Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You're Still Alive! Live from Somerville: The Saturday Morning Bagel Bards!

Sketch by Bridget S. Galway

You're Still Alive!   Live from Somerville: The Saturday Morning Bagel Bards

By Doug Holder

Often we greet our members of the Bagel Bards group (that meets at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square, Somerville ) with the refrain, “You're still alive!” This group of writers, playwrights and poets take nothing for granted. But this reflects on the group's informal nature, and the gallows humor that we have refined into a high art.

It is a bit like being in a play or a Marx Brothers movie. I sit back and enjoy the humor and drama that unfolds every Saturday morning. Yes—we discuss our writing, but is more than that. We have a member who regales us with stories of union corruption, corporate greed, and his clandestine forays into Afghanistan. Two of our millennial members often stop by to fill us in about their jobs, their navigation of the world, and their writing. Some of our member sit back and take it all in-- while others compete for center stage to make their pitch, plea, joke, gripe, only to be drowned out by other hungry voices.

In some regards it is a madcap dysfunctional family. Many of our members are accomplished writers, and they bring a wealth of experience and talent to the group. No one takes themselves too seriously, and if they do,they will be brought down to the earth quite quickly.

Some times you need to take a deep breath to try to get a hold of the topics our public intellectuals bring to the plate. We can start out with a discussion of Botticelli and it could easily morph into a heated conversation about Donald Trump, or the meaning of meaning.

Most importantly we are a Saturday morning band of friends. We have a spot to discuss the writer's life, present our own work on occasion, and revel in our own eccentricities. We linger, we schmooze, we pontificate.. . And when it comes to the time for our last cup of coffee , and we leave for all points—we can expect to be back next week greeted by the Greek Chorus, “You're still alive!”

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Celebrate National Poetry Month: The Newton Free Library Poetry Month Festival:April 9 7PM

Click on pic to enlarge

Like Poems by A.E. Stallings


Poems by A.E. Stallings
Farrar Straus Giroux
175 Varick Street, New York 10014
New York
ISBN: 9780374187323
137 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Alexander Pope famously defined “true wit” as “what oft was thought, but n’er so well expressed.” More than any other contemporary poet, A.E. Stallings, an American expatriate living in Athens, Greece, exemplifies this pedigree of versifier. Her poems make that which seems quite ordinary or just everyday sing.

Stallings’ new book, Like, doubles down on what she has done before in her three earlier volumes of original poetry— identifying and, on occasion, inviting irony, tragedy, and most of all, a deeper understanding of human nature into her formalist domicile. Her narrative conclusions can be biting.

The meditations of Stallings often include domestic objects such as a pair of scissors, a cast iron skillet, a pencil, a pull toy, and colored Easter eggs. Her descriptions for each of these sedentary items or groupings create both a great depth and an array of un-tranquil perceptions. For instance Stallings describes the common careening of a pull toy this way,

It didn’t mind being dragged
When it toppled on its side
Scraping its coat of primary colors:
Love has no pride.

 Or consider Stallings’s piece Dyeing the Easter Eggs, the pun firmly placed on “Dyeing,”

… Resurrection’s in the air
Like the whiff of vinegar. These eggs won’t hatch,  
My daughter says, since they are cooked and dead.”
A hard-boiled batch.

I am the children’s blonde American mother,
Who thinks that Easter eggs should be pastel—
But they have icon eyes, and they are Greek.
And eggs should be, they’ve learned at school this week,
Blood red.

Other sorties into nature, the classics, and even current news headlines by Stallings amass a hoard of well-expressed insights.  With her poem Little Owl, the poet engenders a world of predation observing human organisms stroll through their habitual landscapes or seascapes along life’s way. Danger also exhibits its warnings in equal measure. Stallings, speaking of her subject owl, says,

A drab still vessel attuned to whatever stirred,  
Near or far:  
Hedgehog shuffling among windfall of figs,
Gecko, mouse.
Then she swiveled the orbit of her gaze upon us
Like the Cyclops eye-beam of a lighthouse.

Pure irony flows, line by line, out of Stallings piece entitled Parmenion. The title is taken from the name of an air raid test. Originally, however, Parmenion was the second in command of Alexander-the-Great’s army. He was wrongly accused of treason by his own son and executed. Stallings connects the false alarms, which in turn excite and puzzle the populace, to this historical breach of justice. The poem begins as if describing a god’s pontifications and builds into very earthly anxieties,

The air-raid siren howls
Over the quiet, the un-rioting city.
It’s just a drill.
But the unearthly vowels
Ululate the air, a thrill

While for a moment everybody stops
What they were about to do
On the broken street, or in the struggling shops,
Or looks up for an answer
Into the contrailed palimpsest of blue.

Centered by serendipity (The poet arranges her titles in alphabetical order), the collection’s masterpiece, Lost and Found, sprawls over eighteen pages and thirty-six stanzas. The poem is wonderful. A mother, frantically and unsuccessfully looking for a child’s plastic toy, continues her search into a metaphoric dreamtime. Arriving in the Valley of the Moon, she peruses continuous landfills of mindlessness and lost opportunity. Along the way this protagonist-seeker and Stallings’ persona is guided by the mother of all muses. Here the poem becomes a parable on creativeness and artistic choices. Some stanzas have a very specific point to make, like this one,

Not water, though, I knew as I drew near it—
It was a liquid, true, but more like gin
Though smelling of aniseed—some cold, clear spirit
Water turns cloudy. “Many are taken in,
Some poets seek it, thinking that they fear it,
The reflectionless fountain of Oblivion.
By sex, by pills, by leap of doubt, by gas,
Or at the bottom of a tilting glass.

Empathy, the most emotionally efficacious poem in Stallings’ collection, rewrites the plight of today’s northern African emigre into a more familiar interior venue. Stallings’ family-centric verse is as personal as it gets. The poet concocts a thought experiment with her own lineage. She posits them precariously adrift and then gives cosmic thanks that this scenario is not so. She explains,

I’m glad we didn’t wake
Our kids in the thin hours, to take
Not a thing, not a favorite toy,

And didn’t hand over our cash
To one of the smuggling rackets,
That we didn’t buy cheap life jackets
No better than bright orange trash

And less buoyant.  

Amazing as a poetic tour de force, perfect as the title poem, and outrageously funny as an angry rant, Stallings’ Like the Sestina moves determinedly to its droll facebook-like conclusion. The ride alone is worth it. The poet ends each line in “like.” She enumerates every cliché type (or most) that uses “like” as a space filler. And finally she initiates a versified crescendo,

…Like is like
Invasive zebra mussels, or it’s like
Those nutria things, or kudzu, or belike

Redundant fast-food franchises, each like
(More like) the next. Those poets who dislike
Inversions, archaisms, who just like
Plain English as she’s spoke—why isn’t “like”
Their (literally) every other word? I’d like
Us just to admit that’s what real speech is like.

But as you like, my friend…

For those readers who, incongruously, still believe that the medium is the message, or at least a good part of it, don’t miss this Stallings’ collection. Like may be her best book yet, her opus supreme. For those others, who aren’t formalist aficionados—read it anyway; you’ll more than like it, you’ll love it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Doug Holder Interviews Kirk Etherton about the Boston National Poetry Mo...

P O E T R Y R E A D I N G S Presented by The Hastings Room Reading Series Wednesday March 27, 2019 at 7pm

P  O  E  T  R  Y    R  E  A  D  I  N  G  S
Presented by The Hastings Room Reading Series

Wednesday March 27, 2019 at 7pm
At First Church Congregationalist, 11 Garden Street, near Harvard Square

f e a t u r i n g

Joyce Wilson, who has taught English at Suffolk University and Boston University. Her first poetry collection The Etymology of Spruce and a chapbook The Springhouse both appeared in 2010. She is creator and editor of the magazine on the Internet, The Poetry Porch (, which has been on-line since 1997. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, among them Poetry Ireland, The Lyric, and Salamander. Her profiles of the poets Eavan Boland, Julia Budenz, Etel Adnan, and Diana Der-Hovanessian (TBA) can be seen at the Women Poets Timeline Project at Mezzo Cammin ( Her chapbook The Need for a Bridge is just out with Finishing Line Press in 2019. A full length collection Take and Receive is scheduled to appear with Kelsay Books in August 2019.

Ben Berman, the author of two books of poetry, Strange Borderlands and Figuring in the Figure, and the newly released small book of short prose, Then Again.  Ben has received awards from the Mass Center for the Book and New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He writes a regular column for Grub Street about Writing While Parenting, and teaches in the Boston area, where he lives with his wife and daughters. Visit him at

Steven Brown, cofounder of The Hastings Room Reading Series. Steve will be giving a presentation of the poetry of his friend Henry Morganthau III, who died in July 2018 aged 101. Morganthau graduated from Princeton University in 1939. He served in the US Army during World War II. From 1945, he was involved in the television business, at various times working as an author, producer and manager for the larger national institutions like NBC, CBS and ABC. From 1955-77, he was a chief producer of WGBH (Boston). Morganthau came into his poetic gifts at the age of 98.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Peaches Goes It Alone by Frederick Seidel.

Frederick Seidel

Peaches Goes It Alone by Frederick Seidel. $24.00.


Frederick Seidel is now in his eighties so he can’t be an infant terrible anymore but he still has the ability of shock, delight and offend. He is a wit and a skillful one. He is urbane and well-read. He is sometimes a little silly and his use of easy rhymes can be annoying but he isn’t afraid to tackle big issues. He is in the group of those poets who, as Frost said, want to be understood. That is, he is accessible. From “November 9, 2016” (you remember what happened that November):

I’ll use a cleaver to cut my hair.
I’ll wear asparagus for underwear.
I took the elevator to the thirteenth floor
To find the fiends.
They opened the door.

A couple of stanzas later:

My country, ‘twas of thee.
Sweet land of one, two, three
Into the swamp…

Trump ran on cleaning up the swamp. That’s kind of like a pathological liar promising to tell it like it is. Oh, wait… So, Seidel is not afraid to take on Trump and those enigmatic followers of his. He really is not afraid to write about anything. He seems to enjoy the role of provocateur. Here is the beginning of “Abusers”:

Every woman who wants to be spanked should be
Spanked for wanting to be.
It’s for excitement and as punishment for her ascent.
She should be put on a pedestal so you can look up to her

From below and get outstanding news and views
From beneath and see what you want to see.
Look at her clean machine, her beautiful guillotine!

A few lines down:

I’m interested only in the power of their flesh.
I turn the fire hose on them when they protest.

Seidel is happy to dive into the #metoo movement in a way that is at once supportive and offensive. He appears to be alluding to the civil rights movement and making fun of the #metoo movement in comparison, but doesn’t that make light of the civil rights protests? He’s also not afraid to confess his own transgressions. This might be the time to note that one of the roles of art and comedy is to go after taboos. Our current era provides plenty of material to work with including the oppressive aspects of political correctness, trigger words and personal pronouns of choice. Is there anything more ridiculous than someone choosing z’s own pronoun? Well, maybe professors who kowtow to students who choose their own pronouns. Seidel’s poem ends surprisingly with:

The world is nearing war.
The homeless clog the streets.

It certainly does feel that way, doesn’t it? With our trade wars and our corruption and conspiracies and the rise of the strong men! Or is he just talking about the war between men and women?
Most often though, Seidel is self-deprecating and funny: “I had a girlfriend who dumped me for a better job---Which, frankly, made me laugh so hard I started to sob.” He writes poems to Athena and to Aphrodite. He quotes Sappho in Greek. He knows French. Here is another poem about “Trump”:

I look past the big face of my computer
At what was once New York
Outside my window
And now is a plateau
Of smiling bra-less
Breasts of the contestants.
It’s time to wake
From this cryrogenic sleep
In which I’ve been preserved, and vote.

The endlessness of America ends.
And what an ending.

A few lines later:

I turn the TV off
Which comes back on
All on its own.
It’s all about climate change
And fracking girls.
And every bidet is transgender
Or ought to be.
Trans is the time of day.
Many people these days are Trump or trans or gay.

On Emotion Avenue in Queens—
Near Trouble Street—
Cops on horseback clatter
In their yellow slickers
through the springtime drizzle
Toward Black Lives Matter.
White Working class
Clouds of tear gas
Cloud emotion.

You can see how Seidel got into trouble offending various groups. He has had prizes taken away. He’s been accused of being anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. Jesse Smollet will accuse him of being anti-gay. Andrea Dworkin would call him anti-women. Or you could just call him funny. His lines are often surprising, his word choice imaginative. In any case, he provides an artist’s perspective. He combines wit and non-sequiturs a la John Ashbury with a taste of the erudition of A.E. Stallings and his poems are about something. They have content. In the age of truthiness, Seidel is a welcome voice.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Hesiod Works and Days Translated by A.E. Stallings

Hesiod Works and Days
Translated by A.E. Stallings
Penguin Classics
Great Britain
ISBN: 978-0-141-19752-4
52 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Just the polish from A.E. Stallings new translation of Hesiod’s Works and Days can blind. Only momentarily, of course. But certainly the well-wrought formality of each couplet causes the reader a certain hesitancy and a loss of verbal sense as he or she marvels at the architectural details and pinpoint verbiage embedded by Stallings in this brilliant rendition of a fountainhead epic.

Hesiod’s persona, through Stallings, reaches out from its ensconced eighth century (BCE) sanctuary with unmistakable antique connections cocooned within a surprisingly modern ethos. Born in the boondocks of Grecian Boeotia, Hesiod was a child of emigres. His father had fled the hardships of a sailor’s life and re-established his family inland, in the farming village of Askra, under the loom of Mount Helikon. This farming background frames and informs the structure of Works and Days. Starvation, according to Hesiod, is only one failed harvest away and worldly riches needs only a god’s nod and hard work. In fact Zeus has sent a twin of Strife to prod men on. She impels human kind with envy and competitive juices. Hesiod explains the power of this second sisterly Strife this way,

This Strife, high-seated Zeus
Set in earth’s roots—for this one has a use:
She spurs a man who otherwise would shirk,
Shiftless and lazy, to put his hands to work
Seeing a rich man plough and plant and labor
To set up house—then neighbor envies neighbor
Racing to reach prosperity. This Strife
Is boon to man. And that’s why in this life
Potter hates potter, builder has no regard
For builder, nor beggar, beggar; bard loathes bard.

Bard loathes bard. “ Hmmmm. This may shock. Except, of course in Boston Massachusetts and its surrounding environs, circa 2019, where groups of poets and other elites muster ostensibly like militia into armed camps. I suspect other geographical poetry hot spots offer the same dynamic. Nor are these contributory ills the only ones inculcated into human nature. Works and Days significantly contains the first account of Pandora’s Box (or in this case jar) of mischief and needling woes. Actually Pandora herself, the gods modeled from clay making her also a receptacle of many vices and a few virtues. Yet another gift from the gods.
Considered the architype of a long line of self-styled poets, still prevalent in today’s 21st century prosodic circles, Hesiod neatly provides his name (from the Theogony) and his Bio (from Works and Days). He speaks of himself in a way that his contemporary, Homer, could not. Hesiod even advertises himself as a prize-winning poet and poet laureate. He won a three legged caldron (a not insignificant prize) at a funeral games competition on the island of Euboea, apparently his only sea-going trip. He had earlier received his laurels, a laurel staff--not wreathe, awarded by the Muses themselves, on the slopes of Mount Helicon. How, one wonders, did the Muses introduce themselves to this young sheep herder? Hesiod had pretty obviously needed to establish his bardic authority and, with these props, he did so—dramatically.

Hesiod had a younger brother named Perses, who seems to have jilted him out of part of his inheritance. Much of Works and Days is addressed to Perses and the magistrates involved in the case. The poetic work itself is a didactic disquisition on the evils in society and the importance of an all-encompassing cosmic justice system that promises (or should promise) fairness to hardworking and decent folk. Although the poet seems to lament his own trials and tribulations, especially his brother’s actions, Hesiod mainly focuses on the resolution of worldly conflict, both within his family and without. His suggestions of future probity to his wayward brother appear well meant and sincere. Hesiod addresses his brother reasonably,

So Perses, mull these matters in your mind,
Give ear to Justice; leave Force far behind.
For Kronos’ son gave justice to mankind;
The fish and beasts and winged birds of the air
Eat one another—they don’t have a share
Of law and right—he made the law for man,
And this way is by far the better plan.
Far-seeing Zeus will grant prosperity
To him who speaks up for the truth…

In the same way that Alexander Pope made Homer’s Iliad his own masterpiece, Stallings has made Hesiod’s Works and Days her own signature piece. She retrieves Hesiod from the ancient mists of Western Civilization, as the oral traditions were dying and as the written word slowly gained credence and immortalizing legitimacy. She translates Hesiod’s original unrhymed dactylic hexameters, a mix of Ionic Greek and Aeolic, into rhymed English iambic pentameter. The rhyme she adds as an extra hurdle because, as she explains it, “I can’t fudge through something puzzling if it must also rhyme and scan. Also, rhymed iambic pentameter couplets can have, in the twenty-first century, a slightly old-fashioned feel to them… as Hesiod’s Greek would have had a quaint ring even to classical authors.” Consider these timeless lines of Hesiod via Stallings that summarize the gift of especial days with mnemonic persuasion and elegant delivery,

These days are gifts to those who dwell on earth—
The rest, haphazard, with no special worth,
Fateless. One praises one day, one, another;
Few know: a day can go from stepmother
To mother. Blessed and rich is he, who’s wise
In all these things, who works, and in the eyes
Of the deathless ones is blameless, one who reads
The omens of birds, avoiding all misdeeds.

For clarity and class and prosody that sings through its print, Stalling’s Hesiod is unrivaled. Endear yourselves to the immortals and read this compelling translation that introduces with a formalist literary flourish that fragile Western Civilization which still, to this day, nurtures the best of artistic creation.

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)