Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Novelist Paul Steven Stone and Poet Doug Holder to read for the Perkins School for the Blind

Novelist Paul Steven Stone ("or So it Seems," "How to Train a Rock") and Poet Doug Holder ("The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel--Cervena Barva Press)have been asked to read from their work at the Perkins School for the Blind (Watertown, Mass.) in the school's ongoing project to record books for the visually impaired. Here is a history of the Clive W. Lacy Recording Studio (at the school) and the valuable work they do. The Studio Director is Robert Pierson.


The recording studio was established with funds left to the Perkins Library by Clive W. Lacy. A patron of the library for many years, Mr. Lacy was often frustrated by the lack of “significant” materials in the book collection. His generous contribution enabled the library to establish a professional recording studio environment where narrators could record books to be added to the National Library Service (NLS) collection.
Planning and research for the establishment and installation of the recording studio began in mid 1987. Bill West, Audio Book Production Specialist with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and Ray Fournier, a Braille and Talking Book Library patron, were instrumental in this process. Their willingness to give guidance and to share information was invaluable.
The original Lacy Studio was located in the lower section of the Howe building and had two analog booths. At the end of 1999, the entire Braille and Talking Book Library relocated across the Perkins campus to a newly renovated building. Additional funding made possible the purchase of four new recording booths and the hiring of the first full time studio manager.

Like the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL), the Clive W. Lacy Recording Studio is founded on the belief that people who are visually impaired or print disabled must have access to as many of the materials that are available in the public libraries as possible. Therefore, the studio produces recreational and informational reading to augment the Perkins BTBL collection. These books range from novels, biographies, and poetry, to children’s books, books on travel, history, and cooking.
Because the Perkins BTBL primarily serves residents of Massachusetts, the studio produces many recordings of books on local topics, and/or by local authors. In addition, the studio records English and United States literature of lasting value. To serve the most Perkins BTBL patrons, we record books that will interest many rather than just a few.

The purpose of the Clive W. Lacy Recording Studio is to provide high caliber recordings for the listener’s enjoyment and enrichment. The studio strives to produce recordings that are accurate reproductions of the text and faithful renditions of the author’s message, while paying careful attention to sound track quality.

An Audience for David Ferry

An Audience for David Ferry, at the Suffolk University Poetry Center, Thursday May 1 2010
by Michael T. Steffen

Though I’ve been more a visitor to than a citizen of the “country that his poems made”my acquaintance with David Ferry’s work and name predates my particular awareness of him as a master translator and honored poet in his own right. Before I’d unwittingly enrolled myself in the singing school of translation, focused on the poet Pierre de Ronsard (which interested and required a lot of attention to Horace, a magisterial influence for the young French lyricist of paradoxical loves and apostrophized odes) I’d read Mr. Ferry’s rendering of Gilgamesh, little thinking in those days that the epic of ancient Mesopotamia would root into the earth of my memory to hold as it has.

For most of us Homer is as tangible a great father of poetry to be located, and the alpha of his Andra, if not mu of his Manin —will seem lunar enough of an island of origins for the milling young poet to plant his flag and say, From here I mend my sails. Let us go.

But David Ferry outdistanced most, if not all, English language poets in the archeological voyage, with the help of Professor Moran, by giving us the story

of him who knew the most of all men knew;
who made the journey; heartbroken; reconciled;

who knew the way things were before the Flood,
the secret things, the mystery; who went

to the end of the earth, and over; who returned,
and wrote the story on a tablet of stone.

Lost in translation, in thoughts thereof, and of the rare accomplishment of Gilgamesh, I waited for David Ferry to begin his reading.

Considering the span of personal notoriety and the great ancient names Ferry crosses (not long ago I’d read a passage from his translation of the Æneid in Poetry magazine), my mind was hardly prepared to see just a normal human being stand up to the podium. I may have been expecting a hovering spectral aura (behind a curtain to shield us) echoing with cavernous voices from the deep past to a murmur of fountains. That is the kind of ambience imagination can imbue an atmosphere with, I guess—as the man himself, not half as scary, on the contrary warm, welcoming, much admired, stood before us all, reading to us each, even to me. Or from where I sat, especially to me, as I remembered how I’d included in the introduction to my translations of Ronsard some comments on how the Renaissance poet transformed the phrases of his classical models to make new resonant language. “Cueillez dès aujourhuy les roses de la vie” to this day in most French ears remains as proverbial and familiar as Horace’s carpe diem, spread still around most of the western world.

Of so many readings from inspiring poets one is likely to attend in the area, a few will be especially remembered. This past Thursday’s reading at the Suffolk Poetry Center will be memorable for more than just myself among the standing-room-only gathering, including Fred Marchant, and the student and poet Mitch Manning who gave Mr. Ferry an insightful and impressive introduction.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kathleen Spivack: A friend to Robert Lowell and a Ping Pong companion to Elizabeth Bishop.

Kathleen Spivack: A friend to Robert Lowell and a Ping Pong companion to Elizabeth Bishop.

Kathleen Spivack was a close friend of Robert Lowell, played Ping Pong on a regular basis with Elizabeth Bishop, and attended workshops with Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Still, she is one of the most accessible poets I know. She goes out her way to help people, she has a slew of adoring students, and has an abundance of energy that seems to have not abated over the years. Spivak is the author of The Break Up Variations; The Beds We Lie In, Robert Lowell, A Personal Memoir; among other works. Spivack directs the Advanced Writers Workshop, an intensive coaching program for advanced writers. She is a permanent Visiting Professor of Creative Writing/American Literature at the University of Paris, Sorbonne. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: You wrote a memoir about your time with the poet Robert Lowell.

Kathleen Spivack: I was very close to Lowell. I have also know Plath, Sexton and poets from what are now called the "Middle Generation." I came to the Boston area on a fellowship when I was seventeen to study with Robert Lowell. Lowell forgot that I was completely green and he pawned me off on these other women who happened to be Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. He had me sit on that early workshop at Boston University with George Starbuck. So I became his close friend and sort of teaching assistant for 20 years of his life to his death. One of the things he did was ask me to come to his house ( on Marlborough Street in Boston) for tutorials two or three times a week. I thought he asked me because he thought I was just so stupid in comparison to the other students. I thought he going to teach me so I could catch up.

I chose Lowell because nobody understood his poetry, and his stuff was sufficiently obscure, that nobody would mind me studying with him, as opposed to the highly visible and controversial Allen Ginsberg. When I came to Boston Lowell was sufficiently obscure. So I went to his house . Eventually I moved into the Lowell household. His wife was Elizabeth Hardwick. Lowell was a complete advocate for me in every way. He took my work to publishers, etc.... He took my poetry to The New Yorker...that was my first publication. I don't know if he liked my work or not. But he was such a loyal friend. He wrote me these wonderful letters.

D H: You teach in France part of the year. Tell me how you got this gig. Are the French more receptive to your poetry than here in the States?

KS: I have taught all over the world. The way I got this steady gig in France was interesting. I was pregnant, and my husband had left me. I was living in Somerville in one room. One day I picked up a couple of hitchhikers. They were some kids on the street my age. They were trying to find a youth hostel. I was living in one room in Somerville, it was hot; and I was very pregnant. I told them they could come back to my place for a night or two. One night ended up becoming their entire vacation. And twenty years later I got a letter from them inviting me to become a professor at the University of Paris. So they were students that fell in love with American Literature. They went back and became directors of American Literature at the University, that wasn't even a "filed" at this point. America was still considered a savage tribe; and nobody was interested. But this young group was interested and they headed the selection committee some twenty years later. The original appointment was for 6 months, but now it has been twenty years. The French don't believe that creative writing can be taught, That is starting to change though.

DH: You have collaborated with musicians and composers. Does poetry enhance the music or does music enhance the poetry?

KS: Poetry naturally goes with music. I went to Oberlin and I had a double major in music and literature. I wrote a poetry book titled "The Jane Poems" that was based on American music history. The words and music came together--it was an anti-war book. I performed with those with the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz all over the place. Then a composer put something together and we performed it in the American Place Theater. I also performed in France. I have had other works set to music as well. I worked with a young composer Eva Kendrick.

DH: What is your poetry teaching philosophy?

KS: I don't only teach poetry. Right now I am working with the Huntington Theater Fellows in Boston, and the A.R.T. Fellows, at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

I think people hold back when they write poetry. They save the best for last. I say start with your best--and write upward. I always push for that. I create a sense of process and keep outside of the product until I feel they are ready. But when they are ready I know they are going to win prizes. If you are on your path, in your process, I will protect that.

DH: You have written about the different approaches Plath and Sexton took to their poetry.

KS: I got to see their first drafts. I also saw Lowell's response. I think Sexton was the more natural poet. Slyvia was more controlled. Sylvia was very self-protected. Lowell couldn't access her work as well as Sexton. Sexton was a natural; it just flowed out of here.

Lowell wrote how surprised he was that Plath wrote "Ariel," because he could not have predicted it from the very staid, and perfect poems of her past.

I would like to see the mature work of both, but they both died young. Stanley Kunitz for instance, had a whole second flowering after he was 70.

DH: You were a regular Ping Pong partner with the poet Elizabeth Bishop.

KS: Lowell introduced me to Bishop when she first came to Harvard. She had arthritis. I went to her place three times a week to play ping pong with her. Believe it or not I was good in racket sports then. We talked about her problems, we had lunch, and at times she would read to me.

DH: Do you have a new book in the process of coming out?

KS: Yes. "A History of Yearning." It concerns my new way of seeing things when I got back from Europe. I am a child of European refugees. It is about history, art. It should be out in May 2010.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Somerville Playwright Colleen Hughes Writes a Drama Set in Teele Square.

Somerville Playwright Colleen Hughes Writes a Drama Set in Teele Square.

By Doug Holder

Somerville playwright Colleen Hughes walked into the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square on a cold and rainy April Saturday morning and navigated the maze of chattering poets of the Bagel Bards, so we could conduct an interview.

Hughes, 27, is a native of Somerville, and is working on her MFA in Playwriting at Boston University. Her first public presentation of her work will be at the Boston University Playwrights’ Theatre April 23, 2010 at 7PM. The play is titled “The Prayer Bargain.”

Hughes has lived all her life in Somerville, and currently occupies the attic apartment in her familial home in Teele Square. She attended high school at Arlington Catholic, and is a graduate of Holy Cross. Like many artists, native or not, Hughes has had a long love affair with our artist-friendly city. And for her immediate future anyway, she plans to stay put.

Hughes has been influenced by playwrights as diverse as Samuel Beckett, and August Wilson, and has studied with the likes of Kate Snodgrass and Melinda Lopez. Hughes wrote “The Prayer Bargain,” with Somerville as the setting. She told me: “ I wanted to partly deal with the way Somerville has changed over the years, and the issues that surround that.”

The play is set in the Teele Square area, and the players are a mother, father, daughter, and three boys. The girl comes home because of a broken engagement. She falls into the family web of problems: booze, unemployment, and stuff of that ilk. It all comes to a boiling point on Christmas Day. The daughter finds herself in the vital role of helping her dysfunctional family.

Although the play is not strictly autobiographical, Hughes knows her characters well, and certain elements are gleaned from her own life.

Hughes, who works as an editor of the “Cell Press” in Cambridge, plans to keep writing after she graduates. She will keep the day job, hopefully do some teaching, and submit to festivals… all the things young writers do to cut their teeth in the competitive arts market.

One evening, late at night, you might see a light burning in an attic apartment, perhaps in Teele square, and that might be Hughes—burning the midnight oil.