Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Somerville Artist Lois Fiore Speaks of ' Peace Cutting Through Turmoil'

Somerville Artist Lois Fiore Speaks of ' Peace Cutting Through Turmoil'

by Doug Holder

I met Lois Fiore at the Brickbottom Artist Building on the outskirts of Union Square. Fiore is a diminutive woman, who sports large glasses, and has the appearance of a retired academic. In fact, Fiore did work for the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, in the roles of assistant to the curator, and assistant editor. Fiore wanted to talk about an exhibit she curated and participated in at the Brickbottom Gallery titled: “ “Peace: Cutting Through the Turmoil.”

The artists' work that were displayed at this setting were by Cynthia Staples ( I published her poetry in The Somerville Times), Cedric Harper, Riki Moss, and Byrnmore Williams. Fiore told me that she was inspired to curate this collection just before Trump's election. She intuitively knew that he would win—despite protests from her friends. She wanted to explore how people pass through pain into peace. Fiore said, “ The whole point of the show is to move forward in spite of all this pain we are experiencing.”

And after Fiore showed me around the exhibit—I had the distinct impression that these talented artists indeed expressed this vividly through their work. There was photography, painting, video—all contributing to what Fiore characterizes as an “interactive show.” In a film produced by Brynmore Williams, he has dancer Catherine Minsky—a breast cancer survivor, dance with  exposed breasts-and there is a painting on the space of the absent breast that was surgically removed. Cynthia Staples reproduced a trough that pre -Civil War slaves ate from—complete with a large set of mussel shells they used as eating utensils. Her visual is enhanced by her moving text. Artist Riki Moss had a series of otherworldly creatures created from found objects. Fiore told me that they represented displaced immigrants. And in their distorted faces I could see a glint of hope.

Fiore, an accomplished artist in her own right, has several pieces at the gallery. The two that struck me were depictions of what were probably third world women. They were painted with vivid orange hues. Their expressions capture the mission statement of the exhibit. Their lips, their mournful, expressive eyes—say it all.

Fiore is not formally trained as an artist, but she has taken courses at the Cambridge Adult Education Center, the Art Institute in Boston, and elsewhere.

Fiore said she loves the vibes at the Brickbottom. She loves that she is able to live with people of her own sensibility. People who understand the creative ups and downs that an artist goes through. She continues to work on her abstracts and portraits. And we are looking to hear more stories from her—here--in the Paris of New England.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Love Letters to the World Meia Geddes

Poet Meia Geddes

Love Letters to the World (Poetose Press, 2016) by Meia Geddes Review by George Genovese

In this work, those essentially human qualities, thinking and feeling, are cast in such elusively supple and subtle language, at once clear and unpretentious, and yet nuanced and rich in refraction, that what appears translucently simple and immediately appropriable suddenly diffuses into shades of signification for which one is never quite prepared.

The missive passages—I prefer to think of them as poems given the lyrical and often metaphorical nature of the work—are literally addressed to the world and this, a poetic device of itself, allows a multifarious connotative layering to take place between the immediate concerns of the narrator in each letter and her elusive addressee. One often forgets this fact and tends to slip into reading what is being said as if it were the internal voice of a self-reflecting narrator or, especially when referencing the second person, a voice specifically addressing an unidentified human auditor, or the reader or, again, a voice perhaps addressing the persons, things or events that are spoken of or encountered in each letter until one is startlingly reminded that no, it is the world that—or should I say whom?—is being spoken to; which is not to say that the alternative forms of address above and their potential referents are therefore excluded from the fabric of the work for, in some ways, they are obliquely implied even if only as extra-textual ‘others’ inasmuch as they too could be nothing other than manifestations of the way the world, worldliness, embraces a scope of relational possibilities that need not entail an absolute displacement of any one of them. This approach opens up a vista of possibilities rich in ambiguity which Geddes uses to deft effect and the momentary vertigo at times elicited when one recollects the literal addressee does figuratively echo one of the themes of the work—an imposed recognition of return to what is essential to oneself, one’s world or worldly life; for, the world turns and returns to any arbitrary point of departure one might elect as a starting point in its rotation, does it not?

A case in point is the following excerpt. (I will keep the letter format despite elisions.) The narrator is in a library and an unknown girl suddenly hugs and picks her up, spinning her around exuberantly:

My dear world,

…My toes travelled about, a glorious few inches above the ground.
I squealed and knew helplessness and delight for several seconds.
When I stood upright, I expressed my appreciation, donned my decade
or two with a smile. I wonder, when we spin, if it is practice for identifying
the essential. You must know a thing or two about that, my dear.

With love,


There are a number of thematic connotations encoded in the manner of the use of the word ‘spin’ in the sense of sudden disorientation, unexpected displacement etc. and its coupling with ‘the essential’ in the penultimate line above more easily identifiable in other letters than here, some of which are: one’s foreignness and sense of displacement, ethnically and existentially; the mystery of one’s origin; the striving of an obscure identity—the stranger in oneself—to reconcile its world, itself, in and through its otherness; as there are notions of loss, inadequacy and so on which are, at times, tinged with an anxiety mutely haunting the apparently unruffled composure of the enunciating text.

Whilst such connotations, and many others, may not be immediately evident in the excerpt above, that passage nonetheless does something which magically happens many times in this work in relation to those themes explored in other letters; it takes a disorientating moment and aligns it with a notion of meaningful reception or discovery in which one relocates one’s placement in one’s world. In this case it is aptly captured by locating one’s place with what is ‘the essential’ to it, and which happens to be intrinsic to the world itself—movement and cyclic progression. In the narrator’s acceptance and reciprocation of the unknown girl’s hug and the ensuing rotation in which she openly responds to the world, and in effect adaptively identifies herself with the nature of her addressee, a world of contingency that is constantly full of surprises and also somewhat involved in spinning, one sees not only an example of essential return to one’s world that could be characterized as a kind of vertiginous bliss but also something of the delightfully insightful and, in this case, wry humor strewn throughout the work.

A number of letters refer to adoption, mostly indirectly, and interface with the related notions of placement and displacement for, as the narrator tells us, our subject was discovered abandoned in China and later adopted by an American woman, and it is the bare knowledge of this personal past, with no objective means of determining the reason for its occurrence or known origin of her native identity to which she can appeal for answers, that constitutes one of the conditions of the mysterious background informing many of the varied and engaging existential, aesthetic and quietly philosophical meditations which ensue.

Fundamental to these meditations is an understanding of language, and its alignment to the world, as the site in which the interplay of identity and difference and familiarity and foreignness can take place. Language becomes somewhat like a prism through whose flickering facets the world reveals a shifting patterning of transient luminosity, chromatic differentiation and gradated continuity.

Something of this play is conceived of as the fluidity of worldly moments, the movement possible in and of a moment in which apparent dichotomies such as placement and displacement can invert their positions, softening as absolutes, and blur into something more expansive. But even here, this appeal to language as the potential vehicle through which the world speaks and might be heard, and whose meaning one can receive, is never simplistic or offered as a final resolution. Ultimately there is the recognition that the world has a dimension of wordlessness, irreducible mystery, to which language can only approach with a certain shy circumspection and which it cannot fully appropriate, or, alternatively, that language itself, the text-world, brings as an irreducible foreignness with it in its engagement with that ‘other’ wordless world.

Something of the concerns above might be no better expressed than in the following excerpts from one of the letters:

My dear world,

Maybe I am indebted to the mystery I come from. Maybe I became
acquainted with you, world, a little sooner than some…

…I came, at a young age, to an understanding that what may seem
like abandonment can be an act of love. Of other things, too, but maybe
when having a child is a crime, when one must leave what came of her
behind, it is the ultimate test of love. I have realized that leaving things
can work out in ways one would not realize, when one acts aligned with
what one feels is right even when it seems all too wrong. Dear world, please
know she left me in sunshine.

With love,


The statement about the criminality of having a child alludes, one assumes, to the ‘one child policy’ in China whose institution and enforcement resulted in the abandonment, abortion and infanticide of millions of babies, with a higher percentage of female victims for cultural and economic reasons. In her characteristically flexible way, the narrator suggests that contingency of situation encompasses a spectrum of possibilities—necessitates it in fact—and so a possible narrative of callous abandonment or rejection, obviously harrowing for any child, could also be told from the perspective of the mother as an act of love, the most merciful possibility available from the point of view of someone in a context where the alternatives were too horrible to contemplate.

 So what is personally harrowing reaches through the mystery suffusing it and, in its sympathetic attunement to that mystery, displaces itself into an alignment with the horror endured by another and this awareness resituates, re-places, one’s own isolated way of looking at things in the greater context of universal human suffering. This is all marvelously done without the barest hint of self-aggrandizing exhibitionism. It is also no mere self-consolation but the occasion of coming back to one’s world with the more nuanced awareness that meaning is always richer in its revelation than the narrow assumptions or locus one might initially begin one’s questioning from. The final line, literally a punch-line, that bowls one over with its humility again uses ambiguity to good effect. One can take it as the historical trace of a witness’s account, perhaps the discoverer of the infant, and the implication is that in being left in sunshine our subject was situated somewhere visible in all likelihood due to the mother’s solicitude that her child should be found, cared-for and preserved; or again, and this in no way excludes the former possibility, as an affirmation by the narrator that her ‘placement’ then as now has been one of good fortune in which she found love and the nurturing conditions for her growth, eliciting an acknowledgement of gratitude from her to the world that made it possible and, one can’t help feeling, an empathic and exonerating gesture of thanks to the biological mother who also made it possible but who may have had to endure the haunting consequences of her act in silence, never to know that her child’s stance, which the child herself would reveal to her if she could, is one of appreciation and not condemnation.

 However, there always will be something of a mystery even to the act one full-knowingly wills as a gesture of thanks (perhaps in the form of a book of love letters) because though the world will accommodate its reception, its instigator can never know if it reaches its destination, nor if the receiver, should it cross their way, will understand it for what it is. Whatever the outcome, there is, at least for the narrator one suspects, some closure of sorts in not having left the gesture unmade. I could have chosen other letters to illustrate aspects of what I have tried to sketchily indicate but they would also have excluded much in my attempt to represent some of the marvels of this work because it is an intricate mesh of interdependent facets reflecting off each other, and I have not even touched on some of the letters where one could look at individual lines for their purely aesthetic and technical facility. My examples are perhaps two that are in some ways deficient in capturing some of those things because there are many other instances which might better demonstrate how the paradoxical execution of a sumptuousness of meaning is achieved through masterful restraint, poise, and understatement, or indeed, for it is by no means a somber book, how at times a sudden re-alignment of the frailest of moods by a humor that is at once playfully subversive and amplificatory in meaning quietly sidles into view from its periphery. It is refreshing to encounter a work of genuine intimacy—to say nothing of its humanity—that is challenging in its emotional honesty but which steers well clear of self-indulgent sentimentality, just as it is to encounter one that is intelligent, even wise, but remains unfettered by a labored intellectuality.

George Genovese is an Australian writer and poet who has published four volumes of poetry: Heartlines (Council of Adult Education, Australia, 1998); Time Steals Softer (Gininnderra Press, 2007); The Essential Space of Play (Ginninderra Press, 2012); and Love Letters to the World (Ginninderra Press, 2016). He has collaborated extensively with Australian composers Lawrence Whiffin and Mario Genovese on projects setting lyrics and poetry to their music and lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

100 year old poet Joe Cohen--releases a new collection of poetry--A New Path--Ibbetson Street Press

Here is a picture Joe Cohen , author of a new poetry collection "A New Path." (Ibbetson Street Press) Joe will be a hundred this July...and it has been announced by the City of Cambridge that there will be a Joe Cohen Day--July 13th. In the picture he is accompanied by Beth Cohen--his daughter-- a professor at the Berklee College of Music...

Joseph A. Cohen’s first book of poetry A Full Life was published in 2005. His poems have appeared in the Ibbetson St. Press, Constellations Anthology, Bagel Bards Anthology, Spare Change, Image Magazine, Great Neck Record and more. He is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee. An avid photographer, he taught photography in New York colleges for 40 years and most recently at BOLLI at Brandeis University. At 99, he still writes and does poetry readings. Formerly President of Sunweave Linen Corp. in New York, he now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and enjoys the vibrant intellectual atmosphere and cultural diversity of his new home. He was recently awarded the Legion of Honor medal by the President of the French Republic for his service in France during World War II. To order go to the Ibbetson Street Press Bookstore: http://lulu.com/ibbetsonpress

The Sunday Poet: Michael Todd Steffen

Michael Todd Steffen is the director of the Hastings Room Reading Series in Cambridge, Mass..  His latest book of poetry is Partner, Orchard and Day Moon that was published by Cervena Barva Press. His poems and articles have been published in many literary reviews in the United States and abroad. He has spent ten years living and teaching in France and England, an experience that has enriched his creativity. He was awarded the Somerville News Writers’ Festival Poetry prize.

The Dentist

with his little extended
circle of a mirror
reached into your darkness,

with his fine sharp metal hook
mining for resistance—and decay.
As if the x-ray hadn’t shown him.

Who puts their fingers
in your mouth?—a layer of us
wonders, reclined in his uneasy chair,

with his concentration
of a chess player to situate
or remove, drill, crown…

Under the angelic vanity:
my jaw spiked with reminders
of the original skull, our dust

whose agony won’t outlast
though bites down to measure
now—ow!—invention of

the moment and its isolating
pain in the more probable
rib” of Adam God removed

like a lisp
of self-cultivated shrapnel,
that we be recognizable

among peers
with enough missing from our smile

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ibbetson Street Press--celebrates almost twenty years on the literary scene --with its new release!

Hello, Friends/ Poet Friends,


Since 1998, when it was founded at a Bruegers Bagel Shop in Porter Square Cambridge, by Doug Holder, Richard Wilhelm, and Dianne Robitaille, the Ibbetson Street Press has published chapbooks, perfect bound books of poetry, and 41 issues of the literary magazine Ibbetson Street. Over the years the press and magazine have published work by Marge Piercy, Ted Kooser, Afaa Michael Weaver, Kathleen Spivack, Jean Valentine, Cornelius Eady, Richard Hoffman, Jennifer Matthews and many others. The press is now formally affiliated with Endicott College of Beverly, Mass. Join us for a gathering and reading--July 5, 2017--to celebrate its almost 20 years on the Boston area literary scene.


  The Ibbetson Street #41 Potluck and Reading will be held on Wednesday, July 5th at the central branch of the Somerville Library, Highland Avenue (next to the high school).  The Potluck will be held from 6:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.; the reading will be from 7:00 to 8:15. 
              Very Warmly,
                    Harris Gardner
                    Poetry Editor
                    Doug Holder
                    Ibbetson Street Press

To order Ibbetson Street Books and magazines go to  http://lulu.com/ibbetsonpress

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Narratives of Transformative Love-- a new project by Prema Bangera

( Painting by Prema Bangera--click on to enlarge)

Narratives of Transformative Love:  ( A program that is in the making by Prema Bangera, executive director of Teen Voices Emerging in Boston-- Bangera will be my guest today on Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.  See it live at 5:30 PM  June 20  at http://scatvsomerville.org  Bangera writes:

"Our mission is on identifying and breaking down internalized oppression to recreate a positive and true self-image. We believe in using art and writing to address past traumas, judgements, negative criticisms, and societal expectations in order to heal and transform our identity to reflect our strengths and develop self-love. We aim to empower people by giving them a voice to articulate their true identity in their own words and visions in order to create a personal and an institutional change". 

Monday, June 19, 2017

At the Bloc 11 Cafe with Tori Weston: Somerville Writer, Printmaker, Essayist, Educator

Tori Weston

At the Bloc 11 Cafe with Tori Weston: Somerville Writer, Printmaker, Essayist, Educator

by Doug Holder artist

Multi-talented artist and writer Tori Weston dropped by my usual table at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. We were there to talk about her creative work. Tori, is a thoughtful woman, with an easy smile, and seemed to be somewhere in her early 40s.

Weston—originally from Rhode Island—moved to Somerville from Cambridge, Ma. And she has lived here for 12 years. She told me that she loves the Somerville arts community and has participated in the Open Studio events both as a participant and volunteer. She said, “ Somerville is an easy place to connect with people.”

Weston got her MFA from Emerson College in Boston. There—she counts as her mentors—Senior Writers in Residence, Richard Hoffman and Margot Livesey. As for Hoffman, Weston said, “ Richard started each class with a poem. He intensively reviews the work that is submitted to him. He made sure we were all 'ready' to write our stories-- both from the personal aspect and the audience's perspective. He always discusses the impact the story will have on the audience.”

As for the Scottish novelist Margot Livesey, Weston offered an anecdote, “ Once in class a white student said that my characters did not sound 'black.' Livesey asked the student, ' What do you think a black character should sound like?' The white student had no answer. Livesey focused on the writing—not whether the writer was black or not. I appreciated that.”

This Somerville writer is a painter as well. She studied independently—taking classes at the Museum School. She also studied with a Somerville artist Carolyn Musket, who owns the Musket Studios on Cedar Street. Weston told me that she is currently engaged with litho printmaking. She said that this process uses an aluminum plate or stone, where an image is cast in ink. Weston reflected, “ The process is like writing. Things can end up very differently than what you started out with.” Weston told me about one print she completed called, “ City Girls.” In her depiction the girls wear hoodies. “ The simple act of wearing a hoodie transforms the traditional idea of femininity. When girls wear hoodies—there is certain grit or confidence about them. You own yourself more.”

Weston told me about a print of hers that was displayed at the Open Studios. It depicted the bodies of black women. Inside the bodies were were negative stereotypical words associated with black women, like: “Mammy,” “ Brown Sugar”, etc... But on the outside the bodies have hopeful words, like, “ Soul Sister, “ Classy, “ “ Mother of Civilization,” etc...

Weston writes personal essays as well—one of which was published in the online magazine, “Sleet.” The essay dealt with her own childhood abuse. Weston paused, “ It took me three years to write it it. It is hard to make people understand the trauma of this kind of thing.”

Weston works at Emerson College in Boston. She runs a pre-college program for high school students. The program teaches kids acting, theater, film making, etc... Weston was inspired to start this program at Emerson from a program she was in years ago at Brown University. She said, “ it opened up my world.”

Undoubtedly Weston open up more worlds for kids and adults—through her writing and art.