Saturday, October 03, 2009

I’m Just A Gigolo: Ronan Noone’s New Play: Little Black Dress

I’m Just A Gigolo: Ronan Noone’s New Play: Little Black Dress

Directed by Ari Edelson

Boston Playwright’s Theatre

Oct 1 to 25

Review by Doug Holder

Every now and then I make my way back to my old stomping grounds of Boston University to review a play at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. I attended Boston University from 1973 to 1975, and I am always surprised how much it has expanded and changed. On this evening I was to review Ronan Noone’s new play “Little Black Dress,” for The Somerville News. After shaking hands with Kate Snodgrass, the Artistic Director of the Theatre, my wife and I took our seats. The stage was already set with two actors portraying a scene of silent, bored domesticity in a sort of white trash abode.

I’ve heard a lot about Noone’s work. My brother Donald Holder, a Tony Award- winning lighting designer, and his wife Evan Yionoulis a professor and Director at Yale Drama, always like to talk shop, so I keep my ear alert for interesting fodder from the stage as well as the page. I have heard a lot about the playwright Noone, a 39-year-old young lion of the theatre.

The play concerns a couple of adolescents in a startup Gigolo business that serves a client base of long-in-the-tooth, frustrated housewives. Alex Pollack, along with Karl Baker Olson play the nascent Gigolos. Pollack’s portrayal of this reluctant, sorry and hurting sex worker is beautifully conceived. Marianna Bassham plays a self-deluded, long-suffering wife to a three sheets to the wind husband and mother of one of these naughty boys.

Throughout the play Henry David Thoreau’s oft used quote “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation” is liberally evoked. I don’t think the desperation here is quiet, with the father (played by veteran stage actor Jeremiah Kissel) an Adonis of spontaneous combustion, and the mother caught up in an all-encompassing fantasy world of Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Rock Hudson, and ah yes, romance. Every one of these characters are in search of, or in mourning for an identity.

Now the actor Jeremiah Kissel is a contemporary of mine, and I have seen him play characters in a walk-up, cramped theatre (boy did I love the old Lyric Stage!) on Beacon Hill, to many other venues over time. I have always been impressed with his range. He can play a working-class lout as in this play, or a dandy in a drawing room with an upturned snout. Man, this cat can act!

Again Alex Pollack is a young actor to watch. His role as a sexually conflicted, video gaming freak, and reluctant American Gigolo, is tragic and hilarious. Amy, the mother, played by Marianna Bassham, is wonderfully done, with a mixture of camp, vamp, and tragedy. My wife, who I drag along to many of these events, left with her two thumbs—up. Folks- you would be well served to see this black comedy—it will leave you unsure whether to laugh or cry.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don Winter's Last Book of Poetry?! A Review of Saturday Night Desperate by Todd Moore.

(Don Winter Center)

Don Winter told me this is his last book of poetry and it has been reviewed by small press icon Todd Moore, so I decided to publish this insightful review in addition to Irene Koronas'. Hope you enjoy, and I hope this isn't really Don Winter's last book!


Todd Moore

I remember getting hit once with a baseball bat right in the middle of the back and the force of that blow spun me around toward a girl who was laughing. Sometimes a book will have that same effect on me. Reading Tom McGrath’s LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND was like that. It was years ago. I was sitting in a shot and beer joint, some back booth, eating a burger with the blood and grease pouring out on my plate, and the beer tasted good and cold and I read that first page of LETTER and was hooked on McGrath. For me, reading poetry is personal and visceral, up close, in your face, mano a mano, like a fist in the eye.

Don Winter’s poetry hits me like that. I didn’t know much about his work until I read NO WAY OUT BUT IN, Working Stiff Press, 2008. The format itself is nothing to speak of. Maybe twenty pages or so, eight and a half is by eleven, the print font typewriter graphics, the cover a color snapshot of I assume his mother and father sitting on a sofa with Winter in the middle. She has her head cushioned affectionately on his shoulder. The chapbook is side stapled and then duct taped over. Something about the unpretentious way it was put together made me like it immediately. I liked it because it was a kind of fuck you way of saying I’m a little beaten up but I am still standing. I reviewed that chapbook the same day I got it because I had to. There are some books and that just seem to reach over, grab you by the shirt front, and there is nothing you can do but read them.

The same thing happened to me when I grabbed SATURDAY NIGHT DESPERATE out of the mailbox. The second I ripped the envelope open I knew I had to read it. I not only knew I had to read it, but I also had to start writing about it even while I was reading because I know Don Winter’s poetry and it’s the kind of stuff I go for. The same thing happens whenever I read a new Gary Goude poem or a new Ben Smith poem or a new John Yamrus poem or a new Ron Androla poem or a new Mark Weber poem or a new Milner Place poem. What I know more than anything else is that this is going to be a poem that is essential, vital, real and when I come away from reading it, it will be like walking out of a really good movie that I hated to see come to an end.

SATURDAY NIGHT DESPERATE , Working Stiff Press, 2009, is a working man’s selected, gathering the best of Don Winter from 1999-2009. It’s not hardcover, it’s not even glossy paperback. Instead, this is folded and stapled and stark black and white, definitely nailgun noir, bar whiskey jagged.


Mornings we ripped
shingles. When air temp topped
body temp we got buzzed.
We sat and smoked.

“I’d get monkeys
to do your jobs
if I could teach them not to shit
on the roof,” boss yelled.

We laughed like struck
match sticks. Down in the street
sheets just hung there on the line
like movie screens.

Winter understands the down and out world of the working man. “In Niles, Michigan, the working class town where I grew up, you were educated (euphemism for ‘socially managed’) for docility: conformity to the rules, obedience to authority, and receptivity to rote learning.” From Press of the Real: Poetry of the Working Class. Author’s Introduction.

Dressing Burgers at Wanda’s Grill

During his 23 years here,
on each one
he curls ketchup
into a mouth,
places two pickles
for eyes, two lines
of mustard for eyebrows.
The onion bits,
he says,
are pimples.

We watch him
leave alone after
work, come in the same
time each morning,
take his break
by himself, always the same
station blaring.

We watch him
finish off
each face with a top hat, mash
the condiments together,
bury each one
in a thin, wax box.
All those little white caskets
on the greasy steel rack.

As far as the academic world is concerned, the low life world of work and sweat and angst and going without and living with those impossible power ball dreams and getting laid off and getting fucked up and going out from a heart attack, cancer, or stroke should have no room for poetry in it. After all, isn’t poetry the private reserve for the MFA elite? The university professors? What about the poetry of Charles Bukowski? What about the poetry of Kell Robertson? What about the poetry of Fred Voss? What about the poetry of John Yamrus? What about the poetry of Gary Goude? What about the poetry of Mark Weber? What about the poetry of John Macker? What about the poetry of Ron Androla? What about the poetry of Gerald Locklin? What about the poetry of Tony Moffeit? What about the poetry of Raindog Armstrong? I wouldn’t trade one line of any of their work for all the academic poetry written in the last thirty years.

Breaking Down

I bought that car for $50.

To open the door
you had to pound
just below the handle.

When you turned a corner
the dash lights flickered
like a busted marquee.

The rolling noise
that charmed Vera
was a can of Budweiser
under her seat.

Night we split up,
she held my erection
& looked out the window
like someone
with a hand on a doorknob
stopping to say one last thing
before goodbye.

On the inside of the back cover there are these words:

From 1999-2009 Don Winters’ poems appeared in most small press (and many academic press) journals. He is off to discover a new path.

I could be very wrong and totally off base, but my take here is this book is Don Winter’s path, past present and future and he would be betraying himself along with Tom McGrath and Charles Bukowski and Gary Goude and John Yamrus and everyone else who put his own blood on the line for the line if he strayed from it. In his introduction, Winter tells a story about McGrath dying in a single room wearing a black mitten on a hand that he could not keep warm after it had received surgery. In some larger more important way, once you start writing poetry you put on that black mitten and you can never take it off.

Todd Moore

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Doug Holder to teach: Residencies at the Asylum: Poets at McLean Hospital / Newton Community Education / Starting Jan 12, 2010

To register for "...Poets at McLean Hospital" contact:

Newton Community Education

360 Lowell Ave
Newton, MA 02460-1831
(617) 559-6999

McLean Hospital is known as a top shelf psychiatric hospital with Harvard faculty psychiatrists, groundbreaking research, etc... But it also has been a residency of sorts for poets such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton. Poet Doug Holder worked at McLean Hospital for 27 years and ran poetry groups for patients for over a decade. He has interviewed the social worker for Plath and Sexton as well as the manager of Anne Sexton's rock band, he wrote an introduction to Lowell's classic poem about the hospital "Waking In the Blue" for Robert Pinsky's anthology "America's Favorite Poems", he was interviewed by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam for material for his controversial book "Gracefully Insane" and has talked to many others who provided a trove of anecdotes about these renowned and tragic poets. In this course we will cover McLean Hospital as a muse for their poetry, and the experience of these poets in the "Asylum."

Newton Community Education

360 Lowell Ave
Newton, MA 02460-1831
(617) 559-6999

Reviews of Don Winter's "Saturday Night Desperate" and Ed Galing's "Burlesque"

( Don Winter)

( Ed Galing)

Saturday Night Desperate
A retrospective 1999-2009
Don Winter
Working Stiff Press

Winter is like a portrait painter. Unlike Edouard Vuillard or even Picasso, in which the light tends to be diffused, Winter, like Rembrandt, who touches the darkness with a brilliant orange light. Rembrandt’s characters are the ordinary workers of their day captured in light and focused on, as their background fades in subdued color and form.

Fishing Near Dark

The wind stiffens between my teeth.
I watch old men lean
into it, cast their lines
out of the shadows.
All afternoon
we fished, caught nothing.
I should turn back
to the cabin. But he breathes
below the surface.
I change bait and I cast.
If I could I’d pull
the water over my head.
Beneath the choking air
I’d wait, know everything that falls
becomes my food at last.

The poets’ pen misses nothing in the experiences of his working class people and his insights reveal the extra-ordinary

“a man slips
into his seat
with a sigh
like an accordion
folding into its case”

Irene Koronas
Submissions Editor
Ibbetson Street Press

ed galing
iniquity press/vendetta books
isbn: 1-877968-33-1
2005 4.00

Ed Galing presents a time almost all of us have never heard of, or seen or been privy to, yet, his poems expose us to the bump and grind; strippers and comedians trying to entertain an audience of visually sex starved men. All this comes across in the poems. The reader will enjoy the show and will get acquainted with some of the characters behind the scenes. the poems look at life as it once was, naïve, compared to today.

“puttin the powder
on his scraggly

he looked at me
sadly and said

kid, whatever
you do,

don’t go into

Although the verse is brief in presentation, we the reader will come to understand what it means to reveal something never seen in public and we will dance with excitement.

“its only the chorus
girls, mostly,

who will go as far
as your money does.”

Irene Koronas
Submissions Editor
Ibbetson Street Press

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scarab-- the first literary magazine for the iPhone


Hey folks, another medium for poetry... a brave new world:

Scarab, the first literary magazine for the iPhone, now available in the AppStore
Scarab, the only literary magazine for the iPhone, is taking poetry out of dusty journals andputting it into people’s pockets. Featuring well known poets like Tony Hoagland and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic, Scarab is the first application where writers read their work to you.

Scarab represents the next step in literary magazines. The 2006 study Poetry in America,released by the Poetry Foundation, revealed that while the majority of Americans enjoyed poetry, less that 20% read literary magazines. Print journals are out of touch with their audience,of which about half reported listening to poetry as their main interaction with the art. By publishing through an iPhone application, Scarab offers a way for writers and readers to reconnect.

Scarab combines the intimacy of reading with the thrill of being read to by your favorite author.Taking full advantage of the iPhone’s capablilites, Scarab plays a recording of a poem, essay, or short story as the reader scrolls along with the text. Beta-testers found the experience to be an,“Ingenious concept that brought the poems to life.”

Each edition of Scarab consists of 11 works of poetry or prose, and an interview with a respected author. The content of the first issue is even more stunning than the use of the new medium.Scarab offers work by former Poet Laureate Charles Simic, National Book Critics Award Finalist,Tony Hoagland, David Rivard—recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship—and Chase Twichell,winner of the Hugh Ogden Prize for Poetry. There is also work by exciting new writers MRB,Chelko, Hannah Gamble, and David Blair.

The application is available through iTunes for $0.99 in the US, and makes use of the iPhone 3.0SDK’s new “in app purchasing”. The editions of Scarab are purchased and downloaded directly in the application to your iPhone or iPod Touch for $2.99 or a similar price worldwide.

About the Company Scarab is published by Old Brick Press, LLC, a company founded by former College of William and Mary roommates Ian Terrell and Brian Wilkins. Believing that exposure to the arts is vital to one’s quality of life, they work to take the best in contemporary poetry and prose available to the public. Because they want to support good writers as well as good writing, 20% of the purchase price for each issue of Scarab goes directly to the artists involved.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review of TWINE by Martha Boss

Review of TWINE by Martha Boss, March Hare Press, 200 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, 2009, 35 pages

By Barbara Bialick

Martha Boss, the author of this chapbook, declined to print a bio. No problem; she’s been a locally-loved poet for years and the lucky ones have copies of her previous chapbooks, individually hand-typed on a manual typewriter, with original drawings. Indeed, she penciled a sepia roll of twine to be printed for the cover, with the poems presented in typed form. There’s even a length of light brown twine wrapped around the spine and middle.

In the entry poem, “this twine” she notes: ”these beads on a string/this twisted existence of mine/this dna/encoded stranded string of me…in this earth…/in that sphere we share/once entwined, and then/undone,/still the same twine we wear/ & now redo in verse” Her poems are wry, sardonic, and yet beautiful streams that demand you to read the whole poem, one poem after the other, till the end of the book…

Contemplating the every day in light of the cosmos, she writes in “same idea”:
“there are some stars that/take years to burn out./these are thoughts it seems…some days it seems a dream/can only be realized in another dream/this must be what the earth is thinking.”

Or check “how do we know”: “how do we know/the accumulated hurt of millions/when daisies are picked/when trees are cut/…wasn’t it sad/when the machine broke/when houses foreclosed/when the air can’t breathe/when men sent to war can’t wait/to kill the enemy/when they come home & if they do/did you hear they sometimes shoot/themselves…”

Which leads us to “people use the word ‘heaven’ a lot” She wonders isn’t there really a heaven: “isn’t there a star over there with a/forest with nibbling deer & people/with fires & songs & pets to caress/and cross-stitch samplers that say/god bless our home?”

I could and will keep pulling quotes, but I say just read the book. As the author concludes about her craft in “there’s no end to a poem”: “it’s growing/showing up somewhere./it seems to end at the desk/& later pops up in the living room/…then it wakes up a good sleep/like an infant’s demand feeding/you feel like killing it./this poem/that cord/you can’t cut/…take it out for a walk./throw it in one of those trash bins/that recycle./it doesn’t care./it’s even ok/with being a bottle label.” She’s still hoping there really is a heaven we ourselves recycle to…


Sunday, September 27, 2009


By Doug Holder

It is one thing to tell The Somerville News what a wonderful thing the Somerville News Writers Festival is, it is quite another to put your money where your mouth is. Every year Grub St., along with Porter Square Books and others sponsor the festival founded by Tim Gager and yours truly in 2003.

I recently met with Grub St. head Christopher Castellani at the Diesel Café in Davis Square, Somerville. Castellani frequents the café along with a slew of other writers. One the day of our interview Castellani pointed out Boston Herald sports reporter Steve Buckley. Never at a loss to press the flesh I introduced myself to Buckley and he told me he has a long Somerville lineage as well as a new book out: “Wicked Good Year: How the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics Turned the Hub of the Universe into the Capital of Sports.” Castellani told me Buckley was regular at this bustling hub of java and laptops.

Castellani is not only the director of Grub Street, but he is an accomplished author himself. He has published two novels, most recently: “The Saint of Lost Things.” He has long sunned himself in the light of the Academy—earning a M.A. at Tufts and an MFA at Boston University. After Boston University, Castellani, a tall, balding man in his late 30’s, told me he taught at the much lauded Grub St. (now located in Boston) after graduating from B.U.

Grub St. was founded in Brookline, Mass. by Eve Bridburg in 1997. It had a stint in Somerville. It was originally in Bridburg’s home in the “Ville (I remember interviewing her amidst the din of her crying newborn), and later moved to a storefront in Union Square, Somerville. Castellani said: “Somerville was a great place for Grub. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer.”

Castellani told me that the philosophy of the school is to be supportive of the writer but provide him or her with rigorous instruction. There are classes for the dabbler with no critical feedback, but he tells his students to be prepared for critical comments in the workshops. The workshops are on “university level” according to the website, and are full of constructive criticism by the students and teachers.

Grub St. is not only valuable for its teaching, but also for its outlets for networking. They hold many literary events and conferences, where the nascent writer can make important contacts. Castellani, is no stranger to giving recommendations to worthy students so they can enter graduate writing programs.

I asked Castellani why he is a supporter of The Somerville News Writers Festival. He said: “It is a great way to connect with other writers and readers. In fact many of the readers over the last seven years like former Somerville resident Steve Almond have taught at Grub St. Grub St will have a table at the Book Fair that will take place at the Arts Armory on Highland Ave, Somerville from 11:30AM to 4PM before the main event at 7PM. All happenings will take place on Nov. 14, 2009.

After our interview Castellani and I shared our table for awhile, he on his laptop, me, with a pen and a schoolboy’s notebook, doing what we like best…writing.

For more information about Grub St. go to
For more information about the Somerville News Writers Festival go to: