Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Essential Doug Holder, New & Selected Works

The Essential Doug Holder, New & Selected Works 
Doug Holder 
Copyright © 2020 Doug Holder 
Big Table Publishing 
Boston, MA and San Francisco, CA 
172 pages, $15, softbound 

Review by Zvi A. Sesling 

The first time I picked up a Doug Holder poetry book I immediately connected with the author on many levels. I read five more of his collections which, with this newest volume of poetry,  that numbers eight books. What I discovered in all this reading is that while Holder is humorous-- he still has insight into the human condition. It is always there, as are his keen observations of all that he encounters, people, animals and almost everything on the streets of greater Boston. Take for instance one of his earlier poems from Poems of Boston and Just Beyond: The Back Bay To The Back Ward.”  

A Moose in Boston 

I saw it trot 
down Commonwealth Avenue 
its majestic head 
dour and pinched 
with patrician bearing 
covering the same ground 
that horses of lesser lineage  
plodded over years before. 

It strode  
alongside the subway car 
with the precision of dancers’ legs 
looking discreetly at the window frames 
of peoples’ faces 
like a museum of surprise. 

I heard it snort  
in the humid air 
its head up turned 
fighting and assault to its dignity 
gracefully disappearing in the bush 
as if to shake a patch of persistent flies 
the police 
hot on its tail 

 The descriptions of the moose-- like a ballet dancer--  appears  near royal in its bearings,  as it looks at people in the subway car -- perhaps viewing them as a lower class, spying on his upper class royalty. 

In another book Holder  shows how some people might feel at a party, meeting  
on an overcrowded bus, or trolley or street. Here is “Unknown in a Crowd” from Dreams At The Au Bon Pain: 

And that’s when 
you felt most at peace 
lost in the cornucopia. 
like the multi-eyed 
fly on the wall 
away from the claustrophobic intimacy. 
not observed 
owner of your own dialogue… 

You think— 
for once— 
you can— 
them all 

Holder has placed himself inside our heads. We have experienced this feeling of not wanting to be there but yet “almost/tolerate/them all.” He knows how much better it is to be observing/not observed.  Holder knows the dynamics of a  faculty or business meetings, a rush hour crowd in the subway, or even standing in line at a play or movie theater.  

In Wrestling With My Father Holder pays a loving elegy to his father-- who was a public relations executive in New York City. His wishes for his father reflect the feelings many people have for a parent’s final departure from the living: 

 When Father Dies 

When Father dies 
let it 
be in the midst 
of the frenetic rush 
of Madison Ave. 
Let him fall like 
a weathered pit bull 
in a three-piece suit. 

When father dies 
stage his swan song 
in a dark bar 
with a dry martini 
and an old pal. 

When father dies 
let it be on the rush hour 
train home 
his face buried 
in the Post 
his last breath involved 
with the world. 

When father dies 
let it be 
in front of the fireplace 
with his wife, 
talking to her 
like she’s still 
the virginal student teacher 
from the Bronx. 

In another book, The Man In The Booth In The Midtown Tunnel one particular poem flashes Holder’s love of literature and ironic humor with an unexpected ending. It is a trademark of his style throughout  his poems. 

Book Seducer 

You have revealed 
your subtext to me 
in a hushed 
intimate encounter. 

I seduced you 
on a train 
folding your 
with dog ears, 
highlighting what 
I loved about you 
heart-red ink. 
And even now 
I talk you up 
with people 
I meet, 
yet I abandoned you 
on some commuter 
rail seat. 

Some of the titles in Eating Grief At 3 A.M. also hint at the playful content of his poems, such as “Eating Grief at Bickford’s, “Father Knows Best—Mother Does the Rest” and “Curiosity Killed the Cat.” 

Holder’s  Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Poseur, Boston 1974-1983 displays his prose poetry skill with a series of written pictures of Boston’s iconic, mostly disappeared  establishments such as Jack’s Joke Shop, Milner Hotel, Chinatown, Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller and Rexall Drugs. This theme carries over into Last Night At the Wursthaus a lament for women in bars, his mother, lottery tickets and death.    

The final section “New” is a collection of Holder’s recent poems --a variety of subjects including, “Meeting Allen Ginsberg (Buffalo, NY, 1975),” “Texting In Class,” on the demise of the Jacob Wirth restaurant in Boston, “Marijuana” and “Dreaming on the Senior Line at Market Basket” and “In My Mind I Swam to Spectacle Island.” 

Holder’s newest book concludes with “If We Froze with a Fork in our Hand” that leaves us asking an important question about our hurried lives. 

Before we took the bait 
and just before the bite 
before we enveloped it with 
our hungry breath 
before the mindless flap 
of our coated tongues 
before we smashed it 
with a new set 
of porcelain teeth, 
and the day to day 
grind of our cracking jaws 

How about, 
if we just 
took a second 
to simply 


Doug Holder is an inveterate walker. Hours or miles do not seem to matter. From his home in Somerville, MA he has traversed most of his hometown, Cambridge, Boston and other areas accessible by foot. The cover of his new book shows him in his cocked hat, a newspaper tucked under his arm pounding the pavement of some neighborhood. He could be a business executive, a homeless person or a private detective. But the telltale clue of Holder’s existence is on the front cover and was written by the late poet Sam Cornish, Boston’s first Poet Laureate: 

“Holder is a poet of the street and coffeehouses, an observer of the everyday. He sees the world not for what it is, but on his own terms. Hie is living in the poem rather than the poetry.” 

Doug Holder is a poet I admire. His poetry has often inspired my own work and many other poets.   Moreover, “Essential Doug Holder,” is a must for every poetry lover to read and cherish.   
Zvi A. Sesli 
Author, War Zones &The Lynching of Leo Frank 
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review 
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7, 8, 12