Friday, February 23, 2007

What We Love: Poems by Ed Meek

What We Love. Poems by Ed Meek ( Blue Light Press 1st World Library PO BOX 2211 Fairfield, Iowa 52556) $16.

Some years ago Ibbetson Street published a chapbook of poems by Ed Meek titled: “Walk Out” Since then I have seen Meek’s poems crop up in a fair number of journals in the small press. Meek’s poems are on the surface deceptively simple, but underneath lie the layers of meaning. Meek writes equally well about nature, as he does people. He captures the nuances and telling detail, so important in the construct of a poem. Case-in-point—in Meek’s poem “Divorce” he uses the conceit of divorcing the tired image of oneself, at say—fifty years old. Here is Meek’s convincing grocery list of a midlife crisis (believe me I know):

“Move to a new city. Leave behind/ that fat lazy fool who returns your hopeful gaze/ in cruel mirrors every morning/as you brush your caffeine-stained teeth/…This is the year to take a train into tomorrow/ one-way ticket in hand,/ where no one knows your name/ and you can be someone else..”

In “At the Beach on the Hottest Day of the Year” Meek describes floating on the water in a blissful state of suspended animation:

“…Instead I remain suspended, belly up,
eyes closed to time, which goes by, I guess, without me.
As if I’d left my body behind and become
nothing more or less than thought
buoyant as a bubble in the air.”


Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Feb. 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hugh Fox on Poet, Playwright, Publisher M. Stefan Strozier

M. Stefan Strozier: lives in New York City and is the artistic director of La Muse Venale Acting Troupe. His plays: Guns, Shackles & Winter Coats, The Whales, The Tragedy of Abraham Lincoln (and the upcoming The Green Game), were performed in lengthy runs, off-off Broadway, in the Midtown International Theatre Festival, and in other theaters. He has directed four plays and produced ten. His novels, short story collection, book of poems, essays, memoir, and plays are available for sale. His work has been published in many literary journals, online and in print. He is the chief editor and CEO of World Audience, Inc., the publisher of quarterlies audience, The audience Review, and books by excellent writers from around the world. Visit his 2nd blog. He also builds Web sites for very low prices. Please contact him: for further information.

M. Stefan Strozier : “Sit Down Before You Start to Read This!”

OVERVIEW by Hugh Fox

When I read Strozier’s latest (2007) book, The Tragedy of Abraham Lincoln: A Two-Act Play (no real-place address for the publisher, just I was totally taken back by its total seriousness. Effective dramatically, but at the same time like a documentary about Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth. As I said in my review, “The Lincoln Strozier creates here is super-real, and Booth, his assassin, is just as real/human. No heroes versus monsters, but real-portraits of real-people in real-time.” I saw Strozier as some sort of super-academic, history-soaked genius who saw the world through extended visits to the rare (history) book room at major libraries, a kind of documentary re-creator of time-past. And it was in that frame-of-mind that I picked up his The Essays and Criticism of M. Stefan Strozier ,Vol.I (World Audience, Inc., 2006)) and started to read “An Interview with Kurt Vonnegut: and, Phone Call from Dr. Louis Manand, of The New Yorker Fame:” and the whole interview is one vast burlesque-ridicule of Vonnegut and big-time writing which Strozier sees as overly academic, library- 2.centered, out of touch with everyday reality. Look what he has Vonnegut saying about academics: “....In order to talk in an educated manner about literature, one has to be an English professor, like Doctor Louis Menand; and, have published several books; or, at least an MFA in creative writing, from somewhere like Columbia University, where all the geniuses are. You have not created anything because you are just writing merrily along, undisciplined...” (p.14) To which Strozier replies: “Your generation...defined writing as serving other professions, such as academia, journalism via New Journalism...everything; except, writing as an art form.....writing is an art, which owns all processes. Your generation’s art has been rejected, a failure!....Also, who says professors are right? My experience with professors -- notably English professors -- has always, always been that they have dubious talent, suspect motivations...and, no imagination, whatsoever....” (p.15) And so it goes, more like a wrestling match than an interview. Eventually I began wondering if the whole “interview” was for real. And it wasn’t. There’s a note at the very end: “Editor’s Note: The proceding “interview” is a work of fiction.” (p. 24) So where does reality begin and fantasy end? Or vice versa?

3. Like it’s a little difficult to take Strozier’s autobiography, The Labyrinth (World Audience, 2006) totally serious. The part about him being a young alcoholic totally lost and spinning around in an infinity of nothingness seems more like science fiction than autobiography. Here he is talking about his weltanshauung during alcohol-withdrawal: I lifted and turned my head to study the thick leather belts on my wrists and ankles....I rotate my body forcefully to the left and instantly dislocate my shoulder. I scream. No one answers. Now every time I move my shoulder I am in severe pain. To this day, my left should clicks if I pop it.... My personal demon is over my shoulder. He is The Smiler. He is the thin veil I use to hide my insanity from the world. He laughs with me, as we are going insane. He is the one who I am ashamed of when I see that my insanity is showing, and when I can’t stop laughing at the game going on in my head for hours, he is there. He is in the mirror, smiling at me.... Presences, as I call them; there are more of them. They are not alter-personalities because I still retain my own personality; but I drift into these other entities. The presences are not imaginary friends because they are real.... Voices in my head arrive: intense, stressful, simultaneously loudly speaking, as if I’m at a boisterous cocktail party: A snotty, high-pitched, female voice says, “Trees, 4. bebe somedee wee-hee. Low are the days in heaven and ghosts and be there where to doodoodoodoodoodoodoo- doodoodooand boom.” A rambling, sophisticated, male voice says, “I went to the sky and some time pass-ed and da my oh my and double youins be some dumb shitens and whore by the door score so there was still plenty of time so fine why not dine but then rickety picket the whicker chair’s picket tricket bliket me ticket me ticket! I simply must have me ticket! Young son, won’t you please get me the gun?” (pp. 13-18) It’s more than a little difficult to stop reading/quoting, isn’t it. Really crazy/hallucinogenic of just crazily inventive, you want to read on and on. And that’s the way everything Strozier writes is -- compelling, hypnotic, habit-forming. He’s like a drug himself, isn’t he. Stopping reading is like going through withdrawal. When I put it to Strozier today, a publisher-writer-producer totally on target, the soul of effectiveness in terms of the agonzing mechanics of contemporary publishing, writing and play-producing, here’s what he said: I think my story is that I just had to figure out what (not who) the hell I was (am), as it all hit me very hard, when I was very young. This took much work and creative thinking; however, once I had more or less nailed it, I then applied my (self) in unique ways to the normal world with much luck. The secret, that I realized later on, was that if I had had

5. no clue about what I was, then other people would be very much uncertain. Other people with similar problems may not be so lucky, however, and I hope my book can serve as one example, bold and bare as it stands. Not “who,” but “what” he was/is! And perhaps the work itself is a part of the “what-is” process! As I read through Strozier’s poetry and find all kinds of links with the wildest of French poets like Rimbaud, MallarmĂ©, Baudelaire, I can’t help but think that this whole process of self-awarenessing and defining is practically a normal process for all truly original creative artists: In wandering up to an overlook, Where the sky is clear and blue, And birds circle high in the air The city stretches into distance, Abated by treed hillsides I am welcomed here, By no one and nothing The river is to my left -- Strong, but barely discernable -- Behind me, there is a tourist castle. I smile at the secret I hold. (“The Heights,” from Schizophrenic Poetry, published by World Audience, 2006, p.24)

6. Very easy to imagine this translated into French, n’est pas? And what is the secret that he holds? So I asked him, and by return e-mail got a 643 page essay (I’m playing Strozier now, it was “only” 20!) on the use of the subconscious in the creative process in which he states that “the subconscious...rules nature and man,” and that when he discovered its importance he felt he had “unlocked the staircase to heaven.” Writing became “a powerful tool for exploring the ego and the subconscious because writing forces the mind to think, like an individual.” He wrote allowing the subconscious to take over: “There is no controlling the process; the process controls itself.” And I hate to say it but I agree with him, don’t consciously force what I’m writing on to the page, but listen to the voices inside me and put down what they are saying. And Strozier’s work has a strange hypnotic, compelling quality about it. Once you start reading his work, you can’t stop. He is the most habit-forming writer I have ever read. Take his novel about the Gulf War, for example, Scarecrow Soldier. You start to read about night attacks from the enemy, and Strozier is so graphic, terse, to the point, so overwhelmingly realistic, that, I ask you, can you stop reading?

7. The air attacks came every night, never letting up, always worse than the night before. Things never got better, not even for a moment. Every soldier knew the routine they had to follow. They knew how long it would take before they might meet Great Allah. In the darkness, the wraiths of men wrapped their lanky arms around their thin, bony knees. Large white eyes flickered from terror in the cold, pitch black bunkers like muttered muttered incoherent sentences about things “precious” to them...the numbness of the chill reached down to the souls of the soldiers. The desert cold ate into their skin and their blood and then like a wet blanket, it pressed down on them, seepling slowly into their bones like lead. The cold had a way of weighing a mind down and burdening it. First the low, steady hum from the enemies’ B-52’s came unmistakably into the ears of the soldiers in the bunkers...... (Scarecrow Soldier, Chapter Two, “Scarecrow of a Man,” p.22) World Audience,Inc., 1992). You see what I mean? It’s narrative reduced not only to its basic, no-nonsenseness, but with little personal, subjective touches thrown in, references to Allah, the bunkers talking, nothing really literarywise “thought out,” but allowed to “come out” of the creative subconscious mind in a sense dictating the whole work. Strozier is very aware of exactly where he and his mode of

8.functioning stands in the publishing world that surrounds him in New York. And he enjoys being a total outsider, with his own publishing business has begun a whole new , alternative publishing universe. But back to his work itself. The Whales is one of the funniest, strangest, and most cogent/penetrating plays ever written. A whale on the cover. The play partly about whales/whale-choruses in a way, but what it’s really about is the mystique of the contemporary NYC publishing/drama-producing world. Toward the end, with the whales and whale chorus standing by, a character named Harry (Strozier himself?) comes out with one of the most to-the-point monologues ever written: We all want toi fall in love with it again. We want our theaters to have emotion, not attend a lecture. We want real characters we understand and love and hate. We want to get angry at our characters and cry with them. We want our theater back. $150 is too much to pay for a ticket. Add in the roses for the lady, drinks;and, parking and you are set back two to three yards -- hundreds of dollars....our feelings and our desires are more important than lining a producer’s pocket with money. We want control. We want our theater back. Our theater does not belong to tourists or the mayor. Our theater belongs to us!... (The Whales: A Comedy in Seven Scenes, p.43,World Audience, Inc., 2006,originally performed by La Muse VĂ©nal, Inc. at Where Eagles Dare Theater in NYC, Jan., 2006).

9. Strozier is a writer, publisher, play-producer to keep your eye on. Amazing energy, a fanatic sense of purpose/direction, and always that sense that the “real” him is at work, not some sort of societally-engineered individual, but a man totally in touch with his own inner realities that drive him forcefully through the world that (oft-times negatively) surrounds him.

Monday, February 19, 2007

John Hodgen: A Poet In Search of Grace.

John Hodgen: A Poet in search of “Grace.”

John Hodgen lives in Shrewsbury, Mass., holds a M.A. in English from Assumption College, and teaches at Mt. Wachusset Community College, Assumption College, and the Worcester Art Museum.

He has won the Grolier Poetry Prize, the Yankee Magazine Poetry Prize, and most recently the Donald Hall Poetry Prize.

He has been widely published both in magazines and anthologies. His most recent poetry collection is titled: “Grace.”

I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Both you and your daughter Christie Hodgen are the recipients of prestigious writing awards. Is there a run of writers in your extended family?

John Hodgen: Christy as far as I can see, is the only one to win the AWP in fiction, and has an old man who won one in poetry. I know there is something there; there is some kind of connection. She’ll send me something she is working on, and I will feel there is some kind of flow, a rhythm. Some things she has written I feel I could have written too. She’s a pretty talented writer. I don’t know how she does what she does. She started writing for me. I was her advanced placement teacher in high school. Now she is a novelist and even writes essays. I don’t know any other writers in our family’s ancient past. My dad wrote a few things in high school that were published.

DH: Some say the writing life is a curse, some say a blessing. What’s your take?

JH: I’ve heard that you grow up with that awareness. Depression, alcoholism, and suicide are something we attach to poets. There is a curse and blessing. If you are a gifted kid, you are looking at things with eyes wide open---which most of us may not be looking at. You have to look at the hard things—it could put you in danger—but you have to be able to pull back.

DH: Many of your poems dealt with your father, who died suddenly at a factory he worked at during the night shift. Did his untimely demise spur you on to be a poet?

JH: I foolishly told my father at age fifteen, to go to hell. It turned out that he died a week later. And we hadn’t said a word to each other since I told him to go to hell. I struggled with that. At the time I thought I killed him. As he had that heart attack, and lay on that boiler room floor for four hours, I often tortured myself with the thought that this was the last interaction he had with me. I thought the weight of that he took with him. You start looking for words to heal, bring something better. You look for words that are not a curse but perhaps a blessing.

DH: If your father could read these poems you wrote about him; how would he receive them?

JH: I think he would be proud. That’s easy to say. He was proud of the papers that I brought home as a kid. He valued writing—he would be proud. He read all the time. He urged me to read Carl Sandburg’s trilogy for instance.

DH: In your poem “Forgiving Buckner” you use the fateful fielding error Bill Buckner made in the ’86 series between the Mets and the Soxs. You write:

“The world is always rolling between our legs,
It comes for us, dribbler, slow roller,
humming its goat song, easy as a pie.”

Do you always have the sense that things slip away in life, just before you realize their beauty, their significance?

JH: We are all Buckners. We lose that every day. We should smell the coffee and the roses, but we don’t—we rush—we miss them. There are poems I haven’t gotten to yet, but I better get to. I know the clock is ticking. There are some poems from basic training that I want to write.

DH: Why do so many writers have a fascination with the game of baseball?

JH: It has it all. The dream, the heart break, the beauty. The beauty of a well-made play. I know more and more writers who have something to say about the game.

DH: In your poem “The Sound that the Earth Makes” you write:

I do not know where the old men go
when they walk out alone in the night.
I know they must carry the weight of their lives
in the curl of their sullied and empty hands…

that they stand by themselves in the darkness
That they hold what is in them for as long as they can…

to where they are going, to where they remember,
to the endless river of stars.”

When did you write this poem? Is this a young man’s poem for an old man? Now that you are closer to that “endless river of stars” does this poem ring true?

JH: It’s an old poem. I know I felt at the time that was what an old man’s pain must be; or what he dreams. The poem sounds right. I remember my father going out on the lawn, looking up at the sky, and telling me about all the constellations. His silences were as important as anything he was saying. I had a sense how strongly my father was drawn to the sky.

DH: You went from teaching high school to teaching college. How was that transition?

JH: The kids were just wonderful in high school. I used to go up to Gardner, Mass. to teach one college course a week because my mother was living up there. I wanted to find out what it was like teaching at that level, and I just kept doing it. When I retired from teaching I joined a writer’s group in Worcester, Mass... The head of the English Dept. of Assumption College was a member of the group, and asked if I could teach. So I did. It has been great.

DH: Can poetry writing be taught?

JH: I think you can encourage anyone with talent. You can tell them what you know.

DH: What is the poetic life for you?

JH: I think we have a sense of even through our suffering we are given a gift. The poetic life is to find the gift and give it back

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/ Feb. 2007/ Somerville, Mass.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Outernationale by Peter Gizzi

The Outernationale
By Peter Gizzi
Wesleyan University Press
Copyright 2007
p. 107
Review by Lo Galluccio

This book by Peter Gizzi released on Wesleyan U. Press comes to me hailed hailed and praised. It makes me question again what poetry can and should do; what I want from it; and how it actually works. In the course of my reading this work, Peter’s fourth and most ambitious, I would imagine, I found myself dipping into a bit of red wine, looking up some terms and words in the big red dictonary and googling, "The Internationale." I also listened intently to Nina Simone’s "Pirate Jenny" and Leonard Cohen’s "If It Be Your Will" by Antony from the latest soundtrack of "I’m Your Man." Am I a hopeless, generationZ multi-tasking failure, or was there a logic to my diversions? Well, I’d like to think so. And also, that like a good Robert Wilson opera with it’s Suzuki like friezes, I had time to leave the theatre, free-associate and breathe. Perhaps it was "Pirate Jenny" that led me to find the lyrics of the famous socialist anthem to understand what it stood for and how powerful were its words. If Gizzi is writing an "Outernationale," what’s the relation between the two, or is there one at all?
The Internationale was written in Paris in 1871 by Eugene Pottier. It was composed to celebrate the Paris Commune of March-May 1871 –the first time workers took state power into their own hands. And the Commune was drowned in blood, according to the Marxist descript on the web, by the conservative French government in Versaille. However, the anthem took on future meanings and revolutionary uses in Spain, Chile and Poland. It is worth noting the 6th verse of one of its versions:
"Laborers and peasants, we are
the great party of workers
the earth belongs only to humans
The idle are going to live elsewhere
How much they feast on our flesh
But if the ravens and the vultures
Disappear one of these days
The sun will shine forever
l: It is the final struggle
Let us gather, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be mankind:l
Gizzi does not present a socio-political tract in the poems of the "Outer…" It is not revolution for Martians either. He follows in the walk of Whitman and Ashbury in creating architecture of a personal and subjective vision of humankind. He plays with language like an engineer but his perspective is more metaphysical than scientific. He’s referring to the world outside us, as it is reflected in us, as it even becomes us, in his writing. He might echo Walt’s "Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." And he certainly believes in some kind of tribal interstices of artists as he embeds quotes and references from the works of Ashbury, VanGogh, John Cage and Mandelstam in this collection.
The Outernationale is indeed, "beyond the grid," beyond the wrenching pain of industrialization and class struggle. Gizzi sees us as evolving through and with many strange, ordinary and splintered things. He likes to play with perspective, like a painter, to investigate color and simulate depth.
I must say my favorite poem in this collection is not its title track, which I find like the worst of his poetry, too obtuse, fragmented and maddeningly pretentious in form. (Hey, that’s just me. I would certainly admit that some of his poetic gamesmanship is probably above my head) but it still comes back to the fundamental question of what vibes and messages language can create in us, and for us. No, my favorite poem is called, "Vincent, Homesick for the Land of Pictures" – a kind of ode to Van Gogh that takes on a beautiful, fugue-like life of its own. Its structure is almost classical though it’s language distinctively modern. Here is the crux:
"O to be useful, of use, to the actual seen thing
to be in someway related by one’s actions in the world.
There might be nothing greater than this
Nothing truer to the good feelings that vibrate with us+
Like in the middle of the flower I call your name."
And then another repeating stanza:
"But felt things exist in shadow, let us reflect
the darkness bears a shine as yet unpunished by clarity
but perhaps a depth that outshines clarity and is true."
When Gizzi puts forth an idea and imbues it with light and dimension, I’m completely drawn in. When he seeminingly masturbates with syntax, I could care less, no matter how brilliant most of his writing is.
Another wonderful poem is "Nocturne," for it is again like a gorgeous abstract painting, for which we have at least some known reference:
"To know is an extreme condition
like doubt, and will not rest
Even the dailies unravel in the end.
The aperture shut tight.
It is so difficult to admit light
In its unconditional noise
Its electric blur, its red
Cherry red, red of the advertisements.."
And he moves on to:
"All, under blue, a prison shirt blue
that torch song blue of the crooner’s eyes"
And resolves to:
"The throaty blue
in a doorway after a party."
And so color comes alive as an entity we can feel.
I’m also fond of "Human Memory is Organic" which also has a Whitmanesque flair:
"I am just a visitor to this world
an interloper really headed deep into glass.
I, moving across a vast expanse of water
Though it is not water maybe salt
Or consciousness itself
Enacted as empathy. Enacted as seeing."
Yes, it is a bit abstract, but the abstraction works, moves us, as if we are all at once and in transition visitor, then consciousness, enacted empathy or seeing. I guess Whitman would have named others, asserted tribes, proven his passionate bonds. With Gizzi it an implied connection and an explicit displacement in language that we find. Sometimes this works magically as in "The Western Garden" where the notion of history is introduced:
"The wood grain is deeper
than a forest
deeper than the sea.
The solid indication
Of space in time,
These whorls testify
This pattern inside."
Indeed in this poem he objectifies the role of the West in history as a garden:
"In a Western garden
there are broken tiles
like the broken history
like the objects broke under
the rims of the conquerors wheels.
In a Western garden
It gets darker faster
It is home this dark
This flag invisible in wind."
This hints at colonization and power struggles. It’s a delicate rendering –through a garden with broken tiles – of something which has rocked whole civilizations and cultures. And so it is with Gizzi, that he prefers to provide us with verbal clues and hypnotic, if elliptical descriptions of our world rather than the bold crass flashes of traditional verse. He does not rhyme; he does not construct sonnets or villanelles.
Please make no mistake, this is a book that will turn your wheels and make you think and associate beyond it’s frame – what good poetry should do – for it is fascinating and musical enough and flecked with expansive meanings.
Lo Galluccio
Ibbetson St. Press