Saturday, November 16, 2013

Eating Grief at 3 A.M. by Doug Holder

     Eating Grief at 3 A.M.
     by Doug Holder
     Muddy River Books
       Sometimes you must follow
       The rat's path
       The vagrant,
      The scrawled invective of the graffiti
      The flow of some muddy, godforsaken creek
      Before you can truly

      ~ "Abandoned Warehouses"

Review by Robin Stratton-- Boston Literary Magazine

When you open a volume of poetry and the first one is dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, man, you know you've stumbled onto something great. That's why it should come as no surprise that Eating Grief at 3 A.M. by Doug Holder is one of those rare collections with every poem as delicious as the stack of syrup-saturated pancakes you used to tuck into at Bickford's in the wee hours of the morning. (You were just a kid—in your twenties—and didn't get indigestion, and the coffee didn't keep you awake all night or make you get up ten times to pee.) On the menu are poems that nail the groove of those days, from admitting to ourselves that we wanted just a little to kill the brutally well-meaning father in Father Knows Best, and the cat who abruptly interrupts a languid existence to venture out to the street (and gets run over) to a bloody mugging in Times Square, a final showing of Rocky Horror, and the lament of a stockbroker chained to his office in a high rise. I had to laugh at Holder's frank chagrin at the "cloying cheap chirp" of an early morning songbird (secretly, I share his helpless rage.) The writing, of course, is breathtaking; stylish and elegant, like the cook himself, but with the unexpected bite of an otherwise polite terrier. But poets beware! You will be jealous! Possibly suicidal! Remember how Beach Boy Brian Wilson was partway through what he envisioned would be the greatest rock album of all time when he heard Sgt. Pepper? He ditched Smile and went into seclusion for about a decade. Reading Eating Grief at 3 A.M. is kind of like that. So yeah, Mr. Holder, we sort of want to kill you just a little, too.

Review ARTS EMERSON Sleeping Beauty Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company

Sleeping Beauty
Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company
Milan, Italy
The Paramount Theatre
559 Washington Street
Boston, MA
November 13-17
Tickets: 617-824-8400
ARTSEMERSON.ORG (for trailer go to this website)

Reviewer: Amy R. Tighe

Sometimes, I doubt myself.  Sometimes what I can cherish and what I long for commingle and I end up holding on to something I cannot ever attain.  In those moments, I am misplaced. It happens more now as I slow down, slightly giving in to my aging, in a time where my globe is speedier and its own acceleration is speeding up as well.

So I wasn’t sure I should see puppets.  Gasland is playing at several local churches, carbon pricing talk at Babson next week, mass incarceration discussion on meet-up.

And besides, I know how the story ends.  And being single and vulnerable, I sometimes  over -identify with characters and well, I could just see myself justifying curling up for another 100 years while I wait for my next date!

But I went.  A deal’s a deal, and I went.  And so should you.
Sleeping Beauty is performed by 10 humans using hand-made marionettes, and their team of actors who deftly serve to awaken our connective dream.  The Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company, from Milan, Italy, is an inter-generational company that was formed in the 1830s.  An aristocratic family, who fell on hard times due to political and civil unrest, founded three separate puppet troupes and toured successfully throughout Europe for generations.  The troupe playing at the Paramount is the last of the line and is one of the preeminent puppeteer companies in the world. 

According to a note from Colla Marionette, puppet theatre was meant for adults, and not children, because the plays could provide insight and expression through make believe characters as a safe way to challenge existing leadership.  And fairy tales are a land “inside each of us where time and space no longer exist, where good and evil are clearly defined not fluctuating and indiscernible as they are in reality.”

But here’s the thing—in reality, there are puppets! And fairy tales! It’s not the other way around—in fairy tales, is there reality? No. What is real is that on a chilly Boston November eve, in the changing heart of a strong city, with concrete construction everywhere, an open portal to human magnificence thrives through this marionetted performance of Sleeping Beauty. Go see it.

The set is a luscious stage within an opulent stage, set on the usual splendiferous stage of the Paramount.  Whew! When the smaller curtain opens, because the larger one is already open, an Italian palace from the middle ages is revealed.  Marble pillars, tiled floors, and an extensive banquet table, tapestries and blue skies invite us in.  The marionettes enter as actors and I resist the temptation to be picky —their feet don’t touch, do their mouths open?  And why are they using their hands so much? Oh wait, they are using their hands?  Did that puppet just smile at me?  And subtly I have somehow completely come into this story.

The pacing and the detail are haunting.   Every detail of the costumes, characters, props and set has been scrutinized.  I guess when you create a miniature world you have the capacity to see every detail and to craft every moment.  Unlike my world, I cannot control the details.  But here, the seven sets of cutlery encrusted with rubies for the christening are completely identical, the seven visiting Fairies all have distinct features and perfect outfits which you can identify as they fly across the sky in winged chariots (how do they get the wings on so many horses?) to arrive in the exact same costumes, only larger, in the exact same palace you saw when you toured Italy years ago.

Detail and craft. When the deep green anaconda (I think it is an anaconda and I am not telling you when it comes!) tries to eat the Prince, and is killed, his eyes close in death.  How does a puppet close its eyes? When the Fairy Harmony takes her place to guard the sleeping kingdom, one of her sylphs cozies up next to her, like a kid watching TV and twitches his feet…. Like kids everywhere do…
I feel enveloped in the craft.  And mysterious, to me, is that a profound slow pace I’ve been exposed to all night long has infiltrated my body, bones and mind. During set changes, and underscoring certain scenes, Tchaikovsky plays.  There is time to reflect, to wonder and to remember –“wait- that is a puppet—he couldn’t have smiled at me!  How’d they do that?”  I have become completely relaxed, joined into generations of fairy tale listeners and puppet watchers—this is what humans have always done, can always do and my cells know it. And now, I am knowing it too.

There are a few kids splattered in the audience and because we have been invited to cheer and groan as an audience, they do.  So their reactions become a part of the play as well and we chuckle at their cries.

I ask Rosie who is 9 but looks eleven “because I am tall” what she thinks and she says she loves theatre because she doesn’t have to fight over the remote like at home.  I wonder if she wonders about the strings we see, the billows of smoke that announce  the Fairy Misery, the impeccable timing of Puff the Dog’s tail.  I wonder if she wonders about seeing a whole world, from the perspective of our fractured world, and seeing the craft we all can have.  Seeing what we can attain and what we cannot. Knowing that what we cherish we might lose because we cannot craft the righted scale of our human life.

I wonder if tonight she knows she entered a story about storytelling and is being shown how to create our world.  Puppets have historically been used to comment on our lives.  Tonight, they grace us with a trip to our possible future because of hands from the past who saved them for us them, so generously.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Katrin Schumann: Uncovers the Secret Power of the Middle Child Interview with Doug Holder

Interview with Doug Holder

 Katrin Schumann writes on her website:

frontgazesmallcroppedI was born in Germany, but grew up in Brooklyn and London. As a child, I loved listening to my family’s stories—of war and death and love gone wrong—and later I would rewrite them in my head, filling in the details, the motives, and making up new endings. Soon I started writing my stories down and I’ve never stopped.
At some level, family and community is what all my work is about. Everywhere I look there are stories to tell. In my professional life as a writer, editor, and teacher, I work with stories across various genres. My most recent book, The Secret Power of Middle Children (Hudson St/Penguin), is the first nonfiction exploration of the benefits of being stuck in the middle. My current works-in-progress include a book on parenting strategies that can make or break children born into wealth, and a novel about forbidden love and a family torn apart by the division of Germany at the end of WWII. To read an excerpt, click here.

My work has been featured multiple times on the TODAY show and in Woman’s DayThe Times (UK) and on NPR, as well as other national and international media. Early in my career, I was granted the Kogan Media Award for my work at National Public Radio, and as a student, I received academic scholarships to Oxford and Stanford Universities. More recently I’ve been awarded writing residencies at the VCCA, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and Vermont Studio Center. I live near Boston with my husband and three teenagers, and frequently return to Europe to gather more family stories.

I had the pleasure to interview Katrin on my Somerville Public TV show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer: 

Doug Holder: You grew up in Germany, London and Brooklyn, N.Y. These are quite disparate places. How do you feel this affected you as a writer, and in general?

Katrin Schumann: I think about that quite frequently. Because when we were living in Brooklyn, (it was entirely accidental that we landed there), it wasn’t the kind of place that it is now. And in fact we lived in Brooklyn Heights which was still pretty gritty. The class I was in at PS8—well, it turned out I was one of the only two white kids in the class. From that experience—and the exclusive girl school I went to in London—I have an eclectic background. In London there was only one Jewish kid in the school I went to—it was quite a change from Brooklyn. So as a result I am interested in everyone’s story. People made a lot of assumptions about me, particularly in London. This could be tough. In London I was the rich, private school girl with an American accent. I had to deal with the dumb American stereotype, and since I am German—the Nazi references. I was a quiet, reader type of girl. I learned from all  this not to jump to conclusions about people.

DH: I read in an interview of you in a Grub Street newsletter that the strangest place you have ever worked was a prison. Can you expand on this?

KS: What I found strange about it was my own reaction to it. I had to look at my assumptions and question them. I ran a writing workshop with women inmates at the correction facility at Framingham, Mass. The women are really energized there, ready to tell their stories, and work with the PEN volunteers. Storytelling is a very good way to express themselves and gain respect. The inmates have stories—we talk about the way they tell their story, not what they did to get themselves into prison. We never talk about why they are where they are—the reading and writing is what we talk about.

DH: You are working on a project exploring the challenges very privileged kids have in today’s society.

KS: I started a book project—the focus is what messages you should give to these children of the very wealthy so that they grow up with purpose, balance and success. I find they are either under parented or over parented. I came to realize these problems are experienced by kids in general. It affects the middle class and poor families.  Even poor families can’t say no to their kids. All families don’t want their kids to fail or suffer. If you never fail you will never know if you can pick yourself up. Failure can be a gift.

DH: You have a new book out The Secret Power of Middle Children. When I was born in the 1950s, and as a young boy, I never heard of this birth order controversy.

KS: Birth order has become very popular. It is true that middle children exhibit a lot of angst about being the middle child. They complain that no one pays attention to them because they don’t have that coveted position of the firstborn. And they don’t realize the negatives that come with that coveted position. They are expected to deal with things on their own. The middle child is considered the least popular. The adjectives used to describe them are: spoiled, quiet, etc… Firstborns are seen as more ambitious. I find when I am developing characters in my own work birth order can help me flesh them out better.

DH: You are an editor, and help folks with their manuscripts. You said in an interview that is hard to tell your clients that their characters are not “rich” enough. How do you make a stick figure into a fully realized creation?

KS: You have to create the full picture of the human being. Get the mannerisms, intonation, and dialogue down. You have the power of a writer to pick the right detail.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review of Kyle Flax’s “What Hank said on the Bus”

Review of Kyle Flax’s “What Hank said on the Bus” ( Publishing Genius)

Review by Alice Weiss

These poems deliver what the title promises, poetry in standing-on- the- corner diction.  Surprise.  Song often breaks through his leaning-back-into it lines
and then suddenly, someone can mention a purple suit and a green wig
            without even knowing that they are mentioning such an astounding

Flak parlays anaphora (every line beginning with ‘from’) into a rollicking  play on the wind from Vermont in “Oh a Mighty.”  “[N]onpersons and sons of bitches” move him; all the usual things he experiences turn into fairy tales, or numbers or ogres asking for lettuce.  Love makes him optimistic.  Running scared he tries to find some way to balance the fear.
            These poems are downright fun to read.  The voice is quirky but assured.  “I am a humongous mommy underneath my cloths,” is where an indictment of capitalism takes him,
and finishes, “I am scared about how I will feed all the babies I have growing inside me all the time.” The lines are almost always end stopped, and spaced and the book builds an unceasing I persona that takes both the pain of ordinary living, its details, its defeats, and uneasiness, and transforms it into simple and playful sentence forms.
            The long poem that centers the book, “The Young Filmmakers of Kansas,” records the making of a surrealist film on the Midwestern plains.  In seven short verses ranging from seven to eleven lines each, Flax traces the scenario. Reversing Jaws is the impulse.  The filmmakers want to eat. The shark is the hero and blood is the theme but the secret is that they are afraid of girls. The scenes include corpses in the mother’s brackish swimming pool, mannequins floating across a cornfield, zombies inside the basement waiting for brains to eat, after all they are business men. The movie is fun and scare and the poetry contemplates the nature of evil and blood and young men, even boys, and what they do with fear.
            Characteristically the speaker experiences sweetness and then skitters into some other place.  But in the title poem “What Hank said on the Bus” which I like best of all of them the speaker settles into desire and lets it be small and sturdy.
                        she smells like a pine forest
She is a tiny secret room hidden inside the pacific ocean

all I do is sweat and sweat and sweat
at the local coal mine
waiting for her to sit
inside my automobile

Here it is as if the ambitious imagery of the pacific ocean is contained in his that tiny room
and the shorter lines give the speaker a control of language that moves past the amusing bombast of the other poems to a delicacy of feeling, often implied in the other poems, but here come fully to life.