Friday, October 19, 2012

Drive By: Shards & Poems By John Bennett

Drive By
Shards & Poems
By John Bennett
Lummox Press
San Pedro, CA
ISBN: 978-1-929878-09-3
139 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

John Bennett’s persona reels through this tormented book of poems and prose pieces with an anarchist’s witty spontaneity and an almost saintly intensity. The outside world seems to draw Bennett in to its pathetic havoc and uncaring cruelty leaving him questioning, tearless, and above all observant to a fault. He would agree with Thomas Hobbes’ sentiment that the life of man {is} solitary, poor, brutish, and short.

At first I hated it that Bennett calls his prose pieces shards. The word “shards” connotes for me the artsy-fartsy oh-so-precious world of the elite, the special people. But clearly Bennett’s world and writing angles away from anything that even resembles the elite as I understand them. His shards are not pieces of ancient pottery decked out on a fancy well-appointed museum shelf. They are instead broken smudged pieces of a mirror, scattered over the bloody floor of a crime scene. Some of the jagged slivers rage up at you. Others blind you with awe. Still others combine earthy grittiness with inexplicable logic.

If Bennett does seek connections with a type of illuminati, he has chosen well.  For Bennett it is the sense of wonder which separates a scattered band of initiates from the rest of humanity. In this collection’s very first poem, an oddly surreal piece, entitled A Rare Moment in Warfare Bennett shows the power of wonder. The poem begins this way,

The chieftain came
riding out of
the trees &
across the
field in Germania,
bareback on a

During this moment of awe and wonder the appreciative Roman general ordered his archers to hold their fire. It reminds me of the Christmas day truce during the World War I when soldiers came out of their murderous trenches and briefly shared their food and company.

The poem Substitute is certainly one of the highlights of this book. The writer describes his father’s step father in harsh terms, but with understanding insight. The uneducated Irish pipefitter who uses his belt to discipline his six step children comes across as a good man trying to do what is right as he understands it. The pathos in the last stanza between father and grandfather might inspire a religious person to wonder in admiration on the sometimes amazing grace of God or Whoever. Here it is:

The last
thing to die
was a
question in
his eyes
answered by
my father’s
tears his
great head
descending to

Another piece which deals with a people marked by grace or wonder is a shard called Original Sin. Bennett posits that we are all born with wonder but then something happens, perhaps something traumatic. Here’s the first paragraph:

It’s as if we’re born angels, and those who came before us put a pillow over our faces after they’ve tucked us into bed and hold it there until our tiny feet stop kicking. When they lift the pillow again we’re one of them, our eyes vacant. Bennett goes on to explain that some of us pretend to have died before our soul leaves and thereby we survive with our wonder left intact. Those others—the vacant-eyed ones—plod through the world in a state of numbness.

In the poem Crazy John Bennett, the poet, seeking attention, approval, or perhaps just wanting to break up the monotony of life among the vacant-eyes-ones, acts out to the cheers of all as only a barfly can. His audience awaits the spontaneous, the outrageous. He describes his entrance into his chosen tavern,

I would
walk into the
Corner Stone Tavern
on a
quiet afternoon &
a cheer would
go up from
the regulars.
They knew that
before the
night was over
I’d be
biting the
heads off

Fear and Understanding is a short poem that confronts the underside of spontaneity as exemplified in art. A woman complains that she doesn’t understand what Bennett writes and it scares her. The poet’s persona replies,

You understand it
more than you
if it
scares you
I said,
& then she looked
really scared.

A very scary shard Bennett calls He Tried To Consider His Options. In it the writer’s persona details the crackup of his marriage. After giving up a music career, raising four children, and playing by the rules of society the writer’s wife turns on him for his admittedly excessive drinking habits.  His answer, reasonably enough, is that he never missed a day of work. No dice. By this time his wife has joined Al-Anon and has substituted her husband for her support group. The protagonist now loses his way. Jim Beam offers solace and numbness. He accepts. Thus he temporarily joins the ranks of the vacant-eyed-ones.

A follow up shard entitled Economic Crises finishes the story. The writer says,

This is more than a roll. Life begins turning on a dime. Something inside floats to the surface like seaweed.

He hits bottom, recovers, and faces the wondrous world unconfused.

In Drive By, his title piece, Bennett describes writing what he calls a super shard infused with other inspired writers and pouring it “into a narrow-necked bottle like gasoline and then stuffed with a rag…and tossed through the first window I drive by.” His rage against the normality of art is, of course, both violent and well-placed.

Keep a watchful and wary eye on this guy Bennett and his well-constructed Molotov cocktails full of poetry and inspired prose.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kenneth Lee’s ‘SWEET SPOT’ Hits Home

Kenneth Lee’s ‘SWEET SPOT’ Hits Home

by Michael T. Steffen

While reading through Kenneth Lee’s recent book SWEET SPOT, my reader’s eye couldn’t leave the poem on page 32, “Final Diagnosis”—wondering again and again what kind of weight and seriousness the collection might have taken on had this poem been the first and titular poem, so profound the implications of genuine self-examination presented by the opening strophes:

My report—

Biopsy, anterior cervix: Moderate Dysplasia

sent Katherine McCloud for a conization

(removal of the core while leaving the apple)

which may have prevented a possible cancer

but later was blamed for the miscarriage

of a possibly beautiful daughter.

At 9:15 one Tuesday morning

I had deemed her nuclei too densely packed,

their shapes somewhat irregular

and their chromatin too coarse and darkly staining.

So Mary Ann McCloud was never born.

Though Lee in fact is a pathologist and Professor of Pathology, and the poem may well be an honest confession, the potential reach it has as metaphor is breathtaking. As metaphor the poet, that microcosmic god of imagination, makes decisions on future life to be or not to be. And, what is more, in doing so, he comes much later in life to question those decisions, wondering—

Had they been a little less crowded,

a little smoother, a little more powdery-looking,

I might have called them “mildly dysplastic,”

avoiding the procedure, and Mary Ann

would now be the mother of three.

And maybe they would be, were I to look

at that slide again, after thirty more years

of looking at them.

Lee goes on to summarize his practice in the lab, moving from familiar to technical vocabulary, using anaphora to close the poem very aptly with a wide statement that generalizes the pains any of us take on our paths to better knowing:

Thirty more years

deciding what’s fine and what’s coarse,

what’s granular, smudgy, bubbly,

what’s myxoid or hyaline,

cuboidal, columnar or flat.

Thirty more years of honing this art,

of coming to know a thing by what it’s not.

Magnetized under this moment, much of the rest of the book, recalling pristine moments of a life richly allowed, fond and endearing, takes on more poignancy—might have served as a reminder, had he dispersed the handful of “medical” poems throughout the chronologically linear sequence, how those special moments of our lives forever share a border with death, which ultimately gives our lives their meaning.

The title Lee has chosen, SWEET SPOT (not to be confused with the spot of joy on the cheek of Browning’s Duchess!) refers to the mid part of a baseball bat, that zero thick of the pine ideally a batter veers the bat into a pitch with, taken from the poem “Ground Rule Triple”

(page 11), another from the poet’s personal history:

That summer saw the end of pick-up stickball;

chasing the flies thenceforth was supervised.

So I learned to fear the flubbing of a grounder,

flailed at laughing fast-balls flying past.

But once one came in fat and I connected,

met it in the sweet spot, sent it a mile.

It bounced into the woods (we didn’t have a fence)

and they gave me a ground rule triple…

As the title for the book, symbolically this sweet spot associates, I think, with what we call the “soft spot” in one’s heart, the innocent fondness with which most of these poems go about reminiscing. To this extent, the poem chosen to open the book, “309 Griggs Avenue,” is both exemplary and charged with incipience, already displaying the poet’s familiar yet separate consciousness as a cosmogenic agent, or

…master of the linoleum.

I roam there with a wooden brindle cow,

a bright red fire truck, a small giraffe.

Like pale blue streams the liquid hours run…

The objects here so effortlessly placed from the poet’s childhood memory (cow, fire truck, giraffe, streams of hours) gleam associatively for nearly all there is surrounding any of us: providence, danger, endearment and the magic of time’s machinery.

Lee sustains this quality of consciousness throughout a book that demonstrates awareness of craft with keen turns of phrase. A home-made kite is “fractious,” ripples on a lake “nacreous,”

a Christmas tree with a Keatsian epithet “still-unravished.” A new bicycle’s fenders make “twin convex mirrors holding the whole neighborhood.”

SWEET SPOT by Kenneth Lee

can be purchased for $17.00

from Antrim House

Simsbury, CT

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dennis Daly: A floor sweeper. A union organizer. A journalist. A poet.

Dennis Daly: A floor sweeper. A union organizer. A journalist. A poet.

By Doug Holder

 Like many poets I know Dennis Daly has worn many hats in his working and personal life. He has swept the floors of the General Electric plant in Lynn, Mass.; he has organized workers; he edited a newspaper; he traveled the dangerous hinterlands of Afghanistan and Turkey, and has written his first full length collection of poetry The Custom House (Ibbetson Street Press). The poems in this collection deal with his hometown of Salem, Mass, the men and women he worked with during his General Electric days, his family, and his wanderlust that took him into the tribal badlands of Afghanistan. I have talked extensively about poetry, politics and life with Daly at my usual early morning perch at the Bagel Bards meeting in Somerville, Mass., and I was glad to have him in the studios of Somerville Community Access TV on my show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer where the following interview takes place.

Doug Holder:  You got your advanced degree in English from Northeastern University. You studied with Samuel French Morse. He was a well- respected poet and scholar. What was the experience like under his tutelage?

Dennis Daly:  Sam was a great guy. He was an eye-opener for me as poetry goes. He spent serious time with his graduate students reading their work and taking it seriously. I became very close with him, along with two other student-friends of mine. One is Bob De Young, who later became head of the English Department of U/Mass Lowell. The other was Patrick Dudy who became ambassador to Venezuela. Both are very good poets and very good people to write poetry with.

DH: Was Morse a formal verse type of guy?

DD: Sam wrote with rhyme and usually with meter. But he didn’t insist on it in terms of the poetry he read. He was into all types of poetry. After studying with him you didn’t feel you were in the corner as far as formalism or fee verse. At that time I was interested in all types of poetry.

DH: After graduate school you strayed from literary pursuits.

DD: I became angry at poetry. I am not quite sure why. A number of things happened. Other poets I knew were able to get up and read their poetry—I couldn’t. I had a pretty bad stutter. It always was getting a little bit better but even when I was in grad school it was still pretty bad. It seemed I couldn’t get up and read my own poetry. I thought: What’s the point?” I tried to forget about poetry. I wrote journalistic pieces for The Salem News, etc…

DH: It is almost like you had a romantic relationship with poetry that you later tried to forget.

DD: There may be a bit of truth to that.  It wasn’t like I stopped writing it. I could have gone the literary route—perhaps working as a professor…but I took a job with General Electric. I was a floor sweeper.

DH: Why did you do that? I mean you were a highly educated man.

DD: It paid well for one thing. I had a family to support. The job was also quite interesting. I met a lot of really great people. There was one guy for instance who ran a lathe machine who had a PhD in physics. I met people like that all the time—poets too.

DH:  You translated Sophocles’ Ajax that was released by the Wilderness House Press and was praised by the likes of X. J. Kennedy. Ajax takes place during the Trojan Wars. You seem to be attracted to war and living on the edge. I mean you traveled in very dangerous areas in Afghanistan and other places, and were put in harm’s way. What Makes Sammy Run?—so to speak.

DD: I guess to some extent I like situations that are different. It is a change of scenery. I found going to Afghanistan and Turkey very interesting. You meet people who are outside of the box, and some real fascinating stuff usually develops. When I went to Afghanistan I was going to interview President Karazi. I had talked to the Ministry of the Interior but by the time I arrived on the scene he took off for India.

DH: I noticed in your new collection you wrote about my favorite Shakespearian character Falstaff.  Fat men often appear in literature. Offhand I can think of the gourmet and gourmand detective Nero Wolfe, Big Daddy in Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and others.  What is it about fat men as a literary device?

DD: I’m not quite sure. The jovial, fat men, who know a lot does appear often—I agree. I mean Falstaff tutored King Henry the Fifth—in all the wrong things—like drinking and whores. But he was a mentor and did have a keen insight into human nature.

DH: You were a union leader and a workingman. Do you think there is poetry in the day to day grind of the working stiff?

DD: I think you can find poetry almost everywhere. Certainly in a place like General Electric, in which 16,000 people worked, you saw the best and worst of a wide selection of folks. You would meet other poets, and very intelligent individuals. These people worked very hard jobs. I don’t regret a minute working that job sweeping the floors of the plant and organizing workers.

The Custom House

Another age: our greed- governed ancestors
Venture forth, significant super cargoes
Compelling the twins: speed and economy.
They bounded oceans for Madagascar
Or Malay, craved the Orient’s garb.
We watch for their return with telescope
Of brass:  pennants streaming, hull stowed with teas
And silks:  we dream them into our harbors.
We await tribute from captains now arrived,
Long doldrumed—their ships in need of repair:
Sails split and rotting, spars sprung.
Ascending the granite steps, these dangerous men,
These men unable to meet our tariffs
Curse the collectors of the world, the weights
And measures; their minds unbalanced, salt-eaten.
They sulk impatiently, clawing their daggers:
We’ve seen their kind before.
Once in every while a revolution;
They murder us at our desks: stabbed with pen,
Bludgeoned with ink bottle. We disappear
For a time: there are advantages,
Our ghostly machinery still keeping account.
In the end they always pay.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Parade Music/Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown Book by Alfred Uhry


Music/Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown

Book by Alfred Uhry

Co-conceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince

Directed by Joey DeMita – Music Directed by Steven Bergman

Arsenal Center for the Arts

October 12-20

F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

I was not familiar with The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company even though this was their 12th anniversary season’s inaugural production. And to be honest, I am sorry I missed the first 11 seasons if their productions were as good as Parade.

The play is a musical based on a tragic incident in Marietta, Georgia in 1913 in which a young girl, Mary Phagan, is murdered. Looking for a scapegoat, newspaper editor Tom Watson and prosecutor Hugh Dorsey concoct evidence and create witnesses to bring a killer to justice – Leo Frank, a Jew. Dorsey coerces, connives and coaches to insure a conviction. Following the conviction and death penalty, Frank has his sentence commuted to life, but then is lynched. Dorsey goes on to become governor. Tom Watson, publisher of the local newspaper which made sure “evidence” was widely circulated, became a United States Senator.

The play makes it clear that anti-Semitism, Frank was a Jew from Brooklyn, is the motivating force behind the entire arrest, trial and ultimate lynching.

Adam Schuler as Leo Frank and Lori L’Italien as Lucille Frank offer fine voices and acting. L’Italien is operatically trained and her voice and phrasing exemplify her training and experience. Schuler’s acting is excellent, and as the play progresses, so does his singing voice which proves to be excellent as well. Although married to each other, Lucille, a southern Jew and Frank, a Brooklyn Jew, have at best a distant relationship which grows in to love as their adversity increases and tragedy becomes inevitable. The play can also be viewed as a commentary on the Holocaust where love survived even more unspeakable horrors.

Kelton Washington, who plays three roles, is a student at Berklee College and plans on graduate school before heading to Broadway where his talent as actor and singer are sure to find success. Washington portrays an old man, a young man, and an ex-chain gang prisoner with equal conviction . His singing range is exceptional and more than matches his acting talent.

Kira Cowan as Minnie, the Franks’ maid, is a talented singer with a promising future. Ken Orben as Hugh Dorsey is a deliciously arrogant prosecutor with his nose up and morals down. This is, of course, to take nothing away from all the actors, all of whom have fine voices and acting abilities.

The set design by director Joey DeMita is well coordinated with his lighting design. At the center of the backdrop is a dark tree with many branches. It is a two-fold representation, first as the tree of life and second as the tree of death, its darkness foreshadowing Frank’s lynching.

If there is any minor problem with the play it is the orchestra which on occasion overpowers the singers. This perhaps can be attributed to the size of the small theatre in which Parade is staged. The music is heavily dependent on rooted in American forms such as pop and rock as well as folk, rhythm and blues and gospel. It is ably conducted and performed by the six member orchestra.

Alfred Uhry, who wrote the Broadway book, is an Atlanta native whose great-uncle owned the pencil factory managed by Leo Frank, which gives him a certain expertise on the entire affair.

The play is a commentary on anti-Semitism, mass hysteria. It also portrays the immorality of lawyers, media and witnesses.

F.U.D.G.E. (Friends United Developing Genuine Entertainment) is a first class theatre company bringing high quality performers to the stage in plays that have relevance.


Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer, Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene

Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams

Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Front and Back Cover of Ibbetson 32 due out this November!

Front Cover Photo: Jennifer Matthews

                                                  CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENLARGE

 Back Cover: Richard Wilhelm

Plaint Poems by Richard Darabaner

            Poems by Richard Darabaner
            Edited and with an Intro by
               Daniel Gabriel
            Published by Dos Madres Press
            Copyright 2012


                        According to Daniel Gabriel's introduction to this relatively small but rather pristine
            collection of poems, the author, Richard Darabaner, was motivated by “the quest for knowledge
            and religion” in his life and work.  He earned a B.A. in English at Cornell University (summa
            cum laude;) an M.A. In English Literature at the City College of New York; and a Master of
            Philosophy in English at the City University of NYC, Graduate School.  He also taught at
            various colleges and high schools in the NY area.  In addition he has written several short           stories and a novel entitled, “Every Wound a Memory.”

                        Indeed the wounding forces in both love and religion are made manifest in many of
            Darabaner's poems.  The title of the collection “Plaint”is apparently an invented word to mean,
            the allision of lament and complaint.  His faith in God is shadowed with irony and indifference
            as well as an “ironic recovery of that love....and an ironic redemption.”  (Intro.)  As with Emily
            Dickinson's darker side, the shorter pithy poems seem to be intimate with impending death.
            Darabur committed suicide in 1985 in New York City.

                        In his poem “Desire” he writes:

                        (I am, as a poet, accustomed to consummation in despair.
                         I am not longing to desire the sand.  This is a commitment of faith.) p. 3

            For some reason, the sand, the object of the 2nd sentence raises questions.  Is it the sand in
            an hour glass and thus the sands of time; is it the sand of some ravaged Dalian desert; or
            perhaps the warm beige sand Edith Piaf was found adoring after her life as a powerful and
            moving scion-singer of France was cut short by alcoholism?  Maybe this sand is just sand,
            a metaphor for the earth, but closer to the ocean and its tides.  Anyway, it seems clear
            that he sees the fate of a poet to be “a consummation in despair..”  But “the renunciation of         sand”    is also a commitment of faith..  Faith, then, in what?  God, one imagines but can't
            be totally sure....

                        In another poem, more Biblical and stately in syntax, the author speaks of  Christ, “The
            Savior,” and says:

                        “Yet I have a heart of things unspoken
                          You turn again.
                          You would not hear me if I were there.
                          Only the thought of Him and you were resigned.”
                        “This is a great gift from Him to thou.”
                                    from  [Not Yet Have I Begun The Poem of My Heart.]n p 2

                        The poet moves from the first person speaking to perhaps God, or Christ,
                        and then moves to the thought of Him (Christ) as a resigning stance.  And
                        calls this through not prayer or invocation to be a “great gift,” using thou
                        instead of “You” at the end.  It is as if an absent or aloof Christ is possible
                        to believe through a thought, just a touch of memory, perhaps, and is then
                        a great gift.  A deft sequence.               
                        The woundedness of poets and artists (of faith) is apparent in “Out of the Maelstrom
                        and Intro the Hagstrom.”

                        “Wounded those years are
                           when one finds one's steps”

                        “Wounded those bodies brought to task
                          Should their memory worn plots of the Old City...”

                        “Wounded those ones who feel the wound
                          But not the body wounded,
                          Without the grey sky of dawn
                          To recall in a tiny cell of detachment
                          The steadfast calm of their agony.”

                        The last two lines are quite striking:”to recall in a tiny cell of detachment/The steadfast
                        calm of their agony.” This also suggests the poet's or seer's position – detachment
                        recalling, and the stoicism he keeps in agony, while surveying all pain and pleasure.

                        On a more lyrical note, the poem “Wave” which also seems more modern somehow in
                        its diction because it plays with the meaning of the word “wave,” and its possible
                        variants.  A wave could mean hello or goodbye, wave as that gesture of moving one's
                        forearm and hand back and forth.  The other wave could be like a wavelength or a
                        wave of water in the sea,  i.e. large ripple, etc. 

                        In a turn towards humor he writes:

                        “Don't wave at me with your mouth full
                          I don't know whether you're waving or eating. P 17

                        And ends more solemnly with:

                        “Not you but your wave I felt secure with
                        Your wave wasn't eating
                        You were
                        Your wave wouldn't let your brother hunger.”  p. 7

                        Thus separately the goodwill of the gesture or wave,  from the body its attached to,
                        ingesting mere food, but food necessary to prevent hunger, another state of deprivation.

                        It is so also, in the “light verse” of [I'm Not Touched an Inch by Your Salamander”]
                        which ends:
                        You assume I'm syncopated like the wind.”

                        Poems such as th3ese are grace notes in a collection of mostly short,. 6-10 line works
                        and a few longer ones.  His poem, “Echo” clearly speaks of reverberation of the                                                Crucifixion in a quite original way.  As if speaking directly of Christ in effigy:

                        “Without an echo of your former truth alive
                         Alive out of memoryless waking you come
                         to hold the rack of Calvary.”  p. 12

                        Interesting that he doesn't use the more direct and psychological sounding word,                                                “amnesia” but inste4ad, “alive out of memoryless, waking you come....”  to your
                        fate of death.  Christ is awake but has no memories of his life on earth as he takes
                        the rack of Calvary.

                        For those accustomed to more colorful scenery and objects and sensual modes and                               emotions from the “real world”or a real rather than metaphysical riddle in their poetry,                            this collection  may not suffice. But for any with a yearning to explore theological                              equations or dissonance within the framework of religious faith, I recommend this short                           volume of select poems by the late Richard Darabaner. He paints in greys and blacks and                whites with the occasional splash of sand or wave, beige or green.....

                        Reviewed by Lo Galluccio
                        for Ibbetson St. Press