Thursday, January 22, 2009

OPEN LETTERS. Carolyn Gregory.

( Carolyn Gregory)

OPEN LETTERS. Carolyn Gregory. (Windmill Editions. $12

Carolyn Gregory is the consummate Boston poet. She has been plying her trade for years, publishing her poems, participating in workshops, readings, and is a much-admired figure in the area poetry scene. So it is good to see her first collection of poetry “Open Letters” appear after all these years. It is a testament to her craftsmanship, her discerning eye, her masterful use of imagery, etc… A lot of her work is set in Boston (she lives in the Jamaica Plain section of the city), but Gregory is not purely an urban poet. She has a well-oiled acumen for writing about nature, be it in a pastoral setting, or sprouting from the cracks in the metropolitan asphalt.

In this time of recession, perhaps it would be germane to look at her poem “Unemployment Office, circa 1991.” Gregory deftly creates a Twilight Zone limbo in a nondescript room where one awaits his or her fate: `

“If there is a limbo in the universe,
this room must be it.
We cross our hands,
hoping for eligibility.
A name is called, a body lifts
from its inert stupor,
the phones ring like warnings,
When will I tell “my” story?”

Now I have written about buses in Boston, most notably the famed Dudley Bus that goes from the rarefied environs of Harvard Square, Cambridge to the less tony grounds of Roxbury in Boston. In her poem “Riding Home in the Dark” Gregory using her evening bus trip as a striking metaphor for her life’s journey:

“Perhaps I’ve been kidding myself too long.
When I ride the bus home,
I’m just like all the other older women,
Riding past high rise glass
columns that dissolve overhead,
all the women going home on Friday
in the dark.

We hang on to our seats when we’re tired,
Riding home to an empty house.
We don’t hang on to men for deliverance
But prop up our heads to keep going
Past city blocks, eager to strip off
Makeup and scarves so we can relax…”


Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan 2009/Somerville, Mass.

Expansion and Survival in Zero Boundaries by Irene Koronas

Expansion and Survival in Zero Boundaries by Irene Koronas

article by Michael T. Steffen

In poetry language is different. First encounters with poems enlighten us as to the spirit of songs, lyrics, which we sing from our youngest age, and which are often held together more by the measures and scale of music than by their sense.

Ring around the rosies
Pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes we all fall down.

Of course, of course, we all grow up to learn that this nursery rime contains a mnemonic codicil about the beginning of the French Revolution, yet we have accepted the rimes for many many years before figuring out a significance for the deeply engrained melodic riddle.
When I first read Emily Dickinson in the 10th grade I was arrested to reassess my whole thinking about language and sense.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me.

What could she not stop doing when death came for her? Death stops for us, or Death stops us? What did she mean? It was really that strange to me when I first had to read it for a class assignment, and until our teacher explained what personification was
I remained at an utter loss as to what this amazing woman was saying.
By my Junior year in college I had been reading and thinking about poetry long enough no more to flinch at its odd arrangements of language, its ironies and paradoxes. Theodore Roethke’s line made perfect sense to me without needing to think it through when I first read,

In a dark time the eye begins to see.

I had been in enough difficult relationships to hear a young Irish rock star sing, I can’t live with or without you, and know exactly what he meant. (That year in a Latin class we happened to read an ode by Horace whose well-balanced, syntactically sophisticated invention of the paradox might be translated, “I can bear living neither with nor without you.” With Horace it was more a point of wit and biting humor rather than a crescendo of intensity pitching into a cry of agony.)
For as long as poets have been using language relentlessly to express our deepest feelings, all the boundary-setters of language, logicians, grammarians and moralists, have been defied. I don’t believe that poetry is a language of zero boundaries, or else our shoulder wouldn’t twinge at sentimental verse and doggerel. Yet the title of Irene Koronas’ most recent chapbook, Zero Boundaries, intends to reflect (refract) something key to the nature of poetic language and key to this poet’s work and sensibility, as well as to the world she inhabits and is writing about.
At the onset in the book we find that the poet does not so much stand away from things to comment on them, but ventures herself into things “beyond my own/knowing,” and as we read through this first beautiful poem, “family trees,” the jammed lining and absence of punctuation as it were hurtle us into image upon associative image:

…my father forgiving without
grudge or elastic bracelets bound from one
country to another alive with possibility his
semi-precious stones strung together on thin
gold chain floating on top of mother’s soup…

The neo-symbolist French poet Guillame Apollinaire opened eyes by first publishing his entire celebrated book Alcools without punctuation. In the wake of Freud and Jung with our greater curiosity about the freely associative processes of our psyches and dreams, artists (cubism, surrealism) looked for ways to deconstruct the formal boundaries of art. E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams (in things, not ideas) and W. S. Merwin who leaves many of his poems unpunctuated, come to mind as well-known American poets who have sent us swimming as Koronas does into language which affects us as stream, as experience rather than as order, understanding or sense.
We go with Koronas on the imaginative excursions that are her poems. We find the odd things, out of the blue, among cypress trees,

the same naked rubber doll hanging
from an olive branch. no one seems to know why and
no one takes it down (“rubber doll”).

We go with her as a little girl to the boundary of awareness for sleep, when

the bed begins to move like
a small boat wobbles close to the shore. with eyes closed
red, orange, and yellow swirls start their cosmic dance
(“creative confession”).

The “zero” of boundary creeps into prominence as the poet hints at her mind’s otherness, an autonomous creative and processing entity that mesmerizes her as she records what begins to filter through her. In other poems, “lazy word that,” “lines” and “when”, the poet’s intense glare at the unfurling of language itself grows to a minimalist tone I want to say, Gertrude Stein in a kettle’s whistle:

…it takes at least three words to
denote explanation that that implies. The intellectual,
emotional or tactile that that that expresses maybe necessary
that lazy word
that is especially relevant…

The word that in its different functions, comparative (intellectual), conjunctive (emotional) and demonstrative (tactile), is multiplied and juggled with an alacrity (almost madness) that lets us know how carefully Koronas works over the drafts of her poems to make them so responsive to us. In a sense, no matter how thoroughly the poet immerses herself into her linguistic fields, the objects of the poems stubbornly retain their “otherness,” her ideas of that, not the this of me the zero boundary of all that is not me. (That last phrase comes from Mark Strand.)
While you are in Koronas’ book, reading, swimming in it, she is hard to locate, to keep track of. I want to say like Virginia Wolf Koronas enjoys her invisibility. Habits of mind define distinct personalities. Yet when a writer’s habit becomes a quest to avoid habit and to remain vigilant to perception, the stress of self gets deferred to things in their strangeness. This discipline for novelty bears traces of Transcendentalism: god of mind pervasive in nature, the thinking ego led out of the filial or social identity to gain the spherical awareness of all things it greets and comes to know.

…when I look I
hear what bounces back from my
own perspective the point of
knowing returns when one becomes
both circumference and expansion…

The poem, “vanishing point,” is as definitive to the concept “zero boundaries” as to the book itself. When geographical, social, political and personal boundaries melt away, we confront by necessity if not by compulsion the world in its otherness. Traditional senses we ground ourselves by, history, language, family, home, me, must be ventured:

clutter all matter the vanishing point
does not exist

In the simple turn of the screw of the poet’s lining, Koronas has brought us to the breathtaking obliteration of ourselves onto the survival of that moment of lost or zero boundaries. It is a curious and powerful affirmation set forth in simple poetics and unaffected language, typifying the modest accomplishment of these poems.

Zero Boundaries by Irene Koronas is available for $7.00 from Cervana Barva Press/ P.O. Box 440357/ W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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Founded in 2003 by poet, teacher, editor, journalist, reviewer, and overall impresario Doug Holder, this serves as a model “alternative literary” site dedicated to building, reporting on, and promoting a local literary scene. In this case, while centered in Somerville, MA, the scene is that of greater Boston, which Holder boosts as the Paris of New England.  His first affinity is for beat poets, but he celebrates a generous range of local poets and fiction writers, many of them nationally known.  --DEWITT HENRY ( Founder of Ploughshares Magazine)

"He (Doug Holder) has created one of the finest websites for information about the Boston area literary world and beyond..." Fred Marchant, PhD. Suffolk University, Boston. Director of Creative Writing/ Director of the Poetry Center

"Everyone at Ploughshares is a big fan of your blog." --- The Ploughshares Staff

"...nice blogging site...really good looking and's the nicest one I've seen--it is filled with interesting stuff, and beautifully laid out. I will have to click on more often" Kate Snodgrass/ Artistic Director/Boston Playwrights' Theatre

" ...with genuine admiration, I have been following your synchronized and synchronistic wonderous broadcasting of news about poetry and poets." --Nicomedes Suarez- Arauz ( Professor of Spanish--Smith College)

"The articles you send make me feel in touch with the
writing world." Dan Sklar ( Director of Creative Writing-Endicott College-Beverley, Mass.)

"Higganum Hill Books" had the pleasure of nominating Sarah Getty's "Bring Me Her Heart," for the "James Laughlin Award," in part because of the fine review in Ibbetson."- Richard Debold ( Publisher of Higganum Hill Books.)

"When There Is No Shore," won the "Connecticut Book Award," one of the quotes the judge used in his introduction was from your review. I want to tell you how thankful I am for your help in getting this award." ( Vivian Shipley- Editor of the Connecticut Review)

"Just wanted to say that you're site is great, and thanks for keeping us in the loop..."

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Executive Director
PEN New England
Emerson College
Boston, Ma.

Hi Doug,

I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your editing and presentation of our interview on your blogspot. You worked a little alchemy on my mumbling and made it intelligible and even at times intelligent. I'm indebted to you. Thank you very much.

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Monday, January 19, 2009



Review by Doug Holder

In the poem “The Years” in Marguerite Guzman Bouvard’s new poetry collection “ The Unpredictability of Light” ( Word Press) the poet writes:

“You walk with one foot in winter’s black ice, the other
in a burgeoning meadow. Can joy
and sadness co-exist?”

And in this collection of poetry Bouvard ,a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, mediates between the shoals of despair, and the light and hope of the shore.

In her poem “Balance” she skillfully uses the industrious of the bumblebee in contrast to mankind’s nihilism:

“…they do not know the text
conquer and subdue,
only the web and litany
of the Creation; stamen, pistil,
hive, haven, putting by
for lean times. They whir intently
on their miniature engines,
circling above me. They mean
no harm. They do not poison the air.”

In “March Rain” Bouvard ponders the wayward light in a litany of rain:

“…It is raining this morning
but how can we possibly predict
when and where true happiness
comes. It hides among the books
on my desk, in the tear stained
branches at my window.
It hides in the memory
Of my husband’s words when I cried out
I could go no farther. “You must try,”
He murmured, “You must try
because you are precious.”
In this bone chilling rain
of my illness, in the numbing
gray skies, a single word
opened a horizon, a road
where I could walk.

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan. 2009/Somerville, Mass.

In the Limelight Jane Etzel

In the Limelight
Jane Etzel
Cloudkeeper Press
$7.00 2008
ISBN 978-0-615-25931-4

The poems in this chapbook require a gentle read, perhaps even a slow recognition of their simplicity of form and content which is reminiscent of haiku. these poems present the reader with glimpses into people’s lives. they are snapshots or still life poems:

“the old lady
with her prim
and oh so
still upper lip,
flings her heavy
and clumsy
being off -
now naked
and wild
and young

each poem belies a secret, envy. the envy of other’s lives even when the other life is broken down, or on the ‘wrong path.’ the poems draw their own conclusions about the choices made, the stance taken, the subject matter and the sitter pose as the artist insists and often the poet herself is being drawn. she is able to present others as herself. like Mary Oliver’s poem, “wild Geese”, Etzel’s poem, “our love will unfold” evokes the same message of redemption, in fact, even the rhythm is the same:

“tell me your hopes. let’s talk of our dreams.
please hold my hand on the way. with grateful,
humble, and giving back in our hearts,
our love will unfold as it may.”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor
Ibbetson Street Press