Friday, February 14, 2014

Taurus by Paul Nemser


Taurus  by Paul Nemser

Review by Alice Weiss

            Paul Nemser’s Taurus is a poetry book with the scope of a Russian novel and the reach of a modern metal robotic arm able to withstand radioactivity, able to dispose of  radioactive waste.  There are over 100 poems here most of them lyrics, many of them in tercets, recalling Dante’s Inferno, like this one, a vast journey through a cultural landscape. There are lists and newspaper reports, classified ads for Russian wives.  There are mythical lovers and robot lovers and mythologizing scientists, bus images  Taurus is immensely ambitious at its core –sad and brave and funny, romantic—the book undertakes an epic reanimation and a re-evaluation of the Europa myth  engaging with an urban underworld of exploitation, technology, and science.  
             A myth, after all, is  a story of characters whose relationships reflect, explain, or symbolize both explicit and inchoate issues like origins, sexuality, love, landscape, culture and the seasons, power, domination,  science, and patterns of historical immigration and cultural exchange. In the original myth, Europa is a pretty cowherd on the Phoenician coast whom Zeus,
in the form a beautiful white bull, seduces and carries on his back west across the sea to the island of Crete.  Here, Europa is carried east over borders like a fugitive into Russia, “the snow cracks of a dark imperium.” She “listens for footsteps/Do they come for me?” “My Fate” she says

                        steps forelegs
            down out of the sky.  My exile

            beckons with shaken horns.
            My husband bears me on his back
            toward crosshatch birches
            where gods and men
            walk in the same shadows—

            But this lyrical figure, seeming at one with the natural world, is crossing the border into a different world controlled, as in the original myth, by the bull god, but different, contemporary.  The god  takes the form of a metal gargoyle perched under the roof of an insignificant palace near the Fontanka, the river that flows through the middle of St. Petersburg.  This is the city that Peter the Great pulled into Europe, and pulled Europe into.  The Palaces, the wide avenues, the paintings, the sculpture, the architecture, all Paris.  The bull gargoyle himself is a European figure but here he launches into Russia, makes Russia his bailiwick, his night club, his love nest. 
            When the god animates the bull to climb down from its perch, he becomes a bouncer in a night club,  Europa, a model on a scrolling placard. 
            He’s a god in the costume of a gargoyle
            in a speed shocked age.

            antennae in his horns, mirror glasses.

and she:
            How palpable she is across land and water,
            her dusky electricity
            almost in his metal reach.

            We are taken through the journey by an impersonal guide, our Virgil, in the form of side bars telling us what is going on and what we are about to see. In the five page series, for example, “His Age, Any” the sidebar:Personal ads /from the bull/ gargoyle’s/ website for /Russian brides. Romance vies with devastating humor, for example, “Anna’s personal info: I am calm and lovely.  I have well-sided interests.” and Irina who wishes for a partner, thus: “I want to meet a man with serious relations to me.  I need a lot of attention, kind and warm feelings. . .I want to be loved and one woman only for one man (height 5’7”)”  Europa, in one of any number of lyrical prose poems, desires
            A man with a mineral strength. A straight-ahead
            approach. who will breakfast on herbs and new mown grass, his chest bare
            as a boulder.  Whose words boom within that chest and Ohhhh comes out
            round as a sphere.

Nemser’s romantic imagination seems boundless: Europa as a matryoschka, a nesting doll,
            You inside you
            and inside that
            is you,

            Child- sized you fingernail you,
            tiniest speck
            without flaw.

and again, “Her Image-Griboedov Canal”
            I envy the photographers
            who saw you live:
            golden airy thinness,

            a direct unceasing gaze
            as if the lens had a soul.. .

            Snapshot. Snap. No haze, no shade.
            Snap. Snap. Every shot rips a hole.
            Is it like that for you,
            My photogenic bird?
            Lightbringer, when the shutter closes.

In a poem called “Nuclear” Europa  speaks
            Come we’ll sleep when all’s exploded
            Let’s rise and split and slice like moons.
            Eclipse me. Reflect me
            in a broken reef, a blackened sea.
            I’ll destroy you if you destroy me.

Another aspect of this work, like going down a creek bumping into rocks, are the puns. The title
of the personals section, His Age, Any, is actually the refrain.  All the Russian brides will take a man, any age, but the breadth of cultural consideration and reconsideration bounces you into the notion of “Age” as era, the Matryoschka poem is an email “attachment.”
            Once Yevgeny, the robot arm shows up from the secret city of Tomsk where he had been enriching plutonium, he enters the “Radium Institute founder, VI. Vernadsky. . .
            mapper of the radioactive flesh of Mother Russia.

            Yevgeny full circle.  Once “bomber,” “poisoner,”
            sponges up the Pu, U and all the transuranics.

PU indeed. A poem or so later, there is a list of all things in Russia and the world named for Vernadsky, as if he were an Athena, or George Washington.
            And love, love.  The air as orgasm.  A group of pages from newspapers describing weird incidents of ball lighening, interspersed by Taurus speaking poems.  Here is Taurus listening to drumming near,  Dom knigi,a famous bookstore in St. Petersburg in the renovated Singer sewing machine building. “Drum. . .”
            Like the god’s voice, but without the god.

            Without even the demigod, the hemidemisemitgod.
            The bull-man, revved up, ready to explode—listens:
            that rhythm? Is it an empire falling?
            Is that glass kniving into Nevsky tar?
            . . .The water settles, then explodes.
            A carp flies on the embankment
            bleathing air.  Everything’s
            waiting to be caught.

            What happens when gods copulate?  Zeus took Europa by force: war, violence. and love.  This book is such a layered experience that I cannot hope to cover its pleasures in a single review.  Some parts of it need to be read with Google close by, but the lyricism, the jokes, the characterizations, the nightclub, the robots’ love affair.  All demand reading and rereading.  Taurus is certainly well worth the The New American Poetry Prize conferred on it last year.  Paul Nemser will be featured at the Brookline Public Library Poetry Reading February 16, 2014.  Next week.  It’s a not miss.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crossroads Poems by Jean Dany Joachim

Jean Dany Joachim

Review by Lo Galluccio

by Jean Dany Joachim
Copyright Jean Dany Joachim 2013
125 pages

It is a lovely book, an approachable book, a heartwarming book: Jean Dany Joachim's newly released "Crossroads"/Chimenkwaze with poems in both Creole and English.  I was privileged to hear Jean Dany read from this book at the Cambridge Public Library's new auditorium space a week or so ago.  And while he read his son Danyson was always in his arms or at his feet wanting to be near him.  Jean Dany's son is clearly the apple of his eye and that somehow just amplifies how soulful and wonderful his book and his vision are. Jean Dany's mantra or slogan is "Life is Good."  And for a man who hails from a country where dictatorship and disasters have struck hard and wrought their damages, this is fairly remarkable.   In fact,  he said that though he has lived in the United States about 15 years,  he almost always writes about Haiti.  What astounds me about Jean Dany's work is that it is clear and simple without ever being trite.  Very few poets can render the give and take of the heart, of life and death, of nature, of friendships as transparently and as truthfully as he does.  Open to any page in this book and you will be delighted by how easily and profoundly Jean Dany captures things.  In "Formula for a Poem" he writes:

    'if you can't write a poem
    Write anyway
    Pay no attention to your pen
    Write the title
    Read the title
    Pay no attention to the page."
                                                          p 21

He makes it seem like a magic trick, one that should require little effort, a simple equation of just a few things.    He is saying, "Do not be self-conscious about it."  And he isn't.  In the poem "The Old Hat' he writes:
    "I have seen the birth of dreams
    I have seen a thousand paths
    And seen cathedrals
    I am the shadow they seek no more
    I'm the one they take no more out...
    They call me the old hat."
In this way he breathes new life into that cliche or familiar saying, "old hat."   The old hat'
is an old soul who has traveled deep and broad.   It is a clever turn of the phrase, though
Jean Dany is careful never to over-emphasize or become too elaborate.   Sometimes he
pens a three stanza short poem, as in "Dinner:"
    "My bowl of rice
    Laughs at me
    And the walls too.
    Yet I know of some
    Who feel just like me
    At a candlelight feast
    I squeeze my pain
    And laugh back."

It seems like a Zen koan or a riddle, a wonderful twist.   Hardly ever is the writer all alone
in his observations; more often he includes the reader, or makes universal what his own
experience might be. 
In "Sorrow" he writes:
"It's raining in my heart
But my eyes show no sign of it
I feel it deep in my guts..."
Many of his poems are dedicated to a specific person, as if he is writing to communicate to a special friend.   In "Don't Look Into My Heart" he writes:
"Don't look into my face
to  tell me you saw my heart

I am just as  i am
In a bet with life
And I am not willing to lose
My joys, my sottows
Do not own my face
I do not feel it when I am hurt
And when I give a good kick to life
I also feel it."

One of my favorite poems is "Death" in which he uses butterflies to designate the mystery
of our passing.  He writes:
"Butterflies of death
do not feel the cold
Butterflies of death need no key
A snall white butterfly
A colorless one
A butterfly of death
That breaks my heart forever."
Instead of choosing an obvioulsy dark or sinister metaphor or sign, like a scorpion or a rat, Joachim chooses a light and whimsical creature to signify death.  And this turns our presumptions upside down.  Death still breaks his heart, but it is not so heavy or painful. And I like that.  It is an interesting relief.  Death is almost fragile and emphemeral.

Other fine poems are "A Love Letter" and "Desire" and "A River calls your Name."
Though he is rarely explictly political, the poem "After the 48 Hours Ultimatum Speech
Before the Invasion of Iraq, by G.W. Bush. President of the United States." he writes:
"While our leaders rise  up to gods, and
Our soldiers to glorious barbarians
Here, I will stand searching for that little spot on the sky
Where God might be --Let's hope that He is watching."

There is much to be gained in reading this extraordinary book.  It is like drinking from a clear
spring of water.   There is so much hope underlying what is primal, what is upheaval, what is uncontrollable.  There is so much love for our humanity and such respect for the  mystery of existence.    It is a book you will want to refer to again and again. 

Jean Dany Joachim is the 2nd Poet Populist of Cambridge
He teached at Bunker Hill Community College and runs
a poetry series in Cambridge.

***** Lo Galluccio is the Populist Poet of Cambridge, Mass.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Women Musicians Network 17th annual concert, March 5th

-- Lucy Holstedt, my neighbor and friend on School St. in Somerville puts on this great musical event in Boston every year. Here is an article by her husband Kirk Etherton, who also helps with this festive occasion....

Women Musicians Network
17th annual concert, March 5th


            Once a year, there's a once-in-lifetime show. This year, it's Wed., March 5th.  The focus—as always—will be on Berklee women students and their bands from around the world. Just make sure you're at the Berklee Performance Center, prepared to be surprised and amazed. 

            This year's WMN concert features 12 original acts. They range from Latin jazz and cabaret pop, to electronic, Middle Eastern, and big band. Something for everyone—or everything for everyone, perhaps, given the consistently high level of originality and musicianship. The WMN show is always extremely diverse, but never at the expense of quality. (Note: men are not excluded; you'll see plenty of very fine, non-female musicians.)

      Somerville resident Prof. Lucy Holstedt is WMN co-founder, faculty advisor, and always-engaging concert host. Co-directing the show once again (and also leading a performance of her Balkan Choir) is Prof. Christiane Karam.

Women Musicians Network
17th Annual Concert, 2014
Wed., March 5th, 8:15 - 10:00 pm
Berklee Performance Center
136 Mass. Ave., Boston
$8 in advance, $12 at the door
 Box Office: 617.266.7455

Newton Free Library Poetry Series: Lee, Twomey, and Bergman. 7PM Tuesday Feb. 11, 2014