Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dragon Well Poems by Sandy McCord

Dragon Well
Poems by
Sandy McCord
Finishing Line Press
Georgetown KY
Copyright © 2010 by Sandy McCord
Softbound, 27 pages, $12
ISBN 1-59924-582-5

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Ever want to take a trip to China, but for any number of reasons did not...well Sandy McCord’s Dragon Well transports you there in magical ways. Her poems sparkle with
mountain dew, drips of water, the ancient and the modern, and my personal favorite in
this volume, “Xizhou Market”:

Cloud ears, poison ears,
monster free fungus,
chiles in claws and stars
of anise, sticks of cinnamon,
ginger fingers, ginseng
toes, heaps of leeks,
purple satin eggplants,
fat turbans of garlic,
garlands of corn, baby
bok choy, walnuts
and chestnuts, yams
charring in charcoal,
flat lotus babas
smoking on iron grills,
cucumbers like alligators

There is more to this poem that you will want to read, as you will all of McCord’s poetic endeavors including the real meaning of “Chang Jiang,” and the poems “Yuantong Si,” “Green Lake Morning” and all the rest.

There is also the title poem which opens the chapbook opens with “in fields of tea, a deep well/holds water thick and heavy/with age, its mouth open to rain.....and concludes with leaves light with spring rain/and alive with energy released from winter/washes the tongue with a flash of fierce/green, a sweet fortune of gold.

Born in Nebraska, home of former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Koozer and now living in Kentucky, home of many poets, including Wendell Berry, to name one, she took her trip to China in 2007 which resulted in this volume of wonderful poems, which are sensitive,
honest and worth the effort of reading, especially if you like the cross culture poetry.

Desolation Paradise by William James Austin

Desolation Paradise
by William James Austin

Desolation Paradise
by William James Austin
Koja Press, 2006, $15, 89 pages, paperback
Copyright © 2006 by William James Austin and Koja Press
ISBN-13 978-0-9773698-2-9

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

On the back of this volume of poetry it states, “It has been said that Austin continues Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara where they left off, surpassing them both. That is a bit far fetched, as is some of the poetry in this book. Take these lines:

jesse, your electron
quantum on stage
the crusade of desire
to inform
palpable thighs

I turned you off.
you turned me down.
you called me “subatomic”
laughing as you walked away
from me
on prince street
where engines collided,
skin and steel –
I watched you
day after day
under hospital florescent,
navigating swells
of nurse white—

witnessed your eyes
when they opened
“why are you here?”
“I love you”

Well, you get the point. This is just a part one of his more poems, not too related to Ginsberg or O’Hara, but none the less an interesting segment from both an interesting poem and book.

In the bio on the author it says, in addition to books, poems, essays, etc. that Austin “composed music and lyrics for Lou Rawls, the fusion group: Hammer, an embarrassing television sitcom and other rock and jazz beez and wannabeez.” At the time of the book
he was an Associate Professor of English and Philosphy, among other things at SUNY, Farmingdale. Reading this book, I wish I had been one of his students.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Somerville writers and musicians in Boston Sunday service.

Somerville writers & musicians in Boston Sunday service.

First Church in Boston was founded in 1630, led by Governor Winthrop. Sunday, July 25, the service will be led by Lucy Holstedt and Kirk Etherton.

“We could have done a pretty good job by ourselves,” says Etherton, “but including some of our incredibly talented fellow Somerville residents is going to make this a great event.” The theme of the service will be “Creating Peace.” Bert Stern will read poetry from his highly acclaimed Steerage (Ibbetson Street Press); Gloria Mindock will talk about her experience working with people who have experienced war.

Somerville musician/singer Yani Batteau will perform two songs, including one co-written by the multi-talented, (former) Somerville artist C.D. Collins. At the request of Kirk and Lucy, Ibbetson founder Doug Holder will be a featured guest—and bring some publications for sale after the service.

Poet Richard Hoffman (who lives in Cambridge and authored the multi-award-winning Gold Star Road) will also give a reading.

First Church Boston has been a Unitarian congregation for several decades. It’s located 66 Marlborough Street, a couple of blocks from the Public Garden and across from the French Library. “Summer services are held in the air-conditioned chapel upstairs,” says Etherton. “It only holds about 70 people, so it’s good to get there early.”

The service runs from 11:00 a.m ‘til noon, and will be broadcast on 88.9 FM, the radio station of Emerson College. The church’s website is

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review of MAKER OF SHADOWS, by Joshua Coben

Review of MAKER OF SHADOWS, by Joshua Coben, Winner of the 2009 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, Texas Review Press, Huntsville, Texas, 2010, $14.95

By Barbara Bialick

Joshua Coben’s new book, Maker of Shadows, is a find, a Boston find, a find of a poet. He speaks with tightly-edited elegance to the ugliness in the world, which is nonetheless presented beautifully. As the poet X.J. Kennedy himself wrote for the back of the book,
“the poems are wonderfully fresh…with a superior music going on.”

The poet, who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, lives in Boston with his wife and three children, and teaches elementary school. He may be influenced by children, who say what they say when they say it, but this is no children’s book. although it can be called lyric and imaginative.

He quickly gets to you by page 5, if not sooner, with poems such as the “Rat Killer of Mumbai” and “The Instruments”, a funny title that implies music, in such a morbid poem. The instruments are the household things that could kill or maim you: “Who was first to fall/on the point of the pen, flay/a finger in the window fan/or trail a bathrobe sleeve/into the cooking fire…”

He also finds art in the awful music of nature and the earth: “He poured the ink/of self into the lake/but left no stain;/he was indelibly blank” (“Invisible Agent in Clear Medium”). He describes the movements of the earth in “Crust and Core” –“One plate overtakes another…and then the blows, the stifled groans begin/that send tobogganing the hilltop houses…” but concludes “Earth is merely earth and we’re the matter/moved or melted, worrying the crust.”

Some of his poems made me say “wow”, such as those about banking, tornado watches or a virus. Read them for yourself. Original topics right out of the daily news and yet well done and edited down to the bone. Even a brochure makes him reach beyond the obvious.

In “Come to the Islands”, he writes “Come before the harbors drown. Buy up/ our trinkets and our land. The oceans rise;/each island is a ship that’s going down.”

Don’t get fooled by these little line snippets. When you read each poem as a whole, as a growing, expanding metaphor, the book booms bigger and louder in both its depression and its art.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Writer Jay Atkinson: Somerville then " On the Road"

Photo by J. Juniper Friedman

Writer Jay Atkinson: Somerville then " On the Road"

By Doug Holder

I met author Jay Atkinson at the morning meeting of Somerville's Bagel Bards, amidst the happy din of revelers at ART Beat, a yearly arts festival sponsored by The Somerville Arts Council in Davis Square. Atkinson is an athletic and intense-looking man in his 50's who has written "Legends of Winter Hill ", the title referring to the Winter Hill section of Somerville once the home to Howie Winter and his nefarious Winter Hill Gang, and other assorted scoundrels, and ner-do-wells. In this book Atkinson traces the career of legendary cop Joe McCain, whose son Joe Jr. is presently on the Somerville police force. In this work there are stories about McCain's experiences with mafioso, bad cops, and ruthless killers, etc.., something the reader can sink his or her choppers into.

Atkinson's, (who is a professor of Journalism at Boston University), latest book "Paradise Road: Jack Kerouac's Lost Highway and My Search for America" concerns Kerouac's famed benzedrine-fueled cross country trips in the late 1940s and 1950s as recounted in his breakthrough Beat Generation novel "On the Road." (1957). Atkinson took his own road trip, minus the drugs, to retrace the route Kerouac took. The reader of Atkinson's account will hopefully glean insights to how things were in Kerouac's era and how they are now in America.

When I asked Atkinson if he "changed" as a result of his travels, he laughed: " I took Kerouac's route to stay the same." Atkinson explained that most men in their fifties are stuck in a routine, ( I am sorry to say that I am one of those slobs) of the day to day grind of work, and other adult responsibilities. But according to Atkinson, Kerouac, who was 25 when he made his journey was open to new experience, talked to ordinary folks in small burgs he visited, slept under the stars, not in the air-conditioned comfort of a Quality Inn. Atkinson told me that he (and the friends who accompanied him) wanted to feel the way they did when they were young--before life weighed them down with the inevitable baggage. Atkinson feels that he and his friends are no strangers to eccentricity and novel experiences, something Kerouac would look favorably at.

Atkinson quotes in "Paradise Road" his friend David Amram, (the jazz musician, who lead a band that accompanied the earliest Beat poetry jams, and musically accompanied Kerouac at his readings in New York City), who told him not to be a "Civil War Reenactor" of Kerouac's trip because that would subvert the spontaneity of the journey--something Kerouac was not about. And indeed, Atkinson brings his own unique sensibility to the table.

As for Somerville, Atkinson is a big fan. He knows many of the folks on the police force, and he told me: " I like a place where you can down a beer in a blue collar bar, and eat high-on-the-hog in some high-toned eatery in Davis Square." Atkinson has written about the "mean streets" of East Somerville and other aspects of the hardscrabble life in the "ville over the years.

Atkinson said Somerville has changed a great deal in his time. Now he feels comfortable parking his car and visiting his students who live in the " Paris of New England." But knowing Atkinson, I am sure he has his reporter's gimlet eye out looking for trouble.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Holder hosts Jewish Bards of Boston

Holder hosts Jewish Bards of Boston


July 16, 2010

By Zvi A. Sesling

Special to the Advocate

Doug Holder has earned the nickname “Johnny Appleseed of Poetry” for his many years of writing, encouraging, and promoting verse in Greater Boston.

He is a Jewish poet, but while his faith infuses his work, his themes are too wide-ranging to be pigeon-holed.

On July 22, Holder hosts an evening of poetry at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton.

You never know for sure what poems Holder will present, but he may read from works inspired by his childhood memories of New York; a 2007 visit to Israel, where he judged an international competition and conducted workshops: and the Boston Jewish scene.

Full disclosure: I must admit to a special interest in the program. Sharing the bill with Holder are five other Boston area Jewish poets: Ruth Kramer Baden, Freddie Frankel, Bert Stern, Harris Gardner and me.

I met Holder, 55, a few years ago, and we became fast friends. His Ibbetson Street Press published my first book of poetry “King of the Jungle” last March. I attend many of his weekly gatherings of poets at Breakfast with The Bagel Bards each Saturday in Davis Square at the Au Bon Pain.

Having worked at McLean for nearly 30 years, Holder developed a keen eye for detail ( he now teaches at Endicott College and Bunker Hill Community College) His poetry has been inspired by his experiences in the wards of the psychiatric hospital as well as by the various Boston neighborhoods where he lived before settling down in Somerville.

Holder likes to walk around taking notes, which he compiles in journals along with newspaper clippings. It’s all fodder for his poetry, which over the years has become more introspective and more humorous (especially about food).

Holder received a master’s degree in arts from Harvard University where he studied with such formidable figures as Ruth Wisse ( who worked with Irving Howe), James Kugel, and he wrote his thesis on food in the fiction of Henry Roth, the author of “Call it Sleep.”

In 1998, Holder and his wife, Dianne Robitaille and Richard Wilhelm started Ibbetson Street Magazine, now a national publication.

In addition to publishing poets, Holder has been busy getting himself published in Jewish publications such as Voices Israel, Harvard Mosaic, Poetica and recently in the Blue Jew Yorker as well as broader both print and online.

Although he has never written a book that was specifically Jewish themed, many of his poems dwell on his upbringing and his family.

“My mother and father were raised in the Bronx, so I always had a strong Jewish tradition,” Holder said. “My grandparents were immigrants from Russia, and my father, changed his name during The Great Depression from Horowitz.”

That change of name and the shadow cast over his family by the pogroms and the Holocaust prompted Holder to write this poem, which appears in print for the first time.


My father’s name
Was once Clarence Horowitz.

Some stooped
Over, Shtetl affair.
Something in basic black
In a frock coat—

In vogue
When the daily rag
Reported that
The sewers of Europe
Had swung open,
Letting the immigrants
On the teeming New York shore.

How we have lost
What’s clean
What’s pure.

An ungainly name—
A pale
Of the
Pale of Settlement.

My father wanted
To dye his roots
To something
Blond and true blue
To Lawrence Holder

No one would ever suspect
That he was a Jew.

--Doug Holder

• Zvi A. Sesling is the author of “ King of the Jungle” ( Ibbetson Street)