Friday, April 09, 2010

Seasons of Defiance by Lance Lee

Book Review: Seasons of Defiance by Lance Lee (2010); Birch Brook Press

Review by Reza Tokaloo

In his second book published by Birch Brook Press, Seasons of Defiance, Lance Lee offers another collection of nature based poetry. Vivid images of nature exchange metaphors with memories of his travels, family life, and his youth. The chaotic beauty of nature repeats throughout the collection in: lightning, thunder, from tumultuous seasons to calm scenes; dunes, beach sands, bending trees, and rivers. Animals play an essential role in creating imagery as well: ravens (“Les Corbeaux des Bonnieux”), horseshoe crabs (such as the one pictured on the books cover; rendered nicely in pen and ink), cardinals, and swooping and soaring sea birds. Mr. Lee carefully and eloquently uses this geography (flora and fauna) and documents their value in his examinations and travels through life.

There are signs within some of the poetry of familiar disruptions crackling and booming like the storms in nature we all have to endure. Nature’s storms and the storms of our personal lives as necessary evils which have to face: dissolving of a family, hardships, and loss.

In the poem “William James to a Friend in Trinity Church, Boston,” we get a decidedly New England feel from Mr. Lee as he attests to the Boston summer with the line, it is “better to fan myself in Boston’s humid air.” A clever metaphor is also (potentially?) slipped in to his poem “Mining Cornwall” as an ode to British literary history through “lanes that twist and leap” (a reference to Tristan’s Leap and the Cornish legend of Tristan?). I found this to be very clever if so.

In summation I found this recent collection by Lance Lee to be a very easy read. The poetry is written in a consistently steady form using great visual language. My only issue with this book is in its title. After reading the collection carefully, I was wondering where the Defiance was? Save for a poem about war and another entitled “Killer Bees” (a morbid piece and hardly a glowing review for these buggers by the author), much of the book is dedicated to his travels through various landscapes and memories. The passage of seasons mirrors the passage of time with reminders of life and death.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Poet Melissa Guillet: Poetry and Art Come Into Play

Melissa Guillet writes on her website:

"I have performed my work at libraries, coffee houses, and bars across the U.S. and Canada. I feel poetry should work on the page and aloud, and would describe it as narrative and often lyric. I have appeared on "Places", Youtube, CCTV, and other local access cable shows. My work has appeared or is forthcoming in Appleseeds, Ballard Street, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Caduceus, The Cherry Blossom Review, GBSPA’s City Lights, Cyclamen & Sword, Dos Passos Review, Fearless Books, Imitation Fruit (winning poem), Lalitamba, Language and Culture, Lavanderia, Look! Up in the Sky!, New Muse, Nth Position, Public Republic, Sangam, Scrivener’s Pen, Seven Circle Press, Women. Period., six Poets’ Asylum anthologies, and several chapbooks. I am the chief editor and founder of Sacred Fools Press, which has produced three anthologies. I teach Interdisciplinary Arts in Rhode Island."

I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer"

Doug Holder: You write that a poem should work aloud and on the page. Could a great poem on the page translate badly on the stage?

Melissa Guillet: Sometimes if you are doing a play on words or a pun--you might not get that hearing it. But I like my poems to be very lyrical, so I am always looking at sound. So the only way for me to be better is to read it out loud. When you hear it you get so much more out of it. When you read it sometimes you get something else. Sometimes you can only get the full meaning of a poem by reading it several times. But you also want it to be accessible so that is speaks to many people.

DH: You are the editor and founder of the Sacred Fools Press. Is a Sacred Fool the same as a Holy Fool?

MG: The title or name was inspired by a friend of mine Tony Brown. He used to host a poetry venue in which each month there was a different theme. One month it was the Sacred Fool. I thought that was an interesting concept. Sacred Fools break the rules; they make us look at each other and society; they makes us laugh or leave us aggravated. I used a logo for our press reminiscent of Don Quixote.

Our first anthology was about comic books. Everything to Peanuts to Superheros. Our next issue was Americana. I picked poems from the last fifty years of American history. And I called that "Appleseeds." That got me very interested in how society has changed in the past 50 years. We have come out of the Industrial revolution and have gone into consumerism. We are now in the consumer and computer era. Our new collection "Feast of Fools" deals with the clowns, the tricksters, etc... who break the laws, the rules--we either laugh and enjoy them or they annoy us. But they provide a mirror for society.

DH: How did the press start?

MG: I wanted to publish people both well-known and unknown-- I just wanted to get the work out there--I wanted to make people think about a certain theme,and open their minds to it. The first edition was collaborative, the second and third editions I did on my own.

DH: You teach interdisciplinary art in Rhode Island. What exactly is this course of study?

MG: The national standard of education rules have a number of guidelines. One is to integrate the arts with other subjects. This is what I felt drawn to and this what I did my Master's thesis on. I worked with other teachers and developed a textbook so they could learn about the arts through other subjects.

DH: How did you start out in the poetry scene?

MG: I started with open mics in Providence. I then became involved with the SLAM. I helped organize events--and one thing lead to the other.

DH You are an artist as well. Your work seems to be nature-based and abstract. How does this fit in with your writing?

MG: It fits because I feel that people interact with nature whether they know it or not. I recently did a series of prints that had bones weaved with trees. I am also an avid gardener. So poetry nature, and my art mix very well for me.


There was no need

for Phoebus

to whisper in my ear when

the lark would do,

or the alarm, your way

of sighing as you turned,

the loudness of my dreams.

Rising, Phoebus wags his finger,

scolding our denial,

yet hopeful as a dog

sooner aware of day.

The dishes done,

the kids away,

our only charge was

to keep the sheets warm.

Nothing was to be done today.

We could just miss it entirely,

“X” it out on the calendar.

I reach for you blindly,

curled up and squinting.

The day has not begun yet.

We have all day to rise.



Was that the metaphor looked for?

Almost a heart, divided

into two selves, medicinal snakes

spiraling in on themselves

for self-knowledge.

Then the triple-base, the three sides

to the story. The two facing snakes

that speak to each other

across the past.

High school was over,

and who would want to go back?

But in our busy, self-recoiling lives

the third wheel turns us back

and an internet spot pages old friends.

Cut off, your arm grew into its own

starfish, and you find, out

of that tiny sea, your friend

has become a starfish too.

You needed a Beowulf to slice off your arms,

to be faceless and bodiless and reach

past what everyone else had known,

only to grow everything back and reclaim

an identity to call your own.

In excavation, old photos define us,

yet we deny how we were.

We were never perfect.

We return to the source to fetch

the threads of our cocoons,

the molted shells of goofy haircuts

and all-important cliques.

High school was as far away as Africa,

as close as keys under your fingers.

Doors were closed on that life’s chapter,

but windows were open.

Friend, each of us is five parts of ourselves:

Future, Past, Present, Private, Public,

seeking same. Classified

by who we were, who we are, who we want to be.

Turn and take the egg off your back.

Neither one came first

when one needs the other to exist,

to exist one needs the other.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Review of two for a journey by Carol Frith

Review of two for a journey by Carol Frith, David Robert Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 95 pages, $18, 2010

By Barbara Bialick

I first reviewed Carol Frith for her chapbook Looking for Montrose Street in 2009. I called it “a good and powerful little book”—This full-length collection is not only good, great and powerful, but highly ambitious with it’s mixture of deep, image-packed lyrical lines of free verse about her “journey” through life with her husband, poet Laverne Frith, and its amazing set of 15 sonnets interwoven together in “The Neighbor’s Rose.” There are other formal poems as well. However I have to admit I was frustrated toward the end of the book when she presented more sonnets and more sonnets. These weren’t as masterfully woven into the marital love story and should have been left out in my opinion. Too structured for the the “two-getherness” of the rest of the book, and dull in comparison.

I’ll just give some examples of good poetry… “It is morning. The wind is gone. Pink sailboats/flutter on the blue bay. There are wrecks/everywhere, you tell me, submerged and dangerous/I am confused by the flickering pink scribbled/in the sky and water: Little candles of paint…”

Or, “All day tomorrow, on a narrow path/near water, you will button/and unbutton your shirt, bringing/full sentences outside into/the air…”

And this lovely line: “We live inside of each other’s closed eyes.”

It is difficult to just pick a quote from the sonnets called “The Neighbor’s Rose.” Everything is interconnected: “the air begins to seethe inside the room…”. On the other hand, perhaps she caged the couple into this intense structure just when they were having marital structure problems. Between the “formal” and the “free” works in this book, I think a lot of poets would do well to read what Frith is doing. It is interesting and fresh.

Carol and Lavern Frith live in Sacramento, California where they edit the journal Ekphrasis, which publishes poems addressing works of art. Clearly someone would do well to write a poem about the work of art called two for a journey…

Monday, April 05, 2010

Nick Jehlen and The Davis Square Tiles Project

Nick Jehlen and The Davis Square Tiles Project

By Doug Holder

Nick Jehlen is a dyed–in-the-wool Somervillian. His mother is Pat Jehlen the state senator. He grew up here, graduated Somerville High, Tufts University, and currently lives in the Davis Square section of Somerville. He works as a graphic designer for a number of non-profits in the area.

Jehlen and Katie Hargrove, along with the collaboration of two social action consulting agencies: “The Action Mile” and “The Think Tank that is yet to be named” have developed: “The Davis Square Tile Project”.

According to the history provided on the project’s website:

“During the 1978-79 school year, Jackson Gregory and Joan Wye of the Belfast Bay Tile Works worked with children aged five to thirteen at Somerville's Powderhouse Community School to create 249 tiles that were later installed in the Davis Square T stop. These tiles, part of the Arts on the Line program that placed art in and around MBTA stations, present a unique opportunity to look back at how Somerville has changed since the opening of the Red Line extension in 1984.”

Jehlen feels that these small, square bursts of art can act as a catalyst for conversations about where the city was in 1984 when the Davis Square T Stop opened, to where it is now, and to where it will be with the new Green Line extension in Union Square.

Jehlen told me that he has mixed feelings about the Davis Square T. On one hand the new T stop revitalized a stagnant square, on the other it displaced a large community of folks who could no longer afford to live there. Jehlen bemoaned the fact that many of his contemporaries who produced these tiles cannot afford to live in Somerville now.

Jehlen and his band of cohorts, as well as interested volunteers, are collecting stories and anecdotes from the creators of these tiles. A few still live in Somerville, but most, like flighty spores are spread all around the country. By capturing their stories Jehlen hopes people will better understand the history of Somerville.

Jehlen said there will be a number of exhibits of the tiles around town:

“There will be an opening reception for the tiles at Diesel Cafe on
Friday, April 16th at 6pm. Diesel is hosting about 20 of the tiles,
and there will also be on display at Johnny D's, Redbones, Sessa's
Italian Specialties, Magpie, and Downtown Wine and Spirits starting
this week of April 4, 2010. The tiles will be on display until May 23rd.”

The tiles are depictions of things you might expect from kids. There are pictures of their homes, creature features of dinosaurs and such, and even renditions of science experiments, to name just a few themes.

Jehlen told me a poignant story about one of the tile makers Brian Davidson. Davidson was a student at the Powder House School and he made these wonderful and detailed models of buses, trains and train stations. He died at the tender age of 31 at the Alewife T station from a heart attack. His teachers wrote Jehlen to tell his story.

Jehlen, 38, said even though he has lived in places like Madison, Wisconsin, he has kept a well-heeled foot in Somerville. He said Somerville feels like, well, home. He concluded: “The pastures are not greener elsewhere.”

Sunday, April 04, 2010

King of the Jungle. By Zvi A. Sesling 2010 review by Hugh Fox

King of the Jungle. By Zvi A. Sesling 2010; 73pp; Ibbetson Street Press,25 School Street, Somerville, MA02143.$15.00.

Low-key, meditative, deep insights, accessible,personal, revelatory, as you’re reading through King of the Jungle you are brought very intimately into Sesling’s inner world: “I am sitting in my old rocking chair/on my lap is a solid book, thick with words...//the moon is scimitar shaped//offering little light, just a big grin in the gaping mouth of the night sky...//I sit in the rocker and watch he imperceptible movement toward darkness//or light wndering if we or some other civilization has made a base by which/the evenual control of the Earth becomes a reality rather and the material of//science fiction.” (“Moonlight,” p.6)

Everyday beginnings that slowly turn into bibliophilic musings about ultimate realities, a strange combination of Low Key and Ultimate Key, a strong sense of aloneness that triggers deep musings on historical-philosophical realities: “Morning consists of lying in bed/with talk radio...//Weekends in bed with talk radio/listen, listen//No one to talk to.” (“As Good as Dead,” p.50).

A very satisfying combination of the everyday and historical here: “The dust of bones has mingled with/Sand, and the wind whistles a funereal/March of the ancients who rise from/Graves to tell their lives...//king and slave/Equal in a future neither would have dreamed.” (“Archaeology,” p.51).Playing with irony, ultimately Sesling is both a personal story-teller and a prophet who sees his own life/world in the context of all-time and all-place.