Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Scott Ruescher

Scoott Ruescher
(photo by Bridget Ganske)
Scott Ruescher won the 2013 Erika Mumford Prize for poetry about travel and international culture from the New England Poetry Club for “Looking for Lorca”—one of the eleven poems in his chapbook Perfect Memory (Finishing Line Press, 2015). Some of the other poems have appeared in Tower Journal, Naugatuck River Review, In My Bed, Harvard Educational Review, and the Larcom Review. His chapbook Sidewalk Tectonics was released by Pudding House Publications in 2009. Ruescher coordinates the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and teaches in the Boston University Prison Education program. He writes of his poem,

" Like William Butler Yeats in the opening lines of "The Circus Animal's Desertion,"I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,/I sought it daily for six weeks or so." Only for me it took ten years or more to figure out a fresh approach to the notorious and troubling Charles Stuart case that tragically confirmed again the legacy of blatant racism in Boston. It was remembering a friend at work running to tell me that Stuart had jumped from the Tobin Bridge that gave me the poem. This originally appeared online in The Tower Journal--and it also appears in my full-length collection, 'Waiting for the Light to Change' (Prolific Press, 2017), along with many other poems on similar themes."

Beneath the Tobin Bridge

Now I close my eyes and see my friend Regina running,
Not from her parents’ Victorian house near Franklin Park
In the Dorchester section of Boston, not from the starting line
On the track in the stadium behind the suburban high school
She attended on the METCO program—for disadvantaged
But aspiring kids from the city—and not from the bus stop
At Mass. Ave. and Tremont to the Josiah Quincy Middle School
On the border of Chinatown and the South End,
As husband Melvin used to do, racing the school bus
With his friends and closest cousins every morning—
But from one polished end of the hallway to the other
On the second floor of Longfellow Hall, where we used
To work together, at the Harvard Graduate
School of Education, on this, the fourth of January, 1990,
At the beginning of the all-too-ordinary workday,
When everything is quiet, the students all gone
On winter vacation, and the professors home in their sweaters;

Running, that is, to tell me the news that she has just heard
On the radio in her office—that they have just dredged the body
Of Charles Stuart up from the green tidal waters
Of the misnamed Mystic River, beneath the Tobin Bridge
That spans Boston Harbor from Charlestown to the North Shore,
The cover of the psychopath who blamed the murder of his wife
On some anonymous black guy blown at last, his dream
Of living with the rich blonde he worked with at the fur store
On chic-chic Newbury Street now just a nightmare,
His brother Matthew having confessed this morning
That it wasn’t, after all, some desperate black junkie
Who killed Chuck’s wife, the lovely Carol DiMaiti,
In a botched armed robbery after their weekly birthing class
At Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Huntington Ave.,
In an alley across the street on Mission Hill in Roxbury,
But Chuck himself, who hoped to get the insurance money
And run off with that goddess from horsey Dover-Sherborn—

News good enough, after years of wondering why the tide
Of racism in Boston has not yet receded, to break Regina,
Against the better judgment of her Christian education,
Into a fit of giggles that keeps her from crying
In moral indignation at how the Boston cops, believing
Every word Stuart said, contrary, apparently,
To the intuition of the nurses in the emergency room
Where they sewed up the wound Stuart had made
By shooting himself in the leg to make his story plausible,
Went right ahead and conducted that month-long investigation
For the criminal in question, bringing every black man
On Mission Hill with a record in for questioning,
Even booking on suspicion one repeat offender
Named Willie Bennett who’d been in and out of prison—

News that cracks Regina’s composure open in a carefree chuckle,
Speeding her down the hall, even while her plaid skirt
Restricts her strides, while her brown feet in black flats slap
The shiny hallway tiles, and while the matching unbuttoned lapels
Of her red cardigan sweater open to the white blouse,
Itself unbuttoned at the throat to reveal the gold cross
Against the rich brown skin, which somehow sets off
The red clip in her pressed hair, above the left brow,
And the ornery and elated smile on her broad brown face.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

~ LIVE at THE ALGONQUIN in NYC ~ Susan Tepper Interviews Donna Baier Stein

Susan Tepper/ Donna Baier Stein
****  "The Algonquin Round Table, also called The Round Table, was an informal group of American literary men and women who met daily for lunch on weekdays at a large round table in the Algonquin Hotel in New York City during the 1920s and ’30s. The Algonquin Round Table began meeting in 1919, and within a few years its participants included many of the best-known writers, journalists, and artists in New York City. Among them were Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, Franklin P. Adams, Marc Connelly, Harold Ross, Harpo Marx, and Russell Crouse. The Round Table became celebrated in the 1920s for its members’ lively, witty conversation and urbane sophistication. Its members gradually went their separate ways, however, and the last meeting of the Round Table took place in 1943. " ( 

Writer Susan Tepper interviews Donna Baier Stein in this legendary literary stomping grounds."

Susan Tepper Interviews Donna Baier Stein

 Donna Baier Stein is the author of The Silver Baron's Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award, Finalist in Foreword reviews 2017 Book of the Year Award, and Finalist in Paterson Prize for Fiction), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist and 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist), and Sometimes You Sense the Difference (poetry chapbook). She was a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and founded and publishes Tiferet Journal. She has received a Scholarship from Bread Loaf, a Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, four Pushcart nominations, and prizes from the Allen Ginsberg Awards and elsewhere. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals and anthologies.

Susan Tepper:  Your fictionalized historical novel The Silver Baron’s Wife begins its journey in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, during August of 1866.  This is a rags-to riches-to rags story of a particular woman.  What drew you toward this woman, who did indeed exist, and was called Baby Doe Tabor?

Donna Baier Stein:  The seed for my multi-decade obsession with Lizzie, or Baby Doe, Tabor was planted when I was seven years old, during a family vacation to Colorado. Two photographs of Lizzie mesmerized me. In one, she wears an elegant ermine opera coat. In the second, she stands in front of a run-down shack, wearing a man’s old coat and cap and holding a rifle. Even as a girl, I wondered how this woman could journey from Point A to Point B, living in such drastically different circumstances. I was also very intrigued by the fact that Lizzie wrote down thousands of her dreams, many of which are now housed in the History Colorado Center.

Susan Tepper:  Did you ever read any of her dreams?

DBS:  I did.  In fact I photo-copied about 100 or more of them.  I read and copied them prior to the writing of this book.  That’s how much they fascinated me.  A woman during the time period of the early 20th Century writing down her dreams, well that was an unusual thing.  She jotted them on the back of grocery lists, Western Union Telegrams, scraps of paper.  Anywhere.

ST:  Kind of how a poet works.  You’re in some ‘place’ and your head starts a line of poetry and you jot it on a napkin or anything you can get your hands on.  She sounds compulsive in that same way.  What were her dreams about?

DBS:  Members of her family would appear in them.  Also images of Jesus, Mary, the Devil.  Many vivid spiritual images came into her dreams. Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1899 but I don’t know if she would have read it. And I certainly don’t think there were many people in America writing down their dreams or noting spirit visitations on their calendars in those days.
ST:  Fascinating.  I would love to read some of those dreams.  Particularly since I’ve read this book and have such a strong sense of the character.

DBS:  Although I didn’t have the language at age seven to articulate any of this, I somehow saw the amazing contrasts in her life—wealth versus poverty, materialism versus spirituality, family versus solitude.
As I matured myself, I learned what we all learn—that the things we are told will make us happy don’t always completely satisfy. Marriage, motherhood, money—Lizzie experienced all these gifts and yet longed for more than these outer trappings.  Here was a woman whose second husband, Horace, was worth $24 million (or about half a billion dollars in today’s currency), who lived in a huge villa with 100 peacocks roaming the yard and who wore a $90,000 necklace at her 1883 wedding, who gave birth to two beloved daughters… and yet still felt, I believe, what Rumi calls “this longing” or what St. Augustine calls “the god-shaped void.”
In her later life, she experienced many visions of Jesus and Mary. Some theologians think she may well have been an American female mystic. Some think she experienced lead poisoning, or had dementia, or perhaps went crazy in her grief. Spiritual visionaries are often seen as crazy eccentrics!
The other important thing that made me want to tell Lizzie’s story is that it has so often been told only from a male perspective. One notable exception to this is Judy Nolte-Temple’s nonfiction book Baby Doe Tabor: Madwoman in the Cabin. But long before Judy’s book, an American opera was written about her by Douglas Moore. Called “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” it focuses primarily on the love triangle between Lizzie, Horace, and his first wife Augusta.

ST:  Before Horace (the rich husband), she went into her first marriage to Harvey with such a clear head and high expectations that all would remain wonderful in their life.  Harvey must have been a huge disappointment as he devolved into alcoholism and lost his will to work and provide for his family.  That’s when her tremendous strength kicked in with such ferocity and she found herself working down in the silver mines, despite a strong superstition that women brought bad luck and danger to miners.  

DBS:  An early movie starring Edward G. Robinson called Silver Dollar portrayed her as a beautiful young blonde who broke up a long-standing marriage (to Horace). To my mind, she was much more than a mistress or wife of a wealthy man. She was instead a woman who bucked all the social expectations of her time. She worked in the silver mines when women simply didn’t do that.

ST:  Out of necessity because Harvey had thrown in the towel.  You wrote him really well, by the way.  A young man who started out so bright and earnest, then collapsed when the weight of life became very heavy.  She carried that burden for them both.

DBS:  Yes.  But I also feel she was drawn to the mines on some psychological level.  She was searching for that ‘invisible something’ that wasn’t part of her life.  Going deep below the surface of the earth may have been a way for her to search out this emotion.  

ST:  Very daring.  I felt she was an extraordinarily strong and risk-taking woman throughout her lifetime.

DBS:  She divorced her first husband, Harvey Doe, when that was rarely done, especially considering she was Catholic.  She remained with her second husband Horace long after he lost his fortune, despite peoples’ expectations that she had only married him for his money.

ST:  When things were going well Horace was worth about $24 million.  I have to admit I might have been less forgiving (laughter).

DBS:  That was a tremendous sum of money for those times, around half a billion in today’s calculations.

ST:  I’m still digesting that.  So he loses $24 million and she sticks by him anyway.  It says a lot about her character as a human being.

DBS:  Yes, I think so. I believe she truly loved Horace and stayed with him despite that the drastic change in his fortune. I feel her story has a tremendous amount of wisdom for us today. It shows the fickleness of wealth, the importance of equal rights and respect for women to enjoy, and the need in all of us to search inside for our own spiritual questions and answers.  

 ****Susan Tepper, an award-winning writer, has been at it for twenty years. Six books of her fiction and poetry have been published, with a seventh book, a novella, forthcoming in the fall of 2017. FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, is sporadically ongoing these past nine years.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Interview with Somerville novelist and bookseller-- Josh Cook.

Josh Cook

Interview with Somerville novelist and bookseller, Josh Cook.

Interview with Doug Holder

Josh Cook has for many years been an ubiquitous presence at Porter Square Books in Porter Square, Cambridge, where he works as a bookseller. Cook penned a detective novel recently,  An Exaggerated Murder, that has echoes of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the detective Auguste Dupin created by Edgar Allen Poe. I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV show, Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: You told me you were influenced by fictional detectives Auguste Dupin, and Sherlock Holmes.

Josh Cook: It was always interesting to me that detective fiction started with the Gothic short story writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe. He created the detective Auguste Dupin, and Poe is highly identified with detective fiction. The detective in my book is very much Sherlock Holmes --style. Trike, my detective, uses evidence-based deduction, mixed with cold intellect. This whole genre that Poe started always starts out with strange, baffling stories. Holmes sprung from Dupin, and many detective stories since have sprung from Dupin. Later British Detective fiction is less about the case and more about the state of mind of the detective. What is so interesting about American detective heroes like Marlowe and Sam Spade --it isn't so much about the actual case they are involved in  (like in Holmes), but the emotions and moral compass they had to sort through.

DH: Trike has a bad cigarette addiction—why did you add this to an already complex character?

JC: If you look at American fiction many writers have their characters addicted to booze, TV, etc...We all have addictions of one sort or the other. Addictions are used to sort through the moral complexities of our society.

DH: The city the novel is set in—seems sort of generic—there is no specific city mentioned.

JC: Well—stories can only bear so much weight. I felt this was the best way to tell the story. I wasn't thinking of any particular city. But—I set one scene in a gross Karaoke bar—and someone said, “ Hey—I know exactly where that bar is” That's very satisfying. I felt the the story could not wear the weight of Boston, for instance. It would have required the reader to keep too many things in his or her head.

DH: You have a number of characters that revolve around Trike—like his assistants Max and Lola. Are these composites of people you know?

JC: No one is a particular person. They do draw on people I know, my partner and other characters that I have experienced in fiction, etc...

DH: Your detective Trike is a pompous, pain in the butt-- type of guy. Why did use such an unlikable character?

JC: Sometimes you need a guy with no social graces to get the truth out. He needs to be tough and abrasive.

DH: Did you grow up in a literary family?

JC: I grew up in Lewiston, Maine. My mom worked in the schools as a guidance counselor—my father was a social worker. Both were big readers. Both of them read to me before bed. My grandparents were also big readers.

DH: How has it been working at Porter Square Books all these years?

JC: It has been fantastic. You see more and more booksellers who are publishing books. I get to see what is published now, and what will be published in the next six months. I have been able to establish relationships with publishers. Melville House published my novel. They are a publisher I liked and I pushed their book at the store. I feel I am part of a community working at Porter Square Books.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Interview with James Maynard--New Curator of the University at Buffalo Poetry Collection

James Maynard ( New curator the University of Buffalo Poetry Collection)

 "When the Poetry Collection began in 1937, its original mission was to collect first editions of poetry written in English and English translation published since 1900. Today, the collection houses over 140,000 titles of Anglophone poetry including 6,600 broadsides as well as an extensive selection of little magazines, anthologies, criticism, reference books, ephemera and audio recordings, making it the largest poetry library of its kind in North America." ( From the University of Buffalo Library Website)

I had the pleasure of dealing with the former curator of the University of Buffalo Poetry Collection--Mike Basinski--for many years. Mike is semi-retired, but the new curator is James Maynard. I figured this would a good time to interview his successor. The Ibbetson Street Press has long donated books to this extensive collection--and we are glad that many of our publications have found a permanent home.

I would love to get a statement about your background. I know [former curator] Mike Basinski is a poet--wondering if you are?

I haven't identified myself as a poet in almost two decades, but I did write poetry for several years. Looking back, I've been interested for a long time in poetry and poetics and started writing it in high school, where I also worked on the school literary magazine. I then continued to do both at Ursinus College, where I was an English major, creative writing minor, and also received my certification to teach secondary education. After teaching high school English for two years, I went back to school at Temple University to do what they offered at the time as a hybrid MA English: Creative Writing degree, in which half of my credits were in writing seminars and tutorials, and the other half were in graduate lit and theory courses. While at Temple I was never really satisfied with my writing and increasingly felt like a spy among the poets, eventually coming to the realization that what I really loved most was learning about poetry from the perspective of those who actually made it as opposed to the presumed stance of critical objectivity from which it is often taught. I also loved spending time with poets, and appreciated the opportunity to get to know a wider canon of avant-garde and other innovative poetries as per the aesthetics of Temple's program. Consequently, after finishing the master's degree it was an obvious choice to continue my graduate study as a PhD student in the University at Buffalo Poetics Program, which, like the larger English department in which it is housed, has a long tradition of both hiring creative writers to teach doctoral students and also valorizing more experimental writing practices.

Since first starting as a graduate student assistant in the Poetry Collection in 2004 it has been a long and happy apprenticeship--as I think all special collections jobs are--during which I've served as Assistant to the Robert Duncan Collection, Assistant to the Curator, Visiting Assistant Curator, Assistant Curator, Associate Curator, and now Curator. And after 13 years I think I'm finally starting to scratch the surface of the collection's possibilities!

What are your particular literary interests?

Honestly, I've always been interested in all kinds of poetry from a wide range of poetic practices and movements, and less interested in partisan debates about which are superior to others, although I certainly appreciate historically the value of such social tensions for the development of the art. In the broadest terms I see poetry as a function of need--a confluence of personal and political need--and am sympathetic to how different needs manifest themselves formally into different poetics. My own work--a product of my own needs, I suppose--has focused largely on the poetry and prose of Robert Duncan, which I find endlessly generative and inspiring for the world of possibilities they project. I am also interested in 20th- and 21st-century Anglophone poetry and poetics more broadly, as well as pragmatism and process philosophy, the history of little magazines and small presses, and literary archives.

Previously my book-length projects have included co-editing a single volume edition of Robert Duncan's Ground Work: Before the War / In the Dark (New Directions, 2006), editing Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection (The Poetry Collection, 2009), editing (Re:)Working the Ground: Essays on the Late Writings of Robert Duncan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) and Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose (University of California Press, 2014), and co-editing Such Conjunctions: Robert Duncan, Jess, and Alberto de Lacerda (BlazeVOX Books, 2014). A longer list of my select publications is available here: Right now I am very excited about a collection of Helen Adam's collages which is forthcoming later this year from Further Other Book Works (, and in spring 2018 I’ll have a monograph titled Robert Duncan and the Pragmatist Sublime that will be published in the University of New Mexico Press series “Recencies: Research and Recovery in Twentieth-Century American Poetics.” Currently I have either just finished up, am working on, or will shortly be working on an essay on Duncan and his partner Jess's private library, an introduction to a Duncan manuscript on the poet's experiences at Black Mountain College, and a reflection on the relationship between the Buffalo Poetics Program and the Poetry Collection in the early 2000s. Another larger project that I've started is editing an edition of Duncan's uncollected prose.

What is your vision for the library collection?

I became the Poetry Collection's seventh curator last fall (2016) at a particularly auspicious time in the collection's history, which dates back to the mid-1930s. Thanks to my predecessor Michael Basinski (whom Doug you've known for many years) and his distinguished 32-year career in the University Libraries, the Poetry Collection has benefitted from the acquisition of numerous manuscript collections and book donations, award-winning exhibitions like the 2009 Discovering James Joyce, countless collaborations and partnerships, new endowments, and over $2.5 million in grants and private donations.​ I take it as my challenge to continue fundraising and bringing in new collections, grow the collection's staff, increase access to materials through additional digital collections, oversee an eventual relocation and expansion project, and, with any luck, usher in the Poetry Collection's 100th anniversary in 2037.

What do you view as the future of libraries and the physical literary book?

Regarding the future of university libraries, I think the University at Buffalo Libraries provide a telling example. Recently, the UB Libraries have enjoyed a major renovation of what was previously the undergraduate library, with the browsable stacks replaced with new user spaces and reading rooms, smart classrooms, computers, a cafe, and media labs. I've heard many people lament the loss of physical books from the library proper, but the truth is, access to the books and other resources has simply shifted (the books themselves have moved into a library annex and are still available on demand to anyone who wants them), with students today wanting electronic access to everything. As a result, as more and more academic libraries subscribe to the same digital resources, they are becoming more and more homogeneous. However, this is only half of the story. I tell everyone that if they only see the renovated area their tour of the library is incomplete unless they come upstairs and visit Special Collections--the Poetry Collection, the University Archives, the Rare & Special Books Collection--where our rare and unique primary materials complement the digital resources otherwise available. Consequently, more and more libraries are highlighting and promoting their special collections as the answer to the question of what makes them truly distinct. This is by no means an original observation, but I think it is true.

As for the book itself, for the past few years it seems that every few weeks there has been another article proclaiming the decline of the physical book and the ascension of digital texts. Now, the tables have turned and there are stories appearing that claim that interest in both e-books and devices like kindle are lagging. The truth is, we are in a period of publishing where we will see both print and digital copies existing side by side for a long time to come. For many of the presses that have published my own books, for example, they still publish a small number of print books, but the expectation is that they will earn a greater return in digital subscriptions. That said, although one can point perhaps to a certain decline in poetry publishing by university presses, I see overall no decline in the print publication of poetry. This is especially true among small and independent presses, where if anything the rush to digitize everything has led many people back to the analog skills of letterpress and other artisanal aspects of bookmaking. So all such reports of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated, and in fact poetry books are doing very well, thank you! This is not to say that online blogs and poetry journals don't play an essential role in the art form, but print chapbooks are still the coin of the realm, especially for younger poets.

We know why libraries collect the manuscripts, books, etc. of famous authors, but you guys also warehouse the obscure, the oddball, the fringe. What is your method behind this madness?

We love "the obscure, the oddball, the fringe"--to which I would add the ephemeral, the marginalized, the transient, and the fugitive. In fact, I can think of no other collection that has from its inception dedicated itself to the impossible goal of attempting to collect the sum total of anglophone poetry at any given historical moment. "Completion" is a horizon that forever haunts the Poetry Collection, but I like to think that we fail a little less every year. Of course, we are only able to accomplish what we do thanks to a very large network of friends, representatives, fellow travelers, and ambassadors. I'm thinking especially of people like you, Doug, who have been generously sending us donations for several decades, and countless others who help keep us informed about new presses and publications. One of our founder's--Charles Abbott's--greatest accomplishments was involving poets (and editors, publishers, critics, etc.) themselves as active participants in the process of building the Poetry Collection, and that same extended collaboration continues to this day.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Sunday Poet: David P. Miller

David P. Miller

David P. Miller’s chapbook, The Afterimages, was published in 2014 by Červená Barva Press. His poems have appeared in Meat for Tea, Main Street Rag, Ibbetson Street, Painters and Poets, Fox Chase Review, Third Wednesday, Wilderness House Literary Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Oddball Magazine, Incessant Pipe, Clementine Unbound, and Ekphrastic Review, among others. Anthology appearances include Tell-Tale Inklings #1 and three Bagel Bards Anthologies. His poem “Kneeling Woman and Dog” was included in the 2015 edition of Best Indie Lit New England. David was a member of the multidisciplinary Mobius Artists Group of Boston for 25 years, and is a librarian at Curry College in Milton, Mass.

Conservation of Mass, in Four

Two immature birds, failed.
One at rest on the curb;
its brother toppled in the gutter.
One with a grackle’s speckled
back. The second’s plump
rust-red feather belly.
Flies make electron orbits
eccentric around rotting
nuclei. Eyes like dead cartoons.

Forty steps to the third corpse.
This one a scentless, had-been-
avian delta, flat
as the pavement
and colored the same.
Savorless wing feathers,
spurned by maggots,
creased like an origami,
beak remnant at the apex.
Everything devourable,

Ten steps next to a sparrow
hopping from sidewalk
to pocket park.
Claimed down feather
cinched in its beak,
a treasure to cozy the nest.