Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Greatest Uncommon Denominator
(a.k.a. GUD) – a new magazine of short/flash fiction
and poetry with surreal and beautiful graphics
by various artists in (mostly)_New England.
Issue 0- Spring 2007
USD $10

GUD is a new journal of top-notch modern literature which embodies both eclecticism and unity. Its stories run the gamut from Gibsonian Sci-fi tales to moving emotional friezes about real people in naturalistic landscapes. Peppered with fine surreal and free-associative poetry that’s always got an eye to form, the reading public is treated to a rich cut of cake, including the often multi-media inspired drawings and paintings.

Here are some standouts from Issue O, released just this past month. Hats should be be tipped to all the editors and especially lay out editor Sue Miller and Instigator of the mag, Kaolin Fire (if that’s a real person, or if it’s not.):

There’s Beverly Jackson’s “Fade In and Fade Out” – a great three stanza poem – next to the mixed media work by Fefa called, “Changing Destiny.” The poem is about the shifting perspective one can have watching a movie, about getting lost in them and coming back around to the realia details that mark them also.

“My eyes are like the director’s. Eyes seeking out the monster. Looking for the love connection.” P 32

Fefa’s painting across the page looks like Frieda Kahlo or a Flamenco dancer rising above a dark medieval city with magical swirls of white issuing from her fingertips. It’s a real nice juxtaposition.

Poet Kenneth Ryan provides three short poems in this collection: “No Motor Home,” “Past Due: Final Notice,” and “Fortune.” Each provides an intimate portrait of compressed and visceral language. “No Motor Home” is about Cuddy Cabin in the woods and the fantasy of its being sea-born:

“when bog mists seeps over our bow/and your fingertips taste like salt/we’re finally out to sea.” P 124

“Fortune”, a love song, ends again in oceanic imagery:

“and the sea drew back from the beach with a sound like unstrung pearls cascading into your palm.” P 126

Short Fiction – which serves as the bulk of the journal – includes “Where Water Falls” by Rusty Barnes, a writer from Revere, MA. This story’s about a wife who’s pounding tenderloin a little too often and loudly for her bewildered husband’s comprehension. Set in a rural outpost, we become acquainted with rabbit hutches and the symbol of the hunted and captive, also the animal symbol of fecundity. As the mystery unravels with deft narration and concrete descriptions that never “lather it on” we find out that Maggie is, in fact, pregnant at forty-four. She’s also furious about it. Richard,

“watches the rabbit as it reaches the rock wall. He can follow the sound of Maggie’s tears as she runs crashing down into the back field toward a crick.” P 141

She proceeds to take him on a wild chase through the woods and winds up sitting by the crick on a rock without her pants on. In a strong dramatic turn, she waves a stick and threatens her husband to do it to her, as the abortionist will. It’s a pure cinematic moment, pristinely captured by his clear prose, and ends with Maggie proving her position and pain, then squeezing his hand with silent tears. Neither of them wants to keep the child, but that’s not the point, certainly not Maggie’s.

Another poet of note is Benjamin Buchholz, a US Army official recently returned from Iraq. In “Dialogue with the Hollows of Your Body,” he writes his first stanza in an unpredictable poem about desire and language and cultural congruities:

“When I am blind and very near to you
in the vesper stillness of a cell, small
and veiled from the street, through shiver,
heat, arch of back and hips, pressure placed
by the flat of your palms against the flat
of my palms: speak.

And ends, with:

“The body, like a map bears these significances.
Crease them, see where they cross: in the glens
And glades and most secret shrines,
At all of the roadsides and waysides,
I listen.” P 143

To prelude the short fiction of David Bulley, Sue Miller posts a ghostly rendering of what seem to be the heads of fish, eyes prominently stuck out in a Daliesque landscape filtered with gauze. The painting’s called “The Kiss.” And what follows is a fast-moving sort of tale of a man who transforms into the wolfman of his sexual fantasies….to take the school mother of a grade-schooler.

The narrator, speaking to himself, says:

And you are the wolf and you so so want to taste her fear, just a tiny bit, just a taste. “I want to fuck you.”

“Um, she says, looking around, checking the exits, nervous and shivery. “Um, are you threatening me?”

In the opposite chase scene to Barnes’ story, she takes off and the wolfman follows her till they proceed to bump and grind in a deliciously wanton sex scene under the moon. The tryst completely unmasks the hesitant and prim Teri, a suburban mom. Bulley writes as the wolfman:

“And when you see her next, smarmy and prim, at the bake sale, think about bright air and goose pimples.” A brilliant piece of flash fiction with a gorgeously poetic opening paragraph.

So like the entire collection. Get hooked!

Lo Galluccio

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

RUMORS OF ELECTRICITY by Richard Krech.Sunnyoutside, PO Box 441429 , Somerville, MA 02144. No price given. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Hugh Fox

First off, the whole quality of the printing/set of the book itself is astronomical. A beautiful cover of what look like embroidered plants, flowers,leaves, the kind of thing my mother had on all her needlepoint sofas and chairs. The typeface is Cochin, designed by Georges Peignot in 1913 trying torecapture the type-style of 18th century French engravers. The paper and cover cardboard all textured, whispering "Touch me!" And then Krech's poetry itself, just get a few maps of the MiddleEast/North Africa in order locate where the whole thing takes place.

Krech is aretired hippy turned defense lawyer, now retired as lawyer, totally soaked inNorth Africa and the Middle East: "By the Wadi Draa/at the end of the orad/just outside M'Hamid/the sign said "Timbuctu 2000 km."/ And beyond it the endless Sahara./In Arabic it means desert." ("Visions of Ted Joans on the Other Side ofthe Wadi Draa," p.14). Krech sees the Arab world the way I always saw it when I was surroundedby Arab students in the U.S., going to services in local mosques, meeting Arab friends and their families (and the Jews from Arab countries) in exotic, historically fascinating, and fun:

"He came up towards me/to exchange greetings.//A young boy/perhaps 13, 14 years.//His back arched, pinched jacket,/turban, the flowing white tail/blowing in the Afghani wind.//His long delicate nose/& green eyes burning/with the wisdom & mystery of the East.//"Hello,hello," he said./I replied "Salaam." ("Chahar Square," p.18).

I've known Krech for almost forty years and I've never read a bad line in his work. Here in Rumors of Electricity he is the perfect guide into cultures and worlds that have been totally distorted by recent political events. TheArab world has been his obsession most of his life, and he rescues the culture, the world itself from the twistings and turnings that have turned it into dracula-ish horror in the last few years:

"At Prome on the Irawaddy/the greenwater has been slowing/past its lush banks/for thousands of years//the people have watched it flow/while they built their temples/and grew their crops, went to war/and to bed.//The brief spark/from any moment in time/infuses the present,/we are all here at once.//It all begins with you." ("Slow Boat from Mandalay," p.27).

Ibbetson Update/Hugh Fox/Jan 2007

Book Title: Winter Light
Poems by Alfred Nicol
Recipient of the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award
Publisher: UEP The University of Evansville Press
1800 Lincoln Avenue
Evansville, IN 47722

The title of Alfred Nicol’s poetry book "Winter Light" at first evoked in me the illusory gray of the long New England winters. This feeling was strengthened for me by the beautiful cover by Dozier Bell portraying a city, probably in Maine, covered by a grayish sky. This photo reminds me too of the winters in Russia in Chagal’s paintings. However, while reading throug his poems, Alfred Nicol’s writing gave me a different dimension of the light in winter. They are not always gray. The emerging crisp lights are already hinted at by the clear sun of the cover art which the author had chosen and is called Conflict Series no. 68. Yes, as in the cover, in Nicol’s poems are conflictive shades of lights and shadows.,

from the nostalgia of the loss objectified in the first five lines of the poem on page 4:


You’d think statistics would console the heart
Where love is bound to fail (such is the norm),
It’s all in line with customary form
That what we built together falls apart;
We’ll look to science, now we’ve lost the art.
to the incommensurable desire for hope and other human feelings such as regret and doubt when Nicol’s non-traditional sonnet’s next lines say:
As there is no device to measure hope
For clarity we’ll simply rule it out;
Regret as well, and other such errata.
Results require a limiting of scope.
Remembered kindness, tears, the touch of doubt ---
What is all that but nonessential data?

to the intriguing questions raised by other people’s perception of the man when the poet uses a Shakespearean’s sonnet on p. 6:

What strange arithmetic is practiced here!
Of one body, one soul, I am the sum,
One man—and yet, as such must not appear;
Because if ten look on, then I become
Ten figures to shape an equation.
The variable is the sculptor’s eye,
Else I’d remain a single incarnation,
These several other selves not multiply.

Although rhymed and formal poetry does not usually entice me unless I read the greatest immortal poets such as Shakespeare and Jorge Luis Borges, I have to admit that the rhyme of Nicol’s poems is skillful and original. He is an excellent poet who knows the craft of formal poetry. In regard to the rhyme in the poem Rationale: errata and data are very interesting rhymes but I find those words somehow forced in relation to the rest of this poem.

One of the most interesting aspects in the poetry of Alfred Nicol’s is not only its content but its analysis of the depth of daily life in its simple structure. Further, while reading Nicol’s book, I felt that rhyme and meter appear effortlessly written because of the cadence of his verses; expressed with clarity and naturalness. However, the reality is that good rhyme and forms are neither easily found nor written. The choice of this book as the recipient of the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award is well deserved.

Original rhyme in the poem "Faint Prospect" (sonnet form, p.36) appears in:

what if and tiff // painted us so and years, we know // again and pain. I liked the use of the words: hesitation and separation // verse and suppressed // rest and best. In the poem Potatoes (p.38) I felt enchanted by the rhyme in the first stanza: pommes de terre and like the air and No reflection’s there; in the second stanza: reverie periphery could never be, and in the third stanza: root mute fruit // plot rot; in the fourth stanza: puttering fluttering guttering // one sun done // now plough.

I recommend reading the poem "Faint Prospect" to learn about rhyme, form and depth of meaning. Langston Hughes wrote: "What happens to a dream deferred?" Maybe the dream deferred of many poets is how to learn to write excellent formal poetry.

"Winter Light" is the book to read to learn through good examples. For instance, in the poem Maudlin Clay (7 quatrains, p.48) I love the following rhymes:

introduced loosed // true you // is not spot // tree me // time I’m // seed read // ache make. These are simply some of many other examples.

The Epigrams (couplets, p.54) are delightfully dark and very well written as in:

If I’d wanted a romance, I should have read one.
The only good emotion is a dead one.
Machismo in politics makes perfect sense.
A man well-endowed will not straddle the fence.
A few verses of mine are acclaimed a success.
The illiterate like recitation, I guess.

I would like to mention Nicol’s final quatrain of five in his last poem Sunday (p.66):

Something’s discovered in a day
Whose means are matched to gentle ends.
From a point of stillness far away,
A parable of light descends.

Because each poem in Nicol’s book made me feel that life’s moments and winter lights are parallel and are also a counterpoint to each other a parable of light descending as the poet says.
The events of our path for this earth are reflected in the poems in Winter Lights where even in a dark day, literally and metaphorically, the reflection might be clear and transparent while a clear day can be muddled by shadows of regrets and/or loss of love. The words of Nicol’s poems transmit all of this with wisdom and genuine grace. His formal techniques are well-honed. Whether you like formal poetry or not, I strongly recommend you read this book.

Beatriz Alba Del Rio/Ibbetson Update


Monday, January 15, 2007

The Somerville Museum Imagines Somerville

By Doug Holder

After savoring my usual oatmeal scone at my favorite haunt in Union Square Somerville, the “Sherman” cafe, I had the good fortune to talk with the curator of the Somerville Museum, who has yet another ambitious project in the works. Michael O’Connell has been the curator at the museum (which is well-appointed on the corner of Westwood Ave, and Central Ave. in the Prospect Hill section of our burg) for 20 years. His upcoming brainchild titled “Imagining Somerville, “ will according to O’Connell: “ Provide a unique opportunity to those on the leading edge of local creative culture to influence the way that Somerville is perceived and defined as a physical place as well as a social, cultural and historical construction.” O’Connell said that this comprehensive exhibition will include work provided by community groups, as well as individual artists who address contemporary issues of identity, context and sense of place in relation to Somerville. And even more intriguing to this dyed-in-the-wool poet, is the auxiliary programming and events that will include a poetry and narrative reading that O’Connell has asked me to organize.

“Imagining Somerville” will consists of one or more works of up to 12 artists working in any medium amenable to exhibition in the galleries of the Somerville Museum. This would include painting, photography, sculpture, video, site installation, etc… The works presented will reflect: “an ever changing Somerville as a literal subject of figurative experience,” according to a press release.

O’Connell’s collaborator in this artistic enterprise is Jessie Chamberlain, a Tufts college student at the Tish College of Citizenship and Public service. The Tisch School is providing partial funding for the event.

O’Connell, who has experience as a working artist living in the Fort Point Channel artist community in Boston, and as an art installer in the prestigious “List Gallery” at MIT; hopes to have the exhibition up and running by the first week of May. During that week there will be associated events as well as poetry reading with members of the “Bagel Bards, “a Somerville group of poets and writers. Local writers of all stripes will be asked to participate in an open mic section of the reading. The poetry, like the visual component, should reflect as O’Connell put it”…the wonderful diversity of the city of Somerville.”

Contact: Michael O’Connell
Jessie Chamberlain

Poets/Writers contact:

Poems by Mark Wisniewski
Platonic 3Way Press
Copyright 2006
41 pages


I’m handed a colorful chapbook scored with colored squares and rectangles like the modern painter Piet Mondrian. Sometimes the cover does sell the book…along with a neat postcard reproduction stuck in it.

But thankfully the poems are not like the geometrical art of said artist. They are magically real, naturalistic in shape and form, with &’s instead of ands, and also narrative, not very abstract. This is cool with me as I plunge in after the opening poem "Nebraska" about a hitcher and an ugly woman, "as ugly as that October in Nebraska." He’s "thumbing away from himself" and she’s rattling on about her paranoid, murderously angry life in a funny, would-be bad-assed rural way. And I kind of think Bukowski in the open land. But then Wisniewski twists me in these different directions: a basketball game at the Veterans Association, a cherry tree by the lake that gets aborted, a blue sky of buzzards, carpooling under the rubric of "Robert Redford" and all the surprises in topics and language do satisfy like oh, that chocolate martini and grilled calimari with spicy sauce, or even the 7-11 hot dog and red bull I drank at 4:00 a.m. More like the latter. It’s mixed up; but there’s a plan behind it. Kind of like, well, yeah, DeKooning. Is this guy Dutch though? Definitely not.

Or there’d be tulips wouldn’t there be?

No, this guy, this poet, is definitely an American from the Midwest. He’s raw and cynical at times but he’s even, like the landscape at his best. It’s man (narrator) against his "California Girl" roommate, or man against raccoon as in "July":

"eat away
he thought
have the strawberries
the raspberries
the largest raccoon
noticed him
her paws at her snout
another shell cracked
& another
I can sit here all
the man thought
I am better
than anywhere."
p. 21

And furthermore divorce, litigation, radiation are not far from this everyman’s thoughts as he drives and is driven along some Nebraska highway with "the rich whitey on my ass in the Hummer." All the poems dangle like earrings down the page with those ampersands connecting fragments that build into something destitute or ornamental. And that supplies a beautiful and simple unity of form throughout One of Us One Night – the title seemingly referring to a game he plays again and again agsainst the would-be opponent. For there’s a story behind every scene and every chess move. In "San Antonio:"

"even the landlady
pretending high
heels aren’t that loud
squeaks of his mattress promising
that if any man
wealthy or not
simply breathes
long enough
he can work hell
into angels."
p. 28

He counts those miles driving, and he counts the amount of gas saved, money saved by motels off access roads "snaked behind a Denny’s and a Walmart or 2 truck stops & a Taco Bell." But the moral is usually that in-laws get stifled by windows shut from their ridiculing laughter and hearts are saved for belly-dancers, grudgingly for wives…

Wisniewski’s held two Regents’ Fellowships in Writing from UC Davis and won a Pushcart Prize and the 2006 Tobias Wolff Award.

Lo Galluccio
Ibbetson St. Press

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Prince of Belvedere and other Poems
by Ephraim Figueroa
Tabor Press 2006

There are many kinds of readers. My grandfather was a scholar who had a vast library of poetry from which he avidly read. He came from a generation who could quote from Chaucer to e e cummings with aplomb and when given the opportunity would argue the finer points of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s body of work for hours, but he was the consummate literary snob. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t particularly like poetry but considered any act of creation to be a sacred event. For her, the urge to create was everything, the great mother goddess at work. She would take me to art shows (with their attendant poetry readings) and nod her head earnestly while some artists tried to explain their works. Her journalistic instincts dug and prodded until the poor subject of her inquest would cry “mea culpa,” and run away leaving my mother shaking her head and mumbling, “I just don’t understand it.” As if to prove a point she started entering her “bonnie ickies” in local art contests, usually winning a blue ribbon for her effort. She never did get “it” but became locally celebrated anyway.

Her opinion of the written word was far more liberal. Any act of literary creation was sacred and even if she didn’t like the work she would honor its creator. This was totally contrary to my grandfather’s view. He would read and argue with the critics, going so far as to write clever and argumentative letters to the book review editor of the New York Times on a regular basis. A poet’s work should be judged by his peers and by the critical public and eventually a literary force majeure pronounces a work and its author acceptable or not and to my grandfather that was that.

My mother was a part time working journalist. She recognized that on the on the scale of literary prominence she was at the bottom being just above the scribes working for Hallmark cards. She loved to point out that in his day Michelangelo was a working artist just like the hoards of artists that populate Madison Avenue and that the poets working for Hallmark cards made considerably more money and had a far larger following than most of the “hip” poets I liked. She started writing “little ditties” for the Readers Digest just to prove to my grandfather that literature was literature whether aimed at the highbrow snob or the workingman. She would publicly brag that she’d had a piece accepted by the Readers Digest just to make my grandfather cringe.

Everyone as a bias, of course, I like to read what I like to write. I like snapshot poems that paint a picture that can be seen with the eyes closed. That’s metaphorical, of course, I’m not saying that a short description of a still life equals poetry but I’m not tied to the form. Indeed the form has often gotten in the way of my own expression. My grandfather would object. For him the form was the very definition of poetry. A prose poem, a modern poem, a Gertrude Stein poem wasn’t really a poem at all but some shorter form of writing as yet unnamed. Perhaps he’s right. I’ve never claimed to be a poet and although I’ve tortured myself into writing a quatrain I didn’t enjoy it and generally don’t enjoy reading formula poems unless the formula drops away leaving the story, the snapshot in its wake. The “Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service is great poetry as is e e cummings “little tree.” That’s my own bias. If someone were to write “little tree” today it would be judged sappy, no pun intended, and politically incorrect since it describes the murder of a little tree, the plunder of the forest so sweetly. Today “poems” by whatever form they take require meat, angst, anger and a little darkness. We get used to that and poetic forms with sweetness and light seem archaic and overly saccharine. I suspect my grandfather would approve.

All of this is a roundabout way of getting to “The Prince of Belvedere and other Poems” by Ephraim Figueroa. This beautiful little book contains more than 200 classically styled little poems. A quick reading reminded me of the “old poets” my grandfather would recite:

Among the Rocks
by Robert Browning

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!

I don’t know why “The Prince of Belvedere” reminded me of Browning. It’s the sweetness and optimism and strict adherence to form, no free verse here, that made me think of Browning.

by Ephraim Figueroa

Tuesday comes to wake me up, he seems to say hello.
Underneath the sheets I stay, although its time to go.
“Eagerness” is not a word that properly describes
Starting out for work today, but still the mind decides:
Daily chores must first be done before it’s time to rest.
And so I leave, with cup in hand, to face my daily test
Yielding to the job at hand, I’ll try to do my best!

Yes, the initial letters spell TUESDAY and the poem is a rhyme and yes it sounds slightly Victorian in its tone. Cute. This whole book is cute and I’m not being cynical. This is not “modern,” “Language” poetry it’s in a more classic vein. No cutting edges here, just the soft, childlike purring of a neo-Victorian gentleman writing verse for the children and ladies of the household. If my grandfather wrote poetry (and I don’t know of any) he might well have written a book like this.

by Ephraim Figueroa

Beyond the horizon lies
A hidden treasure in your eyes;
And from it those who mearly gaze
Obtain much wealth for many days.

by Ephraim Figueroa

Your hair like golden sheaves of wheat,
Your eyes like stunning diamonds bright,
At once reflect the morning light,
No doubt, if ever they compete
In beauty’s realms, you would defeat
All queens on earth and them unseat

And so the author goes for 151 pages of easily accessible verse. Hallmark lookout. To be fair, the author is a self confessed lyricist of odes and hymns and his work shows it. If set to liturgical music many of these poems might well light up the otherwise drab interior of a puritanical New England church. I can hear a deacon musically chanting:

Till They see You Again
by Ephraim Figueroa

The bud shall not put forth its rose.
The streams of the south shall not repose,
Nor shall the clouds send forth their rain,
Until they see your face again.

My grandfather must be smiling after all his favorite all time poet was Alfred, Lord Tennyson whose work “farewell” seems appropriate.

A Farewell
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute wave deliver:
No more by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

Flow, softly flow, by lawn and lea,
A rivulet then a river;
No where by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

But here will sigh thine alder tree,
And here thine aspen shiver;
And here by thee will hum the bee,
For ever and for ever.

A thousand suns will stream on thee,
A thousand moons will quiver;
But not by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

Children of any age as well as mothers-n-laws safely tucked away in nursing homes will appreciate this book. It’s not for everyone.

Steve Glines/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan 2007