Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur
By Doug Holder
Big Table Publishing Company
Review by Dennis Daly
Doug Holder hears voices. Lots of them! He channels these voices through his maturely manufactured, yet wholly internalized, persona, a replica of his younger, offbeat self. Holder’s persona specializes in self-deprecation, perceptiveness, and smart-alecky truth-telling. Consider the catch word of his title – poseur. Make sure you give it the appropriate French pronunciation with an elitist air, and see how it colors everything that comes after. The inset photo of Holder on the cover of this chapbook only adds to the effect. Tellingly, the specter of life’s brutality always seems to hover in and over the fabric of each of these funky prose poems, teasing out some pretty unusual insights.
Reading through this sixteen part poetic memoir the cadence carries you forward down alleys, past vacant lots, into a psychiatric ward, and out into the mystery of Boston’s Chinatown. The pull of the words and phrasing reminds me a lot of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry—specifically Kaddish. Unlike Ginsberg, however, Holder does not constantly engage. He keeps a bit of distance between himself and his objects of interest until he doesn’t. Then he zeros in with a vengeance, albeit a funny vengeance.
Holder’s persona, just out of college, comes alive at 271 Newbury Street in a piece entitled Newbury Street. The poet initially gives the reader a grand tour of the vicinity and a mini job history before dropping names of famous acquaintances – an interesting narrative in itself, but Holder is just setting his audience up. The poet springs his trap,
… I had the same Chinese
laundry as talk radio host David Brudnoy (the Chinese man always
used to yell at me Why you lose ticket?) Brudnoy, his pockmarked and
intelligent face, with an ironic smile. I worked as a clerk at the corner of
Newbury and Beacon Street, Sunny Corner Farms. Members of the
Cars used to come in regularly—Rick so sky high, fingering a
Twinkie… also Gila Radner—a frenzy of frenzied hair, Howard
Zinn, tall, a radical patrician, and Barney Frank—rumpled and in a
rush—all on the night shift. And beers after work at Frankenstein’s. My
boss, a fat Irishman, called me a dirty kike regularly after he had a few…
nice to me the next day…
“Nice,” a civilized and suburban word fits so snugly in that last sentence.
In the same poem humor and irony help maintain distance and narrative speed, but does not negate a strong sense of tragedy and waste pulsing through the page. Everywhere food and rodents seem to share the down-but-not-quite-out-background of this artist-in-training. Holder concludes his Newbury Street narrative with a wink,
… Those nights writing in my
furnished room, the clank, clank of the radiator—thinking I was a
Beat poet or something. The mice scurried by—my father told me,
over the phone: Get the hell out of there! My mother joined in, That’s the
lifestyle they lead, Larry. Hordes of us made the pilgrimage to be with
the rodents and roaches… all-night poker games with the service
bartender who worked at the Hilton… the dishwashers from his shift,
Latinos with flashy gold-filling smiles. Bartending was not his life he
told us—he was going back to U/Mass Boston—for the past 5 years he
Innocence gets its due in Holder’s piece entitled, Combat Zone, Greyhound Bus Station, Boston Public Library. The poet gives his reader an affecting reaction after the real world sneers at him. Here’s the gist of it,
…I weaved my way to the carnality of the Combat Zone—
down LaGrange Street. First stopping by Hand the Hatter, an
avuncular old man—some fish—some fish out of order—water—in the
midst of this—presiding over blocked, buffed, and august fedoras—the
kind my father wore—his heels pounding the floors in Penn. Station.
And the whore in the bar said: Give this kid a glass of milk.And all my
street-wise posturing melted with these succinct words—not a
boilermaker but a milk boy.
Holder’s persona seeks to confirm his romantic notions of the artist’s world by escaping to filmdom in a meditation he calls Harvard Square Cinema. This is probably my favorite piece in the collection. Stream of consciousness rushes through this set of memories from Brando’s Last Tango in Paris, setting up the way the world should work, to Frank Cardullo, who owned and held court at the Wursthaus eatery, delivering corny puns filled with dead-end wisdom, to an insane Harvard University exile, who counsels his fellow comrades, presumably directing their financially naïve futures. Holder’s persona here introduces a couple of his old pals,
…The Harvard refugees at the au Bon pain.
Expelled from the academy—for some reason or another. Gravitated
like moths around the light of Harvard Yard. Sat with my friend
Byron, trust-fund man, graduate of the wards of McLean—he
dabbled in Native American crafts—liked to ogle the young girls
passing by, called the old ladies trouts. George—a scavenger of scraps
of newspapers, and gossip of the street—full of news of the supposed
scandals at Harvard—joined us, and let us in on the insane, inside
Most modern practitioners of “beat” style and themes are pale imitations of the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Weiners, et al. Holder delivers more. He brings with him his own value added innovations to the genre, most singularly his humor.
In the very last line of his very last piece in this collection, Holder stands on a rain-slicked street in Chinatown waiting for a dramatic introduction in Twilight Zone fashion. I hope this signals that another installment of these “poseur” poems will follow in short order. Very short order.
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Dennis Daly lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Joanne. They have four adult children. He is a graduate of Boston College and has an MA in English Literature from Northeastern University. Daly worked at General Electric for ten years. He edited and publishedThe Union Activist newsletter and the North Shore Union Leader, a labor newspaper. He also was the managing editor of the Electrical Union News, the official news organ of Local 201 IUE. He also was a regular contributor to The Salem News., He was elected to a leadership position of the 9000 member IUE union. Later he worked as a Department Head in the City Of Salem. He has been published in many poetry journals and magazines and nominated for Pushcart prizes in 2013 and 2014. He is included in a chapbook, published by Northeastern University Press, with two other poets, Robert deYoung and Patrick Duddy. . His second book, a verse translation of Sophocles’ Ajax, was published by Wilderness House Press in August, 2012.
*first published at The Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene