Saturday, July 20, 2013

Flower Map by Deborah Leipziger

  Flower Map
by Deborah Leipziger
© 2013 Deborah Leipziger
Finishing Line Press
Georgetown KY
ISBN  978-1-62229-321-6
Softbound, $14, 25 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Flower Map simply put is about love—these are love poems and they are sexy, sensual, exciting. Take for example Sueῇo

I sleep inside your sleep
Your touch in my touch
Your hand resting on my side
Guitar curve of my body

In the night you whisper
“It’s like an exotic island”
The moon reclining into the night
Your sweat in my pores

I dream inside your dream
Awake inside your morning

Don’t you long to be the other half of this poem?  Can’t you imagine yourself in the dream?  Ms. Leipziger has a way with her romances as Awaken informs us:

Your body presses against my back
arousing me awake
touching through the golden silk sheath
that falls all around me

Morning hovers over us
like a blanket

You cover me completely—
how you come crashing into me,
each time a new ocean

Your breath bites on my clavicle
Your pulse in mine

Brazilian born she has lived in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands which adds to her distinct imaging.

This book is also about loving her children.


My little daughter next to me,
her profile luminous
like a painting.

Her skin is like the morning,
warm and softly lit,
not alabaster
like her sister’s,
but golden peach.

Her face is a geography of the places I love,
of everything I know.

I am an admirer of Deborah Leipziger’s poetry for two reasons: first the sheer beauty of her poems and second the ability to make love seem like more than mere physicality, more than base emotion.  When I edited Bagel Bards Anthology 7 hers was the lead poem. 

Finally, the last poem in Flower Map is about making bread, challah to be specific and
it is a metaphor for so many things: poetry, relationships, love, life and family.

Here are some lines from How to make challah which provides insight into her wonderful talent.

Make a well./A deep well to contain the grief./Pour the yeast water into the well./Let it seep in./Add 3 eggs and 3 tablespoons of oil./Take off your rings.

Read the rest of this poem in her book. Read all the poems.  Pick a quiet place where you
will not be disturbed. Turn off the phone. You will want to concentrate and ruminate. Enjoy.

Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Review of CATHERINE REFRACTED, Pure Slush Vol. 7, edited by Matt Potter, June 2013,, 100 pages.

Review by Barbara Bialick

In “Catherine refracted”, the editor and his anthology of chosen authors have fashioned a charming and gregarious biography written as separate story vignettes about Catherine the Great, straight out of Russian history. Catherine, born in 1729 as Sophie, is known for her vast power, ribald party ideas and various love affairs with the men of her court.  Editor Matt Potter writes that “Catherine’s accomplishments are too too numerous and too too varied to mention here…suffice to say that if an accomplishment is mentioned in this book, it’s probably true.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t first quote Susan Tepper, a Boston small press and poetry scene author. Her first-person story is titled “Two Grigorys”, and begins “Onging it is an extremely bitter winter, though all our winters are dastardly cold. My bed is a fortress of misery. Both my
Grigorys have been absent past a fortnight, one off waging battle in the western regions, the other laced in the arms of my French cousin, Isabelle, a haughty princess capable of the worst treacheries…”

In her doldrums, says Tepper, the empress is tired of embroidering seat cushions and drinking Vodka. After her “dwarf minister” suggested she exile both Grigorys to the Isle of Elba, she “sentenced the dwarf minister Soleninkoff, to death by firing squad. As he was dragged away I felt a certain pleasure sensation, similar to the pleasure that I receive from my two Grigorys…”

A funny tale by Sarah Collie is called “Transvestite Balls” and actually describes the various sexy and hairy men in their ball gowns. “Stifling a giggle, she thought the lieutenant’s violet, off-the-shoulder gown was a brave choice, especially since he had so much dark chest hair…”

“The Kings and I” is a well-titled history by Kim Conklin Hutchinson, who writes “Yes, history does repeat itself. From up here, it’s a bit like watching oneself in a play…over and over. It’s fascinating how one little Prussian woman can become the source of so many passionately believed rumours, innuendoes, and outrageous legends…History isn’t fair. Neither is life. My real death was even more undignified, a form of passing that I share with another kind of later monarch, the king of rock-n-roll…” Unfortunately I had trouble deciphering what the death was…

Well, you get the idea. This Pure Slush volume is one of many such Slush literary magazines on intriguing themes such as “obit”, “versus”, “gorge: a novel in stories”, “real Pure Slush”, and “notausgang: emergency exit.”

Editor Matt Potter is an Australian-born writer who keeps a part of his psyche in Berlin, he says. Susan Tepper is the author of four published books. Her most recent title is “From the Umberplatzen”, a flash novel set in Germany. Her novel, “What May Have Been” (with Gary Percesepe), Cervena Barva Press, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2010.
Sarah Collie has lived in Scotland, Australia and now England.  And, Kim Conklin Hutchinson is an AmeriCanadian living on the border”, she says. Her stories and films have appeared widely.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Assassins Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim July 13-20 F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Joey DeMita

July 12-15

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

The Black Box at the Arsenal Center, Watertown, MA

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company’s presentation of Assassins is an interesting presentation of an play from the 1990s. On the Broadway stage perhaps with more scenery, full staging and better amplification, particularly microphones, it is clearly an award-winning play.

Assassins creates a netherworld where men and women who attempted to assassinate U.S. presidents reside. Some of them have been successful and others not. Each assassin’s era features Sondheim-adapted music to reflect what was popular at that time.

F.U.D.G.E. and director Joey DeMita mounted a fine attempt at re-creating the play. Let me get to the shortcoming first: the music overwhelmed some of the voices. In particular, it was difficult to hear Kelton Washington as the Proprietor. While his facial expressions and strutting were perfect for the role, unfortunately the strong singing which he exhibited in Parade was minimized or lost. The same can be said of Jim Petty’s John Wilkes Booth and Jared Walsh’s two roles of the Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald. At times laid back and at other times emotional, Walsh was difficult to hear. However, when the ensemble or the assassins sang as a group, the voices were clearer. It also seemed that some of the timing was off. Hopefully, all these negatives were overcome in the subsequent performances because DeMita’s direction usually presents precision and Music Director Steven Bergman usually hits the right notes.

The performers who stood out—all of them good—were Ian flynn’s Charles J. Guiteau, Katie Preisig who portrayed Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and an over-the-top Patrick Harris as Sam Byck, who caught the tape recording insanity the way one would picture Byck’s insanity. Of course the insanity of all these assassins and the would-be assassins was portrayed the way one would have imagined.

David Lucey’s costume designing was on target, particularly his 1800s designs of Guiteau and President Garfield. The Proprietor’s outfit seemed to fit almost any era, which is a grand accomplishment. PJ Strachman’s lighting helped add a noir like effect and Emily Taborda-Monroe’s minimalist set design helped create the right image.

Overall, the production was a fine effort and with a bit of tightening p here and there it will be a terrific production worthy of F.U.D.G.E.


Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer, Boston Area 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

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Monday, July 15, 2013

Judah Leblang: A Middle-Aged, Jewish, Gay Man Chronicles his life in Prose and a Play.

Judah Leblang

Judah Leblang: A middle-aged, Jewish, Gay Man Chronicles his life in Prose and a Play.

By Doug Holder

  I got an email from a writer acquaintance Judah Leblang. It seems that his department at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. (that he worked at for years) transferred to Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.--where I teach. He also told me that he has developed a one man play based on his memoir (My Place: One Man's Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond)  titled One Man's Journey through the Middle Ages. His memoir chronicles his youth in Cleveland, Ohio during the 60's and 70's, his attachment to that down-at-the-heels city-- and his life as a Jewish, gay single man. The show explores Leblang's fear, and loathing in Provincetown, Mass. (A gay mecca) one summer-- his rather sudden hearing loss, and the universal themes of aging and loss.

Here is an excerpt from Leblang's memoir about his grandmother, Cleveland, and the world beyond the broad lawns and narrow minds of the suburbs:

"I knew my parents didn't like to go into the city. My mother saw Cleveland as a cauldron of riots, crime and burned out neighborhoods, a place to avoid. Still, on a sunny day in May 1968, I was an eleven-year-old boy who knew that Cleveland was full of wonders like planes and trains and buildings that pierced the sky, miracles my grandmother and I would share like her warm pastry. And so my grandmother and I stood quietly as my mother drove off, back to the safety of the eastern suburbs.

Waiting for the bus, Nanny's maple tree rustling above us, I thought of other times, other adventures with my grandmother, when I was five, seven, eight. On special weekends, she would baby-sit for my brothers and I, bringing her pastry and her Jewish rye bread, her cough drops and powdery scent into our suburban home. At five, before the accident, I'd sing and dance for her entertainment, repeating rhymes I'd learned in nursery school-"Mary had a little lamb," "Humpty Dumpty," and later, "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which I'd warbled at a school assembly in Kindergarten in my thin childish voice. Later, I'd tell my grandmother she was beautiful, promise to marry her when I grew up. According to my mother, I was a little khnifenik, Yiddish for a "flatterer."

  I used to read Leblang's column in the Somerville Journal where he held court from 1999 to 2001. Leblang lives in Medford now, but he was a denizen of Teele Square in Somerville. Presently Leblang is a columnist for Bay Windows- a gay newspaper in Boston. His slice-of-life stories have been heard on NPR and many other radio stations. Leblang counts Somerville writers Dan Gerwitz (Formerly of the Boston Herald) and Randy Ross (Founder of Media Chowder--a networking group for writers) as friends, and the trio used to perform in the area with a piece about being middle aged.

 I asked Leblang why he feels he has a story that is worth being told. He said: “Memoir writers have been accused of being navel gazers. Hey...I am not Bill Clinton, or Nelson Mandela. But I feel I have a story that people can relate to. We all have to make choices; we all grow old; well all have to deal with loses." And Leblang tells his story with a winning combination of humor and pathos. Of being a single gay man
 of a certain age, Leblang said: "I am part of a subculture of middle-aged gay men that belong to a culture that puts youth and looks at a premium. It is challenging to meet someone near my own age for a possible relationship."

 Leblang will be leading a memoir writing workshop this fall at Somerville Public Library in Davis Square, and will be performing  his play in the area--check his website for more information.

Review of Thurston Moore's Alabama Wildman

Thurston Moore

Review of Thurston Moore's Alabama Wildman
By Ian Thal    

Thurston Moore, better known for his musical output, also writes poetry and prose that are at once both experimental and accessible. Review originally appeared in the 11/20/2001 edition of Ibbetson Street Press Update, a free email newsletter covering small press literature.

alabama wildman, Thurston Moore (111 pages, hardcover. Water Row Press, P.O. Box 438, Sudbury, MA 01776, 2000) $18.95

Thurston Moore, best known for his work with the highly influential and innovative “no-wave” band Sonic Youth, demonstrates the same free ranging experimentalism with words that has defined his songwriting and guitar playing over the course of his musical career.

While much of his writing is concerned with the details of everyday life in bohemia common to predecessors amongst the Beats and the New York School, Moore’s everyday life includes being a iconoclastic figure in an important avant-garde movement that bridged the gap between the youth counter-culture of punk rock and compositional uses of noise, prepared instruments, chaos, and collage.

His unpretentious willingness to play with the sounds of words, typography, and form is constantly entertaining and provides a new experience on every page. Just as music and noise are integrally joined when Moore straps on a guitar or enters the recording studio, his poetry includes its own noise within. A good example is in the poem, “boredoms” which should accurately represent the Osaka, Japan-based ensemble of the same name to anyone who has attended their concerts or heard their recordings:

boredoms are
no-self WORLD sex-free (lanterns) ON
!??!bBOBOBOOBOBOBBBO øø ø ø ø ø øøøøøøøøøØiØØØiØ
tronix to the phew-ture...--
there is no stop sign when intuition is creative JUICE

Thurston Moore’s world simply demands more freedom than most writers allow themselves.

Moore’s background as a musician is also reflected in his sense of meter and rhyme as in his portrait of bassist Mike Watt in “free city rhythm”:

Pushing his broom into zoom
Watt comes to terms w/his room
talking-- to plato “the punk”
two fingers to his chest
(+ THE WHO knows to

Even when using more conventional forms, Moore’s writing comes across as fresh. In his poem “contents,” which at first sight looks like a table of contents until one realizes that the lines are not titles of the poems but rather a Burroughsian “cut-up” or collage of phrases found on the pieces that follow. One is forced to wonder if the “about the author:” in the back, the “by thurston moore:” in the front, and even the “index” and appendices are also poems.

The prose and interviews that round out the book give a more literal glimpse into the music scene: the author is interviewed for ‘zines, he meets his musical heroes, he describes himself as nineteen year old guitarist in New York during the late seventies. Here we get a glimpse not of Moore, but of Thurston, a music fan who has not quite overcome the thrill that his idols, Patti Smith, Lydia Lunch, Richard Hell, and Lenny Kaye have become his friends.

A particularly engaging prose piece is “in the mind of the bourgeois reader” in which Moore narrates a sexual encounter with a younger musician and fan named Jackie. While the sex and the use of drugs are explicit, there is nothing pornographic or exploitative; instead there is a sweet amazement at the simple joys that can come from a brief encounter. Thurston is not being heroically transgressive, he is vulnerable, and afraid of falling deeply in love with someone he barely knows. This wide-eyed innocence also appears in a number of his poems such as “punks, flagrant”:

“my name is bug” she says wet
in the eyes, fucked, foamed
“clear as mud”
he feels to hisself
(awash’d post-cum soft
‘pon hot basket tum)

Thurston Moore’s writing, like his music, is both experimental and accessible, making him something of a kindred spirit with e.e. cummings (especially the cummings who does not appear in middle school and high school textbooks.) At the same time it is also an important resource for anyone interested in the early New York punk rock and no-wave music scenes.

Ian Thal
Jamaica Plain, MA

Sunday, July 14, 2013

These Hands I Know: African-American Writers on Family- Edited by Afaa Michael Weaver


These Hands I Know: African-American Writers on Family- Edited by Afaa Michael Weaver
  REVIEW By Doug Holder  


These Hands I Know: African-American Writers on Family. Edited by Afaa M. Weaver. 247pps. ( Sarabande Books 2234 Dundee Rd. Suite 200 Louisville, Ky 40205) $16.95 2002.

So often in contemporary literature we tend to pigeonhole writers into categories by ethnicity, race, religion, etc... What we forget is that good literature addresses the whole corpus of the life experience. It is limiting if we view novels, poetry and short stories as denizens of a particular literary ghetto. Poet, writer, and editor of this collection of essays concerning the black family, Afaa Michael Weaver, writes: "African-Americans like anyone else- experience personal trauma within the family, but a trauma that is also complicated by the symbiotic weaving of racism with the familal and personal losses."

The writing in this collection deals with personal, familial, and societal aspects of the black family, with an eye on the effects of racism on this fragile institution. The book examines family on a universal level, on a racial level, and on a personal level. Like most collections of this nature it is a mixed-bag. For instance, Harvard University's famed Afro-American scholar Henry Louis Gate's portrait of his extended family is informative but the writing was surprisingly flat and pedestrian for a man of his generous talents.

Many of the essayists in this work write about strong matriarchs. Gwendolyn Brooks in her piece, KEZIAH, reports of a mother who was not emotive but strong and up to the challenges of an often unforgiving world: "Keziah Corinne Wims Brooks was and is a courageous woman. It has never occurred to her that she should slink away from any challenges of life. The challenges of life-- the agonies, sorrows, the million and ten fustrations, perplexities...she has looked at with a calculating eye, has judged, has catalogued. She has tamed what had to be tamed, what could, what should be tamed." Brooks pens a compelling portrait of an iron-willed mother. The essays in this collection often reflect on strong women who are the glue that keeps disparate parts together.

On thing that " White America" has done to Afro-Americans is to make them ultra-sensitive to their skin color. It is interesting to read what trauma folks went through if they were just a shade too dark. Honoree F. Jeffers reports that her grandmother was less than proud of her Jeffer's mother: " My mother says that from the beginning mother was never proud of her. She was too dark, her nose to broad, her hair too nappy. Grandma found no pleasure in being the mother of a foolish dark girl..."

There is another well-done essay by Alice Walker that deals with the roles Black women and men play, that often painfully mimic the gender roles of white society.

This collection is an informative sociological, and literary study of the black family. More than a few of the essays far exceed the creativity of a standard expository composition. This work will appeal to many segments of a diverse society.

* This review appeared in Spare Change News.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Ma./Nov. 2002