Friday, December 12, 2008


PERSEPHONE LYN LIFSHIN ( Red Hen Press Los Angeles, CA 2009) $20.95

I remember interviewing Lyn Lifshin at a little bistro in the North End of Boston some years ago. Lifshin’s verbal output is as prolific as her poetry, and she is full of insights, and anecdotes from a rich writing life. And what is amazing about Lifshin is that in spite of her enormous productivity, the quality of her work rarely suffers.

In her latest collection: PERSEPHONE, Lifshin uses the mythic character of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, and kept in the underworld until her mother Demeter rescued her. Like Persephone Lifshin ‘s collection takes us from the darkness of despair to the light of love.

If you know me you know that I have softness for food poems. I’ve used food, such as a hotdog, to zero in on a dying uncle, or chicken fat to connect with my long deceased grandmother. Lifshin uses asparagus to evoke the last days of her terminally ill mother:

“ When I see the early green. I’m flung
back to that spring: the news of the
tumor, words: “inoperable,” “palliative”
a gun. Asparagus in stores, even as it
still snowed in Stowe in May, the dark
hanging in. It was almost the only thing
my mother would eat, cooked to
softness, salted, buttered…

“I just love the green,” she said.

And as only Lifshin can do so well, she uses her hair ( which she is generously endowed with) in the poem “ The Photographs with My Hair Up” as a symbol of freedom and constriction:

“I wanted my hair
left long and flow
ing, wild as dark
vines in midnight
water, not pinned
into something
neat and small,
subdued. When
the rabbi said hours
after the photo,
when I still could
have balked, run
free, “enjoy this
day, after this
it will be your
husband, kids,”
I felt the hairpins
turn to knives,
carve warnings
under the pale
lace, diamond

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review of Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston’s (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948, edited by Bill Nowlin

Review of Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston’s (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948, edited by Bill Nowlin, Rounder Books
by Luke Salisbury

Bill Nowlin, the editor of Rounder Books, has created a series of books on Boston baseball to delight the aficionado and confound those who don’t see salvation, poetry and infinity in everything to do with the Red Sox and Boston Braves. I confess I’m one of the nuts and know the subject well enough to enjoy it only when it is done well. Eureka! Here it is! Bill Nowlin, who I confess to knowing, and 40 members of the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), an organization whose vice president I once was, and Bill is now), have put together a fine collection of articles about each player on the 1948 Red Sox and Braves, as well as features on the broadcaster (There was only one, Jim Britt, who did both clubs), spring training, the opening days, the one game playoff (When the Red Sox lost to Lou Boudreau and the Cleveland Indians), the World Series when Cleveland’s tribe scalped ours, and even a simulation of an all-Hub World Series.

This is a labor of love. No one makes money, or much money, on highly Boston specific, intense baseball research. This kind of knowledge is not fodder for curses or personality-driven biographies. This is baseball—numbers, dates, anecdotes, who did what when—that create the images in baseball’s infinite parade. Each player article covers his whole career, not only the fateful summer of ’48. You may know the origins and fate of Ted Williams, Booby Doerr, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, but what of Matt Batts, Windy McCall, Sibby Sisti, Wally Moses and Chuck Stobbs (Whose father, it turns out, played for a professional team call the Detroit Tigers in 1921)? This book provides photos and as many facts as any nut wants to know.

The last remaining controversy of the ’48 season is Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy’s decision to pitch, Denny Galehouse, his fifth best starter in the playoff game. The closest explanation we are likely to get is in Glenn Stout’s excellent piece on Galehouse.

The information in this finely produced book is the very fabric of baseball memory. If you want to see what scratching the surface of “knowing everything about baseball” might look like, look here. Once you own this Rounder book, you may want the others.

* Luke Salisbury is the author of a number of fiction titles including “The Answer is Baseball” (Time Books, 1989), “The Cleveland Indian” (Smith, 1992) and his novel about the great filmmaker D.W. Griffith “Hollywood and Sunset” (2007). His writing has appeared in such publications as The Boston Globe, Ploughshares, Cooperstown Review, Pulp-smith and others. Salisbury received his M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University and lives in Chelsea with his wife Barbara. He is a member in good standing of the "Bagel Bards."

SARASOTA VII by Lo Galluccio

Lo Galluccio
Cervena Barva Press
ISBN 978-0-615-26369-4
2008 $12.00

“the point is those of us who lose a reflection of ourselves
in childhood have two lives.”

by the sixth page of Sarasota VII, I was completely engrossed
by the writing, the story. this book identifies a universal struggle to love and be loved

“participating somehow in the darkness that scored against us, we owe something to evil in being reborn as we are: stranger, darker, with a craving for bright lights and blood. the mania, some mania, of death. isn’t greed at life a kind of death?”

in reading Sarasota VII I found myself trying to slow down, to be careful in my interpretations of what is being written. each sentence relates to the next, each vignette relates to the next, a going forward and an ability to trace back the myths, truths that impact the fullness of what Lo Galluccio brilliantly puts forth, makes visible.

“isn’t the real trick to disappear while remaining visible?” as I turn each page I think of how much courage it takes to write and not only write about ordinary circumstances but write as Lo Galluccio writes. the reader knows this is not just “another book,” this is the book to read and glean what it means to be a writer, to bare with the process, the uncovering, laying naked, page after page. I know I’ve used the word write, writer, more times than may be necessary, but this is what one of my teachers taught me, it takes courage to write.


how does it intersect with place? when it hooks
us, into whose bucket do we go? are we thrown
back into another ocean until another love,
another death, another life catches us again?”

there are 29 numbered segments in the first part of the book. the numbers appear important in the space allotted to them and I agree, their presence lends to the whole, “a madness whose madness sprang from a penny.” and the relationship of the numbers to what is being said is important. in part II the same space and attention is paid to alphabetizing the strophes. then nearing the end of the book, in lower case, aa: to hh: leaves the reader with the actuality of time, space, a muse of sorts, an anticipation, the finality


I’ve told you almost nothing specific or real about anything. isn’t that the charge? have I described one scene you could follow or trust? am I circling still? what, after all, happens to swirling masses, but they’re swallowed by something that’s marshaled the terrible force of its own gravity, its own substance? even if that substance is a trick. it’s awful to belong to the tribe of miracle seekers.”

Galluccio will leave you with reason, with the power of words, with all
it takes to place your trust in the story. Sarasota VII will be read many times and then after leaving it for awhile you will pick it up again.

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor Ibbetson Street Press
Poetry Editor Wilderness House Literary Review

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some pictures from The Somerville News Writers Festival. ( compliments Timothy Gager)

* These pictures were taken at "Sagra" during the reception before the main reading.

( Left: Doug Holder/ Right: Marty Beckerman)

(Dan Tobin---- Laura Cherry)

(From R to L: unknown, Kitty Glines, Elizabeth Glines, AC KEMP)

( George Hassett--front, Afaa Michael Weaver--Back)

With three poems you get egg roll: Peter Payack's Poetry Fortune Cookie Project.

I got a call from Cambridge Populist Poet Peter Payack. He asked me to contribute a poem to his Poetry Fortune Cookie Project. Interesting concept. Payack is contacting select poets outside of Cambridge now, he tells me. Here is a description of the project:

Poetry Cookies

Looking for a one-of-a-kind, made in Cambridge holiday gift and treat? Peter Payack has "cooked up" poetry fortune cookies. Packaged in a Chinese take-out box, are 10 fortune cookies, containing "epigrammatic micro poems" by notable Cambridge poets including Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate; Sam Cornish, Boston Poet Laureate; Diana Der-Hovanessian, New England Poetry Club president; and Peter Payack, in addition to many other contributors including the Cambridge Haggerty School 6th Grade. These poems will be included in the forthcoming Cambridge Community Poem. Poetry Cookie Boxes ($6 per box of 10 cookies) are available at Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St., Cambridge) and at the Cambridge Arts Council. For more information, please contact the Cambridge Arts Council at 617-349-4380.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Doug Holder to be presented Outstanding Excellence Award at Somerville Community Access TV

( Doug Holder--with beard)

For about six years now I have been interviewing poets and writers on my Somerville Community Access TV show "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer." I have had the privilege of speaking with such folks as Gary Metras of the Adastra Press, Pushcart Prize winning poet Afaa Michael Weaver, mystery novelist Hallie Ephron and Donald Davidoff, artist and activist Sidewalk Sam, Diana Der-Hovanessian ( New England Poetry Club President),Louisa Solano (Former owner Grolier Poetry Book Shop ), Ifeanyi Menkiti ( Poet, Wellesley Professor, new owner of the Grolier), Jack Powers (Founder of Stone Soup Poets), Steve Cramer (Director of Low Residency MFA Lesley University), Richard Cambridge ( Poets Theatre-- Club Passim), Martha Collins (Poet,Founder of U/Mass Creative Writing Dept.), Tino Villanueva (American Book Award Winner), John Amen (Founder of Pedestal Magazine), Sam Cornish (Boston Poet Laureate) and many others...

Many of these interviews have appeared in my column for The Somerville News: "Off the Shelf." A select group of these interviews will appear in a collection to be released by the Ibbetson Street Press in the late winter of 2009: "From the Paris of New England: Interviews with Poets and Writers." The introduction was written by Michael Basinski, PhD, the curator of the Rare Books and Poetry Archive at the University of Buffalo, in New York, who I have known for many years.

So I was pleased when Wendy Blom, the director of Somerville Community Access TV, told me SCAT was going to give me the first annual "OUTSTANDING EXCELLENCE AWARD."
Woody Allen once said " 95% of life is just showing up," and the award is partly due to my longevity (not my 53 years--the show's silly!). But Blom also said it was due to the top notch guests, interviewing skills, and publicity for the show and in turn SCAT.

The reception (with great international fare from Union Square) will be Jan 22, 2009 at 8PM and can be viewed on SCAT Channel 3. The award ceremeony will be hosted by Somerville News columnist Jimmy Del Ponte. There will be a raffle, a Best of 2008 Producers' Award, and a sort of State of the SCAT report from the executive director.

Wendy Blom said this "Outstanding Excellence Award" is a first, and may or may not be permanent. Thanks to SCAT for this honor and the opportunities they provide for me and the community-at-large!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Flowering Weeds by Robert K. Johnson

Flowering Weeds

by Robert K. Johnson

Cervena Barva Press, W. Somerville, MA

Copyright © 2008 by Robert K. Johnson

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

The Shakers gave us a song, “Simple Things.” Robert K. Johnson, a retired professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, MA, and submissions editor of Ibbetson Street Magazine gives us a chapbook of deceptively simple poems. Johnson is an astute observer of people and situations. He also gives them simple titles: “Listening To Three Women At The Next Table,” “To The Person Who Phones Me Every Morning But Never Speaks.” Don’t think those are simple titles, how about: “At The Pond,” “Turning Twelve” or “To Be Sixteen.” Even simpler are “Older” and “Karen.”

These poems and seventeen more are easy to read, pleasing, and will make you think. Take “Turning Twelve”:

Her legs so much of all of her

she seems too tall for her body;

her chest with no hint yet of breasts;

her arms often just in her way;

her hair, though washed and combed,

still dull as this term’s science class;

her eyes aware her classmates’ glances

measure her up and down:

she has no idea how brave she is.

Zvi Sesling is a regular reviewer for the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. His own poetry has appeared widelt in the small press.

It is one to think about. Remember when you were twelve? Boy or girl, you had to walk into that class and meet the looks of others and you wondered what they were thinking of you. Or was that smile really a smirk. And what does hair have to do with a science class. Johnson has his view, what’s yours?

This, of course, is not Johnson first book of poetry. He has put out seven books, including his most recent From Mist To Shadow (2007). In addition he has two books of nonfiction.

However, in Flowering Weeds Johnson can turn things on themselves, bring back memories of things you had thought long forgotten, even though they are not about you.

That’s Johnson’s unique talent. The poems might be about him, a 16 year-old, weather

and other subjects, yet you will find yourself associating with these simple gems.

In “At The Pond” for example, Johnson writes “Most calming/of all/is the sound/you don’t hear/when you watch a duck/paddling toward you.” It’s so true, yet have you ever thought it about? Can you see it now? That’s the magic of Robert K. Johnson.

---Zvi Sesling