Friday, December 27, 2013

Riding Together: A Close Look at Boston Below

Riding Together: A Close Look at Boston Below

Review by Emily Pineau
English major--Endicott College

    It’s more than just deserted subways seats and stairwells in Boston Below, a photographic book and journey through the oldest American subway system by Joseph Votano and Karen Hosking.  In many of images people are shown to be alone, yet they seem to be immersed in another world.  One of the first black and white shots is of a man sitting by himself on one side of a bench in a subway station.  The man’s cane is resting beside him, and he is writing something on a newspaper.  Even though no one is with this man, loneliness is not depicted in this image.  The way the cane is propped next to the man looks like it is connected to the newspaper and pointing towards the empty seats on the bench.  This setup indicates that the newspaper is sufficient enough company for him.  In addition, similar to the shot of the man on the bench, there is a black and white shot of three people leaning up against their own poles in the subway station, but they are all separate from each other.  Even though each of these people is not with someone else, they still have company.  This image shows that these three different people all have something in common; they have a place to go.

     The image that I thought to be the most powerful is of a little boy and girl looking out the window of the subway. The shot is in black and white and the little girl is blurred.  Also, the boy and girl are squished up against each other and only the backs of them are shown.  In this image the lighting makes it look as though the children were painted with watercolors.  It is this painted look that emphasizes the innocence of the children watching the world go by.  The fact that the girl is blurred makes it seem like she is in many places at once.  Not only is she with the boy, but she is also with the people she sees out the window, and in all of the next panels of her journey. 

     Looking at people from an outsider’s perspective helps us to see how we are all connected to each other and to our surroundings.  This feeling is more accessible with just black and white because it makes everyone seem like they are coming from the same place.  Though, the shots that do have color still hold a lot of power, especially since the bright red and oranges reflect the liveliness  of the trains themselves.  The vibrant surroundings of these subways in some of the images show that not only does the subway bring life to the people, but the people bring life to the subway.  Also, Votano’s and Hosking’s images of hands grasping the poles to stay steady on the train are very symbolic to how we all need something to hold onto and how we are all connected somehow. It is very important to recognize that everyone shares the same journey, but we all just get off at different stops.

---- Emily Pineau's poetry has appeared in the anthology, Like One: Poems For Boston, and in newspapers and literary journals such as the Somerville News, The Endicott Observer, The Endicott Review, Ibbetson Street, Muddy River Poetry Review, and Notes from the Gean: Monthly Haiku Journal.  In 2012 her poem, "I would for you" was nominated for a pushcart prize.  In 2013 The Ibbetson Street Press published her poetry collection, No Need to Speak.  The Aurorean chose No Need to Speak as the Editor’s Chap/Book Choice to be featured in their October issue in 2013.  Pineau was also featured on National Public Radio on a station in New Mexico in 2013.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Flying Cats (actually swooping) New and Selected Poems By Dan Sklar

Flying Cats (actually swooping)
New and Selected Poems
By Dan Sklar
Ibbetson Street Press
ISBN: 978-1-304-45004-3
161 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly
In this underground world of spreading fungus, where Fusarium Solani reigns as overlord, Dan Sklar’s crudely drawn, undainty poems of reindeer people and curious animals survive and flourish and we are the better for it. He also etches, in these same chambers, a handful of prose pieces and one act plays shorn of the usual civilized accoutrements, but each with a point that can’t be missed. Past the Hall of Bulls, beyond the Nave of Hand Prints, next to the Hyena Apse, you’ll find the Chamber of Flying Cats. Here the primitive Sklar, using red ochre and carbon black, composes his original art of not-too-serious insights into the nature of human kind and cats—actually, swooping cats.

Sklar, donning his trademark faux bearskins with untucked tee shirt showing, attacks each poetic piece in this throwback bare-boned collection with Paleolithic verve. His inbred Neanderthal genes speak to our own inherited sensibilities and basic needs, our own troglodyte traits. Early-on in his book Flying Cats (actually swooping), the poet stakes out his primordial territory. The second poem in this collection Sklar calls To Be Reindeer People. He chants his way into this Rousseau-like vision. Here’s the heart of the poem,

…Why do you
have to achieve anything
why can’t you just live
and smoke a pipe or
something. When you
are a nomad you
cannot accumulate things.
When you are a nomad you
just can’t do it.
Maybe you read
a book but you have to give it
away or leave it somewhere.
Maybe one book you can carry.
Maybe you ride reindeer
and have sleds
pulled by reindeer.

Notice the phase “or something” in this selection’s third and fourth line. He is in essence arguing his unsophistication and the questionable import of his words. I’m not so sure I’m convinced. The term “holy fool” comes to mind.

Sklar lives and evolves in a futuristic, but natural world where men and animals, cats in particular, attain mystical powers and live in common happiness. Say what?? Okay this may not be our world but it is the world fashioned by this poet and his creative powers are prodigious. In the title poem Flying Cats (Actually Swooping) Sklar posits an outdoor universe of wonder where time slows down, presumably agrarian time. The poet says,

…This is the future
I am thinking of—flying cats in canoes
and  bicycles. Sometimes when
you’re riding your bike a flying cat
will land on your back, sit down
look around, knead your back a little,
then fly off. In the future the principal
means of transportation will be horses
and horse drawn things and bicycles
and walking and trolley cars
and slow trains, not too many motors
for the most part…

Sklar’s poem entitled Primitive is just that, both in technique and subject matter. The poet strips down the syntax and presents us with a triangular standoff of three rather common creatures: a squirrel, a cat, and a human. All seem to be collected around a mythical fire with the human especially entranced. The word repetition adds to its mythic quality. The fire itself gives the piece a strange depth. This is not simply an imagist poem, it strength comes from its aural qualities and its connections with other poems in its vicinity. The poet begins his piece this way,

Shows off

Very primal, very strange! But it does strike a number of interesting atavistic chords.

Keeping his eyes open to details, securing goods for his family, looking for opportunity, Sklar treks to the exotic Eastern climes  in the poem What Is This Poem About. The poet is in search of Thai food and that entails a drive to Ipswich. But hunter-gatherer that he is, a stop must first be made to Brooks Drugstore, where graph paper and notebooks must be secured. The elements oppose the poet’s mission and his communication system has been knocked out (broken car antenna). In the end he emerges from the meadows and the woods to provide for his presumably grateful kin. The poet begins by questioning his own importance,

I don’t know why this is poetry
and why I think it’s important.
I drove to Ipswich in the rain to pick up Thai food.
The evening was still light at 7:00. I went to
Brooks Drugstore first. It was still
raining. I drove into the wet parking lot.
I had on my green cap and navy blue overcoat,
Tee-shirt and sweater. I was 51.

Unpretentious utility has its place, even in poetry. In Sklar’s prose poem Galoshes, literature stretches through space and time as a continuum. He resents those, who would use truth-telling and art (as he believes it to be) to secure fame or elevate their own ambitions. The purity the poet seeks is, of course, unattainable, but appealing nevertheless. His repeated sentence “The world stops at the word galoshes” embraces everyday usefulness and straightforwardness and rejects the artsy-fartsy route. The poet rants,

…I have taken my spirit out of
The poetry business. I would trust a lying, cheating, dirty, crooked
businessman over an ambitious poet any day. The world stops at
the word galoshes…

Sklar’s one act play Jeff and Walt in New Orleans portrays Walt Whitman and his brother after they have helped create a viable newspaper in New Orleans, been let go, and are having second thoughts about their milquetoast interaction with the local slave trade. In the end the author reduces everything to a climatic punch in the nose. How barbaric. How satisfying.

The last piece in the collection is a poem entitled Going to The Opera. Ever the philistine Sklar reduces the experience of opera to cleanliness, attractive scents, argyle socks, and bare shoulders. The poet says in explanation,

…you must
take a shower before going
and put on clean clothes
and dress up very neatly.
It is good to be clean
With other clean people.
Some women wear perfume.
It smells good.

Sometimes the primitive experience can liberate the soul in elegant simplicity. Sklar’s work does this. You want to reread and revisit his utilitarian artistic visions over and over. Besides, they smell good.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Drunk with Richard Yates, sipping soda with Liberace, and the author of a new novel: Interview with writer Daniel Gewertz

Danile Gewertz

  Somerville resident Daniel Gewertz made a living as a Boston-based freelance journalist for 28 years, writing largely about music, theater and movies. From 1995 to 2005, he wrote a weekly Boston Herald column on folk and blues music. Over the years, Gewertz has written for periodicals ranging from Harvard Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine and  New York Times, to the Cambridge Chronicle and The Tab.  

In the last 10 years, Gewertz turned his attentions toward more creative writing, namely personal essays, short memoir pieces, story-telling and fiction. Recently, he completed his first novel, "Ghost To Genius." He frequently performs his work on stage.  He has taught writing at Cambridge Center for Adult Ed., Brookline Center for Adult Ed., Lesley University and Bay State Community College. He holds a B.S. from Boston University in journalism. Or rather, he keeps it in a bottom bureau drawer.

With Doug Holder

Doug Holder: In your career as a journalist at the Boston Herald and elsewhere you have had many experiences with significant figures in the arts.  You told me you had lunch with Glen Close, a soda with Liberace, and you got drunk with the novelist Richard Yates, author of the novel Revolutionary Road. Tell me about your experience with Yates—he is a favorite author of mine.

Dan Gewertz:  That was a strange thing. This was during the time The Boston Herald had a pretty decent sized Sunday magazine back in the 80s. I needed a few hours of interviews for a good story. He was teaching at Boston University at the time. I don’t believe he wrote his last novel yet. But he was drinking extremely heavily. We were at the bar  the “Crossroads” in the Back Bay of Boston. Both of us drank an enormous amount during the afternoon. I got 3 hours of him on tape. After the first hour he became more and more slurry and confused. I ended up being baffled what to do with the interview because I I didn’t want to show him in a bad light. So I never used it until it the interview was used on Robin Young’s radio show on WBUR. So I was able to use the interview after all the years that had past.

DH: Recently you finished writing a novel Ghost to Genius. One of the themes is the disconnect between commercial success and artistic talent.

DG: The novel is an emotional journey not only a message novel. But—on that theme—especially with music and movies—I feel that they have been brought down to the lowest common denominator. It has always been true that intellectuals looked down on anything that was popular. The Golden Age of Hollywood in the late 1930s and 40s was dismissed by people of this ilk as sentimental garbage. But the studios really knew how to create art in those days. And now…well..with Hollywood today, they found out that people under 45 weren’t going to the movies, so they made movie for 20 and 30 year old people.. Then they found out people in their 30s weren’t going to the movies so they made movies for people ages 10 to 24  The blockbuster has taken over…same with music. When I wrote for the Herald I mostly wrote about the blues, jazz, American roots music…stuff that was outside the mainstream.

DH: The future of journalism, at least print journalism, looks pretty bleak. 

DG: Yeah. I left the Herald in 2011.  As far as I know the Herald is presently operating with a skeleton staff. The days when newspapers look for local-out of the way-stories, is a thing of the past. Now, an art/entertainment critic, has to write about the biggest productions and try to find something interesting to say about them. Lady Gaga  is written more about than other serious artists.

My book Ghost to Genius takes all this as an underpinning. The story of the book is about a little known, middle-aged singer/songwriter Philip Levinson. He is making a bare living with his songs despite having a sterling critical reputation. He has been at it a long time and he is becoming demoralized. He is a widower, a loner, and he gets an opportunity when he meets a high-powered entertainment lawyer in New York City. The lawyer wants him to be a ghost writer for a legendary singer/songwriter who can’t write anymore. The legendary singer is playfully based on Bob Dylan. So it is a secret job—if Levinson tells anyone he loses it and all the money that comes with it. But this is also a fun novel. There are depictions of Cambridge and Somerville that is full of eccentric people.

DH: You teach memoir writing.  Aren’t the same essential elements of fiction true for memoir: character development, realistic dialogue, vivid description, setting, etc…?

DG: Those are all good. I tell students that the bottom line for  a good memoir is one that provides an emotional punch and a great story. All of memoir is based on memory—and why this memory mean so much to the author. In terms of getting all the facts right , I try to research things because the reader may think why should I believe the author if many of the facts are wrong or inaccurate.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Greek for Beginners at the Grolier: Therese Sellers’ ALPHA IS FOR ANTHROPOS

Greek for Beginners at the Grolier: Therese Sellers’ ALPHA IS FOR ANTHROPOS

article by Michael T. Steffen

Last Friday evening, 13 December 2013, in the Grolier Poetry Bookshop among an animated gathering of bibliophiles there stood a woman of pronounced Hellenic features with a generous smile chanting children’s rhymes to the tunes of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”, “Row Row Row Your Boat”, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” and “Dona Nobis Pacem” among others. While the melodies rang familiar, the words being sung by Therese Sellers were, well, Greek to me—and to the rest of the audience.
     “Life is beautiful” one song told us. “The bridge is falling down”another song reminded us, while yet another celebrated our love for all animals.
     Sellers was at the Grolier to promote her new book ALPHA IS FOR ANTHROPOS: AN ANCIENT GREEK ALPHABET, comprised of a chart of the Greek alphabet and twenty-four nursery rhymes featuring rudimentary words in ancient Greek each for one of the letters in the alphabet. The songs are presented on the left-hand pages accompanied on the facing pages with illustrations done by Therese’s sister Lucy Bell Jarka-Sellers. She was also present at the book promotion.
     “The drawings are not intended to reproduce the style of Greek vase paintings exactly,” Sellers explains in the Preface to her new book. “Instead they present the motifs and style of red-figure vase painting in a way that both appeals to children and prepares them to look at real Greek vases with pleasure and understanding.”
     In the Preface the author also tells the story of how she invented the Greek nursery rhymes and set them to familiar tunes as a mnemonic aid to introduce Ancient Greek to children, using her godson Alexander as “my guinea pig.”
     This is stolen from the cover jacket comments:
Therese Sellers and Lucy Bell Jarka-Sellers began studying Ancient Greek as teenagers and went on to study Classics at Harvard. Their first artistic collaboration was a production of Euripides’ Bacchae in the Harvard football stadium for which Therese directed the chorus in Ancient Greek and Lucy Bell drew the iconic publicity poster in the style of a Greek red figure vase. After graduate studies in Classics, both sisters became teachers. While Lucy Bell teaches upper-level Greek and Latin, Therese specializes in teaching Ancient Greek to younger students.

     To assist the reader with the melodies and the drawings, a KEY TO THE SONGS & NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS is provided at the back of the book.
     It is a handsome 11 x 8.5 hardbound edition, the kind kids love to look at held up before them while reading along. Well worth its value, ALPHA IS FOR ANTHROPOS makes an ideal gift and keepsake for Greek students of all ages.

by Therese Sellers, illustrated by Lucy Bell Jarka-Sellers
published by Cricket Press
Ascanius Youth Classics Institute
56pp, is available for $35
at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop