Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Blue Chip City Book of the Dead Words by Stephen Winhusen, Artwork by Joseph Winhusen


The Blue Chip City Book of the Dead

Words by Stephen Winhusen, Artwork by Joseph Winhusen

ID8 Design, Cincinnati, 2014

ISBN 978-0-9899686-0-7


Available from the authors at or from Small Press Distribution:


Review by David P. Miller


This book is a rare find, a gem quietly concealed in the slush pile of review copies. The Blue Chip City Book of the Dead, by brothers Stephen and Joseph Winhusen, is a deeply conceived text/visual work, with layers of imagery and association waiting to be unearthed by the curious reader. The title refers to the Egyptian Book of the Dead – sometimes known as Going Forth by Day – a collective title for a shifting, unstable set of writings, including prayers, instructions, supplications, and rituals to aid the newly deceased in its negotiations through the afterlife. Instances of the Egyptian book were produced for specific individuals, and so the contents varied from one instance to another. In addition, the book was copied multiple times over many centuries, in some cases by scribes who did not understand the original documents. Errors were introduced and propagated, older texts survived sometimes in fragments, and accompanying visual elements could be mismatched.


The dust jacket text suggests that the Egyptian book is the overall model for the Winhusens’ production, and that is true to an extent. It provides a good place to begin. This volume respects the model by featuring a composite collision of different types of writing in juxtaposition with the visual art – primarily reproductions of digital prints and watercolor paintings. There is lyric poetry, prose poetry, narrative prose (interrupted once by haiku), shape poems, preexisting texts brought together in dialogs, at least one sonnet, incantations, and more. Many of the writings are titled as fragments, inviting the reader to imagine what has not survived or is buried elsewhere. These multiple types of diction are consistently handled by Stephen Winhusen with skill and intriguing lucidity, although the reader is not always easily indulged. (I already want to know more about his poetry, and have ordered his book, The Wonderful World and Other Poems.) The variety of writing presented, however, makes it difficult to present quotations that are in fact representative. This is the main reason that this review will feature fewer quotations than most reviews do.


I go back to the dust jacket because, as is the case with this these texts, it intends to provide direction to the prospective reader – to manage expectations, in fact. It says that the book’s narrator (implying that there is a narrator) “profess(es) to navigate the byzantine rules and regulations of post-modern life … in his search for promotion.” Although I do not find a single narrator or a stable speaking voice, this stance does exist, and is the source for the most humorous passages. For example, a parody of ritual addresses to deities begins with:

O Wide strider, I am not unemployed

O Fire Embracer, I am fully ensured

O Nosey, I have no credit card debt

O Terrible of Face, I have an employer sponsored HSA

O Double Lion, I am in a hedge fund

O He-whose-eyes-are-in-flames, I saw us through the business cycle

(p. 10)


This relation of arcane ritual to career survival returns at several points, as in this text which opens a sequence of passage through seven gates:

The first gate is called HR. Its guardian is she-of-many-forms-and-faces. Your hours and the way in which you kept them stand naked before her. She holds the knot-amulet of red jasper, the heart-amulet of Seheret-stone, and the Djed-pillar of gold. (p. 30)


But there are other senses in which this is a book of the dead. The frontispiece presents a watercolor portrait of the artists’ late mother, Elaine Winhusen. It shows her holding a camera, with the text, “She is now part of the mystery which she once hunted.” (Her relationship with the brothers is not stated in the book, but is confirmed via an online obituary.) The final double-page watercolor shows her facing away from us into an autumn landscape and makes a visual closing bracket. One of the poems, “Ghost Address (For Elaine),” occurs about two-thirds of the way through the book. It occurs to me that this volume is in part hunting the mystery she has entered, and in part extends the quest beyond Corporate Life as Underworld to navigating the labyrinth of individual lives. Another set of texts and images presents what seems to be an earlier part of the brothers’ lives in London, in relation to their home town of Cincinnati and a now-decayed original neighborhood – a journey among shadows. The first and penultimate poems are titled “Homesickness,” but are set in London, with this stanza present in each (quotation marks in the original):


A Handel Street address

Mid-way Russell Square

And King’s Cross

In the London

Of High Finance (p. 6 & 58)

The scare quotes are apt, because the second text, “Cincinnati,” brings us sharply into an alienated past and present, interlocked:

Growing up, you thought “I live in the best street in the best part of the best city, and now you hear about a guy who answers his door and gets shot in the face.” We date to the time when industrialists built this hill in the Italianate. Later, they made the best crack houses because of all the carved woodwork and copper ripe for gutting. (p. 8)

This alienation suggests that perhaps there is a narrator after all, assembling and compulsively reviewing the words and images, with the hope of finding a way through a night passage of dissociation.


There is a third sense in which this is a book of the dead. Two sequences, presented as plays on the canonical hours of the Catholic Church, are composed to a great extent of juxtaposed texts about or from the writings of historical figures, and thus refer to the genre of “dialogs of the dead.” “The Hours of the Virgin,” the longest sequence in the book (p. 20-27), puts the voices of Emily Dickinson and St. Theresa of Lisieux in combination, with St. Joan of Arc entering the conversation later. Many of the poems here are difficult to quote here, as the abutment of voices is often bound up with layout in columns, sometimes irregular and interweaving –particularly in the opening poem “Matins.” By contrast, “Nones” plays on the name of the canonical hour by being laid out in a 3X3 grid of nine-line stanzas (as “Terce” consists of three tercets). The most striking fusion of text and art in this volume is “Vespers,” laid out on two facing pages.  The right-hand page suggests a half-disc like a blinding sun, with the burning, sparse poem set inside it. This is echoed in the left-hand page, darkened like an eclipse. The disc itself is set against a the background of a longer but obscured text, overprinted and blurred. It is as though the poem we can read is what burned through from the background.


The second sequence is titled “Hours of the Zeitgeist” (p. 40-43), which takes its basis from an encounter between atomic physicist Edward Teller and theologian Paul Tillich, centered on the development and detonation of the first nuclear bomb, and the “the shaking of these foundations and the crumbling of the world … This is no longer a vision; it has become physics” (Tillich).  These pairs of pages are designed with thick parenthesis-like texts quoting the two men and reflecting on the Manhattan project, enclosing briefer reverse-curved poem texts meditating on atomic structures as images for music or the structure of the universe itself.


In beginning to bring this review to a conclusion – and in the process, skipping over a remarkable wealth of details, allusions, and images, all the more striking for being contained in not more than 62 pages – I have to note yet a fourth level of reference: the resonances between this book and the work presented on the Winhusen brothers’ web site. There we discover, for example, that the “Hours of the Virgin” material presented here is derived from a collaborative 4x8-foot light box of the same name ( Each panel of this visual artwork can be viewed separately, so it’s possible to read the entire set of Hours poems, not all of which are presented in the book. They have also provided an extensive commentary on the artwork, which can be “read back” in a sense into the book in hand. This depth also applies to an entire set of writings and images not yet mentioned in this review, referring to the British architect John Soane, his design of the Bank of England, and its envisioned destruction in a watercolor by Joseph Gandy titled “The Bank in Ruins” (a painting exhibited by Soane himself). The three paintings by Joseph Winhusen on this theme, again with deep background material, are shown at and included, without captions or explanation, in the book. The painting “Breakfast Room”, as shown on the web site, includes as part of the image a poem by Stephen not included in its reproduction on page 14.


And there is more.


It should go without saying that this hardbound book, slender and in a moderately large format, is beautifully produced. It may be modeled on an ancient prototype produced to guide souls through the underworld, which in the course of repeated generations falls to fragments and allows cul-de-sacs to become lodged in its structure. But this is really, of course, a book for the living, and our wrong turns, persistent blind alleys, and the sometimes sense that reality must lie somewhere other than this confusing series of perpetual negotiations with one shadow after another. Perhaps we can conclude with the opening of the final poem, “The Palace of Nowhere”:


The first few leaves

Winging down

Define curves,


Empty space,

And fill it

With description.


Turn the page and there is the final painting, a two-page watercolor of Elaine Winhusen, facing away from us into that space, an autumn landscape just before the leaves begin to fall.

Poet, Playwright,Israel Horovitz: Nutured by a father of choice, not chance.

Israel Horovitz

 Poet, Playwright,Israel Horovitz: Nurtured by a father of choice, not chance.

 Interview with Doug Holder

Israel Horovitz, the noted playwright, screenwriter, and director of a new major motion picture : My Old Lady, (Based on his play of the same name) told me at an interview at the television studios at Endicott College, that we have our fathers of chance, and our fathers of choice. His father of choice was the renowned playwright and poet Samuel Beckett, who he met in Paris as a young man. Horovitz, at age 75 has released a first book of poetry Heaven and other Poems, that might not have been birthed if it wasn't for the influence of Beckett. I had the pleasure of talking with Horovitz about his long and fascinating career in the theater, and his distinguished experience with the arts. This interview was a special production for my Somerville Community Access TV show  Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Douglas Holder: Like Samuel Beckett, who you were friends with in Paris--you are a playwright and a poet. What elements of play writing do you bring into your poetry? Does your plays and poetry inform each other?

Israel Horovitz: I don't know. I really haven't given that any thought. I have been writing poetry all my life... starting in my teens. I never had any notion of publishing poetry whatsoever.  My poetry was completely private. The poetry was simply for me.  When it came time to publish I had a helluva time—because I had written tons of poems in notebooks that were long forgotten. I sifted through them and came up with 100 poems. I didn’t go to the publisher and say: “ Hey…publish me.” The publisher of Three Rooms Press, Peter Carlaftes was at a poetry reading I was featured in, and came up to ask me if he could publish my work. I hadn’t been published in poetry magazine previous to this. I would have to wanted  it. I worked a long time to pick out the poems and I hired an assistant who is very poetry friendly.

But back to Beckett. Beckett was 40 years my senior. I was a kid in my 20s, and I wrote a play that was to be presented at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. I was with Al Pacino, Jill Clayburgh—we were absolutely unknown at the time. We were there to perform my play The Indian Wants the Bronx. Someone came up to me at that time and asked me if I wanted to meet Samuel Beckett. It was 1968, I was 27 years old with hair down to my shoulders. Around the same time a French kid ,who was a stage manager for an Edward Albee production, said he would like to translate my work. So since then, I have been back and forth to Paris, overseeing my plays, etc.. But when I first met Beckett—I realized that he didn’t have kids, so that must have played some role in our relationship. We stayed together talking for 3 hours. At the end of the three hours I said: “ Do you think that we could be friends?” He said “ I think we are, boy.” A play of mine Line has played in New York for 40 years, in Paris for 11years, and it gave me enough money to go back and forth to Paris. And of course I wanted to see Beckett. In this life we have fathers by chance, and fathers by chance. My biological  father was a truck driver ( At 50 he became a lawyer)—Beckett made me see the possibilities—beyond the truck driver to the playwright. Beckett had relationship with a lot of young folks like Tom Stoppard, and other emerging artists.

In terms of my relationship with my poetry and plays, none of my poems would never be the basis of my plays.

DH: Camus said, and I paraphrase, “ After 40, a man is responsible for his own face.” You deal with this in the poem “Is this the face I deserve?’ Do you think time and your experience has etched your face as you would like to see yourself?

IH: No one gets the face they want to see. Maybe actors do. I think writers create what they create to obscure their faces. You can only hope for an open and honest one.

DH: I know that France has embraced many American artists from the novelist James Baldwin, to jazz greats like Dexter Gordon. The French have lauded your work. And you seem to have even greater status there than here. What is it about the French sensibility?

IH:  Well... the French laud louder. I joke in an interview with the New York Times that in a former life I was an escargot--loved by the French. But it is more like if you love me, I love you. I have many strong relationships with young troupes in France. When I am not in Gloucester, I am in France. or Greenwich Village.

DH: Your poem " On Boulevard Raspail"--  is a beautiful piece about you passing a young girl in Paris. A moment of time not corrupted by the jealousy, anger, etc...that a relationship can bring. The beauty is in the passing. You wrote that you told Beckett you felt bad because you stole this line from his poem: " the space of a quietly closing door." So as Eliot put it: " 'Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."

IH: That is such a complicated question because I never intentionally did that. Obviously you write from what you know. What happened was that I was out running in Paris one morning. I often did training runs. I collided with this really pretty young woman. And we fell down and we were looking at each other. Wordlessly she got up and walked away. I wrote this poem of perfection in the passing. Anyway, I was having dinner with Beckett.. I was having a reading but I didn't invite Beckett because he never went out.  He said" You are doing a reading?" I said,"Please come." Then he asked me to read the poem. I read it and he responded: "Boy, that's lovely." Then I told him I inadvertently taken the last line from his radio play Cascando.  He said " Oh yes--I stole it from Dante." He translated my poem. Like me, Beckett didn't write poems with publication in mind--we was writing them for himself.

DH: I remember hearing that when Beckett opened his play Waiting for Godot in Miami the whole crowd walked out. Has this ever happened to you?

IH: Yeah  it did --Bert Lahr starred in it. This happened with me and my play The Indian Wants the Bronx. (Al Pacino starred in this)We would do the play for anyone who wanted to see it. This was before it opened in New York. We did at one place called  the Canoe Place Inn in the Hamptons on Long Island. The place had a 1,000 seat capacity. Only three older ladies with big hats were in the crowd. During the middle of the play they left. Pacino, with that distinctive voice said: "What are we going to do now?"

The Shooters.

All through your life
You see the shooters
Firing guns into the sky
You wait for something to return to earth
But nothing ever falls.
You ask your parents
Why the shooters shoot
You ask ‘What is their target?’
Your parents look away.
Your father dies
You feel the pain.
You see the shooters, once again
And once again
You ask your mother ‘Why?’
This time she weeps
And starts to die.
And when she dies
Your childhood dies.
You search and find the shooters, once again.
You climb into the chamber of the tall one’s gun
And wait your turn.

(c) Israel Horovitz 2013

Monday, September 01, 2014


REVIEW OF SEA-LEVEL NERVE (BOOK ONE), PROSE POEMS BY JAMES GRABILL, Wordcraft of Oregon, LLC, publisher, La Grande, OR 97850, 2014

Review by Barbara Bialick

This an environmentally emotional book of 94 pages of prose poems.  At first, the poems rolled along like a wheel of time that spoke of the wearing down of Nature in our industrial disaster.  However, I soon could not stand to read one lumbering poem after another…until I had my own a-ha moment… The poems are listed in alphabetical order according to title!

Therein lies the San Andreas Fault line of the whole book. You don’t just list your poems in alphabetical order…  You have to place the poems in juxtaposition to each other in terms of sound, picture, topic, theme and so on.

Fortunately for me, the reviewer and you, the reader, the author made one other very helpful alphabetical list—the impressive array of literary magazines that each published one or two of his better titles.  I went right for some of the magazines that I felt usually had good taste and picked out some lines for you in an un-alphabetical manner:

From Wilderness House Literary Review, “In the Santuary of our Midwest Wisdom Religion”:  “Dark-red ancestral robes in the stained-glass sanctuary…close to the professor with his Bach hair the wind blew as he walked in rehearsing/He’s half sitting, half standing, playing four parts of the hymn on the organ at once, opening pipe-tornado tremolo…”

From Pemmican Online, “Exposure”:  “A few moments and his temperature had become 400 mm of mercury still cooling after his birth, his voice floating with studs as when the windy Great Lakes Bay had become eutrophic, when all the perch died on the sand.”

From Salamander, “The Idea of Throwing Tires”:  “Oil grease slips around the axle that turns within industry, as Junior hauls ass on the tow motor, wild/from breathing in downtown Toledo where little exists in 1967 but trouble at worked…”

From “The Bitter Oleander”, “Night Fog”:  “Walking through the body of fog we’re being lifted to an ancient place where angels disappear and only night would wait longer than fog for final lightening fires at the end of forests to turn back into rock, or the voiceless hands holding back this stretch of time.”

James Grabell, the author, has been publishing poetry in the U.S. and internationally since the early 1970s. He earned an MFA from Colorado State University, where he also taught writing.  He also taught at the Oregon Writers’ Workshop, at Clackamas and Portland Community College, among other places. He also has long experience writing on environmental topics.  He has published seven books of poems, two books of essays, and two poetry chapbooks. He is a long-time resident of Portland, Oregon.

******The reviewer, Barbara Bialick has published two poetry chapbooks from Ibbetson Street Press, TIME LEAVES and NEVER RETURNS