Saturday, January 26, 2008

Among Us by Harris Gardner

Among Us
by Harris Gardner
Cervena Barva Press, 2007
45 pages, $7

Angels have held a fascination for many writers: Milton, Hass, Hopkins, Billy Collins, to name a few. But how does one manage to address the imperceptible, let alone the holy? Gardner’s answer is to bring angels down to earth, to imbue them with human characteristics and foibles. One of the early poems in the book, “Prequel to Exile” sets up a scene between the archangel Raphael and Adam that illustrates this technique.

Raphael instructs a rapt Adam:
“Set the plants and shrubs in even rows.
Sprinkle gently; grind with rocks what remains
from each meal. Cover the base with this blend;
then add plenty of fragrant earth.
The birds and bees will aid your labor.”

Adam’s response abruptly turns the tone
that stuns the learned seraph.
“Yes, yes, so you have taught before.
What makes me more curious
Is do the angels have sex in Heaven?”

Startled, the winged teacher blushes.

There is playfulness here, both in Adam’s question and in Raphael’s embarrassed response. Or take “Invitation to the Angels’ Ball”:

Please wear your best wings, dress is formal,
although this request is a bit abnormal.
Don’t worry if your halo is a tad out of date.
Wear your best pressed gown, we’ll still let you in.
It will be a rollicking frolic, a real swell time.

Gardner paints an image of angels as nervous girls before a middle school dance, and the idea of angels worrying about whether their haloes are out of fashion is charming. This poem, like many in the book, is not an attempt at religious insight, but rather a re-imagining of the celestial realm. In Gardner’s view, angels may really walk among us. “Can you ever date an angel? I often think so; / however, she turns out human after all. / ...I’ve never met an angel, or have I?” Or, from the title poem: “Perhaps when we look for them, / we can see angels everywhere.”

Gardner’s language ranges from the vernacular – “What, did I put too much spice in the lamb?” or “My high school economics teacher wrote in my yearbook...” – to a less successful vaunted diction that mimics biblical construction. But there are times when Gardner’s rich vocabulary serves him well. Consider the alliteration in the second stanza of “Angel of Faith”:

Elixir-tipped quills fill her quiver.
Tiny wounds heal deeper hurts.
Clarity quickens yearning throngs
who pause their flight from a thousand nicks

and karmic debt-collectors.

“Elixir” zings off of “quiver”, and “quills” flows beautifully into “fill.” There is a real ear at work here.

This collection’s central strength is its admonition to the reader to look beyond the mundane. “Seeing angels may challenge your vision. / No cost to believe in noble winged creatures.” In our bitter post-post-modern age, this is a welcome thought.

Eleanor Goodman/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hear Israel Voices, O Somerville Bard by Patricia Wild

Hear Israel Voices, O Somerville Bard

Somerville Journal

Jan 17, 2008

Patricia Wild

Chances are you know Doug Holder, know of him or know someone who has been published by his Ibbetson Street Press. Poet, writer, arts editor of the Somerville News, producer of a writers’ interview show on SCAT, tireless promoter of Ibbetson Street’s latest offering, Doug is a much a fixture in this community as Green cabs or Lyndell’s Bakery.

“I’m sort of provincial,” the ubiquitous poet says of himself. A Somerville resident for many years, Doug’s world encompasses Sherman’s Café, Davis Square’s McIntyre and More Bookstore, his home-based publishing business on School St, his commute to McLean Hospital where he works, and daily jogs along Somerville’s less-traveled streets. Until recently Doug’s forays beyond the ‘ville were to the wilds of Newton for the occasional poetry reading, or to Maine or Florida for a well-earned vacation. “ I had never been out of the country before” Doug explained. “I hate to fly.”

But about a year ago, when Helen Bar-Lev, a prominent Israel poet, invited Doug to travel to her war torn country, the provincial Somervillian accepted. Wisely, however, Holder “took a year to get mentally prepared.” Asked to serve as a judge for Voices Israel’s annual Reuben Rose Award, during his year’s preparation for the trip, Holder also read more than 250 entries for the contest, finally selecting two winners and 10 runner-ups.

On Dec.14, his beloved part of the world blanketed under half-a-foot of snow, Holder flew to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, where it was “almost tropical.” For his first couple of days in the Promised Land, Holder was put in a guest room at Y’Izrael kibbutz, where “ everyone is treated the same” and where he ate “simple and fresh” meals in the communal dining hall. During his week’s stay, Holder’s hosts kept him busy: he met with other poets; he toured the country and was asked to conduct all-day poetry workshops.

Very quickly, the reality of visiting a country “under siege,” became clear. Everywhere, the poet saw “children” that is to say, young Israeli soldiers, who sported M16s like young people in this country sport cell phones. Security checks, metal detectors, endless stories of death and bombings; “ You’re looking around all the time, you always have a sense of fear. Life is on the line.”

That pervasive intensity informs the Israel poetry scene. “Here, ( in this country) it’s you won’t get your next latte,” Holder quips. Israeli poetry is “very idealistic, very passionate. The poetry coming out of there is great.” Not particularly political himself, Holder observes: “You can’t separate art from politics in Israel.” Such passion made for some lively workshops.

Among the Israeli voices Doug heard was that of Ada Aharoni, a founder of the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace. “We ( of the IFAC) believe that all conflicts can be alleviated if the sides know and understand each other better, through bridges of culture and literature. Our culture is at the basis of our identity, and in a long and tragic conflict like the Arab-Israeli one, the wounds are very deep on both sides, and to heal them we need a vehicle that can go that deep, and the most appropriate ones are poetry, literature and culture.” Asked if Ada Aharoni has influenced latest poems, Holder quickly responds: “It’s too early to tell.”

Although he had walked where David and Goliath once walked, stood at the Wailing Wall ( and had inserted a book of his poems into one of the wall’s crevices) had been impressed by the beauty of the country and the “ Israeli people trying to live in peace,” Holder’s delighted to be home. “ I really appreciate this country, where you can walk around, unencumbered. I do understand that these (Israeli) people are afraid,” he noted, then paused: “We could be like that.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Before a Common Soil: Poems by Ifeanyi Menkiti

Before a Common Soil
Poems by Ifeanyi Menkiti
Dedicated to John Langstaff, Illustrations byKaryl Klopp
Published by Llora Press, Washington D.C.
Copywright 2007
68 pages

This is Nigerian-born Ifeanyi Menkiti’s fourth book of poems. He attended Columbia and New York Universities and later received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard. He’s been teaching Philosophy at Wellesley College for more than thirty years and is famed locally for recently acquiring and running the Grolier Bookstore in Harvard Square, one of the most replete poetry corners in the country.

In his dedication to John Meredith Langstaff, the founder of Revels, Menkiti writes:

“I offer these poems in memory of a long friendship, and in acknowledgement of the power of song to heal a divided world.”

Divided into three parts - Getting to Know the World/Bearing Witness and Before a Common Soil – this lush lavender hued collection is full of iconographic cartoon pictures and mostly short, limerick-style (though often not rhyming) poems about the people and ways of many countries.

In How to Speak Nigerian, Menkiti offers this humorously edged account of colonization:

“In Bangkok where they speak Tagalog;
in Lagos where they speak Nigerian

Nigerian – what sort of language is that?

that the British carved themselves
a territory out of the swamps of Africa
and would have stayed forever
had the mosquitoes not given them
itches, malaria, and swollen toes

on His Majesty’s service was on thing

but to die of fever & snake bite
that was too much to ask an Englishman.”

Underneath the poem is a wood-cut like snake curled up against a gang of thickly-stroked black mosquitoes. These pictures add an almost child-like expression of innocence to Menkiti’s insightfully wry poetic observations.

It’s hard to fish out quotes from the entirety of these gems, but in a poem about a haven closer to home, “Central Square,” Menkiti writes of the Starbucks invasion:

“And then Starbucks became
“Tarred Bucks” and they said
it had a lot of stain
on its profits – this
according to the yells
of the yelling crowd;
and there was a leader
among them – a man
by name of Bruce Bombadier;
and he promised to pour gasoline
on the asses of the ruling classes;
he promised to burn them
until they could rule no more.”

A revolutionary at heart, or at least a strong sympathizer, Menkiti doesn’t glorify war or bloody stakes without offering the simple, concrete awareness of the hunger and the objects of it that mankind can never quite forsake. These poems are stylized to a degree – short lines, refrains – so that we feel engaged and amused at the same time. Even revolutionaries can be poked fun at. For instance, in A Call to Arms, he writes:

“Revolutionaries in the front line,
revolutionaries in the soup kitchen,

the fire they wish to bring
to the flesh of those who rule;
here, but also there, and everywhere…

“who fails to fight
is against those who fight

let those who are not
come out and declare why they should not be shot.

And, by the way, which one
Among you has walked
Away with his café latte?
His bowl of cream of broccoli beside it?”

Among his many and varied subjects are: Aristotle, Hector, Noah, San Francisco, Goetz, New York City and Billy Strayhorn. He harkens back to American slavery in Part 3, Before A Common Soil:

All Quiet on Slave Row

“Nor could they tell
Whether the Ne-
Gro was of Man
or was somewhere
between an ant-
Elope and a man.

We danced on the ephemera,
The ephemera danced with us,
us and the ephemera were one

But here, in our authentic
Southern sea, we wept

and spat the seed
of watermelon –

Jolly negroes
come to town.


Lord of tears
and perspiratory blessedness.

we shook, we shook
to the rhythm of juba.”

Even interlacing what we think of as stereotypes or pop images
with which we are familiar, Menkiti manages with an eloquent declaratory
sentence to synthesize and switch the meaning. With his unique musicality, the author stays somehow in a mirthful state throughout this collection. It is a mood wanting in today’s cloud of woes. You will not find dark decrepitude here.

In the middle section Bearing Witnes, Menkiti travels South to Georgia and then to the ill-fated singer Billie Holiday in a two part poem called, “Red Earth” in which he invokes her well-known anthem “Strange Fruit” about lynching:

1. On Georgia’s Red Earth

On the red earth of Georgia,
wind at the back of me
& wind in front of me;
wind whose lashings
the limbs could not take;

2, Lady Day

There were those guilty of being black;
whom the white rules
would not allow;

and there was terror
in the eyes
of the little children

terror at the sight
of a strange fruit hanging
from an ordinary tree
where are you now, Lady Day?

On one other more comic note about the “ghosts of New York” in the ‘50s, he writes of a diner named Beulah’s at 9th & 41st st. (Hell’s Kitchen) in a poem called, “Annabelle:”

“how at Beulah’s
at the corner of 9th & 41st
the cappuccino “just plain sucks
like a cup of piss water
three days old;”

and you ask Annabelle
to please clean up her speech
& she calls you a misbegotten
son of the Holy Ghost

tells you to get out of the way.”

Spiritual, visual in presentation, humorous, rebellious and kind, Menkiti almost always leaves space for us to smile or do a jig; a space for us to ponder further or remember the message of his little dreamed-boxes. All poets provide evidence of something – an emotional flash, a telling detail, a hard-won tale. In ending, I quote from the poem Evidence—one of his more spaciously philosophical treats:

Evidence by glossolalia –
placate the spirits
that ululate
by the river banks…

which way my darling
is the way out
of this difficult knowledge?

Which number, the number
of God’s own intimate face?

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Lo Galluccio for Ibbetson St. Press.
Lo is a poet/vocal artist and writer living in Cambridge, MA.

I am in a McIntyre and Moore Frame of Mind

As you probably know by now McIntyre and Moore Booksellers is going to close April 1. Along with the Jimmy Tingle Theatre this is a big loss for Davis Square and Somerville. Word has it they might relocate to the old "Bookcellar" site in Porter Square. The site will be much smaller. The "Bookcellar" was another fine used bookstore that hit the dust some years ago.

If I were to go to central casting and say " Hey, Mac. I need a used bookstore and make it snappy,!" McIntyre and Moore would fit the bill perfectly. The place reeked of books, and these tomes seemed to grow like weeds on an unruly plot of land. The clerks had the look and acted like an organic part of the whole. McIntyre and Moore has hosted almost all of my literary journal's readings ("Ibbetson Street") over the past 9 years or so. A picture of McIntyre and Moore graces the cover of our latest issue that was recently featured in "Verse Daily." It has also hosted countless events for the literary community, and the community-at-large. The store will be sorely missed. Here is an interview I did for The Somerville News and the Lucid Moon Poetry site some years ago with one of the owners; Mike McIntyre.

Mike McIntyre Interviewed by Doug Holder:
A Conversation With Mike McIntyre of McIntyre and Moore Booksellers

When you walk in the McIntyre and Moore Bookseller in Davis Square, you probably shouldn't ask, " Hey, what's new!" This bookstore is an oasis of used tomes in a square that more and more worships the spanking new. The store has the perfect ambiance for a business of this nature. Books are crammed in every nook and cranny. Patrons, their necks craned like bemused birds, comfortably browse the large and eclectic selection of fiction, non-fiction and poetry on the shelves.
McIntyre and Moore was founded by Mike McIntyre, and Daniel Moore on Oct. 1983 in Harvard Square, Cambridge. For 15 years it was considered the best used bookstore in Harvard Square, and in Boston for that matter. In April of 1998, the business was moved to Davis Square. Since then it has become the center for the literary scene in Somerville.
On an unseasonably warm September morning I met with one half of the partnership that runs this store, Mike McIntyre. McIntyre is a large man with a full beard, and appears to be somewhere in his 40's. He looks more like an outdoorsman, than a man whose stock and trade is with books.

DH: What is it about about your background that lead you to a career with books? What kind of person gravitates to this business?

MM: I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. I would look around used bookstores, when I was in high school. In Chicago, (where I was a student at the Univ. of Chicago in the early 70's) I lucked into a part time job with POWELL'S, a big used bookstore in the area. I over heard the owner say on the phone that he needed a part time clerk. I walked over and said I was interested. He must of recognized me as a customer and said," Watch the store, I need to go to the bank." I guess I had the job...he was pretty casual about things. Selling and dealing books is not that attractive. The books themselves are. The people who go into the business would not go into any other type of retail. A friend of mine said she wanted to put up a sign in a bookstore she worked in, that read: " Don't bother the introverts." I am introverted. And this may be why there are so many grumpy book dealers, it comes with the personality. Handling books is is sort of like you are serving the books themselves. The book as an object, becomes an obsession when you do this work for awhile. One of the problems with the business is that people are constantly asking for things that don't exist. It is fustrating to be on the floor for me. The questions people ask are often not helpful, like: "Is the basement downstairs?" Obviously it is. They want to know where the door is, but people often ask these questions to start conversations. Being an introvert at heart, I find this difficult. So I stay behind the scenes, although I sometimes miss what's going on, on the floor.

DH: Is Somerville a good place to sell books?

MM: Somerville would be a better place if there was more bookstores. This would create a better atmosphere for selling. One store creates an interest in another. Stores often deal with in different books, so instead of being harmful, this sort of presence would be helpful to us. Somerville is a nice area. The street and traffic people really are cooperative here. When we first moved into the store, we had three meters bagged, so the trucks could unload. They don't take used bookstores for granted here.

DH: Could you talk about why you moved from Harvard Square to Davis Square?

MM: We were located in a residental area in Harvard Square. With the end of Rent Control, we lost a lot of our old customers. Basically, if you didn't own you were out. The people who came into the square after this were looking for an expensive meal, but not the type of books we sell. They were more general market book people. There were a number of reasons we left Harvard Square. As I said one was the end of Rent Control, the others were the lack of other used bookstores,(the closing of PANGLOSS bookstore really hurt us), and the lack of Asian customers. The Asians bought a lot of books, but for the last 10 years there has been a downturn in their economy. That market wasn't there anymore. Harvard Real Estate offered us a new lease, but it wasn't any lower than we were paying. We weren't sure if we could afford it for the length of the lease. Later they became sympathetic and might of even reduced the rent, but we felt that they couldn't lower it enough for us to stay. Somerville was receptive to our move. When we were first about to move to Davis Square, the alderman, Jack Connolly, took me to a community meeting. I was very well-recieved. The alderman claimed this was the best response he ever got, at one of these gatherings.

DH: What is the future of Independent bookstores around here and around the country?

MM: It's pretty frightening. You have to pay whatever you have to for rent. The same books could be sold from your own home, (that you own) for a lot less money. The scene for independents has shrunk. There are the Canterbury, the Brattle, Rodney's, Boston Book Annex, but the list is getting smaller. I think the trend is to sell on the Web, from people's own apartments. Of course I would rather have someone fall in love with a book in their own hands, than on the Internet. A book's condition can only be described so well on the Net. I think the big chains threaten the general bookstores more than us, because we are specialized.

DH: You are very open to carrying local titles, local small press, and holding readings for local authors and groups. Is this profitable. ? What is your philosphy behind this?

MM: Readings are good for presence...for people to know that we exist. It doesn't make us money, but it doesn't need to. People buy some books, but the monetary thing is not a factor. Peter Coyle, the store manager, is very good at handling these events.

DH: Who are your favorite writers.

MM: Let's see...Hemingway, Algren, Cord-Wainer-Smith, to name a few.

DH: What do you see as the future for your store? What plans do you have?

MM: I would like to keep on doing what we are doing. I would like to hire more workers. It is hard for people to live on what we can afford to pay, especially in Somerville where rents are very high. We do provide benefits, and advancement potential. If I could I would build a sort of a dormitory, a cooperative of sorts, where employees could live fairly cheaply. Many of the clerks live outside the city, and travel a fair distance to get here. I see us as being around for awhile to come.

by Doug Holder

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Second Question by Diana Der-Hovanessian

The Second Question

by Diana Der-Hovanessian, 2007

The Sheep Meadow Press

PO Box 1345

Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY 10471

105 pages

In this book by Diana Der-Hovanessian, a poet of Armenian descent, the Second Question of the title poem is “How did you escape/death,” which follows the First Question “where in Turkish Armenia/were your people from.” The poem explains how the children of the women who had asked the second question now only ask the first. However, Der-Hovanessian will not allow the second question to be discarded. In this collection, she demonstrates—shows rather than tells—how death was and continues to be escaped. As one means to this end, Der-Hovanessian, a prolific translator of Armenian poetry, engages in dialogue with international poets. In a poem entitled, “1915,” she writes: “The Israeli poet says/even Satan has not invented a revenge/ for the death/ of a child;” she then poses the question: “And when there/ are not enough/ names for sorrow/ how can there be/a revenge that/ will not cause more?”

This is a volume of difficult questions—questions posed by someone outside, an exile, a “foreign associate” who, for example in the poem, “For Luda Laughing,” snaps at Luda’s husband who has asked Luda to get him a drink of water: “Why don’t you get it yourself?” Asking bold questions is one way Der-Hovanessian insists on life and change, another is through humor. A sense of humor, often dry and ironic, streams through these poems like sunlight, illuminating in its own fashion, how death is escaped. From pointing out how Emily Dickenson’s bread won first prize, while her poetry went unnoticed in her lifetime (“Emily Baking”) to “Seven Warnings in Search of an Armenian Feminist,” including the lines: “Beware the man who over-praises your cooking./He’s going to invite his friends over,” Der-Hovanessian shines her laughing light on dark corners.

The Second Question is organized into several parts; the section “Little Story” begins with the wry poem of the same name: “In your arms,/half asleep/your breath on my cheek;/in your arms/you asleep/everything complete;/in your sleep/the name you speak/is Ani. I am Marguerite.” So many of the poems in this collection share these qualities as they lull the reader with their beguilingly simple and sweet, nursery-rhymesque lines only to end with a stinging twist. This particular section of the book is filled with short, aphoristic poems like “Women’s Rib”: “Man might have been a lot wiser/if Eve came first as supervisor.” The final section, “Other People’s Stories,” contains translations and adaptations, reminding us that Der-Hovanessian is also an award-winning translator. The range of the work in this collection is startling; each page presents a surprise and the reader soon learns to expect the unexpected.

Mary Buchinger Bodwell, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of English

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Boston, MA

Reviewer for Ibbetson Street Press

January 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Survival Notes. Adrian S. Potter

Survival Notes. Adrian S. Potter (Cervena Barva Press POBOX 440357 W. Somerville, Mass. 02144) $7.

Somerville’s Cervena Barva Press has published a collection of very short stories or flash fiction by Adrian Potter: “Survival Notes.” Potter is the winner of the 2003 Langston Hughes Poetry Contest and has numerous publication credits. Potter’s pieces have a raw edge to them. They take place for the most part in urban settings with angry male characters in the midst of existential crises. One story that peaked my interest in this collection was “Domestic Silence.” In this story, an unfortunate neighbor to a loud and argumentative couple, tracks the jazz music the abusive male in this unfortunate coupling plays to mute the loud protests of his many domestic brawls.

“ I’ve lived here for two years, long enough that I can determine the topic of their disputes by what record is playing. Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” means that that the husband is releasing the frustration of financial woes onto her fragile ribcage. The swinging melodies of Duke Ellington are reserved for senseless shouting matches, the type of overreaction brought on by male jealousy. Electronic jazz-funk, like Herbie Hancock and the “Head Hunters,” is synonymous with the profanities and backhanded slaps that come from drinking binges. I don’t even have to explain the subtle irony when songs from Coltrane’s “ A Love Supreme” filter from underneath their doorway.”

I would like to see Potter develop more stories like this. He may be on to something.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan. 2008/ Somerville, Mass.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More Pictures from Israel Trip/Poem from Rena Navon

Some more pictures of my Israel Trip as a guest of the literary organization "Voices Israel"

Voices Israel Award Ceremony Tel Aviv

Doug Holder with Ada Aharoni author of the "Inner Voice of Saul Bellow"

Workshop-- Netanya, Israel.

* photos courtesy of Wendy Blumfield.

Poem From Rena Navon ( Voice israel Poet)


Doug Holder, we were happy to have you as our bard
You were always with us writers, thinking hard.
A quiet stream guided our attention, deftly
helping our poetic talent to further emerge.

Restrained, you patiently showed us your respect.
New Yorker and Bostonian, you aptly satisfied
our Mediterranean thirst, trusting
a message of our own to finally speak.

You silently weighed our poetry
at a painter's distance while allowing us others to
claim balance, form or values of various hues
before we came to submit our poems to you.

Doug, this is what you
Judge with integrity, can do.

Thank you.

Rena Navon

* Rena Navon wasBorn and educated in Pittsburgh, Pa. Fulbright for a project in poetry at universite de Caen. Ph.D. in French from Harvard. Teacher at Simmons and Wheaton Colleges. Dance student in master classes led by Robert Cohan, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins amongst others. Performer in dance concerts at Radcliffe and Brandeis. Wrote most of her poetry after emigrating with family in 1974. Poems published abroad as well as those appearing regularly in Voices: Israel. Translations of his poetry commissioned by Natan Zach and published by Mellon Press. Honorary Mention in Miriam Lindberg's Peace Prize Competition. Leader of some early Voices' Workshops. Editorial Board for Anthology. Married to Professor of Philosophy, mother of 3 and grandmother of 23 for whom she needs 2 addresses to visit them all—Kefar Hassidim and Jerusalem.


Edited by Michael Rothenberg
Wesleyan University Press, 2007
ISBN 0-8195-6859-7

The Collected Poems Of Philip Whalen, published by Wesleyan University Press, 2007, contains all of Whalen’s poems from his published collections, previously uncollected poems published in magazines and anthologies, and CALENDAR, his previously unpublished graduate thesis from Reed College. Also included are “visual poems,” (i.e. drawings, etc.) he produced over the years. There is a brief forward by Gary Snyder and an essay on Whalen by Leslie Scalapino in the front of the book and some essays and prefaces by Whalen in the appendixes, including “Goldberry Is Waiting” from the Poetics of the New American Poetry. The collection, edited by Michael Rothenberg is surely a must-have for Whalen fans.

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1923, Whalen attended Reed College after World War II on the G.I. Bill where he met fellow poets Gary Snyder and Lew Welch. Whalen was a key figure in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s and, like many who came out of that milieu, developed an interest in Eastern thought and philosophy. In 1973, he became an ordained Zen priest and in 1991 became an abbot. He died in 2002.

This collection provides the reader with an array of poems, most of which, frankly, are not to this reviewer’s liking. The poems that do work for this writer are the imagistic ones written in the vein of William Carlos Williams, a major early influence on Whalen. (Haiku poetry grew out of Zen consciousness and influenced the Imagists who influenced the San Francisco Renaissance poets and the Beats who in turn began to explore Zen Buddhism.) Here is the second poem in the collection:


Moon under a screen
of telegraph wires
Moon under no screen but the wind
Moon under the sea
and no spray but self
(Winter, 1947)

Dale Smith, writing in Jacket Magazine (1998), notes the influence that Gertrude Stein appears to have had on Whalen’s development. Many poems seem to be about mind and perception. There is an obvious humor as well to his work. His process seems to be one of watching himself think but the pathways his mind takes are elided. This does not lend itself to ready comprehension even after several readings. There are wonderful poems written in an imagistic vein but they are far outnumbered by those solipsistic pieces that, whatever they may have meant to Whalen, remain opaque to the general reader. A short example can be quoted here:

Lazy tongs
Jacob’s ladder
magnetized flywheel
folding mesh ring basket
Mr. KNIBX. a sinister
“A is for jelly,
B is for Jell-O”
“You are the how
they call panic”

Paul Christensen, writing on Whalen (Jacket Magazine, 2000), says:

(Allen) Ginsberg couldn’t understand the method; he missed the humorous
intent of the line in Whalen. ----Ginsberg kept looking for the sense to zero
in to conscience, or to a core of persecuted self—which is never there in
Whalen. So, as (Diane) Waldman tells him in her interview, Allen didn’t
“get it” when he read Whalen.

I’m afraid that, like Ginsberg, I don’t “get it” either. The poems I do like are unfortunately a rather small minority. Here’s one, though, a San Francisco poem from 1964, that represents the Philip Whalen that caught my attention years ago:


I’m coming down from a walk to the top of Twin Peaks
A sparrowhawk balanced in a headwind suddenly dives off it:
An answer to my question of this morning

Regardless of this reviewer’s likes and dislikes, true fans of Whalen could not ask for a better collection than this Wesleyan Press edition.

Richard Wilhelm
Ibbetson Update, 2008

* Richard Wilhelm is the arts/editor of the Ibbetson Street Press. He is a regular review for the Boston area small press and poetry scene. Wilhelm has upcoming work in the Istanbul Literary Review.

Ibbetson 22 in Verse Daily-- Jan 21 2008

Today's poem is "Eclipse"

from Ibbetson Street

Sarah Hannah's first book, Longing Distance (Tupelo Press, 2004), was a semi-finalist for the Yale Younger Poets Prize and was nominated for the Norma Farber Award, The Kate Tufts Discover Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Forward Prize. Her second book, Inflorescence, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in Fall 2007. Sarah Hannah taught at Emerson College until her recent passing.
All the poems by Sarah Hannah that have appeared on Verse Daily:
November 26, 2007: "Tread-softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus)" "Hell, this is a field without end..."
July 12, 2007: "The Riddle of the Sphinx Moth" " An enormous body kamikaze-dives..."
October 16, 2006: "At Last, Fire Seen As a Psychotic Break" " It begins in the crux of beam and insulation..."
October 6, 2004: "Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa)" "I'm way in, way in you, Mushroom..."
April 29, 2003: "For the Fog Horn When There Is No Fog" "Still sounding in full sun past the jetty..."

Books by Sarah Hannah: Inflorescence, Longing Distance

Other poems on the web by Sarah Hannah:
Three poems

About Ibbetson Street:
Poets in this issue: Marc D. Goldfinger, Michael Keshigian, Dennis Rhodes, Stephanie Hiteshew, Ray Greenblatt, Anne Tom, Jane K. Kretschmann, Brad Bennett, Patricia L. Hamilton, Thade Correa, Ulys H. Yates, Abby E. Murray, Alan Holder, Deborah C. Strozier, J. Melissa Blankenship, Bernadette McBride, Carolyn Gregory, Barbara Bialick, Sarah Hannah, Cammy Thomas, Arlene L. Mandell, Janice Riggs, Eleanor Goodman, Ed Galing, Leanna N. Stead, Alison Cimino, Jean Keskulla, Marcia L. Hurlow, Shari O’Brien, I. Gillis Murray, Sarah Tuttle, Erica Pederson, Laura Rodley, Lyn Lifshin, Linda M. Fischer, Jade Sylvan, Matt Friesen, Joanna Nealon, Ruth Sabath Rosenthal

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Ibbetson Street * 25 School Street * Somerville, MA 02143
Editor: Doug Holder
Other poems by Ibbetson Street in Verse Daily:

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