Thursday, May 01, 2014

Review of Eating Grief at 3AM by Doug Holder Reviewed in Gently Read Literature Spring 2014 issue.

Eating Grief at 3:00 a.m.
by Doug Holder
(Muddy River Books--Brookline, Mass.)
Review by  Bonnie ZoBell

In the spare yet rich poetry of Doug Holder's book Eating Grief at 3:00 a.m., there is a symphony of voices, places, and sounds. So clear are the ambiences, the run-down settings, the often broken, yet not always unhappy people who populate these poems, it's as if you've read a novel.
You haven't, but the expanse of details encases us in thoughts and a story much bigger than some novels do. There are so few words used in this spectacular chapbook counting them wouldn't take long, and yet they create worlds.
For example, in the poem "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome," we're told:
I thought of my father
As he gripped
His left hand
Prying it open with his right
A hand curling
Into a callused fetus
Holding on to
For dear life.
I know that man, though I've never met him. His tension, his frustration, his buried anger at himself and at others make me twitch. That grip makes him too uncomfortable to want to be around, and yet the idea he has to hold on so hard to keep it all together makes me want to rescue him. There are only 31 words in that stanza, and yet I am able to fully appreciate the man.
Holder's ability to create such depth of character, to show such fully-wrought human beings with his sparse and yet impeccable lexicon is enough to make any novelist envious. In "Father Knows Best-Mother Does the Rest," anybody who is ever watched the TV show—and many of us saw a whole generation's worth—will know the essence of this character in the first few words:
The bland tyranny
of the cardigan sweater.
His smile
creased in brutal condescension.
Holder's ability to portray a sense of place might be even stronger. Consistently throughout these gems the reader feels the setting and its meaning immediately. In "Transcendence," we're told:
I'm 84 floors up
but the city
only seems to
make sense
from my exalted omnipotence.
So many of us who've lived in large urban centers have felt reduced by circumstances and the anonymity that living among great masses can bring.
The old men leftover from bigger days who live in the heart of so many of our cities are elegantly depicted in "Eating Grief at Bickford's," a poem dedicated to Allen Ginsberg:
There are no places anymore
Where I can sit at a threadbare table
Pick at the crumbs on my plate . . .
The old men
Who used to spout
Rants from
The cracked porcelain of their cups
Are gone
The boiling water
Ketchup soup
The mustard sandwich
These used to relish
Throughout this collection of a time gone by, there is a sense of a whole nation of people who used to be the carriers of big ideas and ideals, people we may see ourselves as today. Only that older set of folks are in the margins now, hidden in the crevices. Younger people march into bars and cafes, pass them on the street, and don't even see those older humans, so sure are they of their own omnipotence, of their own starring roles. A past art teacher from one of the narrators' third grade classes worked hard all her life and is now reduced to being an old, angry woman painting caricatures of angry old women, something a younger person finds completely irrelevant. A man thinks back to one of his many trips to Kentucky Fried when he tried to put the brittle-boned, old chicken back together again but now understands you can never put the bird together again for all we are bones.
Humor abounds in these poems filled with people who aren't always at the top of their game. This and the alluring use of language allow us to travel the depths of some of these narratives and not become dispirited but instead find a warm familiarity of life expressed sublimely. This is who we are and this is who we will become.

To order a PDF of the Spring 2014 edition of the Gently Read Review go to  

To order Eating Grief at 3AM go to:


 Bonnie ZoBell’s new connected collection, What Happened Here, a novella and stories centered on the site PSA Flight 182 crashed in the North Park area of San Diego, will be published in February 2014 by Press 53.  .  Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Night TrainThe Greensboro ReviewNew Plains ReviewPANK, and The Connotation Press. ZoBell has been a fellow at such residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell,  and attended such conferences as the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Tin House Summer Workshop, and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. After receiving an MFA from Columbia on fellowship, she has been teaching at San Diego Mesa College where she is a Creative Writing Coordinator. Currently she is Associate Editor for The Northville Review and Flash Fiction Chronicles. .

Hanging Loose 103

Hanging Loose 103
Hanging Loose Press
Brooklyn, New York
ISSN #0440-2316
$11.00  2014

Hanging Loose has proven to be steadfast, with good writing, issue after issue. In order to do the magazine justice I will review one poet who I think is indicative to the flavor presented by all the poets in this particular issue; with a small review of the art work . I will try to show the reader why this magazine has lasted all these years.

JM Farkas's poem, “Nothing Makes me Think of You,”:

“Not your wife's favorite TV show with the actress you say
looks like me, but doesn't. Not the frantic, tympanic mating
dance of the Birds of Paradise. How the girl birds simply watch
with their three eyelids open, all unimpressed and blinkless. Not
the neuroplasticity of the brain or the maple syrup shortage. Not
the Ecclesiastes Equation of direct proportionality between increased
knowledge and sorrow...”

Farkas confronts us with words that may not be in our usual vocabulary. Tympanic, is a medical word relating to a particular bone. I couldn't get a complete meaning, other than from the poem.  I reread the first portion of the poem to get into the rhythm and to adjust my inner sight. In the first line another man's wife is enough to set up the entire poem and helped me contend with the poem. The poem carries us quickly to the next line, breathless, 'blinkless', like a movie star on the pause button then fast forward. And who wouldn't want to look like an actress. Not the poet. She wants to look like herself, the surreal renderer, an unimpressed watcher. The poem flowers and concocts a journey about a scorned lover or the lover as lair:

“Or the fact that female penguins prostitute
themselves for stones to build their babies' nests. Not the song
about glinty butter and hot knives. Or the words, fluster
and cinemascope. Not the hotspot between Bach and the Supremes,
“Where Did Our Love Go,” that space where two lines of music crack
together. Not drizzly fireworks or french fries covered
with gravy and melted cheese. Cheese, specifically, makes me
unthink of you. Your heart, after all, is not composed
of cheddar. Not Gouda, not manchego, not even a holey
slice. I won't stick my tongue or an anamorphic eye right...”

'Cheese and drizzly fireworks or french fries', all these phrases quickly catch our eye and the rhythm beats us into the paradise dance, word dance, sexy dance, dance about 'not.' Like a collage the poem pieces itself together with knowing or is it intuitive, then revision, which brings the poem to our eyes:

“through that moony surface, just to see if your face
is on the other side. It isn't, and I don't have to
look. Your face is already all over the face of our baby
that was never born. The one we never conceived, even though
I might have said I wanted to. Or maybe you said so, twice? Or maybe
you showed up at my apartment after a bumpy
four-hour bus ride from Boston and gave me a pizza cutter,
and proclaimed all the kinds of proclamations a girl hopes to hear
from anyone except the boy who winds up saying it.
And I said: no thanks, because I was too young and ornithic
to see. Someone once told me that it's hardest to write
a love poem, but i'm convinced it's harder not to.”

Farkas has two poems in this issue and they both epitomize contemporary verse. Farkas uses language like cheese that she cuts off small pieces from and chews on what refuses to be said. Pain is reversible. It can be seen on the outside and dwells inside with words such as, 'cutter, harder, crack.'  The poet goes gentle into the night or the poem or the song or the music. The poem contains all the information and word play we need to understand. Well done and so very very full, the emphasis is always on the poem.

Albert Kresh paints in a similar genre as the poetry submitted. He takes his historical view point, German expressions and paints in a loose thick style. The pigment strokes the surface in contrary colors, then the pigment builds up to the place where it dances our eyes and becomes a place to live with or in.

Hanging Loose 103 is magical with open verse. It's no longer experimental, in that, word and form experiments have proven to be the fore-runner to today's poetic. Poets have learned their history and are taking the previous experiments to new heights, their own voice is being carried with the help of the previous, concrete, found, and language poems. The poems form a new dictate. They are fresh and saucy, full of themselves, the poems are fearless, young, and strong. The displaced nouns, verbs as nouns, paragraphs as couplets, daring to let go of what was known, for what is to be known. Hanging Loose gives the reader the best newness, the best car wash trips, and the best relish put onto the page, the best reading, each and every time.

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review
Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press,
Boston Small Press,
Cervena Barva Press

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Catching Up With Somerville Poet Afaa Michael Weaver

Poet Afaa Michael Weaver

Catching Up With Somerville Poet Afaa Michael Weaver

By Doug Holder

  In late April the flames in the fireplace in the back of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square no longer burn. But poet Afaa Michael Weaver’s flame is very much in view. He joined me at my usual table near the fireplace, a makeshift office with a comfortable disarray of students' essays, newspapers, and the discarded skins of whitefish on my plate that once adorned my morning bagel. It has been a while since we had a chance to talk as he has been in a whirlwind of activity as of late.

 Weaver, a poet, playwright and a Professor at Simmons College in Boston has recently won the the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award for poetry that comes with a purse of a 100,000 dollars. Big money in the poetry biz and according to the noted poet Chase Twichell (And judge of the award) well deserved. Twitchell wrote:

  " The Kingsley Tufts Award is one of the most prestigious prizes a poet can win, and I am delighted to see it go to Afaa... He essentially invented himself from whole cloth as a poet. It is truly remarkable."

 The poetry collection that grabbed the eye of the prize was The Government of Nature ( UPITT) The poems, according to Weaver, deal with:   "...the recovery of childhood trauma in the context of Chinese spiritualism, merged with my own Christian upbringing."

  Weaver has a few other things on his plate as well. Professor Enzo Surin, a colleague of mine at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, has started a small publishing press the Central Square Press. He will be publishing a collection by Weaver titled: A Hard Summation. It will contain 13 poems that span African-American history from slavery to contemporary times.

  Weaver has also finished his final draft of his play GRIP. This is a two act play set in Baltimore( Weaver is a native son of Baltimore) in the year 2000. The play is a family drama that deals with a number of themes including: urban revitalization, the haunted past of a grandfather, race, class and gender. Weaver, years ago, studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel. ( How I learned to Drive) at Brown University. At Brown he not only honed his poetic skills but his play writing ones as well.

 Finally Weaver will have a new poetry collection coming out titled: City of Eternal Spring (UPitt) with a striking front cover by the African-American artist Romare Bearden.

 Weaver left the cafĂ©, with the lumbering gait of a big man and probably headed back to his humble apartment that he refers to as The Cave on Highland Ave. And undoubtedly in his dark and cloistered corner of the world he will be hatching his next creative plot…and that’s the way it is in the Paris of New England.

On the Passing of Heaven Sutton

In the year the Mayans said our world ends,
I sit in my basement apartment, The Cave,
my neighbors from lives different from mine.

It is a most peculiar way to be sixty, up here
from down south, no way to know where up is,
what up is or should be, only what it used to be.

Winters in Boston go inside my bones until
I feel the center of nothing, where people 
grow old singing Shine on Me in a capella.

It is the center of alien coldness, hearts naked
to ice, to a blank sun, a nakedness that says it is 
the only choice, one that owns love’s essence.

I am black because I enter that space, people
see I am the door to what they ache to know,
the long corridors and rooms of our freedom,

a place where I refuse to be told I cannot dream
my own dreams, a place where people like me
agree to offer love from an uneasy forgiveness.

Nights become deep stillness, I do a soul dance
with ancestors building a respite from history,
arguing against the hard summation of slavery,

the truth of our black wish for humanity, a seed
made from resistance, bright moments where
we teach America the song of our right to live.

—Afaa M. Weaver
from A Hard Summation
previously published in Barrow Street

Frank Bidart Reading at the Grolier Tuesday April 29 at 7 pm

Frank Bidart Reading at the Grolier
Tuesday April 29 at 7 pm

by Michael Todd Steffen

Frank Bidart, winner of many major poetry prizes in America, will be reading from his new book Metaphysical Dog this Tuesday evening, April 29 at 7 pm, at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop
at 6 Plympton Street in Cambridge. Metaphysical Dog has won the National Book Critics Circle Award, Ibbetson Street Lifetime Achievement Award,and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Bidart was featured on December 3, 2013 as part of the Louisa Solano Reading Series at the Cambridge Public Library. The event was nothing less than a performance with the poet engaging the audience by mood and voice fully in the unflinching honesty and strange beauty of this new dazzling poetry, true to Bidart’s line from his poem in Metaphysical Dog entitled “Whitman”:

A poem read aloud is by its nature a vision of its nature.

Here’s a wonderful second chance to see Bidart read in the vein of this inspiration. I opened the book to what page it would open to, and found this to share and interest:

Inauguration Day         (January 20, 2009)

Today, despite what is dead

staring out across America I see since
Lincoln gunmen
nursing fantasies of purity betrayed,
dreaming to restore
the glories of their blood and state

despite what is dead but lodged within us, hope

under the lustrous flooding moon
the White House is still
Whitman’s White House, its
gorgeous front
full of reality, full of illusion

hope made wise by dread begins again

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Comes A Blossom Poems by Joanne DeSimone Reynolds

Comes A Blossom
Poems by Joanne DeSimone Reynolds
© 2014 Joanne DeSimone Reynolds
Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC
ISBN  978-1-59948-468-6
Sofbound, $8, 31 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

This is a book about a daughter’s love of her mother who has died and a memory of a brother, also deceased . It is about the relationship between mother-daughter, the author’s mother and the author’s daughter. It is about family.  Take White Gloves: a tender, touching, reflection requiring only a few words to convey emotion.

I love a pile of sugar
stained pink
by grapefruit wedges.

But then my mother turns from the sink
to tell a story
about my dead brother,
how he ate his grapefruit
without sugar.

I imagine him
as goodness itself.

It is Lent.
I rush to brush my teeth,
to put on lace anklets, white gloves
and a straw hat with a strap under my chin.

Kneeling in the pew I’m crowded
by fedoras and feathered hats
hung with riveted black veil.

Sins are a matter of sugar
and hats.

I hold my breath through a haze of incense
and though every other head is bowed
I lift my gaze to the windows
of stained glass—

A boy,
a lamb.

In a mere 25 lines you have learned how the mother remembers her son, how the poet recalls her brother and in the end it all falls back to religion and the love of a memory.
Reynolds poems reach out to us, they capture our emotions and express not only the poet’s own mortality but she ushers us into her introspective worlds to a humanity we might not have entered previously.  These words, these emotions are which connect the poet with the reader and to a larger awareness of one’s self.

There is the finality of existence:

Mount Auburn

It is the hour the sun wearis like a child in church.

I’m in a room with leaded glass window
though this is no chapel
to attest before my mother’s lien-wrapped form.

She is at rest on her side
as if tired of all the labor

Empty now.
Pallet-ready at the bronze door of the crematorium.

I tear red from roses—

scatter by the fistful—


lush and placental.

There is the opening of life: 

Comes A Blossom

As if you
tumbled through the stars, a shimmer
clings to you, the midwife
swooping in, a nurse turning from tending
to me. Gleaming too,

in a labor room pan
the dispossessed placenta
like the breast of a peony
clipped from its stem.
slightly metallic

its scent draws me in.
I could cup it in two hands, brush its ruffles
with my thumb, though I know
it is not what thrums. It bloomed
for you these nine months, but

you no longer need it—
the first of my goodbyes.

This is a brave, well thought volume of poetry executed with skill and humanity.

Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle and  Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7 & Anthology 8