Friday, June 22, 2018

Review of Christopher Smart’s Cat By Igor Webb





Review of Christopher Smart’s Cat
By Igor Webb
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio, 2018
206 pages

Review by Tom Miller

This is not a book about a cat. It is an autobiography…sort of. It is also something of a travelogue-- a rumination through literary minds that the author either knew or was attracted to. It is not a chronological journey so the reader has to relax and go along for the ride as Webb tells of his Jewish family’s displacement in 1943 from the village of Malacky (pronounced Malaski) in Slovakia after his grandparents were taken by the Nazis and their sojourn via Ecuador to New York City. He tells of his youth in the Inwood neighborhood where his mother insisted that he pass as a Christian. Being accommodating he became immersed in the Catholic Church somewhat to her chagrin. Webb went on to study at Stanford and do graduate work in London and at some point thereafter became friends with Phillip Roth.


The book is also something of a personal journey in which Webb visits Malacky as if he is trying to gather something of his roots. He describes interesting adventures while there --with references to various village characters from his youth, his family and the surroundings. These stories are told by Reza, his mother’s sister or cousin or someone ,who is perhaps the most interesting character in the book, but as the reader will discover in a footnote on the very last page also is fictional.

Along the way the reader will bump into not only Phillip Roth but Jorge Gorges, Virginia Woolf, Tomas Wolfe, Victor Hugo, W.G. Sebald, Danilo Kis, Milan Kundera, and Ivan Klima either in a personal way or through Webb’s ruminations on their works or their personalities. And of course the reader will be exposed to Christopher Smart and his works. Smart was a perhaps brilliant poet in England in the mid 1700s who had the misfortune to be odd and frequently in debt. Both of these conditions resulted in his imprisonment several times during which he produced widely acclaimed works such as A Song To David and Jubilate Agno as well as anthologies to his cat Jeoffry. (This seems to be the only rationale for the title of the book.)

Webb reflects on various passages from these authors as a memorial or perhaps in a philosophical discourse, and hones in particularly on Smart.

Reading this book is an interesting but perhaps tiring endeavor as Webb jumps forward and backward as thoughts and recollections seemingly strike him. Along the way he just jumps into whatever writer’s work seems applicable to those thoughts, and those may lead to tangents and then back, or perhaps not. At any rate do not try to anticipate where this book is going. It will get to the end simply because it is time to end and not for any other reason.

The Sunday Poet: Wyn Cooper

Wyn Cooper
Wyn Cooper has published five books of poems, most recently Mars Poetica. His work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Slate, and more than 100 other magazines, as well as in 25 anthologies of contemporary poetry. His poems have been turned into songs by Sheryl Crow, David Broza, and Madison Smartt Bell. He has taught at Bennington College, Marlboro College, the University of Utah, and at The Frost Place, and has given readings throughout the United States as well as in Europe and South America. He is a former editor of Quarterly West, and the recipient of a fellowship from the Ucross Foundation. He worked for two years at the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, a think tank run by the Poetry Foundation, and now lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he works as a freelance editor.





Drummer  

A bass drum’s beat
wakes her in the night.
She goes to the window,
looks out and sees nothing,
but the pounding continues.

She hears her heart
above the noise of fans,
crickets, the refrigerator
that keeps her wine cold
as the night she met him.

He didn’t look like a drummer
or act like one, no hands
beating time on the table
in the tiny dark bar           
he took her to twice.

Time waits for no one,
he said, and she thought
Stones but didn’t say it,
just played it straight
as he sang her praises.

He never called back,
just sent a postcard
that said Still drumming.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Interview with Somerville Poet Dorinda Hale: Author of 'Disorientation and the Weather'

Poet Dorinda Hale


Interview with Somerville Poet Dorinda Hale: Author of 'Disorientation and the Weather'

with Doug Holder

Poet Dorinda Hale arrived at my table at the Bloc 11 Cafe with a frosted pastry of some kind and a rich, roasted coffee. Hale, who has lived in Somerville since 1974-- was here to talk about her first book of poetry released by the Finishing Line Press, “Disorientation and the Weather.”

Hale is originally from a small town in Vermont—and when she moved to Somerville back in the day—she found a neighborhood that was peaceful and quiet much like her seminal grounds in Vermont. Hale told me, “ Somerville is a good place to be. It is a community I feel very comfortable with.” In terms of gentrification of the city she told me, “ It's great to see all the new babies around town. Gentrification has been responsible for increasing the value of my home. However, it saddens me how everything is so expensive now. I hope the new influx of people will have the same emotional commitment to the community that I experienced decades ago.”

Like many poets Hale has worked a number of different gigs over the years. In the course of her varied career, she has worked as a manager of a commercial translation project for Kodak, she had a stint at a junior college, and worked as a freelance editor. She wound up working steadily in the high tech sector until she was laid off.

After leaving the tech industry she asked herself, “ What's next?” She has been writing and publishing for years. Her work has appeared in such journals as the Atlanta Review, The Wilderness House Literary Review, and elsewhere. So she decided to put together a book-- thus this new volume.

I asked Hale about one of her poems in her new collection, titled “ After Grief.” She uses a repeated line “swell of light” in this highly structured villanelle, which is is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains.  Hale said of this poem, “It reflected how I felt at my brother's death, and that “swell of light “ that repeatedly turns up in the poem is all about the connection with the dead.'

Hale works with both free verse and rhyme. She said, “ I write a lot of free verse too, but I I like the challenges of rhyme and formal meter.”

I asked Hale, "Why should someone read your collection. She replied, “ Because they will feel better. They will find psychological states that are hard to describe-- but are familiar. When confronting pain and expressing pain in the poem—well--it can bring comfort.”

Hale told me she will be speaking at the Harvard Memorial Church. She will answer a question posed by the minister of the said church after he perused her book-- "What do we owe the world?"' And I just bet that Hale has the answer. 




AFTER GRIEF



She remains in place, a site
and keeps her body with him
unbroken in a swell of light.

He’s leaned away, though not in flight
hears a cadence meant for him
yet remains in place, a site

bold and burnished, hers despite
the keen constraint, the spell of rhythm.
Unbroken in a swell of light

our dead can sing to us, invite
a waning heart to shelter: an interim
that remains in place, a site

where porous love may dwell. What sleight
of hand unveiled this layered scrim
now unbroken in a swell of light

and let the soak of ties outright
claim her, hold him, allow them
to remain in place—a site
unbroken—in a swell of light?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Debris by L.M. Brown. Ink Smith Publishing. 156 pages. $14.99.

L.M. Brown






Debris by L.M. Brown.  Ink Smith Publishing. 156 pages. $14.99. 

Review by Ed Meek 

Debris is L.M. Brown’s first novel. It is a coming-of-age story of two teenagers whose lives intersect and who bond over tragedy and family secrets.  The novel’s title is based on a poem by an Irish poet, Lola Ridge. The poem begins: “I love those spirits/that men stand off and point at/or shudder and hood up their souls…” In Debris, a fourteen-year old boy, Andre, and a fifteen-year old girl, Erin, are obsessed with mothers who have died or disappeared. This obsession sometimes takes the form of seeing and feeling the spirits of their mothers and Brown makes reference to mythological Irish figures that add to the atmosphere of the novel 

In the US, we have this societal bias against grieving. If someone dies, we are expected to be sad for a brief period of time and then to get on with our lives. We tend to focus on the future rather than the past. Our instant gratification culture encourages us to stay-tuned. Otherwise, we might be plagued by FOMO.  

When we lose people close to us though, we don’t forget about them. They remain with us and continue to affect us. Brown is good at delving into this notion. Her main character, Andre, has problems at school and can’t face his own father because, when Andre is involved in a car accident that kills his mother, he blames himself and he believes his father blames him, too. As a result, he leaves the cushy confines of the big house owned by his successful father and moves to a house in a development to stay with his aunt and go to a different school. 

There he meets the beguiling Erin whose mother disappeared the year before and who lives with her alcoholic, somewhat abusive dad. Erin wants to find out what happened to her mother. Did she run away? Did her crazy father kill her and bury her in the garden? Erin and Andre are both outsiders. Erin doesn’t go to school and she gives Andre a place of refuge while he slowly comes to terms with his mother’s death and helps Erin solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Along the way, they deal with some nasty local hoods. 

The author lives in Massachusetts but has a close affinity with Ireland. The characters speak with Irish accents and the setting and time period are a little hard to pin down.  That fits in with mysterious atmosphere of the novel. Brown has also written poetry and she is capable of writing a good sentence. This is the beginning of the novel: “From Eugene’s house the sea was audible and across the garden’s stone wall the dark surface lit by stars was still as glass.” 

She is also adept at using third person omniscient to explore the thoughts and complexities of her characters.  She creates characters who sound like real people. The novel does feel somewhat claustrophobic sometimes moving minute by minute through the thoughts of the characters. The plot plays second fiddle and this reader found himself questioning credibility as the novel went along. Do boys really slap other boys? Didn’t a certain neighbor disappear at the same time as Erin’s mom? 

I have a couple of minor quibbles. The novel has an editor who apparently has trouble with apostrophes: Ines arms, Ines’ hands, Ines’s dad all appear within two pagesMaybe Cormac McCarthy is right in thinking we should just get rid of apostrophes. There are letters missing here and there, a few run on sentences and occasional confusion regarding point of view.  Finally, the font appears to be 10 point, single-spaced with half-inch margins. This allows the publisher to get as many as 500 words on a page. That’s why the novel is a mere 156 pages. With more conventional formatting, it would work out to well over two 200 and would be easier on the eyes. 

Nonetheless, Debris is a promising first novel and well worth a read this summer. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Endicott College is hosting its second annual workshop for high school students interested in creative writing June 28-9, 2018












Endicott is hosting its second annual workshop for high school students interested in creative writing.

Endicott College has announced plans to host its second annual Young Writers Workshop, June 28-29, 2018 for area high school students interested in creative writing. Participants will develop their writing skills in sessions on poetry, fiction, and playwriting/screenwriting led by the College’s distinguished creative writing faculty members: Charlotte Gordon, Dan Sklar, and Elizabeth Winthrop. 

Students will create and refine new work, learn how to give feedback to their peers, and receive tips on how to promote and publish their work. At the end of the Workshop, participants will present their work publicly.  

“The Workshop is designed to nurture the students’ talent, help them find and refine their voice, and teach them technical aspects of writing that can make their work more compelling,” said Dr. Mark Herlihy, associate dean, arts and sciences and chair of humanities. “While students will develop their own craft over the course of the weekend, they will also experience what it means to belong to a community of writers.”  

Participants will work closely with the College’s renowned faculty members. Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and her Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Story of America's First Poet, won a Massachusetts Book Award. 

Sklar is a two-time winner of Endicott's Excellence in Teaching Award whose poems have been published widely and whose plays have been staged at the Actors Studio of Newburyport and the Boston Theatre Marathon. 

Winthrop’s fourth novel, The Mercy Seat, will be published this month by Grove Atlantic. Her other novels include Fireworks and December with Knopf, and The Why of Things with Simon and Schuster.  

The Workshop fee of $150 covers all activities, lunch and snacks each day (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.), and a t-shirt. There will be a discounted rate of $125 for Beverly residents and children of Endicott employees. Participants must be entering grades 9-12 in fall 2018.  

To register, go to endicottyoungwritersworkshop2018.eventbrite.com For more information, contact Mark Herlihy at 978-232-2178 or mherlihy@endicott.edu.

The Sunday Poet: Ben Carson

Poet Ben Carson


Benjamin D. Carson is a Professor of English at Bridgewater State University. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Red Fez, The Ampersand Review, Cactus Heart, Free Inquiry, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, and the Charles River Journal.


We Give Birth to Light

The moon rose full over the cemetery
on the night my mother gave birth to her son,
his face round, his lips blue. This will be
the last one, she said. There will be no more.

The sun set an autumn orange over the field
on the night my mother watched my father take to the road,
his face chapped, his hands raw. This will be
the last harvest, she said. There won’t be another.

The North Star, my mother once said to no one, is the only
light that matters, the one that shines and shines
and shines, even after the last breath is taken,
the field abandoned, the lover lost.

We give birth to light, she muttered, so that
darkness too can have its day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

In Praise of the Useless Life A Monk’s Memoir









In Praise of the Useless Life
A Monk’s Memoir
By Paul Quenon O.C.S.O.
Ave Marie Press
ISBN: 13 978-1-59471-759-8
142 Pages
$15.95

Review by Dennis Daly

After living six decades in the Cistercian (Trappist) Monastery of Gethsemani, Paul Quenon has written a quiet, self-effacing journal of the heart, which periodically breaks out into syllabic dance and grammatical song. This memoir purports to portray the life of an ordinary man living in an unconventional community, a spiritual haven that attracts both simple penitents and intellectual paragons. However, a man, who keens at the death of trees, claims Emily Dickinson as his soul sister, writes exquisite poetry, and engages in a mysticism that he calls “the choreography of heaven” doesn’t strike me as ordinary at all.

Throughout this personal chronical Quenon weaves in scenes from the life of Thomas Merton, as well as reiterating much of Merton’s counter-cultural wisdom. It could not be otherwise. Early on Quenon had read Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and Merton’s stature as a modern-day monk had been one of the draws that convinced him to enter the monastery. Once there Merton became his novice master, adding layers of influence onto the young man. Other novices schooled with Quenon during Merton’s stint as novice master included a university valedictorian, a lawyer (presumably there for repentance), a missionary back from New Guinea, a psychologist, a later-in-life college president, a soon-to-be brain surgeon and Ernesto Cardenal, who was to emerge as an influential poet and controversial Sandinista revolutionary in Nicaragua.

Quenon knows his audience and relates many inside baseball vignettes about Merton. In one lightly humorous story the young Quenon appears at Merton’s door to ask him, “What is the meaning of Zen?” In answer Merton bops Quenon on the head with a book. When Quenon persists in questioning this expert in eastern religion and philosophy, Merton says, “There is a cherry tree outside the window,” and leaves it at that.

Mother Nature apparently took over Quenon’s education where Merton left off. She provides him with daily, twenty-four hour classrooms, stirs his enzymes, raises his energy, and generally nourishes his soul. Going out into the weather is not only part of his life but also a spirit-lifting ritual. “I am governed and made into something larger than myself,” says Quenon. “One morning appears as a Chinese painting,” he continues, “with cloaks of fog concealing here, partly there, revealing hills, trees, and fields. Another morn displays a brilliant sprawl of clarity, the color too good to be true, unbearably perfect, until the sun heightens and the sky blanches in the midday heat.”

One of the chapter sections in Quenon’s book he entitles Eminent Trees I Have Known. Here he voices the affecting kinship he felt upon the demise of two linden trees, killed in order to make room for a new infirmary. He studies his own reaction objectively. “I watched from a distance as they were plowed over with a bulldozer, and the sight provoked my voice to a high, soft pitch,” he says. “Such feelings of kinship were a surprise to me; I had never made that sound before, yet it seemed the only decent thing to do at the moment.”

Quenon, not only sleeps under the stars most nights, but has molded his meditational life around locations with expansive views and open to the weather. Among these sites is the porch of Merton’s old hermitage, about a mile into the woods behind the abbey. Quenon is the caretaker of the hermitage and has escorted many renowned visitors there, including Nobel Prize laureates Seamus Heaney and Czeslaw Milosz. He often sits in a chair with a brass plate attached to the top that says, “Bench of Dreams.” It was affixed there by a man who had been assistant secretary general of the United Nations for forty years.

Monks have built-in models for their style of life. I’m thinking of the desert fathers, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux. Although familiar with the aforementioned, Quenon seems to prefer the poet Emily Dickinson as an exemplar of Trappist life and thought. He quotes many of her poetic lines including these,

Growth of Man—like Growth of Nature,
Gravitates within.
Atmosphere, and sun endorse it—
But it stir—alone.

Each its difficult Ideal
Must achieve—Itself—
Through the solitary prowess
Of a silent life.

My favorite chapter in Quenon’s memoir he entitles Battle of Wits with a Mockingbird. It’s pretty funny. As the monk tries to sleep outside on the porch of the monastery’s lumber shed, a mockingbird begins an unforgettable aria. At first Quenon tries to communicate with the bird like Native Americans were once wont to do, making an oracle out of the creature. Then he begins to yell at the bird. But the bird believes this is a show of positive enthusiasm. Finally, dead tired, the monk begins flapping his blanket, mimicking a bigger bird. This works—for a while. But the next night the bird is back, having figured out the blanket trick. And this epic battle goes on night after night with Quenon using multiple stratagems like setting up a plastic owl decoy to scare the bird or throwing water into the trees. Yet none of these techniques work. Each defeat of monk by mockingbird Quenon memorializes with a haiku, such as,

I wish talent star
with night variety shows
would go off the air.

And this one,

The Mocker, all night
Harasses the neighborhood
Damn sociopath!

Finally after moving to a new sleeping place the monk planned and carried out a sneak attack, violently shaking the bird’s tree. This successfully startled the bird and he absented himself from the vicinity. Now, however, Quenon exhibits all the telltale signs of remorse. He clearly misses the clever show-off, and says so.

Quenon’s literary window into the everyday life of Trappist monks is anything but useless. It frames the monastery, and, by extension, humanity as a vital buzzing hive of meaningful encounters, with its hooded denizens conjuring up perpetual moments of unique existence and creative imagination. Beware of this book if you’ve lost your sense of childish play, if you live a life without song or dance, or if you feel silly communing with trees. It could change you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Alison Pruchansky: Her Art 'Flowers' in Somerville




Alison Pruchansky: Her Art 'Flowers' in Somerville

By Doug Holder

There is a certain vibe in the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. You can expect the excited screams of kids with their beleaguered parents in quick pursuit, as the tykes explore the inviting jail cell in the back of the cafe. There are the catcalls from the baristas to the patrons to pick up their fare. There is the smoky and scratched voice of Louis Armstrong singing “ Baby it's cold outside” on a warm morning in May. And on this morning Alison Pruchansky joined me at my table with the remnants of my morning repast—smoked mackerel, a plain, pedestrian bagel—with artisanal tomatoes-- brushed off to the side.

Alsion Pruchansky is a Somerville artist who has a studio at the Vernon St. Studios. She has her own business Ample Art and Design where she now primarily works with corporate clients to select art—often her own—to add to the interior design of their offices. She also works a a gallery coordinator at the Chase Gallery in Boston.

Pruchansky has been trained as an artist at Swarthmore and the Sotheby Institute of Art in London. She does mixed media painting on canvas. I viewed a selection of her small canvases. They primarily focus on flowers. They seem like a dream of florid blossoms, heightened by the backgrounds-- that seem to almost lift the work off the canvas. Her use of vivid color engages the eye.

Pruchansky is mostly a painter. She uses acrylics, watercolors, puffy paints and the like, and experiments with them.

Living in Somerville and working at the Vernon Street Studios with a number of accomplished artists—surely helps her own art.

Pruchanksy shares her concern with the cost of housing in Somerville. She has noticed the displacement of a number of artists because of gentrification, and hopes to some extent this will abate.

She is engaged in the art community. She is the Asst. Coordinator for Somerville Open Studios, and has bought a home with her husband in the city. Like her painting, Pruchanksy is sure to flower—here--in-- the Paris of New England.

For more information go to:
http://ampleartdesign.com

Saturday, June 09, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Tree Riesener



Tree Riesener



Tree Riesener is the author of  Sleepers Awake, a collection of fiction, winner of the Eludia Award (Sowilo Press), The Hubble Cantos (Aldrich Press), and EK (Cervena Barva Press). Angel Fever, a chapbook, has been published by Ravenna Press as part of their Triple series, Triple No. 5. Three previous chapbooks are Liminalog, Angel Poison and Inscapes. Her website is http://www.treeriesener.com.

peeping tom




I like to think about you
in heaven

I’m in the cold black night
under a window
behind me surf booms and crashes
my footsteps slowly fill with water

when I look
through the window
you’re in a warm bright room
nobody sees me looking in

I watch them welcome you
embrace you
the christmas tree
glowing in every color
eggnog in a chinese bowl
some sort of classical music
probably haydn or mozart
softly from a string quartet

everybody hangs on your words
as you tell your story
laughing
every once in a while
patting your hand
when you wipe away tears

I turn away
walk through drifting fog
down the dark road
to that little all-night bar

shaking with cold
I gulp down a strong coffee
with plenty of sugar
have a couple of drinks
to make sure
the coffee won’t keep me awake

then
in that warm room
after the hot drink and the whiskey
I cross my arms on the table
like school kids
when it’s time to rest

lay my head down
and fall asleep

thinking about you in heaven