Saturday, December 17, 2005

Seeing Annie Sullivan: Poems Based On Her Early Life. (Cedar Hill Books. San Diego, Ca. 92104)

Boston-area poet Denise Bergman has penned a poetry collection about the early years of Annie Sullivan, best known as the teacher of Helen Keller. This most certainly is an original idea, and I bet my bottom dollar that a poetry book like this one has never been done. Bergman writes in her preface:” In her time, and over time, Annie Sullivan has been recognized as an innovative and inspired teacher. But the immensity of her contributions to education is, like so much of her life, obscured by Helen Keller’s fame, or miniaturized into simple vignettes…”

Bergman concentrates on the deprivations of Sullivan’s early life, and in light of this, it is truly amazing that this nearly blind teacher achieved what she did. When Sullivan, as a child, was exiled to the “Tewksbury Almshouse,” in Mass., her milieu was decidedly bleak, and Bergman wonders about the stunting effect all this had on a child’s natural
imagination: “Isn’t pretending/ what a child’s suppose to do? / A box becomes a castle, / a queen’s high crown? / Here the talking animals/ have been trampled, / the fairies lost in wards packed/with one thousand inmates/where is the room for dreaming? / What can a little girl imagine/ except tomorrow?”

In the poem “Teaching the Family to Sign,” Bergman captures in charged, lyrical language Sullivan’s desire to bring metaphorical sight to a blind Keller; “ carve/ an untethered river/ into a wild girl’s mind. Open/ her tight fist/ to a feather bed of stars/ to the leer of a blue jay/ the whistling rain under the eaves/ the snap of a green bean/the clank of a metal pot…”

This is an intriguing collection by poet Denise Bergman.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Dec. 2005/Somerville, Mass.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Somerville Poetry Series @ Toast 12/11/05: Featuring its Founder …
By Chiemi

With all the snow to start off the weekend, it was nice to convene at 3pm for the Somerville Poetry Series at Toast Lounge, 70 Union Square this Sunday. Featured this month was Doug Holder ("Ibbetson Street Press" founder, author of "Wrestling With My Father," (Yellow Pepper Press) -chapbook described as "push[ing] all the real-world buttons ..." and Timothy Gager
(From left to right: Doug Holder/Tim Gager Photo: Dianne Robitaille)

("Heat City Review" co-founder, "We Need A Night Out" (Cyberwit).
Holder is also the founder of the Toast Series in 2004. Since he invited me to play some of my lyrical music as part of these events, I have been privileged to hear many themes and thoughts in this venue and also have had illuminating discussions with Holder about writing and the bardic tradition. Holder has covered this event many times for the News, graciously promoting others over himself. Thus, I feel honored to be able to write about Holder and his readings from his newly published material.
I warmed up the setting with a few tunes, and Gager introduced Holder. According to Gager, Holder’s Ibbettson Press published Gager’s "first poem ever" –a piece called "Insect." In a moving manner, Gager, described how he had stopped writing poetry for 20 years due to some callous comments of a college professor. Holder brought him back. Since then, Holder and Gager have both continued their writing and ended up co-founding the Somerville Writers’ Festival, which took place last month.
Holder describes his feelings on completing his newest chapbook as--"closure," "something for the family" and with "universal themes." In the book, he describes what he calls the "yin and yang" of his relationship with his father –"flavored with idioms," "the knowledge that we are flawed…" Holder says he counts himself "lucky" be able to know his father and have "lots to write about" and hone on the many facets of this complicated subject.
The original title of Holder’s book was "Wrestling with my father in the nude." The origin was a dream Holder had. The nudeness of the dream, as described by Holder, was supposed to refer to openness of expression—free emotion showing—not anything of a homoerotic nature. However, the publisher thought that the title might cast aspersion on the work –that the title could be twisted …Holder says that a main part of what he wrote was connected with the lack of affect that was believed appropriate by some conventions, to be shown by men and to their sons, and the journey towards bridging that gap caused by a lack of practice in showing emotion, to make a connection.

The poems in "Wrestling With My Father" span 10 years –"Wallace Ave., Bronx, 1965" is the oldest piece and "Father Knows Best, Mother Does the Rest," the newest (the latter written about a year ago). Holder has published 4 other chapbooks: "Poems of Boston and Beyond" (1998); "Dreams at the Au Bon Pain" (2001); "Waking in a Cold Sweat" (1999) and "On Either Side of the Charles" (2003).

Throughout the afternoon, Holder and Gager passed the mic off to each other while sitting cozily in their high-backed chairs. According to Gager, his latest is an "anthology that spans two years." He said he "picked 90 poems out of 500." In his book, they are divided into sections, including, "…and the living is easy," "Barstools," and "Loss". Gager relates that he does not "like to get pigeonholed...

Chiemi will be taking over the series starting in Feb. 2006. There will be a music segment as well as a poetry segment.

Richard Cambridge: Interview with a poet in the theatre of politics.

I first met Richard Cambridge when we were contributors to an anthology I co-edited with Don DiVecchio and Richard Wilhelm,
“City of Poets: 18 Boston Voices.” Richard Cambridge is the co-founder of “Singing With The Enemy,” a poetry theatre group of artists and activists that addresses controversial themes on the American political landscape. His poetry has been published in such journals as the: “Paterson Literary Review,” “Heartland Journal,” and the “Asheville Poetry Review.” He has won the “Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize,” and he curates the “Poet’s Theatre” at Club Passim in Harvard Square. I interviewed him on my program “Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer,” on Somerville Community Access TV.

Doug Holder: You are very much a political poet. How do you respond to critics who say political poetry is often no more than polemic dressed up as poetry?

Richard Cambridge: I always come from the point of view of esthetics. It’s got to be a work of art. I use the tools of poets to fashion something that addresses something that bothers me in society. I really use poetry as a tool to serve something that’s bothering me politically. I pull poetry out of the tool box. But a lot of things pop up for me that have nothing to do with politics.

DH: Can you talk about the “Poet’s Theatre” at the “Club Passim” in Harvard Square, Cambridge, that you revived?

RC: When Club Passim went into receivership and had to be reformulated; Tim Mason, a friend and a booking agent for the Club, called and asked me if I wanted to do a ‘Poet’s Theatre” there. I had been doing poetry theatre before then on the local scene. So I jumped at the chance. I really enjoyed doing it. Back when “Passim” was “Club 47” they has a “Poets’ Theatre,” and it was very political. They were really enmeshed with the issues of the day: Civil Rights, Vietnam, etc… It faded out. I started it up again in 1995.

I always looked at poets as something other than someone doing a feature or poem. I came from the performance-poet tradition. But I wanted to move towards something larger. I tried to find people in the community who were folk singers, dancers, and comedians to help me put together poetry theatre. Our first feature was the poet Sebastian Lockwood.

DH; In a poem you wrote “The Life of a Man,” you deal with your struggle with the significance of poetry in a world that needs a litany of injustices addressed. Have you resolved this conflict?

RC: I don’t know if it is resolvable. It became a life-long struggle. Hey…you might not achieve what you want in your generation. In fact… Thomas Merton said you may make things worse by your activism, but you really have to focus on the goodness of what you are trying to do or else you will become bitter.

DH: How are you different now at age 56, then say at 30?

RC: Things still spark me. I feel I’ve done my part. If something bothers me, I will spend some time working through it. I still get angry, but I am more measured how I deal with things.

DH: How do you reconcile your left-of-center politics with your work as a real estate broker?

RC: It is a real contradiction. There is a real temptation to make all that money that there is out there to be made. But it is difficult. Something always comes up that does test who you are. I had to evict 4 or 5 people in 25 years. I try to help people to find jobs to pay their rent. I have employed people myself to help them. I have worked to keep rent control; even though other brokers thought I was crazy. My poetry is supported by my work.

Doug Holder

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Well ... the Ibbetson Street 18 Reading at McIntyre and Moore Books ( 12/10/2005) in Davis Square, Somerville was packed as usual. Here is a picture of some of the folks who showed up:

Left to right:
Ibbetson Submissions Editor: Robert K. Johnson
Founder of the Ibbetson Street Press: Doug Holder
Author of "Poem for the Little Book" ( Ibbetson 2005) : Tomas O'Leary
Spare Change News poetry editor: Marc Goldfinger

"Tapestry of Voices" founder: Harris Gardner.