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?