Thursday, June 23, 2011

Somerville’s ‘The Pennies’ Will Play For the Drop of a Coin.

Somerville’s ‘The Pennies’ Will Play For the Drop of a Coin.
By Doug Holder

Pardon the pun, but “The Pennies,” a band of friends and a band of musicians are an unpretentious bunch willing to play at any number of venues for the sheer joy of it…and a little money wouldn’t hurt either.

I met with “The Pennies”, along with band member Chris Mancini’s father, at a Saturday morning meeting of the Bagel Bards at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square.

Chris Mancini, a Somerville resident, plays the banjo in the group and is prone to write love songs for his wife. He also happens to be the newly appointed Director of “Groundworks Somerville” that provides green jobs, gardens for the community, and all that good stuff for the environment. Mancini is very upbeat about our city: its location near Boston, the relationships with other artists he has formed, and because he graduated from Tufts University he has a sentimental attachment to our town.

The group originally “The Pretty Pennies” was founded in 2006, and they play 10 instruments including: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, upright bass, drums, harmonica, accordion, ukuleles, banjo, piano, etc…

The group members describe the genre of music they play as Americana, Roots Rock and Country Music. Mancini described this music: “It’s an older style of country, including the Blues and Soul—a hodgepodge of music—a literal stew.” Mancini added: “Music should be fun—people want to be entertained—you need to play it for yourself and an audience—it is an egalitarian thing.”

The group has a new CD out “The Broken Heart is a Beautiful Thing.” The CDs the group produces are engineered by Dave Tiper, one of the Pennies and a music teacher at a private school in the area.

I was informed that all group members write songs. Tiper said he can be influenced by snippets of conversation he overhears or songs sung by other folks that inspire him to write his own version.

Mancini has written poems about his separation from his wife when he is on the road for work.

Caroline Campbell McCormick, the vocalist in the group (she also plays harmonica) is inspired by her baby yet to be birthed on this world’s stage. She said her other influences include: “The Blizzard of 1978,” books of poetry, turns of phrases, etc…” “Melody is my instrument,” she added.

The group is ubiquitous, playing at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square, The Arts Armory, Sally O’Brien’s, The Precinct and points outside of Somerville and the state. On Aug. 16, 2011 they will perform the national anthem at Fenway Park in Boston.

The group is decidedly grassroots, and nothing smacks of exclusivity or oppressive intellectualism. Be you a tot, or not—-very old or somewhere in the middle, it is well worth your while to check this group out!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Endicott College: One College: Two Literary Magazines

(Beverly, Mass.)

By Doug Holder

Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. is known for many things-- a fine Nursing School-- a spanking new and cutting-edge arts center, a much lauded internship program, a great creative writing program, a beautiful campus by the sea--to name just a few things. Well... it also has two fine literary magazines as well. The Endicott Review is an undergraduate journal that publishes established writers as well as emerging student writers. In the current Spring 2011 issue poets and writers such as Luke Salisbury " The Answer is Baseball", Gary Metras the founder of the Adastra Press, Timothy Gager, founder of the Dire Series in Cambridge, Mass., Paul Steven Stone--Creative Director of W. B. Mason and author of the novel "How to Train A Rock," as well as faculty members and many students appear on the page. The Review also offers fine artwork and photography. It is edited by professor Dan Sklar.

Also on board is the magazine " Ibbetson Street." Ibbetson Street has an office at Endicott and in this issue accomplished bards like Richard Hoffman, (Poet-in-Residence--Emerson College), Jennifer Barber ( Founder of Salamander Magazine), Celia Gilbert, Endicott faculty members Margaret Young and Dan Sklar, as well as a student book review of Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Maxine Kumin appear.

If you are interested in exploring the writing program at Endicott go to

Doug Holder ( office of the Ibbetson Street Press-Endicott College) Ibbetson Street The Endicott Review

Poet Linda Lerner: “Takes Guts and Years Sometimes”

Poet Linda Lerner: “Takes Guts and Years Sometimes”

Interview by Doug Holder

Recently New York City poet Linda Lerner visited the Boston area and revisited my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.” Linda has taught English in the City College of New York system for many years, and has lived the life of poet. Her first priority is her writing and has lived her life to accommodate this, often at the expense of financial security. She has been published widely, and has just released an accomplished collection of poetry titled “Takes Guts and Years Sometimes.” (NYQ Books).

Doug Holder: You lived near the World Trade Center when it was bombed in 2001. How did this tragic event affect your writing?

Linda Lerner: Oh, it definitely did. I had no experience of war like most people in New York. And it felt like I was in a war zone. And for the first time I had an idea what people must go through to see everything destroyed: homes destroyed—people crying in the street. I think it gave me a much broader perspective. My father was born in Russia and escaped at one point because of the Pogroms against the Jews. He often spoke of what it was like to be driven out of his home. Now I knew what it felt like.

DH: After 9/11 you were part of that tragic diaspora. You lived in the Chelsea Hotel for a while, right?

LL: Yeah. The day it happened I was teaching a class at the New York City College of Technology and in the middle of the class the sirens went off. They always go off in Manhattan—you don’t think anything of them—it is part of the norm. And then a student came in late and said a plane hit the World Trade Center. This was a student who was always late, so I figured it was a great story—excuse. But the siren didn’t stop and then someone rushed in to tell us what happened. They made us leave the building. I couldn’t go back home to Brooklyn because the bridges were closed. So a bunch of us spent the night at a colleague’s apartment—sleeping on the floor. We called hotels, but they wouldn’t take us. The Chelsea had a room, and I was there for a couple of weeks. It is a wonderful place—with such a rich literary and artistic history. I have a long poem about my experience.

DH: You have been long associated with the New York Quarterly which published your new collection “Takes Guts and Years Sometime.” The Quarterly is now run by Raymond Hammond. Can you tell us a bit about the magazine, and your history with it?

LL: Yes. NYQ started their imprint in 2009. This was the late William Packard’s idea. He was the longtime editor before Hammond but he got sick. He couldn’t put out the magazine anymore. Hammond has done a wonderful job with the Quarterly—he made it his personal project.

When I got out of college in the 70’s, my background in literature stopped around 1950. I knew I had to do something—someone suggested a poetry class with William Packard at The New School. So I took two classes with him. One was a poetry class, one was literature. I never submitted a poem before. I was new at this, but I gave him a poem. He didn’t think it was a masterpiece (Laugh). I couldn’t take criticism at the time and I never submitted another. But I stayed in the class and learned a lot about poetry. And then I started helping out with the magazine. When I started contributing a few years later he started to take my work. I interviewed Hayden Carruth for one issue. Carruth was a fascinating man. Absolutely brilliant. He smoked non-stop, popped sleeping pills, drank a lot. I was really nervous about the interview because at one point when I started it he said, “That’s a stupid question.” But as the interview went on it worked out very well.
I love the magazine especially its emphasis on craft and craft interviews.

DH: I read somewhere that you said you never compromised for a paycheck. Can you explain?

LL: I never let a job take over my entire life. I always had time to write. I wound up with a series of college teaching jobs that left me with time to write. In the end I may pay for it when I get really old. I never got involved in the politics of a job. I try to do a good job, but I always have to have time to write. It’s hard out there meeting NYC rents, etc…

DH: As a daughter of immigrants (Your father was from Russia) did this give you outsider status or a different view of contemporary American society?

LL: In all honesty it wasn’t until father died in 1985, did I start to identify more with him. As a child I was embarrassed by him, by his accent, his lack of education, by his old fashioned ways. I guess after he died I drew closer to him because he was not around to argue with. It was very hard for a bohemian artist child like me to deal with an old world father.

DH: What steered you to this sort of boho/arist/poet lifestyle?

LL; I don’t know to be quite honest. When I grew up I was the odd person—different. I was always getting in trouble—the black sheep so to speak. I really wasn’t aware of what I was until I got older. The rebelliousness was always there.

DH: Some of your works deal with gentrification in the city. Do you think Jane Jacobs’ vision of the city as urban village, with unique communities—is long past?

LL: I don’t like what has been happening to the cities. First of all the rents are so high the middle class is moving out. They aren’t able to afford it. I remember a couple of years ago I went down to Little Italy and it didn’t seem like the Little Italy I knew. Where I live in Carol Gardens in Brooklyn it still retains some of the old world charm, but it is rapidly changing. Gentrification is taking away from the charm and sense of community.

DH: It used to be easier to live the artist’s life.

LL; Back in the 70’s for an artist to live. My first apartment was in Greenwich Village. It is very hard now. The economy is bad. When I got out of college there were many jobs you could get. I took a civil service job as a social worker. Right now many of my friends are rooming together in small apartments to make a go of it. It’s not like the old days. Young people are moving home with their parents. A lot of the small bookstores have closed—we have the big chains and even they are closing.

DH: Is the poetry scene still thriving in NYC?

LL: Oh yeah. On any given night there are 7 or 8 venues. The scene changes all the time. Even more so now with all the online venues.

DH: Do you think online magazines are as good as print? Does it mean the same thing to be published in both?

LL: People say so but I prefer print. But there are some good online magazines. Everything seems to be moving to the virtual world.

DH: It’s a brave new world.

LL: Yes it is.

***** For more info go to