Saturday, June 22, 2019

Interview with poet Ravi Taja Yelamanchili: A Young Poet with an Old Soul

On any given meeting of the literary group Bagel Bards in Somerville, amidst the bobbing, hoary heads--you might notice a strapping young Indian man-- taking in all the chatter around the table.
He is comfortable in the crowd of 50-60-70-80 year old men and women, and has been a consistent member of the group. Meet poet Ravi Taja Yelmanchili. Ravi, who is currently working at Vision 33 as a Technical Business Analyst, and has had his poetry published in the Muddy River Poetry Review, The Somerville Times, Muse India and is featured in Ibbetson Street 45--a well-known Somerville-based literary magazine.

Doug Holder: You are a high-tech business analyst--what brought you to poetry?

Ravi Taja Yelamanchili: When I was a freshman in high school I decided that I would have folders for my work. I had a red folder for my English papers. I was raised in India in my early years and then we moved to the States.  English was really a second language for me; so I thought my papers would be marked up in red.  I didn't have much confidence then.   But I remember meeting an established writer at a reading. We hit it off and he told me to send two poems. He put them on his website. He mentored me for a while. After a number of rejections I started publishing.

DH: In your persona poem, " Atma Tu Radhika Tasya," you inhabit an illiterate old woman, who late in life has fallen to the status of beggar. Being a young male, was it a stretch to do this?

RY: I had long been working with the idea of voice. Rodger Reeves was lecturing at my school--after the reading I asked him, " What does voice mean?" How do I find my voice? He advised me to write in a voice that was not similar to my own. So I figured an elderly, old women was completely different from me. The poem was steeped in Hindu mythology. In order to see if the voice was authentic I spoke and read to folks in their 70s and 80s--to see if I was on the mark.

DH: In one of your poems you write of a tree that breaks through a fence in Somerville. It is scarred but still triumph. It seems you are concerned about issues of containment in your work.

RY: Yes . Contained free will. Free will with parameters. Containment by choice and then breaking free from the social order. In my own life I do things that I am expected to do without really thinking about them. So I like to question, be a skeptic of sorts.

DH: In your work there seems to be a conversation between the ancient and the contemporary.

RY: When we are talking about the ancient we are still talking about the contemporary. Historical events inform today's events. So there is always a conversation.

Seedless Guavas

But from fire, wind, and sun [Brahman] drew forth the threefold
eternal Veda, called Rik, Yajus, and Saman.”
                                                (Manusmriti I.XXIII )

I saw the gods of my ancestors turned to artifacts,
chipped faces, broken arms—stolen by 
flea winged Earth nymphs: 
Bulkeley, Lee, Hunt,
Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, and Flint still call all this their

creation. Mountains drowned by today’s teachers
of ancient art. Dying languages forgotten and

thrown away. Under the dim light of a parking garage,
a Snickers wrapper looks like a sparrow preening its feathers.
Coming of age novels are always about a country
that had already come of age, ideals, identities, and

a kid finding his place
. In-country, in two different countries— 
the sunset was so red I thought I was being pulled over.

“In the middle of the cave of the
 skull between the four
doors shines Āṭmā, like the sun in the sky.”
                                                (Dhyanabindu Upanishad of  Samaveda)

We stop by the roadside. Roll down our windows.

Buy roasted peanuts from a girl with jade stained eyes.
Her skin is as dark as mine.

She makes a cone
out of yesterday’s paper.

“...she hath hid the darkness,
this Dawn hath wakened there with new-born lustre.
Youthful and unrestrained she cometh forward:
she hath turned thoughts to Sun and fire and worship.”
                                                (Rig Veda VII.LXXX)

On the paper, I see pictures of fruit.
When I first came back to America, I wouldn’t eat pears

until I was told they were seedless guavas.
Alas! The Romans traded gods like baseball cards.

A bad harvest meant a beating for 
What about 

No Common War by Luke Salisbury

No Common War by Luke Salisbury
(Black Heron Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Lawrence Kessenich

There are two things that Luke Salisbury does not shy away from in No Common War: the horrible reality of the battlefield in the Civil War and the deep love and pain experienced by those fought in the war and those who watched their loved ones depart and then return, dead or damaged. One of these things can easily crowd out the other in a novel about war. When they are both given equal weight, as they are by Salisbury, the combination is potent. I’ve read very few novels that I found it difficult to put down, but this is one of them.

Often using short, powerful sentences, Salisbury drives this narrative forward relentlessly, from beginning to end. I would compare this approach to Hemingway, but Salisbury has much more heart and soul than Hemingway, whose work I often find cold and distant. This is not to say that there aren’t moments of peace in the novel, before the main protagonist, Moreau Salisbury, goes off to war, and even in the breaks between battles after he does. But overall, and especially after Moreau tastes battle, the story moves forward with increasing power and intensity. The reader simply must know how it turns out. I know one reader who stayed up all night to read the book, and it’s easy to see what motivated him to take in the story without even stopping to sleep—it’s that compelling!

It's quite possible that some of the story’s intensity stems from the fact that Salisbury is writing fiction based on facts about his own family. The Salisburys have been involved in U.S. wars from the revolution through World War II, and No Common War is the first volume of three that imagines the experiences of his great grandfather Moreau in the Civil War and then his grandfather in World War I and his father in World War II. (After reading this first book, I can’t wait for the next two.) Whatever the reason, the story has an unusually passionate quality, and, as I’ve indicated, it is as passionate about love as it is about war.

The loves involved include Moreau’s love for his neighbor Helen, and hers for him when they find each other just before he leaves for the front; Moreau’s love for his cousin Merrick, with whom he fights side-by-side in the war; Moreau’s mother Mary’s love for her son; the somewhat conditional love (which matures over time) of Moreau’s father for his son. These loves grow and develop, and sometimes get shaky, over the course of novel, but it is clear by the end that real love—love that stands the test of time and difficult circumstances—is the only saving grace in a violent and unpredictable world.

No Common War is not an easy read. The violence and sexual encounters, when they occur, are graphic and sometimes disturbing. But none of this is gratuitous or carried on too long. Salisbury is brutally honest about human behavior, but he doesn’t dwell on the horrible any more than necessary to create a true-to-life picture of this era in U.S. history. And, ultimately, the horror of war is at least partially redeemed by the love that makes it possible to overcome those horrors.

This is not a “beach read,” by any means—unless you’re ready to take the world seriously while you’re on the beach and be compelled to not put your book down. If you’re up for that, No Common War will deliver.

No Common War is available in hardcover from Porter Square Books and other bookstores, Black Heron Press ( and in hardcover or as an ebook on Amazon (

Friday, June 21, 2019

New Poetry Collection By State Representative Denise Provost " Curious Peach" (Ibbetson Street Press)

These poems are “old-fashioned” in the best sense of that term—unabashedly romantic and joyful in their celebration of the natural world. Full of feeling but not the least bit sentimental, this collection offers a welcome contrast to the angst and pessimism that seems to inspire so much contemporary poetry. — Charles Coe – author of Memento Mori

To order online go to:

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Cid Corman Boston Small Poetry Press Archive

( Click on Pic to Enlarge)…/col…/p15774coll8/id/478/rec/1 

This is so great---a collection started by Mark Pawlak and others at U/Mass Boston--is now finally online---a lot of great contributors to this collection--many of my interviews with poets, my Somerville Times Literary Columns, Ibbetson Street magazine/books, and Poesy Magazine, archived there... check it out you may see yourself there--still adding stuff.. it will be updated periodically! ( Click expand to see the  full listings)