Monday, May 25, 2015

ESTHER HANIG: The New Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets talks about changing the face of Union Square

Esther Hanig

ESTHER HANIG: The New Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets talks about changing the face of Union Square

By Doug Holder

I met Esther Hanig, the new Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets at my usual comfortable perch at the Bloc11 Café in Union Square, Somerville. As head of Main Streets, Hanig will oversee the continued advocacy and promotion of the Union square business district and neighborhood. The organization’s mission is to preserve the vibrancy of Union Square and promote dialogue between business owners, landlords and residents.

Although Hanig is from Cambridge, she told me she has a lot of friends in Somerville, and loves the vibe in the community. She also loves the diversity of the neighborhood, and hopes the Square will maintain its feel of a Jane Jacob’s- like urban village.

Hanig brings a wealth of experience to her new position. She was the deputy director of the Massachusetts Non-Profit Network, a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee in Cambridge, and Executive Director of the Allston Brighton Healthy Boston Coalition, and the list goes on.

When I asked Hanig about gentrification, and how she would help maintain “diversity,” when history has clearly shown that gentrification brings big rent increases, displacement of mom and pop and their stores, as well as low and moderate income tenants, and artists—the very people who created this vibe that has made it so attractive to developers, Hanig said, “There are no simple answers.” Hanig rattled off the standard talk of inclusionary zones, and other zoning to protect innovative venues like the Artisan's Asylum, and other  artist  enclaves that dot the Square. There was talk of tax incentives for landlords to keep the rents down for merchants, efforts for businesses to cross market and cross sell, and a strong effort to bring outsiders to the Square to shop, etc…

 According to Hanig, the new demographic in Union Square are the millennials, and to a great extent these new initiatives, this new “vision” will be geared to them in the form of hip new venues like Union Square Donuts, tony shops, cutting-edge eateries, etc…  with international cuisine, all this altering the face of the 'Ville.

Hanig talked about the upcoming FLUFF festival that Union Square Main Streets promotes, as well as SNAP, a program that helps folks on food stamps get more for their buck at the farmer’s market-- if the population even exists here in years to come.

Hanig is early in her tenure, and she is still in the seminal stages in the process of figuring out her game plan—a plan that many of us await with hope and not a little anxiety—here—in the—Paris of New England.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Somerville’s Actor ‘s Shakespeare Project: Henry the Vl, Part 2

Somerville’s Actor ‘s Shakespeare Project: Henry the Vl, Part 2
Review by Doug Holder

After having a beer at my old haunt Jacob Wirth in the theatre district of Boston, I chased it down with excellent seafood Chou Fun at some Vietnamese joint on the edge of Chinatown. But I still had a hunger, and that was for theatre. So with my press ticket in hand I walked down Washington Street to Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre to take in a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry Vl, Part 2, as presented by Somerville’s Actor’s Shakespeare Project. The first review I got of the play was by an earnest young usher by the name of Xavier Harvey who assured me that the play was well-worth my while. He opined “It starts out slow, but it really gets going.”   Harvey said he hopes to be on stage someday and I think he may well—or at the very least he will be a critic.

The play is directed by Tina Packer, a world class director and interpreter of the Bard’s work. Henry V, Part 2, is the middle of a trilogy of Henry plays written by a very young Shakespeare. It concerns the Earl of Suffolk (played by Craig Mathers) and his calculated power play in the court of the young and untried King Henry Vl ( well-played by Jesse Hinson).  Suffolk hooks up Henry with a French Princess, Margaret  (played by Jennie Israel), who looks old enough to be Henry’s mother. The other feral nobles of Henry’s court don’t like this, and a bloody power play ensues. Henry, who in this production resembles a long blonde-haired hippy, seems to have an airhead affect at first, as if he had too much of the royal Ganga.  But throughout, he is a blonde fame to the darkness displayed by many of the sharks in his court.

The play is a real probe into the dark night of the soul, as the players on stage jockey for power and position. The greed evoked by the accomplished actors in this production is opened like a fresh, flesh wound. The set is simple but evocative. It lets the darkness unfold—punctuated by hopeful light that breaks through the slats.

Since my brother Donald Holder is a multi-Tony Award winning lighting designer—I always look at the lighting in a play.   Lighting designer Daniel H. Jentzen illuminates the tension, isolates the players in their private moments of sorrow with the unforgiving spotlight, and frames much of the play dramatically.

Many of the actors here play multiple roles. Allyn Burrows, the artistic director of the company, plays Gloucester, an uncle and protector of Henry. He gives the character gravitas and a sense of decency amidst this ship of fools. Steven Barkhimer, with is rubbery face and his Vaudevillian missteps, provides a great deal of comic relief in many of the roles he plays. There are many accomplished performances in this winning production.

Story & Luck: Last Poems W.E. Butts

Story & Luck: Last Poems
W.E. Butts
Easthampton, Mass.: Adastra Press, 2015
Reviewed by David P. Miller

This elegantly produced letterpress chapbook contains some of the final poems of the late W.E. Butts (1944-2013), who, among his many accomplishments, was New Hampshire Poet Laureate from 2009 until his death. As his wife, the poet S Stephanie, explains, Butts was at work on two manuscripts at the time, from which the eleven poems in Story & Luck are drawn.

The poetry of W.E. Butts was entirely new to me, and it seemed inappropriate to launch into a review of this slim posthumous volume without reading more of his work. Cathedral of Nervous Horses (Hobblebush Books, 2012), a “new and selected” volume, is the last of his five full-length books. Although this is not a review of the latter book, I recommend it to the reader, in addition to this Adastra Press publication. It provides a broad introduction to Mr. Butts’ sensibility and voice. I am taken in particular by his ability to write about the events of his own life and daily circumstances in a way that makes them seem both generously familiar and freshly understood.

Of the three brief stanzas of “Primary,” the first poem here, the outer two are rooted in elemental winter imagery: snow and ice, granite, birds: “Wrens perch on bare branches / or swoop for suet. We all have needs.” Near the end, “Something certain as granite / must hold us.” As simple as that statement is, it’s ambiguous as well: is the “must” an imperative or a wish? This is a question because, in the middle stanza, the language becomes more abstract, comparatively unrooted – in consequence of the cyclical invasion of the New Hampshire presidential primaries:

The politicians gone, again we’re back
in a state of grace. Our nominated differences
and collective selves reside in places lit
by what we’ve come to believe:

A stanza break follows the colon: does this lead in to the third stanza’s affirmation about the certainty of granite, or does the blank line following signal the absence of what is believed in? Possibly both, just as the title incorporates its own double meaning.

“In the Hands of a Graveyard Angel” is a masterful work of a single, albeit complex, sentence. It begins by describing “A gift from my daughter, this sepia photograph / of a graveyard angel”, and the daughter’s weekly visits to her mother’s grave. With a sentence’s concentration, the image evokes “years of failed marriage, foolishness and youth” – perhaps the poet’s own, as the photograph also invokes “a shadow of myself reflected in its atmospheric light.” An epigraph from Blake suggests that the “World of Mortality” is a shadow of the “Imagination”. And so, this photograph is a work of shadows, an image of the shadow of this poet’s own interiority.

In “Statue of Liberty with a Ruined Face,” a vandalized municipal Statue of Liberty reproduction provides the central image of a scene of both municipal decay and gender violence:

Now, consider the school, the factory closed,
the derelict shops.
Adolescent boys
cracked her cheek, gouged her eye,
drunk and climbing to perch on her shoulder,
senseless and pecking,
smashing her face with hammer and rock.

Even the “unwounded side” of the statue shows “hurt done by the weather.” Butts contrasts this present picture with his memory, from the age of four, of ascending “the real her, up the winding stairs.” At the top, looking out on to New York Harbor, “I wondered where the world was.” This understated experience of the sublime contrasts achingly with the now-normative brutality of a nation conditioned to expect less of itself in every respect except warmongering. I am not suggesting that this is an intentionally political poem, but the parable is hard to avoid.

The final poem in this set, “James Wright’s Horses”, is dated January 7, 2013, about two months before the poet’s death. With his characteristic elegant concentration, he evokes the poignant contrast between being lost or trapped in “those small spaces / we sometimes live in: / prognosis, cancer, treatment, memory loss” and the words that transport us from those narrow places. Citing Wright’s poem, “A Blessing” (“Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom”),  Butts concludes “There are certain words / that will transport us / to that other, flowering self” - even when looking point-blank in the face of mortality.

I am grateful for the opportunity to write about this small volume. The act of reviewing can be a haphazard business, depending partly on where you happen to be when the review copies appear and who gets there ahead of you. Having been introduced to the work of W.E. Butts, I encourage you not only to find a copy of Story & Luck but to seek out the greater body of his work. In “Some Small Blessing,” he speaks of a composer friend who values music as “a composition of activity, / an alchemy, an arrangement of the unfamiliar, / anything there is we’re able to feel, a living / organism then.” This seems to say something also about W.E. Butts’ poetry in general: the simultaneity of “the unfamiliar” with “anything there is we’re able to feel” and the shifting between them.

David P. Miller’s chapbook, The Afterimages, was published in 2014 by Červená Barva Press. His poems have appeared in Meat for Tea, Ibbetson Street, Painters and Poets, Wilderness House Literary Review, Oddball Magazine, Incessant Pipe, Muddy River Poetry Review, Stone Soup Presents Fresh Broth, and the 2014 Bagel Bards Anthology, among others. Work is forthcoming in The Fox Chase Review. His poem “Adagio on Vinyl” will appear in the 2015 volume of Best Indie Lit New England.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Albatrosss by Matthew Spangler & Benjamin Evett

Albatrosss by Matthew Spangler & Benjamin Evett
Directed by Rick Lombardo
New Repertory Theatre – May 21-24
Reviewed by Lawrence Kessenich

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a classic of Romantic poetry. The long narrative poem tells the story of an old sailor doomed to tell his tale of woe to all those he recognizes as needing to hear it, for the rest of his life. Although it’s a sad and disturbing tale, the poetic rhythms of Coleridge’s narrative allow us—at least, today—to keep some distance from the story. For the most part, Albatross, a one man show originally produced by the Poets’ Theatre and now at the New Rep (but only for four days!), mostly strips away the poetry to reveal the gritty tale of an 18th century sailor that the Fates deal with most unkindly.

This is not a Romantic sailor, in any way—except, perhaps when he first appears on stage spouting Italian, not being immediately aware that he’s in front of an English-speaking audience. There is some bawdy humor in this opening, humor one comes to wish would appear more often in what devolves into a nasty tale of selfishness, violence, pain, and suffering.

Our sailor’s Irish-accented narrative is liberally sprinkled with the adjective “fuckin” (and when he senses this might be too much for some of his listeners, the sailor reminds us of the expression, “Swears like a…”). At the outset, his “fuckin” son is on his deathbed, his body covered with lesions, his “fuckin” wife is a stinking drunk, and Bristol, where he lives, is a “fuckin shithole.”

But things go from bad to worse quickly, when someone gets our sailor drunk, knocks him out, and throws him on a ship bound for South America. The ship’s captain is a nasty piece of work, known for biting with his canine-like teeth—and we’re treated to more that one unnecessarily graphic story of his use of those teeth. (In fact, be forewarned that there are many parts of this story that are not for the faint of heart, involving faces being beaten in, torture via vermin, blackened frostbitten toes, loss of limbs, drinking urine to slake thirst, vomiting, and so on.)

The trip to South American goes well enough at first, although there’s not much pleasant about shipboard life as described by our sailor. The crew feels lucky when it spots a Spanish galleon and gives chase. But this is the spooky ship of the poem, which, when finally captured, much further south than expected, turns out to be manned by a crew of one. The attack on the ship—which manages to fire back, despite its crew of one—is described in the kind of detail usually reserved for naval adventure tales, complete with sound and lighting effects. Gold in great quantity is found on board—enough to make every crewman rich—but, as we know from the poem, all goes south (so to speak) after that.

On the other hand, this sailor’s life has been miserable from the start of the play, so I have to admit that I got a bit tired of one thing after another going wrong for this guy. Someone once said that “there’s a fine line between sympathy and disgust,” and there’s also a fine line between sympathy and boredom, and I finally found myself a bit tired of this mariner’s woes. I blame the script for this, because Benjamin Evett, the actor who portrays our sailor, certainly puts heart and soul into his character. It’s one of the most energetic performances I’ve ever seen, with Evett bounding about the stage, not only making the mariner come alive, but portraying all kinds of secondary characters with perfect definition.

Another oddity to be prepared for—although the script makes it work—is that our sailor is alive in the contemporary world, making references to things like cell phones and recent historical events. And he’s not ancient, just middle-aged, despite the fact that he’s apparently been telling his tale around the world since the 18th century. It’s all a part of the “willing suspension of disbelief” for this play, which I found easy enough to do.

The attempt to connect the story with the contemporary ecological crisis felt forced to me—although it’s pretty much tacked on near the end, anyway, so the attempt isn’t all that forceful. What’s somewhat more moving, as it is in the famous poem, is our nasty sailor’s realization that he needs to pray for all the people and things—including himself—that he’s been abusing all his life. Evett, finally quiet for a moment, delivers this moment of conversion with real heart.

Tickets for Albatross are available at but if you want to see it, you’d better hurry, because it’s only a 4-day run this weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Interview with Novelist Margot Livesey

Interview conducted by Doug Holder

Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey has published six novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona and The House on Fortune Street. Her seventh novel, is The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

Margot has taught at Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon, Cleveland State, Emerson College, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Tufts University, the University of California at Irvine, the Warren Wilson College MFA program for writers, and Williams College. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the N.E.A., the Massachusetts Artists' Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts. Margot is currently a distinguished writer in residence at Emerson College. She lives with her husband, a painter, in Cambridge, MA, and goes back to London and Scotland whenever she can.

Alice Sebold says, "Every novel of Margot Livesey's is, for her readers, a joyous discovery. Her work radiates with compassion and intelligence and always, deliciously, mystery."

I had the pleasure to talk with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder
:  How did the idea come about for your novel The Flight of Gemma Hardy?

Margot Livesey: If six years ago you told me that I was going to write a re-imagining of Jane Eyre—I would have sent you on your way to McLean Hospital.  It is hard enough to write a novel, much less in the shadow of a master. But I was part of a book club and we discussed Jane Eyre. It was a novel that I read when I was a mere 10 years old. I chose it because it had a girl’s name on the cover. And from the first pages I feel in love, and I also identified very much with Jane. She grew up in the Scottish moors, which seemed a lot like the Yorkshire moors where I grew up. I had a severe stepmother who seemed a bit like Jane’s cruel aunt. I also went to an all girl’s school—so I seemed to have a lot in common with Jane. Later I went on to teach the Jane Eyre. Then I found myself in this book club in Cambridge, Mass. And the room was filled with ardent readers who all loved Jane Eyre. I just started thinking about how amazing the book is.  It reaches all kinds, all ages, and nationalities. I started to think what would it be like to tell the story in more modern times—about a girl who finds herself without parents, and who has to make her own way in the world. I thought about setting the novel in 2000 or 2005. But I wanted the novel to take place before that great wave of feminism. Even though a great deal of the novel takes place in the 60s—it doesn’t feel like the “Swinging Sixties.” It is a very old fashioned story.

DH: Are you an old fashioned novelist?

ML: I do love a good plot. I grew up reading those great Victorian novels. I love what plot can do for a novel. Readers still love a great story.

DH: You weaved in Icelandic sagas in this book—why?

ML: I thought it was very important that my main character Gemma was very different from Jane Eyre. So I decided to give her a very different family background. I tried to find a country near Scotland that had a strong connection to Scotland. I traveled to Iceland. Iceland has a remarkable landscape—the island is still full of active volcanoes. When you actually see a field of green—you gasp—because much of the island is black, volcanic rock. There is all this wild beauty there.

DH: Throughout this novel, the main character has a strong connection to birds. What is your relationship to birds?

ML: I think my relationship to birds is a very positive one. My father was 50 when I was born. He was an elderly 50—and one of the things we did together was bird watch.  He taught me all about the Scottish birds, and I still recognize them instinctively. I never lost that interest with birds and that feeling that they are visitors from another world, as well as from this one, stay with me.

DH: Did your experience in a boarding school parallel that of Gemma’s?

ML: My father taught at a boy’s boarding school—my mother was the school nurse. The school my father taught at always seemed like a benign institution. Girls were forbidden there. I was sent to a girl’s school which I thought was anything but benign. I spent my years there praying that the school would close down, and eventually it did. And like my novel, there was that sense of class division and privilege among the girls there.

DH: The characters of George and Donaldson are both infirm old men, who Gemma has a sort of relationship with. Donaldson was lost in the haze of dementia, but came out of his haze to give Genna  his keen insight. George, who was very ill and out of it, came through in the clinch as well.

ML: In the case of Mr. Donaldson and Alzheimer's, a family member of mine had Alzheimer's disease and for a number of years I visited her. And there were these wonderful moments when she was clearheaded and had these piercing insights. So—Donaldson was part of my experience. And of course we always get wonderful perceptions from the elderly.

DH: Sinclair was a worldly and much older man than Genna. It seemed she was an unlikely match for this gentleman.

ML: I wanted to be faithful to the plot of Jane Eyre. I had to come up with a plausible version of Mr. Rochester. I thought the real interesting question was why this man would be interested in this young woman, rather than a woman of his own class and intellect.

DH: You are a Writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston. How does that work for you?

ML: I like it and I find it a challenge. I try to help the students find their material and I help them shape it. It is hard, but at the end of the semester I have learned as much or more that they have.

DH: Your husband is an artist. Does your work inform his and does his work inform yours?

ML: I wish that I can say my novels were like his beautiful paintings. I learn from his dedication, his vision, and his motivation.

DH: Do you have another novel in the making?

ML: I am trying to write a novel set in contemporary New England. It is a challenge to write about these American characters, behaving badly. I can’t write about the academic community because I would wind up losing all my friends.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Natural Light in Mary Buchinger’s new book of Poetry, Aerialist

Mary Buchinger Bodwell

The Natural Light in Mary Buchinger’s new book of Poetry, Aerialist

article by Michael Todd Steffen

To be or not to be referential and scholarly about one’s poetry, that may be one frequent question
in the air,” what with the Internet and all of the world’s information at our fingertips and at the mercy of our cut and paste tools, about how we bring the language of others’ writing into our own writing. The Modernist critic Hugh Kenner wrote somewhere that writing is mostly quoting. This was one of the points the major Modernists like Pound, Joyce and Eliot were making by using direct quotes in their texts from world class authors, from the Book of Ecclesiastes and Virgil to Flaubert and Baudelaire. Pound and Joyce left their works largely without annotation for the harvest of careful readers and scholars. More doubtful about how public his references were, Eliot wrote the famous notes to The Waste Land, which (instead of putting matters to rest about the references in his poem) only inspired more scholarly debate.

Mary Buchinger’s new book of poems is wonderfully titled Aerialist (ISBN 13:978-0-692-34196-6 Gold Wake Press, Boston, 2015) and one immediate feature of it is the evocation of major authors like Virginia Woolf, Borges, Proust, Calvino as well as of artistic oeuvres and objets, Titian’s “The Rape or Rapture of Europa,” Brueghel’s “The Fall of Icarus” (via Auden’s poem “Musée de Beaux Arts) and even a “Magnificat” which “describes the sculpture PixCell-Elk#2 by Kohei Nawa” (c.f. reference notes in the back pages of the book).

My first impression was that the quotes loomed over the poems. They were too ponderous for the appreciably local and modest themes treated in Buchinger’s poetry. But this impression changed as
I spent more time with the book, allowing the more reticent, metaphysical suggestions in the poems
to emerge. The quotes began to amplify and resonate. I like the passage from Borges’s A New Refutation of Time too much not to share it again:

Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger
that mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me,
but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately,
am Borges.

If we get what Borges is saying, Buchinger’s poetry burns at a light perhaps closer to equal with the real world’s light. There is less “unfortunately” to be admitted between the poems in Aerialist and the world outside our windows. Yet the poems by Buchinger still have the charm and punch to furrow our brows with pleasure and concern. Her meanings are at times drawn so vividly as to become physical or spatial rather than rational. Her metaphors do what art does best, putting us in the embodiment of an epiphany or special meaning. What was it to be a child in the comfort of home?

Childhood, that nest

of gathered, broken sticks,
bark half-peeled, magic wands, lightning rods…

the slight and airy edges of this messy assembly

so close to heaven and all its wishing stars, a fall, so far.
(page 20)

The narrative arc of the book as a whole makes a lot of sense and offers congruities. In the opening poem “a bird flies all pink pink air”—nothing more precise than “a bird” and in the brief glimpse with a series of verbs—“touches, enters and is lost”—the poem’s one noun vanishes from sight like Wallace Stevens’ blackbird, evoking the wake of an appearance rather than the appearance itself. Did we see this bird or not? Was it even there? This is an overture, a real attention-grabber. To make the thing disappear before we have a clear look at it.

With a sense of symmetry and satisfaction we come to the final poem to find animals in more vivid definition, in a setting more stabilized, though this is still our mortal world of triumphs and perils:

On the river’s edge

geese float like speckled seeds.
Later, they will sprout wings, leave
the naked frogs tumbling in the current.

The geese sip air and water alike, press against
the liquids, they too feel the ice
in the upper sky… (page 107)

For T.S. Eliot, Between the conception And creation Falls the shadow. For Buchinger there fall a hundred more pages of sustaining variety, always the melodic, slightly playful intonations and earnest moments, questions and silences, an aerialist getting up on a train to use the hand straps for a brief twirl and saut, jewelry purchased from a Middle Easterner, the suggestion of an illness, more birds, the kids… The world is real…the poet is…Mary Buchinger.

This evening Mary Buchinger will be featured reading at the First and Last Word Poetry Reading Series hosted by Harris Gardner at the Center For The Arts, at the Armory, in the café at 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA. Philip E. Burnam, Ruth Chad and Ruth Smullins will also be reading. $4 cover, and open mic.

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 Café 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.