Thursday, April 26, 2018

Not Elegy, But Eros by Nausheen Eusuf,

Not Elegy, But Eros by Nausheen Eusuf, 88 pages, $14.91.

Review by Ed Meek

Nausheen Eusuf’s first book of poetry is a wide-ranging collection of both formal and informal poems, lyric and narrative. Quite a few are elegies for the dead, others are about everything from dogs, to street people, to language, to violence in Bangladesh (where she grew up). Robert Bly quoting Hammurabi said, “For whom dost thou write? For the dead whom thou didst love.” Eusuf seems to subscribe to this notion inasmuch as many of her poems are about family and relations who have passed on, and also because she refers to the many poets who preceded her. Among them: Auden, Dickinson, Eliot, Thomas, Hayden.  She pays homage which is always an admirable trait in an artist. In addition, her love of words is evidenced in her skillful use of language.

The sorrows of the dead

refuse to perish with their mortal masters.
The griefs they grieved, the slights they bore,

how can they not, once told, return to task
the living—a collector at the door?

So Eusuf is a poet who sees poetry as song. And like the rest of us, she doesn’t forget those who have passed on—a role poetry has performed for as long as it has existed. You can hear Eusuf’s love of song in “Street Music.”

Saturday morning on the brick plaza
at the corner of Fourth and Catherine,
amid the strollers and shopping bags,
the coffee and the canopied coffee talk,
a man in a tie-dyed African shirt
sways to the music of the marimba.

It’s refreshing when a poet has to the humility to observe and record without editorializing.

As a new dog-owner I appreciated Eusuf’s “The Love of Dogs.”

Of leash-tugging, hydrant-scenting walks
past grown-ups with baby strollers and kids
who stop to say, how cute! But he’s more
than a pair of floppy ears and a pink tongue.

We can hear Eusuf’s love of language and sound in many poems. Here is the beginning of one about a crab colony in Yarmouth:

How cautiously they emerge as the tide recedes:
a mud-boil pops, out pokes a tentative claw,
a pair of skinny legs, half a glistening carapace…

“Shining Shoes” is a take-off on one of my favorite poems, Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”

Weekends, growing up, I’d watch my father
As he sat on a low stool in the veranda
Surrounded by half a dozen pairs of shoes…

Now that he is ten years gone, I recall how
quiet was his love, how mute his farewell.

Eusuf is also like many of us, obsessed with the light. In “The Analytic Hour,”  she asks for more of it:

The diaphanous curtains hung between
                        the light and me—I who see
but do not see. More light, for god’s sake,
                        more light. Let there be light.

That’s nice—"I who see but do not see.” And who doesn’t love the word diaphanous? Although I’m not sure any human can get away with saying “Let there be light.”

Something that should be a rule for artists: must exhibit skill. Instead, a lot of what we see and read just happens to capture the current moment whether it’s “Cat Woman” in The New Yorker or a poem about penises, written in sophomoric couplets in Rattle.  The bar isn’t just low, there isn’t any bar. It isn’t tennis without a net, it’s paddle ball on the beach. So, it’s rewarding to find a new voice like Nausheen Eusuf who brings her skills and study and love of language to bear on both the personal and the political in Not Elegy, But Eros.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Jon D. Lee

Jon D. Lee Poet

Jon D. Lee is the author of three books, including An Epidemic of Rumors: How Stories Shape Our Perceptions of Disease, and These Around Us. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Sierra Nevada ReviewConnecticut River ReviewThe Laurel ReviewOregon Literary Review, and Clover, A Literary Rag, as well as the anthologyFollow The Thread, and a craft essay on how humor creates motion and meaning in poetry is forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle. He has an MFA in Poetry from Lesley University, and a PhD in Folklore. Lee teaches at Suffolk University, and spends his spare time with his wife and children. 

Blackbird Grind


Seemingly undifferentiated lines
Of blackbirds. Seen in focused simultaneity,
Pointillist illusion of black against white
Mountainside of winter aspen. Distant enough
To occlude motion & sound, meaning reduced
To grayscale.


Less dully, but distal: webwork of limb
And body, breast replacing leaf, clear line
Of thicker branches. Resolution
Of wing, curve of bone beneath feather. Then
Sternum swell, hollow bone, space
Between ventricle snap. The eye dilates
As if it were our own.


Bird & bird & bird &
Bird weighing the lines. The eyes;
So much motion absent motion; an embarrassment
Of purpose delayed; the sky-egg
That clings to the oblique.


So much should be lost. But seldomly
The grind erupts the hollows, blossoms the tree line,
Rises to fragment the light and scatter the shards--
Reveals, newly, the clear unfrozen lake, whose still surface
Shows both sky and lake-bottom, bird and fish,
Branch and root.

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.