Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Poet Ruth Kramer Baden: A Writer from 'East of the Moon'

"Poet Ruth Kramer Baden: A Writer from 'East of the Moon'”

Interview by Doug Holder

Ruth Kramer Baden is well into her 70’s, but is an emerging poet with her first poetry collection “East of the Moon” (Ibbetson Street Press). This book which was recently selected as a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Book Award, is according to reviewer Barbara Bialick “a mythic narrative, storytelling, and busting with flavor beads… she takes the reader through life cycles of a mature woman—with the span of her first collection, it is obvious that her writing of this work was in the back of her mind for some time.” I talked with Baden on my Somerville Community Access TV show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: So Ruth what took you so long?

Ruth Kramer Baden: Well I guess I succumbed to the myth that was thrown around when I was a young person. That was once you get married—you have children and you stay at home. I know Sylvia Plath was writing at 2 A.M. with two little children—but then she put her head in the oven. I felt like I had to devote myself to my husband and children. It wasn’t until the Feminist Revolution that I got the message that there is room for family but other things too. Yes there was love for the family but you had to fulfill your promise in the world as well. I started writing because of a teacher who inspired me in high school. I decided that I wanted to be a world famous writer, if not that, somewhere near that. So I went to college, and did what women of my generation did-- I got married and had children. I turned away completely from poetry and all the things I was thinking about in college. My husband didn’t want me to do anything that would interfere with my duties as a wife. I think I accepted that. That was your job—you didn’t think about your own needs.

DH: As Lois Ames, a confidante of both Sexton and Plath told me you were a revolutionary if you were a woman, and doing something outside the kitchen.

RB: I guess then I was a revolutionary. I took a writing seminar at the Radcliff Institute which was for “older women.” So there were some of us in our 30’s. (Laugh) I just got hooked, all I wanted to do was write, write, write. So I started writing poetry. And my dream was to publish. But somehow I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t know how to go about it. It was not like today when you can go on the internet and find all these publishers. I was very lucky to go to a reading at Porter Square Books to hear Kathleen Spivack read. She became my mentor and later I got my book published with her invaluable help.

DH: You were a lawyer—does this experience figure with your work?

RB: Yes I was a lawyer and I decided to retire at 70. The law did not inspire my work, but my teaching does. I teach at Brandeis University in a program for adult learners. It has been the greatest experience working with these people. They are seniors with a lot of life experience.

DH: What do you consider the traits of a good poetry teacher?

RB: In my own case I’m told that I communicate my passion for poetry. You really have to like and enjoy people. You should be able to explain in a very down-to-earth way about what you are talking about.

As far as Kathleen Spivack goes she had been a teacher many years ago when I was in my
30’s. When I saw she was reading in Porter Square ( Cambridge, Mass.), I also found out she helped her poetry students get published. I hooked up again with her. She was very encouraging. She made feel like I could become a published poet.

DH: Your poems seem to have a strong Jewish bent to them. Do you consider yourself a Jewish poet or a poet who is Jewish?

RB: I guess a poet who is Jewish. I didn’t realize that I have a decidedly Jewish slant. But now I realize it is true, many of my poems are imbued with Jewish Humanism. That is that they have a feel for the culture, the history, and what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. Writing poetry is a way to find out who you are—where you came from.

Under The East River

What would you give to ride again
to Flatbush Avenue in the front subway car
wondering about the rails, why they meet
in the distance of the dark tunnel?
to climb the stairs up to the ozone-scented morning
holding your schoolbooks tight against your blue-sweatered
and stride under the arch of Erasmus Hall High School
where Desiderius, the bronzed Dutch scholar stands
with his tome eternally open to the same two pages
to throw a Lincoln penny into his book for luck
in passing all your tests, and you do
to have your luck follow you out into the copper afternoon
and to never doubt it will be with you forever?
What will you do when your luck slips clinking onto the
somewhere between Times Square and Coney Island
and you ride to and fro under the East River
while your reflection watches you from the soot-smeared
you know now you will never get off at the right stop
you will fail all your tests year after year
the rails will never meet.
What would you give to ride to Herald Square and see luck
get on
wearing a faded Dodgers cap and his back-pack of tricks?
when he moves to the strap-hanger next to yours
when he sways with you
will you dare look straight into his cobalt eyes
and invite him to come home in the lowering afternoon
to lie with you, to love each other’s bones
until they meet in the tunnel of light?

Friday, April 22, 2011

"FUSION” A Magazine of Literature, Music, Art, and Ideas

A Magazine of Literature, Music, Art, and Ideas
Berklee College of Music,
Boston, Massachusetts

Review by Rene Schwiesow

Berklee College in Boston is known world wide for its excellence in music education. Well known graduates include Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Joey Kramer, and Branford Marsalis. However, Berklee College is also committed to showcasing the talents of their students beyond the music genre. “FUSION: A Magazine of Literature, Music, Art, and Ideas,” was developed as the “literary and multimedia” voice of the school. FUSION’s main goal is to publish Berklee’s students, but the magazine also solicits work from faculty, staff, visiting artists and guests.

Volume 2, Issue 1, 2010 included six poems by Somerville’s Bert Stern. Stern was a visiting artist at Berklee, spring of 2010. The poems were originally published in Stern’s collection, “Steerage,” published by Ibbetson Press and the grouping includes the title poem, “Steerage.”

“In a corner, on blankets, we made house: here bundles to lean against,
there, to keep garlic and bread.”

Stern’s poems are interspersed with photographs by Berklee student Alexander Muri, alum Cailin Peters and Irish guest photographer Fionan O’Connell. O’Connell is just one of the Irish artists represented in a section entitled “Irish FUSION.” FUSION editor-in-chief Joseph Coroniti spent sabbatical time in Ireland as a visiting research professor at the Centre for Irish Studies, National University of Ireland in Galway. During his stay, Coroniti commissioned work. In addition to O’Connell’s intriguing images, eleven Irish poets are represented, including Louis de Paor, the Irish language poet, whose poems are printed in Irish with the English translation. From “Blackberries,” by Paor:

The white tide
is high as the sun
surging in her pulse,
and a thorn in her talk
unbeknownst to her,
skins my fingers.

There are no thorns in the words of Kathryn Bilinski, author of “Metropolis: A Bostonian Summer.” Bilinski threads 50 word vignettes into a fusion of sight, sound and emotion that may inspire the most committed suburbanite to board the train for a day in the city. After all, “There is nothing like a muggy summer evening in Boston.”

While I could go on for paragraphs mentioning authors and sharing quotations from the interesting reading in “FUSION,” I will leave the rest of the journey to you. You may read more about FUSION at: The magazine accepts submissions year round. However, individuals who are not Berklee students or alumni, must send a letter of enquiry before submitting.

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore venue, Poetry: the Art of Words held the second Sunday of each month in Plymouth.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bunker Hill Community College--National Poetry Month Reading

(Click on to enlarge)

Somerville Poet’s Book Selected as a “Must-Read” by the Mass Book Awards

Somerville Poet’s Book Selected as a “Must-Read” by the Mass Book Awards

By Bert Stern

Triage, by Tam Lin Neville, Cervena Barva Press, Somerville, MA, 2010

Tam Lin’s book, Triage, was recently selected as a “Must-Read” by the Mass Book Awards. She is a Somerville poet published by Cervena Barva, a Somerville press.

Many of the poems revolve around her neighborhood, Union Square.
The chastened compassion of the poems in Triage is strikingly original and at the
same time, a precise rendering of a feeling common to our times: the daily witnessing of a suffering we can’t relieve but can only try to take in with our steadiest eye. “Late Nursery Rhyme,” the opening lyric, is also the book’s “argument”:

The stars have fallen
from their glade
and deep in the long grass
lie winking in the shade.

Come with me to gather them –
Some dark, some diamond.
When we have done,
climb and wind this string of beads
through limbs and golden leaves.

And who can say, when the last star
has faded out, what these strange garlands are,
that once were light and now are char?

The exquisite poignancy of “Late Nursery Rhyme” establishes the book’s theme but represents only one of its many voices. The company Neville describes includes a manic-depressive women in the “psych ward,” a street person who “wanted the leaves to care for me,” an army wife who runs a care center for disabled vets, and many more.

Some of these poems are about Neville’s own Somerville neighborhood, where one family, when power goes out on the block, brings out a case and makes a holiday of the event: “Drink the beer before it grows warm.” In another, “Ghost Tenant,” a dead woman reflects back on her eccentric life in a house full of junk, and again the poet’s eye offers of kind of healing that was denied to the woman in life.

While many of these poems deal with dark subjects, they take place in an extended natural reality in which sun and moon shine, leaves fall, snow flakes grace a moonless street. Such flashes of beauty hint at a larger harmony that frames our human predicament.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fathers: A Literary Anthology edited by Andre Gerard


A Literary Anthology

Edited by Andre Gerard

Patremoir Press 2011

ISBN 978-09865554-0-4

Depending on the writer, this book is a father's dream, being

the center of attention, his children's remembrance, as in

Annie Dillard's excerpt from, "An American Childhood."

We hear the soft foehn, the breeze of being a daughter:

"…He walked lightly, long-legged, like a soft-shoe hoofer

barely in touch with the floor. When he played the drums, he

played lightly, coming down soft with the steel brushes that

sounded like a Slinky falling, not making the beat but just

sizzling along with it. He wandered into the sun porch,

unseeing; he was snapping his fingers lightly, too, as if

he were feeling between them a fine layer of Mississippi silt.

The big buckeyes outside the glass sunporch walls were


The book came from the editor, Andre Gerard's awareness,

the need for an anthology which would speak to children, young

adults, or anyone, or anyone who came to America, often without

their fathers. Gerard taught young people in such situations and these

situations often would cause anger and sadness in his students. Gerard

read father poems to comfort and help them to relate, help them understand

they were not alone:

"…Your father was a dutiful, honest,

Faithful, and useful person."

For such plain praise what fame is recompense?

"A horn-painter, he painted delicately on horn,

He used to sit around the table and paint pictures."

The peace of God needs nothing to adorn

It, nor glory nor ambition.

"He is twenty-eight years buried," she writes, "he was called home

And is, I am sure, doing greater work."

The strength of one frail hand in a dim room

Somewhere in Brooklyn, patient and assured,

Restores my sacred duty to the Word…" Derek Walcott

An introduction to each poem and essay, makes them personal,

an experience, Gerard studies to find the poem's meanings. The book

took many years to compile and he often met with some of the writers,

such as, Rita Dove and Diana Der-Hovanessian.

Some of the work relates to the oppressive nature of a particular father.

The influence of any particular poem or writing can be felt as the reader

hears his large footnotes step down in open verse, as in the famous poem

by Sylvia Plath:

"…Daddy, I have had to kill you.

You died before I had time-

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal…"

Every poem, essay, represented in the book is gender balanced

and sensitive to a gender balance. "Nothing can be said about fathers

without first saying a word about mothers. Fathers and mothers are

inextricably, intimately linked" Gerard points out in the introduction to

'Fathers' which inspires and continues the tradition of either blaming

or elevating our parents to a godly, priestly, evil status. The reader will

find what is needed to substantiate their relationship with their father

with poems and excerpts from books we will trudge along pulling our

parents out of their graves. Sometimes the scent is rotten, sometimes

wisteria wafts through out the rooms filling us with recognitions:

"In the steamer is the trout

seasoned with slivers of ginger,

two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.

We shall eat it with rice for lunch,

brothers, sister, my mother who will

taste the sweetest meat of the head,

holding it between her fingers

deftly, the way my father did

weeks ago. Then he lay down

to sleep like a snow-covered road

winding through pines older than him,

without any travelers, and lonely for no one" -Li-Young Lee

I recommend this book. It will be read many times and then passed on

to the next generation of readers as a reference book as well as

a direction to further one's knowledge:

"On the morning on May 13, 1998, my father woke up, had breakfast,

got dressed and walked away from the Steinbach Bethesda Hospital,

where he had been a patient for two and a half weeks. He walked

through his beloved hometown, along Hespeler Road, past the old

farmhouse where his mother had lived with her second husband, past

the water tower, greeting folks in his loud, friendly voice, wishing

them well. He passed the site on First Street where the house in

which my sister and I grew up once stood. He walked down Main

Street, past the Mennonite church where, throughout his life, he had

received countless certificates for perfect attendance, past Elmdale

School where he had taught grade six for forty years…" Miriam Toews


Irene Koronas

Poetry Editor:

Wilderness House Literary Review


Ibbetson Street Press

Monday, April 18, 2011

Two Somerville artists bring poetry and music to the PRECINCT

(Lisa Kaufman-- Somerville Bagel Bard and one of the featured readers)

Two Somerville artists bring poetry and music to the PRECINCT

By Doug Holder

Somerville residents Yani Batteau and Olga Solomita started a poetry and music series at the Precinct Bar in Union Square, Somerville for the month of April (2011)--every Monday night. Such Spoken Word Artists as Angela Counts, Betraz Alba Del Rio, Lisa Kaufman, Judah LeBlang and others have or will read in this new venue. This series will also include musicians of various genres. They hope it will continue at the Precinct or in some form at another venue in the near future. I have interviewed Batteau before, and found she is a multi-talented artist, and musician. Recently I connected with her partner in this venture:

Doug Holder: What was the germ of the idea for the series?

Olga Solomita: Yani Batteau has been working with her band, 'The Styles', for just about one year. Within this year she has worked very hard to establish herself, specifically, as a professional musician. I have been along side her throughout this process. During this process, as Yani has found her voice, I, in turn, after a long hiatus, have begun to find mine again, and in more ways than one. Hence, without knowing exactly what I was looking for, I was searching through Craigslist looking for opportunities for myself as well as Yani. I came upon an ad that was asking for someone who was interested in being the resident band for the month of April at the Precinct, and who was also interested in booking other bands on the same night.I did think it odd when I read it, but rather than wonder too much about why such an opportunity was being put out there, I jumped on it. I responded to the ad instantly even before speaking with Yani, who when once informed that I had already volunteered her, was in. Of course, the resident band would be Yani Batteau and the Styles and the other performers were yet to be determined. Yani and I had several discussions about just what we wanted to happen on these Monday nights. I very much wanted to include a different genre, and in my mind, this was Spoken Word. I attended a night at the Lizard Lounge with the Jeff Robinson Trio in Cambridge to see who might be right. Jeff had already suggested a few artists, but I really wanted to see them first hand. As a result many of the Spoken Word artists chosen for this Month in April have been hand picked based on our completely visceral and subjective responses to their performances at the Lizard Lounge. Since they have been competing for the the national slam finals, I have been fortunate in that I have seen some of the best. I already knew some of the poets as well as their work and hence have invited them to participate based on their work.

DH: I had a reading series some time back at the Precinct. It is an unusual space, an old police holding cell--I believe. Part of its charm--perhaps?

OS: The Precinct is an interesting venue. It was chosen by Yani and I because the opportunity presented itself and we both had seen performances in that space. We also suspected that it would be quite a challenge to not only put together the program, but also to bring in an audience on a Monday night. Our suspicions have been confirmed, but we are none the worse for it and neither it seems are the wonderful and gracious artists that have already performed. We are proud of the program, and despite the frustration in bringing in an audience at this unusual night and place, at least for Spoken Word.

Yes, it is interesting to me that you mention that the space use to be a police holding cell. Everyone seems to mention this about the place, as if it carries the negative karma, or just karma of such an environment. Well, I imagine, some great poems were written in those cells. Didn't Oscar Wilde write while behind bars? I'm sure the blues rang out from those dark spaces. Who knows, opera, even, perhaps. I believe in order for a program to be a 'complete' success, many things have to come together. Luckily, we have had extremely gracious performers such as Scripture, Harlym 125, Nicole Perez, who this time anyway, appreciate the opportunity to perform and as well be in the company of other artists. I absolutely believe that this venue at the Precinct presents a spectacular opportunity for poets and spoken word artists in the future. We have had some incredibly powerful and wonderful poets and spoken word artists that performed as well as some great bands. In order for this program to continue at this venue, It really has to be something the owners of the Precinct want and would require a great deal of collaboration between the promoters and owners. I am not sure this is on their agenda. If it is not, the program should absolutely find a home, even if it is a mobile home. I plan to make sure of this.

DH: Some might say there are already too many poetry venues, etc... in the city of Somerville.

OS: I don't think there is too much poetry in Somerville. There are plenty of poets whose voices should be heard. Why not have as many opportunities as possible?

DH: What is your Somerville connection? Do you consider it the "Paris of New England?"

OS: I lived in Somerville in 2005 and 2006, left briefly and now have returned. I expect to stay in Somerville. I lived in Cambridge for 25 years and loved it, before I moved to Somerville for the first time. I live near Davis now and I have never been so happy in a place. I have never been to Paris, I have to be truthful, so I don't know if I'm the one who should comment on that question, but I will say that this an extremely exciting, beautiful, and complex, in some ways, place. . And it offers so much in the way of the arts and lacks the pedantry of some certain other towns.

DH: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

OS: Oh yes, my background. I am an artist, teacher, writer. I received my MFA in Media and Performing Arts at Mass College of Art in 1989 and Master in Education in 2001 from Wheelock College. I am a photographer, painter, and closet writer, but not for long. I grew up in Cambridge and Newton and come from a large family. My siblings are artists, writers, filmmakers, clinicians and pretty regular and amazing people are some of my greatest influences, but none are so great as my childhood dog, Prince.


Tonight April 18, 2011:

PRECINCT 70 Union Sq. Somerville
We are hosting our Third Spring Masala Monday on the 18th of April with resident band Yani Batteau and the Styles 10:30
with a smashing night of Music and Spoken Word
8:00 Special Appearance Robin Lane of Robin Lane and the
Chartbusters will, rock over folk into new wave will
get your feet moving.
8:30 Nash Satterfield aka Martha Bourne and Steve Mayone
will turn the room 'Inbetwang [misspelling intentional]
Country'...Folk? Rock? Country? ALL OF THE ABOVE
Bourne is a prolific composer/singer/songwriter.
9:45 Spoken Word Poetry

Angela Counts poet, award winning playwright, filmmaker

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"A Full Life" Joseph A. Cohen

“A Full Life”
Joseph A. Cohen
Bound by Khoni Bindery
Lowell, MA

Review by Rene Schwiesow

The beauty of a Saturday morning spent with the Bagel Bards at the Davis Square Au Bon Pain in Somerville is the interaction with wonderful, creative, artistic individuals. The numbers of attending Bagel Bards has grown so that there are now two groupings of tables and the best way to work the situation is to spend some time at one grouping and then move over to the other grouping so as not to miss people and/or discussions. I don’t always make that move. I was fortunate recently to have done so. I spied an empty chair next to a poet that I had known for some time. She was talking with a man from Long Island who was in the area visiting his daughter and I wriggled my way into the conversation. The sparkle of his eyes and his warm demeanor made an immediate impact as he told me how welcoming the people in the Boston area had been. I secretly held the thought that it was his sparkle and warmth that drew others close. Recently this 93-¾ year old man lost his wife and he spoke of the loss and her death with a mixture of love and awe for the quiet grace in her passing.

Cohen spent the majority of his life creating a successful table linen business. However, a love for the artistic is in his blood. His wife, Sonia, was a visual artist, a musician and a composer. His daughter, Beth, is a world-renowned violinist. After his retirement, Cohen began taking courses in poetry and found the music in the rhythm of words. He also teaches photography (yes, he is still teaching) at the college level and most of the photos in “A Full Life,” are his own work. The cover photo is a beautiful, touching image of children, Algerian orphans. When the photo was taken, Cohen who was in Orange near Avignon, spoke to the children in Arabic, designating one of the girls as “director,” asking her to lead the children in their roles for the camera. Based on the composition of the photo, I would say they were both successful!

“A Full Life” is an unfolding of the pages of Cohen’s life laid open for his readers to witness. By the time we’ve finished reading, those pages have quietly folded themselves back into a metaphorical origami crane, which takes flight with an underlying peace. It is a peace that threads its way through even the harshest of Cohen’s times. Cohen spent three years overseas during World War II; and in spite of the war he continued to find beauty in humanity and the world around him. In “Buzz Bomb Christmas,” we join in the party created in the midst of “snow, sleet, sirens and the stench of exploding gunpowder.” Another round of buzz bombs above does not dampen the spirit as singing women and children rush for basement shelters. And as night brings weariness to the children, he ends the dance with “like chaperones at a prom, Madame Nys and I sound taps.”

The book is dedicated to his wife, Sonia, and her presence is a constant through every facet of the work.

The poem “Anyone for MRI?” speaks to the trauma of the stroke Sonia suffered.

In a cold white room
stripped of jewelry, glasses and hearing aid
she enters the world of MRI.

It is followed by two poems that honor her will to continue living in full color. Though her right side is greatly weakened, she continues to play her piano and teach; and she continues to paint.

Sitting at her easel painting watercolors
with her left hand for hours on end,
I look in on her only to hear her
cry out, “Leave off, I am busy!”

The poem is entitled “She Speaks,” and yes even those words are music to Cohen’s ears as he watches his wife battle her way back to “A Full Life.”

In both Cohen’s book and in the conversations he has with others, it is clear that he is filled with passion for living, compassion for others, and a deep love and respect for all. What a privilege it was to have had the opportunity to speak with Joseph. What an honor it is to have been able to take a look into his life through the pages of his work.

Cohen is planning a second book of poetry. If you would like to purchase “A Full Life,” you may do so by contacting the author at:

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue: The Art of Words.