Saturday, June 13, 2009

Omni Parker House Series to Relocate to Boston City Hall

Omni Parker House Poetry Series to Relocate to Boston City Hall July 9, 2009

(Somerville, Mass.) Harris Gardner announced at the Saturday meeting of the Bagel Bards that his Tapestry of Voices poetry series housed at the Gardner Room at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston is relocating to the Piemonte Room at Boston City Hall in Government Center, Boston. After a ten month stint at the Parker House ended, Gardner, ever the hustler, secured a new venue at an equally prestigious site. The Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish will open each reading with a few poems, and Gardner will continue to be the host. The first reading is July 9, at 6:30 PM.

Tom Daley, Ryk McIntyre, will open the series July 9, others to be announced...

contact Harris Gardner at for more information

Friday, June 12, 2009

Escaping Islam by Mano Bakh, Kelli McIntyre, and Jacqueline Le Beau

A BagelBards Book Review

“Escaping Islam”
The Evil Might Not Be Realized Until It Is Too Late By Mano Bakh, Kelli McIntyre and Jacqueline Le Beau
AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN price $17.95

Reviewed 6/12/09 by Paul Steven Stone

An unknown sage once declared, “You never know what you have until it’s gone”, a truism clearly illustrated in the life experience of Mano Bahk, and graphically depicted in his memoir, “Escaping Islam”. Through Bakh’s eyes and photographic memory we see the idyllic Iran of Bakh’s youth and early maturity, ripe with the riches of an emerging modern nation, yet steeped in traditions tied to extended families, a rich historical culture and an ancient humanistic religion. That religion, of course, is Islam.
But the Islam of Mano Bakh’s earliest years is not the Islam he later escaped from, in a harrowing ordeal vividly depicted, as a high ranking officer in Iran’s Imperial Navy.
In order to share the sense of loss and dislocation brought on by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Bakh paints a rich portrait of life as he knew it, growing up and maturing in the Iran of the Shah with its many freedoms, cross currents of thought and manifold opportunities. All of which was shut down for good (or evil, really!) in the Iran that surfaced under the influence and tight control of the country’s Muslim Revolution.
Written as a warning to those both inside and outside his native land, “Escaping Islam” is a searing condemnation of those who would, in service to a harsh and unforgiving religion, restrict and constrain the lives and well-being of their fellow citizens. If I have a criticism of Bakh’s narrative it concerns his exhausting detailing of the twists and turns of his life story, offering more information than at times seems necessary or desirable. Still, in painting his portrait with so many strokes, he has offered the reader a glimpse of his life’s trajectory that stands up to even the closest scrutiny.

* Paul Steven Stone is the author of " How to Train a Rock"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

At the Threshold of ALCHEMY by John Amen

At the Threshold of ALCHEMY

by John Amen

Presa Press

Rockford, Michigan

Softbound, 83 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9800081-5-9

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Raw. That’s the word that comes to mind when I read many of the poems in John Amen’s At the Threshold of ALCHEMY. The other thought I have is that when he writes about subjects such as death, divorce, masturbation (during a wake) there is a sense of the merciless, unending sledgehammers pounding you as in After the Funeral:

The floorboards exhaled,

walls slept for the first time in years.

Grandma slouched in the foyer,

her belly mounding in her lap, makeup streaked.

I distracted myself in the basement, thinking

of Ms. Gilham, my face in her cleavage.

Upstairs, aunts and neighbors – the mercenaries

of resilience –cooked, cleaned, scrubbed

until the house could have passed for a delivery room

I reemerged,

and his brother gnawing the gristly silence.

No one noticed the stain on my corduroys

or saw me put a silver spoon in my pocket.

Amen’s visuals are explicit, his meanings an opposite of what a good wake or shiva is all about. The mystery is his age at the event. The final result can be fascination or revulsion.

In the poem Martin Amen writes directly to a friend:

You were seriously fried, Martin, when you got back from Ecuador,

demanding steak fajitas at the Dairy Queen, asking stranger if they

planned to vote for the messiah in the next election.

There is much more to this poem, more of muscle and gristle Amen is best at portraying.

His poetry is a mirror of the underside of life, poems that reflect visions of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, bad dreams that crawl into the brain and come out the eyes. A pen – or computer – that tries to record it all while it’s fresh as a dandelion still yellow. His surrealism is Dali in words, Picasso in thoughts wrought in short, raw poems.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Wendy Mnookin: A poet who writes from ‘the dailiness of life.’

Wendy Mnookin: A poet who writes from ‘the dailiness of life.’

David Wojhan writes of local poet Wendy Mnookin’s new collection of poetry “The Moon Makes It’s Own Plea,” “Wendy Mnookin’s poems arise both from the small joys and the larger reckonings of domestic existence—from what Jarrell called ‘the dailiness of life.’ ” From learning a new language, to the wisdom of a domestic cat, Mnookin brings the reader closer to larger ontological truths.

Mnookin is the author of three previous collections. She is a graduate of Radcliffe College and has an MFA from Vermont College. She has won a book award from the New England Poetry Club and a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. I spoke with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Seth Mnookin, your son, a well-known writer, wrote in an article for Salon.Com, that he bonded with you through writing and reading. This is a story I hear quite often. Why is this a good way to bond?

Wendy Mnookin: Well, certainly with us it was really good way because he was a reader like me. We were the two readers in the family. He was the kind of person who on any given day would pile up some books and read. For us it was a way to share an interest we both had. In terms of a way of bonding, reading is what I love to do. So if someone else likes to do that then there is an immediate bond. So there you are…sharing a bond. But is amazing the amount of people that don’t read. What’s really fun for me is to talk to people who are reading, reading and reading.

DH: Your son was a Harvard graduate and also a heroin addict. Drug abuse, mental illness is all too common a story among writers. Your take?

WM: He thought he was becoming part of a “creative community” when he first started taking drugs. And now that he is not using, sober and writing, I think he is aghast at the idea he had that the use of drugs would make him into a writer. He bought into the Hunter Thompson thing. He was a journalist like Thompson. But Seth is the first to say he got his best writing done clean and sober.

DH: “The Moon Makes its Plea” is a new direction for you. How does it differ from your other collections?

WM: The challenge of the previous books was to take a single experience that transformed my perception of the world, like my father’s early death, or my son’s drug addiction. These books cohered around some kind of story. Both my method of writing and my method of putting together the book were different. In my new book I wasn’t trying to tell some story. I was trying to see where the poems would lead. So it developed differently.

DH: In your title poem you write: " Nothing gets done except existence.” This sounds very Beckett-like. His two tramps in perpetual stasis. Yet later in the poem you write" Let me stay!" So you don't feel the futility?

MW: So far I feel it would be hard to get to the point where I would let go of things. "Nothing gets done except existence", to me is not a statement of futility. It is a good thing. The dailiness of things. That is what gets done. But I guess it could have two meanings with one tone of voice or another.

DH: Many poets I know obsess about what is factually accurate in a poem. Do you feel getting the facts straight is important in a poem?

WM: I really thought about this a lot because I was writing that book about my son's drug abuse. I was struggling with if it was ok to be factual, or not to be strictly factual. Where I come out on this is I don't have a lot of loyalty to facts. I don't want to make things up for no reason. What you are after is the truth of experience and the facts don't always convey the truth of the experience.

DH: I've been told to be a writer you must be able to insult your mother if your work requires it.

WM: When I wrote the book about my father's early death, I tried not to be hurtful. My mother read the entire book and said, " I knew you were angry at me." I had tried so hard not to hurt her. Family members read things the way they already see them. I did not feel that the book was angry towards my mother, but if she is looking for it she will find it.

DH: In your poem: " And So I decide to Study Hebrew After All" you use the conceit of Hebrew words as kibitzing Jewish uncles. Does language bring out strong familial feelings?

WM: I was learning Hebrew at the time. And one of the ways I could learn letters was assigning them personalities. I don't know if I feel that way about English because it is so much more routine for me. But I do feel certain tugs to certain expressions and ways of speaking. But in learning Hebrew I had to give personalities to the letters or risking losing them.

DH: In the poem: " The River Scrapes Against Night" you write:" I'm not fooled/ by steady breathing. / We are this small/This brief." Could you have written this in your 20's?

WM: Sometimes I think how I came to writing so late. Everyone got this stuff done in their 20's. I think, yeah, but who knows what I might have written? You might want to have taken it all back! In your 20's you don't feel small and brief. I certainly didn't. I felt the center of the universe. I had my life ahead, even though intellectually I knew I was going to die eventually. It is different now when you have most of your life behind you.


My mother said, Yes, you can
wheel your baby sister

that far, and back.
The baby blew fish kisses

with her small round mouth
while I pumped high on the swings,

and higher. Hello! I waved
when I hung by my knees

on the jungle gym.
Yippee-yeah! I called

when I herded the cattle

over the seesaw, around the sandbox,
past the distant fountain.

At home my mother asked
Where’s your sister?

and the world shifted
slightly. If

there were clouds,
they fled. If birds,

they silenced.
I can only tell you

the truth as I know it.
Last week an ice cream store

opened in my town,
and I wrote to my kids

about another opening,
years ago, when they were allowed

to walk four blocks
for free ice cream,

and each of them wrote back,
one at a time,

no, I was twelve,
I was seven,

it was summer, or vanilla,
or strawberry.

I raced with my mother
to the park and found

my sister, batting
her toys in the carriage.

Just before my mother
grabbed her, my sister

looked at me, she
saw who I was, she

didn’t look away.

--- Wendy Mnookin

-----Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

For more information about Wendy Mnookin go to:


The Endicott Review
Vol. 26, Issue 1
Spring 2009

Review by Lo Galluccio

The Endiccott Review combines the work of student writers and those who are outside working professionally or who are widely published. This creates an intriguing and wide-ranging collection of over 100 poems, plus several insert pages of photographs that are, colorful, imaginative and conceptually inspired. Some highlights are the war memorial pics by Johnny Bonacci and David Inestroza’s corporate-sponsored hockey rink shots.

Ted Reicher’s poem, “At the Astapovo Station” is a stunning and spacious call and response which seems to circle back to Tolstoys’s struggle with God – a God of waiting.

“No God.”

“No God sees.”

“No God sees the truth.”

“No God sees the truth, but waits.”

Lauren Peterson writes a prosaic but nice narrative called, “Driving to get Lost” about the value of ignoring a GPS and finding oneself in new surroundings, as if time pressures didn’t matter in the modern world:

“when I’m lost
when I’m found
when I’m lost again.”

In a sultry portrait of a man’s adoration for the charms of the young Lauren Bacall, Richard Mayer concludes:

“How sad for a man if he couldn’t whistle!.”

referring, or course to her most famous star-turn with Bogart.

In the Introduction to this edition by many of the editors – all interesting, philosophical statements about poetry-- Ripley Bottom writes:

“Poetry is angel’s wings on a mouse”
“Poetry is failure”
“Poetry is connection”
“Poetry is skin against skin”
“Poetry is the thinnest strand of string between the piano and the street.”

What I like about this collection, is the variety of voices and the subtleties of the writing, from historical pieces, to modern portraits, to almost “flash fiction” poems to philosophical testimonials. And there is humor:

Doug Holder’s funny and sardonic anti-ode to spring: “Spring: This Ain’t No Love Poem” starts by castigating the tulips:

“Oh for Christ’s sake
here it is again.
Tulips sprout
like maddening colorful clich├ęs.”

Chris Tipler turns in a gorgeous portrait of an ordinary woman living in the lush extraordinary landscape of Seville, Spain….a poem called, Dulcinea, where “sea anemones scattered in brilliant reds among the sage,” and “trellises of grape drop.”

“Rome is Burning” – one of my favorite poems in the issue – uses a jagged rhyme scheme and compelling juxtapositions of life images that history is about to turn -- “The asphalt angel’s crying….” And ships sailing and “prayers for concrete cowboys” – a picture of reverence and irreverence swallowed up by fire that leaves the men dead and “the women and children sold as slaves.” As in all wars, this poem extends beyond the actual realities of Rome burning, which it did three times. Sawiski’s poem resonates with a strange abstraction and a concrete augury.

Another treat is Stone Soup’s MC and fine writer, Chad Parenteaus’ “Found Poem” from the pages of a Wayfarer’s letter giving tidbits of what weighs on a post-WWII maritime man.

“I got a mitt here –
it’s pretty nice and
about time I got one.
Nothing new on Pre-flight
or baseball.”

Lisa Beatman, author of “Manufacturing America” also contributes a handful of interesting works, among them the pithy “Glass” and the more narrative poem about buying lamb in Roslindale for grilling. In “Halal” she contrasts the reality of a freshly slaughtered, “long bone with muscles intact, red.”with a daydream about free lambs gamboling on a hillside.

Against the experimental dream-like and signature Hugh Fox lovc-obsessions in an assemblage of poems across two middle pages:


“Fun to see my Amazonasmaniac wild-piranha river you-say-it-
I’ll play it wife dyeing her wild jazz-hair black and
stringing it into tame post-menopausal saintliness”

is an elegant villanelle, “Letter” by Valerie Wohlfeld, a fresh breath of formalism
in a collection of mostly modern free verse.

Bagel Bard and poet organizer Harris Gardiner contributes a witty poem about a frog gaining leverage on a beautiful Princess in “Froggy Goes Courting:”

“Beauty won’t outscore common sense.
Well, maybe in your youth. Face it.
You will grow old; then we’ll start
To mirror each other’s looks.”

Finally, Sergio Inestrosa’s poems to Li Po and the Moon in Spanish and in translation are jewels of imagery and refraction:

“He wanted to attain
the moon’s peaceful mood”

“he died, drowned in
its pearly reflection.”

And in “Lunario” or “Concerning the Moon,” he writes in five sections about different auras of the moon:


The moon’s pallor
Turns its back on the sun
while it sleeps


The honey-colored moon
growing tender
in the womb of night

This is only a smattering of the many poems worth reading, including the ubiquitous and prolific Lyn Lifshin’s work. I urge you to pick up this Spring’s issue with an auburn cover close-up of a bewitching girl laughing.