Thursday, February 28, 2019

Querencia Poems and Stories by Allie Hastings. ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series)

( Allie Hasting --Center)

Querencia  Poems and Stories by Allie Hastings. ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series) ($12)


When Doug Holder asked me how I was enjoying Querencia by Allie Hastings, I told him immediately "I was much more committed to being mysterious in my poetry as a teenager!" I'm complimenting her adept voice so early in her career, as the clarity and conservation of symbols doesn't detract from the range of experiences and feelings in the work. I compare poems in this collection to the feeling I get reading Baudelaire (see, "An Umbrella for Two") and in the nature-centric pieces, some Mary Oliver. This is a fun, witty, generous collection, with scenes unfolding a petal at a time from a unique bouquet of life experiences and imagination. You walk London streets, beaches, take forest-strolls, and maybe get your heart stomped on a little at music stores, and coffee shops. These poems and stories are vibrant post cards from the heart of poetic moments, gifts still raw with "the thing itself" coupled with the balm of the narrator's wisdom.

The weather was cool enough to see the air of our breath when either of us spoke; I left my jacket in your car because I had fooled myself into believing autumn wasn't quite over yet--the sun was shining over our heads... The woods, at first glance, appeared a glorious fall wonderland, but very quickly upon our walk did I feel its brisk embrace tickle my shoulders, the shivers sending goosebumps to the surface of my fragile skin.
I almost asked you if we could turn around and go back so I could get my jacket out of your car.

But I didn't want to be that girl.

(-The Deceptive Nature of Love)

In the margin I wrote "real minutiae of womanhood and dating," I related with the hyper-awareness and hyper-analysis of these things. All the while the story is assonant, lyrical, layered like watercolor strokes in Jane Kenyon or Mary Oliver, and poignant because of too many thresholds of reality occurring all at once. My first takeaway from this story was the autobiographical narrator-fallacy-magic feeling that surely I had read something true! based on writer's felt experience. Hours later I realized it was another huge layer of liminality, perhaps the entire book Querencia's meta-theme too is "thresh-hold overload." Too many changes or possibilities occurring to the mind at once, so we become a slower camera, absorb every detail. All this crept up on me hours after reading, and I am still admiring this story (prose-poem) as a favorite in the collection; what could have been an easy cliché/play-scene, (a forest walk, a break-up or not? conversation is about to unfold) is unpeeling in a slow-reveal hours later in one's mind.

This lovely book boasts a wise and open "beginner's mind" as one says in Buddhism. The work is self-aware and not embarrassed to tell us in the more straight-forward lyrical poems that the narrator/writer is eighteen, but feels much older. Yet there is honest impatience to have lived more already, the act of nostalgia is literally tried on in poems like "Nostalgia." There's also a youthful sense of the number of times something has happened --tally feel, a mindset that any writer/journaler may not shake in a lifetime. The enclosed unit of only so many memories and references never detracts, I am still thinking about a girl's raincoat and boots, and another's forgotten jacket in the back of a car. I was taken to many childhoods, on foreign adventures, and became empathic tourist to universal and unique scenes of heartbreak. I feel privileged indeed to remember what poetry can do, to remember how to report back from the very sparks (scenes/memories/dreams) that make one want to write at all.

 jojo Lazar (, @poetessS)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Lynne At the Foghorn Folk Club, 1964 by Lynne Viti: A Tribute to the Late Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish

The Late Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish

I recently met poet Lynne Viti at the Sam Cornish Memorial Reading at the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, MA. Both Viti and Cornish were both born and bred in Baltimore. Here she writes about an encounter with him back in 1964.

Lynne At the Foghorn Folk Club, 1964

Tall awkward boy, a transplant from Oregon,
always carried a beat-up paperback copy
of On the Road, strap-hanging on the # 3 bus
asks me, You like poetry? I nod,

he tells me, go hear this cat read his stuff.
Black dude, he’s real, man. Get there
before the show, before the folksingers,
down on West 22nd Street, you dig?

I want to roll my eyes at this farm kid from the west
who thinks he’s cool but I take note:
The Foghorn—I check the listings in the Baltimore Sun,
below the flicks, above the Gayety Burlesque ad.

I tell my mother I’m going to a poetry reading,
as if in a college lecture hall, on a schoolnight.
I’m the youngest there. People sit around
Drinking beer or spiked cider—

A young man, bespectacled, dressed in brown corduroys,
crewneck sweater, steps onto the stage,
cheers and foot stomping greet him—he’s here to be heard
by the faithful. He recites his poems, declaims them.

I’ve never heard a poet, not in real life—the nuns
have played records of Dylan Thomas, of Eliot
in English class but nothing like this, a real
poet, not a dead white one—standing so near

I could shake his hand—he is mesmerizing,
he looks at us through thick eyeglasses,
he speaks in the vernacular.
I came for his poetry, and when he was done

I went home to make curfew. I didn’t
come for the guitars and banjos,
the mandolins and Woody Guthrie tunes.
I came for Sam Cornish. I came for the poetry.

--Lynne Viti

**** You can find out more about Lynne and her writing at:

Monday, February 25, 2019

Orphaned Words: Forgotten Poems From A Haphazard Life by R.D. Armstrong

R.D. Armstrong

Orphaned Words: Forgotten Poems From A Haphazard Life by R.D. Armstrong

By Doug Holder

 I have known R.D. Armstrong, the founder of the scrappy California-based small press-- LUMMOX for a number of years. I have contributed to a number of his publications, including an anthology of Bukowski-inspired verse, and a huge--poet filled anthology that included many Boston poets. In his latest collection "Orphaned Words," he uses poems of his that didn't make it into his other collections, either because they were not ready for prime time, they were lost, etc...

Armstrong has lived a hardscrabble life in Long Beach, California, and many of his poems speak to his dark, ontology of the streets. They also tell you in no uncertain terms about the failing state of his health--and his diminished horizons.

Armstrong is respected for his honesty, and his refusal to paint a pretty picture--where this none.  The poetry at times can feel like a quick, kick in the groin. Sometimes-- dear reader-- you may recognize yourself and quickly turn the page. In "Benediction 11" the poet chews and spits the angry words and memories of a dead end life,

" I want to fill my mouth
With your angry words,
That hover like stale smoke-
Laden air, chewing on them,
Mixing the broken syllables and
Violent vowels with my own saliva....

From them I spit the
Dead bones of this absurd
Hatred to the ground
To shatter and turn
To dust and blow away...."

I share Armstrong's love of  the late, jazz vocalist and musician Chet Baker. I love how Baker's  horn coolly moves you on that metaphorical cloud, and lets you drift in the ether. In his poem, "Chet Baker," Armstrong captures Baker's sensibility, "horn and it's sadness,...weaving a tale of wistful melancholy... you were my Mother Theresa/touching me there// in my hour of depravity/giving me back my dignity..."

Some of these poems don't make the cut--and Armstrong is not shy about saying that.  But when they do-- they cut you, and you are wide awake.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

In A Moment We May Be Strangely Blended Poems in Four Sets By David Giannini

Poet  David Giannini

In A Moment We May Be Strangely Blended
Poems in Four Sets
By David Giannini
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-948017-30-5
85 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Sucked into the circular stir of worldly playtime and metaphoric toads, the reader of David Giannini’s new collection of poems, In A Moment We May Be Strangely Blended, seeks out objects of solidity like a book or a sofa or a bed or an arctic poppy for balance in the midst of indeterminacy. But to no avail. Giannini is just too good at what he does.

Joy emanates from these poems in classical cacophonies and word waves. In addition, this poet appears to actually like what he does. He amuses his audience with mortality’s imaginings and historical absurdities. Some of these poems need to be bottled and thrown into the space-time sea for other generations in other universes to grimace and chuckle at. That is, if there ever are future generations. The poet seems to entertain some doubts on that score.

In his very first poem, Process At the End of Winter, Giannini, after sorting out his sense of cosmic time with an absurd opening irony-- a metaphoric (and amusing) semantic slip, relates a self-to-self conversation in which he beautifully describes the creation process. The poet says,

I talked and insisted
to the man inside, in his plot,
let’s make some progress, you know,
a seed toward sequoia, an imp
into cougar, chimneys refusing
carcinogen-ghosts, or map-
lessness an actual destination,
and then just got gobsmacked
by the imminent task—I sat
at my desk and sensed the fangs
of something stalking.

Giannini’s extraordinary poem, In Defense of Magic and Black Hats, Transcendent Illusion and Delusion, an Assay, rises up from the murky waters of the past, both literary and naturally rooted, with a paean to wonder and mysticism (at least the rabbit-pulling kind), holier-than-thou snollygosters not included. Religions that spark human imaginations enter this worldly magic show with good intentions, at least at first. Giannini considers Christianity in context here,

People sensed rain. Saw streams. And that lake, the Sea
of Galilee. Many black days. They entered Galilee, hatless
in that capital of fish, their doubts cast, until that
magician pulled one, then another and another, rare bit out.

Before and after that, many magicians pulled worlds
from the World, each with different hats. Orient
and Occident. Black cats of worship. Scylla
and Charybdis swirled. The Romans. Rumi. Full World.

As his protagonist-skeptic bemoans humanity’s position and weed-like commonality and comeliness in his piece entitled The Cynic’s Daily Bell, Giannini welcomes the exhilarating freedom that accompanies the meaningless of one’s life. His pessimism in the face of unchanging biology goes over the top a bit, but he does have a compelling point to make, as did poet John Donne and novelist Ernest Hemingway. He makes it this way,

I’m not chary of crash blossoms
or asemic texts which make me laugh and give
delight even as I hear the tocsin toll its toxic tell:
in the past 10,000 years or so next to nothing
has been learned well enough to truly implement
ourselves as better beings. Await cells to change?
Every perception blights the thing perceived. Hell,
it’s likely too late for genes, so ringeth the bell.

Word repetition and alliteration, among other verbal mannerisms, serve the poet well in many of his poems. Giannini obviously loves wordplay and appreciates both the sophisticated and childish sides to such play. Boy of Pilgrims, a piece that mulls humanity’s rush to adulthood in the face of brutish barriers and an often shortened life, emblemizes Gianini’s rhetorical romping. Here the poet, with grimness, charms his reader,

ice up his sleeve,
a knee he skinned
slipping on rock.

And he wasn’t
even someone
not anyone, not
yet, not set

with so many,
so many bled
from the harshness,
so many dead.

Giannin lacks a logician’s knack for knitting disparate things together by their shared traits in order to show a sense of transcendental oneness. Worse, or perhaps better, he has found an outlet in Dadaism. This poet seems to enjoy tearing into nature’s comfortable fabric to see the abysmal truths that lie behind. It’s not pretty, but sometimes it’s very funny. Giannini’s poem Great Dane begins with a police officer interviewing a woman while she restrains Wallace, her very protective and very large dog. The woman sensibly explains her position as a matter-of-fact fait accompli,

Well, my husband, his name was Wallace, too,
used to beat me, a real abuser, a skinny brute.
He was only skin-and-bones, you know, so one
day our dog felt encouraged and carried him
off. No one stalls in ecstasy or its prospects, not
even a dog, right, officer?

Where is your husband?”

I don’t know, said the wife, prob’ly buried
somewhere in the yard. I fought the flaw but
the flaw won.

You’re under arrest, mam. You have the right
to remains, I mean remain…

Gianini’s poems are a perfect antidote to the humorless, self-important troubles thrust upon nature’s once simple, now befuddled, plan for the incremental happiness of our species—not. Instead read Giannini for the marvelous fun of it.