Saturday, May 16, 2015

Somerville’s Mary Alexandra Agner: A Potent Mix of the Poetic and Scientific.

Mary Alexandra Agner


Somerville’s Mary Alexandra Agner: A Potent Mix of the Poetic and Scientific.

By Doug Holder

Mary Alexandra Agner met me at my usual corner at the Bloc 11 CafĂ© in Union Square to discuss her career in science, writing and poetry. Agner moved to Somerville in 1997, and told me that her first poetry publication was in Somerville’s Ibbetson Street magazine. Agner earned a degree from MIT and an MFA at Emerson College in Boston. At Emerson she studied with the late, great, and very eccentric poet Bill Knott. Agner said of Knott: “He was very influential and was very willing to work with me and other students. In fact Knott blurbed her first collection of poetry: “Doors of the Body.”

Agner's latest venture is “Science News in Verse’ This project is hosted by PATREON, a crowd funding Internet site. People donate money on a monthly basis, and in return Agner writes verse concerning the latest science news. For instance, a recent poem that she composed was based on some fossils at a Yale University museum that were mislabeled as birds.  Later they were  found out to be dinosaurs.  From this tidbit Agner was able to mine a poem about dinosaurs at sea. In the era of the dinosaur, the area we now call Kansas was largely a body of water, thus the dinosaurs at sea theme. Agner reflected: “It is a joy to put science to verse. Through this genre, it helps people become interested in science.”

Agner also has a column titled “Failing the Finkbeiner” (based on a test) that champions the recent accomplishments of woman scientists. Agner told me” Although women have made strides in the past decades, there is still much discrimination, and much work to be done. My friends and I all have experienced discrimination in one form or the other.” The idea for “Failing….” started with an obituary in the New York Times of a prominent rocket scientist, Yvonne Brill. The obit started out (according to Agner), with a lead sentence that referred how this top shelf scientist made great lasagna. Understandably, a lot of women scientists and women in general, were upset with this. Agner said, “This gave me the idea of how we can write about a female scientist without mentioning her cooking or kids. I decided to write reports on women scientists that didn’t focus on the fact that they are women, but that they are scientists with important work and accomplishments.

Agner told me she left the software industry to freelance as a writer. “It is a tough way to make a living, but I am making my way.’ But like any start-up, it takes time to take root and grow. In the meantime this industrious Somervellian will turn out poems and articles on a consistent basis. Agner finished her java, and left my nook, undoubtedly swept up by the street of the—Paris of New England.

Here's the link to Agner's website


Keeper of the Skies
by Mary Alexandra Agner

Brian Marsden, 1937-2010 (,0,6000662.story)

Celestial mechanic, comet-tamer
calming gas jets, stalker of debris,
another Mitchell building orbitology
from logarithms calc-ed longhand and frames
(or plates) of captured photons which were blamed
when their reflector’s planned trajectory
intersected Earth’s geometry.
He was our herald of the outer flame.

Relinquish, solar system, all that light
can share: revisit times, those ancient berths
of rock and gas which elude human sight---
to Brian Marsden, who catalogued your worth.
Flare up your lamp! And set your ice to flight!
For he has gone and nothing fills the dearth.
( Previously published in The Flea)

I Forgot Light Burns By Eileen R. Tabios

Poet Eileen R. Tabios

I Forgot Light Burns
By Eileen R. Tabios
Copyright 2015 by Eileen R. Tabios
Moria Books
Munster, NY
ISBN-13: 978-0-96473912121-3-2
Softbound, 56 pages, $16

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

In much the same way as some scientists are developing artificial intelligence, robots and the future, Eileen R. Tabios brings us to the future with her new book I Forgot Light Burns.

In the publicity piece enclosed with the book there are quotes from her Afterword in which Ms. Tabios states, “My recent work, ‘Murder, Death and Resurrection’ (MDR) includes an MDR Poetry Generator that brings together much of my poetics and poet tics.  The MDR Poetry Generator contains a data base of 1,146 lines which can be combined randomly to make a large number of poems; the shortest would be a couplet and longest would be a poem of 1,146 lines…”

“The MDR Poetry Generator’s conceit is that any combination of its 1,146 lines succeed in creating a poem.  Thus, I can create—generate—new poems unthinkingly from its database.”

Create poetry unthinkingly?  Is that poetry?  I had always thought one must think in order to write (create) poetry.  Cogito Ergo Sum.   However, she notes, “Yet while the MDR Poetry Generator presents poems not generated through conscious personal preferences, the results are not distanced from the author:  I created the 1,1146 lines from reading through 27 previously-published poetry collections…these new poems nonetheless contain all the personal involvement—and love!—that went into the writing of its lines.  The results dislocate without eliminating authorship.”

So, while some poets may find it easier, if they have the Tabios MDR Poetry Generator and take the time to enter 1,146 (or more or less?) lines, I am sure her efforts are not an overnight creation, but a long creative process culminating in this inspirational invention.

Here are some poems from this fascinating book, which only expand Ms. Tabios’s reputation as one of the most creative abstract poets in the country:

I forgot I was a connoisseur of alleys—

I forgot the glint from the fang of a wild boar as
he lurked behind shadows in a land where it
only takes one domino to fall—

I forgot how quickly civilization can disappear,
as swiftly as the shoreline from an oil spill
birthed from a twist of the wrist by a drunk
vomiting over the helm—

I forgot grabbing at my fading dreams only to
recall a vision of skyscrapers crumbling from
the slaps of iron balls—

However it works, the Poetry Generator generated an exciting poem that made me want to read on.  The next one that “grabbed” me was:

I forgot the light burned and we never shared
our eyes—

This simple poem I read three or four times to fully absorb it from different perspectives and ended up wishing I had thought of that line.

I don’t remember any titles on these interesting  poems. However, many of the poems are worth remembering. Take for example the following poem, or is three separate poems?

I forgot memory contains an underbrush—

I forgot the inevitability of ashes—

I forgot sentences like veins—

The final example in this book I will use is one that while it takes place in her native Philippines, could be in any city on any continent and holds truths to which many of us a blind.

I forgot I saw a city bleeding beyond the
window and felt Manila’s infamously red sunset
staining street children whose hopes
concerned absolutely no one—

After reading the publicity piece which is extracted from the Afterword, I find myself enthralled with the poetic creations in this volume of poetry.  The result I am sure is that this is poetry – all of it worth reading. It would be interesting to see the next volume created by the MDR Poetry Generator.  Yet I hope Ms. Tabios, who is light years ahead of 99.99% of poets, does not share her auto-generating poetic system and allows us mere mortals to continue serving up our own poetry.  At the same time we are seeing the poetry of the 21st century and beyond; for once begun, it can only move forward, which  makes this book a must for the creative mind.


Zvi A. Sesling is author of King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010), Across Stones of  Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and the soon to be published Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review, Publishes Muddy River Books and edited Bagel Bards Anthologies #7 and #8.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Leeram in Fordlandia by Buell Hollister

Leeram in Fordlandia
by Buell Hollister

Reviewed by Alice Weiss

At the center of Buell Hollister’s novel, Leeram in Fordlandia, is a dies ex machine in the form of an Amazonian shrunken head that comes into the hands of its possessor, a middle-aged ne’er do well Brookline resident, Gilbert Greenbush, quite by chance and who manages to transform Greenbush’s life of boredom, diffidence, and loneliness, into one of adventure, confidence, and geniality, even romance. The way through to these appealing transformations is a kind of reverse fairy tale, where our hero is taken into what would have been the wilds of the Amazonian rain forest except the Ford Motor Company got there first, and built many years before, what is now an abandoned rubber plantation, where local workers were exploited and the environment abused.

The narrator’s voice is first person, slangy, cynical, even clueless. As the central character in the story, though, he begins to discover that he can operate in a new world. It is a dream we all have, at least I do, some fairy god-person takes us someplace new which looks rather like the old world we actually live in but we are transformed into capable respected adults. Well that’s what happens to Greenbush. The trip of the book, and I mean that in the broadest sense, is how Leeeram maneuvers him into capability success, and maintains it for him. On the way Greenbush discovers an appealing woman, Lisa, and a forceful and competent friend of hers, Suxie, (deliberately not sexy I suppose with underlying hints of sucky) a child of Amazonian immigrants, who luckily steals the head, and begins them on the journey to resurrect the town of Fordlandia, and everyone else in the nearby villages. Ultimately included in the journey are human helpers, among them two professors, knowledgeable about a special kind of crop which also incidentally goes some way toward solving the problem of world hunger and who also have useful connections to the U.S.Department of Agriculture . My favorites are two researchers, Ben and Seth, computer and biologically savvy, who ultimately figure out how to get hook up a certain kind of jungle grass to batteries which literally electrify Fordlandia and the surrounding villages and towns. The technique is to use the electricity generated by an intervention in the process of photosynthesis. It seems to me a delightful answer to obtaining power from a renewable resource, our lawns. 

The engine of all this is a interface with the afterlife provided by Leeram who it turns out is not just a genie. Instead he has a muscular connection to an afterlife so vast that it contains everybody he needs to see. One would have to go back to the Greeks to imagine an afterlife so afflicted with the sins and pressures of this world. Two of the interesting “wormholes” into that source of consultancy, are the grave of Suxie’s grandfather who returns with an understanding of the powers of jungle flora, as well as live memories of the Ford plant operations. Which leads me to my favorite part of the book. Henry Ford comes back as a river dolphin, and more remarkably, a liberal. He has to be keep in a water cage in order to, well stay alive and advise the often hapless but well meaning missionaries of capitalism, that people this book. With its unexpected discoveries and sometimes hilarious solutions, this book is a romp.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sam Cornish, Doug Holder in a Huddle.

(Left to Right)  Poet Sam Cornish and Doug Holder.
 photo courtesy of Glenn Bowie
   ..... Examining Holder's new collection Portrait of an Artist as a Young: Poseur 1973 to 1984 ( Big Table Publishing), at the opening  of the Newton Writing and Publishing Center. ( May 9, 2015)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Coring the Moon Selected Poems by Kenneth Frost

Coring the Moon
Selected Poems by Kenneth Frost
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
Charlotte, North Carolina
ISBN: 978-1-59948-482-2
232 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

“The shining outlasts its day, “says poet Kenneth Frost in the last poem of this intriguing, posthumous collection.  Indeed it does. Frost’s life work hypnotizes with its dazzling mixture of surreal and natural imagery. His titles cry out specificity while his stanzas court universality.

Arrayed before us as a virtual archipelago of totem-like short poems, these selected pieces belie their presumably explosive birth with an elegance of light and dazzle. Each image connects seamlessly with their contextual whole in an artistic logic unique to this poet.

Early in the book Frost replicates the cold-blooded passion and insidious obsession of a protagonist bent on mayhem. He conveys an interlude of evil and introversion this way,

Angels could tell me how it feels
spending my life crawling between
the zoomlens of a reptile’s eye
and a spotlight heating up
confessions in a surgical
tube that a doctor wants to stick
        I wonder if
A mugger carries a good luck
animal in the zoo cage
of his lead pipe, rattling
his witch doctor’s spaceship
into the storm that he creates
and whether bums and rats pass in
and out of one another, one
with their underground highway.
A dead slave could tell, but won’t.
Neither will this telescopic sight.

Poets appear as peeping toms and escapees from shipwrecks peering into the portholes of the doomed passengers, living their lives as outsiders and observers in Frost’s poem Window-Washer. These spectators struggle with both the drudgery of their artistic lives as well as the by-product of self-knowledge that they’ve collected as part of their creative routine. I like this poem a lot. The poet concludes by reflecting on the nature of fame,

I concentrate
on soaping up
and shining glass
so the roulette
wheel of sunlight
won’t skid my head
around its track.
As I move down,
sideway and down,
I read my life
In the headlines
My printing press
Is slapping out:
“They didn’t know
That he was there
Till he was not.”

Visible only if you look closely, the tides of man’s nature alter in the fullness of the moon. Frost’s title poem, Coring the Moon, focuses on the dark creatures inhabiting earth’s singular satellite and their inextricable relationship with consciousness and wonder. Although the poetic style is much different, there is more than an echo of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl here. Frost speculates on mortality and madness,

… they fall into a trap,
a black hole, or nothing?
Coyotes run in circles,
Mad for the nothing of the moon.
They try on their ghosts
In the moon’s dressing room
Owls become raucous
And tear their spirits limb from limb.
The hole passes with a long howl…

Two strange poems juxtaposed with one another are Louis Armstrong and Whirling Perfume. Both mix and match different senses with surreal images. In Louis Armstrong you smell a garden’s perfume in the trumpeter’ notes and visualize a woman’s beauty. Listen to Frost’s second stanza,

How beautiful
the red-gold hair
Helen shakes
in the high notes
to wake perfume’s
transparent garden
into doorways’
magnetic light.

Whirling Perfume goes even further. It conjures up wolves as they might appear in Eden or the environs of Assisi. The poet puts it this way,

…lilac fragrance
blanketing the air,
almost choking it
in revelation’s
whirling perfume,
heart’s wolves
circling—no, not
animals, sight
clear as crystal balls
where you could read
Saint Francis
in their trance,
but high-pitched,
prophetic laughter.

Sensuality does not prepare mere mortals for the brutishness of worldly affairs. Man’s belief systems, religious or not, depend on a bit of luck for life to mean something and for goodness to attain independent significance and status. The poem Fallout Dreams deals with these philosophical considerations,

In the funhouse of the sensorium
I juggle pins
To entertain the source

with my humility.
See the light multiply, converge,

me  in its maximum security
I hang on to the rising

rabbit’s foot

Looking at the aged world decked out in its most lavish attire can be quite daunting. The poet’s persona, in the poem Autumn, Maine, stands knee-deep in a pond and reflects on the preciousness of the world he has known. The images here seem to be more anchored, more brisk. Notice also that here, as in many of these pieces, the sun glitters up at the reader from a reflecting source. The shifting gears of a truck suggest a change of perception. Frost spins out the ending wonderfully,

His knees stand on
the water’s light.
Echoes spin
the compasses
of shouts till they
on this outback,
ghosts of the heart.
On the lodge road
a truck shifts gears.
Raising his arms
above his head,
he dives into
sap welling up
a crystal cave,
swims out and back

Each of Frost’s poems set in this selected archipelago of passion and elegance sings out a cataract of lightness and ecstatic breath which spreads over and beyond the earth’s pedestrian topology—a fitting tribute for a consummate poet.