Saturday, October 22, 2005

Interview with Judah LeBlang: A Storyteller with a Universal Tale to Tell.

Judah LeBlang is a writer, teacher, storyteller, and a former Somerville resident. In fact he used to have a column with that “other” paper in out fair burg. His stories have been published in “Northern Ohio Live Magazine,” and have been featured on radio. His most recent CD of stories is “Snapshots,” that takes place in his native Cleveland Ohio, and the Boston area where he now resides. His stories explore universal themes: the meaning of names, the trails and travails of being a Jewish gay man, and his mercurial love affair with the Cleveland Indians. He currently works at Lesley University and performs in the area.

Doug Holder: Why have you chosen to work in the medium of storytelling as opposed to poetry?

Judah LeBlang: I don’t differentiate from being a writer and being a storyteller. I think writing, the writing I like, tells a story, has a lot of sensory images and details. It also has a strong sense of place. I have written short fiction that takes place in Cleveland. I feel like when I am thinking of specifics from my life that connect with other people, then I am writing well. I feel that the memoir and the personal essay have the strongest voice. I usually talk about something I experienced, but it usually is something other people can relate to. Even if you are not a Cleveland Indian fan, as a Red Sox fan you know what it is like to suffer. One of the ideas that interests me is the idea that we all have multiple identities. I carry the identity of a Midwesterner even though I have lived here for eighteen years. I have other identities as well. Everyone has a mix. This all informs our voice.

Doug Holder: You do have a good voice. Have you been told this?

Judah LeBlang: I have been told that I have a good voice for radio. Better than being told you have a good face for radio. I have been working on getting some pieces on NPR. There is something to be said about a distinctive voice, and having something to say.

Doug Holder: Most of your stories are about your life. What makes you interesting?

Judah LeBlang: The feedback I am getting from my readings is that people are relating to my specifics. If I was just getting up there and venting about my life, I don’t think that would be interesting. To me great writing is about specifics.

Doug Holder: You talk a lot about getting older in your work.

Judah LeBlang: In my CD “Finding My Place,” I talk about my last name ’Le Blang.” In the old country it means “live long.” It is a little bit of a joke... My father died at 61. Seeing what my father went through with his heart condition I know there are no guarantees. As I grow older I become aware of the preciousness of time, and I want to use it. For me, the writing and storytelling are ways to leave something behind, and impact some people. I think that is a human desire. I think we are wired for storytelling. I want to touch some people through this life.

Doug Holder: Why did you change your name from Bruce to Judah?

Judah LeBlang: Bruce is a Scottish name and there is no Scottish blood in my family. It was an interesting process for me. “Bruce,” carried the story that I carried for 40 plus years, and “Judah,” felt to me like a marker. I didn’t run into a lot of resistance. It wasn’t an intellectual decision, it came from my gut. I feel the name suits me more.

Doug Holder: You had a lot of transitions in your life. You left a good job at Boston University, you left your hometown of Cleveland. Were these transition worthwhile?

Judah LeBlang: When I was in Ohio, I was working in Columbus at the Ohio School for the Deaf. If I knew how hard it would be to adjust to Boston ( it took me 10 years), I might not have had the gumption to do it. But now I have a good life here. I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t made the move.

When I was at Boston University I was teaching, and I was a career counselor. When I left I spent a year working at a Yoga center. It wasn’t a vacation--it was hard--but I learned a lot. It gave me a broader frame of reference. As you get older you have more material to work with. Up until the time I was 35, other than being gay, I had lived a fairly conventional life. I didn’t realize how many choices were out there. After living “outside of the box,’ my frame of reference became broader. This has helped my writing life. Looking back I am glad I did it. At the time I wasn’t so sure.

Doug Holder: Is it hard to keep an audience’s attention?

Judah LeBlang: I don’t have a lot of formal training. You need material that is engaging. Sometimes I will employ a call and response with the audience. I invite the audience in. Often at the readings I know people in the audience. So it is almost like I have plants, which helps. It’s a matter of putting some energy into that connection. I use my voice and movement.

Doug Holder: You worked with Robert Smyth of Somerville’s “Yellow Moon Press,” a publishing house that specializes in storytelling books. Can you talk a bit about this.

Judah LeBlang: Robert recorded my first CD: “ Finding My Place.” I went into his store, and asked him how I can get my work on the radio. Robert explained to me how the process works. He got me well-prepared.

Doug Holder: Are your stories as good on paper as they are spoken?

Judah LeBlang: I don’t write with the idea of how it sounds. I focus more on the writing. Sometimes I will massage things to get maybe a little more alliteration or rhythm. I want my stories to be as strong on the page as it is vocally.

Doug Holder for more info on Judah go to:

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Hymns and rants
By Clara Silverstein, Globe Correspondent October 19, 2005
If you think poets tramp around with their noses pointed up toward their black berets, then you haven’t read ‘‘Formaggio,’’ by Louise Gluck. The Pulitzer Prize winner and former national poet laureate found inspiration ‘‘in the flats of cherries, clementines’’ at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. The poem, originally published in The New Yorker, is still posted at the store.

From produce displays to elegant parlors at Harvard, poetry cuts a wide swath through Greater Boston. On any given night, you can find a slam at a cafĂ©, a reading at a bookstore, or any number of adult-ed poetry workshops. ‘‘There is a great need for people to go out and express themselves,’’ says Doug Holder, a Somerville poet who runs the Ibbetson Street Press and organizes readings at the Newton Free Library and other venues. ‘‘There is a free market in poetry here, with a vibrant community on both sides of the river.’’

That free market offers poetry consumers a lot of choices in the coming days and weeks, starting Friday night with a reading by Waltham resident and Pulitzer Prize winner Franz Wright, sponsored by the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge. A longtime gathering spot for poets in Boston, the Grolier is the area’s sole poetry-only bookstore; proprietor Louisa Solano stocks nearly 15,000 volumes. Among them is Wright’s book ‘‘Walking to Martha’s Vineyard,’’ wherein he ponders a variety of existential matters, using an ocean that ‘‘smells like lilacs’’ as a catalyst for the collection’s title poem.

On Sunday, a trio of Boston-area poets share the stage at the Concord Library’s Evening of Poetry. The three address an unusual array of subjects in their recent books: Kevin Young explores the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat in ‘‘To Repel Ghosts,’’ MIT lecturer Erica Funkhouser uses moments of domestic life to reach larger truths in ‘‘Pursuit,’’ and work by Pliny the Elder inspires Dan Chiasson’s ‘‘Natural History.’’ (Chiasson also has a poem called ‘‘Mosaic of a Hare, Corinium’’ in the current New Yorker magazine.) Young reads again Oct. 24 at the Blacksmith House Poetry Series at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, accompanied by Jacquelyn Pope reading from her first collection of poems, ‘‘Watermark.’’

Fans of Allen Ginsberg will want to draw a big pink circle around Nov. 14 on their calendars, which is when Frank Bidart, William Corbett, Gail Mazur, Maureen McLane, David Rivard, Lloyd Schwartz, and Joseph Torra read as part of ‘‘The Poems of Allen Ginsberg’’ at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, another Blacksmith series event.

Ongoing reading series in Boston give other award-winning poets, up-and-comers, and wannabes a chance to be heard. Chapter and Verse, founded 12 years ago by rector and poet Anne Fowler at St. John’s Church in Jamaica Plain, features a mix of neighborhood poets and prose writers, as well as more well-known readers, at its monthly readings; the next event is Nov. 2. The monthly Tapestry of Voices series at Borders bookstore in Boston usually features three to four readers, followed by a freewheeling open mic. (Tapestry of Voices also sponsors the two-day Boston National Poetry Festival each April.) A relative newcomer to the literary scene, the Concord Poetry Center pairs established and emerging poets (often students at local schools and universities) at its occasional Sunday readings. Its next event, slated for Nov. 13, features Steven Cramer and Susan Edwards Richmond, and will introduce Diane Randolph, a graduate of the writing program at Lesley University. !

!Oct. 21 Franz Wright
Harvard University, Adams House, Entry C, 26 Plympton St., Cambridge. 617-547-4648. 8 p.m. Free.!!Oct. 23 An Evening of Poetry with Kevin Young, Erica Funkhouser, and Dan Chiasson
Concord Library, 129 Main St., Concord. 978-318-3347. 7:30 p.m. Free. Part of the Concord Festival of Authors, which runs through Nov. 5.
Oct. 24 Kevin Young and Jacquelyn Pope
Cambridge Center for Adult Education, 56 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge. 617-547-6789. 8 p.m. Tickets $3.
Nov. 2 Chapter and Verse reading
St. John’s Church, 1 Roanoke Ave., Jamiaca Jamaica Plain. 617-325-8388. 7:30 p.m. Free. Readers include Roslindale poet Peter Bates and the poet Sandee Storey, along with Doug Most, editor of the Boston Globe Magazine.
Nov. 3 Tapestry of Voices reading
Borders bookstore, 10-24 School St., Boston. 617-306-9484. Readings are usually the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m., followed by an open mic at 7:30 p.m. Free. The Nov. 3 reading, a variation on the series’ usual schedule, includes Sarah Getty, Irene Koronas, Preston Hood III, and Lamont Steptoe.
Nov. 13 Steven Cramer, Susan Edwards Richmond, and Diane Randolph!Concord Poetry Center at the Emerson Umbrella, 40 Stow St., Concord. 978-371-0820. 3 p.m. $6, $3 students.!!
Nov. 14 The Poems of Allen Ginsberg
Cambridge Center for Adult Education, 56 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge. 617-547-6789. 8 p.m. $10, $7 students and seniors. Readers include Frank Bidart, William Corbett, Gail Mazur, Maureen McLane, David Rivard, Lloyd Schwartz, and Joseph Torra. Event benefits the Blacksmith House Poetry Series.!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Interview with The Old Guard: Avant- Garde Artist Aldo Tambellini

by Doug Holder

I first met Aldo Tambelini about five years ago, when we were involved in a group that was putting out a poetry anthology: “City of Poets: 18 Boston Voices.” Tambellini is a poet who has been a longtime political activist, an avant-garde film and video maker, a sculptor, and painter . Tambellini was born in Syracuse, N.Y. 1930, and was taken to Italy to live shortly after. His neighborhood in the Italian village he resided in was bombed during World War ll, and he lost 21 neighbors and friends. In 1946 he returned to Syracuse University to study art, and later got an M.A. in Sculpture from Notre Dame in 1959. After this Tambellini moved to New York City, and founded an artistic group named:" Group Center,” an active counter-culture organization that hosted group exhibits, organized Vietnam War demonstrations, multi-media events, etc... He later founded “The Gate Theatre,” in the East Village of NYC, the only daily public theatre to show alternative, independent films. In the 1960’s he was a pioneer of the “Alternative Video Movement,” and later he went on to teach at the “M.I.T. Center for Advanced Visual Studies.” In 1998 he hosted a poetry venue in Cambridge, Mass. titled “The People’s Poetry,” and he has accrued numerous poetry publication credits over the years. I spoke to him on my Somerville Community Access TV Show, “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Tambellini made it clear that the avant-garde of his salad days in the 50’s and 60’s was different from the avant-garde today. In fact Tambellini dismisses the contemporary avant-garde, and told this writer if there was any worthwhile work he wasn’t aware of it. Tambellini, no fan of Lyrical poetry, has a strong belief in art used as a political tool. Tambellini said that part of being a human being is to interact with society, to challenge the “establishment,” and to fight poverty and oppression. Tambellini, who experienced the horrors of World War ll firsthand, uses his art to address his ghosts. Recently he self-published a book of his poetry that consists of a number of his poems published on the website: “Voices in Times of War”
Tambellini, 75, is certainly not from the computer generation, but is profoundly aware of its significance. Tambellini stated: “It is impossible not to work with the computer. It creates a space to communicate with a very large group of people.” And this, according to Tambellini, is what he is about. Communicating. In his early years in New York City he worked at “St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery” bringing as much artwork as possible to the public without dealing with a gallery or dealer. Computer Science and Science in general are important to Tambellini because he feels it reveals the nature of the world. This “nature,” is what Tambellini explores in the mediums of painting, video, sculpture, and poetry.
The themes in his paintings he described as “circular.” He reflected: "We are all tied up to the universe... we are in a circle, in that we are all connected.”
Tambellini said his poetry is written with the intent to read to an audience. Tambellini, feels his poetry is presented at its best when it is spoken, not lying inert on the page.
Tambellini also talked about his years in the alternative video scene. He has always had a fascination with TV. TV, unlike movies, during the pre-video, DVD days, was ubiquitous. With a movie you had to go to a specific theatre in order to view it. TV was in every home, and Tambellini was well aware of its power. When Tambellini was starting out there was no video work, other than the work being done at the major networks. So he was like a dog on a meat truck, when he discovered this nascent art form. He incorporated light , his own voice, test patterns, news clips, and children’s songs, in a sort of abstract video painting. These videos were devoid of narrative or dialogue.
Tambellini said he always used Afro-American poetry and poets in his video work. He is close friends with esteemed Afro-American poets and writers Ishmael Reed and Askia Toure. He feels Afro-American poets reveal the underside of America, and the American Dream. Tambellini said these poets reveal the “reality of America.”
Tambellini continues to stay active, and participates in the “Howl Festival” in New York’s Lower East Side every year, and his videos are being shown at the New England Video Festival in Coolidge Corner this month. Tambellini feels his work keeps him vital, and he wants to remain nothing less. ---Doug Holder

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Time and Other Poems. Hugh Fox. ( Presa:S:Press PO BOX 792 Rockford, MI 49341) $6

With Hugh Fox's work I always find an abundance. An abundance of ideas, images Yings, Yangs, births, name it. Hugh is not a minimalist, and now in his 70's, he has enjoyed a fascinating and full life, and he is not afraid to tell you about it. Hugh appreciates everything from the highest of brow to the lowest. His poetry in "Time and Other Poems," celebrates the rich and wild cornucopia of life and his despair and regret that he will have to leave it behind at some point. Fox emeshes the reader in a delicious sensory onslaught throughout this collection. In this passage from "Time/Le Temps" Fox paints a portrait of the poet in 'Frisco with his pals A.D. Winans and Richard Morris; all renowned member of the small press. This poem is a wonderful mixture of the passage of time and the desire to stay behind:
" Watching a video tape interview with A.D. Winans
in San Francisco, Vesuvio's restaurant, eight years ago,
..... Richard Morris in the corner,
watching, the camera strays to him once in a while, looking
haggard and frail, dead maybe three years already/ I oughta
say Everyone's gotta die, why not just get used to the idea
...., only what
I want is a forever of fried onions, candied pineapple, soft
beds, Bernadette's ears and eyes, listening, lilacs, and
clematis, my kids and pals and their growing, multiplying
Foreverness. (12)

In the poem "BacK" we are reminded of Fox's fascination with spirituality, myth and primal cultures.
" Going back, back, back
to the clouds and the
cypress and smoke, tress, mouldering twigs
and edge-of dusk bats, skunk-smells, wild turkeys
everythong wild, primal, before guns, torahs
mosques, in the beginning was the sky and you
and I
evolving into the pre- buddhistic-
NOW. (32)

This collection is a rollercoaster ride between life and death, and as Ferlinghetti put it "A Coney Island of the Mind."

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Mass. 02143Doug Holder