Friday, January 02, 2009

Poet Mike Amado: The Passing of a Young Poet

( Mike Amado--middle)

Poet Mike Amado: The Passing of a Young Poet

It must have been hard to walk in the basement of Finagle-A-Bagel in Harvard Square on a cold, gray Saturday morning, and sit down with the original members of the Bagel Bards, a bunch of grizzled gray- beard veterans of the local poetry scene. Here he was, all of 30 years old, and a sufferer of advanced kidney disease to boot. And because of his health life was indeed difficult. Mike didn’t finish college even though he was quite bright, and he had to survive on disability and the limited life that came with it. I never heard him talk about a girlfriend or a love interest. It must have been a lonely life for a young guy. And so there he was at the table, shaking a bit, perhaps stuttering, but saying his piece, and exhibiting an enthusiasm and energy that could put us all to shame.

Mike became a regular, accompanied by his pal Jack Scully. Scully had sparked his interest in the Bagel Bards, after reading an article about the group in The Boston Globe, written by Ellen Steinbaum. He slowly worked his way into the hearts of all the members. He work shopped his poems, took advantage of every reading opportunity offered, started to publish in the Bagel Bard house organs, as well as a wide variety of small press magazines. Mike even started a poetry series in his hometown of Plymouth, Mass.

Last Summer (2008) Mike attended the Solstice Writing Workshop at Pine Manor College and came back to the group beaming. He made new strides in his writing, and made new contacts in the poetry world.

During his time with us Mike published two collections of poetry: “Stunted Inner Child… (Cervena Barva Press), and “Rebuilding the Pyramids: Poems of Healing In A Sick World,” with the Ibbetson St. Press.

The last time I saw Mike was at the Somerville News Writers Festival (Nov. 22, 2008) He was in his element, dressed in a resplendent Chinese tunic, chatting it up with the faculty at Pine Manor College, and the many poets and writers he knew in the community. He was excited about the prospects of his new books.

While I was at work I got an email from a poet and a close friend of Mike’s, Irene Koronas. Mike had passed away surrounded by family and friends. Mike lasted way longer than he was expected to. He was fighting this disease since he was 13.

But in the time I knew him I never got the sense that he was jaded. He continued to be a rabid music fan, always had a child-like enthusiasm for poetry, and displayed an iconoclastic sense of humor. I will miss seeing him coming through the doors of the Au Bon Pain every Saturday morning with his pal Jack who towered over his slight figure like a gentle, protective giant. I’d always say “What’s up, Mike.” And god love him, he always had a scoop.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Marguerite Bouvard: "MY ASHRAM IS MY STUDY"

Marguerite Bouvard: "MY ASHRAM IS MY STUDY"

Marguerite Bouvard is a soft-spoken, contemplative woman, but don’t be fooled. She is a poet, writer and scholar who is committed to questioning women’s role in society, how we approach illness and death, and political injustices at home and abroad. She has published 15 books that cover everything from feminism to aging, and the role of prayer in hard times.

Bouvard is presently a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Center at Brandeis University. She has written a book: “Healing: A Life With Chronic Illness” about her experience living with “ interstitial cystitis” among other illnesses. Her latest poetry collection is; “The Unpredictability of Light.” I talked with Bouvard on my Somerville Community Access TV program “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Can you talk about the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, and your role?

Marguerite Bouvard: I have been doing research for a lot of books and periodically I give presentations. I go into classrooms, and I am part of a study group called “World Cultures.” There are all kinds of study groups, artists, poets, and scholars from around the world at the Center. We meet in groups and share our research. And it really centers on women’s experiences.

DH: Politics and Poetry can be a lethal mix. Often political poetry becomes mere polemic, not art. Is it impossible to write good political poetry?

MB: Not at all. I was born in Eastern Europe. I read widely the Eastern European poets. Much of their political poetry was wonderful.

DH: What American political poets do you read?

MB: I don’t like American political poetry-- it is polemical. The Eastern European poets have a sense of humor. They know how to take on the “system” in a very humane way.

When dissent is stifled, and I think it is being stifled in our own country, poetry is a point where you can be free with your thoughts. In fact, I just wrote a chapter for a book that is coming out: “Post 911,” My chapter is on poetry dissent.

DH: You have lived with chronic illness for a while now. Has your writing helped you cope, is it healing, a balm? Has the illness been a muse?

MB: It hasn’t been a muse. My writing is a raft—a rickety raft on a huge ocean. It’s what keeps me going. Sometimes I can work one or two hours a day. I can do more in an hour than most people can do in a day. I’ve learned to focus intensely. Once you become ill you become part of suffering humanity. I identify with people in China who are hungry, the victims of the school collapses, etc… It is a blood wedding. You marry a dangerous situation and you accept it, you embrace it.

DH; You talk about the importance of spacing in your poems. Do you have any formal meter in your work?

MB: I don’t.

DH: Can you describe your writing?

MB: My nonfiction comes out in gushes from one side of my brain, and my poetry just finds me. I’m very imagistic. It is sparked by something I see or hear. In my new poetry collection: “ The Unpredictability of Light”, one of the poems deals with a teenager who committed suicide. It really touched me because she was the daughter of one of my friend’s colleagues. I tried to get into her mind and discover why she did it. It came to me all of a sudden. I thought I understood what happened and that’s what sparked the poem.

DH: You have said that men are praised for venturing into multiple fields, and women are criticized. Why? Any examples?

Mb: When I first got my PhD I was one of the few women who were doing this in the field. In the 60’s women were portrayed as too emotional. This was really a male oriented society and it still is in many ways.

I can contrast this. My husband is French and when we were first married and went back to Paris I found his friends’ wives were physicists, lawyers and doctors. I couldn’t have got into law school or medical school at the time.

Women are not allowed to age, we must always be young. We are not given much social space. We are not supposed to be multidisciplinary. It was ok for Wallace Stevens to be an insurance executive and a poet, or William Carlos Williams to be a doctor and a poet—but for a woman, well, she is not supposed to do that.

DH: You studied religion extensively. There is so much strife attached to organized religion. Do you think religion can bring healing?

MB: I would like to bring a distinction between religion and spirituality. They are very different. I grew up as a Catholic. I left the church. I consider myself a very spiritual person, but I don’t like to be in any organization that’s telling me what to think and what to do. No thanks. So my ashram is my study. I meditate every day. I worry about organized religion because people are killing each other over it.

DH: You talk to the dying what do you say?

MB: I listen. There is no set conversation. People don’t know how to converse with the ill and the dying. You tell them how sorry you are for what they are going through. You ask them how bad is the pain, and speak to their condition. Our society does not want to give them space.

DH: When a dying person tells you that he is frightened of death and what happens after, what do you say?

MB: I had all kinds of experiences while meditating and also in dreams. I feel there is another world behind here, and the dying will find peace. What’s frightening is not the other world but the passage.

DH: Do you have a conception of what the afterlife is?

MB: Well, that’s very personal. I have had intimations of it while meditating. But I do not want to get into the specifics because that’s when we get into organized religion.

DH: Do you fear death?

MB: No. When people are very ill it is a great relief to be away from pain. Life and death go together. Death is all around us. In nature it is cyclical. You see animals dying, you see flowers die. If society was healthier we would see people die. We would accompany the dying, (not avoid them) and they would pave the way for us. When my mother was dying, I held her hand, and we spoke and that was very important.

--Doug Holder


I arrived here on a river
of thorns, harsh mother
who taught me
how to invent mornings, how to
clear paths in the thickets
of my head.


I threaded my way among
travelers pulling their carry-ons
and speaking on cell phones, their faces
shuttered, their steps erased
by the crush of other steps.
I skirted a woman struggling
with her cane. Mine
was invisible.


Now in this green kingdom
I listen to the grass telling
its stories to the rain as if it too
had just arrived and was busy
unrolling its parchment
of roots and wings.

--- Marguerite Bouvard ( Poetrybay 2002)

"Dirty Water” by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith and Jere Smith

A BagelBards Book Review

“Dirty Water”
A Red Sox Mystery By Mary-Ann Tirone Smith and Jere Smith
Hall of Fame Press, Kingston, RI price $22.95

Reviewed 1/1/09 by Paul Steven Stone

It’s another Sunday morning in Boston, summer’s in mid-flight and the Red Sox are on track to win their second set of bling-studded World Series rings in four years. Only it’s not just another Sunday morning in 2007. There’s a day-night doubleheader scheduled to kick off at noon, and a one-month-old baby boy abandoned in a backpack outside the players locker room at Fenway Park. And therein sounds the opening chord—sounding much like an infant’s cries—of a mystery that, before it’s done, will transit across murder, revenge, blackmail, immigrant smuggling and, enough Boston Red Sox lore and personalities to satisfy the hungriest citizens of Red Sox Nation.

The authors, a mother-son team and self-professed third and fourth generation Red Sox fans, have written a police procedural that’s as much devoted to revealing the insider’s world of Fenway Park as it is the culprits behind a multi-layered murder mystery. The fact that both the novel’s murder victims end up face down in the muddy waters of the Fens surrounding Fenway Park gives storyline weight as well as musical nuance to the book’s title. “Dirty Water” being not only a Boston-centric pop tune from the 1960’s, but more significantly the official Red Sox victory song played after every win at Fenway Park.

What adds spice to this chunky stew of baseball trivia and murder mystery is the appearance of actual Sox players and personalities who, though they only play minor roles, are brought into the storyline as living, breathing entities; pop idols for sure, but also fun-loving, sympathetic and slightly bawdy individuals. The novel’s two main characters, Boston Police Detective Rocky Patel and Sargeant Marty Flanagan offer a balance of cerebral clarity and dogged common sense, the former’s Hindu-based meditative techniques lending insight and direction to the latter’s old-fashioned Irish intuition. They know enough that, even when they’ve been led astray and fed the wrong leads, they never lose their grip on the right instincts. From the outset they’re committed to finding the killer that left the abandoned baby’s mother lying face down in…dirty water.

“Dirty Water” is a solid hit for mystery lovers and a grand slam for those Red Sox fans who enjoy reading whodunits as much as they enjoy a hometown sweep of the Yankees.

Paul Stone/ Ibbetson Update/ Jan. 1 2009

Paul Steven Stone is the author of: "Or So It Seems"

Reviewers have called it, “A Romp Through Time and Space,” “A Rollicking Spiritual Page-Turner,” and “ of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time.”
They were talking about my new novel, “Or So It Seems”. Check it out for yourself at or on
Also available at: Circles of Wisdom, Andover; Harvard Book Store, Cambridge; Porter Square Books, Cambridge; Out Of The Blue Gallery, Cambridge; Westwinds Bookshop, Duxbury

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009 from the Ibbetson Street Press

( Original Ibbetson home at 33 Ibbetson Street-- Poets from the "City of Poets Anthology"--the first anthology Ibbetson Street Press published---2000)

The Ibbetson Street Press and the Ibbetson Street Journal have been around more than 10 years now. Back in 1998, while sharing bagels at the Breuger Bagels in Porter Square Cambridge, arts/editor Richard Wilhelm, and my wife poet Dianne Robitaille decided to start the Ibbetson Street Press. We started as only a magazine, but eventually started to publish books and chapbooks of poetry. Our first collections were authored by Don DiVecchio "Earth Song," "The Life of All Worlds," by Marc Widershien,among others. Now in 2009 we have published over 50 collections.

"Ibbetson Street" the magazine, has published folks like the late Sarah Hannah, Mark Doty, Afaa Michael Weaver, Diana Der- Hovanessian, Danielle Georges, Ed Sanders and others over the years. Our books, magazines, and poets have been featured in The Boston Globe, Small Press Review, Verse Daily, WGBH, WBZ(Radio), NPR (Writers Almanac), The Boston Herald, Mass Book Award, and many other places. Our books have been praised by Howard Zinn, sam Cornish, Victor Howes, Afaa Michael Weaver, Dzvinia Orlosky, Lyn Lifshin, Fred Marchant, Matha Collins, Kevin Bowen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other notables. Ibbetson books and magazines are subscribed to and or collected by such libraries as: Yeshiva University, Brown University, Yale University, Poet's House (NYC), University at Buffalo (SUNY),Harvard University, Stanford University, to name just a few. Ibbetson Street was represented on panels at workshops at the Cape Cod Writers Center, Mass. Poetry Festival, Endicott College, UMass Boston, and in April it will be part of a panel on Small Press Publishing at Harvard University. Because of the reputation of Ibbetson Street I was invited by the Israeli literary organization "Voices Israel" to lead workshops, and read from my work in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. ( Dec 2007) It is a pleasure to see Ibbetson Street listed in people's credits in many literary journals. Just the other day I saw it listed in the American Poetry Review, Bloomsbury Review, Poets Market and other publications.

Since 2001 we moved to 25 School St in Somerville, Mass. This has been an incredibly productive time for us. Thanks to our landlords Patricia Wild and David Myers, we have had a great place to live and write, and we thank our lucky stars we can live in such a creative place as Somerville, Mass. I must say, Somerville is a truly unique community, and the town has been very good to me and the press.

Our satellite organization the "Bagel Bards" has taken off, and we have established a community of writers, who range from the highly accomplished to the aspiring. There are so many people but I can't list them all--I thank all the Bagel Bards of course.... my long time friend and big brother Harris Gardner, our thick-skinned designer and editor Steve Glines, Robert K. Johnson--our retiring poetry editor, Linda and Ray Conte, website gurus, Tim Gager (co-founder of the Somerville News Writers Festival)," The Somerville News, Dorian Brooks ( our wonderful copyeditor and great poet), Sam Cornish, Richard Wilhelm, Gloria Mindock (fellow holy fool), Hugh Fox (My small press mentor and crazy and brilliant uncle!) Afaa Michael Weaver, Irene Koronas ( new poetry editor), and the list goes on...

Hey money is tight...I still have a great gig at McLean Hospital, but I don't take anything for granted these days. But I want to thank you all for these great years!

Monday, December 29, 2008

MASSBOOKS OF THE YEAR/POETRY: Recommended Reading from the 8th Annual Massachusetts Book Awards--2008

Recommended Reading from the 8th Annual Massachusetts Book Awards

The Award Books
Blackbird and Wolf by Henri Cole (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In these poems the writer strives to fuse the mind and the world,meditation and observation, until what is seen becomes what is felt.

If No Moon by Moira Linehan (Southern Illinois UP). This cohesive and brave collection of lyric poetry invites the reader toexplore the author's devotion to embracing life, grieving death, and pursuing creativity.

Gulf Music by Robert Pinsky (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky explores the intersections between individual, cultural, and political memory through the idiosyncratic notion of forgetfulness.

Highly Recommended

Lawrence City by Cesar Sanchez Beras (Wellington House Publishing). Set in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the collection explores town landmarks such as the Ayer Mill clock, City Hall, and Bellevue cemetery.

Inconsiderate Madness by Helen Marie Casey (Black Lawrence Press). Casey’s poems focus on Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged as a heretic in 17th century Massachusetts, and explore themes of belief, devotion, and the relationship between religion and
the state.

The Alchemy of Grief by Emily Ferrara (Bordighera Press). Ferrara incorporates love, loss, friendship, and transformation in poems about the pain and healing of a grieving mother.

Descartes’ Loneliness by Allen Grossman (New Directions). A combination of comedy and tragedy, Grossman’s collection of poetry about death dares to find humor and peace in loss.

Under Sleep by Daniel Hall (U of Chicago Press). Written over a ten year period as an elegy to Hall’s partner, Under Sleep utilizes a variety of poetic forms and styles to relate the effects of a loved one’s death on the living.

From Mist to Shadow by Robert K. Johnson (Ibbetson Street Press). In a poetic exploration of his own life, Johnson shares thoughts on love, literature, family, careers, and the characters who have colored his experiences.

Beloved Idea by Ann Killough (Alice James Books) Killough struggles to understand through metaphor-heavy verse her feelings toward her nation, evoking images from American religion, literature, and politics.

Easy to Keep, Hard to Keep In by David R. Surette (Koenisha Publications). Surette’s musical verses relate autobiographicalstories from his life in and around Boston.

The Situation by John Skoyles (Carnegie Mellon UP). Skoyles addresses the relationship between life and death while incorporating love, loss, and religion.

Saving the Lamb by B.G. Thurston (Finishing Line Press). These poems use images from nature to illustrate aspects of human life and of the life of the poet in particular.

Judges for the 8th MassBooks in Poetry were Claire Buck (Department of English, Wheaton College),Lawrence Raab (Department of English, Williams College) & Vanessa Vargas (Forbes Library, Northampton)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Called Richard Yates On The Phone: Musings From A Minor Poet

I Called Richard Yates On The Phone: Musings From A Minor Poet

By Doug Holder

An editor of a new literary magazine invited me to write an essay on the role of the “Post Modern” Poet. Well, I am not sure what “Post Modern” means, but I am a poet, however minor, and hell, for what it’s worth I should know what my own small role is and even the role of the much bigger fish in the poetry sea. But I think I want to expand that question. What is the role of the writer?

Now I am not known for the intellectual heft of my writing, be it community journalism or in my straightforward poetry. But I always have prided myself on tapping into my instincts, bringing my rather provincial personal experience to the universal. So as it happens I was thinking of the late novelist Richard Yates. I was reading Yates long before he became tremendously famous from the movie with Kate Winslet, etc… “Revolutionary Road.” (based on the novel of the same title.) That book for me, was electric, as thrilling as Kerouac’s “On the Road”, but in a very different way. Both Yates and Kerouac made me go out and hungrily acquire and read everything they ever penned. They made me think outside my self-made box, made me realize the power of language and literature, and they spurred me on to read even more. From Yates, I found other chroniclers of the broad lawns and narrow minds of the suburbs in post World War ll America, like John Cheever and John Updike. And later I moved through the whole canon of contemporary American authors like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, Henry Roth, to name a few.

Some people say a great poem can make you cut yourself while shaving, or make you miss your subway stop. Well, I say it makes you want to call the author on the phone.

You see, years ago I lived in a rooming house in the Back Bay of Boston, right near where Yates lived. I used to see him shamble down Mass. Ave. He looked like a homeless guy; stooped over, disheveled—a man in serious disrepair. I heard he drank at the “Crossroads’, a bar a few blocks from the hole-in-the-wall I lived in. I went in a few times but I missed him. I probably wouldn’t have had enough gumption to speak to him anyway. So I tried to call him on the phone several times, but I got no answer. But the point is that his writing affected me so much I wanted to call him; I wanted to connect, in a tangible way.

He was a man of my father’s generation. And since I am a Baby Boomer, and lived in the suburbs of New York City (as did the characters in Revolutionary Road), I knew the milieu he wrote about. My old man was a regular “Dashing Dan,” a guy who hopped the Long Island Railroad everyday to the advertising canyons of Madison Ave. So in this novel “Revolutionary Road” I had a window into the mind of a guy trapped in this “Rat Race.” I had lived on a “Revolutionary Road” in Rockville Center, NY with my parents’ requisite barbecues and the tipsy cocktail parties that my brother and I witnessed at the top of the living room stairs.

Here was a writer who was doing an exegesis of this milieu, the one I grew up in and did not question (at least when I was in the thick of it). This regimented existence, from birth, death and infinity, was tightly choreographed, and I thought that it was the only game in town.

And since, during this specific time, when I was living in the Back Bay, I happened to be a denizen of a down-at-the--heels rooming house—a bathroom down the hall affair, with other gone- to- seed residents, and playing at being an artist---well, I thought Yates really spoke to me.

I often read his books, and at times they left me reeling, even crying. Even though I never actually spoke to Yates, Yates spoke loudly to me. So what do I think is the role of the “Post Modern” Poet? I think I told you, pal.