Monday, August 21, 2017


A Young Seamus Heaney

0 GARDEN STREET (just one block down the street from First Church, our usual location)
on August 30th, 2017, featuring AIDAN ROONEY, VALERIE DUFF and DENNIS DALY.

The reading starts at 7pm.

By Michael Steffen

Due to summer construction delays at First Church Cambridge, 11 Garden Street, which has been the set location of the Hastings Series poetry readings since we started in the spring of 2014, our summer gathering, the Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading, will take place at Christ Church just a block east on Garden Street, a large gray Episcopal church next to the Burying Ground enclosure.

Our guest readers this year will be Aidan Rooney, Valerie Duff and Dennis Daly, each with impressive publishing bio’s and well-known in the area. Along with a short tribute to Robert Lowell in honor of his centenary, including reflections on Heaney’s friendship with and writings on the celebrated Boston poet, our readers will be sharing their poems with memories and inspirations of the Irish Nobel laureate.

This will be our Fourth Seamus Heaney tribute. Other guest readers for the special event have included Daniel Tobin, Fred Marchant, Joan Houlihan, Doug Holder, Tomas O’Leary, Greg Delanty, Meg Tyler, George Kalogeris and David Blair.

This reading in particular has been very well attended. It’s given authors the opportunity to share insights in the way of inspirations Heaney has had on their lives and poems. A few of our readers have given remarkable talks on aspects of Heaney’s poetry.

Seamus is among the sequoias of poets in English “in our lifetime.”

On behalf of the Hastings Room Reading Series, I mention our gratitude to First Church Congregationalist of Cambridge and Christ Church Episcopal, our co-founder Steven Brown, promotional designer and poet Kevin Cutrer, our series advisor Dan Wuenschel, with special thanks to Elizabeth Doran and Ifeanyi Menkiti and the Grolier Book Store for their friendship and support.

See you on the 30th !

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems by Shelia E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems

By Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

Published by Unlikely Books, New Orleans, Louisiana

Review by Judy Katz-Levine

In this astonishing collaboration by the living poet Sheila E. Murphy and the deceased poet Michelle Greenblatt who suffered from fibromyalgia, a disease which did not keep her from writing with great passion, the formal structure of the ghazal, a signature of Sufi poets such as Rumi, is reinvented and brought to a contemporary American understanding.

The ghazal form was is as structured as a sonnet, and was often written during the 13th to 16th centuries in the Timurid empire by Sufi mystics.Traditionally, it is known to be composed of couplets between 12 and 15 lines. Murphy and Greenblatt create an alternative form of fifteen couplets per ghazal. While the first two lines of a traditional ghazal end in the same word, every other subsequent line ending in the same word as well, Murphy and Greenblatt play on repetition by taking turns in writing inventive couplets, and therein lies their interplay of form and repetitiion. The similarity between the Sufi ghazals of poets such as Rumi, Hafiz and Navoiy and these experimental longer explorative ghazals by Sheila Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt is one of passion. While the ghazals of Navoiy for example focus on the depth of love for the beloved even when scorned, elevating that to a metaphor for the divine, Murphy and Greenblatt translate that love into a passion for language, the surprise turns of language and image, the light of cognitive play. While Rumi for example would be closer to Lorca in feeling, the cognitive light given to these seamlessly woven couplets of Murphy and Greenblatt do more often reflect the passion of Shakespeare for cognitive delight in the movement of human insight. One also thinks of contemporary avant garde classical music, such as the works of John Cage in “Ocean Of Sound” or the composition of Morton Subotnick, “Silver Apples Of The Moon”.

Here is an example of the astonishing delight and surprise turns of image and thought manifested in Ghazals 1-59:

This quote is from Ghazal Seventeen:

“Look for the wind to gather you from port to prominence;
Landscape’s a deception so keep your camera ready.

The handwriting still runs across the page as if
Electric shock were prompting lines from the beyond.

Staccato overtime remainders figs and salt
Scattered on the late the waves of song rise and fall.”

The sheer inventiveness in language manifested in these 59 ghazals is highly unusual in contemporary poetry, despite our love for non-rhymed forms and discursive narratives. Murphy and Greenblatt love the element of surprise especially in image, and the musicality of both poets is so matched one to another that the true love and passion must be, here, the working together of these two poets, their intense connection, as they devoted themselves to this major project of creative leaps. Here is another couplet which explores existence in contemporary America and illustrates the highly musical lines and imagistic surprises of this collaboration:

Here is an excerpt from Ghazal Thirty-Six

“I owned a mountain full of stony slopes
And descended to exhume its dark past.

Labor exponentially prepares love
For the stains of eyelight squared upon roses.

Your code was more elegant than your word,
More picturesque than ample and not true.

Scented branches are the first clue of brushfire
Raging through the vicissitude of woods.”

Themes of nature are woven with theme of connection with other humans, and human activities, and there is only an occasional reference to the problem of violence in contemporary life. References to Greenblatt’s experiences with synesthesia are somewhat rare but are manifested in the sensuality of surprise evident throughout this collection with its multilayered reliance on sight, hearing, taste, touch, human emotion and intuition.

This is from ghazal Fifty:

“Simpler than blue, more resonant than all within the human
Is a color of inexpressible beauty, of mankind.

Buried in my chest, a weight that humbles
Crafts unmeasured space, still lingering.

Premises vanilla as no foreseeable infection leans
Towards chocolate being a flavor which many people love,

Under the cropped sun, the horizon sinks
Into syllables parallel to sky.”

Sheila Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt can be seen as explorers to a new continent of poetic form, and inventors supreme of language that pushes the boundaries of our senses and cognitive lights. This book, a work of great dedication, which was completed despite the illness of Greenblatt and her battle with pain and death, is a monument to creative invention in its pure form. It gives us the ghazal in a reincarnated state that is an available leap for all who love poetry, ancient and contemporary and explorative.

Judy Katz-Levine

The Sunday Poet: Melissa Castillo-Garsow

Melissa Castillo-Garsow

Melissa Castillo-Garsow is a Mexican- American writer, poet and scholar currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University.   

This poem is excerpted from her collection, Coatlicue Eats The Apple

From Part IV. 


He holds up an ear
caresses it lovingly
this is not just a crop
it's our culture, he says.

60 years of holding kernels
his hands are not yet tired
red, white, black, yellow
here are the ones he loves
the ones that grow
here. These are the mestizos
these are our culture, he says.

Here they say the first peoples
were made of Maiz
after clay after wood made only
ignorance and destruction.
Maiz made 4 men/ 4 women
with wisdom who populated the earth
and I believe them.
If people are 98% water
they must drink water.
We are maiz. So we eat
tortilla, tamale, pozole,

they tell him plant something else
they tell him work for someone else
they tell him use these hybrids

We are the most researched people in the world
and the least understood.

He doesn't need instruction on
what has fed for 8,000 years
He doesn't need US plants
he has created his criollos
strong roots that grow in rock shallow soils
and impossible humidity
His research is 50 years of knees
and hands and hearts in his soil
his land his feet covering
semilla after semilla watching
them grow year after year.

Not the scientist with 150 lands to report on
Not the gringo stopping by for a 1-day visit
Not the government who hands out wrong fertilizer
and corn that can't survive.

Grow quiet now. Hear that?
Es el conocimiento de los antepasados.

Grow quiet. Hear that.
It's the experience of 50 years
knee deep in dirt.

If you want to help, be quiet now.
They will bring the answers.

They will bring you the answers
in the rich texture of the criollo
the dark fibre of their soils
full of stubborn silences
and occasional roadblocks
and you can find it in
the shadows of their women.

The Aztec had a counterpoint
to Centeotl, the god of Maiz.
Chicomecoatl ruled over agriculture.
Before jade skirts and spiny belts
adorned the Maya queen of Maiz.

Now he says he stubborn.
I say he's pure mestizo Maiz
drawn from the Maya who jumped
to their death rather than
be conquered.

Maybe that's the way the world works.
Maybe it's not enough to say
ancestry, history, cultura, tradiciĆ³n
But maybe it's enough to stand upright
and tell the world:

We grow corn here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Sunday Salon at Sonia." Poetry, Writers and More... September 10, 3-6 pm

Address: 10 Brookline St, Cambridge, MA 02139  Central Square

"Sunday Salon at Sonia."
September 10, 3-6 pm
An afternoon of musicians, poets, writers and more. Intermission includes refreshments and author book signings. Proceeds benefit
the Boston National Poetry Month Festival. Participants include:

Beth Bahia Cohen
(A master of bowed instruments from around the world, she has performed with Led Zeppelin, Itzhak Perelman, and Phillip Glass)

Kirk Etherton *
(Songwriter, poet, visual artist, free diver, etc., Kirk was recently featured on WGBH's "All Things Considered.")

Boyah J. Farah
(Somalian refugee-turned-writer, his work has been featured in The Guardian, Salon, National Public Radio, and elsewhere.)
Richard Hoffman
(Memoirist, fiction writer and poet, Richard teaches at Emerson and is former Chair of PEN New England.)

Lucy Holstedt *
(Berklee professor and leader of the Women Musicians Network concert; Lucy is also a poet, composer, and performer.)
Thea Hopkins
(An award-winning Americana singer-songwriter-guitarist, her song "Jesus is on the wire" was recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary.)

Daniel Hudon
(University lecturer in Astronomy and Mathematics, his latest book is "Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction Reader." )

Julian Meservey
(A gifted acoustic and electric guitarist, Julian is a graduate of Cornell and will enter Berklee this Fall.

Ada Ren
(Prolific creator of original and enduring things--from poetry and graphic design to clothing. She is currently at M.I.T.)

* On the board of the Boston National Poetry Month Festival.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Kristie Connolly

Kristie Connolly is the founder and organizer of the popular Bull Run Evening of Poetry. It is a gently scored, eclectic night of original poetry. She is a prolific poet.  Kristie is self-employed as a preservation carpenter with over twenty years of experience.


The transformation of falling in love
With oneself
Is a magnificent process

It takes work.
The good kind.
It takes compassion and mindfulness

It takes Great care and encouragement

You must be real
You must be honest
You must accept yourself exactly the way that you are
And you must be gentle

It was not love at first sight
I had to realize it existed
I had to want it
I needed to sit with it
Then walk a little while
Then pause
And walk forward again when I was able

It is a lifelong practice

Things will arise
That inner voice that says you are not worthy of love
But there is another voice
One that we were taught a long time ago to ignore
One that has been waiting for you to listen
That voice is self-love

Opening up
Glowing from within
Watching the old parts fall away

It is the freedom to be your authentic self
It is the freedom to love your authentic self
It is magnificent!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Endicott College Creative Writing Student Julia Cirignano Publishes White Wine and Marijuana

White Wine & Medical Marijuana is a book of poetry that explores themes such femininity, sexuality, weakness, strength, addiction, power, and profanity. It analyzes these themes, while keeping the language casual, simple, and accessible to all readers. Enjoy the power struggle between self criticism and self love, the raw life observations, and the relentless scrutinization of everyday life.

Available at

Interview with Poet Ben Berman: A Bard who goes beyond the immediate apparent


Interview with Poet Ben Berman: A Bard who goes beyond the immediate apparent
Interview with Doug Holder

Recently I had the pleasure to interview poet Ben Berman. Berman is a thin, wiry man—who sports an amused smile and doesn't take himself to seriously. He has the look of a curious man. I can picture him closely examining a leaf or an ant with his children for an extended length of time.

 Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands (Able Muse Press, 2012), won the Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second book is Figuring in the Figure, forthcoming from Able Muse Press in 2017. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He is the poetry editor at Solstice Literary Magazine and teaches in the Boston area, where he lives with his wife and daughters Doug Holder interviewed Berman on his Poet to Poet Writer to Writer TV show on Somerville Community Media TV

Doug Holder: Ben—you defected from Somerville to the environs of Newton, Mass. Why?

Ben Berman: My wife lived in Somerville for 10 years. We dated for four years, and lived together in Somerville. We lived in Teele Square for a while. After we got married and had our daughter we moved to Newton.

DH:Is Somerville a good place to reside for a poet?

BB Somerville is a great place to be a poet. There is such creative energy. The Somerville Arts Council is such a good organization. It is very supportive. The city is very diverse.

DH: In your new collection “Figuring in the Figure” you explore the facade of the immediately apparent. In the suburbs—where you live now-- behind the broad and manicured lawns—lurks the rawness—the unruly entanglements of the world.

BB: I think of this book as a follow up to my other book, “Strange Borderlands.” It is based around my experience with the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe and what it was like being a stranger in a strange land.
“Figuring....” deals with a very different place—the small—local life-- but the rawness exists in this seemingly placid environment.

DH: Some say you have to be a wild—Charles Bukowski- like figure to be a poet—how does domesticity suit you?

BB: In some ways it helps—in terms of giving me some routines and rituals to keep me writing. There are many complexities—entanglements being a father and a husband. Small moments of domestic life are entry ways into broader ideas.

DH: It has been said we detach ourselves to feel more fully. Do you detach yourself when writing?

BB: Writing requires detachment to feel the experience fully and write about it.

DH: How have your children affected your writing? Does their sense of wonder ignite yours?

BB: Entirely. My kids see the world entirely differently. They could spend a hour just looking at an ant. I try to see through my kids eyes. It gets me out of the “routine” of seeing.

DH: Tell me about your involvement with Solstice Literacy Magazine.

BB: It is an online magazine that has been around for 8 or 9 years. Lee Hope started it. It was connected to Pine Manor College. We produced two print anthologies. It is a wonderful journal. On staff we have folks like Regie Gibson, Richard Hoffman, Danielle Georges, and many others.

DH: Why do you write poetry?

BB: It is a centering practice. It is a ritual I need to engage in or I won't feel right. It allows me to slow down and connect with my life. I love to play with language, and find meaning in the world. I get up around 3AM every morning—check the Web, have a cup of coffee, and free write. I go where it directs me.

DH: You teach at Brookline High, in Brookline, MA. It is a help or hindrance?

BB: To teach is very demanding—so it sort of makes me make time for my writing. I am lucky to have bright and creative kids in my classes. I love to introduce kids to reading—and they introduce me to new writers—that can only help.

My friend confides in me how his wife cheated—
well, not cheated, but sent racy photos
of herself to other men—how she created
some online profile with a phony
name—Lady Falcon—and how he stumbled
upon this one day when he used her phone
to order a pizza. They’d been so stable,
he tells me, maybe they needed this breach
to save their marriage from growing stale.
In front of us, a hawk’s perched on a branch,
calmly pecking at a squirrel’s entrails.
We’re sitting side-by-side on the bench
but see different things through the tangled
crosscutting of limbs in front of us. My friend
mentions that he’ll hide some of the details
from his analyst because the man can find
subtext even when they chat about sports—
which makes me feel bad about my own feigned
attention—how my mind spirals and spurts
like a squirrel getting chased up a tree,
then scrambles to piece together the excerpts—
it’s just that I’m tired of the puppetry…
my friend says …some childhood desire…
he adds …while residing on my property—
but what an impotent word—resides
just hearing it makes me long for nude
photos of his wife. On the underside
of the branch, now—directly under
the hawk—is another squirrel, his floppy
tail pointed stiff—this must be duende,
I think—ready to spring at the slightest flap
of a wing. How should I have reacted?
my friend asks, as the squirrel fixes to flip.

 -- Ben Berman

Steve Glines wins the Kathleen Spivack Generosity Award

Steve Glines

 Steve Glines wins the Kathleen Spivack Generosity Award

By Doug Holder

Longtime Ibbetson Street Press designer, and founder of the Wilderness House Press--Steve Glines-- has won the Kathleen Spivack Generosity Award....

Kathleen Spivack has been a visiting professor of American Literature/Creative Writing (one semester annually) in France since 1990. She has held posts at the University of Paris VII-VIII, the University of Francoise Rabelais, Tours, the University of Versailles, and at the Ecole Superieure (Polytechnique). She was a Fulbright Senior Artist/Professor in Creative Writing in France (1993-95). Her poetry has been featured at festivals in France and in the U.S. She reads and performs in theatres, and she also works with composers. Her song cycles and longer pieces have been performed worldwide.
She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; Bunting Institute; two Radcliffe Institute fellowships; Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities; the Fulbright Commission and others. A Discovery winner, she has held residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Ragdale, Karolyi, and the American Academy in Rome. Some recent prizes include: Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award 2010, the 2010 Erica Mumford Award, the 2010 Paumanok Award, Solas/Best Travel Writing Awards, and others. An international writing coach, Kathleen Spivack directs the Advanced Writing Workshop, originally created through the NEA, an intensive program for professional writers. She has taught in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Barbados, in Greece, at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in its early days, and for the Holland America Line. She also teaches in Santa Fe, Taos, Aspen, IWWG/ Skidmore, Brown and other programs throughout the United States and abroad.

Here is a letter from Kathleen:

Dearest Steve
      I came into a very little bit of money very late in life,  and from that and my earnings from teaching & coaching and writing have set up a very small fund to recognize people who have been extremely generous in facilitating writing and the arts in our community. I do not advertise, nor solicit applications or nominations. It is very small and personal. It recognizes generous people within my sphere.
    This small award is for the unsung and often unpaid heroes who have given writers a forum over time.. It stands for quiet appreciation and Thank You.
     This is not for the artists and writers themselves: nor for their body of work, there are plenty of competitive moneys around for the work itself. This award is for those who support the work of other writers.
       It recognizes individuals in our community who, from my point of view, long standing and over time, work behind the scenes to contribute to and promote so many writers’ work right here among us.  I try to take into account factors such as timing, encouragement, need, and when this small recognition might make a difference. There are lots of people in our lives who qualify. Te amount varies.  Last year the individual recipients were Elizabeth Doran and Harris Gardner.
    This little award acknowledge for instance, book designers ,independent booksellers, publishers, printers, readings organizers: the resources for the community such as yourself, Steve
      You are one of our most precious resources, dear Steve: your knowledge, competence, unstinting willingness to share your expertise, your selflessness, your kindness. You are so important to us all.
      Please accept this check for $ with all my esteem in recognition of your generous service to writers in the Boston area and for your continued work, your advice and expertise,  

And Joe Murray too of course….