Friday, November 13, 2015

Lainie Senechal appointed the first Poet Laureate of Amesbury, Mass.

Lainie Senechal--New Poet Laureate of Amesbury, Mass.
After the Fall

I want to fall,
let go of everything;
like last lazy leaf of laurel,
drift aimlessly; no desire
to soar with eagles,
rather a feather from
wingtip relinquished
to zig, zag through space
on slightest zephyr.

I want to fall
through layers of light,
sunrise to sunset,
steadily deepening into dark.
A languid meteor
sparkling slowly to earth,
holding on to nothing;
never heeding where I land:
on softest snow of season,
among spring’s cheery crocus,
with summer’s daily dandelions,
along autumn’s silent stream.

For I am all of this
and from all
I have been released.

Lainie Senechal
For more about Lainie Senechal go to   

Swimming The Hellespont Selected Poems: 1971-2001 Jesse Mavro Diamond

Swimming The Hellespont
Selected Poems: 1971-2001
Jesse Mavro Diamond
© 2015 Jesse Mavro Diamond
Wilderness House Press
Littleton, MA
ISBN  978-1-329-31315-6
Sofbound, $15.95, 71pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

On the back cover of Jesse Mavro Diamond’s book Judson Evans writes, “Mavro Diamond forges a voice from crucial elements of Jewish, lesbian, and feminist identity.”

Indeed all these elements are in Ms. Mavro Diamond’s illuminating collection of poetry which is personal and intimate, presenting poetry which is not often covered in mainstream poetics and brings to mind the work of Marilyn Hacker.

Here is a poem which presents a feminist perspective of body:

The Beautiful Mystery

may be a disappointment to bra gents
who look or perfection in balanced flesh
and corset men who search for symmetry.
Sisters know human hips were made to extend
for arms whose hands reach, trembling, for security
that comes from witnessing another’s chest
imperfect as her own.
Let’s leave disillusionment to the lingerie lads:
a woman’s body remains perfectly gorgeous
because it is.

Perfection does exist—
In imperfection move the beautiful mystery.

Now follow that with a poem that reflects with her Jewish heritage and a past in which being Jewish was always safe:

Ode to a Lute
In April, at the bottom of the stairs, we found a stringless lute.
I saw it first, you claimed. Besides, you joke, you’re Sephardic,
a horse thief, whereas I, Russian, Ashkenazic, am no criminal.
Take the lute, I said, and take this story, too:
If a person steals a horse, she may be on the run
from worse thieves, they may be chasing her
out of her own country. Imagine she has no alternative
but to grab the first horse she sees, jump on it
and gallop hundreds of miles into a strange land,
changing her name s she rides, covering her face with a rag
even at night, so the moonlight will not reveal
her true identity.  Understand? I asked.
But you had fallen asleep in my lap, cradling the lute.
There are the missing strings, I whisper.

This is a riff on biblical Talmudic wisdom and teaching, yet it is in its way a beautiful mystery of its own, while Ode to a Lute 2 is a different tale with a moral of a different sadness.

Swimming the Hellespont is a 30 year odyssey for Jesse Mavro Diamond,  In it she packs 31 of her best poems, including the title poem, which travels from the past at the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau to a hopeful future which she sees on the horizon.

Whether the reader is female or male, Jewish or non-Jewish, LGBT or straight there is something for each reader to absorb and cherish. In other words it is a book to keep and reread when you want to remember the exigency of the weight of societal reality.

Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle and  Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Publisher, Muddy River Books

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies 7 & 8

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Letting Go Of Who We Were: In the Pages of Cammy Thomas’s: Inscriptions

Cammy Thomas
Review by Emily Pineau

“Our ghosts are always with us, / their stinks, their bad habits, always / as much as we’re with them,” Cammy Thomas writes in her poem, “The Other You.” Thomas’s poetry collection Inscriptions is haunting, yet comforting, and is deeply rooted with sharp, vivid images. This collection, like people’s lives, is broken up into three sections : I. SWEET BROKE DOWN, II. POEMS IN MEMORY OF ELEANOR THOMAS ELLIOTT, and III. A WINDY KISS, for Elly. Our sections in life—past, present, and future—make up who we are. Thomas’s poem “The Other You” seems to be the heart of this collection, describing how our past selves live inside of us. Each poem in Inscriptions reads as if they are various versions of Thomas—only now, the poems also exist within us as she reveals the way she sees people, loss, and nature.
            The last line in Thomas’s “The Other You” reads, “You can’t forgive the one who hurt you. / Only the-you-from-then can do that, / and she will never be ready,”(p.12). This powerful line makes me think about closure and forgiveness differently. Sometimes past relationships feel like they happened in another lifetime, yet the hurt remains. Though, if you understand that you are a different person now then you were before, you are separating yourself from this pain—The pain is no longer yours—It belongs to the old you. The old you will hold onto the memory and stay in the moment so that the new version of you can move on from it.
            In addition, in Thomas’s “On the Island of Staffa,” a woman is climbing a hill, gasping as though she is both exhausted and devastated.  When she surrenders her husband’s ashes to the wind on top of the hill, the reader can imagine the wall of grief that hits her. We are not left feeling empty, though. Thomas writes, “Yes, yes, it’s dust, /yes it is. /It could be anyone, / and could there be anyone/ who wouldn’t want this kind of love?” (p.31). This line reveals that the kind of love that’s most painful to lose is the best kind to have. Rather than the woman facing the absence of love, she is encompassed by the presence of it when the wind picks her husband up. The feeling of this poem reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee.” In English class, my classmates and I remarked about how sad and tragic Poe’s poem is, but my English teacher had a different take on it. She said, “Imagine being loved like that, though.  Who wouldn’t want that type of love?” This sentiment resonated with me, and now when I read Thomas’s poem I feel like the grieving woman’s love trumps her sadness.
            Also, Thomas’s poem “Without Talking” has an deeply impacting ending that not only makes the reader want to hear more, but also makes the reader want more out of life, relationships, and themselves. Each line is spaced out so that the poem reads like a conversation—It has the feeling of a pin-pong match. On page 13 Thomas writes:
He said don’t use
                                      what saves you,
your wall, the words
                                       (do it without talking),
the words defend
              and don’t open—
                                           again, again, again,
but they keep…

                                                   oh and without them
Instead of being in a straight line down, the poem itself is breaking out of its comfort zone and is letting the feeling of the words shape it, rather than letting the actual words shape it.  I feel like this poem is applicable to the process of writing especially, because in order to successfully write an effective, moving, and authentic piece you need to write “without talking.” If you reveal your scenes and feelings with urgency and passion your readers can understand you without you explaining yourself to them.

            Throughout Inscriptions it is not necessary for Thomas to explain herself for readers to understand her. In her poems about death or disappointment, she weaves in some hope, making us feel like it is possible to move on and find new things and people in life to focus on and to love.  Also, when writing about love, Thomas reveals the ugly, raw truth, but this makes the relationships feel more accessible, honest, and real. I hope to emulate Thomas’s authenticity in my own writing, as she has become a poet that I can identify with on both a human and creative level. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Paradise Drive, Poems by Rebecca Foust

Paradise Drive, Poems by Rebecca Foust

There’s nothing braver or more startling than a poet having the guts to write a book of sonnets, and nothing more giddily delightful than reading one that works—Welcome to Paradise Drive, Rebecca Foust’s Petrarchan jewel-box. The turns these poems take and the narrative twists in the course they travel are high voltage volta.  You’ll be amazed at the speed with which you traverse this book’s course, and the degree to which you are torn between the desire to forge ahead and the insistent urge to pull to the side, breathe and examine with care the compositional masterwork that each poem represents.

Paradise Drive, a journey from grief and alcohol soaked origins in rust belt Pennsylvania to the painful perversities of life inside the headlands of Marin, follows the narrative arc of a sometimes actor, sometimes observer, Pilgrim, who tellingly decomposes progress as premise.  In notes to the volume, Foust tells us that Pilgrim is inspired by the life of Ann Dudley Bradstreet, part of the 1630 Winthrop fleet of Puritan emigrants, and “a seeker among seekers…in love with the world and struggling to maintain the piety demanded by her faith.”   Though Pilgrim may be Bradstreet, the Colonies’ first published female poet, transmuted into a contemporary witness to broken pieties, painfully questioning her own, Pilgrim echoes and silently inverts John Bunyan’s travels in Pilgrim’s Progress from the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City,” Mount Tamalpais a material substitute for Mount Zion; the surrounding towns, Belvedere, Tiburon, Mill Valley, Ross, capsules containing the empty promise of transcendence through comfort and affluent hedonistic bliss, leaving their inhabitants crushed and empty, dropping into the river of death in a “straddle” and step from the red ochre rise of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The stakes could not be higher, nor the wire more tightly strung, yet Foust gives us to understand that these tragic emptyings of lives are unnatural, creations of the self-destructive and very human desire to reach beyond what is given, as if in that we will find love and safety, satisfaction and perhaps fulfillment.  And so, as preface, she places us in nature, “Purple against orange, maple and sage…Trout lilies and wild Iris. Mount Tam mantled/ each dawn in fog. Then naked and lit…” before delivering us, through Pilgrim into the abyss.

    “Her dreams/ —Macy’s-parade-balloon-sized dreams—/now lie,
         a tangle of downed silk and line.” (from Meet Pilgrim)

Pilgrim, seeker, visitor and possibly introvert, has mastered the art of inclusion. She has found her way into money and into the rolling party to which those of us born with noses against the glass on a Winter’s night dreamily aspire, and yet internally she remains an outsider, knowing that the passed hors d’oeuvres can feed, but not fill her. 

    “Cowed by all those straight-white teeth,
     Pilgrim ran for the bathroom, not for coke
    as others supposed, but for something
     more covert and rare: a book… (from Cocktail Party)

She is party to this life, complicit, but not fully in it, and it is this ambivalent complicit√© that opens the tale to the quality—torn empathy—that lends it gravity and makes successive sonnets appropriate vehicles of transmission. 

To work, a sonnet must embody acute, original, and sensitive observation that extends beyond the features, primitive motives and behaviors of its subject to that individual’s psyche and spirit.  To rise to grace a sonnet must do more though, it must implicate the observer in the agon and in the outcome, and it must make readers feel the blood, pulsing or spilt. 

Through Pilgrim, Foust complicates the empathic connection and the possibility of bond that the best sonnets trouble and provoke.  Her character mediates between the poet and the anxious characters (“Marin man,” wives left bereft by divorce and those who ultimately take to the bridge) for whom the poems invoke empathy.  But where does this empathy lie, is it with Pilgrim, or the poet, both? Foust doesn’t give us simple answers, she doesn’t fully disclose, leaving us instead with the beating pulse, the feel of the blood, one-step, perhaps, removed.

In this mediation, Foust expands the possibilities of the form and elevates Paradise Drive above the level of an Ice Storm in verse; she and Pilgrim are working deeper channels, and their effort to bring something (someone) new to the party extends to the making of the poems themselves.   Foust’s sonnets embrace, honor, violate and expand on Petrarchan form, unfolding with a turn over fourteen metered lines, ending in a couplet, but dispensing with strict iambic meter and formulaic end-rhyme over each poem’s body.  Her sonnets offer us instead powerful, telling, urgent and contemporary internal rhyme and varied meter, the meter of poems pulsing with life, palpitating at the edge of death and never forced to form. 

It is through her undoing of that expected by the form that Foust, via Pilgrim’s search for truth, gives us the sonnet as something new, as a once more viable container for yearning inchoate, conduit to loss and instrument of grace in beat and rhyme varied by necessity rather than clever calculation.  And so, the lives, the suicides, the guilty participation and the being other that she knits together through Pilgrim’s character in the land of excess tears through the surface, puncturing the familiar, revealing the price of Paradise less than celestial.

I admire the quiet bravery Rebecca Foust expresses through this channeled flood of sonnets.  As I read, I had the sensation of water, unexpected, pouring through an arroyo, and then gone, leaving me in dazed awe.  This is not a book for children, and thank god!

Marc Zegans is a poet.  His most recent collection, The Underwater Typewriter, was published by Pelekinesis Press in September of this year.

Paradise Drive, winner of the Press 53, poetry award, is available through Press 53, here