Saturday, December 31, 2011

This Time by Robert Gibbons

This Time

By Robert Gibbons

ISBN: 0-9824263-3-X

Nine Point Publishing

Bridgton, Maine

216 pages


Reviewed by Dennis Daly

As I read through Robert Gibbons’ lengthy book of prose poems, This Time, I felt transported from page to page, not in the usual bookish way, but architecturally. The poems have the feel of lived-in rooms, each decorative item and essential furnishing intimately connected to its neighboring artifact in some sensory or psychological way.

There is an old story told about Simonides, the ancient Greek poet and verse innovator. While attending a drunken party with friends, relatives and a multitude of invited guests, he had to leave for a moment. After he had exited the party, a freak storm hit the building and demolished it. By the time the victims had been uncovered their bodies were unrecognizable even to family members. Simonides, however, identified them all. They had been forever ordered in his poetic memory and all that was left for him to do was recite.

Gibbons is the Simonides of the prose poem. He has revolutionized the form and made it into something new and wonderful. His poetics populate the kitchens, the dens, the bedrooms, the halls, and the balconies of a grand internal palace, a palace haunted by poltergeists and other phenomena, both real and fictive.

Once inside his palace, Gibbons’ mind works fast. Some of his pieces are densely packed, some would argue over packed with detail. In fact in his first short poem, Silence’s Desire, he seems to be admonishing himself,

There is that silence which has at its sole desire language, music,

primal cry! There is that silence whose immensity rests upon Soul’s

desire, language, music, primal cry! Quiet down now.

In Vortex of Inclusion, Gibbons’ art leaps from Debussy’s La Mer to the local waterfront, which seems to give him worldwide connections, to a Mallarmè letter,

… Mallarmè writes in 1885 that the present is an

“interregnum,” an obsolescence with which the poet has no business

getting involved. Advises writing “mysteriously,” thinking only of

the future, or no Time at all.

Dreams proliferate in Gibbons’ poems. Since dreams do not conform to the rules of traditional time, they fit right into the design features. The Geography of Dreams ends this way,

… Hurried from my station at

the circulation desk to write down the dream of waves in the bay in

Zihuatanejo, standing on top of the world in Boston, brushing past

Death with an “Excuse me,” & all the geography enclosed in the atlas,

when suddenly my father came by asking if he could cook supper for

me, peering over my shoulder interested in what I’d already written


A good number of poems at the heart of the book are meditations on Goya or paintings by Goya. Especially interesting in this dream context is a piece called Goya’s Etching, Murio La Verdad (Truth Has Died). The poem leads into narrative explanation of the book’s cover with this,

Unusual, insistent dream, consisting of words alone: the image

of black letters falling down against white space, as if vortex, or

river, & led, strange as it seems, by the Spanish word obra, or work.


Perhaps “uncanny.” But I think not so much in these poems, where images, numbers, and names collide in a timeless museum of movement.

This Goya theme is beautifully alluded to by the book’s gorgeous cover. Referring, of course to Ernest Hemingway the narrator comments with rising pleasure in Goya’s Passionate Introduction,

… I never bothered with Death in the Afternoon, until now. He refers

to Goya by page 3. Makes the art and knowledge of drinking wine

analogous to the art & knowledge of bullfighting by page 10. Goya

wine & the printed word, what more, (other than friend or woman), can

a man want at this stage?

Goya’s use of the moment coincides with Gibbons concept of no time. The poem Time = Goya explains:

Time went nowhere away from Goya at the hora de la verdad, or

moment of Truth, when Death enters the ring for the kill. For Goya

used to such ajustarse, or close infighting, & having fully encompassed

it, Time remained right there in his heart, eyes, and hands. Whereas,

even today, time embodies Goya; Time frees Goya; Time is Goya.

In Salem Came Back To Me Before I Came Back To Salem Gibbons deals with the non- chronology of his home town. Again he seems to be reciting or interpreting this interior architecture. These intimate and memorized details come to him not in a dream but in the next best thing, an insomniac’s trance. He says,

… during a brutal two hour bout with insomnia images

arrived, not chronologically, but a montage of streets and workplaces,

people and events, transient & permanent. I’ll document it as between

1:45-3:45 a.m.

Notice that Gibbons is straining to reconcile his artistic vision with reality and often they don’t correspond exactly; nor should they. Further on in the poem the same thing happens,

… working at Met-Com on Derby, the library on Lafayette,

or cataloguing the broadside collection at the museum on Essex. I

can’t reorder their non-chronological sequence, but driving down

Boston Street one might see, as I did again, those neighborhood

toughs Tarqui, or Pelletier, while Snowy and his crew emerged from

the woodwork of the Willows’ neon arcades.

Doors and Windows, a poem toward the end of the book uses internal language to convey poetic constructs of understanding,

.. Earlier this week I saw a storm

door standing vertical-upright leaning against two wooden horses,

ready for planning and shellac, the three small glass windows reminding

me of the one I carted in from the back parking lot of the apartment

building off of Porter Square in Cambridge

Storm doors or not, the entrances into these magnificent palace rooms invite all in to view the poet’s timeless creations.

I’ve seen most of Robert Gibbons’ other books. They are studied and delightful. However this book goes well beyond his other accomplishments. It is his master work, his mature opus not to be missed.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College: An Affiliation. A Literary Community.

Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College: An Affiliation. A Literary Community.

By Doug Holder

I have always been a proponent of a literary community to nurture young writers. Many a graduate of MFA programs have told me that the most important part of their experience was the community they were involved in for a couple of years. The chance to be with folks of their ilk and sensibility in a creative environment was at the top of their list. So I had this in mind when the affiliation between Endicott College and the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, Mass. was formed in Sept. 2010. The mission of the affiliation as we see it is to connect students with the greater Boston area literary scene, involve them in writing book reviews, interviews, and poetry, as well as literary activism--to make them solid literary citizens.

Since the affiliation has started at Endicott we have begun a Visiting Author Series that has connected students with prominent literary figures in the community. Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish, Vivian Shipley ( Editor of the Connecticut Review),Gary Metras ( Founder of the Adastra Press), Mark Pawlak ( Hanging Loose Press), Luke Salisbury, (The Answer is Baseball) poets Miriam Levine, Bert Stern,(Steerage) and Tom Daley have appeared. Upcoming features include: De Witt Henry (Founder of Ploughshares Magazine) and performance artist Michael Mack. We have also had writers in the classroom like Timothy Gager, Gloria Mindock, Jennifer Jean, Zvi A. Sesling, Steve Glines, Li Min Mo, January O'Neil and Paul Steven Stone. Students have and will be given the opportunity to network with these people and in some cases interview them (The Endicott Observer has on a number of occasions) as well as explore internship opportunities.

Students have also been involved with the Ibbetson Street magazine as well. Katie Clarke, an English major, interviewed Pulitzer Prize winning poet Maxine Kumin for one issue, and we plan to have another student interview acclaimed poet Marge Piercy for the June 2012 issue.

An offshoot of the Ibbetson Street Press is a well-known literary blog the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. Here poetry, fiction and prose works from the large world of the small press are reviewed. English majors have reviewed books by such authors as Tom Perrotta, Lois Ames ( Who wrote the Notes to Plath's Bell Jar), and other poets and writers. These reviews are read by a significant swath of the literary community.

It is important for students to see their work in print. I am a columnist and Arts Editor for The Somerville News, as well as the Book Review Editor for the Wilderness House Literary Review. In that capacity I have published high quality poetry, prose, and reviews from Endicott students. I have worked with students to make sure their pieces are ready to be published. I have also published poetry by faculty as well, which includes a number of accomplished poets such as Dan Sklar, Margaret Young, Deborah Finkelstein, and Abigail Bottome to name a few. It is good for students to be aware there are a number practitioners of the art in their midst.

Ibbetson Street has long realized the importance of libraries for the "center to hold" in a literary community. For that reason I have worked with the Halle library, its director Brian Courtemanche, as well as the Dean of Humanities Mark Herlihy,and Professor Dan Sklar ( Both of whom are instrumental in all aspects of the affiliation) to create a small press collection in the tradition of the University of Buffalo, Brown University, and the University of Wisconsin/Madison. We have received a large number of books from regional, national, and even international authors that are being entered into the catalog as we speak.

Another component that the affiliation offers are internship opportunities. Students have been introduced to people affiliated with the famed Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square, Hanging Loose Press ( U/Mass Boston), Mass. Poetry Festival, MassLeap, and other organizations and prominent writers in the vicinity.

Our hope through all of this is to create a vibrant literary community for students. We want a place where students will grow as writers, as well as explore tangible opportunities as working writers that they will use long after they leave the campus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gloria Mindock: A Somerville Poet with an Eastern European Sensibility‏

Gloria Mindock: A Somerville Poet with an Eastern European Sensibility‏

Interview with Doug Holder

Gloria Mindock has lived, written, and created in Somerville, Mass for many years. Not only does she have the respect of the local and national poetry community but she has quite a following abroad. She edits the Istanbul Literary Review from her home in the Union Square section of our city, as well as running her Cervena Barva Press , an independent press that has published numerous titles from poets domestic and foreign. Mindock's own work has resonated with the poetry community in Eastern Europe, and she has been published in a number of literary journal there, most notably in Rumania. Mindock is a substance abuse social worker, had her own theater company, and for a decade co- edited the Boston Literary Review. I spoke to her on my Somerville Community Access TV Show Poet to Poet : Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: How and when did the Cervena Barva Press start?

Gloria Mindock: I started the Cervena Barva Press in 2005. I have an interest in Eastern European writing thus the name Cervena Barva, which in Czech means "red."

We have published over 60 chapbooks and 31 full lengths. Our new focus will be on translations but we still will be involved with traditional publishing.

DH: Your work is very popular in Eastern Europe, and has appeared in prominent Romanian journals. What's your ethnic background?

GM: I'm French, Italian, Polish and German. A real mutt. I think Eastern European folks are attracted to my poems for their emotion, and the risks they take. I write about death, a lot of dark imagery. I deal with atrocities--Eastern Europe has had their share of them.

DH: Tell me about this Eastern European Writing Conference you are planning.

GM: It is a very exciting project. It's going to be a weekend long conference next year. I know a lot of writers in this part of the world so I know I can swing it. I will bring some over from Europe, and invite area writers like Andrey Gritsman as well. I am also interested in inviting Jim Kates of the Zephyr Press based in New Hampshire-they do a wonderful job with translations.

DH: Tell us about your latest collection The Whiteness of Bone.

GM: It is about the atrocities in El Salvador years back and it is about El Salvador today. It also deals with atrocities around the world.

DH: The writer's life has been a labor of love for many of us. You pursued it-and probably sacrificed financial stability etc... Has it been worth it?

GM: Yes. Definitely. My partner Bill sacrificed a lot-we certainly don't live a fancy lifestyle. I work as a social worker here in Somerville. I am glad I do what I do-my artistic pursuits. I can't imagine doing anything else. Sure--I wish I made more money--who doesn't? It would be easier. It is very expensive to live around here. But I couldn't leave. I have made many friends over the years and through the Bagel Bards- a Somerville, Mass. based literary group.

DH: Tell us about the reading series you started at the Arts Armory here in Somerville.

GM: I started the First and Last Word Poetry Series with Harris Gardner. It meets once-a-month--every third Tuesday. Three poets read and there is an open mic. We have had great audiences and have hosted poets like Ben Mazer, Lloyd Schwartz, Richard Cambridge, X. J. Kennedy and many others. The cafe is great--and they recently got a beer and wine license--so come on down!

Oscar Romero, poem by Gloria Mindock

Sin has formed on their mouths, and they
assault us.
We are silenced into a void.
Souls singled out for torture.

Oscar Romero created a Heaven.
Carried us in his arms of prayer.
In church, we drink Christ to free ourselves.
Decapitation was not a devotion to believe in.
The soldiers will burn in a red sky.

When Oscar gave his life to the Lord,
he made a bed of blood and bones, turned it
into a path of purity so white that only the people
of El Salvador can use it. Sometimes we flee
on horseback to get away from the visible.

Those soldiers are the ones in battle with themselves.
Like Lions, they roar, sooner or later,
they will be tamed.
This persecution will turn back on them.
We learned to deliver our ashes. We rise
up and bury ourselves in this white
church with a bullet to our bone.
Scorched from the hot sun, our sandals
fall apart. We carry ourselves like a surge, proud
and capable of waiting for our execution.

Oscar was married to the church.
Life was only his bride for awhile.
He is our altar we pray at diligently.
We pray our dreams are received as they
assassinate us kneeling in prayer.
Better to die this way than clinging
to the wrong light. The soldiers are like wild animals.
A bite that shows such commotion that we laugh.

***** From Arabesque-editions.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fast and Soon: Poems, Drawings, and Stories By Bryan Bingham , Danielle Laura Blumstein, Emily Blumstein, Richard P. Keeshan , J. “Max,” Ruschak

Fast and Soon: Poems, Drawings, and Stories

By Bryan Bingham

Danielle Laura Blumstein

Emily Blumstein

Richard P. Keeshan

J. “Max” Ruschak

packhyderm press


Review by Dennis Daly

A disembodied arm and hand, seemingly attached to an oddly perched hat, reached across a table at the Au Bon Pain in Somerville Mass and handed me a thin red chapbook by five authors and artists entitled Fast and Soon: Poems, Drawings, and Stories. I must have looked dubious because the hand momentarily withdrew the booklet—a tease?—before proffering it again.

I grabbed it, caressed it, and read through it carefully. Many years ago I was included in a chapbook published by a local university with two other poets. We each contributed ten poems. The other two poets were much better than I. My pieces were especially raw and in some cases immature. Five out of the ten I now dislike. That experience colors my readings of younger writer and poet groups for good or ill. That said, sifting out the coarse sand, you can occasionally find a gold nugget or two.

So coming across Danielle Laura Blumstein’s well-wrought poem, Crossing Lake Pontchartrain, delighted me more than a little. The poem is a sharp metaphor. A bridge connects the outside world to the poet’s internal life. The internal life is threatened by devastation. A hurricane perhaps.

In the center, you could believe

the world was no longer standing

and the bridge was taking you

into the truth of your life,

or the devastation of your home and family.

In this same poem there are two elegant and interesting images. The first one describes the bridge,

The bridge is slung on the lake

spun and stretched like a thread of molten sugar.

Then the poem nicely reverses the image,

The lake is slung on the bridge

spun and stretched like a thread of molten glass.

A few pages further on the reader will find a short story by Richard P Keeshan, called Champagne. The characterization here could be from an O. Henry collection; it is that good. It pairs up dental work and life into an unusual dance. In the early going there is this scene:

…”You, my friend, have not been taking care of your teeth.”

He liked the way she said the word friend. He imagined them as neighbors, borrowing salt and pepper and detergents from one another. Sharing recipes and wishing each other a good morning as they passed on their way to their respective jobs. Friends. Just like she said. She reprimanded him on proper dental care and how bad teeth can lead to heart attacks and bad breath and practically the whole world coming undone.

The writer goes on to portray lost love and life’s apathy. It has a harsh undercurrent, but at the end I got up and walked away thinking about people and smiling.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Poet Robert K. Johnson: A Smiling Norman Rockwell With A Knife Behind His Back.

Poet Robert K. Johnson: A Smiling Norman Rockwell With A Knife Behind His Back.


Robert K. Johnson is an avuncular presence....but don't be fooled. Behind the folksy voice and courtly manner is a poet with a dagger. Johnson often harks back to wholesome familial memories in his poetry, but behind these benign scenes there are surprises, and some tragic, well... just like... life. Johnson is a retired Suffolk University (Boston, Mass.) professor of English, and is retiring from his 13 year stint as the poetry editor at Somerville's literary journal Ibbetson Street. He is the author of a number of poetry collections, the most recent Choir of the Day ( Ibbetson Street Press). Johnson has also written critical studies of Neil Simon and Francis Ford Coppola, and has been published in countless small press publications. I talked with Johnson on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: After being the Poetry Editor of Ibbetson Street for 13 years you are stepping down.
Any amusing anecdotes?

Robert K. Johnson: It was fun from the start. I do remember that. I recall you giving me folders with submissions wildly cascading--- spilling out. The real adventure back then is different from now. Now the magazine is getting poets like Ted Kooser, X.J. Kennedy, Marge Piercy and the like. But in 1998 the fun was working with poets that nobody knew about. I worked with them. Some I corresponded with. Poets like Ellaraine Lockie and Patricia Hamilton--good poets. It was lively.

Of course in 1998 I was a lot younger, and I was a full time editor. I still have a good amount of energy about not as much. It is a very demanding position. I want to concentrate on my own work now.

: How do you feel about the small press and small literary magazines and journals?

RKJ: I celebrate them all the time... magazines like Ibbetson Street. Sam Cornish, the Boston Poet Laureate, who blurbed my latest collection, attests to my background in the small press.

: You are a student of literary history as you have often told me. You realize that their are trends in poetry but there are always the eternal values.

RKJ: It is always a crap shoot. Nobody knows what is going to linger on as poets of a certain generation fade into the past. The two biggest poets of the 1800's were Emily Dickinson--she was almost totally unknown in her lifetime and of course Walt Whitman. He was printing his own stuff with his vanity press, writing reviews of his own work--all the bigger poets of that day have been forgotten. I mean who reads James Russell Lowell? I say do what you want; write what you want to say; do it because you love it; and let the chips fall where they may.

: If I was to characterize you, as a poet, like a smiling Norman Rockwell with a knife held behind his back--what do you think I would mean?

RKJ: I think you are close. I think a lot of my poems, the endings come out of left field. You don't expect it. So yes there is a smiley thing--then the last two lines--whew!

DH: Yeah-- I remember in one poem in your new collection you have the image of the kid with a baseball mitt--you know that iconic image of the All-American Boy, and then a stanza down or so--he's dead. You celebrate life but there is always that hook at the end.

RKJ: Yeah--I agree. You published a couple of poems of mine in a little volume. It was titled "The Latest News." In that volume I explore how people are surprised by life--they explain it away--and then are invariably surprised again. You know during 9/11 I was a shocked as anyone else. And yet--I wasn't surprised. Because that kind of thing can happen--out of the blue--anywhere. I grew up in New York City and when you went on the subway you never knew who was going to get on. There were some crazies there. You were stuck with them.

: Is a poem really ever finished? Or is it like many a life--in a state of loose ends--many questions unanswered?

: A lot of poems are like you described. If they try to reflect reality they are ambiguous and ambivalent.

: Is your latest collection Choir of Day your defining work?

: I hope it is a good definition of what I've done. Hopefully it is not the last collection I write. I think there is a lot of sameness in this book because my first book was published in 1975 when I was in my early 40's. There hasn't been an immense change of style--like there would be if my first book was published in my 20's. Now I am more concerned with form--but content is still a priority. You honor content by enhancement with stanza breaks, rhyme scheme, etc.. But you don't want to overshadow the content.

DH: I know you try to get to that instinctual moment in your work.

: I love to get down to the bone. I like to get as deep as I possibly can. I go right to the essence. You need to get to the emotions. I remember viewing a river in Colorado--its intensity and drive. That rushing of the water---well, I thought that was a metaphor for me in a way. I had an intuitive feeling about it.

A Matter of Time

I am punched breathless by the fear
a moment from now some country’s first strike
will blow up the street where I live, cracking
the ceiling into flames, crumbling
the walls into heaps of plywood and plaster
my bleeding fingers will fling aside
as I try to reach the twisted leg
of what was once my wife.

---Robert K. Johnson

Friday, December 23, 2011

Emblem By Richard Hoffman


By Richard Hoffman

ISBN: 978-0-9819876-5-1

Barrow Street Press

New York City


Reviewed by Dennis Daly

In his new book, Emblem, Richard Hoffman etches poetic visuals of timeless wisdom and dolorous beauty. His lucid metaphors are burned into each page. The introductory poem, as well as twelve additional poems at the heart of the book, is an emblem inspired by the medieval author Andrae Alciati.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries emblems became a wildly popular genre of art and literature; they are made up of three components: a picture, a motto, and a prose or verse epigram. Often the picture came first (ekphrasis [from the Greek—ek meaning out and phrasis meaning to speak] or the attaching of a name to, in this case, a piece of art), sometimes the epigram. Alciati wrote his epigrams first and Hoffman follows that lead.

Hoffman updates Alciati’s Emblem 8, Where the God Directs There One must Go, with the stark image of one of life’s crossroads. He advises the traveler that

the pilgrim’s way is found by wandering:

Every single thing and every relation,

whether plainly seen or only grasped

upon reflection, becomes a metaphor,

and nothing on the path may be disturbed.

This appears not only to be good traveling advice, but also shows the poet’s approach to his raw material.

Emblem 37, On Security, continues to counsel in this vein with a delightful image of a rather unique motley coat,

dress in the furs of the mice from your barn,

from your own small cache of good days.

This poem is actually very close to Alciati, almost a direct adaptation minus some fluff. The poet makes the point through the image and the title alone that wealth, however meager, is best when not flaunted.

The approach used by Hoffman in Emblem 86, Against Misers, is quite the opposite. It is entirely Hoffman’s epigram. He sets up his miser as a caricature of a classic accountant, except that he worries about computer hackers and traces his credits and debits across a spreadsheet,

His dividends down, his assets

losing value, he counts again,

long crooked fingers tracing lines

across and down his spreadsheet.

The poem concludes with a marvelous image, which give the emblem greater depth. The picture is of a talented artist in the form of a rabbit, who does not have the courage to risk everything in the furtherance of his art:

his heart beats like a rabbit

at the edge of an open field

he will never cross, and time

passes, an uncounted loss.

One of the most interesting of the emblem poems is called Against Those Wealthy via Public Mischief. The basic image is adapted from Alciati and Hoffman does this well, but he also deepens the imagery and gives it specific history with his emblematic form. He describes eel fishermen or those on the outside of society, who in order to make their fortune

..must find some way

to roil the placid water and churn the bottom

to be successful. (To stir the muck, religion

makes a good long stick or bogus history

wed to rhetoric.) They know just how.

They have fished for eels a thousand years.

The poet sees his function in this emblem as one of identification. He draws the demagogue. For now that is enough.

Other poems included in this impressive collection show Hoffman’s flexibility of form. In Aphrodisia, one of two villanelles offered, Hoffman introduces a lovely musical piece, which comes together in the end as only the best poems of this type do,

…Speak up! Proclaim you want to say.

It’s easy to imagine you’ve misheard,

hard to admit one sharp as you is stirred.

You need to back off, cool down, act blaze.

Love’s language is hyperbole, but whispered.

It’s easy to imagine you’ve misheard.

On the other end of the form spectrum is a prose poem titled Phototaxis. In one beautifully drawn out metaphor Hoffman juxtaposes unbearable sorrow with the joy of art. The narrator’s wife has died and he has given up the joy of guitar playing for the solitude of silence. Magic happens here:

… He had not gone into the room since she had died, his

solitude already deeper than he could bear. One day , looking

for an old pair of shoes he had somehow mislaid, he entered

the room and switched on the overhead light. As he scanned

the floor for his lost shoes, the guitar, all by itself it seemed,

began to play, soft chords that made the old musician cry out,


Fruit in Season is another poem that deals with thoughtful sorrow and its ghostly burdens. Speaking to his dead brother the narrator says,

.. so I know

how lucky I am and how grateful

I ought to be: Sick for long years,

my brother begrudged me nothing.

I could go on. Get this book for some of the most innovative poetry written today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

GARGOYLE 57 (2011)

When the U.S.P.S. mail hand-delivers a 600pg book it’s either a novel, or an annual anthology from Arlington VA; this time it's:

GARGOYLE 57 (2011) edited by Christine Ebersole & Richard Peabody.

1-1/8 inches thick by 5 ½ x by 8 ¼,

ISBN 978-0-931181-36-8, 600pp, USD$24.95,

(703) 525-9296.

Review by Bill Costley

Disclosure: My “Byrd fiddles in Purgatory” (quasi-ballad for the 'District' audience), appears on p .93.

Here are all the other contributors:

Non-fiction: Claire Blechman, Carolyn Cooke, Carmen Delzell,

Brandel France, Simki Ghebremichael

Poetry: Albert Abondonado, Clayton Adams, Heather Anastasiu, Nin Andrews,

Saadia Ali, JoAnn Balingit, Mary Bargteil, Laurel Bastian, Jeffrey Bean,

Jill Beauchesne, Maria Bennett, Clifford Bernier, Linda Blaskey, Claire Blotter, Dan Brady,

Elissa Braff, Steven Brayak, Philip Calderwood, Michael Casey, Alex Chertok, Katherine Coles, Antionette Constable, Robert Cooperman, Claudia Cortese, Nina Corwin, me, Kelly Coveny, Barbara Crooker, Jim Daniels, Kristina Marie Darling, John Davis, Barbara DeCesare, Liz Dolan, Philip Dozal, Doug Draime, Gabe Durham, Moira Egan, Kristina England, Bair Ewing, Sarene Friedman, Molly Gaudry, Megan Giller, Kimberley Grey, Michael Gushue, Jeff Hardin, David M. Harris, Nowan Hasm, Chris Haven, Kathleen Hellen, David Hernandez, Alison Hicks, Le Hinton, Jean C. Howard, Colette Inez, Fred Joiner, Don Judson, Ann Keefe, Stephen Kessler, Daniel Kharms, Alan King, Benjamin C. Krause, Sarah Layden, A. Loudermilk, Adrian C. Louis, K.E. MacMillan, Anthony Madrid, Stephen Matin, Aoife Mannix, Joyce Mansour, Peter Marcus, Hugh Martin, Frank Matagrano, Steve MccClain, Sjohanna Bruce McCray, Alex McRae, Mark Melincove, Michael Monroe, Nancy Carol Mody,Steve Moran, Mary Morris, Kristine Ong Muslim, Tim Meyers, James Norcliffe, Jay Pabarue, Maria Padhila, Shelley Puhak, Kim Roberts, Ronald Simon Rubin, Tomaz Salamun, Sarah Sarai, Sami Schalk, Eric Paul Shaffer, Michael Shorb, Barry Silesky, Edgar Gabriel Silex, Joan Stepp Smith, Patricia Smith, Robert Spiegel, CarlieSt. George, Marilyn Stabelin, Kurt Steinwand, D.E. Steward, Marc Swan, Adam Tessier,Samantha Tatangco, Meg Thompson, Jim Tolan, Billie Travalini, Meredith Trede, James Valvis,

Mimi Vaquer, DanVera, Kim Vollmer-Lawson, Avni Vyas, Ronald Wallace, Pamela Murray,

Bill Wolak.

Fiction: Forrest Aquirre, Robert Allen, Stephanie Allen, Alexander V. Bach, Jill Birdsall,

Jamie Brown, Rae Bryant, Tom Carson, Kim Chinquee, Susan Cokal, Charles Conley,

Bethe Couture, Ramola D, Jewnmarie Davis, Katrina Denza, Glenn Deutsch, Meghan

Dombrink-Green, Janice Eidus, Saskia Fischer, Thaisa Frank, Scott Garson, Alessandra Gelmi, James Grady, Myronn Hardy, Jessica Hollander, Suzanne Marie Hopcroft, Julie Innis, Robert Kloss, Bettina Lanyi, Nathan Leslie, Peter Tieyras, Ben Loory, Jonathan Mack, Cynthia Newberry Martin, Susan McCarty, Lindsay Merbaum, Cory Mesler, Janet Mitchell, David Morhman, Teresa Burns, Claire Marie Meyers, Susan Smith Nash, ME. Parker, Meg Pokrass, Zena Polin, Meredith Pond, Wena Poon, Pilar Quintana, Michelle Reala, Doug Rice, Ethel Rohan, Gabriella Romeri, Ann K, Ryles, Kris Saknussemm, Robert Cotellaro, Lynda Sexson, Elisabeth Sheffield, Marcia Slatkin, Curtis Smith, Katherine Smith, Amber Sparks, Dawn Sperber, Daniel Stolar, Lee A. Tonuchi, Roz Kuehn Unruh, Judy Viertel, Elisabeth Warren, Paula Whyman, Bess Winter.

Artwork: Marilyn Stabelein, Matthet Kirkpatrick, C, Albert, Bill Wolak,

Contributors’ autobio. notes are on pp. 570-91. You really should read them.

Why did I cite them all? It’s the only way you can possibly experience the thickness of the mag. & the breadth of its contributors in a review like this. Normally I’d cite a single whole poem as a sample, but this would be unfair to all these contributors. Instead, what

if I just cite a single line & tell you to go find it in the mag?

Here it is: All you need to do is write.

(Yes, this is a test.)

- Bill Costley

Valley Village Bldg.4 apt.4-D
390 N. Winchester Blvd.
Santa Clara CA 95050-6541
(408) 247-1943

Friday, December 16, 2011

George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company, Paris died Wed. Dec 14, 2011


George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company, Paris died Wed. Dec 14, 2011

In 1991 George asked me to write something abut Shakespeare and Co, where I spent many happy months reading and being. I had stayed at Shakespeare and Co in the past as did many other writers. Also helped out at the bookshop. In the old days there was no real register, and no accounting at all. We sat at the front desk amid crowds of curious tourists and book buyers, threw the book purchase money under the desk near our feet, and scrabbled around to make change. He loved sweets, and I often stopped in a Parisian bakery on my way over there, to bring him something tempting. There were all kinds of treasures to be found at Shakespeare and Company; and priceless first editions of Joyce, Henry Miller and others.

I spent a lot of time at Shakespeare and Company, it reminded me of the dusty Grolier Poetry Bookshop in the old Gordon Cairnie Days. Same type of eccentric crusty old guy running the show. I stayed at George’s bookshop at intervals during the 'late 60's, and '70's ,'80's when in Paris, before I got a full time job there. George gave us space to live and write, cooked pancake breakfasts, dinners, served tea, set up a reading library for us, let us read his precious books, and in every way adopted his stray writers. He served tea every Sunday afternoon, drying the few chipped dishes with pieces of torn newspaper, and afterward, saving them for use again as toilet paper. It was really exotic! Yu had to cross several bridges to take a public shower, and the great grandchildren of the original bugs coexisted happily with the writers and the overstuffed sofas. But I was so lucky to put my imprint where so many others had put theirs, as they tried to write in George’s rooms. I really felt adopted for life by dear George and was often enlisted to help him with some complicated” save-the-store scheme.” George was wonderful and I loved him, and many other writers will agree. I also read there a lot, participating in benefits for the store and all the rest. The list of writers who came to Shakespeare is as distinguished as the list of American pets who frequented the Grolier.

We all have our "George-Stories." You will see many in the coming days, for writers who now staff newspapers, among others, all have their own versions of their coming-of-age-as a-writer, thanks to George. His beloved daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman took over the store in most recent years. She immediately won the trust and respect of the entire anglophone literary community. George barked and grumbled as he initiated her into the ways of the store. Sylvia just laughed. And learned. What a wonderful young woman! And a wonderful daughter! Always, George was so proud of her!

When I wrote the poem for George’s magazine "Tumbleweed Hotel” at George's request, Sylvia was younger and still living in England. George practically held the pen in my hand and dictated the words as I wrote-- he wanted me to put the name of his beloved daughter in every stanza!

We all know that George will live on forever at Shakespeare-- his spirit, but also in Sylvia who is such a wonderful daughter, person, bookseller, friend.

I wrote a lot celebrating George and the bookstore over the years: touchstones. Here's the poem I wrote for him that icy Christmas many years ago.

For George Whitman, Shakespeare & Co. Paris

“Write something for me.” George, exuberant, said.
She could not think of anything to say.
There was so much, too very much to say.
She thought of soft books waiting to be read:

how sweet to turn those pages; just to be
at one with work. She saw the kids
who flocked to Paris, sought to write—and did!
All this was in George’s vision, energy:

Eccentric, generous. How all roads led
to Shakespeare and Company. Always had. She looked
across the Seine. The vista took
one’s breath away: the bookshop; Paris spread

before her; conversation, Notre Dame…
To read, to write, this was a writer’s dream.
All this, and more: the writer’s rooms, the cat.
the company, including lively Sylvia, she praised…

The tea was poured, the cookies passed. Oh happy days
with Sylvia and George at Shakespeare; teacups raised!

-Kathleen Spivack-

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Somerville Poet James Caroline: Plays Hard on the Page and the Stage.

Somerville Poet James Caroline: Plays Hard on the Page and the Stage.

Interview with Doug Holder

James Caroline started out mainly as a Slam poet getting his feet wet at the famed Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. when it was under the reign of Michael Brown. Since then he has become as respected on the stage as the page. And in fact the poetry is much more important to him than the performance.

From Somerville Poet/Performer James Caroline's Website:

"Over the past years, the award winning poet and performer James Caroline has made a name for himself nationally through slams, chapbooks, theatre, and touring. His work is a rare mix of literary craft and vulnerability, and the intensity of his performances has garnered comparisons to Patti Smith. James was voted Best Local Author in the 2006 Boston Phoenix poll. He is a multiple winner of Cambridge Poetry Awards for Best Erotic Performance Poet and Best Slam Poet. James has guest-lectured and performed on three continents. He's been published in some brightly lit rags & others that exist in seedy basements. As Tom Daley, a well-respected poet in the Boston area said of him: " 'He is the poet of complicit honesty, of untethered jubilation, of laminating adherence to what is profane and derelict because he is well acquainted with the outrages of the world. Ranging along the hinterlands of taboos, he boldly corrals their fearsome warnings into words of elegant defiance and terrifying affection ' ".

I spoke with this mercurial man of meter on my show: " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer" on Somerville Community Access TV.

Doug Holder: You started out as a Slam poet--right?

James Caroline: It was a good tool. I met a lot of good people. I met Regie Gibson, Patricia Smith, Tom Daley--all incredibly accomplished. They pulled me aside and brought me in their exclusive workshop. The workshop consisted of Tom Daley, Nicole Perez, Regie Gibson and myself. I started to take more seriously the writing as opposed to the performing. I didn't want to be "ghettoized" as a Slam poet. The chapbook I put out after the workshop was a lot closer to what I wanted to be doing. I realized then my writing should come first.

You live in the Union Square section of Somerville. How did you wind up here?

JC: I was born in Indiana and left my small town as quickly as I could. I went to college, graduated and did a film internship in London. I loved it--at times I was virtually homeless. I came back home and visited a friend of mine who was in graduate school at Boston College. I fell in love with the area, made friends, and started going to readings at the Lizard Lounge and other places. It is a good place for me.

You won the best " Erotic Male Performer" at the now defunct Cambridge Poetry Awards founded by Jeff Robinson.

I won that award once. To be honest what I was doing was being a gay male in a white suit, in a somewhat homophobic atmosphere. What I was trying to do was to push people's buttons. But I also used sex and the body to challenge the crowd.

DH: I occasionally teach Bob Dylan's work in my poetry classes at Endicott College. After all he was included in the Norton's Anthology of Poetry. Some would say his lyrics, or poetry, would not stand up as great poetry without his performance of his work. Do you feel your poetry now stand alone--on it's own?

I have poems that I perform, and I have poems that are meant for the stage. But I put out books of poetry that did incredibly well. Seven years ago it might have been a different story. Do I think Bob Dylan holds up on the page as a great poet? No. He is a great lyricist. He is a better poet than Jim Morrison. I don't think you can call someone who uses obvious rhyme a great poet. A lot of his stuff is very cliche.

: Talk about the up and coming poets on the scene.

JC: Well I will mention Jade Sylvan although she is already "up" and has been for a while. You have to have some hype to hand out to get known and Jade is good at promoting herself and has a lot of talent. Jade is a great poet and even a better fiction writer. The college kids at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where I work as one of the hosts have a lot of talent. Off hand I can think of Derek Williams and Sylvia Holtz. A lot of great stuff is coming from Manchester, New Hampshire. I am also impressed with the Emerson College students who come to the Cantab. These people are more interested in the poetry than the fame. They want to be good writers.

DH: In your poem inspired by the artist Francis Bacon titled "The 1st Time I Saw Francis Bacon's Work" you write in reaction to this man's body of art:

"... Distorted body frozen

in the throes of some climax outro

that thin line between smile and terror.

Rabid mirror has you climbing incisor


You were born perfect

and look

at what you've let them do..."

DH:What attracts you to his often grotesque portraits of people?

I knew of Bacon. I was in London and I kept going back to the Tate Gallery to see his work. I saw one of his paintings--which had a really vivid orange background, and in it two people appeared to be wrestling or having sex. I was fascinated. Yes--he paints grotesques. And I thought not all art has to deal with the beautiful. Most things aren't really beautiful if you dig even remotely below the surface. Bacon's work said to me that you can pose, you can airbrush, you can use mascara--but it's all vanity. What really matters is what you put out in the world. Something as simple as being kind or not being a bitch.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Somerville Poet Samantha Milowsky: Making the small press a home at the Mass. Poetry Festival

Somerville poet Samantha Milowsky has for the past few years immersed herself in the Boston area literary scene. Milowsky, a software technology executive is the founder and managing editor of Amethyst Arsenic and her work has appeared in magazines like the 2River View, White Whale Review,The Written Wardrobe, and is forthcoming Revolution House. She is now involved with the Mass. Poetry Festival's Small Book Fair that is to be held in Salem, Mass--during National Poetry Month-April 2012, as a part of the larger festival. I recently had a chance to chat with Milowsky:

You are a Somerville resident--poet- and publisher. How did you get involved with the poetry festival, and how has the milieu of Somerville worked for you as a creative person?

My friends have participated in past MassPoetry events and told me how much they enjoyed it. Getting involved is something I've been thinking about for awhile, so I visited the MassPoetry site and got in touch with Michael Ansara. He told me about the opportunities to participate, so now I'm helping to organize the Small Press and Magazine Literary Fair.

Somerville is a creatively nourishing city. We are surrounded by great poets from many backgrounds and styles, and people knit together our community by creating poetry spaces, readings, and events. I feel lucky to have a collective of friends and peers that will help each other in our work. All of that is here in Somerville.

I started the poetry journal Amethyst Arsenic this year. Getting local poets involved by submitting work and serving as editors has been key to establishing a great journal.

Tell us why you feel the small press fair is an essential part of the festival?

Small presses are the lifeblood of poetry. The purpose of the festival is to support poetry and poets, so we have always included a Small Press Fair as an essential component of the Festival. Last year we expanded it to also include literary magazines. This is a great chance for small presses and magazines to reach a broader audience, as well as meet others who share their passion and mission.

How will it be presented at the festival, compared to last year?

This year we hope to provide more space to the fair as each year the number of presses has increased. We are working to locate a space in downtown Salem that will be more conducive to housing the fair, providing the maximum space, and best flow of foot traffic. We are working with the Museum Mall owners who have offered us space there . What is nice is that there are a series of cafes and small restaurants in the mall as well as some seating in the large walkways where we would place the exhibitor tables. Although that is not definite yet, it might provide for a larger, better, and more social space than last year. We also hope to offer panels with editors about publishing.

Would this be a good event for students and emerging poets to attend?

The festival as a whole is ideal for students and new and emerging poets to attend. There are workshops, readings, panels, and a chance to meet poets from across the state from various schools, backgrounds, styles, and communities of poetry. The Small Press and Magazine Fair is a great opportunity to learn more about who is publishing emerging and new poets . At the Fair, there is plenty of opportunity to look at the publications and talk with the publishers and editors one-on-one.

The Mass. Poetry Festival has a history of bring top literary talent to Massachusetts--who is anticipated this year?

The whole line up is not set yet. The Program Committee has its hands full. So far, over 80 program proposals have been filed and the deadline is not until the 15th. However, we will have some popular names to announce. So far, according to Mike Ansara, the founder of the festival, the Native American Poet Joy Harjo, Major Jackson, Nikky Finny and Robert Pinsky are on the lineup.

Can you talk about some of the volunteer opportunities offered?

We need volunteers now, and we need volunteers during the festival. MassPoetry is a grand experiment in collaboration and decentralization, and it is totally dependent upon volunteers.

We have roles for people who want to work on the festival programming, scheduling, venue selection, fundraising, program book, out reach and coordination. We need volunteers who can give 3-4 hours a week for the next 4 months, and we need volunteers who can give 2-3 hours one day at the festival. At the festival itself we need people to set up and take down venues, chairs, and tables, to provide information and guide visitors, to provide sound and tech support, to handle button sales, etc. We especially need skilled audio and video people.

You can sign up to volunteer at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Poesy Magazine-- Due to be released Dec 19, 2011

For the past 13 years I have been the Boston editor of Poesy Magazine After a 2 year hiatus Poesy should be online around Dec 19, 2011 and is already at the printers. I am glad to have an interview with Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish in this upcoming issue. See below:

Message from Brian Morrisey founder of Poesy

December 11, 2011
Final edits on XXXIX

This year I have dealt with death, loss, grievance, re-focus, relationships (friendly and unfriendly)… business triumphs and tragedies… how could poetry not surface from these trying emotions? I have been thinking a lot about purpose… direction…. focus (which is one of the shifts that led me back to publishing POESY this year). We were all put on this earth for a purpose. Most of us spend our life on a quest for true purpose and most of us never find it. If we are lucky enough to be enlightened as to what we are here for, it snaps and comes together perfectly like gluing the seams of disheveled aspects of life. For 22 and a half years, POESY has been been the only justifiable purpose in my life. As much as I ignore her, get angry at her, say bad things about her, she always comes back expecting more out me.

I am in the final edits of issue XXXIX. For the first time in two and a half years, I feel like I can move forward with my life again and continue with my purpose. The issue is in memorium of Scott Wannberg, an amazing poet who knew his purpose and lived to until his last breath. If you can’t say you did all you could for your purpose in this short life, then what’s the point?

About the issue: Conversations with John Drosey (Toledo, OH) and Sam Cornish (Boston, MA) John gives us an in-depth look at what it takes to live only against the means of words and art. Sam Cornish brings down the poet laureate ideals a notch by searching the barkrooms of underground poetry reading outside academia for inspiration. Poems, Poems Poems (not namedropping poets for the sake of the poetry), amazing photos and an in-depth review of t.kilgore splake’s “Facebook” chap along with other reviews by Joe Pachinko.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A “Teaching Moment:” Jazz and Poetry

Our correspondent Rosie Rosenzweig reviews a performance of jazz and poetry at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston in Newton, Mass... Dec 10, 2011.

A “Teaching Moment:” Jazz and Poetry
By Rosie Rosenzweig
Resident Scholar in Women’s Studies Research Center
Brandeis University.

Stan Strickland began with something celestial-sounding on his bass Flute. John Lockwood followed, plucking his Bass Fiddle and Rakalam Bob Moses started caressing his drums with little broomsticks. And they were off painting an unlikely Improv: a full rainbow. This is called the “Be Here Now Suite,” which according to our MC Strickland is “an ongoing composition when each and everyone is present.” I think that’s code for we’ll never play the same stuff twice.

And I was transported back to my first earful at Bird land as a teenage bride, born in a provincial Canadian border town, with my New Yorker bridegroom, transporting me to a world I never heard before. I was educated that night into what was called, in the olden days, “cool jazz.” Only this time in Newton with a trio riffing away and me moving my head, I knew the evening was going to be a winner. I kept asking myself how could that mother of brass sing such soothing notes and then erupt in a chuckle with an unexpected squawk?

After the first set, I asked another question: So now where’s the poet?
As Robert Pinsky entered to a warm crowd of applause, it seemed that the music was a warm up for the talking guy. How so? His poetry was always a gourmet mouthful that I swallowed in a quick gulp. How would this work with these musicians?

Well, first the orator begins and I have the poem I wanted: Ginza Jazz - the terrible horrible history lesson in the life of the Saxophone, beginning with a Belgian named Sax (sic!) in Paris, morphing into an American child of song and then an African instrument.

The boilerplate form is this: Strickland begins with a familiar phrase on his saxophone, which attendee Professor Suzanne Hanser of the Berklee College of Music described as “idiomatic.”

The posse of musicians then listens and voices a chorus of individual call and responses, which in improvisation is a one-of-a-kind experience. Then, after this bit of a tune up, our former Poet Laureate repeats the poem as another voice, sometimes pausing for a bit to listen to his buddies, sometimes repeating a line again and again until slowly he becomes another voice in the riff, until his voice changes from the loner poet to a crooner, sometimes moaning out the words, sometimes even humming them, swinging his arms and knees until folks in the darkened theatre are moving like a chorus of the Blue Men Group, so popular here in Boston.

“A monosyllabic European called Sax
Invents a horn, walla whirled wah, a kind of twisted
Brazen clarinet . . .”
Everyone is listening to everyone else, as they are striffing and strafing with an occasional surprise wise crack in music. We are all smiling as we applaud and hoot.

I goggled the Internet for an appropriate word and found “tunesmithing” to describe their movement of sound. Cantor Lorel Zar-Kessler, at one of the back cabaret tables, later helped me define as a “masterful interweaving of melody.”

And this was only the beginning with Pinsky’s poem “Antique” about his stormy relationships at home growing up. You can imagine the music. Following this, appropriately enough, is a new poem called “Improvisation on Yiddish” describing the language as a
“Tongue of the guts, tongue
Of my heart naked, the guts of the tongue.

Bubbeh Loschen, Tongue of my grandmother
That I can’t spell in these characters I know . . . “

Bubbeh Loschen echoes of “Mama Loschen” the idiom for “Mother Tongue.”
Now I expected a bit of Klezmer, or maybe “Mine Yiddische Mame,” but surprise! Surprise! Play is the name of the game as I see Strickland up what seemed to be a Shekere, a West African gourd surround by seeds. Another subsequent Google search finds it and it’ a recent invention called a Cabasa with “endless loops of steel bead wrapped around a specially textured, stainless steel cylinder.” It can produce a variety of rhythms from scratchy scraping to soft fluid, which the bass and drums seem to love. Pinsky’s description of “previous lives and reincarnations” come to mind as the drums sound voodoo to me.

With Pinsky’s “The Hearts” the music seems to be driving the poet and now everyone’s eyes are closed. And we are expecting more of the same.

Now Boston University’s Professor Robert Pinsky must have recognized a teaching moment by shifting gears to another poet, 17th century dramatist, poet, and actor Ben Jonson, who once accused Shakespeare for “wanting art.” Jonson’s “A Celebration of Charis: His Excuse for Loving, “ which Pinsky calls “candy for the ear,” follows. Listen to this, he says: “here is a natural speaking to the meter of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’ ”

And a star filled evening is was with Pinsky’s “Street Music” and “Rhyme.”

Flushed with memories, past and present, and an autographed copy of Robert Pinsky Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), I head home with my old bridegroom to do what we used to do: reread the poems to one another and find new insights in old forms.

Rosie Rosenzweig, Resident Scholar in Women's Studies
Brandeis University, Mailstop 079, 515 South Street, Waltham MA 02254

Author of A Jewish Mother in Shangri-la (Shambhala)
Current Project: The Sources of Creativity Project

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Exhibit of the Forking Paths By James Grinwis

Exhibit of the Forking Paths

By James Grinwis

ISBN: 978-1-56689-280-3

Coffee House Press



Review by Dennis Daly

Artistic forces channel through James Grinwis’s poems in a very unusual way. His book juxtaposes eighteen lined, near conventional poems with twenty-nine prose poems, each one a meditation on an electronic mechanism and the symbol of that mechanism. Both types of poems are heavy on imagery (sometimes surreal). The symbols are simplified but effective pictures of the electronics named, much like Chinese ideograms. Ezra Pound’s imagist theories and Ernest Fenollosa’s studies come to mind.

In the poem, Capacitor, a truck crashes into a wall, and behind that wall are men throwing javelins and thereby unburdening their hearts of violence. The stripped diagram of this action is the symbol for a variable capacitor. A capacitor’s function is to hold a charge, which in this case equates with violence.

In the very next poem the act of aggression is replaced with a defensive mechanism, Achilles shield, and that is ineffective. A man on a moped crashes through and a scene reminiscent of the movie, The Graduate, takes place. Then all are enveloped in a surreal mushroom cloud. Sound a little much. Well, it works. So I, for one, won't quibble.

Note that with javelins, shields, and later dinosaurs, and Aztec accoutrements the dimension of time is easily crossed. In fact in Halo with Bolt Through It, the poet, says, “Many dots coalesce and crawl together or make very small holes in space.” We’re talking worm holes here.

In Thermistor, the poet describes “entering a sphere and being spun about, shot up, shot down, flushed down a drain to emerge in one piece so wet, so new.” In other words, out the worm hole and into a parallel universe.

The poem Awry details more about one of these parallel universes,

Because there are five planets

holding themselves

against a huge bleached face

I write things.

Like hello, and

“I know you from somewhere.”

Cold as some of these images are, there is still some humor here. A Snap Switch springs under tension, joins currents. The narrative follows the snap switch’s diagram thus:

The arrows have struck one another, and the people are pulling

them apart. When he goes to the office, his tie never fits. Then she

whose belt is too large comes to him.

Also, in the Poem, Canine As A Kind Of Tooth,

Oversexed. Under

weather. Some say a microchip

embedded by an alien

is at the root of us.

a trainer of whippets,

a whippet-eer. Nobody being

nobody, she whispers

under her brainstorm.

Many of these poems are populated with ghosts. These figures not only personify the essential soul of an individual, but also the phantom double operating in another world. In Acknowledgement,

a glue stick of a ghost

an area beyond ghostliness

is it the stealth ghost

the one who stares while he moves

eats the legs of gazelles while she sleeps

The care and feeding of ghosts is dealt with in the revealing poem, Of Phantoms:

His face like a tooth blasted apart, though;

only a spike would mess with it.

Still, he is your phantom. Care for him

We must care for the things under our wings…

In Landscape Lento,

… The soul stares at its image in the ghost mirror.

A lantern glows vastly across the ghost mirror, which releases an

eerie whine backed by a far off organ grinder. There is an inter-

mezzo that creates itself and weaves its notes only for you, a

mingling of winds inside: the wind’s own ghost mirror:


The poem, Condenser, which is defined as storing a charge, gives a gripping description of life in this mechanized world. Following the pattern of the poem’s symbol,

Four vehicles have taken off from parallel locations and soon pair off

toward an emptiness characterized by large white spaces unless, in

actuality, two pairs of vehicles as they approach one another diverge

and split off into parallel lonelinesses …

This book is not an easy read and certainly not for everyone. That said, once you get used to leaping from imagist construct to mechanist diagram, it becomes a real interesting poetic game, and a fun game at that.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Check Points By Michael Casey

Check Points

By Michael Casey

ISBN: 978-0-9838238-1-0

Adastra Press

16 Reservation Road

Easthampton, MA 01027


Review by Dennis Daly

At its core black humor usually camouflages a tragic reality. These poems by Michael Casey effectively make use of this type of humor, but do more than just camouflage. They provide a serious tool with which one can confront the horror of war, in this case the ill-conceived Vietnam War. The author’s technique allows us to see the logic of madness from inside out. The poem, bolo, cleverly explains,

the captain asks me

were you aiming to shoot

the pistol out of that guy’s hand?

And I said

fuck no, sir

I was aiming

for the finger I shot off.

In another poem entitled Chicom a demolition expert is asked for a favor—to defuse a grenade so that it could be used as a souvenir. The ordinance guy

.. said sure

and tried to pull

the bamboo tube

out of the serrated metal cone

it didn’t work

so he started banging the grenade

viciously against the corner of the jeep.

Fragging, the killing of your own officers, is poetically dealt with here by infusing this definition with an outrageous potion of black humor. The logic in this humor is as inescapable as it is bizarre. The cause of this phenomenon is blurted out in the poem of the same name, Fragging:

…it’s entirely

from electromagnetic disturbances

in the atmosphere

like I’m dumb he yells out

sunspots sunspots.

Makes absolute sense, doesn’t it? Especially since the alternative reality makes no sense at all.

The gravitas of the book in total far outweighs the poignancy of any individual poems. In fact most of the poems need one another and become much better pieces in this context. A good example of this is the obvious character development of the narrator’s fellow MP, John Bagley. Each succeeding poem seems to color him in with more detail. In the title poem, Check Point, Bagley is no more than a punch line. He is a rule breaking MP, who gives the narrator a ration,

Bagley starts the shit

how he’s an MP too

what right I have

tell him what to do.

Then the narrator pounces,

the Captain ask me

make a head count of pees

leaving the LZ

so I point to Bagley

and say


The poem, John John At Chu Lai Airport, paints more endearing qualities onto Bagley’s personality, as he deftly deals with the military bureaucracy using not a little wit,

so I wrote down

the reason I came to Bangkok


not the bus tours.

In Turnkey Bagley, Bagley brags how he caught US troops breaking into, not out of, POW security,

I caught them almost right away

from their laughing

which woke me up

just as soon as I heard it

if not earlier

The culmination of all of Bagley’s antics is reached in the poem, Army Commendation, when his character becomes an anti-hero of mythological proportions,

I was in country six months

when the entire unit

everyone in it received

an Army Commendation Medal

everyone but Bagley.

Of course a poetic character of this stature must accomplish some impossible deed with his super powers. Bagley does this by saving the narrator’s life in his own unique way. Says the poet,

… I was gonna go

I arrange for Bagley to wake me up

Bagley forgets all about me

and the theater is blown up

two separate charges

within fifteen minutes

I talk to Bagley at the hospital about it

he says

how’d that gook know

it was such a lousy movie.

Notice that the fact that Bagley is indeed in the hospital as a result of the bombing is glossed over as not worthy of mention, but is consistent with war-logic as portrayed by Casey.

After one of their comrades is killed (Cenerizio’s Service), Bagley copies the technique of another soldier to remove that thought from his head. The scene is both affecting and ironic at once. He hits his ear with a hand

slapping himself hard

and you know

I knew right away exactly

what he wasn’t thinking of.

In the same way we know all too well what Michael Casey is not saying about war’s unspeakable nature in this remarkable book of poems.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Richard Kostelanz: The Avant Garde at Brown University: 1960 (Excerpt only)

Richard Kostelanetz, the noted avant-garde writer, was kind enough to send this excerpt of an interview conducted at Brown University in 2004 to the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene.


Richard Kostelanetz, born in New York City in 1940, went to Brown in 1958, graduating with honors in American Civilization early in 1962. He later did graduate work at Columbia University in American history and at King’s College, the University of London, as a Fulbright scholar, taking an M.A. at the former in 1966. Ever since, he has been an independent scholar/writer/media artist residing, until recently, in lower Manhattan. His work in various domains has been recognized with individual entries in Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, A Reader’s Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, the Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Webster’s Dictionary of American Authors, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature,, and, among other distinguished compendia.

The interviewer, whose comments appear here in italics, was Sarah Bird, an undergraduate working with the radical cultural historian Paul Buhle in the American Civilization program at Brown University. She talked with Richard Kostelanetz in November 2004 after RK's lecture to the Coalition of Independent Scholars at the General Society Library in New York City. RK corrected and amended the transcript then and, with brackets, later.


The only remotely avant-garde entity on campus around 1960 was the college literary magazine that had been edited by the painter John Willenbecher just before I arrived. In its small office I met Bill Berkson, who left Brown only a few months after I arrived, later becoming a prominent poet and art critic on the West Coast, who remembers our meeting in the literary magazine office in a memoir that I found on the Internet and incidentally reprinted in my CD-Rom Intellectual Correspondence in the 21st Century (2005): “I can hear you now, in the Brunonia office, talking of Dissent, PR [Partisan Review], and other critical journals, of which at the time I knew not one thing.”

In my library is an impressive copy of Brunonia's Fall 1958 issue that contains contributions by Berkson, Richard Foreman, and myself, each of us presaging what we later became. While Bill has a critical review of "beat" poetry, Richard contributes not only a short play that he calls "a cartoon," but also an extended review of Bertolt Brecht's "epic opera," as he calls it, Mahagonny, which Richard was invited to direct decades later in Lille, France. (It didn’t happen, even after being fully prepared, for reasons beyond his control.) My own contribution to Brunonia is a witty aphoristic dictionary that presages the Dictionary I wrote in 1990 and rewrote a decade later. (This issue also has a stylistically unusual story by Peter Goldman, who briefly became an avant-garde filmmaker before doing something else.) May I wonder if other issues of Brunonia and its successors, not to mention undergraduate literary magazines anywhere, are so professionally prophetic?

I knew less Steve Overbeck, perhaps two years ahead of me, who, as S. K. Overbeck, was later a Newsweek cultural staff writer for a while. Only after graduating did I meet Harry Smith, who left Brown just before I came, but as publisher of a literary periodical titled Pulpsmith he became one of the few Brown alumni to publish me.

I took only one course with S. Foster Damon, a great teacher and a sort of underground avant-garde celebrity, whom I saw more off-campus, so to speak. An activist in the art and musical avant-garde dating back to the 1920s, he taught me an awful lot of useful stuff, especially how to be a professional, which is not quite the same thing as “how to write.” There was at Brown around 1960 no conscious political or artistic avant-garde or underground to any degree that Paul Buhle, a few years younger than I, understands the latter term from his own experience at Wisconsin—certainly not when I was there in the late fifties and early sixties. Paul edited an anthology of rich memoirs about the 1950s and 1960s in at the University of Wisconsin that I recall reading with envy [History and the New Left, 1991], because nothing comparable could be written about Brown during those years.


For my last three semesters at Brown I lived down Hope Street, next to a local library that became an historical society; that location was at the time really more off-campus than it appeared to be the last time I visited Brown—in the early 1980s. We lived on the edge of a Portuguese slum called Fox Point that was probably slummier then than now. And Foster Damon lived a few blocks away, at a parallel distance from the main campus, at 24 Thayer.

Who is Foster Damon?

Foster was an extraordinary man whom I hope is still remembered in some way or another at Brown. Do a Google search of his name now, and you’ll find a healthy number of references, thousands I think. His influence persists, even though he died decades ago. He founded the Harris Collection of poetry in the library, he knew avant-garde music, and he knew avant-garde literature. As an undergraduate at Harvard before World War I, he had co-founded with other students the Harvard Musical Review (1912-1916), which was meant to appreciate contemporary music ignored by their teachers. One partner in this Review was a man who went on to a more distinguished career, the composer Roger Sessions, whose daughter Elizabeth was my Most Significant Other for many years. Foster’s brother-in-law was the eccentric Boston poet John Brooks Wheelwright, who died too young, whose literary executor Foster became, whose poems are treasured to this day by John Ashbery, among others.

[Since this interview, Ashbery questioned in correspondence with me about New Directions waiting thirty years between announcing in 1939 and finally publishing Wheelwright’s collected poems in 1970, conjecturing that Foster might have been responsible for the delay, speculating further about Foster’s possible dementia. Knowing John, I replied that Foster was quite lucid in 1960-62, when I knew him best, if often pickled. John replied that the Wheelwright papers kept at Brown were a mess. I recalled that though Foster sorted American songs for the Harris Collection he wasn’t skilled at detailed archiving. I didn’t recall Foster discussing Wheelwright, though he often mentioned W.S.B. Braithwaite, who had anthologized Foster; but in 1960 I might not have recognized Wheelwright’s name. I speculated that perhaps publication had to wait for his wife Louise, Wheelwright’s sister, to return from institutionalization, as she did just before he died. Since he, not she, was the official executor, while they didn’t have children, my speculation was admittedly insufficient.]

Foster was important as well for publishing in 1924 the first big book on William Blake in America. In this respect, he influenced my wife-to-be, a Pembroker, who wrote her Columbia doctorate on Blake and, I’m told, gave her son by her next husband the first name of Blake. In the 1930s, Foster compiled a pioneering anthology of American Songs that subsequently influenced the musical compositions of his contemporaries Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland.

Then roughly that same age that I am now—in his mid-sixties--Foster had been involved in various boys’ clubs in Fox Point, which was then a Portuguese slum behind Power Street. Ed Margolis, long an English professor in Staten Island, remembers that a decade before me Foster taught boxing to the Fox Point kids. Because his wife Louise Wheelwright had been institutionalized for many years, select local kids would become his house helpers. Some of them went on to careers at Brown, like Ernie Costa, who worked in the Brown library until he died young. Though Foster had more connection to Fox Point than I did, perhaps my experience there prepared me for my next address, which was a low-rent public housing project in Harlem, down the hill from Columbia University.

Dinner at his Thayer Street house once a week, first for me and then for both Bunny and myself, was central to our experience of “underground Brown.”

Were you already interested in the avant-garde when you were at Brown?

Not so consciously. I remember reading on my own initiative Harold Rosenberg's The Tradition of the New, which turned me onto the idea of the avant-garde, and then Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years. I must have reviewed the Rosenberg book for the undergraduate literary magazine because I received an appreciative letter from the publisher who a few years later did a book of mine. Foster told me a lot, as I said, about the American avant-garde, not only in literature but also in music.

Did you feel at that time that avoiding the Brown writing program was probably a wise move?

As a major yes, but not Foster Damon’s verse writing course for which I signed up, even though I had no ambitions to write poetry at the time and I didn’t much like Damon’s assignments, which required us to write poems in a succession of English verse forms from Beowulf to the present. [A half-century later, long since a devout radical formalist, I wish I could take it again.]

From Foster above all others I probably developed the intellectual ambition for always aiming to take my work to a higher level, to go where no one else has gone or would go, in my case not only in criticism but creative work and even in this interview I hope, much as he and Cummings did in their own careers. Remember that Foster’s big book on William Blake, published in 1924 when Foster was only thirty-one, achieves an extraordinary unraveling. Check it out sometime to be impressed even now by his powers of elucidation, defining clarity in literature that previously seemed inscrutable. Foster would tell that when he was a graduate student in English lit at Harvard in the early 1920s, supplicants were asked what they thought of William Blake. It was enough for the student to say, “Oh Blake, he’s crazy,” for the examiner to move onto another subject. Simply, Foster’s Blake wasn’t crazy, and he’s not been crazy since. When I edited a decade ago an anthology of the more radical Cummings writings, it was appropriate to dedicate that book to Foster. From him and from the Brown history professor Bill [William G.] McLoughlin, as well as other intellectual heroes, such as George Orwell, whom I also discovered in college, also comes the ambition to tell the truth, even an unfamiliar truth, much as I hope to do here.

Though David Kelly continued to major in creative writing, I realized, partly through observing David’s experience, that I should stay away from other Brown writing courses, which I now think were designed to make high school teachers. I have a vague recollection of John Hawkes telling me in my freshmen year that I had “no talent for prose.” Since he dismissed me, I had no reason to take any other courses with him, probably to my good fortune, we could now judge. I must have kept in touch with Hawkes nonetheless because I remember taking him and his wife Sophie to dinner at Foster Damon’s. They hadn’t met before, even though they were Harvard undergraduates thirty years apart. Should we be surprised that Hawkes never contacted me after my graduation, though, need I say, as an alumnus publishing both fiction and fiction criticism that are recognized in histories and encyclopedias. If he mentioned my work or even my name to later Brown students, I’ve never heard about it. Should this be considered another sign of Brown professors’ lack of respect for their more successful students? I remember a close relative of his telling me, perhaps two decades ago, that Jack “hated every minute” of teaching, which may have been true.

Some alumni writers a generation younger than I have acknowledged John Hawkes’s importance to their development. One of them, whom I’ve not met, Jeffrey Eugenides, even successfully appropriated the Hawkes formula of a narrator whose physical abnormalities give him a peculiar perspective on experience. Perhaps by Eugenides’ time Hawkes became more respectful of his better students, not to mention his teaching talents, and thus a more effective writing teacher.

Probably because Hawkes and Edwin Honig didn’t get tenure at Harvard, where they had previously taught, they assumed that even their stronger students were likewise Harvard rejects, as indeed we probably were, though that stigma didn’t disqualify us finally from literary careers.

David Kelly, at any rate, went on to get an Iowa MFA writing degree and is now [was, alas] a prominent West Coast editor, whose book on Secrets of the Old Growth Forest (1990) won an award from northwest booksellers.

******** Kostelanz has an ebook BROWN UNIVERSITY REMEMBERED (Amazon Kindle)

Richard Kostelanetz
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Ridgewood-SoHo, NY 11385-5751
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718-559-6926 fax
c 2011 Richard Kostelanetz

Sunday, December 04, 2011

“The Dangerous Islands” (a novel) by Séamas Cain

“The Dangerous Islands” (a novel) by Séamas Cain
The Red Jasper press (
Kit Fryatt, Curator
26D Saint Brigid’s Road Lower, Drumcondra
Dublin 9, Ireland
--review by Tomas O’Leary—

This book by the Irish writer Séamas Cain poses a serious challenge to the intellectual,aesthetic, philosophical, physical, metaphysical and omni-forbearing wherewithal of a humbly attentive Irish-American poet who’s been entrusted with the task of layingout words in more or less cogent rows, by way of a review that might entice the astute and expansive would-be reader to give it a shot, thereby perhaps expanding even further his or her grasp of the endless battle of language to transcend itself and discover on the far side whatever must otherwise remain quite inaccessible to mortal fiddlesticks who demand of narrative at least some comforting hint which allows them to think from time to time that they know where they are in the long run of the story.

Having just read “The Dangerous Islands” and felt its formidable powers of image
and metaphor, of concepts somehow simultaneously both boggling and elucidating,
of characters who waft wraithlike in and out of plotless conditions wherein they are
rendered pensive or foolish or transubstantiated or bludgeoned or flayed, all in the
undeniable service of metaphor, I confess: I still don’t know where I am.

At sea or not, however, I very much admire the author’s tenacity of vision as he drives his rough beast toward its final watering hole, which reads thus:

‘The Lady O’Handrahaun was singing: “I thought of gems, from gems, antimony,
lotus fringed.” Frank urinated, soundless on the needle-pad, since Jane purged
insects and gems from a lion. The Lady O’Handrahaun arose in the misted sun,
the rainbow sun, bore the sun as weight that binds the transposed cosmic spheres.
Lions were painted as if crouched before the entrance of a chapel. They came to
light in the wide-open snarling night, jaws like red granite. Jane exhaled a cloud of antimony on needle-pads. The mountain was quiet, the snake could not move.
Jane gormandized with lions on the snake. A heavy wagon rumbled by red peonies,
and red insects quivered.’ THE END

The book is presented as (a novel) parenthetically. I would say it IS a novel (paren-thetically) – a heroic 240-page conceit of persistence or insistence transcribed from
the (parenthetical) mind of its creator, whose opening 22 pages serve as first-person manifesto which presents a romp of clowns who manifest the psyche in its throes of deliberation, creation, argumentation and all such ations as may kindle in the reader a fire to fathom what in hell is striving to be born here. Here then a handful of phrases snatched with haphazard intentionality from those pages:

‘I seek form and wait the mold, amorphous and unrealized possibilities, fecundity, fruition. Illusion is the precondition of creativity.’

‘Philosophy must become composition of line and curve. There is a secret delerium in my teeth. I have the illusion of unlimited extent, arbitrary.’

‘Aesthetics is my god. My rugged sides become heated, ripened fruit, rocks and
leaves, sunlight, sleek hides of animals, coloured flowers. All words must be
physical and tangible.’

Then too there are the Troubles, all in metaphor, ethereally poignant, bloody, soul-
searching, sometimes even humorous in way of word play or grotesquery of image:
that seething, writhing reservoir of infinitely mutable images sufficient unto the
writer, the sculptor, the painter, or any harbinger of the imagination’s game reach
beyond itself: Northern Ireland. And yes, there are characters, Frank and Jane and
Alan and Harry, and others as well most surely, but the one that rises up in all her
spectral substance., to bless the novel’s realm with shades of evil, is one called
the Lady O’Handrahaun, of whom it comes to be written:

‘The “there-is” of the Lady O’Handrahaun has no literary or novelistic being, and thus it guarantees, for any ideal novelistic being, the efficacy of its presentational function, its structuring function, which spills and splits, before and after its

effect, the ungraspable plethora, the somnambulistic plethora of being, from the
thinkable cohesion of the reign of number and image over effective literary
situations. Arpeggios hover over the religious paintings of old masters. Forms
float above the urine of a virgin.’

But my pickings, what can they serve of this strange book at large? Minute glimpses,
I’d say, of whatever it is I have seen there. Chapter 16 addresses the notion of Novel and proffers as follows: ‘The Novel is a phallus pierced through by a needle. The Novel is a seagull resting on a pier at the end of the lake. What perfect voice will tell you the truth about my novel? The Novel must be there like the earth when shadow covers the wet grass. I would have liked to have been an otter.’

I wouldn’t mind being an otter myself at the moment, all play and to hell with
profundity, except as one dives deep for the uncomplicated joy of it. Séamas Cain’s
“The Dangerous Islands” is a work of serious genius. Whether or not it draws you
in for the long swim, I do recommend you test the waters and see.