Saturday, August 03, 2013

Visceral Debut Broadens Readers Boundaries: The Other Room by Kim Triedman

 Visceral Debut Broadens Readers Boundaries: The Other Room by Kim Triedman

  Review by Teisha Twomey

I first became acquainted with Kim Triedman as a poet at a recent reading of her work in Cambridge. It was with that background that I was looking forward to reading Kim Triedman’s novel.

The Other Room is a novel about a marriage between two grieving parents, Claudia and Josef, three years after the sudden death of their one-year-old daughter Lily. Their individual sorrow plays out in unique ways.  In the aftermath of the death, they each reach outside of the life they once built together, attempting to find comfort. The consequences correspond well to their individual personalities. Claudia and Josef both withdraw from one another and turn toward other individuals who seem able to fulfill the needs that not being met in their own union. They develop separate lives that exist outside the guilt and resentment lingering between them in hopes of filling the void left in the wake of Lily’s death.

The loss of a child not only haunts Claudia and Josef, but has extensive and wide-ranging influence on their loved ones. Those who once felt they knew this couple intimately are at a loss over how to respond to this tragedy. As Claudia and Josef adapt to  life without their daughter, the gradual recognition that they have lost the ability to comfort one another only intensifies the bitterness souring their relationship.

          Triedman is adept at conveying character’s conflicts and sorrows in a way that is immediate and  persuasive. Her experience as a poet resonates in her prose; her language is lyrical and inventive. The most striking feature of this novel is the strength of Triedman’s imagery and the way in which she skillfuly employs the subtlest of details in the most profound ways.

This novel also reveals Claudia’s meditations in the wake of her daughter’s death through a series of journal entries.  Recorded in Claudia’s “Blue Notebook  they offer much insight into Claudia’s perceptions and her grief even as she begins the healing process.

Claudia describes them as, “One way to broaden the boundaries of an otherwise stunted life.” Through these stolen glances, the reader is able to piece together the interactions between the story’s characters and their observations of one another, finding in them clues to the mystery behind the tragedy of Lily’s death.

Triedman gives size and shape to Claudia and Josef’s grief using insightful techniques. In one “Blue notebook” entry, Claudia recalls her daughter’s funeral. She writes, “That day it felt like there was nothing between me and the sky, as though the blueness of the December morning had weight to it, and density, like a septic lung. It pressed down on all so us, spreading itself thickly, displacing our bodies and our souls in different ways.”.What is striking and about Triedman’s portrayal of grief is the way she gives motion and weight to the the emotional response. Triedman’s use of the concrete qualities of space, movement, time and sound become the intermediaries to the character’s feeling. This way, she effectively communicates a loss too senseless and painful for the trite platitudes of commonplace condolences. By evading banality, Triedman steers her reader into the focused epicenter of bereavement using signals that are visceral to readers.

The reader is required to experience the impact of this family’s grief as if it were their own. Triedman captures how emotional sentiment is innate, rendered through the quantified space of the expanding distances occurring between two bodies, the endless expanse of a dining room table, for example, or through a character’s posture, tone or gait. She breathes life into the emotions felt after loss, recreating their sense of frozen stillness, breathless reticence and cagey shuddering. The use of objects such as frayed satin blankets and fingers raking back and forth across swollen lips convey fathomless regret and bewilderment in a way that penetrate readers completely. These features animate the narrative and connect the interweaving storylines.

Often the unsaid is more moving in this novel than the spoken word. The most compelling moments occur during the breaks in communication where the reader is truly made to feel what it is like to clutch desperately at the smallest threads of understanding. We learn more in what is appropriately unspeakable, in the interlude of stifled dialogue and in the shock of regret when what is said is said in the wrong way. The narrator moves from room to room as this perception of stillness and silence contracts and expands around and inside them, as if someone has hit the mute button on their realities. The reader is made to feel the words forming at the base of Claudia’s throat, the tightening in her jaw, the ear-splitting silence of a room with no windows, a mouth dropped open without sound coming out. Also present are moments of hope as the reader becomes urgently aware of  the small comforts of memory and forgiveness seeping in. There is significant compassion to be considered. We see these moments of pardon, much in the way Josef experiences them: his wife’s smiling eyes bring a persistent bit of optimism suggesting that each of us is capable of forgiveness and understanding.

Triedman paints each character with such specificity that we grow to understand them. Gradually, through the careful peeling away of layers, the reader is able to comprehend  Claudia and Josef’s actions. This tender and precise revelation is one of the details that makes The Other Room so successful. Self-forgiveness unfolds in a without relying on conclusions that are over-simplified or one-dimensional.  Ultimately, the reader trusts in the multi-faceted nature of the characters’ rebirth.

I would recommend this novel to any reader who enjoys highly descriptive and emotionally charged prose. The inventive lyricism and striking fervency of the narrative is enormously effective. The visceral language and imagery that Kim Triedman has employed in order to transmit the emotional state of her characters will likely entrench any reader willing to commit to the thoughtful and measured meditation of this ardent poet and novelist


Teisha Twomey
 Teisha Twomey was raised in New Lebanon, NY. She is currently working on her MFA in Poetry at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Teisha Twomey’s ('13) poem, “How to Treat Pretty Things,” was published in fall/winter 2012 Issue of Ibbetson Street #32. Her poem, “Coming Home,” was published on Fried Chicken and Coffee in October, 2012 and her poem “Cheerios,” will be published in the Santa Fe Literary Review.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Review of A GLIMPSE OF YOUTH, a collection of short stories by Gary Beck

Review of A GLIMPSE OF YOUTH, a collection of short stories by Gary Beck, Sweatshoppe Publications,, available on, 2013, 130 pages

Review by Barbara Bialick

Gary Beck, a long-time, theater director who lives in New York City, has published a number of books, plays and translations, fiction and poetry. His plays have been produced Off Broadway and toured colleges and outdoor performance venues.  In this new book of short stories, he takes us back to his 1950s early teen years, where he starts out innocent and then gets dragged into a street gang “to avoid being beaten by them”.  With excellent detail and action, we leave the protagonist, Billy, age 18, at the end of the book, out of the gang, and living on his own for the first time in the city of New York, where he gets emotionally blasted by the death of his first love.

The first story, “First Time Out” is about a hiking trip with some questionable friends his father called “hooligans.” They want to get a boy scout handbook for ideas, but to get one, our own protagonist recommends, “Let’s go to the library and steal the book an’ we can find out now…”

Off on their trip to Fort Lee, New Jersey, the author writes, “Finally feeling like the first heroic Americans who first reached the Pacific Ocean, we found the bridge.” Later he writes, “The forest had a strange aura to city boys, venturing into the wilds for the first time. Unfamiliar bird cries, crackling, rustling underbrush and mysterious shadows had an eerie tenseness for us.” Never mind the child predator that tried to pick them up in his car…  They triumph of course,cutting off part of their trip and almost kill one of their own with an ax, thinking he was a bear…

However things get bad in the gang life he soon enters. In “In the City Lost,” Beck writes “Our lookouts came running toward us. Behind them, halfway down the block, was a dense mass of thirty-five or forty boys walking slowly toward us…My hopes for the police showing up disappeared…I rushed towards them, I hit one of them with my belt, and he stumbled off holding his head…” And the battle goes on.

This book would be of interest to people who came from Brooklyn in the 1950s or want an engaging collection about wayward teenagers.

Beck’s chapbook Remembrance, was published by Origami Condom Press. The Conquest of Somalia was published by Cervena Barva Press—a Boston area small press and poetry scene publisher from Somerville, MA.  He published many other books as well.

You’ll certainly want to read the last story in the collection, where Billy is out of the gang and looking to work at a book store corporation. He has love at first sight for Kuan Yin, “whose hair fell to her shoulders, amber and subdued. Her glasses portholed the blue chambers of her eyes and concealed the brief elegance of her nose…”  They have coffee and a perfect date much too hard for the reader to believe. But disaster strikes. She does not show up at work next time.
Finally Billy gets the horrid truth. “Somebody called the main office this morning and told them that she died yesterday. I’m sorry…”

I recommend this book because it is just as well written as many famous authors I have read. You won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Exchange By Sophie Cabot Black

The Exchange
By Sophie Cabot Black
Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1-55597-641-5
75 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Sophie Cabot Black calculates her poems into place, line by frozen line. The sharp chill and bracing rarified air within her stanzas catch the unwary reader by surprise. Only by stepping back, outside of Black’s sparsely worded but aphorism-laden constructions can one see the details of an elegant ice palace emerge from the blinding whiteness of her blank hospital-walled universe.

Black’s subject matter includes the numbing illness and death of a close friend as well as the frosted up finances of Wall Street traders. The poet looks at this material through a prism of starkness and Kirkegaardian- like spirituality.

In Afterlife, the collection’s opening poem, Black locates her version of heaven in the childhood from whence she came. The poet says,

This much I remember. But to solve
Where you are you must finish. Ahead a color
Best called white in a room that appears

Unlike any other. Everything used
To get there will fall away. And to look back
Is to watch the child lie down on the floor

In the exact outline and angle I once was
To see what I saw. To take on the precise edge of
How it ends is also where it begins.

Notice the two pithy aphorisms embedded above. Both bear repeating: “…But to solve/ Where you are you must finish,” and “…To take on the precise edge of/ How it ends is also where it begins.” Certainly Interesting. Undoubtedly Clever. And possibly, in the ensuing context, wise.

Confronting death is never easy. For a writer seeking immortality it can become doubly hard. Life’s fateful flaw shadows all of us from the moment of birth. The poet’s persona instructs the writer to walk the afflicted horse backwards in time,

Walk the road backward,
Thick with trees, out through to pasture

Where the bucket hangs ready to fill,
The truck cold, the doctor still asleep.
Your knees without mud, the handbook high

Upon the shelf, the needle as it waits for the question
Not yet asked. Morning untrampled…

Details show their universal depth and history in the poem entitled Biopsy. The poet describes the hospital room,

…he is still afraid
And so I lie down first, which is to say nothing
Except I am not him, concentrating on the manufactured

Tiles above us, which came from somewhere far
And were brought by truck or rail to this city
Where in time they were laid one by the other

To make a ceiling, sky below which we lie
Picking out the stars…

Chemotherapy, another hospital poem, portrays suffering in restrained but emotional detail. It’s consummately done. Perhaps too consummately done. It shows comfort, but also seems quite scary. Here’s the conclusion of it,

…think water, think water,
And he manages to make out one nurse
Up against the bright and it takes everything

To tell her what he needs, as if he had come upon
The one tree still standing, and understood
She promises nothing, who in her uniform

Was all that was ever asked for and who
Could hold him as he has never been held.

Early in the collection Black sets in place the curious pose poem The Son. It gives a very sparse rendition of the Abraham/ Isaac story, almost an outline until the very end. Abraham appears as a sad old man, a man who is a part of mankind’s past. Isaac is the game changer, the master of a new universe, a universe that celebrates life and understands the nature of luck.  Here’s the money lines,

…son who saw the end of day
as ecclesiastic, as blaze. Son who in time made all other sons listen to the
story of the old man who got all the way up and who without looking
back went over to the other side. Who disappeared as if searching for
other sons. As if done. Son who walked in quiet and calm, having come
back down, alone. Son for whom nothing was changed, was changed, and
in the changing changed the world.

The aphoristic last line delivers some impressive power that seems to echo throughout the book.

The poem High Finance deals with the manipulation of knowledge essential to a trade. The poet like Isaac knows what the stakes are. That’s her advantage. Black puts it this way,

…The uncertain
Is taken into accountas each of us
Prepares for more than is necessary

To be near what is almost  ours
And to watch for defect, even damage can be useful.
To have it all known, your business…

In the poem Preservation of Capital the concept of exchange strikes home with its dreadful life and death connotations. Here’s how the poem opens,

Risk as part of the equation means
You go nowhere without it. In one pocket
The noise of plenty; the other, dread. Each coin

Brought forth is explained
As necessary. You find yourself at the bank
Of a river where everyone gathers; you put

Children at your feet, divide the bread..

The poet injects enough ambiguity that the setting neatly switches from Wall Street to a biblical location in the same stanza, sometime in the same word. Consider how she uses the word, “bank.”

Isaac speaks in the last poem in the collection. He is facing a brave new world. His story reverberates. People gather, gain knowledge from Isaac’s story, then leave. The poem ends thusly,

…And here am I

Who withheld nothing. And there the white
Always in the tree. You go
Where you need to go until it does not

Matter. You do not matter. There is
The window. Open. Now go through.

Yes, life is a trade-off. Invest your time with Black’s exquisitely done, coolly delivered poems. You’ll be amazed at the dividends.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Poet Dan Sklar: An American Primitive

Poet Dan Sklar

Dan Sklar has been described as an "American Primitive" by other poets in the region. And they mean this as a compliment. Sklar is a PhD and  a professor of Creative Writing at Endicott College, and he writes with a no-frills and emotive style--that cuts to the chase and cuts the ... well you know what.  His latest book of poetry is titled  Flying Cats: Actually Swooping  ( Ibbetson Street Press). I talked with Sklar on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: You have won a number of awards for teaching excellence. I often hear you and your students screaming when I am in my office at Endicott College early in the morning. Is this is a good indicator of an engaged classroom?

Dan Sklar: ( Laughs) Well it depends on what you are teaching. But that particular course was play writing. And in that course we were doing scenes. So in scenes people are usually arguing and fighting--there is conflict. I think you should wake your students up. You wake up their minds. Talk to them like human beings. The first few minute of the class I always come in with a story. I also use dreams. When you talk about dreams suddenly everyone listens, because everyone dreams. You ask them about their dreams.  I always bring in something that makes them listen.

DH: You are also a playwright. Recently you had a play staged at the Actor's Studio in Newburyport, Mass. entitled Hack License. What was the play about?

DS: Well--it is about a woman taxi cab driver--22 years old, from Louisiana. And all these New Yorkers come into her cab. And they all come with their problems. And they insult her. But in spite of this she solves their problems. She is also looking for a man. He has to paint like Charles Burchfield. Burchfield was known for painting pictures with bright colors, storms, flowers, volcanoes vivid yellows, reds and greens.

DH: What playwrights have influenced you.  Eugene O'Neill for instance?

DS:I wish I could write like Eugene O'Neill. Every time I start to write like him it comes out like Neil Simon.
Saroyan is a big influence. George S. Kaufman, and Thornton Wilder are also.

DH: You use a lot of comedy in your writing.

DS: Yeah--but I never mean to. It just happens.

DH: Walt Whitman and Charles Bukowski are inspirations for you. Whitman seemed to embrace the world, while Bukowski was misanthropic. What appeals yo you about these divergent voices?

DS: I like Bukowski's freedom. I am lusty as nature like Whitman. With Bukowski I like his sincerity and honesty. Bukowski has a poem that states that he has a bluebird in his heart that he tries to drown with whiskey.  But the blue bird is still there. It is a beautiful poem. Whitman is full of love and contradictions.  Like Whitman, I contradict myself, so I contradict myself. I am filled with contradictions. And Bukowski is filled with contradictions.

DH:  Your new collection is  Flying Cats: Actually Swooping ( Ibbetson Street Press). Where did you get the title from?

DS: I was watching a TV show about the future in which there were no humans on the planet. And I started to fall asleep but I heard: "In the future there will be flying cats. And I perked up. The show talked about how in the future when there are no humans the cats will go back into the trees and fly....actually swooping. So I wrote a poem about the future where cats will fly--people will ride horses--and take trains--life will be slower.

DH: You seem to be an eternal optimist. It must be hard to maintain.

DS: Yes. When I am with people it is not hard. Especially with students. I brood when I am alone. When I go to a coffee-shop by myself I get depressed. It is creative depression. And good writing comes from it. It's like the Russians. A Russian has to suffer.

DH: Lisa Beatman, a well-respected poet, described you as an American Primitive.

DS: I like that label. When she says primitive I love it. It means basic, primal...there is nothing fancy about it. I take it as a compliment. I use very little metaphor in my poetry--if I come up with it it is by pure chance.

DH: Like William Carlos Williams your poetry is about things.

DS: Oh. Absolutely. My last book with Ibbetson Street was  Bicycles, Canoes and Drums--all primitive things. The future is going to go back to basics--like horse drawn carriages, etc....

DH: In your new collection you have a poem  Poetry Mind -- that deals with you trying to keep from becoming standardized. Do you think people today are thinking less outside the box?

DS: I don't know what other people are thinking or doing. But I think folks should not be so enamored with technology. There are too many screens around. All of this is going way from nature. When you go away from nature--destroying it becomes less of a problem.

How You Were Raised

Whatever you were doing
why don’t you do
something else
No matter what it was
something else
was always better
You’re not going to cry
about it or anything now
You’re just stating
the facts of the matter
No matter what you were
doing it was no good
what good is acting in
plays—imagination is
for other people
art is for other people.
Something else is better
that’s just how it was
when you were a kid
and when you went
to college another one
was better—transfer
Don’t be an artist
or actor
or writer
or teacher.
There’s no money
in those things.
Do something else
Be something else
You can’t do what
comes naturally to you
what you want to do
because what you want
to do is not about how
to make money.
In 1958
in Greenwich Village
you saw a beatnik
and your father said
that’s a beatnik.

--By Dan Sklar