Friday, August 15, 2008

Gerald Richman: A Collector and Keeper of Fiction in Boston

Gerald Richman: A Collector and Keeper of Fiction Set in Boston

Gerald Richman is an energetic man, with a white bristle mustache and a strong sense of purpose. Richman, a professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, is the creator of an online bibliography the: “Annotated Bibliography of Fiction Set in Boston.” It started out as a two page reading list for a course Richman taught: “Boston: A City of Fiction” at Suffolk. Later it turned into a 40-page list, and presently it is an online list of 240 pages, with thousands of entries and detailed annotations. I talked with Richman on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: To undertake a detailed project such as this you to have a touch of the obsessive. There was a Dr. Minor (June 1834 – March 26, 1920) who was quite obsessive, locked away in a mental hospital in England, who was a major contributor to Oxford English Dictionary for instance.

Gerald Richman: I don’t think I am as obsessive as all that. But in some ways I have gone into more detail than I expected. The bibliography was about 40 pages long in Dec. 2007. I thought by March I would be putting the finishing touches on it. But I am not finished. Simply put, writers will continue to write novels set in the greater Boston area in 2008, 9, and beyond. There are older novels that I have missed. There are 20th century novels I missed. I even missed 19th century novels, in spite of all my searches on Google, WorldCat, etc… I stumbled on these and I added them to the bibliography. It has become a little bit of a burden on me. I know I will never complete it. By its very nature it’s never going to be completed.

DH: Are you ever going to pass it on to anyone?

GR: I never thought about it, accept to the fact that I will do it. Because of the nature of the Internet it will remain online in spite of what Suffolk does to it. The “Internet Wayback Machine” has a good portion of my bibliography.

DH: Is there a need for a resource such as this with Google, and all the other search engines, etc… available?

GR: My bibliography makes the search a lot easier. For instance: If someone was interested in all the fiction written about the Boston Red Sox they could find it. Like: “Murder at Fenway Park,” or several novels before 2004 that deal with the fictional breaking of the ‘Curse”—can all be found. If someone had to look in WorldCat or Google, it would be piecemeal. I am an organizer. I don’t do anything creative

DH: So what was your motivation to undertake this?

GC: It was originally to fill in the gaps of a reading list in a course I taught: “Boston: The City In Fiction.” There were no great works of fiction set in Boston between the Revolutionary War and the 1870’s, where Henry James and William Dean Howells set their novels. The Irish immigration, commercial development, rural New Englanders leaving the farm, many came to Boston and changed the face of the city. That was the gap I wanted to fill.

DH: Do you have to be a native Bostonian to write good fiction set in Boston?

GR: You don’t have to be a native Bostonian to write good fiction. For instance “The Last Hurrah” by Edwin O’Connor was written by an author who was born in Providence, the author James Carroll is also an outsider. Although you don’t have to be a native, in certain ways it helps. Jean Stafford, who wasn’t a native Bostonian, wrote “ Boston Adventure” which did a wonderful job of depicting Boston. Her introduction to the Boston aristocracy was no doubt from her husband Robert Lowell and his family.

DH: What is unique about fiction in Boston?

GR: There is no one single thing because there are many Bostons. In Beacon Hill upper crust Boston fiction, what’s important is not how much money you make, but who are your relatives. In this society cousins are all married to each other. Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in an article about Boston that you have to watch out about what you say in this stratum because you never know who is related to whom.

DH: I am going to throw out a few books I loved that were set in Boston and have you comment on them.

“The Last Hurrah.” Edwin O’Connor.

GR: An interesting book because it actually never mentions the word Boston. When I was researching “Fiction Set In Boston” on Google, etc…the book didn’t come up.

DH: The book was based on the political life of the late and very colorful Boston mayor James Michael Curley. What did he think of it?

GR: Jack Beatty, the author of “The Rascal King” the biography of Curley said that Curley would sue at the drop of a hat. When the film version with Spencer Tracy came out, Curley supposedly had a show down with Warner Brothers. There was a world premier in Boston and Curley wanted his cut of the gate.

Once, by chance O’Connor found himself in a taxi or subway with Curley. Curley said to him: “You know the best part of the book was when I died.” One of the minor characters in the book said (while the Curley character was in a coma): “I’ll bet he is in hell.” Curley briefly came out of his coma and said “I’d do it all again.”

DH: “The Late George Appley” by John Phillips Marquand.

GR: I never used it in my courses because although it was once a very popular novel, it would go a little slow in class. The character, George Appley, was a satire of an outdated, decent, but lost in the modern world Brahmin. When he tried to meddle in politics he was easily outwitted. It isn’t a great work of literature. It is an interesting book in the context of Boston.

DH: “ The Friends of Eddie Coyle” George Higgins.

GR: I thought it was a very good book. I was disappointed by its lack of “Boston ness” It seemed superficial. It could have taken place in Detroit or New York.

DH: What are the criteria for being included in the bibliography?

GR: It has to take place in the greater Boston area.

DH: You are obviously a bibliophile.

GR: I love books. I love Boston. I never actually lived here. I worked here for many years. My great grandparents lived in the West End.

DH: Are scholars using this bibliography?

GR: It’s being used but not really by scholars. I did get an inquiry from Michael Kenney of The Boston Globe who published a literary map of Boston in The Globe. He found my bibliography online. I get inquiries from people who are going to visit Boston for the first time

Bibliography URL:

---Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Riverborne: A Mississippi Requiem, by Peter Neil Carroll

Riverborne: A Mississippi Requiem, by Peter Neil Carroll, 2008, 73 pp., CT,
Higganum Hill Books. ISBN-13:978-0-9776556-9-4. Paper: $12.95

Reviewed by Jared Smith,

Riverborne traces the erosion, confluences, and-inevitably-growth that is
available to men of awareness, even as the Mississippi River itself erodes
and gives promise to our continent and society. It is a remarkable book, a
leaning back into the time when poetry was both literature and timeless
social commentary.

It is a collection of poems built around the brotherhood of two men, one
black and one white, who have lived their separate lives together for over
40 years, wandering the country and building lives and families, following
cross-country roads, reading and teaching and loving, losing wives, going
on. More than a discussion or remembrance from these men, it is a book of
correspondence with past literary figures, most prominently Mark Twain, and
the American voices he created and recorded. And it is a discourse with the
waters themselves, and the backwater tributaries that pour into the vast
Mississippi drainage along with their pollutants and other industrial
discharges, and basic "FOUR WORD SIGNS" of eternal hope and food. All of
these are washed away, immersed in the waters, and brought back as something
more complex and stronger, more multi-textured and more seasoned, than the
individual visions these men set out with 25 years ago when they first
traveled along the banks of America's river.

Dates in time are given in the titles of the opening poems of this book,
emphasizing that change and growth happen over lifetimes, but soon the exact
dates disappear from the titles "gone the way two men get bleached/under
fast moving suns, rained upon, lose/ the shade of hair, their speed." Time
itself becomes another mingling force within the stream, another distillant.
Known objects, animate and inanimate change their places and interact: "we
parallel their path on the bridged height,/approach tall branches of bare
trees/dressed with castaway pairs of gym shoes/a girl's brassiere, strange
ritual of wintered students.Here, I said to Jim, 'Here's where we start.'"

The travel a landscape of real symbols.hard, bitter, cruel, and shock-edged:

One sun-glassed cyclist's lettered leather jacket:



'Fell or jumped?' cracks Jim;

he knows about women

who leave men in a hurry.

Her dream; his fear; her insistence; his fury.

Time and experience speak from varied perspective echoes.overlapping
universes subsumed in poetic vision. The varied locational echoes are
important, adding depth and pull to the currents:

The running river speaks in signs, spills a low wave

to shore, startles a bare-armed mother spoon-feeing

her baby on the grass. Slow sun scorches

the torpid air, the wakened man lifts

a staticky radio to his ear,

catches the first pitch from St. Louis.

There are disembodied shocks that pull one in and out of reality:

"and then Jim spots real trouble in very fine print


Well, as this book develops its full field of experience, it becomes clear
that when you break away, when you are free even in a media-covered country
scared of its own shadows, you cannot be nailed to time. You cannot be
monitored by video surveillance because the force of life lies outside of
time. The river is to vast, too complex within its currents, too inevitable
for technology or paranoia to comprehend.

Here is America's heartbeat:

two spinning rivers writhe in circles,

charge into the watery labyrinth:

another beat, another maddened run.

Here is America's torn body,

battered as the continent.

Here tectonic plates broke the earth,

shuddered plains, shook the river

until her water ran backward.

Here in this book is a slow building power that can splinter and reshape us
in the heart of our country, where the New Madrid fault will someday
reassert itself in the heartland of our country,

as it did in 1811 and 1812 when the waters rolled backward as they will
again. This is a book well worth reading and keeping on your shelf, and an
experience well worth keeping in your mind.

BREAK TIME edited by Joe Bergin


The Carpenter Poets of Jamaica Plain

Edited By Joseph Bergin

@ 2007

Review by Lo Galluccio

“Dedicated to the men and women everywhere who practice the trade and craft of carpentry.”

This handsomely bound edition of poems by a collective of JP Carpenters contains many gems. From the sublime to the crude, the rugged to the rude, and on a level both seemingly pedestrian, but profound, it captures many facets of the thinking minds and labors of carpenter-poets. In fact what it does, is break the stereotype that there must be a division between the angelic thinkers and the industrious hands. The industrious have their muses and angels too, once they set about evoking them. For they emerge from after-hours jokes, nails and 2 x 4’s and the wily and noble task of measuring and fitting beams. Whatever the carpenter is building, his/her service is also a service to mankind and to the Earth’s maker. Certainly these poets can really sass out some poems.

In the Introduction they write:

“There’s much to be said about the parallels between writing and carpentry. There’s the act of creating something out of common supplies, fitting board to board, word to word, the beauty of the product and the pride in the craft. The house we live in, that poem that lives in us.”

In his poem, “Federalist Style” Jerry Abelow writes:

“A place for Puritans to hide.

soapstone sink, big and wide….”

“Growers of all kind.

sitting in the kitchen.

speaking their mind.

choke cherry trees

in the front yard.”

For me these lines evoke William Carlos Williams – “so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens” and New England’s wintry pride. The images here are crisp and the scene is vivid.

In “Life is Grand” Cyrus Beer writes:

“It’s hard to explain at dawn on a frigid winter morn

with boogers that are black, and fingers worn

But life is grand.”

As Joe Bergin, the chief of this project, a number of whose poems are featured, writes:

“Brave men all who face danger each day

for to create their brand of artisinal perfection

the little wisdoms on the job.

learned from repetition and countless errors elevate you.”

In addition, Joe turns in some finely attuned rhyme schemes and lyric verse on his trade. In “Carpenter Etiquette” he writes:

“Don’t block the driveway

Or leave tire marks on a wet lawn

Or arrive early Saturday morning

And start machinery at dawn

Burn offerings to the goddess of safety

And make your rig strong

Go ahead! Do it!

Climb up that 4-story staging

Just like King Kong!”

This is a worthwhile collection to read for anyone who believes in the concrete value of a real world, a natural world, put into lyrical forms.

Perhaps my favorite line of all is:

“Sing the praise of the forest loudly.”

Lo Galluccio

Ibbetson St. Press

Monday, August 11, 2008

Interview with poet, translator Clayton Eshleman: The Man Who Translated Vallejo.

Interview with poet, translator Clayton Eshleman: The Man Who Translated Vallejo

With Doug Holder

“ Cesar Vallejo is Peru's greatest poet. And Clayton Eshleman is a rare phenomenon who, as a translator, has unwaveringly dedicated five decades to making the poetry of Vallejo ring true, as evidenced by his massive “ The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition / Cesar Vallejo." One can’t ask more of a translator.” Tino Villanueva (Winner of the American Book Award)

“ There’s no one else on the contemporary scene with Eshleman’s width, depth and multiplicity, at home with ju ju bands, Yeats, Jay Leno, Byzantium abstracts, you name it, he’s inside it. He’s Mr. Synthesizer, summing up, overviewing, envisioning, always saying he’d like to be more humble and lowly, but always becoming more complex, multilingual and multicultural.” Hugh Fox( Founding member of the Pushcart Prize)


Boston University professor Tino Villanueva emailed me recently to inform me that noted translator Clayton Eshleman was coming to the Boston-area in the fall. He is to read at the Brookline Booksmith and the Pierre Menard Gallery in October from a new collection of his work published by the local Black Widow Press. Villanueva asked me if I would be interested in interviewing Eshleman as he was the groundbreaking translator of Cesar Vallejo ( 1892-1938), the Peruvian poet, and one of the great innovators of 20th century. His poetry is distinct, and a step ahead of others in his day. Although in is his short lifetime he only published three collections of poetry, his work was revolutionary. Vallejo took the Spanish language to new heights of raw emotionalism. He experimented with grammatical norms, and struck at the dogma and rhetoric of the Catholic Church.

Clayton Eshleman is probably best known for being the editor and translator for his definitive work: “The Complete Poetry /A Bilingual Edition/Cesar Vallejo” ( Univ. of California Press). Eshleman has published numerous collections of poetry, birthed two noted small press magazines, was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, received grants from the NEA , was the winner of the Landon Translation Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was the recipient of a National Book Award, to name a few honors.

Eshleman will read from “Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader” ( Black Widow Press) Oct 16th 7PM at the Brookline Booksmith, and Oct 17th 7PM at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Mass.


Doug Holder: For some reason back in the late 50’s you were adrift. After taking some American poetry courses, and creative writing workshops—poetry took its hold on you. What attracted you to this genre as opposed to fiction etc…?

Clayton Eshelman: While I was a student at Indiana University in the late 1950s, I not only took a course in 20th century American poetry, but met at more or less the same time two poets: Jack Hirschman, who introduced me to 20th century European poetry, and Mary Ellen Solt, who knew William Carlos Williams, and brought back to Bloomington after a visit to Rutherford, books by Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson, which she immediately showed me. Also in this period, via Colin Wilson’s 1956 book, The Outsider, I discovered the writings of Blake, Lawrence, Kafka, and the paintings of van Gogh—and was offered the editorship of the English Department literary journal, Folio. Up to that point, the magazine had only published student and faculty writing. I wrote to Duncan, Creeley, Louis Zukofsky, and Allen Ginsberg, and asked them for poems. All were interested that something seemed to be happening at Indiana University and sent Folio work. Then I hitchhiked to Mexico the summer of 1959, having also discovered the poetry of Pablo Neruda. Curiously I did not meet any people writing fiction at Indiana University. On one occasion I worked on a short story but as soon as I finished it I put it aside and forgot about it. Something was simmering right under the surface of me in those days and poetry heated it into a boil. Overnight, as it were, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

DH: You wrote in the afterword of in “The Complete Poetry: Cesar Vallejo,” that Vallejo’s poetry is:”…the imaginative expression of the inability to resolve contradictions of man as an animal, divorced from nature as well as from sustaining faith and caught in the trivia of socialized life.”

I can see elements of that in Whitman’s and Eliot’s poetry and the list goes on. What is unique about Vallejo’s take other than the fact he was writing in Soanish?

CE: I believe what I wrote about Vallejo that you quote is unique to him, especially in the way that he expresses it, not only through his own suffering but through a compassionate identification with the suffering of humankind.

Whitman’s sense of self-discovery, probably via a mystical sexual encounter (addressed in Section 5 of the 1855 “Song of Myself”) was tied into an idealism (in spite of The Civil War) that protected—deflected—him from facing the real human condition.
Eliot simply could not write about his own life in any direct and honest way. Ezra Pound’s editorial involvement in what “The Wasteland” became is so formidable as to make him co-author of the poem. And while the spiritual emptiness of life, according to Eliot, is certainly present in the poem, such only indirectly evokes his lived life.

DH: You wrote that while translating Vallejo you were struggling with the old “Clayton” who was resisting change. Vallejo was forcing you to break out of the “ Presbyterian world of light,” that you were born to. If you hadn’t discovered this poet how might your life be different?

CE : My life would be less rich than it is today. However, I was also reading all of Blake while I was translating the Poemas humanos in Kyoto, as well as Charles Olson, Charles Baudelaire, and Walt Whitman, and I think I could have found my way under their charge. Your question makes me recall: I once passed out while reading Blake. Years later, Gary Snyder who was also living in Kyoto in the early 1960s told me that he had dropped by for an unexpected visit, seen me sprawled on the tatami next to a copy of Blake’s The Book of Urizen, and, assuming I was napping, went away.

DH: To translate a body of work it seems you have to live with it 24/7; to you really have to merge with the artist. Is there a certain kind of madness attached to this?

CE: No more madness in translating, and probably much less, that there is at the heart of poetry itself. Or let’s call it visionary madness, the desire to pull the literal world inside out and turn it into an imaginative world. Translating is very scholarly activity and the translator, if he is to do good work in my sense of it, has to set fantasy and his own poetics aside while he is at work.

DH: Can you talk about the two small literary magazines you founded: Caterpillar and Sulfur?

CE: In New York City, in 1967, I realized that I was part of a very interesting new generation coming into poetry, and that we had no journal to support our work. Caterpillar, which ran from 1967 to 1973 (20 issues), besides including artwork, commentary, and translations, published the poetry of Robert Kelly, Frank Samperi, Jerome Rothenberg, Diane Wakoski, Jack Hirschman, Gary Snyder, David Antin, Adrienne Rich, Larry Eigner, the very young Rae Armantrout and Ron Silliman, as well as older poets such as Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Lorine Neidecker. Sulfur, which ran from 1981 to 2000 (46 issues) was, in essence, an expansion of Caterpillar.
Besides contemporary poetry, artwork, commentary (negative as well as positive), and a lot of translations, Sulfur also published a lot of archival material—writing by the great dead (otherwise moldering in special collections libraries), such as Olson, Antonin Artaud, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Hart Crane. My idea with Sulfur was to keep several generations “alive” in a modernist/postmodernist context that was international.
Your readers may be interested in reading an three-way conversation about our magazines between me, Paul Hoover, and Maxine Chernoff, in the current issue of the on line magazine, Jacket.

DH: You have been published by Black Sparrow and New Directions. Do you have any anecdotes about James Laughlin of New Directions or John Martin of Black Sparrow? How important is the small press for translators?

CE: New Directions published me in a couple of their Annuals, but they have never published any of my books. I had only the slightest acquaintance with James Laughlin. Black Sparrow, on the other hand, published fifteen of my books and my wife Caryl and I were close friends of John and Barbara Martin for many years. We all had some great times together. Caryl and I moved in almost next door to the Martins in West Los Angeles in 1974, and after they moved to Santa Barbara and then to Santa Rosa we were invited for many weekend visits. Barbara and I liked to cook together. While John’s heart belonged to Bukowski (a poet I have never had a drop of interest in) he published all the poetry I sent him for some thirty years in handsome, responsibly-produced editions. And he did the same thing for Kelly and Wakoski. I once pushed him clothed into his swimming pool in Santa Barbara to show him how much I cared about him.

I would say that small or alternative presses have been as important for the translation of poetry as university presses—or that has been my experience, having had translations published by Exact Change and Soft Skull as well as University of California Press and Wesleyan University Press.

DH: Can you talk about your latest collection from Boston’s Black Widow Press “Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader?” Is this what you would consider the definitive collection of your work? Can you talk about your association with the Black Widow Press/

CE: The Grindstone of Rapport, due out this October from Black Widow Press in Boston is in no way a definitive collection of my work—thanks to the generosity of Joe Phillips, the publisher of Black Widow Press, it is an ample Eshleman Reader, 630 pages of poetry, prose, and translations, spanning over 40 years of publications. It is, so far, the most accurate overview of what I have been up to since the early 1960s.

At the point that John Martin retired (and ended Black Sparrow Press as I knew it), I had to find a new publisher. I asked the Breton translator/scholar Mark Polizzotti, who lives in Boston, if he had any ideas. He wrote me that there was a new press in the city publishing French Surrealist poetry in translation, and that he thought they might be interested in my work. So I sent the manuscript of what became An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (2006) to Joe, and he accepted it several days later. In 2007, he brought out a collection of prose poems, essays, notes, and interviews, called Archaic Design. I consider myself very lucky to have connected with Black Widow Press.

DH: Noted poet and translator Hugh Fox said told me you are the signature example of the American poet success story? How do you respond to that?

CE: I feel that I have been moderately successful as a poet. I have always had a publisher, and I have been invited to read at hundreds of universities (and had a decent teaching gig at Eastern Michigan University for 17 years—1986-2003). However, I am not successful in the way that John Ashbery or Adrienne Rich are. My work has always been published by small/alternative presses, I have never been invited to read at, say, the 92nd Street Y in NYC, or at the Dodge Festival, and have never received any of the big grants or prizes, like a MacArthur, Lilly, or Griffin. While it is too complex to go into here, I find it disappointing that my work, along with that of Robert Kelly and Jerome Rothenberg, has never been the subject of much study or scholarship. We seem to be part of a ghost generation, eclipsed between the peaking of the Olson/Duncan generation (right before us) and the Language Poets who, in the 1970s and 1980s, were taken by many to be the new innovative kids on the block. I feel that Robert, Jerry, and myself have made a formidable contribution to American poetry, one that has hardly, really, been considered so far.

Paris, October 1936

From all of this I am the only one who leaves.
From this bench I go away, from my pants,
from my great situation, from my actions,
from my number split side to side,
from all of this I am the only one who leaves.

From the Champs Elysées or as the strange
alley of the Moon makes a turn,
my death goes away, my cradle leaves,
and, surrounded by people, alone, cut loose,
my human resemblance turns around
and dispatches its shadows one by one.

And I move away from everything, since everything
remains to create my alibi:
my shoe, its eyelet, as well as its mud
and even the bend in the elbow
of my own buttoned shirt.

--Cesar Vallejo

Translated by Clayton Eshleman

--Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/Aug 2008/Somerville, Mass.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

N.S. Koenings takes the reader across continents from her home in Union Square….

N.S. Koenings takes the reader across continents from her home in Union Square…

Recently I was on a literary panel on the Somerville Community Access TV show “Art Matters.” One of the writers on the panel was N.S. Koenings. Koenings who lives in the Union Square section of the city, teaches at Hampshire College in Western, Mass, and is originally from East Africa. She told me that she has lived on three continents, traveled extensively, so her fiction is not situated in one particular place. This is a frightening prospect for a Somerville provincial such as myself.

Koenings said she makes her long, once-a-week trip to Hampshire College to teach writing. She chooses to live in Somerville because of its vibrant arts community. In the ‘ville she has enough distance from her job that she can let her hair down, and drop the professorial persona for a bit.

Koenings the author of “Blue Taxi,” has a new collection of short stories out “Theft.” (Little Brown and Company). Like the author, who has a decided case of wanderlust, it takes place across continents and is full of vivid detail. Koenings deals with love and loss in Belgium, in Africa, and other non-Somerville site-specific locales around the world.

In the story “ Pearls to Swine” Koenings deals with a long-married, routine- stifled, couple living on a beautiful estate nestled in the hills outside a rural Belgium village. A couple of young female visitors interrupt their routine, and place a mirror to the wife’s blindness around the limits of her life and fuel a smoldering anger in her seemingly dormant husband.

If the devil is in the detail, then Koenings has flushed the bugger out. The author does paint a lovely picture. Here are the early morning hours as described by the wife: I wish I had this arrangement at my corner in the Sherman café:

“ You know I am always up at five to make the bread. For those first three days I made cramique, with raisins and lump sugar…and I’d set the table with clothes we got in Egypt. And arrange the fruit jars in the center of the table: gooseberry, blackberry, and my favorite, a clever marmalade I do with winter oranges from Spain. Then I’d pull the heavy curtains so I could feel the light change. I love this place best at dawn, when the sky gets keen with that strange blue that comes between the sunset and the night.”

The title story “Theft” tells a tale of a young East African bus tout, and a young woman tourist from Philadelphia. Both are very lost in their own ways. This story takes us on a cross-cultural existential journey in a heady exotic locale.

Koenings tells me she is thrilled getting this book published, and is also looking forward to be more involved with the writing community in Somerville. All I can say is: “Welcome Aboard!”

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update