Friday, January 18, 2013

The Poetry Czars of The South Shore Visit Somerville


By Doug Holder

Jack Scully is the co-founder with the late Mike Amado of two ongoing poetry venues in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Poetry: The Art of Words a monthly poetry series and The Poetry Showcase a yearly poetry reading held in conjunction with the Plymouth Guild for the Arts yearly juried art show. In 2012 Scully organized Visual Inverse a joint effort between poets' and visual artists at the Plymouth Center for the Arts.

Mike Amado published three books of poetry during his short time on this earth. Scully and poet Nancy Brady Cunningham have edited his fourth book. Scully, who currently serves as the literary executor of Mike’s work has read Mike's poetry as a feature reader at Greater Brockton Poetry and Arts Society, Boston National Poetry Month Festival, Main Street CafĂ©, Poetry in the Village, Stone Soup Poetry, Poets Pathway, Poetry at O'Sheas' and Salem Literary Festival 2010. He also serves as the unofficial photographer of numerous poetry venues.

Rene Schwiesow is the co-host for the South Shore Poetry venue The Art of Words. A Somerville Bagel Bard, her publishing credits include Muddy River Poetry Review, the Waterhouse Review, and Ibbetson Street Press. Rene’s work has been aired on the Talking Information Network, a non-profit service for the visually impaired. April, 2012, she was a guest on WGDH, Vermont, along with New York/Vermont poet Michael Palma. In recent news, her work, “Shades,” has been chosen as Poem of the Week by the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and will appear beginning January 25, 2013. Rene is a reviewer for Boston Area Small Press, writes a column for the arts in The Old Colony Memorial newspaper, Plymouth, MA, and is currently working on a third poetry manuscript slated for a 2014 publication date by Cervena Barva Press.

I had the pleasure to talk to these two on my Somerville Community Access Community TV show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: The late poet Mike Amado was special to you both. What was it about him that inspired you?

Renee Schwiesow: He was accepting of everyone. So he made it very comfortable to open up to and discuss things. He was inspired by his Native American and Portuguese background. I have always had an interest in many different cultures. So that inspired me.

Jack Scully: Mike was basically a builder. Mike’s great idea was to build a bridge between the South Shore area and the Boston area. Originally I got Mike involved with the Somerville literary group the Bagel Bards. I read about the group in a column by Ellen Steinbaum in The Boston Globe, and I asked Mike if he would be interested in attending. So I took him to a meeting. At that time the meetings took place at Finagle-A-Bagel in Harvard Square. As a result Mike had two of his books of poetry published by the Ibbetson Street Press and the Cervena Barva Press of Somerville.
At that time, back in 2004, there was really not much going on in the Plymouth area poetically speaking. They had open mics but that was basically for music. Mike was looking for a place to start something for poetry.

In April 2008 we had our first poetry reading. David Surrette was our featured reader. We had a small audience. Now we average 30 to 50 people. We have a great open mic. So Mike and I founded two ongoing poetry venues in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Poetry: The Art of Words a monthly poetry series and The Poetry Showcase a yearly poetry reading held in conjunction with the Plymouth Guild for the Arts yearly juried art show. Our mission was and is to basically to give poets a place to meet other poets, and a place for poets to read their work. We hope to come out with an anthology in a couple of years.

We also started a new program connected with the Plymouth Center for the Arts where we match poets and artists, and have a public reading.

DH: Renee you are a well-respected book reviewer. How do you attack a review?

RS: I thoroughly enjoy reviewing because it has given me an interesting viewpoint on poetry and fiction. I generally read a book cover to cover. And then I do research on the author and the book. I make sure I include a few excerpts. But I try to highlight the good points, and then delicately discuss the not too good things. It is a ballet of sorts—a delicate dance.

DH: Jack you are editing the late Mike Amado’s 4th book of poems.

JS: In October of 2008 Mike knew he was going to die of kidney failure. So he gathered all his poems and put them into what he called books. And so Nancy and I went to his computer and basically put the Book of Arrows together. The book is in three parts and deals with his childhood in Plymouth, the plight of the Native American, and poems he wrote 3 or 4 weeks before he died. He has several poems about the National Day of Mourning, a Native American holiday that takes place at Thanksgiving. He attended this event shortly before his death.

DH: Jack do you have any ambitions for your own poetry?

JS: I attempt to write poetry. I have dabbled. I have scribbled on pieces of paper in my drawer at home.

DH: Renee any young talents you have discovered on the South Shore?

RS: We have a 12 year old Alicia Reed. She has a lot of promise. But it has been to attract poets under 30, but we are trying

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Even the Dead Are Growing Old Poems by Don Winter

Working Stiff Press
Niles, Michigan
25 Pages
Manufactured in the United States

Don Winter


Review by Dennis Daly

I hated these poems shortly before I liked them. They irritate. They grate. They steal your comfort. They screw you up from toe to head with their revelations of dark cruelty and bright cityscapes of emptiness. But pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle you get to see the down and dirty desperateness and shellacked heroism of an Urban Everyman’s life—maybe your own.

Cold Fact, the first poem in this collection, confronts you with the callousness of unfettered capitalism. The poet fearlessly states his case,

you can find in evil good
if you are good enough.
But where’s the good in
“Ideally you’d have every factory
you own on a barge, tow it to where

labor costs were the lowest.”? Still,
small towns withhold
their terminal truth, too afraid
or indolent or drugged to ask
who is fucking them,

I mean really…

The poem continues with a litany of families broken apart and individuals gone bad due to government supported decisions of greed glutted corporate bureaucrats.  I know something about this subject and I have seen those families in real time. I saw a work force of 16,000 decimated to less than 3000 employees with little transitional training of any value.   Their jobs moved to other countries on that “barge” Winter mentions. The human beings themselves seemed to just vaporize.

In the poem entitled Strip Bar: Hamtramck the poet details the initial excitement of moving into the environs of a strip joint with the dancing, the dangling money, the upturned faces, and the “goddamn of music” and bare skin. The denouement of this piece offers the other lonely side of the tale. Winter says,

When she finally got to me
I stuck a dollar bill
where my eyes had been.
Her face had the alert sleepiness
of a cat’s. She smiled
vacantly, moved on to the next dollar.
I drifted into the night air.
The lights on my rig pushed
the dark aside, moved me
towards the house, towards
no one waiting.

Sometimes the title of a poem summons a back story, which infuses the piece with extraordinary significance and meaning. My Grandfather was a Matewan Miner is one of those poems. Winter sets up the poem as a photograph: a bunch of coal miners posing for the camera. As they stiffly hold their breaths for the shutter we can see that they are dying from inside out. This was about the time of the so-called Matewan massacre in West Virginia—the back story. When the United Mine Workers tried to unionize these same workers, the miners were evicted from their company housing. The local sheriff Sid Hatfield with the town’s mayor and well-armed citizenry in tow faced off against the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency (a private army of company- hired gunmen). A shootout ensued and eleven people died including seven detectives and the mayor. Detectives later murdered the sheriff. Federal and state troops were called in to stop the violence and the union’s organizing. Here’s part of the poem,

Coal’s turned their faces
into dim candles. Their teeth gone at 30.
With each cough they still mine
the coal in the dark
of their lungs.
They stare down the future.
Dust will frame their dreams.

Nice touch at the end. Dust to dust—coal dust, that is.

The poem Visitation in which the poet’s persona laments his inability to visit his child hangs like a pall above this book. His sadness seems to etch itself into these pages. He says,

All night I keep arriving
in someone else’s childhood.
And once a year you send
a postcard of his happiness.

The poem As Time Goes By meditates on the innocence of the past and the reality that dreams once proffered. Winter shows us an aging piece of Americana, the drive-in theater on Route US 31. Then mulls over its memories and meanings. Winter describes a moment of innocence,

… kids from days
of tight pants & tight dreams, we stretched out
under the night sky,
looked for a sign from the stars
like a cosmic lottery.

Of course the title of the poem was the song of innocence banned in Rick’s bar in the movie Casablanca. In fact the song highlighted the cynical son-of-a-bitch that the Bogart character had seemingly become. The poet leads us in the same direction. Describing the present realty of truckers the poet continues,

men slump alone
in rigs & deeply smoke. Big assed, barrel-chested
cowboys who eat double-fisted, steer
with their knees…

But like in Casablanca memory has its moment of triumph. Winter says it this way,

…a few remain, hang on
memory, like those unknown connections
we used to credit to the stars…

The title poem Even the Dead are Growing Old tells a horrible tale of competition with a woman’s dead boyfriend, a boyfriend she loved beyond all logic. The poet mulls over his problem,

…I can see
by her eyes she won’t let him go.
I don’t tell her I knew the guy.
I worked misery whips in Washington
with him on the other end.
Woman he was screwing then
used Maybelline greens, foundation, grape lipstick—
nothing hid the welts, things he’d done to her.
Once she wrote FUCK YOU in empty beer cans

Across the lawn. Then he flicked his knife
Like a match before her eyes.

Okay, so these things need to be told. It pisses me off but I get it. I’m not sure I like Don Winter’s persona. Hell, I’m not sure I even like Don Winter.  But damn this poet can write. He’s a natural and I’m envious.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Foreigner poems by Keith Holyoak

Dos Madres Press, 2012
Softbound, 94 pages, no price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Foreigner is poet-psychologist’s homage to classical Chinese poetry, accomplished by writing the poems in this volume in the style of the great Chinese poets who thrived during the dynastic years. In fact, if you have read some of those Chinese poets – generally shorter poems than many in the Holyoak collection, you will be gratified to feel very familiar with the style and phrasing.

Take, for example, Hong Maodan Fruit which, if one did not know better, would swear it was written hundreds of years ago:

Red spiked ball
with fearsome warrior visage,
dressed to kill,
for piercing, ripping, slicing—

Who would guess
your monstrous spines are tender,
your hidden heart
so fragrant, sweet, enticing?

Holyoak, according to material supplied by Dos Madres Press, particularly studied Li Po and Tu Fu. Their influence is seen in Hong Maodan Fruit and other poems such as

The Walk-through Aviary

So fine yet strong,
this net that tents the treetops,
tested by storms,
its mesh has not been torn.

Fruits are laid
on sheltered boughs for the birds;
the orange ibis
glides up to takes his turn.

Swans preen in the pond,
starlings call from their perches;
a pheasant hen
tends to her newly born.
Through filigree
I spot a pair of hawks
above the green hills,
wheeling in silent scorn.

And, of course, the title poem which is decidedly western – make that American— yet Chinese in thought and sensibility:


How I admire their simple greetings,
the way each fits the other
as surely as a cardigan
passed down to son from father,

Streams from their ancestral well
flowing through their tongues,
lapping at each other’s ears
and bubbling up in laughter;

How I admire their careless grace
and stance of pure belonging,
the tapestries they weave, eyes closed,
spun out of word and gesture—

But I am just an ungainly bird
staring mute from a bough,
stopping a day and a night before
I mount the sky to wander.

In addition to Keith Holyoak’s poetry, his son Jim, who studied Chinese art has illustrated this volume of poetry also in the Chinese style enhancing the ambience of a very readable and handsome volume of poetry.

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