Saturday, January 02, 2010

Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey From Cleveland to Boston and Beyond Judah Leblang.

Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey From Cleveland to Boston and Beyond Judah Leblang. $16.

Take it from me turning 50 can be difficult, your motorcycle needs constant repairs, and your hairpiece never sticks right. It can even be more “challenging” if you are Jewish, Gay—and a man still in search of his identity—for his niche in the world. Have if you will, one Mr. Judah Leblang, a well-known storyteller and writer formerly of Somerville and a columnist for the “farm team”: The Somerville Journal. Leblang has come out of the closet in more ways than one with his memoir: “My Place: One Man’s Journey From Cleveland to Boston and Beyond…” Now if things weren’t hard enough for the kid; he grew up in and around a city (Cleveland) in the 60’s and 70’s that was know for a polluted river that exploded in fire, making the dirty water of the Charles seem benign and Brahmin. Leblang traces his time from that city to his time in Boston, and along the way changes his name, embraces his sexuality, comes to terms with his past, and hopefully is at a better place now as a 50 something guy.

If you are a Baby Boomer you will certainly relate to many of his references—the trappings of his middle class youth—such as nights with the family watching the Ed Sullivan Show, Davy and Goliath cartoons in the A.M., the Zenith Color TV set, and Mr. Ed—the one and only talking horse.

Leblang’s journey takes him from an awkward and shy Jewish boy in the ‘burbs –-to a man-- still a little shy and uneasy in his own skin, but more accepting of himself. Like anyone who has been on the second half of the roller coaster ride he has endured a number of bad relationships, he tries to reconcile with his very straight older brother—and even comes to term with Cleveland—that he has a serious love/hate conflict with..

At the relatively advanced age of 51 he feels the sadness and the levity at the lengths he takes as he searches for lost youth, love, and lust. In this passage that takes place in Provincetown, a summer Mecca for Gay men, Leblang thinks:

“I was a 51 year old man, hearing aid tucked discreetly behind my left ear, striving for youth, lusting after men a decade younger. But the only look I gathered was from a dusty, wizened character about my age, leaning against a storefront. Still, he examined me up and down, with a look that might have been lust or simply curiosity.”

This is an honest account, a very intimate book, that will make you feel uncomfortable, and perhaps a bit red faced. Why?—it will bring you face to face with that poor shlub of a kid that you once were—and haven’t quite completely shaken.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Somerville Native Son Kevin Gallagher: From COMPOST to BOSTON UNIVERSITY

Somerville Native Son Kevin Gallagher: From COMPOST to BOSTON UNIVERSITY

Interview by Doug Holder

Back in 1995 I was published in a unique Boston-based literary magazine COMPOST, and read at an arts center in Jamaica Plain with Boston poets like Sam Cornish, Jack Powers, Joe DeRoche, and others. Kevin Gallagher was one of the founding editors, and some years later I had the privilege of publishing a poetry collection by him. Gallagher, who was born in 1968, is a native Somervillian and his mother taught at St. Joseph’s some 40 years ago.

He is the author of three books of poetry, "Gringo Guadalupe"
(Ibbetson Street, 2009), "Isolate Flecks" (Cervena Barva, 2008), and
"Looking for Lake Texcoco" (Cy Gist, 2008). Gallagher is a professor at Boston University and currently lives in Newton,MA. with his wife and newborn son. His poetry has been published in Harvard Review, Partisan Review, Green Mountains Review, LitVert, Jacket, and elsewhere. His recent books are: Putting Development First: The Importance of Policy Space in the WTO, and Free Trade and the Environment: Mexico, NAFTA, and Beyond.

I interviewed him on my Somervile Community Access TV show: “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You were a founding member of COMPOST magazine based in Boston some years ago. How did it start, and how was it unique?

Kevin Gallagher: I was an editor, and I was an original member of the collective. We started in the early 90’s when MacIntosh and the computer were in style and you didn’t need a printing press to print something. It was before Blogs and other stuff. So we occupied this ten-year period in which out of our living room we could make a magazine. We were young, bohemian, and revolutionaries in Jamaica Plain in the early 90’s. Now we are over 40, mortgage-owning, adults with kids.

DH: But you still have your idealism, no?

KG: Absolutely. I live it every day. So as I said we started in the 90’s. A group of poets who were upset with the ingrained academic perspective that the publishing wing of Boston was all about at the time. You had to be involved with an academic quarterly-- that didn't look like fun--they didn't have any art and poetry. We wanted to include other genres of art. We wanted to be more inclusive. This was the late 80's and early 90's; the world was opening and Communism started to fade away. We had a global perspective. We also thought that American poetry, particularly in Boston, was very provincial. We focused a lot on the literature of other countries.

DH: You also had an all Boston issue.

KG: Yes. We focused on our own community, we focused on the country, and we focused around the globe. Each issue had a section that focused on Boston area poetry. We had people from all schools of poetry. We had national poets like Alan Dugan and Robert Pinsky. We had a 14-year-old girl from Roxbury. We were the first magazines that did an exclusive section of poetry from North Vietnam. Kevin Bowen was the guest editor--he is the director of the William Joiner Center at U/Mass Boston.

DH: How did it end?

KG: It was different things for different people. One person moved to Manhattan, one person gets married. We held together a little bit, but things changed.

DH: You edited an article for Jacket Magazine that concerned the one time Somerville poet Denise Levertov.

KG: I love to edit poetry. I edited an article for Jacket Magazine--I crafted a feature on her work. I asked her friends, academics, etc... to assess Denise Levertov in the 21st century. Mark Pawlak and others talked about her.

She was originally from England. She started out as a very formal poet. When Robert Creeley gave her a book by William Carlos Williams--it changed things for her. She fell in love with the American idiom. She transformed herself and became one of the core of new American poets. She had several books with New Directions. During the Vietnam War she became very political in her work. She read in front of huge crowds during demonstrations. Towards the end of her life she was an environmental poet.

DH: You are a professor at Boston University now. How does this fit in with the writing life?

KG: My day job is not about poetry. I'm glad--I do a lot of different things. I am an economist that looks at the world economy and tries to see ways to create a world economic system that can make everyone better off. I spend a lot of time in Latin America--my poetry is part of that.

DH: Can you talk about your latest collection with the Ibbetson Street Press:

"Gringo Guadalupe."

KG: To a certain extent my last two books "Gringo..." and "Looking for Lake Texcoco" ( Cy Gist 2008) are story sequences of poems written when I was in Mexico working on environmental issues. Lake Texcoco was a huge lake that was filled in, in Mexico City. A noted poet in the United States translated the collection. This book deals with the contrast between the indigenous people and global forces. There is something about soul and fate in it. The "Gringo Guadalupe" is a book that is a little sardonic. It deals with the birth of Christ. It is a series of sonnets about a husband and wife: Joe and Mary. Joe takes a job in Mexico. While he is in Mexico, an angel appears to his wife in the States, and tells her she is going to bear the Son of God. And she believes it.

DH: The last section of "Gringo..." is titled: "Frescos" These poems are short, tight, with crisp imagery. Some would say it is easier to write a short poem, that a wordy, more elaborate one. Your take?

KG: It is harder in my opinion. As a professor at Boston University--when I ask someone to do two-page paper, it is much harder than twenty. Each word counts more. So in this section, each poem is like a picture that tells its own story. Each poem has to have imagery--a strong lyrical quality--to get across the story.

Drive Bye
by Kevin Gallagher

I sat cross-legged swinging on my swing
feeling less alive than a marionette.
The neighbor’s children danced under the sunset
pulling each other’s hair while singing
songs that had a particular ring
that made them impossible to forget.
So I wasn’t surprised when the bullet
hit my head. I was too busy smiling.
I smiled when they put me in the casket.
I smiled when they lowered me under my stone.
It took my death to bury my hatchet,
the roots around me remind me of my bones.
They shot the living daylights out of me.
I can’t see. You can’t see me. But I be.
Copyright © 2002 by Kevin Gallagher

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

UpTown TurnAround by Don Alfieri

UpTown TurnAround
by Don Alfieri
© Copyright Don Alfieri
12/25/09 Limited Edition
Softbound, 10 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

When I was very young I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Don Siegel’s masterpiece based on a Jack Finney (who co-wrote the script) novel. Both the book and the movie were social statements made during the McCarthy era: for individual thought and against communism, that Darth Vader-like force of evil. Pods were placed in a home, when the family slept, the pods took over their bodies and minds.

UpTownTurnAround, Don Alfieri’s very short opening poem brings back memories of
that movie:


OneOfTheseYears, ThoughtMaryLynn

JetLag, YouKnow.”

InvasionOfThe BodySnatchers

But that’s just the opener. Each of the little poems in Alfieri’s chapbook is a commentary on society: drugs, a dismembered woman, and finally a hybrid poem-story of a relationship.

On first reading I admit I didn’t like this chapbook, probably because of the memories of Body Snatchers, one of the scariest movies I ever saw. It came out in 1956 and has remained embedded in my brain like a bad marriage. But, the more readings I gave these five poems, the more they grew on me. They each have their own truth, their own morality and their own impact. And if you spend time with them they will grow on you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Review of UNDERLIFE, by January Gill O’Neil

Review of UNDERLIFE, by January Gill O’Neil of Massachusetts, CavanKerry Press LTD 2009, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 74 pages, $16

By Barbara Bialick

Underlife is a smart debut collection published on beautiful recycled paper. O'Neil has a fine, imagistic lyrical voice well worth reading for its many layers of meaning as hinted at by the title, Underlife. You can easily divide the title up into two lists: under, referring to the burial ground, sexuality, the child under the power of the parents, the man under the power of the woman, the woman under the power of the man, African-Americans’ historical anger being under the thumb of “white” society. The word, life, referring to the natural world, children, the steamy side of sexuality, and motherhood. The poet says “Protect your strange and beautiful/underlife…”

Starting with “early memories” O’Neil establishes her ethnic identity from the top: “I am from hush puppies & barbecue/from chitlins & fastbacks/…Salt & Pepper stand at attention.” In “Early Memory” the author admits to having thrown a fistful of sand into a boy’s eyes—this after being called names for so long. “There must have been such rage in me, to give such pain.” Those are old images. She really stuns in the poem, “True Story #2: Missing”—where she tells the story of a young woman “missing” at home:

“First a foot, then the whole body/found wedged upside down behind/a tall bookcase./a young woman missing in a home/she shared with her family/most of her life./Eleven days misplaced/…simply, as if she disappeared/to that land of lost socks and/missing keys…”

In the section called “Ripe Time” she dedicates her love poems to her sexy married relationship. She needed something to write about: “So I reach back to when/the writing came easy, when poems fell like tree branches…” (“Something I needed”)
The poem “Rough Country” is a testimony to the imagination: “Sweet Baby, I have imagined your death/since the day we met, a horrific tragedy…My senses begin again to commit you to memory/only to be reborn back into the same rough country/weighing inside my brain like an anvil.”

O’Neil works as a senior writer and editor at Babson College. She is also a fellow with the Cave Canem Poets, co-hosts a literary series in Arlington, Mass., and has a blog called “Poet Mom.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Loss. By Robert R. Reldan

By Robert R. Reldan
2008; 56pp; Pa; Infinity,
1094 New DeHaven St., Suit 100,
West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2713.

Reldan doesn’t knock you down with big-bang language and emotions, but
as you read through Loss you slowly are filled with an overwhelming
sense of loss itself, missing the reality of the real world,
remembering the past, the dead, the realities that have departed from
you permanently. Ironically, it was only after I had finished reading
Loss that I discovered that Reldan himself is not only in prison but in
solitary confinement, and I think that this solitariness creates an
unexpected intensity of feeling in the poetry itself.

I don’t mean it’s frantic, burning, a conk on the head, but filled
with a sense of almost buddhistic “distancing” from the realities of
Reldan’s own feelings, and the “distancing” gives it a special sense of
loss: “Black night --quiet time/Memory tiptoes through dusty
corridors/of the mind.../not knowing what it’s looking for/but kjnowing
it will recognize it/if found//There’s a first bike--/gathering rust,
tire flat/There’s an early birthday --look at all the balloons/There’s
a school day -- a dance --a vacation//There are so many things,
Memory/doesn’t know which way to turn...” (“Lost, But Found,” p. 17).

While you’re still surrounded by some sense of stability /having, you
don’t step to the edge of despair, but once you’re totally removed from
The Present, the Past takes over. And that’s what we have here, an
exercise in total deprivation and distancing so that the reader,
entering into Reldan’s

world, is stimulated to look at his own past in a much more
horrifically terrifying way. No Present, all Memory/Past. Loss is a
kind of beginner’s book of multi-dimentionalizing having and losing.
You walk away from it with your own view of your own personal present
and past totally changed, feeling more than ever not merely the
preciousness of what you have, but the transience of having it.