Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Man In The Booth In The Midtown Tunnel by Doug Holder

(Somerville, Mass.)

Ibbetson Street Press founder Doug Holder will be releasing a new collection of his poetry this summer (2008) through the Cervena Barva Press ( ) "The Man In The Booth In The Midtown Tunnel" ($13)

Here is a review from Luke Salisbury author of the award winning novel "Hollywood and Sunset," and a Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College ( Boston):

The Man In The Booth in The Midtown Tunnel

Doug Holder is a very funny man and a very funny poet, but his new collection is much more than funny. There’s a profound seriousness in this book. Holder deals with his past and sometimes sour present. He doesn’t spare us the intensity and craziness he sees and feels around him. The title poem, a very fine poem, catches the fears and wonders of a New York childhood. I also felt loneliness, fear and a tantalizing feeling of being trapped in a grown-up world riding through the Midtown Tunnel.

Another poem speaks of “A bus full of exiles.” We’re all on that bus and Holder doesn’t let us off until we have shared his feelings of desolation and even madness everywhere from “effete ivied walls” to the wards of McLean Hospital, stopping off for some of “The Love Life Of J. Edgar Hoover (The poem is everything you hope and expect it will be –“Mother downstairs/Off her rocker”), to “Killing Time at The 99” which has the fine lines “And drink/To all/This/Loneliness/Made visible” (Great lines I think), to “hoping/there/is/still/someone/out there” when using the “Pay Phones On The Boston Common” to final observations of a “Rat’s Carcass.”

The collection isn’t depressing. It’s alive. Alive with vitality, ugliness, sadness, sex, even love. It’s all here. This is Holder’s best to date.

Hugh Fox ( a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize):

" If Winslow Homer had written poetry this is the kind of poetry he would have written, at least before he’d been bowled over by French Impressionism, and was still Mr. Sketchman. That’s what Holder is too, Mr. Sketchman, magically-realistically bringing his world right into yours:

“A skeletal man/His torso/Barely supports/A crisp white shirt --/His forehead/Violated by a jet black/Wedge of his toupee..//An old man/Pipes up/And fawns over/A prized cat/Who I think/With such/Suffocating attention/Must be miserable,/And I drink/To all /This loneliness/Made visible.” (“Killing Time at the 99).

Realistic sketches, but almost always with an underlying flow of melancholia. Which super-emphasizes the power of the sketches themselves. Never in the psychopathological abstract,he nicely identifies with the proletarian agonies, looks at the Out There and totally can splice with it and its problems: “The cars stream/Under a frozen/Catatonic/East River./And the man/in the booth/Paces the perimeter/Of his cage...//And we are/Faceless and a blur.” (The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel”)

You read Holder and you take a trip through the total Northeast/especially Boston mind-set as well as his own , personal, intimate world made (deeply) available to all.

Linda Lerner’s Comment on:

The Man In The Book In The Midtown Tunnel by Doug Holder

The man in Doug Holder’s, The Man In The Midtown Tunnel,who “Lost his face / Long ago / In a blue uniform” metaphorically becomes everyone struggling to survive in lives boxed in by a job that robs us of our humanity, by loneliness and the infirmities of aging. It is about the struggle to keep from being more than that “forgotten / Ineffectual man ”who passed away on Boston’s Red line subway, with passengers “On either / Side of the stretcher” watching. It is about clutching an outdated pay phone in a wireless world “hoping / there is / still / someone / out there.”

In a poem about the woman who sat on the toilet for two years, Holder enables the reader to see beyond a news story, to the person stricken with inertia or fear, unable to leave a job, a marriage, a room. That is one of the strengths of a collection which once begun, you will be compelled to read straight through. We see the poet, as an intuitive boy, watching a baseball game at Shea Stadium in 1972 as “Agee / Circled the Bases / In an Arrogant / Home run....” wondering if his “Life would / Ever be / So / Clear cut....

----Linda Lerner/ Adjunct Professor of English /City College of New York

Doug Holder is above all an urban poet, an observer chronicling the everyday sights and absurdities of Somerville, Boston and New York City in plain talk flavored with cool irony and sudden startling bursts of imagery. His settings include hospital rooms, bars, coffee shops, Harvard Yard, the post office, buses and subway trains, the Boston Public Library, Shea Stadium, housing projects, city streets, and the Midtown Tunnel from Queens to Manhattan which is the location of the book’s title poem. His characters are bizarre and ordinary like all of us. Several of the poems are inspired by newspaper stories—about a woman who sat on a toilet for two years in her boyfriend’s apartment, about an old man who murdered his equally aged wife, about a middle aged man who died on a subway train: “the Daily dropped/ From his hands. . . .The trains backed up/ From Cambridge to Dorchester.”

I’m reminded in the pages of this collection of meeting, a year or two before her death, the artist Alice Neel, who painted gorgeously surreal ironic portraits of famous and ordinary people in the 1930s and 40s--and shivering as she looked me over. Doug Holder looks at the world through a similarly sharp and amused set of eyes. Yet there is no malice but a profound sympathy here—for the helplessness of aging and of poverty, for physical and mental illnesses, for the complexity of family relations—and most of all, for the isolation and loneliness lurking underneath tenaciously crowded city life. In the title poem of the collection, the man in the booth in the Midtown Tunnel “paces the perimeter/ Of his cage” while outside the cars whip by: “And we are/ Faceless and a blur,/ Behind thick plates/ Of light-bleached glass.”

However, let me assure you this is not a gloomy collection of poems. There are rich nuggets of humor and wry reflection throughout this collection and, to combat the isolation of urban life, in almost every poem a relationship is forged between the observing eye and the subject of the poem. So, for example, as the speaker of the poem observes a woman nursing in a restaurant in “Private Dining Under a Blouse”:

I saw
The infant emerge
Held in an untroubled

I sucked on my straw
Flattening the plastic stem
Still awake
And troubled.

A few of the poems in this collection, like the one above, segue gracefully in subject from Holder’s last book, Of All the Meals I Had Before: Poems About Food and Eating. Another is a poem toward the end of the book, “The Last Hotdog”: “She brought it/ to his sick bed,/ He bit through/ The red casing/ The familiar orgasm/ Of juice/ Hitting the roof/ Of his mouth”. And one more food-focused poem, “At the Fruit Stand,” which is about bananas and melons and grapes and is too erotic to discuss in a family publication. However, you will enjoy it. And the whole collection.

* Pamela Annas is a Professor of English at University of Massachusetts/Boston and the author of A Disturbance in Mirrors: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath.


No comments:

Post a Comment