Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Krikor Der Hohannesian

Krikor Der Hohannesian  photo by Zvi Sesling

Krikor Der Hohannesian lives in Medford, MA. His poems have appeared in over 150 literary journals including The Evansville Review, The South Carolina Review, Atlanta Review, Louisiana Literature, Connecticut Review and Natural Bridge. He is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two chapbooks,“Ghosts and Whispers” (Finishing Line Press, 2010) and “Refuge in the Shadows” (Cervena Barva Press, 2013). “Ghosts and Whispers” was a finalist for the Mass Book awards poetry category in 2011.

...The following poem is on the death of Diana Der-Hovanessian--former President of the New England Poetry Club. 


Instinct does not lie,
I should have listened.
We hadn’t spoken for a while
and, just days before, I thought
I must call. Instead, it was I
Who was called

There would be no more
long conversations
about family, poetry, the club
and all those crazy Armenians.
Now only memories
as delicious as our mother’s
home cooking

I should have been there
to hold your hand
one last time, to lend comfort
as we would all wish to be comforted.
Alas, intent – such an empty vessel
Rest easy, dear lady

--  Krikor Der Hohannesian 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Sean Doyle: Memoir Essay of an Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran

Sean Doyle
*** Sean Doyle is a student in my College Writing Seminar at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.  Doug Holder

It was an unusually warm day in central Texas for December, the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. After a short brief by the post commander on what we should expect from Fort Hood we were told to meet outside for unit assignments. I was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the First Cavalry Division. I was told to report outside for an incoming soldier brief. Little did I know my life was about to take a drastic turn. Up walked this towering man who demanded attention and respect without saying a word. He was about six feet tall and pure muscle, looked like he hadn't skipped a gym day in years. He was the highest ranking enlisted man in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and a tried and true warrior. He would later single handily chase down and capture the man responsible for blowing up his truck in Iraq. We were asked where we planned on being in six months. Before we could answer he simply said it doesn't matter because you will all be in Iraq.
May 30th 2011, I'll never forget the feeling of walking off the plane into the night with my best friends. The mixture of the heat and intense wind made it feel like someone was holding a blow-dryer in my face. As I stepped off onto the Airfield of Ali-Al-Salem airbase it felt like I was entering a whole different world. I followed my friends and fellow soldiers in a single file line across the tarmac to a dusty wooden shack where we were welcomed to Iraq. We stayed isolated on the base located in the middle of the Iraqi desert as we acclimated to the climate and prepared for our mission. After several days of checking gear, packing bags, unpacking bags, checking weapons and training we were ready to depart. We boarded several C130 planes on the same airfield we landed on, just a week before and set off for the southern Sal-Ad-Din province to the north of Baghdad. It was surreal at first being in a place I had been watching on the news since I was a child. I remember watching the missiles cruise over Baghdad on T.V. back in 2003 and now here I was in 2011 getting ready to do my part. It was a simple task on paper, patrol the area, help the people, search for weapons and stay safe. That was the same mission the unit before us had and they were attacked one time in a whole year. Some of us were excited, some of us were bummed out that we wouldn’t see combat. We had no idea what we were in for just a month later.
The twenty-four window from midday on the fourth of July to Midday July 5 shift started off like any other quick reaction force shift. We sat around with the gun trucks on standby and the whole platoon sitting around playing cards, taking naps or crowded around laptops watching bootleg Iraqi DVD's. I was sitting outside with 3 of my best friends enjoying some backwoods cigars on a green standard issue army cot. It was Tom, Phil and Hager or D-Hags as everyone called him. Tom was the very definition of the corn- fed country boy born and raised in small town Minnesota. He was also the gunner for my truck and my roommate. Tom had a habit of watching all three Lord of the Rings movies back to back when he had a day off patrol. Phil grew up moving around the Pacific Northwest before finally saying fuck it and joining to army. Phil was a few years older than us but was like your weird favorite uncle. D-Hags which is short for Dillion Hager was a tall lanky clown from the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. D-Hags had a giant flag of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera at Folsom prison on his wall for the 5 years we served together, It's probably still on his wall in his house today. Back in Iraq we were sitting around talking about how much fun everyone else back home was having as we drank our non-alcoholic beer when we heard the familiar sound we had all grown accustomed to "INCOMING, INCOMING, INCOMING" over a speaker followed by several explosions. So, we threw the cigars in the sand ran to the gun trucks as the rest of the platoon followed suit and prepared to go find the guys that just tried to kill us. As we flew down tiny canal back roads in our big trucks of war barely staying upright. Bump after bump we approached a tiny man-made dirt crossing most likely made for a truck carrying livestock as opposed to a truck full of heavily armed soldiers. The first vehicle creeped over carefully as we followed closely behind. Then all of the sudden the back end of the truck gave out and we were trapped, hanging halfway off the road above a canal. After trying to dig ourselves out for hours we accepted defeat and called for assistance. The guys that had fired the rockets were captured by another unit and we sat in the middle of an Iraqi backroad throughout the night. Eventually we had a maintenance truck pushes us and we headed back to base. Not even 500 meters down the road and it happens. A loud boom! Like thunderclap 10 feet away. I had just been hit by my first IED or improvised explosive device.
I can still smell the homemade explosive in the air if I think about it.  It was the dirty smell of something made in a dirty hideaway with whatever they can find to harm people. They had attached two South African 155mm artillery shells, as well as two buckets of homemade explosives. By a little bit of luck and some stupidity on the enemies they blew up the wrong side of the canal so we all came out without a scratch. I still remember that moment, a time in my life when I realized I wasn’t a fragile teenager anymore. . It was a weird sense of calm everything, but at the same time was the greatest high I had ever experienced-- one that made me feel truly alive. It put things into perspective in a sense. After the smoke had settled and my gunner and I smoked a whole pack of knockoff Iraqi cigarettes we headed back to base. The platoon sergeant had us call our families and let them know we were OK and what had happened. I don’t even remember what I said to my dad on the phone that day, I just remember how good it felt to hear his voice. After that we went back to the routine as if nothing had changed. But something had changed in us. We were no longer scared boys playing GI Joe, we were soldiers overseas fighting in a foreign country we would watch on the news as kids.
I returned home 6 months later to a somewhat familiar home. After a few weeks things went back to normal and it seemed like nothing had ever changed, but there was an absence. That rush I had felt back in Iraq, that high I got every time something would explode, or we would take enemy contact—wasn’t there. I spent most of my time home drinking and staying distracted because I was empty. Being home was like being on a different planet for a while. Nothing gave me that sense of power and strength I had felt back in Iraq. Nothing gave me that sense of purpose until I went to Afghanistan 2 years later. Even now-- nothing provides that same feeling and probably never will. Eventually I got used to that empty feeling, but I would still hop on a plane and do it all over again in a heartbeat if I had the chance.

******  Sean Doyle was born and raised in the Bay Area of California. A big fan of history and video games, even at a young age he knew he wanted to serve in the US Military. At the age of 19 he left California to become a member of the US Army where he was based in Texas. Over the next six years he served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also spent time in South Korea. Following this, he left the army to pursue a lifelong dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, where he walked over 1,000 miles. He now is tackling his latest challenge, college in Boston, Massachusetts where he resides with his girlfriend and their two rabbits. In his spare time Sean can still be found playing video games, but is also an avid reader, and enjoys attending local concerts and soccer games.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Susan Tepper Interviews Tree Riesener

Susan Tepper Interviews Tree Riesener

EK: Poems of Ekphrasis
Cervena Barva Press

Susan Tepper:  In your prologue (About the Poems), the beginning of your new book EK, you conclude by stating: "These are poems of witness."  Can you explain further what you meant by that sentence.

Tree Riesener: The book is called EK, a shortening of the Greek word “ekphrastic,” which refers to using detailed description to have a conversation with a work of art. Each poem riffs off another art form—painting, sculpture, text, music and so on. In order to witness something and to hope your words may effect some change, you first have to observe it closely.

ST: I find this form utterly tantalizing. There is so much freedom for the poet to explore.

TR: Yes. As an example of my approach, the first poem in the book is an exploration of the ideas in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a book many of us have read in a literature class, where we were left with at least the idea that the governing men of the village forced Hester Prynne to embroider a scarlet A on her clothes to let the world know she was an adulteress.

ST: That’s the poem which you’ve titled “on a field sable the letter A gules.” An intriguing title for this particular poem.

TR: Yes, it is the last line of the novel, describing her tombstone in heraldic terms. As a very unskilled amateur embroiderer, I enjoyed playing with the idea of the decisions Hester would have had to make as to color, placement, etc. of her embroidery. It was an opportunity for me to explore many types of stitchery possibilities, from nobleman’s coronet stitch to maltese single- or double-whipped chain stitch.

ST: I never would have thought of it. Great choice!

TR: What would it do to a person’s psyche to be publicly identified with sin forever? I decided to conflate embroidery with tattoo art, which would be a permanent identification, and the descriptions in the poem gradually shift to the idea of the A being tattooed, leading to the lines “abuse is written deep/what is written on the skin sinks to the bones.”

In the end, her fine character led to her being seen almost as a saint by the other women in the village, who eventually buried her with honor. The poem ends with this line:

never forget they said/this primer’s written on the bone/A is for abuse/with children there that’s what they said.”

So the women witness, and the poem witnesses, for the readers, I hope.

ST: This is a tremendous poem that spans lifetimes of women. Regarding her embroidery choices you wrote:

they had said red / I’m thinking she said / considering / bittersweet brick burgundy cardinal / … flaring mingled watery vibrating / …

settled on scarlet…/ which scarlet…/ plied the needle threaded with red / drew bright spiderwebby loops and swoops / over her flesh under her dress / …

I’ve picked out some sections of this poem to illustrate the tremendous tension of word play here that goes on to deliver the denoument. I have to say I’m in awe of this work. You’ve divided EK into five parts and this poem is in the section titled documents. The second section is called paintings, and from the gorgeous assortment of poems, I’d like you to tell us more about one titled the disappeared ones.

TR: The two ideas that are explored in this poem are the traditional Piéta, Mary holding the crucified Christ on her lap, which I saw at The Cloisters in New York City, and the Argentinean Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of the disappeared children and young people after the military coup of 1973.

The Piéta has always been one of the most heart-wrenching icons of Christianity. The Christ figure is often shown child-size, believed to suggest that Mary remembered her son as a small child. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo wore white headscarves to represent the diapers of their children as the babies they had cared for.

ST: You write it in this way:

she has herself painted / cuddling him tiny and dead / to explain he was a tender child / so they won’t crucify anyone again / then she trudges around for years / pushing a supermarket cart of canvases / everybody knows her / …”

The merge of long stretches of time and the present is particularly grueling in this context.

TR: From this section of the book you chose the poem that still makes me cry every time I read it. Thousands of these young dissidents, their children, simply vanished. It is now believed they were thrown alive from helicopters into the freezing water of the Atlantic. The mothers, demanding answers, in 1977 began to march around the Plaza de Mayo that surrounds the Presidential Palace.

In the beginning, fourteen women demonstrated every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. The movement grew until many were marching. Now the original demonstrators are in wheelchairs but they still march. There are Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. There have been more than 2000 marches. Unfortunately, the records have never been found and probably never will be. At least the mothers’ efforts have led to more than 1000 of the torturers and killers being tried and sentenced.

ST: There is solace in their relentless activism bringing forth a just result.

TR: It is a dreadful story. I hope their faithfulness is witnessed in this poem, a small tribute to the great love of mothers, especially mothers whose children are killed in the stupidity of war. Mary (with her shopping cart of canvases) is trying to place the paintings of herself holding her dead child all over the world, thinking it will prevent such tragedies from ever happening again, a fruitless hope, as we know.

ST: In the final section of the book you have a chapter titled miscellany. I was drawn to a particular poem “galileo’s telescope” (after the exhibition of the telescope at franklin institute september 2009 philadelphia pennsylvania)

You wrote:

“…/ guard came up started to talk / he knew sniggered bet you’d like to look through that baby / yeah I said let my words hang in the air what’d it take / he said twenty minutes you and me in the broom closet / I countered how about this fancy hazelnut and chili pepper / chocolate bar / he unlocked the case / …”

What I admire about EK is the way you have taken the most serious of subject matter and brought it into the world view via some of these flawless, lush poems, or, as is the case with this poem, a humorous take on people and their foibles.

TR: There is so much grief in the world, and as Carolyn Forché said, a poem may be the only evidence we have that an event has occurred. Because we have so much devastation to deal with, sometimes we let the little things, the kind things, the beautiful things, even the funny things, go by. But these things are important, too.

The event I wrote about in the Galileo poem almost happened the way I wrote it, and I actually did get to look through the telescope (although I didn’t have to go in the closet with the guard to do so). I write poems about the light side of life as well because that is what we are hoping for, that somehow, sometime the horrors will be gone, and we’ll be able to look at life and nature, at newborn babies, at the stars, and smile.

******Susan Tepper is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. Her latest title 'Monte Carlo Days & Nights' (Rain Mountain Press, NYC) is a novella set on the French Riviera.  More at

Monday, March 05, 2018

Pearl By Lawrence Kessenich

By Lawrence Kessenich
Letterpress Book Publishing, $18.00

Review by Mignon Ariel King

To begin with, the physical book itself--a hand-stitched, limited-edition poetry chapbook--evokes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the story of Hester Prynne the seamstress. “Pearl” is the daughter produced from Hester Prynne’s adulterous love affair with her Puritan settlement’s hypocritical Minister Arthur Dimmesdale. Pearl’s birth lands her mother in prison in addition to being shamed in the town square. Kessenich re-imagines Pearl, now an adult, and furnishes her with narratives reflecting on her beloved mother and scorned father.

Hester’s passion is channeled in Pearl’s first poem, first line: “They scoff when I claim to remember it...but I swear.../I can feel...the wild embroidered letter on my face” (1). Pearl is proud of the fiery spirit that fought tauntings of other children against her sinful lineage; however, she also expresses the freedom of imagination and joy of love resulting from her ostracism. “The scarlet letter set me apart, saved me from the stifling/cloak of conformity…” (1).

Pearl asserts that her biological father obviously failed her by refusing to publicly acknowledge the paternity. But, in an interesting turn, Kessenich’s Pearl also berates her mother’s husband, Chillingworth, who could have chosen to become Pearl’s father, to raise her as his own. Instead, Chillingworth expended only negative energy, emotionally torturing Dimmesdale until his death. Had he used his energy in a positive fashion, Chillingworth, a “Kindred Spirit,” might have seen: “Like me, he had wildness in him…” (3); and he was “dressed like me, too colorfully” (3). Pearl’s daughterly love “could have saved/his wretched life…” (3).

There are poems sprinkled through the collection in Hawthorne’s voice. These “Interludes” sharpen the setting. Pearl’s voice is modernized in comparison, as one might expect from the now-adult Pearl, a successful London playwright. (5) Single, she is kept company by the stage characters she creates. “Born into could I not/ become a playwright?” (7). Having grown up with a creative mother who read her the Bible; taught her mythology via the names of constellations; made the forest her playground; and longed for her faithless father’s company, Pearl believes that writing, the world of imagination, is her “Destiny.”

Pearl discusses her bachelor-woman life briefly: “Beauty and boldness are my blessing and curse”; men “wilt in the fire of my spirit” (10). Half of this collection focuses on Pearl’s “Solitude” and discordant “Inheritance,” i.e. mainstream society’s judgmental “Silence.” Yet, Kessenich gives his Pearl “Redemption.” She “grew up indifferent/to the judgment of men” (21), but she has an unusual community of Quaker women who tolerate her blazing nonconformity in that they pass many hours in reverent silence, “waiting for God to speak...or move them to speak” (19). After all, Pearl cannot bear to waste words, not even one letter.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Spare Change News Poems: An Anthology by Homeless People and those Touched by Homelessness

I am really honored that our Ibbetson Street Press is publishing Spare Change News Poems: An Anthology by Homeless People and those Touched by Homelessness. Years ago I assisted the then poetry editor Don DiVecchio with his poetry column in Spare Change News and wrote a few features for the all-poetry issues. I learned a lot working with the former editor of the paper Linda Larson, and the assistant editor Cindy Baron. Now noted poets Lee Varon and the current poetry editor Marc Goldfinger  are putting out an anthology of verse through us.  

The paper was started in Boston in 1992 and was the brainchild of Tim Hobson, who enlisted the aid of twelve other homeless people 
"When people think of helping the poor and homeless, they usually think of food and shelter," Harris said. "Those things are necessary, but it's more than that. It's the spiritual. The homeless need to express themselves and be a part of the community. It's important that they have human dignity".
— Tim Harris, one of the founders of Spare Change News
The first issue of Spare Change News was published on Friday, May 8, 1992.
The newspaper's first managing editor, Tim Hobson, said at its founding that it would be "heavy on politics as well as discussion of homeless empowerment". He also said an important goal was to "put a face on the homeless to show that we're human beings".
MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, together with his friend, the historian Howard Zinn, were some of the first major supporters of Spare Change News.

Preface iii
Ayat al-Ghormezi 3
Susan J. Allspaw 5
Rusty Barnes 6
Douglas Bishop 7
Zachary Bos 9
Martha Boss 10
K. Peddlar Bridges 11
Jeff Brunner 13
Bob “Bikerwolf” Bryant 14
S.E. Casey 15
Mia Champion 16
K. Chapman 17
K. Chapman 18
Mary P. Chatfield 19
Dave Church 20
Joseph A. Cohen 21
Janet Cormier 22
Gayle Danley 23
Kathy Engel 25
Martin Espada 26
Kirk Etherton 27
Brian C. Felder 28
Ed Galing 29
Ed Galing 31
Steven J. Gallo 33
Harris Gardner 35
Andrea S. Gereighty 36
Bruce Goldberg 38
Marc D. Goldfinger 39
Joe Gouveia 41
Carolyn Gregory 42
Emmanuel Guerrir 43
Emmanuel Guerrir 44
Sarah Hannah (1967 – 2007, R.I.P.) 45
Jim Haygood 48
Everett Hoagland 49
Everett Hoagland 50
Burton R. Hoffmann 51
Doug Holder’s Furnished Room Newbury Street, Boston 1978-2003
Doug Holder 52
Doug Holder 53
Alexis Ivy 54
Mephistoles Johnson 55
Chopper Kate 56
Aminata Keita 57
Alexander Levering Kern 59
Alexander Levering Kern 60
Linda Larson 61
Linda Larson 62
Linda Larson 63
Linda Lerner 65
Daniel E. Levenson 67
Bill Lord 68
Kathleen M. 70
Valerie Macon 71
Jennifer Martelli 72
Matthew Martinez 73
M.S.W. Migneault 74
Gloria Mindock 76
Imogen Nelson 77
B.Z. Niditch 78
normal 79
Lin A. Nulman 80
Siobhan O’Connor 81
By Chad Parenteau 82
Marge Piercy 84
Eddie “Sorez” Pliska 85
Bill Roberts 86
Mary Esther Rohman 87
Julie Scanga 89
Julie Kate Scanga 90
L.P. Scerri 91
Lainie Senechal 92
Eddie Sorez 94
Jake St. John 95
Fred Steele 96
Paul Steven Stone 97
David R. Surette 99
Maria Termini 100
Meg Turner 101
Lee Varon 102
Andrew Warburton 103
Molly Lynn Watt 104
Richard Wilhelm 105
MarySusan Williams-Migneault 106
A. D. Winans 107
A.D. Winans 108