Friday, June 06, 2008

Review of The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel, by Doug Holder

Review of The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel by Doug Holder ( Cervena Barva Press POBOX 440357 W. Somerville, Ma. 02144)
To order:

* Review by Pamela Annas, PhD

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.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Gloom Cupboard Issue 3

Gloom Cupboard
Literature for the common people


Gloom Cupboard is a well-known literary blog that prints a hard copy, chap-sized magazine. I had the pleasure to be both on the blog and in the print edition. This enterprise is headed by two English poets Richard Wink and Alan Corkish. The magazine has published such small press poets as Lynn Lifshin, and Stanley Barkan, as well as lesser-known poets. In Issue 3 there is some interesting work by Karl Koweski. In his poem “Edward Lorenz” (the father of the “Butterfly Effect” theory), the poet describes how Lorenz’s death in Cambridge, Mass., affected some distant, disparate place.

“ Edward Lorenz, 90
Father of the
butterfly effect chaos theory
died today
at his home in
Cambridge, Massachusetts

in Aardmore County,
straight line wind,
tore the roof off
a house trailer.”

Other poems of note: “A Poem is not an Empty Room,” by Jim Murdoch, and “My Father” by Jack Henry. This is an interestingly quirky new ‘zine from across the pond.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

Review of Hot Rain by Lo Gallucio

Review of Hot Rain by Lo Gallucio (published by Singing Bone Press, an imprint of Ibbetson Street Press, $7.00)

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine once said that people never talk as intimately as when they are cleaning out their ears with a q-tip. I have learned over the years that, although an adolescent made this comment, there is quite some truth in it. Hot Rain is a witty, fast-paced collection of poems that focuses on language, memories, and sound. The author is like a q-tip, and Galluccio’s going to get the wax out. Lo Galluccio, a lyricist and poet, flows between the spiritual path of abstractions into the concrete world of images that she drums up like a percussion soloist. You can hear the beat she establishes pumping through your veins. Then, when she has you in sync she craftily starts to augment and diminish, to run around in circles that examine the very act of speaking, thinking, and loving. In this way, these poems are able to make you anticipate a certain word based on the rhythm and then change course on you and surprise you with a new word, new sound, and new image—a new thought. This is the delightful gift of Lo Galluccio. She knows you’re there and she knows who she’s talking to, yet she’s decided to clean out your ears until you hear her unique, mystical incantations. She takes your hand and leaps into a transcendental world, but don’t think it’s all abstract and flimsy. The images are hard and real and the language is a code Gallucio has studied. Take a look at “1. The Come On” where Galluccio masterfully employs hard, crisp language:

"Make me act.
Buy the red dress.
Wriggle—a slut
of gum—for your
hard pink.”

This is a great example of how she plays off a reader’s anticipation. I already hear “a stick of gum” in my head, but she twists the q-tip a bit and changes the words on me. The changes are refreshing and help clear your ears of all those stuffy clich├ęs. In “Sarasota IV — Elegy for Anthony” she discusses missing her father with vivid images and cutthroat metaphors. Look at the first stanza:

I wept into granite to raise you
Did you drink? Has God
swallowed like gumdrops your oracle eyes?
Did morphine blind you like Oedipus?
When will we say our good-byes?

You see her actually dripping into the tombstone and wondering if her liquid was swallowed. These poems are real and physical. Yet they are metaphysical as well. With the sober precision of a brain surgeon, Galluccio talks about the abstract. Then, she jumps on her head, and riffs on about concrete images like a stoned jazz soloist.

She’s a studied musician who has done her homework, memorized those two thick songbooks, digested all the chord changes so her improvisations and songs are grounded and welcomed. That’s what we’ve paid for: a front row seat to see her concoct her magic. And Gallucio’s not trying to hide her tricks. In fact, she’s got her arm outstretched. In “The Witch’s Antidote to Sanity” she lets the reader in on her secret, “An artist must switch/ the landscape/ and preside over tunnels.”

Galluccio’s wonderful sense of sound and rhythm allows her to alter words and images while keeping structure and order. This means that every line is readable yet sizzles with energy. She says, “poets have thieving camera eyes/ the way seagulls are scavengers”. Galluccio is certainly a thieving camera, serving up a slideshow of unique images in a rhythmic incantation. As you read, the poems are as surprising as they are lovely—and relentlessly moving around. She’s riffing, she’s improvising, she’s hurtling across the universe.

Her style is bold and classic at the same time. She shows all the erudition of a scholar with the street smarts of a hustler. “The Witch Looks to Map” and “The Witches Antidote to Sanity” are particularly cutting edge in this regard. They force the reader to think hard about what is language, what is society, even what is to thought itself. She muses on what a YOU ARE HERE map is, an arbitrarily guide to a place someone wants you to go that exists in reality. The memorization of the map’s lines and schema is reality; this is sanity. In fact, Galluccio extrapolates, the map doesn’t really exist just like your sanity and insanity are not exactly as concrete as you may have thought. The map, the language you speak and read, the thoughts you have, Galluccio says, are all encoded. Language itself is a code, and the poet is playing with the code and showing you little glimpses of the spaces between codes, the code-cracker’s perspective. The same code in a mirror may not be what it appears to be when you look straight at it.

I allow myself to be shepherded by logistics
and don’t become the breeder of wild sheep.
The sheep of pirates, of dragons, of deep leap.

She praises codes and language. She feels all would be lost without it: “We’re non-readers tumbling through literacy/ snatching angry letters that snatch us back.” She suggests learning the codes, following them and then she adds a touch of rebellion and suggests breaking some of the rules. “The first thing an artist must do is escape.” Escape the YOU ARE HERE map. Be anywhere but HERE inside the engineer’s logistical map. Get inside and outside the code, be code-cracker, code-eater, become code-terrorist. “The way deformity is beautiful,” Gallucio says in the poem “Some things”, the broken code is gorgeous. The manipulated code is poetry. The manipulated code is here as poems in Hot Rain. It’s the words and beat drumming out this book. It’s Gallucio’s great big q-tip. Sit down. Open Hot Rain. Clean out your ears.

by Ralph-Michael Chiaia
poet & editor (

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Winter Poems by William Michaelian

William Michaelian
Cosmopsis Books 2007
San Francisco, California
ISBN 978-0-9796599-0-4

Michaelian’s metaphors sting like walking in snow too
long, “I’m an old man alone with a frozen axe, a
curved wooden handle planted in dead weight.” He
presents winter in stark reality; the hunger, the
piling snow, the impending situations only nature
seems to recognize and the poet takes heed.

“howling-gruff the call-forth bark
of scent-wise remembering dogs,
tether-worn with pale claws,
madness revived in distance born,
I run off to greet the storm.”

Have we lost our ability to discern the signs or to
except the storm? perhaps. William Michaelian is very
capable of reading the season’s turn.

“not a single leaf remains:
a reminder that winter kills,
while that which survives
is cleansed.”

As a city dweller I welcome these poems. This honest
straight forward book, like a warm fire glows, and has
embers. Michaelians' madness is about what is happening
around him. It is not the madness of a saint or a
sinner, it is the madness of knowing.

we confirm
what others fear
to know? that a plaster
statue lives long
after winter
has set

Irene Koronas
poetry editor: wilderness house literary review
submissions editor: ibbetson street press

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Poet Eva Salzman: From Brooklyn to Britain with a side trip to Somerville, Mass.

Poet Eva Salzman: From Brooklyn to Britain with a side trip to Somerville, Mass.

Over 20 years ago Poet Eva Salzman popped over the pond to England after spending her early years in Brooklyn and Long Island. Salzman was a friend of the late poet Sarah Hannah who was interviewed on my show “ Poet to Poet…” on Somerville Community Access TV shortly before Hannah took her own life. Salzman was in town visiting with Hannah’s parents, and gave a reading of her own and Hannah’s work at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Mass. (hosted by Fulcrum Magazine). Salzman traveled in a drenching rainstorm to the hinterlands of Union Square, Somerville to be interviewed by yours truly.

Salzman is an accomplished poet, living in London, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended Columbia University where she got her MFA. Her latest poetry collection is “Double Crossing” (Bloodaxe Books). She has also co-edited an anthology of modern women poets “Women’s Work…” that is scheduled to be released soon from the Seren Press. She has taught at such British institutions of higher learning as Warwick University and Ruskin College in Oxford, England. She has also collaborated on a number of operas, and her work has been frequently broadcasted on the BBC. Salzman has been published widely and has read from her work at festivals around the world.

Doug Holder: First off, why did you move to England in 1985?

Eva Salzman: That’s easy. A man. It’s the old story. He was in Brooklyn with me, and then we moved to England. It was a pretty major move for me. I thought that I would never leave New York. He was born in South East Wales. It was a huge culture shock for a Brooklyn Jewish girl.

DH: Why didn’t you leave England after your breakup?

ES: Well we moved to Brighton. And I started to make friends and get published there. When we split up, he said: “Well I guess you’ll move back to New York.” I said to myself: “ Damn him…I have a life here. I’m going to stay here!”

DH: You have had a lot of offbeat jobs…I suppose a lot of writers do. Another Brooklyn writer Paul Auster comes to mind. You worked as an out-of-print book searcher, an Exercise Director at a Brooklyn orthodox Jewish diet center, a cleaner of rich ladies houses, all of which informs your work. In a sense did these jobs have more value for your writing then say your MFA?

ES: I love studying…but I had a fear of missing more. In a way I was trying out different lives. The out-of-print book search service I did for many years was to support my writing habit in Britain. It was a continuation of a business my grandmother ran for many years from her house in Brooklyn.

DH: You studied at Stuyvesant High in Brooklyn in the 70’s. One of your teachers was Frank McCourt, the author of “Angela’s Ashes” Did you know at the time that he would be such an acclaimed writer?

ES: He always seemed world- weary. I had a romantic sense of him. I felt he was not fated to last long. He would tell us wonderful stories about his impoverished Irish childhood. I realize now he was rehearsing for his great memoir “Angela’s Ashes.” We were the last class he came to—he had taught in many tough schools in the city. He did not teach a strict English class, expecting us to write a lot, etc… I thought learning English was learning stories. Maybe it is. He was just fascinating. I eventually met up with him in England. I interviewed him for the Guardian.

DH: You have also studied with the likes of Derek Walcott, Jorie Graham, Stanley Kunitz, and Joesph Brodsky to name a few. Was it hard to find your “voice?” Do we really have a truly original voice?

ES: I was very intimidated at the Columbia MFA program because I was a lot younger than most of the students there. But I still loved the program. I remember taking a workshop with Stanley Kunitz. He would pick out pieces of my poems and say: “ This is your voice.” I wondered what that meant. Was there a voice I was supposed to slip into already? It made me think about what would trigger my voice.

DH: Can you talk about the new CD “Secret Life of a Girl” by singer/songwriter Christine Tobin in which a poem of yours is set to music?

ES: She is actually from Dublin, but now lives in London. She is well known in both places. She makes a point of collaborating with poets, and in her new CD she used a poem of mine, and a poem of Paul Muldoon.

DH: You have also collaborated on operas. In fact one has been with your father, the composer Eric Salzman. Good poetry should have a strong sense of musicality, no? Has you work as a poet helped you with your work with opera?

ES: I see it as a two way street. Language and music are interactive. I believe the music of language leads you to ideas or poems. But yes, I do believe poetry has to have a sense of music to it.

Most of the poets I know who write in form or meter, don’t do it for ideology. You write in free verse or you write in form. You write what you want to write.

DH: I use food in a lot of my poetry. I notice you do too. What would you say to critics who say food as a theme or focus is too trivial?

ES: I am a sensualist. I am about everything to do with the senses. I don’t see this split between matters of the body and matters of the spirit. I see it as all parts of the same. Coming from a large Jewish family you can guess how I feel about food. There is a ritualistic quality about eating and meals.

DH: You were a friend and mentor to the late poet Sarah Hannah. Hannah taught at Emerson College in Boston, appeared on this show, was the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections “Longing Distance,” and “Inflorescence” (Tupelo Press).
Can you tell me how you met and became fast friends?

ES: We met at the Wesleyan Writers Conference, where I taught. I was interested in the sonnet form and so was she. She had read my poems. She was passionate about the sonnet. She brought me her work that had wit and formal dexterity. Like Plath, she coupled the vernacular with a more elevated poem.

DH: Her poetry is accessible. Yours is too. Your take?

ES: I never personally think about accessible or inaccessible. Some of the poems I write are accessible, some are not. Sarah had that ability to travel to different worlds. I have a review of her two collections in “Contemporary Poetry Review.,” extracted from an article in “Dark Horses” magazine.

DH: You have co-edited a new anthology of women’s poetry titled “ Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English”

ES: “Women’s Work…” will be out within months. It will basically be modern women poets from 1920 on… Women poets who write in English. Jorie Graham is in it, English, American, and Irish poets….you name it. It is published by SEREN.

To The Enemy
Sit down, have a chair and relax,
you who've made the former friends bleed.
Here are all my questionable expenses
for the tax-man, the faithless to read.

Okay, so I drink, talk to strangers,
loudly befriending at parties
those lacking position, power or wealth,
who aren't distinguished or arty.

I slept with a man who was handsome
instead of the powerful editor
(not that I've ever claimed purer ethics -
it's just that I never knew better).

Please outline what's wrong with my life plan,
help map the route of my passions,
edit me into comfortable style
according to science or fashion.

It's not that I don't have ambition
or a liking for money or fame.

Is it just that I misinterpret the rules?
Don't I cheat well enough at the game?


--Doug Holder