Friday, August 22, 2008

Reviews of poetry collections by Taylor Altman and Alan Catlin

(Alan Catlin)

( Taylor Altman)


Over the years I have seen many poets, writers, and publishers come and go in the city of Somerville. In my mailbox at the office of The Somerville News I found two new titles from publisher Dave McNamara of the “sunnyoutside” press. Now “sunnyoutside” and McNamara used to happily reside in our environs, but McNamara shuffled off to Buffalo, NY, a year or so ago. And as it happens McNamara has published a poetry collection by Taylor Altman, who was a member of the Somerville-based literary organization the “ Bagel Bards.” During her years in the Boston-area she finished her MFA at Boston University, and now teaches English at the College of Southern Nevada. McNamara also sent me a new collection of poetry from a well-known and respected small press poet Alan Catlin.

Taylor Altman’s collection is titled: “Swimming Back.” The poems are set in the broad lawns and narrow minds of surburbia, ( perhaps Long Island, NY where the poet spent her early years). Altman writes of trying to make sense of her world after the early loss of her Dad. Much of the work takes place around or in water. A good conceit I guess since we are mostly made up of this ubquitious fluid. Having grown up in Long Island in the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, I was intrigued to find the poem “Point Lookout,” a Long Island beach of my sun-blistered youth. Here the young Altman gets a taste of the allure and danger of looming adulthood represented by the oceanic call of the sea:

“Our skins slick with oil, we lay
side by side on candy-striped towels that day,
the only thing that mattered was his number,
written on the back of my hand. Jealous,
weren’t you—that I, never the pretty one,
was noticed first at the hamburger stand?
And the sea was always there, hissing,
and roiling in the background,
calling to me in a language only I could understand. “Come closer, come closer,
it said, let me pull you under.”

Altman has written a lovely first book of verse. I expect that we will see a lot more from her in the future.

Now Alan Catlin is no graduate of an MFA school. He is a retired bartender from upstate New York, and he has been published in more journals than most anyone I know, save Lyn Lifshin, A.D. Winans, and perhaps Ed Galing.
“sunnyoutside” had the good sense to publish Catlin’s poetry collection: “Bus Stop.” This takes place in the less than tony setting of Albany, NY, and if you ever been there you’d know what I mean. It is a generally down-at-the heels city, that Catlin has spent most of his working life tending bar. Like the novelist William Kennedy Catlin knows the town, its dark underbelly, the stumblebums, the dandies, the psychos, the grifters, the poseurs, and politicians, who are denizens of this city. In his poem “Only the Dead Know Albany,” Catlin captures the subversive soul—the poetry of the “Other America,” a term and book title the writer Michael Harrington coined years ago.

“ and the side-alley, cock fought
streets, high-stakes crap games
decided by blade and a motorcycle
chain, brass knuckles and steel-toed
boots, row-housed tenement blocks
long,Clinton Avenue to Arbor Hill,
where no trees bloomed, buildings in
full flame, cops and robbers….
The Black Maria and a banshee
wail long summer nights before
Urban Renewal razed the earth
and only the dead knew Albany.”

Highly Recommended.

To order go to

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

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