Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Julia Monaco

Poet Julia Monaco

 Julia Monaco is a freshman at Endicott College from Sandy Hook, CT. She is double majoring in International Business and Marketing, and has always enjoyed poetry and writing creatively. The poems she wrote each do not reflect one person, but pieces of the many stories she has heard of people throughout her life.


“A yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet.”
His sweet aroma glides off his sweater just a hanger over.
It lingers in the air,
I inhale deeply and close my eyes,
There he was.
Sitting peacefully in his chair, tea in hand.
A rose is hanging out of his shirt pocket.

I open my eyes and he’s gone.
We are gone.
Our petals have fallen one-by-one.
Our stem turned a corpsy brown and crumbled.
There is nothing but a memory left of us.

A memory of where we once stood proudly, unmoved by Earth,
Our bright yellow and white colors illuminating our surroundings
Like the radiant sun above us.

A memory of a warm summer breeze passing through the yard.
Now memories are beginning to fade
Like the color in our petals before they dropped.
As seasons come and go,
The memory of you slips away. 

--Julia Monaco

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Doug Holder interviews the Owner of the Famed Grolier Poetry Book Shop: ...

Come To This by Jeff Weddle

Poet Jeff Weddle

Come To This by Jeff Weddle. Nixes Mate Books, 2017, 49 pages.


By Ed Meek


Bill Moyers is currently touting what he calls civic poetry by which he seems to mean, political poetry or poetry that comments on our situation now that we’ve elected a plutocrat (as Paxton points out in a recent essay in Harper’s).  That’s right, we’ve elected someone whose priority is the accumulation of wealth and power for himself and his clan.  It’s true that right after the election I noticed people were quoting Yeats and Auden and looking for some way to explain what had happened. In addition to electing a narcissistic, sexist, racist xenophobe we had given the reigns of government to the Republican Party whose goal, it appears, is to dismantle the government of the people and to replace it with a government of, by, and for the rich. Such a state of affairs demands a response and one response for those of us who remain children of the enlightenment is to turn to art and poetry. But, it turns out that civic poetry is not so easy to write.  If the emphasis shifts in art from style and invention to content and meaning, the aesthetic suffers.  Moyers and organizations like Split This Rock may mean well but the poetry they promote is not always good.


Jeff Weddle enters this argument and walks a fine line between poetry that makes a statement artfully and poetry that sometimes lets us down with language that falls flat.  When it works though, such poetry feels necessary and valuable. Take “See America First.”

                        I am sick like you’re sick and I want to understand.

                        America, what have you done to us?

                        You are our pimp and pusher

                        and sainted church of Big Mac outrage

                        and sloganeered righteousness.


Doesn’t that remind you of Ginsberg? It’s refreshing to read someone addressing the country as a whole in this era when we seem to be two separate nations as the great Andrew Hacker put it.  Weddle goes on to say: “America, this isn’t working out. /I think we should see other people, America.”


There are a few strong poems about the country in this section.  One is called “Of Course.”

                        parents love their children

                        and hard work pays off

                        and the man who bags

                        your groceries never

                        tortured a lost hitchhiker

                        in his basement

                        and buried what was left in his wall

                        after making a stew of her parts…


Later in the same poem:


                        And no one you know

                        Goes to bed hungry…


                        And America is number one

                        And Jesus loves you

                        And voting matters…


Right, voting matters when it is done by the Electoral College or by a minority of Americans in a majority of states.


Weddle is also able to be upbeat and whimsical in “This Cool, Green Hour.”


                        Days when air holds you

                        like an absent caress

                        and trees stand like answers

                        to unasked questions…


                        Days when the coffee

                        in your favorite cup

                        tastes like joy

                        and smells like laughter…


Many of the poems are set up with a repeated refrain like “days when” or lines that begin with “you” or “this” and then the poet “free-associates” and expands on a theme. It’s Whitmanesque although Weddle lacks Whitman’s eloquence. Sometimes he’ll just be too tendentious and direct. A poem about a neighbor who walks his impaired daughter to the bus each morning ends with these lines: “A great man, unknown./ Time for coffee.”


Selling for the equivalent of two cups of Starbucks at $9.95, Come to This is, nonetheless, well worth the price.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Somerville's JT Thompson: A Chronicler of Union Square


I usually use my backroom perch at the Bloc 11 Cafe to interview the many poets, writers, artists, and interesting   folks who live in the city of Somerville. On this April morning  my position on the backroom table was to be reversed. I was to be interviewed by Somerville writer  Thompson. Thompson, who early in our conversation spilled a cup of freshly brewed coffee all over my schoolboy notebook--regained his composure quickly--as any pro  would do. Thompson, back in the 90s, was one of the founders of the Washington Street Art Center --just outside Union Square. He was actively involved in the arts scene, and was on the Somerville Arts Council board, working with the former director of the Council-- Cecily Miller-- who he greatly enjoyed collaborating with. As it turns out Thompson is involved in a project that struck my fancy. It consists of interviews with some stalwarts of Union Square--immigrants, barkeeps, artists, poets, hairdressers, and assorted characters who make this piece of real estate unique and diverse. So-- of course-- I had to turn the table on him and first conduct an interview with Thompson himself.

Thompson is somewhere in middle age, of average height, sports an easy smile, and a nonthreatening and attentive presence. He does not have the standard background. His father's work (he set up law schools in Africa and elsewhere)  sent him to far flung places around the globe. As a result the younger Thompson wound up being born in Zambia, lived in Ethiopia , and along the long and winding path he hit the environs of Somerville. Thompson told me he earned a Master of Divinity  degree from Harvard University. For a number of years he worked as a travel writer, and in other forms of non-fiction. He also had stints as a marketing copywriter, and adjunct professor at Emerson College, and a private investigator.

Thompson was inspired by TV personality Jon Stewart, who was asked in an interview, "What makes America great?" So Thompson has interviewed people with that overall question in mind. In my case (and I assume others), Thompson asked me about my earliest memory, weaved through my elementary school years and my adult life--and asked some unexpected existential questions that I haven't thought about deeply in a long time. And I realized that even though I love my country it was hard to articulate exactly why.

Thompson told me that he uses Union Square as his stomping grounds, " Because of its vibrant, diverse community, and for its symbolic resonance as the home of our first flag." He revealed to me that so far he has interviewed Tony and Jerry, the father and son team at the PA Lounge-- the thoughtful and articulate owner of the Back Bar--Sam Treadway,  the owner of Groove Records, the poet/artist Julie Ann Otis and others.

Thompson told me wanted to reconnect with the vibrant art scene in the square--and this seemed to be a ticket in. Thompson worries (like a lot of us) that the jaws of gentrification may displace the very kind of people that are his subjects. But like many of us, he seems to be hopeful. So if you are walking in Union Square, and you see an amiable and inquisitive man stop and ask you questions...feel free to add to this ongoing narrative--it is well worth your while.

-A series of Thompson's interviews will appear in The Somerville Times.