Kevin Hughes on Free Verse
Poems of Witness by James K. Zimmerman
Creation - a poem by Gabriel Guerra
Meteor Shower by Anne Whitehouse - a Review
Tribute to Omer Hadžiselimović by MiloradPejić
Protest Series - David H. Rommereim
Skaidrite Stelzer, Digging a Moose from the Snow. Finishing Line Press, 2021. $14.99 U.S. 38 pages, paperback. ISBN: 978-1646624553
Reviewed by Tija Spitsberg
In the poetry collection Digging a Moose from the Snow by Skaidrite Stelzer, the speaker ultimately draws the conclusion that we are all animals participating in shaping our shared landscape and seeking solutions to secure our survival. The opening poem serves as a preamble introducing the speaker of the poems by recalling a warning she receives from the “Pirushke lady” – a wise old sage who predicts the “fatal decline, spiraling toward death...In a few years your arches will fall/your feet grow hooved/toes become turtles/your husband will leave.”
What follows is a series of poems, each describing the trajectory from birth to death, linking our demise to the universal experience of all creatures; but there are glimmers of hope, especially for our children who approach the world with optimism. In “Cicada Shells,” “the granddaughters string them into long necklaces before they learn their fear of bugs, predicting the inevitable end of innocence.” The closing poem, “The First to Die,” suggests that we are losing the battle, yet also clings to possible redemption in the next generation, our children. “The forest now a pile of tender sticks/All color lost, white bone beneath the sea/Still children look for stars within the rifts/The first to die will be the coral reef.” This, however, is undercut by the final line, dictated by its form, the Villanelle, where the repetition of the final line is determined by its form: “The first to die will be the coral reef.”
Death comes to all of us, but we struggle to evade and delay its reality. In the title poem “Digging a moose from the snow” the struggle for survival is explored through the personification of the moose who “now knows we are animal/surviving/all of us/as best we can.” A “moose in a snowbank” emerges as the central symbol for our struggle to survive. This image solidifies the position the speaker of the poem takes in regard to the human condition: “the world is cruel/a world that will kill us (it’s true.)” But like the moose, “we must move against the snow banks/dig deeper than we believe…surviving all of us as best we can.”
These poems contemplate death and loss, as well as displacement and the salvation and pain of memory. Stelzer nimbly navigates this terrain as she explores these challenges through the use of fantasy, humor and sudden bursts of surrealism to deftly explore the natural world.
Copyright©2021 by Tija Spitsberg All Rights Reserved.
“I have known Kriben Pillay my entire life. He was a storyteller through his writing and teaching, an avid seeker through his study, research and spiritual quest for understanding and self-mastery. He is my mother’s eldest brother and I have watched him since my own childhood in the 70’s, when South Africa was a battleground, as a student, as a teacher, as an activist, as a rebel. The rules seemed to stretch to fit where he was headed. He travelled the world, met with luminaries such as J. Krishnamurti, wrote books and songs, mounted plays and productions, mentored artists and academics.
When days were darkest, with violence in our home, uncle Kriben made it his responsibility to be present. He was a family man and a connector of people and stories, which became apparent at any of the gatherings that he would orchestrate or preside over, a master of ceremony and a Joker extraordinaire.
Articulate and intelligent, his wit belied his consummate readiness to be silly
and to enjoy above all the company of children (I was the first, and my own
daughter the last in the family to know this)
We riffed together on many ideas and worked together on writing and productions and performances, and I feel that I had a glimpse into every facet of his diamond personality – vast, containing multitudes. He pointed me to Whitman, amongst many things.
Let me point you to him now, his award-winning poetry and writings, his legacy as a teacher and learner, his indelible influence as a father, son, brother, uncle...friend.”
“Owed to uncle Kriben”
you were always there
like how the moon is
together we did not grow up
though you could play the part quite convincingly
you always let me inside the story
I feel we were always in mid-conversation, few conversations at a time
sometimes few words
looking for a laugh with no excuse
- that irresistible one -
like when a plastic patio chair breaks in super slowmo, delivering a chunky challenger to the ground
or a piece of snot pokes impertinently out of a sincere testimonial’s nose
or, indeed, when a man of esteemed physical prowess trippingly flails his arms at the edge of a wedding stage like the Warner Bros coyote, very nearly almost regaining balance
before taking an almighty backward swan-dive into the grassy deck below, feet in the air.
I wish I could see you watch that moment, because watching you really laugh was a pleasure of the most involuntary proportions and the definition of giddy
We all laughed when you laughed.
by the way, everyone is still amazed by you.
Even if they think they knew the punchline. It hasn’t quite stuck yet that you are light years inside of us now
you always hinted at that
times are hard and the chocolates have gotten smaller
and we saw some of the very worst together, arm in arm
father and son sometimes brothers sometimes
but you snuck magic into the jail and it disappeared in the most impossible times
but now is a time for gratitude
as the Phoenix durga rides her tiger into victorious battle against the demon lord and all odds
as the Twofold Tamil Rule in a just world mind rises
as the Cosmic Koeksuster improbably holds to its celestial choreography
and we realise our captaincy
you introduced me to the harmonica and telling stories and mastering the Forces
I do these things now, singing my song
they call me uncle someplaces
I was once the apprentice to your sorcery, sir
seeking and taste for truth we shared
that blossoms in me and I’m addicted to its fragrance
you still learn me to see
Like the moon
you are still here even when the sun is out, besieging
dispelling the darkness
when the cool night comes
aum namah shivaya, you’re in our songs
aum namah shivaya, you’re on your way
aum namah shivaya, your turn to play
Cherish the Invisible Mind: A Plan to Heal Humanity by Defeating Narcissism andNeurosis. Damian B. Kim, M.D. Braugler Books. ISBN: 978-1970063837. $19.99US. Paper. 142 pages.
Dr. Damian B. Kim is a healer, and his words of wisdom in his new book Cherish the Invisible Mind offer sound guidance in our age of mental health crises. The book is excellently written, engaging, and well organized. Drawing on a number of scientific studies and psychological theories, as well as his own vast clinical experience, Dr. Kim tackles a range of problems and offers a number of solutions. For instance, narcissism and ego-centrism found among many younger Americans is leading to high expectations unfulfilled, competitiveness, and hence loneliness, depression, and even acts of suicide. Overall, Dr. Kim’s book is a succinct but commanding appraisal of and relevant response to a host of mental health disorders, ranging from anxiety and depression to drug abuse and violence, plaguing the American mind today.
As a highly-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Kim sees that some neuroses can be cultural; that is, mental health can be negatively affected or triggered by social conditions immersing people, often unwittingly, in a materialistic and power oriented society. This predicament is then compounded, Dr. Kim goes on, by professionally trained counselors who miss the cues or provide a failing treatment. With a focus on millennials, Dr. Kim’s head and heart are in the right place: he cares about the future of Americans and the U.S. This honest approach has not, of course, been embraced by all his peers, as he is the first to admit.
In an age of rampant psychiatric medications, Dr. Kim believes the source of people’s problems should be treated using psychotherapy whenever possible. A major concern of Dr. Kim is the rise of suicide rates in the U.S., perhaps because, not to oversimplify, the comfort of the body (using medicines and technology) has taken pride of place over the health of mind (using talk therapy). So Dr. Kim, as implied in the title of his book, seeks to penetrate and renew the unconscious mind which can often take a pernicious grip on one’s life with baneful results. This is more of a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach and hence, today, often ignored by many professionals though quite useful. At the same time, the unconscious mind can be a wellspring of sustenance if properly recognized, gently cared for, and ably negotiated. That’s the area of Dr. Kim’s expertise.
Dr. Kim rightly draws an analogy between the deteriorating and widespread harms of neuroses to a pandemic virus spiraling out of control, also unseen and destructive. Oddly, part of the cause for the spread of neuroses, he suggests, is capitalistic technology meant to make life easy and enjoyable, since it draws people apart and distracts them away from mindfulness and empathy. This book is a profound assessment of the current and at times superficial practices of psychiatry and yet an eloquent antidote to this profession’s shortcomings. Dr. Kim’s emphasis on character (using theory from Karen Horney) and interpersonal relationships correctly asks that contemporary people, especially the younger generations who will eventually be in control of government and the economy, engage in self-discovery. Some people might require professional therapy to do so, but the investment in self-understanding in a community of others is of paramount importance to Dr. Kim.
How do we solve these individual and social problems? There are some remedies that don’t require medication: education to increase knowledge of neuroses; meditation to help one come to grips with the self and comprehend the inner experience; psychotherapy, if required. In other words, answers to these problems are not necessarily in technology, more possessions, or competition among others but in acceptance and understanding of the unconscious mind. I found this book easy to read, enjoyable, and informative; it provides valuable guideposts to the future, and I recommend it to all students of psychology.
- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D., professor, departments of Literature, Writing and Publishing / Interdisciplinary Studies, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Greg Trupiano, born in Brooklyn, New York, passed away suddenly in February, 2020. He was Director of Artistic Administration at Sarasota Opera in Florida. He worked there for 33 seasons while maintaining his residence in Brooklyn. Mr. Trupiano made tremendous contributions to the arts community, especially in New York City. He assisted and consulted with several opera and theatre companies and worked various theatre jobs around the City from stage manager to producer to director. Greg’s lifelong passion for and knowledge of Walt Whitman inspired him to launch the Walt Whitman Project, devoted to the performance of Whitman’s words to the public. [Photo credit, Matthew Holler]
A man of contrasts. This personality trait enabled Greg intellectually and emotionally to take in Walt Whitman, the history of a nation, New York City, and particularly Brooklyn. Juggling overwhelming concepts?! No problem, Greg fearlessly rushed right into the middle and then managed to step into the light of truth. Being with Greg when he uncovered a fact that didn’t fit logically or hearing him tell stories that on the surface didn’t make sense, Greg would notice my furrowed brow. He would pause with a disarming, sly smile, eyes wide with pleasure. He radiated calmness as if to say, life is complex, it’s okay, together we move forward. He possessed clarity.
Working with Greg was a joy. He was cheerful and prepared. Everyone who associated with Greg knew about his high professional standards and formidable organization skills, skills needed to bring a new opera to life. When Greg was not immersed in American Opera Project’s risky ventures, or in a NYC theatre project, he was an expert in realistic restagings of 19th century Italian grand opera.
Greg taught me about operatically trained voices. He had a command of the technical aspects and could evaluate superior qualities in a human voice. When we finished auditions at AOP headquarters or perhaps after an evening performance, we frequently went to a diner—Greg was familiar with diners in every dark corner of the city—and it was fun and illuminating to compare notes and catch up about concerts and operas that we had attended. For hours we could discuss composers, rising vocal talents, iconoclastic productions, international opera trends, and on and on. Greg had the latest news about singers coming onto the scene, operas premiering around the country (and in Europe), and the gossip about opera powerbrokers, who was in, and who was out (in every meaning of the phrase).
Given Greg’s vast knowledge about opera’s cutting edge, to me it seemed a mistake that Greg was not employed by the big NYC opera companies. At AOP, he volunteered on projects for years, generously returning his small fees to the company. It often struck me as incongruous that his main work was at a conservative opera company in Sarasota, Florida, a “snowbird” resort town, known for programming traditional “warhorse” operas.
At AOP, Greg’s satisfaction came from developing operas from the ground up, for example, Paula Kimper and Wende Persons’ Patience & Sarah, which premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1998. (Anne Whitehouse was part of our team, too.) Through The Walt Whitman Project, which he founded with Lon Black, Greg established a successful track record of producing poetry in outdoor settings, finding a home base at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, a landmark park that lists Walt Whitman among its founders.
Greg continued to surprise me after more than thirty years. There was always new information coming from him: deeper, more multi-layered understandings of history and tradition, which bore fruit in Sarasota Opera’s Verdi productions. Greg possessed the spirit for the clash of opposing forces and shared his passion with anyone who would listen, in a theater lobby or on a neighborhood sidewalk. His sensitivity and empathy convinced skeptics of the power of poetry and avant-garde music theatre. In casual conversations, Greg generously revealed himself to others and teased out a commonality of interests. Every day I remember and try to use this tool.
-Charles Jarden, Director of Strategic Planning, American Opera Projects
I’ve never known anyone like Greg Trupiano, and I don’t expect I ever shall. We met when I joined American Opera Projects in 1995. The programs Greg conceived for American Opera Projects were original, innovative, and memorable. Conversations with Greg about music—genres, compositions, composers, performers, productions—fascinated me. He helped me to become a more discerning listener.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his character Jay Gatsby, Greg sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. Much of his learning and expertise was self-acquired. He was the most knowledgeable person about music, Walt Whitman, and the history of Brooklyn that I have ever met. He founded the Walt Whitman Project to realize his dream of awakening today’s readers to the beauty and humanity of Whitman’s writing and to connect Whitman’s New York to the current metropolis. Greg’s walking tours of Fort Greene Park and the Prison Ship Monument and Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn are the best walking tours I ever took, enriched by his encyclopedic knowledge and enlivened by the inclusion of musical performances and readings and prints and photographs depicting the sites we were visiting in times gone by. Like opera singers, Greg eschewed microphones on these tours, and for our edification and amusement, he corrected the errors on the historical plaques.
For decades, Greg kept to a set routine, dividing his year between Sarasota and New York City. At the Sarasota Opera, he nurtured many careers and was devoted to the summer opera camp he began for children. Despite his learning, Greg was never pedantic. He was modest and disinclined to talk about himself. He had a genuine interest in others. Aside from his long-distance commutes between New York City and Sarasota, he rarely traveled anywhere, and yet he was one of the most open-minded and least provincial people I have ever encountered.
He had simple tastes. He liked diners and Chinese restaurants. Other than books and music, he did not acquire possessions. His devotions were deep and sustaining. He could be counted on to be punctual. He showed up and forged connections between like-minded people in different artistic communities. His programming was diverse before diversity became a goal. In recent years, he was increasingly committed to education and young people.
As Greg nurtured the careers of many singers, he helped me become a better performer of my own work. Participating in his Walt Whitman programs, I noticed that the singers were invariably better readers than the writers. They came prepared and rehearsed, whereas the writers winged it, and the results showed. I began to understand the many connections between singing and speaking, and I tried to think as a singer when preparing for a reading of my work. When I give a reading, I think of Greg. It is a way for me to keep him with me as a sustaining spirit.
-Anne Whitehouse, writer and former Development Consultant, American Opera Projects
Trupiano. That’s how Greg Trupiano signed every missive to me, never Greg. As if we were on a high stakes mission together. And indeed we were. There was a lot to do and time was of the essence. Trupiano was my comrade on a trajectory to, as Whitman would say, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”
Trupiano was an Advisory Board member of Compagnia de’ Colombari and, signing on to that role, he became a rare friend to me, to Compagnia de’ Colombari and to all the projects including More Or Less I Am, the opera Judith, The Merchant of Venice and all the others. He listened hard to all of us at board meetings. Civility and practical wisdom marked his every contribution to the company, but nothing replaced his particular joy at witnessing the performances of the actors and singers themselves. They were the heart of the company and their presence was paramount to him.
The Whitman Project was Trupiano’s “urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge” in which he single handedly brought Walt Whitman into the consciousness of New Yorkers as a force to be reckoned with. In a persistent grassroots movement, he led countless tours of folk around the many neighborhoods of Brooklyn, freely offering knowledge of Whitman and New York history. His lucky auditors always left these itinerant gatherings ecstatic: deepened in their knowledge and renewed in their New York citizenship. If it were up to me, I would designate Trupiano a New York landmark.
Trupiano’s other great love was the opera: he was Associate Artistic Director at the Sarasota Opera where his knowledge was indispensable and where he galvanized a great variety of singers. He was a go-to repository of all things operatic and theatrical. Yet, making connections and bringing people together to serve shared missions was of greatest delight to him. A democratic soul, he relished meeting people, more than anybody I know and, remarkably, kept everyone’s name and history perfectly unmuddled.
Words mattered to Trupiano. If we spoke of something happening, he always kept his word, a surefire bond in a slippery time. I was a beneficiary of that integrity and attention. When Greg Trupiano left us suddenly in February 2020, I was struck by the vast resounding silence his absence carved. Yet just now, now, I begin to hear him challenging and encouraging us all in this extraordinary American moment—along with his beloved Walt, “What is known I strip away….I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown.”
-Karin Coonrod, Founding Director of Compagnia de’ Colombari
Two of the most important events of my
life happened in 1981. In May, I moved to New York City. Three months later,
August 15, 1981, I met Greg Trupiano. We were at a theatre party in the East
Village. This wasn’t a love at first sight story, but within a year our
relationship evolved into something beautiful and Whitmanic that lasted 38
years. August 15 became our anniversary date. To Greg, the Ides of August.
On my first day in New York, I knew I was finally home. Then Greg appeared and became my custom Welcome Wagon. He was a native Brooklynite, he loved his city, and he was eager to show it to me. “He was a welcoming presence” wrote a friend after his passing. What made him so welcoming? These other descriptors used in tributes to Greg will explain: kind, gentle, respectful, compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, generous, inspiring, funny, professional, organized, smart, a treasure, a true gentleman, an incredible human, a true ray of sunshine, a class act, one-of-a-kind.
In our early years, we were together all the time, working at the same job during the day (William Morrow Publishers), rehearsing plays together (me acting, Greg directing), and seeing performances together (theatre, opera, cabaret, film). For most of the 1980s, we were in a theatre or opera house an average of 5 times a week. Broadway, Off- and Off-Off- Broadway, The Met, New York City Opera.
We wandered the city together. We visited the popular touristy and sought the obscure. Many of our jaunts were in Downtown Manhattan and the West Side when Battery Park City was just landfill.
In the late 1980s Greg started getting out-of-town jobs in opera so we’d be apart for up to 5 months in a year. For 33 years, Greg worked at Sarasota Opera in Florida and was a vital force there as Director of Artistic Administration.
We managed these relationship fluctuations with ease which was a testament to the strength of our partnership.
Greg was a fervent Walt Whitman ambassador. He loved people. He created community. He had a zest and reverence for life. He embraced Whitman’s words on democracy and the spirit of America.
In 2000 Greg launched The Walt Whitman Project. We produced readings, tours and related events. Greg’s specialty was Whitman during his Brooklyn years. He created tours of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene Park. We commissioned composers to create music based on, or using, Whitman’s words. Greg’s intention was to bring the words of Whitman, spoken and sung, to the people. It was an expression of his celebration of life that he shared with Walt.
There were some sticky years in Greg’s health story. He almost succumbed to a subdural hematoma in 2014. In July 2017, Greg began a new chemotherapy regimen for chronic lymphocytic leukemia that he had been managing since 2004. As a result, he regained a vibrancy not experienced in several years. His death in February 2020 was sudden and unexpected.
It was easy for Greg to bolster people’s spirits. He freely gave moral support and career guidance. He was a good listener. He could make you feel safe and quickly garner your trust. It made him a positive force for so many people. I was a fortunate recipient…24/7.
I’m still receiving. I was always intrigued by the final, periodless line in Song of Myself, and after Greg’s passing it has even more significance.
“I stop some where waiting for you”
-Lon Black, Greg’s life partner and Artistic Director of The Walt Whitman Project
Review: Outside From the Inside (Dos Madres Press, 2020) by Anne Whitehouse. Loveland, OH. 122 pages. $19.00 U.S. ISBN: 978-1-948017-96-1.
Anne Whitehouse’s new book of poetry, Outside From the Inside, is a many-legged thing. Maybe, it’s something like Whitman’s spider, launching “filament, filament, filament, out of itself.” Or maybe, that is an overly dramatic comparison. Whatever description you like, what you need to know is that this book revolves around the body and its place. Also, the body and its person. Whitehouse explores these topics through a handful of forms – free verse, the odd cento, more – offering a generous 95 pages of poetry.
Of course, there are plenty of details I found myself savoring throughout the collection. Always, I love a book with good sectioning (Whitehouse divides her work into four parts). I also admired Outside’s embrace of often-times clinical language – this occurring in the first section, “Tides of the Body.” In one poem, the poet lauds the anconeus and popliteus muscles as if they were Greek heroes. Above all, though, my interest was piqued by Whitehouse’s forays into persona.
The second section of Outside, entitled “It Wasn’t A Hallucination,” (one of my favorite titles) is where the bulk of this work happens. In the book, Whitehouse inhabits the voices of Carlos Santana and the prolific sculptor Isamu Noguchi, among others. This last instance is the title poem of the book.
As someone with a real soft spot for Noguchi’s work, it was a pleasant surprise to find his voice inhabited inside. Moreover, the poem is an epistolary gem – a reimaging of a letter from Noguchi to Man Ray. [Editor: Whitehouse explains the genesis of the poem in an interview.] But – maybe this is of note – I also began reading it with a healthy dose of skepticism. Persona requires a great amount of care: it is never not a balancing act. Soon enough, though, I found “Outside From the Inside” to be full of care. It is also timely, placing Noguchi back in the Poston camp in Arizona during Japanese American internment, reminding us now of the current detention camp crisis at the border.
Considering Noguchi’s work, too, it becomes easy to draw conclusions on how the artist’s contemplative style may have influenced Whitehouse in piecing this collection together. Lines like “Here, there is a memory / of ancient places, / wind and sun, endlessness, / where I came from, / and where I will go. ...” align with both Noguchi’s expression of wind, flight and movement as well as the core mood of the book – a poetics wrapped up in being placed by moments. Emphasizing this paradoxy – in the sense that moments always seem to pick up and move on – “Outside From the Inside” ends on a nicely juxtaposed note, placing the small alongside the large: “Oh, for an orange, / Oh, for the sea.” Whitehouse borrows these lines from the real Noguchi letter. It is in details like this where I think Whitehouse is most successful.
Other poems worth mentioning from the book include “Salt-Rising Bread”, which tracks the life of an ancient recipe, and “Koko and Robin”, which is an imagining of the relationship between the late Robin Williams and Koko, the gorilla who was famous for her command of American Sign Language (ASL). But, maybe what will appeal to some readers the most – especially casual readers of poetry – are Outside’s quieter, brief poems (of which there are plenty). “Balm” is one of these.
In the days of Instagram poetry, it’s comforting to come across short poems that deal their cards quickly but don’t leave you feeling cheated. While it was not always my specific taste, Outside From the Inside never left me feeling cheated. Instead, a little more placed, on “a gray road like a fallen ribbon.”
- Evan Nicholls is a graduate of James Madison University and has poetry appearing or forthcoming in Guesthouse, Sporklet, DIAGRAM, Hobart and Yalobusha Review, among others. He was raised in the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Fauquier County, Virginia. He tweets at @nicholls_evan.
Copyright©2020 by Evan Nicholls. All Rights Reserved.
|Vaneshran Arumugam (left) and Emmanuel Castis (right)|