Monday, August 03, 2020

On my Walk to Harvard Yard: A Reflection

By Doug Holder

On my walk to Harvard Yard-- I took a well-appointed seat under a bright red umbrella to rest, and talk to a friend on the phone. I saw this elderly woman, in a state of disrepair--probably homeless- looking in the distance at me. I remember her from a bagel shop I used to frequent in Harvard Square. She came up to me once and said, "You're Dave, right? Can I buy you a pastry?" I said no thanks and my name was "Doug." "Dave," she said--you work at Harvard." "No I don't", as she looked at me with the most downcast expression.

 So here I am in Harvard Yard, watching a couple wheeling an inquisitive infant, and she approaches me again. " You're Dave right?" " "No", I said. " You work at Harvard, right?" " No," I said.' Again she looked at me with downcast eyes.

I wonder about that woman, and who Dave was. Some friend from her distant past she pined for? A long lost a friend, a child, a lover? Will she ever find this Dave? Was she was someone I once knew--and I couldn't recognize now? I wondered if I should have told her " Yes," I am Dave--it might of made the woman's day. Instead after she left I walked away.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Random House.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Random House, 238 pages. $15.00.

Review by Ed Meek

Following the tragic death of George Floyd, Americans have been searching for an explanation for how we got to the point where a police officer feels he has to right to kneel on someone’s neck until his life ends—a white police officer with his knee on the neck of a Black man in handcuffs—while he is being videotaped with three other police officers looking on. The image of Officer Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck is so powerful because it makes the case that Floyd’s Black life simply did not matter to Chauvin. Hence, it embodies the need for a Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, it functions as a racist symbol of the relationship of white America to Black Americans. In addition to grabbling with how we got here, Americans are asking themselves what they can do. Ibram X. Kendi attempts to provide us with a way to move forward in his engaging and compelling new book, How to be an Antiracist.

A more accurate title of Kendi’s book might be:” How I learned to think like an antiracist and how you can too.” The book traces Kendi’s development from high school to college, and graduate school and up to the present (he’ll be joining the faulty at Boston University this fall).
In telling his own story he draws from years of research.

One of the refreshing aspects of the book is that Kendi clearly defines his terms. A racist Is “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” An antiracist on the other hand is “One who is supporting an antiracist policy though their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” The key word is policy. A racist policy would be any policy that helps one race and hurts another. Practices like “stop and frisk” and racial profiling unfairly target African-Americans. Our justice system unjustly incarcerates too many Black males. Kendi is against any policy that maintains “racial inequities.” Legacy admissions and merit scholarships, for instance, favor whites who go to the best schools, and graduate to the best jobs.

Overt acts of racism like a white person using the “N’ word to insult a Black person, or joining a white supremacist group, or violently attacking someone based on race are the kinds of things we usually think of when we talk about racism and because of that, it makes it easy for many people to deny that they are racists. Kendi is saying that it is the unseen policies in housing, education, justice, and the distribution of wealth that hurt Blacks and help whites that are the real problems that we must address. In addition, he thinks that once we change the policies, people will adapt to the changes.

Kendi begins his book by talking about a speech he gave in high school in which he blames Black youth for their predicament: “They think it’s ok not to think! They focus too much on sports. Too many get pregnant.” Sound familiar? This is a stance taken by Paul Ryan, Bill Cosby and Barak Obama. Kendi realizes later that he is blaming Black people for problems that are not their own fault. The pandemic has exposed many of the issues Black Americans are faced with from low-paying jobs to inadequate healthcare to underfunded education to low rates of home ownership.

Kendi reviews the history of “whiteness” which seems to be contradicted in our Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal.” A more accurate statement at that time might have been “all white men are created equal.” Two hundred and fifty years later, we still have what Isabel Wilkerson calls “America’s Enduring Caste System” in a recent article in The New York Times. Kendi does not let himself or other African-Americans completely of the hook. He claims that any of us can be racist. Clarence Thomas, Kendi points out, in his treatment of Anita Hill, was both sexist and racist. Moreover, Kendi does not think it is useful to accuse one another of being racist (as the left is fond of doing). Rather he thinks we need to change those policies that result in racial inequities.

There are two criticisms I have of Kendi’s book. First, although the makes the case for inequities between Blacks and whites, he doesn’t propose how we go about closing those gaps or acknowledge that the bigger problem, as Adolph Reed would say, is the disparity of income and wealth between all Americans. Also, because this is a book about how we think about race, it is easy enough as a reader to agree with Kendi and identify as an antiracist without actually doing anything to change the problems facing black Americans.

The idea driving Kendi is, as Elizabeth Warren would say, to “level the playing field” and “provide opportunities” for everyone. But in order to level the playing field don’t we have to overcompensate through some type of reparations? Affirmative Action was an attempt to level the playing field and it was successful, but the primary beneficiaries were white women and when jobs and admissions slots were given to African-American candidates, other groups objected. Lawsuits were filed. Although Ta Nahesi Coates in The Atlantic and Nikole Hannah-Jones in the The New York Times argue effectively for reparations, and Senator Markey is part of a group of Democrats studying the issue, most Americans are not there yet. We’ll see what happens in the next few years. Meanwhile, How to be an Antiracist can help get us on track to overcoming America’s racial divide.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Somerville's Stan Eichner: A Lawyer and a Photographer with a Mission

Stan Eichner

By  Doug Holder

It was a blazing, hot day in July, but being the holy fool I am I walked from my apartment in Union Square to Davis Square to meet Stan Eichner. Eichner has an exhibit at the Inside/Out Gallery that is situated in Davis. The 'gallery' is in a storefront window--that gets a lot of traffic--perfect for a photographer who wants exposure (pardon the pun).

Eichner has lived in Somerville since 1984. When I last met him I was interviewing a group of artists in East Somerville. In that group exhibit--  sponsored by the East Somerville Main Streets program, he had an evocative photo of a snow-covered farm in Central, MA, as well as other photos exploring the theme of winter.

Eichner was a civil rights lawyer in another life. He remembers his first case in 1974--(when I was a mere sophomore at Boston University, living through the Watergate Crisis). Eichner said, " It was a race discrimination case that involved a bakery in St. Louis and an employee." He also remembered a  a police misconduct case in Boston. The police chased a suspect for 40 minutes. Finally when they caught him--they smashed the windows of his car, and dragged him out. Then they proceeded to brutally beat him. Eichner said between 17 and 20 cops were involved. The Attorney General and Eichner got an injunction to sue the officers.  In the end the police involved were given a warning by the court about severe repercussions if  they engaged in that behavior again. Eichner said, " I never heard about any misconduct from these officers after the legal action."

Eichner was stoic about today's turmoil. He said, " The more things change, the more they stay the same." I told him that a friend of mine who worked as an administrator in the penal system for many years opined that 50 percent of cops were 'bad' players.  Eichner took issue with that. He replied, "I don't agree with that. The police, like many of us, are victims of a racist culture. There are always bad actors in every part of society."

Eichner's  defines himself as a landscape photographer. He has taken workshops in Chili, Ireland, and Scotland. He counts as a mentor Betty Wiley of Cape Cod, who he has studied with. He has connected with others of his ilk in the vibrant Somerville Arts scene. He recalls being involved with folks from the Somerville Open Studios program, and felt very welcomed. Eichner said, " They were very supportive of this newbie."  Eichner, who is well into his 60s, said he did not experience any ageism among people in the community.

Eichner told me he has expanded his photography to encompass environmental themes. He said, " I want people to appreciate the beauty in this world. This might spur to do something to fight the climate crisis."

In his current exhibit he displays a number of climate protest marches in Boston and New York-- not to mention a banner drop on the Mass. Ave bridge and Storrow Drive. Eichner told me he had a leadership role with photographers at the U.N. Summit  concerning climate change. The Inside/Out exhibit also included his signature landscape photography.

Eichner said he hopes to travel to the Canadian Rockies to take pictures of Lake Louise and other bodies of water.

As the heat became more oppressive, I sort of pined to be in the Canadian Rockies. Indeed, Eichner is just one of the many of the creative folks that make Somerville, " The Paris of New England."

   For more info go to: 

Stan Eichner

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

SYMMETRY: earth and sky – Tobi Alfier

SYMMETRY: earth and sky – Tobi Alfier

Review by Mathew Paust
My curse--or maybe blessing—is that I tend to identify closer than safely comfortable with literary protagonists. I say this as a precautionary note because Tobi Alfier's poetry collection Symmetry: earth and sky has taken me through a gauntlet of ups and down and ooo's and ahh's and gasps of admiration so startling I had constantly to will my mouth shut to avoid drooling on my keyboard and electrocuting myself. This, I would proffer, may explain my admittedly uneven tone as I relate highlights of the richly amazing artistry confronting me with such impact, lifting curtains that reveal entire sagas in my imagination, it was as if, strolling through a museum of memories, I found myself time and again captured by exhibits suddenly springing to life with an immediacy that rendered me helpless to avoid becoming a part of them.
A luxury for the reader—unless he’s tasked with doing justice to the experience for potential new readers seeking the perfect poetry collection, for themselves or someone they love. The trick then is to be sparing with the samples, tease the palate with a tiny taste here and a tiny taste there and yet another and another without revealing so much of the full banquet’s promise ‘twould dull its allure.
And the venues—France, Poland, Brooklyn, New Mexico, Louisiana Bayou, honky tonk Texas, each with its own voice and spirit. You might hear Edith Piaf’s gamin voice railing in the background, sparking through the air of Honfleur as the poet confesses, "I’m tainted, shamefaced and lowbrow...I need a belt of something ill-advised, and a man to drink with me.”
Some lines strike universal chords, their mystic beauty transcending geography. “In fog, even distance seems to roam," breaks through cultural barriers in a poem dedicated to "the old country." In this instance we happen to be in Poland. Grandma "buried the woman part of her" when Grandpa died in "The City With No Vowels...ninety-three years of pierogis and mandel brot packaged, mailed, loved in countries she’d never see, at tables checkered with children she’d never meet, until that day—like the sound of a love letter torn open when no one looked—her beloved husband, our grandpa, dropped a rose petal down and came to find her."
Alfier gives us the grit and grace of people making lives in humble stations, struggling for dignity or simply peace of mind. Take Tasha, whose single mother refuses to beg or prostitute herself, setting the right example for her daughter, teaching her to love and to learn "the crass, hysterically private and bonding language of the women in the market booths, the wily but sincere language aimed at the buyers…"
Visiting a tenement in Poland, where "even the buildings wear gray...the war zone feel falls away as floor after floor creaks to life—voices seep through doorways, and tenement becomes neighborhood, the scent of coal fires and bread baking. Absolute certainty that this could have been your parent’s lives, and they learned comfort. They learned safety. They knew love. Nothing ever changes much, away from anyone’s truth."
Traditional culture slips away when our attention shifts to the New World of barmaids and drifters, treachery and heartbreak, hope, and illusions of opportunity in hardscrabble lives. A young woman about to spend time with a friend looks forward to "a day to remember the quiet goodness of daily blessings...she could get a PhD in disappointment, but no fieldwork will be done today."
Join the young lovers seeking “their na├»ve truths as the day turns dark as fairytale forests." Lines like this are precious gems that sparkle with promise of a special story in a field of others. Like this, anticipating a Friday night at the Santa Fe Saloon, "I pull my green suede boots out of a box, back of the closet, shake out the spiders, and test ‘em…they built boots to last—don’t matter if it’s cow shit or barn mud, babies, fallin’ out of a canoe, or winning at poker, boots always fit.”
Or, on the flip side, this unnamed “joyless” town where “no one grows better with age...just one foot in front of the other and then you’re dead...a place from which to send history’s most distant goodbye.”
Now a man’s voice, “mad for the woman named Alejandra...the woman who’s name has a carnival lilt, who lights my soul like the moon lights a late night in winter...” whose name he knows only because it’s pinned on her pocket. She wears “no lipstick, no ring, and she don’t even know my name.”
Then just like that we’re in Delta country, where “she ain’t gonna work...forever but they’re suckers for a forgiving face and she wears hers like mercy. At the Hollis House “the air is the color of heat and we’re up to our asses in sweat...we all sit on the porch steps, paper plates full to bending, thankful for a breeze finally stirring, banana pudding chilling in the inside fridge, half-remembered nods of thanks on everyone’s sticky smiles.” Oh, and lest we forget, there’s Ruby, who carries a knife and buys two pair of underwear once a year because “she couldn’t go commando to gym class. Otherwise she didn’t need nothing.”
Sometimes a line leaps out and grabs you with such force you take it with you and forget the rest of the poem. Here’s one“When the sky is arctic blue there is a silence, the kind that hangs in the air after a slap.”
Plenty more where those came from. The last of the bunch, Postcard to My Son, Roaming the Halls of Academia, leaves us with, “All the world gives you is an inch of open curtain—imagination sets you out into the morning light.”
Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominated poet and Best of the Net nominated poet whose poems have appeared in… The list is long. It might be easier to name a publication, then scan the list. Chances are she’s in there

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Branded Black as Means of Commodity by Jacques Fleury

Branded: Black as Means of Commodity Modern day black commodity, a derivative market of slavery… Black body; Black culture; Black branding; Fetish objects of capitalism?! Devalued laborers as fraught consumers, Filling the coffers of their oppressors. In history’s vault…as Cedric Robinson wrote in Black Marxism: “To be black was to have No civilization No culture No religion No place No humanity Worthy of consideration.” In the cacophony of this capitalist country, black men were detained in their disparate But imbricated roles, Like a run of toppled dominoes…Cast as commodified bodies, Disparaged workers and thronging consumers looking to escape their shame, By wearing labels bearing someone else’s name…Today that is their game; Yet still they use their style and swagger In protest and in search of a new maneuver, as they watch the usurpation of their culture Scattered along the margins of the society which excludes them; Their humanity and masculinity secondary to their race in a capitalist society Whose primary ideology is the working male body; but black men’s souls become darkest at the Crossroads of patriarchal privilege and racial repudiation; That is to say…a real man must work matter what! But that work is hard to come by especially when that man is black! But as commodity they can “be like Mike” like professional athletes like Michael Jordan; That is if they’re willing to see their remarkable ability commercialized… Successful blacks used as tropes To sedate and tantalize, elevate and emphasize, The promise of success for those blacks who are marginalized… But history manifested in our memory has taught us that tropes are in fact Like the black characters in a horror movie…they are usually the first to get the axe! Simply put black liberation is our collective investment But as capitalist commodity it compels our collective divestment! Blacks need not succumb to being branded as “worthy” By capitalist elites who place no “worth” on their humanity.


Chain Letter to America: the One Thing You Can Do to End Racism: A Collection of Essays, Fiction and Poetry Celebrating Multiculturalism by Jacques Fleury

Monday, July 20, 2020

Doug Holder interviews novelist Nick Antonopoulos

Nick discusses his new novel "Slender Notions" “I have nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.” – Jack Kerouac Kerouac’s words were never more timely than they are today. We are living in a period of confusion, unrest, injustice, and absurdity. We need laughter in our lives as a way to combat the day-to-day drudgery of modern life. Debut author Nicholas Antonopoulos explores this theme in his unflinchingly unapologetic debut novel, Slender Notions. Leo is a hard living aspiring writer cut from the Kerouac cloth. He has a secret heroin addiction to cope with the inanity of his life in suburban Massachusetts. Leo bides his time with drug-addled trips to the Zen Monastery and pilfers the works of Henry Miller along with his idol, Jack Kerouac, from the local bookstore. At a poetry reading in Boston, Leo meets Cole, a divorced man on the brink of a mental breakdown and a streetwise homeless man named Zanzi. Together they devise a perfect plan to combat the struggles of their lives: The Laughter Challenge. The men decide to completely give into hysterical laughter. Echoing the words of Henry Miller, “To make the world laugh is one thing; to make it happy is quite another.” Leo and his new friends want to start a revolution from stoicism and austerity to pure joy and prove that laughter truly is the best medicine. While their viral video of mass laughter propels Cole to guru status and new found fame, Leo and Zanzi wonder if madness really is the path to happiness and why unbridled joy and silliness are stigmatized in a society riddled with anxiety and depression?

Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Essential Doug Holder, New & Selected Works

The Essential Doug Holder, New & Selected Works 
Doug Holder 
Copyright © 2020 Doug Holder 
Big Table Publishing 
Boston, MA and San Francisco, CA 
172 pages, $15, softbound 

Review by Zvi A. Sesling 

The first time I picked up a Doug Holder poetry book I immediately connected with the author on many levels. I read five more of his collections which, with this newest volume of poetry,  that numbers eight books. What I discovered in all this reading is that while Holder is humorous-- he still has insight into the human condition. It is always there, as are his keen observations of all that he encounters, people, animals and almost everything on the streets of greater Boston. Take for instance one of his earlier poems from Poems of Boston and Just Beyond: The Back Bay To The Back Ward.”  

A Moose in Boston 

I saw it trot 
down Commonwealth Avenue 
its majestic head 
dour and pinched 
with patrician bearing 
covering the same ground 
that horses of lesser lineage  
plodded over years before. 

It strode  
alongside the subway car 
with the precision of dancers’ legs 
looking discreetly at the window frames 
of peoples’ faces 
like a museum of surprise. 

I heard it snort  
in the humid air 
its head up turned 
fighting and assault to its dignity 
gracefully disappearing in the bush 
as if to shake a patch of persistent flies 
the police 
hot on its tail 

 The descriptions of the moose-- like a ballet dancer--  appears  near royal in its bearings,  as it looks at people in the subway car -- perhaps viewing them as a lower class, spying on his upper class royalty. 

In another book Holder  shows how some people might feel at a party, meeting  
on an overcrowded bus, or trolley or street. Here is “Unknown in a Crowd” from Dreams At The Au Bon Pain: 

And that’s when 
you felt most at peace 
lost in the cornucopia. 
like the multi-eyed 
fly on the wall 
away from the claustrophobic intimacy. 
not observed 
owner of your own dialogue… 

You think— 
for once— 
you can— 
them all 

Holder has placed himself inside our heads. We have experienced this feeling of not wanting to be there but yet “almost/tolerate/them all.” He knows how much better it is to be observing/not observed.  Holder knows the dynamics of a  faculty or business meetings, a rush hour crowd in the subway, or even standing in line at a play or movie theater.  

In Wrestling With My Father Holder pays a loving elegy to his father-- who was a public relations executive in New York City. His wishes for his father reflect the feelings many people have for a parent’s final departure from the living: 

 When Father Dies 

When Father dies 
let it 
be in the midst 
of the frenetic rush 
of Madison Ave. 
Let him fall like 
a weathered pit bull 
in a three-piece suit. 

When father dies 
stage his swan song 
in a dark bar 
with a dry martini 
and an old pal. 

When father dies 
let it be on the rush hour 
train home 
his face buried 
in the Post 
his last breath involved 
with the world. 

When father dies 
let it be 
in front of the fireplace 
with his wife, 
talking to her 
like she’s still 
the virginal student teacher 
from the Bronx. 

In another book, The Man In The Booth In The Midtown Tunnel one particular poem flashes Holder’s love of literature and ironic humor with an unexpected ending. It is a trademark of his style throughout  his poems. 

Book Seducer 

You have revealed 
your subtext to me 
in a hushed 
intimate encounter. 

I seduced you 
on a train 
folding your 
with dog ears, 
highlighting what 
I loved about you 
heart-red ink. 
And even now 
I talk you up 
with people 
I meet, 
yet I abandoned you 
on some commuter 
rail seat. 

Some of the titles in Eating Grief At 3 A.M. also hint at the playful content of his poems, such as “Eating Grief at Bickford’s, “Father Knows Best—Mother Does the Rest” and “Curiosity Killed the Cat.” 

Holder’s  Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Poseur, Boston 1974-1983 displays his prose poetry skill with a series of written pictures of Boston’s iconic, mostly disappeared  establishments such as Jack’s Joke Shop, Milner Hotel, Chinatown, Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller and Rexall Drugs. This theme carries over into Last Night At the Wursthaus a lament for women in bars, his mother, lottery tickets and death.    

The final section “New” is a collection of Holder’s recent poems --a variety of subjects including, “Meeting Allen Ginsberg (Buffalo, NY, 1975),” “Texting In Class,” on the demise of the Jacob Wirth restaurant in Boston, “Marijuana” and “Dreaming on the Senior Line at Market Basket” and “In My Mind I Swam to Spectacle Island.” 

Holder’s newest book concludes with “If We Froze with a Fork in our Hand” that leaves us asking an important question about our hurried lives. 

Before we took the bait 
and just before the bite 
before we enveloped it with 
our hungry breath 
before the mindless flap 
of our coated tongues 
before we smashed it 
with a new set 
of porcelain teeth, 
and the day to day 
grind of our cracking jaws 

How about, 
if we just 
took a second 
to simply 


Doug Holder is an inveterate walker. Hours or miles do not seem to matter. From his home in Somerville, MA he has traversed most of his hometown, Cambridge, Boston and other areas accessible by foot. The cover of his new book shows him in his cocked hat, a newspaper tucked under his arm pounding the pavement of some neighborhood. He could be a business executive, a homeless person or a private detective. But the telltale clue of Holder’s existence is on the front cover and was written by the late poet Sam Cornish, Boston’s first Poet Laureate: 

“Holder is a poet of the street and coffeehouses, an observer of the everyday. He sees the world not for what it is, but on his own terms. Hie is living in the poem rather than the poetry.” 

Doug Holder is a poet I admire. His poetry has often inspired my own work and many other poets.   Moreover, “Essential Doug Holder,” is a must for every poetry lover to read and cherish.   
Zvi A. Sesli 
Author, War Zones &The Lynching of Leo Frank 
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review 
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7, 8, 12