Saturday, April 05, 2014

Mother, One More Thing Poems by Carla Schwartz

Mother, One More Thing
Poems by Carla Schwartz
Copyright 2014 by Carla Schwartz
Turning Point Books
Cincinnati, OH 45254
Softbound,  79 pages,  no price
ISBN 9781625490728

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Carla Schwartz like many a daughter thinks a lot about her departed mother. Unlike many daughters, however, she writes poetry about the woman who birthed her.  So, while this poetry book is about her mother, it is ultimately about herself. Whenever one writes about someone, it seems the choice of subject matter of each poem, the words and the descriptions reveal more about the author than the subject – though the subject is also bared in the process


The box descends
braced by planks
and strapped to hands,
square, thin, raw.
Pine, like all others like it,
except for the remains.

We commence the burial
with shovels full of sandy soil,
our final send-off to what now is just a corpse
the body whose womb I traversed,
who held me through the worst turns.

I held her, those last days
when, to rays streaming through the room,
to Death itself
my mother – joyous, rapt,
proposed the seeming impossible task:
Let’s go outside!      

There are also a number of poems dealing with sex – some maybe are about her mother, some about Ms. Schwartz, some are a bit more explicit than others, but whatever, her poems keep the reader interested and moving through the book. 

The final poem is the title poem and reveals, perhaps, the most of Ms. Schwartz sensitive nature as opposed to what might more carnal or more nostalgic writing:
Mother, One More Thing

A Wellfleet house with sloped ceilings and white walls,
pink light through the trees early morning.
Three large casements on two walls and skylight.
The ceiling follows the slope of the roof.
The casement on the north wall, raised.
Outside, inside our bedroom.

Copies of famous painting, sprinkled throughout
in subdued reds, browns, blacks, and whites.
The furnishings, simple, from the fifties,
with minor updates each decade.

Mother, you don’t know this, you haven’t been there.
One corner we never explored. The painting belong
to the owners. In good taste, but not yours.

Best of all, the pond. It has your name.
I slip in every morning for a swim.
Right after you come to me in dream. After I stretch.
After the subjugation resembling love.

What can be most interesting about these poems is that they are often written to throw the reader off – a word missing here or there, as in the last stanza above: “Right after you come to me in dream.”  Most writers would write “in a dream.”  But the effect here to stop the reader if only for an instant, if only to make you think and think again with what follows. There are also a plethora of commas to slow you down or to make you think they are not all necessary. A hidden trick?   Is it conscious and thoughtful?   There are a number of enigmas in her writing and it is up to the reader to decide on it.

And finally, there is a lot of soul bearing, which many poets seem to do, some not as effectively as Ms. Schwartz.

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology

Friday, April 04, 2014

Review of Spells: New and Selected Poems by Annie Finch

Review of Spells: New and Selected Poems by Annie Finch
(Wesleyan University Press, 2013)
By Lawrence Kessenich

In the preface to this collection, which covers her poetic works from 1970 to approximately 2010 (the pieces in the New Poems section are not dated) Annie Finch promises a lot of variety:

The collection includes lyric and narrative poems, performance texts, verse drama, translations, libretti, chants, rituals, elegies, sonnets, villanelles, ars poetica, epithalmia, valentines, prayers, letters, dialogues, pastiche, and other shapes. Most of the poems are spoken in ancient and contemporary rhythms: sapphics, cretics, dactyls, amphibrachs, trochees, anapests, folk stanzas, iambs, and others.

I was afraid that this was a lot for Finch to bite off—and for me to chew. But once I was immersed in the work, I didn’t really think about form all that much, except in a very few places where, for me, the form called a bit to much attention to itself. But mostly the book is a rich feast of words.

The structure of the volume is also interesting, presenting the poems in reverse order of their creation, starting with new poems and moving backward a decade at a time. This seems to me a very sensible way to present a significant portion of a life’s work, because most of us feel that our latest work is our best, so why not start there?

Spells is a good title for this book, because, as Finch herself puts it, “As a Wiccan, I write poems as incantations to strengthen our connections to each other, to the passage of time, and to the sacred cycles of nature.”

The first poem where that incantatory quality comes across is “Your Land,” a poem that plays on the old Woody Guthrie song, “This Land is Your Land,” mostly known in its sanitized version, which eliminates the two more political verses Guthrie originally included. Finch’s poem restores the political commentary to this subject with lines such as:

As I went walking in the land of our heart,
I found animals crying.

and (about trees)

They turned in their power and knowledge and pain.
Their arms grew wide open, their lives fell apart.

The incantatory quality comes in using the words “As I went walking” to begin each stanza and in having a single-line stanza after each of the longer ones that echoes the song: “This land is your land, this land is my land.”
“The Naming” uses surnames as incantations:

Weinstein, Villanueva, West, Sadaque,
(Spirals, dust and some spiraling dust and hours)
Bowman, Burns, Kawauchi, Buchanan, Reilly,
Reese, Ognibene.

While I like this approach, and love the wonderful variety of the names Finch uses (over fifty of them throughout the poem), I wasn’t always certain that the names provided a pleasing enough rhythm.

In a much shorter poem, “Walk With Me,” however, the rhythm is strong enough to create a true sense of incantation. Here it is in its entirety:

Walk with me just a while, body of sunlight,
body of grass, surface of trees,
head bending to the earth we have tasted,
body of death, surface of leaves.
Sinking hooves in the mud by the river,
root of the live earth, live through my body.
Sinking body, walk in me now.

The Wiccan celebration of earth is clearly and powerfully communicated here.

Although nature is by far the most common subject of Finch’s work, she applies her highly sensual sensibility to other subjects, even to something as simple as baking bread.  I really enjoy these opening lines in “Wild Yeast:”

Rumbling a way up my dough’s heavy throat to its head,
seeping the trailed, airborne daughters down into the core,
bubbles go rioting through my long-kneaded new bread;
softly, now, breath of the wildest yeast starts to roar.

Her sensuality and love of nature and the incantatory all serve her well in a poem called “Two Bodies,” about making love, which begins like this:

Two bodies, balanced mass and power,
move in a bed through the dark,
under the earliest human hour.
A night rocks, like an ark.

They reach through the ceilings of the night,
tall as animals.
Through their valleys bends the light
of their fertile hills.

The book also includes a section on performance pieces—and I say “on” rather than “of” for a reason. For me, the excerpts are too short to get a sense of the whole, especially when there are no summaries of what comes before or after the excerpts. I would perhaps have preferred one longer piece, so we could see how it played out in full. But Finch’s sensuality, sensitivity to nature and partiality to the incantatory are well demonstrated in what’s here.

The final section contains Finch’s translations and co-translations of four poets: Louise Labé, Anna Akhmatova, Andrée Chedid and a fragment from Sappho. They are all high-quality translations, but I was particularly taken with Labé’s work, all sonnets, which I hadn’t previously known. Here are the first six lines of Finch’s translation of the Labé poem “Sonnet 16 [Impotence]” to convey a sense of their power:

After a time in which thunder and hail
have beaten the mountains—the Caucasian height—
a fine day comes, and they’re clothed again in light.
When Phoebus has covered the land with his circling trail,
he dives to the ocean again, and his sister, pale
with her pointed crown, moves back into our sight.

Considering her own work, one can see why Finch’s sensibility would mesh well with Labé’s. She serves this poet well as her translator.

I’ll end with an excerpt from the beginning of a poem, “Samhain” (named after a Wiccan celebration of those who have died) that, for me, well characterizes all of the aspects of Finch’s poetry—subject matter, sensibility and use of form:

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while the hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke…

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

(un) civil magazine of prose and poetry Volume 1 issue 1

(un) civil
 magazine of prose and poetry
Volume 1 issue 1
Winter 2013- 2014
Editor Andrea Gregory
Managing Editor Shilpi Suneja
77 pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Civilizations thrive under a strong political leadership and an atmosphere of law and order. The expectation of this law and order generates time and energy and creativeness. It usually follows that the people who populate these societies move toward the wonder of artistry and the expressiveness of ideas. On the other hand, the leadership of these social orders (no matter how kindly in their origination and well-meaning in their intentions) paradoxically edge forward toward tyranny. The lesson taken from this natural progression of things should be an urgency of involvement, the constant challenge of authority, and, occasionally, a little rebellion by the populace. Thomas Jefferson, himself, would approve of a little periodic rebellion. He suggested every twenty years. Magazines such as (un) civil provide a provocative and potentially effective vehicle for this type of protest.

A photographic essay with an introductory editor’s note at the front of the magazine, both by Shilpi Suneja, acts as a centerpiece and brings this publication to life. The photos, entitled Turkish Spring: (un) civil Love for a Park in the heart of the City, chronicle last summer’s protests in Istanbul Turkey. The protests began over government plans to demolish a popular park in favor of a shopping mall. The disturbances quickly spread and took on a national flavor, questioning the hardline and inflexible tactics of the current Turkish administration. The country’s Prime minister, Tariq Erdogan, a man, who, in his turn, once defied authority and was imprisoned for reading a poem, labeled the demonstrators “chapullers,” meaning hooligans, a term which became a badge of honor and, in the form of graffiti, adorns the front cover of this magazine.

Each photo persuasively builds on the central story and engages the reader forcefully. The picture of the protest in Taksim Square especially struck a note with me. Years ago (2003), I also witnessed a very different protest march in Taksim Square that also electrified the Turkish citizenry and won its objectives. There is nothing like the excitement and ground swell of a democracy movement exercising its magical power.

Evil’s banality ripens to fruition in The Torturer’s Peace, a poem by Joaquin Giannuzzi and translated by Chris Philpot. Family life contrasts with professional life in an interesting seamless dynamic. Here’s the heart of the poem,

…with 220 volts he is capable of performing wonders
like uprooting
God’s littlest-known secret.
His wife doesn’t need to know anything
about these matters
which moreover would do nothing to help
her make good soup.
The two children admire their father
for his generous way
of filling the world around them.

In The Road poet Richard Hoffman paints a formalized but affecting picture, a timeless landscape of war’s castoffs—the refugees. Hoffman splices anger and art together very well in this anti-war poem. He begins his piece this way,

Mothers with newborns in knotted slings,
on their heads impossible towers of things,

            the old in carts, the children by the hand,
            these people crossing a cratered land

                        are more than metaphor;
                                    but they are also metaphor.

We are the truth to one another. Look:
don’t wait for some historian’s book

            to understand this (then it will be too late.)
            This is the unchecked power of the State…

Another poem by Hoffman entitled A War. A Fear.  A Scar. An Ear. personifies war as a philanthropic candyman passing out sweets to children. This portrayal does not stray too far from reality I must say. Soldiers often carry candy for the local kids. As a non-combatant, but visitor in a war zone, I once did the same thing outside of a school in Afghanistan. It made me feel rather good. Hoffman explains how it really works,

The children were hungry and
The candy made them hungrier.
That’s the kind of candy it was.
The war liked little bellies
And their high voices and thin
Limbs, and he liked to walk back,
When he had no candy and listen
To their tiny begging, please Mr.,
And how by morning the lovely
Green jewels of the flies flashed
Swarming on their still wet eyes.

Jennifer Martin’s short story The Jerrycan chokes the reader in urine, shit, and mud. It tells a horrifying tale of life on the border of Chad and Sudan. Survival means tribe conspiring against tribe and family sacrifice and cruelty, always cruelty. Martin excels in delivering rich details to the reader. Consider this example,

…Most of her neighbors had gone to the camps to ask the
Red Cross for items. Only those with forged camp cards or money were successful.
On occasion, a beautiful young woman would sob and receive blue plastic
sheeting to reinforce her family’s tukel, perhaps a bucket, a new pot to cook in,
maybe a mosquito net. Zoubaida, not beautiful and not young, had received an
empty one and a half liter Evian bottle. Its plastic body ran now with valleys
of dents and rivers of near-cracks, but it had lasted her a year It held drinking
water and sometimes petrol or peanuts or millet grains or candles or fat white
termites for soup. When her husband was alive and behaved foolishly, it held
Zoubaida’s wedding ring…

Natalya Estemirova, a journalist and Russian human rights activist went missing in 2009. Jared M. Feldschreiber includes a poem of admiration entitled Poem for Natalya. I like very much the contained rage and imagery in the poem’s concluding lines. The poet says,


You did not die in vain.
Your enemies thought you were a robber of truth
And they will be punished.
You are somewhere amongst us
Beyond the withering trees.

Courage to portray the truth in the face of injustice and horror is unfortunately a rare commodity. Publications like (un) civil deserve our interest and, when done as well as this issue is, our thankful applause.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Boston National Poetry Month Festival, 2014 (Poetry and more!) April 10-13, in Copley Square

Harris Gardner--Founder of the Boston National Poetry Festival

Boston National Poetry Month Festival, 2014
(Poetry and more!)
April 10-13, in Copley Square  

By Kirk Etherton      

        This year, the Festival begins with something new—a Thursday evening premier of "Poetry set to Music & Dance," held upstairs at Old South Church.  It features poems by Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Doug Holder, CD Collins, Richard Hoffman, and others. The event is produced by Lucy Holstedt, professor at Berklee College of Music.

          Performers include Cloud Ludum Ensemble, CD Collins, Eleni Arapoglou and dancers, Lucy Holstedt, plus Prof. Armsted Christian's Flo'Ology Experience (spoken word/poetry/music). Special appearances by Beth Bahia Cohen (violin), Ethan Mackler (electric bass), and many more.

          Friday, the Festival moves to the Boston Public Library, with readings by 15 "Keynote Poets." To name just five: David Ferry (National Book Award), Diana Der-Hovanessian (Barcelona Peace Prize), Dan Tobin (Guggenheim) and Lloyd Schwartz (Pulitzer Prize); Vermont-based poet & editor Jim Schley is driving down from his home in South Strafford to participate.

          Saturday and Sunday (April 12 & 13), readings continue at the Library, with 60 established and emerging poets. National Poetry Slam winner Regie O. Gibson, Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish, Rep. Denise Provost, January O'Neil, Bert Stern, Charles Coe, Kate Finnegan, and poet-philosopher Ifeanyi Menkiti are just a few you won't want to miss—as well as a number of gifted Boston high school students. Also reading are Festival co-founders/poets Harris Gardner and Lainie Senechal

          The Festival has Open Mics, on Saturday AND Sunday. There is also a workshop led by noted poet Tom Daley. ALL EVENTS ARE FREE!
For more information, go to: