Saturday, July 04, 2015

Until It Does Us In Myles Gordon

Until It Does Us In
Myles Gordon
Cervená Barva Press
ISBN 978-0-9861111-0-5

Myles Gordon begins this chapbook of 24 sonnets with a question, How is it we evolve from violence? This question is prompted by the suicide of his older cousin who was two generations removed from victims of the Holocaust in Poland. The poems are woven like the histories they probe—moving between 2013 and 1937.

We meet the cousin, addressed as ‘you’ throughout the collection, in 1967 as a teenager with “hippie hair” and then again in 1963, when his father is found “sneaking through/your sister’s dresser, underwear in hand” and thrown out of the house; at this turbulent point in the family history, “the good time cousin” is feeding a two-foot bong in the basement. Next, 1975, when the cousin’s father was beaten to death in a bar, Gordon writes: “No matter what you say or what you do/or how potent your stash, he’s with you now. It/plays itself in echoes in your heart,/slowly, methodically tearing you apart.”

Interspersed with these poems about the cousin’s life, are poems set in war-time Poland, in the 1930s and 40s. These poems, removed from the immediacy of the relationship with the cousin, are more evocative and poetic—less narrative-driven. In Sonnet 12, entitled, “1942 – Brona Cora,” the writing is especially powerful:

Shadows stretched: long limbs in morning sun;
a walking forest emerging from the trail
on muddy grass, dew shimmering green and brown,
long shadow bodies, heads providing frail
tree tops on the ground the beards the hats,
the headscarves, little girls’ long flowing hair
a forest canopy captured in shadow that
filled the meadow’s crevices everywhere.
There were so many. Shadows flowed like liquid
until forced into the ditches, ordered to lie
like cordwood. Shot. Blood seeping into mud
beneath a crisp and clear October sky,
the Jews of Brest Litovsk; the German gun.
The shadows dwindled, thinned. Then there were none.

The sonnet form, handled quite deftly by Gordon, lends itself to this difficult subject material, constraining the expression and thus deepening it. Gordon uses these poems to explore possible ways of understanding the despair of his cousin. The narratives in this volume offer up culturally and historically situated portrayals of individuals, while admitting that however much we attempt to understand what motivates human behavior, we are ultimately interdependent mysteries to one another.

Who can say where we begin? “We’ve lifted up our souls/like children picking up the fallen leaves/the wind caught, stuffed them in the shredding holes/inside our tortured bodies.” Where to find the fundamental hurt that turns a life into a soured search for death? Gordon looks to history—personal, familial, and political histories.  He portrays his cousin’s life as a stream made up of many tiny contributories, a stream that cuts a scar through hardened layers of bedrock, exposing the lasting and potent pain of violence.

Reviewer: Mary Buchinger Bodwell, author of Aerialist (Gold Wake, 2015) and Roomful of Sparrows (Finishing Line, 2008), teaches at MCPHS University in Boston, Mass.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

House You Cannot Reach: Poems in the Voice of My Mother and other Poems by Tom Daley

Tom Daley

Review of Tom Daley

House You Cannot Reach:
Poems in the Voice of My Mother and other Poems.
FutureCycle Press

Review by Alice Weiss

This is a book of Browningesque dramatic monologues. A character is designated, “My Mother.” A character is designated, son. He is the recorder, the redacter. He gives her voice, and what a voice it is! Here is Mother, an angel bathing her between her legs, addressing her sons:
And that’s where you
you head firsters, blind and slick,

scraped your glossy scalps
and heaven knows why
. . .
With every contraction
in every post-Eden birth,
I salute the smirk

in Eve’s twinge. I bless
her broken water
and her trespassing teeth.

Note the movement from the scrappy comedy of birth and delivery, to the mythical. Revising the story of Eden, defying it and claiming it: Eve’s twinge smirks, and her teeth “trespass” Just that word conjures up another prayer, Don’t bother to forgive our trespasses, this last is the ritual ordinary and then: “we will all one day/ fall—or swim unbounded by any womb,” fall out of the myth into:

. . . a tub’s clean porcelain,
to drown or crawl.

Read as a whole, the book is filled with clusters of language that shake up convention, bring comic exaggeration to a disturbingly precise level of linguistic experience.
In a whalebone walkabout
he unties the fire-blight of his smiles—
smiles scored like stone Buddhas, smiles that implode
Snowing rock dust over pastures and shoals.
“Prodigal at Point Reyes”

See how complex the alliteration in whalebone walkabout, the w’s, and b’s, the ‘ l’ in whale, silently echoed by the ‘l’ in walk, but pointing to the compressive activity of the accented, rhythmic ‘walkabout’, and then the contrast in the next line, all long ‘i’s, but reinterpreting the ‘l’s in sound as well as meaning as the smiles betray themselves.
Here’s a hope chest
Where mothballs
Seal the rot in his slapstick.

The hoard the stains where his T-shirts
sweated out Trotskyist proverbs.
Here’s a cruet for his chrism,

a vat for his vinegar.
“My Mother Speaks with Two Police Officers
Who Arrive at Her Door on Good Friday Afternoon”

In this last quote, from a poem referring to the speaker’s brother’s suicide, the Mother enumerates his (metaphoric) possessions, the hoard of stains, the Trotskyite proverbs and the cruet for his chrism,” a small bottle for the anointing oil used in the Mass, and “ the enormous “Vat for his vinegar.” Vinegar stinging scouring wine turned bitter. “Confession,” she holds, “ is a tongue stroked into blare,” in “My Mother’s litany for the Feast Day of Saint Bibiana,” the saint of headaches. In another poem, “After a Stroke, My Mother Listens to a Chapter of Tolstoy’s War and Peace,” a novel in which she finds cold comfort.:
Frostbite is an indifferent fever,
is a blackhead’s Passion Play,
is a discharge of burning.
It is evident from the beginning of the book even from reading the table of contents that there is an underlying narrative threading through the pages. A Passion Play is a form of drama that tells the story of the death of Jesus. The mother’s is a blackhead’s Passion Play. First Mother and son curled around each other in a comedic and agonizing reflection of the virgin and her son. The father from whose abandonment the mother never recovers, The mother whose sensual memories last as long as her fury at his betrayal. God and the various Saints, whose failure is nowhere more evident than in the inability of the wedding sacrament to hold the man to her, leaving her

a woman sucker-switched
and swatting wide.

After a stroke the mother loosens her language. turns even wilder and yet miraculously projects a reasoned, if jaded a reasoned grasp of the world and its troubles. The final drama for her is her children’s failure to give her descendents. It strands her in time. With these poems, the son, the narrator gets the better of that. She in fact descends like the angel Gabriel blowing a complex heavenly horn..
One more thing. The issue of descendents of the biological replication of the self, reveals itself in the quietly saddest poem:”My Mother Explains Why She Threw Away All My Dolls.” She is the mother, for all their closeness, who cannot but point out that his “dowsing stick [is] bent in the wrongest ways.” She threw away the Raggedy Anns. She was the “Erasing Angel,” she admits, but she cannot budge.
Son, if you cannot speak
to sorrow in the full skin
of a man.
I will not hedge tomorrow
just to lose it in your hands.

Monday, June 29, 2015

East Somerville Main Streets and Mudflat Studio use Mosaics and Media to preserve memories and promote change

Left to Right--  Teresa Vazquez Dodero, Laura Smith, Lynn Gervens

East Somerville Main Streets and Mudflat Studio use Mosaics and Media to preserve memories and promote change
By Doug Holder

In the 20 years that I have lived in Somerville I have often heard of that bastion of ceramic arts, the Mudflat Studio. I always wanted to visit, but I never got around to it. So when I got the Somerville Arts Council announcement about East Somerville Main Streets' collaboration with the studio on a mosaic project, as part of a larger project “This is East,” I was intrigued and tracked the story down.
The Mudflat Studio was founded in 1971 in East Somerville. In September of 2011 it moved from its original home in East Somerville to a reinvigorated 1915 vintage building that once was one of Somerville’s 14 movie theaters
The Mudflat building stands on Broadway, a street that is lined with bodegas, Hispanic eateries, small markets, liquor stores, and the like. I met the three principal players in  the“This is East” project which includes artist and expressive therapist Laura Smith. Smith works closely with Teresa Vazquez Dodero, the new director of East Somerville Main Streets, putting together this ambitious project. Lynn Gervens, the Executive Director of Mudflat Studio, and who provides technical assistance for the project-- was on hand as well.  

The “This is East” project presents East Somerville voices, stories, and history to record what East Somerville was, and hopefully in some way inform the changes it is going under with the rapid gentrification of our city. Dodero is a realist and told me “If rents go up, and people sell their homes, and the gentrification proceeds unchecked, the neighborhood will lose its diversity. Right now I like the mix of hipsters, and old and new Somervillians.” Laura Smith told me that the project includes a documentary produced at Somerville Community Access TV, and enjoys the backing of the Somerville Arts Council. The documentary will include stories from residents that will serve as a historical record for this often overlooked part of our city. These conversations are part of a three pronged project that include mosaics, a documentary, and banners.

As part of the mosaic project (that is slated to be completed in Aug 2015), mosaic tiles will decorate the faces of benches outside  the East Somerville Public Library. The mosaic have been created by residents of various ages—schoolchildren to seniors, from workshops that Smith ran. Smith said: “I worked with elders at the Council on Aging site on Cross St, as well as a cross section of folks throughout East Somerville.” Peppered on these mosaics are portraits of significant people in the community. They will also appear on banners that are part of the project. Dodero reminded me that “This is East” is funded by a NEA grant, an essential part of their funding.

Lynn Gervens—who has been at the helm of the Studio for over 30 years told me, “Mudflat has provided technical support for the production of the mosaics. We have several large kilns to fire the mosaics.  After the mosaics are formed, they are fired and glazed, and the process is repeated.” Gervens gave me a tour of Mudflat. It is an impressive site— a sort of a cinema of ceramics. I could visualize the tall and wide screen of a movie theater on a towering wall.  Off to the side there were a plethora of shelves sporting pottery of all sorts and sizes—probably where movie-lovers and lovers once sat.  Gervens said, “We have 39 studios for artists. We offer classes, and we have extensive outreach in the community. Our current artist-in-residence is Rachel Eng. She is a clay artist who has her work on display in window showcase in Davis Square.

 As Somerville changes more projects like this one should crop up. It should remind folks that Somerville was once a very different burg from the prospective city of the future. And hopefully there will still be enough people around to remember what it once was.