Saturday, December 01, 2012

Clangings by Steve Cramer

Steven Cramer

Steven Cramer

Sarabande Books

ISBN 978-1-936747-46-7

2012 $14.95

Clangings is a poetry book open to mystery. Each poem

is titled and paginated in the table of contents and with each page

devoid of the poem title. At first I imagined the poem as one

or several long poems with a blank page separation. Interesting

how I came to understand the poems as individual and also as one

poem, by studying the reasons for Cramer's intention. The cover art,

image by Johann Fournier, with three exact heads, reminds me of a

Buddhist statue and also requires closer attention. There is a movement,

an adjustment and concentration to the details in the way the poems read

and the cover image portrays. Often as in a concrete poem the reader

needs to be open to the many layers a word may contain. The one

word concrete poem lends definition to the word, being itself as it

is scripted, but it is also a reflection on the many meanings it brings:


“Dickey says we're born in a reek

kind of ammonia, sort of a Comet

paste thickened with piss. The wet

crimps your nose and stinks if we kick.”

We are brought to an immediacy, the birthing, as a poem, as metaphor,

images in a particular reality, lends to the imaginings a poem may

utilize, or not use. In this segment of the larger parts, in this verse our senses

are used so that we may recognize the poem as birth. All the poems therein

are about truth, a surreal, dada truth, an experimental truth, born from one's

reality and the way the mind often may perceive. The poems live on the page:

Forks can't solve it any more than a kettle.

Forks and kettles are found in the gospel

where they go horn to horn with the devil.

Look, here's his hide, bristling in a bottle.”

The rhythm carries the words. The perfect separation, the line breaks

sing into the next line. Meaning is constant in the images and metaphor

and what the image may conjure is plainly seen and I accept their meanings

in a real and in a poetic sensibility, “he overshadows the light divided,”

as if the poem becomes a gospel, each word thought connection then

flowers and thistles each verse, thus making reality dance with all the

meanings and their concrete connections:

“I could clang wish-bells, break out a dish,

but I know he's the headache at the base

of my throat. He's left ice in my voice,

foam round rocks where we used to fish.”

The word journey continues on every page we encounter

“a finch in my chest flinches to get heard” the poems engage us

in conversations about our own thought process, on how to read

poetry, or write poems. Cramer's poetic form is impeccable;

“Dickey my door, I'm seeing. Yesterday

I can tackle after all, and I feel like it

opens an ocean view from my parapet

of mountains and moons of Mercury.

This is a fantastic read and an enormous gift for anyone who appreciates

good poetry and perfected four line verse.

Irene Koronas

Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review

Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press

Friday, November 30, 2012

An Affair of Concoctions‏ by Eamon Loinsigh

An Affair of Concoctions
Eamon Loingsigh
Shanachie 51 Press
$10.99 on Amazon

Review by Rene Schwiesow

If you’re expecting the usual trite template for a work of fiction, you will not find it in this first novel by Eamon Loingsigh.  The work is short, a novella, and offers readers a refreshing change of pace from the tired standard fare.  “An Affair of Concoctions” is intriguing.  According to Loingsigh in a 2009 interview, “. . .I knew that the story couldn’t be told in a traditional format. At least not to the effect I was looking for. It needed to be sparse, obscure and it needed to say a lot with very little words. It needed to be written in a way that would leave a lot to the imagination.”

And the work certainly does say a lot with few words. 

An Affair of Concoctions bears the fingerprints of many authors, perhaps most poignantly the existentialists.  In “The Stranger,” Albert Camus writes, ““I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”  Loingsigh’s protagonist, Jonathan Piltdown, realizes the world’s indifference too:  “Wasn’t it Camus,” Loingsigh writes, “who said the horror of indifference is that the universe doesn’t care about our struggles?”

Two pages later, Piltdown’s daughter dies.

The name of Loingsigh’s male protagonist is no coincidence.  Piltdown was the name of a hoax perpetuated from bone fragments declared to be the remains of an early human.  It was 40 years before the forgery was exposed.  Piltdown, a seemingly typical corporate suit, may also be other than he appears.  However the reader may interpret Loingsigh’s characters and story, it is evident that Piltdown and the female protagonist, Maison, suffer from existential angst.  Throughout the book they experience a pervading spiritual fear and a struggle to get back to and be more responsible to God.

The relationship between Piltdown and Maison is the heart of the story.  If you are at all interested in the psychology of relationship, the pair will present you with plenty fodder for examination.  An online connection leads Piltdown to attempt a real-world tete a tete, which becomes more a game of cat and mouse than functional meeting.  From this reviewer’s perspective, curiosity ensnares you page by page as Pildown’s motives, psyche and emotional stability are questioned.  Exactly what is his attachment to the idea of Maison?    Throughout the book we are left to wonder whether the relationship is really as it appears.  The subjectivity inherent in “An Affair of Concoctions” will give book club members the opportunity for lively discussion.

If you swoon to predictable series like “Twilight,” “An Affair of Concoctions” may not be the book for you.  But if you prefer not to be spoon fed plot and enjoy the avante garde in a story; if you are looking for attention to craft and detail; if you long for something that will feed your desire to delve into the psyche of the characters and, perhaps, even make a connection to this postmodern world, then Loingsigh’s “An Affair of Concoctions” is definitely the book for you.

Loingsigh, who at one time was called “New York’s shanachie,” is an author to watch.  Though he no longer appears frequently on New York’s literary circuit, he remains a master at telling a tale.  Give yourself an early holiday gift, drop by Amazon and order your copy of “An Affair of Concoctions.”  Loingsigh’s story weaves an amazing, intricate web.  Become entangled.

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore Poetry venue, “The Art of Words.” She writes a column for the Plymouth Center for the Arts in The Old Colony Memorial and when she is not writing can be found reading, cooking, or searching for amazing shoes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Boris Pasternak My Sister Life and The Zhivago Poems Translated from the Russian by James E. Falen


Boris Pasternak
My Sister Life and The Zhivago Poems
Translated from the Russian by James E. Falen
Copyright © 2012 James E. Falen
Northwestern University Press
Softbound, 164 pages, $17.95

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Translations from some foreign languages with which we have some smattering of familiarity are less difficult for the translator-reader relationship.  Spanish and French come to mind.  Other languages, because of multiple meanings of words (or characters) leave a reader to wholly depend on the translator. Russian and Chinese jump out, as do some Eastern European languages, Hebrew, Arabic, where the reader cannot connect in any way with the original, even when it is printed on the facing page.

Once, a long time ago, I owned a book of Boris Pasternak’s poetry.  Most people remember him as the author of Dr. Zhivago, but it is his poetry that brought him fame in his native land.  My copy was borrowed by some forgotten person and never returned. That was one of the books that “disappeared” and led to my “do not lend” policy.  

Anyway, I discovered a brand new translation of Pasternak’s My Sister Life and The Zhivago Poems in one volume, translated from the Russian by James E. Falen.  Falen has previously translated Pushkin and Akhmatova, two very difficult writers to translate, so I was not worried about Pasternak being hacked up.

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at his ability to bring what might be considered archaic words and forms to the page with ease and elegance.  Even the rhyming schemes, when used, work well. Falen has done an excellent and enjoyable translation of Pasternak’s work. One of the book’s strengths for me is the lack of facing page original language.  That leaves 164 pages of English translation and a totally readable book.

One example from My Sister Life is “How Well You Played that Role” in which the poet bemoans a past, unfaithful love:

How well, how well you played that role!
While forgot my cues!
Forgot that you’d sing other roles,
As someone else’s muse.

Along the clouds the boa sailed on
Through field of new-mown hay,
And oh, how well you played that role,
Like sighing ripples play!

And leaning low above the oar,
A swallow on one wing,
You played that role far better, dear,
Than all the rest you’ll sing!
From the same sequence is another of Pasternak’s love poems.  Though one would gather from the novel Dr. Zhivago that there exists deep passion in him, it is the poetry which reveals his most passionate writing.  

Crossing The Oars

Rockaway boat in a somnolent breast,
Willows sweep down over collarbones kissing
Elbows and oarlocks … but, oh, take a rest,
This is what nobody sensible misses.

This is a song for more than a few.
This is a song … of ashes of lilac,
Splendor of chamomile crushed in the dew,
Lips upon lips to be bartered for starlight!

This means embracing the vault of the sky,
Wrapping your arms around Hercules, clinging …
This means to squander—and never day die—
Night after night on the nightingale’s singing!

In The Zhivago Poems, the second part of the book, we find Pasternak still writing about romance and love.  Take the first two stanzas of “White Night” for example:

I dream of a far-distant time,
Of a house on the Petersburg quai.
A landowner’s daughter from Kursk,
You came as a student on day.

You were charming and had your admirers;
And the two of us all the white night
Found a place at the window enclosure,
Looking down from your skyscraper height.

Or there is this stanza from “Autumn”

At one we’ll sit, at three we’ll go—
I with a book, you with your knitting,
And in the dawn we’ll never know
What time it was we left off kissing.

Clearly, for me, Pasternak is a poet of passion. His subtle metaphoric references of love and romance, love making and separation, the elegance of his writing is what many poets who toss a cup of it in your face, or let it spill out to expose themselves and most often former spouses or lovers leave little for the imagination.  No, there is nothing explicit here like those who write about body parts, bones, sexual prowess, cheating, etc.

Pasternak, who lived from 1890-1960 is more closely aligned with the Romantic poets than with our confessional poets, though in his own way, Pasternak’s confessions unfold in a more alluring manner.

Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010) and Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 20110)
Reviewer, Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jared Smith on the late small press icon Harry Smith: A MOMENT IN THE MAGNIFICENT TIME WE SHARED


By Jared Smith

To even begin to understand the scope and power and dignity of Harry Smith, you have to understand the social and intellectual maelstrom that he rode the center of in the 1960s and 70s onward in New York City.  Rage.  Vietnam.  Women’s rights: Our Bodies Ourselves. Civil Rights.  Gay pride.  All piled against the vast complacency of the mainstream media, initially unfocused  through a rising up-swell of tortured voices that were easy to ignore in the beginning.

And there was Harry Smith moving into the center, a bear of a man rolling boisterously with the passions of the time and focusing all that power through his own words and actions, and also through organization of the un-organizable, his giving voice to The People, his own majestic poems that included both formal verse and open jagged dashes into the solar plexis of complacency.  And his publishing.  The small press world we draw our writers from today would not have existed without the work of Harry Smith and only a handful of others who worked with  him.  Harry was the poet and publisher I sought out and pursued diligently through eight years between his inclusion of my early work in an anthology of young poets and his finally accepting my first book of poetry in 1983.  Harry Smith, who brought together Menke Katz, Poet Laureate of Lithuania, with the likes of Sid Bernard, Tom Tolnay, H.L. Van Brunt, and the heart of the dissatisfied New York writers into a powerhouse of revolutionary cultural change that he combined with the voices and machinations of Len Fulton and Hugh Fox to create a full cross-country counter-culture of change through his work at COSMEP, CCLM, the Pushcart Awards, and other ventures.

But what right did I have to even approach Harry Smith, I thought, as I walked into the beehive of activity that comprised the offices of The Smith at Beekman Street in Manhattan? Stan Nelson was rushing out the door.  Sid was dripping cigarette ashes over a pile of manuscripts, having just stopped in from his work as a freelance writer and a roving editor for Smith.  Lloyd had a phone clutched in each hand as he strode up and down the office.  And Harry sat calmly in the middle of it all, his high forehead and white mane of hair reminding me in that first moment of Melville’s blank white wall—whether of good or evil, impervious and containing massive power that came from something indescribable that transcended our beliefs and wove them together.  I found myself at a complete loss of words, merely mumbling and scraping and lowering my own eyes in order to merely be around Harry and these other men, and listen as intently as I could in the time given me to the words they had to say, knowing those words would become a part of me.

I was young and very small, but Harry was magnificent and welcoming and generous, bringing me into the center.  He took me to Suerken's a restaurant  (near his office)  where he maintained a table famous among the New York literati, introduced me to mid-morning Bloody  Marys, and offered a very generous advance for what was after all a first book of poetry.  I see him to this day, with the broad dark round table set before him with white napkins and a rose in a vase upon it along with “whatever food  you would like,” his arms opening wide with welcome repeatedly as ideas took shape and were tasted between us..  Here was the ferocious man who played passion into the poetry of his time in the same way that William Packard was playing control and craft into the same scene through his work at The New York Quarterly.  Here was the writer of Trinity and so much more, an intellectual magnet, and we were there together at the center.

We moved our separate ways again as time moved on, though Harry published a large number of my poems over the years since.  And we remained the closest of friends even after I moved west.  I would visit him in his  brownstone years later in Brooklyn, and we would exchange poems and ruminations and praise for the natural world after he moved to Maine.  But that center, that Suerken's  where we sat and had our fill of literary alcohol has always been at the heart of my most cherished memories.

Harry, we would not have had the world we live in now—would not have had the freedom of choice over words and actions that we have—had it not been for you, your strength, generosity, philanthropy, and creative majesty.  I think that we all wish that we could have given you more.

Bio.Note: Jared Smith is not related to Harry Smith, though he wishes he could claim the connection.  Harry published Jared’s first book, a book-length poem, Song of the Blood, and it is reprinted in full in Jared’s Collected Poems: 1971-2011, published by NYQ Books,  and available through Small Press Distribution at

(for Harry Smith
in Memoriam)

"And how from all death life is reborn"
Louis Aragon

We remain here
forgetting little
of your departed life
full of winds
of mirth
and reverie
of burning nights
in attics
for restless exiles
and new arrivals
sacrificing time
for others who struggle
to locate the right phrase
from the ephemeral,
colliding with idealism
often with the young,
outcast and invisible,
in a protective fate
of keeping your Word
and us alive
on cerebral tongues
as a warm inner light
for generations.

--B.Z. Niditch

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A letter to Kathleen Spivack: With Robert Lowell and His Circle

A letter to Kathleen Spivack:  With Robert Lowell and His Circle

By Irene Koronas

Dear reader, I will review this book, initially, by addressing
it to the author, Kathleen Spivack. Please be reminded that
it is a review and I bring the review back to you as a reader.

Dear Kathleen

Last night, I first made my way to the bookstore,
and with some effort the young sales person helped
me find your new book, “With Robert Lowell and
His Circle,” on the shelf under the L's. Then I traipsed
off to a poetry reading with the book in my mind, anxious
for its story. I had to separate myself from seeing your image
as we greeted each other at the Saturday morning Bagel Bard gathering.
Once I left my own images and concentrated on the words
on the page and when much later I was open to the
newness of this book, I found myself engrossed with the
historical, instead of “an invert” relationships a new book
might offer.

By the time I left the poetry reading, with your book
still in a plastic bag begging me to open to the clean pages,
anxious to read about what I perceived as a glamorous time,
(from all the talk about Lowell and Plath and Sexton),  and
the supposed glamor of suicide, depicted in other books. I was
interested in your writing, your participation during those times.

Waiting down under in the subway, for the 77 bus, I opened the book
and read the introduction. Realizing we are from similar circumstances,
how we relate to the immigrant way, the accented language, the need
to be an American success story, brought me closer to understanding
the way the book is written. I read the beginning of the first chapter,
“Family” and then slipped the book back into my bag. When I have
more time I will read more. The book mark is on page twenty.

Dear Kathleen

“If pulled into the sexual orbit of this extremely
attractive person, one would be burnt to cinder.
Lowell, with all his genius and madness, would
make sure to survive. A girl would not.”

Kathleen, your intellectual life was on its way to maturity. The
beginning of the 60's was (and even now) a time of inequality
of circumstances, which lent to your feminine innocence.  Lowell
seemed entitled, (or what I perceive as entitlement) juxtaposed
with your young student's innocence, became a recipe for disastrous
consequences. Your writing presents this focused and broad under-
standing about Lowell, out of context, or in context with the times:

“at that time Millay was out of favor. She
was considered too romantic, too direct and
“out there” - a girl might have a passion for
her poetry. But I was in the land of oblique,
incomprehensible words, words one had to
struggle to understand. I was in Boston, the
Land of Harvard, with sophisticates who
spoke of poets I had never heard of.”

Lowell, being a multilayer character and teacher,  with his approach
to teaching, dogmatic and gentle, lends to an interesting read.
This is so clearly shown in the way you depict his everyday posture and presentation..
Your portrayal of the great poet Lowell is masterful. Your book is written
to be understood. (I thank you for that)

The poets become real and not a romantic rendition of who the reader
might want to think they are. This then gives the reader real under-
standing. Poetry is also the way a poet lives and thinks and all the
different ways a life may  lead to writing poems. Your writing
captures the nuances in the details. Their lives are perceived by your
discerning eye:

“On a particularly lucid day, Lowell passed out copies
of Sylvia's poem “sow.”
 I can still recall his somewhat nasal Southern-Virginian-
New England voice, oddly pitched, as if starting to ask
a question, saying to Sylvia and to the class “This poem
is perfect, almost.” A slight breath-gasp, nasal and out-
ward, as if clearing his sinuses silently, “There really is
not much to say.”  A kindly but bewildered look. Long,
struggling silence. Lowell looks down at the poem, brow
furrowed. The class waits. Sylvia, in a cardigan, does not
move. She listens. No one else moves either. “it appears
finished.” Long silence. Lowell looks agonized, but then
he always does. Anne fidgets. Realizing that her arms
draped with charm bracelets are making noise, she stops.
Sylvia leans forward, dutiful, expressionless, intense,

Dear Reader:

The descriptions of Lowell as teacher send goose bumps.
I think about my own reactions if I’d of been there. My youth
and inexperience would've caused my shyness to take a seat
in the back of the room. If I’d been an older student I would
scream obscenities and been thrown out of class. Spivack has
an acceptance. She has the vocabulary which enables the
reader to experience what she experienced, an acceptance
in being able to be herself even if it is shyness, she will take
her seat and observe. It is remarkable how the reader will
be able to relate to this book because of Kathleen's observations and note
taking. She is able to bring the events to life. Chapter after
chapter we read from this awesome book:

"How did Lowell manage to train so many poets?
perhaps it was the fact that if one survived those
classes, one felt tough enough to survive the outside
world, even as a writer. these classes were more in the
nature of an ordeal, a fascinating one, to be sure, than
in the nature of entertainment."

This book needs to be in every classroom of higher learning:

"Poems were often submitted to Lowell without
names on them; most of us preferred to remain
anonymous as much as possible. but of course,
being slyly, Lowell would flush out the unfortunate
author. passing out those smeary carbon copies
with a seemingly tentative bend of the head, a
kindly smile, he would somehow get the author
to confess ownership."

The writing pulls me into,  each page until I’m lost in Lowell's
circle. The sentences carry me beyond myself. I feel the intensity
of being in this poetry class:

"While many of Lowell's women-writer friends were
kind, if slightly patronizing, Anne Sexton, irrepressibly
exuberant, was genuinely warm. She had a way of
drawing me right in."

Spivack has the capacity to write about Plath, Sexton and Lowell
and all those people in the circle friends and family come to life ;
the way a good novel has the ability to bring them into our life.
"Her (Sexton) hands shook when she read her poems aloud."
Sexton was a formidable person in writing as in her life, she was
immediate, present, seemingly self assured, perfect in manner,
open to friendships and dedicated to her poetry and poetic friends.
"Don't let the bastards get you" was her refrain about rejection notices
and she had a drawer full of them. This was her refrain to her close
poetic friends, Kathleen, Kumin and Lois Ames. Plath had a magnificent
attitude, supportive to the women poets, writers in a world where women
were still trying to please their male teachers/partners/editors, yet both
Sylvia and Anne were focused on themselves, in an (almost)
pornographic sense, meaning, not minding being public, being
able to do what was wanted and also, taking advantage behind
closed doors or in the open class room:

"But Anne was something of a renegade. She broadcast her
messy personal life, rather than hiding it beneath a veneer
of polite and tightened fury. So Anne, by virtue of her lack
of formal education and by her "excessive" emotionality and
obvious vulnerability was a lightning rod for criticisms. She
inspired controversy."

The focus of the book remains centered on those poets who were in
Lowell's class. Kathleen seems destined to write about Lowell. I
came to this conclusion  by the references Kathleen makes about
how she came from her fellowship at Oberlin and was “chosen”
by Lowell for private study with him, and later attending a class with so many
soon to be famous poets:

“After my initial few months of terror, I relaxed. It seemed,
once I settled in to the armchair across from Lowell, surrounded
by books and words, that I belonged there, had always lived
in that world where poetry had such power. I had been waiting
all my life for these conversations. Now they were upon me,
in that Lowell read and led me to read and inquired into my
thoughts on what I read...”

The reading moves quickly, not too quickly, yet, in an absorbing manner.
I move from one page to another with great interest. I'm beginning to
find it difficult to continue reviewing, when all I want is to sink
into the pages without the distraction of having to stop and write about
what I'm reading. There are so many phrases I want to capture, to quote
that even if I'm not writing this review, I would be slipping the note
paper out and jotting down passages for my own future reference.

Dear Kathleen, you have written and important book. Your writing
has opened a door into the world where many great writers and personalities,
live. Your writing opens as a great novel opens, with a mind to history
as well as imagination and a sense of place that will remain eternal
because, “With Robert Lowell and His Circle” we come to see clearly
through a dark glass.