Thursday, December 08, 2016

Interview with Poet Joyce Peseroff: Friend to Jane Kenyon, member of the Alice James Collective, author of " Know Thyself", and more...

Doug Holder with Joyce Peseroff

Poet and editor Joyce Peseroff grew up in the Bronx. She earned a BA at Queens College and an MFA at the University of California at Irvine, where she studied with Donald Justice. She began a lifelong friendship with poet Jane Kenyon in 1973, when Peseroff entered the University of Michigan’s Society of Fellows. In 1977, after both poets had returned to the Northeast, Peseroff and Kenyon cofounded the literary magazine Greenhouse.

Peseroff is the author of several collections of poetry, including The Hardness Scale (1977, reissued in 2000), Mortal Education (2000), Eastern Mountain Time (2006), and Know Thyself . She has served as an editor for Ploughshares and edited The Ploughshares Poetry Reader (1987), Robert Bly: When Sleepers Awake (1984), and Simply Lasting: Writers on Jane Kenyon (2005).

Her honors include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation as well as a Pushcart Prize. Peseroff lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet Writer to Writer."


Doug Holder: You are from the Bronx. I know a lot of great writers grew up there...Cynthia Ozick comes to mind. Is there a Bronx sensibility to your writing?

 Joyce Peseroff: In my first book I wrote about growing up in New York City. There is a certain awareness about growing up in New York that you never lose. You are always aware of the people around you. You are always aware of how the landscape is made up of things--made by humans. One of the things I like is tension--between the outer world and the inner world. And you see that in the city streets--it is less likely in the suburbs.

Doug Holder:  You were a part of a great literary collective--   Alice James Books--  that was founded in Cambridge, Mass in the 70s.  Can you tell us about your experience with this group?

Joyce Peseroff: It was a collective with an emphasis of publishing books by women. But Ron Schrieber was one of the male founding members. But the collective was formed to fill a gap for women writers. Women--at that time--were not finding an opening with traditional publishers. Jane Kenyon's first book was published by Alice James. Celia Gilbert had her first--Kathleen Aguero was part of the collective. It was a piece of literary history. We had an office on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge. We did it all by ourselves.  We did all the production, publicity, order fulfilling, advertising, etc... All decisions were made by a consensus. About 20 years ago Alice James moved to Maine.

Doug Holder: You were the first director of the MFA program at UMass/Boston.  Tell us about this.

Joyce Peseroff: It was something that the administration asked me to do--because they knew what a wonderful job Martha Collins did with developing the undergraduate creative writing program, along with Lloyd Schwartz.  So we wrote a proposal and I was the first director. I was there for four years. We had strong ideas about the kind of students we wanted to have. We were looking for diversity. We wanted people who were from Boston--have jobs and wanted to finish an MFA without going into a low residency. Most of our classes are held after 4PM. We also looked for older students--people who have been out in the world and had stories to tell. We are a small program--we only have ten students--poetry and fiction. Everybody gets to know one another.

Doug Holder: You are friends with Donald Hall and the late Jane Kenyon. In fact, you got Hall to edit an issue of Ploughshares.

Joyce Peseroff:  Yes--DeWitt Henry and I asked Hall to edit an issue. I first met Hall and Kenyon on a fellowship to the University of Michigan. There were scholars from all around as part of it.  Jane and Donald were there-and I met Jane through Donald. They were married then. They had an informal workshop, with Greg Orr and others. Greg, Don, Jane and I along others would share poems there. After two years I came back to Massachusetts. Jane and Don moved to New Hampshire. He bought his family farm. We kept up our friendship. I would visit there. Jane and I were editing a small press magazine "Green House" at the time. We were looking to place and feature poets with different sensibilities.

Doug Holder: In your poetry collection " Know Thy Self"--you pair lightness with pain and darkness. It seems that you are always looking over your shoulder.

Joyce Peseroff:  Yes. Maybe because I grew up in the Bronx, and I feel the world is a surprising place. I am not world-weary. This is part of the way I developed as a writer.

Doug Holder: From the poems I read--you seem to have an ongoing conversation with your late mother.

Joyce Peseroff:  I've lost both my parents within four years.I think when I write about the deceased-- in someway I am trying to keep them alive and in the conversation.

Doug Holder: Have you ever seen ghosts?

Joyce Peseroff: No. But I have had dreams-- and in waking life--I was heartbroken that the folks I dreamed about were no longer around. I remember thinking, "That was a dream--I am never going to see those people again."

No More Water

God so loved the world—
but we don't love him back,
maybe don't even believe

our fleabitten selves deserve affection
from a flea, let alone the Lord
of Hosts. We breed

like feral cats in a landfill
that know life is garbage
in various stages of decay

and delight in the rat's raw morsel,
sheltering beneath a ziggurat
of tires too bald for the cunning

broker of rebuilts and retreads,
our greasy world waiting for rain.

*** From "Know Thy Self "

Cambridge fire, December 2016 by Kirk Etherton

Kirk Etherton

 Kirk Etherton is the interim host of the long-running Stone Soup Poetry Series, which meets every Monday, 7:00 - 8:30 pm, at Out of the Blue Gallery, Central Square, Cambridge. A writer / performer of poems and songs, Kirk also makes unusual sculptures, using odd materials. He is a regular at "Bagel Bards" (Saturday mornings at Au Bon Pain, Davis Square, Somerville), and serves on the board of the Boston National Poetry Month Festival. He often shares a stage with his wife, Berklee professor Lucy Holsted

Cambridge fire, December 2016
Villanelle for a city

How did it start? Who knows? It moved quickly
from one building to the next, and next; quite soon
a massive glow lit up the city.

That's how combustion goes, makes people flee
from smoke-filled homes to wait below the moon.
How did it start? Who knows? It moved quickly.

Firefighters fought; the scene blazed on TV.
Helicopters chopped their hovering tune.
A massive glow lit up the city.

With flames finally extinguished, we could breathe.
But 120-plus were homeless now: what gloom! 
How did it start? Who knows? It moved quickly.

"We're planning a benefit," said The Middle East.
At City Hall, staffers filled all halls and rooms.
A massive glow lit up the city.

I saw a friend, who'd already given money.
Countless others did the same—a growing boon.
A massive glow lit up the city.
How did it start? Who knows? It moved quickly.

                                    — Kirk Etherton, December 5, 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Video: Doug Holder interviews Milton scholar, translator, and poet--Francis Blessington

Left to Right  Francis Blessington/Doug Holder

 Holder interviews Milton scholar, translator, and poet--Francis Blessington--on his Somerville Community Access TV show  " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."  (Click on to view)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Robert Klein Engler

 Robert Klein Engler

 Robert Klein Engler lives in happy exile in Omaha, Nebraska and sometimes New Orleans. He is a writer and artist.   Robert holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has received Illinois Arts Council awards for his poetry. Just google his name to find his writing on the Internet.  Michael Morgan, writing in the Comstock Review, says that Robert Klein Engler " a poet of the first rank,” whereas Andrew Huff writes in Gaper's Block that Engler's writings is, "a sublime banquet of bullshit.


The light falls platinum against the Civic Center wall. We are in Topeka, Kansas, the navel of America. There is a landlocked loneliness around, and also, a loveliness of rolling hills not far off. I remember the face of a woman waiting yesterday for a bus on Dodge St. The evening light falls on her face like the moon as she sets a shopping bag against a poll. The bus will be a while. She has time to think of her daughter and the two kids. It's not been easy but it's been good. From the hotel window we see a Jeep follows the road's curve into the low hills and then is lost from sight. My mother would be rocking now on the front porch looking out into the bowl of night wondering what star could be a widow's star.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years


The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years

Review by Kate Douglas

From the band’s own commercial films to the countless documentaries and exposés that already exist, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t an angle of The Beatles that hasn’t been shown to audiences yet, but Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years somehow manages to show the world’s most popular band through fresh eyes. The film is a wonderful mix of new and archived interviews from the four band members, perspectives from those who worked with the band, celebrities offering their personal anecdotes, and never-before-seen footage from Beatles’ shows. It’s not just a trip down memory lane for tried and true fans, even for those who lived through the band’s touring years. Howard manages to intertwine old footage with fresh narratives to create a new lens with which to examine Paul, John, Ringo, and George – and the men important to their success, Brian Epstein and Sir George Martin. There’s a wonderful moment in the film in which notorious Beatles manager Epstein is seen just off stage at one of the band’s American stadium concerts, bobbing his head to the music. It’s an illuminating moment in which the audience is allowed to pull back the curtain and experience these men in an entirely new way.

Eight Days a Week is a brilliant film as a rock-doc alone, but also as a historical piece. The film touches upon how the band experienced and interacted with the hot button issues of the time, from the band’s refusal to perform for segregated audiences when they brought their tour to America to the ill-spoken “more popular than Jesus” remark. Just as The Beatles themselves were able to weave together culture with counterculture, black with white, and male with female, Howard’s film knits a complex narrative that connects the band to history and humanity. It’s certainly worth a watch.

Kate Douglas

 Kate Douglas is a local writer and aspiring filmmaker. A transplant to New England, Kate grew up in North Florida and graduated from Florida State University.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Deniece Woodward

 Our poet this week is Deniece Woodward. She is a member of Teen Voices Emerging--a program that 

gives a voice to Boston teen girls. Prema Bangera, a proud director at this organization hooked me up with

 these talented poets. More information about this organization can be found at

Twin Among Twigs
by Deniece Woodard

Here her rhyme book lays. A simple, small notebook.
Its pages bear no lines, for it is ruled by the strokes you leave on it.
But it hasn’t got those either.
No character, but it could have hers.
Yes, her, and all the mess she is.
The physical scars her past suicide attempt left,
and the emotional scars left by everyone who told her:
Get over it.”
You’re just looking for attention.”
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
The ignorance which uttered, “People have it worse than you.”
As if her problems lose validation because someone else’s are “worse.”
Like the mirror above the bathroom sink,
she should see the damage left by this caustic earth in its presence.
She’ll batter the pages with her insecurities,
empty the clip, once loaded with her pain,
pierce the off-white sheets with her blade of self doubt
till she’s lacerated the last leaf.
Her soul will assume it’s found its long lost twin among these twigs.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Timothy Gager's Grand Slam: A Coming of Eggs Story (Big Table Publishing, 2016)


Timothy Gager's Grand Slam: A Coming of Eggs Story (Big Table Publishing, 2016)

A Review by Mignon Ariel King

The first thing one notices in Timothy Gager's Grand Slam: A Coming of Eggs Story is the Holden Caulfield-like anti-hero protagonist Woody.  There is an ensemble of characters in the novel who make up the staff and management at a chain diner, Grand Slams, and Gager deftly weaves their backstories and inner lives into the fast-paced narrative.  Despite the often more bizarre and troubled manifestations of the other diner workers' lives, Woody is clearly the focal character.  Woody is a young almost-man who is emotionally distressed and unfocused.  He is in an emotional and social limbo a year post high school, and still living with his parents, yet he is focused enough to seek and find work over the summer break from college.  The two characters who are also Woody's age are working their part-time diner gigs around college schedules, would-be college schedules, and pre-career funks.  It is unclear at times whether the trio have any clear plans.  They do, however, have dreams and passions, the passions often misdirected.  Of the three, Woody is the most attuned to what is going on around him, very invested in how other people's lives are turning out, whereas Sugar and Bobby are just going through the motions, enduring their surroundings and coworkers.

Woody's mother (Mrs. Geyser) attempts to monitor and guide; his father, a political progressive who named his son after Woodrow Wilson, grumpily tunes out his family to focus on favorite television shows.  A comparison is drawn between Woody's father and his "work mother," Maura.  Maura is fifty-something and seems plunked in the diner with her crumply stockings and middle-aged wide middle; Woody's father is plunked in his living room in a Michelin man body.  It is no wonder that the Grand Slams "work family" is so dysfunctional with Maura as its matriarch.  She keeps things moving, but she emotionally detaches from everyone at work to go home to nobody after she picks up her check each week.  Maura left her daughter behind for a better life...perhaps, but really her life is only simpler, uncluttered by the needs of others.  She has no suitors, no girlfriends, just her job and subtle dreams of making more, having more, materialistically speaking. 

Most of the low-level workers in the diner are more invested than their superiors.  Keating, a nasty bastard of a boss, does as little as possible while screaming at his employees, most notably emotionally abusive toward Kayak Kenny, a developmentally challenged bus boy who fantasizes about buying a canoe.  Kenny believes girls will fall in love with him if he has a canoe, swept up in the romance of floating on the pond with him.  Keating floats on cocaine and a rather sleazy sex life.  He sweeps women off their feet with the lure of free drugs.  Sugar is the diner's beauty; she is lusted after by every man who comes within reach of her pretty, pony-tailed, short skirt- and cowboy-booted beauty.  More power to the male author who makes Sugar one of the most intelligent, focused, compassionate characters in the book.  Her flaw is pathologically bad taste in men.  She has a small life and thinks small, but she evolves and matures faster than her age-appropriate male interests.  Sugar's introspection leads her away from the sweaty, portly, mustard-stained tie and rumpled suit grasp of Keating.  Her next conquest is a socioeconomic upgrade, Sayid, an Egyptian man who is too sexually repressed (for religious reasons) to use Sugar as a sex object.  He courts her, and this is obviously something to which she is unaccustomed but which she grows to realize she deserves.  Meanwhile, Woody pines for her from afar, as he did in high school, while being her platonic friend.

There are standard types throughout the narrative. Marisimo, the half-blind ex-boxer with cauliflowered ears, is less than fluent in English and over invested in his dishwasher job.  Dyed-haired Bob, the transplanted new boss, could not care less about anyone who works for him; he re=trains the staff with an iron fist.  Woody resists the ridiculous, superficial changes in a hilarious sequence of passive-aggressive actions, such as hiding the clip-on bowties.  Even the chilly Maura begins to warm up to coworkers as her career waitressing is challenged by the new regime.  She at least is proud of her work and her 20-plus years' commitment as the company girl.  The last romantic hope she had divorced then paired up again without noticing Maura's romantic hopes for him.  Maura is a bridge between the detached elders, with their selfishness, rigor, and paternalistic actions only in the condescending sense, not in any way caring about role modeling for or promotion of the Grand Slams staff.   The three young characters are not slammed over the head of the reader, and Gager manages to use character typecasting without making the characters seem wooden, stiff props in the narrative.  In fact, the characters are so realistic, and subtly nuanced with uncharacteristic personality traits as well as those expected, that the reader is frustrated by wanting to hug or slap them.  Throughout the novel, the almost-adults keep the momentum going in the midst of the socially odd and borderline tragic, invested adults.  How will this trio grow up while surrounded by infantile, base, or simply lost adults?  The reader is invested by the third chapter in finding out.

The Sunday Poet: Molly Lynn Watt

Molly Lynn Watt
Molly Lynn Watt’s poetry memoir “On the Wings of Song: A Journey into the Civil Rights Era” Ibbetson 2014, poems “Jazz Riff” will soon be installed in a Cambridge sidewalk, and “Civil Rights Update” is required reading in Dallas paired with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”, co-creator/performer for “George & Ruth: Songs & Letters of the Spanish Civil War” also on CD, “Shadow People,” Ibbetson 2004, curator of Fireside Readings, Bagelbard Anthology editor and ukulele player.


I am not in mourning
I will rise from my periwinkle bed sheets
watch the sun cast shadows on the garden

I will wrap myself in purple
remember playing in the lilac bush and
grandma’s lavender-infused linens

I will be warm energy
and cool serenity going forth—
a blend of red and blue

I will fly ribbons in the wind
write love poems with purple crayon
I will not let despair build a nest in my heart

                                    Molly Lynn Watt, Nov. 10, 2016