Friday, April 20, 2012

A Very Funny Fellow By Donald Lev

A Very Funny Fellow

By Donald Lev

NYQ Books

ISBN: 978-1-935520-55-9

108 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

Donald Lev’s poems herein belie the title of this book. There is a deep sadness, which permeates through these poems, and the wit and humor the poet commands make it worse. Even Lev’s cover portrait, painted in airy pastels, complete with an everyman’s baseball cap, only accentuate his pondering, animal-wary eyes and a mouth lost to grief.

The Titanic is a very funny poem indeed. Its humor, however, portrays poetry’s heart of darkness. The scene is utter chaos, the ship lists to one side, and the poet’s love has been swept overboard. The enthralled poet goes on to record,

The lifeboats have all been let loose

and the crew is maintaining order

by shooting the more panicked

among the remaining passengers.

so you see why I cannot write this just now;

till I have a chance to recollect it in tranquility.

Note that he cannot write right now, but he would if he could. Poetry doesn’t always go hand in hand with compassion I’ve noticed and apparently so has Lev.

The ogre in the poem Bowery, Circa 1950 knows something that we all know but keep well covered up. As the bartender pours him another generous glass of cheap port, the old monster rallies, growls, and the following scene ensues,

“There’ll never be another moment like this

moment,” he weeps. Nobody listens, so he

drains his glass and calls for another.

Carpe diem, I guess!

All Lev’s poems are presented in a down-to-earth conversational voice that seems self-assured and unwavering. In a short poem entitled A Window he makes a point of picturing himself this way,

A window you can’t see out of or into:

I sit before it like a cat,

Contemplating what?

There are other places, I suppose—

Other points of view.

But just this one holds my interest.

Well not quite conversational. The lines in this poem all begin with a capital letter accentuating the line and creating some sedentary tension here.

Lev describes a baseball game in Fair Ball pretty much the way most of us see it: a pleasant diversion, a controlled athletic and graceful game played under blue skies. But to Lev that’s the rub,

… crowds of onlookers drawn

from sweetest imagination.

As the third baseman scoops the ball up and

speeds it to its destination—

the peanuts in the air, the lager, the boiling franks—

where can I go with this?

Where indeed? Perfect afternoons do not lend themselves to poetry.

In The Civil War: A Documentary Lev laments the killing and brutality on the battlefield. But of course there is the fiddle music in the background. As Lev points out,

That string music

will get you every time.

And it does. Years ago I had my daughter, the violinist, play it over and over for me. Although I wasn’t consciously thinking of Chamberlain leading his Maine regiment down little round top in a bayonet charge, it was there in the background: the aesthetic or even the poetry of slaughter.

A simple observational poem, almost a throw away, entitled, The Smaller Television, becomes much deeper and, with a little twist, becomes one of Lev’s thumbnail masterpieces. Lions running down gazelles on the TV at the end of the bar begin the festivities. Other carnivores do their thing. George Washington makes a cameo. I remember Ole George was never shy about hanging deserters and spies. Then the punch line,

… evading nature and

skipping history,

my mind returned to its lair.

The poets mind, fitting right in to the context, returns to its lair, after a night of predatory wanderings. Who would have thought?

The poem, Gothic Tale, is just that: gothic. But not the language used. The words are easy going, filled with sunlight and blue skies—typical Lev. Then he hits you hard. Adults, apparently years later, return to the graves of their murdered parents and,

…a sour note sounded in the distance

from a soulless trumpeter.

And we began to weep like children

who were, after all, not to be punished.

The last line catches you off guard. What do you do with their sense of relief for escaping punishment. You know it rings true and so do I. As for the soulless trumpeter, well, the dead do not play very well on sunny days. That’s funny. And Lev is, after all, a very funny fellow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Café Variations Presented by ArtsEmerson

Café Variations
Presented by ArtsEmerson
A co-production with Emerson Stage and SITI Company

The Cutler Majestic Theatre

219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
April 13-April 22
Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin
Directed by Anne Bogart
Review by Amy R. Tighe
Have you ever wondered what music looks like?  You’ve seen movies with and without scores, and probably listened to concerts.   And you know how music makes you feel.  Triumphant when you hear Chariots of Fire, or beleaguered after any blues song BB ever sang.

But what does a note look like?  Or a chord? Or a well-played and precise bar performed by masters of joy?  Go see Café Variations.  You’ll see.  It’s like walking into a sheet of music that suddenly becomes alive and every note is a miniature Cupid personally inviting you to love again.  Or at least to have coffee while trying.
The pre-performance notices say the show is about the simple act of reaching out to another human in the environment of the café.  I thought of my years as a waitress at my local down and dirty coffee dive, long before the plugged-in, tuned-out generation haunting the Starbuck Factories today, and I was intrigued.  But the café presented here is from the 40’s, with a nightclub feeling during a fast-paced date night.  It starts with a waiter in classic Viennese café attire , who falls in love at first sight and still has to wait tables amongst the throngs of clients clamoring for coffee, cakes, romance and meaning. 

The performance is a collection of musical numbers, written by Ira and George Gershwin, several monologues and sparse, tight dialogue by Charles Mee and precise choreography by Barney O’Hanlon.  The ensemble cast is a mixture of troupes:   the professional SITI troupe from NYC, and newly graduating Emerson students.  Anne Bogart masterminded, nurtured and directed the collaboration between the students and professionals to create a superb and entertaining investigation into and celebration of love.
There isn’t really a plot. It’s more like watching a complicated romp at the café, where keeping score of the various couplings and re-couplings captivates you.  A group of customers  arrive in a cluster of pretty dresses topping vibrant petticoats, outlandish gloves, simple hats and shiny suits. They sit at tables, kiss, slap, or marry and move on.  Moments later, another line of customers arrive, the music changes, they sit, kiss, slap, or marry and move on.  The ensemble becomes a refrain, each performer a bright note and together they create a familiar melody you can’t wait to hear again and maybe you even want to hum along.  Constant motion, chronic mishaps, connection, introspection and accusations between loves all while the head waiter moves tables every few minutes to redesign the stage.   There is a gang war between men and women, moderate occasional cross dressing and a hilarious and explosive break up between two lovers who firmly hold you in the tender clutches of their coffee date.  Then the next refrain arrives, coupling and re-coupling, you see Desire’s tempo, and you step in, ready to accompany it now.

A live orchestra performs flawlessly behind a fountain that keeps changing colors.  For such simple staging, the effects are complex.  Moods shift as effortlessly as the next solo arriving on this jazz train. The music enfolds the actors into its story, and enlists the audience into finding their own. 

This collaboration between a world renowned established and professional troupe and Emerson’s own students just starting out their careers ends the second season of ArtsEmerson.  It’s a stunning example of how ArtsEmerson is bringing innovative, international and essential work within the reach of our local Boston world.  Live.  No You Tube and no instant replays.  Whether the performance takes place at the thoughtfully and attentively restored Paramount, or at the familiar, beloved, velvet worn Cutler Majestic, ArtsEmerson programming always offers  us a place at the table in the café of life where we can sit, sip and muse. Your table is waiting.

Memberships and tickets for next year are available now.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ballroom – a love story Christine Klocek-Lim

Ballroom – a love story
Christine Klocek-Lim
Flutter Press
$6.50 on

Review by Rene Schwiesow

Klocek-Lim, the editor of Autumn Sky Poetry, an international poetry journal, wrote “Ballroom – a love story” during NaPoWriMo in 2011.  Taking on the task of writing a poem a day for Klocek-Lim produced a series of poems about the pain, challenge, commitment, weariness and bliss of dance lessons.  From Waltz to Cha-Cha she utilizes fresh phrases to show us images of the dances, the dancer, and the connection to a dance partner and the environment. 

If you have ever taken dance lessons you will find yourself either identifying with the way the poet relates to the lessons or surprised at the differing perspective from your own.  Either way, you will be opened up to seeing a panoramic view that includes the room, the ceiling, the lights, the people, the feet, the shuffling – however graceful or awkward the movement can be.

We swing into line of dance, the floor so smooth
I can almost see my face, a ghost blurred in the wax. . .

we hurtle around the room once, twice, then I catch
our teacher in the mirrors, her forehead surprised, wistful.

The room, itself, becomes part of the dance and voyeur all at the same time and Klocek-Lim tosses in gems such as:

The lights are on.
Dust bunnies gossiping
in corners.

And I’m certain I will remember that line the next time I notice dust bunnies in the corner of an unswept room. . .leave them alone. . .they are gossiping.

On occasion the reading left me wondering why dance; why put one’s self into a place where there is clearly pain and angst?

My mother finds me in the kitchen
with ice and bandages, foot propped. . .

My bruise looks like Argentina,
a forest of color.

Then Klocek-Lim deftly weaves in a beautiful image:

She says, now turn her again
and he unwraps me like a candied chocolate.
An exotic pear, un-netted.

She leaves us, as many women do, with the accoutrements of dance.

I fancy the pair with rhinestones.
Sweet black satin over a 2.5 inch heel.

Shoes.  Something most women can relate to, especially when pairing those shoes with a man dressed in a black shirt, tapered at the waist, and black pants.  A man who is bending his woman backward in a graceful arch, which ends with:

My shoes falling deliciously

The book is about relationship and while there are times I question the jump of the mixed metaphor/images, Klocek-Lim has given us the opportunity to look at relationship through the push and pull of commitment to a medium that can allow the spirit to fly.

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue, The Art of Words.  In addition to writing poetry and fiction, she currently writes a monthly column on the arts for The Old Colony Memorial in Plymouth, MA.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Over Misty Plains By Alessio Zanelli


Over Misty Plains

By Alessio Zanelli

Indigo Dreams Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-907401-60-2

8.99 British Pounds

Review by Dennis Daly

These poems of Alessio Zanelli scream out for the twilight tonality and muted landscape of essential beauty. They soften life’s stark edges.  At the same time they chronicle the internal seasons of the human condition. The poet’s art connects these two visions on a planet filled with ghosts and shadows. The title poem Over Misty Plains serves as the touchstone. Mankind appears as a species of “tiny“ figures intent on their little deeds,  striving against all elemental odds. The poem introduces the situation with this question,

Whoever was this tiny man

who used to run against the wind,

through the fog,

In the rain,

on snow-covered paths,

towards the sun—

away from his own shadow?

Notice the seasonal themes of weather and shadow. Zanelli uses them throughout the book to both frame his visions and define them. The mist, through which man must struggle, lends beauty to his otherwise alien context.   AT Lucia’s, a poem set in Lombardy,

…The sky opens,

discloses the plain beauty of the Lombard campagna.

Boscageand lea are slowly unmisted in the distance,

toward the laggard sunset.

The air is just bracing,

not bleak or ungentle.

The distance here becomes clearer through the mist, though it is still misty. At the same time the sun is setting, hiding the clear outlines, softening. This in-between time births beauty. In a poem entitled Chasing Specters Out in the Sticks, the hunters race through the woods tracking down the wraiths of desire and perhaps life-force. The excitement of the hunt is everything. The conclusion hangs in the balance, but a truly insignificant balance. 

In the poem Getaway Zanelli comments on the aesthetics of our present environment. He describes an unlovely world, where

Mist and dew

no longer inhabit the dale

Plumes of smoke are the reeds

in the miry oxbows.

The poet then goes on to describe a “snow-hearted” boy, who

now has sand in the lungs

and mineral pitch in the ears.

The acrid smell

of irreparable loss

in the nostrils.

Lord of Winter ices the reader up in its metaphor. The poet’s creative spirit leaves its burrow to face “sharp- cheeked” reality. The frozen season preserves the future’s viability and potential. The awakened poet avers,

As long as your glow resides in my eyes

however dark it is, to be lord again

I just need skin as hard as bark,

a few fluttering snowflakes…

The poem, Snow Runner, is nothing less than a declaration of seasonal preference. The poem starts this way:

You know I like snow

The chilly breath of winter,

Icy roads and rimy trees,

The frosty countryside.

But this winter covering also covers danger. The poet cautions,

Only, if I’m not back by ten o’clock,

Please light a candle,

kneel and pray,

forgive me…

In Summer Fog, Zanelli again softens the piercing sunlight with a fog. Here the fog proves not only an aesthetic decoration, but a potent natural force inseminating the earth with a new generation of life. He exults,

Such phenomenal exhalation from the earth

Betrays the parental nature of the summer

To the dismal seasons to succeed.

Dreamskimmer is a poem about internal coldness and a realization which comes with age. It details the shell of a human being after his dreams slip away and his frantic attempt to recall those dreams. This is perhaps Zanelli’s saddest poem.

Love brings with it a dependency of sorts. In his poem Lost the poet shows how destructive that becomes. There is a nice play on the word “starlet” as the poet’s guiding star. But the end doesn’t bode well for the lover,

It’s gone

No device

no cognizance,

nobody can help.

I’ve been going awry ever since.

More ghosts in the poem The Rolling Soul and Mountain Ghost. Only now the ghosts are the chasers instead of the chase-ees. Those solitary untamed souls that dared the mountain heights are rolling toward the earth whence they came. The more vital fire carried by the soul, the more the ghost gets to eat. I think we are talking about the ravages of time here and the poem’s  image strikes me as honest, if unpleasant.

Knocker of Giants celebrates one of those carriers of fire, Sir Edmund Hillary. Apparently the poet believes a few grand souls can beat gravity at least for a time. Zanelli says,

We salute you

knocker of giants,

mindful of how small we are,

how greater than we thought your feat,

how grand your soul.

Near the end of this book there is a gem of rhyme and formality entitled A Universe’s Song. The poem takes you to a place of creation in deep space, where vibrating spheres communicate nothing and everything. Here’s a bit,

And yet all things there shift

Vibrating spheres of light

Explode and flash adrift

Till fading out of sight.

Don’t read Zanelli’s last poem titled Witnessing’s End last. It will haunt you into silence with its meditation on the end of cosmic awareness. It’s that good. Instead try Absolute Beauty in which the poet wonderfully negates physics and knowledge and praises the efficaciousness of imagination. The poet puts it this way,

In fact,

one of the three must be true:

there is no beauty in you;

or else—unreality is the most real of things;

or yet—all those geniuses of matter, space and time

are nothing but madcap visionaries.

I can live with that.