking to the mind rather than mass market.
Centers of artistic energy seem to move around the country periodically, and
it’s good to see rare meat on the finest tables again.

--Jared Smith.

*Jared Smith received his BA cum laude and MA in English and American Literature from New York University, studying under poet/critic M.L. Rosenthal, former Library of Congress Adviser Robert Hazel, and New York Quarterly founder William Packard. He is the author of six collections of poetry, including Where Images Become Imbued With Time (Puddin'head Press, Chicago, 2007; Lake Michigan And Other Poems (Puddin'head Press, Chicago, 2005); Walking The Perimeters Of The Plate Glass Window Factory (Birch Brook Press, New York, 2001); Keeping The Outlaw Alive, (Erie Street Press, Chicago, 1988); Dark Wing (Charred Norton Publications, Camillus, NY, 1984); and Song Of The Blood (The Smith Press, New York, 1983). His poems, essays, and literary criticism have appeared hundreds of times in journals over the past 30 years. His poems have been adapted to modern dance at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and to stage in Chicago. He is a member of The Advisory Board of The New York Quarterly, Poetry Editor of Trail & Timberline, past president of Poets & Patrons, and a member of The Academy of American Poets. He was the 2006 judge for the Jo-Anne Hirschfield Memorial Poetry Competition in Evanston. He currently is a frequent lecturer and reader at universities, colleges, libraries, and other venues across the country.

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