Friday, January 15, 2016

The Gospel According to Judas By Keith Holyoak

The Gospel According to Judas
By Keith Holyoak
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-939929-30-3
62 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Taking for his subject the man who made it happen for Christianity and western civilization, Keith Holyoak delves into the anti-heroic betrayer of Jesus Christ in a sublime meditation on flawed humanity. Holyoak entitles his poetic collection The Gospel According to Judas and it lives up to its name. In fact the spell of divinity he weaves so suspends one’s disbelief that the reader begins to budget his or her well-earned share of thirty pieces of communal silver in an effort to make good on humanity’s unaccountable, yet clearly irrefutable, trespasses. 

Holyoke’s persona positions himself as an honest broker, an intermediary between the resurrected Judas and his public. The poet sets his collection up as 27 chapters abounding with contrasting angles of approach and multiple voices. The first chapter, Double Cross, opens with a jolt. Judas imagines himself as a last-minute-hero and for his pains he is crucified with his messiah on the left of a shared cross (Here is as good a place as any to consider the pun embedded in Holyoak, the poet’s last name). As Jesus turns to his right to grant salvation to the also-crucified good thief, Judas confronts his existential destiny,

… “Rabbi, why have you forsaken me?
Though I have sinned (as all men must), have I
Not testified for you?”
                                         “On Calvary,”
The thief broke in, “We all must hang forsaken.”
“Join me today in paradise,” said He,
Still facing right. Bereaved, the earth was shaken
As wind-blown dust smothered the afternoon.
“Water….” I was alone—He had been taken.
“And me?” Soldiers trudged to their garrison.
“And me?” Whispered the voice, “It has begun.”

Almost from the beginning Holyoak imports concepts like reincarnation from the major eastern religions in an effort to explain Judas’s search for expiation. These long ago western heresies now seem to fit easily into the poet’s search for universal truths entangled with forgiveness.  It’s as if Holyoak clicks a light on, forever altering the surrounding modernist and mechanistic sensibility. The tree of knowledge roots itself solidly within the tightly versed piece, Samsara. Consider the center of this poem’s internally spreading space,

The tug of gravity
at ninety-six thousand feet
gives form to vap’rous dust,
figments agglomerate
to seed a memory
hurled back to earth and thrust

into the nascent brain.
Gliding beneath the clouds
familiar smells of earth
awaken genetic codes—
as desert stirs in a rain
the soul prepares for birth.

Chapter 9 delivers a remarkable poem Holyoak titles Genesis. This narrative piece flows effortlessly and deliciously in terza rima into a concluding feast of shared figs. It chronicles the first meeting between Christ and Judas and it is jaw dropping. The dichotomy between these two natures of light and shadow manifests itself in pinpoint conversation and piercing metaphor. Judas speaks in a moment of poetic exhilaration,

Stepping into my courtyard, I was blinded
By light that coalesced as form and flesh.

One step—his shadow fit me. We were kindred
Sharing a cloak. “Judas Iscariot”
(His voice bespoke a kiss, my name rang sacred),

“You are the son of David, are you not,
Versed in the teachings of Pythagoras?”
I hesitated, then replied, “God taught

Them both to hear the chords rippling across
The heavens; to the Greeks He also gave
Numbers to measure what’s harmonious

To ear and eye …

Notice how the form almost merges into the content: a perfect use of structured verse.

Another terza rima narrative called Climbing Mount Zion follows the uncertain band of Jewish insurgents in triumph, or is it delusion, through the east gate of Jerusalem. A brawl ensues. Christ and his followers dine with Mary Magdelene, who anoints Jesus with expensive oil. Judas is horrified by the money wasted, money that could have been distributed to the poor. Up to this point Holyoak has followed the New Testament plotline. Judas’ concern now internalizes and he acts. The poet imparts the betrayal lead-up with subtlety, but with little drama. In these lines Judas rationalizes,

… Hearing him, I was sure

My teacher, brother, friend was bound for woe,
Slipping away from us. Should I do nothing?
Just listen, watch, keep silent, let him go?

Sometimes a thoughtful man must act, trusting
In God, or instinct. Inquiries were passed
Along, a meeting set. They gave me something

To feed the poor—much less than what we lost
When Mariam despaired, but thirty pieces
Of silver surely helps. My dice were cast.

Toward the end of this collection, in Chapter 25, Holyoak sets the piece Angkor Thom, a truly strange poems that opens in the poet’s voice and switches over to the voice of Judas. Angkor Tom, a Khmer temple complex once lost in the jungles of Cambodia, now rises out of algae and decay and tree roots with images that suggest the state of Judas’ karma-driven soul. Here are the concluding two stanzas, stanzas that both soothe and connect with a prayerful gentleness,

The barren fruit rotted long ago—
Here, this strangler fig soars to the sky,
Spreading to soothe the sun, while down below
Its roots, exposed like holy serpents, try to meld with temple stone—see how the flow
Of life binds earth with heaven! Tell me, why
Have I crossed oceans seeking out this place?
Is this the tree of knowledge, or of grace?

O bodhisattvas, multi-facetted
As mountain peaks at dawn, gazing within
On silence rising from the fountainhead,
You who have helped the generations spin
Through birth and death, letting compassion spread
To every living being, every sin,
Smile yet on those of us who seek release,
Until our hungering and striving cease!

This poetically-generated Judas appears to have attained a timeless peace by opening his heart to mystical rhythms of musicality and artistic harmony, and that is what Holyoak offers his readers in his magnificent book.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Somerville Bagel Bard launches new novel Unspeakable Things at the Harvard Book Store Jan 31, 2016

From Kathleen Spivack:

Please join me for the launch of my new novel, Unspeakable Things, at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA

Short reading, book signing, and party for Unspeakable Things (A. Knopf 2016), on Sunday, January 31st at 2 p.m. at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA.

About Unspeakable Things
"A strange, haunting novel about survival and love in all its forms; about sexual awakenings and dark secrets; about European refugee intellectuals who have fled Hitler’s armies with their dreams intact and who have come to an elusive new (American) “can do, will do” world they cannot seem to find. A novel steeped in surreal storytelling and beautiful music that transports its half-broken souls—and us—to another realm of the senses. The setting: the early 1940s, New York—city of refuge, city of hope, with the specter of a red-hot Europe at war...."

For more information, please visit:

Here are links to some recent reviews and features:

"A wild, erotic novel—a daring debut—from the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland, A History of Yearning, and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others"

some upcoming events.: Wednesday, February 24 Corte Madera, CA

Mass Poetry's Laurin Macios : A poet who 'feels' her poems.

Poet Laurin Macios

Mass Poetry's Laurin Macios : A poet who 'feels' her poems.

By Doug Holder

Laurin Macios is a poet who feels her poems. She is not so much about the reader understanding the poem, but she is all about evoking emotion, and vivid sensory experiences in his or her reading of her work.

Laurin Macios directed Mass Poetry’s programs, including Student Day of Poetry, Poetry on the T, Common Threads, U35, and Professional Development, and managed the crew of dedicated volunteers and interns who help make Mass Poetry run smoothly. She holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire, where she taught on fellowship for three years, and has a background in publishing. Her publications and other personal poetic happenings can be found at I spoke with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show""Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer,"shortly before she relocated to New York City.
Doug Holder: I read in an interview with you that as a child you loved the smell of old books. Does smell stoke your poetic flames?

Laurin Macios: It does actually. And old books are a big one. There are also a lot of flowers in my poems. A lot of memories are evoked by scent.

DH:: What is it about the scent of an old book?

LM: I don't know. I am one of those people who will never be a Kindle person. I love holding books in my hand. I feel I have a relationship when I read. An old book has that tangible scent about it-- it has been around.

LM: You studied with Charles Simic, and David Rivard at the University of New Hampshire. Simic was the U.S. Poet Laureate. What was your experience with both of these poets?

DH: I think David Rivard is a master. He is always using language in interesting ways and is always challenging you to do that. I actually sat in all of David's workshops that I wasn't enrolled in. I learned a lot from him and what other workshop participants were contributing. This affected my writing. Charles Simic's workshops are funny. They are very quick like his poems. They are very to the point. My favorite piece of advice from him was, “ The poem needs a cat in it.” Conference time with my teachers at UNH was very important. They showed me what is the best to do in your poem, --not necessarily what you want to do.

LM: You have described yourself as a poet from the heart.

DH: When I turn to poetry it is to feel. When some people read my poems and say, “ What are they about?” I don't feel the need to answer that question. I turn to poetry to write about things that are not easily explained.

DH: As Program Directory at Mass. Poetry you were involved with running a number of interesting programs. What come to mind is “Poetry on the T,” and “U35.”

LM: Poetry on the T is my favorite. We put poems into ad space in the T. Luckily we got a non-profit rate. We are doing well with this. Right now we have two sets of poetry on the T. We adopted U35 from Daniel Evans Pritchard. We took it over last year. Basically it consists of poets under 35 in a bar seating, reading from their work. We have videos of the readings on our website

DH You have a background in publishing, correct?

LM: Most recently I worked for Pearson—an educational publisher. I loved the free textbooks I got there.

DH: In your poem “ A Little Breath,” you write about a cliff in Japan that has sign near the abyss that states “ A Dead Flower Will Never Boom.” Supposedly this sign gives hope to potential leapers. Did you think your poems could offer hope to someone in this kind of pain?

LM: I would hope my poems offer hope, but I don't harbor that delusion. I feel poetry has the potential power though.

DH:Who are your poetic influences?

LM: I am very influenced by Mary Oliver and also a lot by Whitman.

DH: As we mentioned before you work for the Mass. Poetry Festival. This will be held in Salem, Mass—April 29, 2016 to May 1, 2016. Any hints about what's happening there this year?

LM: Well some headliners will be Marie Howe, David Rivard and Mark Doty. There will be a small press fair—and a hundred other sessions—readings, workshops, etc...


“Wait a minute. A dead flower will never bloom.”
-A note to those contemplating suicide at the cliffs of
Sandanbeki, Japan

A dead flower
will never turn itself
toward the sun,
like a ship backing slowly
out of port. Time, in fact,
will have let go.
You are one soft ocean
full of mountains,full of
bright cellsin depths
we’ll never see.
Wait and think of nothing.
Think of never thinking
of nothing again. Never waiting
again. Think of losing
the air that is touching the tips
of your fingers. Don’t your fingers
suddenly feel a little breath?
Do they seem to maybe be tentacles?
Are you inhaling? Exhale.
Think of exhaling.
Are you sure you’re ready
for the dead gone years to stack?
Soon you’ll have been dead
for longer than you lived.
You don’t think it will be soon?
You’re forgetting how long
it has taken to get here—
your two legs braced, clothed,
this cliff beneath you raised
from nothing. Years ago
you would have been swimming
in this spot. Years from now
you could be something else entirely.