Friday, August 01, 2014

Mass Transit Drawings by Joan Farber Poems by Michael O’Brien

Mass Transit
Drawings by Joan Farber
Poems by Michael O’Brien
Pressed Wafer
375 Parkside Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 111226

by Wendell Smith

Mass Transit is a collection of some 25 graphite portraits by Joan Farber interspersed with 21 poems by Michael O’Brien. At 4 x 5 inches it may be the world's most petite coffee-table book, but it more than holds its own with larger examples of the genre. This is not a book to be read; that is, it is not a volume to be finished and stored on a shelf beside other books you've consumed. It needs to be left hanging around on an accessible surface, picked up and tasted, put down and picked up again—savored for its recurrent appeal to the appetite of your attention. Anyway, that is how my wife and I used it while it was on our kitchen table for a couple of weeks and how I came to appreciate its flavors

Although trim and dignified in its design, this little book has a casual structure. The design forgoes page numbers and places each drawing or poem on a right hand page with the facing page blank, so a reader encounters these statements, whether visual or verbal, individually without direct reference of one to another and is free to cross reference the drawings and poems at random so they form a mass of meaning not a linear narrative.  

The drawings need to be seen to appreciate how completely Ms. Farber has mastered her pencil. The drawings vary from quick gestures that capture expressions in a few dozen lines to complete renderings: the difference between one subject’s startled thought and another’s meditative consideration. The faces in these drawings trigger questions, "what was she thinking?" and other associations. When I first saw this drawing,

, my mind reflexively said, "Rembrandt."

As the drawings vary from gestures to more complete portraits so the verses vary from notes:

kneeling bus
sighs, yields

to more complete descriptions:

A small, pot-bellied women in a bright green
dress speaks antiphonal, incomprehensible
sentences by the Seventh Avenue subway,
possessed, testifying, warning, rocking
in place with the voices, then repeating
decimal, ghosts that feed on speech. Nearby
a man, head raised, eyes closed, is drinking
the sunlight. He takes his time. His thirst
is great.

The poems are best read, as one would meditate upon a drawing, until the image blossoms in one's imagination as a character with a story:

opens her Times like
logical argument
shaking the pages as
if to be rid of the
worst of the news

The words honor trouble:

patience of the lost, going
through their ruins: ageless white-
haired high-browed black man in the
59th St. station, wild
eyes, nowhere, opening &
closing of filthy Bible
like a valve. like breath

and transience:

her smile detaches itself
from this girl's face
and from her benevolence
to hang in the
air for a moment
and then fade as
she boards the #11
bus one gray morning

I don’t think O’Brien’s poems should be subjected to the enhanced interrogation of a close reading. As I’ve said, I found them best when I absorbed them as I did Farber’s drawings, slowly letting my thoughts improvise along with them. When I did, the book became a celebration, an acknowledgment that we are, all of us, a mass in transit and the company we are keeping, as it is presented here, is a worthy one.

A note on Pressed Wafer

Pressed Wafer was founded in Boston by Daniel Bouchard, Joseph Torra and William Corbett and was originally 9 Columbus Square. It moved with Corbett to 375 Parkside, Brooklyn, New York in 2012. While you can order individual books from, Pressed Wafer subscriptions are available for $100 a year. In addition to the publications you receive for your subscription, you will also get all the backlist titles available. What a deal. I discovered Mass Transit because I became a subscriber this year. The backlist books I received for subscribing meant my investment came to less that $10 a book. So far those I’ve read have been as engaging as Mass Transit. As I said, what a deal!

The Hive Is a Book We Read For its Honey By Gerry Grubbs


The Hive
Is a Book We Read For its Honey
By Gerry Grubbs
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-939929-04-4

Review by Dennis Daly

Some of the best writers of poetry, by cultivating their art in public, seek to both gather in and pass on unanticipated inspiration. Their images and lines don’t prescribe direction or logic, rather they release the human heart to connect with the universe’s numinous energy. That’s what Gerry Grubbs does in his new collection of poetry entitled The Hive.

Each poem in Grubbs’ book transports one to the exotic realm of honeybee and hive with concomitant imagery and symbolism. The poet seems to leave much of what happens next to the imagination. But his suggestive techniques, along with his compositions, living real lives of their own, convey the reader to a heliopause of sorts on the edge of the unknown. Then things get really interesting.

In the poem Sometimes in the Evening Grubbs conjures up the sacred nature of life and how it works on the raw material of existence. A Promethean bee has stolen a bit of the fire, which transforms him and also his community. The poet explains,

…I think of the bees
Who would finish the work
Taking that fire
Back to the hive burning
Of that red honey
Dripping like the petals
It was stolen from
I think of that little thief
Who desires to disappear
Into the night
But cannot

Words do matter. They are the elements of communication and their connections create what otherwise does not exist. Observing the methods and results of these connective arts Grubbs says,

A few words
Can disturb the bees
A few thoughts
Can disturb the flowers
It is enough
To watch them
Serenely touching
Giving what effort is required
Mindful of each dip and buzz

My favorite piece in this collection the poet entitles Location. A man wanders through an orchard presumably seeking something. Yet he becomes the object as the divine muses seek him out. The orchard blooms with the heaviness of ripened fruit, or perhaps it doesn’t.  Perhaps all is potential. Timelessness revolves around the man as inspiration seeks to locate him, his potential poems in abeyance. The poem concludes this way,

…his feet
Lets him know what the earth
Looks like in all kinds of weather

Time unfolds from his pocket
Like a map on which the stars
Try to locate him the way bees

Locate the blossoms
From which they spin
Their rich honey

The need for poetic inspiration every artist feels. When ideas don’t come, a dreadful helplessness results. Happy is the writer who has been found by his muse and stocks up a surfeit of honey for the future. Grubbs describes this type of wealth in his poem We Want so Much. Here’s the heart of the piece,

We want so much

We cultivate them
In white boxes out back

Or in tops of tall trees
The way honey men do
Those whose wealth
Is measured in bees

In a sense this poet passes on part of the creative processes to his audience. Both poet and reader must wait for the poem to find them before any cultivation can take place.

Flowers not only provide nectar to the bees; they are an everlasting source of raw material that could, if there is an attendant will, be turned into poetic art. In Grubbs’ piece called The Rose the flower becomes the spoken word, a woman reading. Gertrude Stein would have appreciated the meditational value of the never ending construct A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose…. Grubbs’ eternity emphatically transforms itself into an Eden as the poem opens,

This is my version
Of paradise
And you are in it
And a woman
 So slowly
That each word
Lasts forever

Strangely, good poets often bring their poem to a conclusion by a process of forgetting. They forget their original plan, their grand set of ideas which propelled them onward. The poem captures them and turns them into metaphysical beings beyond their earthbound natures. Grubbs’ poem How to Lose Something explains this eerie construct. Here are the essential lines,

Finding yourself alone
In the woods
You will believe
You came this way
For some good reason

And so you begin
The gathering of things
You find along the way

All the time
Believing you had something
But can’t remember what

Grubbs hints at an unfathomable world of unseen mechanisms. Secrets are the norm in this geography of dreamtime. Like Plato observing life through its shadow- manifestations, the poet inhales the deep fragrance of other souls. He says,

The bees busy
Passing secrets
Back and forth
Between the apple
When I fell asleep
Within my dream
And when I awoke
From my second sleep
There was only
The fragrance
Of those blossoms
Gathered like worshippers
Of the moon

The poetic introduction to this collection offers a warning for those of us seeking sweetness in life or art and suggests attendant smoke. There are, after all, dangers in every hive. Drowsy bees are best. Shed whatever hubris you bring with you and wonder what comes next. You won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Seamus Heaney Tribute Reading: Aug 27, 2014 7:30 PM-- Houlihan, Marchant, Tobin, Holder


Seamus Heaney Tribute Aug 27 Houlihan, Marchant, Tobin, Holder

Date: 8/27/2014 - 
Time: 7:30PM
Location: Cambridge, Mass First Church Congregationalist
Category: Arts/Entertainment

Seamus Heaney Tribute Wednesday August 27 at 7:30 pm

At First Church Congregationalist
11 Garden Street beside the Sheraton Commander off Harvard Square Cambridge
suggested donation $3

Details:   Michael Todd Steffen/ Host

Featured readers:  Joan Houlihan, Daniel Tobin, Fred Marchant, Doug Holder

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Marjorie Nichols: A Family Photographer with a Sense of History

Marjorie Nichols: A Family Photographer with a Sense of History

By Doug Holder

I met Marjorie Nichols on a crowded morning at the Sherman Café in Union Square, Somerville.. The place was buzzing.  At the table across from me was Greg Jenkins of the Somerville Arts Council conferring with some other artists, and on hand throughout the café was the usual band of businessmen, young bohemians, students,  earnest non-profit types pontificating about foundation grants, mothers with screaming kids, etc…

Nichols, originally from Pittsburgh, has made Somerville her home since 1978, and has a space at the Vernon Street Studios in our city.  She told me that Somerville is a good spot for her because, as she said: “ I love the progressive, open-minded people and creative thinkers who live here.” As for the Vernon St. Studios she is quite pleased to be there as well. She said: “ I needed a place to meet my clients, and the owners are very supportive of the tenants."

Nichols stated in an article in Photographer’s Formulary  that, “Without photographs we have no history.”  And indeed, Nichols follows her clients and families for years--generation to generation. She has an intimate sense of their family history. Nichols reflected: "I use black and white film made of silver print, not digital frames--- although I am not adverse to digital.” And in fact Nichols is experimenting with cellphone photography and some of her photos will be displayed at an exhibit  at the Stonecrop Gallery in  Ogunquit, Maine.

For Nichols photography is an intimate art. She said” I want people to feel I am not there when I shoot. I usually have a phone consultation with prospective clients in advance. I usually make suggestions about clothing, colors, but I don’t want to control them.”

In her youth Nichols was an aspiring painter. But eventually she worked with a neighbor using photographs for holiday gifts. And with this introduction she caught the bug—and the rest is history, and, well, photography.

Nichols also has her own personal objectives for her art. Her "Reflections” project began when she took a trip to the seacoast. She started to photograph the feet of people walking on the beach. She also stumbled on the reflections of children in the water-infused sand. Nichols thought about it and felt the reflections were more interesting than the feet. She turned the photos upside down for a very stunning affect. This project got an honorable mention in the Santa Fe Center for Photography competition.

As for digital photography Nicholas said: " I don't own a professional digital camera--it is very expensive to do this kind of work.--and I like silver print."

Nichols left the Sherman Cafe, undoubtedly rushing to her next job, here, in the Paris of New England.

for more info go to: Marjorie Nichols