Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Howie Faerstein

Howie Faerstein

Howie Faerstein’s full-length book of poetry, Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn, a selection of the Silver Concho Poetry Series, was published in 2013 by Press 53. His work can be found in numerous journals, including Great River Review, Nimrod, CutThroat, Upstreet, The Comstock Review, Off the Coast, Cape Cod Review, Mudfish, and on-line in Gris-Gris, Connotation Press et al. He lives in Florence, Massachusetts and teaches American Literature at Westfield State University.

At the Locust Street Dump

Someone from town
grows African Violets
from a mother leaf,

pots up the seedlings
when they measure a kinglet’s heart,
brings them to the transfer station

and places them
on the freebie stand
by the compactor.

I’ve taken a half dozen over the years,
the two in my kitchen bloom

purple, bruised-white, candescent.
Others I’ve given to neighbors,
my love.

Someone from town
raises African Violets
for strangers,

coaxes them from a mother leaf,
puts up plantlets at three months.
But I fear the person took sick,

maybe died.
All that’s on the table this summer:
broken toasters, battered toys.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Unspeakable Things ( Knopf 2016) By Kathleen Spivack

Unspeakable Things ( Knopf 2016) By Kathleen Spivack

Review by Doug Holder

If you like a wild ride—with ample doses of magic realism, eroticism, perversion and poetry—then, perhaps the novel “ Unspeakable Things” by Kathleen Spivack is just the elixir for your staid existence. Spivack is a noted poet, with a slew of poetry collections under her authorial belt, and a few years back she published a much-lauded memoir of her experiences with Robert Lowell—titled, “Robert Lowell and his Circle.”

In this novel Spivack's central character --known affectionately as the “Rat” is both a creature and a human. She is a miniature hunch back with a beautiful face, hypnotizing eyes, and a painful and fascinating past. And despite having her curves in the wrong places, she has been ravished in sulfuric splendor by the likes of a well-endowed Rasputin, and an old Austrian doctor who views Hitler as a great man and an object for sexual release.

This all takes place in the early 1940s in New York during World War ll. It centers around a group of world-weary Austrian refugees. These immigrants struggle with the open and “can do” sensibility of the new world of America, as opposed to their homeland—one of refinement, high culture, and the highbrow—but also dark and festering-- a place with history and deep-seated racism, etc...

Spivack focuses one family—the patriarch being Herbert-- a well-respected bureaucrat in Austria—with connections. Herbert tries to keep his family in one piece and helps the Tolstoi String Quartet, who have lost their key fingers that are instrumental to play their instruments, as a result of the nefarious rise of Nazism. The fingers are in the hands ( pardon the pun) of a warped Austrian doctor named Felix. The way they are secured by the Rat—well, Spivack took my breath away.

The question of the New World vs the Old World is always a subtext throughout this novel. Spivack writes,

“ Home. A different concept in the New World. How to find oneself at home again? Far away, the blanketed cities of Europe huddled, the rust of blood on their stones. All that dark tragic history, that sense of cynicism and fatalism, led to a point of view that would be known in the more dignified sense as “ European Philosophy.” All founded on certainty, fear and the inability to prevent death. Europe reeked of death. As it did of philosophy about death.”(265).

Unspeakable Things' is a book of poetic flourishes, constant surprises, wonderful characterization-- highly recommended.

Amaranth by Robert Carr

by Robert Carr
published by Indolent Books

Review by Alice Weiss

These poems are rhythmic , unabashedly erotic, in the broader sense of Eros, love of body, its joys and breakdowns, unabashedly homoerotic. The populations of Robert Carr’s sensibility cluster in dramatic stretches. They include the “Clay” of his childhood, a molester, an abandonment, and the earth from which he blooms, muscular and wounded. Those who hurt and those who nurture: the difference is almost invisible. Love in “Porch in a Storm” is
blood-lipped, standing flame,
fast wood with tearing eyes

we burn in a forest of distant
beating hands. Collapsed
in our sorries, on the floor

beneath his weight, I understand
why he cries and licks
my familiar salt.

In “Milk Bath,” where the speaker is no longer on “location” when a former lover dies, finds “Behind the desk drawer pull . . . our rings. . . .
Relieved I’m not there to see your body
I run a scalding water in the tub.

The velvet ring box is open on the sink,
bath salts turn a steam to milk.

Once again, a slippery knuckle refuses
your band as I lower myself into a burn.
The vivid sensual imagery in these lines, coupled with the grinding honesty of the speaker and the way the physical images carry the emotional weight is characteristic as is the accurate tradeoff of relief and scalding.
The organizing metaphor, starkly intellectual amidst all the sensuality, is the Amaranth, the flower of the title. The book isdivided into three sections, each named for a particular species of Amaranth: Prince’s Feather, Goosefoot, Wormseed. The three species all contain healing, nutritious, and poisonous properties. The term Amaranth itself comes from a Greek word meaning unfading, or undying. and indeed memories of boyhood and family appear here, sometimes poisonous (as in Clay”) and sometimes healing. Even funny, unfadingly funny, as in “Before you,” which begins, “there was a youth/he jerked off. . .” and goes on in a long phallic shape, but charmingly.
Throughout the poems there are moments that stop you with their wit;
in Hawk, a hawk, “cocky/ as a bar stool drunk/ with a bowie,” a “Valentine,”
White tulips—along one binding petal
We cross a red line

a small streak of mosquito
on our white wall[,]

or in “Two,”

We rarely talk, except through blue jeaned
knees beneath a diner counter.

This collection is above all about a life, family, lovers, disease and healing
but it is a life lived with hands deep in the dough with which we make feeling and muscles, mourn and cure ourselves of mourning, if not of loss. It is a book which does what poetry, I think, is destined to do, heal with the twists and plays of language, that which is otherwise appears to be incurable.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From the Bloc 11 Cafe : Is it Hip to be a Hipster?

From the Bloc 11 Cafe : Is it Hip to be a Hipster?

By Doug Holder

I was sitting in the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville when a gentleman of my acquaintance approached me. He said, "You really took a good picture of me for The Somerville Times—but the text labeling me as a “hipster” in the Square (no pun intended) was insulting. Another man would look at me and see me differently. Call me a street punk, call me homeless, but don't call me a hipster.” He went on to explain the word “hipster” had a long and proud heritage—but the word now has been bastardized. He continued to explain that hipsters, real hipsters—are original people, genuinely offbeat—not the hordes of bohemes flocking to Somerville. I had no intention of offending him. This man is intelligent, well-read, and certainly from what I have observed-- a man off the beaten path. He has faced his share of challenges and he is obviously much more than the neat category of hipster.

In all fairness, one has to admit that in recent years we have seen the flocks of bearded, tattooed, funky-hatted hordes swarming the community. They hang in coffeehouses, bars, nightclubs, and other environs. They cop a certain attitude, walk a certain walk, and talk a certain talk. But wasn't this the same with earlier versions of bohemians, like the Beat Poets, sitting in a swirl of smoke in some dark hole-in-the wall, listening to Ginsberg recite his poem “Howl” for the first time—with its angry negro streets, and renegades from society looking for a fix—be it sex, drugs, etc...? These Beat hipsters sported a certain attire—the beret, the scruffy beard, etc... They hung out in jazz clubs—coffeehouses in North Beach in San Francisco or the Village in New York City. Now maybe those hipster didn't actually experience what Ginsberg's poem spoke to—but by being there—witnessing this groundbreaking poem, spreading the word, taking it in, deep reading it, inhaling it...well this is a very-hipster- like act. The poem broke out like a raw wound in the conformist 50s—so these new kids on the block were going against the orthodoxy of their parents and the literary world. Sure some were just posturing—but I would argue that even posturing can be a daring act. There is a need for hipsters—they keep us honest—bring in new ideas ( bad or good)--they give some alternative from the mainstream—somewhere else to hang your fedora.

So I say to the present day hipsters in Somerville, Williamsburg, Austin, and elsewhere-- good for you. I spent some boheme years in rooming houses in Boston in the late 70s when I was right out of college. I was quite a sight—waxed mustache, a red scarf around my neck—sporting a beret—and reading Genet, Kerouac, Camus, Miller, etc... I used to leave the books I was reading in plain sight on the counter of a grocery store I worked at—so I could start conversation with other hip customers. In the wee hours, in my spartan furnished room—with my hot plate, cockroaches, stained sink—I wrote in my journal—loving it—thinking that, this was the life. There is a great romance, creativity and freedom in being hip. So if you can live the hipster life in Somerville with its outrageous rents, gentrification, etc... I say welcome aboard.

The Cape Cod Writers Center Announces State-of-the Art Classes at the Summer Conference August 4-7, 2016






The Cape Cod Writers Center

Announces State-of-the Art Classes at the Summer Conference

August 4-7, 2016

(OSTERVILLE, MA; June 8, 2016)-- The Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, one of the oldest broad-based writers’ conferences in the nation, presents a series of state-of-the-art courses and workshops at its 54th summer Conference on August 4-7 at the Resort and Conference Center of Hyannis (MA).

This year’s conference offers courses reflecting the latest trends in publishing and the skills needed to acquire them for writers of all ages, genders and cultures,” said Nancy Rubin Stuart, Executive Director of the Cape Cod Writers Center. “Thanks to the explosion of ebooks and self-publishing, readers have more books to choose from today than ever before and that, in turn, means writers have to become increasingly skilled as storytellers and promoters on social media.”

Our lunchtime keynote speaker is Peter Abrahams, the Edgar-award wining author of thirty-five novels whom Stephen King called his “favorite American suspense novelist.” Beyond Abrahams’ boundary-pushing crime novels such as Oblivion and End of Story, and his children’s books like Down the Rabbit Hole, Abrahams is known from his New York Times bestselling Chet and Bernie series written under his pen name Spencer Quinn.

Other prominent faculty for this year’s conference include Yale writing professor Adam Sexton, author of Writing Fiction for the Masters; acclaimed children’s book writer Lauren Mills, humor writer and NPR radio host; Colin McEnroe; Leslie Fishlock, founder and CEO of Geek Girl; award-winning mystery writer Ron MacLean; and sportswriter Leigh Montville, a former columnist for the Boston Globe.

Classes at the 2016 conference include a wide range of topics. Among them are Writing for Social Change, The Graphic Novel, Social Media Promotion, Writing Magical Characters, and Agent Quick Query Conferences. Conference participants will also have an opportunity to practice pitching their books, participate in mentoring sessions with agents and author-teachers, participate in lunchtime roundtable discussions, and enjoy evening readings of their work.

Contact: Sara Kass, Business Manager FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
phone: 508-420-0200

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Podcast: Doug Holder interviews Sharon Shaloo/Executive Director of the Massachusetts Center for the Book

Sharon Shaloo with Doug Holder

To listen to podcast click on: Podcast: Doug Holder interviews Sharon Shaloo

Sharon Shaloo is the executive director for the Massachusetts Center for the Book, located in Boston. Every year Mass Book presents the Mass. Book Awards that honors writers in the Commonwealth and beyond. A resident of Arlington and member of the town’s Tourism and Economic Development Committee, Shaloo has worked on a literary map of the state, which  includes landmarks from every city and town in the commonwealth. 
Shaloo grew up in New Jersey and earned her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University. She has lived in Indiana, New York City and participated in a teaching exchange in London. When her husband’s career path brought her to the Bay State, she originally moved to Boston, but later chose to settle in Arlington.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Former Somerville News reporter talks about the trajectory of her career

Former Somerville News Reporter Ashley Troutman with Somerville Times Arts Editor Doug Holder

Former Somerville News reporter talks about the trajectory of her career

with Doug Holder

Former Somerville News reporter Ashley Troutman and I hit it off well when we met at my usual haunt at the Bloc 11 Cafe in the Union Square section of the city. She told me she was a big fan of mine, mentioned a “classic” poem I wrote “ Mashed Potatoes,” etc... Hey, I am as prone to flattery as the next guy. Troutman is an upbeat presence and back in 2006 she worked at the Somerville News ( now the Times), and commuted from New Hampshire where she was going to college. She told me, “I worked with editor Bobie Toner , and this formed a foundation for my future journalism experiences. I loved covering The Somerville News Writers Festival (2003 to 2010), and I interviewed Mayor Joe Curatone—I never interviewed a politician before this. What I liked about the Festival was the variety of writers it showcased. I remembering thinking that writer Steve Almond was so hilarious, that he missed his calling as a stand up comedian.

Troutman told me that she recently moved to Somerville—just outside Davis Square. Originally from Malden, Mass., she is a big fan of Somerville. She reflected, “ The people are friendly and there always seems to be something going on.”

Since leaving The Somerville News, Troutman has had a wide variety of experiences with journalism and related endeavors. She has worked at FOX 25 in Boston, as a digital content editor. During her time there she wrote stories, engaged social media, worked on the website, etc... I asked Troutman why she left such a plum of a gig. She told me, “ I was working on the Tsarnaev Trial ( Boston Marathon Bombings) story—I covered the trial in-house and reviewed all these very graphic documents, videos etc... I also covered a lot of mass shootings and such. I just needed a break from it all. It was hard for me to distance myself from it.” Troutman has also worked for the Patch online newspapers. She loves the idea of community journalism. She was based in North Reading, Mass., and her makeshift office was located at the local Starbucks. She said she got to know a lot of the folks in the town and felt very much a part of the community life.

Troutman told me that years back she got her MFA in Non-Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University. She studied with such writers as Kim Ponders, Rick Carey, Diane Les Becquets, and others. She said the experience was essential to her growth as a writer.

Currently Troutman is working for the “ Solutions Review.” The company posts videos (that Troutman often hosts) that explore things like the different facets of ORACLE and other such computer-related programs, etc... that are Greek to this writer. Troutman also told me that Solutions provides breaking high tech news, as well as other services.

For years Troutman has been working on a memoir about her and her brother's troubled youth. During her formative years she witnessed the ravages of addiction and abuse. She is still in the process of revising the memoir and is hopeful that she can find a publisher.

Troutman seems to be in love with writing and her work. She shows a genuine interest in people-- a necessity if you want to get them to trust you and tell their stories. Hopefully this former Somerville News reporter will continue her upward trajectory of her career—that started—here--in the Paris of New England.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Doug Holder Interviews Jazz Composer Ken Field

Ken Field 

Just interviewed Ken Field ( Internationally acclaimed Jazz Composer) at the famed Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville --
We talked about his work with Peter Wolf, his opening for Patti Smith at the Kerouac Festival in Lowell,, and highlights of his long and varied career.. Also we touched on his work with the Honk Festival, Sesame Street, New Orleans Jazz and so much more.... here is the podcast:

Ken Field is a saxophonist, flautist, and composer. Since 1988 he has been a member of the internationally acclaimed electrified modern music ensemble Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, with whom he has recorded eight CDs.

Field leads the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a New Orleans-inspired improvisational brass band. Year of the Snake, the group's 2003 debut, was included on best-of-year lists in NYC, New Orleans, and Milan. The 2008 release Forked Tongue spent 2 months on the CMJ North American jazz top 20 chart, and appeared on best-of-year lists in the Village Voice and in Georgia, Kansas, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, NYC, and Estonia. Live Snakes (2014) was an Editor's Pick in Downbeat Magazine. The group has performed at Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Berklee Performance Center, the Redentore Festival in Venice, Italy, and numerous other venues, and has been nominated for a New England Music Award, a Boston Music Award, and several Boston Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll awards