Thursday, August 04, 2005

Afaa Michael Weaver is a professor of English At Simmons College. This essay is about his recent trip to China. Weaver will be participating in The Somerville News Writers Festival, November 13 2005 at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

The Meaning of Chinese
By Afaa Michael Weaver

Autumn in Taiwan resembles a New England spring, and so it was when I landed in Taipei to spend about eight months studying Chinese. Taiwan is the gateway to Chinese culture for me. It is there that Perng Ching-hsi, a major translator and Shakespearean specialist at National Taiwan University (NTU), gave me my Chinese name, Wei Yafeng. That was three years earlier. This third time in Taiwan I lived in an apartment on the sixteenth floor of a triangular shaped building in the busy and upscale neighborhood near Sogo’s, a popular Japanese-owned department store.
It was two thousand four, the year of my sabbatical leave.
Living on the sixteenth floor, I could feel the earthquakes when they came, and as a black man studying Chinese inside Chinese culture, I caused milder earthquakes. Chinese people are not immune to racial perceptions given to the world by colonialism and slavery, but those perceptions are not grounded in the mendacity that--in America--is pervasive. The culture maintains respect for professors, and I was so often awash in kindness during this time of my immersion studies of the language. The love that comes to me is given in gratitude for me just being me, which is quite nice.
After five months of daily two hour tutorials and three hours of homework at the Taipei Language Institute, I made my way to China to spend time with other poets who came to the international conference on Chinese poetry I convened at Simmons College, where I teach, just before moving to Taiwan. I met with a number of poets in Taiwan, and now I was headed to China for a two week tour of three places. In Hai Nan Wang Xiaoni and her husband met me at the airport with open arms.
Hai Nan’s pepper trees sit in the fields alongside the highway look as if they belong in a fairy tale. On the campus of Hai Nan University there is a pool full of lotus plants. The university is a vast place, occupying an island of its own in the northern part of the province, China’s southernmost point and a base of economic development that includes huge luxury hotels on the southeast coast where the beaches are clean and look out onto Nan Hai, which means Southern Sea.
At the airport going to Kunming from Hai Nan, Wang Xiaoni set me in line with the other passengers with specific instructions to pay attention to the signs. On the plane I made friends with ladies from Kunming who were so delighted to speak with me in Chinese that they officially welcomed me to the city. Yu Jian was waiting for me just on the other side of the baggage claim area, and we met each other with a big hug as onlookers smiled and cheered.
Yu Jian lives near a park where he played as a child, and we took a walk there in the afternoon, watching people playing music and singing as they usually do when the weather is good, and it is difficult to imagine the weather as being anything put perfect in Kunming. After a reading at a nightclub called the SpeakEasy, a large group of us, poets and artists all, enjoyed a sidewalk barbecue that lasted past midnight, which is late for me. I did not want to leave. I did not want time to move.
In Beijing it was the weeklong poetry festival at Beijing University, and poets from all over the country were there, some with dialects and accents even Beijing natives could not decipher. My host was Bei Ta, who was happy to see me use my third year Mandarin, and on one day we poets spent a whole day together, led by Zang Di, who teaches in the Chinese literature department. Beijing is old and big, but when we climbed the mountain to Mao Zedong’s retreat, the city was not visible, hidden as it was by the foliage and winding paths up to the stone monuments and gardens.
Mr. Chin Ligang, director of the Chinese Writers’ Association, presented me with a gold friendship medal in recognition of my work in holding the poetry conference. Afterwards we had lunch, and it was explained to me that such a meal was only successful when someone passed out from drinking. With orange soda pop in hand, it was a long way to success for me.
Bei Ta suggested I modify the Wei in my name to indicate flourishing, and after some discussion, my friends in Taiwan accepted the change.
Back in Taipei I took two days to rest before going to school for two days, and then that weekend I went to He Nan Buddhist Temple in Hualien on Taiwan’s eastern coast. Dr. Yu Hsi, poet, writer, and spiritual teacher, is the director. He invited me there to teach Taijiquan to the monks and make use of the inspirational spiritual energy that lives there. Teaching Taiji was a joy, as the monks are dedicated students and not without their sense of humor. They made me promise to return next year. It was the last day of class, our classroom the shaded area in front of the smaller temple, with the sound of the ocean sliding off the edges of rocks on the shore, just a stone’s toss away.
My immersion experience was about eight months, and my Chinese has improved, according to the reports of my friends in Taiwan and China. My plans are to return for a longer stay doing the same, studying at the Taipei Language Institute, spending time at He Nan Temple studying the culture, and traveling into China.
Meanwhile, I continue studying my Chinese. Here in Somerville, I take the quiet time of early morning to practice my writing or to go over my recitations by reviewing dialogues, playing all the parts, memorizing the tones again as what you mean depends so much on how you say it in Chinese.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Interview with Joan Houlihan: Founder of the Concord Poetry Center.

Joan Houlihan is a poet and critic, and founder of the “Concord Poetry Center” ( ) located at the Emerson Umbrella building in Concord, Mass. The center was a joint inspiration of Houlihan and Richard Fahlander, program director of the arts organization “Emerson Umbrella.” The program has become quickly popular with area residents and beyond. The center offers poetry courses, workshops, seminars, publication consultation, readings and performances, as well as a physical center and poetry resources.
Houlihan is a poet and editor in her own right. She is the author of “Hand Held Executions: Poems and Essays,” is the editor-and-chief of the poetry magazine “Perihelion,” and is poetry editor for the “Del Sol Press.” I talked with Houlihan on my Somerville Community Access TV show ’Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: There are many venues that offer poetry readings, instruction, etc... in the area. What gave you the impetus to start yet another in Concord?
Joan Houlihan: There is no one poetry center that is dedicated to all things poetical. We are not just about readings; not just about workshops, not just about consultations. We are also about community building. It is not a place where you go to an event and go home; you make connections with other poets. We have a poetry room with a library. It’s modeled on the old community center model. We are up to 52 members. Most of them are engaged in real life; they have jobs. For the most part they are not students, not academics, but are serious about poetry. My impetus for the center was twofold. I was not satisfied with what has been offered in the area. I wanted to build something that was personally meaningful to me, and in doing this I found my personal vision was personally meaningful to a lot of people. This all came about naturally and organically. I noticed there was a lot of interest in this in the ‘burbs where people aren’t thought to be thinking about cultural things. The literary tradition is great in Concord.
DH: How hard is it to start a non-profit?
JH: I haven’t applied for 501 3C status. We are taken care of under the “Emerson Umbrella.” They provide an infrastructure. It’s easy for me to handle things this way. Maybe next year I will apply for non-profit status.
DH: How will you define success for your center? What do you want it too ultimately to become?
JH: On the far end I want it like the “Poets House” in New York City. That’s a goal to aim towards. The thing I don’t want to lose is the grassroots appeal of it. I want it totally accessible to anyone. I am trying to wed the academic and the general poetry community. For instance we had a tribute to Donald Justice that brought in 80 people. You would never expect this, but there was a lot of interest in this poet who many people didn’t know about. People were thrilled to learn about him. We also have workshops like “Seeds for New Writing,” that are more personally-based. They are on the other side of academic.
DH: You have written a number of essays lamenting about the lack of accessibility in poetry today. Do you think this is a major problem?
JH: Oh yes. It’s a scary trend from my point of view. I like eclecticism in poetry. But the whole school that started the “Deconstruction” and the “Language” poets in the 70’s, has evolved into a favorite mode of younger poets. I find it moving away from what I find valuable about poetry: meaning, humanity, and enlarging your sense of being in the world. There seems to be a huge intolerance from the “post-avant” community. It’s almost fanaticism. It has a political ethic to it. I’ve been called right wing because I don’t believe in that kind of poetry.
DH: In another essay you characterize the new avant-garde as the “new senility” trend in poetry.
JH: A lot of my essays have humor. This is tinged with some humor of course. To be honest, a lot of members of that school were upset with my use of the words dementia and senility. The major offense for these people was around me calling them on their lack of a “there,” there. A lot of people went after me in a strange way. The people at “Fence” magazine were quite incensed. I don’t attack poets, but I do attack poems. There is a distinction. They attacked me personally. They literally called me an idiot. Anyone who put my name in Google two years ago would come up with: “Joan Houlihan is an idiot.” I started to think this was a scary movement in poetry.
DH: In several of your poems that I read in the “Boston Review” and “Verse Daily,” there seems to be a theme of acceptance of decline; change. You don’t so much rage against the dying of the light, but appreciate it--sort of nod to it.
JH: I talk about my philosophy of poetry in my essays. My poetry definitely has to do with recognizing hard truths, inevitable decline, and finding a larger purpose in that.
DH: Does poetry bring meaning to a meaningless world?
JH: Poetry can’t do that. It allows you access to a place in your being which is the most important part of being human. I feel blessed that I am able to do this. Most people miss this in life.
Doug Holder

Word catcher by Irene Koronas ( A Report on Breaking Bagels With The Bards) Finagle-A Bagel basement Harvard Square, Cambridge every Sat 9AM all poets welcome...

doug holder and harris gardner host breaking bagelswith the bards, a gathering of poets downstairs atfinagle a bagel in harvard square, on saturdaymorning. there are a core group of us who talk allkinds of "stuff." i am attempting to catch some of thebanter, sentences, and words that i feel are useful inwriting my poetry or anyone else who want to use saidwords in their poetry. i will try to report the goingsand comings of the poets, all of which, aredistinguished members of their communities. please donot be put off by the word distinguished; to clarifythe word and its meaning in the context of bread inround form, we, the poets perceive ourselves asdifferent from the ordinary. not extraordinary butapart from the ordinary. (does this mean we are inactuality ordinary?) (personally, i hope so) i heardphillip, one of the regulars, explain the distinctionof "out of the ordinary."this week some of us identified with sea glass, theround edges of being worn away by the push and pull ofliving with words. this all sounds more profound thanour talks really are. but because i am able to sithere writing about what was, i can afford to uselanguage in any manner i chose. (what'd ya think ofthat?)the idea to write a brief newsletter, occurred to meduring my subway ride to boston, after our meeting. iguess the steel wheels, the fast roll over tracks,helped me to put together thoughts about how to usewhat i hear, from the bards. next meeting i willattempt to take more accurate notes, noting thecomplete names of those there. like a 12 step meeting,i only use first names and sometimes, i'm hard pressedto do that, so i just say, "hey." the surface oftrains is obviously a great place for me to is a list of some of the sentences-topics-andwords i caught in our underground eatery:if hogwarts had an evil twin it'd be this building.(referring to a building in newton)i went to the park to find a poem. (harris's poem hewas working on, writing on the back of a large manilaenvelope.)i'm out in a transitional valley. (i only caught partof this saying, so i made up the rest)ann sexton asked why the attendants were holding thearms of patients. she was told it was to keep theclients, who were on suicide watch, calm. touch methodused in the 70's. (doug relates so many wonderfulobservations and stories from his place of employment)does drakes cupcakes still exist? what did the logolook like?ducks - duckettes - duckass of windsor (no disrespectintended in any of these words)drakes is the masculine, ducks the femininethus the duckettesarchaic words (sooth - truth)ambiguous words (housekeeper)buffalo universityback seat memoriesjars of memories on the windowsillour conversations often involve how to print achapbook, who is in the process of printing achapbook, what venues we maybe featured readers, openmikes and of course we network, that is (a littlelike) (wearing net stockings, we are always trying tostraighten the seams.) we hardly ever talk aboutsports, laundry, taking out the garbage, sometimes wediscus politics, we never use words like, diet,exotic, rich, once in a while you'll hear a swear comeout of my mouth, but, i've never heard any other poetuse, what i call, foul, chicken breath syllables.this is the truth as i know 'it', or as i heard fromthe poets, (putting aside, the fact that my hearing isfiltered by my own idea of what i'm hearing. thismeans, i'm losing some of my hearing.) we sit around along formica table that is situated close to the restrooms; a down to, an underground exchange of goodwill,and most of my clothing is bought from the second handstores. we are as diverse as most poets are, eatingand sipping on each other's conversations, forinspiration and companionship.irene koronas

Ibbetson Street Press Arts/Editor Richard Wilhelm's review of the poetry collection "Catch the Light," by Douglas Worth, will appear in a full page ad in the New York Times Book Review. (Sept. 18 2005) The ad will also include references to Ibbetson Street and the Ibbetson Update. Wilhelm and Worth met at "Breaking Bagels with the Bards," a group for poets that meets every Saturday morning at 9AM in the basement of "Finagle-a-Bagel," in Harvard Square. Worth's work has been praised by the likes of Howard Zinn, Richard Wilbur, Denise Levertov, and others. For the complete review go to
Doug Holder

Sunday, July 31, 2005

June Gross, the widow of Ed Hogan, the founder of Somerville's Aspect Magazine and Zephyr Press, gave me Ed Hogan's small press collection. Here is only a partial list of what's in the collection. I am going to approach several university libraries about starting an Ed Hogan collection. He was a very significant figure in the small press. Doug Holder

William Corbett-cassette tape- ( Zoland Books Cambridge, Mass.) "Readings from On Blue Note."
William Corbett-book- On Blue Note- ( Zoland Books -) 1989.
Country Pleasures. John Gill. ( The Crossing Press 1975)
We, The Generation In The Wilderness. Ricardo Feierstein. ( Ford-Brown&Co. 1989)
Circle Meadow. Gerald Hausman. ( Bookstore Press- 1972)
Winter Bells. W.D. Ehrhart. ( Adastra Press- 1988)
Poems: Wadsworth Handbook and Anthology. ( Wasdworth Publishing Company-1969)
The Testament of Israel Potter. William Doreski. ( Seven Woods Press- 1976)
Gerard Manley Hopkins Meets Walt Whitman In Heaven and Other Poems. P. Dacey. ( Penmaen Press 1982)
War Stories. H. R. Coursen .( with letter from the author to Hogan) ( Cider Mill Press 1985)
Root Song. Cid Corman. (-Potes and Poets Press-1986)
Harmatan. Paul Violi. ( SUN NY-1977)
Morning Passage. Janine Pommy Vega. ( Telephone Books) 1976.
Pocahontas Discovers AmericA. Miriam Sagan. (with announcement from the press: "She belongs to that group of small press poets who have not made it to the poetic 'big time,...' ( Adastra Press- 1993)
Leaving The Temple. Miriam Sagan. (signed by author.) ( Zephyr Press. 1984)
Acequia Madre. Miriam Sagan. (with letter to Hogan from author.) ( Adastra Press. 1988)
Vision's Edge. Miriam Sagan ( with letter to Hogan from author) (Samisdat 1978.)
The Drunken Boat. Eric Greinke. ( Free Press-1975)
Changing Faces Betsy Scholl. (autographed by author.) ( Alice James Books 1974)
Buffalo Poem. Nathan Whiting. (Pym-Randall Press. 1970).
The Adastra Reader. Gary Metras. ( Adastra Press 1987)
World Alone. Mundo A. Solas. Vicente Aleixandre. ( Penmaen Press 1982)
The Outer Banks. W.D. Ehrhart. signed by author. ( Adastra Press-1984)
Evidence of Johnny Appleseed. Robert Dunn. (1975)
The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ. Galway Kinnell. ( Houhton Mifflin- 1974)
After the Storm. Poems of the Persian Gulf War. Edited by Jay Meek& F. D. Reeves ( Maisonneuve Press 1992)
Life According to Motown. Patrica Smith. (with inscription from poet to Hogan.) ( Tia Chucha Press Chicago 1991).
Frank. An International Journal of Cotemporary Writing and Art. Winter 1997/8.
Channel. Barbara Jordan. ( Beacon Press- 1990).
Freeway Problems and Others. Lawrence P. Spingarn. (signed by author. )( Perivale Press. 1970)
Runaway Pond. William Corbett. ( Apple-Wood books 1981)
Rival heavens. Keith Althaus. ( Provincetown Poetry Series-1993.)
Riversongs. Michael Anania. signed by the poet. ( Uni. of illonois Press-1978)
Oriental Woman with Various Flasks. letter from author to Hogan included. (Lennox Blvd Books 1978)
In Baltic Circles Paul Violi (Kulcher Foundation-1973)
Quicksand Through The Hourglass David Morice. ( The Toothpaste Press-1980)
St. Patrick's Day. Wiliam Corbett. (Arion's Dolphin-1976)
Half of the Map. William Doreski. ( Burning Deck Press-1980)
A Cantata for Ground Hog Day. Bob Dunn. (Greenleaf Books-1971)
Hearts In Space. Maureen Owen. (Kulcher foundation-1980)
In The Americas. Robert Bohm ( Panache books, Inc...-1979)
Notes from New York and other Poems. Charles Tomlinson. ( Oxford Univ. Press-1984)
Noise and Smoky Breath. Edited by Hannish Whyte. ( Third Eye center-1983)
Where Rivers Meet. Bob Arnold. ( Mad River Press-1990)
Rafting Quivet Creek. Tom Bridwell (salt-Works Press-1976)
Winning Hearts and Minds. War Poems by Vietnam Vets. (1st Casualty Press-1972)
Willingly. Tess Gallagher (Graywolf press-1984)
Personal Effects. Robin Becker. Helena Minton. Marilyn Zuckerman. ( Alice James-1976)
Cache. Bob Arnold. 9 (Mad River Press-1987)
The Poets's Encyclopedia. (Unmuzzled Ox Editions-1979)
The Bend,The Lip,The kid. Jaimy Gordon. ( Sun NY 1978)
The Outer Banks and Other Poems. W.D. Ehrhart. ( Adastra Press-19840
Hawker. Robert Peters. ( Unicorn Press-1984)
The Gift to be Simple. Robert Peters.( Liveright Press-1973)
Shooting Stars. M. LaBare ( swollen Magpie Press-19820
Beasts in Clothes. Harold Witt. ( The MacMillian Press-1961)
Don't Think: Look William Corbett (signed by Corbett with note to Hogan) (Zoland 1991)
Mondo Barbie. edited by Lucinda Ebersole and Richard Peabody.( st. Martins-1993)
Back Talk. Robin Becker. ( Alice James-1982)
Quarry. Carol Oles ( Univ. of Utah Press-1983.)
Mocking BirdWish Me Luck. Charles Bukowski. (Black Sparrow 1972)
Burning In Water/Drowning In Flame.Charles Bukowski. (Black Sparrow-1974)
I'm In Love With The Morton Salt Girl. Richard Peabody ( Paycock Press)
Just For Laughs. W.D. Ehrhart ( Vietnam Generation Inc&Burning City Press-1990)
Well Spring. Sharon Olds. (Alfred Knoph--1996)
Botulism. Frederic Will. ( Micromegas Chapbooks-1975)
Crossing The River Twice. Stratis Haviara. (Clevland State University Press-1976)
Running Backwards. Barbara A. Holland (signed by Holland) Warthog Press-1983)
Play the Piano Drunk. Charles Bukowski. ( Black Sparrow-1979)
Sure Signs. Ted Kooser. ( with a review by Hogan inserted) ( Univ. of Pittsburgh Press-1980)
Contend with the Dark. Jeff Schwartz. Against That Time. Ron Schrieber. ( with review by Jim Kates enclosed) (Alice James-1978)
A Limerick Rake. Desmond O'Grady. ( Gallery Books-1968)
The Old Chore. John Hildebidle. ( Alice James-1981)
Sounds of the River Narvanjana. Armand Schwerner. ( signed by author with note to Ed Hogan)
Avelaval. Lindsay Hill. (Oyez-1974)
A Local Habitation and a Name. Ted Kosser. (Sole Press-1974)
1990. Michael Klien. ( Provincetown Town Arts Press-1993
Tree Taking Root. David Wilk. ( Truck Press- 1977)
Soon It Will be Morning. Michael Hogan. ( Cold Mountain-1976)