Friday, May 05, 2017

Robert Creeley at the Wilderness House in Littleton, Mass.


 ** Shortly before his death I had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with Robert Creeley. The Wilderness House Literary Retreat founded by Steve Glines hosted him, and I happened to be on the board for the retreat. The retreat closed after a few years--but we had quite a few interesting guests like Lois Ames, Afaa Michael Weaver, and a number of others...

Robert Creeley at the Wilderness House in Littleton, Mass.

By Doug Holder


It is always exciting to help start a new literary venture. Steve Glines, the founder of the “Wilderness House Literary Retreat” in Littleton, Mass. asked me to be a founding board member last Summer, and finally on Dec. 11 2004 we had our first event. We managed to get the renowned poet Robert Creeley as our first guest. Lo Galluccio, a poet and a friend of mine, joined me and we caught a train out of Porter Square, Cambridge to the hinterlands of Littleton, Mass. Steve Glines met us there and ferried us up to the “New England Forestry Foundation” lodge where the first event was to be held. The actual hunting lodge, where the retreat will be housed hopefully by the late Summer of 2005, is currently being renovated. Later, we inspected the premises, and found it full of promise, not to mention a spectacular view of the nature preserve below.

Lo and I sat down in a spacious room in the NEFF lodge, and enjoyed the crackling fireplace. Creeley was the first to arrive and looked amazingly hale and hearty, and much younger than his 78 years.

The event was advertised as a “chat” with Creeley, and that’s exactly what it was, a “chat,” not a formal lecture. Creeley was free to ramble on about his fascinating career as a literary legend. He talked about the many poets he knew; his years at the experimental “Black Mountain College,” to his experience with Jazz greats such as Miles Davis, to name one illustrious figure.

Creeley who grew up in Acton, Mass. has strong connections to Littleton, the home of the retreat. As a kid he swam at Long Lake which is just down the road from the retreat. Creeley was surprised that the natural beauty of the area has been preserved. Creeley felt that he could now thumb his nose at neighboring Concord that always had a better literary pedigree than Acton and Littleton. Creeley, tongue firmly in his cheek stated; “ I am glad to thumb my nose at Concord.”

Creeley, who taught at the “ Black Mountain College“, which in the 1940’s and 50’s was an innovative avant-garde institution located in North Carolina. Folks like Merce Cunnigham, John Wieners, Robert Motherwell, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Olsen, and others taught there or were students.

Creeley, who attended Harvard, was less than enthusiastic about the years he spent there. He stated: “ Harvard makes everyone feel like an outsider.” He said there was not a welcoming feeling there, and he felt inhibited to approach the formidable and often aloof professors. He said his literature professor at the time excluded the works of Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens, much to his dismay.

Creeley told the audience that at first he wanted to be a prose writer. He laughed: “ I had a na├»ve sense of supporting a family writing a novel.” However, a publisher told him his novel was all about transitions; nothing ever happened. So Creeley decided to concentrate on Poetry.

Creeley had a plethora of anecdotes about poets he knew like: Allen Ginsberg and Anne Sexton. He recalled Sexton demanding a six-pack of beer before a reading she was to do in Buffalo, NY, that he organized. Ginsberg, commenting on the brevity of Creeley’s poems told him:” What a big book you wrote with such little poems.”

Creeley talked a bit bout his own poetry and process. Surprisingly he said he doesn’t make drafts of poems. If the poem doesn’t work he simply throws it away. He reminded the audience that writing poetry should be fun--not some solemn, painful process. He remembers William Carlos Williams saying “ Maybe we should tell them it’s fun.”

Creeley feels that poetry should be more about the act of “making,” than the final product. He rails against proponents of strict dogma regarding poetic form. He feels there can not be “set” rules for an art form we can not define.

The afternoon went quickly, as Creeley was as an engaging presence. The author Lois Ames was in the audience, and she and Creeley had a fascinating back and forth about Plath and Sexton, both of whom Ames has written extensively about.

Lo and I shook hands with the great man, and of course gave him a few “Ibbetson” books on our way out. We both thanked our lucky charms for this unique experience.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Poetry and the 'Blues' at Endicott College

photo courtesy of Stephen Basden

Hopson Commissary

The electric night sky
Shades of royal blue
Yanking and pulling 
with all of its strength
To bring darkness over the world

The blue sky pulling 
with all the same force
The millions of hands
And hand and hands
That so long ago
Sowed harvested
And bled
Over the untainted
Purest fields of white

The very same fields
Where the songs of sorrows
Would lull in the stagnant
Sweltering air
Melting off skin
Pooling at feet
Under the brightest sun 
That would only be stifled again
In a few short hours

From fields of pure white 
Erupted the darkest blues..

---Nicole Cadro

Recently I took my students to the exhibit " A Cast of Blues" at the Walter J. Mannien Center for the Arts at Endicott College. They are creative writing students, and they will present their gallery poems on exam day at the college. From what I have heard they were very inspired by the photographs, masks, as well as the video and audio presentation.  The exhibit is at the Heftler Visiting Artist Gallery at the Center. And who knows if I dig the poems--I may send a few to the gallery.  Here is the description of the exhibit:

A celebration of Mississippi’s rich musical heritage, the exhibition features 15 resin-cast masks of blues legends created by artist Sharon McConnell-Dickerson and photographs of performers and juke joints by acclaimed photographer Ken Murphy. Murphy’s photographs are selected from the groundbreaking book Mississippi: State of Blues.The exhibition is fully accessible to all visitors, featuring braille labels and educational materials, a music playlist for gallery use, and a closed-captioned film about the Cast of Blues project.  Experience new technology that transforms two-dimensional photography into three dimensional touchable art.

For more info go to 

**** Many thanks to Kathleen Moore for her lecture and tour of the exhibit and for some of the photos.

photo courtesy of Stephen Basden.

photo courtesy of Stephen Basden

Before We Were Birds by Susan Richmond

Before We Were Birds

Susan Richmond (Adastra Press, 2017)


By Lawrence Kessenich


A sentence from the blurb by Fred Marchant on the back of Before We Were Birds is a good jumping off point for this review: “Richmond’s poems…continually ask us to imagine the natural world as rife with spirits, ones that for a moment in the ongoing metamorphoses have taken on the form of dolphin or snowy owl…or a fox that stops and stares right back.” Nature, spirits, and metamorphoses are the common threads that run through this collection—and there’s a quality of nature staring right back at us that lends it power as well.


If you’re the sort of person who takes nature for granted, or only sees it in scientific terms, Richmond is not a poet for you. For her, as for the ancients, nature is teaming with stories and spiritual energy that we can tap into for our entertainment and edification. For her, human beings are not detached from nature, but inextricably bound up with it. Take, for example, these lines from “Fox Run:”


…But once

he acknowledges me with deep

fox eyes, quivering black

mustache of mouth. I was out


on the porch and froze, not

breathing. For a moment, I was

fox, too, worthy

to run with him…


Or these lines, from “River Crossings:”


When I tried to push you

from the boat, a fish leapt

from the river, lodged in my arms…

let me draw the night heron

down from its alder perch, to settle

beside me on the bank.


Some of the story poems in this book are of people whose identification with nature goes much deeper than this, who become involved with mythological creatures of the natural world. The first section of the collection, “Boto,” is about a storied Brazilian creature who rises out of the water in the shape of a dolphin:


The smooth lines of his body

were words first and she swallowed them
whole; his, a story of many years waiting

to surface, she, a part of it, never knowing.


In “Arrival,” the boto…


            …comes from underwater


            a man, dressed in white. The moon hovers

            and tilts, a bowl half empty, half full.

            He is searching for other music and finds

            her, open, eager for his

…he takes her

            down by the river, changes
            the chemistry of her body,
            leaves her
            a kiss.


It is fascinating the way the boto and his lover move back and forth between the world of human life and the world of river creatures. As Richmond presents it, the border between the two worlds is easily crossed.


There is also plenty of straightforward observation of the wonders of nature—plants, animals, trees, mountains—in Before We Were Birds. This poet who can imagine becoming one with the natural world has, as one would expect, a keen eye for the natural beauty and bounty she observes every day. In “Wild Fruit” it’s berries:


I can’t tell if I’m too early

or too late, gathering a scant

sweet handful, eyeing the ratio

of hard green globes to blue.


In the high ground, rising

above Pratt’s Brook, the town

burned this circle in the fall

to force a bigger crop,


ripening when
flies are most intense,
and heat condenses
on the upper lip like dew.


In “Three for the Western Island” it’s mountains:


How can we see so far from such a modest height?

It’s all position, the way the peak peers

over the promontory, giddy distance,

water at our feet, the way
the high, soft clouds receive the light.


In Richmond’s hands, it’s hard to tell which is more marvelous, stories of humans dramatically entwined with nature or simple, astute observations of the natural world we  encounter every day. In any case, both spoke deeply to me, both left me in wonder about the depth of connection—too often overlooked in our predominantly urban culture—between human life and the rest of life on the planet we inhabit. Before We Were Birds will open your eyes to that connection.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Michael C. Keith to retire from Boston College

Michael C. Keith

 My friend Michael C. Keith is retiring after many years teaching at Boston College. Mike has written extensively about radio and the media in general, and has regaled me with many stories from the trenches. He is one of the most noted scholars on the social impact and the role of the radio in American culture. Keith has written prolifically in this genre as well as in fiction, poetry, and memoir. I have used his memoir The Next Better Place in many of my creative writing classes at Endicott College. The students always respond well to his sad and comic recount of his youth spent on the road with his gone-to-seed dad. Keith has lectured in my classes and has been very supportive of my work. I met him through Robin Stratton--founder of the Newton Writing and Publishing Center. Keith--who is a board member at the center--was one of the folks who awarded me their Allen Ginsberg Award.  Keith--to use a cliche is a "regular guy" despite his distinguished career. He is always quick with a handshake and a smile. I am sure he is going to continue to do great things in the years to come...


Michael C. Keith (born in Albany, New York) is an American media historian and author. He has served as a faculty member of the Boston College Communication Department [1] since 1993 and is the author of some two dozen books on media. He is one of the country's foremost authorities on the social impact and role of radio in American culture. He has lectured in Russia, Spain, Tanzania, and at several institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

Keith served as a visiting professor at George Washington University and Marquette University and Director of Telecommunications at Dean College. He frequently appears in both American and foreign media as an authority on electronic media. Prior to becoming a full-time academic in the late 1970s, he worked as a broadcast professional for more than a decade.

Keith's substantial published output melds his own experience, an excellent network of contacts in and beyond the radio business, and careful research, to produce solid analysis of what a growing number in and out of the industry see as the growing crisis of broadcast radio. A number of his books have been co-authored with Robert Hilliard, now retired from Emerson College. The team usually works this way—with Keith conceiving the topic and doing much of the initial legwork research and Hilliard taking on the initial book manuscript draft. They both work on the final version. Their co-authored works, and those of Keith alone, often tackle controversial topics such as the demise of local radio programming (2005); the legal intricacies of indecent or even obscene programming (2003); the use of radio by extreme hate groups (1999), a title on President's Clinton's summer reading list one year; and the use of radio by Native Americans (1995), the first monograph to appear on that topic. Keith has been a Stanton Fellow of the International Radio & Television Society and received the Distinguished Scholar Award given by the Broadcast Education Association and the Achievement Award in the Humanities by the University of Rhode Island.

In addition to his many media books and academic articles, Keith has written a well-reviewed memoir of his unconventional childhood years—The Next Better Place (Algonquin Books, 2003) [2] [3] [4] [5] —as well as a coming of age novel, Life is Falling Sideways (Parlance, 2009). Recently, he has written an ever-expanding list of short stories, which have appeared in numerous online journals, such as The Literati Quarterly, "The Penmen Review," "Lowestoft Chronicle," and annual anthologies. Collections of his stories––"Hoag's Object" (Whiskey Creek Press), "And Through the Trembling Air" and "Of Night and Light" (Blue Mustang Press),"Sad Boy" (Big Table Publishing), "Everything is Epic" (Silver Birch Press), "The Collector of Tears" (Underground Voices), "If Things Were Made To Last Forever" (Big Table Publishing), "Caricatures" (Strange Days Books), "The Near Enough" (Cold River Press), "Bits, Specks, Crumbs, Flecks" (Vraeyda Literary), "Slow Transit" (Cervena Barva Press) and "Perspective Drifts Like a Log on a River" (PalmArtPress) are available in paperback editions and in ebook formats. His fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Pen/O.Henry Award, among others.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Before There was Before: Poems by Wendy Drexler

Before There was Before: Poems by Wendy Drexler ( Iris Press) $16.

Review by Doug Holder

I am not surprised that poet Wendy Drexler is a cavity-nest monitor for the Massachusetts Audubon Society. I am not quite sure what that is, but I imagine she spends a lot of time in nature—watching and observing—all fodder for this wonderfully observed collection “ Before There was Before.”

Drexler has a number of poetry collections to her credit and has been published in top shelf journals such as, Barrow Street, Salamander, Ibbetson Street and others. She uses the props of nature, the nuances of relationships, the very origins of the universe, as the basis for her work. But this not some vague, conceptual work. Drexler personalizes the poetry, and as a result she makes the poem relevant to readers of all sensibilities.

In her poem, “The Elephants,” Drexler observes a group of these animals as they wrap themselves in their deceased mother's bones. This is a poem that Balanchine himself could of put to dance,

“ This is their poetry, their grief.

Slowly they sway
their gentle stamens of their trunks.

One wraps her trunk around
her mother's skull.

One combs his mother's pelvis
with the sole of his foot.

The cheeks of the elephants are matted
with red grass and stained with tears.

The elephants flap the ruffled flowers
of their ears.

They have found her bones.
There's nothing left but bones.”

And Drexler does not have to be situated in some pastoral scene to appreciate beauty. In fact in her poem “ Light 48 on the Storrow Drive Underpass” she praises a banal light fixture in a tunnel on Storrow Drive in Boston. She puts her microscope to it and the poem radiates its life to the reader, as evidenced in this passage:

"Praise the beam of light that slices
through the late afternoon traffic.

And the faint scatter of that light
on the roadbed graded to a gradual bend.

Praise the gradual bend.

And praise the worker who climbed up
the catwalk at 4 a.m. to tape
the stencil, R48 in rusty red ,..."

And the book is beautifully presented. The cover painting is by Tanya Hayes Lee . She presents a misty, primal landscape—our beginnings, our endings—the light—the dark—all encapsulated in this fine collection.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pui Ying Wong wins the PUSHCART PRIZE for her work in Constellations Magazine.

Pui Ying Wong --a Somerville Bagel Bard/Cervena Barva Press author/ has won a Pushcart Prize for her poem, "Language Lesson for One" in Constellations magazine, as published by Nina Rubinstein Alonso (another Bagel Bard). Hats off to Pui and Nina!!!