Thursday, May 08, 2008



Did you ever wonder where dreams end and real life begins? Well, this equation is no problem for Marian Kaplun Shapiro, the author of the poetry collection: “Players in the Dream, Dreamers in the Play.” (Finishing Line Press 2007) Her poems flow effortlessly from dreams to real life from the tip of her worn pen.

Shapiro, who was born in the Bronx, NY in 1939, and has a Masters and Doctorate from Harvard University, was guest on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”

The Bronx, according to Shapiro, was unlike our promised land of Somerville. Shapiro grew up in a large housing project that was conventional, stifling; and left little room for the imagination or creativity. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of Manhattan across the river was a welcomed escape for this young Bronx provincial.

Years later after leaving the Bronx, and heading to New England to Harvard, Shapiro became a practicing psychotherapist. She feels poetry and psychotherapy come from the same source. Shapiro reflected: “I pay a lot of attention to words—in my profession I have to listen closely to what people say.” In fact at Harvard Shapiro wrote her thesis that concerned short syllable words, and how they are infused with a great deal of emotional content. As Shapiro said “ The shorter the words the more feeling involved.” She continued: “ I think psychology and poetry connect with the primary part of one’s self.”

This poet describes herself as a Jewish Quaker. I asked about this unconventional combination. Shapiro smiled “ I never thought of Judaism as a religion. It was more of a culture to me. I call myself a Jewish Quaker because I don’t want anyone to think I was avoiding revealing my Jewish background.”

Growing up Jewish wasn’t a negative thing for Shapiro, it was, as she puts it “irrelevant” Sexism was a given in the religious life, and there was strong sentiment against interracial dating. “ I found these attitudes repulsive,” she said. She disliked all the talk about finding a nice “Jewish Boy”, and the negativism surrounding having a Puerto Rican boyfriend for instance.

Shapiro has only really started to publish her work in the last six or seven years. It just never occurred to her. One day she opened a now defunct journal “Sacred Fire,” and decided to submit her work. She was published and then it was off to the races.

In her collection “Players in the Dream…” she combines “actual” events with dreams. “Dreams and real life are highly integrated for me,” Shapiro said. While a Schizophrenic can’t differentiate between a dream and reality, Shapiro has no such trouble. But she definitely feels the overlap.

With all the talk of dreams I asked Shapiro if she was a Freudian or perhaps a Jungian. She smiled, and with her tongue firmly in her cheek, she replied, “I am a Marian.” And indeed she is.



Apple! He tastes the syllables
again, hearing red, green,
smelling sweet with sweet white juice.
Wordless, his one-year-old fingers
punctuate the air, towards
the refrigerator. Hah!
(There! In there!)

Wanderers in the Museum of
Antiquities we find ourselves attended
by the ancient Buddhas of Tibet,
by way of China. Gazing down they watch
kindly over us, the unenlightened.
We are tutored by the bodhisattvas,
humble heroes whose names we can't pronounce.
Gladly they waited here on earth, postponing
Nirvana for the sake of those who needed
them. For us. Patience beyond patience.
Blessing beyond blessing. Names beyond names.

In the beginning was the Word

And the Word,

infinite unspoken unspeakable
a transparent
coda of
just out of reach

like fog at sunrise.
or mirage?

Alpha Slugger Before the Big Time: When Boston Still Had the Babe, the new book on the World Champion 1918 Red Sox Edited by Bill Nowlin

Alpha Slugger Before the Big Time: When Boston Still Had the Babe,
the new book on the World Champion 1918 Red Sox

Edited by Bill Nowlin
Associate Editors: Mark Armour, Len Levin & Allan Wood
Rounder Books Burlington, MA

Review By Michael Todd Steffen

When we picture Babe Ruth it’s usually from one of the old newsreel clips of the great slugger in a New York Yankee uniform holding a bat or trotting around the bases after hitting a homerun. Not all of us remember how differently the destined hall-of-famer appeared at the onset of his career, known primarily as a pitcher in a 4-day rotation and, not as a Yankee, but in a Boston Red Sox uniform. (Fewer go back as far as to know that Babe was a native of Baltimore.)

Great events make great people. In April of 1917 the United States entered the First World War, a national commitment that touched the lives of most Americans and of most American institutions, including Major League baseball.

Editor Bill Nowlin comments that by spring training of the following year, "Assembling a team was far more difficult than usual, given the number of players…either gone to service or likely to be called," in the new book When Boston Still Had the Babe: The 1918 World Champion Red Sox (Rounder Books, 2008). Associate editor Allan Wood notes, "of the eight regulars in Boston’s Opening Day lineup, only two were holdovers from the previous year."

Initially Red Sox manager Ed Barrow tried to compensate for the absence of top athletes by filling in with little-known players who got their brief chance:
Eusobio Gonzalez (seven plate appearances over three games),
Red Bluhm (one at-bat as a pinch hitter), George Cochran (.117
average), and Jack Stansbury (who slugged .149 in 20 games).

Though a pitcher Babe Ruth it was known could outhit the amateurs trying to find their confidence, and in May Ruth went into the daily lineup, to have his first season as the dynamo of baseball that would make him a legend. By that year’s close the statistics and his achievement were staggering. Almost all of the players who pitched and played the field in the early 1900s either had very short careers or their performances were unexceptional.
In contrast, Babe led both leagues in slugging average by a wide margin in 1918…
Ruth’s 2.22 ERA was eighth best in the AL…In the World Series, Ruth beat the Cubs in Games One and Four,setting a new World Series record of 29.2 consecutive scoreless
innings, a streak he began in 1916.

When Boston Still Had the Babe comes out at a good time, 90 years after the 1918 season, the year of Ruth’s rise to superstar status with an invitation he could not refuse (he was traded by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee) to go play for the New York Yankees the following year.

After the 2004 and 2007 World Series championships, Boston fans may have proven themselves at last beyond the famous curse of 1918 marking the Red Sox’ last twentieth century Major League title. If this was a curse from beyond the grave, as some fans believed, it lasted 86 years. To write about the phenomenon before the Sox had a chance to vindicate themselves may have been unthinkable. Today it is palatable and timely. The book is a gem for true Boston fans with an appreciation for the city’s and the team’s history and tradition.

It features not only the story of Babe Ruth’s incipient greatness and the challenges of holding the team together during the war, but includes ample background on each of the 32 players of that year’s team, a Day by Day of the 1918 season, and a detailed account of daily events of the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

There are even 2 ½ pages dedicated to Harvey "Red" Bluhm who only stepped up to the plate once that year as a pinch hitter on July 3rd. His at-bat was lost to official records for 44 years, only to be corrected in the November 17, 1962 issue of Sporting News by sportswriter Lee Allen, who soared to the muses for a complimentary verse:

There once was a player named Bluhm.
To pitchers he symbolized doom.
Record-keepers insist
He belongs on the list.
But just when did he play, and for whom?

Michael Todd Steffen/Ibbetson Update/Somerville, Mass.

contact: Jennifer Sacca at (617) 218-4503, email

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Louisa Solano Corner in Cambridge, Mass.


Louisa Solano sent me this letter about Louisa Solano corner in Cambridge, Mass:

Cambridge, Mass.

Dear Doug: Thank you: The ten minute ceremony will be on June 21st, 11AM, at the corner of Plympton and Bow Street. Ifeanyi Menkiti as my favorite Community Elder will give the blessing, Jim Henle who initiated the measure as well as having initiated the move for the creation of the Ellen La Forge Memorial Poetry Foundation will unveil the "Square" plaque, and I'll say a few words.

How do I feel? Very happy. When you consider that almost five decades of my life have been spent in and around that corner, I can't think of a better location. Being born in Cambridge, graduating from the public schools, and having a father on the faculty of Harvard, I feel that Plympton and Bow straddle the world of town and gown quite nicely. I attended Sunday School, Brownies, Girl Scouts at St.
Paul's, Club 47, Cafe Mozart, Cronin's, etc., in the community and met poets, critics, students, professors primarily working out of the universities in the Grolier from the 'fifties on. I was introduced to the Grolier by Jacqueline Springwater, the wife of a Harvard Graduate Student, whom I met when we both worked at the Cambridge Public Library. One of the major motivations in my life has always been to bridge the gap between the general community and the university.

Since poets have always been "outside the cave," it seemed perfectly natural that if both communities were exposed to a variety of poetry, they would be drawn away from their confines and a greater awareness of each other would follow. I'm not sure this was logical but it certainly set me on a mission. I'd like to think that this plaque suggests that to some degree I've succeeded.

Doug: It is kind of
crazy wonderful isn't it? Regards, Louisa


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Greatest Uncommon Denominator (2) – Review

Greatest Uncommon Denominator Issue 2 – Review (
By Caroline Hunter

Greatest Uncommon Denominator brings together a group of provocative, disorienting, imaginative and crafted pieces of writing with disconcerting confidence. Each piece offers its own dark twist upon reality with nuance and skill but questionable sanity. It carries the reader into a wild journey of surreal inquiry and exploration.

Some of the short stories stretch the imagination and bring it back to a concluding relief, such as “El Alejibre” by D. Richard Pearce. This story is a harmless trip into magical realism and self-reflection, and includes animated skeleton dolls and a shape-shifting cat. The characters are boldly drawn and the environment described in delightfully peculiar detail. It leaves the reader with a feeling of incredulous amusement.

Other short stories take one on a trip to stranger and stranger metaphysical destinations, only to dump him/her in a state of mind similar to what I would imagine LSD might induce. Such a one was “The Salivary Reflex” by Tina Connelly. Its portrait of the main character, a woman who has a fixation with licking, is interesting in its intricacy; Alison describes her husband as tasting like “dust and dry-erase-marker stench.” However, the idiosyncratic details lead nowhere. Instead of bringing the reader to a new place of understanding, the many tastes that Alison describes as she moves through a short stretch of her life leave a bad taste in his/her mouth.

The characters in these stories are all unique; the problem is that you eventually realize that you would rather not have met them. Several stories, like “Offworld Friends Are Best” by Neil Blaikie, initially grab the reader with a confident narrative voice. Then this voice bunches up and spirals down into a psychological standstill while minute patches of illumination attempt to surface along the way. One gets the feeling that the story got bored with its narrator and went off to find somewhere else to be.

“Under the Flowers a Carcass Waits,” a poem by Rusty Barnes, is one of a group of pieces in this collection that carries the reader up a few stories from the circus of pathology that makes its rounds through the rest of the book. The first line, “Under a pear tree a sloppy-jawed mutt chews on a raw beef knuckle,” is a good example of the rich imagery that dominates the poem. In this piece and a few others, natural imagery carries an unsettling and vague plotline through to satisfying literary coherence.

Unfortunately, the majority of the writing in the Spring 2008 issue of Greatest Uncommon Denominator is more exploration than composition. I enjoy experimental writing, but came out of these stories feeling I had been used as a therapist by writers who should have let these stories mull a little longer in their minds before tossing them onto a page. Being strange is what you do on your own time; don’t let these authors break through the door to your psyche in the half-baked nightmare that is this issue of Greatest Uncommon Denominator. At least stick to your own nightmares, because the devil you know is better...

Caroline Hunter/Ibbetson Update/May 2008

BLUE LAND C.D. COLLINS (Polyho Press 10 Howard St. Somerville, Mass

BLUE LAND C.D. COLLINS (Polyho Press 10 Howard St. Somerville, Mass

In Somerville, Mass, the home of C.D. Collins, she lives amidst the east coast literary establishment. The fiction that is produced in these parts is often first rate. It often deals with the young, the disaffected, the urbane and privileged. The characters often are jaded, over-educated, underemployed, and in short not reflective of the hinterlands south, west and even north of the Brahmin waters of the Charles River. But in the west of Somerville, Collins writes about the folks who habituated the bygone tobacco farms of rural Kentucky, and other gone-to- seed burgs. Like William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor she writes with a gothic and highly emotional acumen that is at times striking. Collins who moved to Somerville from Kentucky some years ago, is an accomplished singer/songwriter as well as poet, who now has written a collection of short stories titled “Blue Land.” It examines the lives of mostly agrarian, poor white, folks in an unsentimental, authentic, and even spiritual style.

One of the most harrowing stories in this collection “Sin Verquenza” deals with a coke addict who works the line at a Delmonte Plant. The first paragraph of the story grabs the reader immediately in a chokehold, as the female protagonist describes the difference between a “Coke Head,” and a “Junkie":

“ A Coke Head and a Junkie are two different things. With Junk you hit up and just drop out. You feel very benevolent, but all you can do is sit there trembling and nauseated, your eyes slamming shut. With cocaine you are fascinated by your own mind, you feel smart and interesting and full of energy. Your life is suddenly ideal. Then the high is tainted by craving for more and you rev and rev till you climb the fucking walls. I do coke, but I am not in the gutter, you understand. I’m a worker. I save all my money past rent and food, for my Friday night date with the snowman.”

And here, in the same story, Collins exhibits her talent for the telling detail. In this passage she describes the evolving physical traits of a dysfunctional couple:

“ Same stiff dinners, same exact fights on Saturday night. My mother drew more and more inside, her head sinking into her shoulders like a turtle, her shoulders rolling forward. My father did the opposite, his chest popped out more and more, and his back began to sway, like a bad horse.”

In the story “Hiroshima” a young woman ponders the simple twist of fate that prevented one young man from courting her, and the consequence it may have had for the unborn child:

“ Would it have been different if Mr. Greenway had not been walking this way to the dairy, if the other young man’s step had not quickened as the image of her eyes surfaced in his mind? For it was not much time, just a moment, between the arrival of one and the arrival of the other, leaving with one, and leaving the other with the grandparents or an empty porch. Would the child that comes later have been the same soul destined to pass through this woman? Or is there a child whose soul still waits?”

In the best tradition of the small press, the Polyho Press has published a veteran writer who is hopefully on the cusp of the literary limelight.

* The Ibbetson Street Press will be releasing a poetry collection by Collins " Self Portrait With A Severed Head" this summer ( 2008)

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ May 2008/ Somerville