Friday, September 05, 2008

Mario Barrios: Humor from Havana to Somerville.

Mario Barros: Humor from Havana to Somerville.

Mario Barros was born in Cuba in 1953. Mr. Barros co-wrote the college textbook “The Literature of the United States” while he was a history professor in Cuba. He founded the comedy “Lenguaviva” (Living Language) that was a presence on theatre, radio and TV. He wrote more than 70 songs and skits for his repertory, and won two Cuban national comedy awards. In Somerville, he has directed the Somerville High Drama Club and has produced a number of plays including his own “Five Insomniac Plays.” I interviewed him on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You were born in Cuba. I will ask you what Senator Joe McCarthy asked many U.S. citizens: “ Are you now or ever been a member of the Communist party?
Mario Barros: I was never a member of the Communist Party. When I was young I belonged to the juvenile organization of the party. That was a must for every youngster. I practically grew up with the revolution. Around 1985 or 6—during Perestroika in the Soviet Union, a lot of people like me started to question the way they approached the whole process. I thought there was nothing for me here anymore. I started to write humor, as an avenue to criticize society. I was forced to come to America in a way by my humor.

DH: You were an academic in Cuba, teaching at the University. You co-wrote the text “The Literature of the United States” Who did you include? Did the government censor any of the material?

MB: It was a text for college courses so we had a certain leeway. I was a professor for the Institutes of Foreign Languages in Havana. I was one of the three people who wrote the text. The text included everyone from James Fenimore Cooper to Washington Irving. Anything that was written far in the past was fine. When you came to 20th Century literature you had to pick and choose more carefully. You would not pick an author who would glorify capitalism for instance. We included Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Upton Sinclair, and others. I loved including Mark Twain, because, of course, he was a master humorist.

DH: Your comedy troupe “Living Language” was a celebrated performance group in Cuba. It won national wards. Now, if it won awards in Communist Cuba, did the group have to tow the party line?
MB: In the mid-1980’s a number of comedy groups sprung from the college level. Not just comedy, the arts in general. It was a moment in time that the government would tolerate a certain amount of rebellion. In the festivals we took part in there was always a censor in the background. You could say things, but there was not total openness. You couldn’t say” “Fidel is stupid,” for instance.

DH: You were the head of the Somerville High School Drama Program for 7 years. What plays did you produce?

MB: The first play I produced was Ionesco’s: “The Bald Soprano” My idea was to have a program to promote original writing. There were misunderstandings about it but I ran it for a while. I wanted the kids to produce their own original work. There were a couple of our plays produced in a Mass. Theatre Festival sponsored by The Boston Globe.

DH: You worked with some controversial material—how was this work received?

MB: I had a very good reception. We did a play “Removing the Glove,” that dealt with homosexuality. It was a very sensitive subject. It was very well received. My own plays usually involve some surreal aspects.

DH: In your latest collection of short stories “The Color Does Not Fall From The Sky”, the setting is a suburban train. Why?

MB: This is a story about an immigrant. He was a storyteller in his country. He was well loved, until one day he told a story about dictatorship, and some people didn’t like it. From that moment on he was ostracized, so he went to a northern country. He couldn’t find a job as a storyteller, but he realizes he still needs an audience. So he gets in a suburban train everyday, the second coach, with the same people every day. He tells them a story every day, and so it goes…

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Assorted Fictions by Carson Cistulli, etc...

Assorted Fictions by Carson Cistulli

Suppository Writing by Loren Goodman

Cindi's Fur Coat by Michael Casey

The Chuckwagon

146 College Hwy. #18

Southampton Ma 01073

Review by Mike Amado

I’ve recently read that the town of Southampton, MA. won the Great American Water Taste Test and has the best tasting water in the whole country, according to the National Rural Water Association. Now, to add to the list of credits is a new small press, the Chuckwagon which specializes in D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) poetry and fiction. Or so I assess from the books I am reviewing.

Assorted Fictions by Carson Cistulli plays the grad. School humor card like a philosophy major playing poker with Johann Gottfried Herder and Georg Wilhelm Hegel for beer money. The major stumbling home from the bar, which shows how the tournament went.

Cistulli’s cerebral jaunts present the voice of a standup intellectual on a stage all his own.

Making deep thinking fun, or making fun of deep thinking. You decide.
No new revelations here, or any drastic lightbulbs the size of the National Grid, however,but Cistulli wields irony and maintains it throughout these clever quips.
English novelist P. G. Wodehouse is in the afterlife giggling and sorting ale? Maybe.

Here’s a few from Assorted Fictions:

During Little League, the coaches always told us to “look alive.” “How else can we
look?” I asked one time. So it was, on my behalf, a stroke of cleverness and
Remarkably, this was some ten years before my first drink.

Just because a girl says “Hi Sheena” into her phone, do I really think that’s who’s
on the other side? The answer’s no, and I’ll tell you why: Shenna’s only the 80th
most popular girl’s name, while, for example, Amber’s 20th and Sarah’s 5th . Most
probably, the other girl’s name is Jennifer, and Sheena’s just a funny nickname
or something.


Suppository Writing by Loren Goodman begins with an intended zeal of bringing
university-level studies of literature to highschool students over a period of one summer to prepare them for “intellectual life”. “Our goals included learning to read closely and to write clearly and concisely, with attention to rhetorical strategies, organization . . .and revision.”

The entries in Suppository Writing are assessment reports of each student in the course.

While these evaluations provide humor at the expense academia, that humor explicates
the imagination of a young teacher and that teacher’s inevitable unraveling.
As the reader studies Suppository Writing, it is clear that the group of diverse
students have inherent flaws despite their backgrounds.

Such as Ivan Angerson who, “. . .proved himself to be an excellent moron . . .”
“Ivan’s absence from the last week of classes (he notified me of his absence via
Morse Code and turned in all required work engraved in silver) was hardly missed.”
There’s Jeremiah Tang who, “ . . .has excellent polymorphous perversion.”
And Arturo Salivavetti who, “ . . . drooled inconsistently on his written work
for this course, except for his final essay, which was uniformly soggy.”
I’m assuming names have been changed to protect the innocent?

To its credit, I found Suppository Writing to take “poetic licence” to the edge of
reason and imaginativeness with its hyper-hyperbole.
The descriptions of the students are beyond accurate and need not be taken as such,
however, they are amusing. The report for student Maxine Jaw yields:

“Maxine stood out. She was one of the tallest and most enigmatic.
With her speech impediment and incredible underbite, Maxine distinguished
herself early on, prompting me to remove the illustration of Cro-Magnon Man from
above the blackboard.” . . . “She has excellent mandibles.”


Cindi’s Fur Coat by Michael Casey begins with poems that read like the thoughts
of a bored office-worker ogling female co-workers and metaphorically slapping
their rear-ends with anemic voyeurism. Much like real-life office autotypes, the
characters are one-dimensional pencil lines like the so-called “Art work” of
Philip Larkin and John Lennon, (which is no compliment),
and the voice is disenchanted; which complements the overall tone of despair.

I’m assuming that a corporate office setting is (or was) Michael Casey’s
work milieu in real life. If so, he should fully peruse a new career in
writing because as a writer at least you’ll have a product after you totally
crackup. Though, much like a business job, your insanity will crystalize,
or so I’ve heard. That crystallization come to a head in “crises toujous”:

“that is the way he is
here it is:
the management style of the bopper
he sends out probation letters left right
and last year the probation letters went out
for poor productivity and this year
the supervisors after beating on us
to produce all the supervisors
get probation letters for poor quality
of produced work the crisis du jour.”

By the loose description of the manager, calling him “Bopper”, I guess means he’s a golfer
and by his probation letter overkill, he’s not the employer of the month.

One poem I found involving was “the people do not need modern art”, which transcends
the cubicle and presents an interesting scene:

“How art influences people though
the stature attracts only a few tourists a day
and at the same time it attracts Felix
who tries to get into the photos
the background anyway
dropping his pants before the window
and processing his but against the pane
if only a wish could break the glass.”

We have a winner here.


Providing book-ends to “Cindi’s Fur Coat” are the poems “terminator” and “terminator II”.
“Terminator” sets the scene of a woman who’s job is “ . . . firing people/ letting go terminating”
complete with the accompaniment of a security guard out of the building. Her job was basically
to fire employees “for offices too chicken shit to do it themselves.”
“Terminator II” brings her back for an ironic twist to befall the speaker:

“she walked right over to my desk
and I said to her right away
gee what are you doing here in my building in my office
before my desk??

Yes, the speaker gets the ax, and the come-up-ence of the firing adds a bit of
pathos to his situation. The last line:

“oh the security guard behind her
he was a piece of work.”

The Chuckwagon is a purveyor of writing for the people, evidencing that there are
still writers who think, (and thinkers who are writing) out there in the world.
I hope the Chuckwagon will continue to be a counter-balance to the likes of academia.