Saturday, February 13, 2010
Interview with Diaspora Poet/Performer/Artist Li Min Mo
By Doug Holder
Li Min Mo has had a long, nomadic journey as an artist. Born in China, she has lived in many locales, including the Lower East Side of Manhattan where she cut her teeth as an artist. Mo now resides in Cambridge but is a valued member of the Somerville-based artist group the “Streetfeet Women.” She has taught drama, storytelling, and history to children and adults for many years. She holds an M.A. in Theatre and Education from Goddard College in Vermont and an M.F.A. from Emerson College in Creative Writing. In the sixties she worked with Peter Schuman’s Bread and Puppet Theatre, as well as other cutting edge dramatic groups. She has written a memoir "Spirit Bridges" that recounts her childhood in China to her forays in the Lower East Side of New York City. I spoke with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: You endured incredible hardship; from your childhood in China to your time on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It has been said:” What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Is this true for you?
Li Min Mo: I actually think that statement has one shade of the truth. Because of my condition, (I was diagnosed with Narcolepsy when I was 18), I became very depressed. Then the doctor prescribed amphetamines. Back then nobody knew a lot about them. I had to school and work a part time job. I walked around like a drugged fool. I don't think that made me stronger just confused and depressed.
DH: Well out of adversity comes art.
LMM: Well, if you have art. If you are passionate and committed to art...which I am. I am because I know this is the vehicle where my "other" part of me...that is not injured...is going to express itself. And I don't think a lot of people see art this way. I don't make a lot of things because objects are not the way I do art. I create art because this will make me whole. So there is another part of myself that can't explain things....I do express myself when I paint or tell a story, for instance.
DH: Your mom was quite artistic.
LMM: My mom was a formidable character. She qualified as a super mom--because she was doing so much. She slept five hours every night had jobs in factories and went to school on weekends.
DH: Why did you and your Mom leave China?
LMM: My dad was arrested by the communists back in 1949. And subsequently he was executed by the government. They wanted to "educate" my mom, or brainwash her. My mom knew that this was not where she wanted to go. Basically she told them "I can't be changed. I am going to remain decadent." So they knew she wasn't going to go through the transformation a revolution requires. They told her she could leave--later we landed in Hong Kong. She had a wonderful job as a writer there. Ever since we left China my mother wanted to come to America. She felt America would give her the best break to raise her kids. I think for us she made the sacrifice. She gave up her writing career and profession, and the community of writers. It took her eight years to get here--and we wound up in New York. My mom kept a journal--she wrote her whole life.
DH: You wrote the opening of one's self is the hardest work the artist undertakes. Explain.
LMM: I think when I look in the mirror what I see is just one face of mine. I also know there is another part of me that is not in the mirror. When you write about yourself you have to write about all these layers. It's like peeling an onion--it makes you cry. It's like taking off your clothes in front of everyone. I can never see my own back, but if I am writing about my back I am forced to look at the imperfection. When you write and write well, you share these scars.
DH: You are a member of an artistic group of women writers the "Streetfeet Women.” Can you give us a little history of the group?
LMM: Mary McCullough and Ellen Harap founded the group. Its former name was the Streetfeet's Children's workshop. In the early 80's I was hired to work with children in the Mission Hill section of Boston, creating a summer art program, as well as producing plays. Our group was doing a lot of theatre. Eventually we went to Africa because we heard there was a women's conference being held there...this was 1985. Before that we raised money to travel to Africa, and wrote our own theatre piece together--we created an ensemble. From there we created and nurtured our own writing. We got together once-a-month. Our first anthology came out in 1998 "Laughing in the Kitchen"--we used to meet in each other’s kitchens. Before that we published small booklets: "On the Road to Beijing." was one such booklet. We chronicled our travels. We travel less now--we all have families and grandchildren.
DH: Can you talk about your involvement with the Bread and Puppet Theatre in the 60's. It had a very political mission, no?
LMM: Peter Schumann, the director of the theatre, started it in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was living there at the time. I was babysitting for a filmmaker and she introduced me to Peter. Peter decided to attach my face for his masks for his play against the Vietnam War. So my face became the face of the Vietnamese people. People would wear my mask in marches and in theatre productions. I did quite a bit of writing about Peter's work because he is quite the genius. He currently has a play at the Boston center for the Arts.
DH: China is an emerging power--or has already emerged. Do you think it will have a major impact on the literary world?
LMM: I think Chinese respect writing. Now that more people are educated writing and literature will be more prominent. The government is afraid of writers. They are afraid of what writers say. I don't think there is a good chance they can shut the country off to literature.
DH: Do you think your mother would want to go back to China now if she was alive? Would you like to go back to live there?
LMM: I don't fit there. I am the artist in exile. Right now it is hard for me to blend in. I think my mother would have liked to go back though.
For more information go to: http://www.liminmo.com
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Somerville’s Mike Dacey: Publishing History “Repeats” Itself
By Doug Holder
The first thing I noticed in Mike Dacey’s studio was a half full bottle of Balvenie Double Wood Whiskey. Now I enjoy a glass of Canadian Club with my wife on these cold evenings, so I was glad to see Dacey has good taste as well. The bottle almost seemed like a prop; it fit so well with the well-worn Letterpress printing machines and the gray winter light that filtered in before a much hyped snowstorm. Mike Dacey is an unpretentious man in his late 20’s, who is devoted to an arcane niche of the publishing and printing world: Letterpress Printing. Dacey describes this old school style of publishing as:
“A method of printing which includes raising up the surface of the plate and type, where as the ink is pushed into the paper... The current methods of printing are done by digital technology and offset methodology. “
Dacey prints beautifully conceived broadsides, chapbooks, and mono types from his space at the Fringe Movement Group, housed in an old factory at 9 Olive Square in the Union Square section of the city. The building is basically behind Sherman’s Café, home to the famed oatmeal scone as well an exhibit of Dacey’s work. His printing machines date back to the early 60’s. Dacey said: “As long as you keep them well-oiled they can last forever.”
As we talked Steve Shinnerev, a denizen of the building, and a talented videographer, traversed the expanse of the loft on a skateboard. The way I am feeling these days I would be more inclined to use a walker…but no matter.
“The Fringe Movement,” that Dacey is a proud member of, consists of young architects, engineers, a Green Roof designer, and others, who make their home here as they make their way into the marketplace.
Dacey calls his business the “Repeat Press” and judging by the quality of his products you would be well-advised to visit more than once. Dacey, a Somerville resident, lives with his girlfriend Alex Feinstein, another well-known name in arts circles in the Square. Dacey explained Somerville has been good to him, “I was awarded a Fellowship Grant from the Somerville Arts Council, and my business has become my livelihood.”
I asked Dacey why he chooses to work with Letterpress printing. Dacey said, looking at the ancient machines with a concerned, paternal gaze:
“I like working with my hands. I have a background in Graphic Design from Hampshire College. I think the end result of what I do is special and unique.”
I viewed some of his creations including, well-designed matchbooks covers, a broadside with the poetry of Devin King, as well as a slew of posters for Somerville’s P.A. Lounge as well as other area venues.
Now his stuff isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for in this world. You can see Dacey’s craftsmanship and his well-honed artistic sensibility in everything he produces. From his cotton-based papers--to his wood type or metal type print productions--Repeat Press is well worth the price!
For more information go to: http:// repeatpress.com
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
They’re Dropping Bombs Not Ham Sandwiches
Cervena Barva Press
Review by Renee Schwiesow
Michael Nash is not a novice when it comes to writing for the stage. A teacher of drama and English, his passion for stage productions shows in his work, which includes “Public Heroes, Private Friends” and the musical “Signs of Fire,” a work about the last year of Van Gogh’s life. Nash’s extensive background in theatre includes twenty productions and this experience is showcased in “They’re dropping bombs not Ham Sandwiches,” which takes place in a hospital corridor.
“We will remember them,” a doctor and nurse proclaim.
“We will remember,” the rest of the cast responds.
As reader, we are reminded to remember as well. Nash’s work offers the opportunity to spend time eavesdropping on a conversation between an elderly gentleman, who served during WW II, and a young man who was the recent victim of a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland. Back and forth we go, bouncing from the conversation and recollections of the elderly man’s war experience to the younger man’s questioning, searching for answers.
The entire cast is comprised of five characters who build the story that affirms the heartbreak of war throughout the two acts. Perhaps it is the sparseness of character and set that add to the starkness of reality, the poignancy of the dialogue that Nash has written. Perhaps it is the white walls that drive us to feel the madness of wars where men are marched “like lambs to the slaughter.”
On occasion we are witness to dialogue that finds us retreating into quiet contemplation. On occasion we leave a work unable to immediately articulate the emotional impact the dialogue has upon us. We are left stranded in thought; we are left holding compassion for the countless others across the world that the characters represent. “They’re Dropping Bombs not Ham Sandwiches,” is one such work. Those of us who have not experienced war first hand, indeed know nothing of the horror. But Nash’s dialogue and his characters draw us into a world that unfolds into vivid picture, and his words:
“Makes you wonder how anybody can treat another human being in such a way. . .used for horrendous experiments. Butchered. And burnt. . .”
resound in our ears long after we have put the play down.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
LUKE SALISBURY: A Bagel Bard's Novel Approach to the Civil War.
Bunker Hill Community College English professor and a member of Somerville's Bagel Bards Luke Salisbury has written a number of books about baseball, as well as assorted novels, etc.... His latest work-in-progress is the novel "No Common War." I decided to use this passage from his manuscript that concerns a Union soldier the night before Antietam as a teaser for you readers and literary agents out there. You can read about Salisbury's impressive background at http://lukesalisbury.com.
The night of the 16th was rainy, misty, cold. Men remember it differently. The Pennsylvanians thought no battle imminent. Black Hats and Yorkers didn’t agree. General John Gibbon remembered the night was solemn, dismal, silent. David Hamer remembered how close the lines were. I remember pickets firing sporadically. Occasional artillery echoed through rain and mist. McClellan could have attacked Tuesday and destroyed the part of Lee’s Army camped at Sharpsburg, but McClellan was McClellan—he waited, finicking with details, laboring with anticipation, parading before subordinates, worrying about his men. The day delay doubled Lee’s Army as Jackson arrived and A.P. Hill started from Harper’s Ferry.
No one forgets the next day. The 17th, the bloodiest day in American history. More men would die on a Wednesday in Maryland than in all the wars Americans had fought. Those remembering, commemorating, making meaning, sanctifying—know the stakes—British recognition of the Confederacy, peace Democrats agitating to settle with the South, the Emancipation Proclamation—the document that gave the war the moral clarity of Lincoln himself. All this was only suspected, guessed or wished for by those shivering and chewing coffee beans the night before. No fires. Food cold. Sleep difficult. Sergeant William Harris of the 2nd Wisconsin—he’d be in the second wave—tried to pray himself to sleep and failed.
Many Yorkers and Black Hats got stomach aches as we helped ourselves to apples in the Miller and Poffenberger orchards. The Rebs had been eating green corn and apples for weeks. Ten thousand straggled—those remaining had a variety of ailments. McClellan, with the help of over-cautious, over-estimating, overpaid Pinkerton, inflated Lee’s number ten times, and decided a phantom army lay in reserve behind South Mountain.
Each army had moments of panic. A Zouave from New York City tripped over the regimental dog, fell into a stack of rifles and two regiments scrambled wildly, banging into each other, cussing and running amok until they discovered they weren’t under attack.
In the West Woods, the other side of D.M. Miller’s cornfield, a line of Rebel horses spooked. Sentries remembered it was quiet, too quiet, when something or Something—it was later described as a Spirit—frightened horses who broke their tethers and ran into the night. Major Sorrel and his men chased horses till dawn.
The night was noises, blunders, palpable fear. Later there was a desperate need to make sense of it.
Monday, February 08, 2010
I received notice that Dave Christy founder of the Alpha Beat Press has passed away. The press was very prolific and influential in the little magazine and chapbook scene in the 80's and 90's. I had my first chap published by Dave Christy: "Poems of Boston and Just Beyond: From the Back Bay to the Back Ward" May he rest in peace.
From the website:
Alpha Beat Press has been publishing Beat Generation, post-Beat Independent and other modern writings since 1986. Alpha Beat Press had its beginnings in a Montreal flat with the idea of keeping the aesthetics and sensibilities of the Beat generation alive. Our first magazine, Alpha Beat Soup was unique, being the only small press magazine publishing original and current Beat writings. In our new magazine Bouillabaisse and in our other poetry publications we have continued in that tradition, publishing a wide variety of writers and styles, from Bukowski to the lesser known poets. Alpha Beat Press is certainly the best of the small press!
Past Contributors include: John Clellan Holmes, Charles Bukowski, Beatrice Wood, Allen Ginsberg, Diane DiPrima, Carolyn Cassady, Gary Snyder, Carl Solomon, Ken Kesey, Simon Vinkenoong, Kaviraj George Dowden, John Montgomery, Jack Kerouac, Ken Babbs, Bruce Fearing, Ray Bremser, Al Aronowitz, Ana Christy, Gerald Nicosia, Diane Wakowski, Bob Kaufman, Steve Richmond, Janine Pommy Vega, Antler, Herbert Huncke, Pradip Choudhuri, Jack Micheline, Gregory Corso, Joan Reid, Allen Cohen, Yusuke Keida, Barbara Moraff, A.D.Winans, Tuli Kupferberg, Richard Morris, George Montrgomery, Frank Moore, Erling Friis-Baastad, t.k.splake, ruth weiss, elliott, Ted Berrigan, Neeli Cherkovski, Clayton Eshleman, Gerald Locklin, Joy Walsh, Anne Waldman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Kurt Nimmo, Ron Androla, Graham Cournoyer, Bill Costley, Jan Kerouac, Jeanne Conn, Stephan Ronan, Christine Zwingman, Chris Challis, Lyn Lifshin, Ulvis Alberts, Lorrie Jackson, Tony Seldin, Judson Crews, Steve Allen, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady & Ted Joans.
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Review of “emily dickinson” by Irene Koronas, sized 4 X 6 and 1/2 inches, 22 pages, Propaganda Press, Alternating Current, PO Box 398058, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, $5, 2010
By Barbara Bialick
When Irene Koronas writes her fine “experimental” poetry—sparsely punctuated prose poems, the reader would do well to experiment with the experimental experimentally.
For she is an expert mentally.
The first poem, “dear emily” reads in one interpretation, “who could know this intimacy with self would become expository tramping through every thought…we find your dogmatic loneliness…not an able companion…You dare not walk across the lawn. Yet book after book are on almost everyone’s bookshelf…”
Or you could say, “know this intimacy…self would become.. .(our) expository tramping through. every thought… trying to partner and lead…stepping on…you dare…not walk…a cross (on) the lawn…”
This handy little book with lovely pastel stripes designed by the author on the cover, can join you in a pocket or purse, perfect for sipping as you sip your coffee. Dickinson fans should find the book tasty as we learn to appreciate Emily the recluse from Koronas’ traveled and knowledgeable point of view. And also our own, depending how we choose to read it.
Many of these poems are numbered and appear to correspond to Dickinson’s poems by the same number. Have fun. Read both.
Irene Koronas is a well-known and published poet in the Cambridge/Somerville time zone and is one of the original members of the group called The Bagel Bards. She is also the poetry editor of the Wilderness House Literary Review.