Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Robert K. Johnson

Robert K. Johnson
Robert K. Johnson is the former Poetry Editor for Ibbeston Street Magazine. His poems have appeared in such publications as Main Street Rag, Webster Review, South Carolina Review, The New York Times, and Chiron Review. His latest collections of poetry are From Mist To Shadow and Choir of Day.


Oblivious to me,

one machine away,

oblivious to all
the other exercisers,

to the StairMaster's steps
your pumping legs
climb and climb
but never gain an inch on:

your upturned eyes
free you to float
high above the ceiling
--go for it!--
to other worlds
that are waiting for you
to discover them.

                --Robert K. Johnson

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dead Wind by Chilly Sample


Dead Wind by Chilly Sample

His eyelashes appear in front of his face, the sun sharp, and warm, stinging his eyeball, it is just saying hello. He struggled to lift his head, brain swelling, he was already self diagnosing. A hypochondriac by nature, Jack was quick to jump to conclusions. He muttered over and over again “pain” “pain”. Words typically followed by assistance, there was none of that out here. His first introduction to loneliness; he was feeling claustrophobic. He got to his hands and knees, took a deep breath in, then collapsed. Pupils dilated, head ringing, he’s been here before. Only last time he was looking into the eyes of his high school football trainer, now glaring at the old cedar wood, he hates waking up to strangers. He bent over, waiting for the ringing to stop, he felt the wood on his hands, it was warm to the touch, feeling each and every grain, the ringing started to echo, and eventually die. The only thing keeping him company, gone forever. He got up, and sat at the helm, looking around to see an endless sky of blue, his world grew and shrunk within a matter of seconds. His head collapsed in his chest, as if a bolt came loose in his neck. He closed his eyes, then opened again, he did this 20 more times. It was true. The sail flapped unconsciously in the dead wind, the sound traveled through Jack’s spine showing him death, giving him life. He saw a shape lying on the deck, “Sam!” “Sam!”. He rushed over to his brother, flipped him on his back. Sam’s eyes buried in a pit, Jack quickly fell.

Jack awoke lying over his brother, he jumped up, and fell overboard. He hit the water, a sea of blankets, soaking into him gradually. He closed his eyes, fell deeper and deeper, feeling every breath. The sound of silence filled his head, whispering, telling him to let go. Nothing to lose, Jack’s grip loosened. His body loosened. He felt the end was near, suddenly his lungs collapsed, he was not ready to die yet. His eyelids flashed open, Jack saw life, he swam up, till his arms breached the surface. His mouth grasped the air, it rushed through his body, giving him hope. Jack swam back to the boat, and curled up next to his brother on the deck. He wept, thinking back to the time he caught Sam still in the snow, when he was younger. Snow fell heavy, and dense, trees crackled in the wind. Jack went into the sun room to get his shoes;he saw the purple pom pom of Sam’s hat. Nothing but the socks on his feet, he rushed out, hurling himself on Sam. Sam pushed Jack on the ground, “What the fuck Jack, I was almost there”. “What the fuck are you doing Sam”, “ I wanted to know what it felt like to be buried alive”. Jack left Sam on the deck of the boat. He went down to the cabin of the boat. A monster was inside of him, and it was hungry, voicing its complaint, Jack tore through all the drawers. A hole filled Jack’s chest, as he kept coming up empty. The monster inside, eating at him, taking every last ounce of hope. Jack began to hit his stomach with his fist. “Shut up, shut the fuck up, leave me alone”. Breath left his mouth, he collapsed to the floor. Heaving, trying to grab air, but nothing. Breath finally returned, Jack went to the bed, and looked up at the ceiling. Wishing he would sleep, and not awake.

The ocean roars against the rocks, clashing with one another. Sun shines through his cheap curtains, sea breeze creeps under his nose. The sea grass sways with the wind. The dry sheet scratch against his legs, as he pulls them from his body. He untangles his boxers, and heads down stairs. He walks across the living room as it moans beneath him. Pushing the old wooden door, he slides out into the breeze. Eyes closed he walks across the sand, feeling every grain beneath him. He stops. The water rushing forward to greet his toes, then running away in fear of rejection. He hears a squall, getting louder, and louder, until the sound of the ocean is but a dream. Jack springs upright, hitting his head on the low ceiling of the sailboat. The ringing is back, gripping his hand tightly, then disappears. Jack walks up to the deck, to find a mass of seagulls pecking at Sam. “go away, get out of here!” . The sea gulls fly away in a hurry, not before one takes a nice juicy piece of Sam’s forearm. “Eat him” “eat him Jack” “he would do the same to you”, “no, he wouldn’t!” “do it, or you'll die Jack” “do you want to die Jack?” "Answer me now Jack, or I will leave you”. “Good, great, leave me alone”. “Just kidding Jack, I’m here to stay, the only way to get rid of me is to eat your brother”.  Water is dropping from Jack’s mouth, his eyes opened, his body warmed. He rushed over to Sam, grabbed his arm, and brought it up to his mouth. He took a deep bite of the flesh, a water park formed in his mouth, and explosion in his eyes, shock therapy in his hands, a pin dropped in his ears, he swallowed. He stood there still, took his finger, and shoved it down his throat. His brother departed his body, faster than he went in. He ran to the front of the boat, and took the sail down. He quickly wrapped Sam in the sail. He went below deck, and grabbed an anchor. Tied it around the body, and with no hesitation shoved his brother overboard. Watching him disappear into a mist. 

With every last ounce of energy in Jack’s body used to set his brother free, he went downstairs to the bed. He found a bottle of painkillers in one of the drawers, and one by one he took them, until there was nothing left to reach for. He lied on the bed staring at the ceiling. He was walking around Paris, barefoot over the cobblestone streets. He sat down at a cafe, and ordered two Coffees. The waiter placed the coffees at the table. Jack stared blankly into the coffee across him. “Are you expecting anyone?,” a voice said from over his shoulder. Without looking back Jack replied “Yes, my brother he should be here any minute now.” Jack stared down at his coffee, and watched as an eyelash slowly floated into his coffee. 


Chilly Sample is a sophomore from Concord, MA.  He is a Hospitality Major at Endicott College and complements his studies working part time at Privateer Rum, an Ipswich based distillery.  Chilly is a certified Underwater Whale Tour Guide, having worked for 6 months after high school at a Tongan resort renowned for its migratory Humpback whale population. He enjoys numerous and eclectic activities ranging from spearfishing to snow skiing. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Stone Soup Poetry: a savory mix every Monday evening.

A 20 pound rock, from 20 feet down.
Good for making a poem, but not soup.

Somerville resident Kirk Etherton

Many a poet has passed through Stone Soup Poetry founded by the late Jack Powers on Beacon Hill over 4 decades ago. I had the privilege of  being the president of Stone Soup one short year--about 20 years ago. I also conducted a series of interviews with Powers, and the interviews are online, and one is in the video collection at the University of Buffalo. Somerville resident  Kirk Etherton is the  "interim host" of the venue now--so he offered to share a few words..

Stone Soup Poetry: a savory mix every Monday evening.
by Kirk Etherton

It's an honor--and lots of fun--to be the "interim host" of this long-running series. Stone Soup was founded by the legendary Jack Powers; in recent years it's been hosted by the talented and tireless Chad Parenteau. I agreed to take Chad's place for a little while, when he needed to go on hiatus.

We meet Mondays, starting at 7:00 pm and going til 9:00 pm (at the very latest). There are a number of great "regulars," including Carol Weston, Martha Boss, and Lee Varon. Deborah Priestly, a very fine poet and storyteller, is sort of the "co-host." Cambridge Poet Populist Lo Gallucio has stopped by, and read some amazing work. Berklee prof. Lucy Holstedt has recited poetry, and performed original music.

I knew this would be a good experience, but it's far surpassed what I imagined. Stop by if you can. Read a poem that means something to you (original or not); sing a song; tell a story. Now, more than ever, I think, we need to get out and do real things with real people.

Admission is only $5.

Stone Soup Poetry, at Out of the Blue Gallery, 541 Mass. Ave., Central Sq., Cambridge. Come on down!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Live Interview with Simon Perchik

The B Poems by Simon Perchik

Live Interview with Simon Perchik by Susan Tepper on December 10, 2016

with Susan Tepper

Simon Perchik was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1923. His father was a silk weaver until the mills dried up during the Great Depression, when he turned to the grocery business, installing his family of eight in living quarters behind the small stores where Perchik lived until World War II. Following a stint in the Army Air Corps, where he served as a pilot, Perchik enrolled in New York University under the G.I. Bill. He began writing poetry in fits and starts. After receiving a B.A. in English, he went straight to NYU Law School. From 1950 until 1980 Perchik practiced law while continuing to write poetry. He served as Suffolk County Long Island’s first Environmental Prosecutor from 1975 until 1980.

I Counted Only April, his first book, was published in 1964. Twenty three poetry books have been published to date. Perchik has placed thousands of poems in magazines and journals ranging from The New Yorker, Poetry, Partisan Review and The Nation, to the tiniest of online magazines.

The B Poems, his brand new collection, was published by Poets Wear Prada in November 2016. Perchik divides his time between his home in East Hampton, NY and his daughter’s home in Manhattan.
Library Journal wrote: “…Perchik is the most widely published unknown poet in America…”

Susan Tepper: You have a daily writing routine. How do you start the process moving?

Simon Perchik: Every morning I take a fifteen minute walk to catch the bus to East Hampton Village. I go to the Y where I do a little exercise and have some coffee. I’ll start to work on my poetry there. Then I move down the street to The Golden Pear café where I take a table all the way in the rear. Nobody wants to sit back there because you can’t see and be seen! (laughter)

ST: That’s funny and so typical of the tony Hamptons, the see and be seen.

SP: Yeah! So I sit there with my headphones on listening to classical music. Mahler and Beethoven for instance. I’ll be working with a group of pictures from a well known photographer’s book such as The Family of Man.

ST: So you write from what you see in the photo? But your work is so abstract.

SP: Susan, I wish it were that simple. I begin by describing in prose what I see in the photo (this is a so and so) for maybe six or seven pages. Then keeping the photo in sight, I turn to a book of mythology or science. I’ll think to myself now what does this have to do with what’s in the photograph.

ST: You’re looking for a link?

SP: I’m like a detective. A poetry detective. Though the photo and the book’s text are seemingly contradictory, I continue thinking about it, then suddenly one has everything in the world to do with the other. I have my hook. Similar to what a metaphor does.

ST: That’s when the poem actually begins?

SP: Correct. The photo is simply a catalyst to get the pen flowing. Trying to connect the image with the idea. As the poem progresses, new things come in and often the originating image and idea disappear entirely at the poem’s conclusion.

ST: Wow, that’s some process. I don’t think I’d have the strength. (laughter)

SP: I mark each page as I go along onto the next photograph. The entire collection can take several years to finish.

ST: You work in the café on a laptop?

SP: No, on random sheets of paper. In long hand.

ST: Seriously?

SP: Yes. Listen. The poems don’t get written by themselves. The Family of Man took me eight years to finish.

ST: When you first see the photograph, does the poem start to jell in your mind?

SP: No. I’ll be thinking where am I going with this, what am I doing. Writing with nothing in my head but a sense of doom.

ST: But your poems always come out perfect. At what point in your method does the abstraction come into the poem?

SP: That comes at the end. If I’m going to abstract a mountain, first I have to have the mountain. After I get a sense of what’s going on in the poem. It’s a poem not an essay. I try to approach the reader through their subconscious.

ST: There’s a lot of death in your poems. Are all poets obsessed with death?

SP: No matter how a poem starts out it ends in a cemetery (laughter). Love and death. Loneliness, despair, fear. What else is there to write about?

ST: Of all the abstract painters, who would you compare yourself with?

SP: Rothko. When the abstract artist paints, it is the artist’s subconscious talking to the viewer’s subconscious. Likewise, when I abstract a poem, it is my subconscious talking to the reader’s subconscious. Another painter, Herman Cherry, who was an abstract artist, is my favorite of the abstractionists and I feel an equal to Rothko.

ST: That’s interesting. I’m unfamiliar with Cherry’s work. Do you own any of his pictures?

SP: Yes, but not the one I want. The one I wish I owned is a blue-purplish dark abstraction that’s really death-like.

ST: It sounds amazing. Actually, I see you as the Jackson Pollock of poets. And he lived in East Hampton, too, close to you in Springs. Did you ever meet him?

SP: No. I met de Kooning a few times.

ST: What was he like?

SP: His studio was jammed with paintings. He was not in good health at that time. My wife, Mickie, was a nurse and she’d been sent there to give him an injection. I accompanied her. He was very quiet.

ST: So getting back to your brand new collection of 63 poems titled The B Poems. Which photography book helped to inspire this work?

SP: Bruce Davidson was the photographer and I used all 63 photos from his book titled Bruce Davidson:Photofile published by Thames & Hudson, London, 1990. I might add that I have pretty much exhausted mythology at this point, mostly using Science News Magazine to confront the photographs.

ST: Having read nearly all your twenty three books, I must say I was totally stunned all over again by the brilliance of The B Poems.

SP: Thank you.

The B Poems by Simon Perchik published by Poets Wear Prada and all online outlets.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review of Faithless by Andrew Joseph Clarke--Boston Playwrights' Theatre

Review by Doug Holder

I always tell my creative writing students at Endicott College that you don't need to have been on a mountaintop, conversing with some monk--to be inspired to write a poem.  You can be in a down-at-the heels java joint in your neighborhood, waiting for the Dudley Bus, or shooting the breeze with the local homeless guy at the park. In the case of the Boston Playwrights' Theater's production of Andrew Joseph Clarke's play " Faithless", the drama takes place in one of the more banal places of our acquaintance--the late night hospital waiting room--where basically the cast of characters wait for their mother, and in the case of Sam-- the teenage girl-- the grandmother, to pass.

At first after reading the description of the play about a fading Irish matriarch, two feuding sisters, the return of a wayward brother, I was afraid that the play would be a rehash of any number of the Eugene O'Neill family tragedies. But Clarke put his own signature on this production with his well-developed complex and conflicted characters, and the still haunting presence of their late father-- a decidedly embittered and hapless man. The actual mother never appears on stage but her heavy presence in the waiting room is never in doubt.

The cast was first rate. Maureen Keiller, who played one of the sisters-- Maureen--was a standout. She had a great Irish face (if there is such a thing), and emotion registered on her careworn canvas with nuance, smirks, the lifted eyebrow, and the studied sarcasm. Her performance impressed me as truly genuine, and in fact I noticed she was still emotionally-involved with her character even after her bow. I may be wrong--but I think she was crying--in any case she was heavily invested in this character that she intimately inhabited.  The teen daughter -- played by Abby Knipp--was expertly portrayed by this actress with the affected-eye-rolling, angst of a teenager in search for her family and her identity. Greg Maraio, as the gay, wayward son Skip-- was a bit stiff--but did have a credible performance. Christine Power played the control freak sister with aplomb.

At times the play had echoes of Arthur Miller and such--and at times seemed a bit formulaic. But I think Clarke--   a student in the  MFA program at Boston University, is a playwright to watch as he explores the underbelly of the American dream--and carves the meat off our daily play acting to the bone and perhaps the marrow.

The Sunday Poet: Simrin Tamhane

Simrin Tamhane is the author of a new book of poetry "hundred and eight prayer flags" ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series). Tamhane is an international student from the Himalayan state of Sikkim in India.  Currently a junior at Endicott College, she is majoring in International Studies and is interested in human rights and many of her writings focuses on this topic. She also writes about her childhood back in India and she enjoys old music, tragedies and iced lemonade in the winter.

Aleppo Dreams

With all the rubble and the broken bones of my city's weeping soul,
I have managed to build a small secret. A dream.
I place it on a slide and put it up against the sun and watch
as the reflection illuminates the cobblestone streets of my home
and hugs the corpses who were once my parents.

This dream crackles on the palms of my little sister's hands
as she tosses it up into the skies and marvels at it falls down like pixie dust.
From the hilltop, I watch the shimmer flirt with the smoke of destruction
and softly land on the eyelashes of my people,
blinding them.

They stand up slowly, their knees
perfectly orchestrated to tragedy
I see them rise.