Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rubber Side Down- The Biker Poet Anthology Edited by Joe Gouveia

( Joe Gouveia second from right)

Rubber Side Down- The Biker Poet Anthology
Archer Books, Los Angeles, 2008
195 pages
ISBN: 978-1-931122-19-1

Review by Stephan Delbos ( Prague Review)

Rumbling straight from the back roads of literature comes this energetic collection of biker poetry, edited by Massachusetts biker poet Jose “JoeGo” Gouveia. Featuring photos by Michael Lichter, biographical essays, retrospectives and 73 poems from 43 poets from North America, the Netherlands, China, Russia and South Africa, “Rubber Side Down” is both all-inclusive and exclusive; the poets are born of diverse backgrounds, from highwaymen to professors, but all are passionately united by their love of leather, motorcycles and the open road.

And it is passion that comes through most undeniably in the poems of this anthology, passion as clear as the rumbling of straightpipes down Main Street. And this is fitting, for, as MarySusan Williams-Migneault writes in her poem “Biker Poetry is more…:” Biker Poetry is the engine firing up/ blasting across the horizon/ stretching out before you waiting.” It is motion and emotion these poets are most concerned with, and at times the desire for speed seems more important than impeccable craft.

Though the poems vary in form, featuring loose free verse, rhyming ballads, and even “Baiku,” a clever twist on traditional haiku, the constant is a desire to relate a story, be it a memory, a biker legend, or a moment of intense or comical perception. The latter are presented most clearly in the aforementioned “Baiku,” which vary from the comic: “Laconia run/ to the strip to see the show/ bikes and boobs abound!,” to the meditative: steel rubber and chrome/ roaring through concrete jungles/ thunder storms roll in.” These Baiku by Jose Gouveia show just two of the multiple variations on the theme of Biker poetry.

It is clear that these poets are united in their subject matter, just as it is clear that they have little or no desire to be accepted by the academy. But this anthology represents not just a ramshackle collection of poems by men and women on motorcycles. Rather, this anthology, the first of its kind, is both a roadmap and a road: an historical record of Biker Poetry and a path toward a more organized and represented movement.

According to essays in the anthology, The Biker Poetry movement has its roots in the late sixties and early seventies, when The Hell’s Angels reached their highest point of notoriety. At this time, cultural representatives such as Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson, to whom the anthology is dedicated, produced representative texts on bikers and biker poets. Since then, the movement has literally cruised the great American highways, coming to fruition at various times in magazines and readings. Not until “Rubber Side Down,” however, has the movement had such inclusive and organized representation. There can be little doubt that the movement will continue to gather strength and that this anthology will serve as a touchstone for future publishers.

Though the themes and presentation of biker poetry may not be for everyone, these poets are undeniably active, even if until now their activity has mostly been within their own circles. “Rubber Side Down’ is an infectious collection of passionate, energetic poems, a must-read for anyone who rides and writes, or anyone who wants to keep abreast of burgeoning underground movements in American poetry. It is wise to remember the words of the late Thom Gunn, whose “On the Move ‘Man You Gotta Go’” is the first poem in the anthology: “One is always nearer by not keeping still.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Tracy Strauss, is an Emerson College Professor, a former resident of Somerville--she defected to Cambridge a little while ago--I forgive her. I had the pleasure to publish her in the LYRICAL SOMERVILLE and IBBETSON STREET. Recently she attended the prestigious writers retreat BREAD LOAF and lived to write about the experience. She sent me the article on the Mass. Arts Council Blog:

Tracy Strauss
August 27th, 2008

Tracy Strauss, a poet, prose writer, educator, and past recipient of a Somerville Arts Council Artist Fellowship, recently attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, set in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. We asked Tracy about her thoughts on the conference, and she passed along this terrific description of her particular experiences, ranging from the view (stunning), to the road (harrowing), to the writing (refocused).

Diary of a Bread Loafer
by Tracy L. Strauss

I just returned from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Ripton, VT, where 200 writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry gathered for twelve days of literary exploration. As I reflect upon my first-time attendance, I can say that my experience atop “The Mountain” was challenging, exhilarating, and inspiring.

Each day was filled with a lineup of lectures and readings by great writers, panel discussions on acquiring an agent and approaching book and magazine editors, craft classes, and writing workshops. A familiar face, Chris Castellani, of Boston’s Grub Street, was also present on the mountain to talk about writing centers, colonies, and other professional development opportunities.

Evenings brought the chance for us Bread Loafers to read our work in the Blue Parlor, where we cheered each other on and shared our latest pieces of poetry and prose. (Each day’s itinerary was delivered to us via The Crumb, Bread Loaf’s daily dose).

Studying with Patricia Hampl, I had the opportunity to share a chapter of my memoir-in-progress with faculty and fellow writers for critical response. A discussion about metaphor and structure brought my project into rack focus within my inner eye, and sent me off with keener vision, motivation, and direction.

During breaks in the action, I would take some time for a little solitude, sitting in one of Bread Loaf’s many Appalachian chairs, looking out at the contemplative majesty of the Green Mountains. The sun glowed over parts of it, casting shadows over others. My journey to Bread Loaf, as in the writer’s life, seemed to be pictured in those mountains – in the darkness and light, in the peaks and valleys, standing tall, reaching for the heavens.

The stars were amazing at Bread Loaf. The sky was like a planetarium, with perfectly lit constellations and even the distinct appearance of the Milky Way. Many times I found myself standing in the middle of a field with fellow Bread Loafers, our heads craned back as we stared up at the stars, unable to tear ourselves away.

Before my trip to Bread Loaf Mountain, I had heard about a sense of elitism that some said pervades the Conference. What I did witness was easy to simply tune out. Many attendees, myself included, chose rather to tune in the camaraderie between newfound friends, and, in doing so, unnecessary competitiveness disappeared from the radar.

With no cell phone access and limited internet, many Bread Loafers went a little batty over the course of twelve days in literary seclusion, but the Conference scheduled two fun-filled barn dances to provide an outlet for such energy. Imagine a bunch of writers at a dance – the kind of social situation most of us dreaded in junior high. Then imagine us in our own skins, dancing to “Thriller” and “Crazy,” and having the time of our lives.

Meals were a time for us to share stories about ourselves, and, in many instances to make further connections with agents and editors and writing consultants who sat alongside us at the dining hall tables. Midway through the Conference, we took a 1.5 mile hike to the Robert Frost Farm, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch, toured Frost’s cabin, and listened to a lecture by Jay Parini, who spoke about Frost’s inspiration in nature. Bread Loaf also continued its tradition of the Poets and Prosers Pig Roast one evening, with vegetarian options available.

My trip to Bread Loaf began with some bumps in the road: literally, recent floods washed out the road to Ripton, forcing me to take a detour, which meant a steering-wheel gripping forty-five minute drive through an unpaved ditch-ridden “road” that wound through the woods. At one point the path split in two, and I did not know which one was the path to Bread Loaf. I wondered if I was re-living Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” (Frost, who shared his craft at Bread Loaf from 1939 until his death in 1963, is legacy at this Conference.) I chose right, however, as a half hour later I came upon a small sign that read “To Bread Loaf” and included an arrow outlined in yellow “Caution” tape.

My time away from Massachusetts seemed to isolate me from my life yet it simultaneously brought me back to it. The road I traveled home was smooth – repaired and open – and filled with a renewed sense of clarity, and the drive to write.



By Doug Holder

Harris Gardner will be hosting a new Tapestry of Voices Poetry Reading Series that will continue the long literary tradition of the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, Mass. Gardner, a Beacon Hill Resident, co-founder of the literary organization the Bagel Bards , co-founder of Tapestry of Voices and the Boston National Poetry Festival (with Laine Senechal), widely published poet and real estate broker, is moving his poetry series to the Omni Parker House from Borders Books in Boston. The first reading will be held in the historic Gardner Room (named after Isabella, not Harris!) Thursday, Sept 11 at 6:30PM. The featured readers will be David Surette, and Victoria Murray Bosch. There will be an open mic that follows the features. Food and beverage menus are available in the Hotel. The reading is free and open to the public.

The Parker House is a perfect setting for Gardner’s venue. In an article in the Christian Science Monitor it reports that Boston’s Literary Trail begins at this august hotel and for good reason:

“The Literary Trail begins at Tremont and School Streets in the Omni Parker House Hotel, America's oldest continuously operated hotel, home of Parker House rolls and Boston cream pie.
It was here that Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne started the Saturday Club: On the last Saturday of each month, they would meet for readings, political discussions, fun, and food. Other members included John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Atlantic Monthly editor James Russell Lowell. Charles Dickens was an honorary member who attended when he visited Boston.
However, when Henry David Thoreau was invited to become a member, he declined, saying: "I would rather sit on a horsehair couch with my peers than on a velvet one."
It was at the Parker House that Longfellow drafted "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and where Dickens gave his first reading of "A Christmas Carol." In the upstairs hall are the mirror and mantel Dickens used while practicing his speaking techniques.”
(Frances J. Folsom, April / 2002)

The Omni Parker House
Boston Omni Parker House Hotel
60 School St
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 227-8600

Contact: Harris Gardner

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Poet Afaa Michael Weaver: From the Factories of Baltimore to the Literary Milieu of Boston

(Photo by Lynda Koolish)

Poet Afaa Michael Weaver: From the Factories of Baltimore to the Literary Milieu of Boston

By Doug Holder

When Poet Afaa Michael Weaver walked into the editorial offices of The Somerville News his presence seemed to require a hush. He is a large, distinguished-looking, African-American man in his late 50’s who has made considerable contributions to the contemporary poetry world. This is not a poet who went straight from a top shelf college to an MFA mill. He is from the streets of Baltimore, a working class kid who wrote for The Baltimore Sun, and started his own small press while he toiled in the less than academic settings of a tin mill, and a Procter & Gamble factory. He was a member in good standing with the International Oil and Chemical Workers Union, and his hands were callused from hard physical labor, not pampered with a pen. Things changed for Weaver when he won a NEA grant. He quit his blue-collar job (much to his father’s chagrin) and went to Brown University to study poetry and playwriting. Later he went on to publish several critically acclaimed poetry collections, (his most recent “Plum Flower Dance”), had his work anthologized, his papers archived at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, and won the 2008 Pushcart Award for his poem: “American Income.”

Weaver said he was a very odd duck at Procter&Gamble in Baltimore. Few if any workers penned poetry while working with tin, and certainly no one was writing book reviews and articles for The Baltimore Sun. His fellow workers used to joke with Weaver saying: “You’ll die here with the rest of us.” But Weaver was determined to escape the pounding anonymity of the factory floor.

Weaver was fortunate to make the literary scene in the early 80’s when Baltimore’s literary renaissance was in full flower. Weaver met the famed avant-garde poet Andrei Codrescu (founder of the magazine Exquisite Corpse) and others who proved influential in his trajectory as a writer. Weaver said a lot of great writers passed through town to lecture and or read at the John Hopkins Writing Center. Weaver started the small press magazine “Blind Alleys” with Melvin Brown around this time as well.

Weaver laughed at the memory of himself as a sometimes-brash young critic. He remembers panning a poetry collection by Alice Walker writing: “A great novelist doesn’t always make a great poet.”

One thing lead to another and Weaver penned the poetry collection “Water Song,” that lead to his NEA, and his journey to the groves of the academy at Brown University in 1985. At Brown, Weaver intended to study poetry but he wound up studying playwriting with the noted playwright and director Paula Vogel. He was befriended and studied with such poets as Keith Waldron (Burning Deck Press), and George H. Bass, the literary executor of the Langston Hughes estate.

After Brown Weaver taught at Rutgers University, and other colleges. Along the way he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and founded the Zorra Neale Hurston Literary Center and the International Chinese Poetry Conference at Simmons College in Boston, where he is a tenured professor of English.

This year’s conference will be held at Simmons Oct 4 and 5. The press release states:

“ More than two dozen well-known poets from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the U.S. as well as academic scholars and translators, will meet to explore ways to improve communications between the cultures through the exchange and translation of poetry…The gathering will also focus on women and their role in contemporary Chinese poetry.”

Talking about his Pushcart Award-winning poem “American Income” Weaver said it was birthed when he a read a survey in a newspaper about how weight loss improves income prospects for the general population except for black men. The poem explores the lineage of the African-American experience and the heavy weight it carries.

Weaver has been through a number of marriages, was close to death from congestive heart failure, suffered the black dogs of depression, but now seems to be the picture of health and is enjoying his prime. He says he sees the trend of “careerism” in poetry shifting back to the importance of the poem as art and having something to add to our ongoing conversation with the world and ourselves.

Weaver loves living in Somerville, Mass. and remembers renting his current apartment (that he refers affectionately to as the “cave”) from Norton Real Estate, which the editorial offices of The Somerville News now occupy. He regularly attends meeting of the “Bagel Bards” in Davis Square whenever he is in town. Weaver may travel the world, and break bread with the big literary wigs across the country, but he feels most comfortable with his family and grandkids in Baltimore, and perhaps walking the unpretentious streets of our city.

American Income
by Afaa Michael Weaver

The survey says all groups can make more money
if they lose weight except black of other colors
and women of all colors have more gold, but black men
are the summary of weight, a lead thick thing on the scales,
meters spinning until they ring off the end of the numbering
of accumulation, how things grow heavy, fish on the
ends of lines that become whales, then prehistoric sea life
beyond all memories, the billion days of human hands
working, doing all the labor one can imagine, hands
now the population of cactus leaves on a papyrus moon
waiting for the fire, the notes from all their singing gone
up into the salt breath of tears of children that dry, rise
up to be the crystalline canopy of promises, the infinite
gone fishing days with the apologies for not being able to love
anymore, gone down inside earth somewhere where
women make no demands, have fewer dreams of forever,
these feet that marched and ran and got cut off, these hearts
torn out of chests by nameless thieves, this thrashing
until the chaff is gone out and black men know the gold
of being the dead center of things, where pain is the gateway
to Jerusalem’s, Bodhi trees, places for meditation and howling,
keeping the weeping heads of gods in their eyes.

( from “Poetry”)

* To find out more about the Chinese Poetry Conference go to:

--- Doug Holder