Saturday, August 26, 2006

At The Wilderness House Literary Retreat: An Afternoon with Louisa Solano.

Aug. 2006.

picture by Gloria Mindock

From Right to left: Doug Holder, Louisa Solano, Beatriz Alba Del-Rio, Suzanne Owens.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Jasen Sousa: A Young Somerville writer who publishes poetry inspired by pain.

By Doug Holder.

Jasen Sousa, 24, born and bred in Somerville, Mass, is no stranger to the “mean streets.” He saw many of his peers succumb to the perils of drug addiction, and the dead ends that lie on the other-side-of-the- tracks. When Sousa was eighteen years old a friend of his committed suicide and he started to write poetry as a balm to the psychic pain he was experiencing. He wanted to write poetry about a part of Somerville that is distantly removed from the tony environs of Davis Square. He writes of gangs, violence, but also the search for identity and love.

To fund his fledgling poetry publishing enterprise “J -Rock Publishing,” Sousa worked long hours at a variety of jobs, and managed to save $2,000 for his first collection of poetry “Life& Weather.”

Sousa affects a Hip-Hop style of dress, but when he speaks he seems gentle, considerate and articulate. He told the News that he has been influenced by the late Hip-Hop artist Tupac Shakur, as well as Poe’s dark poetry. His poetry tends to rhyme, and is sometimes read in the cadence of a Rap song.

Sousa feels that kids need to see a poet and writer who “looks like them.” And indeed, Sousa has a boyish face that makes it easy for him to pass as a teen. From the revenues of sales from his four books; he takes several local kids to attend an annual poetry convention in Las Vegas. He said that at the convention his book sells extremely well. In fact, in four years he claims to have sold 5,000 copies of his first book; (convention sales and others), an amount that would make any small press publisher salivate over.

His poetry books include: “Life and Weather,” “Almost Forever,” and “Close Your Eyes and Dream With Me,” and are sold at Newbury Comics in Boston and Porter Square Books in Cambridge.

Sousa said he wrote the poems for his collection “Almost Home Free,” in cemeteries in and around Somerville and Boston. He needed the graves to inspire his writing about the losses he has experienced in his hardscrabble life.

Sousa says his family is as supportive as they can be, given that fact they are a traditional Portuguese clan, that are hesitant to talk about their problems and emotions in public, much less in a book. Sousa is an ambitious young man, and currently works three jobs, and is attending Emerson College in Boston. He just completed a course with the noted writer Matthew Pearl.

Sousa hopes that in the future he can create a large publishing concern that prints books for young people all over the world. Right now he is trying to compile an international anthology of children’s writing. According to Sousa he has taken a different path than many of his peers, and he hopes to bring his art to the greater world, but still with an eye on his roots in the ‘Ville.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

To find out more about Jasen go to

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Evidence of Things Seen. Richard Wollman. ( The Sheep Meadow Press POBOX 1345 Riverdale-on-Hudson NY 10471)

Simmons College literature professor Richard Wollman in his new poetry collection: “Evidence Of Things Seen” writes of shucking clams, of Lester Young in a ruminating Paris, of a church that reflects the images of subverted and converted Jews, and he does it with elegiac and evocative language. In his poem “Pressure” Wollman describes his inept attempts to shuck clams. Here is a portrait of a poet who is just as shucked as his crustacean charges:

“but there was no remedy
for dull knife slips in the flesh
of my hand beneath the thumb
where I’d slice myself open
like an unprotected clam.
It was ruining my hands.
The boss knew I didn’t have
to do this for my living
and waited for me to quit,
baited me, making me stand
on the bar to clean the grease…

No one ever poured a drink
until I dragged myself back.
there, the only one who could
no longer smell the liquor
of the fish all over us.”

I have always been a fan of the “ Pres” and “Lady Day,”. In “Lester Young in Paris” we have a portrait of the “Pres” (Young), the famous jazz saxophonist, as deadens his pain, and his ghosts with booze and his art. In some respects the poem reads like a haunting, late night jazz composition:

“In the studio he wore felt slippers.
It was a way to live,

deaden the noise of fists,
the reedy wheeze of his breath

stolen one night in a white barracks.
And the squawk of hospital doors up north.

In curved brass, pain takes
the shape of song, the sense

variously drawn out. What can be made
of the low sounds

of men? He drank deep
until he finally drowned them.”


Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Aug 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Helen Bar Lev: A Painter and Poet who is a Voice of Israel.

by Doug Holder

Helen Bar Lev was born in New York City in 1942, but has lived in Jerusalem for over 33 years. She is a well regarded and established artist, and has a world- wide following for her watercolor landscape paintings, especially of Jerusalem. She has been exhibited in London, Paris, New York and Israel. In addition Bar Lev has been commissioned to provide illustrations for books, and many prominent collectors and museums have obtained her artwork. But Bar Lev is not only a visual artist, she is an accomplished poet. She authored and illustrated a book of poems “Animals are Nature’s Poetry,”, and has written about the Holocaust and the emotional pain she experienced hearing about it as a child. She is currently the editor-in-chief of the “Voices Israel Anthology,” and is working on a book project with her partner, the poet John Michael Simon. I talked with both Bar Lev and Simon at the Zaftig Deli in Brookline over bagels and lox.

Doug Holder: Why did you move to Israel from New York?

Helen Bar Lev: I belong there. Everything about it speaks to me. The air, the scenery, the beauty. I studied at Cooper Union in NYC, but I was fed up with the New York scene. This was the time of the POP Art movement. It wasn’t me. I gave up and I studied anthropology. I just couldn’t do that type of art. The minute my foot hit the ground in Israel I knew I was meant to be there.

DH: You have written poetry about the Holocaust. You were a very small child in New York City at the time of the Holocaust. How did it affect you?

HL: I had dreams about it. I remember I was 10 years old and I was looking through a pictorial encyclopedia of the Holocaust. After that I started having nightmares about it.

DH: Did your family tell you about it?

HL: It seeped in. In one of the poems I write about seeing a newspaper in 1945 or 6, when they discovered the mass graves. When I was in Israel in 1959 they were still announcing on the radio” If so and so is still alive will you please contact so and so.”

DH: You lived with the writer Edward Whittemore, who was known for his use of “Magic Realism.” Was his writing an influence on yours?

HL: No. I would describe my style as realistic.

DH: Where do you get your inspiration for your poetry?

HL: When I stand in the shower, when I am walking. I hear the words. This is different from my painting of landscapes. Landscapes are a visual thing. Poetry excited me so much… it just happened.

DH: John how is it having a partner who is a fellow poet?

John Michael Simon: We constantly interact. We collaborated on a number of books. The most recent is a book of children’s rhymes. We also collaborated on a book based on Helen’s exhibits at the Jerusalem Zoo. (“Animals Are Nature’s Poetry). She drew portraits of animals in the zoo. It’s descriptive about the animals, their habitat, and the dangers of extinction. I translated the book. It is in Hebrew and English.

I am often influenced by something that Helen has written. It is always unexpected. I don’t know where it is going to go.

HL: Sometimes we use the same words and ideas…universal things.

JMS: When we wake up in the morning, she says: Have you written anything?” And she won’t do anything till she reads the poem I have written. And then I ask her if she has written anything. And that’s how we start the day.

DH: Do you do readings around Israel?

HL: We belong to “Voices Israel”, an English language poetry group. There are three meetings a month in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusaleum. It is the group in Haifa that we go to. We do readings there. But readings are not a priority with us. Recently, at the “Artist House,” I exhibited poems with my paintings. This was the first time I did that. You know poems that relate to nature.

DH: When did you start writing Poetry?

HL: Only three years ago. When John and I met, we fell in love…it just happened…the both of us...the poetry.

DH: So your poetry came out of love?

HL: Yes.

JMS: Helen has always been fascinated by writing. But she was never a writer herself. She is more on the artist side. When we met I told he I was a writer. Helen was under the impression I wrote novels or stories. Actually my background is as a technical writer. She asked me if I wrote anything besides technical stuff. I said I have written a few poems. So I read them to her. She liked them. She told me I should do more because they were good. At that stage we both started writing.

DH: You won a Reuben Rose Award?

JMS: The English Poets’ organization: “Voices Israel” runs a competition. Rueben Rose was one of the founders of the group. We always invite someone from overseas to judge. Last year it was a professor of Literature. I won the first prize. Both Helen and I have been published in anthologies and internet publications.

DH: Helen. Is poetry a compliment to your art?

HL: Poetry has overtaken my art. It’s a bit distressing. I have been painting for over thirty years now. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I sketch but I have done that for awhile. The poetry just flows. It is amazing at this age and stage in my life. All of a sudden you become something different from what you were.

DH: Are you going to publish anymore books?

HL: We want to publish some more books. Specifically poems about Israel. We are hoping to interest a publisher. I would like my paintings to illustrate the book.

DH: How did you guys get involved with the “Voices Israel” anthology?

HL: We published poems on their website. We were invited by the editor to contribute. Eventually he stepped down. I have experience editing books so I volunteered. I offered my services.

The first meeting of "Voices Israel” was in 1971. They publish an anthology annually. So they have

35 years of poetry.

To find more about Helen Bar Lev go to

Monday, August 21, 2006

APART by Vanessa Kittle
Chapbook: 34 pages
Copyright, 2005
March St. Press

The little backstory is this. Vanessa Kittle is still an intriguing new friend and fellow-writer who joined my Myspace page a few months ago. (Yes, I confess, from the epithet, “Internet whore” I became a “Myspace kid.”) I know some things about her: she lives on Long Island with a female partner and kitten, she’s a former lawyer and chef and she studied fiction and poetry, the latter which she feels a strong compulsion to create. In her picture -- also on the cover of APART – she has a kind of compelling wide-eyed mischievous fairy grin. She’s a kind of witch, I guess you would say, from a spiritualist sect called Magick. Long fascinated by female witches and those thusly accused, I’m automatically curious and drawn in. For as little as I know practically about these sects, I intuitively feel connected to the sense of autonomy, mystery and spiritual rituals such women nurture and generate. Maybe that’s why my 2nd CD’s called “Spell on You,” or why it’s always mattered to me that my birthday falls on St. Joan’s birthday and Epiphany, even why I had psychic voices, do yoga, long for the Priestess card in Tarot readings. It’s in my nature, I guess.

So I go to Vanessa’s website, Abramelin: A Journal of Poetry and Magick, and am struck by its governing principle, if you could call it that: It is an interesting and well-designed site with colored balls offering links from a tree of life. Symbolic and economical. One reads:

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” And underneath this tenet:
“Love is the Law, Love under Will.”

Well, without going into the figure of the Scarlet Woman or Nuit –even some of the Star Wars-like creatures that seem to be icons of her spiritual beliefs, I feel comfortable with those two assertions, especially the second. They are clearly pagan, in some way. But that is fine with me. So I come to expect something nature-oriented and maybe erotic about her work. Vanessa writes:

“My own poetry does not adhere to any school. It’s not academic. It’s not experimental. I guess I’d describe it as literary.”

While I agree with all this, I offered another description of her work as being concrete mysticism, and she seemed to like that description and to agree with it.

APART is an excellent title. It sets us up for a perspective that is outside the box, and perhaps describes Vanessa’s commitment to her beliefs. However, these poems are acutely and wonderfully about day to day moments – not proselytizing prescripts. In ”Snow Covers the Door” she writes:

“The boy is standing over me.
He smells like rotten orange juice.
He’s sitting on my bed,
but I am one of those people waiting
to be found by a big Saint Bernard dog
with a wooden bottle around its neck.”
p 2

This is a woman who is more comfortable with animals and wintertime than with crushing sociability or summer-heat. She writes in “Bug Sex”:

“I long for the silence of winter,
when all the bugs are dead
or the dry brown hills of California,
where there are few insects.”

Maybe it is that she is really an autumnal child, the time associated with the transition between hot and cold, the magic time of Halloween, the fracas of autumn leaves. In “Fall People” she writes:

“Rejoice my brothers and sisters
for there are long shadows
and deep colors.
Grin at your first purchase of hot cocoa.”

This love for the season of fall culminates in “Jack-o- Lantern” in which she frets over the disposal of a pumpkin who’s been turned into a spirit of the holiday and writes:

“The people who live here must be fearless against death.”

“Have we become that small?
Defeated? Prepackaged?
Safety checked for razors?
Who wants a mouthful of blood?
A brain dead halleluiah?
Are any of our people left alive,
Or are they all just fornicating
In sexy mouse-girl costumes
While drinking fruit flavored
Malt liquor and listening
To horror music compilations
chattering their teeth
about their 401ks
and the time of Bauhaus?
P 8-9
Some of my favorite poems in this collection interweave female mythology, angelic presences and rather more intricate imagery and language: “Debris,” “ Where a Lotus Grows,” and “The Difference between Seeing and Being” among them. For she is definitely capable of raising the pitch and switching the planes of her poems.

In “Confessions of a Chi Leech” she begins:

“If I don’t have an orgasm once a week
I turn into a neurotic wolf…”
And in a mad sarcastic humor the last stanza screams:
“This wolf doesn’t have no king.
This wolf needs no king!”

It’s a great come full-circle blusey self-affirming riff.

What strikes me as interesting too, is that for the female eroticism, there is a kind of restrained Puritanism that doesn’t go with mating out of pure lust all the time, or full-scale orgies. No, there is a kind of classical, wintry restraint. There is also a flouting of convention and humor in poems like “Cassandra in a Worn Out Threesome” about an Easter outing to the Ruby restaurant for cheese fries and bloody Marys.

“The guy called it a hedonist’s Easter but we didn’t go home and get naked.” she defends.

Or in “Breeders” – a poem about two mating crabs: “One acts the rooster, one acts the girlie girl even though she ain’t fifteen.” Ending with something that smacks of self-portrait, “And finally, a bitter lobster sits by herself dreaming of seagulls and low tide.”

This is not a bitter young woman, or witch, what have you. And there is a lot of majestic mystical power in her work….always cross-cuttting between the worldly and otherworldly. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Yes, it is evident in the life she is experiencing, a sensual and metaphysical affair with time and space. In “Postscript” the final poem of the book she throws some weight to the future-side:

We will return to life
in the dust of the last breath
of a broken star.
We will find ourselves
between the particles
revealed by a sun that sneaks
through the blinds
of a dark and stagnant house.
It will be late October
the last warmth. The moment
I call fools summer.
The sun will give us form.
It is R2D2 and we are Princess Leia.
But we are still lighter than air.

Or maybe we will remain empty.
And maybe it is all the same.

Thank you Vanessa for your alchemy, and vision, and verse. I am honored to have been able to share some of your poetry with others. Keep it going.

Reviewed by Lo Galluccio
For Ibbetson St. Press

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Jim Morris and his Presidential Follies of 2006"
By Doug Holder

Somerville is a city with a lot of residents, but whenever I am at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theatre, I am reminded that it still retains its small town charm. So it was no surprise before taking in the show: "Jim Morris and his Presidential Follies of 2006," that I ran into folks who were friends of both my landlord and a poet who I recently published. Jimmy Tingle himself was behind the bar in the lobby, cheerfully dispensing drinks…all was right with the world.
I have always been a fan of impressionists. From David Fry’s wonderful imitations of Dick Nixon to Rich Little’s right- on- the- money mimicry, I am a patron of that art. And Jim Morris doesn’t disappoint. Morris is possessed by his subjects; with his face twisted in their signature expressions, and his speech a right -on replica of their cadences and inflections.

Morris’ specialty is impressions of political figures. He started out locally with the hard r’s of former Mayor Kevin White, to the embarrassing speech impediment of an unfortunate substitute teacher of his youth. Morris is not afraid to get down and dirty. When tackling president Nixon, he imagined Nixon’s sexual encounter with his first lady. Nixon approaches this amorous liaison like a political hack. He tells her: " I would like at this time for you to remain perfectly still, as I caress those fleshy protuberances." Then Morris proceeds to have the audience hear a baritone Henry Kissinger in the midst of orgasm: Kissinger grunts "Oy!" Morris segue ways into Rod Serling of " The Twilight Zone" fame introducing a holier-than-thou Al Gore, as he pontificates about Global Warming.

Perhaps the largest segment of this show was devoted to our current president George Bush. Morris shows a true mastery of his subject. His rubbery face is actually transformed into a stunning Bush mask-- a mixture of frat boy arrogance and pre-senile befuddlement. Bush mangles words, and is unable to hold a thought. He talks of having "heart to tart" talks with his daughters, and threatens to close down their "ports of entry." In the Q and A session with the audience Bush was asked who would he support in 2008, he replied " A man named Marshal Law"

Bush’s imaginary slideshow drags at the end, but there was plenty of levity throughout the show. Morris will remind many of us of those classic impersonators on the Johnny Carson Show, Ed Sullivan, and the Jack Paar show. Check it out!

Doug Holder