Saturday, June 24, 2017

100 year old poet Joe Cohen--releases a new collection of poetry--A New Path--Ibbetson Street Press

Photo by Zvi A. Sesling
Here is a picture Joe Cohen , author of a new poetry collection "A New Path." (Ibbetson Street Press) Joe will be a hundred this July...and it has been announced by the City of Cambridge that there will be a Joe Cohen Day--July 13th. In the picture he is accompanied by Beth Cohen--his daughter-- a professor at the Berklee College of Music...

Joseph A. Cohen’s first book of poetry A Full Life was published in 2005. His poems have appeared in the Ibbetson St. Press, Constellations Anthology, Bagel Bards Anthology, Spare Change, Image Magazine, Great Neck Record and more. He is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee. An avid photographer, he taught photography in New York colleges for 40 years and most recently at BOLLI at Brandeis University. At 99, he still writes and does poetry readings. Formerly President of Sunweave Linen Corp. in New York, he now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and enjoys the vibrant intellectual atmosphere and cultural diversity of his new home. He was recently awarded the Legion of Honor medal by the President of the French Republic for his service in France during World War II. To order go to the Ibbetson Street Press Bookstore:

The Sunday Poet: Michael Todd Steffen

Michael Todd Steffen is the director of the Hastings Room Reading Series in Cambridge, Mass..  His latest book of poetry is Partner, Orchard and Day Moon that was published by Cervena Barva Press. His poems and articles have been published in many literary reviews in the United States and abroad. He has spent ten years living and teaching in France and England, an experience that has enriched his creativity. He was awarded the Somerville News Writers’ Festival Poetry prize.

The Dentist

with his little extended
circle of a mirror
reached into your darkness,

with his fine sharp metal hook
mining for resistance—and decay.
As if the x-ray hadn’t shown him.

Who puts their fingers
in your mouth?—a layer of us
wonders, reclined in his uneasy chair,

with his concentration
of a chess player to situate
or remove, drill, crown…

Under the angelic vanity:
my jaw spiked with reminders
of the original skull, our dust

whose agony won’t outlast
though bites down to measure
now—ow!—invention of

the moment and its isolating
pain in the more probable
rib” of Adam God removed

like a lisp
of self-cultivated shrapnel,
that we be recognizable

among peers
with enough missing from our smile

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ibbetson Street Press--celebrates almost twenty years on the literary scene --with its new release!

Hello, Friends/ Poet Friends,


Since 1998, when it was founded at a Bruegers Bagel Shop in Porter Square Cambridge, by Doug Holder, Richard Wilhelm, and Dianne Robitaille, the Ibbetson Street Press has published chapbooks, perfect bound books of poetry, and 41 issues of the literary magazine Ibbetson Street. Over the years the press and magazine have published work by Marge Piercy, Ted Kooser, Afaa Michael Weaver, Kathleen Spivack, Jean Valentine, Cornelius Eady, Richard Hoffman, Jennifer Matthews and many others. The press is now formally affiliated with Endicott College of Beverly, Mass. Join us for a gathering and reading--July 5, 2017--to celebrate its almost 20 years on the Boston area literary scene.

  The Ibbetson Street #41 Potluck and Reading will be held on Wednesday, July 5th at the central branch of the Somerville Library, Highland Avenue (next to the high school).  The Potluck will be held from 6:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.; the reading will be from 7:00 to 8:15. 
              Very Warmly,
                    Harris Gardner
                    Poetry Editor
                    Doug Holder
                    Ibbetson Street Press

To order Ibbetson Street Books and magazines go to

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Narratives of Transformative Love-- a new project by Prema Bangera

( Painting by Prema Bangera--click on to enlarge)

Narratives of Transformative Love:  ( A program that is in the making by Prema Bangera, executive director of Teen Voices Emerging in Boston-- Bangera will be my guest today on Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.  See it live at 5:30 PM  June 20  at  Bangera writes:

"Our mission is on identifying and breaking down internalized oppression to recreate a positive and true self-image. We believe in using art and writing to address past traumas, judgements, negative criticisms, and societal expectations in order to heal and transform our identity to reflect our strengths and develop self-love. We aim to empower people by giving them a voice to articulate their true identity in their own words and visions in order to create a personal and an institutional change". 

Monday, June 19, 2017

At the Bloc 11 Cafe with Tori Weston: Somerville Writer, Printmaker, Essayist, Educator

Tori Weston

At the Bloc 11 Cafe with Tori Weston: Somerville Writer, Printmaker, Essayist, Educator

by Doug Holder artist

Multi-talented artist and writer Tori Weston dropped by my usual table at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. We were there to talk about her creative work. Tori, is a thoughtful woman, with an easy smile, and seemed to be somewhere in her early 40s.

Weston—originally from Rhode Island—moved to Somerville from Cambridge, Ma. And she has lived here for 12 years. She told me that she loves the Somerville arts community and has participated in the Open Studio events both as a participant and volunteer. She said, “ Somerville is an easy place to connect with people.”

Weston got her MFA from Emerson College in Boston. There—she counts as her mentors—Senior Writers in Residence, Richard Hoffman and Margot Livesey. As for Hoffman, Weston said, “ Richard started each class with a poem. He intensively reviews the work that is submitted to him. He made sure we were all 'ready' to write our stories-- both from the personal aspect and the audience's perspective. He always discusses the impact the story will have on the audience.”

As for the Scottish novelist Margot Livesey, Weston offered an anecdote, “ Once in class a white student said that my characters did not sound 'black.' Livesey asked the student, ' What do you think a black character should sound like?' The white student had no answer. Livesey focused on the writing—not whether the writer was black or not. I appreciated that.”

This Somerville writer is a painter as well. She studied independently—taking classes at the Museum School. She also studied with a Somerville artist Carolyn Musket, who owns the Musket Studios on Cedar Street. Weston told me that she is currently engaged with litho printmaking. She said that this process uses an aluminum plate or stone, where an image is cast in ink. Weston reflected, “ The process is like writing. Things can end up very differently than what you started out with.” Weston told me about one print she completed called, “ City Girls.” In her depiction the girls wear hoodies. “ The simple act of wearing a hoodie transforms the traditional idea of femininity. When girls wear hoodies—there is certain grit or confidence about them. You own yourself more.”

Weston told me about a print of hers that was displayed at the Open Studios. It depicted the bodies of black women. Inside the bodies were were negative stereotypical words associated with black women, like: “Mammy,” “ Brown Sugar”, etc... But on the outside the bodies have hopeful words, like, “ Soul Sister, “ Classy, “ “ Mother of Civilization,” etc...

Weston writes personal essays as well—one of which was published in the online magazine, “Sleet.” The essay dealt with her own childhood abuse. Weston paused, “ It took me three years to write it it. It is hard to make people understand the trauma of this kind of thing.”

Weston works at Emerson College in Boston. She runs a pre-college program for high school students. The program teaches kids acting, theater, film making, etc... Weston was inspired to start this program at Emerson from a program she was in years ago at Brown University. She said, “ it opened up my world.”

Undoubtedly Weston open up more worlds for kids and adults—through her writing and art.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

From Doo-Wop to Hip-Hop: Interview with two generations of African- American Poets: Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson

( Afaa Michael Weaver ( Left) Major Jackson ( Right))

From Doo-Wop to Hip-Hop: Interview with two generations of African-
American Poets: Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson  ( 2009)
By Doug Holder

Afaa Michael Weaver, 58 and Major Jackson, 40 are two major African American poets from two different generations, but they both continually feed from their shared heritage, and the continuum of the Black experience in America. Weaver, a professor of English at Simmons College in Boston, a recent Pushcart Prize winner, and the author the critically acclaimed poetry collection: “ Plum Flower Dance” (U/Pitt), and Major Jackson, the author of “Hoops,” an asst. professor at the University of Vermont and a core faculty member at the Bennington Writing Seminars, met for a filmed discussion at the Somerville Community Access TV studios. The show was moderated by GloriaMindock (Cervena Barva Press) and produced by Doug Holder (Ibbetson St.Press).

Weaver started off the discussion by going back to his native Baltimore in 1970. This was a time when he dropped out of the university, got a job at a steel mill, and started to pen his seminal poems. Later he joined the military,married his first wife,but was destined to live a radically different life than his early years indicated.
Jackson was born in Philadelphia, and studied to be an accountant. He got an internship in which he was spending up to 80 hours a week with spreadsheets. After college he worked at an arts center in the city in the role of finance manager. He said: ” I was happy when I was fired.” He had taken some poetry courses in college, and he started to program poetry events at the center. He soon realized it was the arts that touched him spiritually, and he eventually made poetry a part of his everyday life.

Weaver talked of his early days in East Baltimore in the 50’s and 60’s. He sort of free- associated about mowing grass with push lawnmowers and the rituals of his youth, like using toothbrushes to clean his shoes before a night out on the town. Weaver said: “Baltimore was a very Southern city. We weren’t allowed to shop in the stores in downtown Baltimore—the line between black and white were clearly drawn.”

Weaver said his father’s family was from Southern farming stock, and his dad had the philosophy that “ Children should she be seen not heard.” Weaver learned to become an “isolated” learner, he recollected. In 1963 he was bused to a white school, which caused a great deal of anxiety for the young poet. It was hard to be in a place where he was not welcomed. He was always glad and relieved to be back on his own side of town. At the time his scope of experience was limited. He thought the whole world was Black. Weaver laughed: “I watched “ Leave it to Beaver,” and thought that family was just like mine, except they were white.”

Jackson said even though Philadelphia was north of Baltimore, it still possessed a Southern sensibility. This was confirmed when he spent his summers in Nashville, Tennessee as a boy and he experienced the same “rhythms” as the South.

Jackson described himself as a hyper-aware kid. He was tuned in to the music and the culture of the time. Hip- Hop started to appear in 1978-82, and drugs started appearing in the mix. There was a potent combination of rich culture and tragic lives. He sadly watched the erosion of his neighborhood over the years.

Jackson’s work is informed by his observations of people trying to survive under extreme stress. Anything that cuts humans down, be it in an urban or rural setting, will find room in his work, he said. All in all Jackson is grateful to have grown up in Philadelphia. He had an appreciation of the speech, jargon, and music of the milieu.

Jackson reflected on his neighborhood:” People all knew each other. The guy at the corner drug store and the drug dealer on the corner.” Jackson knew who to avoid and who could act as a role model.

Weaver brought the discussion back to the pivotal year 1968. This was the year Martin Luther King was assassinated. Weaver’s younger siblings were born in 1969 and 1973. He said he was able to see the effect the legacy of those years had on them, and how it changed them. Weaver vividly remembers his mother crying like a proverbial baby when MLK was shot. Weaver went further back to the 1965 riots in Baltimore. He remembered the intrusion of the National Guard in his neighborhood. He can recall whites roaming the streets looking for blacks to beat up. He remembers hearing gunfire from his two- story row house. Weaver said:” It was horrifying. The cities never recovered from the 60’s—and later they became plagued by drugs. The post-industrial era brought the loss of blue-collar jobs. Crime flooded the community.”

Weaver reminisced about the downfall of Milton Ave, where he grew up. Blockbusting tactics by real estate developers drove whites out. The patterns of parenting changed. There were more divorced parents. The old family structure fell. More men of color were incarcerated.

Weaver eventually left the steel mill and worked for Proctor& Gamble. Once,while driving to work he took a route down Milton Ave. with a friend and saw a man shot down dead. This really hit home as to how the times had changed.

Jackson said that music had a decided influence on him and his work. On one hand he celebrates the music of Elvis, but realizes the roots of Rock’n Roll is with the Blues, which was African-American music. He was introduced to black history by an aunt who gave him a history book that traced the long list of accomplishments of the black race through the centuries. He learned about celebrated African Americans like Robert Hayden, poets Gwendolyn Brooks,Langston Hughes as well others. He also loved the music of the 60’s like James Brown and his anthem of a song “I’m black and I’m proud.”

Weaver said the “big book” when he was growing up was the bible. He had a recent discussion with the poet James Tate, who also touted the influence of the “good book.” Later his mother bought encyclopedias from the supermarket for 25 cents a piece. As for the Blues, it came naturally. The cadence of his father’s speech was very Blues- like, Weaver said. Weaver loved the Temptations, The Supremes, The Impressions and other groups of the era. He wore highbrow collars, there was “ a soundtrack to my life” he smiled. Hip-Hop hit the scene when he was 30 or so, so he was able to appreciate it.

Weaver talked about the changes in the culture due to the turmoil in the cities. He said the parlance of the Black man changed. The language used was of the type that would not be tolerated years before. The Civil Rights Movement opened up what was an essentially insular black society. From this instability came Gangsta Rap, and the idolization of the drug culture.

Jackson, through his elders, was exposed to the music of the 60’s. He used to listen to a radio show hosted by “Butterball” that played that genre of music. Books were ubiquitous in his household. His grandmother built a sprawling library in the home from used books that she bought. Literature was important. His stepfather’s sister worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,and Jackson recollected: “ I made it my playground” He had the images of Duchamp, Lichtenstein, and others seared into his nascent consciousness.

His grandfather had a deep appreciation for African-American music, and his grandmother loved Gospel. He got to see the great vibraphonist Lionel Hampton with his grandfather. He had a piano in his house, and he too had a soundtrack to his life.

Jackson said the avant-garde musician Sun Ra lived a few blocks away in Germantown. He said: “: You could hear his group play—unlike anything I heard before. It was free jazz, a big band sound, way outside the norm.”Jackson said he appreciated Sun Ra’s journey, a man who created this mythology of the musician as an alien being. Both poets agreed that mythology that artists like Sun Ra draped around themselves was a reaction to a world that rejected them and made them suffer. Sun Ra, and others of his ilk didn’t want to be part of a society such as this, and in effect divorced themselves from it.

Finally both men talked of mentors. And it was clear without mentors these men’s lives would be quite different. Weaver defines a mentor as” A friend who reserves the right to tell you what to do.” Jackson mentioned Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez as well as Weaver, as major influences in his writing life. 
Weaver talked about the poet Lucille Clifton who advised him to read X.J.Kennedy’s “Introduction to Poetry” and gently criticized and encouraged his fledgling attempts at poetry. Both men are now in positions to give something back, and they do it as teachers, and in other roles. And hopefully, new generations will flow back and forth and nurture each other, like they have with Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson.