Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review of THE ETYMOLOGY OF SPRUCE, poems by Joyce Wilson

Review of THE ETYMOLOGY OF SPRUCE, poems by Joyce Wilson, Rock Village Publishing, Middleborough, MA, 81 pages, 2010

By Barbara Bialick

THE ETYMOLOGY OF SPRUCE is a longer than usual first book in “the small press” arena, but Joyce Wilson has a lot of talent and promise. She’s already been published in the Harvard Review, Agni, Antigonish Review and other well-known journals. She also publishes her own on-line literary magazine, The Poetry Porch. She’s taught English at Suffolk University and Boston University.

But what really drew me in was the concept of figuring out the etymology of her family, as symbolized by and reflected in the etymology of nature, specifically a spruce-tree-eye-view of death and regeneration.

In the poem, “Spruce Down” she takes inventory of the dead tree, how it lies horizontally, how much its lumber is worth, and like an etymologist, looks backward to its “roots”: “we sorted through the refuse/the way the tree had once/sifted sunlight, playing,/dispersing the emptiness.”

There’s another spruce tree poem, “Armless Spruce”, that comes near the end of the book, after you’ve read about the early death of her father, and its effect on her and her family. It’s obviously a symbol the reader should try to decipher. “These sticks, now brittle stumps, cannot/Be healed, though salved with healing paint./They have no use, but waver, fraught/With grief. This heart, by loss defined…”.

I also like the “Hymn” she wrote where she presents a stanza, then asks a question, to which different flowers give the answer:

“He gave me perfume/that was too strong…a bicycle that I needed/years to grow into…Would he admire the woman /I have become? No said the nightshade,/yes the geranium.”

And I would have to forgive him for dying is the refrain in “The Taxi From Town.”:
“He showed little regard for chronology/arriving at a local movie in time/to see the last scene first: the wound and the blood…the hero riding off as if forever…I suffered with the fear for years/before I saw the value of beginning with the end..”. Hence we have the etymologist…

My main reservation with the book is its length. Through the first half, she maintains an ever-growing line of poems you can analyze in the etymology theme The second half goes in different directions, albeit with some good poetry, but she should have left out some of the less powerful poems. Even so, I recommend this book!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Poet Doug Holder Will Lead Workshop at Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center

Ibbetson Street Press founder, Director of the Newton Free Library Poetry Series, and arts editor of The Somerville News Doug Holder, will lead a three session poetry workshop at the Gosman Jewish Community Center-- a branch of the Jewish Community Centers of Boston. Holder is on the adjunct faculty of Endicott College, and Bunker Hill Community College. He holds an M.A. in Literature from Harvard University, and has read from his work and conducted poetry workshops throughout Israel as a guest of the Voices Israel literary organization.

Poetry Writing and Publishing

This course will demystify the poetry writing

and publishing process. We’ll develop our

poems in a supportive workshop atmosphere,

and the instructor will provide tips for

getting your work published. Perfect course

for the novice or intermediate level poet.

Bring three poems, seven copies of each to

the first class.

Doug Holder

Gosman Jewish Community Campus
333 Nahanton Street, Newton Center, MA 02459
Telephone: (617) 558-6522

The Leventhal-Sidman JCC is a branch of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston. JCCGB is an agency of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

May 16, 23,30 ( 3 weeks) Sundays 10am-12 pm

JCC member: $90

Nonmember: $105

Register on-line at


Call 617.558.6480



OR SO IT SEEMS by PAUL STEVEN STONE can be purchased at:

-- reviewed by Manson Solomon

If the title of Paul Steven Stone’s novel doesn’t tell us that we are about to enter a world in which we are not quite sure what is real, the blind elephant tapping his way across the cover confirms it: something different is about to happen in these pages. The old Hindu legend of the blind men each feeling a different part of the elephant and coming to different conclusions as to what they are confronting is well known, but when it is the elephant itself which is portrayed as blind and groping its way through the world, what’s up with that?

Stone’s view of the world as it might appear through the eyes of a blind elephant will not surprise those already familiar with his wry sense of humor portrayed in his collection of pieces assembled in How to Train A Rock. Serious stuff masquerading as burlesque, Mark Twain meets Philip Roth meets Saul Bellow meets Paul Steven Stone. The hilarity begins very early on with the protagonist being dragged towards a ratty couch by his determined would-be seducer, who, we later discover, turns out to be his nine-year old son’s schoolteacher. Whom he discovered at a bizarre singles dance which he finds himself attending after his disorienting divorce. And then there is the hilarious encounter with the gold-digging single mother whom he picks up at the scouts’ pinewood derby -- where his creative effort to fashion a car from a wooden block – painted pink! -- results in embarrassment for him and his son. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also serious, since behind the humor the protagonist’s escapades constitute an existential exploration, a quest to find solid reality – what is -- behind the illusion of appearances -- what seems -- and to restore dignity to his life after a debilitating divorce.

Sound like Bellow’s Moses Herzog with a sense of humor, Roth’s Alexander Portnoy without the hysteria? Well, perhaps so, since where Bellow tried to restore his hero’s emotional equilibrium via intellectual scribblings, and Roth paraded his overwrought Freudian ejaculations for help, Stone gives us an ongoing dialog conducted with The Bapucharya, a giggling videotape Hindu guru. Ah, the elephant, the Hindu god Ganesh seeking reality beyond the facade of illusion! But, being Stone, the dialog is laced with wry humor, parody, irony, is never didactic, always offbeat, amusing. How is this possible? Well, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out and to have your sight restored. And if you don’t make it all the way to Enlightenment, at the very least you will be wholeheartedly entertained while engaged in the quest.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Women Musicians Network takes to the Berklee Performance Center stage on Thursday, March 4th, 2010

*****The Women Musicians Network takes to the Berklee Performance Center stage on Thursday, March 4th, at 8:15 p.m. This will be their 13th annual concert. It has 12 original acts: jazz, Brazilian folk, modern classical, Middle Eastern rock and more. Tickets are only $10, available at the B.P.C. box office: 617.747.2261.

Article by Kirk Etherton

This concert has something for everyone. (Or is it everything for everyone?) One of the most inspired and inspiring annual concerts in Boston is produced by the Women Musicians Network, a student club at Berklee College of Music. “The overall level of musicianship was astonishing,” says Cambridge resident Matthew Greif, recalling last year’s event. “Also, I was impressed by how eclectic the evening was. You never knew exactly what was coming up next—or how it might resonate on a personal level.”

The W,M.N. concert has been featured on WGBH’s "Eric in the Evening," and as a Boston Phoenix Editors' Pick for shows not to be missed. Like last year, the 2010 concert will feature 12 original acts in a wide range of styles—from jazz and R&B, to contemporary classical. Like every year, it will highlight Berklee women students from around the world.

The March 4th show does not exclude men. Lucy Holstedt, W.M.N. Faculty Advisor, emphasizes that “this concert aims for diversity and inclusion. We feature women as arrangers, producers, band leaders, lead guitarists and drummers because there’s so much female talent in these areas that’s under-represented.” Holstedt mentions Julgi Kang, a superb violinist from South Korea who has prepared a funk-fusion arrangement of “Caprice No. 24,” Paganini’s famous composition. “Julgi will be performing this piece with Evan Veenstra, a fine electric bass player from Ontario, Canada. This is a very original and inspired act,” says Holstedt, “and that’s the bottom line.

Ultimately, our concert is about great music.” This year’s largest act is Women of the World—a group that has performed at the United Nations. The group itself represents many nations: its core members hail from Japan, Brazil, Italy, India, South Africa, Ghana, Mozambique, the U.S. and Australia. According to Boston poet Harris Gardner, “this annual show serves up a potpourri of music offerings that will satisfy any palate. I’d even say that if you can go to only one concert every year, make it this one.”

*NOTE: Lucy Holstedt thanks the Middle East Restaurant & Nightclub for their “valuable support of this concert every single year.” The 13th Annual Women Musicians Network ConcertMarch 4th, 8:15 p.m.Berklee Performance Center 136 Mass. Ave., Boston Tickets $10, available only at the Box Office:617.

From the Back Ward to the Blackboard: From McLean Hospital to the College Classroom

From the Back Ward to the Blackboard...

By Doug Holder

Back in July of 2009 I lost a job of 27 years. I had last worked in a community residence program at McLean Hospital and the program folded. During my time at the hospital I got quite an education, clinical as well as literary. Presently I am teaching at Bunker Hill Community College and Endicott College, a decidedly different environment.

I started working at McLean Hospital in 1982. This was before a lot of the land was sold off in the 1990's. The grounds were sprawling, and beautifully conceived by none other than Fredrick Law Olmstead. I worked on a locked, high security ward, that housed psychotic patients who required close the parlance they were a threat to themselves and others. I wrote a poem about my first night there that was included in a booklet of poems that was published by a small press in 1998: "Poems of Boston and Just Beyond: From the Back Bay to the Back Ward." (Alpha Beat Press.) It concerned a patient's delusion about me--quite a shock to this nascent mental health worker:

First Night on the Psychiatric Ward

The night seemed perfectly cast
stormy, thunder and rain
the patient was biblical
long hair and a beard
with his staff at his command.

He put a paternal hand on me
and called me his "finest creation"
What could I do
but thank him?
He smiled
with divine
undoubtedly I was a much valued acolyte.

Then suddenly
a flash from the storm lit the building
in a momentary spectral glow
a clap of thunder howled down the locked ward.

He looked at me like a proud teacher
patting me on the back
" Good work kid, good work."

At the time I was coming off a bender of reading concerning the Beat poets: Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc... and there was a patient on that locked ward who had a written correspondence with Ginsberg--which I thought was great. I heard from the start that Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and others had "residencies at the asylum." I was intrigued by the poetry groups Sexton lead as well. In 1984 the dye- was- cast. I transferred out of the night shift, and took a day/evening position on Bowditch Hall--the very hall Lowell was housed on. There I saw a framed and signed copy of Lowell's poem "Waking in the Blue"--the famous poem he wrote about his time on Bowditch:

Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell

The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the "mentally ill.")

What use is my sense of humour?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale--
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's;
the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie,"
Porcellian '29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig--
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swash buckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.

These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.

In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.

For some reason this sparked me to start my first poetry group on the ward in 1986. At a later point I submitted Lowell's "Waking in the Blue" to Robert Pinsky's "Americans' Favorite Poems" anthology, with my introduction to the poem. To my delight I was included in the anthology.

I originally did the poetry group on the ward I worked on, but later on I moved them to other settings in the hospital. There was an article I did for a now defunct magazine "The Boston Poet" about poetry on the wards.

Some years ago Alex Beam of The Boston Globe was informed that I was running poetry groups on the ward. He called to ask me for an interview for an article he was writing about the "mad poets" at McLean for the magazine DoubleTake. The magazine was based in Somerville for a short while before it folded. He interviewed me at my home on Ibbetson Street in Somerville, Mass. It was evident that he was in the seminal stages of his research. Later I was surprised to get a call from a fact checker from the Atlantic magazine, in which another article about McLean by Beam was to appear.

In 2000 I started a poetry group on North Belknap Hall. Later I started to run groups on two separate wards, and expanded to Appleton House, a sort of community residence for long term patients. In 2002 I moved to Waverly House, and my poetry groups ended, although I did set up clients for literary and journalistic internships at "the new renaissance magazine," and "The Somerville News."

Over the years ex-patients to returning patients, to folks I see out in the street stop to talk about the groups. Some have published poetry since leaving the ward; one fellow I run into now and then is working on his English degree; one I lost touch with applied for a poetry program at Stanford. But whatever they took for the experience, I hoped the groups made them feel a little less like "patients" and a little more like a poet.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Something from ‘Nothing Divine Here’, new poems by Gloria Mindock

Something from ‘Nothing Divine Here’, new poems by Gloria Mindock

by Michael T. Steffen

Again and again readers mistake the authorship of writing. When something unpalatable comes across, we’re disinclined to read it. Poetry is a vessel from the old school, one whose techniques for navigating are subjected to the winds that blow, and the crisis which is emphatically expressed in Gloria Mindock’s new book ‘Nothing Divine Here’ in the first poem immediately announces that the dilemma is at the source or well of the inspiration, where a force like greed is being communicated so relentlessly, she can manage little more than to trace the audacity and violence coming at her, in the absence of grace and diplomacy, those gentler persuasions of the struggling heart:

I don’t dream anymore
I’m only a skeleton
thinking about water
cruelly hungering for a
harvest (“Water,” p. 3).

You can fool some of the people some of the time. While these poems from Gloria Mindock aren’t likely to uplift readers, they will convince their readers with their dismissal of foolery from the page.
The contradictions and metaphors that Mindock finds document a frustrated transformation of spirit light, as though now cast on an inalterable, un-pliable clay. The dream of a caring response from the Buberian “thou” of her address can only be reclaimed and reabsorbed in the ceaseless presence of our physical mechanical environment. It is this pervasive.

Sometimes when I sleep
I dream you love me
but when I’m awake your heart
fills with traffic (“Empty Field,” p. 11).

The observation is undeniable and subject to much of the rage which these poems express.
If the artist grasps no pliancy in this inspiration, however, the stuff of art, in poetry language, is itself endowed with nuance and play. By its nature poetry, witty, paradoxical, orchestrates the relationships of its words. To take any of its statements too literally is to be trumped. The apparently pessimistic sense of the title ‘Nothing Divine Here’, while evoking the Divine, to human senses becomes as true of an image as we get when we look, say, into the source of light—an alarmingly damaged perception of a black spot which we hope isn’t permanent. “I am what I am”—much human experience has agreed is the thing the directive mystery at the center of our existence would pronounce of Him/Herself. Mindock virtually makes visible that disappearance with the title ‘(Nothing) Divine…’—Where?

And the “Nothing,” set mimetically as it were beside the Divine’s stubbornness to be, exists by virtue of remaining indefinite. Nothing is also a wink at feminine determination, in the Shakespearean sense, the ribald opposite of something, that physical void which nature haunts to fill, that place of creation, and so the poet’s plangent song, sounding out anger, danger perhaps, but certainly love in the persistence to find and make expressions with this indelible obstacle of our human reflection.
‘Nothing Divine Here’ is a volume of poetry that will yield in measure with the reader’s curiosity and nearness, quintessentially exemplifying what the French critic Rolland Barthes termed the zero degree of writing, from a voice like Philomela’s through the inner ear of conscience.

‘Nothing Divine Here’, poems by Gloria Mindock
published by Usokustampa Press, Cetinje Montenegro & Springfield, Virginia
is sold for $15.00