Saturday, May 02, 2015

Endicott Poets: Dan Sklar, Doug Holder, Paige Shippie and Michael Goodwin at the Walnut Street Cafe in Lynn, May 6 7PM

Click on Pic to enlarge 

Airstream, by Audrey Henderson

Airstream, by Audrey Henderson

Homebound Press, 2014 $16.95

Review by Denise Provost

The cover of Audrey Henderson’s first published collection of poetry, Airstream, speaks of motion – the bulbous aluminum trailer halfway passed; metallic surface of a distant lake, clouds and light moving into sunset formation. The poems within take the reader on as fine a set of journeys as can be fitted between an opening and final line. Airstream seems to defy the laws of physics – like Dr. Who’s Tardis, the poems in this book are bigger on the inside than one would guess from their modest physical proportions.

The book is divided into three sections - with, tellingly, geographic names. The first, “Finisterre,” is filled primarily with poems about quests. These are propelled by the varied personal motivations or exigencies that send individuals out to visit – or settle upon – various lands’ ends.

We meet Mr. Peterson, of Field Guide fame, for whom, “there’d be too many/ questions for an old man/ with a suitcase full of flowers….” The Lichen Lovers, we learn,
…met with blank stares mostly
            as we crisscrossed America
looking for clean air.
            You corrected book text on your
            sick bed as we reminisced
            about tundra—how I shot the lichen
            through a cloud of mosquitoes
            while you beat the air with a glove—

St. Kilda Sunday makes reference to a Scottish island so remote that, when it was ultimately evacuated in 1930, its inhabitants reportedly did not know that Queen Victoria had died. Its narrator muses that Jesus “seems kind/ although he forbids us/ to tend our animals/ on Sunday….” It’s a poem that measures the distance between the pre-Christian past and its transition to the age following it. Similarly, The Elders Lament describes a world “[a]fter the monks arrived,” where

[t]he elders grew silent, fearing in their hearts that no-one
would carve the stones that tether the sky to the land,
or burnish mirrors where people see their faces in the stars.

One truly breathtaking poem is Lammermore, with its dazzling compression of time and distance. It tells a three-generation family story between lines of conversation with a neighborhood grocer who happens to be an opera fan:
            Tony’s butcher shop is pristine—jars of tomato paste
            Along a shelf, jaunty cans of Pastene, the whole place
            Painted red and white to go with the meat. A sign in magic
            Marker on the cash register says bacalao $8.99 a pound.
            I ask him how to cook it.  When it comes out I’m from
Scotland he hands me a CD of Lucia de Lammermoor,
A picture of Italian men in kilts on stage at La Scala….

For me to reveal any more of this tale’s details and digressions would require a spoiler alert.

The second section, “The Continent and the Levant,” offers a mixed assortment of meditations: on paintings and artists; on art historians (like the one in The Tempest, “listing to one side
like a monument about/to topple, his expression blissful,”); poets, and other characters; some of whom have perhaps stepped out of paintings. The Baptist, the eponymous John, roasts locusts “on a makeshift hearth/ and hastily/ getting wings in his teeth—“The Shepherds,” one realizes, are those drawn to the nativity of Jesus, seen from Mary’s point of view: “crude and toothless. They stank/ and hoarded cheese in their pockets….”

Behind these schemes, there are also places, so full of personality that they asset themselves off the page, and into timelessness. In Hacksilber, one such location reveals its magic, both hidden and revealed:

            She brought all her suitors there
            to see if they went with the scenery – the castle,
            a river, the valley where the swan sleeps…

            They ran on it as children in their cable sweaters
            and once a man looked out from a tower
            to which there was no staircase….

There is also National Library of Scotland, a poem so rich in detail and side observations that its perfect arc of narrative seems to encompass an entire world:

            We could have guessed the size of it because
            George IV Bridge is actually a bridge, and you can peek
over the edge beside Baumeisters, where Escher-like
eighteenth century facades recede down to the Canongate
and you can gauge the fathoms of the NLS….

“Eastern Seaboard,” the third and last section, might seem to bring us to more familiar territory. We find it, too, however, to be riddled with mystery and surprise. Simply getting ice cream at the Dari-Joy becomes a rather gothic adventure, where there are “many, many enormous black flies, mutant neon-eating flies, all over the plate glass window which/ reflects our mint chocolate chip with rainbow sprinkles….”

In Creatures and Beasts, we watch vicariously with the narrator, who observes that:

            It was a lean time, month of the hunger moon
the world run out of food, only a carcass from
            beneath the snow to be picked clean. The grass
            was flat and brown, wobbly with water, the hill
            a jelly, turned out from the mold too soon. First
            a turkey vulture came unfurling the black curtain
            of its wings like a Victorian photographer….

Even in the settled places here, there is constant movement: in Indigo Bunting, where an old man is distracted from his woes and injury: “He came into the house full of wonder and asked/could it be that he had seen an all-over blue bird.” In Fireflies, a hospital patient sees these insects for the first time:

            Flashing semaphore in the last light.
            You’re transfixed, can’t make sense of
            what you’re seeing, having no experience….

Girls.Birds  presents us with an unpromising scenario:

            I tell the delinquent girls anyway, about the warblers….
            They listen to me and talk through tongue studs,
            their lycra abdomens bulge….

Yet the description of long migrations, nests In spruce forests, and “damp leaves, yellow and pointed and tropical” pierces the feigned boredom of even this audience: “The girls smoke/ hastily, for they are defenseless against this information/ and they never suspected the world was surrounded by wings.”

If your world could use some wings, pick up a copy of Airstream, and glide away on revelations and delight.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Newton, Mass. Writing and Publishing Center for the Diehard Somervillian

Somerville offers many opportunities for writers and other creative types. There are a plethora of writing groups and organizations where the aspiring poet and writer can hone their skills and network. But just beyond our borders, I found yet another place, the Newton Writing and Publishing Center. This nascent Center, has many writers  on its board that I have worked with and know, such as Somerville's Timothy Gager, a stalwart of the literary community. Robin Stratton, whose poetry has appeared in the Lyrical Somerville column in The Somerville Times, is the founder of the said organization, and is a force of nature in the local writing community. In addition to publishing my new lyrical memoir Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur... through her affiliated Big Table Publishing  press, the center will be awarding me their first Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, with a ceremony this August.

The Newton Writing and Publishing Center will be hosting a Grand Opening on Saturday, May 9 from 1:00 – 4:00. According to Robin Stratton, director and long-time writing coach in the Boston area, “We’ll be giving workshops and putting on special literary events, but we’re so much more than that. Our affiliation with Big Table Publishing Company and Boston Literary Magazine gives writers the opportunity to explore our publishing options, too.” Stratton says she came up with the idea for the center when she had trouble finding venues to promote her clients. “For a while I was booking open mic gigs at the new Whole Foods in Wellesley, and I kept thinking There has to be a better place.” She shrugs. “But there just wasn’t. So some of my colleagues – Timothy Gager, Christopher Reilley, and Michael C. Keith (all well known in the local writing community) and I decided to start one.” Writers and poets are welcome to contact the center to set up their own readings and book launches free of charge. “And they get to keep 100% of the profits of book sales,” Stratton adds. “That’s very important to us. We’re all writers, we’re all trying to sell our books, and we designed the center to be what we’d want–a place that wouldn’t charge us for the use of their space and wouldn’t take a percentage of sales.”

So how can they do this for free? By offering a variety of membership levels for those who wish to support the center, ranging from “The John Steinbeck” ($600 a year for free admission to all their workshops, free merchandise, and a year’s subscription to Boston Literary Magazine) to “The Jack Kerouac” ($120 a year for 25% discount on all workshops.)

For all the details, please visit

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Portrait of An Artist as a Young Poseur: Boston 1973-1984 by Doug Holder

    New Release Coming This Spring from Big Table Publishing!  ( Listen to an excerpt)

    Portrait of An Artist as a Young Poseur: Boston 1973-1984 by Doug Holder( Big Table Publishing)

    Advanced Notice:

    “Doug Holder is a poet of the old city, the city of our fathers, of the 1950s and later. Mr. Holder writes poems like notes in a diary. I found myself struck by their economy, wit, and urban melancholy... He has a voice unlike that of any of his contemporaries. Holder is a poet of the street and coffeehouses, an observer of the everyday. He writes of old Marxists, security guards and his relationship to his deceased father—themes of the common life. I am drawn to these poems as I am to the poetry of Philip Levine and the prose of James T. Farrell. But Holder’s poetry is deeper than that. He sees the world not for what it is, but on his own terms. He is living in the poem rather than in poetry.”
    ~ Sam Cornish, First Boston Poet Laureate 

    “This book is a jewel; multifaceted, scintillating, and completely unique. There is not a wasted word within the covers of this printed gift... instead, a complete, complex text pointillism capturing the era and place perfectly. If you lived within a thousand miles of the scene when it was happening, you will smile more than once at the memories of things long forgotten. Do yourself a favor and buy one for a loved one's future present.”
    ~ Christopher Reilley, Breathing for Clouds and Grief Tattoos

    “Doug Holder’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur has the immediacy of film, pulling the reader in: ‘I lived in a room on the top floor ($38/week), bathroom down the hall–a stairway to the roof–cockroaches...’ The writing is pointed, unpretentious and honest, providing snapshots of rough-edged jobs and unvarnished people, places in Boston that have vanished, historical snippets on the street, in restaurants and subways. Whether he’s describing experience as a young man, or painting transience itself, the writing feels sensitive and authentic, something to read and reread.”
    ~ Nina R. Alonso, Founding Editor of Constellations Magazine

    “The echoes of Doug Holder’s footsteps are felt in this exploration of Boston and his nascent self. With reflective humor, he unfolds moments of insight amid vernal uncertainty. The vignettes are enticing, fondly resonating time and place.”
    ~ Richard Fox, Time Bomb: Poems

    “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur is a unique memoir, in poetry, of a real Boston artist looking back at a distinct point in time at a city I love. The man, the city, the book are all completely unique, wonderful and original.”
    ~ Timothy Gager, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan

    Doug Holder writes about the old Boston, before the city changed, before gentrification. With a knack for storytelling, he brings to life, all the characters who crossed his path from 1974-1983, while living in Boston. This book is humorous, charming and Holder’s descriptions are intriguing of city life at that time. This is a film waiting to be made.
    —Gloria Mindock, Červená Barva Press

    "What can be said of someone who has lived such a life as described in this book, where no person, place or situation is considered off-limits, where the everyday is invoked as a kind of miracle— such a person being Doug Holder: poet, teacher, publisher, editor, interviewer and advocate of writers and writing. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur is a stunning read."
    Susan Tepper, author of The Merrill Diaries and From the Umberplatzen

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Life of Celebration: Sidewalk Sam Memorial May 17th

Click on to enlarge
For Sidewalk Sam
So many brushstrokes
perhaps a purple flourish
across the stolid
unforgiving asphalt.
His paint dripping
from yogurt cups.
He brushed off
the gum,
the discarded cigarette,
the tumbleweed of newspapers,
for beneath
he saw a canvas.
He needed to feel his brush
where so many pounded
the pavement.
The poseur,
the pundit,
the plaudit,
the pol,
the stumblebums,
the flash-in-the- pan.
All those men
in gray flannel suits,
the women in
their Delman heels.
The dead drunk
perhaps falling
on his art
after a sucker punch
or a child staring
down in wonderment.
The mayoral smile of Kevin White
a reproduction of a European master,
perhaps someone will stop to look
as our world spins faster and faster.

----- Doug Holder (First appeared in Oddball Magazine)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

X.J. Kennedy and Diana Der-Hovanessian: “A Uniqueness That Hasn’t Been” (A Recent Reading at Endicott College)

X. J. Kennedy
Dianna Der-Hovanessian

X.J. Kennedy and Diana Der-Hovanessian:
“A Uniqueness That Hasn’t Been”

By Emily Pineau

“Words are not lifeless. They live in houses,” read poet and translator Diana Der-Hovanessian at Endicott College, as part of the Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Visiting Author Series.  Der-Hovanessian has been building houses for words ever since one of her editors asked her to translate Armenian poetry. Not knowing Armenian well enough to comfortably do translations, Diana studied Armenian at Harvard and Boston University, and sought help from friends and poets. She is now the author of 25 books of poetry and translations. Der-Hovanessian is an inspiration for poets, writers, and anyone learning a new language. She has “brought a new soul” to both Armenian and English with her translations, and has touched the souls of her readers.

Following Diana’s reading, X.J. Kennedy, children’s author, poet, and translator, took the stage. He said, “When you are writing a poem you have to pretend you are Jesus Christ and can do no wrong.” It was evident right away that he has just the right mix of humor and sensitivity in his personality to create a timeless voice in his work.  From his poem, “You Touch Me,” he read, “You touch me and each cell of my body, one at a time, a hearth comes on.” Deep, concrete images and feelings are revealed quickly in his poems, and they have the power to stay you.

“Poems have to be concise whether they are long or short,” Kennedy explains. It is clear that he follows this philosophy in his own work, because each line of his has the ability to speak volumes alone. In a poem Kennedy wrote about he and his wife going to The Guinness World Records, my favorite line is when he says, “A uniqueness that hasn't been.” Even in just this short phrase, there seems to be a whole story written here. This quality is especially important in children’s poetry because children are engaged by vivid images and strong emotions created in a short space of time. Kennedy’s poems also have a musical quality to them, because of the smooth sounding words in each line. In fact, Kennedy sang after he read his poems. “I have to sing my songs, because if I didn't, who would?” he explained. Though, the truth is that Kennedy’s words of wisdom, his poems (both children’s and otherwise), and his spirit, move the soul to want to do just that—sing.


--- Emily Pineau will be graduating from Endicott College this May ( 2015). She is the author of No Need to Speak ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Visiting Author Series) and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.