Saturday, January 28, 2006

Codes Precepts Biases and Taboos. Poems 1973-1993. Lawrence Joseph. ( 19 Union Square West N.Y. 1003) $16.

I was introduced to the poetry of Lawrence Joseph by my friend and poet Lo Galluccio. Joseph is a professor of Law at St. John’s University and also teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University. Joseph reminds me of a Lebanese Edward Hopper especially with his moody cityscapes of his native Detroit. The poems unfold detailed, moody, melancholy, and unflinching, as Joseph paints compelling portraits of his past. In “I Had No More To Say,” Joseph recalls his tender dance at a tough, tenderloin-type bar with a touchingly perceptive partner:

“I told her about
Dodge Truck.
How I swung differentials,
greased bearings,
lifted hubs to axle casings
in 110 heat.
How the repairman said nothing
as he watched me
almost lose two fingers.
Although she did
not answer, her face
tensed and her eyes
told me, Don’t
be afraid, it
won’t last forever.

In “It Will Rain All Day,” the poet hones in on his old ‘hood, and brands us with his vision that brands him:

“I see a large crane lifting
a railroad car, piles of bald tires,
the two towers of St. Anne’s
where, in a corner, there are crutches,
body braces, and letters written
to acknowledge miracles. I want
all this to come to an end
or a beginning, I want to look
into the black eyes of the lone woman
waiting for a bus and say
something, I want my memory
to hold this air, so I can make
the hills with white hair
and the clouds breaking into blackness
my own, carry them with me
like the letters and icons
immigrants take in suitcases
to strange countries.”

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

My brother Don, the lighting designer, is at it again. He is doing the lighting for a musical "The Times Thet Are A Changin'," and has worked with the legendary poet/songwriter Bob Dylan. Here are some tidbits about the show,etc...that he sent to me.

The Times They Are  Changin' was conceived, directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. Dylan has not been directly involved, although he and his managers initially approached Twyla about creating a show around his catalog of songs. He spent a day with us last week, just prior to the start of public performances, and was really pleased with the production.

I got a chance to meet him, and it was a big thrill...

Here's the official description of the piece:

The Times They Are A-Changin' "is set within a low-rent traveling circus run by Capt. Arab, whose wagon hasn't moved from its location in some time, though not by lack of effort from his ragtag band of clowns and performers," a release states. "One such performer is the animal trainer Cleo , a young woman exploited by Capt. Arab and loved by his son, Coyote . Coyote longs for a world outside the confines of the family business, and as the circus show plays out, he must decide whether to flee or stay, and if he does stay, how to inspire change within the troupe."
Like Movin' Out, there is no text, but this production is in all other ways vastly different.
It's a real reflection of the dark, atmospheric world often evoked in Dylan's songs. Twyla has created a piece that through music and movement (a combination of gymnastics, acrobatics and ballet) tells a real compelling story while providing a very dark commentary on our contemporary culture. The show features an awesome live band, and the approx 30 Dylan songs are performed by the 3 principal performers. It's an incredible evening in the theatre, and audiences are loving it.
Should it continue to go well here in San Diego, there's certainly interest to move the show to Broadway

Friday, January 27, 2006

Somerville Artists Lee Kidd and Jessa Piaia Continue to “Squawk”

Lee Kidd and Jessa Piaia are Somerville artists who like many Somerville artists engage in a labor of love. Every Thursday night (9PM) at the Harvard Epworth Church in Harvard Square (1555 Mass. Ave) in Cambridge, Mass. they run the venerable Squawk Coffeehouse. This is an eclectic venue of poetry and music that has been around in one form or the other since 1989. Lee Kidd, founder of Harvard Square’s “International School of Foreign Language,” and actress and Harvard University employee Jessa Praia, as well as cartoonist Mick Cusimano, and “Poet’s Theatre,” host Richard Cambridge, are the cabal that has kept this series running all these years.

Squawk had notable guests over the years such as: Ed Sanders, John Sinclair, Tuli Kupferberg and Herschel Silverman. Many musicians have cut their teeth here like: Mary Lou Lord, Vance Gilbert and Ellis Paul. Squawk is also the name of a magazine that is associated with the venue. “Squawk” continues to be a destination for tourists and locals who need strong doses of no-nonsense music and poetry in the heart of Harvard Square.

Doug Holder: If you had to give the mission statement of”‘Squawk,” what would that be?

Lee Kidd; Well, inside of the “Squawk” magazine cover in every issue we give a little manifesto. It’s actually by “Fact Sheet Five,” and it says: “An open mic in print.” It means we are in print. We are not a hard cover book operation, but we are better than a napkin people write on. And we put in new stuff in our magazine.

Jessa Praia: We always encourage people to work on new stuff. We want them to showcase their talent every week. They should not be afraid to take chances. It is a receptive audience.

DH: How is your venue different from all the others in the area?

LK: Well that’s real direct and real easy. We are a coffeehouse. We serve really good coffee and it comes with the $3 admission. A coffeehouse has an open mic, but it also has music, discussion, etc… A coffeehouse is unpredictable.

DH: Has anything really bizarre happened at “Squawk?”

LK: Quite bizarre…yes. Once we had a gentleman who stripped himself naked and hung himself up on a cross. It was part of his act…he was also talking to his girlfriend.

JL: There was a woman who participated once who had nothing on but a bridal veil that was down to her ankles.

DH: Lee. You told me you had a poem published in “The New Yorker,” but essentially published nothing since. Do you ever plan to?

LK: I have never really sent out anything in my life. The way I got into “The New Yorker,” was when I went to the “Beat Literature Conference,” down in N.Y.C. As we were out there we just met David Amram for the first time (musician cohort of Jack Kerouac etc…), and a woman was handing out pieces of paper that said: “Write a Haiku For “The New Yorker.” I just scribbled out something. I wrote a Haiku. I gave it to the lady. She took my picture, and that was that. Three weeks later when I just got back from Prague, I was in the Café Pamplona in Harvard Square and the waiter said: “You’re in “The New Yorker!”

I don’t send stuff around, but I keep writing. Probably I’ll put my poems in chapbooks.

DH: Jessa. I am told you are an actor. What kind of acting do you do?

JP: I am a character actor. In the early 90’s I developed a series of historical characters. I called them ‘Women in History.’ There are seven characters that span the time from colonial to contemporary times. Each of these women made a contribution to the greater good. They were also connected to the state of Massachusetts. They were born here, or did their significant work here. Amelia Earhart was one. She had strong Boston connections. She is the most contemporary one. Susan B. Anthony, the Suffragist, who was born in Massachusetts, is another.

DH: Tell me about “Squawk” magazine

JP: We put out 58 issues. Our 58th issue came out in Oct 2006. We initially published something that reported what was going on in the coffeehouse. It started small, but came out frequently. It started out twice-a-week. It was small format. We went to large format. It has gone on for years, and got better and better. We collected poems from our friends, and people who came to the open mic. Then we went to NYC for the “Small Press festival.” People bought “Squawks.” It was always well-received. We believe that “Squawk” will live long after we are gone. They are like time capsules of what was going on.

DH: You went to Harvard. When I interviewed the late Robert Creeley at “the Wilderness House Literary retreat” he told me found the Harvard experience a negative one. He said he experienced snobbery, indifferent professors, etc… I have heard this from other poets as well. What was your experience?

LK: I was a graduate student. When I got to Harvard I was in Harvard Divinity School. This was the late 60’s. There were all kinds of actions going on that were positive and disruptive…and good. I never found a dull moment. I’m from West Virginia, and I feared snobbery from the East, but I had a good experience.

DH: Did you know "Brother Blue" at Harvard?

LK:I went to school with the storyteller “Brother Blue.” He was just as he is now. We met in 1967 on the checkout line at the Harvard Coop. My life would be less of one if I didn’t know Brother Blue.

Doug Holder. * Doug Holder will be reading from his poetry collection “Wrestling With My Father,” Feb. 23 at Squawk.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bring Me Her Heart ( Higganum Hill Books 2006) Sarah Getty. – A Review by Juliana Bures

Sarah Getty’s upcoming collection of poetry, Bring Me Her Heart, to be published in May 2006 by Higganum Hill Books, is worthwhile investment for those looking to find a diverse voice deserving of an audience.

The collection is divided into four sections that exemplifies Getty’s talent and range of thought, memory, fantasy, and most importantly, dedication. The most striking poems of the collection are those written about her mother, a woman whom Getty presents with both grace and poise, in connection to her own sense of wonderment and discovery at becoming an older woman along side her.

From the poem, “Initiation,” where Getty recounts the reversal of roles, of being her mother’s child in addition to the woman who visits the assisted living facility, are the lines “This month I complete my sixtieth-year./Helped by no goddess’s spell, I am two-in-one, mourning child/disguised as an old woman.” Or from “Last Words,” Getty addresses the confusion of aging, of mother to daughter to granddaughter. “Sometimes she confuses/the two of us, daughter and granddaughter, or blends us into one small, dark-haired, over-educated girl.”

There is simplicity to Getty’s observations and a respect of the dual aging process encountered during her mother’s illness. Her resiliency becomes it’s own entity, in that she doesn’t forget who she is or who her mother was, ever. The poem “Obituary,” provides the small, mundane pieces of her mother that, no doubt, made her a messy human being like all the rest. From the subtitled section, “Worries,” is the statement, “That her daughters would betray her by getting married/before they got pregnant.”

Other strengths of Getty’s writing make their mark in this collection as well. Her ability to observe and make note of the current human condition compared to what it once was, has its own place, “…we new worldings, empirical, informed/up to our eyebrows, with five hundred more years/spent observing our own and one another’s/bodies…Well, we carry on.” Her nod to “what’s all been said before” makes the poem, “The Earth is Saying,” a strong force to be reckoned with. “Gepetto in the Belly of the Dogfish,” “Lewis Carroll’s Last Photograph of Alice Liddell,” and “Trio From an Imaginary Opera,” are all fanatically fantastic poems with their own element of creativity.

Sarah Getty’s poetry is worth getting to know because it makes you want to know yourself, your mind, your imagination, and the world around you better. She seems to echo Mary Oliver’s sentiment, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Indeed, Getty pays attention to everything and she wants you to know it.
Ibbetson Update//Juliana Bures//January, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Poems of Survival. Marc Widershien. ( Poplar Editions PO BOX 57 Boston, Ma. 02131) $9.

Marc Widershien and I have have had a long association. First introduced by Cynthia Brackett Vincent, the publisher of the "Aurorean" in the late 90's, I had the privilege to publish Widershien's lyrical memoir of Boston, "The Life of All Worlds" in 2001. Since then, Widershien has revived his poetry career and is a well-known, working poet in the Boston-area. His ambitions have not ended there however. Widershien has formed his own small press, "Poplar Editions," that has released his poetry collection: "Poems of Survival." And indeed, if you know Widershien, you know he is a survivor. And he has survived to grace us with his evocative, and sometimes stunning collection of poetry. In all of Widershien's poems there is a strong sense of musicality. So it is no wonder that we learn in the introduction written by the composer Aaron Blumenfeld, that Blumenfeld has set more than a few of Widershien's poems to music. The composer writes of Widershien's work:

" His poetry evokes the incredible futility and powerlessness of individual human beings', dreams and aspirations against the inexorable passage of time and the the immensity and power of the universe.... Marc's poetry reminds me of a question my father once asked me after we listened to a piece of symphonic music together. He asked, "What does it mean?" That is why I greatly appreciate Marc's poetry...because his poetry shares that trait with music."

Widershien's poetry explores the classic ontological themes of the passage of time, etc...through his astute observations of nature, and all the players on its stage. In "Walden III" Widershien is a modern day Jewish Thoreau, observing the organism of nature and it's inevitable cycles at Walden Pond in Concord, Mass:

"The ripples below me are driven
toward the shore's body.
Once again, I find myself in this ecology's
giant organism.

Hieroglyphs sketched by wind
on white birch, mushrooms sucking life
out of dead barks,
--how the earth sustains its parasites.
The floaters bob in the Pond
dividing child from adult,
the shallow from the deep waters
yellowed with urine.

yet-life's cycling story book
drives endlessly
--on. (6)

In the brilliant poem "Cutting the Air Way," Widershien imagines a bunch of "ancient birds," on the Boston Common, and their deity, an old woman who feeds them religiously:

"those ancient birds those ancestral voices
squabbling for the squatter's rights to a lamppost
tell the tale of the tribe as well as any rhapsode--
fluid continuous diagonals of flocks carving
out boundaries obscure to man....

They wait for the old woman
dragging a garbage bag filled with feed
who comes to the park every day
she is the goddess of Boston Common,
a sister to their metaphysical flights. (8)

Widershien offers us an arresting portrait of what at first sight is a very pedestrian scene.

Widershien is a PhD, but don't hold that against him. There are classical and literary references, but one does not have to be a scholar to appreciate his work. The only requirement is to be a fully-fleshed human being.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

Monday, January 23, 2006

Playwright Don DiVecchio Finds Whitey Bulger

On a wintry, snowy day at the Sherman Café in Union Square, Somerville, Don DiVecchio confided in me about legendary South Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. DiVecchio, former poetry editor for “Spare Change News,” longtime activist, playwright and painter has penned a play “Finding Whitey Bulger,” that examines this strange contradiction of a man. DiVecchio, who believes Bulger is no longer alive, researched his subject for many months and now hopes to stage this play in the near future.

I was interested to know why DiVecchio, a well-known left-of-center activist, would want to write about someone of this ilk. DiVecchio told me over coffee and Sherman’s delectable oatmeal/cherry scones: “I was fascinated by the duplicity of power. He was somebody that represented the old ways of running a neighborhood similar to the godfathers and other patriarchs.” Bulger, according to DiVecchio, was capable of unspeakable crimes, but on the other hand he was kind to elderly women, helped people with their rents, etc… This contradiction is present in the actions of state and national governments. DiVecchio said there is a shadowy side to us all. In the case of Bulger, a bad guy did some good things. DiVecchio wants the audience to explore the “Bulger” in all of us.

DiVecchio uses the conceit of a “play within a play,” in order to get his point across. He stated, “Nothing is as it seems. Appearances are deceiving. By presenting a play within a play, it challenges the audience. It makes them question…to go deeper. The more one is forced to examine inner contradictions the deeper one gets into a character.

Divecchio is a decidedly political playwright. He adapted a play “Soul Street,” from a novel by the late writer Rufus Goodwin that dealt with the plight of a homeless man. He wrote and produced a radio play, “Voices from the Invisible,” on Tufts radio, and “Sarah’s Journal,” a play about eviction as it relates to an elderly Holocaust survivor that played at the “Cambridge Center for Adult Education.” DiVecchio said he has been influenced by political playwrights like Sartre and Brecht. He added with a smile: “Everything is political.”

Since leaving his position as “Spare Change News,” poetry editor, he has had more time to concentrate on short stories, plays and a novel. Ironically he has written very little poetry.

His creative partner, as well as his personal one, Terry Crystal, has composed a musical. It is a musical that concerns “industrial hemp,” titled: “Caitlin County Hemp Wars.” DiVecchio has just finished writing the dialogue for this work. Both he and Crystal hope to see the production staged sometime next year. The musical is based on a story DiVecchio wrote. The Hemp in question is not “marijuana” as it is often confused for, but industrial hemp used for paper, construction material, clothing,etc…The government, according to DiVecchio, has made use of hemp illegal because they feel this versatile plant would threaten the paper, lumber and other industries. In spite of the positive impact on the environment hemp could have, industrial concerns seem to come first, according to DiVecchio. “It defies all logic,” he said.

The play centers on a farm family, as it contends with huge agribusinesses that try to thwart their plans to harvest hemp. DiVecchio feels the musical will bring light to what he feels is an unaddressed injustice in the world.

Doug Holder/The Somerville News.