Friday, January 21, 2011

Famed Poet's Theatre Comes to Somerville!

Famed Poet's Theater Comes to Somerville!

With Doug Holder

Richard Cambridge, who incidentally lives in the Republic of Cambridge, has moved his much lauded Poet’s Theater to the Arts Armory in Somerville, Mass, from Club Passim in Harvard Square. I first met Richard Cambridge when we were part of a group of poets working on an anthology “City of Poets: 18 Boston Voices” organized by Don DiVecchio in 2000. I ran into Richard recently at the Armory, and well, here is our interview:

Can you talk about the “Poet’s Theatre” at the “Club Passim” in Harvard Square, Cambridge, that you revived?

When Club Passim went into receivership and had to be reformulated; Tim Mason, a friend and a booking agent for the Club, called and asked me if I wanted to do a ‘Poet’s Theatre” there. I had been doing poetry theatre before then on the local scene. So I jumped at the chance. I really enjoyed doing it. Back when “Passim” was “Club 47” they has a “Poets’ Theatre,” and it was very political. They were really enmeshed with the issues of the day: Civil Rights, Vietnam, etc… It faded out. I started it up again in 1995.

I always looked at poets as something other than someone doing a feature or poem. I came from the performance-poet tradition. But I wanted to move towards something larger. I tried to find people in the community who were folk singers, dancers, and comedians to help me put together poetry theatre. Our first feature was the poet Sebastian Lockwood.

Why have you moved Poet's Theatre to Somerville?

I had been at Club Passim for fifteen years, and it was a great run. The club took a hit in donor contributions after the financial crash in September, 2008, and needed to maximize earnings, even on the off nights.

Have you had any Somerville connections over the years?

Living in mid-Cambridge for so many years, my path winds in and out of Somerville nearly every day: cafes, restaurants, venues, kitty care. New current favorite for me:
Neighborhood Café in Union Square. Long time favorite: the Wine Cask is tops. I miss the open mike Licia Skye and Ryk McIntyre ran at Redbones.

Any new developments in your own poetry life--school, books,....

I’m enrolled in an MFA program in fiction at Stonecoast, U of So. Maine.
I’m polishing a novel about a hitchhiking journey I took in the Nineties.

Can you talk about your view of poetry as a force for change?

I wonder if we are not doing enough, for I see little effect for good in the greater, public arena in our country today. Sure, on a local level, on a personal level, poetry— all the arts are a force for healing, and can and do profoundly affect peoples’ lives.

Split This Rock is a festival that happens every other year in DC. It calls for poets and writers to witness with their words against injustice. I am excited about it because its a gathering of writers who are marching on the White House, not just political activists. Perhaps if word and deed can unite and grow we will be able to effect more change for the good.

I ask myself, okay, what level do I have to write at for the government to take notice and ban my words. Here's an example: Years ago NPR asked Martín Espada to write a poem for "All Things Considered." He wrote a poem about Mumia Abu Jamal, the Black journalist on Death Row. The government calls up NPR and says you can't put that on the radio, so NPR censors the poem. Espada wrote an essay, "All Things Censored" as a response.

In other countries poetry has been a huge force for change. I think of Pablo Neruda who wedded poetic vision with public service all his life, was targeted for many years in Chile for stinging the rulers with his verses. He had to go underground in 1947 to complete his Canto General to avoid arrest and imprisonment.

Will the Theater present on a regular basis?

The second or third Friday of the month. Rockabetty is up next, Feb 21, CD Collins & part of her band.

I don't have a website for this, but am open to ideas. I do have Facebook

****The Center for Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA 02143 | (P) 617.718.2191, (F) 617.718.1755 | (E)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Citizen Somerville: Growing up with the Winter Hill Gang by Bobby Martini and Elayne Keratsis

Citizen Somerville: Growing up with the Winter Hill Gang
Bobby Martini & Elayne Keratsis
Powder House Press

by Rene Schwiesow

“It’s not just another mob book. It’s my life,” Bobby Martini says at the end of the trailer for his book “Citizen Somerville: Growing up with the Winter Hill Gang.” The book was released in December, 2010. Martini wrote the book based on a series of interviews, including interviews with reputed Winter Hill Gang Boss, Howard “Howie” Winter. The trailer and a clip of a videotaped session with Winter can be found on You Tube and provides interesting viewing as companion to the book.

During an interview with Martini, Ellen Brogna, Winter’s wife, speaks of her struggle with anxiety and fear that began as an adolescent and continues even now – “but you build walls and you learn to deal,” Brogna ends. Martini goes on to say, “We are all professional wall builders. I’m one myself. I don’t even think it’s a conscious choice. The booze, the crime, the violence comes out and the walls automatically go up to protect childhood as much as possible. Once they’re up, they rarely come down for the rest of your life.”

Certainly many of Martini’s readers can identify with building walls. It is his ability to deconstruct a portion of his own walls that makes his honesty palpable in his writing. He allows others access not only to the history of Somerville’s “Winter Hill Gang,” but also to the stories of the families whose lives were interwoven behind the public discussion of organized crime.

“Citizen Somerville” is a historical novel, a memoir, and a sharing of a culture made public through news media reports, movies and literature, but rarely seen through the eyes of family. Martini brings us into his living room and into the living room of Howie Winter in a way that reminds us that “family” has a universal understanding, perhaps reminds of the dysfunctions and foibles we deal with, and offers a reminder of the love we have for those we hold close. He weaves family through the stories of crime, murder, mayhem, loss and sorrow so that, at times, we can very nearly see the eyes of those living through the dangerous times of the Irish Gang Wars during the 1960’s in Somerville and Charlestown. While the writing does not always follow chronological order and Martini’s insertion of his own experiences in italics can make the story line difficult to follow, the book, nevertheless, is a page-turner. In fact, the way in which the story is told and Martini’s commitment to using New England vernacular add to the authenticity of the tale.

The story could not be told without writing in Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi and Whitey Bulger. Bulger had moved into Winter’s garage in the 1970’s with his own bookmaking and, while Winter was away, began to overtake the Somerville enterprise. Nor could it be told without discussing the way the FBI had been in bed with both Bulger and Flemmi. It’s history, and as I mentioned, this book is historical. However, Winter, the man John Kerry once referred to as the “Number Two Crime Boss in New England,” now often referred to as “The Gentleman Gangster,” wants to make it perfectly clear that neither Whitey Bulger nor Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi were ever part of Howie Winter’s Winter Hill Gang. Today, in his late 70’s, Winter is no longer affiliated with organized crime in New England, both he and Martini consider themselves Somerville survivors with a deep love for their city. And that is clear in the telling of their stories.

Rene Schwiesow is a member of the Somerville-based Bagel Bards.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Secret Admirer by Kyle Flak

The Secret Admirer
by Kyle Flak
Copyright 2010 by Kyle Flak
Adastra Press
Easthampton, MA 01027
Softbound, 20pages, $16.00
ISBN 10: 0-9822495-8-6
ISBN 13: 978-0-9822495-8-1

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Some of the best poetry around is put out by small press publishers, among whom Adastra Press ranks as one of the best. Having read several of publisher Gary Metras’ offerings I was enthused to receive The Secret Admirer by Kyle Flak for review.

Once again Metras has not let me down. Flak a Michigan native who was educated at Northern Michigan University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. As a poet Flak falls somewhere between Jim Carroll and Charles Bukowski: tough, gritty, direct, honest (?), a few drinks and some drugs thrown in and sometimes sentimental but almost always an exciting adventure to read.

Most of the poems are culled from Flak’s apparently adventuresome life opening with “When We Were Both Sixteen” and following with titles such as “What Grunge Was About,” “Guys Night Out,” and the title poem, “Secret Admirer,” among others.

My personal favorite is “After A Stay in the County Jail”

It was hamburgers & dill pickles
all over again. You in a
gingham skirt high above
the knee, squirting
ketchup in the
picnic sunshine. “Look!
five seagulls are
hopping over
this way!”
you said, and I just spooked
them off with a
big, red kickball, laughing.
Laughing because it’s so nice
to finally have a
problem that isn’t
really a problem.

There is also an absolute favorite: “Amherst, Massachusetts”

Emily Dickinson calls me up at midnight to
ask if I want to really get stoned and
watch old wrestling videos.

“Just let me
put some pants on, Emily. I’ll be
right over.”

My car is a yellow Camaro.

There are French fries all over
the floor.

I turn on the headlights.

And zoom on over

to see the only girl in town
who still know what poetry

is all about.

Anytime you can take the iconic Ms. Dickinson, throw in Ms. Maryjane you have a poet who also (in addition to the attributes I mentioned earlier) can conjure up some fun reading.

Methinks Gary Metras knows what poetry is all about and his meticulously handmade books of which this one is letterpress printed, sewn and bound by hand by Metras (with some help from the author). The production takes about three months and is worth keeping not just because there are only 200 copies and this is a first edition, but because
the whole shebang is a true work of art.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review of ACROSS STONES OF BAD DREAMS by Zvi A. Sesling

Review of ACROSS STONES OF BAD DREAMS by Zvi A. Sesling, Cervena Barva Press, P.O. Box 440357, W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222, cover art by William J. Kelle, 39 pages, 2011, $7.

Review by Barbara Bialick

This great chapbook is about the giant dumpster of memory in the realm of past loves gone dead. The image of death carries right into the end, where Sesling imagines heaven as a welcoming place with a beautiful aquamarine sky like his mother’s ring…and yet there are his mother and father and relatives still instilling guilt and criticism and where “Piles of ancestors like old newspapers in the basement/will present themselves as headlines for me to acknowledge,…the sun yellow as the stars my aunts, uncles, cousins wore.” Only “Dogs from my past will bound forward through green fields,/tails wagging a quick metronome to their happy bark…”

That’s a heavy ending, and yet the sad, angry, sardonic but wry, and rye light touches of getting dumped by or dumping his past loves, even a son, carries you to the end with the voice of an experienced and knowing writer’s careful use of language. This whole collection works.

Back to the dumpster. “In this dumpster are all the dumped people, lovers, wives/husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends/old friends, acquaintances,/parents, children/,,,crushed like grapes…waiting for a chance to be rescued, dumped again.”
Sesling even feels dumped by the brother he does not have—“The brother who does not/exist is the shadow that/follows in the streets/or the rooms I enter/he never cries for me”.

Zvi Sesling, who recently published “King of the Jungle” (Ibbetson Street Press), is the editor of the “Muddy River Poetry Review”. He has published poetry in “Midstream”,
“Saranac Review,” “Voices Israel Anthology,” “Cyclamen and Swords” and many others. In 2007 he received First Prize in the Reuben Rose International Poetry Competition.

To buy this book, which I hope you do, go to Cervena Barva’s bookstore at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cambridge Community Poem: Bringing Poetry to The People

Former Cambridge Populist Peter Payack sent me the introduction to his book project (Cambridge Community Poem) that should be released in Feb. 2011. I am very pleased to be included:

Bringing Poetry to The People

As Cambridge’s first Poet Populist, one of my first initiatives was to create a poem, by the people of Cambridge. Instead of me writing about Cambridge, my idea was to let the many voices of Cambridge write a poem about their town. The result is now in your hands.

What makes this collection, this poem of 231 parts, unique is that it is not written exclusively by poets. It is written by the very people who make up Cambridge itself.

This volume includes poems by octogenarians, third graders, college presidents and professors, city workers, Pulitzer Prize winners, elected officials, Grammy Award winners, teachers, All-Americans, All-State athletes and a five-time NFL Pro Bowler, comedians, street performers, carpenters, high school students, scientists, researchers, lawyers, actors, doctors, artists, nurses, coaches, bicycle mechanics, marathoners, Poet Laureates, firefighters, pharmacists. And even poets and writers, if you can imagine that!

I put out a call asking for poems with up-lifting themes of city life, peace, community spirit, and the past, present and future of Cambridge. This was followed up with several news stories including a front page piece in the Boston Globe (February 20, 2009). I received hundreds of poems, from people down the street to people around the planet.

I attended various city events, like the Cambridge River Festival, the Revels RiverSing and Fresh Pond Day, went to visit the Kennedy-Longfellow School, Cambridge Rindge & Latin, and Haggerty schools, gave numerous poetry readings and talked with people that I ran into on the street.

Then out of the blue, the idea itself was endorsed by one of the living legendary poets of our time, John Ashbery. When on a visit to Harvard to receive the University’s Arts Medal, he said when asked in the Boston Globe: (Q) “Cambridge’s Poet Populist, Peter Payack, is asking residents to submit a few lines of poetry for a ‘community poem.’ Do you think this is a good idea?” And to tell the truth, I held my breath wondering what Ashbery was going to say! (A) “I like the idea of many voices contributing to a single poem. The 19th century proto-surrealist French poet Lautreamont once wrote that poetry should be made by everybody, and that sounds like what this project is carrying out.” Phewww…. But, I already knew the answer, anyway.

For forty years I have made it my mission to bring poetry out of the hands of strictly the academics and bring it back to the people, where it belongs. I have done this with a number of projects starting with Phone-a-Poem, The Cambridge/Boston Poetry Hotline, (1976-2001), which some weeks would receive up to 50,000 calls. And most recently Poet Populist Peter Payack’s Poetry Cookies that you can still buy at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop. (Find complete list of my major public poetry projects in the addendum.)

Cambridge has always been seen as a special place. And what makes Cambridge that special place is the people who have at one time or another called it their home, from the Wampanoag Tribes, the first European settlers who re-named the area Newtowne, George Washington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to our venerable senior citizens and our school children of today.

As intended this collection, this poem, has a symphony of voices. I tried to give artistic freedom to each writer and so did very little stylistic editing. These are Cambridge voices through and through.

I hope the Cambridge Community Poem brings some poetic light to the special place we call home.

Peter Payack
January 29, 2011
Cambridge, Massachusetts