Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ways We Hold By Jennifer Arin

Ways We Hold

By Jennifer Arin

Dos Madres Press

ISBN: 978-1-933675-71-8

59 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Memento mori! Yes, but remembering death as an intellectual construct brings with it unrelenting despair and crushing anxiety. Our metaphysically canny species needs to reach out and hold something or someone when facing the abyss. The acceptance of reality needs a counterbalance. Here, on cue, enters the magician, who passes the wand over the stove-pipe hat and pulls the inevitable rabbit out by his long ears. Behold art. Behold poetry. Behold Jennifer Arin’s poetry.

In the poem Reason for Being an Emperor on Horseback the poet flashes us a snapshot of her internal spirit crashing through the dense forests of ignorance, defeating the old ghosts and demons plaguing our world. The story line charges in, unabashedly romantic, and the tone feels self-assured, stark, and stubborn. It’s a short poem and here is a good part of it,

…I navigate;

to clear a path through the expanse,

to chase away ghosts and demons

from the heavy, hanging branches;

ride swift

from where I am to where

I wish: take in

the shaded world ahead.

The poet’s persona, in a piece entitled Love Poem for a Larger Scheme of Things, uses the most common chores of human connections, laundry and food shopping, to cope with death while, at the same time, facing the unpleasant details of its occurrence. She says,

…We fold

each other’s sheets, match corners,

and turning edges

of a page in the journal for Chris

I have the same sense of something

missing needlessly…

She then describes Chris’ death under an 18-wheel truck. There’s no flinching here. An altar in the cereal aisle concludes this unusual but effective matching of images,

At the neighborhood store

where he worked, friends place

a book of thoughts like these,

though more heaven bent, near

an altar on the cereal shelf, stacked

boxes of Life beside it…

Perhaps the most provocative poem in Arin’s marvelous book, Forces of Nature, rubbed me the wrong way the first time I read it. I mistakenly thought it overly sentimental, self-absorbed, and ultimately cruel.  Wrong on all counts!  This formal poem of seven stanzas is beautifully lyrical with an aabb ccdd rhyme scheme. The poetic structure ups the tempo and carries the story line to its frantic and seemingly feel good conclusion. The poet finds an injured sandpiper struggling in the surf, obvious prey for predatory birds or the incoming tide itself. As if that isn’t enough a pit bull makes a bid to dispatch the bird. But our poet will have none of it. She next delivers the creature into the hands of a veterinarian who, reasonably enough, offers to put the bird to sleep. Note the phraseology. The poet revolts and the poem ends this way:

Mad as the new rain, I try a desperate last plan;

the aviary, refuge from all predators, can—

and will—care for this fragile life.

Witness: it survived nature’s ready knife.

A new reality has been set up by this writer—an aviary of art. Her struggle against nature and fate comes close to madness. But it’s not. Here she seems intent on sculpturing the curves and angles of a new kind of being, who continues to battle, knowing the war is lost but choosing to ignore that fact.

In Giving Up the Ghost {Writing} Arin’s persona swears off euphemisms for death’s finality. She says,

…whether passed or defunct,

gone, expired, retired—should be debunked;

they offer no more comfort than the other side,

rest, departure, quietus, or Great Divide.

Such evasions should be our permanent loss,

should bite the dust, buy the farm …

So far— humorous and clever— but no more. Then Arin hits you with this last couplet,

Each term, despite itself, is a memento mori—

Just as no verse can reverse what isn’t transitory.

Pretty neat!

The poet also makes use of time to hold on.  In the poem Keeping Time, measuring time and the awareness of its divisions gives humans a sense of control. Maybe there is an eternity between two points. Starting with a 37,000-year-old calendar bone found in Africa, Arin gives her own little history of man’s attempt to control the march of time and thereby postpone death. She concludes it this way,

..If I only had one

more day, a friend says will be his

epitaph. All of ours if we can’t better

measure our presence in this world,

the timeless part of us hungry

to count itself: I’m here, I’m here!

Time’s an escape artist anyway.

Arin broadens this theme in the poem Unified Theory. She insists that understanding our universe and its continued expansion gives us a better foothold on it. It matters how things fit together. She puts things in perspective,

In ancient Greece, they understood

multiplicity, mere appearances

of a single truth.

It is our place

to remember that the many

stem from one.

There is no place

not ours.

Within Jennifer Arin’s poetry her well-wrought measures span out, seem to bridge the shaded abyss to the forested chaos beyond.  I hope they do. That’s all any poet can hope for.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Somerville Poet Afaa Michael Weaver: From the mean streets of East Baltimore to a road paved with literary acclaim


Somerville Poet Afaa Michael Weaver: From the mean streets of East Baltimore to a road paved with literary acclaim.

  Interview with Doug Holder

     I asked poet Afaa Michael Weaver how he would  define himself or like to be remembered. He told me: " The kid Michael from Federal Street in East Baltimore with the funny looking glasses and big wingtip shoes. He grew up to write poetry". And indeed Weaver, 60, has written poetry, plays, essays, and is currently working on a memoir. This longtime Somerville resident is an English professor at Simmons College in Boston, a winner of the prestigious Pushcart Prize, a winner of the New England Poetry Club’s Mary Sarton Award, an NEA, not to mention the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as many other accolades.. His papers are now archived at the Howard Gotllieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. I talked with him on Independence Day at the bustling Bloc 11 Café in Union Square, Somerville.

Interview with Doug Holder

Doug Holder: The last time we touched base was probably in 2010. What has been happening?

Afaa Michael Weaver:  I had a book of poetry translated into Arabic. The translator’s name is Wissal Al-  Allaq.  The title of the book in English is “Like the Wind.”  They are mostly original poems I wrote for the Kalimah Project. It is a project based in the United Arab Emirates. They publish, in their words: “Significant contemporary work.” Wissal-she is a good translator. The book itself is beautiful looking—and it is in hardback.

DH: Any books in the works?

AMW:  I signed a contract in 2011 with the University of Pittsburgh Press. The book is titled: The Government of Nature. It concerns childhood, and spirituality. The title refers to the Daoist metaphor of the interior of the body being a microcosm of the external world. The world of nature exists in the interior of the body.

DH: You are fascinated by Chinese culture and literature.  You started the Simmons College International Poetry Conference several years ago. How is it going?

AMW:  The structure is there but no money. I may try it again in another year or two. I want to get my memoir done. That’s what I am working on now.

DH:  What gave you the impetus to undertake a memoir—turning 60?

AMW:  I turned 60 last year. People have been asking me to write one. They say my past is unusual. I have worked in a factory, a warehouse, for many years, and at the same time I wrote for The Baltimore Sun.

DH: Don Aucoin of The Boston Globe described you as a Poet Forged in Heartbreak.

AMW: I was from a poor, poor working-class background. I worked 15 years in a factory as a laborer. I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure in 1995, and that June I was admitted to a cardiac unit. They gave me 5 years to live. That’s when my book Timber and Prayers came out. After that I started to confront my abusive childhood. I had three marriages and three divorces. In the first marriage I lost a child. That was bad—I had a complete nervous background. The child had Down Syndrome. I dropped out of the University of Maryland after this and worked in a steel mill. I was in the military. I was a cook for military intelligence. I was never deployed. But basic training breaks you down, my child died, and I was all of 19 years old. Things like this happen to young veterans today. I have a number of veteran students that I teach at the William Joiner Center at UMASS Boston every summer. I want to support them as much as I can.

DH: Do you have a publisher for your memoir?

AMW: I have a few people who are reading it. Poets Martha Collins and Danielle Georges are looking at it. I hope to turn into my agent before I go back to teaching.

DH: I know you live in Somerville, right up the block from me. You refer to it as the cave.

AMW:  I live directly across from city hall. The house is actually built on a hill. So I live in a cave of sorts. It is modest. Very Zen-like. It is affordable. I was traveling back and forth to Taiwan and China so the low overhead allowed me to spend money for airfare. Every trip I take there is out of my own pocket.
I like living in Somerville more than I did than when I first moved here in 1997. It is more diverse and cosmopolitan. It was a little hostile when I first moved here. Union Square was dead before but now it’s alive…it has an Asian Grocery,  an Indian Market, Sherman’s, Bloc 11 Café, etc…

DH: I know you studied playwriting at Brown University. Have you written any theatre pieces as of late?

AMW: I haven’t written a new play in quite a while but I really want to get back into it. I got my MFA from Brown. When I went there with my poetry book and a NEA, I met George Huston Bass; who was literary secretary to Langston Hughes. He and Paula Vogel talked me into playwriting. They thought I had talent as a playwright. I was anxious to try. So when I came out of graduate school I had two professional productions in 1993. I got glowing reviews in Philadelphia and in Chicago. At that time I had better luck with my plays than my poetry. My first play was named Rosa. It concerned a Blues singer in Ohio—it was a love story. The director was Trazana Beverly. She is the first African-American poet to win a Tony Award. She won it for her role in For Colored Girls…”  In Chicago  I won a PDI theatre award. But my life in theatre sunk my third marriage. The theatre is a funny world. You have to know yourself—a good playwright knows himself. When I was at Brown University Paul Vogel was just starting her play writing program. I was one of her first students. Lynn Notage was another student. Two or three years ago she went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her play Ruins. I was close with Vogel. We both shared an abuse history. I think she believed in me more as a playwright than a poet. After my marriage broke I retreated into poetry. After this experience came my collection Talisman.

DH: You are now in the older generation of African American Poets. I was reading about the generation after you  in Poets and Writers magazine, the Dark Room Collective. How does the younger generation of poets differ from your generation?

AMW: They are all in their 40’s now.  The original Darkroom was peopled with such poets as Kevin Young, Major Jackson, Thomas Sayers, Natasha Trethewey ( Now U.S. Poet Laureate), Danielle Georges, Patrick Sylvan, Sharon Strange and others. When I was coming up we did not have a collective. I was very influenced by Lucille Clifton. In Baltimore, Andre Codrescu introduced me to Surrealism. I was also influenced by Baltimore poets James Taylor—no, not the singer!—and John Strasburgh, a fiction writer. The Darkroom Collective was all black. The people I cut my teeth with were all white. Melvin E. Brown was the only other Black poet I knew. Baltimore, back in the day was centered around Codrescu. I was basically the only black poet.

DH: How about the African American writers’ organization Cave Canem that you were involved with?

AMW:  I started out on faculty at Cave Canem with Elizabeth Alexander. I had a falling out with Cave Canem and I resigned. They asked me to come back as the first elder. Later I asked that Lucille Clifton to be a second elder. I am always there for Canem fellows. I never deny them.

DH: How would you like to be defined—remembered?

AMW: The kid Michael from Federal St in East Baltimore, who used to wear funny glasses and big wingtip shoes. Later he grew up to write poetry.

DH: That’s you?

AMW: It is Doug, it is.

When I Think of Vietnam

Thinking of what is new, how nothing gets
beyond being already done, I stare at a decimated
apple seed, some unnamed rascal having made off
with the real fruit, my last hope for a spring
that is real, not the juggernaut of artificial corn.

I am perplexed, thinking perplexity is the door
to writing something new, a brave metaphor
or the last teenage dream I had in East Baltimore
before the naive wish to be thought worthwhile
by the grand machine, to become a soldier.

Then comes the sober sense of dogs roaming
streets where there is only a blank starvation,
and the awful stench of having eaten the planet
where we live all reminds me this poem must resist
all things that kill, things that add to war's breath.

The life that smothers and gluts us makes it tough
to see how love grows through a bitter humility,
the barely audible whisper of people too wise
to believe the lies we Americans tell ourselves
about who Americans are and what belongs to us.

Afaa Michael Weaver 蔚雅風

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Terrible Baubles, CD, 2012 Terrible Baubles poetry chapbook published by Alternating Current, 2009

Terrible Baubles, CD, 2012
Terrible Baubles poetry chapbook published by Alternating Current, 2009
Lo Galluccio, Eric Zinman, and Jane Wang

A Collaboration That’s Just Pure Brilliance

 Review by Gloria Mindock

Sometimes, it is not easy for musicians to put poetry to music or for the poet, to put words to music.  This is not the case with “Terrible Baubles.”  The poet, Lo Galluccio, who is also a singer with an avant-garde flair, brings her poems to life.  She intertwines her words with the musicians who sometimes improvise and other times play composed music.  They all collaborate so well together that this drives them to new heights and they just soar.

Lo Galluccio reads her poetry, sings, chants, speaks on this CD with guts, emotion, tenderness, and does so with a blues style voice.  Her poems are surreal, edgy, playful, and go where you don’t expect them to.  Some of my favorite lines from her chapbook and on this CD are: “Silver fish in black waves keep secrets/gesturing with fins” from Center of Gravity.  “Like dark birds/the grass at my left wrist/is pulled into the dream” from Three Dollar Poem.  The music in Three Dollar Poem sounds improvised.  The instruments paint the picture and intensify as the words and singer does. 
Another I liked is “Someone offers their eyes/and I must find a cake of stones/to give” from Birthday.  This song provides a break from the rest of the CD with a gentler melody.

Lo Galluccio has collaborated with Eric Zinman several times.  He plays piano, percussion, keyboard, and does voice on this CD.  He has been in the Boston/NYC scene for years.  Jane Wang is a composer, music improviser and is a performance and installation artist.  With these two musicians in Lo Galluccio’s corner, she can do no wrong.  Even if she didn’t have these musicians, she still could do no wrong.  She is that good.

Jane Wangs cello in “I Had a True Love” is beautiful.  The song and mood blends well and all of them compliment each other. This song is more pop sounding with a more lyrical melody.   On the song Adam, the prominent music introduces each chanted phrase with intermittent cymbals.  In Grief as Frenzy, the piano accompanies the singer with a repetitive motif in the beginning and the end.  The percussion plays varied rhythms and Lo’s wide vocal range is extended with the notes she sings.  The music and vocals climax in the middle section where it breaks the repetitive movement and the music range expands into a freer sound.  This piece highlights the cellist rich lyrical tone.  When Lo and Eric sang in Grand Failed Experiment, it was brilliantly done with both cello and percussion musically having a dialogue with each other.

This CD has a good sense of ensemble and the instruments compliment the singer.  I highly recommend this CD.  Order it, you will love it!

This is Lo Galluccio’s third CD.  Her first two are Spell on You and Being Visited.  For more information about these artists, please check out their websites.

***   The CD is available at

****** Gloria Mindock is the founder of the Cervena Barva Press


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Poet Wendy Ranan Continues the Literary Tradition of McLean Hospital with her new poetry collection-- The Quiet Room


The Quiet Room: Poems:Wendy Ranan ( Deerbrook Editions  POBOX 542  Cumberland, ME  04021 $16.95

By Doug Holder

  Wendy Ranan is a psychotherapist at McLean Hospital, and is an accomplished poet. Both Ranan and I have worked at McLean, (a psychiatric hospital that has been designated a national literary landmark) for decades. At McLean Anne Sexton lead her famed workshops, Robert Lowell paced the halls of Bowditch House, and Sylvia Plath got her inspiration for her novel The Bell Jar. Surprisingly Ranan and I have never met in the flesh and have not even heard of each other until recently. But Ranan connected with me through my friends at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Harvard Square. She sent me a new collection of her poetry The Quiet Room , and the book has a number of poems that concern McLean. Now a Quiet Room can be a room of one's own  as Virginia Woolf once wrote about, or it can an isolation room for psychotic and violent patients who are in danger of harming themselves and others. And in a sense many of Ranan's McLean Hospital poems have a a quiet contemplative sense to them, but in the background there is the buzz of inner turmoil of the patients and even at times the poet herself.

 McLean Hospital is located about six miles from downtown Boston, and the grounds were designed by the great landscape designer Fredrick Law Olmsted. Ironically Olmsted was hospitalized at McLean and died there as well. On the grounds, on any given day, I have seen deer, muskrats, rabbits, coyotes, hawks, crows, geese, and in the past few years a wild turkey or two. This is to say the grounds, although much has been sold off in the past years, are quite beautiful and we are certainly not divorced from nature. And Ranan runs with this in many of her poems. Not to sound like some New Age guru--but we are all connected from the celebrated psychiatrist with all  the trappings of prestige to the night janitor who cleans the floors of his office-- not to mention the toad that leaps into a protective bush to evade a predator.

  No matter how the walls of the institution separate the wards of the ward--nature has a way of connecting and providing, however fleeting,a sense of transcendence. But it can also  be a reflection of one's inner distortions--nature makes no distinction. In the poem To Be Invisible  Ranan gets  in the disturbed head of an anorexic as she runs through a field-

.... She sees that whatever grows
     is gone; pods pushed out of trees, lilac
     crusted under its smothering scent,
     She speeds her pace

      vanishing between reeds and blue lace
      where no reaper can see her.
      She hides in the hollow of socket, skull, anything
      empty enough to sing through.

And in the poem Asylum nature intercedes, clowning around, breaking the boundaries of the institution--and also providing a window for self awareness:

  The new staff doesn't yet know /about boundaries,/how not to allow/the wildlife in too close/where crumbs are flung/from the ward's veranda/to crows clowning/between the growing rows/ of need. One dons a paper cup/for beak and struts upright;/others settle disputes publicly/with aplomb or loiter like birds/Hitchcock cast to attack, the first twist in song, audible/ even to these frozen/figures strapped/into wheelchairs and rolled over Olmsted lawns./...The turn of sweet birds/bloom from a warped mind wanting,/above all/to catapult viewers/into spasms of heightened awareness/wings beat back into boarded doors.

I have only chosen to focus on the McLean poems in this collection, but there is a great deal of other work to admire.

Ranan inscribed my review copy with: From another voice in the tunnels.  At McLean there is a network of underground tunnels that connect the various units of the hospital. And I think in a sense working at McLean is working underground. We work with a slice of life that is often not seen by the general population. The clients we see are often underground with their pain and their lives. Ranan brings some light to the end of the tunnels through her profession and her art.

Highly Recommended.

***Doug Holder has worked as a counselor at McLean for 30 years. During many of those years he has run poetry groups for psychiatric patients. He teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, and Endicott College in Berverly, Mass. His own work has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Rattle, Steam Ticket, Toronto Quarterly and many others. He holds an M.A. in Literature from Harvard University

LADYFEST: Winning Stories from the Oxford Gender Equality Festival

 LADYFEST: Winning Stories from the Oxford 
Gender Equality Festival 

Published by Dead Ink June 8 2012-50 Pages, Kindle Edition 

Reviewed by Timothy Gager 

It’s always a pleasure to read the winning stories anthology because of the quality of the work and the comparisons which naturally occur between the reader and the judges. That being said, I found this anthology rather uneven, some of the work soaring while other stories falling slightly short on conflict. I also noticed the men portrayed in nearly all of these stories to be bores and dullards. When they weren’t they were video game players, television watchers and in one case angry for reasons unspecified.  

Also I was disappointed to find more noticeable typos and editing omissions throughout the book. Several places had such erroneous errors of “we” where a “he” should have been, thus changing the meaning of the sentence.   

Another improvement in editing, could be made in the order of the stories. The first story, Songs of the Sea by Rosalind Newman, opens with,Hush, child, and I will tell you a tale…”, while second, “Dreamcatchersby Aimee Cliff opens with “I want to tell you a story, because I feel it’s a story which you built with my bones…” This effectively disarms the great hook Cliff uses to hook you into her story where Cliff takes a commonly written theme, and tells it in a beautiful and creative way. The prose in this piece are an explosive plate of fine dining.  

Continuing on the theme of order, I didn’t consider, “Songs of the Sea” to be strong enough to lead off Ladyfest and I felt the winning story and the two runner-up pieces should have had been placed right up front. The competition judge, Bidisha, named “A Touch of Male” by Cherish Shirley the best of this collection. I found the story humorous and light, with the women portrayed quite differently than the women found in survivor mode, that most of the rest of the pieces portray women to be. (Done nicely in “The Game” by Laura O’Brien and “We Amount” by Kate Pocklington.) I enjoyed “A Touch of Male”, but found the opening paragraph told in the point of view of a character whom appears initially, then disappears forever to be an issue. This technique alone causes me to disagree with Bidisha’s choice of “A Touch of Male” as the best found within Ladyfest.  

The story, “Poke Face” captured how the elderly can be viewed positively or negatively based on who is doing the viewing. Angela Court-Jackson kept it short and sweet and didn’t bang this point over our heads by over writing or numerous extreme examples. This made it a winner for me. 

Bidisha choose “Getting There by Farah Ghuznavi as first runner-up and I agree with her singling out this piece, and in my opinion, I felt it was the best of the lot. It uses traditional short story writing technique; emphasizing strong conflict and characters that remain true to themselves. It also has a strong sense of setting and place which enhanced and captured my interest.   

I also would like to salute the story, “Savage Lands” by Sarvat Hasin, for taking bold chances. Not all of the chances were a home-run, but I found the writing interesting enough to footnote and research other writings of this author.  

Recommendation: Hit or miss