Friday, October 23, 2015

Review by Martin Abramson
By Patty Dickson Pieczka
The Bitter Oleander Press 2013 Fayettville, NY
$16.00, 81 pp, Paper

Reprinted from Book/Mark, Summer 2015

                It’s rare for a weary reviewer to be sent a book with a delight on almost every page and Painting the egret’s echo delights me no end. Mrs. Pieczka (pronounced PYECH-ka) writes in free verse stanzas sans rhyme, but with every other poetic device. Indeed, a good many of her poems are about words and writing itself. From “The Lineage of Ink”:

                          Ink lurks in the blood,
                        learning secrets.
                        Hieroglyphs and calligraphy
                                wind their cursive tongues
                        to feed on goat hide,
                                clay or papyrus scrolls,
to drink the phrases
                        that nourish a ravenous pen.
In “A Winter Poem”                                       
                        Soup stock boils in the kitchen
                        this snow-laced afternoon.

                        The poem begins with a page of steam.
                        My fingers squeak across its window…
In Polish, sounds
                        purl like water in tiny
                        rivulets, a diphthong drops
                        from the mourning dove’s beak,
                        wings opening to the sun.

Nature imagery is everywhere:

                        Tonight I become the forest
                        and weave my hair into vines…


                        This morning a ram’s skull
                        Rose in the east…

                        lifts a finch’s feather
                        and becomes weightless,
                        floats to the crown
                        of a hickory and finds
                        that her hollow bones
                        can whistle like flutes.
And finds:
                                …a world beneath soil
among constellations             
of bulbs, potatoes,
a sky of onions.

The heat of “A Jalapeno” inspires an image of “a prairie surviving/ only when its grasses are grazed/ by fire that chews through purple/ mallow and lemon mint…”

                        Leaves scattering through
                        the tunnel of trees
                        ripple grass with their

In “Rose Madder” the poet lists dyes for her boiling vat: “bloodroot/and larkspur…goldenrod…oak galls…woad…saffron near the foot of the ginko…sumac and indigo…”

Many poems describe a lover:

                        Your dream spills out
                        and trails fireflies
                        along a curve of evening
                        winding toward night.

From “Drinking the Moon”: “She traces the hollow/ of his throat, as though/ her fingertips/ might discern the truth/ in his words.”

In “Tradewinds”, at a tropical wedding where “The ocean plays a calypso/ of wave-splash and clicking shells…”

                          Saronged guests wing an ivory
                          whirlwind of rice that clings to him

                          in a flash of glinting sun. In the
                          wedding photos, he is already gone.

After a breakup in “Finale”

                          I no longer wore the negligee woven
                          from sultry wisps of his breath. It hung,

                          dissolving in the closet
                          with the bones of our first touch.

From the woman who receives Van Gogh’s ear:

                        What emptiness feeds
                        your martyred hunger
                        to offer me

                        this fleshy curl
                        of bass clef that drips
                        its lowest notes in blood…

Some poems have medical themes as in ”The Diagnosis” which “slides/ from my doctor’s pen,/   an inky snake…” follows through her daily routines and “winds around me…” at night.  “A Curvature of Bone” sees the spine as a “rock strewn path” “partially covered with sand…and threaded together/ with tenuous ligaments”.
“Voices of Touch” is a moving evocation of Helen Keller’s sensory world.
“Rocky Bluff” brings déjà vu to a familiar valley before history where “…I will return…/when I am       wearing/ different bones.”
“Pieces of Winter” etches a world where wind plays icicles “like a xylophone” and

                                    As we walk the frozen
                                    shoreline, snow memorizes
                                    the shapes of our boots
                                    our immortality…
I hope it’s not sexist to observe that these poems have the delicacy and sensitivity that clearly identify them as a woman’s handiwork. And this is by no means to dismiss them as anything less than superbly crafted literary emanations. As a man, I have often wondered about the workings of the female mind, and I’m grateful to admit that reading Mrs. Pieczka’s oeuvre may be as close as I can get to its mysteries.     

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Master of Leaves by Murray Silverstein

With permission of Book/Mark a Quarterly Small Press Review.
Review by Martin Abramson
MASTER OF LEAVES:  By Murray Silverstein
Sixteen Rivers Press
San Francisco, CA
$16.00, 91 pp, Paper

                          Murray Silverstein's style is a breezy, casual, off- the-cuff affair that gets quite chummy with the reader. Of course, a chum is a friend with whom one can speak his mind without fear of criticism. But alas, the reviewer, hard hearted cynics that he is, may assume no such intimacy. If a line like
                    hummingbird at the fuchsia---suck away, pal.
offends him to the soul, what can he do but hold it up and hope the reader agrees.
Not that Mr. Silverstein's collection is replete with such examples, but the style would seem to encourage them, and not always felicitously. The same poem, “The Constant”, refers to the speed of light and asks, "why, in the famous equation, must it be squared) it's already the speed of light?" The question is disingenuous as the poet shows later that he's perfectly aware that mass figures in the equation. The poem is a conceit which describes the body of a woman as a physical constant, tossing Einstein in for corroboration. To be sure, the poem contains some lovely descriptive lines: "but there's the heat, that feral almost- chocolate smell/ and twigs of cedar—twiglets---tangled in your hair." But there's also simplistic philosophy: "We're hit/ with a double whammy in this life: sex and other people." Maybe a single whammy. Doesn't  "other people," certain ones, include the subject of sex?
Mother is "Mother Goose" in which a mother's despair at the loss of her daughter to sudden elopement is nicely set
            against the indifference of the geese: " mother sat
            down/ in a chair she never sat in, and wouldn't speak..." While the geese, ". . .steadfastly fly-                                 floating across the sky.. ." are unheedful.
The poet's world has changed, but
               ...what is that to the geese?
             ... Tell me, if you know, I say we can never know, but we can ask...
             the lyric mind
              was made to ask. But what is that mind to the geese?
Two poems that are similar in theme are "Here Went the Egret" and  "Song of the Field." The latter recalls "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" in lines like: "The song of the field is the buzz of the mind..." and "To enter the mind, enter the field." In "Here Went the Egret," the speaker digs a pond and stocks it with fish only to watch his aquarium emptied by an egret. But, forgetting pond and fish, the poet is awed by the power of the egret (as was Hopkins at a windhover) "...stroking the morning, erotics of air, as up/ and over me she glides..."
Both poems suggest that the closest we can come to reality is by an apotheosis of, or even by entering into the consciousness of a bird. This one ends with the poet who:
             ... dug the pond, bought the fish,
             Thought there was me, the egret, the fish, but no,
                                                           there is only the egret.
"Song of the Field," after descending from the mind to the man, to the field, to the edge of the field, to the woods and to the caw of the crow, concludes: " enter the woods, you must enter the crow."
Mr. Silverstein often pays homage to authors and artists he admires. In "Lunch with Saul Bellow," he quizzes the novelist as Dante did Virgil. " is love lavished?" "why is it lavished?" " itself is spun! From what?" The poet gets reasonably straight answers thus far, but the remainder of the poem dissolves into forest sounds;  "hoo-hoo-coo:" literary advice: "build a house/ of stories, tangled with other stories" and cryptic pronouncements: "sadness the marrow of the want bone."
The poem, "In Scarlet Town" invokes Bob Dylan's song, Vermeer's Young Woman at a Window with a Pitcher, Moby Dick, and Beethoven. It's a kind of culturally comprehensive comment on guilt, betrayal, escape and remorse summed up by the penultimate line," Mistakes were made and all is lost," but things are partially redeemed in the final image of the Vermeer: "Let me call your attention to her lips."
In "Self-Portrait," Mr. Silverstein once again plays physics off against art, referencing the discovery of the God particle with Rembrandt's painting. The trillionth of a second glow of the Higgs boson is mirrored in "...the tiny drop of white in the black pools" of the artist's eyes; and in "'...the glowing speck of silver I on the head of his cane..."
In two lengthy poems, "The Poison, The Cure" and "What is Man? " Mr. Silverstein brings Joyce and Dostoyevsky into the mix in the persons of Prince Myshkin and Molly Bloom. The first poem is more or less sexually oriented. The second is considerably darker involving dogs, leashes, pain and Ulysses.
"The Wheeled Blade" is probably the most overtly erotic poem in the book. The poet and a friend, baking pizzas, remember Judy Sharfman from years past, whose father ran the Hebrew school;  who would her legs on her back on the grass and then snap them shut." It was his initiation to the female body. And the grown boys, marveling that she'd subsequently become a rabbi, comingle her with the Bible: "wordstream from the cuntspring" and "Torah within the Torah."
The title poem, is probably the best in this collection. The first of twelve sections describes insects on a late summer evening. "...a gnat storm is rising, a-jitter/ like a worried thought..." Water Walkers or Jesus bugs, don't walk so much as "dimple, and drift' on water.. .or they hump the water... sparks of manic desiring..."
In the second section, the October sun blasts the plum "turning its jam-dark leaves/ to pale-green moons." The third section centers on the autumn leaves. As the writer gathers them and crushes them underfoot, the leaves speak of their perceptions:
                Great master, our alphabet's an agony
                 of spine, a crazed ecstatic branching after light.-
The heliotropic leaves turn to the red south but wonder about Northern darkness and why lovers are impatient for the night.
The fourth section is commentary on the third in conference with "the Interior Gal."  They parse the aspects of light in a manner reminiscent of Jackson Mac Low's Light Poems:  “There's light and the endless craving of light to see itself and, ...light itself is made/ she said, of light-eviscerated plums.”
Section 5 is a meditation on death occasioned by the funeral of a friendly neighbor. The fall mirrors her death:  "...taking its toll. Golden a moment, then blown, rainy/ taking until the turn, the turn the tolling turns..."
Section 6 recalls lovers "on the lawn that sophomore spring: "   "Just out of jail and all over each other." But the episode ends in emptiness:  "The leaves falling, and then the rain."
Section 7, December Light, is fashioned in free verse as is most of these poems, but not without meter, variations within meter and internal rhyme. I will leave close analysis of Mr. Silverstein's complex scansion to those more erudite, and suffice myself with a long quote from this beautiful piece:
                ...what is, December 1, is light
              through the fog and slowly gaining on the neighbor's red-                                                                                       tipped maple                                                                                                                                                                 as if a cloud were an ember.

Inside the window, the same light gathers
in the hour-shaped glass centered on the sill, its bouquet
of red tulips and pale, feathered grass—whose stems
he can see are becoming translucent
the one light
through all.

Skipping to section 10, the January departure of the sun eviscerates the landscape                    
              And words, those tokens of joy the world offered once,
                     are beginning to disappear
                      into the things they've named'
                     becoming the tears in things...
And the penultimate section, 1 1, February Sky, takes the poet back to the dreary, typical city landscape in February, with the bearded religious loony, the couple on the steps of the middle school and the rain.
But with late March in Section 12, we feel "the fragrant breeze, so undeserved/ everything budding early." And we hear:
                     ...a children 's song! Sung by the living
                     to all that are gone, with verses, refrain—the silence
                     under the plum, blossoming, everything showered in light.
I'm constrained to admit a grudging admiration for Mr. Silverstein's work. He goes his own way, devising his own rules along it; but if uniqueness and honest path finding are exemplars of important poetry, these efforts surely fit the bill.
Martin Abramson is a poet, critic, author of four books, and a regular contributor to Book/Mark

Friday, February 13, 2015

Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet 2009

On the Royal Shakespeare Company's TV Production of Hamlet: 2009.
    Hamlet is probably the single most powerful fusion of words and situation in the language, and I believe the Royal Shakespeare Company's television version featuring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart is the best production. Two examples:                                                                            
    Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
    Ophelia: No, my lord.
    Hamlet: I mean my head upon your lap. ...
    Ophelia: Aye, my lord.

    Hamlet: Or did you think I meant country matters?
    Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
    Hamlet: That's a fair thought, to lie between maid's legs.                                                                       

    In every version I've seen, Hamlet reads line 5 more or less normally. But Tennant, knowing what bawdy Elizabethan audiences appreciated, says: "Or did you think I meant CUNT...ry matters?" Brilliant and authentic.
    In every version, Olivier, Gielgud et al., Claudius reacts to the play-within-the play by rushing off screaming for light. But Patrick Stewart understands that Kings don't panic. Especially since Hamlet, by his crudely pointed remarks has made the "trap" quite obvious. He gets up calmly, walks over to Hamlet, stares into his eyes and shakes his head from side to side. This gesture from a king can only betoken death.                                                                                    The whole interpretation of the play leans strongly to the Freudian side. Hamlet's anguish before he sees the ghost is over his mother's hasty marriage.  There's no "Hyperion to a Satyr" adulation of his father at this point. In speaking to Horatio of his father, in this version, Hamlet simply states:"He was a man etc." With no heroic stress on 'man'. In fact, the casting of Patrick Stewart as both Claudius and the ghost is meant to emphasize the idea that they pretty much looked alike. Which was possibly one factor in Gertrude's acceptance of him. This version sees Hamlet as a high-strung adolescent whose Oedipal predisposition is suddenly inflamed by his hallucination of the ghost whose his accusations against Claudius fulfill Hamlet's terror. (Yes, others have seen the ghost, thrown in to please the groundlings, but it's Hamlet's fury that animates the play; just as the witches in Macbeth only trigger Macbeth's overweening ambition but do not cause it.)  And, of course, Hamlet's fixation on his mother is given an appropriate degree of frenzy in the bedroom scene.                                                                    …/…/B0038RSJ0U/ref=sr_1_2…
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    David Tennant and Patrick Stewart star in this critically acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece from Britain’s renowned Royal Shakespeare Company. No recent stage production in Britain has attracted the excitement and nearly...