Sunday, July 18, 2010

Holder hosts Jewish Bards of Boston

Holder hosts Jewish Bards of Boston


July 16, 2010

By Zvi A. Sesling

Special to the Advocate

Doug Holder has earned the nickname “Johnny Appleseed of Poetry” for his many years of writing, encouraging, and promoting verse in Greater Boston.

He is a Jewish poet, but while his faith infuses his work, his themes are too wide-ranging to be pigeon-holed.

On July 22, Holder hosts an evening of poetry at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton.

You never know for sure what poems Holder will present, but he may read from works inspired by his childhood memories of New York; a 2007 visit to Israel, where he judged an international competition and conducted workshops: and the Boston Jewish scene.

Full disclosure: I must admit to a special interest in the program. Sharing the bill with Holder are five other Boston area Jewish poets: Ruth Kramer Baden, Freddie Frankel, Bert Stern, Harris Gardner and me.

I met Holder, 55, a few years ago, and we became fast friends. His Ibbetson Street Press published my first book of poetry “King of the Jungle” last March. I attend many of his weekly gatherings of poets at Breakfast with The Bagel Bards each Saturday in Davis Square at the Au Bon Pain.

Having worked at McLean for nearly 30 years, Holder developed a keen eye for detail ( he now teaches at Endicott College and Bunker Hill Community College) His poetry has been inspired by his experiences in the wards of the psychiatric hospital as well as by the various Boston neighborhoods where he lived before settling down in Somerville.

Holder likes to walk around taking notes, which he compiles in journals along with newspaper clippings. It’s all fodder for his poetry, which over the years has become more introspective and more humorous (especially about food).

Holder received a master’s degree in arts from Harvard University where he studied with such formidable figures as Ruth Wisse ( who worked with Irving Howe), James Kugel, and he wrote his thesis on food in the fiction of Henry Roth, the author of “Call it Sleep.”

In 1998, Holder and his wife, Dianne Robitaille and Richard Wilhelm started Ibbetson Street Magazine, now a national publication.

In addition to publishing poets, Holder has been busy getting himself published in Jewish publications such as Voices Israel, Harvard Mosaic, Poetica and recently in the Blue Jew Yorker as well as broader both print and online.

Although he has never written a book that was specifically Jewish themed, many of his poems dwell on his upbringing and his family.

“My mother and father were raised in the Bronx, so I always had a strong Jewish tradition,” Holder said. “My grandparents were immigrants from Russia, and my father, changed his name during The Great Depression from Horowitz.”

That change of name and the shadow cast over his family by the pogroms and the Holocaust prompted Holder to write this poem, which appears in print for the first time.


My father’s name
Was once Clarence Horowitz.

Some stooped
Over, Shtetl affair.
Something in basic black
In a frock coat—

In vogue
When the daily rag
Reported that
The sewers of Europe
Had swung open,
Letting the immigrants
On the teeming New York shore.

How we have lost
What’s clean
What’s pure.

An ungainly name—
A pale
Of the
Pale of Settlement.

My father wanted
To dye his roots
To something
Blond and true blue
To Lawrence Holder

No one would ever suspect
That he was a Jew.

--Doug Holder

• Zvi A. Sesling is the author of “ King of the Jungle” ( Ibbetson Street)

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