Saturday, September 24, 2011

Somerville Writer Alan Ball: Working with kids after work and after-school.

Somerville Writer Alan Ball: Working with kids after work and after-school.

Interview with Doug Holder.

Alan Ball has worked 25 years as a medical journalist. He moved from NYC to Somerville in 1978. Since then he has worked with school kids by organizing after school creative writing groups at the A.D. Healey School, and formed the student newspaper. He founded the print and online magazine Happening Now!everywhere-- run by a collective of young writers that produces an online and print magazine of literature and art that is read worldwide. I talked with Ball on my Somerville Community Access TV Show " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: You started your first novel at age 12. What was it about?

Alan Ball: Well I wrote one page and that was it. It was about an abandoned house that kids took over. I never finished it.

DH: Did you come from a bookish-literary background?

AB: I grew up in Freeport, N.Y. I didn't come from a bookish family. My dad was a supermarket worker--my mom was stay-at-home. I later figured out that she was an artist but there was no outlet for women then. I remember reading E.E. Cummings in school and he made me realize you could become a writer and not have to worry about all the formalities--you could experiment.

DH: You said you were grateful for the education your kids got in Somerville, Mass. A popular misconception is that Somerville schools are less competitive than some of our more affluent neighbors. How do you answer that?

AB: My kids got a great education here, and I am grateful. It had to do with me wanting to give back to the community. I know the controversy--it is a big misconception. The high school has always been a fine place. A lot of high powered people have come out of Somerville High. My kids did well-- both got into Boston College--and they are able to pursue their chosen careers.

DH: As we have mentioned you have taught creative writing to young children. Aren't kids natural creative writers--they view the world through fresh eyes--and there is still that fascination with everything?

AB: Absolutely. That is why it is enjoyable. The creative writing classes I teach are part of an after school program centered around the school newspaper. We teach creative writing mostly from the point of view of journalism. We jump around a lot. I look forward to do more "classroom" stuff but right now I am focused on publications. The kids do it all: read, write and research.

DH: Tell me about your magazine HappeningNow!everywhere--which consists of a collective of young writers.

AB: We started out in print, but we wanted to extend our reach. So we went online because the Internet is worldwide.

The print arm of our project is much smaller--we print around 100 copies of the magazine. The kids sell it--we go to public events like The Somerville News Writers Festival last year to sell our publications. We also have published poetry books. We published a small collection: " Poets for Haiti." It was a response to the tragedy that befell Haiti--we raised 800 dollars.

DH: Where does your funding come from?

AB: We recycle old print cartridges. We take donations--or we ask people to buy any number of our books.

TO find out more about this project go to:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mortal Terror: A Play by Robert Brustein

Mortal Terror
A Play by Robert Brustein
At the Modern Theater, Boston MA.

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Robert Brustein’s “Mortal Terror” is more a comment on contemporary life than life in the Shakespearean era it portrays. It is also an expression of the universal theme “what goes around, comes around.”

Using the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Brustein presents seven characters who represent not only 1605, but happenings 500 years later, perhaps even 500 years before. The use of this revolt is Brustein’s vehicle for expressing his feelings about war, terrorism, torture and much more.

Brustein, who is a Founding Director of the American Repertory Theater, delves into the mind of writers. As Shakespeare (Stafford Clark-Price) is writing “Macbeth” his friend Sir John Harington (Dafydd aps Rees) suggests he write a play critical of the king. Shakespeare’s desperate response is, “I am a dramatist Sir John and dramatists do not take sides. Their characters do. I simply record the discord in blank verse.”

Many novelists and playwrights have uttered that line: “It’s not me talking, it’s the character.” But is not the character merely a creation of the author? Do they not think or feel that which they are writing, even if they try to show both sides? Brustein poses this question as he does questions of the integrity of authors.

From Brustein’s perspective, Shakespeare’s writing of Macbeth is less creative inspiration and more monetary necessity and appeasement of royalty. In one of the more comical scenes King James I (Michael Hammond) commissions Shakespeare to write a play that includes witches for a tidy sum that will keep the author financially secure for a time.

King James I, played superbly with varying portrayals of anger, humor and cold blooded dictator, is the king who orders the revision of the bible while at the same time authoring a book about witches and the supernatural. Perhaps this is Brustein’s way of saying that we are all driven by competing forces. James, who is in a loveless marriage and accused by his Queen of having numerous affairs, has no knowledge of her affair with Robert Catesby (Christopher James Webb), an overly serious, scarily staring revolutionary who leads the Gunpowder Plot. The king also has little knowledge of the growing friendship between his wife and the Bard. Here again, Brustein makes a morality statement. When Shakespeare learns of the queen’s affair with Catesby he chooses to spurn her and return to Stratford-on-Avon.

Ben Jonson (Jeremiah Kissel) is perfect as the sarcastic, insulting, vocabulary filled friend of Shakespeare, jealous of the Bard’s talent and ability to procure women, is even more so when he discovers the friendship between the Bard and the Queen. If there is a fault with the casting it is that while Jonson was eight years younger than Shakespeare, Kissel’s appearance is that of an older man, which brings to mind the fact that Shakespeare was 41 years-old during the Gunpowder Plot, but Clark-Price, without beard and moustache, looks to be much younger.

Nevertheless, Kissel’s performance rivals Hammond’s as star of the show. And then there is Georgia Lyman as Queen Anne. In one scene, when the King announces the execution of Catesby, Anne’s face turns into a tortured, silently weeping woman, with no tears, but obvious anguish. Discovering her lover Catesby, despite a promise to spare her son, had planned on including him in royalty’s destruction, the devastation in learning of the betrayal is clear. And when she first appears at Shakespeare’s room and removes her hat to reveal flowing hair and a beauty unseen in her queenly garb, she commands attention not only for her acting, but her startling good looks.

Sir John Harington is an excellent wise elder dispensing advice and criticism. He is every bit the knight striding the stage of the period piece not only in appropriate attire, but manner as well.

Marston/Guy Fawkes is well acted by John Kuntz. Marston is Jonson’s sidekick, while Guy Fawkes is one of the lead perpetrators of the Gunpowder Plot. Kuntz in his dual role presents a well nuanced balance between humor and drama.

Directed by Daniel Varon the play moves quickly through its roughly two hours, the actors playing their roles flawlessly and the director deserving as much credit as the actors for the success of the play.

In “Mortal Terror” Brustein has written a play of contemporary themes based on 500 year-old themes perhaps even older which replay throughout history so that as you watch
Brustein’s retelling of Jamesian England, the parallels to today’s America are unambiguous. It is an enjoyable, enthralling play which does not have a slow moment and, stripped of most Shakespearean language, is accessible to everyone.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review of THE POSSIBILITY OF SCORPIONS by Connemara Wadsworth

Review of THE POSSIBILITY OF SCORPIONS by Connemara Wadsworth,
Winner of the White Eagle Coffee Store Press Fall 2009 Chapbook Contest, 24 pages, White Eagle Coffee Store Press, PO Box 383, Fox River Grove, IL 60021-0383,

Review by Barbara Bialick

It’s easy to see why this chapbook was a winner. It’s trim, neat, and organized.
It’s well on the mark as a travel memoir of a seven year old American girl from Boston who voyaged with her parents and brother on an architectural Fulbright grant to Baghdad, Iraq from 1952-1954, whose vivid images are interpreted by her status as an older grown woman who has since traveled to other foreign places such as Nepal and Kenya. These other places sometimes glint with a memory of her trip to Baghdad, but, she explains, “I see Iraq now like an old photo/yellowed, torn. Only moments of a story/survive. I hold lost images under my skin./Think of crazy quilt patches/of a flowered dress worn only twice.”

I think it would be a disservice to the author to tell you more than a brief imagery of the rude, yet intriguing place she was happy to leave again. For she reveals her secrets slowly and carefully, bringing you through a these experiences in exactly 24 pages. The cover, a close up on a young girl’s “mary jane” shoes on a strange rug, from a wood block print by April Kendziora Smith, sets the stage perfectly. These experiences were to her “like beads found under a radiator…” with voices “from tinny radios, I begin to take/comfort in the music’s new familiarity…”

Beware of what can happen when familiarity is not really family at all. Observe the brutality with which a donkey is beheaded to feed circus animals. These incidents and more make the book a bit painful to read, but is well done.

The author notes, “I began writing about our lives there long before the onset of the Persian Gulf War and our current ‘war against terror,’ both of which rekindled many more memories. Living in a vastly different culture…laid a foundation for a deep sense of a wider world and led to a commitment to exploring other cultures…”

Connemara Wadsworth graduated from Friends World College, an international program. She studied education and later became an elementary school teacher, after first working as a weaver. Her poems have appeared in Ibbetson Street, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, and others. She has three grown children and lives in Newton, Massachusetts.