Friday, January 06, 2012

Blue Collar Review: Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature

Blue Collar Review: Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature

Review by Prema Bangera

The landscape of a magnificently robust fist resurrecting above an ensemble of forlorn bodies with picket signs rising together awakens you and pulls you into the Summer 2011 issue of the Blue Collar Review. One of the picket signs on this front cover reads: You Say “Cut Back.” We Say Fight Back. You are in the presence of the working class as this journal celebrates their songs of every day.

This collection brings together poets from all around the regions of the United States and even from around the world. Gregg Shotwell from Grand Rapids, MI writes about the morphosis of an individual into a monotonous environment in “I Am The Rouge.” One can feel the mistreatment which has transformed a human into a warehouse:

I have become the assembly line
crawling like a centipede
through the concentration
of time clock rhythms
and pneumatic sighs…

I bow to the Madonna of Machinery
whose nipples are like grease fittings,
whose crankcase is a womb.
I am the fire in the foundry.
I am the pit.
I twist nuts, shoot screws,
and spit rivets like slang…

My blood is thicker than oil.
My saliva more toxic
than cutting fluid…

I am the Rouge.
I was here, Mr. Ford,
before you were born.
I will be here, Mr. Ford,
when you
are long time gone.

Here, we witness the paradox of a person broken and fallen on his knees while rising and voicing this injustice.

The effect on the individual always spreads into the greater mass. Philip Porter from Willoughby, Australia writes of the quite crackling of all laborers diffusing like disease in “Rubber Workers.” We see the slow progression of the inevitable exhaustion:

At 8 our street died every night.
rows of hibernating houses,
windows flickering the TV screens’ spul-like,
eerie-blue, monitoring the pulses…

At 11, our street shrugged
as bundled men like chrysalises
in overcoats slipped from their
council owned cocoons.

Tributaries of workers swelled
to flood. Some moved faster
as they woke, others
slowed to better hear a mate’s

remark. A shifting shoal of black-
winged moths drawn to the glow
of factory lights the clang, crash
bang of their industrial Jerusalem…

The journal ends with Al Markowitz from Norfolk, VA speaking of the cycle of life, its application to the hopeful change of this community in “Anticipating the Fall.” The tenderness of its movement flows throughout us:

Something is dying here
among the shuttered strip malls
and vacant houses lawns
reclaimed by wildflowers and ragweed
The smell of the earth burning not so far away…

Something is being born here
overdue but stirring
in the dense disillusionment
and desperation of the unemployed
and soon to be –

A rumbling in the distance
becoming louder
a storm gathering –
the yet fragile promise of
a new season.

Markowitz, the editor, brilliantly places this poem at the end to perhaps create anticipation for the next issue, which will surely be another good read. This poem acknowledges the current destruction of our society, but holds a sense of hope to fight for a better tomorrow.
Similar to these pieces, many of these poems invade your mind, break your heart and leave you wondering how strength carries us on—how this strength is seldom appreciated.

This journal is an assemblage of voices breaking concrete with talented poets such as J.E. Bennett, Kent Newkirk, Nick Norwood, Barbara Gregorich, David Sermersheim, Troy Bigelow, Thomas Lange, Michael Conner, Kate Dwiggins, Andrena Zawinski, Robert Petras, Chad Haskins, Kent Newkirk, DB Cox, Dominic Cuozzo, Debbie McIntyre, Charles S. Carr, Mary Franke, Cleo Fellers Kocol, P.B. Bremer, Ken Poyner, zdolores Guglielmo, R. Yurman, Sarah M. Lewis, Ed Weerstein, Margaret Sherman, Dillion Mullenix, and Jon Andersen. Each poem seeped into my skin and touched my soul for they speak the truth of our suffering.

On the back, Werner Herzog is quoted: “The poet must not avert his eyes. You must look directly at what is around you, even the ugly and…the decadent.” In the Blue Collar Review, we see the open eyes of artists painting the ugly and the decadent. Each poem unfolds to reveal how this ugliness becomes beautiful as we enter their hearts, their minds, cradling in the soot of their every day.

********* Prema Bangera, a native of India, moved to Massachusetts in 1994. As an avid explorer, she has lived in Bombay, Prague, Boston, Erie, Seattle and visited many other cities. She was named poet of the month by Boston Girl Guide. Her work has been published in Quick Fiction and forthcoming in Ibbetson Street. She is also pursuing the realms of theater and visual arts.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Accidental Navigator :New and Selected Poems and a Story by Henry Denander

The Accidental Navigator
New and Selected Poems and a Story
Henry Denander
Lummox Press 2011
ISBN 978-929878-88-8

The Poems in, The Accidental Navigator, are conversations with
the reader and each verse suggests a complete understanding as to
the nature of silence in people, place and objects. Denander
speaks to us with a quiet voice that only someone who lives with
himself, can write. We are attached to every word because the poems
are ours. They are a universal plea, greeting, peaceful humor that makes
for serenity and Denander is a master at making the reader comfortable
with all that life offers and takes and causes:

“i have read quite a few poems by
this American poet, I like them all
and especially the way he ends
his narrative poems without a tag
and an obvious ending.
Everything's just hanging in the air
for you to catch.

I will try to do the same and close one of
my prose poems without
my usual tag line.

Maybe in my next poem.”

The tag lines are full of laughter and we catch the irony or the astute

“while changing planes in Vienna
I took my son to the Men's room
and he asked me about the condom
dispenser on the wall.

“i don't know, maybe it's soap or
something,” I said.

I didn't feel the time and the place
was right for going through these
matters with my eight year old son.

“No, it's not soap,” he said, “and it
says LOVE on them.”

We had to rush to the plane and he
dropped his investigation.

Soon I will have to explain these
matters for him, though.

But if he knows about LOVE
already, maybe it will be easy to
explain the rest.”

The book is a compilation of new poems, with a smidgen of older poems,
and the short story is all that the poems are and more:

“The next morning I am early for my meeting with Despina
Aspro. The sun isn't hot yet and there is a nice breeze. I see her
coming from the far end of the port, heading straight at me in
her bare feet on the old stones. She is a beautiful Greek woman,
maybe in her early twenties, with long dark hair and beautiful
clear blue eyes. She moves like she is completely unaware of
her looks, unconscious of how the thin cotton dress shows her
beautiful young body...”

What a delight; reading this book is a pleasure, it is a walk at low tide,
finding clear pebbles, the rush of tide, the blue sky, children playing;
people meander along the shore, enjoying the day. It is Sunday after
church, or after a large family breakfast, or an early nap on a lounge
chair. What a relief; a book I can love.

“She kisses me on both cheeks in the typical Greek way when we
introduce ourselves. She looks like a Greek Princess. I wonder how
she could have known it was me?”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor:
Wilderness Literary Review

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Somerville Bagel Bard Kathleen Spivack in the News....

Kathleen Spivack recently won the New Guard Award for Poetry, ( Judged by Charles Simic,) and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her novella won the Carpe Articulum prose award. Kathleen’s “Lowell et al “ memoir is coming out in the fall. Kathleen is taking clients again after the end of January, and will be teaching in Cambridge and in Paris at the Writing Conference in late June.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

SOMERVILLE WRITER JOE TORRA: A Man who gives it to you straight--with no chaser.

SOMERVILLE WRITER JOE TORRA: A Man who gives it to you straight--with no chaser.

By Doug Holder

" I think poets and artists often take themselves too seriously. I mean everybody is important in some way. Hey--my plumber is more important to me than most poets at any given time. When my pipes are clogged--and I got to go...who am I gonna call? We all have our god given talents..." --Joe Torra

I have always admired Joe Torra, a neighbor of mine in Somerville Mass. He is a self-described "working class" poet, and he is one of the least affected,and talented writers I know. He shoots from the hip, and at times makes you feel like your fly is down. And it's good for you- keeps you honest. Years ago he started his own small press, worked on his critically praised poetry and fiction while making a living as a waiter and a substitute teacher, as well as being a mentor for many an upcoming poet and writer.

For the past 9 years he has taught Creative Writing at U/MASS Boston. I have reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed many of Torra's books and poetry collections, and I have had an opportunity to interview him in the past. Torra has a new trilogy of his novels coming out as well as a new poetry collection. So while there was a break from my teaching duties I decided to meet with him at the Bloc 11 Cafe on a decidedly cold winter's morning.

Doug Holder: You grew up in Medford, and have lived in Somerville for a long time. Medford and Somerville are right next to each other but there is a decidedly different sensibility to each of these towns.

Joe Torra: We have lived here for 30 years. Somerville wasn't the "Paris of New England" 30 years ago. It was called--pardon the expression "Slummerville." Things started to change in the 1990's when Rent Control ended in Cambridge and all these artists moved in for cheaper rent. There were very few small presses and artists here before this. But I do think we take our self much to seriously as an artsy community now. We think we are "so special." It is a turn off to me. But this happens with gentrification--the old timers are pushed out, the artists come in and eventually they are pushed out. I think we are more the "Brooklyn of New England" than the "Paris." (Laugh)

Doug Holder: In some ways our lives parallel each other. We both have had or have small presses. Yours was named "lift." You worked as a waiter, and I worked as a mental health worker, and when we both hit our 50's we started teaching college. Would you say we went through the writing school of hard knocks?

Joe Torra: I call what we did living life. It was a great experience being a waiter, and it gave me time to write. Any life the artist has is the right life--rich or poor- who cares? What I didn't like about being a waiter was that people couldn't believe you were a good writer if your worked in a restaurant. I left this work when I turned 50--it was hard on the body-and I was getting tired. You can burn out on anything if you do it long enough.

Doug Holder: Tell me about your "My Ground Trilogy" that is coming out this spring. It is compilation of three novels you wrote " Gas Station," "Tony Luongo," and "My Ground."

Joe Torra: Yes--they are loosely connected at best. The only one that was published in the States was "Gas Station." The other books were published by Gollancz in England. PFP Publishing is publishing the trilogy. Much of the work is informed by Somerville. "Tony Luongo" is about a Somerville born and bred salesman. In "My Ground" the city is called Winter Hill- a section of Somerville. I couldn't have written these books without living here.

Doug Holder: You are also connected to Bill Corbett's Pressed Wafer Press.

Joe Torra: I am a founding member of Pressed Wafer-it was started by Bill Corbett. It was named after a book by John Wieners. In 1999 Bill approached me about working with the Press and I was looking to publish poets, their chapbooks, etc...

Speaking of Wieners--I think he was overlooked. Robert Lowell was known as the "mad genius" because of his patrician background. Wieners was a working class guy; so he was just known as plain crazy. Very much a class thing.

Doug Holder: You adopted two children from China. You have written about your experiences there. What attracts you to this country?

Joe Torra: The longevity of the civilization--the philosophy-( Daoism in particular), the poets Li Po, and Tu Fu to name just a couple.

Doug Holder: How has teaching at U/Mass been for you?

Joe Torra: I like it. I love the students. When we share excitement with writing that is a great thing. You have to make sure you make time for your own writing. I am older now so I am not quite as prolific as I was years ago--I used to churn books out!

Doug Holder: Getting back to your years as a waiter. Would you say restaurants were a sort of way-station for creative people?

Joe Torra: It was for me. I always worked with interesting people. People who were out in the world. I met so many painters, musicians, and writers. I met people who walked across Europe, etc.. I mean when the help had their meal before the shift the conversation was about what book they read, what concert they went to--what were they writing, etc... Sixty to 70% of folks who worked there were in the arts. A nice place to be.

""Who would ever have thought we'd see a black president? I remember as a boy watching riots on television. Police chasing black protesters with dogs. Power hoses dispersing crowds of black people. My father said that Martin Luther King was only good for starting riots then running away. Where did those white people go? The ones who were burning crosses, and bombing churches, and killing young black men? Many of them are probably still here, collecting social security now. And their children live on." (From Torra's novel " What's So Funny?)

*** For more info about Torra go to