Saturday, June 28, 2008

Field of Wanting – Poems of Desire by Wanda Phipps

Field of Wanting – Poems of Desire
by Wanda Phipps
Blaze VOX {books}
Buffalo, NY
Copyright 2008
139 pages

Review by Lo Galluccio

A long-time admirer of Wanda Phipps’ poetry and voice, since first catching her at the Marathon Day Reading at St. Mark’s Church, I eagerly devoured her latest tour de Force, “Field of Wanting: Poems of Desire” released this year on Blaze VOX {books}. She is gifted with a powerful writer’s imagination and a lovely voice which articulates such pieces as “Heaven and Earth” and “Desire,” interwoven with doubled voicings, rhythmic breathing and spare instrumentation. As an example of her capacity to enchant with concrete ephemera, you can check out the first track on her Myspace page ( and hear a lush reverberating guitar under her softly declared words:

“I’m heaven over fire, fire under heaven. I’m heaven into eleven:
two plus eleven seconds of heaven.”

The pink and the shimmering white in “Desire” seem like floating pieces of divine candy you can almost taste but would rather spare.

Wanda and I share a similar background that spans the theatre arts world and writing (both prose and poetry) – Wanda having studied at Naropa, after theater school, and incorporating a kind of free-associative, open and broken phrasing style which sculpts thoughts that scan her monitor second by second.

Her poetry has been published over 100 times in a variety of publications, including several anthologies. A denizen of New York City – the City which marks much of her verse like a maze-like tattoo – she’s also curated several readings and performance series at the renowned Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, as well as other New York venues.

In 2004, Soft Skull Press released her full-length poetry book, “Wake up Calls: 66 Morning Poems” which rivaled, from a contemporary and female angle, Frank O’Hara’s famous “Lunch Poems.” The author successfully undertook to capture her own state of mind upon waking, on 66 successive mornings. The results are poems that refresh in their hybrid revelations, daily task-lists and sensory detail. This book put Wanda on the poetry map as a serious literary voice, one with both a learned and maverick’s approach to verse; one who’d been around and mentored; one who was still experimenting with how she wanted to paint.

Her latest collection is part anthology and part new works, some written under the influence of the break up of a long-term relationship with a live-in soul-mate and collaborator. Anyone who’s loved, labored and lost knows the agony of wanting to somehow pay tribute, kick the despoiler in the teeth, and run like hell, all in the same fell swoop. Phipps’ language wand casts such a powerfully luminous spectrum of colors that nothing feels bitter-black, rotten or remorseful in this collection. Nothing seems concocted in a frenzied rush to win, either. All seem like newly bred creatures; part of a poet’s evolutionary schema.

“Field of Wanting” contains nine sections – each honing to the mode and mood and particular style of its poetry zone: sonnets, prose-poetry paragraphs, numbered blues, and short-haiku like slivers, along with more traditional free-verse. In the opening poem, from “Your Last Illusion,” she writes a kind of prelude:

I am pure madness
If I yell and scream and bleed
Is that pure enough? is that raw enough?
If I wear my sensitivity like a crown
Is it a tool?
can I touch you with my frailty?
touch you with my vulnerability?
Is my weakness
my strength?

p. 13
“A Purist at Heart”

She continues with a series of 19 modern sonnets (inspired by Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets)—also called “Your Last Illusion” or “Break Up Sonnets” – each 14 lines, not rhyming.

So you left, you bastard, so what?
I’m ready to include the world
through with internal wars
weather’s clear
and lies are angels in the snow
best be off and running babe
one messy satellite still hovers
you are the one and only blinking muscle
God’s a shining fuck
step on your own toes to keep someone
else from beating you to it
the bathtub isn’t long enough for four
don’t dream now float
it’s best with Sunday morning peaches.

p. 21

In “Suddenly Everything” Phipps in her poem “Galloping Personas” touches on a villanelle-like repetition scheme (without writing a proper villanelle) using the noun phrase “golden blouse” alternately as distraction and conceptual device. :

She begins:

“So the mask remains baffling
say hello to the mask
a new way of being a “Person”
or a hurricaine Cordelia in Biloxi beauty
there’s a mountain out my window.”
and you must wear a golden blouse.”

And ends:

“songs of a baffling mask
experiencing persons of great beauty
by love’s window in a golden blouse”

p. 34-35

In “Hours” she creates 12 pieces that combine hallucinatory pop culture visions with an almost home-spun delivery of the world around her:

Fourth Hour

“she was late
for a meeting
with her therapist
found Linda Evans
in her bathroom
ripping her shower curtain
and she kept trying
to piece it back together
but Linda kept ripping it
into neat little squares.”

p. 48

Fifth Hour

“it’s raining today
they say snow soon
I need boots
I love those black barked trees
bare and soaking wet
branches like lace
against Chelsea lofts
my hour’s over”

p 49

What leaves me grounded and breathless within Wanda’s wondrous matrix of poems is her equally balanced formal intelligence and wild-child juxtapositions of disparities.

In the Section “Womb Dreams” a poem called, “Talks with a Stranger” (including a few words by Jorge Luis Borges) entices with:

“I’m in the voice before zero
I’m in the macaroni
I’m in the calculator
I’m in the refrigerator.”

“Velocity = Delta D
Change in Distance
Change in Time
Delta T
p. 112

In a deliciously erotic riff in her final section, “Gray Fox Woman” Wanda slips into an ode to a double who is also herself:

“kiss my shaved cunt
and bow to its beauty
introduce me to Dangerous
the woman in the spiderwebbed dress
the wild child filling her mouth
by the newspaper stand

let me watch you
unroll my fishnet stockings slowly
let me wait until you scream
because men do make noise when they fuck
but only as a form of worship.”

p. 124

Wanda will be appearing at The Living Theatre in NYC on July 28th. For more information check out her website: and

An investment in buying this book on or from the publisher is well worth your ducats. As Grace Slick once wailed: “Feed your head!”

Lo Galluccio is a vocal artist and poet whose prose-poem/memoir, “Sarasota VII” will be out on Cervana Barva Press in fall of 2008.

Strange News (poems) by Lawrence Kessenich

Strange News (poems)

by Lawrence Kessenich

Pudding House Chapbook Series

ISBN 1-58998-6690-5

© 2008 $10.00

“Strange News” by Lawrence Kessenich takes news factoids to a place of

metaphor that borderlines on urban legend while elaborating on

poetic editorialization. The language is familiar, the images well crafted.

Kessenich places his personal stamp on current and obscure stories such as

Japanese children born in Myanmar, David Belasco’s infamous theater-apartment,

and an Oregon woman arrested for dialing 911 and asking for the cutest cop.

These snippets supply the nub which delivers the poem, often presented

in dramatic monologue.

In Slow Burn, epigram: “Cook pleads guilty in Bed and Breakfast killing spree” -

the water boils for a love-struck B&B cook/owner who is seduced by a girl

named Lila, “ . . . the coquette of my graduate/ writing class, . . .

head full of impossible dreams . . .”

And after Lila lounging around in the garden sipping iced coffee and swimming

naked in the quarry, periodically “screwing” the male guests, the speaker,

(who, is being very much victimized) realizes that she knows she has him,

“ . . . wrapped around her/ little finger”.

Sticking to the title, the speaker finds a revolver and concludes:

“I liked / the way it made me feel/ as if I were a man again.”

Aside from the humorous, Kessenich maneuvers into darker thought-streams.

His Poem “Death Wish” is a flat-out, telling-it-like-it-is catalog of world images,

“twisted streets of Baghdad” and suicide bombers blooming “Bloody roses . . .”.

Images of a world, Kessenich says, we “pretend does not exist . . .”

The final lines portray in words a gesture of hands being thrown up in the air:

“Perhaps it’s time

to sweep the shards of broken

test tubes from the laboratory

table, watch them glitter through

the air like falling stars

as we take our dying breaths.”

The sparseness of language in “Strange News” might appear basic or half-trying,

even exhibiting the occasional cliche “Took the wind out of her sails”, for example,

but what’s being presented in this work is an opulence of voice, culled from

news stories that, at times, are not-so-poetic, then reinvented into gems.

“The Need to Believe” uncovers a verity never found on the front page, but always

stirring in the heart:

“We’d love to believe we’re special

that out tiny lives impress the earth.

But it has seen trees that live

for centuries, hidden places

we will never see, forgets us

as quickly as raindrops

evaporating on hot stone.”

(Take that, Paris Hilton, Bill Gates, Steve DeOssie Etc. . . .)

Finally, the ending poem entitled “Play On” offers a testament to persistence.

Each stanza begins with the refrain “After it’s all over”, suggesting any

catastrophic event of the reader’s choosing.

“After it’s all over

the Indian will dig up

a beaded leather bag

buried in a mountain

pull out a smooth wooden

flute his grandfather carved

and wail his people’s

pain into the sky.”

Mike Amado is a reviewer for Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

and is an Associate News Staff & Roadpoet eMagazine book and music reviewer.

Two books are slated for release in 2008, “Stunted Inner Child Shot the T.V.”

(Cervena Barva Press), and “Rebuilding the Pyramids” (Ibbetson Street Press

Thursday, June 26, 2008

River Tracks by Holly Guran

River Tracks
by Holly Guran
Poets Corner Press
ISBN 978-0-9798594-1-0 $12.00

review by Steve Glines

Each of us is a collection of stories, poems and portraits. Our lives alternate between being utterly dull and being the source of the most profound inspiration. It’s the use of language that makes the ordinary, extraordinary and the mundane, profound.

The rapper Eminem drew thoughtful inspiration from a less than ordinary industrial slum south of a road called eight mile in Detroit Michigan. He wrote and sang about it in the movie by that name. The movie made eight mile road intriguing and when I was in Detroit I carefully drove down this great divide drawing my own inspiration. To the north are the tony sanitized suburbs of middle class utopia where life mimics the art of Barbie and Ken. No bugs here. To the south are the leftovers. To Eminem, life began at eight mile road and progressed south. I understand. There passion where the Great Depression never left. There are rows upon rows of abandoned factories, abandoned houses, abandoned cars, abandoned lives. It is the detritus sloughed off the Great American Dream. It is inspiration by contrast and I don’t want to go there but I am compelled to look. I drive down dead end streets in my new shiny rental car, make mental notes and back out quickly.

River Tracks draws its inspiration from the mundane as well. Buttercups, wind, a rumbling train carrying commuters home, everyday life in a city, the suburbs and on the farm serve as a backdrop on which to tell a story:


They took jewelery, small things
you care about, never
touched the typewriter,
but touched the clothes
inside the drawers,
inside the closets.

The police, too busy to come,
took your report over the phone.

The landlord nailed a board over the hollow
where they knocked the window out. You spoke
of new locks. He fell silent like your apartment.

After you folded the scattered cloths
and laid them in the drawers,
after you put your son to bed,
you opened the typewriter,
stared at the gleaming keys
and wed your fingers to their light.

The world does not always loom large. Life is not always as big as eight mile street.

Sometimes we need to look at the little things and draw small joys from whatever we find. River Tracks tells of the small stories that brighten and sadden a life. The largest among us sometimes need to be reminded that in the larger universe our lives are indeed very small. It’s a quick and pleasant read.

Black Mountain Whispers – A tribute to Raymond Carver ($15.00 U.S.D.) (Cave Moon Press, 2008) by Douglas P. Johnson

Black Mountain Whispers – A tribute to Raymond Carver ($15.00 U.S.D.) (Cave Moon Press, 2008) by Douglas P. Johnson

Review by Pam Rosenblatt

In 2008, Douglas P. Johnson’s Black Mountain Whispers – A tribute to Raymond Carver was published by Cave Moon Press. The one hundred and five page paperback is filled with short stories and poetry, entertaining with surprising (sometimes terrifying, and sometimes humorous) twists and turns, especially towards the end of the pieces.

Johnson wrote Black Mountain Whispers with the renowned short story writer and poet Raymond Carver in mind. Carver graduated from Davis High School, the Yakima, Washington high school where Johnson is currently an English teacher. Carver passed away in 1988. Black Mountain Whispers is a tribute to Raymond Carver’s short stories and poetry or, more specifically, minimalism.1

What is minimalism? Minimalism began in the mid-1960 and its style was developed in music, art, and literature, remaining strong through the 1980’s. The definition of minimalism, according to Raymond Carver, is “ordinary language [is used] to expose the inability of communicating the reality of experience through purely referential language.”2

Some minimalism musicians include Terry Jennings, Dennis Johnson, Richard Maxfield, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Barbara Benary, Julis Eastman,

Jon Gibson, La Monte Young, Charlemagne Palestine, Harold Budd, and Phill Niblock.3

Such American artists as Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd and Sol Levitt created in the minimalism style.4

Major literary minimalists are Raymond Carver, John Barth, Richard Ford, Fredrick Barthelme, Mary Robison, Peter Cameron, Judy Troy, and Alice Mattison.5

According to Hiromi Hishimoto in “Trying to Understand Raymond Carver’s Revision’s” published in Tokai English Review, No. 5, (December 1995), pp. 113-147, minimalism in literature is about “economy of word”, “very short, abrupt but impressive sentences”, “lack of psychological impact”, characters that are “completely stripped down”, “sensibility by outer and inner description as well as lacks empathy and lack of interest”. Usually something vital is not mentioned in the story or poem which generates confusion, uncertainty, and inarticulateness.6

In the literature of minimalism, there’s “no verbal communication, no depiction of informing another character about a matter of grave concern.” It’s impersonal and without unity. If there’s any empathy, it’s dramatic, or it doesn’t exist at all, showing up at the end of the writing. The minimalist writer leaves out “communal grief” and no character description is given. Repetition doesn’t happen, and lengthy sentences are replaced by phrases. Traditionally, a piece of literary minimalism is “short words with short sentences and paragraphs, super-short stories”.7

Often people either like minimalism or they don’t. It’s a style that is often found to be “different”. In “Bowing to the Great God Usage”, writer Kyle Gann writes about minimalism in music:

For me, minimalism, for me, was always a different kind

of music, requiring (to misquote John Rockwell) a different

kind of listening. It wasn’t for everybody. It acquired a cult

following of unusually patient listeners. It was, and is, a different

type of listening experience than the attention-holding narrative of conventional classical music.8

Johnson’s Black Mountain Whispers is a “different kind of [book]”. He takes minimalism to an extreme with both his short stories and his poetry. In this review, we’ll analyze the clever, humorous short story, “Color of Milk” and the poem, “Sitcom Sabbath”, to better our understanding of minimalism in literature.

Johnson begins Black Mountain Whispers with “Color of Milk”, a short four and one-quarter page short story about two women enjoying each other’s company while one woman, a portrait painter, is putting the finishing touches on a painting that she made of the other woman, who is handicapped and sits in a wheelchair. The opening of the story consists of short phrases, short sentences, and short questions. This economical use of words makes the first fourteen lines of “Color of Milk” read very quickly, though true to literary minimalism, the reader doesn’t understand what he is reading right away. The beginning of this piece is confusing.

“Burnt Sienna”

“Doesn’t smell burnt. Next?”

“Cadmium Yellow.”

“What’s cadmium?”

“A chemical.”

“Next? Easy. Cadmium Black.”


“It is to[o] Cadmium Black. I’ve been practicing.”

“Just black. Not Cadmium Black.”

“No, you tell it. I need to keep working.”

“You, you tell it better.”

“Deep breath. Better than glue. What is this?”9

The different metaphors for different colors like “Burnt Sienna”, “Cadmium Yellow” and “Cadmium Black” suggest that something colorful is going on. There’s confusion as to whether one of the speakers is smelling or looking at the different colors in order to identify them.

The story begin to unfold when the second speaker identifies a smell

as “Turpentine.”:

“Turpentine. That one’s easy. He didn’t smell like turpentine.

Gasoline. He smelled like gasoline. Remember? He was working on a

lawn mower, so his fingers had old grease under the nails.

I could tell when he picked me up out of the gravel and put me back in

my chair. You didn’t mean to dump me. The wheel got caught in a soft

spot. Wait! Give me a chance before you wave it under my nose. What’s

the color?”

“Raw Umber”

“Like raw meat?”

“What do you think?”10

The relationship between these two women no longer seems blissful, as indicated by

the use of “Raw Umber”. The woman who’s the artist seems upset over something yet to be discovered by reading further.

As “Color of Milk” progresses, an interesting story unravels, one that includes

jealousy, love, and revenge. Johnson uses several minimalism techniques in the story to get his ideas across, or not across. He never identifies the women or man by proper name.

The only character he capitalizes besides the pronouns “I” and “You” is the name “Mom”.11 He never lets the female speakers show empathy, except when the woman

apologizes for falling dramatically out of her wheelchair.12 He stereotypes13 the man as a sex symbol type of handyman who flirts with the women, both of whom become jealous of one another. There is a danger lurking in this short story. Menaces are typically found in literary minimalism.14 In “Color of Milk”, it’s a complex danger. It’s the power of the paintbrush, as the artist keeps painting mustaches under the other woman’s nose either on her face or on a canvas, as it’s not clear, and the woman with the painted mustache has no idea what it looks like:

“What’s color is this?”

“It’s new. Don’t know. Paint a mustache under my nose, so I

can try and memorize it for later.”

“You look like Hitler.”

“Who is that?”

“Or Aunt Hilda.”

“Is it orange?”


Through economy of word, abstract thought, humor, and inarticulateness, Johnson has

written a fine minimalistic lead short story, one that motivates the reader to continue onto the following short stories, many of which aren’t as easy reads and contain threatening, violent, and scary situations which may cause the ordinary reader to put down the book and read the comic section of his Sunday newspaper. But, if you’re the type of reader who enjoys surprises, twists and turns of fate, then you probably will like the rest of the short stories in Black Mountain Whispers.

Black Mountain Whispers’s poetry is complex, abstract, innovative, and often confusing, the latter typical of literary minimalism, then again the writing is sometimes very economical and clear. “Sitcom Sabbath” is a fun yet serious poem found on page 90.

The poem’s speaker has prepared for the Sabbath by cooking

Tarragon Chicken

Fresh tarragon

Fresh garlic cloves

Six chicken breasts

Half cup of white wine

One cup of vegetable broth

Tablespoon olive oil

Teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 350ยบ. Rub chicken with olive oil. Halve garlic

Cloves. Slit chicken breasts. Place garlic halves into slits. Place seven to

Eight sprigs of tarragon over and around breasts. Mix white wine with

Vegetable broth and pour over chicken. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake

For 30 minutes. Check chicken. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes.

Serve with brown rice or green salad.

Serve with pumpernickel.

Serve family on T.V. trays.16

Here the speaker has made a special Friday night dinner just to have this weekly holiday

event’s relaxing time thwarted by fate. Death acts as the menace here. The speaker’s grandmother dies.

Answer phone.

Listen to Mom’s hoarse, snorting sobs.

Grandma just died.

I talked to her an hour and a half ago and said I love you. I could tell

she was trying to say something, but it didn’t come out.17

The whole poem lacks empathy, until the speaker’s mother says to the grandmother, “I love you”. When the speaker’s mother says, “I could tell she was trying to say something, but it didn’t come out”18, the reader feels a sense of confusion and inarticulateness of verbal communication.

The speaker doesn’t commiserate with his, or is it her, mother after learning of

the grandmother’s passing. What she does is rote. The short, economical sentences lack emotion. Some repetitive phrases would probably be normal to hear, but Johnson doesn’t

write that way. In his minimalistic style, he uses sentences without a subject noun or pronoun to convey the emptiness of a holiday evening gone awry.

Check calendar. Confirm today is a full moon.

Listen to laugh track in the back ground.

Wonder how to say goodbye to Grandma.19

The last line of “Sitcom Sabbath” is beautiful in its simplicity. The speaker just says,

“Goodbye, Grandma.”20 Johnson has captured a distinctive moment and conveyed powerful feelings without emotion, without tears, without personal feelings exhibited.

“Color of Milk” and “Sitcom Sabbath” are two separate genres and reflect the development of minimalism in literature from the 1960’s through the new millennium. Johnson has written a book that capitalizes on the minimalism style, a style that not everyone accepts, but it has definite qualities and can be identified as such. Black Mountain Whispers is a good read to understand minimalism techniques in literature.



ArtLex, “Minimalism”, ArtLex on Minimalism.

Carver, Raymond and Gallagher, Tess, editor. All of Us: The Collected Poems. (New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1996).

Carver, Raymond. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. (New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1989).

Gann, Kyle “Bowing to the Great God Usage”, PostClassic.


HighBeam Encyclopedia, “The narrowed voice: minimalism and Raymond Carver”.

Hasimoto, Hiromi “Trying to Understand Raymond Carver’s Revisions”, Raymond Carver: Precisionist, 6/5/2008.

Johnson, Douglas P. Black Mountain Whispers, (Yakima, Washington: Cave Moon Press, 2008).

“1970s AD – Decade | Studies in Short Fiction | Find Articles at”.

1 Douglas P. Johnson, Black Mountain Whispers, Yakima, Washington: Cave Moon Press, 2008, p, 107.

2 HighBeam Encyclopedia, “The narrowed voice: minimalism and Raymond Carver”, p. 1

3 Kyle Gann, "Bowing to the Great God Usage”, PostClassic, p. 1.


4 ArtLex, “Minimalism”, ArtLex on Minimalism, pp. 1-3.

5 “1970s AD – Decade | Studies in Short Fiction | Find Articles at”, p. 3.

6 Hiromi Hasimoto, “Trying to Understand Raymond Carver’s Revisions”, Raymond Carver: Precisionist,

6/5/2008, p. 4.

7 Ibid, p. 7.

8 Kyle Gann, “Bowing to the Great God Usage”, PostClassic, p. 1.


9 Douglas P. Johnson, Black Mountain Whispers, p. 15.

10 Ibid, p.15.

11 Hiromi Hashimoto, “Trying to Understand Raymond Carver’s Revisions”, p. 3.

12 Ibid, p. 7.

13 Ibid, p. 4.

14 Ibid, p. 13, 15.

15 Ibid, p. 17.

16 Ibid, p.90.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.



By Doug Holder

On a warm and humid morning in late June I jumped on the Red Line to go to UMass Boston, to attend the William Joiner Writers Workshop’s tribute to writer Grace Paley.

The Workshop is directed by poet Kevin Bowen, and is held every summer at the Boston campus. The late Grace Paley is a renowned fiction writer and poet who passed away in 2007. Paley was an enthusiastic, and much admired and loved teacher at the William Joiner. She was born in 1922 in the Bronx to Russian-Jewish immigrants. She published three collections of short stories “The Little Disturbances of Man,” (1959), “Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), and “ Later the Same Day” (1985),and her “Collected Stories”(1994) was a finalist for a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. She published several volumes of poetry, was elected the first New York State Writer, and the Vermont Poet Laureate in (2003). Paley was also a political activist involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, as well as the Women’s Movement. In 1969 she accompanied the peace mission to Hanoi to negotiate the release of prisoners of war. In 1978 she was arrested as one of the “White House Eleven” for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner on the White House lawn.

Paley’s writing focuses on the lives of women, examining their gritty everyday world. Her characters ranged from left wing women, their kids, their husbands, their lovers, their aging parents, and their aging selves. She was a master of dialogue, and a champion of everyday life in contemporary literature.

At the tribute were a number of Somerville poets including: Pushcart Prize winner Afaa Michael Weaver, Off the Grid Press publishers Bert Stern and Tam Lin Neville, Somerville poet, writer and activist Alex Kern, and Ibbetson Street Press author Elizabeth Quinlan (“ Promise Supermarket”). Paley’s husband Bob Nichols was present, as well as her daughter Nora.

Sitting next to me in the audience was Henry Braun, one of the founders of Somerville’s Off the Grid Press, and a friend of Nichols and Paley. Braun, who was once an editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal said of Paley: “She was the voice of my people. People who came from New York, the Lower East Side, political activists from the Vietnam era.” Afaa Michael Weaver, who was teaching at the Joiner this summer said later that he had met Paley two years before at the Joiner Center and was impressed by her graciousness and her “commitment to society.”

Julie Thacker, a creative writing instructor at Lesley University in Cambridge, lead the discussion of Paley and her work. She told me that Paley had a “Singular and human voice, married poetry and prose together beautifully, and found beauty in ordinary life. She also exhibited a striking compassion.”

The audience often commented on passages from Paley’s work and peppered their commentary with memories of Paley’s teaching at the Joiner Center. Most were in agreement with the fact that Paley, along with Tillie Olsen, were the first writers to open up the idea of ordinary woman as being good fodder for stories. Poet Elizabeth Quinlan told me: “ For the first time I realized that you could write about being a struggling young mother, your babies, even, well, your period.” Martha Collins, the founder of the undergraduate Creative Writing program at UMass Boston said she was amazed how Paley could combine the “political” with the fabric of life, and do it with such great humor. Paley, according to the anecdotes of the many folks who knew her was a master of dialogue, organically bringing the conversational into her work. She was a big believer in revision. Her husband Bob Nichols pointed out to the audience that they should respond to her work not only on an intellectual level but also on an emotional level . He reminded the audience that her work was all about emotional content. He also noted that Paley when she was giving a reading was always looking down at the text, rather than the audience. Poet Fred Marchant, the director of the Poetry Center at Suffolk University
said this was testimony to her singular focus on her work.

Paley, to her credit, was able to marry the profound and the ordinary, without sounding stilted. And in all of her work there was endless conversation, rather than a strong sense plot. Like in her fiction, the tribute was an ongoing conversation punctuated by memories, and always-generous doses of laughter. One student remembered Paley asking her to her home to discuss her work. She said: “ Let me make you a cheese sandwich. You’ll love it.” And I guess Paley would like it that way, to be remembered by her work, and, yes, even her cheese sandwiches.


Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

--Grace Paley

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ June 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Steve Glines Photo Study of the Dedication of Louisa Solano Square

Steve Glines, founder of the Wilderness House Literary Review, and Book Designer of the Ibbetson Street Press, took a number of photos of the June 21 dedication of Louisa Solano Square in Harvard Square Cambridge. Louisa Solano was the former owner of the famed Grolier Poetry Book Shop.

Louisa Solano ( Left) Ifeanyi Menkiti ( Right)

John Hodgen (Left) John Hildebidle

" The Group" ( Elsa Dorfman--center)

Sam Cornish (Right)

Louisa Solano

Doug Holder

Harris Gardner ( Background) Louisa Solano Sam Cornish ( Left)

Martha Collins (Right) Louisa Solano ( Left)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Third Wednesday: Review by Zvi Sesling

Third Wednesday
Spring 2008
Volume 1, Issu 3
A publication of Gravity Presses
Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Third Wednesday is a magazine out of Ypsilanti, Michigan. To date they have published three issues (and I have been fortunate to be in two, including the latest). Within its 58 pages and inside back cover you will find some familiar names such as Simon Perchik and Wanda Coleman, maybe some other names you recognize or don’t. In addition to poetry there is art work, photographs, short stories.

The magazine is named for a group of poets who meet each Third Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan (reminds you of the Bagel Bards who meet each week in Somerville and Cambridge). Some of the writers are undoubtedly from this group. However, regardless of where they are from, the material contained in this issue can be interesting and fun to read.

One poem, What Dad Got in the Divorce is a reminder of any separation of two people:
"He turns up the radio/mouths Madonna/and pushes the gas-/a lull of slick tires and fresh rain./Mom’s Chanel lingers in the upholstery-/a ghost that envelops/nauseates, gags me quietly..."

There is also Jan Worth-Nelson’s story, Clover Island, 1984, about looking back on life, sadly. It’s more about what a woman thinks and wants, not about love and tenderness. But then it takes place in Michigan and it gets quite cold up there.
"Half drunk, he follow her whim, stumbles abreast her confident stride through the noisy Pacific beach-side carnival crowd. Air electrified with the squeals and screams of joy riders is likewise peppered by her syrupy notions....." So begins Wanda Coleman’s The Wild Mouse which like Jan Worth-Nelson’s story, is about a woman who doesn’t get what she wants or needs. With a kicker on men.

And there’s Perchik’s untitled poem which begins "These leaves getting fat/the way a child born ravenous/almost devours its mother...

There are intriguing ideas throughout the magazine and Third Wednesday is worth reading and submitting to. You can check them out at and submit to them at However, I suggest a read first.

*Zvi Sesling is the winner of the International Reuben Rose Award (2007) and the founder of the "Muddy River Review"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

In the summer shade of the Quercus Review (number eight)—Review by Michael Todd Steffen

In the summer shade of the Quercus Review (number eight)—featuring Ed Galing,
an oak of the small press and friend of Boston area poetry.

by Michael Todd Steffen

The summer edition of Quercus Review (number eight), across the country from Modesta, California, will be of interest to Boston area readers and poets and writers. Its featured poet, Ed Galing, at 90 years young, stands as a great oak of the small press, with a publishing career that spans sixty-some years. Ed is known widely to the local eyes of the nation, not least to friend and editor of the Ibbetson Street Press Doug Holder from Somerville.
I became aware of Galing’s work first through the Ibbetson Street web site and in the pages of Holder’s Off the Shelf run weekly in the Somerville News.
The featured section in Quercus gives 42 pages to Galing’s work, the first four consisting of an informal essay by Doug Holder who characterizes Galing’s experience as a “hardscrabble life,” the poet’s compositional effect a “no-bullshit, call a spade a spade style” and his poetry’s turn of wit a “calculated ironic distance.” It is an apt description of a craftsman’s unseeming wisdom and acquired skill with words and sense and how to place them, ever so nonchalantly, as in ONE DAY IN A NURSIN HOME, in which Galing, pushing his wife in a wheelchair to the cafeteria for lunch, is asked where his is taking her, and—

i reply with a smile
i thought today we would go
into the forest, and see the
lake, and the trees, and maybe
stop in the pizza parlor…

Galing’s answer here is as wry as the names of those with whom he plays cards in SENIOR CENTER—

every day,
there is moe epstein,
abie weisberg, and sam
adelman, and me.

Galing’s poetry bears on you to the extent that you are immersed in language. People of some age and wisdom are keenly attuned to language in a way others are not. Some of us must especially focus in order to perceive the music in what is being said. A dip of the hand
does not find the resistance of wading up to your breastbone in a pool or shoreline. Galing’s wit and expression are so at one with the fluency of his spirit, after these some years, the demarcations in the language, the poetry, simply breathes from him. Ed sums up the almost transparent union in his composition process:

I sit at the electric typewriter and bang them out… It is as if the poem has come to mind long before it develops on paper.

Quercus is a reputable biannual literary journal of poetry, fiction and b & w art, which has featured such names as X.J. Kennedy, Naomi Shihab Nye and Charles Harper.
Their number eight, along with this generous feature of Galing’s work, includes poets and writers from every direction in the United States, from Ashland, Oregon to Bristol, Rhode Island, from Houma, Louisiana to Broomfield, Colorado, not to forget poet Mary P. Chatfield from Cambridge, Massachusetts whose quiet description of waterfowl and winter ice melting on the river in “Waking” reads itself as carefully as the observation “the wing display the splashing the feathering/the reeds.”
The fiction section highlights Frank Arroyo’s “Acceptance,” written with an exquisite patience for detail and palpable ambience. Reserving the story’s plot for your curiosity, I can’t leave this article without quoting from Arroyo’s deft descriptive style, the narrator’s perceptions as a child lying in bed at night toward the end of the story:

The silence of the house turned the air around me electric. I could hear the steady hum of the refrigerator; a car slowly turning some corner, and then speeding up; the wind seemed to rise with some great force, as if the ocean had come with it, leaves crackling against the bottom of the house, the wind caught in the swaying trees, a branch tapping the roof in a steady rhythm. Outside my bedroom window, through the twisting and blurring black branches, I focused on the thick blue air of the back field, how deep and tangible it seemed because for a moment it became a dark ocean of waves rolling with the rhythm of the tapping branch, the bright windows of the distant tenement building bobbing in the waves…

For a peak at this issue of Quercus Review and ordering information go to

Ibbetson Update/Michael Todd Steffen/June 2008

*Michael Todd Steffen is the winner of the 2007 Ibbetson Poetry Award.

DALE PATTERSON: A Somerville Poet with many hats.

DALE PATTERSON: A Somerville, Mass. Poet with many hats.

Doug Holder

Long-term Somerville resident Dale Patterson is a soft- spoken and modest man, but don’t be fooled by that. He is a well-respected grant writer, a Manager of Development Communications for the Boston Public Library Foundation, a former president of the board of Somerville Community Access TV, a lecturer at Simmons College in Boston, and a runner-up for the 2007 Ibbetson Street Press Poetry Award. I interviewed Patterson on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You are the Manager of Development Communications for the Boston Library Foundation. Describe the function of the board and your position?

Dale Patterson: The foundation was formed in 1992 to do one thing: to raise money for the Boston Public Library for special projects that are insufficiently supported by taxes through the city of Boston, or the people of Massachusetts. It was originally formed to restore the McKim Building; the old wing. Since then it has been polished and spruced up, and that was basically by a public/private partnership. We are still working on the renovations of the third floor. The third floor houses the Fine Art Dept., the Print Dept, etc…. On this floor you will find the Sargent Gallery and John Singer Sargent’s famous work: “The Triumph of Religion.” (1919)

DH: There was a lot of controversy around that work

DP: What got people really angry was the mural that portrayed the Virgin Mary above that collapsed figure that represented Judaism. Not very subtle. Sargent argued that this was very European, and traditional, and that he didn’t mean anything by it at all. There was a national debate that surprised Sargent.

DH: Tell us a bit about the rare book collection?

DP: We have a first folio of Shakespeare out on display, as well as Whitman’s “Two Locomotives,” the hand-written manuscript. Our rare books collection is accessible to the public, but people don’t always know it is up there. It is not always accessible through the electronic catalogue, so you may not find a rare manuscript on Google.

DH: You came back to poetry after a hiatus for many years.

DP: I wrote poetry when I was younger. I was very interested in it in college. I put it away, but always kept it in my thoughts. 9/11 got me started again. I tried to make sense

of the event. I tried to feel better through poetry. Poetry lets me be outside myself…it’s a good thing. People put themselves in all sorts of states to transcend the everyday.

DH: You were president of the board of Somerville Community Access TV. What changes and improvement did you bring during your tenure?

DP: SCAT’S mission now was developed when I was president. We served the community with community-related content. We wanted SCAT as a media center, not just a cable access TV station. This continues to be the case. SCAT has evolved rapidly. We hired the current director Wendy Blom.

DH: You also teach at Simmons College in Boston?

DP: I teach Grant Writing. I enjoy working with social workers. It keeps me up to snuff.

DH: You are a long-time Somerville, Mass. resident. Is this city a good fit for you?

DP: I have lived here since 1996. I lived in Brookline and before that Cambridge. I lived in a house that William Dean Howells resided in, perhaps this inspired my writing. But I really like Somerville.

DH: The poetry I have seen from you recently has been concerned with the environment. Are you a Green Poet?

DP: (Laughs.) I try not to use toxic chemicals. I am very concerned about the environment. How can I walk around pretending everything is all right? We are in the middle of the biggest extinction of the species since the dinosaurs. Hopefully we will have more solar power, and cut down on our abuses.

--Doug Holder


Announcements commanding vigilance
spit from gritty loudspeakers hanging over
today’s news-stained subway platform.

Report suspicious activity do NOT leave packages unattended
and thank you for riding the green line.

A roar of white light
bright windows decelerate
passed me
and stop
green doors folding open
with a rush.

Tracking indistinctly within the tunnel
beneath the breathing city I am
with a hundred others reading

about the war the game the crash the rain celebrities
the big deal prophecies posted on the moving car’s wall.

An electric guitar swirls
around amber earbuds
nicely next to me.
She sees
I can hear.
That’s big treble.

Now’s our chance to start singing something together but no
we won’t while we
stall out in this gonging long long tunnel.

You and me, baby, baby! Squeezed against each other
in the tunnel of love love love get this goddam car moving!

Can’t call it crazy—
crowded, trapped
but cursed at
the train moves out
like a maniac
lurching toward a girl.

Opposite where I sat once
a young woman squatted on the subway car floor.
Black beetles crawled in her greasy hair.

You dirty loser staring at me want me to flash my tits?
Stop looking stop like you’re after what’s up with my mind—

She yanked up her tee shirt
and I saw.
My idea of perfect.
Now I am charged
with all
of her mad

I am the refocused light approaching
the platform. I am the suspicious activity
now I must report.

See that hair see that nose see that chin that is me
my glassy reflection collapsing as the green door folds open.

I denounce myself perversely
while stepping down
as yesterday’s bad news.
In transit
lies truth.

-- Dale Patterson