Someone’s Utopia by Joe Hall

Joe Hall - Someone's Utopia - Cover
By Greg Bem
.
to give a heavy falling all things do but I keep time
.
will push through the wall where you stand alone on the conveyer line
.
of a massive retailer of a baby’s mouth as who looks back on a man’s violent desire
.
of milligrams in dosage of poem stop singing
it all   together—through yourself—it can fall
if there’s someone to catch it
.
(from “Amnesia, 1997 / Closing the Vents,” pg. 31)
.
Someone’s Utopia is a mess of poetry that careens through the sordid faces of history both recent and not-so, across into the present, with unspoken truths lingering on the tip of the tongues of the future. It is deeply chasmic, almost impossible to approach at points, and carries a blankness at once riotous and shackling. It is difficult and with its difficulty, and its commitment, is triumphs as a howl and as a whisper, but nothing tolerably-in-between.

Hall’s trailer-strewn, antiquity-as-proclivity atmosphere returns following in the bloodied, entrenched, mouth-foaming footsteps of his formers Pigafetta Is My Wife and The Devotional Poems. The atmosphere is one of suffocation and distraction in its images of longing that bridge desperation and exasperation. It is an atmosphere that rages with a poetics driven by defensive structures in language, lingual nihilism, and a self-made pathfinding/wayfinding sentiment to grind the reader from one parapet to the next. It is filled with love, and not filled with love, simultaneously:

It is a world, a built environment, a fortress that is founded on history, founded on text found, founded on collage and ekphrasis. For example, some of this fortress of letters harkens at times back to the quasi-colonial-cum-industrial, anti-or-faux-spiritual ridiculousness of Oneida’s John H. Noyes (late 1800s) and his targeted efforts as patriarch and disciple of or for agony. It also includes ekphrastic derivations from Tirzah Miller’s journals, she who is Noyes’s niece, she who was suffering acutely from the utter misogynistic ownership of women by their abusers. It also includes more contemporary though gritty conversational approaches to industrialism and poverty a la a conversation with a one Mary Scire.
.
There’s also, most brutally, the transcriptions and echoes of transcription of time Hall spent in manual labor, or documented of (perceivably proximal) peers who did the same. The factories and warehouses and oppressive architecture of the endless machines punches across the page and sputters and flows in tandem.
.
My wife stares at the sun. Her scabs turn to birds
Dyed red after red until black.
A opossum tooth is in my fist. In my mind is the man
.
Choking on his nephew’s fingernails
After eating the live from his belly.
.
(from “Someone’s Utopia: Love as Refusal,” pg. 142)
drain games small moves whorl
.
reed bone color can’t say next
move to fiber in the morning planet
.
shaves cell seep fill sleep formation
.
Ever Ever Ever the unvarying word
itself thunder overrun under
.
(from “Amnesia, 2007 / Nightshift, Mandatory Overtime I,” pg. 99)
.
Hall’s mastery of giving into form and theme, a practice that arrived much earlier in his story as poet and artist, is seen here. It is a bleak shower of numbness across time, space, and project. Worlds upon worlds collide, requiring information but being deprived it. The rumble and rubble of chaos is protected through its own relentlessness, a Catch-22 of corrosion that entrances, enthralls, and brutalizes.

These texts of what could be late-stage humanity seep with drama, with utterances that can suck us in and whip us dry, as the collision of our inabilities to our necessities, universal and forever, remains striking and paralytic.

Throbbing across the book is the resemblance of love. This love is cloaked in the maddening disorder already stated, but it’s there, there to read, there to seek out, there to latch onto. It is the heart and the guts of the otherwise wretch of rudiments spewing from the covers. Love opens the book with an absurd sequence entitled “Greetings: Play for 2 Voices,” a 9-poem-long first section of the book that reveals attraction, attachment, and obsession amidst the whirrs and sonic ripples:
.
[. . .] 1: You can’t

hurt—as a Player at the Keys. 2: Now I want you to do something for me.

I want you to close your eyes. The back of your head is resting
.
in someone’s hands. 3: Someone is holding your head, and you rest
like that, like a buoy in waves. Who is it? Who is
holding your head like a buoy folded in faves? [Often a communicating spirit cannot
.
(from “Unfoldment,” pg. 11)
.
Later on, in “Talk Piece: David” contained within the second section of the book, “$ ∞ / HR,” we encounter discourse between Joe Hall and “David Hall,” (the specific David goes undefined), which reflects bonding, reflects initiation, reflects bondage.

The piece with Scire, “Talk Piece: Mary,” extends this flittering socializing process. Again, the love, the need, the presence, the indefatigable. The book hints at it throughout, and this spattering song balances text while provoking the reader into a cruel sense of hypnotic submission: the perfect situation for the muck and the crack of a nuanced poetics of tear and wrought, tare and rot. “Talk Piece: Mary,” affords the reader with excellence in the grotesque nature of our split affections by mildly erasing (a la the strikethrough) all of the verse in the “piece,” and leaves fully intact a distributed interview with Mary Scire. The effect is uncanny, though resolute, as seen below:

.
in mind never to the nearest hold my finger slips eggs foam slow useless to
the nest I know people strokes my hair a man pays heavy with some virus
to eat centipede song thousand legged
.
so you see a new basis you still got to do something about it
 
[. . .]
.
M: When my parents built their house in Virginia, in Shenandoah Shores, we spent or summers down there working as a group. It was cheap labor. We all worked together to help build that house, from the little kids getting water or stones. [. . .]
.
(from “Talk Piece: Mary,” pg. 105)
.
Lest not we ignore the fountainhead of love itself, “Someone’s Utopia: Love as a Fountain,” a poem that strikes the reader, barrages them, with the poet’s reflections on enduring connectivity. Despite “the cannery,” despite the alchemical and industrial transformations of life and substance, there is the direction outward, the direction inclusive of bond-making, sharing, collectivity:
.
We cut three names into a tree.
And when I burned my wrist in the cannery
So badly it began to bubble,
.
You were there with a bucket of cold water.
Among tons of softening apples
You smelled like cinnamon burning.
.
(from “Someone’s Utopia: Love as a Fountain,” pg. 129)
.
The balance between the creep of chaos and form, between cavern and home, between polarity and proximity: these are Hall’s points and counterpoints, these are the poet’s arrival to disturbance and peace. In an odd, disfigured, brutish way there is harmony following fulcrum, transformation above stasis, and reflection beyond the juxtaposition. There is light between the cracks.

When I think of Joe Hall, I envision the human behind the phalanx of writ, the maestro commanding a presence of stacks of lines of poetry in darkly-lit theaters. This book has etched this image, in conjunction with the former works. It is a crude image, and it is one that supplements a book that needs its keeper, a keeper that needs its book, both illuminated, rhythmically in the dark.

While the stage’s pit coughs up that which is despicable from the world outside, and the floor runs slick with the sweat of the efforts of our sordid and malnourished collective: Someone’s Utopia instills the brittle, angry reactant to a truth we can always try to and never quite fully imagine, never quite realize completely. It is a challenging truth in being partial. It is difficult to accept though there is power in it being a beginning. It is more alive, this book, than not. And some readers might have a hard time accepting the universality within.

You can find the book here: http://www.blackocean.org/catalog1/someonesutopia

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein

pain
.
By Lynette G. Esposito
.
Are you in pain?  Its 2020 and maybe there is a need for a qualified author to discuss this issue.  Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein and published by Bellevue Press does just that. Olstein redefines the understanding of pain through an extended lyrical essay that includes poetry, conversation and perceptions of pain.
.
The opening chapter begins with:
.
                            All pain is simple.  And all pain complex. You’re in it and
                            you want to get out.  How can the ocean be not beautiful
                            today?
.
                            Pain is pain:  vivid even in its opacity, vague even in its
                            precision.  Pain reduces and expands, diminishes and
                            amplifies, bears down upon us, wells up within us, goes by
                            the as often as by my, and only rarely by our. 
.
The next paragraph uses the words: “Fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck as Olstein begins to describe the birthing of her child.  This honesty about birth pain alerts the reader that this is a no holds bared author and the discussion of pain will be real. Starkly refreshing, this honesty brings the reader close to the writer as well as to the subject of pain in an intimate way women have with other women who have given birth and endured the choices of how to give birth and how to handle the pain.  Her style of writing is crystal clear and although the subject is pain, it is like watching a rider and horse jumping rope:  fascinating.
.
In thirty-eight short chapters comprising 181 pages, Olstein explores the notion of pain with a variety of writing styles. Her creative nonfiction employs personal revelations such as her birthing experience, conversations about pain and poetic techniques.  In chapter thirteen she refers to Antiphon the Sophist in the late fifth-century B.C. who suggests people should not fear dreams and was criticized for this philosophy.  He is believed to have written a treatise The Art of Freedom from Pain.  Olstein explores the surviving fragments of Antiphon’s discussions and expands the discussion into chapter fourteen discussing the language used by Antiphon and other Sophists concerning pain. In chapter fifteen she brings the reader into the present with her neurologist attempting to define migraine pain.  Pain is old, pain is new, pain is present she seems to observe.  She explores how we are trying to avoid it as well as understand it. Some of the interpretations read like poetry; some like analysis, and some like a conversation with a therapist.
.
 On page 151, Olstein talks about perception and how it affects us in attempting to make sense of the world.  She quotes Jonah Lehrer a science writer and one-time lab technician who suggests that the brain is redefining cellular forecasts.  The wide scope of her references opens the discussion of pain to a broad spectrum…perhaps too broad.
She ends the book with a poem on hearing voices.  This technique to end a full-length creative nonfiction essay this way is a little risky to bring the discussion to closure.  If the intent was to leave the discussion at an open door, I think this technique succeeds.
.                                                                                   
 Olstein teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and has authored four award-winning poetry collections published by Copper Canyon Press.  She is a member of the poetry faculty at the University of Texas at Austin where she teaches in the New Writers Project and Michener Center for Writers MFA programs.  She also serves as an associate editor for Topeka Quarterly.  Pain Studies is her first book of creative nonfiction. For further reference, the author’s website is LISA OLSTEIN

Pain Studies is available in March 2020 from Consortium Book Sales and Distribution www.cbsd.com or www.blpress.org

.

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

.

.

The Weight of Bodily Touches by Joseph Zaccardi

zaccardi_front_1799x

By Don Thompson

This is dark stuff.  The opening poem of Joseph Zaccardi’s new collection, The Weight of Bodily Touches, seems to be offered as a warning so that the tender-hearted might proceed no farther.  In “To Feast on the Flesh of Decay”, a farmer’s wife exhumes the bones of a miscarried baby to “suckle my loss” and then “eats the grave dust under her own nails”.  Some readers of this review will no doubt stop right here.

But I wonder about the source of such darkness.  Usually it’s a kind of posturing that intends to shock for its own sake—a variety of grand guignol.  But in these poems, it’s a genuine and almost compulsive response to the—well, horror that surrounds us.  Zaccardi looks closely at things most of us studiously ignore or see as social issues that provide an opportunity to do good from a distance. In these poems we witness human consciousness barely holding itself together in the face of suffering that just is.  No one to blame.  Not much to be done.

“The Sound the Tree Makes” turns out to be a scream and the answer to Bishop Berkeley’s question that even if no human hears it, the other trees do.  And this is only a tree—perhaps ridiculous if Zaccardi hadn’t given us such a vivid description of the tortures inflicted on logs in a lumber mill. When he focuses on human suffering in “ICU”,  we’re forced to see the awfulness of hospitals that we try to pretend isn’t there among the pastels and smooth jazz: “…a gurney casting chirps down a corridor…while IVs beep and air whistles from tap holes” and “a defibrillator delivers doses of electric current to undo a flatliner”.

In all this, Zaccardi exhibits a craftsman’s skill with the unpunctuated, run-on prose poem.  We are carried long by the ebb and flow of rhythms rather than bogged down in the usual unreadable clot.  This gives the poems tension—an odd exhilaration that runs counter to their grim subject matter.  And he does make an effort to reach some sort of quietness if not peace of mind in the final section, which shifts tone radically to pay homage to classical Chinese poetry.  But it’s too little too late to offset the preceding darkness.

And yet, like the spiders he writes about in “Circle and Alchemy”, his work is both “beautiful and hair-raising”.  Although their webs and our lives are fragile and tear apart easily, we “rebuild because there is so much left.”

You can find the book here: https://kelsaybooks.com/products/the-weight-of-bodily-touches

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.

 

 

.

 

Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation by Cynthia Manick (editor)

SoulSisterRevue_72

By Charles Rammelkamp

Think of Cynthia Manick as an impresario, the mistress of ceremonies organizing the entertainment at this gorgeous revue, which is complete with an intermission halfway through – “When Soul and Poetry Meet, a Revue Takes Place” – in which Manick explains her inspiration behind the project, back in 2013.  Soul Sister Revue is a live show that takes place four times a year. This book represents the print analogy of the performance, with two poets from each of the twenty shows spanning the past five years represented.  While not all the poets in Soul Sister Revue are female, they are all of color and all exhibit soul.

Which of course provokes the question, What is Soul? Glad you asked. Each of the forty-one poets with work in this anthology (the forty selected plus Cynthia) has an answer. The format for each performer-on-the-page on the Revue stage is: 1) the poem; 2) an explication or elucidation of the poem in the poet’s own words; 3) a response to the question, “What Is Soul?”; 4) a response to the prompt, “Favorite soul performer or song?” and 5) a brief bio of the poet.

“Soul is what’s left after the world has worn you down,” Jeremy Michael Clark (“Dear Darkness”) writes. “Soul is duende,” Roberto Garcia (“Elegy in the Key of Life”) writes, “that inexplicable thing that connects human beings, that makes art true.” “Soul is memory, even when you don’t realize you are remembering,” Rio Cortez (“Writing Lately”) opines. Yasmin Blkhyr (“& I Mourned What I Could Not Name”) believes “Soul is the heart, the meaty heart & also the whistle of air in the lungs.” And my favorite is from Mia Kang (“Civitas”): “Soul is the thing under the thing.”

Not surprisingly, many of the poems – like Garcia’s mentioned above – address music. Freida Jones contemplates jazz in “No Maps in This Music”:
 .
Marion Brown rises
slender & ebony
lips wrapped around reeds
joined by Trane, Ayler and Ornette
fueled by Elvin drums
.
Patricia Smith writes in “Why a Colored Girl Will Slice You If You Talk Wrong about Motown,” “We learned
.
what we needed, not from our parents and their rumored
south, but from the gospel seeping through the sad gap
in Mary Well’s grin. Smokey slow-sketched pictures
of our husbands, their future skins flooded with white light,
their voices all remorse and atmospheric coo. Lil’ Stevie
squeezed his eyes shut on the soul notes, replacing his
dark with ours. Diana was the bone our mamas coveted,
the flow of slip silver they knew was buried deep beneath
their rollicking heft. Every lyric, growled or sweet from
perfect brown throats, was instruction:  Sit pert, pout, and
seamed silk. Then watch him beg….
.
Joshua Bennett’s “Barber Song,” David Tomas Martinez’ “The/A Train” and others allude to or are inspired by song.  Similarly, a number of poems are inspired by or in homage to other works of art. Notably, two poems take their inspiration from Ntozake Shange’s musical, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf.  These include Peggy Robles-Alvarado’s “Praise Poem for Bronx Girls Who Make Shopping at Rainbow More than Enough” and Pamela Sneed’s “When the Rainbow is Enuf / for Ntozake Shange,” which begins:
.
The internet has transformed our grieving patterns
Everything comes and goes so quickly
After death there’s a tremendous outpouring and then a few
weeks later months years later nothing
I have come now to watch all who shaped me die
Never got to write about or even register Prince
Then Aretha
Ntozake
People without whom I couldn’t have formed my voice
my identity
.
Grief is a potent theme throughout this collection. So many of these poems address mourning and loss, in an elegiac tone, from R. Erica Doyle’s “Winter Solstice” and Amber Atiya’s “The Skin South of My Collar Bone Burns” (“This poem is a kind of griefwork,” she comments in her “About” section) to Chris Slaughter’s “The Father,” Keisha-Gaye Anderson’s “To My Sisters” (“…a wave of motion / when grief slowly siphons breath”) and Lynne Procope’s stunning “Thirteen Assumptions and Seven Questions.” In her response to “What Is Soul?” Procope writes, “How do black folks persist? Our bodies distort to contain so many hurts. On a cellular level, we must have evolved to hold grief.”
The “Favorite Soul performer or song?” section of each poet’s entry is incredibly charming. Aretha Franklin is cited over and over again (Manick, Evie Shockley, Jeremy Michael Clark, Lynne Procope, Maria Fernanda Chamorro, and Mia Kang all mention her, one song or another), but Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone and Otis Redding, among others, are also mentioned more than once.   Beyoncé and Prince, Billie Holliday and Al Green also have their advocates, as well as others.  In her opening poem, “I Wish the Trees Could Sway to Marvin and Aretha,” Cynthia Manick partakes of the melancholy tone that’s a direct manifestation of “soul”:
.
because sometimes I forget/ soil/ can do more than hold/
wooden or metal boxes….
.
You get a sense of what real fun a performance of Soul Sister Revue must be.  Poetry and soul lovers can vicariously experience the Soul Sister Revue from reading this impressive collection.

.

 You can find the book here: Anthologies — Jamii Publishing

.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press.
.
.
.

Pages From the Concourt Journal

Pages-from-the-Goncourt-Journal-Oxford-pape-by

By Ray Greenblatt

Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, brothers and collaborating novelists, decided in 1851 to begin a journal that would truthfully observe their friends and events. Although younger Jules died in 1870, Edmond continued the journal until 1896, when he died, totaling nine volumes. This 1962 edition is one of the few English translations.

Here is why they collaborated so well: “Edmond can see himself perfectly well as a soldier in another age, with his Lorraine blood, no distaste for fighting, and a love of daydreaming. I for my part see myself involved in chapter-house negotiations, in monastic diplomacy, taking a vainglorious delight in tricking men and women for my own pleasure and the irony of it all . . . The strange thing is that although we are absolutely different in temperament, taste , and character, we are absolutely identical in our ideas, our judgments, our likes and dislikes as regards other people, and our intellectual perspective. Our minds see alike and see with the same eyes.” (108)

This was their intention: “But I assure you on my honour—and those who know me can testify that they have never heard me tell a lie—that the conversations I have quoted in the four volumes which have so far appeared are as it were shorthand transcripts, reproducing not only the speakers’ ideas but more often than not their actual expressions. And I feel certain that every disinterested and perceptive reader will recognize that my desire and ambition have been to depict exactly the men I was portraying, and that not for anything in the world would I have wished to attribute remarks to them which they did not make.” (358)

                                                                     Novelists

          And the Goncourts were truly at the center not only of literature in Paris but also of art, music and the theater. Since they were fiction writers, let us first look at their novelist friends. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary and leader in the school of Realism, was a long-time friend. “He started looking at our portfolios, our books, our bric-a-brac, like an inquisitive, excited child. He looks extraordinarily like portraits of the actor Frederick Lemaitre as a young man, very big, very powerfully built, with large protuberant eyes under puffy lids, full cheeks, heavy drooping moustaches, and a complexion speckled with red patches.” (40)

Flaubert’s home was elegant. “The vast Seine along which the masts of boats which are hidden from sight pass as if at the back of a stage; the tall, splendid trees twisted into tortured forms by the sea breezes; the espalier-shaped park, the long terrace-walk facing due south, the peripatetic path, all make a real writer’s home.” (254)

Emile Zola , who defended Alfred Dreyfus in the press, was another friend: “A waxy, anaemic complexion, a strapping young fellow with something of the delicate modeling of fine porcelain in his features, in the line of his eyes, in the angry planes of his nose, and in his hands . . .The dominant side of him, the sickly, suffering, hyper-sensitive side, occasionally gives you the impression of being in the company of a gentle victim of some heart disease. In a word, an incomprehensible, deep, complex, character; unhappy, worried, evasive, and disquieting.” (144)

Alphonse Daudet took fiction a step further with his Naturalism: “And to make up the deficiency, he promptly poured himself a succession of glasses of liqueur. His hand, of an extraordinary whiteness, kept going up to stroke his Ninevite beard and his long hair, which seemed damp with all that he had drunk and fell in tearful locks over his forehead; and a rakish beauty came to his face, which bent lovingly over his waistcoat as if over a woman’s body.” (221)

Victor Hugo, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables: “And there, his arms folded across his chest, his body thrown back a little in his buttoned frock-coat, and a white scarf round his neck, Hugo started talking again. He spoke in a soft, slow voice, slightly muffled yet still clear, a voice which played with words and uttered them caressingly; he spoke with his eyes half-closed and with all sorts of feline expressions passing across that face of his which was shamming death, that flesh which had taken on the fine, warm coloring of the flesh of a Rembrandt syndic; and when he grew excited, there was a strange rising and falling of the line formed by his white hair along his forehead.” (223)

Known for The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas: “At the Princess’s, resplendent in white tie and white waistcoat, huge of breath, and as happy as a Negro’s fortune, Dumas pere made his appearance. He had just got back from Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia. He spoke about Pesth, where they had staged his plays in Hungarian; about Vienna, where the Emperor had lent him a room in his palace in which to give a lecture.” (116)

Anatole France won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921: “Extremely talkative, he speaks with the eloquence of an academician—which he has yet to become—appreciated by society, but with an admixture of paradoxical, anti-bourgeois ideas, somewhat reminiscent of Renan, which make his conversation amusing. And then he no longer has the foolish face he had when he was young: somewhat thickened features give him a thoroughly masculine head, which has shed the silly fatuity of his adolescence.” (396)

George Sand is one of the few women novelists in the Goncourts’ group. “When we got up to go, she rose, gave us her hand and showed us to the door. At that point we were able to catch a glimpse of her face, which is sweet, gentle, and serene; the color has gone out of it but the features are still delicately defined in a pallid, matt complexion of a pale amber hue. There is a serenity and a subtlety in these features which her latest portrait, coarsening her and over-emphasizing the line of her nose, entirely fails to reveal.” (72)

“Guy de Maupassant,” famous for short stories like The Necklace, “told me that Cannes is a wonderful source of information for him. There the Luyns, the Orleans and the Princesses de Sagan spend the winter; and there life is much more easy-going and people talk more freely and more readily than in Paris. And he gave me to understand that, understandably and intelligently, he goes there to find his male and female characters for the novels he is planning to write about life and love in Parisian society.” (300)

Even a Russian who lived a number of years in France, Ivan Turgenev noted for the novel Fathers and Sons, was part of the Goncourt coterie: “Turgenev, that gentle giant, that lovable barbarian, with his white hair falling into his eyes, with a deep line crossing his forehead from one temple to the other like a furrow, and with his childish language, enchanted us from the soup-course on, wreathed us, as the Russians put it, with his combination of innocence and shrewdness—the great charm of the Slav race, heightened in him by the originality of a superior intelligence and by an immense, cosmopolitan fund of knowledge.” (197)

                                                          Poets & Philosophers

          Theophile Gautier, a Romantic poet, was another one of the Goncourts’ oldest   friends. The energy in his prime: “I never think about what I’m going to write. I pick up my pen and I write. I’m a man of letters and I’m supposed to know my job. So there I am in front of my paper, like an acrobat in front of his springboard. And then, I’ve got my syntax very tidily arranged in my head. I throw my sentences into the air, like so many cats, and I know that they’ll fall on their feet. It’s all very simple: all you need is a good grasp of syntax.” (23)

Toward the end of his life: “And his head fell forward, his great, heavy, wrinkled eyelids dropped down over his eyes, his hands dangled limply, and sleep, bending him forward, seemed to be pushing him towards one of those deaths which are found with their faces on the floor. We were seized with gloomy forebodings about the man, laden with honors at the moment and standing on the threshold of academic immortality, a threshold on which it seemed to us that the cruel irony of life’s compensations was already nailing together his coffin.” (143)

Stephane Mallarme, a Symbolist poet, “whom Alphonse Daudet asked with every circumspection whether he was not trying at the moment to be more obscure and abstruse than in his first works, in that slightly wheedling voice which someone once said occasionally goes flat with irony, after a great many strange phrases such as: ‘One cannot write in white,’ finished his nebulous amplifications by confessing that at present he regarded a poem as a mystery to which the reader had to find the key.” (383)

Two poets known as Decadents were Verlaine and Baudelaire. Paul Verlaine: “Mother and son lived in a wine-dealer’s house: the son downstairs, unable to leave his bed on account of something wrong with his legs, the other upstairs, watched over after her death by friends of Verlaine’s who were dead-drunk all the time. Friends and undertaker’s mutes, each as tight as the other, had enormous difficulty in maneuvering the coffin down the narrow staircase: a descent in the course of which the son’s door was opened for a moment and an aspergillum handed to him so that he could sprinkle holy water on the coffin from his bed.” (315)

Charles Baudelaire, known for his Flowers of Evil, “had supper at the next table to ours. He was without a cravat, his shirt open at the neck and his head shaved, just as if he were going to be guillotined. A single affectation: his little hands washed and cared for, the nails kept scrupulously clean. The face of a maniac, a voice that cuts like a knife, and a precise elocution that tries to copy Saint-Just and succeeds. He denies, with some obstinacy and a certain harsh anger, that he has offended morality with his verse.” (30)

Three men were known for their expertise in literary criticism, history and also philosophy: Sainte-Beuve, Taine, and Renan.  “Sainte-Beuve, who had written to ask if he might come to see us, came here at two o’clock. He is a short, tubby little man, stockily built with a peasant’s neck and shoulders, dressed in a simple country manner, rather like Beranger, without any stylish touches. He has a high forehead, a bald white head, large eyes, a long, inquisitive, sensual nose, a wide, crudely shaped mouth, a broad smile which reveals a set of white teeth, prominent cheekbones like a pair of wens: altogether a somewhat batrachian face with a pink, well-fed complexion.” (63)

One of the Goncourt’s oldest friends, they described him just before his death: “Sitting at the head of the table, Sainte-Beuve looked like a butler. It was a gloomy meal, and anybody might have thought it was the host’s funeral feast. He looked broken, old, and doddering, complaining of the agony of living with those senile grimaces of old men, that closing of the eyes that seem to say: ‘There, I can feel it again,’ those gestures of miserable compunction and those empty words of self-pity. He ate nothing, got up two or three times during dinner, asking us to pay no attention to him, and came back like the ghost in his house, like the shade of an old man anxious not to disturb anybody.” (131)

Hippolyte “Taine dined with us this evening, with his pleasant, friendly glance under his spectacles, his almost affectionate consideration for others, his rather puny but distinguished appearance, his smooth, flowing, picturesque conversation, full of historical and scientific ideas, and the overall impression he creates of a young, intelligent, even witty professor, in deadly fear of being pedantic.” (83)

Ernest “Renan looked up from his plate.

‘In all the subjects I have studied, I have always been struck by the authority of the German mind and German workmanship. It is not surprising that in the art of war, which is an art after all, inferior but complicated, they should have achieved the superiority which, I repeat, I have observed in all the subjects I have studied and with which I m familiar . . . Yes, gentlemen, the Germans are a superior race!’” (170)

                                                                            Conclusion

        Various famous people passed by on the fringes of the Goncourt circle: the playwright Ernest Feydeau and the actress Sarah Bernhardt; sculptor Auguste Rodin and Impressionist painter Edgar Degas; Prosper Merimee who wrote Carmen and the wife of Georges Bizet who transposed it into an opera; even Georges Clemenceau the politician before he became Prime Minister. They all were x-rayed in the Goncourt Journals in their good and bad moods for posterity.

In all my readings about British and American writers, I have never come across extended times where they came together socially.  The Nineteenth Century French camaraderie of like-minded artists is a rare one to be savored. Yes, the rivalry must have been strong and arguments fierce; but it was worth it for the opportunity to trade ideas and obtain valuable criticism. Can you imagine casual statements often made in the Journal like this: “Dinner at the Café Riche with Flaubert, Zola, Turgenev, and Alphonse Daudet. A dinner of men of talent who have a high opinion of each other’s work, and one which we hope to make a monthly occasion in the winters to come.” (207) I wish I could have been an eavesdropping waiter. Fortunately, the Goncourts were there to transcribe and prove that this world existed!

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0140570144?tag=picclick0f-20&linkCode=osi&th=1&psc=1

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

.

.

.

 

Martin Luther King Jr.

King

In these times of division, of hardened positions, of the loss of understanding, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. once again rise from decades past to find relevance, to inspire, to shine the light on the darkness that corrupts our freedom and bring hope to all those who strive for equality and freedom.

I Have A Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. **We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.”** We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”1

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,    From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

 

Remembering Edgar Allan Poe on the Date of His Birth

edgar_allan_poe_edgar_allan_poe_478043_800_533

Annabel Lee 

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
   Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
   Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea—
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

 

A Dream Within a Dream 

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

 

The Raven 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Alone 

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—
.
.
.

Submissions are Open

232 1

Submissions are open at North of Oxford for poetry, book reviews and essays. For consideration of publication please visit our guidelines here:  https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

Diane Sahms and g emil reutter

Two Poems by Mike Cohen

sunrise
.
A Final Aubade
.
There is no adequate narrative for this
or any morning
when an early glint of sunlight
slants between leaves
as clouds mount breathlessly
beneath the great breadth we call blue.
Now that morning has come, the poet assumes
that morning requires an aubade,
missing what sunrise reveals
as he tries to catch it in his flimsy net of lexicon.
Let it come without comment.
Morning is a greater thing
than all the words dedicated to it.
There is no adequate narrative for this
or any morning.  A morning is
simply to be witnessed,
greeted with due silence….
Be quiet and watch it progress
acknowledging there is
no adequate narrative for this.
Yet we cannot help
but help ourselves to these grand pronouncements –
these pretentious aubades –
a profusion of insufficiency
like treatments for what cannot be cured.
It’s far too much and not enough.
There is no adequate narrative
for this or any morning.
Au revoir to you, Aubade…   – not another word.
.
IMG_0060 (3)
.
Bovine Mantra
.
“Moo,” I say to the cow.
She is surprised I can speak Cowish.
She’d assumed I was just another of those
who talk so much, with so little to say.
She’d looked at my boots on the ends
of my two legs, my silly colored clothing
and the hat that conceals my pathetic lack of horns,
and judged me to be capable only
of sub-bovine speech – some low human babble,
profuse and pointless and prattling on
so it could drive a cow over the moon.
.
This is what cows have come to expect of people.
I want to show her that we humans are not all alike.
And as, face to face, we stand in silence,
a trace of respect seeps into her big brown eyes.
She sees that I too recognize how inept words are
at expressing thought.
There is nothing more for me to say.
I have said my “Moo,”
and allow the resonant syllable
to fade into the beyond.
“Moo…,” the cow’s mantra,
is the consummation of language…
The rest is only cud,
a regurgitation to chew on and on and on.
.
Hour after hour the cow bears with me,
her jaws at work, her eyes on watch
until, finally satisfied that my understanding is sufficient,
she turns away and lows at the moon.
.
mike-cohen (1)
Mike Cohen hosts Poetry Aloud and Alive at Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Book Store. His articles on sculpture regularly appear in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in which he is a contributing editor. Mike’s wry writing has appeared in the Mad Poets Review, Fox Chase Review, and other journals. His poetic presentations feature humor and drama against a philosophical backdrop. Mike likes to bring poetry and audiences to life in cafes, libraries, book stores and venues including Princeton’s Café Improv, the Pen and Pen Club, the Hedgerow Theatre, Fergie’s Pub, Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and neither least nor last, Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Look for him at http://mikecohensays.com/  on youtube at mike cohen   and in his book, BETWEEN THE I’S
.
.