Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lucky Bones By Peter Meinke

Peter Meinke

Lucky Bones

By Peter Meinke

University of Pittsburgh Press

Pittsburgh, PA

ISBN 13: 978-0-8229-6310-3

82 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

Passion trumps this frivolous world of detail—Belgian chocolates, Coppertone lotion, dry martinis, bright ribbons, doubles tennis, and, heaven help us, sonnets. Peter Meinke in his new collection of poems, Lucky Bones, quantifies the passionate nature of interior intensity and hell-bent fervor by poking fun at himself and humorously (or not) eviscerating a chosen set of targets inhabiting this vale of tears that we call life. Many of his poetic commentaries Meinke delivers in formalist verse with a cunning dry wit that both elucidates and cautions.

The poet begins ominously with his first sectional poem entitled Drive-By Shootings. Here he sets up his backdrop and shades it with bitters. Meinke says,

        …People pedal on bikes drop

  Some money in the hole stick in their arms get a shot and wobble away

     Sometimes getting hit by cars the same needle all afternoon

             That’s the kind of world we live in

Civilization masks bloody-mindedness and boiling lust. Meinke’s piece Cassandra in the Library alludes to ancient Troy while the poet simultaneously conjures up modern academia and contemporary office life. Here’s the unpleasant heart of the poem,

            Poetry no wisdom withstands the test

               of blood: when mind and body clash

         the mind’s the one whose opposition’s rash

                        Killing liquid work’s dust

         Our craving for passion quenched by a crimson lust

           What can an office offer but a cursed

                 routine an inane trivial bore?

           A water cooler doesn’t slake the thirst

              of blood that rages for a taste of war

       a horde of disappointed men have dreams

    fired by bursting flares and female screams

The rhymes lighten the content thereby creating an odd but interesting counterpoint. I very much like this poem.

Skewing the Roman Catholic papacy can get old quickly and is not my cup of tea. However when a bit of compressed wit like the poem Habemus Papum nudges me I can’t resist. Habemus Papum, as announced by a cardinal from St. Peter’s Basilica after a papal election concludes, means “we have a pope.” Meinke appears to have tired of Vatican officialdom and its moribund language. He celebrates/laments in this part of the piece,

                        O goodum! Habemus papum

                             who’ll soon intone

                               the usual crapum

                        and the poor poor will weepum

Athletes and poets have a lot in common up to and including their need to be loved and appreciated in their own time. Unfortunately, the gods of sport and art operate on a different timeframe. In Meinke’s title poem, Lucky Bones, a tennis player of 78 years makes a great shot during a doubles game. He looks to his wife for approval as he had done as a younger man. But time has passed. Meinke concludes with pathos,

…his wife

who used to toss car keys

that flashed through light

like lucky bones crying Hey

         big fella think fast!

 And he thinks That’s

just past in my head

     like a re-eyed crow

and he’s thinking Christ he

could still catch them if she

   were still there to throw

Armed with talent enough to cause the doubling up in laughter of bards and bad reviewers everywhere, Meinke takes on the sonnet in his piece Front-Rhymed Easter Anti-Sonnet. His faux attack doesn’t miss a beat. Bucking revered tradition he even removes the end rhyme scheme and transplants it at the line beginnings. The untraditional cur! Consider these pretty funny lines,

    … Bad enough you have to use

  words without sinking the buggers in fourteen

  lines O Shakespeare Milton what made you

  choose them? O Formalist can’t you read the

signs? O Meinke why are you writing another?

            Who’s sick of sonnets?  Iamb  Iamb 

For Emily Dickinson it’s all about repressed sex and mannered poetry in Meinke’s excellent parody of that poet entitled Emily Dickinson Thinks about Buying a Ribbon. There’s something about Dickinson that invites quality parody. I’m thinking of X.J. Kennedy’s Emily Dickinson in Southern California. In Meinke’s poem Dickinson debates the color of her prospective ribbon almost to the point of indecency which, of course, is the point in this astonishingly deep piece,

I would like to get red—


       But father would disapprove

  A serious Blue—then—worn loose

  Like a Lover’s knot

        A decent one could strangle

  With it—I’d have wine

       Not the barrell’d rum of Father’s

  Then—let him come—

Meinke takes great pleasure in self-deprecation. He gets away with it because he is that good. His poem On Completing My PHD reads like an ongoing gag, but carries with in some quite serious undertones and unasked questions. The poet concludes by rattling off his educational symptoms,

And I who’ve developed

  a twitch a tic a cough

 can’t tell if I am finished

    or only finished off

    I learned Byron had a clubfoot

      Nietzsche’s health was drastic

         Poe was a dipsomaniac

        And I’m already spastic

 I learned that Shakespeare really lived

        so scholars have decided

   Though quite a few have studied me

       they’re not as sure that I did

The poet again summons up academia in a villanelle entitled The Old Professor. Keeping their eyes on Professor Warren’s nicotine-stained teeth as he enlightens his students on New England’s luminaries can prove a didactically sound methodology. Meinke explains,

                                                … Transfixed we

            watched you grind your nubby teeth to stumps

            waiting for you to spur us through our jumps

               from Cotton Mather up through Emily

                        Is every pilgrim happy on the bus?

             We never were sure when you were serious

                   chaining your Camels unpuritanically

                grinding your browning teeth to nubby stumps

              and tossing questions far from the syllabus:

                 Would you rather live on Broad or Beacon Street?

                        Are Smith and Bradford riding the same bus?

Peter Menke has been writing good, sometimes great poems for a long time. Whatever he has for breakfast I want to try. This poet’s in top form.

*** originally appeared in the Fox Chase Review

Thursday, November 13, 2014

6 Hotels Hub Theatre Company of Boston @ Club Café

Hub Theatre Company of Boston
@ Club Café
209 Columbus Ave
Boston, MA
Now Playing through November 22
6 Short Plays by Israel Horovitz
Directed by Daniel Bourque
and John Geoffrion

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

In his Talk Back with the audience following the performance of 6 Hotels, which is six short plays, playwright Israel Horovitz says that perhaps the scenario, “Beirut Rocks,” is too serious for  the set of plays presented.  Perhaps too, it is in many ways too political to be included among five other comedy pieces.

In the first play, “Speaking of Tushy” Horovitz presents a delicious appetizer of two guys who meet in a bar and begin talking about their ex-lovers.   Johnnie McQuarley, who sparkles throughout the six plays, is the center of this play along with Ashley Risteen.  Both are excellent and perform even better in the later presentations.  Supporting them are Matthew Zahnzinger, whose French accent could use some polish, but otherwise fits his part well and Lauren Elias, who along with her husband John Geoffrion founded Hub Theatre Company, works nicely as a waitress adding many lines to the comedy.

“Fiddleheads and Lovers” is another Horovitz comedy which revolves around food and two friends dating each other’s wives which result in humorous repercussions.  Since Horovitz’s six plays are meant to be performed by the same four actors, this one finds Risteen (Emma) and McQuarley (Noah) at dinner with Elias (Elsa) once again a waitress and Zahnzinger (Jerry), who is married to Emma, in his more natural American accent happening in on the scene and then his unseen date, who is Noah’s wife joining him. Not as confusing as it might seem, the awkward situation is humorous.

The third play, “Beirut Rocks” is Horovitz’s self-stated “serious play.”   True to his words there is no comedy in this one which finds four students in a hotel room in downtown Beirut during an Israeli air bombing which we can presume is during the war with Hezbollah.  There are problems with this cruelly flawed play. McQuarley as Benjy is Jewish.  Zahnzinger is Jake who is Irish and a Harvard student.  Elias as Sandy is an American student and Risteen (Nasa is an American Palestinian.   The first problem with the storyline is that there would probably be no Jewish students in Beirut studying Arabic at that time.  Second, Benjy tries to differentiate between Jews and Israelis.  Each time Nasa talks about Jews, Benjy asks, “ Jews or Israelis?” Nasa replies that there is no difference.   And in the final scene Nasa raises her arms to the heavens and prays for Palestinians to overcome Israelis.   For this Horovitz is not to be praised or criticized, but perhaps he should be given a few lessons in history.

In “The Audition Play” Risteen as Alexis is sensational.  She is supposed to have a Boston accent that the disembodied voice of the auditioner Ed (McQuarley) notes is more New York.  She plays the role expertly with comedic insight and at the same time tap dances that raises applause from an appreciative audience. This is Risteen’s opportunity to shine and she does.

The Hotel Play seemed a bit too familiar as if it had been done before.  Elias as Janice is the mistress of Aaron (Zahnzinger).  Aaron leaves quietly, leaving Janice alone.  Enter Chad (McQuarley), the room service boy,  who tries to comfort Janice as she reveals her affair and her intention to end it.  At that point Aaron reenters and the fun begins thanks to Horovitz ‘s comedic insights.

The final play is “2nd Violin” which Horovitz says he had always wondered what the second person feels like and also that he always wanted to finish a play with a bad ending for the character.   Elias perfectly portrays  Evvie, the second violin who just cannot get her piece right, but as in the other plays she provides an exuberant, bubbly personality and just the right touch of comic relief.  She is supported by Catherine (Risteen) who tries to help Evvie get her piece right. Marvin (McQuarley) the stage manager keeps entering the room resulting in Catherine and Evvie having  a discussion about whether Catherine had an affair with Marvin. Catherine points out  Marvin always enters a room when the female performer is in a state of undress.  Zahnzinger as Sergei the conductor has a Russian accent more French than Russian and has morphed himself over the period of six plays from a drinker at a bar to a tuxedo clad symphony conductor, each – except for the accents –  believable.

In Horovitz we observe a playwright who clearly finds the vulnerability, fears and anxiety of people in stressful situations.  He knows their faults, understands their weaknesses and expertly inserts  these traits into comedic theatre . He is a respected and well-liked writer who has done much to bring memorable entertainment to the stage.  Hub Theatre Company of Boston does an excellent job of interpreting his plays and bringing them to the live stage.

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

Publisher, Muddy River Books

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

LONGSHOT & GHAZAL by Dennis Mahagin

by Dennis Mahagin

Mojave River Press
Apple Valley, CA
ISBN  978 1 63120 004 5

Review by Susan Tepper

When reading a book of poems, I believe the unconscious mind searches for touchstones that justify and reaffirm each poem’s place in the narrative: or to put it more simply, when the poems hang together, and tell me a story, preferably in rich, abstract metaphor, with themes and tropes, phrases and voices that keep recurring, a la anaphora, to ‘ring the bell’ of a rapt reader.  

I first experienced LONGSHOT & GHAZAL in galleys over the computer.  The raw, honest beauty of this work, an almost frantic energy, elicits a skewed sense of humor, what I’ve come to recognize as a Mahagin trademark.  He never skimps— be it pain, pleasure, what is lost, what’s to be gained, what gets shoved aside, or mourned, as mysterious, relevant, absurd, profound. 

His skewed brilliance in two of the long poems, “Tumbleweed Suite” and “Absolute Longshot w/ the Seven Dwarves,” particularly the latter poem, will have you shaking your head at the risks this writer is willing to take on the page, and the payoffs he delivers. Case in point is the dwarf, Grumpy, visited by a dominatrix; or Dopey, hanging tough within the sanctum of a 12 Step meeting.

My print copy of this book is rendered strikingly in grey tones. No other color could suit this book better. Holding it, re-reading the poems, it struck me that I was in possession of a modern, vernacular poetic vision of Romeo and Juliet.
Longshot is what that word implies, and more.  It’s the X chromosome taking risk, jumping ship, striding forward in these broken narratives; marching toward the wisp of Ghazal, whom I view as a nymph creature, female, flighty as the clouds— that he finds, loses, finds again … infinitum.

Mahagin is one of the least sentimental poets working on the scene today.  Yet a few of the poems in this new collection touch specifically on love themes.  Is he a closet romantic, and did he also conjure up the Romeo/Juliet parallel?

‘Schmarties’ is a poem I’ll remember. The title is of course word-play for ‘Smarties’ (the candy wafers)—  and isn’t he saying something else about this whole ‘sweetness’ gig?  An excerpt recalls a Valentines Day long past:

“…Only eight weeks previous two of us conceived / in a state of Deep Winter, Eastern Oregon love, / how we’d plow through snow banks, arm in arm, / … / … From a corner of my lip, a handle bar / she kissed deep, said ‘Malarkey,’ reached for my V, / again and again… Now, alone on Valentines, (‘why / are you crying?’) out of time…/ …”

Deep down in the darkest recesses of the functioning brain, we move closer or away from certain writings, depending upon which receptors the words engage, and light up.  I found myself so emotionally invested in the doings of the Longhot, that I began to worry about the well being of the Ghazal.  And vice versa. So it was with a certain trepidation that I approached a poem placed toward the end of the book, entitled “Longshot’s Demise.”  It’s another of the longer poems; here’s an excerpt from the first stanza:

Longshot’s Demise
“Well, Jesus / if only it wasn’t / another glorious morning— / clouds slathered on a blue dauber, / darling yawns, shaving cream lather; / orange juice, bird song, stench / of French roast / from the Starbucks, / and a gas powered leaf blower / going off too early, at the center / of town. / … ”

So what will become of the Longshot?  Or the Ghazal?  Mahagin’s second collection is a tour de force in modern poetry, and most highly recommended.

*** This review first appeared in Black Heart magazine.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Review, THE BLOOD OF A TOURIST by William Taylor, Jr.,

Review, THE BLOOD OF A TOURIST by William Taylor, Jr., Sunnyoutside, PO Box 911, Buffalo, New York 14207, 92 pages, $13, 2014

Review by Barbara Bialick

In the title poem, “The Blood of a Tourist,” poet William Taylor, Jr. says he, Taylor, is like the tourist with blood so cold, he “could only look away” at the wino, “a wounded beast/drunk on the wine/of our fear…”

This is a collection that speaks of the “terror” in life—and “the people you try not to look at”:

“I awoke with the terror today/…this morning it lingered/in the unmade bed/the dirty dishes…/I saw it in the man on the bus/and the woman in the grocery store/and wondered if they saw it/in me/…most everyone knows the terror/more than they will say/.”

Taylor says he was born “with a weak heart and frightened eyes”—“I met the big nothing early on,” he says, having “to let others walk the world/as if they had some place in it.”

This reviewer had a similar feeling when I was young and felt like the author writes, “myself content with dreams/of little rooms with little windows/looking out upon the rain…”

Other sad people (or the secretly sad) could relate to these spare but arresting poems:  “It suddenly strikes me/that so many lives could be made/from all we’ve simply/thrown away…”

William Taylor, Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, California. His other book titles are BROKEN WHEN WE GOT HERE (Epic Rites, 2013), AN AGE OF MONSTERS (Epic Rites, 2012), and THE HUNGER SEASON (Sunnyoutside, 2009).  Many of his poems have previously appeared in a wide variety of literary publications.

Reviewer Barbara Bialick is the author of TIME LEAVES and NEVER RETURNS (Ibbetson Street Press).