Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bloc 11: Café Society with an Open Mic.

Bloc 11: Café Society with an Open Mic.

Now, I am a regular of the cafes in my home turf of Union Square, Somerville. I try to alternate between the unpretentious home of the oatmeal scone at Sherman, and the sleek, hip environs of Bloc 11. For some reason I prefer to have my bagels at Bloc 11 (with my supplement of pickled herring) and keep to the baked goods at Sherman. Years ago I had a poetry reading at the Sherman Café, and now I noticed that Bloc 11 on Bow St. has an open mic every Thursday night from 6PM to 9PM for musicians, singers and even poets. On Wednesdays nights they have featured musicians play such as: Audrey Ryan, “Quill,” and Somerville resident Jennifer Greer. A press release states:

“This all ages, weekly series will provide a house guitar, keyboard and PA system, along with the chance to play 2 songs for peers and fans alike. This series will give back as much as it receives from performers. Never charging a cover, offering a free podcast of each performance, plus a video recording, steaming online and on Somerville Community Access Television (SCAT).

Sponsored by Rockin Bobs Guitars and Performer Magazine, those who shine at the Bloc 11's Open Mic can win free musical gear and an ad in Performer- a national music publication.

Hosted by local indie-rocker Kristen Ford, this Thursday night series is meant to foster community among musicians.

‘There is so much we can learn from each other, musically and professionally. With so few all ages venues in the city- it’s a shame to ostracize so many up and comers because of liquor sales. It’s not right to expect a starving artist to pay a cover, and buy drinks just for the opportunity to play. The open mic at Bloc 11 is open to all ages, all genders, all ability levels and all income brackets. We just ask that you come to play and listen. Those who join in have the opportunity to network, be considered for a full set on our Wednesday night acoustic series, plus the chance for national exposure with Performer Magazine.’

Kristen Ford's open mindedness has rubbed off in the first few weeks yielding memorable performances across genres, ages and genders. With initial open mics packed- one can only assume great things are to come for Bloc 11 Cafe's open mic night, and for the players who fill it.

The Bloc 11 Cafe Open Mic series will be every Thursday, starting January 7th 2010. Sign up is from 5-6pm with music 6-9pm. Open to all styles of music, spoken word and performance, Bloc 11's open mic night is only missing one thing- your performance.”

I had the chance to talk the founder of this spanking new enterprise Kristine Ford, who hails from Aldersey Street in Somerville. Ford is an employee of Bloc 11, an aspiring musician, and grew up in Western, Mass. She attended college in Chicago, and eventually moved to Somerville. Like any artist she needed a steady job to keep the income flowing, and allow her to follow her avocation. Bloc 11 has proven to be haven for her. She makes a living (and a pretty mean bagel with tomatoes, onions, and butter on the side) and works with other young artists with gigs outside of their job. Megan Brideau, for instance, is a smiling and welcoming presence behind the counter as well as the curator of art exhibits at Bloc 11. Presently her own provocative work is on display, but she has exhibited many other local artists.

Ford said he recently navigated the dangerous shoals of city government to get an entertainment license. I asked this vivacious guitarist where one could hear her play: She said:
"I’ve been around town: The Toad, Burren in Davis Square, the Lizard Lounge, and, well of course-- Bloc 11."

***Bloc 11 Café is located at 11 Bow Street, Union Square in Somerville, MA 02143
Ph: 617 623 0000
Open 7 days, 7am-9pm Open Mic Thursdays sign up at 5, music 6-9pm.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chad Parenteau: A Poet Who Is About Much More Than Publishing Himself.

Chad Parenteau: A Poet Who Is About Much More Than Publishing Himself.

Interview with Doug Holder

Chad Parenteau is among the “holy fools” in the poetry world who spends much more time promoting the work of other poets than he spends on promoting himself. Parenteau, 36, the host for Stone Soup Poetry, a populist poetry venue founded by the legendary poet Jack Powers in 1971 in Boston, has brought the venue up to a new level. He has brought in a new crowd while keeping the old, he has booked poets both emerging and established from around the country, and has started an online poetry magazine for Stone Soup titled: “Spoonful.” Parenteau holds an MFA from Emerson College in Boston, Mass., where he studied with such poets as Bill Knott and Gail Mazur. He is the winner of a Cambridge Poetry Award for his collection “Self-Portrait in Fire.” I spoke to Parenteau on my Somerville Community Access TV show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Chad, you got your MFA at Emerson College. You studied with Gail Mazur, the founder of the famed Blacksmith House Poetry Series. How was she as a teacher, and a poet?

Chad Parenteau: Very interesting. She had quite a history -- she studied with Robert Lowell. That was her first year as a teacher—when I had her for poetry class. I had her class once more where I learned about Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. It was definitely a nice brush with history, as well as a crash course in poetry.

DH: Do you like her poetry?

CP: I don’t have any of her books, but I admire what she has tried to do in her work. You get a lot of people that say she has an academic style, but Mazur has her own voice.

DH: You have brought Stone Soup Poets to a new level. You have started an affiliated magazine: “Spoonful,” started a blog that highlights upcoming readers, you have videos of the readings online, etc… What brought you to Stone Soup? What is your vision for the series and organization?

CP: I came to Stone Soup to help it—in a response to a call for help. I was a friend with Lynne Sticklor, who was an Ibbetson Street Press editor, and Bill Perrault, who has produced the videos that document the series. They were looking for someone to do bookings, perhaps co-hosting, but due to Jack Power’s state of health, I stepped up to the post of host and Webmaster. What I wanted to do was make Stone Soup more open to the public. I didn’t want it to become an exclusive book club. I wanted to say if you have read at the open mic then you are a Stone Soup Poet. I changed “Stone Soup Poets” to “Stone Soup Poetry,” because I want to emphasize that we have a weekly event. It has been a long haul to get new poets and new voices in there. And it’s only been after 4 years that I feel like I have been successful. I have tried to include voices not necessarily in the Cambridge area—people might want to contribute sometime.

DH: Do you plan to come out with a print magazine for Stone Soup?

CP: The issue with a print magazine is money. And for everyone that says they want a print magazine—no one seems to have the money to buy it. I would rather do the magazine full force or not at all. I wouldn’t want to do some photocopy at work. The online journal Spoonful does reach a whole variety of people. It is going to be biannual as of 2010. I tried to do it quarterly. I have Lynne Sticklor who is a great editor.

DH: You were a newspaper reporter early in your career. Has that given you any tools for being a poet?

CP: I think it has helped to elevate and nurture my storytelling skills. I have never been much of a fiction writer—but I always tried to tell many stories. I did that with minimum success as a graduate student. I had better luck when I became more experienced. It was Bill Knott who said even if I didn’t succeed as a poet I could be a successful non-fiction writer. That—I took as a compliment. That was what I was doing at the end of my graduate study—telling a tale. I tried to write coherent poetry—not all over the place. I had a beginning and an end—I made sure there was a reason for both.

DH: You work at the VA with diabetics. How does this fit in with your writing?

CP: It was an accident. I was a waiter for many years. I answered an ad—and it was a good thing I did because I have very laid back and caring supervisors. It is also good because I am finally out of the starving artist mode—knock on wood. It has given me access to a world that I haven’t seen before.

DH: Which poets do you admire and influenced you?

CP: Philip Levine, Tony Hoagland,. I liked Levine’s working class poetry. That speaks to me more than the academic voice.

DH: Do you think that poetry can bridge the isolation and alienation we are feeling in this digital age?

CP: I think it can. I think that’s why I still do the reading series, and why I still believe in print.

The Convenience Store Girl

Don’t even risk a quick glance
at her much-too-mature breasts.
She knows your choice of poisons—
the canned insults to your mother—
you take home with you for comfort
because you can’t afford beer,
correctly guesses the days between
your visits on the way home,
could tamper with your purchase
before you know you’ll you buy it,
inject drops of revenge quicker
than you could at the restaurant—
those customers whose allergies
rhymed with all the unknown names
of every tree in their back yard.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"A Walker in the City"


Recently I made my yearly winter pilgrimage to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. I was invited to read at the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, on the weekend of a major snowstorm. But like any toughened Somervillian it takes a lot of snow to dissuade me from my God-given path. Things for me were a lot different from when I last visited. “The Recession” had settled in like an old piece of furniture, I was laid off from my job of 27 years at McLean Hospital, and I had started to teach at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. I was decidedly on a new road, and as a friend of mine said: (the novelist Paul Stone) “You are on a spiritual journey.” Well I hope I can use the journey as a tax write off.

The Chelsea Hotel has always been a great comfort to me. I always get a small, inexpensive room, a bathroom down the hall affair. It is like the Spartan furnished room I lived in the Back Bay of Boston in the 70’s. There is a lot of character to this hotel, but few amenities in comparison to other hotels in the Big Apple. At the check in desk I noticed a great whimsical painted portrait of Leonard Cohen, the poet, singer and one time resident of this hotel. When I got off the elevator to go to my room I encountered a bearded man dressed like a monk, talking animatedly on his cell phone like he was cutting a real estate deal or something. My friend, who I was visiting with, ran into an Englishman whose paintings grace the lobby of the hotel. He said he is from London, and decided to check in if for a year—15 years ago! I think if I checked in 15 years ago I might have had the same fate.

I was reading in The New York Times about a new documentary film about Patti Smith “Patti Smith: Dream of Life.” Smith was a denizen of the Chelsea in the 60s and 70s. According to the Times Smith has a new book out as well:

“Ms. Smith will visit bookstores around the country in support of “Just Kids” an autobiographical account of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, her close friend and fellow inhabitant of the Chelsea Hotel in the late 1960s and 70s.” Smith, a poet, and a singer, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 for her achievements, most notably for her classic debut album “Horses.”

Getting back to the title: “A Walker in the City,” walking through the streets of Somerville, Mass, as well as New York is a great way to clear your head, and since I was walking in the aftermath of the storm—the winds gave me a cold slap in the face—a freezing sucker punch—as if to say “Wake up, pal!...and take it all in.”

After checking out of the Chelsea and checking into my brother’s place down the block, I walked down to Cornelia Street in the Village for the reading. I passed a hair salon where a young guy was gesturing and swearing in Italian at a hairdresser, who had her hands on her ample hips, and was staring him down with an “I dare you” kind of expression. I went into a gourmet shop on Bleeker St. and a girl with a moose hat, requisite horns, and six rings planted in her collagen- infused lips, tried to sell me an overpriced container of nuts for a ten-spot She must of thought I was nuts.

I had a drink at a bar on in the village near the cafe and listened to a gaggle of NYU student’s chatter, while observing the shapely contours of the barmaid in her tight jeans. I saw a long-in-the-tooth rock band being photographed in front of Chelsea Guitars; their ruined, handsome faces spoke loudly in the late afternoon winter light of countless gigs, the road, the booze, and all-you-can-eat buffets of drugs.

A few hardy souls made it to the reading. The reading was for Larissa Shmailo's new collection of poetry, In Paran. Unfortunately she was ill and so we carried on. I ran into a poet friend of mine and City University professor Linda Lerner. The prolific Bronx poet Angelo Verga hosted the event, and the writer Iris Schwartz, Bob Viscusi, and others read from their work. There were a number of academic types from Brooklyn College and Hofstra University. They were amazed that I came down from Boston, in spite of the storm. I said their storm was a mere spritz in Somerville, and besides I needed the walk.

---Doug Holder