Friday, September 22, 2017


Catherine LaBella 


I was a parent to felines for years before I had a human child. When my son Lucius arrived, I was surprised by how similar raising an infant is to taking care of a cat. They both pretend they have NEVER EATEN EVER when food is in view. They both respond to “pprrrrsssshhh! Come here!” when I need them to come over. They both require all my attention all the time… or so they believe. They both know when they are doing something they shouldn’t, but pretend they didn’t hear you anyway. Lucius has since grown out of this last habit. Hatshepsut has not, and Uxia never did before her passing.

Royal pythons, however, require an entirely different approach. For the past three years, I have owned two: Gaia, a black pastel, and Bane, a banana pastel. So, when Gaia laid a clutch of six eggs and four of them hatched, I knew I had my work cut out for me. “The Noodles” are three weeks old and have yet to eat. They don’t care about food. Offering them live pinkies are akin to offering them snuggle buddies: they just curl up next to the squirming baby mice and go back to sleep. They also don’t want your attention. There is so much going on in their tank already, attention from a human is simply too overwhelming. “There’s a rock! And dirt! And a tub of water! Shit!!! There’s a huge snake! Wow, she’s fun to climb on!”

I tried taking The Noodles to a pet store to be sexed and get some tips on how to get them to eat. Since royal pythons can’t really be given away or sold until they have eaten twice, I’m stuck with these guys until they have accomplished this. We tried frozen thawed mice; these were babies but still had some fuzz. Here in the pet store, the differences between managing infant snakes and managing infant humans were most noticeable. In one moment, I am encouraging The Noodles to put warm, dead mice in their mouths and swallow. In the next, every other word out of my mouth was “NO!!” Not “no”, “No!” or even “NO”. All caps two exclamation points. Lucius wanted to eat the fish in the aquatic section and kept reaching into the tanks to put them in his mouth. These were cold, living, exotic creatures that cost more money than I made in a week. But my snakes couldn’t be bothered to eat a cheap dead mouse. Next, Lucius decided he wanted to move in with a twenty-foot yellow anaconda. He tried desperately to undo the latch and get in his tank with him. More “NO!!s” scared him off of that idea. So he tried licking the glass to see if that would somehow impress the anaconda enough to open the tank for him. That was when I packed up Lucius and The Noodles and we went home. Very different, indeed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

BS Johnson Remembered (and Read)

Kathryn A. Kopple
            What are we to make of a novelist who rejects his chosen art form, his inherited traditions, and – with even greater contempt – rejects those who like to read novels?   What are we to make of this novelist, the one who claims to hate the very idea of the novel?  Do we banish him?  Or make him our hero?  More precisely, our anti-hero.  Because readers do need reminding that novel writing is a literary art.  Is it by chance that Emma Bovary is an ardent but untutored fan of Sir Walter Scott?  Or a coincidence that Hemingway, in The Sun Also Rises, savages Robert Cohn, who happens to be a popular novelist?  And need we be reminded of the pernicious effect that books of chivalry had on the errant Don Quixote?  Ironically, Cervantes thought he'd make some money off his comedy.  Little did he know that he started a rebellion.   
Which brings us around to Jonathon Coe's Like a Fiery Elephant (Continuum, 2005), one of the most the most courageous biographies written about Johnson.  Coe is not one of our anti-novelists but his subject, B.S. Johnson, was.  And it was Johnson's struggle against the novel that makes Jonathon Coe's biography worth reading.  Or rather, I should say two books worth reading, for Coe's biography is a double book:  a highly self-conscious experiment in which the life of the novelist is reflected in the work of the biographer, who is also a novelist, and who frets about what it means to write a biography while giving us the facts, many of them damn depressing, about the larger than life, though largely unknown, B.S. Johnson.  Here is Coe, in the introduction to Like a Fiery Elephant, outlining the work ahead of him (and us):
My strategy will be this.  Many people picking up this book will not (regrettably) have read anything by B.S. Johnson before.  Revered though he is by a few, he is unknown nowadays to most British readers under forty.  So I shall begin by explaining, in a little more detail, what it was that he wrote and that I think he achieved.  After that, pace Milan Kundera, I shall have to bring myself to knock down the walls of his house and we shall take a wander through the rubble, perhaps shaking our heads in awe and wonderment at the melancholy grandeur of the ruins we find there… And last of all, a short coda.  In which I shall attempt to put forward my own highly personal – and, yes, speculative – thoughts about the forces that may have been driving him in his last days and hours:  a 'transcursion into his mind' – to use Johnson's language – or even (the phrase is from his fifth novel, House Mother Normal) 'a diagram of certain aspects of the inside of his skull', as he gets ready to compose his final message to the world; to write his very last word.
What was Coe thinking?  This is not what we expect when we pick up the story of a life that we hope will be a lot more exciting than our own.  But Coe has not written that kind of biography, any more than B.S. Johnson wrote that kind of novel.  Not that we will have to work as hard as one might imagine, for Coe is a self-confessed traditionalist; he will not risk alienating his readers.  Instead, he does everything in his considerable powers to charm, entertain, and persuade in the hopes that readers will stick with his long and unwieldy tract to "the very last word."  Because Jonathon Coe believes that novels really do matter, that our lives would be irrevocably diminished without them.  And that may very well be something that he learned from the torturous search for art in the novel making of B.S. Johnson.
            Bryan Stanley William Johnson was born in Hammersmith, England to a working-class family in 1933.  His early life was defined by the trauma of wartime evacuation, a prolonged separation from his family, and his struggles to gain entrance to the university.  During his teens, he worked as an accountant in various low-level positions, an experience that provided him with the experience and skills for his sixth novel, Christie Malry's Own Double Entry:  a send-up of capitalism done in high modernist style.  Johnson found inspiration for the book in the life of Luca Bartolomeo Pacioli, a Tuscan monk and friend of Leonardo Di Vinci, who in a paper penned in 1494 laid down the science of double entry bookkeeping.  Paying homage to this exceptional accountant, Christie Malry's Own Double Entry proceeds according to the kind of logical madness that one would expect from an author who defended against great odds his belief that it is not the author's job to tell a story.  Instead of a story, Johnson offers us the shifting viewpoint that we associate with James Joyce; instead of plot, he gives us experiments with time, death and decay - showing how these forces affect the structure of the novel; in place of conflict, Johnson focuses on personal trauma, memory, and loss; and where we expect resolution, Johnson offers no consolation for the fact that life is not a story and it does not always end happily.

            Nor did Johnson's.  Depressed, manic, alcoholic, and finally suicidal, Johnson was a man beset by many demons.  He made friends but he made even more enemies, and there were times in his life when he seemed determined to destroy his own career out of sheer spitefulness.  Coe makes excellent drama of the numerous letters Johnson wrote lambasting his agents and publishers for failing to understand the extent of his achievement.  He approached his work with grim seriousness, all the more so because his books cost so much to produce.  He liked to cut up his novels, put them in boxes, slice holes through them, and, when he tired of that, abandon them entirely.  When publishers balked at this, he flew into a rage.   A letter to Thomas Wallace of Holt, Rinehart and Winston begins "You ignorant unliterary Americans make me puke," and it goes on to state that "Your letter makes it clear to me why it is that America has never produced a great writer:  and you won't recognize him even when he comes."  Indeed!  With this sort of behavior, it is a wonder that he was published at all.
            He was the recipient of some notable prizes, and earned the respect of prominent writers, among them Samuel Beckett.  Cut-ups may not appeal to everyone but Johnson could write beautifully. If he lacked the sedate elegance of most modernists, it wasn't because he was full of himself or too delusional to know better.  Coe thinks so, but then he admits he doesn't understand his subject completely.  Johnson didn't want to be loved. He wanted respect.  His tribute to the late Sylvia Plath is most appropriate in this sense:  "Many misleading and unnecessary claims have been made for her work… which have made true assessment impossible for years yet; but the important thing is that she should be read."

Monday, September 18, 2017

Every Day I Write in Love's Book

Jackie Lopez



Samba queen,


It all took its toll on me.

I take care to not damage anyone’s reputation, but love harnessed me.

Love took me by my hair and led me to the dance floor.

I shook in perspiration and the thrill of it all.

I announced to all that love has come and found me.

I am the predecessor of my nonchalance with the wine makers.

I have no shame in what I share with God.

He tells me to point to the arrow of despondency.

I claim the Universe Supreme.

I count my many stars.

I have been anointed and disappointed to no end.

I dwell well in large spaces.

I know no other recourse but to be in love.

I have my mischievous ways.

Love is a power.

It is the power that fuels my misguidedness.

It is meaningful and ordinary.

It is magnificent and merciful.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Dreaming and Surviving

Jackie Lopez

I take my pen and dip it into my heart
because it is so hard to live without beauty.
Dreaming is surviving  because there is no other road for me.
I caught you with the poppies, and you caught me with the red shoes.
I dance to bring the sun up for the world.
I sing to wash dishes.
And write  poems for emancipations.
I think I have got a lot of menial work to do.
That is why I hide in my writing.
Thinking is freeing and so is love.
I have both in abundance and seek out olives.
Transcendence is just a pickle away.
Dreaming is surviving, that is why I think they have raised the minimum wage
and put out want-ads for poets.
Blue is the color of my skin.
Red is the color of my rose.
Soon I will speak to the melancholy who write prose

Friday, September 8, 2017

Three Poems by Catherine LaBella

For Sean, The Patron Saint of Heroin Addicts, Fire Victims and Blue-eyed Boys

Whenever I pray to you
I can see your death,
As if the bullets had cameras,
As if the eyes of the needles that pierced
Your veins were my eyes.

I can feel you inhale me,
Snorting me up with your last breath.
You lean back, allowing me to
Break you down, to poison you slowly.

Tucked away in a dark closet,
We slip off together, into those dreams
That I had as a girl (after you died).
I can count the moments you found me.

Whenever I am lost in nightmares
I pray to the boy I murdered,
And he comes to protect me.
He's forgiven everything from his old life.
He's forgotten everything
Except the ones he loved.

The Prophet from the City of Doves

Just who the hell are you anyway?
The wife of a man I love and hate
In equal measure, as I lay at his feet
The sacrifice of my childhood
A crumpled, bleeding carcass
Stoned by his followers, per instructions in Leviticus.

You were the interpreter, the Magdalene.
How did you become the whore?
How did your magician become a god?
Nobody understood your translation!

Now, every Christian woman
Thinks to herself “what if?” as she prays
For forgiveness from your imagined sins
Never daring to admit she knows she is not guilty.

Just what was all that about, anyway?
Your mission with your husband,
A man I love and hate in equal measure,
A man stripped of his humanity by the church he birthed.

But it’s easier than admitting…
I love and hate being a woman.
After all, I still have to live with myself.
I still have to live.
While he is long dead, forgotten by his followers.
May he return as a woman, or return not at all.

Dionysus Christ

You come through my backyard while I am meditating
In your leopard print skirt, long dark hair flowing, crowned with grape leaves.
You look like a fool and I’m glad no one else can see you.
You pluck untold thoughts from my medulla oblongata
And string them up on the wind.
The melody makes me weep
For I hear the voice of the Divine within me.

I saw the thorns under those leaves in your crown.
I’m not fooled anymore.
You’re the same guy who everyone in church
Said will save us.
If they saw you in that outfit
Maybe they’d decide to save themselves.

You’re the same guy who sits in the Sundance Tree
And watches men dance their prayers into reality.
Bleeding, sweating and singing,
The movement makes them weep,
As they feel the Divine within them walking.

You’re even the same guy I used to be scared of,
The one who sits in darkness,
Forever asking what if--
Missing your father, his beloved,
The memories make him weep,
As he thinks of the touch of the Divine upon him.

About the Author

Catherine LaBella is a shaman by trade and poet by circumstance. The majority of her teenage years, she was persecuted for her visionary abilities by her family, who are also deeply religious. She could not control what she was experiencing, and this scared many people, including Catherine. It also made her depressed to know that half of the world she saw was obscured from the view of her loved ones. Eventually, Catherine's parents took her to a doctor, who erroneously diagnosed her with schizophrenia. At 13, Catherine was institutionalized in a psychiatric facility for almost 7 years, where she spent much of that time in solitary confinement. To keep herself from actually going insane, she would sing show tunes. Catherine writes to express the experiences of years of solitude and her understanding of spirituality. She has written two chapbooks, Back to the Garden: Prayers and Love Letters of Persephone, and Bluebeard's Last Wife, and been published in Danse Macabre. To read more of her work and purchase her books, visit:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

TLY: Today, we are excited and pleased to have Charles Coe as our guest. Charles is a poet, jazz vocalist, and teacher. 

Thanks so much, Charles, for being here. You are an eclectic person and artist, both a writer and a jazz singer. Did you come from a family of musicians and storytellers?

CHARLES:  My mother and father dabbled in the arts when they were young. My father played clarinet with a little dance band in high school and my mother liked to sing and was always singing around the house. But by the time I came along neither one was really doing anything in the arts.

TLY: You grew up in Indiana but now live on the east coast. What took you from the mid-west to the north east?

CHARLES:  Wanderlust. I’d dropped out of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana to be lead singer for a rock band based in Nashville. We didn’t do original music; we were a cover band that played night clubs and road houses and such. After the band broke up I went back to Richmond for a few months but soon realized that hanging out in the town of the college you dropped out of was the Mother of Nowhere Scenes. I had some contacts in the New York metropolitan area so I spent a couple of years there, and then pretty much on a whim came to visit some folks in Boston with the idea of doing music. That was in ’75 and I’m still here!

TLY: Do you ever get back to Indiana?

CHARLES:  My parents and my sister have passed. My sister’s son Bryan lives there still with his girlfriend and their three young kids. I get back every year or so to hang out with them.

TLY: Your essay “Hill of Dreams” appears in the anthology Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of a Muse, you write about your trip to the Soviet Union in 1988. What muse do you think you were chasing when you signed on to the trip?

CHARLES:  That was before I shifted my focus from music to writing. In 1988 I was invited to be part of an artist exchange program that brought bring Soviet artists to the states one year and take American artists to the Soviet Union the next. I wound up singing jazz with pick-up bands in the three cities we visited: Moscow, Tbilisi in Georgia, and Baku in Azerbaijan— about 150 miles from the Iranian border.

TLY: In “Hill of Dreams,” you write about a sense of being “blind” or lost as a traveler, although you traveled with a guide and according to an itinerary. In what sense were you “blind?”

CHARLES: Blind in the sense that there were a lot of political undercurrents I wasn’t aware of at the time, largely conflict between ethnic populations that the Soviet government pretty much kept under control because people were more afraid of the government and the army than they hated each other. But a few years later as the union was collapsing and the economy started to get in really bad shape, a lot of violence erupted. I was also “blind” in the sense that anytime you visit a place for a week or so you only have a series of snapshots based on what you experienced and saw. Like the old story about the blind man trying to describe an elephant on the basis of what he can touch.

TLY: There’s a lot of humor and irony in your stories. “Moonglow,” which appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, comes to mind. It’s about a group of guys who can’t quite figure out the distance from earth to the moon, and are even less convinced when the narrator supplies them with solid data. Do you think much has changed since you wrote the story?

CHARLES:  That question makes me laugh…I’d sort of forgotten about that. That was back in the ‘70s when the guys were hanging out and having the kind of argument you could settle with a smart phone in about twenty seconds. What’s obviously different is that we now take for granted that about every piece of factual info you’d ever want is available instantly on that little chunk of plastic in your pocket. What’s obviously the same is that guys hanging around arguing about something innocuous are usually still a bunch of knuckleheads.

TLY: Your book, All Sins Forgiven, Poems for My Parents, has been described by reviewers as intimate, tender and wise. E. Ethelbert Ebert Miller has written about the collection, “Coe is a witness to black life and black love. His book will outlive much of the poetry being written today.” What are your thoughts?

CHARLES:  Of course, I’m delighted when an American master like Ethelbert says that about my work. But I’m most gratified when people who don’t necessarily read a lot of poetry send me a note or come up to me after a reading to say how a particular poem made them think about their own parents, or helped them understand or make peace with something about their own past.

TLY: “Fortress” is a poem about your mother, which is included in All Sins Forgiven. It is a beautiful, poignant piece of writing. Could you tell us about it?

CHARLES:  When I was a kid, the shades in our house were always drawn. I could never have a pet, I could never have friends over. Last year when I had a gig in Atlanta I stayed a couple of days with my best buddy from high school, whom I hadn’t seen or heard from for more than forty years. We’d reconnected when he sent me a friend request on Facebook. He’d read that poem, and when we were having coffee in his kitchen one morning he said that he’d always wondered why I’d never invited him over to my house; he thought my mother didn’t like him. But when he read the poem he understood for the first time that it was nothing personal.

I didn’t realize as a kid that my mother was mentally ill. I think that’s true for a lot of people; all the odd things your parents did…well…that’s just the way things were. That poem and a number of the other poems in “All Sins Forgiven” are a way of talking about this, I hope with sympathy and without judgment.

TLY: Roberto Mighty uses “Fortress” as the inspiration for his film Peach Pie. You’ve had many poems adapted to music. Was this the first time a poem has been adapted for film? What changes does the poem undergo in the movie that may have surprised you?

CHARLES:  Yes, this was my first piece of writing that’s been adapted for film, and it was quite an education for me. When Roberto put out a casting call he copied me on the announcement, and he described the character of my mother as a widowed working woman trying to raise a child alone. I emailed him back to say, “Actually, my father was still living and my mother never worked a day in her adult life.”

His response was basically, “Thanks for sharing.” Then I got it; once an artist in another medium decides to use your work as the basis for another project, unless your advice or insight is requested, your job is to keep you mouth shut and stay the hell out of the way. The filmmaker wasn’t “filming my poem”; he was using it as a frame of reference, a point of departure for his OWN vision. When I saw the film, which is an absolute stunner, there was a moment of grace that never actually occurred in my mother’s life but fit the film perfectly.

TLY: Charles, thank you so much for your time. It Is greatly appreciated. Your work is amazing, and TLY thinks the world of it. Before we let you go, could you tell us about any future projects that you might have simmering?

CHARLES:  For the last year I’ve been an Artist-in-Residence for the city of Boston collecting oral histories in the Mission Hill neighborhood. I’m wrapping that up in the next month or so. Then I’ll continue on a third volume of poetry in progress, and later this fall I’ll get to work on a prose memoir about my family that will focus on my sister Carol, who died of liver cancer five years ago. I play and teach the didgeridoo, and had planned to be in Australia last February studying with aboriginal musicians, but when I got the Boston residency I had to postpone that trip. But I’m looking to go maybe next March or April.


Poet and writer Charles Coe is author of two books of poetry: All Sins Forgiven: Poems for my Parents and Picnic on the Moon, both published by Leapfrog Press. He is author of Spin Cycles, a novella published by Gemma Media. His essay Hill of Dreams, about his travels through the Soviet Union in 1988, appears in Inspired Journeys: Travels with the Muse (University of Wisconsin Press 2016). Peach Pie, a short film by filmmaker Roberto Mighty based on his poem "Fortress," is currently showing in film festivals nationwide.

Charles is the winner of a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He was selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library as a “Boston Literary Light for 2014.” He in the second year of a three-year term as an Artist Fellow for the St. Botolph Club, an organization that supports arts and the humanities in Greater Boston. He has also been chosen as an Artist-in-Residence for the city of Boston for 2017. He taught poetry recently in Dingle, Ireland for the Bay Path University MFA study abroad program


For purchase All Sins Forgiven

For purchase Picnic on the Moon

For purchase Spin Cycles


By Catherine LaBella                  Tiffen Python I was a parent to felines for years before I had a human child. When my son ...