Thursday, July 18, 2019

Robert Smyth and the Yellow Moon Press (2003)

\Robert Smyth


On a nondescript stretch of Somerville Avenue just outside Porter Square, there is an unexpected storefront. Yellow Moon Press. It is a veritable treasure trove of story, poetry books, CDs and tapes, that celebrate the oral tradition. In their catalog Yellow Moon describes itself as,"...committed to publishing materials from the various arts of the oral tradition. It is our goal to make available material that explores the oral tradition and breathes new life into it."This pleasingly eclectic small press and retail outlet has poetry titles by local poet, Elizabeth McKim to the more globally known Robert Bly and Ruth Stone.The books range from THE HUNGRY TIGRESS, that deals with Buddhist legends, to JOURNEY IN- AN ANTHOLOGY OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION POEMS AND HOW TO TELL THEM. Yellow Moon Press ( started publishing poetry in 1978, but gradually shifted to the spoken word and oral tradition. Since then Yellow Moon books are being used in courses in many schools around the country, and they have been a recipient of awards by such notable organizations as the AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, and the AMERICAN BOOK ASSOCIATION. I talked with Robert Smyth, the founder of the Press, in his small store on a sunny morning in June.

DH: Tell me something about your background. How did you get into publishing and the retailing of books?

RS: My love of poetry started in my last years of high school, and continued to college. I went to Denison University out in Ohio. When I was there Denise Levertov (once a Somerville poet) came for a week. Robert Bly came for a number of years, and in my senior year I brought Allen Ginsberg in. Soon after I got out of college I started going to Robert Bly's annual conference, THE GREAT MOTHER AND THE NEW FATHER. That is where I was introduced to storytelling. I first did a small chap for a woman out in Washington state. Yellow Moon was founded in 1979. My idea was that I would do little books of poetry now and again, when I found something I really liked. I did not do it as my livelihood. I did it because I loved poetry. Our first book was printed in Union Square (Somerville), by an old leftist press whose name escapes me. I think I found it through Ed Hogan, who founded Somerville's ASPECT MAGAZINE. Ed taught me a lot about publishing.The storefront opened up three years ago. Before that I did it out of my house. When I first started Yellow Moon Press I worked at ROUNDER RECORDS, which at that time was in Somerville. Yellow Moon publishes books and cassettes of storytelling, poetry and music. We have 53 titles in print. We have books on poetry, folklore, collections of Buddhist legends; a range of stuff.

DH: Do you find that Somerville has a good atmosphere for your business?

RS: The location here at 689 Somerville Ave. has more foot traffic than I thought.

DH: Can you talk about some of the local storytellers and poets you have published?

RS: The first person that comes to mind is Doug Lipman. He lived in Somerville but now he lives in Atlanta. Doug has been a real part of the storytelling community for years .He is one of the first artists I did a storytelling tape with back in the late 80's. I was associated with a group, Storytellers In Concert, that Doug was a part of. They put on monthly concerts for adults. Doug was the founding member of that. We did four storytelling cassettes with him. We have also published Jennifer Justice, Maggie Purse, Elizabeth McKim (Body India), and other local people we worked with.

DH: Your wife Anna Warrock is a poet. How is it being a literary couple? Have you published your wife?

RS: We toyed with the idea. I was willing and glad to produce something for Anna. She feels that she wants to get a publisher who is someone other than her husband. She has won a number of awards for her poetry. I have to honor how she wants to do it. We do stuff together. I've helped her with getting her manuscripts ready to go. We are currently working on a reading series, Crossing Open Ground at the Brickbottom Studios. It is a mixture of poets, fiction writers, and storytellers. The first evening we had the Somerville storyteller, Peggy Melanson.

DH: You told me that you and Anna have coordinated Robert Bly's 28th Annual Conference on "The Great Mother and the New Father" Can you tell me how you became involved with Bly and the festival?

RS:I became acquainted with Robert Bly in the early 70's. I was struck by his charisma. The conference is an interdisciplinary arts festival. There was an art gallery at the festival with some tremendous paintings, photos and sculptures. The conference this year was focused on the confluence of Jewish, Islamic, and Spanish culture. The conference explored the masculine and feminine. It explored this through the arts.

DH: How hard is it to run a small press and an indie bookstore?

RS: I don't count on the bookstore as a primary source of income. I still do freelance work, audio production and tapes, and I also do book production. I just did a book design for Joe Armstrong, who lives in Davis Square. He studied with Pablo Casals in the 50's.Yellow Moon is a nonprofit Several books are used as course texts at colleges around the country. Lesley University extension uses our books. We also sell to storytelling festivals.

DH: Any future plans for the store and press?

RS: I am on a push to grow the press. I've just signed up with WORDS DISTRIBUTION, out in California. Distribution is the nut to crack.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Aleef Mahmud: A resident of the Asylum brings artificial intelligence and poetry to Somerville.

Aleef Mahmud: A resident of the Asylum brings artificial intelligence and poetry to Somerville.

By Doug Holder

Aleef Mahmud, a 30ish young man, met me in the lobby of the Artisan's Asylum-- a hotbed for technology and the arts in Union Square in Somerville, Ma.

Mahmud is the founder of PROTYO, a concern that develops artificial intelligence for things like automated cars, robots, thermostats, medical devices, etc... Although he is located in Somerville-- in the Asylum, he has employees working all over the world.

Mahmud, who was previously located in Brooklyn, NY said Somerville is well-positioned for technology. Many of his customers happen to be in Cambridge, MA. “Somerville is fantastic for business, the arts and technology. People here have the skill-sets and the background for innovative work, and we are surrounded by major corporations,” he said. Mahmud continued, “I plan to always have a space in the Artisan's Asylum.

I asked Mahmud about his view of gentrification in our burg. “ It is a double-edged sword. There is a lot of displacement. Some of the artists at the Artisan's Asylum had to move from Somerville because of the high rents. They now commute. On the other hand, I feel it has brought a new vibrancy to the city.”

Mahmud told me he is the recipient of the Maritime Hero Award. This was presented to him by the U.S. Olympic Committee. It seems that Mahmud developed the technology that makes it possible for the disabled to enjoy sailing. He told me, “ I developed an exoskeleton—so a disabled sailor Richard ramos was able to compete in races. The technology is available for anyone to use for free. I want technologist to help people. I want it to make things more inclusive.”

Now—many people may have issues with artificial intelligence –but for the most part Mahmud does not. I asked Mahmud if all this technology will lead us to be at mercy of robots. He said, “ No I don't think it is going to be what we see in the movies. AI will relieve us from monotonous duties. It will be used for jobs that no one else wants, like bomb detecting, for instance. I told him that I know people with lower level jobs like cashiers have been losing their jobs because machines have replaced them. Mahmud said, “ Humans will always be in the loop. AI will make it more convenient to do what you want to do."

Mahmud came to this country from Bangladesh. His family lived in a cramped apartment in Queens, NY, and relied on food stamps.” So it stands to reason that Mahmud, who describes himself as an amateur poet, would pen work that is socially aware. It seems that this young entrepreneur in the Paris of New England is going to continue making technology and poetry that will be inclusive and with the good for broader society in mind.

Dreams of tomorrow:

dreams I hope will come tomorrow
dreams I hold close
shattered by a plane in September
dark days and sleepless nights that followed

dreams of my mother who struggled to stand
dreams of my father who begged for a hand
dreams become fears seeing my sister harassed
dreams become fears watching my brother's arrest

these dreams keep me steady
keep me ready against the night
these dreams of my mother,
my father, guiding lights of my life

dreams I hope will come tomorrow
dreams I hold close
for brighter days and safer nights
a better tomorrow for those who follow

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Number 5 Is Always Suspect by Bob Heman and Cindy Hochman

The Number 5 Is Always Suspect
by Bob Heman & Cindy Hochman
2019 Bob Heman & Cindy Hochman
Presa Press
Rockford, MI
Softbound, 24 pages, $8
Review by Zvi A. Sesling

This book contains twenty-four sonnets by Bob Heman and Cindy Hochman. Heman was the editor of CLWN WR (formerly Clown War) and is known for his collages that have appeared in a number of poetry magazines. He was also the artist-in-residence at the Brooklyn Museum. Heman is poet who has published in numerous magazines and authored several poetry collections. Hochman is renowned as an editor of fiction and poetry as head of “100 Proof” Copyediting Services. For those who submit poetry or read it online she serves as editor-in-chief of First Literary Review–East. Additionally, she has done book reviews for a number of publications and is on the book review staff of Pedestal. Hochman is the author of three chapbooks.

When two fine poets get together in a collaboration one might think the final results would be a tug of war. But the opposite is true. One of them write a line, then the other writes so that each line is alternated between the two. The results contain humor, sometimes dark as in Poem 2.
he arrived at that place where the foghorns don’t blow

where the rocks are deeper than the sea
you can hear the sirens’ delusory call
as real as real as the horizon’s lure
but what is real in these shipwrecked days?
only the words that trickle through us
as the captain steers in blind avigation
toward the port where the sentence ends
punctuated by ballast to batten the hatches
and let the sea crawl slowly away
like rats onboard with stowaway faces
making their own siren calls
as the vessel veers north on its unsteady course
toward a horizon suddenly far too real

This poem shows how two people in their own homes emailing lines back and forth in a set order can create a poem with a touch of humor and with an unexpected dark ending. Even though the poems in this chapbook are experimental, the quality of each poem is extraordinary as if one poet alone had written experimental lines to be published.

Thirteen is supposed to bring bad luck but Poem 13 shows the humor two people can put together:

A priest, a rabbi, and a bear walk into a bar
“Are there any stars in this story?”
No, Just some whiskey with a beer chaser.
“Is the priest a rabbit?”
No. He’s a lapsed cabbage.
“Are his sermons part of the story?”
No sermons, just poetry readings and fairytales.
“Is the bear allowed to have a meaningful role?”
Indeed! No fairytale is complete without a bear.
“What about the rabbi? Will we see him again?” Oy. The rabbi is trying to find his missing “t.”
“So then he really does believe that he’s the rabbit?”
And oh dear, he’s late, he’s late.
“Is that where the story ends?”

One cannot tell who wrote which line when reading these poems. This makes the poems enjoyable. Who thought of the rabbi being a rabbit? Does it matter? The poem unleashes some absurdist humor reminiscent of some of the jokes traversing over time. It shows that two people can be in sync to write a humorous poem.

While Bob Heman and Cindy Hochman are not married to each other, their poetry engagement has produced a poetic child, a chapbook of twenty-four sonnets, each of which is a collaboration of seven lines each. To accomplish this successfully the two poets are in tune with each other when writing these verses.

Having tried a similar collaboration with a friend years ago, I found the results immature and silly. With Hochman and Heman there is a touch of the silly, but the poems are absolutely worth the read. This chapbook a worthy addition to any collection.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Interview with poet Toni Bee

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Interview with poet Toni Bee

With Doug Holder

Toni Bee met me in the backroom of the Bloc 11 Cafe to discuss her life as a poet, mother, woman, activist, African-American, etc... Bee made it clear to me that she doesn't want to be straight-jacketed into any particular label. A formidable figure, with a voice that makes sure it is heard, Bee also exhibits a great deal of warmth. But she is not one who is afraid to spit out the truth no matter how uncomfortable it feels.

Bee, who lives in Cambridge, but has many Somerville connections, said in an interview that she has an affinity for 'odd people,' and being a dues paying member of the group, I asked her about it. She told me, “I probably got that from Jason Wright, the founder of “Oddball Magazine.” Odd people are not embraced within society. I want to embrace them through my poetry and art.”

Now, I am proud to be among the band of three who created the Somerville Poet Laureate position, and as it turns out Bee was the Poet Populist of Cambridge from 2011 to 2013. I asked her what the difference is between a populist poet and a poet laureate. She said, "The poet populist is elected by ballot. Citizens of Cambridge voted for the populist poet, unlike Somerville where a committee selected the poet laureate." According to Bee her tenure in the position was a positive one. She recalled, “ The position gave me a sense of professionalism and also a chance to work with youth—always an emphasis of mine.” Bee has a TV show on Cambridge Access, she ran a venue for music and poetry at the Middle East Restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge-- among the many activities she is and was involved in.

Bee is not a native of Cambridge, but of Boston. She found that living in Cambridge was a good fit for raising her daughter. Bee reflected, “ Cambridge has its problems, but it has less of the violence than I experienced in Boston.”

I asked Bee if we could talk about her being a founding member of the Black Lives Matter group in Cambridge. She said, “No,” but then politely qualified this. She stated, “ I am a believer in 'intersectionality.' I don't want to be known only as an African American woman—because like all people I am many things. I am a woman, poet, activist, mother, daughter. I don't like to be placed in a  pigeon-hold. So I  do discuss it but with that light in mind."

Many poets from Somerville and beyond—have been a great help to Bee. She mentioned a number of them,  Chad Parenteau,  Afaa Michael Weaver, Dexter Roberts, Gilmore Tamny and of course her own mother. But she fondly recalled being a student at Simmons College. She was an older student, with a child, and a limited income-- so it was a tough stint. But she remembers taking the final poetry class that the celebrated poet Afaa Michael Weaver taught  before he retired. She recalled, "His class was inspirational—it was a catalyst for my life as a poet today.”

In her introduction to her poetry collection “22 Again” she writes, ( often in the vernacular) “ The language I use in this book is an amalgam of word rhythms I have been hearing my entire life. Me, my native country—we is an exquisite mix. I celebrate that. My Daddy made sure we met our half-African great-grandma from Jamaica. And I could neva' understand how she was speaking. Mommy, Eartha Mae, were from South Carolina. And when she called home on weekends, her accent became that sing-song I rarely heard, yet adored. R&B and Hip-hop was the background beat. And growing up in Dorchester was madd diverse. My language became otherized; it seeps in my work.”

Toni Bee is yet another creative person I have encountered here-- in the Paris of New England.

This here body

This here body should eat double chocolate donuts when it's bulk is sleepy or rather wait on the peanut butter cocoa cookie it wants this body is a berry batch, batch juice better than chocolate, body This body, is fluffy pillow needing crunches This body thrills on this Slim paper,slim paper, make body slimmer, do I care if my body swings? do that speak to my pride? In other countries they'd say I was rich, praise body for its excess, its fertileness, in this land just bulk. Yell -body move quicker- put fork down faster- stop eat cheese- leave chocolate alone-forever unless the oxiAnti kind, dear this body you pretty amazing body, don't fuss at the teen, stop wanting so very much more, Body wonders what to do next, first no eat nasty donuts tomorrow or the 30th, yawn, crunch, take stairs, Love? make it stretch you. Body fly your body flies your body is fly, fly my body be

Twoxism Poems by Claudia Serea. Photos by Maria Haro.

by Michael Markham

Poems by Claudia Serea. Photos by Maria Haro.
8th House Publishing, Montreal, Canada. December 2018.
116 pages. Color. Paperback.

is a collaboration between two artists, the poet Claudia Serea and photographer Maria Haro. The basic premise is the pairing of objects in a photograph and then the pairing of that photo with a poem. The photos are essentially documentary, being of found objects paired up, sometimes in suggestive ways.

The objects themselves are ordinary and day-to-day—things we might easily overlook or take for granted as we move about our hurried lives: traffic lights, bicycles chained together, a pair of abandoned shoes. A photo showing the shadows of a table and chair on a sidewalk is paired with the following poem:

A question for you

Tell me,
if I caught your shadow
and kissed it,

would you walk only
on the sunny side of the streets

so you wouldn't lose
my kiss?

The essential art, in a book such as this, is the collaboration itself, with one art form provoking or enhancing the other. When this is successful—as it certainly is here—the image and the poem engage and tease out associations that neither, on its own, might so easily suggest. The following is one of my favorites, which reflects also on the fact that Haro (Spain) and Serea (Romania) are both foreign-born New Yorkers, exploring, documenting, and commenting on their surroundings. A photograph of two paper signs taped together onto a wall reading "WET PAINT! / PINTURA FRESCA!" is paired with the following poem:

About languages

In what language
does the house painter paint?

Does the wind in Chile
speak Spanish to the trees?

Do the gulls over the Hudson River cry
Whitman's verse?

And what about
the Statue of Liberty?

In what language does she
keep silent?

As someone who's worked in a number of artistic disciplines—visual art, photography, music, poetry—I've always been interested in art that is multidisciplinary. There's a dynamic between the various art forms that is always suggestive and open to exploration. This interest extends to artists of differing backgrounds or disciplines or attitudes who collaborate, as if in conversation. This book is an excellent example of that kind of dynamic.

Michael Markham was born in England, raised in Canada, and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He received his art instruction at the Instituto Allende (Mexico) and the Vancouver School of Art (Canada). He has exhibited in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, and Australia. Markham is also a published poet and an active musician.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Magellan’s Reveries By R. Nemo Hill

Magellan’s Reveries
By R. Nemo Hill
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-948017-23-7
83 Pages
Review by Dennis Daly

Perhaps life’s never-ending voyage? Perhaps the tidal pull of infinity? Perhaps an ekphrastic exercise of love? R. Nemo Hill retells the tale of Magellan’s first circumnavigation of our world with formalist elegance through the swells and troughs of rolling consciousness. He matches up each poem with a seascape photograph. There are 33 of each and the photographs are gorgeous. The resulting dual sequence astounds beyond marvelous.

Explorers require certain traits for their livelihoods: courage, imagination, self-assuredness, determination, faith in their God and/or themselves. The package most often includes a much darker side. Historically, many of them were colonizers, tyrannical leaders, slavers, and aficionados of greed. Humankind is nothing if not a repository of Manichean complexity. Magellan certainly qualified as a member and even an exemplar of that brotherhood.

Turned down by the king of Portugal, Magellan depends on the financial backing of the Spanish king. His primary mission is to find a westward route to the Spice Islands (the Moluccas) and Asia in general. He commands five ships with 270 men. The epic journey is fraught with terrible storms, mutiny, scurvy, desertion, and a pitched battle in the Philippines. Only 18 sailors return with their one remaining ship. Magellan doesn’t make it.

Hill calls his poems reveries and gives them a dream-like texture. He chooses the ghazal as his poetic form. Within the last two lines of each ghazal the speaker, in this case Magellan, embeds a signature into the piece. This works wonderfully for Hill, effectively cementing the narrator’s persona with the protagonist-explorer.

All the potential inherent in his coming adventure Magellan sees clearly. The Fourth Reverie of Magellan ends this way,

Land of Fire. White Bay. Bay of Toil.
Cape Desire. We name what we can’t hold.

Five pitch black caravels, five hundred tons
afloat, white sails, alone, ablaze—Behold!

With neither moon nor stars, the Hand of God
cannot, tonight, know how much dark it holds.

Wrapped in sailcloth, lashed to lead and prayer--.
Now whisper:
what the sea takes,
let the sea hold.’

Taste the wind, Magellan! Breathe the blast!
It’s asking—How much can the future hold?

Well, the future holds quite a bit for Magellan and his fellow travelers, both sailors and those harriers of consciousness, Hill and his readers. The poet, in fact, makes this a voyage of enlightenment, where Magellan and Hill both transcend themselves and ride the waves together as their fates unravel.

From desperate storm to desperate storm, tension building, Magellan’s crews fight their way forward through the South Atlantic. The flagship Victoria becomes almost a mystical symbol. Hill imagines the scene,

All night, on deck, blind watchmen lost beneath
capotes do mar, blue cloaks, blue capes of storm.

Our bloodied iron hooks tore tasteless flesh.
The ring of sharks could not contain the storm.

Strike each sail! Strip each trembling spar!
A sailor casts no shadow in a storm.

Which unseen, on board saint is this
Who closes the invisible gates of storm?

A plume of fire, Magellan? A covenant?
Victoria’s mast, a candle in the storm?

Asea, the world looks different, is different. Ships become islands of solidity. Everything else exhibits constant change, breeds illusion. Men see what they want to see. In the opening of The Tenth Reverie of Magellan the poet explains,

Bellowed out by surf there is an island.
Sailors, plug your ears! There is no island.

Why do we call it Earth instead of Ocean?
Do we dream these whitecapped waves are windward islands?

The weakest lie on deck all night, and count:
two luminous clouds, a billion brilliant islands.

Hill outdoes himself with a dramatic description of Magellan’s last stand. Metaphysical imagery and the ghazal’s insistent repetition work wonders. This scene in the Twenty-First Reverie is my favorite,

Low tide. Our longboats languish far from shore.
My senses dive, though into shallows dropped.

Knee deep in blood, beset on every side,
not once, but twice the Captain’s helmet dropped.’

Red brine fountain of my limb-lopped trunk,
Flush these breakers as they crest and drop!

I am the coral cave where the wronged Christ rots.
I am the cross from which the downed Christ drops.

Two pylons dream a gateway underwater.
A rising bridge is now a bridge that drops.

You still have eyes, Magellan? Witness then
how every fragment of the shattered drops.

After Magellan’s death in battle, he continues in the third section as a somewhat altered narrator. Hill’s own voice, speaking through him, becomes stronger and both voices merge into a more cosmic (read oceanic) consciousness. The Twenty-Fourth Reverie describes in evocative language the post-battle scene as Magellan’s sailors consolidate their force by destroying one of their own ships,

Bright feathers fall, I float through, as I turn.
From nothing into nothingness, I’m turned.

Conception will burn! In polished seaglass,
gulls of far-flung flame will wheel, and turn.

What shapes of scuttled ships, of men unloved,
complete these clouds behind me when I turn?

Rage once bade fling my useless maps
into the sea—not knowing where to turn.

Magellan is reviled by most of his surviving crew and the Spanish king after the completion of his epic voyage. Then the official chronicler of the voyage finally makes his report and the explorer’s side of the story gets out. Acclamation follows. But this hardly matters to the poet. Magellan’s victory, as related by Hill, has become another thread in mankind’s complex tapestry, a tapestry stretched into a map of unconscious beauty and intrepid, timeless spirit.

Between the disarming visuals and the verbal variations I know of no better introduction to humanity’s unknowable spin and orientation than this collection of exploration reveries. R. Nemo Hill has stretched his poetic anchor line.