Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Granting AGNI More Room to Grow

Granting AGNI More Room to Grow

By Emily Pineau

    AGNI Magazine (located in Boston University since 1987) was founded in 1972, and has been dedicated to its history ever since. In fact, the editors are proud to note that the 2014 Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano was first published in English in AGNI 10/11, and last year’s National Book Award finalist Cynthia Huntington appeared in AGNI 7. This 42-year-old literary magazine publishes poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, interviews, and artwork twice a year in print and biweekly online. Now as 2015 fast approaches, AGNI has been given a chance not only to stretch its literary limbs, but to also, in a sense, be reborn.

    Recently The National Endowment for the Arts awarded AGNI with a grant of $20,000, which is twice as big as the grants received in recent years. Senior Editor Bill Pierce says, “In 2014 we were able to go up 50% from the prior rate [that we pay our writers] due to the [past] $10,000 grant, but we weren’t sure if we’d be able to sustain that.” Due to this $20,000 grant, the magazine is now able to double the amount they pay writers for their work. This substantial increase from past years also supports the magazine’s social media, which has helped it gain subscribers. AGNI has a considerable Twitter presence, is active on Facebook, and has digital versions of the print magazine available.

    During a time where the Internet is starting to dominate the publishing industry, AGNI is embracing this fact by upholding and improving their strong web presence. Pierce explains:

    "We are not scared of this new era—we publish as much work exclusively on the     web as we do on the print magazine. We are focused on making our digital     presence reflect our print presence. The idea is to not have the digital drain the  print. They feed each other."

AGNI is not trying to be something they’re not, and they do not want to stray too far from their roots. The goal is for their website to be accessible to the public and to be more like a companion to the print version of the magazine. So, to pursue this quest, AGNI Online is being launched with a new design in early 2015. This new design rebalances the site so that the print magazine and the digital content are equally visible.

    AGNI looks for ways to build their community, engage them, and make them feel like an intricate part of each issue. The new issue—AGNI 80—features Erica Funkhouser, Tony Eprile, Anna Journey, and many other notable and talented writers. Also, the art feature by Rosamond Purcell showcases chocolate Oscars hanging out amongst various landscapes and appearing to be quite human-like. This is just one of many examples of how this issue comes to life, and how AGNI continues to create new boundaries, move the soul, and make new connections. As Martin Rock writes in his poem “Portrait of a Sixteenth-Century Etching of the Body,” it is “Not the word that changes,/ but the chambers that move/ around it” (p.76). The heart of AGNI is still hand-stapled, but its digital windows are angled towards the future.

***** Emily Pineau is an intern at AGNI magazine, and an English major at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Black Stars Poems by Ngo Tu Lap Translated by Martha Collins

Black Stars
Poems by Ngo Tu Lap
Translated  by Martha Collins
and Ngo Tu Lap
Milkweed Editions
Minneapolis, Minnesota
ISBN: 978-1-57131-459-8
110 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Sometimes old memories and the ephemeral present don’t collide; rather they embrace in a rhythmic dance through a dream-like planetarium where these celestial bodies both repulse and attract. This phenomenon manifests itself elegantly in Black Stars, poems by Ngo Tu Lap as translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins in collaboration with the author.

Lap’s words evoke the Vietnam conflict and his childhood in that country gently and in a circuitous but insistent way. His memories seem to emerge from a rich Manichean darkness, take on the shine of life and then submerge to invisibility again. At times the metaphoric landscapes become the only tangible reality, absorbing not only sadness and suffering, but the persona’s self.

Early on in the collection the poem entitled Women from the 1960s (1) conjures up remembered images of childhood, both basic and affecting. A bit of background: Lap was born in 1962 and lived in a town sixty miles from Hanoi. The poet says,

The first women I ever saw
Were huge and dark, with warm breasts
And tired eyes like sad stars

While I played with a snail
In a bomb shelter flooded with rain
The women disappeared without a sound

Thirty years later I still see them
Millions of breasts cut from suffering bodies
Fallen to earth like young coconuts
Full of milk even in the grave

In Lap’s poem Darkness he develops a textured geography redolent of sweat and filled with life. The wording (read lively translation) drips wonderfully and sensually onto the page. Darkness, as used by Lap, delivers freedom of memory and imagination and acts as a life giving prod to continue toward whatever end we seek. Here’s the heart of the piece,

Though ravens flock and thieves prowl
Though wicked intrigues hover above me
Though droning insects sadden my heart
I still choose you, darkness, as my companion

With you, the snails of childhood crawl out again
Eyes, both strange and familiar, close together—
Like heat suffused with the odor of sweat
Darkness quietly honors my faithful smile

Lap appends invisible heavenly pulsars to his own body and gives them substance in his title poem Black Stars. The circularity of the self and its subjective infinity appear and reappear from childhood memories of war time. Lap creates a tension between present and past. They orbit and, quite often, inform one another. The poet’s field of view expands exponentially,

There, in the village, a rooster is crowing
In the scent of burning rice-fields, dew is sparling
Over there is my mother
There, my country

On guns and plows, millions of diligent stars
Are flying in silence
Black stars, black stars

One life might have drifted away
But one has returned

In many of these pieces I’ve noticed a continuous rising and falling motion as if to offset life’s vertigo and develop direction. Tears, coconuts, rain, friends, leaves, years and hair succumb to gravity, while wind, blood, stars and the road rise to the heavens. This lyrical motion mimics breathing and gives the collection its magical momentum. Lap’s poem Viet Blood opens with this versified rush,

Sometimes it rises excited on lips
As red as the sun of Vietnam
Sometimes it flows silently
Like mud, dark in veins
While I travel this vast land, these long rivers

Clouds spread white mist through the border sky
My sweat flows into deep chasms…

And later in the same poem, Lap’s flow of words fall again,

It didn’t choose me, I didn’t choose it
Viet blood
Is like life, love, death
Sometimes hardening into resin

Green leaves keep flowing down the hill
Where my friend has fallen

Lap employs a “well” metaphor to get at the nature of mortality in the poem entitled Empty Well. Everything collapses into non-existence and silence and the silence is deafening. Yet this well cannot be quenched. Is it circular? Does it give up its dead? The poet seems to meditate on this conundrum,

Like eyes in a decomposing skull
Black wells
Look into the earth
Black wells filled with silence

Beneath the acacia tree
Cai flowers withered long ago
Onion stalks have yellowed
Cannas have gone wild

Rainwater keeps falling

Lap delves into war’s horror in his poem Praise for the Dead not with squeamishness but with distance. His response to vulture-like demons feasting on dead carcasses is one of thoughtful sadness. War’s glory and nobility rots in the frozen past, along with unfinished dreams and squandered potential. Lap handles his remembered and imagined goblins with not a little irony. He concludes the piece this way,

I used to be very sad
And afraid
Of their sharp white teeth
Their drunken eyes gleaming like mercury
Their frozen kisses sharp as bamboo knives

I used to be very sad
But who knows, maybe I’m lucky

Thank you, stinking corpse:
Because of your nobility
I now have fewer friends

Lap’s poems flower into movingly phrased English in this not-to-be-missed collection. Martha Collins and Milkweed Editions deserve much praise for this inspired poetic collaboration.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014



Nicole Terez Dutton

Nicole Terez Dutton's work has appeared in CallalooPloughshares32 PoemsIndiana Review, and Salt Hill Journal.  Nicole earned an MFA from Brown University and is currently serving as the the 2013 Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place. She has been awarded the fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Cave Canem and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the winner of the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for If One Of Us Should Fall.  She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and teaches at the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College and Grub Street.

  The panel that selected Nicole consisted of  Somerville Arts Council Director ,Greg Jenkins, Ibbetson Street Press founder and Arts Editor of The Somerville Times, Doug Holder, Tapestry of Voices founder, Harris Gardner,  Poet Linda Conte,  Poet Bert Stern,  Mass. Cultural Council, Charles Coe, Grolier Poetry Book Shop owner, Ifeanyi Menkiti, and  Interim Director of the Somerville Library, Ron Castile. The panel and position were founded by Harris Gardner, Greg Jenkins and Doug Holder.

The finalists were: Gloria Mindock, and Ralph Pennel.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Interview with Christopher Busa: Founder of the Provincetown Arts magazine

Interview with Christopher Busa founder of Provincetown Arts Magazine

With Doug Holder
Christopher Busa, founder and editor of Provincetown Arts magazine, was born in New York City in 1946, the son of a painter who participated in the formative years of  Abstract Expressionism. Spending part of every year in Provincetown  since infancy, he slowly absorbed its mythology as a place where artists  and writers gather to work and live. After graduation from the University of Minnesota, he studied for a year in Paris at the Sorbonne, and then pursued a Ph.D. for ten years while teaching English at Rutgers University. His interviews and profiles of artists and writers have appeared in the Paris Review, Arts, Partisan Review, Garden Design, and other magazines. Two published pieces were reprinted in Interviews and Encounters with Stanley Kunitz, edited by Stanley Moss (Sheep Meadow Press). Another essay, “Being a Great Man Is a Thesis Invented by Others,” appeared in Such Desperate Joy: Imagining Jackson Pollock (Thunder’s Mouth Press). He has curated exhibitions and written catalog introductions for many artists. He co-edited and introduced the Erotic Works of D.H. Lawrence (Crown, 1989), the subject of his dissertation. He is the author of The Provincetown Artists Cookbook, with Written Sketches of the Artists Creating a Contemporary Portrait of the Town as an Art Colony (Abingdon, 1988).Over the past 20 years he has taped several hundred interviews and created files on over 1000 artists and writers in preparation for a comprehensive title about the century-long history of the art colony.  His WOMR FM 92.1 radio program, “ArtTalk,” airs three times a month over the past five years, introducing new and established artists, performers, and writers discussing their current project and what moves them to do it.He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), based in Paris, and he is one of 16 members of the American New England Chapter, which selects two dozen “Best of” exhibitions annually in museums, commercial galleries, and university art galleries in painting, sculpture, and architecture. He is on the board of the Norman Mailer Society and on the editorial board of the Mailer Review,published by the Society and by the University of South Florida. He teaches one semester a year in the low-residency Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.

 I had the pleasure to speak to him on my Somerville Community Public TV show: Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder:  You have created over 1,000 interview files of artists, writer and poets that will be the basis of a memoir of years in Provincetown. Tell us about this project.

Christopher Busa: That book is going to be two books. The memoir I am working on is titled: Provincetown Arts. Many of the pieces that will appear in the book have been published already. I am editing it for redundancies—repetitions, etc… My motivation to start Provincetown Arts magazine—was well, after 10 years of graduate school at Rutgers University—that brand of a PhD on my hide—made me feel diminished in some odd way. I was the son of an artist who participated in the formative years of the Abstract Expressionism movement, and he taught at many universities. But every time he went to a new university art department there was always a war between the scholars and the creative people. I saw my father suffer. He was a very distinguished professor—many of his students became top artists in the country. I can think of Robert Hass, as one of them. I kind of escaped  just after I did all my work for a PhD. I moved to Provincetown to start Provincetown Arts in 1985. Our magazine has covered all the major figures that have populated Provincetown since then. Provincetown is known as the nation’s oldest art colony. It began in 1899. Originally it was a Portuguese fishing village. It was much like an European fishing village, not unlike the end of the railroad places in France. Those were places where all the artists in Paris would escape to in the summer. They could live cheaply and in a beautiful environment. And Provincetown picked up on that after the First World War. One of the ex-patriots came back and said:’ How can we replace Europe?’ And Provincetown reminded him of Europe, not only because half of the population were Portuguese fisherman, but because the fishermen and the artist were part of the “gift economy.’ Fishermen would give fish to the artists, and in turn the artists would gave them paintings, etc…

DH: Is there still a gift economy?

CB: Artists still barter. For dental work they will give a painting.  There is still a “this for that” sensibility. I grew up watching my father doing that routinely to pay bills. I found it a very natural thing to do. I take the gift economy very seriously. I have seen this with artists, and poets too—like Stanley Kunitz. Poets don’t get a lot of money for their books of poetry—but you got a prize, a teaching job, and other sources of compensation.

DH: I remember living in the Back Bay of Boston in the 70s, in a furnished room, writing, living cheaply. Is the Bohemian lifestyle harder to achieve now?

CB: I always think that it was difficult. The terms just change. When my father was audited by the IRS, they said to him: "You are not selling your painting--you are taking off too much for expenses--maybe this is a hobby." My father replied " No, No--it is a necessity ."  You see artists--either poor or rich--they have a compulsion to work.

DH: What is the difference between the artist and non-artist?

CB: One of the ways to distinguish between a non-artist--is to talk about the way artists totalize. The non-artist can do work that they  don't enjoy for the sake of earning a living.  The artist totalizes--everything he or she wants to do is everything.

DH: Some would claim art is useless...

CB: If it is so useless--then why do we create so much?

DH:  Provincetown Arts has interviewed and published a huge amount of writers since 1985, not to mention a plethora of artists have appeared on your pages. Can you talk  a bit about this?

CB: Our cover subjects tend to be major artists and writers--and they sort of cut through the theme of each issue. We have featured such writers as: Jhumpa Lahiri, Norman Mailer, poets Mark Doty, Mary Oliver, Stanley Kunitz, the filmmaker John Waters, not to mention the artist Robert Motherwell, and many others.

DH: Are all off your features connected to P-Town?

CB: Either they live down the block or they are from neighboring communities.  They have deep roots.

DH: Many people have told me interviewing is an art. How is it an art?

CB:. I couldn't be more affirmative to the question of " Is interviewing an art?" I want to bring out the genius, the genuine voice of the artist--not some secondary rendering. As a son of an artist, I heard my father speak about painting with astonishing vividness. Robert Motherwell published a series of artists writings, including interviews--that influenced me a great deal. To me  interviews are a way to isolate the artists' voice. The interviewer is talking to the face of the moon, and through the interview he can see the dark side too.

DH: You have a memoir coming out about your life ant times in Provincetown--including your experience with Norman Mailer--who you knew since you were 7 years old. Can you talk a bit about this?

CB: Norman rented my father's studio in P-Town.  I would watch Norman come in to work for 5 or 6 summers. He wore work clothes--got into his studio around 10AM--and left about 4PM. He was like a house painter going to paint a house. He really had a profound work ethic. One story that went around was you had to catch Norman in the evening between his 7th and 14th drink--to talk to him. Hey--he wrote 50 books--so he didn't waste a lot of time. Norman was interested in things that altered his state of consciousness. And writing could do that for him. He has an unpublished manuscript about his experiences with cannabis titled Lipton's Tea. Mailer said of Provincetown  "This is a town you can find yourself digging in and fighting for." So he thought Provincetown was worth protecting. He called it the " Wild West of the East." He liked the fact that there was a town in America that people of all types could co-exist.

DH: You knew and wrote about the poet Stanley Kunitz who also had a home in Provincetown.

CB: I wrote one essay about his garden. How he started this garden from which was once a barren sand dune. He terraced it--like stanzas in  a poem. He worked on this garden for two years, in many ways like he worked on a poem.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award--Gloria Mindock

Gloria Mindock

The Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award has been awarded to many prestigious, and community-- minded poets, publishers and writers over the years. Here is a list:

Louisa Solano ( Former owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop)

David Godine ( David Godine, Inc.--publisher)

Jack Powers  ( Founder of Stone Soup Poets)

Frank Bidart ( Renowned Poet and Critic)

Afaa Michael Weaver ( Poet- Tufts/Kingsley Award-winner)

Robert Pinsky ( Former Poet Laureate of U.S.)

Robert K. Johnson ( Poet, first Ibbetson Street Press poetry editor)

Most of these Awards were presented at the Somerville News Writers Festival from 2003 to 2011. The winner is given a small cash reward, and a plaque. 

Gloria Mindock is being awarded this honor for her long years as an editor, publisher, director, poet, and her commitment to community, and grassroots organizing. Gloria is the founder of the Cervena Barva Press, ,edited the Boston Literary Review for many years, headed an award-winning theatre troupe, and is a widely published poet and author.

Further details will be forthcoming.....

Thursday, December 18, 2014



Boston 1978-83. Stream of consciousness--portrait of an artist as a young poseur

Courtesy of Shabunawaz Photography © 2010 ( Picture first appeared in Oddball Magazine)

Boston 1978-83. Stream of consciousness--portrait of an artist as a young poseur.

By Doug Holder.

The picture above is of a one time rooming house on Newbury Street ( 271) which I was a denizen of from (1978-1983).

I lived in a room on the top floor (38/week), bathroom down the hall-- a stairway to the roof, cockroaches--above Davio's Rest. I remember I worked at the "Fatted Calf" in Copley Square as a short order cook, and sold the Globe over the phone in Cambridge. Used to frequent the Exeter Theatre down the block-- Marx Brothers, Rocky Horror--chanting at midnight--ate at Guild's drugstore across from the Lenox Hotel, Ethel, the counter-woman, continuous narrative of her rotten kids at the Old Colony project in Southie... I also was an asst. manager at Big L Discount Stores for a stint-- health and beauty aids--can you believe it?...taught in the South End at Dr. Solomon Carter Mental Health Center--DYS and DSS Kids... field trips to Roxbury and the abandoned Jewish Temples...  home visits for the kids...the families smoking pot and doing lines..There was a restaurant I used to frequent, the Peter Pan on Beacon Street--big cafeteria style food, poetry readings, Jim and I sat near the steam table, our words floated on the mist of steamed cabbage-- and I was habitually at the Kebab and Curry right down the block...sitar and sag . I used to see Richard Yates  (Revolutionary Road")  a drunken shamble down the block, and I had the same Chinese laundry ( I always lost my ticket..the Chinese guy was irate ("Why you lose ticket!!") as the late radio personality David Brudnoy--loved his show--his pockmarked and intelligent face. I remember ... working as a clerk at the corner of Newbury and Beacon Street--  (Sunny Corner Farms) "The Cars" used to come in there regularly,  Rick so sky high..fingering a Twinkie.. also remember meeting Gildna Radner, Barney Frank rumpled and in a rush, and Howard Zinn,--( tall, a radical patrician) on the night shift. And beers after work at Frankenstein's. My boss--a fat Irish man called me a dirty kike regularly after he had a few...nice to me the next day... I remember the ancient gay security guard  (Maynard) who used to come in to chat--and always told me of stories of how young men were enamored with him-- oh but he maintained his purity--and yes the "toothless whore" who told me she only gives "head" to her "man" her point of honor. I remember during a snow storm I gave shelter to the street icon " Mr. Butch" and almost left him there overnight...Oh yes the Victor Hugo bookshop--what a joint-- cloistered myself with the used and rare..and the Newbury Steakhouse--remember the chef--, black dude, a real card--dirty jokes and hard-earned wisdom--we used to shoot the shit... I even had a sort of girlfriend--well--I later learned she was community property--if you know what I mean--I remember sitting on the stoop of my brownstone on a hot summer night, and people would stop and chat and shoot the summer breeze--,I remember being dead drunk and asking the drunks sleeping on the grates of the Boston Public Library what the meaning of life was...They told me to f-off. I remember the thick hash and eggs I had every morning for breakfast-- how the eggs would bleed every morning on that mound--and Malaba--the Zimbabwe - man on the night shift at McLean -- rasping in his Louis Armstrong voice--called it hashish browns -would be dead if I continued that habit. I remember writing in my furnished room--with my hot plate and thinking I was a Beat poet or something--mice scurrying by--my father told me" get the hell out of there," My mother joined in " That's the life style they lead, Larry..."  Hordes of us made pilgrimages to be with the rodents and roaches.. remember all night poker games with the service bartender, who worked at the Hilton. He was going back to U/Mass for years to finish his degree.. for the past 5 years...

 Part 2

 Oh--that distinct flushed out smell of Father's Five--tattooed- Hell's Angels, ready to bounce you at the door--the Citgo sign flashing in the canyon of Kenmore Square...direction, an elixir for your fog--vinyls at Loony Tunes--the old ladies in Coolidge Corner who brought you their dead husbands' shirts when you manned the counter--"this should fit you they crooned--"-and you would be a walking monument to the deceased. Cutting through the alleys in the Back Bay-- a buffet in the trash bins for the down and out--they delicately picked at the remains of the day--sewage and rot behind a tony shop-- it was always Doomsday in the Commons--street preachers at a clearance sale---street singers--sing for change and begged for it--the old Italian guy who yelled at you: "Hey kid--ripe tomatoes--bring some for ya tomato"--laughing--the stub of a cigar shaking outside his mouth... the Mass. ave bridge gave your life a horizon--open space from the small furnished room-- a city on a hill--Buzzy's roast-beef--in front of the Charles Street Jail ---a knish--delish--hotdog , --  oh,red phallus of beef, melts in my teeth-- .  Karen--the Jewish girl in the North End--you lived and learned to love and leave--Caruso music and the couple that had operatic fights in sync...
Her last words before she threw you out "I can't stand all this eating." Smell of bread baking all night--corpulent men outside the social club--called you twinkle toes, as you jogged by with chicken legs.  Your friend-- a clerk--dating a dwarf--an adjunct at B.C.--American Studies--small love affair--

Part 3

Lived on Park Drive--sounds fancy--  but overlooked  the subway tracks and the vast Sears warehouse-- the roar of the subway, the gray, looming Sears trucks in the distance--the trickle of the Muddy River--My window open--forgot I was nude, catcalls from the subway platform at my flabby body--bloated from the 11 to 7 shift, sitting watching the restraints-- on patients-- rise and fall slightly with their sedated breath--so many chests inflated, deflated...defeated. The croissants from the Savoy Baker in Audbon Circle were flaky concessions, the dark beers and dark cavernous bar at Brown's my balm. And the elevated tracks on Harrison avenue--elevated me--I was a transcendent blur crosstown... the Dudley Bus idling near the vacant lot, rats as big as cats foraging near a fence. Sometimes I met her at the Nickelodeon,...was it the Kiss of the Spiderman...? Held her hand...traced it the way I would her body later in her studio-- a rail thin graphic artist from Providence--she wrote me beautiful letters, that made me swoon in my room...

Part 4

The Greyhound Station was near a RockaBilly bar--the flashing, seductive light of the Playboy Club, hawked long legs and short resumes--there I weaved my way to the carnality of the Combat Zone--down La Grange Street, first stopping by Hand the Hatter, an avuncular old man--some fish--some fish out of order--in the midst of all this--presided over blocked, buffed and august fedoras--the kind my father wore, his heels pounding the floor in Penn Station.  And the whore in the bar said " Give this kid a glass of milk." And all my street-wise posturing melted with these succinct words--not a boilermaker man but a milk boy.

In the old wing of the Boston Public Library Bacchante and Baby met me--lifting her child with joy--I wondered if my mother ever did that with me? A bust of Henry James stared at me in Bates Hall, as I made my way to the Periodical Room--scrolls of newspapers-- old men--half-glasses, canes, wondering why that man was praying over an Anchorage Times--the room smelled like sweat, vaguely urinous--reading a rag-- a waiting room for death...

Part 5
I met her at a school for the retarded- a working class girl--post Judge Tauro--we treated retarded women--trying to stop them from slapping feces on their clothes and ours--chaperoning them at a Fellini-like dance, men and women, with gnarled hands, twisted legs, spittle-- drooling from the sides of their mouths, brushing their cheeks. But they smiled, amidst it all--oh yes--we all need love--we all need intimacy--I told myself--even when they threw food in my face. Her name I forgot--she took me to her parents home in Malden--and being the snot I was--I felt superior--but I loved the way her tight body fell into mine when we danced, intoxicated with her perfume--loving her ful,l lipstick-red lips-her tough but girlish accent. We danced at  the VFW hall-- me with patched sport coat, and unruly, bohemian beard, Italian union men looking at me like I was a strange bird--heard "faggot" under their breath. She drifted away--she said she couldn't understand me--nor could I...

Part 6
Early in the morning -- I heard the retired civil servant..a pensioner with stained undershirt and plaid boxers--coughing up phlegm through the thin walls. " How are you, me boy?"--he greeted me in the morning--both of us jockeying for the head down the hall. Then the fire alarm--a gas main break-- out in the street--explosions traversed Newbury Street, I ran down the stairs in my Blue corduroy sports jacket--a slightly irregular affair--from the depths of Filene's basement ...padded shoulders to bolster my narrow shoulders and frail ego-- a waxed mustached... (The guys in the real estate office used to crack "Hello Dali" when I passed by the office.) I made my way down the winding stair case( the spinster on the second floor opened the door a crack--she knew she would be flushed out)--me with a red scarf around my skinny neck--like a poor man's ascot--Kirby Perkins, the newsman from the scene--I heard say from the side of his mouth to the cameraman:" Look at this fuckin character." So oblivious to my absurdity--a beret on my already thinning hair-- a rakish angel--I could be a posturing mannequin in one of the shop windows--central casting--clich├ęd young Beatnik...

Part 7
 Copley Square-- Midnight  slipped into Ken's -- a Jackie Gleasonish fat man--the manager--stationed by the rotisserie chickens-- a chorus line of  spread legs, breasts,  melting flesh, wings posturing on their plump hips--wondering which one would I choose?  A dishwasher emerged, effeminate man, dirty apron, a cigarette in a holder, long expressive hands, wearing an eye patch... drag queens in the men's room--at the counter on the first floor-- a waitress--not long on patience--piped " What's it going to be, hon?" Actors --off from a gig at the Colonial , gesturing to each other dramatically at the booths-- a few years before--I was a dishwasher here--I was chosen from a lineup of world-weary men--"you, you, and you"  at 5PM--peering at all this through stacks of dishes-- all this would be mine one day-- a late night character--laughing over corn beef and chopped liver on dark rye--with poets and writers, after a day of writing--joking like Dorothy Parker, round Algonquin Hotel. The men I worked with I knew would reappear again-- even then taking mental notes--trying to construct a narrative of the chaos of my life. 

Part 8
The long days of unemployment. At the Paris Theatre--  midweek matinees, mad housewives pleasuring themselves with milk duds--the cliche of the trench coated men--mumbling into their sleeves...but that lovely, envelope of dark--perhaps a first run Woody Allen--the broad cityscape...served up with King Oliver or Gershwin...things seemed to make sense.  My life, maybe--at one time, will have a similar symphony. Later-- below in the Boylston Street station-- a graveyard of old trolleys-- a panorama of orange rust. I was a strap-hanger then--sacrificing my seat for an old gent--my strange dance--a bump and grind--a transit Tango--with the other passengers--eyes averted--our forced intimacy when the train stopped suddenly-- my collision with a buxom blonde--  Late at night-- walking through the Fens to Park Drive --a residue from the Ramrod Room--men having trysts behind the trees--fertilizing the community garden with their seed....before the plague.. 

Part 9
First night on the psychiatric ward--he called me his finest creation--I was responsible--for the thunder and rain outside--the snapshots of light that popped at the windows--checks on the quiet rooms--museum windows of mental illness--peep shows --all those pink papers--the legal confetti that led them here...A woman took drags on her cigarette-- hollow and sunken chest filled-- a woman of substance until she exhaled--I remember she once grabbed a beautiful young male attendant--squeezing his body close to her--as if she was trying to capture something--his youth--the shock of blonde hair...his strong, undefeated body was now in her old Boston Brahmin, haughty and insane asked me if there were cockroaches on the unit...  I said "No"  "Good she replied, " You must treat them elsewhere." She insisted I was the young researcher from the Panamanian League on Newbury Street--and the young woman ran from her room in the nude, we danced with the beautiful sprite at 3AM-- and she did her swan song, now supine, sedated--restraints. And I talked with a young man--who said he had a correspondence with Allen Ginsberg--I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness....

I taught Black History/in the South End/Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center. A Jewish boy from Long Island--they called me "homey" --I thought "homely." They said my sorry, sagging ass looked like it had a ton of bricks resting on it--I never-thought about this--I made clandestine trips to the men's room, with a hand mirror to check on my ass--they were right. We took them to the pool on the lower floor--one boy swam with one finger in his ear--a phone conversation with the voices in his head--they were pleasant--the boy had a wild, resplendent smile. Walking down Harrison Ave.  Past Chico's Bodega and the usual drunk sprawled out with Boone's Farm or Muscatel, down past the Shanty Lounge--had dinner at the Asmara--with my fellow teacher--Tesfay-- large Ethiopian flat breads, with exotic droppings of meat and vegetables-he spoke of the revolution--handsome professorial beard--soft spoken, seemed to ponder each word I said--a minister now--back in Africa. 

Part 11
It must have been near the Milner Hotel, an old fleabag--sro at the time--and I was found out by an old black gent--watched me as I passed--I heard the guttural laugh--the slap of the knee--he knew what my sorry ass was up to--how I made that fuckin' mole hill into a mountain--and save my chicken shit walk--the head-tilting attitude--for someone who hasn't it seen it before and has time to give a good God damn. And I remember Chinatown--those late night meals at the Ying-Ying--the staccato chatter of the patrons-- the roast ducks in the windows dripped seductively to me, the chow fun, greasy dollops of ducks, swimming in a broth, thick with noodles,staring at the flashing neon outside on the rain slicked street--I felt I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone, Rod Sterling introducing me: " Have if you will, one Doug Holder... "

Part 12
Double features at the Harvard Square Cinema--hot day--hot movie "Last Tango in Paris"  Brando didn't believe in names--sex with a young Parisian without the brand--and to die on a balcony with Paris as a backdrop--that's the way to go I thought. And where are you Frank Cardullo?--Harvard Square turns its lonely eyes to you--holding court in the back of the Wursthaus, with the cops, merchants, pols, big cigar in the face of a small, mustachioed man. At the "Tasty" the counterman presided over a greasy grill...called me "Smiley" because of my perpetual frown. He delivered the dogs on a square bun--usually with a cornball pun.... The Harvard refugees at the Au Bon Pain--a community of expatriates--expelled from the academy -- chess players--the pressing issues of today over a that intense crowd passed by--the geniuses--  homeless,  buskers,  the  ne'er-do-well. -well--with something to sell...the timeless raven--haired girl --peasant skirt--clasp of books-- the Babble of this Babel....

Part 13

Neisner's...made my way to the Bromfield St. entrance--slopping up my corn chowder with cornbread..then down to Barnes and Noble. Glanced at a book--interesting cover  --"On the Road" some guy named Kerouac. Then that rush--the possibility I could hit the same road--leave tracks--leave the tendrils of straitlaced suburban roots--the voice that pleaded for freedom--caged by conformity. I was an addict  --- injecting myself with Dharma Bums, Town and Country--Allen Ginsberg's -pubic, gray rabbinical beard--sporting a Burroughs Fedora--habituating the Cafe Tangiers in Harvard Square--leaving Beat Books on the counter of the grocery store I worked in Brookline Village--hoping to provoke a conversation with a customer.
Wrote a stream "of self consciousness"--in my journals-- posturing unapologetic-- as if I was admitted into the Cabal--still not venturing much past Kenmore Square...

Part 14

Jack’s Joke Shop--near the Common--your first Dick Nixon Mass-- all jowls, pointed nose crowned with hate and Watergate -- and the subversive whoopee cushion--slip it on a seat--and her the old fart clamoring to get up..Oh and the clock/no sex until six--and its lovely face of carnality--a circle of sixes. And long before you were a Glaucoma suspect--your eyes could pop from your socket--riding on small, slinky springs.  Still a boy--laughing at toys..not that far from the boyhood joys.

Part 15

Working at Rexall Drugs on Boylston Street during the Busing Crisis-- blushing when they asked for condoms--the mad man in a blue blazer/ coat of arms/ bulging eyes/shock of dyed blonde hair/ rushing in out/always looking like he stuck his spotted hand in a socket... smiling at, an then quickly retreating-- a long distance flirtation with the cute 18 year girl behind the soda fountain--thought I was in a Thornton Wilder play. I heard the owner say: " It is the rich, Jewish liberals from the suburbs that are causing this crisis" And everything my Bronx. shtetl, pale of settlement  ( oh how loved her kishkas)  grandma said about the "goys" were true--"  "Well, the Catholic Church is rich too...," I said. And fired the next day--said I was rude to a customer... a lesson in life...

Part 16

Portrait of an artist as a young poseur: Brahmin Woman Descending.....

Bay State Road-- the old Brahmin woman/ 80 degree early spring--shivering in her heavy winter coat-- -- a cripple, down the Brownstone steps--grabbing the hand of a black attendant-- now outside her rarefied cocoon --young Boston University students--preening like young animals in the sun--Oh where are you Dutch Elms?" she thinks--"Wiped out by some unruly cancer, no doubt!"-- Your chalk white face-like a death mask--a Frisbee barely misses your clenched jaw--on such a warm day--cold shock of comprehension...

Part 17

 Such an elite trot down Commonwealth Avenue/measured/patrician bearing/ as if trying to the Catch the Green Line/without losing composure/ covering the same ground/as horses of lesser lineage/did for years. Looking at our framed faces in the subway car/ a museum of surprise/ spotting the Irish chambermaids, the Jewish peddlers, the black laborers/ it must think " So hard to get good domestics." And those police/ like persistent flies/ his tail swipes/dismissively at them....

Portrait of an artist as a young poseur: A Moose in Boston.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A HISTORY OF HOWARD JOHNSON’S How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon By Anthony Mitchell Sammarco

How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain
Became an American Icon
By Anthony Mitchell Sammarco
Published by American Palate
Division of The History Press
Charleston SC 2013

Review by Tom Miller

If you recall as I do traveling across the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the 1950s as an impatient kid in the backseat of the family sedan anticipating the Orange tiled roof that housed the Howard Johnson restaurant and its 28 flavors of the best ice cream in the world, then you may find this book a pleasant but light diversion down memory lane.  Mr. Sammarco is a local Boston historian who has published a number of books regarding histories of Boston and its surrounds and he takes on this task as one of his own as the Howard Johnson story all began in the southern suburbs of Boston.

This book is not the definitive study of the rise and eventual decline of the rag to riches story that it could be.  Rather is a more superficial treatment of a young entrepreneur who turned a corner drugstore that he purchased with a $500 loan into a nationwide chain of restaurants and motor lodges.  Nor does it detail how that empire declined into irrelevance as a result of shortsighted decisions by second generation owners who eventually sold it.  Nor of the subsequent conglomerate entities who stripped it of its assets and essentially abandoned it to the rather large pile of misused businesses that clutter the landscape of the history of American businesses that came and went in the twentieth century.  The book alludes to all of this but really only in glimpses. 

What Mr. Sammarco does in the book is present a basic history of who, what, where and when in his Introduction and then tries to flesh it out in the chapters which come off more as a series of essays as opposed to a coherent start to finish story that one might expect in a more detailed study.  On this nostalgic journey we see flashes of the Howard Johnson’s ancestors, particularly his father, and some surface understanding of Howard’s personality but we never come to know him nor anyone else as a person.  Rather the author gives us brief accounts of how the first restaurant and how the first franchised restaurant came into existence and then in a rather broad brush approach relates the expansion into a chain of restaurants and motor lodges. 

Some of the value in this book is the author’s developing of historical background information for a few of the locales mentioned.  Perhaps the most interesting is the narrative of the events and rationale for the New York’s World Fair of 1939-40 and Mr. Johnson’s partnership with Miss Lydia Pinkham Gove in the development and success of the Howard Johnson restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park which was located right on the main road leading to the Fair.  Additionally Mr. Sammato includes a number of photographs, artists renderings of restaurants and other ephemera which will no doubt stir favorable memories.

He also includes a chapter about employees and associates which obviously draws from what must have been a newsletter or such intended for internal consumption within the Howard Johnson family.  And he briefly discusses the more or less spin off businesses, the Red Coach Grill and the Ground Round restaurants that were started by Howard Johnson’s but he offers little regarding the rationale for them nor much about their successes or failures.

There is much in this book that makes it worthwhile for an afternoon read for someone who would like to invoke some pleasant memories of what was one of the first national chains of franchised restaurants and motor lodges that set the standard for the many who would follow and to gain some insights into its initial formation and growth.  For someone who would like to delve more deeply into what is truly a fascinating story this book provides a nice beginning overview.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review of Tempo Maps by Daniel Hales

Review of Tempo Maps by Daniel Hales

Alice Weiss

This six inch square poetry book with a matte photo of high branches against a tan sky on the cover, a CD in a plastic envelope on the inside cover and half the book being upside down from the other half would be distractingly gimmicky if it weren’t for the inventiveness and musicality of the poems: The title, Tempo Maps, aptly captures the themes: music and the mapping of the heart. The “map” is takes form and focus from the house on Miner Street in Greenwood, Mass, although the title of many of the poems use the homonym, “Minor” and the play between the key and the digger resonates throughout the poems.
These are the poems of a composer, synesthetic and sensual, witty: the first poem,
“: minor symphony (snow)” imagines the snow just so, and the chunking and rasping and for that matter the exercise bring the poet and the lover into, well, symphony.

No one doubts snow’s musical ambitions
We begin at opposite ends of it
a raw rhythmic chunking

you be the broken garage door
me where our drive colludes with Miner Street

a metal on concrete rasping on
until the music left is us
pushing the last of it into
each other’s shovels.

In a later poem, “lightning,” “a squeaky chair” lets him “tint the evening sky.” He is a certain fragrance,” the kind a man has who sucks up ladybugs then opens the filter to see them cocooned in litter. . .” This is a guy who does the vacuuming and turns the collection of dirt balls into song. In “more thaw” Hales turns meditative and aphoristic:

The sky is one, another since the death. Between sex and those. The ice
melts and the river grunts so much. Love is air and electricity every day.
This is just.

I really love “This is just.” Of course you get the declarative quality as if the speaker is simply signing off on his judgment. On the other hand, despite the period, the reader is left with the question, just, what? In “minor symphony (keys)” the wit of “the keys on the left passenger side
tire,” is balanced by a “bassline below it all,”and a refusal to consider his mother’s worry for “our immortal souls. . . Many prickly weeds daring to pull whole special of radioactive bugs endeavor to bite the hero.”

Other delights: “you can tell I’m a goy because I like the way matzo tastes. . .You can tell I love you because it’s raining again and everything is brushstrokes.” in a poem titled “everything.” In a poem entitled ‘wicks” the lovers find an eyelash in their food. “Maybe the cook was crying about something out back, I say and begin looking for silvery drops.

In “winding,” a kind of elegy for his mother, wind “says it’s mapping the air, it’s making contours where sky starts finding which branches have decided they’re ready to fall.”

Tempo Map has many pleasures but I think the chief is the wit of its disjunction and flow of language and image the poet manages despite it.