Saturday, January 03, 2015

Imperial Jewelry: A new store that displays the art and craft of local artists.

The artists of the Imperial Jewelry with Doug Holder (Center)

Imperial Jewelry: A new store that displays the art and craft of local artists.

By Doug Holder

 Medford Street, between Union Square and Ball Square, is sort of a forgotten neck of the woods in our city. As the gentrification of our burg progresses and speeds to the inevitable displacement that always happens at times like these, the city is taking some action. They are providing help to fledgling businesses so they can survive in a rapidly changing Somerville—a lofty goal to be sure. Adriana Fernandes, a Community Engagement Specialist for the city of Somerville, is a face of the city—who is helping Imperial Jewelry at 499 Medford St. have a fighting chance in the “new” Somerville. Fernandes is helping the new owner Cleuder Morias, negotiate the shoals of a new language (Morias recently arrived from Italy), as well to encourage his outreach into the community. Fernandes told me; “My role is not just about business, but about changing lives.”

I was introduced to this new enterprise by enamel artist Barbara Marder. Marder is a former art teacher at the Kennedy School in Somerville and currently has a space at the Artists Asylum outside Union Square. At the Kennedy School she supervised students who created a mural that involved glass enamel that is still on display today. Marder, who trained at Skidmore and Boston University, works extensively with enamel, and a lot of her enamel jewelry is on display at the shop. I purchased one of her inexpensive brooches for a friend of mine—and she immediately adorned it on her coat. I say that is a  strong endorsement. Marder has also produced enamel on copper bowls and paints landscapes of the Berkshires, and other scenes. Marder tells me she is hardly a provincial artist, as she has a following nationally and internationally.

Another resident artist at the shop is Consuelo J. Perez. Perez describes her genre of arts as “Trash to Treasure.” She recycles items like bottle caps, key rings, and other items into off the grid jewelry, brooches, zipper earrings, etc… that are displayed at the store. Perez is a longtime Somerville resident and works from a home studio. She sees the neighborhood changing rapidly, and is glad there are still venues for her work. She has also displayed her work at the Somerville Open Studios, and other events that the Somerville Arts Council offers.

The third artist I spoke to was Jennifer Weigel. She describes herself as a conceptual artist, photographer, and painter.  She recently relocated from St. Louis to Somerville to be near her boyfriend.  She described her painting as Monet-influenced, and she works with oil and acrylic.  A few of her paintings were displayed at the shop. She told me “I am and identity-based artist. I work with costumes, gender identity, etc… “ Weigel has had exhibits around the country, like the ARC gallery in San Francisco and others.. She continued, “I consider myself a social  and environmental activist, and a feminist. My work reflects that.”

Weigel and this band of artists have plans.   They will have an open house event on Saturday January 31st from 1-4PM
.  For more info about the gallery call: 857-417-6631.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Jim Baab: A Somerville photographer who sees the “naked” possibilities.

Vegetarian Nudes

Jim Baab: A Somerville photographer who sees the “naked” possibilities.

By Doug Holder

Photographer Jim Baab is a man who sees the naked possibilities in both the human and vegetable form.  This Prospect Hill Somerville resident met me at the Bloc11 Café in Union Square to discuss his unique brand of photography.

Baab told me that he and his wife moved to Somerville in 1999, and lived in the reconverted church (Built in 1887) next to the café. Later they bought a home and put down roots in the ‘Ville. Baab told me he feels right at home with the artistic community in Somerville.

Baab, who has previously worked in the Film and Video Department at Boston University, works with pictures he has posted on Instagram, that he took with his digital camera. Baab said “They can be pictures of my garden, common everyday objects around the home, etc…” One of his projects is titled “Vegetarian Nudes.”  This was inspired by the photographer Edward Weston. Baab started this project back in college after taking a Photo1 class.  Now, you may stalk the aisles of Market Basket to find vegetables to cook, but Baab is a bird of a different order. Baab use vegetables to photograph the human form. He uses things like a Brussel Sprout that makes for the elegant back of a woman’s head. And while you adorn your salad with a Bell Pepper, Baab turns it into a sensuous, curving back—and-- me thinks, with a hint of the crack in the lower back.

But Baab works with the real thing as well. He has a project titled “Palm Spring Nudes,” in which he photographed fine art models at Palm Springs in California, a few years back. Baab told me: “I like to photograph with natural light. Actually, for me, overcast days are the best for shooting.” Baab is also attracted to strong lines, shadows, structures and distinct shapes—all of which the human form evokes or encompasses.

Baab said that he studies with Karen Rosenthal. Rosenthal, according to Baab, explores what she has coined the “Human Landscape,” and that’s what Baab is intimately involved with—here—in the landscape—of the Paris of New England.

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.

If you would like to support AGNI, you can donate (safely) here:

If you would like to subscribe, you can do so (safely) here:

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.