Friday, February 17, 2012

Secrets No One Must Talk About: Poems by Martin Willitts Jr.

Secrets No One Must Talk About
2011 Dos Madres Press Inc.
Poems by Martin Willitts Jr.
Loveland OH
Softbound, 31 pages, No Price
ISBN 978-1-933675-44-4

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

There are places, like a dust storm, we cannot avoid.
They prick like cactus and sting of scorpion rains.
They hold secrets better than a poker game.
The people in this place have to know how to survive.
It is a scrap-by living, full of possible dangers, yet they survive.
This is such a place.

What a way to begin a book of poetry…this is but the first of six stanzas of Willitts’s Introduction, the first poem in this short, tidy volume the first few of which remind me
in some ways of Spoon River Anthology in that Willitts channels a knife sharpener and a peddler. He echoes the best of the best poets who wrote in Spanish: Vallejo, Lorca and Neruda. He bases poems on the photographs of Consuelo Kanaga. Yet his best poems are those he conjures from the deep within himself like these lines from At the Funeral:

Men fear their own tears
like they were forbidden and
shameful. So they so inwardly like rain.

Or some lines from Joshua Trees:

They reach out into the endless desert skies
for some answer that never comes. The silence
is arid, dry as a belief no one believes.

Willitts’s poems a mostly brought up from his inner self, from his observations of life, of
people and we are left to determine for ourselves whether his “observations” are those he
makes of other people or if they might be autobiographical. We care which because as one line in the Slaughterhouse of the Crows states: “We did not understand this obsession.”

Willitts is a librarian as was Philip Larkin, and while I do not attempt to compare the two, I find it interesting that they both write poetry that cuts a path of enjoyment for the reader.

Martin Willitts Jr. presents us with a strong, fearless volume of poetry that dares to be obvious and mysterious at the same time, that takes mythic songs and captures the heart of experience.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

let it be now by robert collet tricaro

let it be now
robert collet tricaro
Finishing Line Press 2011
ISBN 1-59924-927-8

"Life's theme is accretion, sapling
and fawn. Each seeking to add..."

The poems in "let it be now" is a Spartan chap book of couplets; they
reach for the quiet tones:

"As though taking hold of the ends of a rope
we jump at a pace that builds

as the music gathers. We hear
countless lines of repetitive

interlacing melodies. Piccolos
jump in, as to dismiss notions..."

Most of the poems in this chapbook, read with an expectation
and a loss, but the couplets hold each line in the way only a
good writer can hold the theme, line by line. Tricaro
writes with confidence in what is being put before us, the reader.

"The iris of my mind
becomes a cobalt stillness..."

Irene Koronas
Ibbetson Street Press

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Looking Up by Linda Pressman

( Linda Pressman)

Looking Up
Linda Pressman
Available at

Review by Rene Schwiesow

Linda Pressman is the adult child of two holocaust survivors. The horrific ordeal that her parents, family, and their friends endured was a constant underlying trauma throughout her childhood.

The number 7 is a sacred number. In Hebrew the number signifies completion. Linda was the sixth female child out of seven girls. “Looking Up” is the memoir of growing up in the fullness of a Jewish, but not too Jewish, household. The war drove God out of her parent’s immediate vision; survival was all. Near the end of the book, Linda describes her family as being a member of “Holocaust Judasim.” This, she says, “consists of the joyous celebration of the food that’s been handed down to us by generations of Jews who believe in the God my parents no longer believe in. There are other tenets, like both a fear of being Jewish and a longing for the lost Judaism of their childhoods, when my parents had been sure that God was out there somewhere, up there somewhere, that if they looked up they’d find Him, but most of it centered around food, especially since they’d had none during the war.”

Pressman’s parents met post-war at a Displaced Person’s Camp. Her father spent the war in Siberia, a fact that explains his belief that Chicago weather was balmy even during the dead of winter. Her mother’s war time childhood was spent hiding in the forests, scavenging for food and knowing that trees were not safe to hide behind after a relative was found behind a tree and shot. Pressman says this about her mother and the traumatic effect of the war: “Mom doesn’t just come out of the war with missing family, with a missing tooth; she was missing other essential things, like a sense of well-being and of being right with the world that the other women had.”

After immigrating to the United States, her father became a self-made man, building a lucrative laundry business, supplying the large family with sufficient means toward a lifestyle that allowed Pressman’s mother to remain at home to raise the children. As a father, however, he was rarely present, though there were exceptions. Her mother is most often described as being tangled perpetually in a phone cord that reached from the base to her downstairs laundry/sewing area where she spent most of her time at the machine and talking to friends and relatives. We are left with the idea that the 7 girls had plenty of time to fend for themselves. As a reader, I had to wonder at the metaphorical reasoning for Pressman’s mother spending so much time on the phone. Of course there is a stereotypical idea that homemakers were cooking, sewing, or spending their lives gossiping via telephone; however, from the metaphorical standpoint one can see the phone cord as umbilical, a cord that kept Pressman’s mother fed by her family – her remaining family.

Pressman weaves the war time story of her parents in and out of her childhood and the world she experienced on Drake Avenue in Skokie, IL, outside of Chicago. On occasion this may leave the reader somewhat disoriented as to time frames.

“Looking Up” is not your typical Holocaust memoir. While Pressman does offer some grisly views of life on the run during the Nazi Regime, she offers it through her own eyes. This point of view distances the story by a generation. What Pressman shows us is a glimpse at the lifelong after effects of having spent one’s life evading death at the hand of a Nazi and a look at the effect that life had on the successive generation – a generation who grew up in a “typical” suburban neighborhood living the “American dream,” but haunted by a war, a bigotry, an atrocity, that will never go away despite the 7 daughters, despite the number 7 representing the seal of God.

*****Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the wildly popular South Shore venue The Art of Words and serves on the committee for the newly inaugurated yearly Visual Inverse event at The Plymouth Center for the Arts – pairing art with poetry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Track Wreckard 1-14 By Denis Sheehan

A BagelBards Book Review

“Track Wreckard 1-14”
By Denis Sheehan
Bone Print Press, No price listed

Reviewed 2/13/12 by Paul Steven Stone

“Track Wreckard 1-14” is the linearly told tale of two weeks in the life of the author, who set himself the literary task of recording 14 consecutive nights down at a local Pub in Rockland, Mass, which is on the South Shore of Boston, for all you snootie urban intellectuals who would swear Cape Cod lies just beyond the southernmost border of Boston.

But not to get distracted, as the author of Train Wreckard often does, since he is religiously recording the minutiae of his life as a barfly in a blue collar town where flies come in larger herds than writers and distractions are as frequent as attractive (or eligible) women moving across the landscape of the author’s blurry vision.

Aside from developing a drinking problem, or feeling like I did, reading the book did an excellent job of replicating the boredom and pointlessness of a life spent without challenges or significant interests. Often the most intriguing question of a chapter (evening?) would be which stranger Fate might send to occupy the next bar stool, or two stools down, with the constant gambler’s prayer that it be some gorgeous, unattached nymphomaniac who could give this book some spontaneous sexual gravitas.

To give you a feel for Sheehan’s approach and a flavor of his writing, here from the beginning of Vol. (chapter?) X is Sheehan reminding us of the rules of the game:

“Tonight’s Scenes from the Local.
Here we are again, at the end of a long drunken night out at the local fav. Another Track Wreckard, number 10 (ten). Unedited and unproofed for your uneasy reading and deciphering. The night is over except for this writing…”

Yes, it’s only a small part of the writer’s conceit, but he has chosen to shoot from the hip in telling his tales, never bothering to go back and proofread or edit his output, and rarely editing the flow of detritus that occupies his mind as a proud Rockland townie and barfly wannabe.

Would I recommend “Track Wreckard 1-14” to a friend? Not unless he was at the beginning stages of alcoholism and needed to see how things look halfway down the slide. I would however recommend reading half a dozen or so of the book’s volumes (chapters?) to anyone who might enjoy wiping the cigarette smoke and boozy film off this window on a world not often portrayed in all its fatigue and (did I already say?) pointlessness.

Of course, every once in a while Sheehan offers both a slice of life and corresponding insights, such as at the end of Vol. (chapter?) XIII…
“At some point, I failed to notice when, a couple came in and sat next to me, though separated by a pole. The man is your average looking dude, but the woman has something about her. She’s a bit older but has that “ouch” thing going for her. The woman is trying to be all over the guy, but he’s way too interested in his cell phone, Keno, and the Celtics game. As time passes, she goes from paying attention to him to paying attention to her hair. Men are fools. I know I certainly am…”

“Train Wreckard 1-14” makes no pretense about reaching beyond its grasp to present literature or a compelling narrative. Just 14 nights at the local Tap with all the usual suspects. If you want to read a book that’s proudly different and highly unpretentious, pull up a stool and grab a pint. You’ve got a drinking companion already waiting for you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ariel Freiberg: A Somerville Artist who wants you to inhabit her paintings

Ariel Freiberg: A Somerville Artist who wants you to inhabit her paintings

By Doug Holder

Ariel Freiberg is a 30 something artist who recently moved from across the river (I mean the Charles not our beloved Mystic)in Brookline, Mass. to the Paris of New England, Somerville, Mass. Freiberg said wanted to be closer to her space at the Vernon St. Studios. She reports that she really likes the vibe in our happening burg, and believes it is a good fit . The young artist told me amidst the din of a Saturday morning Bagel Bard meeting at the Au Bon Pain Cafe in Davis Square: " I feel part of the larger connective tissue of art-making disciplines that abound in the city." Freiberg finds that artists and art of all stripes inform her artwork, and I was pleased to hear literature is a component of it as well.

On her website Freiberg writes that her painting "...explores nature and literary based female-centric mythologies...Part of the process of my art is to invite the viewer into a visual and conceptual dialogue with the narrative of my personal experiences and observations."

She told me a recent piece dealt with the death of her grandmother who lived in Israel. The artist also explores themes like the seductions of beauty, the frenzy of consumption and copulation, and sexual fulfillment.

Freiberg, who says her influences are Italian artist Giovanni Tiepolo and Watteau, likes how their work( like her own), invites the viewer into the intimate space of the artwork through use of color and other techniques. She wants the viewer to inhabit the picture. She told me: " I want the person to be actually in the picture." I thought to myself that this reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode I saw where the person actually entered the picture in order to get away from the insistent press of the flesh of the everyday, and just fade away between the frames. A visceral experience!

And indeed Freiberg's work is visceral. Her mythical woman are all at once innocent and carnal, child-like, and womanly--all the contradictions that make them real.

Freiberg holds a number of gigs to pay the rent and keep her stomach full. She teaches at Bunker Hill Community College (as does yours truly), as well as other venues of higher education in the area. Freiberg has a show coming up at the Laconia Gallery in the South End of Boston, and she will be part of a show at the Arts Armory in Somerville March 2. For information go to her website

From The Viewing Stand Poems by Madeline Tiger

From The Viewing Stand
Poems by Madeline Tiger
2011 Dos Madres Press Inc.
Loveland OH
Softbound, 24 pages, No Price
ISBN 978-1-933675-67-1

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

When I open a book of poetry and find favorable comments on the poets previous work by poets such as Alicia Ostriker, Toi Derricotte and Gerald Stern, I naturally expect to find enjoyable, even deep work by the author.

Ms. Tiger lives up to my expectations. Yes, she is an adult, but the poetry is yesterday, written as if she were still a young girl. She brings the past to the present, her childhood brought forth for the reader to understand as an adult. She told of her young girl’s life from the vantage point of adulthood. She brings the past into the reality of the present. You may find that was acceptable no longer is. Fantasies that one discovers in adult years were reality. The Holocaust, for example. A game seen later as potential child abuse or pedophilia? Dark family secrets…are they real or in the child/adult mind?

In Sunday Visit we learn:

Jovial Uncle Eph, that old man
gnarling toward the end of the garden,
gnashing. “Jovial” the grown-ups call him.
They’re having tea on the porch. Do they
see? Is this the game. Is he a gnome?

From The Viewing Stand, the title poem, presents another of familial memory:

I am four. Nobody told me
how to climb this marquee.
Scary heights, all those
empty benches. Sky far
out there and the trees,
I’m almost as high as
those leafy branches
Mommy and Daddy are far
down, they warned me
I must stay up here.
I don’t want to stay
or go. I only know
how far it is between us
and how hard he swings.
Sometimes he misses but
he keeps on

What makes this book work so well is the strong, convincing voice that is both disturbing and compelling, that delivers to the reader a collection of poems of her private fears and, in the end, some modicum of hope.