Friday, September 06, 2013

Two Reviews of Pleasure Trout By Gloria Mindak/Mindock

Poet Gloria Mindock

Pleasure Trout
by Gloria Mindak/Mindock
Newton, Mass: Muddy River Books, 2013.
42 p., $7.00

Reviewed by David P. Miller

This chapbook is the first publication by Muddy River Books, a new venture by Zvi A. Sesling, who also publishes the online Muddy River Poetry Review (

Gloria Mindak/Mindock, who gives these alternative forms of her name on the cover and title page (just one in her bio, though), author of three collections of poetry, is widely known as founding editor of the prolific Červená Barva Press ( Pleasure Trout is the first collection of her mistranslations, an approach to writing she has practiced for some thirty years. She begins with poems in languages she does not know, primarily Romanian, Serbian, Italian, and Spanish. Writing quickly, she produces English-language poems based on what the words remind her of or what the originals suggest (affective gestalts, perhaps). The original source poems aren’t specified. Although it would be interesting for comparison to know about the sources, it really isn’t necessary because these are not, after all, attempts at translation, rendering, or even “adaptation.” From one point of view, there isn’t any actual pre-existing version of “Clamour mouth! / The procedure is easy / Tank this weekend!” (“Clamour Mouth”) or “Spill it in Vegas honey / This girl is not bleak / Just because big bomb buicks / race on your body” (“Punitive Operations”).

Reading Pleasure Trout (a phrase not found in the poems, so maybe it’s a mistranslation of the title of some other book), I was reminded of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies, a card deck presenting over a hundred “worthwhile dilemmas” as aids to kickstart a creative process. I wondered, if Mindak/Mindock (maybe “Mind[a/oc]k”? let’s call her Gloria!) had consulted Oblique Strategies, what might she have turned up? Perhaps the card with a dilemma contributed by Stewart Brand: Try faking it! - given, of course, as non-perjorative. In any case, mistranslation is a method by which the poet leads herself willingly astray, exposing from the misled mind titles such as “Vienna Animal,” “Parched Hands,” and “Sensitive Cottages,” and stanzas like these:

What will happen if I
stretched my wooden walls to their
greatest urge?
Hungry for skin, your
threads are unusual, they
perform on my deep wound. (“Slices”)

or -

What did I do?
I jumped the roof
I fell into your typical face
Born without a name that wasn’t mine,
I move in a life that is yours (“Resurrected Armpits”)

The self-distracting process of mistranslation allows for a surrealism that wears lightly and is easy to appreciate. As she cautions at the start, "Don’t try to understand what is written here. Just enjoy the nonsense.” So – very well then – we’re not required to decipher:
I have cried so much that the tears
have fallen and formed paths
What good is it since I’m not
a mapmaker? (“Mind”)

But hold on: this passage, with its allusion to an unchartable grief, is difficult to try not to understand. Which brings us to another Oblique Strategies card: Honour thy error as a hidden intention.  The original, to our poet incomprehensible, poems seem to have been templates allowing the composition of, in fact, work in her own voice. The reader is initially distracted from this as well: opening the chapbook with the intention of sliding across surfaces of language like “The table in the square/ has gorillas for crucibles” (“Wings”), before realizing it you’re caught short by the unrelenting need behind:

What a combination!
The worse it is, the more the flow
Battle after battle, season after season,
I grow up with stones
Each year my voice feeds on knives
mad for someone to listen (“Feeding”)

or a hint of shocked self-reflection in:

The camera captures
my duty
full of satisfaction
It’s worse than I thought (“Not to Be Broken”)

Out of respect for Gloria’s insistence that these poems are vehicles for enjoyment, not objects of interpretation, I’ll leave it there. Except to note that, after an immersion in Pleasure Trout, it takes a bit of an act of will to read other poets without responding as if their writings, too, are non sequiturs at the surface level. That impression will fade, of course. You’ll re-enter Tennyson or Cisneros, Cornish or Hirshfield, whoever else you’re reading, on their own terms, apart from “Save your / local elegies / fierce cuts / What comes next / The fresh air is exhausted” (“Wrong Hand”). It’s just that a readjustment is called for.



Pleasure Trout
Gloria Mindock
Copyright © 2013 by Gloria Mindock
Muddy River Books
Brookline MA
Softbound, 42 pages, $7.00

Review by Irene Koronas

“I'm a strange woman-
You can see this from my scratched heart”

Pleasure Trout presents the fanciful seriousness poetry
often offers in an age of crisis. Mindock knows how to
place words in verse. Each poem adds humor and seriousness
just as surrealism and the Dadaist did:

“Chances are I'm slender and
love great atoms and marble
men anointed with
a diaphragm that mixes
itself with bronze...”

Her verse is fanciful and dramatic. After several readings
we come to understand the author’s approach to poetry.
How ridiculous some experiences are. How splendor
is an artificial sweetener as well as a poetic word. I'm
reminded of the Dadaist writers, especially Hans Arp,
who was both a painter and a poet, often the two were done
simultaneously. Deconstructing experiences and constructing
from the threat of war. The constant threat of war led the Dada
writers and actors to proclaim and appear to be foolish
'banterers', dancing to their stress related environment,
stepping into the sublime instead of relating to the actual
threats and actual strife of living during war times:

“Every hour a new one elected
Still no word
A look, a suffering, a love
to keep outsiders out

as light bulbs trace
this guard of personal
this possessiveness...

Sometimes we all sit in a
hovering in a cave
This trespasser must be

Every second the crying of
a wolf emerges inside one of us”

I'm inspired and I'm blown away by the profound agony
in the poems. How miss-translations can lend credence
to our time and to the times past. Gloria's sentences do
not end with a period. Each sentence starts with capitalization.
Some of her verse uses ! exclamation to end the sentence
and an occasional question mark emphasizes the importance
the verse exclaims, how important word juxtaposition implies 
meaning or the lack of meaning which also insinuates through
the lack of meaning the deconstruction of meaning. An endless
repetition of meanings:

“Unless you know me, you don't”

Pleasure Trout is the best experimental writing done in this
century, (in my humble opinion.) If that doesn't get you to
run to read, then, “It is pointless/So gruesome/ Is this
urban life?”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review
Reviewer: Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Ghost Dance In Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray by Peter Wortsman

 Author Peter Wortsman

Ghost Dance In Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray by Peter Wortsman ( Solas House, Inc. 2013)  $16.95

Review by Doug Holder

I admit I am not a well-traveled individual like my friend the noted critic, Dennis Daly. Nor do I harbor a great interest in Germany. Being a Jew , and with Holocaust survivors in my family, my images of Germany have been of grainy documentary footage, with skeletal corpses heaped together outside a concentration camp--never again--I have said to myself--for more than one reason. But Peter Wortsman's memoir: Ghost Dance in Berlin.... A Rhapsody in Gray  caught my interest--not only because it was recommended to me by a writer I greatly admire--Alan Kaufman ( Drunken Angel and Outlaw Bible of American Literature) but because Wortsman brings the gimlet eye of a seasoned traveler, and the sensibility of a poet to his prose. 

Wortsman, who is a 60 something academic and accomplished writer, is an American born son of German speaking Jewish immigrants. The author spent time in a villa overlooking Berlin's largest lake. The spot became his sort of elegant cave--where he collected his thoughts, savored the rich German fare, and let his considerable imagination take flight.

There are many bases that Wortsman covers in this book. Being a lover of all things food, I found Wortsman lyrical description of cuisine mouth watering.  And yes between you and me, I savor shellfish, and a good pork loin like any of my Gentile brothers would. Here Wortsman describes the best and the worst of wurst and is a fly in the soup of any self-respecting veggie out there:

 " No foodstuff better exemplifies the German craving and the Jewish proscription for me than that quintessential Berlin dish, a veritable mountain of pork, comprising the joint between the tibia/fibula and the metatarsals, the tender, fragrant, fat and fleshy part of the trotter joining knee and hip, or elbow joint and foot. Classic fare, it's pinked, cured, poached, or boiled, and served piping hot with split pea puree and sauerkraut...

A positively Neanderthal spectacle on a plate.It's a dish that stirs up mixed emotions when ordered... Utter disgust on the part of avowed vegetarians, for whom it constitutes a blatant, in-your-face affront, the very incarnation of meat...And awe on the part of repressed, cholesterol-conscious carnivores, who themselves would not dare to go to such extremes in public to satisfy their lust, secretly considering it a pornographic craving  best indulged in private."

Wortsman writes eloquently about Berlin's Alexanderplatz, a famed plaza, and also touches on Marlene Dietrich , that icon of enigmatic come hither and get lost! feminity. Here he writes about Maximillian Schell, who produced a documentary about her.  Dietrich's one condition for filming was that she didn't want to show her face: Wortsman writes:

 " ... Marlene neglected to inform him, until he showed up with the camera crew, that he was free to film everything but her face. She, the original blond bombshell, would remain unseen, a disembodied voice, a teasing absence. But her smoky impression still filled the silver screen, her cigarette smoke grunt and growl made the movie more memorable than any other Hollywood biopic before or since."

But of course the ghost of the Nazis are never far behind. Wortsman, ever the engaged reporter, gives a good New Journalism account about some Neo-Nazis who were stirring up trouble, but were quickly squelched by the Berlin police.

This book can be read for two things: a travelogue, and the other an artful meditation on what it means to be German, Jewish, an American, and an artist.

Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

My Beautiful Ballooning Heart Poems by Janice Silverman Rebibo

My Beautiful Ballooning Heart
Poems by
Janice Silverman Rebibo
Coolidge Corner Publishing
Brookline MA
Copyright © 2013 by Janice Silverman Rebibo
142 pages, softbound, $17.95

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

One of my favorite poets is Charles Simic and I have never read anyone quite like him until I opened Janice Silverman Rebibo’s My Beautiful Ballooning Heart. Whereas with Simic one does not always know if a specific poem is about him, someone else or fiction, with Rebibo’s work it is quite clear the poems are. And for added praise, let me add James Tate and Wyslawa Szymborska as references to her poetry. Many of the poems in the first section are about loves and lovers. The choice of names are interesting. First there is Rob, is this his real name of did he steal something of hers – years, valuables, what? The second is John. Saint or sex partner? There are also a Barry, Artis and Martin and a few others tossed in. The poems provide answers, though they may not have the same meaning for you they have for her. That is the wonderful mystery of her poetry.

On several pages there are “Four Poems for Old Lovers” starting with 1) Oh My Goodness There’s an Old Lover:

Oh my goodness! There’s an old lover
sitting under the trees
on those folding chairs I hate
at the Silky Way Café.
You know, the wooden ones with slats
that might collapse or at least tip over
ungracefully on the gravel
around the round tables
that aren’t too stable. Will I say hello?
Sit down and have “a coffee”
in the local lingo. It’s been a while.
Smile. The shadows under these trees
were always gentle. Temperamental
was the word I jotted down before
and Tenderly, by chance. His eyes.

Throughout her poetry Rebibo reveals an intriguing sense of humor about her various encounters. Check out 3) Lunch with the Last One, where even capital letters in the title reveal something:

When you stroked my arm
on the second floor of that big restaurant
it made me so angry.
We have a history
of good sex
of which I would rather not be reminded.
I am busy making a doormat of myself
right now
with another lover, also flawed, but not bad either.
You’ll have to let me alone
to let this run its course
and by the time I’ve ruined
this one too
by turning into mush
like that bagel-toast we split – too much cheese
we’ll all be old
and even Viagra won’t help.

This poem along with the others tells us all we will ever want to know about the poet, her past, things she experiences, reads and partakes of. Past and present meet on the pages in ways few other poets have been able to express. But do not mistake these for magical poems, they are not. These poems are about the real – good, bad, obsessive, and despite the author’s claim to have forgotten, these prove nothing has been forgotten.

There are moments in which the reader gets a quick lesson in life:

How to Ask for What You Want

How about a bowl of soup
Could it be that simple, this
sacramental moment
an offering
rain of fire
not by accident
And you may receive

There is also the poem I wish had ended the book called After This Mysterious Moment with You

Even after this mysterious
Everlasting moment
here with you
when I
Cast off this or that convention
Exalt sporadic gestures of my brain
I remain the daughter of my parents
friend of my lovers
friend of my friends

You will see the final poem, nonetheless is also an appropriate finish, and when you finish this book you will feel awe for the person who wrote it because she has laid her beautiful ballooning heart before you.


Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street Press, 2010)
Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011)
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Monday, September 02, 2013

Interview with Elizabeth Graver: Author of THE END OF THE POINT

Author Elizabeth Graver

Interview with Doug Holder

Elizabeth Graver’s new novel is The End of the Point. She is the author of three other novels and her work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories (1991, 2001); Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (1994, 1996, 2001), The Pushcart Prize Anthology (2001), and Best American Essays (1998).  She teaches English and Creative Writing at Boston College. I had the privilege of interviewing her on my Somerville Community Access TV show: Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: Why did you use a summer home in a fictional Massachusetts coastal town, Ashaunt, as the focus for your novel The End of the Point-- the very house that was the home of the Porter family from 1942 to 1999?

Elizabeth Graver: The house and the land are the main characters. I was really interested in time, the passage of time and what stays and what doesn’t through the generations. I took the idea of taking a singular place and looking at it through a stretch of time with different lenses.  So in this case it is  a 2 mile spit of land that is quite unchanging in that people cling to tradition there. Change is slow to come to this land of ruggedly beautiful summer homes, rocks and ocean. But on the other hand everything is changing. The book is set partly during WW ll, and partly during the Vietnam War. The land and the house are like containers for the people, but they are almost characters as well. They have their own independent lives.  And as people move and change through the generations at least the land endures. And even that is open to question because of development. I was interested in this book, more than my other books, in capturing something over a stretch of time.

DH: The End of the Point deals with a rather well-to-do New England family of privilege. Is this in anyway similar to the way you grew up?

EG:  No I did not grow up in a family like this. My grandparents were Jewish immigrants. My Dad went to City College in NYC, and my mom went to Queens College. I grew up in a little town in Western, Mass. My parents were out of place there but ending up loving it. My husband comes from a family of a similar background to that in the novel. In my family we had no summer homes, etc… When I met my husband he did have a place like the one described in the book. I was fascinated by the place. My family is one of diaspora –so I was interested to find out how place and family works through ownership. How can these things intersect?

DH: Were you envious of the lifestyle of this old New England family?

EG:  Not in any simple way. I am more interested in it than envious. I love continuity of place and I also love to travel. No I am not envious—curious.

DH: The character of Charles—the son of Helen—one of the Porter daughters—seems to be-- at least in his college-aged years, a bulwark  against change—in regard to change in this seaside community. But he in fact uses it as a place to heal—as a place for his own change.

EG: He is complicated. On the one hand he doesn’t want the land to change. The land in a sense is his second mother. But in other ways he courts change. He leaves New England to go to college in the Midwest.  He becomes involved with an unstable Vietnam War vet. So I was interested in all the insiders and the outsiders in this book. There is a sense in the novel that characters are always pushing boundaries.

DH: This story takes place from the 1940s to the 1990’s. Why did you choose this period of time?

EG:  1942 was an interesting time, in that there were Harbor Entrance Control Posts—where the army made bases that were to look like summer houses. I ended the story in 1999 because I was interested in ending before the turn of the century.  There is no email in my novel—no wireless. I was interested in tracking communication when it was done differently. There is a lot of waiting in my book. I didn’twant to dip in the 21st Century.

Ashaunt is a fictional version of a real place I spent time. And in this place you can still see the old foundations and remnants of generations past. I found it really interesting to picture 200 soldiers arriving at this place and how this change would affect the family. How would the teenage Porter girls be affected by hanging out with soldiers?  I also wanted examine how the war across the ocean affected this spit of land.

DH: The character of Helen speaks to the herculean effort it took for a woman in the 195os to break out of the traditional role of housewife, mother, etc…

EG: There have been a variety of responses to Helen. Some readers don’t like her at all—they feel she is a narcissist.  She is very conflicted about raising children. I was very sympathetic to her—an intellectual woman of that era with all these expectations of what you are supposed to do—how many children to have, etc… She loved her children, but was restless and wanted to go for more.

DH: Is this book a beach read?
EG:  My book on Amazon has been classified as family saga, and historical drama fiction. And I resist both of those. Mine is much more complicated. It has got a lot of beach in it , but it is not a beach read. The setting is integral to it but it is not a beach read.