Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Nina R. Alonso

Nina R. Alonso's work has appeared in Ibbetson Street, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, U. Mass. Review, Sumac, WomenPoems, Constant Remembrance, Cambridge Artists Cooperative, Muddy River Poetry Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Black Poppy Review, BagelBards, etc. Her stories appeared in Southern Women's Review, Broadkill Review, Tears and Laughter, etc., and most recently in Peacock Literary Review. She works with Constellations a Journal of Poetry and Fiction.

 How I Win                 

If I insult you I win
if I kick until you fall I win
if I laugh at you I win

if I undercut what you say I win
if I put it my way I win
if you turn and look I win

if  you’re afraid of my words I win
if you’re thinking what to do I win
if you try to be subtle I win

if you can’t decide I win
if you go moral on me I win
if you stand on your head I win

if you try a clever angle I win
if you walk it backward I win
if you cry I laugh and win

if you attempt macho I win
if you argue I undercut and win
if you twist around to outsmart me I win.

 ----Nina Rubinstein Alonso

“Prayer For The Misbegotten” by Julia Carlson


“Prayer For The Misbegotten” by Julia Carlson, November, 2017, Oddball Publishing.
Review by Lee Varon

In her new collection of poetry, “Prayer For The Misbegotten, Julia Carlson takes us on a journey. I delighted in this journey as Carlson brought me fresh perspectives and opened new vistas. In the first poem in the collection, “October,” she begins this journey: “…we walk on/ from season to season/ our thoughts stiff and heavy/ betrayed/ by the autumn sun/ slipping faster every day.”

There were so many gems in this collection but many of my favorites were set in far off landscapes. In the poem, “Gare, Villeneuve-Sur-Lot,” she brings us to the idyllic “Sunflower fields” in the south of France and yet the scene suddenly turns dark as the poet notices a plaque at the train station “From here, in 1943, 50,000 Jews/ Were sent to prison camps.”

Carlson closely observes the world and she invites her readers to do the same. Things are not always as they appear on the surface. The sinister and tragic often lurk at a deeper level. In “Spring In Rome,” we smell the “odor of honey grass/ From high windows” and yet “Sin swells the air.”  Reading this poem, I couldn’t help thinking of the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church behind its opulent surface.

In the ekphrastic poem, “At The Museum,” Carlson muses on the scene behind the 15th century painting of an engagement banquet. Behind this flowery scene of a wealthy affianced couple, the poet shows us another scene in the background: “a woman, shift torn/ Perhaps a peasant or a slave/ Runs for her life from a mounted warrior.” Carlson asks the chilling question about the young woman about to marry: “What will happen to her/ If she does not, in all ways, submit.”

There are also more intimate, psychological poems in this collection, such as “Eyes” which is a poem of unrequited love where: “If your eyes did not speak/ I would never have thought/ About you or us…” We are left with the wistful poignancy of this love that bore fruit and yet was deeply felt.

In one of the final poems in this collection, Carlson explores growing older as in “Ague,” where the poem ends “…my mind still courts love’s arrows/ As my body slowly turns to gone.” As a reader I felt I had full circle in this scintillating poetic journey.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Aeneid By Virgil Translated by David Ferry

The Aeneid
By Virgil
Translated by David Ferry
University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London
ISBN: 978-0-226-45018-6
416 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Whether carrying his father and leading his son out of a burning city, navigating his fleet through a tsunami, escaping a Carthaginian seductress, visiting the forbidden realm of Hades, or engaging in mortal combat with a Latin prince, Aeneas, in David Ferry’s new and superbly rendered translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, conveys the destiny of civilization forward into its ordained future. This epic journey with episodic tragedies, and mythological wonders still captures the imagination of modern readers perplexed by their own earthly impediments and those nasty, ill-deserved thunderbolt strikes from above.

Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil) wrote The Aeneid for Octavian Caesar Augustus during the last ten years of his life (29-19 BC). He at first ordered his executors to burn the unedited manuscript. Octavian apparently intervened and countermanded that directive. Some critics argue that the book’s purpose was to justify Augustan succession and ultimately Pax Romana. Others believe that Virgil turned his work into something much larger, an allegory of man’s destiny and independence in the face of intruding forces emanating from a panoply of misanthropic and whimsical divinities. In any case, the narrative seems to take on a life of its own, at times brutally realistic, at other times strangely comforting.

Whereas John Dryden in 1697 provided the coming eighteenth century with a glorious translation of The Aeneid to match that historical era and temperament, Ferry contributes a comparable achievement during this onset of the twenty-first century. Dryden’s heroic couplets both expanded and compacted the original text based on his understanding of Virgil’s intent. Ferry does much the same thing going with, not fighting the natural flow and intricacies of modern English. Additionally the method Dryden employed bestowed a smoothness and a halting beauty, his couplets neatly completing images and thoughts. Ferry, using loose blank verse with anapests and other feet substituting here and there for iambs, accomplishes much of the same beauty with added speed and elongated elegance. The elongation reminds one of and occasionally flirts with the original hexameter instrument, and the strategic irregularity accommodates itself very well indeed to the modern ear. In Book One Ferry’s word choices describing the fierce storm, instigated by Juno, the queen of gods, to obstruct Aeneas’ fleet, leaves the reader both breathless and awestruck,

a sudden violent
Burst of wind comes crashing against the sails,
The prow of the ship turns round, the oars are broken,
The ship is broadside to the waves and then
A mountain of water descends upon them all;
Some of the men hang clinging high upon
The high-most of the wave and others see
The very ground beneath the sea revealed
As hissing with sand the giant wave recoils;
Three of the ships are spun by the South Wind onto
A huge rock ridge that hulks up out of the sea
(The name the Italians call it is The Altars);
Three other ships the East Wind runs aground
And carries them into the shallows, a wretched sight,
The sand heaped up around them. Aeneas himself
Saw how a monstrous devouring wave rose up
And struck the stern of the ship the Lycians and
Faithful Orontes rode in…

Emotions well up and manifest themselves in Book Six when a perplexed and remorseful Aeneas in Hades meets Dido, his temptress and lover, who caused their forbidden dalliance in defiance of fate. Distraught, he questions the circumstances of her suicide. Departures like this from The Aeneid’s epic tone and majesty create the emotional depth that captures the reader and makes Virgil all the more compelling. Here’s Ferry’s splendid rendering of the scene,

Is it true, what I was told, that you were dead,
And with a sword had brought about your death?
And was it I, alas, who caused it? I
Swear by the stars, and by the upper world,
And by whatever here below is holy,
I left your shores unwillingly. It was
The gods’ commands which have brought me now down through
The shadows to these desolate wasted places,
In the profound abysmal dark; it was
The gods who drove me, and I could not know
That when I left I left behind a grief
So devastated. Stay. Who is it you
Are fleeing from? Do not withdraw from sight.
This is the last I am allowed by fate
To say to you.” Weeping he tried with these,
His words, to appease the rage in her fiery eyes.

Notice the meeting of pathos and white-hot ire at the end of the selection. As a suicide Dido was condemned to live in the past, forever enshrining her tragedy. Seems a bit unjust! And, paradoxically, quite suitable for our age.

During his quest Aeneas loses quite a lot: his wife left in Troy’s flames, Dido, his lover, succumbing to suicide, and Pallas, the Arcadian boy he was guardian to, felled by the prince of his enemies. All sacrificed to destiny. Along the way circumstances seem to alter “pious” Aeneas’ psychological makeup. In his climactic battle with Turnus, his Latin antagonist, Aeneas shuns the mercy asked for by his remorseful rival and lets vengefulness rule the day, perhaps even prospectively setting the precedent that influenced the history of Rome with strife and civil war down to Octavian’s time. After some hesitation the deal is sealed when Aeneas glimpses Pallas’ sword belt on Turnus. Ferry feels the building wrath and translates part of Virgil’s last scene this way,

When Aeneas saw it on Turnus’ shoulder, shining
Memorial of the dolorous story, and
Of his own grief, the terrible savage rage
Rose up in him, and he said to Turnus, “Did you
Think that you could get away with this,
Wearing this trophy of what you did to him?
It is Pallas who makes you his sacrifice. It is Pallas
Who drives this home!” And saying this he ripped
Open the breast of Turnus and Turnus’ bones
Went chilled and slack…

No hyperbole needed in praise of David Ferry’s translation of the Aeneid. Truly astonishing.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Sunday Poet:Celia Merlin

Celia Merlin

Celia Merlin was born in Lexington, Ky., grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Tel Aviv where she now lives, writes, teaches and enjoys her family.  Her work has appeared in various anthologies, receiving numerous honors and recognition. Her debut collection of poems, "Of This Too", recently came out, much to her long awaited delight.


            “ on the ocean of life, we pass…”   —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We sit in the mall café

talking photographs.

The air is plastic,

the music benign.

In a booth near the restroom,

holding tall ice coffees,

you say you’ll be leaving again.

And I know.

In your photos, purple feathers,

headdresses of Kings,

fat crocodile teeth,

plush carpets of pines.

There are women with weavings,

brown children on boats,

angles of blue and

the rust of red soil.

I am losing my breath.

I am nauseous with awe.

I am inside the lens

of your eye.

There are shadows of green,

spreading fingers on rocks, and

Einstein-like webs

in the trees.

I am covered with waves.

I am licking a cloud.

I am climbing a

steeple of slate.

—Is there anything else..?

            the waitress asks.

-No, thanks.

            We pack up and leave.

Each to the corners

we’ve picked for ourselves.

You to your knapsack,

your travel-worn boots.

Me to my words

and the mall.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Susan Phelps, owner of Hubba Hubba--has passed.

Susan Phelps, owner of Hubba Hubba, Dies After a Last Night at Nightclub
June 6, 1938 – Saturday, November 4, 2017 

Obit by William Falcetano

Nightclubbers and fun-lovers will mourn the passing of Susan Phelps, owner of Hubba Hubba, purveyor of fetish couture and adult toys in Cambridge.  Suzie was an enormously beloved figure, not only in the nightclub scene; she was known and respected as a trail-blazing business woman, a regular contributor to good causes, a helper of those in need, and a genuine free spirit – the kind that every great city produces when it’s lucky – Cambridge got lucky for forty years.  Anyone who wandered into Hubba Hubba knew they had entered a special place looked after and cared for by a very special person. 

Hubba Hubba (a throwback phrase to the glory days of big busted blonde bombshells) was not merely a “sex shop”; it was more than a that: it was a meeting place for outcasts, a home for circus people, a club-house for strippers, sex workers, porn stars, and drag queens. Everyone felt welcomed there even the many otherwise ordinary folk who just wanted to put a twist into their sex lives.  Hubba Hubba was about freedom, mutual acceptance, and the celebration of being different, even deviant; it was about fun; and it was about tolerating other people’s kinks, even if they aren’t your own.  

Susan was born June 6th, 1938. Her father Dick Phelps was a designer of amusement parks and golf courses all over America. Suzie grew up in an atmosphere that was fantasy to the rest the rest of us – but to her that fantasy world was home. The carnival barkers all knew her as “Dick Phelps’s kid”; and she got to go on the rides for free.  That gay and care-free sense of joy never left her; and she bestowed it freely as a gift on all she met.  Countless customers left Hubba Hubba with a smile on their faces because Suzie made them feel great about their new naughty purchase. 
Suzie grew up in Lexington; a graduate of RISD in Providence, Susan had a keen eye for beauty and fashion; a fine turned leg always turned her head.  She loved to rip out the pages of fashion mags to show her friends and customers what she liked and what was au courant.  She also had a few great adventures that took her to Europe and Africa, London and San Francisco, New York and finally Cambridge, where she opened the first incarnation (there were four) of her unique store in 1977.  
In the early 1980s Hubba Hubba was a vintage shop with a few adult items for sale under glass or discretely off to the side. The store was imbued with a sense of delicious naughtiness. What stood out were a few signature touches: the bondage Barbie dolls strung up and hunched over in hilarious poses, dressed in punk-rock regalia, typify Hubba Hubba’s unique mix of sex and humor. Susan Phelps was the Vivian Westwood of Boston / Cambridge; she influenced style, fashion, and the culture of the era; and she made people feel great about spending their hard-earned cash on hedonistic purchases.

Suzie and her then business partner Liza Chapman were “the glamorous lesbian couple of Central Square”; they cut quite a figure around town in those days of shoulder pads, new wave music, and big hair. The author remembers them going to The Channel nightclub for new year’s eve, dressed in black leather pants and mink coats (not politically correct couture!) with bottles of champagne hidden underneath!  Attention must be paid!  We were young once and fabulous too! 
Eventually, the rough edges of punk rock passed into the more conspicuous glamor of the goth scene in the 1990s and early 2000s – the heyday of ManRay, when stage shows were avant garde happenings. The glamor of that era reflected a gilded culture awash in new money from computer technology and the Peace Dividend after the end of the Cold War.  The late 1990s and early 2000s were the heyday of Hubba Hubba and the nightclub scene in Cambridge.  There was a symbiotic connection between the club scene and the store.  The club scene was all about ManRay; and ManRay was all about “Fetish Fridays”.  Once a week people could peel off their mufti and squeeze into their cat suits and shiny black vinyl, kick off the wing tips and throw on the platform heels, stage make up, corsets and collars, and dance to the pounding beat of German Industrial techno and the spooky sounds of Peter Murphy.  

The dancing in those days was unlike anything I have ever seen before or since – the stage full of tangled bodies, figures in a Luca Signorelli scene of damnation, twisting, writhing, turning, kicking – all in perfect unison with the liquid music, as strobe lights dappled off the shiny vinyl and studded collars creating a mix of sensations and sounds, colors and moods that defies easy description.  ManRay was home to some spectacular stage shows – the best of which was Ooze, headed by Nicole MacDonald, creator of 99nth Mind.  With her blood curdling screams, suspended bodies, and Felliniesque sensibility, she and her talented crew turned Cambridge into something that counts as “cutting-edge”.

During all this time Hubba Hubba was a Mecca for the talented and the tasteless, the kinky and the cool.  It was a Club House for the deviant and the defiant.  To go there was so much more than to conduct a mere commercial transaction; it was a way of being different, of being with others who liked “different” things, and thought in unconventional ways than the usual vanilla herd of muggles.  They knew there was magic among them – they could see it before their own eyes every Friday night in the stunning costumes of Tara Emory and the unforgettable stages shows of Ooze.  
Susan Phelps was last seen in public at the ManRay reunion Wraith – at the Paradise Club Friday night, November 3rd.  She looked amazing in a black lace dress with corset and two giant safety pins; her beaming face was full of happiness as she was soaking in the fun, pleased to be out among the kids, selling her wares, dispensing her praise, and soaking in the love.  She will be mourned by many and her memory cherished by countless people whose lives she touched.

Stonecoast MFA Community Reading Nov 18th Arts Armory--Somerville

Reading hosted by Lo Galluccio
( Click on pic to enlarge)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Evaleen Stein

Evaleen Stein

This poem was sent to us by Wendell Smith who says:

The mystery brought this poem to my attention through Dr. Michael Sperber, an 86 year old practicing psychiatrist who has a poetry salon on Thursday evenings in Beverly. It was anonymously deposited in a shoe outside his apartment door. Evaleen  Stein was a 19th and early 20th century poet best known for her children’s writings. But, while the poet is not contemporary and its diction archaic, the poem’s empathy for the plight of exiles is a contemporary need, given the way we are treating emigrants, refugees, DACA children, and the homeless. What are the homeless but exiles in their homeland? Where is the Department of Homeland Security that will look to their need? The poem is taken from One Way To the Woods, published by Copeland & Day, Boston in 1897”.

The Exiles

Bare blackened boughs
That seem to press
Low skies, storm-swept and pitiless,
Must be the only roofs to house
Or shelter their distress.

They tread by night
Beneath the trees ;
Before them desert distances,
Whereon the endless snows are white,
And endless tempests freeze.

Their eyes are bound.
And iron bands
Are heavy on their helpless hands
Ordained to delve the barren ground
Of bleak, unlovely lands.

Week after week.
Across the snow
And weary wastes, they wander so;
No human heart wherein to seek
Surcease of any woe.

Their footsteps wend
Afar from hearth, and home, and friend;
Nor know they what grief hath in store
Before the bitter end.

Whate’er their deeds.
It matters not;
Their very names shall be forgot;
Their agony, their heartsick needs,
And their forsaken lot.