Saturday, July 07, 2012

Writer Eli Jace: A Somerville Scout

Writer Eli Jace:   A Somerville Scout
By Doug Holder

  Eli Jace walked into the Bloc 11 CafĂ© in Union Square looking like he stepped off the set of a Grunge rock band. He is a lanky young man with longish hair, and sports a beard in its seminal stages. Jace happens to be the Arts Editor of the local magazine the Somerville Scout. The magazine describes itself as: “Direct, Vibrant and Local.”

  Jace, 25, is originally from Arizona, and came to Somerville last April. He did a stint as a stringer at a small paper in the Berkshires. But when the job went south he wound up in the Paris of New England, Somerville, Mass. Jace has a degree in Journalism, and he works at Target in Somerville to make ends meet. Jace told me that he lives with roommates near the high school on Highland Ave. He likes Somerville because it offers him the chance to write about a highly eclectic group of artists and events that are part of Somerville’s landscape.

 I asked Jace what he writes about. He said: “ I concentrate on music and sports. One of my favorite pieces is about the post-apocalyptic performance/music group Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. The iconoclastic group performed at the local club  Radio.  Jace writes in his article for the Scout:

“There was androgyny, Kabuki masks, red balloons, girls disrobing at intervals, breasts with mustaches, breasts without mustaches, Native American headdress… an inflatable Bozo the Clown, and some of the most chunky, grizzled rock’n’roll in town. My eyes were like wall sockets stuffed with too many plugs.”

  Jace said the market is very sour for aspiring journalists and like many folks of his ilk he hustles and struggles to get by. Journalism is not Jace’s only genre. He is also a serious fiction and poetry writer.

  He usually writes in the privacy of his apartment, and likes to take walks to Davis Square and Bunker Hill in Charlestown to clear his head.

 Jace is also a consummate blogger. He uses this medium to create an audience for his work He tweets, and uses other outlets to spread his word.

I asked Jace about the Somerville Scout—his main writing venue. Jace said: “ It was started by Holli Banks, and it is going strong with sponsors and advertisements. I profile members of the arts community. I find them by searching the internet, Google, etc…

 There was a burning question I had to ask the young writer. “ Do you consider Somerville the Paris of New England?” This thoughtful reporter paused and nodded yes. Jace then left Bloc 11, and with his reporter’s gimlet eye he undoubtedly was looking for his next story.

   For more info:

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Somerville Writer Suzanne Cope: A Locavore in the City

Somerville Writer Suzanne Cope: A Locavore in the City

By Doug Holder

  Old habits die hard. Now I find myself gravitating to the window seats at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville, Mass. It may be the darker environs in the back are less attractive as I press closer towards the 60 year mark--you know rage, rage against the dying of the light and all that sort of rot. On this morning I was at my window at Bloc 11 to shed light  on my subject for the day, writer Suzanne Cope.

 Cope is an Asst. Professor of English at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and lives with her husband, the musician Steve Mayone, on Laurel St. right outside of Union Square. She has lived in Somerville for 9 years, and is originally from Western New York. She earned her PhD from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. Like many a Somerville resident, poet, and writer that I have interviewed over the last decade she loves our city. She told me: " It is the perfect combination of the urban landscape with the green landscape. It gives me plenty of material to write about."

  Cope has experience as a Trade Marketing Manager at the venerable publisher Houghton Mifflin in Boston, and this summer she is working on a special project to promote the reissue of the novel The Hobbit  in conjunction with a new movie being released based on this work.

  Cope writes primarily in the Creative Non-Fiction genre. She reflected: " Creative Non-Fiction has been under the umbrella of Creative Writing for a long time. It is really a creative union of non-fiction craft and fiction. It takes the form of personal essays and memoir. It deals with emotional truth and memory."

  Cope is also a Locavore. The name reminds me of some extinct species eons ago but in fact is according to Wikipedia: "A person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market." And Cope writes a great deal about food. Her conversation is peppered with references to all sorts of cuisine. She is also an accomplished cook, and gets her ingredients locally. She writes about her culinary experiences on her blog Locavore in the City. She will also have a book coming out from a university press Locavore in the City in 2013.

  Cope said" I write about how food relates to culture. I am inspired by canning, familial meals, gardening, and my Italian heritage--which of course involves a lot of cooking.'

  Cope seems to be the kind of teacher who would easily engage her students. She teaches at Grub Street in Boston as well as Berklee. She finds that her students at Berklee are very creative and open minded due to their creative musical backgrounds. On her teaching method Cope explained: "I strive to have them write about something they care about. I want them to write from their own experience. If there is a personal aspect to their writing they will be more engaged in the work." Cope has used the memoir by the late Jazz artist Charles Mingus  Beneath the Underdog and profiles of other musicians to spark her students writing.

  Cope usually writes in the privacy of her own home. But now and again she ventures out and you may see her profile in the window of the Bloc  11 Cafe or the Sherman Cafe in Union Square-- yet another young writer thriving in theParis of New England--Somerville, Mass.

Monday, July 02, 2012

All This Dark 24 Tanka Sequences By John Elsberg and Eric Greinke

All This Dark

24 Tanka Sequences

By John Elsberg and Eric Greinke

Woodcut by Ogata Gekko (1873)

Cervena  Barva Press

Somerville, Massachusetts

32 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

When my wife and I first got married I enthusiastically plied her with little presents. For each of the usual gift occasions (birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas) I spent an exorbitant amount of time shopping for items that would be eye catching, express some delicateness of inner feeling and also be doable within my paltry budget. Some guardian angel inevitably transported me to the creaking wooden floors of Daniel Lowe’s in Salem Massachusetts. It was an old fashioned department store/ curio shop with a main showcase at ground level and an upstairs gallery. Every table exhibited marvelous creations for all to see: music boxes, German clocks, Irish crystal, Chinese China, seascape and landscape prints, gargoyle lamps, doilies, etcetera from seemingly every exotic place on earth. Each item considered for purchase I had to handle, turn at angles or upside down, all the time being careful not to horrify my fellow shoppers by dropping it and thereby asserting my credentials as the clumsy oaf that I appeared to be and, indeed, was. Then, of course, in another tricky motion, I exhibited my subtlety to all dubious onlookers by putting it back in place exactly as I found it. These poems by John Ellsberg and Eric Greinke remind me of those elegant and sometimes strange pieces of miscellany sold in that yesteryear treasure-shop.

A tanka (meaning short poem) is a Japanese traditional poem made up of thirty-one syllables in five lines. The poems are usually two tiers with this syllable structure 57577  . Although the term tanka appears first in the early twentieth century, it comes from a 1200 year waka (Japanese poem) tradition. Waka poems in this form show up in Japan’s first known poetry anthology compiled in the eighth century.

The authors of All This Dark order their tanka poems in sequences of three, each sequence with a suggestive title.   Some of these sequences bring you to the edge of a story line. Some suggest surprising associations. A third group seems to pull you in to a deep elegance, admiring the curves and the geometry of the poetic words. Some overlap all three groupings, depending on how you read them.

The poem Drifts suggests the fluidity of life, both in the sensory world and the unconscious. The first tanka uses the a runic symbol suggesting randomness and the image of a blue heron transcending itself, peering into the future. In the second tanka a green snowplow attempts to order the dream-like snow drifts. The crystal flowers disappears and the landscape changes. Here’s the third tanka,

outside my   window

low branches     bow in sorrow

a spider in the corner

works out his karma

while owls sleep     in the deep woods

The allusions are unmistakable as we move into the drifts of unconscious and transitory karma.

In the poem Dreamer, a leaf becomes almost mythical. Color intensifies into weight and the weight becomes the volume of a dream which delivers when stroked by the artist. It goes this way,

a leaf falls

with the weight     of color

when I bend

to lift it     the trees murmur


the palm

of this hand     is inclined

to feel obliquely

stroke it     & it becomes

a dreamer

The poem ends oddly but wonderfully in a Chinese restaurant with the poet writing and eating fortune cookies.  Intrigued? I was.

Memory is a sequence that is part commentary on the art of poetry and part lament for the fragility of our landscaped memories.  The poet happily says,

O the lure

of memory     the stream

in the valley

of my parents’ farm

fish still spawning     into light

But then it dawns on him how expensive this area has become to live in. But even worse he can’t seem to find the sounds in the landscape that he remembers as part of his loneliness of that earlier time.

The tanka sequence entitled Aggression knits together three thumbnail stories fully related by wondrously efficacious images. A mad anarchist becomes emblematic of evil aggression. Wild crocodiles give voice to instinctual aggression. A kung fu boy somewhat ambiguously portrays aggression as a form of self-defense. After the violence ends, each scene turns peaceful in interesting ways: the anarchist retreats to a safehouse; the crocodiles inhabit a still lake; and the adversary of the kung fu boy is in shock.  The second tanka tells it this way,

three wild crocodiles

tore     at a piece of chicken

in furious rage

the water churned skyward

moments later     a still lake

Luckily the template for aggression always seems to require a return to the rest position.

The woodcut displayed on the cover of this breathtaking chapbook is just about perfect. A Japanese blacksmith forges a blade infused with the spirit of little foxes which hovers above him as he works. A timeless image of artistry! 

These tanka sequences, like the blacksmith’s blade, are inspired and the chapbook itself is a little masterpiece. The authors and Cervena Barva Press should be proud.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Hiking to Siberia by Lawrence Millman

Hiking to Siberia
by Lawrence Millman
ISBN-13: 978-1-934513-37-8
118 pages
Release date: October 2012

Review by David P. Miller

Although my experience with international travel has bloomed during the past decade, I’ve been sticking to the straight and narrow. With only one exception, my annual trips, accompanied by my wife, have been occasioned by professional summer conferences. So although I’ve met a lot of interesting people and negotiated restaurant menus in different languages - more or less - I’ve also spent a lot of time in convention centers. Nice ones, granted, not absolutely identical to each other. Lawrence Millman, on the other hand, declares in his bio that “if a place doesn’t have a website, he’ll immediately pack his bags and go there.” For example, at least three times in Hiking to Siberia, he visits islands that aren’t consistently included on modern maps. This makes his travel tales a whole lot more interesting than mine. Which is pretty faint praise for a collection that’s as consistently entertaining and well-told as this one is.

These twenty-one tales take us from the Arctic to Borneo, Iceland to the godforsaken Mexican island of Clipperton (“The Worst Place in the World”). Their brevity - the title story, the longest, tops out at eight pages - and the ease with which Millman relates them sometimes belie the extraordinary lengths involves, in effort and risk as well as distance. On the one hand, we can laugh with him at his dilemma in Micronesia, consuming certain parts of a male fruit bat at dinner, in the perhaps mistaken belief that it was normal and expected (“A Feast on Fais”). On the other, his sudden plunge into Greenland’s Angmagssalik Fjord threatens death from hypothermia, though he’s saved by the application of a remarkably domestic home remedy (“Into Cold Water”). These are stories easy to read, easy to enjoy, but quite something else to have lived through. Throughout, Millman shows his genuine interest in and respect for the people he meets and cultures he negotiates, not to mention regard for the uncompromising landscapes he finds himself negotiating.

Being the sort of reader I am, I’m taken by encounters with unexpected details, sights and events only revealed while seeking something else. In “Hiking to Siberia,” while Millman attempts to retrace Lillian Alling’s semi-legendary journey from New York City to Siberia, he encounters “a moose skeleton wrapped up wire like a mummy” on the Yukon Telegraph Trail. While temporarily “Marooned” on the island of Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides, he finds “a crofter’s cottage, now hardly more than a heap of rubble, and … the remains of an old hand loom.” Then again, Roseau, the capital of Domenica, features a public bathhouse in the middle of a cemetery. And Millman discovers a McDonald’s wrapper deep in the forest on Culebra, an island without a McDonald’s.

My own favorite in this collection is probably “I, Sky Burster.” The briefest entry, at three pages, it is barely a narrative, although not quite a prose poem. A conjunction of moments during an afternoon on Western Samoa, Millman struggles with adjectives in his notebook, answers the questions of local children about his torn-up papers, experiences the role of palagi or “sky burster,” as Westerners are named, and later views a blue balloon, picked from his pocket, float across the sky and out to sea. Although there’s clearly a larger story behind all this, we don’t need anything greater to savor its uniqueness.

This beaten-path traveler has only one suggestion, and one criticism. The suggestion: I find myself wanting to know more, to learn more from Millman about the people, the situations, what happened before or after. It appears that this collection began life as magazine and newspaper pieces, but sometimes their brevity seems a little abrupt. And the criticism: bats aren’t rodents (p. 70). They’re chiropterans, the German Fledermaus notwithstanding. But that’s hardly an occasion for a corrected edition.

***** David P. Miller began writing poetry at 52, in 2007. This leaves aside the political doggerel he composed in high school. His work has been seen in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, and he has read at Stone Soup in Cambridge, MA. He was a member of the multidisciplinary Mobius Artists Group of Boston for 25 years. He is a librarian at Curry College, in Milton, MA, and is grateful for the Curry faculty creative writing group to which he belongs, for their support and encouragement.