Friday, July 18, 2008

Review of Home: Anthology Edited by Anne Brudevold

Eden Waters Press 2008

Edited by Anne Brudevold

If the fragrance of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafting out of an eight-room suburban colonial conjures home to you, then reading “Home: Antholgy” (Eden Waters Press 2008) will bring you back. If the rat-a-tat of gunfire on the mean streets of the inner city pockmarked your childhood neighborhood, ditto.

Editor Anne Brudevold has deftly woven together the work of forty-one writers to compile an anthology that spans the range of contemporary human habitat. Many fresh, unexpected images of home pop out at the reader, in the poems themselves, and in the stirring photographs liberally scattered throughout. In “House over the World”, Paul Hotovsky’s daughter dreams of long division, and “the dream turns into the nightmare/ of our house divided by the world.” The poem is as elegantly concise as an equation. An Armenian massacre of poets in 1915 is chronicled in “Coming Home” by Daniel Varoujan, translated by Diana Der-Hovanessian: “Let the oven’s smoke rise/ to mix with the blue smoke of the roofs.”

Oddly, a poem about homelessness asserts one of the most striking statements about making a home where you can. Pam Rosenblatt’s “By the Highway” voices the fundamental need for “what’s rightfully ours” in childlike repetitions: “we live here we live here we live here” – here being by an off-ramp of Massachusetts Interstate 93.

I was reminded of Jack London’s vast, crushing wilderness in Holly Anderson’s “Bovina, 4 PM.” “A motherless mob of ridges” tears through a “Braille of ridges”. The language in these poems runs the gamut from austere to ambrosial.

“Love Song for Roxbury”, Bernadette Davidson’s ode to a multi-cultural pocket of Boston, features an overflowing laundromat and “salsa erupting”, bringing to mind Octavio Paz’s classic “Mexican silence”, punctuated by cock crow and babies crying.

For all of us, no matter where we came from, the visceral punch of home informs who we are, who we have become. Turning each page of “Home” opens a window into the life of someone else on the planet we are thankful to get to know. We walk home with Tom Sheehan, in “Compensation”, to greet his wife who is emptying the trash: “Thread me into your labors/weave me onto the high day.” “Home” will make a conversation-starting coffee-table book in any studio apartment, mansion, or yurt.

Reviewed by Lisa Beatman, author of Manufacturing America: Poems from the Factory Floor (Ibbetson Street Press 2008).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reviews of Don Winter's No Way Out But In/ Soul Noir by Mike Kriesel

( Mike Kriesel)

(Don Winter)

No Way Out But In, Don Winter, 2008, 25p. Working Stiff Press, P.O. Box 1274, Niles, Michigan 49120, $10,

Todd Moore

Some books appear like comets. They get the newspaper spread, the National Public Radio talk show buzz. It’s red carpet all the way, the Billy Collins treatment on Garrison Keillor, the Barnes and Noble book signings. Some books make less auspicious appearances, like a grenade with the pin pulled rolling out on the sidewalk or a Molotov cocktail with the fuse lit, all ready to throw. These are the kinds of books I like because they are all about content and have no hint of glitz or hype whatsoever.

Don Winter’s No Way Out But In is this kind of book. Published by Working Stiff Press and selling for ten bucks, this book is a steal. This book contains some of the best poetry I’ve seen in a while. These poems remind me of the best work of Phillip Levine. And, here’s another guess. Maybe Winter knows the work of Raymond Carver as well.

One of the blurbs on the back of No Way Out mentions Hemingway and Bukowski, and while these writers are almost everyone’s influences, I think Winter’s poetry has an originality and power that is uniquely his own. As Gary Goude states in his masterly introduction, Don Winter is a working class poet, whose poetry comes out of the Midwest rust belt. Detroit, working class bars and diners, factories, the street wise, and the street poor. Some of these poems have layers of angst so thick you need a broken bottle to cut into and then through them.

2 a.m. The moon rises

above Birmingham Steel.

At 20th and Tuscaloosa

men keep warm by a fire

made from fence posts

and garage doors….

(from “Unions”)

Winter’s poetry takes place in a visceral world where French fries and broken glass are frozen to the pavement, where “faces float/ like torn pages/ across the diner windows.” The best thing about Don Winter’s poetry is that there is no whining. Instead what you find is a kind of tough guy stoicism. The poet narrator is going through a bad divorce. His world is sliding sideways away from him but somehow he manages to keep going, even though that going is taking him nowhere:

Two hundred for the night, two bones

from her dealer later, we jumped

into a Checker cab.

Back in my room,

the dope dropped my head

like a tulip.

She cleaned me out.

(from “Lonesome Town”)

There are resonances in Winter’s poetry which echo and remind me of something out of Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind, Charles Bukowski’s Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, or maybe something out of one of my books. Maybe Point Blank or Burn Like a Shadow. In my opinion, Don Winter’s poetry has all the right stuff. It’s hard, it’s edgy, it makes no excuses, and it knows where it lives. The next best thing to breaking out of a dead end life is to live in it with enormous honesty and intensity.

The note at the end of “Late Shift Waitress at Wanda’s Grill” reads “this found poem cost me blood.” What Winter seems to have learned is that all poems cost you blood. Blood mixed with nightmare chills and fever dreams.

No Way Out But In, Don Winter, Working Stiff Press, P.O. Box 1274, Niles, Michigan 49120, $10,

Soul Noir, Michael Kriesel, Platonic 3Way Press, P.O. Box 184, Warsaw, Indiana, 46581, $5,

By Troy Schoultz

Don Winter and Michael Kriesel are not only two of the most generous poets I’ve come across as far as offering advice and encouragement, but I hungrily take in any new poetic statements they offer up, be it a collection or the stray poem in any of the more quality literary mags on the market. Both gentlemen have new chapbooks out, and we the readers reap the benefits.

No Way Out But In reads like a continuation of Winters’ previous chapbooks, Things About To Disappear and On The Line. That is no disparagement. His latest comes across as the third part of a trilogy. If anything, these poems take the urgency and desperation up a few notches. These are poems of volatile hell-raising youth (“Raw”), stabbing loneliness and doubt (“Do You Think We Should”), and the casualties of capitalism and an American dream, gone haywire (“Going On” and “Unions”).

These are poems in which Winter offers up heaping helpings of a vision set in the tepid, bleaker shade of the stars and stripes that shows our home country is not always the land of milk and honey, but also too often a Darwinian boxing ring where dreams are in danger of falling like mirrors to pavement.

Unlike other poets working with the same subject matter, Winter does not come across as annoyingly self-righteous, preachy, or too “born to lose” to hold relevance. If anything, there is a pugnacious stoicism, toughness and endurance. Many poets chronicling these darker themes of realism made their work seem simplistic and effortless (the big two, Carver and Bukowski, come to mind), but the wonder of Winter is that his lines and images unfurl like flags saturated in colors that make the reader give pause with the realization of being in the presence of a serious artist.

Consider these closing lines from “The Hamtramck Hotel”: “And you sleep between the station breaks/ and a rolling curtain of freight cars block out the river. / And the moon climbs/ as the stars drip steadily into the streets.”

Michael Kriesel doesn’t so much jot down poems as offer up landscapes. His latest chapbook, Soul Noir, takes the reader on visits both interactive and internal. From the opening poem, we huddle up in a small tavern under the glow of a neon beer sign and listen to a story of a UFO buzzing above haystacks. Whether or not Kriesel planned it, he has managed to create an authentic Wisconsin Poetry: conversational, to the point, anchored in the flavors of region, nostalgic, proud, melancholy, seeped in ritual, dream-like and authentic all in the same dance.

Kriesel’s world is a heady mix of rural roadside taverns, cemeteries, farmland and distant urban mental pictures. In fact, reading many of Kriesel’s poems is akin to running across old Polaroid snapshots in a thrift store, overripe with color, an eye fastened on to a past with all senses plugged into the here and now. Kriesel’s imagery is lucid and sensory. In “Bakelite Victrola Horn” he describes an early record player apparatus as “Yellow morning glory, clear and cloudy/ as orange marmalade, stem a metal comma, / black.” The sense of ritual runs deep in “Limbo” where the poet replaces the accidentally destroyed grave marker of an infant with a poem, “Let this be that baby’s marker. Let/ this let me move on.”

Don Winter and Michael Kriesel both accomplish a necessary and forgotten function with their poetry—the nourishment and healing of the human soul. It is an important component of the craft that MFA workshop participants would do well to acquaint themselves with.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rare Book Alert: close to flat by Irene Koronas

Rare Book Alert: close to flat by Irene Koronas

by Michael Todd Steffen

Get interested if you find an 11 x 4 brown card cover booklet in an attractive purple band, with the simple title close to flat on the front. It is a handmade booklet by Irene Koronas,
of 11 poems that so gracefully associate their assorted thoughts and images that the reader can not extinguish them with simple readings. The poems are cryptic and curious, like riddles or puzzles. We have announcements of culprits that have set up this plan of fugitive defense in the poet’s responses: It’s “laura riding” (“we all creep before her”). It’s the poet’s aging mother

handing out hand outs
handy around the house
handmade patterns
hand sewn outfits
washing by hand…

It’s the “june 1, 2008 dream” of a men’s room and a blackened bombed out car.
Reminiscent of Gertrude Stein, Koronas exposes the structures of language—

that is this then
this then that
that brings within
that which that is…

—in an intriguing poem called “is this then that” consisting of only 10 different words over 15 lines. The poem echoes a wholly embraced distraction found in the first poem “temptation” in which the poet shirks typical intellectual pursuits, watching “a robin run”—
or has Koronas dissolved reading the newspaper and the memorial day parade to this image of the orange-breasted bandit-masked bird?
Characteristically feisty, contrary, Koronas likes to surprise us with gentler depths,

and when I die
I’ll miss the color orange (“grounded”)…

her humor,

her ninety three large years
close to within an inch
of being swept up…
gamblers predict her demise (“little book”)…

as well as her acceptance,
wind lifts, carries away
small poems
the blossom of each word
breaking down (“haiku 2”).

I was lucky enough to catch Irene with a copy to purchase for $10.00. The book is hand-cut and sewn. If the community at large is lucky Irene will have placed copies of close to flat at some of the local bookshops for the serendipity of curious browsers.

The Old Witch Winks

The Old Witch Winks Don Moyer (Beatitude Press, Berkeley California) No Price.

We’ve got a book of poems here that walks us through the wardrobe or the looking glass to a new world—odd and familiar. I can imagine reading only one of these poems and getting a sense of the dense atmosphere, but reading them collected in Don Moyer’s The Old Witch Winks is a thorough exploration of a crowded shop full of strange, evocative antiques.

Moyer’s verse refers frequently to the hairy angry early books of the Bible—the Lilith or Enoch times—he brings the concepts to a seedy present day America with its morally troubling politics and culture. The religious references are paired with icons of popular piety, Doris Day and little girls, family restaurants and the Presidency, perverting all of them with the language of foulness and death.

from Weedy Words & Curling Page: Prologue for a New Bible

Enoch walked with God for 365 years,
then rose to Heaven and saw the angels
plunge to earth and mate:
trim, winged bastards
buckin’ Doris Days:
trippy cowgirls,
big blue
rippling eyes,
pink panties a-rippin’

The memory of World War Two and the importance of resisting Nazis provides another recurrent contrast, often subverted by profanity: farting, fucking. Nothing can be holy in our fallen bodies or our descending empire.

“Golem Bush” is a character in these poems, when he’s mentioned and when he’s not—the collection visits and revisits the idea of sacrifice made in good faith only to be squandered. The poem “Abraham considers God’s order to sacrifice his son, Isaac” begins with a moving image of a crushed model plane:

cousin Bobby built it,
balsa, paper, paint
a big fragile beauty
gift into accident.

There’s a lingering flavor of anger over the war in Iraq and the use of soldiers’ and civilian lives for petty ends. Moyer has given us a collection of powerful, timely poems.

--Catherine Nichols/Ibbetson Update/July, 2008/Somerville, Mass.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Domestic Exotica of the Midwest in the poems of Peter Neil Carroll

The Domestic Exotica of the Midwest in the poems of Peter Neil Carroll
By Michael Todd Steffen

Riverbourne: A Mississippi Requiem by Peter Neil Carroll is a collection of 53 poems recording in verse the poet’s meanderings with friend “Jim” along the Mississippi River, starting north in Minneapolis and finishing south in Natchez, Mississippi. Years have elapsed between the first and second poems, between two similar trips taken by the companions who amuse themselves at observing religious billboards and who’s playing who on the baseball diamonds of the towns they pass through (Prescott, Wisconsin…Guttenberg, Iowa…Quincy, Illinois… St. Louis…Tiptonville, Tennessee…Benoit, Mississippi). Along with the silent parallel of T.S. Eliot’s Dry Salvages and its descriptive/symbolic use of the Mississippi River, frequent quotes from the writings of Mark Twain give the poems a literary resonance, with reference notes at the back of the collection. This second voyage takes place in 2005, building—toward the end with forecasts of rain to the announcement of Hurricane Katrina—to a sense of recent historical drama.
There is an interesting anachronism which occurs at the outset of the book: in the second poem the “two men, 29, divorced” have returned this time 33 years later (!), which would have made one of them, the one who speaks of standing on a bridge joining his thought to the river in the first poem, “I’d Stood On That Cold Bridge, 1972,” -4 years old, which gave me a fleeting glimpse of Dante and Virgil…
That first poem speaks with a lyrical intensity that will not be carried forth. Instead, mature, disillusioned, wry, Carroll’s language like the big river gathers “no white water or rapid falls” maintaining a “monotonous, steady flow”. In doing so, Carroll manages here and there surprising metaphors:

The big river pours south
as gravity wraps around the moon
(“Gravity and the River”).

Patience with the sequence of poems will yield the reader sensations of the domestic exotica which the Midwest and Delta South have to offer readers from other regions. Landscape has a prominent generalizing voice in the vast terrain—
Late sun leans against the Minnesota bluff
across the river, orange streaks skim
the current, snagged islands float offshore…
(“What They Talk About On Saturday Afternoon”)

—and the book is so rife with these vivid descriptive passages, readers are left with a sense of having taken that easy-paced voyage by the slow great river themselves.

Riverbourne by Peter Neil Carroll is available for $12.95 from Higganum Hill Books/ P.O. Box 666/ Higganum, CT 06441/ 800-888-4741/>

Books of Hope: Brings the Writer Out in Somerville Youth

Books of Hope: Brings the Writer Out in Somerville Youth

Being a small press publisher I have always been impressed with the “Books of Hope,” project. I interviewed the former director Anika Nailah and her young charges on my Somerville Community Access TV “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer” I was impressed how Nailah instilled a love for the “word” in these kids, many from the Mystic Housing Development in our city. For nine years the program has trained kids from the projects and elsewhere in four key areas: writing, publishing, performing, marketing and outreach. The youth are involved in many aspects of producing a book, and their development is advanced through a writer-in-residence, guest artists and mentors, as well as field trips. “Books of Hope” would be the envy of many presses producing high quality and beautifully illustrated chapbooks of poetry and fiction. Soul Brown, the new director, has sent me a slew of titles from this ambitious small press. Included are: 'A Cup of Truth With No Sugar Please,” by Tanisha D., “Broken Home & Other Tales From The Hood,” by Jessica Jean-Louis, “In Between The Lines Was A Story,” by Jessica Masse, 'Superwoman' by Tanisha D., “Simple Words Hide Amazing Secrets,” by Farah Jean-Baptiste, “What Time Will Only Show,” by Tanya Lovely Joseph, “Lightning Strikes Twice,” by Maisha B. Antoine “Changes,” by Reynalle Miranda Santanna, “The Many Voices In Me,” by Farah Jean Baptiste, and “Double Dutch,” by Bendhjy Wazaire and Onyx Thorton. I decided to use a few poems from this fine stash of verse.


Take a trip though my world where gold tooth boot
leg rappers walk around carryin STD’s picking
up chicks on the street then havin sex with
Them in front of the cable TV

Yo take a trip through my world where people
get shot for havin something valuable
Like a Playstation 3 or Bape Ape Fashion or
Maybe not something valuable, just because
They feel like it’s the season

Really take a trip through my world and
you would see gang violence like crazy
like blood fighting crips and MS13
fighting brave hearts.

Yo, if you took a trip through my world
love would be nothing but a dream
and hate would rule the world.

Shoot take a trip through my world and
you would get shot. Not even I would
take a trip through that world.

------Farah Jean-Baptiste


In the mirror in front of me
I see the real me…
The me that’s afraid to walk out
of the shadows and into the light
The me that you don’t know
but would like to know
The me that has felt the troubles
and sorrows of life
The me that’s crying on the inside
trying to find his way out of this world
that he came in
But too much stress going through his head
it just feels like he’s caving in.

In the mirror in front of me
I see a person who has mastered
the skill of illusions
A person who mastered the art

of hiding his true colors
A person who has mastered the skill
of shadowing his emotions
But knowing all that he still doesn’t know

---Bendhjy Nazaire


This feeling is forever
A feeling I’ll never treasure
It brings tears and makes my legs quiver
It burns inside when I think of the 9 months
I’ll never see
How I had something growing inside me
A baby
My heart shatters when I think of the face

I’ll never see
How I knew someone that never got the chance
To know me
But my dream of holding you is gone
It will never be
But your spirit will continue to play on inside me
Like a never ending melody
While my tears become a river
And the river an ocean
An ocean of what could have been
But can never be.

Tanya Lovely Joseph

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review: The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel

The Man In The Booth
In The Midtown Tunnel
By Doug Holder
ISBN 978-1-4357-1957-6
65 pages at 13.00 paperback
Cervena Barva Press
P.O. Box 440357
W. Somerville MA 02144-3222

Doug Holder’s poetry has been defined by a study of people in their native environment. Whether on the street, in a psychiatric ward, or in the cocoon of family, his canny eyes miss nothing. He passes no judgments, makes no assumptions about those who daily cross his path or reside in the recesses of memory. This book is a gentle record of human behavior, compassionate psalms for the unusual and the mundane activities that dance through his day.

Holder’s revelations include personal snapshots. Consider this excerpt from “I Saw Myself On The Dudley Bus That Day:”

Half light,
No hair.
A bus of exiles
Each mired
In their personal

“In The Twin Towers” is Holder’s take on a murder that occurred in the Cambridge MA projects decades ago. In this stunning poem, an elderly man tries to remember why he loved his wife, then murders her in the smothering heat of summer:

He thinks of her gnarled hands
The liver spots --
Musing how her ring held on
To the bony corpse of her finger.

Simply and powerfully, the poet epitomizes frail defiance in “Cambridge Mass: Two Old Women:”

Arm in arm
A tight embrace
Of frail appendages
Pushing each other
At no more
Than a snail’s pace.

Each morning
Refusing the pull
Of age’s inertia

“A Dream of Minnie Baum” is Holder’s recollection of his grandmother. The moment is perfectly captured:

I sit in the deep creases of her sundress,
A purple flourish of fabric flowers,
Stunned by the musty cabal of her perfume.
My head resting on her soft deflated breasts
She exchanges Yiddish for English with mother
Tit for tat.

In these poems, Holder’s words reflect the intimacy and loneliness of humanity. Words flow quietly but memorably on these pages. Highly recommended.

Review by Laurel Johnson * Laurel Johnson is a Book Reviewer for the Midwest Book Review.