Sunday, November 08, 2009
LEN SOLO: A Poet and Painter who has seen the light.
The play of light figures in the work of Len Solo. Whether it is his paintings, or his detailed poetry, light transforms and illuminates the object of his creative desire.
Len Solo has been an educator for most of his professional work life: a public high school teacher of English, Math and Social Studies; founder of a small, private alternative school in Atlantic City; founder and department chairperson of the Teacher Development Program, Stockton State College, Pomona, NJ; principal for 27 years of the famous Graham & Parks Alternative Public School, Cambridge + Interim Principal, Cambridge Rindge and Latin High Schools for 1.5 years. For the past seven years he has been an education consultant. He has had 3 volumes of poetry published: Landscape of the Misty Eye, with Steve Weitzman (2004); Rooted in Place (2006) and The Magic of Light (2008).
Doug Holder: Len you have been an educator all your life. What do you think of the reading and writing of poetry as an educational tool?
Len Solo: Writing is what you aim for in teaching. If a kid can write, then you know that the kid can think, summarize, and plan ahead. If you can get one’s thoughts down that is the goal. It’s a goal beyond reading. It’s writing so others can read it. I taught poetry in high school and middle school. When I was a principal in Cambridge I had a math teacher; probably one of the best math teachers around. We had a lot of visitors ask him what they should read to be better math teachers. He said: “Read a novel.” That’s how I think about writing and poetry. It is a distillation of words and ideas.
A friend of mine told me my poetry is like prose, and in a way it is, but it is more than that. It is more heightened. I when I teach writing to kids I often start with poetry.
DH: So poetry can be taught?
LS: Yes. It can be in part. I can’t give you thoughts and ideas as a teacher. I can help you with the technical pieces of the writing. I can teach you about rhythm and rhyme—etc… It is the same argument about teachers. Are teachers artists, or can they be taught to teach? I think part of teaching can be taught.
DH: You have influences as diverse as Allen Ginsberg and Ernest Hemingway. What links these two for you?
LS: It is what I can take away from them. The things I can take away from Ginsberg is his style. He uses some techniques that I can relate to. Like E.E. Cummings’ minimalist usage of words—his placement of words on the page. So I take things from many.
DH: You have a scene of the North End of Boston on your collection “Magic of Light” that you painted. What was the attraction to the scene? Is your poetry and painting linked?
LS: I’m not Italian, but I like going to the North End. This particular scene grabbed me. The way I learn about things is primarily visual. So when I write I have a lot of visual images. That’s what I think I am really good at. It is part of almost every poem that I have written—strong visual images. I can see the act of creating a painting like the act of creating a poem. I try to catch a scene and grab and hold it. I do this with poetry and painting. The use of color is similar to the use of words and phrases.
DH: In your poem “Arranging Flowers”—it is almost an orgasmic experience—with a passion flower at the peak of an arrangement in a vase. Do you think we are driven as much by our own carnal desires as our creative?
LS: The ecstasy here is the merging of flowers, as in the merging of two people. The imagery really inspired me. When we get something down right, like a poem, it can be very close to an orgasm.
DH: In your new collection the “Magic of Light”—light plays an important role. Light has the power to transform, enliven, etc… What role does light play in your poems and paintings?
LS: When I started to put this book together I wanted to find the architecture for it or the unifying theme. I though how every one of these poems goes with light one way or the other. The power of light, its play. This is the way I deal with reality and my art, through my sight—you have sight because of light.
*Lyceaeides Melissa Samuels
He was walking
through a field
wild with scrub oak
and black chokeberry,
the mild sky clear
all the way up,
when he saw a cloud
of tiny butterflies
come fluttering down
out of that sky
like blue snowflakes
on a windless day.
He followed one
through the weeds,
its wings flashing
orange crescents below,
and watched it settle
on a purple-blue lupine,
art and nature fused,
a Nabokovan delight
in the summer sunlight