Friday, June 10, 2011

Unseen Hand By Adam Zagajewski

Unseen Hand
By Adam Zagajewski
Copyright © 2009 by Adam Zagajewski
Translated by Clare Cavanagh
ISBN: 978-0-374-28089-5
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Hardbound, 105 pages, $23

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

I have always admired the Eastern European poets, particularly the Polish poets like Adam Zagajewski who is at home with historic, geographic, personal or nature poetry and in his new book he is the master of all these forms. To make this book complete, translator Clare Cavanagh has just the right touch to keep the poetry alive, accessible and a pleasure to read.

Back to Zagajewski whose poem “January 27” references the Holocaust by juxtaposing it with Mozart’s birthday ending thus:

the age of silver wigs and not he gray hair
we knew from Auschwitz,
the age of costumes, not of nakedness,
hope and despair.

Writing about his father and mother he cannot help but touch the reader’s heart and makes one wish they had been able to express their feelings about their parents with the same honesty as
Zagajewski is able to do.

Zagajewski’s poetry is akin to Charles Simic in his comparatively short poems in which can state what needs to be said with emotion, clarity and sincerity. He is also reminiscent of Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska’s very personal – human – approach to whatever he has chosen to write about.

Having read World Without End: New and Selected Poems and Eternal Enemies, his last two volumes of poetry, I have become an unabashed fan of Zagajewski and his poems provide an inspiration to the writing of some poets I know who seek the style of the Eastern Europeans because of his accessibility, while non-writers enjoy him as much.

What follows are several excerpts from some of the poems which show off his never-ending talent:

From “Luxembourg Gardens”: White boats race the river, pack with crowds/demanding greetings from the shore-bound;/their champagne mood liquidates the past.

From “3 Arkonska Street”: But I wasn’t really grown-up./I didn’t know who I was -/in the mirror I saw only eyes/that didn’t look at me.

From the “Last Stop”: I thought that at the last stop/ the meaning of it all would stand revealed,/but nothing happened, nothing,/the driver ate a roll with cheese/two old women talked quietly/ about prices and diseases.

From “Piano Lesson”: We don’t know who we are – maybe wanderers./Sometimes I think we don’t exist. Only others are./The acoustics are great in our neighbors’ apartment.

What makes Zagajewski one of our great contemporary poets is that even though I have compared him to two other great poets he is his own person. He has returned to past themes in fresh ways, imbued with a unique perspective and voice that explores the often strange and tender ways of people. He is passionate and haunting, elegant and direct. A poet for our time and the ages.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Women of Beowulf: Faces in the Fire by Donnita L. Rogers

The Women of Beowulf: Faces in the Fire
Donnita L. Rogers

By Rene Schwiesow

Most of us are familiar with the epic poem “Beowulf.” Many of us read it as part of our literary studies and some of us have analyzed the work, line by line. But few of us have been driven to go beyond the master manuscript, to dive into the lives of the behind-the-scene characters of the work and put them to the page. Donnita Rogers has done just that in her first book of a series, “The Women of Beowulf: Faces in the Fire.”

Roger’s interest in and love for “Beowulf” served her well in her career as a teacher in Texas, where she inspired her students with her innovative style. Her students did not simply read “Beowulf,” they became involved with “Beowulf,” just as Donnita Rogers was. After retiring from her teaching position, Roger’s embarked on a journey designed to offer her research opportunities for her Beowulf series. For five years Rogers committed herself to the study of Viking culture. This time included travel to Scandinavia, where she experienced a trip on the replica of a Viking ship and climbed funeral mounds. Her goal: to understand what life during the Viking Age was like, particularly for the women.

While some might consider “The Women of Beowulf,” a feminist study, one does not have to be a feminist or even a woman to appreciate the story that Rogers weaves. She crafts a fine tale that depicts the strength of character held by the Viking women, but does not discount their vulnerabilities.

Freawaru, the Danish king’s (Hrothgar) daughter is a focal point of the book. We meet her at the young age of 4 and are soon introduced to the fact that she is marked by the Goddess Freyja – she bears a birthmark in the shape of a feather on her shoulder. It is through Freawaru’s eyes that we meet the principle characters of “Beowulf.” We find ourselves entwined with Hrothgar, Aeschere, Unferth, and Beowulf, himself, on a level that takes steps beyond our previous understanding or discovery. Yes, even the menacing Hrothulf is expanded in his unsavory character and personality.

While we watch Freawaru mature into a beautiful, young woman, we are drawn into the struggles of Heorot and into the way those struggles affect its inhabitants. Years pass with nights spent in fear of the Grendel, the Great Hall abandoned each night to avoid further death. The loss of men is astounding; however, life in the kingdom continues during daylight hours, the women of Beowulf creating close-knit relationships within the community. They are the life-givers, the healers. They are keepers of the Sacred and the rituals performed within their circles are designed to guide and protect – from the shearing of their own locks of hair while skyclad, to ritual circles of healing using herbs, to the reading of Runes, these women are a vital part of their community and an often unrecognized strength.

Donnita Rogers has given us a rich look into the Viking Age culture. Those of us who maintain an interest in culture from an historic perspective will appreciate the research that she accomplished and the way in which her knowledge has enriched the story of Beowulf, offering depth through her exploration of the feminine. This reviewer is looking forward to continuing the saga in Donnita Roger’s next book.

Rene Schwiesow is the co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue: The Art of Words held in Plymouth, MA

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Snarge by T.P. Perrin

Snarge by T.P. Perrin
Wasteland Press, Shelbyville, Kentucky
93 pp, $12

Review by Mary Rice

Snarge is the best kind of experimental poetry: imagination seeking forms to fit it. These include a one-scene play, a passage from Chaucer wittily mangled ("Spellchecking Chaucer"), imaginary dialogues ("Duets from Otherwhen") and a Senate hearing, as well as poems with words crossed out ("Revising Gertrude") and all over the page ("June" and "The Extraterrestrial Ouch"). The ultimate is a 17-page verbal smorgasbord called "A Thanksgiving Garland or Hekkaidekalogia."

Yet there is also respect for tradition. In the last section of "Three Brags":

You'd have us believe Laird Cregar
standing in Betty Grable's doorway,
his face half in shadow, half in

light (effect Ed Cronjager
took a whole hour's shooting to get right),
will be more evil, scarier, even more real,

if the shadow is purple,
and the suit he wears is brown,
and his necktie green? What are you, nuts?

The poems are variously humorous and thought-provoking, concerned with nature and human nature, history and artistry.

Monday, June 06, 2011

First Annual Writers’ Conference. Hunter College.

First Annual Writers’ Conference. Hunter College.

By Doug Holder

As you would expect whenever I am in New York City I do a lot of walking. As it happens I was invited to be on a small press panel at the First Annual Writer’s Conference at Hunter College in NYC, founded by Lewis Burke Frumkes. It was a picture perfect day in June, so I walked from my brother’s apartment on 20th Street in the Chelsea section of the city, to 68th and Lexington—the home of Hunter College. I stopped at my favorite diner on the way—the “Malibu Diner’—an unlikely name for an eatery in the middle of a gritty thoroughfare. I ordered my lox and bagel and listened to the well-honed staccato chatter of a counterman from central casting with a regular:

“What’s it gonnna be sonny-boy?”
“ Sunnyside up- don’t make ‘em weep.”
“ Gotcha. What’s your pick tonight?”
“ Not a china man’s chance.”

But I digress. Since my own panel was not until 2PM, I had a veritable literary buffet of speakers and panels to sample from. On the Memoir Panel listing I noticed Malachy McCourt author of: “Singing Him My Song” and other authors were participating. We had McCourt at the Somerville News Writers Festival last year—so I wanted to drop by. Also on the panel were Sidney Offit—curator emeritus of the George Polk Journalism Awards, Patricia Volk author of the memoir “ Stuffed,” Sir Gilbert Levine “The Pope’s Maestro,” and Lucette Lagnado, “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.”

As always I found McCourt to be a genuine and inspirational speaker. McCourt offered his advice to memoir writers in the audience. He feels the memoirist should write about what he or she is truly “ashamed of.” All of the panelists agreed on the importance of documentation—the inclusion of dialogue to make a more compelling memoir. McCourt, a fine dramatist in his own right, emphasized that the memoir provides freedom to dramatize; it is all about impressions; it does not have to be strictly factually accurate.

Lunch was held in the faculty dining room that had a panoramic view of the city. The speaker was Nelson DeMille, a popular mystery-action writer, who penned such novels as “The Charm School,” “The Gold Coast,” and many others. In his conversation with the audience he recounted his years as a major player on the literary landscape.

He was asked by an audience member if he ever was involved with screenwriting in Hollywood. He said, “Writers get more respect in New York. Hollywood eats you up. In Hollywood you are simply a writer for hire. You have very little control of your work." When he worked with Dino de Laurentis on a script, he found that after 6 months and all the various interventions by other writers, etc… he didn’t know what he was writing about. He recalled: "When I got back to New York I felt dirty. I felt I needed to take a bath.”

DeMille reads a lot of non-fiction to research his books, but he rarely reads other novels—especially when he is working. “He said, “Reading novels can skew you—really mess up your own work.” The author feels it is best to control his own voice and style when he is writing.

The small press panel was well-attended and presided over by the well-known, New York writer and co-author of “What May Have Been” (Cervena Barva Press) Susan Tepper. On the panel were yours truly, Steve Glines of the ISCS Press and Wilderness House Press, Jim Schuette of the Marion St. Press, and Roa Lynn, author of "Farewell Rio.” We all discussed the opportunities small presses and little magazines offer the author outside of the mainstream publishing industry. There were also frank discussions of self-publishing, and a review some the new publishing technologies.

Finally Susan Tepper and I went to the “Birth of a Book Panel” that was presided over by Jerry Gross, the author of “Editors on Editing.” Also on the panel were Stephanie Abou agent, Foundry Literary & Media, Hilma Wolitzer author of “Summer Reading”, Pamela Dorman, editor of Pamela Dorman Books, and Doug Jones, Senior V.P. of Sales at Harper Collins.

Jerry Gross, the consummate book doctor talked about how editing is more than marking up the page but involves what “could” be on the page. He emphasized the creativity of a good editor.

Abou, the agent, talked about the importance of the query letter—it should be short and sweet and to the point. And make sure you proof it as well as you would your beloved manuscript. A poorly written query letter will stop an agent in his or her tracks.

Jones, the Sales V.P. at Harper Collins talked about the importance of indie bookstores to create a buzz. The book sales they create are secondary—but if the independent likes the book, and gets excited about it—then sales in general will often gain momentum.

Hilma Wolitzer had an interesting anecdote about her start as a writer many years ago. It seems she gave a short story to a friend of hers who slipped into her jacket pocket. The friend was wearing that same jacket at a cocktail party where she was chatting with the agent of John Steinbeck. She handed the agent Wolitzer’s short story—the agent read it-loved it— and eventually she got her first book published.

After the event I had dinner at an Italian joint in the ‘hood with family and friends. Later I saw the sun set amidst a canyon of skyscrapers; I saw a fat guy with a fat cigar argue with a skinny cabdriver sporting a flowing beard and a turban and the wind lifted a beautiful woman’s skirt!—ah yes—New York!

Ibbetson Street Press author Poet Linda Lerner to appear at Grolier Poetry Bookshop June 14, 2011

Takes Guts and Years some time, (NYQ) a poetry book by Linda Lerner has been released. Linda has been previously published by Ibbetson Street "Koan from Samsara." She will be having a book signing at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square from 2 to 3PM ( June 14)--hope you can attend

The New York Quarterly Foundation, Inc.

New York, New York • PO Box 2015 • Old Chelsea Station • New York, NY 10113
For Release: Immediately Contact: Raymond Hammond, Editor; 917.843.8825;
Publication Information: 5.5 x 8.5 in.; 280 Pages; ISBN: 978-1-935520-31-3
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011926466 Publication Date: June 1, 2011


NYQ Books™ announces the publication of Takes Guts and Years Sometimes
by Linda Lerner

May 1, 2011 - New York, NY - NYQ Books™ is proud to announce the release of Takes Guts and Years Sometimes: New and Selected Poems by Linda Lerner. Linda Lerner’s latest book is a collection ofpoems dating from the early 80’s to the present. An immigrant daughter’s courageous search forher identity, her refusal to compromise who she is for a paycheck or for love is viewed in the backdrop of major public events. Upheavals in her personal life are paralleled by those in the larger world. There’s the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the subsequent attack in 2001 six blocks from her home. This latter event triggers memories of stories her estranged father told about his escape from Russia. There are the hardships caused by gentrification. The locale is primarily New York City, but it could be any place, where the fault lines of vulnerability in individual lives suddenly give way to tremors outside, and the earth shifts beneath them.

“As one of Whitman’s children, Linda Lerner’s poems are breathless and pulsing, alive with a hunger to taste, devour, smell, witness and embrace. She is insatiable, open, doesn’t want to miss anything.

The poems have an urgency. She is famished for life, is starved for what is hot and spicy, real and she takes risks, refusing to settle. Fascinated by people, she writes movingly not just about her self and her lovers but about her family with its Russian immigrant roots and background and conflict and pain but also about ordinary people in the Bowery, old men and ruined women, the woman in a box, the young with their hormones bursting. She makes the city shimmer with its smells—pastrami and rye and cream soda, smoke, tar, sewer smells, garbage—the beauties and terrors—the World Trade Center attacks, the dangerous streets she refuses to let scare her away. Even the poems of the blues and rawness of life celebrate in
the way the blues celebrate.” —Lyn Lifshin

Linda Lerner is a New York City Poet, born and raised in Brooklyn where she now lives. She is the author of thirteen poetry collections and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her most recent collections are: Something Is Burning In Brooklyn, (Iniquity Press / Vendetta books, 2009), Living In Dangerous Times (Presa Press, 2007) & City Woman, (March Street Press,2006 ; (The last two
were Small Press Reviews’ Pick of the Month) In 1995, she and Andrew Gettler founded POETS on the line ( the first poetry anthology available on the internet.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Somerville musician Audrey Ryan: A singer/songwriter in the Paris of New England

Interview with Doug Holder

Somerville musician Audrey Ryan: A singer/songwriter in the Paris of New England

Well Audrey Ryan thought I meant that the Paris of New England is meant for Boston--but of course I meant Somerville, Mass. But I can see her point. And this multi-talented artist fits well into our creative milieu on the banks of the Mystic River. On Ryan's website it states:

"Audrey Ryan is a one-man-band multi-instrumentalist whose music is quirky and genre-bending. She tours regionally, nationally, and internationally supported by Folkwit Records (UK) . She has opened for Suzanne Vega, They Might be Giants, Josh Ritter, Ra Ra Riot, Grace Potter among many others."

I had the chance to chat with her recently:

You grew up in Mount Desert Island in Maine. Now you live in Somerville...what brought you here? How do you find the "The Paris of New England " in terms of a home for artists of all stripes?

I never knew that Boston was the "Paris of New England" but I like it! That's what I'm going to tell people from now on when I'm touring in Europe...Anyway, I was born and raised in Maine and still spend my summers there, I own a small house there (more like a seasonal camp...), vote there when I can, have my car registered there...I guess you could say I'm still a Mainard in many respects, except that I live here in Somerville 10 months out of the year...But to answer your question: I moved here after college because my father is from Haverhill and I had family, specifically my now deceased paternal grandmother, who wanted me to live nearby. Plus I had a lot of friends already in the area, which helps when you are starting out a new life in a big city, to have a built in base of friends and family. And plus I love Boston, and more specifically the Cambridge & Somerville area. Always have. I actually spent 3 years of high school at a boarding school up in North Andover, MA (Brooks School) and used to take the commuter train in every weekend and jump on the red line and head straight for Harvard Square, sometimes Davis. So I moonlighted here as a teenager and was quite taken with it, considering I'm otherwise a small-town girl from an island off the coast of Maine.

To answer the second part of your questions; I think the Boston area is a great place to be an artist in that there are plenty of us, and you can also get to dozens of smaller markets within a few hours, which is key as a touring musician. Being based out of Boston I can still gig regularly and maintain a fanbase in Portsmouth, Portland, Burlington, NYC, ect...which is ideal. If you live on the West coast or in the Midwest it's a lot harder, as distances are further. One great aspect of living in the congested East Coast...

You traveled through Africa, Asia, and Australia. How important is travel for the maturation for a musician...the lyricist?

I think my early travels in Africa, Asia, and Australia were mostly pertinent to my development of character and as a "worldly" human being, having taught English in a small tribe in Africa for a year and backpacked around dozens of countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. I guess you could say that I have more experiences to draw from than people who have never left the continental USA. Not that that makes me a better songwriter per se. But it has given me the gift of flexibility when it comes to touring, in that I've traveled so much for music and just for the sake of traveling, that it comes easy to me.

Plus I have all these friends who are getting older and have the travel bug because they never traveled when they were younger, I don't really have that issue.

As for lyrics, I recently wrote a song called "Ganges" which is about my experience in Varanasi, India when I took a boat several times out into the Ganges and watched people bath themselves and wash clothes in the river when a few feet away there was a funeral pyre with a body burning as part of a religious tradition. Years later that experience still sticks with me, I'm glad I was finally able to write a song about it...

I know, as a poet I always carry a small book around with me to capture things--fleeting conversations, interesting snippets of things I am reading--and later I revisit it--and maybe get a poem or essay from it. What's your process?

I've filled a few dictators with bits and pieces of songs. Melodies & lyrics. I refer to them later on when I'm writing. I find songs create themselves in my head when I'm least expecting it. Like driving on the highway after a weird weekend in NYC or after a show in the Midwest. Usually it's somewhat nostalgic. I don't always have the right process for capturing those moments, because they are so random. All I know is that I need to record it or write it down before I walk into a store and hear other music that then dilutes what's in my's the oddest thing but it happens to me every time. That is why having a dictator handy is pretty much invaluable for capturing thoughts.

Do you compose the music first..or the lyrics first?

Music. Almost always. I find it fascinating that it's different for each artist. I remember reading something about Sheryl Crow writing lyrics first always, and I was so surprised because she described a process almost opposite to mine. Maybe that it is why my music sounds nothing like hers! Actually, I think it's because I'm more of a multi-instrumentalist when it comes down to it. I work in notes and melodies. The words usually come later when the music stabilizes a bit enough to sing over. Plus I use loops. I mean, it's pretty complicated sometimes to write a loop song you can actually sing over, sometimes I'll write a song and can't even figure out how to make a melody over it...then I start over again...

In an interview I read your lyrics were described as "words T.S. Eliot could slur." Was he an influence on your work? Are there any poets or writers that influenced you?

Which interview was that? I have no idea. I remember taking a literature class in college and reading a T.S. Eliot poem where a woman in London was eating out of a tin can, it was kind of depressing, but very powerful. I can't really say he's been a big influence although a lot of writers I've read are probably huge influences on my understanding of words and prose. But when it comes down to it my biggest influence musically and lyrically is Joni Mitchell, hands down. She is a poet and a musician, incredible lyrics, one of the best story tellers out there. After her I'd say Dylan, Neil Young, Bert Jansch. Instrumentally, John Fahey.

All in all I really value storytelling. I love books on tape because I'm always driving around in a car. I've been listening to "Life" which is Keith Richards autobiography. It's so good, I can't believe he remembers as much as he does about the Rolling Stones considering how many drugs his brain has endured. But I love hearing people's life stories. Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes") is a favorite story teller. Brings you right into his world. I love when a writer or musician can take you there with them, it's a gift.

You play a number of instruments, and your music is very eclectic. In a highly commercial market that loves to label people- has this presented a problem?

I guess it would be a problem if I was looking to be really successful commercially. Thankfully, I'm not. At this point in life, after almost ten years in the music business in some way shape or form (I started touring in college...) I just don't really care what other people think. I know that sounds bold and cliche, but it's more or less true. I'm not trying to be famous or to write pop songs that a lot of people buy into. I'm just trying to get the music that is inside of me out in the most organic way possible.

I think making art is one of the most important things about being human, if you have the chance to do so. But I think selling it, making money off of it, and being famous, is all pretty much just a pipe dream. It's someone else's definition of success. Not mine. I'm not saying that I never wanted to be really successful, of course I have. But at this point, I'm just satisfied that other people like what I do. I've had famous musicians (Glen Hansard, Suzanne Vega, Leo Kottke, Damien Rice, Beth Orton, They Might be Giants, Ra Ra Riot, Paige McConnell of "Phish",...) hear my music and respond to it more positively than I could ever have dreamed of; personally taking the time to tell me that my music is original and interesting. That's affirming enough for me. I don't need the general public to feel the same way...

Plus I've built my whole adult life around the friends I've made through making music. It's what connects me to other people in many ways, and for me that is the best marker of success.

In your writing,there is a theme of finding simplicity in your world--that at times is decidedly chaotic. Have you found that peace of mind? Have you cut to the chase in your work and life--gotten to the meat of the matter so-to-speak?

This question is the quest of my life: to find a balance. I can't say I've mastered it but I think I'm a lot more centered and happy now than I ever have been. It makes the idea of getting older not as scary, because with age comes a sort of ability to focus on what actually matters the most. I can tell you this: the music business is like high school all over again. Who is the popular cool kid, who is the hip indie hipster band (have you ever been to SXSW?...I've been 5 times...ugghhh....). I'm just not interested in any of that anymore. My simplicity is found mostly when I go back to Maine. But I think there is simplicity here in Somerville too. It's all about feeling connected to a place and people. I think I've lived here long enough to feel like I belong in some way.

It's funny that you say "peace of mind" because my friend Will Dailey has a song titled that and I sing with him on it when we do shows together. I know exactly what he means. My song is called "Simplify" and it's about the same thing. It's about making life less complicated and more focused on what is important. Getting rid of the stress when you can. As far as getting to the meat of the matter, I think as long as I'm challenging myself artistically and making music I think that is good and sharing it with people that care, I feel pretty satisfied. Plus I think love is big. I mean, Freud said this years ago, adult life is about work and love. You need both. You need to love what you do and to have loving relationships. Right now I have both, and they need my constant attention and nurturing to be maintained, so I'm just holding on tight.

* From "Dishes and Pills"

Dishes and pills
are ruining me
gonna smash the piana
and burn the TV.
Something yeah is wrong,
Real life isn't good for you,
real life isn't good for me,
and I don't want to be you, anymore than you want
to be me...

For more info go to

Here are Ryan's upcoming local shows:

Friday, July 8th @Milky Way, JP
(with Coyote Kolb)

Friday, July 22nd @Precinct, Somerville
(with Shoney Lamar)