New Gary Metras poetry collection explores our place in natural world

  • “Captive in the Here”

  • “Friends of Dorothy”

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2018 12:47:25 PM


By Gary Metras

Cervená Barva Press

Easthampton’s first-ever poet laureate, Gary Metras, has been very productive this year, releasing two new collections of work: “White Storm” this spring, and now “Captive in the Here.”

His new collection, by Cervená Barva Press of Somerville, explores some of the themes that Metras, who’s published his work in many different journals over the years, has made his hallmarks: the natural world, for one, and his own place in it, as well as painful and more appealing memories of the past, all of it addressed in direct but elegant verse.

Metras, who runs a small press in his home that publishes the work of other poets, has become an enthusiastic fly fishermen in the last several years, and that experience serves as a framework for “Visions in June,” which captures the way the timeless rhythms of nature work on a person. The poem’s narrator, en route to a favorite stream, finds himself suddenly transported:

“I am tricked by the mountain laurel / in full bloom on the far bank. / From the high angle, its soft, pink blossoms / peek out the dense foliage / in the shape of a girl, poised to dive into the cold water. / Thoughts of trout and hand-tied flies dissolve. / Suddenly, I am a simple village boy / sneaking along the River Akheloos in Thessaly / with a man’s spear and dreaming / the glory of the hunt, when a nymph glides out / the river ...”

“Storm” is much more ominous, invoking images of carnage in the Middle East as the poem’s narrator feels rain and wind, the remnants of a hurricane, on his face: “You smell the anger in the air.” Far away, anger takes a more lethal form; he envisions a dead U.S. Marine lying next to a wrecked humvee, while a woman in a veil “walks by, flowers / bundled under one arm, the other blown away by storm.”

Elsewhere, Metras reflects on a variety of subjects, sometimes with droll humor, like the music of Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, still outselling that of his living peers. And in “JFK 1956,” he remembers how he and his father once met then-Senator John Kennedy, who shook his 9-year-old hand and told him he should be “a good son. Mind your father,” while his father told him ” ‘Someday that man / will be president. And h​​​​e shook / your hand. Remember that.’ ”

The poem’s coda: “When / I wake in the night years later, drunk still, / I finally know what the President said.”


By Dee Michel

Dark Ink Press

In his first book, “Friends of Dorothy,” Northampton author Dee Michel examines an issue that might not be known to the average movie fan, but is a big topic of conversation among gay men: why so many gay men and boys love the MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

Michel, who has a background in LGBT community organizing and a Ph.D. in library and information science, has been researching this issue for many years. For his book, he interviewed, via questionnaires, more than 100 men on their interest not just in “The Wizard of Oz,” but its cultural millieu, from Oz toys and games, to the career of Judy Garland, to the children’s books of L. Frank Baum, whose “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was the inspiration for the film.

Michel writes that gay men and boys can be attracted to the story for different reasons, including a simple longing to escape to a fantasy world in the face of ridicule or isolation they face in the real world because of their sexuality. But “Fantasy and make-believe can be positive, joyful experiences in their own right,” he notes, bringing “joy, silliness, whimsy, humor, wonder, sweetness, peace” and other positive feelings.

Michel also examines the history of the term “Friend of Dorothy” itself, which is understood to be both a coded reference to being gay as well as a direct reference to Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and has long been considered a gay icon. He notes that the American writer Dorothy Parker has also been suggested as a source of the term.

Interviewees for his book include Robert Sabuda, a creator of pop-up children’s books including “The Wizard of Oz,” and William Mann, a chronicler of gay Hollywood whose work includes the 2006 biography “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn.” “Friends of Dorothy,” according to author notes, also looks at “the long-taboo topic of gay boys, examining their feelings about escaping to Oz, the characters they identify with, and the psychological and spiritual uses they make of stories set in Oz.”


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