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

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, bathed by angel so she thinks, between her legs,
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, and in the defiance of it 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 mythical ordinary and then: “we will all one day/ fall—or swim unbounded by any womb,” the myth-less final finality.

Or 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 of the more rhythmic second word., 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’s voice enumerates his possessions, only note here the hoard of stains, the Trotskyite proverbs and the cruet for his chrism, the name for the anointing oil used in the Mass. “Confession,” she holds, “ is a tongue stroked into blare,” “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 for her dilemmas,
Frostbite is an indifferent fever,
is a blackhead’s Passion Play,
is a discharge of burning.
It evident from the beginning of the book even from reading the table of contents that there is an underlying narrative threading through the pages. It 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.

The mother after a stroke, when her loosening of language turns her even wilder and yet miraculously seems at the same time that it lets her cast 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, but the son, of course, gets the better of that. In these poems, she in fact descends.
But a similar issue shows 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 his “dowsing stick bent in the wrongest ways.” 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.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career Edited by Lawrence Harbison

How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career
Edited by Lawrence Harbison
Applause Theater & Cinema Books, 2015

Reviewed by Deborah Finkelstein

It’s the question all of us ask: How did this writer make it? Lawrence Harbison decided to find out. He interviewed 30 playwrights and asked them to share their stories.

Joining a writing group was a popular recommendation. It’s a great place to share work, and receive support and feedback. Many groups do readings and some even invite directors. “Careers are built by establishing working relationships with other like-minded people,” says David Auburn (6). Harbison adds, “Try to get into a playwright workshop. If there isn’t one in your area, start one.” (x)

Many suggested self-producing plays rather than waiting for a theater to stage plays. This allows the writer to hear the work live, and share work with the world. Plus one never knows who’s in the audience that might want to produce the play. Bekah Brunstetter says, “We wanted to work on plays. We didn’t want to wait for opportunities—we wanted to make them for ourselves.” (20)

Writing groups and self-production also build community, as do attending school or working in the theater as an actor, director, stage manager, stagehand, etc. These are all great ways to meet other theater folks. “Offer to read stage directions,” Harbison says. “Do anything to make the theater aware of you and your work.” (xi)

Community was an important ingredient in many playwrights’ prosperity, and several shared the way someone they knew helped open doors for them. “Make your friendships, your connections, early. You just never know who’ll wind up being in a position to help you further your career,” says Lauren Gunderson (97). Playwrights added that it’s important to kindle the friendships, “I spend some part of every day keeping in touch with people,” says Aaron Posner (161).

Some writers never submitted plays, but several did attribute their achievements to sending plays out to theaters, contests, and festivals. “You never know who’s going to be reading it,” says Gina Gionfriddo (61), and John Cariani (38) adds, ““All it takes is for one person to love your play.”  Brunstetter prescribes applying everywhere, “I’d look up submission opportunities… make myself deadlines, and try and meet them all.” (20) This advice, like much of the book, was applicable to not just playwrights, but most artists.

A few of the playwrights reminded writers to persevere and shared tales of rejection. “I had a briefcase full of rejections,” says Neil LaBute (123). Brunstetter spoke about the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. “I applied eight times before I got accepted. If at first you don’t succeed, apply apply again.” (25). Eric Coble reminds writers that it’s natural to feel rejected sometimes, “Keep writing even when it seems like nobody wants to see or hear or read what you’re creating. All writers feel like that sometimes. You just have to keep going.” (48)

In addition to describing “how they did it,” playwrights also shared stories about their background. They spoke about their writing style, their habits, and their inspiration. They gave details about the journeys of specific plays. Set in Q and A format, the book is worth a read to anyone wanting to learn more about contemporary playwrights in the U.S. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur by Doug Holder

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur

Boston 1974-1983

By Doug Holder

Big Table Publishing Company

Boston, MA

ISBN: 978-0-9908413-6-4

17 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly


Doug Holder hears voices. Lots of them! He channels these voices through his maturely manufactured, yet wholly internalized, persona, a replica of his younger, offbeat self. Holder’s persona specializes in self-deprecation, perceptiveness, and smart-alecky truth-telling. Consider the catch word of his title – poseur. Make sure you give it the appropriate French pronunciation with an elitist air, and see how it colors everything that comes after. The inset photo of Holder on the cover of this chapbook only adds to the effect. Tellingly, the specter of life’s brutality always seems to hover in and over the fabric of each of these funky prose poems, teasing out some pretty unusual insights.


Reading through this sixteen part poetic memoir the cadence carries you forward down alleys, past vacant lots, into a psychiatric ward, and out into the mystery of Boston’s Chinatown. The pull of the words and phrasing reminds me a lot of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry—specifically Kaddish. Unlike Ginsberg, however, Holder does not constantly engage. He keeps a bit of distance between himself and his objects of interest until he doesn’t. Then he zeros in with a vengeance, albeit a funny vengeance.


Holder’s persona, just out of college, comes alive at 271 Newbury Street in a piece entitled Newbury Street. The poet initially gives the reader a grand tour of the vicinity and a mini job history before dropping names of famous acquaintances – an interesting narrative in itself, but Holder is just setting his audience up. The poet springs his trap,


… I had the same Chinese

laundry as talk radio host David Brudnoy (the Chinese man always

used to yell at me Why you lose ticket?) Brudnoy, his pockmarked and

intelligent face, with an ironic smile. I worked as a clerk at the corner of

Newbury and Beacon Street, Sunny Corner Farms. Members of the

Cars used to come in regularly—Rick so sky high, fingering a

Twinkie… also Gila Radner—a frenzy of frenzied hair, Howard

Zinn, tall, a radical patrician, and Barney Frank—rumpled and in a

rush—all on the night shift. And beers after work at Frankenstein’s. My

boss, a fat Irishman, called me a dirty kike regularly after he had a few…

nice to me the next day…


“Nice,” a civilized and suburban word fits so snugly in that last sentence.


In the same poem humor and irony help maintain distance and narrative speed, but does not negate a strong sense of tragedy and waste pulsing through the page. Everywhere food and rodents seem to share the down-but-not-quite-out-background of this artist-in-training. Holder concludes his Newbury Street narrative with a wink,


… Those nights writing in my

furnished room, the clank, clank of the radiator—thinking I was a

Beat poet or something. The mice scurried by—my father told me,

over the phone: Get the hell out of there! My mother joined in, That’s the

lifestyle they lead, Larry. Hordes of us made the pilgrimage to be with

the rodents and roaches… all-night poker games with the service

bartender who worked at the Hilton… the dishwashers from his shift,

Latinos with flashy gold-filling smiles. Bartending was not his life he

told us—he was going back to U/Mass Boston—for the past 5 years he

told us.


Innocence gets its due in Holder’s piece entitled, Combat Zone, Greyhound Bus Station, Boston Public Library. The poet gives his reader an affecting reaction after the real world sneers at him. Here’s the gist of it,


…I weaved my way to the carnality of the Combat Zone—

down LaGrange Street. First stopping by Hand the Hatter, an

avuncular old man—some fish—some fish out of order—water—in the

midst of this—presiding over blocked, buffed, and august fedoras—the

kind my father wore—his heels pounding the floors in Penn. Station.

And the whore in the bar said: Give this kid a glass of milk. And all my

street-wise posturing melted with these succinct words—not a

boilermaker but a milk boy.


Holder’s persona seeks to confirm his romantic notions of the artist’s world by escaping to filmdom in a meditation he calls Harvard Square Cinema. This is probably my favorite piece in the collection. Stream of consciousness rushes through this set of memories from Brando’s Last Tango in Paris, setting up the way the world should work, to Frank Cardullo, who owned and held court at the Wursthaus eatery, delivering corny puns filled with dead-end wisdom, to an insane Harvard University exile, who counsels his fellow comrades, presumably directing their financially naïve futures. Holder’s persona here introduces a couple of his old pals,



…The Harvard refugees at the au Bon pain.

Expelled from the academy—for some reason or another. Gravitated

like moths around the light of Harvard Yard. Sat with my friend

Byron, trust-fund man, graduate of the wards of McLean—he

dabbled in Native American crafts—liked to ogle the young girls

passing by, called the old ladies trouts. George—a scavenger of scraps

of newspapers, and gossip of the street—full of news of the supposed

scandals at Harvard—joined us, and let us in on the insane, inside



Most modern practitioners of “beat” style and themes are pale imitations of the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Weiners, et al. Holder delivers more. He brings with him his own value added innovations to the genre, most singularly his humor.


In the very last line of his very last piece in this collection, Holder stands on a rain-slicked street in Chinatown waiting for a dramatic introduction in Twilight Zone fashion. I hope this signals that another installment of these “poseur” poems will follow in short order. Very short order.

To order go to

*********Dennis Daly lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Joanne. They have four adult children. He is a graduate of Boston College and has an MA in English Literature from Northeastern University. Daly worked at General Electric for ten years. He edited and published The Union Activist newsletter and the North Shore Union Leader, a labor newspaper. He also was the managing editor of the Electrical Union News, the official news organ of Local 201 IUE. He also was a regular contributor to The Salem News., He was elected to a leadership position of the 9000 member IUE union. Later he worked as a Department Head in the City Of Salem. He has been published in many poetry journals and magazines and nominated for Pushcart prizes in 2013 and 2014. He is included in a chapbook, published by Northeastern University Press, with two other poets, Robert deYoung and Patrick Duddy. . His second book, a verse translation of Sophocles’ Ajax, was published by Wilderness House Press in August, 2012.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Interview with Donald Norton: Managing Editor of The Somerville Times.

Donald Norton/Managing Editor of The Somerville Times
Interview with Donald Norton: Managing Editor of The Somerville Times.

With Doug Holder

Donald Norton has lived in Somerville all of his 68 years. And if there is one thing that most people can agree on about this important figure in our city, it is that he has an unabashed love for Somerville. Norton, once the owner of The Somerville Times, is now the managing editor. The ownership of the paper is now in the hands of his longtime friend Ross Blouin. I met with Norton at my usual spot at the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square. Norton is a fount of information about the “Paris of New England,” and he had a plethora of anecdotes about the old city, and his view of things to come.

Doug Holder: Donald in back of us is an old church. I think it houses condos now. Union Square has changed—the city has changed—you have experienced this change in your years here.

Donald Norton: I am 68 years old—so I can go back to the late 50s. At that time there were a lot of stores in Union Square. Any type of shopping you wanted to do; you would come to Union Square. The streets and sidewalks were very busy with people. The Square was laid out very differently back then. There was a different traffic pattern. Somerville Community Access TV was a fire station. The city changed very rapidly in the early 60s. One of the reasons was that there was a massive flight from the city of Boston. If people remember the Boston Redevelopment Authority was tearing down the West End of Boston. A lot of the folks from the West End were moving into Somerville. The predominate ethnic group in Somerville at the time was the White Anglo Saxon Protestant.  A lot of the churches were emptied  and people moved out to places like Stoneham, as more Catholics were coming into the city. The vibrancy in Union square lasted till the early 60s, until the malls came into play.

DH: I heard there were slaughterhouses in Somerville?

DN: I remember “Squires”  which was located where Target is today. Squires was a slaughterhouse. Back in the day there were a number of slaughterhouses in that part of the city, on the outskirts of Union Square. My parents told me that the cows from the farms outside the city were marched down College Ave., through Davis Square, down Elm Street, and down Somerville Ave. to Squires. There was a fire at Squires that lasted a week. As kids we would go down every day to watch it burn. It was a really good smell, well, like a barbecue of sorts. After Squires a lot of big stores like Bradlees’s, and Stop and Shop moved in.

DH:  With all this change, what do you see as the future of the city?

DN:    I don’t know. I think it is challenging. Of course it depends on the economy. I see young couples that come into my office that are pre-approved for an $800,000 home and make $200,000 a year. But it is hard for people to sell in Somerville. The whole area is hot, and getting another home is just as expensive. People have to go farther and farther out. Anyway, as I said, the city changed in the early 60s, and by the 70s there was an influx of Portuguese. My mother once told me that at one time Somerville was a huge Republican city-of course that has changed also.

Somerville is not on the right track as far as a pricewise city. As far as keeping the city diverse…well a lot of people are going to move out because they can’t afford to live here. But what younger folks don’t realize is what goes up, must come down. So the million dollar home and the high paying job you have today can be gone. Your home can be greatly devalued. I have been in real estate since 1977, and I have seen many booms and busts. The generation of people in their 20s hasn’t really experienced this as adults. People should keep this in mind.

DH:  Can you talk about the term “Slummerville” that has thrown around a lot over the years.

DN: This originated from people on the outside, because of the perception of Somerville as a hotbed of criminal activity. I never thought of Somerville this way. I was never insulted by the name, “Slummerville.” People who used this word obviously didn’t know anything about the city. Over the years I have worked in organizations that have contributed to the welfare of the city. And how things have changed! For instance I run into people who have not been back to Somerville since the 60s and were once embarrassed to be from it, and now they wish that they never moved. They read all the press about the city, so now they wear Somerville proudly on their puffed- out chests.

DH: Can you talk about the history of The Somerville Times?

DN:  It was started in the 60s by an attorney who was running for mayor. It started out named “The Somerville Times,” later it became “The Somerville News” and now it is known as “The Somerville Times” again. The Times was started as a counterpoint to The Somerville Journal. The Journal was locally owned, unlike now. The Journal had a huge staff. It is now relegated to a shoebox space just off Highland Ave.  When Bob Publicover took the Times over, he changed the name to “The Somerville News.” It was monthly paper. It was a hands on operation. Bob had a popular column titled “Bluntly Speaking” where he announced he had AIDS. That was a big deal back then. In 2002, when his health declined, he sold me the newspaper. At that time my real estate company was very successful. I put a lot of money into the paper—and we never made much from publishing it. For a while we had a partner, but he left. Two years ago I sold it to Ross Blouin, an old friend of mine.  I am now in the role of managing editor. The Somerville Times is going to be around a long time. We are the number 1 paper in Somerville. We get between 14,000 and 17,000  readers ( online and print)  a week. We have 160 boxes across the city and we are putting in more. We plan to put 4 or 5 boxes in Assembly Square Mall.  Recently Tufts University Journalism students studied us, and gave us many recommendations to improve the paper, some of which we will implement. I glad that we have a diversity of writers with different viewpoints.

DH: On a final note, what about the story we broke about Obama’s unpaid parking tickets he got in Somerville when he lived here while attending Harvard Law School? Give me the inside dope.

DN:  Well we had some inside information about that from a source that I can’t reveal. Hillary Clinton’s people called us about the story during her campaign. The story got so many hits it almost crashed the website.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bird in the Hand Poems by Lianne Spidel

Bird in the Hand
Poems by Lianne Spidel
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-939929-09-9
69 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

A luscious elegance secrets itself in the mnemonic tableaux of Lianne Spidel. She lays out her poetry collection, Bird in the Hand, in easily accessible compositions that belie curiously colored insights into the human condition. Not only does Spidel contemplate the complexities of what she knows best, but she seems to imbue everyday events and connections with numinous significance. These poems narrate ordinary lives into being again and again, while reveling in individual value. The word “uplifting” comes to mind.

Before There Were Barbies, Spidel’s paean to long ago childhood innocence, opens the book by establishing the Cinderella bona fides of the poet’s persona. Dolls were at the bottom of the hand-me-down chain, but prized nevertheless. Society allowed little girls to be little girls during the World War II era, at least on the home front, safe from the world’s insanity. Spidel describes those comforting times this way,

… our hems were turned down twice
before our mothers cut up our dresses
for doll clothes. Somehow

there was always a doll for a birthday
or Christmas, certain as a ration book
or a terrifying newsreel at a Saturday matinee.

While faraway children starved
and the faraway world blew up and fell apart,
our grandmothers knitted miniature sweaters.

Even now we cannot part
with our childhood dolls, loved so tenderly
within our years of being safe

In the poem Godspeed, written in homage to John Glenn, the astronaut and later politician, and his wife Annie, the poet provides the reader with a commentary on love and the human need to pioneer, to push the envelope. The juxtaposition of daring on the world stage and the quiet adventure of domestic life work together quite nicely. It’s worth noting that Annie, a hero in her own right, engaged the public in support of her husband in spite of a difficult battle with a speech impediment.  Spidel’s persona speaks of her own son in this context,

… my black-haired son
bundled in his cart, caught up
in the first of wordless dreams
he would never learn to compromise,
while an Ohio-born traveler
circled our adventure with his own.

When we met him years later,
stumping Ohio in the seventies,
he crinkled his eyes and said
I looked like Annie. She told me
they ate by candlelight every night,
even if it was only hot dogs.

Not all the poems in this collection are narrative. One of my favorites is a lyric entitled River Song for the Grandmother I Never Knew. Both a celebration of life and meditation on family connection, the poem draws the reader into life’s daring, its dance toward forever. Spidel internalizes an Irish river and launches her piece magically,

Full of salmon and the music of mad fiddles,
the Corrib River churns, rushing the tide,
defying the margins of its banks
with wild rhythms of forgotten songs.

The Corrib River churns, rushing the tide.
When it leaps to crescendo
with wild rhythms of forgotten songs,
Echoes of dancing feet ring along the waves.

When it leaps to crescendo,
fiddles crowd and clash, racing over stones.
Echoes of dancing feet ring along the waves,
beating out loss and sorrow, fury and joy.

Fiddles crowd and clash, racing over stones.
My grandmother’s feet come flying…

Mortality’s moment very rarely mimics the sparking of great souls. Spidel describes the deathbed scene of a woman known to her persona in a piece entitled Comh Bhron Dhuith (Gaelic for Rest in Peace). Due to the family’s attention everything seems appropriate, arranged just so. The food sits prepared. The table ready to be set. The plants watered. Arrangements had been made to dress the woman in a white dress and paint her nails clear before burial. The poet considers another, more dramatic, scenario,

I wanted them to bury you upright
in a sandpit like a Celtic queen,
spear in hand, facing the enemy

wearing your good gold rings, a cross
set with jewels on your mutilated
breast, your hair still growing,

displacing sand tendril by tendril
red flames spilling the heat
of your living at the core of the earth.

Penultimate poems have a certain transitory charm. So does Snowfall at Solstice, a lovely sestina by Spidel that brings heaven’s landscape to earth along with recognizable angelic company. It’s as if the footfalls of poetic craft are absorbed in life’s snowpack and the resulting silence spreads effortlessly outward. Consider these lines,

learned ski trails curving into night
up the Gatineau, and every path wound

its way through some adventure, wound
magically toward one who would shepherd
you through cities on starless nights,
whose homecoming you awaited at windows,
who carried your furred boots for you
through seventy winters of snow.

He will find his way in winging snow,
white-haired, a woolen scarf wound
at the neck, coming from darkness to you
stooped but sure-footed as a shepherd,
an overcoated angel reflected in the window,
stamping from his shoes the snow, the night.

Alexander Pope once said, “True wit is nature to advantage dress’d/ What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d. Lianne Spidel apparently got the message. Her poems delight.