Saturday, November 14, 2020

Disquiet and Quiet in Brian Mooney’s debut book of poems, Unbidden

Disquiet and Quiet in Brian Mooney’s debut book of poems, Unbidden

article by Michael T Steffen

The poems of Brian Mooney win our skeptical confidence, singing songs of Experience:

Helicopters lift above, pissing red tracers to earth,

as Charlie dives deep underground leaving

one conical hat floating in a rice paddy. [page 20]

Mooney braves that censor, also, risking songs—genuinely cadenced, lyrical—of Innocence,

as in the opening poem:


(in memory of Grandma Mooney)

I’d climb onto the green wood stool,

my boost to reach the kitchen sink.

She’d take my little hands in hers:

long, thick fingers, an amber ring.

With lathered soap she’d gently rub,

the dark stone bobbing through white suds.

A cool rinse then and dry them nice

on the embroidered Dutchman towel.

It’s important, then, that Mooney’s verse is also capable of happening onto the numbing neutral ground of weirdness in the familiar, getting a haircut from his father:

Sometimes when my father touched my head,

a shock would strike my neck and spring down my back. [page 33]

Son of a mother who recited the verses of Emily Dickenson and Walt Whitman to him,

a Catholic monk for a year in his coming to age, a scholar and teacher of languages and literature, then a soldier in the Vietnam War, coming home to become “intensely involved in the Anti-War movement,” Mooney presents himself with a wide experience, spiritual and worldly, to poetry in his 2020 debut collection, Unbidden (ISBN 978-1-7923-4926-3, self-published and printed by the Harvard Book Store, available for $15).

Along with the undeniable lyrical soul of the poetics comes some artistic and intellectual shrewdness of slanting at the present through the past. Our current national divide between nature and its minimal needy aspect vs society and sophistication and wealth– which is perhaps global – is deftly sketched by Mooney in terms of French philosophy:

My classmate would hold his picture

close to the side of his desk,

and whisper to me “Rousseau”

and I would reply “Voltaire.” [page 20]

Yet managing the particular argument is short of Mooney’s greater purpose. Fred Marchant has generously and perceptively commented: “the unbidden in these poems is most often an earned glimpse of a mystery at the heart of things.” Heart of hearts: the startling realization that the world of experience dawns on our consciousness as—unbidden. In the philosophy of Martin Heidegger the term finds its correspondence in our “being thrown” (geworfen) into this world.

It strikes us as unsettling to the great extent that the makeup of our lives is ultimately beyond our individual control. It precedes and encompasses us, leaving even the most familiar of our surroundings to the scrutiny of questions:

Is it in the backyard where I learned to ice skate,

pushing away from the apple tree?

Is it in the window of the garret room where

the great elm showed its seasonal faces? [page 19]

Yet along with this terrible awakening there is also the grace, despite our ego’s proneness to the delusion of the totality of itself, of finding and knowing how we rely and are bound to a world of otherness and its beckoning to us, in the mergence of the individual and the spherical:


With two fingers and rolled tongue

she’d send out a piercing call,

the signal for her kids at play to drop the bat and ball.

Sometimes a Red-Tailed Hawk would circle in the sky,

matching mother’s whistle sound with its high-pitched reply.

Whose territory is this, the raptor seemed to ask.

Could it be a brother hawk concealed in human mask?

As the children scurried home to wash before their meal,

both whistles blending in their ears

in Mother Nature’s weil.

The poems in Unbidden by Brian Mooney sing to us with the welcome of spiritual eagerness while, full of the unexpected and at times unsavory, for the differences they make, keep our eyes watchful line by intentional line. Reading the book leaves us both lighter and deeper, better than when we first opened it.

To order a copy through Harvard Bookstore, click on this link: 
Unbidden - Harvard Book Store.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Somerville Artist Jaina Cipriano: Captures the pain within....

"Jaina Cipriano is creating visual metaphors for emotions she has trouble defining. Without the help of Photoshop, she builds physical environments that open her subjects up to become part of something bigger. This primes the space for an authenticity that is so visceral it brings the viewer back to their own memories. " (From her website)

Her photos and films are not for the faint of heart. They go to deep to the marrow-- and slap us with their often visceral imagery. They bring experiences of trauma to the forefront. They explore the painful transition from childhood to adulthood. I was glad to catch up with this Somerville artist.

How has it been for you in Somerville, as a creative person?

Somerville has been great, there is a lot of thought put into artists in this city. Times are tough right now but I feel Somerville has been working hard to support its artists and I am grateful for that. I love the energy of the city - bright and open while also calm somehow.

From what I have seen, a lot of your photography reveals inner turmoil. Do you feel compelled to delve there--is that your artistic essence?

It is the most effective way I have found for working through and processing my turmoil. Terror loses its power when you name it. It loosens its grip when you show it’s face to the light. It’s a process but it’s worth it.

Does your work speak more to women--or is it more universal than that?

Women are universal. As a woman a lot of my work is through the lens of womanhood but I believe a lot of my themes - entrapment, childhood, religious and romantic trauma - are understood and felt by people across the gender spectrum.

I saw a clip of your movie " You Don't Have to take orders from the Moon." The clip had a rather large rat scurrying across the bed. Was that rat a Somerville rat, we have a great supply of them? How does this imagery fit within the full context of your film?

I wish I could say I wrangled some authentic Somerville rats but no, those rats were my sisters pets. Their names are Miso Soup, Sticky Rice and Dumpling and they were very sweet and well behaved. The rats in my film are messengers, helping the audience connect the dots. You’ll have to watch the film to see what the dots are!

Did you formally study film and photography?

I went to NESOP (New England School of Photography) and studied photography but I have no formal training in film - I just jumped in back in 2019 and haven’t looked back. I love learning new things and my favorite way to learn is by doing - getting my hands dirty, failing, trying new things - it is exhilarating and rewarding!

Is your work therapeutic for you?

Absolutely. No matter how dark things get, my work is always there. It’s a home of sorts. I can come back to it whenever I need. It helps me process and connect to myself and the world around me.

If I were to ask you--why we should view your work--how would you reply?

Connection is essential, especially in the COVID era. I have poured my entire essence into my work - I want to connect with you through it.

Any new projects in the works?

I start pre-production for my next short film Trauma Bond in a few weeks which is exciting! It’s about three women, a secret, and an intense night. I am also in the midst of opening up a new artist space - so stay tuned for more information on that!