Tuesday, May 20, 2014

SOMERVILLE POETS NEIL CALLENDER and NICOLE TEREZ DUTTON: An accomplished poetic couple in the heart of Union Square.

Nicole Terez Dutton

SOMERVILLE POETS NEIL CALLENDER and NICOLE TEREZ DUTTON: An accomplished poetic couple in the heart of Union Square.

Poets Neil Callender and Nicole Terez Dutton with their baby in tow arrived at my quiet nook in the back of the Bloc 11 CafĂ© in Union Square for a chat about their lives and work as poets. Dutton relocated from Jamaica Plain in Boston, and Callender moved from the Republic of Cambridge, to live in Somerville together. Both find Union Square a fine place to set down roots as they are surrounded by creative types: editors, graphic artists and fellow poets. Dutton told me: “I love the diversity and sense of community Somerville has to offer.”

Callender is a graduate of Brown University.  When he graduated from college he worked at Northwest Airlines cleaning airplanes. After a broken love affair, he gravitated to the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge and starting reading his lovelorn poems at the noted Slam poetry venue held there Wednesday nights. Later as he progressed his poetry expanded to include political concerns, inequality, issues he studied at Brown where he was a Political Science major. Callender said: “I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in school and what I dealt with there and elsewhere, class division, race-relations—all enter into my work.”

Callender earned his MFA from Vermont College, and currently teaches writing at Roxbury Community College. His poetry has appeared widely, including two anthologies: Poets Against the Killing Fields and Liberation Poetry. He was also active in the anti-apartheid movement in this country, and has traveled the world, absorbing the culture of countries like Brazil, Belgium, Mexico, and many others. He continues to write about the slavery experience and feels his mission as a poet is to address the defamation of African culture in this country. Callender said this rich culture must be recreated, and he is an ongoing contributor to this effort.

Dutton got her MFA from Brown University and in 2011 won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her collection If One of Us Should Fall.  She currently teaches at Boston University. From an early age Dutton said she knew she was primarily a poet, although her interests vary widely. She grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and her parents encouraged her creativity. At Brown she studied with novelist Edgar Wideman and poets like Forest Gander and C.D. Wright. C. D. Wright was a major influence on her. She said C.D. Wright brought “… a different quality of attention” to her work. Wright focused on line breaks, and ambiguity in Dutton’s writing. Most importantly to Dutton was  that Wright let her experiment with her work.

Dutton, like Callender, has traveled extensively. She toured with a band and traversed the country. In a poem she wrote of her love for “leaving.” Now, with the responsibilities of a family her priorities have changed. But she still likes the idea of wanderlust. As she put it: “I like the idea of being light and lean and living in the moment.”

In terms of influences Callender counts Walt Whitman as one,” I love the reach of his lines—his epic statement,” he said. He also admires the late poet Hart Crane: “I like his language—the sense of surprise in his work.’

Dutton spoke of the poet Thylias Moss. She told me: “I love how the poet connects historical context to the personal moment in a poem.”

One of the great things about Union Square is that I can expect that I will run into both Dutton and Callender again on the street very soon, as well as the usual cornucopia of creative folks here in the Paris of New England.



Magdalena, she of the coffee bean hair, skin of coriander
and twilight, almond-eyed, trekked from Tegucigalpa, through
a gauntlet of money condors and stone faced violators of women,
resisting a desert’s dessicating heat and the blanching of forsaken

Magdalena survived her odyssey to arrive here, in this place,
inside a rest stop somewhere along an interstate highway,
behind the counter, under these garish lights, to sell me
a hamburger, some greazy fries, and a milkless shake.

The imperium demands heroism from its victims,
then imposes gangrenous mediocrity,
spinning human beings into inert instrumentalities.

--Neil Callender  (About Place Journal)

 The You in this Poem
Doesn’t have to
try hard to be the one
raw with trumpets and lightening broken
across a crowded room–
something we all are
brighter and suddenly foreign for,
as if we’d forgotten,
the archipelago of our bodies
or the salt in all directions
calling out our name.
The you in this poem
doesn’t so much speak as stir
a darkness of loosened feathers
claws and tendriled weather
upon our eyes and open mouths.
No telling why the music carries,
or what might pry the ribs open.
I’m not sure which equation
might rescue you from your own skin.
I’m saying I like sky when you speak it.
I’ll never care which latitude
even if you leave your body
by the roadside near the crickets
I’ll recognize you by the spine bowed
as Herodotus beneath its story
the sore knees, the bruised and perfect
mouth. I know just how to find you
no matter the distance, I’ll hear
the pastures singing back our voices
a blade of grass for every tongue.

 – Nicole Terez Dutton ( From Uses of Anger journal)

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