Friday, August 13, 2010

Somerville Writer Will Fertman: From China to Cheese.

Somerville Writer Will Fertman: From China to Cheese.

By Doug Holder

Being a ritualistic early morning denizen of the Bloc 11 cafĂ© in the Union Square section of Somerville, I couldn’t help but notice a man somewhere in his thirties, with a shock of Harpo Marxish curly brown hair, laboring over a computer like a mad scientist. Another writer in the Paris of New England you say smugly? Well you are right.

Will Fertman, 32, lives in the Davis Square section of Somerville but commutes down to Bloc 11 because he can’t write at home, and the Bloc 11 was on route to his job at the Boston Review, a literary and political journal based in our burg. Fertman and I eventually came out of our respective shells and started to converse. I asked to interview him, and he consented to a 7A.M. meeting.

Fertman, after experiencing a stint of wanderlust that took him from China, to New York City, and eventually to here in the Ville, has found our city a place to firmly plant his feet. He grew up in Winchester, Mass. and later graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, eventually getting his MFA from Goddard College in Vermont. He told me that even though he lived in NYC he prefers Somerville. Fertman said: “ New York is too conformist. By nature I am somewhat of a hermit. My idea of a good evening is inviting someone over my apartment for dinner. You don’t do that in N.Y. In Somerville I enjoy the eclectic texture: the students, the Brazilian immigrants, the old-time Somerville residents—all here in Union Square.”

In 2008 Fertman landed a job as an advertising and promotion director of the Boston Review. The Review is a well-respected literary and political journal that publishes some of the work of the major political thinkers, and literary lights of our time. Here Fertman worked with the likes of Pulitzer-Prize winner Junot Diaz, poets like Mary Jo Bang, Timothy Donnelly and others.

While working at the Boston Review, Fertman labored over his novel that was inspired by his time living in the Republic of China. He told me it is a story of an Asian Frankenstein. It all takes place in the sometimes gothic and rabidly industrial society of contemporary China.

Fertman has recently left the Boston Review to write for a cheese magazine titled “Culture.” The magazine is looking to possibly locate in Somerville. Although Fertman is no cheese expert, he gets to write a column in which he can ruminate about cheese, from the sharp and biting Cheddar to the more “holy” grounds of Swiss. In one column Fertman wrote it concerned a 15th century heretical philosopher who speculated that earth was formed from, well, a blob of cheese. Needless to say this did not go over well with the powers-that-be at the time.

Fertman listed his favorite Somerville haunts to procure this epicurean delight. On his list was Sherman’s Market and Capone’s in Union Square, Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Teele Square, and other cheese hubs.

Fertman told me he always likes to offer his readers a hook in his writing. He wants to make his readers laugh or gasp, maybe both. Fertman believes that writing is not a “polite” art—and he is dedicated to putting sizzle in the reader’s steak.

Fertman’s favorite writers are Iris Murdock, Raymond Chandler, and Shelley Jackson, to name a few.

And to young writers wherever you are Fertman opines:

“ The two things that I learned was to write constantly, read religiously, and write about what you are interested in. Don’t wait to be recognized; send your work out; start your own magazine, or your own blog—be persistent and network with other writers.”

Fertman believes that an MFA in Writing is not for everyone, but he needed the discipline to write a lot and at level that you need to make it in the biz.

Like any true Somerville scribe, Fertman shook my hand after the interview, and retreated into the recesses of Bloc 11 to pound the keys on his shopworn laptop.


From Will Fertman's column about cheese in "Culture Magazine"

Cheese might seem like a wholesome business on the surface, but here at culture we’re not afraid to peel back the wax and give you a taste of the gamier side:

Dec. 7, 2005,
Memphis, TN (AP):
Jessica Sandy Booth, 18, was arrested over the weekend and charged with four counts of attempted murder and four counts of soliciting a murder . . . According to police, Booth was in the intended victims’ home last week when she mistook a block of queso fresco for cocaine, inspiring the idea to hire someone to break into the home, take the drugs, and kill the men . . . “Four men were going to lose their lives over some cheese,” said Lt. Jeff Clark.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Popular Poet Populist: Jean—Dany Joachim

Popular Poet Populist: Jean—Dany Joachim

Interview by Doug Holder

Well – I interviewed the Poet Laureate of Boston Sam Cornish, the Poet Laureate of Portland, Maine Steve Luttrell, and just recently the Poet Populist of the Republic of Cambridge, Jean—Dany Joachim. Both Jean and I teach at Bunker Hill Community College, and both of us are poets. One day perhaps I will be able to interview the Poet Laureate of Somerville if the city ever gets off its haunches. Jean Dany Joachim was born in Port-au-Prince Haiti. In his online bio it states "…his writing found its voice in the never-ending, complex reality of his country." Joachim is the author of " Chen Plenn-Leta", and his work has appeared in anthologies and numerous literary magazines. I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV show "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: So, as I said in the introduction it has been said that you found your poetic voice with the "never ending complex reality of your country." Explain.

Jean--Dany Joachim: The first poem that I wrote when I was 13 years old dealt with the reality of Haiti at the time. The poem was titled

"Good Morning." That poem was the first one that made me start writing. My writing dealt with Haiti, the land, the dreams, the aspirations, and the political trouble. Later I discovered poetry for the language. The Creole language. It is a beautiful language that has a lot to do with French. This is because for close to 200 years the French were in Haiti..

DH: You are the second Poet Populist in Cambridge. Tell us about the position.

JJ: 2007 was the first year Cambridge went with this concept. They did not create it; it was first started in Seattle. Seattle had the first "Populist" instead of the commonly named Poet Laureate. In 2007 I was one of the finalists for the position, and I was eventually selected. I wasn't even sure what the position was about when they called me in 2007 to tell me I was nominated. Peter Payackwas the first Poet Populist--before me.

DH: What is the difference between a Poet Laureate and a Poet Populist?

JJ: Bluntly speaking the Poet Populist is Cambridge. Cambridge must have its own way, so therefore it has the Poet Populist. ( Laugh) It's just a different name. It is a position for the promotion of POETRY and the art of words in the City of Cambridge, and even beyond.

DH: Do you think there has been a greater awareness of Haitian literature due to the tragic earthquake?

JJ: I think Haitian writers with a few exceptions are generally unknown in this country. I think because they write in French. There are very few presses that are translating Haitian writers. I wish more translation could happen. I wish more translation could happen.

DH: Is there any signature quality to Haitian writing?

JJ: In Haitian art there is a lot of vivid colors. This definitely comes out in the writing.

DH: Tell us about your City Night Reading Series.

JJ: It started more than 10 years ago. At Bunker Hill Community College in Boston I used to run a series titled" Sunset Poetry Series" It was a once a month series with readings from faculty and students. So after years doing it at the college; I thought why not do it outside. I originally wanted it to be nomadic, city to city. But I realized this would be a great deal of work. I had the series at UMass Boston, in Chelsea, and other venues until I found Cafe Luna in Central Square.


Four chairs sit

On a porch, they're waiting

Four chairs all dressed up

Sitting without a word

Four chairs of hope

In wait to be useful

Four chairs next to each other

Which are sometimes face- to- face

Four chairs of labor

Relieving the human tiredness

For chairs which cure

Four chairs observing

Life which ravels

Four chairs of silence

Four chairs in wait

To hang the words.

On the porch

The four chairs sit, they're waiting.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Writer’s Journey: At the Norman Mailer Writers Colony By Tracy Strauss

(Strauss and fellow feline resident of the colony)

Tracy Strauss has been a long time friend of the Ibbetson Street Press and a regular at the Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, Somerville. She was kind enough to write this account of her residency at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony...

A Writer’s Journey

I just returned from a week at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, in Provincetown, Ma., where I received a scholarship to work with seven writers, under the direction of Kaylie Jones, in memoir. I first studied with Kaylie Jones (daughter of From Here to Eternity’s James Jones) last summer when I was accepted on scholarship to the Southampton Writers Conference’s memoir workshop with Frank McCourt, who, just two weeks before the workshop, grew gravely ill, and died. Kaylie replaced him as my teacher. This summer, I could not pass up the opportunity to work with her again, on my second memoir, Hannah Grace, about healing from PTSD through my relationship with a cat (

Arriving at the Norman Mailer Home on Commercial Street, I was awed by the view of the Massachusetts shoreline. The workshop took place inside the home, where we met for four hours every morning, sharing and critiquing our writing as the tide went out, and in.

Unlike the Southampton Writers Conference or the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, which I attended in 2008, each attendee at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony is fully-funded, aside from a $225 administrative fee. Housing is generous – I was placed in my own fully-equipped condo near the beach, where I found Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and a thesaurus on the bookshelf, and where the kitchen cabinets were populated with pots and pans, tea and Progresso soup. Attendees are on their own for most meals, and with a stove, oven, refrigerator, plus supplies, eating in is a budget-conscious option.

Interestingly, my condo was the only one with a cat-flap on the door and, beginning my first afternoon in residence, a cat appeared there, meowing. When I left my condo to eat dinner with fellow writers, he circled my feet and rubbed up against my legs. Throughout the week, the cat visited me often – given that I was writing a book about my relationship with a cat, I considered him my talisman.

Staff members Guy Wolf and Jessica Zlotnicki helped us get acquainted with Norman Mailer’s legacy with a tour of the house, including his writing room, located in the attic, which, with its slanted ceiling, small windows, and cramped, rudimentary space, reminded me of my attic apartment in Cambridge, except that I don’t have a plethora of books about Hitler on my shelves or a Bellevue sign to remind me not to stab my spouse. The house was open for us to write in at our leisure.

The Colony loaned us bicycles to explore Provincetown, which I did on sunny afternoons, riding out to the Tidal Flats, where the “Life Seen and Unseen” theme became my (writer’s) journey, where I walked, and walked, and walked across rocks and water, unable to see my destination, but was compelled to continue onward. I listened to the call of Sandpipers and traversed steep boulders, flat slabs, rough and smooth rocks, which tested my footing. I thought about ways to surmount the obstacles I faced in writing my book, then went back to the Norman Mailer House to work.

Time to write is priority at the Colony. I spent many afternoons penning my chapters, and completing writing exercises assigned to fuel our creative process. The week ended with a luncheon held at the Norman Mailer House to commemorate our week’s work. We were also invited to a gallery opening in town. As we said our goodbyes, we vowed to keep in touch and support each other as we complete our books and work to publish them. I know we will.

Tracy Strauss

***********Tracy Strauss is a poet and nonfiction writer. A 2005 Somerville Arts Council Literary Fellowship Award winner in poetry, her work has been published in The Hummingbird Review, Ibbetson Street, Spoonful, and War, Literature & The Arts. A chapter from her first memoir, Personal Effects, was recently published in The Southampton Review. She has been a featured writer at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton, and the “Tapestry of Voices” and “Poetry in the Chapel” series in Boston. She is currently working on a second memoir, Hannah Grace, about healing from PTSD through a relationship with a cat. She teaches at Emerson College.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Legends of Winter Hill by Jay Atkinson

Legends of Winter Hill

by Jay Atkinson
Three Rivers Press
Softcover, 363 pages, $14
ISBN 0-9796816-6-0

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Too many writers choose Boston for their detective stories. But Jay Atkinson, who wrote Legends of Winter Hill, has chosen true life than fiction. His hero is Joe McCain, a real detective pursuing real criminals who commit real crimes. Atkinson’s revelations about true crime is, as Humphrey Bogart says at the end of The Maltese Falcon, “The stuff legends are made of.”

Atkinson takes through the back alleys of crime – dirty cops, murder, robberies and lesser crimes like insurance fraud, workmen’s comp fraud – a hodge podge of major and lesser crimes that could – and do – fill the book.

He takes us through Somerville, eating at Redbones just off Davis Square and a Vietnamese Restaurant in Union Square. He takes us into Boston, Chelsea, Medford, Revere and other communities in the greater Boston area like Quincy, trying to videotape a man who is defrauding an insurance company with a fake injury. Everywhere he takes us where perpetrators live or operate and you wonder how he and McCain survive their run-ins with the underworld, and even clean cops who do not like the idea of their own being uncovered as dirty.

Each chapter is like a separate story and the dialogue, like the action in the book is real, not made up fiction, which makes it all the more interesting.

You will know the people, the locations and most of all you will know McCain through
Atikinson’s eyes and writing, which is crisp, fast paced and not only a true crime book,
but a look at the history of criminals, including the notorious Teddy Deegan case in which law enforcement officials framed several men, two of whom died in prison, for a murder they never committed and which cost taxpayers not only to keep them locked up,
but the millions of dollars they were awarded for their lost years. Yes, it is a book worth
reading and learning the lessons of criminals and misguided law enforcement which, more than likely, still happening