This blog consists of reviews, interviews, news, etc...from the world of the Boston area small press/ poetry scene and beyond. Regular contributors are reviewers: Dennis Daly, Michael Todd Steffen, David Miller, Alice Weiss,Timothy Gager,Lawrence Kessenich, Lo Galluccio, Zvi Sesling, Kirk Etherton, Tom Miller, Emily Pineau, and others.
Founder Doug Holder: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* B A S P P S is listed in the New Pages Index of Alternative Literary Blogs.
Friday, August 19, 2016
An apology to David Blair, with a preliminary announcement for The Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading presented by the Hastings Room
An apology to David
Blair, with a preliminary announcement for
The Seamus Heaney
Memorial Reading presented by the
Wednesday 14 September 2016
At First Church
11 Garden Street near
Harvard Square at 7pm
Back on the 30th of March, the day
before David Blair read at the Cervena Barva Press studio at the Somerville
Armory with Lloyd Schwartz and Joseph Torra, David Blair and his then just-
released book Friends With Dogs were
the subject of an article published in this blog. A few days later, with much
gratitude for the write-up, David emailed me and pointed out a few “goofs” I
had made. I promised him I would correct the goofs in due time and get them to
Doug so that the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene would have the record
I’m taking the occasion of re-presenting my article here
(below) to make a preliminary announcement of this year’s Seamus Heaney
Memorial Reading, the third of our annual readings in tribute to the great
Nobel Prize Irish poet. Along with Meg Tyler and George Kalogeris, David Blair,
we feel lucky and proud to say, will be among the evening’s readers.
And only since March, David’s third book Arsonville has been released with
dazzling praise. Of it, Stephen Burt, one of our best poetry critics, writes:
There's simply-- and also not
so simply-- more life in this poetry than in almost all the other poetry that
isn't this poetry; more life, and more kinds of life…the kind whose savor and
importance poetry helps you recognize, whether it's a sensory impression,
wrought with all seven senses alert, or good wry advice: 'Parents are running a
three-legged race,' for example, or 'you always pay as we go,' or 'the longer
you drive,/ the more you have to get back home.' Here are real towns, real
families, real jokes, real fears, real 'bicycles/ with training wheels,' 'a
zone of green yards' with 'a spit-shine of black granite,' and (coming indoors,
with bears, so not quite domestic) 'a sudden slight dip in the bathtub
temperature.' Here are bad cookies, good apologies, and a really supple
language that can helix its way around and above whatever life can throw at the
singular poet involved. Let the poems come to you at home. They'll stay.
Tony Hoagland writes, “David Blair is a wholly original
American poet-- his poems yammer and jam, they aria and catalogue and whine,
combining kaleidoscopic perceptual and social detail with a sensibility that is
smart, canny, but affectionate.”
If you’ve read any of David’s own reviews, seen him
introduce other readers or perhaps attended one of his courses, you will
already know how insightful and articulate David is about poetry. When I
mentioned the Heaney reading, he was positively in for it. He loves Heaney. In
a recent email to me, David gave me this as a teaser to his segment of the
I am planning on saying some
things about the influence of deep image poetry which Heaney encountered during
his first stay in America, and how we may see the influence of "leaping
poetry" in poems like "Viking Trial Pieces: Dublin,"
"Hercules and Antaeus," and "The Harvest Bow." I will
also say a few things about how making large associate leaps is not something
limited to the deep image poets, but is also there in Lowell and other American
poets as well. I will be going back to Stepping Stones & re-reading
the stuff he says about his initial encounters with American poetry there.
If you’ve been to one of the Heaney Memorial readings at the
Hastings Room before, you may remember them being on the last Wednesday of
August. We’re moving back to mid-September this year in hopes of having a
cooler room for the audience. In the following weeks, I will attempt to tease
folk to come to the reading, with pieces on George Kalogeris and Meg Tyler.
In his description above, Blair mentions the poem “Hercules
and Antaeus” by Heaney. This morning I was reading another of Heaney’s
meditations simply on one of the characters and titled “Antaeus,” which I will
leave with the reader for this week’s Seamus Heaney poem:
When I lie on the ground
flushed as a rose in the morning.
fights I arrange a fall on the ring
To rub myself with sand
That is operative
elixir. I cannot be weaned
earth’s long contour, her river-veins.
Down here in my cave
Girdered with root and rock
cradled in the dark that wombed me
nurtured in every artery
Like a small hillock.
Let each new hero come
the golden apples and Atlas:
wrestle with me before he pass
Into that realm of fame
Among sky-born and royal.
well throw me and renew my birth
him not plan, lifting me off the earth,
My elevation, my fall.
Blair Sounding the Whistle in his third book FRIENDS WITH DOGS
by Michael T Steffen (revised, August 2016)
David Blair’s poems is like lying in bed awake listening to the one who lies
beside you talking in their sleep.
There is a network
of veins, nerves, and straw
where there was potted
Dental hygienists who misbehave
come back as the numbers
who remove salaried plaque,
the 86ers going deep
to scorch or freeze.[“Vulcanists
& Neptunists,” FWD, pp 38-9]
the terms are a little odd, which is difficult but also amusing. Blair himself
commented on this poem:
86 is restaurant lingo for removing something from a menu. I
call the corporate flaks who fire people 86-ers. The line "to scorch or
freeze" comes from the title of a decidedly irony-free Donald Davie book,
and I guess I find the procedures of corporate America hellish, to say the
least. This is the most hermetic poem in the book.
April of this year, I gave my interpretation of the poem, trying to use
educated guesses going on what I deemed “objective correlatives.” This was the
result: We leap, as Robert Bly would say, from potted plants, to the dentist
and accounting, to sports and weather. What does “the 86ers” refer to? There is
a European American Football team in Sweden called the Uppsala 86ers, which
would make sense of “going deep” (throwing a long pass deep down field).
General American readers will recognize the term “going deep” and have the
research engines in their memories looking for an associate NFL team, say the
49ers. In this line of thought, on to Blair’s next line, you can “freeze” a
linebacker by faking a run then throwing a long pass which, if successful,
could be said to burn (“scorch”) a defensive back. Amid all of this talk of
athletic dynamics, tactics and maneuvers, keep in mind the extremities of
weather which climate change is causing our winters and summers. Poetry is at
work when so much more is evoked than is actually stated. Great bargains take
place between word count and reader.
FRIENDS WITH DOGS [ISBN
9781937679606/Sheep Meadow Press/P.O. Box 84/Rhinebeck, NY 12514], Blair’s
third book of poems, lives up to the promise of his previous collections, in
which the poet established his signature method in madness of evasive speech.
“His music, his diction,” wrote Thomas Lux, “his refusal to use (ever) clichés,
his syntax all drive his poems and their hearts forward.”
I have been reading Blair’s
poems for about ten years now—struck always by his unique pitch and tone, the
tensile muscularity of his syntax and vibrational accents. His diction is
this deliberate dismissal of clichés and coins and cousinages, mere gestures
are made toward a grander scale, a finger on one’s cheek pointing at the sky,
to refute determinism and fate, while acknowledging these mechanisms dangerously
at play in our world. The poem “Festivals for Saints Lucy and Anthony” strike a
plangent irony that reminds one (listen closely) of Ophelia singing over the
virtues of herbs and flowers in her craze after Polonius’s death.
The Book of Common Prayer
gives such lovely presentation
to the psalms, and the weird
that developed for so many
All through the North End,
Jimmy Roselli kept singing Torah
and ending in Koran verses
across the neck of water
between here and Charlestown
When people pin the ribbon pole
with dollar bills with the
annoying people until they pin
bringing back indulgences is
okay with me.
is a pill (are pills) under Blair’s sugar of meanderings. To an aggressive,
accusative and hypocritical world of solicitation, denying us so much in the
way of authentic contact and purpose, there is adequacy in a response of
denial, refusing sense made by the powers that be, returning everything
originally to depict the oddness of how this feels rather than how it should
seem okay. Satire, the theatre of the absurd, deigning to no obvious purpose or
sense, happens upon a critical “usefulness” in its powerful disrespect and will
to shock the censors and oppression crouching even in a free society.
festivals evoked in the poem’s title are feast days or celebrations in honor of
saints. Saint Lucy is petitioned for restoration of sight or vision. Saint
Anthony is prayed to for help in recovering losses. The title of Blair’s second
book, Ascension Days, with vocabulary
in his earlier poems, have raised the notion of religion, an old world
religion, in his poetry. His language can behave hermetically. Like Haley Joel
Osment, the child in The Sixth Sense, Blair sees dead people: he sees Rabelais’
ghost in the erudite contemporary poet Tom Yuill—
the poet from Old Dominion.
“Yoo hoo,” he says, “Read more
Sir Philip Sidney.”
“Yoo hoo,” he says, “Buttermilk
Gravy. Monday Night Football.”
[FWD, p. 60].
fragmentary presentation of his poetry allows for vast silences and omissions.
Whether Blair is devoted to religion we may not know by his poetry. That
atrocities are being committed throughout the world in the name of Religion
should weigh on every informed human being. This is a fact that reflects
howsoever in the mirror of Blair’s presented discourse.
conclusion of “Festivals for Saint Lucy & Saint Anthony” startlingly
compresses the world confused in these gestures to the naïve sweet tooth of a
child at such a festival, bound for the biochemical disaster of a blackout
caused by a sugar rush:
A kid won a box of Lemon Heads
and a box of Alexander the
and all the flavors of taffy,
a watermelon Now & Later
a coconut oil smooth banana
that never leaves my mouth,
that takes the wooden floor out
from underneath our feet,
that brings me to another level
of unpeopled Wampanoag hill
sadness first state park north
of the city,
where there is one chipmunk
and about four pigeons left
and a lot of woods,
a sugar rush, then crash,
in the distant Fells.
“rational world,” radical fundamentalism motivating violence is seen as the
choice that justifies intervention. It is not Saint Lucy or Saint Anthony, any
more than the 86ers going deep. It is a butterfly somewhere causing a hurricane
elsewhere. The, say, Venus de Milo as an objective is not mentioned. Nor the
fact that the world is consuming sources of energy on a daily basis like a kid
loading himself with candy to the point of having a seizure at a religious
festival.As elsewhere in Blair’s
poetry, just enough is said in this poem to make so much come tumbling out.
To a great extent, the
day-to-day world we live in “makes sense” because it is what we have learned to
live with, ways accumulated and assimilated with progress in time. It is the
world we frequent daily. One necessary step for the artist and poet, in order
to get a good look at things around, in order to begin to speak relevantly
about it, is somehow to get outside of that world, get somehow to a vantage
point, on a hill, for a good while, to be able to see it for himself or
herself. To varying degrees, poets bring this cultivated alienation to readers,
with their purpose of showing us something we cannot normally see yet that is
true, so probable to how we imagine life, that we say “this really speaks to
Defying logic and expected
sequences, Blair, while “restless,” often achieves an a-temporal or
out-of-ordinary-time feel, the around-going-nowhere motion of a river mill
wheel, a simultaneity of collages, a moving stillness.
David Rivard in Boston Review
isolated a line of Blair’s, “Nothing can remain horizontal or vertical for
long,” calling this the poet’s “mini ars poetica.” The riverhead of the
statement may be Heraclitus’ The only
constant is change. It comes by way of one of Blair’s tamer or more focused
meditations, from Ascension Days, on
inspiration, in the figure and under the title of “AMELIA EARHART”, who like
the Virgin Mary did not suffer a witnessed death. The famous American
“aviatrix,” as David designates her (with a wink that is both bawdry and
submissive to the suffix, evoking the Dominatrix of erotica) serves stunningly
as a displacement of the Virgin Mother who according to certain traditions is
said not to have suffered death but to have been assumed into heaven, lost up
in the air in flight, off the radar and our maps, entering into the needful and
copious domains of our speculation and wonder.
A little beyond midstream in
the poem, Blair embellishes Earhart with suggestions of another great woman
from American history, Eleanor Roosevelt, with a marvelous double entendre on
the word “dam”, in one sense for the construction with a reservoir that
harnesses energy from a river (recalling the era of the New Deal), and “dam” in
the sense of a grand lady, the diminutive of “Madam” or “Madame”.
The lines go,
It’s possible that she was
muscle, nerve and horse sense.
Standing rigidly against rivers
like a dam
named after a president is a
dubious way to be,
but I can imagine Amelia
fascinated by toasters
and Christmas lights, the large
and the terrifying orange coils
and the way the toaster cord
feels like the root
of a plant when attracted to
and I can imagine a blue
bathrobe for her
in the endless morning before
There is merely a suggestive
allusion to Mary in the poem. We might remember that blue is Mary’s color, blue
of the serene sky. And that Amelia’s bathrobe imagined in David’s poem is blue.
A verbal association is possible with the Day of the Assumption, which is
commonly confused with Christ’s Ascension, offering an explanation as to the
plural in the title of this wonderful book, Ascension Days, published in
2007 by Del Sol Press.
The poetry of David Blair, for
all of its oddity and difficulty, strikes us as something we cannot put down or
turn away from. It’s likely we are not terribly sure about what it is he is
saying to us on a first or maybe not even a second reading, yet we get a keen
sense that it is undeniable and essential.