Saturday, September 12, 2015

“Purposeful Poetics”: A Review of Wrack Lariat, by Heller Levinson

(Boston, MA: Black Widow Press, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-9960079-8-6

To engage with Heller Levinson’s poetry is to make the commitment to immerse. To commit. Reminding me of a combination of the visual–typographic poetry of Vernon Frazer, the fractal approach of Ric Carfagna, and the boundary-pushing poetic theories of Eileen Tabios, Levinson’s barrage of words and forms and breadth of artistic starting places (plasticity of language and its meaning, philosophy, music, visual arts) comes forth from the writer’s inner alchemical furnace into a vortex powered by a girding energy of quantum physics and Eastern spiritual tenets that swirl the material together, where it places on the page, not randomly, but in a molecular–textual structure that one could walk the exploratory halls of for days on end.
Given that there is no chance of even scratching the surface of this work in a two-page review, I am choosing a handful of sections (what Levinson terms “modules”) that were particularly resonant for me. One of the joyful challenges of engaging with poetics as approached by Levinson and the other poets I mentioned in the opening is that the keys of the reader’s own worldviews, literary, performing arts, and philosophical background can be tried in the various locks of the poems with varying degrees of accessibility and resonance. Levinson is particularly erudite and complex in the breadth of material from which he draws, and so the locks are numerous and amenable to the insertion and turning of any number of keys.
The first module is called “How Much of / wHoosh.” The energy of this module is motion. Any time a wordsmith can get the immovable type to gather and sustain motion on the page, the entire field of poetics is elevated. All good writing has a potential energy—plays and screenplays, and many forms of poetry. They rely on the actors, viewers, directors, and readers to activate the energy, making it kinetic. Levinson’s poetry is sizzling on the page. Activation is easy. But the ensuing trip, once the vortex is in full pitch, is the reader’s thrill. Using phrases like “Meteoric Velocity,” “momentum,” “rhymetime serpentine,” “eruption,” “seas unwrinkling,” the poems of the wHoosh module exist in mutual states of Being/Becoming and Particle/Wave, with the Reader (or Observer as termed in quantum physics) truly affecting the motion itself, like capillaries in the hand affecting the path of raindrops.
This module also incorporates Buddhic koan-like pieces such as “how much of /stillness/races through motion” and “how much of/ circumstance/is/circumstantial,” which offer a still, quiet space; a respite from the whooshing vortex for contemplation and reflection, before carrying on.
The next module is titled “moreover hardly sometimes of if ever obviously,” denoting the first word used in the poems in that section (first “moreover,” then “hardly,” etc.). These words are qualifiers—they are words that change the momentum, the direction, the content of our statements. Interestingly and aptly, the last word, “obviously” does not seem to be used (setting the meaning on its ear).
Poetics like these give us ideas, like threads or breadcrumbs for the maze-path to new spaces of meaning, to creations of our own, which continues with the third module, “The Corner of __________ & ____________.” Like the mechanism of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” (How the __________ got its ____________) the intrepid writer-traveler can absorb what Levinson offers (using a module created by another “Hinger” named Amy J. Huffman) and make intersectional creations of one’s own. This, again, is movement and momentum. Why should the reader be passive? Why should the journey end with the end of the volume?
The follow-on module is “Gerundial Geist,” which uses a device where the “particle is initialized by a gerund” [which is a noun made into a verb by adding –ing].
Those interested in the history of the Plains Indians will find provoking, challenging pieces in the section titled “Accidentals,” which also holds treasures for those who are drawn to the poets mentioned in the opening, as well as Felino Soriano and Mark Sonnenfeld.
The module from which the book takes its name articulates many of Levinson’s goals and ideas about what art is, and what the artist’s aims and responsibilities should be: “Wrack Lariat is meant to suggest the Artistic Mission. A mission compelled to reject all that is stale, handed down,—habituated… intolerant of falsehoods, of the trivially redundant, of the Uninspired Quotidian” (179). This, to me, is a call to the Alchemical in the art. Seeking the nigredo, the prima materia, which is transformed in the crucible of the process through intersections, the bending of language to change the trajectories of meaning, and cross-arts pursuits (this module consists of poetic intersections with the lives and works of Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Picasso as well as with the music of DeBussey). The line “I should be watching the musicians rather than listening” (217) brings to mind the new approaches to music brought into being by John Cage. 
Levinson’s work launches forward to a new fringe locality from the nexus of quantum physics and Eastern mysticism, the overlaps of which have been well-remarked-upon by Michael Talbot, Fritof Capra, David Bohm, and others—an indication that we need to push much farther than those who have come before if we are to take the active journey with Levinson. Wrack Lariat is the map, with the borders torn off.

Two of the three remaining modules in Wrack Lariat, “Dot Soliloquies” and “Linda Lynch,” also hinge from intersections and inspirations with other artists. The message is clear: this is large-scale, life-encompassing work, and the artist in isolation would be a fool to think it can be done alone.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

“Evidence of Other Realms”: A Review of The Man at the Foot of the Bed, by Josette L. Berardi

(Foreword, Elizabeth Tucker) (2011) ISBN: 978-1-4560-7551-4
A few weeks ago I published my review of Josette Berardi’s I’m Not Dead, Am I? Although that book came out a year after this one, I chose to read it first because the scope was larger, discussing the paranormal experiences of her family, especially her daughter, in the context of her mother’s severe illness and hospitalization.
 The Man at the Foot of the Bed is a much different book, with an appropriately less intimate and passionate voice, which operates on two levels: the first is as a memoir of her daughter Nicole’s experiences, from a toddler to her late teens, as a medium who can communicate with the deceased and who has had encounters with other, darker, entities. The second is as a primer and resource guide for parents and others who have a young person with mediumistic gifts in their life and those interested in obtaining a reading from a medium.
Berardi opens with the following: “This book is dedicated to all ‘Mystical Children’ who grew up without acceptance.” By the end of the book one has to wonder how many children’s natural abilities have been stifled and ultimately faded away with dis-use and initiation into the “reality” of mainstream society, and how that has worked against our understanding of other realms while limiting the true potential of these children.
The idea of mediumship, the ability to act as a mediator between the realms of the living and the dead, is as popular as it is controversial. Television dramas like Medium and Ghost Whisperer enjoyed long runs and loyal viewers; real-life mediums such as John Edward, James van Praagh, and Theresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) have had a great deal of success with their books and television programs, and many people are fascinated with “reality” shows that involve the paranormal, of which mediumship is an often-present element.
Of course, for every person that allows for the possibility of such things, there are many more who do not believe, who dismiss such people and programs as pure entertainment and akin to magicians, and, in some instances, actively seek to debunk them. In fairness to those people, going back to the séances of the late 1800s there have been plenty of con-artists and unscrupulous opportunists who have used people’s grief as a means to make a dollar.
No matter your starting position on the subject, you will find value in The Man at the Foot of the Bed. The opening chapters provide some history of the family, all of which provide a larger context and make Nicole and her mother take form in our minds as real people who also happen to have the gift of experiencing extraordinary things. A dozen or so photographs included in the book help as well.
In the third chapter, we learn a bit about Stephanie, Nicole’s younger sister, who also shares the gift, and we get to know Nicole, who displayed hints as to her mediumistic abilities as early as eighteen months, when she “developed a French accent to her baby babble” (60) while the family was on vacation in New Orleans—an historic hot-spot for the spiritual and paranormal. The accent lasted a few weeks after their return.
As Nicole grew up, she encountered several different entities, which she named like many children do their imaginary friends: The Guys on the Ceiling, Spike (a deceased bulldog), The Indians in the Woods, and the dark, abusive entity for whom the book is named. She may have also been contacted by baseball great Babe Ruth. Berardi relates the encounter in a neutral narrative and leaves it up to the reader to decide.
The Man at the Foot of the Bed is an unsettling figure: a mischievous bully who would visit Nicole and show her dark visions in a hospital and who disappeared as mysteriously as he first showed up.
Berardi should be given no small amount of credit for the way she guided both Nicole and Stephanie in the development of their gifts, rather than dismissing their experiences as overactive imaginations, as many parents do. This is where the family context comes into play, with both Berardi’s mother and grandmother having experiences with the dead.
Nicole was trained in her teens at Lily Dale in New York, which is a prestigious community for mediums, and has since done hundreds of readings (in a way similar to what I have read and seen of John Edward), done house clearings, and appeared on the television show Discovery Paranormal. 
The bulk of the book is comprised of anecdotes from Josette and Nicole’s experiences (Gettysburg, PA and Point Pleasant, WV are highlights), and resources for those interested in mediumship (such as the chapter “How to Get the Best Out of a Reading with a Medium”) or who have a child that may have the gift. There is also a paranormal glossary for those new to the subject.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to Berardi is that she tells her family’s story without trying to convince the reader of the veracity of her experiences, or those of her daughters and extended family. She relates times that she herself doubted, or was frightened by or wanted to dis-engage from what was happening.
Whether or not you believe, The Man at the Foot of the Bed is a well-written, fascinating story of one family’s experiences with the paranormal.
You can find out more by visiting and, and you can order The Man at the Foot of the Bed and I’m Not Dead, Am I? at