Saturday, April 19, 2008

Somerville’s Steve Thomas & The Co Conspirators Brings Jazz to the Nave Gallery.

Somerville’s Steve Thomas & The Co Conspirators Brings Jazz to the Nave Gallery.

By day Steve Thomas is an editor at a prestigious publishing house, by night his music takes flight. Thomas, a tall and lanky man, is a composer, lyricist and jazz vocalist who founded the group: “ Steve Thomas and The Co-Conspirators.” The Conspirators consist of Thomas, John Funkhouser (bass), who is on the faculty of the Berklee School of Music, Rich Greenblatt (vibraphone) also a Berklee faculty member, and Gary Feldman (drums) an accomplished musician who has worked with such important musicians as Bill Frisell, Joanne Brackeen, etc…

Thomas grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Somerville in 1988. Since arriving in Somerville he has involved himself with the area arts scene. He has worked with MOBIUS, an arts group based in Boston, and he won a Somerville Arts Council Grant, when the council was headed by Cecily Miller.

Thomas, who is an English major from way back in the day, has a real passion for music. He plays around Somerville and Boston, and has performed at The Somerville Museum, Third Life Studio, McIntyre and Moore, and has an upcoming gig at the Nave Gallery. Thomas has been influenced by jazz artists as varied as Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis to Ornette Coleman and Steve Lacey.

Coleman said there are a lot of Brazilian influences in his work. He writes original music, and like most jazz compositions his leaves a lot of room for improvisation. He employs scat singing and says he has ample doses of “soul” in his work.

The music scene in the area according to Thomas “is a hard nut to crack,” but he is happy to have a chance to engage his passion in anyway he can. Thomas will be performing with The Co-Conspirators at the Nave Gallery, May 3, 8PM 155 Powderhouse Blvd., Somerville.

For more information go to:

Ghosts by Hugh Fox

Ghosts. Poetry by Hugh Fox. ( Green Panda Press 3174 Berkshire Rd. Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118

When you reach a certain age I am told, you start seeing ghosts. They lurk in the corner of your eye, a familiar voice calls to you and then vanishes into the ether. Poet Hugh Fox, author of the controversial memoir “Way, Way Off the Road…” ((Ibbetson 2005) has reached a point in his life where there is much more to look back on than to look ahead to. In “Ghosts” Fox is haunted by the “old gang” in Chicago: “…all the old gang at the Swedish Club in Chicago 60 years ago, 40 years ago, all starting to hang around the house now,/ wait for me in the backyard, /get inside my arms and /brain so that everything I do or say/echoes/re-creates them…”

Fox always uses a wild infusion of images in his work: the old warehouses in Boston and Chicago, the literary and pop culture references, the litany of names and faces from his past. Fox’s poetry is like a grand, lyrical grocery list. It is as if he has to get it all out, and quick, before the fat lady sings or the shit hits the fan.

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

Friday, April 18, 2008

Broken Promises, Broken Dreams:Stories of Jewish & PalestinianTrauma and Resilience

Broken Promises, Broken Dreams:
Stories of Jewish & Palestinian
Trauma and Resilience
By Alice Rothchild
Pluto Press
238 pages/

By Thomas Gagnon

In what is clearly a labor of love, Dr. Alice Rothchild brings amazing clarity to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict (most of the time; periodically, it stops making sense). Not only does she clarify a conflict that usually defies clarification, but she describes it from a new angle, of the feminist physician. She achieves all this with a fiction writer’s focus on specifics: specific people and their stories, quotes and scenes, sometimes involving herself. She also writes helpful overviews of the situation in Israel and her method of examination.

Meanwhile, although Rothchild is Jewish, she does not have a pro-Israeli bias. Sometimes, it seems that she has a guilt-induced pro-Palestinian bias, but that is not the case, either. She does have a feminist bias, translating to “dove” rather than “hawk,” but she presents this without expecting or demanding us to share it. Above all, Rothchild is presenting valuable information—do what you will with it.

At the outset, Rothchild writes emphatically about major events that I’ve been only vaguely aware of, for instance, “Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 war.” (16) She calls it “military occupation,” not “disputed territories,” as Israel does. She is clarifying that this is not a conflict, or dispute, between political equals, but a horrible vicious cycle perpetuated by master (fearful Israel) and slave (desperate Palestinians) demolishing each other. In short, the occupation is creating war. Ending the occupation is the beginning of peace. She is not alone. On the contrary, she writes, “I have learned from Israeli peace activists that there are inspiring ways to frame this ongoing conflict. In the words of Jeff Halper, “I am on the ‘side’ of Israelis and Palestinians who seek a just peace that addresses Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as Israeli concerns of security and regional integration…”(20)—versus Israelis and Palestinians operating within the “box” of the occupation.

Although not primarily focused on women’s rights, Rothchild is obviously coming from a feminist angle. She works with several human rights organizations, “to bear witness to voices that are rarely heard…” (19-20). Bearing witness to rarely heard voices is a very feminist activity (I wonder why). Rothchild begins her activist/sociologist journey in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, by meeting with a woman who is in her late sixties and not economically or politically powerful. The feminist plot thickens. This woman, Dr. Ruchama Morton, speaks of the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in 1987. Specifically, she speaks of the shockingly unsanitary conditions of a hospital in Gaza, prompting protests by an association of Israeli and Palestinian physicians, which evolved into Physicians for Human Rights—Israel (PHR-I). She talks about the separation wall between Israelis and Palestinians as a kind of splitting, that allows “the ZIC (Zionist Israeli Collective) self not to see itself as aggressive, violent, cruel, possessive…by projecting all these traits on the Palestinians beyond the Wall.” (39) This is a crucial, memorable insight.

The specificity of Dr. Ruchama Morton’s experiences and opinions, recorded into a story, is an effective way to shed light on a dark cave of ever-potential sabotage. Many people and their narratives come after Ruchama, also shedding light on darkness. Gila Svirsky speaks of Women in Black, an Israeli movement to end the occupation. Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman speaks of political confusion in Israel resulting in “a right-wing party pushing a [left-wing] peace plan that pretty much speaks to the needs of the big center in Israel.” (95) Dr. Allam Jarrar recounts the story of a frightening and politically charged conflict at a checkpoint. Dr. Muntaha Hamarsheh demonstrates the challenges of managing a maternity home in the West Bank. These are only a few.

Along the way, Rothchild describes herself in the midst of disturbing scenes, for instance, her paranoia on a bus to Jerusalem. She recalls that “…half of the bus riders are soldiers, late teens, early twenties, men and women in military uniform with their automatic rifles leaning between their legs…I have never been this close to so many weapons in my life.” (86)

Are there irritating moments in Broken Promises, Broken Dreams? Yes, such as rhetorical questions with incredibly obvious answers. Is this a major flaw? No, of course not. Therefore, find your way to the Book of Alice! Read, learn, enjoy!

Thomas Gagnon/Ibbetson Update/ April 2008/Somerville, Mass.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Somerville Philosopher Ajume H. Wingo Examines What’s Behind The ‘Veil’?

Somerville Philosopher Ajume H. Wingo Examines What’s Behind The ‘Veil’?

For a year or so Ajume H. Wingo and I sat across from each other at the Sherman CafĂ© in Union Square. We would nod politely to each other and then resumed our respective reading. We never really talked. Of course I wondered about this tall, and distinguished African man who seemed to have a scholarly bent. But as fate had it, on a rainy April evening we found ourselves walking together just outside Harvard Yard and started to chew the fat. A few days later we met at Sherman’s to converse some more. Wingo is an associate professor of Philosophy at U/Mass Boston, a Senior Fellow at the McCormack Graduate School of Public Policy for Democracy and Development, and also a Fellow at Harvard’s Du Bois Institute. He is the author “Veil Politics in Liberal Democratic States” His book describes how politics in the Western World relies heavily upon the veils of icons and symbols, and how they are potent conduits for political ideology. Wingo is interested in the idea of freedom as it is thought to be by Africans. Africans have for many years been the subject of control from outside forces, such as: colonial masters, home grown tyrants, etc… This professor wants to examine what political power and freedom is and could be for Africans.

Ajume, who recently purchased a house in the Prospect Hill section of Somerville, is a native of Cameroon. He came to this country years ago to obtain an advanced education. He received his Doctorate in Philosophy for the University of Wisconsin/Madison in 1997.

Wingo loves teaching at U/Mass because of its body of diverse students, minorities, foreign students, and first generation students. Wingo smiled and said, “It teases my mind.” He feels it is a wonderful laboratory for his ideas about cultural connection and influence.

Wingo told me that when he was in Africa he was always fascinated by the United States and how its democracy worked so well. He thought the government was transparent and rational. But he came to realize that the government displayed non-rational elements like his native Africa, with icons such as: Lincoln, the White House, etc… that were used in an effective way to convey ideology.

Wingo is convinced the arts, particurally poetry is a very potent force to instill ideology in the populace. He said: “Just read the Koran, it is full of poetry. Even Sadam Hussein wrote poetry, even if it was pretty bad.” Wingo pointed out that Hitler was a brilliant manipulator and cultivated artistic images to promote his campaign of evil.

Wingo, a transplant from Cambridge finds Somerville a perfect place to hang his hat. He loves the American Flag that waves atop Prospect Hill…( well; of course, it is a symbol, an icon, no?) He loves the converted churches, the relatively subdued atmosphere of Somerville in contrast to a more raucous Cambridge or Boston.

Wingo, in spite of a busy schedule hangs out at Sherman, where his cousin works baking a delectable selection of scones and such.

He told me that he is often up in the wee hours writing, and is working on another book “The Citizen of Africa.” The book explains how to maintain a responsive government in African states.

Wingo, like most Renaissance men, has varied interests, and plans to delve deeper into the medium of poetry. One can only assume that this inquisitive man will report back with unique insights about the art.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Endicott Review Vol.25, #1, Spring, 2008.

The Endicott Review Vol.25, #1, Spring, 2008.
Editorial Board Dan Sklar, Noga Ambar, Janet Calcaterra, etc.
Faculty Editor: Ruth Henderson, 88 pp.
Endicot College, Beverly, Massachusetts 01915

Not one of those suffer-while-you-read quarterlies, The Endicott Review is mainly nicely impacting snippets of REALITY: “ The summer of ‘72 / My father’s last garden/These flowers burgeoned/In bright oranges and yellows.../I could see him creating his own genetic planning/Masterminding new vegative forms/And the vines and shoots would have/Swallowed up the house in the middle/Surrounded by ideas and green/Much like I imagine his Eden is/That is returned to him now....” (Betsy Retallack,“Nasturtiums,” p.37). And Betsy Retallack is typical of the contributors, a music teacher in Beverly, Mass by day, a poet by night.

No mind-boggling cryptograms here. Get ready for meditations on real REALITY: “The first autumn chill is here,/ Though a hint of summer still lingers in the air.../ Long shadows in early afternoon,/Remind me of how fast the summer went by.,// It’s a good bye day to summer,/And a gentle greeting to autumn’s first cool couch.” (Jim Mulholland, “A Good Bye Day to Summer,” p. 43).
The prose is very similar too, almost impossible to distinguish between personal tale-telling essay and fiction:
All this happened, more or less. The world has changed
quite a bit since the events of this story, and so to you
this may seem untrue, but this is my story, and this is
how I’m telling it.
One day, one single day, changed history forever.....

(“Isolation” by Joseph Stucker,pp. 15-16)

Every piece in this issue drags you on to read more....more....more....

A refreshing change from enigmatic windowless work elsewhere.
And just in case you start to get bored with words, there are a number of splendid color photos by Johnny Bonacci, Andrea Marchosky, Carolina Bara, etc.
One little critique. There should be a more specific street address and subscription cost somewhere in the magazine. For individual subscribers and libraries that want to keep abreast of the vivacity of The Now !

Hugh Fox/ Ibbetson Update/April 2008

* Hugh Fox is a founding member of the Pushcart Prize. He is a regular reviewer for the Small Press Review.

Hard Blessings by Patrick Carrington

Hard Blessings
Patrick Carrington

Main Street Rag
P.O. Box 690100
Charlotte, N.C. 28227
ISBN 13:978-1-59948-115-9

Carrington’s story poems my not resemble our story,
but it is certain, the reader will relate to some of
the poems in Hard Blessings. His unique definite
lines, the sudden stop from end to beginning;

“that most unexplainable thing

to me, to be magical enough
to raise her hands and lead me,
like Moses through water”

The sassy voice, a voice which defies the usual pin to
black velvet board; his voice flies over, around,
straight up, straight down. we land on solid ground
and just when we think it is time to rest we find
words blowing, pushing toward a perceived truth,

“…where you see yourself
in window of every dead end,
among the Maytag’s and moderate dresses,
and let’s say, for the sake of consumers,
you need more bang for your buck,…”

Patrick Carrington takes us on his ride, the chrome
spokes on his Hudson, the ignition start with love,
“you have woven them onto the map of your body like
silk.” we trace the highway, “this moving from nowhere
to nowhere else makes that person hard to keep…” this
persistent look out the back curve, glass. the speed
it takes, the destination, and all the pull over rest
stops, all anticipation, the relief, the refills, the
restless stretches, all the stuff packed in the trunk;
the poems carry us, “the sound of your spirit
crunching like saltines,” and I wonder who is driving?
the proverbial parents, or society, or ”the toes that
creep to the edge with cheap perfume of salvation in
their nostrils…”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor, Wilderness House Literary Review
reviewer, Ibbetison Street Press

Somerville Poet Ifeanyi Menkiti Hosts Poet Aeronwy Thomas: Dylan Thomas’ Daughter

Dylan Thomas

Aeronwy Thomas

Somerville Poet Ifeanyi Menkiti Hosts Poet Aeronwy Thomas: Dylan Thomas’ Daughter

I found myself on a cool evening in April walking to Dunkin Donuts in Harvard Square with Aeronwy Thomas, daughter of the late great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Aeronwy Thomas, a well-regarded educator and poet in her own right, is on a national tour talking about her father Dylan, who wrote some of the most revered verse in the 20th Century, as well as a critically acclaimed play “Under Milk Wood.”

Somerville resident, Wellesley College professor, and owner of the famed Grolier Poetry Book Shop, Ifeanyi Menkiti hosted a reading with Aeronwy Thomas, her husband Trevor Ellis, and Peter Thabit Jones, a respected Welsh poet and editor of the Seventh Quarry Magazine Magazine. I asked Menkiti why he decided to host this event organized by publisher Stanley Barkan of Cross - Cultural Communications. Menkiti said:” I Love Dylan Thomas’
sense of community. His work releases a poetic impulse across the world. It travels across borders. In the publication “Wellesley Week” Menkiti adds: “ Whether one reads his poems alone, by oneself, or hears them read aloud by him or others, or perhaps hears read aloud the captivating words of “ A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” one always comes away with a sense of ineffable magic in the air—a sense that words are potent things.”

Dylan Thomas (who died at 39 in 1953) first gained significant praise for his poetry collection: “ 18 Poems” He is also well-known for his poem to his dying father “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” as well as many other works. He died in New York City at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village from suspected chronic alcohol poisoning.

Thomas’ Daughter Aeronwy first read the poems of her famous father 20 years after his death in 1973. She was sheltered from his “wild public” lifestyle. Now she is the midst of a whirlwind national tour: “Dylan Thomas Tribute,” where she and Jones read from Thomas’ poetry, their own poetry, and discuss Thomas’ body of work and his life.

The evening started out on Plympton Street in Harvard Square at the Grolier, but the actual reading took place at Harvard’s Adams House several doors down the block. In addition to the reading by Jones and Thomas, Tino Villanueva, Aldo Tambellini, Kristine Doll, Pavel Grushko, and Aled Llion Jones read translations of Dylan Thomas’ work.

Jones' read a poem of his own during the evening that concerned of all things: a rat: (Rats do make appearences in Dylan's work as well.)

“Rats swam the canal of my childhood fears…/ a rat’s meal is my thought/ it eats in my sleep.”

Aeronwy Thomas read her own poem that harked back to her childhood memories of the great poet titled: “Later Than Laugharne:”

“…The memories race back—
… And the thrill of peeping through
the keyhole (I was always the most naughty)
to see my father writing his poems about
gulls, hills, cormorants on estuaries
which he saw through his wide-vista window,
as he sat, bent, writing in crabbed letters,
pressing against the hard surface of the
kitchen table that was his desk…”

Aeronwy’s husband Trevor sang traditional Welsh folksongs that were a welcomed addition to the reading.

After the event I managed to interview Thomas about her late father. As for Dylan Thomas’ ill-fated love affair with alcohol, Aeronwy said his trips to the United States did him no good. When he was in his native Wales he was surrounded by family and friends and drank the weak beer of the local pubs. He wrote in his “shed” every day. In the United States he was offered hard liquor like whiskey and Martinis, etc… He was unmoored, away from home and structure, and this lead to his downfall.

As far as Bob Dylan, who lifted Dylan Thomas’ first name for his last, Aeronwy Thomas admires his song lyrics. But she did say that Bob Dylan did admit to lifting Thomas’ name, but now he states that he has done more for Thomas than Thomas did for him.

I asked Thomas about the movie adaptation of “Under Milk Wood” that starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. She said that she was grateful someone made a movie of her father’s play. She feels Burton was a classic narrator. She did have some reservations about what she characterized as “additions” to the work, but overall she was happy with the movie.

The evening ended with a small wine and cheese buffet. Thomas signed books and was surrounded by admirers and well wishers. After this long evening no one would blame Aeronwy Thomas if she did “go gently into that good night” to get a well-earned sleep.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

_-- Dylan Thomas

Sunday, April 13, 2008

RIFT. Barbara Helfgott Hyett

RIFT. Barbara Helfgott Hyett (The University of Arkansas Press Fayetteville 2008) $16.

W. C. Fields once said, “ Marriage is a great institution but I’m not ready to be institutionalized.” One of the main themes in “Rift,” an accomplished poetry collection by Barbara Helfgott Hyett is the breakup of her long marriage. And indeed, after I have personally witnessed the many long honeymoons, and their bitter ends, I think Fields may just have a point. Hyett often uses striking imagery to paint her pain in bold strokes, and to chronicle her despair.

In the poem “Vacation” her husband’s gaping emotional void and monumental neediness mark what is inevitably down the road:

"You don’t worship me," he says,
eyes on the marsh, arms stretched
on the table before him. "I love you,"
she answers behind him, her palm brushing
his hair. "I want to be adored," he says.
She kisses the top of his head lightly.
I love you, and now she is stroking
his shoulder, This very shoulder. This hair.
It is late afternoon. The beach still clings
to her thighs.

And in “Considering Killing Him Instead” a woman scorned has been revealed with full sound and fury:

Considering Killing Him Instead

Something simple: a hammer.
One whack. A kitchen knife,
serrated. A kitchen match,
kerosene from the orange can
in the garage. The garden hose.
The garden itself. Those tubers
could do it if she trained them.
The fence post if she could tear it
from its mooring. A sidewalk
square, in pieces—too complex.
Then teeth that grind. Hands—
nothing to mediate that blow.

There are many other subjects that Hyett tackles with equal passion and skill. Richard Hoffman, author of "Half the House" and "Gold Star Road" writes of Hyett's work:

" Barbara Helfgott Hyett's "Rift" is a book born of acute psychic necessity and there is not a trifle or bauble in it... Faced with the annihilation of the life she has known, Helfgott Hyett employs her imagination, her learning, and her poetic virtuosity to search among biblical and mythic narratives, artic expeditions, memories, meteor showers, classical and romantic art, and history for a way forward. This book, is that way, a profund gift to all of us. The title sequence is itself a major work, a rich, polyvocal, unflinching vision of the world we live in now."

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Mass./April 2008