Book Bag: ‘Googootz and Other Poems’ by Howard Faerstein; “Someone Else’s Shows’ by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 11/9/2018 8:52:24 AM

by Steve Pfarrer


By Howard Faerstein

Press 53

“Googootz” is an Italian-American term that refers to a large, squash-like vegetable, cucuzza, but it has a more informal meaning as a term of affection. In the last episode of “The Sopranos,” for instance, Tony Soprano referred to his son, A.J., as “googootz.”

In Howard Faerstein’s case, this charming sounding word is the title poem of his new collection, “Googootz and Other Poems,” by Press 53 in North Carolina. And from food to traveling to hiking in the U.S. West, Faerstein, explores a number of subjects in his work, in a freewheeling style that can invoke hyperbole, humor and occasionally a bit of the surreal; he also offers a number of prose poems.

Faerstein, of Florence, has published poetry in different journals over the years but didn’t release his first collection, “Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn,” until 2013. In an interview at that time with the Gazette, he noted that inspiration for his work came from a lot of places, but often in very fragmentary form. 

“I look at poetry as an assemblage,” he said. “I’m doing carpentry — I’m taking separate pieces and building something whole. One of my favorite writers, Gabriel García Márquez, once said, ‘All literature is carpentry,’ and I think that’s right.”

In one of his new poems, “The Winter of 01,” Faerstein recalls growing up in New York City and how his father was “obsessed with cleaning / the avenues of dirt and snow, / hated going to movies / but loved TV wrestling.” He wonders where his father might be now and imagines they could be together again, this time in western Massachusetts.

“Come on back, George. / We’ll shovel the Mass Pike to Lee. / I’ll buy a danish. We’ll play rummy. / Then, for surely it will continue to snow, / we could shovel out the dump, / the woods in back, / the whole of Berkshire County.”

Faerstein also offers some testimonials to the natural world and the changing seasons, such as “The Bears of Florence, Massachusetts,” in which “sow and boar lumber up the driveway/ with their undulating hugeness, / small eyes, round ears, / short tails, / back scratch against hemlock, / leave trace of cinnamon hair.”

And in poems such a “Reportage—Summer 2016,” he examines the violence that’s a constant backdrop to life in America and other parts of the world, from mass shootings to terrorist bombings to police shootings of unarmed black men — and some reprisal shootings of police.

Faerstein sums up this grim state of affairs in the poem’s concluding lines: “If you speak of violence / you first must wrap / gauze around the whole / bloody planet.”

Howard Fearstein will read from his new poetry collection on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton.



By Ellen Wittlinger


Talk about a chaotic household. Twelve-year-old Izzy Shepherd is living alone with her mother after her parents divorce and her father remarries. But then Izzy’s 10-year-old cousin, Oliver, and his dad move in with them after Oliver’s mother commits suicide. On top of that, the thuggish Ben Gustino — he has tattoos! —  the 16-year-old son of Izzy’s mother’s boyfriend, also comes to stay for a bit because of a family emergency.

Izzy, the narrator of Ellen Wittlinger’s newest middle-grade novel, “Someone Else’s Shoes,” wants to be a standup comedian when’s she older. But given what’s happening at home, she doesn’t seem to have much to laugh about. And her two best friends, Pauline and Cookie, seem much more interested in clothes and boys than in understanding what she’s going through.

“Sometimes you don’t seem like the person you used to be, Izzy,” says Pauline. “You’re always mad at somebody.”

Wittlinger, who lives in Haydenville, turns her new story into something of an adventure as well as a character study. When Oliver’s distraught father, Henderson, suddenly disappears, Izzy, Oliver and Ben — up to that point not exactly getting along — hatch a plan to track him down in the place Oliver suspects he’s gone to. Their unauthorized road trip brings Izzy in particular to a better understanding of herself and of her companions.

In fact, she discovers she and Ben, also the product of a broken marriage, have more in common than she might have originally thought when Ben puts his age in perspective: He says he’s “sixteen in human years. But a lot older in divorced-parent years.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at





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