This blog consists of reviews, interviews, news, etc...from the world of the Boston area small press/ poetry scene and beyond. Regular contributors are reviewers: Dennis Daly, Michael Todd Steffen, David Miller, Alice Weiss,Timothy Gager,Lawrence Kessenich, Lo Galluccio, Zvi Sesling, Kirk Etherton, Tom Miller, Emily Pineau, and others.
Founder Doug Holder: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* B A S P P S is listed in the New Pages Index of Alternative Literary Blogs.
Querencia Poems and Stories by Allie Hastings. ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series) ($12)
REVIEW BY JO JO LAZAR
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.
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.
almost asked you if we could turn around and go back so I could get
my jacket out of your car.
I didn't want to be that girl.
Deceptive Nature of Love)
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
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.
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
always carried a beat-up paperback
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
Black dude, he’s real, man. Get there
before the show, before the
down on West 22nd Street,
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
I tell my mother I’m going to a
as if in a college lecture hall, on a
I’m the youngest there. People sit
Drinking beer or spiked cider—
A young man, bespectacled, dressed in
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,
I’ve never heard a poet, not in real
Orphaned Words: Forgotten Poems From A Haphazard Life by R.D. Armstrong http://lummoxpress.com
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.
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
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.
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,
talked and insisted
the man inside, in his plot,
make some progress, you know,
seed toward sequoia, an imp
cougar, chimneys refusing
an actual destination,
then just got gobsmacked
the imminent task—I sat
my desk and sensed the fangs
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,
sensed rain. Saw streams. And that lake, the Sea
Galilee. Many black days. They entered Galilee, hatless
that capital of fish, their doubts cast, until that
pulled one, then another and another, rare bit out.
and after that, many magicians pulled worlds
the World, each with different hats. Orient
Occident. Black cats of worship. Scylla
Charybdis swirled. The Romans. Rumi. Full World.
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,
not chary of crash blossoms
asemic texts which make me laugh and give
even as I hear the tocsin toll its toxic tell:
the past 10,000 years or so next to nothing
been learned well enough to truly implement
as better beings. Await cells to change?
perception blights the thing perceived. Hell,
likely too late for genes, so ringeth the bell.
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
ice up his sleeve,
knee he skinned
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,
my husband, his name was Wallace, too,
to beat me, a real abuser, a skinny brute.
was only skin-and-bones, you know, so one
our dog felt encouraged and carried him
No one stalls in ecstasy or its prospects, not
a dog, right, officer?
is your husband?”
don’t know, said the wife, prob’ly buried
in the yard. I fought the flaw but
under arrest, mam. You have the right
remains, I mean remain…
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.