Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Linda Larson

Linda Larson

Linda Larson was born and educated in the Midwest and spent childhood vacations and more than a decade of her adult life in Madison County, Mississippi. While in Mississippi, she worked as a feature writer for The Capitol Reporter and The Jackson Advocate. Larson relocated to the Boston/ Cambridge area where she has lived and worked for the past twenty years.
For five years she served as editor of and contributor to Spare Change News, a homeless newspaper based in Cambridge.
Over the years Larson has struggled with mental illness, homelessness and alcohol addiction.
She has been recognized by both houses of the Massachusetts Legislature for her advocacy work on behalf of people with mental illnesses.
As Larson’s life has become more manageable, she has been able to realize her long-term goal in putting together a collection of poetry, Washing the Stones, published by Ibbetson Press, August, 2007. These poems go a long way towards recapturing her promise as a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars in the Seventies and as a teaching fellow in the creative writing doctoral program at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Movie Star

I met a movie star once at a party.
She was quiet, mousy, almost invisible,
not a magnet of attraction.
Yet on the silver screen  
her eyes were wild and her mouth
as luscious as a honeycomb.
Mother told me Bonnie and Clyde
were murdering thugs…
she ought to know,
she lived through the Depression
and read the newspapers of the day.
I miss her terribly.
There is a deep chill, a bone marrow of a chill, that sets in
when everyone you knew as a child is dead and lost forever.
Still the bright moving mosaic of the movies can
overpower one’s desolation and light fires in the cold
forgotten recesses of the human heart.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Admit One, An American Scrapbook by Martha Collins

Admit One, An American Scrapbook
by Martha Collins
© 2016 Martha Collins
University of Pittsburgh Press
Pittsburgh, PA
ISBN 13: 978-0-8229-6405-6
ISBN 10: 0-8229-6405-8
Sofbound, $15.95, 89 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Poetry is the poet’s version of what he or she observes or believes. There is “found” poetry which might be prose made into verse or roadside signs and billboards converted into poetic endeavors.  Within Collins’ book Admit One, poetry becomes a combination of many things: memoir, research, history, newspaper clippings, World Fair ads. It is a political statement and a revelatory expose of eugenics and racism.

There is a glorified view of America as a pure nation open to all as Emma Lazarus wrote in “The New Colossus”:

"Give me your tired, your poor,              
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Yet behind that “golden door” Ms. Collins shows the negative nature of “white” America and her exposure of 20th century thoughts and actions spares no one, not even her own grandfather who published and edited a newspaper which referred to others as “subjects of the Mikado” or as “…fierce Cassocks; sooty Nubians, jostled yellow Mongols, and picturesque Turks, Moors, and Sudanese, added rich color to the picture…”

On page 12, entitled “Otta Benga, Part One” Collins presents the following”

Samuel P. Verner
Acquisition List

One Pygmy Patriarch or chief
One adult woman, preferably his wife
One adult man, preferably his son
one adult woman, the wife of…
Two infants of women in the expedition
Four more Pygmies, preferably adult but young
including a priestess and a priest
or medicine doctors, preferably old

Collins continues showing more of Verner’s “acquisitions” based on superior whites displaying non-white subjects as part of an exhibition in which foreign acquisitions are reduced to exhibits at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Collins next directs her attention to American Indians and the purchase of various items produced by different Indian tribes citing:

a representation of … human development
from savagery…toward enlightenment
as accelerated by association and training

She scrutinizes the Philippine Reservation in which humans are described as “Negritos, Igorots, Moros, Visayans” and so forth, each having different attributes such as the “lowest, most warlike, more intelligent and highest.”

Otta Benga, the African Pigmy was presented by the New York Times as follows:

                        their heads are much alike

and zoo director Hornaday said:
Madison Grant gave full approval
            We are taking excellent care
                        He has one of the best rooms
                                    in the primate house

Her tale of Otta Benga is not a pretty one and in many ways a modified extension of how blacks were treated during the slavery years.

Collins points out anthropologists declared that within the white race were three distinct types: Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean and added race to eugenics “which was already leading to segregation and sterilization of the unfit…"

In 1911, Collins states the Iowa State Fair held its first Baby Health Contest where the questions was asked: You are raising better cattle…horses…hogs, why don’t you raise better babies? This resulted in babies being “measured for height, weight, anthropometic  traits and mental development, and advertised and displayed an an automobile in the Fair’s Parade, as Iowa’s Best Crop.”

Charles Davenport supervised the “Eugenics Record Office and helped train social workers to interview defective persons in mental institutions, hospitals for epileptics, prisons, orphanages, circus midways. In 1915, he called for the ultimate sterilization of the lowest ten percent of human stock.”

Collins notes that “Between 1910 and 1963, Iowa sterilized 1,910 persons.  In 1979 the Eugenics Board of Iowa was abolished.” 

Thorough in her research, Collins presents well documented facts. There is much historical racism she makes public again, such as two laws passed in Virginia including the state’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, the most strict anti-miscegenation law in the country.

Her book details the horrors of the possible connections between American racism and the rise of Hitler and antisemitism in Germany including the concept of the “master race” and Aryan supremacy.

This is a book of great merit, not only for its scholarly research but also for the revelations either not known or forgotten by Americans. During this political season in which race – racism – is a focal point not only for the candidates, but for law enforcement and communities at large, Collins reminds us of more than a century of interracial ills which may help explain our current societal struggles.   This is a highly recommended book for those familiar with the conflicts of American race relations and enlightening for those who are not.

Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva, 2016)
Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011)
King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Press, 2010)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies 7& 8

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sondheim Defines the Quality of Art in Huntington Theatre’s Production of “Sunday in the Park with George”

In Huntington Theatre’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” Adam Chanler-Berat as George Seurat exhibits laser-like focus inserting flecks of color in his painting. Photo Credit Paul Marotta

Sondheim Defines the Quality of Art in Huntington Theatres Production of Sunday in the Park with George
By Rosie Rosenzweig
Resident Scholar, Brandeis University Womens Studies Research Center
The Huntington theatre, recently saved from its demise, opens the 2016-2017 season with a smashing Broadway-quality production of Sondheims musical statement about the nature of art. The Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Sunday in the Park with George literally has the characters in GeorgeSeurat’s classic painting come to life and speak to the artist.  Artists interviewed by this reviewer confirm this process to be life-giving as they watch their own creations take on a life of their own.  The characters in this presentation constantly startle us by stepping out of the tableau, while the others remain frozen like statues, to comment on the theme, the actions, and their true feelings. 
 Lead actor Adam Chanler-Berat as George Seurat demonstrates this as he actually becomes the dog in this famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” set in 1884; in his laugh-out-loud performance, he barks, pants, and mimes the mannerisms of a dog presenting his stomach for a tummy rub.  In the second act set 100 years later, we see Georges great-grandson lost in the cloying courtship of sponsors for his trite light shows, and seeking inspiration for his next endeavor. Both scenes are full of humor, sight gags, and a serious search for true experience of Flow.
While the protagonist is ostensibly George Seurat, Sondheims themes are beyond just one artist: Essentially the grand character of art itself is the protagonist asking the age-old question: What exactly is true art?   Seurat states that visual art is design, composition, the balance of light and harmony.  Essentially, art brings order to chaos with harmony.
And this production demonstrates just that when the cacophony of simultaneous conversations and movement are directed by Seurat who moves characters and landscape into a lovely silent tableau with the just the right amount of light and color.  Every element joins into a silent ballet to a meditative serenity that is beautiful to behold. Act 2 enacts a different kind of ballad with the affected movements of the pretentious contemporary art scene and hilarious use of life-size cutouts.
 Chanler-Berat’s voice and mannerism demonstrate the artist’s intense autotelic process with brush strokes of Seurat’s Pointillism in counterpoint with his lover’s needs to Sondheim’s score which is actually Pointillism in music. Director Peter DuBois describes in more detail:
The music also tells the story; it is not just the lyrics. The melody, the rhythm, the tone are each a representation of the story he is unfolding before the audience. Sometimes the music creates a sense of irony between what is being sung and what is being felt. . .. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he is one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. We are exploring the Bach or Mozart of our time — fearless as a composer and a perfectionist.
The musical explores the experience of Seurat’s revolutionary contribution combining scientific visual principles with his focused use of thousands of dots, allowing the viewer to combine them and make art with his or her own eyes.  That Seurat’s mistress was named Dot, is another tongue-in-cheek element of that art.
Lead actress Jenni Barber exhibits attention-grabbing presence, aplomb and perfect pitch in her role as George’s lover that she sometimes steals the show with her caricatured stances, body language and facial expressions.  Her eye-balling, pouts, and expressions are reminiscent of Lucille Ball, the queen of daytime TV laughter.
This production is the second of an ambitious plan to stage all 15 Stephen Sondheim musicals.  Huntington artistic director Peter DuBois explains his dizzying and profound experience working on a musical about artistic creation: “it’s about the act of creation and about artistic obsession—the highs and lows!”  He embodied the best of his art from the ballet of movement within the tableaus to Seurat’s concentrated flecking of light to the affected postures of the contemporary art scene in Act Two, where the entire cast showcased its versatility in its range of accents and body language.
Local actress Bobbie Steinbach, who plays George’s mother with gusto and attitude says that: “You see her one way early on, and very differently later.” She interprets the piece as really being about, “Sondheim himself and his own unresolved relationship with his mother.” After his father abandoned him when he was 10, he was subject to psychological abuse from his mother. Subsequently, he refused to attend her 1992 funeral.  
“Sunday in the Park with George”will play through until -October. 16at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. For more information, call 617-266-0800; or go to