Friday, May 24, 2013

The Grind By Michael Cirelli

The Grind
By Michael Cirelli
Hanging Loose Press
Brooklyn, New York
ISBN: 978-1-934909-33-1
88 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

There’s something about a good breakfast diner that both comforts and reassures. It begins your day with needed nutritional rituals and provides you with a hopeful context to carry out into the real, less accommodating, world. And, if you have chosen your diner well, your coffee mug will never be less than half full.

In his new book of poems, The Grind, Michael Cirelli delivers a meditative homage to family, food, and hard work in an impressive poetic format. His narratives delve deeply and emotionally into this uniquely American restaurant institution with sometimes surprising results. Most of the poems in this collection are set in or revolve around Cirelli’s family’s actual diner, called J.P. Spoonem’s, located, and apparently still operating, in Providence Rhode Island.

In the initial poem, Dedication, the poet speaks directly to his mother with undisguised admiration. He says,

Mom, I know you want me to keep you out
of my poems, but people need to know

that you remember them by how they like
their eggs, that when I asked about the certificate

framed on the wall of our family restaurant
you told me, while refilling my coffee,

that the Mayor sent it for thirty years of doin’ this.

Right at the book’s get-go Cirelli establishes the work ethic that propels his family in their efforts to succeed. The poem Wedding Day describes the hours leading up to his parents’ marriage ceremony,

Hard work
Is open for business
Even on
His wedding day
Dad nervously
Buttered white toast
While my mom
Took the day off
To prepare her
Platinum feathered hairdo…

The poem Rivers, the masterwork of this collection, portrays the generative and connective power of the waitresses in Cirelli’s family. The poet puts it thusly,

My great grandmother, my Nana, my ma:
All waitresses full of rivers. Fit a river

Into a vein, and it looks like lightning
Or a supernova. Galaxies of rivers in the blood.

When the clock strikes Open, my mother opens
Up a new river. Chit chat flows.

Where I’m from it was the rivers that turned
Everything: river to turn water

Wheel to turn gears to turn looms to make textiles.
Rivers make costume jewelry and silverware…

Many of us have experienced the phenomenon of returning as observers to a past life of intensity and lessons. The poet describes this well in Scuba Diving in the Kitchen Sink. In this section he meets the former co-worker, who he then dedicates the poem to,

…Marty’s still there

Having not aged a bit, his thick
Glasses fogged from the Hobart’s steam.

In front of the house, everything
Has changed. Not enough stools

To seat all the angels of Edgewood—
I reminisce with Marty about

My time in the kitchen, like
A veteran of The Battle for Blue Collar,

Like the Patron Saint of Plates.
But Marty scrubs the hyperbole spotless.

Cirelli’s piece titled The Taste of Love is a wonderfully evocative love poem. The phrasing melts in your mouth. The poet says,

and her lips bent
like prawn over flame
because she may have forgotten
then remembered—and that always
opens a smile—or because
she was anticipating it,
anticipating me
being me, and she loves me being me,
or because she wants more love
and more love
and more, like the bread we ask for…

Like Joyce’s Ulysses—only with food! Here’s another snippet, the ending of the same poem,

And I pour the oil/drip the balsamico
And pinch the salt,
To ward off the eyes, gooey
As oysters, staring at,
Envying us—gracing our way
Through dinner:
A dinner so good
That I could die with its taste
In my mouth.

In the poem Down with the King Cirelli speaks directly to the “King of Vegetables,” the eggplant. It’s pretty comic and exhibits some real depth. Here’s a for instance,

… I abhor the
Metaphor that exploits your name
In Sicily. I’ll go with the ancient
Indian: “King of Vegetables”
Solanum melongena! Outta space!
Sometimes long and curved like
Ganesh’s trunk. Sometimes fat and
Round like Ganesh’s belt…

The title poem, The Grind, praises the routines of everyday work and that work’s ability to keep one connected to a larger society. Someone in the Grind gets tired of it after a while.  But without the Grind one’s status is lost. The poet says,

…The Grind turns our feet
to ash. When Mom got in the car accident,
she couldn’t work for five months.
The first week off was fine, but slowly
lonely started to buzz in her ear,
and she couldn’t sleep,
like when I moved away to college,
and she couldn’t eat. College was the myth
that the Desk was better than The Grind.
The myth of: so you don’t have to
work like we do. Her first day back
I called her, and she told me, It’s good
to get back to the Grind.

Waiting for Poems nails the poetic conundrum perfectly. Poets wait to compose, the good ones, that is. Their poems are out there but often need time. The muse commands. The poet answers. Cirelli states it like this,

… Boiled eggs are low
and underappreciated. My first book (five years),
still low art—and when I tip my pen in the direction
of my father, I realize I haven’t waited long enough
to get it right. Haven’t the craft yet to craft him scrupulous,
in his long white apron, behind a pot of simmering
tomatoes, waiting.

Well I think Cirelli’s Dad has found his poem. And I think this delicious poetic collection will soon find its well-deserved audience.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ibbetson Street 33 15th Anniversary Reading June 26 6:30PM The Book Shop at Ball Square

The original home of  the Ibbetson Street Press in Somerville, Mass.( Far back left  the late Jack Powers founder of the Stone Soup Poets.)

I was speaking with Gil Barbosa the owner of The Book Shop at Ball Square, and we decided his shop would be a great place for the Ibbetson Street 33 reading. ( June 26 6:30PM) All past and present readers are welcome to come and read from their work. This is our 15th Anniversary, and we have such great poets as Jean Valentine, Cornelius Eady, Kathleen Spivack, Brendan Galvin, Marge Piercy, as well as many others in this issue. The front and back cover art was contributed by Richard Wilhelm, a Ball Square resident. Also this bookstore is a great independent and I hope you will buy books and keep this joint running...Gil tells me he signed a new four year lease...  Here is the bookshop's website: Open Mic as well-- after contributors....Free.  6:30PM

**** Ibbetson Street is now affiliated with Endicott College in Beverly, Mass, and work was selected from it for a Pushcart Prize ( 2014)  ( Afaa Michael Weaver poem: Blues in Five/Four/The Violence in Chicago)

The Book Shop at Ball Square
694 Broadway

Best--Doug Holder/Ibbetson Street Press

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Antisocial Network By Timothy Gager

Antisocial Network
By Timothy Gager
Redneck Press
Revere, MA
By way of Mosherville, PA
39 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Stabbing the front cover of a poetry chapbook with a butter knife, normally used to slather my toast with marmalade, is no way to start off the day. Later, as I sat in my well-padded reviewing room chanting ommmmmmmmmmm,  ommmmmmmmmm, some anonymous soul again put this book back into my unreceptive hands and I reached for the scissors that I had hidden under the rubber mat. Another betrayal: someone had removed them.

Hours later, having, by secret techniques developed over a lifetime, reached the state of near perfect bliss, I tested myself. I took the aforementioned chapbook, turned it over to its unoffending (and blank) back cover and cracked it. I’m glad I did.

“Beep.  Beep.” The first poem of this book by Timothy Gager, entitled Many Different Positions, appears on page 38 and proves, dare I say it, you can’t tell a book by its cover. At first glance the poem seems overly accessible, a surface piece that conjures up the image of a comical Chihuahua driving an automobile under the directions of a would-be driving instructor. Almost laugh-out-loud funny. But something isn’t right here; beauty and love lurch off the road. Danger and possible death smile down on the scene.  Here’s how the poem ends,

Closing time comes quickly.

You bark, the dog’s going to kill us,
Like going over the waterfall in a barrel,
Or trapped in a theater that’s on fire.

You never looked as lovely as when
We kiss, the car lurches onto the shoulder.

Notice that the woman “barks,” and blames the dog. Intriguing for a last poem, or in our case, dear reader, a first poem.  I turn the page quickly to the penultimate piece, Everything’s Connected. This poem exudes an interesting mixture of innocence, blueberries, and most of all eroticism. The poet does this by seemingly contrasting (lightheartedly, of course) the non-scientific Law of Attraction with its opposite, a universe of probability. Consider these lines,

All magic, illusion…
The law of Attraction
had led me to
pancakes, pie, yogurt
and last night a Blueberry ale
with fruit swirling
around like lottery balls
about to be picked

Attraction is also a theme in About Allison. The poem deals with how we perceive others and, more importantly, how we need them to live up to our perceptions.  The poet’s persona wants a movie star. In fact he invents the movie. That’s not what he gets. The poet says,

I wanted a movie star, you wanted
to move back home where we
cannot take these walks,

and months go by
before you
call yourself an asshole,
for being out of touch,
then say, you think
of me often.

I suspect any poet who tries to convince his audience of his cynical hard-hearted nature may in reality be an unreconstructed (albeit disappointed) romantic. Gager in his very amusing piece entitled Black Heart Candy Company makes his argument,

My next great idea
Marketed for those
Anti-valentine’s day crusaders,
The true cynics who’ll
Gnaw on my little hearts,
And get me rich quick…
In a very different piece called Unwelcomed Guest the poet confronts his addiction and its demons. He’s not quite up for the fight but at least he now knows the score. He also will not back down and that is a good thing. The poet’s persona details his revelations,

you led me to drive down
a one-way the wrong way,
I blamed the Scotch,
started earlier when
it was still dusk
but then the blackness rose
up from below, I recall
I used to imagine hell’s address
was somewhere between my basement
and the center of the earth
but I know now different;
Hell is something
I’ve ingested…

I empathize with the image of hell geographically placed under the poet’s basement. I buy the plausibility of it. I have no doubt that my hell bustles directly beneath my cellar.

A Girl In A Loft, an imagistic piece, draws a line through life and then attempts to breech that boundary with a connecting vision. One side of the line collects an eye lash, panties, an easy breeze, a young girl’s cheek, and a “good morning.” The other side includes a course sofa, a gritty fabric, poverty, a groan, and the phrase “shit to all that.” The last sentence of the poem, “I’d like to know your name,” surprises with its weight and its ability to bridge the structural gap. I really like this almost-a-painting poem.

In the poem Like Moths in the Night the poet mulls over the deaths and survivals of addicted friends. It’s a serious meditation and one of the best poems in the collection. Culpability and guilt by identification enter the measures and are dealt with summarily. The poet’s persona emerges ever watchful with a determination to do no harm. Here is the poem’s ending,

Tonight, the outside air is cool
I feel his noose tighten
when I breathe,
and her needle
leaving a bruise
I feel his brains

blown out, like mine
splattered into the universe

for them, why not
me? I haven’t the guts.

I sit on a porch on a summer night
keeping the lights off
because there is nothing at all in that.

The first poem in the book (or the last, depending on which cover you start from), Ode to Wormwood, Gager constructs as a masterwork. The lyrical tone echoes its deep and rich notes, near prophetically. The attributes of wormwood, bitterness and a concentration of real poison (think alcohol and drugs), contrast and intermix with a wonderful resiliency (think the human spirit). It is this pollution and ultimate poison that kills the addict in the ruins of his soul—a love affair of sorts. The poem begins this way,

Growing on roadsides and wasted places
the wormwood braces itself against wind,
remains strong, please, there is a fierce poison
here, the water will be polluted, the
drink held in your hand, downed fast with eyes closed,
resting on the passage in the Bible…

This is top shelf writing by a prolific and thoughtful poet. I would only humbly suggest that in the future, when he publishes his Selected Works, he takes that book’s cover design in another direction.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Poet Tim Suermondt: A Headhunter on Wall Street: A Word Chaser in Somerville

Poet Tim Suermondt: A Headhunter on Wall Street: A Word Chaser in Somerville

Tim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections: TRYING TO HELP THE
ELEPHANT MAN DANCE ( The Backwaters Press, 2007 ) and JUST BEAUTIFUL from
New York Quarterly Books, 2010. He has published poems in Poetry, The Georgia Review,
Blackbird, Able Muse, Prairie Schooner, PANK, Bellevue Literary Review and Stand Magazine
(U.K.) and has poems forthcoming in Gargoyle, A Narrow Fellow and DMQ Review among others. After many years in Queens and Brooklyn, he has moved to Cambridge with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.

 I had the pleasure to interview him on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer"

Interview with Doug Holder

Doug Holder: For many years you were a headhunter on Wall Street. For the last 17 you were a partner in your own firm. Basically you had to sell people…you had to have a pitch. Words were important. Did your other life as a poet help you in that regard?

Tim Suermondt: I definitely think it did. Sometimes you are groping for a word and you can throw one in much easier. This is because you are constantly dealing with words and writing.

DH: Did your years of working on Wall Street ever enter into your poetry?

TS: I wish I could say yes, but no, just on the periphery. This probably is because it was my job and I wanted to get away, do my poems, and be free. My poems are fairly grounded though. So when I am away from business I put on another hat more or less.

DH: The poet Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. He was hesitant to tell people at work that he was a poet. He thought it might create doubt about his abilities. Was this a problem for you in your line of work?

TS:  No, that wasn’t a problem. I didn’t feel like I had to hide it.  My partner knew I was a poet.

DH: You moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Cambridge, Mass. with your wife. What was the impetus for this move?

TS:  Well, we have lived there so long.  I lived in NYC for over 30 years. We wanted to make a change. At first we thought maybe another part of NYC. But a lot of that was prohibitive. We thought of running away to Paris. But we decided on a base here. We found a nice apartment in East Cambridge and here we are. Recently we attended a Cervena Barva Press reading in the Arts Armory in Somerville. We are getting acquainted with the area.

 DH: Your wife Pu Ying is an accomplished poet.  Do you have a competitive relationship?

TS:  You would think so. But I don’t think of it as trying to outdo one another. But if Pu likes something I write I usually think:  “I got something there.” If she doesn’t like it more often than not she is right. I would like to think I can do the same with her—but her work is so good lately that I don’t have much room for commentary.

DH: How did you guys meet?

TS: We met at a master class, at Poets House in NYC at the old Spring St. location. The workshop was run by Jane Hirschfield.

DH: I read in an interview where you describe yourself as an outsider. Many poets feel this way. Why do you feel this way?

TS: I am not part of any MFA program. I more or less read a lot of poetry—I have read the poets who have stood the test of time. I thought to myself that I would love to do this. I knew what I wanted to write but I had to work my way through it all. I listened to many voices, but then I found my own. I am not going to be in a Paris Review interview, but I like what I am doing with my writing. I have a new collection out "Just Beautiful"     published by the New York Quarterly Books.

DH: Compare the NYC poetry scene with that of Boston.

TS: New York is monstrous …it is so huge. Boston compared to NYC is almost a town. In Boston you feel there is an end here. NY keeps going—we haven’t explored the poetry scene extensively yet—we are just getting started in Boston.

DH: You said in an interview that oddities in writing bring more clarity. Can you talk about this?

TS: I look for the quirks in a poet’s works. When I come across something unusual, I think: “I’ve never thought of it that way.” Oddities make you stop and think—they change your perspective. I like poets who have quirks. There are poets who have the blueprint down, but their work often seems a little cold or dead. I hope I have some quirks in my poetry.

DH: You wrote a poem “A Donut and the Great Beauty of the World.” You use a donut—with sprinkles mind you—to examine the theme of the beauty of the moment.

TS: I think we need to appreciate the moment especially when it is going well. I understand that a lot of poetry is a bit down, and that is understandable. If you live long enough you will have enough downers. In terms of appreciating when things go well—you must realize these things won’t last so appreciate it even more. There are so many tragedies—why not appreciate the good things? A lot of poets say “I don’t want to talk about walking with my loved one on a beautiful summer day.” They want to save the whales—they want to comment on something larger. Whatever the poet writes about is great—no subject is off limits.


I try not eating the chocolate one with sprinkles
and I don’t succeed—my pledge to my diet dies,

but the taste validates my backsliding, the fine
smudge on my lips beautiful as lipstick on a woman.

Someone wrote “the great beauty of the world”—
maybe I did, I can’t be sure—and I believe the words.

I remember the ugly of the past and I know the worst
of the future is already gearing up to make its visit—

I finish the doughnut, clean away the evidence
and head back to the couch to finish a book I love.

---Tim Suermondt