Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Palace of Strangers Is No City by Stephen Frech

A Palace of Strangers Is No City
Stephen Frech
Cervena Barva Press 2011
ISBN 978-0-9831041-3-1

Review by Irene Koronas

“...In panic, we tell ourselves we're escaping,
but there is no escape. We make the world
we step into in the moment immediately prior.
Even now, for the length of time you have
watched that moving crew and the fine woods
accumulate droplets of water and for the
length of time you remember or call this to mind...”

A Palace of Strangers Is No City, rings true and awakens the readers to an extraordinaryprose poem. It is wrought throughout with fearful tender thoughts, how do we escape? Even in death, Frech presents us with, “chugging out to the vanishing point.” The poet presents a labyrinth of despair. This dream life presentation cuts deep into what some may refer to as empty conversations, a city that swallows its runaways, and makes poetry in empty rooms:

“You hover over your body. You are not dying, but you hover over
yourself nevertheless, half in half out of a basement window, two
police tugging awkwardly on your arms, grasping at your torso,
your chin, reaching for your belt, any place for a surer hold, while in
the basement the man has a hold of your legs. He's a large man and
his grunts sound like laughing, like he's enjoying a tug-of-war with
the police, a contest for which he's better suited, and he knows it
and knows the police are watching themselves slowly lose. You are
less sure than he...”

There is no stopping until we get to the last few pages and youth takes the love
notes and caresses the blades of grass, or is it just a dream, a cell, a mistake
that we need to, “pass tomorrow and the steady din of the world outside...”

This is a masterfully written book. There is no escape from page one to thirty three.
A must buy. A must read.

“Tell me this is not a dream,” you ask
“This is a dream,” she said, “and we are both here.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A City of Angels By Ben Mazer

A City of Angels
By Ben Mazer
Cy Gist Press, 2011

Review by Deborah Finkelstein

Readers love orphans: Tom Sawyer. Luke Skywalker. Dorothy Gale. Annie. Oliver. Cinderella. Harry Potter. Ben Mazer adds his name to the list of authors whose leads are orphans with his first published play, A City of Angels: A Verse Play in Three Acts.

Mazer also knows that readers like when the lead goes on a quest. His orphan lead, John Crick, journeys to his hometown, simply described as a city in Europe in 1938 to seek work. He is hired by an old family friend, initially to create a new type of theater.

At first, he is not able to describe the type of theater, which he defines as:
A group of young people with the power to feel
the viscerality of common truth.
And with the sensitivity to express
lucid emotions with immediacy.
Some readers may be turned off by the vagueness of this definition, and other similar dialogue. Perhaps Mazer is intentionally vague for the purpose of encouraging readers to imagine the type of theater as they like, rather than knowing exactly what he had in his head. This came to me after reading Crick’s line:
I think imagination is a thing
which barely has been tapped, and yet which lives
within each person, yearning for release.

Another popular literary item that Mazer uses is the family feud, a topic loved by Shakespeare, Ibsen, and other playwrights. Crick learns that his family has been feuding with the Crosses, and the feud is rekindled. Other details about his past and his family’s past are also revealed. By residing in the town, he unlocks many secrets.

Crick also has a love interest, Mary Wells. When they meet, it is obvious that they will be together. Their union, while predictable, gives the play a nice sense of closure.

Mazer also has fun with readers. While Crick and most characters in the play are portrayed as intellectuals, Tom and Sam Cross, the villains, are portrayed as uneducated. This particular section, which was first published in Eyewear Magazine, shows the Crosses making fun of literary magazines. This allows readers to associate themselves with the hero and to be disgusted by the villains.

Another way that Mazer has fun with readers is that the villains’ dialogue is written with intentional misspellings, such as Tom’s line I’ll shoe you which should be I’ll show you. This type of visual humor makes readers feel like they are part of an inside joke.

The play is designed more for readers than for the stage. Inside jokes, such as the one above, connect the reader to the work, but are lost on stage. The play contains many long monologues, such as Crick’s opening 3-page monologue, which could be done on stage, but would be challenging. Much of the play is spent with Crick discovering his past, and this type of expository dialogue is also a challenge on stage. Additionally, much of the verse is vague and seems to invite the reader’s imagination, which works better on a page than with actors.

The poetry occasionally sounds singsong or cliché such as Crick’s line to his love:
You are a flower and a shining light
which breaks the dark, encompassing the night.
But there are also moments where his vagueness invites us to explore our imagination. Additionally, there are also times where the poetry is lovely, such as Mary’s line to her love on her town and education:
Sun opens with day, you open the dream,
the world opens, time opens and memory,
you open the light, you open the window,
the world is opened to the little room.
Outside the rocks are open to the shadow.
The cellar’s open to the cellar door.
The room is opened to the library.
The library is opened to a book.
The book is opened to the seasoned page
where the world lives without reason rage.
Those leaves, that wind, that branch, that shower
under which day locks like an encyclopedia
roaming the flowers and their shadows of whispers and lips
like pieces of paper at night too
almost as if watching from the bushes
no but out the window in the air
high up above everything where n one is watching
it watches that thing you are thinking of apart
that understands one loving the familiarity
of what are only symbols and shadows
of what was a town and what stills is.

---Deborah Finkelstein

*** Deborah Finkelstein is an accomplished playwright and poet. She is on the English Faculty of Endicott College, Mt. Ida College, Bunker Hill Community College, North Shore Community College, and others.... For more about Debbie go to:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

THE WHITE CYPRESS, by Judith Skillman

Review of THE WHITE CYPRESS, by Judith Skillman, Cervena Barva Press, PO Box 440357, W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222, book store,, 70 pages, $15, 2011

Review by Barbara Bialick

In THE WHITE CYPRESS, Judith Skillman places imagery and symbolism in dissonant layers of nature, mythology, and personal history, to create penetrating parfaits. Each poem asks the reader to interpret it with care. However, by the end of the book, there’s no one clear theme that binds them all together except the poet’s voice of experience and irony.

Consider the poem, “Parrot-Eyed.” For one thing, “parrot-eyed” sounds like the word paradise, and fits in with the idea of lost friendship. “How long have I looked for you/askance, half of me lost,/half found…/twinned—young Bluebloods…/a perfect swoon/…If heaven exists, will you be there/wearing the complexion I lost,/your finger-roots entwined in hers/…as our parents go about/the business of abandonment.”
Now that’s a lot of ideas in one small poem.

She’s well aware of nature’s cycles and textures. For example, in “August Again” she writes “And the snapdragon shrivels,/the peanut plant wears its jaunty hat…/turning the yard/into a foreign land….she wants to grow old,/to become more vacant/than the heat/and look back/on her life/as if it were/a faraway thunderhead.”
I especially like the phrase “a foreign land” wrought by the cycles of nature.

Judith Skillman, who is a writer, editor and educator from Kennydale, Washington, is the author of 13 full-length books of poetry. Her collection HEAT LIGHTENING: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1986-2005 was published by Silverfish Review Press. She received an award from the Academy of American Poets for STORM, Blue Begonia Press, 1998. She has an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland and has done graduate work at the University of Washington. She has published in well-known journals, and has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, Washington.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ibbetson Street Press to release a collection of poetry "Dead Beats" by the first Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish.


Somerville, Mass.

Doug Holder, founder of the Ibbetson Street Press, is pleased to announce the upcoming July 2011 release of a new poetry collection from Sam Cornish, the first Poet Laureate of Boston titled "Dead Beats." Cornish is an influential African American Poet, and has had a long and distinguished career. Poet Maya Angelou said of Cornish:

"Sam Cornish is to poetry what Ray Charles and the song "Georgia" is to music. Both men were constructed for their art forms."

The book retails at $14 and can be pre-ordered by sending a check , or money order to Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143 ($2 postage/handling)
Check the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene for further updates.....


Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish: The Interview

By Doug Holder

When I lived in Brighton ( a section of Boston) in the 1980’s I used to see poet Sam Cornish walking down Commonwealth Avenue. With his thick glasses , powerful stride, and intense stare, I thought to myself this cat means business. I never approached him, but I knew of his reputation as part of the “Boston Underground” school of poets, and knew he taught at Emerson College. It wasn’t until he was appointed to the position of Boston Poet Laureate did I actually meet him, and now our paths have crossed more than a few times. Cornish, 73, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and for a long time commuted between his native city and Boston. He was a poor kid, raised by his mother and grandmother after his father died. He was influenced by the small press movement in poetry, as well as the Black Arts Movement, but basically he has been viewed as poet who is hard to classify. His poetry deals with slavery, civil rights, as well as pop culture: from Louie Armstrong to Frank Sinatra. His poetry is usually stripped down and potent. Cornish’s breakthrough book of poetry was “Generations” published in 1971. The book is organized into five sections: Generations, Slaves, Family, Malcolm, and others. He combined his own family with figures from African-American history. Cornish received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1967 and 1969, he was the literature director at the Mass. Council of the Arts, and owned a bookstore in Brookline, Mass for a number of years. He has a number of poetry collections under his belt, the most recent: “An Apron Full of Beans” (CavanKerry). I talked with Cornish on my Somerville Cable Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”

Doug Holder: Sam, you told me that you did not consider yourself to be part of the Black Arts Movement in the 60's and 70's. Yet I have read in a few places that people consider you an "unappreciated" figure of the movement. How would you define yourself?

Sam Cornish: What might distinguish me from poets of this generation in the movement, folks like: Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, etc... , was that I was influenced by a number of writers and sources that may not have been part of the influence and education in the Black Arts Movement. Some of the poets in the movement came from a conventional negro background. The negro middle class: doctors, lawyers, teachers. I came from a poor family, raised by my mother and grandmother. My mother was forced to go on welfare when she could no longer work. I went to a neighborhood school and frequented the public library.

I bought books and as a result became interested in poetry. The poets that moved me were T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, prose writers like James T. Farrell and Richard Wright. As an adolescent I loved Farrell's character , Studs Lonigan. I could identify with him and I was motivated to find other books that I could identify with. I read books by George Simeon, the great French writer of psychological murder mysteries, for instance.

DH: Who published many of the writers of the Black Arts Movement?

SC: The Broadside Press. It was a small press that was based in Chicago. It was started by a man named Dudley Randall. They were publishing young black writers who were very militant and defined themselves as being "Black" rather than "Negro." There was a very strong political stance to them.

DH: Didn't you have a strong political slant to your work?

SC: If I did it was politics that grew out of the 1930's. That was a mixture of left-leaning, the communist and the socialist.

DH: This was in contrast to the militancy of the 60's?

SC: Yes. Because a lot of that was directed at whites generally. It was confrontational or abrasive. You were now BLACK and different from previous generations. You had no patience with your forefathers, your parents, those who were living as NEGROES. It was a very angry and self-destructive ideology. People like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Robert Hayden were viewed as not being pro-black.

DH: Your poetry seems to be stripped down rather than weighted with ornate flourishes.

SC: For me it is a choice of language. How do you describe something? How do you create a poem? How do you communicate? I would say that it is the influence of the hard world or the naturalistic writer, where you use the language that's employed in common speech. At the same time you recognize the lyric possibilities in this language.

I have had my days when I had tons of words on the page. I realized though that it was necessary to use fewer words.

DH: You told me that a poet should reveal something about himself in a poem?

SC: I'm back and forth about that. There are poems where you can't find the poet. There are novels where you can't find the writer. I just feel very strongly that it is important to present yourself as honestly as you possibly can. Hold yourself up as a mirror people can see their selves and vice a versa.

Poetry does provide an opportunity for people to hide themselves behind the language. They use the poem as a form of escape. And that's OK as a form of entertainment.

DH: You have talked about the photographer Walker Evans, who used to hide a camera under his coat, and snapped pictures of people that truly captured the moment, on the New York subway for instance. Should a poet be Walker Evans-like?

SC: For me perhaps. But maybe not for others. I like the idea of interacting with people--different kinds of people.

DH: So you must have been an admirer of the late Studs Terkel?

SC: Very much so. He transcended the genre.

DH: Your breakthrough poetry collection was "Generations" published in 1971. How was it a breakthrough?

SC: It might have been a breakthrough because the number of black writers being published at that time were few.The Beacon Press of Boston published it. As a black writer there may have been anger in the book. It was not an anger directed at White America. It attempted to describe living in an America that is black and white, and all the other things that go with it. The book is arranged like most of my books are: from past to present. It begins with a slave funeral and it ends with a sense of Apocalypse. The history comes from things I heard from home, and things I picked up from the neighborhoods, not to mention popular culture.

DH: We have discussed Alfred Kazin's memoir A Walker in the City. Kazin was inspired by pounding the pavement on the teeming streets of NYC. How about you in Boston?

SC: I used to walk with a pocket camera, and took pictures as I walked. I would also walk with a notebook. I would describe things I would see, and imagined them as little scenarios. That was an important part of my day.

DH: I get the impression that you are the consummate urban man. Could you survive in the country?

SC: If I did live in the country I would like the freedom to move back and forth. I like to be near theatres, bookstores and cinemas.

DH: You had your own small press: the Bean Bag Press. You hung with small press legends like Hugh Fox, and co- edited the anthology: "The Living Underground: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry" ( Ghost Dance Press: 1969) with him. What is vital about the small press in the literary milieu?

SC: Publication. The major presses publish very few books of poetry. They also have a fixed standard as to what they select. So you often get the same voices. The small press allows us to have a variety of voices. It allows us to be challenged, upset, disturbed and sometimes angered by what we read. The major press' books are pleasant and fun to read. But they are not disturbing. They are basically not truthful. The small press has novelty, surprise, can be violent, and sometimes it can be damn good poetry.

DH: What are your goals in your position of Boston Poet Laureate?

SC: Right now I am available for people through the library and also through Mayor Menino's office. If people call and request my presence at a school or senior citizen's center, or where people would like a poet, I go. I try to be the person to bring a poem to people who might not read poetry, or those who want to talk to a poet about the craft.

Doug Holder/ Nov. 2008/Somerville, Mass.

Somerville Artist Bevan Weissman: A Welder of the Arts to Science.

Stainless steel, glass
[10' x 4' x 4']--Union Square--Somerville

Somerville Artist Bevan Weissman: A Welder of the Arts to Science.

By Doug Holder

Bevan Weissman met me at my usual perch at the Sherman Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. He isa man who sports a well-trimmed beard and intense and expressive eyes. Weissman is a graduate of Brown University, and a resident of Davis Square. According to him his mission as an artist is to “Weld art and science and facilitate community and personal communication.” A daunting task to some, but it seems this young artist is up for it.

Weissman told me that he finds Somerville the perfect nesting ground. He is a former biotech engineer who decided to take the less lucrative path and follow his artistic bent. He feels the creative milieu of the ‘Ville is an ideal place to get established. He has received a lot of help in this regard from the Somerville Arts Council, and Somerville’s Artisans Asylum, an artist organization he is part of.

Weissman talked about several projects with me, one of which was funded by Brown University; when he was a student there a few years back. It is titled “Visual Magnetism." His website describes it as a showcase for “The remarkable visual and physical properties of ferrofluid, allowing the viewer to manipulate the fluid in a display tank with powerful magnets.” I viewed this project online and witnessed enigmatic porcupine-like projections spiking up creating a spectral visual experience. Weissman hopes to create “a sense of wonderment” in the viewer. Here science and art mix with winning results.

One of Weissman’s Somerville projects, partially funded by The Somerville Arts Council is titled: “ Ripplerun.” This involves an installation in Union Square. It takes the form of a stainless steel, glass tree, with canopy leaves. The leaves almost look like solar panels—both panel and leaf seek the sun for its raw energy.
Another project the young artist was involved with goes along with his theme of connection and community. This is titled: “ Autonomies of Scale.” It involves tables and chairs made of scrap, welded together with a flame in the center of the table. When one person sits at the table the flame is at a low burn, however when another person joins him or her the flame burns brighter. A perfect arrangement for you and your “old flame” for a night on the town!

Weissman is hoping to get to a point where he can make a comfortable living with his art. Toward the end of our meeting, I asked him what his definition of art is. He hesitated because of the broadness of the query, but said: “Art makes us think about the typical in an atypical manner.” Well…there is nothing typical about Somerville, or for that manner Bevan Weissman.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

States of Confusion by Paul Jury

States of Confusion
by Paul Jury ( Adams Media Corp.) $16.

Review by Alice Weiss

Exploiting the double meaning of the word, state, Paul Jury’s States of Confusion follows a mildly confused young man (he has just graduated from Northwestern) on a road trip through the lower 48. The form is an extended comic monologue which takes him from state to state until he ends up very much where he started. But that is not to spoil the book, the pleasure of it is that you know that’s where he will end up, even if he doesn’t. Other pleasures involve long nighttime rides risking not life and limb but speeding tickets, driving cars that stall in the middle of the highway, and endless attempts to find an electric socket with which to charge his cell phone at night: outside ice machines, coke machines, garages and sports stadiums (which information I must admit I filed away just in case), and places to sleep in the car when a friend’s bed in not available. The essence of that last bit, is that the car has to be stopped, brake in place and away from discovery by the police.

Encounters with the last provide us with some mild suspense but the essence of a story that depends on the form and structure of the Odyssey is that Odysseus always wriggles out of his scrapes and comes home to Ithaca . And there are always gods and mentors to lead him along the way. Jury’s mentors, however, are boys very like himself, college chums whose charm, for him, is that they have jobs and he doesn’t and they tell him exactly what he knows already. He wants to stay in the upper middle class and the question is how to do that even if he isn’t a computer whiz or the son of a wealthy industrialist. They tell him he has to do what he loves and that is what he is already doing. No not driving a car all around the country, but writing a blog every night so all his buddies, oh, and his grandmother are appraised of his adventures, and can get him out of some of the more demanding scrapes.

Also, he has a girl friend who he has to decide whether he wants to marry or to abandon. I kept rooting for her to find someone else, some one more capable of intimacy. That is the other thing about the book. Although it’s written in the first person and concerns the two most important issues in our young lives, work and love, we never get the sense that we know his heart or the shape and structure of his ambition and as we read further into the book we never really learn much about them. I suppose I am asking too much of the comic form. Those one-two punch sentences are designed to distance you from the writer and his feelings, rather than reveal. True comedy of course reveals in spite of the teller’s fears, Mr. Jury never comes close.

Possibly the most grievous flaw is that in his travels from state to state he never observes anyone different from him, or explores the landscape of lives around him. We rarely meet anyone not comfortably a part of the world he is supposedly traveling around to see. In Indiana for example, he visits a fellow grad who has become a manager in his father’s company. His evenings are spent in a bar watching his union employees cruise around the Indianapolis Civil War monument in loud cars driving around making loud noises to impress the women walking on the sidewalk. They are guys who make a “decent wage actually,” J.J. (his Indianapolis friend)said, “But I swear some of my guys immediately dump two thirds of it into new sound systems or louder engines for their cars.” J.J. admits these are “not exactly the type of people I grew up with” but offers, nonetheless to introduce the writer so he can talk to one of them. Jury says he “politely declined.” I admit to wishing he would have. It might have made the statement which ends the section a little less cringe worthy: “They’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”

The book is artless in a kind of charming way and there is one encounter Jury describes toward the end of his journey which comes alive a little and provides him with a telling metaphor for the journey he has taken. Frank the wrecker driver (“a mostly defunct profession which is part tow-truck driver, part ambulance, and part hearse) rescues Jury from a car breakdown deep in rural Montana. The nearest garage is hours away so Jury gets to actually hear the stories the guy has to tell about a life very different from the one Northwestern grads expect to have. The essence of it is driving back and forth around the immense stretches of the rural west picking up stranded drivers, or parts of cars and bodies.

It’s of course the driving around part that serves as a kind of metaphor for Jury and he does seem to recognize the similarity between Frank’s life and his own Big Trip. But despite the upbeat ending (he goes to Los Angeles to become a writer.) the question remains: Will he turn around and land someplace or keep on forever touching down only to leave again, utterly unengaged.

***Alice Weiss is formerly from New Orleans, Louisiana, earned her living as a civil rights attorney for twenty one years, among other things, investigating and challenging the conditions of jails in parishes throughout the Atchafalaya Basin and the Bayous.