Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's Tough Being A Writer by Doug Holder

It's tough being a writer. In my case even when I was born I was so ugly the doctors slapped my mother instead of me. My own father, not a literary man mind you, said " What a treasure, let's bury it!" I remember the tender moments with him though. He once said to me with love in his expressive eyes: "You are in the flower of young manhood Doug--you are a blooming idiot."

And I could never keep a job. I once had a good gig at an orange juice factory--but I couldn't concentrate. I mean even in restaurants I have trouble. I ordered a bowl soup at Bloc 11, and I told the counterperson there was a fly in it, she replied " We'll charge you extra." Since I live in my head so much--I am socially awkward. I don't know what to say in certain situations. I mean I went into an antique store and said" What's new?"

I don't make much money- a few teaching gigs here and there and a night shift at the local mental hospital. Paycheck to paycheck...get my drift? So I don't live in the best neighborhood. Where I live they don't ask you the time they just take your watch.

And god forbid if the mandarins should ever compliment my work! For christsakes I translated the works of Eliot into English!

You know its good to live with a creative partner--take my wife... please! Well I am a poor writer--I don't know if I told you this, and my wife needs plastic surgery--we had to cut her credit cards.

So I am on my last legs. I go to a psychiatrist, and I say Doc " I going to kill myself"( I mean all the big deal poets have said that at one time, right?) He said " Pay in advance." I cried "I am in psychic pain!" He looked at me with that studied, compassionate expression and said " Go to the window, and release your tongue." I said " What's that going to do?"  " Nothing," he said "I hate the guy across the street."

Monday, June 11, 2012


Review of BEDFUL OF NEBRASKAS by Jill Osier, sunnyoutside, PO Box 911, Buffalo, NY 14207,, 2012, $20

Review by Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES

Jill Osier’s approximately five inches-square chapbook, BEDFUL OF NEBRASKAS,
contains some quality paper, printing and silk-screening, and interestingly worded poetry, but her and her publisher’s decision to charge $20 for 14 pages of print is extremely presumptuous, even if she has published in such journals as Poetry, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner!

Osier has some odd and intriguing turns of phrase and a keen sense of dualities and irony. But their snooty art-itude plays out best in the poem “Night”, where she verges onto Billy Collins-ishness.

“Night…wraps the red brick/elementary school/sitting snow-capped on a hill/like a nurse/too tired to change/her clothes/…She’s waited/until all the children have gone/to unwrap what one boy/gave her: /the black paper napkin,/its strawberry, each fine/seed intact.”

She gives nature a human mind, as in “The Temperature Outside Your Car”:
“Take chickadees: they/are never satisfied. That one/does things with clouds/That thing one does with clouds,/trees work too. Over there’s a crucifix,/over there a table chair.”

To tell you too many more lines might take away from the $20 experience you might enjoy in the future if she does a Selected or Collected Poems. Or you could jump in for this small work for the right to read “You Can’t Buy Shoes in a Painting” or “Yesterday the Girl with the Sad Half-Moon Mouth Said the North Pole Could Be Anywhere”.

I liked the prose poem called “Wyoming” which begins “You recognized the land, and I recognized you” and ends “You were a boy, and you were not a boy, and you were beside me.”

In any case, look for the name Jill Osier.  She might already be well-known to some readers of the small press.  After all, she didn’t even add a biography.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Phyllis Ewen: An artist of water. An artist of poetry.


Phyllis Ewen:  An artist of water .  An artist of poetry.

By Doug Holder

  I suppose the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square, Somerville was an appropriate place to interview artist Phyllis Ewen. The café’s walls  are covered with artwork, and it seems to house a vibe of creative energy. Ewen appeared to fit in nicely with the buzz I was feeling here. This Somerville artist is hard to label. She has a habit of collaborating with other artists, and has even worked with a poet—pairing images with her words. Ewen uses water as a metaphor for many things in her body of work-or body of water, as the case may be. Water to her represents consumerism, waste, abundance, and scarcity. She has created collages of maps and texts to explore the divisions (dams, man-made boundaries) humans have imposed on world culture. She explores the use of water to divide, it rivers and oceans a conduit  for imperialism, all this  is perfect fodder for her art.

  Ewen has a space at the Brickbottom Studios in Somerville, and in fact is a founding member of this living and working enclave for artists. Originally Ewen worked in the Charles Webb Warehouse in East Cambridge but she and other artists were forced to vacate by the landlord. So in 1982 she joined a group of 100 artists who found an old warehouse in the outskirts of Union Square—that became Brickbottom. Ewen believes it was once an old A&P building. Through a lottery people chose their own spaces. They also formed a cooperative so people without the resources to own a space would be able to afford one. Ewen loves the milieu of the building because when artists live in close proximity they feed on the creativity that pulses through the environs.

    Ewen's work with themes of water started years ago when her young daughter Georgia made a little drawing of a boat. It was a simple, childlike picture of Ewen and her driving a boat. From this spark Ewin created a series of images of her daughter’s boat (painted in acrylic) as the boat moved through the water—all with colorful islands and backdrops.

  In 2003 Ewen became involved with the printmaking project Proof in Print in which she brought prints from South Africa and the United States to Havana, Cuba. There she met the Cuban artist Janette Brossard. She collaborated with her and the two had an exhibit of interrelated installations titled: Oferta, Azul, Freedom Water, and Lost & found. Their work used water  as metaphor for issues of contemporary society. Brossard’s work with wine labels influenced Ewen to create a series of prettified bottled water with labels like Holy Water, Rain Water, etc…

  Now the poet in me had to inquire about Ewen’s work with Cambridge poet Denise Bergman. The  two collaborated on a project named:  The Space Between. Bergman sent Ewen a poem titled Petroglyph and Ewen sort of deconstructed the poem. She excerpted fragments, rearranged words—created new combinations. This led  the pair  to work on a sequence of Bergman’s poems. This lead to a sculptural wall piece. Both artists are intrigued by the way words and images expand and change as they are passed back and forth.  The poem was transformed by image and altered text.

 As our discussion rolled on Ewen continued to talk in her rapid fire cadence about her work with maps, her use of weather graphs, collages, and other materials. I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of her work. But Ewen, like other Somerville artists I have interviewed, contribute to this wonderful mix of artists, dreamers, polymaths, and creative people that live in work in the Paris of New England, Somerville, Mass.

How To Find Peace Poems by Martin Willitts Jr.

How To Find Peace
Poems by Martin Willitts Jr.
Copyright 2012 by Martin Willitts, Jr.
Kattywompus Press
Cleveland Heights OH
Softbound, 28 pages, $12
ISBN 1936715171

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Martin Willitts Jr’s latest chapbook How To Make Peace tries to find hope or uncover despair amid the carnage of conflict. Two poems in the book on facing pages best exemplify this dichotomy.

Music in the Battlefield

            Based on the water color, “The Piper of Dreams”
                   by Estella Louisa Michaela Conziani, 1914

In the lull between the shooting,
I played my flute so quietly
music notes were blackberries.

For a moment, the fields were silent, my song
drifting across barbed wire, broken wheels, dying
split open horses, to the men agonizing,
cauterizing their wounds.

The quiet finds what needs to be lifted up,
and lifts it.

Killing Fields

            “When broken glass floats” – Cambodian proverb

They plant our bodies like grain.
We are mixed with lime.
Our skin browns the ground.
Our skeletons make the earth’s chest rise and fall.

This is what it is like to be worth
less than an empty field
when tears of the defeated are glass,
and everything is broken. 

Willitts’s poems could be about any war. The first being the Civil War, Spanish American War or perhaps inspired not only by the painting, but by Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” War brings the need for something uplifting to the men and women who are caught up in it and as the second poem intimates it could be non-combatant civilians as well, especially those who suffered in Southeast Asia, or Nicaragua or El Salvador or perhaps those suffering from the so-called Arab Spring which is turning more and more into a cold, dead winter in the countries where uplifting has given way to the broken.

In Protocol For Primates, Willitts shows us that gorillas have more precise rules of peace and war than their homo sapien counterparts, while the opening lines of the title poem warns that perhaps animals should not trust humans:

“I know the glow of benevolence when I see it./It is easily recognized by the wild animals./They come willingly to you without regret/trusting what they should not.”

The poem, based on Quaker author Edwards Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” goes on to negate the looming threat against the wild and replace it with his definition of trust. And as Willitts often does in his poems it ends with his (our?) happiness.

Another poem, “Forty Years Later” is dedicated to Cervena Barva Press publisher/editor Gloria Mindock whose poetry on the Eastern European model is often dark and with the
exception of the last line is similar to one of her poems.

Taken as a whole these are poems take us down and then lift us up, perhaps Willitts’s intention: there is hope where despair exists.