Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wild Women of Lynn Writings from the Walnut Street Coffee Café

Wild Women of Lynn
Writings from the Walnut Street Coffee Café
Ring of Bone Press
ISBN: 978-1-4834-0596-4
Edited by Blaine Hebbel and Elizabeth Gordon McKim
128 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

When Lynn women, especially comely, talented Lynn women, misbehave, look out. Somewhere in this cacophony of curses, crack whores, drunken teenage soldiers, absentee slumlords, belches, cherry cokes, and mooning, beauty and art surface, somehow finding an outlet and these wild street sirens from that sinful city have their way with us-- “us” being the hot-footed, fleeing males and failed logicians overwhelmed by a flood tide of cresting emotions and feelings.

Of course mere reviewers, like me, have never been admitted into the orgiastic mysteries and Dionysian revelries. Oh, I’ve heard tell of the bacchanal gnashing of teeth and the screams, the horrid screams, of the confused and fallen victims, but that is all. Therefore I must report to you, dear reader, in a circuitous manner based on my biased and sheltered background.

Even the publisher of this collection seems bewitched. He ends his introductory paean to the these literary Amazons in a worshipful manner, He says,

…I stood open mouthed in awe
At the power of the words
From five incredible, beautiful women.
Wild Women of Lynn
Their words are the American Voice
All I needed was to hear them once
To know I could never get enough.

Irony loves the mean streets. Kerry Zagarella’s well-wrought piece, Cardboard soul, exudes irony from the title to the last line. A boy with worn sneakers becomes a mythical god before our very astonished eyes. Here is the heart of the poem,

his body breaks the tape
jumps through the hoops
hurdles over roll of barbed wire and broken glass
cans full of tetanus

Along the sidewalk he kicks broken glass
into piles of neighborhood
cans soar towards the sewer convinced by sneaker
his shoelaces decorate high-tops like Christmas tinsel
their importance forgotten
Like Hermes his feet carry message

One of my favorite pieces in this collection is a short prose poem by Alicia Churchill. The poet’s persona waits outside the psychiatric ward at Beth Israel Hospital. It seems that her friend, a speaker of Kikongo, a Bantu language, is a practicing Shaman and, reasonably enough, had been talking to trees or some such thing. Churchill describes her experience,

…What I want to say is do you speak Shaman? Because
if you did, you would not be holding my friend prisoner. The locked
unit is where they put us, in this culture, if we open our mouths
and admit that we talk to trees…

In her poem Yeahyeahyeah, Jocelyn Almy Testa enumerates her in- your- face straightforward approach,

…I resort
to writing about
everyday bullshit
and its flies
and its stink
and it’s necessary.

The apostrophe in the last line makes the poem with its surprisingly logical, dare I say artful, upturn.

Testa’s poem Alternative Ending portrays the feral-like instinct to survive no matter what life throws in a woman’s way. She begins her primitively carved piece this way,

Lost somewhere between
between innocence
and blame
between cold beating
and fiery pause
she stands
with strangled posture,
musters liveliness
and bites

Kato Mele knows how to tell a story by starting from the middle and branching out into the iniquitous past and foregone future. She’s also canny enough to avoid dimly lit parking garages. Mele explains,

…I must have circled the block 5 or 6 times and it’s raining nails and I’ll
be damned if I’m going to pay the 6 bucks those thieving bastards want up at the garage with the urine-soaked elevators and the questionable lighting in the stairwells.

Mele also has some rather strong opinions about fellow patrons sitting at the bar in a Chinese restaurant. The writer philosophizes over her clearly detailed leanings this way,

…who do I see sitting at the bar but my old pal, A. (I can’t use his full name here because he has since been elected to public office and that lot doesn’t know that he used to be a bottom-dweller like the rest of us.) Sitting next to A. is a conspicuously clean fellow who, upon opening his mouth, revealed himself to be a German. Not your average “Oh, look at us, we’re so great. We’ve got 8 weeks paid vacation a year so no matter where you go on this fucking planet you’ll always be surrounded by fucking Germans” kind of German. No, this guy had an aristocratic bearing. I believe he told me his name was Something Something Wittgenstein.

The roots of Elizabeth Gordon McKim, often called the Jazz Poet of Lynn, run deep. Her modulated verses dance over the page, weaving, bending, circling, and ever jubilant. Her performances at The Walnut Street Coffee Café are legend.  Here’s a taste of the music.

I am
an oily pelican
From deep down deep down on the gulf
I can tell all of you brothers and sisters
aint feelin brave
and aint feelin tough
I got oily feathers
And got my oily stink
I can’t remember how to fly
And I’m feelin strange and weak

Even a dirge by McKim soars with positive implications. The poet laments,

I remember 2 weeks before you died
When your mama moved in with us
How you said to me:

The earth
Has no beginning
And no end
The earth all ways

And I’d heard you say it before
And now it was more important
And I knew
You were also talking
About you and me and all of us
And the big eee
Forever and ever
Even though you were going
To the faraway country
You would still be here
Part of eee

The strength of contemporary literature continues to surprise me. Who could predict this level of consistent quality from Hebbel’s new publishing house right out of the box. Surrender to sin, if only for a night, and read this book.

Monday, April 14, 2014

ATTN: Somerville Residents: The Mass Poetry Festival May 2 to 3, 2014.

January O'Neil

ATTN: Somerville Residents: The Mass Poetry Festival May 2 to 3, 2014.

This week our guest columnist is Jacqueline Malone of the Mass. Poetry Festival.  She has just interviewed Executive Director of the Festival January O’Neil. The festival will be held May 2 to 3 in Salem, Mass.

In the last month or so there have been few people busier than our own January O’Neil, Executive Director of Massachusetts Poetry Festival, as she has been involved making and solidifying plans for the event. But she took time to answer some questions that give us her unique point-of-view on the May 2 through 4 event in Salem.  As you’ll see from her answers, she is one of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival’s most ardent fans!

What kind of feedback have you gotten about past festivals?
This is an event people enjoy coming back to year after year. Needless to say, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Every year, we get a little better at putting on a large-scale festival, and it shows. I’m most surprised at how our reputation is growing outside of New England. Whenever I go to national conferences or other large festivals, people have heard of our little event, which is simply amazing.

What will make this year’s festival special?
Mass Poetry has been fortunate to bring in an amazing group of poets locally and from across the country. Having two poets laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and Phil Levine, is a gift. Music and Poetry with Cornelius Eady. Kim Addonizio, Oliver de la Paz, and Susan Rich bring their poetic sensibilities from the West Coast. And having Rhina Espaillat, David Ferry, and Lucie Brock-Brodio on the same program is icing on the cake!

Name  a workshop you believe experienced poets will love?

Poets and poetry lovers will love all of our events! That being said, I’m looking forward to The State of Poetry with festival cofounder Michael Ansara, Oliver de la Paz, Kim Addonizio, and Don Share from Poetry magazine, hosted by Jennifer Jean. After an afternoon of verse, attendees will appreciate coming together to talk about the poetry landscape. I’m also interested in “Young Poets Address Issues of Identity: The Body, Trauma, Empowerment, and Transformation.” This panel speaks the power of poetry. And, I’m curious about “Five Poetry Prompts That Will Change Your Life.” What are those prompts? I must know!

What should those who are just trying out their wings as writers look for in workshop descriptions?
When the workshop is over, what are the takeaways? Will you have prompts, a basis to revise titles or whole manuscripts? Do you feel you’ll get what you need to start a poem or try a new style?

 Besides the planned events, what will people enjoy about the festival?
I hope everyone will cherish this time with like-minded people talking about poetry. And Salem is a terrific host for this! There are so many restaurants and spaces to gather and share ideas. What I really want is for people to take a few minutes in-between sessions to talk to one another, reflect on what they have experienced, and take it out into the world. The festival will end but that good feeling doesn’t have to.

For poetry lovers who have never made it to a festival, what are they missing?
You will miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the best poets writing poetry today—from emerging to established poets, our festival still has a grassroots feel. We don’t stand on pretension. Most important, you’ll miss the opportunity to “fill the well” with words, something much needed after this polar vortex of a winter.

Getting the Max out of Maxims in Richard Kostelanetz’ new book

Richard  Kostelanz

Getting the Max out of Maxims in Richard Kostelanetz’ new book

by Michael Todd Steffen

In her recently published biography e.e. cummings: a life, Susan Cheever writes, “In the twenty-first century…we are all inundated with information and given no time to wonder what it means or where it comes from.”

Against that overwhelming grain and fact of every writer’s life in our time, Adastra Press, recognized for its hand crafted chapbooks, edited, published and printed by poet and critic Gary Metras, early this year has brought out a book of aphorisms by Richard Kostelanetz, noted artist, writer and defender of the avant-garde.

It is a 4 x 6 paper (“80 lb. Neenah Environmental Felt text, recycled and acid free”) cover book with a card in-leaf, entitled Mini Maxims, “composing…aphorisms” in “a long tradition, from Ecclesiastes to Erasmus and Pascal” (February 2014 press release).

Kostelanetz’ actual text runs 14 pages, including 41 lines, 164 words.

Blogger James Geary notes, “Because aphorisms are short, each word counts.”

To open a beautifully printed book on quality paper, with so much page space surrounding the sparse text makes for a refreshing reader’s experience in itself, well worth the $18 (postage included) for purchasing the book, provided the buyer so appreciates the experience of reading from bound paper. (I do.)

The writing itself demonstrates varying intentions by Kostelanetz, from pin’s-drop contemporary observation vaporized by abstract language, as in the book’s incipient line,

            Ignorance inhibits ethical discrimination (p. 7)

to some rather lite, pop-psy word play:

            Whoever indulges eventually bulges (p. 13)

which, timely as it is, tells us nothing we don’t know already, though has fun doing so. Kostelanetz, however, is aware that he is juxtaposing weightier pronouncements against lighter ones, as the lines on page 8 demonstrate:
            Aphorisms shape spontaneous intelligence.

            Every lover knows it.

That is traditionally a writer’s way of creating relief, a smile, a “space” where continously lined print doesn’t include the physical spacing. But Kostelanetz streams in the vein of the avant-garde where space in print on so much given page space can only be unexpectedly more interesting. It’s effect is like the shift of a chameleon in foliage.

Not to be judged, by its cover, but every page, Kostelanetz’ Mini Maxims, admirably produced by Metras, has uniquely altered my permanent book shelf. When there’s so much up for grabs, the small, quiet, well-made keepsakes that draw attention to what’s in our hands do weigh, pleasantly, meaningfully.

Mini Maxims by Richard Kostelanetz
is available for $18 (US postage paid)
from Adastra Press
16 Reservation Road
Easthampton, MA 01027
contact Gary Metras 413-527-3324