Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ball Square’s Gil Barbosa “ The Book Shop” Owner is a Survivor.

( Left Gil Barbosa/Doug Holder)

Ball Square’s Gil Barbosa “ The Book Shop” Owner is a Survivor.

By Doug Holder

Gil Barbosa is a survivor.  The owner of "The Book Shop" in Ball Square in Somerville has kept his store alive during a time when many similar used bookstores have had a rise and inevitable fall. Barbosa told me: “It is hard to believe that three and a half years have gone by and we are still here, and I am glad to have a very good landlord who understands and is sympathetic to small businesses."

Barbosa's shop is a small one, but it still carries a wide range of used and even new books covering the Classics, Science Fiction, Murder Mysteries, Children's Literature, and my favorite Poetry. In the Internet age one would think there would be less of an interest in the physical book, but Barbosa would disagree, “There is still a demand for the physical book. People want to support a bookstore especially in this area with academics, young professionals and students. Although younger folks gravitate to e-Books, they still want to have a paperback in their hands,” he said.

In order to increase traffic to his store, and the subsequent sales, Barbosa has started several book clubs.  They include a Science Fiction Book Club, a Mystery and Crime Club (Local mystery writer Bert Robbens helped with this one), and a new book club that will take the stage Jan. 27 at 7PM—the Books to Movies Club. Barbosa said of these clubs: “We usually get about 20 people for these groups. The age range is wide, anywhere from the 20s to the 60s. People who attend these groups are from all walks of life—students, authors, high tech folks, artists—you name it.” Barbosa continued: “These groups are not only good for the store but I get a great deal of personal enrichment from them.”

Over the years Barbosa has had well-known authors appear at hhis store, including: Mystery writers Hallie Ephron, Dennis Lehane, Dr. Michael Palmer and Linda Barnes.

The store also supports a number of local artists. Tom Prince, a local picture framer, has a popular selection of greeting cards in the store. Chie Yasuba, another local artist, has a line of cards that caught my fancy. One card had a snippet of text that I will quote:

“Live slow
  Live Slow
  Enjoy life.”

Words to live by—not exactly Hallmark, now is it? Also Aaron Kovalcik has a card line titled “Monkey Chow.’ Let’s just say they are a bit funny, and ghoulish.

As part of the Green Line subway expansion that just got approved for federal financing, a train will stop at a newly constructed station at Ball Square. Barbosa feels this may happen in 2018 or before. Barbosa opined: “It’s a double-edged sword. It will certainly bring more people to the square. That is good for business. But of course rents will skyrocket and people will be displaced.”

Since I last spoke to Barbosa, he said his taste in reading has changed. Originally he was a True Crime fan, but now he said: “I like the Russians—you know—Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, not to mention Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, and I have even dabbled in Shakespeare.

Barbosa smiled: “Hey, life is too short to read bad books—know what I’m saying?” I certainly do—and that’s the way it is—here—in the Paris of New England.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Out of Time, Running by Edward Nudelman

Out of Time, Running
Edward Nudelman

 Review by Alice Weiss

            I  am often afraid of seeing what there is to see.  I think many of us are like this but not Edward Nudelman.  He is hungry to see and running out of time for it. As the punning title suggests he wants to look both at time and outside time. What he wants to see is a world populated, of course, by loved ones, and memories, and nature, but his nature is both apparent and microscopic, complex and surprisingly visual.  In this book he is both poet and scientist.
            Indeed, the poem which seemed to me the richest in this rich set, “Biochemist in a Cold Room,” takes place in a laboratory late at night.  Placing drops of liquid into glass tubes, the speaker observes, “Each shivering microliter bifurcates: equal parts myth and discovery.”  And that is his journey, myth and discovery, or his landscape.  Later in this poem he reflects,
It’s a good thing I’m here
in the middle of the night
when the error of judgment
is less pronounced, when artifact
more easily passes for breakthrough.
Here is the juncture of scientist and poet, and the contradiction.  For the scientist, an error of judgment may be disastrous, but for the poet it’s a ‘good thing’ for artifact to “pass for breakthrough,” and a good thing for it to be easy, or is it?  What does it say if late at night the “error of judgment is less pronounced.”  It has to do with seeing, I think and that is the complex maneuver of this book. For what is there to see. “Can one discern” he asks in another poem,  “a single dot/in a sea of pixels?”
            In “Melody of Complaint,” the opening poem, the visible landscape is his home where  “[f]aith would warm his hands if he had it. . .and doubt would hog the room . . but his mood
            shrinks this house into a cell
            . . .[of] wants and wills.  A desk riddled with sheets
            and letters and numbers.
            Above the bookcase leaded
            with broken glass, tulips
            in a glass jar begging for light.
            Everything as it were
            begging for light.
            There are all these details, these cells, these atoms, (one of the poems is titled “ Subatomic Rambling”) observable, visible, but also disappearing, begging, one thinks, for another kind of light, another way of focusing.  In “Monk Inside,” he both is and  is not  “scientist, mud-god, skunk of wisdom,” and addressing this god  of science, part of him, but not, he demands “. . .[S]peak to me no more in your native tongue of secrets
            unblanketed. . .
            Restless I am for the lapping moon
            and the first birds of morning. . .
And so who is the monk inside?  In “Id Ridden” there is some kind of answer. He imagines himself fading into the background “while countless unrecognizable me’s creep forward in stealth. . .sit down with me/ at night, share my silverware. . .
            perhaps it’s better that way
            not knowing the real you,
. so you can “let it slip out between the lines…”where he has, in any event, . . .never found anything but blank space.  “What’s ironic about grief is that it never fully goes away and that’s what makes it tolerable.” “The whole idea of bee is getting softer.” Taking down a roof, he props a ladder partly in a flower bed, “somewhere between heroism and outright idiocy.” So he is a changeling. 
            And in his poem “Lizard Status,” he, the elaborator of visions and implausible explanations, disgusted with the state of being human, posturing in words  like ‘skewered’ and ‘nictitating,’ and ‘ unbridled brine’ slows, finding something wonderful in lizardness announces,
            Here am I, coming to rest on linen.  A pear.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Making Sense Out of Life and Impossible Things by Jason Steinberg : A Review of Expanzaramadingdong

Making Sense Out of Life and Impossible Things: A Review of Expanzaramadingdong

Expanzaramadingdong: A phrase to say when things just don’t make sense—
(Jason Steinberg)


    Sometimes life is just a list of things, a close-up look at simple things, and full of times we should forget about things. In his poem “Tree House,” Jason Steinberg writes, “Here’s my lovely tree house/ Inside is everything I need—/ My bike, my glove, my bowling ball/ And glasses to help me read.” Steinberg’s poetry book Expanzaramadingdong is filled with poems that read like little stories. These children’s poems provide life lessons, beautiful insights on relationships and nature, and spread a hearty laugh across many pages. Much like Shel Silverstein, Steinberg’s work has a quality that appeals to both children and adults, inviting them to bond over his play on words, silly situations, and the images that the illustrator Keith Klein created to accompany Steinberg’s poems. These images hold a comic-book quality, making the characters appear as though they move the way the rhyme scheme does—smoothly, like ribbons.

    In Steinberg’s poem “Kitchen” he plays with phrases and has the character/narrator interpret them as being literal. This quality is also found in Peggy Parish’s popular children’s book series Amelia Bedelia, which is about a girl who misunderstands her employer’s orders because she takes figures of speech literally. Steinberg writes, “No way am I beating eggs/ They never hurt anyone./ Pounding cake is out of the question/ What could they ever have done?” In this poem Steinberg’s narrator is imagining that ingredients and food have feelings, and that words like “beating” and “pounding” are only associated with hurting someone. The picture that goes along with this poem shows a girl hiding around a corner, and an angry looking refrigerator and stove in the kitchen. The checkered floor almost looks like it is moving because it is wavy, and appears to be angry as well. This illustration adds to the absurdity, silliness, and overall imaginative scenario that the poem creates. By showing readers how words can be used in different ways and how you can play around with them, this allows minds to be expanded and for people to think about stories and worlds of their own.

    Steinberg continues to encourage his readers to be creative, and to be imaginative in their own lives through other poems in his book. In his poem, “The Pen,” he talks about how the person reading the poem is in control of their own life story. Steinberg writes, “You write the book of your journey/ You choose what goes on each page.” Steinberg is emphasizing how it is possible to take control and to not let others dictate your own future. It is important to make your own decisions as you grow older, and to pay attention to how they may affect your future. Also, the drawing that accompanies this poem has a powerful message behind it. A boy is holding onto a pen twice his size, and he is writing with it in cursive. This seems to symbolize that even though the pen (life) seems too big for him to grasp, he is still capable of taking hold of it and writing with it beautifully. 

    Steinberg’s repetition in his poems “Just a Man” and “Queen” point out how even adults struggle to succeed, and that what truly matters is trying one’s best. In “Just a Man” the narrator repeats, “I try,” at the start of each line, and in “Queen” the narrator repeats, “I might never.” Life is all about trial and error, and recognizing our own limits. The repetition in each poem has the same type of effect that the line, “I think I can, I think I can” has in the infamous children’s book The Little Engine That Could. This chant loops its way into children’s minds, and also in adults, and it pushes them to be the best they can be.

    Expanzaramadingdong touches on different aspects of growing up, and different ways to interact and play with words, people, and life. Steinberg’s poems add color to Klein’s black and white illustrations, and together the stories feel like they exist off the pages. The rhymes in each poem have a similar beat, which makes each story feel linked to the next. These poems act like puzzle pieces, and the overall book feels like a map of life. As readers piece it all together, they can enjoy the images that they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

*****Emily Pineau is an English major at Endicott College.