Thursday, October 18, 2018

My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean  by Amy Dresner

My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean 
by Amy Dresner 
October 2018 
Hachette Books  
Review by Timothy Gager 
This is an important book, considering the heavy weight of the opioid crisis in this country. It is important because the story and the author are very real in this struggle. It is important because people need to meet people like Amy to understand alot of this crisis. 
Unlike our President’s attempt to placate the African American population by bringing Kanye West to The White House, there are no popular drug addicts invited to wow the Oval Office. Why? Because what we learn in actual recovery holds the key to fighting this crisis. It’s not less drugs on the street, but rather more sober people in recovery willing to help others. 
Amy Dresner was one of the featured guests at the last Dire Literary Series, October, in Somerville, and she was as real as it gets. Her book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean, chronicles her struggles with her disease, which included six trips Rehab Hospitals, four psychiatric wards, four suicide attempts, multiple Emergency Room visits, endless rounds therapy, a slew of fired sponsors, and as a cherry, a felony arrest for assault with a deadly weapon. Society doesn’t have much empathy for events such as this. The average citizen (oh, to be average) is not about to rally to battle anything having to do with serious drug and alcohol use and the wreckage in brings. 
But aren’t they? When you read this book, you’re rooting  awfully hard for the author. She tells her story with self-effacing humor, combined with real life terror. It is both frightening and hilarious. She is vulnerable and as some say about alcoholics and addicts when using, an ego-maniac with an inferiority complex. 
The book alternates life before recovery with her court ordered work on The Clean Team (a wonderful double meaning) a street sweeping unit in Los Angeles. The Clean Team, works convicts to beautify the city and to cover the terms of their sentences. While doing this dirty work, Dresner simultaneously was living in a sober house, going to AA meetings, meeting with a sponsor and doing the required work on herself.  Her story reports the importance of what losing everything, and becoming humble really means. These are extremely measurable traits for being and staying clean and sober, according to The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The book though, isn’t about Alcoholics Anonymous, but rather is about a brave and determined journey of one single individual. It is the kind of book which has already helped so many people, and should be on the reading list for those not in recovery, as well, as those who don’t even have a problem with drug and alcohol use. “The book also helps me stay accountable, I mean, I can’t exactly promote it if I’m skyping into readings from my seventh rehab!” Dresner told me.  
My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Cleanis funny, well written, and entertaining, while offering hope. It presents a person who had no hope left, tried multiple times to get sober, only to fail each time, as a strong person who succeeds triumphantly in the end. 
As someone who knows their way around the rooms of AA, Dresner's book took me from, no, not me, to I totally identify with so much of this, but one doesn't have to have these kind of experiences to enjoy this book. My only criticism of My Fair Junkie  came after meeting Amy Dresner a few weeks ago. She is someone who is successful, talented, and extremely alive, but the book wraps up too quickly to give this justice.  I, for one, would like others to see her the way she lives in the world right now, as a strong woman, and a powerful example to those in recovery. We might never see Amy Dresner invited to The White House, but you can read the book in your own house, and learn, first hand, what this crisis really is about.  

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Quit This Job And Become A Poet (Out of spite)by Georgia Park

Quit This Job And Become A Poet (Out of spite)by Georgia Park
October 2018
Free Verse Revolution Publishing

Review by Timothy Gager

There’s something wrong with you if these poems don’t speak to you. If they don’t speak to you it means you are not vulnerable. It means you are uncomfortable when someone is completely honest with you. It means someone sitting next to you on an airplane who is about to tell you the most incredible story you’ve heard in your life and is silenced because you are too busy to listen. Truth is, you are not too busy, but you don’t want to listen to the person next to you in the airplane because you are too busy pretending to read the in-flight magazine. You’re a unlucky sap who flips pages about the Taquerias in Atlanta, that you will never eat or speak about. It’s too bad because you have passed on some real life.
Georgia Park’s poems will speak to you admire people who take social risks. If you think the world’s normal is your normal, and you know that your normal isn’t at all what society says is normal…but basically you don’t give a hoot. If you are that kind of creative, sensitive person, you will love Quit This Job And Become A Poet (Out of spite)
In this book, the poet, Georgia Park does a remarkable thing. Her poems expose the inner-editor she has in her head regarding the risks in life, yet seems to shut down the inner-editor having to do with the poetry. In other words, the work all hangs out. This is a gift that Park has which allows amazing lines or phrases to appear like magic out of nowhere.
I want someone as close as
to kiss my eyelids while I’m
and make a cross on my chest
even if it’s just my little dog
who still smells vaguely of

(from the poem Helicopter Tail)
This talent also allows her to stick the closings of her poems like a gymnast ending an outstanding routine. Many of these poems close strongly.
In Quit This Job And Become A Poet (Out of spite), Park writes her truth about being a poet, going to events, making a life of it. While doing this, she is naked within her work, with the attitude of “so what if I’m naked,” which is a necessary attitude and swagger of a poet announcing themselves into the tricky world of poetry and or poetry groups. Again and again, we are treated to these unblinking words, as if, we are forced into a staring contest and we, the reader, will be the one who end up blinking. Yet it is the poet has blinked a few hundred times, but it’s too late, you have already lost the contest, the poet is braver that you are---but as a reader of poetry you are the winner. It is something to admire. In the poem Talk Show Host the reality of no longer working is reflected upon, with humor and desperation.
I am sleeping
far too often
I won’t go out
because I can’t
pay for me
and I can’t feign interest
any longer
unless you’re a
talk show host
or a future
don’t bother

Certainly if Park quit her job to become a poet you certainly understand it---and understand how it can be out of spite. The working world can be such bullshit, but so can the poetry world, which offers other various challenges. The poem, Molotov Cocktail, rings true in this regard:
Molotov Cocktail

I haven’t heard back
from the guy who said
he’d make me famous
except to ask for a blowjob
of epic proportions
which I won’t give
and the texts
keep rolling in
I start to think
it’s not such a bad thing
if no one ever knows
who I am
I’m going to bury
my manuscript
in a garden
and see if I can grow
my own little
Molotov cocktails

it’s better than ending up
in the garbage
with the scrap metal
and home furnishings
of this life
I thought I could live

This book of poetry is a good read, one I enjoyed, and would recommend to poets, readers, and even those who might be stuck working out in the world as dogs being eaten by other dogs.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Spoke 5

Spoke 5

ISBN 978-1-387-9803-8
Boston, MA 2018

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

One of the more fascinating entries in the latest issue of Spoke 5 are the translations of Cuban poet Jorge Olivero Castillo, whose poems are rendered accessible and enjoyable.   There are three translations of one poem, one entitled “Plea”, one titled “Supplication” and a third one called “Supplicant.”  Each translation was done by different writers.

The first, “Pleas,” is translated by P. Scott Cunningham and Oscar Rieveling:


the rain washing

autumn’s dead leaves

piled on the pavement.

to pass in silence down Linnaean Street.

hanging in the half-naked trees.

Night’s fists on the glass door

more and more visible.

And me in my apartment

intractable, on my back, determined

to find the word

the poem is asking for

on its knees

It is also translated by Cecilia Weddell in the follows:



The rain washing

autumn’s dried leaves

piled on the pavement.

A car that attempts

a silent drive down Linnaean Street.

spreading through the half-naked trees.

The night’s closed hands on the glass door

more visible every time.

And me in the apartment, unyielding,

flat on my back,

determined to discover the word

begged after by this kneeling


Daniel Evans Pritchard’s version is again slightly different from the other two:


piled on the sidewalk

autumn’s withered leaves

are washed by the rain.

A car strains for silence
on its way down Linnaean Street.

The fain murmuring breeze

scatters among half-naked branches.

The collar of night more and more

contracts around the glass.

And I in my apartment

dogged on my knees

begging am determined to extract

from myself the mot juste

Some of the differences are subtle. The first describes autumn’s leaves as “dead” and the second offers that they are “dried” and the third “withered”.  All three versions agree rain washes away the leaves.

Also note in the first translation “A car trying to pass in silence down Linnaean Street.” becomes in the second work, “A car that attempts a silent drive down Linnaean Street.” 
While the third states “A car strains for silence … “. These might be considered slight changes.
The Spanish original is “Un automovil que intenta/pasar en silencio por Linnaean Street.”
So the translation which comes closest is Ms. Weddell’s which uses “attempts”  and “silence” both literal takes on “intenta” and “silencio”.

Then we see another difference in the three translations where the first version reads, “The soft babble of air/hanging in the half-naked trees.” The second translator “The light murmur of air/spreading through the half-naked trees.” Finally, ‘The faint murmuring breeze/scatters among half-naked branches.”

Here again the difference is subtle but gives a different meaning  to whether the air was barely moving or was a breeze.

These examples are what makes translations so difficult. Often the reader sees the translator’s poetry, not the original, usually with different meanings.  In the above two versions there are differences, yet the poem remains more or less intact, rather than two considerably different poems. 

Once I did a review of Christian Wiman’s translation of an Osip Mandelstam poem and compared it with a translation of the same poem by W.S. Merwin. For a person who does not read Russian, placed side-by-side they were two completely different poems, albeit they were poems by the translators, and the original was lost forever.

Nonetheless, discovering Jorge Olivero Castillo’s poetry is a genuine pleasure and credit should go to his translators. In fact, Spoke 5 presents fine poetry by Audrey Mardavich, Maggie Dietz, Danielle Legros Georges, Patrick Sylvain, Guy Rotella and others. There are a number of other poets worth reading, as well as George Kalogeris’ commentary on Ben Mazer’s poetry which highlights the poet’s often overlooked talent. 

Danielle Legros Georges was Boston’s second Poet Laureate following the legendary Sam Cornish. In her poem “Bayou” she writes, ‘  “In response to Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence’s painting is:

red river

dark hanging

breeze silent



Spoke 5’s more than 300 pages is well worth reading the poetry and commentary on poetics including some 45 pages of letters by Larry Eigner entitled “ Swampscott [MA] to Mexico City: Larry Eigner and El Corno  Letters from Larry Eigner  to El Corno Emplumado (Edited by George Hart).   And finally kudos to Publisher & Editor Kevin Gallagher and Managing Editor Karin van Berkum for putting together this fine publication.

Zvi A. Sesling

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Dianne Silvestri

Dianne Silvestri 

Dianne Silvestri is a writer and retired physician. She is author of the chapbook Necessary Sentiments. Her poems have recently appeared in Naugatuck River Review, Barrow Street, Poetry South, Zingara Poetry Review, and The Main Street Rag. A past Pushcart Nominee, she studies and performs with PoemWorks Workshop. She is Copy-Editor of the journal Dermatitis and leads the Morse Poetry Group in Natick.

The Walker
            after Wallace Stevens

One must assume a temper of fall
To mark the browning and shadows
Of crisping trees in the chill;

And have accepted an annual dwindling
To salute the pin oaks scalding ochre,
The maples flushed in the fleeting flare

Of September’s slant; and not to claim
Any pain in the musty scent of diminution,
In the scent of dry leaves,

Which is the scent of existence
Full of that same diminution
That is drifting through the same space

Of the beholder, who walks in the chill,
And, barely extant herself, kens
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank.

Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank. Henry Holt and Company, 225 pages, $16.50.

Book Review by Ed Meek

Thomas Frank is a unique voice in nonfiction. He is both witty and well-informed. In his new book of essays, he claims to deal with “matters of grave import” with “a certain amount of levity.” The essays, written between 2012 and 2018, appeared in Harper’s, Salon, The Guardian, and Thomas Frank’s online publication, The Baffler. The book is divided into sections covering inequality, higher education, journalism, the election of Trump and the state of the Democratic Party. Frank maintains a breezy tone with an underlying sense of both hope and cynicism.  He is a liberal, but he is critical of both the Democrats and the Republicans.  As the title implies, he thinks we are in deep sh#t.

Frank’s specialty is focusing on developments in our country that either don’t seem to make sense or are ridiculous, but fit into his perspective that we’re out of joint. In a chapter on inequality, he deals with the origin and growth of McMansions. He says everyone hates them but the newly elite buy them anyway to cement their elite status. Another essay in the same section talks about the lack of empathy rich people have for the rest of the populace.  “They are more rude and less generous.” He writes about fast food enterprises that pay workers minimum wage leading to those workers need for food stamps and Obamacare. That is to say, we may pay less for our cheeseburgers, but we then have to pay taxes to help our fast food employees survive. Meanwhile, their employers rake in millions. Fast food is not as cheap as it appears to be.

In a section on higher education Frank looks at the mess we’ve created with outrageous tuition fees, student debt and a system that is now taught mostly by over-educated, underpaid part-time adjuncts. These same universities are charging exorbitant fees to students. How did that happen? Universities hire professors to do research and teach one class a semester because the money and the funding is in research. Big name schools hire celebrities like Elizabeth Warren to teach a class for 400K. They pay Presidents a couple of million per annum to raise money. At the same time, they’ve turned the campuses into sports clubs and spas replete with yoga, therapy and multi-cultural food franchises. Yet Canada manages to keep the tuition reasonable at its universities. Couldn’t we have affordable public universities that focus on education and teaching without all the frills?

Sometimes Frank gets a little glib as when he attacks cities that attempt imitate the Bilbao effect. He wants them to invest in essentials like low cost housing and infrastructure rather than art. But is investing in art and culture really a waste of money?

The last section focuses on politics and that is where Frank is most on point. He has an interesting essay about the way establishment journalists failed to take Bernie Sanders seriously. He laments the Democratic Party’s move to centrism and their loss of support among blue collar workers. Frank makes the case that Trump was the only candidate who addressed middle America’s concerns about trade. That’s why Trump is sticking with tariffs even if they hurt the economy. Trump also promised action on jobs, wages, schools and Social Security. So did Bernie, but he was not the Democratic nominee. Frank accuses Democrats of hubris, of being in love with the sound of their own voice. He warns us that there are decent odds that Trump could be reelected in 2020 if Democrats don’t get their act together.

There is a drawback to publishing collections of essays. The result is somewhat fragmented with essays written in 2012 sounding dated already. Nonetheless, Thomas Frank is always worth reading.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Mike Igoe

Mike Igoe

Born and raised in Chicago, longtime Boston resident, social activist, member of Democratic National Committee. Numerous publications in magazines and journals, counselor to ex-offenders and disturbed children. 


                                                                        Something the blue teenager sold you/tried your spirit/clueless about those done deals/there's no clue to his handcrafted tattoo./Rain perennial, eternal, falls on sleights of hand./Something he told you/caused you wonder/those telltale signs of good luck/while loitering in halls/asleep in stalls/enduring the daily routine/much like a fruit vendor in disguise. He thought every area was like yours and mine/the park expanse, the neon pizza sign. As you started walking, it dawned on you in the blink of an eye/something that teenager had: you needed badly. In his everlovin' silent night/the mysteries of the flame/memories of sighs. A wick burning/as you wrote out these words/tending the same machine/mercilessly entombed/you wept over your waking fate./Something creased your head/same weight as everything you knew/living in moments of grief/constant pulse of what the dial light says/light and shadow; the last call on the cellphone screen/like the message carved in the back of the hand/palms pressed on the further wall/with telltale signs of good luck.   

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Sarah Dickenson Snyder

                    Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Sarah Dickenson Snyder has written poetry since she knew there was a form with conscious line breaks. She has two poetry collections, The Human Contract and Notes from a Nomad, both published in 2017.

{yonder animalsfromtheneckdown}
after e. e. cummings
yonder animalsfromtheneckdown—
the scurriers on dried leaves seem yonder
no more—dead mouse in a slippery sink,
one sunk to the bottom of a toilet bowl,
all of their scant brown scat—dashes
of how close the wildness is, a ripening
unburdened through walls—we all scurry
in a world, gnaw our way to sweet,
camouflage the underbelly but know {not
for the first time} that every creature
is thirst stricken and will spill
upon the earth in the end.

© Sarah Dickenson Snyder