Saturday, August 08, 2009

Interview with Playwright, Composer and Poet Elizabeth Swados. (Part 1)

Interview with Playwright, Composer and Poet Elizabeth Swados. ( Part 1)

Recently Mark Pawlak of the Hanging Loose Press sent me a copy of Elizabeth Swados's new poetry collection: "The One and Only Human Galaxy." I decided to interview Swados along with her publishers Pawlak and Dick Lourie on a special edition of my TV show "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Elizabeth Swados is best known for her Broadway smash hit "Runaways". She is a Tony-nominated playwright, and composer. Some of her plays include the Obie-Award winning "Trilogy" starring Meryl Streep at the New York Shakespeare Theatre, and "Groundhog" that was optioned as a film by Milos Forman. Her work has been performed on Broadway, Off Broadway, Carnegie Hall, and all over the world. She is a professor at New York University, and won the New York Public Library Award for her book "My Depression."

Other wars include the Guggenheim Fellowship, Ford Grant, Helen Hays Award, Pen Citation and many others.

Her first book of poetry has been released by the venerable Hanging Loose Press "The One And Only Human Galazy" that deals with the great escape artist Harry Houdini.

Doug Holder: Houdini was a great escape artist...Aren't you one... as a creature of the theatre and a poet?

Elizabeth Swados: Absolutely. A big theme was how to get out of various aspects of my life: getting away from people in the theatre, or people trying to Svengali me...getting away from my own dark issues. The issue of escape is very, very, prevalent in my life. I am a survivor of many difficult situations. And I also believe we all try to escape from some kind of relationship, or habits. Everybody tries to escape the things that haunt us.

DH: You say you are a survivor. Of what?

EZ: In my family there was a great deal of mental illness. My mother killed herself, and my brother killed himself. My whole family has a genetic, white rapid river of destruction. This is also very creative. You have to escape to the good things, in order to escape the bad things. There is a whole theme of madness that one can make very dramatic and romantic. But that's not true. It is very painful and very inhibiting. You get imprisoned in relationships with people who are troubled. It is a question of balancing of escaping of what's so binding, yet living one's life in a joyous and giving way.

DH: A friend showed me an article that stated Scizophrenics and artists share a similar gene.

EZ: I'm not surprised. My brother and I shared, many, many things. He taught me how to draw cartoons and he taught me about poetry. He unfortunately did not get the gene to balance the voices...the voices took him over.

DH: ( Question directed to Mark Pawlak--Hanging Loose Press) How did you come across Elizabeth's work? Hanging Loose is a difficult egg to crack, what did you see in Elizabeth's work?

MP: In general we look for work that is adventurous., verbally challenging and exciting. I think that is very vital. We want work that has something to say. A prose piece was the first piece we published by Elizabeth in our magazine "Hanging Loose" titled"Waving." The magazine is based in Brooklyn, NY. New York is largely the locus of our sensibilities. One of our editors, Bob Hershon, lives in Brooklyn, and his house is the address for our press. His kitchen table is where his manuscripts get edited. Bob also runs a reading series at the Brooklyn Public Library. Shortly after he recieved work from Elizabeth we invited her to read in the series. Shortly after that she came forward with her manuscript.

EZ:Yeah. I just said could you take a look at it. I hadn't been sending poetry out for very long. I had been writing my entire life but I kept it to myself. And then about four years I thought, " Well, maybe it is time to have some other people read it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sonia Meyer: A local writer who throws a light on the secretive Gypsy culture.

Sonia Meyer: A local writer who throws a light on the secretive Gypsy culture.

By Doug Holder

I admit it. I was among the ilk that bought into the tired stereotype of the Gypsies as jobless vagrants, with a lot of kids, living in a tent camp, with the requisite dancing and fortune teller. I never took the time to think of them as anything more than stick figures. Being a Jew I heard from my relatives about the atrocities my family and the greater Jewish people experienced under the Nazis. But the Gypsies also suffered greatly. Why wasn't this talked about in school and at home? I really needed a serious education. That's when I ran across Sonia Meyer. I interviewed her and she introduced to a world that I was woefully ignorant of. Meyer is a novelist, as well as a scholar of Gypsy culture, who has completed a novel about a Gypsy girl named: "Dosha."

The Gypsies have lived and criss-crossed Europe for 600 years. They were among the first European settlers to enter our own country. Yet most of us, know them only through prejudice.

Sonia Meyer was born in 1938 in Cologne, Germany into a multi-ethnic family, who was very opposed to the Nazi regime. When co-agitators started to be publicly hung on street-corners, Sonia’s family left overnight and made for the German hinterlands and later the dense forests in Poland, where they survived in the company of partisans and some Gypsies the Germans had not managed to capture. Flushed out by the victorious Russian army, who often killed those who had escaped the German massacres, they returned across a devastated land and killer fields to a Cologne that was leveled to the ground. Again she came across and befriended a group of Gypsy children.

Like them she would ultimately leave the memories of war and its aftermath behind, by simply walking into the future. Helped by a wealthy aunt, her travels would take her across the world, through a variety of professions to finally settle in the United States, where she had a family and entered the most noble of Gypsy professions of all, the breeding and dealing of horses.

Having found peace and happiness after a tumultuous journey, she started to long for the one part missing in her life, Gypsies. She decided to look into the history of the people she had found comfort with during the tumultuous years of war and its horrible aftermath.

But some twenty plus years ago, there was close to none research material on the Gypsies available. At Harvard’s Widener library, she discovered a translation of a novel by a Russian Gypsy, by the name of Matteo Maximoff. She contacted him and they became fast friends. She then immersed herself in the life of Gypsies, traveling to Macedonia, and Kosovo and Hungary pursuing her research. And now Meyer has completed a novel, tentatively titled” “Dosha”, that tells the tale of a Gypsy girl Dosha. The novel is bookended by Nikita Khrushchev’s state visit to Helsinki in 1957. The story is of, a Gypsy, and her hardscrabble childhood spent with Russian partisans in Polish forests, to her defection during Khrushchev’s visit….. .

In her research, her travels, when she lived with them, followed them to some sacred Gypsy sites, Sonia was struck how familiar their way of thinking and living was to her. And thinking back at the nomadic life most of her mother’s siblings, she finally asked her mother who was on her death bed, "That grandfather of mine, the dark one, the one who worked in the circus with horses, the one who kept leaving home all the time, was he…a Gypsy? Her mother replied:

“I was not born under a wagon…so I decided long ago to declare myself a Rhinelander…as you by now should know: reality is like a rubber band. You can stretch it anyway you desire.” This always stayed with her.

Meyer, a self-taught scholar of Gypsy culture and history is concerned with a possibly precedent setting case in Florida. For the past 5 years Broward County has been trying to seize the property of the Christian Romany Church, whose 300 Roma members are considered ethnic Gypsies. The County feels it has the right of Eminent Domain, overriding the Religious Freedom Law. Has the disregard for the human rights and equality followed them all the way to this country?

There is a last minute twist, in this long-drawn out fight of the Gypsies for what they consider rightfully theirs. The County did win the suit, and settled with the Roma church for a certain amount of money,not enough however to buy a new church. The Gypsies were given six months to vacate the church. Those six month were expiring at the end of August. Suddenly, several county officials are questioning the decision of depriving the Gypsies of their church. “That’s just it,” Sonia informed me with great excitement. “That’s why I chose this country to live in. No matter how tough things get, here there is always hope.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Newton Free Library Poetry Series Opens: Sept 8, 2009 at 7PM

Newton Free Library Poetry Series, at the Newton Free Libray in Newton, Mass. 330 Homer Street. Director: Doug Holder Former Director: Robert K. Johnson. Call 617-628-2313 (Meets second Tuesday of designated months 7PM Open mic.)

Sept 8 2009 7PM

Molly Lynn Watt

Molly Lynn Watt is a dyed-in-the-wool Cambridge, Mass. poet and writer. She is a founding member of Cambridge Co-Housing, a progressive educator for peace and justice, as well as the curator for the monthly Fireside Poetry Reading Series. She is the editor of the annual “Bagel Bard Anthology,” a yearly collection put out by a Somerville-based literary group “The Bagel Bards,” and she published a collection of poetry “Shadow People,” (Ibbetson Street) in 2007. Watt, and her husband Daniel Lynn Watt turned excerpts from Daniel’s parents’ letters to each other during the Spanish Civil War into a musical CD and performance piece.

Elizabeth Quinlan

Elizabeth Quinlan has been a member of The William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences for the past eleven years. She received a Honors in Creative Writing from U. Mass /Boston. She was a finalist for the Richards Snyder Memorial Poetry Prize. She is a visual artist, specializing in the Book Arts and has taught art for over thirty years to diverse communities, receiving grant from the Boston Foundation and Child Care Choices of Boston, as well as designed and run teacher trainings in the arts. She was a lead quilter for the Faith Quilt Project, founded by Clara Wainwright. Her recent work is a sculpture/book, Stories of the Grandmother, a collection of collages, found objects, photographs and stories.
Promise Supermarket, a collection of memoir poems, was published last summer by Ibbetson Street Press-- is the first of a three part series she is currently working on.

Edie Aronowitz Mueller

Edie Aronowitz Mueller traveled widely, living in Manhattan, San Francisco, Florida, and Israel, working as a secretary, photographer, potato/orange/peach-picker, dishwasher, and chicken egg collector. She has worked for a number of years as a lecturer at U/MASS Boston.

Widely published and translated, her poems have won numerous awards. The Fat Girl and Other Poems, her first book, was published earlier in 2008.