Saturday, June 29, 2013

Patron Emeritus By Chad Parenteau


Patron Emeritus
By Chad Parenteau
FootHills Publishing
Kanona, New York
71 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Minimalist poems, like those in Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau, imbue each word with a density of meaning that demands resolution and balance. Without careful calibrations stanzas would fall off the page and punctuation could explode. Parenteau not only avoids these pitfalls but successfully plays off the tension created by them. At heart these poems are narrative, although the stories, culled from the common experience of day-to-day living, the poet rubs raw, dices, compresses, and then highly polishes.

Parenteau, who hosts the famous and long-running Stone Soup poetry readings in Cambridge Massachusetts, connects with the deceased originator of that venue, Jack Powers, in his first poem. There is sensitivity here and also a not unexpected validation. The poet says,

Thought I saw you
walking taller, talking clearer

nearby crutches
lady at your table

cowboy hat
ten gallon  paladin

head weighed
nodding toward me.

In the poem entitled Manifesto Parenteau navigates two different venues of performance poetry with unabashed excitement and, interestingly enough, admits to liking the comfort and inclusion of committee work. Of course society is really a set of self-appointed committees so why not. Here are the pertinent lines,

I strafe both sides
one-way streets
run down

crop circles
slim pickings.

Committees agree
I do my best work
when in committee

belonging still…

I like the use of the crop circle image. Like some open-mike participants they appear suddenly at night and take surprising shapes.

Even charged language can be funny. In Parenteau’s piece Come Lately the persona-host of a poetry reading venue is at his wit’s end on a particularly bad night. I’m guessing Stone Soup.  Here’s how the poem begins,

Scant showing
only host pays
success insisted on.

Those closest
edge forget
no hands

left to hold
let alone signal

what they know

Of course the production of a comedic scene is at the host’s expense and due to his very earnestness and caring nature.

Another humorous poem entitled Working Late struts out longer lines and a less compressed syntax. It is one of a handful of exceptions to the poet’s prevailing style. The poet’s persona, making a living like the rest of us, works in a lab. His duties include prepping hamster cages. But in reality our poet thinks subversively and has other agendas. He identifies with the intruder, the outsider. I’m shocked! The poem ends this way,

…the empty cages always need
water freshened, new shavings every week,
more if we have a visit
from the department head.

Sometimes I’ll mess things up,
leave a cage door open, watch eyes,
mouse braving the climb to
the desktop,
pupils growing large
while sniffing my similar stare
before scurry escapes.

Any worker worth his salt knows how to hide from his boss and steal precious moments of humanity through imagination or creativeness. The poet in his piece Passing has chosen one of the most common of all havens—the bathroom. Parenteau describes his sanctuary,

Bosses wait for
bidden bathroom
you rinse meeting off
face,  unsmear specs.

They know you
door closing there
they are

talking by door
cordially predatoral…

The poem Air Lines begins with the passengers vaguely fearing discovery and surrendering their metallic implements and ends with their expected arrival in Pittsburgh, the city built on the melting of metals and its own factory-employed citizens. Parenteau catches the unease felt by many air travelers perfectly. In this context even nature’s controls become dangerously businesslike. The poet explains,

travelers cringe at thought
added contact, padded shells
hard complimentary cashews

muttering minor turbulence
as if nature were bureaucracy
bringing us to Pittsburgh

another mill town in search
of purpose its people long
melted down

Another airport terminal. Another flawed city. The poem Not In Denver attributes Parenteau’s unpleasant work experiences to the soullessness of his surroundings. His world weariness is evident. Yet his observations, wry visions, and the way he holds fire at the end seem to imply future hope. Here’s the conclusion,

World like
forget face
looking between alarm
clock stings
hand smashed poise.

Revolving doors
state soul
water bodies
looked nice
all I’ll say.

Parenteau romps over the page in the poem Phoning In. His sparse wording hits all the right notes. The poet’s persona calls in sick. His attitude mixes anger, wit, imagination, and misery. The misery seems to be more job-related than illness-related. Here’s how the poet starts off,

Calling sick
citing teeth marks,
yesterday’s wolves.

Shoulder bites
sting more recalling
pat shoulders.

The point again? Explain
more they ask your
chewed foot.

The title poem, Patron Emeritus, deserves to be the title poem. It speaks to Everyman. A poet must make do as a citizen of life. He faces internally as an artist must, but he also must deal with the external and, in that realm, hug, revisit, forgive, and remain his own person. A coffee shop represents the universal backdrop of the poet’s existence. As patron emeritus he settles in for the duration in spite of past difficulties. In a steadying voice Parenteau briefs us on how it feels,

Sitting down
finally unfamiliar
feels immune.

The manager said
Your firing was inevitable.

Ask for him
Demand halves
Take everything…

Like gem stones the hard knocks of life shine with intensity from these accomplished poems. Get yourself a coffee. Make sure the boss is not around. Then read this book.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series Author Emily Pineau reads at Ibbetson 33 Reading

***** Emily  Pineau is the author of   No Need to Speak  (Ibbetson Street Press)

  Clifton Snider of The Small Press Review wrote in his review of Pineau's poetry collection:  " Emily Pineau indeed shows great promise. I congratulate her and wish her well." ( May/June 2013)

Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Press Young Poet Series Author Emily Pineau with Doug Holder ( Photo by Zvi Sesling)
Staff of Ibbetson Street Magazine  ( Right  Doug Holder Center Retired Poetry Editor Robert K. Johnson Left Poetry Editor Harris Gardner  Back  Managing Editor Lawrence Kessenich

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Somerville Writer Lisa Borders pens new novel “The Fifty- First State"

Lisa Borders

Somerville writer Lisa Borders pens new novel “The Fifty- First State”

By Doug Holder

Rarely do I venture from my home away from home at the Bloc11 Café or the Sherman Café in the Union Square section of town, but for Somerville novelist Lisa Borders I made an exception. After all-- I heard a lot about this talented writer who resides in the Paris of New England, but I never had a chance to interview her. So I journeyed to the hinterlands of Davis Square to speak to her at the famed literary haunt, the Diesel Café.

Borders told me she moved to the Boston area in 1995. She first lived in Belmont, Mass; a town that has the distinction of being voted the most boring burg in the Commonwealth by The Boston Globe. I agree—I have worked in Belmont at the literary landmark McLean Hospital ( Home to Plath, Lowell and Sexton...oh yes and me) for over 30 years. I would take Somerville over Belmont any day. And indeed, Belmont did not prove to be fertile grounds for Borders. She told me: “It wasn’t my scene. It was a suburban place—family orientated—not a place for a single woman.” So Borders picked up stakes in 1998 and moved to the promised land of the “Ville. She found an apartment in a house owned by two sisters, and has lived there ever since. Borders loves the scene here and mentioned such Somerville writers as Pagan Kennedy, Beck Tuch, and Ethan Gilsdorf as folks she admires and is acquainted with.

Borders is the author of the novel “ Cloud Cuckoo Land,” and the soon to be released novel “ The Fifty- First State." She is an accomplished writer. She received grants from the Mass. Cultural Council, the Somerville Arts Council, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She also has had fellowships at the Millay Colony, the Virginia Center for the Arts, and others. Of her own writing Borders told me “ I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as only writing for women. "My goal is to attract a wide range of readers. I strive to engage the senses and appeal to the intellect. That’s what I feel good writing should do."

Borders told me that her books have been published by small independent presses. Her first book was published by River City Publishing in Alabama. Her latest "The Fifty- First State" will be released in October 2013 by Engine Books in Indiana. Borders said of Engine Books "It is a boutique press. It publishes about 4 titles a year. The bigger presses seem to concentrate on commercial fiction. These are novels that are driven by plot , not language or voice. For instance page turners or thrillers. Literary fiction--the stuff that I write seems to be accepted more frequently by small presses."

Now I have always said that I don't want to go to a writer's retreat because I have been retreating all my life, but Borders begs to differ. She said she gets a significant amount of writing done in places like the Millay Colony, and retreats of that ilk. She reflected: " All the other stuff of life--the distractions fall away. The cat isn't jumping on me and there is not that inopportune knock on the door. You can focus on your work."

Borders grew up in Central New Jersey but she and her mom later moved to South Jersey. This is where "The Fifty- First State" is set. The novel concerns a character Hallie Corsin. After her father's death she moves from New York City back to South Jersey to care for her estranged half brother during his last year of high school. During the course of the novel the pair forms a makeshift family with complications, and gets involved in an environmental sleuthing project that involves frog deformities.

Borders works as a cytotechnician for the health insurance and to pay the bills. Basically she screens Pap Smears. Borders has taught at Grub St. in Boston for many years, as well as on the college level. Borders likes the niche she created for herself in Somerville, and looking forward to many productive years to come.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Former Somerville News Editor George Hassett and the " Gangsters of Boston"

Former Somerville News Editor George Hassett and "The Gangsters of Boston"

by Doug Holder

 A number of years ago I had the privilege to work with George Hassett, the baby-faced former editor at The Somerville News. And during his tenure at the paper I became aware of  his interest in crime. He was a student of the Winter Hill Gang, the machinations of Whitey Bulger, and many others of this ilk. Because of Hassett's passion for the ne'er-do-wells of the world it came to no surprise for me that he penned "Gangsters of Boston."

On the back cover of “Gangsters…” it states the book is  “…the first comprehensive account of three centuries of thug life in a city where America began.” That is of course Boston and the immediate environs, including Somerville.

  Hassett goes back to colonial times and explores how gangs helped spark the American Revolution. One early gangster was Ebenezer Mackintosh. According to Hassett this nascent thug went up against the hated Stamp Act. He is described by the author:

 “At various times imprisoned and deemed a drunkard…Mackintosh finally had the chance to prove his dedication to liberty. To attack the British crown he summoned the laborers, fishermen, and seamen from the rough and tumble ranks of the town’s waterfront community. Also members of the town’s perpetually warring street gangs were there. Each of them, however, respected Mackintosh and followed his command as the night wore on.”

Mackintosh, with the help of his hardscrabble band of brothers caused severe havoc when Andrew Oliver--the British appointed official-- was to implement the Act. This colonial thug led a crowd that ransacked and plundered Oliver’s office building.

From the Colonial era Hassett goes on to explore criminals from many of the historical eras of Boston. Hassett's gimlet eye roves over to Malcolm X who resided in Boston, and  who was involved in petty and not so petty crime. Hassett explains how Mr. X used his criminal past to bolster his street credibility during the Civil Rights Era. Hassett also covers the Brinks Job, The Winter Hill Gang, Whitey Bulger, Joe Kennedy, the Chinese gangs, and gives us a fly on the wall view of a Mafia induction ceremony. 

According to Hassett the exacting requirements to join the “family” included killing your own brother if need be, and leaving your mother’s death bed to take care of family business. Hassett is a consummate observer of this pond scum of bookmakers, liars, thieves, murders, and maintains an objective reporter’s viewpoint.

And of course there are all the colorful names that gangs etc... come up with for their partners in crime. Like Charlestown’s Arthur “ Butchy” Doe “Animal” Joe Barboza, the “Cheese Man,” George Mook “The King of the Chinese,” or the drug seeking female thug “ Dotty from Dorchester.” All these characters make for lively reading.

At an event at the Book Shop at Ball Square, Hassett read from his new book and answered questions from the audience. I asked Hassett if the gangsters of Boston could be considered heroic. Hassett opined that perhaps in colonial times when they went against the British, but he would be hard pressed to pin a medal on contemporary gangsters who were and are actively involved in the drug trade.  Hassett, who wrote for the Boston Phoenix before it hit the alternative press dust said that he would not go after Mafia figures after he graduates law school. He feels that the “Mob” is greatly diminished and the significant and savvy characters of the past are now in their dotage. But because of Hassett those bad boys of a bygone era will be remembered for generations to come. And this is important because one thing we can surely learn from this book is that in the end—crime doesn’t pay.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review of THE REGRET OF A FLOWER, Selected Poems, by Gail Thornton, Redmund Productions, A Division of PME, LLC, Kershaw, South Carolina, 2013, $12.50

Review of THE REGRET OF A FLOWER, Selected Poems, by Gail Thornton, Redmund Productions, A Division of PME, LLC, Kershaw, South Carolina, 2013, $12.50

Review by Barbara Bialick

In The Regret of a Flower, Gail Thornton shows that even in the adversity of physical and mental illness, the human spirit moves toward love and creativity.  As she writes in the title poem, “You have taught me to accept/compliments gracefully,/because when I cut them/too close to the bud,/what I have is a stem/and a dead plume in my hand/taking up all of the space/where the love should be.” She has had to live with both polio and bipolar illness and yet she points out “I’m as varied as the sea,/words rolling out of me/in a tempest/…The turn of a phrase:/salt tears, refreshing me/as it spills onto the page-my naked world at midnight.”

Indeed she dedicates the collection to “my true love, Frank, without whom my poetry would lose its song in my heart.”

As she has moved through life, she discovered that people can love each other in different ways, even in the bustle of a writing workshop. In “Drunk as Drunk On Neruda” she writes,  “Finally, it was poetry that united us/we worked together on a poem/we both wished we had written/…we made love to the printed page and said goodbye without a touch…”

Indeed poetry is an important part of her life. Creativity trumps the alternative, which is to feel only pain. “Poetry is not horizontal-It grows like the Baobab/into the desert of my heart/groping for last year’s rain.”

In “Bipolar Ballroom” she can only wonder at the “Head bangers in my bedroom,/in my head room;/thoughts pile up like compost/fed by my baby tears./My fears, years of faking it/taking/then losing it, losing it/…Dreams keep five dialogues/in unison/Shouting.”
She also thinks back in “Polio and the Family House” which says, “You held me/captive in your rooms,/stretched taught, like sheets between trees./You held me while I lost my limbs;/The House:/Grinning,/keeps our faces tacked to the past…”

Writing poetry, however, can be a companionable activity. “The inkwell really my/unconscious dream/…reading/each line, as one would/the correspondence/from a faraway friend.”

Gail Thornton lives in a small town in Massachusetts. She has read poetry at the Boston Center for the Arts and at Newton Free Library. She has attended poetry workshops at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education as well as the William Joiner Center for War and Its Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. You can read “Gail Thornton’s World” at