Saturday, November 07, 2009

Camelot Kid's Triggertopia by David S. Pointer

Camelot Kid's Triggertopia
By David S. Pointer
Propaganda Press
Price: $5

A review by Mignon Ariel King

The cover sketch of the collection announces that this is not pretty poetry: an automatic rifle and guitar hybrid. Inside is rough, political work with titles such as "A Slice of the Modern Sex Trade" accompanied by disturbing sepia-toned sketches. Sharp humor appears, as in the "Major CEO: Basic Job Description":

must be expert
at creating the image of
false job creation while
using the money to move
overseas...(Lines 17-21).

No institution or organization goes untouched by Pointer's pen. The poet links the all-too-excruciatingly-obvious link between modern medicine and money. What distinguishes this political writing from much of the "rant" work being done lately, however, is its knowledge of the past that is sentimental without being sappy in its nostalgia. The tone is: Remember the good ol' days? --not that they were perfect, just better than the polar opposite we're stuck with today, including an over-medicated society. Really, is the "time-sturdy statement" (L3) of "The Patient First" too idealistic a goal for modern medical professionals?

Sprinkled throughout the collection of full-length poems are haiku, again, more entertaining than most I've seen in recent years. Here's one that amuses and produces a "Yikes!" from the reader at once: "casino daycare/plastic coins/for the kids." Halfway through the collection the reader discovers (via a spoken-word-worthy prose poem) that "Camelot Kid" grew up in a federal housing project named "Camelot". There, "where there were no/round tables, or lingering middle class/fables..." (L13-15).

In another class statement, the narrator's advice for "Removing Rot in Excessive Riches" is for the rich who are "laughing on their caribou calfskin couches" (L3) to "make wage suppression go down/smooth as white chocolate cheesecake" (L4-5). More anti-economic inequity lines offer this brilliant metaphor:

and nobody clears
poverty's airway
just the pockets
of the global poor (L9-12, "Wall Street Washington")

The poet's criticism of institutionalized social injustice and corruption is not softened, rather humanized, by autobiographical family-oriented words and old photographs. The reader is drawn in as opposed to feeling yelled at. Pointer's indignation feels righteous.

Mignon Ariel King is a former English instructor, a voracious reader and writer of poetry, and an online journal editor.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Loulaki Bar and other poems from Hydra Henry Denander

The Loulaki Bar
and other poems from Hydra
Henry Denander
Miskwabik Press
Calumet Michigan USA

The poems in this illustrated book of poems are an intimate
look at intimate ways people live within a small community
and each poem becomes part of the whole story.

“The water was leaking in the kitchen and
I’d called the plumber. He was out fishing
but his son would come by and help me.

A young guy turned up, only 15 but already
taller than his father. Dressed as a real plumber
with all the necessary tools, he fixed the problem.

When I asked about the bill he said I could pay
whatever I wanted - which of course is tricky.
He should be paid handsomely for taking an hour
to come to me this Sunday afternoon….”

Henry Denander and his family bought a home on the island
of Hydra in Greece, “a peaceful little island. Nothing much
happens. A perfect place for a summer house,” but much
does happen and Denander writes and paints some of the
happenings, some of the village life that carries us into the
poems; we float, bob with the ebbing tide along the shore
of this blue and aqua poetry.

This book is worth the read because we are all invited to swim
and to partake of the Greek life, just the way the poet has
and the poems invite us. This book will give you:

“the mandarin tree that seemed dead
suddenly has small green shoots.”

Irene Koronas
Poetry editor
Wilderness House Literary Review
Ibbetson Street Press

Monday, November 02, 2009

You Know About The Somerville News Writers Festival, Nov. 14, 2009 at 7PM. But how about the Book Fair?

You Know About The Somerville News Writers Festival, Nov. 14, 2009 at 7PM. But how about the Book Fair?

Timothy Gager, like me, realizes the need to mix art and commerce. Gager is allergic to the dust that collects on unappreciated books on shelves in many bookstores. Since he appreciates good craft and good sales he told me that he would love to have a book festival to be held before the main event on Nov. 14,: The Somerville News Writers Festival ( 7PM at the Arts Amory Center--191 Highland Ave.)

If you know Gager like I do he goes after things like a fly on… well you know what. So before the readings that takes place at 7P.M. we will have a book festival at the Armory Arts Center as well. The Fair will feature both publisher and author tables. There also will be author readings by folks like Margot Livesey, Brian McQuarrie, Lise Haines and others.

We are going to have a number of fine presses as well. Gloria Mindock’s much touted Somerville-based Cervena Barva Press, as well as Gary Metras’ Adastra Press, which is known world-wide for their fine-crafted books of poetry will be there. The Boston Review, a well-respected literary and political review, based in Somerville, will be on hand, as well Leah Angstman’s Propaganda Press. Angstman is a young, prolific publisher of beautifully crafted mini-chapbooks of poetry. And we shan’t forget Tam Lin Neville (a featured reader) and Bert Stern’s Off the Grid Press, a Somerville-based publisher of fine poets over the age of sixty. And of course the much lauded school for writers Grub St. will be there to answer question about course offerings and events they have year round. I can’t forget my own press Somerville’s Ibbetson Street Press, and an out-of-towner the Black Lawrence Press of New York City.

At the author tables will be Paul Steven Stone, the author of “Or So It Seems,” Luke Salisbury, well-known baseball writer, novelist and author of the award-winning novel: “Hollywood and Sunset,” Boston University astronomy professor Daniel Hudon and author of “The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos” as well as Paul DeFazio author of “Pros and Cons,”, and others will make the scene.

So drop by at 11AM on Nov. 14, browse, schmooze, go out to dinner, return for the readings at 7PM, make it a literary day and night!

For more info: go to

Sunday, November 01, 2009

For the Sake of the Light: New and Selected Poems. Tom Sexton

For the Sake of the Light: New and Selected Poems. Tom Sexton. (University of Alaska Press PO BOX 756240) $23.

I reviewed a previous collection from Tom Sexton (Clock With No Hands), a poetry collection that dealt with his childhood in Lowell, Mass. Well Sexton is not only a topnotch urban poet, but he is an accomplished nature poet as well. And if you look at a dramatic sky, and see it as only that, well fine. But Sexton is a poet who transcends, and sees in nature a portal to another world or dimension. And since many of these poems take place in the hinterlands of Maine and Alaska, how better to view the grandeur? In “That Other World” we have case in point:

Out of the heavy cloud cover, a shaft
of light falling on the only leaf
of a devil’s club plant that has turned

bright yellow a month before it should.
Could this, and not the arching sky,
be the portal to that other world,

the place where the gods, disheveled
and slightly sulfurous, enter ours
trailing bright red berries for a cape?

And in “Burial Ground” Sexton shed light on a cemetery, and its spectral denizens:

Past the man who was kind to his wife and children,
past the woman of biblical age,
past the Grand Army of the Republic markers,
past the child who knew only one winter,
past the peddler who sold needles and thread,
someone has knelt in the snow to fasten
a Christmas wreath, with a spray of holly
and a red velvet bow, to a defaced slate—
now a door for the dead to pass through
if only to see earth wearing the moon for a crown.

Sexton’s poetry will make you a much closer look at that tree, that sunset, that flick of movement in the corner of your eye, that deep orange in an autumnal leave….Highly recommended.

Two Reviews: The Inman Review/ Bankrupting Joe the Taxpayer

Review of The INMAN REVIEW, Volume 1, Fall 2009, $4, Jahn Sood and Zachary Aiden Evans, editors, Cambridge Street Press,

By Barbara Bialick

A new literary magazine in the hip nation of Cambridge has risen up to serve and explain the sensibility and heart of Inman Square. Published by Cambridge Street Press, it’s dedicated to bringing us short stories, poetry, arts and culture, perspectives, drawings and photography of the diverse people of Inman Square and environs. The interesting display ads from different businesses in the neighborhood further tether the review to the spirit of its neighborhood. Indeed, editor Jahn Sood, inspired by the works of Orwell, is also a barista at the 1369 Coffee House.

The new review is even blessed by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who writes, “This bouncy prose and poetry, these drawings and photographics are lively and soulful enough to be worthy of the name and the neighborhood…”

One is immediately introduced to its clever artwork, with a huge red and blue drawing of a human heart, where the streets of Inman Square are identified to be in the thick of veins and arteries, as drawn by Alethea Jones.

Here are some lines by some of the writers: “The human heart is a bare room…And there is also a window…” (Poem “Hot Power” by Ezra Furman)

“Man, amazing things always happen in books…Nothing interesting ever happens to me…” He then strings up white cats to balloons which are flying high in the sky.

(Cartoon “Love From Above” by Michael Pollock)

“Lather up with Cotton Mather…” (Poem “New England is an Acknowledgement” by Michael Sean Crawford)

“Boston loves close cropped/haircuts and baseball hats/just as poetry hates it…”

(Poem “Commemorative” by Patrick Duggan)

“Cigarettes. The awning looked like a haunted house, with all the smoke trapped under it. A guy named Bruce asked me if I was in a band…’ (Fiction “Peace” by Infamy Mills)


Bankrupting Joe the Taxpayer by D.J. Golio (AuthorHouse)

Reviewed by Manson Solomon

What immediately springs to mind on first encountering this book is that old saw, you know, the one about never judging a book by its cover. But in this case, it is almost impossible not to. Indeed, it is clear that in this case we are actually expected to, that the cover is in fact specifically designed to hit us squarely between the eyes. The very title, Bankrupting Joe the Taxpayer, emblazoned across the top in bold red, is a call to judgment. Also on the aforementioned cover, below the title, there appear two stiffly posed cleancut college-age kids with their clean pockets turned inside out (see how empty they are) and blissfully untroubled countenances, whom we are implausibly supposed to take for embattled taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the judgment that this cover elicits is not the one the author intended. Rather than being moved to righteous indignation, we find ourselves compelled to ask instead just what is this book before us which would seek to draft off that signal halfwit responsible for such a coarsening of the 2008 campaign discourse? The plumber who wasn’t a plumber, who was in fact not even a Joe but a Samuel, and who turned out to be not an upstanding citizen but an unemployed and unemployable lumpish know-nothing tax delinquent.

The point of writing this book, the author tells us, is that “many people see an article on taxes and simply get turned off.” They want something comprehensible and engaging. You betcha! But somehow, page after page of ranting, for example, against the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax, in case you wanted to know) is not exactly a page-turner for Jack and Jill the Readers. Sad to say, the contents do in fact do justice to the cover – the interior is as disingenuous as the exterior and evokes the same reverse response.

As one shovels one’s way through these turgid pages, one cannot help speculating that perhaps the kids posing on the cover might be a couple of the author’s students. For this book turns out to be, as far as I can tell, an attempt to turn the CPA author’s lecture materials for his course on taxation into a popular cash-register impulse buy. A not unreasonable aspiration which, unfortunately, it is not easy to pull off.

The author tries hard to instill popular relevance into the material by starting his pitch with photocopies of his phone bill. Not a bad idea. Everyone gets a phone bill, right? (Except perhaps the kids on the cover, whose parents presumably pick up the tab.) And everyone feels overcharged, right? So you poor aggrieved billpayers know very well what I am talking about, right? And ditto for the other utility bills reproduced in subsequent pages. However, that we get the author’s point doesn’t necessarily make for entertaining reading. To have a hope of grabbing us, the writing itself has to be entertaining, and entertaining writing is not what CPAs are generally known for. So -- here comes another old saw -- let the cobbler stick to his last. Just as it is probably not a good idea for a poet to prepare his or her own taxes, so it is probably inadvisable for tax accountants to attempt literature unaided. Like athletes and politicians, non-writers who turn to producing books should at least have the benefit of a professional ghost writer to craft and enhance the product.

So, as you may surmise, I did not find myself being entertained as I plowed the furrows of this opus, slogging through the turgid undergrowth of blaring fonts, bolds, italics, capitals, burdensome tables, fighting off stealth attacks by phalanxes of numbers after numbers after numbers, not to mention linguistic brambles. Nor is the author’s case helped by his use of hyperbolic language, such as “The Depression and two world wars made sure that the new taxes would become a permanent burden for all legitimate United States citizens forevermore” or ”Most people in the United States are too busy fighting the economic terrorism war . . . “ No need to parse – the emotive loading is obvious.

But, having waded through it, did I emerge at least informed? Well, not really. Too many times the righteous indignation I was invited to feel simply dissipated when pressed up against the facts (much like Samuel Wurzelbacher’s expostulations.) Sure, the phone and gas companies bamboozle us with impenetrable lists of itemized costs, so as victims ourselves we can feel the author’s pain, we can empathize, but the trouble is attributing the overcharging to taxation per se rather than your customary corporate gouging is something of a stretch.

And who is this poor oppressed Joe the Taxpayer, anyway? The author defines him (in typically loaded language) as “Every U.S. taxpaying legal citizen”. He also tells us that 55% of all households earn under $50k and pay no taxes – so evidently they are not Joe the Taxpayer. Those earning from $50k - $100k are another 29% of households and pay 15% of the total taxes collected, so they are not really bearing the burden either. The top 16% of earners pay 80% of the taxes and the top 2.8% of households pay 50% of taxes. In the same indignant breath that we are told that the poor taxpayer is being robbed blind, we are also told that the top 2% of earners pay 98% of the nation’s taxes while the bottom 55% get away Scot free. Following this logic, apparently the vast bulk of the population has nothing to complain about. So who is the author pitching for, and for whom are we invited to be so righteously indignant? Could it be that Joe the Taxpayer really Joseph the Wall Street exec.? Whoever he (she?) is, it is certainly not the average Joe that the title (or the cover) would imply.

The author wants us to get indignant not only about taxes in general but about those being collected for specific purposes, e.g. to fund highway projects, to clean up leaking underground storage tanks, to compensate miners for black lung disability, to pay for the disproportionate road wear caused by heavy trucks and trailers, gas guzzler tax, etc. Would he prefer that these services be eliminated? He rails against a gasoline tax without considering how it could make alternative energy more competitive and free us from dependence on foreign oil. (See Friedman, Thomas – not Milton.) He informs us that aggrieved taxpayers are revolting, saying, for example, “In Massachusetts, there was a ballot measure in 2008 to abolish the state’s income tax. If this ballot was successful on Election Day , it could have wiped out $12 billion of revenue, which would have paralyzed the entire state, since it has a total budget of $28 billion per year.” Grammatical inelegance aside, this would have been a good thing? (And, by the way, the supposedly revolutionary electorate voted it down.)

This review is not really the place for a detailed refutation of the author’s “arguments.” Suffice it to say that they are simply too simple by half. For this author, and too many others like him, taxes bad, government bad, free market good, Q.E.D. And now that he has told us what the problem is, what is his solution? Why, just cut taxes and slash government and drill baby drill, spice with a little xenophobia, and voila, prosperity for all! Problem is, we’ve been there, done that, it’s old, it doesn’t work (ask Alan Greenspan), and it’s at best na├»ve and more likely plain disingenuous.

We all know what some won’t admit: without taxation there would be no roads, no police, no firefighters, no education, no safe food and drugs, no army, no safe cars, air travel, scientific research, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, public vaccination programs, NASA, rockets to the moon or Mars, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Program, V.A., National Parks, FEMA, and on and on and on. The fact that there is waste and fraud in government, just as in corporations, and that we all feel overcharged makes for cheap and easy indignation without seriously addressing anything. Bottom line: what we have here is a simplistic diatribe, an indignant rant against all and any taxes as if they were the primary source of all evil, against welfare, against the “illegal immigrant invasion”, unions, food stamps, aid to schools, health care reform, the stimulus package, alternative energy, etc. etc. Essentially it is misdirected right-wing tea-bagger hysteria masquerading as analysis. Not useful. Of course we would all rather pay less for everything – not only taxes -- but not at the cost of downgraded services. To take liberties with another old epigram: half an equation is not better than none.

Thanks Joe, but no thanks.

(Full disclosure: the reviewer, before he experienced bhoddisattva and became a writer, feels justified in offering more than a literary opinion, since in unguarded moments he has been known to confess to being the bearer of an M.Sc. (Econ) from the London School of Economics.)