Wednesday, February 07, 2007

GV6, The Odyssey: Poets, Passion, and Poetry

Graffiti Verite’ Documentary Series
Directed by Bob Bryan
Copyright 2006, Bryan World Productions
Running Time 72 Minutes

Emily Dickinson famously said that real poetry made her feel as if her body were so cold no fire could ever warm her or as if the top of her head were taken off. For Johnny Masuda, “Poetry is about kicking your fucking ass.” It amounts to the same thing. All poets strive to write the poem that shocks the reader into awareness, changes the reader in some way, expands a reader’s consciousness. This documentary is a tapestry of 31 voices talking about their views of poetry, what inspires them to write, and their process. I’ll state my one criticism of the film and get it out of the way: one wishes more time were spent with fewer poets so that the viewer got to know several poets and their ideas about writing more intimately. But, as with criticizing a sumptuous seven-course Italian meal because you just can’t eat everything, it’s not the worst of complaints.
Of the 31 poets interviewed in the documentary, only Wanda Coleman and Luis Campos were familiar names to this reviewer. Happily, that is no longer the case. Many fine poets are featured in this film though space does not allow listing them all.
Kamau Daaood describes the writing process as a process of self-discovery, a “looking outward, and a looking inward, looking out again and looking in.” “I’m talking to me, the me that exists in my imagination,” says Wanda Coleman. She says that, for her, the poem is often written before she sets it down on paper.
FrancEyE talks about writing as self-discovery. “I don’t know who I am and I want to find out.” She adds in the bonus Words of Encouragement feature: “You are the only person who ever was, or will be, you.” Chungmi Kim also describes poetry as a search for oneself. She feels that anyone can join in the process, adding that English is not her first language but that she has discovered the joy, the necessity, of trying to render her experience of life into language. Regarding language, Elena Karina Byrne notes the similarities in usage of children, schizophrenics, and poets: “They all use personification, synesthesia, imagery, and different types of poetic language. When a child bumps into a chair, he may say ‘The chair grabbed me.’ Poets want to say that kind of thing.”
“The power of poetry lies in its ability to lift the spirit, to reveal, to make life shimmer with vitality,” says Rod Bradley. Bradley seems a kind of a Keith Richards of poetry, gesturing gracefully with his hands as he speaks, a la Keith, and conveys the impression of having worked at his art a long time. “I don’t feel I have talent sufficient to what I’m feeling but it allows me to try to grasp this thing and, in the end, I feel like I understand something—I don’t know exactly what—a little better. It’s an act of discovery.” He advises poets to be “fearless. Write without fear.”
The 31 poets featured are a diverse group ranging widely in age and ethnicity. Nineteen are women. Most seem to be West Coast poets but there are folks from other areas as well. Many indicated that they also teach. Brendan Constantine observes: “I think that children are pretty much in a state of shock from the time that they are born until they are about 21, which is why so many of us spend our early adulthood deciphering what happened in our childhood.”
The DVD includes as special bonus features: Wise Words of Encouragement From The Poets; Complete Poetry Readings By The 31 Poets; What Is Contextual Poetry?; What Is A Chapbook?; and Poets Contact Info.
The DVD is a stimulating film about poetry and the writing process and a great introduction to some lesser known but compelling voices. Yes, it is a sumptuous feast.
Richard Wilhelm/Ibbetson Update

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ibbetson Poet Jennifer Matthews Nominated for St. Botolph Award

Ibbetson Poet Jennifer Matthews has been nominated for the prestigious St. Botolph Club Award. The nominees are selected by arts leaders in the community. Matthews is the author of "Fairytales and Misdemeanors" ( Ibbetson Press) A former Ibbetson nominee was Linda Haviland Conte, author of "Slow as a Poem" ( Ibbetson Press) For more info on the St. Botoloph Club go to:

The St. Botolph Club in Boston, Mass.

Since its founding in 1880, the St. Botolph Club, named for a VIIth century
Irish monk, has been promoting social interaction among its members who are active in the arts, humanities and sciences (The name of our city, Boston, is a contraction from Botolph's Town). Like St.Botolph, our members, both early and current, have been devoted to cultural pursuits among friends. Members included painter John Singer Sargent, poet John Boyle O'Reilly, American historian Francis Parkman, Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells, innovative educator Charles W. Eliot, and poet Peter Davison. Current members includecellist Yo-Yo Ma, painter Steven Trefonides, Art School President Deborah Dluhy and Katherine Sloan. The Club was the first American venue for an exhibition of Claude Monet in 1892. Club members currently host artists in a variety of fields at special weekly events such as musical performances, lectures, readings and round table discussions. The Art Committee coordinates 6-8 exhibitions each year primarily featuring the work of living artists.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Close those goddamn doors: An Afternoon With Louisa Solano

(picture of Gordon Cairnie and Louisa Solano)

Close those goddamn doors: An afternoon with Louisa Solano.

" Close those goddamn doors!: An Afternoon with Louisa Solano: Memories of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop"At the Wilderness House Literary Retreat

On Aug 6 2006 at the Wilderness House Literary Retreat Louisa Solano, former owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop held court for a few hours of casual conversation concerning her experiences running the famed Harvard Square bookshop for over 30 years. It seems that almost every major contemporary poet passed through these doors at one time. Here is a sampler of what Solano had to say about the times and poets she knew:

Gordon Cairnie: (the founder of the store)

“These goddamn browsers, close those goddamn, doors!” This was a declaration often heard by Solano. Cairnie was “quirky,” and did have a temper according to Solano. Solano said, “After I bought the store I had a whole line of people who told me that Gordon ruined them emotionally. It was the way he talked to them.” Cairnie in part was reacting to the browsers who never bought a book, and the ones who shoplifted. Obviously keeping people out of the store was not good business sense. But Solano felt there was a prevailing attitude at the time that poets were abused by society, so poetry and commerce were viewed as totally separate entities. After he died Solano recalled that many folks thought it was a “sin” that she took over the store.

Solano on shoplifting:

“According to a study 98% of people steal. People steal because it is an adventure, a high. It’s like shooting up; you have to do more and more. You become an expert on justification.” Solano said that studies indicate that shoplifting is highest among people in religious orders. She recalled that a monk with a flowing robe ripped her off. She said, “His robe was a little less flowing when he went out."

Solano on Harvard Square:

"Whatever part of the country people come from, the suburbs or little working communities, they come to the square and reality diminishes. She continued:"People are walking in a state of grandeur. I remember being accompanied down the street by someone who said he was going to kill me because I was a Harvard capitalist!”

Solano on Robert Lowell:

“I met him twice. I thought he was homeless. He was carrying two bags full of newspapers, and he was disheveled. The first time he said to me: “Young lady. I want you to know that Gordon talked too much, and you should never do that.” He walked out of the store. A week later he came and said, “Young lady. You are not following Gordon. You don’t talk to customers.” I found out later that this was Robert Lowell.”

Solano’s favorite poet:

“Philip Levine. He has always been my favorite. I think his approach to poetry is wide open. He loved an audience. He was a great standup comic. I loved the love he had for the Jewish community. I really love him.”

Solano on the small press:

“I always thought the small press was the most interesting part of poetry. When I took over the store there was a big small press movement going on. This was the 70’s. Some magazines were printed on colored tissue papers, different sizes, etc… Most of the bigger presses were publishing Lowell, Sexton and Plath. They were not particularly democratic. Diana Di Prima was first published by a small press and then started her own, and it is still going strong. She has done translations, and poetry publishing.The University of Texas/Austin was wild about the small press. They probably now (besides the University of Buffalo) have the best small press collection.’“Black Sparrow Press’ started out selling books with three or four poems for a dollar. Most of the bookstores today would not accept these.”Even if you were published just in the small press; the fact was you were in a book on a public shelf. Then if things went well you would do another small press book. If things continued to go well, you would get known.

Solano on Charles Bukowski:

"He sent his poems out virtually everyday to every small press magazine out there. This totally demolished the myth of him as a disorganized drunk. He wouldn’t be able to do this if he was."

Solano on Ed Hogan founder of “Aspect” magazine and “Zephyr Press”:

“Ed was brilliant. He had a lot of energy. He talked endlessly and rapidly. He got a great group of local poets together, and got the magazine out.”

Solano on Allen Ginsberg.

“I loved Allen. When he died I thought the world would cave in. He visited the store when he was quite ill. He looked yellowish and diminished. I was shocked. I thought of him as immortal. He brought poetry in the open from a very closed 1950’s America."

On Jack Kerouac:

“When I first met him he was sitting down at Lowell House. (Harvard University.) He was wearing a checkered shirt, and sloppy chinos, partly because he was so fat. The audience loved him because he was what they expected. He was the crazy writer. At the end of the reading, Desmond O’Grady, a wild Irish poet (I was madly in love with him), and I escorted him to a bar in Cambridge. There was a young woman who announced to Kerouac and all the guys around him that she wanted a “multiple lay.” Kerouac didn’t do anything and just waddled off to the bar. We got him back to where he was staying and he passed out. The next day we met him at the Oxford Grill on Church St. in Harvard Square. The news came out that Plath committed suicide. Desmond threw his arms around Jack and very dramatically said “We are the only ones left.” Jack said,” Stay away from me.” He was homophobic. The last we saw of him he was walking down Church St. with two Harvard undergraduates looking for the perfect “Gold,” --
marijuana. "

*The Ibbetson Street Press has released the book "Louisa Solano: The Grolier Poetry Book Shop"by Doug Holder and Steve Glines which can be purchased from Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143 $10 or through

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/ Aug 2006/Somerville, Mass.