Saturday, May 30, 2015

Book Review: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur 1974 to 1983. By Doug Holder

Book Review: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur 1974 to 1983. By Doug Holder ( Big Table Books) $12

  Review by Ed Meek

Doug Holder is a force in Somerville. His press, Ibbetson Street, publishes local poets. He interviews writers and artists on his blog and on SCAT—the local television station. He is the Arts Editor for The Somerville News where he introduces and publishes a poem each week, and he is the founder of Bagel Bards, a group of poets who meet Saturday mornings in Davis Square at Au Bon Pain. He teaches writing at Endicott and Bunker Hill Community College and still finds time to dedicate to his first love: writing. It’s kind of surprising how many people actually still write poetry in our digital age surrounded as we are with entertainment, sports, movies, television, music and video games. As one of those people, I was excited to hear that Doug Holder had published a short memoir in the form of prose poems with Big Table Publishing Company, a new local press whose Acquisitions Editor Robin Stratton is another force in the local writing community.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Poseur covers the years of 1974-1983 when Doug Holder had just graduated from college. As a contemporary of Holder, I know those years in the mid-seventies were hard times to find jobs. The market was flooded with baby boomers and many of us found ourselves using our college degrees to tend bar or like Holder, flip burgers behind the counter as a short order cook, barely getting by. But in those days, you could find a room for $38 per week on Newbury Street! There he’d run into luminaries like the great Richard Yates, author of Revolutionary Road, or the young, but just as rumpled, Barney Frank. 

Though his parents told him to “Get the hell out of there!” Lucky for us, Holder stuck around and eventually found a job at McLean Hospital, whose famous “guests” included James Taylor, David Foster Wallace and Sylvia Plath. Famous people are not the focus of Holder’s book though. He’s more likely to zero in on details. “The croissants from the Savory Bakery in Audubon Circle were flaky concessions, the dark beers and the dark cavernous bar at Browns, my balm. And the elevated tracks on Harrison Avenue—elevated me—I was a transcendent blur cross-town.” Whether you’d like insight into what it was like in Boston back then or you’re someone who appreciates good writing, you might want to pick up a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Poseur by Doug Holder

---- Ed Meek  is the winner of the 2006 Blue Light Book Award~~~~ Ed Meek has published poetry, fiction and articles in The Paris Review, Yankee, North Dakota Quarterly, Cream City Review, The North American Review, The Boston Globe, etc. His most recent poetry collection is Spy Pond  (Prolific Press)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Somerville Writer Sarah Ignatius: Remembering the Armenian Genocide.

Somerville Writer Sarah Ignatius: Remembering the Armenian Genocide.
By Doug Holder

Somerville’s Sarah Ignatius met me on a warm spring morning, at my unofficial office in the backroom of the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square. Ignatius is the Executive Director of the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project in Boston, and also a Somerville Arts Council Grant Fellow, who presented a talk and visual presentation at the Somerville Public Library entitled: “ Remembering 1915: The 100-Year Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.” She is also the author of a young adult (not yet published) novel “The Devil’s Kaleidoscope.”  The novel concerns a 14 year old Armenian boy caught up in the genocide.

Ignatius has lived in a carriage house in the Union Square section of Somerville since 1992. She was born in Boston, but has lived in many other places. She told me: “I love Somerville—the community events—the special dynamic that the city offers. Some of the homes here are so beautiful—and I love the public spaces.”

Ignatius, in her role of the Executive Director of the Immigration Representation Project helps immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere to achieve asylum in this country. She claims she has a 90% success rate. Prominent law firms like Ropes&Gray and others send their young lawyers to train at the project, and in turn they provide valuable services for asylum-seekers.

The Armenian Genocide, Ignatius’ focus as of late, occurred in 1915 when 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks. Ignatius told me that she was delighted with the Pope’s decision to call the Armenian Holocaust a “genocide;” a word that has been quite controversial as of late. Ignatius’ presentation at the Somerville Public Library consisted of a Power Point presentation, along with a slideshow—which is meant for the Armenian and non-Armenian.

Ignatius’ young adult novel “The Devil’s Kaleidoscope”, has as a 14 year old boy as the protagonist, who is caught up in the genocide. According to Ignatius:  “The book does not focus on violence, and is geared to promote peace in a world that is often filled with blood lust.” Ignatius said she had a great deal of help with her book from teachers at Grub Street in Boston. And indeed, Ignatius has another novel in the works that concerns two girls, 18 years old, Berkeley, the 70s—well you get the picture.

Ignatius wished me a quick goodbye, because like most of us in the Paris of New England, we always have a lot to do, people to meet, and many miles to go before we sleep.

Monday, May 25, 2015

ESTHER HANIG: The New Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets talks about changing the face of Union Square

Esther Hanig

ESTHER HANIG: The New Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets talks about changing the face of Union Square

By Doug Holder

I met Esther Hanig, the new Executive Director of Union Square Main Streets at my usual comfortable perch at the Bloc11 Café in Union Square, Somerville. As head of Main Streets, Hanig will oversee the continued advocacy and promotion of the Union Square business district and neighborhood. The organization’s mission is to preserve the vibrancy of Union Square and promote dialogue between business owners, landlords and residents.

Although Hanig is from Cambridge, she told me she has a lot of friends in Somerville, and loves the vibe in the community. She also loves the diversity of the neighborhood, and hopes the Square will maintain its feel of a Jane Jacob’s- like urban village.

Hanig brings a wealth of experience to her new position. She was the deputy director of the Massachusetts Non-Profit Network, a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee in Cambridge, and Executive Director of the Allston Brighton Healthy Boston Coalition, and the list goes on.

When I asked Hanig about gentrification, and how she would help maintain “diversity,” when history has clearly shown that gentrification brings big rent increases, displacement of mom and pop and their stores, as well as low and moderate income tenants, and artists—the very people who created this vibe that has made it so attractive to developers, Hanig said, “There are no simple answers.” Hanig rattled off the standard talk of inclusionary zones, and other zoning to protect innovative venues like the Artisan's Asylum, and other  artist  enclaves that dot the Square. There was talk of tax incentives for landlords to keep the rents down for merchants, efforts for businesses to cross market and cross sell, and a strong effort to bring outsiders to the Square to shop, etc…

 According to Hanig, the new demographic in Union Square are the millennials, and to a great extent these new initiatives, this new “vision” will be geared to them in the form of hip new venues like Union Square Donuts, tony shops, cutting-edge eateries, etc…  with international cuisine, all this altering the face of the 'Ville.

Hanig talked about the upcoming FLUFF festival that Union Square Main Streets promotes, as well as SNAP, a program that helps folks on food stamps get more for their buck at the farmer’s market-- if this population even exists here in years to come.

Hanig is early in her tenure, and she is still in the seminal stages in the process of figuring out her game plan—a plan that many of us await with hope and not a little anxiety—here—in the—Paris of New England.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Somerville’s Actor ‘s Shakespeare Project: Henry the Vl, Part 2

Somerville’s Actor ‘s Shakespeare Project: Henry the Vl, Part 2
Review by Doug Holder

After having a beer at my old haunt Jacob Wirth in the theatre district of Boston, I chased it down with excellent seafood Chou Fun at some Vietnamese joint on the edge of Chinatown. But I still had a hunger, and that was for theatre. So with my press ticket in hand I walked down Washington Street to Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre to take in a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry Vl, Part 2, as presented by Somerville’s Actor’s Shakespeare Project. The first review I got of the play was by an earnest young usher by the name of Xavier Harvey who assured me that the play was well-worth my while. He opined “It starts out slow, but it really gets going.”   Harvey said he hopes to be on stage someday and I think he may well—or at the very least he will be a critic.

The play is directed by Tina Packer, a world class director and interpreter of the Bard’s work. Henry V, Part 2, is the middle of a trilogy of Henry plays written by a very young Shakespeare. It concerns the Earl of Suffolk (played by Craig Mathers) and his calculated power play in the court of the young and untried King Henry Vl ( well-played by Jesse Hinson).  Suffolk hooks up Henry with a French Princess, Margaret  (played by Jennie Israel), who looks old enough to be Henry’s mother. The other feral nobles of Henry’s court don’t like this, and a bloody power play ensues. Henry, who in this production resembles a long blonde-haired hippy, seems to have an airhead affect at first, as if he had too much of the royal Ganga.  But throughout, he is a blonde fame to the darkness displayed by many of the sharks in his court.

The play is a real probe into the dark night of the soul, as the players on stage jockey for power and position. The greed evoked by the accomplished actors in this production is opened like a fresh, flesh wound. The set is simple but evocative. It lets the darkness unfold—punctuated by hopeful light that breaks through the slats.

Since my brother Donald Holder is a multi-Tony Award winning lighting designer—I always look at the lighting in a play.   Lighting designer Daniel H. Jentzen illuminates the tension, isolates the players in their private moments of sorrow with the unforgiving spotlight, and frames much of the play dramatically.

Many of the actors here play multiple roles. Allyn Burrows, the artistic director of the company, plays Gloucester, an uncle and protector of Henry. He gives the character gravitas and a sense of decency amidst this ship of fools. Steven Barkhimer, with is rubbery face and his Vaudevillian missteps, provides a great deal of comic relief in many of the roles he plays. There are many accomplished performances in this winning production.

Story & Luck: Last Poems W.E. Butts

Story & Luck: Last Poems
W.E. Butts
Easthampton, Mass.: Adastra Press, 2015
Reviewed by David P. Miller

This elegantly produced letterpress chapbook contains some of the final poems of the late W.E. Butts (1944-2013), who, among his many accomplishments, was New Hampshire Poet Laureate from 2009 until his death. As his wife, the poet S Stephanie, explains, Butts was at work on two manuscripts at the time, from which the eleven poems in Story & Luck are drawn.

The poetry of W.E. Butts was entirely new to me, and it seemed inappropriate to launch into a review of this slim posthumous volume without reading more of his work. Cathedral of Nervous Horses (Hobblebush Books, 2012), a “new and selected” volume, is the last of his five full-length books. Although this is not a review of the latter book, I recommend it to the reader, in addition to this Adastra Press publication. It provides a broad introduction to Mr. Butts’ sensibility and voice. I am taken in particular by his ability to write about the events of his own life and daily circumstances in a way that makes them seem both generously familiar and freshly understood.

Of the three brief stanzas of “Primary,” the first poem here, the outer two are rooted in elemental winter imagery: snow and ice, granite, birds: “Wrens perch on bare branches / or swoop for suet. We all have needs.” Near the end, “Something certain as granite / must hold us.” As simple as that statement is, it’s ambiguous as well: is the “must” an imperative or a wish? This is a question because, in the middle stanza, the language becomes more abstract, comparatively unrooted – in consequence of the cyclical invasion of the New Hampshire presidential primaries:

The politicians gone, again we’re back
in a state of grace. Our nominated differences
and collective selves reside in places lit
by what we’ve come to believe:

A stanza break follows the colon: does this lead in to the third stanza’s affirmation about the certainty of granite, or does the blank line following signal the absence of what is believed in? Possibly both, just as the title incorporates its own double meaning.

“In the Hands of a Graveyard Angel” is a masterful work of a single, albeit complex, sentence. It begins by describing “A gift from my daughter, this sepia photograph / of a graveyard angel”, and the daughter’s weekly visits to her mother’s grave. With a sentence’s concentration, the image evokes “years of failed marriage, foolishness and youth” – perhaps the poet’s own, as the photograph also invokes “a shadow of myself reflected in its atmospheric light.” An epigraph from Blake suggests that the “World of Mortality” is a shadow of the “Imagination”. And so, this photograph is a work of shadows, an image of the shadow of this poet’s own interiority.

In “Statue of Liberty with a Ruined Face,” a vandalized municipal Statue of Liberty reproduction provides the central image of a scene of both municipal decay and gender violence:

Now, consider the school, the factory closed,
the derelict shops.
Adolescent boys
cracked her cheek, gouged her eye,
drunk and climbing to perch on her shoulder,
senseless and pecking,
smashing her face with hammer and rock.

Even the “unwounded side” of the statue shows “hurt done by the weather.” Butts contrasts this present picture with his memory, from the age of four, of ascending “the real her, up the winding stairs.” At the top, looking out on to New York Harbor, “I wondered where the world was.” This understated experience of the sublime contrasts achingly with the now-normative brutality of a nation conditioned to expect less of itself in every respect except warmongering. I am not suggesting that this is an intentionally political poem, but the parable is hard to avoid.

The final poem in this set, “James Wright’s Horses”, is dated January 7, 2013, about two months before the poet’s death. With his characteristic elegant concentration, he evokes the poignant contrast between being lost or trapped in “those small spaces / we sometimes live in: / prognosis, cancer, treatment, memory loss” and the words that transport us from those narrow places. Citing Wright’s poem, “A Blessing” (“Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom”),  Butts concludes “There are certain words / that will transport us / to that other, flowering self” - even when looking point-blank in the face of mortality.

I am grateful for the opportunity to write about this small volume. The act of reviewing can be a haphazard business, depending partly on where you happen to be when the review copies appear and who gets there ahead of you. Having been introduced to the work of W.E. Butts, I encourage you not only to find a copy of Story & Luck but to seek out the greater body of his work. In “Some Small Blessing,” he speaks of a composer friend who values music as “a composition of activity, / an alchemy, an arrangement of the unfamiliar, / anything there is we’re able to feel, a living / organism then.” This seems to say something also about W.E. Butts’ poetry in general: the simultaneity of “the unfamiliar” with “anything there is we’re able to feel” and the shifting between them.

David P. Miller’s chapbook, The Afterimages, was published in 2014 by Červená Barva Press. His poems have appeared in Meat for Tea, Ibbetson Street, Painters and Poets, Wilderness House Literary Review, Oddball Magazine, Incessant Pipe, Muddy River Poetry Review, Stone Soup Presents Fresh Broth, and the 2014 Bagel Bards Anthology, among others. Work is forthcoming in The Fox Chase Review. His poem “Adagio on Vinyl” will appear in the 2015 volume of Best Indie Lit New England.