Thursday, March 19, 2009


(Photo: Jack Scully)


Mignon Ariel King is a dyed-in-the wool Boston poet. In her introduction to her new collection of poetry “The Woods Have Words,” she invites the reader to:"…stroll along the Charles River… walk through the streets of Boston,…or zip under and over the state of Massachusetts on the country’s oldest subway.” King was born some 40 odd years ago in the bosom of Boston City Hospital. She grew up in Roxbury,later earned a couple of advanced degrees, and was an adjunct professor of English at several local colleges.

She describes herself as a woman who is happily single, bookish, urban, multicultural, nocturnal; a complex woman of refined sensibilities, but she can just as easily down a few beers, and yelp for the home team.

King said she was introduced to poetry as a young kid when she was given a “fat” anthology of children’s poetry edited by Helen Ferris. She read it cover to cover, and soon started to write her own poetry. And finally, after all these years, she has penned her own poetry collection.

King said that poetry is her favorite medium because she said: “ I can’t write fiction.” King lists some of her favorite poets and writers as: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros, to name a few.

“The Woods Have Words” is of course set in Boston—a place that King will always consider home. She can’t imagine a city without a river, and Boston has the Charles, and as the song goes: “She loves that muddy water.”

Interestingly enough King said she views Boston as a character in her book. She explores the different sections of Boston, many of them which she has lived in and worked in. “They all become part of you,” she reflected.

And this denizen of the asphalt, this walker in the city, considers herself a nature poet as well! She laughed: “ Skyscrapers are as natural as trees to me.”

King is no wallflower at the party, a weeping willow in the woods. She said her poetry is the poetry of a strong woman – a message that is clearly evident in her work. King doesn’t want to be know as an “African-American” poet. She won't be typecaste by biology, she insisted. She simply wants to be known as a writer with a capital W. She identifies with no school of poetry. She says simply and firmly that her work is multicultural.

King said she finds a lot of women writers write about their kids and gardening—a subject matter she see too much among her peers. She lists Sharon Olds and Deborah Garrison as poets who break the mold. Local poets Carolyn Gregory and Jessica Harman are poets she greatly admires.

She is currently working on a new collection “View of the Charles,” that will be a straightforward, Bukowski-style collection. It will be a lyrical journey through Boston, the home of the Bean, the Cod, and the King.

To order “The Woods Have Words” go to:


Sox-capped men with silvered white pushcarts peddle
honey-roasted peanuts on the Boston Common.
Whatever happened to roasted chestnuts, clutched
in tiny brown paper bags, crooked in fedora-topped

daddies' grey-tweeded arms, the evening edition
of the Globe absorbing the extra heat? My officemate
offers a dissertation on today's male after I am foolish
enough to ask her opinion on the vanishing breeds.

It seems wrong not to love trees and men
and the fruit of them while shuffling the pulp of
a thousand murdered trees in an attempt to make
a living without missing another life.

--from The Woods Have Words, p.7

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If The Delta Was The Sea by Dick Lourie

If The Delta Was The Sea

by Dick Lourie

Hanging Loose Press, $18

Brooklyn, NY

Copyright © 2009 by Dick Lourie

ISBN 978-1-934909-02-7

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Let me preface this review by saying I have never been a big fan of Dick Lourie’s poetry. There were some poems in Ghost Writer (Hanging Loose Press) that I liked a lot and some that I just liked. The totality was mostly unsatisfying.

Now Lourie has a new volume of poetry which, for me, would have been much better as a memoir or even a non-fiction travel piece. Yet as poetry, it provides insight into things few of us know about: the blues, the Mississippi Delta and Dick Lourie’s thoughts and experiences. Of particular interest is Lourie’s “eastern liberalism” which reflects his deep felt feelings for minorities and women.

For example in “Three Recent Trips To The Golden Past: East Village, Clarksdale, Athens” Lourie reminds the reader of what the “old south” was like as well as his humanitarian views about slaves and women:

“in Athens I walked through the Agora

where the ancients shopped gossiped argued sent

slaves on errands and male citizens met

for democratic decision making”

However, he also has keen sense of what it was to be Native American, particularly Chicksaw, and since that particular tribe were in the Delta and Memphis areas, back in the 1950s the Chicago White Sox had a minor league team in Memphis called the Chicksaws, Chicks for short. But rather than digress with my trivia here is more of Lourie who has explained how the Chicksaw were treated and what kind of reward they received. It comes from his poem “Rights”:

“...after the

Chicksaw wrote this to Andrew Jackson

in 1831 they were moved west –

in Mississippi the white pioneers

thrived with black slaves cleared swamps planted cotton”

or take this piece from “Dear Manager” in which Lourie discovers all is not what it appears to be:

after lunch with Andy Carr at the Rest

Haven my wife and I joke that there are

some topics we must manage to avoid

discussing with Andy his politics

being conservative and quite far from

our left end of the spectrum but then it

occurs to me that (as so often in

Clarksdale) the joke is on me...”

To find out what the joke on him is, you might want to read this poem.

Overall, I wish this were a prose travel piece, then it would have a wider circulation and provided non-poetry readers with some education they could probably use because as purveyor of Delta blues and Delta history, Lourie provides a good read.

*Zvi Sesling is the editor of the Muddy River Poetry Review

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review of The Curvature of Blue by Lucille Lang Day

Review of The Curvature of Blue by Lucille Lang Day, Cervena Barva Press, 2009

By Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)

The Curvature of Blue is a fascinating collection of poems from a great small press whose publisher is particularly fond of languages. But the language from which the power of this volume evolves is not eastern European but the language of science. Like other poets who love nature, the author, who has a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education from the University of California at Berkeley (and several other degrees, including zoology and creative writing), has a palette of words that gives her a unique voice.

Here is how she dealt poetically with the death of her father in “A Death”—

“It was inevitable as the day the universe lit up/after a hundred million years of blackness,/as clouds of gas collapsed and ignited/…It was impossible as the intricate movements/of millions of creatures since the dawn of life,/each one finding its only mate to enable/my father’s life to blaze for a moment, eons/later, on a blue-green planet, in a sea of stars.”

She’s certainly a scientist, but is she a mystic? She sometimes acknowledges a sense of the divine, but she doesn’t seem to be religious. She’s wide eyed in amazement, but not directly spiritual. She addresses this in “God of the Jellyfish”:

“The god of the jellyfish/must be a luminous, translucent bowl/the size of a big top,/drifting upside down/in an unbounded sea…And the god of the jellyfish/gave them ocelli/that shine like the eyes on a butterfly wing/…and does not/expect worship or even praise…”

In “Birding: A Love Poem”, the dance of DNA continues on: “I surrender my molecules, too,/swirling in flocks, layer upon layer,/in my cells, like so many birds/with hollow bones and rapid hearts/heading south, the air full of wings,/dazzling, alive with offerings.”

A great villanelle and love poem is “Color of the Universe”, where she addresses a startling scientific claim by John Noble Wilford, who wrote in the New York Times, “The universe is really beige. Get used to it.”

“I can’t believe the universe is tan,/Not red or green or lavender or blue./I feel carnelian when you take my hand—“ But one poem over, she writes of “A Blessing in Beige”: “A bird in flight outshines its silver cage./If the sky’s too bright the stars shine unseen./May our stars burn brighter as we age./Hurray, the color of the universe is beige!”

But the most important question of this book is who is this poet,Lucille Lang Day,
and why haven’t I heard of her before?! She’s written four previous collections and three chapbooks. She’s also the director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, and is the director of an “interactive children’s museum” in Berkeley, California.

Once again the small press gives voice to poets just as deserving of being a “known” as the bigger, commercial houses, who fortunately have captured at least some of the greats.

But Day also proves she can write in other voices altogether in her poetry repertoire. In a section of the book called “Strangers”, she gets into some political and other themes such as “The Liberation of Baghdad”, “The Product is Safe”, and “At Dulles International After Visiting the Holocaust Museum”, to name a few.

She also shows her keen eye for detail in such poems as this one about a flood in her home, “After the Deluge”: “…when the water floods office and bedroom,/then drains into the hall and dining room downstairs,/filling the chandeliers like vases/and staining the ceilings/whose paint now hangs loose/like curling sheets of ancient parchment…”

These are modern, yet ancient pages well worth reading. I strongly encourage you to read “The Curvature of Blue”!

--By Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Paul Steven Stone: “It was if someone hit me on the side of the head and said: ‘Now you are going to write the novel you are supposed to.’”

Paul Steven Stone: “It was as if someone hit me on the side of the head and said: ‘Now you are going to write the novel you are supposed to.’”

By Doug Holder

Paul Steven Stone is the creative director of W.B. Mason, and the author of “Or So It Seems” released by the local Blind Elephant Press. He is a regular at the Bagel Bards, a literary group that meets in Somerville, Mass., and since he has promotion in his blood, he is never without cards and bookmarks to tout his novel. “Or So It Seems” deals with a Woody Allenish, neurotic, type of guy, who searches for truth, spiritual salvation, and sex, guided by an odd and avuncular Hindu deity figure. This all takes place in the environs of Boston and Cambridge, Mass. With this unusual conceit of eastern religion and borscht belt humor, Stone takes us on a rollercoaster of a ride that only lets up when we finish reading. I spoke to Stone on my Somerville Community Access TV Show, “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: When you started this novel “Or So It Seems” you were divorced, bitter and angry. How about when you finished the novel?

Paul Stone: It is an interesting arc that I traveled. The novel evolved into something bigger and less driven by the forces that made me start the novel. There has always been a novel in me. When I started “Or So It Seems’ I was bitter, I needed to feel like the victim, and my now ex-wife was the guilty party. I was told that my first attempt with the novel lacked narrative tension. I sat down to reorder events. As soon as I did this, this spiritual aspect came in to play. It was if someone hit me on the side of the head and said: “Now you are going to write the novel you are supposed to.” All of a sudden all these concepts and ideas came flooding in. I really hadn’t wanted to rewrite.

DH: Was it therapeutic for you?

Ps: Absolutely. It saved at least 20 years of paid therapy. It allowed me to vent…the time to look closely at something. I moved on from feeling like a victim all the time. I am no longer a victim but the author of a novel.

DH: Before you started your rewrite of you said it was like you heard a voice guiding you. If you had to personify the voice who would it be?

PS: Well I am not hearing voices! But I feel there is someone, a muse, or some force, an elder, whatever that helps me. An entity that wakes me up at 3AM with ideas. I’m in advertising. I get ideas for my work as well that way —they come from somewhere. I get a lot from these “voices”

DH: The protagonist, Paul Peterson, constantly steps back with his spiritual guru—to observe the material world/ reality. In a way this is like the novelist, right?

PS: I think so. One of the intriguing conceits of the novel is that Petersen talks in the present moment sharing the action with the reader, as if the reader was there. It is almost as if the narrator and the reader are there at the same time together—going through it. The first time I wrote this I didn’t need the conceit. The 2nd time it made sense.

DH: The writer Thomas Wolfe holed up in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC and wrote (standing up) for hours on end. It was described as “automatic writing” Anything like that happen with you?

PS: No. I have had experiences where things get done through me so easily all I have to do is make the pen hit the paper. Other times I have to sit down and think about it.

DH: A lot of writers self-promote these days. How do you going about getting the word out for your book?

PS: I took a workshop at Grub Street, given by this lady who recently had a successful book. I was amazed at how she had treated marketing her book as if it was an advertising campaign. Up until this time I had not thought about it this way. But she was very methodical. She had a website in place; she had pieces that she would send out to the different publishing arms. She had different elements—it seemed all part of a brand. So I saw what I was supposed to do. The way I approached it was I looked at every avenue that was low cost. I made business cards. I have unique cards that fold out like little books, with reviews from readers inside. I try to take the least expensive avenues and try to do it at a high level. A level that people don’t expect from someone who is doing it himself. If you act as if the book is important in everything you do it will seem important. The book will be treated importantly.

DH: In the book you write about the advertising world. It is not a flattering picture.

PS: I think the world would be a much better place without advertising. But there is always going to be advertising, and it is a business, so I think of myself as a positive influence. So it is good to have people in the industry like that. The work I do for W.B. Mason is fun stuff. People enjoy seeing the TV commercials. But I think there is something shallow where art is second to commerce.

DH: Can you tell us about your next book that will be a collection of columns you wrote for a south shore newspaper.

PS: Yes. They were written in many different voices and with many different subjects. Some were short fiction pieces, one column celebrated adversity. The columns deal with things I found of interest or concerned me at the time. The book will be called “How to Train a Rock.” I wrote a series of columns on training rocks. This will be a diverse collection.