Saturday, October 20, 2007

Robert Pinsky to receive Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award Nov 11

(Somerville, Mass.) Somerville's Ibbetson Street Press will be awarding former U.S. poet/laureate Robert Pinsky the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award at the SomervilleNews Writers Festival, Nov. 11, 2007 7PM at the Dilboy VFW Hall ( 371 Summer St.) Davis Square, Somerville. The award, like the festival, is in its fifth year. It is awarded to individuals who have made substantial contributions to the poetry and or the small or alternative press world. Former recipients of the award have been Robert K. Johnson ( poet and retired Suffolk University professor), Louisa Solano ( former owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop), Jack Powers ( founder of Stone Soup Poets), and David Godine ( founder of Davide Godine publishing). Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door or by calling 617-666-4010.

Somerville, Mass. Robert Pinsky will be awarded the fifth annual Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award at the Somerville News Writers Festival Nov. 11, 2007 at 7PM. ( Dilboy VFW Hall 371 Summer St. Davis Sq. Somerville) Pinsky is the former Poet/Laureate of the United States.

Former recipients have been Robert K. Johnson ( retired Suffolk University Professor), Louisa Solano ( former owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop), Jack Powers ( founder of Stone Soup Poets), and David Godine ( founder of David Godine Publishing, Inc.) The Ibbetson Street Press is a small press located in Somerville, Mass. To get tickets to the Festival call 617-666-4010 or purchase at the door.

Photo by Scott Davidson

Robert Pinsky
Robert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He received a B.A. from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University, where he was a Stegner Fellow in creative writing, and studied under the poet and critic Yvor Winters.
He is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Gulf Music: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2007); Jersey Rain (2000); The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996), which received the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee; The Want Bone (1990); History of My Heart (1984); An Explanation of America (1980); and Sadness and Happiness (1975).
He is also the author of several prose titles, including The Life of David (Schocken, 2006); Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry (2002); The Sounds of Poetry (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Poetry and the World (1988); and The Situation of Poetry(1977). In 1985 he also released a computerized novel, Mindwheel.
Pinsky has published two acclaimed works of traslation: The Inferno of Dante (1994), which was a Book-of-the-Month-Club Editor's Choice, and received both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award; and The Separate Notebooks by Czeslaw Milosz (with Renata Gorczynski and Robert Hass).
About his work, the poet Louise Glück has said, "Robert Pinsky has what I think Shakespeare must have had: dexterity combined with worldliness, the magician's dazzling quickness fused with subtle intelligence, a taste for tasks and assignments to which he devises ingenious solutions."
From 1997 to 2000, he served as the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. During that time, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, a program dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry's role in Americans' lives.
In 1999, he co-edited Americans' Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology with Maggie Dietz. Other anthologies he has edited include An Invitation to Poetry (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004); Poems to Read (2002); and Handbook of Heartbreak (1998).
His honors include an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, Poetry Magazine's Oscar Blumenthal prize, the Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He is currently poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate.
Pinsky has taught at both Wellesley College and the University

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jennifer Matthews: A photography exhibition with heart by Pam Rosenblatt

***Jennifer Matthews' "Heart Moon" was snapped at 2 a.m. in Denali, Alaska.
The heart shape was formed because Matthews did not use a tripod.

Birds, flowers, roots, clouds with rays of light showing through them, and a moon shaped like a heart. These are just some of the subjects in several of the Jennifer Matthew photographs that were on display in Sound Bites, 704 Broadway, Ball Square from October 3 – 17.

“It’s at Sound Bites Restaurant because it’s a really famous restaurant for artists and musicians and writers. And they all come here. And so it’s an honor to be hanging my photographs here,” Matthews said.

Originally from Freehold, New Jersey, Matthews has been a Somerville resident for 10 years. A well-respected songwriter and musician, she has developed her eight year interest in creative photography into her first exhibition taking place at Sound Bites.

All Matthews’ photographs at the show were taken while on tour in Alaska. “Creatively, I love the atmosphere in Alaska. But the nature is unbelievable. It’s so beautiful. The rivers and the mountains are so beautiful that I’m really inspired there -- as an artist and as a musician and as a photographer. It’s a haven for creative artists,” she said.

She usually spends three weeks every summer in Alaska with her manager, Rose Gardenia, and plans on increasing her stay to four months this coming summer when she will first drive from Boston across the United States, traveling to and playing gigs in Texas and California and then going on to Oregon and Washington and finally ending up in Alaska. Besides having shows in the United States, she has toured as a musician in Japan, Korea, England, Scotland, and throughout Europe, she said.

Matthews got involved with photography because she loves to travel, and she realized eight years ago photography was a passion of hers. “And as a writer – I’m also a writer and a poet – when I travel I get inspiration out there. And I found as I travel, every time I have a camera I always photograph,” she said. “I realized, when I would look through the lens and I would be taking pictures, I just felt this creative energy behind the camera. And so I’ve been taking creative pictures for about eight years.”

Many people have looked at Matthews’ photographs and suggested she have a show with the intent to sell them. She had never put any of her photos up for sale until she hung some up for this premier exhibition at Sound Bites. “I always used to give them away, but now I’m going to start selling them,” Matthews said.

Matthews is really excited about having her work at Sound Bites. “Because it’s an artistic voice,” she said. ‘And also I told Yasser Mirza , the owner here, that I have these wonderful photographs of Alaska. And this is an Alaska show. It’s all Alaska. And he said, ‘Bring’em in and hang them up and we’ll do a show.”

She doesn’t put her photography into one category. “Actually, it depends on the day, where I’m photographing. I just did a whole spread on Glouchester and that was more artistic things. I spent a lot of time photographing a fountain as the water came out of the fountain capturing the water coming out and then the way it would ripple in the water. So it depends on the day,” she said.

In general, Matthews photographs sculptures, nature, art, street scenes, black and white, and things capturing her attention. In the show, she has a few pictures with flowers, photos which she hopes portray how much magic there is in nature. “Every photographer has a different eye…I like to photograph people too but I like to photograph them in a more natural environment where you’re capturing them in these special moments that they don’t realize that they’re in the camera,” she said.
Having a writing background seems to influence the way she takes pictures. “I think I photograph like a writer, in a more poetic way, so to speak,” Matthews said.

The cameras Matthews uses meets her purposes. In fact, she takes photos with only two cameras – a manual old Canon for most black and white shots and a high end Kodak digital. She is totally self-educated in photography. “Even with my manual camera, I would just take photograph after photograph until I learned the camera creatively on my own. Even with songwriting, I taught myself how to play guitar and I work better when I teach myself. I’m still learning every day,” she said.

For additional equipment, she often uses a tripod. But once, when she had just finished a gig in Homer, Alaska, she was on the road in a vehicle with Gardenia and had forgotten her tripod. It was 2 a.m. and summertime which meant it was light outside. “So what happened is we left the gig and were on the road and I looked and said, ‘Oh, my God, that moon is incredible.’ I got out and it was setting.

Actually, the moon was setting over the mountain. It was 2 a.m. and the moon usually comes up for three hours and then it sets. So it was setting over the mountain,” she said.

“So I got out and I didn’t have a tripod. I started shooting it. And because I didn’t have a tripod, the camera moves a little bit when you snap the picture. I snapped it and I looked at the screen and it was a picture of a perfect heart,” she said. This picture of the moon as a “perfect” heart is on display at Sound Bites.
Also on exhibition at Sound Bites is a photograph of a solitary, upright bald eagle with his head bowing down towards the ground, not flying and proud as usually depicted in photos. “I sat with him for a while,” said Matthews. “He was on a ledge over a building. And I got about six foot shots of him. And he was sitting up there and he was looking around and he was like pluming himself. He was sticking his beck into his feathers and then he was fluffing them out.” Matthews’ photo has captured the eagle to look almost human and vulnerable.

Unlike many modern day photographers, Matthews is exhibiting photos all in their original state. “Some people put their photographs into Photoshop and they manipulate it and they add colors and all that. I didn’t do any of that. All these shots were 100% natural as they were taken,” she said.

Matthews will have another photography show at 1369 Coffee House in Inman Square, Cambridge, in the spring of 2008, in affiliation with Out of the Blue Art Gallery, Central Square, Cambridge. And she hopes to have more exhibitions in the future.
Matthews has published photos in the past including in her poetry book, Fairy Tales and Misdemeanors, (Ibbetson Street Press, 2003) and, more recently, on the front and back cover of Ibbetson Street 21.

Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe are two photographers whose work Matthews admires.
If anyone wants to learn more about Matthews’ photographs, please log onto .

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How Shall We Submit: An Examination of Submission Guidelines

How Shall We Submit: An Examination of Submission Guidelines

By: Charles P. Ries

I have tried to honor the submission guidelines the editors of both print and electronic magazines have created for me. I have stumbled only a few times—this mostly due to my being reckless and in a hurry. To those editors whose guidelines I have stepped on (and you know who you are), I apologize.

As a form of therapy and self-education, I wanted to understand why submission standards are necessary and who benefits from them. I invited fifty editors of electronic and print magazines to explain their submission philosophy. Twenty-two were good enough to reply. Of these, sixteen accepted simultaneous submissions and previously published work, five were strongly opposed to it, and one was open to both, but not simultaneous publication.

Although the concept of what can be submitted is simple (if one reads the rules), there is surprising variation with regard to expectations. Some wanted to know who accepted the piece first so credit could be given to that publisher; another was willing to run interviews, reviews, and essays that had appeared elsewhere, but not poetry. Still others would make exceptions for exceptional work. The majority that weighed in on this issue just wanted the best work to be published and read as often as possible.

No one representing an academically funded publication responded to my query. This may be more a reflection of the kinds of magazines I tend to work with than academic unwillingness to reply.

The circulation of the print magazines responding ran between “a few” to thousands. The electronic magazines ranged from hundreds of visits per month to many thousands per month.

The magazines that opposed simultaneous submissions or the practice of publishing already published work were equally divided between print and electronic. One might think that the lower cost of putting out an electronic magazine would make for more benevolent submission guidelines, but this didn’t seem to be the case.

Here is a sampling of the comments I received from various editors. As you will see (and I hope, enjoy), these reflect a wide variation on the theme of what work may be submitted to a literary magazine:

“I do print work that has been published elsewhere. I don’t think a magazine should feel so ‘precious’ as to only feature works never seen before. In Asia, where many of my readers come from, there is even less concern about reading new work because, for example, any poetry from the States featured in the journal is new to, say, readers in Hong Kong.” Cyril Wong, Editor, Softblow

“My goal is to publish and circulate work, not control it. While I wouldn’t choose to reprint a work that has been published many times, I actually encourage the multiple publication of works that have only been printed by small mags because of the limited audience and print runs for each mag. Although the small press can be a cozy little world, I would be willing to bet that if you matched up the subscriber lists of, say, Bathtub Gin, Poesy, Main Street Rag, and Heeltap, you would find very little overlap. I see reprinting as a way of helping an author find a larger audience.” Christopher Harter, Editor, Bathtub Gin

“We seldom reprint anything anymore, especially with a good chance our subscribers will see it elsewhere. There’s also too much good material out there for a duplicate printing to take the space of someone else’s possible lone chance. The Pushcart anthology is supposed to reprint deserved pieces, though I personally think Bill Henderson favors big budget, established university publications over ‘zines,’ and the famous (does Joyce Carol Oates need yet another credit?) over deserving unknowns. Someone should take him on with a true small press anthology/annual—but it’s probably impossible nowadays without the backing (on many levels) of influential people willing to be altruistic.” Phil Wagner, Editor, Iconoclast

“I don’t have a problem with previously published work or simultaneous submissions as long as the person is upfront with me about it. As a poet who submits her own work, I understand wanting a piece published in more than one place, and because of the long waiting period with some zines/magazines, wanting to send it out simultaneously.” Kathleen Paul-Flanagan, Editor, Remark

“We don’t have a problem with simultaneous submissions, but we don’t consider reprints. In the words of another editor— if you can write one good story, you can write another. Instead of sending the same piece out over and over, get off your ass and write something new. The goal of most literary journals is to promote new work. If it has been published, it isn’t new. If a writer is trying to build a reputation for him or herself, the best way to do this is to present a variety of work, not rehash the same piece over and over. The pool of readers of literary journals is pretty small.” CL Bledsoe, Editor, Ghoti Fish

We will take previously published work on a case by case basis. We are much more interested in previously published work if the author is deceased and/or marginalized, neglected, or banned. Pemmican is likewise open to considering simultaneously submitted work. As sometimes publishing authors ourselves, we understand how hard it is for writers to send to a magazine, wait around for months for a reply only to get a rejection slip, and then have to repeat the whole process. You’d be hard pressed, however, to find many magazines that look favorably on simultaneous publication, especially when the magazines involved are not aware of the simultaneous publication and discover it, say, by accident or by a tip. Writers who publish broadly without informing the respective magazines of such seem to be under the assumption that all magazines exist exclusively to promote their particular work and are only ‘good’ to the extent that they serve as useful stepping stones. Most magazines insist that authors, once accepted for publication in their pages, do not continue to send the work in question out for further publication for a specified period of time.” Robert Edwards and Ben Howard, Editors, Pemmican

“The limiting boundaries of the small press preclude many readers from being exposed to work that is bound by the exclusiveness of some publications. No one can afford to pay for, or read, all of the many fine venues that exist. Therefore, it is unfair to the writer as well as the reader to put them away once they have been exposed to a rather limited audience. Publication of previously published work gives each publication a chance to vote on the quality of work submitted and the poet writing it. Each time a work is published, the press publishing it is voting on it. And thus adding to their editorial prowess and judgment.” Thomas Conroy, Editor, The League of Laboring Poets

“When I see in my favorite magazine the same poem that I just published, or planned on publishing, it is sort of a let- down. Like, okay, there is one page of my magazine that someone will skip over if they just read it in Free Verse or Blind Man’s Rainbow that same month or the month before. It detracts from the beauty of the magazine, so I stopped accepting simultaneously submitted work. But, there are always exceptions. If it blows me away, I will publish it even if it appeared somewhere else. But as a standard, I prefer not to look at recent simultaneously submitted work. I guess there is a fine line. Reviews and articles should always be simultaneously submitted. Poetry is a different ball game altogether...” Brian Morrisey, Editor, Poesy

“We put a lot of effort into pulling together the content for both a print and online edition each quarter; we feel we owe it to our readers as well as to our writers to choose the best of the original work we receive, and it is a vexing problem to deal with undisclosed simultaneous submissions or previously published work. Given our tight schedule, we prefer not to read work that falls outside of our submission guidelines.” Eric Lorberer, Editor, Rain Taxi

“Really? You want to read the same thing over and over again? Why not just read the same magazine over and over again? And what about the writer? Should he never write anything new? Just publish the same piece repeatedly? As a reader, I don’t get it. A publisher is eager to find that newcomer who hasn’t seen print before, whose work the publisher may have interacted in, making suggestions for changes, tightening it up, building suspense, correcting spelling and grammar errors. You get the kid still in college (or even high school) who has finally gotten the guts together to venture out and place his work before a critical stranger and you publish the first thing he’s ever sent out, or the second, then you’ve fulfilled some kind of higher purpose. You’ve given more sincere praise to that kid than any professor’s marginal note could. Keeping an already-published piece in circulation is the purpose of the anthology. Finding and presenting new work or promoting new work in whatever way possible is the purpose of the magazine. The cost of publishing is a pittance now compared to when I first got the publishing bug back in the 60s. There is no reason why anyone with his own slant on writing shouldn’t be publishing a magazine and gathering anthologies. There is a way for everyone to win in this situation, as long as everyone sticks to his or her mandate. There is no reason for magazines to become anthologies or anthologies to become magazines. There’s a good reason we have both.” Robert Bixby, Editor, Parting Gifts

“I’ve always thought that the purpose of a mag or ezine is to be a vehicle for the writing, not the other way around. Here I’m also writing from the perspective of poet myself, so I know the frustrations of submitting work to mags only to have them sit on a poem for months, if not years sometimes. I used to follow the rules when it came to submitting work, but now I confess that I have sent out poems that I think are really good to any number of mags and not advised the editors that they are simultaneous subs. I want my work to be seen by as big an audience as possible. I know that this isn’t such a good plan, but I’ve grown tired of playing the game and being taken advantage of by this ‘first time published’ rule. In fact, it was this limitation that was partly an inspiration to start the Lummox Journal in the first place.” RD Armstrong, Editor, Lummox

“Poems deserve to be seen, heard, and read by a wide audience. If this means a poem is printed at the same time in two or more magazines or online zines, then that is legitimate as far as I’m concerned.” Irene Koronas, Editor, Wilderness House Literary Review

“My opinion with regards to reprints is probably not typical because I run a print magazine in South America, and my readers are mainly South American. For this reason, I can and do use reprinted material (even material that has appeared online) since my readers are unlikely to have read the pieces previously. And this is important, since, in the end, editors are mainly interested in keeping our readers happy. If we give them bad stories, they won’t be happy, and if we give them stories that they’ve read before (and make them pay for the privilege), they won’t be happy. The trick, in my opinion, is to try to sell it to an editor who has a different market from that in which the story has previously been seen. If this is the case, and you are honest about the publication history, many editors will give a good piece a home. Despite popular misconceptions, truly good stories are not all that easy to find—especially for the small press.” Gustavo Bondoni, Editor, Buenos Aires Literary Review

“I don’t believe that a single reader has ever been harmed by reading a good poem twice. Furthermore, I believe that publication by small journals has all too often been the ‘kiss of death’ for poems. A poet puts all his inspiration, skill, and craft into a poem. The poem is read by a handful of readers and then is consigned to the literary graveyard called ‘Previously Published.’” Michael R. Burch, Editor, Hypertexts

“As for the legality of publishing poems that have already been published and for which other publishers have taken first rights, and that have been returned to the poet (which is almost unanimously the case), the attorneys I’ve consulted about this, two of whom were literary attorneys, agree that there is no copyright problem.” Ellaraine Lockie, Poet

“I’ve been duped multiple times by some of the biggest names in the small press who ignore the fact that we are not interested in previously published material. Since they MUST sign a Publishing Agreement to have their work featured in Main Street Rag, they have shifted the burden of responsibility for copyright infringement back to themselves, meaning if someone sues MSR, all we have to do is show the signed agreement and they must then go after the author because the author lied on a legal document. I am a legally registered business. I pay payroll, state taxes, federal taxes—and all the other crap that comes along with being a legal business. Many small press people do not register as a business, don’t collect and pay sales taxes or income taxes. It is among these folks that you will find the most prevalent attitude of sure, we don’t care if it’s been published before. And why would you expect anything else: they’re flying beneath the legal radar for everything else, why expect them to abide by copyright laws? Is that good for the author? I don’t think so. It means their work may not be protected by copyright laws.” M. Scott Douglass, Editor and Publisher, Main Street Rag

“The rule for poeticdiversity is that, as long as you include the name and date of WHERE and WHEN the work previously appeared, we will more than likely republish it—at least 80% of the time. Unfortunately, the rule for ‘exclusivity’ creates a dishonest chord between the poet/writer who isn’t willing to commit 100% to their work by omitting this relevant information to the editor of the publication in question. As a poet and writer who submits her work to a variety of journals, I understand the frustration of running up against the ‘status quo’ rule of ‘no previously published work,’ and I choose to take my chances with more sympathetic journals. On the flip side, while I do believe that a poem/story/article should be read by a wide audience, disseminating it to as many journals as possible in a short space of time undervalues the work. It’s like hearing the same batch of poems from a poet at an open mic six weeks in a row. I’ll stop listening after the second time.” Marie Lecrivain, Executive Editor, poeticdiversity

“We have no restrictions. We believe the property belongs to the writer. If a work has been previously published we only require permission from the publisher and writer, and take care to mention its previous publications in our journals and chapbooks.” Diana E. Saenz / Marshal L. Harvey, Co-Editors, Boston Poet Journal

I subscribe to over twenty-five small press literary magazines, but given the pace of my life I can’t read them all—I don’t even come close. Most I scan, and a few I will read from cover to cover. But I think we all realize at some point that there are more things to read than hours in the day to read them. This is why I believe that great work should be allowed to be submitted again. With thousands of outlets for writing, the chances of reading the same published work of one writer twice in separate publications are slim to zero. Even if this should happen, why make the exception the rule?

As for the imperative that writers who can’t continually generate new and exciting work are failures, well I think that logic is flat-footed. Over a nine-year period, I produced about 300 poems. Right now I am not writing much poetry and have begun to focus on other writing forms. So when all of my poems have been published, do I cease to submit them? Maybe there is a middle ground; perhaps an editor can accept already published work if it has not been published anywhere within the last year?

Regardless of how we feel about submission guidelines, we must honor them and those who publish us. If editors insist on a once-and-done code of acceptance, then I would ask that they explain the philosophy along with their submission rules. Such explanations would allow the writer to become a participant in the ethos of the publication. Phil Wagner’s simple statement that, “There’s also too much good material out there for a duplicate printing to take the space of someone else’s possible lone chance” resonated with me not because of its logic, but because of its goodness.

I have sympathy for the publisher who has no university backing and/or must live on subscriptions. I can understand why they might begin to feel the pressure to publish only the “first,” the “original,” the “breakout piece of prose” when sales matter. But do such restrictive submission guidelines serve the work or do they serve the publisher?

Note: This article appeared first in print in Free Verse, and it first appeared electronically on

Web Sites of Magazines Noted in This Article:

Ø Buenos Aires Literary Review:
Ø The HyperTexst:
Ø Main Street Rag:
Ø Lummox Journal:
Ø Remark:
Ø Softblow:
Ø Bathtub Gin:
Ø Ghoti Fish:
Ø Poesy:
Ø Rain Taxi:
Ø Wilderness House Literary Review:
Ø Poetic Diversity:
Ø Boston Poets:
Ø Pemmican Press:

Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory and five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (, Pass Port Journal ( and ESC! ( He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore ( He is a member of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes. You may find additional samples of his work by going to:

The Turn of the Century. Julia Carlson.

The Turn of the Century. Julia Carlson. Cloudkeeper Press. POBOX 440357 W. Somerville, Mass. 02144) $7.

Leave it to Somerville poet and publisher Gloria Mindock to come up with a chapbook press branded ”Cloudkeeper,” and to recruit a high caliber poet like Julia Carlson. Carlson, who is the fiction editor of the Wilderness House Literary Review, obviously has a serious talent for poetry, as evidenced by her collection: “The Turn of the Century.” This poetry hits the reader hard and square, with the power of a Punk Rock riff. Carlson, an old Punk Rocker of Boston’s notorious “Rathskeller”- club vintage, takes stabs at the tender underbelly of contemporary society and draws blood. In the poem: “Hotel Caribe, San Juan,” Carlson paints a scathing portrait of “Ugly Americans.”

These beefy men
Sell aluminum siding
In Topeka or Duluth
They wear their blazers to the beach
Their wives are plump and fashionable
The men look at every woman but their wives
The wives watch the black boys
Sweeping up the sand
What any one of them
Wouldn’t give
For some wild
Rum-drenched episode
To not write home about.”

And here is a right-on-the-money description of a café society party full of the requisite number of poseurs and ciphers. (“Dinner with the Ruling Class.”)

“ As the evening progresses through descriptions of bad haircuts…
Cleaning ladies who never clean the house the way they would
Shopping sprees, bankruptcies (not theirs, someone else’s)
Unhappy relationships, therapy, yoga, personal trainers
And unambitious/drunk/cheating husbands or wives
(not theirs, someone else’s)
I get plastered and caught in this sticky bullshit.
I feel like I’m sealed in plastic wrap bound with duct tape
Gasping and suffocating in drivel so pure it hurts.
I hate these people who are so tolerant of me and my boozy state
These people who think I am “cool”
I deeply despise them
And, despite the fact they’re footing the bill
Or perhaps because of it, I will never show them mercy.”

Carlson is a member in good standing of the “Bagel Bards,” a writers’ group that meets in Somerville/Cambridge, Mass. throughout the year. She doesn’t often talk about her poetry—this is a gal who likes to keep it close to her vest. Don’t mess with her, and for Christ sakes, keep it down and let her write!

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/Oct 2007/Somerville, Mass.

From Mist to Shadow:Poems By Robert K. Johnson

Robert K. Johnson

From Mist to Shadow:
Poems by Robert K. Johnson

ISBN 978-0-9795313-0-9
80 pages at 12.00 paperback
Ibbetson Street Press
25 School Street
Somerville MA 02143

Review by Laurel Johnson

Robert K. Johnson is a poet, writer, retired English professor, and student of life. Between 1975 and 2007, he’s had six collections of poetry and two non-fiction books published, plus been featured in two poetry anthologies. In this latest book, Johnson tenderly transforms the small memories, wonders and sorrows of everyday life into moments brightened and sharpened through his words.

The commonplace turns quietly sinister as Johnson remembers the unexpected suicide of a friend. “Jimmy” recalls the class clown, the day he put his head in the oven after school, and the numbing effect on the poet:

And suddenly all the bushes, trees
and flowers I stared at in our yard
looked different, strange,
as if -- year after year --
they had been hiding something from me.

“Anguish” is a simply stunning poem about a mother lost to dementia, unable to separate reality from hallucination, and the son forced to witness her decline. I cannot do this fine poem justice with an excerpt; it must be read in its entirety.

“Brother of the Prodigal Son” is a long poem that remains true to the biblical version but extracts a bitter truth unspoken in the parable. This poem, also, cannot be adequately honored with an excerpt.

“The Truth About the Past” is another powerful recollection about the father who shared memories of his own revered father’s many talents. A long-lost great aunt shatters those memories with a harsh truth:

…she described my father’s childhood,
starting when he was two
-- the year his father abandoned
his wife and son.

Life is often unpredictable. This excerpt from “On F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ’Babylon Revisited’” shows how forgotten words and acts unexpectedly return to us like bad karma:

-- all can silently arc
over our heads for days,
for blithe or busy years
until the moment they curve
back into our lives as swiftly
as a hawk’s swooping claws
puncture a rabbit’s skin.

Regardless of age, a poet is always a poet. Age settles over us all, but Johnson still sees poetry in the world around him:

…subjects for poems,
like frightened children
seeking shelter,
tug at my mind…

One critic describes Robert K. Johnson as “the poet/laureate of the ordinary moment in time.” He is that and much more. His poetry is quietly powerful and poignant. This collection lives, breathes, and transforms the ordinary through the thoughts and memories of a skilled wordsmith. From Mist to Shadow is a book you’ll want to keep and reread.

-- Laurel Johnson is a reviewer for the Midwest Book Review and other magazines.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Somerville Playwright John Shea Gets “Comp” play.

Somerville Playwright John Shea Gets “Comp” play.

By Doug Holder

Playwright John Shea doesn’t get his inspiration by writing about some exotic locale, or from tales of international intrigue, but from the streets of Magoun Square right here in Somerville. In fact Shea told me during our early morning interview at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square that all his plays are set in the “Ville. Shea’s latest work will be staged at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University, Nov. 1 through Nov. 18. The play “Comp” concerns two Somerville brothers’ conflict around a serious work related injury. With a background of a perfectionist dyed-in-the-wool Catholic mother, and the eternal suffering of an ever-present plastic Jesus, the play flames a hellfire of drama.

Shea is a Somerville native and resident whose work has been included in the National Playwrights’ Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, as well as the Huntington Theatre’s “Breaking Ground Festival of New Plays.” Shea’s work also has graced many festivals around the country, including four appearances in the “Boston Theatre Marathon.” He is a graduate of the Boston Playwrights Theatre MA program in playwriting at Boston University.

Shea, a tall man, with gray-speckled hair, told me he grew up in the 70’s in the Magoun Square section of the city. It was, and still is to a degree, a neighborhood of working class families, two family houses, and strong religious values. But it was also plagued by drugs, crimes, and dead ends.

In Shea’s family education was not highly valued. He was allowed to drop out of high school as long as he got a job. His father, who worked at Revere Sugar, gave him a strong work ethic, if not an educational ethic. But eventually Shea got his GED, graduated Lesley College, and went on to teach school in Cambridge.

Shea, who now is a “house husband”, tells his kids that Somerville is “the best place in the world to live.” Specifically Shea said he loves the diversity of the city, and all the cultural activities it offers, not to mention its accessibility to Boston and Cambridge.

Shea, who has been most influenced by the playwright Eugene O’Neill, and his signature play” Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” said that the plot of his play “Comp” concerns two brothers, one of whom was paralyzed by an accident on the job. The other brother, who was scheduled to work that fateful shift, was too drunk to show up at the workplace, so his unlucky brother covered for him. Life, as we all know, has a habit of throwing us curves, and in this case one brother is saved and the other cursed. The conflict has a backdrop of a no- nonsense Catholic mom, and the stifling confines of the familial home.

Shea said his plays, like his hero O’Neill, center around family dramas, their conflicts, and hopefully their resolutions. Shea feels that Somerville is a regional stage for a drama that plays out on the large universal stage that we call life.

For more information go to:

Doug Holder is the arts/editor for The Somerville News and the cofounder of The Somerville News Writers Festival

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"No One Dies at the Au Bon Pain": Review by Laurel Johnson

Laurel Johnson reviews are new to our blog. Laurel was formerly a reviewer for Pedestal and now is a reviewer for the Midwest Book Review, as well as other magazines. She tells me this review will appear in the Midwest Review.

No One Dies at the Au Bon Pain
By Doug Holder
ISBN 978-1-934513-00-2
28 page chapbook at $8
P.O. Box 441429
Somerville MA 02144

Doug Holder is founder of Ibbetson Street Press, small press activist, champion of unknown poets, and a poet himself. He wears his many hats with panache. In this chapbook he shares a sense of longing for what was and a sometimes reluctant acceptance of what is: Humans are vulnerable, and mortal.

Holder’s thoughts are expressed with a simple power. These excerpts from “Am I a Man of Bone or Flesh?” reflect that power. How does the world see him?

Can you still
feel my supple flesh,
like a fruit’s
skin blushing
with ripeness?

…still I am more
than brittle bone,
the cold
unfeeling face
of glacial stone.

Consider the first verse of “Why Did He Leave Her” to understand how a skillful poet puts words together:

Because of the terminal
certainty of the itinerary --
his course redlined
with an actuary’s passionless
a replay of his father’s descent.

“Glaucoma” is my sentimental favorite, perhaps because the experience is all too familiar. I quote this poem in its entirety because a poet sees with more than just his eyes:

And how those angelic halos
around the streetlights
to an homage of
nefarious intent.

The pressure
the threat
and those images
of her smile,

the Maine coast,
the surf jumping
the rocks
as its mussels maintain
a tight grip.

And I don’t see
in wanton gulps
but I sip

I sip.

Holder’s work here is rich with textual imagery. A stranger’s laugh becomes an “astringent mixture of the hilarious and sinister.” Rain is a “spectral tapping on the roof.” These are words of a master poet who sees the world clearly and shares that vision generously with readers.

Review by Laurel Johnson

Monday, October 15, 2007

Afaa Micheal Weaver's papers at Boston University

Afaa Michael Weaver, (Somerville resident) professor of English at Simmons College in Boston, poet, and Bagel Bard member,has been invited to contribute his papers to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Weaver was recently featured in Poetry Magazine, and the literary journal Ibbetson Street. Weaver was also featured in The Somerville News Writers Festival in November of 2005.

Weaver was selected because he is deemed as a figure who has made significant contributions to the field of poetry, and for his work in Asian culture, according to the archive's director. The center collects papers of artists and intellectulas. Boston area poet Franz Wright is in the collection, as well as the papers of Henry Roth and other notables. For info about the archive go to:

Afaa will also be featured in the upcoming issue of Poets and Writers Magazine and his picture will appear on the front cover. Should hit the stands Oct 19.

Béla Tarr Has Feathered His Nest by Bradley Lastname

Béla Tarr Has Feathered His Nest
by Bradley Lastname
The Press of the 3rd Mind, 2007
64 pages
Reviewed by Eleanor Goodman

What is the purpose of poetry?

(...loud silence...)

An easier question: should poetry be a serious intellectual exercise, full of references to Homeric mythology and dense obscure terminology? Or should it be fun, ridiculous, a mirror of the modern condition in which stimuli comes howling in from all directions?

I have no answer, but Bradley Lastname does, and it is emphatic. Perhaps the title of his latest book, Béla Tarr Has Feathered His Nest, gives a clue as to which side of the argument Mr. Lastname subscribes. In fact, “Mr. Lastname” alone should be enough to make a guess.

These are poems in the loosest sense of the word, ranging from paragraphs of absurdist prose to a piece like “Pythagoras’ Recipe For No-Bean Chili,” which is, as far as I can tell, a recipe for no-bean chili. Do not read this book if you are hoping to find traditional verse. Do read it, however, if you have a sense of curiosity about how far a nonsensical premise can be pushed within the space of a page or two. And read it if you have a sense of humor and are open to moments of hilarity.

The piece “Classified Dossier on the Inflatable Floating Phrenology Head” begins with the refrain “You scare me, Mr. Inflatable Floating Phrenology Head.” I do not know what this means. Nor do I understand this stanza: “A secret Swiss safe deposit box houses a magic bone / that you obtained by boiling a live ferret, and this / bone enables you to fly through walls.” Still, every time I read the poem, I find myself laughing. If the mark of a work of art is that is produces an emotional response, then this is art.

Mr. Lastname understands language, and occasionally he manipulates it to produce something not only amusing, but surprising, and because of that surprise, illuminating. Here is the beginning of “Cliché Association Test” (the quotes in the text are the author’s):

“mind over matter” “empty your bladder”
“athletes with ringworm” “rappers with blingworm”
“the flies you catch with honey” “the crabs you douche with vinegar”
“sloppy second” “New York minute”
“yab*yum” “pond scum”
“crying over spilled milk” “dying over spilled mercury”
“assume vivid astro focus” “vivid astro focus, I presume?”
“Dr. Livingstoner, I assume?” “Dr. Deadsober, I consume!”

The move from the hilarious “rappers with blingworm” to the sobering “dying over spilled mercury” and later, the juxtaposition of “family size Ripple” with “fetal alcohol cripple,” demonstrates not only linguistic flexibility but emotional flexibility, which is no small accomplishment.

A piece that more resembles a poem, “Poem Written During a Commonwealth Edison Power Blackout” feels to me like a missed opportunity. Here it is, complete:

The rose in the vase on the kitchen table is still red in the dark.

The chessboard in the den is still checkered in the dark.

The throw rug on the living room floor is still paisley in the dark.

The sink handle in the bathroom is still chrome in the dark.

The ghost that haunts the foyer is still transparent in the dark.

The Ad Reinhardt painting on the wall is still black in the dark.

The stuffed 2-headed cow named Fluffernudder is still furry in the dark.

The premise is interesting: do objects change their physical attributes in the dark? Does seeing the object – like the old chestnut about a tree falling with no one to hear it – in some sense make the object real, or at least define its characteristics? Mr. Lastname’s details are wonderful, here and in other pieces, but the poems often do not resolve to a satisfying conclusion, a conclusion that contains more than the sum of the words. In Robert Frost’s oft-quoted dictum, a poem must begin in delight and end in wisdom. These pieces are full of delight, but to my eye, light in wisdom.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rusty Barnes talks about the writing life on the “Night Train”

Rusty Barnes talks about the writing life on the “Night Train”

Rusty Barnes, cofounder of the acclaimed literary magazine “Night Train,” grew up in rural Appalachia. He earned his M.F.A. from Emerson College in Boston. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in such journals as GUD, Red Rock Review, and others.
Suunyoutside (Buffalo, NY) will be publishing a book of his flash fiction due to be released this winter. I talked with Barnes on my Somerville Community Access TV Program “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Could you talk a bit about the genesis of “Night Train” magazine?

Rusty Barnes: Well we got some capital together and nine months later we birthed an issue. We had great expectations. We printed 1,000 copies of our first issue and sold 400. We found out later, after we beat ourselves up a bit, that number of sales was pretty good. We managed to scale ourselves down a bit and then build up. We brought in a couple of people to be involved in the PR end of things. We landed a half page article in the New York Times (Long Island edition). We branded the name “ Night Train.” We sort of became branded nationally.

DH: Why did you go from a print to an online magazine?

RB: We published issue 6 in March of 2006. Our staff consists of:

Fiction Editor: Alicia Gifford
Poetry Editor: Cami Park
Associate Editor: Zett Aguado
Associate Editor: Heather Sullivan
Original Graphic and Logo Designer: Souxsie Campbell
Cover Photographer: Darlene DeVita
Web Guru: Kaolin Fire

It became clear that we needed a cheaper business model. Fundraising was 85% of what I was doing. I said let’s switch to an online format and a print-on-demand production method.

I credit that with the initial push we made. We started peppering the world with press releases. We did this by sitting by fax machines for hours at a time. We did massive emails, and Internet bulletin boards. I took every speaking engagement that I could; even non-paid. I spoke at Emerson College. I spoke to Grub Street. You have to be aggressive. You have to press the flesh. It’s the name of the game you have to do it.

DH: You had or still have the “Richard Yates Award.” Yates wrote “Revolutionary Road” and other works. Why use him as a focal point?

RB: “Revolutionary Road” is being made into a movie. I know that Kate Winslet will be in the film.

My interest with Yates started in graduate school. I had to take my comprehensive exam. My class was among the last to take these tests. One part of the exam concerned Richard Yates. “Eleven Kinds of Loneliness,” was one of those works I fell in love with, and I began to read everything I could find. Later we published in “Night Train” an excerpt from a biography of Richard Yates: “ Tragic Honesty.”

I guessed what I like about Yates is his fidelity to real life detail. You can look at his characters and you could see the way you act in the world. His detail—his fiction rang true. I think he was a masterful writer when it came to sentimentality. There is always a line you risk crossing when you write like that. He wrote breathtaking books, but never maudlin. We decided if we were going to have a contest in honor of anyone it would be Yates.

DH: Are you more at home with poetry or fiction?

RB: I have been solely a fiction writer for twenty years. I found myself during National Poetry Month thus year joining a program where you write a poem everyday. I wasn’t having much luck with my fiction at the time. I was at sort of a stand still. But I have written nothing but poetry since. I really don’t have any desire to write fiction at this time. I have switched gears.

Poetry is more fun than poetry. Fiction is work for me. My poetry tends toward the everyday. I have a lot of natural details. I have wonder and amazement with the world.

DH: Whom did you study under at Emerson College?

RB: I had an instructor named Christopher Tillman who wrote a series of great books such as “In A Father’s Place,” and “The Way People Run.” Through him I was introduced to the works of Andre Dubus and De Witt Henry. Henry was instructed by Yates at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. So if I could be so bold, I could considered to be one of the long line of writers to be influenced by Yates.

DH: You grew up in Appalachia. This is not known as a hotbed of literary activity. How did you become interested in writing?

RB: My father wrote poetry. He never tried to publish any of it. I knew it was something he was interested in. He was a construction worker. I became a reader early on. It became very clear early in my life that whatever I was going to do, it was going to be involved with words. I wrote a lot of childish poetry at first. I was lucky to have a really good public school education. My teachers always encouraged me. It was clear that it was my destiny to get out in the world.

DH: Does much of your fiction take place in the place you grew up in?

RB: Much of my work has been focused on the area I grew up in. I guess because I had to write my way through it.

DH: How was it for you at Emerson College. It was quite different from what you were accustomed to, no?

RB: I knew I was a writer. But I hadn’t announced it. I walked into my first class with a trucker’s hat and a flannel shirt. I was amidst these East Coast intellectuals. I was a fish-out-of-water, and I had to spend a lot of time adjusting. I was well treated throughout my program. It was clear that this was not the milieu I was used to.

DH: Sunnyoutside press, formerly of Somerville, Mass. now of Buffalo, NY, is publishing a collection of your flash fiction. What is flash fiction?

RB: I got involved with Dave McNamara and the sunnyoutside press because I was interested in doing a chapbook of my own work. The more we got to talk the more he got interested in my work. He thought I could get together a good book, be active in the community and get some sales.