Tuesday, May 22, 2007



The Tar Pit Diatoms by Sandra Simonds
(Otoliths, 2006)

Otages by John Bloomberg-Rissman
(Bamboo Books, 2006)

Ishmael Among The Bushes by William Allegrezza
(Dusie, 2006)

Diatom – n. a microscopic unicellular alga with a siliceous cell wall, found as plankton and forming fossil deposits.
Oxford English Dictionary – Ninth Edition

Nope. None the wiser! However, it is a pretty word and The Tar Pit Diatoms makes an arresting image. Throughout this chapbook words form patterns, instruct the typesetter and explore language presentation. The Tar Pit Diatoms is yet another collection that raises the question "what is poetry?". Here, it is "punk" or "pop" poetry, and it strives to push the boundaries of how poetry is perceived.

Ich am of Irlonde.
Yeah? What-e-vah.
One cosmo–
naut down–9, 000,000 more to go.
Mayhem is mayday’s maiden name when
we married it was a batch of pumpkin
spice cookies? no, corn nuts “con limon”….
…the store where you bought chicken necks?
no, one Angelino’s screwed-
up Scientology.

I love poetry that plays with words, where each line makes separate statement within the same sentence -- who cares if the sentence doesn’t make sense -- it is playful, thoughtful and imaginative. The problem with Simonds' "punk" poetry, however, is the aggression. I admire what Simonds has done. I like the way she puts together her words, but there is an anger inherent in her phrases that leaves the reader uncomfortable. Whether she is trying to hard to be different, or if she is struggling to get her message across, this collection ultimately makes no sense but it does intrigue the eye. Is that enough for a collection of poetry? I’m not sure.

The Tar Pit Diatoms is full of allusions to other writers, characters and poems. There is indeed one clever section on Siegfried and Roy; however, the rest is an untidy jumble of thoughts. Again, is that poetry? I’m not sure. I admire the new ways in which poets perceive poetry, how it is presented and how it gets messages across, but The Tar Pit Diatoms pushes the boundaries too far. I think it has gone beyond the point of poetry and has entered a whole new realm of existence.

Now, I could not find an entry in the OED for “otages”. But after reading John Bloomberg-Rissman’s collection, it will forever remain in my mind as being synonymously linked with discomfort. There is something excruciatingly painful about Otages. The words, their placement on the page, the way these forces combine to make it impossible to read them any way other then haltingly, the relentless preoccupation with death and displacement, with fear…I think you get the idea. It is dark, damn dark, and that darkness wafts off the page and into your aura like Furies.
                We are

Candles to
See the bombs

From 12
To … Where’s

Mouth? Villages,
Airports, bridges, ports.

The rest
Of my body?

And the title of this cheery little piece is "Every Word Belongs To Laure Ghorayeb, Beirut, Lebanon. I Stole Them From Her Blog. I Just Thought You Should Know A Little About What It Feels Like On The Ground These Days." I confess to feeling I am being punished. Punished for living in a town where that level of violence cannot even begin to be imagined. Some days I will feel like having my social conscience dragged out of its self-imposed exile, other days I will enjoy living in ignorance. Does this make me a bad person? Maybe, maybe not. I fear Bloomberg-Rissman would say yes. Intentionally or not, this collection comes across as very judgmental, and that helped it be an uncomfortable read.

Continuing this strange thread of giving definitions, for the sake of continuity, Ishmael, according to the Wikipedia, translates as “God will hear” (Strong’s Dictionary) and was Abraham’s eldest son, born by his wife’s handmaiden Hagar. Depending on what religion you read Ishmael was to be despised or celebrated. He did create the lineage of twelve great kings of the religious world, but as for a reference to him being among the bushes, I have been able to find little as Ishmael was apparently cast out into the desert where there is usually little foliage in which to hide. However, Allegrezza has transplanted him for literary purposes and like Quasimodo watching from the bell tower of Notre Dame, Ishmael peers out from amongst the bushes, burning with menace and thwarted desire. Each poem appears to pinpoint a specific moment, but in reality, these moments are fluid, adapting to each age, to each period that hs gone before and is to come. The titles are not such in the traditional sense, they seem to finish the previous poem or start the next.

parakeets sing to each other in ashes
they wait
                for action
under a blue sky
                            in a space
                            far from their own.

                - at times one does not recognize the act

It could also be said that one does not recognise the poem. They are pretty much undecipherable. While in some cases this could detract from the poems, in Allegreza’s case it actually lends weight. We are left pondering his words ‘sing to each other in ashed’. A kiln? A fire? An inferno? ‘in a space / far from their own.’ A pet shop? A museum? Are they painted figures? Parakeets are lovebirds, ashes symbolize death and rebirth, a blue sky signals promise but that is taken away by the unfamiliar territory. Intriguing. But enough of philosophising, and back to that familiar, albeit slightly boring by now, sense of menace that is, yet again, apparent and is the strongest feeling one gets from this collection. It is everywhere, it sullies every page in its sexual, aggressive and plain creepy guise:

i am colonizing you as we speak (and i am ashamed).

this piece of candy
and release your aggression.

                - perpetually crawling

Ever been told not to take sweets from a stranger? Ishmael skulks through the book, hiding behind words and peering out between consonants. Ishmael the unwanted. Ishmael the forgotten. Ishmael the loins from whence kings spring. Allegrezza has created an extraordinary character without once mentioning him by name in the poems he skulks around.


Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine Moondance.org, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.


At 12:21 AM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Another view of OTAGES is offered by Eileen Tabios in GR #4 at:


At 2:05 PM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Jerry Brunoe presents another view of ISHMAEL AMONG THE BUSHES by William Allegrezza in GR #16 at



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