Saturday, September 22, 2012

I Thought I Felt Myself Crack: Review by DeWitt Henry of From the Umberplatzen: A Love Story by Susan Tepper

I Thought I Felt Myself Crack

Review by DeWitt Henry
Tepper’s 47 short shorts and/or prose poems (From the Umberplatzen: A Love Story) each one page or less, offer a linear narrative about an ambivalent, two-year relationship. In each section there is a dialogue between the woman narrator, Kitty Kat, who is from America and married, and “M,” her German lover in an unnamed German city with a park and a species of deciduous tree she calls “umberplatzen (“Of course that is not the true name of the tree. I can’t ever remember the true name”).

She has moved to Germany to escape her ex in America, though they are still married.  Her means of support are mysterious.  As she reveals, almost as an aside in the 47th section, M. used to teach physics at the University and travel a lot.  When they first met, presumably in the park, she’d joked about biological warfare chemicals affecting his brain, and he’d picked up on the joke. “They say it’s all chemical,” writes Kitty Kat, remembering. “His chemicals invading mine. Some sort of cross pollination.” The park too “had a kind of force field that drew us together.” They have separate apartments. Neither have children. He is divorced from a woman in France. We learn that he once studied medicine. Also that he’d once been a champion parachutist, but hates flying. He is virile and sexy, but above all he is witty, as is she. Both appear to be Catholic.

Nearly every section is structured on some topic of their disagreement: the trees, favorite movies, favorite paintings, hair styles, bird song, kites, shoes. They start off happily, then either she or he suggests an idea or a preference, the other disagrees, apparent misunderstanding or offense sets in, and they part. Then M. makes amends by sending some token or message across town, which arrives next day, and disarms or further perplexes Kitty Kat. Distance and intimacy are their necessary dialectic.

Kitty Kat can’t give up her past (her husband, her country), but revels in M. as her German holiday. For M. Germany is home and he wants Kitty Kat to share it with him permanently. Every now and then, despite their verbal parrying (much like the couples’ parrying in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” or “Hills Like White Elephants”), there are lines of crisis.  “We stood there facing off. A kind of crossroads”; “You can’t boss me”; “You want a baby by yourself”; “I’m not ready for a ring.” In terms of story, as seasons turn, and as attempts to amuse each other wear thin, there is no big argument or break up scene, no final, bittersweet “wisdom.” But we know from the opening section that Kitty Kat has returned to her ex, who also sent messages and tokens across the time and distance (“My ex had sent me . . . three jars of peanut butter . . . He no longer hated me”), and that the 46 sections that follow, while wonderfully immediate, are fulfilling her promise to M. that “I will remember everything.”

Tepper’s ear is pitch perfect. None of the dialogue is attributed and put between quote marks in the usual way, but the reader is rarely confused about who is speaking. Her packed segments in dramatizing two witty, bright, and sexy individuals even seem to suggest a screenplay (Neil Simon meets Truffaut or perhaps Bertolucci). All the dialogue is there, as in this passage:
It’s my time. I don’t mind he said. I do. Women. And he shook a finger at me. Your body is my body. OK then I’ll buy your body. When my flat gets sold. M had laughed. To the coldest bidder he said. OK We’ll get beer. We’ll get beer and sausage. We’ll dance out the day into the night. He hugged me so hard then. I thought I felt myself crack.
This is a classic, unsentimental love story about ambivalence; it’s often comic; both characters are imaginative. There are moments of whimsy, astonishment, anger, and beauty.
Tepper asks the reader to work, and the work pays off.

****** This review was originally published in the Lit Pub

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer By Helen Marie Casey


My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer
By Helen  Marie Casey

Review by Kim Triedman

“I want us to explore what it means to be an artist, to work as an artist, and to lack acclaim.”  Thus begins author Helen Marie Casey in the preface to her new book, My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer, released by Black Lawrence Press earlier this year.  The artist in question, who lived in Sudbury, MA for most of her long and productive life, is a figure of profound interest to Casey, who also lives in the area and is clearly well versed in the art history of the time.  As much meditation as biography, My Dear Girl takes as its task not just the reconstructing of one particular life but also, in a way, its conjuring:  In fashioning her biography, Casey seems to walk through Hosmer’s life as a kind of kindred spirit, hand-in-hand. 

Florence Armes Hosmer (1880-1978), lived through huge changes in her world – women’s suffrage, two world wars, the great Depression, and struggles for Civil rights and equal rights – and on a more personal level endured nearly constant financial obstacles and crises of confidence.  Born into a large and supportive family and educated at the Normal Art School in Boston, she went through her adult life unmarried, with “no protective partner or spouse, no mentor in the shadows who took her part for her; no agent,” under constant strain to make ends meet.  Acclaimed at one time as one of the more prominent of Boston portraitists, she “fell off almost all the charts of American women artists of the early 20th century.”  She was not “a path-breaking painter,” writes Casey, “but she was a good one,” and never gave up on “her commitment to the creation of beauty.”  She was simply a woman on her own with the desire and training to paint in a world and a time which made such goals particularly challenging.  

In tracing the outlines of Hosmer’s life, Casey opts for a free-form approach, sorting through the “jumble of detritus waiting to be deciphered” (Hosmer’s letters, notebooks, possessions, artwork, etc) and shifting always backward and forward in time.  It is a tack which works well for her.  Casey is an astute observer, and there is a method to her meanderings.  Through repeated and often seemingly incidental appearances of those most intimately involved in Hosmer’s life and work, Casey draws us gradually into her inner circle, developing Hosmer’s persona Rashomon-style, from a multiplicity of angles.

As Casey frames it, the heart of the Florence Hosmer story is really the heart of every artist’s struggle, regardless the medium.  “The subjects here that interest me are twinned,” she writes, “—obscurity and accomplishment.”  What she seeks to explore is the question of whether some alliance between artist and audience is necessary, “some sign of confirmation that a thing is so.”  In Florence Hosmer’s case – as with most artists, it could be argued – the signs were intermittent and often contradictory, though they never stopped her from doing what she loved despite the hardships that that implied.  Her art was her way of assimilating her world and, as such, essential to her.

 In many ways, Casey argues, Hosmer’s life serves as a kind of allegory: no matter the costs, Florence Hosmer – as so many before and after her – “could not choose not to paint,” and ultimately that became its own victory:
The creation of even one beautiful, unforgettable work is enough.  One painting. One poem.  One short story.  One novel.  One quilt.  One equation.  One theory.  One musical composition.  One work of the imagination that won’t let go of us, that gets under our skin, that haunts us because it has everything right.  Florence Armes Hosmer left us hundreds of paintings.  Not all of them are memorable.  But the memorable work is breathtaking.

 **** Kim Triedman is a managing editor for Ibbetson Street and a widely published poet.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Press Visiting Author Series-- Presents Richard Hoffman Sept 27, 2012

                                            ( Click on picture to enlarge)

Merrimack Media Writers: Beer & Books Networking Event

  My friend Jenny Hudson has started a new venture located in Kendall Square in Cambridge, and this is an upcoming event that you should attend!

Beer & Books Networking Event

Calling all writers to join us at Atwood’s Tavern (877 Cambridge Street in Cambridge, MA) on Tuesday October 9th from 6-8 p.m.

If you’ve already published a book, are thinking about publishing a book, or are in the middle of writing a book, you’re perfect for this event! You’ll be able to network with other authors and learn about Merrimack Writers, our newly launched membership-based initiative that offers exclusive promotions, discounts and member events. Bring your books, business cards or just ideas. There will be door prizes, as well as a full kitchen menu available if you’re hungry.

In addition to this event, we’ve got a few others in the works. You can see our full calendar of events here. (} And, please save the date - Saturday October 27th - we’ll be at the Boston Book Festival with our Merrimack Media writers who will be signing books.

To RSVP, join our meetup, The Write, Publish, and Promote Network for free events for the writing community. Click here ( RSVP

Merrimack Media, sponsor of Merrimack Writers and the Write, Publish, and Promote Network, is a full-service self-publishing, distribution, and promotion company.

For more information, please contact: Jenny Hudson at

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Flag Day in Detroit by Dawn McDuffie

Flag Day in Detroit

Poems by Dawn McDuffie

Adastra Press

ISBN# 978-0-9838238-3-4

Review by Prema Bangera

Wrapped in a stone-blue textural cover, you will discover poems radiating the after-math of love—the binding of uncertainties, the teachings of “normalcy,” and the willingness and courage to let go of this love. Dawn McDuffie’s latest chapbook, Flag Day in Detroit, captures us by the throat, and gingerly cradles us with the reality of understanding the inexpressible fear of longing, of picking up the shattered pieces for closure, of allowing something to be larger than oneself and unlearning the fabrications around us.

The book opens with “Marriage, It Turned Out, Was a Disappointment,” a poem about the reflection of a dissolving union, where one finds companionship with inanimate objects and invokes life to daily mundane happenings:

How did broken glass get into the sheets?

The biggest question—why did I marry

this man, not a bad man, but dull,

so dull I had to rely on Cherries Flambé

for lively dinner company.

I would pretend the moon had joined us,

an extra light over the candles…

I imagined she radiated appreciation.

Thank you for the beer and the

sweet and sour pork. Thank you

for thinking of moonlight, even when

I’m invisible, or hidden in the clouds. (9)

Here, we see the narrator breathing in the silence of perhaps living day to day without words, with imagining gratitude and acknowledgement of being alive. The narrator, like the moon, wants to be thought about and no longer carry on invisibly.

In order to feel visible and discover a new life within yourself, sometimes you need to rid old possessions. In “I Wanted To Sell Anything That Reminded Me of Bob,” the narrator wants to pawn, sell, and give away anything which carries the essence of her past:

Brave ship, wind that never died

and four continents of fruits and fishes—

he didn’t deserve these gifts.

I sold four deceitful shelves of books

that suggested we had a past and now

we would have a future…

I gave your birthday present to my sister,

but the wedding ring, green gold vine,

pink gold grapes, I returned to the store.

I used the money for a weekend trip

with my new boyfriend, a limited person

who got drunk every night, but didn’t

pretend that our nightly ritual of red wine,

Hungarian carryout, and sex

meant God ordained a marriage. (10)

These objects no longer felt like belongings, only became artifacts of a life filled with pretenses. The narrator compares the mundane daily activities of her current relationship to her marriage, remembering how naïve she once was to believe that these happenings create a happy bond forever. She was not only selling all reminiscent material, but letting go of all fabrications of an ideal life.

Often people imagine an ideal life as a journey simply requiring love of some sort. In “I Married My African-American Lover and Signed Up for a Class in Stained Glass,” McDuffie creates a clear metaphor between the difficulties of being in an interracial couple and working with broken glass:

I paid special attention to interracial couples that year,

like my teachers, a husband and wife team who loved

the transformations possible with glass…

The teachers advocated first aid supplies.

Have band-aids close by, soap and alcohol.

Be ready to bleed if you take on this work. (12)

How closely the narrator examines skin color with colored glass, light transcending through to create a new world. How this new world takes time to construct, takes on wounds and bruises. A marriage of colors appearing on window panes, and sometimes its beauty is demeaned.

Such lack of comfort causes you to lose innocence and faith in the goodness of others. This touching struggle appears in “The Second Mary,” where the needs occur in paradox:

After the adoption,

after the judge, the social worker,

the child protection agent, our own

adoption representative, after we waved

good-bye to all of them, eager

for the happy ending, the child

fought back, a big eleven –year-old

deep into tantrum, kicking her heels

into the mattress to kill the thoughts

that slept there and came out

to whisper insults and threats.

Our child hatched schemes to ditch us

and find a good mother, a good father.

I hate you I hate you I hate you,

she chanted one night. Don’t leave me

don’t leave me don’t leave me. (17)

How small one feels at the image that an abandoned child’s hatred is in actuality her prayer, her plead for someone to stay and love her. This poem grasps you with its raw emotions of this child, pushing away the love she needs, the love she wants.

McDuffie evokes a sense of delicacy in each of her poems, drawing us into the hearts of each of its narrators, and creates shadows of our own souls in her work. She ends this collection of poetry with the book title, “Flag Day in Detroit.” In the poem, Jon, the husband who is born on Flag Day, wonders “what is a flag waving after all, but a demand to love what I love” (24). He is inspired by Bradford’s tribute to La Création du Monde by Milhaud. Together the wife and husband stand and “pledge allegiance to every pure, weightless note.” McDuffie’s book displays the unification of the world, understanding the clefts created, and appreciating its complexities.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bagel Bard Anthology Reading Sept 24 8PM

****** The Bagel Bards was founded in 2004 in the basement of a Finagle A Bagel in Harvard Square by Harris Gardner and Doug Holder.

 From a Poets and Writers article by Ifeanyi Menkiti:

Bagel Bards, a seven-year-old group cofounded by Douglas Holder of Ibbetson Street Press and Harris Gardner, is not a writing workshop—though those who come can, if they wish, bring work to share and receive feedback from other members—but rather a dedicated group of area poets and writers who meet every Saturday morning for company and support in Somerville’s Davis Square at the Au Bon Pain (18-48 Holland Street). (They even have a permanent symbolic home at the coffee shop, as management has allowed members to have a plaque in the corner where they meet behind the muffin case.) Important parts of the meetings are recorded for future reference by a designated member with the title of “Word Catcher.” There is no fee to belong or join the Bagel Bards. All that is needed is a willingness to bring oneself to Davis Square on Saturday mornings, maybe purchase a bagel or two, or a steaming cup of coffee, so as to keep the management happy. Last year poet Clayton Eshleman paid a surprise visit to the Bards while he was in town and had warm things to say about the group and its spirit. Other prize-winning authors such as Kathleen Spivack, Afaa Michael Weaver, and Gloria Mindock can be found holding court there. A Bagel Bards anthology is also published annually.

Hosted and organized by Rene Schwiesow

1. Prema Bangera

2. Philip Burnham

3. Heather Campbell

4. Julia Carlson

5. Louisa Clerici

6. Dennis Daly

7. Timothy Gager

8. Bridget Galway

9. Harris Gardner

10. Steve Glines

11. Elizabeth Hanson

12. Doug Holder

13. Abbott Ikeler

14. Irene Koronas

15. Linda Larson

16. Deborah Leipziger

17. Tony Majahad

18. Gloria Mindock

19. Thomas O’Leary

20. Ralph Pennel

21. Janice Rebibo

22. Rosie Rosenzweig

23. Rene Schwiesow

24. Jack Scully

25. Wendell Smith

26. Manson Solomon

27. Paul Steven Stone

28. Chris Warner

29. Alice Weiss

30. Debra Weiss

The 20th Century In Poetry Edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae


The 20th Century In Poetry
Edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae
Pegasus Books, New York
Collection Copyright © 2011 by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae
ISBN13:  978-1-60598- 364-6
Review Copy, Softbound, 860 pages
Hardcover edition $35.00

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Where history, politics and war intersect the poet can be found. Words recording daily life, power struggles, bombs dropping. The poet protests, writes words of praise putting down feelings, emotions, observations like a row boat, sometimes, following a river, sometimes peacefully, other times like a white water raft.

 The poet drifts across history, engages war, reminds us of the explosions. There must be a keen eye, a good ear, a quick pen, a long memory and the truth. The poet says what needs to be said, says what is to say, says it so it is understood, remembered.

If a poem says it well enough, it is printed in a magazine or book. The really good ones make it to an anthology of which there are many – some good, some great, some exceptional.  With The 20th Century In Poetry Michael Hulse and Simon Rae have achieved excellence.

The books is divided into logical time periods with names which tell the reader what to expect: 1900-1914, Never such innocence again;  1915-1922, War to Waste Land; 1923-1939, Danger and Hope; 1940-1945, War;  1946-1968, Peace and Cold War; 1969-1988, From the Moon to Berlin 1989-2000.

Each section features names, some easily recognizable, others less well known and a few who have been left behind with the passage of time; overlooked in previous anthologies. This is what makes the volume particularly exciting. But it is not only the poets, it is the selection of poems which the editors chosen to use; many not readily found in other poetry books. Another remarkable aspect is the pairing of poets, sometimes the tripling of them, providing side-by-side comparisons giving new and fascinating views of poems and poets.

For example, in 1910 you will find W. B. Yeats’s No Second Troy with an annotation of his obsession “with the questions of Irish identity and nationality, and through his own poetry and plays contributed strongly to the forging of a modern Irish literature.” There is, of course, more to the annotation. 

On the next page is Linda Bierds White Bears: Tolstoy at Astapovo with an annotation which cites William Nickell’s  The Death of Tolstoy (2010), Roy Fuller, who  also wrote of Tolstoy’s death at Astapovo and Jay Parini’s The Last Station (1990) starring Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in the movie version. 
This type of information allows the reader to not only unite time and space, but offers the opportunity to more easily access information on writer and subject or to pursue a particular, previously unfamiliar path.

In the pages under 1917, for example, you find Wilfred Owen, T.S. Eliot, Alan Brownjohn, the known, the famous, the unknown.  1960 finds Randall Jarrell, Galway Kinnell, Ted Hughes, Dom Moraes, Ingrid De Kok which gives you an idea of the depth, breath and quality of poets and poetry.

There are many sections in this anthology. Some 400 or more poets represent different eras. I have deliberately not included selections of poetry for two reasons (a) there are too many great works in this volume and (b) I would prefer readers go out and buy this book which will be a valuable resource for those interested in poetry and history. Indeed Pegasus Books and editors Hulse and Rae have issued a collection which in the 21st and 22nd centuries and beyond will be a valuable reflection of the history and poetics of the English written word.