Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Moon in the Pool Poems by Gary Metras

Gary Metras

The Moon in the Pool
Poems by Gary Metras
Presa Press
Rockford, MI
ISBN: 978-0-9888279-7-4
65 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Riding the downward arc of life through dreams of innocence and the corrupting madness of unresolved history, Gary Metras finds resolution and rebirth in the gravitational rush of flood waters and nature’s indifferent but wondrously mnemonic tokens. Right at the onset of this collection Metras stakes out his territory. In his piece Seven Stones for Seven Poems the poet considers how the human mind connects with the past utilizing tangible mementos infused with poetic power and timeless wisdom. But when the past intrudes, watch out. Unsettled memories and discomfort may ensue. Here follows one of the seven poetic sections, a telling but uncomfortable one,

In Biloxi, Mississippi, in the filth
at curbside,
I saw a stone so ugly
it  could have been carried great distances
by trolls. I shot it
with spit, walked on and heard
someone shout, “Hey Yankee!
Fuck you in your Yankee asshole!”
I didn’t know it
then, but I was safer
walking among the beggars of Istanbul.
And these
Rebel-minded youths
my own age asked me,
in their forceful way, to lick
the stone
and take it with me, which I did.
This is the stone of hatred.

Unrequited dreams command attention when they nuzzle into the work-a-day world of survival. Metras accommodates love’s ignored details in his aptly titled poem Working Class Villanelle. Hardships of patched denim and diapers and food stamps aside, dreamy obsessions will out. The poet’s sense of lyrical balance and tone in this formalized piece, which doubles as the title poem, leaves one breathless. The composition concludes with a measure of pluck,

Oh yes, work and denial have a grace.
But what becomes of the love
Drowning in the lack of midnight?

Come, moon. Come, shouts a ten year dream.
There is money in the bank to be spent.
The lovers are loving in the grace of midnight
In the moon in the pool.

Passing on a hammer from generation to generation serves multiple purposes. First, it gives one a token to remember the past. Second, it connects lives over time by creative function. Thirdly, it instils almost a godlike (think Thor) responsibility to pass on stored memory to those who come after. By this transfer of knowledge seniors offer continuing protection to human kind.  Often this stored wisdom needs to be tweaked or repaired wholesale in the face of changing nature or alien threats. The importance of tools and practicality Metras reflects on in a poem that he, not surprisingly, entitles The Hammer. Consider these lines detailing the efficaciousness of this powerful symbol from the heart of the piece,

And now the hammer needs a new handle. Thirty years
of apartments and houses,
of shelves for clothes and books and out-grown toys,
of warped and ant-eaten clapboards,
door jams out of plumb, tree forts,
even the stuck faucet felt the hammer’s weight.
Its wood handle gripped and stained with sweat and
Its steel head dull but solid, older even than I am.
The wood handle split down the middle one day
when banging chisel to name a rock in the flower bed.

When the hounds of heaven are loosed Trappist monks and certain poets pray. Metras, after invoking the ghost of Thomas Merton, seems to number himself among those poets in this collection’s masterwork entitled The Rain, The Flood. In this seven section piece Metras’ Cistercian-like persona voices his personal stoicism in the face of collapsing society. Surrounded by the merciless music and madness of existence, the poet counsels acceptance and forgiveness. Water acts as a great destroyer, but also exhibits even greater powers of cleansing. Metras puts it this way,

Who questions rain
pitting the asphalt of our lives,
clotting in the turnings of culverts
and storm drains with the litter
of our lust, when all it wants
is that singular, downward journey?

Down the river bank
the old beech tree at the bend,
its roots rain-bared a little more
each year, will soon plunge
into the welcoming surge with
the grace of a clipped-wing angel.

Set in Istanbul Turkey Metras’ piece entitled Meditation on Chestnuts emits in its smoky timelessness an exotic fragrance indeed. I like this poem a lot. Outside the Grand Bazaar (I’ve stood in that exact spot—years ago) this purveyor of roasted chestnuts tends to his business through the centuries. Details change but the essentials survive and connect the ages. The poem opens inscrutably,

The chestnut roaster on the street outside
the Grand Bazaar ignores tourists coming
and going, ignores the glitter and noise
inside the shops, so busy cooking and
peeling, so intent arranging chestnuts –
arcs inside of arcs on the hot plate, row
after row, some cooked, some raw, all
arcing like a prayer…

Toward the end of the collection Metras places his poem April. Tulips and melting snow bring with them more unwelcome happenings. It is, after all, New England. Cruel jokes, thawing dead animals, and gossip carry the day. Yet there is beauty as seen from above by the universal lunar observer. The poet urges connection and cautious engagement and he expects nothing but the raw material of living. Metras opens this poem with man’s adaptation after the tumble of a failed dream. He says,

A neighbor is a builder. He loves April,
digs foundations, whistling. That before
the housing crash. Now he has some
sheep and goats. He doesn’t sing to them
as he shovels hay in, manure out.

These poems in total beget silence and contemplation. Like fast moving water from ice-packed heights, Metras’ words fall over us, crystalline and cleansing. Their impact: indisputably bracing.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Margot Livesey to read at Endicott College April 13, 2015


Margot Livesey


On April 13 from 5 to 7PM there will be a talk and reading with novelist and Writer-In-Residence (Emerson College), Margot Livesey, at the Hospitality Suite at Endicott College. Livesey  will discuss her novel  the Flight of Gemma Hardy, and her writing life. Creative Writing Faculty  Doug Holder interviews Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey grew up in a boys' private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught, and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write. Her first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then Margot has published six novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona and The House on Fortune Street. Her seventh novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, was published by HarperCollins in January 2012.

Margot has taught at Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon, Cleveland State, Emerson College, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Tufts University, the University of California at Irvine, the Warren Wilson College MFA program for writers, and Williams College. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the N.E.A., the Massachusetts Artists' Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts. Margot is currently a distinguished writer in residence at Emerson College. She lives with her husband, a painter, in Cambridge, MA, and goes back to London and Scotland whenever she can.

Alice Sebold says, "Every novel of Margot Livesey's is, for her readers, a joyous discovery. Her work radiates with compassion and intelligence and always, deliciously, mystery."

Monday, April 06, 2015

David Ferry and a Difference with Poetry: Ellery Street, a new selected from The Grolier Press

David Ferry

David Ferry and a Difference with Poetry:
Ellery Street, a new selected from The Grolier Press

article by Michael T. Steffen

Because he has been accomplished and acclaimed as a translator of literary classics in poetry (Gilgamesh, Horace, Virgil), the achievement of David Ferry’s original poetry has been little taken on. It is a question that made Poetry magazine’s editor Christian Wiman speculate in his presentation of Ferry’s Ruth B. Lilly Prize back in 2011. Wiman’s thought was that in time Ferry’s own poems would be equally acknowledged and appreciated. One step toward that has been taken. As part of the Grolier Series of Established Poets, Ifeanyi Menkiti has brought out a choice selection of Ferry’s original poems with the title Ellery Street, after one of the poems selected from Ferry’s 1983 Strangers: A Book of Poems (and an actual street near the Cambridge Public Library where the poet lived between 1960 and 1996).

One thing poetry most definitely allows the individual is a space for private revolt. In the case of Ferry, who has been so diligent, reliable and true under his classical poets—really what could we expect but the snail (an image from Ferry of the beauty of the body) struggling from its elaborate onerous shell and just relishing in venting some complaints about the tomb of scholarship from the point of view of just a man with lungs to fill with air, eyes with light, looking back at the reading room and calling the scholars out for their “imbecile gaze.” Ecclesiastes warns us there’s weariness in writing many books.

It is an amusing paradox for the reader, and a testament to the persistent inspiration of poetry, as well as to the poet’s brilliance with the dilemma to sing of “human unsuccess” (Yeats) with Ferry’s demonstrative rather than literal way about it. Beyond letting out that there is something “imbecile” about erudition and this earnest game of poetry, inextricable—du-uh—from language and scholarship, Ferry’s poetry wants to be awkward, say, enough to include a snail, an old lady with terribly scarred legs and a fat girl as examples of “how beautiful…the body” to consider along with the supposedly enviable, obvious image of youth in its prime:

A boy passes by, his bare

Chest flashing like a shield in the summer air;
All conquering,

The king, going to the drug store.

The bare chest “flashing”—like the shield of one of Virgil’s heroes! And the discreet seemliness of the couplet separated by the spacing (…bare/…air). David Ferry possesses the wherewithal to write as he chooses. Yet for his private fedupness with the insistent triumphal shades and laurels of the fifth art, and genuine sense of humility and love for ordinariness, he chooses to be patient and illustrative rather than argumentative, meandering rather than terse and punchy. It is original, very different in its allowances from the streamline verse that fills so many new books and journals these days.

It is as if, shedding the pomp of Roman empire hexameters, odes and epodes, Ferry has woken another old friend, William Wordsworth, to go outside and look around, at—impatiens in the garden. Or to listen to the timely clicking of leaves on an impossibly hot October afternoon. His ear is so attuned to what’s going on with nature and human nature around him. He picks up on the subtlety of a mature man’s lesson about temperament conveyed to a teenager, through the deliberately slowed rhythm of dribbling a basketball. The ball bounces like the formal scansion of a line of poetry. As there’s a “court” in playing this and other ball games, Ferry reminds us of the original higher ideal of our bearing in this play, called sportsmanship, giving the poem the title “Courtesy.” How we played sports (we used to be told) was just as important as competing to win. Brutal victory at any cost was frowned on. Ferry goes about to remind us, though he is not preachy or pedantic about it, of such effaced virtues. Doing so, Ifeanyi Menkiti has brilliantly observed in his introduction to Ellery Street, these poems countenance “a certain way of managing the breakdown of our various powers and affections, so that all is not lost.”

This particular continuity of sensibility endures the paradoxes of time, to a somewhat disturbing glimpse of the body in the poem “At a Street Corner” from Ferry’s 2012 National Book Award winning Bewilderment:

Look here, look at my hands,
They look like little wet toads
After a rainstorm’s over,
Hopping, hopping, hopping.

This is one of the values of the selection: having the occasion to let Ferry’s original poems echo off one another, with variety reflected in the poet’s signature themes, his suspicion for language and concepts, the intractable element of the world in our observations and experiences (which leave us “bewildered”), the dissociation (even dispossession) between ourselves and our bodies—memorably recorded by the ambiguous arrival in “At a Bus Stop; Eurydice” :
She was amazed, amazed.
Can death really take me?
The bus went away.
It took the old lady away.

Ifeanyi Menkiti has taken great care in editing and introducing this selection. Maybe one reader will wonder, Where is “Everybody’s Tree”? or What about “Learning from History”? Generating discourse will be another great benefit of this wonderful book showcasing one of the Boston area’s and one of America’s most prized and genuinely appreciated poets.

Ellery Street by David Ferry
edited in the Grolier Established Poets Series
is available for $18.00
at The Grolier Poetry Book Shop
6 Plympton Street
Cambridge, MA 02138