Friday, October 14, 2005

Louisa Solano to be Honored at the Somerville News Writers Festival
By Amy E. Brais

Louisa Solano will receive the Ibbetson Press Lifetime Achievement Award Nov. 13 for her work with the Grolier Poetry Shop over the past three decades. Solano said she came to own the Grolier Poetry Shop – America’s oldest store that sells only poetry and the only store of its kind in Harvard Square- because when she was 15 years old, terribly shy to the point of being almost mute, she walked up the stone steps to the store and “had an epiphany.” She knew she would own the Grolier some day. The store is known to have had copies of Joyce’s Ulysses before it graced the shelf of every bookstore and library, housed greats such as Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg in volume and in voice, and is frequently visited by Donald Hall, Philip Levine, and Seamus Heaney (to name a few) and was run for years by the infamously cantankerous Gordon Carnie, to whom Solano is quick to show her continued respect and admiration. Her first visit to the Grolier Poetry Shop soon turned into a regular occurrence. Solano recalled sitting at the end of Carnie’s couch, taking in the conversation of poets and visitors and eagerly doing whatever she could to help around the store.
“He paid me in tea and cookies and affection,” Solano explains. When Carnie died in August of 1973, Solano was 26 years old. She was selected to read at his memorial service. “You have to remember, I was mute – I didn’t speak then. I went through all of my handkerchiefs…” Solano became the owner of Carnie’s store shortly after that. “A lot of people thought that the store should close down in memory of Gordon. People thought an aspiring poet should run it. People thought I should give books away like Gordon did. The thing is – his account book was meticulously kept,” she said. In other words, Gordon had intended to receive money for his transactions, he just never collected. The store had long been supported by Carnie’s wife, so when Solano took over without the cushion of a benefactor, she had to make a few key decisions. She decided to collect money for the books she sold, and she decided to turn the Grolier into a specialty store to cater to the niche poetry market. “People thought I was insulting Gordon’s memory by making a business out of it,” Solano remarked. She found that the decision to make the store all poetry was a way of showing that “poetry has a space in every day life,” she said. But to mention Carnie is not to say that the life of the Grolier is one of the past. During the last 32 years, Solano has helped the store evolve, survive, and thrive in Harvard Square. From Chaucer to Art Garfunkle, Solano has cultivated a collection of poetry that blends the classic with the obscure and reaches well beyond her personal taste. Solano has become as much a fixture in her store as the volumes on the walls, and photographs of poets that reach up to the ceiling. “Someone once said it was a marriage. And I was deeply offended because I’ve been divorced twice. But the fact is, the love of my life is this store,” she said. Over the years, Solano has used her store as a vehicle for her own beliefs and interests. She made a point of stocking a close to 50/50 ratio of male and female poets in a store that had historically housed an imbalance of male writers. A few years after Gail Mazur initiated her reading series, Solano began her own. She uses her store front window as a place to display provocative frescoes of pertinent topics. She recalled a window from the Gulf War of children walking into the desert holding peace signs, with bombs exploding in the distance, and frescos addressing topics such as feminism and AIDS. Solano never shied away from carrying and distributing her share of controversial or progressive poetry. She mentioned selling the books that openly addressed such issues as heritage, gender, and homosexuality. As Solano spoke, dwarfed by bookcases on all sides, a young journalist made her selections. Solano has been helping her by making suggestions to the girl intermittently throughout our conversation, and I watch as she rings her customer up. She has decided on a book by Denise Levertov, and with Solano’s guidance chooses Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas In Whales. “I’ve sold hundreds of these over the years,” she said. A little while after the girl leaves, a woman comes in. She’s visiting from Maine, and after Solano told her the store is closed for the night, says she will come back tomorrow. After the woman leaves, Solano remarks, “A lot of tourists come through here because this store is what they expected from Harvard Square. It serves as a tribute to intellect.”
For many, the Grolier does serve as a tribute to intellect and to poetry, full of both celebration, and the inevitable loss that comes with caring for something so deeply. “Being in the presence of a great poet, whether or not that person recognizes you, I think it stimulates you to grow. It’s a kind of love. Even if you don’t know them – there’s an exchange going on in the spirit,” she said. Solano remembered the day she heard that Ginsberg had died. “I literally felt the earth moving beneath me. I ran around the corner to the Harvard Bookstore to tell them the news. The store clerk said, ‘thank you for this news, I’ll do a window immediately’. I was horrified – for me this was a personal loss.” She continued, mentioning Robert Creeley, a long-time friend of the store, “When Robert Creeley died, I felt that my relationship to poetry had died as well.” She folded her arms and paused. “I still can’t believe it.”
But Solano seemed focused on the endurance of poetry. When new customers walk in she often warns, “Be careful – you’re going to become a poet if you’re not already.” When asked if she is a poet, she said, “Seamus Heaney once said that ‘anyone who writes one poem a year is a poet’. I used to write poetry, but the main reason I stopped writing was that I didn’t have enough confidence in what I wanted to say. It’s hard when you’re surrounded by all these great voices. I just don’t have that kind of ego,” she said. Still, Solano appreciates the endeavors of other amateur poets. “I love watching the writing process. Even if the ideas are redundant –new generations always push them further,” she said. . Looking back at her time at the Grolier, Solano viewed it as a fulfilling career rife with personal growth. “I feel that year by year I have gotten stronger and stronger in my belief in myself. I had believed that the store was my identity. Coming in here is such a healing process for me. I am one of the most fortunate people in the world. I have done exactly what I wanted to do. Most people’s dreams don’t come true like that,” she said.For more information about the festival go :


Monday, October 10, 2005

Poetry Series @ Toast October 9, 2005 ( The Toast Poetry Series meets the Second Sunday each month at 3PM at the Toast Lounge 70 Union Square)

Grey skies but not much rain this past Sunday, when the monthly Somerville Poetry Readings was held at Toast Lounge in Union Square. Toast's backroom set the stage for an afternoon of lyrics and music while the front bar catered to the afternoon sports fans. Chiemi, a local singer-songwriter, opened with a few of her new tunes, creating a whimsical and contemplative atmosphere.

Doug Holder, the founder of this Series in 2004, hosted this month's performance. Doug himself, , has just published a poetry collection entitled "Wrestling With My Father" (Yellow Pepper Press), to favorable reviews by the likes of CD Collins (Winner of a Cambridge Poetry Award and member of the St. Botolph's Club Foundation Board) and other venerable critics.

Philip E. Burnham Jr. and Ann Carhart were featured Sunday. Philip read to the cozy audience situated at candlelit tables from his new Ibbetson Press publication, "Housekeeping: Poems Out of the Ordinary." Ann, who presented some of her works over the Summer at the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge, read from her book, "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus", also published by the Ibbetson Press. Those in attendance included Ann's eldest daughter, an actress, Patricia Collins. Philip expressed his enthusiasm at being paired with Ann as a featured poet. "I think she frames life in very elegant and succinct pictures," he said.

Also reading Sunday were Chad Parenteau and Lynne Stickler. Chad's recently published work is "Self-Portrait in Fire." Lynne, an editor at the Ibbetson Press, was instrumental in the completion of "Housekeeping." She expressed her enjoyment at the Toast readings, describing the venue as "really up and coming: with "new faces." New faces indicates new ears for the likes of bards who frequent Toast.

Speaking of new faces, Augustine J. Russo, Jr., has stepped onto the Toast stage as the new General Manager. More to come on that in coverage of his anticipated upcoming Somerville news interview. Also, for those you who may crave a bite to eat while lounging in Toast's trendy, modern-medieval lair, such fare is now available from the next door kitchen of The Independent.--


Doug Holder

"Wrestling With My Father"
A Poetry Collection
by Doug Holder

Praise for "Wrestling With My Father"

"In Doug Holder's New Collection, Wrestling With My Father in the Nude digs deep into familial roots, tracing history and blood lines with tenderness and truth. In lean verse, he head straight for difficult content, the clash of cultures, the silences between men, the silenced women, dreams and losses. He holds all these close, preserving what has past and seeing clearly what remains. Holder's metaphors rise so organically from the content... "the bridge to the Bronx/ a spurt of connective tissue/" or "Rows/of ancient Jewish mothers/ like angry crustaceans, perched on lawn chairs/... that they grab you viscerally, draw you in, shake you up, and set your down enriched and satisfied.Go get this book, take it home, savor it."
by CD Collins ( Winner of a Cambridge Poetry Award and member of the "St. Botolph Club"

Foundation Board)"These keys open upon the tabernacles of memory where words as kisses act as resurrection and their poetry engages the forgotten smell of fathers and those lost worlds of words in which they live and still speak."Michael Basinski ( Curator of the Rare Books and Poetry collection at the University of Buffalo.)

----- Wrestling With My Father by Doug Holder. Hugh Fox reacts. " I never cry at films, reading anything, “real” life doesn’t touch me....but reading Wrestling With My Father in the Nude, just a few pages into it, and it really got to me, tears in my eyes, deep emotions. He pushes all the real-world buttons here. Him and New York, the old Jews, old stores on old streets, meeting old pals, Marx Brothers movies, fedoras at rakish angles, ball parks, elevated tracks, hot dogs...he gets all the right, evocative, reality-evoking details, like his mother’s jaw cracking as she (now a widow) has dinner alone, his father’s photo on the refrigerator door “held tenuously/by a cheap magnet.” (“Portrait of My Mother During her Solitary Meal.”) We’re surrounded by all this wealth and run-over of reality, but what Holder has done here is to get the key details that resurrect it all, bring it all back. I felt I was living my own life all over again, and the night after I read Wrestling With My Father in the Nude I stretched out in bed and started thinking about dead friends, dead grandmothers, dead parents and all the streets and stores, the whole ambience of Chicago that somehow merged in my mind with Holder’s Bronx and came back to painfully haunt me: “Which man will know me/from my birth as a bald bawling baby to a balding middle aged man?....Who will make impossibly corny jokes/and impossibly dry Martinis/in front of a fire/on a long winter/Sunday afternoon? //Yes he is dead. And I will miss him./And I will remember/and mark/his passage,/because there will never/be someone quite/like him/who will cross/this stage again.” (“Which Man Will Know Me Now.”)"Hugh Fox, 2005. ( Founding editor of the Pushcart Prize, and founding member of the Committee of Small Magazine Editors/Publishers)

"With words carefully etched into the touchstone of a father’s love, Holder looks back to directly grasp, sans sentimentality, the struggle of men to be fathers and sons. In lines that are spare and piercing, like the thin rays of truth that linger long after the weighing of successes and failures in the lives of men, Holder evokes his father, resurrects him, not as whole phantasm but as whole human, alive in the bonds of trust generated by a son’s love. "

(Afaa M. Weaver is a professor of English Literature at Simmons College in Boston)

There is a universality in his verse and in the pervasive emotional tug of war that Holder threads
neatly throughout this collection; and ,ultimately, the bitter-sweet bonding that occurs when
we all finally discover our fathers. Kudos for this grand effort that makes us wish that we were the authors of these poems.

Harris Gardner/ Tapestry of Voices (Author : LEST THEY BECOME)

Douglas Holder's poetry is strongest when it is reminiscentof days gone by. In "Wrestling With My Father in TheNude", Holder, through the eyes of boyhood, pays homage tothe father of his past. Through the eyes of the present,he is able to look at mortality of father and son. Hispoetry covers the internal, external and if possible, themolecules of life of one man, while giving us the panorama of two.

( Tim Gager-- Founder of the "Dire Series" and cofounder of the "Heat City Review.") Holder has struck a nerve and a chord in constructing a potent, forceful memorial to his father.

"Wrestling With My Father" can now be purchased from the "Ibbetson Street Press," for 6 dollars--post paid.

Ibbetson St. Press
25 School St.
Somerville, Ma.