Saturday, March 23, 2013

Somerville Writer Ilan Mochari Pens a Debut Novel Zinsky the Obscure

Somerville Writer Ilan Mochari Pens a Debut Novel  Zinsky the Obscure

 By Doug Holder

Although we were well into March, the winds of winter gave a cold bitch slap to the windows at the Sherman Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. It was here, over one of Sherman's famed oatmeal scones that I met Somerville novelist Ilan Mochari. We sat down to talk about his writing life and his new novel:  Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press).

 Mochari is originally from Long Island, NY--the town of Great Neck to be exact. He is a big man, in his late 30's, and an engaging conversationalist.

  Mochari moved to Somerville in 2004, and lives on the Somerville side of Cambridge City Hospital. I asked him if he liked living in the
Paris of New England.    He reflected: " It's fantastic. There are so many writers in the community. I am sure sure when I walk down the street after our interview I will run into an artist or writer I know." He lists poet Tanya Larkin, and writer Ralph Pennell, as a couple of his favorite Somerville scribes.

  Mochari also confided that he is a denizen of many of the coffee shops our burg has to offer including: Sherman, the Diesel in Davis Square, True Grounds in Ball Square, and Bloc 11 in Union Square.

  This Somerville writer worked as the first managing editor of the Somerville Scout a monthly magazine that focuses on the 'Ville. He worked at this gig from 2009 to 2011. Mochari said of his experience: " It was a wonderful excuse to call people up--to get to the heart of the matter. It was also a great way for me to learn about the city and its residents, not to mention having my work out there, even though I was writing in a different genre." Mochari now has a full time gig with Build- a business media outlet based in New York City.

  Not surprisingly, like many writers I interviewed, he worked as a waiter for many years. It paid the bills, and it gave him the flexibility to write in his off hours. He also met many fellow artists, and made connections, through his job. And in spite of making a living as a writer now, he is glad that he has a job that he can fallback on.

  Mochari's novel Zinsky the Obscure concerns a 30 yer old man, Ariel Zinsky who is recovering from an abusive childhood, and has set out to write an autobiography as a form of therapy or healing. He recasts himself into a Holden Caulfield-like character in this coming of age story.

  I asked the author how his story differs from so many stories of this genre. He replied: " I tried to write a story that tells how this character moves forward after the trauma in his life. The novel is essentially about Zinsky overcoming the world's indifference to his trauma."

  Of course much of fiction is loosely based on the author's real life experience. I wondered how Mocahri's family took to this novel that might have touched on some painful familial history.  Mochari smiled thoughtfully: " I have been writing for a long time now. My family understand the dynamics. My dad has long been out of the picture and is basically illiterate--so there is no issue there. My mom was a high school English teacher--she understands the art of fiction."

  According to Mochari he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in the tony suburban town of Great Neck, N.Y. His family rented and did not own, and the budding writer didn't have the name brand clothes, etc.. that the other kids had. Mochari doesn't think he could live the suburban life again. He feels he is a creature of the asphalt--he is a walker in the city, so to speak.

  At Yale University where he got his degree in English; he studied with noted critic and scholar Harold Bloom. He loved studying with Bloom. Bloom, according to Mochari taught Shakespeare using contemporary language, not the rarefied academic-speak he was afraid he would be subject to. To this day Bloom plays an influence in his writing.

 After our talk Mochari gravitated to the next table. It seemed another  writer friend of his just sat down, and he decided to chat. Form my perch he seemed to be off at the races again, with both writers speaking in a rapid fire cadence about their work. And that's the way it is in our artistic mecca in Union Square, in Somerville, on any given day...  Mochari will be reading from his work in the near future; a listing is below...

May 5: Muse & The Marketplace Conference, Boston
May 30: Porter Square Books, Cambridge
June 5: Harvard Book Store, Cambridge
June 13: The Book Shop, Somerville

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Snakebit Kudzu by Murray Shugars

Snakebit Kudzu

by Murray Shugars

Copyright 2013 by Dos Madres Press inc.

Dos Madres Press

Loveland OH 45140

Softbound, 57 pages, no price

ISBN 978-1-933675-90-9

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Murray Shugars presents us with his songs of the south – dogwood, Mississippi heat, mockingbirds. But we also get a bit of Michigan and “Big Lake,” Ravenna and a taste of New Orleans jazz. We also learn Shugars’ version of history: Christopher Marlow shot by a jealous husband in an SUV, some bossa nova poetry that leaves a smile and on and on. There are poems utilizing various devices such as with humor or seriousness or both make his point.

Take for example How To Kill A Tree:

When you decide to fell

the dogwood behind the house,

do it quickly. Saw it at the roots

and watch it fall

Don’t limb the tree—dropping

first the dead branches, then

the dying—and let it stand

alone on that hill, a brare trunk

with two raised arms

cut off at the elbows.

Don’t leave it there

naked in the Mississippi heat,

saying one cool morning

you’ll finish the job.

Or try the poem The Eccentric Motions Of The Bossa Nova

I found the five

unanswered equations of Apollonius of Perga

scrawled on a blank page in the dictionary of God

I found a formula

for the eccentric motions of celestial lovers

and the unrequited desire of planets.

I found the names of conic sections,

the date of each birth and death.

I found the tangents and harmonic

divisions of the bossa nova.

I think Tom Jobim wrote those notes.

In another poem, How To Judge A Poet we learn different views of what it takes to write verse:

When you meet a poet

outside G&L’s in Muskegon, Michigan,

where all the poets eat

the best goddamn chilidogs

anyone has ever had,

Now, if you want to find out how to judge a poet, better grab copy of this book and read the rest of the poem.

Shugars has a way of making his point. He is a different kind of poet, telling Federico Garcia Lorca to come to Vicksburg and walk the National Military Park together, or lump Plato and Ronald Reagan into one poem and in another presents you his bucket list.

Murray Shugars is a poet to savor, read slowly, more than once, sit back in that comfy stuffed chair, then crack a thin smile.


Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

Author, King of the Jungle and Across Stones of Bad Dreams

Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dream Catcher by Jessica Harman

Poet Jessica Harman

Dream Catcher

Jessica Harman

Aldrich Press 2013

ISBN: 978-0615753577


"...As if you walked on my soul, a bed of coals-

And the fight and the raw light-..."

Dream Catcher is a song about grief and remembrance. Love lilts across each page, each poem searches for how love left, how the imprint, the foot prints, become an eagle and verbs to wear during winter:

"...Walk through me on fire. You did.

I can't believe you did and cried

When I left. Eagle feathers, I left you

With your Buddha and prayers

To Saint Martha who was supposed

To cure our poverty, an old woman

In St. Patrick's Cathedral told you.

We never got rich. Never had anything

But our mangled love, which was ugly,

When you looked at who had to do

The dishes, but which was Beautiful,

Because like asparagus and pebbles

and circles, somewhere there is our love

In its pure God form,..."

Harmon is the dream catcher. She writes poems that sift through the relationship and exposes the human aspects of love, while letting the reader experience the ethereal, the catch all. "We wept out of selfishness, because we didn't have what we wanted, and the only brief way beauty can be real." The reader gets to witness the language, the shadow on poems meant to love what was and continues to affect:

"...Saved, me like water on a forest fire-

And now the cool and hot of letting go

Begins. After your death, the prayer that let you know

That finally I had let you go your own way

Was a whisper of something ether-like

Running like a vein

Through a rock, turning, turning, turning

Into blood. The universe, the way a swatch of dark marble

Will swirl with white quartz

Remains a fragment of some special pure way..."

Love poems usually try to persuade, the reader, into a dream, as if all was perfect – plain – and in these poems we get to bite into the food offered and it is not always sweet. Often the taste reminds us there are more flavors, more than one way to love. The poems echo real:

"...Things combine, as they do, as they will,

To make something that is,

And is beautiful, just because.

It's like that now, with us.

There is nothing else."

This book must not slip through our hands without being read completely. The poems dance beyond the music, like morning sun after cloudy days.

"...It's there, though, connected in a deep web,

A fine grain, a super-subtle incantation,

A place where dream blurs and reality begins."

Irene Koronas

Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review

Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press

Reviewer: Cervena Barva Press

Interview with poet Donna Johnson: Author of the poetry collection Selvage

Poet Donna Johnson: Founding Member of the Concord Poetry Center and author of the poetry collection Selvage
           With Doug Holder   
From Donna Johnson's website:  
"Donna Johnson is a daughter of the south. She was raised in Tennessee and spent summers visiting extended family in Texas. Her poetry intertwines her rural southern roots with provocative themes that engage readers regardless of their backgrounds.
Ms. Johnson’s poetry seeks to explore themes of loss, betrayal and redemption, both through the personal lyric and by the recasting the experiences of characters from myths, fables, and the Bible – Cinderella, Cassandra, John the Baptist, Lazarus and the Celtic heroine, Branwen. 
Her poems and reviews have been published in Birmingham Poetry Review, Blue Unicorn, CafĂ© Review, Green Mountains Review, Ibbetson Street, Marco Polo, Perihelion, Tulane Review, Two Rivers Review, and others.
Her first full-length collection of poetry, Selvage, was released in February 2013 by Carnegie Mellon Press . "
I had the privilege to speak to Donna on my Somerville Community Access TV show  Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.

DOUG HOLDER: So I looked up the definition of the title of your new poetry collection Selvage . And I found that it means the end of a piece of fabric that keeps the garment, etc... together. So what keeps you, your poetry together?
DONNA JOHNSON: I think many people write not as therapy but as a way to understand the world. And if they can write it well enough they could share their understanding with someone else. I think a lot of my exercise of writing  is to pull together stories, memories, voices, accents, and to try to make it whole. That, along with the fact, that my mom used to make my clothing and I spent a lot of time in fabric stores. Thusly, the title Selvage.
DH:  You are a founding member of the Concord Poetry Center. Tell us a bit about the beginning of this important literary venue.
DJ: Yes it started out with me, Joan Houlihan and a number of others. Many of us at met at Lucie Brock-Broido's poetry workshop in Cambridge, Mass. I became friends with Joan there. She and I both had worked in high tech, and I admired her because she managed to pull her life as a poet together as well. She now teaches but she does many other things.
DH:  You are originally from down South.  How was your reception in the Northeast?  Any snobbery?
DJ: My first venture up to New England was for graduate school at UConn. And people used to stop me and ask me to say something because they thought my accent sounded strange. I looked at it with good humor. I always found it interesting to live somewhere you are not from. I didn't go back South...I am still up North.
DH: Your poems deal with themes of betrayal, loss, and redemption. Do you think most of men and women experience redemption?
DJ:  If you read my poems you will probably conclude "no." I don't know if we can truly know what redemption means. Generally I am positive. I like people. I have been the beneficiary of many acts of kindness.
DH: So why do many of your poems' tone appear to be dark?
DJ :I can't sum it neatly I am afraid. I have always been attracted to ballads. And I remember liking ballads that were creepy, sad or bittersweet.
DH: Your poetry is accessible.
DJ: Yes. I remember reading an essay by the poet Mary Karr about obfuscation in poetry. It wasn't against subtlety, metaphor, etc...but she felt that poets shouldn't deliberately be obtuse or confusing.
DH: One of your poems in your new collection "Photograph of My Father at Six" deals with a picture of your father when he was very young. You wrote about how he appeared sad even then. Are photographs good fodder for poetry?
DJ: Yes photos are good.  The photo I wrote about was a photo of my Dad. He came from a family that didn't have a lot of money.  His father was an alcoholic. I asked my father why he drank, and my father replied " He was just tired." I can't imagine the financial problems they had--living close to the bone. But my grandfather did what he could.
Yellow is the Color Of West Texas

Grandma claimed it was the color for whores.
The closest city to her town they named Amarillo,
perhaps for the clouds of Monarchs, high
on milkweed, or for homesteader’s cloth,
dyed with the boiled hulls of butternut.
Each spring, coneflowers line
the interstate. Lone patches of green
sprout along irrigation pipes and ditches,
under heifer slosh from windmill barrels.
No roses bloom of their own accord,
yellow, or of any other kind.
Our family loads into the El Camino,
heads down to Palo Duro canyon.
Grandad does not bother brushing
ocher-colored grit from ragged cracks
in aqua vinyl seats and dash. A sign greets:
Here, they sell 64-ounce Pepsi colas;
landscape is severe relief.
To ravage such a canyon,
even God must tire of level plain—
to split the earth this deep
for sulfur water, for gypsum.

Celebrate National Poetry Month at the Newton Free Library! Tuesday, April 9, 7:00 pm Tuesday, April 9, 7:00 pm

Celebrate National Poetry Month
at the Newton Free Library!
Tuesday, April 9, 7:00 pm


Celebrate National Poetry Month at the concluding program in this year’s Poetry Series at the Newton Free Library on Tuesday, April 9 at 7:00 pm. Gail Mazur, Mark Pawlak and Doug Holder will give readings. An open mike will follow with a limit of one poem per person. Come early to sign up for the open mike; limited slots are available. The series is facilitated by Doug Holder of Ibbetson Street Press.

Gail Mazur published her first collection, Nightfire, in 1978 and has published several other books since. A graduate of Smith College, Mazur has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College. Her work has been recognized with a Massachusetts Book Award, and she has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Paterson Poetry Prize. Active in the Boston and Cambridge literary communities, Mazur has served as the founding director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Center and as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College.
Mark Pawlak has written seven poetry collections and edited six anthologies. His latest book, Go to the Pine: Quoddy Journals 2005-2010, was published in 2012. His work has been translated into several languages and has appeared widely in English anthologies such as The Best American Poetry and Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust. His work has also appeared in literary magazines such as New American Writing, Mother Jones and The World, among others. For more than 30 years Pawlak has been an editor of the Brooklyn-based Hanging Loose, one of the oldest independent literary journals and presses in the country.

Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, MA. He is the arts/editor of The Somerville News. Doug teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College and Endicott College. His poetry and prose has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Rattle, Toronto Quarterly, The Long Island Quarterly, the new renaissance, Cafe Review and many others. His latest collection of poetry, The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel, was published by Cervena Barva Press.

For more information call the Newton Free Library at 617-796-1360. All programs are free and open to the public, parking is free. The Newton Free Library is handicap accessible.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Interview with Ira Wood: Author of new memoir about his life with Marge Piercy You're Married to Her?

Interview with Ira Wood: Author of new memoir about his life with Marge Piercy You're Married to Her?

 With Doug Holder

Ira Wood is not a physically imposing man, but as a wordsmith he is a commanding presence. Wood is the author of a number of novels including his highly touted first The Kitchen Man. His latest book is titled: You're Married to Her? a memoir that concerns his life with famed poet/novelist/feminist Marge Piercy. Wood was an unknown, 26 year old writer, when he met the much older Piercy. They have been together now for 35 years. I had the pleasure to interview him on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: Welcome Ira.

Ira Wood: Glad to be back in Somerville. I lived in the Somerville, Cambridge, and Jamaica Plain area for a number of years.

DH: So what do you think Ms. Piercy saw in you? She was a well established writer, and much older than you. You were 26, and just sort of floundering around.

IW: Marge had just turned 40 when we met. And she was this incredibly glamorous, older woman. I was a pretty immature guy. But that was back in 1976. I would say by today's standards men have become even less-mature—I was a pretty mixed-up guy. I was very lucky to meet this very successful novelist and poet.

DH: So that goes back to the question what did she see in you?

IW: I was a nice guy in spite of being mixed-up. But what she will tell you is that men of her own age weren't very good at getting along with a feminist. She had many relationships with men her own age. She had relationships with men younger then her because they weren't intimidated by feminism. One of the reasons Marge and I have been together so long is because we are not competitive. When she met her previous husband they were both students. It was very hard for him to see her career take off and not his. That wasn't the case with me. To be quite frank I didn't think I would have any career at all. So I was delighted to be her partner. I enabled her to do her writing and traveling. We have been together for 35 years. We have had a remarkable good run and still do.

DH: When we reach a certain age we see our father's face in the mirror. Your father was not a happy camper. He was self-hating, envious and a work alcoholic. So do you see his visage in the mirror staring back at you?

IW: My father was not a happy man. And I think a lot of people at a certain age grew up and realized that their parents were depressed but not diagnosed in those days. My father never drank. But what he would do was come home after work, have dinner, go right to sleep, wake up and go to work again. I grew up like I was a child of an alcoholic. He was very self-conscious. I see all of his mistakes in life in myself. Part of my success has come through my Buddhist practice. I can see this behavior begin and hopefully I can stop it before it is fully manifested. Marge will often say to me “You are becoming your father.” My memoir You're Married to Her? was very much about my father. My first novel The Kitchen Man dealt with my mother. But I got so much flack from my family about the first book that I decided not to write about them for awhile. But when I started to write my memoir then I realized that my family is an essential part of me. I teach at the Omega Institute and I find that many people are afraid to write about their family and can't get past the first chapter. There is a quote by the poet Muriel Rukeyser, and I paraphrase “Yes you have to write about your family but remember it won't kill them.” It is difficult. Eventually I worked it out with the family. And we are much closer now than before.

DH: Where did you got to college?

IW: I went to the the State University at Albany. It was not the school I wanted to go. I wanted to go to big, expensive, and fancy school. But my dad couldn't afford it.

DH: You did not look favorably on the academy in your memoir.

IW: I didn't want to become a teacher. It was never something I wanted to do. Marge and I decided not to teach full-time on the college level. In fact I was very surprised when I was offered a job teaching at a college. I asked them why they chose me. They said because I had written five books. I thought you had to have a PhD. But for writers they are interested in credits. I was always a working writer. For many years I worked in restaurants. I got jobs that allowed me to write. When I lived in Cambridge I was self-conscious about being a writer. Even though I spent five hours a day writing—somehow I felt I wasn’t working. I had friends who didn't see me in the working class because I didn't have a job. So that hurt. Then I moved to Cape Cod—everyone on the outer Cape seems to be an artist. You didn't feel crazy there. I always asked myself “ Who am I not to go to work and just write stories?” But it was easier in the artistic milieu of the Cape. And it wasn't until I was published and reviewed that I felt that I had the right to do this.

DH: If you hadn't met Marge Piercy would you be a writer today?

IW: Marge Piercy was my mentor. It was not so much her connections. But if I didn't meet her I wouldn't have become a writer. I might have been a lawyer, or a nurse. I was in a crowd of guys who went to nursing school. I probably would have done that and wound up with kids. I would never have had the guts to be a writer. Marge gave me the courage to write.

DH: How long did you live in Somerville?

IW: On and off for 10 years. I lived near Foss Park at one point and other places. Somerville is an incredibly interesting city.

DH: A Somerville writer of my acquaintance Joe Torra wrote a great  memoir Waiter. He worked as a waiter until he was fifty and then went on to a teaching career. You worked as a waiter as well. Is it a good job for a young artist?

IW: My first novel The Kitchen Man was about my time as a waiter in a gourmet restaurant. The only problem with being a waiter is that you get out late, and even though you worked your butt off, you could not fall asleep. You were so wired up after the shift that you wound up going to nightclubs and bars after, and not getting home until 3 or 4 in the morning. That eclipsed your opportunity to wake up early and write during the day. So you had to be disciplined. On the job I worked with a lot of artists, opera singers, poets and writers. I learned so much about the arts scene around Boston from being a waiter. I wouldn't give up that experience for the world. I did it for 3 years. I was writing all the time. It was a dream of mine that I would get notice of my big break when I was waiting on a table. My break came after I worked as a waiter.

DH: You have an addictive personality according to your memoir. You wrote about your addiction to drugs, sex, etc... Why do you think so many writers deal with these issues?

IW: The writer who gets a lot of work done overcomes that. I don't think John Updike, Marge, or Margaret Atwood for instance—had that problem. I think very successful writers overcome that.