Bryan R. Monte – AQ21 Spring 2018 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ21 Spring 2018 Book Reviews

Jacob M. Appel. Millard Salter’s Last Day. Gallery Books, ISBN 978-1-5072-0408-5, 245 pages.
Arthur Allen. Here birds are. Green Bottle Press, ISBN 978-1-910804-09-4, 27 pages.
Alida Woods. Disturbing Borders. Finishing Line Press, ISBN 978-1-63534-405-9, 29 pages.

It is my privilege, as a reviewer and editor of poetry and fiction, to regularly make the acquaintance of many writers in the early stages of their careers. It is this discovery of new or not-so-completely-established writers that makes the hundreds of hours I put into Amsterdam Quarterly worthwhile. The three writers above (all former AQ contributors which makes me doubly proud, of course) have all, within the last few months, published beautiful, noteworthy books which I’d like to bring to the attention of AQ’s readers.

The first writer, Jacob M. Appel, is now, no longer a stranger to the publishing world. When I first met him almost coincidentally in New York City, in 2014, he had already published a few books, which had won some major awards. In the summer of 2014, I received an email from Appel asking if I’d like to review his books. Unknown to him, I was in Manhattan at that very moment to meet digital artist, Yolanda V. Fundora, (who would later contribute work for three AQ issues and two yearbook covers). As we met at the hotel’s street front café, I saw a young, (approximately twenty-years younger than I am), man wearing a name badge for a New York hospital. He stopped to give me three of his books: a novel, The Biology of Luck, an essay collection, Phoning Home and a short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper. I found him to be intelligent and articulate and I hoped the books he left for review would be the same.

And they were. Since then, Appel’s work has never ceased to surprise and delight me. His fiction, as I have remarked in past issues, reveals the work of a master storyteller. He grabs his audience on the first page and doesn’t let go of them until his intricately constructed plotting mousetrap artfully closes upon its victim on the last page. Millard Salter’s Last Day, is a perfect example of Appel’s fictive technique. It is about the life of a Jewish, New York doctor, a psychiatrist, who on the first page, expresses his desire to kill himself by the end of that day. This is due to the grief he has experienced after the loss of a second wife, whom he dearly loved, and a patient with whom he had a close relationship.

However, almost everything that Salter experiences that day seems to pull him back into the land of the living: a colleague at work, whom he hates, tells him she wants his position at the hospital when he retires. Salter’s first wife reveals that she doesn’t hate him for divorcing her because she was also having an affair and she makes a pass at him. So does a former schoolmate who is in town for more than one (she hopes) reunion. Later the same day, Salter’s luncheon conversation with his son, who, in his forties, has not make a life for himself, is interrupted by a gas explosion across the street which they both survive unscathed (except for a few scorch marks on Salter’s suit), but which seriously wounds the hospital administrator who just minutes before badgered Salter for an overdue report. Even a surprise 75th birthday party at his home, including friends and family, off foot him. Through all these events however, Salter continues his ‘Do I or don’t I’ meditation right to the very end. In the meantime, the reader gets a window into the current state of high-end medical and especially psychiatric care in America, ruled over not by doctors, but by hospital administrators. It is a world that is vividly rendered, where Appel adds one plot complication upon another until the novel’s very last scene. (Please, don’t read ahead, though, or you’ll ruin the ending for yourself).

The way I met the next writer, the poet Arthur Allen, is also fairly coincidental. Six or seven times a year I receive requests from university students enquiring about internships at Amsterdam Quarterly. Unfortunately, I must disappoint these young people with the news that AQ is not a business but rather therapeutic hobby for a disabled older man with multiple sclerosis. One of these students was Arthur Allen. I read through his résumé and wrote him: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t have an internship to offer you, but looking at your CV, I’ll bet you’ve got a few poems for me.’

And he did. He sent two poems, ‘On my father’ and ‘Unresolved harmonies,’ which I immediately knew I wanted to publish in AQ16’s issue on Interiors, Gardens, Landscapes and Music. When he attended the AQ 2016 Yearbook launch party, he read his poems from a journal in a hand with very few strikethroughs or other revisions. If I’ve ever met a natural-born poet, it’s certainly this young man. His chapbook, Here birds are is an excellent exploration of grief and intimacy related to the sudden death of one’s father caused by a hit and run driver. From the very beginning it addresses this grief through a description of how the father was found, ‘on his side, limbs like crushed cowslip flowers / tangled in the bicycle frame,’ to his mother’s unspoken grief witnessed when he was child: ‘She was siting gently / sinking without / sinking.’ In ‘The First Night,’ the poet asks: ‘the cosmos … “Why me?” … and it barely suffers to reply “Why not?”’

Allen continues to look for answers among the birds in the British countryside. In ‘Augury,’ he imagines his father’s body during autopsy as that of a bird’s: ‘gone / in wind, in perdu, insignificantly battered’ how the pathologists ‘opened and pinned a pair of wings… to relieve rigor mortis’ The poet’s loss of his father is further mentioned in the extended avian metaphor because ‘I do not know “the portent of the pitch / or direction of song,’ but the poet does know: ‘… it does not look like a man / asleep.’ ‘Poem after the manner of simple hearts’ describes the funeral and the mother and child visiting her husband’s/his father’s grave ‘The sky is bloody and violent.’ Allen’s thematic and imagistic concern with birds and bird metaphors in Here are birds is revealed halfway through the chapbook in its title poem’s epigram. Here Allen defines augury as “Interpreting the will of the gods by studying the patterns of birds, both from their flight, alites and their voice, oscines.” There is also the poet’s belief that ‘… Nature / cures Nature,’ in the next poem, father and his attempt to recover him, if not physically, then in his thoughts. In “Serenade” what Wallace Stevens, Schopenhauer and Mark Twain said all fail to comfort the poet who remarks: ‘What do they know anyway.’

The four-part poem, ‘From Amsterdam,’ towards the chapbook’s end, continues this conversation, but in a setting more familiar to AQ’s Dutch-resident readers and without the previous avian imagery. It also reveals some negative elements of the speaker’s relationship with his father. This poem begins with a letter addressed to G. with various dates which, in its first section, describes a night with friends in the Vondelpark in which he uses an extended arachnidan metaphor: ‘we hung in the / nets, strung out and dozing and everyone changing the / sound of my name in their mouths.’ In section I., the poet returns to the theme of his lost father, and his father’s perception of him as a ‘lazy’ because his ‘drawing in the sand with a stick’ wasn’t enough for his father. Now, writing in the Vondelpark his ‘notebook has become a sign of occupancy.’ In section II, even looking at ‘Picasso’s fish’ sculpture reminds him of his father’s absence. In the third section, a somewhat weaker section of this series, the poet describes ‘hot pancakes wrapped in his hand,’ which he wanted to ‘skim…into the canal like perfection reflections of the moon.’

The last poem in the collection reveals finally an intergenerational conflict between father and son which has gone on for three generations in which the poet describes ‘Bill,’ his grandfather ‘whose death was a scandal only to himself’ This rich, rhythmical poem with its very original images describes sometimes standard, generational, pendular personality type swings between father, son and grandson. The grandfather, like his grandson, was also called ‘lazy’ because he was a farmer who ‘wouldn’t hoe his corn / and lost to frost the lot he’d sown.’ The poet describes his grandfather as dead before he died ‘Scratched to death by his familiars,’ … grown white … put himself to bed / each night on butcher’s ice,’ … and his ‘coffin-varnished mind.’ These descriptions of his grandfather’s laziness and his preoccupation with death is also reflected in the poet’s own perceptions. It is perhaps a bit unfortunate that the poet didn’t explore his similarity with his grandfather a bit more and also their differences with their father/son. Nonetheless, collectively, these poems are the product of an inventive, intelligent mind trying to grieve, through art, about a parent’s sudden, tragic death and about what separated and connected him to his family whilst they were still alive.

Similarly to book above and all good books of poetry, Alida Woods’ book Disturbing Borders tries to cross the line or bridge the gap between what is said and not said, what is seen and what is only felt, and between life and death, mortality and immortality, through images from landscapes, home interiors and her family. I first became acquainted with Woods’ work at the Blue Flower Winter Writers’ Conference at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in January 2015. She attended a class led by internationally-renowned, multi-award winning poet, Carolyn Forché. During class, Woods read a poem entitled ‘The Clearing.’ I told her about AQ and asked if she would consider submitting the poem for AQ16, whose theme was Interiors, Gardens, Landscapes and Music. She promised she would, but like many promises made at conferences thousands of miles away, I wondered if she would actually send it.

And she did. I paired her poem with a digital image by Yolanda V. Fundora entitled Jockey Hollow #3. Her poem’s placement next to Fundora’s golden clearing received many positive comments from readers. In addition, I got to know Woods a bit more when she visited Amsterdam with her partner in April 2017 and attended AQ’s Writers’ Group. She told me at the time she was working on finishing a book of poems for a publisher. Disturbing Borders is that book.

This chapbook of twenty-seven introspective and meditative poems describes how desert, seacoast, suburban gardens, ageing parents and lost things transport the poet to places ‘beyond maps.’ In the book’s opening poem, ‘Crossing,’ she describes how watching her daughter carry her child reminds her of watching war refugees carry their children. She wonders how they will find ‘a place we called home.’ Then harkening back perhaps to a time early in human history, she writes about the necessity of human cooperation. ‘We will arrive carrying each other / across the river / across some faint line in the sand / or we will not arrive.” The theme of refugees is addressed in the next poem at the end after the speaker has lost a glove and remembers the effects of a flood: “three people downriver … or a boy and his mother crossing some border’.

In ‘Valley of Fire, Utah’ and ‘Folding Lesson’ she mentions the lost civilizations of the Aztec and the Wampanoag and relates them to lost parts of herself from her childhood in the second poem when she goes to visit her mother ‘in a home not is not her home’ or ‘in the village of the elderly’ as the poet refers to it in third poem entitled ‘Eighty seven.’ In ‘Peripheral Vision’ the poet relates her mother’s blindness to her own drive from the mountains into the valley where, because of a storm the poet reports it is ‘darker here and deep green’ and ‘I cannot see’.

In ‘Deadheading Daffodils,’ Woods writes how gardeners ‘create their own geography / careful boundaries drawn, / plots of obedient perennials / resurrecting each year’. In ‘Cartography’ Woods wonders where sleep and the unconscious take us: ‘Where we go at night after night / on this pilotless craft / heading beyond maps—’ Loss in represented in two poems, ‘The House of Forgetting’ and ‘Pigeon River Gorge,’ the first about the memories her mother’s house still holds after her death and the second about the slaughter of an entire species of hundreds of millions, the carrier pigeon, by American immigrants in a little more than a century. ‘In the Drawer’ the poet finds a letter her sister wrote to her ‘two days before she died’ but never sent, among a collection of pencils that have ‘reproduced in the drawer, / Chap Stick and three tubes of sun cream.’ It is a message that in: ‘Buried there’ it reminds her ‘that life is messy and unsharpened’. Framed by the event of an autumn dog walk, ‘The Clearing’ is meditative poem in which the reader can feel and see the dog’s ‘fur ripples in the brittle air / that draws us into this amber afternoon.’ This poem is about more than a dog walk. It contains an epiphany, perhaps with her mother’s and sister’s deaths in mind, when the poet notes ‘The moon lifts her belly up over the trees’ and ‘shadows reappear and ghosts speak softly’. Her mother’s shadow is specifically mentioned in the next poem, ‘In Your Mother’s House,’ in which there were ‘an abundance of things and a scarcity of love’. In the poem’s conclusion, the speaker’s mother’s shadow ‘slid onto / the pages of her / unwritten book’.

‘Dancing in Cassadaga,’ is about a visit to a psychic village that helps define another disturbed border in this collection. The psychic’s home décor and ambiance includes a talking bear ‘warning intruders / that crossing the line may / involve intricate encounters with poetry.’, ‘the smell of patchouli’ and ‘made in India drapery’. The psychic tells the poet about her children’s lives or characteristics in the present, the poet’s past life in Egypt and her advice for the poet’s future. “The Color of Morning” the chapbook’s terminal poem is located in some borderless time and place although it takes place in the poet’s hallway at 4 a.m. Here, the reader cannot be certain at first if the poet is describing an apparition of her mother in the hallway with her daughter, the poet herself, in her arms, or her own daughter with her grandchild. Once again, as in Allen’s collection’s terminal poem, the generations tumble one into other as a family travels through time, past, present and future, trying to find its way. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ20 Autumn 2017 Book Reviews

AQ20 Autumn 2017 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Rob Jacques, War Poet, Sibling Rivalry Press ISBN 978-1-943977-29-1, 118 pages.
Seth Pennington, Tertulia, Sibling Rivalry Press, ISBN 978-1-943977-37-6, 45 pages.
Kenneth Pobo, Loplop in a red city, Circling Rivers Press, ISBN 978-1-939530-03-5, 102 pages.
Nonnie Augustine, To See Who’s There, CreateSpace, ISBN 978-1-545137-94-9, 75 pages.

This quarter I received four extraordinary poetry books in my mailbag that I’d like to recommend without reservation to my readers. Each is striking in its approach to poetry and each adds something new to this genre.

The first book is War Poet by retired seaman Rob Jacques. With its striking cover painting of a naked WWII gunner who stripped to rescue a fellow seaman and then, still naked, returned to man his post, this book will certainly grab readers attention in bookstores—and the poems inside will certainly keep it. This book of 60 poems, some formal and rhymed and others in free verse, explore the various ways gay seamen lived and loved from Vietnam through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to Guantanamo. Jacques describes the camaraderie he enjoyed with fellow seamen, as a new recruit and at the Naval Academy, uniforms, rank and power relationships, life onboard ship (including seascapes and starry night watches) and getting away on shore leave to have sex.

War Poet contains many important details relevant to both gay and straight seamen over several eras. “Crossing the Line” describes a Vietnam-era, new recruit’s naval rite of passage on his first equatorial crossing: how he is forced to “eat slop,” and later have “kissed the Royal Baby’s belly/smeared with axle grease, swum in muck, and sung smutty songs.” before he can “join/the Solemn mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep.” “Russian Captain of the First Rank” describes the poet’s shipboard meeting with a Russian captain presumably during détente. “Thoughts on a Suicide Bomber’s Cowardice” and “Washing My Enemy’s Feet” describe the medical treatment and compassion shown to enemy bombers who failed or even injured themselves during the Gulf Wars. In the first poem the poet writes: “strange thing sitting here/handcuffed, chained, stripped bare. How easy/ it’d be to send you back…they would surely kill you.” He ends the poem, however, grateful there wasn’t loss of life on either side.

However, it’s poems such as, “Love Call of a US Navy Frigate,” “Unrequited,” “Days of 1968,” “Undertow” and “In Memoriam for James J. Williams” that chronicle the toll of gay seamen’s double lives: marriages of convenience, sex with strangers in strange ports, alcoholism, and a suicide. “In Memoriam” is about a nineteen-year-old sailor’s tragic situation that, as the title continues, “Unable to Choose Between the Person He Loved and the US Naval Academy, Chose Neither.” In “Days of 1968” Jacques describes a seaman “onwatch, when ashore, for more men like me; loyal to a fault/clean, buff always unconsciously on the hunt for another guy” but unfortunately, as in “Undertow,” men “who could never kiss.” “Love Call of a U.S. Navy Frigate” and “Unrequited” describe the tension of being attracted to a married man or one who would not return the poet’s affection.

Fortunately for the reader there are a few happy endings including the book’s first dedication to the poet’s partner and his poem “Meditation While On a Broad Reach” which describes how the poet survived in such a world of shifting political and sexual policies using the metaphor of a boat to tack against them, and at the same time, capture their energy to propel his boat, and thus himself, forward.

In addition to poems about his personal experience in the navy, there are also poems with a general historical resonance. “Vice Admiral Harold G. Bowen Reflects” refers to the inquiry into the Pueblo surrender to North Korea in the late ’60s, “Love Call of the Last Great Auk,” the extinction of that large North Atlantic seabird by mariner hunters in the 1840s and of course “Lines for Horace Bristol’s Photo of a Naked WWII PBY Blister Gunner,” the origin of the image of the naked serviceman depicted on the book’s cover.

All in all, War Poet is excellent combination of poetry and gay and naval history. Due to the depth of its expression and the universality of its themes, this is a book that anyone who has ever gone to sea will be interested in. It should certainly be in every LGBTQ library.

Tertulia is the title of a slim, 16-poem, pocket-sized chapbook by Sibling Rivarly Press editor, Seth Pennington. Its title refers to a Spanish term for a salon of writers and artists. It is a poetic exploration of various aspects of his relationship with his partner and their relationship to art. These poems have dense imagery that changes quickly and/or is piled up layer upon layer as if they were a series of Abstract Impressionist paintings.

The book begins autobiographically and conventionally stylistically but with a rather unconventional story. In “Nellie Mae” a woman, the poet’s mother, thought to be barren, adopts two children to keep her husband. Then, miraculously gives birth to a third, the poet, who in kind, brings his mother into his home in her last years. This poem and the next, “Let the Earth Have Him,” reflect the poet’s religious upbringing, and the struggle between the spiritual and the material, “dirt” signifying gay sex. The poet’s occupation as an undertaker keeps him close to this recurring corporeal/non-corporeal tension in the next poem, “Do Not Resuscitate” which is the scene of a vehicular suicide. Keeping his professional distance, the poet describes the suicide as “Bone-faced and bitter/orange skin stretched taut.” He mentions “a near empty Black Label bottle…in the pocket of his Denim jacket” and “a wallet, a letter and three more: //D//N/R//…down a chest whiter than comfort allows.” This very precise description of a fatal automobile collision puts the reader both in the driver’s seat and in the observer’s head.

“Skin” explores the sensuosity of the poet’s relationship to his partner. The poem contains some interesting and implicit poetic comparisons. The “day’s coffee” and “his own musk,” his partner’s “lips against my skin” followed by “whispering to a sleeping moth,” “love” a “new skin, … your lips broke open.”

The poem “Some birthday” describes six birthday photos recording their gay and lesbian friends and partners, quoting gay poets, and at the same time, the artistic denial of the poet’s partner that these are not able to capture him: “I AM NOT IN THE POEMS/AND NOW NOT THE POEM!!!!!!” the poet himself also “always doubting.” “Birch Coffee” continues the corporeal/non-corporeal debate adding temporality. We “have lost control and time/which only exists in watches.” The poet laments: “How can I make you understand/you are more to me than a body,”

The chapbook’s title poem is a remembrance of a romance of two partners, one a Chilean, whose cheeks bloomed like “great roses” while the poet sat with them and his own partner and heard “music in the park grow into a grand piano.” Tragically in the next stanza, “Mauricio’s homeland, his Chile, felt his pulse, took him for soil, sent you away: holding onto Proust:” the partner left behind not being able to find Mauricio’s spirit again at a Frank O’Hara festival on Fire Island. Here Pennington shows the power of his poetry, in these phrases’ rhythm and the reintroduction of the temporality leitmotif.

I’m glad “Tertulia” mentions O’Hara because the size of this book and its content remind me of O’Hara’s reference in “A Step Away from Them” to another small, slim volume. He writes: “My heart is in my/pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy” before which he has happily enjoyed Manhattan’s sights, sounds, smells and music on his lunch break. I feel the same as I enjoy Amsterdam on an atypically sunny Sunday afternoon, after Quaker meeting and a quick visit to the Rijksmuseum’s Honour Gallery whilst waiting for AQ’s monthly tertulia to begin at the Stadsschouwburg cafe on the Leidseplein. Across the square, young Apple Store shoppers tumble down the glass staircase, ecstatic like religious fanatics, that, with their new devices, they’ll be able to send and share their work up in the Cloud, whilst two large neon glasses of beer atop another building magically refill, draw close to toast and empty, blue and white trams clang by, and fire jugglers entertain tourists just outside my window as I feel the weight of Pennington’s Tertulia in my breast pocket. I think you too will enjoy Tertulia and will appreciate life a little bit more, wherever you live, once you’ve read it.

A third, outstanding book is Kenneth Pobo’s Loplop in a red city. This is a collection of 66 poems about familiar (“The Third of May” by Goya and “Van Gogh’s Crows”) and less familiar (“Hubbub” by Emily Bridgwater and “Dog Come Here into the Dark House” by Leonora Carrington) artworks. In Loplop Pobo conveys different media and painting styles in his collection in deft poetic strokes and short lines using just the right words. From Van Gogh to Margritte from Picaso to Max Ernest, Pobo’s short, carefully crafted lines refer imaginatively and clearly to what’s on the canvas and/or the feeling or mood it creates for the viewer.

Loplop is divided into three sections: “Crow at Daybreak,” “Get Far Enough Out” and “Giraffe Mask.” The first section’s poems are dominated by Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. Pobo’s poem “Vincent Van Gogh” contains a six-part poetic mini-biography of Van Gogh’s life. “Van Gogh’s Crows” refers to one of his last paintings “Wheat Field with Crows” (1890) in which the crows “took his body up to heaven—… a small flock got him there…black wings//perfect for mourning.” This first section’s ekphrastic poems contain images or direct references to conflagration, execution, brokenness, unfulfillment, and death, among other weighty topics, inspired by the paintings of Marianne von Werefkin, Gabriele Munter, Penelope Rosemont, Howard Hodgkin and Girogio de Chirico respectively. This is very interesting and unconventional selection that sent me to an art library to further enjoy what Pobo describes.

“Get Far Enough Out” starts with “Loplop Introduces Loplop,” after a painting by Max Ernst called “Loplop Introduces Himself.” Pobo’s writes: “I have a painting to show you/It’s the real me.//Or it was when I painted it.”, perhaps referring to the artist’s transformation as (s)he creates. He continues probing the issue of the authorship of a work of art: “Does it matter/who signs what? Maybe while//painting.” Then in the second half he reintroduces the themes of disintegration and death: “in death my feathers will travel/will enter the world in ways/I never could—.” The musings of this “Half bird/half man,” continue in the next poem, “Loplop” which describes the falling apart of the body and a “surrender … (like) a hot balloon” to some sort of “not bird, not human,” … “free.” In “Loplop introduces a Young Girl” Pobo describes, based Max Ernest painting, an imaginary, thousand year old young girl with a “scepter/ made of sleeping hurricanes,” who makes tomato soup for Death.

In “Triumphal Entry,” Pobo depicts James Ensor’s “Christ’s Entry into Brussels,” where He arrives unnoticed by a crowd of people more concerned about “another star’s trial” and “fire sales, credit debit,/ and investments.” Discouraged he goes to “a nearby gay bar,/and visits friends who/buy him a drink/and invite him to judge/the Mr. Leatherman competition.” He also has a “Kurt Schwitters” poem where the artist remarks: “When critics say my art stinks/I add them to my trash piles and make a collage.” Schwitters also hails “the trash man, his truck/transporting glorious muck.” Another humorous sexual reference can be found in “Parade Amoureuse,” after a painting by Francis Picaba. Here the poet writes: “Love, so outdated, I find it/only in resale shops” and at the end of the poem “remembering sex/in a Butte motel, barn owls/barking in the pines.”

The third section, “Giraffe Mask,” includes poems whose vantage point is mostly surrealistic and whose descriptions, I feel, sometimes even exceed the inspiration of the original paintings they seek to describe. Most noteworthy in this section are “Giraffe on Fire,” “The Red City,” and “Marcel Duchamp” about paintings by Salvador Dali, Paul Delvaux and Marchel Duchamp respectively. Here his poetic imagery changes quickly. In “Giraffe on Fire’” the poet relates a dream in which he finds himself in grade school, but as a “grown up” trying “to fit myself/behind the desk.” He then describes the teacher: “a man made of step ladders/and spoons,” who “made me/shallow mud. I work up, poured coffee.” In “The Red City” the poet moves swiftly and deftly from images of “ruin,” “bones that have shed gender” to “an androgyne,” to the “Sky” and “death” in just the first two stanzas. The next and last two stanzas include “the meaning of life… which hasn’t yet been/put in a zoo.” and ends with a reference to the wisdom of evolution: “the skeleton who shops/at only the best Ideas.” Pobo’s poem “Marcel DuChamp” even though it doesn’t refer to “Nude Descending a Staircase,” but DuChamp’s larger oevre, nonetheless, replicates the many planes of the cubist painting as his characteristically short lines helically descend down the page. This is a special delight since most of Pobo’s previously poems have been concerned with imagery and philosophy and not radical typographic presentation.

In lieu of my above analysis, I feel LopLop in a red city is an ideal book for an ekphrastic poetry-writing workshop. Pobo and Circling Rivers should be very pleased with this fine book and promote it actively for use in college writing programmes.

Nonnie Augustine’s To See Who’s There, is a book of poetry and prose that spans many styles, subjects and historical periods. The book is organized into four sections, each with a quote from an Emily Dickenson poem. The first section, “The Moon slides down the stair—to see who’s there,” includes a poem about the poet’s current domestic life, “December 14, 2016”; her early love for dance that was deeper than her parents’ love for each other, “The Most Beautiful Lady”; a failed relationship, “My Early Thirties”; an Abecederian about her family history, the book’s title poem; a great-aunt’s belief in later generations of women, “Otillie Augustine Speaks To Me”; and many meditations on who and where she is due to her ancestors’ fortitude, stubbornness, constitution, and their wise and foolish decisions.

The second section, “A Deed Knocks First At Thought,” is a set of family history poems prefaced by a Charlie Hebdoe massacre elegy, “Wednesday late, Friday early.” This poem uses repetitive sounds, personal observations, news reports, and Internet information about arms, especially the Kalisnikov rifle, to make its point: “Shoot. Cartoon. Oooo sounds./Bad moon rising.” Later in the poem Augustine writes: “I am not a political poet./We are all political poets./Take a breath. Take several./Take away the K-guns from their grips.” Graywolf Press executive editor, Jeffrey Shotts, praised this poem after its first public reading in 2015. This political elegy and the personal genealogical poems that follow, reflect Augustine’s poetic dexterity and reach. In thirteen pages she goes from contemporary Paris to medieval Northumbria, 19th century Ireland and Liverpool, and 20th century Austria and America. Her poems’ characters experience murder, hunger, betrayal, rejection, insanity, suicide, war-related disability, and the occasional turn of good fortune such as election to public office. Katherine Eulallie, in a poem of the same title says: “I’ve gotten through the Depression, two goddamn wars, the death of a child and Harry’s stomach cancer… I can damn sure get the hang of being old.”

The trans-continental, trans-centurial poems continue in the book’s third section, “A Charm invests a face” with poems from 17th century France and New France (Quebec), 15th century Spain, 19th century Vienna, and 20th century New York City which follow each other seamlessly and address the subjects of love and fortunes won or lost, alcoholism, families relations both distant and present which are shining examples for anyone wanting to capture their family history.

The last section, “‘Faith’ is a Fine Invention,” describes different expressions of belief and disbelief such as a Druid solstice ceremony, a deathbed confession, a closeted, gay, Catholic great uncle, and a relative who never lets the priest come to administer the last rights. The collection ends with a Joycean prose coda “The Piano Players Dead Rejoice (or so I Hear)” reminiscent of “The Dead.” To See Who’s There is a book of poetry that masterfully bridges the centuries of Augustine’s family history on two continents and seven countries seamlessly. It is certainly a model for what collections of genealogical poems can be. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ19 Summer 2017 Art Reviews

AQ19 Summer 2017 Art Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Edward Krasinski Retrospective, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 24 June to 15 October 2017.
Rineke Dijkstra Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 20 May to 8 August 2017.

The Thin Blue Line

As an art critic, I am sometimes seen as the thin blue line between what is art and what may be variously described as kitsch, empty, repeated stylistic or signature gestures or just plain hype. For me, important art is something sublime, revolutionary and/or transgressive, which stirs theists’ souls or atheists’ psyches and which must be encouraged and protected. As a critic with preview and privileged access to some new, Amsterdam art exhibitions and sometimes their artists, I consider it my duty to guide both my Dutch and foreign resident readers to where they can best spend their time. Sometimes, as is the case with this review of the Edward Krasinski Retrospective at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, my review is mixed as I found some elements of this exhibition praiseworthy, whilst others unfortunately left me cold.

Krasinski was part of an experimental, minimalist art movement in Poland from the 1960s to the 2000s. His tiny studio and apartment was a gathering place for the Polish avant-garde. His “trademark” was his use of 12 mm., blue electrical tape that ran through most of his work (and sometimes that of others) continued on the walls of his studio at exactly 130 cm. This divided the standard wall of approximately 260 cm. into two planes: above and below. Sometimes, as in his Intervention series paintings from the 1970s to the 1990s, the blue line is incorporated into the planes and dimensionality of the geometric shapes themselves, going into the sides and corners of the three dimensional objects and then out the back of the artwork and then back onto the wall. These pure geometric shapes with many planes certainly reminds me of Piet Mondriaan’s later work, after he had abandoned Impressionism and Cubism for his own Constructivism and also that of Kazimir Malevich, both of whose work is well-represented in the Stedelijk’s permanent collection. In addition to this perspective-challenging gimmick, the Krasinski exhibition also contains earlier work from the 1960s before the omnipresent thin, blue line. These mixed media sculptures and mobiles, incorporating scrap metal, wood and other found objects, are evocative not only due to their combinations and surfaces, but also due to the shadows they create on a wall when a light is shone on them as they move. These works are indeed are economical, whimsical and multi-faceted. In addition, the last gallery of the exhibition contains an archive of selected documents, especially photographs, correspondence and sketches that add a historical dimension to the exhibition. For example, there is a letter from Nelson Rockefeller’s art collection curator, requesting information about acquiring Krasinski’s Number 7, 1967 on exhibition then at the Guggenheim Museum.

However, since this is a travelling retrospective, which is making its second stop after the Tate Liverpool, the exhibition contains a lot more installations, artwork and even a reconstruction of part of the artist’s tiny Warsaw studio which unfortunately left me feeling a bit cold. The gallery called Labyrinth with its hanging mirrors with blue tape through them reflecting the faces of the exhibition’s viewers and also the backs of other mirrors felt like something I’d seen before in student art shows wanting to exploit the voyeurism related to art appreciation. Another gallery which featured Krasinski’s blue cord sculptures for the Tokyo Biennial also didn’t seem to me to be such a radical extension of, nor as effective as, his blue-taped wall trademark since they don’t seem to be geometrically transgressive. Lastly his reconstructed studio, whilst cluttered with archival papers and photos, didn’t really seem to shed much light for me on his modus operandi. I realise that being an artist in Cold War Poland required sacrifices both related to being unable to make challenging political statements and having access to proper materials, but I don’t see how this reconstructed studio brings this to light. I do, however, understand how this repressive impoverished environment created absurdist artwork such as Tadeusz Kantor’s black and white photo entitled Panoramic Sea Happening of Krasinski at the beach standing on a step ladder with an audience in beach chairs, conducting the waves and how other parts of the exhibition I have mentioned above, do bring this, if only tangentially, to light.


If however, you are able to make it to the Stedelijk before 8 August, and perhaps need a break from the Krasinski exhibition, you will be lucky to view some of Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s work including a few series of photographic portraits of young people and some video works. Dijkstra has made her name as an artist by being able to capture seemingly spontaneous moments in young people’s lives whether it be in a park or at the beach or the transformation of a new recruit to battle-hardened soldier. Her photos and videos capture the permanent, youthful, artistic springtime mentioned in John Keats “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

Dijkstra’s children and young adults, are depicted in moments of society and solitude that fade or change almost as soon as the photos are taken. For example her Park Series includes one photo of two young men and two young women sitting on a lawn between trees with water in the background in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark on a rare sunny day. One youth sits up looking slightly cross while the other is reclining and on the point of laughing. This photo reminds me of Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe only the young women are fully clothed, maintaining the transitory adolescent air of innocence. Dijkstra is famous for some of her other classical references such as her photo of a female in a yellow swimsuit, Kolobrzg, Poland, July 26, 1992, her hair and pose similar to that of Botecelli’s Birth of Venus. In another series, Olivier, Quartier Viénot, Marseilles, mentioned above, Dijkstra captures the transformation of a fresh, young recruit to hardened, battle-ready soldier (including one photo with face camouflage and fatigues and another in dress uniform) over three years.

The most engaging piece of this exhibit, however, is the video triptych, I Can See A Woman Crying, (2009) in which a group of Liverpudlian children in their red, white and grey school uniforms first describe hesitantly and cautiously their ideas about what is happening in Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Women. Their discussion picks up pace and volume as they become more engaged and feel freer to express themselves reaching a natural crescendo towards the end of the video’s 12 minutes. The spontaneity of the children’s responses is also aided by the slightly asynchronous depiction of what is said before the young speaker is shown and the speakers are shuffled from one to another of the three video screens. This a fresh and engaging video piece, worth the journey alone to the museum. I hope you have the opportunity to view it. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ19 Summer 2017 Book Reviews

AQ19 Summer 2017 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Gary Beck. Tremors. Winter Goose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-941058-64-0, 108 pages.
Kate Foley. Electric Psalms. Shoestring Press. ISBN 978-1-910323-55-7, 164 pages.
Susan E. Lloy. But When We Look Closer. Now or Never Publishing. ISBN 978-1-988098-25-8, 181 pages.
Scott T. Starbuck. Hawk on Wire. Ecopoems. Fomite Press. ISBN 978-1-944388-05-8, 76 pages.

The books in this review are from mature writers in the latter phases of their careers, who I feel are all involved in restating and/or summing up some of their most important concerns and discoveries. These writers have all done their preparatory and developmental work and have had time to refine their style and approach effectively for maximum impact. Their new books reflect the wisdom of their observations and the effectiveness of their techniques.

Scott T. Starbuck’s Hawk on Wire poetry collection is the type the world needs in order to save the planet from wide-spread, lasting ecological destruction. They are poems by a man who has written about his love of nature and his concerns about climate change, species extinction and our planet’s ecological destruction for years even though these subjects are still not part of every writing programme’s curriculum. (I remember writing instructors in the mid-1980s, who felt they needed to stop me from embarrassing myself writing about the beginning of the AIDS crisis which they told me “might not turn out to be so bad.”)

In “Punch Bowl Hike Meditation,” Starbuck writes “For 30 years / I’ve talked to myself / about climate change / but now most everyone is.” His poems show the effect of this type of prescient solipsism on a man, a type of prophecy that is almost as old as the ancients he mentions in his next poem, “Wind Spirit,” first published in Amsterdam Quarterly in 2016. The Wind Spirit asks a person one question: “How will you save the community of species on earth?” and tells him/her each time she/he answers incorrectly, she/he will lose a finger. So in search of wisdom, this person tries to consult the “smart” coyote, the “king salmon” with “a bright red soul,” an eagle with its “unerring vision” among other majestic, powerful, well-travelled animals. Unfortunately, after ten days this person finds that these animals and their wisdom are all dead and he/she has no fingers left.

In “Conundrum” Starbuck writes about “Martha, the last passenger pigeon / who died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo.” In “Indian Boy” the speaker asks him: “There was a lake here with fish. Where is it?” and in “Message From Far Way” the poet laments “When people lost trees / they lost the ability to think // and minds were filled / by money locusts.” Starbuck laments not only the loss of trees, but also in “Initiation Poem” that, according to David W. Orr, “Young people can recognise over 1,000 corporate logos but only a handful plants and animals native to their places.”

On the positive side, Starbuck offers some solutions to climate change. One poem with suggestions is “How We Stopped Corporate Psychopaths From Cooking Planet Earth” in which he imagines “’Destroy Your Television Day’” grew more popular/than Xmas and the 4th of July.” and a major oil company is renamed “BlueOrbSolar.” Starbuck’s poems also describe his love for the natural world’s beauty, albeit a world that is quickly disappearing. He continues to write about his passion for fishing in secluded streams and his observation and his admiration of great birds such as the bald eagle, the horned owl and the hawk on (a) wire, from his title poem, who continue to observe and wisely avoid him and other humans.

More realistically chilling, however, Starbuck’s “Thoughts at the End of Empire,” echo somewhat my concern about the lack of AIDS awareness and education in schools and colleges in the mid-1980s: “It’s possible that education will change / from locking children in boxes / to getting them outside in tide pools, / rivers, creeks, deserts, mountains. // It’s also possible, based on our collective / behavior, there won’t be future generations.” Hawk on Wire is a powerful poetry collection worth reading and discussing—especially in writing programmes.

Susan Lloy’s But When We Look Closer is a collection of short stories that describes what happens when some druggy, former ’70s punkers are forced to move back home, to a rest home or other institutions for their own safety. These stories—the dark side of the Sid and Nancy generation—revolve around the subjects of sex, drugs, music, art, money, and mental illness. In addition, Lloy writes about people who are finally freed to pursue their artistic and erotic interests whether this be through finally having a permanent roof over their heads, receiving an inheritance or winning the lottery.

These stories, some no longer than a page, often have snap, but always credible endings. For example in “Where To,” a woman who takes a cab to a bar planning to kill her unfaithful lover. She decides not to, though, after a conversation with her Afghan cabbie, who describes how he ended up stranded up in a country, whose military accidentally killed his family. In “Dylan’s Roost” the young bookstore owner, whose shop provides a comfortable haven for both a rich author and a schizophrenic homeless man, is not rescued from financial peril due to his hard work or his good deeds. There is no karma, no payoff for good deeds, but plenty of financial practicalities in the Lloy’s fictional world.

The type of short stories I especially enjoy, those written about the same characters over a space of several decades, are also represented in this collection by “Close Kin” and “Dutch Lite.” In the first story, the main character, Margaret, then a twenty-something, an art school student, is involved in a three-way with Dutch twin brothers, Theo, a violinist, and Joop, an artist, in Amsterdam. She forms a formal relationship with one to stay in the Netherlands, but later their chaotic ménage trois, in which one man was like “the cold Atlantic greets the warm waters of the Indian ocean,” leads to a tearful breakup and Margaret handing her Dutch identity (indefinite stay) card to a Brussels’ airport customs official. Fast forward years later and in “Dutch Lite” Margaret has literally won the lottery and recently purchased a canal house in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district from where she can hear the Westerkerk’s chimes. However, as Thomas Wolff famously warned, “you can’t go home again,” and she finds her two previous lovers distant and in more permanent relationships than she had with them even though she offers them both space in her new home to practice music and paint with no strings attached. Her efforts to meet a new man also fail due to her being less than forthcoming about why she’s in Amsterdam, afraid her new beau might be attracted to her for just her money. When he also rejects her, she finally realises she, as many of her Lloy’s characters, can’t live in the past or, even with enough money, recreate it in the present.

The Canadian and Quebecois references in Lloy’s book also made it interesting to this American, permanent-resident of the Netherlands, who rarely ventured North of Niagara Falls. Lloy describes life in Canada’s French-speaking province and capital as well as its British maritime provinces. She describes apartments along Quebec’s grand avenues and her characters familiar, urban angst of having to look for flats after the buildings, in which they’ve lived for decades, go condo. Her stories set along the coast include those about recently deceased relatives and being party to the suicide of a terminally-ill, local fisherman and childhood friend. They are also about the relatives and friends who attend these funerals and/or spread their loved ones’ ashes along the shore where they will be near familiar rocky coasts and migratory whale routes.

Lloy’s description of mental illness, especially schizophrenia and its relationship to art, is also a distinctive feature of these stories. In “Even Sad Dogs Smile,” Lloy describes the “meds” that prevented Daleighla’s, her main character’s, schizophrenic episodes so she wouldn’t try to destroy the bathroom sink to stop the noise coming from its drain, but which also “clouded her head” so she could no longer create remarkable and edgy paintings and drawings. One episode is announced by her dog, Romeo, who suddenly says: “Give it over, you greedy, tight-fisted bitch,” as she offers him a piece of her sandwich. Tragically, after struggling for years to be represented by a gallery, just as she is accepted, she has another episode in which she destroys most of her work and when she comes back to herself, can’t create anything new that’s as good.

Lloy’s But When We Look Closer is a unique collection of short stories set in North America and Europe where her characters struggle with drugs, sex, art, money, mental illness and, most importantly, loss. As in life, so as in her fiction, Lloy’s characters discover too late that they can’t really change themselves, (even through plastic surgery,) or their past.

The next book I’d like to recommend for this summer is Gary Beck’s Tremors, a very generous collection of 104 poems. As will be familiar to readers of my previous reviews, what nature and climate change are to Starbuck, eroticism and social commentary are to Beck. The book’s epigraph by Apollinaire about ‘having known all kinds, who didn’t fullfil their destinies’ announces Beck’s socially-aware poetic view towards the close of his life which reverberates throughout Tremors. His first poem, “Entropy” is concerned with the passage of time and his desire to “accomplish/anything meaningful/in remaining days.” In “From the Terrace” he compares himself to an elderly lizard/hulking on a heating rock.” In poems such as “Dementia” “Ailment,” “Trapped,” “Summons,” “Question,” “Last Gasp,” and “Tempus” the theme of ageing is described through various metaphors and from different perspectives.

Other poems criticise the wielders of artistic, social or financial power. In “Middle Class Poets” he scorns the “bloated poets,”…“sneering” at “the world” because of their “protective cloak of tenure…mumbling impotent objections”. In “Past Sighting”, the poet “saw a processional of faces / loved ones I have known and lost”. In “Futilism” he ponders power and observes “Castles are only safe/from marauders / when built on hilltops” and that they are only maintained by “oppressive power / harshly inflicted/on diverse vassals.” Perhaps timely food-for-thought for the current, Microserf, pre-robotic generation. In his very short poem, “Free Will,” Beck refers to destiny again: “The lines of destiny / in my troubled life / have never been as thin, as crossing, or not crossing,/ the next street / turning the next corner / expecting discoveries.” In “Errata” he “fondle(s) old mistakes” and shows “hopes…curdled / by too much desire / for material things.”

In Tremors, the poet finds an uneasy respite in literature and sex. In poems such as “Lust Song” and “Inspiration,” Beck refers to “the tender lust of power, / dreaming you perfect” and “Praise for reawakenings.” In “Woman” he pines: “I can do without you no longer”.

His less frequent and more unusual poems include the picturesque and informative “Mallorca” with its beautiful description of the island and its history and “Hitchhiking North” in which the poet bathes in a pond and leaves feeling the “water’s pure deliverance.” It’s a pity there’s not more of this type of poetry in this collection. Perhaps because this deliverance is brief, as the tremors mentioned in his poems “Detached” “I lie beside your tremors / silent, hoping to endure” and in “Ianamorata” “When last my fingers, / gripped hard to your flesh, / squeezed until my tremors burst,” quickly return Beck to his primary modes of eroticism and critical social observation.

In Tremors, Beck has written a generous, poetic collection, from which readers will certainly find at least a some poems that will deliver a few mindquakes.

Electric Psalms, new and selected poems is British-born poet and Amsterdam-resident Kate Foley’s latest book. Its first eight sections contain many of Foley’s more well-known and previously published poems from her first collection, Soft Engineering, to her most recent, The Don’t Touch Garden, the latter of which was reviewed in AQ14, in autumn 2015. The ninth section includes 27 new poems with subjects as wide-ranging as pre-, natural and recorded history, being a linguistic ex-pat, dangerous Amsterdam cyclists, ageing, Quaker meeting, an artist’s unstoppable urge to create, and the evolution and possible end of humankind. In 28 pages, Foley explores these subjects and more with her keen sense of observation. In poems such as “To Write a Natural History, “What I Once Knew,” “Squirreling — Or An Archaeology of Memory,” she zooms in on the words that “lie in the cave of our mouths,” or “the spider on the back gate / (that) drew a marvellous / map with silk, / a living harp / to sing winged creatures in” and “All the lives you touched live on walls,” respectively. “My Humble Body,” “Why is Patinated OK,” and “What I Once Knew” are all about ageing, “from The Other Side of Sleep” about dying and “Washing the Dead” about death. Though some poems contain the same subjects, each creates a different mood, by using a different structure, style and set of metaphors.

Most interesting are Foley’s poems about life in Amsterdam. These include “A Different Psalm” about Amsterdam Quaker Meeting, “The Collective Noun for Bicycles” and the book’s title poem, “Electric Psalms.” The last two are about the city’s seemingly mad cyclists who are a law onto themselves. In “Electric Psalms,” Foley describes cyclists who “whirr (past) like demented coffee grinders.” She marvels at the torrent of helmet-less cyclists, “Helmets? Ha!” some wearing “high heels” or with “mobile phones…clamped to one ear.” In “Electric Psalms” it’s “Traffic lights? Ha!” or bikes with “no brakes,” or cyclists who “Text as you ride?” all of which captures the hurly-burly of living in central Amsterdam.

There are also poems about music and musicians reflecting the influence of the nearby Concertgebouw on Foley’s life. In “Borrowing the Old Man’s Shoes” she describes how Beethoven “stepped out of his carriage to write music on the road.” In “Tuning the Brook with Stones,” she writes of the music water makes as it goes downstream.

Foley even includes an apocryphal poem set in the Netherlands entitled “After It’s Over.” In the poem she asks what will happen: “when all the restored windmills / have broken loose…when Facebook turns the same / tired page tirelessly, / and all the ringtones of the world / sing in polyphony?” Her solution to this domesday scenario and one of the keys to her poetic perspective as a trained midwife and scientist is “to celebrate / the grief of elephants, / their ivory yellow sadness, / the scattered far-flung / molecules of belief.”

Bryan R. Monte – AQ18 Spring 2017 Art Review

AQ18 Spring 2017 Art Review
by Bryan R. Monte

Ed van der Elksen – Camera in Love/De Verliefde Camera, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum

At the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, one can currently view the one of largest retrospectives of photographer and filmmaker Ed van der Elsken’s work in 25 years. The exhibition entitled: Ed van der Elksen – Camera in Love/De Verliefde Camera is open until 28 May 2017.

Van Der Elksen (1925-1990) photographed the cityscapes and people of Paris (in the 1950s), Amsterdam (in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s), and Hong Kong and Tokyo (in ’60s and ’70s). He also went off to Africa and around the world by boat to photograph people in remote and less Western locations in the late 1950s. The Stedelijk, which has the largest collection of Van Der Elksen’s work, has assembled a very comprehensive, longitudinal exhibition of both his photos and films and presented them in a very aesthetically sensitive, yet educational manner.

Museum director, Beatrix Ruf said at the press conference that Van Der Elsken was a Dutch photographer who “experimented with photos and film in ways that capture the moment, that tell stories in ways that are really intense.” For example, Van Der Elksen’s Paris photos of the 1950s have a very dark and grainy quality that Elsken used to show the gritty quality of its post-WWII café society. Van Der Elsken studied sculpture in the Netherlands in the 1940s and these sharp, sculptural edges can be seen in his black and white photos from the ’50s. He also, like Weegee, was fascinated by crime in the big city and the exhibition includes photos of two French gendarmes taking a man away, their arms under his shoulders, as well as a full-length, group portrait of Japanese Yakuza reminiscent of some of the guild and schutters portraits in the Rijksmuseum and Haarlem’s Franz Hals Museum.

The exhibition is divided physically into two sections: an inner ring and an outer ring. The inner ring has 200 of Van Der Elsken’s photographs hung on white walls. It includes photos from the 1950s to the 1980s in black and white and colour and displays Van Der Elksen’s various photographic techniques and changing subject matter—from cityscapes and people to concentrating more on the urban personalities in his later work. The darker outer ring includes about a dozen films, some slides and many contact sheets, notes on how he would crop or expose his shots, as well as historical and biographical information. One short film records what was left of the Jewish ghetto in the 1950s. When I first came to the Netherlands, I asked what had happened to the Jewish Quarter and I was told by more than one person most of it had fallen in due to the construction of the underground Metro line (which was opposed with much protest in the late ’60s/early ’70s as is memorialised on the walls of the Nieuwmarkt station, near the centre of the former Jewish neighbourhood). This, however, is clearly not true according to Van Der Elsken’s film with the subtitle “Demolition Jewish Quarter.” It shows the neighbourhood with many overgrown, vacant lots, but also with some derelict or abandoned buildings with boarded up windows still standing, one of which is being scavenged for wooden beams.

This section also includes a variety of photos, short films and a slide show from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The earliest film is about Van Der Elksen’s sponsored world journey and in one scene, shows his cabin hung with rolls of developed film. Another staged scene shows two lovers in a convertible automobile being awakened by cows in a field. There is a set of photos from Central Africa from 1957-58 featuring people in traditional dress and face paint performing rituals, and hunting. “Eye Love You,” also the name of Van Der Elsken’s first, colour photobook from 1977, includes, according to the museum,: “hippies, nude beaches, couples having sex, and Indian transvestites” contrasted with “the poor and their struggle for survival.” “Tokyo Symphony,” is an unfinished project, due to Van Der Elksen’s illness, about that city including slides of the fishmarket, a religious ceremony, demonstrations, and as usual, Van Der Elsken’s regulars—the beautiful and the fringe and alternative types. One of the most interesting presentations of Van Der Elsken’s work in this dark ring is the projection of four films simultaneously on the four sides of a cube, each of which can be enjoyed separately or two simultaneously.

Van Der Elksen records Amsterdam in all its iconic glory including an auto being fished out of a canal, people dancing in a cafe to a live band, prostitutes in the red light district, mini-skirted women in high heels crossing the Dam, punks with spiky hair and safety pins through their ears, young men and women in designer clothes sitting outside at a cafe, emaciated junkies, and the obligatory hippie birth and sex videos of that era. Many of the photos and films of this period were captured by Van Der Elsken as he roamed the city centre in his specially-designed open car with rollbars to steady his camera, as if he were a naturalist filmmaker in a Range Rover capturing wildlife on the Serengeti’s plains. Ed van der Elksen – Camera in Love/De Verliefde Camera is an exhibit one won’t want to miss if you want to learn more about this Dutch photographer and filmmaker and, of course, about Amsterdam.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ18 Spring 2017 Book Reviews

AQ18 Spring 2017 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Jacob M. Appel. The Mask of Sanity. The Permanent Press. ISBN 978-1-57962-495-8, 256 pages.
Jacob M. Appel. The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street. Stories. Howling Bird Press. ISBN 978-0-9961952-1-8, 181 pages.
Lou Gaglia. Sure Things & Last Chances. Spring to Mountain Press. ISBN 978-0-9863490-4-1, 194 pages.

In this issue I continue to review authors published by non-traditional or indie presses who I believe offer more than what the big-five have served up on their spring reading lists. I feel that these three books of indie fiction offer stories that are quirky, yet human; comic, yet profound; fantastic yet realistic. Their authors, though occupying different points of the social spectrum, come to some of the same conclusions about the human spirit groping its way towards safety, love and recognition.

The first book is The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M. Appel, who is interviewed in depth in this issue. This book is about Dr. Jeremy Balint who becomes a sociopathic serial killer (the reader initially thinks) in order to cover the final murder of his wife, whom he discovers one day, by accident, and unobserved in flagrante delicto with a hospital colleague. On the surface, Dr. Balint looks like a devoted husband, father and physician who appears to be moving up the ladder at the hospital where he works due to his expertise, ambition and a bit of luck. Unfortunately as readers discover, this is not the case. Positions and awards become sometimes ironically available to him due to his cunning, envy and willingness to do anything, even kill strangers, to achieve his endgame.

The characterisation in The Mask of Sanity is excellent; each character has a distinct and believable voice and behaviour. In addition, Balint’s homicidal plans mesh like the gears of a clock until someone leaves the front and back doors of his house open and a neighbourhood toddler wanders in and into the family pool where it drowns. This ultimately leads to the suicide of one of its grief-stricken parents, which could unwittingly unmask Dr. Balint’s murder spree. The Mask of Sanity is full of surprises and will keep the reader wondering if Balint will be caught all the way to the very end of the story.

Appel’s second book, The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street. Stories. won the 2016 Howling Bird Press Fiction Award, one of the many fiction awards Appel has been awarded over the past decade. Each of these stories are peopled by a different cast of characters: an elderly couple who discover their prefab retirement home has been delivered to the wrong address; a group of older, suburban women who organise a topless, backyard protest, a dying man who wonders to whom he should his stockpile of antique iron lungs, a starving, middle-age actress who’s trolled by good reviews by a man she rejected for a date in high school; a couple who grapple with pulling the life support plug on their teenage daughter who was bullied into committing suicide. These stories have different characters and settings but all revolve around the issues of bioethics, quality of life, challenging conventional notions and how love, no matter how quirky, can sometimes provide comfort in an uncertain and difficult world. Thematically these stories are deep whilst, at the same time, they are also entertaining. If they don’t move you, challenge your perspective or occasionally make you laugh, then perhaps you should seek professional help.

Lou Gaglia’s Sure Things & Last Chances is a darkly humorous collection of short fiction. Many of its stories are set also in New York, although his characters are working and middle-class bridge and tunnel residents rather than Appel’s Manhattan doctors, psychologists and other urban professionals. A theme similar to both writers, however, is looking for love, although many of Gaglia’s characters are unwilling or unable to take chances, or if they do, find themselves in less than ideal relationships. Some have been abused or bullied as Greg in “Networking” who as a teen was hung over a railing by a boy’s father for tackling his son. Others such as the narrator of “Penance” take out their aggression on competitors by killing ants and then going to confession. Others such as the “Lost in the Woods” protagonist, stumble from one romantic mishap to another. “The Listeners” is a story of two different men’s break ups with women overheard by the narrator in a library. The first, remembered from years ago, was due to a difference in religion. The second is related in the present and due to a girlfriend related her near-death experience to an unbelieving, superficial boyfriend. The narrator in his mind tries to comfort the second woman, even though she’s not there, just part of an unfortunate story: Where did you go? What did you see when you died? I’ll listen. I will., the main character says to himself on his way out of the library. In other stories such as “Almost Like Steve McQueen” Gaglia’s protagonists try to summon false courage to go to the dentist. “Winging It” depict son’s and grandson’s desires not to be like their fathers, the grandson not wanting to be pegged in any profession, versus his father’s desire for the stability of a nine-to-five job after his own father had had so many jobs, his mother “couldn’t name them all in one day.” This typifies the swing of the occupational pendulum over the generations—one generation choosing adventure with risk and the next, security and boredom, after the unstable childhood caused by an adventurous father.

What I find most pleasing in his fiction is that sometimes Gaglia’s stories are also a continuation of an earlier narrative. The shy, 30-something introverted Greg in “Networking” returns years earlier as a physically-abused teenager in “Butch.” This gives Gaglia’s fiction an interesting continuity that is also found in his story “Hunger” when his protagonist thinks later about the Italian waitress, Jeanette, who was kind to him after he was beaten up in “Letters from a Young Poet” in Gaglia’s previous collection, Poor Advice. In fact, there’s quite a lot of working and middle-class, school-of-hard-knocks violence and cruelty in Gaglia’s stories. The kind I remember from my neighbourhood where parents physically “disciplined” their children with belts and boards, and the neighbourhood bullies chased and assaulted anyone weaker or smaller whilst their parents turned a blind eye. Violence was also a part of sports that were played in my neighbourhood, mostly football, baseball and hockey, these matches ending usually when someone was injured. (My reprieve from grammar school football came when my front teeth got chipped and my parents imagined the impending financial pain of future dental bills). It’s the realism of these stories, with their everyman protagonists trying to make sense out of a violent and abusive world and how it arrests their development later in life, which makes these stories all the more compelling.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ17 Autumn 2016 Book Reviews

AQ 17 Autumn 2016 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Dig by Bryan Borland, Stillhouse Press, ISBN 978-0-9905169-8-9, 2016, 74 pages.
Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana. Stories by Jacob M. Appel, Black Lawrence Press, ISBN 978-1-62557-953-9, 2016, 2016, 182 pages.
Lost Salmon by Scott T. Starbuck, MoonPath Press, ISBN 978-1-93665-723-0, 2016, 96 pages.

Seldom do I have the opportunity to review three books in the same issue, all of which, I can recommend to my readers unreservedly. This is one of those rare occasions. The three authors and their books above are three of the best, but still relatively “new,” writers. Each has his special areas of interest and unique style for which I believe American writing is that much richer.

The first book Dig, is a collection of poems by writer, editor and publisher Bryan Borland. Borland was recently recognised by the Library of Congress for the contribution of his press, Sibling Rivalry, to American letters. Dig’s poems are primarily about Borland’s life as a gay man living in Midwestern America. The title poem or proem is an invitation to readers to dig “the dirt” about his last “ten years,” his “two dogs,” “past lovers” and his “husband,” about the things each brought to their unique literary relationship “ink…books from other tribes” but “nothing from what we are together.”

The book is divided into three sections: “A Form of that Word,” “These Boys” and “Blood in the Throat.” The first section is about Borland’s long-term relationships with his partner and friends. There are poems about anniversaries, “The Body is a Damn Hard Thing to Kill,” betrayal, both real and imagined, “Weather, This” and “Cheated,” and the remembrance and death of family and friends such as “Walking Through the Fields of Ruin” and “How it Ends.” The second section describes other gay lives; those who did or did not make it; some through suicide such as in “Jumpers” or murder such as “The Significance of Matthew” about Matthew Shepherd’s murder or marriage such as “White handkerchief,” in the series “These Boys” in which Borland writes how his partner’s “Old flames, too, leaking into his dreams/puddles of memory that never quite evaporate.” The third section, “Blood in the Throat,” is perhaps my favourite because it includes poems about poets and writers such as Thom Gunn, “Eat the Whole World,” Ian Young, “From Ian Young,” Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, “This Telepathy is Intrusive,” Christopher Isherwood “Isherwood’s Journals” and William Carlos Williams “This is What It’s Like” and their influences on Borland’s and/or his partner Seth Pennington’s writing.

Three of the poems I wish I’d written myself can be found in this third section. One is “Your Older Brother Gives Me My Name” in which Borland describes his partner’s relatives’ awkwardness about what to call him at a wedding until his partner’s brother says: “he’s my brother-in-law.” Another is “At a Bach Concert” in which just as Borland and his partner walk into a Boston church and “lock arms and start toward the front of the church,/the quartet begins to play the wedding march for/absolutely no reason—and for absolutely every reason.” And lastly, the poem “Rooster” about the puppy that Borland writes: “I grow to love him by the second week, when you and I/have figured out how to touch/one another again.” brings him closer to his partner again.

Dig provides a poetic, honest look at a mature gay relationship. It also demonstrates how, in just a short time, Borland’s poetry has gone from strength to strength since his debut book, My Life as Adam (2010), his subsequent, Less Fortunate Pirates (2012) to Dig (2016) This opinion is confirmed by Borland’s receipt of the 2016 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award.

Jacob M. Appel’s book, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana. Stories is his third collection from Black Lawrence Press. His book Scouting for the Reaper (2014), won the Hudson Prize. (Appel is also an O. Henry Prize winner). Appel is one of American’s best short story writers due to his combination of quirky characters and unexpected, snap endings. Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana merely confirms this reputation.

Appel is a master of characterisation. He seamlessly crawls under the skin of his cast characters, who live and work in various jobs and in various parts of the US. Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana includes stories about a female butcher and her murderous concert violinist sister, an East Coast folk singer celebrity and her very destructive, delinquent grandson, a smallpox scare for two guards on the US Canadian border on a snowy New Years Eve, who think they might be in love, an Oakland, California landlord whose wife leaves him for a mime and then won’t talk to him, two New York parents whose infant suffers from pica and an unfaithful minister who can’t sleep at night because he imagines his dead wife noisily making love downstairs to Greta Garbo are some of the many interesting situations and unusual characters in Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana.

However odd these characters seem, though, they all seem to deal with various common themes: fidelity, the value of continued friendship versus sexual intimacy, the limits of friendships and relationships within and without families, and how these families cope with the bad behavioural genes and patterns that are passed down the generations. Appel explores these themes and problems and comes up with very novel, unexpected, snap solutions usually based more on utilitarianism than lofty philosophy. The focus to detail in these stories about medical and ethical situations and their solutions shows Appel’s own wide range of professional experience as a doctor, bioethicist, professor and writer. In addition, no matter how dark the thematic material, the stories in Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana are written with a sense of wit and humour which propels the reader forward to their uncanny resolutions. Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana proves that Appel is a master of the American short story, (in a somewhat American Gothic, Edgar Allen Poe-like tradition). He explores the depths of human experience in unusual cases while still maintaining a sense of humanity. Coulrophobia’s stories surprise, shock, entertain and challenge.

Scott T. Starbuck latest book of poetry is entitled Lost Salmon and even though all the poems in this collection are about fishing, there is something in this collection to interest just about everyone. One of the most important issues Starbuck depicts relevant to AQ17 is climate (change)/species extinction. Many poems in Lost Salmon would have been ideal for AQ17 had they not previously been published in other journals or were pending publication in this collection which was released a few weeks before AQ17’s own debut. These poems include “Strays” and “At Rocky Creek” about diverted or blocked salmon runs. In “Strays” the “salmon who run up the wrong river,” end up “in ditches, cow pastures, even Hwy 101.” In “At Rocky Creek,” the salmon’s progress is blocked by a concrete wall under which they are “floating belly up.” In the book’s title poem, “Lost Salmon,” Starbuck writes: “I can relate, brother/as I gasp smog,” perhaps to the salmon he’s caught who are “wanting waters with my own kind” and to “just be.”

“In River at 52,” the fisherman in Starbuck knows he needs the river just as much as the salmon: “I know if I can just get to the river, everything will be okay.” He relates the flow of the current to the passage of time and the relatives and partner he’s lost and perhaps the real reason he needs to get to the river after he’s graded “…stack after stack after stack/from men and women who don’t want to write/who force themselves into strange unnatural positions.” (This sentiment is also echoed in “Advice to a Student” in which he gives counsel to get down to the business of poetry: “If you want an audience/go into advertising” and ends this short poem with the advice that a bird “doesn’t wait/ for an audience/ to sing.”)

In “Canyon” and “My River” Starbuck worries how rising temperatures from human-made climate change will destroy some of his favourite fishing spots. Lastly, in “Pigeon,” he initially describes his cynicism about individual efforts to stop climate change as he saves a pigeon left for dead by other fisherman “torn by fishing line” by taking her to the vet:

“A few weeks later when she flew away

it gave me hope against all odds
we can slow a warming climate, rising seas.”

emphasising perhaps his enduring belief in the power of compassion to change things.

The poems in the collection are also about other subjects related to fishing. “Meditation on Emptiness between Universes,” describes the healing, revitalising effect fishing has on Starbuck. It takes him to a place “under evergreen shade and birdsong” where he breakfasts on “hotcakes/and blueberry tea.” A riverside meditation is also included in “Drifting Out of my Body in the Dark Somewhere near Astoria, Oregon.” In this the fisherman expresses his awareness of the interconnectedness of life, “tiny human gill slits/in the womb when all these salmon/were his brothers and sisters.” There are also a few surprises he discovers along the way like in “Underwater Piano and Eagle,” the piano, perhaps abandoned by pioneers, or the two lovers he accidentally stumbles across in “The Folks I Surprised In Drift Creek” in which the poet describes how:

“…in remote wilderness
I saw sex—arms and legs in the way
like when these creatures had finned hunger
and nothing else—“

In addition to the moving poems in this book, Lost Salmon is complemented by beautiful artwork. Its cover is a blue-green, mixed media piece on wood by Jennifer Williams entitled “Hooked.” The dedication page has a pencil sketch of a salmon by Herb Welch. Lost Salmon is certainly a book that will be treasured by many—fishers, environmentalists, writing teachers, and naturalist-oriented readers—among others. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ16 Summer 2016 Book Reviews

AQ16 Summer 2016 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Utmost by Hiram Larew. I. Giraffe Press, ISBN 978-0-9972243-0-6, 35 pages.
Resonance by Gary Beck. Dreaming Big Publications, ISBN 978-1523916405, 135 pages.

During the last quarter, I received two books that I felt were worth reviewing due to their artistry and scope. Both are by present or past AQ authors and both describe similar concerns such as aging and love. However, their poems have different settings such as country v city and the natural v the human worlds and different approaches. The first book is a poetry chapbook entitled Utmost by AQ16 contributor Hiram Larew. The second is a poetry book entitled Resonance by AQ12 contributor Gary Beck.

Utmost’s 23, one-page or half-page poems are suggestive, meditative, find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and use common words to express enigmatic thoughts. “Anything Can Happen” is the most concerned with the inexpressible and the unknown “You love what’s next more than people—/…You’re so grateful for what’s unknown.” The poem “What Do You Think” also describes Larew’s love of the unexpected. “But most of all/I worship stuck doors/Because they make me blink when I didn’t expect to” or the upside-down world of “Marvely” “When bad tastes like candy/And good is just ache?”

Thoughts about aging are also found in “Boy Howdy.” Larew refers to aging by saying his father’s: “…coat pockets were really my teenage years.//Carry on now is how I feel now — ” In “Vista” he writes: “I’m new at being old.” “Rafters” opens with “Maybe you can’t roar to start/Anymore as others can.” The next poem, “Your Life’s” terminal line is “Not forever but a dot.” along with “It’s Getting Late,” which comments on the aging process: “Too often it seems shoulders are cold.”

Larew’s poems are also about the comfort that he feels in the outdoors “…the best work you will ever do is when/You are opening the barn.” His enigmatic use of images from the natural world to express his thoughts are most prevalent in “Who Is” when he writes: “What I won’t say is why/What I will say is look/I might even whisper smoke—/But I won’t say you.” His line “I will only love a small piece of sky” shows once again his love and trust of the natural world. In “But More” we can see Larew’s artistic delight in the natural world and the ability to imagine other, unknown places. “To swell summer as apples do/Or shade swirls like bridges can/To be lights on in other rooms”

The last and title poem brings the writer back to the natural world with images of “I would be garlands older…”spoons of dirt…”an idea that scratches radishes redder”…”A bird straddling two branches.” These poems are imagistic, enigmatic little gems with one foot in the natural world and the other in the world of the imagination. I highly recommend this collection.

Resonance by Gary Beck also discusses the subject of mortality and especially aging, (among others) but within a New York City nightscape. “Old Age” for example which mentions: “youth’s unebbing hunger/is eternal and denied.” reminds me of William Yeats’ “Long Legged Fly” poem in which Caesar considers his battle options. Other mentions are included in the poems “Change” in which the writer is asked to be a pallbearer for a man he barely knew: “I think about an acquaintance, now dead./I never liked him…I look at pictures of the dead/and barely remember their faces.” or in the very short, “Woeful Vision” where the poet sees a woman he once knew: “No longer young/but not older than me…and a wrinkled face/that has forgotten smiles.”

Unlike Larew, Beck directly describes social and sexual relations. In “Opium Escape” Beck describes the intoxicating and sometimes unwise nature of being in love. In “Fond Pause,” “Sad Mate,” “Two Songs of Lust” and “Separation” he describes the separation felt by the unloved from the active world that goes on. “Severance” is about the intensity of a one-night stand/brief encounter, “Renunciation” about how unrequited love that burns itself out and “Electronic Loss” includes new metaphor about losing a love in a telephone booth or over the phone. Beck’s social consciousness is best expressed in his poems “Dire Prediction” in which his wonders what the the loss of jobs to the service economy will mean to those “who will walk through fire, bullets, blood,/to protect us.” In “Children of Deprivation” he wonders about the effect of capitalistic hoarding from poor in a land of plenty—“know swollen barns of grain/rotting on a distant government preserve.” In “Rebel’s Pliant” he hopes humankind will overcome “its obliterating madness.”

Buried within Resonance, however, on page 98 of this 135 page collection, is the book’s real touchstone, a vignette about the poet’s first submission and its relative worth, entitled “First Poem Sent — Oct. 1962.” In a few lines, Beck describes the respect a poet’s hard, passionate work receives as it is sent on its way: “(I) gave it to the postman./Without a glance/he tossed it on a pile/and it fell to the floor.” Other ars poetic or ars longa, vita brevis poems can be found in this volume including “Possession” with its “dozen poems on my desk…works of beauty wisdom joy wild hearty lusty obscene reverent ecstatic maudlin curious erotic mad exuberance….” “Art Calls” is a prose poem that goes right to the gut as it describes a poet’s struggle in discovering and fulfilling his calling.

There are many good poems in Resonance. However, the volume could do with a thematic regrouping of the poems to give the reader a better overview of Resonance’s approximately 110 poems. In addition, I would suggest moving “First Poem Sent” to the very beginning so it could function as a sort of prologue or proem. These two changes would help a reader dip more easily into this long and varied poetry collection.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ16 Summer 2016 Art Reviews

AQ16 Summer 2016 Art Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Andriaen van de Velde: Dutch Master of Landscape, Rijksmuseum, 22 June to 25 September 2016
Living in the Amsterdam School. Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 7 April to 28 August 2016

Not Just a Pleasant, Sunny, Sunday Afternoon

On 22 June 2016, the Rijkmuseum’s soon-to-be-director (as of 15 July), Taco Dibbets, launched the Andriaen van de Velde Dutch Master of Landscape exhibition. Van de Velde, the son of a painter was one of the best landscape artists of the de Goude Eeuwe (the Golden (seventeenth) Century) even though he only lived to be thirty-five. The museum has assembled one of the largest collections of Van de Velde’s oeuvre (60 works — 37 sketches and 23 paintings from public and private collections). It includes not only landscapes peopled with farmers, milkmaids, shepherds, shepherdesses and farm animals arranged around a lone tree or thatched huts or cottages, but also the seaside, ice skating and hunt preparation and even a few religious scenes. In addition, many of these paintings are accompanied by Van de Velde’s preparatory pen and ink sketches. The Rijksmuseum describes Van de Velde as “one of the best Dutch landscape artists,” but Dibbets added during his introductory speech, that Van de Velde painted much more than just scenes from a “pleasant sunny, Sunday afternoon.”

The combination of sketches with the paintings clearly shows the development of the larger canvases from various sources. The link was clearest for me in Van de Velde’s “The Annunciation” (1667). To the right of this painting hangs a sketch of woman naked to the waist, posed with the same outstretched arms and expression of fear and astonishment as the draped Virgin who greets the angel. The woman’s pose in the preparatory sketch allowed Van De Velde to make this standard religious scene much more compelling by having his Virgin look directly at the angel versus a more traditional paintings in which the Virgin looks away.

Although Van de Velde was generally a landscape painter, he also paid equal attention to the human element in his compositions. The central painting of this exhibit is certainly his “Portrait of a family in a landscape” (1667), Van de Velde has painted a well-to-do family out for a ride in an open coach. This painting shows off the family’s money through their elaborate clothing and red coach drawn by two white horses. The gentleman is dressed in a brown coat and stands in the centre foreground of the painting with a walking cane. His wife stands on his left in a black dress and a red mud skirt. Even further to his left is his son who holds a mottled white-and-brown dog on a leash. To his right is a nanny who holds his daughter dressed in white. The triangular placement of these burgers also emphasises their social solidity, familial order and wealth in the middle of an ideal countryside.

In contrast to this wealthy family, however, Van De Velde also painted many fieldworkers. “Haymakers resting in a field” (1663) depicts an intimate gathering of fieldworkers, some taking a break. The first four in the foreground are seated. One man has his arm around a woman while another looks on and another man smokes a pipe. To the right is a man standing drinking from a large, brown jug and a fourth man is asleep on a mound of hay. There is such a contrast of activity in such a small space of canvas—and these are only the characters in the foreground. In the background, four other workers continue to build haystacks with pitchforks and by hand. Other general social scenes include ice skating as in “Colf players on the ice” (1668) and “Ice skating outside the city wall” (1669) which are populated by men, women, children, dogs and horse-drawn sleds lit in a dusky gold-gray winter light.

Van de Velde’s mastery of colour, light and shade is further demonstrated in his paintings of Scheveningen which include “View of a Beach” (1660) and “The Beach at Scheveningen” (1670) with the ships and horses lit in what I think is a similar yellow light to what Breitner used in his paintings at Scheveningen two centuries later.

Some surprises in this exhibition were Van De Velde’s “Figures in a deer park” (1667) in which the eye is drawn by a row of tall trees dwarfing the figures of the men and deer beneath them to the left and into the distance. Others are sketches of figures representing “The Continents of Europe and Asia and America and Africa,”(1671) and a few male nudes (undated). Lastly, are sketches of “Plundering soldiers at a peasant’s dwelling” (1669) showing soldiers with a battering ram and others loading muskets preparing to break down an old farmers door. Another sketch, “Marauders attack peasants at their huts” (1669) shows the next scene in which a man on his knees is about to be run through with a sword, a woman with bare breasts is held by a man from behind whilst another approaches, and a last man with sword drawn chases two figures towards the fields. Such was the reality of life during the wars in the Lowlands during the 17th century. These two, atypical pen and ink sketches remind us how quickly a quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon in the countryside then could disintegrate into chaos and carnage.

Living in The Amsterdam School

If you’ve ever wondered what happened when the optimistic, fin de siècle, organic Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements crashed into the trenches of the First World War, visit the Living in the Amsterdam School exhibition now at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk museum. This carefully-researched exhibition will show you the lavish interiors created as these movements entered the dark, expressionist wood created by this Dutch movement (1910-30). And since this exhibition concentrates on carefully reconstructed interiors and objects, the visitor is able to get a feel for what it was like to live in a stylish 1920s Amsterdam home, work in an office or shop at some of the Netherlands’ most prominent department stores.

Instead of seeking solace in the simple, natural forms as the Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau movement had done, the Amsterdam School sought escapism and adventure in the exotic possibly as a reaction, but also perhaps as a precursor of the coming financial and political disasters. Characteristics of the Amsterdam School include unusual use of colour (red, orange, and yellow detailing on dark backgrounds), unusual wood detailing and carvings and exotic influences and designs. It’s worth visiting this collection of Amsterdam School artwork because as director Beatrix Ruf said at the press conferences it “is the largest ever assembled.”

The exhibitions first gallery includes a pyramidal display of the distinctive somewhat-tear-shaped clocks (similar in shape to Amsterdam School building towers) in various but mostly dark woods with orange, red and black accents. This is part of the 300 clocks collected for the exhibition and which also mimic the shape of the tops of the towers of the Amsterdam School buildings where mainly large, exterior clocks of similar design were displayed. (One design in particular, by Hildo Krop, contains long, thin, seated memento mori figures at the top of each clock). This gallery’s exhibition is also augmented (as in some others) by a film, music or video. (In this gallery, it is a silent film about Amsterdam School architecture exteriors).

The next gallery includes the reconstruction of an office with a large table and several very solid chairs and coffee table (One needed a very strong back to move this characteristically heavy massieve furniture) Further galleries include furniture for the home including first living, dining and bed rooms including photos of some of their occupants involved in various activities such as knitting next to the hearth, reading, etc. The dark wood furniture in this collection, some by Peter Lodewijk Kramer, creates a very den-or cave-like interior. A notable exception to this a suite of black and white bedroom furniture by Joseph Crouwel which stunningly presages the streamlined clean lines of Art Deco.

Another aspect of the Amsterdam School included in this exhibition is sculpture including the Modernist looking Girl (three-quarter figure) sculpture and the cast concrete Man with Wings (who looks more like a demon with wings from The Lord of the Rings) both by John Rädecker. Hildo Krop is also represented by his wood closets with wooden sculptures both above and in the cornices. Some of Krop’s work can also be found today on some of the city centre’s sculptured bridge pillars.

The exoticism of the Amsterdam School movement is given further explanation by its use in film theatres and department stores. In the 1920s, going to these two buildings was a type of escape, the first for a new form of entertainment—film, the second to a sort of retail adventure. These are demonstrated for example, by photos of the Tuschinski theatre’s Pieter den Besten’s native American designs (mural and lamp) and in The Hague’s Bijenkorf department store’s by two, giant, dark-wood, carved staircase padauks with details of flautists, a harpist and theatre masks by H. A. van de Einde. Toordorp is also represented by an expressionist (almost ’60s hippieish) brightly-painted wooden changing screen.

The last three galleries include even more gems. In the antepenultimate gallery, objects are displayed on shelves similar to those used in depots. These objects include firescreens, ceramics, a cradle, and an exquisite chest of drawers by Louis Bogtman of batik-patterned wood and wrought-iron from a private collection which demonstrates how Eastern styles affected the Amsterdam School.

The penultimate room in the exhibition has dozens of characteristically tear-shaped, dark, metal, hanging electric lamps demonstrating the new influence electricity was having on home interiors. Across from the lamps are distinctive stained-glass windows for both commercial and home use.

The exhibit’s final room contains a collection of Amsterdam School exhibition posters of shows, revivals and retrospectives. In the centre of the room is a red, yellow and white bedside table by Hildo Krop, which looks strikingly similar to the simple angular, Mondrian-coloured Modernist furniture made by Gerrit Rietveld. It demonstrates how Dutch interior design and this long-lived, multi-media artist (1884-1970) reinvented themselves again in the 1930s.

There’s probably something to satisfy everyone’s interest in early 20th Dutch interiors from chairs, tables, sofas, beds, desks, paintings, rugs, lamps, windows, posters, art magazines, photos, film, video and music. Visitors with children will probably be grateful for the “Build Your Own Clock” hands-on activity area, about two-thirds of the way through the exhibition, for visitors with children. Here children can construct and customize (detail and colour) their own Amsterdam School style clock. There are three different styles (5 minutes for the easiest, 15 for the most difficult). The clockworks, however, must be purchase downstairs at museum shop.

Even though Dr. Marjan Groot spent 10 years researching and collecting the Living in the Amsterdam School’s over 500 objects, gallery visitors are not overwhelmed by either too many objects or too much information. Her selection provides a rich overview that is exhaustive but not exhausting for the visitor. It is both scholarly and tasteful and the perfect length for a morning or afternoon museum visit.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ15 Spring 2016 Book Reviews

AQ15 Spring 2016 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Scott T. Starbuck. Industrial Oz. Ecopoems. Fomite Press. ISBN 978-19425-15166, 111 pages.
Jane Summer. Erebus. Sibling Rivalry Press. ISBN 978-1-937420-1, 185 pages.
Priscilla Atkins. The Café of our Departure. Sibling Rivalry Press. ISBN 978-1-937420-87-1, 77 pages.
Wendy Gist. Moods of the Dream Fog. Finishing Line Press, 29 pages.

Last year was a very productive year for non-traditional publishers addressing contemporary issues such as climate change and global warming and timeless personal ones such as the love and sudden loss of a friend or partner, or depicting their unique corner of the world. The four books I’ve chosen to review for AQ15 are concerned with some of the issues mentioned above and, because of that, I felt they were of sufficient merit to warrant a review in Amsterdam Quarterly.

The first book is Industrial Oz, Ecopoems by Scott T. Starbuck. Industrial Oz is a pro-ecology, anti-war, anti-banks, philosophical, counter-culture poetry book. In his essay, “The Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world….Poets … are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society…”

In Industrial Oz, Starbuck takes this charge very seriously. Industrial Oz depicts Starbuck’s many interests and concerns such as hiking, fishing, pollution, species extinction, rain forest destruction, global warming, the disposal of nuclear waste, the wisdom of indigenous peoples and their “pacification” by Europeans, the “taming” of the wilderness, the disappearing pensions of Generation X, and war’s effect on the “home front” including vets with PTSD and other disastrous, sociological and environmental problems. It asks and answers important questions such as how were the Americas “settled” by Europeans, how were its resources acquired and used and, as a result, what is the future of those continents and the planet?

Starbuck’s poems use various approaches, some more programmatic, others more aesthetic. Structurally and thematically Starbuck’s poems can sometimes be longer, somewhat political Ginsbergian riffs such as “Why All US-Made Nuclear Waste Must Be Stored At The White House” or “What if one Night a Big Solar Storm Went By?” Other times his images and examples or “evidence” are more subtle and his lines shorter, but all his poems are just as compelling. For example in “How It Is” the effect of global warming and its disastrous effect on coastal countries is rendered quite simply and geographically: “Sometimes you forget Greenland exists/…Then it melts and Holland disappears.” In “River Reflections” in just 46 words Starbuck’s discusses his own political stance—how politics considers him unimportant, how he has rejected TV, and the source of his power against the system. “Like the elk/my vote/won’t be heard” but the poem ends with the defiant: “I am a nonessential/ and unproductive/ worker// yet a threat/to the machine /merely by resting// and thinking.”

In his poem, “Thinking About the Association of Writers & Writing Programs 2014 Conference in Seattle,” he challenges the seeming non-awareness or lack of interest in academic programmes for environmental/political issues such as the death of sea stars and polar bear cubs due to climate change and the 100-tonne Fukushima nuclear storage tank spill which happened a week before this writers’ convention. (I remember getting feedback on my AIDS poems from professors and students in a mid-80s graduate writing programme and both parties wondering aloud if perhaps I wasn’t being a bit “hysterical” about an illness that might not turn out to be so serious). As an image of these programmes solipsistic and incorrect focus, Starbuck describes how as a child he carved sand circles: “for onlookers to enjoy//before the next set of waves erased everything.” Some other poems, such “Poem for Ishi” and “Of Whales and the Hinckley Hunt on Christmas Eve, 1818,” could also be used in secondary and tertiary, cross-curriculum writing and history classes related to questions about what happened to Americas’ indigenous peoples and its wildlife after their “discovery” and the “pacification” of the Americas by Europeans.

Throughout all the poems in Industrial Oz, though, no matter what their format, the central thread is Starbuck’s love and concern for the wilderness and the Earth. And in that light, all of the poems in Industrial Oz are worth reading if you share Starbuck’s concern for the future of mankind and the planet.

Next follow two elegiac books published by Sibling Rivalry Press that use two different approaches to chart the writers’ grief as they remember/memorialise a loved one. The first book, Erebus, is about someone killed in a plane crash, the second, The Café of our Departure, about the memory of someone who was slowly slipping away with cancer, who, in the end, decided to take his own life. Both depict the haunting that memory creates due to a desire to try to hold on to some part of these people’s lives and their relationship with the narrator in the past and carry it into the present and future. However, the two employ different, stylistic approaches. The first uses a more objective, factual, and scientific approach in its recapitulation of the relationship and attempted recovery of the person. The second uses a more aesthetic approach using art, museums and food to try to remember an almost life-long friendship.

The first book is Jane Summer’s Erebus. Erebus is the most southern, active volcano in the world, located in the Antarctic continent. In Greek mythology it is also the entrance to the underworld. What Moby Dick is to whaling with its catalogue of sails and harpoons, Erebus is to fatal, exotic sightseeing plane crashes. It is a well-written, obsessive, extended catalogue of grief about the crash—a history of what was taken suddenly—the passengers’ lives—and what was returned much later—some exposed bodies or parts and personal belongings including some, ironically unspoilt, colour photobooks of Antarctica and passengers’ journals.

Erebus has three, formal chronological divisions or parts entitled: 2013, 1993, and 1973 in which the writer works backwards to her relationship with the plane crash victim, Kay Barnick in New York City in the early ’70s. In the preface, Summer warns that “this story is based in fact…but it is above all a work of art, and thus a certain amount of leeway must be allowed.” Throughout the three sections, Erebus’ two-line lyric stanzas bind and build on the effect of information from news stories, photos, aircraft, airports, Antarctic geography, maps, wildlife pictures, notes left behind by her dead friend, a quotation from Aristotle’s The Neomachian Ethics about friendship, items of New Zealand history and culture (including James Cook’s “discovery” of the island), Summer’s implication of a possible airline cover up related to the crash, white flight and increased crime in Manhattan in the late ’70s, an equation of the deadly g-forces exerted on bodies of those in the unsurvivable crash and lastly, a list of all passengers and crew to tell a chilling and unrelenting tale of an airline catastrophe and the loss of a loved one. Using this method, Erebus, as an artistic creation, is certainly worth more than the sum of its parts.

The second book, Priscilla Atkins’ elegiac book, The Café of our Departure choses a different strategy. The Café of our Departure is also divided into three unnamed sections with an epigram from James Schuyler’s “The Morning of the Poem.” This poetry remembers a loved one from a much more epicurean perspective based on art, good friendship and food and poetry. The book describes Atkin’s gay, high school boyfriend and later, former husband, Mike, including his slow death from cancer and his choice to end his own life. The poems include references to their favourite cafes and restaurants “Unguided tour of Grief with Green Wallpaper,” museums “Resolve,” art “La Nature Morte” and “Sky in a Jar,” and photographs “First Trip to Chicago After” interspersed with teenage adventures of buying greasy fast food and fishing trips in “Mike,” a reconstruction of Mike’s suicide in “Resolves” and many references to the poetry of James Schuyler, which I imagine both the writer and the subject greatly admired.

Another aspect about this book that is exceptional is Atkins’ honesty as she courageously describes her ex-husband’s impending fatal illness/suicide and his changing role in her later life as they became more aware of his sexual orientation. Her acceptance and depiction of Mike’s gay “friend” Mark, is also exceptional as shown in the poem, “Anything You Want.” “Before heading downstairs/Mark said: “Take anything you want.” Atkins writes that amidst the stacks of Fiestaware, the “Shirts, slacks hanging in the closet;/rows of empty shoes” all she wants to do is to: “lie in your bed/and keep watch/.”

Throughout the book, Atkins uses different poetic forms—from two-line stanzas and traditional four-line quatrains to longer free-form stanzas. All include Atkins attention to detail to and objects such as in her poem entitled “Mike” in which she references death in the beginning but also the fun and companionship they experienced as teenagers: “Only you and I would be giddily/in overalls digging out/petrified worms (from the last trip)…For an entire year, we snorted/like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine. (Pity the poor teachers/who had us in class together)./Summer days we’d drive your parents’/ car all over hell and back/…—but mostly to laugh and talk, to get the/feeling you get after doing that for hours.” Due to this wide span of time and poetic forms, The Café of our Departure is a fitting and moving memorial to her former friend and husband.

Wendy Gist’s Moods of a Dream Fog chapbook contains poems that describe the people and landscapes of the American Southwest some of which were previously published in more than 14 different literary journals, including Amsterdam Quarterly. Gist is not only adept in her selection of images but also in her use of different types of typography and lines. Sometimes she keeps her lines short and lets them float down the page as in “Drip Wish”

The woman peers
       out the
                  tent screen,
on her backbone,
      at bloat between
         slot of volcanic

Other times she writes moving block prose poems, such as “Visitor at Tsaile Lake” and “Morning Beat.” My other favourites in this collection include “Canyon de Chelly Echoes” which uses repetition to recreate the indigenous American ritual very effectively, and “Midsummer Night at Isotopes Park,” which includes this fine stanza, is a very poetic and sociological, contemporary description of Southwestern culture:

“Fine men I so love, husband and son, grub nachos, imbibe
pricey beer. Fun-loving women fork strawberries and kiwis
from fruit cups, sip Blue Moon draft, turn tipsy to us, laugh,”

For me, however, the short erotic poems including “Blush” and the title poem “Passion Fog” are the most arresting. “Passion Fog” explores both the light and dark sides of attraction and why one should be careful: “She can’t tell/up till now/if he strives to bite/or kiss tender.” Unfortunately these poems are not at the very beginning of the chapbook where I would have placed them, but come after “To My Dream,” “Intimate Waters,” “Electrolysis of Love” and “Winter Walk through Twilight” which don’t seem to resonate with me as much as the other 23 poems, but then a score of 19 out of 23 isn’t bad either. Gist’s Moods of a Dream Fog poetry chapbook is a good, strong entry in the world of first chapbooks. I recommend it especially for readers interested in poems about love, passion, relationships and the landscapes and cultures of the Southwestern US.