Saturday, January 01, 2011

Leo Racicot: A friend to Julia Child and M.F. K. Fisher

( Leo Racicot with his sister Diane--engaged in one of his favorite activities in NYC)

Leo Racicot is a Lowell, Mass. Native, but has spent much time in Somerville, Mass. For awhile he worked at The Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, and crossed over to our burg from the Republic of Cambridge quite often to live his life. Like Jack Kerouac, another Lowell native son, Racicot writes poetry that is spiritual, with ample doses of Catholicism and Eastern Religion. Racicot, a food writer, poet, and movie critic, among other things was befriended by noted food writers Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher and has many anecdotes about these epicurean icons, and other personages he has come across in his rich life and his eating of rich food. His latest book of poetry is " Alone in the Yard: Buddhist, Beat and Otherwise." (Big Table Press)

Doug Holder: You were friends with famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child.

Were Child and Fisher close? Did they have different perspectives on cooking?

Leo Racicot: I can never say enough good things about Mary Frances and Julia. Their presence in my life altered it in ways that came as a complete surprise to me. Here were two food icons who embraced a person who knew nothing about food except how to eat it. Life works backwards sometimes and their friendship came to me way before my ability to cook came to me. I still marvel at the dynamic. They were close friends, knew each other in France and Julia would often visit Mary Frances in Glen Ellen. Both had a marvelous mind, fertile, and always probing, and engaging as hell. They both steered away from shop talk; it was actually not easy getting them to talk about food. Julia loved long discourses on politics and international affairs (she hadserved in the OSS), the state of education, fashion, the environment. She loved to gossip and was not above breaking wind, regardless of where. I used to get a kick out of that. She also had the most peculiar habit of throwing things on the
floor (newspapers and magazines, napkins, table crumbs) after she was finished with them. She was made for television, a real comedienne in a league, I think, with Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. Mary Frances had a keen wit, too, but she did not go in for t.v. exposure, though she had been given many chances at it. She was more subdued, less a performer than Julia. She introduced me to a world I never thought I would know and people like James Baldwin, Isaac Stern, Molly O'Neill, James Beard, Rosemary Manell, Vincent Price and of course, Julia.

I miss them both terribly. They changed my Life.

DH: I find food very evocative and worthy of scholarly attention. I wrote my thesis at Harvard on food in Henry Roth's fiction, and we all know about Proust's little cake. Does food play a role in your own work?

LR: Your thesis is a marvel of craftsmanship and research and I had such a good time reading it! Food plays less of a role in my poems than it does in my non-fiction. I agree with you 100% that it is an amazing and important metaphor for more universal topics such as health, comfort, love. I LOVE to eat. Some people can take food or leave it. But I live to eat. And my weight is proof! Yikes! The doctor just told me that in three years, I have gained 40 lbs. Can you say "Macy's Parade helium balloon"? JOKE. LAFF.

DH: You contemplated being a priest, but you felt spiritually bankrupt with your experience with the church. What happened? You found poetry as a sort of spiritual elixir. Explain.

LR: I was raised strict Catholic, by nuns and priests, and fell hook,line and sinker for the whole shtick. I was just the other night watching again "The Sound of Music" and it struck me how very different my spiritual beliefs are now compared to how they were when I was a "good, little Catholic boy" and worshiped the church and all its teachings. I used to say Mass in my room using a cup, a tissue for the burse, a blanket for the chasuble. My faith was strong. But when some very serious crises hit, and I turned to the church for help, guidance, trust, it (they) let me down hard.I woke up. Through friendships with Allen Ginsberg at that time,and other Beat writers, also through exposure to other religions, I was opened up to more spiritual ways of thinking and being. I think God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts. I changed. And I am glad I did.

DH:Big Table Publishing published your poetry book; " Alone in the Open: Buddhist, Beat and Otherwise"-- tell us a bit about the collection.

LR:I wanted to fashion a group of poems that speak to the universal question, "What do you do when confronted with loss, pain, disappointment, tragedy?" Events we all experience. In using language to heal myself, I am told I found a way to heal others.

People who read the book tell me they have gained insight and hope from it for themselves. The poems incorporate Catholic, Buddhist, Judaic and Muslim concepts but their satisfaction lies beyond all of that. The work does seem to be coming from somewhere outside of me. My dreams are filled with poems, fully realized. I feel I am a pen and The Divine is the writer. I do pray a lot. I try to practice gratefulness. Life can be hard. But it is much harder if you don't believe in something, even if it is not a traditional form of worship.Writing is my religion. Writing is what has saved me from myself and my demons.

DH: You write movie reviews for the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge. I of course loved Pauline Kael's interviews--what makes for a good movie review?I LOVED Kael, too, and wish we would hear more about heroine this post-Kael age. Who is writing good reviews nowadays?

LR: Can you think of anyone? I said previously that writing has saved me but an equal thanks has to go to movies. If it weren't for movies, I don't think I could live. No hyperbole! My sister,

Diane, estimates I have seen at least 2000 movies in the last couple of years. I think you have to love the art of films in order to write a good review. You have to be able to watch recognized masterpieces but you have to love celluloid so much, you can also sit through something like "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and enjoy it for what it is -- which is garbage but someone thought enough of it to make it so it deserves to be watched, too! My favorite reviews are of movies where the dialogue is perfect or near-perfect: movies like "The Philadelphia Story" or "Wonder Boys" or "All About Eve" or "Amadeus" or "Julia" where not one line rings false. Those reviews are easiest for me to write because as a writer, my ear is overjoyed.

For me, movies are as aural as they are visual. I have to hear the director's intent. A movie has to sing!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year in Poetry: One man's provincial perspective. By Doug Holder

The Year in Poetry: One man's provincial perspective.

Doug Holder

Well-- I am writing this from my small table in the corner at the Sherman Cafe in Union Square. And I am writing with my gimlet eye fixed on the poetry world in Somerville and just beyond. I am not writing about the luminaries of the literary world: the Ploughshares, The Paris Review, the new schools, the latest trends, the much lauded retreats, you know the drill. I am writing for the most part about the everyday folks in my world who engage literary pursuits on the grassroots level.

I am writing about poet Kim Triedman who edited the acclaimed anthology "Poets for Haiti." Triedman tells me that all proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to benefit the people of Haiti. I am writing about Tom Daley, poetry workshop guru who created a one man show about Emily Dickinson that was a hit at the Concord Poetry Center. I am writing about Chad Parenteau who runs the Stone Soup Poetry Series and keeps the tradition that the late Jack Powers started alive and well. I am talking about Deborah M. Priestly and Tom Tipton, who run the Open Bark Series at the Out of the Blue Gallery, and have been a supporters of poets and poetry for many years. I am going to mention my pal Sam Cornish, the first Boston Poet Laureate, who continues to pound the pavement in nursing homes, schools, hospitals, to bring the word to the people. My friend, and co-founder of the Somerville News Writers Festival, Timothy Gager, still heads the Dire Reader Series from the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge and has had a prolific output of the best area poets and writers in town. This venue has been going on close to a decade! Gloria Mindock, the founder of Somerville's Cervena Barva Press produced a slew of poetry books this year (with the help of her loyal partner Bill Kelle) from their small nook of a place in Union Square. Marc Goldfinger, the poetry editor of Spare Change News, publishes a long-running poetry column that brings poetry from the street for you to meet. Marc is a great poet as well-and many are grateful for his long and hard work in the poetry community.

Shall I mention the Bagel Bards? Damn right I will. This iconoclastic group of poets, writers, poseurs, stumble bums, and publishers are going into their 7th year and still meet every Saturday morning at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square, Somerville.

My buddy Harris Gardner, continues to come up with great poetry venues. Gardner has started a poetry venue at the Liberty Hotel ( Formerly the Charles St. Jail), a stone's throw across the Charles River, and is starting yet another one at the Arts Amory in Somerville the "First and Last Word" series with his pal Gloria Mindock. And least I forget-- Molly Lynn Watt warms our world with her Fireside Reading Series in North Cambridge, Mass.

Oh--how about the magazines? I am not going to mention the Boston Review,Harvard Review and Agni, and their ilk--sorry. They get enough play. And we know-every dog has its day. So how about the Wilderness House Literary Review, headed by Steve Glines? Or the Somerville-based Istanbul Literary review edited by Gloria Mindock and Susan Tepper? There is a new magazine I noticed in town the "Inman square Review"--it may be the magazine for you. And of course the little treasure out at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. the "Endicott Review" of course.

And those book reviewers--I love them. I am talking about the ones who write for the online blog Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. Folks like Irene Koronas, Barbara Bialick, Zvi Sesling, Rene Schwiesow, Paul Steven Stone, Lo Galluccio and others have reviewed hundreds of books from the vast world of the small press.

Of course I have to mention my own press (Ibbetson Street Press) and magazine that has been publishing in these parts since 1998. We are pleased to be affiliated with Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. This is a great break for Ibbetson Street! I want to thanks professor and poet Dan Sklar for his efforts in our behalf as well as Chairman of the Humanities Mark Herlihy and Dean of Arts and Sciences Peter Eden.

Also--to the staff at Ibbetson, my fedora is off to you: Dorian Brooks, our managing editor, Poetry editors: Mary Rice/Harris Gardner, Website/ Linda/Ray Conte, Steve Glines/ Designer, Arts Editor/ Richard Wilhelm and Consulting Editor/Robert K. Johnson/.

And how about The Somerville News? What newspaper do you know that consistently publishes a poetry column ( Lyrical Somerville) and a substantial literary page? Not many, pal. Thanks Donald Norton, Billy Tauro, Cam Toner, Bobie Toner, George Hassett, for your support!

Bert Stern and Tam Lin Neville over on Quincy St. in Somerville continue to run the Off the Grid Press for you folks over 60 who have a hot poetry manuscript in your hand. A lot of local folks I know have put out new poetry books including: Zvi Sesling, Ruth Kramer Baden, Tam Lin Neville, to just give you the tip of the poetry iceberg.

Some many more out there to mention--but as always--words fail--- in any case Happy New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Where Once by Sally Allen McNall

Where Once
Sally Allen McNall
Main Street Rag Publishing Co.
ISBN 978-1-59948-263-7
2010 $14.00

…"It is tender where I cannot go.
Baghdad, where once gardens.
A shore where once wild strawberries this small…"

McNall's poetry is a conversation with her readers. We are placed into
situations and places we might otherwise not be:

"…watch a child die of hunger.
Go onstage howling and high.
Collect enough debris and ice to reflect light. Then orbit.

Be the mountain mudhouse in the earthquake.
Descend the fallopian tube.
Be the forest canopy as it ignites."

The poems are reaffirmations of the poet, the poets fundamental stance,
placing McNall as the narrator who muses about her surroundings, her life,
her time and her images are images from any century, except the poet
lets us see in minute detail the this moment's effect:

…"In that first nest, first dark burrowing, you learned
to love because you had to, to survive. You knew this, then.
Now there are other questions of survival before you.
There is anger everywhere in the world and sorrow
following. Even the Buddha would not tell you to forget
this, while you are busy remembering the bobolink,
snow-cricket, brown bat, peony, honeysuckle."

Some of the poems are political because of the presence of this particular
time and particular war raging, one against another, again. In one poem,
"Goodbye to Byzantium" the poet reiterates the empires reign and conflicts
that ensure with any powers that be, fighting for land, ideology and how it
effects one human being, one plant, one place, one animal. McNall brings
it all into her poems. She is an accomplished write.

"…Please hold the ladder once again
whilei reach for something I want
for you, the weight not yet in my fingers.
Its ripeness will let it go easily into my hand."

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor:
Wilderness House Literary Review