Friday, July 29, 2011

Poet Kathleen Spivack: Boston as a Literary City

Boston as a Literary City

By Kathleen Spivack

Boston is a historically literary city. The beauty of Boston for writers today is that it is manageable, friendly, diverse, and non-hierarchical. I am sure the reverse is equally true, of course.

Whether you are a young aspiring student or an established writer it is easy to meet and speak, read your work and share ideas. Boston is non-intimidating and, despite its variety of poets, very democratic actually. There are numerous presses and as well as many writing centers that encourage our work. Our long winters help: we huddle together around the metaphoric campfires and warm our hands on writing.

In 1959 I came to Boston on a fellowship to study with poet Robert Lowell, both in his famous workshop and in private tutorial. He introduced me to other poets. They included Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, Basil Bunting, Jonathan Griffin, and others. Later, writers Frank Bidart, Andrew Wylie, Robert Pinsky, Jonathan Galassi, Lloyd Schwartz, Fanny Howe, Gail Mazur and James Atlas; to name only a few, gravitated to Lowell as well. Lowell championed his writers, and the experience of working with him changed lives.

The Grolier Poetry Bookshop has always been a historic center for poetry, and survives today under its new owner, Ifeanyi Menkiti. Founded by Gordon Cairney, it was a home for the young T.S Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Archibald MacLeish, Richard Wilbur, and later for Margaret Atwood, Robert Creeley, Gerard Malanga, James Alan McPherson and many others. Its roster of patrons mirrors aspects of our literary heritage. It is lined with photographs.

The young Louisa Solano who had worked at the Grolier took over the store when Gordon died. She brought it into the 21st century. One of the legendary dedicated great booksellers in America, Louisa’s knowledge, taste, passion, width of book buying, and her reading series reflected the whole span of American poetry. She also sponsored prizes for young poets.

Seamus Heaney was in Boston during that time and often at the Grolier. He inspired us with his poetry and also with his open generous nature. The Woodberry Poetry Room, at Lamont Library, Harvard University grew under the directorship of Straits Haviarias. The Woodberry Poetry Room opened to all members of the writing community and had a vast collection of recordings, books and little magazines. The Voices and Visions series was one of their projects. Christina Thompson, Don Share, Christina Davis and others continued with the Woodberry Poetry Room to make its archival material available. The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House in conjunction with the New England Poetry Club, sponsors readings on its patrician grounds. The Boston Public Library hosts several festivals for writing.

And on the grassroots level, the Bagel Bards as well as many other community writing groups welcome local writers, editors, and publishers to weekly networking sessions. There are similar groups in other parts of Boston. Our city is small and multicultural and there are many opportunities for writers of diversity to come together. First Night, a city wide New Year’s celebration, began in Boston in 1976 under Clara Wainwright and Zaren Earles. It opened its doors to literary readings from writers from every community.Later Patricia Smith was instrumental in bringing the Poetry Slam here, which helped youth of all backgrounds to hone skills in writing and performance. Poets in the Schools started in the 70’s as well, and linked writers working in schools with each other, and with the diversity of Boston’s school population. Sam Cornish, Boston’s current Poet Laureate, a writer and scholar teacher and former bookstore owner, has been tireless in his efforts to encourage poetry. We’ve seen many Boston area literary festivals blossom.

Under its recent ownership of the Grolier, the warm and wonderful Ifeanyi and Carol Menkiti have brought a specifically multicultural approach to the store and it is once again a lively magnet for the poetic community, with its own ambiance. Theirs is a labor of love indeed and we love them for keeping this historic bookstore alive. We also cite the presses of Steve Glines, Doug Holder, J. Kates, and others. The work of Harris Gardner and Jack Powers. Sajed Kamal at the Fenway. There are many links between the writing circles in Boston. We are lucky to have the resources, the dedicated bookstore owners and teachers and administrators, the open heartedness of our poetic institutions, the diversity of community, and the manageable size of greater Boston’s literary landscape to support our writing life. Generosity is the word that best describes Boston’s literary scene.

*******Kathleen Spivack is the author of A History of Yearning, Winner of the Sows Ear International Poetry Prize 2010, first runner up in the New England Book Festival, and winner of the London Book Festival; Moments of Past Happiness (Earthwinds/Grolier Editions 2007); The Beds We Lie In (Scarecrow 1986), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; The Honeymoon (Graywolf 1986); Swimmer in the Spreading Dawn (Applewood 1981); The Jane Poems (Doubleday 1973); Flying Inland (Doubleday 1971); Robert Lowell, A Personal Memoir; (forthcoming 2011) and a novel, Unspeakable Things. She is a recipient of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award 2010, the 2010 Erica Mumford Award, and the 2010 Paumanok Award. Published in numerous magazines and anthologies, some of her work has been translated into French. Other publications include The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Massachusetts Review, Virginia Quarterly, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Agni, New Letters, and others. Her work is featured in numerous anthologies. She has also won several International Solas Prizes for “Best Essays.”

Kathleen Spivack has been a visiting professor of American Literature/Creative Writing (one semester annually) in France since 1990. She has held posts at the University of Paris VII-VIII, the University of Francoise Rabelais, Tours, the University of Versailles, and at the Ecole Superieure (Polytechnique). She was a Fulbright Senior Artist/Professor in Creative Writing in France (1993-95). Her poetry has been featured at festivals in France and in the U.S. She reads and performs in theatres, and she also works with composers. Her song cycles and longer pieces have been performed worldwide.

-Kathleen Spivack-_--

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review of Dead Beats by Sam Cornish

(A Young Sam Cornish)

Dead Beats by Sam Cornish, Ibbetson Street Press, 2011. $14

To order send $16 includes postage and handling to Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143 or go to

Review by Hugh Fox

Dead Beats is a vivid trip back into the world of the Beats. I mean you’re there, Cornish brings them back as alive as they’ve ever been, all the little personal details, here come William Burroughs, John Wieners, Robert Creeley, Margaret Lockwood,William Carlos Williams, Kerouac and Ginsberg….tons more. The little details are what really get to you: “the Poet looking for cigarette butts/in the gutters of Common//wealth Avenue is not a bum living alone on Joy/Street he’s John Wieners//his friends in poetry will speak well/of him after he’s dead at MIT the Blacksmith reading/reciting//but see him now and then/out of his fucking mind//he will be okay he’s dying his poems are collected/in a signed limited edition//that poets cannot afford.” (“Dead Respectability,” p.41).

I mean you’re there, all the wildness, the rule-breaking, the interior word/feeling wars surrounding you. Let’s get liberated, free, say what we want to say, feel what we want to feel, and screw the restrictions of the world around us. You want to get inside the wild sanity of the Beat world, this is the best place to begin. It’s the world Cornish grew up in and it totally and forever dominated his whole world-view: “These were the days of my young/America in the pages of City Lights//and the Evergreen Review/ Allen Ginsberg recalling the days/of his naked youth being policed by Time/ Magazine the lovers of J Edgar Hoover//America Sacco and Vanzetti/ the Scottsboro Boys rotting//in history Ginsberg lost/in his poems…” (“My Young America,” p.9).

And there’s another special touch here too, Cornish being black, seeing the white world through black visioning: “the jazz/man beats//his drum/like he whips//his women his/black face//purple with rage//my jazz

man/ with his nigger/face//wants to/marry//me my horn/player//jazz man/plays a sunny/day/something back//blows /his horn//like he/got/his thing/in me//his music/is he/jungle/in the city/bars/stompin’/his blues/into me.” (“My Man,” pp.14-15).

One of the most powerful books of poetry ever, ever written. In the Ginsberg-Kerouac mode, telling it as it is, but somehow, with ALL the academic writing-rules tossed away, you’re there, it’s not just writing but time-travelling back into Cornish’s reality that we can all identify with because we were all back there too, even if we never got so totally inside it as he did.

**** Hugh Fox is a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize.

Margaret Young: A poet who uses all the trappings of the world as material.

Margaret Young: A poet who uses all the trappings of the world as material.

By Doug Holder

Poet Margaret Young uses costumes, food, old pop songs, as well as nature, and just about everything else on this world stage for material for her writing. Nothing is too insignificant or marginal: she gives a voice to it all. As her mentor the poet Gary Snyder taught her, poets should give voice to that cannot be voiced; this includes everything in the human world.

Young is a poet and a professor at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Her latest book of poetry is “Almond Town.” She earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, and co-founded the Open Door Theatre Company. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You have an extensive background in theater. Does this inform your work?

Margaret Young: I kind of grew up with poetry everywhere. My father is a poet, editor; he is a theater teacher, and Shakespeare professor. We went to plays all the time and it was really when I started teaching theatre myself that I started to feel as though I was an artist. I was good at writing and other aspects of the theater. But something happened when I was doing children’s plays. I was working with little kids that didn’t have a lot of stuff in their lives. It was sort of out of the comfort zone for me. But I started to do it and it gave me all the belief in the power of art to change lives. In a way this is what I wasn’t able to achieve as a poet for many years. This maybe because there are not as many opportunities.

DH: Has your theater background helped you when you read from your work?

MY: When I first started reading I was at UC/DAVIS. We had a reading series. As things turned out I signed up to read last and I saw all my friends and colleagues read before me. And they would do what beginners do. They would get up and read their work, and they would sound a little scared. And it finally hit me—of course they were scared. Of course you don’t have confidence, etc… So I learned to use my acting skills and pretended that I had all this confidence. And I got up there and everyone said “Wow!” I tell my students about this. As you know teaching is all about acting too.

DH: You got an M.A. in Creative Writing not an MFA. What is the difference?

MY: I wish someone told me about the difference. I know now it is considered a less complete degree. But this was the early 90’s, there was an internet, but I didn’t have access. I really didn’t know anyone studying in these programs. So I got some brochures from three or four places. I didn’t notice which one had the “F” and which one didn’t have the “F.” The program I chose might have had more an English emphasis than the MFA programs. We wrote a creative thesis. Each thesis had to be grounded in reading. I was taking classes with English students, which made for a richer experience for me.

DH: You have written about clothes and costumes. Do you feel the role of the poet is to strip away facades such as these and get to the meat of the matter?

MY: He or she can. But the poet can also pay close attention to what the clothes mean. We all pretend that they are meaningless and invisible. The essays I wrote about this subject took certain theatrical costumes that were associated with characters. One of the jobs of poetry is to look at the overlooked. Poetry should reexamine and refocus.

DH: You teach a course on Popular Culture at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Tell me about it.

MY: It is the trivia. It is the frivolous stuff. It is what surrounds us all the time. Examining this stuff is important in any undergraduate’s education. Why are we surrounded and obsessed with all these trappings of pop culture?

DH: You seem to have affection for food in your writing.

MY: Yeah, I always figured why not study the stuff you consume every day. When I write about food I am writing about love, connection, and place.

DH: In the poem “Pastoral” in your new collection “Almond Town” you seem to imply that we separate ourselves from nature. Does poetry help you connect?

MY: To me one of the primary acts of poetry is to reconnect. So it always deepens my connection to it.

DH: Now… you lived the Boheme life and now you are a mother and wife. How has domesticity affected your creative life?

MY: I was very relieved when I had my first book -child before my first child-child. I felt I was ready. I had two books to mess around with while I was learning to be a mother. It would have been hard to balance them both earlier. It is a different life. But I also have new subject matter. For instance I can use the concept of ‘play’ and how that is aligned with the creative process.

DH: Your husband is a philosophy professor. Do you two complement each other in terms of each other’s work?

MY: We read poetry together. And when we encounter art works together I like having that very different prospective. It is one that is logical. We think differently. I am glad that he spends his thought time in a different place. When we do come together we have great conversations. He is a better poet than I am a philosopher.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reunion by Lois Ames

A few years back Lois Ames gave me a chapbook of her poetry titled Reunion. I had the privilege to interview Ames, and she is a fascinating study. Ames is the editor of Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (with Lois Ames, 1992), and wrote the introduction to Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar. She was a confidante to both Sexton and Plath. I never got a chance to review this book, but Emilly Braille an English major at Endicott College where I teach reviewed this fine chapbook of poetry by Ames. This is part of a series of reviews by English and Creative Writing majors at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.

Reunion by Lois Ames
Something Fishie Publications Acton, MA. (1997) No Price.

Review by Emily Braile

Reunion by Lois Ames is a short collection of poetry that reads like a meditation on the world that surrounds Ames, her relationship with that world, with other people, and with herself. Ames writes in a style that is both contemplative yet concrete, reminiscent of Rumi and Lydia Davis all at once. She extracts the essence of a situation or conversation, and then translates it into an assortment of words both romantic and simplistic.

In “Haiku for a College Reunion,” Ames manages to pinpoint the strange, time-warping experience of returning to people and places from one’s past that have, in and of themselves, moved forward:

My seventeen year old self
goes back to confront
all of those aging ladies (4).

In the poem “Last Days,” Ames conveys a love of, and preference for, summer above the other seasons, or at the very least above autumn. She writes:

I try to hold
on to summer
at the edges
in the same way
I seize
at the eiderdown
from the bed
in the cool
autumn night (32).

There is no obvious reflection within the language of this poem on how Ames feels with the approach of autumn and the inevitable loss of summer. However, she takes an experience everyone is familiar with, the “slipping” of blankets from the bed, to illustrate the emotions she experiences with the last days of summer. With this simple, relatable image, she is able to capture and illuminate the sensation of the sudden loss of comfort and warmth; something summer brings to her and autumn takes away. This is a sentiment I can relate to and agree with. In twenty-nine words, Ames has told me something about herself, how she views the world around her, and established common ground with me and other summer-favoring readers.

Scattered throughout Reunion are poems, often short and tightly written, reflecting on Ames’s relationship with herself. In the poem “The Scrapbook of a Farm Woman: Portraits, Receipts, Herbs & Seasonings,” she writes:

The task
for everyone
is to find
a way of being
in one’s own time (10).

In Meditation 2, she writes:

I shed selves
like snakeskins
trying to forget
self trying to melt
into the Self (13).

Ideas like these are not new, yet Ames manages to get to the bones of them. She is a poet who finds the skeletal structure of both simple and complex ideas and draws them to the surface. She does away with extravagance and focuses on the heart of her experiences.

Throughout Reunion, but especially within her poems about self, is an inspiring sense of inner strength and self-reliance, which are cornerstones of many Eastern philosophies. This theme is not surprising when the reader realizes there is a Zen quality to Ames’s poems, specifically the poems similar to those quoted above. The easy connection is gracefully, seemingly unconsciously made, giving Ames’s work an aura of elemental wisdom. It’s clear that Ames is a writer who has spent many years honing her literary skills, casting aside the excess and keeping only the essentials. She is a talented modern writer, and a joy to read.

Emily Braile is an English major with a concentration in creative writing at Endicott College. Over the years she's had relationships with art and theater, but writing has proved to be a constant, understated companion. She hopes to someday be a published poet, and no matter what she does or where she goes, to always have time to write.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hugh Fox Remembers Small Press Legend Len Fulton

I asked my old pal Hugh Fox to write a piece for Len Fulton, the founder of the Small Press Review, who died at 77, July 24, 2011 in Paradise, CA.

(Hugh Fox)

(Len Fulton)

Hugh Fox remembers legendary small press publisher/writer Len Fulton

Like saying goodbye to Debussy or Hemingway or H.G. Wells. I
first met Fulton in Berkeley in 1968 when we founded COSMEP, a small press org. that had yearly conventions here, there and everywhere: St. Paul, Minnesota, New Orleans, New York, you name it. And everyone would be there, all the editors of small presses and lit mags. And poets and other writers. Always reading-shows, and I'd always read.

I got to know EVERYONE in the literary scene. And visited Fulton up in
his place in Paradise, California, way in the middle of nowhere, or everywhere, if what you loved was California wilderness.

Tall dark-haired, a little moustache, always bright, on the ball, kind of Harvard professorish, but at the same time a kind of exploratory cowboy explorer always moving further into the essence of Nature itself. For years, two or three times a year I'd get a huge envelope filled with books and literary reviews to review for SMALL PRESS REVIEW, and he slowly turned me into a kind of central writer for the mag. Which I loved. Sadly COSMEP slowly disappeared over the years. Run by Richard Morris in San Francisco, it's a book in itself that would go through the slow decapitations of all our dreams and hopes. But Morris died from cancer and COSMEP kind of died with him.There's a huge file over in Special Collections at the Michigan State University library dealing with my connections with the death of COSMEP.

A couple of years back Fulton turned SPR into an on-line mag, which I wasn't crazy about. But he'd always send me a printed copy too, and I've got this huge file in my bookcases, years and years and years of copies with my reviews in them.

In the last few years he became increasingly solitary.
Suffering from lung cancer, but not aware that was what was going
on. When I recently told him that I'm dying from cancer, he wrote a
beautiful letter back and mentioned he wasn't "quite up to it" either.
But I don't think he was aware it was lung cancer.

He was/is a central figure in the development of literary
culture in the U.S. He published an INTERNATIONAL DIRECTORY OF LITTLE MAGAZINES AND SMALL PRESSES which I always found of central importance in finding publishers for my books and articles. An odd name for a press -- Dustbooks. Always aware of the transience of life and everything surrounding him/us. Always SeƱor High Concentration, High Seriousness. I couldn't believe the size of the library in his Paradise ranchhouse. I asked him "Any of my stuff here?," and he walked over the showed me volume after volume after volume, almost everything I'd ever written, the whole library a veritable treasure house of literary treasures.

His death is a huge loss. Will his son, Tim, continue the
SMALL PRESS REVIEW and all the rest of it?
No words from him.

Hard to believe Fulton is really "gone." I always
thought of him, and still think of him, as an IMMORTAL.

*Hugh Fox is a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize, and has been widely published in the small press.

Len Fulton, publisher of The Small Press Review Dies, 76

Please click on the tile immediately below for an introduction to an interview of Fulton by A.D. Winans and some words from Fulton himself in his interview in Poesy Magazine.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Environmental Novelist Kitty Beer: Writing of a time when Boston is underwater.

Environmental Novelist Kitty Beer: Writing of a time when Boston is underwater.

Kitty Beer, a member of the Somerville Bagel Bards, sets her new novel “Human Scale” in 2062, a time in which Boston is under water and the suburban town of Arlington, Mass has become a seaside community. Beer, a graduate of Harvard University and Cornell University, has been an environmental journalist for many years and to her a scenario such as this is far from farfetched. I talked with Beers on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Was the book “Silent Spring” a big influence on you as an environmental journalist?

Kitty Beer: Well—‘Silent Spring” is very inspiring. But also, I was working on the the nuclear arms race, and I wrote a booklet some years ago that was sold all over the world—there was a huge demand for it. After I finished this, me, and a lot of people switched over to the environment. I think Carl Sagan was very influential with his concept of Nuclear Winter. He said that humans can actually destroy the earth. So the environmental movement was coming up strong at that time. So that is how I got into environmental activism—it started with the nuclear arms race.

DH: In your novel it is 2062 and Boston is basically underwater. Arlington, Mass –miles inland is a seaside community. How likely is this scenario?

KB: Well, I don’t view my novel as a prediction. I view it as a warning. And I am hoping very much that it does not come true. But every time you hear a report from an environmental scientist, they say” Oh, this is happening a lot faster than I thought.” The glacier melt and everything is accelerating, the sea is rising. The temperature has risen one degree Fahrenheit in 30 years. If it raises four degrees –which sounds small- well, it would have a catastrophic effect. I think it is very possible that Boston can be under water. There would be so much water in the city it would be unusable.

Every time I listen to the news there is something dire happening with the weather. The New York Times today talked about 14 states that are affected by this extreme weather. A few weeks ago there were wild fires, and floods, not to mention earthquakes. The earth is going out of balance. And it is going out of balance faster and faster. In a way the earth is fighting back—but I think this is only the beginning. Even if we stop using fossil fuel now, the effect will still go on. I have been an environmental journalist for some years and I am up on the science.

DH: In the novel a totalitarian state arises from the chaos the weather brings. Is this form of government another logical scenario?

KB: When you have all these catastrophes at the same time you will have a huge influx of refugees fleeing to other parts of the country. When chaos comes, historically governments shrink and are displaced. The center does not hold. Tribal enclaves form. So these local governments take over, which makes a totalitarian state more likely.

DH: Basically in the novel priests sort of run things. One of their duties is to deflower under aged girls. What is your personal review of religion?
KB: I think people turn to religion when they are scared. It is very likely that people are going to wrap themselves in religion. It would be very appealing to them—to be told that the earth is in trouble because of God and their sin. If they don’t sin and find God—and obey the priests—then everything will be O.K. So it would be very easy for people like the Priests to take over. If you have total power it corrupts.

DH: But as you told me the story concerns much more than the environment. In fact it is still the same old story --the fight for love—for glory—as time goes by. I mean there is love, lust and violence between these characters—this isn’t a clinical piece of writing.

KB: I write stories about love and glory. My first novel took place in the 2040’s: “What Love Can’t Do.” I shocked my friends with my first novel—but they enjoyed all the lust, and passion—just the same. My new novel is about Global Warming, but more so—the effect on people.

DH: There is an interesting cast of characters in your novel. Some sympathetic, some not so much, and some are despicable. How do you feel about your characters?

KB: I love them all. I even love the evil priest Father Rose. I don’t love them personally, but I love their characters.