Thursday, February 22, 2018

Never Again By Diane Alhafez

Endicott College Undergraduate  Diane Alhafez

Never Again
By Diane Alhafez

            I’m floating on the clear blue water; my arms and legs sprawled out in order to balance my weight. The relentless sun beats down on me, reminding me of its omnipotent presence even as my eyes are closed. This comforting warmth can still be felt through my eyelids, drowning out my sight with the golden hues of its rays. I hear nothing but the faint waves of water as my ears are submerged below the surface of the pool. I stay like this for a while until, out of the corner of my eye, I notice a figure approaching me. Hesitant to leave my seemingly everlasting state of peace, I remain in my position, listening to the gurgled words coming from above. Finally giving in to my conscience, I slowly lift my head up and push my legs down into the water so that I am wading upright in the empty pool. I look up to see my younger cousin Samer staring down at me, “It’s time for dinner,” he says in Arabic. He left the pool about an hour ago and has traded in his blue swim trunks for loose-fitting jean shorts that go down to his knees and a red and gray striped t-shirt. His new red flip-flops squeak as he walks away, reminding me of my all-too-soon required departure from this serenity. I slowly immerse my entire body underwater and carefully open my eyes, taking one last look at the gigantic blue-tiled dolphin below before pulling myself up and out of my safety bubble.

            Dinner was especially chaotic today. We had ordered shawarma from Al-Ayubi and thirteen bodies, all of which belonged to my family members, were roaming around the table and yelling out their orders. Those who had extra fries in their sandwich, those who demanded there be no tomatoes, and those who asked for a side of garlic sauce yelled out their requests and held their hands out in hopes of retrieving their specific sandwiches. Although we were eating at the table outside, their “outdoor voices” were all too much as their ultimatums for dinner lingered in the air. At last, everyone had gotten their own customized shawarma and was happily eating. Quickly, the blaring voices from nearly seconds ago were replaced with the “mmm”’s after each bite and the occasional straw sips of Coca-Cola signifying the satisfaction of a fulfilling meal.

            I look around me and take it in. All of it. From the alternating faded red and tan tiles that make up the entirety of the ground, to the white creaking porch swing that I have fallen asleep on far too many times, to the faces of those who I know and love the most. My uncle Feras is sitting directly across from me, smiling and talking to his wife Bayan. Next to them, their two sons Samer and Amjad gingerly fight each other for the last remaining fry, until my aunt Faten takes her plate of fries and places it in front of them. Her husband, Saher, kisses her cheek, admiring the kindness in her that he had fallen in love with. Their children Basel, Rawan, and Noura are sitting near me. Basel, about twelve years older than my brother Ammar, talks to him about the new movie “Coraline” they are going to watch later tonight. Noura and Rawan sit right near my ear, arguing about who gets to sleep on the bottom bunk tonight, while my mother and grandma laugh at the miniscule topic my cousins consider to be a dilemma. I want this memory and all of those who are part of it to be implanted in my brain. I want this memory to never fade, but instead get stronger as the time goes by.

It is 6:00pm and our flight leaves in about an hour. Our bags have been checked and all that is left is a walk through security and then a short wait at our gate until departure time. We said goodbye to everyone else before we got into the taxi that would be driving us to the airport; my grandma cried a little bit harder this year as she hugged my mother and us. My uncle Feras was the one who hopped in the taxi with us and he is now the one whom we have to say goodbye to. Ammar and I embrace him and then step aside as he and my mother hug and exchange muffled farewells. As it comes time to stamp our passports to get through customs, I turn around and wave a final so long then confidently whisper the words, “See you next year, Syria”.

“Syria Uprisings in Damascus Call for Government Intervention”, “Explosion Kills Hundreds”, “Syria: Not Safe”.

My eyes darted across the television screen and frantically read the fat bold words, scrolling repeatedly below the talking news anchor. A blonde woman in a violet dress introduced the segment as a slideshow of the destruction in Syria played behind her. Photographs of rubble-buried streets and children with bloodied faces bombarded the background. The voice of the news anchor faded, the sound of my family speaking diminished, and all I heard was the jumble of thoughts zooming in my mind. I looked back at how just a mere eight months ago I was in the country I loved so much and how in four months I would have been on a plane back to Syria. But I still had hope. There was no way I was going to give up on my happy place just like that.

One year.

Six years that I had not woken up to the sound of the busy streets below my grandmother’s house.
Six years that I had not fallen asleep to the soft chirping of grasshoppers which lulled me into a deep slumber.

Six years that I had not seen my family.

I missed the way my uncle’s eyes would crease every time he laughed, usually about an inside joke he and my mother had. I smiled as I thought of the times Bayan would do my hair when I came out of the shower and tell me about how she longed to have a daughter of her own someday. I could vividly picture riding around my grandmother’s house on scooters with Samer. I recalled the fact that sweet, innocent Amjad wouldn’t sit anywhere else except for on my lap. I reminisced of the days that Rawan, Noura, Basel, my brother and I would wander the streets and evidently end up at Farhan’s, a small corner store, where we bought loads of chips and candy.

Everything is different now.

Feras’ hair has thinned and his smile lines got deeper.
Bayan finally got that daughter that she had always wanted.
Samer and Amjad barely remember me.
Noura got married and now has two beautiful girls.
Basel just received his diploma from graduate school.
Rawan is living in London, pursuing a career in Biology.
My cousins on my dad’s side all have kids.
Obaida died in a car crash. 

            My family on my mother’s side all reunited last year in Lebanon. Everyone looked so different yet so familiar at the same time. There were even those whom I had never met before in my life. Mouna, Bayan’s daughter was six years old! Six! She hadn’t ever heard of me. Elma, Noura’s daughter was just a year old. Who would have thought that the spontaneous and hopelessly romantic Noura was now a mother?! Life is moving too fast for me and I can’t help but shed a tear at the fact that those memories will remain just that. They will be nothing more than figments of my imagination, scenes in the back of my mind, mirages projected solely through my eyes. I can try to revisit these thoughts as much as I want to, but that is where the limitation of my memory will take me. Never again will I be able to smell the air of Syria as a ten-year-old girl as I walk down Al-Dablan street with my cousins, the rest of my family waiting back home for us. Never again will I be able to stand in line at Rainbow Bakery below my grandma’s house to pick up mini chocolate and vanilla flavored desserts for the guests. Never again will my entire family be under one roof.

Never again will I feel completely engulfed in such happiness. 

****  Diane Alhafez is a freshman at Endicott College majoring in BIO/BIOTECH hoping to become an orthopedic doctor. When not studying, she enjoys free-writing, making a list of food locations to visit all over the world, and summer vacations with family. While both of her parents were born and raised in Syria, Diane was born in Beverly, MA. She did, however, visit Syria every summer up until the revolution. Nowadays, the memories of her beloved country live on through her writings. This is her first publication. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pyrrhonic Poems By by Stephanie L. Erdman

Poems By
by Stephanie L. Erdman
Dos Madres press Inc.
Copyright 2017 Stephanie Erdman
ISBN 978-1-939929-83-9
Softbound, 93 pages (including notes), no price given
Review by Zvi A. Sesling

In the world of experimental poetry there are many variations of the forms experimental poetry takes. Certainly Stephanie Erdman’s Pyrrhonic is another entry into this interesting genre-- which takes both patience and a willingness to delve into it.

This poetic endeavor is filled with poems with footnote numbers and pages where words are blacked out. The footnote numbers relate to the notes in the back which might be explanations or photographs of a rock drummer, a fish, Windsor Knots, ancient texts and so many other pictures or drawings. There are references to the Cruxificion, Nietzsche, Orpheus, Chinese meditations, the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal and so many more ideas and concepts that makes the reader have to stop and think.

Here is one example (without footnotes) of Erdman’s enigmatic poetry:

Some Evenings

while I try to scrub off my skin
the physicists theorize elegantly

into my ear. (How a cochlea
presents the Golden Ratio’ ! Nautiloid

of the aural seas.) To start
me wondering about what timeline I’m living

just 3 inches to the left. Sometimes I itch
for needles to swim the mantel of my skin, split

vulgar corpuscles. Technology inside strings sublimely
vibrates as deep inside everything. Such echoes

Gothic cathedrals were built around, buttressed.
Builders not knowing what sings

inside Geometry; just as there are words
implanted somewhere, cleft recesses of my mouth,

Sometimes I try to tune this inaudible hum

of spheres with chemical bonds,
sciences of blood and want, such

adenoidal pillars – irenic, primitive.

Here the poet has mixed her crucial combinations of physical and mental with perhaps a dose of drugs? It is a personal poem which in the end is seeking primal peace. How she accomplishes this may confuse some and may not be readily accessible to others. It is what is pyrronhic about her poetry. It is and it is not.

So is skepticism. Pyrrhonism as skepticism was a thought process founded by Pyrrho in the fourth century BCE. So here -- 25 centuries later it is kept alive by Ms. Erdman in this strange and entertaining 21st century version.
Here is one of the blackout poems with [===] representing Erdman’s blacked out word. The poem also appeared as bold type.

(Woods [===] )

--the shallow folds [===]
[===] dabbled with [===] growth,
{===]lakes of bluebells, pieced [===] primroses.

In [===] green spots [===]
Were eyes of [===]primrose: bluebells [===]
In skeins about [===]

What I would like to do with this poem – and I have read it a few times – each time that I read it I put in my own words, usually different words. I feel like I am writing the poem with the author giving it different meaning each time.

This is a book of poetry I will have to read several times, though I imagine there are many out there who will get it the first time around. No matter it is an enjoyable work of poetic endeavor.

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

All in Good Time: Poems 2005-2006 Paul Hudon

All in Good Time: Poems 2005-2006
Paul Hudon
Lowell, Mass.: Loom Press, 2011
ISBN 978-0-931507-29-8

Reviewed by David P. Miller

In September 2005, historian and regionalist Paul Hudon began a series of short writings, catalyzed by surgery on his left hand. Able to use only the left thumb and forefinger, with his right hand required to do most of the work at the keyboard, and being a person compelled to write every day, he began a series of short pieces. He says, “it was nearly a month before it occurred to me I was writing a year’s cycle of poems.” All in Good Time, the resulting work, is exactly that: 365 poems stored in a volume that fits easily in the hand – which is to say that most are brief, some very much so, with only a few ranging over more than a page. The book, though, is unusual in that it feels less like a conventional collection (and wouldn’t this many poems typically make up a Collected Works?) and more like a deeply faceted mosaic. The untitled poems, headed only by their dates, follow each other directly on the page, and yet it doesn’t quite read as a diary: a minority of the entries seem to refer directly to daily events. In other words, the book is a generic hybrid, lucid and with a strong sense of momentum, if not quite placeable.

As Paul Hudon realized what the nature of his project was, he asked himself an important question about method. Would he revise the entries, or leave them as untouched records of each day’s impulse – “first-draft/best-draft,” as he puts it? He decided for revision, because although “each day’s singularity had to leave its mark on the cycle,” at the same time, “first-off/best-off is not a poetics [he could] honestly practice.” Having written poems since the 1950s, he writes, “I am not willing to admit that half a century has taught me nothing.” He therefore developed for himself the “Rule of 2Ts … that topic and tone of a day’s first draft can not be altered, but that everything else – any change that serves to clarify either or both – is allowed, is in fact required.”

I’ve taken this much space to describe the book’s origin, and quote Hudon’s introduction, by way of explaining why it’s impossible in a review of moderate length to adequately convey the variety of subject matter, voice, affect, or style in this kaleidoscopic, constantly rewarding work. What follows is a gesture toward the scratching the surface, using a handful of samples that leave the surface pretty much unscratched.

The first entry, dated September 27, opens in medias res: “Except on Tuesdays. Tuesdays I sleep late / and have breakfast on the terrace / if the weather’s agreeable, which often it is not.” We could infer that, on every other day, he doesn’t sleep late and perhaps starts with some other activity, but we’re not told and I don’t think we ever find out. In many of these poems, there’s something of an absent subject, written around but unspecified. Examples: August 18: “Say that it got by us. Tell them / we were busy buying lawn mowers.” September 4 opens: “Try thinking of them as rides, the kind / you gave money for at amusement parks.” There are anecdote poems that, similarly, arise as fragments, as with July 27: “We weren’t there but / ten minutes / when they came to say / we had to leave. / Something to do / with air circulation, / or non circulation / as it turned out. And / in fact it was close / in there. / […] No one knows where / this is going.” In each instance, we’re given enough to graze against the missing center; this results in the paradox of feeling simultaneously present to the poem and removed from it. In this connection we can note a whole series of poems, at least a dozen, concerning someone named Fenton. Cumulatively, these entries can’t help but suggest a persona, though each reader’s Fenton will be her own.

Paul Hudon frequently uses vernacular speech to humorous or sardonic effect. June 5: “Listen pal, if the design’s / so freaking intelligent, / how’s it happen my cousin / daily reminds us / he’s the Kaiser’s maiden aunt?” The May 20 poem sums up the Eden story in this mode, nodding to other religion-focused entries, such as June 18, July 25, and August 12. May 20:

You was warned.
Wasn’t you warned?
Keep your greedy paws
off the fruit, I said,
didn’t I?
                        I said,
Every thing else is yours
to order and command.
And whaddaya do?
Well, you won’t
make me out a fool, boy.
Skedaddle, hear? Go.
You got yourself a new
re-geem. Elsewhere.
And take the woman
with you. It’ll be
sweat and broken bones
here on in for your two.
My word. Or hope to die.

Several poems take the operation and components of language as points of reflection. On October 17, Hudon works on “verb” itself as metaphor, rather than a specific verb used metaphorically: “What’s the verb has the shape / for this work? A tool fit for digging / forward, filling back, / leaving behind only an accumulate – / the matter of the fact. / […] Is organic a verb? What about rapture?” The poem for January 9, uses unhyphenated syllables split between short lines (as do other entries), to slow us down, force us to consider the impact of bare linguistic particles on perception:

ence frag
ment phrase
for that matter

like mRNA
ing in the blind
dle of

This cummings-like treatment of language arises elsewhere, though always in Hudon’s distinct voice. March 8 takes it into puns: “where the plane / inclines to is the / quest in the quest / ion of the ion o /sphere”.

I’ve hinted at the sense of humor that inflects many of these poems, and it’s worth pointing out other instances. The Dickinson parody of Jun 26 made me laugh out loud: “I dwell in instability / a feather up my nose / more numerous innuendoes / supervening out of doors”. The two-line entry for December 21 brings back the vernacular voice: “Hey, buddy, put them shades up. / We save daylight around here.” This solstice suggestion connects with other seasonally- or holiday-related poems, like this sharp observation for February 22:

president’s day
       the American
character as it substitutes
institution day for name day
thereby caging another long
weekend by way of
honoring indifferent leadership

There are elegiac poems here as well, overlapping with a set focused on family members (explicitly or plausibly). The tender April 6 entry brings these together, opening: “Hey, Sis, another birthday. / Only wish you were here / for it, bring your life to the party. / You could / give out favors like they came / free at no cost, / they way you did, / eating all the grief on the / table, leaving the cake / and ice cream for the kids / and their kids.”  By contrast, only a few days later (April 10) there’s a shredding anti-elegy for someone unnamed whose near demise seems likely. The speaker offers to assist:

[ … ]
Here I’ll help.
We’ll pack your pretense to understanding
what’s going on, your expectation of revenge
(my gawd! you had some size on that)
like they go together (which of course they do)
in the bottom, where you’ll need the weight.
[ … ]
The poems will go in last,
incense on the burning coals. You remember.
The priest makes a last pass at the body
in the box, laying an odiferous cover on
the mess time has made of you. You know that.

It may be coincidental, but as the 365-day cycle nears its conclusion, many of the longer poems make their appearance, pressing forward to beat the project’s predetermined endpoint. Six days before the end, on September 20, we have the longest poem, a three-page retelling of Abraham and Isaac’s persistently disturbing tale. This is told from the son’s perspective much later in life, though neither man is named. As with many of the entries in the book, at the start we’re dropped into the middle: “He said we had come to it. We were here. / Where exactly was not easy to say.” Although the son muses in detail at what took place, the event, incomprehensible at the time, remains so in memory, senseless and unredeemed. In this telling, no ram appears as a substitute, nor is it certain that there is any deity involved. The father changes his mind, and they return home:

He never after
spoke of it, and I would sooner
have walked into the screaming sand.
[ … ]
We were two days without work between us,
and for all the daily labor that was
a pantomime of him, this is what I see
when I see him.
This is a mystery that occupies me.

We began on September 27, and so end on the 26th. The remarkable microcosm which makes up All in Good Time, physically modest (easy to hold in one hand) but conceptually vast, needs no summing up. But still, there is a goodbye – characteristically, from an unnamed person who ends this journey by simply leaving, for an unspecified place, with a promise to return.

Mardi prochain, he said,
his back to me, waving as he walked
the path down to the well,

made the turn, over left, and was gone.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Hadja Bangoura

Hadja Bangoura

Hadja Bangoura joined Teen Voices Emerging (Boston's teen girls' writing and empowerment program) to challenge herself to try something new like creative writing. Bangoura feels taking this risk had a great impact on her as she is now confident with writing poetry and personal essays, along with public speaking. Her work has previously been published in both film form and written form in Northeastern's Woof magazine and Wilderness House Literary Review. She has appeared on Somerville's SCAT TV's "Poet to Poet, Writer to Writer" show. 

She and I: My Battle Within 
By Hadja Bangoura

My insecurity is my best friend 
and at the same time my worst enemy. 
I carry her with me everywhere. 
And she’s something I can put away 
for awhile,
and then she comes out 
without my consent 
and tells me things that play with my mind. 
I’m never able to control her. 
She lives and breathes inside of me,
blinding my eyelids,
crushing my spirit
tying down my tongue, 
tearing apart my words, 
shutting down my heart,
pulling on my veins,
choking on my emotions. 
I am gasping for air.

She sleeps inside my head -- keeping me up all night
and demands that I push others away from me 
so she can have my undivided attention. 
She tells me that I am not worth anyone's affection, 
I am not beautiful enough for someone to love me, 
I don't look like the other “typical” girls 
so who would accept me in these conditions? 

Soon I watch myself distancing my loved ones 
as I moved from city to city, country to country.
My shame seeps outside of me,
growing out of my pores.
I am afraid others can feel its aura.
I try to hide it with jokes 
and distracting myself with laughter. 

But when I get home, I tear up 
as I peel off the mask I wore all day.
With every tear I wipe away,
I begin conquering her,
opening my eyelids,
lifting my spirit
releasing my tongue, 
declaring my words, 
resuscitating my heart,
untangling my veins,
breathing my emotions.
I am victorious with my battle within. 

Poet Kathleen Spivack and Doug Holder at the Bagel Bards Meeting at the Au Bon Pain, Davis Square--Somerville

Poet Kathleen Spivack and Doug Holder at the Bagel Bards Meeting at the Au Bon Pain, Davis Square--Somerville

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Susan Tepper Interviews author Alex M. Pruteanu

Susan Tepper Interviews author Alex M. Pruteanu

Susan Tepper:  Every book of note that I’ve ever read has one line that cements the heart of the story.  In your new novel The Sun Eaters it is this line:
Everything that was alive was hungry, always.

Alex M. Pruteanu:  I can certainly speak to that. Hunger gives a certain kind of clarity and awareness of everything around you. The senses, all of them, are almost working overtime. You’re ultra-aware of your biology and how it’s changed, of your digestive system in particular.

To get back to this idea that everything that was alive was hungry, always. If you look around at whatever is left of nature, you’ll see that every animal is engaged actively and aggressively in finding food. Everything about an animal’s life from the time it opens its eyes involves hunting/gathering/scavenging for food. It’s daily warfare. Finding food is what they all do every day of their lives.

ST:  And, conversely, warfare brings hunger to those who manage to stay alive.

In the narrative you wrote:

Our hunger was chronic… Every spring we would forage for dandelions and nettles. Dandelions were bitter in the summer and autumn, but if we plucked them while they were young, in the spring, they had a sweeter taste… We ate everything from the flower all the way down to the root… Nettles were tricky… Their leaves bit back…

AP:  I thought about the immense difficulty a person has to face if he or she is engaged in the never-ending battle of finding food on a daily basis. Food that doesn’t exist or isn’t much available. Imagine living a life like that. Being in competition with not just your fellow humans, but every living thing around you, every animal, to merely find food for the day.

ST:  I’ve read tidbits about your own life, from time to time, in other interviews.  I know you were born in Romania and emigrated to the states at some point.  Can you tell us how your origins helped craft The Sun Eaters.

AP:  I was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1969. My mom defected to the States in 1979 and after close to a year of working to obtain our passports, my father and I were let out of the country to come join my mom here as political refugees. I arrived in the States in late January, 1980.

ST:  You were eleven years old.  How did it feel to leave your homeland?   Was it easy for a boy just entering puberty to connect with American kids?

AP:  It felt wrong to leave, initially, and beyond. I was basically told that we were leaving, not asked. And I was kept in the dark about the plan of my mother's defection, so it came suddenly for me. As I knew it, she had taken a trip to the United States as part of an economic delegation, and she never returned. In Romania, I had social connections and a lot of friends that I was told I'd have to leave behind. Plus, from the time my father applied to have our passports released and get permission to leave the country for good, I became sort of a cancer. People didn't much feel like being associated with both my father and I.  Everyone was being watched/monitored by the secret police, so being associated with someone who was applying to leave for good and join a person who had defected— which officially meant that treason was committed by the defector— was not in the best interest of those staying behind.

ST:  It must have been terribly strange and stressful for a child.

AP:  When it became official that my father and I were trying to leave the country, my friends backed off. It was a strange period. At one point, I didn't even have to go to school. As I remember it, I went anyway, but I wasn't really part of the class anymore. I wasn't given tests or projects to complete. I didn't get any more grades on anything. I would just go and sit in class. It was all surreal.

ST:  Extremely.  There are points in The Sun Eaters that are also quite surreal.  The two brothers live with their mother in a decimated Eastern European village populated by women doing the labors of men.   The men, including their Da, have gone to war and not come back.  An exchange between the older brother, Vladi, and their mother begins:

“I dreamed of bird-fish, Ma. They howled and wailed and whistled hot flames from their lips. There were so many it got dark. I couldn’t see.”

“Those are airplanes, Vladi. Don’t be scared. Come to me.”

This dialogue, I believe, is unconsciously lifted, part and parcel, from your own uncertain path as a child who was forced to leave home and country.

AP:  Probably.  I recall vividly the times I spent (vacations/holidays) at my paternal and maternal grandparents’ homes, which were both in villages in the countryside, although my maternal grandfather had a country house, but just on the outskirts of Ploesti—a town that was bombed by the Allies in WWII due to its several working oilfields (for some time during WWII Romania was allied with Germany).

ST:  Perhaps that is what stirred up the section of the book that concerns their visit to the enigmatic and mysterious Uncle Miki who does have food and other luxuries. 

Your narrator tells us:

Because of its oil fields and refineries, Uncle Miki’s city was under siege nearly the entire duration of the war… bombed from above by bird-fish every day, so Uncle became part of an invisible force of resistance… Vladi said he was a resistance administrator… he would shuttle very important papers sewn in the lining of his coat…

Secret agents, another dark unfolding in the plight of humankind.

AP:  A lot of material in the novel is written from recollections of “adventures” I had as a young boy with friends I had made during my times spent in the countryside. As I recall, one of the toughest inconveniences was having to use an outhouse quite some ways away from the house, and in winter. Winters in Romania are notoriously tough; the country lies on the same parallel as Montreal, Canada. But having to get up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse in the dead of winter was particularly brutal. We also didn’t have running water, so bathing was not a pleasant experience, even though the water—brought in large pails from the well by my grandparents—was boiled on the wood stove first, before being dumped into a wooden tub.  Other events in the book I simply made up.  Some parts are influenced by stories I’ve heard from village friends, and some are re-imagined and re-told from stories my father recounted about his own life with his brother in the village of Blagesti, in northeastern Romania. It’s all spun into fiction.

ST:  The Sun Eaters is a brilliant and intensely readable novel that deals with hardship and extreme resiliency when faced with the devastating realities of life after war.  Whether or not deliberate on the part of its author, this story stretches well beyond, sifting into the political environment of hunger and deprivations the world is facing now.

******Susan Tepper is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. Her latest title 'Monte Carlo Days & Nights' (Rain Mountain Press, NYC) is a novella set on the French Riviera.  More at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Contrarian Voice and other poems by Ernest Hebert

The Contrarian Voice

and other poems

by Ernest Hebert

Bauhan Publishing

P. O. Box 117

Peterborough, NH 03458


What a pleasure to pick up a book of poems and find myself well into it without once halting in puzzlement, encountering poems clothed in obscurities of diction, syntax and metaphor. Poems that seem designed to make you feel as if the appreciation of poetry requires membership in a cult of superior sensibility, from which you, philistine, are excluded for your unfashionable taste. I feel that such poems, like the emperor, have no clothes, while these poems of Ernest Hebert are made of solid, worn from labor, denim, because, from the beginning lines of the book,

I loved what I could compare to what I loved.

The surface of a pond is slightly curved

as is music from a violin and the violin itself.

as I tried them on, one after another, they fit.

Twenty minutes later, when I finished the first of the book’s four sections, “Septuagenarian Look-Back,” I felt that Ernest Hebert deserves as much attention as Billy Collins. His poetry shares a sardonic perspective with Collins. Here is “The Dogs of Tunapuna, Trinidad” from this section in support of my thesis:

The streets are full of them,

big-balled dogs with torn up flanks

and limping bitches with prominent tits.

They sleep the day and roam the night

to mate, quarrel, and carry on.

for a couple of hours you hear

only an occasional bark or yelp,

then all of a sudden half a dozen will start in.

Soon the entire island is howling.

It all sounds comic,

until you realize that these creatures

are killing and maiming one another

over useless territory and loveless fucking,

just like the rest of us,

a response to evolution,

spittle from the God Roar.

The last three words of that poem reappear in the long title for the second section: “Poems Inspired by, The God Roar (a novel I never wrote, which in turn was inspired by a sculpture by Brenda Garand.)” The section begins with “Hypothermia,” when “I” discovers “You” in a snowdrift, near death from the cold. “I” rescues “You” and undresses “You’s” unconscious body and warms it with his and “You” recovers as they share his sleeping bag and have this conversation:

"Come to consciousness, I said.

"Do I know you?" You said.

"I hardly know myself," I said.

We lay quiet and still for an hour,

then I asked why you came into these woods.

You said, "Listen."

"I don't hear anything."

"Yes you do – listen."

"I hear it now,

the tick and scrape of tree branches."

"How nice when the wind blows through the tops

of the trees and underneath it's still."

"You came for that, a sound?"

"Yes, the God Roar, to record it for posterity.


However, the possibility of intimacy contained in this beginning remains unfulfilled in the seven poems of this section that are the fragments of a strange and dreamlike story told by "I." The plot elements sketched in these poems left me intrigued but dissatisfied. They are analogous to Sargent’s studies for the murals in the rotunda of Boston’s MFA, which are engaging in reference to the complete work, but of marginal interest without it.

Fortunately, with the third section, “Poems and Songs in the Darby Chronicles,” Hebert is back in full voiced empathy for the Yankees and French Canadians who worked in the mills and were abandoned when Capital moved their work south to our Free Trade Zone with the Carolinas. The “Darby Chronicles” are a series of seven novels Hebert has written about a fictional New Hampshire town and the inhabitants of the surrounding hills; each poem in this section is attributed to a character in one of those novels. This one, “Untitled,” is belongs to Hadly Blue in A Little More than Kin:

This sea in her gift for composition

has made a place, if not self,

for that rock, that kelp.

Thus I am unconcerned

that my hat has blown away,

that the gulls are laughing:

"There is less of him than usual."

By the fourth section, "Howard Elman: An Old Working Man's Meditations," the sardonic humor of Septuagenarian that is the muscle in the voice of the first section has matured by 10 years:

Plow Guy's Lament

…[four lines]

Octogenarian walked over to the truck.

Junior rolled down the window.

"How come you, not your dad?"

"He bought the farm yesterday,"

Junior said, just as calmly

as one talking about the weather.

…[14 lines]

Junior's only emotion

at the moment was glee

at the thought of inheriting

an almost new truck.

The grief would come later.

The concluding and title poem of the volume, "The Contrarian Voice," that follows, begins as Elman, now a widower, gives us a catalog of grieves that for him came later:

Munch on a village store grinder

while you imagine Wife

standing at the sink

and gazing out the window

at her birdfeeder,

just as she had done in life.

Tell her how sad you are:

connections and conniption fits

that enriched your life,

the Centenarian’s stew pot,

involuntarily memorized glimpses

of trees, stone walls, ledges,

old mossy gravestones,

fences and hosses and cows

This poem of 309 lines is a collection of more catalogs; some are angry; some are nostalgic (and of those some are regretful); and some are playful and speculative, as when he sends an email to his Sane Daughter:

Saint Peter, cranky gatekeeper of Catholic heaven

and frequent lurker on the Internet,

intercepts message to Sane Daughter.

Checks it off as a venial sin

and files it in the database.

Saint Peter is tired. This job is a lot of work.

Slips a note in the Judgment Day Suggestion Box:

How about an honorable mention

for the lab mice who did more

for the species who enslaved them

than the species did for themselves?

This introduction of Saint Peter is followed by a catalog of possible ways that Elman might die framed as an argument with himself. At its conclusion, “You don't have a prayer./‘I don't have a prayer,” Hebert reintroduces Saint Peter to answer Elman's assumption of damnation with one final catalog, which suggests that redemption will be granted to Elman and to all working stiffs just for the virtue of their being working class:

You don’t have a prayer.

I don’t have a prayer.

Saint Peter doesn't have a prayer,

so he checks the historical record,

bumps his forehead with his palm,

and calls out in Octogenarian’s voice,

talking in his sleep,

“Jesus, I get it now:

the ones with no education,

the ones who made mistakes in youth

and paid for them over a lifetime,

the ones who built the idiot pyramids,

and the useless cathedrals,

and that stupid wall in China,

…[seven lines]

and who appeared in apparitions in the minds

of soldiers calling for their mothers

as they lay bleeding out on the battlefield,

and who fucked the bosses to save us all –

they are all fucked.

And fucked again.

And fucked over.

And fucked forever,

us, the working people.”

After speaking this I think Peter should exchange his mythic robes of white silk for working ones of denim, faded from hard use and many washings.

                                                                                    -- Wendell Smith

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tenth anniversary of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America

Peter Thabit Jones/Aeronwy Thomas

On the tenth anniversary of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America, featuring Aeronwy Thomas, his daughter, and Swansea poet and dramatist Peter Thabit Jones, a commemorative book will be published by The Seventh Quarry Press, UK, and Cross-Cultural Communications, USA.

The Tour, which was organized by Peter’s and Aeronwy’s American publisher Stanley H. Barkan, in consultation with poet and emeritus professor Vince Clemente of New York, saw Aeronwy and Peter travel from New York to California, whilst taking in many other states and reading at prestigious venues, such as the National Arts Club, New York, the Chrysler Building, which was then the home of the Welsh Government in New York, the Walt Whitman Birthplace, Knox College, Illinois, and the Monterey Peninsular College in California. At the end of the Tour, Peter and Aeronwy were commissioned by Catrin Brace of the Welsh Government in New York to write the first-ever Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greewnich Village, which is now available as a pocket-book, a smartphone app, which was developed especially for the 2014 Dylan Thomas Centenary, and a guided tour by New York Fun Tours.

The forthcoming book, entitled America, Aeronwy, and Me/Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour of America, which is being edited by Peter Thabit Jones will contain the Tour schedule, prose memories by Peter of each event they did and other prose memories, some poems by Aeronwy and Peter inspired by America, relevant Tour photos, and contributions from those who hosted them at universities and venues across America.

Stanley H. Barkan will write the Preface to the book, which will be in memory of Aeronwy who died in 2009. The book, which will be published this autumn, has had the blessing of the family of Aeronwy Thomas.

Peter Thabit Jones
Author, with Aeronwy Thomas, of the Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greenwich Village