Thursday, April 19, 2018

An Evening With Doug Holder by Brandyn Tse

An Evening with Doug Holder
            The poet delivered one phrase which lingers with me still: “inspiration is not a process, it is something you must prepare yourself for.” He said this all the while, with his right hand cradling a small leather-bound journal; the book trembled in obeisance to the poet’s fevered, interdigitated grip, swaying to the weight of his conviction. It was his unashamed sentiments behind his words which produced an indelible effect upon me. The sheer romanticism of such a comment could not help but rouse my admiration; I could see, at the time, a sort of rebirth of the romantic, Mr. Holder not as a “worshipper of nature,” but as an oracle of the collective unconscious. There was an essence of the people, an economy of spirits, in the writing he unveiled to us that night. He resurrected the corpse of a bar long gone not by reassembling its components, but by means of reassembling its people. The presupposition here is that people are the environment, and the environment the people. In his writing about blondes, Mr. Holder had attempted to extract a core attribute of a wide breadth of people in one group. Did he manage the preservation of the “blonde” soul? Perhaps. But here in this poem another facet of his poetry was produced more palpably: longing.
            In attempting to salvage the dying utterances of places long disappeared, Mr. Holder is attempting to salvage a portion of his being; for these places, and these people contain an irretrievable investment of his own spirit, and have thus been formed by his being. This is the longing Mr. Holder has: to find what he once was in places and people who once were.

**** Brandon Tse is an undergraduate Creative Writing student at Gordon College in Wenham, MA.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Doug Holder Interviews Poet Susan Edwards Richmond

The Rosenbergs: The Opera: A review by Rosie Rosenzweig

The Rosenbergs: The Opera
A review by Rosie Rosenzweig
Resident Scholar, Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center

How does one write a story about a story that everyone knows? Or at least knows its ending?
This was the challenge of Greek Tragedians from the late 6th century BCE whose plays were entered into competitions in Dionysia in Athens, where the audiences already knew all the traditional stories of Greek myths. This was also the challenge presented to American born playwright Rhea Leman living in Denmark when she was asked to write an opera about the Rosenbergs. Although already well-known throughout Denmark and Europe, she had never written an opera before; yet this opera was declared Denmark’s Best Opera in 2015. In a recent talkback after the opera’s Boston premiere, Leman said that, because everyone in Denmark is well educated through its free university system, they already knew about how the Rosenbergs were executed for giving atomic secrets to the Russians during the 1950’s Cold War era.

Leman, in collaboration with Joachim Holbeck, famed Danish composer for over 50 film and theater productions, talked about using 1930s show tunes when Rosenbergs were courting to be married. Leman, who grew up as the NY child of Jewish left wing activists with frequent dinnertime discussions about the Rosenberg case, searched for some reason for the Rosenberg’s life choices, and learned about “their tremendous love and commitment to each other. Their love became the key to my writing.” Ultimately this approach, about two people in love, provided the well-known story with a unique, timeless and relevant approach to an old story. It also elevated it to the “David against Goliath” realm of individual idealism battling the political weltanschauung of the time, namely the paranoia of the McCarthy Era, dubbed a “witch hunt” after Arthur Miller’s Puritan era play The Crucible; here social hysteria used the law to unlawfully convict and execute innocent victims. So now the tale assumes a mythic quality wherein personal love and idealism are pitted against the backdrop of the larger forces of history.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

This is why Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s “first foray into opera” chose this production: Artistic Director Kate Snodgrass says that “this story couldn’t be more relevant to today’s political climate – we must remember our past in order to preserve our future . . . [The story is] moving and alive without being overly political, and it speaks to Ethel and Julius’s relationship – which gets short-shrift when we think about this period in our nation’s history. . . Whether we think of the Rosenbergs as heroes or traitors, in the end they were people living out a tragic love story.”

Christie Lee Gibson as Ethel in the foreground; Brian Church as Julius in the background.
Ahh, the love story is so well done here with the shy courting of Julius who “sees a stranger across a crowded room” (to borrow the lyrics from the 1941 South Pacific show) and knows it’s his true love. As children of the Haskala, (the Jewish Enlightenment when secular education and political activism trumped the parochial leanings of religion), and immigrant parents, they have so much in common; she thinks he is an angel with wings. When Julius first sees Ethel singing at an event, he is smitten. Afterwards when he asks her to sing, she performs an aria. (This request is repeated when they are in jail, awaiting the verdict.) After they dance together in this scene to “Pennies from heaven,” he says he would love “to be locked up with her.” During the wedding ceremony, the words “until death do us part” hangs as a prediction of the end we all know. Such skillful foreboding to the end we all know.

Brian Church, as Julius, is a singer who can also act through the various vicissitudes of innocent first love, joyful married man with children, optimistic idealist for a cause, and the trembling moments awaiting the final verdict of his fate. Julius here is the tragic hero, whose tragic flaw paves the way for his downfall. And what is his tragic flaw? His idealism is a better future for mankind, a future that lies with his starry-eyed depiction of communism, a belief born in the depression when Russia seemed to have a better system to fight poverty; he wants a world that he says he would strive for and die for. And he did.

Christie Lee Gibson as Ethel has a range from opera to musical theatre; when she assumes the masculine lower register enacting Judge Kaufman, the inquisitor of the trail, she becomes a predator surprisingly multi-dimensional in her scope. She proves to be the stronger of the pair, more determined to prove her husband’s innocence.

The bare bones stage set with a ladder against a cement wall, some black chairs, and the dark floor of porous soil brings to mind the sands of time and the repetitive history that cycles through eternity. Director Dmitry Troyanovsky chose this for its claustrophic ambience, which fostered the paranoia of the era where “two regular people [are] crushed by the juggernaut of history.” He describes the set as a “metaphoric space . . . [which] evokes a burial ground and a chilling institutional purgatory. It is also a place of private and historical memory, framing the operatic ritual that finally releases the ghosts of Ethel and Julius to tell the story in their own words.” These words, by the way, were taken from their love letters in jail.

Troyanovsky’s decision to have the musical trio of piano, cello, and violin onstage playing in the sands of time allowed for the music to become another character in the drama. When we realize the musical cues arrive through eye contact and the repetitive drumming of percussive insistence parallels the intuitive cues of the love story, we can feel in our bones the insistent replaying of history in all its dimensions. Composer Joachim Holbek commented that there was really a “quintet on stage.” A musician in the audience appreciated this professionally and said that he loved the “juxtaposition of jazz, musical theatre, and opera” in what the director called a “chamber opera.”

The story ‘s insistence, that we must know our past to know our future, is born out dramatically in the second act when the repeated declaration of the founding father’s vision gets answered with Julius swearing that he believes in these ideals also. We hope that the telling of this story will bring some peace to the ghosts of Julius and Ethel and their children who keep petitioning for a post-humus pardoning for their mother. While Ethel kept singing that her children will “never get over this,” a recent Brandeis graduate in the audience declared that she may never get over the themes of the play from another point of view. Mea Siegel declared that “their idealism resonates with me because I just came from the March for Science and because my friends and I find them against the world scary in these times, but also so inspiring.”

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Smokey of the Migraines by Michael McInnis

Smokey of the Migraines
by Michael McInnis
Nixes Mate Books
Allston, MA
ISBN  978-0-9993971-2-1
Softbound, 42 pages, $9.95

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Noir poetry, think Whitey Bulger on the loose, or Mickey Spillane turning to verse and you have just the beginning of Michael McInnis’ page turning poetic endeavor Smokey of the Migraines.

There are a few things you need to know about McInnis’ 43 page-long book. First, it is a single poem.  Second, it is written as if incorporated into the movie Black Mass based on the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill-- a pair of Boston reporters who followed in the footsteps of two other legendary Boston newspaper men, Harold Banks and Ed Corsetti.  Later,they would write true crime stories for various national magazines. Third, McInnis’ style in this book is fast-paced, almost as if someone added a bump stock to his keyboard. Fourth, there is a cliché that goes “It was so good I couldn’t put it down.”  Well it certainly applies to Smokey of the Migraines.

This poem-story minces no words, be it McInnis’ extensive vocabulary, or the profanity which is liberally spread through the book.  But the best part of the book is the rat-a-tat-tat staccato of the writing:

The migraine takes
Smokey outside
his body
where he exists
far from
the reach
of life,
of love,
beyond the polished
black metal of the
Glock 9 he shoves
in Sully’s mouth,
chipping a tooth

The rest gets more interesting as Smokey’s thoughts are expanded upon and the migraines become as important and crucial as Smokey himself. 

Now throw in some time traveling science fiction:

Smokey don’t notice
he’s lost in the migraine,
time traveling,
to Dealey Plaza
where the sun never sets
for the kind, returned,
for the king
for the king
his boots,
the Book Depository
a new capitol,
and the hundred years
between two
kings and the letters
of their names,
the mountain ranges,
latitudes and
Sic semper tyrannis!
There are visits to Marat’s bath, Trotsky’s home, to Constantinople,  Ojinaga, Shiloh and encounters with Pancho Villa, Mary Shelley, Leif Erickson and many more.   This  isreminiscent of Evan Connell’s Notes From A Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel in which history and location become intertwined.
Then again like Dashiell Hammett 

The migraine
is a 9 mm
under Smokey’s

The migraine
is the guts
of a burner
phone on the floor.

The migraine
is a whiskey bottle
on the nightstand.

The migraine
is a dream,
a nightmare
This book, this poem, unlike a good Thanksgiving dinner that is slow to savor, proves to be a fast meal, one you want to take in quickly and enjoy all the way down.  

If you enjoy the noir, the criminal element, street language and a great story, this is the book for you. You won’t even realize you are reading poetry.

Author, The Lynching of Leo Frank, Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Monte Carlo Days and Nights By Susan Tepper

Monte Carlo Days and Nights
By Susan Tepper
Rain Mountain Press, 74 pages
ISBN 978-0-9981872-2-8

Review by Steve Glines

In the 1970’s love was easy. That’s a misnomer, sex was easy. It was a period of free love, the pill, and freedom from worry about venereal diseases that weren’t cured by a small handful of pills.
I hitchhiked to a beach on the northern shore of Prince Edwards Island, Canada. An impromptu camp had developed among the two dozen nomads that had assembled. I pitched my tent next to a pretty French Canadian girl, and we sat next to each other around a campfire someone had built in the middle of our encampment. Our talk was light and inconsequential. She invited me into her tent for the night. For the next week we camped, hitchhiked and had sex as often as we could. At the end of the week she had to go home and go back to work. We hitched rides back to her home in Quebec, kissed each other on the cheek, and I hitched a ride home. I never saw her again. That was the 1970’s.
Susan Tepper also grew up in the 1970’s, but instead of being an itinerant writer/artist she was a stewardess on an international airline. Today, we call them by the sexless term, flight attendants, but back then they were stewardesses, and all stewardess were hot, sexy and ready, willing and able to take advantage of the first rich man to look their way. Monte Carlo Days and Nights is the story of a delightful romp through a week-long affair that takes her protagonist to Monte Carlo and back to New York.
Objectively, this short novella is nothing more than sex, sex and more sex punctuated by the typical angst that all couples go through when they think about what the other person is thinking. We see this from the perspective of a young stewardess who trades one lover for a rich hunk who’s wealth is derived from the music industry. He is wealthy, arrogant, and used to having a pretty young woman on his arm. We get the impression, from our stewardesses perspective, that he is shallow, and happy only as long as he can impress the other shallow but wealthy men of Monte, as Monte Carlo is called by those in the know. In the end, the story holds up as we see the week-long relationship devolve from the sexual frenzy of a new infatuation to one of self-doubt and diverging interests. He wants to be seen by the hotel pool, and she wants to dip her feet in the Mediterranean. He wants her dressed to the nines, and she wants to be comfortable. We don’t see a breakup, but we see it coming. In the end, he says, “If I were to get married, you’d be the one.” He is not the one. 

The Sunday Poet: Maryann Corbett

Poet Maryann Corbett

Maryann Corbett lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and is the author of four books of poems, most recently Street View from Able Muse Press. Her poems appear widely and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, The Writer's Almanac, and the Poetry Foundation website. She is a past winner of the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and the Richard Wilbur Award. One of her poems will appear in The Best American Poetry 2018.

As Little Children

When the toddler-in-arms behind me
shouts “Cake!” at the elevation,
that’s sliced it: my concentration
is toast, Abba. And all
I’m seeing now is party.
Jingling above the prayers,
an ice-cream peddler’s bell.
Communion as musical chairs.
Candles as candles. Songs.
Even a birthday crown:
Saint Margaret, Princess of Hungary,
her glazed smile sunbeaming down.
Not quite the party I wanted,
but it serves. I’ve come to feel
how all my feasts are haunted—
some holy, wounded memory
hanging above the meal.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Sunday Poet: MARK HALLIDAY

Noted American Poet Mark Halliday has a new collection out  Losers Dream On.  Here is a poem from the collection.


The time was almost dusk – the sky white silver
over the Walmart parking lot, not only
the lot right in front of Walmart but the larger parking lot
beyond the first lot, all level, almost empty,
there were eight or nine scattered cars
far from where I stood. I stood
out there. I was standing. Under tremendous
white silver sky. Almost dusk.
Far off near Walmart a few old persons moved
very slowly toward bargain prices. There was no story
with a hero. History
and my life and the universe all came to
nothing but this –

even if now, having survived, I am
comfortably seated in the Office for Existential Protest.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Murder Death Resurrection A Poetry Generator by Eileen R. Tabios

Murder Death Resurrection
A Poetry Generator
by Eileen R. Tabios
Copyright 2018 by Eileen R. Tabios
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, OH
ISBN 978-1-939929-99-0    
Softbound, 157 pages including notes & acknowledgements, no price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

If someone could wave a magic wand and give you the ability to write poems endlessly would you accept the offer?  

Nationally known poet Eileen R. Tabios has created the nearest thing to the magic wand, in her book Murder Death Resurrection or MDR.

This book belongs to everyone, every poet in particular because Ms. Tabios has given poets a base of 1,167 lines any combination of which may comprise a poem. Take for example lines 367, 521 and 1078:

I forgot the Bengal Tiger mimicking a helicopter’s dance                            (367)
I forgot fallen olives discarded from those awaiting virgin pressings    (521)
I forgot the difficulty of ethics: how to rationalize when
what is good does not give an advantage in a world you define
as alley? (“Can you stop running if the monster does not stop
chasing?”)                                                                                                  (1,078)

Perhaps another poet would prefer to delete the first two words, “I forgot” as if it were just a two line poem.  I personally do not believe one line can make a poem and by that I do not mean a 5, 8 or 10 line sentence is one line.  I simply mean one line.

But I digress. One can take the three lines change their positions, remove “I Forgot” and each will produce a three line poem.

The genius of Ms. Tabios is that she shows that this can be done with any – or as many – of the lines as one wishes.  Even a 1,167 line poem is as possible as a 20 or 40 line poem or a five or ten line poem.

Ms. Tabios states it thusly, “The MDR Poetry generator’s conceit is that any combination of its 1,167 lines succeeding creating a poem.  Thus one can create – generate – news poems unthinkingly from its database.”

It is not conceit but genius to have created the generator.  It is not an unthinking effort.   Reading and selecting the lines to be used is truly a thinking process which makes the MDR even more fascinating and worthwhile.
Joseph Conrad did not learn English until the age of 29 and yet wrote some of the best novels in the language. Ms. Tabios, a Filipina, has in turn manipulated English to suit her needs resulting in a poet who is one of America’s leading experimental/abstract poets as evinced by her many books – more than 50 that encompass poetry, fiction, essays and experimental biographies. 

Here is a poem I created from chained (successive) lines from the MDR, deleting the opening “I Forgot” and using lines 231-234 the following emerged:

I defined empathy through a bent spine craving
for an ellipsis bulging to imply arrival, not departure or division.

The salty pleasure of sister elongating pink necks
to snag spotlights beamed from men experienced in the utter
aliveness of dying

Painting a floor red with my hair. I forgot back-
ing myself into a corner: when you appeared to grasp my
throat, your greedy footprints completed my painting.

Whispering “Stop heavy. No such thing as a sonofabitch in turning art into flesh”

Often creating a poem will express opposites or twins, depending on how the words are used, but they will always create poems.

Finally, at the back of the book is a useful “Teaching Guide & A Workshop Suggestion” which includes study questions for those who teach or would like to teach poetry using Ms. Tabios’ system.

Writer’s block is a malady many writers encounter, and this book will assure poets in particular as well as writers of short stories and novels that they will be able to continue unblocked.

Zvi A. Sesling
Author: The Lynching of Leo Frank, Love Poems From Hell, Fire Tongue, Across Stones of Bad Dreams, King of the Jungle.
Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review, Bagel Bards Anthologies Nos. 7, 8 and #12.
Publisher, Muddy River Books