Friday, October 20, 2017

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta. Scribner, 307 pages. $26.

By Ed Meek

A summer read that pushes our buttons and makes us laugh.

Tom Perrotta, who lives in Belmont, is one of a select group of successful American novelists and screenwriters. Dennis Lehane is the other local writer who has made it big.  Where Lehane’s work is dark and edgy and focuses on crime, Perrotta is a satirist who likes to make the reader a little uncomfortable by having his characters engage in behavior that flies in the face of political correctness. In one famous story, “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face,” a father who is having trouble dealing with his son’s gayness, breaks his son’s nose when he slaps him. But then, Perrotta creates sympathy for the same character when his wife divorces him, he is shunned and he feels terrible about what he did.  By zeroing in on political correctness in his writing, Perrotta is able to make fun of many of our current cultural obsessions. At the same time, Perrotta is an accomplished writer who knows how to plot and how to withhold information to keep us reading. Finally, he can write with fluidity from a number of different points of view. As a grad student at Syracuse, Perrotta worked with Tobias Wolf who is also adept at all those facets of writing (Our Story Begins, This Boy’s Life, etc.) and Perrotta appears to have learned quite a lot from his teacher.

As the title suggests, the main character in Mrs. Fletcher is Eve Fletcher, a 46-year-old recently divorced woman who runs a senior center.  The novel shifts between third person sections from her point of view and first person sections from the perspective of her son Brendan. Brendan is a “bro” who is starting college at a local university.  These two characters enable Perrotta to take on the older single woman looking for love and self-affirmation and the shifting sexual and identity roles in the current college scene. 

 Because her son goes off to school, Eve decides to expand her horizons. She takes a class at a local community college in gender studies taught by a former male basketball star who has transitioned into a woman. When Eve receives a mysterious text calling her a MILF, she begins exploring porn and becomes obsessed with amateur lesbian encounters. Meanwhile Brendan, who has left his cheerleader girlfriend behind, falls for a beautiful college female softball player with swimmers’ shoulders who is running a club in support of autism sensitivity.  She and Brendan have much different ideas about sexual roles.

When Brendan first gets to college he meets with an insipid advisor who reminds him that “No means no.” I thought Perrotta might venture into the quagmire of rape on college campuses where a female victim might drag a mattress everywhere as performance art but he stays away from that touchy subject.  There are points in the novel when the characters come close to going right over the edge into wildness and the plot threatens to blow up, but Perrotta knows his audience or perhaps he has a prudent side. In any case, he pulls his characters back from the brink of disaster and into what we used to refer to as normality. In other words, it’s no Wonder Boys. It is the kind of novel you want to share with someone else and it will have you laughing to yourself as you’re reading and after you put it down.

With Eve working at a senior center, Perotta also gets to poke fun at the old (with a light touch) when Eve’s transsexual professor comes to the center to give a talk about her life, and when the young woman Eve has hired as an assistant sports  hardcore tattoos. Eve’s husband, who left her for a younger woman, gets more than he bargained for with an autistic son. In each of these cases, Perrotta upends a stereotype, playing with our preconceptions by developing his characters.

Mrs. Fletcher will make a funny movie. Will it be as good as Election? (one of the best satires of high school ever).  Admittedly, it isn’t easy to maintain a satirical tone throughout a feature length movie, and satire only works with actors who aren’t afraid of looking a little silly like Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick in Election or Francis Farmer and William Macy in Fargo. If we’re lucky Mrs. Fletcher will be out next summer.  That should be plenty of time to think of a better title.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Poet Malcolm Miller Brought to Life at Endicott College

Malcolm Miller

REVIEW BY    Caroline Moll

Too often, we see stories of poets work going undiscovered or underappreciated until they have passed. A variation of this cliche is reflected in the style of a documentary titled, “Unburying Malcolm Miller.” This documentary concerns the late Malcolm Miller, a Salem, MA. eccentric, and often homeless poet, who was well-known character in his native city. I attended a screening of the film, and was able to sit down with director Kevin Carey (a professor at Salem State University), along with writer and friend of Miller, Rob Kessler. Each showed obvious passion for the film they created, saying the poetry sadly was overlooked during his life. This particular screening of the documentary showed 45 minutes of the full 60 minute film.

Before the viewing, Kessler gave me some background on his relationship with Miller, and what inspired him to make the film. He told me that he had been receiving poetry in his mailbox, with a note attached reaching “send $5 if you like this”. His reaction was to send the money, but never thought to read the books. Later he took the time to read them. He mentioned feeling that his biggest regret around it was not reading them earlier. Despite a questionable mental stability, the poet’s talent stood out. On multiple occasions, he asked Miller to to speak to students, all of which he declined. His death prompted Kessler’s reaction to take Miller’s work and get it noticed on a wider scale.

The feeling of honesty and divided views of a single person really drives this film. With a dichotomy of modesty and vanity as traits, interviewees on screen familiarize the audience with Miller’s character, while also showing him in different lights. Before the screening, when I was able to speak to Kessler (recently retired as a professor of English at Salem State University), he mentioned that Miller never wanted to be a coffee table poet. It was always about the writing, it seemed, and not the profit. The raw format allows for the ones in his life to tell their story fully and honestly. The shots also visually went along with Miller’s work. His poetry is satirical in tone, but he focuses a lot on nature in his topics, describing its beauty. Especially during moments where poetry is being read, multiple wide angle nature shots are used. However, other poems are read on location and on screen, including my personal favorite entitled “Tea”.

One specific quote stuck out to me. It is subtle, yet I find it one of the most important lines in the film. “There is beauty in everything”. In retrospect, I wish this quote was emphasized even more. In a way, it encompasses everything the film stands for; it takes an unusual subject and through his legend, creates something beautiful. The beauty in the film exists in its honesty, ditching flashy cinematography or over-the-top drama. It is truly the good, bad, and ugly, of the life this man led. We, as the audience, see Miller as the sketchy man hanging around Salem, the talented yet humble poet, and everything in between. The readings of his poetry are not anything exceptionally hitting, yet are true to the tone of the writing. You can openly hear the words as he means them, in his own idiosyncratic way. Carey explained that there reasoning to filming the readings outside. He had been hoping to add a sense of authenticity, which this technique achieved. Often times music plays in the background of scenes, perfectly selected for a beautifully simple aesthetic.
We are typically judgmental culture. I find the angle this film took admirable, as it shows Miller from different points of views. Carey took a subject that the public may have viewed as crazy or absurd, and uncovered an idea of his true personality and the life he led. This Caulfield meets Thoreau type of character/writer’s story unfolds through his own poetry and other’s reflections of him. Mentally ill, or too eccentric for the world to relate to? This documentary subtly criticizes those who can not see past a person’s intimidating front, to admire the art they create. 

 Caroline Moll is a first year undergraduate student at Endicott College, studying marketing communications/advertising. She has a passion for writing that began as a kid, and has stuck with her ever since. Looking to pursue a career in advertising, she hopes to be able to combine her love for writing and visual art.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Dennis Daly

Dennis Daly

Dennis Daly lives in Salem, Massachusetts. He has published five books of poetry, and his sixth book, Pantoums, has recently been accepted for publication by Dos Madres Press. Daly is a former factory worker and union leader. Follow his blog at


Wait to say what one cannot,
Presumptuous of advantage,
Frozen in panic of forethought,
Abandoned, there appears one passage.

Presumptuous of advantage,
Of importance that never flinches,
Abandoned, there appears one passage.
Think not in feet, but in inches.

Of importance that never flinches,
Words hesitate in their pressing.
Think not in feet, but in inches.
The answer redoubles regressing.

Words hesitate in their pressing,
Break down into dread syllables.
The answer redoubles regressing,
Freeing the oracular muscles.

Break down into dread syllables,
Frozen in panic of forethought,
Freeing the oracular muscles,
Wait to say what one cannot.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Windows Julia Denos – Illustrated by E. B. Goodale (Candlewick Press, 2017)

Julia Denos – Illustrated by E. B. Goodale (Candlewick Press, 2017)

By Lawrence Kessenich

The best books for small children take a simple concept and play it out in a way that isolates the subject and strikingly illustrates it, thereby focusing the child’s attention on it—and, for that matter, the attention of the adult reading it to the child. Windows does this with the subject of windows at dusk in an urban setting—in this case, Somerville, Massachusetts. (Although the area is not identified in the text, anyone who knows Somerville will recognize some of the stores and buildings, and the authors identify it in their bios.)

At the outset of the book, an unidentified child (I believe it’s a girl, although there is an androgynous quality that may be intentional) looks out the window as the sun fades and sees
…little windows
lit up like eyes in the dusk
blinking awake as the lights turn on inside
a neighborhood of paper lanterns

She puts on her red hoodie and takes a walk through her neighborhood with her white dog (these colors contrast nicely with the city as its colors dims over the course of the book). As the child passes apartment buildings and stores and an abandoned house, the book’s narrator talks about some things one might see during a walk at dusk:

You might pass a cat
or an early raccoon
taking a bath
in squares of yellow light.

The “yellow light” is from a window, of course, one of the many kinds of windows one might see on such a walk:

One window might be tall,
with curtains drawn,
or small,
with a party inside.

An enjoyable two-page spread in the middle of the books shows no less than 18 windows with the kinds of things one could see through them as they are lit up inside in the evening. One can easily imagine a child being fascinated by what’s in each of these windows—and being prompted by the reader to find specific things in them.

The palette of the illustrations throughout is deep gray-blues contrasted with the oranges-turning-to-purples of the sunset—and also contrasted with the lit-up windows. It’s a very pleasing palette that unifies the book, providing a sense of mystery throughout. The colors darken as the sun goes further and further down behind the horizon, and the child ends her walk with the most familiar window of all:

Then you arrive home again,
and you look at your window from the outside.
Someone you love is waving at you.

and you can’t wait to go in.

The books ends with the child, having completed her adventure in the near dark, sitting cozily beside her mother, who is reading a book, while through a picture window we see the darkened city with its window “eyes” alight. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Doug Holder Interviews Kim Nagy and John Harrison editors of "Dead in Go...

  My interview with the editor of the anthology  " Dead in Good Company: A Celebration of Mt. Auburn Cemetery."

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick Hidden Treasures found poetry discovered by Stephen Durkee

Steven Durkee

Herman Melville’s
Hidden Treasures
found poetry
discovered by Stephen Durkee
Provincetown Arts Press
Provincetown, MA
ISBN: 0-094-854-65-6
119 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Up from the bottomless buzz of swirling current and sea-foam, a whale’s fluke breaks the surface of our consciousness and reaches toward some exultant and forbidden heaven, and, dammit, it changes everything. Stephen Durkee, in his posthumous book, Moby-Dick Hidden Treasures, trawls through Melville’s metaphysical masterpiece seeking, finding, and resetting poems of high caliber and higher interest. The separation of these lines from their original prosaic context counterintuitively enriches them with new powers of artistic independence (such as slow-walking both images and lyric) and a capacity for creative, far-flung allusions. Who knew?

As one who has confidently (read smugly) denied the very existence of the “found poetry” genre, never mind its validity, Durkee’s book has been an unsettling enlightenment. Could this be the exception which proves the rule? Not bloody likely.

Early in this collection the poem November in My Soul appears. It details pent up male aggression and its antidote, at least for seamen. Adventure, after all, is a survival mechanism, built into mankind with good reason. Of course the downside must be death for some. Consider Melville’s reset words as spoken by his protagonist, Ishmael,

whenever I find my self involuntary
pausing before coffin warehouses,
and bringing up the rear
of every funeral I meet;

and especially whenever my hypos
get such an upper hand of me,
that it requires a strong moral principle
to prevent me from deliberately
stepping in to the street,
and methodically knocking
people’s hats off---

then, I account it high time
to go to sea as soon as I can.

Durkee’s discoveries, like the selection above, besides their discrete poetic offerings, often do double duty as commentaries on the densely packed novel itself. It was in this same first chapter of Moby Dick that Ishmael lamented his farcical circumstances in comparison to other worldly happenings of high tragedy including a “Bloody Battle in Afghanistan” (not much has changed since). In its totality, the reset poetry deepens this farce with an added, understated irony on the nature of free will.

Remember Philip Larkin’s lines in his poem, This Be the Verse, “Man hands on misery to man./ It deepens like a coastal shelf.” Melville expresses that same pessimism, and in much the same way. I would never have connected the two without reading Moby-Dick Hidden Treasures. Here are Melville’s pointed words, from a poem Durkee titles Able Bodied Seamen,

however they may thump
and punch me about,
I have the satisfaction
of knowing that it is alright;

That everybody else is
one way or other
served in much the same way—
either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is;
and so the universal thump
is passed around

No simple description of olfactory erotica suffices in Durkee’s selection entitled They Bloom Like Their Own Roses. After praising New Bedford’s beauteous women, Melville turns the heat up a notch describing the charm of Salem’s females, all the more effective because of the cultural irony embedded in the last line. The poetry speaks directly,

in Salem,
where they tell me the young girls
breathe such musk,
their sailor sweethearts
smell them miles off shore,

as though they were drawing nigh
the odorous Moluccas
instead of the Puritanic sands.

In Beneath the Green Grass, Melville seems to create a limbo for seamen whose remains, lost at sea, never can give comfort to family and friends. To many civilizations funeral rites are essential. Agamemnon’s Greeks could not enter Hades without them. Even that high king could not deprive his traitorous warrior Ajax from receiving them. Grave-less bodies beg too many questions, leaving only uncertainty. Speaking of the families left behind, Durkee concludes the selection this way,

ye know not the desolation
that broods in bosoms like these.
What bitter blanks in those
black-bordered marbles
which cover no ashes!

What despair in those
immovable inscriptions!
What deadly voids and unbidden
infidelities in the lines
that seem to gnaw upon all Faith,
and refuse resurrections
to the beings who have placelessly
perished without a grave.

Melville ditches the anthropomorphic God in favor of a Deity with the likeness of a sperm whale, the whale having but few noticeable features such as noses, ears, or facial expressions. His seagoing god is beyond our mortal comprehension. Size and generality define the divine. Durkee sets the poem entitled You Feel the Deity to convey Melville’s concept,

But in the great Sperm Whale,
this high and mighty god-like
dignity inherent in the brow
is so immensely amplified
that gazing on it, in that full front view,
you feel the Deity and the dread powers
more forcibly then in beholding
any other object in living nature.
Separated from their relentless predator, man, Melville portrays whales with sympathy and awe, even associating their actions with monotheistic Zoroastrianism. The whales, so different from man in visage and habitat, appear quite like their blasphemous adversary in many other ways. In Crimsoned Sky and Sea the poet explains,

I once saw a large herd of whales in the east,
all heading toward the sun,
and for a moment vibrating
in concert with peaked flukes.

As it seemed to me at the time,
such a grand embodiment of adoration
of the gods was never beheld,
even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers.

As Ptolemy Philopater testified
Of the African elephant, I testified of the whale,
Pronouncing him the most devout of all beings.

Durkee, born and brought up in Salem, Massachusetts and a descendant of a famous sea captain, knew his subject well. More importantly, his muse and Melville’s seem to have got along just grandly. Durkee’s value-added settings themselves consistently inspire with verve and artistic majesty. Additionally, converting “found poetry” doubters like myself is not an easy chore. For that victory I especially congratulate him. Durkee’s manuscript was on the way to the printer when he died.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Richard Hoffman discusses his memoir “ Half the House,” and the art behind it.


Richard Hoffman discusses his memoir “ Half the House,” and the art behind it.

From Richard Hoffman's website:

“Against the back-drop of post-war, blue-collar America, Half the House tells a story both intensely personal and universal. Depicting his family’s struggles to care for two of his brothers who are terminally ill, Hoffman also recounts the horrific abuse he suffered in secret at the age of ten by his baseball coach. In a memoir Time magazine called “spare and poignant,” the author explores the ways in which grief and rage become a tangled silence that estranges those who need each other’s love the most, and demonstrates the healing power of truth-telling in both the personal and public spheres.”

I had the pleasure to talk with Hoffman at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville, MA.

DH: This memoir certainly wouldn't be considered a journalistic account.

RH: I don't think there is anything journalistic about it. It is a series of scenes that form make a narrative. I came to this as a poet. I believe the sentences should sing. And if they don't—the memoir is insufficiently artful.

DH: I see you used a Camus quote in your memoir, “ Freedom is not to lie.” Did you achieve this with your story of childhood sexual abuse and its aftermath?

RH: I have a lot of freedom for having written it. You are not free if you have to lie. Silence is a kind of lie. You have to make ethical decisions about what you will write about people. To say you shouldn't write anything is nonsense. A student reminded me once that I said, “ If we are made of memories, then we are made of each other.” That comes with a lot of responsibility to be fair to people.

DH: How would you suggest creative writing students go about starting their memoir?

RH: The key is to write about a place you felt safe and secure in. Everybody had a place to go to feel safe as a kid. Maybe you had a favorite tree to climb, etc... To write about this connects you to your interiority. And from their you can go anywhere. You can go outward from this. You are more in touch with yourself. Where most memoirs fail is with the “ I.” The characters are not fleshed out. The character doesn't have a sense of his or her self. The reader will not have the sense who the character is at that moment in time.

DH: And in your memoir there was an underground crevice that you kids used to go to.

RH: Yeah. We used to go into the sewers. It was like a big concrete room. People are always in a rush to tell people what happened to them. And what happened to them is not as interesting as getting to know who you were then and now.

DH: You organized the memoir by years. Why?

RH: I couldn't figure out any other way.

DH: Did the memoir go through many drafts?

RH The memoir took me 15 years to write—so yes, a lot of drafts . You know I never meant to write a memoir. I was and I am a poet, basically. The book started out as scenes. It bodied forth on its own. When I realized it was to become a memoir I panicked. I thought I am not a prose writer—I don't know how to make a story. My skill as a poet worked for a memoir—after all it's all about language, isn't it?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Susan Tepper

Poet Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper has been a writer for twenty years. Her stories, poems, interviews and essays have been published extensively worldwide. An award-winning author, Tepper has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and once for a Pulitzer Prize for the novel. 'Let's Talk' her column at Black Heart Magazine runs monthly. FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, has been ongoing for eight years. Before settling down to study writing, Tepper worked as an actor, singer, flight attendant, marketing manager, tour guide, television producer, interior decorator, rescue worker and more.


In sand you trace a star

before the sea covers its light
that last time – from memory
sketching a cloud in flour

the table to winter

frosted walls, icicles
hung from chairs – you kept
blowing on your hands

insisting that was the last

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WARHOLCAPOTE A.R.T. Loeb Drama Center Through October 31. Review by Ed Meek


From the Words of Truman Capote and Andy Warhol
Adapted by Rob Roth
Directed by Michael Mayer
Starring Stephen Spinella and Dan Butler

Film critic David Denby once said he has a hard time sitting though a play. Drama is a unique experience today. We sit, without distractions, focusing on what the people on stage are saying and to a lesser extent, doing, since in drama, dialogue is part of the action. Drama has a number of constraints. Unlike movies, there can be no grand battles; there are only so many characters that can fit on a set. We can’t zoom around the galaxy or dive under the water or follow horses around a track. Instead, drama and conflict, expressed in language by a limited number of characters must hold our attention. As in fiction, good playwrights hold back information, leading the audience by the hand through scenes that reveal character and perhaps truth. For example, In Parks’ Top Dog/Underdog, we slowly learn the background of two brothers and the conflict between them, culminating in a climatic conclusion. Along the way, themes of racism, exploitation, and our susceptibility to the con are explored.

Rob Roth developed WARHOLCAPOTE, based on conversations between the two iconic American artists taped by Warhol. Capote and Warhol represent something we don’t see much of today: celebrity artists. Capote appeared on Johnny Carson and was touted by Norman Mailer and critics as a great American writer. His novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s featured Holly-go-lightly, the character played by Audrey Hepburn in the film based on the book. In Cold Blood was a significant predecessor of creative nonfiction and nonfiction television serials like Making a Murderer. Warhol, with his Marilyn portfolio and his Campbell Soup cans, was perhaps the most famous artist in the United States in the 1960s. At the same time, Warhol’s work expressed the way that through fame, individuality is lost. Both Warhol and Capote apparently threw great parties.

The two even hoped to do a play together. Warhol, who was four years younger than Capote was obsessed with him. Capote was already famous when Warhol arrived in New York. He wrote fan letters to Capote daily and hung outside his apartment hoping to meet him. When he finally was invited in, Capote thought Warhol a strange and lonely guy but as time passed, Warhol gained fame and they became friends. Warhol stuck by Capote when he became embroiled in a scandal based on a story he wrote called “A Cote Basque” in which he attacked and exposed a number of his socialite pals. Warhol and Capote remained friends until Capote died in 1984.

Rob Roth says he drew from 59 cassette tapes as well as interviews and other recordings over a period of years to create the play. WARHOLCAPOTE can be charming and entertaining, like listening in to the conversation of an interesting couple at the next table in a restaurant, (There’s a salacious story about Capote and Humphrey Bogart that I wish I hadn’t heard.) but there is no drama, no conflict. No catharsis. Diane Paulus, the Artistic Director of A.R.T. says “the two artists imagined a play that would blur the boundaries between reality and art.” Paulus like Warhol is great at combining art and commerce. The Harvard Museum is currently featuring prints of Warhol’s portfolio of Marilyn Monroe.

Mahler’s film My Dinner With Andre has a similar premise. Mahler thought the conversations between his two friends were really interesting. What if he filmed the two in a restaurant? In My Dinner With Andre, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregary engage in an argument about opposing world views. Shawn is very animated and enthusiastic in his delivery. Gregory is low key and rational. During the course of the argument, they reveal who they are and what they believe in and prompt us to raise questions about what is important in life. The movie is in essence, a filmed play and their opposing views furnish the necessary drama.

There are other problems with WARHOLCAPOTE. One of the two principle actors dropped out of the play just before it was to begin. Dan Butler bravely jumped in but he had to keep a script in his hands throughout the performance I saw. Unfortunately anyone who plays Capote begs a comparison to the late, great Philip Seymor in the film Capote. Stephen Spinella plays Warhol as a quirky dweeb with a high-pitched flat accent. Warhol was certainly quirky and whimsical but he was also really smart with great business sense. He once said: “good business is an art form.” He was very social, loved to throw parties and go to Sudio 54, launched Interview magazine and successfully married commerce and art in his work.

The play has a great set. At 90 minutes with no intermission, it moves along quickly.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Prayer: fix my set: Poems by Martha Boss

Prayer: fix my set
Oddball Publishing
Copyright 2016
44 pages
Poems by Martha Boss
Review by Lo Galluccio

The new book of poems by Martha Boss, recently released by Oddball Magazine Publishing, is truly a genius treat to read. Martha’s thinking and her pen are tightly bound so that you feel as though the ink on the page is her very own blood. But these are not poems inked in dry salty blood – their effect is more like cherry juice or a Manhattan cocktail. Martha seems loaded with brilliant insights about her own process of creating and the world around her. She eschews capital letters and uses an ampersand instead of “and.” Her book begins with this Whitmanesque declaration:

i celebrate my pen.
keeper of protest & riot.”
And later in the poem she writes:
my pen, desperate avatar
Of truth, translating
Crammed passion.”

Boss, a regular at Stone Soup on Monday nights, writes in free verse, her stanzas no set length and without rhyme schemes. Her own logic about things is jazz enough. In the title poem: Prayer: fix my set, she engages in a monologue to the Maker, in which she begs him to get the remote working and turn on the TV. This is quite entertaining until, at the end, she issues one more request:

Where are you from. Anyway, God?
Give me a sign.
I’m praying.
I’m guessin’ radioshack, please.
Can you fix my set?” p 8

I love the idea that God is at radio-shack, hanging with the other employees in a uniform.
Poems about the movie, “The Ten Commandments,”
hmm …now I’m thinking with my pen.”
Ends with “did God give the order to have Jesus killed?
Wassup with these guys?”

In a confessional poem about her own process she writes that she starts by drawing the sky every day and birds.

I draw every day. Every day I draw
the sky. It’s usually indigo blue. It usually gets me past a bad memory. …& birds. I draw
birds.” P 12

In the playful poem “Cookie Man” Boss coyly feeds a flock of birds some fig newtons...identifying with the birds as they
peck at one & then another & another like they’re seeing if they all taste the same
and they’re not sure what it is” p 26 
She notes from the box that they were made in Mexico which prompts Boss to finish the poem in Spanish:

hay chica. esta la fantasma del galeta-hombre./el cookie-man esta viviendo en el arbol
y ahora we know eso es que pasa a los fig newtons.” P 27
Roughly translated, the cookie man is living in the tree and now we know that is what is happening with the fig newtons. 
In “I walk by the river of everything” Boss takes on a musing stance toward probably the Charles River in Cambridge –

along the reedy banks/of high bio research/I am a single digit/wrapped tight in wool
some other/Ireland river. In a lyrical declarative voice she then sings: in spring we will
float/ our boats/the river of everything/will flow with experiment…and the waste of
ideas/have given it new data./the river moving the mystery/the unknowable genome/in
the undertow.”p 34

All the poems in this collection are good and riveting. In her plain-spoken eccentricity Martha Boss brings her own vision and life to the poetry she writes. There is a staccato feel to these pieces but then sometimes a well-spring of aria that extends the lines. It feels home-made and well spun, like plain funny and fantastic clothes you want to try on again and again. From the aluminum space suit to the cotton dress – all the birds she invokes—draws us into her mind’s resonance of language. I highly recommend checking out prayer: fix my set out.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Sunday Poet: AD WINANS


Poet A D Winans is a native San Franciscan who came of age during the heyday of the beat generation in His hometown. The beat poets along with Kenneth Patchen and Charles Bukowski had quite an influence on the direction he would take in his own poetry. It's a poetry of the streets and a poetry of the common language, going back to Walt Whitman. Over the years, Winans has written about some of his literary heroes, always with passion, always with a deep understanding of how the tradition of poetry is passed hand-to-hand down the generations.


I see you in my dreams
you are wearing a silk scarf
your smile hovers over me like
a hummingbird
you are standing at a public square
in Mexico
The women are selling pottery
the men drinking wine
a cat crosses the road
purrs against your slender legs
you an early century Madonna
with no need for church or man
you sit cross-legged like Buddha
fill me with words that twist in my mind
like helicopter blades
your words soft as a feather pillow
blend with mine like buttered toast
explode like shrapnel inside my head
sweet fragrance of lilacs draws me in
sweet as a virgin’s innocence

I take refuge in a sea of stars
walk back into my mother's womb
no longer stumbling like a blind man
in the dark
your limbs sing like crickets in the night
rub their hind legs in applause

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Little Kisses, Lloyd Schwartz.

Poet Lloyd Schwartz

Little Kisses, Lloyd Schwartz. The University of Chicago Press. 73 pages. $18.00. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-45827-4.

By Ed Meek

Lloyd Schwartz has become a cultural icon in the Boston area. Like Robert Pinsky, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Helen Vendler, his is a name you probably recognize. Part of the reason for this is that Lloyd Schwartz has a wide range. I first ran into his work in the 80s when he wrote about opera for the Boston Phoenix. He is a well-known Elizabeth Bishop scholar and he won a Pulitzer Prize  for music criticism. He does a little acting. He teaches in the MFA Program at University of Massachusetts Harbor Campus, and he writes poetry.

In his new book of poems, Schwartz is often funny in a bittersweet way. His humor has a sadness and a sentimental undercurrent whether he is writing about a conversation with his mother who has Alzheimer’s, or a close friend who disappeared, or a ring he can’t find, or being mistaken for Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead in a parking lot in Somerville.

Some of these poems do not exactly read like poetry but rather like the hybrid form of prose and poetry that is showing up more and more these days (see Claudia Rankine for example). Other poems are tighter with rhyme and assonance and cadence. He uses some of his expertise in music here and there, and sometimes engages in a kind of playfulness as in “Howl.” “How’ll I learn my lines if there isn’t any script? /How’ll I find my shoes if I can’t find my glasses?”

In a poem entitled “Crossword,” he is both funny and clever.

You’re doing a crossword.
I’m working on a puzzle.
Do you love me enough?
What’s the missing word?

Yet, he can also be serious. In a poem about a missing friend, he concludes with these lines: “Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less/ I understand this world, /and the people in it.” The ending is unexpected, yet as with all good endings, it rings true and hits the mark in this puzzling period we are living through.

Here he is describing an orchestra conductor:

Breezing easily between exotic Chinoiserie
and hometown hoedown, whisking lightly between
woodwind delicacy and jazzy trombone…

He’s all dippy knees, flappy elbows, and floppy wrists…

He threw himself into the music—and very nearly into
the first violin section…

Late one night in a parking lot in Somerville he sees two young men smoking marijuana. He is worried as he walks to his car. Then one of the two men tells him a silly joke and offers him a drag because he looks like Jerry Garcia: “long gray hair and a bushy gray (almost white) beard…” He laughs about the encounter all the way home.

My favorite, “Goldring,” is about losing a ring he’d worn for thirty years. He goes from obsessing about losing the ring to trying to find it to connecting it to other types of loss. Then he does what all writers do, he writes about it.

Why should he lose it now?

He’d been having a run of bad luck.

A downward spiral…

His finger feels empty.

He feels empty and sad…

Another little hole in his life…

Endings, separations, partings—always leave him melancholy.

At a party he is always last to leave…

Maybe he should write his own poem—the way other poets turn their losses/into poems.

When Schwartz comments on other writers turning loss into poetry, he is making fun of them but he is also being self-deprecating and poking fun at himself since he is doing that too.

In these poems what comes across in his poetry is a sense that Schwartz is both warm and likable and using poetry as a means of dealing with the world. Warmth and likability are not attributes one automatically assumes about poets and artists. In these difficult times, reading “Little Kisses” is reassuring. There may be Alzheimer’s, people may disappear from our lives, sometimes we lose objects we care about, but there is great music to be listened to, people can be nice, and there’s a lot of good poetry to read.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Manhattan, An Archaeology by Eileen R. Tabios

Manhattan, An Archaeology 
by Eileen R. Tabios  
Copyright 2017 by Eileen R. Tabios  
Paloma Press 
Tucson, AZ 
ISBN 978-1-365-87509-0 
Softbound, 111 pages + notes & acknowledgements $40 (before discount) 

Review by Zvi A. Sesling 

Since the 1990s-- when I first encountered  Eileen Tabios’s poetry , she has continually taken readers on a different journey of creativity with each book.  Ms. Tabios is one of the Philippines' great gifts to the United States.  Her poetry is innovative, definitely creative and never repetitive.   

Manhattan: An Archaeology is  in six parts:  The Artifacts, Post-Nostalgia, Big City Cante Intermedio, Winter on Wall Street (A Novella-in-Verse), Vacation: Skiing Away From Manhattan, Clyfford Still Studies and 2016 Diptych.  For our edification she adds Selected Notes to Poems. 

My personal favorite is Chapter Nine in the Novella called “The Firm”  

Bellowing like a bull in heat  
was encouraged 

But certain things just weren’t done –  
we learned them in our first year: 

Do not dress better than your boss  
Do not get drunker than your boss 

Come to work neat and pressed 
like a fine pair of sheets 

But if your tie was not undone 
sleeves rolled up 
shirt tail hanging out of your pants 
by 9 a.m. 
you weren’t working hard enough 

Never wear Hermes ties 
leave those to lawyers and golfers 

Never wear cheap shoes 

When you get a new pair 
polish them 20 times 
before debuting them 
Your shoes should not look bought 
but like you inherited them 
from a rich uncle 

Never get a cheap haircut 
A bad apartment at a good address 
is greater than 
a fabulous apartment at a bad address 

If your boss gives you a Mont Blanc pen 
at the end of a salary negotiation 
you were taken to the cleaners 

Never insult a client – no matter 
how stupid or rude, they have 
the required $20 million to open 
an account at The Firm 

If one of your colleagues is fired 
never speak to him again: 
failure is transmittable 

Never show excessive zeal 

Never never never 
Always always always 


A wealthy father 
can exist 
A wealthy uncle? Never 

The wealthy never  

One feels compelled to read Ms. Tabios not only for the humor, the entertainment, and the talent, but for the lessons.  And there are usually many from which you can pick .In “The Firm” there are lessons like the one I  taught myself-- when my first public relations boss said: To be a good PR man you need to have three straight martinis and not feel a thing. 
To which I replied:  If I had three straight martinis I wouldn’t feel a thing. 
But as Tabios often writes, I digress.   Back to the review. 
With Tabios the reader is always headed to new ground, new thought,a certain joy, an enlightenment, if you will, that free the readers from the dullness they have read before.  Here are some examples:

On Conceiving Silent Pleas(e) 
--after PH-635, Only on canvas (1967) 

I believe I am reminding you that no one owns space, though you can cup it 
within a folded palm and feel the same power that ignites a short, fat man  
looking at his thin, tall wife—diamonds studding the platinum manacles around 
her scented neck and wrists— 

Park City, Utah Tabios unleashes these six lines to open a five page poem: 

Together, we have only imagined the sky 
a trapdoor with a lost key bow seducing eagles 

whose darting eyes never reveal affection— 
Once, yours did (the setting the back seat of a cab) 

which made me gather fallen petals 
from roses gifted by an unnamed chambermaid— 

Finally this one: 

Letter From Paris to New York 
--November 2016 

When offered Versailles 
I shook my head 

Once was enough for me 

No need to gorge 
on Foie gras, etcetera 
though many do 

There are many other lines in Tabios’s poetry that intrigue – there always are.  Her language is light years ahead of many poets from countries around the world, yet remains accessible and exciting. 

This book is well worth the time you spend reading it. 
Zvi A. Sesling 
Author: The Lynching of Leo Frank (Big Table Co., 2017), Love Poems From Hell (Flutter Press, 2017), Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva, 2016), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011), King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010). 
Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review, Bagel Bards Anthologies Nos. 7, 8 and #12. 
Publisher, Muddy River Books