Book Review

A Year on the Avenue
by the Athens Avenue Poetry Circle

When we were asked to review this anthology from an on-line poetry workshop we were skeptical. After all, this was a book of printed poetry developed, and in most cases first published, on the electronic page. So why publish a book? Yet when we read this anthology of seven poets and learned some of the story of this poetry and its electronic milieu, we were hooked.

Perhaps for the first time, an anthology of poetry provides voice to a new culture: the digital art colony. Unlike other anthologies, this one is a collaborative effort of the artists who wrote, reviewed and edited together, or at least composed their works based on the interaction of one with the others. We sensed a mutual influence reminiscent of the art colonies in Paris, New York, or along the Connecticut River at the turn of the century. And we see evidence of this in the poems themselves.

A number of the poems are dedicated to another artist in the circle. For example, Ms. Leavitt's The Word Shark, and Mr. Kloppenborg's Chevalier. Others are suggestively influenced by an encounter with other members or friends like Mr. Tanoury's For Paul, Ms. Dowell's Leaving New York, and Ms. Gonzalez's Two Poets Meeting. Were we to spend more time with these words we would no doubt uncover influences in subject matter, style, words and images. That the encounter of poets itself produces poetry mirrors our own experience of art arousing art.

This is the new age art colony, living in the cyber village of the Internet. It did not happen in the bars of Paris, the roundtable at the Algonquin, or at Florence Griswold's house in Old Lyme Connecticut, but rather in the "lifeless" atmosphere of the Web. Yet the Web is no less a place where artists meet, converse and share their work-- encouraging each other as surely as pointing to the light as it falls across a salt marsh and saying with an arm outstretched, "Look!" This is the new world of working together while living in different parts of the world.

And how it contrasts with the elitist and insular world of the poetry of academia! By definition, Athens Avenue is an "open window" colony of artists. On the Internet, we are invited to look over the shoulders of these working artists as they compose and show their word canvases to one another, asking for comment and critique. As such, this is art that is, by definition "accessible." And we are asked through the collaborative efforts of these artists to also participate. In the cyber village poetry no longer needs to remain the "lonely art" of the solo writer.

The poets of Athens Avenue are not among the lists of renowned writers. Theirs is the work of people you are likely to meet at the office, at church and synagogue, or across a table with a cup of herbal tea. When we read of their experiences and encounters in their poetry, we are transported into our own memories. While the style and quality of the individual pieces vary, this is not the poetry of a grammar school or greeting cards. These are words that are swollen ripe with the sweet juice of imagery and pulp of meaning.

We quickly formed a list of favorite writers and poems, and with great difficulty winnowed these down to a reasonable number that we are publishing in this issue of The Fairfield Review. We would be proud to publish many more, with a few poems worthy of an issue to themselves. It is so enriching to see language soar and images crisp to focus as in these sculptured words.

The poems by Karen Dowell were especially engaging. Her Fogbound and English as a Second Language are worth the price of the book alone. Add to that Doug Tanoury's Latin Hymns and St. Joseph's and the book becomes mandatory. We were also quite fond of Paul Kloppenberg's shorter pieces, such as God, Sex and 6 Words. His density-in-brevity, and the way he plays with syllables on the palate, had us savoring the nuances. For example, his eyes of smoke is breathtaking, and one of the best pieces we have ever read on the Holocaust. We would like to see his shorter work influence his longer pieces more. Tessa Gonzalez's Shades and Two Poets Meeting caught our eye, as did Linda Leavitt's Shoelace, a tender poem of mother and child. However, Tessa's and Linda's pieces unfortunately represent the lighter or more uneven side of the anthology. We have already expressed our pleasure with David Hunter Sutherland's Morpheme, which we published in our Spring 1997 issue. We like the way David plays with the complexity of words, although he sometimes lost us among the many syllables which, at times, seem to be set up as picket fences adorning a garden of wildflowers grown out of control. We would like to see him explore the other side of the density of language: its simplicity. Our only difficulty was connecting with the poems of Mike Timonin, whose work is interesting but lacks the maturity of the others. Perhaps this is due to a generation gap of unshared experience. We recommend he consider more universal experiences and, as we see glimmers in this work, we offer words of encouragement going forward.

In short, the story of Athens Avenue may be the story for the creative arts at the turn of the century. It harkens back to the coffee houses of the beat poetry movement, where the electronic impulses of the World Wide Web are the jazz accompaniment to the written word. But it differs in that this new world is in a very real sense timeless. There are no appointed hours, no limitation to experience the artists work only as spoken event. This is access into the creative realm as never before.

Why an anthology of poems arising from the collective efforts of these writers of the digital colony? Simply that the work shows the benefits of collaboration and begs to be shared with a wider audience, for which print is still king. This anthology is not an homogenization or distillation to a particular genre, but rather a brightening of each of the writers as he or she encounters the others-- as stones put in a tumbler all come out polished precisely because of their "collisions" with one another. Each of these poems shines with the sparkle of having been worked on, examined by, and compared with the works of the other Athens Avenue writers. Perhaps the greatest compliment we could pay these new authors is to say that we would be honored to join their colony and live among them. This, then, is the invitation to the artist at the turn of the new century: come join the dialogue, wherever you may be; you can connect with us any place and any time. And the art will shine.

Ed Happ
Janet Granger
Editors, The Fairfield Review

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