Friday, December 16, 2011

George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company, Paris died Wed. Dec 14, 2011


George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company, Paris died Wed. Dec 14, 2011

In 1991 George asked me to write something abut Shakespeare and Co, where I spent many happy months reading and being. I had stayed at Shakespeare and Co in the past as did many other writers. Also helped out at the bookshop. In the old days there was no real register, and no accounting at all. We sat at the front desk amid crowds of curious tourists and book buyers, threw the book purchase money under the desk near our feet, and scrabbled around to make change. He loved sweets, and I often stopped in a Parisian bakery on my way over there, to bring him something tempting. There were all kinds of treasures to be found at Shakespeare and Company; and priceless first editions of Joyce, Henry Miller and others.

I spent a lot of time at Shakespeare and Company, it reminded me of the dusty Grolier Poetry Bookshop in the old Gordon Cairnie Days. Same type of eccentric crusty old guy running the show. I stayed at George’s bookshop at intervals during the 'late 60's, and '70's ,'80's when in Paris, before I got a full time job there. George gave us space to live and write, cooked pancake breakfasts, dinners, served tea, set up a reading library for us, let us read his precious books, and in every way adopted his stray writers. He served tea every Sunday afternoon, drying the few chipped dishes with pieces of torn newspaper, and afterward, saving them for use again as toilet paper. It was really exotic! Yu had to cross several bridges to take a public shower, and the great grandchildren of the original bugs coexisted happily with the writers and the overstuffed sofas. But I was so lucky to put my imprint where so many others had put theirs, as they tried to write in George’s rooms. I really felt adopted for life by dear George and was often enlisted to help him with some complicated” save-the-store scheme.” George was wonderful and I loved him, and many other writers will agree. I also read there a lot, participating in benefits for the store and all the rest. The list of writers who came to Shakespeare is as distinguished as the list of American pets who frequented the Grolier.

We all have our "George-Stories." You will see many in the coming days, for writers who now staff newspapers, among others, all have their own versions of their coming-of-age-as a-writer, thanks to George. His beloved daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman took over the store in most recent years. She immediately won the trust and respect of the entire anglophone literary community. George barked and grumbled as he initiated her into the ways of the store. Sylvia just laughed. And learned. What a wonderful young woman! And a wonderful daughter! Always, George was so proud of her!

When I wrote the poem for George’s magazine "Tumbleweed Hotel” at George's request, Sylvia was younger and still living in England. George practically held the pen in my hand and dictated the words as I wrote-- he wanted me to put the name of his beloved daughter in every stanza!

We all know that George will live on forever at Shakespeare-- his spirit, but also in Sylvia who is such a wonderful daughter, person, bookseller, friend.

I wrote a lot celebrating George and the bookstore over the years: touchstones. Here's the poem I wrote for him that icy Christmas many years ago.

For George Whitman, Shakespeare & Co. Paris

“Write something for me.” George, exuberant, said.
She could not think of anything to say.
There was so much, too very much to say.
She thought of soft books waiting to be read:

how sweet to turn those pages; just to be
at one with work. She saw the kids
who flocked to Paris, sought to write—and did!
All this was in George’s vision, energy:

Eccentric, generous. How all roads led
to Shakespeare and Company. Always had. She looked
across the Seine. The vista took
one’s breath away: the bookshop; Paris spread

before her; conversation, Notre Dame…
To read, to write, this was a writer’s dream.
All this, and more: the writer’s rooms, the cat.
the company, including lively Sylvia, she praised…

The tea was poured, the cookies passed. Oh happy days
with Sylvia and George at Shakespeare; teacups raised!

-Kathleen Spivack-

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Somerville Poet James Caroline: Plays Hard on the Page and the Stage.

Somerville Poet James Caroline: Plays Hard on the Page and the Stage.

Interview with Doug Holder

James Caroline started out mainly as a Slam poet getting his feet wet at the famed Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. when it was under the reign of Michael Brown. Since then he has become as respected on the stage as the page. And in fact the poetry is much more important to him than the performance.

From Somerville Poet/Performer James Caroline's Website:

"Over the past years, the award winning poet and performer James Caroline has made a name for himself nationally through slams, chapbooks, theatre, and touring. His work is a rare mix of literary craft and vulnerability, and the intensity of his performances has garnered comparisons to Patti Smith. James was voted Best Local Author in the 2006 Boston Phoenix poll. He is a multiple winner of Cambridge Poetry Awards for Best Erotic Performance Poet and Best Slam Poet. James has guest-lectured and performed on three continents. He's been published in some brightly lit rags & others that exist in seedy basements. As Tom Daley, a well-respected poet in the Boston area said of him: " 'He is the poet of complicit honesty, of untethered jubilation, of laminating adherence to what is profane and derelict because he is well acquainted with the outrages of the world. Ranging along the hinterlands of taboos, he boldly corrals their fearsome warnings into words of elegant defiance and terrifying affection ' ".

I spoke with this mercurial man of meter on my show: " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer" on Somerville Community Access TV.

Doug Holder: You started out as a Slam poet--right?

James Caroline: It was a good tool. I met a lot of good people. I met Regie Gibson, Patricia Smith, Tom Daley--all incredibly accomplished. They pulled me aside and brought me in their exclusive workshop. The workshop consisted of Tom Daley, Nicole Perez, Regie Gibson and myself. I started to take more seriously the writing as opposed to the performing. I didn't want to be "ghettoized" as a Slam poet. The chapbook I put out after the workshop was a lot closer to what I wanted to be doing. I realized then my writing should come first.

You live in the Union Square section of Somerville. How did you wind up here?

JC: I was born in Indiana and left my small town as quickly as I could. I went to college, graduated and did a film internship in London. I loved it--at times I was virtually homeless. I came back home and visited a friend of mine who was in graduate school at Boston College. I fell in love with the area, made friends, and started going to readings at the Lizard Lounge and other places. It is a good place for me.

You won the best " Erotic Male Performer" at the now defunct Cambridge Poetry Awards founded by Jeff Robinson.

I won that award once. To be honest what I was doing was being a gay male in a white suit, in a somewhat homophobic atmosphere. What I was trying to do was to push people's buttons. But I also used sex and the body to challenge the crowd.

DH: I occasionally teach Bob Dylan's work in my poetry classes at Endicott College. After all he was included in the Norton's Anthology of Poetry. Some would say his lyrics, or poetry, would not stand up as great poetry without his performance of his work. Do you feel your poetry now stand alone--on it's own?

I have poems that I perform, and I have poems that are meant for the stage. But I put out books of poetry that did incredibly well. Seven years ago it might have been a different story. Do I think Bob Dylan holds up on the page as a great poet? No. He is a great lyricist. He is a better poet than Jim Morrison. I don't think you can call someone who uses obvious rhyme a great poet. A lot of his stuff is very cliche.

: Talk about the up and coming poets on the scene.

JC: Well I will mention Jade Sylvan although she is already "up" and has been for a while. You have to have some hype to hand out to get known and Jade is good at promoting herself and has a lot of talent. Jade is a great poet and even a better fiction writer. The college kids at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where I work as one of the hosts have a lot of talent. Off hand I can think of Derek Williams and Sylvia Holtz. A lot of great stuff is coming from Manchester, New Hampshire. I am also impressed with the Emerson College students who come to the Cantab. These people are more interested in the poetry than the fame. They want to be good writers.

DH: In your poem inspired by the artist Francis Bacon titled "The 1st Time I Saw Francis Bacon's Work" you write in reaction to this man's body of art:

"... Distorted body frozen

in the throes of some climax outro

that thin line between smile and terror.

Rabid mirror has you climbing incisor


You were born perfect

and look

at what you've let them do..."

DH:What attracts you to his often grotesque portraits of people?

I knew of Bacon. I was in London and I kept going back to the Tate Gallery to see his work. I saw one of his paintings--which had a really vivid orange background, and in it two people appeared to be wrestling or having sex. I was fascinated. Yes--he paints grotesques. And I thought not all art has to deal with the beautiful. Most things aren't really beautiful if you dig even remotely below the surface. Bacon's work said to me that you can pose, you can airbrush, you can use mascara--but it's all vanity. What really matters is what you put out in the world. Something as simple as being kind or not being a bitch.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Somerville Poet Samantha Milowsky: Making the small press a home at the Mass. Poetry Festival

Somerville poet Samantha Milowsky has for the past few years immersed herself in the Boston area literary scene. Milowsky, a software technology executive is the founder and managing editor of Amethyst Arsenic and her work has appeared in magazines like the 2River View, White Whale Review,The Written Wardrobe, and is forthcoming Revolution House. She is now involved with the Mass. Poetry Festival's Small Book Fair that is to be held in Salem, Mass--during National Poetry Month-April 2012, as a part of the larger festival. I recently had a chance to chat with Milowsky:

You are a Somerville resident--poet- and publisher. How did you get involved with the poetry festival, and how has the milieu of Somerville worked for you as a creative person?

My friends have participated in past MassPoetry events and told me how much they enjoyed it. Getting involved is something I've been thinking about for awhile, so I visited the MassPoetry site and got in touch with Michael Ansara. He told me about the opportunities to participate, so now I'm helping to organize the Small Press and Magazine Literary Fair.

Somerville is a creatively nourishing city. We are surrounded by great poets from many backgrounds and styles, and people knit together our community by creating poetry spaces, readings, and events. I feel lucky to have a collective of friends and peers that will help each other in our work. All of that is here in Somerville.

I started the poetry journal Amethyst Arsenic this year. Getting local poets involved by submitting work and serving as editors has been key to establishing a great journal.

Tell us why you feel the small press fair is an essential part of the festival?

Small presses are the lifeblood of poetry. The purpose of the festival is to support poetry and poets, so we have always included a Small Press Fair as an essential component of the Festival. Last year we expanded it to also include literary magazines. This is a great chance for small presses and magazines to reach a broader audience, as well as meet others who share their passion and mission.

How will it be presented at the festival, compared to last year?

This year we hope to provide more space to the fair as each year the number of presses has increased. We are working to locate a space in downtown Salem that will be more conducive to housing the fair, providing the maximum space, and best flow of foot traffic. We are working with the Museum Mall owners who have offered us space there . What is nice is that there are a series of cafes and small restaurants in the mall as well as some seating in the large walkways where we would place the exhibitor tables. Although that is not definite yet, it might provide for a larger, better, and more social space than last year. We also hope to offer panels with editors about publishing.

Would this be a good event for students and emerging poets to attend?

The festival as a whole is ideal for students and new and emerging poets to attend. There are workshops, readings, panels, and a chance to meet poets from across the state from various schools, backgrounds, styles, and communities of poetry. The Small Press and Magazine Fair is a great opportunity to learn more about who is publishing emerging and new poets . At the Fair, there is plenty of opportunity to look at the publications and talk with the publishers and editors one-on-one.

The Mass. Poetry Festival has a history of bring top literary talent to Massachusetts--who is anticipated this year?

The whole line up is not set yet. The Program Committee has its hands full. So far, over 80 program proposals have been filed and the deadline is not until the 15th. However, we will have some popular names to announce. So far, according to Mike Ansara, the founder of the festival, the Native American Poet Joy Harjo, Major Jackson, Nikky Finny and Robert Pinsky are on the lineup.

Can you talk about some of the volunteer opportunities offered?

We need volunteers now, and we need volunteers during the festival. MassPoetry is a grand experiment in collaboration and decentralization, and it is totally dependent upon volunteers.

We have roles for people who want to work on the festival programming, scheduling, venue selection, fundraising, program book, out reach and coordination. We need volunteers who can give 3-4 hours a week for the next 4 months, and we need volunteers who can give 2-3 hours one day at the festival. At the festival itself we need people to set up and take down venues, chairs, and tables, to provide information and guide visitors, to provide sound and tech support, to handle button sales, etc. We especially need skilled audio and video people.

You can sign up to volunteer at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Poesy Magazine-- Due to be released Dec 19, 2011

For the past 13 years I have been the Boston editor of Poesy Magazine After a 2 year hiatus Poesy should be online around Dec 19, 2011 and is already at the printers. I am glad to have an interview with Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish in this upcoming issue. See below:

Message from Brian Morrisey founder of Poesy

December 11, 2011
Final edits on XXXIX

This year I have dealt with death, loss, grievance, re-focus, relationships (friendly and unfriendly)… business triumphs and tragedies… how could poetry not surface from these trying emotions? I have been thinking a lot about purpose… direction…. focus (which is one of the shifts that led me back to publishing POESY this year). We were all put on this earth for a purpose. Most of us spend our life on a quest for true purpose and most of us never find it. If we are lucky enough to be enlightened as to what we are here for, it snaps and comes together perfectly like gluing the seams of disheveled aspects of life. For 22 and a half years, POESY has been been the only justifiable purpose in my life. As much as I ignore her, get angry at her, say bad things about her, she always comes back expecting more out me.

I am in the final edits of issue XXXIX. For the first time in two and a half years, I feel like I can move forward with my life again and continue with my purpose. The issue is in memorium of Scott Wannberg, an amazing poet who knew his purpose and lived to until his last breath. If you can’t say you did all you could for your purpose in this short life, then what’s the point?

About the issue: Conversations with John Drosey (Toledo, OH) and Sam Cornish (Boston, MA) John gives us an in-depth look at what it takes to live only against the means of words and art. Sam Cornish brings down the poet laureate ideals a notch by searching the barkrooms of underground poetry reading outside academia for inspiration. Poems, Poems Poems (not namedropping poets for the sake of the poetry), amazing photos and an in-depth review of t.kilgore splake’s “Facebook” chap along with other reviews by Joe Pachinko.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A “Teaching Moment:” Jazz and Poetry

Our correspondent Rosie Rosenzweig reviews a performance of jazz and poetry at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston in Newton, Mass... Dec 10, 2011.

A “Teaching Moment:” Jazz and Poetry
By Rosie Rosenzweig
Resident Scholar in Women’s Studies Research Center
Brandeis University.

Stan Strickland began with something celestial-sounding on his bass Flute. John Lockwood followed, plucking his Bass Fiddle and Rakalam Bob Moses started caressing his drums with little broomsticks. And they were off painting an unlikely Improv: a full rainbow. This is called the “Be Here Now Suite,” which according to our MC Strickland is “an ongoing composition when each and everyone is present.” I think that’s code for we’ll never play the same stuff twice.

And I was transported back to my first earful at Bird land as a teenage bride, born in a provincial Canadian border town, with my New Yorker bridegroom, transporting me to a world I never heard before. I was educated that night into what was called, in the olden days, “cool jazz.” Only this time in Newton with a trio riffing away and me moving my head, I knew the evening was going to be a winner. I kept asking myself how could that mother of brass sing such soothing notes and then erupt in a chuckle with an unexpected squawk?

After the first set, I asked another question: So now where’s the poet?
As Robert Pinsky entered to a warm crowd of applause, it seemed that the music was a warm up for the talking guy. How so? His poetry was always a gourmet mouthful that I swallowed in a quick gulp. How would this work with these musicians?

Well, first the orator begins and I have the poem I wanted: Ginza Jazz - the terrible horrible history lesson in the life of the Saxophone, beginning with a Belgian named Sax (sic!) in Paris, morphing into an American child of song and then an African instrument.

The boilerplate form is this: Strickland begins with a familiar phrase on his saxophone, which attendee Professor Suzanne Hanser of the Berklee College of Music described as “idiomatic.”

The posse of musicians then listens and voices a chorus of individual call and responses, which in improvisation is a one-of-a-kind experience. Then, after this bit of a tune up, our former Poet Laureate repeats the poem as another voice, sometimes pausing for a bit to listen to his buddies, sometimes repeating a line again and again until slowly he becomes another voice in the riff, until his voice changes from the loner poet to a crooner, sometimes moaning out the words, sometimes even humming them, swinging his arms and knees until folks in the darkened theatre are moving like a chorus of the Blue Men Group, so popular here in Boston.

“A monosyllabic European called Sax
Invents a horn, walla whirled wah, a kind of twisted
Brazen clarinet . . .”
Everyone is listening to everyone else, as they are striffing and strafing with an occasional surprise wise crack in music. We are all smiling as we applaud and hoot.

I goggled the Internet for an appropriate word and found “tunesmithing” to describe their movement of sound. Cantor Lorel Zar-Kessler, at one of the back cabaret tables, later helped me define as a “masterful interweaving of melody.”

And this was only the beginning with Pinsky’s poem “Antique” about his stormy relationships at home growing up. You can imagine the music. Following this, appropriately enough, is a new poem called “Improvisation on Yiddish” describing the language as a
“Tongue of the guts, tongue
Of my heart naked, the guts of the tongue.

Bubbeh Loschen, Tongue of my grandmother
That I can’t spell in these characters I know . . . “

Bubbeh Loschen echoes of “Mama Loschen” the idiom for “Mother Tongue.”
Now I expected a bit of Klezmer, or maybe “Mine Yiddische Mame,” but surprise! Surprise! Play is the name of the game as I see Strickland up what seemed to be a Shekere, a West African gourd surround by seeds. Another subsequent Google search finds it and it’ a recent invention called a Cabasa with “endless loops of steel bead wrapped around a specially textured, stainless steel cylinder.” It can produce a variety of rhythms from scratchy scraping to soft fluid, which the bass and drums seem to love. Pinsky’s description of “previous lives and reincarnations” come to mind as the drums sound voodoo to me.

With Pinsky’s “The Hearts” the music seems to be driving the poet and now everyone’s eyes are closed. And we are expecting more of the same.

Now Boston University’s Professor Robert Pinsky must have recognized a teaching moment by shifting gears to another poet, 17th century dramatist, poet, and actor Ben Jonson, who once accused Shakespeare for “wanting art.” Jonson’s “A Celebration of Charis: His Excuse for Loving, “ which Pinsky calls “candy for the ear,” follows. Listen to this, he says: “here is a natural speaking to the meter of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’ ”

And a star filled evening is was with Pinsky’s “Street Music” and “Rhyme.”

Flushed with memories, past and present, and an autographed copy of Robert Pinsky Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), I head home with my old bridegroom to do what we used to do: reread the poems to one another and find new insights in old forms.

Rosie Rosenzweig, Resident Scholar in Women's Studies
Brandeis University, Mailstop 079, 515 South Street, Waltham MA 02254

Author of A Jewish Mother in Shangri-la (Shambhala)
Current Project: The Sources of Creativity Project